By on June 16, 2008


At some point in our recent automotive history, all wheel-drive (AWD) replaced front wheel-drive as the paranoid consumer's drivetrain of choice. The safety advantages of high quality snow tires (as needed) and a low center of gravity (in all cases) got lost in translation. Ready to capitalize on the AWD's popularity: the economy-oriented Toyota Matrix and the Subaru Impreza. Both diminutive scramblers aren't nearly as cheap or efficient as their front-wheel-drive cousins, and they won't off-road, tow a boat or carry seven passengers. Still, both cars offer a [potential] extra safety margin and [potentially] better handling. So if you had to choose one…

The Impreza and the Matrix were both recently restyled. The new Matrix looks like it's been hanging in Beverly Hills. And yet, even after a nip, tuck, stretch and smooth, the Matrix' bloated-Yaris profile remains. Though the car's tighter greenhouse and diving roof line improve on the prior model's anodyne anonymity, form comes at the expense of function (more on that later).

The Impreza hatch's-sorry, "5-Door's" restyle offers a sleek, ovoid look that's both familiar and jarring. Subaru achieved this paradox by littering a restrained, attractive shape with unnecessary, eye-melting flourishes (e.g. icicle taillights, and faux-Chrysler pilot wings on the grille). Select the "sports grille" option and plain black mesh replaces your slice of plastic corporate flair, transforming the Impreza's styling. If only Subaru offered a "tasteful tail light" option…

matriximprez3a.jpgThe Matrix' one-box (one-trapezoid?) design creates a minivan-in-a-trash-compacter interior vibe (so to speak). The steep windshield and short hood enable acceptable forward vision. But the Toyota's sharply-falling roof and gun-slit windows are insupportable, they put the words "oh shit!" into "blind spot." The Matrix boasts slightly more cargo capacity than the Impreza, but the Yaris provides more hip room.  

The Impreza's rearward vision is also curtailed by its sloping roofline, but at least you can check your blind spots without a periscope. Although the Subie is slightly smaller than the Matrix by most metrics– including the vital rear leg room calculation– its airy greenhouse is far more inviting than the Toyota's four-wheeled bunker.

Let's face it: adult-sized adults won't want to spend an inordinate amount of time in either back seat.

The Matrix's clean, unpretentious interior styling emphasizes function. A pervasive sense of cheapness and fragility prevents its cabin from achieving rugged or utilitarian props. The Toyota's black cockpit is brightened only by acres of the hard, shiny silver plastic that ToMoCo owners have come to know and abhor. By the same token, while the Matrix' large climate control knobs are paragons of simplicity, they're imprecise and poorly secured to the minivan-style console.

The beige-and-black Subaru four-door's interior plastics seem like close relatives of the trailer trash found in the Toyota's cockpit. Other materials are of a noticeably higher quality. And while the two-dimensional Toyota cockpit embraces appliance-dom, the Subaru wraps its occupants in a low-rent take on the BMW driver-oriented interior. If you like the Impreza's sheetmetal, the interior styling won't jar. If not, you'll find it boring, garish or (once again) both.

matriximprez4.jpgThe AWD Matrix comes in one drivetrain flavor: a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine with a four-speed automatic transmission. Pop it in "D," arrange a sour expression on your face, mash the gas and the 158hp mill will hustle the portly (3360 lbs) Matrix about with joyless adequacy. The quadra-geared slushbox helps keep fun at bay, but doesn't display the manic thrash that Berkowitz experienced with Toyota's five-speed unit (available on non-AWD Matrices).

The drivetrain's misère de vivre is a blessing in disguise; you weren't going to have fun driving the Matrix anyway. Unmanned aerial drones offer more steering feedback than the Toyota's over-boosted helm. The Matrix' pillow-soft suspension upholds this commitment to sensory deprivation. Body roll and understeer quickly define the limits of cornering ability (or lack thereof). That the AWD Matrix gets standard double wishbone rear suspension is more indicative of Toyota's product-packaging strategy than any corner-carving aptitude.

The Impreza has let itself go lately. It's packed on nearly 250 pounds compared to its autocross-dominating 2.5 RS nineties forbears. However, compared to the overfed, over-medicated Matrix, the AWD Subaru is a well-trained athlete. The trademark 2.5-liter boxer four marries 170hp with handfuls of usable torque, requiring only minimal use of the agricultural five-speed stick. Though crunchy and imprecise, the manual makes far better use of the Subie's burble 'n snarl than the lugging, laggy autobox. Both transmissions have their flaws, but it's nice to have a choice (Toyota).

matriximprez5.jpgNo question: the Impreza's mainstream makeover has dumbed-down the car's handling. With added weight and softer springs, the Scooby tends to lean and hunt for its line, when it should be darting and planting. The payoff: serenity at speed. What the Impreza surrenders in autocrossmanship it makes up for on long trips to the cabin or trailhead.

This is not to say the Impreza is corner-aversive. The Impreza's steering is far more engaging than the Matrix'; the Subaru's helm delivers solid heft and remains in constant communication with the chassis. When the going gets curvy, the Impreza's full-time all wheel-drive routes more power to the rear wheels, allowing the Impreza to power through corners in an entirely pleasant point-and-shoot style.

In stark contrast, the Toyota system displays no hint of AWD hoonery. It only sends power to the Matrix' rear wheels when the front tires start to slip. Unless you regularly drive on dirt or gravel, you might never notice the Toyota AWD engage. Clearly, it's not an integral feature.

In sum, the AWD Matrix is the weakest offering in the Corolla/Matrix range. Nearly all the other cars are cheaper, lighter and more efficient than the AWD variant-and the Impreza. At $21,060 for a base AWD Matrix, it's well inside just-say-no territory. Especially with the $18,640 Impreza nipping at its heels.

matriximprez2.jpgWith neither the Matrix nor the Impreza claiming a decisive EPA ratings victory (at 20/26 and 20/27 respectively), the Impreza's price point is the game-winner here. And if driving pleasure is even remotely important, the Matrix fails miserably, while the Impreza scores impressively.

Subaru's decision to take the Impreza mainstream didn't win praise from the brand faithful. But it widened the mini-wagon's distance from its competition. The only thing standing in the Impreza's path to segment dominance: mileage (back to that front wheel-drive equation). And the new, all wheel-drive Suzuki SX4, which takes the cheap-and-cheerful approach once espoused by the 'Preza. Having dispatched the Matrix AWD, we'll let you know how the Subie and the Suzi measure-up.

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62 Comments on “2009 Toyota Matrix S AWD vs. 2008 Subaru Impreza 2.5i 5-Door...”

  • avatar

    Nice comparo. Great idea too.

    The Matrix is getting a bit sleeker while the Subie is getting odder (especially those tail lights).

  • avatar

    I drove the FWD Matrix recently. Most disappointing Toyota since the Echo. Maybe even including the Echo. To the list of criticisms here I’ll add the worst door closing sound in recently memory–mucho metal-drum reverb.

    The FWD with the five-speed auto is so sluggish, I cannot imagine the same down a ratio and up a couple hundred pounds. They went from a 1.8 to a 2.4, and managed to cancel out nearly all the power increase with a weight increase.

    I honestly couldn’t think of a reason someone would buy a Matrix instead of, say, a Mazda3 unless they placed a ton of weight on the Toyota brand. Which of course some people do.

    As always, I’m seeking to provide reliability information on both of these.

  • avatar

    The Toyota just looks odd to me.

    I generally like the new Impreza, but it has some design issues inside and out.

    In bigger news today that I’ll take the liberty of sharing –> Porsche will offer a V6 TDI in the Cayenne.

    For those of you who happen to read Dutch…

    Cayenne V6 TDI

  • avatar

    Will the market for AWD (i.e. safe) small cars also include the market for cars with poor outward visibility?

    To put it another way, people don’t often buy Toyotas for swanky styling, so why make the compromise? That’s like buying a Jeep for its fuel efficiency and car-based ride, and we all know how well THAT one turned out.

  • avatar

    Now if only they could bolt the new boxer diesel engine into the Impreza…

    For those complaints about Subaru styling – just wait a year or two – they changed the face of the previous Impreza a couple times in that generation. Seems they’re still searching for a corporate ‘look’ so odds are this one will follow the same evolution.

  • avatar

    Nice comparison, but the 2004 Mazda3 (albeit sans AWD) continues to be the winner in the category. Fun to drive, decent fuel economy, slightly cheaper, good rear seating room, reliable, etc. There really is no excuse why in 2008 a car in the Vibe/Matrix class should not be getting 27/35 real world. Moreover, who shopping in this class needs AWD? For off-roading, occasional Midwestern snow, or for Rocky Mountain lifestyles, the Suzuki SX4 does it all and more.

  • avatar

    I have been shopping for a small 4 door wagon lately due to a kid on the way. I have tested the Rabbit, 3, Imprezza, and Vibe (Matrix a la GM). If the Matrix is anything like the Vibe (and I’m guessing they are identical) then it is one of the worst cars I have ever driven. By far the worst of this group, and not even cheaper. The Rabbit and 3 were cheaper by over $1,000. I was shocked by the price of the Vibe. Needless to say I am probably going to go with the 3, but the total shittines of the Vibe was incredible to me. Interior sucks, exterior is irritating (I don’t know why but looking at it makes me angry), wind noise is AWFUL on the highway, steering is vague at best, and the thing is SLOW. It made the 3 feel like driving an F1 car.

  • avatar

    Hoping to satiate my need for an Audi A3 I drove an Imprezza last week. Driving was fine, however the interior quality was definitely rental car quality.

    Even the salesman commented “I see you pulled up in an Acura…you might not be so happy with the seats and dash….”

  • avatar

    The AWD system in the Matrix is part time and run through a viscous coupling. The Impreza has a full-time, even distribution F/R system.

    Neither has the best interior. The only Matrix model that has anything really going for it is the XRS, but it loses to Mazda3 when it comes to handling and engine/trans. Plus, even though the XRS versions of the Corolla and Corolla Wagon, oh, sorry Matrix, have returned, they’re down on power from the early models.

  • avatar
    Seth L

    The new gen matrix gained almost 1000lbs? That’s nuts. I mean, that’s AWD compared to FWD, but come on!

    The first gen matrix XRS wasn’t the greatest car, but it’s entertaining, has good fuel economy, and excellent cargo room, now that’s all gone?

    (Edit: Experiences based on 2003 XRS with 180hp 1.8 liter engine).

  • avatar


    What is 3 Mazda 3?

    You have baby on the way a Mazda3 is too small for a car and be safer with a new born I will buy a Subarau Outback or Mitsubishi Lancer 2009. My cousin bought a Lancer 09 and it was just perfect he bought it cash for almost $18,000 with NAV,blue tooth everything with it including the 650 watts rockford fosgate system. I hope my cousin doesn’t use the sub-woofer for it might deaf the his new baby. My mine 27,000 miles and still no problem except for the car payments. The Vibe is a great car you missing your point.

    Matrix is durability and Subaru is faster and also durable. An AWD system, you never ever have the chance to save gas on this kind of cars.

    Plastic interior are here to stay so live with it.
    after 6 to 10 years you ending up junking the car anyways so what’s the use of having a leather.

    Honda is Introducing the Honda FCX Hydrogen Car this year in California and the interior is plastic. Any complaint?

  • avatar

    Not everyone buying AWD is thinking safety. Some of us are thinking about getting off our side street to the plowed (main) road so we can get to work.

    I always figured a few more dollars in property tax and let the city plow my street was a better solution than springing for AWD, but I guess it’s just me who thinks that way.

  • avatar

    This is like the third review I see in a month that states that Toyota interiors are “craptastic”… in the sense: cheap, plasticky, fugly, etc… This comparo doesn’t use the term though.

    This rises me a question: is Toyota getting “comfortable” in its Nº1 spot and repeating the GM mistakes? OR we should get used to see in the future crappy interiors due to cost savings?

    How this interior compares with for example the one found in the Caliber/Patriot/Compass, or the SX4, or the HHR or the 3

    It would be interesting to compare all of the hatches: Caliber, Matrix, Impreza, 3, Patriot, HHR, SX4, and see how interiors, drivetrain and other features compare.

  • avatar
    John R

    These two are just another example of why I buy used. $21,060 for a base AWD Matrix?!

    I bought my ’07 Sonata V6 for $14.4k and it only had 13k in miles and it gets 22 mpg real world. For $21k I could get an ’07 Accord with a V6 for the same mileage as my Hyundai.

  • avatar

    Kudos to Edward Niedermeyer for the comparo. I drove the FWD Matrix not too long ago, and I hope it was the last time. It was AWFUL. Miserable handling, miserable ergonomics, mediocre utility.

  • avatar

    Nice review, perfect timing for small cars. I’ve never been a fan of the Subaru until this generation. And not because of the exterior – but because they stopped putting burlap sacks on the doors and headliner.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the nice touches on the interior, it makes the droning the engine makes a little more palatable. I’d agree about the agricultural nature of the Subaru powertrain. Silky smooth it’s not, but the reliability is solid.

    I haven’t seen the new Matrix, but I had a hard time loving the previous model. So if they made it worse, OMG. I would totally agree with Stingray that Toyota has gotten comfortable in their “most favored car company” spot and are taking waaaay too much money out of their interiors. It seems that they are following the GM mistakes, not good.

  • avatar

    I’ve never found Toyota’s interior materials to be magnificent, but I don’t think they’re as bad as people are making them out to be; they certainly haven’t gone backwards but they haven’t nearly the lead they used to. The problem is that different reviewers really do have varying degrees of tolerance for materials quality and fit: in an economy car, you’re going to get rock hard plastics from everyone. I’ve found that most makes have gotten the hang of proper texturing and decent fit.

    Take my Honda Fit, for example. Everything fits well and is low-gloss and well-textured, but it’s not soft-touch my any means: same for the Yaris, Rio & Accent. Step up to the Focus/Cobalt/Civic/3/Matrix and you gain elbow padding and nicer design, but the dash and door panels are still knock-on-wood hard. Not till you hit midsize cars does the dash start to get spongy.

    And you know what? I don’t care. The controls in all these cars work well and feel good for the price. They’re not Bentleys; I’m not expecting a leather dash and or redwood inlays. As long as the steering wheel feels nice (tip: always opt for the leather wheel, it really helps) and there’s enough seat- and elbow padding, I’m happy. The ergonomics are sound, which is I think enough for most buyers.

  • avatar

    A relative was recently considering the AWD Pontiac Vibe (+1 brother of the Matrix). They decided against it for two reasons:

    1) Surprisingly narrow inside. The driver’s door is crammed into the driver’s shoulder and hip more than any other car tried recently. At first he thought the steering wheel must have been installed incorrectly, too far to the driver’s left.

    2) Sub-par gasoline MPG. For a car of these compact dimensions and compact engine, it slurps down gas on the highway equivalent to the larger CUV vehicles- certainly the Forester, the Rav4, and such. This is exactly opposite of what a small AWD of this size should deliver.

  • avatar

    Oh man! Ronin is right, the mileage of the Matrix is pretty much the same as the ’09 Forester, and if I’m not mistaken it costs more than the Forester, too! The Forester is a really nice car, AWD, a lot of size and utility for the money. If anyone ever test drives a Matrix, they better hop in a Forester just to see what they’re missing, there’s very little reason to buy the Matrix it seems. Now if they could get 35+ mpg highway, the story would be different, but this thing seems to be kind of a pig.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    nmcheese: Now if only they could bolt the new boxer diesel engine into the Impreza…

    They certainly could, and will, at least in Europe.

    Great review, Ted. You make your pappy proud!

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    @psarhjinian: I’ve found the Wheelskins a more than acceptable cover for an OEM plastic wheel for not very much money.

  • avatar

    Soft touch and vinil covered dashes can be found on any AE92 or AE111 Corolla for example. Even the AE82 had the right half of the dash in soft/spongy material. These are B-C segment cars.

    The previous generation Sebring also had soft dash, the new one has a rock hard one.

    Things are getting cheaper with the years… from all manufacturers

  • avatar

    Agree with the opening paragraph. At one time here in the snow belt of Colorado, I had my 4wd suzuki with all season tires, and my old long gone front drive ’87 Sable with winter tires. Based on that experience I’d say a vehicle with the winter tires RULES on snowpacked roads. Front or 4 wheel drive makes far less difference than tires.

  • avatar

    The Suzuki SX4 comparo with the Impreza will be interesting, indeed, considering that the 2009 SX4 will come standard with a nav system. If it can measure up in the other departments, it might be the way to go in this class.

  • avatar

    My parents considered the first-gen Matrix in 2003, and were distinctly unimpressed even by that — they ended up with a Mazda Protégé5, the predecessor of the five-door Mazda3. They thought the Matrix’s interior seemed cheap, and they hated the handling, which my mother called “tipsy.” If the new one is worse, I shudder to think.

  • avatar

    Buy a Suzuki SX4 for less money and it would be better.

  • avatar

    It’s sad to see they’ve let a decent car turn into this. We have an ’03 matrix XR and feel few of those complaints applied. Admittedly, we have the FWD, and the manual, which may make all the difference.
    We’ve had few problems with blind spots, though the cheap plastic interior description is accurate. But, the steering and handling are a lot of fun (maybe it’s the 600lb weight difference) – decent sterring feel, likes corners.
    The engine gets a little buzzy at higher rpms, but it’s peppy enough (going uphill with AC is the exception for that). And even with the AC (it’s hot in Phoenix) and a heavy foot, I still get 29 mpg. (I’ve done better in the cooler months.)
    We’ll be getting a new car to replace a 14yr old pickup (also a Toyota) soon but I don’t mind keeping the ’03 for 5 more years – it’s even more fun without payments.

  • avatar

    The Toyota Matrix originally had two things going for it: interior room and mpg. Toyota reduce both and increased the price. They expect this to result in increased sales?

  • avatar

    The Truth About Nouns: “.. autocross-dominating 2.5 RS nineties forebears.” Those who came before, vs. those who restrain themselves. A favorite word of mine — I couldn’t resist.

    Given the cabin appointments, modest acceleration, numb steering, and soft suspension, it sounds like the new Matrix is the forbearer.

  • avatar


    The Truth About Nouns: “.. autocross-dominating 2.5 RS nineties forebears.” Those who came before, vs. those who restrain themselves. A favorite word of mine — I couldn’t resist.

    My bad. Text amended.

  • avatar

    @ BEAT: Your comment about the Mazda 3 not being suitable for a small child is unfounded. There are 3 of us, and one is a 14 month old with the huge carseat facing rearwards right now. Everything, and everyone, fits in the car just fine whether it’s around town or on a trip to see family. I did buy the car before I had the other two in my life…but it handles our load just fine. Granted, I do have the wagon.

    When the carseat can be flipped around, soon, then there will be a bit more room in the backseat as well. Really, there isn’t much MORE room in our Volvo 760 either.

    The Lancer is no bigger than a Mazda 3 either, and neither is the Impreza.

  • avatar

    It had as much room in it as the Impreza. The Outback has more cargo room, but rear seat room isn’t much different and the base Outback starts over $20k while I can get a base Mazda 3 for around $16k and it has side curtain airbags standard now while they are options on the Outback and Impreza. As for AWD, I live in Houston, so I have little need for it. It will be my primary transportation for work and road trips to visit family in North Texas, so the baby hauling duty during the day for my wife will still fall on our Isuzu Rodeo which is 4 wheel drive if we ever do have the need for it.

    As far as the cars go the 3 is impressive for the standard features you get on the 5 door. Granted the base model 4 door versions can feel a little cheap, but the 5 door is nicer and the seats are very comfortable which is a key selling point for me. The Subaru seats just didn’t feel as good to me. After the test drives it was down to Mazda 3 or Rabbit. There aren’t many Subaru dealers around in Texas and what few there are don’t have much to chose from and they don’t deal.

    I really would like to go for the Speed3 but I can’t rationalize the extra cost but it is comparable to a non-turbo Impreza for price. The only thing keeping me from buying right now is that our Taurus is paid off (but how much longer it runs is the question) and I am waiting to see what the next Gen Mazda 3 looks like. I want to see if it is worth waiting.

  • avatar


    A lot depends on how tall you are. Certain full-size, rear facing car seats–mounted correctly**–will simply not for behind the front seat of most cars if the driver is all the way back. This is the case with every two-row car I’ve tried _except_ the Honda Element.

    In our family car–a Saab 9-3, pre-MY2003–the front seat is useless to anyone taller than 5’2″ with most rear-facing seats installed. For the record, I’m 6’8″.

    ** that “correctly” is important, too. The seat’s recline markings must be parallel to the ground (most people have the seat much too inclined) and there must be 1-2″ of space between the child seat’s leading edge and the seatback of the front seat. Most people get this wrong. Heck, I got it wrong until I went to a car seat clinic and had a police officer explain it to me.

  • avatar

    I see what’s meant by rock-hard dashboards, but I really don’t think it’s important. Dashes used to be made of leather; modern dashes are soft because they’re aping leather dashes of old, not for any real functional reason. Armrests should be soft, door sills, seats, etc because there’s good ergonomic reasons for it.

    But dashboards? It’s just convention. It’s like wood trim; an anachronism coming from historical convention. We’re conditioned to think “Soft dash=Good”, but why? If you never touch it, as long as it looks nice, why complain?

    My Fit’s dash is rock-hard plastic and I don’t care, because the texturing is low-gloss, the panel fit is good and there’s no plastic flashing. My Saab has a soft dash, but it’s kind of shiny and the way the “SRS Airbag” text has been stamped into the passenger side airbag cover looks really cheesy. But it is nice and soft. Because I never touch the Fit’s dash, it looks great, but the Saab’s bugs me every day.

    If you get into a Dodge Caliber, you’ll understand: it’s hard, sure, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that it looks bad: it’s shiny, you can see flashing (or even drill debris) and the panel fit is poor. The Matrix doesn’t do much better in terms of quality, but the bad stuff isn’t touchable.

    I think the new Matrix has problems (reduced utility, increased mass, same noisy cabin, same Corolla handling) but the materials quality–for the class–isn’t one of them.

  • avatar

    The Subaru Impreza has never been much of a looker in non-WRX guise, but this one fell out of the “ugly-tree” and hit every branch on the way down! I’m not even sure you could use the word “styling” to describe/criticize it.

    If I absolutely had to have AWD on a 5-door compact, I’d go for the Suzuki SX4 Crossover. It’s better looking and much better equipped than either of these AND has 100k powertrain warranty.

    In reality, I’d skip AWD and go with gas-saving FWD in this sort of vehicle….which is exactly what I did two years ago when I bought my Mazda3 s 5-door. It’s still the one to beat!

  • avatar

    the suzuki has a weird driving position so much so that it hurt my ankles after a ten minute drive which didn’t set the pulse racing – and has that odd window at the A pillar. so it still is the Mazda 3…

  • avatar

    The old Matrix was pretty ugly, and the new one is even uglier. The old Impreza was also ugly, but the new one is better looking. But when I was on a Suburu lot, I still didnt want to drive it. I’d go with a Mazda3 any day of the week.

  • avatar

    As much as we love our ’03 4WD XR Matrix (OK, I know it’s AWD but that’s what is says on the back hatch!) the new AWD version makes me wonder if that would be a choice agains. Bigger, less fuel efficient engine, heavier, tighter interior… hmmm. Reliability has been superb, NO problems in 138,000 miles plus. The wife insists on something 4WD/AWD for our country roads, maybe we’ll just drive the old reliable ’94 Ranger 4.0 4WD when we need it. It’s crude and rude (by comparison to newer vehicles) but nothing stops it.

  • avatar

    Well, Did you drive the Lancer 08 or 09?
    A lot of my friends drive the famoues Mazda3 but they complaint that it’s too small same with the matrix and Subaru WRX.

    Believe me my Lancer 08 has more room that those cars mentioned above that’S why it is called the WANNAB BE family sport sedan in Top Gear.

    my friend is 6 feet tall he was seating behind me on my Lancer 08 and I am 5’9. My friend who is 6 feet drives a Mazda3 and he said there is more legroom in the rear in my Lancer than his Mazda3.

    Just telling the truth because I am a consumer too. The Lancer has 7 air bags.2 curtain air bags, 1 passenger front airbag, 1 driver side airbag and 1 knee airbag, 2 Car seat air bag. I Think Mazda3 doesn’t have an knee and seat air bag.FACTS ABOUT MAZDA3: Consumer report

    The Mazda3’s standard 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine is relatively quick and sparing with fuel; the 2.3-liter is strong and refined. Handling is precise and sporty. Interior quality is very good. The turbocharged Mazdaspeed version is very quick. Without the curtain air bags the Mazda3 received a Poor rating in the IIHS side-crash test.

    see that’s why my cousin pick the Lancer over Mazda. Well, if he has the money The Acura TRX is another great family sedan

  • avatar

    Here’s one Consumer report review on 09 Lancer

    2009 Mitsubishi Lancer ES-Sport 4dr Sedan (2.0L 4cyl CVT)

    Got my new Mitsu 2 days ago and I love it. Test drove 5 other cars that are comparable and this one was the best by far. GOOD JOB MITSUBISHI.

    Just hope you keep it up. The car has some amazing safety (good for my kids) features and lots of toys. It totally blew away most of the competition and at 6 foot 6 I enjoy the roomy interior. Lots of toys as well… Satellite radio, Blue Tooth, awesome stereo, and sunroof… Excellent warranty which gives me (new father of 2) peace of mind. Sales people were awesome as well. Let the car sell itself. They did not have any theatrics, drama, scripted tag teaming, etc.. Highly recommend the dealership. Great car and again, thanks Mitsubishi.
    Favorite Features
    Everything. Safety, warranty, toys, handling, etc. Got to see it and drive it to appreciate and understand.
    Suggested Improvements
    More lights and maybe a steel cage? But all in all this is a great car.

  • avatar

    OK folks — time to un-hijack the thread. Enough Lancer commercials already. Let’s get back to the cars being reviewed – which are 5-door sedans/hatchbacks/station wagons – and their direct competitors. Last time I looked, the Lancer didn’t fit in any of these categories.

  • avatar

    What is a 5th door anyway?

    The trunk..
    Wonder why it’s called 5th door? which is not really a door. Another marketing lingo for the consumer.

  • avatar

    @kericf: I think the 3 wagon would suit you well, especially in Houston (where I am from). However, I would make 2 suggestions. Make sure the AC is up your liking. The electronic climate control does a bit better job at keeping a cooler temperature than the manual controlled unit. This has been a common complaint among 04-06 owners, however it may have changed. My 06 auto c.c. model does very well across the western mountains and deserts in 100+ temps, but the black leather doesn’t help. The other suggestion is to get tinted windows to help shade the interior…something I have considered doing, even though I’m not a big fan of tinted windows.

    @psarhjinian: I see, I’m 6 ft and my gal is 5-5. We just switched carseats too, the Safety1st Alpha-Omega, and can face the little guy forward as he has reached the proper weight and height, that clears up quite a bit of room. There are levels on the carseat, which is pretty handy. Although I wasn’t aware of the 2-3 inch recommendation, that would take up a bit of front seat room.
    I’ve noticed in our 760, due to the backseats angle, that it is harder to get the correct position on the carseat. But that is our backup vehicle, so the carseat is hardly in there.

    I did notice, in a friend’s 900 (same as your 9-3) that the car isn’t much more roomy (up front) than a Mazda3, but the trunk is quite a bit larger.

    Well, we’ll probably be getting a used XC70 before too long and let the 760 go till it dies…that should take care of any lack of space should there be a #4.

    @BEAT: I did have a chance to drive one, I still like my 2006 Mazda3 wagon better. It is a COMPACT car like the Mazda3 and Civic, as well as the cars in this comparison.

    I have not had one issue with it either, even the loaded out GT trim with 5ATX. Side (in the seat) and curtain airbags do help a bit, even though I didn’t pay attention to the crash-ratings when I bought the car. Plus, the idea that Volvo (as I am a long-time fan) assisting with the design of the platform and safety features is a benefit to me.

    Plus the Lancer wasn’t out at that time and right now, it doesn’t offer the wagon body style. So, it’s really a moot point.

    Per your second comment, why would someone want a steel cage in their car? It should already have that integrated into the design…that would worry me from a safety standpoint.

    It’s a 5th door because it is hinged, something to call it because people don’t like the word “hatchback” or “wagon”. Plus, you access the cabin with that door…unlike in most cars with a flat trunk, unless the rear seat folds down.

  • avatar

    I was shopping for an AWD small wagon/hatch a couple years back. The Subaru won. Power, fun to drive, and utility were huge factors, but my #1 concern was how well it could handle abuse. Not only my driving abuse but also just the ridiculous roads in New England.

    I put my Impreza (Outback Sport) through some awful rigors and never had a mechanical issue. Must say, it sold me on Subaru. Have heard less than stellar things on Mazda’s durability from my own mechanics. The Matrix/Vibe had zero appeal with its idiotic configurations (ie, no 5mt with the 180hp engine and awd – what were they thinking?).

    And all this harking on Suzuki – sounds fine on paper sure – but the majority here knows they aren’t going to buy one. Admit it..

  • avatar

    Subarus are very well-built and rather stout vehicles…I’m just worried that Toyota, unlike GM, is going to dilute that brand a bit. But they are popular in the northwest, especially Outbacks.

  • avatar

    Well that steel cage wasn’t my idea it was the 6 feet 6 guy who wanted the steel cage that bought a 09 Lancer. You have to ask him not me. probably because he wanted to race his car.

    I thought the 2006 doesn’t have A curtain airbags the 2008 Mazda3i offers it but not all Mazda3 MODELS and there are only 5 airbags not 7 airbags.
    I recommended the Lancer because of safety feature like a steel beam in all of it’s doors and the 7 airbags and 5 star rating. Mazda has a lot of recalls which a little unnerving to go back and forth at the dealer. You already mentioned one of it’s recall the AC but still unfixable. My Lancer rear car seat folds but still a Sedan or what Top Gear call family Saloon.

    Mazda Lover here’s your recall list
    it’s about almost 30 recalls from 2006 and 2007

    MIVEC Engine was not develop by Chrysler. I think you are talking about the Platform which is also shared by Hyundai.

    One recall in a year for Mitsu is pretty damn good compared to other Japanese cars especially the well loved Mazda.

    That’s why Top Gear hates Mazda.

    If you really want durability Buy a Toyota.
    Nothing else and nothing more

  • avatar

    Nope, it was standard on the Touring and Grand Touring models. The 3i is the base model from 2004-2008. All models above that offer the safety items as standard now.

    Again, I have not had ANY recalls on my Mazda or taken it in for any warranty items. For the 04-06 with manual climate control, there is a baffle put in place to re-direct more air to the cabin. Mine has the cabin air-filter and auto climate control, which does a great job in cooling the cabin. That wasn’t a recall either, but a TSB. There is a major difference between a recall and a TSB. And, your link, is for a Mazda6.

    The new Lancer is a new car with a drivetrain developed with help from Chrysler. I’m sure there will be some issues that crop up, as with all first-year models. Most of the Mazda3 issues were from 2004 and early 2005. Some of other issues were from owner negligence or abuse (broke motor mounts).

    The number of airbags doesn’t really matter as much as their efficiency in keeping occupants safe. However, just using a seatbelt is still the safest thing a person can do to prevent injury in an accident.

    The Sportback looks nice, however I doubt I’ll be trading my car in for something with a similiar package. I’m very happy that you like your Lancer, everyone has a subjective opinion about the vehicles they own…as I do with my 2 cars. Of course, we would never want to admit owning a POS. That doesn’t always make one more superior than the other to another person.

    EDIT: The Mitsubishi 4B1 2.4l MIVEC engine is made by the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance LLC (GEMA). Made up of Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai, I recall reading the press releases back in 2002 regarding this alliance. This is the same 2.4l engine found in new Dodge products. Definitely not a bad motor, but the MZR2.3/DHE-423 is an engine tuned more for performance as it is not a “square” design like the GEMA engines. Something I enjoy a bit more.

    You paint me as a “Mazda lover” and probably think I am being blind to your Mitsubishi…which is fine, but lets not be a hypocrit here.

  • avatar

    I think if I were buying a Matrix I’d get a 1.8L FWD model with 25/31 fuel economy and just live with it being a little slow.
    The best interior materials of any cheap small car is in the Chevy Aveo IMO.
    Regarding the Impreza’s redesign. I actually saw a woman driving a new Impreza recently. Something I never saw with the old one.

  • avatar


    Majority of tuners and Auto tech follow the TSB report not any other report. I fix and tune my own car so I follow TSB. ACTUALLY if you research more you will find multiple recalls on Mazda 3 and 6. Do you think that Mazda will recall all those problems in one year. Nobody will buy their car if they do that. let’s us face it Mazda has more recall that any other Japanese cars. That why you wrote
    “Make sure the AC is up your liking. The electronic climate control does a bit better job at keeping a cooler temperature than the manual controlled unit”.
    this is listed on the TSB it is not a recall because it cannot be fix.

    You know what they say that don’t believe anything you see or read on tv or magazines.
    The Mitsubishi 4B1 engine is the newest range of all-alloy straight-4 engines built at Mitsubishi’s Japanese “World Engine” powertrain plant in Shiga on the basis of the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance (GEMA)it means it is still Mitsubishi not Chrysler or Hyundai

    There are no issues or crop up.
    My car 28,000 miles and still no problems.
    I didn’t say you. I said Mazda Lover and it doesn’t implicate You.
    It means the consumer. I am trying to be honest I never intended to mislead the consumer.

  • avatar

    You have 28,000 miles on a 2008 model?? WOW! I thought having 42,000 miles on a 2006 was bad.

    Please post DATA for all your claims, and please be aware that, as I said before, a TSB and recall are different. A TSB can be a simple adjustment, and they are very common regardless of manufactures. Multiple can be anything greater than 1…a bit vague wouldn’t you say?

    Mitsubishi’s past problems, like Nissan’s, would concern me quite a bit. Although, I know they have made excellent strides in their quality and workmanship. Much of that can be owed to their work with the French automakers. (Mitsu does alot of work with Citreon-Peugeot). Finally, I would believe a press release from the alliance that was setup. Your engine is as much a Mitsubishi as my platform is as much a Mazda. However, the C1 platform was designed by Volvo, Ford, and Mazda. Therefore it is a shared platform, not just a Mazda platform.

    I’d never want to mis-direct someone either, and only base what I know on a personal experience. My Mazda3 has done very well… and so I tell others when they ask.

  • avatar

    The Mazda3 4-door sedan is a little cramped compared to some of the competition (especially the Civic). The 5-door (or hatchback…just please don’t call it a wagon) solves that problem and is better looking to boot. Not to mention the utility/versatility factor that is almost non-existent in traditional sedans with a trunk.

    The Lancer is a formidable adversary, I have to agree. I’ve drive an ’08 GTS CVT but look forward to driving the ’09 GTS now that it has the 2.4L engine.

    If Mazda or Mitsubishi wanted to make my dreams come true, they’d fit a VW DSG 6-speed in either the MAZDASPEED3 or a Lancer Ralliart Sportwagon.

  • avatar


    The Lancer Ralliart Sportback (according to Mitsubishi) will be fitted with a version of the Ebo X’s twin-clutch transmission.

    On the Matrix and Impreza, I might not like the styling of the Impreza (way too conservative) but I’d take it over the gaudy look-at-me! styling of the Matrix.

  • avatar

    I wish a bought a used Toyota Corolla to save gas and save my mileage on my new car.


  • avatar

    Was looking at the new Matrix S AWD for my wife. I have not seen nor driven one, only read about it but what better option would she have if she wants AWD for Canadian snow driving and the reliability of a Toyota. Must be a 4 door for the kids. What better option would she have, price being a factor so no 3 series x vehicles.

  • avatar

    Last year I bought a 2007 Mazda3 Touring 5M. After one year I traded it in on a 2008 Impreza Outback Sport 5M. I found the Mazda3 to be horrible in the snow without dedicated snow tires whereas we have had 4 Subaru’s and never needed snow tires. My right knee would hit the center console in the Mazda no matter how I adjusted the seat. The Subaru feels like a much more solid car with more interior room at least in the front. I always thought the Mazda kind of tinny. The Subaru is a much nicer highway cruiser than the buzzy Mazda and I’m getting 30 mpg on my highway commute. Managed 31 in the fwd Mazda. Oh, I paid 18K for the Mazda and 20K for the Subie. The best thing about the Mazda3 was the high trade-in value, particularly in Phantom Blue metallic

  • avatar

    “At some point in our recent automotive history, all wheel-drive (AWD) replaced front wheel-drive as the paranoid consumer’s drivetrain of choice.”

    You might want to check Audi’s competition history before bashing AWD as ‘paranoid.’

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    What is the deal, yo, on the little kidney windows behind the c-pillar on the ’09 Matrix? Saw one in the flesh for the first time yesterday….the windows are about 16 sq inches….with about 10 square inches “blacked out” for flush body mount…leaving each window about 6 sq inches of actual light entry into the vehicle….

    Pointless. Functionless. Added cost of materials and manufcturing steps, not to mention collision repair cost, on this vehicle with no function besides a designers aesthetic ego gratification. INHO, makes about as much automotive sense as Ford spending many hundreds of thousands of cheddar to refresh the Mustang logo on for the ’10 Hoss.

    Goes to show, Toyota is starting to lose it’s original, minimalist, efficiency-driven plot….

  • avatar

    Technology like vehicle stability control and traction control are making the need for AWD worthless for most consumers basic needs. For Toyota, the AWD option on the Matrix was never promoted as high performance. They approached it as more of a safety thing, so thus why it is so unimpressive.

    Toyota could shaft the AWD option on the Matrix and most people would not miss it. Actually, because the Matrix is such a slow seller, they could shaft the Matrix and most people would not miss it.

    For the price of a Matrix XRS you could get a base model Rav4 4X4 which would be a better family hauler from Toyota. Sadly, the fuel economy is not much worse than the Matrix. Clearly Toyota needs to rethink the Matrix. They would probably do better to make a simple functional wagon with great fuel economy versus a wanna-be rally sport wagon.

  • avatar

    With my ’07 Impreza I can drive through snowbanks uphill. AWD drifting in abandoned parkinglots is a plus; I get angry when I see grannies driving my car brand.

    There are almost zero STi’s out where I live. I think they’ve all been wrapped around telephone poles.

    The Vibe/Matrix is a boring, econobox with breeding heritage of a Kenmore fridge. Who brags about being able to hold stuff?

    People are going to start to look for real small, economical cars. We need something like the Fiat 500 or Panda, maybe the crappy Ford KA or some KEI cars from Japan.

    I don’t enjoy routinely dusting VW Beetles, but if it has to be done, so be it.

  • avatar

    I own a 2009 Impreza 2.5i Prem and my wife drives a 2009 Matrix FWD 2.4l.

    My thoughts:

    Compared to the first gen Matrix, the 2009 w/ 2.4 engine is a completely different, better vehicle. We own the FWD, not the AWD model. I think the 5-sp auto + 2.4 is great. There is still a lot of understeer and the wheel is dead for the most part. I owned a 2004 AWD model and it was terrible. Traded for a Jeep after a year.

    I bought the 09 Impreza 2.5i prem a few weeks ago. The body rolls more than I like, but the car itself stays planted very well. It’s more comfy driving down the interstate than the Matrix. I just like the car better. Better materials, feel and layout. Yea, the outward appearance isn’t super cool. But there are more to cars than that.

    We drove a lot of cars before buying the Matrix last year. Mazda3, Cooper Clubman, Honda Fit, Nissa Versa… The deal we got on the Matrix was better. The Clubman was $30+K. The Fit was a go-kart. The Mazda3 was a rattlebox. The Versa was nice, but had less space.

    I can’t see ever buying an AWD car other than Subaru. I just don’t get these reviews…

  • avatar

    I purchased a 2010 Matrix XR AWD based on the following facts:

    – Toyota has an ubeatable durability/reliabilty record, and a stronger dealership network;

    – Subaru’s rust easier/faster than Toyota’s;

    – Subaru’s parts generally cost more;

    – Subaru’s are more expensive to insure (in Canada anyway);
    (maybe because of all the boy racer’s out there driving Impreza’s, lol)

    – Impreza seating/ ground clearance too low;

    – Impreza has to be one of the ugliest vehicles on the road;

    So, to recap, it’s not so much how Totota won me over, but rather how Subaru has turned me off.

    I also tested the Suzuki SX4 – small trunk space & small gas tank were deal breakers for me…

  • avatar

    I drove a Matrix whilst my other car (a BMW, of course) was in the shop… My impression of the Matrix: cheap interior and horrible gas mileage (average of 20 mpg). My Subaru, in contrast, gets 23 to 33 mpg, and the interior, while cheap, is not repulsive and toy-like and fragile-feeling, which is how the Matrix interior felt. Both accelerate okay and both cars handle acceptably… but $23,000 for a loaded Matrix?!! No way!

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