New & Used Scion tC: In Depth
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The Scion tC is one of the few remaining sporty, small coupes on the market. It competes with the Honda CR-Z, Kia Forte Coupe, Hyundai Veloster, and the Fiat 500. Some people may want to cross-shop the tC against non-coupe choices like the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, and the Ford Focus.
But the little tC can be seen as an image leader for the Scion brand; it was one of the first three models launched by Toyota's youth brand in 2005, and it was redesigned for 2011 and has remained little changed since then. The year after that redesign, Scion came out with the FR-S sports car, which is larger in footprint and, more importantly, offers rear-wheel drive rather than the tC's front-wheel drive. The two sporty Scions thus compete for different markets, the tC for tuners and the FR-S for classic sportscar drivers.
Scion's marketing theory is to involves appealing to younger buyers with a reasonably priced, well-equipped small car, in hopes that they'll spend a little extra at the dealership on accessories. So most of the features that would normally be optional—including air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, sport seats, and a moonroof—were all standard.
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-blipping for the automatic transmission. A 2014 Scion 10 Series tC celebrates the brand's tenth anniversary and gets a few additional features, including dual-zone climate control and push-button start.
Returning for duty is an uprated four-cylinder 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's much improved, 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, and far more serious Toyota Racing Development (TRD) accessories like a supercharger kit, performance exhaust, and strut tower braces. Otherwise, its 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.
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).