But the people from the Land of the Rising Sun are not to be outdone by their European counterparts. They also are capable of producing vehicles that are at par or can even exceed European luxury cars in terms of what it can offer six-figure-peso income individuals.
Perhaps the best example would be the new Nissan Cefiro 300 EX. Although the Cefiro has been around since the mid-1990s, this four-door sedan has metamorphosed from a sporty-looking one into one that is a perfect fit for the Philippine economic upper crust.
Rich people, whether filthy rich or legal rich, demand a vehicle that can get them from point A to point B IN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME. That entails an engine that has more than enough grunt to weave through the urban jungle of Metro Manila and get their occupants to their destinations on time. In short, an engine like the Cefiro's VQ30DE (three-liter).
This engine is unique because its basic block configuration is found in Nissan's 350Z sportscar, but with significantly less displacement than its two-door brother. "The VQ engine is also found in most Nissan cars worldwide because of its reliability and power on demand, along with its easy maintenance. This cross-configuration strategy of Nissan helps us, especially with engine parts," said Nissan Motor Philippines, Inc.'s (NMPI) marketing and product planning manager Raymond Tribdino.
Mr. Tribdino's claimed that NMPI's decision to go with a three-liter engine for its top-end Cefiro makes all the difference from its predecessors. "The market has become increasingly sophisticated and has become more demanding over what is under the hood. 15 years ago 1.7-liter engines defined a luxury car. Ten years ago it was two-liter powerplants. As early as five years ago it was 2.4-liter displacement. But with the new Cefiro, Nissan starts a new era for Japanese luxury sedans with the three-liter VQ engine."
The numbers don't lie. NMPI's official stats for the Cefiro are 220 ps and 29.3 kilograms/meter (kg/m) for the VQ30DE. The numbers can also be felt, especially in wide open places such as the Subic Bay area, where on one Friday NMPI loaned autoindustriya.com and a bevy of automotive journalists two Cefiros, one with a VQ30DE flavor and the other a VQ20DE (two-liter) variant, to be tested.
The acceleration of the car can be felt even from a standstill point, making one recline into the driver's seat quickly. Although the strict enforcement of speed limits around the Subic Bay area hindered top-speed tests, the author felt that with the abilities of the VQ engine, the Cefiro can be capable of hitting 190 kilometers/hour (km/h). Also, even in first gear at 5500 rpm, the engine roar is muted, allowing passengers to carry on decent conversations during travel.
Power to the ground
Helping the VQ engines deliver all that power and torque to the ground is an automatic transmission (A/T) with an E-Flow system that reduces shift shock or the sudden jerking when an A/T shifts to a higher gear. In our Subic-driven test mules, the shift shock factor was nonexistent, save for the downshifting mode of the A/T.
The transmission also comes with a push-button sport mode, located below and to the left of the A/T stick. The sport mode raises the shifting point of the A/T (from the stock 3000 rpm to 4000-4500 rpm in sport mode) and is useful for going up inclines of more than 15 degrees.
The exterior is sure to entice the Philippine bourgeoisie to purchase a Cefiro. The two test mules loaned by NMPI came in Raven Black (the three-liter version) and Sterling Silver (the two-liter version), but NMPI also offers the Cefiro in Polar White and Power Gray, colors that are pleasing to the eye and colors that are common to most luxury cars. As with its Sentra brethren, the Cefiro is equipped with multi-parabola headlamps that make the Cefiro more visible at night from long distances, especially to oncoming motorists. Light emitting display (LED) taillights are derigeur on the Cefiro's backside, while 15-inch (for the two-liter) or 16-inch (for the 300 EX) wheels wrapped in 65-series rubber take car of the roadholding duties. Exterior-wise, what separates the two-liter Cefiro from the 300 EX is that the former has a horizontal grille while the latter has a vertical-type "waterfall" front grille, highlighted by a hood emblem reminiscent of the Bugatti/Mercedes Benz luxury sedans of the 1960s and 1970s.
The glamor part of the Cefiro is reminiscent of European luxury cars, with woodgrain paneling adorning the center dashboard console, side door armrests, rear seat center console, A/T console, A/T shift knob and steering wheel. Leather also is present in abundance within the 300 EX, lining the seats, headrests, side door panels, steering wheel and middle center console. The 300 EX also incorporated rear side door sunvisors and a power-operated rear windshield sunvisor similar to the current model BMW 5-series sedans.
However, it is these aforementioned features that also set it apart from European luxury cars and still make the Cefiro a distinctly Japanese car when it comes to the interior. The woodgrain paneling is pleasing to they eye but calls a lot of attention due to its light color, while the leather trim felt a bit too hard to the touch. An analog clock placed in above the airconditioning vents in the dashboard center console gives a classy look to the car, but the clock's design seems too dated. To the author the design is similar to the Citizen watches of the 1980s, watches that were in vogue during the said time period but are passé now.
Another problem is the amber-colored digital airconditioning display, which is near-invisible during the daytime. One will note that when light strikes the car from the front windshield, one can barely see the said display.
But the said negatives are not enough to overcome what one may rave about regarding the 300 EX's interior. The dual level middle center console is big enough to fit ten to 14 CDs and a dashboard center console compartment (located directly above the clock) is large enough to fit a portable CD player. Controls for power-assisted seating adjustment, airconditioning, the said sport mode transmission feature, the windows and door locks and the rear sunvisor are ergonomically placed and within easy reach of the driver and/or front passenger.
But the Cefiro's rear passengers can also enjoy at what the sedan has to offer. The rear seat center console also offers huge space to put miscellaneous stuff, while there are ashtrays located at both rear door armrests for the nicotine-addicted top management person. Also, there are rear aircon vents placed behind the middle center console so that the joys of Nissan airconditioning will be experienced by all within the Cefiro.
The emergency brake (located to the left of the brake pedal) and its release lever (found at the lower left corner underneath the steering column) requires a little more familiarity to some but is a big relief to drivers annoyed with emergency parking brake levers placed between the driver and the front passenger. When the 300 EX is parked one can just relax one's arm on the dual level middle center console without having to worry.
Also making life easier for the one behind the wheel is a heads-up display that shows that current speed of the car in a light neon green digital readout on the driver's lower left hand side of the front windshield. This is handy in places where the speed limit is strictly enforced, such as the South Superhighway and within the Subic Bay Metropolitan Area.
The presence of cupholders, two within the rear seat center console and one located directly above the rightmost aircon vent is also a big plus, especially on long trips or during traffic jams where one can sit down and enjoy one's drink as the rest of the world moves at a snail's pace.
Pesos and sense
And if that's not enough, NMPI will be offering the Cefiro at a very modest price. The 300 EX retails at P1.45M, while its two-liter Superior model sells for P1.290M. Those who are cash-strapped can get the two-liter Classic variant, selling at P1.190M.
But why the low price? Mr. Tribdino said that acquiring a Cefiro is getting value for money, billed as "value pricing". "We at NMPI always look at what the customer can get from the car; what we're providing the customer now is a bigger leeway for them to put personal changes into the car. Soon we will be offering packages that can upgrade one's Cefiro, such as bigger wheels and tires and a high-intensity discharge (HID) light package," added the NMPI marketing and product planning manager.
Already the car has proved to be a success. Mr. Tribdino claimed that since the launch of the car in mid-July, they have received 62 orders for the Cefiro line. "The problem is, the current production rate for the car is about 24 units per month; we'll have to step up production to meet the demand," said Mr. Tribdino.
Looks like the new era of Japanese luxury cars has begun with a boom.