2011 Scion tC Review
SEE ALSO: Scion Buyers Guide
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2011 Scion tC
An affordable sports coupe? Isn't that some sort of 80s nostalgia?
No, not if the coupe in question is Scion's tC. When the original model was released in model year 2005, it rose to the top of the Scion sales charts. Yes, there is indeed a market among young, young-at-heart, and young-in-wallet people for a small, fun-oriented but practical and economical coupe.
And the new second generation promises more of everything good about the first, with no losses. Restyled in the "chopped and channeled" manner of the latest Scion xB, the 2011 tC boasts noticeably more power -- 180 hp vs 161-- a sportier driving experience thanks to revised suspension and electric power steering assist, and a few more miles per gallon of regular unleaded.
As always, and like all Scions, the 2011 tC comes in single-model specification, with plenty of available dealer-installed accessories for looks, comfort, added security, and upgraded audio performance. Not that there's anything absolutely necessary, as I discovered during a week with an absolutely box-stock, no-frills example.
"No frills" really doesn't apply as a description of the new tC, as standard equipment is higher than the norm for small, inexpensive cars. Upgraded seats, a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, plenty of useful and accessible space, a tilt-and-slide panoramic moonroof, and one of the best standard audio systems in a car int its class, or a class above are all included.
The platform underneath the new tC is the same as that under the old, a modified version of the Toyota Avensis, a European upper-middle class sedan. But, no surprise, that architecture has evolved since 2005, and gets further modified here. Length, wheelbase, and height are unchanged, but the new car is 1.6 inches wider, allowing a wider track and larger wheels tires, and brakes.
The previous 2.4-liter engine gives way to an all-new 2.5-liter powerplant with an additional 19 horsepower and 11 lb-ft of torque. It can be matched with either a manual or automatic transmission, both six-speeds. While the MacPherson strut / double wishbone suspension is the same basic design as before, it has been revised to take advantage of the increased track and tire size, and recalibrated for a sportier driving experience.
The result is a car that shows its fun side even better than before, and with even more refinement and comfort as a bonus. Unlike many small coupes, the rear seat offers more than adequate space for a couple of real humans, and even has adjustable backrests. The fastback hatchback body makes cargo access easy when necessary. Since tC buyers are likely to have it as their only car, that versatility will be appreciated. More fun, less fuel, just as useful - what's not to like?
APPEARANCE : Inspired by the Scion Fuse concept car, the new tC is bolder and chunkier than the original. Although there is plenty of continuity in the shape and proportions, its thick roofline, high beltline, and low side windows give it a more aggressive look than the first-generation model. The flat front fascia, with an integrated lower "splitter" air dam, would have been the look of radical performance a decade or more ago; now it's comfortably mainstream, minimal ticket bait, and just as functional for good aerodynamics. The "aero kit" look continues through the door sills and into the "diffuser" treatment of the lower rear bumper. Smooth surfaces and sharp character lines give it good definition. Folding side mirrors have LED repeater turn signals. Large rectangular taillights dominate the rear view.
COMFORT: The new tC is designed around the driver, but passengers, even rear-seat passengers, are also given lots to like. Interior design and materials are above the sport-compact class standard, and fit and finish are first-rate. Flashy, distracting interior brightwork is minimal, and there is plenty of variety in textures and materials. The manually-adjustable front seats have been upgraded and are an inch wider, and now have higher side bolsters for a sport look and function. The comfort level is good. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has a thicker rim, for less driver fatigue, and is adjustable for both tilt and reach, so all drivers can find their optimum driving position. Steering effort is appropriately higher than in a small sedan. Instrumentation is complete and easily read in all lighting. The Pioneer AM/FM/XM(optional, not fitted)/CD/external audio player (both USB and minijack) sound system is remarkably good for standard equipment at this price point, even if its interface does bring a bit of 80s nostalgia to mind: "chiclets", meaning tiny buttons. And yes, rear quarter vision is dodgy, use the mirrors - this is a sport coupe, after all, and that comes with the territory. Interior storage is highlighted by a locking glove box, unusual in this class. Rear seat access is helped significantly by "walk-through" spring-loaded mechanical repositioning of both front seats (memory for the driver's!), but it still helps to be limber. Once in, there's good room for two medium-sized adults (to around 5-9), with less space in the center. A 60/40 seatback split, with ten degrees of angle adjustment, adds comfort, and cargo versatility. Low liftover and the hatch can make the tC into almost a stealth pickup truck when necessary.
SAFETY: The 2011 Scion tC uses Toyota's Star Safety System™, a combination of antilock brakes (four-wheel disc in this case), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), traction control, and vehicle stability control (VSC). VSC can be switched off for high-performance driving. A tire-pressure monitoring system, eight airbags, including driver and front passenger knee bags, and active front headrests are also standard equipment.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The new tC builds on the strengths of the old, with a further-developed chassis structure allowing wider track for greater stability, and larger wheels and tires allowing larger brake discs and increased contact patches. The fully-independent suspension is of the same MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear design as before, but spring, shock, and stabilizer bars have been re-tuned for sportier handling, and matched well for a firmly supple ride quality. It's smooth and comfortable on the highway, and works very, very well on more interesting roads. Ever wonder where the Toyota Celica went? Look no further, and this is a good one.
PERFORMANCE: More power, better gas mileage? Win-win! The new engine is slightly larger -- 2.5 liters to 2.4 -- and of the same general design, a dual overhead cam, 16-valve aluminum alloy inline four. VVT-i electronically-controlled variable cam phasing is now on both cams, and tumble control valves, a variable-length intake manifold system and redesigned intake ports further improve both efficiency and power output. In the Toyota Family manner, the engine does not need maximum revs to extract good performance. There is good torque right off idle, and although it will happily spin up to redline there's no real reason to do so. The torque peak, 173 lb-ft at 4100 rpm, tells the story: great midrange, just what you need in the real world. Maximum horsepower is 180 at 6000. My test car had the six-speed manual gearbox, which is the sport choice. During the press into I had the opportunity to drive a tC with the six-speed automatic (with Sequential Sport Shift mode). Thanks to the engine's lovely torque, it works very well, and showcases the tC's gentler side. With notably more horsepower and torque and a minimal increase in weight, performance is noticeably better, with 0-60 coming up in 7.6 seconds with the stick and 8.3 with the automatic, about 0.8 sec better than the old car. Fuel economy is up a mile or so per gallon, to 23 city, 31 highway for the stick. I got 25, and was not babying it.
CONCLUSIONS: The affordable sport coupe live on in the form of the 2011 Scion tC.
2011 Scion tC
Base Price $ 18,275 Price As Tested $ 18,995 Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with VVT-i variable cam phasing on both camshafts Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in. Horsepower 180 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 173 @ 4400 rpm Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 106.3 in. / 174.0 in. Curb Weight 3060 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.0 Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P225/45R18 91W Yokohama Avid S31 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, VSC standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut/ independent double wishbone Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 23 / 31 / 25 0 to 60 mph 7.6 sec (mfg) OPTIONS AND CHARGES Delivery and processing $ 720