Green Update: Three Hotted-Up City Cars

Scion iQ RX

There are three transformed Scion iQ city cars at SEMA, each interesting, but the one that caught my attention is the iQ RX version, above, by Jon Sibal. The pumped-up and pimped-out cars that typify SEMA are frequently joke material, but Sibal’s car is beautiful, I think.

Details are here and include an engine fitted with a Nitrous Express injection kit. How’s that for improving fuel economy? It’s also got “an Xbox 360 game console, 32-inch Samsung LED TV and an Apple iPad2.” I know, I know.

Michael Chang’s iQ-RS, more straightforward in design, is strictly for racing and is fitted out with all the goodies you’d expect. More pix after the break.

Why are these guys modifying the iQ? Because it is coming to Scion stores soon and is arguably the best of the small city cars, or micro-subcompacts. It’s not like driving a go-kart, but the iQ is very different from most larger cars in being nimble, sporty, eminently parkable and stable—especially compared to the Smart fortwo.

Scion iQ-RS

Michael Chang's Scion iQ-RS

See iQ reviews by David Undercoffler and Ryan Fleming. (In Europe, the iQ is a Toyota; in the U.S. it will be a Scion.)

The same appeal pertains to the Fiat 500 (below right), which doesn’t seem quite as well engineered. But don’t tell that to Fiat, as they are bringing the 500 Abarth version to the U.S. and showing it at the L.A. Auto Show, opening November 18.

The only details confirmed about the new car are that it will be powered by

an all-new 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged four, kept in check by upgraded brakes, handled by a sportier suspension, controlled by a higher level of technology and conveyed by a more aggressive appearance.

Fiat 500 Abarth Esse-Esse

The European Abarth 500 can be had in two versions—with 130 or 160 hp. The latter comes with the Esse-Esse kit. There’s an interesting history of Abarth in the press release at the end of Autoblog’s story.

Fiat won’t sell a ton of these cars, but people who want more performance in a city car with some sharp looks and the cachet of the Abarth name could be willing customers. I might just be one.

What do the Europeans know that we don’t know about microcars? Would you consider one if it had decent performance?

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Smart fortwo
Used Fiat 500


  1. The micros can be great little fun cars, and apparently a good way to young folks to wallow in debt at an early age. What do you get when you bolt $20,000 worth of junk onto a micro like the Scion? An overweight, squeeking monstrosity that you can’t sell to anyone. No doubt all the added weight is the reason for the nitrous kit, which BTW should be decisively BANNED in the USA for street cars. So now you have an overweight, overpriced, squeeking, groaning, rattling car that can quickly get to a speed where it is unstable and unsafe. BTW, I’ve got a lot of seat time in the Abarth 500. We had one in our development fleet and it is a fun, fun, fun little car. Just the right balance between a few extras that enhance handling and performance and common sense, unlike the SEMA monstrosities.

  2. Thought it was Hollerin’s post and thus the closet reference. I have no problem with sardine cans that are well made, are efficient, roomy and comfortable. Just sat in or drove the Rio, Accent, Civic, Cruze, Versa, Yaris, Mazda 2 and 3 and a couple others in the last two weeks. Yes, I have no life! I am 6’3″ and 210 pounds and I will always struggle with the dimensions of sardine cans. In a picture of a recent trip that you posted, if it is you, you appear to not share my dimensions and are probably less finicky about room that I. All are pretty cheaply made with Mazda the only exception and they lack the basic amenities that that they should have. None have power seats, telescopic steering wheel, and all have a minuscule arm rest placed damned near in the rear compartment rendering it useless. All are underpowered but they are very fuel efficient.

    If fuel efficiency is your only criterion then all would work for someone that doesn’t demand comfort and room. In a Megalopolis these cans would probably suffice and will serve the purpose quite well. For those who demand more when fuel efficiency is required or demanded, then clearly these minicars just won’t do. As to your claim of fun to drive only the Mazda might fit into that category. If we are to talk about “fun to drive” for geezers in my age group, the Genesis immediately comes to mind. The defunct Grand National and Marauder were fun for these old bones. But none of these is or was a sardine can so maybe I’m missing the point of efficiency and fun to drive. Perhaps some of your readers could chime in here and offer up their opinions on what constitutes a car that “makes sense”, is “fun to drive” and fuel efficient.

    PS to Hollerin: NO it wouldn’t be great. The true cost of gasoline is between 13-14 dollars per gallon. I don’t believe that Americans or readers here would EVER give up their trucks, SUVs, vans, and luxocruisers for a sardine can. Even in Europe people are loath to give up their Bimmers, Benzes, Volvos, Peugots, Jags, and others. If we ever get to the $14 per gallon true cost of gas I fear that many auto makers will disappear. Just one man’s opinion.

  3. @
    @ panayoti
    Señor P: I am always out of the closet! And I really do like small cars which, in my view, just make better sense and are way more fun to drive. They are also more efficient, by and large, and in cities more practical. You hit me with the sardine can thing again, and all I can say is it just ain’t so, unless you drive a Smart perhaps. If the Scion iQ (or something similar) can make it in the US as a city car we will finally start to see common sense reestablished. Maybe.

    Hollerin: Wouldn’t it be great if Americans actually paid for the true cost of the gasoline they burn? That might change some of our car priorities bigtime.

  4. Evidently small means efficient and practical in Europe. Small here means sardine can. Cheap, crowded, underpowered and dangerous. The price point here makes no sense because you can buy 6 or 7 cars here that are roomier, cheaper, safer and more fuel efficient. What makes sense in Europe doesn’t necessarily translate that way here.

    PS Come out of the closet more often. You might provide a middle ground to us old grumpy guys and the testosterone driven young ‘un.

  5. I think Europeans have different car priorities than Americans. Streets and parking spaces are often smaller, and gas costs a *lot* more there than it does here. No wonder they buy more small, fuel-efficient cars than Americans.

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