When the first two cars from Toyota's new Scion brand came out, they raised questions about whether the automaker's DNA had been lost in translation. The bean-shaped xA and especially the boxy xB begged for attention; these were not your buttoned-down Camrys. Of course, that was the idea. Scion is the budget nameplate Toyota launched last summer to lure Gen Y drivers to showrooms, and it's getting the job done. The median age of Scion buyers is an industry-low 35 (Toyota buyers overall push 48), and 75% are new to the Toyota family.
With its third entry, Scion seems to have grown up fast. The Scion tC is a sporty coupe that looks more at home in the Toyota garage than parked beside its quirky siblings. Low-slung and squat, it lacks the xA's dimple-cheeked charm or xB's sass. Cruising around Los Angeles in a black-cherry model with optional $995 "ground effects" (attachments to make the car appear lower), I patiently waited for a thumbs-up. Five days later, not even the dude driving a flame-surfaced xB had looked the car's way.
Still, in the Toyota tradition, the tC offers terrific value in a low-key package. For a base price of $16,465, it comes with a sport-tuned suspension, antilock disc brakes, 17-in. alloy wheels and a chrome-tipped exhaust. Under the hood, there's a 160-h.p. four-cylinder engine. I didn't expect pulse-pumping pickup and didn't get it. But the five-speed manual I drove shifted smoothly in L.A. traffic. The steering was responsive, the ride firm, and during the brief spells in which I clocked more than 10 m.p.h. on the clogged freeway, the car never felt underpowered (actually, it performed admirably in forays above the speed limit).
Inside, Scion aims for the sport-tuner look and basically gets it right. The instrument panel is cleanly laid out; chrome finishes accent the door handles and vent dials. A panorama sunroof, treated to reduce UV rays and interior temperature, lends an airy feel to the tight quarters. Scion rounds out the standard package with air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry and a 160-watt stereo.
With Toyota retiring the Celica and the MR2 Spyder, the company is banking on the tC to rev sales with hot-rod-minded kids. Scion offers a variety of accessories to customize the car with, such as an interior-light kit and satin silver shift knob. Add flame surfacing, and even a hipster might take notice.