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Scion battles back with redesigned tC

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Seven years ago, Toyota begat Scion, a special low-cost division aimed at 20-somethings with not a lot of money but with a hankering for cool, youthful transportation.

With a tiny urban runabout, a boxy small station wagon and a sporty coupe, Scion took off thanks to affordable prices, edgy styling, killer audio systems and a ton of customization potential.

Then came the recession. Young people have been particularly hard hit, and that has translated into tough times for Scion as well.

2011 Scion tC
VEHICLE TYPE: Two-door, five-passenger compact coupe
BASE PRICE: $18,275
PRICE AS TESTED: $18,995 (incl. delivery fees)
POWERTRAIN: 2.5-liter, DOHC four-cylinder; 180 horsepower; 173 lb.-ft. torque; six-speed manual transmission; front-wheel drive
WHEELBASE/LENGTH: 106.3″/174.0″
CURB WEIGHT: 3,060 pounds
EPA FUEL RATING: 23 mpg city/31 highway (regular grade)

Hoping to rejuvenate sales, Scion has redesigned the tC coupe with fresh, albeit generic, styling and even more appealing features.

Like added power. The new tC bumps up the four-cylinder engine’s size to 2.4 liters – borrowed from the Camry – boosting power and fuel economy.

Our test car featured the six-speed manual transmission, which meshed agreeably with the light-touch clutch. Slick shifts make the most of the engine’s 180 horsepower, delivering smooth acceleration especially at around-town velocities.

New this year is electronic steering, a boon to fuel economy but not necessarily road feel. While accurate and direct, it feels relatively numb.

Scion claims it has retuned the tC’s suspension for tauter handling. Still, this car isn’t overtly sporty but does provide confident, above-average handling and a smooth highway ride.

Inside, heavily bolstered front buckets and a unusually thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel reinforce the tC’s sporting pretensions. Too bad about the economy-grade, hard black plastic that forms the dash and door panels – cost-cutting at work, most likely.

And the deeply tunneled gauges, with red-on-black markings, are difficult to see in bright light.

Being a hatchback, the tC offers excellent utility. Folding down the rear seats creates a surprisingly spacious cargo hold.

Whether the redesign rekindles Scion’s sales remains to be seen. But young adults on a budget could do far worse than the appealing tC.

 

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