Rating: 8.6
Bottom Line:
What’s not to like? If a sexy 2-door coupe is what you want, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better ride than this one. Plus, it represents an amazing value in the less than $20,000 marketplace.
  • Huge value for the dollar
  • Fun to drive, turn, stop, cruise
  • Hard-hitting sound system
  • Too many hard-plastic interior pieces
  • Thick C-pillar hurts rear visibility
  • Paddle shifters would improve the drive

Scion is one of the youngest brands in the automotive realm, and the tC is the most youth-oriented model in its lineup. It also accounts for 40 percent of the company's sales, so a lot is riding on the sporty coupe's 2011 redesign. Thankfully, Scion hit a home run with this sweet, relatively affordable ride.

The all-new Scion tC packs a wallop on the road, with more horsepower, more gears and more fun than ever before. And it does so without costing an arm and a leg. The tC's value per dollar is really retina-popping when you focus on the coupe's staggering list of standard amenities that would be hard to find on cars costing thousands more. Yep, the task of buying a car for less than $20,000 just got a whole easier.

Model Lineup
Inspired by 2007 FUSE prototype unveiled at the 2006 New York Auto Show, the 2011 tC redesign was characterized by Scion as more evolution than revolution. The silhouette is great, and the car is a well-proportioned and swoopy. Even so, we would like to have seen it move a few more steps up the evolutionary chart. A more aggressive scowl on the car's front end would have been nice, for example. But what's under the sheet metal really rocks.

The list of standard equipment Scion includes makes the tC a standout in the less than $20,000 crowd. We're talking about far more than floor mats and cargo nets. All tCs get a panoramic sliding moonroof, 18-inch rolling stock, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an 8-speaker 300-watt stereo and big disc brakes at all four corners. The only differentiation in trims is in gearbox preference.

Under the Hood
The new tC features a fresh 2AR-FE 4-cylinder engine that generates 180 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque from its 2.5 liters of displacement. That's up 19 horses and 11 lb-ft of torque from the outgoing edition.

The punchy 2.5-liter is backed by two new-to-the-tC gearboxes. A slick 6-speed manual replaces the 5-speed from the previous model. An optional a 6-speed automatic ($1,000) replaces the 2010 version's 4-speed auto. Fuel efficiency is the same for both transmissions, at 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway; both figures are better than the outgoing model.

Inner Space
The tC's thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel instills confidence and ensures that drivers have their hands full — literally and figuratively. The flat-bottom wheel also adds a sporty flair while easing ingress and egress.

The dash layout is logical, and it ties into the 2-tone color scheme in the seats and door panels. We like how the center stack has been slightly angled toward the driver, giving the cabin a more fluid aura. We were put off by the use of hard plastics throughout the interior, however, which detracts from the upscale ambitions that Scion said it had for the tC.

The front seats, an inch wider for 2011, provide more comfort but retain their supersecure side bolstering. Some 2-door coupe buyers cringe when they have to load up friends and hit the highway. Not tC owners. The rear seats recline and provide plenty of room to see to it that those riding in back will still be your friends at the end of a road trip. Cargo capacity checks in at 34.5 cubic feet, and thanks to 60/40 split seats that fold flat, it's all usable space.

Scion research says music is a vital part of its buyers' life, and the brand has always stepped up to the plate in this area. The trend continues in the new tC. All tCs sport eight speakers, a 300-watt 2-channel amplifier, and auxiliary and USB ports for your iPod and other digital music sources. The difference is the head unit. The base system has knobs; the premium Alpine unit has a touch screen and more audio versatility; and the up-level setup features navigation. We were, however, surprised to see Bluetooth connectivity offered as a dealer-installed option, not standard.

On the Road
We drove three versions of the tC at the press introduction in San Diego: a manual, an automatic and another manual outfitted with some performance gear from Toyota Racing Development (TRD), Toyota's tuning arm.

Up first was a Crimson Red manual with the top-of-the-line audio system featuring the Scion Navigation System. The first things to strike us were the smoothness of the 6-speed transmission, the pull and growl of the engine and the quick reflexes of the sport-tuned suspension.

Moving to a Nautical Blue manual outfitted with the Alpine Premium audio system, TRD exhaust, TRD big brake kit and TRD sway bars front and rear was a real eye-opener. The exhaust note carried the same tone as the standard model, but the volume was punched up. The car stopped a bit more authoritatively and the suspension was more focused and precise. If you like to drive, the TRD mods pay big dividends.

A Cement Gray automatic with standard audio was our last date of the day. We love the industrial, new-for-2011 color, but the automatic gearbox made for a less engaging drive. The 2.5-liter engine sang the same song in its sweet spot but did not pull you back in the seat like the manual model did. Zero-to-60-mph numbers highlight this point, as Scion reports the manual model runs a respectable 7.6-second sprint while the automatic-equipped tC posts 8.3 seconds. The 6-speed auto is sequentially shiftable and would benefit from paddle shifters.

Gearbox selection aside, the tC's well-executed suspension nearly stole the show, providing intuitive interaction between car and driver and a smooth, comfortable ride. It was perfectly matched to the responsive new engine, making it hard to give up the keys.

Right for You?
What's not to like? If a sexy 2-door coupe is what you want, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better ride than this one. Consider that the manual starts at a scant $18,990 and the automatic runs $19,990. Then look at that feature-laden standard-equipment list and the tC's true value comes into sharp focus. We are confident such considerations and an in-depth test drive will garner more converts to the Scion brand.

(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Scion provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.