A Top Gear PH reader asks: Which first car should I buy?

Help your fellow reader by taking the poll
by Botchi Santos | Aug 16, 2013

Hi, Botchi. This will be my first time to buy a car, and I do not know anything about it. I\'m totally at a loss when it comes to the technical specifications, and I do not know what I should look for. But I\'d have to say that through reading and asking around, I have learned something. Based on what I\'ve learned, I want to consider the following when choosing my first car:

* Resale value

* Low maintenance cost

* Durability and reliability

* Fuel efficiency

* Sedan (my wife doesn\'t like hatchbacks)

* Manual transmission (my preference)

Now, my questions are:

* For a first-time owner who doesn\'t know anything about cars, what would you recommend if the budget were a maximum of P800,000?

* Is it really required of me to test-drive the cars on my short list?

* What are the things that should be included in the deal? (LTO registration, insurance, etc.)

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* Is it recommended to just buy the latest model, or the discounted outgoing model?

* With too many car manufacturers in the market, who is your go-to carmaker that is really trusted over the years?

I hope you can help me with my car-hunting as I\'m a total noob at this.
Jojo Durana

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Hi, Jojo. Thank you for your e-mail. I\'m sure many people feel the same way as you do. The vast majority of cars now available to us (a good thing, I might add)--plus the seemingly limitless information about these cars--can seem overwhelming to the uninitiated.

There are a number of factors that can affect your criteria.

Resale value is affected primarily by overall vehicle condition, mileage, and where you live and work. In other words, your general commute plays a factor. As an example, if you live/work or drive through in a flood-prone area, that\'s immediately a minus for your car\'s resale value. What\'s crucial is you should religiously follow your vehicle\'s preventive maintenance schedule, and keep all the receipts and records in a file that you can present when you sell the car.

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As for maintenance cost, the vast majority of cars in the same class all have comparable maintenance cost when they undergo preventive maintenance. Tune-up and oil change are priced to within a few hundred pesos of each other. What\'s not standard, however, is the cost of replacing collision parts (i.e., body parts, doors, windshields and bumpers), big-ticket components (starter, alternator, A/C compressor, engine control unit), and other things that do not normally get damaged and need replacing over the life of the car. If you will be selling the car no later than five years after the date of purchase, these factors and issues will be less of a concern for you.

With fuel efficiency, there are too many variables to list down. In my case, I am an aggressive driver. Economy cars purported to be able to yield, say, 12km/L only get 8.5-9km/L when I drive them because of my driving style.

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On the other hand, for other cars that have a bad reputation for being very thirsty, I have been able to coax a much better fuel consumption figure because of my driving style. An example is my 7km/L consumption figure on the Porsche 997 GT3 RS, a track-biased performance car that doesn\'t really care much for fuel efficiency. My point? A lot has to do with your driving style. My tips?

* Step on the throttle as light as possible;

* Let it reach a good working powerband. For gasoline cars, that seems to be right past 3,000rpm; and

* Stay in that gear, stepping as lightly as possible on the throttle, until you need to speed up even more. Then switch to the next gear, rather than lugging the engine and transmission (shifting at a very low rpm, which tends to be bad for the engine in the long run), which is what most people do, unfortunately.

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Since you mentioned sedans, let\'s get right to it:

The all-new Toyota Vios has recently been launched. It\'s essentially the same car with a lot of carryover engineering, and that\'s a good thing. Still the same very fuel-efficient and very responsive 1.5-liter 1NZFE engine that, at least in my experience, is really very capable of breaching the magic 10km/L driving in traffic--with as much as 14km/L out on the highway. The interior has been improved significantly. While driving dynamics isn\'t the sharpest, you can bet that the Vios will be arguably the cheapest and easiest vehicle to maintain, especially if you buy reputable third-party replacement parts outside of the dealership network. It\'s also the cheapest. Toyotas generally enjoy very good resale values, and their parts and servicing are one of the most affordable in the industry, too. But the Vios in general is a taxi favorite so that tends to undermine its resale value, especially the manual as many secondhand units are often refurbished for PUV use.

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The Hyundai Elantra is your best bet based on your requirements. It comes with a 1.6-liter engine attached to a six-speed manual transmission (the more forward gears, the better for fuel efficiency, responsiveness for cut-and-thrust city driving, and a more relaxed highway driving experience). It has Honda Civic-rivaling driving dynamics as well, and the controls (steering, clutch, gearshift and brakes) are light and easy, yet provide decent feel and feedback. There\'s also a plethora of dealer-fit options available, such as a multimedia system with SATNAV/GPS to make your everyday motoring life easier. After-sales service and maintenance have been improving--Hyundai is working hard to bring the costs of both its vehicles and after-sales service down.

Also, the Elantra is still fairly new so it\'s hard to say how it will perform after a full five years of use, but if recent Hyundai vehicles are to be an indicator, such as the Santa Fe and the Tucson, then the Elantra should do well. The only aspect I can nitpick is perhaps its build feel. It doesn\'t feel--and this is subjective--as solid as a Japanese car, especially the Civic. But the Elantra still offers better value for money.

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The third car I\'d recommend is the Mitsubishi Lancer. It\'s the oldest car in this group, but is also perhaps a real hidden gem. It\'s just as easy to drive as the other two cars, with a light clutch, light gearshift but perhaps the smoothest, most refined and most comfortable ride. It\'s not as sharp as the Elantra, but the smoothness provides the satisfaction. It is the most expensive of this trio, but the premium is worth it, and since it is a Mitsubishi, the resale value is solid. A number of dealer-fit accessories like a multimedia system with SATNAV/GPS are available.

As for buying the car, you can haggle for the following, especially if it will be financed over a number of years:

* Free LTO registration for three years;

* Free chattel mortgage fee;

* Free 3M tint or a similar tint, but not the cheap stuff that fades after one year;

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* Car cover, front windshield/window shade, car matting, and golf umbrella (usual dealer giveaways);

I hope this helps. Good luck! Let us know which car you eventually get. God bless you and the missus.

PS: All women seem to dislike hatchbacks. My wife doesn\'t like them, too, but I love \'em!


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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