Toyota shoots for the hip with new Matrix

Toyota Matrix
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches

Length: 171.3 inches

Width: 69.5 inches

Height: 60.6 inches

Engine: 1.8-liter twin-cam 4 cylinder

Horsepower: 130 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 125 pounds-feet @ 4,200 rpm

Curb weight: 2,670 pounds

(5-speed manual); 2,745 pounds (4-speed automatic)

KOHALA COAST, Hawaii - Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. is trying to inject some youth into its buyer base with the Matrix, a cross between a small sports car and a sport-utility.

The Matrix, the offspring of a joint project with General Motors, and the mechanical twin of the Pontiac Vibe, is intended to leverage Toyota's flagship subcompact, the Corolla, to create a hip product for single buyers between the ages of 20 and 30.

"What was needed was a concept that could be developed with great economy in parallel with the Corolla sedan, using essentially the same platform, suspension, power and

drivetrain," said David Terai, assistant chief engineer for the Corolla and Matrix, at the press introduction of the Matrix here in November.

The median age of Corolla buyers is 44 - three years older than the segment average, and five years older than buyers of the segment-leading Honda Civic, he said.

But if Toyota reaches its goal of selling 70,000 Matrixes a year to its target audience, the Corolla-Matrix customer base will be between 38 and 41 years old, assuming Corolla buyers continue to average 44 years old.

Toyota calls the Matrix a cross-over utility. Its intention is to attract buyers who want sporty styling with high functionality - or space for stuff. The kicker, said Don Esmond, general manager of Toyota Division, is that it will be priced to be affordable.

"The problem is that utility and image have always come at a price out-of-range for most young buyers," he said.

Although Toyota will not cement the price before Matrix goes on sale in February, Esmond said, the base "should be under $20,000."

Esmond said the Matrix probably will command a lower premium than the next Corolla.

Shares Corolla platform

The Matrix will be powered by the Corolla's standard 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder twin-cam engine with aluminum alloy block and head. It has either a five-speed manual transmission, standard or a four-speed automatic.

Despite sharing its platform with the redesigned 2003 Corolla, the Matrix body is shorter, wider and taller. It also has a higher hip-point, giving the driver a higher ride. It has a passenger volume of 118 cubic feet, 21.8 cubic feet of which is behind the rear seats. The rear seats also fold flat so that 53.2 cubic feet of cargo space can be used.

The Matrix rides on MacPherson struts in the front, with a lightweight twist-beam suspension at the rear. The exception is the four-wheel-drive Matrix XR, which features a double wishbone rear suspension.

The XR features a permanent four-wheel-drive system with torque on demand to the rear wheels.

Normally, all of the torque is sent to the front wheels, but when slippage occurs on one of the front-drive wheels, a viscous coupling sends as much as 50 percent of torque to the rear.

To make room for the driveshaft, the XR exhaust system has been rerouted with a power penalty of 7 hp and 7 pounds-feet of torque compared with the base model.

Toyota also will offer an XRS version powered by the same 180-hp inline four- and six-speed manual used in the Celica GTS.

Optional on all models is a 115-volt power outlet. Air conditioning is standard on the the XR and XRS and optional on the base model. Optional on the XR and XRS versions are a six-disc CD changer and a DVD-based navigation system with a split-screen feature that shows both an overview map and a detailed map of upcoming intersections. The navigation system works in all states but Hawaii.

Toyota expects the XR model to be the volume leader on sales of 35,000 a year. It projects sales of 26,600 base models a year and 8,400 XRS versions.

Stealing subcompact buyers

The Matrix was designed by Toyota's Calty Design Research Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif.

In focus groups, Toyota pitted the Matrix against the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Focus, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, says Mary Rose, Toyota's national product marketing manager for cars. But Toyota's research showed that the Matrix is more likely to steal car sales, not sport-utility sales.

"There's a mind-set out there that says, 'If I'm going to start a family, I have to get an SUV,' " Rose said. "This will be taking more from sporty subcompact buyers."

The Matrix will be produced on the same line as the Corolla at Toyota's Cambridge, Ontario, plant. The plant will produce a combined 175,000 units a year.

0

Shares

ATTENTION COMMENTERS: Over the last few months, Automotive News has monitored a significant increase in the number of personal attacks and abusive comments on our site. We encourage our readers to voice their opinions and argue their points. We expect disagreement. We do not expect our readers to turn on each other. We will be aggressively deleting all comments that personally attack another poster, or an article author, even if the comment is otherwise a well-argued observation. If we see repeated behavior, we will ban the commenter. Please help us maintain a civil level of discourse.

Newsletters