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The Toyota Matrix was essentially a tall yet compact wagon, with a dash of cool, sporty style thrown in. It was typically marketed toward younger shoppers, though buyers of all ages were drawn to this car's many desirable attributes. Based on the Corolla sedan of its time, the Matrix was exceptionally versatile and well suited for hauling bulky cargo or transporting adult-sized passengers.
The main downside to the Matrix was that, apart from the relatively rare XRS variant, it was never particularly rewarding to drive. But for the practical-minded, this will likely be of little concern. Toyota sold two generations of the Matrix, and both boasted high fuel economy, a smooth ride, a roomy cabin, available all-wheel drive and reliable Toyota genes. Overall we think the Matrix is one of the best choices available for a used small wagon or hatchback.
Used Toyota Matrix Models
The second generation of the Toyota Matrix was produced from 2009-'13. Initial trim levels consisted of base, midlevel S and sporty, top-dog XRS.
The base model was powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was standard and a four-speed automatic was optional -- both driving the front wheels. Upgrading to the Matrix S or XRS got you a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. The S also offered an all-wheel-drive option. With this engine and front-wheel drive, one could choose between a five-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic, while the AWD version only came with a four-speed automatic.
Standard feature highlights for the base L trim initially included air-conditioning, a 60/40-split/folding rear seat, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. Besides the more powerful engine, the Matrix S gained a rear wiper, full power accessories, cruise control, keyless entry and a premium audio system. The AWD version of the S gained foglights and an independent rear suspension. The Matrix XRS featured 18-inch alloy wheels, a roof spoiler, sport-tuned suspension and steering, upgraded seat fabric and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Key options, depending on trim level, included a sunroof, a JBL sound system, satellite radio and a navigation system. More standard features, such as full power accessories and cruise control for the base trim, were fitted as the years progressed.
Inside, the Matrix had enough space to carry items up to 8 feet long, and the cargo area's durable plastic load floor allowed one to transport a variety of items, from home improvement materials to bicycles to a kayak. It was also pretty comfortable for both front and rear passengers. The very easy-to-use controls were another positive.
On the road, the base Toyota Matrix was a bit pokey in terms of acceleration, though its engine did provide pretty good fuel economy. The extra torque from the 2.4-liter engine made the driving experience more relaxed, particularly in regards to passing. Driven around corners, the Matrix was balanced and predictable, and overall ride quality was very comfortable. Still, the second-generation Matrix was not a very exciting car to pilot, largely due to its numb-feeling steering.
Changes throughout the Matrix's second generation were usually minor, consisting of added standard features and shuffling of trim levels. Stability control became standard for 2010 but the XRS and its sport-tuned suspension were discontinued for 2011. For 2012, Toyota renamed the base version the L.
The first-generation Toyota Matrix was introduced for the 2003 model year and ran until 2008. Toyota offered it in base, XR and XRS trim levels. The lower two trims came with a 130-hp, 1.8-liter engine and either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The XRS came with a high-winding 180-hp 1.8-liter engine and an exclusive six-speed manual transmission. In 2006, the XRS' final year, the engine was re-rated to 164 hp due to new testing procedures, but actual performance was unchanged.
In editorial reviews, we noted that the 1.8-liter equipped Matrix offered adequate acceleration in most circumstances, but its dearth of low-end torque was apparent on uphill grades. Manual-equipped Matrix wagons tended to offer more pep than those equipped with automatic transmissions. Handling was somewhat less than engaging; still, commuters and road trippers will likely appreciate the wagon's smooth, comfortable ride.
Inside, this Matrix charmed with its solid quality and versatility. Fit and finish was above average, and the cargo area and backside of the rear seats were finished with an easy-to-clean plastic as well as specialized cargo tracks.
If you're interested in a used first-generation Toyota Matrix, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, early Matrix models were missing a couple of important safety features: side airbags and stability control. These features were added (as options) in model-year 2005. Also note that stability control was offered only on models equipped with an automatic transmission. You also might encounter all-wheel-drive versions of the Matrix or Matrix XR; they produced slightly less power and came with the automatic only. All-wheel drive was discontinued for the 2007 model year.