Toyota made a big splash with the introduction of its new Scion brand, a line of cars built to appeal to younger, first-time car buyers to bring them into the corporate fold. Where the Lexus brand would cater to the well-off, the Scion brand would focus on those on a more economical budget.
The most-welcome twist here is that Scions are not mere econo-boxes thrown together for quick sale. These are full-fledged, high quality cars with enough style and features to make even more upscale car shoppers take a second look.
While Scion debuted its 2005 line-up earlier this year with the commuter scooter xA and boxy-but-hip xB, the recent rollout of the sporty tC is the jewel of the new Scion family crown. Fast, nimble and easy on the wallet, the tC is simply the most fun you can have driving for less than $17,000.
Compared to its distinctively styled brethren, the tC may look a little bland. In many ways, the exterior looks like the kind of car one would expect from Toyota: not too flashy, it doesn’t go out of its way to turn heads. The sharp wheel liven things up a bit, as does the all-glass panoramic moonroof.
Perhaps there’s some grand marketing strategy behind making the fastest car of the Scion pack the most subdued. After all, if you get the dealer-installed supercharger, you may need that cloak of everydayness to help shield you from the eager eyes of speed enforcement officers.
Performance and handling are the name of the game for the tC, a car that’s simply flat-out fund to drive. With 160 standard horses under the hood, you’ll have more than enough power to get you from A to B without delay. When you need to merge or pass, the tC handles it with aplomb.
Â Tight and responsive handling make the tC an excellent car for the urban/suburban driver who wants a reasonably priced car that can go and park anywhere, while still having enough interior space to handle the things that cars are expected to haul: groceries, mid-sized purchases, friends who don’t own cars. Where the xA is a perfect commuter scooter that can be parked in any cubbyhole you may find, and the xB is commodious enough some decent sized furniture in an apartment move, the tC is a near perfect blend between the two.
The tC also sports an interior far better than what you might reasonably expect from a car in its price range. It’s refreshing to sit in a plastic and cloth cabin that bespeaks a sense of style, as opposed to screaming cost-cuts and cheapness. The stereo options that Scion trumpets in its advertising go a long way in making the ride memorable. Beyond the auditory quality, you can change the color of the display to any number of shades to match your mood — although I did wish I could exercise similar control over the rest of the lighting, so they would match perfectly. Perhaps that’s just my inner design queen speaking, but it would be a nice touch in future models.
Given that even an entry level car is a significant investment, even the most inexpensive cars should be expected to offer something special in return for spending thousands of dollars over the course of three to five years. All three Scions are examples of how value can be found at affordable prices, but the best value of the bunch is the tC, where performance and utility merge, making it one of the best bargains you’ll find on a new car lot these days.