NOTE: Our first drive report of the
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

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