2013 Scion tC Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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It's amazing the perspective a couple of years can provide: When I first drove the Scion tC, which was introduced for the 2011 model year, I was favourably impressed by its combination of streetwise coupe style and almost hatchback-like practicality. But I still had a hard time truly liking the car, because as the most sports-oriented entry in Scion's youth-oriented lineup the front-wheel drive tC seemed like a bit of an impostor - an impression that was reinforced when motorsports teams built rear-wheel drive versions of the car for drift racing, gaining the tC international exposure by making it into something it wasn't.

Flash forward to the 2013 model year and Scion now has a genuine rear-wheel drive sports coupe in its lineup in the form of the FR-S, which is a phenomenal little machine and is already making its name in drift racing circles without major modifications to its fundamental layout. This leaves the tC free to stake out its real territory as a sporty yet useful coupe with street-savvy good looks and far more practicality than its FR-S sibling. And with the fully-caffeinated FR-S available on the menu the tC becomes much more likeable because sometimes, after all, a decaf is what you really want.

Did I say decaf? Perhaps in the case of my test car "low-caffeine" is more appropriate, because in its Release Series 8.0 trim the Scion tC still has what it takes to awaken your senses. The limited-production Release Series 8.0 package adds $3,535 of optional equipment to the tC including "Absolutely Red" paintwork, special gloss black 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, a centre exhaust, full skirt package, colour-accented seat fabric, paddle-shifters for automatic-equipped cars, and RS badging inside and out. My test car was also fitted with the automatic transmission ($1,050) and a premium Pioneer audio upgrade ($500).

In all other respects the Release Series 8.0 is the same as the regular tC, which means it already comes with a long list of equipment (RS 8.0 editions aside, the tC is what is known as a "mono-spec" car). Standard gear on the tC includes a panoramic sunroof, air conditioning, 8-speaker audio system with Bluetooth compatibility, 18-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, reclining back seats, power locks and windows, keyless entry, projector-style headlights and more.

Power is from a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine producing 180 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque, which provides good acceleration and reasonable fuel economy running on regular gas (rated city/highway consumption is 9.2 / 6.4 L/100km with the manual transmission and 8.9 / 6.3 with the automatic). My one complaint is that the combination of my test car's brappy centre exhaust and economy-seeking 6-speed automatic transmission meant that the engine tended to drone along at low revs more than I'd like. With the 6-speed manual transmission I imagine this would be less of a problem.

Safety certainly isn't a problem with the tC - with Toyota as the parent company, all Scions get the full range of Star Safety System equipment including smart stop technology, vehicle stability control, and antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. The tC also scored well in crash tests, aided by its full array of eight airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and active front headrests.

On the road I found the tC agile and responsive, if not especially dynamic feeling. The fat, flat-bottomed steering wheel feels good in the hands, but the electric power steering doesn't provide as much off-centre feel as I'd like. Overall cornering grip, however, is quite good thanks to the MacPherson strut front suspension and double-wishbone rear setup.

From a practical standpoint I was once again impressed with the tC. During my week with the test car I managed to fit a five-foot tall money tree in the back with no problem (that's 1.5 metres if your brain works in metric), while on another trip the tC easily accommodated two tall teenage passengers, a trumpet, and a baritone sax in its travel case (if you've never seen a baritone sax, let's just say that the travel case looks like something the mob might use to transport bodies in). Try that in an FR-S.

Realistically, of course, the FR-S isn't the tC's competition. Instead the tC, which starts at a base price of $22,435 destination-in, goes up against cars like the $20,994 Hyundai Veloster, the $20,550 Kia Forte Koup and the $19,735 Honda Civic Coupe (all prices including destination). What the Scion offers in this showdown is an extensive list of standard features, a unique sense of style, a powerful engine, and plenty of practicality with one of the biggest, most comfortable back seats in the segment - certainly enough to make it a likeable contender.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sports Coupe, Scion, 2013, tC, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

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