Introduced at the 2004 North American International Auto Show, the tC sport coupe joined the subcompact xA and boxy xB in Scion's lineup. Scion is Toyota's relatively new, youth-focused division.
Jim Farley, Scion's vice president, said the tC's steering, suspension and brakes were tuned with a European bias. In fact, the car's platform is shared with the Avensis, a Toyota model that's sold in Europe.
In regular form, the tC hatchback coupe uses a 160-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Later in the 2005 model year, a dealer-installed supercharger kit will be available. Created by Toyota Racing Development, it boosts engine output to around 200 hp.
Scion dealerships adjust their sales approach to attract young shoppers and also emphasize accessories that let owners customize their cars. Approximately 60 percent of Toyota dealerships will have Scion facilities.
According to Scion press material, the tC hatchback displays "taut, clean lines from front to rear." An aggressive front fascia features swept-back headlights, a mesh grille and a large opening below the front bumper. A glass moonroof is standard. The company says the car "has the formal look of a coupe with a trunk." Rearview mirrors incorporate turn-signal lights — a feature found on many upscale luxury cars. A power hatch release is standard. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels hold 45-series tires.
Five passengers fit inside the tC. The driver's seat has height and thigh adjustments. The 60/40-split rear seat has three-point seat belts and head restraints for up to three occupants. The rear seats also recline 45 degrees.
Amber illumination and what Scion calls "innovative" instrument-panel grains highlight the cockpit, which is similar to that of the xA and xB. The dashboard uses materials inspired by the texture of Japanese parchment. Moving parts in the interior have dampers, and the temperature dial is cast aluminum.
The center console includes an armrest, and keyless entry is standard. Additional standard equipment includes air conditioning, cruise control, a Pioneer stereo, and power windows, locks and mirrors. With the rear and front passenger seats folded flat, more than 8.5 feet of space is available for carrying long items.
Under the Hood
Generating 160 hp, the all-aluminum 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine incorporates Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i). A four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission is available.
All-disc antilock brakes and a driver's knee airbag are standard. Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags are optional.
The tC gets more appealing after a few days of driving, but it's not as sporty as its shape and image suggest. It's an ordinary if distinctive-looking small car.
Acceleration can be spirited if the engine is pushed, but the four-cylinder sounds strained and noisy at higher rpm. The gearshift flicks easily between ratios, but the clutch can be jumpy, which makes smooth takeoffs a bit of a chore.
While the tC maneuvers easily and tracks capably, occupants aren't too well insulated from chassis commotion over bumps and holes. The suspension reacts quickly enough and not excessively, but rougher pavement isn't pleasant.
Visibility over the driver's left shoulder is restricted, but the rearward view is good. The short seat bottoms are typical of small cars; the front seats are supportive, and backseat space isn't bad. Front headroom is marginal.
The deep-set gauges are easy to read most of the time, and they're orange-lit at night. The all-button radio demands some practice. The huge glove box is easy to reach, but the storage area below the hatch is squat in shape.