2011 Scion iQ: Review
By Evan Griffey of MSN Autos
Designed to navigate the tight roads of medieval European villages that make an alley in the United States seem like an eight-lane super highway, city cars are small, highly maneuverable and extremely fuel efficient. They aren't meant to haul bikes or other gear for outdoor fun. They can't really transport more than a single person. Nor are they suitable to take on long-haul road trips. Basically, for anything Americans typically love doing, a city car doesn't do very well. They are intended purely for commuting — essentially, they're appliances on four wheels. And they are popular in Europe and Asia. But can they be popular here, as well?
Scion hopes so, and it is the latest automaker to start selling a micro-compact, the iQ, in the U.S. While the iQ is similar to the smart fortwo in the sense that it is a typical city car in design and concept, it is more than bare-bones transportation. Instead, it strives to put the "all" back into "small" by using innovative technology and design to engineer compromise out of the equation.
But will it be a hit here in America? The jury is still out.
Scion engineers put the squeeze on critical components, allowing the iQ to cheat physics in the name of comfort and style. To save room up front, the entire engine assembly was foreshortened by developing a front-mounted differential and a high-mount steering system. Incorporating a low-profile fuel tank (4.75 inches deep) saves room behind the rear axle, reducing overhang to practically nil. Scion created a compact heater/air-conditioning unit that installs behind the center console, allowing designers to employ a staggered seating arrangement that positions the passenger bucket further forward in the cockpit than the driver's seat. This feature and the slim-back front-seat design opens up legroom for the rear passenger.
The micro-compact is an emerging segment, and the Fiat 500, MINI Cooper hardtop and the aforementioned smart fortwo will all be arm-wrestling the iQ for supremacy in the U.S. market.
Under the Hood
The 1.3-liter engine proves to be a real fuel miser, using its CVT-i-enhanced driveline, light 2,127-pound curb weight, and an ability to turn off the injectors during deceleration to deliver Environmental Protection Agency ratings of 36 mpg city/37 mpg highway. The iQ's impressive combined 37 mpg is the best combined fuel efficiency on the road this side of a hybrid.
We spent some quality time in the rear seat and can report that the clever staggered seating results in a no-compromise experience. Configured as a four-seater there is nary four or five inches of cargo room between the hatch and the seat back, so even quick trips to the grocery store will be a seat-down affair. Seat-up cargo room is listed as 3.5 cubic feet, while maximum, seat-down storage checks in at 16.7 cubic feet.
From the driver's seat the iQ's cabin is a minimalist's paradise, with a scant three vertically placed knobs making up the center-stack controls. Scion uses soft-surface plastics where users come in contact with it most, and the overall cabin design has that funky Scion feel, with a V-shaped housing that's home to one of three available infotainment units. Buyers can opt for the standard 160-watt offering, a 200-watt TFT touch-screen unit, or the top-of-the-line navigation setup. All 2012 Scion models include Bluetooth connectivity and HD radio as standard fare.
On the Road
The iQ's doors open wide, and getting in and sitting at the controls feels like you're in any other compact car. The seats are not crammed next to each other, there is plenty of legroom, and outward visibility is uninhibited. It's not until you turn to look back while backing up does the smallness of the Scion hit you.
Getting up to speed is an anxiety-free experience. We credit the iQ's surprisingly ample acceleration to the savvy CVT gearbox, which really gets the most from the Scion's 94-horsepower mill. We could hear the 1.3-liter trying — and feel it succeeding — as we put the 10-foot-long roller skate through its paces.
Visions of Michael Douglas catching air "Streets of San Francisco" style not withstanding, we went out of our way to challenge the Scion. Going up and down some steep city streets at high speeds, the iQ didn't miss a beat. Merging into freeway traffic was also a snap, proving the iQ was ready for clear roads and traffic jams in equal measure.
We noticed that the Scion dealt with big bumps and potholes well, but it seemed to struggle with mid-frequency inputs from road irregularities, such as expansion joints, transferring harshness into the cabin and through the steering wheel. Overall, handling is snappy, with quick reactions to input and acceptable amounts of body roll in spirited cornering situations. There are no compromises at work when it comes to driving the iQ. It's fun to toss around, and its 10-foot overall length and extremely tight 12.9-foot turning radius make the iQ super easy to park once you get to your destination.
Right for You?
If America is ready for the micro-compact revolution, Scion has certainly developed a car that will take the pain of compromise out of the transition.