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2012 Scion iQ

2012 Scion iQ
2012 Scion iQ Wheelbase Media

More than four decades ago, North Americans began a love affair with an inexpensive little two-door runabout that Toyota introduced to North America from its Japanese homeland. The Corolla badge has so far been affixed 40 million vehicles.

Certainly Toyota isn’t expecting that its Scion-branded iQ to be a case of history repeating, but if just a little of that ol’ Corolla mojo rubs off on this tiniest of four-seaters, the automaker would definitely have another hit on its hands.

The iQ is an interesting piece of architecture. Toyota has managed to take a vehicle that’s barely 10 feet long (roughly a foot longer than a Smart fortwo) and create a rolling habitat for four people.

The previous statement, however, requires some clarification. The person sitting directly behind the driver will either have to be very small, or sufficiently flexible to sit cross-legged for extended periods. That’s because this so-called “micro subcompact” offers a unique seating arrangement, with the driver’s chair positioned a few inches aft of the front passenger seat. This arrangement allows for a reasonable legroom assigned to the spot behind the shotgun position, but barely any such space exists behind the driver. For all practical purposes, the iQ is essentially a three-person proposition, but it still puts the Smart to shame.

Full Monty seat deployment also results in a mere mail slot’s worth of storage space, accessible through the rear hatch. But with the rear seat folded, stashing a couple of sets of golf clubs or full-size suitcases would not be out of the question. Some credit here goes to a flat gas tank mounted beneath the floor plus a tire-repair kit that replaces the traditional spare.

The iQ isn’t particularly wide — nearly equal to the fortwo in this regard — but the offset front-seat layout should provide sufficient space to prevent elbow collisions. The two-tone dashboard has been shaped for minimal cabin intrusion (an under-seat bin replaces the glove compartment), while the gauges, controls and pop-up-style audio system/navigation system reflect the iQ’s minimalist character.

However there’s nothing minimal about the 11 airbags (Holy pillow fight, 11?) strategically located about the cabin. The list includes the first-ever rear-window airbag plus driver and front-passenger knee and seat-cushion airbags.

Keeping the iQ on the go and hopefully out of trouble is a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 94 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque. That too is minimal, but considering the car’s modest 2,127-pound curb weight, it’s likely all that’s needed for most urban driving scenarios. And just wait and see what the aftermarket will develop to bolster the iQ’s power band.

In the interests of maxing out fuel economy (rated at 36 mpg in the city, 37 highway), the 1.3 is mated to a continuously variable transmission. Those numbers are respectable, but less than spectacular when compared to larger models from Ford, Hyundai and Chevrolet.

Being a member of the Scion family means that the iQ arrives in a well-equipped state. Standard gear includes air conditioning, keyless remote entry, power windows and outside mirrors and a leather-wrapped adjustable steering wheel with audio controls. Also standard is a 160-watt Pioneer audio system and Bluetooth hands-free communications capability.

The mostly dealer-installed options consist of a premium 200-watt audio package with touch-screen display, navigation system, 16-inch alloy wheels, bodyside moldings and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) front sway bar and lowering springs.

It remains to be seen how the iQ will be received once it enters the retail stream beginning this October at a $16,000 base price (including destination charges). Young urban singles and multi-car families are the likely targets, but more car can be had for about the same money from other automakers with as good, or better fuel-efficiency stats. But don’t discount the iQ’s certain indescribable charm factor. After all, it worked for the Corolla.