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.
What Scion now calls the core model is available with either a five-speed manual ($16,400) or four-speed automatic ($17,200) transmission. This corresponds to the single trim level that was offered originally, and includes air conditioning; power steering and brakes; power locks and mirrors; a tilt wheel with audio controls; 160-watt Pioneer AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo; a huge, power-retracting glass sunroof; reclining front sport bucket seats with cloth upholstery and position memory; height and tilt adjustments for driver's seat; a two-tiered console; reclining rear seats; keyless entry; engine immobilizer; cargo cover, and a dozen other comfort and convenience goodies. It all rolls on P215/45ZR Bridgestone Potenzas on 17-inch alloy wheels.
New for 2007 is the lower-priced Spec Package, also available with manual ($15,000) or automatic ($15,800) transmission. The idea here is to provide a stripped-down model for tuners and customizers, so they don't pay for fancy parts that they are just going to take off and replace anyway. Spec Package tC's come with downgraded upholstery on less-adjustable seats, non-tilting urethane steering wheel without audio controls, and P205/55R16 tires on steel wheels. They also skip the core model's power windows, cruise control, two-tier console, and engine immobilizer. The panoramic glass roof remains but it does not retract. Colors are limited to Super White, Flint Mica, Black Sand Pearl, and Classic Silver Metallic.
For folks who like to buy their custom look straight from the factory, Scion offers an option package called Release Series 3.0 ($2,580). Replacing last year's Release Series 2.0 (and available only on the core model), the 3.0 upgrade includes KenStyle ground effects, darkened headlights, LED taillights, and a unique grille texture. Inside are black Alcantara seats with perforated grey inserts, and a Razo weighted shift knob. A compact but powerful Pioneer six-inch subwoofer plugs into the standard stereo. Release Series 3.0 was scheduled for release in February 2007, with production limited to 2,500.
Safety features for all tC Scions include optional side-impact and side-curtain air bags ($650) designed to provide torso and head protection. (Head injuries are the leading cause of death in side impacts.) A knee airbag is standard, along with the mandated dual front airbags. Anti-lock brakes and Electronic Brake-force Distribution are standard also.
There are no other factory options, but Scion dealers offer dozens of freestanding, dealer-installed accessories, ranging from shift knobs and satellite radio (either XM or Sirius) to a supercharger kit good for 200 horsepower. Special Toyota Racing Development (TRD) items include 18- and 19-inch wheels, a lowering kit, struts and shock absorbers, rear anti-roll bar, a high-performance clutch, a quicker shifter, a stainless steel muffler, and a shift-point indicator light kit.
You can also order an iPod-compatible stereo head unit ($260) that allows you to operate your iPod through the car's dashboard and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
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.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn, Michigan.