The best of the year

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honda-civic20161129The Honda Civic and the Isuzu D-Max have been named the Philippines’ Car and Truck of the Year, respectively, by the Car Awards Group Inc. Here’s why they won

Why is the Honda Civic the Car of the Year?
This year saw a massive resurgence in interest in the compact class or C-segment, the class that has traditionally played host to the likes of the Sentra, the Corolla and the Lancer. And no car is more representative of this resurgence than the Civic. Against such excellent cars as the Volkswagen Golf, the Ford Focus, the Mazda 3 and the Hyundai Elantra—all with a number of awards already under their belts—the Civic dominated the compact class. And in the final tally, against a field led by another former COTY winner, the Mazda 6, it came out on top.

So what set the Civic apart from the equally worthy competition?
The compact class has seen a massive step up in terms of market positioning and quality over the past few years. The Civic had gotten a bit left behind by all that. These cars are now more like personal luxury cars than economical family movers, and as such, pack much more tech than they used to. This year, the Civic came out swinging, with its integrated touchscreen system, digital dashboard display and impressively high-quality interior. But beyond that, Honda managed to give it much more utility than before. The Civic has the most spacious cabin in the class—bar none—and the multiplicity of pockets, storage bins and power points makes it one of the most gadget-friendly cars out there. And the plastics and interior materials are much more pleasing than in the previous-generation model.

What about performance? Is that new 1.5- liter engine worth the hype?
Actually, this year, we saw a record number of turbocharged mass-market cars, with several sporting a new wave of downsized turbocharged 1.5- and 1.4-liter engines. But of them all, the Civic impressed the most. The new 1.5-liter VTEC has a lot of neat technologies pieced together from the previous R- and K-series motors, but of course, we aren’t judging these cars based on paper specs. In our technical testing, the Civic topped its class in terms of performance. With the CVT, it doesn’t feel like it, but it is deceptively fast. And surprisingly, despite the rather comfortable ride, it proved to be quite nimble as well. This also translates to everyday usability. And the smoothness and power of the Civic impressed many of the judges.

Given how expensive the new Civic is, did it deserve to win over more affordable candidates?
We actually take price into account for the COTY award. This ensures that the winner is relevant to the target market and segment, and balances out the inherent advantages of more expensive cars in terms of features and performance. That said, the Civic represents a big step up in size, comfort and interior quality compared to the previous-generation car, and it feels like a fully midsize car inside and out. So you are getting what you pay for with the Civic. Actually, it takes a really good score from the judges to balance out any deficits in terms of price or performance, so it’s safe to say that the judges felt that the Civic really was the complete package. Impressive considering the previous car was rather run-of-the-mill. As mentioned during the awards night: “The Civic is back!”

On the other hand, why is the Isuzu D-Max the Truck of the Year?
The TOTY award this year dropped a big surprise when the D-Max came out on top. But then, this is what these awards are all about, coming to an unbiased conclusion based on rigorous testing. In testing, the new variable-geometry turbocharger proved its worth. While it is still not the fastest truck out there, it is finally in the hunt in terms of power.

But it’s so old already. Doesn’t that count in the scoring?
Actually, TOTY is open to vehicle models with major mechanical, chassis or electronic driver-assist upgrades. The D-Max qualifies by dint of its new turbo hardware. Against competitors that had received major chassis refreshes, it was indeed handicapped coming into this contest. Especially considering how powerful some of those rivals were.

How does power play a part in the awards?
As with the COTY, in TOTY we test acceleration, braking and testing. The D-Max is still not the fastest, but it is nearly as quick as its more powerful competitors. Previous D-Maxes fell short in these same performance metrics, because they concentrated more on mule-like durability than horsepower. There was never anything wrong with their handling and braking characteristics—they just didn’t have enough power. This new one lands right in the thick of the game. It’s still not the fastest or best-handling truck out there, but it’s no longer sub-par.

So how did the D-Max win?
Performance alone doesn’t make a Truck of the Year. It also needs to be comfortable and capable. Unlike the regular COTY, TOTY testing takes into account truck-specific requirements such as cargo capacity and ground clearance. As such, while the D-Max is not the fastest or the fanciest truck out there, it manages to score points in utility and comfort. And let’s not forget price. Price plays a big factor in the awards. As we can see with the Civic, a high price handicap doesn’t keep you from winning, but in a tight race, having a price advantage can certainly put you over the top. And it did just that for Isuzu. The manufacturer had waited a long time to win this trophy, which had gone to a different manufacturer each year. More than anything, this represents how tough this field can be, as the pickup battle is relentless.

Could the D-Max have beaten last year’s winner, the Nissan Navara?
That’s hard to say. Honestly, it’s kind of funny that a 4×2 truck has won the TOTY award twice in a row, especially considering the emphasis we put on 4×4 hardware and capability in the scoring. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. There’s also a fair bit of luck involved. Since the award-giving body only accepts mechanically upgraded trucks, each truck variant is only eligible for one year. It would be interesting to see which of the two would win in a head-to-head match, for sure.

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