As the wife of a serial shitbox buyer, Beth puts up with a lot. We’ve been together for 14 years now and 40 or so cars have come and gone in that time. Not once have I been chastised for my habit. Beth even rolls her sleeves up when it comes to cleaning and photographing the latest rust bucket. This year, she expressed an interest in getting a car of her own. Something small, modern and reliable.
An early consideration was a Smart ForTwo but we decided the strict two-seat configuration might be prohibitive. Cue a cursory search on the Toyota iQ. Petite and stylish but with the capacity to carry four adults, safe to say my interest was piqued.
I had the notion of buying an iQ as a birthday present for Beth. With the big day around six weeks away, the hunt was on. There were quite a few available, less so matching my spec requirements. It needed to be manual, petrol and finished in the Crystal Shine white. AutoTrader alerted me to the most promising advert - a private seller who had owned the car for five years. Train tickets in hand, I set off for a closer look. Thankfully it was not a wasted trip. The car was fantastic, the seller charming and the price far more reasonable than my extortionate train fare. The figure, you ask? A mere £2400.
With the Toyota safely hidden away, it was time to start the preparations. I took it to my local body shop who refurbished the alloy wheels, repainting them in a glossy black finish. Next, it went to a talented detailer and motoring journalist, Ted Welford, for a deep clean and ceramic coating. Looking and smelling like new, it was birthday ready, and I’m pleased to say that Beth loved it.
There’s a lot to like about the iQ. Toyota sweated the details, and it shows. Chief Engineer Hiroiki Nakajima was set the task of creating a small, four-seat city car from the ground up, and he and his team came up with something very interesting in the process. Innovative engineering solutions such as the flat fuel tank and a tiny air conditioning unit help the interior space to defy its tiny footprint. Get a tape measure out and you’ll find it’s a mere 290mm longer than a Smart ForTwo, despite having the additional row of seats. If Doctor Who ever needs a four-wheeled version of the TARDIS, this is it.
Be warned, though -packing for an interdimensional road trip will take some careful planning. With the rear seats up the iQ makes do with 32 litres of boot capacity. Folding them down increases it to a still relatively compact 242 litres. We’ve not found this as problematic as you might think, to fold the seats is the work of a moment and the load area created is useful enough. Individually foldable seats allow for a 2 + 1 configuration, perhaps the most usable compromise if you intend to carry passengers and their belongings.
Whoever that lucky friend is who you choose to be the third occupant should be pleased. The seats, while they may look wafer-thin, are genuinely comfortable. I’ve played musical chairs inside and found all the four perches provide ample leg and headroom for my six-foot frame. Seated behind the driver’s chair in Beth’s position is easy. However, a taller driver will impeach the legroom behind considerably. It’s easy to get comfortable despite the lack of adjustment for the seat height or steering reach. The wheel itself is small and slightly flattened at the bottom, presumably to give extra knee room. Clear dials sit directly behind the wheel display a large speedometer, tachometer and a shift indicator.
Under the bonnet lurks the smallest of the engine range, the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol producing 67-bhp. It’s not fast then, but eager to rev out and quite good fun to hustle. Keeping up with traffic is no chore until the road gets steep, slopes demand momentum and a willingness to hold onto a low gear. It’s clean too, emitting only 99g/km of carbon dioxide translating to free road tax. Bonus! The downside is the surprisingly poor average fuel economy. Around town, 37-40mpg seems to be the norm, while 50+ comes easily during a longer run.
The steering has been the biggest surprise, as I’d been expecting a certain numbness, but instead, the iQ has a nicely weighted and super quick rack. Barreling down a country lane is a genuine pleasure. Even taking a wrong turn will impress, as a key party trick of the iQ is the turning circle - it will complete a turn in just 3.9 metres. From inside it feels quite extraordinary as you reach what feels like the maximum turning angle and just sense the front wheels tuck in further and pivot.
Sadly the Toyota iQ was only manufactured for one generation, though it spawned some intriguing builds. Gazoo, the motorsport and performance arm of Toyota, took an iQ and reimagined it. A menacing body kit, lowered sports suspension, racing harnesses and decals all helped to transform the styling but the engine was left mostly standard. If your luxury is what you desire, meanwhile, then look no further than Aston Martin. Sensing a money-spinner the British brand took the iQ, transformed it into the Cygnet and doubled the asking price. We finally know what 007 drives to Morrison’s.
The Toyota iQ is not all the car you’ll ever need, nor does it pretend to be, but if you’re looking for an intelligent and thoroughly capable small car then it deserves to be considered.