There are few car brands that can turnover their lineup with new models at just one auto show. But that’s what Scion did at the New York International Auto Show earlier this month, exactly eight years after it debuted its first concepts under Big Apple spotlights. For the 2011 model year, the Toyota spin-off brand debuted an all-new mini-car called the iQ, a fully redesigned version of its best-seller the tC coupe and a slightly refreshed version of the boxy xB. Its fourth model, the xD remained untouched, but three out of four is still an impressive feat.
2011 Scion iQ
Jack Hollis, vice president of Scion, joked at his New York auto-show press conference that the Scion iQ is a "Minier and Smarter vehicle," which makes it pretty clear what the iQ will compete with. It's about as wide as the Mini Cooper, but taller — roughly as tall as a Smart ForTwo. From bumper to bumper, it's between the two at 120.1 inches. The ForTwo is 106.1 inches and the Cooper 145.6. In person, if you look at it from certain angles, the iQ looks sizable. Must be the height and width.
I'd say the iQ is surprisingly roomy inside, but automakers have gotten so good at this that it's not surprising anymore. I should specify the front seats are quite roomy. Scion calls the seating arrangement "3+1," meaning three adults and a kid, because there's less room behind the driver. The two rear seats have the headroom, but the legroom depends on which side — and the generosity of the people in front.
In terms of the interior design, Scion took some risks with the shapes but didn't go too far. I think the iQ beats the Cooper, which goes a bit overboard with its enormous-yet-legibility-challenged speedometer and other examples of whimsy overload. With the usual caveat that auto-show interiors can look better or worse than the eventual product will, I'll say I'm impressed with the materials in this car.
As for cargo space with the backseat raised, "zero" might be too strong a word, but it's pretty close. The rear head restraints are practically in contact with the liftgate, which explains why the iQ will debut the first rear-window curtain airbag. (I think most car shoppers would find less attractive any car that uses passengers as a crumple zone.) Fortunately, the seats fold flat, which gives you usable cargo volume — seemingly more than the Smart ForTwo, but there are no dimension specs yet. Also note that the ForTwo, as its name suggests, makes no effort to seat four. Scion seems to have the better approach.
2011 Scion tC
Scion kindly placed a 2010 tC near the redesigned 2011, which really illustrated how much it's changed. The front end looks more mature. The headlights recall the Kia Forte, which in turn recalls the Honda Civic, but a large lower grille helps distinguish the tC as a Scion and visually grounds the car. Blacked-out A-pillars change the side view dramatically. Though the tC is still a coupe, the shape of the rear side windows accentuates the dropoff in the roofline, hinting at a sedan profile — at a time when automakers seem desperate to make their four-doors look like coupes.
Reactions to the interior are mixed. When I first tested the tC, the interior quality was ahead of its time, and many passengers thought the car was considerably more expensive than it actually was. From today's perspective, some of the 2010's surfaces are pretty hard, but I think the quality is still good. Not class leading, but good. One of our editors thinks the 2011 is better, and another thinks it's not as much of an improvement as it needs to be. I submit it might be a step back. The surfaces aren't much softer, and there are about five different textures in there. Not much harmony. Scion says the interiors are production-ready, but I should disclaim that this is a show car, so the real product could end up being better. However, the same goes for the Scion iQ, whose interior I praised. It could turn out worse.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is the new sport steering wheel, which has a good feel to it. The slightly flattened bottom, like that on the Volkswagen GTI, is a nice sporty cue that gives more leg clearance.
2011 Scion xB
Many Scion xB fans didn’t like the redesign of the boxy compact nearly three years ago. Maybe that’s why Scion decided to revise a bit of that new design for the 2011 model year. When you see it in person — it’s on sale now — it doesn’t strike you as remarkably different.
The most notable change is the jutting front bumper, which is similar to the original model’s chinlike protrusion. The headlights, taillights, and front and rear bumpers also get restyled. Besides that exaggerated chin, most of the changes are subtle.
Inside, the seats get a new lighter gray fabric, and the front seats get beefed-up bolsters. A new center console has an adjustable armrest, and the steering wheel adds a telescoping feature to its previous tilt. That’s what Scion tells us, but besides the patterns on the seats, it was hard to note any changes to what is a pretty Spartan interior. However, the xB retains its cavernous cargo area, which is a big selling point.
It took just one auto show, and very little fanfare, for Scion to reinvigorate its lineup. It’s been seven years since Scions first went on sale, promising to change the way cars were sold to a new generation of buyers. That didn’t exactly happen, but we’re still getting unique vehicles that may have never seen the light of day with a Toyota emblem on the hood.