Toyota Motor Corp Philippines introduced the Rush to motoring journalists on the 2018 edition of Road Trek in Balesin
Every year, Toyota Motor Corp. Philippines invites journalists to its annual Road Trek, a drive event that puts the spotlight on one of its latest models through a friendly series of challenges. The exercise culminates in a few days of R&R at a tropical resort.
Over the years, the event has taken place in some of the most beautiful destinations in the country—from Cebu and Siargao to Palawan and Boracay.
This year, on the 14th edition of Road Trek, Toyota gave journalists the chance to get behind the wheel of its all-new entry-level SUV, the Rush, and chose the exclusive island resort of Balesin as venue.
The Rush has piqued the interest of car aficionados and casual motoring fans alike because it combines the best qualities of an SUV—size, space and performance—with affordability. The base model of the Rush doesn’t even reach Php1 million; it starts at Php948,000 for a manual transmission and Php988,000 for an automatic transmission.
With the undeniable global popularity of SUVs—estimates say SUVs accounted for 34 percent of global car sales in 2017—it’s no surprise that automobile manufacturers are scrambling to meet the demand. Even traditional luxury brands like Rolls-Royce, Maserati and Bentley have gotten in on the action, introducing the Cullinan, Levante and Bentayga, respectively, in recent years.
The Toyota Rush enveloped by lush greenery in Balesin
A closer look at the Toyota Rush. the compact SUV has a 1.5-liter Dual VVT-i engine that produces 104 horsepower and 136 Nm of torque
But those on the lower end of the price range are undoubtedly what’s flying off the showrooms, and for Toyota, which already has popular SUVs in its lineup like the Fortuner and the Rav-4, the Rush could prove to be its most marketable and bestselling vehicle in the segment yet.
Officially launched in the country in early May, at least four units of the Rush were transported to the island of Balesin after the day-long drive all around Central Luzon for Road Trek. Journalists were encouraged to put in some time behind the wheel of the Rush in the island, to contrast with the experience of driving it on paved roads and highways.
Since it was acquired and developed by Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin’s Alphaland Group, Balesin has taken on a reputation for being the playground of the rich and richer. There are eight themed “villages” around the island, most of which are inspired by famous beach towns around the world—St. Tropez in France, Toscana in Italy, Mykonos in Greece, Costa Del Sol in Spain, Bali in Indonesia and Phuket in Thailand. The last two are Balesin Village, with distinctly Filipino charms, and the Royal Village, the most luxurious resort of all.
Shuttles are provided for guests staying at any of the villages for transport to every other village or to other locations such as the sports center, airport or spa. But instead of taking one to go to the breakfast venue one morning, I decided to drive there with the Rush.
With a colleague riding shotgun, I drove the Rush towards Costa Del Sol from our base in St. Tropez. Not counting the airplane landing strip, there are no paved roads in Balesin. Passenger and cargo vehicles traverse well-worn dirt paths that criss-cross the island. They are dusty in the summer and (presumably) muddy during the rainy season.
Outside of the resort villages, the island retains its laidback, countryside feel. The dirt path cuts through dense foliage, with only the occasional signpost to help show the way.
Balesin is an exclusive island getaway off the coast of Quezon Province
Balesin has eight themed villages. This one is St. Tropez, modeled after the beach town in the south of France
There weren’t a whole lot of other guests on the island—or maybe there were, but the whole place is just too huge we barely ran into anybody else that wasn’t part of the Toyota group. Those I did see on the way to Costa Del Sol couldn’t help but train their gaze at the vehicle I was driving. It was clear they were either not used to seeing vehicles that weren’t Balesin passenger jeepneys or plain white service vans plying the island, or they were curious about the new Toyota SUV.
After breakfast I spent another 30 minutes or so just feeling the vehicle and appreciating the experience of driving on a tropical island. The Rush already proved it was able to handle being driven at high speeds along the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), but offroad in Balesin, it was just as reliable. The 1.5-liter Dual VVT-i engine carries 104 horsepower and 136 Nm of torque, which gives it considerable power for what some are calling a “baby Fortuner.”
The Rush itself was a quick study—it was no-nonsense and functional, although if you really get down to it, I appreciated it more when I was driving it in the city rather than through bumpy country roads.
But for its price point, the Rush is real value for money. A seven-seater compact SUV from a well-regarded brand with a proven track record, it could be the first purchase for many people looking to upgrade from a regular sedan into the something bigger and sturdier. Plus, it costs less than seven digits. They may not get the chance to drive it in Balesin, but getting to drive it everywhere else isn’t a bad deal.
Paul John Caña is managing editor of Entrepreneur PH. He was a guest of Toyota Motor Corp. Philippines in Balesin