Scion’s tC edges out some competitors with style, quickness … a fun drive
I know the street racers out there, and many of my media colleagues, will disagree, but I like the Scion tC sports coupe better than Scion’s base FR-S, for a couple reasons.
I think its styling is edgier and more fun, and despite it being a front-drive coupe compared with the rear-drive FR-S, it handles extremely well. Plus, with its easy shifting 6-speed manual and more than sufficient 2.5-liter VVT-I 4-cylinder engine, it’s quick and fun to drive.
Then there’s the base tC’s starting price of just $19,200, with a $795 delivery fee. That’s affordable, and my bright “absolutely red” test car managed 27 mpg in about 60% highway driving. Quite respectable! The EPA rates this t 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
The tC is bare bones fun without a totally bare bones feel. It’s great for first-time buyers needing value and valuing style and fun behind the wheel. The coupe doesn’t feel cheap and looks spectacular. For 2014 the nose is restyled with a wide-mouth grille, more attractive lightning-bolt-shaped headlights with LED running lights and I like its flat roofline that gives it a distinctive profile compared with the plethora of round roof sports coupes.
You already know some of what I like, but the heart of my appreciation for the coupe starts with its performance.
Slip into the well-shaped sports seats and the car delivers a straightforward no nonsense dash, albeit a blah gray plastic trim that looks a little too value minded. But turn the key, yes it still has a key, and the test car fired up with a throaty roar that would make most drift car pilots envious. This is a big can that really stirs up the 4-cylinder’s exhaust tone. All that is due to a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) performance exhaust that costs $699 extra. You’ll love the sound, so if you can spare the cash, go for it.
That’s just a precursor to the fun you’re about to have. The 6-speed manual slips through the gears as easily as many pricier cars and the clutch is well suited to the gearing. It feels like you’re slipping a spoon into smooth yogurt as you ease the car into gear.
Power? No, this isn’t a rocket, but it’s as peppy as anything else in its class. Peppier than the recently tested Dodge Dart GT and it had a turbo. Horsepower is 179 while the torque rating is 173. The variable valve timing helps both the power and efficiency. Entry ramps are a blast and hitting highway speeds is smooth and easy with that racy growl escorting you onto the freeway.
Handling is sporty and quick. This is where I feel the front-drive tC feels more connected than the rear-drive FR-S. Not picking on the FR-S, but this just feels lighter and more precise to me. The car is flat in tight turns, its MacPherson struts up front and double-wishbone suspension in back doing a nice job of keeping the car controlled. With a 106.3-inch wheelbase ride is decent too. There’s some chop on really rough roads, but it was never punishing.
The tC comes with R-rated 18-inch tires that naturally offer a lot of grip. The test car though upgraded to 19-inchers on TRD smoked alloy wheels and they look fabulous. They feature a 7-spoke design and the grayed look fit well with the bright red paint job. Cost is high though at $2,199.
Traction and stability control also are standard, as are four-wheel disc brakes, even on the tested base model.
While the interior may not look high-end racy (this is an entry-level sports coupe remember), its gauges are well arranged for easy sight lines and simple use. The speedo and tach are easily seen even when you move the manual tilt/telescope steering wheel up. That wheel is pretty thick too, so smaller drivers make sure your hands feel comfortable here. Between the gauges is a small digital odometer and trip computer readout that you change easily with a button on the gauges’ facing.
I like the big 6.1-inch touchscreen that is easy to see, but there’s no backup camera here, again as Toyota controls price on this model. There’s a downside to the screen though, it doesn’t like to accept your channel selections. That is, I often had to push and hold the channel selection bars for a couple seconds before anything happened. The old push-button method is still more efficient.
The test car’s audio system sounded great though. But then it was an upgraded BeSpoke premium system that includes navigation and the Aha smart phone app service that gives you access to 30,000 radio stations, including Scion’s own with 17 channels. There’s Bluetooth 2.0 and plenty of accessory power plugs here too.
Below the screen are three large round climate control knobs, then a cubby and then the shifter at the front of the console. Two cup holders are there, plus a padded armrest/storage bin.
The tC’s cloth seats are extremely well shaped with excellent side bolsters, but the gray and black cloth looks and feels pretty plain, like Toyota, which makes Scions, was looking for a place to keep costs down. The seats are comfortable and manually controlled with a side handle pump to adjust seat height. There’s also enough room in back for two small adults if the front seats folks are not terribly long-legged. On the safety front, if you pack four folks into the car, be comforted that it has 8 airbags.
Sun fans will enjoy the dual sunroofs, both with retractable covers, but only the front roof slides open. Still, the car’s flat roof gives designers the option of the two roofs due to its shape. The car’s hatch also opens the coupe up for loads of storage. Even with the 60-40 split rear seat in place there’s 14.7 cubic feet of storage, similar to that in most mid-size and some full-size cars.
One other feature worthy of mention, for our younger drivers who may prefer some low-cost bling ($375) to impress their dates, and that’s the illuminated door sills. A button on the console rotates through a half-dozen color choice for the Scion word to light up in the door sill once you open these extremely long doors. Got to admit it was cool to see at night. Oh, and those doors are so big you won’t want to pull into any really tight parking spots because you need some space to swing these all the way open.
Outside, the spiffy test car also added a small rear spoiler for $444. If you like the look, that may be a fun addition too. But remember, this car, as with so many entry-level cars, is the best value without loading it up with goodies. This one hit $25,064 with its options, still not pricey by today’s standards, but a far cry from the sub-$20 grand starting price.
Naturally you can move up to the tC Monogram or Series 10 models, the top-end 10 starting at $22,195. But check out the added features to decide if you need them or can live with the bare bones racer that the tC embodies.
It’s fun, its light, it handles and is a peppy low-cost hot rod. Sure, I’d like one!
FAST Stats: 2014 Scion tC
Hits: Edgy sports coupe, quick easy shifting 6-speed manual, quick handling and good gas mileage. Well-shaped seats, dual sunroofs, hot racy wheels and illuminated door sill. Good audio system with big screen. Nice starting price.
Misses: Doors are big and need wide space to open, seat fabric looks bare bones basic, steering wheel is thick and touchscreen is hard to engage the channel selections.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 2.5-liter VVT-i I4, 179 hp
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3,082 lbs.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 176.6 in.
Cargo: 14.7 cu.ft.
MPG: 23/31 (EPA)
MPG: 27.0 (tested)
Base Price: $19,210
Dealer’s Price: $19,004 (includes delivery)
TRD performance exhaust, $699
Carpeted floor mats/cargo mat, $184
TRD 19-inch alloy wheels, tires, locks, $2,199
Rear spoiler, $444
Illuminated door sill, $375
BeSpoke premium audio, $1,198
Test vehicle: $25,064
Sources: Scion, http://www.kbb.com