Scion’s xB and xD on Final Lap

The winds of change are blowing at Scion, as a recent report from Wards Auto indicates the youth-focused brand is killing of the boxy xB and small four-door hatchback xD. Vice President Jack Hollis, the corporate face of Scion said there were no plans to replace either car. This is a shocking revelation for the xB, which until 2011 was Scion’s best selling car since coming to America in 2004. The first generation xB was a success for its huge funk factor that made it endearing to the finicky youth market Scion was chasing. In 2008 Scion introduced the second generation xB, which was larger, less boxy, more powerful and much heavier than the outgoing car.  In Scion’s attempt to mainstream the xB to a broader audience, they killed the cool factor and sales dropped like a rock.

The demise of the xD comes as less a surprise. Introduced as a 2008 model in the US, the xD offered more contemporary styling than Toyota’s Yaris, but few seemed to notice or care. It didn’t help that Scion barely promoted or marketed the car in any meaningful way, so it’s no wonder the average subcompact car buyer knew the car even existed. With sales stuck around 10,000 cars a year for the past two years, the xD likely won’t be missed.

So that leaves Scion in a very different position in terms of product from when they first launched in America, and just recently in Canada. We have the front-drive sport coupe tC, the pint-sized iQ, and Scion’s anticipated rear-wheel drive sport coupe, the FR-S. An ultra-tiny subcompact and two sport coupes sound like a pretty thin product portfolio, so Scion’s decision to kill off both cars with four doors at once seems to make less sense, as they have now eliminated every family seeking Toyota reliability in a more interesting wrapper, as well as any first time buyer wanting a car to road trip with his buddies.  It is especially sloppy product planning for Canada. You can’t enter a market trying to establish a brand identity and within two years kill off two of the three cars you introduced yourself as. There is a gaping hole being left in Scion’s product line, and Jack Hollis’ assertion of no direct replacement leaves me with serious doubts about the future or relevance of Scion.

Review: 2011 Scion tC

In spite of Toyota’s tremendous success, there are likely quite a few gear heads out there who feel that the company has turned their back on them. It’s easy to see why-consider that at one time Toyota had something sporty for everyone. The Celica, Supra, and MR-2 once all shared the same showroom floor. Those days are long gone, and critics are carping that while Toyota builds dependable cars and trucks that appeal to the masses, their overall line of vehicles is…a tad boring. The truth is, there is some sportiness to be found, but it lies at two extremes: the exotic, and basically unattainable Lexus LFA, and our subject here, the economical Scion tC.

The Scion brand itself was created because Toyota was associated with an older demographic, and in chasing Gen Y buyers, Toyota was smart to create a sub-brand meant to appeal to a more hip crowd. While Scion is not new to the US, Canadian buyers are now getting their first taste. The Scion tC is a new car for 2011, and currently Scion’s best selling car. But if you desire a sporting car built by Toyota but lack the Swiss bank account, custom tailored suits and vacation home in Aspen that’s typical of the Lexus LFA buyer, how does the Scion tC stack up? Read on…

The first generation Scion tC took a tried and true premise-take economy car bits, wrap it up in a sporty wrapper with a decent price, and whammo, there’s the tC. For 2011 Scion sticks with that premise, but in an improved package. Yes, the tC will be instantly recognized by anyone familiar with the outgoing car. The updates, though subtle, make for an up to minute, but hardly trendy looking car that trades in some of its cute car looks for a more aggressive appearance. With its more serious stance, the new tC is indeed an improvement over what was already a good looking car.

Inside, the cockpit is driver-focused. The highlight is the meaty steering wheel which was a joy to hang on to. The seats offer just enough bolstering to hold you in place, and are quite comfortable. Controls are clear, simple, and intuitive to use. But there is no getting around the fact this car was built to a price, and it shows. The tC has some of the cheapest looking carpets I’ve seen in a modern car. Hard plastics abound, and they scratch easy. Our test car had under 6,000 miles on the clock, and scuffs and scratches were prevalent inside the car. The cabin of the tC is by no means something out a Dickens novel, and in spite of its shortcomings, I wouldn’t hesitate to take the tC for a road trip. As a 2+2, the rear seat is OK for short trips only, but the hatchback offers plenty of luggage space.

The new tC has more gusto than the old car, this time using a 2.5L four cylinder lifted from the Camry, rated at 180hp. Buyers can choose from a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Thankfully, our test was equipped with the manual. Despite its pedestrian roots, the big four cylinder had a nice little snarl to its exhaust note, but not so much so that the cabin was boomy or there was any droning. As a point and shoot car, the tC is good fun. The gearshift was a delight, with easy clutch pick up and a nice snick snick gear change action. While the tC is a fun to drive sport coupe, it is not a sports car. This is not the car you go VW GTI hunting in. But if that’s your thing, TRD does offer suspension upgrades as dealer installed options that will certainly tighten up your tC.

The Scion tC comes in one trim level only. With a base price of $18,275USD, the tC is hardly a stripper. All tC’s have handsome 18″ wheels, disc brakes front and back, panoramic moonroof, LED turn signals, AC, full power accessories, keyless entry, and a Pioneer 300 watt, eight speaker stereo with a USB port for iPod connectivity. Our test car added options like Bluetooth, floor mats, bumper applique and XM satellite radio for a total of $19,968, including delivery. Not bad for a sporty car with all the necessities most tech-savvy buyers demand in a car. Upgraded stereos and navigation are also available, in addition to other accessories and the aforementioned TRD performance goodies.

In sum, the Scion tC is a fun and relatively affordable sports coupe, that hits all the right check marks-sporty good looks, cozy but comfortable cockpit, zippy acceleration and a ride that is just sporty enough but comfortable for roads good and bad. It’s not a return to the good old days of multiple sporty cars from Toyota, but a reminder the company still remembers how to build an enjoyable car for the masses.