This youth-targeted hatchback looks cool, swallows a fair amount of bulky cargo, and is zippy on corners. But this derivative of the utilitarian Toyota Corolla is also saddled with an underwhelming four-cylinder engine that delivers lackluster acceleration. Its 0-to-60-mph time of 10 seconds is 1.5 ticks slower than the Mazda3's. It left us wishing for the 20 or 30 more horsepower offered by competitors.
The driving experience isn't helped by a continuously variable transmission -- which uses belts and pulleys rather than gears -- that attempts to mimic a regular automatic with artificial "shift" points. When asking for more power, you get more engine noise than forward thrust. One would expect great fuel economy as a trade-off. However, its 31 mpg overall is merely respectable and hardly a standout in this class. But don't write off the Corolla iM just yet.
Handling is a strong point. Though the American-market Corolla has a solid-axle rear suspension -- it won't win any slalom contests -- the Corolla iM boasts an independent double-wishbone setup normally seen in race cars. When done right, that more elegant system can provide a crisp response to steering inputs and can result in a settled ride, especially over bumpy curves.
In the Corolla iM's case, the car turns in with alacrity and stays unflappable. But ride comfort isn't stellar, with road jolts that intrude noticeably. The car is unsettled on uneven pavement.
And though hatchback versatility gives you the ability to haul bulky stuff through a wide opening and a folding rear seat, the suspension's architecture and mounting points intrude on the cargo area. And because the Corolla iM's wheelbase is 4 inches shorter than the Corolla's, don't expect as much rear-seat room for passengers.
The Corolla iM's cabin exhibits a youthful ambience, with patterned black-and-white seat fabric and stitches in visible spots. But the rest of the décor is rather basic. Bolstered front seats lack a lumbar support adjustment. Getting in and out of the low-slung seats can be an effort for some. The steering wheel has limited telescoping range, which compromises an ideal driving position.
For its relatively affordable price, the Corolla iM comes nicely equipped with standard automatic climate control, connectivity features such as Bluetooth and voice commands, and a rearview camera. But options are limited. For instance, a sunroof is not available. At least forward collision warning and emergency auto braking are standard for 2017, but blind-spot warning or rear cross-traffic alert are still not available.
As for infotainment, the touch-screen interface lacks a tuning knob for audio, and it suffers from small buttons. Certain phones had Bluetooth connection difficulties, and streaming audio often error-coded back to the phone's first song. That's great if you like Aaliyah, but you can get sick of resetting the system.
Ultimately, the Corolla iM makes for a stylish and versatile first car or urban runabout. Though it might be a fun corner-carver, don't expect straight-line thrills when you step on the gas.