Toyota introduced its youth-focused Matrix as an early 2003 model. Described as a crossover utility vehicle, the Japanese automaker says the Matrix combines the functionality of a sport utility vehicle with the image and performance of a sports car, yet its as affordable as a subcompact sedan. Pontiac has a related Vibe model.
High headroom and flexible seating positions are among the Matrixs most notable attributes. Three trim levels are available: Standard, the step-up XR and the high-performance XRS. The Standard and XR models may be equipped with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The XRS sport model comes with front-wheel drive only and packs an additional 50 horsepower and a six-speed-manual gearbox.
Toyota released the 2004 Matrix in May 2003 with a choice of new value packages. A Power Package includes remote keyless entry and power windows and locks. An Extra Value Package for the XR adds underbody spoilers, fog lamps, alloy wheels and a moonroof.
The Matrix most resembles a small wagon. It is built on a platform similar to the one used for Toyotas popular Corolla sedan. Toyota says the edge-web body panels have sharp surface edges but display rounded weblike contours intended to yield strong, flowing character lines.
Standard tires measure 16 inches in diameter, and the XR and XRS may be equipped with optional 17-inchers. Alloy wheels are optional on the Standard and XR models and standard on the XRS, which also features fog lights, a front spoiler and a rear underbody spoiler.
The Matrix seats five people. The rear seats fold all the way down. A sliding track in the cargo floor can be adapted to hold various lifestyle accessories. The driver faces deep-set Optitron gauges. A navigation system is optional.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning with air filtration, intermittent wipers and a cargo cover. The XR adds keyless entry, a sport steering wheel, a seat-height adjuster, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Cargo volume with the seats folded down totals 53.2 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine produces 130 hp in the Standard and XR models and 123 hp in those models when they are equipped with all-wheel drive. Either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission can be installed. Available only with front-wheel drive, the XRS carries a 173-hp version of the 1.8-liter engine and a close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox. Toyotas all-wheel-drive system has no center differential but uses a viscous coupling.
Antilock brakes are standard in the XRS and optional in other front-drive models. Side-impact airbags are optional.
The Matrix is well built, nicely designed and stylish, but somewhat on the noisy side. It is quiet enough while cruising, but the 130-hp engine emitted a growly, almost whiny sound during acceleration. Road noise is also noticeable. The base engine in automatic-transmission models isnt loaded with oomph. Gear changes are noticeable but not bothersome.
The Matrixs stability is good, and its easy to keep this SUV on course. Steering with more precision and less wheel vibration than the Corolla, it still falls short of stimulating, though the XRS is more refined. Front headroom is very good, even in models equipped with a sunroof. The Matrixs backseat space beats the Corollas, and headroom is better than the low roofline suggests.