Luxury at the Entry Level: The 2017 Toyota Corolla iM

Most car reviews seem to involve mid-range to higher end vehicles, since it’s quite reasonable for car companies to seek the best possible experience for writers. It’s not unusual to have a $50K-$60K or even more expensive vehicle for a week as an automotive journalist, a chance to really run a state-of-the-art car or truck through its paces. There are certainly a lot of really nice luxury vehicles on the road too, from compact SUVs to big trucks to sedans.

But not everyone can afford a car at this price range and while there’s some inevitable drop-off of features and design elements in a more entry level vehicle, it’s surprising just how much technology is now trickling down to even the most modest of vehicles. That’s why I was quite curious to have some time behind the wheel of the 2017 Toyota Corolla iM (known more generally as just the “Toyota iM” since apparently “Corolla” isn’t cool any more).

Would it feel like I was in a dangerous clunker, missing all the most modern safety technologies and doomed to sputter along in an underpowered engine because of the ceaseless move towards lowering the base sticker price? To my surprise, that wasn’t at all the experience of driving the 2017 Toyota iM.

2017 toyota corolla iM exterior

As you can see, it’s a sporty little hatchback with plenty of room in the back and a zippy design. It also starts at under $19,000 (as configured this was about $21K) so it’s definitely much more in reach of a first time car buyer. But what do you get and what’s omitted with a car at this price point? Certainly the luxuries are missing in action, as you can see in this photo of the front dashboard:

2017 toyota corolla im front dashboard design

The basic features are there, as you can see, including the various climate controls. Seems like the basic components like the steering wheel controls are standardized across the Toyota line so entry level vehicles like the iM benefit from higher end design. A good deal!

One area where higher end cars have an advantage, however, is in climate control. Or do they? Even this entry level car has dual-climate zones, as you can see by the fact that the driver’s zone is set to 73F while the passenger’s zone is 74F:

2017 toyota corolla im - climate controls

There are no seat heaters, a feature my daughter always complains about when it’s omitted. Hardly a show-stopper, though if you have a posterior that runs cold, well, maybe that’d be a problem!

Just below the climate controls are some features that are now de rigueur for modern cars and one of the first things I look for when I get into a vehicle:

electrical interface controls, 2017 toyota corolla im

Front and center, the Corolla iM has a 12v socket (aka “cigarette lighter”), a USB interface and an AUX input. This means that you have wires on your dash, but a small price to pay for an easy way to interface your phone with the entertainment / stereo system and, of course, charge and power things too.

Look again at that photo, however, because it reveals something really interesting about a car without all the options: there are lots of “spacers” and button areas that don’t actually have buttons. You can see two above, and there are even more on the side where some of the other safety features are found:

mirror adjust and safety features control, 2017 toyota corolla im

I always wonder what’s supposed to be there?

There’s a neat feature on the side mirrors control that surprised me with the Toyota iM too, and you can see it above. See the tiny square with the arrow pointing into it? Push that and both mirrors fold inward to the vehicle. A luxury feature snuck into the Corolla line, apparently. Only downside is that they implemented half of the feature because the mirrors don’t automatically extend back out when the car is started. Still, very useful in snug parking lots.

While we’re stuck on buttons, one more set of buttons (with, yes, a blank too):

sport mode, toyota corolla im

Turns out that the 2017 Toyota Corolla iM has quite a few safety features available and this is one you can enable or disable: traction control in bad weather. It also has a “Sport” mode that changes the automatic transmission shift points a bit. I didn’t find a huge difference between regular and sport mode, but I’m not the most aggressive driver either. Most of the time, at least!

Let’s step out of the car for a minute and look at the exterior again.

2017 toyota corolla im - exterior rear

The design seems to have a bit of an inability to decide between an angular and rounded theme, so it’s interesting how they fit together on the exterior of the iM. All in all, a nice look and it was a reasonably peppy drive for a small engine and fuel efficient little car. As configured, this one had a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine with 137HP and a 7-speed automatic transmission. As rated it delivers around 31-33mpg, though I saw better results because of my more highway-heavy driving.

What’s particularly interesting with the Corolla line is that even though it has “iM” on the back (but not the word Corolla, notice), it turns out you can assign the vehicle one of four different personalities:

2017 toyota corolla personalities control

What’s the difference? That’s a darn good question, one I couldn’t figure out for myself. I know that the iM replaces a Scion of the same model designation (since the Toyota Scion brand has been shut down) and that you can buy a Corolla C-HR. Maybe this is a secret control that only the factory is supposed to see? 🙂

And, finally, the dashboard gauges. Nicely designed, easy to work with even when driving at speed:

2017 toyota corolla im dashboard gauges

You can see above that I was averaging 32.2 mpg fuel efficiency on this cold (39F) day and how the top portion of the center screen really gives you lots of options for what’s displayed. That can be a bit confusing, but you get the hang of it after a few minutes poking around.

All in all, I enjoyed driving the little 2017 Toyota Corolla iM more than I expected. With its 7-speed transmission and sleek design, it felt like a higher end car than its $21K pricetag suggests, and while it’s not like being in the proverbial lap of luxury when you’re driving this car, it also has a surprising number of safety and premium features available too.

AS DRIVEN: 2017 Toyota Corolla iM 5-door hatchback with 1.8L 4-cylinder DOHC 16v 137HP engine, 7-speed CVTi-S automatic transmission, carpeted floormats and cargo mat, paint protection film, rear window deflector, universal tablet holder and wheel locks. MSRP: $21,498.00

Disclaimer: Toyota loaned me the 2017 Corolla iM for the purposes of this writeup. Thanks, Toyota!

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