Compared to the late, not-so-great Cygnet from iconic British automaker Aston Martin, the2015 Scion iQ represents an incredible bargain. Relative to other economy cars on the market, however, Scion’s microcar doesn’t fare quite as well.
Allow us to explain: A few years ago, Aston Martin needed a fuel-efficient car to comply with European regulations, and the iQ happened to be hitting the market around the same time. A deal was struck, and those cheeky Brits proceeded to redesign the iQ’s grille, spruce up the interior and triple the price. They called it the Cygnet, and not surprisingly, hardly anyone bought one during its abortive 2-year production run. Armed with this knowledge, iQ owners can somewhat truthfully say that they drive a discounted Aston, so there’s that.
On the other hand, the iQ’s starting price of about $16,000 brings numerous larger economy cars into play. These cars feature more space, offer better driving dynamics and also feel a bit more secure when you’re surrounded by SUVs. In fact, the only category that the iQ would win outright is city fuel economy, where it boasts an impressive 36 miles per gallon.
Now, if your urban lifestyle absolutely demands a tiny set of wheels, please forget most of what we just said, because the iQ is the best microcar we’ve driven. Don’t even think about a smart fortwo; the Scion is superior in every way.
But do you really need something this tiny, or could you live with a larger economy car that’s still pretty small? We suspect that the typical small-car shopper will find better options elsewhere.
What’s New for 2015?
The iQ receives no changes this year.
What We Like
Tiny footprint; surprisingly entertaining handling; impressive combined fuel economy
What We Don’t
Costs as much as some regular cars; performance-sapping continuously variable automatic (CVT)
The 2015 Scion iQ is powered by a 1.3-liter inline-4 engine rated at 94 horsepower and 89 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission for the U.S. market is a CVT.
Fuel economy for city driving is an excellent 36 mpg, but highway efficiency is just 37 mpg, less than many larger, faster cars can manage. Still, at 37 mpg overall, the iQ is one of the most fuel-efficient nonhybrid cars that you can buy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2015 Scion iQ is offered in a single trim level with a range of optional accessories.
Standard features include 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, air conditioning, fully powered accessories, a tilt-only leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 6-speaker audio system with a 6.1-in touchscreen display, Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity.
Scions are all about accessorizing, so the iQ has a long list of add-ons, notably 16-in alloy wheels, a BeSpoke infotainment system (including internet radio, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other online services), a 7-color interior lighting system and performance-oriented upgrades such as lowering springs.
In terms of versatility, we think it’s likely that most iQ owners will keep the rear seats folded flat, because otherwise there’s basically no cargo capacity. Scion claims 3.5 cu ft. of space behind the rear seatbacks, but in truth, you could barely fit a child’s knapsack back there: The seatbacks are almost flush against the back wall of the car. Flip the rear seats into the floor, however, and you have a flat loading area with 16.7 cu ft. to play with, which is a measurement bigger than most sedan trunks. That’s pretty impressive for a microcar.
The 2015 Scion iQ comes with standard stability control, anti-lock brakes (front discs, rear drums) and 11 airbags (front, front-side, front seat-cushion, front-knee, full-length side-curtain and rear-window).
In government crash tests, the iQ received four stars out of five overall, including four stars for frontal impacts and three stars for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was more impressed, giving the iQ its top score of Good in every crash-test category except rear impacts, where the iQ received the second-best Acceptable rating.
Behind the Wheel
In our interior evaluation, we found that the iQ’s front seats offer just the basics in terms of support, but we like their style. The seat-bottom fabric has an interesting pattern, and the stylish seatbacks with their fixed headrests look like something out of “Star Trek.” The small, chunky steering wheel is nice to grip but doesn’t telescope, an omission that tall drivers will lament.
Glancing around the cabin, we think Toyota has done a good job of giving the iQ the character of a real car. With its respectable materials quality along with its sensible gauges and vertically stacked climate-control knobs, everything just seems familiar. It’s only when you glance over your shoulder that you’re confronted by the iQ’s smallness. Stem to stern, a MINI Cooper Hardtop is about 2.5 feet longer.
Not surprisingly, the sizing has consequences for rear passengers. The iQ is technically a 4-seater, but you can more or less forget about putting anyone behind the driver, as there’s just no legroom. If the front passenger’s in an agreeable mood, he or she can slide the seat forward enough to accommodate one rear occupant.
On the road, the biggest surprise is undoubtedly the way that the iQ takes a corner. Not only does it handle like a normal car, it also handles better than some normal cars. The steering is quick and accurate, while the short wheelbase and firm suspension keep body motion to a minimum.
It’s a great setup for zooming around the city, unless you hit a pothole, that is, as the iQ’s ride compliance is minimal. On the highway, the iQ is less compelling. That firm ride plus ample road noise combine to make high-speed runs rather unpleasant.
Under the hood, the CVT isn’t very smooth, and it seems to be better at generating noise than meaningful acceleration. Despite the racket, though, the little inline-4 manages to yank the iQ around with acceptable authority for urban use. It’s only when you’re merging or passing on the highway that the iQ’s modest power becomes obvious.
Other Cars to Consider
2015 FIAT 500 — The 500 can’t match the iQ’s overall fuel economy, but it does have a more usable back seat and a healthy dollop of Italian style.
2015 Hyundai Elantra — The Elantra is an example of a larger car that can be had for iQ-level money and is basically better at everything besides parking.
2015 Kia Rio — The Rio hatchback is a tempting alternative to the iQ, as it’s packed with space and features while remaining within shouting distance of the Scion’s compact dimensions.
Used Volkswagen Golf — The Golf is what we’d call a premium economy car, meaning that it’s out of the iQ’s league if you’re comparing new to new. As a certified pre-owned option, though, the Golf easily drops into the Scion’s price range or even below.
The base iQ specification would be the one that we’d choose, as the value proposition suffers further once you start adding accessories.
“2015 Scion IQ: New Car Review – AutoTrader.com.” AutoTrader.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.