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The 2012 Toyota Matrix is closely related to the Corolla sedan, but the Matrix takes a different tack in terms of style and packaging--appealing to a somewhat younger, more active crowd and those who need more versatility.
Last year the Matrix was up for a mid-cycle refresh, but it amounted to some very minor appearance and trim changes. While Toyota had pitched the Matrix as more of a crossover in its first generation, the current Matrix has a lower sportier stance that's not all that much different from the Corolla from the front. Yet the Matrix's rather high-shouldered sides and prominent, thick rear pillar five it a very different look from all other angles. Inside, the instrument panel is a little swoopier and sportier in appearance, the tall-hatchback layout affords good interior space, and with the Matrix's versatile layout and seats that fold easily (and flat) to expand cargo space, you'll have no problem freeing up seating space for an especially large load of groceries.The Matrix model lineup consists of base and S models, with base models getting a 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and S models stepping up to a 158-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Between the two, we think most shoppers will be happy with the 1.8-liter, as the 2.4-liter is quite a bit thirstier--especially in all-wheel-drive (S AWD) form. A five-speed manual is standard with either engine, but the available automatic has only four speeds with the 1.8-liter (five with the 2.4-liter) which can make the smaller engine seem sluggish in some situations. All-wheel drive is only available on the S model, and even there, only with automatic. Fuel economy ranges from 26 mpg city, 32 highway for the base model with the manual down to 21/29 for the S AWD.
While the Matrix is very versatile, with the back seat folding fully flat, the seats themselves are a little less supportive than most would probably prefer. Ride quality is pretty good, but road noise can be an issue. Some might also find the rather narrow window openings at the back to severely impair visibility.
The Matrix has earned respectable safety ratings, with top 'good' ratings from the IIHS in frontal and side impact (the related Corolla sedan is a Top Safety Pick). Like nearly all other vehicles in this class, front side and side-curtain airbags are included, as are anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.The Matrix is priced above the Corolla, but it isn't trying to be completely basic transportation in the same way, either. The base model comes with power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, and cruise control, while the S model adds fog lamps, keyless entry, and an upgraded sound system. A Sport Package is available on the S, and it includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and body skirting. But many shoppers will be disappointed to find out that a Bluetooth hands-free interface is only offered in the S model; step up to the Premium Package on S models and you get Bluetooth audio streaming, a USB input, and full iPod connectivity with a sound-system upgrade.
- Interior versatility
- Comfortable ride
- Higher-mpg than a utility vehicle
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- Limited cargo space (seats up)
- Rearward visibility
- Road noise
- Bare-bones interior trims