Editor's note: Steve Robertson is on vacation. His column will return Sept. 24.
By Ann M. Job ~ The Associated Press
Young drivers don't really want a car that feels or looks cheap. They want something as upscale, stylish and fun as possible but affordable. This is the philosophy behind Scion's newest model, the sporty-looking, tC coupe, which debuted in the summer as an early 2005 model.
The tC not only comes with an unusual standard feature for the segment -- a panorama, power glass roof with front and rear panels -- it has special touches not expected in a four-cylinder-powered youth car.
These include seven fan speeds for the ventilation system, standard knee airbag to help a driver remain properly positioned during a frontal crash, first aid kit, three complimentary oil changes and four-wheel disc brakes with standard antilock system and Electronic Brake Distribution.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the tC is $16,465, which compares with $17,350 for a 2004 Honda Civic EX coupe and $19,825 for a base 2004 Volkswagen GTI.
Note that neither the Civic nor the GTI includes the tC's standard 17-inch alloy wheels and Z-rated tires, nor the knee airbag or free dealer-provided oil changes.
The tC has the most expensive starting sticker price of any Scion. The 2005 Scion xB wagon starts at $14,195.
Scion is Toyota's 1-year-old-plus youth brand, and all Scion vehicles are aimed at the large Generation Y group of consumers.
Like all Scions, the tC is offered with some 40 accessories -- everything from a Bazooka subwoofer to OBX Sport accelerator and brake pedal covers -- so young drivers can customize their vehicle to their liking.
There's even a first-for-Scion, dealer-installed supercharger system for the tC that works with the factory engine management system to boost horsepower in the engine from 160 to 200. Best of all, because the system was developed by Toyota Racing Development and is installed by authorized Scion/Toyota dealers, it does not void the car's engine warranty.
The tC's regular engine is a 160-horsepower, 2.4-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder with variable valve timing, or VVT-i, that's also in the larger Toyota Camry.
Developing a maximum 163 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm in the tC and mated to the standard five-speed manual transmission in the test car, this easy-revving engine made the somewhat heavy tC feel peppy, even on trips in city traffic. On the highway, the buzziness of the four cylinder can be noticeable, but wind noise isn't.
Note the tC is sleekly designed on the outside; even windshield wipers rest low on the window glass so as not to impede the air or block a driver's view.
Unfortunately, the tC has the lowest fuel economy rating of its group -- 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway for a manual transmission model. A four-speed automatic is an option.
The ride in the tC is somewhat stiff feeling as some road bumps send vibrations through to passengers. But there's a sense of composure, too, that doesn't make the experience punishing.
There's also a benefit: The tC handles competently, and the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering has a direct, accurate feel.
I'm still not too sure about the "brows" that are designed atop the headlamps to accent them. Nor did I warm to the mix of body panel contours up front.
But the tC's charcoal interior -- the only color offered -- sure won my favor. It's accented by a strong, cascading center console. Note the big knob in the middle for the ventilation system control is real aluminum, not plastic colored to look like aluminum.
Front bucket seats provide good support, interior materials don't look cheap, and the rear seats feel a bit airy because of the stationary glass panel above them (only the front glass panel of the panorama roof opens).
Scion calls the tC a five-passenger car, but it would be a very tight fit for three adults in back.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not provide crash test ratings for the tC, and there have been no safety recalls of the newly introduced vehicle.
Because the tC is new, Consumer Reports magazine does not provide a reliability rating.