There's a whiff or two of driving satisfaction and enthusiasm in the latest Scion tC, but under most circumstances, it's more of a friendly commuter that would be trounced on the track--and almost on the Monroney--by even the base versions of the Ford Mustang, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and critically now, Scion's own FR-S rear-drive sports coupe.
Acceleration isn't a handicap, though, in the tC. It'll scoot to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds, thanks to a relatively low curb weight and a good pairing of a large-displacement four-cylinder and a manual transmission--the transmission you'll want, by the way. Without any performance-enhancing add-ons or injections, the tC's 2.5-liter, 180-horsepower four is a fine canvas for tuners to get to work, but it also puts out the useful kind of everyday power that makes the hatchback a pleasant performer around town. It's also fairly smooth, even above 3200 rpm where the engine noise turns interesting and burbly, where some big fours go raspy and harsh. It'll push to a 6400-rpm redline with the six-speed manual--but with the available six-speed automatic, Scion estimates those 0-60 mph runs at 8.3 seconds.
The choice of 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, where we first sampled the tC, 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 some 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 version 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.