Would a Scion by any other name smell as sweet?
In case you missed the press release, Toyota folded up the hip- and hip-hop Scion brand recently, and moved everything over to the Toyota brand. Scion-ara! In 2003, it was a bold experiment, Scion creating a brand that spoke to youth, attracting new buyers to the Toyota family.
And it worked for a while. The problem was, not only the young wanted a less-expensive, but hip Toyota. Case in point; the super-funky xB box was a big hit with the kids, but also found a surprising home with seniors – low price, easy entry, and a rear door that was excellent for loading a wheelchair. And if grandpa got a little extra street cred – that was okay, too.
So, does the snazzy little Scion iM hatchback make sense as a snazzy Corolla iM hatchback?
It certainly looks the part. Sold as the Toyota Auris in other parts of the world, it’s built on the Corolla platform, but instead of the conservative 4-door sedan, the iM has an aggressive-looking 5-door hatchback, and fits right in with the VW Golf, Mazda3 and Ford Focus.
The standard body kit, black honeycomb grille, rear spoiler and chrome-tipped exhaust give it a racy image. Standard 17-inch rims, power folding outside mirrors and LED daytime running lights all add up to make you feel you’ve stepped up beyond a grocery getter.
The inside feels sporty as well. You get a nice, thick leather-wrapped wheel, big, clear gauges with a 4.2-inch info screen in-between, and supportive front bucket seats. Even the CVT lever looks good – at first we thought we had a manual transmission model, which is also available. More on that in a minute.
The quality of materials is nice. Not VW high-buck nice, but you don’t feel cheaped out.
There’s soft touch padding where you spend most of your time, with piano black accents and accent stitching to please the eye.
Like the exterior, a few things give a premium feel, including a nicely-sized, 7-inch touchscreen that’s easy to use, standard dual-zone climate control and a large rearview monitor.
While our tester didn’t have the optional navi system (sold as an accessory), it does have standard streaming Bluetooth and USB port, so we really didn’t miss it. We did note that the iM lacks Apple CarPlay -- quickly becoming the hot ticket in infotainment.
The rear seat is comparable with the competition, fine for adults on shorter trips, and the rear hatch gives plenty of space, especially with the rear seat down. If you’re looking at small crossovers, but want to spend less, or just would rather have a car, the iM serves up a spacious choice.
So: sporty on the outside, sporty on the inside.
Must be sporty to drive?
Well, Corolla iM drives sorta sporty.
Power comes from the Corolla 1.8-liter four, in this case kicking out 137 hp. Our tester had the CVT transmission, and it’s a mixed bag. In regular mode, you get good fuel economy, but it’s a buzzkill, slow to respond, and always looking to get into thrift mode in a hurry.
Switch to Sport Mode, and you get a much better impersonation of a traditional automatic, and around town the iM feels quick on its feet. That effect wears off by the time you get to highway speeds, where the motor is happiest at a quiet cruise, and overtaking can be noisy.
The chassis, however is different. Where a standard Corolla sedan has a solid beam axle, the iM has a more advanced and more capable independent rear suspension. This nets not only a nice ride, but a much greater feeling of precision at the wheel.
The suspension is also features a more athletic tune, and the iM is a good drive around your favorite twisty roads. If you want the hot ticket in hatch performance, a VW Golf, or Mazda 3, is probably the way to go, but the iM hangs in there very well. So well, in fact that we’d opt for the manual transmission for enthusiastic drivers.
But the Corolla iM is aimed at a much wider audience than you and I fellow hot shoes. It’s a sporty, stylish vehicle, that’s fun to drive, but still sensible – in a Corolla sort of way. A great car to send a kid to school. Or a first new car.
Toyota also makes it a safe car, with Toyota Safety Sense – it’s suite of protective tech, including predictive forward collision with braking, Lane Departure Alert, even Automatic High Beam system all standard.
Best of all, it’s got that Corolla sensibility when it comes to pricing. There’s only one model, the iM, and it starts at $18,750. Equipped with CVT transmission like our tester, and it’s $19,490. All those other goodies are standard.
Our tester was Barcelona Red Metallic, no extra charge. But if you like Blizzard Pearl, it will cost an extra $395, which seems reasonable.
That said, for your $19,490, you get a lot of car. A Mazda 3 Sport starts at just over $20k. Comparably equipped it balloons to $23,000. A VW Golf starts at $19,895. Comparably equipped to an iM, $21,815.
So if you’re worried about your little hatch wearing a new Toyota logo, there’s no need. While the Scion name is gone, the basic goodness of the iM remains.
And smells just as sweet.