Pros: Sporty attitude; peppy acceleration; decent backseat; handy hatchback; extensive personalization options; good value
Cons: Not quite as capable as it looks
What's New: The 2013 tC is unchanged except for the arrival of the limited-edition Release Series 8.0, which features sporty styling cues and a lowered suspension.
The 2013 Scion tC sport coupe doesn't get much love from enthusiast-oriented car magazines, but we think that's actually a good thing. Why? Because it underscores the fact that the tC is a civilized car: It doesn't have an obnoxiously loud engine, it doesn't ride like an ox cart and it doesn't have a cramped interior.
On the contrary, it's a sensible Toyota-built coupe with just enough sportiness to remind you that you didn't buy a Corolla.
Of course, your Scion dealer will be happy to make your tC look and sound like a performance car. The Scion experience is all about accessories, so if you want an aggressive exhaust or a lowered suspension, for example, you can get it at the dealership without jeopardizing your warranty.
But underneath its frequently flashy veneer, the tC remains a practical Toyota product that should provide a pain-free ownership experience. This may not be the stuff magazine covers are made of, but for real-world drivers, the 2013 Scion tC is a pretty cool package.
Comfort & Utility
The tC is offered in one trim level with many optional accessories. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a height-adjustable driver's seat, air-conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, a first aid kit, a tilt-telescopic flat-bottom sport steering wheel and an 8-speaker 300-watt Pioneer audio system with HD radio and iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
Available extras include 19-in alloy wheels, fog lights, a rear spoiler, a premium Pioneer audio system with a 5.8-in touchscreen and Pandora Internet radio connectivity (iPhone required), a navigation system with a 7-in touchscreen (replacing the premium stereo's smaller touchscreen) and a variety of mild performance aids like lowering springs, performance brakes and a sport exhaust.
Also offered for 2013, in a limited production run of 2,000 cars, is the Release Series 8.0 edition, which boasts Absolutely Red exterior paint, black 18-in alloy wheels, a full body kit, lowering springs, a sport exhaust, red interior stitching, an individually numbered badge and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (automatic transmission only).
In our interior evaluation, we deemed the tC model's front seats a welcome departure from Scion's ho hum norm, as they boast prominent side bolsters designed to hold you in place when the going gets twisty. Those bolsters could actually be more aggressive, though, as we suspect concessions have been made to the median American physique. The thick, leather-wrapped, tilt-telescopic steering wheel has a wide range of adjustability and it sports a race-car-style flat bottom that reminds us of the wheel in the mega-expensive Audi TT RS.
The tC model's gauges are straightforward, comprising an orange-illuminated tachometer and speedometer housed within separate hoods. The 3-dial climate controls couldn't be simpler and the entire central control panel is canted toward the driver for a cool cockpit-like feel. We've seen other publications complain about the tC model's interior materials, but we're not sure what they're so angry about. Sure, the plastics are hard to the touch, but they've got distinctive graining and the overall ambiance in the tC model's cabin is hardly cheap.
The tC model's backseat illustrates the advantages of basing a sport coupe on an existing sedan. Unless the front passengers are unusually tall, full-size adults should be able to ride in the back for miles without complaint. Rear headroom is the most significant limiting factor.
Cargo capacity seems average-plus at first blush -- 14.7 cu ft -- but that's just the start of it. The tC is actually a hatchback, believe it or not, and if you open that liftgate and fold down the rear seat backs, you'll have nearly 35 cu ft of cargo space, which puts the tC in a dead heat with the xD 4-door hatchback.
The tC model's standard Pioneer stereo is much nicer to look at than the typical base stereo under $20,000 and it even lets you customize a 16-character welcome message that appears every time you flip it on. We especially like the iPod-inspired mode selection dial and the fact that the 300-watt output is significantly more than most other Scions provide. The optional touchscreen stereo is tempting, though, as it brings the added functionality (and cool typeface) of that 5.8-in screen -- plus an iPhone-powered Pandora feed and a little extra power -- for under $500. But we'd like to see a subwoofer come standard with this premium system; if you want a sub, you'll have to buy one yourself and hook it up to the included RCA output.
The other notable high-tech extra is the navigation system, which boasts a 7-in touchscreen. It works well enough, but given that it costs a whopping two grand, we'd rather use our smartphone to get around.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The front-wheel drive tC is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 rated at 180 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque. The transmission options are a 6-speed manual and an extra-cost 6-speed automatic. Either way, the tC packs a pretty decent punch. This is essentially the same engine that powers the Toyota Camry sedan and it has less mass to pull around in the tC model's case. The front tires chirping in off-the-line acceleration is a regular occurrence in this Scion and passing power is respectable. For under $20,000, this is one of the quicker sport coupes on the market.
All things considered, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy estimates are pretty good for the tC, checking in at 23 miles per gallon city/31 mpg highway.
The tC comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee, full-length side curtain).
In government crash testing, the tC scored a perfect five stars overall, including four stars for front impacts and five for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the tC its top rating of Good in all categories.
The tC is a great introduction to the joy of driving. Thanks to standard stability control and an appetite for understeer, this Scion is highly unlikely to behave unpredictably. What it will do, though, is get enough g-forces going in corners to whet a driver's appetite. At the same time, the tC has a civilized ride and road noise isn't a problem by sport coupe standards. We're fans.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Civic Si: More focused on performance than the tC, the Civic Si is a little quicker if you wind it out to the red line. The tC has closed the gap considerably, though.
Kia Forte SX Koup: The 2-door Forte with the 2.4-liter engine packs style and spice in equal measure, but its boring interior gives the tC a clear advantage.
Volkswagen Golf: The 2-door Golf has great driving dynamics and a character-rich inline-5 engine, along with an even handier hatchback design than the tC.
The tC comes so well-equipped that we'd only be tempted to spring for the sexy 5.8-in touchscreen. We'd stick with the manual transmission, too. That's a lot of bang for the buck.