2012 Scion tC Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 21, 2012

The 2012 Scion tC is starting to develop an interesting personality, though it's still not very fast or exceptionally nimble.

Scion is shifting rather indiscreetly away from economy cars with its upcoming rear-drive FR-S sports coupe. But it's still focused on small cars done inexpensively, and one of its mainstays, the tC coupe, holds its entry price to under $20,000 while it tries to woo some of the performance-seekers who might be left behind by the FR-S' higher base price.

The front-drive TC made a fairly sharp transition last year, from a softly rounded, Celica-like shape to a crisper, more creased look that's part Camaro, part Cylon. It's chunkier, and the details are bolder, more upfront. The shovel nose kicks up into the fenders, and the line continues skyward at the rear pillars, where it's supposed to evoke the look of a racing helmet. It's a little more sci-fi than that, and as a result, the tC is a lot easier to pick out of the crowd. The same starch gets applied to the cabin, which gets bigger instruments and a flat-bottomed steering wheel--along with some glaring mismatched plastics and lots of cutlines that speak of intense cost-cutting. There's some design frill in the basic shapes of the cut-tube gauges and M&M-shaped climate controls, and the tC wears its red-lit gauges well.

A big four-cylinder engine spins under the hood of the 2012 tC, and it's coupled to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The testosterone flowing into the sheetmetal isn't quite in evidence here, though the tC performance is pleasant enough. 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 the winner, with a smooth, controlled feel even with big 18-inch wheels and tires. Electric power steering actually feels good here, too, as do the bigger all-disc brakes.

Review continues below

The usual rules of sporty coupes apply to the tC's interior. It's snug in front and back, and headroom is tight, even in front thanks to a standard sunroof. The front buckets are well bolstered, and they're wide enough for almost any build. The back seat, unusually, reclines a little bit, and the front seats tilt forward easily, which makes getting into the back seat a little better than in most coupes. 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.

For less than $20,000, the 2012 Scion tC comes with a good set of standard features including power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; steering-wheel audio controls; XM satellite radio; tilt/telescope steering; and a sunroof. 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. Keep it simple, though, or you'll set yourself up for disappointment: a loaded tC overlaps much more exciting machines, like the base 300-horsepower Ford Mustang.

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2012 Scion tC

Styling

This time around, the tC veers from the Celica path with a helmet head and its crease-happy nose and tail.

When we first drove the original Scion tC, the comparisons to the old Toyota Celica were easy to make. That tC was softly rounded, with a soothing interior and mild performance. The stakes are a little higher, and the lines a lot more masculine, this time around the block. The tC now wears angles that firm up its shape into something more interesting, with muscle-car and gaming and cosplay influences we never thought we'd see on this particular canvas. The roofline reminds us of a few things--the Camaro or GT-R, or maybe a Cylon helmet, and the nose and taillamps are angled and shoveled to fall in line. It's more chunky, but less ponderous than before, and that echoes the message we get from the drivetrain.

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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2012 Scion tC

Performance

The Scion tC is no Mustang rival, but performance is on par with other sporty front-drive coupes.

Rear-drive coupes like the Mustang and the new Genesis Coupe will outshine it on the track, but the Scion tC is a pleasant daily driver with a hint or two of satisfying performance.

Even without the add-on performance promised by Toyota's performance division, the tC's four-cylinder engine acquits itself with good acceleration. The 2.5-liter four is the only powerplant offered on the tC, and it's worth 180 horsepower in this application, putting out a slight burble from its tuned exhaust from about 3200 rpm, as it winds up smoothly for its fairly large displacement. It doesn't feel particularly rev-happy, but it will push to a 6400-rpm redline, and Scion says it's good for 0-60 mph times of about 7.6 seconds with the manual shifter, 8.3 sec with the automatic.

Those transmissions will split the tC owner base, with tuner-intending owners opting for the nicely weighted manual despite its crazy-light clutch uptake. The automatic's a better daily driver, and there's not a lot of shame for choosing it in a car that straddles the economy and performance line. 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 perennial construction bumps and mild pavement waves. 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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2012 Scion tC

Comfort & Quality

The tC's interior suffers from a small back seat and lower-grade trim.

Riding on the same overall length as before, but slightly wider than in the first generation, today's Scion tC hasn't expanded interior space too much. That's not an issue for front-seat passengers, and those in the back won't be squished too badly, though there's not an excess of spread-out space.

We like the support and grip found in tC's front bucket seats. More so than many economy coupes, the tC chairs are well bolstered, and it's a snap to find a good driving position with all the adjustments available to the seat and the tilt/telescoping wheel. We wish the standard sunroof were an option, since it trims about three-quarters of an inch of valuable headroom from a car that's already quite low.

The back seat isn't entirely inhospitable for adults. They can enter and exit with less difficulty, since the front seats have a memory function and flip and slide forward easily. Once inside, those passengers will find a backrest that reclines a few degrees, which almost guarantees a comfortable seat, even if leg room is in short supply.

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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2012 Scion tC

Safety

The Scion tC passes its crash tests with flying colors (and probably some flying bits of plastic, too).

The crash tests are in, and the 2012 Scion tC has something to crow about.

In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) battery of tests, the tC has earned a five-star rating, with four stars for front-impact protection and five stars for side impacts. It's a strong performance for a small two-door. It's joined by the good news from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which calls the tC a Top Safety Pick.

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 the prior model, the tC now comes with electronic stability control, Brake Assist, and a brake-throttle override system. Like many of its competitors, the tC doesn't offer advanced safety options such as blind-spot monitors.

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2012 Scion tC

Features

Scion stocks the tC well with standard features, and the parts book has some interesting upgrades.

Priced from about $20,000, the Scion tC comes with a full well of standard features, some of which we might prefer on the options list, but most bundled together just as most buyers will like.

Every tC comes with standard cruise control; air conditioning; power windows, locks, and mirrors; an audio system with satellite radio and steering-wheel controls. The sunroof is something we'd drop if we could--it snips head room, and has a flimsy shade that slips off track more than the actual car does. It also has a wind deflector that seems to make more noise and doesn't cut down much of the air turbulence.

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 also 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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2012 Scion tC

Fuel Economy

The tC's gas mileage looks good on first glance, but some mid-size sedans will do better.

You'd expect a compact coupe with a Toyota badge to earn good gas-mileage numbers, and you'd be right, with the Scion tC. In the wider scope, though, some mid-size sedans have it beat.

The EPA gives the tC a rating of 23/31 mpg, no matter whether you opt for the six-speed manual or the six-speed automatic. The numbers represent a few miles per gallon better efficiency than the first-generation tC. However, Toyota's own Camry will best the tC on the highway cycle, and so will more spacious hatchbacks like the Kia Soul.

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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