Talking and meeting (over Zoom) with several car industry representatives since this general community quarantine started points to one much-anticipated fact: the demand for entry-level cars is stronger than ever.
The demand, however, is tempered by the much tighter auto loan approvals from the much more conservative financing institutions. But for those who manage to get a car loan or who can raise the funds to buy these entry-level cars in cash, the next step would be to choose which among the many models to bring home.
That would be easy if they want a popular, proven model that will be easy to maintain and prove trouble-free for the years to come. They will not go wrong with a Toyota Vios, Mitsubishi Mirage, or Nissan Almera. (There are actually 22 different models from 14 different car brands that come with price tags below P700,000.)
But what if they want something newer on the market and more unique? Well there are still a number of cars that are new enough to be head-turners in their own right or are still not in the mainstream consciousness of traditional buyers. These are all capable cars, all of which we have driven and of which we can attest to their solid overall performance.
Here now are seven sub-P700k models arranged by price from lowest to highest:
1. Suzuki S-Presso (P518,000)
It’s amazing that the newest car in this list (it was supposed to be unveiled last March 18) is also the cheapest. The Suzuki S-Presso is a tall but tiny crossover powered by a 1.0-liter engine mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. It’s not much bigger than its legendary off-roading sibling, the Jimny, but has the advantage of having four doors, making it as versatile as any crossover. Like most crossovers, though, it comes only with front-wheel drive.
2. Toyota Wigo (P568,000-P700,000)
Toyota recently unveiled the 2020 edition of its bestselling small hatchback, the Wigo. Amazingly, all three models—including the sharp-looking full body-kitted TRD S variant—all slot into our P700,000-and-below price range.The new Wigos boast a wide array of new comfort, convenience, and safety features while retaining the legendary Toyota reliability and fuel economy. You can’t do much better than that.
3. Honda Brio (P598,000 MT / P658,000 AT)
The current 2nd-gen Honda Brio is a more mainstream version of its slightly oddball but still lovable predecessor. That first-gen model was arguably the best in its class. Unfortunately, it was substantially more expensive than the competition. The new Brio (still powered by a 1.3L engine) addresses that crucial weakness. It still has class-leading build quality, refinement, and overall performance, but is priced very, very competitively—to the point that it is now the second lowest priced car on this list and the cheapest automatic-equipped car you can buy in the country.
4. Hyundai Reina (P638,000) and Kia Soluto (P665,000 MT)
I joined these two cars because they’re essentially identical under the skin. The well-built Reina is Hyundai’s spearhead in the race for market share, offering a full subcompact sedan size at a price point more common for tiny hatchbacks. It comes with a 1.4L engine mated to a manual or automatic, although the latter breaches our 700k limit at P733,000.
Much of what you can say about the Hyundai Reina applies to the Kia Soluto, which has the same platform and shares much of the mechanicals. Hyundai owns Kia, after all. Both solid-performing subcompact sedans are highly similar, right down to the 1.4L drivetrains and their dimensions.
5. MG 5 (P658,888)
If you want a low price but still desire a certain amount of exclusivity, the MG 5 is your cup of English tea. MG is an almost-century-old British brand now owned by China’s SAIC conglomerate. With its elegantly understated European design, the MG 5 is one of the better-looking cars in this bunch. It’s powered by a 1.5L engine shared with the popular MG ZS SUV and comes in four variants, although only the entry-level manual transmission model slips under our P700k ceiling.
6. Volkswagen Santana (P686,000)
You won’t see a Volkswagen Santana in Germany or the U.S. But you’ll see thousands of Santanas in Mexico, Brazil, China, and other emerging markets. It’s VW’s version of an affordable subcompact sedan. The price is right, and even if it’s not a pure German model, it still oozes with that unmistakable Teutonic solidity. The minimalist Audi-esque lines will make the Santana look fresh several years down the road. The 1.4L-powered Santana is also available with an automatic, but that version retails for a whopping P200k more.
7. Chery Tiggo 2 (P695,000)
The sporty and youthful-looking Chery Tiggo 2 is the newcomer of this bunch. The bigger and more important distinction, however, is that it’s the only other crossover (aside from the smaller Suzuki S-Presso) in this list. This makes the Tiggo 2 substantially more versatile than the subcompact sedans and hatchbacks here, especially with its higher ground clearance. The Tiggo 2 comes with a 1.5L DOHC 16-valve VVT engine—the second biggest in the group. There’s an automatic version, but it overshoots our P700k limit at P770k.