The Corolla iM tries its best, but should not be called an enthusiast’s machine by any stretch of the imagination.
As a five-door hatchback, the 2018 Toyota Corolla iM is a more practical take on the bread and butter compact Toyota sedan. In a past life, it was known as the Scion iM before Toyota’s short-lived entry level division for younger buyers went the way of the dodo. Going back one life further, and you might realize that this is today’s Toyota Matrix. In other markets, it’s called the Toyota Auris, and represents an affordable and efficient way to get more utility inside a daily runabout. Aside from some tacked-on side skirts, it’s a handsome but inoffensive car and the vehicle on test from Toyota Canada was finished in a very pleasant and no-extra-cost Barcelona Red Metallic.
Starting at a base and as-tested price of $22,750, there is literally only one option available on the iM, and that’s an $835 continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). At this price, there is an impressive level of equipment, including 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/45R17 tires, 7-inch touch screen multimedia with voice command, keyless entry, automatic climate control, LED daytime running headlights, power folding mirrors, and heated front seats. Compared to the Corolla LE Eco sedan, the iM is one to two thousand dollars extra, but has the availability a six-speed manual. It also gets rear disc brakes to the base sedan’s drums, and the rear suspension is an independent double wishbone style design instead of a torsion beam.
On the downside, the Corolla iM is only available with Toyota’s Toyota Safety Sense C (TSS-C) system. It does get a forward collision warning system with autonomous braking, lane departure warning, and automatic high beams, but misses out on the more comprehensive TSS-P available on newly released Toyota products, and the Corolla sedan. TSS-P ups the ante with pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, and adds steering assist to the lane departure warning system. Kudos to Toyota, however, for offering either system at this price point – other automakers require you to jump into higher trim levels or make them costly standalone options.
Inside the Toyota Corolla iM, there’s seating for five with just about the right level of comfort as would be expected in a compact hatchback. Seat surfaces are cloth, and the foam is hard and only moderately supportive for longer drives, particularly when it comes to thigh support. Ergonomics are well sorted, with proper buttons present for the more commonly used controls. The touch screen multimedia system is simple but intuitive enough, and contains functions for the radio, Bluetooth phone pairing and audio streaming, and miscellaneous vehicle settings. No Android Auto or Apple CarPlay functionality is offered, but if the 2019 Avalon is any indicator, Toyota is starting to roll this out.
Build quality is typical Toyota top notch, although the colour palette used led things to be a bit monotone. According to Toyota’s specifications, the Corolla iM gets 588 litres (20.8 cubic feet) of cargo space with the rear seats up, in contrast to the sedan’s 369 litres (13.0 cubic feet). By contrast, Honda boasts 728 litres (25.7 cubic feet) in the Civic Hatchback, and the Mazda3 Sport is good for 572 litres (20.1 cubic feet).
Powering the Corolla iM is a similar 1.8-litre inline four cylinder used in the sedan’s LE Eco trim. With Toyota’s Valvematic variable valve timing and throttle control, it’s good for a slight power bump over the regular engine, in addition to improved fuel economy. Peak output is 137 horsepower at 6,100RPM, and peak torque is 126 lb-ft at 4,000RPM. The powerplant is generally smooth in its operation, but can be a bit buzzy when under load. Combined with a somewhat porky curb weight of 1,335 kilograms (2,943 pounds), it’s not about to win any drag races, but gets the job done with sufficient authority. Honda and Mazda will be livelier here.
While the engine does pretty alright, the iM does get the option of rowing your own gears with its six-speed manual. Shifter feel is decent and tight, with light, respectable throws with minimal play or looseness. The clutch is extremely light and devoid of any feedback, so it’ll take some getting used to initially when looking for the bite point. Drivers will have find said bite point entirely based on visual cues, and not through their foot. Additionally, throttle response and behaviour when launching was a bit frustrating, with overly aggressive tip-in causing a whole lot more revs than necessary just to get going. Launching up hills and stop-and-go traffic may leave you wanting the CVT automatic.
To its credit, the Corolla iM still returns good fuel economy. Rated for 8.8L/100KM in the city and 6.8L/100KM on the highway, observed consumption came back at an observed 7.6L/100KM with a bias towards highway driving and without air conditioning use. By comparison, the CVT versions of the iM are rated for 8.3L/100KM city and 6.5L/100KM highway. Fuel capacity is 53 litres (versus the sedan’s 50), and regular octane is acceptable.
In the area of driving dynamics, the Corolla iM tries its best, but should not be called an enthusiast’s machine by any stretch of the imagination, despite having an independent rear suspension over the sedan. Steering is light and feedback-free, which makes for easy city and close-quarter driving, but isn’t so good when it comes to the fun factor. Handling response isn’t a night and day difference over the sedan’s torsion beam design, and ride quality is firm but reasonably controlled. Noise isolation isn’t the best, but isn’t bad enough to be too much of an issue on longer road trips – one caveat here being that the test vehicle was still equipped with noisier winter tires.
Earlier this year, Toyota announced that there would be a new hatchback model of the Corolla coming for 2019, and it isn’t called the iM. The Japanese automaker is touting great handling and strong driving dynamics with the new car, which will be built on the modular Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform. If the latest Camry is any indication, the upcoming model should allow Toyota to live up to their promise. At the end of the day, the 2018 Toyota Corolla iM is a safe and dependable choice that won’t break the bank. Those looking for a little bit of performance flair might be wise to consider the Honda Civic Hatchback or Mazda3 Sport, and those looking for more refinement and premium feel should check out the Volkswagen Golf. The Corolla iM is in a bit of a weird spot – it’s a good car when considered by itself, but better is coming soon.