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2003 Toyota Matrix XRS
Sports car? Wagon? Minivan? Cool.
By Josh Jacquot
Photography By Josh Jacquot
The 2003 Toyota Matrix is unlike anything we've ever seen. It's a vehicle without classification. A car without definition. Look at it. Is it a minivan, a sports car or a station wagon? The answer is yes, and it's cool. How cool? Cool like the Celica with enormous cargo space. Cool like Mom's minivan with sports car underpinnings. Cool in a sporty, utilitarian way.
But let's forget, for a minute, about what the Matrix is. Let's talk about what it's not. Namely, it's not heavy. Our test car weighed 2,790 lbs with a full tank of fuel. That's light; 263 lbs lighter than Mitsubishi's Eclipse GT and only 268 lbs heavier than Toyota's own Celica--not much considering the Matrix offers more than triple the Celica's cargo volume.
When the Matrix hits the market in February of 2002, three drivetrain configurations will be available. Lowest on the performance ladder will be the 130-hp XR trim level, which shares its engine with the new Corolla. All Matrixes share the Corolla platform. Also available with the 130-hp engine will be an all-wheel-drive drivetrain with a viscous center differential and your choice of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The Matrix that matters most, is the version pictured here--the 180-hp, front-drive Matrix XRS. The Matrix XRS shares its engine, the high-specific-output 2ZZ-GE, and six-speed manual with the Celica GT-S--one of our favorite cars.
Comparisons with the Celica, which is also built on the Corolla platform, are unavoidable when discussing the Matrix. Both were styled at Toyota's CALTY design studio; both share the same brake system, down to the rotor size and caliper design; and both use almost identical front suspension designs, sharing geometry with changes to handle the Matrix's extra mass.
Unlike the Celica, however, the Matrix is classified as a mid-size car by its interior volume and listed as a small station wagon by the EPA. Confusing? Only until you drive it.
Getting behind the wheel of the Matrix is a unique experience. The driving position is high and pushed forward--not unlike Subaru's WRX. The XRS Matrix shares its steering wheel with the Celica GT-S, carrying the performance attitude of the car to the interior. Close inspection of the tachometer reveals an 8100-rpm redline--very different from your Mom's minivan.
Matrix fires up with the same subtlety as the Celica and remains docile until its cam switchover at 6000 rpm. Then the transformation from minivan to sport wagon begins in earnest. It's weird at first, like riding a motorcycle for the first time. Nothing is intuitive. Matrix's height and general character asks you to relearn much of what you know about fast driving. Then, slowly, you gain respect for its abilities. It's not as quick as the Celica, nor as composed, but it's not far off. In fact, considering its mass, it's very respectable. Sort of like, well, a fast wagon.
Pound the Matrix through a set of curves and you'll be surprised at its balance. It also stops quickly, thanks to the Celica's binders. Sixty to zero takes only 118 feet--five feet longer than the Celica. Fact is, you'll struggle to find a car this capable with this much cargo space.
Matrix also uses the Celica gearbox with taller tires, which exacerbates the Celica's gear spacing problems even further. Keeping the engine in the powerband is a constant struggle. This is frustrating. Toyota could've built a six-speed gearbox with tighter ratios that keep the engine in its sweet spot on upshifts. As it is, when you roll into the power in second gear from low speed the car doesn't really accelerate until 47 mph--the speed the cam switches over in second gear.
This severely affects acceleration. At the test track, our Matrix ran a disappointing 16.6-second quarter-mile time at 85 mph, and 0 to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds--due largely to the difficulty of launching with such tall gears.
Work your way around the gearing problems, however, and it's a fun car to drive--especially if you don't exceed eight-tenths. Plus, it sounds great. We're not sure if the exhaust on our pre-production test car will make it to production, but we hope it does. On the big cam, it allows the 2ZZ's high-rpm shriek to be heard and enjoyed.
But here's the exciting part: Matrix pricing, at press time, suggests the car will deliver all the Celica's hot-rod drivetrain for less cash. Sure, it'll weigh a little more, but with that weight comes loads of function.
If Toyota can sell the Matrix XRS for about $20,000, it's got a definite winner. This price puts it well below the Subaru's WRX sport wagon, which the Matrix can't match in performance, but is undoubtedly superior when it comes to practicality. With similar interior volumes to the Subaru Wagon, Toyota's effort in making Matrix is obvious.
Take, for example, the 110-volt AC outlet built into the Matrix's dashboard and the two 12-volt DC outlets and it's clear where Toyota designers were aiming the interior amenities. This is, by design, a user-friendly environment for any of today's notebook computer-using, cell phone- packing young people. Add to those features a DVD-based navigation system and a uniquely flat-floored rear cargo area and getting anywhere with the gear you want will be easier than with many other wagons currently on the market.
Toyota says the Matrix is a product of listening to the wants and needs of young, new-car buyers. We think it's more than that. We think it's a practical utility vehicle with its feet planted in performance-car territory. This unique positioning puts Matrix in a market by itself.
2003 Toyota Matrix
Estimated Price : $18.500 to $20,000
Engine Code : 2ZZ-GE
Type : In-line four, aluminum block and head
Valvetrain : DOHC, four valves per cylinder, VVTL-i variable valve timing
Displacement : 1795cc
Bore & Stroke : 82.04mm x 85.09 mm
Compression Ratio : 11.5:1
Claimed Horsepower : 180 hp @ 7600 rpm
Torque : 130 lb-ft @ 6800 rpm
Redline : 8100 rpm
Layout : Front engine, front-wheel drive
Transmission : Six-speed manual Gear Ratios
1 : 3.166:1
2 : 2.050:1
3 : 1.481:1
4 : 1.166:1
5 : 0.916:1
6 : 0.725:1
Final drive : 4.529:1
Differential : Open
Exterior dimensions (preliminary)
Curb Weight : 2790 lb.
Overall Length : 171.3 in.
Wheelbase : 102.4 in.
Overall Width : 69.5 in.
Track F/R : 59.8 in./58.9 in.
Height : 61.8 in.
Front : MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar
Rear : Torsion beam with trailing arms, anti-roll bar
Front : 11-inch vented discs, single-piston sliding calipers
Rear : 10.5-inch vented discs, single-piston sliding calipers
Wheels and Tires
Wheels : 17x7-inch aluminum alloy
Tires : 215/50R-17 Firestone Firehawk SZ50
Performance Acceleration
0-30 mph : 3.3 sec.
0-60 mph : 8.9 sec.
30-50 mph : 3.3 sec.
50-70 mph : 5.1 sec.
Quarter Mile : 16.6 sec. @ 85 mph
Lateral grip (200ft skidpad) :0.81g
60-0 stopping distance : 118 ft

5,605 Posts
Re: 2003 Toyota Matrix (Motor)

Interesting concept these cross-over cars, but in nothing really new here. Just a nice hatchback.
Light yes, but add some passengers.
While I like that little motor, there is no way I'm putting 4 buddies in there and driving up to Tahoe with 130lbs/ft of torque.
Wrong motor for that car. HP is fine, but that puppy needs more torque.

[Modified by lip, 4:08 PM 11-28-2001]

Super Moderator
10,078 Posts
Re: (David Votoupal)

My complaint about it is:
Base model available with AWD in both 5 speed stick and 4 speed auto mated to the 130hp engine.
High end model is 180hp(from the Celica), not avail. with AWD, but you can get a 6 speed stick.
So, why no 180hp awd? Would fit into the Subaru market along the lines of the TS.

10,962 Posts
Re: (David Votoupal)

quote:[HR][/HR]I'm not sure if the Matrix/Vibe will be sold in Japan, but if it does then it will fit into an already overcrowded market
From what I understand (can't remember where I saw it, though) they're both going to be sold in Japan.

23,044 Posts
Re: 2003 Toyota Matrix (Motor)

Toyota should have no trouble selling Matrix considered its reputation and the return of the hatchback. If it drives as anything else like the review says, the new Corolla will be a sporty econocar even for North American market.

988 Posts
Re: (NegatiZE)

I saw one last weekend. It was in the Toyota display at the Atlantic international Auto Show in Halifax, NS. I go to school in Halifax, so naturally i went to show. About the Matrix though. Those photos sure do glorify it, but trust me, in real life it is f-ugly. I did hear about the 180 hp, 6 speed, awd etc, but I wouldn't ever drive one. It's a cross between a minivan, a mini sport ute, a Mazda Protoge 5, and one of those old Toyota Corolla 4wd wagons.. The back end seems to be really high, it's just not an attractive vehicle. Those pictures sure make it look small too, it's quite big, and high. Anyway, I guess you'll all have to decide for yourself when you get to see it.
But IMHO, http://****************.com/smile/emthdown.gif http://****************.com/smile/emthdown.gif for the Toyota Matrix. Nice try Toyota, but..

695 Posts

Wow, its less than 300lb more than celica but 0-60 is more than 2 sec slower. maybe they really do need to retune the gear ratio. This is almost as slow as the Protege 5 which everyone seem to complain to have a lack of power. I wonder if magazines will make the same comment about the Matrix.

1,371 Posts
Re: (dmc)

The engines displacement needs to be increased to help this car out.
It needs more torque to make it more 'practical' during city driving.
the high revving 1.8L engine might have worked on the light Celica, but not
in the Matrix. Specially since this car is meant to carry more than two occupants
(unlike the Celica, but more like the corolla). Why couldn't they have used the
2L from the RAV4? Which reminds me, the RAV4 is underpowered, it's another
car which I believe needs a help in torque (why not stuff the 2.4L from the Previa?)
Besides its high revving, torque-less monster
the car is great http://****************.com/smile/emthup.gif

2,985 Posts
Re: (Prostrho)

quote:[HR][/HR]They should stuff this 180HP gem into the MR-S instead.... hehehe.....[HR][/HR]​
That will be a reliable & fun car to have! http://****************.com/smile/emthup.gif http://****************.com/smile/emthup.gif http://****************.com/smile/emthup.gif
I wonder if anyone has made this swap in aftermarket...
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