2013 Toyota Matrix Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
October 3, 2012

With the frugality of a Corolla and hatchback versatility, the 2013 Toyota Matrix delivers on practicality but falls short if you expect a hot hatch.

Compared to sedans, hatchbacks tend not only to be a bit more versatile, but also sportier, and that's exactly the tack that the 2013 Toyota Matrix takes. Appealing to a somewhat younger, more active crowd, the Matrix delivers with more functionality than a small sedan, but from behind the wheel it's not quite as sporty as the design hints.

The Toyota Matrix stands out for its sporty silhouette, rakish roofline, and a handsome, somewhat aggressive stance. The roof is almost coupe-like, and there are just a few hints of utility vehicles—around the rear fascia—but otherwise it's a good-looking hatchback. Inside, it's a little less contemporary, although the chunky instrument-panel layout has a certain keep-it-simple charm.

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. 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. The five-speed manual is enjoyable with with either engine, but the available automatic has only four speeds with the smaller engine (or with S AWD models), making it sluggish at times. Gas mileage is disappointing, given Toyota's experience with high-mileage hybrids; the Matrix gets just 32 mpg highway, at best.

The 2013 Toyota Matrix gets a lot of kudos for day-to-day practicality, but it falls a bit short in comfort and refinement. It's configured like a classic small hatchback, with the rear seatbacks folding fully flat. However the front seats are a little too short and flat for all-day comfort for taller or larger drivers, and while ride comfort is decent, too much road noise enters the cabin.

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The Matrix gets top 'good' ratings from the IIHS in frontal and side impact, as well as rear impact. Safety features are respectable but not standout in any way; front side and side-curtain airbags are included, as are anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, on all 2013 Matrix models.

Pricing for the Matrix is a bit higher than the Corolla, but standard equipment is higher too, with this stylish hatchback aiming to offer just a little bit more than basic transportation. And as such, its standard feature set is good, although there simply aren't many option possibilities.

For 2013, Toyota has introduced new audio systems, including a six-speaker system with satellite radio, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming included on the base model. Upscale S models include a system with a 6.1-inch touch screen, and on the S model, a Sport Package is available, and it adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and body skirting.

8

2013 Toyota Matrix

Styling

The Matrix still looks quite sporty on the outside, but inside it's standard small-car material, circa 2005.

The Toyota Matrix stands out for its sporty silhouette, rakish roofline, and a handsome, somewhat aggressive stance, but it's not nearly as attractive or appealing inside.

While the Matrix has been pitched as more of a crossover in its first generation, the current second-generation version has been given a lower, sportier look, with less differentiation from the Corolla on which it's based. It's not much different than the Corolla from the front, yet the Matrix's rather high-shouldered sides and prominent, thick rear pillar give it a very different look from all other angles. The roof is almost coupe-like, and there are just a few hints of utility vehicles—around the rear fascia—but otherwise it's a good-looking hatchback. 

It could be argued that the instrument panel is a little swoopier and sportier in appearance, compared to some other small cars, but it also looks somewhat drab, plain, and outdated—for those who are sick of plasticky, matte-metallic surfaces, that is (the Matrix has lots of that). Still, with its large rotary controls for climate control and middle portion of the dash canted slightly toward the driver, it has a simple, somewhat sporty appeal that's a little more adventurous than the related Corolla.

7

2013 Toyota Matrix

Performance

There's nothing hot-hatch about the 2013 Toyota Matric—although it is perky with the manual gearbox.

The 2013 Toyota Matrix is offered in base and S models; and while the stronger of the two packs a rather large 2.4-liter four and sportier suspension, there's nothing all that scorching about the driving experience in either case.

Base models come with a 132-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which we tend to recommend over the S models, which get that larger 158-hp engine. The 2.4-liter is quite a bit thirstier—especially in all-wheel-drive (S AWD) form—and when you either get all-wheel drive or the base 1.8-liter you're saddled with an old-tech four-speed automatic (S models do get a better five-speed automatic). A five-speed manual is standard with either engine, and it's a light, willing combination.

By the looks of the Matrix, you might expect it to handle a bit better than the Corolla sedan. It does, due to a suspension that's tuned just a half-step firmer than that of the Corolla sedan, but it's definitely no hot hatch. With steering that feels light and dull, there's just not all that much fun to be extracted here.

All-wheel-drive models get a rear double-wishbone suspension arrangement in place of the other cars' torsion-beam setup, but that doesn't have the more enthusiastic feel it might suggest, either.

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2013 Toyota Matrix

Comfort & Quality

Interior refinement and cabin trims leave a lot to be desired, but the 2013 Matrix has it covered for functionality, with a useful, versatile layout.

The 2013 Toyota Matrix gets a lot of kudos for day-to-day practicality, but it falls a bit short in comfort and refinement. It's configured like a classic small hatchback, with the rear seatbacks folding fully flat.

As for the seats themselves, they're a little less supportive than most would probably prefer. And with short, flat cushions, they simply lack the support that taller or larger owners will expect for a long day of driving. But there's enough adjustability between the seats and the tilt/telescopic steering wheel for most to get comfortable for the commute, or shorter trips.

In back, there are officially three places but you'll find just enough space for a couple of average-sized adults—again, if the need is just getting across town. Cargo space is great, with those rear seatbacks easily flipping forward, freeing up seating space for an especially large load of groceries, or a small piece of furniture.

Compared to other small, somewhat sporty hatchbacks, the Matrix rides well, although road noise can be an issue and the coarse engine note carries into the cabin under acceleration or even higher-speed cruising, erasing any impressions of refinement.

Interior materials are simple and chunky, and our guess is that you're either going to love them or hate them; with hard, matte-metallic plastic across much of the dash and drab plastics otherwise, it's far from upscale or luxurious. On the flip side, we think that the chunky, driver-centric control layout has a keep-it-simple charm of its own.

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2013 Toyota Matrix

Safety

Outward visibility could be an issue; otherwise the 2013 Matrix looks like a safe pick among small cars.

The 2013 Toyota Matrix is, among small cars, a relatively safe pick, with good crash-test results and a safety-feature list that's on par with other models in this class. 

The Matrix gets top 'good' ratings from the IIHS in frontal and side impact, as well as rear impact. The related Corolla has been a Top Safety Pick, although the Matrix hasn't been rated for roof strength. It also hasn't been rated by the federal government.

Features are respectable but not standout in any way; front side and side-curtain airbags are included, as are anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, on all 2013 Matrix models.

One thing you'll want to consider on the test drive is that depending on your height, rearward visibility could prove challenging, due to the rather narrow window openings.

6

2013 Toyota Matrix

Features

Toyota adds Bluetooth connectivity to the Matrix for 2013; otherwise its standard-feature set is good but there aren't a lot of options.

The 2013 Toyota Matrix is priced—and equipped—a bit higher than the Corolla, but standard equipment is higher too, with this stylish hatchback aiming to offer just a little bit more than basic transportation. And as such, its standard feature set is good, but what's missing is much excitement on the options list.

Power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, and cruise control are all standard on the base Matrix, while the S model adds fog lamps, keyless entry, and an upgraded sound system. On the Matrix S model, a Sport Package is available, and it adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and body skirting.

For 2013, Toyota has introduced new audio systems, including a six-speaker system with satellite radio, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming included on the base model. Upscale S models include a system with a 6.1-inch touch screen. 

There are very few options available on the Matrix, other than remote engine start, a sport package, and a few appearance extras.

7

2013 Toyota Matrix

Fuel Economy

Considering Toyota's green-car chops with the Prius, it hasn't gone out of its way at all to optimize mileage with the Matrix; in fact, you could do a lot better.

The 2013 Toyota Matrix simply doesn't measure up with other small cars in its class with respect to gas mileage. And whether it's a matter of aerodynamics, weight, or gear ratios, it's a little surprising that it comes up so lacking, considering Toyota's strength with fuel economy in its hybrids.

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.

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July 4, 2015
For 2013 Toyota Matrix

I would buy a new one if they still made it.

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I love my Matrix. Its cool, its blue, it can seat 5 adults, carry lumber or a surfboard. Seats fold down, and I have actually been able to sleep in it. I wish they still made em, because I would be ready for a... + More »
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June 25, 2015
For 2013 Toyota Matrix

Economical sporty car aat good price

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Our Matrix is a neat little car with good handling.
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Styling 8.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 8.0
Features 6.0
Fuel Economy 7.0
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