Subcompact is Good Choice for Urbanites Who Want Clever Transportation

Njuguna Kabugi | 9/6/2012, 3:31 p.m.

Back in college, one of my professors assigned a book that he called "one of the best books for globally-minded students." The book, "Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered" consisted of a collection of essays by British economist E. F. Schumacher cautioning against the Western world's love for the "bigger is better."

A decade into the new century, we are faced with an ironic twist to Schumacher's thesis: Detroit -which made huge cars then - has lost its perch as the automobile supremo but has recently found salvation making small cars while Toyota, today's largest carmaker, continues to make enormous profits selling some of the most fuel-efficient small cars like the Prius and the even smaller - today's test car the Scion iQ.

I am not sure how Schumacher would characterize the evolution of the auto market today, but I would argue that small is beautiful, as far as the Scion iQ is concerned. The iQ is so small, so light and rather fun-looking that even those who do not need this type of vehicle will find some utility in it.

At 120.1 inches in length, it is substantially shorter [26.5 inches] than a Mini Cooper and looks really tiny parked next to the compact-size Toyota Corolla. The bug-eyed front with a very tiny grille, an oval shaped rear window, tail lights that almost wrap around the sides of the vehicle, small circular shaped windows near the rear of the car gives the iQ a cute and cuddly look.

Despite the tiny exterior, four can squeeze in when necessary. A few tweaks in design that include a compact front-mounted differential, high-mount steering rack with electronic power-steering, and a compact air-conditioning unit all amount to significant decreases in front-end length. Slim-back front seats optimize rear legroom, while what Toyota calls a "3+1" seating arrangement allows one adult to sit [rather uncomfortably] behind the front passenger and a child or small package behind the driver.

I spent a week with the iQ and was surprised to find that it's a zippy little car for trips around town. It darts and dashes in tight urban spots and is ideal for people who live in crowded cities. While two iQs could share a one car parking space on a tight downtown street, it is definitely not a family hauler. It is more an accessory for quick runs to the grocery store, the gym or as a commuter car if you are tired of the crowded Metro rush hour crowds.

Even with just two passengers, long trips are not the iQ's strong point. Sure, the front seats are fairly comfortable and the interior is pleasant, but there's ample wind noise at higher speeds, not to mention a constant buzzing from the compact engine.

Toyota states that the iQ can cruise up to 100 mph. I would not recommend pushing the iQ that hard because highways are not the Scion's happy zone. The 1.3-liter inline four-cylinder engine puts out only 95 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque. Clocking 60 miles per hour will take about 12 seconds - which can be near a death wish when you are trying to merge with highway traffic. Still, around town, doing 25-45 mph, you'll never feel like you're struggling to keep up with traffic.

The iQ comes standard with safety features that will please many drivers. It is packed with an industry leading 11 standard airbags, including the world's first rear window airbag.

If you don't mind the size, the iQ is nicely priced starting at $15,265. For those who need a bigger vehicle, this price may seem like a ton of money when you consider that there are larger and more practical cars available for less money, among them the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, and Kia Soul. The expected fuel mileage averages 35 mpg, not great for such a diminutive car but not terrible either.