A reader asks: What is the best car with a P700,000 price tag?

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by Botchi Santos | Jan 3, 2014

Hi, Botchi. I would like to ask your expert opinion on what the best P700,000 automatic-transmission car is for our needs. I know you've answered a couple of these questions already, but I'm still hoping that you can give me at least a short and quick answer.

We are a family of three that needs legroom because of our height, standing 5'7" to 5'10" tall. We are based outside the country, and we just got tired of renting cars or borrowing from relatives.

The car will be used for our annual two-week vacation (airport pick-up) and sudden business trips. So trunk space is a must! A trunk that can fit two pieces of 28-inch bags and one check-in luggage (estimated 65kg in total weight) would be perfect, but not required since one bag can take the passenger seat.

Fuel consumption is not a big issue, but something around 8-10km/L would be great. I'm hoping for a little power for quick trips to Baguio, Tagaytay or Ilocos. It must be automatic, reliable and easy to maintain since we plan on keeping it for no less than 10 years. Manual transmission is not an option since my wife has more frequent business trips than me.

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I've been doing a lot of research and here are my options:

* Nissan Sentra 1.3 GX AT - So far, this is Option A. I know it's old, but I'm also confident that I won't have parts issues since it's more than 10 years old.

These two cars cost more than P700,000, but I'm paying in cash so I hope to get discounts. Both are also tied as Option B:

* Ford Fiesta Trend 1.5 (four-door, AT) - I've read a lot of complaints on its suspension's clanking noise.

* Hyundai Accent 1.4 GL (AT) - I've read a lot of complaints regarding its engine issues when using regular unleaded fuel. There's also the engine knocking issue.

Since my research is based on various forums, I'd like to verify if the Fiesta and Accent's issues are true, or are they just isolated cases? I'm thinking of leaving the car to my in-laws as their once-a-week spare car, and I don't want to hear complaints about the car when I'm away.

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I know that cars will be under warranty, but having repairs other than the car's PMS will be difficult to explain to older people. If you can confirm to me that the Accent and Fiesta's issues have been resolved, or that the cases are just isolated, both cars will move to Option A since I prefer the bigger engine (1.4L) and safety features (ABS and airbags).

Option C is the Mitsubishi Mirage G4. I saw the Mirage hatchback during my vacation in Sydney, and I hated it. I felt like the suspension was too soft, the body felt thin (I've read that this was done to reduce weight), the rear seat is a bench, and the engine and road noises cannot be ignored. And I've read local reviews that it performs differently when loaded with passengers. My 12-year-old daughter stands 5'7" so I'm afraid I'll be asking too much from its three-cylinder engine.

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Of all my choices, the only car that I have seen and personally driven is the Sentra (thanks to its age). If you can vouch for the Accent and the Fiesta, I will be visiting their showrooms on my next vacation. The Mirage G4 was added to my list since my dad is not confident about Korean brands, thinks that the Sentra is a gas-guzzler, and really hates Ford!

I did not include the Toyota Vios and the Honda City since I think they're too expensive when compared to the Sentra and the Mirage G4. I had to put a ceiling on my budget, and four cars to choose from is more than enough.

Thanks for your time in reading my long e-mail!

More power to you and Top Gear Philippines!

Ice Ang


Hi, Ice. Thank you for your e-mail. We apologize for the late reply. Your particular requirements versus the tough financial constraint indeed make it difficult to satisfy your needs. Since you are not even willing to consider the Mitsubishi Mirage G4 (in my opinion, a good car for its price) or the Korean brands, your budget will get you nothing satisfactory.

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The Nissan Sentra 1.3 GX AT does seem appealing because it is a big (exterior-wise) car and suits your budget, but is around your daughter's age, which in car years is like saying it has already lived two lifetimes. It wasn't a particularly good car when it came out, and it definitely hasn't aged well like fine wine. It is more a household appliance--especially 12 years after it came out--than a car. I'm being polite here.

I've tried the Hyundai Accent 1.4 GL AT but never noticed anything outside the ordinary. There is a noticeable clonking noise when the rear suspension is fully compressed at speed (like driving over a large pothole over 60kph), but I felt it was something acceptable. The rear seats are on the tight side. Every small-to-average-size person I took as a passenger to ride in the Accent's rear seats all complained about that, which surprised me. Interior build quality still isn't on a par with Japanese rivals, but Hyundai has closed the gap significantly from five years ago.

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The Ford Fiesta Trend 1.5 AT is also a great car, but isn't as roomy inside as its competitors, and the stylish roofline means getting in and out isn't as easy or convenient. It isn't tight, but the best way to describe being inside the Fiesta is snug and somewhat intimate. I like it because it's fun to drive, but there are better people-movers in the B-segment than this.

Should you stretch your budget further, here are more options for you to consider:

* Toyota Vios 1.3 E (AT) at P762,000 - The new Vios is really, really good, which is surprising even for me. You'll never have any concerns on parts after 10 years, and you'll also have solid resale value because it is a Toyota.

* Nissan Almera 1.5 Base (AT) at P760,000 - The Almera is what the Nissan Sentra GX wishes to be: roomier inside than the Sentra, fuel-efficient and lightweight with better safety features. And since it is made in the Philippines, you won't have any parts problem 10 years down the line.

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I always advise people to get the best car they can buy even if it means going beyond their original budget. Both cars are barely 10% beyond your original budget so it's not too bad. Better to spend more and be happy with your car purchase, than to simply stay within your budget and buy an appliance of a car. This is false economy; you will regret it especially in the long run.

I hope this helps you out. Good luck and regards to your family!

Botchi Santos
Consumer Editor

Do you want Botchi to help you pick the right car? Send your inquiry to topgear@summitmedia.com.ph.


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