Overview

Toyota's all-out attempt to capture America's Generation Y buyers of hot-looking, hot-performing small cars started last year with the simultaneous introductions of the Scion xA 5-door hatchback runabout and the xB microvan, but they are calling the new tC hatchback coupe the first true Scion. The tC is built on the same chassis as the Toyota Avensis, which is sold only in Europe, and uses the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine used throughout the American Toyota lineup, but that doesn't mean this is just another Toyota. This little rocket was developed in only 13 months with a single purpose in mind.

The Scion tC means to make mincemeat of the Honda Civic that is so popular with Gen Y drivers by offering a single, very well equipped model at a nearly unbeatable low price and a menu of options that will allow owners to built cars unique to their tastes.

The engine is quiet, smooth, and plenty powerful. The steering, ride quality and handling are commendable. Braking is powerful, with ABS and electronic brake force distribution standard. This car is surprisingly quiet, the interior materials are first-rate, and attention to detail is evident. The bucket seats are comfortable and there's enough room to suit tall drivers. A 160-watt stereo is standard, and a full array of airbags is available.

This is perhaps the best small Japanese coupe we have ever driven, at a price that is ridiculously low.

Model Lineup

The Scion tC hatchback coupe ($15,950) comes only one way, with no model name attached. (They apparently couldn't call it xC because Volvo already uses XC90 for its sport utility). It comes with all the major comfort and convenience items built in, including air conditioning, power steering, brakes, locks and mirrors, a tilt wheel, a 160-watt Pioneer 6-CD changer AM/FM setup, sport bucket seats with cloth seating and position memory, two-tiered console, reclining front and rear seats, keyless entry, engine immobilizer, cargo cover, and a dozen other items.

There are only two factory-installed options, the automatic transmission at $845 and the side and roof air bag system for $650. To make the car more palatable to more people, Scion has chosen a menu of 40 different freestanding options, more than any other car in its class, ranging from a $4500 supercharger kit good for 200 horsepower to a selection of different chrome and leather shift knobs. Special Toyota Racing Development (TRD) high-performance items for the Scion tC include 18- and 19-inch wheels, a lowering kit, struts and shock absorbers, rear anti-roll bar, a high-performance clutch, a quick shifter, a stainless steel muffler, and a shift-point indicator light kit. Toyota's high-performance arm is already working on a 300-horsepower package of parts for the lunatic fringe.

Walkaround

The look of the Scion tC is one of purposeful performance. It's not blatant, and it doesn't come with spoilers, rocker moldings or wings, but all the ingredients are there. The somewhat bland overall look is meant to be "a blank canvas" for young hot-rodders and customizers. The standard panorama glass roof is an unexpected bonus in this price class, fitted without gaskets for a tight, no-creaks fit. It filters 97 percent of UV rays and 100 percent of infrared, to avoid damage to occupants.

The doors are quite long for such a small car, and the door handles of the reach-around-and-pull variety that we like. The long rear side window suggests a two-door sedan more than a hatchback coupe, and makes the design flow from front to rear gracefully. Wheel arches are exaggerated, suggesting that larger tires and wheels will be fitted as soon as the car is bought (or the buyer can opt for the 18- or 19-inch factory wheels and tires).

The body panel fits are typically Toyota, tight and straight, and quality leaks from every pore. The tC is the first purpose-built Scion, the other two having been developed from concept vehicles, and although it is inexpensive, it is anything but cheap.

Interior Features

Inside the Scion tC, there are lots more positive surprises. Materials are first-rate, there aren't a whole lot of different grains and textures, and the swoopy brushed-metal center stack housing vents, sound system and climate control system, is a marvel of modern design. Everything fits together beautifully, works intuitively and looks great.

The front bucket seats look and feel like they were designed for racing, but that doesn't mean to say they're too narrow or too hard. Very comfortable, with enough fore/aft adjustment to suit very tall American drivers regardless of age. The driver's and shotgun seats can be reclined all the way down into what Scion calls a "sleep" position, and the rear seats recline through 10 stops and 45 degrees of recline to convert the interior into a conversation bin. With seats up, there's more than 26 inches of cargo length there; with the second seats dropped, almost 60 inches; and with the front passenger seat folded over, almost 104 inches of cargo length available.

There are lots of convincing little touches indoors, like the mechanical seat position memory on the front bucket seats, the 60/40 split folding rear seat, the very decent amount of storage space with the seats down, the dead pedal for the driver's left foot, fully closing vents, and a cover for the stereo system's faceplate. A knee airbag is standard, the first US Toyota to have this feature.

Speaking of stereos, the base Pioneer/Scion single-CD system packs a user-customizable welcome screen, MP3 capability, four speakers and 160 watts, with a 10-inch subwoofer optional and a 6-CD slot changer and XM satellite radio also available at extra cost. The three-pod instrument panel is amber-illuminated, deeply tunneled and easy to use, day or night, as are the balance of the instruments and controls.

Driving Impressions

The engine in the Scion tC has been around in one form or another as a car and truck powerplant for many years, continuously improved for power, torque, and Toyota levels of quietness and reliability. It comes with electronic variable valve timing for good low end torque development, and twin balance shafts for smoothness. Tuned to 160 horsepower and 163 foot-pounds of torque for this application, the engine is quiet, smooth, and plenty powerful in a 2900-pound car, and at full throttle, it sounds powerful without being intrusive, because it has a valved muffler that opens up at high rpm and can be worth as much as 5 horsepower.

The transmission gearing in the automatic that we drove for this test is wholly unsuitable for bigtime acceleration, with an overall ratio of just over 10:1 (the first-gear ratio times the axle ratio), while the manual is almost 50 percent lower, almost 15:1, for maximum acceleration in first gear. However, the automatic does move out smartly, it's obviously much easier to live with in gooey traffic, and will get significantly better highway mileage than the manual, which is saddled with a very low 4.235 axle ratio. No complaints on the powertrain.

The steering, ride quality and overall handling of the Scion tC were commendable, in part due to its 106-inch wheelbase, longest in the class. It steers with a hefty touch, but accurate pointing, and transitions are easy and without drama. That's because the tC has low-cost MacPherson strut front suspension coupled with an expensive independent double-wishbone rear suspension not found on many cars in this price class. Bridgestone Potenza tires originally developed for the hot-rod Lexus IS 300 are standard.

Braking is accomplished with a combination of ventilated front and sold rear discs, 10.8 inches front and 10.6 inches rear, generously sized and quite powerful for a car this light, with both ABS and electronic brake force distribution built into the standard price. The pedal feel and travel is very much to our liking, with very little dead space at the top of the pedal travel.

One of the things that came through after our initial drive was the quietness of this small, inexpensive car, which turns out to have more sound insulation in it than any other Toyota product this side of a Lexus V8. The front suspension strut tower is connected to both the dashboard and to the A-pillar for extra strength and solidity, and the rear suspension has three steel subframe supports that also add quietness and rigidity.

Summary

If your physical size and family size can tolerate the tC, it can most certainly transport and entertain you for less than $17,000. With the killer 40-item option list and the TRD parts catalog, you can build a unique car. All it takes is money. There's nothing missing. It's all here.

For performance-minded youth, the option list and the TRD parts list will enable you to build a unique Scion tC hot rod without ever leaving the dealership, and the hot-rod parts carry the same warranty as the car itself.

Model Line Overview
Base Price (MSRP)
$15,950
Model lineup:
Scion tC ($16,645, including freight)
Engines:
160-hp 2.4-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4
Transmissions:
5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (Standard):
ABS, front airbags, knee air bag
Safety equipment (Optional):
side-impact and roof airbags
Basic warranty:
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:
Tasumi, Japan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSRP):
Scion tC ($15,950)
Standard equipment:
air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, power hatch release, audio cover, cargo cover, remote entry, engine immobilizer, AM-FM 6CD 6-speaker stereo, cruise control, panorama moonroof, chrome exhaust tip, 17-inch alloy wheels
Options as tested:
automatic transmission ($800), side and roof air bags ($650)
Destination charge:
515
Gas Guzzler Tax:
N/A
Price as tested (MSRP)
$17,915
Layout:
front-wheel drive
Engine:
2.4-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm):
160 @ 5700
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):
163 @ 4000
Transmission:
5-speed manual
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:
23/30 mpg.
Wheelbase:
106.3 in.
Length/width/height:
174/69.1/55.7 in.
Track, f/r:
59.3/59.3 in.
Turning circle:
5 ft.
Seating capacity:
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, f:
37.6/53.2/41.6 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:
36.6/47.3/33.6 in.
Cargo volume:
12.8 cu. ft.
Payload:
N/A
Towing capacity:
not rated lbs.
Suspension F:
independent
Suspension R:
independent
Ground clearance:
5.2 in.
Curb weight:
2905 lbs.
Tires:
P215/45ZR17
Brakes, f/r:
disc/disc with ABS, EBD in.
Fuel capacity:
14.5 gal.

Jim McCraw

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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