The Matrix Chronicles are coming to a end. My parents and I have been talking about our beloved Matrix. The transmission may have a dying syncro between 3rd and 4th (found a rare sound today). The clutch is absurdly hard for anyone who isn’t fairly experienced (fucking exedy). Now I am exploring options for the replacement and more of the reasoning behind it. I also explore the CVT in a longform editiorial.

Even though the Matrix is absurdly fun to drive (corners and spirited mountain driving), it had a calculated 9.9 miles to a gallon with one Oakland Hills driving session, some daily driving, and a trip to work. That was BAD. When I was driving home from dinner with my dad, I drove home. On a turn on the freeway, I shifted lanes from the one occupied by the lethargic Prius to an empty lane. I raced up to 5 k ish RPM and shifted into 4th. Grind/crunching sound. Fuck. Syncro. Oh yeah, clutches. I have a Exedy clutch, which is absurdly difficult to drive with a weird idle. Weird idle+clutch=very difficult to drive. This car also has a habit of eating OEM clutches because the OEM clutch was designed for a Celica, which has a much lower curb weight. There is also the high idle, which assists in the shitty fuel economy (22 typical driving, day to day/27 highway to Pismo).

Because of these problems, my parents and I have conceded that the Matrix needs to be sold and replaced with a car that meets the manual/fits-2-mountain-bikes/fuel-economical standard. I also had to admit the manual is dying out, and losing out to autotragics.

My parents are both skilled manual drivers (dad more skilled) and there has been 5 manual cars in the household since my birth (90s Corolla, 98 Montero Sport, 00 Taco, 09 Matrix, 03 Matrix XRS). The manual saga is coming to an end. Fuel economies are going up with unresponsive and tepid CVTs. This might be to boost up Cafe standards, but the result is like 1975 with american cars.

American Cars in the 70s and 80s were quickly being choked down by catalytic converters to V8s making a trickles of horsepower. 7 liters of Caddy V8 making 189 hp. Iron Duke i4 was making at most 110 in street tune. As time went on, carburetors were eschewed for fuel injection. Fuel injection was gradually perfected to the point one could go to a local dealership and buy a vehicle for around 20,000 dollars that reached the mark of one hundred horsepower for one liter of engine.

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As time went on, cars became faster, but heavier. A Ford Fiesta ST has a curb weight of 2720 lb while the Matrix has curb weight of 2750 pounds (scales tested). The Matrix also has a longer wheelbase and wider body. Safety regulations have heaved the car up to the point that we can put a twin turbo V6 into an Explorer AWD drivetrain and have its main market/buyers be members of the residential suburbia. Mind you, the Explorer Sport has 12 less HP and 69 less torques than a Lotus Carlton. And a Lotus Carlton was very fast for its time, and still very fast.

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Manuals also started disappearing. Automatics were proven to be faster and more quick shifting than a manual. Lap times, 0-60 times, blah blah blah, the automatic came first. Automatics started off as a luxury item, and then grew to happily accommodate the lazy nature of America. But enthusiasts tried to fight back. We tried to capture the feeling of manual in our every car purchase. We grew up with a stick shift and found our options were falling. Suddenly our beloved Subaru Outback didn’t come in a manual! We discovered our options started to grow nil. Car manufacturers started neutering mid-level cars of manuals and leaving the base/sport models with a manual. But Cafe standards and fuel economy standards caught up. The previously electrifying Subaru Forester XT (turbo, yo!) had its manual replaced with an auto only option. Only the 2.0 liter NA Forester now offers a manual option. The XT has a CVT.

There are only few manufacturers that partially does not adhere to the “base model and sporty model” manual rule. They are BMW and Volkswagen. BMW makes a effort to put a manual in the 2/3/4/ series for the RWD models in sedan/coupe/non-”gran” models in all the engine levels they offer. Volkswagen tries to offer a manual in almost all models except in the higher trim levels. Mind you, every single manufacturer has perfected their manuals. Volvo knows damn well European spec Volvos get manuals. Toyota can put a silky smooth manual in their RAV4. Dodge knows how to make a good manual transmission but has shoved half-baked ZF 9 speed transmissions everywhere to consumers’ complaints.

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CVTs are awful right now and are varying messes. Most receive less than favorable responses on the forum and from auto journos. But the CVT is right now at its infancy. It’s the nasty complex fuel injection systems we found on our cars in the late 20th century. But it will improve. It might even get absolved and put down for good. The double clutch gearbox will improve to a level in consumer vehicles an enthusiast may appreciate.

Perhaps in a few years, I will drive a 2023 Focus RS500. It has a sequential style CVT gearbox. It has gear ratios I can adjust for the driving I am doing. It will have options to disable automatic shifting. Perhaps I want to go rallycrossing one day and I tune the transmission to the optimal rally gear ratios. I go home and put it in the “highway cruising ratio” that makes extends my MPGs but uses minimal horsepower for maximum efficiency. When I want to pass someone, I double flick my downshift paddle and the engine goes to an self learning ratio which will allow me to put the power down with no abandonment. The shift times are quick as the garden variety double clutch. This car is perfect. I can go hooning (set a ratio and disable auto shifting) and then go home with worn tires at 34 mpg. And Cafe standards will still be met. A factory provided preset “economy setting” will be provided for the EPA for fuel economy testing. There are programmable options for other modes. That will soon be the future (or what I hope to see).

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Now back to the replacement of the Matrix. I was actually looking into cars (my parents are also using this as a car) that was a wagon (so we can get commercial plates for my dad’s work), set good fuel consumption scores, and was a manual. It was sad. I explored the Scion iM and Subaru Outback in a manual. But all was outboasted by the Prius V. It offered great fuel economy numbers and has massive amounts of room. It didn’t have a manual. The only other practical option is to buy a 2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportswagen TDI in a manual. But trying to find one is difficult. I ended up finding one in Denver, but my parents expressed difficulties in getting a low interest rate in a car loan for a used car and the inability for a test drive. I live in California. Now I have to give up the stick and that glorious Yamaha engine. I no longer drive a hot hatch anymore. I may be a Prius driver in the near future, but my hope rests for CVTs to develop further into enthusiast territory.

Oh wait. Fuck the Prius.

I have become who I hate to be. Rest assured, I am saving up for a car of my own. One that might not be fuel economical, but practical and fun: a Saab Viggen. I’ll take you to the cornering playground in the Oakland Hills, then come back to my CVT Focus, play with the gear ratios, and then drive at 40mpg to get some burritos.