2008 Toyota Matrix Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 7, 2008

The 2008 Toyota Matrix still has one of the best combinations of utility and fuel efficiency, though it lags in safety features.

To bring you this comprehensive review on the 2008 Toyota Matrix, the experts at TheCarConnection.com have studied the viewpoints in a wide range of reviews. Then to make the information especially useful for shoppers, TheCarConnection.com’s editors have included their own impressions from time spent driving the Matrix.

The 2008 Toyota Matrix is a tall-wagon (or so-called crossover) model that’s closely related to the Pontiac Vibe and based on the Toyota Corolla sedan. With a completely redesigned Matrix expected for the 2009 model year, the 2008 Matrix carries over with no significant changes.

The Matrix is offered in base and sportier XR models for 2008. Both are powered by a 126-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, with the choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic. Both 2008 Toyota Matrix models now have front-wheel drive, with the all-wheel-drive model that was previously offered now discontinued.

With either transmission, the engine has just enough power to keep up with traffic and feel somewhat perky. But with a full load or in hilly terrain, it comes across as somewhat underpowered and is accompanied by more engine noise. Fuel economy is a plus, though; with the manual, the 2008 Toyota Matrix is rated at 26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway.

Review continues below

The 2008 Toyota Matrix has a simple but proven small-car layout, with struts in front and a torsion-beam axle in back; front disc and rear drum brakes provide stopping power. The ride is firm but reasonably comfortable, and handling is more direct and responsive than small SUVs; it drives just like a small sedan.

Inside, the 2008 Toyota Matrix is more spacious than its small-car footprint might suggest. In front, the low but upright seating position affords a decent view out and around the vehicle, making the perspective for parking quite easy. In back, the seats can accommodate adults with enough headroom, though legroom can be tight. The seats fold forward to a large, flat cargo floor that cleans up easily and has integrated tie-downs. The window opens separately from the hatch, which some may find handy.

The base-model 2008 Toyota Matrix comes with the basics but not much more; standard equipment includes air conditioning and a four-speaker CD audio system but has manual winding windows. The uplevel XR brings a lot of popular equipment, such as a height-adjustable driver’s seat, power windows, keyless entry, and a 115-volt AC power outlet. Major options, many of which are grouped into packages, include alloy wheels, upgraded JBL audio, cruise control, and a moonroof. Modern entertainment options such as satellite radio or an iPod interface aren’t available as factory options; neither is a navigation system or Bluetooth.

The 2008 Toyota Matrix is in the middle of the pack for crash safety and lags at the back in terms of standard safety equipment. In federal crash tests, the Toyota Matrix is given good four- and five-star ratings for frontal impact, but only three- and four-star ratings for side impact. With the optional side airbags, the Matrix’s side performance improves to a mix of four and five stars. Front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and anti-lock brakes are all optional on the Matrix, and electronic stability control is optional but only with automatic transmission.

6

2008 Toyota Matrix

Styling

Funkier and more utilitarian than fresh, the 2008 Toyota Matrix soldiers through its last year in current guise.

The 2008 Toyota Matrix is a tall-wagon (or so-called crossover) model that’s closely related to the Pontiac Vibe and based on the Toyota Corolla sedan. With a completely redesigned Matrix expected for the 2009 model year, the 2008 Matrix carries over with no significant changes.

The 2008 Toyota Matrix is a cleanly styled and interesting design, if perhaps a bit too familiar at this point in its life cycle. A mechanical twin of the co-developed Pontiac Vibe, Toyota stylists went for a smoother, tidier look compared to the Pontiac’s body cladding and roof rack. “The Matrix is a bit more futuristic in appearance than the Vibe,” feels Kelley Blue Book, while Car and Driver likes its “clean tin top that accentuates the rearward slope in the roof.” However, Motor Trend comments that the Matrix’s “styling is a bit long in the tooth.” A newly styled version is available for the 2009 model year.

Inside, you’ll be greeted with “a detailed interior that blends black cloth, chrome trim rings and brushed aluminum into pure automotive art,” says Kelley Blue Book. They indicate that the Matrix holds strong appeal with “teenagers bent on customizing every inch of their cars,” but perhaps they are thinking of sister brand Scion.

6

2008 Toyota Matrix

Performance

If you want a hot hatch, you should probably overlook the 2008 Toyota Matrix.

With performance that’s adequate, acceptable, and economical, the 2008 Toyota Matrix is more liable to impress misers than it will the hip youth market.

The sole engine motivating the Matrix is a 1.8-liter, 126-horsepower four-cylinder. Maximum torque of 122 pound-feet doesn’t arrive until 4,200 rpm, leading to strained performance with the optional four-speed automatic, acceptable and peppy performance around town with the five-speed when not carrying a heavy load. ConsumerGuide warns that this engine “needs high rpm for best performance,” and that “passing power is tepid.” Edmunds claims “it takes about 9 seconds to hit 60 mph” with the five-speed manual. Both 2008 Toyota Matrix models now have front-wheel drive, with the all-wheel-drive model that was previously offered now discontinued.

The silver lining of the engine’s modest performance is economy, and here the Matrix impresses, delivering EPA estimates of 26/33 mpg with the manual and 25/31 mpg with the optional automatic. Edmunds calls these figures “above average.” “Matrix and Vibe use regular-grade fuel,” notes ConsumerGuide.

The 2008 Toyota Matrix has a simple but proven small-car layout, with struts in front and a torsion-beam axle in back; front disc and rear drum brakes provide stopping power. The ride is firm but reasonably comfortable, and handling is more direct and responsive than small SUVs; it drives just like a small sedan. Conservative ConsumerGuide finds “responsive steering and assured cornering behavior with only moderate body lean,” while Edmunds warns that “most drivers won't find the Matrix to be an especially fun-filled ride.” They mention “those who commute or take longer road trips should find the Matrix's smooth and comfortable ride to their liking.” “It steers with more precision and less wheel vibration than the Corolla,” says Cars.com, “but still falls short of stimulating.”

7

2008 Toyota Matrix

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Toyota Matrix is mediocre as a go-getter, outstanding as a grocery-getter.

Even if it doesn’t overwhelm with performance, the 2008 Toyota Matrix shines when it comes to value, usability, and utility.

Up front, “the driving position is more upright than in a typical compact car,” says ConsumerGuide. They point out “fine headroom, even beneath the sunroof housing.” Kelley Blue Book considers the “seating to be firm and comfortable, with a height-adjustable driver's seat on the XR trim.”

The rear of the Matrix yields exemplary comfort for its class, with “enough headroom and legroom for two large adults,” says ConsumerGuide, also noting the “tall body minimizes stooping on entry/exit.” “The roomy rear seat sits up high, affording passengers more legroom as well as a good view forward,” points out the reviewers at Kelley Blue Book.

The Matrix interior is full of convenient, useful touches, such as a front passenger seat and rear seats that fold flat, plus a tough plastic load floor. That feature, plus “bountiful small-item storage,” gives the Matrix “fine overall space for the exterior size,” according to ConsumerGuide. It all adds up to “a rather roomy 53 cubic feet of cargo area,” by Kelley Blue Book's ruler, with the seats folded, leading Edmunds to declare it “one of the most versatile compact wagons available for transporting both people and cargo.” Ergonomics are generally judged to be good; Consumer Reports deems “Control layout is simple and logical” and praises an interior that is “tightly assembled with sturdy materials nicely in line with prices.”

Cost-cutting is evident, though, and some interior details trouble reviewers. “The engine is noisy at high rpm” and “none too relaxed in typical highway cruising,” complains ConsumerGuide, who also bring to attention “noticeable wind rush and coarse-surface tire thrum.” A few dislike the dashboard instruments set in deep tunnels surrounded by distractingly bright chrome rings, and Kelley Blue Book points out that “the sweeping rear beltline…can hinder a driver's ability to see small objects that may be close to the rear wheels.”

6

2008 Toyota Matrix

Safety

The 2008 Toyota Matrix offers only mediocre occupant protection in standard form.

Crucial safety features remain optional on the 2008 Toyota Matrix, which records marginal crash-test results without them.

Anti-lock brakes, an extremely valuable active safety feature (helping you to actively avoid an accident), are optional items on the Matrix. Also optional is a crucial passive safety feature: side curtain airbags. With the latter, the Matrix does well in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s crash-testing regimen, earning five of five stars for driver front and side impact, and four stars for front impact passenger and side impact rear passenger, respectively.

Without side curtain airbags, the Matrix’s front side impact protection falls to a marginal three stars on the NHTSA’s scale. And without anti-lock brakes on its decidedly old-school front disc/rear drum setup, the Matrix could quickly lose steering control in aggressive braking on slick surfaces. Additionally, stability and traction control are optional and only available with the automatic transmission.

6

2008 Toyota Matrix

Features

The 2008 Toyota Matrix lacks the kind of cutting-edge features that appeal to its likely buyers.

The 2008 Toyota Matrix impresses with convenience and utility, but it’s lower on the ladder of fun features and gadgets.

The Matrix comes in two trims levels: base and XR. To the base models’ slim list of equipment (16-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, and a CD player), the XR adds such items as keyless entry, a 115-volt power outlet, and body-color door handles. Optional on both models are cruise control, an alarm system, rear-seat heater ducts, and alloy wheels (either 16 or 17 inches for the XR). The XR can also be upgraded to include a moonroof and a JBL audio system with an in-dash CD changer.

“Those who carry cargo will find that the Matrix functions much like a small SUV,” asserts Edmunds. They and others appreciate the wide-opening hatch with separately opening glass, easy-to-clean plastic flooring in the cargo area, eight adjustable tie-down hooks, and 60/40 split-folding seats that expand the cargo area to a capacious 53 cubic feet.

Among its favorite features on the Matrix, Kelley Blue Book feels “the 115-volt outlet on the XR's dash should be standard in every car,” and advises “if you like your music loud and your bass thumping,” the optional JBL Audio w/Kicker Sub Woofer “is sure to please.” They point out that “a number of aftermarket parts, both from Toyota and external suppliers, make it easy to customize the Matrix without having to spend a small fortune.”

Modern entertainment options such as satellite radio or an iPod interface aren’t available as factory options; neither is a navigation system or Bluetooth.

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6.2
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Expert Rating
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Styling 6.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 6.0
Features 6.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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