Pros: Stylish, content for the dollar, relatively roomy rear seat, good shifter
Cons: Driving position, not very thrilling, uncomfortable rear seat
The 2005 model year will be the last for the Toyota Celica. At first I thought I knew why. Not only have sales been weak, but Scion, Toyota's youth brand, recently introduced a coupe that, at $16,600, costs over $5,000 less than the Celica despite having a larger engine. Why would anyone buy a Celica if they could buy the Scion tC for so much less? Now that I've driven the tC the case is not so clear. The third Scion is a great coupe for the money, but it's not especially fun to drive. Read on for the details.
The Scion tC's exterior is suitably stylish, with distinctive proportions courtesy of an unusually long wheelbase (for a small coupe) and very short overhangs. A panoramic glass sunroof covering the entire roof (actually a sunroof over the front seat that retracts above the roof coupled with a fixed panel over the rear seat) is another distinctive touch. The front end is easily the blandest aspect of the car, with a plain rectangular grille and blunt nose, but even this works.
Inside materials look and feel like those of a more expensive car, say mid-20s. Many surfaces are fashionably faux metal, but the effect is not overbearing. The climate controls are especially stylish, resembling high end audio equipment. Though a Pioneer stereo is standard equipment, none had yet been installed behind the retractable cover in the car I drove. This way the customer can select between a single CD player and an in-dash CD changer.
The Scion tC's driver's seat is reasonably comfortable and provides good if not great lateral support. The driving position is well aft of the base of the steeply raked windshield. I don't care for such a driving position, especially not in a sporty car, as it tends to create distance between the car and the driver. (The Saturn ION coupe and Mitsubishi Eclipse are similarly afflicted.) Because of the amount of windshield rake, the header ends up closer to the driver's face than I prefer.
The rear seat provides a surprising amount of knee room, courtesy of that relatively long wheelbase. After putting the driver's seat where I like it (about where a six-foot driver would normally put it), I could sit it back with my knees a few inches from the seatbacks. Unfortunately, said knees are higher in the air than I find comfortable because the seat is low to the floor. And even though the seat is low to the floor, the top of my head was very near the glass hatch. Which incidentally lets in enough sunlight to bake said head. So let's just say that the rear seat provides good room for adults, but they won't be comfortable anyway.
Inside the Scion tC's panoramic sunroof is of questionable value. It's good for letting a lot of light in if that's what you're after. But it can also make the car into an oven. A pair of soft vinyl shades (think windowshades) are provided to reduce (but not eliminate) the heat issue. These can both be operated from the driver's seat. They feel a bit flimsy, but otherwise are an innovative alternative to the normal, rigid shades that could not be packaged given the panoramic design of the roof.
Interior storage is on the low side of average, with a smallish compartment under the armrest. With the rear seat up, cargo room is tight, with limited space between the hatch and floor. Folding the rear seats greatly increases this volume. A cargo cover is provided to conceal items from view. It's about the fiddliest such cover I think I've ever encountered, as it must be attached to both rear headrests as well as the side walls and the rear of the opening.
On the Road
The Scion tC is powered by a 160-horsepower 2.4-liter four from the Camry. Given the car's nearly 3,000-pound curb weight, this is more than adequate--but not much more. At full throttle the car accelerates briskly but provides little in the way of an adrenaline rush. Perhaps because it was designed for Camry duty, the engine feels best at part throttle in normal driving. It's not very peaky, good for around-town driving but providing little in the way of thrills near the redline. On the other hand, for a four the 2.4 is smooth. On both counts it's nothing like the high RPM screamer in the Celica GT-S.
I've been disappointed by so many shifters in recent years that I've begun to wonder whether manufacturers just don't care to spend much time developing a good shifter in this automatic-everything age. Well, the shifter in the tC is actually quite good. Throws are significantly shorter than average and the feel is solid, if not exceptionally smooth. (I suspect we're dealing with a cable rather than a rod mechanism here.)
I drove an MR2 again not long ago, and was thrilled by the experience. Sadly, driving the tC is nothing like driving the MR2. The tC's handling is, well, safe, perhaps because Toyota has the good of inexperienced youth in mind. The long wheelbase contributes to stability, and the more the car is pushed the more it (safely) understeers. Very predictable. What it does not do is change direction quickly. No razor sharp responses here. The steering effort is about right and it's accurate enough, but it feels suited to a sport sedan, not a sports car. Between this and the driving position, I never felt "one" with the car. But then I guess that the tC is a sport coupe, after all. Which means a sedan in sporty sheetmetal.
Ride quality is pretty good, especially considering that this is a sport-oriented car riding on 45-series performance tires. Noise levels are moderate, with just enough engine noise to support a sporty mission and some wind rush over the panoramic roof even at moderate speeds. Especially for a car costing well under $20,000, the tC feels impressively solid and refined.
Scion tC Price Comparisons and Pricing
For quick, up-to-date pricing, and especially user-specified price comparisons, check out the website I created: www.truedelta.com. Why yet another vehicle pricing website? Well, I personally lacked the patience to keep using the others. They were too slow and required too much effort, especially when trying to compare prices. So I taught myself some programming and created a site where there is no need to dig through option packages, prerequisites, and the like one by one -- the TrueDelta algorithm figures these out for you in one swift pass.
With a full load of standard equipment (17-inch alloys, panoramic roof, Pioneer audio) the tC offers a lot of content in an impressively solid car for just $16,600. I thought a Hyundai Tiburon was inexpensive, but the third Scion is in the same range. And it's a Toyota with considerably more refinement. A Mitsubishi Eclipse costs considerably more.
I was personally let down by the sedan-like responses of the tC. This isn't a coupe to get the blood boiling. However, it is stylish, reasonably roomy, high in content, and very high in quality for a $16,600 car. So I imagine it represents a very good choice at a bargain price for most sport coupe buyers. It's hardly a replacement for the Celica in terms of how it drives, but for those who value refinement, ride quality, and solidity over high-RPM thrills this is likely a good thing. There is, after all, a reason why Toyota hasn't been selling huge numbers of Celicas. They'll sell more of these.
A Note on Scion tC Reliability
I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I've started collecting my own data. Results, once they are available, will be posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.
Unlike other sources, TrueDelta will clearly identify what difference it will make if you buy a Scion tC rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats (among others). You will be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in Scion tC reliability comparisons.
Before I can report results, I need reliability data on all cars--not just the tC--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access to the site's reliability information. Non-participants will have to pay an access fee.
For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.
A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.
Some of my reviews of related vehicles:
Acura RSX review
Audi A3 review
Chevrolet Cobalt review
Hyundai Tiburon review
Mitsubishi Eclipse review
Toyota Corolla XRS review