That's the case with the 2012 Scion iQ. While it's one of smallest vehicles in the U.S., along with the Smart Fortwo, it's not nearly as fuel-efficient as Toyota's hybrids like the Prius—or even the new, larger Prius V—and at 36 mpg city, 37 highway, a number of larger compact sedans are more frugal on the open road.
But the 2012 iQ isn't about longer trips, and its city mileage is pretty astounding. Its forte is reducing your driving footprint (in several ways) while still getting around the city in style—even with a passenger or two. At just about 120 inches long yet about as tall and wide as a typical compact (and with oversize wheels), its profile borders on toylike. Yet inside, the iQ's so-called '3+1' seating layout is sensible and innovative, with the dash pushed slightly forward on the passenger side, to allow the seat to slide forward, yielding more space—enough for a child or shorter adult—in the small back seat behind it.
With a little 94-hp, 1.3-liter four, paired with a CVT, the 2012 Scion iQ isn't quick, but at a light 2,100 pounds it makes do just fine. Handling is delightful, with driving dynamics that go well beyond the assumed minicar comfort zone of city blocks and roundabouts. This one actually feels secure and solid at 80 mph.
In a lot of other respects, the iQ feels like a real car. Ride quality is pretty good; the interior is well-isolated; and the stylish materials and trims feel a step above those you'll find in a Corolla. But with the rear seats up in place, there's nearly no cargo space (3.5 cubic feet). Flip them down and there's a more reasonable 16.7—enough for a grocery run.
Features are strong, and occupant safety looks promising. The iQ offers an astonishing eleven airbags—including knee bags for the driver and front passenger, and a world-first rear-window bag. Its $15,955 base price might seem a little high, but that does include A/C, auto-up/down power windows, and a trip meter. Entertainment systems are excellent, including HD Radio, USB, and aux-in, with available Pandora integration and iTunes tagging.
For more information, see the full review of the 2012 Scion iQ over at The Car Connection.