When a car is badged iQ, it needs to be more clever than its competition, cars like the Smart, the Mini Cooper, and the Fiat 500. To eclipse those vehicles, Toyota chose a radically different vehicle architecture that measures just less than ten feet in length, five and a half feet in width, and five feet in height. That makes the iQ about as wide and as tall as a Corolla and less than a foot longer than a Smart, and yet it can seat up to four people. An optical illusion? A magician’s masterpiece? Wishful thinking? None of it. The automaker simply evolved the original microcompact Smart car architecture conceived by Mr. Swatch, Nicolas Hayek. The crucial move-apart from installing a front-mounted drivetrain-was to bring the passenger seat forward by half a length, thereby making room for a full-size third seat in row two. Next to it, there’s just about enough space to accommodate a child, but only if the driver is willing to move close to the steering wheel. Where the Smart has its powertrain, the iQ has its trunk. It isn’t huge, but the space can be easily expanded by tipping the rear seatbacks forward.
Additional space was gained by drastically reducing the depth of the dashboard and the door panels. Despite tight overall dimensions, Toyota expects the iQ to pass the tough European impact tests with a five-star rating. How did Toyota do it? Special energy absorb-ing measures include extra front load paths and highly integrated crush zones. A total of twelve air bags also guard occupants from collision injury.
Performance is adequate to lively, depending on the engine. The base car, fitted with a 68-hp, 1.0-liter three-cylinder mated to a five-speed manual, accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 14.1 seconds, reaches 93 mph, and returns 56 mpg. When equipped with the optional Multidrive CVT transmission, the iQ needs an extra 1.1 seconds for the sprint, and mileage drops to 50 mpg. The 90-hp, 1.4-liter, turbo-diesel four-cylinder iQ reaches 62 mph in a sprightlier 10.7 seconds, tops out at 106 mph, and averages 59 mpg.
Making friends with the iQ takes only a matter of minutes. The little Toyota rides better than expected, accelerates smoothly, and is, at least in diesel guise, quite sporty. But its overriding dynamic virtues are stoic stability and benign handling. Even at an indicated 110 mph on the freeway, this city car on steroids tracks with the same composure as a full-size cruiser. There’s no undue yaw, lift, dive, or squirm. Despite the relatively taut springs and dampers, this isn’t a brittle highway hopper that jumps from one expansion joint to the next. Even though the narrow, low-rolling-resistance tires don’t provide a lot of lateral grip, the Toyota turns in promptly, steers with precision, brakes energetically, and is virtually immune to liftoff temptations.
Small as it is, the iQ won’t be cheap when it comes to America by mid-2009, where it will be badged as a Scion (in Europe, the iQ is priced on par with a base-level Mini). There’s even talk of an electric version for Lexus, and we’ll also see a high-performance edition. Whatever the specification, the iQ is user-friendly, entertaining, and refreshingly different. And yes, it does outsmart the Smart. No contest.
Why We Want It:
The cool looks, the nifty packaging, the real-car dynamics.
Why We Need It:
Because the Smart ForTwo is, well, just for two. ‘Nuff said.