I eagerly await Toyota’s return to building proper sports cars with the FT-86. But in the meantime, this Scion TC is one or two improvements away from being a fantastic enthusiast’s bargain.
Although it’s been on the market for some time, the tC remains one of the better-looking vehicles to come out of Toyota recently. I especially like the interior, which features snug bucket seats and a nicely grained dash with a dual-binnacle instrument panel that recalls the old Datsun 240Z. As you’d expect from a Scion, there’s a heavy-hitting Pioneer stereo that makes even NPR talk shows sound bass-heavy.
For a base price of less than $18,000, the tC is also surprisingly competent as a sport coupe. The five-speed manual is extremely precise, and the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, though lacking high-rpm fireworks, is reasonably powerful and sounds plenty smooth. Ride is decent even with this example’s optional eighteen-inch TRD wheels. The tC’s only major fault is its overboosted steering, which is easily disturbed by hard braking and acceleration. Aside from that issue, though, you have a cheap little coupe that even a Honda Civic Si buyer should consider.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Ditto the bass-heavy comment. I actually had a hard time listening to anything on the stereo in this car because the system adds way too much bass to anything. I played with every setting on the radio, and nothing really brought the bass down to acceptable levels. I can see where the demographic Scion is shooting for might appreciate this sort of bass bias, but it doesn’t work for me.
The Toyo Proxes tires are probably a great asset in warm weather, but the night I spent sampling the Scion tC featured snow and ice. Trying to turn or stop was always exciting. Even on dry stretches of road, the tires were far too cold to grip the pavement, which made the brakes feel worthless. It’s not possible for me to give an accurate review of this car because my experience was so compromised by the season-specific rubber.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
The tC is no sports car, but it’s definitely a sporty car with a lot of great qualities, including an impressive price, an excellent manual gearbox, a comfortable ride, good looks, nimble packaging, and large double sunroofs. The Volkswagen GTI or the Honda Civic Si would be superior track-day choices, especially considering their better steering and stronger engines, but as a daily driver, the tC is a more than respectable alternative.
Unless you have little kids, that is: The rear seats are spacious enough, but climbing back there to strap in a toddler is tricky. On the plus side, though, the flat-floored trunk, accessible through a hatchback, provided an easier way for me to extract my little one. (Does that make me a bad parent?)
If I were to buy a tC, I’d skip some of the options fitted to our test car, including the underdash lighting, the illuminated doorsills, and the boomy exhaust system. That overwhelmingly bassy stereo would have to go, too. I’d definitely opt for these supercool black wheels, though. Dream options like a turbocharged engine and a sixth gear (boy, is this thing ever revvy on the highway!) could bring the tC closer to King GTI.
All in all, the tC is my favorite current product that Toyota offers.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I’m sure Scion’s accessories help make cars like the tC more attractive to my demographic (18-24-yr-old male), but apart from the fog lamps, I wasn’t blown away by the $6000 worth of kit added to our kit car. Personally, the black rims, coupled with the body kit and boomy exhaust note, reminded me of a prop from “The Fast & The Furious.”
The beauty of Scion’s business model is that it allows buyers to build affordable cars almost exactly to their tastes, but I can’t help but think the tC is almost a perfect front-wheel-drive sports coupe right off the bat. It’s relatively sharp in corners, equipped with a peppy four-cylinder, and is chock full of a surprising amount of standard equipment (i.e. cruise control, Pioneer stereo, panoramic sunroof, etc.) and a fabulous interior for the price.
Sadly, I don’t exactly fit. At around 5’10”, I’m not exactly a tall man by any means, but the rake of the front windshield, coupled with the sunroof, made me constantly wish I could lower the driver’s seat even lower. Perhaps a telescoping steering column would allow me to place my seat a little further back into the roofline’s arc.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Except for the first-generation xB’s tendency to hang tail at the cornering limit (with its essential stability control system disabled), I’ve never had this much fun in any Scion. If I were Mr. Toyoda, every Scion would have this raucous, raunchy personality. Bring on the boomy stereo, the thundering exhaust, the wild run to the red line after every stop light. Think high school senior without a care — or a rational thought — in his or her head. The 18-inch wheel and tire set gave this tC tenacious bite on the occasional dry patch of winter pavement and the sporty exhaust system trimmed several seconds from the zero-to-sixty sprint at the psychic (if not the physics), level of perception. I wouldn’t spend a penny for the dress-up trinkets but I would recommend that everyone interested in celebrating their child side sign up for a Scion tC test drive.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
It’s interesting to drive this car after we’ve recently had in a Nissan Sentra SE-R. After all, both are front-wheel-drive compacts that have been sported up, and both were about $23K. This car is $23,500, and I prefer it. It has a lot more style and presence than the Sentra SE-R, and it’s much more fun to drive, partly because it has a five-speed manual. Our test car was larded with some expensive options, most notably a set of very, very cool black TRD 18-inch wheels with Toyo sport tires. The $600 TRD exhaust is just about right: not too noisy, but noisy enough. I’d much rather have this exhaust from TRD than from the aftermarket. I’ve always liked the tC; I think it’s a nice combination of sportiness and practicality, with its hatchback. After several years on the road, it also still looks very good. Ergonomics are very straightforward. I’m not exactly sure why they felt the need to have a lid for the stereo system, but I suppose it looks kinda cool when it’s shut, and this car is all about looking cool.
One of my favorite features, actually, is an insert into the cupholder that was very clearly designed to hold a cell phone. Very useful, very obvious. Everyone has a cell phone and everyone needs a place to put it when they get in the car.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
Base price (with destination): $17,670
Price as tested: $23,468
2.4L 4-cylinder engine
5-speed manual transmission
4-wheel disc brakes
17″ alloy wheels
Power windows, doors, mirrors
Options on this vehicle:
Upgraded TRD 18″ 5-spoke black alloy wheels – $1999
Ground effects – $1083
TRD sport muffler – $525
Illuminated door sill – $335
Fog lights – $437
LED underdash cupholder illumination – $250
Carpeted floormats and cargo mat – $171
Sport pedal covers – $79
Shift knob – $65
Scion security – $469
Rear spoiler lip – $385
Key options not on vehicle:
20 / 27 / 23 mpg
Size: 2.4L 16-valve 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 161 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 162 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Weight: 2905 lb
18-inch TRD black aluminum wheels
225/40ZR18 Toyo Proxes tires