2012 Scion iQPosted on August 20th, 2012
Three-door micro-car is a big idea
By Nina RussinI like small cars, partly because I’m a small person, but also because I like the idea of getting around the planet without destroying it. So I support the new generation of micro-cars making inroads to the North American market, as a solution to overcrowding in urban areas and the rising price of gasoline.
Unfortunately, cars which work perfectly well on small, low-speed streets don’t necessarily pass muster on the highway. It’s not just a matter of power; some A-segment cars simply lose stability traveling at high speeds. In this country, a car which won’t perform well on the highway isn’t viable.
What makes the Scion iQ unique is its good high-speed performance, despite the small footprint. The iQ’s 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously-variable automatic transmission have enough power to stay with the pack when accelerating on freeway ramps, while standard 16-inch wheels provide decent traction. Its wide stance and MacPherson strut front suspension keep the IQ flat in the corners.
The iQ can seat up to four passengers, although those in the back need to be children or small adults. There is virtually no cargo space inside the car with the rear seats in place, but they do fold flat to create a large enough bay for some luggage or groceries. Engineers located a flat gas tank underneath the passenger floor in order to keep the wheelbase short.
Base price is $15,265 excluding the $730 destination charge. Options on the test car include carpeted front and rear floor mats, custom shift knob, rear sway bar, fog lamps, HD radio and iPod compatible CD deck, satellite radio, a rear spoiler and TRD performance springs, which bring the final MSRP to $19,135.
Cost benefitAlthough a $15,000 base sticker isn’t a lot in today’s car market, the Scion iQ is significantly more expensive than competitive micro-cars such as the Smart. The Scion xD, and Honda Fit have similar base sticker prices to the iQ; the Mazda2 is almost $900 lower. All three cars have more interior space and larger cargo areas. All of the above-listed vehicles do pretty well at the pump: the xD and Fit average 27 miles-per-gallon around town and 33 on the highway, while the Mazda2 averages 29 and 35 according to the EPA.
The best reason for purchasing the Scion IQ is for its maneuverability in dense, urban traffic, and because the car will fit into virtually any parking space. I spent years living in apartments on Chicago’s north side with no off-street parking. Being close to Wrigley Field, space on the street was always at a premium, and the Scion IQ would have been the car of my dreams.
Although its wheelbase is only five inches longer than the Smart, the IQ interior is significantly roomier: the Smart has no rear seats, and virtually no interior cargo space. While the area in back is too small to fit skis, snowboards or a bicycle, there’s enough room in the back of the Scion iQ for a duffel bag or a wet suit. Two people who pack prudently could take a weekend away in it. Two people in a Smart would have to put the luggage on the roof.
Test drive in PhoenixIn a perverse sense, Phoenix is the ideal town for test driving a small car, since it must share the road with larger, high-profile vehicles. The Southwest is one of the biggest markets in the United States for full-sized trucks. Surface streets, highways and parking lots are all built for them. Speed limits are higher than in other areas where roads are narrower and in some cases, more crowded.
What impressed me about the Scion iQ was that I felt safe driving it around full-sized trucks. The iQ received a four-star overall safety rating from the National Traffic Safety Administration: not the top rating, but above average. Both the driver and front passenger are protected by front, side, side curtain and knee airbags. There’s also an airbag in the back window to protect occupants in rear-impact collisions.
Just as important, the iQ has enough power to make emergency evasive maneuvers. When I simulated an emergency lane change on the highway, the car exhibited no tendency to roll.
The electric power steering system provides plenty of assist at low speeds while maintaining good on-center response on the highway. A 25.8-foot turning circle means that the iQ can do a U-turn in an alley. Steering feedback was pleasantly heavy when I drove through a cloverleaf ramp at speed.
There is a fair amount of road noise at all speeds, and the driver feels bumps in the road. Since the test car is equipped with a rear sway bar and performance springs, I assume that the suspension on an unmodified car is slightly more compliant.
Visibility to the front and sides of the car is good. There are very large blind spots in back due to the thick B-pillars and very small windows behind them. This not only limits over-the-shoulder visibility; it also makes it harder to see around adjacent vehicles when backing out of a vertical parking slot.
I assume that making the B pillars so thick was a structural necessity since the C pillars are very thin. Blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera would have been nice options.
Brakes consist of ventilated discs in front and drums in the back. Although there isn’t much braking taking place on the rear axle, I still would have preferred discs. Anyone who lives in an area with rain and snow knows that replacing brake shoes on drum brakes can involve knocking off rust ridges with a very large hammer.
Versatile interiorThe iQ interior is remarkably spacious for such a small car. Because of its wide track, passengers have plenty of hip room. Most adults should be comfortable in the front seats.
Designers had to make some concessions in order to accomplish this. There is less storage space around the front passengers: no glovebox and no center console bin. But there are open bins in the center console; doors have bottle holders and map pockets.
A flat-bottom steering wheel is a nice touch: it makes the interior look sportier. I found both the gauge cluster and center stack display easy to read. Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
In order to fold the rear seats flat it is necessary to remove the headrests. Headrests which either fold or recede into the seat would make the operation easier.
The Scion iQ comes with eleven standard airbags, traction and vehicle stability control and antilock brakes. Other standard safety features include a first aid kit and tire pressure monitoring system.
The iQ is on display at Scion dealerships nationwide.
Likes: Its small wheelbase makes the Scion iQ ideal for congested urban areas, while its wide track gives it stability on the highway and plenty of interior passenger space. The iQ gets excellent gas mileage, while having the power and performance to keep up with much larger vehicles.
Dislikes: Thick rear pillars limit visibility. Rear seats will not fold flat without removing the headrests.
Base price: $15,285
As tested: $19,135
Horsepower: 94 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 89 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 36/37 mpg city/highway
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