The 2008 Scion tC is fun to drive. The engine is quiet, smooth, and plenty powerful in a 2900-pound car; and at full throttle, it sounds potent without being intrusive, because it has a valved muffler that opens up at high rpm and can be worth as much as 5 horsepower.
The 2.4-liter double overhead cam, 16-valve engine is tuned to 161 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. This engine has been around Toyota in one form or another for many years, and it has been continuously improved for power, torque, quietness and reliability. It comes with electronic variable valve timing for good low-end torque, and twin balance shafts for smoothness. The tC is certified as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV).
Choosing between the five-speed manual and four-speed automatic involves tradeoffs. The automatic is easier and, because of how it is geared, more efficient. But the economy gearing of the four-speed automatic means it's not the hot setup for drag racing, with a maximum overall ratio of around 10.8:1. The five-speed manual offers quicker acceleration performance, with an overall ratio of nearly 15:1 for much quicker acceleration in first gear. However, the automatic does move out smartly. And it's obviously much easier to live with in the stop-and-go and slow-and-go, eliminating the need to exercise your left leg on the clutch pedal. Unlike most cars, the tC gets slightly better highway mileage with the automatic, again because the manual has a lower 4.235 axle ratio.
The steering, ride quality and overall handling of the Scion tC are commendable. Ride quality and stability are enhanced by its 106.3-inch wheelbase, longest in the class. It steers with a hefty touch, but accurate pointing, and transitions are easy and without drama. That's because the tC has a low-cost MacPherson strut front suspension coupled with an expensive independent double-wishbone rear suspension not found on many cars in this price class. Bridgestone Potenza tires are standard on core models.
The brakes are quite powerful for a car this light. The pedal feel and travel is very much to our liking, with almost no dead space at the top of the pedal travel. A two-step servo increases power assist in proportion to pedal force to provide precise pedal feel. The ventilated front and solid rear discs are generously sized (10.8 inches front, 10.6 inches rear) and, as mentioned, ABS and EBD come standard. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer in a panic braking situation; EBD automatically balances braking forces front to rear, improving stability under hard braking and helping reduce stopping distances.