Beyond the AC power outlet, the only gadget in our car was the stereo, and it was the base model for the Matrix. This stereo offers a single disc slot that can play MP3 and WMA CDs. XM satellite radio is an option, and there is an auxiliary audio input at the bottom of the center stack. Although the radio display shows track information from MP3 and WMA CDs, navigating through music is rudimentary. The system just lets you skip up or down through folders or tracks.
The audio system uses six speakers in the standard configuration. The audio quality is mediocre, not offering much separation or clarity. We noticed a muted sound while listening to MP3s. There was decent bass at low volumes, but it quickly overwhelmed the speakers and produced a hum when we turned the volume up.
Although our test car wasn't equipped with anything good, options redeem the Matrix. Toyota offers eight options packages that include tech gadgets such as an upgraded audio system, Bluetooth, and navigation. The available audio system uses a six-disc in-dash changer and nine speakers. This audio system also includes Bluetooth. There is also an available DVD-based touch-screen navigation system. However, the navigation option can't be combined with the upgraded audio system. We've seen this navigation system on other Toyotas and--while it isn't on the cutting edge--it works well enough.
Under the hood
Most cars from Japanese automakers don't offer different power train options, besides the usual manual or automatic transmission, but the 2009 Toyota Matrix comes with two engine choices and three transmission choices. However, you can't mix and match freely, the base model comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, while the S and XRS come with a 2.4-liter four cylinder. With the 1.8-liter engine, you can have a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. These transmission choices are the same for the S trim, but if you get all-wheel drive, you have to get the four-speed automatic. At the XRS level, you get either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. We reviewed the Matrix S with all-wheel drive.
Around the city, the 2.4-liter feels peppy, although the four-speed transmission is a bit sluggish. At higher speeds the lack of additional gears shows, as the engine winds up higher and noise increases. We could maintain freeway speeds, even up hills, but passing involves a lot of pedal mashing, with maybe dropping the shifter down to the three position, preventing the car from going into fourth gear.
The ride is on the rough side, fairly typical for cars in this class. We threw it around some mountain roads to check the handling and try out the all-wheel drive. It's a bit too top-heavy and has too much body roll, to be a potential rally contender. We also got an interesting warning beep from the car when we went into one corner a little too fast and had to get on the brakes in the corner. We assumed the car's stability control was telling us to watch out. To further test the Matrix's all-wheel drive, we took it down a gravel road. When we pushed it on the corners, we felt the front wheels lose grip for a moment, but the rears dug in a microsecond later, keeping the car under our control.
For fuel economy, the EPA rates the 2009 Toyota Matrix S with all-wheel drive at 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. These aren't really spectacular numbers, and mostly reflect the limited gears on the transmission and the extra power cost of all-wheel drive. On the plus side, the car qualifies as a ULEV II for its emissions.
The 2009 Toyota Matrix S with all-wheel drive goes for a base price of $21,560. We added cruise control for $250, 17-inch wheels for $880, and the optional stability and traction control for $250. With a $660 destination charge, the total for our test car came out to $23,600. To get an upgraded audio system and Bluetooth, we would have had to opt for a $2,809 package. To get navigation, we would need to pony up $3,369 for a different option package. As for the other trim levels, the bottom-level Matrix goes for $16,850, while the top-of-the-line XRS goes for $22,710.
We appreciated that the all-wheel-drive system kept us on the road, and that the engine offered decent pep in the city, but those factors only keep its performance score from dropping out completely. We faulted it for its transmission, which seems primitive by today's standards, and its fuel economy, which isn't all it could be. Although our test car didn't have much cabin tech, we give the Matrix points for making a better sound system, Bluetooth, and navigation available. However, it loses points when we consider all the toys aren't available in one package.