Scion iQ Road Trip: Smart or Not?
September 25, 2013—There is a wonderful case to be made for tiny cars in urban environments. Parking spaces are at a premium, streets are tight and the ability to change direction quickly to avoid any number of potential hazards is paramount. However, we’re Wide Open. We may live in a city, but look for any excuse to hit the road and explore.
We were thrilled when Scion lent us a tenth anniversary edition iQ with BeSpoke audio system for a week. At first glance, it seems like a decent enough car for city environs even though the price is a bit steep ($19,803, thank you very much). We did have one misgiving, though: if this car’s mission is to be a great city car, where range is almost a non-issue, then why isn’t this car a hybrid, or better yet, a plug-in electric? But we’ll return to this in a bit.
It had been a while since I’d seen my friends, Joe and Christine (I went to their wedding and played rallye hero, remember?), who live in San Francisco. This presented the perfect opportunity for Wide Open to demonstrate how thorough we are (shameless bragging, sorry); we not only tested this car in the city as most outlets would, but also on a long distance drive.
There was no adventure to this trip; my fiancée and I were going by the quickest route possible. We were travelling to arrive. So we headed north on the 405, got on the 5 and then into SF via 580 and the Bay Bridge. Unfortunately, the route is a bit boring as it’s basically a hill climb and descent, 300 miles of flat lands and another hill climb and descent. While the route wasn’t too exciting, the peppy iQ did not disappoint. I wouldn’t call the car fast but the 94 hp (!), 1.3L four-cylinder always provided enough power to pass, even close to its top speed of 105 mph.
Our biggest gripe about the Lexus we drove for coffee, its CVT, was a non-issue in this car. It felt like a properly geared automatic and was always at the correct ratio. The BeSpoke audio system worked well and we enjoyed singing along all the way from the Grapevine to the Bay. If I was using my own funds I'd probably skip it as it raises the price of this economy car nearly $1200; however, if Scion is willing to throw it on their press cars I’m not going to complain. The sound is clear and strong.
California’s Central Valley came and went with each of the 300 miles identical to the one before it. The one issue that we did encounter was the aforementioned lack of range. You see, the iQ has an eight-point-five gallon fuel tank. And since we set out with less than a quarter tank and averaged just over thirty miles-per-gallon we had to stop for fuel twice! Which begs the question—Toyota, why bother with gasoline if the range is going to be so limited? I’d like to go at least three hundred miles without refueling. Yes, it’s an arbitrary number, but the 240 miles that we covered between fill-ups seems woefully inadequate. At least the substandard range permitted multiple snack stops.
The weather was beautiful for the majority of the drive but as we approached Tracy, storm clouds gathered and finally exploded as we passed through Livermore. The rain fell in buckets and the iQ’s short wheelbase caused me to worry that a hint of hydroplaning would result in a Mario Kart-esque 1080° spin. My fears were unfounded and the traction control never even kicked in. As we crossed from Treasure Island (it’s a real place) to San Francisco the clouds began clearing and the sun shone down on the second span of the Bay Bridge.
We spent Saturday with Joe and his family at a beach just north of the Palace of Fine Arts, then ate dinner in Singaporean restaurant with questionable service. I think we went to bed at eight PM that night. The following morning we toured my friend’s manufacturing facility (he builds amazing carbon fiber guitars) and then had brunch with another friend. It was a good time, but it revealed a flaw in the iQ’s design.
Lack of range or a hybrid/electric drivetrain (given such a lack of range) might be forgiven. But for a city car to lack secure storage is mind-boggling. The trunk of the iQ is non-existent, in fact all we could fit in it was a bag of Doritos and some Chips Ahoy (we’re health nuts). This sounds like hyperbole about a Lamborghini, but it’s true. Sure it has rear seats, which are large enough for a couple of bags but then they’re visible to everybody who might walk by. Scion: the iQ needs some sort of cargo cover, it’s that simple. I had to carry our bag and camera gear everywhere we went because
bad things happen in the city I’m paranoid.
It was a fun, quick trip up central California. And overall, the car was great—it had some guts, was entertaining and lively, turned on a dime at low speeds and could park in spaces normally reserved for larger atomic molecules. But the lack of range and particularly secure storage left us dissatisfied and wondering if, for the $19,803 price tag, there weren’t better options for city folk. [kiWO]