In the past, small wagons were practical and affordable and not much more. If you wanted driving excitement, you were pretty much out of luck. The Pontiac Vibe, however, was one of the first entries in a new class of tall, compact sport wagons to change all that. Sure, it had the practical parts covered via an elevated driving position, remarkable passenger room, a versatile cargo area and impressive fuel economy. But it also had sporty styling, respectable performance and a cool-looking interior. Once again a semi-identical twin to the Toyota Matrix, the redesigned-for-2009 Pontiac Vibe shares the Toyota's interior and mechanical components -- a genealogy that promises long-term reliability and durability. Unlike the identical cabins (furnished by Toyota), the exterior styling is unique to each model, with the Pontiac retaining its trademark dual grille theme. Pontiac says the steering and suspension were also specifically tuned for the Vibe. In addition to the new styling, the '09 Vibe (available in base, AWD and GT trims) brings a new engine for all but the base trim. Replacing the high-revving but ill-suited 1.8-liter engine in previous GTs is a torquey 2.4-liter four-cylinder. It's the same one that's used in the Toyota Camry and Scion xB and is perfect in the real world for cut-and-thrust city traffic and freeway merging. The previous base-level 1.8-liter inline-4 carries over, though it's been heavily updated to provide a bit more power. All-wheel drive is available again, as well. Other changes this year include a full complement of standard safety features and a newly standard telescoping steering wheel. Combined with increased front seat track travel, the new Vibe promises a more comfortable driving position for a greater range of body types. The interior retrains its driver-oriented layout and design, though now updated with easier-to-use controls, better materials and improved fit and finish. If you're shopping for a small wagon or hatchback, there are more choices than ever, including the Chevrolet HHR, Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza and Scion xB. They share many of the Vibe's attributes, most notably an impressive amount of passenger/cargo space within a small footprint. The Chevy boasts cool retro styling and an available high-performance SS variant, the Mazda is known for its sporty handling and the boxy Scion has edgy youth appeal and the most interior space. If you don't dig the Vibe's styling vibe but appreciate its other attributes, Toyota's near-identical Matrix may fit your fancy. But the 2009 Pontiac Vibe makes no apologies here. With its peppy performance, solid handling, low price and high level of practicality, the Vibe is a smart choice. Performance & mpg The base 2009 Pontiac Vibe is powered by a 1.8-liter 132-horsepower four-cylinder engine. All other trims feature a 2.4-liter four with 158 hp. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all but the AWD, which comes with a four-speed automatic. The latter is optional on the base Vibe, while the 1SB and the GT offer an available five-speed automatic. With the smaller engine coupled to the manual gearbox, acceleration is respectable as long as you don't mind winding the engine up past 4,000 rpm. The new 2.4-liter delivers solid, useful throttle response off idle and through the midrange, and the engine revs smoothly and quietly. With the 2.4, the run to 60 mph is estimated at around 8 seconds, about average in its class. Safety The Vibe comes with antilock disc brakes, OnStar, stability control and a full complement of airbags (front-seat side and full-length side curtain). Driving Through the turns, the 2009 Pontiac Vibe (especially in AWD and GT form with their sport suspensions) is responsive and composed, if not quite as entertaining as the decidedly sporty Mazda 3. Body roll is minimal, steering is nicely weighted and turn-in is fairly crisp. A supple ride makes the Vibe a good companion whether handling commuting duty or road tripping, and freeway cruising is unstrained at higher speeds. Interior All displays and controls are simple and intuitive, including those for the often-used climate control and audio systems. Build quality is also very good, with most of the interior bits and pieces sourced from Toyota. Thanks to the Vibe's tall architecture, there's plenty of room for passengers. The rear seat is split 60/40 and all but the base trim feature a flat-folding front passenger seat to allow long items to be carried inside. Max cargo capacity is 49.4 cubic feet, which is about mid-pack in the segment. All trims but the base also feature a rear cargo organizer that's handy for holding grocery bags upright and secure.