I had already discovered the 2014 Scion tC is much roomier inside than its smaller, slightly sexier sister, the FR-S. The question remained: How would it handle when pushed?
Well, not like the rear-wheel drive FR-S, that was for sure. The tC is and always has been front-wheel drive, which is partially to blame for its interior spaciousness. Despite this difference, in at least one way, the tC was more user-friendly to the street hoon: One would have to do insane things involving high corner entry speeds and the tC’s console-mounted handbrake to get the tC’s tail to lose its grip on all but the slickest pavement. Don’t ask how I know. The FR-S was willing to let its rear tires lose grip if you got on the throttle too hard coming out of a fast sweeper, albeit only for a moment before traction control gave the smackdown to that throttle-induced oversteer. Again, don’t ask how I know.
Maybe the traction control system was just a lot better disguised in the tC, or maybe I didn’t push the car’s limits of grip as much as I did the FR-S, but I didn’t feel traction control kick in nearly as much in the tC. The FR-S makes more horsepower, at 200, than the 179 horses that emanate from the tC, but the tC makes more torque (179 vs. 151 ft-lbs), so I guess maybe I expected the usual front-wheel drive understeer sensation — something I got plenty of in the 197 horsepower Nissan Juke NISMO edition. But the tC never surprised me when I got on the throttle coming out of a turn — even when I got on it hard — whereas the FR-S did get tail-happy a few times in the same situation. On a track, the FR-S may well be faster, but on the street, the average driver probably will feel more confident in the tC. It’s a bonus for the tC crowd that they don’t feel insect-sized when passing semi trucks on the highway, as I felt in the smaller-bodied FR-S.
As for the tC’s 2AR-FE 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, I was less impressed. The FR-S had that magical, character-rich 2.0-liter Subaru flat-four that had a nice, blatty note just off-idle and seemed to spin up quickly when prodded — a case of the engine feeling as light and crisp as the chassis itself. The tC’s engine, while half a liter larger in displacement and technically a better torque-producing engine, felt slower to accelerate, and it felt like the torque came on later in the rev range than it did in the FR-S. Once it did come on, like the FR-S, it wasn’t overwhelming power at all.
Normally, I would say weight has something to do with this perceived slowness, but the tC only outweighs the smaller FR-S by about 300 lbs in automatic transmission form. I’m thinking it has more to do with the engine’s power delivery and perhaps the gearing of the six-speed automatic transmission in the tC. The exhaust note on the tC sounded like it could stand some opening up — who knows, perhaps if it were, the tC’s engine would make a positive shift in its torque curve so the meat of the powerband comes on earlier in the rev range.
All-in-all, I was impressed with the chassis tuning of the tC when hustling it along my favored “performance” test route. With a little massaging, I’m sure the 2AR-FE engine can become a real beast, too. If I owned a tC, I’d probably be calling the folks at BeanGarage ASAP to order up a Takeda cold air intake and a Megan Racing cat-back exhaust to see if that livened up the midrange punch of the engine. Pricey, sure, but the tC’s got two out of three — chassis prowess and interior space — so it’s hard to argue with spending a few bucks on making it more satisfying in the area of throttle response.
Disclosure: Scion provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.