The 2011 Scion tC is a young man's car.
It's inexpensive, has a great stereo and requires agility to hop into the back seat. No one over 40 should ever try getting back there for fear of dislocating a hip.
Beefed up for its second run as the sports coupe of Toyota's youth brand, the tC may still be a young man's car, but it has matured. It's more powerful, more dynamic and still the best-looking Scion in the three-vehicle stable.
However, when looking at the sharply angled subcompact xD or the bloated (and top-selling) xB, the tC almost wins by default.
For less than $20,000, the tC provides a solid ride, plenty of room for a growing boy racer and a cool quotient few other vehicles have at that price.
For slightly older drivers like me, the tC falls closer to the side of cheap than inexpensive luxury. But that has always been the point of Scion — the only brand in America that doesn't trust anyone over 30 — it's also the youngest brand in America, making Scions icons of sort.
The exterior follows the young man's profile.
It's simple and hard-edged, every aspect defined. There are no age lines or wrinkles on its slender face, pointed nose and curved dome. There are muscular fender flairs and nicely sized 18-inch wheels. For a coupe, the tC is well-proportioned with an athletic stance — the back end higher than the front.
The narrow grille pushes almost all the way around the front, while the projector headlights stretch back toward the wheels.
It looks a little pudgier than the previous generation, but we all stretch our waistlines through the years.
Technically, the tC was never supposed to have a second generation.
When Toyota created Scion, it said it would build only one generation; it later changed its mind, kind of like the parents of Scion tC owners.
The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing, roller rocker arms and a variable induction intake manifold, which can change its length of air intake to create more torque on demand, all add to the car's performance. It produces 180 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque, a 19 horsepower jump and 11 more pound-feet of torque over the outgoing engine.
The power increase is noticeable in this little car, which weighs 3,000 pounds. Its acceleration is quick and the electric power steering is fairly responsive.
And the gas mileage, whether using the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, is 23 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. And young men know that fewer trips to the gas station mean more trips to Taco Bell.
The downside to the car's increased performance is its loud ride. Lots of road noise seeps into the cabin. It's downright loud.
Maybe that's why Scion invested so much in the car's stereo, which is louder. It's really pretty nice, and if you want to connect to younger buyers, their smartphones should be able to connect to the car's stereo.
The standard stereo connects directly to an iPod or other music-playing device with a readout on the stereo's face. The optional Alpine system includes a 4.3-inch color touch screen with a host of features such as HD radio, media expander and rear RCA output jacks for additional speakers.
The screen also can be connected to a navigation system and back-up camera.
The flat-bottom steering wheel adds some charm to the car's feel while cruising.
Plenty of accessory space
While blasting music and laughing with friends, young drivers might not notice how cheap the interior looks. There are lots of plastic surfaces and nothing in the layout feels sophisticated. The faceplate on the gear shifter looks like it might lose a few teeth if you shift too hard. The heat and cooling controls are just big plastic discs.
There are plenty of ways to jazz up those looks. The double glass roof lets sunshine into the cave of a back seat. Climbing back there may be difficult, despite Scion including a shoulder-level lever to pop the seat forward. Sitting back there would be torture on a long ride. The seat may recline up to 10 degrees, but that doesn't help my legs.
There also are lots of little places to hold things. Many carmakers feel it's essential to transform a car into a plastic pocket protector. Really, all they need are three things: a place for my phone, a place for my coffee and a place for my butt.
The seats are firm but comfortable. I can bring a grande latte and a can of Red Bull and a whole bunch of other stuff, as there is 34.5 cubic feet of space with the second row folded down. And my phone? There are lots of spaces to hold it up front.
The tC also has a center console big enough to hold a bunch of compact discs, though a lot of people considering buying a tC think CDs are sometimes used with their computer. Music is downloaded, but the space is appreciated.
Perfect for first-timers
I don't think those demerits would dissuade most young buyers from falling in love with the tC. There's a lot to like.
And for first-time owners, the tC appeals to the heightened senses of youth. It looks nice and drives fine, and Scion is considered the most reliable brand around.
Young buyers don't need a back-comforting seat or a silent drive. They need to roll the windows down and relish the wind in their hair as the music blasts.
There will be plenty of time in the future for the fancy expensive cars that more mature drivers enjoy. The tC covers the basics well enough and leaves a little money in your pocket for some Red Bull.
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Exterior: Good. Simple and stylish with nice coupe lines and curved roof. Doesn’t try to be something it’s not.
Interior: Fair. Too simple and too much plastic throughout the cabin. Feels like this is where Scion saved money.
Performance: Good. The more powerful engine adds to the car’s performance, but ride is still noisy.
Pros: Affordable and stylish with solid performance and good gas mileage.
Cons: More mature drivers may not care for the noisy ride, hard seats or back seat.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor
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