Clever Toyota, Silly Price
By Andy Bannister
Toyota isn’t exactly renowned for making the most interesting and desirable vehicles in the world, but the Japanese giant’s latest urban small car, just being launched in Europe, looks set to change all that and cause a bit of a stir.
The iQ is tinier than anything on the road apart from the strictly two-seat Smart Fortwo, and deploys some genuinely innovative technology to make the most of space available. It’s cheeky, well equipped, tiny and cheap to run – just the sort of city car needed in these troubled times, you’d think.
The small and practical theme doesn’t extend to the price, however. Toyota is going for the premium buyer tired of the (equally pricey) Smart and attracted to larger models like the Fiat 500 and the Mini. The little 1.0-litre iQ costs around £10,000 in the UK (some $15,000).
Although firmly anchored at the bottom of Toyota’s European range by nature of its size, the iQ is therefore more expensive than two of its larger sisters, the much more mainstream Aygo and Yaris.
At under 10 feet long, it is billed as the world’s smallest four-seater, although it only just fits that bill – the way the rear seat works means the backrest is virtually leaning on the rear hatch, with the rear passengers peering out of the small side windows at the back.
Toyota’s engineers went back to the drawing board to make the car as space-efficient as possible. The fuel tank is flat, equipment like the air-con system has been designed to take up much less room than normal. The engine has been canted to maximise interior room, and the dashboard is a long way forward to create an admirably airy front cabin.
To be fair, many city cars only carry one or sometimes two people most of the time, so the iQ is ideal in that role, and its tiny dimensions and sharp turning circle will make it a doddle to drive and park, even though it isn’t nearly as narrow as tiny cars used to be.
Carrying four people with absolutely no luggage space is possibly not a very useful accomplishment apart from on the shortest of city journeys, so Toyota is making much of the iQ’s so-called 3+1 seating capability – the front passenger can push their seat quite far forward to make room for an adult passenger behind, leaving a reasonable amount of stowage capacity with the remaining rear seat folded down.
With such innovative design solutions used to create the car, it is a pity Toyota hasn’t made the look of the interior itself that special – it certainly can’t compete with the quality-retro appeal of the Fiat 500, for example.
It can be notoriously difficult to make a profit on a very small vehicles, and new thinking in the city car sector doesn’t always pay off handsomely in terms of sales.
Peugeot found this out with its rather strange and pricey 1007 model, whose key selling point is its sliding front doors and a cosseting interior. In practice it has not proved a great success, or struck a chord with moneyed city buyers.
Toyota’s track record on product planning is rather surer than Peugeot’s, however, and the iQ has already received an ecstatic welcome back home in Japan. The fact remains, however, that small car buyers who want an iQ will have to ignore two other competent and cheaper offerings in the company’s European showrooms.
A Yaris, at least in its more basic 1.0-litre versions, costs less, as does the entire range of Toyota’s other small European offering, the minimalist Aygo, which is also quite a stylish little vehicle aimed at a fashion-conscious young audience.
The Aygo range starts at around £7000 ($10,500) and offers the same three-cylinder engine as the iQ and similarly frugal running costs. It also has the ability to carry four passengers and some luggage, and even has the choice of a more practical five-door version.
With that in mind, anyone choosing a new baby Toyota with their head, rather than their heart, would probably be better off with the Aygo. Nevertheless, the stand-out looks of the iQ will probably make it a “must have” in the fashionable quarters of plenty of European cities, even in these challenging times.
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