With dual variable valve timing, the engine feels quite flexible and isn't peaky in the way that the Smart's three-cylinder engine is. And while no manual gearbox is in the works for the U.S. market, the little four works quite well with the belt-and-pulley continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which gives the engine enough revs when needed and avoids two common annoyances: the 'rubber band' feel to throttle response, and a surging feeling during moderate acceleration.
Part of the reason why the CVT in the iQ feels so responsive, we observed, is that its top ratio isn't really that tall. At highway speeds of around 70 mph, the tach was showing the engine spinning closer to four grand than three, which simply means that when you need more revs for passing, it's already much of the way there.
While the iQ can feel frisky, looking at a stopwatch will give you a reality check; it's actually very slow. Official 0-60 times are a finger-tapping 11.8 seconds—putting the iQ in the same range as many economy cars of the 1980s.
Whether on a curvy road or out on the highway, the iQ's width and excellent suspension tuning really makes a difference. The rather firmly tuned suspension loads and unloads in a very stable, progressive way—and being about the same width as a larger subcompact or compact makes it much more confident. Its electric power steering, too, dials down to allow a heftier, more stable feel on the highway while being quite communicative on those twisty roads. All models have front discs and rear drums, and brake feel is confident enough for all city-driving needs.
The iQ's turning radius is an incredible 12.9 feet. When we made a wrong turn on a narrow two-lane road, we were able to pull off a painless U-turn, barely needing the shoulder.