The 2006 Pontiac Vibe remains unchanged, save for several new optional items, including a Stealth Grey Metallic exterior colour. A new sound system combines a CD player with MP3 playback capability; a Sport Package includes monotone appearance, 16-inch aluminum wheels and six-CD changer; a Premium Package adds leather seating; and a Security Package, available for the base model, adds OnStar, four-wheel ABS brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The Vibe “tall wagon” comes in three models: front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, and the GT. It’s the same vehicle as the Toyota Matrix with slightly different styling; the sportier, higher-horsepower GT corresponds to the Matrix XRS. All carry a 1.8-litre four-cylinder that’s tuned with valve lift for extra muscle in the GT. The FWD comes with a five-speed manual that can be optioned to a four-speed automatic. The AWD comes exclusively with the automatic, while the GT comes strictly with its exclusive six-speed manual.

All models use a MacPherson strut front suspension, but there are two different rear set-ups. Front-wheel-drive and GT models use a twist-beam rear suspension design; all-wheel models use a double-wishbone independent rear suspension.

All models come with fog lights, power mirrors, roof rack, 16-inch wheels, variable intermittent wipers front and back, air conditioning, floor mats, tilt wheel, cloth seats, rear 60/40 folding seat, and CD player. Both the FWD and AWD models come with disc/drum brakes; ABS is optional on FWD and standard on AWD.

The GT adds 16-inch aluminum wheels, cruise control, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, leather-wrapped wheel, 200-watt, seven-speaker stereo, and four-wheel disc brakes.

The Matrix is an excellent alternative to a compact SUV; it has a smaller footprint, better fuel economy and lower centre of gravity, but you can still stuff an awful lot into it, especially with the rear seat folded. Its tall stance makes for impressive headroom, and the upright driving position allows excellent visibility.

The AWD system is torque-on-demand, meaning that the front wheels pull it along exclusively unless they slip and some of the torque is transferred to the rear. The extra weight puts a bit more strain on the powerplant, dropping the horsepower rating from 126 hp to 118 hp, but it’s still capable of moving the Vibe along.

There are several competitors in this category, including the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Suzuki Aerio and the Chevrolet HHR. The Matrix also throws its weight in, but although they’re the same vehicle, the equipment lists don’t match exactly, and you’ll have to figure out what you want when you’re comparing prices. For 2006, Vibe prices stay exactly the same as 2005.

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