Having completed the initial sketches and renderings, it took Pininfarina just two months to finish the final model of the Hyundai Matrix. Swift work, although some may argue that less haste would have resulted in more taste. Or something.
PetrolBlog begs to differ. In the first of a new series entitled ‘It’s time to appreciate the…’ – or, appropriately, ITTAT – PB argues that the Hyundai Matrix is coming of age and we should be celebrating one of Pininfarina’s less illustrious designs.
Launched in 2001, the Matrix – also known as the Lavita and Elantra LaVita – was Hyundai’s compact MPV and a forerunner to the dreary and Pininfarina-free ix20. It’s at the stage where prices start from just £500, making it one of the cheapest Pininfarina cars you can buy – unless you fancy a Focus CC with a broken roof and a pond in the rear footwells, or a Shogun Pinin with more holes than a pre-election manifesto.
It’s also one of the cheapest cars you can buy with a movie title in its name, with Keanu Reeves starring in the movie of the same name. Many Hyundai dealers were known to have dressed as Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), but instead of red and blue pills, they offered Samba Red and Storm Blue colour swatches.
At least, we think this happened.
In reality, as the Hyundai Matrix teeters on the edge of bangerdom, in Keanu Reeves terms, the MPV is more Point Break than it is Excellent Adventure.
Here’s the thing. When was the last time you took a proper look at the Hyundai Matrix? The shape is very European and – forgive us for this – with a few subtle tweaks could almost pass as a Fiat Panda MPV. A kind of Giant Panda, if you like.
It’s certainly more appealing than a 500L. That said, spending the evening comparing genital warts with Piers Morgan is more appealing than the 500L.
Take the front wheel arch, which, if you tilt your head to the right, looks a little like the Papal tiara. Black smoke from the exhaust meets terminal decline and a failure to elect a new Pope.
The other – and possibly only – highlight is the design of the side windows, with the doors presented in a kind of Wild West saloon-style. Perfect for your Billy the Kid and whatever else you called your offspring. Also, note the Pininfarina badge beneath the rearmost window.
“Styled to look great,” proclaimed the brochure, as if to suggest other cars are styled to look miserable. When your rivals are the Vauxhall Meriva, Daewoo Tacuma and Kia Carens, maybe Hyundai had a point.
Brilliantly, the line in the brochure accompanied photos of a headlight, a 15-inch alloy wheel, sunroof and… wait for it… a high-mounted brake light. Four stylish gems.
The inside was an in-house job, and it’s pleasant enough. The central-mounted instrument binnacle is a neat touch. As is the raised shift lever, but aside from that, it’s a sea of dreary common sense and scratchy practicality.
“The Matrix has more space than you could have thought possible in such a compact car, complemented by a level of quality and equipment that will leave you pleasantly surprised,” claimed the brochure.
Pleasantly surprised? You can visit a garden centre and be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the carrot cake in the coffee shop. Or be pleasantly surprised by Milton Keynes. But in a car brochure that doesn’t really cut it.
There’s a sense that Hyundai UK didn’t really know who to market it to. One line in the brochure suggested that the Matrix is perfect for “seeing you through your retirement”. There you have it, folks. This is the last car you’ll travel in before the Coleman Milne E-Class takes you to your final resting place.
We’re not even sure if the Matrix has enough poke to see you through retirement. In three-cylinder 1.5-litre CRTD guise, the Matrix could hit 62mph in a leisurely 17.9 seconds. Seventeen-point-nine! Start a timer before moving on to the next paragraph. Eighteen seconds feels like an entirety.
But we’re not here to diss the Matrix. Instead, let us marvel at the Italian styling, the clean one-box proportions and those Wild West doors. We suspect that, given longer than a couple of months, Pininfarina would have proposed a pair of suicide rear doors and the removal of the B-pillar. A missed opportunity, perhaps.
Time to cut the Matrix some slack or is PB a lone voice in the wilderness? At its best in original form, the Matrix was facelifted in 2005, before being lumbered with a corporate nose in 2008.
PB is a fan and sees a future when a Matrix might join the fleet. Its rivals, such as the Meriva, Tacuma and Carens, are the type of cars driven by those non-car people at work. The kind of people who stick Post-it notes on their lunch and passive aggressive notices above the sink.
The Matrix deserves better than that. Take another look – you might be pleasantly surprised.