Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Various | posted December 18, 2013 16:06
Our favorites of 2013
For 13 years, we at AutoIndustriya.com have been providing you news about the automotive industry (both here and abroad), honest reviews of the latest automobiles in the country, motorsports news, consumer articles and insights, opinions and commentary about the trends in the market.
That being said, we thought it was time for us to publish our own picks for the year... cars, companies, events and drives that all rose above what is typically expected.
So, without further ado, we at AutoIndustriya.com present to you our 2013 Editors' Choice as we showcase our favorites from the year that is about to come to a close.
AutoIndustriya 2013 Editors' Choice – Best Buy
2013 TOYOTA VIOS
What more can we say about the third generation (locally) of the Philippines' best selling automobile being our choice for Best Buy?
The new Toyota Vios looks great both inside and out; that's a given. Reliability is a proven matter, given that the engine and a lot of the major mechanicals are retained and/or improved from the previous generation. It rides comfortably, it's practical, and does it all while maintaining an attractive price range. From 1.3J to 1.5G, the Vios makes a compelling proposition.
Such are the qualities of a truly great and undisputed bargain, such is Toyota's ace and the reason why the sales of the country's number one automaker has surged 16.5% year to date (Jan-Nov 2013) compared to 2012.
AutoIndustriya 2013 Editors' Choice – Auto Launch
LEXUS IS LAUNCH – CLARK SPEEDWAY
Ever since Lexus Manila opened the doors to their dealership in Fort Bonifacio in 2009, Toyota's luxury auto brand has launched every new model with great music, good food, fancy wine and stunning Eurasian models pulling silk covers off a car, revealing it for the media and guests.
Not so for the all new Lexus IS 350 and IS 350 F Sport.
To unveil the latest sport sedan from the brand, Lexus Manila, Inc. president, Danny Isla, chose to head on over to the Clark International Speedway for a date with the car and more.
The company that was known for cozy, intimate dealer launches chose to introduce a very exciting model on a very challenging racetrack. Several examples of the all new Lexus IS 350 and IS 350 F Sport were on hand, and instructors asked us to push the 300-plus horsepower cars hard on the straights and in the corners.
Not yet content with just having the IS be pushed lap after lap, Lexus brought out another surprise: the LFA. How I wish we could have driven it, but rides aboard one of only 500 examples is the best way to conclude a great day.
Needless to say, it was a uniquely bold experience from Lexus, and the most memorable car launch of the year by a mile.
AutoIndustriya 2013 Editors' Choice – Destination Drive
KIA TRUE NORTH - BATANES, PHILIPPINES
As writers in the auto industry, we usually get to go to some really nice driving locations both within our 7,107 islands and beyond. Back in March, however, Kia chose to hold a media ride and drive that is so unique, it probably won't be repeated by anyone else: Batanes.
The northernmost island chain of the Philippines knew what it was like to experience a bit of traffic as Columbian Autocar Corporation, the official distributor of Kia in the Philippines, chose to ship a fleet of automobiles to the main island of the chain.
The fleet of cars consisted of nearly the entire Kia line up at that time on an island that was closer to Taiwan than Luzon. The Picanto, Rio, Sorento, Sportage, Carnival and even the Optima were all in attendance and mind you, these cars had to be craned onto the ship to carry them to Batanes; no RO-RO ferry captain dares to go that far on the open sea.
The place was cold and extremely windy, but the views were unlike anything we could have thought existed in the Philippines. Driving on Batanes roads with the signature yellow 'Blow UR Horn' signs is unique in itself, followed by the sights of the beaches bordering the Pacific and the lush greenery all around.
By the sheer challenge of staging there and the unique experience of driving in Batanes, the Kia True North drive is our Destination Drive pick.
AutoIndustriya 2013 Editors' Choice – Automotive Tech & Safety
If there's one car company out there that's bringing unprecedented levels of technology to everyday road cars, it's Ford. Sure, Mercedes, BMW and Audi have been doing it for a long, long time, but those cars typically cost thrice as much as the one with the blue oval on the grille.
Think about it.
The Philippines was the first ASEAN country to get the Explorer, the full size SUV that came standard with SYNC; Ford's voice command technology that allows the user to play individual playlists, songs, artists and more. Then came the Explorer, debuting a far more sophisticated version of SYNC, and even had a unified touchscreen system that controls nearly all vehicle settings and displays various information.
The Ranger is the most sophisticated pick up in the segment (of course that's matched with the BT-50 from Mazda) in terms of tech, safety and a lot of other factors; the next upgrade to the Ranger will reportedly give it SYNC. The Focus likewise is the most sophisticated compact car around, and the cheapest car you can buy that can actually park itself. We had just driven the upgraded and updated Fiesta in Thailand and we can say the level of innovation is great, and add the EcoBoost 1.0L engine to the mix and it's a winner in the segment.
Ford's in-car tech has gotten so good and comprehensive that hopping from the driver's seat of a blue oval to another is the automotive equivalent of forgetting your watch at home.
Try one. You'll be impressed. Guaranteed.
AutoIndustriya 2013 Editors' Choice – Auto Brand
BERJAYA AUTO PHILIPPINES (MAZDA)
Up until 2012, Mazda's presence in the Philippines hasn't been what we would define as stellar. An aging product line and a parent company, Ford, that was understandably focusing (no pun intended) on their core brand and products took much of the zoom-zoom out of Mazda. The brand needed a dedicated company to handle it and bring a new way of thinking and marketing.
2013 saw the arrival of a new company, Berjaya, taking over the distribution rights for Mazda from Ford Group Philippines. There were quite a few who weren't too sure about a company that was more familiar about pizzas (Berjaya owns Papa John's) when we first broke the story in July of 2012, but boy have they proved their critics wrong.
With the handover of Mazda, Berjaya Auto Philippines (BAP) immediately got to work on reviving the brand through marketing. If anything, BAP picked the best time to take over Mazda, as the revolution the Hiroshima automaker has commenced with the CX-5's SkyActiv system has just begun to take hold, as evidenced by the launch of the Mazda6 SkyActiv earlier this year.
Their real ace came in the form of a big gamble: it's called YOJIN3 Total Care. The program stipulates that every Mazda sold since January 1, 2013 will be bundled with3-year free periodic maintenance service, roadside assistance, an exclusive Mazda concierge service and a bumper-to-bumper manufacturer warranty. That means that when you take your Mazda to a dealership for, say, a tune up, all you have to do is sign for it. Neat, eh?
Since taking over, Mazda's sales has risen significantly. On the last CAMPI auto sales report, Berjaya clocked 2,117 units sold from January to November 2013 or a sales increase of 47.6% when compared to the same period last year at 1,434 units. In November Mazda sold 256 cars, a 220% jump when compared to the 80 units sold back in November 2012.
The growth of Mazda Philippines follows the pattern set by Berjaya's Bermaz when it took over the operations of the Mazda brand in Malaysia back in 2008, a year when there were only 991 Mazdas sold. In 2011, Bermaz sold 6,131 units, a sales growth of well over 600% in just 4 years.
With the upcoming arrival of the all new SkyActiv Mazda3 in the Philippines next year, expect those numbers to go up and up.
AutoIndustriya 2013 Editors' Choice – Automobile
2013 LEXUS IS 350 F SPORT
Now we come to the one.
Picking any car, truck, SUV or any other model out of a field of cars launched in any year is tricky. We could have chosen the Toyota Vios, but great value as it is, the subcompact just wasn't aspirational enough. We could have chosen the Mazda6, but we feel that our actual pick just edged it out ever so slightly.
So, here it is: the Lexus IS 350 F Sport, our favorite new car of 2013.
There are a number of reasons why the Lexus is our pick. For starters, the design of the Lexus 'Intelligent Sport' sedan excites us whenever we walk up to it, even more so for the sportier, more aggressive F Sport variant. The interior of the car also speaks volumes for design; that goes double for the digital LFA-style gauges they call the 'F Meter'.
Then there's the drive. The acceleration from the 3.5L direct injected V6, the braking, the body control and the handling all speak volumes for the fruits of Lexus's labor in developing the IS. There's a lot of electronic wizardry in the IS 350 F Sport like the variable steering, traction control and what not, but somehow (especially in Sport S+ mode) it all feels liberated and visceral.
What really clinched it for us is the pricing, as Lexus Manila (thanks to JPEPA) is able to offer the IS 350 F Sport for PhP 3,058,000. Considering that it's performance exceeds even the top spec BMW 328i Sport and the Mercedes C300 AMG Sport, all at about PhP 1.2M less, the Lexus IS 350 F Sport seals the deal.
All that aside though, the best part about the IS 350 F Sport is how it envelops you in the pilot's seat and immerses you in the way it drives. That -in this day and age- is something quite rare.