By James Bergeron

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2009 Toyota Matrix XR

2009 Toyota Matrix XR
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The 2009 Toyota Matrix is a complete redesign of Toyota’s version of the small hatchback platform it shares with GM (which also serves as the basis for the Pontiac Vibe). The Toyota Matrix is designed exclusively for the North American market, despite being based off of the global Toyota Corolla architecture. The Matrix is also built in Ontario – talk about blurring the lines of import versus domestic!

With the drivers of Ottawa’s red-and-white buses on strike, I spent quite a bit of time behind the wheel of my own red-mobile for the week, going back and forth across the city several times with a few trips in snowstorms for added measure.

My tester was an XR model, B package with automatic transmission – with a suggested price of $24,155 including destination charges. The XR model bumps the engine from the standard 1.8-litre four-cylinder to a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine with 158hp and 162lb-ft of torque; the automatic transmission is a 5-speed with a sequential multi-mode shifter, as Toyota calls it. The XR model is available in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive; my tester was equipped with the standard front-wheel drive option.

2009 Toyota Matrix XR
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The interior, despite its plastic fascia, does have many standard features, including: power windows and mirrors, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, air-conditioning, height adjustable driver’s seat and a front folding passenger seat for greater cargo capacity.

The rear seat has a 60/40 split seatback, and of course the hatchback body style means cargo capacity is generous for a compact car. As mentioned, I spent quite some time behind the wheel of the Matrix during which I found the seating to be comfortable and the driving position well-suited to me; legroom was comfortable, too, with room to stretch on the highway with the cruise control engaged.

I found rear legroom to be somewhat limited with my driving position, which had the front seat further back, and the telescopic steering fully extended. Headroom is good all around with this car’s tall-wagon feel both front and back.
The cargo area was somewhat disappointing for me. The size was not the issue, but rather the materials used. The cargo floor is hard plastic – Toyota provided a rubberized cargo mat accessory that was still very hard – which meant that any boxes or other items would roll around the cargo bay constantly while the car was moving.

The cargo cover protector is also the cheapest cover I have yet encountered, although Toyota gets a thumbs up from me for providing one at all. This cover was a pain in the you-know-what, as it would keep popping off the little clips in the cargo area wall.

2009 Toyota Matrix XR
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My Matrix XR tester was still wearing the 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels it came with, although Toyota graciously provided winter rubber to ensure journalists didn’t end up in the ditches of Ottawa and the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, though, as with many winter tires with 45-series sidewalls, the tires are so stiff they perform only marginally better than an all-season tire – but this is a vehicle review, not a tire review.

The AWD option would have been a treat to have the week I drove the Matrix as I was caught in a few rather snowy days. The front-wheel drive Matrix – equipped with stability control and traction control – did perform admirably and never left me stuck, but the traction control was working overtime as the front wheels would spin on the smallest bit of snow and ice.

A quick tap on the traction control button and a little wheel spin would allow me to get moving; the system keeps the stability control on which is great if you find yourself out of control, and the traction control does re-enable after a period of time just incase you forget that you had switched it off.

2009 Toyota Matrix XR
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Rattles, bangs, clanks and bumps are unfortunately ever-present when driving the Matrix. The XR’s suspension, coupled with the low profile 17-inch tires, make for quite the rough ride indeed. This seemed to have taken a toll on my tester’s plastics, as creaks and rattles were evident over bumpy terrain.

What I didn’t enjoy about the ride, though, was made up for by the performance. The 2.4-litre engine is torquey and pulls the car away from a stop with authority, and the transmission is very quick to shift as well, but this has a downside and one that becomes painfully obvious when exiting a highway.

2009 Toyota Matrix XR
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When stopping from any higher speed roadways, I noticed the transmission was harsh when shifting into first gear upon stopping. Just before coming to a complete stop the transmission will shift into first gear, causing the car to lurch forward.
I was also not extremely impressed by my tester’s build quality. The doors sounded hollow when closed; there must not be much sound deadening in the doors, which also attributed to some road noise out on the highway.

But what I was impressed with was the engine’s fuel economy, especially for an engine with as much fun potential as the 2.4-litre. I averaged approximately 7.5L/100km over the course of my week with the Matrix, and that alone makes the Matrix a very compelling vehicle.

*Rating out of 5:

2009 Toyota Matrix XR
Acceleration 3half"
Handling 3half
Comfort 4
Interior 3
Audio System 3half
Gas Mileage 4half

*Rating based on vehicle’s classification

2009 Toyota Matrix XR B-Package
MSRP as tested (excluding destination): $24,155

For more information on Toyota and the Matrix visit Toyota Canada

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