Test Drive: 2011 Scion TC

The only new car I?d buy.

I drive a lot of new cars and over the last several years I have become numb to seeing $40,000+ price tags on cars. A couple years ago if you had showed me anything outside of a Porsche 911 with an MSRP more than $50,000 I would have laughed you off the block.

I eventually settled back into my role as new car evaluator and a $40,000 MSRP became commonplace. The numbers lost all meaning; they became just a shape on a piece of paper.

As a former mechanic, I think a lot about future costs involved in vehicle ownership not just initial investment. You can?t just think about your monthly payment, gas, or insurance. You?ve got to keep in mind that in a couple years you?re going to be hit with repair bills. And if you don?t choose correctly, those repair bills can sting. What is really important to me in a vehicle is bang for the buck.

Enter Scion.

Scion is a young brand aimed at a young audience. As a new offshoot of Toyota, Scion seeks young buyers who grew up with Toyotas but aren?t so keen on buying the Corolla that mom drove for the last decade.

With a hip and sporty lineup, Scion has got something for most any taste. Want a stylistic interpretation on the modern wagon? They?ve got the XB. If you want a sporty coupe, they?ve got the TC. Soon they?ll have the IQ micro car, too, for you spatially conscious urbanites. Though all the Scions that I?ve driven thus far have been gems, the TC is the one that has me head over heels.

For 2011, the TC has been redesigned and given more muscular lines. Like a lot of the new Toyota family of vehicles, it looks broader, more substantial. I think it looks brilliant. It?s subtle but confident.

Step inside the cabin and you?ve got everything you need and nothing you don?t: CD player, seats, steering wheel, climate control, and a moon roof. It?s not a Lexus but it doesn?t want to be one either. The inside looks like the out; sturdy and well built. My favorite part was the F1 inspired steering wheel, hinting at its road-handling prowess.

Under the hood is a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine making 180 hp. Other automakers are producing similarly sized engines that make 200 hp but for some reason, the TC seems more powerful. I can?t tell you why but it just does. It also gets good mileage for how sporty it is. I was achieving mid-30s during my time with it.

The Japanese muscle coming from the 2.5 is piped into the six-speed manual transmission and down to the front wheels. I never missed a shift, I never felt like the transmission couldn?t handle its mission.

I am not a fan of front-wheel-drive vehicles but the TC had me fooled. If I hadn?t read it was FWD, I wouldn?t have known. Unlike so many other FWD vehicles, there was no loss of power, little–if any–torque steer, and no under steer to speak of. It was what FWD vehicles should be.

As a 25-year-old bachelor, I look at cars differently than a lot of my fellow automotive journalists. I don?t look for kid-friendliness or storage space–though the TC did have a good trunk space. I look for drivability first and foremost. I will not even consider a car for myself if it doesn?t make my laugh and very few cars do. But the TC did.

Here?s the best part of all about the TC: the price. The MSRP as tested was $18,275. That?s brand-new, off the showroom floor for under $20k. And because it?s related to Toyota you can rest assured your car was built right the first time. So when that warranty expires, you needn?t fret.

So let?s recap: it?s good looking, it?s well built, it drives like no other car under $26,000, and it?s a steal. What more could you want? I know, I know: the supercharger. I?m with you. But sadly Scion no longer offers the TRD supercharger as an option for the TC. Perhaps some day they?ll bring it back.

The 2011 Scion TC is a car I could plunk down my hard-earned dollars for and sleep well at night knowing that if I wanted to I could happily own it for another eight years. And ya know what? I just might.