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2009 Scion tC
Affordable Tuner Fun
By David Pratte, Jan. 16, 2009

FAST FACTS

1. The tC uses the European-market Avensis chassis and the Camry’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine.

2. ‘tC’ stands for ‘touring coupe’

3. Scion offers an optional factory warrantied TRD supercharger for the tC that boosts power from 161 to 200hp.

Since it’s debut as a 2005 model (in June of 2004), Scion’s tC sport compact coupe has been a huge marketing and sales success. With a starting price of just $17,670, the tC represents a tremendous value given its long list of standard features, torquey 2.4-liter engine, and sporty handling. But just as importantly (to the execs at Toyota, at least), the tC has functioned as a kind of flagship for Scion’s philosophy – affordably priced, single trim level vehicles that offer young buyers a wide variety of accessories and upgrade options so that they can personalize and customize them to their own needs and taste.

TUNER CONCEPT

Although ‘tC’ officially stands for ‘touring coupe’, it could just as easily stand for ‘tuner concept’, since the tC is clearly aimed at the ‘Fast & Furious’ buyer looking for a sporty platform to modify. Toyota has offered strong support to the customization process with their own lineup of TRD performance parts and accessories including a supercharger kit that boosts power from the factory rated 161-horsepower to 200-hp while maintaining the factory warranty and drivability. The aftermarket has also responded strongly to the tC by offering everything from wild widebody kits to bolt-on turbocharger kits, and of course a hundred flavors of wheels and the usual spectrum of high tech gadgets like in-dash DVD players and GPS navigation systems.

‘PURE PRICE’

But even if you have no interest in tuning your tC for greater performance or style, Scion’s five-passenger coupe offers plenty of bang for the buck right off the showroom floor. Scion’s ‘Pure Price’ philosophy means that there’s no haggling on price required, and as part of this streamlined buying experience you can also expect every Scion to have a long list of features to go along with Toyota’s usual high build quality. The tC’s list of standard features is truly impressive, especially when you consider it’s sub $20k sticker price, and includes everything from 17-inch alloy wheels, a full compliment of power accessories including one-touch auto down windows and remote keyless entry, a panoramic moonroof, and one-touch driver’s seat position memory. The standard Pioneer sound system is also quite remarkable, pumping out 160-watts of power to 6-speakers and a 6-inch subwoofer cleverly housed in the trunk side panel.

New in 2008, every tC also comes standard with iPod integration, meaning you can plug your iPod into the auxiliary port and control it from the factory head unit. The ’08 tC also saw some cosmetic revisions including new front and rear taillights, a restyled front grille, and seats wrapped in black fabric rather than the old two-tone black/gray combo. But the 2.4-liter VVT-i 4-cylinder engine has remained unchanged, as have the standard 5-speed manual gearbox and optional 4-speed automatic.

THE COMPETITION

Obvious contenders to the tC in the sub-$20k front-wheel-drive coupe category include the Honda Civic EX, Chevrolet Cobalt Sport and Mitsubishi Eclipse GS. All feature 4-cylinder engines with less than 2.5-liters of displacement, but fuel economy varies quite widely amongst them. The tC does not fair particularly well at the gas pump compared to its competition, with the Civic’s smaller 1.8-liter 140-hp engine providing class-leading fuel economy with 26 city and 34 highway mpg. The Cobalt Sport is also quite economical with 22 city and 32 highway mpg ratings, especially given its class-leading 171-hp engine. The tC and Eclipse GS are a bit disappointing by comparison, with 21 city/29 highway mpg for the Scion and 20 city/28 highway for the Mitsubishi. But on price the tC is king, coming in at $1,000 less than the Civic and $2,000 less than the Cobalt and Eclipse. The little Scion coupe is also a clear leader with respect to standard features and interior design.

ON THE ROAD

From the driver’s seat, the Scion tC gives the impression of being a bigger and more expensive machine than it is. With class-leading interior volume and a glass roof that makes it feel even more spacious, a thumping stereo system, and pleasantly firm and responsive handling, sitting at the tC’s controls is a fun place to be. The rear hatch and split-folding rear seats also mean the tC is extremely practical and versatile – this little coupe can hold a ton of gear, perfect for moving boxes full of textbooks and Xbox games during the annual pilgrimage countless college students make when moving from home to a campus dorm room.

Sure, the 161-hp isn’t up to the challenge of keeping pace with more expensive sport compact coupes like the Civic Si or Cobalt SS, but its got plenty of get-up-and-go for typical around-town driving. And since the Toyota 4AZ-FE is a stout engine with a relatively low 9.8:1 compression ratio, bolting on the factory TRD supercharger or turning up the boost even higher with an aftermarket turbo kit from companies like Turbonetics and GReddy is perfectly safe and very effective.

POSITVE

‘Pure Price’ means “no haggle, no hassle” buying experience
Feature-rich interior and panoramic moonroof make it a fun place to be
At $17,660 it’s easy on the pocketbook, making it an attractive entry-level “tuner” car

NEGATIVE

Without some factory or aftermarket upgrades, exterior styling is a bit bland
Fuel economy is disappointing for its class
Large blind spots mean lane changes require extra attention

THE VERDICT

With a starting price under $18,000, it’s impossible not to recommend the Scion tC to anyone looking for a fun and sporty entry-level coupe. It may be due for a complete redesign soon, but its styling still seems up-to-date next to the competition and its interior is by far the most feature-rich of the bunch. The sport-tuned Macpherson strut front and double wishbone rear suspension and relatively wide 215/45R17 tires also make it great fun in the twisties, and although the 2.4-liter 161-hp engine isn’t the most powerful or responsive in its class and its fuel economy is disappointing, its still a very livable powerplant that delivers strong low end torque and has plenty of power potential with some upgrades, should you be the Generation Y “Fast & Furious” customer Scion is hoping you’ll be.

RELATED READING

Official Scion tC website