Toyota Aygo Minicar Driven: Much-Improved Scion iQ Alternative U.S. Won't Get

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The Scion iQ has not been a success story for Toyota's youth-orientated brand.

In 2013, just 4,406 iQs found homes in the U.S. That's half as many as were sold in 2012, hardly a stellar year itself.

By contrast, Toyota's other small car had a bumper year in 2013. The Aygo minicar moved nearly 60,000 units worldwide, greater than that of the preceding few years, despite a new model on the way--the car you see here.

And having driven the new Aygo, we think it's kind of a shame it's unlikely to hit U.S. shores, since it's a much more appealing product than the unusual iQ.

The fall and fall of the iQ

The iQ is a nice enough vehicle, but we can think of two reasons why it may not have been the success that Toyota and Scion hoped it would be.

In the U.S, the first is its size. The iQ may be smarter than Smart's Fortwo, but the Fortwo itself is hardly a volume seller in the U.S. since few are prepared to make the tradeoff of driving a tiny car that doesn't achieve stratospheric gas mileage figures.

That the Fortwo has consistently outsold the iQ both in the U.S. and elsewhere must be extra galling for Toyota.

The second is price. Tiny cars need tiny prices to truly succeed, and the iQ has always seemed a little expensive.

You'll pay a good $4,000 more for a base iQ than you will a base Fortwo right now, a number that doesn't really justify its 1 mpg economy improvement (37 mpg combined versus 36 mpg) and negligible benefit of its tiny rear seats.

Toyota Aygo minicar European drive

Toyota Aygo minicar European drive

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Toyota Aygo

To European eyes, it seems confusing that Toyota would deliberately sell a product more compromised and more expensive than it needed to be.

That's largely because since 2005, Toyota has sold the Aygo in Europe--a proper four-seat minicar with great gas mileage and funky looks that makes no attempt to compete with Smart on its own turf.

As such, it's a much better car--and the new model is no exception.

Like Scion's brand ethos, the message of the new Aygo is one of youthful appeal. It looks dramatic for a start, much more sporty and playful than rivals like the Volkswagen Up--a car it competes with head-on.

See those contrasting black panels on our orange test car? The X-shaped nose panel, A-pillar trims and rear diffuser element can all be swapped out by Toyota dealerships for different colors, so owners can personalize their cars at will.

The same goes for various plastic trim elements in the Aygo's interior, many of which already match the exterior shade. And like the Up, the car's interior door panels are painted, rather than trimmed--a neat way of adding color to the interior.

Unlike the iQ, you can actually seat four people all at once. Four six-foot tall people may struggle, but they still get something approximating a decent luggage area--a deep recess behind the rear seats, rather than the iQ's sliver of space that would squeeze the filling from a sandwich.

It doesn't quite match the iQ for plastics quality, but it's a lot more cheerful inside and any feeling of cheapness can be forgiven, since pricing is more at the Smart Fortwo than the Scion iQ level.

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