Inexpensive compact sport coupes like the Scion tC once roamed the countryside in great numbers. In the closing quarter of the twentieth century, the compact coupe was the vehicle of choice for many under the age of 25. For Gen X-ers, it offered relief from their parents' malaise-era clunkers with sporty driving and rakish styling at an affordable price. But Millennials tend to be more practical, favoring four doors and space for their stuff. And so the Celicas, Preludes and Integras have fallen by the wayside, leaving just the tC, Honda Civic and Kia Forte Koup to soldier on.
This general coupe-apathy from its target market may explain why Scion, Toyota's youth-oriented brand, hasn't made any significant updates to the tC since it launched in 2004. But with sales declining and pressure mounting from the critically-acclaimed Forte and oft-delayed-but-due-any-day redesigned Civic, Scion developed a brand-new tC for 2011.
Exterior styling of the new tC is an evolution from the previous gen. The overall shape is the same, but Scion's designers have added the crisp edges and creases that seem to be all the rage these days. The downside of these exterior tweaks is that the rear side windows are smaller and the C-pillar behind them is thicker, hampering rear visibility when a driver reverses or makes lane changes. The hood also slopes down sharply, making it tough to see the front edge of the car while parking.
The new tC backs up its sporty looks with a bigger engine that produces more power and is also more fuel efficient. The new 2.5-liter four cylinder engine produces 180 horsepower, 19 more than before. Acceleration is reasonably sporty, with a 0-60 time of around 7.3 seconds with the six-speed manual transmission. That's a little faster than the Civic and Forte, but a little slower than the Civic Si. Opting for the six-speed automatic slows things down considerably, with a 0-60 time of about 8.0 seconds. The tC's fuel economy has improved to 23 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with either transmission, an increase of two miles per gallon in both areas. Unfortunately some of the tC's sporty character comes at the expense of ride quality, with a stiff suspension that can be unforgiving over bumpy roads.
Though the compact coupe ethos might be all about sporty driving for less money, the 2011 tC's interior feels cheaper than we'd like – especially considering cars like the redesigned 2011 Hyundai Elantra are establishing new benchmarks for cabin quality at this price. The tC utilizes a lot of hard plastics that can make it tough to find a comfortable spot for resting elbows. The front seat cushions feel under-padded and are too short to provide adequate under-thigh support for taller drivers. Road and engine noise are also an issue, resulting in a steady drone that could prove wearing over long drives.
On the plus side, the reclining rear seats are comfortable and easy to access, and overall space inside is good for a compact coupe. The tC also offers some nice standard features. All cars come with a panoramic glass moonroof that gives the cabin an open, airy feel. The standard 300-watt stereo system provides superb iPod integration and thumping sound, with the option to upgrade to a full-color touch screen with or without navigation. There are auxiliary and USB inputs for connecting or charging iPhones and other gadgets.
Like all new Toyota vehicles, the tC comes with the Star Safety System, a collection of standard safety features including traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake-force distribution and brake assist. All of these features are designed to help drivers maintain control during panic situations like losing traction on slippery roads or slamming on the brakes. The tC also features eight standard airbags, including protection for the driver and front passenger's knees.
As with other Scions, part of the fun in buying a tC is choosing from the myriad of customization options – like wheels, spoilers and graphics – that allow owners to create a personal statement. So prospective buyers should view the new tC as something of a blank canvas, ready for them to make their mark. Pricing starts at $18,275 for the manual transmission, with an extra $1,000 for the automatic.
While the 2011 Scion tC seems to follow the classic compact coupe formula of sporty driving + sporty styling + low price, it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to lure younger buyers away from their affinity for four door boxes, especially with compelling competitors like the Mazda3, Volkswagen GTI and Mini Cooper costing just a bit more.