- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

The Toyota Matrix is a contemporary vehicle with contemporary styling. Though it may be deemed small, it makes excellent use of the space it provides. It is a crossover vehicle that brings economy and comfort to the road in a versatile and compact package.

One engine evokes a sporty, performance-orientated feeling, the other leans more toward the economical. The uplevel engine, borrowed from the Celica, produces 180 horsepower, supporting sporty driving in the XRS model. This crossover vehicle is much more carlike than most sport utility vehicles. While it is available with all-wheel drive, the Matrix is not a vehicle intended for aggressive off-road adventures.

The base engine is adequate, but it isn’t going to break any speed records. With 130 horsepower, this engine is available in both the Matrix and XR models. Both are available in either front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive layout.

The four-wheel-drive system that Toyota uses on the Matrix consists of a viscous coupling that sends power front to rear depending on demands. If the front wheels begin to lose traction, the coupling tightens, sending power to the rear wheels. It is too bad Toyota has elected not to give the four-wheel-drive system to the more powerful XRS. With its bigger engine and sporty suspension, it could benefit from this type of four-wheel drive. But then, that means the price grows even higher, and that is something this economical vehicle cannot afford.

Three models are available, offering a range of value-laden features. The standard Matrix and the Matrix XR provide standard equipment such as air conditioning with air filter, AM/FM/CD sound system, tilt steering wheel and even an outside temperature gauge, a feature normally found on more expensive luxury vehicles.

The Matrix XRS highlights its more sporty attitude by adding upgrades unexpected by those who want more in a reasonably priced vehicle. Adding anti-lock brakes, 17-inch aluminum wheels and a six-speaker sound system along with the more powerful engine makes the XRS a pleasurable choice.

While dual front multistage air bags are standard on all models, side-impact air bags are an option. It is time that all vehicles provide the side air bags as standard equipment on all models. Similar to ABS brakes, those vehicles that need them the most are the vehicles that have them offered as an option, not standard equipment. In many cases the value-minded shopper stops short of ticking safety items on the option list.

Versatility is evident by the large cargo space available in such a small vehicle. With the seats in their upright position there is 21.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind them. Fold both sections of the 60/40 split seat down and the cargo room jumps to 53.2 cubic feet. Adding more versatility is the front passenger seat back, which folds down flat to carry longer items or it can be used as a table for the rear passengers.

What impresses most on the Matrix is the solidness it displays. In typical Toyota fashion, the body structure is solid and of high quality.

The fit and finish of all body panels is excellent, particularly around the doors and rear hatch.

Add to that the contemporary styling and Toyota reliability and you have a good crossover vehicle.

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