Test Drive

2017 Toyota Corolla iM Review: A Great First Car For People Who Drive Stick

This is Toyota's attempt to be bold and interesting.

When we first heard that Scion was introducing a hatchback that would be a spiritual successor to the Toyota Matrix, we were pretty happy. Unfortunately, the Scion brand was discontinued shortly after the iM was introduced, and Toyota was forced to do some quick badge engineering. What we are left with is the new Corolla iM, which is essentially the hatchback version of the Corolla. In other parts of the world, this car is known as the Auris and attaching the Corolla name is a smart way for Toyota to bring more attention to this hatchback.

Under the hood of the 2017 Corolla iM is the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder from the Corolla, which produces a modest 137 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque. The result of the low power figures is a 0-60 time that is a tick over nine seconds. This is no hot hatchback, but with a starting price of just $18,750, it really isn't trying to compete in that segment. That base price is for the six-speed manual model, which is how our test model came equipped. (Can we get a hallelujah?) Unfortunately, the manual wasn't the first thing that we noticed when we took delivery of the Corolla iM. Can you guess what it was? Our tester was painted in Spring Green Metallic, which we referred to as "highlighter green."

We did warm to the color over the course of our time with the car, because we often give Toyota flack for being boring and understated. Toyota made a bold move by offering this color, and although it may have been a miss, we have to applaud the company for trying something different. On the move, the Corolla iM shares its driving dynamics with the sedan. Steering is extremely vague, but is extremely light for tight maneuvers. Toyota clearly built this car with mall parking lots in mind rather than twisty canyon roads. However, the light steering makes the Corolla iM a joy to whip around tight parking garages, which is what the majority of owners will do in the car.

We were happy that our test car came equipped with the six-speed manual transmission rather than the optional CVT, which adds $740 to the car's price. The manual is far from the best that we've experienced, but we appreciate that Toyota still offers this car with a stick. The throw on the transmission is extremely long, and each gear is basically in a different time zone. The clutch take up was extremely light, making it a breeze to use in traffic. The biting point was very high, indicating that the clutch was on its way out (we can mark that up auto journalists for riding the clutch to death). There is even a useful automatic hill-hold system that will keep the car in place for a brief moment on an incline.

The Corolla iM is the perfect example of a manual car that can be driven easily as a daily driver. Anyone who claims that a manual car is a hassle should really get behind the wheel of this car and experience how easy it can be to own a stick shift. As a daily driver, the Corolla iM really shows how far modern cars have come in livability. It wasn't too long ago that small cars like the Corolla were a bit unnerving to drive at high speed and about as luxurious as a cave. Our tester came with zero options, but certainly didn't feel spartan. We would have liked to sample the $900 navigation system, but our car came in at just under $20,000 as-tested ($19,615 to be exact).

For under $20,000, the Corolla iM is great value. The 2017 model comes with standard features that we could have only dreamed of a few years ago on a base model car. The Corolla iM even put a few luxury cars to shame by offering standard features that only come optionally on cars that cost double. The center display system even looks nearly identical to the screen found in many Lexus models, which shows that Toyota didn't cut corners to build this car. Standard exterior features include LED day-time running lights, power folding and heated mirrors, 17-inch allow wheels and front MacPherson struts and double-wishbone rear suspension that really keep the car planted through corners.

Even though the vague steering didn't communicate much during sporty driving, we were impressed with how level the car stayed, even during aggressive cornering. On the interior, the Corolla iM has plenty of nice standard features including dual zone climate control, piano black accents, a seven-inch touchscreen with bluetooth streaming and Aha radio, a back-up camera and a 60/40 split rear folding seat. The car is missing a few modern features that would make it perfect, like Android Auto/Apple Car Play support. The standard head-unit is simple to use, although it doesn't offer much in the way of app support. It does read texts aloud, but the system is very slow compared to other systems that we've tested.

We were even more impressed by the amount of safety features that came standard on this sub-$20,000 car. Our Corolla iM came with a pre-collision avoidance system, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, a tire pressure monitoring system and eight standard airbags. The collision avoidance (like most of these systems) got in our way, so we left it off. Still, we were blown away that Toyota was able to offer all of these systems as standard on such an inexpensive car. There are plenty of entry-level luxury cars that charge extra for things like lane departure alert. Overall, the Corolla iM is definitely not a hot hatchback, but it isn't boring either.

If this is what the car world claims is a "boring" car, then we can sleep soundly at night. The Corolla iM does what it sets out to do: offer an affordable package that will fulfill the needs of 95% of the population, while being a bit more aggressive than the Corolla sedan. MPG is rated at 27 city, 35 highway and 30 overall. We couldn't beat the 30s out of this car no matter how hard we drove it, which is a testament to its efficiency. We would like to see Toyota take full advantage of this car's wonderful suspension and give the Corolla iM slightly more power and a quicker steering rack. We don't need anything too crazy, but a 180 hp version of this car would be perfect for a young enthusiast looking for their first stick shift car.

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