Ingenious... or ill-conceived? We see how bold city car fares now it's in the UK
There’s a lot to like about the iQ. With its funky looks, bold packaging and grown-up driving experience, it’s sure to win many fans. Factor in tax-free motoring and 65mpg, and the story gets even better. But the tiny Toyota is let down by cabin quality that simply isn’t up to scratch and prices that are expensive compared to traditional city car rivals. However, the iQ’s clever space-saving ideas shouldn’t be ignored, particularly when you consider how they could be applied to the next-generation Yaris.
When it comes to small cars, it’s more about brains than brawn – and the Toyota iQ is no exception. The clever Japanese model aims to pack four seats, low running costs and refined driving dynamics into a package that measures less than three metres!
A brief drive in a pre-production version was enough to confirm the iQ’s potential. But how will it fare on UK roads? To give you the definitive verdict, Auto Express got behind the wheel of one of the very first models to land on British soil.
There’s no denying the Toyota’s ability to attract attention. With its wheel-at-each-corner stance, steeply raked front end and upright tail, it clearly takes design cues from the equally tiny Smart ForTwo city car. However, a much wider track, large faired-in headlights and high-gloss alloy wheels combine to give the iQ a more grown-up look than its rival.
Climb aboard, and it’s clear that the engineers have worked hard on the packaging. There’s a surprising amount of space, with neat features such as a flat, under-floor fuel tank, compact air-conditioning unit and ultra-thin seats helping to make the most of the diminutive dimensions.
But despite its four-seater billing, the Toyota can only realistically carry three adults. An asymmetrical dash design allows the front passenger seat to be positioned further forward, which frees legroom in the rear. However, space behind the driver is virtually non-existent, and even small children will struggle to fit.
The rear seats also severely compromise luggage capacity. Lift the tailgate, and you’ll find barely enough room to stow a briefcase. Fold the 50:50-split rear bench flat, though, and you get a useful 284 litres of space. Up front, both occupants get plenty of leg and headroom. Drivers will have no problems finding a comfortable position, while the chunky three-spoke leather steering wheel is great to hold.
Cabin quality is disappointing, though. The plastics feel cheap and the build isn’t up to Toyota’s normal solid standards. Some buyers will also struggle to come to terms with the distinctive colour of the interior, which Toyota describes as ‘chocolate plum’.
Out on the road, the iQ will soon win you over. The efficient 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is smooth, tuneful and delivers decent performance, despite the five-speed manual gearbox’s extra-long ratios. Better still, the iQ emits only 99g/km of CO2, meaning owners pay no road tax.
Around town, the Toyota’s small size is a huge advantage, as is the tight 7.8-metre turning circle. The steering is direct, body roll is kept in check and the skinny tyres serve up a surprising amount of grip. The Toyota is also a comfortable long-distance cruiser, as wind and road noise are kept to a minimum.
But there is a snag: the price. For the £10,275 Toyota is asking for this range-topping iQ2, you could have a much more spacious city car, such as the desirable and equally well equipped Fiat 500.
Rival: Smart ForTwo The diminutive Smart is even shorter than the iQ, which makes it a strict two-seater and a great urban runaround. Entry-level models are low on kit, while range-topping versions are expensive. The slow semi-auto and poor ride spoil the ForTwo driving experience, but a new stop-start system helps reduce small fuel bills even further.