By on December 13, 2004

The Scion family.  Guess which sibling is adopted.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.

   A good-looking little car-- if not entirely memorableDespite 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.

   The Scion tC and Toyota Camry share the same powerplant.  Unfortunately for enthusiasts, someone forgot to tweak the VVT-i.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.

Speed does not equal soul.  (Photoshop does not equal fast.)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.

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15 Comments on “Scion tC Review...”

  • avatar

    I just bought a tC about three months ago and love driving it every minute. The only problem that I have encountered was when it was icy for the first time and I couldn’t drive it because of the tires and wonder if I need to buy winter tires for the car?

  • avatar

    I’m so glad I finally found a truthful review of the Scion tC, instead of the usual “it’s toyota, it must be amazing” junk I see everywhere else.

    I bought a 2007 tC 9 months ago. I’ve hated it ever since the “new car” effect wore off (after about a month).

    I read so many reviews and comments from people telling me “amazing handling” “sporty”…
    It’s all lies. This car handles like a full size sedan (which it really is under it’s fake sport coupe exterior).

    It has the WORST clutch I’ve ever used too. It’s almost impossible to get a good smooth start without some kind of jumping, or horrible revving noise. It makes any driver look like a beginner.

    The body roll is horrible, I recently found out that this is probably due to the heavy steel frame used to hold the glass roof gimmick in place, which obviously raises the center of gravity too much.

    Everything about this car is “for the price” too… it’s got a powerful enough engine “for the price” but you’re totally right that it’s no fun at all.

    It looks nice “for the price” but it’s still a forgettable design. The only thing I like about this car is the standard wheels and the TYC taillights I added on. The standard taillights make it difficult to tell apart from any other boring standard car on the road.

    I also paid for the short throw shifter. This simply reduced the throw length to the same as previous cars I’ve owned were as standard.

    If only they’d get rid ofthe stupid glass roof, and put a proper clutch in this car (oh, and also get rid of the annoying delay on the “drive by wire” throttle), it might not be so bad to drive.
    It’d still be pretty boring though, unless they allowed it to rev a little higher (7krpm would be nice) and gave it some more high end torque.

    Oh, to finish this on a good note – the paint seems pretty good, and still shines after it’s first winter. This is lucky, as it’ll help me get a good trade-in price in the next couple of months.

  • avatar

    I am considering buying a tC. I checked one out and i was impressed.

  • avatar

    I love the Tc. Again like I said before the only bad thing was the tires which I went and got winter tires for. At 50,000 miles it is still going strong and nothing but normal maintence. Its not the fastest but compared to a Civic which is overdone I love my Scion and that seems to be the trend since I have seen so many lately on the street. Scion must be doing something right…If you only pay 18000 for a only expect the same but I am soooo happy I bought it..If you want high performance pay more money…if you want something fun and enjoyable to drive…buy a Tc!

  • avatar

    I think it is so absolutely unfortunate that prospective tC buyers are going to stumble across this website while researching their future purchase and take some of this negative info to heart. The Scion tC is an excellent car made by the best car company in the world and is a best buy. I have owned my manual tC since it was first released back in the summer of 04, it has 85k miles on it and it runs and looks as well as the day i bought it. For the first six months I had my tC the only additions I made were a spoiler and exhaust system. To dispel the myth made by a comment above, the clutch is not horrible and no mater how bad off time i was I was never able to make the car shake when I started into first gear, The Scion tC isnt intended as stock to be a performance car, it is a touring coupe, hence the name tC, yes its true. The tC is a very high quality for its class and price range and an exceptionally reliable car and in my opinion as well as many others I know, leaves very little to be desired styling wise. When timed correctly, in a manual, the scion's accelerates like a beast, believe me when that car is pushed to its potential it steps up to the plate swinging. After 6 months i had my tC I added a cold air intake, a sports clutch, and short throw shifter, a front strut bar (reduce body roll), and 18 in enkeis and dammit that tC was totally transformed. On the track I clock my 0-60 at just above 6 seconds consistently which is ridiculously fast for such few engine upgrades. Seriously tC's are awesome cars and with little upgrades, and a driver who knows what they are doing behind the wheel, can be super fun little sports cars. My girlfriend recently bought an 08 manual and all she did was put a strut bar in and a cold air intake, which totalled $250 all together, and that was enough to make it zippy and fun to drive around corners… the dual pane sunroof is the sexiest thing ever. whoever cant appreciate the quality and sexiness that is the tC should buy a Kia the dealer by me is advertising that if you buy a Sorento you can get a Rio for a buck… EVERYONE ELSE BUY A TC YOU WONT BE DISAPPOINTED… btw the reason why Toyota stopped manufacturing the Celica, which was the longest running model of any car in US history, for the US market is because the tC was crushing it in sales… now if that doesnt say it all right there i dont know what would

  • avatar

    Come on now, let's get into reality. The decision to drop the Celica was made before the tC was even released. The Celica also wasn't the longest running model in US history. Not even close. Even the Corolla has been around longer. It hurts your credibility when you make statements like that. I've driven the tC and I thought it was a ok car. My main problems were with the interior, which I found to be cheap and ugly, the not-so-great shifter, and the unimpressive EPA mileage estimates. I liked the torque laden engine, the solid handling, the styling, and the visibility was good for a 2-door hatch. I thought the sound system was a little too boomy, but that may have been cured with some tweaking. The throttle and clutch feel could be better. I'm a hard critic though, and it's rare that I actually like a car.

  • avatar

    Let’s compare apples to apples here. If the tC is only good “for the price” and it’s not a “fun” car to drive, what’s the yardstick being used here? A Murcielago? I agree that the stock clutch (at least on the ’06) was pretty bad. It felt very mushy and springy to me (and by “springy”, I mean that it felt like when the clutch engaged, it would twist like a rubber band before it matched speed, no matter how you slipped it). However, once I got the performance clutch, it was like driving a whole new car. I could actually feel the engine performance through the clutch. So I consider any review based on the stock clutch to be biased by a below-average part.

    Is the car too tall, too heavy, too “sedan-y”? Maybe for some folks. But I’ve hauled a mountain bike, a full 88-key synth, and a filing cabinet in the back of that thing (not all at the same time, of course!), and I’m just fine with its size, and consider it a selling point. And compared to any other “sedan” in its size and price range, it will do pretty well off the line and in the corners. I don’t buy fancy, expensive cars, but I did get some of the extras on my tC (pedestal spoiler, exhaust, OBX shifter, pedals, etc.) and several times people have offered an unsolicited “Nice car!” Of course, I never mention that it’s about 1/2 the cost of the BMWs you see driving around these parts.

    I would say the only thing I would really like to see is a 6th gear on the manual, to get better mileage on long trips (I think it could do 33-35 mpg easily, and most of the time I don’t need the extra torque at cruising speed, but if I do, I can always drop to 4th or whatever).

  • avatar

    I’m looking for something with two doors and a stick shift, for around $15,000. I’ve eliminated the VIper and the ZO6. I’m left with the Cobalt base model, the G6 base model, the tC and the Civic.
    I’m eliminating the tC based upon these review and comments, and some other reviews out there.

    I’ll tell you, I drove a CIvic around for a while and a Cobalt. The Cobolt really isn’t half bad and is very cheap. But, dollar for dollar, the current Civic two door stick is one of the great cars of all time.

  • avatar
    zhng my car

    Had an ’05 for about 6 months. I agree with your review, decent car for the money- not at all sporty, but nice ride and merges more than adequately. It’ll totally hold 2 bikes, 2 backpacks and 2 6′ people if you get the handlebars under the b-pillar and the front wheels off. Glass roof is nice – especially when the seats are in the reclined “get busy” mode, but makes the chassis very flexible under cornering, further gutting the stock suspension. Also the sheet metal is very, very thin and crap. A hail storm will make it look like a golf ball, and a shopping cart will crater it bad. Styling got me the wrong kind of attention from trashy chicks at gas stations, and from a guy pushing carts at cabela’s. Would be a hoot to tune, if it was 1998 and people still did that.

  • avatar

    I absolutely LOVE my Scion tC !!
    I haven’t had ANY problems with it and i’ve had it for almost a year…
    it’s still shiny and clean
    it handles great (except when it’s really windy and i’m dong about 100 mph on the highway)
    and it was great in the snow !
    the only problem that i have with my scion is that the sunroof needs to be realigned or something…it just makes the whistley noise when i’m driving too fast and it’s windy….
    and also
    now that i connected an mp3 to it, the sound isn’t as loud as when i used the cd’s…but those are things i can fix !
    i absolutely freaking love my car !!!!
    i wouldn’t trade it for the world…except for maybe the infiniti g35

  • avatar

    robert – could we have an updated review on this model? with gas prices where they currently are, the tc sounds like the kind of car many people might appreciate – especially if its improved any since 2004.

  • avatar

    I completely agree with dan’s post. Completely dull drive, sometimes I question if the engineers at Toyota actually drove this car after they designed it. The gearing is so poorly matched for the engine(extremely short), handles like a dodge caravan, huge gaps in the interior panels ,piss poor gas mileage even when making a best effort to hypermile(shift at 1900-2000rpm/never exceed 55-60/coast whenever feasible), it goes on and on. It’s also aggravating when almost every other Tc you see on the road is driven by a 17-19 year old driving like a jackass because he thinks he has the fastest car ever. I will say that it has been reliable….

  • avatar

    reallyloudlevin – I couldn’t have said it better and it’s one of the things that bothers me most about these cars. EVERY time I see this car, its always got some obnoxious kid behind the wheel who thinks he’s driving a sports car. I do think it’s a decent car for the money given the comparables in that price range (other than a Civic coupe, which I would choose over this car).

  • avatar

    In 2004 I bought my Flint Mica Grey 2005 tC. At the time the current generation Mazda 3 and Civic were not available, the tC was an easy choice “for the money”. Yes it is a value, it is reliable and despite some peoples comments, I am quite lead footed and I never get below 26 mpg on a tank with combined city/hwy driving I do. Worst mileage 26, best 32hwy on a round trip between Memphis and Nashville. The sunroof is wonderful for this price but it is also the sole source of woe in the 80k miles I have put on my tC. It has jammed, rattled and whistled since 50k miles. In stock for the tC is just a heavy but reliable “sporty” coupe. I upgraded it with shock/struts lowering kit, front and rear stabilizer bar upgrades, TRD intake and exhaust, fog lights and spoiler all from Scion (you can bargain with them on the add ons, just not the car itself) I still have less than $18,400 in the car as a whole and I can FIRMLY SAY the suspension tweaks bring this car alive! It is a quick coupe able to keep up with other similar priced Hondas and Mazdas, out running some even the IS300 of the same year. It wont outhandle a high end Civic or Mazda 3,but with the same level of $$$ equipment such as the supercharger, turns it into a little beast but for several $k cheaper than a Mazdaspeed 3 and Mini Works. AGAIN I admit, it wont beat all the cars in this class in 2009 but it holds its on well and in 2004 there wasnt anything for the $15,700 I paid that could touch it. I still have people ask me how much it cost, and if its some sort of BMW/Volvo (grille and headlights trick the lesser of our species). Its reliable (save the sunroof) it holds its value VERY well (Carmax recently offered me $11k for it at 70k miles) it has good if not “toyota with bmw headlight audi sillouette and volvo grille” mutt looks, and oh yeah.. the seats all fold flat for some good ole fashioned star gazing and fun times for two . Great for a first car or for people on a budget that KNOW they can do better than a Kia or stripped down Civic of the same price. The biggest problem with the tC is the problem with the Celica before it, redesign scheduling. Toyota redesigns the Camry/Corolla and others every 4-5 years keeping them competitive. The Celica/tC sporty coupes seem to fall in the 6 -7 year cycle that does not keep them competitive for the entire life of the design. Maybe the rumored tC based off a joint Subaru/Toyota platform will be true and turn this car into a true perfomer, until then it is a respectable econo “sporty” (not SPORTS) coupe with Toyota reliabilty.

  • avatar

    I’ve had my Scion tc for about 5 months now, though for only two of them have I actually driven it (stored for the winter). I bought it with 26,000 miles on it, only have put a few thousand more on since then. I have to say that I love it. I hope my review will prove to be unbiased and reasonable to all people looking to purchase one of these vehicles, as I looked on nearly every review site I could myself before making the final decision to buy my tc.

    A lot of reviewers seem to have gripes with the car in terms of its power (161 HP, 162 ft lb). You have to be realistic about these sorts of things! The vehicle new cost just under 18k if I remember correctly (mine is an ’08 and used I got it for a few hundred above 14k) and if you look anywhere else you won’t find a car with that kind of power. For the price, base model civics and cobalts fall short and the more expensive Volkswagen Jetta has only a bit more power (I’m talking 10 HP here…). If this car was a few thousand dollars more, in the area of the Civic Si with 200 horse, I could see people complaining. But for what you pay and with what you get, it does just fine. While horsepower figures aren’t super amazing, people forget about the torque, which with this car will actually put you back in your seat a bit if you punch it.

    Now, I’m no car enthusiast and handling and control isn’t my strong point but I do know that in that area, this vehicle is lacking. But again, in similarly priced vehicles such as the cobalt and base civic, do you ever hear of people raving about the handling or lack of body roll? Not that I’ve seen. The thing people seem to forget about this vehicle is that it was DESIGNED to be modded and tweaked with. That’s what Scion’s slogan is all about. Sure, in areas of handling and suspension the car isn’t amazing, but it is built to be easily and affordably modded.

    I’m a 19 year old guy and definitely someone who appreciates higher quality speakers. The stock sound system is great. The tweeters are powerful and clear and the in trunk subwoofer isn’t amazing, but for being stock and completely concealed beneath the floor, it does wonders. ipod connectivity is something I’ve always installed aftermarket head units for and having it standard is a huge plus. I’ve never owned a car with steering wheel controls, but having them in this car is an awesome little feature that I’ve grown to love. I learned to drive a manual on this car, so I have nothing to compare it too except for my buddies si shifter and my other friends equally smooth rsx type s shifter. The throws are a bit long to me, but I hear that adding a short throw shifter is an easy install and makes the overall driving experience so much better. The interior materials are of pretty good quality for being in a cheaper car. They aren’t the soft and plushy plastics you see in high end cars, but it also isn’t filled with rock hard plastics like you see in cars similarly priced and even in ones that are above its price point. The seats are great, the glove box actually locks which is something you don’t see too much in cars anymore and the rear seats actually recline back making them much more comfortable for longer rides.

    So for the money, this car really is tough to beat. And thats just the thing, its a touring coupe, not a sports car. Its not some turbocharged speed demon and its frankly not marketed as that. I think people have a tendency to see coupes that look sporty and say, “man if this thing isn’t quick as hell then its just a poser.” I didn’t know cars had to be balls to the walls fast if they looked even somewhat sporty (because to be honest a tc isn’t the most striking looking car out there stock…but again all of that can easily be changed).

    My conclusion? For the money, this car rocks. Looks good, has decent power, lots of storage space (it is a hatchback after all), lots of nifty features and is overall fun to drive. Plus its built to be easy to mod and personalize. Its no civic si, and rightfully so since its thousands less.

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