Given such a small car, you would expect a small engine. The iQ doesn't disappoint with its 1.3-liter four-cylinder under the hood, a tiny little mill using variable valve timing to eke out 94 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the only option, the iQ gets a surprising amount of push. In city driving, it never felt anemic when stepping off the line, and had the oomph to dodge and dart through traffic.
The engine makes an ugly grinding noise as it moves the little iQ along, something owners may either tire of or get used to. While this engine offers enough torque for most city driving, it loses steam quickly when pushed up to higher speeds or climbing hills. And the driving quality suffers, especially under acceleration, from the power delivery of the CVT, which doesn't always feel in sync with the engine.
The ride quality is surprisingly decent, given the short wheelbase. The iQ gets jounced around by bumps, but there is a good amount of damping at the wheels. That short wheelbase also contributes to handling, by giving the iQ quick turn-in. But this is not a car to drive on the autocross circuit. It feels tippy under stress and the wheels seem ready to lose grip.
Scion addresses the safety concerns one might have about such a small metal cage by fitting the iQ with 11 airbags, standard. It even comes with a rear-window airbag, effectively encasing the occupants in a beach ball in the event of a crash. To help avoid accidents, the iQ comes standard with traction and stability control on its front-disc and rear-drum brakes.
EPA fuel economy for the iQ comes in at 36 mpg city and 37 mpg highway, with an average rating of 37 mpg. That average is actually the highest of any nonhybrid car. Although that number sounds excellent, our iQ settled in at around 26 mpg in city driving.
That low number is due to the intense urban traffic of San Francisco, where covering a few miles can take half an hour, with stoplights at every block. With a good portion of our driving spent in this environment, average fuel economy came in at only 28.1 mpg.
The 2012 Scion iQ's best attribute is its design. With a total length of just over 10 feet, Scion packed in room for three passengers with cargo space left over. The car has a unique look that serves as an antidote to the retro design of the Fiat 500 and .
Cabin electronics are an excellent improvement on what Scion has been offering for years. The midlevel Pioneer head unit neatly combines a good Bluetooth phone system and many audio sources. The sound quality from the six-speaker system could use improvement.
The engine itself is not particularly advanced, but it deserves credit for moving the iQ adequately with so little displacement. The CVT serves as an advanced bit of technology in the car, although it is rough around the edges.
|Model||2012 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||28.1 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Pandora integration, Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||200-watt 6-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$15,995|