2011 Scion tC: First Drive

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Exotic coupes are a dime a dozen -- actually, more like a million dimes each and up -- but inexpensive sporty hatch-coupes are a fading lot. From the ranks of the old Mitsubishi Eclipse, Toyota MR2, Acura Integra and even the Ford Probe and Mazda MX-6, we're down to a precious few two-doors you can buy for less than $20,000, and still have a good time at the wheel.

The 2011 Scion tC wants to be in any place we talk about sports coupes and hatchbacks, so much so that Scion flew us out to San Diego this week to take our first spin behind the tC's wheel. After a day of looping around the hills east of town and circling the airport like a 757 trying to thread the needle into the city's notoriously tricky airport, we came away more impressed than ever with the tC, or really, with any Scion, on a fun-to-drive basis. We'd still want to spend a fairly lavish amount on the aftermarket pieces, but the bare-stock car is now something you'd be happy to pit against the likes of the Kia Forte Koup, the lame-duck Ford Focus two-door, the Honda Civic Coupe and even the spark-free Honda CR-Z.

If you're female, you might think the tC's a mite less appealing, though. Follow the he-she stereotypes through the Scion's new shape, and tell us: is this a shape girls will like, too? Its collection of straight edges have crisped up the 2011 tC's design out of mock-Celica doldrums and into a new happy place of visual distinction. From the side, the big notch in the rear quarter glass is supposed to look like a helmet. We're seeing a mix of GT-R, Camaro and Cylon in the profile. Some fitting sci-fi references are at work, for sure, and they turn concrete when the tC wears its "cement" paint color, a battleship grey that mimics a Steelcase desk (or an ur-Audi TT). The angles slashed into the front and rear ends amplify what we think is something like...design character? We can only hope they're putting this much thought into that on-again, on-again rear-drive FT-86 coupe.

Carried through the cabin, that magically rediscovered T-square puts some starch in the Scion tC's instruments and controls and some glaring lapses in finishes. The fat steering wheel has a flat bottom, and begs your attention as soon as you slide into the wide, sculptured front seat. It's not enough to distract us away from the trifecta of differently grained plastics that hook up in an unnatural way right over the glovebox, but the cockpit wears red-lit gauges well, and the cut-tube gauges and Reese's-sized climate controls inject some function-over-form simplicity that we are loving, after having spent all afternoon deciphering the identical chromed radio buttons on a 2011 Toyota Avalon.

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