Pros: Quiet interior, smooth engine, reliability, economy, versatile, handy design.
Cons: Could be quicker, but good fuel economy. No iPod jack or MP3 CD compatibility.
Reading through previous reviews, there are a couple of things I'd like to clear up.
Toyota designed this car. Pontiac bought the rights to sell it under their own name, since they cannot design reliable cars on their own.
The Toyota is made in Canada. The Pontiac is made in the US or Mexico.
I'm going going to bore you with the specifications. There are plenty of places to find those without every reviewer re-typing them. I'm also not going to talk about the styling as though it were fact and not opinion.
Instead, I'm going to tell you why I bought it and compare it to other cars I've driven & owned.
Here were our requirements:
- 4 doors
- hopefully hatchback
- Super reliable
- 30 mpg fuel economy
- a 10 year car
My first car was a 1985 Honda CRX HF. (the economy version) It got 34 mpg in all around driving. Great styling, super reliable, and good handling. I bought it used in 1994 with 124,000 miles on it. I drove it until 1998, when I traded it in on my 1998 Honda Civic CX (budget hatchback). The CRX had rusted to the point that when I tried to jack it up to rotate the tires, the jacking point crushed right into the body. Yikes, perhaps this isn't the safest car to get in an accident with? It broke my heart to trade it in, as the engine was still perfect at that mileage.
The 1998 Civic now has 162,000 miles and is starting to rust on the rear fender. All the fasteners under the hood are quite rusty too. It has been virtually trouble free, and gives 36-38 mpg. Awesome.
With this history, I wanted something that wouldn't let me down in the reliability department or fuel economy. I really like having hatchbacks; they are so darned handy. A lot of sedans have a decent amount of room in the trunk, but the shape & size of the trunk opening prevents you from getting unwieldy items in there. There are precious few choices these days that fulfill all of those requirements. The other cars we considered were the Mazda 3 and the Honda Civic LX sedan. The Mazda 3 is sportier, but doesn't get very good fuel economy. Also, Mazdas aren't as reliable, long-term, as Toyotas & Hondas. (per Consumer Reports) The Civic LX, we almost bought. Beautiful little car. Refined, comfortable, sleek. But when equipped like this Matrix XR, it cost about $22,000! Ouch. We got the Matrix XR for about $19,000, and it has all the options.
I've just filled it up for the second time. On the first tank, it got 30 mpg. Last tank, it got 32 mpg. The Toyota mechanic said the economy will keep improving until about 5,000 miles, when the engine is fully broken-in. Sounds good to me! It is quicker than our Civic, and almost as economical, even though it isn't broken in yet. It has more room, more options, and the interior design is more versatile. (compartments everywhere, hard "bed liner", fold-down front seat for use as a table, 115V inverter built into the dash, etc.
We bought the stick-shift version; sticks are much more fun to drive. If you drive a lot in traffic, you'll probably want the auto and give up a bit of fun and a couple mpg in economy. (and pay an extra $800)
After about 3-4 weeks, we love it. The interior is much quieter than my previous cars. Quiet interiors are one of Toyota's strong points.
Another note: If you do any of your own work, Toyotas are better than Hondas. Honda gives NO consideration to mechanics. The new Civics have the engine way back under the dashboard. The oil filter is on the back of the engine, and there is no room for your hands in the engine bay. There is also no spigot to drain the coolant. The Matrix, on the other hand, has the oil filter right on the front of the engine, pointed down, and with NOTHING underneath it. Toyota designed the car to be maintained by anyone. Honda designed their car to be maintained only by pros. (Honda parts are more expensive too) Toyota cut a hole in the air dam beneath the radiator for the coolant to drain out, and installed a spigot so there is no fussing with removing a drain bolt and making a big mess. I am very impressed. I don't consider myself a competent mechanic, but I would like to be able to do routine maintenence by myself without too much cursing. (oil changes, coolant changes, spark plug changes) No need to pay pros to do simple stuff.
I got my first speeding ticket in this car two days ago. It is so much quieter than my Civic, that I didn't think I was going that fast. Officer Friendly did, and the SOB gave me a ticket. (59 in a 45) You don't realize it, but when you're not looking at the speedo, you judge your speed not only by how fast things are going by you, but also by the amount of noise in the cabin. Be careful! The same thing also happened when I got a new motorcycle. (Yamaha FJR1300) Same result.
I keep my cars for at least 10 years. The CRX was 13 years old when I traded it in. The Civic is now 9 years old and just starting to rust. If you buy a reliable Japanese car and take good care of it, 10-15 years isn't out of line, especially if you don't live where they use salt in the winter.
We're going to drive the Civic in the winter as a "Salt Car", to make the Matrix last a bit longer. We paid the extra $1000 for the Toyota corrosion protection, which pretty much guarantees it forever against certain kinds of corrosion. If you only drive your new cars for a few years, then trade them in, don't bother spending this much money on a nice, reliable car. Get a Hyundai, Kia, Chevy, or Dodge and the extended warranty. Trade it in when the warrantee's expired, and before you start to have troubles.
For now, there's only 660 miles on this car. I'm going to check in now and then and update this review with any high or low points, and miscellaneous notes. To me, a review on a NEW car is only half the story. I want to know how good it will be after 10-15 years.
Driving: The car handles very well for such a big car. (relative) The engine may seem a bit weak at first, but please realize that its valve timing & lift change once you hit about 3800 RPM, and you get more power.
Compared to other cars: We also checked out Camrys, Accords, and Corollas, Yaris', Scion xA, Scion xB.
Camry: Quieter, smoother ride, but no more legroom in the back seat than the Matrix. Slightly worse fuel economy. (34 vs. 36) More expensive, and not as versatile for cargo-hauling. It didn't handle as well either due to the softer suspension. This is more of an old-person's car or a very conservative person's family car. To get this car with a stick-shift, you have to special order it. Bogus.
Accord sedan: VERY nice. Smoother ride, same interior noise, slightly more back seat room. Too rich for our blood with any decent options. 35 mpg is AWESOME in a car this big with decent acceleration. This will also be harder to work on than Toyotas due to inconsiderate design under the hood.
Corolla: Nice little car. More economical, fuel-wise, due to the sleeker aerodynamic shape, but the styling is a bit ho-hum and the wife was not impressed by it. Also, it has that conventional trunk with plenty of room, but will not accept larger, squarer things.
Yaris: VERY nice little car, especially for the money. The wife had nothing to complain about, other than it just didn't turn her on. We agreed that if we're going to make that car payment every month, we had better LIKE the car, not just be satisfied with it. I didn't like that there wasn't a lot of footroom for the driver. To use the clutch, I had to stick the balls of my feet down there. (this won't be an issue for automatics) It has a nice ride, a nice price, and will have the Toyota reliability too. Not as roomy or sharp-handling as the Matrix. They make a hatchback, but not with 4 doors. Very good fuel economy. Darn.
Scion xA: Also a nice little car, great fuel economy, standard iPod jack. VERY little trunk room. The wife pointed out that there isn't room for a "proper" stroller back there unless the back seats are folded down. Once we have more than one kid, this one's going to be useless. For a young couple or a single person, this would be a good choice. VERY good price, and with decent standard options. Also has the Toyota mechanic-friendliness. Would have bought this if the wife didn't shoot it down.
Scion xB "X-Box": the wife LOVED this car. I can't get over the brick-like styling. It's trying too hard to be trendy, to my eye. There's nothing wrong with it, and the price is pretty good. The Matrix just added the missing stuff compared to this one.
Mazda 3: Never drove one, but sat in it. (probably a good thing, I hear they're fun) Fuel economy and Mazda reputation for reliability killed it before it began for us.
Honda Civic Si 4 door: Great looking car. We drove it and were unimpressed. It doesn't make its power until 6000 RPM, has no low-RPM torque. That isn't very useful power. Also fuel economy suffers. For 25 mpg, I could be almost be in a Corvette. The high price tag, lower economy, and engine with no low-RPM torque killed this one. The stereo is superb. Standard iPod jack. Handling is also superb. But $23000? It isn't THAT good. For that money, I'd sooner have the Accord. The ride is so firm, it made my wife nautious.
*July 24, 2007 Update:* We now have over 5400 miles on our new Matrix. We like it more every day. Without the A/C on, with the cruise on the highway, it gets 36 mpg. Pretty damned respectable, I'd say. With A/C, it gets about 32 mpg. (remember, ours is the manual trans)
No problems at all have surfaced. This car sticks to the road much better than such a tall car has a right to. The seats are just perfect. They have a thin layer of soft padding, beneath which is firm padding that holds its shape. I've taken one trip in which I drove 10 hours in one day, over 600 miles. My lower back hurt just a bit, from sitting for so long. In my '98 Civic, I don't think I could've made it.
Cruise control is really worth the money, if you do any amount of highway driving. It keeps me out of trouble with the cops, and helps with fuel economy.
Speaking of cops... I got a ticket within a week of buying the car. I was cruising along, talking with my wife, going 60 in a 45. It was one of those "revenue roads" and one of those spring evenings that was just perfect. The damn cops were out in force, but I had my head in my butt. SOB, taxed again. Bottom line is that this car has a quiet interior that doesn't really give you a clue as to how fast you're going. If your older car has a louder interior, you'd better watch your speed pretty closely.
I put in the Cons that it could be quicker. That was a little harsh. It is one of those modern 4 cylinder engines that need to be revved to make the power. This one is perfectly happy revving to 6000 RPM. But your economy will suffer. For good economy, take it easy on the throttle.
UPDATE Dec. 19, 2009 - We now have 35,000 miles on this car. It is as good as new. Always starts. The interior is still mint; it is not coming apart like the domestic cars of the 70s, 80s, and 90s did. My mom and I took a road trip in this car from Chicago to Atlanta and back. On one tank, I had the cruise set to 75 mph and we had the air conditioning on, and got 37 mpg. Wow. I'm thinking and thinking, but there is just nothing to report on this car other than the fact that it still feels like new and there have been zero problems. Even the original tires are still holding up. They'll go through this winter and we'll probably replace them next summer or fall.