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Review: 2003 Toyota Matrix XR 4WD

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

By Robert Bowden, The Car Place


Big Momma Boom Box in back
Slick looking
Easy to drive Smooth automatic transmission
AC power outlet in dash
All-wheel drive all the time


Difficult-to-use navigation system


Style: station wagon whatchamacallit
Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder
Transmission: four-speed automatic
Drivetrain: all-wheel drive
Horsepower: 130 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 126 ft-lbs. @ 4,200 rpm
EPA mileage: 26 city/31 highway
Weight: 2,679 lb.
Base price: $18,445
Price as tested: $23,439.15

Just the bottom line It's rare that you'll read a review here that focuses on a sound system. I like fidelity, not volume, for the music of my choice. I want decent stereo, but it never crossed my mind that I needed to feel as if I were seated next to the bass drum in the orchestra pit. I mean, why?

Also, the fact that I didn't punish the tiny hairs in my ears means I still have acute hearing at my age. The rock concert set will be partially deaf by the time they enter their 40s.


That's a medical fact, Bubba.

So it was with some trepidation that I learned that the delivered Toyota Matrix XR had two features I hadn't tested in a previous Matrix: all-wheel drive and a special sound system.

No problem testing all-wheel drive. I just drove the Matrix into deep sand where a delivery truck had been hopelessly stuck for two hours a bit earlier and eased the car through it. Even spun the tires as I exited the sand. No problem.

But the cargo bay content gave me pause.

"It's called the Bazooka," the delivery team explained of the round thingy back there. The black cylinder looked like the portable mosquito foggers we Southerners use to rid picnic areas of the pesky insects. But it was anchored to the cargo bay floor and took up as much floor space as a spare tire.

One of the delivery team members turned on the sound system.

Thumpa, thumpa, thud, thud, thumpa, boom, boom...

I frowned.

"We can unplug it," he said. "We've done it for other auto writers."

"Do so," I replied.

And so he folded down the left-side rear seat, reached in and pulled the plug on the huge thumpa-thumpa subwoofer.

On the commute home that evening, the sound quality seemed excellent. I fiddled with balance and fade until the driver's seat was ground zero for the sound waves. Nice.

Then I began to have Boom Box Remorse.

I mean, I HATE those vehicles on the road that thump-thump their bass vibrations into nearby vehicles. I consider the drivers to be self-centered, inconsiderate social misfits, aural delinquents, ear rapists. I've wanted to invent an electronic device I could trigger that would explode their expensive speakers.

And here I was, driving a vehicle that could rattle windows if I so desired.



The devil made me do it.

What other explanation could there be for a mature man to decide to test a $299 subwoofer called a Bazooka?

I lowered the rear seat and plugged the connection back into the Bazooka.

Turned on the radio.

...thudda, thudda, thumpa, thump, boom, thumpa...

But, hey, I'd give it a chance. Maybe it has endearing qualities not readily apparent.

So it was that the next morning I ventured out onto the interstate with a Harry Chapin CD replacing the navigation CD in the in-dash slot. With each bass reverberation, the rear-view mirror vibrated. The whole car shook, and the plastic covering on the front bumper was already loose, so it joined the harmonics with a contributed rattle.

Forty-five minutes later, I arrived at work. With a headache.

But I refused to disconnect the Bazooka. No. This was war, and I would persevere with the hardship that having a Bazooka aimed at you imposes.

On the drive home, I couldn't tell how many cars were behind me. The mirror vibrated and one car became three or more. But I will say that "The Sniper" words were clear and "The Rock" was incredibly impressive with its ending notes of the rock slipping.

In the following days, the headache did not return, so I don't think the booming bass caused it that first day. I tried all kinds of music, except the rap crap I too often hear from adjacent cars. Talk about abused freedom of speech...

My personal enjoyment -- or repulsion -- for certain types of music clearly will differ from yours. That's why there are so many profitable music genres. Country, rock, classical, oldies. Whatever the type, I liked it best if it minimized the bass. I found myself forwarding the CD if a song with heavy bass came on. Frankly, the Bazooka was fine in small doses or for special purpose such as "The Rock". But I wouldn't want it. At any price. High decibel volume, even distortion free, would not pull one extra dollar from my wallet. Let's talk quality...

The overall sound quality from a Lexus system, or even a top Subaru system, blows the Bazooka away.

As test week ended, I decided to see if the Bazooka could serve double-duty -- as a portable massager. Now, the seats in a Matrix are quite comfortable and backache did not follow my commute each day as it does with some vehicles.

Nonetheless, I put on my Miami Vice CD, cranked up "Dirty Laundry" a bit, and crawled into the cargo bay. I leaned back against the Bazooka. Nothing. Laid down with my head against the Bazooka. Not much. Truth is, the Bazooka is about the only thing that doesn't vibrate, best I could tell. I was hoping it would thump my lower lumbar, but nope.

It did come in handy for a children's birthday party, however. I opened all the Matrix doors and the rear hatch and put on a custom CD of SpongeBob, Dora the Explorer and other exciting kiddie favorites. Cranked it up. Entertained a block or two, I'm sure.

Also plugged a portable CD player into the AC outlet on the dash and played music from it.

So what debits the Matrix to three stars? Well, it still has the worst instrument display in current use. Can't read it with sunglasses on. And the chrome rings around the instruments force the steering wheel into a position that will block reflected glare. Further, the engine trades power for fuel efficiency. Your call on that one.

The previous Matrix had a five-speed manual and this tester had the four-speed automatic. The automatic was terrific in traffic. I have no idea how much worse it might be in mountains, however. The manual transmission had to be fully employed to get up even moderate grades.

There were a number of options on this tester and they all served to jack that $18,445 base price up. Side air bags are $250; a sport package with special wheels and a moonroof costs $1,160; and a navigation system that is among the least intuitive out there is $1,890.

There's more. An ash tray is $59!!!! The graphics on the sides are $235. And your destination fuel surcharge is $1.15.

I'm sure you can dicker.

(For a more complete take on this vehicle, see this base Matrix review.)

'nuff said.