Sophomore Surprise: Entry-Level Performer Grows Up
Overstating the importance of the tC to Scion is difficult to do. Since Toyota launched its youth-oriented brand in 2003, the two-door tC has accounted for over 40 percent of Scion’s nearly 800,000 sales. And the tC wasn’t even launched until 2004 — meaning the tC is the standard-bearer for the company. Especially as the average tC buyer is a 26-year-old male, the exact demographic Scion was born to serve. Obviously, then, getting the tC’s second act as pitch-perfect as possible is essential for Scion. “We built a very good car,” chief engineer Masayuki Nagai beamed over dinner. They better have, for Scion’s sake. But is the new tC good enough to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump?
One of the most surprising aspects of the 2011 tC is that it didn’t grow a whole bunch. Typically, when a manufacturer updates a car, it adds a load of bulk. Look at what Scion did to the xB, taking the svelte, Kei-car-like first-gen vehicle and packing on an extra 600-plus pounds for the second-generation car. But the new tC has hardly grown at all. We didn’t get a chance to weigh the car, but Scion assures us the weight is up only about 70 to 90 pounds. Moreover, the length, wheelbase, and height are all unchanged. What is larger is the tC’s width: 1.6 inches broader over all, with front and rear tracks stretched 1.3 and 2.1 inches, respectively.
The sheetmetal, however, is all new, featuring evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary changes. When we first saw the new tC at the New York auto show, we didn’t know what to make of the fresh body. However, after seeing the car on the street, it really is sharp looking, continuing the tC’s tradition of leading with the C-pillar. Speaking of pillars, the A-pillar is now blacked out, which creates a nifty cantilevered canopy effect for the roof. You can also tick the box and opt for a carbon-fiber B-pillar that’s (kind of) reminiscent of an Audi R8‘s side blades, which we imagine the folks from Ingolstadt just love. The front of the tC has been chiseled into a more aggressive scowl. There are even slots in front of the wheels where foglamps could go, and the rear features a new upturned, integrated trunk spoiler. But the real design story with the 2011 tC is the audacious, dominant C-pillar. We happen to dig it.
While the metal is new, the casual observer would still recognize the new tC as a tC. But the interior is day versus night. Gone is the waterfall of chrome-look plastic, replaced with a supremely simple yet refreshing dash layout. All the controls are angled toward the driver, just like BMWs of yore. This is a great step forward for Scion, as both the xA and the initial xB had dashes most legible to the person sitting in the middle-rear seat. Call us iconoclasts, but the driver should have priority when it comes to information and control.
Speaking of control, the tC features one of the best steering wheels we’ve ever felt. First of all, it’s fat, possibly even fatter than the a BMW M3’s — which makes the tC’s tiller flat out obese. Second of all, it’s flat on the bottom. Audi wouldn’t even give American RS 4 customers a flat-bottomed wheel (Audi did in Europe, of course). Not only does this make driver ingress and egress easier, but two-foot techniques like trail braking are much more…possible. Are tC owner’s apt to trail brake? Doesn’t matter, they now have the option to learn. Should they choose to take up heel-and-toe, however, they might require knee surgery, as the pedals aren’t set up for the technique — at all. Not only are they too far apart to easily get one foot on both pedals (size 13 over here), but the brake pedal sticks out several inches farther than the throttle.
Back to that great, minimally button-festooned steering wheel — good things happen when you turn it. New for 2011 is an electric power-steering system. We find it pretty remarkable how quickly this technology has fully matured. You’d be hard pressed to notice that the tC didn’t have traditional hydraulic-assist steering. This is also the area where that wider rear track pays big dividends. Grip, composure, and overall stability through twisty sections are all vastly improved over the first-generation car. The MacPherson strut front suspension and control-arm rear help the tC to be a better handler, as do the larger 7.5 x 18-inch wheels. Curiously, the automatic-equipped tC gets squishy Toyo tires compared with the manual’s fairly stiff Yokohamas. We see no real problem with this decision, as customers interested in more performance will naturally opt for the manual car anyhow.
The new six-speed automatic is perfectly acceptable. Shifts are smooth, and fairly sporty even, though by contemporary standards the manumatic mode (where you can row the gears yourself) is quite slow. Push the gear lever forward (after sliding it over a detent), count one beat, and then you’ll get the gear you asked for. Also, there aren’t any paddles. The manual is the much preferable option. While maybe not as silky smooth and millimeter-precise as the gearbox in a Honda Civic Si (and what is?), the tC’s new six-speed manual likes to be hustled. Here’s one more piece of evidence for you: According to Scion, the autobox tC takes 8.3 seconds to reach 60 mph, whereas the manual version needs just 7.6. Remember, same engine.
Which leads us to the single most improved aspect of the Scion tC, the new engine. Capacity has grown by just 0.1 liter to 2.5; however, output has increased to 180 horsepower (a 19-pony improvement) and torque has grown to 173 pound-feet (up 11). Comparing the new with the old, in the previous car, the engine was out of juice by about 65 mph. The new mill has no problem getting up to 80 mph and staying there. It’s just a much more serious motor. As important, mileage has increased along with the bumps in power and torque. The old tC automatic got 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and a combined EPA score of 24 mpg (the manual managed just 20/27/23). The new Scion gets 23 city/31 highway and a respectable 26 mpg overall with either transmission.
If the original tC is the first-generation car, logic dictates that the 2011 tC would be the second generation. Thing is, the new tC feels like a third- or even a fourth-generation effort. It’s that improved, that refined, that much better. Whereas the old tC was simply a smartly styled, semi-sporty value proposition, the new car is actually quite an eye opener — as in, we weren’t expecting to like the 2011 Scion tC as much as we did. Luckily we like surprises. The biggest downside? An $1150 leap in price over the 2010 model. But please trust us: This is money well spent.
|2011 Scion tC|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, 2WD, 5-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|Engine||2.5L/180-hp/173-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|Transmissions||6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic|
|Curb weight||3050-3100 lb (est)|
|Length x width x height||174.0 x 70.7 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 mph||7.6-8.3 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||23/31 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||0.75 lb/mile|
|On sale in U.S.||October 2010|