2009 Scion tC Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
November 9, 2008

The 2009 Scion tC is more sophisticated and feature-rich than its price tag would otherwise indicate.

To bring you this comprehensive review of the 2009 Scion tC, the car experts at TheCarConnection.com researched some of the best reviews on the Web to put together this conclusive review. Then TheCarConnection.com's editors included comments on their own experience with the tC.

Introduced in late 2004 as an '05 model, the tC is the only coupe model to be sold under the Scion brand, which is offered at select Toyota dealerships. The 2009 Scion tC is based on the European-market Toyota Avensis. Now the oldest vehicle in the Scion lineup of small cars, the tC is updated for 2009 only with new interior fabrics.

The tC is powered by a torquey 161-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine similar to the one used in the Toyota Camry. Here it makes the tC quite entertaining to drive with the standard five-speed manual transmission or adequate for most needs with the available four-speed automatic. The 2009 Scion tC handles especially well, with good, communicative steering and a firm but comfortable ride.

Similar to Lexus in execution, the 2009 Scion tC has a sporty, cockpit-like design, with snug, well-bolstered front seats and a good driving position, though tall drivers will find themselves short on headroom and stout drivers short on hip room. The stylish cabin and instrument panel design look like they could belong to a much more expensive vehicle. The low seating position, high beltline, and thick back pillars can make rearward vision challenging. There's enough space for up to three in the small backseat, with decent access, but the tC's rather narrow body limits comfort (and elbowroom). The engine can be heard as a subtle sporty tone inside the cabin, but coarse road surfaces can introduce an unwelcome boominess, and a loud wind rush at speed emanates from the moonroof.

Review continues below

The 2009 Scion tC comes in one model: a well-equipped single-spec version that includes a very generous level of standard equipment such as air conditioning, keyless entry, a Panorama moonroof, sport seats, steering-wheel controls, cruise control, and a Pioneer sound system with subwoofer and full iPod-connectivity. Among the many dealer-installed accessories on the tC are carbon-fiber trim, fog lamps, a rear spoiler, and plenty of trim pieces and appearance enhancements, along with more serious performance equipment from Toyota Racing Development (TRD), including a performance exhaust, front strut tower brace, and rear sway bar. A navigation system is optional, as is an upgraded Pioneer sound system that has the capability to change "skins" and play four-second video clips. For tuners seeking more speed, a supercharger is available from TRD and thus covered under the vehicle warranty.

Safety is a major selling point of the 2009 Scion tC. Standard are dual side and front and rear side curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag, and anti-lock brakes; electronic stability and traction control aren't available, though. The tC has been crash-tested by the federal government and did well, with four- and five-star results for frontal impact and great five-star ratings for side impact.

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2009 Scion tC

Styling

The 2009 Scion tC has a youthful shape and interior design that may be personalized with a wide variety of high-quality customizations.

The youth-oriented 2009 Scion tC is getting a bit long in the tooth with nearly the same design that it had for its intro nearly five years ago, but it's still one of Toyota's more daring designs.

Except for a new face, grille, and projector headlamps for model year 2008, the 2009 Scion tC soldiers on with its generally well-liked styling. These are well received overall, with the exception of The New York Times, whose reviewers find the new grille, with a "fussy diagonal-oval mesh up top that fades to solid at the sides" mixed with "horizontal slats down below" to be "a bit busy to our eyes." They feel it spoils "the simplicity we admired in the previous design." "We like the tC's sophisticated look and assertive stance," compliments Car and Driver. Autoblog, talking about "the snub nose and tear-shaped headlights a la BMW," contends the tC offers "quite a striking look and [is] unlike anything else in the price range." Only MyRide.com goes negative, stating their wish for "a more compelling design." Those looking to make their tCs stand apart from the rest will no doubt appreciate that dealers offer "a wide array of...styling upgrades," notes Edmunds.

"The only change for 2009 happens inside," states Cars.com, "where the seat fabric is updated." Motor Trend regards the tC's insides as a "better-conceived, more feature-rich, interior than inside the other Scions" and comments on the "three-pod instrument panel with attractive, brushed metal faces. The silver center stack reminds of the Infiniti G35," they conclude. MyRide.com notes the dash and upper door panel textures "inspired by Japanese stationery," which they find "different, of good quality, and brings strong Scion brand character to the inside of the tC." "Overall, the interior has a nice mix of textures and a rich appearance for its price," asserts Cars.com.

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2009 Scion tC

Performance

To make the most of the 2009 Scion tC's engine, opt for the manual. Standard equipment is acceptable for basic handling and braking, but dealer-installed options will give the car a more sporting character.

The engine doesn't provide much oomph to match the 2009 Scion tC's sporting looks, but Toyota Racing Development (TRD) go-fast parts are available—at a price.

Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 161 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. "The Civic Si and the Mazda3 have as much horsepower, but they can't match the tC's twist," says Car and Driver, who, like many, contends that the tC's generous torque down low makes it an agreeable, enjoyable motivator. Edmunds also appreciates the "meatier low-end torque than smaller-engined competitors like the Honda Civic." However, they remark, "Acceleration is adequate, with the 0-60-mph dash done in around 8.5 seconds...Should you spring for the dealer-installed supercharger, 0-60 [takes] just 7.2 seconds." With the supercharger, output is boosted to 200 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque, and "it's covered under warranty," assures ForbesAutos.

Edmunds recommends buyers "go with the manual transmission, as it has crisp shifting action and a smooth clutch. Automatic-equipped tCs are less enjoyable." Getting the power to the ground is the previous-generation Camry's five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Showing their age with a paucity of ratios (some of its competitors have five or six), the transmissions nonetheless work well in the tC due in large part to its torque-rich four. Kelley Blue Book finds that "the five-speed manual delivers crisp, short shifts," but Cars.com mentions "the clutch can be jumpy." ConsumerGuide complains that the autobox "wouldn't make a kickdown shift without flooring the gas pedal" at cruising speeds, while Edmunds complains "the four-speed can be hesitant and indecisive during enthusiastic runs on back roads."

The general consensus among reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is that the 2009 Scion tC's handling and braking are above average. But there are rumblings of disappointment. Labeling its chassis "an underachiever," Car and Driver explains "the culprit for the tC's otherwise estimable performance is weight." Less than competitive skidpad numbers and a front-heavy, understeering demeanor can be cured by optional suspension bits that Road and Track assures "will help you get the suspension sorted." With four-wheel independent suspension and front and rear stabilizers standard, the 2009 tC provides a solid foundation for tuning and customization. ConsumerGuide testifies to the platform's basic goodness, claiming that "handling is entertaining and confident" and "steering has good feel and weight." Reports ForbesAutos, "The standard antilock brakes include electronic brake-force distribution [but] unfortunately, stability control is not offered on the Scion tC." The brakes do have "firm and progressive pedal feel," adds ConsumerGuide.

The weight penalty also affects the 2009 Scion tC's fuel economy. According to fueleconomy.gov, with the automatic the tC achieves only 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway; those numbers aren't much better than those of some bigger cars with V-6 engines.

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2009 Scion tC

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Scion tC's fit and finish belie its price, but if you're taller than six feet or a member of the big man's club, you will not be comfortable.

As a hatchback, coupe headroom is tight; otherwise the 2009 Scion tC impresses with its blend of fantastic materials, ergonomics, and comfort.

"The driver seat adjusts for height and thigh support—a nice touch—but legroom is only adequate," says ConsumerGuide. Cars.com and most others report that "front headroom is marginal." ForbesAutos suggest you "keep looking if you require a larger [or] more practical vehicle"—though with 35 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, the 2009 Scion tC offers more cargo room than some crossovers.

For a hatchback, "the rear seat is more habitable than most small coupes, though it is shaped only for two and legroom is tight without the front seats well forward," notes ConsumerGuide. "The 60/40 split rear seats are roomy and comfy for two," remarks Car and Driver, but "headroom is lacking due to the glass ceiling and long, sleek hatch." Edmunds attests that "rear riders will also enjoy the split seat backs that can individually recline up to 45 degrees"—a rarity at this price point.

ForbesAutos comments, "Only a few of the materials used inside betray this vehicle's affordable price." Value, fit and finish, and ergonomics have long been Toyota hallmarks, and Toyota's ownership of Scion shows throughout the tC. Car and Driver praises the "smart, upscale interior with rich fabrics, plastics, and metallic-look accents," and is pleasantly surprised that "the large HVAC knob actually is aluminum." "Fit and finish are flawless, right down to the seamless dash-mounted airbag," gushes Kelley Blue Book, who adds, "the tC's interior is Lexus-like in its execution." They and others appreciate the instrument cluster that is "neatly arranged into three separate circular housings" and the center stack that "is covered with a silver finish," finding the treatment far more appealing than the strange center-pod speedo in Scion's other models. The only interior change for 2009 is updated seat fabrics.

Unfortunately, Scion 2009 tC's don't have much sound-deadening material. While the tC is "quiet around town," ConsumerGuide reports that "wind rush intrudes at highway speeds, and tire roar is pronounced on rough surfaces."

Finally, while Kelley Blue Book expects the tC "to retain one of the highest resale values in its class" over a four-year period, J.D. Power reports that the 2009 Scion tC rates only "two out of five for overall initial quality," countering some reviewers’ observations.

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2009 Scion tC

Safety

Though it lacks electronic stability control, valuable in crash avoidance, the 2009 Scion tC cocoons passengers in seven airbags.

The 2009 Scion tC earns a nearly perfect crash protection rating, and it comes with a comprehensive set of airbags and standard four-wheel ABS.

All safety equipment is standard, rather than optional, on the tC, but traction control and stability control are not available, notes Car and Driver. Listing its crucial safety standards, Edmunds informs that "the 2009 Scion tC comes with antilock disc brakes, a first aid kit and a driver knee airbag as standard equipment," and wrongly adds that "side airbags for front occupants and full-length head curtain airbags are optional." Side and curtain airbags are standard. Regarding its performance in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash-testing regimen, Edmunds points out that with its side airbags, the tC earns "a perfect five stars for driver protection." In other NHTSA ratings, the tC got four stars for passenger frontal impact, four stars for rollover resistance, and five stars for side impact protection for both driver and rear passenger. Tire pressure monitoring is also standard.

Finally, ConsumerGuide reports, "Visibility is good, but the sloped hatch window lacks a wiper and washer."

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2009 Scion tC

Features

The base 2009 Scion tC includes plenty of standard convenience features; but if you want more bang, you'll spend many more bucks.

Scion's niche is providing its customers with the ability to configure their cars with a variety of different looks, features, and performance options; the 2009 Scion tC is no exception.

For 2009, the Scion tC SPEC trim, which was a stripped-down version of the base model, is no longer offered. The tC's standard features list is impressive, especially given its sub-$18,000 price of entry. Motor Trend mentions the tC's power "windows, door locks, mirror, cruise control, exterior thermometer, and tilt steering wheel" as a starting point. In addition to newly standard iPod connectivity and a Pioneer subwoofer standard across the line, Kelley Blue Book is impressed with "the massive panorama moonroof included as standard equipment on every car." Other standard equipment, according to Automobile Magazine, includes air conditioning, exterior mirrors with integrated turn signal lights, rear cargo tonneau cover, auto-up/down power windows with jam protection, in-key remote keyless entry, rolling-code engine immobilizer security system, auto-off headlamps, electronic hatch release, chrome-plated exhaust tip, and a unique audio unit cover. Essentially, buyers need choose only the transmission and vehicle color.

Options can quickly inflate the 2009 Scion tC's price. Kelley Blue Book lists what it considers to be the tC's most notable ones: "four-speed automatic transmission, carbon fiber dash applique, ground effects kit, fog lights, Pioneer Premium audio, high-performance engine and suspension components, under-dash interior light kit, navigation system and a host of other dealer-installed options." Wheel and tire packages run over $1,000, the supercharger over $3,000, and the navigation system over $2,000, all according to Automobile Magazine. Opting for a fully loaded tC could set you back some serious coin.

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7.8
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Expert Rating
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Styling 8.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 8.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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