2014 Scion iQ review: iQ rules the city, but squirrely at speed

Pricing Unavailable
  • Available Engine Gas
  • Body style hatchback

Roadshow Editors' Rating

5.5 Overall
  • Performance 5
  • Features 4
  • Design 7
  • Media 6

The Good The incredibly short 2014 Scion iQ parks easily while offering a surprising amount of interior space. The optional navigation system integrates Aha for online audio and limited business searches.

The Bad On the freeway, the iQ requires steady and constant attention to control. The navigation system lacks live traffic data.

The Bottom Line Because of its size, the 2014 Scion iQ makes for an exceptional city car, and its cabin electronics will satisfy most, but put it at the bottom of the list as a long-distance road trip car.

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.

2014 Scion iQ
One of these things is much, much bigger than the other. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

94 horses

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.

2014 Scion iQ
The Sport mode for the Scion iQ's continuously variable transmission makes for a good joke. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

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.

Scion managed to make the suspension feel comfortable in most circumstances, an impressive feat considering that short wheelbases tend to create a rougher ride. Longer cars negotiate with bumps one axle at a time, but the iQ feels like it hits the rough spots all at once. When I hit a small trench left over from road works, neither I nor the iQ enjoyed it.

2014 Scion iQ
Scion offers TRD lowering springs and a sway bar (not shown here) as options for the iQ. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Touch screen on top

As a youth-oriented brand, Scion makes sure to offer the iQ with a full complement of cabin tech. The example I tested came with not only Bluetooth hands-free phone support and audio streaming, but also the optional navigation system. Perched high on the center dash for visibility, the 6.1-inch touch screen on this Pioneer-branded head unit proved easy to reach and responsive, reacting immediately to button presses.

The navigation system, which shows maps in plan or perspective views, runs off an SD card. Tracking was generally on, but the system became confused as I drove on the lower deck of a bridge, showing the car following a ferry boat route. The most notable missing feature from this navigation system was live traffic integration.

2014 Scion iQ
This optional navigation system is pretty decent, but does not show live traffic. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

When entering destinations, I had a choice of the points-of-interest database or manual address entry. Voice command let me speak an address as a single string, after which the system would process and confirm each part.

There is no free-form online destination search integrated into the head unit, but Scion includes Aha. With the Aha app running on my phone (cabled to the car's USB port for the iPhone), I had a wide variety of online audio available, plus the power to find nearby restaurants, hotels, and coffee shops. Aha gives the iQ some connected cred, but I would really like to see a version of Toyota's Entune customized for the Scion brand. Entune offers apps such as Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Yelp, along with Bing for searching local businesses.

The audio interface smartly groups all sources, radio and local, on one screen. For USB drives or iOS devices plugged into the car's USB port, I not only had the typical music library screen, but also a smart DJ. This feature came in the form of a button labeled "Play more like this," an easy way to get a good mix of road tunes playing.

Scion includes HD Radio on this head unit, but surprisingly no satellite radio. Retro fans will appreciate the CD slot.

2014 Scion iQ
Aha integration brings online radio stations to the iQ. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

With only four speakers listed and a 160-watt amp, the sound system doesn't look very impressive from the spec sheet. But it tries to rise above its limitations, producing some detail and a modicum of bass. With its hardware there is only so much it can do, though, and I was never quite satisfied with its output.

Lacking from the iQ are any sort of driver assistance features, not terribly surprising at its price level. Federal regulations will eventually require a backup camera, but what I really missed was any form of blind-spot monitor. The left side of the iQ had a very long blind spot for such a short car.

Limited competition

Competition with the 2014 Scion iQ is minimal, with the Smart ForTwo being the most direct. The iQ has much better interior space and better drivability than the Smart, while being equally practical in the city. Cars like the Fiat 500, Mini Cooper , and Ford Fiesta are significantly longer than the iQ, and don't have the same parking versatility.

I am generally in favor of installed navigation systems, but the one available for the iQ lacks much in the way of features, traffic being the most notable. I would forgo this option, especially as Scion makes its Display Audio system standard. Display Audio includes a touch screen, making it just as easy to browse music libraries on connected drives and devices. Considering the iQ is not exactly a long-distance traveller, phone-based navigation should suit most owners.

The driving character of the iQ is quirky, combining the easy of a continuously variable transmission with the unsteadiness of its short wheelbase. Confident drivers will have no trouble keeping the car in line, but any potential buyers should take it for a test on a freeway and see how they like its squirrely behavior at 65 mph.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Scion iQ
Power train 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 36 mpg city/37 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 31.6 mpg
Navigation Optional
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet radio, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD Radio
Audio system Pioneer 160-watt 4-speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $16,420
Price as tested $17,618

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