Can customization go too far?
For many, the answer is no. Every car is always one more piece away from being complete. Customization is certainly in the eye of the beholder.
Scion, the youth-oriented brand created by Toyota Motor Corp., has prided itself on allowing customers to go hog wild with personalizing their vehicles.
It's total genius: Create a slew of aftermarket options that the carmaker can cash in (instead of all of those pesky aftermarket companies).
Potential customers can go online and build crazy cars; so crazy, in fact, that in rare instances, an owner can pay more for the accessories than he or she paid for the car.
My 2010 Scion tC had a base price of $17,000 -- but when all was said and done, the sticker added another $6,500. At first blush, that might not seem like too much, but it's almost 38 percent of the original price.
Is it worth it? Probably not for many. But for others, it's worth every dime.
In years gone by, fixing up a car came after the purchase. Enthusiasts would tinker in the garage and find a million different ways to customize their cars. Nowadays, people are just too busy. Why work on your car when you can pay someone else to do it?
The tC has always been my favorite Scion. It's relatively cheap, looks sporty and is fun to drive. It's easy to pack up with things through the hatchback, the front two seats are comfortable and it has respectable gas mileage -- 27 miles per gallon on the highway.
There are some faults. It feels a little underpowered at times. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the same one that provides the high mileage, pushes out 161 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. Lots of road noise seeps in, and if a cross wind hits you, you can feel a draft. Now, the tC has grown a little long in the bumper and the 2010 model marks the last of this generation, with an all-new tC arriving as a 2011 model.
So how does a customer freshen his Scion to make sure he stands out with his tuner buddies? Scion has three answers: customize, customize, customize.
My test vehicle came complete with a ground effects kit (to make the body look beefier), a TRD sport muffler (to make the tC sound like it runs on helium) and custom aluminum wheels. It looks different, and in case of the coffee can muffler, sounded different.
But between the quick-throwing, manual five-speed transmission and the peppy engine, the tC offered a lot of fun.
Stereo covers road vibes
The ride is taut but not too much. My biggest complaint was the amount of road noise that seeps into the car, especially on the highway; that noise competes with the engine.
Zipping around town, the tC's body stays flat through corners and lets you zag through traffic easily. Its small body also fits well into tiny parking spaces, another urban-friendly feature.
It may not possess all of the boy racer attributes of a Mazda Speed3 or Volkswagen GTI, but it certainly looks the part.
You can use the 160-watt stereo to rock out most of the other noises seeping into the car. This car felt like it needed loud music just to pull out of the driveway, and, since I don't live in Trenton, I was happy to accommodate it.
From basic to bombastic
The interior was comfortable and complete. I liked the big pull down plate that covers up the stereo and all of the controls felt intuitive.
The dash layout is simple and complete. There is a little too much shiny silver plastic for my liking, but lines are clean throughout. The optional moon roof opens up the cabin. Without it, the low roof makes you feel like you're peering out of a cave.
The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was well weighted and seemed to relish tight corners.
Some of the optional features may seem a little silly, but they are options and not every person needs to prove P.T. Barnum right.
But some features add a nice touch; without them, the vehicle would feel too basic.
I like the brushed stainless steel foot pedals and the illuminated door sill. Both reward the driver every time you get in the car; they sparkle like diamonds on a watch.
The upgraded 18-inch wheel and rims -- for $2,000 -- seemed excessive, as did the $65 shift knob. But to each his own.
And that's the secret behind the tC. Each person has a choice. Some may take it plain, others may load it up with all the fixings, but in the end, the tC has enough personality to wear just about any costume the customer wants.
Our parents didn't understand why anyone would spend all of that time and money working on a Chevy Nova, so why should we have insight to funny sounding mufflers and ground effect kits?
The tC may be ending its first-generation run with the 2010 model year, but it's the same as it ever was. A good little car.
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