Subaru has always been an automaker that’s all about great driving machines.
Bred in rallying but deeply rooted on the streets, today’s Subarus offer a driving feel that many of the competition will have a hard time to surpass or even match.
Well, with Motor Image Pilipinas’s new driving series, the XV Suburban Drive, we’re about to put that to the test… in Cebu.
Hello, again Cebu. Hello again, XV
Cebu is actually one of my favorites in the Philippines, given the history, culture, beaches, sights , sounds and, of course, the incredible tastes.
I’m no stranger to driving in Cebu, but that’s not to say it isn’t quite the challenge even after all these years. There seems to be a higher level of aggression on the road as compared to Manila. For instance, in traffic, if you’ve got your indicators on to move into another lane or turn onto the parking lot on the opposite side, maybe 1 out of 3 or 5 drivers in Manila would let you through. In Cebu, that ratio goes down to about 1 in 10… or more.
The moment we landed, a fleet of Subaru XVs arrived, and we hopped aboard. Launched over a year ago, the XV has proved to be an ace up Motor Image’s (the official Subaru distributor here) sleeve, offering the premium feel that the brand has been known for, a taller ride height, seating for 5, a full suite of features, aggressive styling and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive. This should be interesting.
Meet Subaru Cebu
After settling in, we made our way to the Tinder Box to meet up with Brian Chua and Lyndon Ong, our hosts in Cebu and the dealer of Subaru on the island. The Autocentrale Group headed by Brian Chua is actually a multi-brand dealership network that focuses on the central Visayas area, handling Subaru, Ford, Suzuki and soon, MINI Cebu.
Brian tells us that the brands his group carries in Cebu and beyond are actually the cars he enjoys driving, as his personal car is a Subaru Impreza WRX STI hatchback, mildly modified to deliver improved response and nearly imperceptible turbo lag.
Subaru Cebu has been experiencing significant sales growth since they began operations in 2009, especially with a pair of new, hot selling models in the Subaru Forester and our steed for the next 3 days, the Subaru XV. He tells us the route will be interesting, with a morning drive to the many sights in the city, as well as a drive up the mountains on the Transcentral Highway.
I’m really looking forward to the latter.
The Historic Little Big City
Setting off from Marriott, we head out onto the Saturday morning traffic. Traffic actually isn’t bad at this time of day, and thus we made our way around the city without much in the way of jams or delays. There were even a few stretches of road to give the XV a little gas, but we’ll get plenty of time to do that later. Right now, its all about being nimble in these tight streets; something the XV has in spades.
Our first stop was Fort San Pedro, a Spanish Fuerza built back in 1565 by Legazpi. The historic fort features various mini museums and galleries of art depicting the arrival and presence of the Spanish under Legazpi’s command. The walls of this small triangular fort are actually a nice place to hang out in in the afternoon, perhaps with a book in hand, but with the noontime tropical sun beating down on us, it’s time to head out.
The convoy of Subaru XVs then stacked up again, and made its way to our next stop: Magellan’s Cross. The cross is actually a replica encasing the original one. We all know the story; Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Cebu in 1521 and attempted to conquer the island with Christianity, until Lapu-Lapu resisted. The rest is history.
Next to the Magellan’s Cross is the Basilica Minore de Santo Nino. Those familiar or who have attended the Sinulog Festival in January know that the Basilica houses the statue of the Child Jesus revered in Cebu. The statue was actually given to Rajah Humabon’s wife by Magellan in 1521 as a gift, and found in 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.
And that concludes this history lesson.
Driving the Transcentral Highway
After a morning touring the city, it’s time to get out onto better roads… more fun roads. In Cebu, that can only mean a drive up the Transcentral Highway, the mountain pass that cuts through the island from north to south, and with plenty of places to stop in between. If you’ve driven Tanay heading up the Sierra Madre, you’ll know what I mean.
The Transcentral Highway offers a challenging mix of corners, both wide and tight, as well a few short straights. We gun the XV up the road, letting the boxer engine work overtime on the uphill portion. It’s no STI or WRX, but there’s more than enough power to play with if you know how to maximize the powerband using the paddleshifters in this 2.0i Premium variant.
At speed, there really is no other car in the class that offers the confidence and stability of a Subaru, especially given that the XV is essentially a slightly raised Impreza hatchback. The extra ride height does suit this road very well, as it has a few road cuts and repairs that regular sedans would have to take slowly.
The perfect mix
We conclude our drive at the Adventure Cafe up on the mountain. Some of the guys indulged in some afternoon snacks and tried out the zipline to the other side of the ridge and back.
What Subaru demonstrated with this drive is how the XV, a small, crossover version of the Impreza can do when driven in the city, and up on the mountain. It’s not a perfect car, as on the uphill I was wishing the 2.0 liter boxer motor had a turbo on it, but that’s beside the point.
The Subaru XV is one of those machines that doesn’t fit the mold quite right as to whether it’s a crossover SUV or a car, and lends you to wonder why they designed and built it. After driving it all over Cebu, with its blend of style, practicality, attractive pricing and fun driving dynamics, I now understand why.