2009 Scion tC Review and Prices

Last Updated: Aug 5, 2011

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2009 Scion tC Buying Advice

The 2009 Scion tC breaks the mold at an automotive brand built around breaking the mold. The tC in fact became Scion’s best-selling model by being the most-conventional car in a lineup that thrives on nonconformity.

Unlike its cubist cousins in the Scion family, the 2009 Scion tC is a low-slung two-door coupe, a traditional body style popular with young people. Indeed, the Scion tC attracts some of the industry’s youngest buyers, with an average age under 25.

The tC is not necessarily a bargain-basement special, however. Scion says 75 percent of tC buyers opt for the automatic transmission over the standard manual gearbox, and that many dress it up with, on average, $1,000 or so in factory-endorsed accessories. The result is a tC that changes hands for about $19,000.

Scion makes it easy. No brand offers a wider array of add-ons that blur the line between tuner-branded bling and dealer-installed factory options.

Scion says the most-common tC add-on is a rear spoiler, which, if you ask us, merely burns $275 better spent upgrading the audio system. As for dipping into Scion’s catalog of color-lit cupholders and coffee-can exhaust outlets, well, let your sense of good taste be your guide.

If you can resist Scion’s siren call to “personalize” your ride, you can snare a tC for a comfortable $17,000 or so.

You’ll enjoy this car best with the manual transmission. And you’ll find it comes with good-looking 17-inch alloy wheels and a comprehensively outfitted interior that includes at no extra cost a power sunroof, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, and a classy three-spoke steering wheel with audio controls.

In any event, the 2009 Scion tC may represent the final model year of the car in its current form, so if you like this one, the clock is running.

Scion means “heir” or “offshoot,” and it’s what happens when an established automaker, in this case Toyota, believes its products are too staid to appeal to young buyers. The Japanese giant launched Scion for model-year 2004, aiming for Generation Y shoppers with slightly Americanized versions of two odd-looking little cars from his home market. The xB was a shoebox on wheels, the xA looked a little like a gym shoe.

The far-less-polarizing tC followed for model-year 2005, and despite subtle front and rear appearance alterations and some revised cabin trim for 2008, it hasn’t changed since.

The tC looks like a coupe, but its sloped rear roofline actually is hinged for cargo access, so the car is really a hatchback in disguise. It has front-wheel drive and a 160-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, a four-speed automatic is available at extra cost.

The tC is the only Scion that isn’t based on a Toyota design originally developed for the Japanese market. It draws its basic engineering from a model Toyota offers in Europe called the Avensis. Scions are sold through Toyota dealers; about 960 of Toyota’s 1,224 U.S. retailers carry the brand.

Scion’s approach to new product is revolution rather than evolution on the belief that its intended audience craves all-new vehicles instead of updated versions of existing ones. That strategy is being reconsidered in the face of declining brand sales, and it’s left the future of the tC open to debate.

Reports indicate its replacement is due for model-year 2010, but no reliable source will say whether it’ll take the form of another low-slung coupe. Scion says its recently unveiled Hako Coupe Concept car – another bricky design -- does not forecast the tC replacement. As a side note, the tC in early 2008 relinquished its title as the best-selling Scion model to the latest iteration of the bread-loaf-shaped xB.

2009 Scion tC Changes back to top

The 2009 Scion tC is expected to be a virtual rerun of the 2008 version.

No change to the 2009 Scion tC will significantly alter its performance or passenger accommodations from those of the 2008 model. Statements in this review about performance and accommodations are based on detailed test drives of the 2008 Scion tC.

2009 Scion tC Test Drive back to top

Driving the Scion tC
The Scion tC is the perfect bunny hill of sporty-car driving. It’ll introduce you to nimble handling with side lessons on how a solid body structure contributes to proper suspension behavior.
With most of the car’s weight in the bow, the front-wheel-drive layout gives good traction in wet weather and compels the tC to begin to noseplow rather than to suddenly fishtail as speeds reach critical levels in turns. Similarly, it’s got just enough body lean in corners to signal when its time to slow down. And except for the narrowed view directly aft, the tC is easy to see out of, and that’s always a confidence-booster.
The engine is sufficient to get you away from a stop quickly without inducing an unwanted effect called torque steer in which powerful front-drive cars veer to the side in low-speed acceleration. There’s no excess of power, so you’ll learn to be resourceful, using what’s available to stay with fast-moving traffic. That’s where the manual transmission pays off. And finally, the tC comes with meaty tires that work with standard disc brakes at all corners and antilock control to furnish strong stopping power.
Riding in the Scion tC
Seasoned driving enthusiasts might sense a bit too much residual body movement after the tC negotiates a bump or dip. But that’s not too severe a trade-off for a ride that doesn’t pound or jar over broken surfaces.
You’re young, so you won’t mind the steep drop into the low-set front buckets, and you’re narrow enough in the hips to consider the firm side bolsters supportive rather than confining. If you’re tall, however, you might wish for a bit more seat travel to accommodate your long legs, though there’s not much to be done about head room that grows tight if your height exceeds 6 feet.
It helps to be both young and limber when clambering into the back seat. There’s really no room for a middle passenger, but space is sufficient for a friendly couple on a night of club-hopping if not a drive across the state. Rear seatbacks that recline slightly are a help.
That high-watt audio system can be used to drown out noise from wind, tires, and engine at highway speeds and to overcome the loud whoosh created by tilting open or sliding back the sunroof.

Loading stuff is easy through the large hatch that dips down to bumper level. There’s not much room behind the rear seat, but fold the split seatbacks and you’ll open up good cargo space. Remove the front headrests, fold down the front seatbacks, and Scion says you can carry an 8.5-foot-long surfboard with the hatch closed.

That hatch lid, like the doors, shuts with reassuring solidity. Cabin materials feel sturdy and have a nicely grained, matte finish set off by just enough bright trim. You feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, maybe even coming out ahead.

Scion tC dashboard and controls
Sporty without too much pretension is the rule. Controls are where you’d like them, though markings identifying their function don’t stand out sufficiently against the silver-finished theme, particularly on bright days. Rotate the big climate-system control and you’re touching genuine aluminum.

2009 Scion tC Prices back to top

Scion has discontinued the Spec Package version of the tC, which was in effect a decontented model and an open invitation to accessorize. That leaves a single trim line that starts around $17,000 with manual transmission, around $17,800 with automatic.

Standard equipment includes cloth upholstered seating for five, a height-adjusting driver’s seat, remote keyless entry, power mirrors with directional indicators, outside temperature gauge, and the aforementioned alloy wheels and power equipment.

Credit Scion with sensibly equipping the tC with a thoughtful array of safety features as standard equipment. It comes with front torso-protecting side airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, and an airbag in the lower portion of the dashboard designed to cushion the driver’s knee. Four-wheel disc brakes are included, as is antilock control, which automatically pumps the brakes in quick stops. The tC does not, however, offer antiskid control, a safety feature designed to reduce the risk of going off course in fast turns.

Options include a navigation system (around $2,010), Pioneer Premium audio system ($390), and a choice of Sirius or XM satellite radio (($450).

Among Scion-sanctioned accessories are a carbon-fiber dashboard appliqué by Superior Dash (about $140), illuminated door sills ($300), amber or blue LED footwell and cupholder lighting ($470), Razo-branded shift knob ($60), OBX Racing Sports-branded pedals in brushed stainless steel ($325), and TYC-branded LED taillamps ($525). Also available are a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) performance exhaust system ($525) and EMX-branded Super seven-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli PZero Nero all-season P225/40ZR18 tires.

2009 Scion tC Fuel Economy back to top

Federal EPA estimates are 20 mpg city/27 highway for the tC with manual transmission and 21/29 with automatic transmission. The tC uses regular-grade gas.

2009 Scion tC Safety and Reliability back to top

In government tests that measure the potential for injury in frontal collisions, the tC earns the maximum five-star rating for driver protection and four of five starts for front passenger protection. In side impacts, the tC rates four of five stars for both driver and rear-passenger protection.

Scion buyers have to shop at Toyota dealerships, but won’t necessarily interact with Toyota sales people. Nonetheless, both brands are rated average for sales satisfaction in surveys by J.D. Power and Associates, the leader in measuring automotive consumer satisfaction. Scion trails Toyota in ratings of initial quality, scoring about average while the parent brand rates above average in the J.D. Power surveys. That difference also shows up in ratings of satisfaction with dependability.

When it comes to the tC, however, buyers surveyed were extremely pleased. In the J.D. Power study, tC buyers awarded the highest possible marks for overall quality and highest or next-to-highest ratings in most every specific area measuring satisfaction with quality and design. Only in powertrain was the tC rated average.

2009 Scion tC Release Date back to top

The 2009 Scion tC release date is autumn 2008.

2009 Scion tC Competition back to top

Coupe versions of the Chevrolet Cobalt and Honda Civic are tC rivals, as is the Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe. Scion says tC shoppers also consider the Mazda 3. Like the tC, these cars have front-wheel drive. Eclipse comes as a convertible as well as a coupe, and the Mazda 3 offers only four-door sedan and four-door hatchback body styles.

At around $19,000, the Cobalt Sport model takes on the tC with a 171-horsepower four-cylinder engine, sport suspension, and 17-inch alloys. Automatic transmission adds about $925, a sunroof about $750. Cobalt lacks the hip-hop cache of the tC, and it isn’t as well-built, but is attracting a loyal young audience. The Cobalt will be around in its current form until model-year 2011 or so.

The outstanding Honda Civic coupe in EX trim starts around $18,800 with a 140-horsepower four. But stretch a little and for around $21,200 you can score the best coupe in this group, the Civic Si. The Civic Si is a genuine performance machine with a 197-horse four and great handling, though it’s available only with a six-speed manual transmission. Civic is due some styling updates for 2009 and a full redesign for model-year 2011.

The shapely but relatively heavy Eclipse coupe looks racier than it drives, at least in 162-horsepower four-cylinder form. It feels cramped inside and a bit overpriced at around $20,000 to start; add about $1,900 for a sunroof and upgraded audio, another $1,000 for automatic transmission. The Eclipse GT coupe starts around $23,500 with a 268-horsepower V-6. Discounts on Eclipse are common. Mitsubishi will likely freshen the Eclipse for model-year 2011, but won’t change it significantly until some years beyond that.

The Mazda 3 is the wild card in this deck, and it’s a credit to the car’s street cred that it’s a contender with the coupe crowd. The “s” versions start around $17,500 with a 156-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The hot ticket here is the turbocharged MazdaSpeed 3, another true performance car with 263 horsepower and loads of useful go-fast goodies. It lists for around $22,400 in sedan form, just over $24,000 as a hatchback. The Mazda 3 is due significant upgrades for model-year 2010, though it’ll retain its current underskin engineering.

2009 Scion tC Next Steps