SAN DIEGO--When the first Scion tC arrived in 2004, it was aimed at young buyers who craved an affordable coupe that met their BMW 3-series aspirations. But trying to do a Bimmer for half the price left Scion owners asking for more power, more room, better brakes, and improved fuel economy in the next version.
Those needs have been met with the 2011 tC redesign, but with a sticker price nearly $1,200 higher. At a time when it's nearly impossible for young buyers to get a new-car loan, they are confronted with the fact that a tC's price will quickly zip past $20,000.
The basics: The tC's basic platform continues to borrow heavily from the Europe-market Toyota Avensis. Although the wheelbase and length remain the same, the new tC is slightly wider, which translates into more rear seat room.
The engine, borrowed from the base Toyota Camry, gained some displacement as well as 19 horsepower and 11 pounds-feet of torque. That translates into a claimed 7.6-second 0-to-60 time with a six-speed manual transmission; 8.3 seconds with the six-speed automatic. Both times are nearly a second quicker than the old model.
Toyota engineers increased the size of the brakes in front and back. They also widened the track and lowered the floor, giving the tC a lower center of gravity and better handling. The rigidity of the suspension was increased as well. The power steering system has changed from hydraulic to electric.
Notable features: The rear seats recline an additional 10 degrees on demand. The front seats have position memory for when a passenger gets into the back seat.
The redesigned tC adds brake assist, a passenger-knee airbag, traction and vehicle-stability control that can be turned off with a button on the instrument panel. It also introduces a brake override system.
The tC's moonroof, which had been prone to shattering in the first generation, has been redesigned with a mesh wind deflector.
Scion already has 45 accessories ready for the new model, with plans for more performance pieces from Toyota Racing Development.
What Scion says: "There is no question this is evolutionary," Scion Vice President Jack Hollis said at the media introduction here. "Our target was to get to the top of the sporty-subcompact segment."
Compromises and shortcomings: No paddle shifters in the automatic transmission version. Bluetooth should be a standard feature for this demographic. Not enough asphalt sheeting in the floor means lots of tire noise intrudes into the cabin. While the stocky C-pillar is an interesting design cue, it makes for a huge blind spot.
The market: The original tC blew the overpriced Acura RSX into oblivion and made the plasticky Hyundai Tiburon and Mitsubishi Eclipse irrelevant. But the small-coupe market is fickle. Jim Hall, an analyst with 2953 Analytics outside Detroit, thinks that the 2011 tC may not have been changed enough and that Scion should have challenged the conventional wisdom with something entirely different.
Although Scion was launched with the idea of a quick-turning product portfolio, the tC was in the lineup for six years--ancient history for young buyers.
Sales peaked at 79,125 in 2006 but declined with the recession and as the traditional sport-coupe segment fell sharply. Scion expects the new tC, which goes on sale in October, to continue to represent 40 percent of the brand's sales.
The skinny: The tC is crucial for Scion, having accounted for 41 percent of the brand's nearly 800,000 sales to date. It also is the youngest car in Toyota's lineup in terms of the average age of the owners--just 26. It's a definite improvement in performance. But in moving it from a budget coupe to something more aspirational, could Scion price the tC out of reach of its young followers?