Toyota Launches iQ Microcar

Toyota just launched its most miniscule production vehicle yet, the iQ. The tiny 55-miles-per-gallon four-seater will make its debut in Japan before the end of this year, and begin European sales in early 2009. Now that it’s headed to roadways in Japan and Europe, the question is whether or not the iQ will make it across the Pacific. And more importantly, are Americans ready for a call this small?

The Toyota iQ would comfortably slot in below the subcompact Yaris. But if the iQ does head to the US, specific modifications with respect to safety and structure would have to be made. The most significant changes would have to do with rear passenger protection. Even though the iQ is the world’s first vehicle to feature a rear window airbag, there is still a strong concern for passenger safety in a collision from behind. One proposal is to convert the iQ into a two-seater, eliminating the risk for back seat occupants.

As Toyota, Volkswagen, and other foreign car companies move in the direction of smaller, more efficient cars, it is important to note that American-based manufacturers like GM are showing little interest in pursuing the global microcar segment. In an interview with Automotive News, GM Europe President Carl-Peter Forster said, “These specialized urban vehicles have a limited market. I think the sweet spot is where we are with the Chevrolet Matiz.” The Matiz is a four-door subcompact—approximately the size of a Chevrolet Aveo—that has been criticized for its underwhelming styling. Some are surprised at GM’s unwillingness to go smaller in order to offset the fuel economy of its larger trucks and SUVs.

Toyota promotional video for iQ concept car.

The iQ is less than 10 feet long from stem to stern. It is powered by either a 1.0-liter three-cylinder gas engine, or a 1.4-liter turbodiesel. It is unclear which, if either of these two, would power the US version of this car. Inside, the four-seater is actually a three-and-a-half seater. One of the back seats is only large enough for either a child or one piece of luggage. Toyota engineers have done a number of things to maximize space in the iQ. They shaped the dash in a forward sweep to allow more legroom, provided thinner seatbacks, tucked the fuel tank beneath the floor, and eliminated the spare tire altogether.

The result is a super tiny, fuel-efficient car, with more room than one would expect, making it a strong global competitor to the Smart FourTwo, Volkswagen Up, and FIAT 500. The iQ is priced at around $14,000 for the Japanese market. Comparable pricing for Europe is expected.

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  • David. Richmond, VA

    Just so people know. I’m a 23 year old mechanical engineer about to graduate from college and I would buy one of these vehicles right away. That is if the car is below 10K

  • Goliath

    You will never see that car here in the U.S. Damn car companies are still sleeping with the oil companies…

  • Samie

    I’ll buy one if it was say $7,000 or less but it better have a cup holder and a macho/mean sounding horn and maybe some lightning bolt decals for the side of the car. 🙂 Don’t really see how you could get acceleration without the 1.4-liter turbodiesel. My question a three-and-a-half seater? Should be perfect for your every day soccer mom right? It would be funny to see one of those iQ Microcars cut off a huge SUV or F350 on the interstate.

    Why are so many questioning why GM has not jumped on this mini car hype? Honestly I can’t blame them on this one.

  • AfonzL

    Love this car but yes never will be sold in U.S. For Europe I see it being a huge hit.

  • Neil

    It is unlikely this car will make it to the U.S. because of the high auto safety requirements. The article mentions rear-crash standards, but any car this small must post extraordinary crash test safety numbers to overcome buyers’ skepticism about its safety.

    I will say this car is cute and would be ideal for commuting or running errands. And being small is an excellent approach to achieving high MPG.

  • kanejk

    Quite honestly, I enjoy this design.

    Many cars this small…are always so unappealing-but Toyota did well while having so little to work with.

    I’d buy it; if it were to ever come to the U.S.

  • Need2Change

    I think it should be sold, but I doubt that it will be priced below $14K.

    It could be popular in the cities, but many in the suburbs will opt to buy a Versa, Fit, or Civic for a little more, or something like the Aveo for a little less.

  • Dom

    I doubt we’d see the diesel engine in the US because Toyota is pushing hybrids here instead. And most Americans would only buy an automatic, so even IF the US gets the car, most people won’t see 55mpg here.

    However, what’s wrong with the 1.0L three banger?? Isn’t that what the Geo Metro had?? I’m sure this engine is more refined than the Metro’s at this point. I would of course prefer the little diesel instead…

  • Tote Barr

    As a viable alternative to the Smart car this is outstanding. I hope it makes it to this country.

  • Anonymous

    Even if this vehicle did make it to the US market, the mods required to meet US safety and emission standards would decimate the 55MPG number.

  • Paul Rivers

    Even if I was willing to buy a minicar, I still would NOT buy this one, Toyota or not. In a car this small your best bet for safety is to avoid hitting/getting hit by other cars and not get into an accident. I’d never feel confident about doing that because they destroyed rearward visibility with that pillar on the side where a window should be.

    This is an extreme example of Toyota’s new “styling over function” design process. I miss the days when Toyota made boring looking cars you could easily see out of! 🙁

  • Michael-59

    Absolutely would love to have one of these. I always feel safer and more in control in a small car. If this could sell for around $10K to $12K it would be a no-brainer for me. I’d give my Suzuki SX4 to my wife.

  • rytmitz

    This stuff is cutie. I’m willing to buy this one too.

  • Anonymous

    I think the car would be significantly cheaper, if it makes to the US, as most of the cars.
    And as far as I know, safety requirements in US are less demanding that those in Japan and Europe. Specifically, if you bring car to Europe from US, often you have to replace things like braking assemblies (for European version of the stuff from the same producer) to fulfill limits and register it in EU. Similarly, European producers strip down some tech. performance (thus cost) of their model for US and usually put more into eye candies. So typical American VW is not exactly same as the “same” model in Europe. However cars as small as those would be on the edge of possible design limits and most likely would be same everywhere. The concern is, that with so many SUVs, 4WDs and other large cars on the road in US, the probability of fatal crash in this small car would be really highter, as larger heavier cars have more kinetic energy.


    A noble concept and looks ergonomic. My idea of a Micro Car is a fun to drive, cheap build for the masses, & most importantly great design like the Peel P50, Messerschmitt Super Record Breaker, FMR TG500 Special, Brutsch (Opelit) Mopetta, Isetta, Berleley, Goggomobil Dart, among many others. Many of this microcars got over 70 miles per gallon with 1940’s technology.
    The bottom line is not who builds microcars Toyota, GM, BMW but how they are designed, a beautiful car, quirky but practical, think of electric, and other great options available today.

    See New York Times article on ZAP Electric Car

    Zero Emissions Boutique Factory

    The following link is for a Peel P50. Originally Recorded in 8mm film on the Isle of Man by the Peel Factory. This movie has no sound..


    I forgot to mention the fact that a Smart ForTwo takes 20 long seconds to go from Zero to 60 mph at $15,000USD and EPA of 36 miles per gallon there are better options.
    Do your homework Toyota, what we want is an exceptional 21th century automobile, vastly superior engineering, superb ergonomics, reliable, light and powerful, able to reach top highway speeds with ease, great stability and maneuverability, easy access, roomy, efficient, low noise, economic, and good workmanship, we want materials that don’t look cheap and panels that fit seamlessly, look at the past build for the future.

  • Loyal Toyota Owner

    As Toyota/Scion Dealers are already taking orders for this vehicle for delivery in Summer 2009 – you all posting “It’ll never be here in the US” ….Ahem….It’s already available here. Get informed. If the wussy Smart car made it here, you honestly think the Toyota mini car wouldn’t?

  • Driveit

    I test drove this car last week, and on the same day test drove a Smartfortwo. There is no comparison. The IQ felt much bigger inside than it looks. My parnter is six feet tall and had no problems driving it. It’s very nippy. It held the road. The turning circle is very small. It made the Smart seem like a heap of junk. Test drive one before you judge it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I want one. Now. Please.