If small things come in good packages, good packaging can make small things good. Scion takes packaging to a new level in its new micro-car, the 2012 iQ. Designers came up with six innovative ways to give the mini car maximum capability.

First, they reduced the size of the front end differential and mounted the steering column higher to make footwell room for the driver. They also flattened the fuel tank so it could be placed below the floorboard, giving more room for passengers. The designers then made the dashboard and front seat layout asymmetrical, and slimmed the backs of the front seats to make room for an adult passenger in back. Behind the driver, there’s only room for a child. And finally, they shrank the air conditioning unit and put it directly behind the controls in the center stack.

And there you have it – a 10-foot-long car that takes on the tiny smart For Two. The car is billed as the “World’s Smallest 4-Seater.” The adults in the front seats will ride comfortably, and the grown-up in back will be fairly comfortable. The child behind the driver will have to be small to be comfortable, so I’d call it a “3.5-seater.”

Sure, the iQ is cute like a puppy. But if you’ve ever driven a micro car, your first thought turns to safety: “What’s gonna happen when somebody plows into me?” Physics, being what it is, demands respect.

So Scion, the Toyota division that builds edgy and popular cars, took safety seriously in the iQ. No other manufacturer puts 11 airbags in a car, but the iQ has them standard in every model. At the regional launch of the iQ last week in Houston, I had to ask an engineer exactly where the airbags were. Since the rear window is just behind the rear seat passengers, Scion has introduced the first-ever rear window airbag. The other 10 include driver and front passenger airbags, driver and front passenger seat-mounted airbags, side curtains, driver and front passenger knee airbags, and seat cushion airbags for the driver and front passenger. In an accident, when all 11 airbags deploy, I’m thinking you’d have to feel like you were bubble-wrapped. The iQ, which stands for Intelligent Quality, also gets Toyota’s Star Safety System, which includes anti-lock brakes with brake assist and brake force distribution, traction and stability control systems, and the company’s new brake override system.

Now that the most important things are covered, let’s a closer look at this pocket-sized urban ride. With its fairly wide stance (66.1 inches) and weight of 2,100 pounds, the iQ handles quite nimbly, especially on city streets. On a two-hour test drive on Houston streets, it was fun making donuts with the iQ – not in parking lots but on narrow one-way boulevards. Joggers did double takes as we tested the 12-foot turning radius of this little car. Instead of parallel parking, you could almost pull it in perpendicular to the other cars parked on the street.

The iQ is certainly nimble, but it is not fast – it’s not designed to be. The 1.3-liter 94-horsepower engine delivers just 89 lb.-ft. of torque to the Continuously Variable Transmission. But the payoff is that the iQ delivers 37 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.

“The iQ ushers in a new urbanism,” said Owen Peacock, Scion’s national marketing and communications manger. The car is aimed squarely at Scion’s market…younger drivers. “It will attract youthful trendsetters who desire innovation,” Peacock said. “The iQ is the future – a small footprint that appeals to their sense that a car should not be any bigger than it really has to be, and one that is easy to drive and park in the city.”

The iQ will be built “mono-spec,” and will have more than 25 accessories, which means that buyers will no doubt customize them ‘til the cows come home.

Scion stays on the cutting edge with the iQ, a smartly-packaged urban runabout with style. The iQ starts at $15,995 and will arrive locally in the first quarter of 2012.


1.3-liter four-cylinder





Test model base price


EPA mileage rating

36 mpg city / 37 mpg highway