---- — I am a very big fan of very small cars, especially stubby micro-runners like the Scion iQ. Driving one last week, I enjoyed every big benefit that the little shrimp offers.
Sure, the iQ is little. But it amply covers about 90 percent of my motoring needs. It probably does for you, too. Think of how often you travel alone in your car, with only a briefcase or shoulder bag, or a sack or two from the store.
“It’s a good commuter vehicle,” said Emmett Horgan, owner of Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda in Salem, N.H. “If you’re commuting in and out of Boston all the time, you could fall in love with the iQ. It lends itself to parking, and to getting around in an urban environment.”
But the sassy scooter is more than just a transport drone. The iQ is exciting. At least it is for the driver and front-seat passenger. The two-door capsule has a minuscule rear seat, with backs that fold down to give you needed cargo space. Rather than insulating you from the world, the little car attaches you. You remain active and engaged while driving, without the enormous, big-car barrier you get from, say, a hulking SUV like the Yukon Denali. Driving an iQ is like ambling on the sidewalk instead of sitting in a room.
It feels like motion, too. The Scion’s small size makes it so nimble and quick that the iQ responds instantly to driver movements, the way a bicycle turns when you simply lean. On a street in Boston I accomplished a one-eighty U-turn faster and tighter than I ever managed in even the most ambitious sports car.
What’s more, while it trundles to all the same places that a hulking Yukon Denali can take you, the iQ operates with so much more restraint. The 2013 Scion iQ lists at about $16,000. Its government fuel-economy rating is 36 miles per gallon in city driving, and 37 mpg on the highway. Through one week of ordinary, mixed driving, I averaged 39 mpg. That’s better than I’ve done in most hybrid cars, which exist to save gas.
On top of those sizable assets, the little iQ confers a distinction that only a car this unique can provide. Snub-nosed, then gracefully arching to a fast finish at the rear, the front-drive mini car is so compact that, seen from the side, the door is longer than both the front and back fenders. In fact, the door looks longer than front and back fenders combined. With design elements like crisp longitudinal creases and sinuous S-curves above the rear wheels, the iQ has a tidy and artful appearance that makes it stand out as a thoughtfully sculpted machine.
Gentlemen drivers need to be careful about autos this size. If it appears too dainty, a tiny car might look like it’s more fit for ladies. I think the Smart from Mercedes-Benz and the Fiat 500 flirt with that fate. But the iQ avoids it because its shape is bold and its aspect is solid, like an English bulldog rather than a frilly French poodle. When I drove the iQ, I felt the distinction you might get walking into a town wearing a backpack after a week-long solo wilderness hike: now there’s a guy who thinks for himself.
And I never felt squeezed. The iQ’s front seats are more spacious than you first expect. Emmett Horgan of Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda described the surprise as a playful sort of visual confusion created by the model’s short profile.
“The car is wide,” he explained. “After people look at it on the outside, they get in it and say, wow, this really does have room. It almost feels like an optical illusion.”
At Rockingham, Horgan’s personal experience with the iQ was similar to mine. When Scion introduced the vehicle last year as a 2012 model, he drove a demo and didn’t want to give it up. He made the iQ his personal vehicle through much of a season. He marveled when he parallel parked in Boston by simply heading into a curbside space without any to-and-fro wiggling. He felt impressed that the small car provided such a comfortable ride.
Horgan noted that engineers carefully built safety into the shrunken auto. For example, it is the world’s first car to contain a rear airbag. The iQ has a total of 11 airbags, which must be a record amount. It also comes with advanced antilock brakes, dynamic stability control, and tire-pressure monitoring.
I felt personally secure inside the small auto. I felt a little chop on the roughest roads – unavoidable when front and rear wheels are so close together – but overall enjoyed the little scamp’s stability and also its gusto. I cruised an easy 80 miles per hour on Interstate 93 before I realized it, and backed off before any troopers spotted me.
My only worries occurred during that other 10 percent of driving, when I put children in the back seat. But the iQ handled the task with aplomb. My two back passengers, John and Madeleine, are fit and flexible at ages eight and 12. Climbing in and out of the cabin required about four seconds more, but otherwise the pair enjoyed a day trip to Boston as much as they would in another auto. I wouldn’t have brought them 400 miles in the small Scion (there wouldn’t have been room for weekend bags if I had), but the 40-mile run to Boston was an easy adventure.
Sure, the Scion iQ won’t work for a lot drivers, especially people who cart around kids regularly. But for those who can use its practical advantages, the iQ is a unique and enjoyable, attention-grabbing statement car.
Scion is a brand of Toyota that specializes in youthfully spirited cars with attitude. It currently offers five models, but Horgan anticipates more distinctive, stand-out vehicles as unique as the iQ arriving soon.
“You’re going to see some new products, different products, unusual products, coming out of Scion,” he said. “They’re promising us more excitement.”
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2013 Scion iQ Vehicle type: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-wheel-drive mini-compact lift-back Price: $16,225 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles rust warranty Engine: 1.3-liter I4 Power: 94 horsepower at 6,000 rpm; 89 lb.-ft. torque at 4,400 rpm Transmission: continuously variable automatic Fuel economy: 36 mpg city; 37 mpg highway Wheelbase: 79 inches Length: 120 inches Width: 66 inches Height: 59 inches Weight: 2,127 pounds Fuel capacity: 10.6 gallons Turning circle: 12.9 feet