Test Drive: Scion iQ

By Barbara & Bill Schaffer

As small cars start to gain acceptance from American drivers, Scion has entered the market with a new one that ranks high on intelligence ? the iQ.? As the name implies, this little car has some smart features and is much more than simply small and economical.

To put the size in prospective, the iQ is120.1 incheslong ? ten feet. ?That can make a small garage seem much larger, and you might have trouble finding it if you have a large cluttered garage. ?In relation to the competitors, the new Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper are both larger at 140 and147 inchesrespectively and the Smart is shorter at 106 inches, but the Smart only holds two people.

As expected, the iQ interior is snug, but a pair of six-footers can be comfortable in the front seats.? The seatbacks are slim to optimize rear legroom for the “3+1” offset seating arrangement, which allows one adult to sit behind the front passenger and a child or small package behind the driver.? It?s not designed for long drives with four people, but can get the job done when more people need to go along.

The interior is very businesslike with a nod to function rather than beauty.? The instrument panel is a large easy to see pod behind the steering wheel with a large speedometer taking up most of the space and an easy to read tachometer in the bottom right.? Climate controls are three convenient dials stacked in the center section.? On top of the center stack is a standard Pioneer? audio system with the works, including AM, FM, HD Radio?, CD, plus there are also jacks for auxiliary audio and USB input.? SiriusXM satellite radio is an option.? An optional audio system links to an iPhone and adds a 5.8-inch LCD touch screen display plus features like iTunes? tagging, Pandora? internet radio connected through iPhone?.? There is also an available navigation system with seven-inch touch screen.

We give the iQ high marks for styling.? It has a strong masculine look with flaring fenders over the wheels, which are pushed to the corners to give a racy looking stance.? The front end is short with large headlight assemblies mounted high.? Large low-mounted air inlets in the front (the outside ones appear decorative) add to the aggressive look.? From the side, the rear window treatment looks like a giant spoiler over the dark tinted rear window.

Cargo space is only 3.5 cubic feet when the rear seats are in place; with the seats folded; space grows to 16.7 cubic feet, or enough space for the spoils of a good shopping trip.

The iQ is fun to drive; the small size makes it agile, especially with the tight 12.9-foot turning radius.?? The car has a positive feel, it rides nicely, leans a bit in the corners, but it does exactly what it was designed for, and it does it very well.? It?s a wonderful town car, slipping through tight traffic and squeezing into marginal parking places.

Lift the hood an you?ll find a little 94-hp, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through a CVT (continuously variable transmission).?? The CVT works well for the average driver and it helps improve fuel economy.? The transmission does have two additional drive settings — ?S? which keeps the transmission in low- and mid-speed ratios for better response and ?B? that keeps the transmission in low ratios for engine braking on down hills.? For a driver wanting more control and positive reaction, this is not the car.? That car would more likely be the sporty Scion tC or the new Scion FR-S rear-drive sports car.

Scion iQ fuel economy is good, but it doesn?t quite top the 40 mpg numbers some ?economical? cars are starting to deliver.? We averaged 34.2 mpg during a week behind the wheel driving mostly in city traffic. The EPA lists iQ at 36 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. ?Acceleration requires a little patience, pulling onto a highway and accelerating from 0 to 60 mph takes 11.8 seconds, but once at speed it cruises along nicely.

Mechanically many of the features were re-engineered rather than put into a shrinking machine.?? For example, they created an innovative compact front-mounted differential, high-mounted rack and pinion steering, compact air conditioning, low profile fuel tank to create the small package.

The iQ price beats the competition starting at $15,995, including the destination charge, as compared with $16,010 for the Smart, $17,250 for the Fiat and $19,500 for the Mini.

The base car at the $15,995 price includes all the important features air conditioning, keyless entry, power windows and locks, Bluetooth, HD Radio and a satellite ready 160-watt Pioneer AM/FM/CD audio system.? They do have a few available options including 16-inch alloy wheels ($749), XM traffic radio $599 ($449 without the traffic), Scion navigation ($1,999).? There are also a few available accessories to personalize the looks and improve the handling.

Like all Scion models, the iQ is covered by a 3-year/36,000-mile comprehensive warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty. The iQ will also come standard with Scion Service Boost, a complimentary plan covering normal factory-scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles whichever comes first, and three years of 24-hour roadside assistance.

Many shoppers are concerned about the safety of small cars and Scion has addressed that concern with 11 airbags ? that?s more than any other car sold in the U.S.? It even has an industry first rear air bag.?

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