CPO To Go: 2011 Scion TC

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

Two door cars used to be everywhere. From loaded up Cutlasses and Accords. To entry level Escorts, Neons and Civics. Nearly every popular car of 20 years ago offered a hatchback or coupe variant for those seeking a touch of sport in their daily driver.

Then something happened. America gradually got older… and bigger. Four door cars went from the plain-jane three square look of the 1980’s, to designs that evoked the priciest of exotics. Advances in steel fabrication and body stamping were just the beginning of what soon became a new era where four door cars completely dominated their two door sisters.

“Why deal with the inconvenience of a two door?” said a buying public knee-deep in aging baby boomers. Why indeed when you could have everything from a Camry to an SUV if you wanted the pretense of a sporty and powerful ride. Hatchbacks soon gave way to oversized coupes, which gave way to the reality that so-called ‘sporty’ designs were now available in every segment of the car market.

To survive for another generation, a two door compact like the Scion tC has to offer a lot more than just a ‘sporty’ driving experience.

Everyone on first glance assumes that the new Scion tC is a coupe. The side profile has the prototypical coupe look with a short trunk in the rear combined with an upright roof that seemingly sacrifices sport for space.

But the ‘coupe’ compromise doesn’t quite happen in the Scion tC. You open the hatch and the rear glass lifts up to reveal an opening that can swallow up… well… a bit more space than a coupe if the seats are folded down. It may not be an old Saab hatchback’s worth of space. But it will work for 90+% of buyers of this vehicle. Consider this an achievement in an age where consumers still complain if a car has only two cupholders.

The unusual styling is pretty much the only compromise I can note in this car. Otherwise the Scion tC serves in today’s market as the spiritual successor to the Toyota Celica. If you’re willing to pay about two grand more than a mid-level Corolla, you get a flashy, very well priced, reliable, good fuel economy car that is surprisingly easy to live with.

The interior is an embodiment of this ‘easy to live with’ theme. Open the door. Slide (or fall) into the driver’s seat… and it takes only a minute or two to figure out where everything is.Three simple knobs for the a/c, heat and defrost controls. A Lexus inspired steering wheel that is safely removed from the current fad of putting 17 different functions on it. Throw in a premium sound system with 8 speakers and 300 watts (along with Bluetooth, Ipod compatibility, and USB port); a sunroof, a well placed skyroof that helps minimize the claustrophobic feeling of most rear seat passengers, and you’re sitting pretty. Especially since the sticker comes in at only $19,275.

Everything you will usually touch in the Scion tC feels like it should. However it’s also simple to see where Toyota performed their ‘cost containment’. The door panel plastics. The underside of the dashboard. The carpet in the hatch. Everything you don’t touch is simply ‘functional’, which quickly translates into dour and stark if you’re not the type who is into black interiors with minimal ornamentation.Want a car that is bright and cheery? Go get a car driven by hamsters.

The tC is a stunningly no nonsense vehicle in an era where every other competitor has a gimmick.

On the road I felt everything… but it wasn’t a bad feeling. I would consider it a taut ride. On rough surfaces the tC will transmit the ‘thunks’ into your ears without any other bodily discomfort.

Scion owner... or marketeer? (Courtesy Eight08Customs)

Keep in mind that this new Scion tC now has the youngest average age of ownership out of any vehicle today (26 years old, really). So if you no longer like to feel or hear the road in your daily commute, there are countless softer alternatives out there.

On the road you also get the feeling that this vehicle is made out of one thick piece of steel. The fit and finish is exceptional. To the point where I would have not been surprised if Toyota had simply taken a Lexus and just simply cheapened the interior a bit. Make that quite a bit.

The tC is not a luxury coupe by any stretch. But the seats and road isolation are good enough on the highway that I still felt great after 7 hours of driving. Not a lot of sub-$20,000 cars with a ‘sporty’ ride can offer that real world comfort.

On the highway, I kept the speed right at 80 mph and managed to get 31 mpg. That was a surprising number along with the 28 mpg I got around town.Unless you put the pedal down, the 6-speed automatic will be squarely pegged at maximizing fuel economy. It can be fast if you want it to. But 95+% of the time you will be driving a frugal 2.5 Liter 180 horsepower engine that appreciates the low end of the power band.

Those who want to redline it all the time should definitely go with the manual. Like most modern automatics with manual overrides, the one in the Scion has a disconcerting delay that kills most of the real world fun. Shift. Wait. Click. It gets pretty old. But I can’t fault the tC for this since nearly every other model in the marketplace short of a VW shifts the same way.

What was more impressive was that the 2.5L 180 horsepower engine constantly turned at about 2400 rpm while going 80 through some fierce grades . Not once through the Smoky Mountains did the tC have to downshift from 6th gear. Not even in those rare times when I had to drive the double nickel while going uphill due to traffic. A lot of owners will appreciate the fact this car doesn’t drone on in high rpms when faced with these situations.

What’s not to like? A few things. In a world where even the cheapest vehicles have raised seating positions, the tC is low to the road. Those longing for the panoramic views offered in sporty coupes of a generation ago will be disappointed. The thick A-pillars give a bit of a distance to the road as you go. Road warriors usually like this distance. Many enthusiasts do not. You will have to judge this for yourself.

The tC is also not an overwhelming speedster on the road. A long list of publications clock the 0 to 60 at around 8.5 seconds with the 6-speed automatic. In real world measurements, the tC has all the power you need for the real world… but not for the race. The acceleration is always there. But it’s not the type that pushes you way back in the seat and gives you some serious g’s. Aspiring ricers and speed demons should look elsewhere.

Finally, I have a big bone to pick with the Southeast Distributor of Toyotas who assess ridiculous price premiums on the tC and other models. Back in 1994 I had to buy a new Toyota Camry in New Jersey instead of Atlanta. Why? Because if you wanted ABS and a sunroof the distributor added about $1500 in bogus options.

From ‘window etching’ of the VIN number (because window thieves were SO common back in the day). To their three cent spray version of Scotchguard. I even recall a phony wood package that had worse long-term wear issues than anything else ever put on Toyota.I ended up flying to New Jersey and spending $200 to save $1500. Fast forward 17 years later and the Toyota distributor adds a ‘Navigation’ upgrade that didn’t work at all on more than one occasion. Total cost added to the MSRP? $1499. You also get assessed $109 for floormats in a new car… but don’t worry! The Scion tC now comes with a tightwad exuding level of gas in the tank according to the window sticker. 6 whole gallons for no charge!

All kidding aside, if you happen to live in the southeast I would keep a watchful eye on the window sticker and negotiate out of the region if need be. For anyone else who happens to be considering a VW Beetle, Kia Forte, base Mini Cooper, or any number of four door competitors that offer a sporty oriented vibe, you should add the Scion tC to your list. Just make sure you follow the advice of Tony Bennett. The tC is only a good choice for those ‘among the very young at heart’.

I received seven free meals, three free hotel rooms, several tankfuls of gas, and insurance for this review. All except one tank of gas and insurance were provided exclusively by Ed Niedermeyer during our journey through Chattanooga and Nashville. No opossums were cooked in the engine bay during the course our long drive through Appalachia… but we did consider it.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

More by Steven Lang

Comments
Join the conversation
6 of 77 comments
  • Zackman Zackman on Nov 04, 2011

    I like this car for its looks and the hatch. I do wish the quarter window would at least pop open (don't you know who I am?) for the occasional rear seat passenger(s). The somewhat quirky design appeals to me for no other reason than it's different. Would I buy one? No. I'm not a Toyota fan, but I never say never, plus it's probably too harsh for me in my present commute. Can you see out of it? Would I recommend it to someone else? Sure - to check out. My son may be interested when his 2000 Eclipse finally becomes too much, but so far it hasn't yet. As far as the interior materials: Cost-cutting doesn't have to mean "cheap" or "cheap-looking". It's something called design and creativity, which doesn't cost anything beyond what you're paying your designers to come up with the garbage you're putting out there now!

  • Occam Occam on Nov 05, 2011

    I felt compelled to respond to this. I have a 2011 tC that I bought new in March. I bought it out in California, used it for several weekend trips (to SF, to LA, and Vegas), and then drove 2600 miles to Florida, and 900 miles back west to my new home in Texas. Here, it serves my daily 50 mile round trip commute. And demographics: 30-y.o divorced male, two kids who mainly live with my ex-wife, ~$60K/year. Plusses: - Great driving position. Beyond great… superb. None of the "every compact car has to have SUV-tall seats" crap that has spread through the auto industry. Even the Civic seats feel way to high. The front legroom is fantastic, perfect for my 35" inseam. The bolstering is terrific (probably too tight for the fatties), and the controls all fall right into hand. - Good mileage. When driving almost exclusively stop/go, on steep Norcal hills, I was getting around 26-27. Cross country, doing 80 on the highway, 32-ish. Driving mostly urban freeways on my 25 mile-each-way commute here in San Antonio, plus normal errands, etc. I'm averaging 30. - Decent performance. It's not a fast car, but it's reasonably entertaining. The handling feels extremely secure and locked-down on the highway, though rough pavement can be a bit jarring (I'm looking at you, I-40 between Barstow and Flagstaff). You learn a lot about how much you like a car when you drive 2600 miles in four days. - Two doors. OK, some of you guys might not like 2-doors, but I do. I like the proportions. I like being able to slide the seat all the way to the rear without having a giant pillar next to my head. I like being able to put my arm on the windowsill. I like door armrests that extend all the way back when the seat is at its rearmost position. Miuses: - Hideous seat fabric. I added Clazzio covers, so this is no longer a concern. i wish that factory leather had been available. - Hard center armrest: I ordered a leather armrest cover with foam padding from RedLine Goods - Interior is a bit loud on some coarse pavement surfaces - The 2.5L engine plus FWD makes it somewhat prone to torque steer and understeer, particularly when accelerating after a turn (i.e. turning onto a service road and accelerating to the onramp). I knew I wanted a reasonably economical yet still sporty two-door. Making a modest income, there's no way I'd want to buy something that would leave me with a $400+/mo car payment, nor did I want to buy the car outright and leave my savings threadbare... better to take a loan out on a reasonably priced car, and keep my savings nice and comfortable... Even without any special deals, credit is dirt cheap right now, and if inflation kicks up, it'll probably come out closer to even (even moreso if I stop putting off moving my savings into something more profitable... money market perhaps?). I was looking at the Kia Forte Koup, Mustang V6, and cert-used Accord Coupes and Altima Coupes. The Forte was the closest competitor. Overall, it's damn near a draw… I didn't like the comfort of the interior quite as much. The Mustang's rear seat is useless for when my kids are with me, and after never having one, I really, really wanted a sunroof this time. I couldn't find a sunroof'ed Mustang anywhere, and I don't trust the "larry cuts a hole and installs a Pep-Boys unit" version. The Accord and Altima - liked both of them, but trying to find one with an I-4/manual combo is pretty tricky. The VW Golf was a third contender, but too many friends have had problems with the cars. Also, since there is not a single other Toyota that interests me in any way, I'm safe from getting the trade-in bug when I take it in for service! And, the first 2 yrs/25000 miles of regular servicing were included for free. And there was a $1000 military rebate. Overall, a nice looking, spacious, extremely comfortable, reasonably economical, dirt cheap, great driving two-door with a 6 speed manual was damn near a no-brainer for me. My last car was a Fit (and a slushbox... blech)... I could never get comfortable in it, and only lost about 1-2 mpg switching to this one. As with all cars, everyone has a bit different preferences and desires. If someone has stubby legs, they won't see any great advantage to the mile-long space between the seat and pedals. If they frequently use the rear seat (for me, it's only when my 6 and 8 year old are with me, and they live 900 miles away), they'll find the two-door tedious. For me, it's a home run. Sure, I'd love to have an M6, but on my salary, no way am I going to bite on that. It's at that perfect sweet spot where desired amenities, functional requirements, and agreeable price come together. That point is a bit different for everyone.

    • See 3 previous
    • Occam Occam on Nov 07, 2011

      @threeer http://beangarage.com/catalog/clazzio-seat-covers/leather-insert-seat-covers-scion-tc-11-p-499.html I ordered the black leather with red stitching from Bean Garage. There are a ton of companies that sell them, but I've had great luck with BG - they're based in Florida, but ship from a warehouse in Cali. Top notch customer service. They actually had the black/red combo in stock - I think I ordered on Sat and they came in Tues or Wed. Black with red stitching sounds a bit flashy, but it's more subdued than it sounds at first, and came out looking very nice inside. http://www.redlinegoods.com I got the matching armrest cover from Redline Goods. They're based in Poland, so it takes a bit more time to ship, but no problems with the service. They are made to order.

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.
Next