Road test: 2012 Scion iQ is cute
as a button, but is it smart?

?It?s like a Smart car, right??

I heard this several times during my week with the Scion iQ, and my answer was always ?Yes and no.?

Yes, because this is a cute-as-a-button Euro micro-car and no, because the Scion nearly functions as a normal vehicle whereas the smaller smart fortwo asks of its owner the patience and compassion of Mother Teresa.

That?s not to say the fish-out-of-water Scion iQ is much, er, smarter.

Here?s the deal. The $16,760 Scion iQ (Toyota in other world markets) is designed for negotiating and, more importantly, parking on the super congested and narrow streets of Tokyo, Rome, Paris, et al. Bring it over to North America with our wide-open spaces and the iQ becomes a novelty act.

Granted, the iQ is a cleverly packaged little thing. At only 3 metres in length, it will accommodate three adults in reasonable comfort, with the option of wedging a fourth small humanoid behind the driver. How? The scooped-out dash allows the passenger seat to sit farther forward than the driver?s, and the long doors give fairly ready access. With the rear seats folded, the hatch will hold a big load of groceries.

Unlike the $14,350 rear-engined, rear-drive 70 hp three-cylinder smart fortwo, the iQ has a front-mounted 94 hp 1.3L four powering the front wheels. But like the smart, it is hobbled by its transmission. Okay, so the Scion?s CVT (continuously variable transmission) could never be as bad as the smart?s halting five-speed sequential thingy, but when calling for reasonable acceleration it sends the little four-banger wailing away at about 4500 rpm. while the rest of the car slowly plays catch up. Not very pleasant.

The best way to drive the iQ is not to be in a hurry.

In all other aspects, the Scion is pretty good. The steering is nicely weighted and it zips around corners with an enthusiasm and confidence that the smart can only dream of. Thanks to the short wheelbase its ride is pretty choppy, but again, better than the smart. I?m sure the standard 16-inch wheels (steel with hubcaps) contribute to its more grown-up demeanour.

The iQ?s party trick is a turning circle the size of a large pizza. It turns on itself like a puppy chasing its tail.

Looking at the interior, you?d be forgiven for thinking the design team?s water cooler was spiked with LSD. It?s a hodge-podge of weirdness.

To the left of the analogue speedo and tach is a cheap-looking red digital display for fuel, time, temp, etc. The centre stack incorporates three large rotary HVAC knobs and a large faux-metallic inverted triangle swiped from the set of Star Trek. Topping the whole thing off is what appears to be the mutant love-child of a toaster and a ham radio. This is your audio unit with a bunch of tiny and inscrutable buttons. The spotted seat fabric is another nice hallucinogenic touch

The seat cushions are too high for tall people. With no adjustment I found myself looking down to see out of the windshield. The smart fortwo?s seats, driving position and forward visibility are better.

I do love the nicely contoured multi-function leather steering wheel, and it must be noted this 960 kg Scion imparts a feeling of solidity and quality.

The iQ?s price includes air conditioning, Bluetooth, keyless entry, 11 airbags, power heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, and . . . wait for it . . . claimed fuel economy of 5.5 L/100 km city, 4.7 highway and 5.1 combined.

I was waiting for it too. After about 1,000 km of mostly highway driving, I saw a disappointing 7.2 L/100. And I was hardly driving like a demon ? just keeping up with traffic.

Like I said, the iQ just ain?t cut out for duty over here. Thanks to the aerodynamics of a garden shed, the four banger works hard when the car is at speed. Wind noise, engine din and sensitivity to crosswinds only indicate that when the engineers were designing this ingeniously packaged little critter they weren?t thinking of the 401. Walled medieval cities, more like.

Furthering the iQ?s plight is a plethora of sub-compact cars that get as good or better fuel mileage, perform better, cost the same and are more comfortable and practical.

Nonetheless, if you?re attracted to Euro-chic automotive trinkets, the Scion iQ is the smarter choice.

Peter Bleakney reviews cars for Toronto Star Wheels. He can be reached at

2012 Scion iQ

BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $16,760/$16,760

ENGINE: 1329 cc inline-4

FUEL CONSUMPTION: (L/100 km) 5.5 city, 4.7 highway, 7.2 observed

POWER: 94 hp; 89 lbs.-ft.

COMPETITION: Smart fortwo, Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Sonic, Fiat 500, Honda Fit

WHAT?S BEST: A breeze to manoeuvre and park.

WHAT?S WORST: Disappointing real-world fuel mileage.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: World?s smallest A/C system, world?s flattest gas tank.

  • Road test: 2012 Scion iQ is cute as a button, but is it smart?
  • Road test: 2012 Scion iQ is cute as a button, but is it smart? CHARGES MAY APPLY 2012 Scion iQ Peter Bleakney photo Subject: 2012 Scion iQ pix 3,4 - Bleakney On 2012-03-13, at 1:01 PM, Peter Bleakney wrote: Peter Bleakney h 905-465-2047 c 416-268-7906 2012 Scion iQ 3.JPG 2012 Scion iQ 4.JPG
  • Road test: 2012 Scion iQ is cute as a button, but is it smart?
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