First Drive: 2005 Toyota Corolla and Matrix toyota first drives
2005 Toyota Corolla XRS. click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Grant Yoxon

Alliston, Ontario – For Toyota Canada, the New Year started on April 28, the day its Cambridge plant began building the 2005 models of the compact Corolla and its Matrix tall wagon sibling.

Toyota terms this a “major mid-model upgrade,” though at first glance, you might wonder why it warrants pushing the calendar ahead six months. You need a good eye to spot the new grilles, front-end treatments and taillights.

But wait. This upgrade is more than a few body parts. According to the folks at Toyota Canada, there are, on both Corolla and Matrix, more than 700 new parts – about one-third of the vehicle — related to safety, comfort and aesthetics.

And there’s also a new Corolla sport sedan model, the XRS, powered by the same 170 horsepower, 1.8-litre engine that moves the Celica GT-S and Matrix XRS. Add to this a large variety of available TRD (Toyota Racing Development) performance parts and custom goodies and you can accessorize, customize and super-size any 2005 Corolla to create your own unique sport compact. Look out, Civic Nation.

Obviously Toyota wants to broaden the Corolla’s appeal to a more youthful market, but the rejuvenation did not ignore the value-conscious core buyers who want reliable, safe transportation.

First Drive: 2005 Toyota Corolla and Matrix toyota first drives
Blown Matrix!

One TRD performance accessory that is certain to interest sport compact enthusiasts is the availability of a supercharger for the base 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine.

A straight bolt-on application, the supercharger increases horsepower from 130 at 6,000 rpm to 166 at 6,800 rpm and torque from 125 lb.-ft. at 4,200 rpm to 145 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm and gives the Matrix a substantial performance boost at lower rpm than the DOHC 170 hp engine.

However, there is a handling and braking price to be paid along with the $4,800 price (plus installation), as we found out when we put the blown Matrix to the test on the slalom course. The added weight over the front wheels also boosts understeer and braking effort.

If you put one of these babies under the hood of your Matrix, you might also want to consider adding the big brake kit ($3,000), lowering springs ($475) and the sway bar set ($550).

Available for both Corolla and Matrix, the supercharger carries the full Toyota warranty if installed by a Toyota dealer.

Both the Corolla and Matrix have been re-engineered to meet future safety requirements, specifically side-impact safety. The front crush zone and side-impact areas employ “tailored blank” technology that uses metal of varying thickness to better disperse and manage impact energy. Side-impact forces are dispersed throughout the body via pillar reinforcements, door beams and floor cross members.

Standard safety equipment on both cars includes new advanced dual-stage driver and front passenger air bags with status indicator, and three point seatbelts (with pretensioners and force-limiters) for all seating positions and height-adjustable shoulder anchors in front. A rear centre head restraint has been added on the Corolla.

Antilock brakes incorporating electronic force distribution and a new tire-pressure monitoring system are standard equipment on the top-of-the-line Corolla LE and XRS and Matrix XRS, and optional on the Corolla Sport and Matrix XR. Side curtain air bags are available for the Corolla LE as part of a luxury leather package.

Along with the new XRS model, the Corolla is available in base CE, Sport and LE. The Matrix is available in base and XR trim in either front- or all-wheel-drive, and as the sporty front-drive XRS.

Base models are well equipped with tilt steering, driver seat-height adjustment, four-speaker CD sound, engine immobilizer, UV glass protection, tachometer, digital clock and digital dual trip odometer with outside temperature gauge.

First Drive: 2005 Toyota Corolla and Matrix toyota first drives

First Drive: 2005 Toyota Corolla and Matrix toyota first drives

First Drive: 2005 Toyota Corolla and Matrix toyota first drives
2005 Toyota Corolla XRS. click image to enlarge

Power remote mirrors are standard on the Corolla, while “Optitron” luminescent gauges are standard on the Matrix.

Both have split-fold rear seatbacks, to which the Matrix adds a folding front passenger seat and sliding track cargo system with a variety of tie-downs. Through different option packages and trim levels, consumers can add such features as air conditioning, keyless entry, power locks, power windows, cruise control, six-speaker audio, “silhouette lit” or Optitron gauges (Corolla), fog lamps, alloy wheels and, on the Corolla LE, leather seats, power moonroof, chrome inside door handles and antitheft system.

Sport and XRS Corollas include side skirts and rear spoiler and unique interior treatments.

Corolla prices range from $15,490 for the CE to $24,175 for the XRS, while the Matrix ranges from $16,925 in base trim to $25,560 for the XRS.

Base power for both is Toyota’s 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine, which produces 130 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 125 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm. When it’s combined with the Matrix’s “V-flex” all-wheel-drive system, output is reduced to 123 hp and 118 lb.-ft. The V-flex AWD system normally operates in front-wheel-drive, transferring power to the rear wheels through a viscous coupling when the front wheels slip.

First Drive: 2005 Toyota Corolla and Matrix toyota first drives
2005 Toyota Corolla XRS. click image to enlarge

With this engine the Corolla and Matrix are rated as Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles. Fuel consumption, as rated by Natural Resources Canada, ranges from a low of 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres (53 miles per gallon) in highway driving and 7.1 L/100 km (40 mpg) in city driving for a Corolla with manual transmission to a high of 6.9 L/100 km (41) on the highway and 9.1 (31) in the city for an all-wheel-drive Matrix.

This engine provides more than adequate power for most needs, but for performance-oriented buyers, the new availability of the high-output 1.8-litre DOHC powerplant in the Corolla is sure to be attractive. Mated to a six-speed manual transmission that is also shared with the Celica GT-S and Matrix XRS, this high-revving engine develops 170 hp at 7,600 rpm and 127 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm.

Naturally, to make the best use of the engine’s power band, it’s necessary to keep the revs up. Do so and you are rewarded with a strong surge of power over 6,000 rpm.

First Drive: 2005 Toyota Corolla and Matrix toyota first drives
2005 Toyota Matrix, automatic transmission, ‘B’ package; custom accessories include 18″ wheels and tires, sport muffler, body kit, rear spoiler. Click image to enlarge.

Around town, the only gear that will provide the rush will likely be first, as second gear over six grand means speeds in excess of most posted city limits. But driving back-country roads, passing slower traffic or accelerating onto a freeway is a blast with six speeds and a high-revving motor.

Thanks to its lower centre of gravity, the Corolla handles better than the Matrix. The Corolla XRS features increased rate coil springs and shocks, larger 16-inch Michelin performance summer tires and a ride height that has been lowered 15 mm — all of which contribute to noticeably improved handling.

But Toyota can make any Corolla a slalom racer with such TRD performance accessories as lowering springs, strut tower brace and 18-inch wheels and tires. Matrix owners can benefit from a cold air intake, big brake kit, clutch set, coil-over springs, Quickshifter, strut tower brace and sway bar set.