Toyota Corolla Matrix XRS/Pontiac Vibe GT Review

The above could probably make a pretty good puzzle. You know..."find at least x number of differences between these two pictures".

Well, I'll jump straight to the answers. The top picture is the Toyota Corolla Matrix and the bottom shot is the Pontiac Vibe GT. And, apart from some exterior styling cues, they are the same vehicle.

Wait...what? Toyota and Pontiac? The same car? Yep. This is the current fruit of a partnership between GM and Toyota going back to the 1980s, which produced the short-lived Geo. The cars are built here in the U.S. (the Toyotas in Detroit and the Pontiac in Fremont, California, near San Francisco), using 61% American parts and 39% Japanese.

Essentially, it's a five-door hatchback version of a Corolla (which is why that name is part of the Toyota version). If you need a competitor to help pigeonhole the Corolla Matrix/Vibe, the Chrysler PT Cruiser is probably the one to think of: We're talking small sedans made more versatile with the hatchback. And the Matrix/Vibe, especially the new for 2009 models, are more fun to drive.

The Pontiac gets the edge because of little things like OnStar, 3 months free of XM Satellite Radio and bigger things like a better warranty. But it's not likely to break and the Toyota is likely to have better resale value, for no reason other than brand prejudices. Dealers can sell used Toyotas better than used Pontiacs, even when they're the same car.

Pick either and you'll get an EPA estimated 21 city/29 highway miles per gallon with an automatic transmission (inexplicably, the number drops to 21/28 with a stick), the same standard features and the same options, more or less. Base prices are within a few hundred dollars of each other (the XRS and GT are the top of the line and start around $21,000...you can get the base models of Matrix/Vibe for the low $16,000s).

If you've driven the previous generation Matrix/Vibe, test drive the new '09...both are hugely improved.