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Imagine the unlikeliest candidate in the world for a soup-up job. No, try harder: something even dafter than a Merc G-Wagen AMG. Meet the factory-tuner version of the iQ, Toyota’s tiny cube-shaped premium city car aimed at people who don’t have the slightest interest in driving.
And yet I’m finding it very hard to give it the kicking you’d expect.
The iQ Gazoo Racing Tuned By MN has an interesting background. Gazoo Racing is the outfit that took the Lexus LF-A to the Nürburgring 24-hour race. Two of the drivers were not-very-mysterious characters called Morizo, and Hiromu Naruse, Toyota’s chief test driver who is, by all accounts, a certified turbo nutter. They’re the M and the N in the car’s absurdly long name. Morizo is actually Akio Toyoda, another full-on petrolhead, in the moments when he’s not being the sober-suited CEO of this, the world’s biggest car company. He uses the pseudonym, he says, because then he’s free to be rude about Toyota’s duller cars on the Gazoo blog.
Gazoo itself is a giant Japanese Toyota owners’ community website. “Gazoo Racing,” Toyoda told me earnestly but mildly obliquely, “is not a racing team. It’s all about providing a forum where people can talk about cars, and share the love. It’s about increasing the number of car-loving people.”
And so far, the iQ GR MN is little more than a conversation piece. The production run is only 100, it’s for Japan only, and they’re all sold. Even odder, the one element a performance car needs - performance - has simply been ignored. A body kit does not a faster car make. The iQ GR MN has a bog-standard iQ drivetrain. Its 1.3-litre engine feels lazy, hampered by gearing so ridiculously long that you hit top speed in fourth, with two more still to go.
Now the fun: the wheels are no bigger than standard, but they have sticky tyres, and with new springs and dampers and bushes, you suddenly get a car that just loves to dive into corners. Not much roll, just directness and quite a bit of feel. It’s made all the more hilarious by the fact that it’s so utterly unlikely. And if you brake while you turn, the diddy wheelbase means the back begins to squirm before the ESP kicks in. And oddly enough, the ride, though its frequency is shorter than normal, doesn’t feel too bad. The fun is in thrashing it. I had even more funin a leftover 1.0-litre prototype they let me try, because the smaller engine is lighter and sweeter and happier to be pasted.
Toyota’s UK boss, another gearhead, told me to say it needs a turbo. It does. And it might get one. Morizo has already done an (experi)mental turbo Yaris.