2010 Scion tC
Base price: $17,670
As tested: $21,636
MPG: 20 city/27 highway
- Bargain priced
- Sporty, fun to drive
- Impressive safety features/crash test ratings
- Styling past its freshness date
- Tight back seat and poor rearward visibility
- A “tuner-like” car aimed at the Gen X crowd
By Jim Prueter
Still a terrific bargain but tC is showing its age
When Toyota first introduced the Scion brand back in 2004, it targeted the young buyer who shied from a Toyota brand they considered un-hip. Toyota defined the youth demographic as those aged 18 to 24, and Scion’s three-model brand — xA, xB and tC — attracted some 76 percent of buyers who were new to Toyota. Not bad for an upstart whose vehicles are mainly sold out of separate showrooms at the local Toyota dealer.
But Scion also proved attractive to the boomer crowd, and it is not an uncommon sight to see a 50-something driver planted behind the wheel of the perverse, milk-truck-styled Scion xB.
But since reaching its high water mark in the mid-2000, the brand has fallen on hard times and out of favor with buyers. Sales are down more than 50 percent from a year ago, with the tC model taking the biggest hit. At its peak, Scion sold more than 60,000 tC units per year. It will struggle to reach 18,000 for 2009, which is too bad because we still consider the Scion brand to be an absolute bargain, with a starting price under 20 grand.
The tC remains relatively unchanged since its introduction in 2005. The 2.4-liter 161-horsepower engine is a carryover from its beginnings and is mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. This engine is also found in the Camry, a much larger vehicle. But in the tC, performance is spirited, if a bit buzzy sounding at higher rpms. A six-speed transmission would help eliminate the engine drone.
Our tC was shod with optional ($1,999) 18-inch black finish alloy wheels from the TRD (Toyota Racing Division) brand and wrapped with Toyo Proxes 4 Z-rated high-performance tires. As wheels and tires go, these are about as good as it gets. When combined with the car’s sport-tuned independent suspension — MacPherson struts up front and double-wishbone out back — and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, the tC is literally a blast to drive around town. The shifter easily flicks through gears but the clutch is hypersensitive, resulting in neck-snapping takeoffs even without trying. That’s our only driving complaint, other than impaired rearward visibility, given the sloping roofline and paraboloid shape of the rear quarter panel.
The tC did receive some minor exterior touch-ups for the 2008 model year, including treatment to the mesh and lattice-type design grille, headlamps, and new brake lights out back. A dual-pane panoramic glass moonroof was added as standard equipment, side mirrors incorporated turn signals and a power rear hatch release was added as standard equipment.
Interior changes included silver-colored accents on the center stack and assist handles in the ceiling of the tC.
The list of standard equipment is long, and includes power windows with express up-down function, air conditioning, power locks, cruise control and remote keyless entry. The audio system is a Pioneer 160-watt AM/FM/CD with seven speakers, including Pioneer 35-watt six-inch subwoofer, iPod connector and auxiliary audio jack.
The deep-set instrument cluster is lit in an amber color, however it clashes with the audio system lighting, which you can change to suit your preference.
Inside the tC is tastefully designed and appointed with high-quality appearing materials, fit and finish. Seats are well bolstered and there’s enough legroom up front for this six-foot-six driver. The back seat, however, is cramped with minimal leg and headroom thanks to the invasive dual-pane panoramic glass roof and sloping design. Scion says it will accommodate five passenger but it seemed mean-spirited to try, given the vehicle’s diminutive size. There’s a nifty one-touch seat-forward mechanism on the driver’s side that affords easy access to the back seat, which returns to its previous position. The front and rear seats both recline and fold flat for additional cargo space and for carrying long items.
Standard safety gear includes dual stage front airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags and even a driver knee airbag, unusual for this class and price of vehicle. The tC has earned the government’s highest five star crash-test rating for driver protection in front impacts and for front- and rear-seat passenger protection in side-impact crash tests; it received four stars for the risk of rollover in a single vehicle crash.
One of the hallmarks of the Scion brand is the ability to personalize your vehicle with an endless choice of dealer-installed aftermarket accessories. Our tester included a rear spoiler ($430) ground effects ($1083) and a Speed Star mesh shift knob by OBX ($65). There’s an optional LED interior light kit that floods the foot wells and cup holders in a purple haze. Independent aftermarket vendors make accessories available to any taste. The older you are, the less likely you’ll stray from the dealer-offered accessories but the number of offerings makes it appealing to the 18 to 34 crowd.
The tC is offered in just one model, a two-door coupe with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine.
Overall the tC remains a terrific bargain that’s loaded with standard content, is fun to drive, well made, gets pretty decent gas mileage and has a hip image. But the style is certainly showing its age, which is probably why its sales numbers are so anemic.
Only time will tell if the marketing gurus at Toyota are correct that Scion owners will graduate to Toyota and Lexus models with their next auto purchase. Unless Scion rights the sales ship the brand may not be around find out.