Once in a while, The Inside Man digresses from the usual scholastic treatises on Socio-political pseudo-Economics, Infrastructure, Human Behavior, production engineering and the invisible hand of government to "smell the roses"; i.e. to get to try a few new cars. After all, that's what car magazines and car webzines are all about.

The past several weeks prior to our monastic sabbatical, test drive units of cars and SUVs seemed to focus on those that deserve more attention and custom; i.e. cars that are special underneath the skin but do not exactly sell in droves. We've come to the conclusion that it takes greater and loftier expectations from the design engineers for one to appreciate these cars beyond mere commuter transport commodity/appliance.

Even if the Mazda CX7 is universally admired for its shape, they're still not as thick on the ground as a Fortuner or Montero. Perhaps not until the CX-7 gets the new fangled Mazda diesel engine with Skyactiv technology. Still, get over the Zoom zoom imagery and one should appreciate the refined quiet that Mazda has built-in. If one had to be super critical, one can wish for nicer graphics on the LED panel as it doesn't seem to jibe with the red illumination on the instruments.

On the other hand, the Mitsubishi ASX 4x4 GLS SE doesn't have any problems in the video display department. You'd feel right at home with the on board computer's iPad like look. Which actually puts the dealer fit audio-Navi-combi center console to shame. The tall compact hatch look of the ASX is in step with the VW Golf Plus and Renault Megan Scenic making it a plus or up-sized Lancer. So there's a long travel fully independent suspension and right sized coil sprung seats, a legacy of the Lancer Rally genes.

The MINI Countryman S challenges your stereotype of a MINI. For the first time, one can have MINI style with practical space. If they do begin to become more common on the road, would it mean that MINI has broken its own stereotype?

The Kia Soul is a MINI on steroids that was knifed by a butcher using carpenter techniques. We don't dare say that its a Hara-juku car like the Nissan Cube or Scion XB [with B-prefix Cagayan Valley Region 2 license plates from Port Irene] because its Korean. Designed with the clean lines of ex VW-Audi designer Peter Schreyer, the unusual touches make it stand out as well as a MINI. Perhaps the 1.6-liter variant can attract more custom.

Though it shares the same platform as its Tucson cousin from Hyundai, the Kia Sportage is another one of those fresh planar designs from P. Schreyer which appeals more as the streets are filled with more and more fluidic style Tucsons. Need the shortage of the crdi Sportage remain acute?

The Suzuki Swift will not win many spec sheet comparisons with the other current sub compact hatches. It looks like a derivative of the elder Swift, which is actually no bad thing as the Swift has more in common with MINI's than Jazz's and Yaris's. One thing the Swift has over the competition is its responsive electric steering, a quality one doesn't usually expect of electrically assisted power steering. This makes caning the Swift a far more exhilarating drive in its class, save for the Ford Fiesta.

Kia Picanto is big on width and full of design touches. Such a practical and spacious mini-compact oozes style. In fact it won't feel inferior next to a Port Irene sourced B-prefix registered Smart.

The swell JGC or Jeep Grand Cherokee is so full of Chrysler's interpretation of Mercedes Benz luxury, one would think they should be as numerous as the old shape BMW X5. Its got real Jeep good looks that shouldn't feel inferior parked next to an RR Sport or even the new Evoque or Ford's avant garde new Explorer. With a suspension that feels as good as its Mercedes Benz ML-class donor, a lot of high end SUV buyers are missing on how great this Jeep drives.

The Toyota Prius is one car that really won't sell well in the Philippines, pricing aside. Why? Its speaks to the intellect and has not the inclination to please the sensations of the visceral nor the guttural. We find that its quiet and fuel consumption in bad city traffic - 4 liters/100kms. - appeals to the contrarian in us. I say, Toyota keep it that way.

Up next will be the new Ford Ranger, new Ford Explorer and Suzuki Alto. But before that, we've had some changes in my daily drive benchmark for opining whether I like or don't like a modern car. My daily drive is still the company car, a 1999 Honda City, veteran of the Honda Media Challenge Rally series from 1995. It still wears its bog standard taffeta white paint, battle scars and all. Converted in 2006 to the "snap shift" automatic of the era, the 1.3-hyper 16 has had a huge boost in performance and economy thanks to free breathing VTi intake and exhaust upgrades courtesy of Honda Club fanatics Messrs. Nyl Malabanan and Mikko David. The two adapted LED lamps to light the footwells, dome lights and instruments, for all my nocturnal senior moments. After years of Bridgestones and Goodyears, the City now rides on Sammy Luison's Starfire tires from China, and frankly, I can't feel the difference from my former brands.

Earlier in the year, we added a new member to our garage. I'd like to call it Mimi's baby, in memory of a dear friend, Mimi Lee, Richard's daughter. In 2003, Mimi had a baby before she got married and that baby was AutoFrance, Philippine distributors of Peugeot cars. Her favorite was the 307 hatchback. It's a commuter car that is staple in the Costas, Positano and the Paris Peripherique. It's a car that still posses those rare French qualities of a soft and supple ride and seats that are cushioned like cotton wool.

Peugeots appealed to a very select few. Moreover, the Euro exchange rate wasn't about to endear it to a buying public who didn't find it practical paying German car prices for a Toyota sized car. In time, Mimi got married to start a real family and Daddy Richard pulled the plug on Peugeot. But the romance didn't end there. Not to be orphaned, Peugeot's care was entrusted to Scandinavian Motors, Richard's Volvo distributor. It didn't take long for Volvo's faithful staff to also fall in love with the cushy ride and cushy seats of Peugeots. Many own Peugeots and care for them with TLC.

The 2004 307 is actually thrifty at highway speeds even if the 4-speed first generation Tiptronic is not particularly high geared. It's not a fidgety and irritating/intimidating [to other drivers] traffic gap plugger like the '99 City. It cannot be because its relaxing, loping, soft but well controlled ride is the anti-thesis of the Japanese high frequency damped ride. Its got its own home-grow protocols for its electronics and being French, the electrics can get temperamental. But then Volvo Service really does take care of Peugeots like family. That way my new yardstick stays on the road more of the time.