Matrix vs. Vibe

I?m hoping to buying a new car through the cash for clunkers program. I spend a decent amount of time commuting and going on road trips, so I want something that gets good gas mileage. I also have a lot of hobbies that require a more rugged car with ok ground clearance. One of the cars I?m considering is the Toyota Matrix. After reading into it seems to be the same thing as the Pontiac Vibe, but the Vibe is several thousand dollars cheaper. I?m skeptical about buying a Pontiac, but the price tag is very tempting. Does anyone have any opinions about the Matrix vs. the Vibe? Is there a totally different car in that price range I should be considering? Thanks. - Hillary

The Matrix and the Vibe are mechanically identical. Both are hatchback versions of the Toyota Corolla, which is one of the most reliable vehicles on the planet.

The Matrix is more expensive because Toyota has more brand cache than Pontiac, and because Pontiac is being discontinued, which means everything is available at fire sale prices. This makes the Vibe a great deal, financially.

There’s no need to worry about parts after Pontiac is gone. They will be available for a LONG time, probably longer than you will own the car, and you can get the car serviced just about anywhere.

A similar car with very high reliability and owner satisfaction ratings is the Mazda3 hatchback, and I would certainly test drive one if I were shopping in this category.

Another nice 5-door hatchback is the new Hyundai Elantra Touring, which comes with a long list of standard equipment (and a fantastic warranty) at an attractive price.

If you’re interested in All Wheel Drive the Subaru Impreza hatchback should be on your list.

Have fun shopping. There are some nice deals out there right now.


You can get the car repaired, including warranty repairs, at any GM dealer after the Pontiac dealer closes. The same company that owns the Pontiac delaership probably owns others GM dealships as well. That is the case with our 2003 Olds Silhouette. We bought it knowing that Olds was phasing out, and have had no problems obtaining parts. Note, too, that you can get it repaired at any Toyota dealership or independent shop after the warranty phases out.

Not to douse the flames, but I don’t consider “rugged” and “Matrix/Vibe” belonging together.

What kinda hobbies do you have that require good ground clearance?

Thanks for bringing that up. This is the first car I’ve tried to buy new so I’m a little overwhelmed with all the choices.

My hobbies are mostly kayaking and backpacking/camping. My kayak lives on my car and I was warned that something tiny, like the Yaris, doesn’t have enough roof space to put enough distance between the bars for safe car topping.

As far as ground clearance, I need to be able to pull off a paved road with out scrapping bottom (not something that can off-road). I have an older Subaru, which has meet all of my needs except getting good gas milage. I plan on keeping the Subaru so I’m hoping that I can use that for excursions that involve more “rugged” terrain and get a car with good gas milage to compliment it.

Any thoughts? My car needs are inexpensive (under $16), can go off paved roads, fit a kayak on top, and gets good gas milage. Please let me know if there are any must-sees in those categories.


I suggest you reconsider another car. If your goal is to save money, it won’t work. Even considering the $4500 you might get towards a Vibe. Ff the Vibe cost $14,500 out the door, you’d still need to make up $10,000 in gas compared to the Subie before you break even. If you want a new car, that’s fine. But there is not much of a money justification from what I read.

BTW, I assume that the Subaru is not the clunker. It must get 18 MPG or worse in combined EPA mileage to qualify.

If you older Subaru is a standard sedan or wagon, with normal ground clearance (as opposed the the Outback vehicles, which are raised), any of the vehicles discussed so far will go where you need to go. You can drive on dirt roads, or things like that, with just about any car. Unless you’re talking about going where there is no road you shouldn’t have to worry.

Have you considered a used car, or are you strictly shopping new? You can get a lot more for your money in the used car market.

If you’re willing to consider a used car I have more cars to add to my list from yesterday:

The Ford Focus station wagon and 5-door hatchback. Ford actually made both versions for several years. Your kayak will fit and either car should get decent mileage.

Another good choice from the used market is the Mazda Protege5, a nice little wagon with good reliability.

No matter what you buy, you should know that carrying the kayak around on the roof all the time will reduce your gas mileage. The aerodynamic drag from the carrier and the kayak is the culprit. Even an empty roof rack will knock a few mpg off a vehicle.

I bought Chevy Novas and Prisms for years (4 of them) instead of paying the higher price for a Corolla. The Matrix/Vibe relationship is a continuation of this GM/Toyota partnership. The only “caveat” would be the resale value consideration. Toyotas are generally easier to sell than Pontiacs, regardless who made them. Consider too when you get ready to buy, you may not be saving much, if the Toyota comes with better features that account for the price difference. All that being equal or resolved in your mind, I would opt for the “best” dealership, proximity and reputation wise.

Just a comment about Subaru ground clearance. Though it may in some models exceed that of many cars, it is over rated. With the long front overhang with poor approach angle and the immediate loss of clearance in the rear when loaded or hitting a bump due to it’s independent suspension, it really can’t be compared to a solid axle vehicle for true off roading. Subarus are great slippery road cars but are really not suitable to drive anywhere you wouldn’t consider driving a FWD car. They just provide an extra margin of safety on the same terrain.

The Matrix and Vibe aren’t exactly “rugged”, but they would work. The Vibe is the better deal.