The Most Significant Cars of 2009
2009 was a tumultuous year for automakers. Plunging car demand in the USA, Europe and Japan, combined with unabated demand for cars in China and India, led to a shift in the balance of automotive power. China, by some measures, has become the world's largest vehicle market.
Despite the upheavals happening in other markets, the Philippine auto industry defied gravity by posting a healthy 6% growth in 2009. This was partly because the industry has been building itself back slowly since plunging in 1997. The continued interest was thanks in no small part to the numerous new models launched during the year.
With that cautiously optimistic outlook, motioncars has picked out our most significant new cars of 2009:
Launched soon after New Year 2009, the all-new City set the bar even higher for the subcompact class. Continuing on the space efficiency of its predecessor, the City provides plenty of interior space for five adults. The interior is not as flexible as before, with the deletion of the folding ULT seats, but trunk space is still huge, so it can haul a lot of luggage. Add to that: good looks that break away from the usual boring jellybean econobox shape, and full safety features including ABS and dual airbags, and the City takes away top honors in its class.
The question always asked of the now defunct BMW Philippines, was, "When will you bring in Mini?" and the answer more or less was, "Over our dead bodies." Exit BMW Philippines, enter Mini. Under British United Automobiles, a new distributor, the iconic British-by-way-of-Munich brand has finally turned its first corner in anger. Four models are available at launch: Cooper, Cooper S, Roadster, and Clubman. With space that's comfortable for two and a premium price tag, Minis are not about practicality. They're about feeling the surface of the road hovering just inches below your bottom, and carving up corners with impunity. It's that Matchbox you had in your pocket as a kid, brought to glorious, sonorous, candy-colored life.
Mercedes E-Class and E-Class Coupe
After two generations of four-eyed roundness, Mercedes-Benz reverts to an angular styling theme for its all-new E-Class. A welcome change for the E is the return to the feeling that no expense was spared in designing and manufacturing this car. The interior has the kind of cosseting that you would want from your living room, including the superb Harman/kardon audio system. On the road, it combines the splendid isolation of its big brother the S-Class while providing much of the maneuverability found in the C-Class. The tight turning radius makes driving the car on city streets a complete joy.
Sub-compact cars can't get any more diverse than this. On one hand is the mighty practical Honda City (top) and on the other is the dramatic Mini Cooper S (bottom)--both make it to our 2009 significant cars list.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class takes comfort and poise to the next level (top) while the all-new Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT (bottom) blends sportiness with executive-level luxury. The Legacy won the 2009 Car of the Year - Philippines. It will be shown at the 2010 Manila International Auto Show on April 15-18.
BMW 7 Series
A technological tour-de-force on four wheels, the new 7 pulls no punches in providing the most confidence-inspiring driving experience. Four-wheel steering, a new range of more efficient engines, and a gaggle of safety systems coddle the driver and four fortunate passengers. Electromagnetic dampers provide a silky-smooth ride, then stiffen for hard cornering. The looks are a safer version of the previous polarizing design, and the iDrive interface is much more intuitive to operate. In twin-turbo 750Li guise, the 7 Series can hustle like a sports car, effortlessly accelerating to and maintaining its 250km/h top speed.
If there was any indication of just how good the Hyundai Tucson could be, it was the full-page ads that Honda commissioned on the day of its launch. Looking every bit like a refugee from Chris Bangle's studio, the Tucson looks ready to wipe the floor with Japanese compact SUVs. Beneath the swoopy looks are a new range of powerful (on paper, at least) engines; the automatic is a six-speed unit. With a base price below P1 million, and even that model carrying all-wheel discs and 17-inch tires, the Tucson may just out CR-V the CR-V.
Subaru Legacy and Outback
After successful launches of the all-new Impreza and Forester, Subaru turns its attention to the midsize sedan segment. The new Legacy exchanges the subtly handsome looks of its predecessor for a brash, ready-to-brawl stance. The turbo scoop on top of the hood signifies a 265 bhp 2.5-liter engine paired with the company's de rigueur all-wheel drive system. The interior features a cool high-tech vibe. There's also an attractive wagon, arguably the better deal of the two. Those looking after a more luxurious can consider the Outback, with an equally powerful but less-frenetic 3.6-liter flat-six engine.
The CX-9, as excellent as it was, merely whetted our appetite for this, its compact sibling. Interior room may not be able to match the Forester's or CR-V's, but as with the recent crop of Mazdas, the USP is really the responsive handling, along with the swoopy good looks. A 163-bhp 2.5-liter directs drive to the front wheels only.
For its compact SUV, Kia borrows the Hyundai Santa Fe's unibody chassis. This bodes well for its ride comfort and build quality. A relatively high price tag limits its appeal, but the Sorento is loaded with standard features, including seven seats and a six-speed automatic transmission. The diesel version should be even more appealing.
After proving that nothing is sacred, and that the Porsche brand shouldn't be limited to just sports cars, the German brand launches a four-door to take on the likes of the Maserati Quattroporte and Mercedes CLS. The hunchback styling is as awkward as adding a luggage carrier to Lightning McQueen. But the promise of 911-like handling with powerful V8 engines is tantalizing enough. Just be ready to fork out money equivalent to buying a luxury condo.
The luxury-hotel-like Lexus showroom opened with a comprehensive lineup of cars, but it was not until the RX was available did it seem complete. The RX is the best value offered by the brand, offering lots of space and features when compared to its German rivals. If you can get past the Corolla-like styling, the RX excels as an urban vehicle, with a cushy leather-lined interior and power-everything features.
Another long-awaited model, the Prius hybrid landed in Philippine showrooms just as the price of gasoline was falling from its all-time high. A big disappointment is the car's price tag, which negates any possible savings in fuel. The model being sold here lacks a lot of features found in the top-line models, such as solar panels on the roof to cool the car when parked in the sun. Also in doubt is the car's suitability to flood-prone Manila streets. Still, it deserves credit as the first hybrid to be officially launched in the Philippines. If only saving the planet didn't require such a big up-front cost.
By Jason K. Ang | Photos By Jason K. Ang, Ulysses Ang and Manufacturers