Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Used Car Review - Honda CR-V (1997-2001)

There is such saying that there are "oldies but goodies" existing in this world. But for this week's used car feature, this vehicle is to blame for the booming of the compact SUV market in the 90's. If you're clueless on what vehicle Myk Belmonte is referring to, read on and you'll be surprised.

1997-2001 Honda CR-V

Compact SUV's had entered the Philippine market prior to 1997, but none of them were market-innovative. The Daihatsu Feroza and the Suzuki Vitara were too much hardcore, the Toyota RAV4 (released months earlier than the CR-V) was too cute, the Kia Sportage was not received warmly by motorists since Kia is synonymous for its Pride and Besta, their best sellers back in the 90's; and the Nissan Terrano was too much truckish. So, the CR-V did have car riding capability and comfort (it was based on the EK Honda Civic), the height of a truck, and the famed Honda reliability.

Introduced in the latter months of 1997, the Honda CR-V was much of a success for Honda Cars Philippines. It had innovations that were imitated and made standard by the competition such as a switchless 4x4 (dubbed as the real-time four wheel drive system) that engages the rear wheels once it's front loses grip, a cargo mat in the rear that doubles as a picnic mat (perfect for its intended market), and even it's 2-DIN stereo system that has blinking effects which wowed its occupants (and inspired the aftermarket arena).

Do take note that only a four wheel drive drivetrain is made available throughout the first gen's (codenamed RD1) life. The four wheel drive powertrain activates the front wheels at most times. A front wheel drive variant is made available on the 2002-2006 Honda CR-V (which will be reviewed in a later article).

Value and Costs
Someone who desires on purchasing a second hand first-generation CR-V would encounter units priced from P260,000-P400,000. One good thing about the CR-V is parts are aplenty from the genuine, third party, and replacement ones. The resale value is on the higher side though, due to the image that Honda gained during that period. There are Japanese converted first generation CR-Vs on the market and without warning, must be avoided. Sometime in 2000, a limited edition Sound Cruiser was released with roof mounted speakers and subwoofers.

One must check the real-time four-wheel-drive system if it functions properly. Since its bearings can get worn down, and the rear differential's automatic-transmission fluid can dry up. The driver-side power window is a weak link, needing a replacement earlier than expected. Suspension bushings must be watched keenly, particularly the rear trailing arms, which can be worn out. And similar to Honda's of that generation, cooling the engine must be done carefully, since the auxiliary fan can exhibit wear and tear due to age and mileage factors. One good thing about the first generation CR-V is its maintenance level is similar to a 1996-2000 Civic, same goes with its driving dynamics.

Exterior and Interior
Age notwithstanding, the CR-V possesses that contemporary and timeless look. Those who have an eye-for detail might agree that the first-generation CR-V and the Toyota Rush/Daihatsu Terios look similar, although the latter two in a smaller scale. Exterior extras include two pairs of roof rails and its spare tire is located at the back. I recommend placing a tire cover for the spare tire, to protect it from various elements. Another feature is the easy-access tailgate that opens wide (sideways) to allow easy cargo hauling. However, the rear glass window must be unlocked first; this is a challenge for those who are used to an integrated rear door.

The interior has the simplicity of the Civic, with controls perfectly laid out. There is an abundance of headroom, legroom and knee room for its passengers and even the driver gets a commanding view outside. When folded, the cargo room can accommodate large, bulky items such as bicycles, a month's worth of groceries and a coffee table; albeit similar to the present day Jazz. As mentioned earlier, the cargo mat doubles as a picnic mat, and is washable.

Two engine options were made available to the locally sold CR-V. From 1997 to early 1999, a B2OB 1,973cc engine with 126hp at 5,400rpm and 130Nm at 4,300rpm was made standard. The B2OB engine emphasized maximization of low-end torque. A revision made in mid-1999 had the revised B20Z engine under its hood. The revised engine had 150hp at 6,300rpm and 180Nm at 4,500rpm, which is adequate enough to carry the bulk, since the earlier models were underpowered. Two transmission options are available for pairing to both standard engines, a 5-speed manual transmission and a 4-speed automatic transmission, which resides behind the steering wheel.

Driving Impressions
Think of the first-generation Honda CR-V as an EK Civic on stilts. Yes, thanks to its car-based platform, the CR-V is a joy to drive, with comfort matching its sedan counterpart. Come to think of it, the CR-V is a perfect companion whether for out of town trips, or urban escapades, in good or bad weather. Its successors didn't match the RD1's riding comfort.

Old as it may be, the CR-V is one classic and the one that pioneered the compact-SUV market. It breaks the stereotype of what an SUV should be. Its fuel efficiency can be a turn off to some but those wanting an SUV that has a car-like comfort with a clearance of an SUV, this is one of the best options out there, and not to forget, an affordable one. This has the potential to compete with the modern ones.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Used Car Review - Nissan X-Trail (2003-2011)

Bored with previous week's (and the week before that) featured vehicles? Well, bore yourself no more, as a compact SUV will be gracing this page. Among the choices available, Myk Belmonte picks one popular choice among the crop of SUVs that is worthy of your consideration if you are shopping for a compact ute.

2003-2011 Nissan X-Trail 

The compact SUV market had been booming in the early 2000s. While compact SUV stalwarts Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 had released their redesigned and "improved" versions in 2002 and 2000 respectively, Nissan launched the X-Trail in 2001 and has shown success despite being "young" against the competition. From that period, competitors had been busy developing their own compact SUVs during that time.

Nissan Motor Philippines made the X-Trail available to the Filipino motorist in 2003, and it gained a time advantage of preparing its contender, market-wise and feature-wise. It may not have third row seats (CR-V) or a manual transmission (RAV4, Ford Escape) but made up with unique features such as a heavy-duty plastic layer in the rear cargo area, a beverage cooler, and even a centrally mounted instrument reader; which is a novelty during that time. Minor changes were done in 2005 and mid-2007 (coincidentally enough, Nissan launched the second generation X-Trail at that year), but with the new model being on sale in mid-2010, the first gen X-Trail (dubbed as the 200) is made as an affordable option for those wanting a functionality of an SUV with the comfort of a sedan.

An advantage brought by the X-Trail is its wide range of variants. A base front wheel drive version with a 2.0 liter engine, a four wheel drive variant still with the base model's 2.0 liter engine, and the top of the line variant which possess a 2.5 liter engine with four wheel drive capability. However, only one transmission choice is available, a four-speed automatic transmission.

Value and Costs
Price ranges of a first generation X-Trail varies depending on the year model to the condition of the vehicle. 2003-2005 units can be purchased for as low as P450,000 and recent examples are priced within P700,000-P730,000. With these prices, the X-Trail is a friendly option to someone looking for a daily vehicle that has decent cargo and passenger space.

With maintenance costs being on the affordable side, be prepared if you drive like a maniac. The climate-control system won't give up unless you manage to push the front end and damage the condenser. Debunking the notion that Nissan parts are mahirap hanapin, this is not technically true.

Exterior and Interior
Boxy is the word that comes out of someone's mouth whenever he or she sees a Nissan X-Trail. It looks like a box but executed in a fashionably manner. It looks sexy and at the same time macho, with its design being a classic in a few years. One novelty of the vehicle is its plastic fenders that give a reasonable amount of ding and rust protection.

Inside, tons of space awaits the driver, its passengers, and even their cargo. With the cargo area being sufficient enough to fit anything and thanks to its plastic layer, dings won't appear in the interior's sides. Headroom and legroom are decent enough while they can enjoy their cooled drinks courtesy of the beverage cooler. The famed centered based instrument gauges can be a boon or a bane to drivers but it is wider and legibly written than the one found in the first generation Toyota Vios.

For the Filipino buyer, two engines are made available. The QR20DE 1,998cc engine which pumps out 150hp at 6,000rpm and 200Nm at 4,000rpm and the QR25DE 2,488cc engine that has 180hp at 6,000rpm and 245Nm at 4,000rpm to play with. The 2.5 variant feels lighter even at low speeds, credit its engine displacement. While the lower end 2.0 variant has adequate power, it feels slightly under powered and can use a little more of it.

Driving Impressions
Because of its car based platform, the X-Trail possesses one of the most comfortable and cushiest rides on a crossover SUV. Obviously not available in a car is made standard in the X-Trail, which are high ground clearance and excellent all-around visibility. And since it has car based underpinnings, ride and handling are comparable to one.

Thanks to Nissan's not-so-stellar resale value, the X-Trail is a steal for people looking for a vehicle that has the riding comfort of a sedan and the ground clearance of an SUV. Surely, there are some competitors that have brand advantage, but the X-Trail has found home in Filipino garages. A worthy pick especially for urban dwellers and wanting the height.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Used Car Review - Toyota Corolla (1993-1998)

Who wants to reminisce their college days during the 90s? Whether you are married, a college boy, or even a kid, there is no escape for this car. You'll see this as a taxi, police car, or even privately owned. Myk Belmonte invites you to go back in time with this car and relieve some memories as we take off.

1993-1998 Toyota Corolla

Thanks to user GTi of for supplying some data!

Filipinos have a very soft spot for Corollas. Locally, the 1988-1992 Corolla is nicknamed as the "Small Body", but other nicks such as "16 Valve" and "SKD" (acronym for Semi Knock Down) were also used by enthusiasts. Two generations after, the 1998-2001 Corolla had the name of "Love Life". But the 1993-1998 Corolla had people call it the "Big Body."

Heavier, larger, and visually more aerodynamic than the model it replaced, with development chief Dr. Akihiko Saito wanted to develop a "mini-Lexus", after the success of the marque. With the model being sold around the world and with multiple variants which includes a sedan, hatchback, coupe, and station wagon variants. Produced from 1991-1998 worldwide, it was one of Toyota's successful vehicles.

Three variants were made available for the Filipino consumer, the base XL, mid-level XE, and the top end GLI. Limited edition variants sprouted out which included a Limited variant with stickers in Gold, an SE Limited variant, a TRD variant, and shockingly, a TOMS variant. With Toyota's fabled reliability, Filipinos purchased Corollas in an instant. From Manong Pulis to Kuya Taxi Driver to that working family man, the AE101 Corolla found home in different Filipino garages.

Value and Costs
From P100,000-P175,000, one can get a second hand Corolla with varying state of condition. Early generation variants are priced lower while later models do have prices within P160,000-P175,000. As much as possible, find a stock unit to encounter fewer headaches from ex-taxi units (which you could currently count) to modified units (it was a favorite of drag racers).

Cost of maintenance is much affordable despite its age. Parts are aplenty from the original ones to replacement parts to third party ones. If you're considering an XL or XE variant, check the carburetor if it works fine. Automatics are not available in the 1.3 variants

Exterior and Interior
Designed to mimic a Lexus, the Corolla lends out a luxury touch on the outside. Credit the Lexus-like styling since it aimed to be heavier, larger, and completely round. The design is purely 90's, with that aerodynamic theme which is associated from cars during that time.

Going inside, it can fit five warm bodies in it. The Corolla Big Body was able to introduce several firsts in the market which includes rear seatbelts, front cup holders (added in late 1994), and a driver's airbag (placed in late 1995). Controls are logically placed and easy to manipulate, which is one of the Corolla's strong points.

Standard norm among compact sedans in the 90s are engine choices of a carburetor and a fuel injected engine. XL and XE variants are fitted with a 2E 1,295cc which has 72hp at 6,000rpm and 98Nm at 3,600rpm while GLI variants do have a 1,587cc 4A-FE engine with 113hp at 5,800rpm and 137Nm at 4,800rpm. It may look conservative but they do have enormous low end power, which is the Corolla's selling point over its competitors. And mind you, the Carburetor engine is freakin' fast in stock form.

Driving Impressions
If it's a Corolla, it must be comfortable. Yes, this is true. Corollas are comfortable to ride in, and a lot of commuters attest to this back then. The line-up of engines are all fuel efficient, and do have an abundance of low end torque, which is an advantage when one is planning to drive in the city. Those driving an XL variant from a vehicle with power steering must have the time and patience of driving a car without one. As local parlance calls it "pawis steering", it takes an amount of physical work for someone to steer in a mall parking lot.

The Corolla sells well for a good and a right reason. Parts are cheap, fuel efficient, reliable, and comfortable to ride in. It may be aplenty like that annoying Justin Bieber song, but it serves the purpose right. Buyers who are seeking a car good for everyday usage in a budget, the "Big Body" Corolla is a solid choice, despite its decade old age. Still, it would be a classic one time.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Used Car Review - Toyota Vios (2003-2007)

Hunting for a daily commuter car but never mind the "too common" comments is a daunting task. With requirements such as painless maintenance, decent fuel consumption, comfortable to ride in for hours, and low cost of entry, Myk Belmonte finds a car that fits the above criteria. All you need to do is find one that is in good condition.

2003-2007 Toyota Vios

Essentially the replacement of the Toyota Tercel (called as the Toyota Soluna in Thailand and Indonesia), the Vios was introduced to the market in 2003.  It filled the void left by the Tercel for an Asian subcompact below the Corolla and the Camry.

Available in South East Asia, Taiwan, and China, the Vios proved to be a best seller despite its new name and the competition brought by its nearest rival, the Honda City, which was redesigned in 2003. Locally, it had been available in 2003 and became Toyota's best-selling passenger car in the Philippines in 2005.

Initially, only two variants were available, the E and the G. In late 2005, the J variant was added while a facelift contemplated the remaining variants. In 2007, a limited edition called the S was introduced; with different set of wheels, a different grille, and some body kits. With price increases of its bigger brother, the Corolla Altis, it proved to be a bestseller. From private owners to cab drivers, it nearly became a staple car in the country. Sales continued up to the middle of 2007 with the second generation Vios being introduced later that year.

Value and costs
Currently, a first generation Vios can be obtained from P290,000-380,000 given the vehicle's state of condition and variant. I advise buyers to steer clear of ex-taxi units since they tend to be more abused. Another thing is to check the digital speedometer and tachometer present on the G variant, if these function properly and accurately. Buyers are advised to check various units since there are plenty of examples out there.

Exterior and Interior
Outside, the Vios was adapted from the Toyota Platz with modified side panels, which gave the vehicle an easy-to-the-eye impression, much to its direct competitor. It may not possess a daring styling but it gives an elegant look without being mistaken as a luxury car.

The Vios can fit five passengers in a squeeze but four will be perfectly fine. One novelty is its center located instrumental display, which one must take time to be accustomed with. Everything had been pulled out from its hatchback sibling, the Echo, but some were tweaked such as the placement of the gauges to the hazard light. One thing, the controls (air conditioning and hazard lights) and even the parking brake are out of reach for the driver. The silver interior trim and the standard 2DIN radio may look tacky but it will grow on you, same with the exterior styling.

Two engine choices are available for the Philippine market, the 1,298cc 2NZ-FE that propels the J and E variants and the 1,497cc 1NZ-FE that powers the G variant. Both engines have the famed VVT-i variable valve timing technology. The 1.3 variants have 84hp at 6,000rpm and 121Nm at 4,400rpm, while 1.5 variants carry 107hp at 6,000rpm and 141Nm at 4,200rpm. These engines are tuned for low end torque, a trait Toyotas possess; despite having low figures on paper.

Driving Impressions
It may have conservative horsepower figures but even in the lowest speeds, the Vios can kick speed. That is why the NZ engines feel "bigger" than they are. Even at high speeds, the Vios accomplishes its job in a quiet and fashionably manner. And mind you, it is stable on hair rising speeds, and the suspension is a bit stiff when driving in the famed zigzag roads of Baguio.

It may not be the exciting car to come out of the automobile planet nor it may not have the features that the market is introducing, but the Vios is one painless vehicle to own. Those who want a simple vehicle to transport them to any point in a reliable way, this is it. Just make sure you take care of this vehicle, or it will give up on you.