Scion's tC helped redefine the brand as a more mainstream player, but it wasn't really much fun to drive. Let's see about the all-new 2011.

Nearly six years on since its introduction, Scion's only mainstream model was definitely due for a rehash. The tC found a place with buyers in spite of (or perhaps because of) its rather more conventional sporty coupe design compared to the rest of Scion's unique lineup.

As we all know, the Scion line was originally developed to bring new buyers into the fold. Without the Toyota brand's signature Celica or Supra in the lineup, there really wasn't much to attract a young buyer into the brand. That said, Toyota is gearing up for an all-new sporty coupe, so the tC serves as somewhat of a gap filler until then. Yet the tC - and Scion - is here to stay.

The 2011 Scion tC might look awful darn like the outgoing model - but it's a new beast entirely.

Enter the machine
Scion officials tag the brand as being the youngest in the industry and to date they claim over 800,000 Scions on the road. In order to keep the momentum moving forward, they will soon start an "Enter the Machine" campaign to market to prospective customers who have not experienced the Scion brand - and that's going to be a tough task considering the increased effort at marketing to entry-level buyers. The playing field is a lot broader today than it was in 2005.

An evolutionary, rather than revolutionary design carries the day with the new tC, however, since Scion is banking on continuing its successful first generation. Starting with a profile that features blacked out A-pillars, to help it more resemble the side view of a full-face racing helmet, the challenge was for Scion to look more aggressive, with a masculine style and technology found in higher (read: costlier) segments.

The 2011 tC was designed at Calty, the California-based design studio responsible for penning various models of the Toyota, Lexus and Scion lines. The car is assembled at the Toyota Sutsumi plant in Japan even though its primary market is North America.

Calty sharpened and redefined the outgoing car's creases for a stronger dose of aggression, but it's still very much a tC. Given how well the outgoing tC was received by its buyer base, we think Scion's decision to stick with success was smart.

A palette to personalize
The key to thinking within the brand is the ability to personalize the car to the owner's tastes. To that end, the dash is rather simple with a very nice grainy textured surface that is non-glare running the width of the windshield.

The steering wheel is a grippy, thick, leather-wrapped affair with a flat bottom to aid with entry and exit. That it has tilt and telescoping features is an added bonus. Redundant radio and cruise controls are also included. And kudos to Scion for making the opening for audio systems of a universal size so that the aftermarket can be served as well. Our test vehicle for this first drive featured a navigation-equipped Alpine unit that was also satellite radio enabled. A 300-watt eight-speaker Pioneer unit is standard, an impressive unit almost identical to that found in the Lexus LX570. The more you spend...

Bolstering on the fabric-surfaced front seats held us in place during wheel-whipping exercises through the Otay lakes region near San Dieg, California. Comfortable after long rides, they offer good support throughout. Once you get into the back seat, it offers a comfortable-and reclining area to entertain your closest friends. Kick back far enough and you can watch a drive-in movie through the panoramic sunroof. The rear seats also fold down in a 60/40 split for added cargo capacity.

Power in the 2011 Scion tC comes from a new version of the inline four-yclinder found in the outgoing model. This one is now punched out to 2.5-liters, a 0.1 liter increase. The net result is a 12 percent increase in horsepower and a 6.7 percent increase in torque for new totals of 180 horsepower and 173 lb-ft. of torque - decent figures for a naturally aspirated motor. Mileage on the new Scion slots in at 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, the latter of which represents a vastimprovement over the outgoing 27 mpg on the highway.

The suspension on the tC is tried and true. The MacPherson struts up front and double-wishbone rear suspension are evolved from the current tC but with new shocks, springs and sway bars. The result was a great ride through varying road surfaces around the far reaches of Southern California. We found the Scion eager to pull through great sweeping turns on mountain roads, as well as a true track with minimal amounts of torque steer on straight roads. It's quite a refined ride.

We found the Scion's electric power steering unit is a good match for this car. Exhibiting great on-center feeling, as well as direct feedback from the road, which almost allowed us to "think" the car through a turn. The steering is phenomenally improved over the outgoing car's overboosted, yet too heavy tiller.

The brakes are bigger at 11.65 inches in front over last year's 10.83 inches, while the rear climbed from 10.59 inches to 10.98 inches. Showing no brake fade during our hot-footing session, we felt confident to push the tC further into the turns than we would have with other models.

The tC has finally become a genuinely sporty coupe.

Stick it to me
Scion thinks that buyers will favor by 70 percent, the six-speed automatic transmissions over the 30 percent who will opt for the six-speed manual. We think the manual should be the gearbox of choice for most buyers, as it affords quicker acceleration over the slushbox. With the majority of the torque/power band coming on at 4,100 rpm and above, drivers will find it requires a heavy right foot to motivate the tC. Placing the shift lever in the sport +/- gate did help a bit, but we think the addition of paddle shift levers will go a long way to helping beef up the automatic tranny's street credentials.

On the other hand, though, we thoroughly enjoyed rowing through the gates of the six-speed manual transmission. The only criticism we had with it was how it needed the addition of a short throw shift kit to tighten up the reach required to get to the tallest gears. Those with Gorilla arms shouldn't have a problem.

Leftlane's bottom line
Through a combination of city and country driving on highways and single-lane backroads, we found the Scion tC a fun package to drive that offers loads of personalization options to owners to make the car truly their own.

It's a vast improvement over the old car, which had the look but none of the go or refinement. The 2011 Scion tC delivers.

2011 Scion tC base price, $18,275.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.