The engine is quiet, smooth, and plenty powerful, and the car is surprisingly quiet underway. Its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine generates 160 horsepower and gets an EPA-rated 30 miles per gallon on the highway. Steering, ride quality and handling are commendable. Its four-wheel disc brakes are powerful, and ABS and Electronic Brake-force Distribution come standard. A full array of airbags is available to enhance safety.
Interior materials are first-rate, and attention to detail is evident. The bucket seats are comfortable and there's enough room to suit tall drivers. A 160-watt stereo is standard and, the 2006 tC gets a host of audio upgrades including compatibility with that latest must-have accessory: the Apple iPod. The tC offers a menu of options that allow owners to build cars unique to their tastes. The tC was launched as an all-new nameplate for 2005, so there are no major changes for 2006.
Scion tC ($16,200)
The panorama glass roof is an unexpected bonus in this price class, designed without gaskets for a tight, no-creaks fit. It filters 97 percent of UV rays and 100 percent of infrared to avoid sunburned occupants.
The doors are quite long for such a small car, and the door handles are of the reach-around-and-pull variety that we like. The long rear side window suggests a two-door sedan more than a hatchback coupe, and makes the design flow from front to rear gracefully. Wheel arches are exaggerated, suggesting that larger tires and wheels will be fitted as soon as the car is bought (or the buyer can opt for the 18- or 19-inch factory wheels and tires).
The body panels fit tight and straight, and quality leaks from every pore.
The Scion tC was the first true Scion and it remains the best of the bunch. Incidentally, while the other Scion models are named xA and xB, the tC is so named because xC would have infringed on Volvo's naming system.
The front bucket seats look and feel like they were designed for racing, but that doesn't mean to say they're too narrow or too hard. We found them very comfortable, with enough fore/aft adjustment to suit tall American drivers regardless of age (including our tall and, shall we say, experienced correspondent). The driver's and shotgun seats can be reclined all the way down into what Scion calls a sleep position.
The rear seats recline through 10 stops and 45 degrees of recline to convert the interior into a conversation bin. With seats up, there's more than 26 inches of cargo length there; with the second seats dropped, almost 60 inches; and with the front passenger seat folded over, almost 104 inches of cargo length available.
Attention to detail is evident in the mechanical seat position memory on the front bucket seats, the 60/40 split folding rear seat, the dead pedal for the driver's left foot, fully closing vents, and a cover for the stereo faceplate.
The three-pod instrument panel is amber-illuminated, deeply tunneled and easy to use, day or night, as are the balance of the instruments and controls.
The Pioneer single CD system that comes standard features a user-customizable welcome screen, MP3 capability, four speakers and 160 watts. A 10-inch subwoofer is optional and XM Satellite Radio is available at extra cost. The head unit has been redesigned for 2006 with a knob for volume control, a welcome change. And all 2006 tCs get new steering wheels with audio controls built in.
The iPod upgrade allows owners of the nearly ubiquitous music player to not just listen to iPod tunes through their car speakers, but actually control song selection through the car's stereo head unit. If you don't have the extra cash or don't have an iPod, all tCs come with an auxiliary minijack on the console to allow you to listen to your own music through the car's speakers. However, it doesn't allow control of the player like the upgrade does.
The 2.4-liter double overhead cam, 16-valve engine is tuned to 160 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. This engine has been around Toyota in one form or another for many years and it has been continuously improved for power, torque, quietness and reliability. It comes with electronic variable valve timing for good low end torque development, and twin balance shafts for smoothness.
Choosing between the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic involves tradeoffs. The automatic is easier and, remarkably, more efficient, while the manual offers quicker acceleration performance. The gearing in the four-speed automatic means it's not the hot setup for drag racing, with an overall ratio of just over 10:1. The five-speed manual is nearly 15:1, delivering much quicker acceleration in first gear. However, the automatic does move out smartly. And it's obviously much easier to live with in the stop-and-go and slow-and-go, eliminating the need to exercise your left leg on the clutch pedal. Unlike most cars, the tC gets slightly better highway mileage with the automatic because the manual has a lower 4.235 axle ratio.
The steering, ride quality and overall handling of the Scion tC are commendable. Ride quality and stability are enhanced by its 106-inch wheelbase, longest in the class. It steers with a hefty touch, but accurate pointing, and transitions are easy and without drama. That's because the tC has a low-cost MacPherson strut front suspension coupled with an expensive independent double-wishbone rear suspension not found on many cars in this price class. Bridgestone Potenza tires are standard.
The brakes are quite powerful for a car this light. The pedal feel and travel is very much to our liking, with almost no dead space at the top of the pedal travel. The ventilated front and solid rear discs are generously sized (10.8 inches front, 10.6 inches rear) and, as mentioned, ABS and EBD come standard. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer in a panic braking situation; EBD automatically balances braking forces front to rear, improving stability under hard braking and helping reduce stopping distances.
The Scion tC delivers on the promise of stylish and sporty transportation at affordable prices. A long list of options and accessories let owners personalize it. It also offers a good foundation for owners who want to increase its performance capabilities.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn, Michigan.