Happy Birthday Scion! You are 10 years old. And while most spend a 10th birthday wishing for ponies, PlayStations and puppies, Scion is hard at work looking for a greater share of the market.
|1. The only engine available is a 2.5L 4-cylinder making 179 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque.
2. A new six-speed automatic transmission blips the throttle on down shifts.
3. Fuel economy should remain the same at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway for both the automatic and manual version.
4. Pricing for the 2014 tC is $19,965 for manual versions and $20965 for the automatic including delivery charges.
To date, Scion has spent $100 million on the arts to help engrain the brand into youth culture and it seems to have worked with the lowest average age for buyers of any car brand.
Still, the child of Toyota has suffered a lack of popularity in recent years, due mostly to some rather stale product.
Helping solve part of the problem, the FR-S launched last year bringing one new model to the lineup while increasing interest in the brand overall.
With an average owner age of just 31, the FR-S proved to be another hit with younger buyers, despite its higher price tag (for a Scion). That’s nothing, however, compared to the tC, which continually wins over youth buyers with the youngest average age of any car in the industry at just 28.
To continue the sales momentum, a large refresh of the tC coupe occurs this year to keep things current and with buyers whose attention spans are shorter than the grass on a putting green. First shown off at the New York International Auto Show, the 2014 tC has been reworked to resemble the FR-S in both looks, and, to lesser extent, feel.
To see if all these changes have made a difference, Scion brought us to Hollywood California to put the tC through its paces. The new model is instantly recognizable as something completely different compared to previous tCs. The old and somewhat conservative looks have given way to a far more daring design. Up front there are angular new headlights, a new hood, a gaping new grille and LED accent lighting. The back-end features new LED tail lights and a revised lower rear valance to resemble that of the FR-S.
The overall goal of this restyle is to make the tC look more like the FR-S, and there definitely are some styling cues in this new design. Still, the tC doesn’t look any more like the FR-S than it does other Toyota models, namely the restyled Avalon. Most of the updates work like the new 18-inch alloy wheels and headlights, but some features, like the taillights, look straight out of The Fast & the Furious (we’re talking the 2001 original here).
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With plenty of personalization features in the past, from audio upgrades to larger brakes and lowering springs, the 2014 tC gets more of the sporty components right from the start. Taking inspiration from the FR-S, body rigidity is improved, while more sport-oriented shock absorbers and stabilizer bars are utilized.
The power steering has been reprogrammed as well, helping to improve steering feel and response. And the automatic transmission now features the same Dynamic Rev Management technology found in the FR-S where it blips the throttle on downshifts.
REVISED CHASSIS NOT ENOUGH
Unfortunately though, these changes do little to make the tC engaging. The steering still feels vague, over boosted and not that sporty. It does bite better in the corners, but the chassis isn’t terribly well balanced and is prone to body roll.
Under the hood, the engine remains the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine found in last year’s tC, but is down 1 hp and 1 lb-ft of torque to now develop 179 hp and 172 lb-ft. Power is sent to the front wheels by either with a six-speed manual transmission or the previously mentioned updated six-speed automatic. Power still feels decent and torquey and the tC is expected to hit 60 MPH in roughly 7.4 seconds. The exhaust does emit a bit of a snarl, which is fitting for a compact coupe with sporty pretensions. Fuel economy, you guessed it, should remain the same at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway for both the automatic and manual versions of the tC.
CHEAP, BUT PRACTICAL INTERIOR
Inside, the 2014 tC has not received much love during the 2014 restyle, which is unfortunate. Out-of-date hard plastics cover most surfaces, a family trait found in most Scions, and sightlines remain interesting.
There are a few highlights inside like the thick rimmed steering wheel, comfortable seats and new standard display audio system. The latter is a 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen infotainment unit that is making a debut in the tC, but will find itself as the standard entertainment unit in all 2014 Scion models. This is great news for potential buyers and may have Features Editor Sami Haj-Assaad scrambling out to his own 2013 FR-S with a tape measure to see if he can retrofit this unit.
The system’s interface looks good and is easy to operate. Within minutes we were navigating through all of the menus and customizing our audio and navigation setups. As has always been the case, the sound system in the tC is exceptional for a vehicle in this price range thanks mainly to the three range speakers grafted into each door. Rear seat and trunk dimensions are unchanged which means they remain on the small side, but, thanks to the tC being a hatchback, can accommodate medium sized items.
It is this unique coupe shape with hatchback utility that continues to keep the tC playing in a lonely field without any real, main competitors – for better and for worse.
On paper, it matches up well with the base Kia Forte Koup and Volkswagen Golf 2.5. But, the tC is more coupe than the Golf and more hatchback with the Forte Koup. Fringe competitors include the Hyundai Veloster and Honda Civic coupe, both of which the tC is a step above performance wise. But when it comes time to play with the big boy versions of these cars, the Civic Si or Veloster Turbo, the Scion falls short. We’ve said it before and we will say it again, the tC is a lukewarm hatch.
So, have the changes for 2014 completely changed the tC? No. It will most likely continue to be a small time player in the compact car market. Still, by improving and modernizing the tC, it remains a great alternative for buyers who go to a Scion dealership planning on buying a FR-S, but who are not ready to live with some of the drawbacks found in a dedicated sports car. That, and its no haggle base price of $19,965 makes it an attractive option that’s thousands less than its rear-drive sibling.