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Writer. Wheelman. Occasional DIY mechanic. Walking collection of hang-ups. Hopeless romantic. Old-school. Analog soul in a digital world. I am all of these things and more.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Goodbye bumhood...with a bang.

Yesterday was a rather special occasion.

It was another one of Honda Club Philippines’ monthly general EBs, and it coincided with the Auto Focus People’s Choice Awards, much in the same way last month’s EB coincided with the Ford Focus Rally Experience. Both events meant a host of test drives was in order. It was even better now because this time there were so many manufacturers offering test drives, whereas Ford was the only one last time round.

HCP had its own open display there among the manufacturers’ glitzy tents. We celebrated the four generations of Civics that made it to our shores—the boxy EF of 1988-1991, the iconic EG of 1992-95, the low-riding EK of 1996-2000, and the mature ES of 2001-05. No one had yet taken possession of a brand-spanking-new FD, which was the highlight of Honda Cars Philippines’ booth and test drives.

There was a queue of people wanting to get behind the wheel of the sole FD Civic demonstrator, a cheapest-spec 1.8V. While I awaited my turn behind the FD1’s wheel, I decided to apply for a test drive of the Mazda 6 2.3.

The 6 was good for its size, and it felt like its bodywork shrank around my steering and throttle inputs—always a good thing for a driver’s car. The automatic gearbox’s manual mode was less laggy than the Focus 2.0 hatchback, too, and there was a way of learning to lessen the lag on upshifts (let go of the gas momentarily at upshift). My only complaint was with the brakes. For such a driver-oriented car, this thing has snatchy anchors that can be difficult to modulate at times. I had a feeling the transmission was performing downshifts at the same time.

When I got out of the mature-but-sporty 6 (and parallel-parked it pretty damn well), there were still five or so people in line for the Civic before my turn. Since the GD3 Jazz 1.5 CVT wasn’t seeing that much action, I signed up for that test drive as well, my previous test too ridiculously short to gauge anything.

Like the 6, the gray GD3 was also a nippy number. Though slightly unintuitive, the CVT’s 7-speed manual mode and its rocker switches kept the little VTEC engine on the boil as I drove it at a fast cruise around some of the Fort’s back roads. There’s more verve from down low compared to my City, too. My main gripe is with the electrically-assisted steering. While it’s faithful and accurate enough, it really does feel like driving in an arcade machine as there’s zero feedback from the wheel. No unpleasant kickback comes through and there’s gains in fuel economy, but I’d really rather have a hydraulic helm. It’s easier to park than the 6.

My turn finally came up for the silver FD1 Civic, and thank heaven it had a proper manual gearbox and three pedals. While early on I judged heel-and-toe shifts impossible to do on this car’s drive-by-wire throttle pedal set too low, it was also early on that I learned to trust this car with the kind of fast-clip driving I usually do on my old SX8 City. Major kudos to that.

The steering wheel is a revelation. While passengering Mikko, Emi and Patrick were navigating me through the bumpier but sweeping back roads of the Fort, I was having fun rowing through the gears and carrying confident speed. The small-radius, flat-bottomed, hydraulic-assisted tiller was more alive with information than either of the two previous cars and it delivered even better feedback than my City, and I could forgive the hardness of its plastic. The gearbox isn’t quite as intuitive, but it snicked into gear with gusto paired with feather-light clutch action. The R18A i-VTEC engine’s urge was very linear, delivering un-Honda-like pull from the sort of low RPMs that my City’s D15B7 would shudder in its engine mounts from. Not seeing the end of the hood is a challenge at first but I found it didn’t get in the way of visibility all that much. It’s just a matter of getting used to the broad upward-sloping dashboard, as I parallel-parked it still with ease.

Later I passengered in the 2.0S FD2 Civic that Mikko loaned from Honda Cars Philippines officer Mr. Peren, this time to test the ride quality and space behind. This had an electronic tiller in place of the FD1’s hydraulic-boosted steering wheel, but former circuit racer Mikko attested the electric steering assist was way better than the Jazz’s. It’s as if the steering was hydraulic.

Mikko floored the throttle in second gear all the way to redline and 101 km/h. The K20A3 i-VTEC engine emptied its guts in a powerful, linear surge, pinning Emi, Patrick and I to the rear bench. He was considerably more lead-footed than I was. At the back, we were pretty comfortable and the ride was very supple, considering the kind of driving Mikko David was doing. When he tested the ABS in a full-bore stop from 80 km/h, he remarked on the refinement of the stoppers’ imperceptible pumping action. It was as if the car had simply locked up its brakes, but didn’t.

No points for guessing that I was most thoroughly impressed by the new FD-series Civic, then. That amount of driving fun for just PhP767,000? My appetite’s whetted already.

That evening we went to Aruba Bar in Metrowalk, Ortigas Center, to watch the San Marino Grand Prix with the rest of the F1 Club of the Philippines guys. Eva and a much-missed Angiela were screaming their lungs out with glee when Fernando Alonso trailed Michael Schumacher over 30+ laps in a tense battle for the lead. Former HCP president Juno was chanting “come back my money!!!” when he placed his bet for the top 3 finishers of the race. He wailed “der goz my money!!!” when he lost out on the betting, as Alonso slipped behind Schumacher 5 laps from the checkered flag.

Capping it all off was a relaxing high-speed cruise along C5 on the way home. Damn, that day was fun. It was a fitting end to my final day as a bum.

Today was my first day at work, which is basically part of a two-day orientation not far from Accenture’s Libran House HR office in Makati. Meeting my fellow “new joiners” was very nice and most of them were a fun bunch. By Wednesday a few of us would be starting at Cybergate and Makati Stock Exchange.

I wonder what this job has in store for me...

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