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.
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.
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.