2011 Scion tC

Expert Review:Autoblog

Changed For The Better, But Not Quite Enough

2011 Scion tC2011 Scion tC - Click above for high-res image gallery

Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe are known for their theory that America goes through a repeating cycle of four periods: a High, an Awakening, an Unraveling and a Crisis. Depending on who you believe, we could be in an Unraveling period about to fall headlong into a major crisis, which our two historians call the Fourth Turning. But if we persevere and turn the corner, we'll find ourselves back in High times once again.

We reckon the Scion brand is in about the same spot. It hasn't had much positive to report lately, so the redesigned 2011 Scion tC gives the brand something to talk about while it works out how to improve on its initially strong showing in the U.S. Does the new tC portend a return to High times for Scion, or is it leading a parade lap right into the Fourth Turning?

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Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL

The Scion tC's lines are new for 2011, but they're very familiar. That's probably because its dimensions are identical to the 2010 model with the exception of an additional 1.6 inches of overall width.

A flat roofline gives the profile a low, bulldog stance and the massive C-pillar leaves perhaps the largest first impression. Up front the lower fascia channels a prize-winning Grouper, but swept back headlamps also give it an air of aggression. The rear end lacks the most visual interest, though all of the car's lines were nicely showcased by the Sizzling Crimson Mica paint on our tester. Overall, the 2011 tC looks more butch than the model it replaces, like it went to the gym and pumped iron until some delts appeared.

2011 Scion tC side view2011 Scion tC front view2011 Scion tC rear view

Opinions may vary, but Scion gets good marks from us for the exterior changes. Unfortunately we can't say the same about the interior. At $19,995 for the auto-equipped model (manuals start at $18,995), the tC competes directly with the Kia Forte Koup and Honda Civic. The $22,250 Hyundai Genesis Coupe is even a short reach away offering enthusiasts real bonafide rear-wheel-drive dynamics, and a Nissan Altima Coupe starts under $23K as well. Tough room. Compared to the Civic, Altima and even the Genesis, the inside of the tC just feels cheap. The dash and door materials scuff at the lightest touch and the fidelity-challenged stereo looks like an aftermarket install from Best Buy. The lone bright spot is the super-sized steering wheel. The flat-bottomed D-shaped tiller looks great and would be equally at home in something more sporty.

Though there are nicer interiors in this class of driver-focused coupes, it's not a torture chamber behind the tC's wheel. The thick C-pillars try their hardest to ruin rearward vision, but visibility is better than the dropped roof and six-pack of pillars suggest. The front seats are also comfortable and headroom wasn't an issue for this six-foot, three-inch writer. The back seat is an entirely different story, but that's par for the compact coupe course. If you must ferry more than a co-pilot, you'll probably have one less Facebook friend when you reach your destination.

2011 Scion tC front seats2011 Scion tC tachometer2011 Scion tC rear cargo area

Getting there won't be an issue, though, because Scion has fitted the 2011 tC with a new engine lifted right from the base-model Camry. Replacing the tC's old 161-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is a new 2.5-liter four producing 180 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 173 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm – welcomed increases of 19 hp and 11 lb-ft, respectively. The throttle is responsive, which helps make up for the dull engine note that Camry owners know all too well. A more throaty exhaust note would have gone a long way towards matching the buff new body.

The 2011 tC does, however, get a pair of new transmissions that both have six gears. We had already sampled the new manual six-speed during our First Drive. This time, however, our tester had the new six-speed automatic, and we'd wager our lunch money that it's the more common choice among tC buyers. (We won't be going hungry.) In manual mode, the six-speed automatic is surprisingly responsive and allowed us to keep the engine right in its power band. Slap the shifter back in D, however, and you get early upshifts as the tC tries to hit its EPA-rated fuel economy of 23 city and 31 mpg on the highway. We averaged 24.2 mpg in mixed city and highway driving versus the the government's 26 mpg combined-driving estimate.

2011 Scion tC engine

Gripping that thick-rimmed steering wheel flipped our mental driving switch from "Normal" to "Sport" and we couldn't help but try to push the little tC around. Its steering is heavy but still engaging and has a less-boosted feel than other Toyotas. Handling benefits from large 18-inch alloy wheels wearing 225/45R Toyo Proxes tires, an upgrade over the last generation's 215/45/17s. While not an outright sports car, the tC driving experience is still more rewarding than your standard compact commuter.

Yes, the 2011 Scion tC has a more masculine physique and a new engine that's both more powerful and fuel efficient. The interior, however, does fall short of its peers and the competition in this $20k price range gets better every year. Stepping away from a direct segment comparison and focusing on competitors by price, the 2011 Volkswagen Golf has a more impressive interior, the 2011 Ford Fiesta has connected better with young people and the 2011 Honda CR-Z takes the mpg crown. The only real brass-knuckle fight the tC has is with the Kia Forte Koup, which is priced nearly the same, looks more expensive and delivers a lot more value.

2011 Scion tC rear 3/4 view

Scion has certainly moved the tC in the right direction with this second generation car; it's better in virtually every way compared to last year's model. What we can't say is where it will lead the brand: into the Fourth Turning of a Crisis cycle or back to the beginning for a period of High times. That's ultimately up to buyers and they've got a lot of good hardware to choose from at this price point. For that reason, we think Scion needs something more than a better tC to turn the corner.

Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL

NOTE: Our first drive report of the 2011 Scion tC was originally published at 9am EST when Toyota's embargo lifted. We didn't want you to miss it, so check it out below.

2011 Scion tC

2011 Scion tC – Click above for high-res image gallery

There's no demographic that's targeted more often than young, affluent males. Though these buyers may not have quite as much expendable income to throw at new car purchases than say older, affluent males, automakers are still very keen to cater to the needs of Generation Y with the hope of earning a customer for life.

The tC is Scion's most important product.
Toyota is no different than any other automaker in this regard; perhaps even more so as the Japanese giant's customer base is just about as old as that of Buick. To resolve that issue, Toyota created the Scion brand in North America back in 2002 and has been marketing the heck out of its up-and-coming feeder marque ever since.

The ploy has mostly been successful. Toyota merrily points out that Scion has the youngest average customer in the industry and that 71 percent of all 800,000 or so Scions have been sold to buyers who are new to the Toyota family. Interestingly enough, with a median age of 26, it's the tC coupe's 310,000 total sales since 2002 (accounting for 41 percent of all Scion production) that manages to attract the youngest customers of all.

In other words, while the funky xB may be the most recognizable, it's actually the tC that is the brand's most important product. Therefore, Scion absolutely needs the new 2011 tC to be a runaway hit. Especially since the second-generation of the xB has, by many measures, failed to live up to the success of its straight-ruled predecessor.

So does the new tC pass muster? We set out to answer that very question when we grabbed the keys in sunny San Diego. Read on to find out what we learned.

Photos copyright ©2010 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL

We'll start with the most obvious aspect of the new tC's design: the exterior. While the new car obviously shares a good deal of basic DNA with the first-gen car, in person we found the 2011 model to be significantly more masculine in appearance. From its sharper and more angular fascia to the steeply cut upward slashing C-pillar that dominates the side profile, it's easy to see that Scion wanted a more aggressive shape for its latest youthmobile.

You've seen this car's roofline before. Scion debuted the Helmet Visor Theme (their words, not ours... though it's an apt descriptor) with the Fuse concept from the 2006 New York Auto Show. That conceptual styling exercise was the inspiration behind the 2011 tC, and that's especially apparent when comparing the two machine's profiles – note how the blacked-out A- and B-pillars highlight the visor-like shape of the roof and C pillars.

Whether or not you approve of Scion's latest styling direction, we're at least pleased to see that the 2011 tC isn't quite as feminine as its forebearer, and company officials assure us that this was purely intentional. Apparently, when it first hit the market, Scion's little coupe was purchased by men about 60 percent of the time; in recent years, that percentage has completely flipped to a female-dominated audience.

Scion has made a number of improvements to the new car's cabin. Indeed, the company boasts that the tC has an "entry-level Lexus" interior. We're not willing to go that far, but we couldn't really find fault with the car's interior plastics or fabrics... at least not for its expected price point. Note, too, that our testers were all pre-production samples. The most significant interior upgrades for 2011 have been made to the steering wheel and the three stereo options (each of which now boast 300 watts of power and eight speakers, though the head unit's installation still remains aftermarket in look). We were especially pleased with the new wheel, which is now the envy of cars costing three times as much as the little tC. There's a very nice leather wrap around the newly thicker rim, and the three spokes feel nice and sturdy. Redundant radio controls are now standard as well. But the best part of the new steering wheel is the flat bottom, which makes the humble tC's interior at least appear sportier than its predecessor.

And now for the $64,000 question: Is the new sportier look backed up by a sportier driving experience? Well... in a word, no. At least not in its base guise. While the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine pushes out 180 horsepower (a useful improvement of 19 horses over the outgoing 2.4 liter), nobody is going to mistake the 2011 tC for a sportscar. But honestly, that's just fine with us. Scion seems to understand what the essence of the tC should be -- and that's something better described as competent and well-mannered than overtly fast and hard-edged. That's not to say that the car can't boogie, however. In fact, we spent some time in a tC equipped with the dealer-installed TRD 19-inch wheel and tire package and upgraded swaybar, and that car was legitimately entertaining to drive.

We sampled tCs with both the standard six-speed manual and the optional ($1,000) six-speed automatic, and we'll go ahead and cast a (predictable) vote in favor of the row-for-yourselfer. While the automatic was typically Toyota-like in its operation – which is to say quiet, smooth and unobtrusive – it also shifts up early and often in an effort to reach its EPA estimated 23 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. Those economy figures are matched by the clutch-equipped model, but it feels significantly quicker and is much more rewarding to drive. Toyota claims a 0-to-60 mph run of 7.6 seconds with the manual and 8.3 with the auto. Sounds about right, though most of the engine's grunt (173 pound-feet of torque) comes down low. There's plenty of noise as the engine runs up to its 6,200 rpm rev limiter, but certainly no push-you-back-into-your-seat feelings. We do expect a dealer-installed supercharger option at some point...

Initial throttle tip-in with the automatic is a wee bit more aggressive than we would like for initiating smooth progress, but not so objectionable that it's a deal breaker. What's more irksome is the auto's glaring lack of steering wheel paddle shifters and its maddening propensity to upshift and downshift seemingly on a whim – even in manual mode.

Scion has strummed a nice, soothing chord with the 2011 tC's ride and handling feel, as it tracks down the road well, turns in with minimal body roll and doesn't beat its passengers to oblivion in the process. The driver and passenger each get seats with adequate bolstering for the job at hand and the steering wheel's tilt and telescoping functions mean any driver should be able to find a comfortable position. Those wanting a firmer ride can opt for an upgraded set of TRD springs and dampers. We did note a fair bit of interior noise, likely due in part to the car's hatchback body design and open rear storage area.

Speaking of storage, we don't have any specific measurements to share yet, but our subjective opinion is that there's plenty of room available with the rear seatbacks (a 60/40 split, for what it's worth) folded down flat. Rear seat legroom is pretty much as you'd expect – tall passengers won't want to be behind a tall driver, though comfort is surprisingly decent once in place, especially since those back seats can recline up to 10 degrees.

Considering the young demographic this car is aimed at, safety is of paramount concern. To that end, Scion has equipped the 2011 tC with standard ABS brakes with electric brake-force distribution and... *ahem,* a brake over-ride system that cancels throttle application when the brake pedal is depressed. Traction and stability control (user defeatable) are also standard, as are eight total airbags and tire pressure monitoring.

All in all, Scion has shot off just about a perfect bullseye with its latest tC. It no longer looks like the car your girlfriend's best friend would drive, and it's a competent driver with plenty of room for aftermarket and dealer-installed upgrades. You won't be challenging Volkswagen GTIs, V6 Ford Mustangs or Hyundai Genesis Coupes, but that's okay. Some people just want a stylish car that's cheap to buy and economical to drive. And, at its $18,275 well-equipped starting price, that's exactly what Scion has crafted with the 2011 tC.

Photos copyright ©2010 Jeremy Korzeniewski / AOL

All-new, with new engine, fresh styling.


The all-new 2011 Scion tC arrives after seven years with the original. This second-generation tC rides on a new platform, keeping the same length but offering a bit more room. A new engine brings 180 horsepower and 173 pounds-feet of torque, with a quickened pace: from 0 to 60 in 7.6 seconds with the manual transmission. 

The 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine uses the latest lightweight technology, with 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. Fuel mileage is improved by 3 mpg to an EPA-estimated 26 mpg in combined city and highway driving, and the emissions rating remains at ULEV II. Overall, there's been a weight gain of about 100 pounds. 

Both transmissions are new for 2011, with a 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual replacing the antiquated 4-speed automatic and 5-speed manual. We preferred the manual gearbox because the automatic doesn't offer a sport mode. 

The styling has changed direction somewhat. In an apparent attempt to be edgy, the roofline is sharper at the A-pillar and C-pillar. And the nose of the new tC has more rounded shoulders with large wheel cutouts, a more current look. 

Other improvements the 2011 tC has over the 2010 previous-generation model include bigger brakes and wheels, with 18-inch alloys standard, and electric power steering. There's a reclining and flat-folding 60/40 rear seat, steering wheel with audio controls, and a 300-watt eight-speaker sound system borrowed from big sister Lexus. 

The interior features a flat-bottomed steering wheel, while the numbers on the tachometer and speedometer are lit-up in orange with a 3D effect. The fabric seats have good adjustment and movement to allow access into the rear, which technically seats three but doesn't offer much room, however no coupe of this size does. Leather is not available. 

The Scion tC comes as only one model, with standard or automatic transmission, but there are 45 accessories available to create a distinct identity for the car. A big moonroof is standard equipment, with a mesh wind deflector at its leading edge. Surprisingly, Bluetooth is only available as a dealer-installed accessory. 

The suspension is MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear, and it's firm enough for everyday driving, the ride comfortable without being soft. The new tC has a wider track and wider tires; also a wider turning circle, 37.4 feet from 36.1 feet. The speed-sensing electric power steering replaces the old hydraulic system, saving pumps, pulleys and fluid. Brakes have been grown a bit, 11.65-inch vented discs in front and 10.8-inch solids in rear, and they feel good. 

We also got seat time in a 6-speed manual with TRD exhaust and sway bars, and it was a world of difference, including in the cornering. The sound was more distinctive without being loud. If you're going driving for fun, and not just stylish transportation, you should choose the gearbox and TRD suspension parts. 


The 2011 Scion tC comes as one model, a sports coupe. The tC comes with an all-new 2.5-liter engine, and choice of two new transmissions: a standard 6-speed manual ($18,275), or optional 6-speed automatic with sequential shifting ($19,275). Standard equipment includes air conditioning, fabric upholstery, power everything, 18-inch alloy wheels, panoramic moonroof, folding sideview mirrors with LED turn signals, fabric sports seats with driver height adjustment, reclining 60/40 rear folding seats, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and 300-watt 8-speaker MP3 sound system. 

There are 45 accessories available, maintaining the create-your-own Scion theme. Electronically, there's an Alpine premium sound system, Scion navigation, Bluetooth, and interior lighting with a 7-color switch. Exterior items include the usual like foglamps and rear spoiler, as well as things like body graphics and carbon-fiber appliqué B-pillar. TRD offers all the parts you need to make your tC a boy racer: springs, brakes, sway bars, air intake, 19-inch alloys, exhaust system, you name it. 

Safety equipment that comes standard includes frontal airbags, front side airbags, front knee airbags, and side curtain airbags; front active headrests with three headrests in rear, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, and the mandated tire pressure monitor. 


The styling of the 2011 Scion tC is new but it looks quite similar to the previous-generation. Look closely, and it's changed quite a lot. We think it's lost some of its head-turning good looks, though, primarily by changes to the roofline. That overall sensual quality to the tC has gone missing. The new tC is intended to be more masculine, to attract more male buyers. Meaning less of a chick car. 

The A-pillar is blacked out, as designers took inspiration from the athletic look of a racing helmet, says Scion. Okay, the roof looks like a helmet. With wrap-around window graphics that add to its sporty profile. Or that make it resemble a boxy Scion xD. 

The C-pillar has been thickened and turned forward into the rear window, making a fat wedge at the bottom and reversing the flow of the roofline. We can't say they nailed it, like they did in 2004 with the original tC roofline, classic with clean execution. 

The tC has a smooth and attractive face, well executed, but traditional, even when including the aggressive flared cutouts for the 17-inch wheels, leaving room for TRD 19-inch wheels. The cutouts and front shoulders seem to say Infiniti. 

The black egg crate grille is slim as a pencil moustache, riding over a chin valance that resembles a racing car's diffuser as intended, although it's not aerodynamically functional. Headlamps are like small sweet wings. 

There's a black mesh wind deflector that pops up at the leading edge of the standard moonroof, subtle trunk spoiler, and big rear taillamps that are stepped with the trunk lid seams and not graceful. 

There are seven exterior colors, six of which are seven years old; the new one is called Cement, and it's nicer than it sounds. The colors are lacking in color. Besides cement, there's a white, silver, gray, black, and a metallic blue and reddish, neither eye-catching. We think the shoulders look best in white, and the roofline best in black, because black buries the sharp lines of the A-pillar and C-pillar. 


We stepped into the tC straight from the launch of the all-new Volkswagen Jetta, and our immediate impression was that the Scion, with a higher base price, wasn't nearly as solid and tight as the Volkswagen. Relatively speaking, it felt unsubstantial, although tinny was the word we used in our notes. 

We like the tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped thick steering wheel, flat at the bottom like a formula racing car. There will probably be more sporty steering wheels like this, because it affords more knee room, and doesn't compromise hand-over-hand turning. We also liked the overall linear feel to the flat dashboard, with horizontal vents having nicely edged lines, at the top of the center stack. 

The instruments, speedometer and tachometer mostly, aren't as clean as they could be, but of course they're orange and 3D. And none are as clean as they could be, except for the Jetta and many Chrysler vehicles including the Ram truck. There's a monitor that gives miles per gallon and an Eco display, for the times. 

Forward visibility has been improved with a better angle thanks to a thinner A-pillar, and over-the-shoulder visibility has been lost with a thicker C-pillar. As one might expect in a compact coupe, there's precious little rear legroom, only 34.6 inches. 

Even at full blast, we were somehow underwhelmed by the 300-watt sound system, even with three Lexus LX570 speakers in each door, tweeter, mid-range and woofer, stacked like snowman body parts. Typically Scion, the buttons are tiny; nothing says for the young on this car more than the controls to the sound system. Scion says driver-oriented audio controls, but what drivers?

The six-way adjustable driver's fabric bucket seat is okay, although Mazda makes a younger-looking fabric. It's two-tone with a weave so unique that the seats are like snowflakes: No two vehicles will have identical seat pattern, says Scion. It's one inch wider, and the passenger seat slides forward more than before, to ease entry and exit into the reclining 60/40 rear seat. There's a center console, although it's a bit far back for the driver to rest his or her elbow on. There are two big deep cupholders there, under three big climate control knobs that work easily but look like the designer forgot to put much effort into them. Great shift knob with the manual transmission, not so great with the automatic. 

Scion says the exhaust note is robust, but we couldn't hear it from the inside. Although it does have a coolish tone from the outside, lightly robust. That suggests the interior is quiet, but not really; there still seemed to be road noise, especially when compared to the Jetta. 

Driving Impression

The new engine with 180 horsepower and 173 pounds-feet of torque is welcome, especially as the fuel mileage is also increased. That's a good increase, of 19 hp and 11 pounds, bringing the 0-to-60 acceleration down to 7.6 seconds with the manual transmission, and 8.3 seconds with the automatic. But full-throttle sprints from a standing start don't tell everything. Acceleration from 50 to 70 is often more meaningful. 

There's a long list of modern features to the new engine: rocker arms, intake ports, oil pumps, tumble control valves, multi-point oil jets, low-tension piston rings, etc. It takes a lot of development to increase horsepower by 12 percent, torque by 6.7 percent, and fuel efficiency by 2.8 percent. Don't sell the results short. Toyota engineers burn the midnight oil. All manufacturers' engineers have been, in recent years. 

There's a good case to be made for the smooth-shifting 6-speed manual, and we'll make it: the gated 6-speed automatic needs a sport mode. Sport is sorely missing, because the automatic transmission isn't responsive enough in Drive. Especially not when it's in high gear, and there isn't enough torque (peaking at a fairly high 4100 rpm) to accelerate, for example from 50 to 70 mph. Sure, it has a manual mode, and you can shift it yourself and make it respond, but often you just don't want to be bothered. 

We found ourselves driving around in Drive, and then when we needed a lower gear and it wasn't there for us, we shifted into manual and downshifted, which it did nicely. But it would have been nicer if we hadn't had to work at it. A sport mode would solve this. We wonder why Scion didn't put that in the transmission. The answer is usually to keep the price down. But a car like the tC deserves it, and in this case needs it. The Jetta had it, and it worked well. 

The suspension is MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear, and it's firm enough for everyday driving, the ride comfortable without being soft. The new tC has a wider track and wider tires; also a wider turning circle, 37.4 feet from 36.1 feet. The speed-sensing electric power steering replaces the old hydraulic system, saving pumps, pulleys and fluid. Brakes have been grown a bit, 11.65-inch vented discs in front and 10.8-inch solids in rear, and they feel good. 

But we also got seat time in a 6-speed manual with TRD exhaust and sway bars, and it was a world of difference, including in the cornering. The sound was more distinctive without being loud. If you're going driving for fun, and not just stylish transportation, you should probably choose the gearbox and TRD suspension parts. 


The Scion tC is all-new for 2011. This second-generation version is the same length but a bit wider than the first-generation. It's got a new engine that's worthy of the times, and styling that's fresh, even if it doesn't stand out like the old tC did in its day. The 6-speed automatic transmission with sequential shifting could use a sport mode, and the feel from the cabin isn't as solid one might hope, or expect, but it's still a contender. An array of accessories is available to personalize it. 

Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Scion tC near San Diego. 

Model Lineup

Scion tC manual transmission ($18,275), tC automatic ($19,275). 

Assembled In


Options As Tested


Model Tested

Scion tC automatic ($19,275). 

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