When it debuted seven years ago, the Scion tC quickly became a runaway success with America's most youthful drivers. With its hip styling, standout stereo and plenty of customization possibilities, the first tC was a cool car to buy and be seen in. It was to 20-somethings what the Mercury Grand Marquis is to 80-somethings. But as with all cool things, the moment passed, and together with the poor economy hitting young folks especially hard, the tC's popularity has suffered.
That brings us to today, where the fully redesigned 2011 Scion tC is meant to recover the lost mojo. Though it is based on the same platform as the old car, the tC has been improved in a number of key areas. The punchy four-cylinder engine has been swapped out for an even punchier four-cylinder borrowed from the latest Camry and other Toyotas. It produces 19 more horsepower than before and, more important, boasts improved fuel economy whether you opt for the easy-to-row six-speed manual transmission or the new six-speed automatic transmission.
Scion says it has tuned the suspension for improved handling and then replaced the hydraulic power steering with an electric system for improved fuel economy, but neither is successful in transforming the tC into a truly sporty car. Despite its coupe body style, chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel and well-bolstered seats, the tC is very much all show and no go. Mind you, that's OK if you want the look of a sport coupe without the rough ride and general aggressive nature of one.
With that in mind, the latest tC could work out well for a lot of 20-somethings and college students. Its hatchback body style lets you carry bulky items that never fit into a 2011 Honda Civic or 2011 Kia Forte Koup, while the rear seat's reclining backrest and ample legroom give even your gangly friends the room to stretch out. The tC also takes into account the younger generation's proclivity for electronics with a standard audio system designed specifically for an iPod.
In sum, the 2011 Scion tC takes everything that worked for the old car and adds a variety of welcome enhancements. Even so, only time and the youth of America will determine if it's enough to make the tC cool again.
The 2011 Scion tC is a compact, five-passenger hatchback coupe available in a single trim level. Standard features include 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a panoramic sunroof, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, reclining and folding 60/40-split rear seats, driver track and seatback angle memory (for rear seat access), and an eight-speaker Pioneer sound system with CD player, auxiliary audio jack, iPod/USB interface and RCA output jacks.
Aside from an automatic transmission, there are no factory options. However, there are a number of notable dealer-installed items, including Bluetooth, a navigation system, satellite radio, a pair of upgraded stereo head units, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, seven-color interior mood lighting, remote ignition, a cargo cover, foglights and a rear spoiler.
Though the tC isn't especially sporty to drive, the interior does its best to indicate otherwise. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is incredibly thick, as if pulled from a racecar. The controls are canted toward the driver and the very comfortable front seats are nicely bolstered. These aspects of the interior might be a bit contrived, but they work well. Unfortunately, the interior is filled with hard, flimsy plastics that seem cheaper than those found in the cabins of the competition. In particular, the center armrest is rock hard.
Yet the tC does have notable advantages. Cargo space is one, as the tC's hatchback design and folding rear seat create a relatively cavernous cargo area that puts other compact coupes to shame. The rear seats also recline and features impressive legroom, meaning even 6-footers can sit back there. Front seat room has also improved for this new-generation tC.
Scion identifies the stereo as a key attribute for young drivers and as such, the tC gets a standard head unit that would easily be an upgrade (or not available at all) in its rivals. Its iPod interface is especially impressive, as a large knob mimics the iPod's ring wheel, controlling volume and exploring the various menu items displayed on the sizable screen. Two additional head units with even larger screens and navigation capability are also available.
The 2011 Scion tC is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 engine good for 180 hp and 173 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is the lone factory option. In performance testing, a tC with a manual transmission went from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, while a tC with an automatic did it in 8 flat -- both are quick for the compact coupe and hatchback class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined regardless of transmission.
The 2011 Scion tC can best be described as "urban agile," meaning a car that's responsive and involving enough to keep you entertained when comfortably commuting around town, but not so sporty that you'd really relish driving it enthusiastically on a back road somewhere. The steering doesn't provide much feel, and the stability control has a tendency to kick in frequently during aggressive driving. The Scion tC won't put you to sleep, but you will have more fun in other coupes.
Meanwhile, the 180-hp four-cylinder engine provides good power for the class, especially down low in the rev range. If you're game for shifting your own gears, the six-speed manual is the best choice, as the engine accelerates significantly more quickly and doesn't seem to suffer from the rather agricultural droning that plagues it when the automatic transmission is in place.
The 2011 Scion tC comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front knee airbags, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front headrests. In Edmunds.com brake testing, the tC came to a stop from 60 mph in a respectable 123 feet.
The Scion tC has been completely redesigned for 2011.