You know you’re in a hot car when high school kids try to race you without provocation. Scion strummed this chord delightfully with the second generation tC – the successor to the young brand’s best-selling model.
On my maiden voyage behind the wheel of the 2011 sports coupe I passed by several South Seattle high schools shortly after classes ended for the day, unaware that a number of youngsters impassioned by The Fast and the Furious franchise were about to hit the streets in an onslaught of zippy machines.
I wove through the early rush hour traffic with the tC’s RPM’s jacked up to four grand, the angsty exhaust note at full drone. In a span of fifteen minutes an Acura, BMW and Infiniti driven by racy young men appeared in the tC’s rear view mirror, jockeyed into position next to the car just long enough to make their presence known and gassed it hard to pass.
From what I had seen in the movies these were blatant attempts to bait me into “Aggressive Driving”.
Any question of the restyled tC’s street persona were laid to rest when Vin Diesel screamed up beside me stuffed into a 1995 Honda Civic with a coffee can muffler and spray-can paint job. We locked eyes momentarily before he veered off towards the parking lot of a Bed Bath and Beyond.
Well then. The new tC certainly APPEARED to be a venerable successor to the original, and a race-worthy one at that. But as Vin Diesel had so aptly demonstrated looks could be deceiving. On paper at least the enhancements to the tC were clear.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-banger borrowed from the latest Camry producing 180hp (19hp more than the previous tC)
Transmission: Six-speed manual/automatic
Handling: Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control and Brake Assist – all standard.
Styling: Inspired by the athletic look of a racing helmet
How and if these changes would translate to serious performance on the back roads remained to be seen. After a god-awful eight hours at work I drove the tC directly into Snoqualmie Pass with the idea that Johnny Law wears a looser belt in rural areas, particularly those in the woods. As night fell I veered off I-90 East at the Snoqualmie exit in search of a cliché small town back road and soon discovered a wonderful loop of fun off Mill Pond Road.
Lined by heavy forest the Loop’s speed limit topped out at 35mph and ran twisty for nearly 4 miles without the illumination of a single street lamp. It was a perfect location to run a little sports car through its paces or crash the Henderson family station wagon into a Sasquatch.
Wound up to the top of second and third gear the tC’s high beams revealed enough of the juking road as it developed from the darkness to properly calculate the turns. Pushing it too hard could have sent us into the Evergreens like a little Metallic pinball.
I was impressed by the added punch of the tC’s new engine and the traction control flattered the responsive handling but it was hard to discern if the upgrades had transformed it from an around-town zipper to a serious contender or if the dark turns were more responsible for the excitement.
The only way to reach an educated conclusion on the tC’s sports car credibility was to find a testing ground with improved visibility and an even dizzier element of danger. That weekend I drove it back into Snoqualmie Pass at high noon in search of a mountain road with twistier twists and a more thematic threat of peril.
I discovered a camping road off the Asahel Curtis exit that corkscrews down along the ridges of a hillside composed entirely of jagged boulders. Losing control here would mean flying from the pavement, exploding in mid-air and plummeting from terrace to terrace in slow motion for nearly two minutes as the rocks sheared the car away to an unrecognizable hunk of metal seasoned with the scraps of a fledgling auto-journalist.
Upon further observation at the death course the tC is not a true sports car. But that isn’t the point. It looks like one, is plenty of fun to drive around town and has one major selling point above the sportier competition in its class:
At first glance the tC doesn't look like a hatchback but it is. The rear window pops up from the rear of the car in one big piece and the rear seats fold down to make enough room for a single dresser drawer. With those seats up there’s room for two overfed six-foot tall men. Most of the tC’s competition can't touch that.
All things considered the second generation tC is better than the first is most every way. While not for the hardcore driver it packs plenty of attractive image and won't disappoint someone who would get bored with a Honda Civic Coupe.
Throw in a standard eight-speaker sound package with an available Alpine upgrade designed to flatter iPod addicts and there’s plenty of reason for young buyers who want a bit of excitement from their car to give it a serious look.
Plus, the racer kids seem to think it means business; that feature comes standard.