Let me start by saying I am not gentle with anything I own. I picked this car up with 180,000 miles for $2500 and it had not been taken care of. I learned how to drive stick on it and took it everywhere from the lower Sierra Nevada mountain range on trails where you need a 4x4, to out in the mohave desert where I jumed it so high I ripped the wheel wells out when I landed. It does not quit! The AC has always blown cold and the only thing that I've ever done is give it an oil change, new tires, and a new clutch (that last one was my fault). Now sadly, just short of 200,000 miles the transmission has given out and it is on its way to the junk yard. But it has seen and done more than most trucks ever will and it has never left me stranded no matter where I go. The only thing that could be better is it has a little road noise and it doesn't shift very smooth, plus you have to put the clutch to the floor to shift. Mabey that's just mine but either way I am more than pleased with this car.
June 2016 update: My Matrix is nearly 14 years old now and shows no signs of rust. In fact, the headlights have just started to fog over a bit. Admittedly, it is parked in a covered garage during weekdays, but the rest of the time it is in the elements in SE Pennsylvania. The factory CD player bit the dust after 14 years and I replaced it with a Bluetooth capable head unit. Still, if you look to buy a used Matrix, do not expect Nav, or bluetooth. There is no touchscreen unless it's an aftermarket unit. There is a lot of road noise at highway speeds too. But, it has yet to require any major repair. Still purrs like a kitten and the 5 spd manual has been bullet proof. I've thought about replacing it for something a bit more comfortable, but with this kind of reliability, fuel mileage and versatility, I simply can't justify the expense. At this rate, I'll be driving it for another 14 years.
I bought my Matrix, new, in Sept '02 and since then have only put 52K on it. I have done all of the routine maintenance and have only ever had to replace the serpentine belt a few times and one brake light bulb. This car has been more reliable than I ever could have hoped for. Plus, it has great cargo capacity. I can load it with dozens of bags of mulch, or a week's worth of camping gear. Even my 29 inch mountain bike fits in the back with the seats down (with the front wheel still on!) I will admit, on long drives the seating position can become annoying, but bring a small pillow or something and you can go for hours, plus, you won't need to stop for gas often! Avg MPG, 30 in summer, 26 in winter.
We bought our 2003 Matrix used in 2005. It had just over 20K km on the clock. It now has 260K. It has really been trouble free motoring - replaced 2 wheel bearings otherwise only routine maintenance. It has maintained a very adequate fuel economy. We love this vehicle so much that we are buying a 2013 model with as close as possible the features of our present one. Everything still works fine.
This was our first new car purchase, and given our extensive Toyota experience (5 previous used Toyotas), we were expecting much. The flexibility of a 64/40 fold-flat rear seat with solid plastic cargo liner was outstanding. So too was the fold-forward passenger seats, which extend the size of possible cargo to 8' in length! Unfortunately the other aspects of the car weren't panning out so well. To summarize, performance, economy, fit-and-finish, trouble free driving, and fun to drive quotients were just not living up to the claims. After repeated problems with MAP sensors and various parts breaking repeatedly, if fell out of love. Now 7 years old, I've seen enough of my last Toyota.
Cargo configuration and interior room are excellent. The split rear folds flat and has included cargo tie-down points. This car can move an incredible amount of stuff.
Poor build quality: Exterior door handles break off regularly (common problem, try a web search). 3 MAP sensors replaced under warranty. Cheap interior trim, painted parts scratch easily, other parts fall off. Stereo died at 3 years. Anemic acceleration with 30% less mileage than claimed.
My 2003 5-speed only has just over 77,000 miles on it and the bearings in the transmission are going. I bought a Toyota specifically to have a long- lasting, good car. I called Toyota customer service and got the same story about not taking it to a dealership for routine maintenance so they couldn't help me if the car hadn't been properly maintained.