Behind the Wheel – 2012 Scion tC

Scion TC

There was a time about 20 years ago or so when Toyota built all breeds of cars on its own, including hatchbacks, sedans, coupes, family cars, trucks, SUVs and sports cars. Since then, the massive Japanese automaker diversified with sister companies Lexus and Scion.

Now, the general consumer vehicles are still built by Toyota. That original firm cranks out the entry level cars, the family cars, the trucks, and a few SUVs. Lexus handles the luxury makes and the LFA super car. And, Scion has inherited the job of building youth-oriented, comparatively affordable sports and performance cars.

The proud, noisy lineage of Japanese sports cars like the Supra, the MR2 and Corolla GT-S now rests with Scion and cars like the 2012 Scion tC. We had a chance to road test Scion’s little sports coupe recently and put it through its paces with an eye toward how it compares to the Toyota sports cars of old.

The three-door lift back model first debuted in 2004 to minimal fanfare. A small two-door alternative to the Corolla, the Escort or Civic, Scion intended it for drivers looking for a base car that could be extensively and easily personalized. In 2010, the Scion tC went through a major redesign. It received a 2.5 liter, 180 hp engine, a wider and lower frame and stylized rims, headlights and taillights.

Scion continues pushing the tC more toward a more sporty reputation in 2012 by adding a performance tuned power steering setup, 18 inch wheels, bigger disc brakes and vehicle stability control. Finally, a glass roof comes standard on 2012 models – an interesting choice when you consider how much weight that can add to a performance car. Glass always ways more than aluminum, carbon fiber or most alloys.

That power steering system is the tC’s finest standard feature as this car will confidently go where you point it. It likes to hunker down into turns and bite off the apex with minimal understeer. Of course, a small car needs ample power to understeer, and that’s where the tC falls a little short. It’s just not as speedy as its styling would suggest. Its maneuverability comes in handy in traffic as the tC is just quick enough (Note: Not “fast enough”…) to get you out of trouble, but there is inevitably a moment when you stand on the gas expecting immediate response that never quite arrives.

The sports suspension is also highly unforgiving. In the tradition of those old Toyota sports cars, you fill like your scraping the pavement when this car is on rough pavement. And, every serious bump rides up your arse, through your spine and into your brain.

Back on the positive side, the tC serves up surprising cargo capacity under its rear hatch. The trunk door takes up a full third of the car’s length and exposes rear space ample enough to hold three full size roller bags. You don’t see that kind of carrying space in most cars in its class.

In traffic, the tC performs comparatively well up against the Mazda 3 or the Honda CRZ. Those two competitors seem to pack a bit more power, but the tC will handle bumper to bumper with either of those cars.

But, set up as a standard bearer for the old MR2 or Corolla GT-S, it falls a little short. And it wouldn’t come into shouting distance of the Supra. That’s where the personalization comes in as its young owners tune up their import tCs with any manner of turbo chargers, nitrous boosters, sports suspension and any other after market improvements.

Off the assembly line, though, the result is a fun little car that handles well, but never quite gets going quite as fast as you’d expect or like it to go.