History is important, and each automotive decade is known for some trend in car culture. The 1960s were known for muscle cars. The 1970s were often associated with malaise-era gas-crises vehicles. The 1980s saw the rise of the compact Japanese models. Part of the 1990s legacy was the rise of the sport-compact segment. These cars were mostly front-wheel drive with stiffer, sportier suspension systems, quick-revving four-cylinder engines, rounded-off body lines, and most came with two doors. They were fun to drive, not too expensive, and decent on gas. From about 1990 on, the sport-compact genre began its ascent to popularity, and most manufacturers had a player in the game. The list was extensive: Acura Integra and RSX, Honda Prelude and Civic Si, Mitsubishi Eclipse (and its Dodge/Plymouth siblings), Ford Probe and Escort ZX2, Nissan 200SX and NX2000, Mazda MX-3 and MX-6, Hyundai Tiburon, Chevrolet Cavalier, Geo Storm, Dodge Neon, and Toyota Celica—these were all part of the burgeoning sporty segment that would scoop up a new generation of gearheads as we headed into the 21st century.
As we rocketed into the new frontier of the 2000s, fewer and fewer two-door models were available and sporty, small hatchbacks, sedans, and rear- and all-wheel-drive cars took their place. However, unlike many automakers, Toyota decided to keep the two-door FWD sport-compact going with its seventh-generation Celica. But even that car would be put to pasture, in favor of a car from the brand’s newly formed Scion lineup. In 2004, the MY2005 Scion tC hit dealer lots and sold remarkably well. It was fairly priced, entertaining to drive, and offered a seemingly endless catalog of aftermarket parts and accessories, perfect for established "tuner" crowd.
The tC saw a redesign in 2011, and for 2014 (and with far fewer two-door FWD vehicles on the market), Scion has refreshed the tC yet again.
There haven’t been tons of changes to the ’14 tC when compared to the ’11–’13 models; many of the changes are cosmetic. The front and rear fasciae have been redone and showcase new projector headlights, LED running lights and taillights, revised bumpers, and newly styled 18” wheels. The changes, while not drastic, do help the tC to remain fresh. The car’s design has always been attractive and athletic looking, and the ’14 model is no different. It’s a good looking car—especially in Absolutely Red.
Under the hood is the familiar Toyota 2AR-FE—a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which can also be found in the Toyota Camry and RAV4. The DOHC mill features dual VVT-i valve timing and makes 179 hp and 173 lbs./ft. of torque. While this engine might not be new, the automatic transmission is. With six gears, it makes its shifts nearly twice as fast as the ’11–’13 automatic did. It also features Toyota’s dynamic rev management tech, which was adopted from the RWD FR-S sports car.
The engine doesn’t feel all that smooth and makes a good amount of noise. The new transmission works well and shifts reasonably smoothly, although when stopped and in gear, I noticed an annoying vibration in the cockpit. If you shifted into neutral, that vibration went away, but it did this the entire week we had the car. In addition, our test car had a consistent whine at lower speeds. I never found out if it was the engine or transmission making the racket. Instead, we just imagined the car had a supercharger.
The car could've benefited from a supercharger as performance isn’t too impressive. The compact two-door, which felt hefty at times, isn't nearly as fun as its appearance suggests. The combination of engine noise and so-so performance gives the tC an unrefined and not-so-athletic quality. For ’14, Scion made changes to the tC’s stabilizer bar hardware, shock absorbers, and has increased body rigidity. It’s no FR-S, but it doesn’t have a ton of body roll and handles adequately. But when it comes down to it, and especially when equipped with the automatic, "tC" might as well stand for "Toyota Camry." Then again, the latest Camry is actually quite good (as is the new Corolla).
|A friend's 2013 Scion tC at left; the 2014 tC on the right. Note the different rear fascia and taillights.|
The sport-compact segment, or perhaps compact performance market, has undoubtedly evolved over the last 20+ years, and now offers cars like the Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi EVO, Ford Focus (and Fiesta) ST, and of course, the Scion FR-S. But if you’re set on having a two-door car that puts power down to the front wheels though an automatic transmission, the Kia Forte Koup, the Hyundai Elantra Coupe, or Hyundai Veloster are your choices (the Civic Si is only available with a manual trans). The tC is still sportier than the Elantra, but the Veloster and Forte Koup both now can be had with a 201-hp turbo engine.
Luckily for Scion, there isn’t too much competition in the segment. However, there also aren’t many buyers. If it’s like the rest of the Scion lineup, it’ll get minor changes here and there, a new limited-edition release series each year, and will eventually fade to black. Until then, it’ll likely live in the shadow of the company’s fantastic RWD FR-S which also has two doors, a four-cylinder engine, and plenty of “sport” to go with its “compact.”