The redesigned Scion tC is proof that you don't have to spend a lot to have a car that's fun to drive. Made by Toyota, it costs less than $25,000 as I sampled it, nicely equipped.
The Scion brand was created in 2002 to lure younger buyers into Toyota showrooms with sporty, practical, sometimes funky and always inexpensive vehicles. The first tC, launched in 2004, was all that, and the new one that went on sale in October is all that and a little more.
The new engine has 19 more hp. There are two more forward speeds for the automatic transmission and one more for the stick shift. There are thicker stabilizer bars, quicker steering, bigger brakes and larger diameter wheels with wider tires.
With those improvements, the new tC accelerates quickly, corners flatly and is simply a delight to drive hard. Zero to 60 miles per hour takes about eight seconds with automatic transmission, about a half second less with the manual, Scion says. Scion is considering offering a dealer-installed optional supercharger, as was available for a time on the previous tC.
Despite the increase in power, fuel economy is improved by 2 mpg in local driving and 3 mpg on the highway -- still on regular gas.
But, especially if you're somewhere north in years of Scion's target youth market, make sure before you leave a deposit on this five-passenger two-door hatchback that you can stand the racket from the road and engine noise and that you can live with the hard ride.
Prices for the 2011 tC begin at $18,995 with a six-speed stick shift and $19,995 with a six-speed automatic. So prices are up by about $1,000 over the 2010 models.
The automatic transmission easily permits manual gear changing by sliding the shifter lever to the left and then nudging it fore or aft to upshift or downshift.
I found the tC's new interior a friendly place but wished there was a power driver's seat available to make fine adjustments. More quibbles: The sun visors don't extend backward on their support rods for when the sun is coming from the side; the temperature control knob operates with annoying stiffness; some of the stereo controls are inscrutably labeled, and there are no gauges for coolant temperature or oil pressure -- only warning lights.
There's an inch more rear-seat legroom for 2011. Wheelbase and overall length are the same, though the new tC is more than an inch wider, so there's a bit more shoulder and hip room inside as well. The rear seat backs fold down to increase cargo room to as much as 34.5 cubic feet.
Consumer Reports called the previous tC much better than average in reliability but wouldn't recommend the car because of mediocre Insurance Institute for Highway Safety scores and the lack of electronic stability control. But the new model does have stability control as standard, and the institute rates the 2011 tC a "top safety pick."