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Editors' note: Toyota issued a recall for vehicles of this model and year on January 21, 2010 to replace the accelerator pedal mechanism, which has been known to get stuck, causing unintended acceleration. For the latest recall information, please visit the Toyota Web site.
When Toyota launched the Matrix in 2002, the advertising emphasized its technology features, including navigation and an AC outlet, rare features for a car in this price bracket at that time. Since then, other inexpensive cars, such as the Mitsubishi Lancer and Honda Civic Si, offer advanced tech options, but the 2009 Toyota Matrix keeps up with the pack, updating its technology to include Bluetooth cell phone integration.
The funky shape of the Matrix also heralded Toyota's signature funky brand, Scion. The Matrix retains the odd body style, along with all the practical interior space that body design affords. Our test car was the middle S trim model with all-wheel drive. The car is also available in a base model and XRS top trim model. The S trim is the only version that Toyota lets you combine with an all-wheel-drive system, which also forces the choice of the larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic.
Test the tech: Matrix recharge
Our test car was sadly lacking in tech options, only having the base stereo, with no navigation or Bluetooth. So we put its 110 volt AC outlet to the test. We got an HP Pavilion DV1000 laptop and a Cowon A3 media player, and drained the batteries down to nothing. Then we took them down to the car and, using a power strip, plugged them both into the Matrix's AC power outlet.
We recharge a couple of devices with the car's AC power outlet.
You have to push a button to turn on the juice, as the AC outlet isn't on by default, and the car has to be running. We left the car idling and the AC outlet live for 30 minutes while we went to lunch. When we got back, we looked at the power meters on the HP Pavilion and the Cowon A3. The laptop showed a 60 percent charge on the battery, while the media player was all the way up at 75 percent. We were impressed, as these charge levels were equivalent to what the devices would have shown if they were plugged into a wall outlet.
In the cabin
The interior of the 2009 Toyota Matrix feels well built, and the materials are on a par with cars in the $20,000 range. There wasn't much to signify that the Matrix is a tech car. The instrument cluster has a small, paper white LCD that shows odometer information and the current drive mode from the automatic transmission. We were hoping for more advanced trip computer information, such as range to empty and current fuel economy.
The base stereo shows track information from MP3s on its radio display.
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.
The optional navigation system, while not particularly advanced, works well.
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 all-wheel drive on the Matrix helps us handle this gravel road.
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.