It's been a long time coming, but Scion's miniature iQ is finally getting close to arriving in US dealers. The automaker recently announced pricing and launch dates for the small three-door hatchback, set to directly rival the tiny Smart car.

According to Scion, the iQ will start at $15,995 - about $3,000 more than the cheapest Smart ForTwo. But in addition to more power and a few more features, that extra cash buys you more seats. While Smart's aptly named ForTwo is, indeed, for two, Scion calls the iQ a "3+1," meaning there's room for three - plus one more if necessary. We think that's accurate, having seen the iQ when it made its North American debut at last year's New York International Auto Show.

In addition to pricing, Scion has also announced a four-stage launch for the iQ. The urban-oriented hatchback will debut on the West Coast in October before being offered across the southern US in January 2012. The East Coast will see the iQ a few months later, before an eventual spring launch across the Midwest and the remainder of the United States.

Introduced globally at the 2008 Geneva Auto Show, the iQ has been on sale in Japan and Europe since early 2009. In contrast to global versions of the iQ, which use a 1.0-liter three-cylinder producing just 67 horsepower, North American models will get a 1.3-liter four-cylinder with around 100 horses. Other changes from European and Japanese versions include larger 18-inch wheels and flared wheel arches.

Although the iQ's US launch was delayed due to the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in March, it couldn't debut at a better time. While gas prices have receded from summer highs, national averages are still above $3.50 per gallon - and they're likely to rise again. The iQ's subcompact segment has also received considerable interest lately thanks to the recent introduction of the cheeky Fiat 500 and five-door Mazda2 hatchbacks.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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