2012 Scion iQ: Best Non-Hybrid Gas Mileage? Not In Real World

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Although a very small niche group might see minicars like the Scion iQ and Smart Fortwo as a fashion statement, or as a way to reap special parking or commuting benefits, for most Americans—and even a lot of green-car shoppers—it's quite frankly a little hard to see the point in getting a 2012 Scion iQ.

As we note in a new full drive post on the iQ over at The Car Connection: As enjoyable as the iQ is to drive, Americans are bound to go straight to the iQ's EPA fuel economy numbers.

And in this case, they're very good. The 2012 Scion iQ happens to have the best EPA city rating on the market—36 mpg city, and 37 highway—among non-hybrid models, so we paid special attention to mileage during the week we had one.

Trouble is, we didn't see anything close to those ratings. Over the first few days of driving and about 75 miles—mostly smaller errands, but not driving especially quickly, we saw an average of 32 mpg, according to the trip odometer—a disappointing number, really.

In comparison, we averaged just over 30 mpg in a five-seat 2012 Toyota Yaris a few months ago; in the Honda CR-Z we managed to average 38 mpg over 130 miles of comparable errand-running; and even in our High Gear Media's Six Month Road Test Hyundai Veloster, which has been kept mostly in town, we're averaging nearly 30 so far.

Then, thinking we could do a lot better, when driving especially conservatively, we took the iQ out on our 40-mile fuel economy loop—a near-equal mix of light-traffic stop-and-go driving, suburban boulevards, and 55-65-mph Interstate cruising. The entire time, we make an extra effort to keep the throttle light, the A/C (and defogger) off, and windows mostly up, while coasting as much as possible to lights and stops.

More frugal than a Yaris? Maybe not.

In these conditions, the iQ returned nearly 37 mpg—which seems respectable, until you consider that on this same route (and roughly the same conditions) we managed to average nearly 42 mpg in the 2012 Toyota Yaris SE we drove a few months ago. In daily driving where we'd seen 32 in the iQ, we'd just barely topped 30 mpg in the Yaris, though.

2012 Scion iQ - Driven, April 2012

2012 Scion iQ - Driven, April 2012

Enlarge Photo

That Yaris, by the way—a much more substantial car, and a five-seater—cost about $400 less than the iQ and felt equipped just as well.

We drove the iQ for another 40 miles or so but didn't see substantially higher than 32 mpg. And oddly, at that rate, we would have sipped through nearly a half a tank of fuel, given the iQ's small 8.5-gallon tank.

The iQ suffers from some of the same issues as the Smart Fortwo and other vehicles this size—like an exaggerated pitching or bobbing at highway speeds or on bumpy roads, because of the short wheelbase—and engine noise that's noticeable as you near 70 mph. Visibility can also be challenging when changing lanes, because of the thick pillar just beside or behind your head. Although unlike the Smart, it never feels nervous.

The sad fact is that in typical U.S. driving, the iQ just doesn't return great mileage numbers. While we don't altogether understand why, most shoppers would be making a more frugal and useful choice in subcompact like the Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, or Honda Fit (or the 53-mpg Toyota Prius C).

Over repeat drives, we've found the Smart Fortwo to be a bit disappointing in this respect as well; and it's one of many reasons why, for the foreseeable future, minicompacts like the iQ will remain very much niche vehicles in the U.S.


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Comments (10)
  1. Agree with your findings, the Smart and IQ are for those looking for a smaller motoring footprint and a nippy manouervrable fun to drive cheap to run car. Everyone expects these cars to live up to normal car standards and while they are impressive in many areas they are not perfect,nothing is not even the larger cars.I have owned two previous Smarts and now an IQ along with a Prius. I love the IQ and it gets more use than the Prius. It really is a gem in tight places and is returning 50 mpg Imp or 60 mpg on a run. If your test Scion was a manual it would improve on the figures posted. Puzzled by the remark of engine noise at seventy, mine (3 cyl) is dead quiet!

  2. maneuverable... must really learn to spell this sorry:)

  3. Thanks, Don. Here in the U.S., there's no three-cylinder engine and no manual gearbox offered. Based on what we've seen from other sources (and confirmed by your comments), I believe the I-4/CVT combination is somewhat more gruff, noisy.

  4. I drove the IQ for a week having a friend locally with one, my average that week was around 39 MPG, I am considering purchasing one from my experience. Mine was also very quiet at 60-70 mph, just out of curiosity, did you check the tires for any issues as this could explain many of your points

  5. Bernardo, I didn't check the tire pressures on this vehicle, but I didn't encounter any other issues to indicate they might have been far off. Otherwise, we had the iQ during a damp, chilly week and the A/C (defogger) was on for much of it, so perhaps that had an impact. Otherwise this was lower gas mileage than we expected and it's curious that your average was higher than our particularly careful economy loop.

  6. 2003 Lincoln Town Car L (Cartier; aftermarket hitch) actual-use results with 500 lbs occupant weight and 80-150 pounds in trunk:

    --> 28.3 mpg average on Interstate trips (70 mph)
    --> 26.9 to 27.2 mpg seasonal overall average mpg
    --> 25.4 mpg average in mixed driving (city, rural, highway)
    --> 22.2 mpg average in aggressive city & rural driving

    --> 15.7 (loaded to 9.5-ft overall ht, irregular profile, about 2850 pounds trailer wt) to 16.6 mpg (empty) towing a 76 x 12 landscaping trailer with side & rear gate/ramp devices in the "up" position (fillup-to-fillup, 87 mph max towing speed with more than 90 percent of loaded towing being done with the speed control set at 65 mph, and unloaded towing with the speed control set at 75 mph)

  7. Former ride actual results:

    1998 Lincoln Town Car, Signature Series

    --> 32.4 highway average mpg (fillup-to-fillup on trips of more than 300 miles)

    --> 31.9 to 32.0 mpg seasonal average mpg (mix of city, rural and interstate driving; includes occasional aggressive acceleration and light towing) (Here, "light towing" means pulling a single-axle or double-axle trailer weighing less than 8,000 pounds).

    --> 28.0 to 28.6 mpg (fillup-to-fillup, city-only driving)

    --> Switched to 2003 Lincoln Town Car L (Cartier) because rear seat space & door opening made it possible to transport a handicapped family member in an economical sedan, rather than restricting mobility to a van or ambulance.

  8. Pretty extrodinary especially as I have previously owned a Lincoln Towncar in the states and was lucky to get the low twenties out of it. I keep a PT cruiser there now and it only does about 23 mpg avg.
    Just think what it would be like to get averages in the fifties, never happen with a lincoln though.

  9. I've owned an iQ for nearly a month now. What I've found is that the avg calculation performed by the on board system is very short sighted. It averages 30-32. But, when I start my tripometer when I fill up, and divide miles driven by gas consumed, my real numbers end up being 36-37. Whats funny is I spend a lot of time parked at work sites (I commute multiple times a day, drive 300 miles in a 5 day work week easily) preparing paperwork and such. but I don't believe the cars computer is calculating that time. I find your results very curious.
    Also, the sound system, bluetooth, 10 air bags, back seat/trunk, and the car being capable of being worked on by non- smart car dealerships, make this car a completely different animal than the "smart

  10. I have been driving the IQ for a month now, and the gas mileage is very, very disappointing. I get about 27-28 mpg, mainly city driving. Toyota tech.service says that the car is in perfect conditions and I should be getting 47 mpg!!

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