While stylistically comparing a car to the Prius is usually not much of a compliment, in the case of the recently redesigned Matrix it most certainly is. Prior to last years re-do, the compact wagon was half a chromosome away from morphing into Aztec-ian dimensions. Thankfully, the revised 2010 Matrix has been pulled back from that disaster to become one of the more uniquely styled cars in the entire Toyota stable. But what Toyota hasn’t quite figured out yet is how to reconcile the car’s intended edgy, youthful image with the fact that it may also be Toyota’s most boring car to drive.
The basic underpinnings of the Matrix are drawn from Toyota’s long running Corolla sedan stretched to accommodate loads of up to 8 feet in length. Though this utility may be the identity of the Matrix, it does little to inspire spirited driving.
The newest Toyota Matrix is available in three trim levels: base, S and XRS. Base models have a respectable number of convenience features as standard or optional, though the S comes with more of them as standard equipment. The XRS is the top-level trim and also boasts bigger wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. On the base front-wheel-drive Toyota Matrix, you’ll find a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a four-speed automatic is optional. Matrix S and XRS models adopt a 2.4-liter engine that makes 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, as well as an optional five-speed automatic alongside the standard five-speed manual. The more powerful engine choice helps the Matrix achieve a 0 to 60 mph time of 7.3 seconds. The AWD S comes only with the four-speed automatic.
One small consolation for choosing the base model is to reap the fuel efficiency benefits that are siphoned off by the larger engine in the upper trimmed models. If you only intend to drive the Matrix mostly as a city, it may be worth sticking to the base trim to cash in on the better gas mileage. One upside on the S AWD and XRS is the appearance of a more advanced independent double-wishbone rear suspension in place of the standard torsion-beam setup, slightly improving the Matrix’s handling behavior. The 2010 Toyota Matrix comes standard with stability control and anti-lock disc brakes, with the S and XRS boasting larger discs all around. Also standard are front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
According to the EPA, equipped with the 1.8-liter engine, the Matrix returns 26 mpg in city and 32 mpg in highway with the manual, while the four-speed auto yields a mile less in each category. With the larger engine ratings are 21/28 mpg with the manual, 21/29 mpg with the automatic and 20/26 mpg with AWD. All-wheel drive is optional on the S model, dropping fuel economy to 22 mpg. Depending on the extent that the Matrix is used for hauling duty that would otherwise necessitate a larger, less fuel efficient car, these numbers are either merely adequate are impressive.
Although the 2010 Matrix is undeniably more distinctive than most of the Toyota lineup, its main sport hatch competition in the form of Mazda, Honda and Subaru are equally attractive and at least as progressive aesthetically. Still, it is an improvement over the previous generation, and now that Pontiac is leaving the party, potential buyers will not be incorrectly confusing it as a re-badged Vibe. An added sharpness and the appearance that the car’s “waist” has been moved down, give the new Matrix a stouter, less top-heavy stance that some feel aligns the car more with a Scion product than Toyota.
In comparison to the Corolla, the Matrix is meant to inject much more style into the interior, with mixed results. The attempt at a contemporary design is tempered by cheaper materials than we’d like to have seen and a ton of hard plastic, including in the ample cargo area.
The base car features 16-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, air-conditioning, a CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a fold-flat front passenger seat. Cruise control, key-less entry and power windows and locks are optional on this version of the Matrix but standard on the S, which also adds a rear window wiper, under-body spoilers, an upgraded stereo and a 115-volt utility outlet. The all-wheel-drive version of the S loses the spoilers, but it gains fog lights and an independent rear suspension. The top-of-the-line Matrix XRS adds 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear roof spoiler, sport-tuned suspension and steering, upgraded seat fabric and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A sunroof and an in-dash CD changer are optional on all models. Optional on the S and XRS only are a JBL sound system, satellite radio, a navigation system with real-time traffic, and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
Passenger comfort itself is good with a telescoping steering wheel and an ample amount of seat-track travel that allows drivers of all sizes to get comfortable. In back, the tall, deep bench seating is substantial and sufficient for both children and adults. Best of all, it folds completely flat in 60/40 sections to facilitate the hauling abilities of the Matrix. Also to that end are the inclusion of fixed tie-down points and rubber inserts to help keep cargo from sliding around. There are 19.8 cubic feet of luggage capacity behind the rear seats and an even more impressive 61.5 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. Unlike many small competitors in this segment, it would not be a stretch to regularly use the Matrix as the primary conveyance of a family of four.
The triad of trims are reasonably priced from $16,290, $18,360 and $20,760 for the top-level XRS.
All in all, the 2010 Toyota Matrix is a practical choice, though perhaps only if you need the extra cargo space lacking in the Corolla. Even so, if you are set on a hatchback, it would be worth your time to at least take the Honda Fit out for a spin for before settling on the Matrix.