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#18

in 2011 Affordable Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $12,316 - $14,192
Original MSRP: $18,845 - $21,715
MPG: 26 City / 32 Hwy
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2011 Toyota Matrix Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

Test drivers report that the sporty S trim of the 2011 Toyota Matrix is a much better performer than the base model, but it still has problems. It has poor fuel economy ratings and isn’t very sporty. The base model, however, has some of the highest fuel economy ratings in the class and is a good option if you just need a daily commuter and don’t mind sacrificing performance. The Matrix also has another good thing going for it: optional all-wheel drive. That feature is unavailable on many hatchbacks and small sedans. 

  • "As sporty as it looks, it didn't handle well on the highway. The wind and drafting from semis and large SUVs blew this little car all over the road. The Matrix kept up with traffic; it even exceeded the speed limit at times. ... So she's adequate in the power department, but she's not going to win any Most Zippy awards." -- Mother Proof
  • "Mazdas and Subarus are more fun to drive and less odd-looking." -- Car and Driver
  • "All S models are choppy over sharp bumps. AWD and S models with the Sport Package suffer from some jiggle over patchy pavement and freeway expansion breaks." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Pleasant ride." -- Edmunds

Acceleration and Power

The 2011 Toyota Matrix wasn’t built for enthusiasts, but has enough power for daily driving. The base model has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. You can upgrade to the sportier S model. It has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 158 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque.

While test drivers prefer the S model because it’s a better performer, they are quick to note that this trim isn’t perfect. For one thing, the S model’s fuel economy ratings are significantly lower than the base model’s. The S model gets 21/29 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission and 21/28 mpg with a manual. These numbers drop to 20/26 mpg when you add all-wheel drive.

By comparison you’ll get 26/35 mpg with the 1.8-liter engine and a manual transmission and 25/32 mpg with an automatic. This is one area where the Matrix shines.

  • "We could maintain freeway speeds, even up hills, but passing involves a lot of pedal mashing, with maybe dropping the shifter down to the three position, preventing the car from going into fourth gear." -- CNET
  • "The five-speed manual has a solid, hefty feel. It's much like the transmission in the Mazda3, another favorite stick shift of mine, but its throws feel even more precise than the Mazda." -- Cars.com
  • "The base Matrix accelerates sluggishly off the line with its 1.8-liter engine, but its fuel economy will redeem it in the eyes of many shoppers. The 2.4-liter engine in the S is the opposite: Power is ample, but fuel economy is disappointing. In either case, the ride is smooth and well-insulated. The 2011 Toyota Matrix might not be the sportiest economy hatchback (especially now that the sport-tuned XRS is gone), but its refinement is laudable." -- Edmunds

Handling and Braking

While most reviewers think the Matrix has controlled turns and good stopping power, it’s important to keep in mind that some of these test drivers are critiquing the sporty S model, which has 17-inch tires and a more powerful engine that improves handling and braking capabilities.  

If you get the base model, watch out for noseplow and body lean. That said, if you’re looking to save money and just want something to drive to work and the grocery store, the base model is just fine.

  • "Dynamics are simple: It's more fun to drive than either Scion or the Corolla, zipping around corners with controlled body roll like a decent sport/compact." -- Motor Trend
  • "The handling is inoffensive, but enthusiasts should look elsewhere." -- Car and Driver
  • "Steering is geared for quick responsiveness, and the brake pedal has a linear action for smooth stops." -- Chicago Sun-Times
  • "These tall wagons are more prone to crosswind wander at highway speeds than lower-built small cars. None has linear steering feel in turns. Fast cornering triggers noseplow and body lean in versions equipped with 16-inch tires, even with AWD… Grip and balance are sharper in S models with the Sport Package. Fine around-town maneuverability. Braking control and pedal feel are good for the class." -- Consumer Guide

Next Steps: 2011 Toyota Matrix

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