Smooth and quiet ride, ergonomic cabin layout, adult-friendly backseat, perfectly flat load floor makes it an excellent cargo hauler.
Mediocre gas mileage with 2.4-liter engine, tepid driving dynamics.
Toyota’s compact hatchback/wagon is redesigned. The new 2009 Toyota Matrix is the same size as the old one, but a new 2.4-liter engine makes it a better performer and all-wheel drive is once again an option.
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Although Toyota has traditionally marketed its Matrix as one of the sporty, fun cars in its lineup, most people have purchased this small wagon/four-door hatchback for a very different reason: practicality. The first-generation Matrix had a backseat large enough to fit three kids or a pair of adults, and its perfectly flat, plastic-coated load floor was suitable for all manner of cargo. Being related to the Corolla sedan also helped, as the Matrix enjoyed above-average fuel economy and a solid reputation for reliability.
You can look forward to more of the same in the fully redesigned 2009 Toyota Matrix. A new, larger engine option should attract the attention of buyers looking for more performance, but otherwise this is the highly rational Toyota Matrix you’ve always known. As in the past, the front-wheel-drive Matrix is closely related to the Corolla, itself also redesigned this year. The Matrix is 3 inches taller, however, and this provides extra headroom. Toyota will continue to sell a base Matrix with an economical 1.8-liter engine, but the midrange S (replacing last year’s XR) and the high-line XRS trim levels get a 2.4-liter engine with significantly more horsepower and torque. In addition, buyers have the option of purchasing all-wheel drive on the S model, which upgrades to an independent double-wishbone rear suspension (from the standard torsion beam) to allow packaging of the AWD system’s rear differential. The XRS has an independent rear suspension as well, but in this case, the objective is to improve handling: This sportiest version of the Matrix also has firmer springs and shock absorbers and a front strut tower brace.
In spite of these upgrades, the 2009 Toyota Matrix still isn’t as engaging to drive as a Mazda 3 or the recently introduced Mini Cooper Clubman. That’s not to say the Matrix isn’t a capable small wagon, though. Handling is stable and secure, the ride is quiet and refined and there’s ample passing oomph with the larger engine. These attributes, along with its spacious and ergonomic interior design, make it a strong contender against rivals like the Chevrolet HHR, Kia Spectra5/Rondo, Saturn Astra, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Rabbit and Toyota’s own Scion xB. Among these four-door hatchbacks and wagons, the Rabbit, Impreza and Astra may still prove more appealing to shoppers who like to drive, but for those resolutely focused on practicality, the Matrix is once again a very strong candidate.
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