If you want a recipe for a strong-selling car for the coveted 20-to-30-something demographic, ask Scion. Take a solid platform with a well-tuned suspension and a strong engine, add in plenty of standard features such as 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a sunroof and a nice stereo, wrap it all up in a smartly attractive coupe-styled body and give it bargain pricing, and you have the 2009 Scion tC.
Having a sense of balance is always a good thing, and the Scion tC exhibits that virtue by providing fairly athletic handling along with a compliant ride. Rather than a high-winding engine that requires a lot of revs to extract the performance, the tC employs a big-for-the-class 2.4-liter four that furnishes strong low- and midrange power.
Another ace in the tC's hand is its relatively upscale cabin and accommodating rear seat. The former features high-quality materials and tight build quality, while the latter has enough room for two adults, a rare luxury in the compact sport coupe segment.
Although the 2009 Scion tC is well equipped, there are still a number of dealer-installed accessories, including a choice of wheels, body kits, stereo head units and interior accents, that can tailor the car to your tastes. Should you hunger for more excitement, your friendly Scion dealer can also hook up your ride with a supercharger that boosts horsepower up to 200 and puts the tC in closer competition against the Civic Si coupe, Mini Cooper S and Volkswagen GTI. Be forewarned that the supercharger is rather pricey, especially when you factor in the cost of having it installed at your Scion dealer.
In its basic form, however, the tC still represents a solid pick for an under-$20,000 sport coupe. True, it's not going to be able to keep up with the aforementioned competitors in a straight line, and its overall design is now a bit dated, having come out for 2005. But for hatchback or coupe shoppers wanting a little bit of everything without paying too much, it would be foolish to overlook the 2009 tC.
The 2009 Scion tC is a two-door hatchback coupe offered in a single trim level. The generous list of standard features includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a dual-pane sunroof, air-conditioning, split-folding and reclining rear seats, keyless entry, cruise control, full power accessories with one-touch up/down windows and a Pioneer CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack and dedicated iPod interface.
The tC is so well-equipped that there are no factory options, though dealers offer a wide array of performance and styling upgrades. A choice of satellite radio providers is also available, as well as an upgraded stereo head unit and a touchscreen navigation system.
Though the Scion tC is the size of an average compact car, its longish 106.3-inch wheelbase provides ample legroom for passengers in the rear seats (although taller drivers may still like more front seat travel). Rear riders will also enjoy the split seatbacks that can individually recline up to 135 degrees, and owners will appreciate the wide hatchback opening and 35 cubic feet of cargo space (with the rear seats folded). The interior is mostly lined with high-quality materials, and the standard Pioneer sound system is both crisp and powerful. The standard iPod interface is a welcome (and rare) feature, although we suggest opting for one of the upgraded stereo head units for better iPod control. About the only downside to the tC's interior is its somewhat skimpy headroom for taller folks riding in back.
Standard power for the Scion tC comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 161 hp and 162 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices include the standard five-speed manual and optional four-speed automatic.
Acceleration is adequate, with the 0-60-mph dash done in around 8.5 seconds. Should you spring for the dealer-installed supercharger, output is boosted to 200 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, yielding a 0-60 time of just 7.2 seconds. Sans supercharger, an automatic-equipped tC earns a slightly below-average EPA fuel economy estimate of 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined.
Although not as sharp or engaging as newer rivals like the Civic or Mini Cooper, the 2009 Scion tC features flat, composed cornering and a nimble feel. Its aggressive 17-inch tires provide plenty of grip, and its brakes are strong and fade-free. Ride quality is firm, yet compliant enough to absorb most bumps and ruts on battered city streets. The 2.4-liter provides a relatively strong pull from both low and high speeds. We'd advise buyers to go with the manual transmission, as it has crisp shifting action and a smooth clutch. Automatic-equipped tCs are less enjoyable, as the four-speed can be hesitant and indecisive during enthusiastic runs on back roads.
The 2009 Scion tC comes with antilock disc brakes, a first aid kit, a driver knee airbag, front side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags as standard. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration frontal crash tests, the tC earned a perfect five stars for driver protection and four stars for front passenger protection.
For 2009, the Scion tC line loses the tuner-oriented, decontented Spec trim, leaving the well-equipped standard version as the sole offering.