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$10 Billion by Jim
That's right — with a "b."
Mich. Design Center
by Joseph Szczesny (5/17/2004)
Ann Arbor now home to another stylish outpost.
Back in the Stone Age, when we Baby Boomers were young, protest seemed a way of life. If our parents did it, ate it, watched it — or drove it — we wanted something entirely different. It was the perfect opportunity for a struggling import automaker named Toyota. Whether intentional or otherwise, it won over the so-called counterculture, the postwar generation embracing its little import econoboxes.
Over the years, the Boomers have grown up with Toyota, but like us children of the ’60s, Toyota’s gotten a little gray around the edges. And for many of today’s newest car buyers, the Japanese marque has morphed into the automotive establishment. Automakers are a fickle bunch, always worried about the next generation of buyers. Toyota officials realize that if they don’t do something soon, the only folks shopping their showrooms will be ex-hippies on canes.
Hang around automotive circles and you often hear the phrase, “back to basics.” And that’s precisely the direction Toyota has headed with its new Scion brand. Hoping that lightning strikes twice, the automaker is going after an entirely new generation just beginning to buy cars. But rather than try to convince the hip-hop crowd that Toyota itself is relevant again, the automaker has launched the all-new, graffiti-covered “brand-within-a-brand,” Scion.
Its first two models, the Scion xA and boxy xB, exceeded the automaker’s expectations, even though the new brand was barely halfway through its U.S. launch. Now, to support its nationwide rollout, Scion is introducing a third model.
All-new for America
Where xA and xB were simply rebadged versions of small, Japanese-market Toyotas, the tC is “the first vehicle developed exclusively for the Scion brand,” says the division’s U.S. boss, Jim Farley.
One could nitpick, since tC shares a bit of its platform and componentry with the European Avensis (including its rear suspension) as well as the Celica (such bits and pieces as its brakes). But these days, it’s hard to find any car that doesn’t engage in this under-the-skin sleight-of-hand. So it’s fair to say tC is unique to the U.S. and as TheCarConnection quickly discovered during a day of driving, the new coupe is well-crafted for the sort of demanding young opinion leaders Scion and its parent company crave.
The basic shape of the tC will seem familiar to Toyota aficionados, though the standard jellybean form has been given a broader stance, along with some eye-catching creases and a blunt nose with Scion’s broad, rectangular honeycomb grille. An oversized air scoop, recessed foglamps, and bulging rocker panels enhance the pint-sized coupe’s sporty appearance, as do the large, seven-spoke alloy wheels that shod our test car.
Despite its exterior size and surprising base price — just $16,465 — the tC is no econobox. Rather than try to go mano-a-mano with the Koreans by driving the window sticker as low as possible, Scion’s strategy is to offer buyers a lot more than they’d expect. “Our goal was to give tC an upscale…feel that approached Lexus,” explains Dr. Shigeyuki Hori, the man known as “Dr. Scion,” and the tC’s chief engineer.
The look and feel of the tC interior might be described as “Lexus-light,” with a pleasantly refined cabin. For the driver, the focal point is a sophisticated three-pod gauge cluster and cascading center console. An interesting touch is what Scion officials call “micrograin” texture. Interior materials look more like rice paper than the traditional fake leather — a nice concept, though we noticed a tendency to show every spot of dirt.
2005 Scion tCEnlarge Photo
There are some interesting features, including front seats that fold down flat to create what one Scion official with a totally straight face described as a “conversational space.” We’re not sure there’d be much talking going on, but we only wish this were available when we were of an age to enjoy that feature.
There’s also an absolutely massive moonroof, an interesting engineering exercise eliminating gaskets in order to reduce wind noise. Indeed, one of the things Scion engineers borrowed from Lexus was the use of sound controlling foams, fabrics, and metals. The coupe is uncannily quiet when compared to anything else in its size and price segment.
The moonroof is standard, as are the 17-inch alloy wheels, just two of the surprises delivered by a car of this price. There are plenty of other small, but significant touches: like the cellphone holder, hooks for a purse or bag, useful storage pouches in the rear cargo net, memory seats and — a first for Toyota — front knee airbags.
Plenty of options
Officially, Scion products are sold “monospec.” That’s true, to a point, as there are only three factory options: the choice of manual or automatic transmission, paint color, and side-impact airbags. But in reality, that’s little more than a means to reduce factory complexity. Buyers have a massive option list to choose from, everything from wheels to performance parts, but they are fitted to the car either at the port of entry, or at the dealership.
“The focus is on style, freedom, and personal expression,” says Farley, revealing that, on average, Scion buyers are ordering more than $1000 in accessories from the dealer to customize their cars.
Much of that is spent on appearance options, but Scion is aiming at the West Coast tuner crowd with a catalog for the tC that includes a high-performance exhaust system and a special turbocharger that will boost output to around 200 horsepower.
In base trim, the tC proved reasonably quick, though it’s no rocket off the line. Working our way west from Washington, D.C., we spent a good part of our day weaving our way through the esses of the Shenandoah Valley, and there was more than enough power in the torquey 2.4-liter engine to gain speed up a steep grade. A novel two-way valve system in the mufflers will kick in an extra four to five horsepower when you need it.
That’s just one of many pleasant little details Scion engineers have thought through. Another is the logic system of the four-speed automatic transmission, which knows when to hold a gear when heading up or downhill.
Taking aim at VW
According to Dr. Scion, the handling target for the tC was the Volkswagen Jetta’s sport package. His team came up with an impressive approximation, and in many ways outdid the original. Braking is one notable example, the tC’s four-wheel discs feeling more precise and confident.
Handling is enhanced by a 106.3-inch wheelbase, rather large for this segment. And tC is the only U.S. Toyota with a four-wheel independent suspension. The double-wishbone rear is a four-link design that effectively emulates a five-link.
Steering is significantly better than the typical U.S. Toyota, with a clear feel of the road and just enough effort to qualify as “sporty.” The tC proved reasonably nimble and adept on the mountain roads we experienced along the way, far less floaty than some of today’s Toyotas, though perhaps not quite as stiff as the Jetta, especially when going into a hard corner.
Still, Scion has picked its target wisely. And not just in terms of performance and handling. Volkswagen has developed a solid and loyal cult following, a core audience that helps it win over a broader mass market. Scion aims to do something similar, though by winning good word-of-mouth among young buyers, it hopes to attract more new customers for the Toyota brand, as well.
The new tC is a good choice of product for Scion, particularly for the brand’s national rollout. Like the original Lexus LS400, it will surprise and delight, delivering far more than one has a right to expect for the money. We’d be surprised if it didn’t prove even more successful than the original xA and xB models.
2005 Scion tC
Base price: $16,465
Engine: DOHC all-aluminum 2.4-liter in-line four with Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence (VVTi), 163 hp/160 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Length by width x height: 174.0 x 69.1 x 55.7 in
Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Curb weight: 2905 lb (manual), 2970 lb (automatic)
EPA City/Hwy: 22/30 mpg (manual), 23/30 (automatic)
Safety equipment: Anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes, dual front airbags and front kneebags, four side crash beams
Major standard equipment: A/C, power windows, mirrors and doors, tilt steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels, fold-flat front seats, 60/40 split-fold rear seats, six-speaker premium Pioneer AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles