Preview Drive: 2011 Scion tC sport coupe

Redesigned coupe gains power while boosting gas mileage, aiming squarely at young-male market

by James M. Flammang

2011 Scion tC coupe

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Illinois - Serving since 2004 as the youth-oriented division of Toyota, Scion has employed a three-model strategy since 2005. Recently, the lineup has consisted of a practical-minded xB wagon, a subcompact xD hatchback, and the two-door tC sport coupe. For 2011, the tC gets a major reworking and a fresh look, as well as additional power accompanied by greater fuel economy.

Scion is the "youngest brand in the entire industry," said Jack Hollis, vice-president of Scion Motor Sales. Hollis considers this Toyota division to be a "nontraditional, underground brand" that brings in new customers. Of nearly 800,000 Scions sold thus far, 70 percent have gone to customers new to the Toyota family. Of the three Scion models (four with the iQ microcar to be added next March), the tC coupe has been top seller.

Median age of Scion buyers is 26; and they're predominantly male, characterized by Hollis for their "fearlessness and sense of freedom." They're also "very heavily associated with performance accessories."

Scion touts a 2-mpg improvement in fuel economy for the 2011 model, whose 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine develops 180 horsepower (up 19). Torque output is 173 pound-feet (up 11).

Two new six-speed transmissions are available: manual and automatic. With automatic, a tC can accelerate to 60 mph in a claimed 8.3 seconds, achieving an estimated 23 mpg in city driving and 31 mpg on the highway. Manual shift yields the same fuel-economy figure, but cuts 0-60 acceleration time to 7.5 seconds. Vehicle weight has gone up, to 3,000-3,100 pounds compared with the 2010 model's 2,800-2,900 pounds.

Brakes have been enlarged, and 18-inch wheels are standard. A new sport-tuned suspension is built onto the upgraded platform.

Inside, the driver faces deep orange lighting. Seats are an inch wider, and seatbacks a trifle higher than before. Walk-in levers are installed on front seatbacks.

Brake Assist, traction control, and Vehicle Stability Control (for the first time) are standard. So is Toyota's brake override system. Active front headrests are designed to move up and forward.

Target customers do 70 percent of their music listening in the car, Holis explained. Therefore, the standard 300-watt, 8-speaker standard audio system was taken from the biggest Lexus sedan - though tuned for the tC's cockpit.

Dimensions haven't changed much, except for increased width, but the 2011 model looks large from the outside. Hollis points out the coupe's "more angular look," adding that its "aggressive styling is bold and robust."

Inside, in contrast, it's on the snug side. Getting into the back seat appears easier than in some sport coupes, and space is acceptable for a two-door of this nature.

Performance would be acceptable for an ordinary car; but considering Scion's claim for sporty behavior, acceleration is nothing to exclaim about. Steering and handling qualify as good, but likewise well short of exceptional. Ride comfort is satisfying, though again, the tC doesn't necessarily stand significantly above this rather crowded pack.

Prices start at $18,275 for a tC coupe with manual shift. Automatic adds an even thousand dollars to the tariff. Sales began Occtober 1.

Under Hollis's stewardship, Scion is pushing hard on lifestyle and racing events to promote the tC, in particular. Personalization remains an integral part of the Scion picture. Accessories, such as carbon fiber B-pillars, "help the owner make a statement about who they are," Hollis said.

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Text and photos by James M. Flammang