The somewhat bland styling of the 2005-07 Scion tC was intentional, offering a blank canvas for hot-rodders and customizers. Frankly, we liked its look of purposeful performance. The 2008 Scion tC certainly looks more sophisticated, but whether it looks better is a matter of taste.
Most changed is the front end, where the headlight housings now contain three sharply defined separate lenses for high beams, projector-type low beams, and amber turn signals, all arranged in a subtle diagonal. The top and bottom grille textures no longer match, with a fussy diagonal-oval mesh up top that fades to solid at the sides; and horizontal slats down below. It's a bit busy to our eyes, and spoils the simplicity we admired in the previous design.
The diagonal three-element theme continues around back, where each smoke-gray taillight housing contains three small round lenses, the larger two of which overlap. As before, a thin, LED center stop light appears gray until it lights up; and the bottom edge of the bumper sports a prominent horizontal pout.
Otherwise the outside isn't much changed, and that's a good thing. Even the standard six-double-spoke alloy wheels are carried over from last year.
The doors are quite long for such a small car, and the door handles are of the reach-around-and-pull variety that we like. The long rear side window suggests a two-door sedan more than a hatchback coupe, and makes the design flow from front to rear gracefully. Wheel arches are exaggerated, suggesting that larger tires and wheels will be fitted as soon as the car is bought. (Or the buyer can opt for the 18- or 19-inch wheels from the dealer).
One of the most surprising bonuses the tC brings is its panoramic glass sunroof, designed without gaskets for a tight, no-creaks fit. It filters 97 percent of UV rays and 100 percent of infrared to avoid sunburned occupants. All of the body panels fit tight and straight, and quality flows from every pore.
Inside the 2008 Scion tC are first-rate materials. There aren't a lot of different grains and textures, and the swoopy brushed-metal center stack housing vents, sound system and climate control system are a marvel of modern design. Scion has pumped up the volume a bit for 2008, adding metallic accents that match the center stack to the steering wheel spokes and door-mounted grab handles. Everything fits together beautifully, works intuitively and looks great.
The front bucket seats look and feel like they were designed for racing, but that doesn't mean to say they're too narrow or too hard. We found them very comfortable, with enough fore/aft adjustment to suit tall American drivers regardless of age (including our tall and, shall we say, experienced correspondent). The driver's and shotgun seats can be reclined all the way down into what Scion calls a sleep position.
The core model's rear seats recline through 10 stops and 45 degrees to convert the interior into a conversation bin. With seats up, there's more than 26 inches of cargo length there; with the second seats dropped, almost 60 inches; and with the front passenger seat folded over, almost 104 inches of cargo length available.
Attention to detail is evident in the mechanical seat position memory on the front bucket seats, the 60/40 split folding rear seat, the dead pedal for the driver's left foot, fully closing vents, and a cover for the stereo faceplate.
The three-pod instrument panel is amber-illuminated, deeply tunneled and easy to use, day or night, as are the balance of the instruments and controls. The metal-tone center console features a cast-aluminum temperature control dial flanked by soft-touch electronic buttons and an LCD display showing exterior temperature, seven fan speeds and a clock. Shutter-type flush-closing dash vents complement the center console's waterfall design.
The Pioneer single CD system that comes standard on all Scion tCs (even the Spec Series) features a user-customizable welcome screen, MP3 capability, four speakers and 160 watts. Sirius and XM Satellite Radio are optional.
The head unit allows iPod owners to listen to their tunes through the car speakers and to control song selection and read stored information through the head unit's display. Also standard (on core models) for 2008 is a Pioneer six-inch subwoofer with 35-watt maximum power, tuned specifically for the tC. This compact unit is mounted in the under-floor storage area, keeping it out of sight and leaving the cargo floor clear.
The optional premium audio adds the ability to download skins to play on the head unit's organic electroluminescent (OEL) faceplate. These so-called skins include images, four-second video clips, and eight-second movies from Pioneer's website. Pioneer software also allows customers to burn their own images and movies onto a CD and upload them onto the head unit.
The premium audio system comes with rear head unit outputs, allowing the addition of external amps to boost power to additional speakers and subwoofers. Scion claims that none of these modifications will affect the operation of head unit's standard features.
Both the standard and premium head units feature Scion Sound Processing (SSP), which allows listeners to choose from three pre-set equalizer settings; Automatic Sound Leveling (ASL); and Sound Retouch Technology (SRT), which provides clearer CD sound quality.