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Scion iQ Concept: Up Close

The iQ Concept works. On one level it works because it’s just audacious enough to attract the young buyers to whom Scion has always catered — the demographic that found appeal in the brand’s early xB and xA despite their small size, modest power and distinctive styling. But it also works because of what it represents to any American buyer: a car that doesn’t give up too much in exchange for its small size and presumptive fuel efficiency.

The iQ, which is based on the Toyota iQ sold overseas, came out the day after GM and Segway introduced their two-seat, scooter-in-a-bubble PUMA. That thing’s a curiosity, but I don’t think anyone will take it seriously as the future of transportation. (We’ve heard that a few times before.) The iQ is an actual car that can attain speeds above 35 mph. I’ll go out on a limb here and say it will probably protect its occupants a little bit better, too. Americans are already concerned about driving a small car among SUVs and such, but many have already shown a willingness to take that chance with the Smart ForTwo.

When you get a closer look at the iQ, you see why it’s a better option than the Smart. The front seats are plenty roomy, like the ForTwo’s, the interior is pretty nice, like the ForTwo’s. (I’d say it’s nicer, but this is technically a concept, so the comparison isn’t really fair). The iQ is available with a manual, which the ForTwo hasn’t offered — which wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the Smart’s automatic weren’t so awful to drive (see our review). And finally, the iQ’s backseat is workable. It’s not exactly a throne back there, but it’s better than the ForTwo’s by dint of its existence. As the ForTwo name suggests, it has only two seats. That’s not the issue, though.

The issue is that the Smart has practically zero cargo space; the iQ has folding rear seats, so if you don’t have your kid brother crammed back there, you get real, usable carrying capacity. That’s the ForTwo’s fundamental problem. For how much you have to sacrifice to drive it, the ForTwo’s price should be lower and its mileage should be higher. Being a concept, the iQ would have to be adapted for U.S. safety and emissions standards. Scion vice president Jack Hollis says it would be at least a year away from U.S. dealerships if it does get the go-ahead. Regardless, it’s the right approach. I like it. I like it a lot.

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