Model: Scion iQ (3-door liftback)
Exterior color: Hot Lava
Engine: 1.3 liter four-cylinder
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 36 city/37 highway
Dealer: Scion of Cleveland
Price (as tested): $17,364
Five minutes into my Interstate 75 test drive of the new iQ from Scion of Cleveland, the driver of an equally diminutive Fiat 500 with Atlanta license plates closed to within inches of my back bumper.
The sensation was as if Aunt Martha was moving in for the kill on the bumper-car ride at Lake Winnepesaukah.
But rather than swap paint with me, the Fiat driver simply whipped around into the left lane beside me -- Bluetooth earpiece in place -- and gave me a double thumbs up.
"Hands back on the steering wheel, dude," I thought. "That Fiat won't drive itself."
Both cars are so new to the road that this was a one-in-a-million encounter. But with gasoline prices seemingly going up a nickel a gallon a day, this may foreshadow the future of highway driving.
With a city rating of 36 miles per gallon, the Scion iQ is a great little urban commuter car. If you live in a condo and most of your daily driving involves a pit stop at a health food store and a trip to yoga class, this is the car for you.
As Toyota's youth-centered car brand, Scion is supposed to deliver fun, reliable transportation for Generation Y. The iQ certainly scores in the fun department, and Scion is known for bullet-proof reliability.
At 10 feet long and just over 5 feet wide, the iQ has a whimsical exterior design that makes people stop and stare. The fun continues when you slip behind the wheel, and your mind starts chanting: "Doughnut! Doughnut!"
Before I even left the lot at Scion of Cleveland, I locked the steering wheel to the left and let the little iQ spin like Kristi Yamaguchi. This thing has the turning radius of a Hot Wheels car.
Inside, the iQ is more masculine than the Fiat 500 and the Smart for two -- two of its competitors. The interior features black and gray seat coverings, a beefy, leather-clad steering wheel, and a tasteful black and cream colored dash. Our test car came with optional alloy wheels and an upgraded stereo, which pushed the $15,265 base price to $17,364.
Heat and air conditioning controls are handled with three rotary dials arranged in a vertical row. The sound system is contained in an elevated pod in the center of the dash.
Incredibly, shoulder and knee room in the font seat of the iQ is more than ample. Using some ingenious asymmetrical designs, Scion engineers were able to carve out knee room on the front passenger side and push the seat rails forward, resulting in more comfortable leg room for at least one back-seat passenger. From the outside looking in, it seems to be an optical illusion that the iQ even has a back seat.
The iQ is powered by a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that peaks at 94 horsepower. The engine is mated to a low-maintenance, continuously variable transmission.
When I lamented the iQ wasn't available with a manual transmission, sales consultant Pete Green of Toyota and Scion of Cleveland noted the CVT transmission is a space-saving feature.
It's also responsible for that eye-popping, 36-mpg city fuel consumption number, he noted.
The iQ's engine revs willingly, and the sporty three-spoke steering wheel makes maneuvering it through traffic a delight. The iQ won't win any straight-line drag races, but it's still fun to drive, and you can park it in a broom closet. More than anything, the car feels like a premium product, which is rare in this class.
Our Hot Lava colored test car (think University of Texas orange) turned lots of heads on our afternoon test drive. There are cheaper sub-compact cars but few that combine so many interesting virtues. If you're looking for a car with tons of style, nimble handling and great fuel economy, the Scion iQ might just be your baby.