You can paint it up in zippy colors, make the interior glow and play the music loud, but the 2012 Scion iQ really relates to anyone looking for a place to park. And that's just about everybody, right?
The future has arrived and it's come in a pocket-size urban runabout designed for utility, not speed. The concept here is personal mobility, and it takes shape in a car that seats 3+1, measures barely 10 feet long, can spin around in a turning circle about the size of two king-size mattresses and gets 37 mpg on the EPA Combined cycle.
There will be those who will mistake the 2012 Scion iQ as some kind of overgrown Smart Fortwo, a vehicle that straddles the line between scooter and automobile. But it's more accurate to think of the iQ as a downsize Toyota Corolla, only liberated from the bits that you don't use very much, like the backseat and the trunk.
The iQ is supposed to fit in with the way that people really live in metropolitan areas. This means a car that is small on the outside and big on the inside. This means a car that's small enough on the outside to feed on leftover scraps of curbside parking even as it's large enough on the inside to offer a full-size experience when it comes to cabin comfort and electronic entertainment.
The 2012 Toyota iQ really isn't like anything else, but you're likely to compare it to other cars for which basic transportation is the prime directive. Among these you'd count the Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent.
Of these, the 2012 Scion iQ is the smallest and slowest, while its price and fuel-efficiency are comparable.
The combination of a 94-horsepower engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) gives this front-wheel-drive hatchback a kind of untroublesome performance that you might otherwise associate with an electric vehicle. In fact, it seems to model its dynamics on an electric vehicle or a hybrid, as the drone from the transmission drowns out any engine noise while you're in motion and the engine idles so quietly that you hardly know it's there at a stoplight.
Of course, the iQ is also slow — probably slower than you expect. In Edmunds testing, the Scion iQ takes 10.4 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill, and the quarter-mile comes up in 17.8 seconds at 78.6 mph. Since our test car weighed just 2,145 pounds, we suspect the CVT's tall gearing sucks the life out of the powertrain, which is probably the price you pay for the excellent fuel economy: 36 city/37 highway mpg and 37 mpg combined.
To help make you feel safe in this very small egg among so many other large eggs in the traffic mix, this Scion has a full array of brake assist and stability control features, as well as no fewer than 11 airbags. From 60 mph, this lightweight car comes to a stop in 131 feet, offering good control and fade resistance, although stopping power is unimpressive due to its combination of low-rolling-resistance tires and brake combination of front discs and rear drums.
There are cheaper cars that offer larger passenger packages, but the 2012 Scion iQ makes smallness a virtue. It's usefully calm and composed on the road, keeps pace with freeway traffic with confident stability, and churns through city errands without protest. At the same time, it's effortless to park, proves easy to climb in and out of and keeps you reasonably entertained while you're at the wheel and in motion again.
As you'd expect, the Scion iQ is at its best with just two passengers. Nevertheless, the car has been engineered to maximize interior space sufficiently to expand the capacity to a 3+1 passenger configuration. Cleverness under the hood with component location and a compact air-conditioning unit integrated into the dash let the front passenger move the seat sufficiently forward to fit a full-size passenger into the narrow rear seat behind (we know; we tried it). Meanwhile, the remainder of the rear seat can accommodate a child. If the mission of the day is to haul stuff instead of people, the 50/50-split rear seat folds flat to enlarge the cargo area from 3.5 cubic feet to 16.7 cubic feet.
As a package, this Scion gives the driver and passenger a sense of spaciousness thanks to an expansive field of view through the glass, and you'd never suspect that you're in such a small car. Other interior storage includes space for four 25-ounce containers in the doors, plus two rear cupholders in the rear and one in the center console. There is no glovebox, however, and the available space doesn't go far.
The iQ only comes in one well-equipped trim level, as they say, and it does seem like anything but the minimalist car that you might otherwise expect. And this being a Scion, you have some electronics connectivity stuff, including a microphone for the Bluetooth system (mounted on the instrument binnacle), a four-speaker audio system (130 watts) with CD/MP3 player and HD radio, auxiliary audio jack and USB port. And don't forget the illuminated door sills and an interior light kit, each with seven colors.
You also can jack up the iQ experience with snappy electronic stuff, like a 200-watt audio system with DVD/satellite radio. The optional touchscreen navigation system might seem a little basic, but it's way better than anything you can get on your mobile phone. Plus there are zippy exterior accessories, but none of them make the iQ any faster, sadly enough.
Design/Fit and Finish
While the 2012 Scion iQ never seems small, it does always seem clever. The expressive exterior makes the car look like something other than just a transportation pod even as it looks a bit more interesting than a conventional car. The interior is even more unconventional in its mixture of rounded geometric shapes in different colors and textures, although the effect is more downtown Tokyo than you might want.
The most important thing here is the overall premium impression the car makes. This is meant to be the car of the future — smart, usable and efficient.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2012 Scion iQ lines up against the 2012 Honda Fit in price, which makes it actually more expensive than the base models of other transportation modules like the subcompact 2012 Ford Fiesta and 2012 Hyundai Accent, as well as stripped-down models of compact cars like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3. Yet the 2012 Scion iQ holds its own because it comes only in one well-equipped trim level, plus it offers a sizable selection of Scion-style accessories that promise the opportunity of making an iQ as personal as a Mini Cooper.
At the end of the day, the 2012 Scion iQ suggests that it's time to uncouple size from price. This isn't a stripped-down car, only a small one. It gives you all that you want in terms of style and entertainment, yet no more than you need in size and speed. And the everyday reward comes in getting an EPA-rated 36 city/37 highway and 37 mpg combined while you're driving around.
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