By on February 3, 2016


Sir, I don’t think you understand how our pricing model works.”

It was the winter of 2004, and a sad-sack of a salesman sat at the desk across from Mrs. Bark and me at a morbidly depressing Toyota-Scion dealership near Dayton, Ohio. My dear wife was the less-than-proud owner of a 2001 Hyundai Elantra that had been the very first car she’d ever purchased new. That Elantra came with war wounds; it had been hit in the rear door a week after she bought it, and the car was so cheap that the small dent it caused wasn’t worth fixing.

We had recently become upwardly mobile, thanks to a promotion I got at work, so I wanted to buy her something nicer; something sporty, but not actually sporty. She was a graduate music student, and all of her friends drove shitboxes from the ’90s. I wanted them to know that her husband was somebody, not just another poor grad student. Alas, youthful pride.

She narrowed down her choices to a new Hyundai Tiburon V-6 and a Scion tC, before she ultimately decided her Elantra experience was negative enough to steer her away from the K-brand. Plus, as a woman in her mid-20s, she was attracted to the brand of Scion. It was supposed to be all about being youthful, brash, and bold — everything that her Elantra wasn’t.

It was because of this that we ended up sitting opposite this Dockers-and-Bass wearing salesman, who wrote up his foursquare in the hopes that I wouldn’t notice that he was giving us about two grand under KBB Fair for our car.

“I’m sorry, you need to give us more for our car than that,” I explained. “I know it has a small ding, but it’s been meticulously maintained, and it has low miles.”

“We don’t negotiate, sir. Scion has a one-price strategy. It’s a low-stress buying experience.” His face was not portraying the low-stress experience, as such.

“Well, then,” I said, momentarily channeling the genetic rage of all Baruth men for the last century, “I think we’ll go find a higher-stress environment where people actually want to sell cars.”

We ended up at Kings Toyota-Scion on the north end of Cincinnati, where a gentle giant named Andre helped us pick out my wife’s new, ice blue tC. They were happy to get us out of the Elantra even-up, which I declared to be a victory.

We added damn near everything in the Scion catalog to the tC: pedestal spoiler, neon interior lighting, cargo nets, shiny metal pedals, sporty shift knob. It was like shopping from a trendy catalog. Even with all the add-ons, and a shorter payment term, it still didn’t cost us much more per month to buy it (yes, I was a payment buyer when I was 26) because of the difference between Hyundai Motor Finance Corporation’s “First-Time Buyer” program APR of 11.25 percent for 72 months and Toyota’s TIER 1+ credit program of 1.9 over 60.

“I can’t believe it,” said Andre as he reviewed Mrs. Bark’s credit report. “She has no bad credit. Like, none.” Apparently, the typical Scion buyer didn’t have a 780 beacon score.

At that point, I had no reason to suspect that Scion wouldn’t be a smash hit. I had no sporting pretenses then, so I lusted after an xB for myself. The buying experience was wonderful, the cars were hip and cool. What could possibly go wrong?

We took delivery of our tC on that snowy evening, and I brought it back a month later to have all the goodies installed. It was a wonderful car, in every respect. Mrs. Bark loved it enough to get her first vanity plate — SCI BLUE (get it?) — and her friends were as jealous of it as I’d hoped they would be. She joined Scion forums. She got a little sticker for the rear windshield that had a tC outline with a ponytail-wearing girl in the driver’s seat that said “Girl Racer.”

It wasn’t fast, but it was faster than anything she had ever owned up until that point of her life. The 140-treadwear Bridgestones were grippy enough to make the occasional autocross a blast. The stereo boomed the hell out of some Big Daddy Kane, and the hatch was large enough for all the musical equipment you could ever need to put in it. In the three years we owned it, it never had a single mechanical issue.

Unfortunately, once my dear son arrived in the beginning of 2008, putting a rear-facing car seat in the tC proved to be a hassle. And, as most parents do, we became convinced that we needed a CUV for our growing family. Goodbye, tC. Hello, CX-7. And with it, a certain sadness that a part of our life had ended, but a certain joy that a new part was beginning.

Why did Scion fail? I’m sure you’ll read endless industry insiders today who will be only too happy to speculate as to why. Bad marketing, tone-deaf product planning, et cetera, et cetera.

I can only tell you that, for me, Scion succeeded.

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51 Comments on “I Bought a Scion Once...”

  • avatar

    I always thought the tC was damn good for what it was.

    I was looking online at one at a Toyota/Scion dealer in Santa Fe who had one on his lot with manual trans and had half the TRD catalog thrown at it. I was simply daydreaming about what I might drive once the wife has a gargantuan CUV/SUV and I can go back to something a little more fun to drive.

    But I am certainly not Scion’s target demographic…

    • 0 avatar

      Was it a Toyota Paseo?

      • 0 avatar

        I liked the Paseo, especially the revised one which you never see anymore. Cheap and fun, little rough around the edges but not nearly as bland as the Tercel sister.

        But I bet most people just bought the Del Sol instead. I would’ve.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had my manual tC for 5 years with no regrets. I bought it while cross-shopping the Mustang, Civic Coupe, and Accord Coupe. No TRD dealer-profit-props added on, and I got it with a $1000 rebate.

      All in all, I’d rather have bought a Mustang, but I do need to carry my kids in the car sometimes, and they’re not getting shorter. The tC is the perfect mix of small and sporty two door with a functional back seat and decent mileage. There are few options in this category.

      I’m not surprised its disappearing though. It covered two bases – compact hatchback that looks sporty, and two-door sporty car. The iM is more functional on the practical side, and the FR-S more functional on the sporty side. As much as I dislike compact four doors, I’d be tempted by the iM if it had the tC’s 2.5L engine. I like having a real engine without a turbocharger.

      If they are going away from the monospec, maybe we’ll see a new iM/Matrix/Auris/whatever they call it with a hopped up engine to compete with the likes of the Focus ST, GTI, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      I liked the first gen TC too—the 2.4 was peppy, even with the 4 speed auto, although the handling was a bit darty.

  • avatar

    an arse for every seat out there.

  • avatar

    The tC, when released, was a great car that was left to just rot on the vine with half-hearted updates.

    Where else in 2004/2005 could you get a panoramic moonroof for less than $20,000?

    • 0 avatar

      Acutally, it was even better. I bought mine in 2004 with a manual for $15,900 brand new. Felt like it should have been a $20,000 car. Where can we get a deal like that now? A Soul? Why cant panoramic’s be in everything!

  • avatar

    “Kings Toyota-Scion on the north end of Cincinnati”

    I always tell people to shop other places before they head into the spiderweb which is Kings Auto Mall. You’ll pay more because they control every_damn_brand!

    Pity the Dayton dealer wasn’t any better, that’s the place I tell people to search if they want to save some money. That’s on account of Dayton’s continual economic degradation since about 1989.

    • 0 avatar

      I fully understand what you’re saying about Dayton. I used to go to Dayton frequently in the late 80’s and early 90’s. One local quipped that the elderly loved moving to Dayton because it made their transition to death much easier.

      • 0 avatar

        When I go there (haven’t been in a couple years I’d say), I’m always just surprised at how depressed and run-down it is, even though it’s <60 minutes from the Cincinnati area.

        Low education, low income, poor public services and parks. The only thing keeping it going is the AFB, and that’s pretty low education as well.

        • 0 avatar

          The Air Force Museum is the only reason to go there. I have a client or two in Dayton, the place is just super depressing.

          My biggest surprise in Ohio is Toledo – I absolutely loved it there.

          • 0 avatar

            I have never been to Toledo! I need to explore Ohio more. The conservatory in Columbus is great – that’s my most recent Ohio tourist experience.

            But Dayton is like… What is everyone doing? Where are the people with jobs? I think the answer to that is south of the city, and also in Kettering. Lexis Nexis has a huge campus there.

        • 0 avatar

          Accurate description. I’m from Xenia. I’m guessing the dealer Bark went to was in Beavercreek/Alpha, between Xenia and Dayton. I don’t recall the name. I did have a couple high school friends who ended up working there. Maybe that guy was one of them; it wouldn’t surprise me.

          All my family still lives in Xenia unfortunately and we drive from Nashville to visit them about twice a year. The degree of depression there – economic, personal, climatic – never ceases to amaze me. I once queried why everyone there dresses in sweatpants and the wife quipped “what reason does anyone have *not* to?” It’s all very sad.

          The Air Force Museum is incredible. Not far down the road is the Village of Yellow Springs which is still a gem but is hanging on by a thread. We’ve many times considered moving back there but it’s not the same town it was in the ’90s. It’s so much of a weekend tourist trap now.

          An auto-related note: most of Greene County is bucolic. The sparsely populated roads are perfect for spirited drives. I miss that.

  • avatar

    My son bought one after he got done with all his specialty training for the Army, frankly for the price it was really hard to beat at that time, the GTI being substantially more money. At $19k for a six speed pretty much fully loaded it was good value. It does seem after the initial Xb and Tc, Scion just wandered off aimlessly. One hit wonder I guess.

  • avatar

    I loved the tC when my fiancee and I were searching out her new car last summer. To me it seemed the perfect commuter car. Sporty enough to feel alive, but still able to haul home the groceries. The two reasons that we don’t have one in the driveway are:
    (1) The FR-S was also easily in the price range
    (2) We weren’t shopping for a car for me

  • avatar

    I can only speculate that Toyota has been successful enough in selling actual Toyotas to the younger demographic, that keeping Scion no longer made any sense. The current Corolla, properly ordered, can look pretty sporty. The Camry XSE certainly does. Young guys love Tacomas now as it is. So Toyota has shed its old fuddy duddy image, and they can move the useful Scion models to the Toyota brand with no ill effects.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I bought mine in September 2004. It was Flint Mica and came with only the rear lip spoiler as an option. My first mods were the OBX shifter (4AT) followed quickly by the pedal covers.
    Then: tint, VRD fog lights (after having the eBay ones for a while), a full third brake light, upgraded partially gray steering wheel, TRD rear sway bar, TRD lowering springs, TRD exhaust, 18″ wheels, a Kenwood eXcelon head unit, sub woofer, and Music Keg.
    And: optional sill plates, custom made eyelids for the headlights, yellow highbeam bulbs, a custom dead pedal cover, stubby antenna, and original RS1.0 seats (with the red inserts).

    Yeah, I loved that car and I still miss it. It was simple, efficient, and dead reliable. I had it for 5.5 years and put about 55k miles on it and the only thing other than oil and brake pads it required was a replacement driver’s sun visor.

    I met my future wife about 8 months after I got it. She liked it so much that she got one herself. She ordered it and tracked it’s progress from Japan. She got a Nautical Blue 2006 with a ton of extra options, like the neon lights.

    We both loved them and to this day we would happily get another one. And we just might. Make mine the 2009 RS5.0.

    OH! And it’s worth mentioning that I traded my ’97 Audi A6 for it, so that might have made my experience seem that much better. What night and day reliability.

  • avatar

    I think if the TC was a couple thousand less and or had nicer seats I might of gone for it. Alas, more space and luxury for about $6000 more and I ended us with TSX Sportwagon.

  • avatar

    I never have had much luck with Dayton dealers (with the exception of Chuck George’s Interstate Ford – I got $6k off sticker price on my ’99 F350 diesel back in ’99). Most of these dealers treat customers as know-nothing hillbillies and several attempt to sell cars like it was the 1970’s all over again – the only thing missing is the powder blue jumpsuits, white belt and white boots. The infamous old “five-finger closer” managed one of the large multi-line dealerships there – I believe that his TV line was “GET IN HERE!”. I live about 25 miles north of Dayton but have bought my last few vehicles in either Cincinnati or Indianapolis. By the way CoreyDL, Dayton has been in extremis economically and socially since at least 1965. That city is proud to have been marking I-75 through town with flare-pots and orange barrels for the last 47 years.

    • 0 avatar

      > The infamous old “five-finger closer” managed one of the large multi-line dealerships there – I believe that his TV line was “GET IN HERE!”.

      The “GET IN HERE” guy now has his own used car dealership, and I think he just acquired a Chevy franchise somewhere out in the sticks. I’m certain that he’s learned his lesson and that they are managed with the utmost ethical standards.

  • avatar

    “She narrowed down her choices to a new Hyundai Tiburon V-6 and a Scion tC”

    Smart move staying away from that Tiburon. No one I know ever had a good experience with that car.

  • avatar

    We just sold our 2011 tC, so I know much of which you speak about. My wife didn’t even register “Scion” when we were looking for her first brand-new car purchase. Upon seeing one pass her on the interstate one day, she called me and asked “what the heck is a Scion tC?” I explained to her that it was basically a Toyota underneath, but kind of their sporty take on a Camry (not sure if that last part helped, or not). Anyway, we took a drive on one and she instantly loved it. Sporty enough to be fun, unique-looking (read that as: not a dowdy family hauler or “old person” car) and the promise of decent reliability being a Toyota and all. Oh, and she loved the Cement Gray. So, car purchased and owned. She really liked the car and how she felt driving it (for some background, by this time, she was 45 and this was the first time she was in a position to buy a new car on her own). We owned it until right before last Christmas when certain family events occurred that made owning a two-door coupe a tad impractical.
    What did I think of it? Again, my reference was that it felt much like a Camry coupe. Kind of sporty in appearance, but not hard-car sports car. I always felt that the quality of the interior really let the car down (especially when compared to even my son’s 1997 Tercel, which I feel has a higher quality interior than the tC does), as the plastic material would scuff if you looked at it sideways. Still, my wife loved it and I do admit she looked pretty damned good driving it.
    But therein is also one of the main problems with the brand. We were middle-aged folks, not young-uns looking to be captured by the Toyota brand to move up from the tC to a Camry and then on to a LS…

    • 0 avatar

      The first generations interior materials were top notch for 2004. The second gen and its refresh both had much cheaper interiors, though better drivetrains (bumped engine and more gears on the auto and manual). I remember the doors on gen 2 and 2.5 having hard plastics where gen 1 and 1.5 have the rubbery plastic that was made to look like Japanese paper. The texturing alone upped the percieved quality. Perhaps this car had such tight margins, that giving the engine a .1 liter boost and adding an extra gear to the trannys required the finance department to order cheaper plastics? I also heard that Toyota/Scion lost money on every base tC gen 1 they sold, just to build the Scion nameplate. Perhaps by gen 2 they had to make some money.

  • avatar

    The tC is really the only Scion that ever interested me, and thats because of the combination of a good feature set for the price, available manual and a “big block” Toyota I-4.

  • avatar

    I have never set foot in Kings Automall…wouldn’t even think of braving all of the traffic on I-75, then get my skull cracked once I got there. I know that not everybody loves the Jeff Wyler dealer group, but I’ve done OK buying and leasing from them.

    I dread the entire car-buying process…I’d much rather buy a CL beater for $1000 and drive it until it falls apart, then sell it to u pull & pay for $200. Alas, by bride is having none of that and insists on the rest of the household driving non-beaters.

    • 0 avatar

      Well you’d be lost first, cause Kings is on 71! Fields Ertel exit. I don’t like that Wyler puts a giant W on all their cars, unacceptable to me and I’d make em take it off.

      I’ve never actually purchased a car from a dealer lot.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve bought from Wyler and Kings both. Wyler [Chrysler] was by far the more painful experience. They tried to pull an actual, (dis)honest-to-god bait and switch on me by showing me a higher-priced Town & Country on the lot and saying it was the one in the ad I had looked at. I ended up buying the van I came in for after calling them out and going toe-to-toe with them on pricing. It was ridiculous. I actually stood up and was walking out the door when the sales manager chased me down and made me their “final offer”. It was like out of the handbook of stereotypically bad car buying experiences. But the final price was too sweet to care.

      Kings [Volkswagen], by contrast, was like a dream. The sales guy didn’t pressure me and was very accommodating. I got a smoking deal (pun intended) on a 1-year old CPO Passat with all the features I wanted. I got a good discount by making an issue out of a slight cigarette smoke smell in the car which, as it turns out, was just the sales guy who went on the test drive with me. The car smelled fine as soon as I left the lot. And I noticed at the last minute that the original window sticker on the car said it was optioned with Monster Mats (VW’s pricey rugged floor mats) and the velcro trunk cargo organizer boxes… but those were missing. I made the sales guy promise to get me some. He literally went out to another Passat on the lot and just took them out and put them in my car, ha. The price negotiation was straightfoward, they gave me a not-fantastic-but-not-unreasonable trade value for my aging Protege5, and the sales experience was just open-and-shut.

      The biggest pain with Kings was the eternity I had to wait for the F&I process.. since they are a high volume dealer, and it was the last Saturday of the month, there was quite a line to get in to sign the paperwork on all the sales, but there were only two F&I people working, so I had to wait almost 2 hours. Definitely the most painful part of an otherwise breezy car buying experience. Oh, and the F&I guy pushed the extended warranty HARD, but that is to be expected.

  • avatar

    Bark – I’m considering one of these for potential cheap thrills autocross and unserious track car duty. They strike me as just sporty enough to be fun, and cheap enough that I could wad it up and not feel too bad about the money. Any thoughts?

  • avatar

    I remember C/D saying you’d think Toyota couldn’t deliver this kind of content at this price without some sort of extreme shortcut, such as “floorboards made out of Play-Doh,” but its European sedan origins amortize the tooling costs.

    I also remember the universal disappointment at the obvious cost-cutting of the successor model, a microcosm for Father Toyota’s abandonment of its child.

    I searched for the dictionary definition of “scion”: “a descendant of a notable family.” I looked up this one, too: “filicide,” the slaying of same. Toyota killed its scion by its product planning decisions to do so, just as surely as an alcoholic chooses to kill himself without taking accountability for picking up a pistol.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      I still daily drive said successor model. At the $20k price point, I’ll take the 2.5 and Prius One dash plastics over faux stitching and some gutless 1.8 any day, and that’s pretty much the choice I was left to make … In 2011. The competition has improved mightily since, though it’s still hard to find comparable mechanicals for the money. And, fwiw, the interior has held up better to abuse than I recall the gen1 cars looking after 5 years.

  • avatar

    Since they introduced it, I’ve thought that the tC was a very nice collection of components from Toyota’s parts shelf at a very reasonable price.

    Besides not giving the brand new and updated product, Toyota didn’t do much to market Scion. Have you ever seen a Scion ad?

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      They ran ads on Adult Swim all the time.
      One thing you’ll note, the earworm at the end of Toyota ads is the same that Scion used to use in their commercials.

      It kind of watered down the message.

  • avatar

    I really enjoyed the feeling of deja vu I got from reading this piece. I can recall the same feeling with our first child. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Once someone calls you “Dad” nothing is ever the same. Good writing.

  • avatar

    Stay far away. The Dayton dealers are garbage–as I am finding out.

  • avatar

    Nice eulogy. Thanks.

  • avatar

    I think your situation is emblematic of Scion’s failure: good design, good value, good quality…and an utter lack of development dollars to build on its strengths and make “step up” products for returning buyers. Aside from the xB and tC, the rest of the model line was forgettable filler. The fact that tiny Mazda has been able to field FOUR distinct SUV models post-Tribute and Scion never had even one is pretty damning. Even worse, Toyota “gifted” her sub-brand with niche products like the iM and FR-S that had zero chance of moving the needle in the American market.

  • avatar

    The problem with Scion is, it is just a rebadge of Toyota model like Mercury and Plymouth.

    So why would youth be buying it if it weren’t much cheaper or more fun than their equivalent Toyota / Honda that was pass me down from parents?

    Must be Obama’s fault right?

  • avatar

    My cousin bought a TC right when they came out. I was beyond jealous at the time. We were 19.

    He then went on to buy some prototype turbo kit for it which he and a friend of mine installed one night in his tiny town home garage.

    Needless to say the prototype turbo wasn’t ideal and he sold the car not long after.

    That said, I still have a good memory of the car and to this day won’t hesitate to recommend a used tC to someone in need of cheap, reliable transportation. That’s a lot more than I can say about most cars.

  • avatar

    I just bought a used MY08 Xb with only 47k mikes on the clock. It was obviously a grandma car – full dealership records, automatic, and perfect interior/exterior.

    It’s pretty bland – not enough power to be fast, but not really slow either. Good passenger room though and some small hauling space for the stuff I need to work on my house. So yeah, it was a compromise but not a bad one.

    • 0 avatar

      Welcome to the xB club. I bought an 08 a year ago, it’s been anvil-reliable, and pretty comfortable over a couple 1000+ mile road trips. If you want a people-hauler but don’t need a minivan, it’s hard to beat. You’d think Toyota could figure out a way to market these as an alternative to the CUV herd, but apparently not.

      • 0 avatar

        The ’07-’15 xB was/is a terrific value in terms of a reliability and space per dollar, especially in terms of rear seat space and headroom.

        Its status as the one non-hybrid in widespread usage in big-city taxi fleets reflects very well on its cost of ownership.

        As with the xD, I’m not a fan of the pillbox styling. But if I were buying a car for a family of three or four, it would be one of the first vehicles I’d consider.

        Addendum: One other thing I like about it is that the wheelcovers on the base steelies don’t try too hard to mimic alloys. They’re more of an unapologetic, 1990s-style “this is a wheelcover” design. I think it’s the only model left on the market where that’s the case. Personally, I like this set up. My mechanic can repair a damaged steelie, and it’s not the end of the world if my spouse/sibling/child scratches the plastic wheelcover while parallel parking.

      • 0 avatar

        “You’d think Toyota could figure out a way to market [Xb’s] as an alternative to the CUV herd, but apparently not.” Especially since they’re going to need an answer to the HR-V right off.

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