2013 Scion tC

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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
May 30, 2012

Buying tip

The beauty of buying "aftermarket" parts and tuning up the tC from Scion itself? You can roll the cost of parts into the loan.

features & specs

2-Door HB Automatic
2-Door HB Automatic Release Series 8.0
2-Door HB Manual
23 city / 31 hwy
23 city / 31 hwy
23 city / 31 hwy

Not quite fast, and not quite nimble, the latest Scion tC is on its way to developing an interesting personality.

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.

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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.


2013 Scion tC


With more creases in its coat and pops in its collar, the latest Scion tC is no curvy Celica.

Toyota has the good fortune and the burden of having the successful Celica in its past. For almost 30 years, the sporty coupe defined the brand, and led some dramatic styling changes until it was dropped from the lineup. The Scion tC took up the same mantle, only without the name--and in its first generation, it wore everything Celica in its look but the badging.

The rounded, soft looks gave way in the 2011 model year, when Scion rebaked the tC into a more masculine plaything. The angles are sharper, the corners more creased, the attitude a little more brusque. From some angles it's still recognizably Toyota--from others it's a little alien, from the Cylon-like helmet shaped into the rear roofline that's also a nod to the Nissan GT-R and Chevy Camaro, to the shoveled nose and tail that fall into line with an Eighties subtext running through its sheetmetal. It's a Celica at heart, still, we think, but maybe one that's into a little cosplay.

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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.

2013 Scion tC


Among front-drive coupes it's a strong performer, but the Scion tC isn't all that quick.

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.

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2013 Scion tC

Comfort & Quality

A cramped back seat and some plasticky trim drag down the tC's cabin.

It's more of a styling standout, but the 2013 Scion tC isn't much larger than the first-edition coupe. Front-seat passengers still fare much better than those in back, since the tC's the same overall length than it was in its first generation, if a little bit wider this time around the block.

The sporty seats in front of the tC offer lots of grip and support, in the right places, and in the right amounts. Proper bolstering for a car in its class gives the tC the ability to provide a good driving position, and drivers will find the adjustments they need from the tilt/telescoping steering wheel and the seat itself. Headroom is far from extravagant, though, which makes us wish the standard sunroof was an option instead--it shaves almost an inch of valuable space away from the tC's cabin.

Those in the back won't be squished too badly, though there's not an excess of spread-out space. Adults 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 it's not inhospitable at all: the backrest reclines a few degrees, which almost guarantees a comfortable seating position, 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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2013 Scion tC


Excellent crash-test scores make the tC a great first-car choice.

The battery of crash tests performed by your government and by the insurance industry are speaking in unison: the tC's a very safe little coupe.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that the latest Scion tC earns a 'good' rating in all its relevant crash tests, including rear impacts and roof-crush tests. Along with stability control that's standard, those performances earn the coupe a Top Safety Pick award. The only caution is an 'acceptable' rating in the new small overlap test; but that's still better than any other small coupe.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), meanwhile, puts the tC in the small class of vehicles that get an overall rating of five stars. The two-door receives four stars in the agency's front-impact crash tests, and five stars for the new side-impact tests.

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.


2013 Scion tC


As usual with Scion, the basic features are good--but it's the custom catalog that'll get you spending lots of optional dollars.

Very well-equipped even at its base price of about $20,000, the Scion tC comes with some standard features that might be better left on the options sheet. As usual, though, the Scion experience lets owners tweak the list with all sorts of custom equipment, from mild aero add-ons to more exotic trim pieces and upgrades.

The single tC model, with either transmission, has standard features that include power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; and an audio system with satellite radio and steering-wheel controls. If it were our twenty-kay, we'd skip the sunroof; it cuts into the available headroom, and the sunshade that rides shotgun to it rattles in its housing and slips off track more than the average drifting amateur. The sunroof's wind deflector makes a lot of noise, too, and doesn't seem to fulfill its mission to cut down on air turbulence.

Scion's audio offerings are a little more exotic than the usual under-$20,000 stuff, too. The standard Pioneer audio system has AM/FM/CD capability as well as iPod and USB connectivity. Opt for the Alpine Premium system and its fussy interface, and you'll also get 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.

Review continues below

2013 Scion tC

Fuel Economy

The tC's gas mileage is just okay, especially when compared with bigger four-door sedans.

Toyota's hybrids often soar in gas-mileage ratings, but its cars fare average, or worse. The Scion tC's a good example: it's just okay by absolute standards, and a bit of a gas swiller compared to Toyota's own larger, more useful Camry sedan.

On the EPA scale last year, the tC earned ratings of 23 miles per gallon on the city cycle, and 31 miles per gallon highway. The numbers apply to versions with either the automatic or manual transmission. While those figures are an improvement of several miles per gallon over the first-generation tC, they're just not that great overall. The Camry will best the tC on the highway cycle, and so will more spacious hatchbacks like the Kia Soul, which gets up to 33 mpg on the highway.

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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Styling 8
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Comfort & Quality 6
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