To date, Scion has spent $100 million on the arts to help engrain the brand into youth culture and it seems to have worked with the lowest average age for buyers of any car brand. Still, the child of Toyota has suffered a lack of popularity in recent years, due mostly to some rather stale product. Helping solve part of the problem, Scion launched the new FR-S model into the lineup to increase interest in the brand. With an average owner age of just 31, the FR-S proved to be another hit with younger buyers, despite its higher price tag (for a Scion). Although this could change soon with the just introduced entry-level iA and mid-lineup iM. That’s nothing, however, compared to the tC, which continually wins over youth buyers with the youngest average age of any car in the industry at just 28.
To continue the sales momentum, the tC coupe was given a large refresh to keep things current with buyers whose attention spans are shorter than the grass on a putting green. The tC was reworked to resemble the FR-S in both looks, and, to lesser extent, feel. The new model is instantly recognizable as something completely different compared to previous tCs. The old and somewhat conservative looks have given way to a more daring design. Up front there are angular new headlights, a new hood, a gaping new grille and LED accent lighting. The back-end features new LED tail lights and a revised lower rear valance to resemble that of the FR-S. The overall goal of the restyle was to make the tC look more like the FR-S, and there definitely are some styling cues in the new design. Still, the tC doesn’t look any more like the FR-S than it does other Toyota models. Most of the updates work like the new 18-inch alloy wheels and headlights, but some features, like the taillights, look straight out of The Fast & the Furious (we’re talking the 2001 original here).
Inside, the 2014 tC has not received much love during the 2014 restyle, which is unfortunate. Out-of-date hard plastics cover most surfaces, a family trait found in most Scions, and sightlines remain interesting. There are a few highlights inside like the thick rimmed steering wheel, comfortable seats and new standard display audio system. The latter is a 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen infotainment unit that made it’s debut in the tC, but has become the standard entertainment unit in all Scion models. The system’s interface looks good, fast to respond, and is easy to operate. Within minutes we were navigating through all of the menus and customizing our audio and navigation setups. As has always been the case, the sound system in the tC is exceptional for a vehicle in this price range thanks mainly to the three range speakers grafted into each door. Rear seat and trunk dimensions are unchanged which means they’re slight on the larger size for the class, but, thanks to the tC being a hatchback, can accommodate large and awkward shaped items.
With plenty of personalization features in the past, from audio upgrades to larger brakes and lowering springs, the tC gets more of the sporty components right from the start. Taking inspiration from the FR-S, body rigidity is improved, while more sport-oriented shock absorbers and stabilizer bars are utilized. The power steering has been reprogrammed as well, helping to improve steering feel and response. Under the hood, the engine remains the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine found in the previous tC, but now develop 179 hp and 172 lb-ft. Power is sent to the front wheels by either with a six-speed manual transmission or the previously mentioned updated six-speed automatic, both rated at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. And the automatic transmission now features the same Dynamic Rev Management technology found in the FR-S where it blips the throttle on downshifts. Power still feels decent and torquey with the manual in our test car offering decent feedback and a nice linear clutch, probably one of the better sticks Toyota has produced. Plus the exhaust does emit a bit of a snarl, which is fitting for a compact coupe with sporty pretensions.
The unique coupe shape with hatchback utility keeps the tC playing in a lonely field without any real, main competitors, for better and for worse. On paper, it matches up well with the base Kia Forte Koup and Volkswagen Golf 2.5. But, the tC is more coupe than the Golf and more hatchback with the Forte Koup. Fringe competitors include the Hyundai Veloster and Honda Civic coupe, both of which the tC is a step above performance wise. But when it comes time to play with the big boy versions of these cars, the Civic Si or Veloster Turbo, the Scion falls short. It will most likely continue to be a small time player in the compact car market. Still, by improving and modernizing the tC, it remains a great alternative for buyers who go to a Scion dealership planning on buying a FR-S, but who are not ready to live with some of the drawbacks found in a dedicated sports car. That, and its no haggle base price of $21,330 makes it an attractive option that’s thousands less than its rear-drive sibling.