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2012 Scion iQ review: 2012 Scion iQ

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The Good A new head unit in the 2012 Scion iQ includes Pandora integration. Smartly designed for an ultracompact, the iQ has eye-catching looks. Fuel economy rates in the mid-30s.

The Bad Scion locks out music libraries and contact lists when the car is moving, and does not offer voice command. The engine makes an annoying grinding noise.

The Bottom Line With its compact size, the 2012 Scion iQ is excellent for cities, offering easy parking and good drivability. But harsh engine noise will make longer trips uncomfortable.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.1 Overall
  • Cabin tech 6
  • Performance tech 7
  • Design 9

Review Sections

Editors' note: CNET tested a preproduction version of the 2012 Scion iQ. Some details of the car's operation and electronics may change for production.

At a press event for the 2012 Scion iQ, Scion Vice President Jack Hollis compared the car to the Fiat 500. Both are small cars, microsubcompact being one term, priced well under $20,000. Both use small engines to achieve fuel economy in the mid-30s.

But where Fiat went retro, Scion goes sci-fi. The 2012 iQ's wheels and headlights seem too big for its body. The wraparound rear window belongs on a concept car. The windshield overwhelms the front, and the car is very stubby. It looks like a toy, like you should be able to drive it from an app on your phone.

Despite its small size, the iQ packs some surprising utility. At a glance, you would assume this 10-foot-long car is, like a Smart, a two-seater. But it actually has a rear seat. Scion calls it 3+1 seating, as the left rear seat, behind the driver, only gets leg space if the driver is very short.

People can fit in the driver, passenger, and right rear passenger seat with relative ease, but the left rear is better left for cargo or a child seat. The car also has a rear hatch, but there is no cargo room unless you put at least one of the rear seats down. To give a feeling of more interior space, Toyota built in more passenger width than in a Corolla.

This is not the best way to fit a third passenger into the iQ.

The huge advantage of this very short car is in parking. Drive in any major city, and you will be amazed at the number of curb spaces in which the iQ fits. The turning radius is also phenomenal. On a typical San Francisco two-way street, the iQ could easily pull a U-turn.

Pandora inside
Scion's strategy of using customized aftermarket head units for its cars stalled in the last few years. This strategy should have let Scion update its cabin electronics every couple of years, keeping on the cutting edge of automotive technology. But instead the head units got old and did not see replacement, until now.

The Pandora interface shows your personalized list of stations.

The iQ is the first Scion model to sport the new line of cabin electronics, with head units from Pioneer that are a vast improvement over the previous generation of technology. The car CNET tested came with the midlevel head unit, which should prove a popular choice, as it offers a full-size screen on which to view a connected iPod library, along with Pandora integration.

The Pandora interface worked very well, with easy access to the station list. Touch-screen controls let you give a song the thumbs-down or thumbs-up. The system only works with Pandora on an iPhone, which has to be plugged into the car's USB port. Of course, the iPhone's own music library also becomes available through the car interface. Other audio sources include Bluetooth streaming, HD Radio, and satellite radio.

This head unit also builds in a full-featured Bluetooth phone system, with its own screen for accessing the dial pad and a paired phone's contact list. But Scion does not allow you to access the contact list or even a music library when the car is in motion. And there is no voice command for the phone system, either, something commonly found in other cars.

The Pioneer head unit integrates a Bluetooth phone system.

The six-speaker audio system is not particularly good, producing muddled sound worse than even a set of iPod headphones. Anyone who enjoys music will want to immediately replace the speakers and amp, and add a subwoofer.

The iQ can also be had with its base stereo, which lacks Pandora integration and the large screen, or a navigation system, similar to what Scion currently offers. The navigation system does not include Pandora integration, further making the midlevel head unit attractive.

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