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2010 Toyota Matrix XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2010 Toyota Matrix

Ottawa, Ontario – All-wheel drive is all the rage these days, thanks to the popularity of crossovers and SUVs, but excluding those from AWD-crazy Subaru, there are relatively few low- to mid-priced cars that make it available. In fact, there are only three small cars that can be had with all-wheel drive: the Subaru Impreza, Suzuki’s SX4 and the car you see here, the Toyota Matrix.

The Matrix has been around since 2003, was redesigned for 2009, and carries on mostly unchanged for 2010. The changes Toyota has made for this year are limited to standard and optional feature availability, the most important of which for the Matrix AWD is the addition of VSA/TRAC (Toyota’s stability/traction control system) as standard. (It was available in 2009, but only as an option in certain trims.)

Test Drive: 2010 Toyota Matrix XR AWD toyota car test drives
2010 Toyota Matrix XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

This doesn’t come free, though. The 2010 Matrix AWD now starts at $23,470, up from $22,600 in 2009. Still, the addition of such an important safety feature as standard is a good move. Now all Toyota needs to do is make it so across the board, as VSC/TRAC is still extra on the base model Matrix.

My tester had the $2,050 XR AWD package, which adds a six-speaker stereo, steering wheel audio controls, 17-inch wheels and tires (in place of the standard 16s), cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, coloured mirrors and a roof-mounted spoiler, for an as-tested price of $25,520 before freight.

Niceties like air conditioning, power windows and locks and keyless entry are standard in the Matrix all-wheel drive, and all models get front seat-mounted side airbags, head curtain airbags for front and rear seats, active front headrests and anti-lock brakes as standard.

The Matrix is based on the Corolla sedan and uses the same 1.8- and 2.4-litre engines and manual and automatic transmissions as that car. The base Matrix gets the 1.8-litre, 132-hp engine, which can be mated to either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. Every other Matrix trim – XR, AWD and XRS – uses the larger engine; a manual transmission is again the default in front-drive models, while the option is a five-speed automatic. The Matrix AWD, though, can be had only with a four-speed automatic.

Test Drive: 2010 Toyota Matrix XR AWD toyota car test drives
2010 Toyota Matrix XR AWD; photo by James Bergeron. Click image to enlarge

With 158 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque on tap, the 2.4-litre motor moves the Matrix quickly from a stop, and good mid-range power keeps it from feeling flat-footed on the highway, but making the big motor standard with all-wheel drive is a good move, as this is the heaviest Matrix model, at 1,485 kg (3,274 pounds), a full 100 kilos (221 pounds) more than a Matrix XR with automatic transmission.

The all-wheel drive system itself is responsible for that extra weight, and it also affects fuel consumption. The Matrix AWD’s Natural Resources Canada ratings are 10.3/7.7 L/100 km (city/highway), compared to 9.7/6.9 for a front-wheel drive, 2.4-litre Matrix XR with the five-speed automatic transmission. In the real world, though, it’s a different story: my tester averaged 12.7 L/100 km in city driving and 9.0 on the highway, all in cool, but not cold, weather.