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2003 Toyota Matrix REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/6/2017

Con: Modest torque output from engines, numb steering.

Pro: Versatile cargo area, good gas mileage, available all-wheel drive, plumped-out features list.

Edmunds Say: Sporty, versatile and affordable. The Matrix is a strong competitor in just its first year out.

What’s New: The Matrix is an all-new model from Toyota. It offers sporty looks, enhanced cargo-carrying abilities and useful features not commonly found in small cars.

Review: All right, what is it? A wagon? An SUV? A five-door hatchback? A jellybean with attitude? Toyota claims its new Matrix is a crossover utility vehicle, or CUV. How about we just call it a "cargo-friendly small car" and leave it at that?

The Matrix is based on the new 2003 Corolla platform, as is its sister car, the Pontiac Vibe. The goal of both cars is similar to the one set by Chrysler's PT Cruiser: offer the interior functionality and flexibility usually associated with larger vehicles but in a compact package. To that end, the Matrix features room for five passengers, a wealth of storage space, zippy powertrains and an affordable price.

In terms of cargo space, the Matrix is very similar to a compact SUV. The tailgate opens upwards, and the rear glass can be raised independently. Doing so reveals a rear cargo area that can hold 21.8 cubic feet of cargo. A special cargo-floor track features eight adjustable tie-down hooks. Underneath the floor is a hidden storage compartment. The 60/40-split rear seats can be folded flat, thereby expanding cargo room to 53.2 cubic feet. The front passenger seat also folds forward, allowing items more than 8 feet long to be carried with the tailgate closed.

Three trim levels are available: standard, XR and XRS. Each comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Buyers of the standard and XR are offered a choice of either front-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive. With front-wheel drive, the engine makes 130 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. It also gets good gas mileage and is clean enough to warrant an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) rating. The four-wheel-drive model has a Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) rating and makes slightly less power (123 hp). A four-speed automatic is the only transmission available with 4WD, while front-drive cars can also be ordered with a five-speed manual.

The front-drive XRS is the sportiest trim. It comes standard with a 180-hp engine, four-wheel disc brakes and a six-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is also available. Toyota isn't skimpy with the wheel packages: All Matrix models come standard with 16-inch wheels and 205/55R16 tires. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels are an option, as are 17s with 215/50R17 tires (XR and XRS only). Antilock brakes are standard on the XRS and four-wheel drive models.

Most major amenities are either standard or optional, depending on trim. Highlights include air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, locks and mirrors; a power moonroof; a six-disc CD changer; and side airbags. For the directionally challenged, an optional DVD-based navigation system is available. Perhaps the coolest feature is a 115-volt household auxiliary outlet. Imagine the possibilities! Now you, too, can plug in your dancing and singing Elvis doll and have him with you at all times!

The Matrix (along with the Vibe) is an intriguing choice. Our pick for trim would likely be the XR. It's affordable, sporty and comes with just the right amount of useful features. Should you desire more, nearly everything can be had on the XR. Regardless of trim, the Matrix should be on your list if you're looking for a sporty wagon, err, hatchback. SUV. CUV. Whatever.

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