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Toyota iQ-ould do Better than smart...

... or can it? The newly-launched Toyota iQ has filled its creators with a lot of expectations, since technically, this is the first Japanese kei-car specifically designed for the Europe market. First of all, I should mention the fact that my tastes in four-wheeled means of transportation range from rumbling muscle cars like a 454 ci Chevelle SS on good ol' bias ply tires, via a sleek Mercedes-Benz 300 SL to a Gixxer-powered smartuki. In other words, I like all kinds of cars, be it 2+2 Gran Tourismos with plush interiors or tiny city grocery-getters. Second of all, my automotive dream list also includes a lot of kei-cars and even old bubble cars, so don't jump to assume that I have anything against vehicles which look like a Golf-cart's more evolved cousin.

After I first saw the Toyota iQ Concept being exhibited at the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show, I said to myself: "Hey, I think those Toyota dudes should build a production version of this, the smart fortwo might finally have a direct competitor." We all know how competition increases the quality of products in general, so this should only mean good things.

Well, the old saying that if you always think good things, then good things will happen isn't always true. Or at least partially. About six months later, the production version of the lilliputian iQ took center stage at the 2008 Geneva Auto Show, with deliveries in Japan starting at the end of 2008 and in Europe at the beginning of 2009.

So, what was kept from the original concept to the road-going version? Well, practically everything. Sure, the overall design was a little bit toned down and the size of the alloy wheels decreased to much more non-tuner-like dimensions. The 3+1 passenger seats were carried over though, as the overall dimensions of the vehicle.

What does this mean, exactly? Well, for one thing, the cleverly named Toyota iQ is just 30 centimeters (or roughly a foot) longer than the also cleverly named smart fortwo. Toyota people certainly have an imaginative marketing department, but the iQ's project coordinators don't seem to be so intelligent. For some reason, they think they can squeeze two more passengers in what appears to be just about the same sized cockpit as a fortwo. One of those two extra passengers can only be a very small child or a contortionist but that still makes the iQ a four seater.

Sure, their marketing department boasts about intelligently designed features, such as the 20% smaller-than-usual air conditioning unit made by Denso, a flat underfloor fuel tank, a rethinking of the differential, which allows the engine to sit exactly between the front wheels and an asymmetric dashboard. Well, guess what, Toyota? The smart also benefits from intelligent packaging.

Its engine is also tilted but instead of being put in the front, it ninja-like disappears under the trunk. Oddly, this makes the cargo space in the smart to be roughly 7 (seven) times bigger than in the iQ, in which you can park just a few water bottles at max. The wheels are also pushed at all four corners as far away from each other, creating the maximum interior space possible. Obviously, not enough space to squeeze two other passengers in there, but Toyota think they can get away with it just to steal some sales from the tiny fortwo.

Well, they only convinced me on one account, the iQ might be actually easier than the fortwo to park in town. In my opinion, other than the lower turning radius (7.8 meters for the iQ versus 8.7 meters for the smart) and that extra EuroNCAP star, the iQ has nothing on the French-built city cruiser.

Here's why. Only two of Toyota's four seats are actually usable by humans without circus acrobats genes. The 32 liter (about one cubic feet!) storage compartment is less than 15% than that of the smart fortwo. Apart from the base 61 horsepower version and the fuel-sipping CDI, any fortwo can wipe the floor with an iQ in a drag racing contest. Not that any customer would actually care about the actual acceleration times, but whatever, the iQ is slower. The iQ's prices are also excruciatingly high compared to any non-Brabus fortwo. Which begs the question: why?

The iQ would make sense if it really had four, or even three usable seats and a luggage compartment in which you can store more than your wallet. Sadly, I can only see a funky-looking Toyota for the more upscale city dwellers (read green Yuppies) who don't want to fork the extra cash for a Prius and are in serious need of parking spaces. If you are in the market for something like that you'd better head to a smart dealership, but if you really want four seats and a cute AND retro design you might as well skip the iQ and buy a Fiat 500.


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