SAN JOSE, Calif. - I bought into the whole weird-is-good mantra that came with the arrival of Scion in 2003, so the new tC coupe has taken me by surprise.
Scion is Toyota's new division, aimed at young male buyers who have been staying away from the mainstream Toyota brand.
Starting in 2003, and only in California, it hit the market with two affordable models - a small, wedge-shape wagon (named xA) and a bread-box-shape thing (named xB). Both were acquired tastes, and the strong success of the strangest of the two, the xB, startled Toyota marketing gurus.
Now, finally, Scion is a nationwide brand. And, it just added a third model to the mix.
But the just-on-sale 2005 tC is much more of mainstream effort. Perhaps that's because unlike the xA and xB, which were sold-in-Japan cars, the new tC was designed just for U.S. buyers.
So, a year after the Scion brand launched, we're finally seeing an authentic Scion.
And it's a good one. The starting price is $16,465, including destination and handling. (The automatic transmission version is $800 more.) For that, buyers get loads of basic equipment: 17-inch tires and alloy wheels; a 160-watt, six-speaker Pioneer stereo with CD player; cruise control; a panoramic moonroof that's a glass roof over both front and rear seats.
On the safety side, front air bags, a driver's knee air bag and anti-lock brakes are standard.
What's neat is that the tC looks like a classic coupe with its long hood, raked windshield and short rear deck. Yet, it's really a hatchback as its entire rear glass lifts up to reveal a spacious cargo area. It's a subtle, very successful design treatment.
On the inside of the light-blue mica tC that I drove, the crisp, modern interior doesn't reveal this as an economy car. The center stack is trimmed in brushed metal and the Pioneer stereo comes with a flip-down cover. As in the xA and xB, the radio's faceplate can change its background color with the touch of a button.
The back seat is quite roomy, with great leg room and adequate head room. That's quite an accomplishment on a two-door car that's 174 inches long and 69.1 inches wide. And the glass roof above - it opens for front-seat occupants but not above the rear seats - gives the tC an airy feel.
The xA and xB both get the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's also found in the Echo subcompact. It barely makes more than 100 horsepower. But the tC gets the 2.4-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) that's the base engine in the bigger, costlier bestselling Camry. It makes 160 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque.
Those numbers, and a promise of a bigger engine that doesn't require high revving to get good power, should have created a smile-producing machine.
I thought that going from the xA/xB to the tC would be a leap from anemic to exhilarating. Instead, it's from anemic to adequate. The under-3,000 pound tC felt more modest than speedy, even with a lot of foot on the gas pedal. Handling, though, was quite nice, and the 17-inch tires gave it solid footing.
Plus, it's rated as an ultra-low emission vehicle by California and gets 23/30 mpg in city/highway driving, which is pretty good.
Nicest, perhaps, is the price tag. Compared to other under-$20,000 coupes from Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen, the Scion tC is competitive in many areas.
And, although they don't like the Toyota name, it's certain that Scion buyers will appreciate Toyota's reputation for building quality vehicles.
Toyota's Scion division has produced a new vehicle, the tC, designed just for American buyers. The tC looks like a classic coupe with its long hood and raked windshield, but in reality it is a hatchback.
The vehicle: 2005 Scion tC, a front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger hatchback coupe
Base price: $16,465 (includes delivery charge of $515)Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 174 incheswidth: 69.1 inchesheight: 55.7 inches
Engine: 2.4-liter, 160-horsepower, 16-valve four-cylinder producing 160 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Four-speed automatic (five-speed manual is optional)epa economy: 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway