With Scion officially in the midst of its final death throes, there’s a part of me that feels like it’s dying right along with it. Granted, I was never a huge fanboy of the brand or anything, but for many members of the millennial generation, this was the car brand of our people.
So for Scion to suddenly go belly-up is a bit of a blow for those of us who recall its early years when the Toyota offshoot paraded across campuses with its xB, xA, and tC trifecta of flashy, moderately priced options. But over the years, we began to lose interest in the youthful brand, and even after a series of new product launches, Scion still struggled to recapture our attention the way it once had back in 2003.
While cars like the sporty FR-S, the inexpensive iA, and the iM hatchback will all be absorbed by the Toyota brand and rebadged, both the xB and the tC are set to expire entirely. So in an effort to offer an homage to the ailing brand, and to better understand what all went wrong, I secured a one-week loan of the vehicle you see here. The sporty coupe that was once offered with an optional supercharger straight from the factory has been thoroughly redesigned since its inception, and in certain ways is better than ever. Here’s how it was able to fill a sizable gap in the Toyota lineup for a while, and why its demise has been warranted.
When Toyota decided to restyle the tC a few years back, it did away with a lot of the styling cues that made it so memorable. Long gone are the soft, bubbly headlamps and tail lights, the rounded lower motifs have been replaced by jagged edges, and although it still remains a coupe in essence, this final rendition is a far more angry-looking animal than its previous self.
I personally like the refresh, as the jutting lower air dam, glass roof, and hooked lights all add a bit of flare that is not an eyesore. The addition of fog lights alongside standard 18-inch alloy rollers improve things in the aesthetics department as well.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Stylish 18-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in performance rubber, with just enough sidewall to make the wheel wells not look completely forsaken.
+ The continuously flowing sheet of tinted glass that rolls down the roof until it hits the trunk lid is pretty sharp-looking. The front fascia is also a strong point, and the tapered lower air dam is perfectly proportioned.
+ While the taillights may not be to everyone’s liking, the reshaped headlamps and LED accent lights look quite nice, especially during night driving.
– The elongated, spiral antenna, blocky decklid, and funky tail lamps are all a bit unsightly and misproportioned.
– Not having a third door on one side for the backseat like what we found in the Hyundai Veloster is an oversight, as it is more of a practical misstep than an aesthetic one.
– Even though it is sharp-looking, the restyled front fascia has this solid block of plastic in the center of the lower grille that is quite unsightly when looked upon head on.
Once equipped with a lackluster engine that really deserved a supercharger, the tC’s redesign landed it a new 2.5-liter motor that returned 179 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. This is by no means a screamer of an engine, but in something this small it didn’t have to be. Getting up to speed and around town in an orderly fashion was not much of a problem, and even though its manual gearbox was anything but memorable, the transmission itself didn’t raise any major red flags.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ It may not be a fire-breather, but this 179-horsepower 2.5-liter motor felt more than capable enough for daily driving purposes and is notoriously reliable.
+ This manual gearbox is very straightforward. While throws were a hair long and widely spaced, the clutch’s bite point was in an acceptable area and, much like its motor, is virtually indestructible.
+ While there is a TRD exhaust upgrade out there, the stock unit sounded pretty nice.
– There is no longer a TRD supercharger upgrade option, so getting more power will need to be done the old-fashioned way, with aftermarket parts and extensive shop time.
– For as reliable as this manual transmission is, getting it to engage gears consistently can occasionally be a challenge, with reverse being a primary culprit.
– There aren’t any drive mode options here, so being able to hit a “Sport” button or engaging “Eco” mode won’t happen.
Having driven the new iA and iM back-to-back, it’s pretty obvious that out of the doomed Scion legion the tC has the worst cabin of the bunch. It did have a few notable sweet spots that kept it from being a complete loss, but there definitely was an economy-car level of cheapness here that was a little too prevalent when compared to equally priced vehicles in its segment.
Interior pros and cons
+ For as cramped as it may seem from the pictures, the rear is roomier than one might expect. Even with the driver’s seat set to a position where it would accommodate my 6-foot frame, I still had ample legroom when seated behind it. The deeply carved reclining seats also allowed surprising headroom beneath the sloping rear glass.
+ Seats both front and rear may appear inexpensively made, but they aren’t horrid to ride around in, with just enough bolstering to keep you firmly positioned when cornering sharply.
+ Small perks include a nicely sized, D-cut leather steering wheel, a deeply ensconced set of gauge pods, trunk storage cubbies, and a full-size spare.
– Cheap interior plastic trim pieces and a sunshade that rattled loudly with every bump were very annoying when driving.
– Road noise is one thing. But this ride was filled with noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), some of which was partially due to the low profile all-season performance Yokohama tires.
– Visibility is a pretty mixed affair, and while forward-facing views are boosted by a driver’s seat that is height adjustable, blind spots are pretty sizable out back.
Tech and safety
There really isn’t a whole lot of tech one can expect in a stripped down car like this. It has some basic features that keep it in the race, but in today’s market a base Scion tC is more audio and crash safety focused than anything else. Sure, it has Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port with iPod connectivity, and Aha Radio capabilities, but so does everyone else for the most part. On the bright side, it does come standard with power windows and locks, keyless entry, a push-button start, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Tech pros and cons
+ It may be small in stature, but with a five-star overall crash safety rating from the government, both stability and traction control systems, and smart stop technology, the tC offers a nice array of safety measures that are tested and proven.
+ The 7-inch Pioneer touchscreen unit is well placed, houses audio and Bluetooth capabilities, and has voice recognition.
+ Keyless entry, eight Pioneer audio components, and USB/iPod connectivity are solid standard features that are actually usable on a daily basis.
– The multi information display (MID) is non adjustable and about as bare bones as it gets, even when other automakers offer fully loaded version in competing cars for around the same price point.
– No back up camera or blind spot monitoring options here folks, so reverse and merging have to be done the old-fashioned way.
– While this model came equipped with optional fog lights and it does come standard with LED mirror signal lamps, the interior lighting was bland, and long gone were the wild mood lights from Scion’s early days.
Featuring double wishbone rear suspension and disc brakes all around, the drive that week was a far more rewarding one than when it first appeared on paper. Steering inputs were more precise than predicted, body roll wasn’t overly obnoxious, and traction was never an issue, though it remained relatively dry that week. Performance did seem lacking without a Sport button, and both cabin noise and the overly base drivetrain made it a bit less enjoyable to drive after a while.
Gear shifts, engine responsiveness, and driving enjoyability were all pretty much on point most of the time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a turbo motor like many of its competitors, nor does it have the performance pedigree to be called a sports coupe, especially in stock trim. This is a machine for someone who doesn’t want a jarring ride but still craves a splash of sportiness, and from just a driving perspective, there’s quite a lot to appreciate.
Wrap up and review
For being so simplistic and inexpensively clad internally, the Scion tC is really not that bad of a car to operate for a number of reasons, especially since it starts at just under $20,000 for those of us who can drive stick. It also might have one of the most bulletproof drivetrain combos I’ve ever seen, an area where less often means more in the longevity department.
But it still has more flaws in its hide than perks, and while it filled the gap nicely for a while as the Corolla coupe for younger buyers, the introduction of the FR-S all those years ago cannibalized everything. Which leads me back around to my eulogy for the Scion tC, a reflection of the brand itself, which ultimately served a purpose, if just but for a short period of time.
Scions were cars that we bought and forgot, and try as it might, the brand’s Japanese parent company has been relatively unsuccessful at attracting generation Z buyers in order to fill in where we left off. The tC is a prime example of this entire evolution, as it was once a hot seller that got restyled to attract a new buyer, and ultimately failed. It’s a car that to an extent is well made and sporty but, much like the driving experience it offers, isn’t all that memorable. The puck has been passed, and the interest in our generation now rests heavily upon Lexus. Meanwhile, the flame within Scion starts to flicker and fade, for it is just a matter of time before it gets extinguished once and for all.