If you’ve never seen a Toyota iQ in the flesh, I can assure you that the pictures you see here don’t do it justice. This is one of those cars that you simply have to see up close and personal to really appreciate it. I’m not saying that because it looks great – when it comes to city car style, the Fiat 500 still wears the crown – it’s because when you see just how small the iQ is, you’ll find it hard to believe that Toyota has squeezed back seats inside.
I actually found it somewhat unnerving driving the iQ, since it grabbed a ludicrous amount of attention wherever I took it. Pedestrians stopped in their tracks and stared, other drivers craned their necks in a frankly dangerous manner to get a better look, and once Toyota’s little baby was parked up it drew the kind of crowds that I had previously considered the reserve of Ferraris, Astons and Porsches! OK, so the iQ doesn’t garner the kind of lust as the aforementioned exotic cars do, but when it comes to curiosity, the iQ takes the proverbial biscuit.
But the iQ is far more than just a pretty (or should that be unusual) face. What Toyota has done is create a small, no, a tiny car, that doesn’t compromise on passenger space or creature comforts. Believe me when I say that in the technology department the iQ can put cars costing eight times as much to shame – seriously!
Then you’ve got the value aspect, which extends way beyond the iQ’s very affordable £9,495 starting price. For a start, you won’t be spending too much time in petrol stations, with the iQ turning in a combined average fuel consumption of over 65mpg. The 1lt petrol engine also keeps emissions down to 99g/km, which means that your annual road tax bill will be, well, nothing at all! And with an insurance group of 2E, you won’t be spending much there either.
With the low emissions, great fuel economy and affordable asking price, you’re probably thinking that the iQ is absolutely awful to drive, but you’d be wrong. In fact I enjoyed every moment behind the wheel of the iQ, and was very surprised at how sure footed it felt, even when pushing hard. And despite the fact that the cars I drive every day are built for performance, the iQ didn’t feel slow.
Ok, I’m not going to pretend that it will keep up with a Focus RS or M3, but unless you’re coming out of a very slow bend in second, it pulls quite well. In fact it’s only that low down pull that’s lacking in the iQ, but come on, this is a car with 67bhp! I was shocked at first to see that Toyota has seen fit to include a “Shift” light on the dash, but then I realised that it’s configured for best fuel economy, rather than best performance. As such, you’re encouraged to change up at around 2,500rpm most of the time, but unless you’re really obsessive about fuel economy, keeping your foot planted for a while longer will make for a far more enjoyable drive.
But as always here on TrustedReviews, it’s the technology we’re really interested in, so let’s see just what’s so special about all the toys, gadgets and gizmos that Toyota has squeezed into its baby four-seater…
When the iQ arrived at the TrustedReviews car park, I wasn’t really expecting too much from the in-built satellite navigation system. After all, the Porsche Cayman that we looked at recently still couldn’t manage that most basic of desirable features – seven digit postcode support – and that car cost the best part of £50,000. In fact, even the system in the £81,930 Lexus LS600h couldn’t handle a full seven digit postcode, making it all the more impressive that the iQ can navigate directly to a full postcode without blinking an eye (or should that be headlight?).
At first I didn’t think that the iQ could manage a full postcode, since it wouldn’t allow me to input more than four digits. However, adding a space after the fourth digit allowed me to enter the rest of the postcode, thus enabling direct navigation without the need for street names or house numbers. It’s about time that full seven digit postcode support became the norm on factory fitted sat-nav systems, considering that sub-£100 after market units offer the feature. Hopefully the system in the iQ is a sign of things to come.
Seven digit postcode support isn’t the only thing that the iQ’s sat-nav has going for it though. You also get a 6.5in colour touch-screen, which is another step up from many systems we’ve seen in far more expensive cars. Also, despite being touch sensitive, the screen is still very bright and vibrant, while also being viewable from pretty much anywhere in the car – okay, so it’s not like there’s enough space inside to make the angle too acute anyway.
Entering your destination is a breeze using the touch-screen, and if you’re using a postcode it will only take a few seconds to get your route calculated. Like other sat-nav systems I’ve looked at recently, the iQ can be configured to return three different routes to your destination – one will be the quickest, one will be the shortest, and the third will be, well, different.
You get a basic TMC traffic avoidance system built in, but nothing as advanced as the Live services offered by the latest TomTom products. You might be thinking that you wouldn’t want to pay a subscription for real time traffic information, but if you’ve ever used one of TomTom’s Live products you’d probably change your mind. Either way, no other in-car system sports such a feature yet, so I’m not going to criticise Toyota for not offering it.
Very good as this system is though, there are a few issues that take some of that shine away. First up, the system has something of a nationality crisis when it comes to points of interest. I decided to list tourist attractions close to me, fully expecting to receive options like Ascot Racecourse and Windsor Castle, but the results I was actually given were slightly confusing. OK, so Windsor Castle was listed, but it was listed three times as “Castello De Windsor”, once as Chateau De Windsor and then finally as Windsor Castle. Slightly odd, but hardly a deal breaker.
The system also only supports 2D maps, or if it does support 3D maps I couldn’t find an easy way to switch over to them. Again, that’s not a big issue for me, since I prefer top-down 2D maps anyway. And while I’m on the subject of maps, they reside on an SD card, which means that if you wanted to play music from an SD card, you wouldn’t be able to use the sat-nav.
But despite those niggles, this is a superb factory fit satellite navigation system, and even at a price of £930, I think I’d be tempted to tick the option box.
The entertainment side of the iQ is all wrapped up in the same module as the sat-nav, and once again it’s a rather feature rich affair considering the size and cost of the car itself. This means that all the entertainment features are controlled through that great 6.5in touch-screen. The Mode button will list all the audio options at your disposal, of which there are many.
The most obvious source option is the built-in CD player, which will also playback MP3 and WMA files. This allows you to squeeze quite a decent size music library on each disc, and if you want to have multiple discs stacked full of music, you can specify the optional CD changer. The latter wasn’t installed in the test car, but to be honest there are better options available.
I was very happy to see a USB port to the right of the screen, which opens the door to a huge music library stored on a USB memory key. I’ve read in the Toyota iQ forums that some owners have had problems using USB keys above 2GB, but I encountered no such issues. I loaded up a 4GB USB key with multiple music folders and it had no problem reading and playing back the files. Again, the touch-screen interface makes navigating a USB music library quick and easy.
The Mode menu also lists an iPod option, but when I plugged an iPod into the USB port it wasn’t recognised. A bit more digging in the iQ Owner’s Club Forum revealed that iPod support requires an iPod Integration Kit, which carries a cost of around £150. Unfortunately the test car didn’t come equipped with this kit, but I can at least confirm that the connection is located next to the gear lever rather than being integrated into the head unit. This will make placement of your iPod far less precarious.
As already mentioned, there’s an SD card slot, which can be used to playback music, as long as you’re willing to sacrifice your satellite navigation. You also get an analogue auxiliary input for hooking up any kind of portable player you might have to hand. Of course the problem with using that Aux input is that you won’t be able to control your player via the in car system, and you’ll have a tough time finding somewhere to place your player – unless you have an unusually long cable.
The entertainment system also supports A2DP, so if you have a mobile phone or MP3 player with integrated Bluetooth you can stream music to the iQ. I tested this with a Samsung YP-P3 and it worked flawlessly – sound quality was surprisingly good, while I was also able to control the player remotely via the iQ’s controls.
Talking of controls, the iQ sports basic audio controls on the steering wheel in the form of a small joystick. Assuming you’re driving with your hands where they should be, this little joystick will fall under your left thumb, and I’ve got to say that it’s very easy to use. Admittedly you only get volume and track skipping functionality, but on the whole that’s all I ever need while I’m driving.
The final part of the entertainment equation is the radio, with both FM and AM tuners built in. There’s also an option for a DAB tuner, but again the test car wasn’t equipped with this, so I couldn’t test it. That said, I doubt I’d pay extra for DAB, since many in-car systems come with it as standard these days – although, to be fair, not on a car this price.
Sound quality is pretty good on the whole, but don’t expect thumping bass – the bias is definitely towards the mid and high range. But in most situations that’s not a problem, and I would hope that most iQ drivers wouldn’t be tempted to pump the volume too high, considering how small the cabin is!
The ever impressive infotainment system in the iQ also comes equipped with Bluetooth hands free. Unlike the Porsche Cayman we looked at recently, the iQ had no problem connecting to pretty much any phone, using a standard Bluetooth hands free profile. Within a matter of seconds I had my iPhone 3G registered and paired with the system.
If you’re in the habit of sharing your car with others, you’ll be glad to know that up to six handsets can be paired with the iQ, which should be more than enough, unless your family is the Brady Bunch.
When in phone mode, both the current battery life and signal strength for your handset will be displayed, thus making it easy to tell if you have a strong enough signal to make a call before dialling. Again, unlike the system in the Porsche Cayman, you can answer a call by simply tapping a large button on the touch-screen, rather than having to look for a hardware button.
It’s not all a bed of roses on the communication side though. First up, although the iQ paired with my iPhone without issue, it wouldn’t import my contacts, leaving me to manually enter any numbers that I might want to call from the car. Considering that hands free systems like the one seen in the Audi A8 will automatically import your entire contact list upon pairing, this omission is slightly disappointing.
The difficult nature of getting your contacts list onto the system is compounded by the fact that there is no voice control. So, even when you’ve manually entered all the names and numbers that you need, you still have to tap through menus on the screen to dial one of them.
But the biggest letdown when it comes to communication is the actual call quality. Now, when you’re sitting in the car you’d be forgiven for thinking that the call quality is superb – everything that the person on the other end of the line says comes through the sound system load and clear. However, the person that you’re talking to ends up hearing something resembling a Dalek. In fact Andy was so adamant about the poor quality that I let him sit in the car, while I called him from the office – he wasn’t exaggerating!
It’s a very odd state of affairs, because I’ve encountered poor call quality using hands free systems before, but it usually means that you sound distant, or that there’s too much background noise. In this case it’s as if the sound is being processed (badly) somewhere along the way.
Amazingly for such a tiny car, Toyota has designed the iQ to achieve a full five star Euro NCAP rating for occupant safety. With this in mind, the company has somehow managed to squeeze no less than nine airbags into the cabin, including a rear curtain airbag, which takes into account the rear passengers’ proximity to the back end of the vehicle.
If you have a young family you’ll also be pleased to note that there are Isofix anchoring points in place on both the rear seats. What’s surprising is that it’s not that difficult to get a child in and out of the rear either. As always, I tested this with my three year old daughter, and found that I had no problem getting her strapped in, while she was in no way cramped in the rear.
The iQ also comes with a keyless entry system that’s so beautifully integrated that I didn’t even realise it had it at first. Usually the keyless entry give away is a button on the door handle, so you can lock the car without having to take the key fob out of your pocket. The iQ has no such button, but what it does have is a touch sensitive area on the top of the handle, marked out by two small ridges. Touching these ridges will lock the car, while simply pulling the handle will unlock it – assuming you have the key with you of course.
Once inside the car, there’s a nice big Engine Start / Stop button located next to the controls for the electrically adjustable wing mirrors. Oh and those mirrors will also electronically fold inward at the touch of a button, just in case you’re parking on a very narrow street.
While on the subject of mirrors, the iQ also has an automatically dimming rear view mirror, so you won’t get blinded by some idiot coming up behind you with his full beams on. You also don’t need to remember to turn your lights on when it gets dark, they’re automatic too, as are the wipers – once again, the iQ sports big car features without the big price.
You can also specify rear parking sensors for an extra cost, but anyone who can’t park a car the size of the iQ without parking sensors simply shouldn’t have a driving licence.
Expectations of comfort generally have to be tempered with a small car, especially with one as small as this. But no matter how you look at it, it’s nothing short of a miracle that Toyota has created a car this small that can seat four people – note that I said four people, not four adults. In reality the iQ isn’t really a four-seater, it’s more of a 3.5-seater. You see even though there’s more than enough room behind the front passenger for an adult, anyone sitting behind the driver is going to have to be pretty small, even if the driver isn’t that big in the first place.
However, I don’t want you to see my view of the iQ being suitable for three adults and a child as a criticism, because it’s not. Just the fact that it has four seats in it at all still boggles my mind. Although it’s also worth noting that those four seats come at a price.
To put things bluntly, the iQ simply has no boot – unless you consider somewhere to store your mobile phone a boot. OK, so Hugo and I did manage to slip a few bags of KFC behind the back seats when using the iQ for a lunch run, but really, that’s about as far as it goes. Of course you can fold the back seats down if you want more room, but you’re still left with all your gear/shopping in plain view of anyone who looks through the window. And even if you fit the (very fiddly) tonneau cover, you can still see what’s underneath it quite clearly. No, the iQ is a very small people carrier, not any kind of load lugger.
The test car came fitted with the optional leather seats, which were comfy enough when driving in a straight line. Unfortunately, the complete lack of side bolsters meant that I found myself sliding off the seat whenever I took a corner – although it’s fair to say that I probably corner harder than the average iQ driver.
The stylish triangular centre console (it’s supposed to look like a Manta Ray you know) houses another highlight – proper digital climate control. The base level iQ comes with manual air conditioning, but this iQ2 model features proper climate control with a digital temperature setting. It’s another welcome feature, and another that I wouldn’t have expected in a tiny car like this.
Despite the fact that the iQ is pretty much the antithesis of everything I look for when I’m buying a car, I can’t help but love it. Toyota has made something bordering magical with the iQ and I sincerely hope that it does a roaring trade. Yes the cynics will bleat about how the Smart car was the pioneer, but it was strictly a two seater, and was in no way as pleasant to be in as the iQ.
And when it comes to technology, Toyota really has squeezed a ludicrous amount into the iQ, including one of the best factory fitted navigation systems I’ve come across. OK, so the slightly disappointing hands free and lack of voice control take some of the shine off, but you’ve still got keyless entry and go, auto lights, wipers and dimming mirrors, USB streaming, iPod connectivity, A2DP Bluetooth streaming, electrically folding mirrors etc. The list of gadgets and gizmos puts far more expensive cars to shame.
The whole design of the iQ is so cohesive, so well put together, so, just right, that I found myself smiling each time I got behind the wheel. My daughter absolutely loved the iQ, but she very pragmatically informed me that “the baby car had to go home to its mummy” when my Liquid Yellow Clio appeared back on the drive. She wasn’t happy about it, but she clearly understood the iQ’s motive for leaving.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for something affordable, with great fuel economy and nonexistent road tax, the iQ should be on your list. But if you’re looking for something that ticks all those boxes, while still offering you a plethora of toys and features to play with, the iQ is the list.
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