Just about everyone asked this question when they saw Scion’s newest car, the iQ.
New for 2012, the three-door Scion iQ hatchback is 10 feet long from bumper to bumper – that’s almost 2 feet shorter than a Fiat 500 – and has a rear end that seems abruptly cut off aft of the rear wheels.
Classified as a minicompact and weighing only 2,172 pounds with a 94-horsepower engine, the iQ also is the top gasoline-powered, non-hybrid, 2012 small car in federal government fuel economy rankings.
Specifically, the iQ, which comes with a continuously variable transmission, is rated at 36 miles per gallon in city driving and 37 mpg on the highway.
Though the interior is rather Spartan, add-on accessories galore promise imaginative customizing of this little car by young, urban hipsters.
Starting price, including destination charge, is $15,995.
This is $820 more than the starting price for a 2012 Honda Fit and $300 less than the price for a 2012 Ford Fiesta hatchback. Both competitors are larger than the iQ, provide more space for cargo and rear-seat passengers, offer more than one transmission and have more powerful engines.
Even the diminutive and cuter 2012 Fiat 500 hatchback, with $16,000 starting retail price, is bigger in interior volume and has a more powerful engine.
The first new Scion model since 2004, the iQ is new to the United States, but Toyota has sold it for years overseas where extremely small cars are popular and the iQ blends in.
Still, on American roads, amid pickups and sport utility vehicles, the iQ is an anomaly.
I drove it defensively, because the first few times on the road, other drivers cut me off, and I wasn’t sure they saw the car coming up in the lane next to them.
Even knowing the Scion comes standard with 11 air bags – one is the world’s first rear window air bag – and meets U.S. crash requirements, I remained aware that the iQ was lightweight. It can be buffeted by winds on stormy days, and there’s not a lot of sound insulation, so I could hear noisy trucks and motorcycles as they approached, even with all the windows closed.
The car needs only 12.9 feet to do a U-turn. I easily turned around on narrow city streets to nab parking spaces.
Wider and longer than the Smart cars but similar in overall shape, the iQ is perfect for slipping effortlessly into tiny parking spots in the city that bigger vehicles can’t claim. Anyone with a small garage at home will love the way it fits inside. In my traditional two-car garage, I figure I could fit four iQs.
The “get up and go” of the iQ powertrain can be disappointing, and most small cars in this country have at least 100 horsepower.
In contrast, the 1.3-liter, double overhead cam four-cylinder puts out 94 horsepower, and it can sound like it’s straining at 55 mph, especially if the highway has elevation changes.
Some of this is because of the transmission, which seeks to maximize fuel economy by operating in the optimal gear range for the load and speed of the car. It sent droning sounds to the test car interior.
Torque peaks at 89 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm, so the car doesn’t feel sporty even in city driving.
My mileage was 75 percent city travel and 25 percent highway, and I averaged between 29.5 mpg and 31.7 mpg. With a fuel tank holding 8.5 gallons, this meant my driving range was just over 300 miles.
Surprisingly, standard wheels and tires on the iQ are larger than expected – 16-inchers. Because they are positioned at the outermost corners of the car and the iQ is relatively wide, the car has a more stable feel than you might anticipate.
Rear seats seemed flimsy and are space-constrained, and rear-passenger head restraints are positioned very close to the back window.
There’s no glove box, either. Instead, a tray is under the front passenger seat