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2011 Scion tC

Save $5,000: Buy the Scion not the Civic Add to ...

You like sporty cars? Here’s a question for you: is the all-new 2012 Honda Civic Si 25 per cent more car than the Scion tC from Toyota’s so-called “youth brand?

Because the 2012 Si costs about 25 per cent more – $25,990 for the base Si versus $20,850 for the tC before options.

And truthfully, what options do you need for a tC? The standard gear includes air conditioning, power windows/door locks/mirrors, Pioneer AM/FM/CD stereos with six or eight speakers, sound system controls on the steering wheel, iPod/MP3 connectivity and electronic safety features, from anti-skid to air bags? (For the record, all Scions have the same standard equipment).

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The tC holds its own pretty well on features, though the Honda has more horsepower – 180 for the tC versus 201 for the Si. Both have a six-speed manual as the base transmission. And while the Si has a slightly tighter suspension and perhaps a bit more aggressive gearing, the performance gap between the cars is not great – not $5,000 worth, at least.

Naturally, buyers of both should for the most part be 20- or 30-something enthusiasts. If so, I’d argue the tC has a slightly bolder design, though not by much. Why Honda in particular has gone with a fairly tame exterior is a mystery and the tC does not have an over-the-top design, either. I mean, aren’t these coupes with racy aspirations supposed to look the part?

Ah, racy. Neither of these two would make grandma’s blood pressure boil dangerously. While the tC has power, the package as a whole is safe and predictable.

Under the tC’s hood is a 2.5-litre four-cylinder borrowed from the Toyota Camry. It’s a smooth, strong engine, breathing up lots of torque right off the bat and all the way to the 6,300-rpm redline. There's even a bit of an exhaust note that is entertaining without being annoying.

Get the louder TRD accessory exhaust if you want more noise. On the other hand, if you really want to go mainstream, Scion offers a six-speed automatic for $1,050. Honda has no autobox for the Si.

What’s missing from the tC is any sense of real communication between car and driver. For instance, the six-speed manual has a clutch take-up which is a little vague and the pedals aren’t set up especially well for heel-and-toe downshifts. The thick steering wheel feels good in your hands, but the steering responses are not racy. At least the steering column adjusts.

Perhaps, then, the six-speed automatic is your best choice. In everyday “D” mode, the shifts are quick enough. There is a Manual mode if you want to take control and speed up the changes in ratios, as well. If you do stick with the manual, the ratios are shorter, more for the enthusiast.

Those aspiring to think of themselves as the second coming of F1 wunderkind Sebastian Vettel may be a bit disappointed by the suspension design. Up front, Scion offers struts, while at the rear there are double wishbones. It all looks a lot like the Si, to be honest.

And like Honda has done with the Si, Scion has installed somewhat high spring rates and fairly thick stabilizer bars, though nothing here is stiff enough to rattle your fillings if the road gets a bit dicey. The electric assist steering – for improved fuel economy – is fine, but not breathtaking. Front and rear disc brakes are standard and pretty good. In a nutshell, Scion has tamed quite a bit of body roll and the understeer – plowing in hard cornering – is not horrible or embarrassing.

Inside, the front buckets are contoured to nicely shape to your body, the better to hold you in place when cornering. They’re good for a car in this price range. In back, we find enough legroom for an average adult and an easy-entry feature on both front chairs makes it relatively easy to climb back there.

The materials throughout look and feel fine, though hardly special. Why would they be at this price? Gauges, instruments and controls do not stand out for any negatives, though they are not particularly memorable as eye candy, either.

Scion is all about igniting passion in young buyers who will grow into adult Toyota owners. The styling might get a 20-something’s heart fluttering, but the performance of the tC likely will not.

Still, in an age when young people are often the ultimate consumers, the tC’s long list of standard features is nothing short of astounding. And build quality seems excellent.

Finally, the price – thousands less than the 2012 Civic Si. In this head-to-head matchup, Scion wins on value.

Tech specs

2011 Scion tC Coupe

Type: Sport compact coupe

Price: $20,850 ($1,390 freight)

Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 180 hp/173 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.2 city/6.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Civic Si, Ford Mustang Coupe, Chevrolet Camaro Coupe, Dodge Challenger Coupe, Mazdaspeed3, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Mini Cooper S, Kia Forte Koup, Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf, Mini Cooper

jcato@globeandmail.com

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