Matrix replacement? Don't look at Auris

The second-generation Auris, which was launched last month in Japan, rides on a new-generation MC platform that underpins the version of the Corolla sold in Europe and China.
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Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Fujita's title. He is chief engineer of the Auris and Japan-spec Corolla.

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. touts the new Auris hatchback, with its angular "keen look" styling, as a sign of the company's renewed attention to design and driving dynamics.

The Corolla offshoot looks edgier and handles better, thanks partly to a lower center of gravity, a stiffer body, more responsive steering and a double-wishbone rear suspension.

Internet chatter already pegs the Europe-Japan nameplate as a possible successor to the Matrix in the United States.

The Matrix is long in the tooth and looks dated. It is based on the old-generation MC platform that has underpinned three generations of U.S.-spec Corollas.

By contrast, the second-generation Auris, which was launched last month in Japan, rides on a new-generation MC platform that underpins the version of the Corolla sold in Europe and China.

Any plans, then, to parlay it into a next-generation Matrix?

No, says Hiroya Fujita, chief engineer of the Auris as well as the Japan-spec Corolla, which has a different platform from both the Auris/European Corolla and the U.S. Corolla.

At a recent Auris test drive near Mount Fuji, Fujita shot down any notion that his car would be sent stateside as the next Matrix. The reason: U.S. demand for hatchbacks is too weak.

He declined to comment on what might replace the Matrix, if it isn't the Auris. Perhaps that's a sign that the Matrix will simply die.

But that doesn't mean the Auris won't feed into the United States. Elements of its styling and possibly even its platform could surface when the Corolla sedan is renewed next year.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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