2009 Toyota Matrix XRSPosted on February 8th, 2009
By Nina Russin
As gas prices soar, car buyers look for fuel-efficient alternatives to sport-utility vehicles. Leaving hybrids out of the picture, compact hatchbacks are an excellent solution to the dilemma. They have large, versatile cargo areas, yet their fuel economy rivals passenger cars.
The Toyota Matrix is a hatchback based on the Corolla platform. The compact Matrix averages twenty-four miles-per gallon for city and highway driving. Second-row seats fold flat to lengthen the cargo floor, which features an easy-to-clean vinyl surface and easy-to-use cargo tie-down system.
The floor is long enough to hold a mountain bike with the front wheel in place. On a recent trip to Sedona, my husband and I packed in a weekend’s worth of luggage, my mountain bike, and several grocery bags full of munchies.
The test car is the XRS: the sportiest of three available grades. It features a slightly larger engine than the standard and grades, with a five-speed automatic transmission.
While the Matrix S is available with all-wheel drive, the XRS comes exclusively as a front-wheel drive car. Front and rear underbody spoilers limit the car’s ground clearance to 5.3 inches, making it impractical for off-road driving.
Though fuel economy for the Matrix XRS isn’t as good as for the base model, the extra power makes a big difference on the highway. Driving north on the 17 freeway between Phoenix and Sedona, it was easy to pass slower traffic on the uphill grades. The automatic transmission downshifts hard, but accelerating hard on the hills had little impact on overall fuel economy.
The XRS comes with eighteen-inch wheels as opposed to sixteen-inch rims on the base model, a strut tower brace for enhanced torsional rigidity, and standard vehicle stability control.
A standard independent wishbone suspension is compliant, yet responsive. An electric steering pump provides variable assist, depending on the car’s speed. I had no problems making the occasional U-turn on Sedona’s two-lane roads.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS are standard. Braking is firm and linear.
Visibility is good all the way around the car, though a thick rear pillar makes it harder to see oncoming traffic when backing out of a parking spot. All grades come with a standard rear wiper, to keep the back glass clean in rain and snow.
Towing capacity is 1500 pounds: well below our ALV minimum standards.
The Matrix interior is remarkably spacious for a compact car. The test car has standard cloth upholstery. Both the driver and front passenger seat have plenty of lower back support.
I was surprised by the amount of legroom in the second row. Since there is no tunnel through the floor, it’s possible for three small adults to be comfortable in back.
A gate shifter on the center stack clears up floor space for extra cupholders, and a two-piece bin that stores small electronic items on top, and compact discs beneath. The five-speed automatic transmission includes a manual shift option.
Standard comfort and convenience features include air conditioning, power moonroof, halogen headlamps and front fog lamps, intermittent wipers, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power windows, door locks and keyless entry. The Matrix doesn’t come with a roof rack, but the XRS grade includes fixed anchor mounts.
A 12-volt power point and 115-volt inverter at the base of the center stack allow passengers to charge and use electronic devices on the go. The optional navigation system includes a MP3 compatible audio upgrade, with pre-wiring for satellite radio. The $1300 option is most beneficial for buyers who want the enhanced audio capabilities, since aftermarket GPS systems do a adequate job for a fraction of the price.
Redundant volume controls on the steering wheel help the driver to stay focused on the road. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag.
A large glovebox includes a storage shelf for the owner’s manual: it’s roomy enough to stash a purse or small pack at the trailhead. All four doors have map pockets with molded bottle holders.
Versatile cargo area
The second-row seats fold flat by releasing knobs on the outboard sides of the seatbacks. The cargo floor has a vinyl surface, which makes it easier to slide big cargo inside: it’s also easy to clean. Cargo tracks contain tie-down loops to secure larger items.
A hidden cubby to the left of the liftgate can hold a purse, small pack or first aid kit. The spare and jack are in a compartment under the cargo floor, where they are easy to reach.
The 2009 model has yet to undergo federal crash tests, but it comes well equipped with active and passive safety features: front, side and side curtain airbags, four-channel antilock brakes, vehicle stability control with traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Base price on the Matrix XRS is $21,850, not including a $660 delivery fee. The new Matrix is available for test drives at Toyota dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A fuel-efficient compact car with a versatile interior, including a large, easy-to-clean cargo floor. The larger engine on the XRS grade adds a welcome power boost, especially when driving in mountainous areas.
Dislikes: Underbody spoilers reduce ground clearance, making it hard to drive the car off-road.
Model: Corolla Matrix XRS
Base price: $ 21,850
As tested: $23,810
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
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