Capsule Review: 2014 Scion TC

Winston Braithwaite
by Winston Braithwaite
capsule review 2014 scion tc

I recently said “ while there are other sporty coupes for not a lot of money, there aren’t many.

The Scion tC was not one of the cars I had in mind.

Oh, it does its best to look its part, and I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did, but it’s no sport coupe.

Because I value substance in automobiles, the Scion tC offends me. It’s a poseur of the worst kind. But is it, really, or have I just bought into the internet’s bad attitude? The tC is sneaky, defusing my criticisms as I raise them.

My biggest issue with the tC is the styling, which has been brought into line with the new Camry’s. The front fascia is tweaked, and other changes include LED taillights, but the basic shape of the body is weird. The roofline and stubby tail look okay from certain angles, but bad from others. Styling critique is only half-valid, though. Everyone has eyes and can decide for him or herself whether it’s good. I think it’s bad, which can be countered by anyone who points out that it’s just, like, my opinion, man.

At first, I thought the Scion tC is just a tarted-up Toyota Corolla, but it’s not, really. It is a re-badged Toyota, of course, and a Corolla cousin, but you could park a tC next to the Avensis it’s based on and never suspect the relationship. Back to the Corolla comparison. Where the econobox has a cheaper torsion-beam rear axle, the tC uses a double-wishbone setup. Instead of a 1.8 liter wimp-mill, the tC snags its 2.5 liter engine from the Camry. There’s 179 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque to motivate a car that’s under 3,200 pounds – not bad.

Conversely, the tC interior is cheap and nasty, which makes you wish it were as nice as the Corolla. All Scions have terrible interiors, but that’s a weak excuse. The younger, less-car-savvy buyer that Scion has been trying to clinch for a decade will cross-shop other brands. The whole charade falls apart once you start comparing the tC to other cars. Turns out you don’t really have to suffer like this anymore.

The car I drove was a 2014 tC with the 6-speed automatic and a few options. For the $20,210 ($20,965 w/$755 Delivery fee) base price, you get standard panoramic roof, body-color exterior mirrors with LED repeaters for the turn signals, trendy LED accent lights in the front bumper, halogen projector headlights, a leather-trimmed flat-bottom steering wheel, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, air conditioning, and the ergonomic iron maiden of a Pioneer head unit. The cynic in me thinks Scion specs Pioneer stereos because it has that “aftermarket look.” Scion says it’s the only automaker to offer a touchscreen audio system as standard across all its models. Okay.

My car had the “ BeSpoke” premium audio option, an $1,198 charge to get navigation, aha, and more infotainment options. There’s an app that works with your phone to offer social media, entertainment, and deeper navigation functions with the BeSpoke system, but you should carefully check compatibility. In the past, Android users have been given short shrift by the BeSpoke system, and its iOS and iPhone integration may not include the latest models.

The only other things my tester carried were carpeted mats, a rear bumper applique, wheel locks, and an auto-dimming mirror. The final price came in at $22,712, not bad for a hatchback with the Toyota reputation for reliability. Because the tC is not really a sports car, the cost of ownership is likely to trend toward the economy compact side of the ledger.

There are ways to blow more cash on the tC, and the best ones are performance-oriented. Let’s give Scion credit for offering chassis upgrades to those buyers who want them. I’d sincerely love to try a tC with the TRD sway bars ($550), front strut brace ($285), lowering springs ($399), and high performance brake kit ($1,675). It’s a brace of pretty serious hardware that will likely seriously transform the tC into something a lot more entertaining for an enthusiast. It’s also likely to make the stiff ride more harsh, and the prices don’t include labor for installation. Whatever you do, avoid the buzzy TRD exhaust.

The uninspiring interior doesn’t set the expectations high for a good driving experience. In spite of that, the tC surprises. It’s built out of nothing special, but it’s a more satisfying everyday drive than the FR-S. That doesn’t mean it’s a better performing car, just that it’s easier to live with when you’re commuting and grocery shopping. Scion says there are additional spot welds to tighten up the structure, plus revised stabilizer bar and damper tuning. The big four is torquey and linear, the 6-speed auto is unobtrusive, if hilariously slow to respond to manual input. The automatic has been upgraded for faster shifts and Scion has given it Dynamic Rev Matching to blip the throttle on downshifts.

The chassis tuning is okay, and the handling on the 18” wheels is more competent than I expected. The performance is more than enough to satisfy most people, who seem averse to even accelerating when entering the highway. As someone who knows what the hell he’s doing behind the wheel, the tC’s best attribute is its chassis, and everything else is a let-down. The steering is numb, the seats aren’t comfortable, and the cabin is loud. Even as an economical sedan marauding in sporty drag, the tC feels like a loose execution of the idea.

On the practical side, the hatchback makes the cargo area very useful, and the rear seats fold down to create more room. It’s a better use than actually putting people back there, though the chunky roofline makes for acceptable headroom if your plan is to drive across town instead of across the continent. There are big knobs for the ventilation system that are easy to use, and the limited feature set of the tC works in your favor if you want a car with reduced distractions. Throwing the BeSpoke audio system into the mix gives you some electronics to fight with, especially if you’re going to make use of all the connectivity features like social media integration and apps. The chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel feels good in your hands, so it’s a shame that the steering is dull.

If you don’t like early ‘70s grade interior plastics that scuff and scratch easily or cloth upholstery that looks its best in the dark, the tC is not likely to impress you. There is a Monogram Series car that starts at $22,170 with heated leather front seats, BeSpoke audio, push-button start, and a tackily tacked-on rear spoiler. It’s weird that Scion makes a nicer tC a limited edition, production is limited to 2,500 total, but perhaps that’s the amount they’re likely to sell out of a yearly total of roughly 19,000 cars. The Monogram Series does nothing to address the cheap-feeling door panels, back seat, or secondary controls, though.

Overall, the Scion tC didn’t hurt my soul like I thought it would. Here’s the real problem at hand; what else you can get for your money. The Hyundai Elantra coupe and Kia Forte Koup make a compelling 1-2 punch. Turns out, they cost a bit more when comparably equipped, though “comparably equipped” in this case means carrying features and equipment you can’t even get on the Scion for any price. That includes climate control, leather seating front and rear, xenon headlamps, power-adjustable ventilated front seats, larger infotainment screens, and much better materials.

Is a couple thousand bucks extra in MSRP worth it when you get a better-appointed car that feels more luxurious? The feature buyer says “yes,” while the value shopper is going to have to carefully compare what offers are on the table and see which dealership can be squeezed the hardest. The point is, the sticker prices aren’t the out-the-door numbers, and the other players in the market may be more competitive with the tC’s pricing than it looks. They’re better cars to spend time in, too. I found the tC hard to get comfortable in, despite how many times I adjusted the seat, mirrors, and seatback.

The enthusiast shopper, on the other hand, can wind up with a Ford Fiesta ST for the same money as a tC. Need more space? Okay, the Focus ST starts at just $23,625 – $1,000 north of this tC, and it delivers a zillion dollars worth of driving satisfaction. It’s a four-door hatch, too, which means more utility.

A week with the Scion tC was instructive. It’s surprising to learn that you can get legitimate performance upgrades. The onion-like sting of mediocrity hangs over the interior materials and outfitting, but that’s somewhat balanced off by a driving experience that’s not that bad. If you shop with blinders on, it’s okay, or if Toyota’s reputation is a high determining factor for you, then the Scion tC is your car. If you want more for your money, either features, luxury, or performance, look elsewhere.

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3 of 84 comments
  • Akatsuki Akatsuki on Jan 07, 2015

    So basically it is the same car as the trusty old Celica?

    • Wodehouse Wodehouse on Jan 11, 2015

      I think you're right, though, the first time I saw a tC I thought it was a modern version of Datsun/Nissan 200SX from the '70s and '80s.

  • Akbarrumekso Akbarrumekso on Jun 22, 2015

    The final price came in at $22,712, not bad for a hatchback with the Toyota reputation for reliability. Because the tC is not really a sports car, the cost of ownership is likely to trend toward the economy compact side of the ledger. Its very cheap price.. 2015 Suzuki GSX R1000

  • Inside Looking Out This is actually the answer to the question I asked not that long ago.
  • Inside Looking Out Regarding "narrow windows" - the trend is that windows will eventually be replaced by big OLED screens displaying some exotic place or may even other planet.
  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
  • Donald More stuff to break god I love having a nanny in my truck... find a good tuner and you can remove most of the stupid stuff they add like this and auto park when the doors open stupid stuff like that