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2005 SCION tC Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Steve Purdy Detroit Bureau

Just as Lexus is Toyota’s luxury division Scion is the youth division, aimed at youngsters who like a bit of style, lots of dependability, an affordable price and the ability to accessorize. Scion products do a good job of appealing to that target market. Three models of high content, economically priced, customizable compact cars comprise the Scion line: the xA is a four-door wagon, the xB an econo-box some have called a ‘shoe box’ shaped sporty van, and this little sport coupe called tC.

“High content?” you ask. Well, here’s what you get for the $16,200 base price: Panorama roof (sort of two sunroofs, one opens, one just lets in light), air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, tilt steering wheel, power driver’s seat with memory, cruise control, keyless remote entry, reclining front bucket seats, 60/40 split folding rear seat, engine immobilizer, ABS brakes with EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution), 17-inch sexy alloy wheels with Z-rated low-profile tires, dual-stage front air bags, driver’s side knee bag and satellite ready Pioneer sound system that includes plug ins for your iPod. With automatic transmission instead of the standard 5-speed manual the opening price is $17,000. While all the fresh Scions come equipped the same, dealers offer scads of parts and accessories to dress up and individualize your car.

Our test car is a bright white tC three-door hatch back. Visually appealing it’s probably the whitest white I’ve ever seen. The tC shares architecture with the European Toyota Avensis sedan and some of that European character is discernable in both styling and design. The up-to-date design has low profile Bridgestone Potenza tires on wheels with six double spokes pushed way out to the corners of the car making for very little front or rear body overhang. The C-pillar is well back tapering gracefully to a visual termination at the tail end of the car. It has a distinctly ready-to-go stance and the hatch makes it practical as well.

Inside, the Scion tC is sporty and comfortable if a bit tawdry. It is an entry-level economy car after all so we shouldn’t be too critical of materials that look a bit cheap. Most notable is the covering on the dash that reminds me of the floor rubber on a ’58 dodge farm pickup. It effectively resists glare but adds nothing to the ambiance of the little coupe. Controls are simple and intuitive but I must note the poor design of the spring-loaded door that covers the radio controls. It almost never opened on the first punch. It had a loose feel to it and had to be punched crisply to open. Just a gentle push and let go wouldn’t work. Gages, pedals, shifter and other controls worked well and felt good.

Space inside is amazing for such a small car. Seats are comfortable though not sport seats by any measure. Back seat space is generous even with the front seats pushed back to accommodate long legged folks. Cargo space behind the seats is less than we might expect with a hatchback but still not bad. My pretty blonde and sister-in-law were comfortable back there, though the latter, who is taller than average, noticed a lack of head room.

Performance is plenty adequate. The front-wheel-drive tC is powered by the same 2.4-litre 4-banger that powers the Camry. Mounted transversely with aluminum block, 4 valves per cylinder, electronic throttle control, and low-restriction muffler it generates 160 horsepower and 163 lb.-ft. of torque. Variable Valve Timing with intelligence, or VVT-i as Toyota calls it, makes for a very efficient and clean running package. It scoots along quickly with the smooth shifting 4-speed automatic transmission. It would probably scoot even better with the 5-speed manual also borrowed from Camry. Red line is 6200 rpm but the automatic transmission shifts at 6000 under full acceleration. It winds noisily but comfortably to the maximum shift point with no indication of working too hard.

Mileage and efficiency are first rate. The EPA says the tC should get from 24 to 30 mph. I got 28 mpg on a variety of city and highway driving, and of course I was driving hard, as a conscientious road test guy must do. With a fuel tank capacity of 14.5 gallons the cruising range is about 350 miles. Zero to 60 times are reported to be in the high 7s which is quite good considering the nearly 3,000 pound curb weight. The stock Potenza tires - 215/45-17 - aren’t sticky enough for street racing but will wear longer than a more performance-oriented tire. The Potenzas are well suited for all but the harshest applications.

Brakes are discs at all four corners, 10.8-inch ventilated in the front and 10.6-inch solid discs in the rear, both with fixed calipers. Stopping distance from 70 to 0 mph as measured by two independent sources was in the 175-foot range – a good number.

In terms of auditory enjoyment we must say that very little comes from the sound of the car even with the low restriction exhaust, but plenty comes from the audio system. The door panels vibrate even listening to NPR. Of course one of the most important elements of a car for the young demographic is the sound system and this Pioneer system is worthy.

Rated top of its category in initial quality by the J.D. Power survey the Scion tC is a lot of car for the money.