Scion TC Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
scion tc review

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.

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  • Epsilonkore Epsilonkore on Jul 30, 2009

    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.

  • Skatilus Skatilus on Feb 02, 2011

    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.

  • Ollicat I have a Spyder. The belt will last for many years or 60,000-80,000 miles. Not really a worry.
  • Redapple2 Cadillac and racing. Boy those 2 go together dont they? What a joke. Up there with opening a coffee shop in NYC. EvilGM be clowning. Again.
  • Jbltg Rear bench seat does not match the front buckets. What's up?
  • Theflyersfan The two Louisville truck plants are still operating, but not sure for how much longer. I have a couple of friends who work at a manufacturing company in town that makes cooling systems for the trucks built here. And they are on pins and needles wondering if or when they get the call to not go back to work because there are no trucks being made. That's what drives me up the wall with these strikes. The auto workers still get a minimum amount of pay even while striking, but the massive support staff that builds components, staffs temp workers, runs the logistics, etc, ends up with nothing except the bare hope that the state's crippled unemployment system can help them keep afloat. In a city where shipping (UPS central hub and they almost went on strike on August 1) and heavy manufacturing (GE Appliance Park and the Ford plants) keeps tens of thousands of people employed, plus the support companies, any prolonged shutdown is a total disaster for the city as well. UAW members - you're not getting a 38% raise right away. That just doesn't happen. Start a little lower and end this. And then you can fight the good fight against the corner office staff who make millions for being in meetings all day.
  • Dusterdude The "fire them all" is looking a little less unreasonable the longer the union sticks to the totally ridiculous demands ( or maybe the members should fire theit leadership ! )