Vehicle overview
Although initially marketed as a fun and youthful five-door hatchback, the Toyota Matrix soon positioned itself in a more practical niche preferred by an older audience. It is a small, affordable car with a surprisingly comfortable and versatile cabin. It can carry mountain bikes and a long board, but for most Matrix buyers the ability to handle child seats and eight bags of groceries is a more important accomplishment. Although the 2008 Toyota Matrix is one of the oldest in its class, it remains a safe choice for a compact trailer.

The Matrix is a hatchback/wagon version of Toyota's Corolla sedan (a nearly identical version, the Vibe, is also sold by Pontiac). Although the Matrix is 7 inches shorter from nose to tail than the Corolla, it is taller and wider. This adds 6 cubic feet of passenger space and a significantly more spacious trunk. As a result, the Matrix can easily accommodate a couple of adults in the back seat. If you are concerned about cargo, both the rear seats and the front passenger seat fold down completely, so that when the tailgate is closed, up to eight feet of luggage can be swallowed. For added convenience, the Matrix is equipped with an easy-to-clean plastic cargo bed and cargo bars inside the bed with adjustable attachment points.

Performance and fuel economy
Each Toyota Matrix is equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 126 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a four-speed automatic is optional on both trim levels. Although the Matrix offers the least power in its class, it can keep up with most competitors. With the manual transmission, it can reach 60 km/h in about 9 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates for 2008 are better than average: 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway for manuals and 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway for automatics.

Antilock brakes are optional on all 2008 Toyota Matrix trailers, as are front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability and traction control is another safety option to consider, but it is offered only on cars equipped with automatic transmissions. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration frontal impact tests, the Toyota Matrix received five stars for driver protection and four stars for front passenger protection. With optional side airbags, the Matrix received five stars for front passenger protection and four stars for rear passenger protection. Without these airbags, it received only three stars for front passenger protection.

Despite appearances or exaggerated advertising, most drivers do not find the Matrix particularly fun to drive. Acceleration is good in the city and on the highway, but the modest low-end torque comes into its own on hills. However, cars with manual transmissions respond with slightly more whiplash. The driving characteristics are also not very impressive, but they are acceptable if you are looking for an affordable, multipurpose shopping cart rather than a serious driving machine. For commuters or those facing longer trips, the Matrix's smooth and comfortable ride is an excellent choice.

The 2008 Toyota Matrix offers a pleasant interior with simple controls, quality materials and above-average trim in the segment. Taller drivers may find the wagon's upright driving position a bit unnatural, but the rear seat is spacious and adults should be reasonably comfortable. Those hauling cargo will find that the Matrix operates like a small SUV. The tailgate opens skyward, and the rear window can be raised independently to allow surfboards out the back. In addition, the trunk and rear seat backs are covered with low-maintenance plastic, and the cargo bars in the floor have eight adjustable tie-down hooks. To protect valuables, there is a hidden storage compartment under the floor. The 60/40 split rear seats and front passenger seat fold down to provide more than 53 cubic feet of luggage space, a good amount for a small minivan.