Saturday, January 04, 2014

TOP Gear PH's 2013 Car of the Year

An open letter to Top Gear Philippines:

As a long, long time reader of your magazine, I read with interest the article “2013 Car of the Year” in the latest issue. While the myriad views of the 15 man panel were both fascinating and enlightening (and whole of a lot more refreshing than simple fan voting which can be rigged) I must respectfully disagree with the final outcome.

Of course, I don’t get to test drive various makes and models of cars, much less write reviews about them, so in the grand scheme of things, I don’t really know much about cars, except for the precious few that I own or get to drive, and from what I read from various motoring publications and websites, so my opinion is just that, an opinion from an average Juan, albeit, perhaps, a well-read one.

To cut to the chase, if it were up to me, the distinction of 2013 Car of the Year ought to belong to the Hyundai Accent Hatchback CRDi. Simply put, out of all the cars which came out this year, the Accent Hatchback CRDi is the only one which gives the best balance of affordability, utility, style, safety, features, economy and performance, and in fact leads the class with the latter two considerations. Starting at P768K for the manual version, you get a turbocharged, intercooled, common rail direct injection diesel engine that outguns anything in its segment, and most of the variants of the segment above it. You’d be hard-pressed to find another brand-new car with more performance for the economy for less than P1M, and the entire package is backed-up with a 5 year/100,000 km warranty.

As for the other cars your article has mentioned, while I agree that all of them are indeed splendid cars in their own right, dubbing any of them “Car of the Year” might be a tad too generous for the following reasons:

The Toyota Vios – other than the outstanding new styling inside and out for the new model, there isn’t really much going for it, with the mechanicals virtually the same as the old model. What it has going for it is the fact that it’s the jack-of-all-trades, master of none player in the local car market, plus the perceived plus value and reliability of the Toyota brand. It’s a model that revels in being completely average, hence its suitability for the masses. This will, without a doubt, mean that this will sell the most units, but volume alone shouldn’t make it worthy of the title. Being average means the Vios is a good, perfectly adequate, satisfactory, and sufficient car. But not an excellent car. Certainly not “Car of the Year”;

The Lexus IS350 – This without a doubt is an awesome car, if perhaps for no other reason than it’s a Lexus. It has all the appropriate checkboxes ticked: 3.5L V6, 306hp and 376Nm, 8-speed AT, and “aggressive elegance”. But with a price ranging from P2.548-P3.058M, it’s too expensive to sell in significant quantities, making all its fancy toys such as TFT instrumentation and touch-sensitive electrostatic switches just novelties accessible to the wealthy. Lexus as an upscale brand deals with exclusivity and luxury, things that hardly mean much to the average working Juan, much less the masses. One can conclude that this is the anti-thesis of the best-selling Toyota Vios with its (the IS350’s) limited audience. It for sure “raises the bar” but it hardly “changes the game”;

The Honda CR-Z – A sporty hybrid that is neither “sporty” nor fuel efficient. Its only claim to fame is the Honda lineage (Type R anyone?) and its to-die-for styling, even though it’s retrofitted on a Jazz/Fit platform, including the mundane drive and suspension design - FWD with MacPherson struts on the front and torsion beam at the rear. Its 1.5L engine with IMA Hybrid Assist System churns out 133hp and 172Nm which barely tops the Ford Fiesta Ecoboost’s 125hp and 170Nm (which costs less than half as much) not to mention the Hyundai Accent Hatchback CRDi’s 126hp and 260Nm (which is even cheaper than the Ford Fiesta Ecoboost). The asking price is P1.95M, and for that you can get a Toyota GT86, a Hyundai Genesis Coupe, or a Subaru BRZ if you’re into performance, or for a little more a Toyota Prius if you’re into economy…or even the aforementioned Ford Fiesta Ecoboost or Hyundai Accent Hatchback CRDi, if you want similar horsepower and comparable fuel economy but not willing to break the bank;

Mazda 6 – Again, another awesome car. I certainly don’t question this car’s credentials for getting into the top five. Skyactiv 2.5L engine with direct injection producing 185hp and 250nm, 6-speed AT, impeccable exterior and interior styling, a price that is within the realm of possibility for a middle class Juan if he works hard and saves up (P1.705M). To expect it to dominate this segment may be too much though, though, as it goes up against the comparable Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and even the Hyundai Sonata. Reviving this segment is probably all the more too much to ask, considering that if I had a 1.7M budget, I’d probably be looking at a SUV, and methinks most people would be too. This would be my first runner up.

So to conclude, I’m with your Off-Road Editor, Robby Consunji on this one. My top contender for 2013 Car of the Year is also the Hyundai Accent Hatchback CRDi. Great article nonetheless.

Disclosure: I just bought a Hyundai Accent Hatchback CRDi AT, and I’ll be paying for it for the next few years, so I guess I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

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