Is a Toyota Matrix a good replacement for a Honda wagon?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

My dad and I rarely agree on anything, and this issue is no different. I really want to buy a new Toyota Matrix with a stick shift, but he insists that the front-wheel-drive version (which, of course, is the one I want) is lousy in the snow. He insists it has to do with body design, weight and tires. Someone else told me he might be thinking of the "sporty" version, which is not the model I want. Living in Maine, snow is a real issue. I now have a Honda wagon that has more than 250,000 miles, and I could use the "wagon-like" space the Matrix provides. It's also in my price range, and it's a Toyota, so I'm thinking it has a chance of getting me another 250,000 miles. Help settle this. It sure would be nice to hear that Dad might be wrong just once in his life. -- Karen

RAY: It's a new day, Karen! Say hallelujah!

TOM: Dad might actually be wrong here. I assume you got along fine in the snow with your Honda wagon all these years. There's no reason why the Matrix shouldn't be just as good.

RAY: Right. They're both lightweight cars. But they've both got front-wheel drive. Of course, they also make an all-wheel-drive version of the Matrix, which would be even better in the snow. I assume that's what Dad wants you to get.

TOM: Now, to give Dad his due, Toyota does make a higher-performance two-wheel-drive version of the Matrix, which WOULD be lousy in the snow. It's got more horsepower than you need, which leads to wheel spin, and it's got performance tires, which are notoriously lousy on wet or snowy roads. But, like you said, that's not the one you want.

RAY: If the Honda served you well in the snow, I suspect you'll do fine in the Matrix. But if you can afford all-wheel drive, you should get it. In Maine, it snows for about six months out of the year (with a month of mud on either side of that), so that's one place where you really can justify the extra cost.

TOM: In fact, you should go back to Dad and say: "Dad, you were absolutely right. The 2WD Matrix won't be safe enough for me in the snow. Tom and Ray said you should pay the difference and upgrade me to the all-wheel drive!"

RAY: And when that doesn't work, get the two-wheel drive, buy four good snow tires and drive carefully. Good luck, Karen.

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