A decade and a half ago, Toyota launched its quirky Scion brand to offer offbeat products for younger buyers who wouldn’t be caught dead in their parent’s Camry or Corolla. With a varied international product portfolio second to none, Toyota quickly populated Scion with unique, offbeat offerings that saw a modicum of success in the market. But keeping the brand fresh proved more daunting as competitors launched their own young-at-heart products and Scion’s low-end cars didn’t offer Toyota the more-substantial profit margins needed to fund a continuous flow of edgy new products.
In the meantime, under the leadership of auto-racing buff Akio Toyoda, the Toyota brand’s newest mainstream cars and crossovers began gaining some traction among critics in the design and fun-to-drive departments. So, in September 2016 Toyota phased out the Scion name and moved Scion’s three newest and most up-to-date products over to the Toyota side of the ledger. For the 2017 model year, the Scion FR-S sports coupe became the Toyota 86, the Mazda-2-based Scion iA sedan was renamed the Toyota Yaris iA and the Scion iM hatchback joined the Toyota Corolla family. The latter made sense because the current U.S.-market Corolla came as a 4-door sedan only and the addition of the iM gave buyers shopping for a compact 5-door hatchback something to look at in the Toyota showroom. It filled a hole in the Toyota lineup created when the Corolla Matrix wagon was dropped, which was last sold in the U.S. in 2012.
The 2017 Toyota Corolla iM is based on a 5-door hatchback version of the Corolla sold around the world and from an equipment standpoint it’s most like the popular-selling Euro-market Toyota Auris. In Europe, compact 5-door hatchbacks are considered mainstream autos, not a step down from midsize cars like they are in the U.S. As a result, the Auris-based Corolla iM is no stripper. Just because Europeans generally drive smaller cars due to traffic congestion and high fuel costs doesn’t mean they don’t desire upgraded materials and comfort and convenience features.
Single Engine and Body Styles
Because the Auris is a big seller in European markets, it comes with a wide variety of equipment, including full-time all-wheel drive, a diesel and a gas-electric hybrid. There’s even an estate-wagon version across the Pond. For the U.S-bound Corolla iM however, Toyota focuses that down to a single, well-equipped sporty 5-door hatch with the largest available gas engine, a 137-hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder with Valvematic variable valve timing and cam phasing.
The end result is a sporty-looking Corolla iM with a number of nice touches that are uncommon in a car that costs $20K (our test car with destination charges came in at $20,335). Check a few option boxes on an uplevel-trim Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Mazda 3 or Ford Focus hatchback and you can easily run the tab into the high $20,000 range. The Corolla iM comes in just one, albeit uplevel, trim with everything standard. That’s the big difference.
Compared to the Corolla sedan, the iM hatchback has some sizzle. It sits lower to the ground than the sedan and courtesy of a full aero body kit including front air dam, side skirts and rear diffuser, a chrome exhaust tip, 17-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels, LED front running lights and LED taillamps, a bit of attitude as well.
Inside, leather isn’t available but the iM’s seats are nicely contoured for support and comfort and they’re covered with upscale cloth. Toyota didn’t skimp on interior trim either, with generous swaths of piano black and metallic detailing on the doors, console and instrument panel. There’s padding where you want it, along the leading edge of the dash, where the driver’s knee might rest against the center console as well as atop all armrests front, center and rear. The steering wheel, equipped with remote audio and Bluetooth hands-free phone controls, is leather wrapped. Toyota installed an acoustic windshield in the iM and other soundproofing measures usually reserved for more expensive cars, all the better to enjoy the standard 6-speaker Pioneer premium audio system with 7-inch touchscreen, HD radio and Aha internet radio connectivity. The iM’s standard air conditioning is a dual-zone automatic climate control system, again something you’d expect in a pricier machine. Other nice touches you might not expect at this price point include automatic headlamps, a backup camera and heated power folding side mirrors.
Size matters and the iM’s short wheelbase and trim overall length compared to the Corolla sedan, while great for around town maneuverability and slipping into tight parking spots, mean the hatchback gives up more than eight inches of rear seat legroom. But the space back there isn’t as bad as it might appear on paper because the backs of the front seatbacks are skived out to give back some much needed rear knee room. Okay, Millennials are not generally corn fed anyway. The back seat itself is split 60/40, allowing for some horse-trading between rear passenger and cargo needs, and there’s a fold-down center armrest back there with dual cupholders. The Devil’s in the details and one neat feature of the iM’s rear seat headrests is they can flipped forward—instead of having to be removed—so the rear seatback clears the backs of the front seats when folded.
However, even though it’s well-equipped in many regards, the Auris-based Corolla iM lacks some features available in its compact-hatchback competition. There’s no pushbutton start, leather seats or sunroof option. And unlike the euro versions, the iM’s not available with all-wheel drive. As a matter of fact, aside from choosing an exterior color and between a 6-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission, there is no optional equipment at all.
Toyota calls the automatic in the iM a CVTi-S and it is likely more advanced than continuously variable units you may have driven in the past. There’s a manual shifting mode that lets the driver quickly move the CVT sequentially through seven simulated gear ranges. And then there’s Sport mode with the CVTi-S, that gives more-responsive throttle mapping, livelier “shifts,” and quicker steering response. And while not quite a Porsche Boxster in the twisties, lateral G-force sensors working with the CVTi-S also give predictive “downshifting,” say when the car enters a sharp corner at speed.
Toyota is making a big safety push this year and the iM gets its share with the Toyota Safety Sense C standard package which includes a total of eight airbags, a lane-departure alert system, automatic high-beam control and a pre-collision system.
While it’s sporty looking, reasonably fleet of foot and a solid value, the handle “hot hatch” just doesn’t fit the iM. At just 137 horsepower under its sloping hood, the iM suffers from a power deficit compared to the better-selling hatches in the compact segment such as the Ford Focus with its standard 160-hp 2.0-liter, Honda Civic packing a base 158-hp 2.0-liter or the Mazda 3 sporting its entry-level 155-hp 2.0-liter.
Where the iM makes sense is value. For buyers already presold on the durability and solid-resale benefits of Toyota products, the iM also offers quite a few enhancements beyond those found in the Corolla sedan. Its multi-link independent rear suspension provides rough-road ride benefits without the cargo-area intrusion of rear struts, it handles and stops better due to quicker steering and larger 4-wheel disc brakes, is more nimble in traffic due to its shorter wheelbase, has grippier 225/45-17 tires, is easier to park courtesy of 13.8 inches less overall length nose to tail, and offers significantly more cargo-carrying versatility courtesy of the rear hatch and at 20.2 cubic feet, nearly double the cargo space. Those reasons alone should be enough to keep it around in the Corolla lineup for the foreseeable future.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2017 Toyota Corolla iM page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Autoweb /Ron Sessions