Advertisement2012 Scion iQ - First Drive ReviewContinuously clever to a fault.BY JOHN PEARLEY HUFFMAN
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Here’s what the new Scion iQ has going for it: It’s tiny outside, but not so small inside. Four people can wedge in when necessary. It’s good-looking, the interior design is about the best of any cheap car, and the seats are comfortable. The suspension is simple, but it works well, and the precise steering and its size make the iQ super easy to park. And although the front-mounted 1.3-liter engine makes 94 hp, the iQ weighs just a cheerleader more than a ton.
Here’s what’s wrong with the new Scion iQ: It’s stuck with a continuously variable transmission that drains the fun out of it. Every. Single. Drop.
The Price Is Certainly “Premium”
Toyota—okay, Scion—describes the iQ as a “premium micro-subcompact” and will sell it as such when it goes on sale in October as a $15,995 single-spec model backed by a dealer-installed accessory catalog. That’s a ton of cash when you consider the plethora of larger and more practical cars available for less money, among them the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, and Kia Soul. But, hey, at least the iQ costs less than the mechanically identical Aston Martin Cygnet.
The Scion does, however, look substantial and well detailed for a dink-class runabout. The bumper covers are painted and fit tightly, the headlights are complex units, there are turn-signal lights integrated into the bottom of the side mirrors, and the 175/60-16 tires fill out the wheel wells. Even the wheel covers on the steel wheels almost plausibly pass for metal. Besides its length—120.1 inches, 14.0 longer than a Smart Fortwo but a substantial 26.5 shorter than a Mini Cooper—and 78.7-inch wheelbase, little about the iQ screams “cheap.”
Inside, the driver faces a thick, flat-bottomed, three-spoke steering wheel covered in red-stitched leather and an instrument panel that nestles the tach in the lower right quadrant of the speedometer. And there’s an information screen to the left of those. It’s a compact, logical, and legible arrangement.
The center stack has three simple knobs for controlling the HVAC system and is capped by a pod that contains a double-DIN-size Pioneer audio head unit. If a buyer doesn’t like the standard stereo, Scion will have a dealer-swappable upgraded Pioneer unit and a navigation system available.
The thin-shelled, fabric-covered front seats sort of bend around any awkward body shape. The passenger-side front-seat rails are mounted slightly forward of the driver’s, and the dashboard on that side is slightly forward, too. The arrangement affords a bit more legroom for right-side passengers. A flotsam tray under the passenger seat is particularly useful if that seat’s occupant is a drooler.
Even with the passenger seat thrown forward for ingress, it’s a chore to get to the rear seat. It’s not roomy back there, but that there’s any space at all is a miracle of packaging efficiency and owes something to the engine placement. So the kids feel claustrophobic looking through the pie-slice rear windows? At least there’s an innovative rear-window airbag to protect their heads in a collision.
Damn, Dirty CVT
The 1.3-liter four has a 16-valve DOHC head, variable valve timing, and an aggressive 11.5:1 compression ratio, but it doesn’t have much sporting character and has to be wrung to its 6000-rpm redline to whip up the full 94 horses. The modest 89 lb-ft of torque is available a bit lower peak, at 4400 rpm.
But those pattering pound-feet travel through that cursed CVT. Other markets in which the iQ is sold as a Toyota—or as the shameful Cygnet—are blessed with a manual transmission, but here in North America there’s no choice. So jam a brick on the accelerator, and the iQ’s little engine runs to about four grand and sticks there as the car slowly engineers forward progress with a drone.
Every time the iQ is about to do something entertaining, the CVT intrudes and spoils it. Dive into a corner, the tires bite and…the transmission induces its drone of defeat and the car practically falls on its nose. Scion says the iQ will run from 0 to 60 mph in 11.8 seconds, but a better estimate might be a week.
Scions always seem to promise more fun than they deliver. (We hope the upcoming FR-S–based coupe will prove different.) But tune the iQ’s front struts and rear torsion beam a bit, bolt on some righteous rubber, tweak the engine to about 130 hp, give it a decent transmission, and this car could be a point-and-squirt legend.
Right now, it’s only frustratingly clever.Specifications
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 3-door hatchback
BASE PRICE: $15,995
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 81 cu in, 1329 cc
Power (SAE net): 94 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 89 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic
Wheelbase: 78.7 in Length: 120.1 in
Width: 66.1 in Height: 59.1 in
Curb weight (C/D est): 2150 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 11.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 50.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 18.5 sec
Top speed: 100 mph
FUEL ECONOMY (MFR’S EST):
EPA city/highway: 36/37 mpg
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