Full 2012 Toyota Matrix Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Toyota Matrix is essentially unchanged.
Despite a refresh last year and continued focus on practicality and comfort, the desirability the Toyota Matrix once enjoyed is beginning to wane. For about a decade, the Matrix has been a convincingly sporty, reasonably fuel-efficient four-door hatchback with the promise of Toyota reliability. It still meets most of those criteria, but newer and more efficient competitors have improved on the Matrix formula.
The 2012 Toyota Matrix still has a lot going for it, however. Since the sportiest XRS version was retired a few years ago, the Matrix has taken on a more domesticated role. What remains is a mechanically sound, versatile, large-volume hatchback based on the architecture of the ubiquitous Toyota Corolla. That means a smooth engine and a comfortable ride. Inside, there's a respectable amount of cargo capacity behind the rear seats, yet folding both the second row as well as the front passenger seat down expands that capacity with a truly flat floor to near-compact SUV dimensions. You can also get all-wheel drive, something not commonly offered for this segment.
The main issue we have with the 2012 Toyota Matrix is that other, small-on-the-outside but large-on-the-inside hatchbacks have debuted the past few years, and most outdo the Matrix in one or more areas. The Honda Fit is the versatility champ, while the Ford Focus hatchback is more upscale and enjoyable to drive. You might also want to look at the redesigned Subaru Impreza for its all-wheel drive or the Kia Forte hatchback for its impressive feature content. The Matrix might have been a pioneer, but these days we think most shoppers will be happier with one of its more up-to-date rivals.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Toyota Matrix is a five-passenger wagon/hatchback available in L and S trim levels.
The Matrix L comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, heated mirrors, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The Matrix S adds foglamps, a fold-flat passenger seat, metallic interior trim, a six-speaker sound system and a 115-volt power outlet.
The S Premium package adds a sunroof, Bluetooth (with audio streaming) and an upgraded audio system with iPod/USB interface and satellite radio. The Sport package, available on both L and S trims, adds front and rear underbody spoilers and a snazzy S badge, along with foglamps for the base model and 17-inch alloy wheels for the S.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Toyota Matrix comes standard with front-wheel drive, while the S can be additionally equipped with all-wheel drive. The Matrix L is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that's good for 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with the automatic and 26/32/29 with the manual.
The Matrix S gets a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that produces 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. Front-drive models get a standard five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic. A four-speed automatic is standard with AWD. A front-wheel-drive Matrix S with the automatic returns an estimated 21/29/24 (21/28/24 with the manual), while an AWD Matrix S returns 20/26/22. These estimates are disappointing given the fuel economy of some larger, more powerful crossover SUVs.
The 2012 Toyota Matrix comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, active front head restraints, front-side airbags and side curtain airbags. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Matrix its highest rating of "Good" in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the cabin, the Matrix has a significantly edgier ambience than other Toyotas, but doesn't go quite as far as the funky cabins found in the Nissan Cube or Scion xB. This could certainly be a good thing for many buyers, but either way, it's backed up by simple controls and decent materials.
The Toyota Matrix is endowed with generous cargo capacity. There are 19.8 cubic feet of luggage capacity behind the rear seats and a maximum 61.5 cubic feet if you include the space provided by the fold-flat front passenger seat (49.4 cubes if you don't). For rear passengers, a tall, deep bench seat is inviting for children and adults alike. As with most small Toyotas, taller drivers may be a bit squished behind the wheel, but those of average height should be fine.
The base 2012 Toyota Matrix accelerates sluggishly off the line with its 1.8-liter engine, but its fuel economy might redeem it in the eyes of many shoppers. The 2.4-liter engine in the S is the opposite: Power is ample but fuel economy is disappointing. In either case, the ride is smooth and well-insulated.