tC moves Scion beyond Gen Y

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Throw out the Gen Y rigmarole. This neatly designed and well-built Scion hatchback is a mainstream product. If it appeals to us it surely will appeal to anyone who is interested in a sporty two-door car with impeccable fit and finish that is fun to drive.

If we are going to hook a target audience up to the all-new Scion tC, let’s throw in a couple other market demographic types such as Generation X and the Baby Boomers.
The Scion arm of Toyota is aiming its newest creation at those born from the mid ‘70s through the mid ‘80s, otherwise known as Generation Y and those even younger as Toyota looks to influence a generation only dreaming about the day they can get behind the wheel.

While they will probably sell more of the new tC’s to Gen Y than anyone else this car is going to hit a broader audience. If it had a Toyota name, like Corolla Coupe, we would certainly be looking at older buyers. As is, Toyota salespeople are likely to try and scare that older audience away from the Scion corner of the showroom. (There are kids with orange spiked hair over there! Would you like to buy a Corolla sedan?)

In an effort to pander to the Gen Y crowd, Scion has unique showrooms, within but separate from Toyota. Sales people are instructed to place no pressure on the customer. But you’ll have to run the gauntlet past the Toyota sales team to get to the low pressure Scion sales team. This seems like a dandy way to sell cars to us (pre) Baby Boomers, as well.

But the Scion was designed with the youth-oriented market in mind and that’s whom Toyota is aggressively targeting.

This is the third Scion in a lineup that is as much about the dealer experience and the huge aftermarket potential as it is about the cars.

Scion offers its vehicles in one trim level. No need to complicate the situation. From there the customer can add what he or she wants and what they can afford. But if the customer wants to walk away with the base car they will not be getting a stripped down model.

For instance, our Scion tC test car came with a load of standard equipment for $16,465 including destination charge. What makes this so interesting is that for years Toyota has used just the opposite approach luring the customer into the showroom with a bargain-basement price on a car stripped of almost everything but four wheels and a steering wheel.

By the time the customer had left the showroom with such desirable amenities as air conditioning, a decent stereo and power windows and locks, he was looking at a sticker price that had absolutely no relationship to the original.

Toyota thinks that loading up the base-priced car is desirable for the younger set. Here’s a thought – it’s desirable for any age group.

Our test car came with an energetic 2.4-liter 160-horsepower engine, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 17-inch alloy wheels, glass moonroof, Pioneer 160-watt stereo with CD player, air conditioning, keyless remote, one-touch down and up power windows, power locks and cruise control.

Scion has designed its cars with the serious tuner in mind. That’s another reason why the Gen Y crowd should flock to the tC. A supercharger, lowering springs and larger wheels are some of the things t
hat can be purchased from Toyota without altering the new-car warranty.

By the way, the supercharger will net 200 horses and put the tC into serious performance territory.

The tC’s natural rivals are, among others, the Ford Focus ZX3, Honda Civic coupe, Saturn Ion, Volkswagen Golf and Acura RSX.

But what the Scion tC designers were really trying to emulate was the BMW 3-Series coupe. They figure BMWs are one of the key aspirational products of young people. So the thinking goes, if the young people of America can find a coupe that lives up to the traits of the Bimmer, but at a fraction of the cost, they will come running.

Indeed, the tC does have a little of the BMW look through the eyes. The rest of the coupe is handsome in a rather conservative way considering the targeted customer.
But as we have said, the tC’s mainstream look should attract a wider audience that is car savvy enough to know a darn good deal when they see it. The driving experience is delightful when you consider the 16 grand price of admission.

The 4-cylinder is energetic when mated to the standard 5-speed transmission. Like most 4-cylinders, it has to be wound out to get satisfying performance. But if you don’t mind tickling the red markers on the rpm gauge, you will have a blast.

The tC can scream to 60 miles an hour in 7.4 seconds and complete a quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 88 miles per hour. The shifter has short, accurate throws making quick getaways a delightful experience. The tC’s rather stout curb weight of just over 3,000 pounds keeps it from joining the under-7-second club, however.

Smiles can also be induced on the back-road twists and turns where the coupe handles itself rather adroitly. Steering is fairly accurate, although we found ourselves occasionally needing to make small course corrections as we hurtled down the highway.

The living area is handsome. A waterfall-style center stack, metallic accents, premium-feeling switchgear and high-quality materials give the interior a luxury feel. The front seats are comfortable and supportive. Rear-seat passengers have generous legroom considering this is a small coupe, and the rear seats can be reclined for more comfortable traveling on long jaunts.

Front headroom may be a problem for those with a long torso. We didn’t have a problem, but some people we’ve talked with have found the roof a bit too close. Part of the headroom problem may be due to the power sunroof with front and rear panels. Headroom aside, we applaud Toyota for throwing in this unique feature as standard equipment.

Hatchbacks are immensely practical because of the large rear opening and seatbacks that fold down. The Scion is so equipped. We commend Toyota for making ABS standard equipment. But you will have to pay for additional safety. Side impact airbags and side curtain airbags are a $650 option. We recommend checking that option on the sheet. Our test car came with the airbag option as well as Scion security, a rear spoiler lip and front strut tie bar bringing the bottom line to $18,339.

Automatic transmission lovers will have to cough up another $800. Options that we’d add would be satellite radio ($695) and upgraded stereo with 6-disc changer ($395).

The tC gives the Scion a well rounded lineup. It is the most mainstream, but the most endearing to us is the boxy xB, which we fell in love with a few months ago. The xA, a four-door hatchback, is our least favorite; it’s a pretty ordinary little car.

Forget the Gen Y thing. Forget the Scion name. The tC should be on the shopping list of anyone in the market for a small, sporty hatchback.