Not-so-angry bird

by Lesley Wimbush . Feb 26 2016

What started out as a review has become a requiem. Thirteen years after Scion’s launch, parent company Toyota has announced that its “youth” brand has been killed.

Scion was conceived in 2003 in an attempt to attract younger buyers, but it never really resonated with its target audience. The recession hit hard in a segment whose buyers had very little disposable income to begin with, especially when you consider everything in Scion’s lineup was more expensive than the competition. But its eclectic little collection of vehicles won’t be axed completely; most will be rebadged as Toyotas.

That’s good news, I suppose, for the 1,135 Canadians who purchased a Scion tC last year. But it’s hard to visualize just who those buyers were. The tC is an odd little car to categorize. The styling could best be described as polarizing, with its flat roof and sharply angled C-pillar. The wide tires, angry anime face, gaping grille and air inlets suggest a car with some fairly serious sportiness, but it’s mostly show and not a lot of go. So who is the target buyer for a car that looks fast and furious, but drives like a grumpy Corolla? The Scion tC is probably the perfect car to buy your newly licensed teenager; it looks cool, it’s easy to drive and it doesn’t go fast enough to get in any serious trouble.

Redesigned in 2011, the tC received a little injection of the sportier FR-S coupe’s DNA, including more responsive shifts and rev-matching for automatic transmissions, a stiffer chassis, tuned shock absorbers and a recalibrated, more responsive steering system. Overall, I like the way this car looks, particularly in the stealthy midnight blue of my press car. The odd culmination point of belt and roofline gives it character, and the aggressive, slashed front end looks better here than on Scion’s Lexus kin. Finishing it off nicely are the jutting chin spoiler, split-spoke alloy wheels and air duct strakes swiped from the Audi R8 supercar.

The cockpit-like interior is finished in rather dour materials — plenty of hard, dark plastics and cloth upholstery — but I like the driver-centric position, with the angled console placing everything within reach. Seating position is sports-car low, in highly bolstered buckets. It’s a snug environment, thanks to that low roofline, particularly in the back. But the upside is the rear seats recline 45 degrees.

Standard is a seven-inch colour touch screen, but without piling on the options, it serves merely to display audio and phone connection information. Speaking of which, the Bluetooth system had the annoying habit of forgetting my iPhone, requiring me to “add device” every time I started the car.

Scion’s bundling of standard features was rather odd. For example, the tC starts at $22,285. For that you get a sunroof, six-speed manual transmission, Bluetooth and a gorgeous flat-bottomed steering wheel with controls — but no seat heaters, no navigation and no backup camera. Its closest competitor is probably the Hyundai Veloster, another quirky little sheep in wolf’s clothing, which starts at $18,599 for the same level of features. Move up to the $20,199 Veloster SE and you get heated seats, rear-view camera and parking assist.

Want heated seats in your tC? Then you’ve got to check off the $2,300 Leather with Seat Heater Package, or the $3,388 premium-display audio system with navigation and heated leather.

Don’t care about the heated seats, but want the navigation? Prepare to shell out $1,088 for the manufacturer-installed premium-display audio with navigation, and $1,133 for the same system installed at the dealership.

There’s a veritable catalogue of Fast and Furious add-ons, such as your choice of high- or low-profile rear spoiler for $664, or fog lights for $638 and a selection of accessories from Toyota’s TRD performance division, including $1,188 lowering springs and a rather eye-popping $1,613 for 19-inch alloy wheels. Whew! That’s a lot of coin for a young or “economy” driver.

The tC handles quite nicely, thanks to its retuned suspension and stiffened chassis. I’m usually happy to see a manual gearbox in a press car, but this one’s about as engaging as stirring a pot of mud.

There’s not much feel to the clutch, and the pedals are too far apart to make footwork any fun. It is, however, very easy to use, and even a brand-new driver would be unlikely to stall it. Unfortunately, the delightful, flat-bottomed steering wheel offers very little feedback.

The 2.5-litre four-cylinder puts out a modest 179 horsepower and 173 pound-feet of torque, which is great for a daily driver but falls far short of sports-car exciting.

Worth mentioning is the tC’s enormous hatch, which grants easy access to 417 L of flat cargo space with the 60/40-split rear seats folded down.

While it’s sad to hear of Scion’s passing, it’s not really surprising, given the lack of amenities in this pleasant, yet overpriced, little car. The plans are for Toyota to absorb the lineup, which puts the tC in a precarious position with the Yaris and Corolla offering more value at a lower price. Sports car enthusiasts are far more likely to go for the Scion FR-S, which boasts great looks and genuine performance for about the same price as a fully optioned tC.

— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016