BY GERRY MILES
Where’s the rest of the car?
Will it become a sedan after you add water? How many clowns can you ﬁt inside … besides yourself?
Those are the most frequent comments I received based on a week of driving in the 2013 Scion iQ. Anyone who opts for this bulldog cute city commuter car should be prepared for similar remarks should they fall for any microcar.
Aimed at attracting youthful buyers, Scion scored street cred supporting dance parties or raves, skateboarding, and events where attendees customized their rides on two or four-wheels. They also learned a lot about what drivers wanted, and they provided it. With that blueprint, Scion offered a solid, basic car set: the xA (it looked likeadoorstop) and xB (boxy with a spoiler off the back). The xD, a more squat, square-ish offering, and the tC later followed.
Today’s review vehicle, the iQ—no, the “i” has nothing to do with Apple products—is what Scion calls the premium microcar. That seems high praise for a car that at one time competed only with the Smart Car but now ﬁnds itself battling the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, and Mazda2 in the crowded small/microcar corral. The Cooper is the largest feeling and heaviest (2,535 pounds) of the group. Mazda’s 2 is the longest (35 inches longer than the iQ’s 120-inch length) and weighs as much as the 500 but its 100 hp output puts it in the middle of the offerings.
The iQ is offered in one mode: the two-door hatch with a 1.3-liter, 94 hp, I-4 engine mated to a CVT transmission, lots of standard items such as ABS brakes and electronic brake distribution (EBD), plus 11 airbags and combined EPA numbers of 37 mpg.
That’s a lot packed into a little car that’s much roomier inside than it outwardly appears. Though it claims room for four (Scion calls it a 3+1 setup), allowing for three adults and one small child, but that is an overly generous claim of space.Two average adults can sit in comfort upfront. With the driver’s seat fully extended, however, you’d be hard pressed to place some groceries behind it, nevermind a small human. A shorter front passenger might allowasimilarly short person—say the late Hervé Villechaize from “Fantasy Island”—behind the front seat, but only if the trips are short. If revenge is a motive, by all means take an extended ride along the Jamaicaway, seek out the potholes, tightly cutting the apex of the corners.Toss in a rotary for good measure, and the iQ’s short wheelbase should leave the reprobate shaken and stirred.
If you’re not sitting in steerage, the ride upfront is quite nice.The seats are slim but stronger than believed and best suited for short stints. The curious will want to slide in, just to see if they can, and ask where you hide the clowns.
Front seat room has been maximized by some engineering feats. By putting the differential in front of the transmission, Scion produced a shorter front overhang. A high-mounted steering rack and compact AC unit also saved space while spurning traditional placement and designs.The gas tank is ﬂat and placed under the ﬂoor to reduce rear overhang.
There is some storage space behind the rear seats, if you’re stowing a magazine or two. Folding the rear seats will provide more storage room, but only in relation to the car’s size. The optional cargo net ($65) is a waste as is the rear package shelf ($20), since there’s so little room behind rear seats that nearly touch the rear window.
The more I drove the iQ, the more I liked its spritely manner, smirking at gas pumps, and parking anywhere I wanted, courtesy of its 13-foot turning radius. Its size let me squeeze into a space on Plum Island while seeking a late breakfast at Mad Martha’s.
The small engine is purposeful, but, as expected, will protest under heavy demands and uphill. Many blame the CVT and the missing interaction that a manual provides with timely downshifts, but in the words of a famed football coach, “It is what it is.”
Acceleration can best be achieved by leaving your right foot down to keep the revs up. Driving was more spirited than expected and for an urban shuttle car, it was just ﬁne.
But having the speedometer even show three digits indicates how silly the marketing department is. Does anyone really think the iQ could hit 100, nevermind 120 mph? Hello, McFly.
Its small size was ampliﬁed along Route 101 to New Hampshire’s seacoast where strong crosswinds and trailing air off tractor trailers pushed the Scion’s 2,127 pounds around.
The tall headrests on the rear seats obscure any chance of reading the nameplates of vehicles behind you and are best removed. Honestly, no one will ever sit there.
Economically, the EPA numbers were less than billed. With the low fuel gauge blinking, often indicating 50 miles to go, it needed only 6.5 gallons to ﬁll up its 8.5-gallon tank, yielding 30.7 mpgs in 200 mixed miles of mostly highway driving. The car sticker proclaims an overall EPA of 37 mpgs. I expect city driving would produce higher numbers, since that’s part and parcel of the car’s primary mission.
One neat part of the car’s styling is the way two side spoilers slip around off the rear quarter windows and around the rear glass window.
The tester came with a few spiffy options, the Pioneer Premium HD radio ($479) and XM Satellite ($449) that spiked the total options added to $1,203.
With a starting point of $15,265 that ended at $17,198, the car likely will have folks dividing the cost per foot as they would a house. That said, there are many other options and competition that will provide a similar, if not more powerful, ride with a small trade-off at the pump.
If you believe that good things truly come in small packages, you’ll admire the Scion iQ microcar. If you’ve followed what Scion’s done in the past, expect more technologies and customizations to transfer down the line.
- Price, base/as tested (with destination): $15,265. / $17,198.
- Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 36 mpg city / 37 mpg highway.
- Fuel economy, observed: 30.2 mpgs.
- Drivetrain: 1.3-liter I-4 front-engine, Continually Variable Transmission (CVT), front-wheel-drive.
- Body: 4 passenger, 2-door hatchback, microcar.
- THE SPECIFICS
- Horsepower: 94
- Torque: 89 lb.-ft.
- Overall length: 120.1 in.
- Wheelbase: 78.7 in.
- Height: 59.1 in.
- Width: 66.1 in.
- Curb weight: 2,127 pounds.
THE GOOD: Fuel economy, easy to park city car. Options allow customization.
THE BAD: No real rear seat room. Rear seat headrests block view out back window. No manual transmission.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A contender in a competitive small car segment.
ALSO CONSIDER: Smart fortwo, Mini Cooper, Mazda2, Fiat 500.