Executive wheels: It's sporty, it's noisy — it's Scion

A little insulation would've gone a long way

On Facebook recently, I saw a car thing that made me laugh: it showed the console of a car with a manual transmission shifter with the caption “Millennial auto theft device.”

But perhaps stick shifts are coming back. When I saw that the now 14-year-old Toyota division Scion was sending me its sporty tC coupe with a manual transmission, I was a little surprised. You don’t see many sticks these days, don’t meet many people under 40 who know how to drive a stick, and Scion is decidedly targeted to younger people. Maybe it’s a trend. I hope so; it was fun to drive a stick for a change, and the 6-speed manual transmission and clutch operation in this 2016 Scion tC was smooth and smart. It would be just the car to teach the younger generation how to properly drive a stick.

When I first got into the tC – and for the first few miles in town driving around – I was quite impressed. Comfortable, sporty, great handling, and a fairly robust engine all combined to make the drive a nice experience. I was particularly impressed with the engine: a 2.5-liter I-4 putting out some 179 hp (rated at 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway) that really had some zip, particularly coupled with the aforementioned 6-speed manual. The car cornered well (no lean), and the ride was great in that it took the pot holes and ice sculptures left by this winter’s weather rather well. On those first couple of days was ready to give the tC a nearly complete rave review.

Ah, but then I had to go to the airport. On the highway. My wife and I drove out there to pick up a friend, and once we hit I-225 my wife, who hadn’t been in the car yet, said “Boy, this car is noisy.” I said “What?” You get the idea.

This experience points out exactly why a test drive when you’re planning to buy a car is important to be more than just a couple of miles around the dealership. You have to get the car out on the highway, even up Floyd Hill in the mountains, to make sure it performs the way you’d want in the conditions you usually experience.

Sometimes, I like to come up with a one-word description of cars I am reviewing, things like “sporty,” or “luxurious,” or “classy,” even “quiet.” Unfortunately for the Scion tC it would be “noisy.” Oddly enough, on the Scion website they offer up a feature where you can directly compare the direct competition with the tC, and one of the main ones is the Mazda3. I have driven the Mazda3; the one-word description of it could easily be “quiet.” The rest of the Scion tC/Mazda3 comparison was, of course, favorable to Scion: 179 hp vs. 155 hp; 18” wheels vs. 16” wheels, standard no-cost maintenance vs. none; standard moonroof vs. option; $21,330 MSRP vs. $21,965 MSRP. I drove them both in the last year, and I can tell you I would buy the Mazda3.

As long as I am on the negative side here, I will stay there for a moment. The tC featured its mirror adjustment, door lock switch, and power window switches, all on or near the driver’s door – but they don’t light up! Trying to maneuver those things at night is very trying.

Also, on the radio volume is controlled by a normal turn-knob, while the tuning button is a pushing switch. I prefer knobs, but to mix them up on the same device doesn’t make sense. Also, while I liked the automatic moonroof, the cover which blocks the light was manual (and very cheap) for both open and close; I’ve never seen this before and hope not to again.

Having said that, the 7-inch touch screen is easy to use for things like Bluetooth for the phone and apps (there was no navigation), and the overall look of the systems and the entire interior was very nice. The climate control – with knobs! – was quite easy and it all worked well (the heat came on in a jif). The back seat was very roomy, so my passengers reported, and for a coupe it was very easy to get in and out of there. 

One of the best features of this car is that while it is a hatchback, it looks like a car with a trunk. The whole thing just lifts up, revealing a roomy deck for gear, but since it looks like a trunk your stuff stays relatively hidden. Nice touch. 

As I mentioned, on the Scion website they say the base price of the tC is $21,300. On my test-drive window sticker it says the base price is $19,385; I suppose the difference is that the one on the website had an automatic transmission. Anyway, they added no options, just destination charges, and the bottom line came to $20,180.

It’s nice they are making cars with stick shifts. It‘s also nice that they are making cars with this kind of power and with this many features at this relatively low price. It would be nice if this Scion tC stacked up to the competition.

Just to think that $50 worth of insulation could have changed my opinion makes me think that the Scion people might be fudging elsewhere.

RATING: TWO WHEELS OUT OF FOUR

Categories: Industry Trends, Transportation