Toyota introduced its youth-focused Matrix as an early 2003 model. Described as a crossover utility vehicle, the Matrix is said to combine the functionality of a sport utility vehicle with the image and performance of a sports car, yet it's as affordable as a compact sedan. Pontiac markets a related Vibe model.
High headroom and flexible seating positions are among the Matrix's notable attributes. Three trim levels are available: base, step-up XR and high-performance XRS. The base and XR models can be equipped with either front- or all-wheel drive. The XRS model comes only with front-wheel drive and packs additional power and a six-speed-manual gearbox.
Freshened styling and handling upgrades mark the 2005 models. Toyota says the new front bumper, grille, fog lamps and taillamp lenses convey a sportier image. Vehicle Stability Control is now optional on base and XR models with the automatic transmission.
The Matrix hatchback is built on a platform similar to the one used for Toyota's popular Corolla sedan. Base wheels measure 16 inches in diameter, but the XR and XRS can have 17-inch tires. Alloy wheels are standard on the XRS, which also features fog lights, side rocker panels, a front spoiler and a rear underbody spoiler.
Each Matrix seats up to five occupants. The rear seats fold down, and a sliding track in the cargo floor can be adapted to hold various items. Standard equipment includes air conditioning with air filtration, intermittent wipers, a CD player and a tilt steering wheel. The XR adds keyless entry, a sport steering wheel, driver's seat height adjustment, 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 produces 130 horsepower in front-drive base and XR models (123 hp with all-wheel drive). Either a five-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission can be installed in front-drive base and XR models, but all-wheel-drive versions come only with the automatic. The XRS carries a 170-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder and is available only in front-drive form. The XRS has a close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox. Toyota's all-wheel-drive system has no center differential but uses a viscous coupling.
Antilock brakes are optional in front-drive base and XR models and standard in other models. Side-impact and side curtain-type airbags are optional.
Well-built, nicely designed and stylish, the Matrix is, however, somewhat on the noisy side. It's quiet enough when cruising, but the engine in the 130-hp Matrix may growl and whine during acceleration. Road noise is also noticeable. The base engine teamed with the automatic transmission doesn't have much oomph. Gear changes are noticeable but not bothersome.
Stability is good, and it's easy to keep the Matrix 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.