THE 2012 TOYOTA MATRIX REVIEW
Full Review by Andy: A Tale of Three Brothers
The tale of the Toyota Matrix is a story of survival. Conceived in the same womb as the Pontiac Vibe and its sister, the Toyota Voltz hatch, the Matrix is now the last of its kin. The Voltz bought the farm in 2004 and the Vibe shuffled off this mortal coil in 2010. Will the resilient Matrix keep fighting, or is it on its way to a family reunion?
On the corner of I-880 and I-680 in Fremont, Calif. dwells a large manufacturing plant now owned by Tesla Motors. Before that, the factory was jointly owned by General Motors and Toyota and was known as NUMMI: New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. Through the partnership between the two automakers, the General profited from Toyota’s haloed reliability and Toyota gained its first manufacturing basis in North America. Beginning in 2002, NUMMI produced the Matrix, the Vibe, and the Voltz. The vehicles, designed as a medley of station wagon with compact hatchback, were based on Toyota’s E-platform used for the Toyota Corolla and essentially shared everything but their sheet metal skins.
The Voltz, a rebranded Vibe with right-hand drive, was the first to snuff the candle. It was exported directly to Japan and sold just over 10,000 units in two years. It quickly received the axe.
Meanwhile, the Vibe and Matrix soldiered onwards for a second generation in 2009. The Pontiac was the next to cross the Styx. Due to its flirting with Chapter 11, General Motors decided to kill off the Pontiac brand in 2009. However, due to the redesigned Vibe’s sales success, the Vibe was allowed one last hurrah in 2010.
Unready to meet its proverbial maker, Toyota scrambled together a refresh package in 2011. It sketched a Matrix in line with a Spielberg alien fantasy and altered the list of standard features. Little has changed for 2012, and the Matrix still teeters on the brink of death. Although extremely spacious, the Matrix lacks the amenities, performance, and comfort of similarly priced rivals.
The Matrix’s specialty is its size. With the fold-flat passenger seat standard on the S trim, the Matrix can accommodate up to 61.5 cubic feet of luggage, more than the much lionized Honda Fit. Without the fold-flat passenger seat, carrying capacity drops to a still-impressive 49.4 cubic feet, with almost 20 cubic feet behind the rear bench seat. The Matrix also has usable, if not lavish, rear legroom and commendable headroom fore and aft. It is a marvel of packaging if not comfort, and gives segment leaders a run for the pennant.
Unfortunately, the Matrix has a number of faux pas as well. The weak base 1.8-liter four-cylinder has sluggish acceleration and mediocre fuel economy. A standard five-speed manual returns 26/32 mpg while an optional four-speed automatic slightly lowers average fuel efficiency. The Matrix S has an upgraded engine with 26 more horsepower and 34 extra lb-ft of torque but never returns more than an EPA-estimated 29 mpg. A five-speed shiftable automatic is optional and slightly improves fuel economy. The S trim is eligible for front wheel-biased AWD, a rare perk in its class, but fuel efficiency drops substantially, and many drivers note that the system does not make the Matrix feel any more sporty or secure.
With any drivetrain, the 2012 Toyota Matrix hatchback has a smooth and relaxed ride. S models have superior acceleration, cracking nine seconds with AWD, but both trims suffer from body roll and noise intrusion at high speeds. The Kia Soul and Honda Fit are superior performers and offer better fuel economy, while the Subaru Impreza and Suzuki SX4 are worthy rivals if all-wheel drive is a must.
Since the athletic XRS trim was dropped from lineup in 2011, the Matrix is now available in two trims: the base L trim ($18,845) and the upper S trim ($19,565). The base trim has survival necessities. The S trim adds foglamps, the fold-flat passenger seat, upgraded cosmetics, and an upgraded six-speaker stereo system. However, Bluetooth, satellite radio and a USB/iPod input interface – essentials for the Generation Y college student – are only available on the options roster, and bump the MSRP over $20,000.
Is the Matrix bound to meet its brothers in automotive heaven? According to the sales charts, it is only a matter of time. With one exception, Matrix sales have declined every year since 2002. In 2011, less than 15,000 units were sold. Bob Carter, Toyota’s group vice president, says that Toyota has yet to make a decision whether the Matrix will continue for 2013. My advice: cue Charon.
1.8-liter inline four-cylinder: 132 hp @6,000 rpm/128 lb-ft of torque @4,400 rpm
2.4-liter inline four-cylinder: 158 hp @6,000 rpm/162 lb-ft of torque @4,000 rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual, four-speed automatic, five-speed shiftable automatic
Fuel Economy: 20/26 – 26/32 mpg
Base MSRP: $18,845
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