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Toyota Matrix

After the launch of the Protege5, it was only a matter of time before others manufacturers jumped on this very logical bandwagon. The Matrix is the next of what promises to be a long list. The beauty of this design is that it combines the best of both worlds. From a driving perspective the compact dimensions bring a city friendly vehicle. Then there is the flexibility side of the Matrix's split personality.

The long and the short of it says with the seats up you've got 617 litres of cargo space at your disposal. Dropping the seats flat bumps that number to a wagon-like 1,506 litres.

The difference between the engines is the amount of technology stuffed beneath the valve cover. In the base engine, it adopts variable valve timing to spread the power out over a broader range while cutting emissions, and is, quite frankly, good enough to satisfy most buyers. The up-level motor adds variable valve lift to the variable timing. At low speeds the intake valves follow a cam profile designed to maximize low-end pull. Above 6,000 rpm, the engine switches to a more aggressive profile, which allows more air and fuel into the cylinder. It's that simple, and thoroughly enjoyable to boot.

Depending upon the model, the suspension differs. The front-wheel drive models use MacPherson struts up front and a beam axle in back, while the 4-wheel drive model adopt a better double wishbone design. Regardless of the type, the spring and damping characteristics are comfortably compliant while keeping the amount of rock, roll and understeer to a minimum. Both models also benefit from a toe-control function that limits the tendency for the rear-end to steer the car during hard transitions or when braking. Through the pylons, this showed up as a sure-footed, predictable response to steering input in spite of the less than ideal conditions.

Much of the credit for the Matrix's showing on a snow-covered skid pad is down to the all-wheel drive model tested. In the front driver, if the engine is pushing out 100 horsepower, each wheel must accommodate 50. Throw all-wheel drive into the mix and now each wheel only has to deal with 25. This obviously leaves more traction available for steering before exceeding the limits.

Stopping power comes from a decent set of discs and rear drums. The sporty XRS model ups the stopping power by adding rear discs and electronic brake force distribution. This limits the pressure set to the rear brakes, which in turn moves the rate at which the anti-lock system triggers. It can also split the braking force left to right in a corner. The rub in all of this is that anti-lock brakes are optional, if available. In the twentieth century this was wrong. Today it unforgivable.

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