Scion tC — Keeping young buyers on the move

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Toyota has done a credible job revitalizing the Scion tC with a second-generation 2011 model-year vehicle that has more power, a more engaging driving demeanor, slightly updated styling and a still-modest price tag that makes it an excellent value for anyone — but mostly young people — looking for a sporty and spacious coupe. But we wonder if Toyota has done enough to keep its Scion lineup — and the tC in particular — vital in the ever-changing landscape of automobile competition? 

The tC has been Scion’s sales leader since day one, outselling the boxy xB, xD and discontinued xA. The entire lineup has fallen on hard times since the heady days of 2005 and 2006 when Scion accounted for 156,000 and 173,000 of Toyota’s total U.S. sales. Those sales were led by the tC with 74,000 and 79,000 respectively. In 2010, less than 47,000 Scions were sold of which 15,000 were tCs.

Indeed, the new tC has garnered renewed interest and is selling at an annual pace of about 25,000. But we don’t think that modest number is what Toyota had in mind with the redesign.

There are circumstances when we think its best that an automaker doesn’t mess up a good thing, head in a totally different design direction. An example is the Honda Civic. The last-generation Civic (2006-2011) carries a futuristic design that is wearing well. Honda wisely left it pretty much alone for 2012 and we think that was smart.

On the other hand tC was given minimal exterior updates with a mild evolutionary redesign, but perhaps in Toyota’s case more revolutionary changes were in order. With sales falling off the cliff to the tune of 81 percent from 2006 to 2010, perhaps a more ambitious redesign was necessary.

It didn’t happen; nevertheless the result is a good car, a solid entry-level purchase that looks nearly identical to the previous car. Unfortunately, it appears that Toyota dealers will not see substantial sales increases that are usually expected with a new generation vehicle.

But disappointing sales do not deter us from recommending the tC after spending some time behind the wheel. We think potential customers who have decided to buy elsewhere may be short-changing themselves.

The biggest single thing that we noticed was the uptick in energy generated from the new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 180 horsepower — an increase of 19 over the previous engine — mated to a six-speed automatic, which is up two gears from 2010.

While we wouldn’t call the performance exciting, it is indeed adequate for all eventualities and should suit its owners.

For those who may want more spirited performance, we recommend they opt for the six-speed manual. Performance measured by the ubiquitous 0-to-60 statistic falls into the 7.5 to 8 second range depending on whose numbers better fit into your bragging rights. Perhaps an even better measurement is its 23 mpg city and 31mpg out on the highway with the automatic transmission. No premium gas needed.

The tC falls more into the sporty car class as opposed to the sports car classification, but it’s sporty enough to suit most young buyers, male and female.

The tC owner gets the best of two worlds — a sporty coupe design with surprisingly excellent rear-seat room for two adult passengers and a healthy cargo carrying capacity under the hatchback of 14.7 cubic feet.

It was indeed an eye-opener when we apologetically placed one of our frequent adult riders in back seat thinking she would be cramped up as is the usual case in a compact two-door. But she proclaimed there was no need for an apology, she had a comfortable seating position and plenty of legroom. And the seatbacks recline for long-distance comfort.

When cargo hauling is the order of the day, the rear seatbacks can be folded flat increasing load capacity to 34.5 cubic feet. We typically favor a hatchback design for its usefulness without detracting from exterior styling. And the tC certainly reinforces our long-held thinking.

The gauge package and controls are well designed and canted toward the driver. The flat-bottom steering wheel is thick giving the driver the illusion of being in a race car and it comes with standard audio and cruise controls.

The front seats are comfortable and well bolstered without over doing it for us of advancing age and wider girths.

Our big complaint, which is probably a plus for the 20-somethings this car is aimed at, is with the upgraded audio "head unit," which we found a pain to operate, taking once-simple controls and turning them into an illiterate mess. We would be forced to purchase some type of after-market device more suited to tuning in our favorite satellite or FM radio band.

Toyota includes a lot of features at an affordable price without the need for expensive add-ons, such as a power moonroof, air conditioning, full power equipment, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, external temperature display, a Pioneer 300-watt audio system, and projector beam headlights.

Standard safety includes stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and a full range of airbags. And for peace of mind, know that the tC can stop from 60 mph in a relatively short 123 feet.

The feature-laden coupe comes in one trim level starting at $20,060 including destination charge. Our test car came with upgraded audio and navigation and carpet mats bringing the bottom line to $21,688.

We like the Scion tC. It’s a good buy for the person in the market for a trendy, sporty coupe. And if you like the looks of the first-generation tC, you will surely relish the styling of the 2011 edition.

Toyota is known for playing it safe in the styling department and unfortunately in this case it has lived up to its reputation that will keep the Scion brand in neutral.  


Base price: $20,060; as driven, $21,668\Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder

Horsepower: 180 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 173 pound-feet @ 4,100 rpm

Drive: front wheel

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Seating: 2/2

Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Length: 174 inches

Curb weight: 3,160 pounds

Turning circle: 37.4 feet

Luggage capacity: 14.7 cubic feet

Cargo capacity: 34.5 cubic feet

Fuel Capacity: 14.5 gallons (regular)

EPA rating: 31mpg highway, 23 mpg city

0-60: 7.5 seconds (Car and Driver)

Also consider: Honda Civic coupe, Kia Forte Koupe, Volkswagen Golf

The Good:

• Roomy interior

• Well equipped for the price

• Reclining rear seats

The Bad:

• More of a sporty car than sports car

The Ugly:

• Toyota needs to take more styling chances