Fast forward to the 2050 Geneva Motor Show. One of the last exhibits in a pavilion dedicated to the ‘Glorious Internal Combustion Era’ will be the Toyota iQ. The 3D standee projected next to it will read something like this: “The Toyota iQ. This was Toyota’s personal mobility solution as the world was gripped by a devastating economic slowdown in 2008. Though Toyota was already making hybrids, the iQ was powered by an efficient three-cylinder internal combustion engine that cranked 996cc to develop 67 bhp. It could cruise at 120 kph and also return 23 kpl.”
So there. This is a museum piece for the future already. I liked the car the moment I saw the first pics and was waiting for an opportunity to get behind the wheel of one. And that opportunity came last month, on the eve of the 41st Tokyo Motor Show, when I visited the Mega Web—– a show of strength by the world’s largest carmaker in Tokyo where expensive real estate has been converted into a showroom cum shopping centre cum playground cum exhibition. And of course a ferris wheel that could be seen from space too. Well, almost.
The test track at Mega Web is bit of a joke though. It is narrow and speeds are restricted to 60 kph (100 when nobody is looking) and is essentially meant for giving sample rides to Toyota-struck people who visit the capital. Not exactly the place where you let loose a GT-R in anger then. But it proved more than adequate to get a feel of the little iQ.
In flesh, the iQ looks weirder than in the pictures. It is stubby, with a wheelbase that is shorter than that of the original Mini with no overhangs whatsoever, front and rear. The nose is reminiscent of zillions of electric car concepts from the last decade or so, yet from the A-pillar onwards to the chunky B (and the last) pillar, is an automobile that is as well-formed as any other bread-and-butter Toyota! Then the design proceedings come to an abrupt halt with a bit of design flair thrown in, in the form of a curved rear window and a straight-chop hatch door. Inside, the iQ is a clever car that showcases Japanese ingenuity to the core. The positioning of the engine and the design of the instrument console allowed the designers to mount the front passenger seat ahead of the driver’s seat — thereby leveraging enough room to accommodate a six-foot tall adult in the rear bench. This makes it a genuine three-seater (four, if the fourth passenger is not another basketball team-mate). The V-shaped central console houses aircon controls (either manual or automatic) and Toyota has lavished leather on select models underlining the fact that this is no cut-price car. Instrumentation is comprehensive too. There is not much room for luggage unless you are ready to fold the rear seat back down — that move unleashes enough room for two suitcases. In short, this car has enough space for people and luggage in the urban scheme of things (read school, supermarket, golf, airport runs).
In Japan, the iQ gets two engine options featuring variable valve timing — a 93 bhp 1.3-litre and a 67 bhp 1.0-litre motor. I sampled only the automatic model which uses the Super CVT-i transmission. This continuously variable transmission offers a good spread of torque without taking away the agility that makes the iQ an absolute point-and-shoot device. Scurrying away from signals (there were many at the Mega Web track!) is what the iQ is all about and never does it make you feel that you are driving an “ultra mini.”There is so much leg, elbow and head room that you are fooled into believing that you are driving something much larger — a grown-up hatch or even a small sedan. Aiding this feeling is brilliant ride quality despite the near-square footprint of the car. The car handled the cobble-stone patches with aplomb too. Despite the wide track, the narrow wheelbase will ensure that you get the judders if you hit a large speedbreaker in a hurry though. No amount of aggressive driving can get the iQ’s tail out of shape — because there is no tail to wag!
The electric power steering lacks feel and it is natural for one to steer out of situations as if you are driving something bigger and hence allow for more space than that is required. But, such is its agility that once you get the hang of things, the little iQ transforms into a motorcycle. What makes the iQ different from say the Tata Nano, is the kind of safety engineering that is built into it. A grand total of ten airbags including the driver’s, twin-chamber for the front passenger, front passenger seat cushion, driver’s knee, curtain shields and a rear window bag ensure that though you opted for a small car you have not opted out of the safety net. ABS, EBD, brake assist, vehicle stability control cum traction control and a host of active safety features borrowed from mainstream Toyota and Lexus models make this machine totally idiot-proof, if expensive to buy, at around Rs 7 lakh on-road in the UK. Yup, you can get 14 or 15 Nanos for the imported price of one technologically advanced small car, indeed. In short, with the iQ, Toyota shows the world what it is capable of. A small car with big-car attributes? Check. Now, can they produce a small car for emerging marketsthat can offer comfort, sophistication, safety and performance at an affordable price point? Come January 2010, we will get a glimpse of what the future looks like, as Toyota will be lifting the veil off its all-new hatch/sedan.
It may not be museum material like the iQ, but it will help us ride our mmediate future better.
Add to that reasonably large 15-inch wheels wearing thick rubber and you are tempted to pull one back and see if it scampers around the drawing room! But references to toys should end at this point since the fit and finish is so good that this supermini can warrant a Lexus edition for the Paris Hiltons of this world to drive. On profile, the iQ can’t help but ape the Smart but the nose-job — part inspired by steam engine cars of yore and part by F1 cars (I presume) — lends the car enough character and more.