toyota-rt20140527BY Kerouac the narrative is not. No subtexts or metaphors. No journeys into which meanings are found, or even sought, for that matter. The story of the Toyota Road Trek revolves around a lot of driving (on some years) and even more parlor games (on all years).

Recently, what has evolved into Toyota Motor Phils.’ signature annual event celebrated its 10th edition, and it was decided that the best way to mark the occasion was to retrace the Iloilo-to-Caticlan drive of the first Road Trek held in 2005. The games were similar, too, as were some of the players. What set apart the 10th-year gig was that three of the car models featured were fresh to the market, all released to local showrooms earlier this year. Only one came out in 2013.

The three new ones taken to this year’s trek were the Toyota Corolla Altis, Yaris and Wigo. Rounding off the lineup was the Toyota Vios, launched last year, and which had since become the country’s bestselling car. The Altis, Yaris and Vios brought the “trekkers” from Iloilo to Caticlan while a bunch of Wigos waited on Boracay for a brief drive on a part of the island. Well, a trip to Caticlan pretty much means a trip to Boracay, right?

Drive ‘em
A fleet of the Altis, Yaris and Vios sat ready to go at Toyota Iloilo on the day of the drive. As it turned out, the predetermined vehicle assignment (in which a group of participants could drive all three models over the course of the route) meant taking the models in exactly that order.

So first up was the Altis, a 2.0 V AT. For our group of three, with four days’ worth of luggage each, the car offered up more space than was needed. Whether one sits in front or in the back, in the Altis room is more than adequate, with a trunk that is equally commodious. Fact is, the Altis’s comfort level, as well as tastefulness, in the cabin approaches midsize-sedan territory, and is further helped by auto climate control, leather and a multimedia thing that has full-on connectivity. All this pitched in to make the first leg of the trip comfy, cool and creatively iPhone-scored.

On the outskirts of “downtown” Iloilo, the Altis’s 2.0-liter mill—a carryover from the previous-gen model—wasn’t anything to snipe at either. The engine proved it has enough shove (143hp, 187Nm) for occasional passing moves, which in Iloilo is inevitable as. . . oh, they take their sweet time down there in the South. Also notable with the Altis is its CVT, which rows through the “gears” imperceptibly. When immediacy is required, simply use the paddles to make instant downshifts, or to hold a “gear” on downhill stretches. And although the present Altis has a stiffer ride than the previous model, presumably Toyota’s stab at making the car livelier, this was not anything to get annoyed at on two-lane provincial highways. In fact, on some twisty bits it was even welcome.

Next in line was the Yaris. First things first, this does not drive like the previous car. It has grown more mature, more poised, probably a result of increased dimensions, including a longer wheelbase. Besides a very usable trunk (cabin room was never a problem in the Yaris) what the new car’s larger size affords is a more buttoned down ride. Where the old car used to skip and bounce the new one feels more settled—noticeable on some of the gravelly sections littering the highway that cuts through the middle of Panay Island. That said, there seemed to be some harshness coming from the wheels, as if the Yaris’s suspension lacks damping. Maybe overinflated tires were to blame, though.

Like in the Altis, the latest Yaris is powered by an engine that has seen duty in its previous generation—going back to the first one, actually, which was sold in the Philippines as the Echo. While this 1NZ-FE 1.5-liter engine (106hp, 141Nm), linked to four-speed automatic transmission, does its job of propelling the Yaris well enough, it is also starting to show its age in terms of refinement. It’s not gruff, but not as sophisticated as some of the newer power plants.

Good thing the car’s cabin has turned more polished, with furniture that’s shared with that on the Vios. Which means it also gets that faux leather wrapper on the dashboard, a trompe l’oeil complete with “stitching.” In the flesh (or plastic) it looks less tacky than it sounds. Besides, there’s that new dash layout and door panels and multimedia to get distracted by. Halfway through the day and into a road trip, in the stupor that comes postprandial, such stuff are welcome.

The final leg of the drive, from Kalibo to Caticlan, was the most familiar route for many trekkers as some flights to Boracay routinely land in Kalibo. For our group the vehicle assignments meant taking the car most familiar to us, too—the Vios.

Amid the gathering dusk the fleet of Vios, along with the other Toyotas, headed out of Kalibo town and pushed toward the mountains where, on the other side, Caticlan lies. So the drive put the Vios through some twisty-road paces, where it showed it is no Yaris-with-a-trunk (the two models share platforms) but rather a more serene shuttle. It runs on the same engine as the Yaris, rides on identical suspension bits, and rolls on basically the same footwear, and yet a difference in tuning accounts for their distinct personalities. The Yaris could have turned out to be the more exciting drive on the zigzags but the Vios did deliver the more relaxed cruise. At the end of a trip, that spelled the difference between a long, tiresome slog and a pleasant day spent on the road.

Kerouac would have loved it, too.


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