Review: 2009 Toyota Matrix
By Evan Griffey of MSN Autos
The newest Matrix sticks to its original formula as a sporty crossover based on the now updated Corolla platform. Compared to its SUV-esque competitors, it's more adept at carving canyons than traversing them, with a heavy emphasis on versatility. The fresh body lines of the 2009 edition provide a sharpened silhouette caching an all-new interior. Motivation also gets a boost with the revival of all-wheel drive, two engine choices and three transmissions.
Matrix shoppers now have two 4-cylinder engines to consider: an all-new 1.8 liter or a 2.4 liter. The 1.8 liter features Toyota's Dual VVT-i, which enhances engine performance by optimizing both intake- and exhaust-cam timing. The new mill produces 132 horsepower, and when backed by a five-speed manual provides 26-mpg city, 32-mpg highway performance. With the optional four-speed automatic, the base engine posts 25/31 mpg numbers.
For those who want more thrust under their right foot, Toyota is outfitting the Matrix S and XRS iterations with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder from the Camry and Scion tC/xB. The 2.4 liter employs VVT-i that phases the performance of only the intake cam, and some new tricks for 2009 result in 158 horsepower. The "big-block" Matrix sports either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic with sport shift and uphill start modes.
All-wheel drive (AWD) is only available on the Matrix S equipped with the 2.4-liter engine and the four-speed automatic. The AWD system uses active torque control, which detects available traction based on signals sent from sensors on each wheel. The system can then distribute the appropriate amount of torque to each wheel. The setup is predominantly front-wheel drive, distributing torque to the rear wheels through an electromagnetic coupler only when needed.
The contoured center instrument panel envelops the driver and houses the stereo/navigation head unit and ventilation controls as well as the shifter. The console-mounted stick shift is easy to manipulate, functioning no differently than a conventionally placed shifter. When ordered with a high-power JBL audio system (which is light years ahead of the base set-up), the Matrix is Bluetooth connected, and all Matrix audio systems are wired for MP3 playback.
On the Road
With 32 more horses under the hood, the new XRS model really outshines the first-generation Matrix. If you care about the driving experience, the XRS should be on your "to-test" list. Using a five-speed to keep the 2AZ-FE singing, the Matrix is responsive and willing. The XRS's grippy 215/45R-18 tires, MacPherson strut/double wishbone suspension and four-wheel ventilated disc brakes fight a good fight on more challenging roads. We wouldn't mind more feedback from the steering system, and also stiffer sway bars.
While certainly not an elite sports car, the new Matrix hits its intended target by providing a compliant ride, quiet cabin and ample room for five adults. There is something undeniably hip and forward thinking about the Matrix's aggressive rake and angular body lines.
With the big motor and reintroduction of all-wheel drive, Toyota is trying to live up to the promises made by the car's sleek silhouette. Factor in its inviting interior, fuel-efficiency, crossover utility, and Toyota build quality, and the 2009 Matrix is a logical progression of the breed. Though pricing had yet to be announced at press time, base-model sticker is expected to hem closely to the 2008's $16,000 mark. The 2009 Matrix rolls into dealerships in February 2008.
Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.