Review: 2012 Scion iQ

Man, this car is small!  Seriously – the Scion iQ is whatever the opposite of land-leviathan is.

Scion has introduced this car to Canada, and I’m guessing this will compete on most levels with Smart cars.  Without even looking at this car, you know it will be built better and designed better than the Smart, which is hilariously crappy in all respects.

I had a week to make up my mind about whether it was just better than the Smart, or whether it was actually a great car.

The iQ starts at CDN $16,760.  As far as I could tell on Scion’s site, there really aren’t any trim levels of this car.  You just buy one, and there are a couple of upgrades and accessories you can add.  The only addition mine had was the $469 rear spoiler.

Under the hood, you’ll find a tiny 1.3 Litre 4-cylinder.  It makes 94 HP @ 6000 RPM, and 89 lb.ft of torque at 4400 RPM.  These numbers aren’t much to look at, until you realize they are only motivating 2116 pounds.

Scion makes a big ado about the fuel economy.  The iQ is rated just slightly behind the hybrids at 5.5 L/100 km (42.8 mpg) in the city, 4.6 L/100 km (51 mpg) on the highway and 5.1 L/100 km (46 mpg) on the combined cycle.  These are really great numbers, but according to the computer, I wasn’t getting anywhere near that.  I know those in-car computers aren’t necessarily super-accurate, but they’re probably pretty close.

I got 7.5 L/100 km (31 mpg) while traveling at an average 130 km/h (80 mph) on the highway.  That’s not horrible, but it’s not really very good either, never mind what it’s rated at.  Not even close.  With only a 32 Litre tank, the highway range at that rate of fuel consumption isn’t that impressive – for those familiar with our province, I used a full tank of gas at that speed between Edmonton and Calgary.

I can’t help but look at it this way – I drive a Honda Odyssey, which weighs way more than twice as much and will happily carry 8 people and their luggage, accelerates more quickly and is virtually silent on the highway, and it gets somewhere around 24-25 mpg on the highway.  I’m wondering if there wasn’t something wrong with this particular iQ, and how it consumed fuel.

There is an “ECO” mode – but I couldn’t find more information as to what it is and what it does.


In terms of the exterior, the most obvious feature is this car’s size.  It is a seriously small automobile.  Its shape is highly reminiscent of a roller skate.  I’m really not sure how many of you even know what that is – for all you youngsters out there, it’s the predecessor to the rollerblade.  Speaking of, whatever happened to rollerblades?  Everyone was in them, and then all of a sudden, nobody is using them.

Anyway, where was I?  You get a lot of looks in this car.  Honestly, people pull up beside you at a light, mouths agape.  Essentially, there is a door, and then a little bit of car behind it, and a little tiny hood in front of it.  The overhangs are virtually non-existent.  I’d estimate that the maximum distance from the front of the front wheel to the front of the car, or the back of the back wheel to the back of the car, is about 8 inches.  I don’t think it would be possible to push the wheels out any further than they’ve done here.

One thing that makes this car even more visually interesting is that it is, proportionally speaking, a very wide vehicle.  For its length, this vehicle is enormously wide.  To be specific, the iQ is 3 meters long and 2 meters wide.  This width actually lends a slightly aggressive look to the front of the car.  I know, that sounds ridiculous, because there is nothing aggressive about this car, but it’s all relative.  What I’m saying is the front end looks less goofy than you might think.  Scion says the width makes it look “fiercely muscular”.  I kid you not.  I don’t know how that writer can sleep at night, but still – it DOES look alright.

Other than that, you’ll find a touch of chrome on the mirrors, a nice rear roof spoiler and a roof-mounted antenna.  And nasty looking wheel covers.  I understand this though – wheel covers are the car manufacturer’s way of saying: “Hey, look at how brutal your car can look.  Won’t you consider upgrading to the highly-overpriced wheel package so you don’t have to be embarrassed every time you look at your car?”

The review sample was Pacific Blue, which is to say BOOOORING!  It’s not a bad color, but it’s pretty ….. Camry.



Open the door that makes up most of the vehicle’s side, and plop yourself into a set of cloth bucket seats that are quite comfortable.  Instead of having side bolsters and different panels, the seats are one smooth, scalloped shape (including an integrated headrest) and they work well, including on longer drives.  The seats are manually adjustable forward and aft, as well as for tilt, but not for height.

You’ll find yourself surrounded by an odd mish-mash of materials.  The cockpit is made up of virtually all hard plastics, and they arrive in a variety of colors, textures and shapes.  The only soft plastic I found was a small pad on the door panel.

In front of you is a fantastic steering wheel – it’s the perfect diameter, and is blessed with a surprisingly thick, leather-wrapped rim, and a flattened bottom – it felt as though it would be at home in a car with far more sporting intentions.  Great job on this, Scion!  The wheel is manually adjustable for height, but not for reach.  The only controls on the wheel are very rudimentary stereo controls for source, tuning and volume.

Behind the steering wheel is the instrument pod containing a central speedometer.  Below it is a wave-shaped tach, and to the left, you’ll find a small, rectangular driver information screen.

The center stack starts with the stereo system, which rises out of the dash.  Below that, there are three vertically-arranged rotary knobs, which manually adjust the climate control system.

Underneath that is an angled space that looks like it might be meant for storage, but is impossible to use – there are no lipped sides to keep anything in place, and it’s smooth, hard plastic – anything you put there will slide off the second you turn a corner.

The center console is really just a short pod – it has the shift lever in the center, and a traditional parking brake lever on the right-hand side.  In front of the brake lever, you’ll find four buttons controlling traction control, the phone, power door locks and an auxiliary/USB plug under a cover.  The fuel-door release lever is on the floor, next to the driver’s door sill.

That’s about it for the front seats.  Space-wise, you’ll be surprised.  There is a lot of headroom, and you have the ability to stretch out your legs length-wise, as well as plenty of knee room when it comes to width.  That’s why it can be a bit deceiving to drive this – you pull up to a red light, and you wonder why people are gawking at you, because you are quite comfortable and then you realize, “Oh right, I’m driving the tiniest car ever!”  In the front, especially as the driver, you’ll never feel cramped in the iQ.

Scion’s literature indicates that the cabin design was inspired by the “winged form of the manta ray”.  Come on.  I’m sorry, but it just sounds silly.  A manta ray?  They should have said Batman.  Now there’s inspiration I can believe.

Anyway, the fabled manta ray’s inspiration can be found in the door pulls, the wings around the stereo pod and the instrument bin.  Frankly, the weirdly-shaped eyebrow thing over the speedometer reminded me more of Mike from Monsters Inc. than of a manta ray, but whatever.



There is a bit of tech and a bit of convenience that comes packaged with the iQ, but not a lot.  I didn’t find that missed a lot of the goodies, but there were some that became glaringly obvious in terms of what I missed.

That little driver information screen beside the speedometer is small and cramped, and difficult to read quickly or easily.  The display looks like it comes out of a 10-year old car.  It shows you what gear you’re in, and displays a digital fuel gauge, a clock and the outside temperature.  It also allows you to toggle through average mileage, instant mileage, the “ECO” mode (on or off), average speed, odometer and two trip meters.  The toggling and resetting is done with two peg-like buttons sticking out underneath.  Very old-school.  The average fuel economy seems to reset itself after each fill-up, and doesn’t allow for you to do it when you want to.

The stereo is Pioneer-branded, and just begs to be replaced by something that doesn’t completely suck.  It presents you with small chiclet buttons, with tiny writing.  The ergonomics seem extraordinarily un-Toyota.  The sources can draw from AM, FM, satellite, auxiliary, CD, USB with iPod control and Bluetooth streaming.  This all plays through 6 speakers, and does not sound good.  Strangely, I felt it sounded better playing compressed music streaming through my phone.

Power mirrors are controlled by switchgear on the underside of the dash, and power windows and door lock controls are situated on the driver’s door panel.

You’ll find a single 12V plug at the bottom of the center stack, in front of that completely useless angled space.  The iQ comes with a traditional key, and includes a remote lock key FOB.

And that about covers it.  Oh, wait, there is a kind of cool single overhead LED light resembling an eyeball (hmm, another reference to Mike from Monsters Inc.???), set into a gimbal fixture.  It serves as the only real light that comes on when you open the door, but also as a positionable reading/map light.  Want to read in the back seat?  Too bad – you’re screwed.


Rear Seat

Actually, let’s be honest.  If you’re even finding yourself IN the rear seat in an iQ, you’re already screwed.  Whatever you did to the person who put you there, I’d consider apologizing and baking them a pie, because you’ll find little to be happy about back there.

The upside is that it’s actually easier to get into the back seat than you might think.  But once you’re in, you’ll be a sad puppy.  There are 2 seats, 2 seatbelts and 2 headrests.  The iQ is advertised as transportation for 3 adults and one child.  The theory is that the adult in the back seat can twist his or her body slightly, and put their feet in the middle – between the front seats.  There’s even a tiny floor mat for that space, and the center console is reasonably short to accommodate this.  It all sounds good on paper, but it also requires the front seats to be moved forward to the point of discomfort for THOSE people, and some pelvic distortion in order to stay seated properly, AND swing your legs over in the back.  Not to mention that the “child” in the fourth and final seat needs to be a double amputee, because there just isn’t any legroom.

The seats have very short butt-pads, the headroom is tight and the width will make it very, very cozy for two occupants back there.

Should you be mentally ill and want to make transporting children a habit in this car, there are, in fact, two LATCH anchors back there.  Good luck.

A couple of ironies – the outward visibility is actually not bad from back there, and there are two well-designed cupholders back there.  Great place to write out and roll up your last will and testament, because they can talk all the safety they want – I wouldn’t be comfortable sitting in the back of this car and getting rear-ended.  Yes, you appear to be surrounded by airbags, even in the back, but rear passengers are sitting literally inches from the trunk/hatch lid.  If you get hit by someone, you are very likely going to be seriously injured or dead.  I hate to say that, but anyone who argues with me, please go ahead and transport your children in the iQ and tell me how secure you feel with them back there.



This should be a short section.  The only real storage is the space behind the front seats, when the rear “seats” are folded down – they split 50/50.  This leaves you with a very usable little cargo space – an added bonus is, because you’re right there, you can reach behind the front seat and access virtually the whole space from the front too.

I found the lift-over height to be quite high, and that rear lip could serve to get your pant legs dirty if you’re leaning in to load stuff.  The hatch lid is fantastically easy to lift and to close.

At the back of the trunk space, you’ll find a small, lidded storage bin – about 6” deep, 5” wide and its length is the trunk’s width.  It’s useful for small items, and keeps them from prying eyes.  This is basically the slot-like space left over when the rear seats are up – you might be able to slide a briefcase or two back there.

There is no glove compartment in the iQ, nor much else in the way of storage space.  You do have great door bins – they’re not big, but incorporate a cupholder and additional space, which is very welcome.

This may sound trivial, but there is a single cupholder in the center console.  And it is absolutely perfect.  There are no adjustable arms or tension devices to fit cups – it’s essentially just a hole, but it’s done very well.  The depth and diameter work for any kind of mug or cup I tried, and it’s perfect to stand a smart phone in.  Take note, other manufacturers – forget the fancy-shmancy cupholders and do a few more of these!


The Drive

I was pleasantly surprised by the driving experience.  I found the ride to be  well-damped – firm, but acceptable, and that includes feeling nice and stable during highway driving.

As usual with cars this small and with a wheelbase this short, the car was a bit bouncy over bumps and undulations – that’s just physics, not a fault of the car itself.  Big bumps caused the suspension to get a bit noisy and crashy, but that was more of an exception.

The handling is amazing, as is to be expected from a small car that’s this wide.  It is a weird feeling to have a car almost rotate around you when you steer, instead of swinging the front end in the right direction.  It takes a bit to get used to the immediacy of the turning ability.  And it’s a great thing.  I loved being able to point this thing somewhere and have it respond without an instant’s hesitation.  To call this car agile is an understatement.  I believe they tout the turning circle to be the best in the industry (3.9 meters!!!) – I wouldn’t question that.  Low speed turns and parking with this vehicle are a joy, and couldn’t be easier.

The steering effort is very light and felt well-balanced, but I thought the steering was a bit numb on center.

I never felt this car was underpowered.  This is not a fast car, to be clear, however it never felt wimpy.  It felt just right.  The little engine and the CVT transmission seem to work well together, and it felt good in regular urban commuting, and even did well on the highway or getting into traffic.

I thought the CVT acted intelligently for the most part, and I never experienced the irritating rubber-bandiness that has driven me crazy with some other CVTs in the past.  It does have a “Sport” mode – which keeps revs higher, and it also has a low-range mode, labeled “B” – I’m not sure what that means, but it keeps it in the equivalent of a low gear, 1st or 2nd would be a good approximation in a traditional automatic transmission.

I did drive this car in the bitterest of winter conditions and found that it had a tough time getting traction on packed snow or icy roads, even with winter tires installed.  Again, that’s an issue of a very light car, not a design problem.

The iQ is definitely not a fan of ruts – it does get a little upset if you start bouncing in and out of them – it won’t lose control, by any stretch, but it doesn’t like the ruts.

I thought the brakes were great for this car – good, solid feel, and progressive braking.  No complaints there.

The visibility out of this car is mostly excellent.  Shoulder checking out of the driver’s side is difficult because the view is obstructed, but because of the size of the car, this isn’t a big issue, as the blind spot is so tiny.  You can just move your head an inch, and see exactly what’s next to you – it takes some adjustment, but it’s not an issue.



I felt that the sound damping material was lacking.  I know that you’re very close to the wheel wells and so it’s going to be noisier, but still, there is quite a bit of road noise.  In our city, we find it necessary to spread many beaches worth of sand and rock on the winter roads, and the road grit incessantly made irritating sounds in the wheel wells.

I took this car on an extended highway trip (over 600 kms) and the wind and road noise were at levels that I found almost intolerable.  Which leads me to my next issue – no cruise control.  As a matter of fact, I didn’t even see the option of getting cruise control.  That would automatically remove this car from my list of alternates if I used it for highway travel.  Between the high levels of noise and no cruise control, I felt it was a taxing car to take on a road trip.

I think this car is well put-together, but still, I often heard some of the interior panels clacking against each other over bumps and expansion joints.  Not a creaking or a rattling, but it was definitely some kind of noise.

The ergonomics aren’t bad, but when it comes to those four buttons on the center console, it’s just pathetic.  There is no reasonable way to reach them from the driver’s seat, as you need a tentacle or something like that to get between the shift lever and the e-brake lever.  Terrible, terrible design – like an afterthought, really.


This is something else that may come across as trivial, but it drove me crazy.  The turning threshold for the signal light is way, WAY too high.  Meaning you can easily turn a normal corner in this car, and the signal light will not turn off.  Seriously, as minor as that sounds, after about 10 normal corners and your signal staying on, it starts to grate on you.

There are four settings for the climate control’s fan speed.  The first couple are alright, the third is downright noisy, and the fourth – well, let’s just say they should be naming it, because it’s about as loud as a hurricane.  Fan speed Katrina.  It drowns out any thoughts you might have about manually turning off your signal light.

Finally I’m saddened by the tragically humble horn note.  It’s a very flaccid “SHMEEP”.  I have a theory here, people.  Bear with me.  I strongly believe that car manufacturers should endow smaller cars with bigger horns.  If you drive a Hummer H2 around town, you basically don’t even need a horn.  People know you’re there, and they will get out of your way for the most part.  But if you’re in a Scion iQ, people can barely see you, and therefore you should be given a louder horn to get people’s attention with.  Smaller cars get bigger horns.  I’ve basically single-handedly solved most of our vehicle safety issues right there.  Thank me later.



The iQ has 11 airbags.  That’s a lot for a car in which you can touch every single window from the driver’s seat.


The Verdict

OK, well this wasn’t an easy one.  I never took issue with driving a smaller car.  It’s just something I’ve always been comfortable with, and I don’t have to compensate for anything by driving a jacked-up, diesel truck with a big loud exhaust and a million horsepower and huge tires and a silicone scrotum dragging along behind it.  I’m actually just fine in a small car, and quite comfortable.  So that never bothered me.  I think what threw me a bit was some of the compromises in the iQ.  I know, I know – for this price, you can’t expect the world, and that’s why I’m giving it a higher score than I originally anticipated.  I give it a 6.5 out of 10.  I’m giving it this score, if it’s considered for what it was meant to do.  If you’re considering it for a highway cruiser, I’d give it a 4 out of 10.  But as an intelligent, simple, somewhat flexible, extremely mobile urban warrior, this car rocks.  It would be a great commuter, and it did everything I asked of it.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was surprisingly low.  I think my wife found it a bit too cutesy-wootsy for her liking, and obviously our family doesn’t fit in it.  She typically likes bigger vehicles, and with more cargo space, since she has a sickness – it is called chronic shopping syndrome.

I would appreciate the option of being able to put cruise control in it, and I would absolutely consider upgrading the stereo to the Pioneer touch-screen system.  I’m not sure what it looks like, or if the controls are more intelligent, but it has to be an improvement on the base system.  It’s $595 and includes a touch-screen, as well as hands-free voice controls.  A no-brainer, in my opinion.

I think anyone shopping for a Smart car would heave a hefty sigh of relief that this option exists.  The Smart car is a turd of epic proportions, and the iQ improves on most of those concerns.  The drive and the transmission alone would be reasons to choose this over any Smart products.  I’ve always said “Smart cars aren’t”.

In terms of other competition, there isn’t much.  It’s a micro-car, and we buy few of these in North America – but for those looking at them, it’s a viable alternative to bigger, clumsier, and less efficient vehicles, especially if you’re sticking to the city.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by Scion.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.