2012 Scion iQ HD Video Review

Toyota’s Scion brand was launched back in 2003. In it’s short life there haven’t been very many models. That makes their newest one, the iQ, is a big deal because (rimshot please) of it’s small size.  Scion says they were trying to create a premium micro sub-compact car.  They certainly got the micro part correct, iQ is only 10 feet long.

I drove an iQ at Scion’s press launch in Seattle.  It will be available in October for those of us on the West Coast.

Owners, get used to people saying “Dude, where’s the rest of your car?”  I got it twice in just a few short hours of tooling around Seattle streets.  Nearly everyone who sees iQ thinks it’s a Mercedes smart car (FYI, in the smart world nothing is capitalized).  iQ is smarter, or at least more sociable, with four seatbelts to the smart’s two.

What a smart Guy Thinks of iQ

You don’t see a whole lot of smart cars on the road but I ran into fortwo owner John Bickley on my way to perform the TP trunk test.  He was backing his diminutive ride into a free parking space only our two cars could wedge into.

He quickly sized up the Scion and was impressed, especially with the back seat (more on that later).  With it folded flat, iQ has much more cargo space than his car (two bundles of TP vs. six for the Scion).   He enjoys his smart but his other cars are Toyotas and says with the roomier interior, he’d have considered the Scion if it were available a year ago.

But There’s Other Competition

iQ retails for $15,995 with destination putting it into the crosshairs of vehicles like Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Nissan Versa, Fiat 500 and the upcoming Kia Rio.  All are more conventional cars with more useful rear seats (more on that later, really).  Some of them get slightly better highway fuel economy than iQ.  So the Scion will depend on a good amount of charm, not pure logic to close the sale. Oh, the irony.

Through a small slit that is the hood you’ll find a 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine. It makes 94 horsepower @ 6,400 RPM and 89 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 RPM.  The only transmission is a continuously variable automatic.  The CVT performance is much, MUCH smoother than the transmission found in a smart.  Brakes are disks up front, drums in the rear.

Fuel economy? EPA rates it at 36 city, 37 highway. Pretty good though with Accent and Fiesta scoring 40 on the highway, shoppers might raise a curious eyebrow, wondering why such a small car wouldn’t get even better gas mileage than those two.  iQ is geared toward the city and there it beats the competition by at least 6 MPG.  That’s why.

There’s some interesting engineering.  The compact differential sits ahead of the engine and transmission, a unique setup for Toyota. The steering column, electric power steering motor and the rack are positioned high at the back of the engine compartment near the bulkhead and the tie rods reach down to the steering arms.  It means the motor and rack don’t take up space in the engine compartment near the front suspension, keeping front overhang to an absolute minimum.

The 8.5 gallon gas tank is less than 5 inches deep and is mounted under the driver and passenger.  The location keeps it protected in case of a crash.

Not So Fast Einstein

iQ has more style and brains than brawn, 0-60 takes nearly 11.8 seconds according to Toyota, though off the line it feels peppier than that.  Top speed is 100 miles an hour.  Can you imagine the face of the officer pulling you over for that?  It’s surprisingly stable at highway speeds for a car with a short wheelbase (78.1 inches).  Tires are pushed out to the very corners of the car, there’s virtually no body overhang.

Choppy roads don’t trip up iQ’s ride, there’s no diving or porpoising.  Floor the throttle and like most continuously variable transmissions it lets the engine spool up and drone until it reaches cruising speed.  Once it settles down it’s moderately quiet for a small car due in part to a laminated windshield.

Like U-Turns?  This Could Be Your Dream Car.

Like smart, iQ shines in tight urban driving, no doubt two could park in the shadow of one Toyota Sequoia. The Scion is over four feet shorter than a Yaris in length but essentially the same width at 66.1 inches, making it pretty stable while cornering.

Speaking of, iQ has a very tight turning radius.  Scion claims it can pivot around the space of two king sized beds.  With none of those laying in the road, I’ll take their word for it.  My drive partner for the launch, John Vincent of The Oregonian, was subjected to my hijinks of doing a dozen loops within the boundaries of a normal two-lane street.  It’s a hoot.  Neither of us had to reach for the barf bag… close though.

Before I Get To The Back Seat…

Sitting in driver’s chair looking forward, iQ feels like a normal car, even- dare I say- roomy.  So it’s odd to reach back and touch the rear window with my fingertips. The cabin itself is a creative design with liberal amounts of piano black trim, soft touch material and fresh design.  In case you forget which car you bought, the Scion name is boldly molded into the door panels.

A thin ribbon of crimson swoops down between the dash and the sound system hood.  Bluetooth and USB port for audio players is standard.  The gauge cluster uses a seashell motif, the speedometer is classically round, the tach a linear strip below it.  An amber display for the fuel level and trip odometer is busy and difficult to read in bright light. The standard leather wrapped wheel sports a flat bottom.  It tilts but does not telescope.

Heat and air conditioning controls are stylishly positioned vertically, knob operation on this pre-production unit a bit rubbery.  The compact AC unit is mounted right behind the center stack.  This frees up space on the passenger side, allowing that seat to slide forward more than the driver’s chair.  It also eliminates the glovebox.

3 + 1 = 3

Finally, the rear seat.  Scion is calling the iQ’s arrangement 3 + 1, meaning this-  That front passenger seat with extra fore and aft travel creates sort of an asymmetrical dynamic so the passenger can sit ahead of the driver’s position.  That gives the back passenger a fighting chance to fit.  Sure, it’s a bit snug but headroom is OK and there are even cupholders.

The spot behind the driver is another story.  There’s little to no legroom for that unlucky passenger so it’s best left to an infant seat.  Or a computer bag.  Intelligent people will call iQ a three seater… at best.

With the back seats usable there is no cargo space to speak of, just a small little cubby in the floor.  There’s an inflation kit but like many cars these days, a spare tire is not along for the ride.  The headrests pretty much need to be removed to drop the split seat backs.  Again, six packs of Kirkland brand bath tissue fit so the space is pretty useful.

Small Comfort

It’s hard to reassure people that a car this small is safe. Toyota’s answer? 11 standard airbags, the most in the industry. That includes the world’s first rear window airbag and even units in the front seat cushion bottoms to keep people positioned correctly.

In short, iQ has the capability to become a big inflatable cushion to keep occupants safe.  Also, theoretically, it will spend the bulk of its time in slower moving urban traffic.

There are also the expected army of electronic stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes, all part of Toyota’s Star Safety System.

Everyone Will Have a Different iQ

That means accessories, not test scores. Except for color, all iQs are identical when delivered to the showroom.  This and a no-haggle price policy is the Scion way.  Buyers then choose wheels, body trim, TRD performance parts and sound systems.  All are dealer-uploads installed options.

Great, but show some willpower.  iQ can cross the 20 grand threshold adding accessories.  Even without any additions the bulldog appearance turns heads (or maybe it’s the size). Toyota says the shape is “inspired by the mathematical perfection of nature, avant-garde Japanese fine art, and “J-Factor”.  What is “J-Factor”? It, I have learned, is the Japanese approach to urban design.  There you go.  Use that info McNugget at your next party.

iQ will launch on the west coast in October.  After a few months that the rollout will extend to the Sun Belt, then move on to the East Coast and finally the Midwest.  This is much the same as the Scion brand’s original rollout.

For some iQ’s size will be a positive, for others, a negative.  It doesn’t have the room of its price class competitors but the stubby design makes people smile, especially in Hot Lava paint.  Clever, hip, and ready for customization, iQ is a no-brainer if your biggest need is something small.



  1. Elliot says:

    I kind of like it but It being so small the doors look huge. It also looks like it is very far away.

  2. pereflight says:

    As cool and cute as this car is, and as much as I think a car of this size could work for my wife and I, it just doesn’t seem safe. I’d love to spend less on gas, and parallel park in tiny spots, but not at the cost of safety. They could add 50 airbags, but I still wouldn’t feel good about my wife or kid out on the road in one of these rigs. I just don’t see it surviving a collision with a bigger vehicle…

    Great review as always Tom!

  3. kenwenzel says:

    Barely a back seat and no trunk area. Like the Smart and a few others, the rear crush area in an accident includes your spine. That from a former accident investigator.

  4. A Raunikar says:

    Enjoyed the review of the iQ. As the owner of a Prius, I like the idea of a smaller town car but hoping they will come out with an iQe or iQhybrid to get a real bang for the buck. Was suprised to see Aston Martin will rebadge it. I’ve seen the pictures. Hard to think of James Bond in this thing. If I’m going to get an Aston Martin, I want people to know it from the outside. Makes me think of my 10 year old daughter’s friend thinking my car was a Porsche. Hey maybe there’s and idea – Porsche could rebadge the Prius – maybe they could make the rear spoiler move up and down when you get up to 50 MPG (not MPH)….keep up the good work.

  5. CalgaryGuy says:

    I love the concept. The IQ’s fuel economy is better than some hybrids (I’m looking at you, manual CRZ), and the IQ is cheaper on gas in-town than ANY traditional car.

    But when I sincerely think about buying one…
    Ford Fiesta – $2000 cheaper.
    The Mazda 2 – $3,600 cheaper.

    So how much is cute worth?

  6. dcfoster3 says:

    I’m sorry but this class of underpowered shoe boxes just don’t work in the US, cough Smart, the Fourtwo is terrible. The IQ is no exception. It looks like whoever installed the seats had chalk or other powdery white substance all over their hands and left fingerprints all over them.

  7. ehsteve says:

    Wow, an interesting looking design from Toyota? Say it ain’t so! One might even call it – dare I say – sporty!

    I wonder what it would look like next to a miata… completely different animals, I know, but that’s how my mind relates to things these days.

  8. 68mlo says:

    While I have no burning desire to own a Scion iQ, I find it oddly fascinating…much like I find the Smart ForTwo fascinating. Of course, that fascination with both cars has more to do with their diminutive size than anything else. I’m going to be watching the local Scion store and see when these arrive.

  9. apollo says:

    i am really curious to see one of these in real life, do not think they come to my town until next year sometime. i just wonder why someone would buy this over an accent or fiesta which are cars that look good and seat more people more comfortable and get similar mpg on the highway at least. really curious to see how they sell, probably really popular at first and then drop off i think

  10. FinalBlue says:

    Hmm…interesting. Another informative review, Tom. Keep up the great work. Now that you’ve driven both the iQ and the Fiat 500, which do you think is better? Which would you be faster to recommend?

    Also, and this is a little unrelated, I’m both glad and a little sad that the reviews here are using the youtube video player. I’m sad because now I can no longer look down on the youtube watchers with smug contempt knowing that I’m getting an extra 90 seconds of content, but I’m glad because the youtube ad system is less intrusive than that of the old player (THE MANDATORY 20 SECOND TACO ADVERTISEMENTS MADE ME WANT TO EAT MY OWN FACE).

    As for the iQ, I think it’s very charming and quirky looking. I’m glad that Toyota decided to give the iQ the Scion badge, because frankly Scion needs to expand it’s lineup. Also, if it was a Toyota, the iQ probably wouldn’t have had the customization options to compete with those of the 500.

    The front end of this car is without a doubt the highlight of its design; it seems really clean and well-proportioned (the third picture in the Full Gallery looks fantastic). However, I think the interior is a little disappointing in that it’s somewhat dull, lifeless, and doesn’t sync up with the iQ’s expressive exterior (also, there’s no glovebox). There are some pretty interesting details, though: I like the speedometer and the reading light. Furthermore, it’s good to know that there are (what I assume to be) soft-touch materials on the dash; looking at pictures it seemed like the interior would be a sea of hard plastics.

    • TV says:

      In the end it was the “Transformers Lego” thingy ad that prompted me to bolt. I just couldn’t take it. YouTube has much less intrusive ads. And for those who think they should be ad free, well, I’m just trying to loose as little money as possible running this site.

      I’m dropping the short version BTW. I’m swamped as it is and need to reclaim the extra hour it takes to produce it. I’ll announce it on the channel next week or so.

      You know FB, I think I’m going to refrain from recommending one car over the other. People will have strong and emotional reactions to both of them and that’s what will sell these cars. Over the years I’ve found it’s better to advise people according to their needs AND as a writer and site host, I want to keep a bit of objectivity and neutrality. I’ll leave it to people posting to hash it out. I learn a lot about people’s positions reading the posts, part of the reason why I’m bribing people with hats!

      Agreed, the Scion choice was spot-on for Toyota. Wait until you see the interior before you judge. It’s interesting and the materials look and feel good for an inexpensive car (though the passenger knee bag looks a bit tacked on). I especially like the door handles that have a shark fin look.

  11. Ken says:

    Very cute design, it will sell well in the big cities. If they want to sell more to the rest of the country, then it really all depends on the price and the mpg. Anything below 40 mpg on the window sticker, then there is no point to buy this car unless the price is really low.