2013 Scion iQ EV Quick Drive

Here's a Scion iQ You'd Actually Want to Buy, Except You Can't

Let's start with a little perspective here: Toyota sells about 400,000 Camry sedans a year. The Lexus LFA, the automaker's $375,000 supercar, was limited to a run of just 500 vehicles over three years. Still, the LFA was nowhere close to being the rarest car Toyota has made in recent years. That distinction goes to the 2013 Scion iQ EV.

Originally designed for mass consumption, Toyota retreated after surmising that the world might not be ready for an EV version of its already niche city car. But with all the technology paid for, the automaker decided to make 100 cars--90 for the U.S. and 10 for Japan--for colleges and fleets. We're not fans of the gas-powered Scion iQ, so we wondered if the EV version would be better. It certainly couldn't be any worse, could it?

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Model and Price

The Scion iQ EV comes with just one option: its color. It comes finished in either silver or red, with its top half colored black to give it a "sleek impression." We're not sure we'd use the word "sleek" with any Scion outside of the FR-S, but the iQ EV does score some points with its leather-wrapped steering wheel, the front end poached from the badge-engineered $50,000 Aston Martin Cygnet that's not sold in the U.S., a much nicer interior overall capped with a seven-inch navigation screen and soft-touch surfaces that the gas-powered iQ lacks.

All that comes to you for the low, low price of not for sale. As an "experimental" car, it's being given to fleets in California, but you're likely never be able to buy one, unless you're planning to meet a Toyota executive in the dead of night with a suitcase full of cash.

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Safety and Key Features

The Scion iQ EV retains the 11 airbags found in the production version, which should help it hold on to the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation from the gas car. But safety isn't this car's key selling point. And we mean "selling point," figuratively speaking, of course. Originally, Toyota intended for the iQ EV to be widely available, but after reassessing the market, it realized that few people would buy it. Still, it was worth making. The Scion iQ EV's electric motor and battery pack technology are derived from those in the regionally available Toyota Prius Plug-In, giving it just 63 horsepower--a third less than that of the gas version. But electric cars are abundant in torque--that seat-of-the-pants force you have no idea how to describe but have surely felt. So power really is a wash, especially for the short bursts of acceleration needed in city driving.

With a 12 kilowatt-hour battery, it's able to drive 50 miles per charge. That's not a whole lot, but the car was designed to aid in busy cityscapes, which could explain why most are headed to San Francisco and L.A. Talk about tailored marketing.

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Family Friendliness and Utility

Much as we saw in the gas-powered version, back seat space is nearly useless. Front leg room is plenty ample for most drivers and passengers. In most EVs we've driven, we've noticed an intrusion on cargo space due to a massive battery pack. Not so with the iQ EV. However, it should be noted that the gas-powered iQ is no massive cargo hauler to begin with.

Although it's littered in EV badging as if Captain Planet had done the detailing work, the iQ is still modestly styled, without being too in-your-face with "Look at me! I'm saving the world!" trim. It's not flamboyantly colored like the loathsome, lime green Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. Only its closed-up grille with a built-in charge port, blue translucent gear selector knob similar to that in Toyota's other electric and hybrid cars, and the fact that its interior is so much nicer than the standard car's give away its green pretensions. Oh yeah, and that lack of an exhaust pipe.

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Comfort and Quality

For $15,000, the gas-powered Scion iQ has laughably cheap interior materials. Yet, the EV model comes with what automakers 60 years ago would have called "deluxe" features, making it feel like a rich, futuristic space pod as it cruises down the road. The devil's in the details, as the white contrasting soft panels really do make a world of difference in overall presentation.

Complementing that added feeling of quality is the electric drivetrain. Where the standard car has a buzzy 1.3-liter four-cylinder paired to an automatic transmission that drones and vibrates all throughout the runt-like car, the iQ EV seems optimally paired to its electric motor, propelling it without little drama, much less noise.

With the coarse engine and its noise taken out of the equation, it's hard to complain about a lack of sound deadening. We wish the gas-powered car felt as refined.

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How it Drives

For as much as the gas-powered Scion iQ feels like a clown car, the iQ EV doesn't. In downtown Denver's rush-hour traffic, we slipped between cars without much effort, relying on the iQ EV's quick steering. With all of the car's torque available from idle, we didn't worry about keeping up when speeds reached 30, 40, or 50 mph. The car felt like it was made for the commute.

Because there's no longer an engine up front, it clears more room for the steering rack to rotate; this reduces the iQ EV's turning radius to just 13.5 feet, about six inches less than the regular iQ. While the ride is still a bit stiffly sprung on a short wheelbase, jostling passengers around pocked roads, the whole package feels considerably smoother than what I remember from the combustion engine-equipped iQ. Toyota's definitely pulling punches with how good it can make the iQ, because this car is far better than the Scion iQ you'll find at your local dealership.

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Summary

This is the car that Scion should be building for the masses, confident in traffic, feeling like a real car instead of some sort of joke bequeathed upon the world by Toyota because the company wants to show it has a sense of humor. Compared to the Scion iQ you can actually buy, the Scion iQ EV feels like it received more of Toyota's engineering expertise. It doesn't feel like the slap-dash amalgamation of Prius Plug-In parts we know it is; it's a pet project that, through well-thought-out modifications, turned into a car that's better than the one on which it's based.

Alas, we're not ready for it in America, or that's what Toyota's marketing folks say. So we'll have to wait a little longer for cars like it to come, perhaps like Chevy's upcoming Spark EV if it's ever to be sold outside of California and Oregon. There's still a lot of skepticism about electric cars, and we know they aren't the universal answer to end oil dependence. But Toyota thought the iQ could at least solve urban pollution at one point, and it's a shame it got cold feet at the last minute and scaled back the program. It's also a shame America doesn't yet know what it's missing out on.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: More than you can afford, pal.
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 138 mpg equivalent
EPA Highway: 105 mpg equivalent
EPA Combined: 121 mpg equivalent
Estimated Combined Range: 50 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: N/A

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