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The Toyota (Scion) IQ, is it a serious rival to the Smart Car?

I recently drafted a Blog on the Classic Car Connections Website suggesting that the Smart Fortwo 450 is a Modern Classic and giving various reasons in suppoert of that statement. If you are interested to read the Blog it can be found at

During research for the Blog someone mentioned the Toyota IQ as being a rival to the Smart Car. Now the Toyota IQ, known as the Scion IQ in the USA, has never really been on my radar, so I needed to do some more research.

The Smart Car 451 on the left, which for reasons detailed as follows would be a more comparable "rival" to the Toyota IQ than the 450 on the right

The reason the Toyota IQ has never been on my radar is because as a Smart Car lover I only had eyes for the one small car I really wanted and finally acquired in 2011. Consequently I didn’t bother to find out anything about the IQ, to me it looked like another small Japanese car which looked like most other Japanese cars around 2007 / 2008. It did not appear to have any individuality or “fun value”, unlike the Smart 450 or indeed the 451.

Slightly later versions of the two "rivals", the Smart with upgraded wheels, front grille and lower panels with DRL's fitted at the front.

From researching I found on the Internet in some Toyota IQ sales blurb the model name “IQ” is apparently “an initialism of the term intelligence quotient. The letters "IQ" also stand for "individuality", "innovation", "quality", a hint at its "cubic form" and also a "cue" for owners to embrace new types of vehicles and lifestyles”.

Well make what you will of that, that is sales talk for you, but for me who tends to ignore sales blurb it is a question of whether I like it or not. However the Japanese seem to be into the cube thing, having produced the Nissan Cube between 1998 and 2019 and other little boxy vehicles over the years. Me, I prefer curves and not boxes when it comes to car design.

Cube like? Well I can see a lot of curves in both car designs and not much in the way of a box or cubic form, unlike the Nissan Cube.

For those of you who do not know by now, the name Smart was derived from the watch manufacturer “Swatch”, the motor company who bankrolled the Smart brand by billions of pounds “Mercedes” and the word “Art”. Now you could add the IQ words "individuality" and "innovation" to describe a Smart Car, “quality” well to a great extent but there is nothing in the way of “cubic form” about a Smart Car. You can certainly say it is a work of “art”. As for embracing “new types of vehicles and lifestyles”, well Smart kicked off the two seater town car concept in 1998 designed to offer a small car specifically for one or two people to travel.

During my research I also discovered that the Toyota / Scion and the Smart Cars are regarded as a “Micro or Ultra Compact Car”, as opposed to a “Microcar”. The former relates to the overall dimensions of the car, and it seems 3000mm is the extent of the Micro Compact Car limit. Whereas the Microcar is one of those 500cc Axim and Ligier “cars” mainly found in France which are designed for 16 year olds and can reach 0 to 28mph in around 15 seconds.

Accepting the 3000mm rule as the definition of a “Micro or Ultra Compact Car”, ignoring electric cars, there is only a couple of “modern” cars which meet that criteria, those being the Smart 450 / 451 and the Toyota / Scion IQ.

The IQ is the larger of the two Micro Compact Cars being a “four seater” rival to the smaller two seater Smart Car 451, I will come back to the practicalities around the seating capacity later in this Blog. The IQ was produced between 2007 and 2016, which is about the same timeframe as the Smart 451.

Although the Smart Car 450 is smaller than the Toyota IQ, the Smart Car 451 being manufactured during the same timeframe as the IQ is deemed the direct rival. The Smart Car 450 is however certainly not a rival to the Toyota IQ, the IQ is a far larger and superior car from an engineering perspective.

The main differences between the IQ and the 451 in summary:

The IQ engine is in the front of the car and it is front wheel drive, unlike the 451 which is the opposite in both cases. The IQ has either a 1 litre or 1.3 litre engine, the 451 has a 1 litre in various forms of tuning, the quicker models being fitted with a turbo and “mapped” to increase performance.

The IQ boasts a 0 to 60 time of just over 11 seconds and a top speed of 106mph (1.3 engine), the 451 a 0 to 60 time of just under 11 seconds and a top speed of 95mph (1.0 Turbo).

Early versions of the two "rivals".

The IQ is either manual gearbox or fitted with a CVT transmission, the 451 only a Tiptronic transmission option.

The suspension system differs between the cars, which according to the various test reports makes the IQ a more comfortable ride. Although owner comments on social media forums often mention the effects of side winds with the IQ, this is also a problem for the Smart Car.

The IQ is about 300mm longer than the 451 and 160mm wider.

The main selling point by Toyota for the IQ appears to be the option for four seats, but in reality it is either 1 or 2 people seated in the back OR carrying luggage, both is not possible unless luggage is carried on their lap. Luggage cannot even be carried on the floor as there is simply insufficient space in the footwells.

The fourth seat it is suggested is suitable for a child, so the IQ is described officially as a 3 plus 1 (child). From owner feedback the general consensus is the IQ is a very cosy 3 seater and cramped with a 4th person. Which is highly likely to be a child unless the driver is quite short as room between the driver seat and the rear seat is insufficient for an average sized adult or todays teenagers.

Seating "four-up"in the IQ. One adult and three children fitting in nicely, the boy behind the adult in the "plus 1" seat.

Note the rear legroom with the drivers seat positioned as it is, which it seems is suitable for most average height drivers.

Luggage space with the rear seats in the user position.

I think the most interesting, well quite frankly really amazing, fact I discovered was the Smart 451 sold almost 832 000 cars worldwide between 2007 and 2017, whereas only 155 000 Toyota / Scion IQ’s were sold worldwide over a similar period.

The Smart Car 451 is a two seater, it is marketed and sold as such. The interior is cosy for two people, legroom is good for a tall person and the occupants are closer together than in the IQ because the Smart Car is 150mm narrower than the IQ. The interior options in the Smart car can however look very inviting and not like a dark cavern.

I just love the red interior, which is why my Smart Car has the same, although it is not as clean as this.

What do the owners think?

From the various “official” online reviews through What Car, Top Gear, Honest John etc, I have found the general view is that both cars have their issues but the IQ seems to come out better than the Smart 451.

The main issues for the presenters with the 451 seems to be the transmission and a dislike for “jerky” changes. Then there are the rattles and questionable handling. Toyota seems to have improved on the design for the technical issues, but they could not make the car as small as the Smart Car.

However speak to any IQ or Smart 451 owner and they will naturally defend the cars. In order to find out what IQ owners thought about the Smart Car I joined a couple of Facebook Groups specifically devoted to the IQ / Scion.

The IQ

Now I was not brave enough to ask IQ owners a direct question as to what they thought of the Smart Car compared to the IQ. However from what I have read in comments on various Posts they admit the IQ is not perfect with technical faults and paint peeling, but they feel it is a better car that the Smart Car. A couple of people said they have driven both cars, one IQ owner said the Smar Car was the scariest thing they had ever driven, well then they have never driven my son’s Caterham 7 if you want really scary.

Having driven the Caterham a number of times I never complain about the suspension or handling on the Smart Car.

Smart 451

I am already a member of two Smart Car related Facebook Groups, plus I have owned a 451 for over 10 years, but I have never seen any mention on those Groups about the IQ. So wording the question for a Smart Car specific Facebook Post asking for constructive comments about the IQ I received the following comments, which I feel are well balanced and indeed constructive.

Comments as follows:

  • I brought an IQ when they first came out. It was the larger engine one and quite nippy. You could get 3 normal adults and a shorter one behind the driver! Did about 10k miles, I’ve since had 2 smart cars, both Brabus models, the 1st was a 450 and the current one a 451 1litre. It’s tuned so excellent as most of you know. So, the difference in driving, the IQ is more stable, doesn’t get blown sideways by a draft of wind and is more economical than either of my Brabus. The Smarts have character, both in their appearance and in the way they drive. The IQ apart from the front which in white looks like a storm troopers helmet, has very little character and a pretty mundane driving experience. Nothing wrong with that but my Smart you look forward to drive.

  • I sat in an IQ in a showroom, and later test drove it prior to buying my used 66-plate Smart Cabrio. It was cheap-feeling inside. Everything felt very light and plastic-y, and the seats were very uncomfortable for a 5'9 woman. The doors felt very light to close and there were no details inside that felt either clever, well-designed, or "extra," either on an ergonomic scale, or physical. I felt... absolutely nothing. I had no emotional reaction to it whatsoever. In fact, even just sitting in it in the showroom gave me a sense of "flatness." I had zero curiosity about its performance quality, or driveability. Test driving it was a chore. There was nothing about it that made me smile; no surprises, no elements to it that made me want to buy it. It was a complete void of emotion - not just in build, performance, and design, but in driver pleasure. I work in automotive journalism, I write about cars - Porsche - all day long. And yes, I'm a target for derision in owning a Smart amongst the Porsche community, but I know what I like, and I like a motor that's going to surprise me. The IQ was most definitely NOT IT.

  • I think part of the answer is that if you need 4 seats you might as well go for a slightly bigger alternative such as VW Up, Citroen C1 etc. Short length only "works" when maximised for 2 seats in the Smart. Also the styling of the Smart, pods inside etc create a bit of interest, a bit funky etc ! I think the Toyota would have been better with only 2 seats and slightly better styling.

  • Own both both brilliant cars... IQ never missed a beat but doesn’t have the smarts fun factor. I love the Aston Martin treatment of the IQ, makes my IQ interior look like a 60's lada

  • Certain people buy smarts and certain people buy Toyotas, problem is that your normal Toyota buyer doesn't want a tiny car. Toyota haven't been great on styling for decades and the interiors of Toyotas is typical of Japanese cars, cheap low quality plastic.

  • i have one of these as well as my 453 the IQ interior is very bland and 2 useless seats at the back, great on fuel but lacks power, the smart puts a bigger smile on my face

  • I think one of the big advantages of Smarts was the brand. Its a fashion statement. Its a fashionable car. IQ like most Toyotas was sold as a car for those with particular needs. It wasn’t flashy or fashionable in the same sense.

So some interesting and constructive feedback from Smart Car owners, and indeed IQ owners who also own Smart Cars.

Who is driving what?

A good indication as to the popularity of cars is often highlighted by the number of celebrities who own or are seen driving them. Having searched the Internet I have found images of several “A” list celebs in a Smart Car, but none picured in or even near a Toyota IQ.

Someone on the Toyota / Scion Facebook Group forum mentioned Kobe Bryant, the USA basketball player who was sadly died in a plane crash in January 2020, drove one for a promotion. Unfortunately I could not find any images of him with an IQ.

Apparently the owner of the car in the following image claimed it was used by Kobe Bryant for promotional work. Maybe so, but to make the car worth the extra Dollars there needs to be evidence in the form of images or paperwork.

I quite like the graphics, the wheels and the revided shaped headlights and front grille. This is the Scion version of the IQ, the modifications make it look, well more aggressive really

And here is Kobe again promoting another brand of car.

This time he is promoting the same brand of car with the help of an elephant pictured on the roof.

Some shady looking A List celeb bloke trying the doors to make sure they are locked.

Finally, this troubled young lady singer has finally been allowed out by her dad and is out for a spin in her Smar Car with her boyfriend.

Now if she had a 3 plus 1 IQ and not a two seater 451 her dad could have sat in the back.

Sales figures, 832 000 v 155 000 in favour of the Smart Car 451, why would that be do you think?

Possibly one of the most significant factors for the difference in sales figures is tbecause there were three Smart 451 models launched compared with the Toyota IQ's one model, albeit with two engine sizes. A base model Smart 451 coupe, a coupe with upgraded trim and engine options which would later include a Brabus trim and most importantly a Cabriolet.

The Toyota IQ and the Smart Car 451 hardly share any similarity, apart from the fact they are both within the “3 metre” Micro or Ultra Compact Car category and they both competed for the same market sector.

From an engineering and design perspective they are completely different cars. From the motoring press reviews and owner feedback the IQ it seems it is a nice little well engineered car, so clearly buyers were not convinced to opt for an IQ as a "safer bet".

Pictured at the Haynes Motor Museum, some lovable small cars. Yes that is a Smart Car 450 in the background.

Even in a base level appearance the 451 looks, well quirky and fun, but the IQ in its base form looks like any other small Japanese car. With both cars the appearance is improved with cosmetic modification, ie vinyl wrapping, lowered suspension, body panels and wider wheels, but then not everyone wants to modify their car just to make it look more interesting.

39.2 million cars registered in the UK, 155 000 IQ's sold worldwide, so what are the chances of spotting one "in the wild" in the UK

My local classic car Facebook Group asked members who spot old cars during their normal day to post images on the Group Page under “Classics in the Wild”. My most successful finding place is the local supermarket car park where I have seen some really nice old cars.

Knowing the IQ sales in the UK was comparatively small numbers, imagine then my surprise when I got back to my car one day and this IQ was parked up opposite. I mean what are the chances of spotting a Toyota IQ, so I did a bit of research and came up with some figures

There was at the end of 2021 39.2 million cars registered in the UK

A total of just 16621 Toyota IQ’s were sold in the UK, 3835 of which were black

Therefore it would seem there is a 1 in 2360 chance of spotting by chance amongst other cars any Toyota IQ in the UK, and a little over 1 in 10 000 chance of spotting a black Toyota IQ.

Spotted on a 1 in 10 000 chance

And again, a 1 in 2360 chance of spotting an IQ in my home town a couple of months later. I did in fact spot yet another IQ in the town within the same time frame, clearly there are more about than you think.


The Smart Car (451) is a simple concept to transport two people about town and on more open roads in a very small car. If you only need to accommodate two passengers and some luggage you need only buy a Smart Car.

The Smart Car design is eye-catching and quirky, dare I say “cute”. There is simply too many dull cars on the roads today., certainly that was the case between 2007 and 2016 when the Smart 451 and the IQ were produced. The fact the Smart Car range included both a Coupe and Cabiolet was a signficant factor in the number of sales, and added to that the colour options made them so much more desirable than the IQ.

Red with a red interior, ooooooo

conservative Smart, certainly not in this classy blue

Once the special editions were released, .............

From official Press reports it seems the IQ is a better engineered car. But maybe Toyota tried to be too clever with the design of the IQ and it is (was) an exercise in taking a small and compact car design and making it even smaller and more compact. It is something the Japanese have a great deal of experience in and do it very well. Their home market is crowded with them, but they do not seem to be in abundance in Europe and certainly not North America where they like big vehicles.

Without doubt the Toyota IQ is a good little car, in reality better engineered and better handling than the Smart 451. The Smart Car 451 has its engineering and handling quirks, but then to so does the Toyota IQ. You either get used to it, accept it is not perfect or sell it / do not buy one.

Is then a Toyota IQ a serious rival to the Smart Car, well from my research and comparing the two cars I do not think it is. The Smart Car is a very different car to the IQ catering for a niche market with its unique design including a quirky fun element. Wheras the IQ tries to offer a lot more but sadly it has become a large two seater and a small cramped four seater which does not have the same quirky fun aspect as the Smart Car. It is conservative with a small c.

So what is the rival to a Toyota (Scicon) IQ

The IQ the result of the extremely expensive exercise conducted by Toyota where they produced a car which will carry 3 plus 1 passengers OR luggage, or a combination of both. If you need to accommodate four passengers AND luggage you need to buy a car which is around 400mm longer, such as a Toyota Aygo.

I guess comparing the sales figures for the Toyota IQ and Toyota Aygo, the latter with sales totalling just over 854 000 between 2005 and 2016 compared with 155 000 IQ sold over the same period, a lot of people came to the same conclusion.

The two "rivals" kept apart by the four seater Toyota Aygo

Toyota Aygo, a mere 420 mm longer than the IQ

A proper 4 seater for four adults

with seperate dedicated luggage space

Therefore I would suggest the main rival to the Toyota (Scion) IQ is a Toyota Aygo

Going back to the original question is the Toyota (Scion) IQ a serious rival to the Smart 451?

In my view in a word NO. The Smart car is a unique two seater iconic design and caters for a specific market. There is no rival.

What do you think?

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1 Comment

Peter Watson
Peter Watson
Mar 23, 2022

My 'Smart 4/2 lives in the Concorde Charisma 'garage' for use when i park up.I dont think the toyota iq woud fit ,and is probably heavier anyway.

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