There and back again image

Toyota is on an amazing roll. 2012 saw them launch and relaunch nearly their whole product portfolio, and it's become a serious boost to what is already the most dominant automaker in the Philippines.

The revised Innova, the all new Avanza, the Prius C hybrid, the all new Camry, the updated Yaris and the Land Cruiser, the upgraded 2.5L VNT Hilux and Fortuner, and of course the cherry on top, the Toyota 86. If that wasn't enough, sister brand Lexus launched the ES, the LS, the GS and the spindled LX and RX. To say 2012 was the year of Toyota is an understatement in the industry.

To cap off the year, Toyota Motor Philippines held a drive for nearly all their models launched this year in the second Toyota Ride and Drive event.

The last time we did the Toyota Ride and Drive, we went up to La Union and onto Baguio. This time, it's the other way around, taking us up to Baguio first and then to La Union before heading back to Manila. In between, we have plenty of expressways, provincial highways, detours, overtaking and traffic to give us a full feel for Toyota's latest models.

Day 1

Gathered at Lexus Manila's showroom was a veritable fleet of Toyotas: the Innova, the Hilux, the Fortuner, the Camry, a Vios, a Yaris, the Prius C, a pair of Toyota 86's, and a trio of Lexus hybrids such as the GS, the ES and the RX. This is bound to get interesting.

Contributing Ed Inigo Roces and I departed LMI in the Vios. We're all very familiar with this car, after all, it's been the top selling model in the country since this generation was launched. However, this one has had some upgrades with a TRD Sportivo bodykit.

Unusually, unlike the last Vios TRD we drove at the last Toyota Ride and Drive event, this one doesn't come installed with the sport suspension that we enjoyed carving up the mountain roads with. On the highway, the Vios is smooth, though we found the seating position a bit too upright for sporty driving. Nevertheless, handling and the power of the 1.5L engine is more than enough to take on the drive up to Baguio on the fast sweeping corners of Marcos Highway.

Once up to Baguio, it was time for some rest, as the next day's drive is going to be interesting.

Day 2

As luck would have it, we would have to draw which car we are to drive from a bowl, as there were simply too many to do a switch on the road so everybody gets a feel for each model. Naturally, everybody wanted to try the 86 as well as the Lexus models, but we drew the Toyota Hilux instead. Of course, this was the upgraded version of the Hilux featuring the new 144 PS 2.5 liter engine. This should be fun.

Setting off from The Manor, we proceeded onto a route towards Naguilian Road, but somehow along the way, we got separated from the main convoy. Our little ragtag group was comprised of the Toyota Camry 3.5Q, the Toyota 86 TRD, our Hilux and a Fortuner in close tow, and instead of Naguilian, we ended up on Marcos Highway. Just as well; there's more room to drive here, not to mention the roads are faster, albeit with a longer route.

Easily, both the leading Camry and the 86 were attacking the corners with gusto. Inigo and I, in the Hilux, were -being the boys we are- taunting them in the Hilux. Easily the 86 TRD could take on the banked turns without a hitch, but the Camry was very quick to accelerate on the short straights. The Fortuner was keeping up well, despite having a softer suspension for improved comfort.

Down from Marcos and onto the bypass road, we made our way towards MacArthur highway, and entered the many towns along the way. Unusually, we arrived earlier than the guys who were able to locate Naguilian Road, given the speed of the path we took compared to the tight and tricky nature of the intended route.

Again, with the day's driving done, we rested up some more for the next day.

Day 3

The next morning, we once again drew for our cars for the final leg; this time, we got the RX450 hybrid. While a great and comfortable machine, we knew we'd have some amazing roads ahead of us, and so, we traded our Lexus with the one driven by our good friend Eric Tipan: the Toyota 86 with the Aero kit. You should have seen the smile on our faces when he said: 'Sure, bro'.

Setting off from the Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point, San Fernando, La Union, the convoy made its way to Toyota's brand new dealership in La Union. Operated by Rene So and his group, Toyota La Union proved to be one of the shining stars of the Toyota dealership network, being the first to truly have green credentials and do it in such a grand scale.

After a quick lunch and a tour, we again hit the road. On the way back, instead of taking MacArthur Highway all the way, we opted to take the bypass route heading back to the start of Marcos Highway, as it presented the most exciting drive when compared to town after town of traffic and tricycles. Inigo was having all the fun this time, attacking the corners at speed.

With the bypass route done, we regrouped with Brent who was in the GS450 hybrid and Eric in the RX450 hybrid. Again, instead of taking MacArthur, we took Magilas trail which proved far more fun. Tip: if you have GPS, preprogram the Magilas Trail beforehand, as it will always re-route you to MacArthur. If you get lost, just follow the yellow DPC 'To Manila' signs as our Inside Man, Tito Hermoso taught us.

Once back on the SCTEx and the NLEX, it was really back to reality for us. If there's anything the Toyota Ride and Drive showed is, it's how Toyota is moving forward with their models, and bringing far more to their customers than ever before.