Launched within just a year after it was first presented as a concept car, the Toyota iQ is smart fortwo's first and only real competitor so far. Even its name is a play of words with the intention of poking a little fun at the petite fortwo. Although Toyota's marketing says that the name "iQ" doesn't come from "intelligence quotient", as you might have guessed, it still sounds like a tongue-in-cheek reference.
Since the smart fortwo already had a well-established fan and customer base, the iQ had to bring some new features to the table, which it apparently did. It's longer, it's a bit better-built, it offers "more than two seats", it has both manual and automatic transmissions available, the list of standard features is phenomenal for a car its size and the safety features present in standard are clearly ahead of almost any competition, at any price.
Speaking of which, the Toyota iQ doesn't come cheap, with prices in Europe starting from around 13,000 Euros and reaching up to 17,400 Euros for a fully-loaded model. There are plenty of cars offering better space and comfort for those amounts of money, so there has to be a catch, right? Well, it is and it isn't.
Some say that the iQ didn't exactly work out overall, while other say that it beats the smart fortwo hands downs. We're also having two sides of the story here at autoevolution, and since we also drove its direct competitor, you should read on to find out what we think about the black iQ 1.0 MultiDrive we tested.
Having the same basic concept as the smart (the largest amount of interior volume in the lowest amount of exterior volume), the iQ has a somewhat similar overall shape, which is that of a futuristic washing machine or a very short phone booth. For some it's the ugliest thing on wheels, while for other it symbolizes the way a perfect city vehicle/pod should look.
After approaching it you begin to realize the differences between the two are more than obvious thanks to different technical solutions and... of course, styling departments. Toyota's European styling studio is located in France though, right where the smart fortwo is built...
Either way, no one could confuse the two cars if they were parked together, especially since both can fit in a regular parking space. The iQ's front benefits from an Origami-like nose, which is longer than that on the smart because Toyota's engine is located in the front of the car, as is its transmission.
The side view is the almost identical feature, but only if seen from the distance. Taking a closer look at the iQ reveals a slightly lower and most of all longer car, albeit still making you wonder where did they fit two extra seats. The otherwise skinny tires appear much sportier when viewed from the side, especially if they're engulfed on the black chrome rims our test car had.
The rear look much wider than it actually is, mostly thanks to the extremely short rear windshield and the fact that the wheels are pushed apart as far as possible in order to clear the interior and improve stability. On the whole, the Toyota iQ looks either as beautiful/cute or as ugly as the smart fortwo, depending very much on who's looking.
The Toyota iQ's interior is probably as well made as the one in the Auris/Corolla. And no, we're not kidding. The fit and finish is pretty outstanding on a car as tiny as this, while the design is both funky and ergonomic at the same time. The only slight quarrel we had with it was the material chosen for the UFO-like triangle on top of the center console, which looks like it has been stolen from an AIWA hi-fi system from the 1990s.
Other than that, everything looks and feels great, especially when talking about the sporty and thick three-spoke steering wheel wrapped in leather, just like part of the seats. The overall space is almost perfectly-sized for a maximum of two grownups though. Never mind what Toyota's marketing is telling you, the four (OK, 3+1) seats advertised by Toyota are a big fat lie, unless you only travel with midgets, small children or amputees as passengers.
The interior space is more than welcoming for two persons, together with all their luggage if the rear seats are folded, kind of making it a much better city dweller than the smart from this point of view. Both feet and head space are comparable to that of a small compact, but naturally that happens only if the two front seats are used. Anyone over the size of a teenager climbing in the back should be an agoraphobic or a masochist.
Oh, did we mention that with all the seats in place the luggage compartment only fits a couple of coke bottles? It has a volume of, wait for it... 32 liters, which is approximately 1.1 cubic feet. Of course, by folding the two rear "seats", the luggage compartment volume increases to about 238 liters (8.4 cu ft), which is slightly bigger than that of the smart fortwo. On the downside, the trunk opening in the iQ is worse, and there is no separate tailgate like in the smart.
In theory, judging only by the car's technical stats, the Toyota iQ should be the perfect current car for driving in the city. It's the second shortest car in the world after the smart fortwo, it has a Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT
), it can turn on a dime thanks to an amazingly short turning radius, it can seat three fully grown persons and a child and the fuel economy is off the hook.
In reality, it's not exactly as great as it looks. The 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) of extra length it has over the smart fortwo are enough to withheld you from parking two iQs "nose-in" in a regular longitudinal spot, like the smart can. As much as we hated the fortwo's automated manual gearbox, the continuous variable transmission in the Toyota iQ is even worse in city driving, but from entirely different reasons.
Whereas the fortwo's transmission takes forever to change a gear, the CVT in the iQ has seamless gear changes, but at the cost of performance and fuel economy in "stop and go" traffic. Since in our test car it was paired to a gutless 68 horsepower three-cylinder engine, each time we would leave from a traffic light in a somewhat sporty matter the revs would climb to 4000-something rpm and just stay there until the speed would reach around 40-50 kilometers per hour (25-30 mph).
We should mention that the iQ has an "eco" meter, which instantly shows how economical your driving is depending on how hard you press on the accelerator. Even if we tried to keep it in "eco" the whole time, we only managed a fuel consumption of around 8.5-9 liters per 100 kilometers (US 26.1-27.7 mpg). Not a very good figure for the equivalent of a flea among cars, especially since the official numbers are telling us it should have been twice as economical.
Other than the unexpected fuel economy, the iQ was pretty much flawless. It has a turning radius of only 7.8 meters (25.6 feet), which means every time you turn around you fell like the car is slipping on a banana. The visibility on all sides is almost perfect, with a little help coming from the largest exterior rearview mirrors this side of a Fiat 500. Overall, an almost perfect car for the city, just save your money and buy one in manual.
Since we already concluded that a Continuous Variable Transmission is positively not suited for a driver with a heavy right foot, from both performance and fuel economy point of views, we didn't expect any "Open Road" praises from it either. Well, contrary to what we were guessing, the CVT is actually very well suited for casual cruising.
We first noticed this after observing that after you no longer accelerate the rpm settle to the minimum possible for the car to keep moving. For example, at a steady speed of 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph), the rev counter shows a little over 1000 rpm, while the instant fuel consumption remains at a steady and most of all astonishing 2.4 liters per 100 kilometers (US 98 mpg). At a decent cruising speed of let's say 100 km/h (62 mph), the fuel consumption rises to about 4.5-4.8 liters per 100 kilometers (US 49-52.3 mpg).
Sure, all this fuel consumption-related good news will probably go completely unnoticed after you'll get obliterated by an oncoming thirty tonne truck when you try to pass someone at any speed higher than 70 km/h (40 mph). There is simply not enough torque/power or transmission assistance in order for you to "slingshot" past another vehicle.
The zero to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) time is a snail-competing 15.2 seconds, which feels even slower in reality "thanks" to the same dreadful Continuous Variable Transmission and the fact that even in this petite shape, the car is slightly underpowered.
The overall stability and comfort is almost exactly the same as that in a much larger car though. For example, even though the iQ's wheelbase is about as large a a normal car's front or rear track, we didn't experience any smart fortwo-like seesaw movements. On the whole, if we were to neglect the total lack of performance, the iQ would actually feel like a normal-sized car on the open road.