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The tiny, clever 2015 Scion iQ is now in its fifth year, largely unchanged from the model that debuted in 2011. It has never met its maker's sales expectations, and will be withdrawn from the aging Scion lineup as it is refreshed for 2016 with a pair of all-new models.
Many people assume that the Scion iQ is a two-seat car--it's not, at least technically--due to ts very short length and the resulting extreme parking capability. But you'll have to prize those over most other elements of driving to make the iQ your first choice among small cars. And like the Smart ForTwo it competes against most directly, it's largely a novelty in all but a few areas of the U.S. Unlike buyers in global cities from Tokyo to Paris, it's more of a style statement in the U.S.: a premium city car that offers something different than a base-level econobox at the same price.
That has turned out to be a very small niche. The Scion iQ is neither the most fuel-efficient nor the least expensive car on the market, so ease of parking is really its sole reason for being. That's great for San Francisco or Boston or New York City, and of course jampacked urban areas like Tokyo or Rome. But very few parts of the U.S. resemble those crowded Asian or European cities--where space is at a premium, fuel is much more expensive, and cars are taxed by size. That means the iQ simply makes less sense in North America outside those few enclaves.
Whether the Scion iQ is a style icon like the Fiat 500 and the MINI Cooper is in the eye of the beholder, but it sells only a fraction as many cars as either of those models. In fact, the data show that U.S. buyers just aren't that interested in really tiny two-seat cars. In its first full year on sale, 2012, Scion sold only 8,900 iQ cars--and Smart sold only 10,000 of its ForTwo lineup. Together, the two cars sold fewer all year than in one month of Toyota Prius sales.
The iQ's blocky, slab-sided styling is tougher-looking than the Smart ForTwo's rounder lines, and the Scion looks especially good on the available 17-inch alloy wheels, which give it a surprisingly aggressive stance. It's still stubby, but it's stubby-with-attitude. Inside, the cabin is less minimalist than the Smart's, but it's somewhat let down by grim black interior materials.
Inside the stubby Scion, there's a third seat behind the front passenger--who sits farther forward than the driver and faces a recessed dashboard. That minimal third seat is for occasional use only; you wouldn't put anyone you like back there for more than a few minutes. There's a fourth seat too, which only fits a child, making the iQ what its maker calls a "3+1 seater."
The 10-foot-long iQ is powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine putting out 94 horsepower--one of the least powerful engines offered in any non-hybrid car. It is paired not with a manual gearbox, but with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for better fuel efficiency. The combination provides enough oomph to get you around in cities, but it's no rocket under any circumstance--and on hills or highways, acceleration is tepid at best. The iQ handles well, and while you'd expect it to be good in urban cut-and-thrust driving, it rides far better--and more confidently--at higher speeds than does the Smart. Even 80-mph freeway speeds, once you manage to get up there, don't induce the same nervousness as the Smart two-seater.
The small size and leisurely acceleration pay off in fuel economy, though. The Scion iQ is rated by the EPA at 37 mpg combined (36 mpg city, 37 mpg highway). That's 1 mpg better than the Smart, but it comes with a considerably better driving experience. The challenge is that many U.S. drivers see the car as so small that they assume it gets 60 or even 70 mpg. When they learn it doesn't even match the 50 mpg of a Prius C subcompact or a five-seat Prius mid-size hybrid, their reaction often tends to boil down to: So what's the point, then?
The answer to that question is hard to provide, unless you live in a place where on-street parking is at such a premium that you're willing to sacrifice interior space, performance, and a certain amount of public dignity to be able to park with greater ease. Most of us don't really need more car than the Scion iQ for 90 percent of our travels--but for the same price (starting around $16,000), you can get a larger car with almost the same gas mileage, and you can do far better on gas mileage for about $3,500 more.
Safety is often top of mind when looking at such small cars, and the iQ has not only the usual allotment of electronic safety and control systems, and no fewer than 11 different airbags--including one protecting the rear passenger's head from contact with the hatchback glass, a world first. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Scion iQ four stars out of five for an overall rating, with four stars for frontal crash and rollover testing and a not-very-good three stars out of five for side impact.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a Good rating (its highest) for moderate-overlap front crash, side impact, and roof strength tests. The IIHS has not rated the iQ using its new and tougher small-impact front crash test--and its rear crash protection is rated only Acceptable.
For urban residents in crowded cities--New York, yes, and San Francisco, but also Tokyo, Jakarta, Rio, and other megacities outside North America--the Scion iQ is a rational answer to a set of tough constraints. For less crowded, larger Americans who live in more spread-out suburbs and drive more miles every day on much cheaper gasoline, other alternatives may make more sense. The Scion iQ is a splendid demonstration of Toyota's engineering abilities, and its minimalism will appeal to some buyers.
The iQ continues into 2015 unchanged from the previous year.
- Headroom even for tall adults
- Space-efficient interior
- Tiny package, 3+1 seats
- Quiet in use except under power
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Marginal acceleration at best
- Fuel efficiency not as good as hybrids
- No manual gearbox option
- Steering only tilts, no telescoping