Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota Matrix base. Click image to enlarge
Competitors
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chevrolet HHR
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Dodge Caliber
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Jeep Compass
Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Kia Spectra5

See end of article for complete list

Manufacturer’s web site
Toyota Canada

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2009 Toyota Matrix

North Vancouver, British Columbia – When I saw the base price of the new, redesigned 2009 Toyota Matrix, I almost fell out of my seat: it’s MSRP of $15,705 is almost $1,500 less than the 2008 base model, and includes a bunch of new safety and comfort features that the old car, first seen in 2002 (as a 2003 model), didn’t have.

I don’t know about you, but I get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I see good value, and for under $16,000, the new Matrix must be one of the best buys in the new car market right now. Based on the Toyota Corolla platform and made right here in Canada by Canadians, with a stellar reliability record, class-leading fuel economy, and extremely practical seating and cargo options, the Matrix is a no-brainer if you’re looking for a reliable new car with a great resale value.

Let’s start with the changes: the 2009 Matrix, which arrived this February, gets an evolutionary re-design that’s a little sportier than the old model, and a bunch of new standard features: a new 132-hp 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine on base models (up from 126 hp), new side and curtain airbags, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, Brake Assist and electronic brake differential; active front head restraints, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and new electric power steering. As well, the sporty XRS model and the all-wheel drive model have returned after a two-year absence. XR, XRS and AWD models feature a new 158-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and XR and XRS models are offered with a new optional five-speed automatic transmission (base and AWD models are available with a four-speed auto).

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota Matrix base. Click image to enlarge

This week’s test car is a base Matrix with one option: the four-speed automatic transmission ($1,010). Including a Freight and Delivery charge of $1,140, the as-tested price of this car came to $17,855. I would also recommend the optional ‘B’ Package ($2,475) which adds air conditioning with a cabin air filter, power windows with driver’s side auto-down function, power door locks with keyless entry and hatch release, and tire pressure monitoring system. With this package, the total price including Freight charge, but before taxes, comes to $20,330, still a bargain.

Standard features

For the Matrix’ base price of $15,705, you get room for four or five adult passengers, a roomy cargo area with hard plastic floor and tie-down cleats, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, a 132-hp 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission with an average fuel economy rating of 7.2 L/100 km, 205/55R-16-inch all-season tires and steel wheels with wheel covers, a compact spare tire, four disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake differential and brake assist; six airbags: front, side and side curtain; active front head restraints, electric rack and pinion power steering, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary jack and four speakers, cloth seats, driver’s seat cushion height adjustment, bright Optitron electronic gauges, dual vanity mirrors, tonneau cover for the cargo area, cargo area lamp, digital clock, heated power mirrors, tinted glass, intermittent wipers and intermittent rear wiper/washer.

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota Matrix base. Click image to enlarge

In addition to the available Package ‘B’ mentioned above, the Touring Package ($3,965) includes everything in Package ‘B’ plus 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, door sill plates for the front doors, rear lip spoiler, and fog lamps.

However, some features and options that are available on XR and XRS models are not available on the base model, notably a six-CD changer, power moonroof, fold-flat front passenger seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with integral audio controls, 115-volt outlet, five-speed automatic transmission, electronic stability control and traction control, and 17-inch or 18-inch tires and alloy wheels. Of these, the moonroof is most likely to be missed, but stability control is probably the most important feature not offered.

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota Matrix base. Click image to enlarge
Interior impressions

The Matrix’ large front and rear doors open wide making entry and exit fairly easy. Though the seating position is fairly high, there is still plenty of headroom for front and rear occupants; legroom is also generous, and the raised front seats provide room for the feet of rear passengers. The rear bench seat is wide enough for two adults but three is tight.

Toyota says the new dash is supposed to look like a “jet cockpit”, but it’s definitely not that complicated. In fact, it’s one of the simplest, easy to use control panels on the market. The large “Optitron” gauges have illuminated numerals that are easy to see day or night, the central radio and heater controls are easy to reach and easy to operate, the black on grey LCD radio display is easy to read even while wearing polarized sunglasses, and the elevated shift lever is easy to grab on to without reaching.

The only exception is the small LC display in the rectangular pod next to the speedometer that includes a gear indicator, odometer and outside temperature – these numbers are small and more difficult to see.

The driving position is chair-like and with a manually height adjustable driver’s seat and a new telescoping and tilting steering wheel, drivers of all sizes can find a suitable driving position. There is no lumbar adjuster though. Still, I found the driver’s seat comfortable during a week’s worth of city and highway driving. The standard fabric seating material – in this case grey with contrasting inserts – is quite attractive, and the dark colour of the dash contrasts nicely with the silver-coloured console and dash trim.

The radio and CD player at the top of the centre stack is now MP3/WMA compatible, and at the bottom of the centre console is a 12-volt power outlet and a new auxiliary jack for music players; two cupholders between the front seats have an adjustable divider that accommodates different-sized cups, and there is also a rectangular juice box holder. For storage, there is a bi-level glovebox, a coin tray near the driver’s door, a raised centre armrest with a small storage bin underneath, and door pockets with bottle holders.

Though the base Matrix has manual wind-down windows, they are quite easy to wind up and down and I didn’t really miss the optional power windows.
The standard 60/40 rear seatbacks fold down almost flat without having to remove the rear head restraints, but while a fold-flat front passenger seat is available on XR and XRS models, base models don’t offer it.

One thing I really missed in the base Matrix was remote keyless entry. Instead of being able to lock and unlock all the doors simultaneously, the driver and/or passengers have to manually unlock and lock all the doors separately, as well as the trunk. This may not seem like a big deal, but once you’ve tried remote locking/unlocking, it’s hard to go back. That’s one reason I recommend ordering the optional ‘B’ package.

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota Matrix base. Click image to enlarge

The cargo area behind the rear seats in the 2009 Matrix is larger than the one in the 2008 Matrix: 494 litres vs 428 litres, however there is less overall cargo space with the folding rear seatbacks folded down: 1360 litres vs 1506 litres. Regardless, there is still plenty of room and versatility in the cargo area. The cargo floor and rear seatbacks have a hard surface but there are soft ribs and tie-down cleats to help stop cargo sliding around. The cargo area includes an underfloor storage area, cargo light, sliding privacy cover which can be removed and stored under the floor, and an easy-to-lift rear hatch.

The rear window has a wiper and washer with a fixed intermittent wipe interval which I found very handy during rainy weather, but I would have preferred the variable rear intermittent wiper found on uplevel Matrixes. The rear window doesn’t flip open, but the rear hatch door is so light and easy to lift up, that I didn’t miss that feature.

For a car under $16,000, the base Matrix offers a commendable level of standard safety equipment. New for 2009 are standard front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags in addition to the standard dual-stage front airbags and front seat occupant sensor. There are three-point seat belts in all five seating positions with front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters and adjustable “B” pillar shoulder belt anchors; five height adjustable head restraints with front active head restraints; rear doors with child locks and rear seats with anchor points for child seats.

Driving impressions

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota Matrix base. Click image to enlarge

Though the standard 1.8-litre Matrix engine doesn’t have the power and torque of the optional 2.4-litre engine – or even the extra horsepower of many of its competitors – it is still adequate for typical city and highway driving. Its 1.8-litre DOHC 16 valve four-cylinder engine makes 132 hp @ 6,000 r.p.m. and 128 lb-ft torque @ 4,400 r.p.m. – that compares to the 126 hp @ 6000 r.p.m. and 122 lb-ft at 4200 r.p.m. of its 1.8-litre predecessor. The payoff is in fuel economy, with the new engine offering city/hwy L/100 km ratings of 7.8/6.2 with the manual transmission and 8.1/6.2 with the automatic transmission. This is slightly worse than last year’s Matrix – probably because the ’09 Matrix weighs about 80 kg (170 lbs) more – but it’s still a very thrifty performance in the compact hatchback class.

The optional four-speed automatic performs well with this engine, shifting smoothly and responding quickly to throttle input. I didn’t miss the five-speed automatic available in the XR and XRS. The four-speed features a jagged shift gate where drivers can downshift from fourth to third by tapping the lever to the left – I found this useful when I wanted extra power climbing a hill. Cruising on the highway, the engine turns over 2,500 r.p.m. in top gear and is fairly quiet.

Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2009 Toyota Matrix base, with four speed automatic transmission toyota car test drives
2009 Toyota Matrix base. Click image to enlarge

I found the new electric power rack and pinion steering very easy to operate at low speeds making turning and parking manoeuvres simple – while steering feel at higher speeds and directional stability at freeway speeds was quite satisfactory. The suspension – independent MacPherson struts in front/and semi independent torsion beam at the rear – provides a comfortable but mildly firm ride, but the Matrix’s tall body style makes it feel slightly top heavy when cornering briskly, although better than the previous Matrix probably due to the new car’s slightly wider rear track. My car was equipped with winter tires – Goodyear Ultragrip Ice 205/55R-16-inch – which gripped the road well in the rainy week that I had the car. The addition of rear disc brakes, now standard on the base Matrix, along with ABS, electronic brake differential and Brake Assist for extra help in panic stops, is a noteworthy new safety feature that brings this lightweight hatchback to a stop in very short order. Unfortunately, stability control is not available on the base Matrix.

The driver’s visibility is very good with one exception: the ’09 Matrix has a new solid ‘D’ pillar behind the rear side windows which partially obstructs visibility when changing lanes – apparently this pillar was added to make the Matrix look more like a hatchback than a wagon. Personally, I would prefer the extra visibility.

Verdict

A very good value in its class, the base Matrix offers excellent fuel economy, practicality, safety, and driving manners but is not available with electronic stability control or a moonroof.

Pricing: 2009 Toyota Matrix base

Base price: $15,705

Options: $1,010 (four-speed automatic transmission)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,140
Price as tested: $17,855
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2009 Toyota Matrix

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    Competitors
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  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Toyota Matrix
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    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Toyota Canada

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)



  • About Greg Wilson

    Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and contributor to Autos.ca. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).