The first time I saw the Smart car was in a "studio/salesroom" in a tony shopping area of downtown Milan, sometime circa 1998 or 1999.
It was one of those "Wow!" moments when our family group first saw this mashup of Mercedes-Benz engineering and the two-tone color schemes of the then-wildly popular Swatch watches.
Seeing them on Italy's roadways was equally eye-catching. And the idea of being able to park almost anywhere there might be a space was attractive too, especially in Italian cities where parking spaces are almost non-existent and always filled.
When we tried our rudimentary Italian on the sales associate, the message was clear: The Smart wouldn't meet American emissions or safety standards so there was no chance it would be imported to the United States. Eventually, however, Mercedes found a way to accomplish both, and in 2008 the Smart became the smallest car on the American market.
Well, here comes the second-smallest vehicle in our parts — and the world's smallest four-seater — the Scion iQ, joining the Scion lineup alongside the xB, xD, and tC.
Is America ready for a car that takes up half a parking space? Judging by Smart's slow sales, right now it's a toss-up. Down the road, the marketplace will answer that question, and we do tend to like vehicles that are inexpensive, reliable, and get good fuel economy. The iQ seems like a winner on all three counts. Base price (including destination) is $15,995, it's should have Toyota/Scion reliability, and it's rated at 37 miles per gallon (combined). We'll see it at New England dealers in January.
Scion has lengthy styling descriptions of the iQ, but it really looks like a slightly elongated Smart or something that Pixar would want to incorporate into a "Cars 3" movie sequel as Lightning McQueen's little neighbor in Radiator Springs.
Reasons to like the iQ:
Design innovations. A compact front differential, high-mount steering rack, and compact air-conditioning unit allowed for front-end space savings. The rear is shortened by having a flat gas tank mounted under the floor, slim-back front seats to optimize rear legroom, and the "3+1" offset seating allows one adult to sit behind the front passenger and a child or small package behind the driver.
Size. The 78.7-inch wheelbase is about three feet short of the US norm and the overall length (120.1 inches) is at least eight feet shorter.
10 airbags (a driver's seat cushion airbag and a rear window airbag) plus safety tech (ABS, traction control, stability control, electronic brake distribution, and Smart Stop brake-override technology (to kill Toyota's unintended acceleration controversy once and for all).
Full audio controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity, and high-end sound system.
That's why Scion is calling it a premium micro-subcompact.
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About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee