2012 Scion iQ Road Test

Scion touts the 2012 iQ microcar as an intelligent choice, but we did our homework.

Who It's For
The 2012 Scion iQ is a microcar meant for city dwellers looking for easy and fuel-efficient get-about-town transportation.
Best Thing
The iQ can fit neatly into just about any parking space, offers a measure of fun, and gets an EPA estimated 36 mpg city.
Worst Thing
The price. At $19,000 as-tested, there are lots of much better options.
Snap Judgment
If utility and price are not primary concerns, then the iQ can be a unique city-runabout.


Everyone seems to be getting in on the microcar movement. Mercedes-Benz started it with the Smart, the Fiat 500 has come to America, and now Scion has introduced the iQ. The idea plays upon a society in flux; the continued urbanization and movement towards major metropolitan areas. With so many people in crowded cities, the need for a small, fuel efficient car becomes obvious. The microcar has enjoyed relative success in Europe where cars are generally smaller, more fuel efficient, and parking and roads are often more compact. But is America ready for this microcar-invasion?

The iQ is a split proposition: a microcar in size that's a little more practical than a Smart, but priced above several good conventional subcompacts that offer more of everything. The gamble here is that people are willing to overlook value in a segment often defined by it. The 2012 Scion iQ is supposed to be priced around $16,000, which is on par with the Hyundai Accent, much larger Hyundai Elantra, and Mazda2. At that price, every member of our staff would take any of the aforementioned vehicles before the iQ. But wait: the iQ we tested cost more than $19,000 when we priced it on Scion's consumer website. At $16,000 we thought it was an overpriced, low-value proposition. Yet, oddly, at $19,000, it almost gains status through a new perspective: this is an indulgent toy car. Price and practicality are tossed out the window in favor of a status symbol. If kids who had grown up playing video games and had never actually driven a real car were to design one, it might look something like the Scion iQ.

The iQ does offer some advantages over even relatively small subcompacts. The iQ is among the most nimble cars we've ever driven, and as far as turning radius and parking, none can do better. The 36 mpg city from the tiny, 94-horsepower, 1.3-liter four-cylinder and CVT automatic transmission is commendable. Pushing just over 2,100 pounds, the iQ actually accelerates without issue, and is more than suitable to get around town in. Our staff spent a week scuttling about Los Angeles and Orange County in Scion's tiniest offering, and no one was left without an opinion.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

What We Drove

Scion is known for a no-haggle straight-forward pricing plan and traditionally Scion has offered a host of customization options. The iQ is no exception, there are no shortage of ways to modify Scion's microcar. Our example had no window sticker, but we priced our iQ on Scion's consumer website at $19,940.

Features included 16-inch alloy-wheels, navigation, carpet floor mats, a rear spoiler and upgraded shift knob. Safety equipment includes Anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control. The iQ has a total of 11 airbags: front-side airbags; front-side air curtains; front-knee airbags; front-seat cushion airbags; and a rear-window airbag. IIHS crash test ratings are not yet available.

The Commute

In our daily commutes we found the iQ delivered good fuel economy, but at just under 31 mpg, we were well shy of the EPA estimated 37 mpg combined. Our editors, to be fair, didn't attempt to achieve good fuel economy, and in general we try to see what the engine's got. But we do this with every car; while 31 mpg is still a good figure, there are a host of other cars that return similar or better mileage, while offering stronger engines, more utility and seating for four to five passengers if need be. And as the microcar's suspension is notably sporty, that stiffness translates into a bumpy-floaty ride. The steering is unlike anything we've driven, it's as if you constantly have to steer to go straight, but steering is abnormally light and video-game like. Many editors noted that it was hard to find a suitable seating position, and the jerky ride has you bouncing all over the seat.

That said, I actually found the iQ to be a fun ride. It was like something you would drive at a fun-park, something to hop in to at Disneyland, where you could play-drive. I didn't mind the droning of the engine, or the jerkiness, and turning corners and making U-turns was almost comically fun. The rear seat was a practical storage space for my laptop case, and the rear and cargo offer enough room for a few grocery bags. In general if viewed as a two-seater, the cabin is roomy. There is ample headroom and the seats go back, although several editors noted the manual seat controls were awkward and not logical. One editor said "the manual controls are confusing and the front seat wants to slide back and forth on its track like a guillotine."

The Grocery Run

While the Scion iQ has a simple and streamlined cabin, noticeably absent are the little storage compartments which come in handy for cell phones, sunglasses, change, iPods and the like. The iQ doesn't even have a glove box. The front row only has one cup holder, and the rear has two holders. There is a navigation system, which you don't automatically expect, and is the cause of about $2,000 of the iQ's cost. The shifter is fun and playful, and looks like it belongs in a manual transmission car, but we appreciated it here in the CVT. The steering wheel tilts but doesn't telescope, something that lesser priced offerings from Hyundai have been able to achieve. It's not all doom and gloom with the iQ though; there are great advantages too. Parking is a breeze, and the iQ can fit into even the most compact of spaces. Maneuvering in crowded and tight parking lots is also hassle-free. While the iQ is short on frills and cuts down to its econo-box roots, you can still run basic errands and get about town without a fuss. The cargo hatch is surprisingly roomy, enough for your groceries, and since we basically discount the rear seats as having any function, they can be used as a petite storage area as well.

However, leave your kids at home. Even though the iQ has cushions and belts behind the front seats, that area is a "rear seat" only in the most theoretical sense. Adults have no business back there, and even small children will even find it cramped. Besides which, even if you did want to haul a kid in back, there's precious little crush space between the rear of the car and the rear seat; we'd hate to see an iQ get rear-ended by a Chevy Suburban.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The Weekend Fun

The iQ, in its own way, is sort of fun to push around town. It's a ridiculous car, but you're in on the joke. But beyond city commutes, that's where you cease to be amused. Unlike the small, similarly underpowered Mazda2, in which you really could fit four adults for a road trip, the iQ is strictly for two humans-- mice, fleas, skinnier rabbits, active gerbils, and most insects should offer minimal complaint from the backseat. The iQ might be fun to zip along in on a deserted highway, but if an 18-wheeler comes your way you'll be plenty nervous all those airbags will just be full of, air. Our model had attractive 16-inch alloy wheels, which did look good on the iQ, but didn't help ride comfort any. For longer trips you'd do best to skip taking the Scion altogether, as the ride is stiff and really, this car is meant to be a city-dweller.

Summary

The 2012 Scion iQ is meant to be an urban runabout, and is designed to be fuel efficient, stylish, and compact. By those measures the iQ doesn't seem so bad. It's very compact, has unique, sporty styling, and we averaged 31 mpg, which isn't as much as we anticipated, but is still commendable. Parking is easy and the iQ can navigate tight corners with ease. But there are drawbacks, too. The iQ we tested was priced over $19,000, which was several thousand dollars more than cars that offered similar fuel economy or better, much more utility (seating, cargo, etc.) and generally offered more features. The Scion iQ is not a good value, but if you like the styling, don't need room for more than two adults, and will rarely stray from the confines of the city, then the iQ can be a consideration. But you should also consider the Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, and even the Mazda2 before.

Spec Box

Price as tested: $19,440
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 36 mpg
EPA Highway: 37 mpg
EPA Combined: 37 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 314.5 miles per tank
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: N/A

Notebook Quotes

"Odd shapes and materials, ill-fitting fit and finish, the Scion iQ's interior harkens to the days of econ-boxes, and not of today's more refined vehicles. And at $19,000, that's a deal breaker. There are just too many good cars out there." -Joel Arellano, Assistant Editor

"If there's any consolation to this car, it's that it's easy to park. And front passengers have a lot of space. And it's a Toyota, so it'll reliably humiliate you for a long time to come, now that you've decided to spend $19,000." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor

"Now that I've spent some time with it, it is in fact a hilarious little thing to drive. Everything on it feels incredibly fragile, like you're piloting a Viennese music box. The audio system looks like it could be easily stolen. Thieves, however, wouldn't want it: it's got this low-res screen from a Bratislavian ATM, but at least it responds fast." -Blake Z. Rong, Associate Editor

"Getting behind the wheel of the iQ felt like I was piloting a high-speed ski-lift pod, except this one had a little trouble going up any sort of incline. I can see its value if you mainly stay within the city limits but any need to travel outside of that will prove to be too cumbersome." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor

"It's been a long, long time since I so comprehensively disliked a car as I do this Scion. It is small, noisy, uncomfortable, odd looking, short on features, its few features are difficult to use, it has blind spots in spite of its diminutive size, no storage space, a bouncy ride, darty handling, and lousy power delivery." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director

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