When the Hatchback Market is a Keg, the Matrix is the DregsWeird things happen in the wake of financial collapse and high gas prices. Entire industries fall apart, decentralize, and then cobble themselves back together. Often times, the lack of capital changes buying patterns, even as price rebounds and consumer tastes have been forever altered. One of the most incredible examples of this is the market for beer: in good economic times, people consume less beer. However, in the wake of things in 2008, the craft beer market has exploded, giving rise to hundreds of small batch craft beer makers. This is not an article about economics, nor is it about beer (as much as we would love that).
Instead this article focuses on a market segment that has exploded in the wake of financial problems and expensive gas: the small car market. Seriously, the middle 2000s created perfect conditions for the rise of the small car market, and now in the middle 2010s we are reaping the rewards. However, not all small cars are created equal, as seen most viciously in the example of the Toyota Matrix. This bland, tepid sh*tbox in a sea of interesting, fun, charismatic, and downright fantastic small, 5-door hatchbacks is a reminder that for every Three Heads Brewing, Saranac, and New Belgium there is still an Old English 40 oz.
The Toyota Matrix is a slightly heavier, extra door having version of the Toyota Corolla. Having driven several versions of the Corolla, they are a little bit like a go-kart. They’re cheap cars used to get around predetermined routes for kids and people who have no business driving real cars. They are endlessly chuckable, albeit the understeer can get you in some serious trouble at high speeds. So a bigger, slightly more flexible version of one of the best selling cars on the planet with a penchant for reliability – should be okay right?
The 2011 model desperately needs to go to the gym. Where the original Matrix had aggressive lines, good cargo space and could come with up to 180 horsepower, the model I drove was one of the bloated second series models, making an anemic 132 hp. The sharp lines have gone the way of the dodo, as instead they have been replaced by dull, unimaginative curves that are about as appeasing the the eye as a can of condensed soup. The blind spots on this model are gigantic, and the rear three windows are little bigger than teacups and a tea tray. However, one of the worst elements of this car is the gearbox. The 1.8 liter 4 pot engine is not at its best in the form, but the dimwitted gearbox holding the car in the 5-7 grand rpm range for what seems like an eternity kills the gas mileage and shunts the performance of the car in ways that make it utterly intolerable. As for the gas mileage, it really wasn’t that great. When driving it around Rochester, it wasn’t bad, the transmission is well geared for city driving. However, the lack of torque brutalizes this transmission in the higher speeds, leaving it out to dry for seemingly endless amounts of time. Around 70, the gas mileage starts to fall off the face of the earth — getting only 24 MPG over 70 mph.
However, this isn’t even the biggest sin: no, that goes to the ride and the interior. The ride of this car is bumpy, stiff, and also floppy. I am told that the AWD version of this car is a lot more stable and solid, but in all honesty, I couldn’t wait to get out of it. It was an intolerable car that made me miserable every single minute I was inside of it. The driver’s seat is as harsh and unloving as an iron maiden on a bender, and the entire interior has this incredibly cheap and plastic feel. This was done in order to make it easier to clean, however seeing as the average owner of this car is just going to be shuffling from one dead end job to the other, this isn’t quite necessary. This isn’t a Subaru Impreza, they really aren’t going for sporty. Everything about the inside of this car comes across as hollow, like if you lean on any one part of it too hard that it is going to break. In an effort to make the interior more flexible for bigger things to be put in the boot, plastic has been added to everything. Honestly, this doesn’t work. It worked okay with the Honda Element and Toyota FJ Cruiser because they were bolting it to things with substance, but in this car it really doesn’t work right. It comes across as flimsy.
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The price is a bit overwrought as well. The legendary Toyota resale value is extremely misleading in this case- this one being listed for 10k, and having 75k miles. For $10,000 USD, you can have just about anything else in the segment, better equipped, and more fun. If you name another car in this segment, you can find it for less money, or in a lot better shape. This one had evidence of a front end collision as well, with a secondary manufacture core support, fan, and radiator.
All in all this ugly, underpowered, and completely hollow car lacks the joi de vie that makes this market segment what is really is today. When looking at small, efficient, 5-door cars literally every other option out there is better. The Volkswagen Golf GTI, and even TDI are better. The Fiesta, Fiesta ST, and Focus hatch options are better. The Civic is better. Shit, even the 5 door Chevy Cruze is better (notice I didn’t say the Spark, let’s not get carried away). However, if you want to trudge from dead end job to dead end job, for 10 years or so until it dies, unloved and completely forgotten within a fortnight — pick up a Matrix. It’s lack of anything worthwhile will give you little to think about as your existence slowly slips into the void and you meet the same melancholy fate.
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