Sunday 5 December 2010

Driven #10:- Toyota IQ

Let’s get the whistlestop review over with as quickly as possible. As an urban runabout the Toyota IQ makes a lot of sense. It takes up very little road or parking space; it’s less than ten feet long overall. It has been proven economical and will cost very little in road tax and, depending on who and where you are, insurance. It is also, within its remit, very pleasant to drive. Additionally it doesn’t feel like it’s trying as hard to create an image as other town-biased cars seem to, things like Smarts, Alfa Mitos and Minis. Toyota IQ drivers look a lot less like smug pillocks than Smart drivers do.
However, on the negative side, it’s very expensive for a small Toyota. And that’s it. Review over.

Except it isn’t really. That the IQ is an effective and valid small car was never really in question. The thing is, it seems to me that it could so easily have been so much better.

Job number one for the Toyota designers was to fit as much accommodation as possible into as small a footprint as was humanly possible. They’ve been very clever in how they achieved this, using the old three-cylinder Aygo engine in such a way as to take up remarkably little space. It’s been canted over at such an angle as to allow the passenger firewall to be moved forwards, giving loads of stretching-out room in front of their seat. In fact, so much space was created that, with the passenger seat slid forward on its runners, there is space for somebody to sit in the back. Two moderately tall folk can just about sit in tandem, remarkable for such a short car.

Obviously, to package a car with a single, offset rear passenger seat is a little odd, so they’ve made an effort to stick a seat behind the driver, too. Here we must remember that the drivers firewall is nowhere near so forward set as the passengers. This means that the driver is forced to sit further back. In fact, somebody like me, who, at 6’5” looks pretty ridiculous in most cars you care to mention, the drivers seat is actually compressed against the squab of the rear passenger seat.

Worse is the fact that, with that seat in its rearmost position, not only is it a seat only suitable for those bereft of legs, but you can’t really install a proper child seat there, either. The seat base is quite short, even if you do manage to fit a decent child seat, said child will get so utterly upset with staring at the back of your head from close quarters he’s likely to hurl semi-digested rusk and Heinz baby casserole at you.

Unfair, you will all cry. This is a tiny car, you can’t expect it to have as much space in it as a Fiesta, and I concur. Thing is, does it really need to be that tiny in the first place? By embarking on a quest to fit the car into as little road space as possible, they came up with all manner of clever little packaging solutions, as mentioned above. So, why not apply those to a car of a sensible size?

What would happen if an extra 12 inches was added behind the drivers seat? As far I as I can see, it would have the following effects. Firstly, it would have more interior space, whether for passengers or for the boot. The exsisting boot space, well, frankly doesn’t exsist. Of all the IQ drivers I know most of them habitually drive with the rear seats folded down, providing a sensibly sized area to store stuff. Ironically, this makes the package basically the same as a Smart car. 

Secondly, it would make the car more attractive to look at. To style the IQ conventionally would have been a very challenging task indeed, so Toyota went for a look which didn’t follow any traditionally accepted vision of sporty, dynamic or elegant. The IQ stands as itself, if there were more in circulation it would become instantly identifiable. It ain’t pretty, though, and suffers from the twin problems of too-much-going-on in the side profile, and the unfortunate squatness of a car almost as wide as it is long. 12 inches amidships would be enough to give the car some semblance of balance and proportion. Here is my 30-second Photoshop of the car with an extra foot added:

Thirdly, I am sure that, had the IQ been conceived as an eleven-foot-long car rather than a ten-foot-long one, it would be seen as even more of a packaging masterpiece than how it ended up. Ok, the “four-seats in the length of a Smart” headlines wouldn’t apply, but then it hardly does anyway as at least one of those seats is useless. Launched as a slightly sub-Yaris sized car, customers would marvel at the use of space and wonder why nobody thought of it earlier.

My biggest problem with the IQ as it stands is that the Aygo exsists. This is the cheapest car Toyota sell but a far more practical machine, it even has the option of five doors. The Aygo is an inexpensive car because it is built it to a cost. Not cutting corners, nor building it shabbily, but finding the most economical ways to do things. As a family car it is perfectly acceptable, with space, just, for four adults. It even has the same engine as the IQ. You have to wonder if the pricing is wholly justifiable.

And there’s the rub. Toyota is chasing a different marketplace, the buyers of so-called boutique cars. A difficult category to pin down, it includes cars like the Fiat 500, Alfa Mito, Mini and the Smart. Cars which aren’t cheap, make some kind of alleged style statement, but don’t do anything much better than less expensive cars, if you’re just looking for transportation. It seems to be working. People are buying the IQ despite the fact that the Aygo is cheaper, so all that perceived “style” and cleverness must be worth something.

But, were it just slightly bigger, which would have been so easy to do, the IQ could have been so much more. It could easily have redefined the small car, introducing clever thinking where it’s rarely been seen before. It could honestly have been the first true leap of small car evolution since the original Mini.

As it stands, as good as the IQ is, it annoys me every time I see it.