Test Drive: Toyota iQ

By Guy Bird for FQ (Fathers' Quarterly), Mar 2009

Never mind the length feel the width

In times of economic hardship it’s little wonder fuel-efficient small cars appeal. But up until recently they have tended to be pretty dull fish, more about getting from A to B than driving fun or innovation. Luckily the new Toyota iQ is anything but. Making the new Mini look big and the old Mini seem basic the iQ is brimming with luxury appointments but at half a metre shorter than the new Fiat 500 (see rivals panel), is still able to fit four people inside.

The iQ’s secret is the clever packaging of its mechanical and electrical innards. At the front a more compact engine compartment means the front wheels can be placed further towards the corners of the car for a shorter front overhang as well as creating more passenger cabin length and inside, the air-conditioning system has been drastically reduced in size. It now fits just behind the centre of the dashboard – previous systems spilled across the back of the passenger side of the dashboard too. Crucially this means the dashboard can be set back much further towards the windscreen on the passenger side to enable the iQ’s breakthrough ‘3+1’ seating configuration.

Up until recently city cars have tended to be pretty dull fish, more about getting from A to B than driving fun or innovation. Luckily the new Toyota iQ is anything but

As the iQ’s cabin is longer on the passenger side it allows two adults to sit one behind the other, while the other side still allows for a steering wheel and driver and either a child seat or luggage space behind. In a week’s test with my family I can report it really does work, although being over 6ft I needed to be on the longer passenger side of the cabin when all four family members were inside. My wife being shorter, had her seat pushed further toward the steering wheel and thus allowed more space behind her on the smaller side of the cabin. It’s a genuinely neat solution.

You couldn’t fit the holiday luggage in an iQ but you could manage much of day-to-day family life and a fair amount of short weekend jaunts too. Shorter than sister Toyota products – the Aygo city car and Yaris supermini – but measuring a similar width and height to the latter, the iQ still creates a wide-open interior feeling. In top trim iQ2 (squared), it’s amazingly well appointed with sculpted leather seats, satnav and a decent stereo. Despite having boot space fit only for a slim laptop bag, Toyota says the iQ makes no compromises on safety featuring nine airbags including curtain airbags behind the rear passengers’ heads.

Along with slimmer seats, space is created at the very back of the vehicle with a flat underfloor fuel tank plus rear-angled shock absorbers – meaning the car’s rear overhangs can be shorter too. Beware though, due to the tank’s small size, after a 250-mile round trip I was searching for a petrol station. Luckily fuel economy can hit 60mpg quite easily and CO2 emissions start at 99g/km for the basic iQ, equaling zero road tax. The long haul just mentioned also proved the iQ can accelerate briskly on dual carriageways to overtake and cope happily at motorway speeds without too much noise from the engine. Back in town the car nips in and out of traffic brilliantly, has a London taxi-style turning circle and parks almost anywhere.

The iQ isn’t budget motoring though. Its neatly styled exterior and high quality interior aim to tempt buyers out of upmarket bigger ‘small cars’ like the Mini and Fiat 500 with prices from £9495 for the iQ to £11,495 for the iQ2 tested. That’s a lot of money for a city car but the iQ is genuinely one of the most innovative around – and cool with it. Families – especially urban ones – should investigate.

Spec

  • Toyota iQ2 Multidrive (auto)
  • Price £11,495
  • Engine 67bhp 1.0-litre petrol
  • Top Speed 93mph
  • 0-62mph 15.5secs
  • Economy 60.1mpg
  • CO2 emissions 110g/km (Band B road tax)

 

Ratings

  • Performance 2/5 Not a performance car, but the iQ is sprightly and fun
  • Value for money 3/5 £11,495 is a lot for a city car but this is a great one
  • Child-friendliness 4/5 Kids love it; access is fine from wide doors, small but safe
  • Dad kudos 3/5 IQ is a cool unisex car. There’s nothing aggressive or cutesy about it
  • Verdict 4/5 Luxury, stylish but tiny ‘3+1’ city car: an incredible package

 

The Rivals

Fiat 500 4/5 Critically acclaimed as Europe’s ‘2008 Car of the Year and a sales smash to boot, Fiat’s retro-styled new 500 has the feel-good factor in spades. Not the most practical car for families as a three-door but few kids or grown-ups will care. Now developing into a range of vehicles including go-faster versions badged with the re-launched ‘Abarth’ brand and an open-top on the way. Ultimately not as tiny or cleverly packaged as the Mitsubishi i or the Toyota iQ though.

Mitsubishi i 5/5 Still one of the best ‘under-the-radar’ city cars you can buy. The diminutive but sharply styled high-roofed five-door fits four six-foot adults inside with genuine ease plus a couple of weekend bags, or a child buggy in the boot, despite being narrower than the Smart fortwo. The rear-engined tiny low-emission 0.6-litre engine is fine for city traffic and will cope with the odd motorway too. It’s also high spec, easy to park, and eco-friendly. A zero-emission fully electric version goes on sale in late 2009 in the UK – called the iMiEV – but expect it to be a ‘lease-only’ £750 a month ride. Until the batteries get cheaper we’d stick with the excellent and much cheaper petrol i, now only available as a nearly-new model.

Smart fortwo Passion 2/5 Bigger and greener than the last version, the second-generation fortwo keeps the visual charm of its predecessor but can only be considered as a second family car as it only offers two seats. The passenger seat will take a child though, having Isofix child seat hooks and manual airbag deactivation to keep them safe and there’s a decent 220-litre boot space. Will survive out of town but best suited for city manoeuvres. NB It’s narrow gait can mean square speed bumps are bit of an issue in towns.


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