SEATTLE -- As the Scion brand ages, it’s getting smarter too or at least the names would indicate that – xA, xB, tC, xD and now iQ. 

      The iQ, arriving at western Scion dealerships now, is the latest for the youth-oriented Scion brand, and in many ways, it shows a certain level of “smartness” in a market that ‘kind of’ wants to embrace small efficient cars.

      I recently spent a few hours running Scion’s littlest car around the neighborhoods and freeways of Seattle and found the iQ has a lot going for it, in a small way.  And it’s something of a head-turner, especially when painted the Hot Lava color.

      Size-wise, the iQ is 120.1 inches long – ten feet.  If you tipped one on end, it would reach from the floor to the same height as a regulation basketball hoop.  That’s short. At 106 inches the Smart is shorter, but the Smart only holds two people, the iQ holds four (actually 3.5) -- pretty smart idea.  Other small competitors, the new Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper are both larger at 140 and 147 inches respectively and they too hold four people.  That makes the iQ the smallest of the four seaters.

      Engineering innovations like a compact front mounted differential, high-mounted rack and pinion steering, compact air conditioning, low profile fuel tank and a few other advances allowed designers to create the small package. 

      Price-wise, the iQ has the lowest base price, too, starting at $15,995, as compared with $16,010 for the Smart, $17,250 for the Fiat and $19,500 for the Mini, and all prices include the destination charge.

      Fuel economy for the bunch is about the same with the Scion getting the best EPA number for city driving – 36 mpg—and the Smart topping the highway numbers at 41 mpg, as compared to the iQ’s 37 mpg.

      Obviously, none of these cars are overly fast, but the Mini is the winner running 0 to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds.  The iQ takes 11.8 seconds.   But, let’s face it, people don’t buy these cars to go fast, it’s just nice to have some go power for passing and going up hills or just for the thrill of acceleration.

      I am giving the Scion high marks for styling.  It has a strong masculine look with flaring fenders over the wheels, which are pushed to the corners to give a racy looking stance.  The front end is short with large headlight assemblies mounted high.  Large low-mounted air inlets in the front (the outside ones appear decorative) add to the aggressive look.  From the side, the rear window treatment looks like a giant spoiler over the dark tinted rear window.

As expected, the iQ interior is snug, but a pair of six-footers can be comfortable in the front seats.  The seatbacks are slim to optimize rear legroom for the "3+1" offset seating arrangement, which allows one adult to sit behind the front passenger and a child or small package behind the driver.  It’s not designed for long drives, but can get the job done when more people need to go along.

Cargo space is only 3.5 cubic feet when the rear seats are in place; with the seats folded, space grows to 16.7 cubic feet, or enough space for the spoils of a good shopping trip.

Under the small hood is a 94-hp, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through a CVT (continuously variable transmission).   The CVT works well for the average driver and it helps improve fuel economy.  The transmission does have two additional drive settings, “S” which keeps the transmission in low- and mid-speed ratios for better response and “B” that keeps the transmission in low ratios for engine braking on down hills.  For a driver wanting more control and positive reaction, this is not the car.  That car would more likely be the sporty Scion tC.

The car has a positive feel, it rides nicely, leans a bit in the corners, but it does exactly what it was designed for, and it does it very well.  It’s a wonderful town car, slipping through tight traffic and squeezing into marginal parking places.

The iQ comes in one well-equipped model priced at $15,995.  The equipment list includes all the important basic features like air conditioning, keyless entry, power windows and locks, Bluetooth, HD Radio and a satellite ready 160-watt Pioneer AM/FM/CD audio system.  They do have a few available options including 16-inch alloy wheels ($749), XM traffic radio $599 ($449 without the traffic), Scion navigation ($1,999).  There are also a few available accessories to personalize the looks and improve the handling. 

Many shoppers are concerned about the safety of small cars and Scion has addressed that concern with 11 airbags, including an industry first rear air bag.  The iQ has more airbags than any other U.S. car.  The NHTSA crash testing has not been done, but Scion engineers expect a four star rating.

The iQ is being rolled out in a staged release -- Western region in October 2011, Southern region in January 2012, Northeast region in February 2012 and Midwest region in March 2012.  For more information on the unique little iQ go to

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