2017 Corolla lineup gains small hatchback with addition of Scion iM
Toyota’s Scion division may be history, but its final product lineup is still extant. Only the names have been changed, and of course the badging. Case in point: the 2017 Toyota Corolla iM. The Toyota “T” replaces the Scion “S,” and that’s about it for changes. Which is a major non-issue. The iM remains a frisky, fun, and useful four-door hatchback that is a bit more upscale in specification and equipment than expected. It has always been a Corolla in Australia and New Zealand, so we now join the antipodeans.
Power is from a 137-horsepower 1.8-liter twincam four, driving the front wheels through either a six-speed stick or CVT automatic transmission. Bargain basement-spec rear torsion beam axle and drum brakes are not found here; suspension is fully-independent and discs are found at all four corners. As before, standard equipment includes heated power folding outside mirrors with LED turn signal indicators, LED running lights and tail lights, auto-off headlights, 17inch alloy wheels, a sporty-looking aero kit, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-trimmed steering wheel adjustable for both tilt and reach, cruise control, a backup camera, a 60/40 folding rear seatback, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, and sixspeaker Pioneer audio system and more. Upscale safety features like Lane Departure Alert, automatic high beams, and a pre-collision system are also standard. Simplicity is still the concept, with one trim level, no option packages that require purchase of unwanted “features” in order to get what you want, and a wide variety of port- or dealer-installed exterior, interior, security and performance accessories. My CVT-equipped test car had carpet floor and cargo mats, wheel locks, front paint protection film (a clear covering against rock and debris chips), a “universal tablet holder” for rear passenger entertainment, and a “rear wind deflector,” otherwise known as a small wing spoiler at the trailing edge of the roof. There is more, including other protective coverings, interior lighting and a TRD spring kit.
So-outfitted, the Corolla iM is more “sporty” than “sports,” but still entertaining, fun to drive, and frugal on unleaded regular to the tune of 32 mpg for my week. I’d personally prefer the stick (and save a little cash doing so), but the engine is a typical Toyota, with torque, torque, torque and no need to get acquainted with the rev limiter. “Sport” mode keeps in virtual lower “gears” for quicker acceleration when desired, with normal mode for town and highway with improved fuel economy. The only negative I found wasn’t from Toyota. The Toyo Proxes tires were the same as on the Scion iM I tested about a year ago. That was a dry week. This was a wet week, with plenty of standing water on local highways. The tires have an “m+s” rating but were not confidence-inspiring in wet conditions. That can be easily remedied, better-than-stock tires being one of the simplest performance and/or safety upgrades. With its hatchback functionality and good fuel economy and performance, the Corolla iM establishes Toyota in the compact hatchback class.
APPEARANCE: External changes from the Scion iM? The Toyota logo replaces Scion in the nose and on the tailgate. That’s it. It’s identifiably a Toyota, but with simpler lines than most other current models, not surprising considering its European and antipodean sales. The “aero kit” lower bumper and sill extensions, with large front faux brake ducts, is standard fare for a sporty look —î but clearance is still good. LED running and tail lights are unusual in this class, as are the heated and power-folding outside mirrors. The only chrome is in the badging, as all exterior trim is either flat or gloss black.
COMFORT: The price point may be low, but the design, execution and materials are not. Nothing inside feels or looks “cheap,” and fit and finish are as expected from Toyota. The color scheme is any color you want as long as it’s black, but textured soft-touch upper materials, gloss “piano black” panels, backlit instruments, a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel with a stitched leather rim with audio, cruise, and information controls, and a touchscreen-based audio system with AM/FM/USB/jack/ and Bluetooth streaming inputs are far above “bottom-feeder” status. Ditto dual-zone climate control. Front seat comfort is surprisingly good, and the driver’s cushion is height-adjustable. Rear seat usefulness is enhanced by a low central tunnel, although three-across works best if all are small — no differently than in any other small “five-passenger” car or crossover. The rear seat folds 60/40 for extra cargo space. Rear doors plus the hatch mean passenger and cargo loading and access are great. There’s a space-saver spare under the rear load floor.
SAFETY: The 2017 Corolla iM has Toyota’s Star Safety System with Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, and antilock brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Brake Assist, and Smart Stop Technology. It also has the Safety Sense C suite of Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, and Pre-Collision System. There are front, front seat-mounted side, full-length side curtain, and driver’s knee and front passenger seat cushion airbags. Plus safety harnesses and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
RIDE AND HANDLING: A fully-independent suspension, with MacPherson struts in front and a double-wishbone system in the rear, distinguishes the Corolla iM in the small hatch class. It’s well-developed and tuned, giving a moderately firm ride and reasonable competence in the corners in stock form, at least on dry pavement. Want sportier? Upgrade the tires first. If you’re serious, there are TRD (Toyota Racing Development) kits available with springs, sway bars and shocks that will stiffen and lower the car. I’ve spent some time in an iM soequipped. On poorly-maintained roads it’s out of its element. On a smooth surface, just keep in between the cones and have fun! Brakes are four-wheel disc, no rear drums here.
PERFORMANCE: Interestingly, the iM uses a slightly-modified version of the Valvematic 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine found in the Corolla LE Eco model, not the regular VVT-i version. Valvematic is simpler, and uses variation in intake valve lift instead of butterfly or slide valves for throttle control. It’s also a bit more efficient. The result is 137 horsepower (at 6,100 rpm) and 126 lb-ft of torque (at 4,000 rpm). And plenty of torque lower than that for easy driving with either transmission. The stick is more fun, but for commute duty the CVT will be less stressful. Its control electronics are set up to simulate shifting in D, which makes it feel more like a regular torque-converter automatic and also reduced the “rubber band” feeling that CVTs can have as you wait for your throttle pedal input to be translated to forward motion. EPA ratings are 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 31 overall. Somehow I managed to get 32 for the week, so no complaint.
CONCLUSIONS: With the demise of the Scion brand, the iM joins Toyota’s Corolla lineup and gives Toyota a very good small hatchback.
2017 Toyota Corolla iM Base price: $19,490 | Price as tested: $21,498