THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2009 Toyota Matrix XRS hatchback.
DOWN THE ROAD: Redesigned for 2009, the Matrix is now 0.6 inches longer and a half-inch lower in height than its predecessor. Available in seven trims, the front-wheel-drive vehicle offers swift acceleration to zip around street corners or cruise on the highway.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: Power comes from a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine. But don't be fooled by the engine's small size. It boasts 158 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 162 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. The Matrix is mated to a standard 5-speed automatic transmission, which also allows the driver to shift the gears manually. Handling the suspension in the front is a MacPherson strut, while the rear gets a double wishbone system with front and rear stabilizer bars. Stopping or slowing down is up to the capable 11.7-inch front ventilated brake disc and 11.1-inch rear solid disc. Toyota needs to be commended for equipping the Matrix with standard sizeable 18-inch alloy wheels as well as a sport strut tower brace, which adds stiffness for a secure ride.
LOOK & FEEL: The front fascia acquires a revamped mesh grille design with multi-reflector halogen headlights. Also noticeable on the front and rear of the XRS version is an underbody spoiler. The cabin offers enormous room for its occupants. For example, there is a 38.7-inch headroom and 36.3-inch legroom area for rear-seat passengers. Storage space is enormous, too, with 19.8 cubic feet of cargo volume when the 60/40 rear seats are up and 61.5 cubic feet when the seats are down. By the way, the front passenger seat also folds flat if you want to carry building supplies from the local home improvement store. Tall drivers now can adjust the height of their seat. Also standard in the XRS is air-conditioning, plus a tilt and telescopic three-spoke leather steering wheel.
SAFETY FIRST: Standard features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes, stability control, Electronic Brake Distribution with Brake Assist, antiskid system, front active-head restraints, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights.
OUT THE DOOR: $21,850, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges. A power tilt-and-slide moon roof with sunshade is available for $890.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P215/45R18 alloy wheels; wheelbase, 102.4 inches; length, 171.9 inches; weight, 2,865 pounds; fuel capacity, 13.2 gallons; highway, 29 mpg; city, 21 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: Since its launch in 2002, this extended version of the Corolla sedan has been received warmly by car buyers. With the redesign for 2009, the Matrix makes for an attractive proposition. It's got the power, the looks and commendable gas mileage and cargo capacity to appeal to a vast array of buyers. Factor in the Toyota label of reliability and durability, and it's a no-brainer.