Full 2008 Toyota Matrix Review
What's New for 2008
Heading into a redesign for 2009, Toyota makes no changes to the Matrix this year.
Although it was initially marketed as a fun, youthful five-door hatchback, the Toyota Matrix soon settled into a more practical market niche patronized by an older audience. This is a small, affordable wagon with a surprisingly comfortable and versatile interior. It's capable of carrying mountain bikes and long boards, but from the perspective of most Matrix buyers, its ability to handle convertible car seats and eight bags of groceries is the greater feat. Even though the 2008 Toyota Matrix is among the older entries in its class, it remains a safe bet for a compact wagon.
The Matrix is a hatchback/wagon version of Toyota's Corolla sedan. (A near identical version, the Vibe, is also sold by Pontiac.) Although the Matrix is 7 inches shorter than the Corolla from nose to tail, it's taller and wider. This opens up an extra 6 cubic feet of passenger volume, along with considerably more cargo space. As a result, the Matrix easily accommodates a couple of adults in the backseat. If it's cargo you're worried about, both rear seats and the front passenger seat fold completely flat to swallow items up to 8 feet in length with the rear hatch closed. For added utility, the Matrix features an easily cleaned plastic cargo floor and in-floor cargo tracks with adjustable tie-down points.
Overall, the 2008 Toyota Matrix offers a satisfying solution for people with varying needs. It's affordable, fuel-efficient, well-built, generally pleasant to drive, and above all, roomy. That said, it doesn't come close to matching the Mazda 3 or Subaru Impreza for pure driving fun, and other small wagons and hatchbacks like the Scion xB, Chevrolet HHR and Dodge Caliber have various advantages in terms of feature content. Further, consumers needing a genuine kid hauler might prefer the Kia Rondo or Mazda 5, as both offer a third-row seat. In addition to trying the competition, consumers should keep in mind that a redesigned and more powerful Matrix is due out in the first half of the 2008 calendar year.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Toyota Matrix is a front-wheel-drive compact wagon available in two trim levels: base and XR. The standard Matrix includes 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning and a CD player, but you'll need to visit the options list to get desirable features like a rear window wiper and power windows, mirrors and locks. The Matrix XR has these conveniences, along with keyless entry, a 115-volt power outlet and body-color door handles, as standard.
Cruise control, an alarm system, rear-seat heater ducts (part of the All Weather Package) and alloy wheels are optional on both trim levels. On the XR, those wheels can be either 16 or 17 inches in diameter. Other XR-only options include a moonroof and an upgraded JBL sound system with an in-dash CD changer.
Powertrains and Performance
Every Toyota Matrix is equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine generating 126 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional on both trim levels. Despite offering the least power in its class, the Matrix keeps up with most rivals. Equipped with the manual gearbox, it takes about 9 seconds to hit 60 mph. EPA fuel economy estimates for 2008 are above average at 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway for manual-transmission cars and 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway for cars with automatics.
Antilock brakes are optional on all 2008 Toyota Matrix wagons, as are front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A stability- and traction-control system is another safety option to consider, but it's offered only on cars with automatic transmissions. In frontal crash testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Toyota Matrix earned a perfect five stars for driver protection and four stars for the front passenger. When equipped with the optional side airbags, the Matrix received five stars for front-occupant protection and four stars for the rear. Without these airbags, it received only three stars for front-occupant protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2008 Toyota Matrix offers a pleasant interior design with a simple control layout, solid quality materials and above-average fit and finish for this segment. Taller drivers might find the wagon's propped-up driving position a bit unnatural, but the rear seat is roomy and adults should be reasonably comfortable. Those who carry cargo will find that the Matrix functions much like a small SUV. The rear hatch opens skyward and the rear glass can be raised independently to allow surfboards to hang out the back. In addition, the cargo area and rear seatbacks are trimmed in low-maintenance plastic, and a pair of in-floor cargo tracks incorporate eight adjustable tie-down hooks. For protecting valuables, a hidden storage compartment resides underneath the floor. The 60/40-split rear seats and front passenger seat can be folded flat, expanding cargo room to more than 53 cubic feet -- a solid number for the small wagon class.
Despite outward appearances or advertising hyperbole, most drivers won't find the Matrix to be an especially fun-filled ride. Acceleration is fine around town and on the highway, but the wagon's modest low-end torque is apparent on uphill grades. Still, cars with the manual transmission respond to a little more whip. Handling dynamics aren't overly impressive either, but will be acceptable if you're merely seeking an affordable and versatile grocery-getter as opposed to a serious driving machine. Those who commute or take longer road trips should find the Matrix's smooth and comfortable ride to their liking.