Pros: Very inexpensive, Lexus like build quality, plenty of power, unbeatable standard features, clean european design
Cons: A bit heavy, Electronic throttle body, Want one? Get in line
After selling my 95 Acura Integra with the intent of buying a brand new car, I first looked at a 2004 Scion XB. Yes, the "toaster" or the "XBOX" as some of you call it. :) The XBs are very strange cars and you either totally love them, or totally hate them. Coming from an Integra GS-R, the tC appealed to me after driving it more than the XB...
My initial thought when I saw the tC was "Wow, that looks good." My second thought was "Wow, that needs to be lowered a bit" but I'll get into that later.
17" wheels are stock, and they're GOOD looking wheels. I've noticed that a lot of car companies are starting to throw large wheels on cars as optional equipment, but even a $2000 wheel/tire package that gives you an inch and not much style over standard options (unless standard options include hubcaps) aren't worth it. With the exception of BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes, as well as others in that calibur, most factory "premium" wheel packages don't look as good as what Toyota put on the Scion tC standard. If you want to shell out the extra cash for the optional TRD 18" premium alloys, the car looks even that much better!
The exterior of the car looks very sleek and stylish. The lines of the car flow together very nicely, and everything on the car looks much more rich than it should for a car costing only a little over $17,000 with all dealer fees and taxes included. The headlights look like they came straight off of the new BMW 5 and 6 series, the tail lights look like something from a Lexus or Benz, and the lines of the car look totally European. At first I didn't like how short the windows were all around the car, being as my Integra was a much smaller car and on the tC it seems like there's much more body than glass form a side perspective, but that soon grew on me.
The interior of the car is nicely layed out. The gauges look very stylish as they're made of brushed aluminum, which looks unlike anything else I've ever seen. I owned a BMW 325is previous to owning my Integra, and even that doesn't compare to the smooth finish and nice ergonomic look of the tC's interior in my opinion. All of the controls are layed out very simply and everything is electronic. There is an electronically controlled knob for the heater/AC temperature control that is actually machined out of a solid piece of aluminum. There are no tortion rods or anything for any of the HVAC controls, so you're not manually opening flaps when you change heater settings. The car feels very rich and luxourious in this respect.
The steering wheel is nice a plump and the standard leather wrap feels nice. I test drove the automatic, but ended up buying a manual. The clutch in the car is very nice as well... very short and very responsive for a stock clutch. Before driving the car I was worried about the clutch being similar to that of a Chevy Cavalier (the most notable example I can think of that I've driven), where you have to basically lift your leg off the ground before you start to reach the clutch's friction point. The tCs friction point is so shallow though that my heel doesn't even have to leave the floor to shift gears... I can just rock my foot on my heel and it's enough to engage and disengage the clutch smoothly. Shift throws are very short for stock, although I do prefer shorter and will be getting the TRD short shifter when it's available.
The seats are very comfortable and are supportive when doing some "spirited driving." The drives seat is highly adjustable via controls on the left side, so getting comfortable in the car isn't something that takes a lot of effort to do. The power windows, which feature auto up and auto down on BOTH sides, as well as the sliding power sunroof (which also has auto open/close) all function quickly, solidly, and close with a Lexus like thud. The doors also sound very well built when they are closed... NOTHING rattles, NOTHING sounds out of place.
Steering is fairly responsive. The car doesn't exhibit a lot of body roll being stock, but doesn't handle as well as something like a Celica GT-S or an RSX-S. Being as this car costs $5,000 or more OUT THE DOOR less than the sticker on both of those says a lot though. Toyota offers a TRD Strut and Spring package, as well as a upper front strut tower bar and rear lower TRD sway bar kit to improve handling for those who want it. Stock the car is built more to be comfortable than feel like it's handling on rails. Believe it or not more people go by comfort than handling when they buy a car, and Toyota knows this. It is nice that they also kept the rest of us in mind when they offered all of the TRD suspension upgrades though. For everything listed above, it'd add about $1200 to the price, but you'd still be well under an RSX-S or a Celica GT-S in price.
One thing that I don't really like about the car, but am getting used to, is the drive-by-wire accellerator. There is no physical throttle cable - instead the car uses an electronic throttle body paired with a potentiometer attached to the gas pedal under the dash. This is very strange at first, since you get no real feedback from actually opening a throttle body with your foot. This gives the car a more luxourious feel, since pushing the acellerator is totally effortless, but is strange to get used to.
I read in another review that the grey on grey markings on the gauges and center instrument panel are hard to read in daylight... I don't know how well that reviewer can see, but I've never had a problem seeing them. The gauges are sunk back into the dash a decent amount, and are covered with circular gauge shrouds (I've noticed a lot of cars doing this now, including the Mazda 3) so sunlight ever hitting the gauges is a total rarity, let alone an annoyance. Everything is contrasted well enough and layed out well enough so that anyone with normal vision won't have a problem seeing them. The console controls are layed out well enough so that eventually you don't even need to look at them to operate them.
Toyota thought pretty much everything through when designing this car. Large cupholders in the front are easy to get to. Sunvisors are easy to reach and work very well given the angle of the windshield. The build quality inside the car is very nice and everything you touch feels has just enough texture to be rough but not enough to feel offensive and not so smooth as to feel cheap and plasticy. The engine in the tC comes from the 4 cyl Camry, so its a very proven engine... look at the reviews on this site about Toyota Camrys and you'll understand what I'm talking about.
The engine feels "peppy," but I wouldn't call it fast. I definetly wouldn't pit it against my old Integra GS-R. This might change with the optional supercharger coming out this fall, but stock the car feels more like a luxury car than a racecar. With a lot of low-end and midrange power, the car feels more like the smooth revving 2.5L inline 6 in my BMW 325is than it does the high-revving Japanese 1.8L DOHC VTEC engine in my Integra GS-R.
All in all the tC is an unbeatable car for the price. Add the tCs list of standard features to the Mazda 3 and you'll end up paying a lot more for the 3. Aside from the Mazda 3 I couldn't really think of a car for the price that even compares to the tC. The American counterparts, the Cavalier, Sunfire, and Focus, can't touch the tC in build quality or reliability, and most of the Japanese and European cars that come close to the horsepower, torque, and standard features of the tC cost anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 more.
The tC is an amazing car, and Toyota has answered the call for people who want to spend less than $20,000 for a car that it feels like they easily paied $30,000 for. They'll sell a lot of these. Waiting lists for these are already rediculous at Toyota/Scion dealers... with most people waiting an average of 3 months for theirs, and all of the tCs being sold before they even get to the dealers lots. (I put $300 down to reserve mine while it was at port in California, before I had even driven it). If you can find someone with one who would let you drive it, or can find a dealer than has one they haven't sold yet (most likely an automatic), I would recommend driving it. Payments are less than $300/mo before you start thowing in all of the aftermarket TRD options, which makes the car very affordable for a LOT of people.
This weekend I tore the car down to basically nothing inside in order to install a stereo system. I ran over 250 feet of wire inside the car wiring up two sets of 6.5" Diamond Audio components, 4 crossovers (in the trunk), 3 amplifiers (in the trunk), and a CD head unit, and after tearing the car down to basically its skeleton on the inside I am even more impressed with the build quality than before. Crash tests are going to prove awesome on this car, as the front doors are reinforced with tubular steel! Something I haven't EVER seen in a Japanese car. Not only do these look good, they also appear to be very safe!
Plastic panels on the inside of the car are made with very thick, very strong ABS plastic. Warping or cracking shouldn't ever be an issue. If the interior build quailty of this car was ever in question in even the smallest part of your mind, you can totally disregard that right now, because I can assure you it's excellent! :)