2009 Toyota Corolla Matrix SPosted on November 24th, 2009
Compact hatchback has an active lifestyle focus
By Nina Russin
The Matrix is the five-door version of the Toyota Corolla, combining the sedan’s positive fuel economy with a larger, more versatile cargo area.
Every time I drive the Matrix, I find a new reason to love
the car. The hatchback averages 29 miles-per-gallon on the highway, has a standard 115-volt outlet in the center stack, and can hold my mountain bike without removing the front wheel.
Tracks in the cargo floor hold tie-down hooks to secure large cargo. A cargo light illuminates the back of the car, making it easier to load up at night.
For this test drive, I have the mid-level S grade, with a 158-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. The S adds a couple of important features over the base model: the 115-volt outlet, and a fold-flat front passenger seat. A hard seatback surface serves as a work table.
Base price on the test car is $19,550. Options include cruise control ($250), an audio upgrade that adds satellite radio capability ($420), a cold weather package, including rear heating ducts and heated side mirrors ($150), traction and stability control ($250), and a cargo mat package that also adds a rear bumper protector ($314).
Drive through the Midwest
My drive route takes me between Indianapolis and Cincinnati at the end of Fall. While there’s no snow on the ground, this part of the country usually gets at least one rainstorm per week. The wet roads will let me see how well features such as the electronic stability control and four-channel antilock brakes work.
While Indianapolis is flat, Cincinnati is extremely hilly, with narrow streets that wind between the neighborhoods. By now, most of the summer construction is completed, but there are plenty of rough roads and blind corners to test the Matrix’s handling.
I will undoubtedly have to park on the street: something I rarely do in Phoenix. Doing so makes me appreciate the car’s short wheelbase, and 36-foot turning radius.
I start the drive out of Indianapolis on a sunny Saturday morning, having flown in the night before. The first part of the test drive is on the loop road around Indianapolis, and the interstate between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
The 158-horsepower engine in the test car is the larger of two available blocks. Average fuel economy is about four miles-per-gallon poorer than the 132-horsepower engine in the base grade. But the bigger engine has significantly more power, and as a result, much better handling on high-speed roads.
A five-speed automatic transmission includes manual gear selection, for drivers wanting sportier performance. I choose to use the car in automatic mode, to maximize fuel economy. The Matrix has ample power to accelerate into high-speed traffic, and pass slower vehicles on the highway.
Cincinnati proper is build on seven steep hills that rise out of the Ohio river, separating Ohio and Kentucky. Many of the city streets were build before the advent of the automobile. They are narrow, full of potholes and blind corners. Up until the 1950s, residents who didn’t want to drive in the winter could opt for trolley cars on inclines that ran up the hills.
As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I faced the challenge of getting around in rear-wheel drive cars, since the trolleys no longer operated. Back then, we threw bags of salt in the trunk of the car, hoping that the additional weight over the rear axle would be enough to get us up the hilly street to our house.
The advent of front-wheel and all-wheel drive was the Midwestern equivalent of Jason coming onshore with the Argonauts. As the Matrix prances up the first of several steep hills once we hit the city limits, it brings back memories of cursing any red light that made me lose momentum on an icy hill in the thick of winter.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking are the ideal setup for the Midwest. Unlike drums, disc brakes don’t retain water, giving them better wet weather performance.
Toyota uses an electric power steering system on the Matrix, similar to the mechanism in its Prius hybrid. The electric power steering system eliminates the traditional hydraulic pump: it takes up less space under the hood, saves weight, and eliminates mechanical components which wear out over time.
Some of the electric power steering systems seem to work better than others. The one in the Matrix works pretty well, with steering response comparable to a traditional rack-and-pinion system.
Sixteen-inch wheels come standard on all Matrix grades except the sporty XRS. The 18-inch rims on the XRS make a noticeable difference during aggressive, high-speed driving, but the 16-inch wheels are fine for most driving situations. Standard front and rear stabilizer bars keep the chassis flat in the corners.
The base and S grades come with a MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension. All-wheel drive and XRS models get a double wishbone rear suspension: a more refined setup that also saves space. The standard setup on the test car provides a ride that most people should find pleasant: compliant enough to absorb pothole jousts, without feeling mushy.
Visibility to the front and sides of the car is quite good. A standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel allows smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view. Thick D pillars create blind spots in the rear corners, that are most noticeable when parallel parking.
The Matrix has a low center of gravity, to enhance on-road performance. Ground clearance is 5.8 inches: enough to handle a couple inches of snow or graded dirt roads. Buyers needing deep snow performance should look into the RAV4: a compact sport-utility vehicle.
A perfect interior for active lifestyles
I can’t think of a compact car interior better suited to active lifestyles than the Matrix. I stated some of the reasons for my opinion at the beginning of this story.
Standard cloth seats on the test car are easier to clean than leather, and more comfortable in extreme temperatures. I found the manual seat adjustments easy to use. The driver’s seat had enough lower lumbar support to keep me comfortable for a two-hour drive.
All four doors have bottle holders that are large enough to accommodate 20-ounce water bottles. There are three additional cupholders in the center console, and two that pop out of the back of the center console for second-row passengers.
The steering wheel has redundant audio controls as part of the upgrade package, to minimize driver distraction.
Power outlets at the base of the center stack allow passengers to recharge portable electronic devices, plug in a MP3 player or a computer. A large glovebox has a separate shelf for car documents, leaving additional space for other items. The center console includes a deep bin, large enough to hold compact discs, and a narrow shelf for portable electronic devices.
Temperature and audio controls on the center console are easy to reach from either front seating position. Large temperature control knobs are easy to manipulate with gloves on. I found the standard gauges easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions.
Since the Matrix doesn’t have a tall floor tunnel, three passengers can sit in the second row. Being a small car, there isn’t an overabundance of legroom, but there should be enough space for small adults. Dual reading lamps up front and a standard dome lamp illuminate the passenger cabin at night.
Spacious cargo area
Its cargo bay is the Matrix’s tour de force. Knobs on the second-row seatbacks fold them flat, creating a long, uninterrupted cargo floor. It’s necessary to remove the headrests to fold the seats flat, but that’s a simple operation.
Its low lift-over height makes the cargo area easier for small drivers to access. The standard cargo tracks hold a variety of tie-down mechanisms for larger cargo.
The 2009 Toyota Matrix comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, four-channel antilock brakes, and a tire pressure monitoring system. The Corolla Matrix is on display at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
Likes: An affordable, versatile compact hatchback with a spacious cargo area and a high level of standard safety features.
Dislike: Thick rear pillar creates blind spots in the vehicle’s back corners.
Model: Corolla Matrix
Base price: $19,550
As tested: $21,654
Horsepower: 158 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 162 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 21/29 mpg city/highway
Comments: Vehicle stability and traction control are standard features on 2010 models.
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