The projector headlamps are a nice touch for an economy car.

2013 Scion tC

Scion's hip sport-coupe faces an uphill battle.

By: Andrew Krok

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: August 26th, 2013

Toyota has a knack for building cars that last for decades. It's why you see so many old Camrys and Corollas rolling around - they're inexpensive, reliable rides that will live through all manner of treatment. This mantra rolls over to their youth-oriented Scion sub-brand; Toyota's taking a page straight from the drug-dealer playbook - hook 'em while they're young.

That's exactly what the 2013 Scion tC aims to do - mix the youthful image of Scion's brand with the legendary reliability of Toyota and hope it creates lifelong brand devotees. It would be a brilliant plan, were it not for the tC's flaws, flaws that may just turn away more buyers than the tC's good qualities pulls in.

We'll start with the positive. Many modern manual transmissions have clutches with invisible take-up points and long, awkward throws. The tC's manny-tranny doesn't have that problem with its third pedal; the clutch engages nicely, and moving the shift lever doesn't take five entire seconds to complete. The way down is just as satisfying as the way up; thanks to a high engagement point on the pedal, a tap and a blip will result in a well-executed rev-match downshift.

To make sure the downshifts are pleasing, you can opt for the not-very-expensive TRD Performance exhaust, which will provide a throatier, sportier note for the inline-four that doesn't go so far as to sound like an extra from Tokyo Drift. It's a good middle ground, and suits the car's nature nicely.

The sheer number of available options for this car is another power-move on Toyota's part. These days, everybody wants something unique so they can put it on Instagram and wait for all the "likes" to roll in. If that's your hang, then Scion has the scratch for your itch. Just the TRD upgrades alone number more than entire options lists on other vehicles.

Sadly, that's where the positivity ends. Toyota's notorious build quality once again shows up in several places on the tC. For starters, the roof material seems to be made from the fuzzy side of Velcro, taped to some cardboard. Furthermore, the entire center console shakes and shimmies when you touch it. There were also some untraceable driving-related rattles that really shouldn't exist in a brand new car.

Then there's the matter of the BeSpoke audio system. In order to utilize the navigation built into the system, along with a few other features, you need to download an app onto your phone. To this reviewer, that seems like a lazy shortcut on the automaker's part, outsourcing the infotainment's legwork to a device you may or may not own, utilizing a program that has nothing but one-star reviews on Apple's App Store, yet still being able to tout the vehicle's inclusion of navigation and Pandora on the sales brochure.

Finally, and this is a personal trifle above all else, when the windows are down, the weather-stripping on the lower edge of the window frame is incredibly stiff and sharp, making it nearly impossible to enjoy hanging your arm out of the window. Come on.

  • Interior

    Minus the cardboard roof and the shaky center console, there's a good deal of style inside the tC. There are enough textural variants of hard plastic to give it a slightly upmarket look compared to other cars in its segment. The BeSpoke infotainment head unit has images for each of the sources, which makes it easy to switch without too much distraction, but has the downside of looking a bit childish.

  • Exterior

    Our tester came with the slate-grey Cement color, which we found to be an intriguing choice, like a lighter-tinted Lamborghini Grigio Telesto. The chopped-top flat appearance of the roof has been the tC's best exterior feature since they introduced it, but the TRD high-profile rear spoiler totally throws off the look. The stock alloy wheels are very good-looking for base equipment.

  • On the Road

    Drive-by-wire should be predictable, and this one is certainly not. Starting from a stop is very difficult to do smoothly and consistently, but rev-matching downshifts almost feel automatic, so it's a weird, mixed bag of throttle mapping. The base all-season tires are very weak in any sort of inclement weather, and aren't exactly stout in the dry, either; if you want to do any sort of spirited driving with all your TRD baubles, upgrade the tires. Otherwise, you will become great friends with understeer.

  • Final Thoughts

    At its base price of roughly $19K, the tC is a good contender against other compacts, offering both decent performance and reliability. Once you start tacking on options, though, it quickly becomes underpowered and less attractive than other cars, such as the Honda Civic Si or Mazdaspeed3. And, if you don't care about warranties, the used-car market expands the competition on a logarithmic scale. If you want it, keep it cheap.

  • Specs & Price

    Engine: 2.5-liter I-4

    Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission

    Power Output: 180 hp / 173 lb-ft

    Fuel Economy: 23 city / 31 highway

    Base Price: $18,725

    As Tested: $22,027 (incl. $755 destination charge)

    Optional Features: Six-speed automatic, Carpeted floormats and cargo mat, illuminated door sill, BeSpoke premium audio, high-profile rear lip spoiler, low-profile rear lip spoiler, TRD Performance exhaust, TRD lowering springs, TRD rear strut brace, TRD brake upgrade, TRD air filter, 19-inch alloy wheels, lower body graphics, fog lights, remote engine starter, XM satellite radio, security system

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