2014 Scion tC review: Scion's other sporty coupe

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It may not be the fastest ride on the lot, but the tC is still fun to drive when you're not racing the clock. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

After a week behind the wheel, the tC reminds me quite a bit of my old 2004 Acura RSX Type-S, only with better low-end, daily-drivable torque at the expense of the high-revving, high-power VTEC hijinx.

Cabin tech, or the lack thereof

The tC's standard cabin tech setup isn't bad at all, which is good because there aren't many options available.

At the center of the dashboard is a Pioneer touchscreen receiver that features a three-band EQ and three equalizer presets. Audio sources include Bluetooth audio streaming, USB with iPod connectivity, a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, a single-slot CD player, and an AM/FM radio with HD Radio decoding. Missing from our example was any sort of satellite radio. I'm not a fan of satellite radio in the first place, so the omission was no big deal. However, if you are, there may be a dealer-installed solution to fill this gap.

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From USB to Bluetooth audio, the standard Pioneer audio system boasts the usual array of digital audio sources. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Audio plays through an eight-speaker stereo system that is loud enough to overcome the road noise inherent to the Scion's cabin. Up front there's a tweeter, a midrange, and a woofer in each door, while in back you'll find two full range drivers. The three EQ presets offered by the Pioneer system are Normal, Hear, and Feel. I found that Hear was best for spoken-word programming such as sports radio, podcasts, and audio books, while the bass-heavy Feel was best for hip-hop, electronica, and any other thumpity-thumping tunes.

Bluetooth hands-free calling is also standard, however the Scion infotainment system doesn't support MAP text messaging. There are also no steering wheel controls for the hands-free calling or voice command, despite the presence of volume, skip, and cruise controls. So, you'll have to mess with the touchscreen to initiate, answer, or end a call -- not so great.

The receiver features a button for NAV, but that button doesn't actually do anything except bring up an error message unless you have the optional BeSpoke system equipped. We didn't.

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Each door features a tweeter, midrange, and woofer. This audio system gets plenty loud. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The BeSpoke system adds voice-activated GPS navigation and Aha app integration. Through the Aha app on a paired smartphone, users gain access to Internet radio, podcasts, audio books, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Trip Advisor), and location-based online destination search.

Safety tech is pretty much limited to airbags, stability control systems, and Toyota's Smart Stop unintentional-acceleration-prevention system, which prevents the car from accelerating if you stomp both the gas and brakes at the same time. There's no collision prevention or warnings and no blind-spot monitoring. Then again, what do you expect at this price point? I suppose I'd like the option to add a rear camera.

One of the best things about any Scion vehicle is the upgradeability. The stereo system uses standard double-DIN sized receiver and isn't deeply integrated with the rest of the vehicle's systems. So it's easy to yank out and replace with a better aftermarket setup. That's a rarity these days.

In sum

No, it's not the Scion FR-S, but that doesn't mean that the Scion tC is a lesser car. Judged within the constraints of its mission, the tC is a fantastic car. Drivers who are looking for an easily upgradeable vehicle will appreciate the use of standard-size car audio components and Toyota/Scion's encouragement of third-party parts manufacturers. Drivers looking for an inexpensive car that invests its budget into a flexible powertrain and a suspension setup that doesn't cut corners, rather than gee-whiz gadgetry, will appreciate that simplicity is the tC's strongest feature. New owners intimidated by the car-buying process will appreciate Scion's simple one-price, haggle-free pricing structure.

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Drivers looking for a sporty ride without a lot of gadgetry will appreciate that simplicity is the tC's strongest feature. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The 2014 tC starts at $19,695 for the manual transmission or $20,965 for our automatic shifting example. Our example arrived with no options, and the destination charges are built-in, so that's also our as-tested price.

You'll want to add $79 for the cargo cover, which we didn't have. There are also options for floor mats, exterior graphics, spoilers, and fog lights to customize your ride. TRD accessories such as exhaust and suspension upgrades can add moderate performance and styling upgrades. Scion also offers a variety of special editions as part of its Monogram, Scion10, and Release Series programs.

For CNET's purposes, the only option worth discussing is the $1,198 BeSpoke infotainment upgrade that adds voice-activated navigation and Aha app integration. For that sort of money, you can just pop the stock receiver out and add something better from the aftermarket -- such as a Pioneer AppRadio 3, which lets you simply use your phone to fill your media and navigation needs, and Pioneer's optional rear camera -- so shop around before checking that box on the dealer's order sheet.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Scion tC
Trim Base
Powertrain 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, direct injection, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, 26 mpg combo
Observed fuel economy 24.9 mpg
Navigation Optional BeSpoke navigation, not equipped
Bluetooth phone support Standard, voice-activated
Digital audio sources USB/iPod, Bluetooth audio, CD player, HD Radio, optional Aha app support
Audio system Eight-speaker Pioneer audio, touchscreen
Driver aids n/a
Base price $19,965
Price as tested $20,965

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