Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ reviews scion car test drives
2012 Scion iQ. Click image to enlarge

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Scion Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2012 Scion iQ

The pint-sized Scion iQ micro-car is often compared to the two-seat Smart Fortwo and the four-seat Fiat 500, but in my view, the three-and-a-half-seat iQ occupies its own special niche. It’s a little bigger and more powerful than the Fortwo which doesn’t have a rear seat; and a bit smaller and less powerful than the retro-styled Fiat 500.

Though Scion advertises that the iQ will seat “four passengers”, that fourth person has to be a baby in a child seat – there is simply no legroom behind the driver’s seat for an adult rear passenger. However, there is some legroom behind the front passenger seat if it is pushed forwards somewhat, made possible due to the extra front legroom on the passenger side. The right rear seat is rather uncomfortable for an adult, but I found enough legroom and headroom to squeeze in my 5 foot 9 inch frame.

The driver and front passenger have plenty of room due to the iQ’s wide body and tall roof, and the big doors make the front seats easy to get in and out of. For practical purposes, the iQ is really a two-seat micro car with a decent-sized trunk (473 litre/16.7 cu. ft. with both rear seats folded down) with the option of seating a third person if necessary.

Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ reviews scion car test drives
2012 Scion iQ. Click image to enlarge

As many reviewers have noted, there are a number of other cars you can buy for the iQ’s suggested price of $16,760 that will seat four or five adults and have a larger trunk. But that kind of misses the point: the iQ’s primary appeal is its urban-friendly manoeuvrability, ‘parkability’, and excellent fuel economy.

Though it’s about 50 mm longer than a Fortwo, the Scion’s overall length of 3045 mm (119.9 in.), or 10 feet, is still very short, even by subcompact car standards. The Fiat 500, for example, has an overall length of 3546 mm (139.6 in.). The Scion’s small size opens up a whole new world of parking opportunities: street parking spaces that most other cars won’t fit into are available to the iQ. That, combined with the iQ’s incredibly tight turning circle of 7.8 metres/25.6 ft., offers a level of manoeuvrability that other cars, not even the Smart Fortwo, can match. U-turns are a snap, impossibly tight underground parking garages and drive-thru restaurants become easier to navigate, and parallel parking is as easy as a few turns of the steering wheel.

Fuel economy is also class leading, according to Natural Resources Canada. The iQ is rated at 5.5 L/100 km city, 4.7 L/100 km highway. That compares to the Smart Fortwo with 5.9 city/4.8 hwy and the Fiat 500 with 7.4 city/5.7 hwy. The U.S. EPA, which has a more realistic testing formula, gives the Scion iQ ratings of 6.5 city/6.4 hwy. With a 32.2-litre gas tank, the iQ will travel 455 km on a single tank of fuel.

Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ reviews scion car test drives
Test Drive: 2012 Scion iQ reviews scion car test drives
2012 Scion iQ. Click image to enlarge

The iQ’s performance is not as underwhelming as you might expect. Equipped with a 94-hp 1.3-litre four-cylinder motor and continuously variable transmission, the lightweight (960 kg/2,116 lb) iQ manages zero to 100 km/h in 11.5 seconds, according to AJAC tests. That’s quicker than the 70-hp Smart Fortwo which Consumer Reports says does 0 to 60 mph in 14.6 seconds, and the 101-hp Fiat 500 which AJAC clocks from zero to 100 km/h in 12.3 seconds. The iQ is even quicker than the subcompact 100-hp Mazda2 with zero to 100 km/h in 11.9 seconds. Even the 138-hp Hyundai Accent (auto) takes 10.4 seconds.

While accelerating, the Scion’s standard continuously variable transmission suspends engine revs at a high level until the driver backs off the throttle, and it’s a bit noisy in the cabin, which doesn’t seem to have much sound insulation. On the other hand, the iQ’s CVT is considerably smoother than the Fortwo’s jerky five-speed sequential automatic transmission. Once the iQ is cruising along, engine noise is reduced with the engine turning over about 2,000 r.p.m. at 100 km/h.

Selecting S mode with the Shift lever brings the revs up to 3,000 rpm at 100 km/h, providing better response when passing, but I didn’t notice any improvement in off-the-line performance in S mode. Unlike the Fortwo and the 500, the iQ’s transmission has no manual shift mode. The transmission’s B mode is akin to a low gear that can be used for engine braking when going downhill.

The iQ’s highway ride is not as choppy as the Smart Fortwo’s, probably due to its longer wheelbase and wider track. It rides quite comfortably on smooth pavement and tracks fairly well at highway speeds, but I found the suspension very firm over pavement breaks and bumps, with some lurching motions. When starting off, the rear-end drops down a bit, and when braking the front nose-dives slightly. Handling is stable, but doesn’t feel as nimble as the Fortwo and the steering feel is rather numb. My test car was equipped with Dunlop SP Wintersport 175/60R-16-inch tires, which performed well in the wet and cold conditions during my test drive.

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