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Chief engineer Hiroki Nakajima and the Scion iQ. He asks, with wryness, “Is it a coincidence that the tallest chief engineer at Toyota is also in charge of their smallest vehicle?”

The rectangular shape in the IP on the passenger’s side is not the glove box door, but the airbag door. (And it is interesting to note that the iQ has 11 standard airbags, including the world’s first rear-window airbag.) The glove box is under the passenger’s seat. The engineers removed the HVAC equipment from that area in the vehicle and moved it to behind the center stack. The passenger’s seat is slightly offset from the driver’s seat. The objective is to provide more leg room for the person in the rear seat behind the passenger.

“When designing a car that would ultimately be 10-ft long, I felt we had to make sure it didn’t appear unstable or weak, but have a sense of strength and stability. This led to the design concept: Stability and Dynamism. To achieve it, we thought outside the normally prescribed proportions for a car and gave it what I call a ‘perfect imbalance.’ The iQ has a broad, stable look with a width of 66.1 in. and a height of 59.1 in. to go with the 120.1 in. in length; and the wheels are placed as far as possible at the four corners of the iQ.”—Chief engineer Hiroki Nakajima

Scion iQ Sized Up

According to its chief engineer, Hiroki Nakajima,the Scion iQ’s name and essence are “a combination of ‘intelligent quality,’ the result of combining the best technology in a small, clever package.” Yes, and more—or is that less?

Six-and-a half years in the making.That’s a long time for developing a car. Especially nowadays. Especially as everything is operating at an Impatience Speed. Six-and-a-half years is the amount of time that Scion iQ chief engineer Hiroki Nakajima and his team of 150 people spent developing what he calls “the world’s smallest premium four-seater.”

 
And there is a simple reason why it took so long. It is a new platform. Nothing else like it in the parts bin in Toyota City.There is a new engine: a 94-hp, 1.3-liter four. It had to be designed so that it is exceedingly narrow and compact, in part to assure that the front wheels can turn at sharp angles (too big a block would mean shallow wheel wells, which would mean that there’s no way a 12.9-ft turning radius could be achieved). A new design. Just as the original Scion xB—the boxy one—was a manifestation of JDM design—as in “Japan Domestic Market,” the sorts of things that you’d find on the streets of Roppongi—the Scion iQ design is predicated on “J-Factor,” a Japanese technofuturistic approach to urban design. So it took a long time because there was nothing like it when they started to develop it. Yes, it was the clean-sheet.
 
A small sheet, yes, but still blank to begin with.
 
Listen to the Chief Engineer
“The iQ’s concept really began by envisioning who its customers would be and what kind of designs would interest them. We did focus-group interviews of young urbanites who are fashion conscious, consider themselves trend-setting rather than following, and like a level of sophistication in their lives. “A casual-but-edgy subcompact car design concept I call ‘On-the-Edge Value’ was developed, which is characterized by the iQ’s cleanly crafted, sharply contoured exterior surfaces, and I was encouraged by the feedback we received from the urbanites.”
 
Here’s the takeaway from that: the Scion iQ is a city car. A city car for the fashion-conscious. And while that maymake people think that the car may be cast in the mold of something like the smart fortwo, it is really a smarter forthreeandahalf.
 
A Different Interior Design Setup
The first thing to know about the interior of the iQ is that it has a backseat. And as one of the accompanying photos shows, big guys, not sylph-like models, can actually fit in the vehicle. The EPA passenger volume for the iQ is 73.8-ft3. The passenger volume of the smart fortwo is 45.4-ft3. While the iQ is small, the smart is smaller: the iQ is 120.1-in. long, has a 78.7-in. wheelbase, is 59.1-in. high, and is 66.1-in. wide; the fortwo is 106.1-in. long, has a 73.5-in. wheelbase, is 60.71-in. high, and is 61.38-in. wide. So while both vehicles are small, it is not exactly an apples-to-apples (or maybe that should be cherries-to-cherries) comparison.
 
The iQ’s front passenger seat is off-set in relation to the driver’s seat. That, combined with thin front seat backs, provides additional legroom for the person sitting behind the front passenger.
 
Why Air Con Affects Interior Space
Getting the front passenger seat moved up wasn’t merely a matter of repositioning the position of the rails in the floor. For one thing, they repositioned the glove box. They put it below the front passenger’s seat. (Perhaps given this location it ought to be called a “shoe box.” This—and another modification—allowed them to make the shape of the dashboard in front of that seat concave.
 
Given that there is a greater likelihood that there will be someone sitting in the front passenger seat on a regular basis than there is that someone will be sitting in the back right with no one in the seat in front of them means that the comfort of the front seat passenger had to be taken into account. The other modification that allows the concavity of the IP is the removal of the air conditioner fan and/or filter from the real estate in front of the passenger. And typically, the heater blower is positioned in the footwell of that passenger.
 
So for the iQ they engineered a compact air conditioning system that is directly behind the center stack, and the blower was moved there, as well. Thus, the ability to have space for the front seat passenger and the passenger behind  that person.
 
As for that other seating position: Think child.
 
Subcompact Car = Compact Components
Clearly, that is a compact packaging for the air conditioning system. And the engine is compact, too.
 
What’s more, they had to engineer a compact differential. In this case, the differential located ahead of the engine and transmission, at the front of the engine, not at the rear. This allows the front wheels to be pushed to the corners of the car, with little in the way of overhang.
 
Which leads to a high-mount rack-and-pinion steering system. An electricpower steering (EPS) system is used,with the EPS motor mounted high nearthe bulkhead so as to not take up space in the engine compartment. The steering column and the rack-and-pinion setup meet at the centerline of the vehicle, thereby keeping the front end compact.
 
The fuel tank, which holds 8.5 gallons,has a low-profile: the plastic tank is just 4.72-in. deep. It is located below the driver and the feet of the left-side rear passenger. It is ahead of the rear wheel, in a protected position. And the location also allows the rear wheels to be put to the corners.
 
Seats, instrument panel, HVAC system, differential, fuel tank: All of this had to be developed specifically for the iQ.
 
Increments Matter
Given the shape of the vehicle, which is, let’s face it pretty close to being a one-box, aerodynamics are important, especially as regards getting fuel efficiency. So they worked hard at getting this. And the coefficient of drag achieved is 0.31, which is actually better than the somewhat similarly boxy Scion xB, which has a 0.32 cd.
 
So consider the front. Although the shape on the corners of the front fascia seem to be predicated on style over substance—a nice touch to break up the otherwise undifferentiated polymer—according to Nakajima, they make a significant difference vis-à-vis the air management. If, he explains, it was simply a curved corner, then the majority of the air flow as the vehicle was moving forward would be, in that area, directly into the wheel well, which would cause buffeting. So the design actually channels the air—say about 80% of it—up and over the front fender, thereby reducing the problem of air going where it isn’t wanted. And he says that his actually has significantly measurable impact on achieving the 0.31 cd. (Similarly, there are vertical blades flanking the rear window on both sides, providing another small but measurable aero improvement.)
 
The Future Is Now
There are some who are skeptical of the raison d’être of Scion. Its sales haven’t exactly been overwhelming by almost any metric.
 
But Jack Hollis, vice president of Scion, makes a point, perhaps one with a more than a flick of corporate spin, about that subject: “The Scion brand has accomplished exactly what the company hoped for when it launched; we’re an investment in Toyota’s future. Over 70% of Scion owners are new to the Toyota family, and the new buyers that we bring into the family we keep. Eight out of the top 10 vehicles that Scion owners trade into are either Toyota or Scion vehicles.Our buyers are also the youngest in the industry, and the most ethnically diverse of the non-luxury brands.”
 
Which sort of makes you wonder: Why aren’t other companies that are as established as Toyota doing something similar?
 
Hollis describes the iQ as a car for a “New Urbanism,” as “a vehicle for a more progressive buyer whose transportation needs and desires are changing.” It remains to be seen how many fit this bill. But at least there is an acknowledgement that the shape of transportation is changing.