2017 Toyota Corolla iM

10/16/2017

Shahed Hussain

After Toyota shuttered its entry level brand, Scion vehicles were rebranded as Toyotas. The subcompact iA sedan became the Yaris iA and the iM hatchback was rebadged as the Corolla iM. Based on the European-market Auris, the Corolla iM is on a different platform than the Corolla sedan.

The iM factory options are limited to a choice of transmission and exterior colors. We tested a 2017 CVT-equipped iM with a sticker price of $19,490, plus an $865 delivery fee. Pricing for the 2018 Corolla iM starts at $19,245 with the 6-speed manual gearbox, or $19,590 for the CVT automatic, and an $895 delivery fee. Standard equipment includes dual-zone air conditioning, leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, rearview camera, Pioneer audio system with touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio compatibility, and 17-inch diameter alloy wheels.

Interior design and materials are a cut above most other cars in its class. The dashboard, center console and most other touch points are padded. Gloss black and gray hues dominate the interior color theme, broken by a slash of padded white trim across the dash. The fat leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio and mobile phone controls integrated on the spokes. Gauges consist of a tachometer and speedometer with inset fuel and coolant temperature gauges. A central information display shows trip computer and other vehicle data. The gated CVT shift lever has both manual and sport modes for additional shift control. A dual-mode climate control system allows both driver and front passenger to maintain their preferred temperature. A USB input and 12V power outlet on the center console can charge portable electronics. Dual cupholders are conveniently located between the front seats. The Pioneer audio system supports Pandora(R) and other streaming audio services via Bluetooth, but XM satellite radio is not available.

The cloth upholstered front seats provide decent lateral support, but adjustability is limited to manual fore/aft and seatback angle, plus height adjustment for the driver. Front headroom is adequate for occupants up to 6 ft. tall. Rear seat comfort is decent, with acceptable legroom. Headroom is limited to passengers no taller than 5 ft. 10 in. The center seat position has a hard seatback, and is only tolerable for short trip. Split rear seats fold down nearly flat to maximize cargo capacity (20.8 cu. ft. with the rear seats up).

The Scion iM shares its aluminum alloy 2ZR-FAE 1.8L inline-4 with the Corolla Eco sedan. Valvematic variable valve-timing, dual overhead cams and fuel injection yield 137-bhp @ 6,100 RPM and peak torque of 126 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 RPM. Despite the identical engine, the iM loses three horsepower to the Corolla ECO.

Transmission choices consist of a 6-speed manual or optional CVT (continuously variable transmission) which simulates a 7-speed automatic. The manual gearbox has overdrive ratios in fourth (0.971:1), fifth (0.818:1) and sixth (0.700:1), coupled to a 4.214:1 axle ratio. Opting for the CVT gives an extremely tall 0.396:1 overdrive ratio combined with a 5.045:1 axle ratio. EPA fuel consumption numbers for both transmissions are similar: 27/35 MPG (city/hwy.) for the manual vs. 28/36 MPG (city/hwy.) for the CVT. We averaged between 27-36 MPG in suburban and highway driving, so the EPA estimates seem accurate.

Although a semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension is common in this class, the Scion iM uses a double wishbone independent suspension layout with coil springs, dampers, and stabilizer bar. The front suspension is a conventional MacPherson(R) setup with a stabilizer bar. Brakes are discs at all four corners: 11.7 in. diameter rotors in front and 11.0 in. diameter rotors in back. Standard 17-inch diameter alloy wheels are shod with 225/45R17 Toyo Proxes 4 Plus B all-season tires. Steering is via an electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion setup with 2.59 turns lock-to-lock. Smart Stop Technology (SST), ABS, Traction Control (TRAC), and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) are standard. The manual gearbox iM weighs in at 2,943 lbs., but the CVT is slightly heavier at 3,031 lbs.

The Corolla iM's European heritage is apparent in its handling. We were impressed with its firm, tightly damped ride and steering precision. Even over patched roads the suspension soaked up most bumps without incident. However, frost heaves would cause the chassis to pitch up as the low profile tires were unable to absorb the road impacts. Stability at highway speeds is superb: the iM's solid tracking at 80+ MPH reveals its European suspension tuning. The electrically-assisted steering is tuned for moderate effort and has excellent on-center response. Driving on winding roads, the iM tracked through with minimal body roll and understeer. Braking performance from the all-disc setup was sure and confident, with a firm pedal and progressive brake actuation. Cabin noise is acceptable at highway speeds, but becomes noticeably louder with the rear seats folded.

The 1.8L inline-4 occasionally struggles to accelerate the iM from a stop, especially uphill with the air conditioning on. Maximum torque occurs at 4,000 RPM, but with only 126 lb.-ft. available, we usually set the CVT to Sport or Manual mode for acceptable acceleration. The default Normal CVT mode is too sluggish for normal urban traffic, especially when with passengers or cargo. Once underway, the 1.8L is smooth and unobtrusive, and its midrange throttle response is adequate when lightly loaded.

Between the CVT and manual gearbox, the CVT is likely a superior choice for most customers. Intelligent shift programming minimizes engine drone at maximum throttle, and the CVT adjusts engine RPM as needed for optimal fuel consumption. We drove the iM with the manual gearbox and discovered clutch engagement occurs near the top of pedal travel, so executing smooth gear changes was difficult until we became acclimated to the clutch and long throw shift lever. Also, adopting the taller fifth and sixth gear ratios from the Corolla gearbox would better suit typical American driving conditions.

The Corolla iM is a sporty and practical addition to Toyota's lineup. Attracting new customers looking for a combination of practicality, dynamic handling and excellent value is the iM's mission. Aside from a recommendation for more power, we welcome the iM as another solid entrant to the affordable hatchback segment.

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