I bought the 2.4L, 5-spd. manual S version with 75K on it for a 4300-mile road trip through the southwest -- W. TX, AZ, UT, CO, NM -- encountering every kind of driving condition, and couldn't be more pleased. Has enough power to pass on uphill grade in 5th gear. Going down 8%-10% mountain grades with hairpin turns (Hwy. 12 UT, 550 in CO), I appreciated the manual trans. -- you really need to shift constantly between 2nd, 3rd and 4th to control your speed without burning up the brakes. The steering and performance wheels/tires really held the road well on those tight spaghetti turns. The Matrix functioned fine as a compact solo camper -- the flat-folding rear seats and almost flat-folding passenger seat allowed me to extend a tri-fold memory-foam mattress for sleeping comfortably. The slight incline over passenger seat not a problem — I slept like a baby and could nod off seeing the stars in the desert sky through the open sunroof. I used a trunk organizer for food and cooking gear, a duffel for clothes, and chose compact backpacking gear, with small folding table and chair. Everything fit in the cargo area with room to spare -- I just rearranged gear for the sleeping pad. Didn't need a roof rack and box as I thought I might. Enjoyed not having to set up and take down a damn tent and inflatable pad every day -- if campground sites were full, I could always sleep in the parking lot or find a spot elsewhere. Really impressed with the intelligent design of interior -- 3 dome lights, 4 grab handles, textured black no-glare dash top, easy-to-read illuminated gauges day and night, tie-down anchors in cargo area with that plastic hard surface great for gear, very comfortable driver seat (never a problem over a long days driving). Glad I wasn't driving one of these gigantic RVs and trailer-hauling trucks on these mountain roads. Had to swerve suddenly to avoid a suicidal pronghorn -- thank God I wasn't in some top-heavy SUV! If you're doing a long solo trip, this is all the car you need and it performs excellently in all conditions, including 40 miles of washboard dirt.
If you had and loved the 2003-2008 Matrix or Vibe, you will most likely be disappointed in the body style that came out in 2009. The hatchback window doesn't open, the larger engine isn't as fuel efficient, and it doesn't have the roof racks. The clutch in my 2009 Matrix is very hard to engage. I had my 2003 Vibe for 7 years and had well over 200,000 miles on it before I totaled it. In my haste to get as close to the same car, I bought the 2009 Matrix. After five months, I'm trying to find a low mileage, pre 2009 Vibe or Matrix and sell the one I have now.
2009 Toyota Matrix XRS 4dr Hatchback (2.4L 4cyl 5M)
To give context, my previous car was a 2003 Mazda Protege5 - 5-speed manual. That car had fantastic handling and it felt faster that it was. This car is a better car. It feels more solid, not as tinny as the Protege5. It is not as fun as my Mazda, but it is close enough. The rally style 5-speed manual shifter mounted on the Matrix's center console feels accurate with rifle bolt precision. Steering feedback from the electric unit was decent. The suspension is firm but comfortable, sporty but not a sports car suspension. The interior feels cavernous to my 5'8" frame. Acceleration is good from the 158 hp 2.4L engine. The car is not WRX fast, but fast enough. Passing on the highway is a breeze, thanks to the ample torque (162 lb-ft). It feels nice that the Matrix can still pull from only 1500 RPM in top gear. Front seats are comfortable as well as the rear seats. The rear seat is not that wide though. The rear seat can hold 2 people comfortably but 3 full sized adults will be cramped. The rear cargo hold is pretty large. The seat cloth is of good quality, but it would have been nice if there was a leather option. I compared the Matrix's rear cargo area to my friend's 2010 Scion xB and it indeed holds more cargo even than the xB, even though the xB has a more functional square cargo area. We verified this by stacking 32 count spring water bottle packs at a Wal-Mart in NJ. The Matrix could pack more water bottle packs than the xB. Who knew!?!? And this is with the rear seats up. BTW, the rear seats fold flat so you can effectively double your cargo capacity. That came in handy for my IKEA trips. The JBL audio system, JBL subwoofer and JBL speakers sound great, no need to upgrade for now. The overall fuel economy is 27 mpg, 80% highway. This car has been pretty reliable so far. I deducted a star because of the outward vision, engine and fuel economy. The front pillars are real think. Sometimes, you can't see people crossing near you in the city, very odd. Others point to the rear visibility as a problem, but Toyota has provided large mirrors, if adjusted properly will get largely get rid of the blind spots. The engine, though smooth, eats some oil, despite filling it with Mobil 1. You have to check your dipstick more often to make sure you are not low on oil. The fuel economy should be better for a 4-cylinder. In addition, the paint could have been more lustrous and there could be less hard plastic everywhere, but this is a Toyota, not a Lexus.
There should not have been so much hatred from the automotive press for this car. The car handles well, is fairly comfortable, has good acceleration, good sound system, cavernous interior space for 4 people or for cargo. True the interior could have been more upscale considering the MSRP at the time, but that alone should not have drawn the ire of so many automotive journalists. I guess these journalists don't understand that regular people are fine with vehicles that can do many things well, which is what this Matrix does. True the Matrix is not as fast as 370Z, as fuel efficient as a Prius, or as good a people and cargo hauler as a Sienna, but that's OK. At least for me it is. Just test drive any vehicle before you completely pass judgment based on what the press opines.