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The Toyota Matrix is essentially a tall yet compact wagon, with a dash of cool, sporty style thrown in. It's typically been marketed toward younger shoppers, though buyers of all ages have been drawn to this car's many desirable attributes. Based on the Corolla sedan, the Matrix is exceptionally versatile, whether you're hauling bulky cargo or transporting adult-sized passengers.
The main downside to the Matrix is that, apart from the relatively rare XRS variant, it's never been particularly rewarding to drive. But for the practical-minded, this will likely be of little concern. Boasting high fuel economy, a smooth ride, a roomy cabin, available all-wheel drive and reliable Toyota genes, the Matrix is one of the best choices available -- new or used -- for a small wagon or hatchback.
Current Toyota Matrix
The current Toyota Matrix straddles the line between hatchback and wagon body styles, benefitting from a wide range of utility and versatility. The base L model is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional -- both drive the front wheels. Upgrading to the Matrix S gets you a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, as well as an all-wheel-drive option. Front-drive models come with a five-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic, while AWD versions only come with a four-speed automatic.
Standard feature highlights for the base L trim include air-conditioning, a fold-flat front passenger seat, full power accessories, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB interface. Besides the more powerful engine, the Matrix S gains foglights, upgraded cloth upholstery, 60/40-split-folding rear seats and a premium audio system with a 6-inch touchscreen interface. Larger wheels, body spoilers and a sunroof account for the available Matrix options.
Inside, the Matrix has enough space to carry items up to 8 feet long, and the cargo area's durable plastic load floor allows for a variety of items, from home improvement materials to bicycles or a kayak. The Matrix also makes for a good people carrier, with comfortable front seats and roomy rear quarters.
On the road, the base Toyota Matrix feels a bit pokey in terms of acceleration, though its engine does provide pretty good fuel economy. The extra torque from the 2.4-liter engine makes the driving experience more relaxed, particularly in regards to passing. Around corners, the Matrix is balanced and predictable, and overall ride quality is very comfortable. Still, the Matrix is not a very exciting car to pilot, largely due to its low-feedback steering. On the positive side, the control layout is nearly perfect.
Used Toyota Matrix Models
The current Toyota Matrix represents the second generation, which was introduced for 2009. In that first year, stability control was included on the sport-tuned XRS, but optional on lower trims. The following year, stability control was made standard across the board. For 2011 the XRS was dropped and the remaining two trims (base and S) picked up more standard features.
The first-generation Toyota Matrix was introduced for the 2003 model year. 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 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.
If you are looking for newer years, visit our new Toyota Matrix page.