I’ve been a Zipcar member for a few months, after deciding it was about time to sell my Ford Focus rather than parking it in my building uptown and insuring it for $300 a month, which didn’t include any actual cost of driving. Today, while running some errands in one of the Zipcars, I thought it might be a good idea to write down what I think of the cars that I’ve been driving. There are a wide variety of cars available to Zipcar members, and I like to try new things, so this has been working out well.
So, here is the first of what should be a series of auto reviews, based on my experience taking out Zipcars that are available around Toronto and driving them around the city. My review is intended to be a review of the model in general but is likely to be skewed by the realities of car sharing, good or bad. Plus I have plenty of biases when it comes to driving. But anyway, here’s what I think.
What: Toyota Matrix wagon (exact year and trim unknown)
Tay’s out of town working a gig in Ancaster this weekend, and I had a few things to do that I probably could have easily taken transit to get to, but I felt like taking out a car. Not too many are available on short notice on Saturday afternoon, and I wanted to avoid the Civic after last time, so I set out in the Matrix wagon.
City: It had just started raining when I got in the car, so I got to experience driving in the rain right away. I was headed out Gerrard east toward Victoria Park – a route with streetcar tracks – and right away noticed that I needed to hang on with both hands, or the steering wheel turned sharply as the front wheels fell into the streetcar rails. This is the first car I’ve driven where I’ve noticed that was a problem. Otherwise, the car drove very well in the neighbourhood.
Acceleration was very strong at city speed, as I expect from a Japanese car. Suspension felt very firm with little lean in turns, but was very forgiving over rough Toronto roads. I noticed the transmission seemed to be unsure which gear to choose in the turns, but was otherwise smooth without noticeable shifting delay. Overall, I was impressed with the drive on the city streets.
Freeway: On the way back from my shopping adventure I set out on the freeway, to see if the smooth ride kept up into freeway speeds. Acceleration from the ramp to merging speed was not impressive, in fact I was concerned the car would not get up to speed if not for the downhill ramp. I later realized that the car will not downshift unless the gas pedal is pushed all the way to the floor, most likely a fuel economy feature. I actually like this – one of my criticisms of automatic transmissions is that they downshift too easily. This car can’t be expected to be speedy at freeway speeds, but it does well for a 4 cylinder. I found it hard to see around the wagon’s body, and more than once was surprised by a car in my blind spot on either side. As in the city, cornering was fantastic and the ride was firm but smooth.
Interior: When I had more time to check it out, I found that the interior was well designed. The gauges were nice to look at but not oppressive to the eyes or distracting. The wiper selector was opposite to what I’m used to, but not illogical, and the rear wiper made a lot of noise so I switched it off fairly quickly. There are a few compartments in the dash which don’t have any particular purpose, but at least the space doesn’t go to waste. Cup holders fit a large coffee nicely, an extra large would be snug and a Big Gulp is just not an option in this car. One nice touch was a tray for about 6 quarters between the steering wheel and the driver’s door, right where you’d need them for tolls (if that was an issue in Toronto).
Otherwise, the car lacks the bells and whistles of some of the other Zipcar models and seems more like an economy car, and for an economy car it seems like it would be good value. Of course, being a shared car I don’t know what it’s worth, but I don’t need to, and I suppose that’s one good feature about Zipcars.
Note: this review is a matter of my own opinion, and is not endorsed by Zipcar or Toyota. Use at your own risk.