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New Car Review: 2005 Scion tC

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2005 Scion tC

``As above, so below'' goes the old saying. If it wasn't originally about automotive economics, no one told Toyota. As Lexus was created a decade and a half ago, to sell cars more expensive than traditional Toyota offerings, so Scion was created a year and a half ago, to sell cars less expensive and more youth-oriented than traditional Toyota offerings. Market research told Toyota that its image with potential buyers in their teens, twenties, and early thirties was something like ``my parents' car.'' Oops. And sales, or lack thereof, of the subcompact Toyota Echo, which was intended to appeal to just those potential buyers, showed the effect of that thinking. So Scion was created as, well, the scion of the Toyota dynasty. Where the Echo went unnoticed, Scion has succeeded beyond expectations.

The first two Scion offerings, the perky subcompact hatchback xA and especially the yes-it's-the-box-it-came-in-and-so-what xB were based on existing Japanese-market Toyotas, the ist and bB respectively. (And they have had similar success in Japan.) To expand its line, Scion's third offering is a sporty coupe made expressly for the North American market, the tC.

The Scion tC is not your typical small coupe. It's somewhat larger, than usual for the class, especially inside, and designed and built to be ``a class above.'' Scion designers benchmarked European near-luxury cars priced ten to fifteen thousand dollars more than the tC's base price for style, features, and fit and finish. The platform used is that of the Toyota Avensis, an upper-middle class sedan for the European market. This gives the tC a much longer wheelbase and wider track than is usual in a small coupe, benefitting not only ride and handling but interior space as well. While the fastback body is not obviously a hatchback, it is indeed a hatchback, with all of the usefulness and versatility of such a design. Short overhangs make it compact. And in a class where standard engine size is normally well under two liters, or where power is made by high engine speeds, the tC is also different. It uses the 2AZ-FE 2.4-liter twincam four-cylinder also found in the Camry, tuned to make 160 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. Transmissions are a five-speed manual and an optional four-speed automatic. As with the other Scions, the tC is fully-equipped, with a very limited number of factory options. Besides the automatic, the list is limited to side and side curtain airbags. But there are over 40 dealer-installed accessories for personalization.

I first became acquainted with the Scion tC when it was introduced to the press in the Seattle, WA area last summer, where I drove examples with both transmissions, and have just finished a week with one equipped with the automatic. The tC is pleasant, very functional, roomy, and economical, and also loads of fun to drive. Isn't that what a small sports coupe is all about?

APPEARANCE: Style sells coupes, and the tC should be a winner, with pleasing, very European-looking, styling. Although a well-known Italian design studio was consulted during the early stages of development, the final result is completely Scion's. It looks like it should cost at least $10,000 more than it does thanks to its compact, short-overhang shape, cleanly-sculpted lines, standard full-length moonroof, and details like the auxiliary turn signals in the side mirrors. Some of the styling details may be reminiscent of more-expensive European sports and luxury cars, but the totality of the design is original, unique, and completely unlike the xA and xB. The high beltline, long fastback roof, and wedge-shaped side profile give the tC a sporty look. The roofline doesn't extend all the way to the rear, so the small ``trunk lid'' portion of the hatch gives the impression of a non-hatchback coupe.

COMFORT: Inside as out, the tC is above its station in design, appointment, and finish. It is also, unlike most small coupes, roomy and versatile, thanks to the long wheelbase and wide track. Given its market position, its target customers are likely have only one car, and the tC can fill the bill quite nicely, thank you. The interior styling is typical contemporary sport-compact, with dark colors offset by bright metal-look plastic trim, but quality fabric upholstery and textured surfaces give the look of a much more expensive car. Instruments are easily visible, and all of the main controls are simple and easy to use - well, excepting the standard Scion-Pioneer audio system, which uses tiny buttons that will be familiar to anyone with an ultracompact MP3 player. But that's a very minor quibble. Both manually-adjustable front buckets are more comfortable than expected, and spring-loaded to ease access to the rear seat. That rear seat has more legroom than some midsized sedans, and not only does the back fold with a 60/40 split, it's adjustable for back angle as well. Imagine - a small sports coupe in which rear passengers are actually considered! There are plenty of useful storage spaces for both front and rear-seat passengers, and, if the area under the hatch isn't as commodious as it might be if the body style was basic boxy hatchback, there is still plenty of cargo space and easy access. Standard amenities include power windows, locks, and mirrors, air conditioning, and much more.

SAFETY: Besides the usual mandated safety equipment, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and a driver's knee airbag are standard fare. Side and side curtain airbags are available optionally.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The tC feels more substantial and refined than most small coupes, almost like a baby Lexus. The ride quality is firm enough for enjoyable handling with minimal body roll, but soft enough for comfort. There is a little tire thump from the stiff sidewalls of the P215/45 ZR17 tires, but their benefits to steering response and adhesion outweigh that. It's a relaxing car to drive, not high-strung at all, and long distances are not unreasonable. The chassis is solid and rigid, contributing to the handling and refinement.

PERFORMANCE: The relatively large displacement of the tC's 2.4-liter twincam, 16-valve aluminum alloy engine means that it beats any competitor in torque output. Unlike many small sports coupes, there is no need to run it up to redline to get useful power, and no need to constantly shift to keep it in the power band. Its 160 horsepower (at 5700 rpm) is near the class average, but its 163 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm) is considerably above most competitors, and adds to its relaxed character. The standard five-speed manual gearbox has good linkage, and is pleasant to use, but because of the strong torque and wide torque band due to use of Toyota's VVT-i variable valve timing system, the four-speed automatic has a minimal impact on performance. If you like the styling but find 160 horses a little weak, a TRD (that's Toyota Racing Development) dealer-installed, factory-warranted supercharger system that should be good for around 200 horsepower and equivalent torque has been announced, and should soon be available.

CONCLUSIONS: Ever wonder what a baby Lexus would look like? Check out the Scion tC for the answer.

2005 Scion tC

Base Price		$ 16,750 with automatic
Price As Tested		$ 18.060
Engine Type		dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-
				cylinder with VVT-i variable valve timing
Engine Size		2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.
Horsepower		160 @ 5700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 		163 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission		4-speed electronically-controlled automatic
Wheelbase / Length	106.3 in. / 174.0 in.
Curb Weight		2,970 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	18.6
Fuel Capacity		14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 	87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires			P215/45 ZR17 Bridgestone Potenza RE92
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc,antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear	independent MacPherson strut/independent double wishbone
Drivetrain		front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy      miles per gallon
			     city / highway/ observed
			     23 / 30 / 24
0 to 60 mph	     est. 8.0  sec

Driver and front passenger seat bolster side airbags and overhead front and rear side curtain airbags $ 650 Carpeted floor and cargo mats $ 145 Destination charge $ 515