STAR Picks 2009
- James Deakin, Dong Magsajo, Lester Dizon, Manny N. de los Reyes () - December 30, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It’s that time of year again. As we have over the last several years, we use the year’s last issue of the Business Motoring pages of The Philippine STAR to tabulate our favorite new cars – sans any hard and fast limitations like pricing and category. As usual, the Backseat Drivers Manny de los Reyes, James Deakin, Lester Dizon, Andy Leuterio and yours truly comprise the board of judges. It’s an enjoyable exercise, for sure. And it’s one made more pleasant this year as the threat of a financial breakdown loomed over the entire automotive industry early on. As you can see very clearly, however, we did get our fair share of new launches – the best of which are listed below…   DONG MAGSAJO

Manny's Picks

1. Honda City – Anyone who does not have this compact but surprisingly spacious best-seller in this list should be stricken off Santa’s list. It’s well-built, goes quickly, and sips fuel like the fuel economy champion that it is. That it looks a bit like a baby Bimmer, has those fabulous paddle shifters and is wonderfully affordable are the extra glazed fruits on this delectable little cupcake.

2. Hyundai Tucson – It looks terrific in a compellingly alien sort of way. Build quality and performance are leaps and bounds beyond what you’d expect of a Korean vehicle from just ten years ago – and the price is not bad, too. The new Hyundai Tucson is the new “it” car for the compact SUV set.

3. Hyundai Genesis Coupe – I love performance cars and I love great value for money; here’s one that delivers both – the consummate bang for the buck machine. For almost a quarter of the price of a Porsche Boxster and – stunningly – way cheaper than erstwhile bang-for-the-buck machines Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and Subaru Impreza STi, Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe gives you Ferrari-like head-snapping looks and equally head-snapping performance from a 300-hp motor and, get this, rear-wheel-drive. Santa, I so want one.

4. Kia Sorento – Hyundai is on a roll, but so is global corporate sister Kia. Their new midsize Sorento 7-seat SUV has Euro-SUV stylish good looks, smooth and refined state-of-the-art engines, and build quality that’s second to none. Expect it to dominate the midsize SUV category the way the Tucson will lord it over the compact SUV class this 2010.

5. Kia Soul – The Kia Soul is not an automatic choice if you’re shopping for a 5-seat vehicle. It’s not a typical car – period. What it is is a car for the iPod generation (it’s even got an iPod jack); a boutique car in the same vein as VW’s new Beetle or the new Mini Cooper – a wonderfully expressive toy car for a much-loved son or daughter or sweet retail therapy for anyone who can afford it. The fact that such a desirable, emotional and well-built car could come from a Korean carmaker underscores just how far this car-building giant has come.

6. Mazda CX-7 – I’m a sucker for good looks (who isn’t?). But when you pair those good looks with energetic yet fuel-efficient engines, a spacious and finely crafted interior, and Mazda’s renowned dynamic performance, then you’ve got yourself a sure-fire winner. Oh, and the price is right, too.

7. Mitsubishi Montero Sport – The long waiting lists upon its launch and the numerous Montero Sports on the road today are testaments to the homerun that Mitsubishi just batted out of the park. A stylish exterior, roomy interior, and riding comfort that was simply better than the competition cemented the Montero Sport’s position as leader in its class. Strong yet thrifty common-rail diesel engines and a price that’s hard to beat hardly hurt this Mitsu’s cause.

8. Subaru Legacy – I’d put the super-fast Subaru Impreza WRX sedan here if the latest Legacy sedan/wagon didn’t show up late in the year. But having tested both, I’d pay slightly more for the Legacy’s roomier cabin, more comfortable ride, more luxurious appointments – and the same spectacular performance from a 265-ps/350-Nm turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-4 engine. Paddle shifters actuating a 5-speed manumatic, a superb sound system, wonderfully supportive 10-way power-adjustable bucket seats, Bilstein high-performance shock absorbers, 18-inch wheels, and programmable Vehicle Dynamic Control system all mean that Santa thought you were nice all year

9. Toyota Prius – Here’s one car that will guarantee you a spot in Santa Claus’ list for as long as you keep driving it. It looks unique in a saving–the-earth sort of way, has some nifty luxury goodies (i.e. Smart Entry and Engine Start-Stop push button with the key fob in your pocket or purse) and, more than anything else, can go 700 kilometers or even more on one tankful. Just crawling along in traffic on pure-electric mode is a silent, otherworldly experience that’s a reward in itself.

10. Volvo XC60 – Volvos have been known for their above-average safety. But when you have a car that can stop itself – completely without driver intervention – then you’ve got something really, really safe. Marry this City Safety auto-stopping system with a stylishly sculpted exterior, gobs of luxury features, and superb driving dynamics, then you’ve got yourself a no-brainer choice for a luxury SUV.

James' Picks

1. Hyundai Tucson – This could quite simply be the coup d’état of the year. There’s nothing in the rule book that allows a vehicle starting at 900k to look like this. If it were human, you would want to have it drug tested. I was convinced it was all cosmetic until I took it for a spirited drive up to Sierra Madre.

2. Kia Sorento – These Koreans have finally started to unleash the final part of their attack on the worldwide automotive industry. It started with the price attack, then the extended warranty bombshell, now it is stitching it all together with the full-scale assault on quality. This new Sorrento has it all, and with a 6-speed intelligent transmission, fabulous diesel engine and tastefully appointed cabin, Kia is officially a fully fledged big league player.

3. Subaru Legacy GT – There’s no coincidence that this has become the Car of the Year in Japan and the Philippines. After taking a few risks with the styling, the all-new Legacy has graduated from niche to just plain old nice. Explosive power, superb build quality, terrific after sales support is now finally roomy enough for the mainstream executive.

4. Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer EL – Four kilometers to the liter in city driving may sound criminal, but when you consider that it would take three cars to get the same job done, it actually works out economical. Not the most practical car to ferry one person around town, just like you wouldn’t charter a 747 to take the kids to Boracay, but when it comes to hauling eight people and luggage in ultimate comfort, nobody gets the job done quite like the Ford Expedition EL. Nobody.

5. Lexus LS460 – If you have ever wondered what is what like to drive around in a vault, jump in the back seat of the Lexus LS460 and you will know how the crown jewels feel. Pampered, protected and massaged, this is luxury motoring at its best.

6. Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid – If luxury has a conscience, it looks like this. To be able to indulge in such guilty pleasures knowing that you have the same carbon footprint as a Japanese compact is quite a surreal experience and ranks up there with discovering full strength non fattening beer.

7. Volvo XC60 – Volvo really nailed this one. Sharp looks, subtle ride, yet agile handling. This is one vehicle that manages to strike the unfamiliar chord right smack between the driver and the parent in you, but in the end this Volvo gets my vote because of it’s awesome and innovative city safety system.

8. Mazda CX7 – If the Mazda CX7 could talk, you would half expect it to ask for world peace. But this is not your average beauty queen; the CX7 delivers where it really counts in smooth performance, decent fuel consumption (contrary to some reports) and the most generous amount of space for its class. 

9. Toyota Innova – Unlike the CX7, the Innova may not win any beauty pageants, but when it comes to getting the job done, the Innova has been unbeatable since its launch waaaaaay back in 2004. And for good reason too. The fact that nobody can challenge it after all these years is enough for me to include as one of my top ten this year.

10. Mitsubishi Montero Sport – Just like the Innova, the Fortuner was untouchable. Nobody could come close to the pricing, packaging, performance and value that it represents. Until now. Mitsubishi zeroed in on the Fortuner’s only weak point and tuned its suspension for greater comfort and then managed to price it incredibly. 30% growth later, you could say they have been successful.

Lester's Picks

1. Honda Civic – How can you go wrong with improved power and economy? The addition of paddle shifters gives the ‘09 Civic a sportier character while minute aesthetic and engineering improvements make this 2007 Philippine Car of the Year a real winner.

2. Kia Soul – Room plus vroom and va-va-voom summarize what the Kia Soul is all about. It attracts attention on the road, provides ample space for family and friends, and has ample oomph for highway sorties. Cubism not only has virtues but a Soul as well.

3. Hyundai Tucson – The all-new Tucson got a late introduction but we like what we see. It features a handsome European design and svelte dimensions that will make it a joy to drive in metropolitan traffic. I bet many buyers can’t wait for the CRDi diesel variant to come out.

4. Toyota Prius – The environmentalist in me compels me to rethink my driving habits and minimize my personal carbon footprint. If I had a couple of millions burning a hole in my pocket, a Prius hybrid will definitely be in my automotive shopping list.

5. Mitsubishi Montero Sport – Thousands of satisfied owners cannot be wrong. This SUV helped surge Mitsubishi Motors Philippines into the Number 2 position this year and for good reason. This is the quintessential Filipino family vehicle with its perky and economical diesel power, roomy space and 7-passenger seating.

6. Ford Everest – I liked the Ford Everest when it first came out in 2003 and I like it even more now. It has evolved from an “entry-level” SUV to a fully-equipped luxury SUV with all its amenities and myriad improvements. The 18-inch wheels complement the ‘09 Everest’s excellent fit and finish.

7. Mazda BT-50 – For the best bang-for-buck in the pickup segment, the BT-50 is hard to beat. Priced right, made right and equipped just right, this Mazda can be the ideal workhorse for budding businesses that has to venture off-road occasionally.

8. Mercedes-Benz E-Class – Improving on a proven design is difficult work but Mercedes-Benz always seems to pull it off. The new E-Class M-B features several performance, economy, convenience, safety and security improvements over the previous model while the new exterior features an elegant rendering of the familial M-B look.

9. Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer EL – The EL stands for Extended Length and Ford made good use of the additional space not only to increase cargo capacity even when the three rows of seats are fully occupied, but to improve all aspects of this big honkin’ American SUV. Driving it up to Baguio during a raging storm and getting there safe and sound furthered my respect for it.

10. Foton MPX – If you are in the market for an affordable large family van or people mover, the Foton MPX not only fits the bill, it does so in reasonable comfort and remarkable fuel economy. Chinese cars are getting better and Foton trucks and SUVs are helping create a better image for these.

Andy's Picks

1. Honda Accord – The Accord has always held a reputation as the executive sedan that rewards its driver with a rewarding experience behind the wheel. The latest model sports a package of powertrain, chassis, and luxe features to give erstwhile Euro buyers serious pause. With the V6 and the ingenious 3-4-6 system of cylinder deactivation, it has the power to smoke nearly all comers without guzzling fuel all the time, and it provides a ride that’s enjoyed by all passengers. Even those in the backseat.

2. Subaru Legacy 2.5GT Wagon – Who says wagons have to be nerdy? The Legacy is a wagon on steroids with its turbo flat-four, all wheel drive, and superbly tuned chassis. That it creates a scintillating experience while carrying the family and all your belongings without resorting to an SUV is icing on the cake.

3. Subaru Impreza STi – What to buy when you’ve got a spare 2.3 mill. It’s fast, it’s brutal, it’s hard to wreck unless you do something really stupid... and it’s just waiting to get souped up by your friendly aftermarket tuner!

4. Subaru Forester 2.5XT – If the wife just cannot be swayed by either the Impreza WRX or the Legacy 2.5GT Wagon, steer her to this handsome SUV. Don’t tell her about the 230-hp engine or the all wheel drive or how it has the handling characteristics of a tall Impreza. Just tell her it has enough space for all her shopping bags and that her LV purse will contrast nicely with the black-and-gray interior.

5. Nissan Navara – If you must get down and dirty, it’s hard to go wrong with the biggest, most powerful truck in its class. That it handles nearly like a car and that it can handily smoke the unwary hothead driver is a nice bonus. A choice of 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and a solid-as-granite 8-crossmember chassis make it a winner.

6. Mitsubishi Montero Sport – You want a 7-seater SUV that takes diesel and does its best not to ride like a truck? Look no further than the Montero Sport with its powerful yet thrifty CRDi engines in 2.5 and 3.2-liter displacements, coil sprung suspension, and spacious interiors.

7. Mitsubishi Lancer EX GT – The box type’s worthy successor. With a 2-liter engine, paddle shifters, multilink suspension, and enough modcons to rival an appliance store, the sexy Lancer will make anyone look and feel younger behind the wheel.

8. Honda Civic – The benchmark for the class continues its winning ways with the addition of standard paddle shifters for the automatic and a chassis that’s sporty enough for occasional bouts of exuberance. Now, even the “base” 1.8 can make you feel like Jenson Button on a budget when the road opens up.

9. Honda Jazz/City – One is a sexy hatchback, the other is a stylish sedan. Choosing between the two will be the toughest choice you’ll have to make in a Honda showroom. With identical (and excellent) drivetrains and nearly similar underpinnings, it’ll boil down to which side of your brain you’ll pay heed to when it’s time to buy.

10. BMW M3 – With a 400-hp V8, a 6-speed manual just like God intended, a chassis that’s been tuned to perfection, a real trunk, and even two real bucket seats in back, this is the thinking man’s sports car. And the sound of that V8 at full throttle? It’s just mind-blowing, brotha!

Dong's Picks

1. Volvo XC60 – Swedish carmaker Volvo continues its impressive march towards relevance with the launch of the XC60, arguably the safest mid-size SUV in the market today. With looks that can kill and technology that can literally save lives (City Safe makes the darn thing stop on its own at low speeds – perfect for traffic infested Metro Manila), the Volvo XC60 is the future made real here and now.

2. Mazda CX7 – If you’ve got your sights set on head-turning a 5-seater SUV but don’t exactly have the budget for a Volvo, look no further than your nearest Mazda dealership. The CX7 is so sexy and so distinctive that it’ll make you an instant celebrity on the road. The fact that it’s got a superb ride also makes it tops in my book.

3. Subaru Legacy – Midsize sedan rivals and their V6 engines have been forewarned – this time around, the Subaru Legacy doesn’t come with a paltry 2.0-liter powerplant. Instead, a 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four sits comfortably underneath the hood of the most balanced and fun to drive car in its class. Barely a month into the market, the Subaru Legacy impressed so many of us in the motoring media that it was named 2009 Car of the Year by the Car Awards Group, Inc. (CAGI).

4. Mercedes-Benz E-Class – Much awaited and deservedly so, the stunning new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the brightest new star in the tri-star automaker’s stable. Packed with the same amount of new technology that made its smaller sibling the C-Class such a big hit, the E-Class has given Mercedes-Benz the shot in the arm it needs in the mid-size sedan segment. It’s up-to-date form and function combined in a Benz, after all.

5. Ford Ranger – With its fore runner aging but still carrying the reputation for being one of the toughest trucks out in the market, the new Ford Ranger came into the market early this year with a refreshed new look that now attracts even those with an eye for the aesthetic. Still extremely capable, the new Ford Ranger now boasts of a more versatile character, making it a sure winner in more ways than one.

6. Kia Soul – Quirky, unique and downright attractive, the Kia Soul barged into the Philippine market in all its spunky brashness right smack in the middle of the year. It’s a fun, safe and enjoyable car (make that crossover vehicle) to drive. And for its sheer standout value, it earns my vote as one of the best new releases of 2009.

7. Mitsubishi Montero Sport 4X2 – With its 4X4 sibling barging into the market late last year and eating up a substantial chunk of the mid-size SUV market, the 4X2 Montero came in with the promise of more for less. Identical in every way (save for the aforementioned 4X4 mechanism) to its sibling, the 4X2 Montero is appealing for its price – a bargain for the non-off road Montero fans.

8. Hyundai Tucson – Improved in every respect, the new Hyundai Tucson marks the Korean carmaker’s bold move into new aesthetic territory. With its svelte looks and improved interior amenities, the Tucson ushers in a new era for Hyundai – one that is bound to prove them worthy of their lofty goal to overtake other carmakers in the global automobile domination race.

9. BMW 7Series – The BMW 7Series is one car that just seems to look better with every model change – this newest one included. Aside from the comparatively more sound character lines, this fifth generation iteration features all new designs in its drivetrain, chassis, safety systems, driver assistance, comfort features and interior. It’s kind of hard to imagine how the Bavarian-based carmaker can top this one, to be honest.

10. Lexus LS460 – As the flagship model of a line of automobiles that aims to eat substantially into the pie traditionally reserved for such hallowed European brands, the LS460 carries with it a tremendous burden. It’s one that the car has met admirably, to say the least. It’s massive, it’s luxurious, it’s imposing and it’s sleek. In short, it’s everything a luxury car of the highest degree ought to be.

CAR HYUNDAI TUCSON KIA SOUL NEW ONE SUV VOLVO
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