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Published on Tue, Mar 16, 2010
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By Zoran Segina On the outside, this second-generation Matrix from Toyota can best be described as cute. After all, the Matrix is supposed to be a replacement for Corolla, and Toyota knows how to appeal to its core customers. Even though there is considerable overhang, the Matrix has a feel of a very compact vehicle. The car is over five feet tall and the interior is quite roomy. The designers made sure that the shoulder line at front seats does not make a driver feeling like he is lounging in a tub. Even with the seat to its lowest possible setting, I still had very good visibility all around. To keep the overall design flow, and undoubtedly to satisfy safety concerns, Toyota engineers made both B and C pillars very thick. The rear window on the hatchback is small, so to compensate for the lack of visibility, the designers expanded the view by inserting small side windows. It took me some time to get used to this interrupted vision. The interior is very pleasant. The front seats are operated manually and can be moved forward and reverse; the backrest is adjusted manually. The driver’s seat has height adjustment. The seats provide plenty of room, even the ever- uncompromising Tall Girl found them reasonably comfortable on a couple of short rides she shared with me. The seat belts can be height adjusted. The steering wheel, however, has both tilt and telescopic adjustment which is a surprising feature for a model in the Matrix price range. The cabin of my Matrix S was a clever interplay of differently shaped plastics with grey overtones, and corresponding brushed faux metallic finish on the center console. Even though the fabrics are inexpensive the car does not look cheap. Toyota designers somehow have a knack for combining all the materials in a way that makes the car look more opulent than it actually is. The sense of luxury in the Matrix S is further enhanced by the Optitron gauges for the tachometer and a speedometer in the dashboard. Turn on the ignition and the electronically controlled dials will complete the full circle before returning to its initial position - a similar feature as in the Matrix’s more upscale Lexus brethren. Power windows, and keyless entry are included.
The base model Matrix is powered by 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine equipped with a sixteen-valve-double-overhead camshaft producing 132 horsepower. I was driving the S model with a 2.4 liter four banger with a 158 horsepower output, and 162 pound feet of torque at 4000 rpm. The engine is quite powerful, especially given that Matrix weighs slightly over three thousand pounds – apply gas too eagerly, and the whole car will jerk forward. The Matrix I drove around was a mid-level S model shod with P215/45 low profile tires on 17 inch alloy wheels. This combination gives the car an incredibly firm stance. The power comes to the front wheels through a five speed automatic gearbox and MacPherson struts, and despite my best efforts it was nearly impossible to induce torque steer. I did try. Despite sizable overhang, Toyota engineers managed to put the engine transversely, to bring the mass as close to front wheels as possible and keep the car properly balanced. Matrix does have a skid control system which made its existence known in a couple of instance on the slick roads (see under attempting to induce the torque steer). The driver who likes to push the car to the limit through its five manumatic gears will find it comforting that the gearbox will not upshift at the red line. The Martix S is very nimble. On more than one occasion, waiting at the red light, I managed to surprise a Chrysler C300 with a hemi engine, and couple of BMWs from the standing start. The Matrix’s overall stability and handling comes at the price of stiff suspension. The firm springs combined with a relatively short wheelbase, and the low profile tires, make for a very sporty handling, and it takes some time getting used to the ride. The S model does not come with a cruise control, and I constantly had to monitor my speed. The Matrix surprisingly easy moves crosses from “this is exhilarating” to “I can’t believe I am going this fast.” The larger cylinder capacity provides for very smooth upshifts and, unlike in other four-bangers, the engine does not emit that annoying whiny sound when one accelerates in the low RPMs.
Besides the Optitron speedometer and tach, the only other electronic instrumentation is a scale showing outside temperature, and the odometer with the two separate trip measures. Under the center console is a real 110V AC plug with a 100-watt output. The sailors have been using inverters for years, but it is something new on the car in this price range, and it is quite handy to be able to plug a computer or charge a cell phone with a standard AC charger. I drove through rain and can report that the two-speed windshield wipers, equipped with a timer delay, are big enough to completely wipe a rather large front windshield. The front headlights come on automatically, so I did not have to fumble with another switch when entering a dark garage. The side view mirrors are electrically controlled. A careful selection of features shows how carefully Toyota balances cost and value in its low-end models. The rear window is equipped with a windshield. The radio and the CD player come with a bunch of buttons that were beyond my ability to explore in full. Anything labeled type, folder, and text deals with computer abilities of the younger, i.e., more technologically savvy generation. The audio system has six speakers, has MP3/WMA playback capability (I know MP3, but what the heck is WMA?), and is satellite ready. Despite the fact that the engine has a sporty sound and one feels the road because of the stiff suspension, Matrix is well insulated and provides a quiet ride. The Matrix doors do not close with a vault-like clicks like on a Mercedes, but for the price of these vault doors alone one could probably get a three-quarters of the entire Matrix. Brakes are disk both front and rear. A clever feature on a center console is a plastic separator which makes the usable space larger or smaller to accommodate from a twelve ounce can of soda to a big gulp. The car has a number of side pockets in the front door, and a compartments under the center armrest. Right above the shift handle is electric clock. The dashboard is accentuated with round ventilation opening.
Toyota is an easy car to get used to because its features are well thought out. For the sporty driver there is a foot rest for the left foot. The curtain airbags should alleviate the concerns of people who may not feel safe in the car of this size. The rear bench is split 60/40 so that it can be separately put down. The Matrix interior provides close to twenty cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up, and impressive sixty cubic feet with the seats folded flat. The optional moon-roof reduces the capacity to forty-eight cubic feet, but provides for a romantic evenings. I have a serious complaint about the horn. The tinny sound emanating under the hood is practically a character insult for the car with so much capability. I understand that the Matrix is a entry level model, but, come on, Toyota, give the driver something more aurally assertive. After a week driving the Matrix around, it is easy to see why it is so popular. After all, the Matrix was the best-selling model in the cash for clunkers program. The base model is priced sixteen thousand seven hundred, and my well-equipped S type costs slightly over twenty-two grand. According to Forbes, the Matrix is the most popular car with an average monthly supply of thirteen days. The overall average retail turn rate for major manufacturers is forty-eight days, breaking down to thirty-two days for Asian brands, forty-seven days for the Europeans and sixty-three days for domestics. With a EPA fuel economy estimate of 21 city and 29 highway, the Matrix translates to a lot of car for a very reasonable price. In the current economy, and the state of car industry, it is hard to ask for more. SUMMARY JUDGMENT: The second time is the charm. For more information about Toyota products, go to toyota.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2010 Toyota Matrix S Price $16,700 (base) $18,610 (S model) $22,199 (S model, as tested) EPA mpg estimate: 21 city/ 29 Highway Engine: 2.4 L, 4 cylinder DOHC Horsepower: 158 at 6000 rpm Torque: 162 pound-feet at 4000 rpm. Transmission: 5 speed automatic, front wheel drive. Suspension: Independent MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear Steering: Electronic power assisted rack and pinion. Brakes: Ventilated disc front/solid disc rear Tires/Wheels: P215/45R17 on alloy wheels Dimensions Length: 173 inches Width: 69.5 inches Height: 61 inches Curb Weight: 3065 pounds