2020 will be remembered as, well, an extraordinary year.
To say the year was troubled from the start is an understatement, and it matters not if we're talking about global, national, local or even personal perspectives. We all had a rough 2020.
Such was the case for the auto industry. Even though the sales numbers were decimated by the economic effects of the pandemic and other natural (or unnatural) calamities, the industry still decided to help in whatever way they can. There are too many to name when it came time to pitch in. Some sent donations to the victims of the eruptions. Some provided rides and meals to frontliners. Some even helped out amidst the floods. There are actually too many to mention, but the industry found ways to help in their own respective ways. For that, all of us are grateful.
Despite the lockdown, however, 2020 also had some very interesting automobiles that we were able to get our hands on. Yes, our driving time this year was very limited, and we weren't able to test as many cars as we would have liked. Instead of driving and reviewing 2 cars a week, we were sometimes held back to just 1 a week, sometimes even just 2 in a month. And scheduling with some brands became a bit more difficult too, given the quarantine restrictions.
Still, there were some interesting ones, and after much deliberation amongst my fellow editors, we were able to come up with a list of vehicles that we think stood out this year. Before we get to it, here were our ground rules. The first is that we had to have thoroughly tested and reviewed the model in 2020, meaning the overall list included models that were launched in late 2019.
Some went above and beyond what is expected of the price or class, some impressed us with outright performance or technology, some offered great value (an overall improvement over a previous generation), and for one vehicle, clearly it was above and beyond... so much so that we decided to unanimously select one as AutoIndustriya's Editors' Pick of 2020. But first, let's go through our top picks.
We can't deny anymore that electricity -not internal combustion- is the future of the automobile. Yes, many are scoffing at that fact, and even more are skeptical as to whether cars with magnets, wires, and rotors under the hood are going to be as enjoyable as cars with valves, pistons, and a block.
But unless you haven't really been checking YouTube, you'll know that there is some serious driving performance that can be had with electric cars. Just enter “Tesla Mustang Drag Race” in the search box and you'll know what we mean.
Unfortunately, we don't have an official Tesla dealership in the Philippines, but we do have a Porsche dealer, and they have just brought in a handful of units of their electric sports car: the Taycan. They tossed us the key to the top model, the Taycan Turbo S, for an afternoon of driving around the city.
We've spoken and written at length about our drive of the Taycan, and you can find the link for it below to get our thoughts on how it performs and feels over the course of an afternoon. Yes, it was hardly a full test (which is why this is more of an honorable mention than anything else) but what we can say is that this EV is absolutely mind-blowing; like it can literally make you dizzy if you're not prepared for the acceleration from a standstill.
Some would say that's a very expensive vehicle to include in a list such as this, and that's OK. The Taycan is here because we feel it goes above and beyond what we expected. More importantly, it shows that the future of sports cars -while definitely not pure and old school- is going to be very exciting indeed.
Read More: Porsche Taycan Turbo S EV AWD
You're probably wondering why a Chinese-made Maxus is here. If we hadn't driven it, we would be just as surprised as you. But since we did drive it, we think it deserves a spot here.
If you're unfamiliar with the Maxus G50, it's basically a multi-purpose vehicle made by SAIC in China. We've tried many SAIC-made models like their Volkswagen and MG units, but this is perhaps the one that made the most compelling argument.
It has the size of the Innova, but has an impressive list of features that go above and beyond what we can expect in the class and the price like the panoramic moonroof, a crisp 360-degree camera system, tray tables, and the like. The drive is actually quite good as it feels fairly sprightly for a big vehicle. The ride could be improved if you're driving solo, but this is an 8-seater (2-3-3 seating) so the suspension is beefed up to handle it.
But perhaps what made the G50 so interesting to us is the overall design both inside and out. The look is very neat, and there was clearly good attention to detail when the vehicle was on the drawing board. It was, however, in the impression of overall build quality that got our attention. The plastics used look to be of good quality. The leather is nice. The consistency of how all the exterior and interior panels fit together also impressed us.
As the G50 shows, SAIC has clearly invested in making this new generation Maxus much more appealing to discerning customers. Whether it takes to the market or not depends on how well the local distributor and dealers can work on customer care because the product definitely has a lot of potential moving forward, even if it is Made in the PRC.
Read More: Maxus G50 1.5T Premium
Toyota Hiace Super Grandia
Finally, we get to something that's a lot more familiar: the Toyota Hiace Super Grandia.
The Hiace represents the gold standard of vans for Asia, and the popularity here is just immense; we are the next biggest market of the Hiace, second only to Japan. As a testament to that, Toyota actually held the world premiere of the current generation Hiace in the Philippines and not in Japan or Thailand.
The Super Grandia really needs no introduction, as the model has been a mainstay of the garages of gated communities all over the country. While the regular Hiace models are meant for carrying many, the Super Grandia is meant to carry few, but in better comfort with captain's seats.
Perhaps what got us truly impressed with the Hiace Super Grandia is how Toyota improved on everything across the board. The styling is definitely far more premium than before with the two-tone look, the new dignified design, and that massive front grille and LED headlamps.
We liked the improvement with the interior too, particularly with the Elite we tested. The current model Super Grandia Elite builds on that winning formula with a pair of Alphard-like recliners on the second row, a pair of captain's seats on the third row, and a 50:50 bench for the fourth row. We also liked the overall attention to safety with the inclusion of so many safety features such as Toyota Safety Sense.
There are also significant improvements in the drive, the ride, and overall safety. The new generation 2.8L turbodiesel engine is much more powerful and more efficient with that 6-speed auto. The location of the engine in front also means that noise and vibration suppression are much more effective. The ride is definitely better than the previous Super Grandia as the suspension is different: it now uses coil springs in the back rather than truck-like leaf springs of the previous generation. That means less bouncing around, even when you're driving solo.
While this model was launched in 2019, it was only in early 2020 that we were able to really get to fully try it out. It would have been nice had Toyota put in a better audio unit, but fundamentally in terms of engineering, the Super Grandia models represent a huge improvement over its predecessor.
Read More: Toyota Hiace Super Grandia Elite
This is going to be an unpopular opinion, but we think the Ford Territory deserves a place here.
Now there are many reasons for people not to like the Territory, or Ford. That's understandable, as we all have different experiences and opinions about, well, everything. Nonetheless, we think the Territory is really the dark horse of 2020, the one we didn't expect to make a significant impression on us.
We actually first caught a whiff that Ford was looking to source the Territory in late 2019, and confirmed it in early 2020. The model name was formerly an Australian market one, but not anymore. The vehicle itself is a rebadged and mildly redesigned Chinese-made JMC with an engine that -by all indications- was derived from a Mitsubishi. Yes, we were already skeptical. And we also recalled how we weren't impressed the last time we drove a JMC years ago, so we were prepared to be unimpressed yet again when Ford did bring in the Territory.
But when we first tried out the crossover, it started to win us over.
The way it looks on a laptop or on a phone doesn't really translate to how well it looks in the metal. Yes, we poked fun at those fake chrome muffler tips on the rear bumper, but overall the design of the Territory is actually quite neat. The interior design isn't in full harmony with Ford's interior design as seen on their other bonafide models like the Explorer or Expedition, but that's alright. It looks pretty good inside, it's spacious, and everything seems to have been fitted nicely.
The driving feel of the Territory is decent. The 1.5-liter turbo petrol has some power, and the CVT does work well. And there are more features than we can talk about in one of our reviews, up to and including a 360 camera system and automated parking assist.
But the Territory belongs here because of two very important reasons: overall comfort and value. This is a very comfortable vehicle on a daily drive. The suspension is soft and does a great job on dilapidated road surfaces (i.e. EDSA). Noise deadening is likewise good. On the value front, the Territory is outstanding. Ford says the PHP 1.299 million SRP is a temporary introductory price for the Titanium version we tested, but we checked the site and it still says the Territory is priced like that. There's a lower grade variant at PhP 1.179 million as well.
Will the Territory impress on a winding road with its handling or outright power? Probably not. Are there issues with after-sales? That remains to be seen but the last time we checked the Territory came with 3-years of free PMS, so that shouldn't be a problem. But if you're looking for a crossover that is value-packed and undeniably comfortable for everyday driving, the Territory is something you should have a look into.
Read More: Ford Territory Titanium 1.5L EcoBoost
Toyota Corolla Cross
If we were to talk about significance for a brand, the Corolla Cross is arguably right up there with the Vios, and that goes whether we're talking about the non-hybrid or the hybrid version.
There are two reasons for this, and the first is pricing. For years now, Toyota has been strongly marketing their body-on-frame SUVs; even the Rush has a frame underneath, but instead of being bolted on, it's welded onto the body. Toyota's crossover lineup has really just been all about the RAV4, and the price of that Japan-made model that doesn't qualify for JPEPA is just way up there.
That's where the Corolla Cross comes in. Being a Thai-made model means pricing is more attractive. This Corolla-sized (obviously) crossover starts at PhP 1.285 million, making it a very convincing proposition for those that want a compact crossover with a T on the grille. That in itself is a good marketing tool, and tossing in the fact that it's a pretty neat vehicle only adds to the potential for success.
The second reason is that the PHP 1.65 million hybrid version of the Corolla Cross can finally fulfill the mission of the PHP 2.3 million Prius which is to introduce to and make more motorists aware of the potential of a gas-electric hybrid. You'd be surprised at how many misinterpret what a hybrid is all about; some think the “hybrid” moniker means it runs on both gas and diesel, or gas and LPG. We kid you not.
And as a whole, the Corolla Cross is a very solid vehicle. No, it's not perfect. There are some things we think that Toyota can build upon and improve (i.e., multimedia unit, those risers for the front seat brackets) but all in all, the Corolla Cross -be it a hybrid or the 1.8 G version- is a very good vehicle and will undoubtedly be a common sight on our streets. Here's a fun observation: we're seeing more hybrids than 1.8G models on the road.
Good and significant as the Corolla Cross may be, there can only be one top pick for us.
Read More: Toyota Corolla Cross 1.8V Hybrid
Geely Coolray – 2020 AutoIndustriya.com Editors' Pick
Surprised? We weren't.
Why the heck is this crossover our top pick of 2020 when just 5 or 10 years ago, we had almost given up on seeing something good with four wheels come out of the PRC?
When we first drove the Geely Coolray in 2019, we were already impressed. Personally, I first tried it out in late 2019 on a drive to and from Subic and remarked at how well it handled, how it felt so well built, how superbly it was equipped, so on and so forth. Our main man Brent tried it out in China and was surprised that Geely had the guts to even have a BMW X1 on the test course so they can compare. That's not hubris; that was utter confidence in the engineering of their product.
Of course, a brief day drive may show off the potential of a vehicle, but it takes a longer test to see how it performs on a daily basis. And after a few months (and hampered by the ECQ) we were finally able to bring one home for a week for a more extended evaluation of the vehicle.
Needless to say, the Coolray (in Sport trim) didn't disappoint. This Geely looks great on the outside and looks even better on the inside. This crossover drives very smoothly, has exciting acceleration for a 1.5 turbo with 177 PS, and is outstandingly equipped for a PHP 1.2 million price tag for the top-spec Sport model. We have yet to encounter anything that can compare -pound for pound- at its price point or class.
We're not exaggerating when we say we can't find fundamental faults in the Coolray. When we were deliberating this list, the Coolray was the unanimous choice amongst my fellow editors at AutoIndustriya. I also have to make it clear that it's very rare that we all agree.
But just to make sure we were making the right decision as a group, we had to do one final check: I joined one of the Geely clubs on Facebook just to see if Coolray owners were having any problems with their vehicles. We get cars for a week at a time, but an owner has to live with the vehicle and will discover unusual issues along the way and post about it on the car clubs online. And with Geely being just a 1-year old brand in the Philippines (not counting the previous distributor, of course) long term reliability was the only question that really remained. After scrolling down for quite a while, care to take a guess what we found?
There were no angry or frustrated posts regarding issues, be it major or minor. The only one we found was a faulty battery, and it's not for the car, but the little button battery for the smart key. That was it. For a vehicle owner's group to not have any significant complaints is uncanny; not even owner's clubs of Japanese automobiles are as clean or as frustration-free as this one. Most of the posts were by owners inquiring about servicing experiences and costs, asking about certain features in the vehicle, asking for guidance about insurance after a fender bender. A lot of the posts were pictures by owners of their Coolrays on the road as they enjoy the drive.
Yes, the Coolray is the real deal. The Azkarra is likewise solid and the Okavango is still very new, so we'll hold off on those for now. The Coolray is our top pick of 2020 and a strong reminder as to why other brands should start upping what customers can expect because Geely can seriously shake up the market.
Read More: Geely Coolray 1.5 Turbo DCT
2020 limited us quite a bit with new car launches, reviews, and many other things in between, so we couldn't do as much of what we had planned coming into the year. But so long as we are all safe and healthy, it's not so bad after all.
May your 2021 be more fruitful. Stay safe whether you're at home or on the road.