Scion has long been what Toyota can’t be, the quirky sub-brand that paired unique styling with a youthful appeal. To enthusiasts, a tC is far more appealing than a Corolla, but it still comes backed by Toyota reliability and safety. That makes it a great first car. In fact, the first car I ever test drove was a 2004 Scion tC. I was eager to see how far the Scion had come in ten years. 2013 was the year of the FRS at Scion. It’s not every year that a manufacturer unveils a new model, and even less frequently is it an all-new rear-wheel-drive platform. For 2014, Scion focused on refreshing its best-selling model, the tC. Will 2014 be the year of the tC?
The redesigned front grille and longer hood bring the tC in line visually with its new brother. The rear bumper gains a blacked-out valance with a reflector similar to the FRS. An all-new lighting package, including LED taillights and DRLs, complete the visual changes. Inside, the tC gets a new 6.1” Pioneer touchscreen head unit that is far improved over the one we experienced in the FRS. These seem like the extent of the changes, until you get a bit more technical. Scion added additional spot welds to increase rigidity. They re-tuned the shocks and stabilizer bar to make better use of the stiffer body. Finally, for the two-pedal crowd, the tC’s automatic transmission now shifts twice as fast and blips the throttle on downshifts just like the FRS. The tC has clearly benefited from the FRS’s development.
Like most enthusiasts we know, I spend a lot of time fantasizing with online configurators. That meant I had built my “ideal” tC before our tester even arrived. When it did, I was initially disappointed in the color choice. Cement Gray wasn’t the color that I initially picked, but it grew on me as the week progressed. Perhaps it was because the Scion stood out so well against the 25” of snow that buried it, or perhaps it was because it fit the car’s persona with the high profile lip spoiler and the dark TRD performance wheels. It’s difficult to justify visual option that account for 10% of the sticker price, but they help the tC stand out in traffic. Once that traffic starts moving, the tC stands out even further with the sound from its TRD sport exhaust. The other big ticket option on our tester was the BeSpoke Premium Audio system with navigation. It just so happens that, aside from the color, our tester arrived set up just as I’d built it.
The tC delivers on everything it should be. For a coupe it is remarkably practical. With the rear seats up the tC can comfortably seat four, provided rear occupants aren’t on the tall side. The large rear hatch opens to reveal a substantial cargo space. Folding the rear seats flat expands that into a cavernous space. The low roof makes for a small windscreen, but forward visibility isn’t adversely affected. The long doors and rear quarter glass help provide excellent visibility when merging or changing lanes. The cabin is bright thanks to the glass roof but the rolling shade mechanism feels cheap. The rest of the touch points feel solid and well-put-together, more so than the FRS. This isn’t a car that has to live on its driving charisma alone. Even if it did, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.
To be fair, the week with the Scion didn’t start out well. Eight inches of snow fell on our second day with the tC, and it continued to snow through the night. By the time the sun rose on Day 3, another 14 inches had re-buried the car. In the first four days, I spent more time digging out the Scion than I did driving it. When the Scion did venture out, the grip from the very low-profile Toyo Proxes 4 Plus high performance all-season tires was acceptable but not stellar. It was lesson in compromise. As we learned with the Mazda 6 and Porsche Panamera Turbo, winter tires simply work better in the winter.
When the opportunity finally arose for a “clean” drive, the Scion truly impressed. There’s a youthfulness about the entire experience. The suspension is tight but not too hard – a feat of its own amongst the pockmarked roads of the Northeast this time of year. The seats are wide but provide ample bolstering. Additional lumbar support would be the only room for improvement. The steering is direct and well-weighted through the thick, flat-bottomed wheel. The tC’s 2.5L four-cylinder has been with the car since 2009, but it doesn’t feel dated. The 179hp and 172lb. ft. of torque are more than enough to make things enjoyable. Perhaps the best part of the entire package is the aural gratification of the TRD sport exhaust. While we can question the cost of the wheels, the exhaust is a must-have option. The moment the ignition fires, you can tell there’s something unique about the sound. It avoids being obnoxious or attention-grabbing, opting for a much more subtle-yet-sporty rasp. It’s just the kind of feedback the Scion needs to be enjoyable on the road. If we’re going to recommend one more option, it would be the TRD quickshifter. The throw of the tC’s 6-speed manual was on the longer side and less precise than we’d have liked. When the rest of the car’s operations are so engaging, it’s easy to be critical of the weakest link.
Driving the Scion tC is reminiscent of the time just after you got your license. Driving was exciting and engaging no matter the opportunity. The feelings of changing gear, accelerating, braking, and steering were all satisfying each time you got behind the wheel. The tC, if my elders will pardon the phrase, made me feel young again. It was all the more encouraging to have that feeling in a car that is both practical and reliable. After 300 miles of driving, the Scion returned 24.1mpg, meaning that it’s affordable to operate as well. All these factors mean that, if I was back in high school again, the Scion tC would still be the first car I’d want to test drive.
|2014 Scion tC
|BeSpoke Premium Audio||$1,198|
|Rear Lip Spoiler High Profile||$444|
|Carpeted Floor Mats & Cargo Mat||$184|
|Rear Bumper Applique||$69|
|TRD Performance Exhaust||$699|
|TRD 19″ Lightweight Alloy Wheels||$2,199|
|As Tested MSRP||$24,837|
Related: Square One: 2013 Scion FRS