The Toyota Matrix and the Pontiac Vibe are built side by side at Toyota’s plant in Cambridge Ontario, and share everything but the name and a few cosmetic details such as the front nose treatment. So for this Road Test, it would be safe to say that except for minor details, we’re actually testing two vehicles this week. Toyota and General Motors have worked together in the past on such memorable cars as the mid-”80s Corolla and Chevy Nova. Thankfully this co-branding project has yielded a much more attractive car than those dogs, where GM”s bean counters obviously had too much input. I had a friend that owned one of those junkers, and let’s just say a Lada would have been a better choice.
One can only assume the advantage to Toyota is the shared cost of designing and building these twins, as the General certainly gets the better end of the deal. Instead of using their usual 12-18-year time frame between model changes, GM are going to be getting a new Vibe every 4 to 5 years based, on Toyota’s timetable.
The Matrix came out a couple of years ago and was an instant success. With Toyota’s reputation for build quality (post 1990), and pricing at the sweet spot of the compact market, how could it miss? The Matrix is geared toward young drivers that want the advantages of a small hatchback/SUV/wagon without the stigma that goes along with it. I don’t understand people that can’t admit that the hatchback and or wagon is a very logical vehicle to own, being far more adaptable than sedans. When you’ve only got one vehicle – flexibility is of utmost importance.
NOTE: Since I found the automatic transmission to be rather lethargic I also took the opportunity to test drive the manual version. The manual version is the base model, while the automatic version is the XR edition, and throughout the review I will note where each differ.
When I first spotted the Matrix XR in the parking lot, I was struck by the colour. It’s eye-popping in the sunlight – absolutely gorgeous. It’s called Speedway Blue by Toyota, but Electric Blue would be a better description. The manual version was Radiant Red – a very appropriate name.
Climbing behind the thick 3-spoke steering wheel, it felt upright and was not what I’d expected. It’s more in line with the feel of the PT Cruiser or even a minivan than I would have guessed. The seat is quite high and gives the driver a nice open view of the road ahead. The manually adjustable seat comes with a hand crank to raise and lower the seat, but was missing a lumbar adjustment. The seat is nicely contoured and offers plenty of support. The high quality cloth seat material looks like it’s going to stand up to a number of years of abuse with ease.
When I opened the door to the manual Matrix I was perplexed: what were those thingy’s on the door… were they? NO!.. they’re window winders!!!! Manual windows?!! I didn’t think any vehicles in 2007 came with manual windows anymore!
Apparently manual windows AND mirrors (gasp!) are standard on the base model.
Immediately in front of the driver is the instrument cluster with four chrome-ringed “Optitron” gauges (they look like they’re electroluminescent), giving the Matrix a very classy, Lexus-look to it. The tilt steering wheel is leather-wrapped (XR), but has no audio control buttons on it, and the cruise control stalk (XR) sits just below the right spoke. The leather-wrapped shifter for the 4-speed automatic transmission is perfectly placed and sits just where your hand falls naturally. The manual shifter however, is not naturally placed and seems too far away as it sits more on the dash than between the seats. Shifting was very odd for the first few days, but I’m sure you would get used to it after driving it for a while.
High on the dash is the audio system, and below that is the climate control system with nice large buttons. Both the stereo and heating/air conditioning controls are very easy to use and logically arranged. The stereo in the test vehicles was a single-disc AM/FM CD player that is NOT MP3 capable. The stereo that comes in the Matrix is adequate, but not what I’d expect from a vehicle in this category and price level. It’s easy to use and decipher, but the sound from the 4 speakers is not the best I’ve ever heard, and replacing them would definitely be at the top of my to-do list if I bought a Matrix
Below the climate control dials and buttons is an ashtray with a cigarette lighter – there’s something you don’t see very often! Looking through the owner’s manual, I noticed that there are options related to this – instead of the cigarette lighter, it had a power outlet AND a 115 VAC outlet in the same place that the ashtray is positioned in the test vehicle, while the ashtray is a portable unit that fits into the cup holders. So there are a couple of different configurations available in the Matrix. There’s another storage compartment below the gear lever that is perfect for storing sun glasses. There’s a terrific armrest/storage compartment that is huge and sits between the front seats offering plenty of storage for your CD’s.
Firing up the 1.8 litre 4-cylinder VVT-i engine, it’s very muted and somewhat responsive around town. The rack and pinion steering is nicely weighted and gives plenty of feedback. Within minutes we’re entering the freeway and disappointment sets in. I floor the throttle. Check my mirrors – sounds like something’s happening – but doesn’t feel like it. I change the radio station and slowly drum my fingers impatiently on the wheel, while stifling a yawn with the back of my hand and simultaneously glancing at my watch. There we go!! We’re up to highway speed! That only took…uhm… wasn’t it daylight when we entered the freeway? I think someone switched the 126 horses for 12 hamsters! As my wife pointed out on several occasions – the 5-speed manual would be a better option and she wouldn’t have a problem winding it up and letting it go. I agree wholeheartedly with that… And when we got the manual version – it was a big improvement getting up to freeway speed, and certainly around town is was very responsive. However, I found a bit of a problem on the freeway if you had to brake, even minutely – let’s say a moron pulls out in front of you but doesn’t match their speed to left lane traffic – then you have to gear down, not one but two gears, to get the forward momentum back to where it was. Rowing the gears takes on a whole new meaning in the Matrix – lift off the throttle and you’re done-for, it’ll take you 5 or 6 minutes to get back up to 60 mph.
Once I’d gotten it up to speed the Matrix ran perfectly well with the other vehicles, and is in fact a very good highway vehicle – just plan overtaking manoeuvres well in advance and don’t expect to get to 60+ mph in a hurry. At 90 mph it was very relaxed and quiet; making me quickly forget the time it took to reach that velocity. Settling in for the long drive home, the Matrix is a very pleasant place to spend the time.
One big advantage of bringing my wife along when I pick up a new vehicle is the point-counterpoint we go through on the drive home. Whether we men want to admit it or not – the wife decides what car the family gets – not the husband. If you disagree then you must be driving a Mustang or the like. If you’re driving a minivan then she made the decision, just accept it. My wife, being a woman of the species – the opposite sex, spots things that are crucial to women – but mostly redundant to men, like mirrors on the sun visor and whether they’ve got lights or not. In the case of the Matrix – nope, no lights on the dinky little vanity mirrors, and no cover on the passenger one either. There’s a reasonable sized glove box, as well as a centre armrest with a two-section storage bin below that houses a second power outlet.
We both liked the view out from the front seats, with the open expanse of the windshield. Everything has a quality feel to it and is pleasant to the touch. The Matrix is extremely quiet and a very likable car. Both of us thought the manual transmission would be the only way to go when purchasing this vehicle as the automatic is awful (unfortunately, after driving the manual version we found it didn’t match our expectations). My biggest beef are the shift points on the automatic transmission. The VVT-i engine doesn’t come alive until around the 4,500 rpm range, yet the transmission up-shifts at 2,500 -3,300 rpm. What’s the point in having an all dancing, all singing engine, and then lumbering it with donkey shift-points? Yes I realize the shift points are to maximize fuel economy, but the engine might as well have been a diesel. Going up hills, the accelerator pedal had to be buried deep into the carpet and a running start had to be initiated. Gearing down to second or third gear helped a bit, but if you lift off the gas pedal on steeper inclines, you’re done for – that cyclist you past on the way up will be overtaking you now.
The rear seating is generous, with an abundance of foot space under the front seats, and provides those relegated to the back seat plenty of leg, hip and shoulder room. The rear seating area is easy to get in and out of thanks the wide opening doors. Once seated, the occupants are treated to a comfortable bench seat that would have been even better if it had a folding arm rest. Otherwise, the seating is a little higher than the front, enabling a good view out. There’s a little bump on the floor, but that wouldn’t affect a third person sitting back there.
The interior cargo space is a reasonable 21 cu/ft., and with the rear seats folded flat that increases to 53.2 cu/ft. A very pleasant surprise was the rear hatch window that opens separately from the rear door. This is a great idea that I wish all manufacturers would incorporate into the design of hatchbacks, wagons and SUV”s. Although you don’t go around carrying ladders everywhere, this feature adds a lot of versatility for those of us that need to transport a long item every now and then but don’t want everything else falling out the back door. Tying things to the roof isn’t always an option – especially if you don’t have a roof rack – so this is an important feature I look for. All Matrix models feature a specially designed sliding cargo system that is integrated into the cargo area floor, 60/40 folding rear seats, front passenger seat that folds forward completely flat enabling long items to be transported (combined with the rear window this gives an incredible amount of versatility), eight tie-down rings with additional hooks in the rear floor. There is a very flimsy luggage cover that sits in the back to keep prying eyes off the contents stored there – the advantage of this particular one is that it folds up and is easy to store in the under-floor cargo area.
The 2007 Matrix comes in a choice of 2 models – base and XR. The automatic XR had the $2,475 “B” Package (Canada) and the 4-speed automatic transmission at $751 [$1,045 Cdn]. The U.S. version has a number of options and is somewhat complicated – because if you want one thing, you have to delete something completely unrelated. For example: if you want package #2 ($792), you can’t get package #1 and vice versa. So if you want: cruise control, fog lights and a front and rear underbody spoiler, forget about that moonroof, 17â€ rims and several other goodies. But in Canada they are all included in the same “B” package. ABS is a stand-alone option in the U.S. ($335), while it’s included in the “B” package (XR) in Canada. It’s all very confusing, but I’ve tried to match up the car in the best way I could to make them equal in price/options. In the U.S. freight is $560, while we get hosed here in Canada for $1,140 – even though the Matrix is built about 30 minutes away. On that subject, the price for freight is climbing much faster than anything else in the purchase of a new vehicle. Granted the costs have gone up, but just two years ago freight was $900 for an SUV and only $600 two years prior to that.
Standard features included in the Matrix were: tilt steering wheel, an AM/FM single-disc stereo system with 4 speakers, driver’s height adjustable seat. The XR edition adds: cruise control, power windows, locks and mirrors, driver’s window with one touch auto down, power outlets and a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob (automatic only), speed sensitive door locks (automatic transmission only).
Automatic: The optional C Package $1,510 (B Package in Canada $2,475 Cdn) on the XR adds P215/50R17 tires and aluminum alloy rims to the car, along with ABS, a power moonroof, fog lamps and tire pressure monitoring system.
Manual: The optional B package ($2,705 Cdn) on the base model added: air conditioning, 16” aluminum alloy rims, remote keyless entry and power door locks.
For any vehicle in this class and price range to have ABS brakes as an option is unfathomable and inexcusable – they should be standard! The automatic gets a tire pressure monitoring system, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force-limiters as well as speed sensitive door locks. Side curtain air bags and stability control are optional.
I liked the Matrix a lot. The instrument panel looks like it could have come from a Lexus. It’s incredibly quiet, fun to drive, sporty and practical. It’s roomy, the XR is competitively priced (but the base version is WAY over-priced), and it provides great fuel economy. The seats are very comfortable and hold you in place when your driving gets a little exuberant. I loved the split rear door where the hatch glass opens independently of the rear door (and is operated by the fob too). By the same token, I hated the automatic transmission – it was snail-slow to respond and even slower to get the car up to speed – whether taking off from a stoplight or entering the freeway. The manual was slightly better because you obviously have more control. Considering my right foot was buried in the foot-well whenever I tried to motive forward progress, I was shocked at the outstanding fuel economy.
A fully comprehensive bumper to bumper warranty covers you for 3 years/36,000-miles [60,000 kms], and a 5-year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty. Roadside assistance is also included.
Towing Capacity is rated at 1,500 lbs. – you must be joking!!
Pricing for the 2007 Toyota Matrix
Base price for the Matrix starts at: $15,410 [$17,200 Cdn], and the As Tested price was a whopping $19,905 Cdn. For a very spartan manual with the B package – the U.S., package is different.
Matrix XR – As tested: $19,544 [$24,985 Cdn]. The Matrix XR FWD with a manual transmission starts at $16,890 [$21,465 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: $620 [$1,140 Cdn]
Fuel Consumption: [Regular]
The 1.8 litre automatic is rated at 28.3 mpg City [8.3 L/100 kms] and 37.3 mpg Highway [6.3 L/100 kms]
The 1.8 litre manual is rated at 29.4 mpg City [8.0 L/100 kms] and 39.2 mpg Highway [6.0 L/100 kms]
I averaged 25.8 mpg [9.1 L/100km] in combined driving, and 32.2 mpg [7.3 L/100km] in 100% Highway driving
Very quiet at all speeds
Plenty of room in a compact package – it feels so much bigger than it is
Excellent build quality
Outstanding fuel economy
The automatic re-defines the word “Slushbox” when entering the freeway, the manual transmission is no better.
Would I Spend My Money On It?
Nope. I would only put the R/X on my consider list, but only with the 5-speed manual transmission. It’s pricing is a little on the high side. The manual car was bare-bones and not exactly cheap – price wise. The Rabbit is a LOT more fun to drive, it’s stuffed with safety features and it’s cheaper.
Back Seat Driver Test: 8 out of 10
The back seat drew plenty of praise, among the comments: “It’s very comfortable back here with tons of room for your legs and feet.” “There’s tons of headroom too!” / “The seat angle is perfect and the arm rests on the door are perfect too, although a center arm rest would have been nice.”
Chevy HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caliber, Ford Focus ZX5, Hyundai Elantra GT, Kia Spectra5, Mazda3 Sport, Mazda5, Pontiac Vibe, Suzuki SX4, VW Rabbit.
By The Numbers:
Powertrain: 1.8 litre 4-cylinder VVT-i engine; FWD; 4-speed automatic / 5-speed manual transmission
Hamsterpower: 126 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 122 @ 4,200 rpm
0-60 mph: Auto: 4ever / Manual: 9.7 seconds.
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
8 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
7 – Special Features (SatNav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
9 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
8 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
6 – Engine
3 – Transmission
9 – Ride & Handling
7 – Bang for the $$
10 – Fuel Economy
126 Total / 150
Copyright © 2007 by Iain Shankland – firstname.lastname@example.org
Also Published at: PaddockTalk