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Versatile and affordable, the 2006 Toyota Matrix is one of the best compact wagons for hauling people and cargo in its price class.
Versatile cargo area, roomy rear seats, good gas mileage, generous standard equipment list, availability of all-wheel drive and stability control.
Modest torque output, less fun to drive than its styling suggests.
Available Matrix Wagon Models
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There are no major changes to this year's Toyota wagon, although new SAE testing procedures have resulted in lower horsepower ratings.
The Toyota Matrix is based on the Corolla platform. The goal of the car is to offer the interior functionality and flexibility usually associated with larger vehicles but in a compact package. It's part of a growing list of sporty and affordable five-door hatchbacks/wagons. Unlike previous Toyota wagon variants, the Matrix stands tall -- 5 inches taller than the Corolla -- and this gives the cabin a spacious feel, not unlike the PT Cruiser. This also allows it to accommodate adults comfortably in the backseat. On the outside, the Toyota Matrix has a more angular front fascia, including its own grille, headlights and taillights. And while the Corolla has a traditional, smooth-bodied profile, the Matrix benefits from an artisan's chisel, as a gentle valley breaks up the tall body side with an S-shaped character line flowing below it.
In lieu of a wagonizing cargo box, designers gave the Matrix an abridged rear, such that it is essentially a hatchback and isn't likely to turn away younger buyers. The Toyota Matrix is more practical than most of its larger-capacity peers. Its backseat offers enough room for adults to get comfortable, while its durable plastic cargo floor offers adjustable tie-down points for securing all manner of bulky and/or messy cargo. What's more, both the rear seats and the front-passenger seat fold perfectly flat to allow owners to transport items up to 8 feet in length. We're convinced that the 2006 Toyota Matrix would be a satisfying choice for many people -- it rides comfortably; it handles capably enough; it has plenty of room in the backseat for your friends (or your kids); and it provides a lot of flexibility for those whose interests require a lot of equipment. The Matrix is about getting your friends and cargo to your destination with minimal hassle, discomfort and expense along the way and perhaps enjoying a tailgate party once you get there.
The Toyota Matrix is available in three trim levels: base, XR and XRS. Base-level cars have the necessities such as air conditioning and a CD player, but most of the worthwhile features are optional. Go with the XR or XRS to get standard power locks and windows, keyless entry and a rear wiper. Other options include 16- or 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, an all-weather package, a DVD-based navigation system, a power moonroof and two different premium sound systems.
The Toyota Matrix comes with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. Buyers of the base and XR are offered a choice of either front-wheel drive or full-time all-wheel drive. With front-wheel drive, the engine makes 126 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel-drive models make less power (118 hp) due to different exhaust routing. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission available with AWD, while front-drive cars can also be ordered with a five-speed manual. The front-drive XRS is the sportiest trim. It comes standard with a 164-hp version of the 1.8-liter engine, four-wheel disc brakes and a six-speed manual transmission; no automatic is available.
Antilock brakes are standard on the Matrix XRS and all-wheel-drive models, and optional on front-drive base and XR models. Seat-mounted side airbags for front occupants and full-length side curtain airbags are optional across the line. Stability control is another worthwhile option. In NHTSA crash testing, the Toyota Matrix earned five stars (the best score possible) for driver protection in frontal impacts and four stars for the front passenger. For side impacts, it received three stars for front-passenger protection and four stars for rear-passenger protection.
For cargo, the Toyota Matrix is very similar to a compact SUV. The tailgate opens upward, and the rear glass can be raised independently. The main cargo area and rear seatbacks are unapologetically coated in hard plastic, the idea being that it's a lot easier to clean dirt and mud off one long expanse of plastic than out of matted carpet. A special cargo-floor track features eight adjustable tie-down hooks. Underneath the floor is a hidden storage compartment. The 60/40-split rear seats can be folded flat, thereby expanding cargo room to 53.2 cubic feet. The front-passenger seat also folds forward, allowing items more than 8 feet long to be carried with the tailgate closed.
Despite Toyota's claims, the Matrix isn't particularly sporty. With the base and XR cars, acceleration is only average. AWD-equipped cars come off as particularly taxed because of their extra weight and obligatory automatic transmissions. Even the Matrix XRS with its 164-hp engine isn't particularly rewarding as most of its power is made in the high reaches of the rev range. Handling, too, is modest. The Matrix's ride quality, however, is smooth and comfortable.
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