The Toyota Matrix combines cargo utility and fuel economy in a compact car that offers a choice of engines and all-wheel drive. Developed in tandem with the Corolla sedan, the Matrix is essentially the five-door hatchback wagon version of the Corolla. In fact, Toyota refers to it as the Toyota Corolla Matrix.
Whatever you call it, the Matrix is a sensible choice for many people. It can carry four big people or drop three seats and slide a short board inside; four doors and a hatch make loading kids, dogs and miscellaneous cargo a cinch.
This second-generation Toyota Matrix was launched as a 2009 model. For 2011, Matrix was freshened with new wheels and minor changes to interior trim and a Smart Stop Technology brake-override system was added as standard equipoment. The 2012 Matrix carries over unchanged, though for 2012 Matrix includes free maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles.
Matrix is available in two grades: base Matrix L and sporty Matrix S. Matrix L comes with a 1.8-liter engine, while the Matrix S gets a more powrful 2.4-liter engine. Front-wheel drive is standard and the Matrix S is available with all-wheel drive. Matrix L offers a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Matrix S comes with 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. Matrix S AWD comes with a 4-speed automatic.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 26/32 mpg for a Matrix L (1.8-liter) with manual gearbox, 21/29 mpg for a Matrix S (2.4-liter) with 5-speed automatic. All models run on Regular unleaded gasoline.
We recommend the 1.8-liter Matrix L with manual gearbox as the best model. We found the base Matrix 1.8 with 5-speed manual more fun to drive than a 2.4-liter Matrix S with an automatic. The 1.8-liter engine isn't as powerful, of course, but it revs more freely and is more of a driver's engine. However, if choosing an automatic transmission, we think the 2.4-liter engine with 5-speed automatic is the best choice. Matrix S AWD is best for the Snow Belt with its all-wheel drive.
Check out the Matrix if you want the reliable reputation of the Corolla with less visual boredom, if you need a urban runabout that's cheap to buy and run, or just because it's logically all you really need for bumping around in heavy traffic. The Matrix doesn't stand out anywhere as much as it provides a useful, better than average package for any purpose short of pickup-sized building materials or a trip to the red carpet.
By price and hatchback design, Matrix competes with roomy compact cars such as the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Golf. It's also an alternative to small vans and crossovers.
The 2012 Toyota Matrix L ($18,845) uses a 1.8-liter engine and comes standard with fabric upholstery, air conditioning, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, AM/FM/CD stereo compatible with MP3/WMA files, input jack and XM satellite radio, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Optitron electroluminescent gauges with tachometer, power mirrors, intermittent wipers, engine immobilizer, and cargo cover. A 5-speed manual gearbox comes standard, a 4-speed automatic transmission is available as a separate model ($19,685). Matrix L comes with 16-inch steel wheels with 205/55HR16 tires. The L Sport Package includes front and rear underbody spoilers, integrated fog lights.
Matrix S ($19,565) comes with the 2.4-liter engine and is upgraded over the base model with sport-fabric upholstery, six-speaker audio, power windows and locks, keyless entry, intermittent rear wiper, 115-volt AC outlet and larger rear brakes. Options include a JBL sound system or navigation with real-time traffic, moonroof, rear spoiler, cruise control, electrochromic interior mirror w/compass, 17-inch alloy wheels, all-weather package. A 5-speed manual is standard; a 5-speed automatic is available ($20,755). Matrix S comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels with 205/55HR16 tires.
Matrix S AWD ($21,715) comes with the 2.4-liter engine, a 4-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, plus a fully independent rear suspension, larger rear brakes, and the all-weather package as standard.
The Sport Package for Matrix S includes five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/45WR17 tires, underbody spoilers, color-keyed rear spoiler. A Premium Package for Matrix S models includes tilt/slide moonroof with sliding sunshade, overhead console with maplights, sunglasses storage and moonroof functions, upgraded audio with six speakers, SiriusXM Satellite Radio capability, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, auto sound leveling, hands-free phone capability, phone book access, Bluetooth streaming music, steering wheel with audio and phone controls.
Safety features that come on all models include front airbags, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, antilock brakes with brake assist, VSC electronic stability control with traction control, and the federally mandated tire pressure monitor.