According to Toyota, the iQ is the smallest four-seat car in the world. That's baffling because, from the outside, it barely looks large enough to accommodate a pair of malnourished dwarfs. To achieve their goal, the iQ's designers say they had to be extremely intelligent about how they assembled this compact runabout.
The model we tested was the 1.33-litre iQ3 with the constant-variable-transmission gearbox. It retails for £12,065.
Why, iQ oughta
Many city cars tend to have a somewhat delicate appearance, as if they'd break in two on collision with something as slight as an urban fox, but the iQ is different. It's a sturdy-looking beast with a determined stance, thanks to wheels positioned on the very edges of its four corners. Its aggressive front grille also makes the iQ look like it's more than willing to take on larger cars.
Thinking outside the box
To realise its dream of accommodating four passengers, Toyota's had to build the iQ slightly differently to normal cars. It's attempted to maximise the interior space by pushing each of the four wheels as far out towards each corner of the car as possible. It's also incorporated a flat fuel tank that sits at the very bottom of the car; built a smaller-than-normal heater and air-conditioning unit; installed shock absorbers that are angled towards the rear instead of vertically; and fitted slimmer seats.
On the surface, these tweaks appear to have made all the difference. Slide open the doors, which take up most of the car's small length, and there's plenty of room to hop into the front two seats. There's bags of leg room, too -- particularly in the front passenger seat, since there's no glove compartment.
There's also plenty of elbow room. Despite being short, the iQ is as wide as a standard family car, so there's plenty of space for front passengers to spread out. You'll only remember you're in a tiny car when you turn around and see the rear window is within arm's length.
Back to the drawing board
There's plenty of room in the back of the iQ -- for Hobbits. But humans may find getting into the rear pretty difficult. It's just about manageable if you get in via the passenger side, provided you're 5'10" or shorter. If you're any taller, or you rock any sort of vertical hairdo, then you'll struggle.
The situation is even worse for rear passengers on the driver's side of the cabin. The driver's seat doesn't slide as far forwards as the front passenger's seat, and the seat back doesn't tilt as much to facilitate ingress. We found it a struggle to get shopping bags past the back of the driver's seat, and only once -- with the help of lubricant and a jolly good shove from friends -- did we get a human through the driver's door and into the rear. It was a pointless exercise, however, as, with the rear seat pushed forwards, there's no room for the driver to sit, unless they're as petite as Kylie Minogue.
Speaking of petite, the car's Lilliputian dimensions also mean there's no boot. There's merely a sort of slot between the seats and the rear hatchback. It's just large enough for a few bags of shopping.
Despite its petite dimensions, the iQ is one of the safest vehicles on the road. The car has the maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating, scoring 79 per cent for overall protection, which is more than can be said of similarly sized cars such as the Smart fortwo, which scored four stars.
To achieve such a high rating, Toyota's had to throw a bundle of technology at the iQ. Firstly, the car uses 'emergency locking retractor' seat belts. Like normal seatbelts, these are sensitive to the sudden tug caused by a lurching body, but they're also sensitive to the vehicle's motion, locking in place when the car suddenly decelerates or rolls over.
Toyota has also blessed the iQ with a 'multiple load path' body structure, which helps to ensure that the force of any collision is dispersed more evenly around the body shell, rather than allowing one particular area to soak up more pressure than it's capable of handling. Should that fail, the company has also installed more airbags than most people would know what to do with.
There are nine airbags in total. In the event of a crash, you'll find one emerging from the steering wheel to protect the driver's face; one under the steering wheel to protect the driver's knees; one in the dashboard on the passenger side; two side airbags; two head airbags; an underseat airbag that restrains the forward movement of the front passenger; and an airbag that deploys vertically from the roof along the rear windscreen, projecting dwarves in the rear.
Throwing down the gauntlet
The iQ inspires confidence on the road. Driving the car gave us the impression we were riding in something far larger, partly because the iQ is so wide, and partly because it's so composed in motion. It's extremely responsive when changing direction and we had a blast chucking it into corners. It grips well, stops capably and has one of the smallest turning circles we've encountered outside of a London black cab.
Sadly, it isn't especially quick. It takes the fastest model, our 1.33-litre test car, a yawn-inducing 11.6 seconds to reach 60mph and the wait can be as long as 14.7 seconds with the optional 1-litre engine.
The constant-variable-transmission gearbox is a bone of contention, too. Instead of providing distinct ratios (first gear, second gear and so on), it essentially gives the iQ one long gear, so it issues an annoying monotone whine that gets more irritating the harder you push the car. The noise is reminiscent of a hairdryer.
The CVT gearbox does make the car easier to drive around town, but we'd go for the manual gearbox option, particularly as it provides slightly better fuel economy, lower emissions and improved performance.
Clean or jerk?
The iQ comes in several flavours, all of which offer different levels of fuel economy and emissions. Our 1.33-litre, CVT-sporting test car is the least efficient of the bunch, spewing out CO2 at a rate of 120g/km and guzzling fuel at a rate of 54.32mpg. If better fuel efficiency is a requirement, Toyota also sells an iQ with a 1-litre engine and manual gearbox. That car achieves 99g/km and 64.2mpg.
The Toyota iQ is great fun to drive and its unconventional appearance means it stands out from the crowd. But it's difficult to ignore the fact there are many alternatives, like the Fiat 500 TwinAir, that are more efficient, faster, and offer enough room to accommodate four adults who aren't contortionists.
Edited by Charles Kloet