Compared to the Smart Fortwo, however, what's more important is what the iQ doesn't have. In addition to the great steering and unfussy transmission, it doesn't have the excessive fore-and-aft movement with acceleration and braking that make the Fortwo so fatiguing in city driving; and it not only handles better in general but feels more stable, confident, and relaxed out on the highway. We'd be perfectly happy cruising at 70 mph for a few hours.
Somehow, the legs for highway cruising
The other surprise is that, in terms of refinement, the iQ really does feel like a premium offering. There's not all that much road noise or wind noise on the highway, though you do hear the engine somewhat. Factor in elements like an acoustic windshield (comparable to that in the Toyota Camry Hybrid), and the iQ does a great job damping some of those traditional econocar buzzing sounds and general coarseness. Underneath the dash there's an additional silencer, the floor panel is crowned to curb vibrations, and the roof and pillars are filled with urethane sponge material.
Since the iQ is an all-new model, we don't have much to say about the iQ's safety. But it does have an astonishing eleven standard airbags—including a world-first rear-window bag—as well as standard stability control and ABS. And while U.S. ratings aren't yet out, we do find the iQ's five-star Euro NCAP ratings—including a better score in adult occupant protection than the Volkswagen Polo—to be very promising.
Entertainment is provided by three all-new Pioneer-sourced audio systems. Both—like all new Scions—come with Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming plus HD Radio, and the base system even includes USB and aux-in connectivity, a multi-format CD player, two RCA inputs, and 160 watts. A premium system that's optional brings Pandora internet radio compatibility (when a smartphone is paired), iTunes tagging, six RCA inputs, album art, and 200 watts. And at the top is a nav system, integrated into the audio head unit and upgrading to a seven-inch screen, DVD player, and iPod video input. An aftermarket-accessory backup camera is fully compatible.
Of course, few Americans will actually choose the iQ mainly because of its dimensions. Fuel economy and price are big factors, and we bet Scion will be placing its bets on rising fuel peices—as well as a full roster of aftermarket accessories, which are already in the works. Above the iQ—both in size and price—is the Fiat 500 and also the Mini Cooper. The iQ also prices higher than the Scion xD, as well as the Toyota Yaris, and it's only a few hundred dollars short of the larger xB.
But pricing and fuel economy won't be the main reason Americans choose the iQ anyway. For those few urban-dwellers who don't think along the lines of bigger is always better, yet want a vehicle that isn't thought of as just basic transportation, Toyota has put together a car with more character and distinctiveness than nearly anything else in its American lineup.
If you're thinking about any of the other tight-budget small cars, take the iQ for a drive and it might just charm you in a way that the others never could.