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.
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.
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.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor