When Toyota said sayonara to sagging scion a year ago, a sub-brand introduced in 2002 to lure in younger buyers was buried with that unsuccessful marketing plan. But while scion is gone, its sons survive – as Toyotas.
The scion iA becomes the Yaris, a longtime name for the disguised sub-compact Mazda2, while the FR-S becomes the very fun Toyota 86 sports coupe. And the iM — well, it becomes the compact Corolla 4-door’s hatchback cousin.
Ours came in a searing lime yellow-green that drew gazes for the week we drove it.The question we have — can Toyota find a niche for this scion hatchling that goes up against 5-door hatchbacks from so many other very established companies?
• Corolla character — No matter where I went with my Spring Green Metallic iM, it got questions like “Is that the new Yaris,” and “What is that color?,” along with “You won’t lose that in a parking lot.” And while the iM shares a similar silhouette to many past and present compact 5-door hatchbacks, it has some sporty style.
The edgy nose gets a gentle V-ed gloss black honeycomb grill with slim headlights wearing small LED DRL eyebrows. There’s more gloss black honeycomb in the lower intake, hooked to faux side brake inlets over side winglets, part of the aggressive lower-body aero kit. The steeply-angled hood flows into a raked windshield, while subtly flared front fenders frame nice satin and gloss black 10-spoke alloy wheels wearing Toyo Proxes P225/45R17-inch rubber. A design line flows under the gently rising lower sill line to spear the flared LED taillights, while the lower sill has some flare of its own to visually lower the 5-door.
The D-pillar gets a reverse angle, with V-shaped window, before it joins a curved and high rear window under subtle shade. The lower body aero kit continues, looking a bit aftermarket as it frames a black trim panel with single exhaust pipe. Nice touch — power folding and heated side mirrors. The overall look is sporty, low and stylish, standing out a bit from the crowded compact 5-door market, color notwithstanding.
• Corolla cabin — Padded soft-touch material and even a touch of leather are a good first impression in the Corolla iM’s fairly roomy cabin, done in black over black with some silver and cream accents. There’s even some stitched leatherette in places, masking the hard plastic bits scattered in the cabin.
The black cloth seats get patterned inserts and manual adjustments, plus height for the driver. The front buckets seats are comfortable if a bit soft, with no lumbar support. But I found a comfortable spot with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel set at the right spot to grip the sculpted, stitched leather-clad rim and view the inset ice blue-lit gauges. In between the 150-mph speedometer and 8,000-rpm tach is a color screen for trip computer, stereo, messages and settings.
Dash center, a classic blue LED clock over a “floating” AM-FM-Bluetooth 6-speaker Pioneer audio system that sounded solid and looked cool in gloss black with a silver swoop above. It has HD Radio and the Aha music app. But its control buttons, bar the volume knob, are tiny and tough to use on the move. Nice touch for a compact – a padded , stitched leatherette cream-colored accent mid-dash.
The iM is fairly quiet on that road, with an acoustic layer windshield, foam-type insulation and floor silencer sheets, Toyota says. It also has some decent level of equipment for a compact, like a backup camera, lane departure warning, dual-zone climate control, power-folding exterior mirrors and auto on/off headlights with auto high-beam.
The center console starts with a covered rubberized slot for cellphone with USB port as well as an MP3 input and 12-volt outlet. Then there’s dual cup holders and a padded center armrest with some storage space underneath. The back doors open wide enough for easy entry to a bench seat with decent head and leg room for two adults and a low fold-down center armrest. The rear seatbacks split 60/40 to access a boxy storage area under a cargo cover, with steel tie-down loops to secure cargo.
• iMotivation — The Toyota Corolla iM offers up a 1.8-liter DOHC Valvematic engine with 137-hp, our test car equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable transmission is the only option. Our 6,000-mile-old test car’s manual was precise and fairly short throw in action, with solid clutch pickup. Played right with the gas pedal and we reeled off average 10 second sprints to 60-mph with clean shifts.
Passing power was there when needed with just a downshift, while there was torque enough for a planned pass in top gear at highway speed. We appreciated the Hill Start Assist, which applied brakes for two seconds on a hill so I could get from brake to gas pedal. Fuel mileage after a week of mostly highway driving nudged close to 30-mpg on regular.
The car rode on the usual McPherson front/double-wishbone rear suspension with stabilizer bars, offering a comfortable and compliant ride that absorbed most bumps with a bit of bounce. It was a bit soft. But we found out the iM liked to be a bit sporty, tossable into turns with some body roll and progressive driver-controllable understeer. The electric power steering had a decent feel, although it was a bit over-boosted. And the 11.7-inch front/11-inch rear disc brakes had decent pedal feel and stopping power, with lots of ABS chatter at full pedal press during higher speed stops. Overall, the iM was a peppy and fairly agile 5-door. As for safety, eight airbags including a driver’s knee and front passenger seat cushion unit. The iM also had a pre-collision warning system.
• iMoney — A 2017 Toyota Corolla iM starts at $18,750, and that’s where ours began with everything we discussed standard. Add destination fee and it’s $19,615. That’s just fine, because the iM faces some stiff competition from everywhere.
There’s the Honda Civic, VW Golf, Mazda Mazda3, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus, all starting about $18,000 base. Power comes from 4-cylinder engines across the board, varying from the Mazda3’s 150-hp, Cruze’s 153-hp,Honda’s 158-hp and Focus’ 160-hp powerplants to the Golf’s sweet turbocharged 170-hp motor and the turbo 201 hp engine in the Elantra. The Golf, Civic and Mazda3 are roomy, comfortable and fun to drive, with some serious sportiness, as is the Focus. The Cruze and Elantra are solid performers with room as well. They all seem to have a bit more zip in their steps than the iM, which has the price point, room and decent fun factor down.
• Bottom line — Can’t argue with the iM’s design, roominess, fit and finish and price, plus a precise 6-speed manual gearbox and forgivingly fun handling. But some of the competition has more utility and sporty usability.
2017 Toyota Corolla iM
Vehicle type – 5-passenger compact 5-door performance hatchback
Base price $18,750 ($19,615as tested)
Engine type – DOHC, 16-valve in-line four
Displacement – 1.8 liter
Horsepower (net) – 137 @ 6,100 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) – 126 @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission – 6-speed manual
Wheelbase – 102.4 inches
Overall length – 170.5 inches
Overall width – 69.3 inches
Height – 58 inches
Front headroom – 39.7 inches
Front legroom – 41.7 inches
Rear headroom – 37.5 inches
Rear legroom – 32.7 inches
Cargo capacity – 20.8 cu. ft.
Curb weight – 2,998 lbs.
Fuel capacity – 14 gallons
Mileage rating – 28-mpg city/36-mpg highway