in 2012 Affordable Small Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $14,052 - $16,111
Original MSRP: $18,845 - $21,715
MPG: 26 City / 32 Hwy
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2012 Toyota Matrix Performance

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

Overall, reviewers say the 2012 Toyota Matrix has adequate performance. Test drivers find that the engine in the sporty S Matrix is significantly more powerful than the base model, but it still suffers from some of the same problems the base model has. Neither model has particularly good fuel economy ratings for the class, and the suspension stumbles over small bumps in the road. Generally, reviewers find that the Matrix suffers from too much body lean and nose plow, though a few think it has a comfortable ride.

  • "The 2012 Toyota Matrix and Matrix S use the same, tightly-tuned suspension to deliver direct handling and a fairly comfortable ride." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "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

Acceleration and Power

The 2012 Toyota Matrix can be fitted with one of two engines. The base engine is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that makes 132 horsepower. Reviewers say this engine is adequate, but for more power for merging on the highway and stronger initial acceleration, they suggest the optional 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 158 horsepower.

For front-wheel drive Matrix models, buyers can choose between a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission on base trims and a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic on the more powerful S trim. The all-wheel drive Matrix S is only available with a four-speed automatic transmission. For the class, these transmissions are outdated because many small cars now have six-speed transmissions.

The EPA hasn’t rated the 2012 Toyota Matrix yet, but since the powertrain didn’t change this year, the fuel economy figures should be the same. With the five-speed manual transmission and the base engine, the 2011 Matrix averages 26/32 mpg city/highway and a slightly lower 25/32 mpg with the four-speed automatic. With the 2.4-liter engine, the Matrix averages 21/29 mpg with the five-speed automatic and 21/28 mpg with the five-speed manual. All-wheel drive models get 20/26 mpg.

  • "S models have adequate acceleration with the automatic transmission, though liberal use of the throttle is required for merging and passing maneuvers. Manual-transmission versions are not noticeably livelier. Though heavier, acceleration is little different in the AWD S. … All 2.4-liter models suffer from a touchy throttle that makes smooth launches from a stop difficult." -- Consumer Guide
  • "The 132-horsepower engine on the base Matrix hatchback provides adequate power, but the Matrix S's 158-horsepower engine is notably better for merging onto fast-moving freeways while also providing stout off-the-line acceleration." -- Kelley Blue Book

Handling and Braking

Test drivers think the Matrix’s brakes are fine, but most focus on the Matrix’s noticeable body lean and nose plow when they turn sharp corners. Both front- and all-wheel drive models suffer from these problems. Only one test driver, however, thinks S models with all-wheel drive are nimble around corners.

Reviewers also dislike that small bumps shake the Matrix’s suspension, and even larger ones are really noisy and easily felt throughout the cabin.

  • "In handling tests, drivers were shocked by the tossable nature of the small IKEA hauler. Entering a corner at speeds on the far side of sane and giving a quick jerk to the steering wheel resulted in a big rotation and an even bigger grin." -- Motor Trend
  • "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
  • "We like the all-wheel-drive option for those who have to deal with snow on a regular basis but, as the system activates only when sensing wheel slippage, we think it doesn't do much to improve the car's overall handling." -- Kelley Blue Book

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