Review and photos by Haney Louka

2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

When I was in high school, I drove a rusty 1981 Datsun 280 ZX. It was my pride and joy, and a few years later I had its body restored to its original glory only to lose it in a collision with a red-light runner in a Buick.

While I owned it, the original tape deck in the car had expired, and I replaced it with a Pioneer pullout head unit that was all the rage. This head unit — in its entirety — was removable at the push of a button and pull of a handle. It was the latest in mobile audio security a couple of years before detachable face models made their appearance.

I didn’t mind carrying that lunch box of a stereo around since that was the only way to make sure it wouldn’t get stolen. But that was then, and this is now. Today, I’d rather not tote even a detachable face around, since there are other items that need carrying like a diaper bag, or the fifteen-month-old who soils said diapers.

Which brings us to the subject of this review, the Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition. The stock audio head unit has been replaced with a Panasonic one that supplies 200 tinny watts and includes an MP3 player. It reminded me of Hyundai Tiburons of old, which came with a Clarion CD player rather than a built-in factory unit.

2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

While it’s likely better than the stock unit used in other Matrix models, the lack of an external amplifier and a subwoofer – and better speakers – will leave audiophiles wondering why Toyota bothered.

And at first that question applied not only to the stereo system in this particular model, but also to the entire package that Toyota has added to the base Matrix.

But after a few days in it – and a glance at the sticker price – the point became clear: this is an economical, fun-to-drive car with just that little touch of individuality to set it apart from the masses.

2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition

2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition

2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

Toyota decided to dress up a base Matrix, which wears a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $17,050. The $3,775 price of the TRD edition is steep, but includes such goodies as air conditioning, power locks, a Panasonic MP3 player, and the requisite TRD bling: 17-inch alloys, a rear spoiler, ground effects, fog lights, shift knob, an exhaust tip, and subtle decals.

The most disappointing part of the bark-without-bite approach Toyota took with this package is that even the simplest of upgrades – intake and exhaust – were omitted. I thought that the sound coming from the fist-sized exhaust pipe would be at least a little obnoxious, but alas, it’s only the tip of that pipe that differs from stock.

Were the Matrix not so well built and nice to drive, this TRD would have trouble demonstrating its value. But it is indeed both of those, and with an as-tested price of just less than $21,000, it’s an affordable looker, too.

Powering the Matrix is a frugal 1.8-litre, 16-valve four-banger that generates 130 hp at 6,000 rpm and 125 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. Though those numbers prove that performance is pretense in this Matrix, the real performance is realized at the pumps: EnerGuide estimates peg its fuel consumption at 7.9 L/100 km in the city and 5.9 on the highway. Not too shabby.

2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

On the road, it’s immediately evident that this engine is not about performance, but it does sound happy going about its business, and it’s smooth and refined. Like other small Toyota engines, it needs to be wound up north of four grand for best results.

The TRD shift knob is connected to the stock transmission as well, which turned out to be just fine for ordinary city driving, but enthusiasts will be left wanting.

2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

Shift action is smooth and precise, but the gearing is tall with wide gaps between ratios. As with the engine, this is a recipe for efficiency, not performance.

There is one thing that helps the lackluster performance repertoire of this powertrain, and that’s the throttle response. It’s immediate, and it’s calibrated such that about 80 percent of the throttle opening is located in the first 25 percent of the gas pedal’s travel. It adds a bit of pep to off-the-line starts, but accentuates the engine’s limitations beyond that.

As expected, there’s a fair amount of body roll in the corners; a nasty side effect of creating a relatively tall and narrow people mover. Having said that, the MacPherson strut front/torsion bar rear suspension provides decent ride quality for a small car. Once again, not a performance-tuned suspension. Is there a theme here?

2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition
Click image to enlarge

Inside, it’s standard Matrix fare. While the dash layout was innovative in 2003, it’s starting to show its age – a symptom of the rapid pace at which automakers are finally realizing that consumers want a nice place in which to spend their driving time.

It’s all laid out with typical Toyota ergonomic soundness, with clear gauges ahead and all auxiliary controls exactly where they’re expected. The shifter is quite far forward, which makes perfect sense: close to the steering wheel, close to the climate controls, close to the audio system.

Ah yes, the audio system. Boy, times have changed. Or am I just getting older?


Verdict

The Matrix is a practical and economical people mover that is made less vanilla by the addition of the TRD appearance package. But the question remains: why would Toyota dilute its performance image by putting TRD decals on a car with no “R” in it?


Technical Data: 2005 Toyota Matrix TRD Special Edition

Base price $17,050
Options $3,775 (TRD Special Edition package)
Freight $1,060
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $21,985
Type 4-door, 5-passenger hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine 1.8-litre four-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 130 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 125 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
Transmission five-speed manual
Tires P215/50R-17 all-season
Curb weight 1,211 kg (2,670 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,600 mm (102.4 in.)
Length 4,350 mm (171.3 in.)
Width 1,775 mm (69.9 in.)
Height 1,540 mm (60.6 in.)
Cargo capacity rear seats up 428 litres (15.1 cu. ft.)
  rear seats folded 1,506 litres (53.2 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 7.9 L/100 km (36 mpg Imperial)
  Highway: 5.9 L/100 km (48 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type regular
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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