2011 Scion tC Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
November 7, 2010

The 2011 Scion tC is not a tremendous value any more, but it finally has some character to call its own.

While nearly every brand these days seems to be prepping a flagship exotic sports car, inexpensive sporty hatchback-coupes like the 2011 Scion tC are a fading lot. From the ranks of the old Mitsubishi Eclipse, Toyota MR2, Acura Integra and even the Ford Probe and Mazda MX-6, we're down to a precious few two-doors you can buy for less than $20,000, and still have a good time at the wheel.

The tC gets a strong dose of testosterone—at least in appearance—for 2011; its sheetmetal has been redesigned with more creases and bulbousness, and its interior is more performance-purposeful than pretty.

The mechanical underpinnings are very familiar and shared with a host of other Toyota models—2.5-liter four-cylinder, massaged up to 180 hp, with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Overall, the tC doesn't show the testosterone it wears, and it isn't overly pulse-raising, but the experience is pleasant, with surprisingly good ride comfort.

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The tC is a sporty coupe, so don't expect a roomy interior; while the back seat isn't so bad the front perches feel snug and headroom is tight. We're not huge fans of the collision of hard plastics on the dash, either, or the floppy vinyl that shades the sunroof—but we're sure you can get over them by choosing something from the big Scion accessories catalog, something like TRD stabilizer bars or Bluetooth or an Alpine navigation and audio system with a touchscreen interface and iPod controls.

It's no longer a great value though, compared to the Kia Forte Koup or even a heavily discounted, end-of-life Ford Focus two-door. The 2011 tC is priced from $18,995 including destination; with the automatic it's $19,995. Toss on all those add-on features and you could be looking at $24,000—same price as a much faster base 2011 Mustang V-6.

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2011 Scion tC

Styling

The 2011 Scion tC is a little more bold, a little more buff than last year's model, and it holds its own among stylish, inexpensive sporty coupes.

Compared to last year's model, the 2011 Scion tC appears to have received testosterone treatment. Its extensive redesign makes the sheetmetal a little more creased and 'ripped,' the details and little more chunky and forthright. On the outside, its collection of straight edges have crisped up the 2011 tC's design out of mock-Celica doldrums and into a new happy place of visual distinction. From the side, the big notch in the rear quarter glass is supposed to look like a helmet. We're seeing a mix of GT-R, Camaro and Cylon in the profile. Some fitting sci-fi references are at work, for sure, and they turn concrete when the tC wears its "cement" paint color, a battleship gray that mimics a Steelcase desk (or an ur-Audi TT). The angles slashed into the front and rear ends amplify the bolder design character that makes the tC a lot easier to pick out from the crowd. .

Carried through the cabin, that magically rediscovered T-square puts some starch in the Scion tC's instruments and controls and some glaring lapses in finishes. The fat steering wheel has a flat bottom, and begs your attention as soon as you slide into the wide, sculptured front seat. It's not enough to distract us away from the trifecta of differently grained plastics that hook up in an unnatural way right over the glovebox, but the cockpit wears red-lit gauges well, and the cut-tube gauges and Reese's-sized climate controls inject some much-appreciated function-over-form simplicity.

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2011 Scion tC

Performance

The 2011 Scion tC offers stronger performance than other front-drive compact coupes, but it doesn't come close to rivalling the performance you'll see from closely priced rear-drivers like the Hyundai Genesis or Ford Mustang V-6.

The 2011 Scion tC appeals to coupe shoppers on a budget—especially those who plan to install some mods—providing juiced-up power and grip that's just aching for some kind of forced-induction abduction.

There's but one drivetrain you'll get in any tC, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing and a variable intake manifold. It's related to the bigger four in the base Camry, and reels off 180 horsepower with a smooth, churning resonance with a slight burble in its tuned exhaust that surfaces around 3200 rpm. It's by no means a zingy powerplant, but it gets the job done from a 600-rpm idle up to its 6400-rpm redline. With the larger engine (up 0.1 liters), the four puts out 18 more hp and 11 pound-feet over the '10 edition, and Scion says that's enough to boost the tC to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds with the manual gearbox, or 8.3 seconds with the automatic.

Scion pairs up the four with a six-speed manual transmission with a nicely weighted shift lever and a crazy-light clutch uptake, or a sequential-shift automatic with its manual mode hanging off the left slot from Drive. Guys will choose the stick, but there's relatively little shame delivered with the automatic. It'll remember your driving style, so downshifts will come at a decent clip if you hammer on the throttle or slide the shift lever left, and down. Scion's skipping any kind of paddles for now, which we hate, but at this price point it's not much of a surprise.

On the roads in and out of San Diego, the tC's ride quality came up at the top of its charming list. And in this case that's not fatal for a sport coupe. Even with 18-inch stock wheels (and 19-inchers an option), the tC rides calmly over the kind of perennial construction you see all over downtown San Diego and the mild pavement waves that ripples over I-8 eastbound. Toyota had tC hatches with TRD racing pieces installed, and the thick stabilizer bars turn the car into more of a sledgehammer on these kinds of streets, but an unmodified tC and its independent suspension is a fairly nerve-soothing choice among sporty cars. Electric power steering actually feels good here, too, as do the bigger all-disc brakes.

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2011 Scion tC

Comfort & Quality

Though ride comfort is decent, the 2011 Scion tC is barely adequate with respect to interior space, and many will find it short on headroom. Materials are nothing special and feel a step down from last year's model.

Exactly as long overall as before, this year's tC has gotten wider on paper. The span across the interior's not much bigger, but the front seats have. The big bolstered buckets have good grippy cloth all over, and they're wide--so wide, even football builds will feel fine after a few hours behind the tilting, telescoping wheel. We have no kudos here for the standard sunroof, since it robbed me of the 3/4-inch of headroom I needed to avoid contact with the fuzzy roof liner.

In back, we'd give all those missing props. Not only will adult-sized adults get in there easily enough, they'll find a backrest that reclines a few degrees, almost guaranteeing most passengers will find a comfortable seating position. The front seats also have a memory function so when they're flipped forward, they'll reposit themselves as they were before you opened up the doors to the party crowd.

Since Scion puts the USB jack in front of the shift lever, we found more use for the shallow bin ahead of it. The console's a bit too skinny, and in a skin-flint touch, it's all hard plastic, like most of the dash. The glovebox is pretty shallow as well--but the cargo area under the hatch can hold a few roll-aboards and has a pair of deep bins for rattly things like tire gauges.

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2011 Scion tC

Safety

The 2011 Scion tC has a more impressive safety feature set than before, but crash tests haven't yet confirmed its improvement.

Although the 2011 Scion tC is significantly redesigned and has not yet been crash-tested, it offers a step up in safety content versus last year. The number of airbags is now up to eight, including seat-mounted side bags along with side-curtain bags and a driver knee bag, and anti-lock brakes are also included. Unlike last year's model, the tC now comes with electronic stability control, Brake Assist, and a brake-throttle override system.

Neither of the major organizations that give safety ratings—the IIHS and NHTSA—have yet crash-tested the new tC. The editors have some reservations in rating the tC higher until we see official results, as the former tC only achieved 'acceptable' ratings from the IIHS.

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2011 Scion tC

Features

Compared to main rivals, the 2011 Scion tC is no longer a stunning deal. But its features list still doesn't disappoint.

At a base price of just a hair under $19,000, the 2011 Scion tC hits almost all the notes you'd want to hear in this gadget-addled category. Standard gear includes power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; steering-wheel audio controls; XM satellite radio; tilt/telescope steering; and that sunroof, which lights up the cabin but comes with a flimsy pull-forward shade that slips out of its track more often than you'll have the patience to correct.

The glass roof also has a pop-up mesh wind deflector that doesn't really change the volume of noise generated by the raised panel, just the frequency.

As the tC is positioned toward younger, tech-savvy shoppers, its audio systems offer more connectivity than you'll find in other low-priced vehicles. The standard Pioneer audio system comes with iPod and USB connectivity, while the available Alpine Premium system comes with a 4.3-inch color touch screen, HD Radio, MX and RCA inputs, and subwoofer capability.

As before, Scion tC buyers will have a long catalog of possible aftermarket appearance and performance upgrades, available through the dealership.

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2011 Scion tC

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Scion tC looks budget-smart and fuel-efficient, but with mpg numbers lower than some mid-size sedans, it's not all that.

The 2011 Scion tC isn't as green as you might guess. Either transmission nets you 23/31 mpg, up a couple miles per gallon on both counts over last year. That's still, however worse than the mileage numbers for many four-cylinder mid-size sedans and about on par with some V-6 sedans.

In past versions of the tC we've seen quite low figures in real-world driving as well—likely the result of rather low gearing that keeps revs up for a sporty feel.

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March 4, 2017
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It's a fun all around car to drive I really love driving the vehicle. It's super sporty and gets decent MPG. I would tell people to buy this vehicle.
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