Toyota Matrix

Don’t be fooled by its SUV look, Toyota Matrix is actually a hatchback. It is derived from the Corolla, sharing the same floorpan including suspensions and even the same 2600mm wheelbase. Apart from taller body and higher ride height, it does not have any SUV ingredient.  

You may ask, "doesn’t it have a 4-wheel drive system that Corolla doesn’t ?" yes, but obviously you have ignored the fact that the domestic Corolla also has this 4WD system. It uses a simple viscous-coupling to deliver power to rear wheels whenever the front wheels slip. Therefore in normal conditions it drives as if a pure front-drive car. Like Corolla, the 4WD version has double wishbones rear suspensions instead of the FWD’s torsion beam-axle. You know, the construction of torsion beam does not fit transmission shaft and rear differential. 

Sharing platform with Corolla has various advantages: 1) most apparently, save money; 2) allow it to be assembled in the same Canadian production plant as the Corolla (oh yes, forget to tell you the Matrix is primarily destined to the US market). Again, this save money; 3) keep the car at relatively lightweight, which is less than 1300kg; 4) allow it to share engine and gearbox with Celica.  

What ? Celica ? don’t be surprised. Remember, Celica shares the same front suspensions with Corolla, so its 180hp VVTL-i engine is also compatible with Corolla and Matrix. Ditto the close-ratio 6-speed gearbox, the mandatory companion to that high-revving engine. Unluckily, carrying 110 more kilograms than the Celica, the peaky manner of this engine is even more obvious than that in the Celica. Shifting tiresomely to squeeze out its maximum power at 7600rpm, or at least keep it at its power band above 6200rpm, is not what you expect in a 5-seater hatchback, let alone what the SUV-look suggest. Car And Driver might be able to measure 7.3 second from 0 to 60mph, but real world performance is much slower and inflexible. In contrast, the standard 130hp VVT-i engine has better manner at mid-range, so I would recommend it over the 180hp version. It is also available with optional automatic transmission. 

The Matrix’s sporty look is handsome and radical by Toyota’s standard. The interior was designed by GM’s designer because its sister car, Pontiac Vibe, shares the same interior. There is extensive use of alloy-looking plastic panels, feeling young and sporty. The console-mounted gearshift comes from Lexus RX300. Overall materials and build quality are good, if not as good as the Corolla. Thanks to high roof and higher seating position, both head and legroom are plenty for 5 passengers. The rear seats are 60/40-split, whose backrest can fold down to enable a flat cargo loading area with hard plastic surface. This is the only SUV goody it has. However, many hatchbacks have such versatility now. If you take compact MPV such as Renault Scenic into account, you will find the Matrix relatively less versatile. It does not have individual sliding seats, fold tables, storage trays, big sunroof etc. Therefore it is not yet a mini MPV. It is a cross-over between hatchback and mini MPV at best. 

Judging by hatchback standard, you will find its tall-body handling unexciting (maybe dangerously exciting if you insist to corner quickly). More body roll, lower cornering limit despite of good grip, firmer damping ... there is no free lunch for having a higher body and SUV-like ride height. The brakes of 180hp model are identical to the hot Celica, but coping with the heavier car means brake fade after continuous hard use. Ease back, drive it in the same way as in Corolla is the best way to enjoy the Matrix. It is equally easy to live with, with more passenger and luggage room to satisfy your occasional needs. Even if you don’t need its extra versatility, you may still prefer it to the Corolla because of its look.  

The question is: do we need this kind of cross-border vehicle ? it does not handle like a hatchback nor carry things and people as clever as a compact MPV. In the North America where compact MPV does not exist, this question can be ignored. Nevertheless, the world is changing fast. 5 years ago no one believed the American would start loving hatchbacks. Tommorrow may be compact MPVs. 

The above report was last updated on 27 Jan 2002. All Rights Reserved.

Related models: Pontiac Vibe

GM has track record for selling restyled Toyota cars. In fact, the joint venture NUMMI plant in California was set up to produce Toyota Corolla and Chevrelot Prism. Now Prism has gone and the plant is converted to produce Pontiac Vibe, which is simply a restyled Matrix. Pontiac designer did a great job here, making their version more attractive to look than the Matrix.
The above report was last updated on 27 Jan 2002. All Rights Reserved.


Matrix XR
Matrix XRS
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Size (L / W / H / WB) mm
4351 / 1765 / 1540 / 2600
4351 / 1765 / 1540 / 2600
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVT
1794 c.c.
1796 c.c.
130 hp
180 hp
125 lbft
130 lbft
F: strut; R: torsion beam
F: strut; R: torsion beam
215/50 VR17
1265 kg
1298 kg
Top speed
130 mph (est)
0-60 mph
7.3 sec*
0-100 mph
19.6 sec*
* Tested by Car and Driver

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