2011 Scion tC - Click above for high-res image galleryHistorians 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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