2009 Toyota Matrix Review

Practicality Above Passion

2009 Toyota Matrix Review
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FAST FACTS

1. AWD is back for 2009, a feature not seen in the model since 2006.

2. Standard safety features include six airbags, Tire Pressure Monitors and four-wheel disk brakes with ABS and EBD. Stability and Traction Control are optional.

3. XRS models include extra goodies like standard stability control, a performance-tuned suspension and sporty body panels, as well as the option of a five-speed manual or automatic transmission mated to the 158hp 2.4L.

Your schooling is completed; you have finally moved out of your parents’ house and are working at a steady job. You have come to prefer bars over clubs and may have even found your first grey hair already. Welcome to your Carlsberg years.

Now is the time to get rid of that heap of steel in your driveway that you have been rolling around in since high school. While you would love nothing more than to pick a sporty convertible out of the latest issue of Robb Report, chances are you also need to consider inconveniences like mortgage payments, as well as where to fit passengers, the dog, and maybe even a car seat and stroller. Not only have you become the target of strategic premium beer marketing campaigns, thoughts of responsibility, accountability and practicality are now commonplace.

Not to worry, there are a number of auto manufacturers who build vehicles to suit your particular predicament. The crossover was designed to be the ultimate automotive compromise, allowing for the utility that most people enjoy from a minivan or SUV but also driving characteristics, and more importantly fuel economy, of a car. The second generation Toyota Matrix is just that vehicle.

ALL NEW FOR 2009

The original Matrix, which was composed in 2002 as a 2003 model, is the mechanical sibling of the Pontiac Vibe and is based on the Toyota Corolla’s E-platform. This Matrix is all-new for the 2009 model year, and offers an updated appearance and improved performance.

While access to the Matrix begins at $16, 209, the optional S and XRS models raise the price point significantly in the blink of an eye. The all-wheel-drive capabilities are not necessarily new for the marque, as it was available until the 2006 model year before being discontinued until now. While the AWD version adds a great deal of traction and stability when driving in freezing rain or snow, there's only one transmission choice - a hyper four-speed automatic. The base powerplant for the new Matrix gets a reworked DOHC 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 132 hp and 128 ft-lbs of torque. The XRS and non AWD S models get a DOHC VVT 2.4L inline-four cylinder putting out 158hp and 162 ft-lbs of torque. In my 1.8-liter tester the four-speed auto was surprisingly good and drop down a gear anytime I nudged the throttle. The acceleration was surprisingly peppy for an automatic economy car but it comes at the cost of winding up the engine high into the upper rpm range, affecting both fuel economy and interior noise.

Having the option for a manual transmission along with the AWD system would be a large selling point, but alas the five-speed manual transmission is only mated to front-wheel-drive models. Purchasers of the non-AWD model who get the 2.4L engine can opt for either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic gearbox which comes with tap-up/down shift controls. The switchgear is easily and comfortably accessible on the lower end of the dash so your right hand doesn’t have far to reach from the wheel to shift gears. In fact, the interior has been well organized, aside from the cup holders which are too wide and shallow to hold most cups without toppling over. This may seem insignificant but I find that the manner in which a company designs its cup holders speaks volumes about attention to detail.

GREAT NEW LOOK

Both the base and AWD models ride on 16-inch wheels and tires, with the option of 17-inch rims, while the Matrix XRS comes with 18-inch alloy wheels. Like its stable-mate, the Vibe, the '09 Matrix has all-new styling and a revised interior. These changes certainly worked as the Vibe/Matrix are far more aesthetically pleasing than the first generation. The Matrix now looks like a sporty hatchback, rather than a raised station wagon. Many potential owners will also find comfort in the standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD, a tire-pressure monitor system and six airbags throughout the cabin. Stability and traction control are optional.

STIFF RIDE WITH A PLASTIC-COATED TRUNK

The Matrix offers a MacPherson-strut front suspension design coupled with a multi-link independent rear suspension that makes handling somewhat precise but incredibly firm - too firm in fact. Bumps in the road not only resulted in cabin noise, but left something to be desired in the comfort department too. My other gripe is that in addition to most of the interior, the cargo area and rear seat backs are made entirely of plastic. While the rear compartment is the perfect height for stowing and retrieving gear, any items stored there will undoubtedly slide around the rear of the vehicle with reckless abandon. Not only was it annoying and distracting but I can’t imagine transporting precious cargo would be a sound investment. The seats do however fold down to offer a large loading area if you have more possessions to move than passengers.

XRS MODEL: SPORTY LOOK AND FEEL

Upgrading to the XRS version includes the option of the five-speed manual transmission mated to the 2.4L engine and brings extra goodies like standard stability control, a performance-tuned suspension consisting of a strut tower brace up front, firmer springs and dampers at each corner in addition to sporty body panels and a spoiler. This is for people who want to have the practicality of an economical people mover but also want to spice things up with some sporty style. It will, however, take a lot more than spoilers and a bodykit to compete head-to-head with the other competitors in this segment like the Mazda 3 Sport and Volkswagen Rabbit.

THE VERDICT

The second generation Matrix is fuel efficient, tied with the Vibe for best in its segment with a 25/31 city/highway rating. It is easy to park and yet is large enough to carry most necessities an owner could wish for. The base model boasts plenty of standard features while the S and XRS models offer plenty more options, for a price. I doubt you will ever see posters of the Matrix adorning the bedroom walls of young car fanatics, but that won’t stop the throngs of people who will unquestionably buy one.

Becoming an adult means learning about compromise and the need to make certain concessions. If your needs in a vehicle consist of practicality and fiscal responsibility, with less of a focus on comfort and driving enjoyment, then the Matrix may be the crossover you are looking for.

POSITVE

Ergonomics
Updated appearance
Inexpensive entry-level model

NEGATIVE

Plastic trunk space
Cheap plastic interior
Harsh, noisy ride

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