Scion's sporty coupe, the tC, made its production form debut at the 2004 North American International Auto Show, going on sale in June of that year. Since that time it has gone on to become the brand's volume leader as well as boasting the youngest median age drivers in the industry at 28 years old.
In October of 2010 the second-gen version rolled out as a 2011 model.
But with four years being an eternity in the auto business, and with tC sales falling while FR-S sales are climbing and nearly matching the tC's numbers, it was time for a freshening - something that Scion announced at the 2013 New York Auto Show.
First, we'll take a look at the changes.
For starters, Toyota decided the tC deserved a healthy dose of FR-S, at least in the looks department.
The hood is longer and all-new, sloping down to a narrower upper intake and a larger, more aggressive trapezoidal-shaped lower grille. The bumper is more muscular and the headlights are narrower and more angular while the outboard faux brake cooling ducts now feature vertical LED accent lighting.
While the sheetmetal remains unchanged along its flanks, there's a new standard 18-inch alloy wheel finished in dark gray paint with machined spoke surfaces.
In back, it's shades of the FR-S with a larger and more aggressive rear bumper, narrower (but still squarish) clear taillamp lenses housing LED tail lights and a blacked-out lower rear valance blanked by recessed vertical reflector housings.
Like our previous tester, the back was made more interesting with the optional high profile rear lip spoiler although noticeably absent, once again, was a rear wiper for all that gently-raked rear glass real estate.
Inside, passengers will find the same nicely-bolstered seats covered in upgraded materials – a dark solid for the headrests and bolsters with a lighter pinstripe fabric for the seat inserts.
There is plenty of head, shoulder, and leg room for the driver and front passenger but, once again, all is not perfect. In this case there is no height adjustment for the front seat belts so that short drivers may find the belts too high, while taller drivers may find it tugging down on their shoulder.
The dashboard, itself, is unchanged and remains simple and straightforward. Unfortunately Toyota also left the dash and door trim pieces alone – although nicely grained it's the same plethora of hard plastics that's been upstaged in vehicles ranging from the Hyundai Accent to the Ford Focus and many more in between.
The nicely-shaped, leather-wrapped steering wheel features a flat bottom for better leg clearance and tilts as well telescopes. It also contains rocker controls for the audio system including volume, station up/down and a mode button. It's all well and good, but at night these buttons (along with the power window switches) don't illuminate – a feature that's particularly annoying for a vehicle in this price range.
At least the back-lit instruments are clear and easy to read, with a tach to the left, a speedo to the right and a fuel gauge between the two. Both outboard gauges are deeply recessed and easy to read in bright sunlight.
The HVAC controls, straight out of the Scion parts bin, have also not changed and consist of three rotary knobs: air delivery/recirculation, fan speed/rear defrost and temperature/AC.
The small center console contains the shifter, USB/Aux port, traction control off switch and two cup holders as well as a storage bin with a top that serves double duty as an inner arm rest.
As for the back seats, they're a bit low and head room getting in and out is limited. Ducking sometimes worked, but on a couple of occasions opening the sunroof offered the best solution. Rear seat passengers also complained of an even rougher ride than those in the front pair of seats. A big plus, however is that they can be folded in a 60/40 split with a low liftover height under the huge hatchback.
Sitting in the driver's seat, forward visibility is generally good. Looking over your shoulder our out the back, however is an altogether different story as the large B-pillars and steeply raked rear window hinder views to the side and cut down on the view out the back.
Finally, a shout out to Scion for addressing one of my biggest beefs: the lack of a combination power/volume knob on their radios.
Even the standard system adheres to this basic principle (and comes with a new 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen along with iPod connectivity, Bluetooth and HD radio technology), while the BeSpoke Premium Audio system on our tester not only features all of those, it also includes Aha. This enables users to connect to a compatible smart phone and access 30,000 free audio stations including audiobook stations, sports and news plus Scion's own station that, as of this writing, features 17 music channels.
The system also includes navigation as well as Aha's location-based services like Yelp and TripAdvisor. The new on-screen displays are another big step forward and, for the first time, I was able to pair my iPhone to the tC's Bluetooth system without having to refer to the owner's manual in order to complete the process.
Under the hood
The 2.5-liter inline four that offers both dual variable valve timing and a variable-induction intake manifold is a carryover from 2013.Horsepower, at 180, and torque, at 173 lbs.-ft, also remains unchanged and once again it can be coupled to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The engine is rated by the EPA at 23/31/26 city/highway/combined mpg. My observed fuel economy in primarily city driving was a commendable 27.8 mpg.
On the road
In addition to the interior and exterior enhancements, Toyota spent some resources enhancing body rigidity, steering response and suspension compliance. These improvements were accomplish with additional spot welds, retuning the electronic power steering, recalibrating shock damping and modifying the hardware associated with the stabilizer bars and suspension.
The result is that the tC, although hardly the FR-S, is less of a disappointment in the handling department. The steering, though still numb, feels more responsive. Likewise the ride, while still jittery at the absolute limit, feels more controlled with that limit higher than it was on the previous model. At the same time, both engine and road noise, while still intrusive, seems more muted than before.
As with the previous version, toss the tC into a corner and you'll be rewarded with very little body lean while steering weight builds progressively. Once again the six-speed manual on our tester shifted smoothly, although it was not nearly as short or precise as that of the FR-S.
Other than the occasional special edition, tC's come in just one flavor, albeit with a fairly extensive feature list. These goodies include air conditioning, keyless entry, power locks, mirrors and windows with one-touch driver's up/down.
The tC also comes standard with a total of 8 airbags including driver and front passenger, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags and driver and front passenger knee airbags.
While tC's start at an affordable price, adding a lot of goodies can quickly escalate the bottom line – with our tester being a prime example. Starting with a base price of $19,210, our Cement (that's right) flavored tester came with an optional TRD performance exhaust ($699), carpeted floor mats ($184), TRD 19-inch alloys wrapped in 234/35ZR19 Toyo Proxes uni-directional tires with locks ($2,199), high profile rear spoiler ($444), illuminated door sill ($375) and Bespoke premium audio system ($1,198). Adding in the $755 delivery, processing and handling fee meant that our tester checked in at precisely $25,064.
So here, as I see it, is the bottom line.
After its' refresh the tC is an even sportier-looking coupe that is well-equipped, versatile (given it's a hatchback) has decent acceleration and handling, a better ride, above-average fuel economy and, when not loaded up with TRD accessories, affordable.
The downside is that even in the most recent iteration there's still an abundance of engine, road and tire noise in the cabin, the ride still get choppy at the limit and its rear seat, while roomier, is nearly as unusable as that of the FR-S.
Another problem is that despite its improvements, much of the rest of the world has caught up to and passed the tC.
While it may have two more doors, the new Mazda Mazda3 is infinitely more entertaining to drive and it's priced in the same neighborhood as a base tC.
Load a tC up, on the other hand, and you're dangerously close to the price of an FR-S, a vehicle that's even more fun to drive than the Mazda (although those in northern climes may find year-round FR-S enjoyment a bit of a challenge).
Buyers will find the refreshed tC to be an even more stylish coupe that, because it's a Toyota, should prove to be reliable over the long haul. But the fact is I'm just not sure that's going to be enough to lure buyers anymore.