2012 Scion tC Review: What Is It
When the Scion tC arrived for 2005 to complete Toyota’s trifecta of low-priced, youth-oriented vehicles, it was an instant hit. A small four-seat coupe with a hatchback and folding rear seats, the tC looked more upscale than its price tag indicated, and offered a good blend of style, performance, durability, and practicality. Not surprisingly, then, few changes were made to the popular Scion tC recipe during a six-year run leading up to a redesign for the 2011 model year.
The second-generation Scion tC sticks to the original formula – four seats, hatchback, four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive – and adds plenty of attitude in the form of more aggressive design. It’s still sold with a generous level of standard equipment, and buyers can further personalize the tC using a catalog of dealer-installed goodies. Scion also continues to offer limited-production Series Release special-edition variants each year, to keep fans of the brand rah-rahing about the car to anyone who will listen.
Unfortunately, it seems fewer and fewer people are cheerleading for the tC, especially now that the 2013 FR-S has gone on sale.
2012 Scion tC Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
You might be surprised by the fact that the 2012 Scion tC starts at $19,305, including the $730 destination charge. Getting the automatic transmission adds another $1,000 to the window sticker. If these prices don’t sound like value to you, take a look at the standard equipment list.
All Scion tCs take a “mono-spec” approach to equipment, meaning that with the exception of the Series Release 7.0, all come the same way. You choose a paint color, a transmission type, and then consult an accessories catalog to personalize your vehicle. Even if you decide not buy any upgrades, the tC is impressively equipped.
Highlights from the standard features list include air conditioning, power side mirrors, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, a leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, and a trip computer.
Beyond these features, every tC has 18-inch aluminum wheels, projector beam headlights, LED side mirror turn signal repeaters, and a panoramic glass sunroof. The front seats feature sport bolstering, the driver’s chair is height adjustable, and the Pioneer audio system features Bluetooth, HD Radio, a USB/iPod connection, and an auxiliary audio input jack. There’s even a first aid kit in the cargo area, and the standard Scion Service Boost program provides complimentary scheduled service for the first two years or 25,000 miles of ownership.
Now do you see the value in that under-$20,000 price tag?
2012 Scion tC Review: What It’s Up Against
The compact coupe segment is expanding for 2013, adding the Hyundai Elantra Coupe to a group that includes the Honda Civic, Hyundai Veloster, Kia Forte, MINI Cooper Hardtop, and Volkswagen Beetle. The Scion tC compares favorably to all of these vehicles in terms of styling, amenities, and value, and beats most of them in terms of practicality.
2012 Scion tC Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2012
- Series Release 7.0 model debuts with High Voltage Yellow paint, honeycomb lower grille inserts, black wheels, black side mirror caps, and a Toyota Racing Development (TRD) body kit
How It Looks
Our test car was not the Series Release 7.0 model, as evidenced by its Cement paint. But it had been tricked out with gorgeous (and expensive, at $2,199) 19-inch wheels from Toyota Racing Development, as well as a TRD performance exhaust system ($699), TRD performance springs ($399), fog lights ($340), fake carbon-fiber appliques on the B-pillars ($89), and a rear bumper applique that says “SCION” ($69).
Among the tC’s competitors, I think this Scion is the most appealing from a design standpoint. Whereas the original tC was rather soft and amorphous in appearance, the second-generation tC, though plainly derivative of the original, features sharper edges, more aggressive styling, and blacked-out pillars that give the car a “floating roof” appearance.
Despite the fact that I’m a middle-aged father of a teenager getting ready to learn how to drive, I liked the way our test car looked. The Cement paint job looks like a flat, matte color until you get up close and spot a faint metallic character to it. The TRD wheels look good enough to almost justify the added cost, and the performance exhaust outlet is larger than stock but not childishly oversized. The only thing that made me feel silly driving this car around town with my gray hair sparkling in the sunlight beneath the open panoramic sunroof was its lowered stance.
However, as we will learn in the pages that follow, those TRD performance springs are well worth the trade-off.
2012 Scion tC Review: Interior
What’s New for 2012
- Standard 300-watt Pioneer audio system with HD Radio and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and music streaming
- Series Release 7.0 models feature black-and-yellow seat fabric, a yellow-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel, special serialized badges, a Smart Key keyless entry and ignition system, and a red TRD ignition button
How It Looks and Feels
The worst thing about the Scion tC’s cabin is the hard, grained plastic that scuffs and scratches easily. The dashboard, upper door panels, and other surfaces are covered with the stuff, and it shows every blemish and trapped piece of lint in stark relief. Honestly, I would rather pay a few hundred extra bucks in terms of sticker price to get better materials.
From a design and layout standpoint, the tC looks and feels appropriately sporty, but we take issue with two items. First, the tC’s gauge cluster is difficult to read during the day, even with the orange backlit illumination cranked all the way up. Style supersedes function in this regard. Second, the new Pioneer stereo is unnecessarily confusing to use. Yeah, I know, it’s cool for the controls to resemble an aftermarket head unit, which makes it seem like you’ve ponied up a bunch of extra cash for a sick system.
The Scion tC is positioned as a small and sporty coupe, but it offers surprising levels of comfort and space within its four-passenger cabin. The front seats feature sport bolsters, and the driver’s seat is height adjustable. In combination with the thick-rimmed, tilt/telescopic sport steering wheel, it’s easy to find a perfect driving position. Not only that, the seats prove comfortable and supportive on longer trips.
The tC’s back seat is surprisingly roomy, even for adults. The only issue is headroom, due to the rakish roofline. That said, I’m an even six-feet with a 33-inch inseam and size-12 feet, and was perfectly comfortable when sitting behind the driver’s seat when it was set to my preferred position. Tip-and-slide front seatback mechanisms are useful for easy loading and unloading of passengers, and they automatically return to their previous seat-track position.
Cargo space is generous, too. Behind the rear seat, the tC holds 14.7 cu-ft. of cargo, about the same as a midsize sedan. With both halves of the rear seat folded down, the tC can swallow up to 34.5 cu-ft. of junk in its trunk.
If this car had a couple of reverse-opening access doors, like a Mazda RX-8, it could even work as a family car. Seriously.
2012 Scion tC Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2012
- No changes
How Does It Go
The Scion tC is equipped with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 180 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 173 lb-ft. of torque at 4,100 rpm. Installed in the 3,091-pound tC, this is enough motive force that the car never feels slow, but neither does it feel particularly fast, getting to 60 mph in just under seven seconds with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. Choose the six-speed automatic, and you’ll need another half a second to get to 60 mph.
The Scion’s four-cylinder isn’t particularly fuel-efficient, either. The EPA says the car will get 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg in combined driving regardless of transmission choice. We averaged 25.2 mpg and spent a good chunk of the miles trolling Los Angeles freeways.
While the engine supplies perfectly adequate power and many people might find 25 mpg to be an upgrade over their current wheels, we think this car needs a more sophisticated powerplant that gets better fuel economy, as well as an optional TRD turbocharger to provide greater oomph.
2012 Scion tC Review: How It Drives
Before we discuss how much fun we had flinging this Scion tC down the ribbons of blacktop that are draped across the Santa Monica Mountains, it is important to remember that our test car came with $3,148 worth of TRD suspension, wheel, and tire upgrades. As we discovered, performance springs, a sway bar set, and 19-inch wheels shod with sticky 235/35 Toyo Proxes 4 performance tires go a long way toward making a compact coupe drive like a slot car.
Equipped with these bits and pieces, I was able to maximize engine output while gaining elevation because I could carry more speed into and through turns. As a result, the tC felt strong enough when climbing hills, if not outright powerful. The manual gearbox glides between gates with precision and authority, but the throws are long, which explains why Scion offers an optional TRD Quickshifter Kit for $145. I strongly recommend this if you plan to flog your car.
Sluicing across the mountains to the beach, our test tC proved an eager and capable companion in the quest for thrills, but the car’s electric steering felt disconnected and over-assisted, traits that can almost be forgiven thanks to how great the steering wheel itself is to grip.
Due to circumstances beyond our control (slow-moving tourists in a rental car, oblivious to common motorist courtesy) we did not get an opportunity to really punish the tC brakes. Under normal driving circumstances they work fine. Dealers will install a TRD High Performance Big Brake Kit if you’d like, which comes with four-piston fixed calipers, single-piece rotors with a patented AeroRotor internal cooling vane design, Kevlar/ceramic brake pads, and stainless steel braided brake lines. But this hardware runs $1,675, so unless you’re planning to track your tC, you probably don’t need all this stuff.
The good news is that the TRD suspension bits and low-profile rubber don’t compromise ride quality the way you might expect them to. Sure, our tC bounced a little bit more than it otherwise may have, but unlike the stiff, almost brittle sport suspension tuning on, say, a Toyota Camry SE, this TRD-tweaked Scion delivered terrific grip and excellent roll control combined with a comfortable highway and city ride quality.
2012 Scion tC Review: Final Thoughts
By offering sporty styling combined with genuine space for four people, a sizable cargo area, a long list of standard features, numerous opportunities for customization, excellent crash-test scores, and the promise of Toyota dependability at a low price, the Scion tC has plenty going for it both on paper and in photos.
Drive one, however, and you truly realize what a value this car represents. I would gladly pay even more in exchange for an interior that didn’t look and feel like it should be cleaned with a garden hose.
2012 Scion tC Review: Pros and Cons
- Exterior styling
- Interior comfort
- Hatchback practicality
- Top-notch crash-test ratings
- TRD performance upgrades
- Lots of bang for the buck
- Cheap interior plastics
- Tight rear seat headroom
- Silly stereo controls
- Merely adequate acceleration and fuel economy
Scion provided the vehicle for this review.
Exterior photos by Christian Wardlaw