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Entries in Scion iQ (2)

Friday
Feb242012

First Drive: 2012 Toyota Prius c

It’s been twelve years since the Toyota Prius first came on to the American stage.  Thought of as a science experiment then, and in many ways it was, now in it’s third generation the Prius Liftback IS the face of Toyota.

While the hybrid and plugin electric market may only be 2.5% of all vehicle sales in the U.S., the Prius accounts for more than 50% of those sales.  The most shocking statistic is that 96% of all Prius’ sold, are still on the road today.  Looking to expand the sales of the Prius, Toyota have expanded the sub-brand of Prius into four models, with the goal of the Prius family of vehicles surpassing Camry in sales  

The first expansion of the Prius family was the Prius v, not quite a crossover, yet more than a wagon, it was Toyota’s move to get growing and active families more space to fit their lifestyle without compromising fuel economy or the integrity of the Prius name.  The Plugin Prius will be the current Liftback model that will have the ability to drive 15 miles on pure electric, then revert back to a standard Prius Hybrid once the charge has been depleted.  The last component is the source of our review, and that is the Prius c.  It is a B-segment car, which will be competing against the likes of Toyota’s own Yaris and iQ, along with the Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Chevy Spark, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent.

Powering the Prius c is an updated version of the venerable 1.5 liter inline four cylinder engine.  It has been updated to improve efficiency with lighter weight valve springs, lighter tension weight piston rings along with a few other items like the elimination of an accessory belt so now that the power steering, air conditioning and water pump are all driven via electric motors to reduce drag and friction and improve fuel economy.  This is paired with a Ni-MH battery pack that is about 2/3rds the size of the one found in the Liftback, which provides an additional 25.9 horsepower to the 73 horsepower engine.  The transaxle in the Prius c is an all electric unit that has no belts.

Fuel economy is the raison d'etre in the Prius family and the Prius c will deliver that in spades.  Rated by the EPA 53 city, 46 highway and 50 combined.  We had the opportunity to drive for a short 25 mile loop that was an equal mix of surface roads and highway.  On the surface roads we pulled down 63.5 mpg without really making an effort  to maximize fuel economy, and at the end of the loop we had a combined 54.7 mpg, and that was while driving highway speeds of 70-75 mph.  Keeping with the rest if the Prius family, the c also has start/stop technology, so that the car is running only when it needs to when stopped in traffic.  If you are in stop and go driving, this is an excellent way to save a few extras drops of fuel.

Lest you think this B-segment car is cramped inside, it is not.  Front seat passengers have plenty of room, no fear of rubbing shoulders with your passenger.  For back seat passengers, two normal sized adults will be able to ride comfortably.  We had the drivers seat set for us at 5’11”, then jumped in the back seat behind and were able to get in and out with no problem, and our knees were not touching the back of the driver seat either.

The rear seats do fold in a 60/40 arrangement allowing for good load flexibility, bicycles and snowboards will have no problem fitting inside.  With the seats up there is 17.1 cubic feet of space in the hatch area, which should be more than enough room for day to day items, or runs to the grocery store.

In the upper trim levels Toyota have made Softex synthetic leather an option.  Listening to their consumers, Toyota have eliminated the use of natural leather in the Prius family of cars.  The Softext in our test car, was comfortable, had a quality feel to it, and was grippy so that we did not slide around in the seat.

There will be four trim levels to the Prius c, One, Two, Three and Four.  Stepping up to trim level’s Three and Four will net you a smart key, which offers the ability to not have to take the key out of your pocket to get in the car, or need it for starting.  The upper two levels also get you the top end audio system with navigation.  It has a 6.1 in touch screen with AM/FM/SirusXM/HD Radio and also will play CD’s along with MP3 and WMA files through a six speaker system.

All trim levels have bluetooth as standard but trim levels Three and Four allow for advanced voice recognition.  The top end audio system also includes Entune.  Entune is a system that Toyota have developed that works with the data connection on your smart phone to supply Pandora, iHeart Radio, OpenTable, MovieTickets.com along with real time traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports scores and weather to you.

You register on a specific Toyota website with your cars VIN number, and then you can assign up to four different phones to the system so that everyone can taylor the system to themselves, if multiple people in a household share the car.

The Prius c also contains a 3.5 inch TFT display to the right of the offset digital speedometer.  There are multiple levels of menus to explore within.  Items like energy monitors, drive information, scoring the last 100 drives and how economical the current one is, 5 minute consumption.  There is an ECO Savings level where you can program the current cost of gas in, and also the mpg of another vehicle to see how much you are saving with the Prius c.  It also calculates the current cost of your current trip, and past trips, and brake it down into a cost per mile.  It will also grade you on how economically you are driving and braking on a scale of 1-5 and display it in a bar graph.

Many people worry about safety in cars that are as small as the Prius c.  To address this Toyota is including nine standard airbags along with items like ABS, traction control, vehicle stability control, brake assist, brake force distribution and smart stop. 

Smart stop is a system that intervenes when both the brake and gas peddles are pressed at the same time.  In a panic situation one might press down hard on both peddles without meaning to.  The system senses this, and disengages the gas, it also incorporates a hill assist into the system so that if you are on a hill and stopped, you do not roll backwards when transferring from the brake peddle to the gas peddle.

Pricing for the Prius c in trim level One starts at $19,710, Level Two is $20,760, Level Three is $22,395 and Level Four is $23,990, all prices include the $760 destination fee.  While this is certainly on the higher end of the B-Segment price structure, cars like Ford’s Fiesta can quickly top $20,000 as well once they are optioned up.  The base price of the Prius c is about a $2,000 premium over the Yaris to give some context.

Out on the road the Prius c drives very well.  While the handling can’t be called sporty, it is very competent.  It is very agile, has a better ride quality than the Prius Liftback or v, and also transmits less road noise through the tires than the Liftback or v as well.  The Prius c engineers took extra time to mitigate as much NVH from the car as possible and their work shows.

Acceleration in city traffic from 0-40 miles an hour is good, though not quick.  Merging onto the highway the power can be best described as adequate.  It is able to get on to freeways and merge without drama, and while you may feel you need to be going faster or accelerating quicker, once you look at the speedometer, you will see you’ve already gotten up to the speed of surrounding traffic.  The car can engage an EV mode where it can run up to a mile with a max speed of 25 miles an hour.   

The Prius c was able to run 75 miles an hour on the highway with no issues, it was not moved around by semi’s going past, it felt very stable, and the interior is quiet enough to hold a conversation in a normal tone of voice. 

While the other versions of the Prius have never excited us all that much, we feel that the c is the first Prius that we can get behind.  It truly was a fun and satisfying car to drive.  In a time when gas is again approaching $4/gallon in the U.S., having a car that can pull down 50 mpg is an attractive proposition.  And when that proposition asks very few compromises from you, it’s even more so.  No the car is not a sports car, or a sporty car, what it is, is a small car that gets the job done, can be well equipped, and you don’t mind driving.  While in the past, and even now with the Liftback and the v, the Prius’ could be described as automotive appliances, the c does not have that vibe, it feels like a car first, a hybrid second.

Thursday
Oct202011

First Drive: 2012 Scion iQ Small Package Big Ideas

How much car do you really need?  That is what Toyota’s Scion brand is asking with the iQ it’s bringing to the market beginning in December.  Available in Japan and Europe for several years now this micro-compact is being targeted at Gen-Y buyers who live in very condensed urban environments.

At just 10 feet long the Scion iQ is the shortest car being sold in North America save the SMART FourTwo, and the less said about the SMART car the better.  While in theory the iQ and the FourTwo are priced similarly and are targeting a similar demographic, the Scion iQ is so far and above the SMART as to make the FourTwo look as sophisticated as the Wright Brothers Flyer in the world of the 787 Dreamliner.  

Priced at $15,995, which includes destination charges, the iQ is not the cheapest car on the market, but it is very well equipped and very well built.  Standard features include vehicle stability control, electric power steering, keyless entry and Bluetooth connectivity.  While there are no soft touch surfaces in the iQ, one wouldn’t expect them  at this price point either.  That said, the quality of the materials along with the fit and finish of the interior are certainly better than in larger and more expensive B and C segment cars we’ve driven in the past year.  "It's a real car," Scion Vice President Jack Hollis said. "It drives and feels like a Corolla, but it's in this tiny package."

The iQ will not have any factory options available, however, like all Scions there were be a plethora of accessories for the iQ available at Dealers to customize and personalize the iQ.  There will be one option, which is a lowering kit for the iQ, along with larger 18” wheels which Jack Hollis said looks “amazing on this car”.

In North America where bigger is always better, and in cars and trucks perceived as safer, the iQ comes will 11 airbags, and is expected to achieve an IIHS Top Safety Pick when it’s results are released.  There are are the usual airbags for driver and passenger knees, side bolster and side curtains, but two innovative airbags in the iQ are ones in the seat bottom that lift the knees up to prevent the driver from submarining under the steering wheel and a rear curtain airbag that covers the rear glass area to protect rear seat passengers from a rear end crash.

While technically the iQ is a four seat car, it is really a 3+1 as only the smallest of people will be able to sit behind the driver.  The rear seat room behind the passenger is acceptable for anyone under six feet tall.  

The packaging of the iQ is very clever.  The two front seats are offset (the passenger sits farther forward) to create rear seat leg room. The fuel tank is located under the passenger floor, the engine and transmission have been engineered to push the front wheels as far forward as possible to create more cabin space by eliminating wheel well intrusion into the cabin.  It allows to iQ to be very short, 10 feet in length, but, the iQ is very wide for such a short car.  In fact, the cabin width is as wide, if not wider than a Toyota Corolla!  You would think that driver and passenger shoulders would be touching in the iQ but it feels very much like a C segment car from the front seats.

Driving the iQ as we did, mostly in an urban setting, is quite enjoyable.  Given how short the wheelbase of the car is, the ride is not overly choppy or harsh.  The ride is firm, but acceptably so.  The steering in fairly direct, maybe not go kart sharp, but still very good.  The only transmission offered in the iQ for North America is the Toyota CVT.  We have to say that the CVT in the iQ may be the best we’ve ever driven!  It was for the most part a non factor, and that may be the highest praise we can give that style of transmission.  When asked about the availability of a manual transmission for the car, Jack Hollis said that while he, and many others at Scion North America would like to see that as an option, the fact that 95% of Gen Y’ers don’t know how to drive a manual, is an issue, plus the fact that the car is targeted at the urban environment, a CVT was a better choice.

What is astonishing about driving the iQ is just how tight the turning radius is.  It’s not a joke to say that the iQ can “turn on a dime and give you eight cents change”.  The actual turning radius of the car is 12.9 feet!!  The iQ can almost turn within it’s own length!  Parking the iQ is very easy as well.  While you can’t see the nose of the car while seated behind the wheel, the nose of the car isn’t much past your feet being on the peddles.  Rear visibility is good as well, and again the rear bumper is four inches past the rear glass, so distance is easy to judge.

The engine powering the iQ is Toyota’s 1.3 liter inline four cylinder, and with the CVT transmission it returns fuel economy in the iQ is 36mpg city, 37 highway and 37 combined.  Acceleration feels good in urban environments.  While the actual 0-60 numbers are around 10 seconds, the iQ feels much zippier than that.  On the freeway the iQ wasn’t buffeted around by large semis.  While our highway segment was short with the car, it was enough to get a good take away.  We wouldn’t want to take a four hour drive on the highway all the time with the iQ, but if your commute includes highway time, this Scion will do just fine.  Wind noise at speed is also very low, in part due the aero sculpting of the the car in the wind tunnel.  It’s had to believe, but the iQ had a drag coefficient of just .31!

The Scion iQ will be available in dealers on the West Coast beginning in early December, and roll out across the rest of the country in stages through March.  Scion are looking to sell about 2,000 iQ’s per month once the car is released across the country, and they do expect sales to be concentrated in areas like L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York and Chicago, areas where the iQ would fit well into tight urban environments.

Going in we didn’t know what to expect with the iQ, really all we’d ever really seen of it were segments from Fifth Gear and Top Gear.  It will make a great commuter car, a great car for college students, or a car for people who live in cities who need cars for things like going to the grocery store, or running a number of errands where a Zip car service or public transportation wouldn’t work out.  We have to say walking away from our drive, that the iQ is a very impressive little car. 

Have a look at the full gallery of pictures of the iQ.