- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

People who are buying small cars for the affordability and value factors often are thinking with their pocketbooks, yet safety gnaws away in the cranial crevices with pesky, but important, questions, “What happens if I’m in an accident? Am I going to be safe in this car?”

Toyota is going to calm some fears with the announcement that all 2010 Toyota Matrix (and Corolla) models will come standard equipped with vehicle stability control and traction control. The 2010 Matrix models are on sale now.

Vehicle stability control (VSC) is a proven safety feature that reduces the risk of fatality in a serious accident. In fact, stability control is such a critical safety improvement to automotive engineering that the government is making it mandatory that automakers equip all new vehicles with the system by model year 2012.

When equipped with VSC, the 2009 Toyota Matrix received the highest safety rating achievable - five stars - in both frontal and side impact crash tests, and four stars in rollover testing conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Here are the other safety factors to look at when thinking about buying a 2009 or 2010 Matrix: Anti-lock brakes are standard, and so too are seat-mounted side-impact airbags, front and rear head-protecting side curtain airbags, as well as dual front airbags.

The front seats are equipped with active head restraints, which are devised to protect against whiplash if the vehicle is struck from behind. In addition, Toyota has engineered the high-strength steel body of the new Matrix to absorb and disperse crash forces away from the cabin.

Other than the standard VSC and traction-control features, the 2010 model is a carryover from the 2009 Matrix, which is a significantly redesigned model. The 2010 Matrix will have an overall price increase of 1.1 percent.

Matrix is offered in three grades: the standard base model, the S and the XRS. Starting prices for the 2010 Toyota Matrix base model are $16,550, plus a $720 destination charge.

My tester was the 2009 Matrix XRS rolling on 18-inch tires. It is the only one of the tree trims that comes standard for 2009 with VSC. Its base price is $20,660, plus $660 for destination handling charges.

The test vehicle featured the five-speed manual transmission, which improved the driving enjoyment from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. The engine delivers a horsepower rating of 158. Its torque output is 162 lb.-ft.

EPA-rated fuel economy is 21 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway.

Toyota equipped the XRS tester with an optional $1,010 premium sound system - with Bluetooth, XM satellite radio, steering wheel sound controls, AM/FM/CD/MP3 - plus a $150 weather package of heated outside mirrors and rear seat heater ducts.

The base engine offered on the entry-model Matrix is the 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 132 horsepower and 128 lb.-ft. of torque. Its five-speed manual EPA is 26/32 mpg and is shod with 16-inch tires. A four-speed automatic transmission is available, and an all-wheel-drive configuration is also offered as an option.

In redesigning the Matrix, Toyota achieved a coupe-inspired look for its five-door compact. It’s sporty-looking on the outside with sweeping, aerodynamic lines, while remaining functional with ease of storage through the liftgate. Whether getting the 2009 or 2010 model, the Matrix XRS is a tidy package with its hefty size of safety features, coupe looks and wagon functionality.

SPECIFICATIONS

2009 TOYOTA MATRIX XRS

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD compact wagon

BASE PRICE___________________ $20,660 (as tested: $22,480)

ENGINE TYPE__________________ 16-valve 4-cylinder w/EFI

DISPLACEMENT_________________ 2.4-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 158 at 6000 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 162 at 4000 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ 5-speed manual

WHEELBASE____________________ 102 in.

TRACK (front/rear)___________ 60/60 in.

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 173 in.

OVERALL WIDTH________________ 70 in.

HEIGHT_______________________ 61 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 38 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,140 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 13 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway


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