The 2009 Toyota Matrix is a highly practical and refined compact wagon that will appeal to small families. However, even in sporty XRS flavor, its entertainment potential is low. Vehicle overview Although Toyota has traditionally marketed its Matrix as one of the sporty, fun cars in its lineup, most people have purchased this small wagon/four-door hatchback for a very different reason: practicality. The first-generation Matrix had a backseat large enough to fit three kids or a pair of adults, and its perfectly flat, plastic-coated load floor was suitable for all manner of cargo. Being related to the Corolla sedan also helped, as the Matrix enjoyed above-average fuel economy and a solid reputation for reliability. You can look forward to more of the same in the fully redesigned 2009 Toyota Matrix. A new, larger engine option should attract the attention of buyers looking for more performance, but otherwise this is the highly rational Toyota Matrix you've always known. As in the past, the front-wheel-drive Matrix is closely related to the Corolla, itself also redesigned this year. The Matrix is 3 inches taller, however, and this provides extra headroom. Toyota will continue to sell a base Matrix with an economical 1.8-liter engine, but the midrange S (replacing last year's XR) and the high-line XRS trim levels get a 2.4-liter engine with significantly more horsepower and torque. In addition, buyers have the option of purchasing all-wheel drive on the S model, which upgrades to an independent double-wishbone rear suspension (from the standard torsion beam) to allow packaging of the AWD system's rear differential. The XRS has an independent rear suspension as well, but in this case, the objective is to improve handling: This sportiest version of the Matrix also has firmer springs and shock absorbers and a front strut tower brace. In spite of these upgrades, the 2009 Toyota Matrix still isn't as engaging to drive as a Mazda 3 or the recently introduced Mini Cooper Clubman. That's not to say the Matrix isn't a capable small wagon, though. Handling is stable and secure, the ride is quiet and refined and there's ample passing oomph with the larger engine. These attributes, along with its spacious and ergonomic interior design, make it a strong contender against rivals like the Chevrolet HHR, Kia Spectra5/Rondo, Saturn Astra, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Rabbit and Toyota's own Scion xB. Among these four-door hatchbacks and wagons, the Rabbit, Impreza and Astra may still prove more appealing to shoppers who like to drive, but for those resolutely focused on practicality, the Matrix is once again a very strong candidate. 2009 Toyota Matrix models The 2009 Toyota Matrix is a small wagon/five-door hatchback available in three trim levels -- base, S and XRS. All-wheel drive is optional on the midrange S. The base car starts you out with 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power mirrors. Note that cruise control, keyless entry and power windows and locks are optional on this version of the Matrix. All of the above items are standard on the S, which also provides a rear window wiper, underbody spoilers, an upgraded stereo and a 115-volt utility outlet. The AWD version of the S loses the spoilers, but gains foglights and an independent rear suspension. The top-of-the-line Matrix XRS looks just like the front-drive S model, except for its 18-inch alloy wheels and rear roof spoiler. It also has sport-tuned suspension and steering, upgraded seat fabric and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A sunroof and an in-dash CD changer are optional across the board. Optional on the S and XRS only are a JBL sound system, satellite radio, a navigation system (with real-time traffic capability) and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. 2009 Highlights Toyota's compact hatchback/wagon is redesigned. The new 2009 Toyota Matrix is the same size as the old one, but a new 2.4-liter engine makes it a better performer and all-wheel drive is once again an option. Performance & mpg On the base Toyota Matrix, you'll find a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 132 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional. The S and XRS models upgrade to a 2.4-liter engine that makes 158 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. On the XRS and front-drive S, you can get a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. The AWD S comes only with a four-speed automatic. Equipped with the 1.8-liter engine, the Matrix returns above-average fuel economy -- 26 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with the manual and 25/31 mpg with the automatic. City mileage takes a dive if you opt for the larger engine: Ratings are 21/28 with the manual, 21/29 with the automatic and 20/26 with AWD. Safety Every 2009 Toyota Matrix comes with antilock disc brakes, though the S and XRS have larger discs all around. Also standard are front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability control is included on the XRS and optional on the lower trim levels. Driving As you'd expect, the Matrix feels a little pokey accelerating off the line when equipped with the base 1.8-liter engine. However, the engine remains smooth all the way to its power peak, and it's certainly the more frugal option. That said, once you've tried the 2.4-liter engine, it might be hard to go back. Its extra low-end torque makes for a more relaxed driving experience around town and when merging onto the highway. Ride quality is exceptional, and even the sporty XRS would make a quiet and comfortable commuter car. Around corners, the Matrix feels balanced and predictable. It's still not a very exciting car to pilot, though, and the electric-assist steering, while nicely weighted, is low on feedback. The upshot is that the 2009 Toyota Matrix is no Mazda 3 substitute, even in XRS form, but practical-minded consumers will appreciate its high level of refinement. Interior Inside, the redesigned Matrix looks and feels much like the original car, though obviously updated. It continues to offer a sportier ambience than the Corolla. The driving position is vastly improved in the '09 model, with credit going to the new telescoping steering wheel and increased seat-track travel. The controls are laid out to ergonomic near-perfection. In back, the tall, deep bench is comfortable for children and adults alike, and it folds completely flat in 60/40 sections. The one change that might disappoint some buyers is the deletion of the in-floor, adjustable cargo-track system, which Toyota says most owners weren't using. In its place, you'll find fixed tie-down points and rubber inserts designed to keep cargo from sliding around. There are 19.8 cubic feet of luggage capacity behind the rear seats and a seats-down volume of 61.5 cubes.