We try out three of Volkswagen’s newest cars, and pile up some kilometers.

For any reviewer, the best way to get to know a vehicle is to take it through its paces by racking up kilometers in as many types of driving conditions as possible. With the recent launch of Volkswagen Philippines’ latest offerings, it decided it was a good idea to take members of the media to experience each vehicle, taking us up to Nueva Ecija while sampling local delicacies and glimpsing in the sights along the way.

We set off from Volkswagen Quezon Avenue with the Lavida, the brand's latest in the compact sedan segment. Dan Pabustan recently took a spin in the Lavida, and you can read his thoughts about it when the review is published next week. It was the first time for me and Caco to get behind the wheel of the Lavida, and we found it to be a solid performer as we made our way to NLEX.

Right away, the power was evident, thanks to a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. It made accelerating and keeping up with traffic a breeze, especially in cutthroat EDSA traffic. The ride also felt nice and comfortable, plus the isolation from road noise and the outside world was good. It definitely felt solid and planted at high speed, hitting triple digits without complaint. The gearbox was a 7-speed dual clutch that was smooth and efficient. The seats were also supportive and plush - no worries as this was going to be about a 5 hour drive in total.

Our first stop was in Bale Dutung, a restaurant owned by Claude Tayag. Yes, that guy. The 10 course meal was a perfect midday energizer, as we were to spend more time on the road, taking SCTEX and TPLEX, then exiting at Tarlac for a bit of side roads up to Highland Bali Villas and Spa. As we got closer to our resort, the roads widened and the traffic was nonexistent. It was pouring, but the visibility still permitted us to quicken the pace, and the Lavida happily agreed, feeling secure and capable despite the weather conditions. The roads started to change in terms of elevation, as the winding passes of the mountain had us carrying good speed into corners. The Lavida had admirable road holding capabilities, the electronic power steering adjusting well to the variations in speed depending on the corners. The seats kept us in place despite the pace, and kept the drive engaging. We arrived at the resort just in time for dinner, still feeling good and ready for another meal.

The next day, we got our hands on the Santana. This subcompact sedan has been making waves recently, and our recent Santana review still holds true. It’s a solidly made car with touches of upmarket sensibility. It’s a car that gets the basics spot on and rewards you with an authentically German driving experience. Currently available in a five-speed manual, with the automatic and station wagon variants coming in November 2018, the Santana is fuel efficient at 17-19km/l in mixed conditions. The 1.4-liter naturally aspirated engine generates its power in the lower rev range, making it a quick car in the right hands. The gears felt great to shift despite the clutch biting point being a bit high. The plastics can be forgiven as the panel gaps are tight and the overall quality is good - it’s an interior that’ll last a long time.

We took a brief stop at the Philippine Rice Institute, learning a bit about the steps taken by researchers and the government to improve our rice quality and help spur local production. This was an hour drive away from the resort, and the mix of low speed and traffic didn’t faze my left foot. The soft clutch and nice driving position made it a comfortable experience, despite rarely breaking 40km/h. We then had Filipino food at Vicento’s before heading out and facing traffic, this time in the Tiguan.

The new Tiguan is Volkswagen’s latest subcompact SUV that’s been graced with a longer wheelbase. Based on a tried and true platform, the new Tiguan is significantly cheaper than the latest generation Tiguan that graced Volkswagen showrooms for a while. This time, we drove with its 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline engine and seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Space was excellent, as rear passengers gain valuable inches in space, perfect for adults. Or pasalubong. While it may predominantly look like a lot of black plastic on the inside, the plastic was actually textured and soft to the touch - especially at the points where the hands may manipulate a knob or switch. There’s a commanding view of the road to be had, and the visibility helped when overtaking other vehicles and when looking through corners.

The seats felt very comfortable, with leather and electronically adjustable seating with lumbar support for the driver. Hours on the road were taken in stride as we handled traffic and a bit of off-road bits. Despite the Tiguan being only 2WD, the torque and power were enough to handle most road conditions, even fire roads and muddy conditions. For the highway stretches, the cruise control came in handy, as did the HID headlights to cut through the night. It’s a great package that is priced just right. We wrapped up our three days by visiting Barasoain Church in Malolos to learn a bit about Philippine history, and learn about the important event that transpired during the formation of the first Philippine Republic. A fitting end to an awesome drive.

Out of the three Volkswagens we took out for a quick getaway, our favorite was the Lavida. It had a great engine and transmission paired with nice features and the best ride of them all. The Santana was the best surprise, especially for its segment, as the price is certainly justifiable. The ride quality and driving feel is unheard of for less than P700,000 and it checks essential boxes. The Tiguan is a solid choice as it features nice creature comforts in a roomy package. It’s certainly the biggest and most practical of the three and should be on the list for those looking to be different in the subcompact SUV segment. Hundreds of kilometers later and badly needing a car wash or two, Volkswagen has made it clear that its new products offer an authentic German driving experience and are competitively priced, to boot. It’s great that there are more choices these days, and any of these can handle whatever your road trip throws at them.

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