Monday, June 25, 2012

Used Car Review Compilation (6/25/2012 Update)



I've started creating used car reviews since December 2011 in a weekly basis and it would be very hard for several of my blog visitors to wade around my blogsite. So, to simplify your life, I would be compiling all used car reviews done by me and this list would be updated once a month and you'll see the possible vehicles that I would be making a used car review in the future, and the existing ones. You may also suggest a car that you want to see in this page by commenting. Do take note I would not be reviewing all used vehicles locally, only those that are desirable as a used car purchase, or cars that demand as collectors items. All existing models are not included.

So, here are the cars. Links are provided for available articles.

Used Car Review - BMW X5 (2001-2007)

As the month of June comes to an end, you still don't have a hauler for the kids to school. The last candidate on this page can be realistically yours. With the power of depreciation, what used to be a plaything of the wealthy can be a gem for the middle class, for less. Without further ado, Myk Belmonte investigates this luxury SUV that is more luxurious than your neighbor's Montero Sport.

2001-2007 BMW X5

During the 90s, nearly every vehicle manufacturer in the world has a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) on their lineup. Cadillac made a "rushed" entry with the Escalade in 1999, while Porsche took it slow to develop the Cayenne for its 2002 introduction. BMW's X5 was made available to the general public in 1999 and it was the manufacturer's first SUV on their line-up. It was an astonishing success for BMW, which prompted to add the X3 in 2004, the X6 in 2008, and the X1 in 2009; resulting to the X line family.

The father of the "X Family", the X5 was marketed by BMW as a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) rather than an SUV. It was promoted as that to emphasize its on-road skills despite the bulk. Similar to the Lexus RX and Mercedes Benz M Class, the X5 started a shift from light truck based body-on-frame SUV's to a car based unibody platform that has been in vogue in the late 2000's. The first generation X5, in chassis code E53, was sold and produced from 1999 to 2006, with the E70 X5 having its release in the following year.

Bimmer fans in the Philippines waited until 2001 to have the E53 X5 in our roads. Initially offered by PGA Cars (who also distributed Land Rover previously, and currently Audi, Porsche, and Lamborghini) in its earlier years, with BMW Philippines taking over distributorship rights which resulted to adding various variants. Similar to the world market, sales discontinued in 2007, with its successor platform being introduced in the same year.

Value and Costs
After almost 8 to 10 years of age, an E53 X5 would have resale prices between P1,400,000-P2,400,000, roughly the price of a brand new mid-size SUV. The price range covers up different model years, state of condition (mind you, there exist careless type owners of luxury vehicles), and various engine configurations (gasoline V6 and V8, and diesel engines are the choices). It would be wise to get a pre-owned example to be safe. Insufficient maintenance records are a nightmare for those who own a car from a luxury brand.

I want to remind you maintaining one is almost the equivalent of three Toyota Vios's. If fueling up, go with a reputable gasoline station that has new and clean stock of fuel. Not to forget, choose a high octane gasoline to avoid fuel contamination and problems. Before buying one inspect the suspension system, test every function button, check out if the sensors for the controls work properly (the xDrive, a traction control based system, and a Hill Descent Control comes standard), and most importantly, get the feel of the car by driving it.

Exterior and Interior
Examine the exterior and you will see some Range Rover (BMW previously owned the 4x4 specialist) bits and design cues. Short front overhangs and side creases that mingle perfectly to the door handles are derived from the 3-Series sedan. If the front is the sedan side, the rear portion uncannily resembles the Range Rover, with the curved front-end blends with the sharp and angular rear. The famed "kidney grille" resides in front of the car, with it being expanded in its 2004 facelift.

High quality materials (there was never a time BMW scrimped on interior quality) abound the cabin, which really justifies the then-new price tag of P4M. You will see the clash of aluminum, leather, and wood in perfect harmony. However, radio buttons are small which you can knock the wrong station by mistake (imagine this, you are enjoying Beatles then hit to Magic playing Justin Bieber) and air conditioning controls would require time to master each function. Room is adequate for five, but the cargo area won't do justice on a shopaholic run (whether in Greenbelt, Greenhills, or Divisioria, you choose).

Those who had the money to splurge get three engine options to configure their X5's. These are a M54B30 2,979cc I6 and N62B48 4,799cc V8 that needs to be fed with gasoline fuel, and a M57TUD30 2,993cc I6 diesel burner. Power and torque figures for the M54B30 I6 gasoline are 231hp at 5,900rpm and 300Nm at 3,500rpm, the V8 engine carries 360hp at 6,200rpm  and 500Nm at 3,500rpm, and the diesel I6 has 218p at 6,500rpm and 500Nm at 2,00rpm - nearly the same figure with the V8 but tuned for available low end torque. How do they drive? The gasoline I6 (inline six, not configured in a "v" type) purrs well and responses to the driver's foot; the same thing goes with the diesel I6, but boy it drives fast and can handle the weight of the car. The V8 is a beast to drive, ferocious, fast, and yet functional. Pick your engine choice wisely.

Driving Impressions
With its 3-Series under chassis, it drives similarly to its sedan counterpart. Steering is definitely loyal, giving excellent feedback and weighing. Try to drive it on a corner (or just plain cornering) and you'll feel some degree of under steer, but this is not a huge problem. Even at high speeds, the ride is well composed and you won't feel any time to stop for some vomit break (a testament to the beefy suspension) and stays true to its on-road mission. If you plan to bring it up to the mountains or ford it on floods, you've read the wrong choice dude.

The advent of car based SUV's (or crossovers as what automotive journalists would mention) had every automobile manufacturer have one in their line up and every customer or motorist line up at the dealerships to have their hands on one. The BMW X5, age notwithstanding, is a perfect companion when accomplishing duties inside the city. And now, you can have one for the equivalent price of a brand new mid-size SUV or a high end crossover. Just set some funds for maintaining one, since BMW maintenance are not for the lazy ones.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Used Car Review - Toyota Previa (2003-2006)

If the previous three vehicles that Myk Belmonte presented are for those who are adventurous and brave enough to drive, the next two automobiles are for those who don't possess a drivers license and plan to ferry numerous kids to different schools. So, kids and parents, have this car on your list if you plan to upgrade your family car.

2003-2006 Toyota Previa

Estima, Previa, and Tarago; these are the names given to Toyota's popular minivan which is a fixture in Japan and some Asian countries. The word "Previa" was derived from Italian for "preview" and not from a soap sold in the Philippines (that's if you replace its letter "a" with "e"). Enough of soaps, Toyota saw that the first Previa - released in 1990 - as the vehicle that would preview technologies utilized in future minivans of the brand.

10 years later saw the launch of the second generation (with the platform code XR30 or XR40) in most of the world markets (except for North America, they receive the Sienna). It switched from rear wheel drive to front wheel, had two sliding doors instead of one, gave way to V6, hybrid, and diesel engine options, and wheelbase was longer than its predecessor; but this meant the loss of supercharging, stick shift action, and four wheel drive.

Toyota Motor Philippines introduced the second generation Previa in late 2003 thanks to the abolished taxation system that levied taxes to vehicles based on engine displacement. It also supplanted the Hiace and Revo in the lineup. The Previa became a hit among the upper class crowd due to its roomy cabin, luxurious interior, and the vaunted Toyota reliability. It was sold locally until 2006, with the XR50 Previa replacing it on that year.

Value and Costs
With resale prices between P550,000-P650,000 for local units, a Toyota Previa is one good choice if you prioritize luxury and comfort for less cash. Be warned while browsing online selling sites, you will encounter second gen Previas wearing the Estima badge, having a selling price of less than the local ones, and the options of the three engines; these are used imports from Japan and better avoid them without saying.

You might know this (or maybe not) that the Previa is based from the Toyota Camry, which means mechanical parts are shared with each other. And with the proliferation of used Japanese imports, parts are plenty but with varying prices. In contrast with the 1990-2000 Previa, you won't face cooling problems (the gen 2 Previa's engine is located in front, not under the driver), which means no serious niggles with the XR30/XR40 Previa.

Exterior and Interior
With an exterior resembling an egg, and couple it with a shapely snout, daring headlights, and sexy curves; you won't be ridiculed with that minivan stigma. If you follow the fashion trends among minivans sold in Asia and minivans sold in America (particularly the Northern portion), Asian ones are sexier and you won't mind driving alone (Japanese yuppies drive Minivans and MPVs to work and to gimik spots).

Stretching your legs is a strength of the Previa. The portion between the driver and front passenger seats is clutter free and you can walk towards the rear seats. Cubbyholes - lots of them - are present on the dashboard, but be careful on storing your stuff there since you might lost them inside. Question: where is the shifter? Answer: behind the steering wheel. The shifter can either be for shifting gears on the go or a joystick that are paired in arcade games (I'm just kidding on the latter).

Among the three engine options available, a 2AZ-FE 2,362cc with VVT-i valve train is the sole choice for our market. Having 157hp at 5,700rpm and 225Nm at 4,000rpm under the hood, the Previa pulls decently in low speeds. Go faster with a full load and you will feel the engine is burdened with the body weight and only 4-cylinders with it. Initial throttle response is without soul but get things going and everything would be fine. It would be nice if the V6 and diesel engines are locally sold before.

Driving Impressions
Having the Camry as the donor vehicle, the Previa drives similarly to its sedan platformate. It is comfortable, but those who sideline as a drag racer outside race tracks won't like to take this van. Why? It inherits a soft suspension, cushy ride, and lifeless handling. Besides, you don't purchase a minivan to thrash it over and evade traffic lights. You buy one for practicality, seating capacity for the kids and even the clan, and to arrive at your destination safely.

Kids and moms are huge fans of minivans. Why do I say so? Gobbles of space, easy to park and drive, plus it's comfortable to ride in. Going back to school had never been fun when you arrive in style with the Previa. But, pick your passengers accordingly (choose seven children to hop in) to fully utilize the comfort that the minivan could offer. Perhaps you can offer school bus service to students in your neighborhood with the Previa?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Used Car Review - Honda City (2003-2008)

The search of the college car continues on, and you are interested on the common sedan. But, the requirement must be something small (Corollas and Civics are crossed out) in terms of vehicle size and engine displacement. Wait a minute!!?? Sedans are the antithesis of practicality no thanks to their trunks. But Myk Belmonte has one surprise for you which is buried somewhere in this article, especially if you want a sedan with practicality.

2003-2008 Honda City 

So, what are the requirements for a city car? Size must be cake, should have minimal fuel consumption, the ability of ferrying four bodies (unless you travel alone a lot) must be there, and maintaining one is friendly to the wallet. With a chassis of AA, the first Honda City was introduced in 1981. Its sub-compact size qualified someone's thinking of a city car (hence, the name). In Japan, the City nameplate is no more; with the Fit, the Fit Aria (essentially the Honda City there), and Airwave taking the baton.

Having its worldwide debut in 2002, the GD City saw limited availability outside the Asian market. Honda had the Asians in mind (specifically South East Asia, East Asia, India, Pakistan, and other related markets) for the factors of interior room, fuel efficiency, and price. It saw success in these markets and stayed in production with a facelift in 2005.

The Philippine market had to wait for a year just to have the GD City on our shores. Locally, the design was less received, which is said to have been inspired by a dolphin. But some would rave over its interior flexibility (more on this later) and for the wonder of the standard CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).  Three variants where locally available; which includes the base A, the mid-level S, and the high level V. Produced and marketed until the end of 2008, with a minor model change in 2005.

Value and Costs
A second hand GD City is priced between P280,000-P470,000, and with that in mind, you will encounter different units in varying conditions and model years. Be careful with units that are in a destructive condition (worn out CVT belts, faulty spark plugs, stained interior) and with most Japanese sedans, rice or modified units. If possible, keep an eagle eye and stay away from these aforementioned City's

You'll be surprised that the cost of maintaining a GD City is similar to the same period Jazz (which shares the same platform). So, parts are nearly identical from the mechanicals to the exterior bits (but not all). Sore points are the Continuously Variable Transmission, and the i-DSI's eight spark plugs. For those considering a CVT variant, use CVT Fluid to replenish the transmission's chugging ability.

Exterior and Interior
If there is one word to describe the exterior design, it would be "bloated". Yes, it takes its inspiration from a dolphin, but there is a good reason for that. Think of it as a Honda Jazz that was "sinalpakan ng pwit sa dulo", with the word "pwit" referring to its trunk. Not much to say about it, honestly.

The functionality of the City is hard to beat, with the ULT seats (shared with the Jazz) being a strong point. Just fold the backseat and you can store anything (in a laid down position), and vola, you can enjoy a versatility of a van without the bulk. Interior layout is nearly identical with the Jazz, but the center console and glove box are differently styled. There is enough room for people inside and the rear seat isn't cramped, being true to its name as a city cruiser.

Locally, a 1.3 liter engine with i-DSI and a 1.5 engine with VTEC are the choice power plants. The one that carries the i-DSI is a L13A 1,339cc that has 82hp at 5,700rpm and 116Nm at 2,800rpm; while VTEC technology is available with the L15A1 1,496cc which possess 109hp at 5,800rpm and 142Nm at 4,800rpm. I may have shared this to you already that the i-DSI emphasizes efficiency while the VTEC (a fixture among Hondas) focuses on high end torque. The i-DSI became standard among Philippine sold City's from 2003, with a VTEC one added in late 2004.

Driving Impressions
The GD City behaves and feels similar to its hatchback counterpart, with the driving dynamics and engine feel being comparable. The surprise lies on this statement: If the Jazz encourages sporty and spirited driving, the City stays true to its namesake, being a comfortable city car. If other competitors would give you a choppy, back aching ride; the City is surprisingly comfortable. Handling is nimble and visibility is good; with the thick C Pillar being a bummer but the generously sized side mirrors make up to this shortcoming.

Beauty is skin deep, and there is more than looks. The City's dolphin inspired (or if we use a cartoon character to compare the City with, it would be Mrs. Puff in Spongebob Squarepants) exterior makes up for a comfortable ride and a versatile interior. One of the sedans available locally with a 60/40 folding rear seat, you can haul stuff without driving something huge and heavy. With prices in used car money, this is a bargain, especially for the ordinary college student.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Car Maintenance Tips: All about vanity and special plates

We Filipinos love to customize our vehicles, and if you have that extra moolah, you can opt for a vanity or special plate for your ride. But, we often mix up these two and mistake for one another. So let me differentiate the two, just prepare the extra cash and time.

Vanity Plates:
You can have it with both of a minimum of three (3) or maximum of six (6) characters which are a mix of numbers and letters or one that consist of four (4) or a maximum of six (6) characters, strictly all numbers or all alphas. The choice is yours on what to place, so let's distinguish the two.

* The plate above can have a maximum of three or maximum of six (6) characters (mixed)
* Price for it is P10,000

* The plate above must consist of four (4) or maximum of six (6) characters, but it must be either all numeric or all alphas.
Example: 8888888, 2222, AAAA, ZZZZZZ
* Unlike the one mentioned above, you can acquire one, but through a public auction with a floor price of P50,000. So, good luck in bidding for one.

Special Plates:
This follows the format on our common vehicles but you can personalize it. You can have the numeric part with two or three digits. The alpha portion, is your's to name it but at a maximum of three letters (more on this will be explained in the part).

* These two plates have triple alpha or non-triple alpha plus two (2) numeric character combinations from 01-99.
* With description one in mind, you can use your initials (or your three lettered name) in the alpha part and any number (it could be your birthday, monthsary, favorite number or any number that is memorable to you), but it must be two digits.
Example: ARL 08, LRM 99, MYK 38, EEE 88
* It will set you back P25,000 which includes the handling charge by the authorized LTO courier.

* It has triple alpha and non-triple alpha plus numeric character 100.
* You can pick the letters but the number must be 100, so you have no choice about it. Chinese favorite 888 or the devil's number of 666 are not available if you fancy one.
Example: GMA 100, CKE 100, NOY 100, III 100
* The price? P15,000 inclusive of the handling charge by the authorized LTO courier.

There you have it. You can be vain (apart from flaunting it on Facebook) with your car, but come selling time, you can't take the plate out and transfer it. A good option if you plan to keep the car until it dies or wears out.


Note: With the LTO website being down as of April 2012, I can only give links to other sites that provides similar information.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Used Car Review - Chevrolet Optra Wagon (2006-2009)

School started already but you are car-less and still relying on public transportation to mobile you around. You wanted a station wagon since it can swallow your school stuff and other related equipment at the cargo area but the problem is, what wagon? Among the limited choices available, Myk Belmonte finds a gem that could suit you well.

2006-2009 Chevrolet Optra Wagon

I have said this story several times ago in my articles that involve Korean cars; Daewoo Motors ran into deep financial trouble due to the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 90s. Daewoo purchased 4x4 specialist Ssangyong in 1998 only to sell it two years later due to financial woes. Year 2001 came and General Motors acquired most of Daewoo Motor's assets to form GM Daewoo and commenced operations the following year.

And with the buyout, the Daewoo Lacetti was born. Just like every GM Daewoo (now GM Korea) model, it is sold in different names and brands; using the badges of Chevrolet, Holden, Buick, and Suzuki in different parts of the world. The Lacetti's sedan and wagon were designed by Pininfarina and the hatchback's body by Giorgetto Giugario, both acknowledged automobile designers. This vehicle was introduced in 2002 and production continued until 2011, with the Cruze replacing it on that year.

The Philippine market had the Optra sedan in late 2003 while we had to wait for the wagon until 2006. The Optra replaced several vehicles within the GM family, and these were the Opel Astra (which prompted the discontinuation of the Opel brand in 2004); the Chevrolet Cassia, essentially a sedan version of the Suzuki Esteem; and its direct descendant, the Daewoo Racer. From 2006 to the following year, a basic (but well equipped) LS variant and a body kit and sporty rims clad SS trim paired with either a manual or automatic transmission. A 2008 revision just had the LS variant with the two transmission choices. Offered in Chevrolet dealers until 2009, with the Cruze (now a real Chevrolet) taking the place of both sedan and wagon guises.

Value and Costs
Between P370,000-P500,000, one can experience the functionality of a wagon plus the numerous standard features which some competitors' lack. The other vehicles that almost match the price range of the Optra Wagon (in second hand prices) are European estates that can be a pain to maintain for the ordinary motorist (or the middle class student). With this reason, the Optra Wagon is a bargain to be had but it would be nice if other competitors had come to the scene during that time.

GM Automobiles Philippines was plagued with poor after-sales support, but with the new distributor to the rescue, parts availability is stable but there are some components that require waiting (try browsing automotive forums such as the ones in with actual owners posting there). Various quality quirks are present in the Optra; which mostly involve the ECU (Electronic Control Unit) and some related with the mechanical parts. The ECU must be reprogrammed by the previous owner before sealing the deal, and some quirks should be fixed to enjoy a problem free drive.

Exterior and Interior
Credit Pininfarina for the exterior design, which was executed with grace and elegance. If you are a fan of Chevys, you'll notice that the grille is shared with other vehicles in the lineup. You and I will have the same say that the Optra was designed after the turn of the millennium. Roof rails come standard which lends a touch of utility but clipping a roof carrier on it is dangerous and much discouraged.

While the interior has numerous features, it's the fit and finish quality that is a deal breaker. The surface finish is ok but the fear of scratching it is there. Be careful not to leave any scratches and not to leave anything unnecessary (plants in the car anyone?) in the cargo cabin, especially if you plan to make most of the utility part of the vehicle. Passengers would really love the room afforded by this vehicle, since headroom is more than adequate.

Among the numerous engine configurations offered worldwide, an E-TEC II 1,598cc became the standard power plant in all PHDM Optra wagons. While 110hp at 5,800rpm and 150Nm at 4,000rpm are adequate on paper, the figures don't tell the whole story. Both power and torque numbers are neither worst, but neither class leading. Better conduct a test drive to know how a car performs.

Driving Impressions
You will mistake the Optra Wagon's driving dynamics for something from Europe. Handling is agile and acceleration is brisk and absorbs road imperfections without transmitting the bumps to its occupants. Despite its weight, it has the ability to go up to triple digit speeds; credit this one to the engineers who've chosen the transmission's gear ratios intelligently. There is the burden of sluggishness if you overload the car.

Station wagons are a balance of a sedan's low ground clearance and comfort and a minivan's versatility. And the Optra wagon embodies the role of its sedan brethren; comfortable, versatile, and fuel efficient. It may be gone, and it may have a fair number of shortcomings, but if you plan to maximize its utility, consider this one on your shopping list. Students, save some bucks now for this versatile vehicle.