REVIEWS: 2009 Toyota Matrix XRS

By Don Sherman - July 29, 2009
The Matrix pitches over bumps like an ox cart and suffers from torque steer even though there's not much torque to speak of, but I actually caught myself enjoying this unassuming little Toyota.
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The main thing the XRS has going for it is a genuinely good manual gearbox, with short, reasonably precise throws. It matches up well with Toyota's 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which isn't all that powerful, but is at least willing to rev. And though it's no corner carver, a few suspension upgrades (control arms instead of torsion beam in back, along with a thicker rear anti-roll bar and quicker steering rack) allow you to toss it into bends and squirt through traffic with some enthusiasm.
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Lots of flopping over road imperfections and inexplicable torque steer mean the Volkswagen GTI doesn't have much to worry about, but for a practical car, the Matrix XRS (and the Pontiac Vibe GT, while it's still around) serves up at least a bit of character and fun.
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David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
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The Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe was a decent car in its day, but to me it feels and looks slightly dated, even though it was redesigned not that long ago. It drives well enough, with a reasonably powerful engine mated to a decent manual transmission, but its suspension tuning leaves a lot to be desired as it wallows over even the slightest of road imperfections. The hatchback/wagon body style is useful, but there are a lot of other cars on the market, from the Mazda 3 hatch to the Hyundai Elantra Touring, that are more thoughtfully designed for hauling, are competitively priced, and drive much better to boot.
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Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
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Stepping into the Matrix is a familiar routine--the latest Toyota dash, the tactile feel of controls, and the typical easy-to-use blandness that accompanies most of Toyota's newer, smaller models (read: xB, xD, Corolla).
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Not as obvious, though, was the car's size in comparison to others in our fleet. I dropped off the Matrix in order to pick up the Four Seasons Honda Fit, and the Matrix felt positively ponderous and refined by comparison. Both are hatchbacks, and I guess I've reached some state of gopher ennui that dictates that all hatches should feel the same. I've spent a lot of time with the Fit but didn't notice how buzzy it was next to the more refined Matrix.
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As Zenlea noted, yes, there is some torque steer, but only if you mash the gas. Clutch operation is smooth and precise, and I'm a fan of the center-mounted, rally-style manual. It makes you feel like you're NOT in a Corolla-derived hatchback, using a Corolla engine, and spices up the monotony of daily driving.
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Jeffrey Jablansky, Intern
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My wallet reels at the prospect of spending nearly $23,000 for a loaded Matrix. It's a pleasant mix of snappy style, dependability, gas mileage, and utility but doesn't excel in any particular category. And 20 large opens up a wealth of possibilities in the used car supermarket: lovingly-maintained Bimmers, full-sized pickups, and rumbling Mustangs galore.
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While I own a dog and frequently haul purchases home from the big box stores, the crossover and SUV segments never seem to prompt a "buy me" itch. Few dogs care a whit about their means of transportation as long as the occasional ice-cream treat is involved. Piling building materials and landscaping supplies into elegantly finished interior space inevitably leaves a mess, permanent scuff marks, or both.
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The Matrix is neither crossover fish nor SUV foul. It's a small wagon that never commits to driving fun, hauling utility, or sexy style. If it had a more efficiently configured cargo hold (a lower liftover, room for an upright bike) or a turbo under the hood (read MazdaSpeed3), I could get interested. So please wake me when/if the Matrix takes its job seriously.
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Don Sherman, Technical Editor
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2009 Toyota Matrix XRS
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Base price (with destination): $21,480
Price as tested: $22,839
Options:
JBL AM/FM in-dash 6 CD, XM, $1010
All weather guard package $150
Carpeted floor mats $199
Fuel economy:
(city/hwy/combined)
21 / 28 / 24 mpg
Engine:
Size: 2.4L DOHC 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 158 hp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 162 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission:
5-speed manual
Weight: 3140 lb
Wheels/Tires:
18-in alloy wheels
P215/45R18 Tires
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