Driven: 2010 Scion tC

By John Beltz Snyder

April 06, 2010

The current generation of Scion tC is going out the door to make way for the new and improved 2011 model, which made its debut at the New York International Auto Show. While the new tC came to light with a new engine, new transmission, and new styling, we’re taking one last look at the one that’s on sale right now.

The Scion tC looks the part of the sporty coupe. Our test vehicle, in particular, had a dashing look about it, with optional features giving it that more athletic appearance. Also, it was equipped with a manual transmission, which gave promise for a good, enthusiastic experience as we spent some fast miles with it on some of our favorite local straights and twisties, learning its strengths and weaknesses.

We found a rubbery feel to many aspects of the car. To start, pushing the clutch pedal to the floor, there is a bell curve of resistance, with the pedal pushing back the most when about halfway depressed. It feels a little odd, like drawing a compound bow, and it makes the uptake a little more difficult. Until we got used to it, we had to be mindful not to let the clutch out too fast, as it tended to want to spring out just as it was beginning to engage. Like anything, though, we got used to it, but not until after a few unsmooth, jerking shifts.

The five-speed manual transmission in the tC is not the precision instrument one would find in, say, a Honda. This holds it back slightly as an enthusiast vehicle, and detracts from driver involvement. Hard, fast throws have the possibility of missing the gear, causing the shift lever to bounce off the notch in between. One might argue that this shouldn’t be a problem for a good driver, but we think a good gearbox should be smooth, accurate, and easily fast, especially when driven hard.

Our third complaint in the realm of driver input comes from the steering. It has a really elastic feeling, as though it were tensioned by rubber bands. It also has a bell curve in feel, only opposite to that of the clutch. On center, the steering is light and dead. Approaching lock, the pull toward center increases, and loosens again when straightening out. It feels gummy and indirect, and besides being an unpleasant sense point, it worried us slightly when aiming the car into turns.

Blasting through curves, the Scion tC felt capable, if not totally confident. Grip was decent, thanks in great part to Toyo rubber wrapped around eighteen-inch TRD alloy wheels. While not the choice for reducing road noise, they spoke volumes about the road surface, and how much grip was on hand when powering through tight corners.

The biggest downfall came from the suspension, for which the sporting tires were taking up the slack. The front corners of the Scion dove hard into every fast turn. The loose-spring feeling was surprising at first, causing us to back off the throttle a bit. Once we got used to it, we could push a little harder, but the springiness showed us very clearly where the limit was. With a better suspension, the performance threshold for the tC would have been raised greatly, and would have afforded much faster recovery from hard bends.

The power delivery from the tC’s engine made us smile. It’s 2.4-liter four produces a modest 161 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. It provides decent quickness at the low end, but at higher speeds the power felt like it petered out, making passing maneuvers long and labored. A little forced induction would go a long way here. Overall, though, we were pleased, and felt it was a good fit for an affordable sports coupe, and probably a good canvas for drivers with an inclination toward tuning, particularly with all the TRD products available (sadly, the TRD supercharger for the tC has been discontinued).

The appearance of the tC also matches its personality, and allows room for pretty slick customization. We love the liftback coupe style, and the tC spoke to our Acura RSX-loving hearts (and to our need for usable cargo space). Our test vehicle already had some of the add-ons included. We mentioned the wheels, but the ground effects, spoiler, sport muffler, and metal, golf ball-style shift knob also spoke to the tC’s sporting character. Again, the customization options available make the tC a bit more desirable, particularly when it comes to overcoming its weaknesses.

This is one thing customers should ponder considerably before purchasing. With all the optional equipment on our test car, it pushes the price above that of the $22,055 MSRP of the Honda Civic Si, which excels in just about all the places where the tC falls short. The base Civic Coupe, though down more than 20 horsepower from the tC, starts at about $1500 less than the base Scion. Don’t overlook the outgoing Scion tC when looking for your fun-to-drive sports coupe—it’s fun and characterful, if a bit odd in its driving dynamics. But definitely shop the competition, and make sure the Scion stands up to what you expect in terms of performance and driving style, because if it doesn’t strike you, there something else out there, with a similar price tag, that will.

2010 Scion tC
Engine: Inline-4, 2.4 liters, 26v
Output: 161 hp/162 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 8.4 sec (est.)
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 20/27 mpg
Weight: 2932 lb
Base Price: $17,000
Price As Tested: $23,468