2007 Toyota Matrix
2007 Toyota Matrix. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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Back in 2003 when it was a new model, the Toyota Matrix was the first car I reviewed. I liked it then, and I still like it now, even though it’s remained fairly static and some of its competitors have passed it in terms of safety features. It remains a handy little wagon with a manageable footprint and plenty of cargo space.

I was actually rather surprised to see it continue into 2008, as it seemed to be winding down, losing its higher-horsepower XRS model, and dropping its all-wheel drive option, but it returns virtually unchanged for another model year.

Based on the Corolla platform, the Matrix is also sold as the Pontiac Vibe, although in one of life’s little ironies, the Japanese “import” is built in Canada, while GM’s “domestic” version is made in California. You can cross-shop them, but be sure to compare apples to apples: while the Matrix has a lower starting price and is available in two trim lines, the more expensive Vibe is a single line, and can be ordered with side seat and curtain airbags that are unavailable on the Matrix.

2007 Toyota Matrix
2007 Toyota Matrix. Click image to enlarge

Sold in Base or XR trim, the Matrix uses a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed manual in my tester; a four-speed automatic is optional on both trim lines. The throws are relatively long, but the shifter is notchy, and all but finds its own gear; clutch take-up is around the middle of the pedal’s travel. It’s not as slick as the six-speed that used to reside in the XRS models, but it’s above-average when compared to many entry-level gearboxes. The Matrix can get sluggish under load with the four-speed automatic, and the five-speed makes it a much more pleasurable driver, since you can keep the engine in its sweet spot more easily. The higher revs do take their toll, though, and I averaged 9.1 L/100 km to the published combination of 8.1 L. And while it’s smooth and fairly quiet when in action, the engine frequently exhibited a rough idle while waiting at lights.

Handling is exceptional for the price: the Matrix responds quickly to steering input, with feedback that lets you know exactly what the wheels are doing. Despite the higher centre of gravity, it never feels tippy, even on hard curves, and the tight turning radius lets you park it in tight spots on the first swing, without the need to back up and aim again.

2007 Toyota Matrix
2007 Toyota Matrix
2007 Toyota Matrix. Click image to enlarge

Taller drivers may disagree, but for my five-foot-four frame, the set-up of perfectly-sized wheel, pedal and shifter position, seating and dead pedal made for an absolutely faultless driving position. I can’t recall any car, no matter what the price, set up so well for me.

I had some fit-and-finish issues with a 2007 Corolla I drove, but that hasn’t trickled down to the Matrix, which retains a well-finished interior with textured and soft-touch materials. The centre stack is Spartan, but the controls are simple and easy to use, and the air vents, operable with a fingertip, spin around or close completely. But I wasn’t enamored with the base radio, which had horrible sound quality, or with the instrument cluster. The four-pod design is capped with unshielded chrome rings, which catch sunlight and bounce it back as blinding glare.

The seats are comfortable – whether it’s more padding in them or on me, I found them an improvement over the rock-hard ones I drove the first time around – and the second row’s legroom is relatively roomy for a compact vehicle. However, while the second row has seatbelts for three passengers, there are only two outboard head restraints. That’s a misstep in these safety-conscious days, along with the fact that anti-lock brakes can only be added to the XR model, as part of a package. As mentioned, side and curtain airbags are unavailable; electronic stability control is also missing in action.

2007 Toyota Matrix
2007 Toyota Matrix
2007 Toyota Matrix. Click image to enlarge

The Base model comes with 16-inch steel wheels, CD player, 60/40 split rear seat, tilt wheel, floor mats, tonneau cover, engine immobilizer, fixed intermittent wipers, and intermittent rear wiper. My tester was optioned with a $2,705 package of 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, illuminated entry, and power locks with keyless entry. I liked the simplicity of its wind-up windows, but its manual mirrors reminded me that some things are much better attached to electric motors, especially when it’s time to adjust the passenger-side one.

Also available for the Base model is a TRD Special Edition Package, which includes my tester’s option package and then lays on a raft of goodies, including 17-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors, skirts, spoiler, bumper protector, TRD exhaust tip, chrome sill door plates, and Panasonic CD/MP3 stereo.

The XR models build on the Base with air conditioning, power windows, power locks, keyless entry, leather-wrapped wheel, cruise control, map lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors and variable intermittent wipers as standard equipment;

2007 Toyota Matrix
2007 Toyota Matrix. Click image to enlarge

the sole option package adds 17-inch alloy wheels, power sunroof, fog lamps, tire pressure monitoring system and anti-lock brakes.

As with other tall wagons, the Matrix allows for packing awkward loads that wouldn’t fit into a trunk, making it a good choice for those who head out to cottages, or who want to put a bicycle in the back. With all seats upright, the cargo area is 85 cm (33 in.) long. Fold the second-row seats, and it expands to 150 cm (59 in.); topple the front passenger seat, and you can slide in objects up to 250 cm (98 in.) long. The seats are plastic-backed, making them easy to clean and simple for sliding items across, and both cargo area and rear seatbacks have tracks that can be fitted with moveable cleats for tying items down. The rear hatch glass flips open separately, so items can be tossed inside without opening everything up.

Having been on the market now for five years, and going into a fifth model year, the Toyota Matrix will probably get a redesign or a replacement in the near future. Some upgrades to this model will be appreciated – a few safety-item additions, and a better instrument cluster design – but overall, this is a fine package that, hopefully, will still be similarly-sized and priced in any new incarnations. Overall, this is one fine, useful little wagon indeed.



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