2012 Scion iQ first drive review: Smarter than smart

2012 Scion iQ

2012 Scion iQ

If there’s one single thing that defines the new 2012 Scion iQ, the Toyota sub-brand’s micro subcompact, it’s the turning circle. The self-styled “world’s smallest four-seater” can double back on itself in only 25.8 feet. Turn the steering wheel to full left lock and the iQ seems almost to pivot on its left rear wheel like a riding lawnmower. Not quite, but almost.

If it seems strange to fixate on one typically minor element, be advised that it’s not a circus trick. The Scion iQ was born and bred for the urban environment, and the iQ, with its vest pocket dimensions, can squeeze through, about and around better than any other car on the market, if not in the world then in the U.S.

2012 Scion iQ front seats and dash

The 2012 Scion iQ owner had best like the front seats because that's the only fabric available.

The secondary element is that although it may appear to be a clown trick, the diminutive three-door hatchback really can accommodate three and a half men. They can’t all be NFL linemen, but for anyone who regularly carries less than two and a half NFL linemen, the interior volume ain’t half bad.

The 2012 Scion iQ is a testament to clever engineering in getting the most from a tiny space. Originally designed for European cities and sold under the Toyota brand, the iQ stacks and packs components, starting with people. The right front seat is positioned forward of the left—the passenger would be offsides if it were a soccer game—to give the right rear passenger legroom. The driver’s seat is positioned almost against the rear seat with a driver of average height at the wheel, leaving room for only a half passenger. Literally.

Even still, the Scion iQ fits the number of people it does by carving room out of the dash ahead of the passenger, relocating the glove box to a (rather flimsy) drawer under the front passenger seat. A compact air-conditioning system is stuffed into the center stack.

Under the iQ’s stubby snout, Scion engineers saved even more room by placing the differential and half shafts ahead of the transversely mounted engine, allowing the engine to nestle up against the firewall and under the leading edge of the cowl.

2012 Scion iQ engine

The 2012 Scion iQ 1.3-liter engine has impressive output for its size.

Not that the engine is all that big. The 1.3-liter four-cylinder occupies only the left side of the engine compartment but still allows inner fender to be wide enough to permit the front wheels to turn as sharp angles, therefore allowing the tight turning radius.

Despite its small size, the engine produces 94 horsepower and 89 lb-ft of torque, and despite an 11.5:1 compression ratio and conventional fuel injection, it runs on regular 87-octane gasoline. Part of the engine’s output can be attributed to the dual variable adjustable valve train. Like all other Scions, the iQ has a ULEV II emissions rating.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.

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