2009 Toyota Corolla Matrix SPosted on April 22nd, 2009
Five-door hatchback is a great value for active lifestyles
By Nina Russin
The Corolla Matrix is an ideal choice for buyers needing a compact car with enough versatility for active lifestyles. Its base price of $19,550 doesn’t break the bank. Available all-wheel drive on the mid-grade S model adds all-weather capability. The rear seats are easy to fold flat, creating a cargo floor long and wide enough to hold my mountain bike with the front wheel in place.
The Matrix has better-than-average good fuel economy: 21/29 mpg city/highway for the automatic model tested. Its 1.8-liter and 2.4-liter engines aren’t barn burners, but they do a good job around town, in typical highway traffic, and have enough low-end torque for a drive through the mountains.
The Corolla’s platform’s small footprint functions well in crowded cities. Testing one on narrow streets in the Midwest, I found the Matrix easy to parallel park, and slip into the compact parking spots in area garages. Visibility is good all the way around the car: front and rear wipers keep the glass clear in rain and snow.
Ground clearance is 5.3 inches: not enough to clear obstacles on true off-road trails. On the other hand, the car’s low liftover height makes it easier to load up the back and reach the top. The test car has an optional rubber step on the rear bumper that also protects the paint from scratches.
Three available grades with two engine choices
Buyers can choose from three grades: standard, S and SRX. The base and upscale SRX models are front-wheel drive. Buyers can choose between front and all-wheel drive on the mid-grade S. The test car comes with the larger four-cylinder engine, rated at 158 horsepower, with a five-speed automatic transmission. Both the 1.8 and 2.4-liter engines meet ultra-low-emissions vehicle II requirements.
A gate shifter on the center console allows the driver to manually select gears. The S grade comes with sixteen-inch wheels and R-rated tires, an independent McPherson front and torsion beam rear suspension. Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking are standard.
A safety option package ($250) adds traction and stability control. Other options on the test car include an audio upgrade that includes WMA and MP3 playback, satellite radio wiring and steering-wheel mounted audio controls ($420), cruise control ($250), a cold weather package including heated side mirrors and rear seats ($150), and an accessories package that adds a cargo net, rear cargo mat, rubber bumper protector and floor mats ($314).
Bring on the rain (and wind)
I had the Matrix for four days during a recent trip to southern Ohio. Unlike Phoenix, Cincinnati experiences all four seasons, often within forty eight hours. This is especially true in the spring, when cold fronts from the northwest are frequent occurrences.
Within three days, the weather changed from sunny and warm to cold and rainy with a touch of sleet. While sleet isn’t the greatest weather to run in, it’s custom-made for testing antilock brakes and traction control.
The Matrix was solid as a rock through rain and thirty mile-per-hour winds. While it’s a relatively light car (curb weight is around 3000 pounds), the Matrix is very stable at speed. Despite high crosswinds, the car held its line and the tires maintained contact with the ground.
Winter weather and road salt create potholes. By April, any asphalt patches road crews tossed on streets in the Fall have washed down one of the city’s many steep hills, leaving its winding streets with enough obstacles to rival the best autocross. The Matrix suspension is compliant enough to keep passengers comfortable over the bumpy roads. A standard stabilizer bar keeps the chassis flat in the corners.
The other impressive feature about the Matrix is the lack of noise, vibration and harshness in the passenger cabin. Road and wind noise can be the bane of compact cars. There is little if any wind noise around the Matrix’s windshield or side mirrors, and no road noise from the tires.
The car seems well balanced front-to-rear. Under normal driving conditions, there is no tendency to understeer. Steering response from the electric power steering system is excellent at all speeds. The electric system saves weight and space under the hood compared to a hydraulic system: it also eliminates mechanical components that can wear out over time.
Brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion without being grabby.
Inside, the Matrix has all of the features most active buyers want: plenty of bottle and cup holders, small and large cubbies for electronic devices, a large glove box with a separate shelf for the owner’s manual, 12 and 115-volt power points, and a well-organized center stack.
Heating and air conditioning controls are easy to reach from either front seating position: ditto for the audio controls. The tilt steering wheel allows shorter drivers to maintain a clear forward view. All models but the base grade are available with a GPS navigation system.
Both the driver and front passenger seats have enough lower back support to be comfortable during drives of several hours. There is no floor tunnel, so three small adults can fit in back on short trips. The center console cuts into the middle passenger’s legroom, so two will be more comfortable on long trips.
The rear seats are easy to fold flat and lengthen the cargo floor. The Matrix easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards. All models come with standard roof rack anchors.
The car comes with a compact spare to save weight and space. It’s adequate, since the Matrix isn’t intended for off-road use.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, and antilock brakes. The 2009 Corolla Matrix is on display at dealerships nationwide.
Likes: An affordable compact car with good fuel economy and a versatile interior.
Dislike: Traction and stability control are a separate option on all but the upscale XRS model.
Model: Corolla Matrix S
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: Base price does not include a $720 delivery charge.
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