2017 Toyota Corolla iM review: A compact with great value and no soul

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2017 Toyota Corolla iM review: A compact with great value and no soul

This is the 2017 Toyota Corolla iM
Mack Hogan | CNBC
This is the 2017 Toyota Corolla iM
  • The Toyota Corolla iM is a bland car with few options.
  • It offers great value if you don't have a huge budget.
  • You should probably buy manual instead of automatic.

Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand, may it rest in peace, was something of an automotive potluck at time of death.

Its most popular product was actually built by Mazda. Its oldest product was basically a coupe version of the previous-generation Corolla and its largest product was a hatchback borrowed from Toyota's European division.

The point is, while Toyota Corolla may initially seem like the two most boring words in the automotive kingdom, the Toyota Corolla iM went through a gestation period that makes it one of the more strange vehicles on the market.

Allow me to explain.

Exterior: Bland to the bone

The exterior is kind of bland, but we dig the blue!
Mack Hogan | CNBC
The exterior is kind of bland, but we dig the blue!

The Corolla iM started life as a second-generation Toyota Auris way back in 2012. The Auris, essentially the European Toyota Corolla, was then brought across the pond by Scion and dubbed the iM. When Scion closed shop, the iM became the Corolla iM.

It sounds a lot like a car that doesn't really know what it's trying to be; unfortunately, it looks like that too. It's like the designers intended it to be a blank canvas onto which any number of badges could be thrust. Auris, iM, Corolla. It doesn't matter, the styling is too bland to bring about any brand loyalties.

That's not to say the iM is a bad looking car. The front could almost be called handsome, if it weren't too aggressive for the car's character. It's almost remarkable, especially in today's car landscape, how completely styling-free the rear half of the car is.

If it weren't for the brilliant blue color, this car would look sober enough to be a designated driver on a Saturday night.

Interior: One size fits all

You have one choice for the interior: black
Mack Hogan | CNBC
You have one choice for the interior: black

A relic from Scion's product strategy, the Corolla iM is available in only trim level. Your only options are color and transmission. As for the interior, you can have any color you want so long as you want black.

That's a shame, as I love a nice brown or tan interior, but the iM is a nicer place to be than some of the other monochrome cabins I've seen. Controls are well laid out, the seats are some of my favorite cloth buckets on the market and the material quality is right about where it should be for the $20,355 automatic iM.

We said bland, right?
Mack Hogan | CNBC
We said bland, right?

Given that the iM is only available in one trim, you may be surprised to find blank buttons. Typically, these are placeholders for customers who buy base models that serve as gentle reminders that you cheaped out. In the iM, though, there's nothing you can do to ditch them; the buttons are designed for features available on the European-market Auris, and no amount of money can get you them on an iM.

Driving experience: Trust me, you want the manual

There's actually enough space back here, we'll show you.
Mack Hogan | CNBC
There's actually enough space back here, we'll show you.

The Corolla iM is powered by the same 1.8-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder mill you get in every Corolla these days. It's based on the same platform as the sedan Corolla, but the European-rooted hatchback model gets more sophisticated rear suspension.

If you're concerned about handling or steering feel, I'm baffled as to why you're reading a Corolla review. That's not what this car is for. While it's not sloppy handling or particularly floaty, the iM is clearly designed with comfort in mind. In that regard, it succeeds.

Pretty solid looking wheels
Mack Hogan | CNBC
Pretty solid looking wheels

The big letdown is the transmission. My tester was equipped with the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), a form of automatic transmission that varies its own ratios to achieve superior fuel economy. They sound great on paper, but the problem with CVTs is they tend to hunt for the correct ratio, moving RPMs up and down without a direct correlation to throttle position.

Then, when you pin the accelerator, they hold the car's engine in an efficient rev range to improve performance. Instead of the typical sound of a car climbing through its rev range and shifting toward the top, you get a dreadful moaaaannn as the car grumbles along at the same RPM. It made me resent the car's engine, just because of how much I had to hear it. I strongly advise you to get the manual; not only does it sound better, it's cheaper!

Value: Subcompact pricing, compact size

Look at all the boxes of food we can fit in the back.
Mack Hogan | CNBC
Look at all the boxes of food we can fit in the back.

Price it out with a manual transmission, and you'll be signing the dotted line for $18,850. That's a stunning value, when you consider the standard kit.

Here's a shot at the trunk with all of the boxes out
Mack Hogan | CNBC
Here's a shot at the trunk with all of the boxes out

You get Bluetooth audio, a touch-screen infotainment system, automatic emergency braking, a rear camera, and more. You also get a large hatchback with room for a dog, your luggage or literally hundreds of pounds of catering as you can see in the picture.

Final thoughts

Even an affordable car can look cool from the right angles.
Mack Hogan | CNBC
Even an affordable car can look cool from the right angles.

Those features, along with Toyota's unbeatable reputation for reliability, make even a relatively soulless car like the iM a compelling option based on value alone. For $18,000, your options are mostly complete base-model compacts or well-optioned cars a segment lower, like a Honda Fit.

It's not a very special car, it's not one you'll fall in love with on a test drive. But if you see cars as appliances, I can't think of many cars that offer this many positives for less than $20,000.

Rating:

Exterior: 2.5

Interior: 4

Driving Experience: 1.5

Value: 5

Overall: 3

Price as configured: $20,355