2017 Toyota Corolla iM

Ted LaturnusWhat’s the best selling automobile in the world? Well, there are several contenders….. the Model T, of course, and the VW Beetle, absolutely. But far and away the most popular car ever made is the Toyota Corolla….in all its various forms. At this point, over 40 million of them have been purchased around the world. That’s at least twice as much as the Beetle, for example.

Some would argue that this isn’t really a valid number, as the Corolla has undergone several permutations in its 50 year history. It was originally a rear-drive car, for example, and has, over the years, been offered as a sedan, station wagon, hatchback, and coupe.

Nonetheless, the Corolla is still in production and still sells in vast numbers. People like this car……for a variety of reasons. I’m one of them.

But before I get into it, a few specs.

These days, Toyota is offering the Corolla as a four-door sedan and/or four-door hatchback. Both versions have various trim levels and options lists, but share a common drivetrain and many components. I recently spent some time with the iM hatchback model, which is kind of the latest iteration of the Matrix….which in itself was extremely popular.

Power for the iM is provided by a 1.8 litre four cylinder which, in this configuration, develops some 137 horsepower. Toyota has been utilizing a powerplant of this size and output for years. It works and is proven. There are two transmission choices: a six-speed manual and a CVT. My tester had the CVT and this is the car’s weak point, which I’ll get to shortly.

But first, let me explain why I like the Corolla iM.

– It has a reasonable price tag, starting at $22,540. Add another $835 for the CVT.

– Even the base version has a high equipment level and is more than enough car for most folks.

– It delivers competitive fuel economy: 7.9 L/100 km combined rating for the manual gearbox version, 7.5 for the CVT.

–  It’s just the right size for around-town schlepping, and has almost 21 cubic feet (594 litres) of cargo capacity with the seats down….. and the rear seats just fold down with one press of a seat-mounted button. The iM will also carry five adults, though things will be a little snug.

– Right from the beginning, the Corolla – in all its shapes and sizes – has consistently been one of the most reliable cars on the road. It seems to be bulletproof and holds its value well.

– It’s uncomplicated. This is a biggie for me. No ridiculously convoluted, multi-step, counter-intuitive controls to wrestle with and all the switchgear is easy to understand at first glance. My tester actually utilizes an ignition key, as opposed to the over-used and unnecessary push button arrangement.

– It has a nice feel about it. Peripheral visibility is good, ingress and egress is excellent, and it doesn’t challenge you in any way. It is quintessential mainstream transport.

That said, there is a fly in the ointment. That would be the accursed CVT. Despite the protestations of people like me, virtually all automobile manufacturers are now using this arrangement….and IT SUCKS. It deprives the car of take off power, overworks the engine while it’s trying to catch up with itself, and detracts from the overall driving experience. Manufacturers argue that it enhances fuel economy, but that just isn’t so. A 2009 Corolla, for example, with a five-speed automatic actually has better highway fuel economy.

No; the real reason manufacturers have flocked to CVTs is because they are cheaper to make. Period. It’s much less expensive and complicated to stuff a couple of stretchable bands and spools into a gearbox than a bunch of decreasingly smaller planetary gears.

Which is a shame, because were I to buy this vehicle, the CVT would be a deal-breaker.

Engine: 1.8 litre four cylinder
Transmission: CVT
Drive: FWD
Horsepower: 137 hp @  6100 rpm
Torque:  126 ft. lb @ 4000 rpm
Price: $23,375 (base); $25,093 as tested.
Fuel Economy: 8.3 L /100 km (city) & 6.5 (hwy.) Regular fuel.

Alternatives: Honda HR-V, Kia Rondo, Mazda3, VW Golf, Nissan Juke, Chev Trax, Buick Encore, Mitsubishi RVR.

Manufacturer’s Site: Toyota

Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist Of The Year twice and is past president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

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