The cars we loved.
Product planners sometimes go out of their way to try to create specific images or personas for new cars. A great example of careful image planning was with Scion, the Toyota offshoot designed to appeal to Generation Y. To Scion’s delight, its boxy xB caused a small sensation amongst urban hipsters and started a wave of imitators in the boxy as cute segment (see Kia Soul).
While lunch box shaped cars were moving off Scion dealer lots quickly, another oddly named product, a coupe called the tC was going mostly un-noticed by Toyota sales standards. It wasn’t for lack of performance. If labeled a Toyota, it would have been somewhere between the departed low buck Paseo and the aspirational Celica. It actually out performs both of them in standard guise and does it at a lower cost than most of its competitors. Toyota was quickly becoming known for family appliances because the Celica, Supra and MR2 had become relics of history, leaving only family favorites like the Corolla, Camry and Prius (and a few truck/SUV things). Scion and the tC in particular was a way to win back some of Toyota’s old performance mojo (or style).
Built just for North America as a coupe, but later sold in other markets, the Scion tC uses running gear from the “T” platform European Toyota Avensis sedan. That’s a considered a large car by European standards, but manages to be a compact coupe as the tC. The tC got the Avensis MacPherson front and double wishbone rear suspension also. It was initially powered by a 2.4 liter four cylinder engine that made 160 hp without any boost from supercharging or turbos. Toyota Racing Development (TRD) offered a supercharger that brought power up to 200. With a quick 0 to 60 time of 7.4 seconds, the tC could easily out run its spiritual ancestor, the AE86 (Corolla GTS) or a Celica GT for that matter.
Other features like four wheel ABS disc brakes on 16 or 17 inch optional wheels rounded out the important appearance and mechanical bits. As a lift back, the tC offers hatch versatility, but conceals it with conventional “three box” trunk proportions.
In its attempt to appeal to Generation Y, a group said to be losing interest in cars, Scion has tried to simplify the buying process. By selling all of its cars in a monospec trim, customers are free to add from a long list of accessories from Toyota and its performance arm Toyota Racing Development (TRD). The single trim/engine concept was fine for most buyers as the tC comes loaded with all the things you expect in a modern car. It also comes with a few things you might not expect, like a panoramic glass roof and a six speed manual or automatic transmission. Oddly enough, a leather trimmed steering wheel is standard, but leather seats were not offered.
For those on a budget or with hard core tuner aspirations, Scion offered a stripped down Spec Package that omitted many of the creature comforts to the point of being a bare canvas for customizations. Besides TRD, many accessories are available from 3rd party suppliers. For a short while a TRD supercharger that boosted power to 200 was among them. In 2009 the supercharger option was withdrawn and TRD components reverted back to mostly to suspension, exhaust and appearance upgrades (or basterdazations depending on your view).
The tC is capable car by the standards of most performance minded people. It even has a small tuner community (small by some other Toyota car standards). So why has it been shunned by the greater performance crowd? Well, looks are everything in the hotly contested sport compact car market. The tC is no Supra or Celica in that regard, it was just too funky for some diehards and not funky enough for those who would rather have a xB or Kia Soul.
The basic shape recalls some recently departed cars like the Acura RSX, but lacks its sleek stance. The awkward greenhouse with its flat roof, made more strange by a thick “C” pillar that looked as if it would be more at home on a sedan. The typical family sedan like the Mazda 6 or Kia Optima has more grace. Overall the car looks as if it was conceived by various committees trying to find a signature look for the young Scion brand. Designed and built in Japan, it has the quirkiness that might be associated with JDM products, but lacking some of the charm. The interior gets it right with a simple and effective layout that feels almost upscale by virtue of its minimalism.
That’s too bad, because the tC is a great car. The arrival of the rear wheel drive FR-S to the Scion line-up has obscured the tC even more. A redesign in 2010 did not go far enough to address the aesthetic issues, but did improve the overall look and power was boosted to 180. Yet another refreshing for the 2014 model attempted to bridge the visual gap due to the arrival of the FR-S. The gaping mouth of the tC reflects the FR-S and new Corolla vaguely, as to suggest that it was part of a performance family all along. For most drivers, the tC is nearly as much fun as the FR-S, but with front wheel drive.
Now that Scion has two levels of performance coupe in its showrooms, the tC might get more attention as potential buyers looking for a FR-S are disappointed by its limited availability. With improved looks, the tC might convenience some of those buyers that looks aren’t everything.