2012 Toyota Matrix Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 22, 2012

The 2012 Toyota Matrix combines the frugality of the best-selling Corolla with a little more sportiness and versatility--but it still comes up a bit short in features.

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.

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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.
8

2012 Toyota Matrix

Styling

The 2012 Toyota Matrix has a sporty exterior, but its interior is basic small-car material.

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—in short, with hints of utility-vehicle cues, plus an almost coupe-like roofline. 

Inside, the instrument panel is a little swoopier and sportier in appearance, with large rotary controls for climate control. The middle portion of the dash is canted slightly toward the driver, qualifying it as a little sportier than the related Corolla, but otherwise trims and details feel quite plain overall. 

7

2012 Toyota Matrix

Performance

The 2012 Toyota Matrix is perky with the manual gearbox and performs reasonably well, but it's no hot hatch.

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.

Handling is a step above that of the Corolla sedan, due to a somewhat firmer suspension calibration, but it's definitely no hot hatch. the steering also tends to be somewhat dull and light—and that's a key attribute that just doesn't make the Matrix much fun to drive.

8

2012 Toyota Matrix

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Toyota Matrix has a useful, versatile layout, but it's no standout with respect to refinement or interior materials.

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. As is the case for most of Toyota's small-car lineup, the seats are quite short and flat. But there's enough adjustability between the seats and the tilt/telescopic steering wheel for most to get comfortable up front.

The rear bench is acceptable for adults around town, if not on a long road trip, but you'll only be able to fit two across. And overall, the tall-hatchback layout affords good interior space, with rear seatbacks 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.

Ride quality is pretty good—quite compliant for a hatchback with a sporty profile—but road noise can be an issue and a coarse engine note when pressed makes the Matrix no standout for refinement. Hard, dull interior plastics and unremarkable materials inside don't exactly boost that impression, although there's a lot to love in the simple, chunky control layout.

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2012 Toyota Matrix

Safety

The 2012 Toyota Matrix has only a few safety ratings, but they're all good; outward visibility might be an issue, though.

The 2012 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). The Matrix hasn't been rated by the federal government, in its heavily revised NCAP testing program.

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.

Some of us don't have much rearward visibility in the Matrix (it depends on your seating position), as the rather narrow window openings in back allow a pretty narrow aperture. Consider that on your test drive.

6

2012 Toyota Matrix

Features

The 2012 Toyota Matrix is equipped reasonably well, but it's a big disappointment that Bluetooth isn't more widely available.

The Matrix is priced above the Corolla, but it isn't trying to be completely basic transportation in the same way.

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.

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. A 115-volt power outlet is also included.

7

2012 Toyota Matrix

Fuel Economy

Toyota has the utmost green-car credibility with its Prius, but somehow very little of that class-leading know-how carries over to the Matrix.

Whether it's aerodynamics, weight, or gear ratios, the 2012 Matrix doesn't get gas mileage ratings that are all that impressive.

Fuel economy ranges from 26 mpg city, 32 highway for the base model with the manual down to 21/28 for the 2.4-liter version. A five-speed automatic is now available in the S model and boosts its rating to 21/29. And since the all-wheel-drive model makes do with a four-speed automatic, it achieves just 20 mpg city, 26 highway.

Even considering the Matrix's most economical trims, its mileage is far below the 40 mpg that's quickly becoming the gold standard for this size of car. And it's far below Toyota's own hybrids like the Prius—and the soon-to-arrive Prius C.

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October 20, 2016
2012 Toyota Matrix 5-Door Wagon Automatic S FWD (Natl)

Sold as a touring model but do not believe it for a second it is not capable

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I purchased my matrix to be an adventure touring car to haul two people bikes kyaks' roof box for skis and travel extended distances . It is a Canadian package sold as a touring model . It has the factory roof... + More »
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April 6, 2016
2012 Toyota Matrix 5-Door Wagon Automatic L FWD (SE)

Gooc car ,but the 1.8 L realy doesn't anny power for the hyway, just 5o comute from point a to point b around town, it's ok

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IT'S A REALY GOOD CAR, BUT I JUST CAN'T LIVE WHIT THE 1.8L. IT SRARES MY ON THE HYWAY WHEN YOU NEED TO PAST AN OTHER VEHICULE YOU ALMOST NEED AN APPOINTMENT AND I FIND IT DANGERUS.AND THAT WHIL MAKE ME GET... + More »
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