Thursday, September 6, 2012

Small wonder: Scion's iQ has its charms

This review originally appeared in the August 2012 edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin’ News published out of Folsom, California – mg

Sacramento, California Let me tell you, it has been a long, long time since I’ve test driven a car that did not have cruise control.

I can’t even tell you how long.  Wasn’t Lyndon Johnson the president?  I don’t know, but know this: the absence of cruise control was a relatively mild shock to my senses stacked up against everything I experienced behind the wheel of the 2012 Scion iQ.

First off, you walk up to the thing and you’re convinced that the other half of your car is still out on the road, yet to arrive.  Heck, it’s only 10 feet long. And yet the Scion folks are very quick to point out that their creation is bigger than a Smart fortwo mini-car.

Oh, that’s cool.  And, Scion goes on:  whereas the fortwo is a two-passenger vehicle, the iQ can handle four passengers … Now, hold on here!  Wait a minute!  Are you kidding me???!!!

No, we’re not kidding, they say.  It’s “the world’s smallest four-seater.”

OK, so they’re not kidding.  Scion talks up a quirky, offset, 3-plus-1 interior seating configuration that allows the front passenger seat to go way forward to clear room for a human in the right-side back.  But folks, having been in the car myself, that’s a tough sell.

From my cockpit seat – keeping in mind that I’m 6-4 – I was just able to squeeze my palm between the back of my seat and the seat behind me.  Small child sits there in the back, right?  Sure, I’ll buy it.

And if you want to buy it, the iQ three-door liftback with an automatic transmission starts at $15,265.  Very pleasant number, that.  Here are a couple more: 36 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

So now you’re saying, great man, but this is a city dweller’s car all the way, right?  Affirmative on that.  Naturally, however, I couldn’t leave it at that, so I took my Scion iQ out for a spirited outing on the dicey Interstate 80 run between Sacramento and San Francisco.

I not only survived, I was stunned at how well the iQ maintained 70 miles per house with just a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder power plant doing the pushing.  It was getting the most out of its 94 horsepower, and it even blew off slowpokes when I became impatient and asked my right foot for more.  Amazing!

It wasn’t until later that I realized that I’d made the round trip with a tank holding only 8.5 gallons of regular gas.  If I’d known that before I started out, I would have absolutely counted on filling it up.  Never had to, it turns out.

Trivia question: How many airbags in the iQ?  If you answered 11, and I doubt that you did, go to the head of the class.

Alas, when you have a car this small, there are concessions of course.  Like no glovebox.  You get a tray that slides under the front passenger seat.  Yet those back seats are good for cargo carrying when folded.  No sense in torturing human beings in them.

Like all Scions, there’s heavy emphasis on the interior sound system, managed via a center-mounted control cluster that looks like something you’d find on a Gulfstream jet.  Never did master how to work the thing.  My loss, I’m sure.

Given everything, the car has its charms.

Five days in, I confess that I was liking this ride.  And when it came time to turn it over, I was unhappy.

Good things in small packages?  I say yes.

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