Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Toyota Corolla iM CVT

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Toyota’s Corolla sedan has been a fixture in the North American marketplace for 50-plus years now, so it’s easy to imagine that anything Corolla would have a decently long lifespan. Not so the Toyota Corolla iM hatchback, however.

A remarkably pleasant car.

A scant two years after being welcomed into Toyota’s North American family – three if you count its brief time as a Scion – the iM nameplate is about to be retired. The sporty-looking hatchback is actually a rebranded second-generation Toyota Auris, a model familiar to Europeans since 2007. Its third-generation replacement is already on display at North American auto shows and is scheduled to go on sale in summer 2018 as the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. So it’s sayonara Scion, iM outta here.

The new Corolla Hatchback will be built on Toyota’s modular TNGA platform, and it promises to be pretty good. Toyota claims it’ll have better handling and a more assured highway ride than the iM, although I found that the iM was itself actually pretty good on the highway, aside from perhaps a little skittishness in strong crosswinds. Overall, thanks to its low-slung stance and independent rear suspension, the iM offers a good blend of responsive handling and comfortable ride.

The upcoming Corolla Hatchback will also get a brand-new 2.0L four-cylinder engine, and this is indeed welcome news because the iM’s 1.8L four-banger is the car’s major weak point, certainly when paired with the CVT automatic. While the new engine promises up to 168 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque (that’s what it’s rated in the Lexus UX), the iM’s 1.8L engine makes do with a relatively ho-hum 137 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque.

Paired with the manual transmission the iM’s engine has adequate power, but paired with the CVT it leaves a lot to be desired: It moans and buzzes mightily when accelerating hard, and takes almost a full 10 seconds to get up to 100 km/h. Things improve a little if you engage the CVT’s manual mode and use the gear lever to step through the transmission’s programmed virtual gears, but if that’s your thing you should really consider getting the six-speed manual transmission: you’ll save $835 and get a far more sporty driving experience.

The CVT shines more brightly if you’re content to mosey around with a light foot on the gas pedal. Do this and the engine remains quiet and unobtrusive, and the iM returns pretty good fuel economy. Official ratings are 8.3/6.5 L/100 km (city/highway). I didn’t do quite that well myself, managing about 7.5 L/100 km on the highway and ending the week with an 8.2 L/100 km mixed average. But then my highway drive was on Vancouver Island’s inland highway where the speed limit is 120 km/h, so I was moving along pretty well.

In all other respects the Corolla iM is a remarkably pleasant car. It looks good (maybe not as good as its replacement, but still pretty good). It’s practical, with 589 L of cargo space and 60/40-split folding rear seats. It’s comfortable, with supportive front seats that left me feeling fresh and relaxed after a two-hour highway drive. It’s also well fitted out, with nicely textured soft-surface materials everywhere you’re likely to touch, cloth-wrapped A-pillars, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and glossy piano-black trim (sure, it shows the dust, but it looks sharp when clean).

It’s also nicely equipped, with projection beam headlights, LED taillights, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic dual-zone climate control, heated seats, back-up camera with static guidelines, lane-departure warning, front collision warning, cruise control, automatic high-beams, plenty of in-cabin storage, and ports for 12V, USB, and auxiliary input. These last two inputs interface with a 7-inch display AM/FM audio system that features six speakers, Bluetooth connectivity, Aha Internet radio, and Gracenote database. There’s no navigation though – that’s a $1,203 dealer-installed option. And forget about using your smartphone to navigate because there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (the upcoming Corolla Hatchback will get CarPlay, we’re told, but still no Android Auto).

From a competitive standpoint, the iM goes up against some pretty strong rivals: the Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf, and Hyundai Elantra GT are all popular for a reason. The larger Honda Civic Hatchback is another cross-shopping choice, and the other manufacturers’ entries aren’t slouches by any means. The iM comes in a single well-equipped trim level, so it’s priced a little higher than most rival base models, but it compares favourably when similarly equipped.

That said, the Corolla iM’s fiercest competitor is probably its own upcoming descendant, waiting just around the corner. The iM is a good car, but it falls a little shy of the top competitors in terms of drivetrain and dynamics.

The Corolla Hatchback, on the other hand, looks to fix that and become a serious contender. In the meantime, if you’re more concerned about safety tech, fuel economy and a reputation for reliability than you are about raw power, the imminent arrival of the Corolla Hatchback means there are already some deals available for the Corolla iM.

Engine Displacement 1.8L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 137 hp @ 6,100 rpm
Peak Torque 126 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 8.3/6.5/7.5 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 589 L
Model Tested 2018 Toyota Corolla iM CVT
Base Price $23,485
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,615
Price as Tested $25,200
Optional Equipment