Upon being handed the keys to the itty-bitty Scion iQ, I immediately thought about the brand's viral series of "PARK!" videos involving funny parking situations for the iQ. My quest was to find the smallest spots that I could squeeze the city car into, but discovered that small parking spots are hard to come by in the Midwest.
As far as super-small cars go, the iQ is actually quite good. Despite the diminutive wheelbase, the ride isn't too choppy, the CVT is smooth and unobtrusive, and the 1.3-liter engine feels peppy around town. Even on the highway the iQ felt composed and drove more like a Corolla than the "half a car" my roommate jokingly called it. It is clever packaging, like an asymmetric dashboard - so the passenger sits further forward than the driver - that allows the iQ to both be able to carry up to four occupants (or as Scion says, 3+1) and still give the impression of being a much bigger car from behind the wheel. Thanks to the feeling of bigness in a small footprint, coupled with actual useable space, the iQ makes a compelling case as the best itty-bitty car around.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Even though the Scion iQ is tiny even by small car standards -- wheelbase and length are both significantly less, by 11 and 19 inches respectively, than the Fiat 500 -- it doesn't feel like it from behind the wheel. Scion accomplished this by giving the iQ a wide stance -- its front track is almost 3 inches wider than the 500 -- and a relatively tall roof. Those extra inches in width make the cabin feel surprisingly spacious for front seat occupants.
Interior design elements like the passenger side dash cutout and shallow, narrow console also help make the most of the interior space. It's too bad that the extra leg- and footroom for the front passenger comes at the expense of a glove box, though. This means that the iQ's manuals have to be stored in the door. That wouldn't be a problem except that leaves only one other place -- the driver's door pocket -- to stow gadgets, papers, et cetera in the iQ's cabin. The cupholders can hold some small items but even after only a couple of days in the iQ I found myself searching for places to keep my stuff. Storage in the hatch is equally limited: with the rear seats in place, the hatch is so narrow that it can't hold anything deeper than a box of cereal.
Hard plastics dominate the interior but the textured seat cloth and two-tone dash help immensely. Like its distant relative, the Prius c -- Toyota is Scion's parent company -- the iQ's steering wheel is unquestionably its best interior feature. The thick rim, contrast stitching, contouring at 9 and 3, and slightly flattened bottom make it look sporty and like it belongs in a much pricier car. The steering-wheel-mounted volume and tuner controls are a bit fussy to use at first but they become second nature quickly.
The iQ has a decent ride for such a little car as well, although it's less buttoned down than the 500. Only over larger bumps does the iQ's super short wheelbase seriously affect ride quality. This is pretty much unavoidable since the seats are mounted only a few inches forward of the rear axle: when the rear tires hit a speed bump or a large heave, the butts of front occupants are sent skyward.
A car the size of the iQ is a good fit for the Scion brand, but the lack of cubbies and rear storage will likely make it a poor choice for most people.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
The most impressive thing about the Scion iQ is that it's a real car. Despite its positively tiny exterior dimensions, the iQ drives and performs without needing any undue attention, as if it were any other traditional subcompact or compact car. I am very impressed by the engineering necessary to squeeze four seats, 11 airbags, toys like power windows and locks, and a working drivetrain into such a small vehicle. To me, the innovations and problem solving needed to make a quality city car are almost as interesting as the engineering challenges behind a supercar.
The main thing I noticed about driving the iQ was that you have to re-adjust your perception of where to drive. The Scion takes up only about half the width of the average traffic lane, and each time I parked I emerged from the car to find I had several feet of extra space behind, in front of, and at either side of the car. The most amazing thing, however, has to be the ballerina-like turning circle played up in the TV commercials. You can perform a U-turn, legal or not, on even a narrow residential street with no drama. Scion iQ drivers need not fear cramped parking lots.
Despite its inherent fun and goodness, the Scion iQ just isn't a good value proposition. For the same price as an iQ, you could buy a number of subcompact cars that are larger and have more powerful engines -- the Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, Hyundai Accent, and Kia Rio all spring to mind. After all, trunk space in the iQ is practically nonexistent. Scion claims there are 3.5 cubic feet available with the rear seats upright, but that space is only about two inches deep. If you want to carry groceries, they'll be on the back seats or in passenger-side foot well.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
At 106.1 inches long, 61 inches tall, and 61 inches wide, the Smart ForTwo isn't a large vehicle, but its execution leaves plenty of room for improvement. Oddly enough, it wasn't Daimler but Toyota who decided to improve upon the Smart's basic recipe of a small, two-door urban runabout.
For me - a tall, heavyset individual - the biggest improvement lies in interior space. The iQ doesn't look it, but it is roughly ten inches longer and five inches wider than the ForTwo. That additional size, along with some clever interior packaging (dig the offset dashboard) helps increase shoulder and hip room by roughly five inches, and provide space for a split-folding rear seat. Yes, it's small, and yes, it's perhaps best used as an occasional jump seat, but it's an extra touch of versatility not found in the Smart. ForTwo owners needing to haul an extra passenger will need to turn to a Zipcar.
That said, I can't help ending up with the same takeaway as Jake. This is a decent little car, but it's still a $16,000 car. That sort of money buys a number of larger, more powerful subcompacts that also boast a lot more interior room (the Honda Fit, which I drove right before I spent a weekend with the iQ, immediately comes to mind). None have as miniscule a footprint as the Scion, but all are still relatively compact. The iQ's 12.9-foot turning radius - half that of the Smart, remarkably - may be impressive, but I've yet to encounter a situation where I found a B-segment car to be too large.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor