2012 Scion iQ: First Drive Page 2

July 20, 2011

The instrument binnacle is just ahead of the driver and the steering wheel (center instruments were poorly received and aren't coming back in future Toyotas and Scions, say officials), and we found it easy to read, with a smaller, sweeping tach arc just underneath. However we found the orange LCD trip meter much harder to read in bright sunlight. The only gripe that might keep some from getting absolutely comfortable in the iQ is that there's no telescopic steering adjustment. Leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel—with audio controls—is standard, though.

Packaging shows a high IQ

There's a lot more to process in the iQ's packaging. Toyota has managed to put the differential ahead of (not under or behind) the engine, allowing the front wheels to be pushed even farther ahead to the corners and cutting. Other creative packaging includes mounting the fuel tank below the (driver's side) floorpan; the shallow (five inches deep) tank layout allows better shielding for accidents, as well as a lower center of mass. And inside, the blower motor for the climate control system has been located inside the center stack, not at the front of the passenger-side footwell, as it often is in other small-car models. That allows the passenger-side footwell to be a little roomier, assisting that '3+1' layout.

You'll probably be keeping those rear seatbacks flipped forward, where they settle flat, to a low cargo floor and 16.7 cubic feet of cargo space—easily enough for a sizable grocery run. With the rear seats up, there's just 3.5 cubic feet of cargo space—basically space enough to wedge a few hardcover books into the space. Seriously, it's not even enough for a laptop bag (although there is a small cargo tray underneath). And we were a bit surprised to see that Toyota used removable headrests in the iQ's rear seat; most automakers have no opted instead for flip forward headrests as the removable ones tend to be lost. However, in the iQ, they stack unobtrusively under the cushions.

Otherwise, the iQ feels up to U.S. standards in most respects; there are plenty of large cupholders, an extra auxiliary 12-volt outlet for accessories, and both side windows are auto up/down. And Scion has borrowed an element from air travel—pivoting LED dome lights that will likely never need bulb replacement and can of course be aimed away from the driver.

The iQ's 94-horsepower, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine is one of the smallest, weakest engines for the North American market, yet it can move this little 2,100-pound, front-wheel-drive minicar just fine. With dual variable valve timing, it 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, yet, it works quite well with the belt-and-pulley continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The CVT 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. Sixty mph happens in 11.8 seconds, but as with other minis, it feels faster.

Feels responsive and at ease

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. That means the CVT is hunting around a lot less; however also means that highway fuel economy isn't as good as it could be. The iQ's EPA city rating is an excellent 36 mpg, but its highway rating is a hybrid-like 1 mpg higher, at 37 mpg. Over several scenarios of hard stop-and-go and enthusiastic highway driving (pretty much worst-case-scenario), we saw figures in the upper 20s.

Whether on a curvy road or out on the highway, the iQ's width and excellent suspension tuning really makes a difference. It's about the same width as a Yaris or Corolla, and the rather firmly tuned suspension loads and unloads in a very stable, progressive way. 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.

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.

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