It Is Only Proper And Right And Proper

Seeing one of these is something of an event so I went to town with the photography. This is very probably the same one I saw last time, in another part of town.

As well as its brief life, the iQ is famous for being a latter day Cadillac Cimarron. Aston Martin smothered iQs in leather and sold them as posh city runabouts. Aston Martin understandably don’t want to disown their heritage, yes. When you read this kind of text you feel they might have overdone it though: “Cygnet was conceived, designed and built as a true Aston Martin. Including the many synonymous design cues featured across our model range including authentic zinc side-strakes, distinctive bonnet meshes, iconic grille and the legendary badge”.

If you want to know about the Aston Martin’s technical specification you only need to know the Toyota iQ’s technical specification. The fact Aston Martin didn’t change so much as one spring or damper makes the sentence “Cygnet was conceived, designed and built as a true Aston Martin” very likely to be the result of a rebellious copywriter seeing how much flatulent vapour she or he could get past the client before they realised they could not accept unlimited praise for their leathered and bumpered trinket.

There was no limit. “The Aston Martin Cygnet is the world’s most beautiful car and retains the record for the fastest time from Paris city centre to St Tropez by car. Every part of the car has been honed by decades of Aston Martin attention to detail”.  No. I can’t reasonably outdo the piffle of Aston’s own copy without veering into excessively obvious satire.

Aston Martin’s own satire is excquisitely well-judged. One more time: “Cygnet was conceived, designed and built as a true Aston Martin.” 

Notice it’s plain Cygnet and not the Cygnet. That adds a delicious twirl of pomposity. They borrowed that one from the Americans who drop the definite article from the model names of their cars: “Accord is Honda’s finest sedan” or “Century. By Buick”.

Shall we hear about the car in front of us now?

The joke with Cygnet was that it didn’t look one bit better than the Toyota. And indeed looked worse. The Toyota version hangs together almost seamlessly with some very original reworkings of the graphics and sculpture.

At the back the rear screen folds around the B-pillar to become a side window. This dark area flows down to the rear lamps and that in turn flows down via panel gaps to the body-bumper joins. Some of you might be wondering about the S-shape flowing from the top of the side glass down to become the rear lamp; the two curves are not the same. There is slight bump where the bodyside feature line meets the S-curve.

That small detail: see the image below….

Is worth a small lecture on compromise. I think that bump does not look so pleasing. The alternative, a completely smoothly sinuous S-curve would have looked wierder. So, Toyota’s designers forced the point and made a distinct break in curvature exactly where a wierdness would appear if the line had been smooth.

What was the iQ?  The iQ emerged as Toyota’s response to the Smart and should have been seen as a small but upmarket vehicle for customers who couldn’t force their Rolls Royce or Century into town or didn’t want the trouble of parking their Camry for what may just be a 4 km trip to get some organic cigarettes from the tobacconists.

The convention is that bigger cars are more prestigious and conversely smaller ones less so. Toyota had to bend that expectation. So, Toyota presented this as the small car for rich people. Lancias’s Ypsilon is like that and so too, I believe, is the Polo. The difficult part is that the luxury of the iQ is in the fact it is really easy to park and not in the way it drives or the way its interior is furnished.

You need a high iQ and a sense of modesty to accept this car. TopClarkson thought it was too expensive. £11,100 – £16,405, in fact. Parker’s had difficulty with the concept of corollary: “For: Compact dimensions”. And “Against: minuscule boot, only really a three seater”. That’s one up on the Smart. Actually it has four seats. Toyota really worked hard on this car.

Wikipedia helpfully lists the features that permitted the car’s 3 metre length:

A newly developed differential mounted further forward than usual; centre take-off steering gear; a flat fuel tank positioned underneath the cabin floor; Rear-angled shock absorbers to encroach less on rear passenger space; A smaller heater/air conditioning unit mounted centrally behind the asymmetric dashboard; slimmer seat design.

Making it all fit into a small space probably forced a lot of compromises which brings me to a great quote from David Pye (1978): “The requirement of accessibility is capable of giving rise to the most acute conflicts. One of the designer’s most familiar predicaments is to be faced with several things all of which for one reason or another simply have got to be in the same place. The enormous elaboration of modern devices makes this inevitable. They are systems of systems of systems, and they have ancillary, accessory, subsidiary, and every other sort of system combined and compounded with them. In addition, the requirement of accessibility is also capable of conflicting with those of economy, use and appearance.”  

That, in a few words, is the iQ and yet it all worked admirably but less sometimes costs a lot more to do. Putting the same components into a car just one metre bigger would have halved the base price. Not so interesting though.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “It Is Only Proper And Right And Proper”

  1. The iQ is a remarkable car because it had something that is nearly forgotten today: true mechanical innovation. Something really new made from stuff you can see and touch instead of bits and bytes.
    For a product that has effectively reached the end (and certainly passed the peak) of its useful development like the car that’s pretty impressive.

  2. The iQ was admirable in its intelligent approach to solving for a problem of today – moving the people of today (who are larger than they used to be) around the cityscapes of today (crowded, car unfriendly). I put it this way as I remember AutoCropley taking one to be seen by Alex Moulton, whose first response was to remark on how large it was. And so it is in overall volume compared to his beloved and celebrated Mini. The problem for Toyota was that it was pricey compared to other small city cars and even Superminis with which it was compared. Audi had similar issues of course with its earlier alternative, the A2.

  3. I like the iQ. It was a genuinely original and innovative design from a manufacturer more usually associated with mainstream conservativism (Prius excepted).

    However, one detail of the design has always jarred: the tail lights appear to have been “rotated” so that they slope downwards towards the centre of the car, an effect exacerbated by their internal graphics. This is most obvious in the rear three-quarters view above. It looks as though they have been borrowed from another car where they were originally installed so that the top and bottom edges (and internal graphics) were horizontal and the inner edge vertical.

    I hadn’t noticed the break in the S-curve, presumably caused by the need to accommodate the bodyside crease. I wonder if there’s a viewing angle where it does appear to be a smooth single curve? I won’t be able to explore this anytime soon as the iQ is especially rare in my rural backwater.

    1. Well I don’t seen many iQ’s in London either. That said the number of Smarts is also quite small over here compared to, say, Paris.

    2. ‘Well I don’t seen many iQ’s in London either.’

      Who are you, imposter?! Monsieur L’Aigle would never use such sloppy grammar!

    3. No, it’s definitely me. These things happen, even to the best of us pedants…

  4. Having been an early adopter of a Smart at the turn of the century I was obviously drawn toward the purchase of an IQ 3 cylinder automatic when it was introduced some nine years later. I found the IQ while being only a few inches longer to be more practical and on occasion was able to carry three adults incl driver and even four up with a little compromise. My only complaint was upon entering the seats are a bit lower than those in the Smart and nowhere near as supportive however the doors are huge allowing for easier access than anything else I can think of. The premium model too is well equipped with all the toys, climate control, self dipping interior mirror, auto wipers, leather seats, push button start, auto locking, auto fold mirrors and Sat nav.
    All in all a little luxury package with the tightest turning circle I have ever experienced, a real advantage as I found once while in gridlock on a city street, full right lock moved us into the adjacent lane and heading in the opposite direction with some bemused drivers left behind no doubt wishing they could do the same.
    The last car I experienced many years back that could replicate this tight turn circle was a Reliant kitten.
    Other positives were the generous width which gave the interior the feel of a much larger car plus the quietness of the engine and smoothness of the variable ratio transmission.
    A truly unique car, sad they were discontinued.

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