the most affordable of the so-called "crossovers" are the Pontiac Vibe
and its mechanical twin, the Toyota Matrix. Priced between $17K and about $25K,
the Vibe and Matrix are aimed at younger folks and small families that want the
quality of a Toyota-built vehicle and the style of something decidedly more youthful
than the conventional station wagon or SUV.
spunky-if distinctly different-shapes of the Vibe and Matrix are at once fun and
functional, and together share one the best small SUV/wagon layouts on the road
today. They are both expressive; the multi-element headlights and split grille
of the Pontiac's defining what can safely be called one of the most tasteful front
ends in Pontiac's history. The Matrix is more organically designs, but shares
with the Pontiac a cleverly disguised cargo area that tapers in look, but still
features a very high cargo area roof, and thus a surprisingly large cargo capacity.
nice are shared features like a rigid plastic floor in the cargo area that deals
with spills and sharp objects in ways that carpet never could. Their dashboards
are nearly identical, too, which is perfectly all right given how cool they look,
with their chrome-ringed gauges and generous swaths of metal trim. The seating
position is upright, like an SUV, a good thing for outward visibility as it affords
you a commanding view of the road.
Both the Vibe and Matrix share engines
with, of all things, the Toyota Celica. Their 120-hp base engine gets going well
enough for most drivers, while the 180-hp engine in the GT adds some high-rpm
zip to the task. If you want all-wheel drive or an automatic transmission, however,
you'll have to stick with the base engine, as the more powerful version only comes
with a 6-speed manual and front-wheel drive.