2010 Scion tC Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
September 1, 2009

The 2010 Scion tC offers more sophisticated handling and lavish features than the low base price would indicate.

The experts at TheCarConnection.com have gathered some of the best reviews on the Web covering the 2010 Scion tC, to bring you a conclusive review on this sporty coupe. TheCarConnection.com's editors have also driven the tC and report on their own experiences here.

The 2010 Scion tC is now by far the oldest vehicle in the Scion lineup of small cars, and the tC is unchanged for 2010 except for one exterior color change (Nautical Blue Metallic replaces Blue Ribbon Metallic). Launched in late 2004 as an '05 model, the tC is the only coupe sold under the Scion brand, which is offered at select Toyota dealerships.

For a small car, the tC offers a big engine: a torquey 161-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder similar to the one in the Toyota Camry. The tC is thus quite entertaining to drive, if you fit the standard five-speed manual transmission. With the available four-speed automatic, it's just adequate. And the handling of the 2010 Scion tC is especially tight, with good, communicative steering and a firm but comfortable ride.

Review continues below

The interior of the 2010 Scion tC has a sporty, cockpit-like design. The seats are snug and well bolstered, and they give an excellent driving position, though tall drivers will be short on headroom and stout drivers will lack hip room. The stylish cabin and instrument panel design look like they could belong to a much more expensive vehicle, conceivably even a Lexus. But the low seating, high beltline, and thick rear pillars make rearward vision and backing up a definite challenge.

The small backseat can actually accommodate three people, and door access is decent, but the tC's narrow body limits comfort (and elbow room). Coarse road surfaces produce an unwelcome boominess inside the cabin, and the moon roof chimes in with a loud wind rush at speed. On better surfaces, the engine merely offers a subtle sporty tone for driver and passengers.

As with most Toyota products, the 2010 Scion tC uses safety is a major selling point. Dual side and front and rear side-curtain airbags are standard, as is a driver's knee airbag, and anti-lock brakes. One missing ingredient is electronic stability and traction control, which aren't available. The federal government rates the tC as good, with four- and five-star results for frontal impact and the highest five-star ratings for side impact.

The 2010 Scion tC offers just one trim level. It's well equipped as standard, with generous standard equipment for a car this inexpensive. That includes air conditioning, keyless entry, steering-wheel controls, cruise control, sport seats, and a Panorama moon roof. The outsized sound system is from Pioneer, with subwoofer and full connectivity for iPods and other MP3 players. 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.

Among the plethora of accessories that buyers can ask their dealer to install on the tC are a rear spoiler, carbon-fiber trim, fog lamps, and many other "appearance enhancements" and trim pieces. There's also much more serious performance equipment, sourced from Toyota Racing Development (TRD). The list starts with a performance exhaust, and extends through such upgrades as front strut tower braces and a rear sway bar.

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2010 Scion tC

Styling

The 2010 Scion tC's shape is less radical than when it was introduced, but it has aged well. And its highly rated interior design can be personalized with dozens of accessories available from the dealer.

Now six years old, the 2010 Scion tC is clearly long in the tooth. Its design is less daring than accepted, and only projector headlamps and a new grille in 2008 have changed it since its 2005 launch.

Still, its styling has won the tC fans over the years. 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." Car and Driver agrees, complimenting the Scion tC's "sophisticated look and assertive stance." On the negative side, MyRide.com wanted "a more compelling design." And The New York Times grumbled that "fussy diagonal-oval mesh up top that fades to solid at the sides" mixed with "horizontal slats down below" was just "a bit busy to our eyes" and ruins "the simplicity we admired in the previous design."

Last year's changes were limited, notes Cars.com, to the inside, "where the seat fabric is updated." (This year the sole change is one new paint color.) "Overall, the interior has a nice mix of textures and a rich appearance for its price," asserts Cars.com.

But the interior has been appreciated since the launch of the Scion tC. MyRide.com calls the dash and upper door panel textures "inspired by Japanese stationery," which they felt was "different, of good quality, and [brought] strong Scion brand character to the inside of the tC." And Motor Trend calls the tC's insides a "better-conceived, more feature-rich, interior than inside the other Scions." They were particularly struck by the "three-pod instrument panel with attractive, brushed metal faces. The silver center stack reminds of the Infiniti G35," they conclude-high praise indeed for a car at this sticker price.

Finally, those owners who want their tCs to stand out from the crowd will no doubt appreciate that dealers offer "a wide array of...styling upgrades," notes Edmunds.

7

2010 Scion tC

Performance

The five-speed manual is the best bet to take advantage of the 2010 Scion tC's engine. And if you want the very best handling and skidpad numbers, start ordering those dealer-installed options.

Without adding optional performance parts, the 2010 Scion tC is motivated by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 161 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. Many reviewers comment on the tC's substantial low-end torque. "The Civic Si and the Mazda3 have as much horsepower, but they can't match the tC's twist," says Car and Driver. In the same vein, Edmunds also appreciates the "meatier low-end torque than smaller-engined competitors like the Honda Civic." The drawback, they say, is the acceleration, which they call just "adequate, with the 0-60-mph dash done in around 8.5 seconds."

For more go-fast, they continue, "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.

Virtually all reviews favor the five-speed manual transmission over the four-speed automatic. Edmunds recommends buyers "go with the manual...as it has crisp shifting action and a smooth clutch. Automatic-equipped tCs are less enjoyable." Similarly, Kelley Blue Book comments that "the five-speed manual delivers crisp, short shifts," although Cars.com cautions that "the clutch can be jumpy." As for the four-speed automatic (fewer ratios than many competitors), ConsumerGuide complains that it "wouldn't make a kick-down shift without flooring the gas pedal" at cruising speeds, while Edmunds grumbles that the automatic "can be hesitant and indecisive during enthusiastic runs."

Despite the tC's advancing years, most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com deem the 2010 Scion tC's handling and braking above average. ConsumerGuide testifies to the platform's basic goodness, claiming that "handling is entertaining and confident" and "steering has good feel and weight." But that view isn't universal. Car and Driver calls the Scion tC chassis "an underachiever." It explains, "the culprit for the tC's otherwise estimable performance is weight."

Again, the answer may be optional equipment. Its four-wheel independent suspension and front and rear stabilizers make the 2010 tC an excellent foundation for tuning and customization. Optional suspension bits that Road and Track assures "will help you get the suspension sorted" cure the tC's chronic understeer and improve cornering. The brakes have "firm and progressive pedal feel," adds ConsumerGuide, although ForbesAutos notes, "The standard antilock brakes include electronic brake-force distribution [but] unfortunately, stability control is not offered on the Scion tC."

While small, the 2010 Scion tC is also heavy, and that hurts its gas mileage. According to fueleconomy.gov, with the automatic, the tC achieves only 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway; those numbers are little better than those of some much larger cars fitted with V-6 engines and the latest six-speed automatic transmissions.

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2010 Scion tC

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Scion tC's fit and finish look much better than you'd expect from its base price. But you won't be comfortable inside the tC if you're over six feet tall or broad in the beam.

The 2010 Scion tC has great materials, impressive ergonomics, and good ride comfort. That said, it's a two-door hatchback, so rear-seat room is marginal.

In fact, front-seat room isn't much better. Cars.com and others say that "front headroom is marginal." And "the driver seat adjusts for height and thigh support-a nice touch-but legroom is only adequate," says ConsumerGuide. If "you require a larger [or] more practical vehicle," ForbesAutos suggests you "keep looking."

In the second row, "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. And Edmunds points out that "rear riders will also enjoy the split seat backs that can individually recline up to 45 degrees"-unusual in such an inexpensive car. "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."

If carrying people is tight, at least the 2010 Scion tC holds 35 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down.

As for fit and finish-typically a Toyota trademark- 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." ForbesAutos comments, "Only a few of the materials used inside betray this vehicle's affordable price." "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." Most reviewers laud an instrument cluster "neatly arranged into three separate circular housings" and a center stack "covered with a silver finish," finding the materials and surfaces far more appealing than the odd central speedometer in other Scion models.

While the 2010 Scion 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.

7

2010 Scion tC

Safety

The 2010 Scion tC fits seven airbags as standard and scores five stars for driver protection in NHTSA testing, but its lack of electronic stability control puts it a little behind the times.

While the 2010 Scion tC rates almost perfect for crash protection, and has a comprehensive set of airbags and standard anti-lock brakes. Tire pressure monitoring is also standard. But Car and Driver notes that it is hurt by its lack of traction control or stability control, neither of which is available even as an option.

Listing its crucial safety standards, Edmunds runs down the list of equipment: the Scion tC "comes with antilock disc brakes, a first aid kit and a driver knee airbag as standard equipment." Strangely, they then write (incorrectly) that "side airbags for front occupants and full-length head curtain airbags are optional." Side and curtain airbags are standard.

Edmunds notes that with its (standard) side airbags, the tC earns "a perfect five stars for driver protection" in the critical National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash-testing regimen. As for other NHTSA tests, the tC got four stars for rollover resistance, four stars for passenger frontal impact, and five stars for side impact protection for both driver and rear passenger.

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

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2010 Scion tC

Features

The standard 2010 Scion tC is nicely equipped, with plenty of standard convenience features, but succumbing to the urge to add more and customize may cost you a pretty penny.

Like many small, stylish, inexpensive cars, Scion offers buyers an enormous array of options to change the look, features, and performance. No 2010 Scion tC is likely to roll out of the dealer identical to any other; dealer-installed accessories always prove popular with young, individualistic buyers.

Now that an earlier base model has been discontinued, the 2010 Scion tC offers an impressive list of standard features. Essentially, buyers need choose only the transmission and vehicle color to have a decently equipped vehicle.

In addition to newly standard iPod connectivity and a Pioneer subwoofer standard across the line, Kelley Blue Book is impressed with "the massive panorama moon roof included as standard equipment on every car." Motor Trend mentions the tC's power "windows, door locks, mirror, cruise control, exterior thermometer, and tilt steering wheel" as a starting point. 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.

But those options can run up the tab quickly on the sub-$18,000 base price for the 2010 Scion tC. And opting for a fully loaded tC could set you back some serious coin. 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. The most notable dealer options for the tC, according to Kelley Blue Book, are: "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, [and] navigation system."

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7.6
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 7.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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