By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer IT is easy to fall prey to preconceived notions, biases if you will. Even the world of cars and motoring is not free of arbitrary, foregone conclusions. Rain always brings horrendous traffic. Station wagon owners have large, hairy dogs. Traffic cops like doughnuts. Ask yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, what comes to mind when you think of the Hyundai brand? Honestly, in our subconscious’ hierarchy of automotive brands, cars with the italicized H aren’t vehicles that we are completely comfortable with. More often than not, a little sense of hesitation always creeps in when thinking of this marque. Chalk up this line of thinking to a less than stellar complement of vehicles that initially introduced Hyundai cars to the local market around a decade ago. To say that the current generation of automobiles from this Korean manufacturer is now radically different would just state the obvious. Inevitably, everything changes over time. What really has to be said is that change has been kind to the Hyundai brand and the second generation Santa Fe is confirmation of the good news. If only cars were solely judged by their engines. The 2.2-liter common-rail turbo diesel unit makes the strongest argument for Santa Fe. Few diesel engines across the entire local market can claim to deliver the same amount of bang for buck value. At around 150 horses and 330 Nm of twist, pull is more than sufficient from about 2,000 rpm. This engine allows the almost two-ton mass of the Santa Fe to reach the century speed mark with surprising ease. Beyond that, it takes quite a while for the Santa Fe to lose steam. Just how far will the needle go on the speedometer? Let’s just say this is the kind of SUV that is good for low 20-minute times on empty highways headed for old naval bases nestled in the hills, a whispering turbo making a compelling argument to push just a little bit more. Styling is another strong point of the Santa Fe. Proper dimensions and proportions are the solid foundation that allows the details of this SUV’s sheet metal to come through. A chiseled front fascia, highlighted by a gaping front intake hints at an aerospace influence. Tasteful treatment of the headlamps allows people to notice slightly muscular fender treatments. The slanted rake of the front windscreen meets a roofline that tapers agreeably, guiding along the rest of the sheet metal, toward the rear of the vehicle. While not drop dead gorgeous, the Santa Fe is quite the looker. The rest of the Santa Fe package is a little more down to earth. Interiors are on the verge of tasteful. Ergonomics can sometimes be a few millimeters off here and there. The brakes could use a little more modulation. Road holding is a little too comfort-oriented. Rear quarter visibility could be a little less obstructed. Better tires could be mounted straight from the factory. You get the picture. The balance of what makes up the Santa Fe is not quite there yet. All this nitpicking has a point though. For a company that has gone to great lengths to close the gap with bigger manufacturers, the Santa Fe is tantalizingly close to completing this task. Where Hyundai used to be a couple of generations back from the competition, this current crop of cars is already nipping at the heels of the rest of the manufacturing powers. It is foreseeable that continued improvement by Hyundai will eventually result in products that will be difficult to discern from more mainstream products. At this exceptional rate of evolution, the next Santa Fe should be impeccable.
Recently in My Drift Category
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer FIRST, congratulations on your status as a respected leader in the international automobile industry. No, strike that. Rock star seems a title more appropriate. Turning around the worldwide operations of Nissan is possibly one of the greatest feats in the history of man making the automobile. You did that as an outsider, a gaijin at that. And now you have a Japanese cartoon character in your likeness to show for it. Everything you seem to do is done in boldface. Unveiling the R35 Nissan GT-R, the spiritual successor of the Skyline, to the driving world last year in Tokyo, stole the show for all intents and purposes. Standing there, elbow to solar plexus with the rest of the worldâs motoring press, even our habitually cynical lot was obviously excited. I was there in the Godzilla-frenzied mosh pit and have lousy, ill-taken photos filled with other journalistsâ heads and shoulders to prove it. Your statements at Davos this year were typically far from low-key as well. Betting Renaultâs and Nissanâs future on electric vehicles is considerably risky. Add to that the pledge that your electric car will be fun to drive and provide a significant economic advantage over the internal combustion engine. Imagine the anticipation for this landmark endeavor, especially when itâs the CEO of worldâs fourth largest automotive conglomerate doing the talking. Double the expectation since Carlos Ghosn spoke those words himself. It would take a car of unparalleled significance to pull this off. Your electric vehicle will have to go beyond the Model T, the hybrid Prius and Ratan Tataâs exercise in automotive minimalism, the pro-poverty Nano. Those are some serious benchmark there, Mr. Ghosn. The Renault-Nissan electric vehicle would have to look, feel and smell like any other car. On top of that, people will have to be convinced that somehow, yours is better. It is only after these requirements have been surpassed that the real punch-line be pulled, âAnd oh, by the way, itâs electric.â Donât forget also that your electric vehicle will have to be affordable, bordering on shamefully cheap. Good luck, youâll need it. Building and selling such a car now is beyond my imagination. Having driven the technology demonstrators of the other players in the industry, it seems like mass market acceptable, alternative energy vehicles are, at the very best, still a decade and a half away. It seems to take a dozen guys in lab coats to keep these kinds of vehicles running, even on just a test track. How can this be practical in any sense of the word? Thankfully, it appears as though Iâm mistaken. In another surprising statement that was quoted in the media this week, your car of the future seems to already be in the here and now. âWe are not interested in some âStar Warsâ prototype, but in bringing a mass-market product that everybody can buy. It is a new chapter in the life of this industry,â you said, announcing plans to introduce a zero-emission electric vehicle in the United States and Japan by 2010 (Time Magazine, Briefing, May 26, 2008). Great news for the developed world, but we in the poverty strangled third world need this product just as badly. While most of our power generation is still fossil fuel fed, a working and practical purely electric vehicle will point us in the right direction at the very least. When the time comes and clean, renewable methods of generating electricity become readily available to us, the electric car will all but sign our emancipation from the oil monopoly that profiteers on the worldâs misery. The impact of the US$135 price of oil per barrel already has the potential for creating societal chaos in the third world of unthinkable proportions. Imagine what will happen when true oil scarcity hits. Please donât keep us waiting, Mr. Ghosn. You of all people should understand that bold moves, timed to perfection can overcome established tradition and stubborn status quos. Whatâs at stake here is greater than the turnaround at Nissan, more spectacular than the rebirth of the world-beating Japanese super car genre. The opportunity to redefine the automobile is at hand. Saving the world in the process will look good on your resumÃ© as well.
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer BIGGER isn't always better, having more doesn’t always equate into being merrier. When was the last time you chose to buy a car because of the number of speakers, cupholders or map lights in the cabin? These things are nice to have but in the end, many brands just do this to overcome their products’ shortcomings. We live in a world where products loaded beyond reason saturate the market. A common marketing tactic is that vehicles that can’t cut it as fundamentally sound products load up on knickknacks for much-needed brochure appeal. Peeling back all the extras is one way to figure out just how good a product is. Finding a car that is good enough just by merely how it drives, sans all the frills, is a wonderful thing. Better even is when a lower model and trim level still delivers the same amount of satisfaction. But is it more amazing when a product with a smaller engine strikes almost the same chords as its better endowed brethren? My second time around with the Strada is an exercise in simple comparison. Having already tested the 3.2-liter, 4x4 with the slush box, finding out what the working, blue collar version was all about had to be figured out. Driving the 2.5-liter, rear-wheel drive with the five-speed manual was supposed to show the gulf between the top of the line and the more important every man’s product. This is because pickups by nature are utility vehicles. The biggest difference on paper between the two trucks is the engine size. The basic genetics of the 3.2-liter and 2.5-liter units are shared. These new-generation common-rail, direct-injection engines continue to change the motoring public’s preconceived notions about diesel-powered vehicles. Truthfully, there isn’t a CRDi engine out in the market today that doesn’t get me all worked up. New, out of the box, there isn’t an engine technology out there that provides the most reasonable engine punch for your hard-earned peso. On paper, the differences in the displacement between these two Mitsubishi engines should equate into night and day performance gaps. Truth be told, they aren’t very far apart. The 3.2-liter CRDi turbo hints at increased performance but the bar set by the 2.5-liter CRD turbo is already quite high. Honestly folks, the on-paper differences of 20 bhp and 30 Nm of torque between the two are easy to overlook in daily driving conditions. Anyone who can tell, blindfolded and bound in the back seat, which engine is special in their own way. Insistent human dynamometers should register with the National Center for Mental Health. The 4x2 version also has two more things working for it. The simpler Strada is spared the automatic gear box and is a much lighter by around 100 kg. The result is a quick product that tip-toes around turns and bends in a livelier fashion. Combine this with the Strada’s road tuned ride character and a truly streetable truck is the final sum. Daily and drive are even two words that come to mind, especially when you take into consideration the imperfect character of our supposedly sealed road national surfaces. The 4x2 Mitsubishi Strada is a clear and wonderful example of less being more, of not needing a shopping list of accessories to turn a good automobile into a great one. Sound and grounded fundamentals are the basis on which this value-laden vehicle is built on. If your trucking takes you mostly through the metropolis and its environs, this is the pickup that will reward you with moments of decent drive time. Dakar raiders, mud crawlers and rock hoppers should look elsewhere -- the blacktop belongs to this Strada.
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer IF the idea of a Filipino-designed car tickles your fancy, rest easy that you are not alone. There is enough history to point that we as a people have been perennially on the brink of breaking into truly homegrown auto manufacturing. Most will dismiss the idea of a locally penned automobile as sheer lunacy but there are some cars that have been designed and built in the Philippines that would argue otherwise. Conge is a name that still comes up over rounds of beer and stories of better days gone by. Much of the reminiscing is centered on the two-door, two-seat Partner model, basically a fiberglass shell built around a space frame chassis and powered by a tuned Toyota 2TG. In an age without computer-aided design and engineering software, the Partner soldiered solidly in the Golden Age of Philippine rallying, even foraying into Malaysia. Piloted by the best and brightest Filipino rallying talent at the time, both Conge Partner entries finished respectably on the international rallying stage. Mandy Eduque and Jun Espino finished well within the top 20, while Vip Isada and Blue Reyna hovered just above the best 10. Several other Conge models were built for the growing motor sport scene at the time. A Lancia 037 copy comes to mind, also the slalom-specific “slipper” model and a twin-engine rally version that ran front and rear 1200cc Mitsubishi Mirage units resulting in an archaic form of all-wheel drive. Aside from sporting designs, Conge also released the Sikat utility vehicle, similar to a Ford Fiera, and the aerodynamic-looking Spirit mini van, eerily comparable to modern day MPVs (multipurpose vehicles). Whatever happened to the brand and the men behind this local car endeavor remains unclear. Their contribution to Filipino car history is unmistakable nonetheless. We need not look further than one of the nation’s strongest cultural icons for the next example of the Filipino’s innate auto-building capacity. For something that started foreign, the Jeepney was naturalized by a combination of necessity and ingenuity. Born of materiel surplus, the devastation of war and the need for cheap motorized transport, today's jeepney bears little resemblance to the Willys and Ford jeeps that they evolved from. The cut and paste style of modification used in the initial war wagon to public transport conversions lives on in today’s jeepney also. The hodgepodges of parts that make up each jeepney reflect both the diversity of our own culture and the sad economics that keep us from going forward in many aspects of life. The final argument comes from the new breed of cars that jumped out of science fiction and became actual working Filipino made cars. The Sinag solar car project of La Salle’s Mechanical Engineering and Electronic and Communications Engineering Departments points to a bright future, forgive the pun. Finishing the 2007 World Solar Challenge’s 3000-km route should have been enough reason to declare a national holiday, but placing 20th in a field of 38 world-class teams is what is really spectacular about this Filipino endeavor. The current environmental and economic impacts of rising oil prices have also helped spawn a mushroom patch of indigenous electric cars. Every few months it seems someone claims to have built a vehicle powered by some sort of electric motor. Never mind the questions of whether these cars are actually cheaper to run long term than the new breed of efficient fossil fuel burners. The whole point is that it can be done and that a Filipino can do it. The theme that binds these Filipino cars seems to be adaptation born out of necessity. Conge’s came at a time that brand-new cars, let alone performance models, were hard to come by and if at all available were ridiculously priced. The jeepney and the electric cars show how we adapt in times of societal adversity. Sinag is a nod to Filipino engineering and technical competence. What more do we need to say that we as a nation are capable of building a cheap, efficient and sound automobile that has more than just a little panache? Do we lack the essential funds to finance the next Filipino automobile? The venture capital is out there in troves. The time to build a Filipino car is now.
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer BEFORE EVERYONE gets excited about the title of this week's installment, an explanation is in order. While the issue of declining build quality is a valid and very important one, especially since the local emergence of economy brands from the Mainland, this rant is more about the changing spirit of the automobile. More and more cars are being designed, built and marketed so as to appeal to larger market segments. Nothing’s wrong with that really, if one is benefiting from the sale of automobiles. Across the industry, from the boardrooms to the assembly lines, everyone tied to the car business is better off the more they sell. Yet by pandering to the needs, wants and level of skill behind the wheel of a larger segment of the population, even some of the leading performance brands are beginning to hawk weaker tea. What more the compromises made by the mass-market volume makes? This is the problem -- my fear is that pretty soon, cars will drive themselves. While that statement might be a tad too far-fetched and sound a bit too exaggerated, consider what is happening to the automobile. With increasing levels of power available even to the most simple of daily drives, like say a small entry-level hatchback, or even your family's diesel AUV, concerns over safety are very real issues. There was a time antilock brakes were a premium option, computer-controlled differentials and traction control were limited to the motor sport community. Now even the cheapest of cars have ABS, EBD, VCS and what ever other acronym manufacturers can come up with for their so called “driver aids.” Truth be told, these systems aren’t helpful at all. Instead of learning the art of driving and understanding vehicle dynamics, the next generation of drivers just has to trust in their own car’s almighty computer box. Mistakes will be corrected anyway, right? Case in point, at the regional launch of a four-wheel drive, turbocharged rally replica, the years I’ve spent training and honing whatever ability I have behind the wheel came face to face with the new school of performance driving. In simple braking, evasion and slalom exercises, the earful from the driving instructors was difficult to swallow. “Trust in the ABS, turn while the car is braking hard,” or, “Leave the traction control on for faster cornering,” and “The car will control the throttle in case of an emergency situation” are statements that go against the very grain of how I’ve learned to drive. Built for the PlayStation Generation, the younger of my colleagues thrived in the point and shoot driving style needed to push this particular car to the digital limit. Forget the laws of physics and seat of the pants feel; the car will do the actual driving when the pedal meets the floor pan. Imagine that. For a car touted as one of the world’s premier driving tools, a computer does roughly 70 percent of the performance driving. One might as well hire a driver. Unless of course you like the sensation of being reeled in by traction control, an electronic center differential and an engine limiter every time a computer decides you are too near maximum attack. Selling out for the sake of safety, larger market acceptance, and a fast car for every man. These are ideals that two very polar ends of the automobile spectrum -- the economy car and the performance car -- are headed for. What happens then when the designs meet in the middle, when they achieve their ultimate market success? All products will become the same. We will have fast cheap cars that can carve the perfect line or pull stupendous drifts at a push of a button. The next generation of drivers will be there, in the cockpit, smiling from ear to ear. Some of us on the other hand, will have to live with mentally reciting, “Brake, blip, balance and turn-in,” as we race away from obsolescence.
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer EACH time a new road or highway opens, a sense of excitement and compulsion overcomes those of us who live to drive. Like ants converging on a fallen ice cream scoop melting under the summer sun, new places to drive are magnets to those who enjoy time behind the wheel. Fewer still are the times when the road itself is the reward for the long trip. This past Holy Week, it was the newly opened section of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway that tempted many from their moments of contemplation and out into the driver’s seat. The first time I drove on this stretch of road was about a year ago, while the highway was still just a long line of compacted gravel that started in Clark and ended in several places on the way to Subic. Even then, the potential of the ambitious road was evident, the tell-tale signs of a world-class piece of public works already then unmistakable. A return trip, for the sole sake of driving the length of this particular road was inevitable. The main thing that can be remembered from that initial drive was the way that the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway snaked and crested ever so gently. At speed, the most important safety feature of any thoroughfare is just how much road that drivers can see in front of them. At the legal speed limit a car travels 100 meters every three point seven seconds or so (100 m/3.75 seconds roughly). One can imagine at those speeds, emergency stopping or evading collision is a tall order for most motorists and their vehicles. The more one can see ahead on a road, the farther out one’s event horizon is. Instead of having to react instinctively, one has time to process the situation and counter accordingly. This means that drivers have more time to deal with wayward vehicles, stray animals or whatever other potential dangers that may appear out of nowhere. While the surface is generally reported to be less smooth than the revitalized NLEX, the quality of the material laid down as the road surface is very good. Black and sticky, likely due to the high amount of crumbled rubber mixed in with the asphalt, fewer surfaces available to the motoring public afford more grip. The benefits gained from the use of this expensive material are worth it. Stopping distances are shortened. Tires adhere to cambered turns like epoxy. Driving at speed is actually made a pleasant experience.If the management of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway sought to build a technically sound, world-class road, then it seems like they’ve achieved their goal. People have likened the driving experience to those they’ve had in more developed countries. The general opinion is the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway would not seem out of place in Malaysia or the Southwestern United States. Personally, the visual similarities with a section of the Autovia from Albacete to Valencia are quite uncanny. Many ask if some of us will hit this section of the road at speed. The answer to the question is quite obvious. Already, drive times from the NLEX exit to the Subic end are circulating. While most are reasonable, slightly bordering on the fast side, there are some that are astonishing feats of pace. Let’s just say because of the way this road is built, the temptation to make velocity maximum (V-Max) runs is ever present.So it is with much anticipation that a return drive to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway is being planned. A stable alignment setting, inert gas in the tires, top shelf engine oil and fresh coolant seem like bear minimums to be able to tackle this road with gusto in the summer heat without incident. Just how fast will it take to travel this beautiful section of road from end to end? Let me quote an old philosopher from my university days for some perspective. Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it. Words of wisdom that praise slowing down and taking everything in. Then again, I doubt Kierkegaard ever felt the bliss of a turbo at full boost.
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer IT has been a while since a Merc put a smile on my mug; a feat that has to be given its fair share of credence. One car is primarily at fault for this non-abashed animosity toward recent models released by the suits from Stuttgart. As if to punctuate the end of an era, Mercedes-Benz’s initial C Class reeked of undeserved commercial success. In place of the three-pointed star, a silver spoon should have been welded on to the first C Class hoods. Riding on the success of the relatively affordable and rather able W201 190, the worldwide public lapped up this new “Baby Benz.” In only a short span of time the first C Class started to top the sales volume figures of one of the largest luxury passenger automobile manufacturers in the world. If not for the three-pointed star on the hood and trunk of the first C Class, many wouldn’t have paid it much attention anyway. Ladies and gentlemen, we must not forget that in the Philippines, nothing says you’ve made mad money, across all economic strata, like a car with the Mercedes-Benz logo on it. And a car that screams success sells. Not convinced? Just ask the guys over from SsangYong just how effective a sales tool the Merc logo is. Much has been said about the current model C Class already, the local media getting its hands on the car even before the public launch. From the initial reports it seemed as if this new car hit all the critical success factors needed from a product that would do well in the luxury compact market. Some even hinted that the other European competition was in for a real challenge. That concept is plausible really if the major players’ products in this segment are all similar and indistinguishable from each other. As it is, the luxury compact cars like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C Class display very distinct personalities, especially at the mid trim and engine levels of each model. The C200 Kompressor impresses well with simple things. The theme of the new 2008 C Class seems to be one of understatement. In an unusual way, the uncomplicated nature of this car lends an air of quiet class, a decent amount of charm. The 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four is enough engine for this car. Acceleration is decent, with a little punch available in overtake situations or when the road ahead opens up. The five speed auto box shifts on the seamless side. Gear changes are only noticeable when selecting a gear from a cold start or when you’ve been aggressively raking through the ratios for some period of time. Ride quality successfully walks the tightrope between a sporting attitude and more comfortable designs. There is the right amount of compression and a rebound action that though slow, eases back predictably. Driving the C200 with a little panache is possible but cruising around and preening in traffic is where everything comes together. The C200 Elegance’s exterior is a little more staid than the larger, sportier of its ilk, mainly because the large three-pointed star on the grill is deleted and in its place is a smaller, more sedate upright hood ornament. Inside the compact sedan, things are equally sedate. The brown and khaki interior of polymer and fabric isn’t going to win a beauty contest but it scores points for being practical and ergonomic. Even the wood panel, which is likely a veneer of some expensive timber, doesn’t seem out of place. There is just something very Benz about the passenger compartment; it works and it works well. This current generation C Class isn’t trying to be something it isn’t, what you see is what you get. True to being luxury commuter, this is a car that emphasizes a daily driven nature with just a little more power and comfort than usual. It is in this mild manner that the C Class distinguishes itself from the competition. Score one for Mercedes-Benz.
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer ONCE in a while, it is great to suspend all manner of practical thinking. Every day it seems like a necessity to pinch pennies, to think of long-term feasibility and the function of the things we use. Testing cars cannot be oblivious of this frugal frame of mind. The emphasis in media on fuel efficiency, cargo capacity and value for money deals is a clear indication of the motoring public’s clamor for ways to help reduce the cost of the way they motor. All this focus on economy can get to be tiring in all honesty. One can only suspend their love and enthusiasm for the automobile so much. Thank heavens then for cars that are expressions of striking design, inspired engineering and passion for the open road. Thank heavens for cars like the BMW Z4 Coupé. It was more than two years ago, at the 2005 Tokyo Motor show that the preproduction model version of this hard-topped Z4 caught my eye. Bathed in a flat gray hue that added more drama to the already theatrical flame-like Chris Bangle design, this was a car that just seemed to absorb light, process it and exude attention as the by-product. Noticeable because of its classic roadster stance interpreted in a theme that is sometimes described as way ahead of its time, the Z4 Coupé is a powerful piece of automotive sculpture. Add to that the long hood, a roofline and hind shoulders that are among the most conspicuous in recent automotive design and one can imagine the flash crazed, digital paparazzi carnival that pitched tent right next to the BMW pavilion for the duration of that show. It is another matter altogether if the photographers taking the pictures liked the intense design or not. The time behind the wheel one spends in this coupé is influenced by a lot of things. Immediately noticeable is the 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine. Good for 260 bhp and 315 Nm of torque, this powerplant is sufficient enough for sub six second sprints to 100 kph. Those who want more conviction under the hood will have to choose the M Coupé version. The larger 3.2-liter straight-six that comes with the M ups output to 340 bhp, a delicious 365 Nm torque figure and the ability to break the legal speed limit with much less effort. The sporting quality of this version of the Z4 is reinforced, literally, by the addition of a fixed roof. Chassis stiffness, a quality needed for sharp handling, is really quite absent in the convertible. Fifty-fifty split weight balance adds predictable, almost point and shoot handling of the 1,400-kg coupé’s mass. Additional digital driver aids in braking, stability and traction control are welcome extras in a package that really can be thrown around. It is sad though that we don’t have the roads that give this kind of driving machine justice. Signature BMW ride stiffness, having much to the suspension setting and the choice of run-flat tires, may not appeal to all. Road feel is undeniably present, bumps and imperfections on the road are consistently relayed to the driver. In moments of spirited driving, such feedback is critical but driving lazily around the less than perfect streets of Manila can become a bit tiring.After all that has been said, the BMW Z4 Coupé is really made for moments that the striking design and the respectable dynamics can be used to their fullest. Easily nine out of 10 times that we use a car, we wish we had something a little smaller, a whole lot more fuel efficient and something that just motors on in anonymity. There are those few times that we need cars that can live up to the demands of both traveling and arriving. If only life were a series of everyday out of town parties at country clubs nestled in the mountains, surrounded by ribbons of undulating, twisty tarmac. If that’s what your monthly calendar looks like, then by all means the Z4 Coupé makes a wonderful candidate to add to your personal stable of cars. Those of us have more mundane things to do, well -- we can dream, can’t we?
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer THE NEW Toyota Corolla is out. Much awaited by the public and the rest of the industry, it is rather curious that a product of this importance hasn’t broken cover with the fanfare and fuss expected of such an established model. Roughly 30 million Corollas, in 10 iterations, sold over 42 years is a lot to shout about. The relative silence over the tenth generation launch says so much. This is a car that will definitely find itself in the garages of many Filipino families. There are those out there who will buy a Toyota Corolla, sight unseen, just on blind brand loyalty. You cannot really fault these faithful, over the years several of the past versions of this car have really been reliable, value for money automobiles. Two models -- the KE7x series and the AE8x series, both of the ’80s -- were actually fun to drive. Add to that the inexpensive nature of Corolla parts and you can see why many are still hooked. Pending a test drive of the 10th Generation Corolla, a definitive verdict cannot be laid down. Although, a quick read of the specification sheet will show that very little has mechanically changed from the previous 2001-on model. Engines in the range are 1.8-liter and 1.6-liter VVT-i units similar to the Corolla it is replacing. Declared power outputs are down but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A top of the line 1.8-liter version will come with 132 bhp and 170 Nm of torque while the run of the mill 1.6-liter delivers 109 bhp and a 145 Nm torque figure. It looks like the new Corolla is driving toward a more fuel-efficient, economical end. Transmission choices are the usual 4-speed automatic and a 5-speed manual; the bigger engine again only coming in a slush box. Suspensions don’t change dramatically either with independent front and rear torsion bar designs still factory specified. Additional curb weight can be found on the new Corolla and good money says this extra heft went into further insulating the passenger cabin from the road. It seems that the factors that make up this Corolla point in an obvious general direction. This isn’t going to be a pocket rocket by any stretch of the imagination. Why hasn’t Toyota stepped into the compact sedan ring with a more potent, reengineered product then? With a fresh, revitalized Civic already in the market and an intriguing Lancer soon inbound, why has Toyota seemingly dropped the ball? There is an answer. This lackluster execution of the iconic Corolla model is due to the fact that it does not play a large part in the Toyota plan for worldwide auto sales domination anymore. It seems while other manufacturers still decide to pour resources into the compact sedan segment, Toyota is hedging its bets elsewhere. In the Philippine market, the Vios subcompact and the Innova AUV represent the leading edge. In more industrialized markets, hybrids and diesel compact two-box designs carry the fight. In the end, the world’s volume leading compact sedan has to deal with the realities of a maturing market. In fact, a few Tokyo Motor shows ago, pundits from foreign media and competing manufacturers were wondering if there was actually going to be a 10th Generation Corolla. The loss of a compact sedan in the Toyota lineup was nothing to panic about in their minds. Toyota’s inevitable rise to one day become the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer was not hinged on this model. Things got so quiet that a few media outlets actually printed eulogies of this model and spoke fondly of the product’s landmark run. Toyota has proven all of us who wrote off this car as wrong. They will contest the segment with a car that they believe is sufficient to the needs of those who are looking for an entry-level family sedan. Arguing the point with them will be futile anyway. None of what’s been written in this column today is going to dissuade the common Filipino motorist from buying new Corollas, even if there are better driving or technologically superior competing products out in the market as we speak for less money. The Corolla’s brand strength is such, that regardless of fault, this car will sell.
By Andre Palma Philippine Daily Inquirer I HAVE to admit to cringing when Ford Philippines' Glen Dasig mentioned the word, “Expedition,” over the phone. Admittedly, biases and preconceived notions about certain cars are difficult to suspend, even when one tests them for a living. It is hard to forget a six-month spell, years ago, when this writer had to fuel a first generation 5.4-liter Triton V8 specimen. It felt like personally sponsoring a petroleum company, honestly. At some point, every pump attendant's courtesy smile started looking eerily sinister. It got that bad. It is now two generations later, a long period of time in any process of automotive evolution and even the tamest of cars can change a lot over 10 years. Is the third-generation Expedition any better than the first? Let's just say that the 2008 Ford Expedition experience is generally a familiar one. The first five minutes with the current model Expedition were eventful to say the least. Moments before the SUV was to be released from the dealership, pranksters from an adjacent school threw a perfectly aimed styro cup of an unidentified, mystery goop at the Expedition. Said cocktail bounced off the roof of the SUV, exploded on the windscreen and finished its ballistic path on the truck's massive hood. The smell, moments later, confirmed what was in the cup. The social commentary of that attack speaks volumes on the high-profile public perception of the Expedition. Attention grabbing because of its sheer, impolite size and likely reinforced by a clientele just as discreet, it makes perfect sense why bored teenagers would target this vehicle out of a parking lot crammed with dozens of other cars. Maybe the juvenile delinquents were hoping to score a hit on a politician, a show-biz personality or some important business tycoon? You roll with the consequences of getting noticed big-time, I guess. Maybe that's what security details are for? Behind the wheel of this car, it is logical that lethal engine grunt must come with all the flash, fanfare and fuss. The Expedition's engine numbers border on ludicrous actually, seemingly excessive for whatever road conditions that the Philippines can throw at it. The updated 5.4-liter V8 puts out 300 bhp and almost 500 Nm of torque, making forward acceleration is anything but subtle. The raw engine power is stifled though by the massive weight of the vehicle, two and a half tons when empty and close to three tons with a complement of five adults and cargo. That's heavy in any book.Drivers will still have to deal with the typically uninvolved drive that blankets the large American SUV segment. If a peso could be earned every time the words boat-like and wallowing were used to describe this segment, the BIR would want some part of that action. Forget trying to push aggressively down a twisty segment of tarmac in this car, as it pays a terrible toll to the laws of physics. In traffic, patience is also a critical virtue as the width and height of the Expedition makes it as nimble as an Edsa bus. Slicing and dicing in congestion can be done but it is an accident waiting to happen. The seat from where to enjoy the Expedition the most is that of the passenger's. If space and creature comforts are on top of your automotive wish list, then look no further than this large, leather bound, and power everything interior. Some might find the ride of this super-sized SUV a tad bouncy, but that is something that probably can be solved by changing tires, shocks and springs. For the sake of comfort, this is a solution worth searching for if one is considering spending a lot of time in the rear seats of this Ford.There is a market segment out there that demands a vehicle like the Ford Expedition; there are quite a few on the road. High-profile size and looks, well-known running costs and vague, pliable suspension must be what they look for. These say a lot about the types of people who buy these cars. They know what they want and have the bank balances to stick with their choices, no matter what life throws in their direction.