What it Is
2009 Toyota Matrix Preview – SEMA Show: Think of an average man wearing a tan suit with tan tie and tan shoes. Now picture that man with a bright red pocket handkerchief in his breast pocket. In very generalized terms, that’s the equivalent to Toyota building the Matrix, a hatchback/wagon version of the Corolla sedan – not terribly exciting, but a nice way of adding some visual appeal to Mr. Average. Well, Mr. Average got a new look for 2009, so the same goes for the red handkerchief. It equates to revised but still familiar styling, new features, and ultimately what Toyota calls a “five-door hatch with the soul of a two-door sports car.” (production note: normal)
By Thom Blackett
Photo credit: Staff, Toyota
Why it Matters
Some call them five-door hatchbacks, others small wagons, and still others crossovers. Whatever label you choose to describe the likes of the 2009 Toyota Matrix, plan on using it more often. It’s a growing segment that plays host to versions of the Subaru Impreza, Kia Spectra5 and Rondo, Mazda3, and starting next year, the Hyundai Elantra Touring. Competition is getting stiffer for the Matrix, making it a prudent move for Toyota to do some updating, ultimately providing you, the car buyer, with a more desirable and overall improved product.
What’s Under the Hood
Power output will depend on which Matrix you choose – Standard, S, or XRS. All will be available with all-wheel drive. The Standard and S models utilize a 16-valve four-cylinder engine with variable-valve timing and crank out 132 horsepower backed up by 128 lb.-ft. of torque. The XRS features a 2.4-liter four-banger, also equipped with variable-valve timing, that’s good for 158 horses and 162 lb.-ft. of torque. All models are delivered with a standard five-speed manual transmission; the Standard and S can be mated to an optional four-speed automatic while the XRS gets a five-speed auto. Toyota estimates highway mileage up to 32 mpg.
What it Looks Like
Like the Corolla sedan that’s also launching in February as a 2009 model, the redesigned Toyota Matrix features a wider body and lower profile. One of the goals was to provide the Matrix with a sportier presence, so there’s a wraparound rear window that gives this five-door even more of hatchback feel, and with the new taillights there’s a strong resemblance to the Saab 9-2X. Moving up to the S and XRS models affords buyers a lower body kit, while the XRS alone gets a rear spoiler and 18-inch wheels.max
Though redesigned, the 2009 Matrix matches its predecessor in terms of overall space. The “sport” seats are new, as are goodies such as a touch-screen navigation system with real-time traffic and an upgraded audio system. All models get an auxiliary audio jack and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel; the S model adds cruise control and a fold-flat front passenger seat while the XRS adds stability control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with secondary audio controls.
What Toyota Says
Toyota’s marketing manager, Tim Morrison, had this to say about the Matrix: "The Matrix concept was based on blending the functionality of an SUV, the style, image and performance of a sports car with the affordability of a subcompact sedan. For 2009, it’s all that, and more. It may have the body of a five-door hatch, but it comes with the soul of a two-door sports car."
What We Think
Based on first impressions, Toyota went a little too conservative with the changes. Matrix styling has always been sportier than that of the Corolla, even more so with these newest iterations, but what we see still isn’t all that exciting. That’d be fine for this commuting hatch if not for Toyota’s claim that the Matrix blends the “image and performance of a sports car with the affordability of a subcompact sedan.” Without pricing information, we’re left to assume on the affordability bit, but with the current styling and max of 158 horses, the sports car part might fall noticeably short.
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