Toyota introduced its youth-focused Matrix as an early 2003 model. Described as a crossover utility vehicle, the Matrix is said to combine the functionality of a sport utility vehicle with the image and performance of a sports car, yet it's as affordable as a compact sedan. Pontiac markets a related Vibe model.
High headroom and flexible seating positions are among the Matrix's notable attributes. Three trim levels are available: base, step-up XR and high-performance XRS. Base and XR models can be equipped with either front- or all-wheel drive. The XRS comes only with front-wheel drive and packs additional power and a six-speed-manual gearbox.
Freshened styling and handling upgrades marked the 2005 models, and Vehicle Stability Control became optional on base and XR models with the automatic transmission. For 2006, a JBL premium stereo with an in-dash six-CD changer is optional in XR models. Engine outputs have been revised in accordance with new testing standards developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
The Matrix hatchback is built on a platform similar to the one used for Toyota's popular Corolla sedan. Measuring 171.3 inches long overall, the Matrix has a 102.4-inch wheelbase and stands 61.6 inches tall. Base wheels measure 16 inches in diameter, but the XR and XRS can be equipped with 17-inch tires. Alloy wheels are standard on the XRS, which also features fog lights, side rocker panels, a front spoiler and a rear underbody spoiler.
The Matrix seats up to five people. With the rear seats folded, cargo capacity measures 53.2 cubic feet. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, intermittent wipers, a CD player and a tilt steering wheel. The XR adds remote keyless entry, a sport steering wheel, driver's seat height adjustment, and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Under the Hood
Under the new SAE measurement system, the 1.8-liter four-cylinder in front-drive base and XR models produces 126 horsepower (118 hp with all-wheel drive). Either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission can be installed in front-drive base and XR models, but all-wheel-drive versions come only with the automatic. The all-wheel-drive system has no center differential but uses a viscous coupling.
The XRS carries a 164-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder and is available only in front-drive form. The performance-focused XRS has a close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox.
Antilock brakes are optional in front-drive base and XR models and standard in other Matrix models. Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags are optional.
The Matrix is stylish, well built and nicely designed, but it's somewhat noisy. It's quiet enough when cruising, but the engine in non-XRS models may growl and whine during acceleration. Road noise is also noticeable. The base engine teamed with the automatic transmission doesn't have much oomph, either. Automatic-transmission gear changes are noticeable but not bothersome.
Stability is good, and it's easy to keep the Matrix on course. Steering with more precision and less wheel vibration than the Corolla, it still falls short of stimulating, though the XRS is more refined.