Review: 2011 Scion TC With "TRD Big Brakes"

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
review 2011 scion tc with trd big brakes

Anarchy in the TTAC! It turns out that Michael Karesh and I both got invited to short-lead Scion tC press events. His review is found here and nicely covers things like the sound system, recent sales numbers, and the American economy. It’s so comprehensive that I didn’t feel the need to attend my press preview.

I did, however, feel the need to pay my bookie, so I am dutifully submitting this piece to offset a small amount of my personal debt. If you are not in the mood to read two reviews of this car, I have helpfully summarized my review in one sentence, posted “before the jump” for your convenience:

Given sufficient velocity and violence of application, it is possible to set the brakes on fire.

I autocrossed a previous-generation Scion tC in a few different regions, usually finishing in the top half of H Stock, ahead of the rest of the street-tire mongrel dabblers but well off the pace of the properly-set-up Mini Coopers. The original tC was a type of car which was once vanishingly rare but is now increasingly common: one with too much rolling stock. If the little-ish Toyota had a soul, and that soul wanted to fly, surely that soul was weighed down to earth by the enormous alloy wheels and steamroller tires attached to each corner. Rarely has a car of the tC’s modest size felt so weighty and deliberate on the road.

One the move, that first tC was so relentlessly interested in going straight regardless of input that I found myself using the handbrake to turn the car in tighter sections. It was simply reluctant to turn and the overall dynamic package was far more Somerset Regal than Calais 442, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. It struck me as a perfect conveyance for somebody who wants an affordable Japanese coupe but has no interest in going fast. I would have taken the last-generation Celica GT-S and a kick in the face over the Scion tC.

So now we have a new one, with a little more power and a little more weight. Commendably, it’s exactly the same size. Perhaps Toyota has learned from the xB debacle. A conversation I had with one of Toyota’s PR people went something like this:

Me: “Why is the new xB so freakin’ huge, dude?”

PR: “Well, Scion does better than anybody else at reaching out to our customers. We asked thousands of them what they wanted us to do with the xB. Virtually all of them said they wanted more room, more space, more power, more car.” Thoughtful pause. “They may have been lying.”

I was given a 14-mile loop on which to drive the new tC, and I was given a media co-driver. Thankfully, that media co-driver was Alex Nunez, well-known to most of you from his work with Autoblog and ConsumerSearch. Alex is one of those hard-ass New York types that I knew so well as a kid and I expected him to man up for his passenger stint. After a few words, we were off.

I’d chosen a six-speed manual tC with the “TRD Big Brake package”. My experience of aftermarket brake packages is that most of them suck. Typically, they don’t take master cylinder size into account, they don’t work correctly with the factory ABS or stability-control systems, and they often produce less clamping power than the standard cheapo factory setups despite looking better. A look at the Scion owner “brand ambassadors” who had brought their cars for the press preview didn’t ease my mind on the TRD kit’s likely virtues; they all looked like they had stepped off the set of “The Ali G Show”, being as ghetto fabulous as their parents’ money could make them. Clearly not performance drivers, and the Chinese tires wrapped around their “dubs” reinforced the point. If Scion was aiming at them with this kit, they weren’t aiming high.

Oh well. Time to drive. My first test — can the TRD brakes operate effectively in ABS? — was positive. In fact, on the loose road surface available to us, Alex and I were coming in on the ABS time and time again, chattering and skipping down from all the velocity the chunky 2.5-liter four could produce. That four, by the way… it’s not a performance engine. It doesn’t want to rev and it lets you know in a dozen unsubtle audible and tactile ways. Still, it will boot the car down the road. Alex said it sounded “sneezy” or something to that effect.

Next test. Stability control. Over a hump that put the nose of the car temporarily airborne, I cranked the wheel half a turn and kicked the brakes, starting a relatively strong oscillation. With a few blinks of the light, we were straightened out. Okay. That’s good. So far, these brakes appear to be as safe as the stockers. How good are they?

I spent the next six miles working on generating fade. Every turn was a late, full brake. I must have engaged ABS two dozen times from nontrivial speed. Down a steep hill we went, and I used the last trick in my book — the “rookie brake”. A rookie brake is dragging the pads against the brake for two hundred feet before stomping into ABS. It’s what racing rookies who are concerned about making a corner like to do, and it’s a brake killer. Nope. There was light fade at best (or worst).

We screeched to a final halt at the bottom of that long hill and I heard that familiar “hiss-WHOOSH-hiss”. Yes, there was smoke drifting around our cabin now. The pads, the pads, the pads were on fire! Mr. Nunez laughed. A woman in a Camry stared at us. We moved on.

This is a good car, in the sense that it is made well, reasonably priced, and likely to last a long time. Scion says they expect the buyers to be more than half male. If that’s the case, I think that business about estrogen in the water must be true. I can’t see a man buying this for himself, unless that “man” wears skinny pants and listens to Dashboard Confessional. It’s priced about two grand away from the street price of a base Mustang V-6 six-speed. I knew a guy who raced a Scion tC in NASA. We used to laugh at him, even though he was pretty quick, and since “we” were driving Neons, Miatas, Civics, and a Ecotec-powered Cavalier, I think that says something.

It may not be a “man’s car”, but it’s still decent, and the brakes are decent, too. If your mom says you have to get your graduation present at the Toyota dealer, this is your best choice.

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2 of 50 comments
  • Stryker1 Stryker1 on Nov 15, 2010

    "The pads, the pads, the pads were on fire!" Laughed out loud. Great review.

  • Threeer Threeer on Jun 12, 2011

    Is it geared more towards chicks? Maybe...but my wife and I drove a ton of cars in order to find her next car...anything from a 500 to an Optima in size, features, etc...and you know what? She liked the tC the best. I liked the way it drove, too. And I'm okay with that. We pick up our new tC Monday morning. Sure, there are tons of cars (admirably listed above) that are faster, better handling, (name your performance figure here)...but for what we're paying, we feel comfortable that we'll have a long and reliable ride that will give us driving pleasure for years to come. If you don't like the car, it's pretty easy...don't buy it. I'm not a fan of many cars I see on the road, but there ya go...somebody else obviously did.

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