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Motoring: Corolla a better buy than Matrix

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 20th, 2008

Toyota is ‘The' largest car company in the world. It took over that title last year from GM and is showing no signs of handing it back.

So how did Toyota become the biggest car company on the planet? Simple, by making some great small cars.

The Toyota Corolla is the number one selling vehicle on the globe, and for 2009, there is an all new model. While the Corolla is on it's 11th generation model (original model came out in 1966), its sibling Matrix is on its second generation.

These two cars have almost everything in common. You get the same engine, gearboxes and electrical bits. The only difference is that Matrix comes with an all-wheel drive version, while all Corolla's are front-wheel drive.

Like all Toyota vehicles you won't have to worry about the cars lasting a long time. The question is, will either of these vehicles be enjoyable to live with?

Let's look at the Corolla first. This 2009 Corolla is smart and sleek looking, especially in the “S” model. Only styling detail I don't like are the bulging headlights and tail-lights.

That aside, this is a good looking car from the outside, the interior is less exciting.

Where as Honda went all funky and innovative with the interior of the new Civic, Toyota stuck to an old fashioned look. Sure everything is exactly where you want it to be and there is a quality feel about it, but sitting in this car is very uninspiring. Toyota obviously feels that “if it's not broke, don't fix it”.

Apart from the design, the interior is comfortable and spacious. This is the quietest economy car I have ever come across. So if its a reliable, safe (it has six standard airbags) and quiet small car you are after, the Corolla is a great vehicle. But what about performance?

Well that is an area where the Corolla is not going to win any sporty drivers over. The model I had was the Corolla S with a 1.8-litre, four cylinder engine that produces 132hp and 128 lb/ft of torque, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox (four-speed automatic also available).

Being the “S” model, I was hoping for some excitement, but sadly that wasn't the case. The suspension is far too soft for sporty driving, and the gears are so far spaced that you have to work very hard to get it going quickly. The reason for the tall gearing is economy, after all this is a very fuel-efficient car. Despite my driving style, I still averaged 7.8-litres/100km for my week, which is excellent.

The Corolla is a good buy, especially when you consider that the starting price for is just $14,565 (my test car was worth $19,895). So while being dull and unimaginative, I would still recommend the Corolla to anyone looking for a good small car.

The Matrix on the other hand I would pass on.

While the Matrix is based on the Corolla, things feel quite different. I am sure the quality of the plastics used are the same between the two cars, but the Matrix felt cheaper. The Matrix also didn't ride as well and it certainly was nowhere near as quiet with lots of road and wind noise creeping into the cabin. However, since it is a hatchback, it is quite practical.

The model I drove was the XR with the all-wheel drive option powered by a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 158hp and 162lb/ft of torque. While other versions of the Matrix are available with either a five-speed manual or automatic, the AWD version only gets a four-speed automatic. Couple that with the extra weight of the all-wheel drive system and the result is that fuel-economy is not as good as you'd expect. Still, my average of 10-litres/100km is not bad.

Sadly, I didn't enjoy my time behind the wheel of this Matrix. The Matrix has another sister vehicle, the Pontiac Vibe, and when I drove that at an event called “Catch the Vibe” I remember telling others that I would rather catch. Sadly the Matrix is no better.

It's not cheap either, my test Matrix XR AWD was worth $26,885 (however a basic Matrix starts at $15,705).

I am sure even the Matrix will last a long time, but in today's market there are better and more exciting contenders available.

If you are looking for a good, economical car, the Corolla certainly deserves to be on your list, just not the Matrix.
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