2012 Scion iQ

DETROIT — The quirky Scion family has just introduced its fourth vehicle and in doing so has created an entirely new segment — Premium Micro-Subcompact. The only other way to describe this 10-foot long vehicle is to call it the "world’s smallest four-seater.” At first glance the iQ looks more like an oversized golf cart. But the size of the vehicle makes it the perfect David Copperfield car because it, too, is an illusionist.

Truth-be-told I could stand to lose a few pounds, but I was able to actually pour myself into the back seat and once implanted I had enough leg room to be relatively cramp-free for a drive of normal length. Granted, the front passenger’s legroom would be somewhat compromised but when Scion promotes it as a four-passenger vehicle they’re telling the truth. The four-seat configuration is made possible because the driver and front-passenger seats are slightly offset.

A lot of interior room was picked up by creative styling.

For instance, the steering wheel has a flat bottom so it doesn’t hang down low enough to impose on those with thicker thighs. The HVAC centerstack is set farther forward, thus allowing a lengthening of the front seat separation from the rear seat. Little tricks like that pay off in user space and the iQ has a bunch of them.

The vehicle’s instrument panel has a circular speedometer that’s physically embracing a stylized rectangle tachometer. The list of standard features seems surreal to be found in a vehicle with an MSRP starting at $15,265 (plus another $730 for processing and handling). For example, there’s standard air conditioning, driver and front passenger one-touch auto up/down power windows, tilt leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with audio controls, ECO driving indicator,  microphone for Bluetooth System, radiant orange instrument panel illumination and a host of other comfort and noise-reducing features.

Since iQ is aimed at a younger demographic one would expect a better-than-average audio system. One would be right. Standard is a 160-watt Pioneer AM/FM/CD head unit (MP3/WMA CD and satellite-tuner capable), four speakers RCA output jacks, HD Radio technology. It features an organic electroluminescent screen with a personalized welcome screen, iPod/USA connectivity, Advance Sound Retriever and a subwoofer RCA output.

Optional is a 200-watt maximum output Pioneer Premium audio system that’s enhanced with a 5.8-inch LCD touch-screen display, iTunes tagging, Pandora, internet radio connected through iPhone and six RCA outputs to add external amplifiers.

If this isn’t enough for you there’s a Scion Navigation audio system. It has all the attributes of the 200-watt system but adds a navigation system and DVD player that are accessible through an intuitive 7” touch-screen. It contains comprehensive U.S. and Canada map coverage plus guidance to millions of points of interest.

The 2012 Scion iQ only weighs 2,127 pounds so there’s no need to try to pack in a 500-horsepower V8. iQ’s power comes from a 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine that puts out a “whopping” 94 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque, mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission w/Intelligence (CVT-i).

Don’t laugh; it’s just as peppy off the line as a LS 460. EPA fuel estimate is 36 mpg city/37 mpg highway and a combined rating of 37 mpg. Even with its 8.5-gallon fuel tank it’s still possible to get over 300 on a tank of regular unleaded.

It’s really fun to scoot around with this little sportster. Turning circle radius is only 12.9 feet. The ride is surprising smooth for such a little thing and it’s very quiet. Scion engineers did a lot of working lowering outside noise and it shows. Furthermore, because of its short stance, two iQs can fit into the standard parking space when sitting nose to tail.

Styling of the iQ is different, to say the least. It has a wraparound rear door glass that blends into the quarter-panels. It has very wide doors that allow fairly easy ingress and egress (although it couldn’t have been a pretty sight to see me exiting the rear of the vehicle, “booty” first).

Finally, small is good…but small and safe is better. iQ contains a wealth of safety features including a total of 11 airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, traction control, brake assist, vehicle stability control, smart stop technology and other features one would not expect to find in a vehicle in this segment.

Any new parent will tell you that good things come in small packages and the newest addition to the Scion family is no different.

— Al Vinikour