'09 Corolla and Matrix XRS
Someone at Toyota spends a little too much time in front of the PlayStation. When talking about two of the latest vehicles in its lineup, the '09 Corolla and Matrix, the manufacturer likes to repeatedly use the phrase "plus alpha." According to Toyota, the term "plus alpha" refers to Toyota's drive to continuously identify and improve all aspects of a car, to always end up with a vehicle that meets and exceeds the expectations of the consumer. In our minds, the term "plus alpha" will always refer to the first-ever polygonal rendition of Capcom's Street Fighter, but that's a rant for another time.
So, while it would be cool for us to find a way to liken the Corolla and Matrix to Ryu and Ken, Toyota's new rides don't do anything wild enough for us to want to equate them to the fireball-throwing heroes of video game lore. We're not knocking these cars in any way; they're perfectly fine, competent and capable machines. We just don't feel like shouting shoryuken while driving them.
Toyota is offering many different varieties of the new Corolla, with three Matrix variants, but we opted to stick to the cars with the only badge we care about: XRS. The "XRS" on the boot lid denotes a bit of sportiness, and as we're sporty guys, we feel that the Corolla XRS and Matrix XRS would be the two vehicles tailored to our personal tastes.
On paper, both the Matrix XRS and Corolla XRS seem remarkably similar. Rather, they look similar enough to those who only look at basic numbers: Both cars are built atop the new NG platform and are powered by a 158 horsepower 2.4-liter inline four. Both cars also come equipped with goodies like sport bucket seats and offer a touch-screen navigation system as an option.
But all it takes is a simple look at the two of these cars next to each other to know that they are two very different machines. The Corolla looks almost identical to the Corolla that came before it, which in turn looked very much like the car that preceded it. Sure, the '09 sedan has some Camry-esque lights, but someone that doesn't really care about cars (and that's the majority of the population) would be hard-pressed to differentiate the all-new '09 Corolla from the '07 or '96 cars.
The Matrix, on the other hand, doesn't even look like it belongs in the Toyota family. Our first thought upon seeing the five-door hatch was that it looks like it should be a part of the Scion lineup; much of the design language seen in the new xB and xD can be seen in the Matrix's lines. To be honest, we're surprised that this car doesn't have a Scion badge on the front.
This difference is more than visual: The cars are setup quite differently, as well. Though designed to have a youth-baiting sport dynamic to it, the Corolla XRS feels a lot slower and softer than its Matrix sibling. Both cars get MacPherson struts up front, but only the Matrix XRS gets a double-wishbone independent rear suspension; the Corolla has to make do with a torsion beam rear. The electric assist used for the power steering is also tuned differently for both cars. We like the way the Matrix responds to our steering inputs, but the Corolla's tiller just feels too twitchy for our tastes. At least the steering wheels in both cars can finally telescope out to a comfortable driving position.
With both cars sharing the same 2.4 liter motor, the power and throttle response between the two cars feel the same. You won't get that rush of power seen from most sports cars, but both of these Toyotas have more than enough power to get out of their own way. These aren't high-revving motors, nor are they stump-pulling low-end torque monsters; they feel best when the needle is hovering around the middle of the tachometer. Both cars are offered with your choice of a five-speed manual or a five-speed sequential automatic transmission. The sequential automatic allows one to hold gears for as long as they like, and we really can't feel much of a difference in performance between the two transmissions. If you like having three pedals, get the stick. Otherwise, the automatic is just fine.
No Corolla without an AE86 chassis code has been a hit with the Super Street crowd, and this new NG chassis car likely won't win over any of the SS faithful. The '09 Corolla is a good car, and for those that only expect to get from Point A to Point B reliably, this car will suit their needs just fine. The Matrix XRS, on the other hand, with its sportier driving dynamic and aggressive Scion-like styling, should endear it to the tuner crowd. Just give the Matrix XRS a Chun-Li graphics scheme, and it could be the hit of HIN.
That New Car Smell
'09 Toyota Matrix and Corolla XRS
The Sticker TBA
Under the Hood 2.4L DOHC 16-valve inline four cylinder
The Power 158 hp @ 6000 rpm; 162 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Scale Tipping 3220 lb (5-sp ECT Matrix); 2965 (5-sp ECT Corolla)
Layout front engine, FWD
Gearbox 5-speed manual; 5-speed sequential automatic
Stiff Stuff (F) Macpherson strut; (R) double wishbone (Matrix), torsion beam (Corolla)
Rollers 18-in alloy (Matrix), 17-inch alloy (Corolla); 215/45R18 tires (Matrix), 215/45R17 (Corolla)
Stoppers power assist w/ ABS; 11.6-in front; Matrix: 11.1-in rear discs (Matrix); 10.8-in front, 10.2-in rear (Corolla)
At The Pump EPA 21 mpg city/29 mpg hwy (Matrix 5ECT); 22 mpg city/20 mpg hwy (Corolla 5ECT)
The Pack Honda Civic Si, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra SE-R
Deep Thoughts Great commuter cars, but not as fun to drive as the Honda Civic Si.