Test Drive: Scion tC

Created to appeal to trendy, young drivers, the Scion brand, as we remember, was going to offer a new model for a few years and then when interest weaned, replace it with something entirely different.

When Toyota added the tC coupe as the third model of its fledgling Scion brand in 2004, it quickly became our favorite and the top choice of consumers, too. ?For whatever reason, and we?re sure the economic crisis played a big roll, Toyota failed to keep the Scion brand fresh with new products for a couple years, simply refreshing existing models.? Fortunately Toyota didn?t stay with the idea of completely replacing existing models, and they decided to do a second generation tC, and we think it?s a winner.

With a bolder, more aggressive appearance and improved drivability, the 2011 tC is a mature step forward for Scion, helping cement its position in the Toyota lineup.

The tC design is inspired by the FUSE concept from the Toyota?s U.S. design centers, Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, Calif. and Ann Arbor, Mich. ?Resisting the normal temptation to make new models larger, the tC is about the same length as the original, but they did make it wider adding to the more muscular appearance.

The interior is very business-like with the focal point of the cockpit being a serious steering wheel ? a thick, flat-bottomed wheel that fills the driver?s hands.? The black cloth bucket seats in our test car have a patterned insert and had nicely bolstered sides and bottoms, giving the seat very good lateral support to keep the occupants firmly planted during more extreme cornering.? Like most coupes, the rear seat is a challenge to get in and out of, and offers limited space once seated.

Like many cars designed for younger drivers, the tC audio is more upscale than most standard fare.? Developed by Pioneer, the eight speaker system develops a total 300-watts and has USB iPod? connectivity.? A couple of? optional high-level Alpine audio systems offered and include a navigation system and backup camera plus HD Radio? capabilities, Bluetooth? Hands-free mobile phone link and streaming audio. ?These optional systems are well beyond our level of understanding and are more suited for audiophiles.

An all-new 180-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine powers the tC. ?The sophisticated engine uses Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i), roller rocker arms and a Variable-induction Intake Manifold System that changes the length of the air-intake pipe to supply more torque on demand.? The standard transmission is a smooth-shifting six-speed manual with an optional six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting mode for $1,000.

The Scion accelerates from 0 to 60 mph a respectable 7.2 seconds with the manual transmission and it takes about a half-second longer with the automatic.? The EPA rates the fuel economy at 23 mpg for city driving and 31 mpg on the highway with either transmission.?? We actually averaged 29.2 mpg during our week of driving.? Both the acceleration and fuel economy are improvements over the previous generation.

The new version rides on a stiffened platform using a sport-tuned MacPherson strut front-suspension and a double-wishbone rear-suspension.? For better grip and handling, standard tires are now a wide 225/45R18.

The tC is available in just one nicely equipped trim level which includes all the important features like power windows, air conditioning, cruise control, etc.

Pricing starts at $18,995 for the tC with a manual transmission.? The Scion website, www.scion.com has a significant catalog of options to customize the tC with everything from body kits to audiophile sound systems to performance and handling upgrades.

Even in its stock trim we found the Scion tC to be a very capable car handling corners at high speeds with confidence and balance.? The brakes appeared strong in repeated stops and the steering is precise.? Overall the Scion tC seems to have all the elements to make it a fun, safe and entertaining ride.

Barbara & Bill Schaffer