2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix XR
2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD (top); 2009 Toyota Matrix XR. Click image to enlarge

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Inside Story

2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD, Part one
2009 Toyota Matrix

Manufacturer’s web sites

General Motors of Canada
Toyota Canada

Review and photos by Michael Clark

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2009 Pontiac Vibe
2009 Toyota Matrix


When first published on September 4th, this article contained some errors and omissions which have been corrected in this revised version. As well, additional details have been added. We apologize for any confusion.

Uh-oh, it appears the judges have reversed their decision.

Earlier this week, I had put down my thoughts on the debate between which practically identical vehicle you should purchase: the 2009 Pontiac Vibe or the 2009 Toyota Matrix. Reader responses have been passionate, to say the least. The word around the campfire is that there has been some form of collusion between myself and the Pontiac camp, to even consider that the Toyota did not deserve the laurels that the Vibe achieved. Strong words require a much stronger review, which is exactly what this Rematch edition of Inside Story is all about. I believe it was Voltaire who said; “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Or maybe it was Cool Hand Luke. I’m sure someone will direct me to the correct answer.

Correct information is vital to any review, especially a comparison piece such as this. I must first make an apology to the readers of Autos, for it does appear that I have made a couple of errors. A Calgary-area Toyota dealer clarified the roadside assistance coverage for new Toyota products, which is included at no charge for the first three years of coverage. However, the Toyota Canada website makes no specific reference to this inclusion, with the only reference point to roadside assistance being an additional cost of $84.95 per month for 12 months. (Go to Toyota.ca for the 2009 model year warranty matrix.) The 2009 warranty chart does include wordspeak on towing services to the dealer for warranty-related repairs, but there is no specific mention in regards to roadside assistance service. For those of you keeping score at home, Pontiac’s roadside assistance is in place for 60 months or 160,000 kilometres, whichever comes first.

As well, I had reported in error that the Pontiac Vibe SE, with an MSRP of $18,995, was equipped with a standard 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine. This erroneous information was taken directly from GM’s consumer web site which at the time of this writing, had not yet been corrected. (Go to GM.ca.)

All of the information presented in the Rematch has been obtained from the Canadian consumer websites for Toyota and Pontiac. Let’s begin.

Base models

Vibe (Base) MSRP: $15,995 (Automatic transmission: $17,220)

Matrix FWD MSRP: $15,975 (Automatic transmission: $16,985)

What’s different?

The entry-level versions of the Vibe and Matrix share the same mill, a 1.8-litre four-cylinder with Variable Valve Timing and identical horsepower ratings of 132 at 6000 r.p.m. Torque specs are also identical; 128 lb.-ft at 4400 r.p.m. Wheels are 16-inch steels, with 205/55R16 all-season tires. The Pontiac wheelcover, like practically every GM plastic wheelcover since the late 80’s, is held on the wheel with plastic locknuts. The Toyota cover is a typical tension-fit.

Stability control and traction control programs are now becoming standard issue on a number of makes, which will soon be as required on vehicles as seat belts. Pontiac has opted to include the StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with traction control on all of the Vibe models. Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Traction Control (TRAC) is not available on the Matrix FWD. 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) are standard fare for all Matrix and Vibe trim levels. The standard 4-speaker single CD audio system is pre-wired for XM satellite radio on the Matrix. The Vibe requires optional audio upgrades to achieve this capability.

Dual exterior power mirrors land on both ships. The Vibe is equipped with the OnStar system, as well as one year of the Safe and Sound plan. Just like handing a cell phone to your tween, you will soon discover that the Safe and Sound package is more of a gateway plan into additional extra-cost OnStar products. For example, the Safe and Sound package does not include Turn-By-Turn navigation, which requires an upgrade to the Directions and Connections plan.

Hands-free calling is enabled through pre-paid minute plans from OnStar, or can be linked to a Bell Mobility plan. (Service providers and coverage may vary.) There is no Bluetooth provision with the OnStar system. In the Priceless Department are such OnStar abilities as crash notification, remote unlocking, even the ability to honk the horn and flash the lights when you lose your Vibe at the mall. Toyota does offer a dealer-installed navigation system, with an MSRP of $1779.50.

The 115-volt AC household current plug-in is included for all Vibe models. It is not available on the Matrix FWD. Thankfully, there are no safety exclusions for either model. Both Vibe and Matrix receive dual frontal airbags with passenger occupant sensing, front seat-mounted side airbags, and curtain airbags front and rear, regardless of trim level. Note the cost difference for the optional 4-speed automatic transmission. The Matrix asks for $1010, while Pontiac charges $1225 for an identical unit. Hmmmmm…

2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix XR
2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD (top); 2009 Toyota Matrix XR. Click image to enlarge

The verdict? Not just yet. The problem is the packages and options that exist as we creep upwards in content and MSRP. With inclusion of both manual and automatic transmission models, there are 17 MSRP’s for the Matrix, while the Vibe is marketed with six distinct MSRP starting points. Besides, the entry-level model is usually the one gathering dust in the corner of the lot, while value packages prevail. That usually means things like keyless entry, power windows, and the all-important air conditioning system. How easily can it be added to a Vibe or a Matrix? It appears that the days of dealer-installed A/C are as dead as R-12 refrigerant. The Matrix FWD and the base Vibe both require MSRP bumps to specific option packages to get frosty.

Mid-level models

Vibe SE MSRP: $18,995 (Automatic transmission: $20,200)

Key additional equipment:

  • Air conditioning with air filtration
  • Power windows and door locks
  • Keyless entry
  • Cruise control
  • Tire pressure monitoring system

Matrix ‘B’ Package MSRP: $18,450 (Automatic transmission: $19,460)

Key Additional Equipment:

  • Air conditioning with air filtration
  • Power windows and door locks
  • Keyless entry
  • Rear bumper protector
  • Tire pressure monitoring system

The SE and ‘B’ Package are the value leaders that matter to any dealer principal. These are no longer live-withouts; this IS basic equipment for life in the big city. The Vibe SE is $545 more than the manual transmission Matrix ‘B’, $760 more with the automatic. So far, the Vibe has the upper hand. How? While it’s quite obvious that the Toyota is the least expensive, factor in the inclusions that the Base Vibe has over the Matrix FWD, such as StabiliTrak, OnStar, and the AC outlet.


I took a little flak over my recommendation of the 2.4-litre four over the 1.8-litre. Economy is certainly top of mind for all Canadian motorists, so here’s the fuel consumption breakdown for the mills:

1.8 litre (manual transmission)

City: 7.8 L/100 km

Highway: 6.2 L/100 km

2.4 litre (manual transmission)

City: 9.6 L/100 km

Highway: 7.1 L/100 km

As expected, the One-Eight is the economy winner. That’s a fine mill – for a Corolla. I’ve driven both, and the 1.8 in a Matrix/Vibe seems a tad on the pokey side, especially with an automatic shift. My reasoning for springing for the 2.4 is to have that extra jolt of power when you need it. The 2.4-litre is rated at 158 horsepower @ 6000 r.p.m., however the 2.4 delivers 162 foot-pounds of it, at 4000 r.p.m. which is 400 r.p.m. lower than the 1.8-litre.

What exactly is a Matrix? It’s a Corolla wagon: slightly heavier, but also bent on more utilitarian duties than its sedan cousin. When you’re loaded down with friends, mountain bikes, and maybe a mountain, you’ll thank me. What needs to be understood is that the Transport Canada EnerGuide ratings for any vehicle are assuming some pretty optimal conditions to achieve the numbers posted, like obeying the highway speed limit. Those numbers also assume that your vehicle is in top operating condition, and that you don’t wait for tire pressure warning systems to tell you your Yokohama’s are low.

Getting a 2.4 in a Matrix means starting at the XR level, while the Vibe SE trim has two ways to get torqued.

Vibe SE MSRP: $18,995 (Automatic transmission: $20,220)
2.4-litre option: $750

Having the 2.4-litre in the Vibe SE also allows the ability to consider the five-speed automatic transmission, with manual shift mode. The price is $1485.

Matrix XR MSRP: $19,450 (Automatic transmission: $21.005)

The XR is a potent contender for this category, especially when you notice that the Vibe SE with the optional 2.4-litre puts the MSRP for the manual at $19,745. At $21,230, the Vibe SE gets the five-speed automatic with manu-shift, crazy-close to the XR’s $21,005 MSRP for the only automatic available on it, which is the same five-speed auto/manu-shift.

What’s missing? Traction and stability control, which is still standard on the Vibe. It becomes optional on the Matrix XR, included as part of the XR ‘B’ Package, which has an MSRP of $21,460 for the manual, or $23,015 for the automatic. ‘B’ also means bling, as in 17-inch alloy wheels with locks, and a leather wheel with steering wheel-mounted audio tabs. The Vibe SE Driver’s Package, priced at an MSRP of $20,995, also adds the 17-inch alloy wheels. (Locks not included.)

Like the XR, the Vibe SE Driver’s Package can only be had with one slushbox; the five-speed automatic with manual shift mode. Now we’re at $22,480 for the Vibe SE Driver’s. Man, this is close. We have finally reached the point of equipment that could be considered an apples-to-apples comparison, with a mere $535 difference between the 5-speed automatic-equipped Vibe SE Driver’s, and the XR ‘B’. Depending on your steely determination at the negotiation table, this difference could quickly disappear.

2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix XR
2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD (top); 2009 Toyota Matrix XR. Click image to enlarge

AWD models

The money gets understandably bigger for the all-wheel drive versions of the Vibe and Matrix. We finally get away from powertrain confusion, as both vehicles are equipped with the 2.4-litre four, and a four-speed automatic transmission only.

Matrix AWD Automatic MSRP: $22,600

Vibe AWD Automatic MSRP: $22,995

Wow; only a $395 difference.

Sporty models

Both the Vibe and Matrix offer a sporting version, which is a smidge strange, considering that the 2.4-litre mill in both does not gain any additional horsepower. The intention is more about suspension. The Matrix XRS goes head-to-head with the Vibe GT. These are both front-wheel drive units.

Matrix XRS Manual MSRP: $25,220

Vibe GT Manual MSRP: $24,995

It appears that we have only a $225 difference here, until you dig a little deeper. Toyota includes the power moonroof on the XRS, while that wind-in-your-hairplugs feeling will cost $1100 at the Pontiac store. The XRS audio system also includes Bluetooth connectivity, not available on the Vibe GT. Both vehicles receive the suspension benefits of front strut tower braces, and double-wishbone independent rear suspension with 18-inch wheels.

Financing vs leasing

Savvy customers have probably already noticed the lack of leasing programs at GM these days. Instead, the General is offering zero per cent financing for up to 60 months. As an example, $24,995 would translate into a monthly payment of $417, plus all the destination jazz, taxes, first-born male child, etc. Toyota’s calculator includes taxes, destination, and block heater.

By the way, Toyota’s freight and delivery fee is $1270, compared to GM’s $1160. The weird one is the block heater. Toyota enforces a mandatory block heater charge of $174, while the Vibe costs $65. Hmmmmm….

The finance amount used with the Toyota calculator totalled $25,280.09. You can finance it, for 60 months at 4.9 percent interest, for a monthly payment of $475.91. Leasing, for 48 months at 4.9 percent, results in a payment of $363.95. All calculated amounts presented were achieved with a Manitoba address.

Buy? Lease? What should you do? Before sitting down with the dealer, book an hour with your chartered accountant. Your accountant has a vested interest in providing you with the financial information that makes sense for your situation. If you’re not using an accountant, get one. Your accountant will probably be the first to tell you that a vehicle is never a money-making proposition, unless you’re sitting on a warehouse of Hemi-powered Dodge products, circa 1969.

A quick scan of automobile sales websites will prove that the Toyota retains more value over the long haul than the Vibe. Maybe it’s just me, but if I’m throwing down 25-large on anything, including cars, boats, and mail-order brides, I’m planning on keeping it. So should you.

2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix XR
2009 Pontiac Vibe AWD (top); 2009 Toyota Matrix XR. Click image to enlarge


Toyota currently claims 1,500 locations in North America, while GM has over 6,000. It should be noted that GM is currently consolidating many of its dealerships to stay solvent. Even with the nastiest of Ginzu slices, the General should be able to service the Vibe at easily double the amount of Toyota dealerships for the foreseeable future.

Last word

I do hope that you’ve enjoyed the preceding IS novella on the Vibe/Matrix debacle. The straight facts are this; the Vibe is better equipped, and more competitively priced than the Matrix at the Base and SE trim levels. GM knows it; that’s why the comparison tab on the Pontiac web site between Vibe and Matrix only lists that information. As you creep forward in MSRP, the differences become less obvious, with smaller spreads.

However, apples-to-apples is still more like Granny Smith to Braeburn. There are equipment, warranty and financing differences that will ultimately sway your decision. There’s even pure and simple aesthetics. As always, I hope that I have helped. It’s your right to challenge the findings of any and all automotive journalists, regardless of publication.

It should be noted that my reasons for writing for CD have to do with the fact that my opinions and conclusions are not swayed by the manufacturer, or the dealership in any way. I have worked for newspaper publications where my comments have resulted in local car dealers pulling their advertising in protest. I don’t work for them; I work for you. Happy shopping.

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