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City planners deal with overcrowding by building up rather than spreading out, hence the large number of cranes currently adorning San Francisco's skyline. Toyota designers took a similar approach with the diminutive 2014 Scion iQ, confining its spread to a mere 10 feet long and 5.5 feet wide.
Despite the easily parkable dimensions, I had ample elbow room when sitting in the comfortably padded driver's chair and the ceiling came nowhere near mussing my hair. Coupled with the retrofuturistic interior design, the cabin felt like a mobile sanctuary carrying me through whatever sci-fi utopia or dystopia I chose to imagine.
Although much of the world is very receptive to small cars like the iQ, Americans are likely to think it too tiny for any real use. Crash safety will pop to mind. In that regard, the iQ comes standard with front airbags, front knee airbags, side airbags, side curtain airbags, and even a rear window airbag, for 11 airbags in total. The image that comes to mind for a crash is pneumatically encased passengers.
However, despite the standard airbags, traction control, and vehicle stability control, the iQ only achieves four stars for frontal crash and rollover, and three stars for side impact, from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Those ratings are not quite as good as those given the Fiat 500 or Chevrolet Spark, but better than the Ford Fiesta got.
As for interior space, you will have to get used to the front passenger sitting just a little ahead of the driver, a clever compromise in the iQ to accommodate the rear seat. Due to the lack of a glove compartment (do people really keep gloves in their cars anymore?), the front passenger's knees won't be up against his or her chest. And yes, there is actually a back seat which can, sort of, fit adults. Or at least one, behind the more legroom-friendly front passenger seat. The doors take up most of the sides of the iQ, allowing space for people to squeeze through into the back of the car.
The big trade-off in the iQ concerns passengers and cargo. Make that passengers or cargo, because there is no room behind the rear seats when they are up. Fold them down, however, and there is a remarkable 16.7 cubic feet.
Being such a small car, and only 2,127 pounds, the iQ gets by with a small engine, a 1.3-liter four-cylinder producing only 94 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque. Toyota may do a lot with its variable valve timing tech, but this engine doesn't have the same cutting-edge cred as Ford's 1-liter three-cylinder EcoBoost.
I was surprised how ready the iQ felt to go when I slipped the continuously variable transmission into Drive. Pulling out of a parking garage, the car's over-amped creep mode strained against the brakes. That tuning is probably intentional to make the iQ feel peppier.
Taking off at half throttle from a stop light, other traffic was soon in my mirrors, mostly due to the lazy habits of other drivers, but the iQ deserves some credit for good initial boost. Oddly, I didn't feel much difference in the acceleration between half- and full-throttle off the line.
I found that the iQ would do as well from zero to 30 mph as most cars, but 60 mph comes in about 10 seconds, according to independent testers. The car kept pace on the freeway and handled merging maneuvers reasonably well, but I wasn't about to take a chance by trying to pass on a two-lane highway.
When I drove with a light foot, a green Eco light shown on the instrument cluster to reward me for environmentally conscious driving, but the iQ also hit me with an unholy grinding noise from the engine when I pinned the gas pedal to the floor. Despite that carrot and stick, I still couldn't bring the iQ close to its EPA average of 37 mpg. I observed the average fuel economy on the trip computer rising consistently on the freeway, but it dropped like a rock in the city. My eventual average of 31.6 mpg was good for any car, but much less than advertised.
While the iQ is no driver's car, it also isn't for the faint of heart, as the short wheelbase adds complexity to the driving experience. Around the city, the iQ's natural habitat, the 12.9-foot turning radius let me make U-turns on the narrowest street. The 6.5-foot wheelbase means anyone can parallel-park the iQ like a pro. The electric power steering offered enough resistance to make it feel like I was driving.
However, at speed on the freeway the iQ becomes a bit squirrely. That short wheelbase makes the car feel like it's wandering in the lane. The steering tuning wasn't particularly tight, but I'm not sure more response would help the iQ stay in line. I could keep on top of it easily enough, but it doesn't cruise as easily as longer cars.