Hi, Botchi. I'm shopping for a vehicle that I can use for a 130km daily drive (from Santa Rita NLEX to Makati via EDSA, and back) on weekdays. My choices are the Chevrolet Trax, the Ford EcoSport, the Toyota Avanza, the Toyota Innova and the Isuzu MU-X.
I hope to get a seven-seater, but a five-seater is also fine as long as it's fuel-efficient and cheap. I would appreciate your assistance.
Dondie, you really rack up the mileage a lot. Wow! Thanks for dropping us a line.
Do you really need a seven-seater MPV or SUV? I ask because by virtue of getting a smaller vehicle, you are immediately improving your fuel efficiency.
I like the Chevrolet Trax. It has a great 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline engine (and not a diesel, as I have mistakenly said previously) that's really gutsy. Unfortunately, I never got to try it on the highway, but within the city I just loved it. The interior lacks a bit of the polish of its Japanese rivals, but the comfort, the efficiency and the fun-to-drive factor will wow you.
The Toyota Avanza is a great package, too. I liked it a lot, especially since the new one has grown and has lost its notoriously bouncy ride. On the highway, the Avanza is okay, but I feel its tall ride height and narrow track make it more prone to crosswinds on the highway up north. Basically, it takes a bit more effort to keep it straight and you really feel the wind pushing you to either side. It might get tiring on a 130km drive every day, so it's something to bear in mind.
The Toyota Innova would be a much more realistic option for your long drives. It has new engines and transmissions, as well as improved comfort and refinement. This means it will be more enjoyable and less tiring to drive. My pick would be the 2.8 V variant because of the captain seats in the second row, but the 2.8 E AT is fine if you want something basic and comfortable during long drives. If you didn't need to go to Makati via EDSA, a manual would have been fine. However, until the Skyway Stage 3 construction is finished in another two years or so, it's hell passing through EDSA especially on payday weekends.
The Isuzu MU-X is the least popular option among the latest generation of pickup-based SUVs. It's okay, honestly. However, if you pit it against the all-new Fortuner, Montero Sport and Everest specs-wise, you can have so much more for comparable money when you consider the other contenders. But if your heart is set on a MU-X, you'll be pleased to know that in real-world conditions, I have found that Isuzus offer the best in terms of fuel-efficiency. They are, after all, the diesel experts.
Also, check out the Nissan Juke. When the first Honda Jazz came out in 2005, I was impressed by its ingenuity. After trying out the Juke recently, I had the same great feeling of satisfaction and amazement. It's not as gutsy or powerful as the Trax, but for me, it's much more fun to drive. Although you need to wring out its 1.6-liter engine on the highway.
As for the Ford EcoSport? It's the least of my favorites. I find the engine quite lacking in outright grunt and isn't rev-happy enough for you to freely wring it and get the most performance out of it. And the dual-clutch transmission is jerky to use.
Other options to look at? Check out the Nissan X-Trail, which is a unique seven-seater crossover SUV offering amazing performance and fuel efficiency. Also, consider the Kia Sportage, which is a very nice and luxurious diesel compact SUV.
If I were to recommend something for you, my top three picks would be the Innova for a safe and reliable vehicle that has excellent long-term reliability; the X-Trail as an intelligent second option because it's a crossover, has seven seats and is very fuel-efficient especially for your highway runs; and the Trax because of its ingenious small package and perky turbocharged engine.
I hope this helps. Good luck and God bless always. Drive safely!
Illustration by Arvin Dizon