2011 Scion tC

I remember talking with Jim Farley—then the head of Scion, now the head of global marketing and a whole bunch of other stuff at Ford—back in the summer of 2004 when the Scion tC sports coupe was introduced.

I remember talking with Jim Farley—then the head of Scion, now the head of global marketing and a whole bunch of other stuff at Ford—back in the summer of 2004 when the Scion tC sports coupe was introduced. The boxy xB and the sedanish xA had been out for about a year. The xB had confounded expectations. It was far more popular than the “safer” xA. In fact, I dare say that unless you owned an xA or know someone who did, you probably don’t even remember that car.

Things are not always what you’d expect.

And the tC was a remarkably unexpected vehicle.

The coupe was equipped with a 160-hp 2.4-liter engine, double-wishbone rear suspension, front MacPherson struts, and 17-in alloy wheels with Z-rated tires. It may not have trounced the BMWs on Mulholland Drive, but it sure was a whole different thing than what one would have anticipated from the brand that seemed to be about function over form.

What was even more remarkable that the drivetrain on the tC was the interior, which was absolutely first rate, all the way to the graining on the dash. And its panoramic sunroof was there before others even thought them possible.

Farley pointed out to me that a key reason for the existence of the car was that there were a whole lot of young people who wanted something sporty and stylish—who, in effect, wanted a 3 Series—but who had a Corolla budget. And the tC was going to deliver to them. And it seemed as though he was right.

In 2006 79,125 tCs were sold. By last year it was down to 15,204. That put it behind the xB (20,364) but ahead of the xD (10,110), which is pretty much the contemporary xA. Funny how fast the world moves, particularly when you’re banking on style and fashion, as Scion most certainly is.

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So they’ve developed a new generation of the tC, again a three-door liftback. But this time they’ve amped it up a bit, with a 180-hp 2.5-liter engine, similar suspension setup, but 18’s in the place of the 17’s.

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They’ve changed the sheet metal on the outside, making the car more angular and edgy, but still immediately recognizable. They’ve not stinted on the inside material quality, though the car suffers from less-than contemporary electronics (Farley’s present company has pretty much set the bar for that nowadays.)

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In the official company verbiage: “The all-new Scion tC is positioned to attract a youthful buyer that demands a high level of standard equipment and quality at an affordable price.”

Which brings me back to that conversation of many years ago. It seemed as though the car was being positioned for recent college graduates, for people under 25. But it had seemed to me then—and now—that those people are probably not going to be in a position to buy a new car, not even one that has an MSRP of $18,275. They’re going to buy used. (Or drive their mom’s.)

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This is the Scion FUSE concept, revealed at the NY Auto Show in 2006, that is said to have been an inspiration for the Calty designers for the present tC.

Arguably, the ones who have made the xB as successful as it has been—and for a while there it was really successful—were way outside the demographic. And probably the ones who may be most attracted to the tC are those who can afford it and maybe, just maybe, if they give up on Starbucks, microbrews, and eating out more than one a month, a 3 Series.

Tough position for the tC, a good car.

Selected Specs

Engine: 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, dual VVT-I, I4

Material: Aluminum block and heads

Horsepower: 180 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 173 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electric power

Wheelbase: 106.3 in

Length: 174.0 in

Width: 70.7 in

Height: 55.7 in

EPA fuel economy: 23/31 mpg city/hwy