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May 17, 2011 > Auto Review: Scion tC

Auto Review: Scion tC

Brand's Best Seller Is All New

By Steve Schaefer

Scion, Toyota's youth oriented brand, has been around since 2004. In that time, the marque's two boxy hatchbacks have received new bodies and positioning, but the bestselling tC has languished. Well, for 2011, that's history.

The tC is called a coupe, but it's really a three-door liftback. It reminds me of the popular Toyota Celica liftback of the 1970's and 80's. The practicality of capacious cargo hauling combined with a sporty fastback configuration is a good match, and it's nice to have it available again.

I was especially glad to have the new six-speed manual transmission in my black test car. A six-speed automatic is also available, and will likely be present in most of the new tC's sold in the U.S. Recently, a salesman for another youth-oriented brand told me that almost all of the cars he sells are delivered without a clutch pedal. Today's automatics are wonderful, and paddle shifters make instant gear changes easy, but I think automatic drivers are missing out on something. You decide.

The tC is Scion's most powerful car, with a 2.5-liter four putting out 180 horsepower-up 19 from last year's model-and 173 lb.-ft. of torque, up 11. The ton-and-a-half car feels strong through the gears, and while it's not a rocket it's certainly no modest economy car either. Electric power steering delivers a precise feel, and four-wheel disc brakes pull the car down quickly to a stop.

Fuel economy numbers are a pleasing 23 City, 31 Highway, and Average 26. I personally averaged 25.9 mpg-making that official number remarkably accurate. The EPA's Green Vehicle Guide awards the car with a "6" for both Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas. That's good enough for SmartWay status, but is hot the highest number available for a small coupe. However, 180 horsepower is stronger than the cars that boast better numbers, so you have to choose where you want to be on the power/green spectrum.

Scion's designers used the California studio's FUSE concept car as a model for the new tC's styling. It's actually a little sharper edged than the more smoothly styled previous tC, but photos do not do the car justice. A simple face is the right attitude for Scion-cool, collected and focused-not grinning like a Mazda or snarling like some other sporty coupes. The pointed side window isn't great for rear visibility but it makes a statement that's both retro and different from the status quo. Cut in lower side panels add visual sharpness.

Inside, the cockpit features bold gauges and dials with plenty of silvery accents. There's a similarity to both the previous model and to the XB box-a horizontality and solid quality that is reassuring in a small car. Like the car's face, it's straightforward-no nonsense-and feels just right when you're on the road.

Despite the interior's horizontal linearity, there are plenty of circles besides the gauges. For example, the console flows down into a circular transmission base and the round door speakers, stacked woofer, midrange and tweeter, fill the front portion of each door. The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel has a flat bottom, giving more legroom but also an unusual sensation when you're turning it while driving through corners.

A black headliner and pillars help create a sober mood inside. Surfaces are nicely detailed but are mostly hard plastic-something common in cars in the lower price points and a Scion staple since day one. The design and graining are what make it work here.

Being a youth-oriented car, tC comes standard with a powerful audio system. You get eight speakers and 300 watts standard, with a USB port for your iPod too. An optional Alpine system is available, and both systems offer the SSP system-Scion Sound Processing-that provides three preset equalizer settings.

The goal is to make Scion's leader a fully equipped model only. All tCs come with power windows, locks and mirrors. There's a panoramic glass moonroof with power tilt and slide and dual manual sunshades. You also get remote keyless entry, air conditioning and cruise control. A multi-information display gives you trip and fuel economy information. The car wears handsome 18-inch alloy wheels.

Pricing for the single tC model is modest-just $18,275 for the manual-equipped car and $19,275 for the automatic. Add $720 for delivery and you've got an affordable car that delivers the goods.

It's an old truism that you can't sell a young man an old man's car but you certainly can do the reverse. The Scion brand was created to offer sporty, inexpensive cars with an attitude and a cool image. This "older guy" had a great week with the new tC.

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