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Scion Builds a Smarter Micro Car

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Tue, Sep 13, 2011

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

2012 Scion iQ

By Roy Nakano If there’s any doubt that Scion had its sight set on the Smart car when designing its latest model, check out its name: iQ. Indeed, Scion set out to build an even smarter small car by addressing all the things that could use some improvement on the German microcar: Room for more than two, power, ride, and sportiness. Did they succeed? Yes. Now the question is: Will car shoppers buy it? Scion lent LA CAR a handmade prototype of the iQ for seven days, and we set out to see if Scion has succeeded.


The Smart car held out such promise when it arrived on these shores a couple years ago. It was, after all, designed by Mercedes-Benz, attractive inside and out, and far smaller than any other car on the U.S. market. Unfortunately, it falls short in more ways than just its overall dimensions. In an effort to offset the very short wheelbase, the makers designed the steering response to be slow. Consequently, instead of the go-kart turns of the MINI Cooper, the Smart car has the steering response of a land yacht. To keep the automatic transmission from robbing power away from the diminutive three-cylinder engine, the Smart engineers designed in the biggest lag between shifts. The lag is so pronounced that it almost feels like the car is stalling. Last, but not least, the ride quality on highways is worse than an old pick-up truck. With the Scion iQ, the steering response can actually be described as sporty. No one will mistaken it for a MINI or GTI, but it’s miles more fun than the Smart car. While the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is not exactly the sportiest way to go, it does offer a choice between normal Drive and a more fun-to-drive Sport mode. Paddle shifters would have been nice, but perhaps its coming later. At least the CVT maximizes around-town fuel economy (the EPA rating estimate is 36 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on the highway).


Ride quality in the Scion iQ is noticeably better than in the Smart, thanks to its longer wheelbase. In overall length, the iQ falls squarely between the Smart car and the MINI Cooper. The extra length allows the engineers to move the front passenger half of the dashboard forward, which in turn allows for an adult to sit in the back in relative comfort. Scion describes the iQ as having 3+1 seating (three adults and one child). With careful placement of the driver’s seat, we actually managed to fit a petit adult behind a 5 foot 9 inch driver without too much discomfort. The Scion iQ establishes a new performance benchmark for microcars. Whether it’s enough for American consumers to place the iQ in its radar screen remains to be seen. The reception for ultra small cars in the U.S. have not been stellar. At the base price of $15,265, you can buy a real five-seater economy car like the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. In its favor, the Scion (unlike the Smart car) can actually fit more than two adults. However (like the Smart car), the fit and finish in the iQ does not scream econobox. On the contrary, there are some surprisingly upscale touches in the iQ. When all is said and done, however, there is a certain coolness factor that the iQ has that you won’t find in a similarly priced econobox. Ultimately, that may be the prime motivator to bring buyers into the showroom.


SUMMARY JUDGMENT The new benchmark in microcars. For more information, go to


SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2012 Scion iQ (available in October 2011) Price: $15,265 EPA fuel economy rating: 36 city/37 highway (miles per gallon) Engine: 1.3 liter DOHC 16-valve inline four with VVT Horsepower: 94 hp @ 6000 rpm Torque: 89 ft-lbs. @ 4400 rpm Transmissions: Continuously variable transmission (CVT) with Normal and Sport modes Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion Suspension Front: MacPherson strut independent suspension with stabilizer bar Rear: Torsion beam rear suspension with stabilizer bar Brakes: Ventilated front disc / rear drum brakes four-wheel ABS, emergency braking assist, stability control, traction control and electronic brake force distribution Wheels and tires: 16 x 5.0 in. wheels and 175/60R16 all season tires Dimensions Length: 120.1 inches Width: 66.1 inches Height: 59.1 inches Curb weight: 2127 pounds


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