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An Alternative Road Trip Into The Heart Of Luzon

Finding Pinoy pride in Nueva Ecija (and beyond) with Volkswagen's latest rides
by Ash Mahinay | Aug 26, 2018
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You’ve probably been on a road trip lately, but when have you gone somewhere that isn’t the usual beach destination? That’s what Volkswagen Philippines had in mind when they took us on a “Filipiniana” tour of Central Luzon—riding their all-new lineup, of course, centered around their tagline: Your Drive Just Got Better.

We wouldn't mind having this a first carPhoto by Volkswagen Philippines

Day 1 starred the Santana, their P686,000 crazy deal, as we headed to Highland Bali Villas in Nueva Ecija. At some point we were 100km away from two heavily touristed destinations: Baler and Baguio. Its main attraction is Pantabangan Lake next door—which is said to be the biggest reservoir/lake in Southeast Asia—and you basically get it all to yourself. So, next time you’ve got a trip in the works, consider hitting up a freshwater site like this instead. A favorite story of the locals is that an old town actually lies beneath the lake and sometimes, you can see the cross of the old church peeking out over the water’s surface. Now that sounds like excellent ghost story potential, but it’s not like the residents all drowned when the lake formed up, they were relocated when the Pantabangan Dam was put up—so probably no spirits here.

No church in the wild that day though, but what a viewPhoto by Volkswagen Philippines
Get over here before every else does since it just opened recently!Photo by Volkswagen Philippines

On the way there, we got to test Volkswagen’s new emphasis on torque over horsepower. Their current lineup are focused on drivability with maximum torque (or hatak if you prefer) coming early: 132Nm at 3800 rpm for the Santana. Most of its competitors may have higher peak numbers, but they also reach those at higher revs, usually close to redline. So, unless you shift gears at 6000 everytime, you’ll probably enjoy the powerband of the little Volks. Also, malakas aircon niya, real talk.

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Does this count as "playing with your food?"Photo by Volkswagen Philippines

The Philippine Rice Research Institute or PhilRice was an unusual tourist spot, but the rolling fields of green made for a great photo op. It also brought a twinge of Pinoy pride to our hearts to see bright minds contributing to the future of rice. Tech like mechanized planting machines and survey drones may sound basic (or technologically extra) to you, but seeing it first-hand makes you appreciate the hard work our farmers put in—it’s easy to forget where our unli-rice comes from after all (Stop wasting it, too.) The passion of the people is also inspiring, even though we all think the government is 100% incompetent, you have unheralded folk like these working hard to help each other out, and you could probably go your entire life without even hearing about them. This is perhaps a perfect example of educational tourism—something that we should pay attention more versus the all too prevalent IG tourism.

Even the food was a Pinoy Pride affair, like the ten course lunch here at Bale DutungPhoto by Volkswagen Philippines

The final day wrapped up closer to Manila at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan, and the mini The Museo ng Republika ng 1899, which is right next door. A charmingly low-tech light and sound presentation recapped the role of the church in the early days of our republic and after traveling through the countryside, it made the visit more introspective than usual—seeing how we got here, you wonder if the current state of the nation has our founding fathers spinning in their graves.

We've heard all the "living Lavida" jokes by now, thank youPhoto by Volkswagen Philippines

The rolling terrain of Nueva Ecija we traversed on the way home is also an attraction for those who like to drive on road trips. Being mindful of the usual slow highway-hogging tricycles, it was good fun to open it up and use the turbocharged 1.4-liter Lavida’s 225Nm of torque, which starts all the way down at 1,500rpm. It also has a sunroof, leather seats, and a super smooth DSG tranny all for P1.1 million. Who ya got! This trip also featured driving more than 50km just to have lunch, because the folks at Volkswagen were probably super confident in the fuel economy of their cars. Even the Tiguan, a compact SUV aka the heftiest of the bunch relatively, ran more than 400km before we needed to refuel. Speaking of the Tiguan, its eight-speaker setup and power adjustable seats made being in the cushy driver’s seat of an SUV even more lux than usual.

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The Tiguan is also useful for those sketchy provincial routesPhoto by Volkswagen Philippines

The Volkswagen Media Driving Experience also confirmed that VW’s lineup is ready to be a contender in the local market. The styling isn’t the flashiest, but they all feel very solid in build quality and have quietly impressive driving dynamics—all at super competitive prices. Sometimes buying a car seems like a matter of the numbers on the price tag more than anything else—and yes, you can find stuff to nitpick with the Santana, Lavida, and Tiguan—but you also get a the feeling that these cars are actually punching over their SRP at times.

You don’t have to blindly take our word for it, of course, but consider taking a different option the next time you want to test drive or shop for a car—just like how we should also consider a different type of road trip every once in a while, to places that make you feel Pinoy pride in a good way.

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