A leisurely test drive of the 2012 Scion iQ—the moniker being the brand’s clear shot at the Smart Car—proved its absolute necessity in the new lineup of fuel-efficient automobiles. With a combined mpg of 37, which, though possessing a conventional engine beats many of the 2012 hybrids, the iQ felt light and zippy but solid, with lots of headroom for my tall frame. (Other test drivers who stood well over six feet had no trouble settling in.)
Though we had our eye on the sportier version with better extras, and the one in Hot Lava (their “hero” color), my driving partner, Joy Sian of Inhabitat, and I set off from Manhattan Beach toward the Santa Monica Pier in a Blizzard Pearl version of the world’s smallest four-passenger car. We hit a bit of traffic on the way, and in each gridlocked intersection, we sneaked up to the tail of the last car in the line, leaving plenty of room for the sidewalk behind us—impossible in most cars. The high-pitched whirr of the 94-horsepower engine took some getting used to, and it felt as if the back end of the car was missing—it measures just 10 feet in length. With 11 airbags surrounding us, including a curtain airbag lining the back and mysterious under-the-knee airbags, we felt safe despite being dwarfed time and again by commercial work vehicles that suddenly looked like monster trucks.
“What is this?” asked a man on a bike after we easily pulled into a parking space on Ocean Avenue, and we found ourselves extolling the virtues of the car. We went off course to Venice, where we drove through Speedway alley and parked in the middle of a dead-end street for fun. When a parking enforcement officer rolled up, we hung a quick U-turn (the turning radius is equivalent to a large motorcycle—12.9 feet) and moved to the alley, where a wild-haired, bearded man pulling a red wagon filled with smudge sticks grumbled at the car, which, at just over five feet wide, was itself not much larger than said wagon. All told, we drove around for two hours and the needle barely moved, but it would be better to see this car, at its Lilliputian size, eke out a few more miles per gallon.
With its iPod readiness and its trendy name unabashedly redolent of Apple products, a ploy to prey on us Mac addicts, the car is unnecessarily desperate to be hip. In spite of enough PR materials to fill its interior to the brim, the iQ’s incredible benefits to the driver will ultimately be what get it noticed. It’s primarily a city car, and should be appealing to both teens and 20-somethings, young parents with small kids, even cool retirees wishing to dash around the city. And, as one would expect from a division of Toyota, it’s wholly egalitarian: With Scion’s “pure price” guarantee that everyone pays the same—around $16,000 for the base model, which can be customized with all manner of cool ups and extras—buyers will be guaranteed that they don’t spend a penny more than their neighbor.