For example, swapping a Porsche 911 for Scion’s tiniest ride – the 2015 Scion iQ?microcar – may mean getting a little sand kicked in my face in the cut and thrust of our busy highways.
Attempting to safely merge or change lanes in a Porsche isn’t always welcomed by aggressive GTA drivers, but their attempts to ‘close the gap’ aren’t necessarily a problem for a 430-hp Carrera 4 GTS.
In my 94-hp iQ, however, I’ll be forced to rely on their goodwill. A diminutive lamb amongst the high-powered sports sedans, behemoth SUVs and pickup trucks, not to mention speeding eighteen-wheelers that could easily reduce me to a hood ornament.
On a more positive note, I could buy nine iQs for roughly the same price as last week’s autobahn burner.
Although this fuel-sipping urban runabout is often compared with the smart ‘fortwo’ coupe, it’s larger in all dimensions, except height. With a wider track, protruding wheel arches and tires pushed to the corners, the iQ appears more stable and firmly planted than smart’s juicebox design.
iQ may have the illusion of being nearly as wide as it is long, but engineering tweaks like a compact air-conditioning unit and steering column, and an inverted front-mounted differential, allow for a very short front end. Its flat gas tank beneath the floor results in almost no rear overhang.
Being 14 inches longer than smart has given the iQ just enough room for a back seat. Which only accommodates one passenger – not two – as there’s virtually no legroom behind the driver.
There’s a little, however, behind the front passenger. Thanks to a narrower dash (sans glovebox), this seat has been offset slightly ahead of the driver’s, allowing room for a third occupant.
But not just anybody, as my even five-foot-nine frame barely fit, and that was with the front seat liberally forward. Still, that’s an advantage over Scion’s Euro competitor, and with the remaining 50/50 backrest folded flat, there’s still room for briefcases or a small load of groceries.
That being said, the iQ isn’t an ideal family ride, but it can work as a second vehicle.
For starters, its 10-foot length means you can often squeeze it onto the lower driveway (between sidewalk and road), which in my neighbourhood leaves typical compacts and subcompacts hanging their butts over the curb.
Parking tags anybody?
Secondly, it’s thrifty on fuel, with ratings of 6.5/6.3/6.4 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb). My own results were close, and without being overly light of foot, drove an entire week on only $28 worth of petrol.
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Key to this frugality is a DOHC 16-valve 1.3-litre four-cylinder, mated to a CVT driving the front wheels.
I won’t say acceleration is neck snapping, but it’s on par with most subcompacts, thanks to its 965 kg (2,127) curb weight. And once the CVT spools up, the iQ moves just fine.
Slide the shift lever to “sport” and the transmission is remapped to keep the revs in a higher range, taking full advantage of this little four banger’s 89 lb/ft of torque when you plant the pedal.
I’ve heard griping from some journos about the performance, but the iQ is not positioned – nor priced – as a pocket rocket. If that’s what you seek, open your wallet wider for a Fiat 500 Abarth or a Golf GTI.
And unlike a smart I had tested a few years back, the iQ isn’t scary on the highway. Road manners are pretty good considering its short wheelbase, and although it sits back when you accelerate, and dips on hard braking, the car feels firmly rooted to the asphalt, with minimal buffeting at highway speeds.
Inside, front passengers are treated to grippy and supportive bucket seats, with plenty of head and shoulder room. It feels surprisingly spacious, although you can turn around and almost touch its rear window.
There’s plenty of hard plastic, but the mixture of tones and textures, along with piano black accents and silver finishes, helps it look less bargain basement.
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The instrument cluster is simple: speedo, tach and multi-info screen, along with a centre stack that is equally spartan.
Three rotary knobs manage climate, topped by air vents and a 6.1-inch infotainment touchscreen encased in what appears to be Darth Vader’s helmet.
The iQ comes up short on storage, with no bin (or armrest) between the seats and only a single cupholder to contain one’s wallet and/or smart phone.
At the monospec price of $17,260, you get a pretty decent equipment list: air conditioning, six-speaker infotainment, auto up/down windows, keyless entry, tilt steering and more. And its 16-inch steel wheels can be upgraded to alloys – part of a long list of dealer- or factory-installed options that include lowering springs, spoiler, sway bar and upgraded audio.
The iQ is in its last model year in Canada, and is pricier than many larger subcompacts. But microcars are not as much about thrift as they are about being a little different.
And perhaps making a statement that small needn’t be boring.
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BODY STYLE: three-door hatchback
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, front-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 1.3 litre inline four cylinder (94 hp and 89 lb/ft of torque)
FUEL ECONOMY: 6.5/6.3/6.4 litres/100 km (city/hwy/combined)
CURB WEIGHT: 965 kg
PRICE: $17,260 – see website for available options