Why Toyota’s iQ doesn’t live up to the hype

Published: 20 March 2009

I love good small cars. A small, light, inexpensive car is the ultimate expression of the car engineer’s art. Just as the easiest car in the world to engineer is a Rolls-Royce because there are so few compromises and cost constraints – although that didn’t stop Maybach screwing it up – so the one that requires the most ingenuity, is the smallest and cheapest.

So when the Toyota iQ arrived for a week’s loan, I was behind the wheel, and squeezing myself into the back seats, sooner than you could say Alec Issigonis. It looks terrific and the packaging is very cunning. It is another example of Toyota, once merely the clever copier, showing true vision.

But as the miles grew, the appeal dimmed.

Those back seats are only for occasional use – and they’re useless if you want to put anything in the boot as well. If you need a small four-seater, boot space to spare, buy the Toyota Aygo (or its Peugeot 107 and Citroën C1 clones). And save £2500. The Aygo is the cleverer example of minimalist motoring and it’s not so very much longer than the iQ anyway.

And if two seats are enough, which I suspect they will be for most iQ buyers, then buy a true two-seater – the Smart, still the best city car around. It’s handily shorter for true ‘tight spot’ parking, £1750 cheaper, and just as ‘premium’ (marketing speak for charging more for an intangible ‘feel good’ benefit that nowadays usually has little to do with superior engineering). It’s also 120mm narrower – the iQ is a wide baby, and this hamstrings its round-town nippiness.

So, after a week with it, I came to the conclusion that the iQ actually satisfies a demand that may not exist.

Mind you, I still admire Toyota for doing it. It adds to the innovative baby car oeuvre. And, says Toyota, signals a new desire to make all Toyotas smaller, lighter and more space efficient, which is very good news indeed.

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By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience