The sporty Matrix marches to the beat of a different Vibe
Toyota certainly knows a good thing when it sells it and has kept its reformulated 2009 Matrix true to the original while introducing new style and more under-hood spirit.
Originally, this Corolla-sedan-based compact wagon with the coolest name around (remember the trio of Matrix movies a few years back?) was considered just the ticket for trendy suburbanites of all ages wanting a versatile, fuel-efficient vehicle that could double as a roomy cargo hauler when needed. The fact that it also looked fashionably haute couture, as opposed to the similarly sized, retro-shaped Chrysler PT Cruiser wagon, was also a significant bonus. The Matrix and the look-alike Pontiac Vibe, which also uses Toyotabased structural and mechanical components in its construction, caught on in a big way and have remained solid sellers for the past six years.
For the 2009 model year, both brands feature more power plus new styling, but Toyota’s designers seem to have infused the new Matrix with more radically shaped sheetmetal. The flared-out fenders are bolder, the body lines are crisper and the roof at least appears to be lower. The net result is a slightly chunkier facade that should appeal to a more youthful audience, but at the risk of alienating traditionalists anticipating a more conservative shape.
But youth will be served, as the saying goes, and the 2009 Matrix serves up a package that is nearly identical in most key dimensions to the outgoing version, yet somehow manages a not insignificant 13 percent increase in cargo volume with the 60/40 back seat folded flat.
The redesigned interior carries over many recognizable themes, but receives more legible gauges, easier-to-use control-panel knobs and switches plus a dashboard designed to impart a sense of greater personal space between the driver and front passenger. The positioning of the shifter, which continues to be located well forward of the floor console, helps to make the most of a relatively narrow cabin.
There’s about 160 additional pounds for the new Matrix to tote around, but the 1.8-liter engine that’s installed on the Standard version compensates by putting out 132 horsepower, a gain of six from before. However, opt for the S or XRS trim levels and the output rises to 158 horses, thanks to a 2.4-liter fourcylinder.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all front-wheel-drive Matrix models, while a four-speed automatic is optional with the 1.8 powerplant. A five-speed automatic is available exclusively on the 2.4-literequipped Matrix.
An all-wheel-drive (AWD) option, which was deleted following the 2006 model year, is once again available, but is only offered on S versions and can only be ordered with the 2.4-liter engine in combination with the fourspeed automatic transmission.
The AWD unit is of the on-demand type and kicks in only when the front wheels start to lose grip, which causes the necessary amount of torque to be directed to the rear wheels.
The base Standard models arrive with many comfort and convenience features, including air conditioning, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power outside mirrors and a four-speaker audio system, but you’ll need to step up to the S grade to get power windows and door locks, cruise control, keyless remote entry, a fold-flat passenger seat, fog lamps, a 115-volt power outlet and a six-speaker stereo.
Moving up to the top-line XRS adds 18-inch alloy wheels (16-inch rims are standard, 17-inchers optional), rear deck spoiler, stability control to keep the vehicle from skidding or spinning out of control, steering-wheel audio controls, a strut tower brace that’s designed to stiffen the front suspension and reduce body flex, and additional exterior trim.
There are plenty of extra-cost features available on all grades, but the frugal Matrix shoppers will try to keep their total expenditure as close to the car’s $16,200 base price as possible. After all, driving practical — and cool — can be a rewarding experience in more ways than one.