The Ten Best Cars of 2004
2004 HAS BEEN A ROLLER COASTER of a year for the automotive industry. On one hand, there have been more car launches this year than the years before—we have seen the return of the beloved family hatchback, more sophisticated family carriers, and the return of familiar brands. And yet, it’s the same year that has seen a lot of setbacks particularly in the continuous slump of the industry in general as well as the continuous increase of pump prices, and the impending “gas-guzzler” tax that follows it.
Yet, we should be glad that the car companies have started giving us cars that actually suit our needs—cars and vans that we actually like to drive, rather than being forced to drive it. In more than a hundred car models and variants available in the country, here’s our top 10 selection for 2004.
Class: Luxury Sedan
Under the Hood: Turbo Diesel 3.0 DOHC 24-valve inline-6 (218 bhp, 500 Nm)
Price: P 4,880,000.00
The BMW 530d enters our minds and hearts once again. The only diesel-fed in this entire line-up, the 530d is a combination of individualistic style, attitude, and performance. This car epitomizes the German marque’s use of high-tech with gadgetry such as Active Steering and i-Drive, all in all to perfect the driving experience. And yet, despite its sporty character, the 530d mixes comfort well with a refined suspension system and high quality fit and finish.
Chevrolet Optra 1.8 LT
Class: Compact Sedan
Under the Hood: 1.8 DOHC 16-valve inline-4 (121 bhp, 165 Nm)
Price: P 799,000.00
The Chevrolet Optra isn’t exactly the most heart-stopping compact sedan out there, yet its biggest advantage isn’t something you see under the hood or in the cabin. The Optra, especially in the range-topping 1.8 LT trim is the best value in its class with a fully-loaded cabin. That’s not to say that the Optra performs horribly on the road. In fact, this Chevrolet manages to dish out a comfortable driving experience, backed up by a worry-free 3-year/100,000 kilometer warranty that includes parts and labor.
Ford Escape 2.3 XLS
Class: Compact SUV
Under the Hood: 2.3 DOHC 16-valve inline-4 (157 bhp, 203 Nm)
While the Ford Escape V6 XLT still blazes the road as the fastest compact SUV available, the Escape 2.3 XLS represents a much improved product that’s perfect for everyone else bar the Formula One driver wannabe. Though there are slight improvements in and out of the car, the biggest thumbs up has to go to that modern 2.3-liter engine. Despite the increase in displacement, this engine mates well with the 4-speed automatic producing much better fuel mileage and better acceleration. The absence of all-wheel drive may be a problem for some, but for city road use, the 2.3 XLS is one of the best choices out there. Alternatively, you can try the Mazda Tribute 2.3 if you prefer a sportier look.
Honda Accord 3.0 VTEC V6
Class: Executive Sedan
Under the Hood: 3.0 DOHC 24-valve V6 (240 bhp, 288 Nm)
Each generation of the Honda Accord is perfection improved, and the latest one is no different. Bigger, bolder, and better in everyway the new Honda Accord is leagues ahead of its competition in both performance and comfort. The new 3.0-liter V6 engine can actually outgun a BMW 325i in straight line acceleration and still provide more a much more comfortable cabin. The handling has been improved thanks to standard TCS or Traction Control as well as 16-inch alloy wheels. Top notch materials and a bulletproof build quality round up this truly excellent car.
Hyundai Coupe FX
Class: Compact Coupe
Under the Hood: 2.0 DOHC 16-valve inline-4 (140 bhp, 186 Nm)
Price: P 1,170,000
The biggest surprise this year has to be the Hyundai Coupe FX. If there’s one reason why you should consider a Korean car, then it has to be this Ferrari look-alike. Yet, despite the copied lines, the Coupe dishes out a truly spirited performance thanks to its sublime chassis. The 2.0-liter engine may not make it the fastest car out there, but show the Coupe a twist or two, and it can dance.
Mazda 3 2.0 R
Class: Compact Sedan
Under the Hood: 2.0 DOHC 16-valve inline-4 (141 bhp, 181 Nm)
Price: P 915,000.00
Never has a car been designed with such focus. The Mazda 3 has dispensed with all the faux wood and beige leather in favor of something truly sporty. And it’s not just in the red dials or black on black interior either; it has the go to match the show. The 3 has direct steering and braking—things usually taken for granted in this segment. The standard equipment list is quite generous, and the asking price is a steal. It’s getting quite popular too, that in the case you want one, you’ll unfortunately have to wait a month or two get yours.
Mercedes-Benz E240 Avantgarde
Class: Luxury Sedan
Under the Hood: 2.6 SOHC 18-valve V6 (177 bhp, 240 Nm)
Price: P 4,850,000.00
A good performer in every aspect, the E240 is the best-selling midsize luxury sedan in the world with over 50 percent of the market share. And there’s no surprise why: it combines classic looks with bank vault build quality. Unlike its rivals that promote sporty pretensions, the E240 Avantgarde is the perfect long distance cruiser with a refined engine/transmission combination. The long-list of standard features including the sophisticated ESP or Electronic Stability Control and panoramic moon roof make it a very excellent choice for the top level executive.
Mitsubishi Outlander GLS
Class: Compact SUV
Under the Hood: 2.4 SOHC 16-valve inline-4 (136 bhp, 201 Nm)
The SUV for extroverts, the Outlander is the first-ever Mitsubishi you can actually lust over bar the Mitsubishi Evolution. That said, the Outlander shares the Evolution’s rally-proven all-wheel drive system and platform ensuring class-leading handling. Styling with its Gundam mecha exterior and Zen-like interior can give very polar reactions, and for that, we simply love it. Driving position and ergonomics is spot on, back to Mitsubishi models of yore. The 2.4-liter engine may just provide adequate thrust, but Mitsubishi is rectifying it by injecting the Outlander with an additional 20 horsepower sometime next year.
Class: Compact Hatchback
Under the Hood: 1.6 DOHC 16-valve inline-4 (127 bhp, 147 Nm)
Price: P 1,095,000.00
The badge sounds French, and the Peugeot 307 may look French, but it’s one truly globally competitive car. Once named European Car of the Year, the 307 dishes out a pretty good driving experience with a well-refined motor and sophisticated suspension. Pricing may be similar to other compact SUVs with bigger engines, but the 307 delivers a sweeter package with loads of standard equipment including a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, side-impact airbags, and a Porsche-style Tiptronic 4-speed shifter.
Class: Family Van
Under the Hood: 2.4 DOHC 16-valve inline-4 (157 bhp, 225 Nm)
Price: P 1,688,000.00
Compared to the rest of the family hauling market, the Toyota Previa is the definite winner. It’s stylish, comfortable, and easy to own. The 2.4-liter engine, sourced from the luxurious Camry provides excellent thrust. Driving it may look difficult at first, but soon the Previa proves itself as a great surprise with its car-like handling and ride. The Star Trek-themed interior is spacious and comfortable with seating for 7 and their luggage. The dual sliding doors with retractable windows add a lot to its practicality.
Volvo S60 T5
Class: Luxury Sedan
Under the Hood: Turbocharged 2.3 DOHC 20-valve inline-5 (250 bhp, 330 Nm)
Price: P 2,590,000.00
Based on its bigger S80 brother, the S60 looks beautiful. Solid construction inside and out makes it a genuine and a more individualistic alternative to the Germans. The base 2.0T is lively enough, but the small price difference makes the T5 such a sweet deal. Besides being blistering quick, the S60 T5 is fully capable to take on the twisty roads with its beefed up suspension complete with bigger rubber. That said, the T5 doesn’t shove comfort to the sidelines, it’s fully loaded with stuff that are commonly found under the ‘options’ list in the similarly priced BMW 3-Series.
Our Ten Best contains many surprises, and some more mainstream choices. And although our Top 10 choices are limited only to our own preferences, we invite you to wait in February 2005, where the first-ever Car of the Year – Philippines will be crowned. As part of the committee that decides the winner, we will certainly be reporting what automotive journalists think is the best choice out there. Until then, do take the time to visit your local showroom and see for yourself what the automotive industry has to offer. It’s only by actually trying out a car will you realize what’s best for you.
By Ulysses Ang
Photos By Ulysses Ang and Jason Ang