Toyota iQ 1.0 litre

Pioneering city car is agile and refined. Will power deficit hold it back?

On the face of it, the tiny Toyota iQ couldn’t be more different to the Fiat 500. While the Italian machine clearly takes its inspiration from the annals of history, its smart rival rips up the city car rule book and has two eyes firmly on 

the future. Thanks to clever packaging and neat engineering solutions, the three-metre-long iQ is claimed to be the smallest four-seater in the world.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Toyota iQ

 

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In order to give it a fighting chance against the 500, bosses have introduced a round of tweaks aimed at improving quality, while the company’s new five-year warranty deal provides added reassurance.

The Toyota can’t match the Fiat for cute kerb appeal, but it’s still a distinctive design. However, it’s the car’s diminutive dimensions that strike you first. Short, wide and tall, the iQ looks compact, even when parked alongside the 500. In iQ2 trim, eye-catching 15-inch polished alloys, privacy glass and chrome-trimmed front foglamps all come as standard. 

Inside, you’ll discover a packaging masterclass. Despite a wheelbase that measures only two metres long, engineers have managed to squeeze four seats into the interior. There’s bags of head and legroom for the driver and passenger, while the updated plastics result in a more upmarket feel. The iQ is packed with standard kit, too – our 2-spec test car gets climate control and keyless entry, plus automatic headlamps and wipers.

In reality, though, it can’t live up to its four-seater billing, as there simply isn’t any space behind the driver’s seat. On the plus side, occupants sitting behind the front seat passenger are treated to decent legroom. 

With the rear bench in place, luggage space is reduced to a miserly 32 litres. As a result, it’s best to fold down one of the rear seats for extra storage and use the car as a comfortable three-seater instead.

The iQ can’t compete with the 500 on performance, either. Without the benefit of a turbocharger, its 67bhp 1.0-litre engine was left trailing in every one of our tests. Its leisurely straight-line pace isn’t helped by the five-speed transmission’s long ratios – second gear runs to nearly 70mph!

Nevertheless, the three-cylinder powerplant is very smooth and refined, even at the red line, while the low noise levels and comfortable ride ensure the Toyota is a surprisingly relaxed long-distance cruiser. 

The direct steering and impressive body control help it feel more composed through corners, but it’s on crowded city streets that the iQ really shines. Excellent visibility and a black cab-rivalling turning circle of only 7.8 metres make it superbly agile around town.

Priced at £11,238, the Toyota undercuts the Fiat by £827, while its low CO2 emissions (99g/km) and tiny engine promise similar  penny-pinching running costs. 

The trouble is, it’s difficult to ignore the compromised cabin layout and lacklustre performance. Will these black marks cost the iQ victory?

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: Diminutive dimensions and a tight turning circle make the iQ an inner city hit, while upgrades to the cabin and engine, plus a new five-year warranty, aim to increase its showroom appeal.

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