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2012 Scion iQ (Toyota)
2012 Scion iQ (Toyota)

2012 Scion iQ

If you don't want a car, this is the car for you Add to ...

As I write this with one hand, I’m stuffing a Scion iQ into my back pocket with the other. I even have room for not just one, not two, but 11 airbags, including what Scion proudly calls the “world’s first rear window curtain airbag.”

You might be wondering why other car companies hadn’t thought to make a car just like this one, this stuffable, four-person micro-subcompact that can pirouette in a parking place with the skill of a prima ballerina – airbags included. Yes, the iQ has a turning circle (3.9 metres) smaller than a Fiat 500 or a Smart fortwo.

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Truth be told, though, I was kidding about the iQ being a teeny, tiny toy of a car, a miniaturized runabout barely bigger than a bread box, one sized perfectly for the pocket of my blue jeans. But only just. After all, Scion is quick to alert me to the seating arrangements for four. Two very little people can be stuffed in back. Say, a couple of Snow White’s friends. Dopey and Grumpy?

What’s not so small is the price: $16,760 is nearly $2,000 more than a Toyota Yaris hatchback with four doors and a hatch at the back ($14,890). Car designers keep telling me that small is the new big and this apparently is what they mean – you pay a big price for downsizing to a matchbox-sized grocery-getter like the iQ. If that sticker is disagreeable, well, too bad.

“Like all Scion models, the 2012 Scion iQ will be offered in a single, well-equipped model that delivers big ideas,” notes the Scion Canada press release. Translation: no iQ strippers.

But you will get something you could park nose-in to the curb, if it were legal. That’s because the iQ is just 3,045 mm long. That’s the wingspan of a California condor. Yes, there are birds with wings that stretch out longer than an iQ.

There are surely Olympic sprinters who can outrun the iQ, too. At least for a short distance. You see, the iQ’s 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) delivers 94 peak horsepower. In a rush? You’ll wind up at 100 km/h some 12-plus seconds after starting, your foot hard on the accelerator. You’ll be able to whistle a whole happy tune while the iQ does its work. To put it another way, Usain Bolt wouldn’t even be a bronze medalist if he had the juice of an iQ.

On the other hand, fuel economy at a combined 5.1 litres/100 km – regular gas, of course – is tremendous. Love it, love it, love it. And while I can’t say I’m smitten over some of the iQ’s immensely clever engineering, I do admire it.

For instance, there’s the compact air conditioning unit. Yes, yes, the iQ will cool you when the humidex cracks 40. Thank goodness. The electronic power steering system is not really so trying, either; it is reasonably tight, if a little light at highway speeds. There’s acoustic glass, too, and let’s have some applause for the extra-slim front seatbacks. Quite nifty. Dopey and Grumpy will appreciate them when sitting in back, even if that means there’s no room for luggage, what with the rear seatback up to provide for what Scion says is innovative 3+1 seating.

This brings us to the question of safety. Aside from the airbag array, every iQ comes with window jam protection, LED brake lights, pre-tensioning seatbelts, anti-lock braking and an engine immobilizer with panic alarm. The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the iQ a “Good” rating for front and side impact tests, as well as the roof crush standard. Alas, the iQ fell short in the rear impact test, which means this Scion is not a Top Safety Pick like the 500 and the Yaris.

At least it’s well equipped with gear, from power-adjustable exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals to a leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless entry power door locks, power windows, a multi-information display, six-speaker audio (USB and auxiliary audio input jacks standard) and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

All this looks good on paper and, indeed, for a car smaller than one of those red London phone booths, the iQ is indeed kinda cute. That said, the iQ and the equally small Smart fortwo seem to be cars for people who don’t really want a car, but are willing to tolerate one out of necessity. Nicely built of good materials, yes, but it’s hard to make an emotional connection with an appliance.

Indeed, as Consumer Reports has duly noted in a report giving the stubby iQ one of lowest scores ever given to any car, the ride is choppy, the cabin is noisy despite the acoustic glass, and the driving position is uncomfortable. Not only that, the “token rear seat” takes up luggage space when Dopey and Grumpy are back there.

For me, a long run on the freeway was a nerve-wracking exercise. Above 100 km/h, the iQ feels tippy, as if any sudden or emergency manoeuvre would send you tumbling. That’s not surprising. The iQ has a wheelbase of 2,000 mm and weighs just 960 kg. You’ll find longer and heavier shoes in my closet. And a pair of jeans into which you can park an iQ.

Tech specs

2012 Scion iQ

Type: Micro-subcompact car

Base price: $16,760 ($1,495 freight)

Engine: 1.3-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 94 hp/89 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 5.5 city/4.7 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Fiat 500, Chevrolet Spark, Smart fortwo

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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