Thursday, December 8, 2011


Quick now.
What kind of car is that in the picture?
A Smart Fortwo?
Good guess, but wrong.
This is the iQ, which Toyota is launching under its Scion brand.
Yes, it does look a lot like the Smart, but that’s the only similarity. The iQ has everything the Smart car has (save for the world's worst transmission) and more.
I saw it and drove it for the first time today as the automaker introduced it to auto journalists at an event staged at a cushy beachside resort along A1A south of Palm Beach. (Yes, life can be tough!).
Unless you live on the West Coast, you probably haven’t seen it yet because the Japanese automaker is introducing the iQ in “waves” around the country. It hit California and neighboring states in the fall and early next year Scion will bring it to the Southeast and Gulf States. It’s due in Florida in February.
New York dealers will get it next, then the rest of the East Coast and the Midwest by the middle of the year.
I’m not going to lie to you here and say wow, this is a great car and I really can’t wait to plunk down $15,995 to buy one. I wouldn’t. But that doesn’t have as much to do with the car as it does with my own personal tastes.
I just don’t get it when it comes to cars like this, but Toyota (or Scion, if you prefer) is betting a lot of young people will. They may be right. In addition to its style, the iQ has a many features, like its audio system, that will appeal to the young buyers.
The main difference between the iQ -- it stands for “intelligent Quality,” according to Scion National Market and Communications Manager Owen Peacock -- and the Smart Fortwo is that the iQ drives like a real car.
Its front seat is actually quite roomy, and it handles well even in heavy freeway traffic, or at least in did on my brief sojourn up the interstate. The 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at only 94 horsepower, but it doesn’t have a lot of weight (only 2,127 pounds) to get moving.
It’s a bit loud, though, especially at highway speed.
The big difference is that the iQ’s engine is mated to a CVT, or continuously variable transmission, and that is a big advantage over the Smart.
The Smart operates with what the manufacturer calls an automated manual transmission, and when you drive it as an automatic (which you can), the shifts are incredibly balky with an very noticeable lag from first to second, so noticeable I remember fearing that if someone was close on my tail they might run into me as I pulled away from a stoplight. Yes, it slowed that much.
There’s also another difference in that the iQ actually has a backseat. Not a very big one, mind you, but there is one back there. It would be ideal for happen to be driving circus midgets around town, but I’m guess here that doesn’t come up often in your life.
There is room for the front seat to move forward to make more room in the back, but if a regular-size adult gets behind the wheel, chances are the left seat is going to be pushed back too far for anybody who happens to have legs to fit comfortably behind the driver.
Safety is always a concern in a vehicle this size, and you can bet I gave extra attention to the dump truck that was pulling a trailer and running just to my left as I motor at 70 mph up I-95. The iQ doesn’t have its safety ratings yet, but Peacock did point out that it does have 11 standard airbags, including the first rear-window airbag.
Besides the size, the other drawback I see is in the mileage figures. The biggest reason I can think of to buy a car like this is for its ability to drive from here to China with maybe one stop for gas.
But the iQ is rated at only a combined 37 miles-per-gallon, which the company points out is the highest number for any non-hybrid vehicle. (Those 40 mpg figures you see tossed about in TV ads are for highway driving only.)
But you maybe would expect more out of something like the iQ -- at least I would have -- or the Smart, for the that matter. The Smart, which has only 70 hp, checks with numbers of 33/41. The iQ is 36/37 (yes, the difference in city and highway is negligible).
To me, that’s not a big enough difference over other, more traditional subcompacts on the market today to justify going with either the iQ or Smart.
To me,  both the iQ and the Smart come up just a tad short to winning me over completely. But if I had to choose between them, I’d say the iQ is a more, hmm, intelligent buy than the Smart.

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