2013 Toyota Matrix road test
Choice of engines — and fuel consumption
Many drivers will also want more power than the base 1.8L four cylinder engine provides, which is shared with the Corolla and creates 132 hp, though they may well be appeased by its combined fuel efficiency of 7.0L/100 km for the manual and 7.4L for the automatic. There's a 2.4L four-cylinder available that makes 158 hp and comes with either a five-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. It's intended to be a sportier option and its combined fuel economy is 8.4L/100 km, though your consumption will be a fair bit worse if you drive in a "sportier" style.
I drove a test car with the base 1.8L engine and got used to working my way up to speed on the highway. The Matrix cruised comfortably at 100-120 km/h, though it wasn't too keen on overtaking even within those speeds. Most Toyota drivers these days, however, will gladly trade power for cheaper fuel costs and will learn to live with the gutless powerplant.
The Matrix is a fairly tall car, which offers higher seats for looking through traffic and greater headroom and luggage space. It blows around a bit on a gusty day, but any vehicle with a large side surface area will do that. It's not nearly so noticeable as on a Nissan Cube, the squared-off youth-oriented version of a practical hatchback, nor as bad as with many large SUVs. The considerably more expensive, and much larger, Mercedes SUVs even include an electronic "side wind assist" feature to manage this, but it's not that big a deal on the Matrix. Just hold the wheel tighter on a windy day.
My tester had the four-speed automatic. It's getting to be unusual for a car to offer only four speeds instead of the more common five or even six (and expensive premium makers use as many as eight). It means there's less hunting between the gears to find the right ratio to deal with conditions; instead, you just live with the lack of available torque and settle in behind the car in front, or accept the slower haul uphill.
Instrument cluster can be deceptive
Inside, there's little fancy about the fit and finish of the plastic dash or the fabric seats — certainly nothing memorable — but it's all very practical and does the job it's intended for.
The deeply-recessed "Opritron" instrument gauges look impressive but in fact they're a bad idea because they have to be lit to be readable; the red needles of the speedometer and the tach just can't be seen properly against the black backgrounds of the dials. When lit they're OK, but this creates the perception to the average driver after dark that all the lights are on when in fact only the front daytime running lights will be lit unless the full system is switched on. This is why so many cars drive at night with no rear lights or proper headlights, because their drivers are led to believe that all is well by the deceptive, though overly bright, light coming from the dashboard instruments.
With systems like this, Toyota and other makers should at least wire the rear lights to be lit at all times, as well as the front daytime runners. It's just negligent to build a car in any other way.
And while I'm on a rant, what's with the central amber light that tells the driver that the passenger airbag is activated when somebody heavy enough sits in the seat? The light stays on for as long as the airbag is ready to go, which becomes just annoying after dark. The light glows at you, refusing to blink, although it does dim slightly when the instrument lights are activated. If I owned this car, I'd stick some black electrical tape over that light to shut it out.
Fortunately, for the last couple of years Toyota has had a policy (learned perhaps from Honda) of providing all safety features with all versions of the car. It doesn't matter which options you buy: even the wind-up-window Matrix will come with six airbags, stability and traction control. Every version will even have Brake Assist, which increases braking power when it senses a sudden hard push on the pedal, and Smart Stop, which overrides the throttle when both the brake and accelerator pedals are pushed together.