Review and photos by
Chris Chase, Autos.ca
As a child of the late-1970s, I grew up gawking at the cars of the ’70s and 1980s, so it was the simple, angular (some might say uninspired and ugly) designs of the period that activated my car nut gene.
It took me a couple of days before I clued into why I like the look of this Scion tC as much as I do: its body is pretty much all straight lines and tight angles. It’s hardly a dead ringer for the many dud designs that came out around my formative years, but the commonality is in the simplicity of the tC’s look, a real contrast to the compound curves, swoops and rounded edges that dominate new cars right now.
The tC is one part of Scion’s 2011 Canadian invasion. This budget-oriented Toyota brand finally reached Canada last year (as 2011 models) after being available in the U.S. since 2003. This is the sports car of the line-up, contrasting with the utilitarian xB and subcompact xD. Nothing about the Scion line looks much like anything wearing the Toyota name, but the tC is indeed based on an existing Toyota model, in this case the Avensis family car the company sells in Europe and the United Kingdom.
The 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine under the tC’s hood isn’t sports car material – it’s mainly known for powering Camrys. Still, it’s a nice motor, revving smoothly and pulling hard to its 6,200 r.p.m. redline. It feels stronger than its 180 horsepower and 173 lb.-ft. power ratings suggest, too, particularly as my tester was fitted with the optional six-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed stick is standard).
Credit the tC’s European roots for its tautly-tuned chassis, which blends sharp handling with a firm ride that rarely got uncomfortable. This car’s affinity for twisty roads is reinforced by the thick-rimmed, small-diameter, flat-bottomed steering wheel. Toyota says the Scion brand is aimed at a young demographic, some of whom are bound to be enthusiasts, and the tC’s performance fits the company’s marketing quite well.
The tC’s interior speaks of 1980s-era retro, too. There are no swoopy dash panels or sexy curves to the centre stack; instead, the dash is all straight lines and high cowl, something like my first car, a (very) used 1986 VW Jetta. Aside from the tacky Alpine stereo (it sounds great, but looks cheap), the control layout is a model of simplicity, with everything a cinch to figure out and within easy reach of the driver’s seat.
Scion is an entry-level brand, and it shows in the interior materials (hard plastic, mostly) and the amount of engine noise that gets into the cabin (the credit/blame for some of this goes to the exhaust, which sounds quite good in hard acceleration), both of which I was expecting. More of a surprise was the amount of road noise (a lot), even taking into account the winter tires my tester wore.
The front seats are comfortable, but tying into the tC’s performance is the generous bolstering that creates terrific lateral support for aggressive driving. The tC’s comfort is boosted by a surprisingly – for a coupe – roomy interior. Generous rear seat legroom is the measurement that most obviously gives away this car’s family sedan roots, though the slope of the rear roofline makes a noticeable cut into rear seat headroom. Rear seat ingress and egress present the usual coupe challenges.
Coupes are not generally known for their capacious cargo holds, but the tC’s hatchback body style helps it avoid that stereotype, endowing it with a 416-litre capacity. That’s a notable bump compared to one of the tC’s closest competitors, the Kia Forte Koup, a true coupe whose trunk is a smaller 358 litres. The tC could accommodate a couple of medium suitcases, and the rear seats fold (not flat, though) for more space.
Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption ratings for the tC are 8.9/6.3 L/100 km (city/highway). My tester averaged an impressive 10.3 L/100 km in a week of winter city driving.
tC pricing starts at $20,850. The automatic transmission is a $1,050 add, and the Alpine stereo is worth $535, for a total of $22,435 before freight and taxes.
The tC is easily out-sported in its class by cars like the VW GTI, Mini Cooper S, Honda Civic Si and the rear-drive Hyundai Genesis Coupe, but it’s a surprisingly fun car given its mundane roots. If you can live with the noisy, low-rent interior, the tC is a fun and practical little hatch with a very attractive price-tag.
Pricing: 2011 Scion tC
Base price: $20,850
Options: $1,585 (Automatic transmission, $1,050; Alpine stereo, $535)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $23,925
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)