I've always been confused by the Vibe/Matrix. Here we have, as Rusty noted, the two top automakers in the universe cooperating on a single vehicle, and they choose to build an inoffensive, but ultimately irrelevant and uninteresting small car. Did GM decide the Chevrolet HHR is too compelling and quick to rebadge for their supposed performance brand? Did Toyota come to the conclusion that they weren't squeezing enough volume out of the Corolla (the world's best-selling vehicle) and somehow think Pontiac gave them access to a missing demographic? These vehicles and the larger NUMMI venture might have made sense back when Toyota needed legitimacy in North America and GM couldn't make decent small cars, but now it seems a bit of a waste of pooled resources.
Having registered my qualms with the Vibe as a concept, I must say the vehicle itself is not all that bad. I for one prefer its looks to both the first-generation Vibe and the current Matrix. It comes off as sporty and substantial, but without trying too hard to scream "Excitement!" as did many (all?) Pontiacs in the late 1990s. The interior likewise looks at least reasonably upscale and well put together. It's also worth noting that GM's corporate radio units have come a long way in recent years. This one looked awfully similar to those in the Malibu and Aveo that recently passed through our fleet, but wasn't an eyesore by any means.
Dynamically, the Vibe is competent, but far from sporty. It never feels terribly off balance, as do some tall hatches, and has little trouble keeping up with traffic, but it never arouses any emotion. Given that both GM and Toyota have many powerful engines in their portfolio, it's a bit disappointing that they offer nothing better than this 2.4-liter four.
Like Rusty, I'd probably recommend this to a non-enthusiast looking for practical, cheap, and reasonably attractive transportation. In the long run though, I hope Toyota and GM figure out something more useful to do together.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor