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Thursday, December 23, 2021

Top 5 Picks For 2021


Picking the Top 5 Picks out of 48 cars we’ve extensively driven this year is not an easy task. This is especially true since the field of choices whatever the category from sub-compact sedans to luxury SUVs has become extremely competitive.

As usual, our Top 5 Picks is done differently from anyone else (see the previous winners here: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011). Instead of categorizing and sub-categorizing cars to try to make everyone a winner, we lump them together to get the five cars that were outstanding throughout the year.

Our methodology is simple. First, we should have driven it extensively and on the roads that we’re familiar with. This means no around the block test drives (including track days), no “first drives”, no junkets. Second, it should be fairly mainstream. For that, the list is capped with a maximum MSRP of P 4 million. Finally, it’s something we’d be willing to spend our own money own, and we’re willing to be photographed, paparazzied, or caught dead driving in.

With that out of the way, let’s see which cars made it to our Top 5 Picks of 2020.


#5. Nissan Almera

No other car can say it’s managed to evolve so much in just a generation. From being a forgettable sub-compact known for deep discounts and arctic air conditioning, the Almera now ticks most of the boxes for those seeking a first car. The sharp exterior is on point, followed up by a well-made, well-thought-of interior. Basics aside, it scores high on tech and performance too with the turbocharged 1.0-liter making it an eager and frugal runabout. Minor issues prevented it from ranking any higher but at the end of the day, it’s enough to land it in the Number 5 spot.

Full review here.


#4. Nissan Terra

What’s this? Another Nissan in the Top 5? The Japanese brand underwent an extensive model refreshing this year, and it has paid off handsomely. Despite being just a refresh, the Terra enters this list because it’s managed to plug every weakness it had before this “big minor change.” With that, it’s become the top choice in the pickup-based passenger vehicle or PPV segment. The stronger design aside, the interior’s been extensively updated without any detriment to its family-friendly packaging. The agricultural-sounding engine is its weak point, but the use of acoustic glass and sound deadening help soften the blow.

Full review here.


#3. Honda City / City Hatchback

With the only other all-new sub-compact car in fifth place, it’s clear where the Honda City stands to us. It may not offer the same punchy off-the-line performance or fuel economy as the Almera, but it serves up a more balanced overall experience; and for the daily drive, that matters more. Don’t let it fool you though, it can still bring the smiles from behind the driver’s seat. The sedan actually edges the hatchback when it comes to handling and packaging, while the hatchback nips the sedan in terms of looks. The City could have easily topped this year’s list if not for Honda being conservative once again in terms of specs. Despite the brand taking on a safety-centric mindset (the City is a consistent 5-star ASEAN NCAP rated car, after all), they’ve opted to skip any form of advanced driver aids altogether even on the top-trim RS.

Full review here, here, and here.


#2. Subaru Outback 2.5i-Touring

Doubts that Subaru can’t make great or memorable cars anymore can be laid to rest with the Outback. The exterior design will still put you to sleep, but everything else about it is great. The interior, be it with the materials, usability, or technology is the best Subaru’s done, period. What’s more, the ride is soft, pliant, and forgiving, while still being fun enough to be tossed around corners. Like the City, it could have ranked higher if not only its rather dull non-turbo engine. This decision not only castrates its straight-line performance, but also affects the overall fuel economy. With the executive sedan segment pretty much stagnant sales-wise, Subaru did right to ditch the Legacy and go solely with the Outback. Now, if only they went all in…

Full review here.


#1. Lexus IS

This brings us to our Top Pick of 2021, a car that manages to be much more than just the sum of its parts. Despite being just a major refresh, Lexus engineers put in countless tweaks to put driving fun front and center in the Lexus IS. Compared to other sporty cars with similar horsepower outputs (at least for the IS 350 F Sport), it’s 99 percent as rewarding to drive, while not requiring as much physical effort. Compared it to other luxury sedans in its price range, it’s the most evocative choice. There are still some misses like the lack of rear interior room and cubby holes, but it’s a trade-off worth taking for the everyday thrills it can provide. Of the two variants tested, the IS 300h Premier is actually our choice. Not only does it give most of what the F Sport variant could give, but it proves that a hybrid powertrain does have its place in a sports sedan.

Full review here, and here.

22 comments:

  1. I'm kinda curious to where would you put the 12th gen Corolla Altis on your list

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    1. The Corolla Altis was launched in the Philippines way back in 2020. Since then, it only underwent minor spec changes (we rarely test drive the same car twice--we only do so because there's a story we want to make, or if the car's undergone a major refresh).

      Anyway, in 2020, we liked the Hybrid tech for sure, but the overall experience of the Corolla was still not as good as the other choices in the market then. You can read our review of the Corolla Altis HEV here:

      https://www.carguide.ph/2019/10/review-2020-toyota-corolla-altis-18.html

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    2. The Altis suX0rs, imagine still using an NA 1.6L gas engine for a car worth 1.3M. And that interior with that crappy AVT head unit with the triple thick black bezels for the screen just screams Turd World interior quality.

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    3. In case you missed it, Toyota actually updated the Altis' head unit. It's no longer an AVT head unit (except for the base E and G):

      https://www.carguide.ph/2021/11/toyota-motor-ph-adds-connectivity.html

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  2. Nice picks. Goes to show that sometimes the best cars are not necessarily the top sellers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not only sometimes. In fact, its most of the time.

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  3. My only reservation in the list is the Almera. I hope the Nissan/Jatco transmission will eventually dispel durability problems.
    I agree with the Terra and City sedan and hatchback.
    As a commoner, I can't relate with more expensive/luxury brands like Subaru and Lexus (but I like them!)

    Sir Uly, how about the MuX and the Civic? 😅
    - Mark J.

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    Replies
    1. Civic wasn't included because Honda wasn't allowing test drives yet. Our criteria is that we should have test driven them on regular (public) roads.

      As for the mu-X, it's a solid choice, but I won't rank it as a Top 5 choice. It probably won't be a Top 10 choice too.

      Admittedly, the Almera got in because our other Top 5 pick, the Defender 90 went above the P 4 million price ceiling. I didn't want to change the criteria just to accommodate the D90--that would seem unfair, so the Almera got in.

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    2. Defender 90 over defender 110?

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    3. Yes. When driven back to back (as we did), the D110 felt more of a compromise between the two in terms of design. Sure, it's more practical with the larger rear seats, but the D90 is big enough for our uses. Plus, the D110 is way more expensive.

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  4. Sir Uly, if I may ask further, what are your reasons for not including the MuX (considering that you included the Terra)?
    - Mark J.

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    1. Chief among them is the mu-X's price. I found that the mu-X didn't offer the same good value as the Terra given that in terms of specs, they're pretty well matched.

      Second, the mu-X's interior, while better than the outgoing generation, doesn't feel as well-made as the new Terra. Nissan has really gone out of their way to level up the fit and finish in the Terra (and the Almera and Navara too).

      Finally, the ADAS system isn't well-tuned for the market. If only the system had a quick defeat system, it would probably rank higher, but I just can't stand having to go through the various menus to shut the darn thing off.

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    2. Then, there's the third row which felt more compromised in the mu-X than in the Terra. If the refreshed Terra didn't come out this year, the mu-X might have been the most updated PPV available, but even then, it wouldn't have made it to the Top 5.

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    3. What were these compromises? Other reviwers says Mu-X has the best 3rd row in its class, while says the exact opposite about Terra's.

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    4. The mu-X does have adjustable recline for its third row which is unique. It's also wide. However, the lack of a sliding adjustment in the second row compromises the legroom for taller or longer legged passengers in the third row. Isuzu doesn't even hide that fact and once you flip the second row seats up, there's a huge warning on the floor that your foot may get crushed by the seat latch (there's even a foot guide accessory too).

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  5. I couldn't agree more on Lexus IS350.

    If you couldve extended to top 10, would a chinese model/s have been included?

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  6. This list is ASS. No Mu-X, no CX-8. Instead, we get the Nissan Almera with the notoriously unreliable CVT JATCO.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment is even more a$$tastic. The Terra is better than the MU-X, test drive both to convince yourself. CX-8 is not new or refreshed for 2021, so it's not included. The Almera's transmission is holding up since it's been released 2 years ago in other countries, if there were reliability issues it would have cropped up by now. It has a 5-year warranty so there should be no problem in the medium-term. The CVT is not as stressed as in other Nissan models with higher-torque engines, so the risk of it disintegrating is lessened even more. I'd be more worried about the unrepairable CVT on Hondas after the 3-year warranty expires.

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