2012 Scion iQ: "Dude, where's the rest of my car?"
Price: Starts at $15,995.
Marketer's pitch: "iQ therefore I am."
Conventional wisdom: "What the heck is that little thing?"
Reality: A little smarter than a Smart.
Smallness is big: As the owner of an old Volkswagen Beetle, I have an affinity for small cars, and am happy to see so many choices at this scale.
But the new-for-2012 Scion iQ takes things to a new level. It's a little bigger than a Smart, and creatively adds a second row of seats.
Inside: Scion calls this cutie a 3+1. I'd have to call it more like a 3 (3/4)+1/2, which is the kind of formula appropriate for a car called the "iQ". That adds up to 2 3/4, which is about how many people this baby can actually carry.
A nifty setup: How did Scion build a car that is 10 feet long and squeeze four seats in it?
• The passenger seat and accompanying footwell sit forward of the driver's seat.
• The rear seats sit almost up against the rear window.
• One side in the rear is for regular people and one is for slightly irregular (read: small) people.
How does it function? Compromise is key.
I whined to Sturgis Kids 3.0 and 4.0 for a long while, who finally agreed to submit to a couple hours in the backseat of this innovative little machine. (Pizza awaited at the other side.)
We made enough room in the bigger half of the backseat for Sturgis Kid 4.0 (who at 11 needs a little more wiggle room than the Zen-like 17-year-old Sturgis Kid 3.0). But the lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat found her feet squeezed together into a narrow footwell when she was forced all the way forward.
And Mr. Driver's Seat hasn't had to go so seat forward, backrest vertical since driving his 1980 Ford Fiesta to college.
In short, we were all equally unhappy.
Cargo space: This is nil. Lucky I carry a soft shoulder bag rather than a hard briefcase, or I wouldn't have been able to squeeze it in behind the rear seats.
Of course, the seats fold down, to create a fairly standard-size cargo bay.
There's no glovebox or CD holder. The iQ does have a circular depression that gives the illusion of holding an unboxed CD, at least until the vehicle is in motion.
On the road: The CVT coupled to the 1.3-liter engine in the test vehicle only added to the golf-cart-like feel of the iQ. There's a lot of torque available at all ranges, so it feels like an electric car. There's no shift capability, and a clutch version is not available.
Squirmy: The iQ is a great companion in the tight parking spaces and narrow streets of Philadelphia. The turning radius allowed me to skip three-point turns in my driveway and on my front street and just make a loop.
Yet the easy maneuverability does not transfer into fun handling on winding country roads. The R2D2-like stance left me slowing down for curves even more than I would driving big trucks, as I worried about putting the Scion on its side.
The seats: I ventured into the backseat for a moment, and it's tough getting back there. But the seats themselves aren't too bad.
The front seats are fairly comfortable and didn't cause pain on rides of up to an hour.
Looking out: The tiny rear windows and thick pillars make backing up and passing trickier than they should be.
Putting Mrs. Passenger Seat forward to create more legroom behind also makes pulling out a challenge.
What's missing: The wipers have a delay function, but only one setting, à la small Mazdas.
Cruise control? Fuggetaboutit. Not even an option.
Consumption: I measured about 34 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.
Where it's built: Takaoka, Japan.
How it's built: The Scion brand has scored tops in J.D. Power & Associates dependability ratings. The iQ gets a slightly lower but still above-average rating.
In the end: Mrs. Passenger Seat and the female Sturgis Kids loved the cuteness of this little vehicle. I'd say it's a great choice for a city-dwelling young person or couple who occasionally needs room for a friend (or soon-to-be-former friend) or two.
I'd endorse it more highly if the size translated into super-MPGs, but mid-30s? And I could get a comparatively full-size Hyundai Accent or Ford Fiesta hatchback for about that $15,995 price.