2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD
Click image to enlarge


Story and photos by Grant Yoxon

The Toyota Matrix 4WD didn’t meet my expectations.

With 118 kilograms (260 pounds) of extra four-wheel drive weight and powered by a 1.8 litre 4-cylinder engine that produces seven less horsepower and 10 fewer pound-feet of torque than a base front-wheel drive Matrix, I expected the Matrix 4WD to be, well, slow, to put it politely.

It may well be slower than a two-wheel drive Matrix which has 130 hp and 125 lb.-ft. of torque, but a timed quarter mile showdown between the two wasn’t in the cards. So my impression is surely seat of the pants.

And my impression is that it probably doesn’t make much difference. The Matrix 4WD goes just fine. You won’t be wowed by its acceleration. If that’s what you want in a car, Toyota has another Matrix for you, the 180 horsepower XRS. But for people who want a versatile compact wagon with the added confidence of four-wheel drive, the Matrix 4WD’s lower power won’t be a disappointment.

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD
Click image to enlarge

The Matrix four-wheel drive system operates most of the time in front-wheel drive. When the system detects slippage of a front wheel, a viscous coupling ahead of the rear differential transfers torque to the rear wheels. When both front wheels have traction again, all power is once again directed to the front wheels.

I’d like to say I gave it a good slippage test. But such was not the case. I didn’t encounter any rain during my week with the Matrix and in summer, snow was certainly not going to happen. I did travel some gravel roads, but if the system was working, we didn’t notice. Nor should we. The Toyota system, called V-flex, is fully automatic and the power transfer completely transparent.

The greatest benefit of this kind of four-wheel drive system is in traction from a standing start. When the roads get slippery, as they tend to do after Christmas, having four wheels pulling from a stop light is certainly better than two.

Of course, the terms “four-wheel drive” and “off-road” are not synonymous. The Matrix 4WD is not an off-road vehicle. With ground clearance of 150.5 millimetres (5.9 inches), same as the front-wheel drive Matrix, and no low range or locking differential, the Matrix AWD is best left on solid ground.

One significant difference between a front-wheel drive Matrix and the Matrix 4WD is the rear suspension. Front-wheel drive models have a twist-beam in the rear, while four-wheel drive versions have a compact, low-profile double wishbone rear suspension to provide space for the rear differential. The upper arm has very wide bushings to provide added torsional and vertical rigidity.

I found handling to be very similar between front and four-wheel drive models – very stable and predictable for a tall vehicle. The car corners surprisingly flat and turn-in is quick and responsive, not unlike the Corolla on which it is based.

The cost of four-wheel drive is not insignificant. The base 2003 Matrix has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $16,645, while a base 4WD model is listed at $20,315. Base 4WD models include additional standard features, such as anti-lock brakes, power door locks, illuminated entry and accessory power outlet. Still, for $3,670, four-wheel drive is an expensive traction aid and buyers should carefully consider whether their driving environment and conditions warrant the additional expense.

My tester, a base Matrix 4WD also included a $2,730 option package consisting of 16″ alloy wheels, cruise control, air conditioning, power remote control mirrors and keyless entry.

For 2004, standard and optional equipment packages will change for the Matrix 4WD. The base Matrix 4WD receives air conditioning, a clean air filter and keyless entry as standard equipment. The current option package will be dropped as these items are included as standard equipment on the Matrix XR 4WD. 2004 MSRP pricing for the base Matrix 4WD is $22,220, while the XR 4WD is priced at $24,210. A base Matrix front-wheel drive is still a reasonable $16,745.

Whether you opt for four-wheel drive or two-wheel drive, what you get inside – other than optional extras – is the same spacious interior. There is plenty of room for four adults, although the car is bit narrow for three in the back. Front and rear leg room is good and head room is more than enough for six-footers plus.

The 60/40 rear seat folds perfectly flat, as does the passenger sear, providing space for carrying all sorts of cargo, even eight foot two by fours. A sliding track system integrated into the rear cargo floor and tie downs keep everything in place. With the rear seats up, there’s 428 litres (15.1 cu. ft.) of cargo area, and with both rear seats folded flat, space expands to a huge 1506 litres (53.2 cu. ft.).

Under the cargo floor is a storage area built into the wheel of the spare tire and another couple of shallow storage compartments, handy for keeping smaller items out of site. There are also two covered storage areas in the side walls behind the rear wheel wells.

The three spoke steering wheel is tilt adjustable. Bright red gauges – Toyota calls them Optitron – are always lit. Metal-look trim surrounds the gauges and centre-stack controls.

Standard safety features on all models include dual stage driver and passenger front air bags, three-point seat belts in all seating positions (shoulder adjustable in the front seats), adjustable head rests in the out-board positions, front seat belt pre-tensioners and force limiters, anchor points for child restraint seats and child protector rear door locks.

The Matrix 4WD adds two active safety features – anti-lock brakes and, of course, on demand four-wheel drive.


Technical Data: 2003 Toyota Matrix 4WD

Base price (FWD) $16,645
Base price (4WD) $20,315
Options $2,370 (“B” package – 16″ alloy wheels, cruise control, air conditioning, power remote control mirrors, keyless entry)
A/C Tax $100
Freight $995
Price as tested $23,780
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact wagon/hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/four-wheel-drive
Engine 1.8 litre 4-cylinder DOHC, 16 valves, VVTi
Horsepower 123 at 6,000 rpm
Torque 118 lb.-ft. at 4,200 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires P205/55R16 all season radials
Curb weight 1,329 kg (2,930 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2,600 mm (102.4 in.)
Length 4,350 mm (171.3 in.)
Width 1,775 mm (69.9 in.)
Height 1,550 mm (61.0 in.)
Cargo capacity 428 litres (15.1 cu. ft.) behind rear seat
  1,506 litres (53.2 cu. ft.) behind front seats
Fuel type Regular
Fuel consumption City: 9.1 l/100 km (31 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.9 l/100 km (41 mpg)
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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