My colleagues in the office asked me if I could do a “Top Cars of 2016” story. Or something like that. By top cars, I assume they mean the most impactful new models launched in our market this year. I also assume that they wouldn’t mind if I gave this a very personal treatment, meaning I’d only include cars I’d actually driven or at least intimately encountered in the metal. (Apologies to the Audi A4 and the Maserati Levante, for instance; I haven’t really come face to face with either one yet.)
So, this is not a “Best Cars of 2016” roster. The following are just the models that distinctly got my attention in the past 12 months. The list is in alphabetical order.
1. BMW M2. What can I say? I just drool over this car. I drove this 3.0-liter straight-six M TwinPower Turbo-equipped rocket at Laguna Seca in February, and I haven’t stopped raving since. I’ve already written two giddy-like-a-kid reviews for two publications, including this newspaper. This P5.99-million fountain of youth will make you forget about all the repulsive things happening in the country right now. Maybe not.
2. Honda Civic. Nearly everyone agrees that this car stands fenders and shoulders above everything else that came out in 2016. And I’m one of them. This 10th-gen iteration restores the order of things in the compact segment, in which the Civic had long fallen from grace. And the 1.5-liter Earth Dreams turbo VTEC gasoline engine restores your faith in Honda. Car of the year? You bet.
3. Hyundai Veloster. Like Nissan’s GT-R, this car had long been distributed in the gray market, and I couldn’t understand what kept Hyundai Philippines from bringing it in. Well, here it is now. At launch (at the Manila International Auto Show, to be exact), the distributor priced it some P88,000 cheaper than the Toyota 86 (and P132,000 less than the Mazda MX-5). Those are the cars Hyundai wants driving enthusiasts to measure the Veloster against. It does look exhilarating, so the promise is there.
4. Kia Sportage. The Korean brand is among the few which I felt was unusually quiet for much of the year. One of its more active moments—in our market, that is—was the introduction of the beautiful Sportage compact SUV. The styling alone is enough to send you rushing to the showroom, where, unfortunately, you will be greeted by some rather prohibitive pricing (from P1.445 million to P1.795 million). But…maybe all the attention you’ll get is worth it. It’s just begging for selfie shots.
5. Mazda CX-3. If you were Mazda and you had spent the last few years releasing one hot car after another, what would you do to keep remaking the magic? Not sure, but at some point, you’d hit a flat spot. Not to say this small crossover isn’t good, because it is. Just that compared to its recent stablemates that had come before it—the 6, the 3, the MX-5 and the 2—the CX-3 seems the weakest in terms of wow factor. Two things going for it: The familial handsome looks of the Kodo philosophy, and Skyactiv technology. It’s still the better choice if the other candidate is the Ford EcoSport, but against the Honda HR-V and the Nissan Juke, it won’t necessarily romp away with the undisputed victory.
6. Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The German carmaker would have to employ engineers with the IQ of Internet trolls to mess this perennially great model. And this one didn’t disappoint. The E200 powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine made it to our humble market, and the wealthy Chinese business set immediately fell in line.
7. Mini Convertible. Maybe my admiration for this car comes from me having driven it in fair-weather California. In that setting, this Mini makes a lot of sense. Here, you just have to pick your spots.
8. Mitsubishi Montero Sport. It must feel like this SUV had been launched a year ago, given the endless bad press it got toward the end of 2015. But Mitsubishi really only formally released this in our market in January, so it makes this roll call. In my view? Easily one of the best models—okay, possibly the best—in its cutthroat segment.
9. Nissan GT-R. Before it officially landed at the Philippine International Motor Show, my thought had always been: Would people still care? This desirable automobile, after all, had been passed around in the gray market for years. But now, Nissan Philippines wants the action all to itself, and it’s for everyone’s good. Not only can owners now have access to legit after-sales care, the price of a brand-new unit is nothing short of amazing (P7.35 million).
10. Peugeot 308 GTi. When Peugeot Philippines quietly brought this in, the very first demo unit was delivered straight to my office. By the company president, no less. For me to enjoy over the weekend. How was it? It was mind-numbingly fast. While feeling very solid, too. The downside? It’s expensive, at a bank account-emptying P2.79 million. But hey, for the price, you have a stylish pocket rocket that will let you intimidate racer wannabes at stoplights, and sweep ladies off their stilettos.
11. SsangYong Tivoli. People laughed when the Korean brand announced it was making a return to our market, via Mazda distributor Berjaya Auto Philippines. Many of them were even mistaken in the belief that SsangYong was a Chinese company. Good thing it brought along the Tivoli compact crossover. It looked good, but performed even better. Best of all, it did much to help erase the stigma the weird-sounding brand carried, even landing on the glossy covers of local car magazines. This car, for me, was the big surprise of the year.
12. Suzuki Ciaz. Sure, a Honda City knock-off, they said. No originality, netizens commented. But look past the obvious physical resemblance—heck, even the name is said to be a shameless contraction of “City, from A to Z”—and you will quickly realize that here is a decent contender in the subcompact sedan segment. Priced competitively, too, ranging from P738,000 to P888,000, with nice toys to boot.
13. Toyota Innova. Note that the country’s leading automaker also launched the all-new Fortuner, the Innova’s very close brother. But to be honest, it was with the Innova I found myself nodding in approval. The gorgeous new sheet metal, the improved ride, the oh-so-pleasant-to-look-at interior…this one’s a winner. It should provide Toyota with many years of very strong sales in the MPV segment.
14. Volkswagen Golf. Funny that VW Philippines should bring in the more potent Golf GTI ahead of the regular (and naturally higher-selling) version. This car, at this price point in our market (around P1.7 million!), is a difficult sell, admittedly. I wish the distributor could somehow adjust the asking fee a bit. Even so, Filipino hatchback fans will be pleased to know they now have the option of German engineering and build quality.
15. Volvo XC90. Finally! Whatever happened to the Swedish brand in our market? For a while there, I thought the top management—virtually the same people running Chevrolet in our market—was content to just see the marque die a natural death in the Philippines. There were no new products, no noisy activities, no sales improvement, no nothing. And then this exquisite luxury SUV showed up, together with the equally elegant S90 sedan. Suddenly, things look sunshiny. Like that time you had a brutal week at work, and then she held your hand.