Nearly two decades ago, the higher-ups at Toyota noticed a disturbing trend. Their existing customers, who started buying Toyotas when they were young, were mostly remaining loyal to the brand as they aged. The problem was their children. The members of this new generation weren’t buying Toyotas.
In order to remedy this, Toyota created Scion, with the intent to draw younger buyers into Toyota showrooms. The first Scions, practical xA and xB hatchbacks, arrived for sale in California in 2003. They were joined by the sporty tC coupe, which arrived in 2004, just in time for Scion’s nationwide rollout.
To celebrate this 10th anniversary, the 2014 tC coupe has some mildly updated styling touches and an improved automatic transmission that not only delivers quicker shifts, but also offers rev-matching downshifts. These mesh engine speed to road speed as the transmission grabs a lower gear. In addition, this newest Scion tC has a stiffened body structure and suspension modifications meant to make the car even sportier. It’s all part of Toyota’s campaign to make its cars more rewarding to drive.
The tC coupe was always a fun-to-drive car, and this newest version is no exception. It has never been the sportiest car in the segment, a fact that Toyota acknowledged with the recent introduction of the Scion FR-S. Now, that’s a sports car.
However, the problem with sports cars is that their abstract appeal often outweighs their attractiveness in day-to-day driving. In this case, the tC is undoubtedly the better buy for most folks. Its ride is more forgiving yet the handling remains satisfactory. The back seat is surprisingly roomy for the class and there is a surprising amount of cargo room combined with hatchback flexibility. Somewhat higher than average noise levels aside, the tC will undoubtedly hit the proverbial “sweet spot” for many buyers.
Buying the Scion should be an exceptionally easy task. It comes in one base trim level with enough standard equipment to make a visit to the optional equipment catalog seem superfluous. The base car comes with air conditioning, a full line of power assists, panoramic sunroof, eight-speaker Pioneer audio system and 18-inch alloy wheels that are exceptionally attractive.
The base car features a six-speed manual transmission with the six-speed automatic an option. There is also a 10th anniversary edition with unique paint and some interior and exterior trim upgrades. Most other options, which dwell on cosmetic, suspension and wheel upgrades, are actually reserved for dealer installation.
All tCs come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 179 horsepower. The car my wife Paula and I had took eight seconds to reach 60 miles per hour. Not long ago, this would have been considered downright fast. But, as vehicle performance in all classes has improved, it’s now simply competitive.
Toyota has clearly wanted to give the tC a sports car’s interior. The front seats are bolstered and comfortable; the steering wheel has a thick rim with a flattened bottom. Gauges have a purposeful look and are canted toward the driver.
Nonetheless, this is no sports car. Consider it a stylish and pleasant car with some sporty moves, drivetrain components that have proven to be dependable in other Toyotas and the kind of looks that will draw the younger generation into a Toyota showroom.
The 2014 Scion tC certainly looks good. It’s stylish, fashionable and drives pleasantly enough. Still, there are some shortcomings that might diminish its appeal.
As a shorter driver, I found myself uncomfortably close to the windshield pillar after I adjusted the seat. That close proximity meant the outside mirror blocked my vision of oncoming cars to the left at intersections. Visibility was also an issue when backing. This is one car that needs a backup camera. A rear window wiper would be nice as well.
The interior is easy on the eyes and I liked the flat dashboard top, but this Scion has lots of hard plastic surfaces. Fortunately, the heater and air conditioner controls are easy to reach. The front seats are comfortable and the rear seat will fit average adults, something that isn’t possible in many sports coupes. For family use, the back seat should accommodate children into their teen years.
Parents should note that the tC is one of the few cars to do reasonably well in the new small overlap barrier crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It earned a rating of “Acceptable.” Combined with the top “Good” rating in every other test, it was named a “Top Safety Pick” for 2014.
Driving the Scion tC is pleasant. The engine is quick and responsive, while the handling is good. The ride can be a little busy and noise levels are higher than average, but not objectionable. The standard audio system is also nice, though many competitors are now including upgraded audio systems as standard equipment.
My husband Jim and I averaged 28 miles per gallon, which makes the tC reasonably fuel efficient. Still, at the end of a week with the car, I gave this vehicle merely an “OK” rating. It’s a good car, but I’d look further before buying.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Starts at: $19,965
Next week: Ford Fiesta SFE
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 or email email@example.com. For more automotive news, check out the Cars.com On The Road section each Wednesday in The Courant.