COCONUT GROVE, Fla. -- A stylish two-door coupe flashing edgy arched fenders and an all-glass roofline glides smoothly down Tiger Tail Avenue in Coconut Grove, the palm-fringed Miami community set beside Biscayne Bay.
With a warm sun glowing in a true-blue sky, we're cruising the Grove in what seems like a slick custom car, although this one happens to be entirely stock and available directly off a dealer's lot.
It carries the badge of tC and conforms as a subcompact coupe developed exclusively for Scion in America.
Scion, derived from Toyota, showcases rather cool but affordable small cars pitched to that 20-something market called Generation Y.
The cutie xB, looking like a wild-style box on wheels, is a contemporary homage to the panel van with a slammed stance, while the xD is a miniature five-door hatchback wagon laced with gear for comfort and safety.
And the tC is a curvaceous coupe with that glass lid on top and extensive standard features plus a long list of optional equipment to fashion a customized car -- and a nice price tag makes it downright affordable.
Add $620 as a freight fee to get the ultimate base price of $17,620 with a five-speed manual transmission, or $800 more for a four-speed electronically controlled automatic.
Frankly, the tC surprises us with quality of materials used in the car and notable standard content, particularly when factored against that favorable price tag.
Design of the package resembles a fluid and slinky coupe although there's a cleverly-disguised gate on the tail so tC brings the versatility of a hatchback.
It has a monochromatic face with the fat lip of fascia set low and tinted to the body color.
A thin bead of chrome outlines the narrow grille filled with a sporty mesh insert, as projector-type headlamps mount inside the lamp clusters which wrap around front corners.
Flanks go flat but fenders emphasize wheel arches with sculptured rims.
The windshield cants rearward at a rakish angle to set up the fluid line of a curving roof that tapers down to the stubby tail.
And that roof -- it's virtually all glass in the form of a panorama-style power moonroof, the first of its kind as standard feature for the subcompact set.
Climb inside to discover that the cabin feels airy and spacious, despite overall dimensions which tie the tC to the eensy-weensy class.
Driver and a companion sit on contoured buckets separated by a metal-tone console swooping down from the center of the dashboard.
Rear seats, split 60/40 in segments, recline and adjust to ten different positions for comfort or fold down to increase storage space in the back cargo bay.
The instruments panel adds three round binnacles housing white-faced analog gauges with amber illumination.
Platform for the front-wheel-drive (FWD) tC is derived from a Toyota car marketed in Europe. It's a broad and long structure rigged with independent suspension including front struts and a double-wishbone arrangement at the rear.
Steering by rack and pinion gears goes beyond the norm for an economy car to control noise and vibration.
Brakes carry a disc at every wheel with computer-controlled anti-lock brake system (ABS) as well as electronic brake force distribution (EBD), which measures differences in speed for front and rear wheels, then doles out proper braking force to all wheels.
Passive safety systems range from dual frontal air bags to an auxiliary air bag positioned forward of the driver's knee and three-point seatbelts with pretensioners and integrated headrests at all seat positions. Also aboard are side-impact air bags in outboard bolsters of front buckets and curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners for front and rear seats.
New tC feels fun to drive, particularly in an urban environment on city streets. It zips to speed with a quick run through the lower gears, while handling seems acute with responsive steering conducive to quick-cut maneuvers.
tC's zip stems from a thrifty but lively 2.4-liter four-in-line engine with dual cams and Toyota's valve wizardry under the label of VVT-i for variable valve timing with intelligent control.
The plant produces 161 hp at 6000 rpm and torque of 162 lb-ft at 4000 rpm through the standard manual five-speed or optional electronically controlled four-speed automatic.
It qualifies for ULEV-II (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) status and delivers fuel economy numbers to 27 mpg with the manual stick or to 29 mpg with the automatic.
tC carries a lot of stock content, like air conditioning, power buttons for running windows and door locks and mirrors, a driver's seat with adjustments for height and thigh support, fully reclining front seats, the rear seats with 60/40 split and reclining and folding seatbacks, a tilting three-spoke stering wheel with audio controls plus cruise control.
The standard 160-watt audio system by Pioneer brings a maximum output AM/FM/CD head unit (MP3/WMA and satellite-tuner capable) with a connection for iPod, Scion Sound Processing, a welcome screen with customizing, and Sound Retouch digital equalization plus six speakers -- a tweeter, a speaker for both front door panels, plus two full-range rear speakers.
Upgrading audio gear brings tC's premium audio system with the ability to download 'skins' to play on the organic electroluminescent (OEL) screen.
You can download images, four-second video clips and eight-second movies from the Pioneer website. Further, the faceplate light also changes its hue at the tap of a button, sliding from deep orange to blue.
tC's optional premium audio system even shows digital images or video clips on a dashboard organic electroluminescent (OEL) screen. Also available is a subwoofer and satellite radio service by XM or Sirius.
Another option to tC's accessory line is a navigation system with audio/video/navigation unit and a seven-inch LCD touch screen for the center dash.