Matrix enters a new era

Redesigned Toyota compact gets a sporty new look
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Gold Country Motoring Editor
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With folks leaning more toward smaller cars, it makes sense for auto manufacturers to produce some eye-catching vehicles in this segment. Toyota's one of those automakers who's doing just that. The Japanese manufacturer has already scored a hit with the redesign of its Corolla for the 2009 model year, and now it's taken its scalpel to the Matrix with similar success. For the 2009 model year Toyota has lowered, lengthened and smoothed out the Matrix, giving it a sportier, sleeker presence than its previous editions. Toyota has stretched the Matrix just slightly, increasing its length by a mere 0.6 inches. But it's dropped the car a half-inch in height. Its overall look is appealing with a newly sculpted front end that features tapered headlights and stark lines on the hood. The rest of the vehicle flows well throughout as the roofline slopes down onto the rear of the vehicle. Recently I got behind the wheel of an '09 Matrix S with the all-wheel drive system and the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 158 horsepower and 162 pounds-feet of torque. Matrix's new looks fold in well with the performance of the vehicle. With the lower stance, the car doesn't feel as top-heavy and susceptible to high winds like previous models have. The lower center of gravity allows you to track the road well and take the corners at a decent amount of speed. I found a recent drive over some hilly and winding roads quite pleasurable. The compact's suspension on the all-wheel drive S is an independent double wishbone. The all-wheel drive S also has active torque control with electro-magnetic coupling. The Matrix's all-wheel drive system is making a return on the '09 model after a brief absence. And that all-wheel drive setup increases the sturdiness of the vehicle on the road. Accentuating the above suspension system is the addition of the 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine. With the combination of this powerplant you've got the juice to have some fun. Taking off from a dead stop is handled well and merging on the highway is not a problem ” neither is passing slower traffic. The base Matrix comes with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder with 132 horsepower with 128 pounds-feet of torque. Toyota offers a five-speed manual, automatic or four-speed electronically controlled transmission (which I had). When it comes to fuel economy our version gets an estimated 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. With the five-speed manual and the larger engine you get 21/28, and with the 1.8-liter engine and a manual transmission you can get an estimated 26/32 mpg. Inside Toyota has done a good job of sprucing things up by keeping with the sporty design outside. The front of the cabin has a cockpit-type feel with a redesigned dash and center stack area. Space inside is pretty good, too. Headroom is good up front and legroom is ample for average-height passengers, and there's enough to make larger people comfortable. In the back seat headroom is still spacious, even with the sloping roof. Legroom is also decent, and getting three across the back seat can be done without too much difficulty. Behind the second row of seats you get 19.8 cubic feet of cargo room, but you can get even more when the 60/40 split seatbacks are folded down. You can get as much as 61.5 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats down. Matrix tips its hat the active crowd when it comes to the cargo area by putting hard plastic on the backs of the rear seatbacks and in the cargo are; so go ahead and throw your dirty and wet things in the back, it'll be easy to clean. Along with making the new Matrix versatile and fun to drive, Toyota also offers a decent amount of standard safety equipment. All Matrixes are equipped with front, side and side-curtain air bags, anti-lock braking with brake assist and a tire pressure monitor system. You can also get a vehicle stability control system as an option. Toyota offers the Matrix in three trims: the standard, S, and the XRS. It also ranges in starting price from $16,190 all the way to $20,660. The Matrix S with all-wheel driven for this review with options and other fees was valued at $23,869. For more information on the Toyota Matrix or to schedule at test drive visit Magnussen's Auburn Toyota at 800 Nevada St. in Auburn, or call (530) 885-8484.