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As Scion undergoes a little bit of a personality change--the new 2013 FR-S sports coupe is a dramatic shift up and away from the JDM ethos, right?--it's still counting on its long-time sales champ to bring home some steady clientele. That provider in chief would be the tC, the front-drive sporty hatchback that's sustained the brand while the xD and xA have failed to launch, while the iQ figures out if America cares, and while the xB drifts further into fleetdom.
The tC is a mainstay because the formula's so simple: hark back to the simple economy-car roots of the Celica, while amping up the appeal to male buyers and performance-seekers who won't be able to swing the funds needed to move into true sportscar territory--i.e., the Ford Mustang, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, the Chevy Camaro, and the FR-S (and its twin, the Subaru BRZ).
In 2011 the tC tampered with that formula, if only a little. In giving up the bubbly shape of the first-generation hatchback, it crisped up its bodywork into something more compelling--something a little more like the Eighties-tastic Celica that still earns shovel-nose props. The latest tC, essentially a carryover last year and in this model year, wears some bolder details and some chunky, thick passages of sheetmetal. The roofline's a good case study: is it a Camaro knockoff, with its pointed taper, or is it an Ultraman helmet updated for today's interstellar warrior? It's both, of course, and as clever as the angled front and rear ends that cut new outlines for what's essentially the same tC underneath. The cockpit's not as fortunate, we think: the surfaces have gone all hard and plasticky, with some glaring mismatches and lots of cutlines that say "cost-cutting" more politely than we can whisper it. Still there's some design nuance where it counts--in the cut-tube gauges and M&M-shaped climate controls, and the red-lit gauges.
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.
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 NHTSA and IIHS both hold the Scion tC in high regard (five stars overall and Top Safety Pick, respectively), although its crash-test results aren't entirely top-tier.
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.
- More tension in its styling
- Smoother power from a big four
- Ride quality is good for the size, class
- Tune it up, right at the dealer
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Standard sunroof equals tight headroom for some
- Lacks sharp driving feel
- Dash materials are coarse, shiny