The year 2018 is an unusual year for the automotive market of the Philippines.
We had just come from a very strong 2017, finishing at an all time high of over 470,000 cars sold nationwide. If you doubt that, you only had to drive out and experience the traffic for yourself. This year's economy, exchange rate, and new taxes on automobiles may have dampened the mood of the auto industry, but you couldn't feel it from the number of great automobiles that were brought out for us to drive, own, and enjoy.
So, to cap off a very interesting year (for many reasons), let's have a look-see at some of the interesting, groundbreaking, or overall impressive automobiles that were launched in the Philippines in the last 12 months.
Toyota Vios: The daily drive made safer
There was a time when budget, entry-level automobiles scrimped on features and equipment. That's fair; to meet an affordable price point, car companies tended to leave a few boxes un-checked when figuring out the specifications of a new car.
Market leader Toyota, however, begged to disagree with the 2018 Vios. When they launched the redesigned Vios at their plant in Santa Rosa, Laguna, Toyota upped the game in the subcompact sedan segment by equipping their Vios with practically everything. The looks were polarizing and the price was significantly higher, but we couldn't deny that we were impressed, especially with the level of safety.
Have you ever seen all versions of an economy car fitted with seven airbags, anti-lock brakes, and even stability control?
Suzuki Jimny: Style statement in a miniature package
If you thought you were looking at a photo of a beefy SUV from a German automaker, it's alright. We understand.
When Suzuki first revealed the new Jimny, we thought it was a miniaturized Mercedes G-Class, and that perhaps, is part of the appeal. But make no mistake about it, the Jimny is all its own. Suzuki knows small cars, and the Jimny has always been a favorite amongst off-roaders who wanted the thrill of taking on the trails with something that's more nimble, more maneuverable, and definitely more affordable.
Suzuki Philippines brought out the Jimny to the Philippine International Motor Show this past September, but eager customers will have to wait until next year to get their units. We won't be surprised if many of them get accessorized to look like something from AMG.
Hyundai Kona: Next generation design
The Kona is a name that is unfamiliar to many, and that's because it's the first time Hyundai has ever used it, and they launched the vehicle at this year's Manila International Auto Show. Hyundai has been making great strides in vehicle design, but what sets the Kona apart is a design that looks nothing like any Hyundai before it. Funky and fun, Hyundai certainly let their design studios loose when designing this crossover, coming up with something that is interesting to see when parked, in traffic, or when driving at speed.
And judging by the increasing frequency of Kona, customers are really starting to like it.
Ford Ranger Raptor: Hype, justified
Ever since the Ford Ranger came out in 2011, one of the most popular modifications amongst owners have been modeled after the Baja-inspired F-150 Raptor with the big FORD grill up front and some decals.
This year, however, Ford decided to finally make it a reality with the release of a genuine Ranger Raptor. No, it's not just a cosmetic package or a facelift, but a 200+ horsepower truck with truly upgraded capabilities on the dirt or on sand.
Best of all, Ford was able to bring in the Ranger Raptor at a very reasonable price under PhP 2 million.
Nissan Terra: Fashionably late, but great
Being late to the party could be a very good thing, and that appears to be the case with Nissan and their new Terra.
For years, the competitors have been consistently releasing new SUVs in this category and in this price range, but Nissan waited. Some would argue a bit too long, but we'd say they got it just right. The Terra is impressively specced with key features (including buttons that can fold the back seats) and comes with some great capabilities that we put to the test on local lahar fields and even the Moroccan Sahara.
What surprised us was the pricing: they were able to undercut many of the competitor models.
Hyundai Santa Fe: Taking it to the next level
One thing we know for sure about Hyundai: the next generation of a particular model is far better than the last. And they did it again with the Santa Fe.
For just over a decade, Hyundai's SUV has been impressing the market with its style, space, fuel efficiency, and potent diesel engines. The first Santa Fe was good, the second Santa Fe was even better, and this third generation is just exceptional. From the style, the fit, the finish, the quality, the features, and the luxury, the Santa Fe is poised to make its presence felt again in the auto industry.
Ford Expedition: Size still matters
We know the Americans like everything big. XL this and upsize that are common terms in their industry, and we can see it in their cars too, just like the Ford Expedition.
Launched at the Manila International Auto Show earlier this year, the Expedition is definitely one massive SUV. It's of the few vehicles around where you can fit a whole sheet of plywood if the seats are folded down; yes, we tried.
Luxurious styling, premium appointments, supple upholstery and many more made the Expedition an instant hit amongst the Metro's exclusive gated communities. But it's more than just about size, as Ford really wanted to make the Expedition better by using smaller turbocharged V6 and a lighter aluminum body, among others.
Lexus ES: Comfort and driving pleasure
Since Lexus arrived in the Philippines in 2009, one model has been their consistent best seller: the ES. Compared to cars from brands like BMW or Mercedes, the ES was never the kind of car we liked to drive with as much as we love being chauffeur-driven with.
Today's all-new Lexus ES sheds that perception neatly by dialing up the driving feel along with the comfort and luxury expected of the brand, and a new design statement that is as stately as ever. And if you have any doubts, head on over to Lexus and try it out; you'll be impressed.
No, the ES is no longer just a car that your grand-dad would love to be driven in; you'd enjoy driving for him too.
BMW 5 Series: Still great to drive
Big cars are typically too heavy to enjoy on a good piece of winding road. That's just basic physics: the bigger the vehicle, the heavier it will be, and the harder it will be to get around corners. The BMW 5 Series, however, chooses to defy that.
Here is a big saloon car, yet you can easily finesse it around a set of bends. Granted, smaller BMW's like the 3 Series are going to be better, but the new 5 Series performs very well for its size. And its comfortable appointments.
Porsche Cayenne: The savior
When most people hear the name Porsche, they think 911. Or Cayman. Or Boxster. That's fair; those are Porsche's sportscar models, and the ones that many of us wanted to own growing up. Well, except for maybe the Boxster.
But here's a little tidbit of information: without the Cayenne, Porsche's SUV, the company wouldn't be as profitable as it is now. The Cayenne, you see, is the model that almost literally saved Porsche, allowing the great sportscars from (arguably) Germany's greatest sportscar manufacturer to live on. 911 included.
The new generation model is better in every respect. Of course Porsche's designs have always been evolutionary in nature rather than revolutionary, but many of the improvements in any new Porsche have been about the mechanicals or lately, the electronics. And this new model continues that great—albeit modern—tradition.
Aston Martin Vantage: Maximum pleasure
Any Aston Martin has always had a unique air about it. Gentlemanly. Suave. Sophisticated. These are just some of the words that come to mind, and it comes as no surprise that AM is a perfect fit for 007.
But beyond the spy branding, Astons are incredible cars by their own right, and that's what the new Vantage represents. It's exquisitely styled to look good as it cuts through mountain bends as it does on an open highway. It's equipped to perform at the higher ticks of the speedometer than your average luxury car. And it sings while doing it from that glorious V8 in front of you.
You just have to be sure that you can handle what the Vantage can bring.
Lamborghini Urus: Rambo Lambo, Part Two
Back in the 80's, Lamborghini came out with something wild. They called it the LM002; a truck/SUV that can keep up with the Joneses if they were driving Ferraris, and smoke them if the road turned to dirt and dust. The nickname Rambo is to this Lambo like Hulk is to Hogan.
Now Lamborghini has a spiritual successor, and they call it the Urus.
This is perhaps the ultimate super SUV, and it looks the part; definitely nothing like the Humvee-esque LM002 of decades past. And it has a luxurious interior, high tech features and exotic appointments. You won't be left wanting for power: it has 650 turbocharged Italian horses from its V8 which, together with the all-wheel drive system and an 8-speed automatic, would make this a beast on a flat desert or sand dunes.
Anyone want to take this Lamborghini off road?
Ferrari Portofino: Style and substance
But if cruising down the Riviera is more your thing, then the Ferrari Portofino is the one you're looking for.
The Portofino is Ferrari's latest retractable hard top convertible; it's a grand touring coupe when you need it to be, and a drop-top roadster when the weather, the scenery, and the company is perfect. The beautiful lines, the sloping fastback silhouette make the Portofino a beautiful car to admire if you're enjoying your morning coffee overlooking the driveway, and the eager 591 horsepower twin turbo V8 will give you a smile as you blast down the motorway.
Now, all you need is a date.
The last 12 months were definitely challenging for the domestic auto industry, but make no mistake about it: it will bounce back. And that means we can look forward to even more impressive cars, and more exciting drives in the near future.