A little rough, but impressive value
Take a walk around a 2016 Scion tC, window-sticker in hand, and you'll be favorably impressed. The car is nicely proportioned, and it looks fast and athletic. The 18-inch alloy wheels are pleasingly shiny, stylish and shapely without being gaudy. You'll take note of the panoramic glass moonroof and the chrome-tipped exhaust. A quick glance at the window sticker will reveal a long list of desirable standard features and a comparatively modest price of $21,330 – or $20,180 if you opted for the 6-speed stick shift.
Perhaps best of all, the tC is at heart a Toyota. Scion is the Japanese automaker's youth-oriented brand, so the tC is edgier yet competitively priced and easily customized to fit the owner's personal preferences.
Come a little closer and you'll find additional appealing traits. With the rear seats upright, the tC has 14.7 cubic feet of cargo room – more if the seats are lowered. And it's possible for small-to-medium-sized adults to sit comfortably in back. (Anyone above 5-10 is likely to bump his head on the hatchback at some point, since the tC rides rather firmly.)
The window sticker makes for some good reading. The base 4-cylinder engine in all tCs packs 179 horsepower, which adds up to quick acceleration in a car that weighs in at just a ton and a half and change. Interior features include a 7-inch color touch-screen, push-button start, power windows and locks, leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, and cruise control. The sticker also reveals the tC has received 5-star ratings in government crash tests. A quick visit to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety site reveals the similar 2015 tC was rated a Top Safety Pick.
So what's not to like? Once inside, you'll notice the molded plastic parts are on the flimsy side. No, the panels probably won't warp or crack, but they give the impression someone in authority was focused on cutting costs. Bolstering this interpretation is the car's comportment on the highway. The handling and acceleration are mostly satisfying, but the stiff ride and high noise levels dampen the driving enjoyment.
Our test car, painted Magnetic Gray Metallic, had no options. Most of the available optional features are dealer-installed items such as spoilers, illuminated door sills, lower body graphics, and performance and styling enhancements from Toyota Racing Development. Options some might find desirable, such as blind-spot warning system, leather upholstery and rear-view camera, are unavailable. But Scion's BeSpoke system adds navigation and audio upgrade for $900.
Just a few models in the tC's price range come with two doors instead of four – the Kia Forte Koup, Hyundai Veloster, Volkswagen Beetle and Honda Civic. These models, as well as a host of four-door subcompacts, tend to ride more smoothly and quietly than the tC. Comparably equipped, however, they're likely to cost more and may not be as quick off the line.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2016 Scion tC
Engine: 2.5-liter inline Four, 179 horsepower, 172 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,124 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear
Wheels: 18x7.5-in. alloy
Tires: P225/45R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 14.7 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline