The Scion tC is affordably priced but well-equipped. It benefits from Toyota's attention to quality, durability and reliability. Though inexpensive, it is anything but cheap. The body panels fit tight and straight, and quality construction is evident. Interior materials are first-rate, and show attention to detail. The bucket seats are comfortable and there's enough room to suit tall drivers. A 160-watt stereo is standard, and an available head unit provides maximum compatibility with an Apple iPod.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine generates 161 horsepower and gets an EPA-rated 29 miles per gallon on the highway. It is quiet, smooth, and plenty powerful, and the little coupe is surprisingly silent underway. Its 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.
In the past, sport coupes were often regarded as a kind of blank canvas for personal expression; and the tC continues this happy tradition as well. Factory options are few, but the tC offers a menu of dealer-installed accessories that allow owners to build a tC unique to their tastes. In fact, the biggest news for '07 is the stripped-down, extra-value-priced Spec Series model, with downgraded wheels, seats, etc. just good enough to get you from the showroom to the tuner's shop. (Who here is old enough to remember the Plymouth Road Runner?)
Other changes for '07 are minor and include new extendable sun visors, revised interior fabrics, and a standard tire-pressure monitor.
Scion tC Spec Series manual ($15,000); Spec Series automatic ($15,800); core series manual ($16,400); core series automatic ($17,200)
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 wheels straight from the dealer). Oldsters feeling young might be interested to note that the Scion's generous 106.3 inch wheelbase is a quarter-inch longer than a '64 Barracuda's.
The body panels fit tight and straight, and quality flows from every pore.
The Release Series 3.0 option package is availble only with Blizzard Pearl white paintwork, and features a KenStyle ground effects kit, darkened headlights, and a unique upper grille with a honeycomb insert that matches the lower grille. Around back are clear LED taillights with unique gray trim. The price-leading Spec Series also features its own unique grille and headlight treatment.
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 core model's rear seats recline through 10 stops and 45 degrees 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 R.S. 3.0 has black Alcantara seats detailed with a gray perforated center seating surface on a white background. Alcantara is a suede-like material often found in luxury or performance vehicles and on aftermarket racing seats. A Blizzard Pearl Razo weighted shift knob with black leather insert is also standard.
The Pioneer single CD system that comes standard on all tC Scions (even the Spec Series) features a user-customizable welcome screen, MP3 capability, four speakers and 160 watts. A 10-inch subwoofer is optional and either Sirius or XM Satellite Radio are available at extra cost. The head unit was redesigned last year (2006) with a knob for volume control, a welcome change. Core models feature audio controls built into the steering wheel.
The iPod upgrade allows owners of the nearly ubiquitous music player not only to listen to iPod tunes through their car's speakers, but to actually control song selection and read stored information through the car's stereo head unit. If you don't have the extra cash or don't have an iPod, all tC's come with an auxiliary mini-jack on the console to allow you to listen to your own MP3's through the car's speakers. However, it doesn't allow control of the player like the upgrade does.
With RS 3.0, a Pioneer six-inch subwoofer with 35-watt maximum power complements the standard audio system and is tuned specifically for the tC. This compact subwoofer is mounted in the under-floor storage area, keeping it out of sight and leaving the cargo floor clear.
The 2.4-liter double overhead cam, 16-valve engine is tuned to 161 horsepower and 162 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, because of how it is geared, more efficient; while the manual offers quicker acceleration performance. But the economy gearing of the four-speed automatic means it's not the hot setup for drag racing, with a maximum overall ratio of around 10.8:1. The five-speed manual offers 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, again 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 106.3-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 on core models.
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. Especially with the new Spec Series model, 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.