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The Toyota Matrix is part car, part wagon, part minivan, part SUV. Toyota even calls it a CUV for compact utility vehicle. We're not sure whether the acronym will catch on, but the Matrix appears to have caught on. Matrix was introduced in 2002 as a 2003 model, and Toyota sold nearly 30,000 of the compact wagons in the first half of the 2003 calendar year. Matrix is based on the Toyota Corolla and is built in California at a plant jointly owned with General Motors.
Matrix is targeted at younger buyers who want a vehicle with a sporty image and high functionality. Toyota claims the Matrix combines the style and performance of a sports car with the functionality of an SUV and the affordability of a compact sedan. It does, indeed, accomplish all of those objectives, if not to the degree that sports cars, SUVs, and compact sedans accomplish their respective missions.
We found the Matrix offers peppy acceleration, particularly around town. It corners nicely yet offers a smooth, comfortable ride. Matrix is practical, with a big cargo area that can be expanded by folding down the rear seats. And it's certainly stylish.
While the high-performance XRS model has drawn some attention with its high-revving 180-horsepower engine, we preferred the 130-horsepower models for their more relaxed, more pleasant demeanor.
Toyota Matrix is based on the same platform as the Toyota Corolla, although it looks radically different. The Matrix also shares much in common with the Pontiac Vibe. GM and Toyota developed the vehicles jointly, saving money for both companies and allowing each to offer the vehicles at an affordable price. Matrix and Vibe do not look alike, however, as their styling was designed independently by Toyota and Pontiac.
The Matrix is 3 inches taller but 8 inches shorter in length than a Toyota Corolla. It uses the same wheelbase but a wider track. These dimensions give the Matrix a unique stance. It reminds us somewhat of the Ford Focus hatchback, which is slightly smaller. It is also similar in size to the Chrysler PT Cruiser, although the Matrix has slightly less interior storage capacity due to its lower roofline.
And it's mainly the roofline that draws the eye. In a reverse wedge shape, the roof slopes down at the back while the belt line along the lower edge of the side windows slopes up, creating a sleek wedge shape to the windows.
The tailgate opens up just as in an SUV or minivan, and the frameless window can be opened separately for quick access.
The front of the car has a purposeful looking nose with a relatively high hood line accentuated by a big grille. Engine cooling is achieved through a large aperture under the front bumper which features two small foglights.
A wide track, along with generous tires fill the wheel wells nicely, helping give the Matrix an aggressive look. All in all it's a car that looks substantial despite its relatively small size.
Sitting in a Toyota Matrix is somewhat like sitting in an SUV, with upright seating and a commanding view of the road ahead.
The driver will find that the cockpit is unlike that of other Toyota cars. Four pods in front of the steering wheel house deeply set gauges. The gauges glow red at all times, even during the daytime, as insufficient ambient light reaches them. Chrome rims accentuate each pod and fake brushed aluminum trim is used to surround switches on the dashboard and door panels.
The combined radio and CD player sits directly to the right of the instrument pods, while the heating and ventilation controls are immediately below. If the radio buttons and the general un-Toyota appearance of the trim seems familiar that's because the interior is all but identical to the Pontiac Vibe, even down to the American Delco radio.
The shifter is also right there, just a few inches from the steering wheel. It's conveniently located more than a foot off the floor in a position that's become fashionable in high-performance rally cars as well as the Lexus RX, a luxury SUV.
There's 15 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. The rear seat is split 60/40 and pressing a button flips the seat down easily to provide a completely flat floor capable of holding 53 cubic feet of cargo. The cargo floor is finished in a hard ribbed plastic designed to offer easy cleanup. An XR 4WD model we drove came with a carpeted cargo mat ($56) that did a much better job of keeping cargo from sliding around, however. The cargo floor features four slots that contain movable hooks that can be used to tie down goods. There are several other tie-downs positioned along the sides. Storage compartments and cargo nets provide owners with maximum utility. All of this makes the interior as versatile as any station wagon and better than most SUVs. Even the front passenger seat can be folded down to provide another flat surface for storage, albeit at a higher level than the rest of the floor.
With its high roofline, the Matrix offers plenty of headroom for tall drivers and passengers. Shorter passengers sitting in the rear seats might find the view slightly claustrophobic due to the small side windows.
One cool feature is the available 115-volt power outlet located in the front dashboard alongside a regular 12-volt outlet. It's a low-power AC plug suitable for powering a laptop computer, but it isn't capable of running power tools. (Toyota is working on that, however.)
Despite its boxy looks there is no denying that the Toyota Matrix is a sporty car.
Shifting the manual transmission is easy. Although it might seem that the upright seating position and the high mounted gearshift would take some getting used to, it did not. Shifts are smooth and the standard engine revs nicely. Although the Matrix is quite light it's not as fast as expected as the base engine only delivers 130 horsepower. Judicious use of the gears allows one to have fun, however. There's plenty of pep when driving around town, even with the automatic transmission. The engine is buzzy, which will appeal to younger buyers but might become a little annoying to older people. Equipped with the five-speed manual, the Matrix gets an EPA-estimated 29/35 mpg City/Highway.
Steering is precise and even if the center of gravity is relatively high there is little body roll. In fact the Matrix feels just like any other small sporty car. That's not surprising as it uses many components straight from the sporty Toyota Celica.
In keeping with the car's sporty attributes, the brakes are effective.
We also drove the sporty XRS with the 180-horsepower engine. The power increase comes from variable valve timing and lift, which comes into play between 6000 rpm and the 8400-rpm redline. At lower revs the engine delivers no more performance than the stock 130-horsepower engine, so you need to keep it wound up in the upper part of the rev range to tap into its performance. The engine does not generate much additional power until you rev it to about 6500 rpm. The six-speed gearbox ratios are the same as those used in the Celica, but the Matrix uses taller tires effectively giving it taller gear ratios. So you need to wind it up before shifting into the next gear to enjoy good acceleration performance. We quickly grew tired of the high-revving 180-horsepower XRS, however. We found that the XRS was not nearly as pleasant as the XR. The 130-hp engine seems a better match for the Matrix than the high-strung 180-hp engine.
Four-wheel-drive models are not as sporty as the two-wheel-drive models. As noted, four-wheel drive is only available with an automatic transmission and the 123-hp engine. With more weight (185 pounds more) and slightly less power than the front-drive models plus the friction from the all-wheel-drive system, the 4WD models do not accelerate as quickly as 2WD models. It's still peppy, however, and the all-wheel provides superior traction on snow, ice, and slippery pavement. Matrix XR 4WD automatic gets 26/31 mpg.
Toyota Matrix is a sporty wagon that offers utility and style at an affordable price. We prefer the base and XR models to the XRS, which features a more powerful engine with a peaky powerband. Matrix also boasts Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability.
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2013 Toyota Matrix$16,955 | 11,839 mi
2013 Toyota Matrix$19,274 | 14,573 mi
2012 Toyota Matrix$15,970 | 22,376 mi
2011 Toyota Matrix$12,012 | 70,515 mi
2011 Toyota Matrix$18,582 | 37,571 mi
2010 Toyota Matrix$10,886 | 54,730 mi
2010 Toyota Matrix$15,975 | 60,915 mi
2009 Toyota Matrix$10,995 | 92,651 mi
2009 Toyota Matrix$12,995 | 67,289 mi
2009 Toyota Matrix$13,990 | 47,189 mi
2009 Toyota Matrix$13,995 | 82,115 mi
2009 Toyota Matrix$14,599 | 31,692 mi
2009 Toyota Matrix$15,595 | 46,589 mi
2008 Toyota Matrix$11,995 | 53,000 mi
2008 Toyota Matrix$11,997 | 56,979 mi
2008 Toyota Matrix$12,998 | 67,461 mi
2008 Toyota Matrix$13,987 | 76,988 mi
2007 Toyota Matrix$6,995 | 112,643 mi
2007 Toyota Matrix$8,999 | 114,665 mi
2007 Toyota Matrix$10,000 | 79,670 mi
2006 Toyota Matrix$12,598 | 58,056 mi
2005 Toyota Matrix$8,371 | 110,838 mi
2005 Toyota Matrix$8,806 | 83,050 mi
2005 Toyota Matrix$10,598 | 119,610 mi
2004 Toyota Matrix$4,885 | 199,666 mi
2004 Toyota Matrix$11,998 | 83,237 mi
2003 Toyota Matrix$5,995 | 94,056 mi
2003 Toyota Matrix$6,392 | 153,719 mi