How does one build a four-passenger car that is only 120 inches long with an 80-inch wheel base? Ask Toyota. But it has been done before and over 5 million were built over 40 years. It was called the Austin and Morris Mini. It was designed by Alex Issigonis after he was given a design specification of car that would fit into a box that was 10X4X4 feet. Even Issigonis couldn’t met that spec but he came close with a car that had an 80-inch wheel base that was 10 feet long but was 55 inches wide and 53 inches high. Interestingly, the later models were powered by a 1,275 cc engine of about 75 hp. We all know it became an icon.
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Scion’s IQ is very similar in many ways. The IQ is also 120 long and rides on an 80-inch wheelbase. It, too, has an inline four-cylinder 1.3-liter engine although the IQ’s engine isn’t a less technical OHV eight-valve unit, but a sophisticated DOHC 16-valve affair. Consequently, IQ outpowers the original Mini by about 20 hp with 94 hp coming at 6,000 rpm and peak torque arriving at 4,400 rpm with 89 pounds of twist.
Differences besides overall exterior design are that the IQ is wider by 11 inches (66 inches) and taller by six inches (59 inches), so the IQ feels spacious for two adults inside. As you can see in the photos, the rear seats are a bit tight, fitting two adults in a pinch (pun intended), however, most performers from Cirque du Soleil will find little problem with ingress and egress. One other big difference is that the IQ rides on large 16X5-inch wheels as compared to the Mini’s standard 10X4.5-inch wheels. But the many Mini modifiers gave rise to and switched to the iconic Mini-Light wheels of either 10- or 12-inch diameter. Mini Lights today are still favorites among car enthusiasts.
Driver and passenger sit higher than an original Mini, but the drive is still go-kart-like with quick steering and flat cornering. Let’s get this out of the way right now, the IQ is fun to drive. First, its performance will surprise you. Driving the front wheels through a CVT tranny (more on that later), it will scamper to 60 mph in 9.31 seconds (the original 1,275 cc Mini took 12 seconds). But IQ feels quicker and more responsive then the time reflects. This IQ can literally scoot with its perfectly linear throttle. Passing performance isn’t bad either, with a 50-70 mph run requiring 5.22 seconds and the same run up a steep grade will last 9.04 seconds. That would make the driver of a Honda Civic Hybrid tested a few years ago think it was dragging an anchor from the battleship Missouri.
Helping the performance is the CVT tranny, which almost feels like it is shifting when the rpms approach redline during hard acceleration. It is not a bad thing and maybe it makes the IQ even feel more powerful as rpms drop from just above peak hp engine speed (6,000 rpm) back to peak torque engine speed of 4,400 rpm so you get a feeling that the engine has new found vigor. Whatever it does, the CVT is smoother than a politician kissing babies.
Fuel economy is one of the reasons to drive such a small car and the EPA rates the IQ at 36/37/37 mpg city/highway and combined. On the freeway at 70 mph (there is no cruise control to help with that and there is no option for it, a negative to the Road Beat) the IQ returned a steady 40 mpg, but overall the fuel economy was 36 mpg, but I drove it fairly hard. The same style of driving in a Fiat 500, which is two feet longer, 250 pounds heavier and a bit more powerful, produced about 5 percent better fuel economy. But the IQ is so compact you can almost park it like a motorcycle. You could fit two in the average parking spot.
And with that super compact size comes the smallest turning circle the Road Beat has ever encountered, 25.8 feet. Talk about maneuverability, it made the Fiat feel like a land yacht. Remember the IQ is only about a foot longer than the very anemic two-passenger Smart car. The IQ running on three of its four cylinders would run away from a Smart car, while getting about the same fuel economy (running on four).
Suspension is small car standard with MacPherson struts up front and a twist torsion beam in the rear and it handles quickly, readily changing directions smartly when asked. Track is a very wide for its size at 58 inches (six inches wider than an original Mini Cooper). As said before, a go-kart comes to mind. In case you get carried away, stability and traction control are standard. Electric power steering is a quick 2.9 turns lock to lock and the turn-in is crisp. Understeer is very mild.
IQ actually rides much better than expected, being very smooth on the highway and handling bumps well with its supple suspenders. And turning just 2,200 rpm at 70 mph, it is quiet with no engine, road or wind noise. In fact the IQ is so sealed closing the doors takes some effort. If you drove into a lake, no need to set off the 10 or so airbags for some buoyancy, this thing is so airtight it would float without them (But please don’t try this at home).
Braking with discs up front and drums in the rear is quite good, arresting forward progress from 40 mph in 41 feet. ABS is standard. And don’t Iet its diminutive size scare you, it has a good four-star rating in crash tests and its rollover score was also four out of five stars.
Inside is a plain durable cloth interior and the seats are comfortable, if not a little soft. Most of the appointments (if you can call them that) are hard plastic, which is to be expected. At least they are quality hard plastics. Rear seating is de minimus, but it is there if you need it. At least there are seat belts for two in the rear.
Instrumentation includes a speedo and smaller tach, but everything else except the fuel gauge is warning lights. Speaking of fuel, the fuel tank only holds 8.5 gallons. I know motorcycles that can tank more than that. One problem with the speedo is that it is hard to read or see the lower half (which is the most important part) even in bright daylight because it sits in the shadow of a recessed binnacle. It is legible with panel lights, but when you turn them on, the radio screen and fuel gauge/trip computer are dimmed to the point that they are unreadable in daylight. The speedo should be lightly illuminated all the time.
If you drop the rear seat backs, there is about 17 cubic feet of cargo room equivalent to the trunk of a large sedan, but with the seat backs up (3.5 cubic feet), my motor scooter has almost as much cargo room in its trunk under the seat.
Pricing starts at $15,665 plus $775 or about the price of a Smart car. So in that respect it is a good value. And if anything else, the IQ is clever and unique looking, especially in Pacific Blue Metallic.
Price $16,420 with destination, price as tested $17,708
!.3L DOHC 16-valve inline four-cylinder 94 hp @ 6,000 rpm
89 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,400 rpm
CVT (continuously and infinitely variable) automatic
Transverse mounted front engine/front-wheel drive
Wheelbase 78.7 inches
Length 120.1 inches
Width 66.1 inches
Height 59.1 inches
Track (f/r) 58.1/57.5 inches
Weight 2,127 pounds
GVWR 2,800 pounds
Steering lock to lock 2.9 turns
Turning circle 25.8 feet
Wheels 16X5-inch steel (alloys optional)
Fuel capacity 8.5 gallons
Cargo capacity (rear seats up/down 16.7/3.5 cubic feet
Co-efficient of drag 0.31
0-60 mph 9.31 seconds
50-70 mph 5.22 seconds
50-70 mph uphill 9.04 seconds
Top speed: Estimated to be in excess of 100 mph, but not advised.
Fuel economy EPA rated at 36/37/37 mpg city/highway/ combines. Expect 40 mpg on the highway at 70 mph and 35-37 mpg overall.