2013 Scion tC
    MSRP
    $18,725 - $21,815
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    2013 Scion tC Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    The following review is for a 2011 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    All-new, with new engine, fresh styling.

    Introduction

    The all-new 2011 Scion tC arrives after seven years with the original. This second-generation tC rides on a new platform, keeping the same length but offering a bit more room. A new engine brings 180 horsepower and 173 pounds-feet of torque, with a quickened pace: from 0 to 60 in 7.6 seconds with the manual transmission. 

    The 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine uses the latest lightweight technology, with Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i), roller rocker arms and a variable-induction intake manifold system that changes the length of the air-intake pipe to supply more torque on demand. Fuel mileage is improved by 3 mpg to an EPA-estimated 26 mpg in combined city and highway driving, and the emissions rating remains at ULEV II. Overall, there's been a weight gain of about 100 pounds. 

    Both transmissions are new for 2011, with a 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual replacing the antiquated 4-speed automatic and 5-speed manual. We preferred the manual gearbox because the automatic doesn't offer a sport mode. 

    The styling has changed direction somewhat. In an apparent attempt to be edgy, the roofline is sharper at the A-pillar and C-pillar. And the nose of the new tC has more rounded shoulders with large wheel cutouts, a more current look. 

    Other improvements the 2011 tC has over the 2010 previous-generation model include bigger brakes and wheels, with 18-inch alloys standard, and electric power steering. There's a reclining and flat-folding 60/40 rear seat, steering wheel with audio controls, and a 300-watt eight-speaker sound system borrowed from big sister Lexus. 

    The interior features a flat-bottomed steering wheel, while the numbers on the tachometer and speedometer are lit-up in orange with a 3D effect. The fabric seats have good adjustment and movement to allow access into the rear, which technically seats three but doesn't offer much room, however no coupe of this size does. Leather is not available. 

    The Scion tC comes as only one model, with standard or automatic transmission, but there are 45 accessories available to create a distinct identity for the car. A big moonroof is standard equipment, with a mesh wind deflector at its leading edge. Surprisingly, Bluetooth is only available as a dealer-installed accessory. 

    The suspension is MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear, and it's firm enough for everyday driving, the ride comfortable without being soft. The new tC has a wider track and wider tires; also a wider turning circle, 37.4 feet from 36.1 feet. The speed-sensing electric power steering replaces the old hydraulic system, saving pumps, pulleys and fluid. Brakes have been grown a bit, 11.65-inch vented discs in front and 10.8-inch solids in rear, and they feel good. 

    We also got seat time in a 6-speed manual with TRD exhaust and sway bars, and it was a world of difference, including in the cornering. The sound was more distinctive without being loud. If you're going driving for fun, and not just stylish transportation, you should choose the gearbox and TRD suspension parts. 

    Lineup

    The 2011 Scion tC comes as one model, a sports coupe. The tC comes with an all-new 2.5-liter engine, and choice of two new transmissions: a standard 6-speed manual ($18,275), or optional 6-speed automatic with sequential shifting ($19,275). Standard equipment includes air conditioning, fabric upholstery, power everything, 18-inch alloy wheels, panoramic moonroof, folding sideview mirrors with LED turn signals, fabric sports seats with driver height adjustment, reclining 60/40 rear folding seats, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and 300-watt 8-speaker MP3 sound system. 

    There are 45 accessories available, maintaining the create-your-own Scion theme. Electronically, there's an Alpine premium sound system, Scion navigation, Bluetooth, and interior lighting with a 7-color switch. Exterior items include the usual like foglamps and rear spoiler, as well as things like body graphics and carbon-fiber appliqué B-pillar. TRD offers all the parts you need to make your tC a boy racer: springs, brakes, sway bars, air intake, 19-inch alloys, exhaust system, you name it. 

    Safety equipment that comes standard includes frontal airbags, front side airbags, front knee airbags, and side curtain airbags; front active headrests with three headrests in rear, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, and the mandated tire pressure monitor. 

    Walkaround

    The styling of the 2011 Scion tC is new but it looks quite similar to the previous-generation. Look closely, and it's changed quite a lot. We think it's lost some of its head-turning good looks, though, primarily by changes to the roofline. That overall sensual quality to the tC has gone missing. The new tC is intended to be more masculine, to attract more male buyers. Meaning less of a chick car. 

    The A-pillar is blacked out, as designers took inspiration from the athletic look of a racing helmet, says Scion. Okay, the roof looks like a helmet. With wrap-around window graphics that add to its sporty profile. Or that make it resemble a boxy Scion xD. 

    The C-pillar has been thickened and turned forward into the rear window, making a fat wedge at the bottom and reversing the flow of the roofline. We can't say they nailed it, like they did in 2004 with the original tC roofline, classic with clean execution. 

    The tC has a smooth and attractive face, well executed, but traditional, even when including the aggressive flared cutouts for the 17-inch wheels, leaving room for TRD 19-inch wheels. The cutouts and front shoulders seem to say Infiniti. 

    The black egg crate grille is slim as a pencil moustache, riding over a chin valance that resembles a racing car's diffuser as intended, although it's not aerodynamically functional. Headlamps are like small sweet wings. 

    There's a black mesh wind deflector that pops up at the leading edge of the standard moonroof, subtle trunk spoiler, and big rear taillamps that are stepped with the trunk lid seams and not graceful. 

    There are seven exterior colors, six of which are seven years old; the new one is called Cement, and it's nicer than it sounds. The colors are lacking in color. Besides cement, there's a white, silver, gray, black, and a metallic blue and reddish, neither eye-catching. We think the shoulders look best in white, and the roofline best in black, because black buries the sharp lines of the A-pillar and C-pillar. 

    Interior

    We stepped into the tC straight from the launch of the all-new Volkswagen Jetta, and our immediate impression was that the Scion, with a higher base price, wasn't nearly as solid and tight as the Volkswagen. Relatively speaking, it felt unsubstantial, although tinny was the word we used in our notes. 

    We like the tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped thick steering wheel, flat at the bottom like a formula racing car. There will probably be more sporty steering wheels like this, because it affords more knee room, and doesn't compromise hand-over-hand turning. We also liked the overall linear feel to the flat dashboard, with horizontal vents having nicely edged lines, at the top of the center stack. 

    The instruments, speedometer and tachometer mostly, aren't as clean as they could be, but of course they're orange and 3D. And none are as clean as they could be, except for the Jetta and many Chrysler vehicles including the Ram truck. There's a monitor that gives miles per gallon and an Eco display, for the times. 

    Forward visibility has been improved with a better angle thanks to a thinner A-pillar, and over-the-shoulder visibility has been lost with a thicker C-pillar. As one might expect in a compact coupe, there's precious little rear legroom, only 34.6 inches. 

    Even at full blast, we were somehow underwhelmed by the 300-watt sound system, even with three Lexus LX570 speakers in each door, tweeter, mid-range and woofer, stacked like snowman body parts. Typically Scion, the buttons are tiny; nothing says for the young on this car more than the controls to the sound system. Scion says driver-oriented audio controls, but what drivers?

    The six-way adjustable driver's fabric bucket seat is okay, although Mazda makes a younger-looking fabric. It's two-tone with a weave so unique that the seats are like snowflakes: No two vehicles will have identical seat pattern, says Scion. It's one inch wider, and the passenger seat slides forward more than before, to ease entry and exit into the reclining 60/40 rear seat. There's a center console, although it's a bit far back for the driver to rest his or her elbow on. There are two big deep cupholders there, under three big climate control knobs that work easily but look like the designer forgot to put much effort into them. Great shift knob with the manual transmission, not so great with the automatic. 

    Scion says the exhaust note is robust, but we couldn't hear it from the inside. Although it does have a coolish tone from the outside, lightly robust. That suggests the interior is quiet, but not really; there still seemed to be road noise, especially when compared to the Jetta. 

    Driving Impression

    The new engine with 180 horsepower and 173 pounds-feet of torque is welcome, especially as the fuel mileage is also increased. That's a good increase, of 19 hp and 11 pounds, bringing the 0-to-60 acceleration down to 7.6 seconds with the manual transmission, and 8.3 seconds with the automatic. But full-throttle sprints from a standing start don't tell everything. Acceleration from 50 to 70 is often more meaningful. 

    There's a long list of modern features to the new engine: rocker arms, intake ports, oil pumps, tumble control valves, multi-point oil jets, low-tension piston rings, etc. It takes a lot of development to increase horsepower by 12 percent, torque by 6.7 percent, and fuel efficiency by 2.8 percent. Don't sell the results short. Toyota engineers burn the midnight oil. All manufacturers' engineers have been, in recent years. 

    There's a good case to be made for the smooth-shifting 6-speed manual, and we'll make it: the gated 6-speed automatic needs a sport mode. Sport is sorely missing, because the automatic transmission isn't responsive enough in Drive. Especially not when it's in high gear, and there isn't enough torque (peaking at a fairly high 4100 rpm) to accelerate, for example from 50 to 70 mph. Sure, it has a manual mode, and you can shift it yourself and make it respond, but often you just don't want to be bothered. 

    We found ourselves driving around in Drive, and then when we needed a lower gear and it wasn't there for us, we shifted into manual and downshifted, which it did nicely. But it would have been nicer if we hadn't had to work at it. A sport mode would solve this. We wonder why Scion didn't put that in the transmission. The answer is usually to keep the price down. But a car like the tC deserves it, and in this case needs it. The Jetta had it, and it worked well. 

    The suspension is MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear, and it's firm enough for everyday driving, the ride comfortable without being soft. The new tC has a wider track and wider tires; also a wider turning circle, 37.4 feet from 36.1 feet. The speed-sensing electric power steering replaces the old hydraulic system, saving pumps, pulleys and fluid. Brakes have been grown a bit, 11.65-inch vented discs in front and 10.8-inch solids in rear, and they feel good. 

    But we also got seat time in a 6-speed manual with TRD exhaust and sway bars, and it was a world of difference, including in the cornering. The sound was more distinctive without being loud. If you're going driving for fun, and not just stylish transportation, you should probably choose the gearbox and TRD suspension parts. 

    Summary

    The Scion tC is all-new for 2011. This second-generation version is the same length but a bit wider than the first-generation. It's got a new engine that's worthy of the times, and styling that's fresh, even if it doesn't stand out like the old tC did in its day. The 6-speed automatic transmission with sequential shifting could use a sport mode, and the feel from the cabin isn't as solid one might hope, or expect, but it's still a contender. An array of accessories is available to personalize it. 

    Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Scion tC near San Diego. 

    Model Lineup

    Scion tC manual transmission ($18,275), tC automatic ($19,275). 

    Assembled In

    Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    none. 

    Model Tested

    Scion tC automatic ($19,275). 

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