The Scion tC and I got off to a bad start; I had the audacity to take it grocery shopping. Hey, it's a hatchback, right? Well, most hatchbacks have cargo covers with a hinge at front and stringy-things that tie it to the hatch lid. Open the hatch and the cover swings out of your way. Not the tC. The tC's cargo cover is a cardboard, plastic and faux-dog-hair affair that has three positions: 1) In the way; 2) totally in the way; and 3) tossed angrily into the back seat.
To access the tC's hatch you must lift up the cover yourself, at which time the plastic clip detaches itself and shouts to the others, "Hey guys, you gotta try this!" The other clips jump in unison and the whole affair crashes down into the trunk faster than you can utter your expletive of choice. Good luck re-attaching it. After five attempts and two dozen expletives, I placed the cover in the aforementioned Position 3. By the time I loaded my groceries, the milk was past its sell-by date.
Despite this "challenging" introduction, I was prepared to forgive the tC its foibles. I really like the other Scions. The xA is a zippy little minicar, while the packing-crate-shaped xB makes an excellent packing crate. Despite the vast array of inane options (multi-colored illuminated cupholders? have we really fallen that far?), these two little cars have an irresistible cheap-n-cheerful spirit. In comparison, the tC acts like it was adopted.
In a way, it was. Both Xs are based on Toyota Echo mechanicals; the tC is based on the stunningly ugly European-market Avensis (imagine a Camry wearing a poorly-fitting Passat costume). Parent Toyota's attempt to make the tC look like part of the Scion family is half-hearted at best. The rear has more than a bit of Volvo about it, while the side suffers from a touch of the TT's. Only the tC's front end seems vaguely familial. Put the threesome together and it's clear which children Toyota favors: the little cute ones.
Still, everyone who saw my test tC raved about the styling. Its dimensions are certainly spot-on; the tC offers the speed-oriented driver an alluring size and stance. And I'm happy to admit that it's a good-looking little car in a budget sort of way— but will you remember what it looks five minutes after you turn away? Wait; let me look at the picture again. Maybe not.
Inside, the tC is even less Scionly. The traditional-looking gauges are traditionally mounted (the xA and xB have funky dials mounted in the center of the dash; perhaps they move left when the cars hit puberty). Goofy lights are kept to a minimum. The tC shares the family's wikkid sound system, designed to knock low-flying Cessnas out of nearby airspace. The center stack may look like it's made of the same metal-effect plastic used for Build Your Own Robot kits, but the controls are ergonomically sound. In all, it's a comfortable, practical place to spend some quality drive time.
To get you up-to-speed, the Scion tC uses a 160hp 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine swiped from the Toyota Camry. Unfortunately, Scion's engineers forgot to tweak the engine's fun critical VVT (Variable Valve Technology) for a burst of high-rpm power. By leaving the Camry's fattened bottom end intact, the tC is powerful enough to escape the xX mystique ("Will I make it to 75 MPH?"), but ditchwater dull. It lacks even a taste of the free-revving excitement of its properly fettled, slightly more powerful Celica GT-S sibling.
But fast is fast, right? I mean zero to sixty in less than eight seconds for $16,465 (base manual) sounds like a performance bargain. I refer you to Pat Boone's "In a Metal Mood" CD. The words and the tune may be right, but you won't want to bang your head to his rendition of Enter Sandman. The tC is more speed efficient than adrenally accelerative. Speed does not equal soul.
There's another way to reach the same conclusion: throw the front-wheel-drive tC into a corner. You'll immediately discover that Scion doesn't expect you to know the difference between good grip and good handling. The all-season Pirellis wrapped around the tC's optional 18" Enkeis provide less feedback than a 20-watt guitar amp. Understeer arrives without so much as ringing the doorbell. Safe, yes. Fun, no.
Hatch mechanism aside, there's nothing particularly wrong with the tC. Spare the horses you'll find a civilized little car at a fabulous price. In fact, Toyota made a mistake by marketing the tC as a Scion. With its refined manner, solid feel and aloof personality, they should have called it the TC240 and sold it as an entry-level Lexus. In other words, the tC is the scion of the wrong family.