New & Used Scion tC: In Depth
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The Scion tC is a sporty, two-door coupe—one of the few remaining on the market in its performance and price segment. The tC competes with a disparate array of cars, including the Fiat 500, Honda CR-Z, Kia Forte Koup, and Hyundai Veloster, among others—and even cars like the Honda Fit, Volkswagen GTI, and Ford Fiesta.
The first-generation tC was one of the three original vehicles that launched Toyota's Scion brand in the U.S. back in 2005. The coupe received a redesign for 2011, and has remained pretty much unchanged since then. It was joined in 2012 by the rear-wheel-drive Scion FR-S sports car, which has a larger footprint and more traditionally authentic sports-car handling. While the front-wheel-drive tC is popular among the tuner crowd, the FR-S is more of a classic sports car.
The current tC bears a more chiseled look than the first generation. You could consider it as one part Camaro and one part Cylon. The 2012 and 2013 models were little changed--unless the Zombie Apocalypse edition or the Release Series 8.0 are the kinds of updates that give your automotive life new meaning. The interior of the new-generation tC has a more linear theme as well, but shows some signs of intense cost-cutting.
The 2014 Scion tC got a few more improvements, like a restyled front-end appearance, LED running lamps, improved interior materials, a few suspension changes, and downshift rev-matching for the automatic transmission. A 2014 Scion 10 Series tC celebrated the brand's tenth anniversary and received a few additional features, including dual-zone climate control and push-button start. For the 2015 model year, the tC gets two new color options: Blizzard Pearl and Cosmic Gray.
Second-generation tCs use an uprated version of the original's four-cylinder, now displacing 2.5 liters, that is tied to a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. A 0–60 mph time of about eight seconds is on tap--7.6 seconds with the manual, 8.3 seconds with the paddle-free automatic shifter--and cornering is predictable. Ride quality is much improved in the second go 'round, and the electric power steering is tuned well. Fuel economy is up to 23/31 mpg with either gearbox.
As before, the tC is snug in front and back, and headroom is tight, thanks to a standard sunroof. Good, sporty bucket seats are big enough for most builds, and the increased leg space in the back seat enabled Scion to let the back bench recline for more comfort. The cargo area can hold a few roll-on bags and has deep bins for side storage, too. The Scion tC scores exceptionally well in crash tests; the NHTSA and IIHS both give it top honors.
Like all Scions, the tC is offered with a long list of aftermarket accessory possibilities—most of them fully covered under the factory warranty. They include both cosmetic options like a rear spoiler or carbon-fiber trim, as well as far more serious Toyota Racing Development (TRD) accessories like a supercharger kit, a performance exhaust, and strut-tower braces. Otherwise, standard features include stability control, power features, satellite radio, and the sunroof. An iPod connectivity kit is included, and an upgrade radio offers 200 watts of power and HD radio.
Scion has made it a priority to offer a well-equipped car at a reasonably low price for the youth market, so it keeps the number of versions low to save costs and also includes items that might otherwise be optional as standard, such as keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, a moonroof, and sport seats. The idea is that buyers will then buy whatever else they want from the dealer as accessories and have money to do so.
The first-generation Scion tC, launched for 2005, was essentially a U.S. model derived from the underpinnings of the Toyota Avensis, a vehicle that had already met some success in Europe. It paired the torquey 161-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine from the Toyota Camry with the excellent handling and straightforward interior of the Avensis. The tC offered a near-ideal combination of practical and sporty, upscale attributes to appeal to younger coupe buyers on a budget--though, despite that, it's not sold in Japan under any name.
The tC's exterior had a sleek, handsome appearance and a more expressive cockpit than most of Toyota's interiors, and the cockpit-like instrument panel had impressive materials and nice, tactile switchgear that wouldn't have been out of place in a much more expensive car. The tC had a snug cabin, though. Headroom was tight in front, and while three could theoretically wedge into the backseat, it was too narrow to be at all comfortable.
This front-wheel-drive tC felt especially perky with the standard five-speed manual transmission, though it was only adequate with the four-speed automatic. Thanks to good, communicative steering and a firm but comfortable ride, the first tC was entertaining to drive. Fuel economy was slightly disappointing in the tC as well, with EPA figures that were worse than many mid-size cars (20/27 mpg for manual-transmission tCs).