2012 Scion iQ: Driven Page 2

May 10, 2012
What you do get in the iQ is a surprisingly enjoyable driving experience, with excellent handling and responsiveness. Because you're pretty much sitting over the rear wheels, you have the odd sensation that the front and rear wheels are always taking exactly the same line, and there's a certain precision to how you can place it within your lane, or around corners. The iQ seems as if it might be tipsy, but it's confidence inspiring with its low center of mass, good grip, and great suspension tuning—good steering, too. There's none of the high-speed nervousness of the Fortwo; though you can feel crosswinds, we'd be fine cruising in the iQ for a few hours.

And then the shortcomings mount...

On the other hand, the iQ's short wheelbase invites all sorts of pitching and bobbing, especially on the highway; and as we noted, engine noise graduates from thrummy to ever-present at around 65 mph.

We think that Scion bringing over the iQ only with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is a mistake. The CVT isn't the worst we've driven—and it's worlds better than the clumsy automated box in the Fortwo—but it completely saps the sporting potential from this supermini and doesn't set the right attitude for Scion. Regardless of whether the shift lever is in D or S, this unit takes surprisingly long to let the revs ramp up; and then it doesn't stay nailed to redline but rather ratchets down toward 5,000 rpm in a few steps—as if it's halfheartedly trying to mimic a slushbox automatic.

The 2012 Scion iQ we tested totaled $17,529—including optional rear speakers, a storage package, a PioneerPremium HD Radio system (iPod ready), and an interior lighting kit, along with a few other small items. The sound system proved a bright spot; we found it easy to pair a phone, talk hands-free, and even take advantage of the Pandora integration, flawlessly, with song info on a bright, clear display screen.

How can this make better sense?

But coming back that price, it's actually about $400 more than the well-equipped Yaris SE Liftback we tested earlier this year—a car that was nearly as fuel-efficient (actually more so when we drove it very gently) and has room for up to five. You can fit three adults in the iQ, as we did for a short time, but even then you're giving up most of the cargo space. And for just a little more money, you could also have a 53-mpg Toyota Prius C.

As we see it, the real reason why Americans will be willing to settle for a vehicle as small as the iQ is for exceptional gas mileage, for special carpool-lane or parking privileges (or severe garage limitations), or for an especially cheap price. Sadly, the iQ has none of this, and put into the American context, we have no need for this.

Between the Smart Fortwo and the Scion iQ, we'd pick the Scion without the slightest bit of hesitation. That said, we just need something else to consider the iQ a smart choice.

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