cars

2012 Scion iQ Minicompact: Too Little, Too Late.

The Scion iQ is not very fun to drive and near useless outside of the most crowded cities.

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Introduction

We love small cars. We love inexpensive cars, and we love cars with excellent fuel economy. That's exactly why we can't find much to love about the Scion iQ.

Sold worldwide as a Toyota, the iQ (base MSRP $16,020, as tested $17,198) is a minicompact. Unless you have a chronic inability to parallel park, refuse to ride public transportation and only park in resident-only spaces in Manhattan or San Francisco, the iQ is near useless in the land of marked spaces, where even the most crowded cities paint parking big enough to fit a Chevy Caprice.

Of course, if the iQ had other redeeming qualities, its size wouldn't matter as much. But even in city driving, we also found the little Scion to be utterly disappointing in our road tests. Soft brakes, wheelbarrow-like handling and a droning continuously variable transmission mean the little car is sluggish at best, terrifying at worst. And it doesn't even get the stellar gas mileage you'd expect from such a small vehicle.

Tech & Entertainment

Scion offers several in-car entertainment system options, all from Pioneer.

Our car featured a mid-level set of options, with satellite radio but without navigation. We used the base audio system on another Scion and actually found it to be more convenient and easier to use than the upgraded iQ's sluggish touchscreen. Either way, Scion fully expects buyers to customize their sound systems because a highly-paid market research firm told them that's what young people are supposed to do. Kids these days...

There aren't any ways to control the entertainment systems by voice, but there is a rocker switch on the steering wheel that adjusts volume and changes tracks/presets.

Our tester featured Bluetooth audio and a dealer-installed Bluetooth phone setup. As in many older Bluetooth-equipped Toyotas and Scions, that meant a June bug-shaped microphone was glued to the dashboard, with a small wire running behind the nearest pliable plastic surface.
Scion fully expects buyers to customize their sound systems. Tweet It

Starting in 2013, Scion will add an optional infotainment system they're calling BeSpoke. It's essentially a dumb terminal that uses a connection to an iPhone app to display navigation, audio and other in-car apps on the system's screen. We have yet to try it out, but will let you know as soon as we do.

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Design

Resist the urge to laugh...

Toyota pushed the iQ's wheels to the far, far corners. There's no overhang, and therefore absolutely no wasted space. The result is a small car that's not flashy, like a Fiat 500 or Mini. Unfortunately, that also means other drivers may point and laugh, Nelson Muntz-style.

Inside, thanks to a herringbone pattern of staggered seats and a glovebox that sits under the passenger seat instead of in the dashboard, there's comfortably room for three people, plus a tiny seat behind the driver that may best be saved for cargo. The backseat is small and not well padded, but at least there are cupholders back there.

Driving Experience

Equally frustrating on city streets and highways

We tested the Scion iQ in Somerville, MA—one of the most densely populated cities in New England, with a staggering 11,600 registered vehicles per square mile. It's one of the most challenging places to own a car in the US, and the sort of place where the Scion iQ should feel right at home.

Sluggish off the line, it groans like a lion that's stepped on a nail whenever you hit the accelerator. Tweet It

We still wouldn't recommend it, even to Somervillians.

Driving in a city where cyclists, pedestrians and drivers all seem to be wishing for the same kind of vehicular death, you need a car that can quickly avoid obstacles and seize opportunities to merge. The Scion iQ is not that car. Sluggish off the line, it groans like a lion that's stepped on a nail whenever you hit the accelerator. Cut into traffic that's moving faster than 20 mph and you'll have to floor it to avoid getting honked at by the guy behind you.

Once outside of city limits, the iQ experience worsens. The car's tiny wheelbase and light weight means it flutters along the highway like a dragonfly, catching the wind and tossing with the pavement's undulations. It's not as bad as the terrifying subcompacts of the '80s (Subaru Justy, Chevy Chevette, Ford Festiva), but it's certainly not confidence inspiring.

Going uphill at 65 mph, the tachometer is just 1000 RPM short of redline. If you don't know what means, it's a sign that the iQ has to work nearly to its limits just to keep up with traffic. It's like how Katy Perry insists on singing high notes that are clearly outside of her range.

You wouldn't have to step up to a Canyonero to avoid these pitfalls, though. We've driven nearly every small car on the market from the Hyundai Accent to the Ford Fiesta – even other minicompacts like the Fiat 500 and Chevy Spark – and have found every one of them to be more competent on the highway than the iQ.

And forget about fuel economy. At best, the EPA rates the iQ at 37 mpg highway — not bad, but not worth the compromises, especially when real-world mileage is closer to 35 mpg.

Conclusion

We were sad to see how poorly the Scion iQ performed in our tests. After all, it's such an easy target -- a little car with a silly grin and a funny name. We were hoping it would triumph against the odds, enthrall us with its utility and impress with an interior that made it feel every dollar of its near-$18,000 pricetag (as equipped).

It didn't. Like the extra-skinny jeans on sale at Galeries Lafayette, the iQ's size just doesn't make sense for the US market. Neither does its price, or the experience it affords the driver.

We're not alone in our judgement. Listening to the tinny radio, we heard a song by Train whose lyrics reference a "crappy purple Scion," and we're certain they're not trashing the fantastic FR-S.

The Scion iQ offers a lot of interior space for such a small wheelbase, but that's all. It lacks the panache of other small cars, and aside from a few parallel parking parlor tricks, we can't seem to find any other use for it. It's an answer to a question that nobody's ever asked with an American accent.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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