Toyota introduced the Scion brand in America seven years before bringing it here. The exclusively North American concept was an attempt to attract young buyers turned off by the conservative nature of Toyota products.
The target market? A sub-set of Gen Y – born between 1980-1994 – primarily university-educated males with above-average incomes living in urban centers which is why you'll not find Scions at every Toyota dealership. There is only one in Nova Scotia for example.
While the jury is still out on this experiment in Canada, it has it has had results in the U.S., where more than 70% of those who purchased a Scion are new to the Toyota brand and with an average age of 38, the lowest in the industry.
Much as an uber-geek and a rapper are the same beneath their clothes, Scions are Toyotas wearing distinctive panels. Wrapping the basic goodness engineered into Toyota products in different clothes is a way to ensure quality and reliability and keep development prices down while giving the impression of a totally different vehicle – a practice used throughout the auto industry for almost a century.
An up-front decision was to include a lot of standard equipment in the advertised price to avoid sticker shock, avoiding another standard industry practice of advertising a vehicle at an attractive price only to surprise the potential customer when he or she gets to the showroom and starts to add up the cost of features not included.
Scions come completely equipped in what they call 'mono-spec'. Standard equipment on every Scion includes: air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, a serious sound system and a full slate of safety features including ABS, electronic stability control, at least six airbags and electronic traction control. Toyota says there are no options, but you can add things like a sunroof, leather interior and automatic transmission.
There are three vehicles in the Scion lineup – the boxy $18,000 xB urban utility vehicle and the wagon-like $17,200 xD. The $20,850 xC, the subject of this review, is a sporty two-door coupe with a 180-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and six-speed transmission, whether manual or automatic.
The tC is by far the best performer in the Scion line. It comes in one trim level only at $20,850. You can choose the automatic transmission and that swells the price to $21,900 and our tester also had a $550 audio upgrade but that was it.
Standard equipment includes all the features listed above plus height-adjustable seats, cruisecontrol, 18-inch alloy wheels, power heated mirrors, power glass sunroof, keyless entry and an eight-speaker audio system that includes MP3 and WMA capabilities, auxiliary input and wheel-mounted controls.
Also standard are eight-airbags – the normal front, side, and head units plus a pair below the instrument panel to protect your knees.
The tC looks like, and is marketed as a coupe, but it is in fact a hatchback. The big hatch reveals a generous cargo area, doubled in size by folding down the rear seats – which can be done without having to remove the head restraints.
The front doors are wide and long, making it difficult to get in and out in tight quarters but providing easier access to the rather tight rear seat when you can open them all the way. There is ample headroom in front despite the sunroof and two adults up to about six feet in height can sit in the rear.
The driver gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel and faces and thanks to a nicely-bolstered, height-adjustable seat and a big dead pedal can keep in position during more enthusiastic driving maneuvers. Fit, finish and materials are all of Toyota-spec which is to say, excellent.
The engine is a 2.5-litre four that belts out a respectable 180 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque. Whether you chose manual or automatic shifting you get six forward gears. At about 1400 kg, the tC is a relative lightweight and the ability of the six-speed gearbox to keep the engine in its best power-producing range produces some pleasant performance. It also mimics other Scions by having a pleasant exhaust note.
The tC (touring Coupe) is most un-Toyota-like in that it enjoys corners. There is little lean or sway, and although understeer is there, the limits are higher than you?fd expect.
The all-independent suspension that gives the tC its impressive agility consists of struts up front and more expensive and elaborate double wishbones at the rear. The ride is less than pillow soft but not unpleasantly so. The big 18-inch wheels are wrapped in 45-series tires which means very little sidewall to absorb bumps and sharp surface changes.
There aren'ft many two-door sport coupes on the market, especially at this price and with this level of equipment. The Scion tC is worthy of close study by anyone shopping in this bracket offering a combination of style, quality and content at a very attractive price.