Handling upgrade boost fun factor of small sports coupe
by: JAIME VALDEZ, All dress up and ready to go, go, go.

Although Scion owners have always been urged to customize their cars, the company also knows how to trick them out. The new factory performance version of the tC is one bad looking sports coupe. Loaded up with a special package of Toyota Racing Development performance options, the Release Edition 5.0 seems ready to rumble.

As the name suggest, the 5.0 is the fifth factory package released by Scion on the tC. Only 2,000 will be produced, each identified by a numbered dash plaque.

For the most part, our test model lived up to its promise. For a mere $2,320, the RE 5.0 package turned the already attractive tC into a head-turning street machine. Appearance options include gloss black paint and a black-and-red interior treatment that was aggressive without being macho. The black leather steering wheel was just the right size - not too thick, not too thin.

The pre-selected Toyota Racing Development performance options upped the ante even more. TRD is the in-house tuning shop for all Toyota, Lexus and Scion cars. It produces part for both street cars and Toyota's factory racing program. Similar programs by other manufacturers include Mazdaspeed (Mazda), Nismo (Nissan), Ralliart (Mitsubishi), Mugen (Honda), STi (Subaru), Ford Performance Vehicles (Ford Australia), Holden Special Vehicles (Holden), Mercedes' AMG division, BMW "M" models, Audi "RS" models, Chevrolet's Super Sport, and Volvo R-Design models.

The TRD options in the RE 5.0 package include a stainless steel sports muffler, lowering springs, a rear sway bar and 18-inch flat black wheels with low-profile Toyo Proxes FZ4 tires. Together, their results are impressive. Turn the key and the exhaust barks to life. Pushing the RE 5.0 along twisty roads is a treat. All the suspension-related components work well together, resulting in light-feeling car that immediately goes where it's pointed and corners flat. Turning the stereo off adds to the fun - the exhaust burbles along nicely as the revs rise and fall.

Some might find the ride harsh. It is definately firmer than stock and a little jittery over rough pavement, but not punishing.

But despite its looks and handling capacities, the RE 5.0 is not a street racer. The option package does not increase the power of the base 2.4-liter DOHC engine. Absent is the TRD supercharger that boosts the output from 161 to 200 horsepower. And the four-speed automatic transmission does not include a manual shift mode.

As a result, the RE 5.0 is reasonably quick but not particularly fast. It can feel spirited in around-town driving, but freeway passing requires some thought. Red light challenges should be carefully considered. Scion apparently considers the RE 5.0 to be more of a sweet-handling GT than a bare-knuckle brawler.

The compromise is easy to live with. At $22,225, the Scion tC RE 5.0 is still a lot of car for the money. The interior is well laid out, with big analog gauges and a simple-but-complete center control console. The plastic panels are pleasantly textured and well fitted. The fabric seats are comfortable but could use more bolstering. And the view is good, especially considering how low it sits.

Like all small sports coupes, the back seats are a little cramped. But they can also be fully folded down to increase the already-ample space beneath the sweeping hatchback.

Anyone looking for an affordable, economical fun-to-drive small car should consider the Scion tC. At a base price of $17,800 and an EPA average 24 miles per gallon, the sporty coupe is a great value, especially considering its long list of standard equipment.

If you want a little more exclusivity, the RE 5.0 package is a real bargain - but you'd better move fast to find one.

Facts and figures

• Test Model: 2010 Scion tC RTD.

• Manufacturer: Toyota.

• Class: Compact.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-passenger hatchback coupe.

• Power train: 2.4-liter DOHC 24-valve 4 cylinder (161 hp, 162 ft-lb).

• Transmission: 4-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 21/29.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $17,800 (price as tested $22,2250).

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