Can you be cool and practical? Skinny jeans and high-heeled shoes would indicate otherwise, but the Scion tC proves that it just might be possible. It certainly seems pretty cool, with a coupe body style, sharp looks and a variety of customization opportunities for younger buyers accustomed to getting things the way they want them. Scion has also frequently updated the tC's audio systems, which has given it a leg up as iPods and iPhones have gradually taken over the world.
At the same time, however, the tC's coupelike roof line masks hatchback utility with its impressive cargo capacity and a surprisingly spacious backseat. Moving dorm rooms or taking your friends out on the town is consequently much easier with the tC than it is with traditional coupes. This ability to be both cool and practical is indeed the tC's primary appeal, although sharing a reputation for reliability with Toyota (Scion's parent company) is also a compelling attraction.
Current Scion tC
The Scion tC is a five-seat compact hatchback coupe. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder is standard, boasting 179 horsepower (1 less than before) and 173 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a six-speed automatic is the lone factory option. Although the tC's combined fuel economy estimate of 26 mpg is respectable, most rivals are more fuel-efficient.
The tC comes in two trim levels: base and the limited edition "10 Series." Standard features for the base tC include 18-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a touchscreen interface and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, an iPod/USB interface and RCA output jacks. The 10 Series, which celebrates Scion's 10th birthday, adds unique silver paint, dark-finished wheels, illuminated badges, LED accent lighting, an illuminated center console and premium stitching on the seats and steering wheel. Dealer-installed options include a navigation system, upgraded audio units and multicolored interior mood lighting.
Although the Scion tC is classified as a compact car, its relatively long wheelbase provides ample legroom, especially for those riding in the back. Long doors and far-sliding seats make entry and exit relatively easy, and rear passengers will also enjoy the split-folding rear seats that recline up to 45 degrees. With its rear seats folded down, the tC has nearly as much cargo volume as a compact SUV. The tC's passenger-side front seat also folds flat, which allows the car to accommodate long items such as surfboards.
Though the tC isn't especially sporty to drive, the interior does its best to indicate otherwise. The thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel looks as if it was pulled from a racecar, while controls canted toward the driver further this impression. Unfortunately, the interior is filled with hard plastics that seem cheaper than those found in the tC's rivals. On the road, the Scion tC is responsive and involving enough to keep you entertained around town, but not so sporty that you'd relish driving it on a curvy back road. The steering has decent weighting and feel, but the stability control has a tendency to kick in frequently during aggressive driving.
Overall, the Scion tC is a respectable choice for a compact coupe. If driving fun is a priority, there are better choices, including Scion's own FR-S. But for those shoppers mainly wanting something stylish and practical, the tC will certainly satisfy.
Used Scion tC Models
The current-generation tC debuted for 2011. The following year brought standard Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, as well as the Release Series 7.0 that sported flashy yellow paint, a body kit, black wheels and keyless ignition and entry. For 2013 there was the similarly themed but very red Release Series 8.0, whose highlights also included a sport-tuned suspension, a center-exit exhaust and, for those fitted with the automatic transmission, paddle shifters. Although otherwise similar, note that these tCs lack the current version's updates that include revised styling with a much more aggressive face, an improved automatic transmission (with rev-matched downshifts) and slightly retuned suspension and steering systems.
The first-generation Scion tC was produced from 2005-'10. Like the current car, it was a two-door hatchback coupe with five seats and a single trim level. Standard equipment included 17-inch wheels, air-conditioning, split-folding-and-reclining rear seats, keyless entry, full power accessories with one-touch power windows, a dual-pane sunroof, cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a premium sound system. An iPod interface was added for 2008, making the tC one of the first vehicles to get such a feature.
A considerable number of optional features and accessories (from the factory or dealer-installed) were available on the Scion coupe. Most notable was the airbag package with side and head curtain airbags, so make sure to note whether a used tC is so equipped. Other mods included interior and exterior styling add-ons, 18-inch wheels, audio system head unit upgrades and Toyota Racing Development (TRD) performance parts.
Power came from a strong 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine good for 161 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual was standard and a four-speed automatic was optional. Fuel economy was one of the tC's detriments, with an EPA combined rating of 24 mpg for the automatic -- about the same that most midsize sedans offer. There was a dealer-installed TRD supercharger available that raised engine output to 200 hp.
Inside, this tC's layout was very similar to that of the current car, with a roomy reclining backseat and generous hatchback trunk. There wasn't as much front seat legroom, however, and the steering wheel did not telescope. The tC's cabin had an upscale look and feel thanks to high-quality materials (for the time and class) and metallic-look trim pieces. An elegant "waterfall"-style center stack flowed into the center console, with a panel that covered up whichever of the many available stereo faceplates were affixed to the car.
In Scion tC reviews, our editors commented that this tC was enjoyable to drive, though hardly a sport coupe. Although its acceleration figures weren't stunning, the tC was quick enough for typical urban use. As with the current car, we were most impressed by its ability to be both stylish and practical, noting it was an ideal car for the youthful demographic for which it was intended.
This original tC changed very little during its run. However, there were minor exterior and interior updates made for 2008 -- including the addition of an iPod-specific interface. There were several updates made to the available stereo systems over the years as well, along with new items added to the extensive optional features list. A decontented, tuner-intended version known as the Spec was available for a few model years (ending in 2008) and could easily be picked out of a crowd by its unique paint colors and badge-less grille. The Release Series 6.0 for 2010 looked similar, but it actually had more equipment than the norm.