This previous summer time, I unloaded my 2013 Dodge Challenger, decreasing the dimensions of my private fleet by a 3rd and leaving me with simply my 2011 Wrangler and 1990 Miata. Each are fascinating and enjoyable, however neither is a freeway cruiser. The large Dodge stuffed that position splendidly, nevertheless it was powerful to justify the astronomical prices of insuring such a automobile within the Detroit metro space whereas working from residence. Carvana gave me a proposal I could not refuse, I walked away solely about $1,500 and a set of tires lighter than I used to be after I bought it. Not dangerous, proper? (Sure, you offered your Challenger. Booo! -Ed.)

Since, I have been searching for an appropriate freeway beater to fill that void. One thing low cost, comparatively snug, utilitarian and dependable. My possession historical past steered me within the course of an early-aughts Ford Focus or Mazda3, each of which I am accustomed to and fairly snug engaged on. Discovering them in any form of respectable form with the choices I needed (handbook, cruise management) proved harder than I would initially anticipated. Enter the Matrix. 

A 2003 Toyota Matrix XRS, to be exact. I discovered it in my almost-daily classifieds searches whereas spending the vacations quasi-quarantined in an RV in my dad and mom’ driveway in Las Cruces, New Mexico. (Wow, would not that sound enjoyable? -Ed.) Seems southern New Mexico is each an incredible and horrible place to buy low cost used automobiles: automobiles are free from rust however the choice is poor. I drove a few Focuses and even inquired after a Lexus LS on a lark, however nothing actually grabbed me till I noticed this little black hatchback. 

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I’ve a little bit of a tender spot for recession-era sport compacts. I owned and loved a 2008 Mazdaspeed3, which was one of many stand-outs of that technology of fanatic automobiles, of which there have been a lot. In reality, there have been so lots of them out there that fairly just a few fascinating (however comparatively underwhelming) automobiles flew proper underneath the radar — not as a result of they have been dangerous, essentially, however as a result of the very best have been simply that significantly better. 

The Matrix XRS (additionally offered because the Pontiac Vibe GT) did not set the world on hearth, nevertheless it’s nonetheless an enchanting little artifact of the times when even the mundane may profit from an fascinating parts-bin maneuver. Within the case of the XRS, that pull occurred to be the powertrain, which consisted of the 180-horsepower 2ZZ-GE 1.8-liter engine and six-speed handbook transmission lifted from the Toyota Celica GT-S. Variants of that engine have been additionally put within the Corolla XRS (of which the Matrix is merely a hatchback variant) and, later, a wee British lass by the identify of Elise. 

After I noticed the itemizing, I knew I would discovered what I used to be searching for. With the used automobile market being utter chaos, the Matrix value me about $1,500 greater than it in all probability would have a yr in the past. It is 18 years outdated with greater than 140,000 miles on the clock, however it’s (largely) a Toyota, and with its age comes a level of simplicity that stored my expectations pretty low. It was initially bought in Indiana, however instantly moved south, residing out its earlier lives in west Texas and southern New Mexico. 

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I am not one to call automobiles. Even my Plum Loopy 392 was simply “the Challenger.” The particular article is a fixture of my storage, with the occasional adjective thrown in — “the silly Miata,” for instance. The descriptors are sometimes extra colourful, relying on my temper. That mentioned, if I have been to interrupt with custom, “Neo” appears an applicable moniker for a classic Toyota Matrix with an enthusiastically over-sprayed coat of black paint, does it not?

Not like the Elise (or actually the rest supplied with this powertrain), the Matrix was no featherweight. Checking in at about 2,800 kilos, it was one of many precursors of the newborn crossover explosion. It additionally got here from an period when Toyotas have been, let’s assume, fairly clearly constructed to a value. The XRS eschewed the all-wheel-drive mannequin’s impartial rear suspension in favor of a twist-beam setup, for instance, and since American-market examples have been a product of Toyota’s partnership with GM, there was some cross-pollination that resulted in some odd manufacturing and repair quirks.

I am going to get into {that a} bit extra in a separate piece, through which I am going to contact on all of the highlights and lowlights, together with the combined bag that’s buying an inexpensive automobile from a desert local weather. For now, welcome the latest member of the Autoblog group.