EDITORS NOTEBOOK: 2009 Toyota Matrix XRS, Day 1

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2009 Toyota Matrix Xrs Front View

Read Joe DeMatio's comments on driving the 2009 Toyota Matrix XRS.

My first thought when I approached this vehicle in our parking structure last night was that its front end is incredibly unattractive, with all sorts of body cladding haphazardly applied and a lower air dam that looks for all the world like the scoop on a bulldozer. Walking around the vehicle, one sees that the looks do not improve toward the rear, which is also a cacophony of shapes and embellishments.

One's aesthetic expectations are better met when one enters the vehicle. It's true that the central instrument cluster is completely asymmetrical, with a horizontal rectangle intersecting two offset circles, but it works from a function standpoint and is inoffensive to look at. The center stack is well positioned and logically laid out. Blessedly, the area between the two front seats has roomy cup holders and storage bins aplenty, so your sunglasses and wallet and BlackBerry and beverage will all fit. There also are beverage holders carved into the door liners. The seats in our test vehicle were gray fabric that, in keeping with the interior theme, did not inspire but did not offend. Sitting behind myself, I found the rear seat to be reasonably roomy, with good headroom and foot room.

The driving position is just what a lot of Americans want right now: a bit higher than in a normal car, but not ridiculously so. There are good sightlines for the driver frontward, but when backing up the vehicle the high body sides and hatch impede vision. When you're sitting in the rear seats, it can seem a little claustrophobic, also, due to the high beltline.

In our test car, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine was mated to a five-speed automatic. This powertrain works fine but is completely uninspiring and a bit raucous when you push it. Yet you reach 70 mph quite quickly. Fuel economy is rated at 21 city, 29 highway.

I was thinking this was a perfectly decent economy wagon for the non-enthusiast until I got a gander at the window sticker for this loaded XRS model: $24,560 as tested! Wow! That's a base price of $21,850 plus $1010 for the JBL stereo with nine speakers, XM capability, MP3, Bluetooth, and steering wheel mounted controls---the whole nine yards, audio-wise. Heated outside mirrors add $150, and a moon roof checks in at $890, plus $660 for delivery fees. There are a lot of cars I'd rather buy for 25 grand, so if you're looking at the Matrix, stick to the base models, I'd say.

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