It’s taken five years for Toyota to bring the iQ to market - a long time for any car, let alone a small Japanese hatch. But that’s what happens when you break new ground instead of recycling old concepts.

Under the guidance of chief engineer Hiroki Nakajima, and with a brief to take the same sort of lead in the compact city car genre as the Prius has among environmentally concerned customers, the iQ was to be a small car like no other before. It took two years of hard work by Toyota engineers and designers both in Japan and at Toyota’s France-based ED2 design studio before the concept was given the green light.

The concept behind the iQ is simple to express, but it must have been brain-meltingly difficult to realise: a city car that is shorter than an original Mini and will out-turn a London taxi, yet one that will seat four, offer first-class safety and cruise in comfort on the motorway. But that, apparently, is what Toyota has achieved.

It sees the iQ as an entirely different product selling to an entirely different customer; it’s for people who want a small car, not those who need a cheap one. The clue is in the price, which is high for the car's size even in base trim.

In addition to the standard 1.0-litre car, there’s also the iQ3, which comes with a 1.3-litre engine. This is the model that forms the bases of the Aston Martin Cygnet – available at nearly three times the price.

Top 5 City cars

  • The Volkswagen Up city car isn't revolutionary, it's just quantifiably better than the opposition

    Volkswagen Up

    1
  • Hyundai i10
    The Hyundai i10 is offered with either a 1.0-litre petrol engine or a 1.2-litre petrol engine

    Hyundai i10

    2
  • Panda’s 4 star EuroNCAP crash score falls short of some rivals

    Fiat Panda

    3
  • Renault Twingo
    The Twingo is a compact, rear-engined city car

    Renault Twingo

    4
  • Can Korea’s new supermini shine in a class packed with stars?

    Kia Picanto

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    24 April 2015
    Space and practicality has never been an issue for the Seat Leon ST, and thanks to a Cupra 280 engine it's now fast, too - but does it gel as a package?
  • First Drive
    24 April 2015
    Ariel's third model is the best yet - in fact, it's one of the best driving experiences we've ever had
  • Car review
    23 April 2015
    Mazda's Skyactiv tech revolution transforms its cheapest model
  • The new Espace is a seven seater and described by the company as a 'crossover'.
    First Drive
    23 April 2015
    Renault replaces its classic flagship MPV with a new take on the seven-seat utility vehicle, but it's not for sale in the UK
  • First Drive
    23 April 2015
    You won't find another premium, all-wheel-drive, seven-seat compact MPV like BMW's xDrive 2 Series Gran Tourer, but is there a reason for that?