In the 1970s, when we last faced a sustained spike in gas prices, pint-sized Japanese hatchbacks proliferated. With today's prices stubbornly hovering around four bucks a gallon, the all-new 2012 Scion iQ is about to bring tiny back - or so parent company Toyota hopes. Measuring an almost toy-like ten feet in lenght, the two-door iQ marks the first serious attempt to challenge the similarly conceived Smart Fortwo mini-car on American soil. Will it strike a chord with drivers bent on downsizing? We think so, and we've got five reasons to prove it.
1. Loves to Park
Let's put the Scion iQ's 119.9-inch length in perspective. At 146.2 inches, the Mini Cooper Hardtop - a teensy weensy car by contemporary standards-is over 20% longer than the Scion. The even teensier FIAT 500 is 139.6 inches long. They're lumbering giants by comparison. So if you've ever found yourself thinking, "Wish I had a car that would fit in that little parking space," the iQ should grab your attention. The Japanese automotive industry maintains a separate "microcar" segment that's hugely popular in urban areas; perhaps the iQ's affinity for tight spots will help convince city-dwelling Americans that we should follow suit.
2. Seats Four in a Pinch
Now, what we didn't mention above is that the Smart Fortwo is still the undisputed midget of the bunch, checking in at a demure 106.1 inches front to back. But we left that out for good reason: the Smart is exclusively available as a two-seater (hence the model name), so it's almost more like a covered motorcycle than a real car. The Scion iQ, on the other hand, actually has four seats-two front, two rear. We won't pretend the backseat's roomy, but hey, if you want to pile in three of your friends and go do something, you can make it work. That's some pretty impressive versatility for such a small package.
3. Sips Gas
The EPA rates the 2012 Scion iQ at 36 miles per gallon in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 37 mpg in combined driving. That's on regular gas, too; the Smart gets 36 mpg combined on premium. In short, if you want to beat the iQ's consistently high fuel economy across the board, you'll have to get a hybrid-and we know that even the cheapest hybrid is considerably more expensive than the Scion, which starts at $15,265. Seriously, it's almost unheard of for a non-hybrid to do about as well in the city as on the highway. Some of the credit here goes to the iQ's standard continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which optimizes the 1.3-liter inline-4 engine's fuel economy in urban driving.
4. Digs Technology
Even the humblest iQ comes standard with Bluetooth connectivity, a USB audio jack with iPod compatibility, and a Pioneer audio system (though the available satellite radio function costs extra). That's a lot of kit for a car that starts around fifteen large. Moreover, if the base radio doesn't do it for you, Scion dealers offer an upgrade to a premium Pioneer system that we think is well worth the extra $479. It boasts a big color touchscreen interface, Pandora streaming music, and a fantastic feature called "iTunes tagging" that lets you tag cool songs you hear on the radio and download them to your iPod later if you want.
5. Only Slightly Less Maneuverable than You
Cars can't literally turn on a dime like we can, of course, but the Scion iQ might be the closest any car has come to achieving human nimbleness. Despite being over a foot longer than the Smart, the iQ actually has a tighter turning circle-26.4 feet versus 28.7. Again, a bit of perspective: the aforementioned Mini Cooper needs 35.1 feet. Those nine feet or so could easily be the difference between a u-turn and a three-pointer. The iQ also has surprisingly lively steering response, imbuing the car with a can-do character when changing course. Put it this way: if the 2012 Scion iQ isn't maneuverable enough for you, just buy a Euro-style motor-scooter and be done with it.