If you were to think of the Toyota compact crossover Matrix in people terms, it would be the spiked-hair youngster to its more mature sibling, the Corolla sedan.
The Matrix and the Corolla are kin under their noticeably different skin, so they share many similarities while remaining targeted at different customers. The Matrix shares the Corolla's 102.4-inch wheelbase and most mechanical components. The one exception is that the Matrix S is available with all-wheel drive while the Corolla is not.
There are three Matrix models: standard, S and XRS. The base engine is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder while a 2.4-liter engine is optional. The smaller engine delivers 132 horsepower and the larger one produces 158. Fuel mileage is rated at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway, while the larger engine is rated at 21 city and 28 highway.
Prices begin at $16,290 and top out at $21,950 for the XRS. An all-wheel-drive S begins at $20,500.
The test car was an S model with the 2.4-liter engine, and it had a base price of $18,360.
Utility is the buzzword for the Matrix, which has a profile similar to a small station wagon. The tall roof adds cargo space and plenty of headroom while an aggressive face highlights the front end.
Slipping large items inside is easy, thanks to the large rear hatch and folding back seat.
Like the Corolla, the Matrix has a cabin that is tight and quiet. Panel gaps are small, and varied textures and colors give a feeling of youth and energy. The test car had controls for the radio and cruise control on the steering wheel. Power windows and power locks were standard.
The front seats were comfortable, and the back seat had adequate legroom for adults.
The Matrix handles city traffic with ease. The 2.4-liter engine has good low-speed torque, so it merges into traffic smoothly, pulls hills without downshifts and can carry five people without breathing hard.
The test car's shift linkage was light and direct, requiring only the lightest touch to make shifts. Mash the throttle and the engine was quick to zip up to redline with very little noise or vibration.
Anti-lock brakes are standard. Vehicle stability control and traction control are optional and well worth the $250 price.
Front, side and side-curtain airbags are also standard.
The base price of the test car was $18,260. Options included cruise control, JBL AM/FM/CD player with a connection for an MP3 player, Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel controls, stability control and traction control. The sticker price was $20,800.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2009 Toyota Matrix S
Engine: 2.4-liter, 158-hp 4-cyl.
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Curb weight: 2,756 lbs.
Base price: $18,260
As tested: $20,800
MPG rating: 21 city, 28 hwy.
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