New & Used Scion iQ: In Depth
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The Scion iQ is a microcar that has few rivals--the best one being the Smart ForTwo, though the larger Fiat 500 factors into the mix. Even though it’s a better car in some ways than its competitors, it still only has limited appeal here in the U.S.
In other markets, the Scion iQ is known instead as the Toyota iQ. It is designed more for areas where space is limited and more heavily taxed; in some countries, taxes are levied based on vehicle size, engine displacement, and purchase price, making the iQ both an affordable and easy-to-park option for overcrowded metropolises. The iQ was also used as the basis for a short-lived Aston Martin hypercompact called the Cygnet. It was the same basic shape as the Toyota and Scion models, but with a much classier interior, and was supposed to help bolster Aston's average fuel economy.
MORE: Read our 2015 Scion iQ review
In the States, you'll see Scion iQs parked at the curb in cities like New York and San Francisco. They make less sense in sprawling cities like Detroit or Dallas. Even for those who like very small vehicles, the full-width occasional rear seat found in a MINI Cooper or Fiat 500 is worth the extra foot or two of length.
Size is, after all, the iQ's unique selling proposition. Though its 10-foot length seems almost toylike next to a compact Toyota Corolla, its stance and attitude make it feel like it could pull off the trick of seating four people. Scion calls the interior arrangement 3+1 seating, since there's more leg room on the passenger side due to a hollowed-out dashboard on that side. An average adult will fit into the third seat, but the fourth seat behind the driver is only for kids--or, more likely, a backpack or bag of groceries.
Scion has offered just one powertrain to U.S. iQ customers since the model's 2012 introduction. The 1.3-liter four-cylinder seems small to most American buyers, as does its 94-hp output, but this is actually a larger engine than most markets receive in this vehicle. The lone transmission is an efficiency-seeking continuously variable unit (CVT). Because of the low power numbers, the iQ can have some trouble merging with highway traffic, but its small size makes it easy to maneuver in cities and into and out of tight parking spots.
Scion does make an iQ EV, although green small-car devotees can't purchase one for themselves. These electric iQs are only available to fleets and have a very limited range that wouldn't be useful to most consumers anyway. The EPA quotes a max of 38 miles on a charge, or about half of what most other EVs offer.
Around cities and suburbs, the littlest Scion offers enough power to feel almost frisky, something we've never been able to say of the Smart, with its abrupt, rough, feckless automated manual transmission. The iQ's handling is a magnitude better than the ForTwo, too--it feels well-grounded at highway speeds, though you're keenly aware that you can reach over your shoulder and touch the glass in the hatchback.
Most expect big fuel economy from these little minicars, but the reality is that their small engines and un-aerodynamic shapes return numbers that are only slightly better than cars with back seats like the Fiat 500 or Mini Hardtop. On the EPA's combined cycle, the iQ is rated at 37 mpg, which is 1 mpg better than the similarly sized Smart ForTwo.
Scion positions the iQ as a premium entry in its class--however you define that class--and its starting price of about $16,000 is thousands of dollars pricier than the sub-$13,000 pricetag on the Smart ForTwo. Buyers will decide it the extra value is worth it, but there's no doubt that the Scion is a more pleasant place to spend your time behind the wheel. It feels more sophisticated than the Smart, at least in fit, finish, and materials. It's also far less noisy, though the engine will howl under maximum power.
The iQ has been sold in essentially original form since it was launched. For 2015, there are no changes.