Review: 2005 Scion tC

For a budget-minded compact, the tC comes with a solid roster of standard equipment, such as four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, driver's knee airbag, and first aid kit. A recommended $650 option, front seat-mounted side airbags and front/rear side curtain airbags are available.

While the xA and xB make do with anemic 1.8L/108-hp I-4 engines, the tC proudly packs an all-aluminum 2.4L four-cylinder with 160 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. Certified as an Ultra Low Emission Vehilcle (ULEV) engine, this powerplant is the sole offering for the tC, and it can be paired with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. For those who want an even more potent Scion, a Toyota Racing Development (TRD) supercharger is available through dealers, elevating output to 200 horsepower.

At idle, we were a bit surprised at the droning engine sound, exacerbated by the optional TRD Performance Exhaust on our test car that contributed to the mechanical din. The grabby clutch on the five-speed models requires practice, but properly engaged, the car accelerates with verve. The torquey four-cylinder engine has true grunt to get the car rolling, where competitors have high-revving powerplants that sing more than dance. The notchy shifter has short throws, for quick, satisfying gear changes, and the optional chrome knob on our car was routinely scorching hot in the summer heat.

At a vigorous street pace, the tC is flat and predictable, delivering exactly the right dynamics for its target audience. The ride is firmer than other compacts, such as the Civic, and the steering is heavier. With its sporting demeanor, the tC still manages to retain good ride comfort with the standard wheel/tire package. Temptations to upgrade to 18-inch or, gulp, 19-inch wheels should be tempered by the knowledge that it would negatively impact both ride quality and straightline performance. When driving, the mechanical symphony is modest and keeps with the car's character, though wind and road noise is relatively non-existent.

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