Although it looks like a shoe, the HRV is a stable car that is great fun to drive

Dear JM,

First: As far as vehicle or motoring matters are concerned, you are magnificently stupendous, to say the least.

Second: Tell me something about the Honda HR-V (sport) cars, now out of production. For years I have had a 3-door model with a huge spoiler, sunroof and all, but an amazing thing happened recently when I was driving on a muddy, slippery stretch.

When I got there, I found a long line of cars struggling to negotiate and manoeuvre their way through. In fact, what looked like a Mistubishi, which had ventured off the road, had got stuck. I couldn’t easily identify the makes of the struggling vehicles since

I was concentrating on the road ahead, but noticed minibuses, what could be a Prado, double-cabins 4Ws, Suzukis and RAV4s. However, I was able to easily and smoothly pass them, with just one hand on the wheel. So what could be the secret or trick about the Honda HR-V?

Third: I also own a Land Rover Range Rover and am planning to buy a Honda Pilot 2015 or 2016 model. Could you kindly tell me something about the Pilot?



Dear CM,

First: Thank you! Nobody has ever called me “magnificently stupendous”, ever. Perhaps I need to have a word with my girlfriend about the importance of showing support through flamboyant accolades involving the use of words like “magnificently stupendous” as an introduction during text messaging.

Second: The HRV is an interesting car. I don’t like the way it looks — I think it looks like a shoe, a moccasin/loafer to be exact — but I love the way it drives. For what is essentially a cross between a hatchback and a crossover, it sure feels like neither, but the handling is both safe and sublime.

The view out is commanding while the lightness and stability make for a good on-road experience, corners be damned. To fully enjoy this car, one  should opt for the 1.6L VTEC version with 130hp and rev

the living daylights out of that engine. That successful sojourn into the clag that you participated in in the face of disastrous failure by other drivers could have been instigated by a variety of reasons, chief

among them being that probably those other cars were driven

by … ahem… incompetent oafs. Mud-plugging not only calls for the right equipment (the Prados, double-cab 4WDs and RAV4s), but also demands the proper use of that equipment and choosing the right path. One doesn’t just dive right in and hope to

appear unscathed on the other side (though in some instances this is the actual approach to take), one first needs to assess the road ahead. Find the path of least resistance and of most grip, and then slowly (or quickly) thread your 4WD camel through the

eye of the muddy needle. The minibus drivers ought to be fired: minibuses are not meant for mud crossing. “If the quagmire before thee seems like more than thine chariot or thy own driving abilities can handle, and it so follows that you shall leave it alone” –

Chapter 3, verse two from The Book Of Petrol. Just save yourself a lot of trouble and leave it.

That said, I guess you are asking what kind of drivetrain the HRV uses in comparison to those other unfortunate stuck-in-the-mud drivers. TheHRV (Hi-Rider Revolutionary Vehicle) uses what Honda calls a Real Time 4WD system that involves a dual

hydraulic pump setup in the rear differential. The effect of this intimidating-sounding thingamajig is that power is sent to the rear wheels when grip is lost at the front — what I’d call “4WD on demand” — which is not very different from the workings of

Stability Control in terms of torque vectoring in the face of traction loss. Stability Control (sometimes working in cahoots with traction control) is what keeps cars from crashing when drivers overcook it and slip beyond the car’s (tyres) capabilities and start

to slide. Most motoring hacks refer to it colloquially as an “electronic nanny”. To this “elec-trick” 4WD system adds what Honda mysteriously calls “enhanced driveshafts and suspension” and what you have is a car that will do half your driving for you

when the going gets gooey. This might also be why you defeated the other vehicles in that mud.

Third: I don’t know much about the Honda Pilot, except that it has a car-like suspension (front struts with coils springs and multilink at the back) and it can seat very many people (eight at a pinch). Therefore, it must ride and handle really well and is very

practical. Let me get my hands on one, after which you can expect a full report.


Let’s be frank, the Wednesday paper is bought solely for this crazy column and I can assure you I will stop buying it if you ever dare go underground.

  1. How come the repair manuals normally leave out very vital information that could easily save a situation.I own a Camry SXV11R, made for the South African/US markets, making spares a headache. A few days ago, while preparing to overtake (I normally go down to gear 2 to keep the high rev/power for shoot-off), I lost gear 2.

The same evening, reverse followed. The manual doesn’t mention much (check cables). I discovered one gear selector cable had its sheath exposed and the steel wires cut. I nearly had the tranx unmounted. Incidentally, you can do near-crazy things with this car but it will remain on its four wheels – J-turns at 60kmph, 90degree turns, burn rubber, Kajiado to Shell Kitengela  in 15 minutes.  There was a guy with a Subaru turbo in the vicinity and he didn’t like my speed and registration.  I was doing 140-190, the road was clear, the radar detector on. The limiter kicks in at 195. I wonder how the new Camrys handle.

  1. Could you facilitate a forum where we can share experiences? Of course not for me but for guys who need to know what torque is or who get excited when they overtake a Porsche at 160kmph.

3Please tell Subaru guys that all normal Japanese cars, turbo or not, are limited to  180km/h.



Hi Maj,

What a narrative! I thought (and you stated) that mine is a crazy column, but after reading your write-up, I can say with certainty that you are the crazy one! I’m not sure whether to be impressed, appalled or concerned about the things you say you do with

your SXV11R —the J turns and elevenses — but I’ll definitely say this: whatever stunts take your fancy on a particular day, please pull them in a controlled environment. You might know your way around a Camry, but other road users might not be privy to

your intentions and, therefore, react contrary to your expectations. A case in point is “pulling away” when someone tries to overtake you. If you are being overtaken, live and let live and allow the other vehicle to pass; you can always pass them again later.

Don’t initiate a game of tag with people you don’t know. The ending might be unpleasant in several ways: the other driver might  be inept and cause an accident that might involve you; the other driver might be having anger management issues and might

follow you home to “show” you exactly who you thought you were playing around with. Road rage is real. Just be careful, for your own sake, if not for others’.

1It appears you solved the issue, though you failed to specify what transmission type you have. From your description, it must be manual. You say the repair handbook lacks vital information that can save a situation, but your tale goes on to say that the little that was mentioned was exactly what was needed to solve the issue (check cables). So where is the problem?

I guess the cut cables came from the hard life your transmission must live, seeing how some of those manoeuvres you engage in call for snap-shifting. Perhaps it’s time to spring for a stronger unit?

Some of these Toyota models confuse me. I have driven a brand new Camry, but that was four years ago. That model was released just about that time, but I keep seeing “other” models popping up in other world markets such as Japan, Australia, Europe

and the US. We share most Toyota models with South Africa (they are actually sourced from there), so I guess “our” Camry is the same as theirs. The two things I noticed were: a) the car was grossly overpriced locally. It cost the equivalent of Sh9 million

back then (it could be  more than Sh11 million today). The second thing was: b) that car understeers like nobody’s business. The nose washes wide very easily, meaning those 90-degree turns you so enjoy could quickly turn into acts of deforestation if you

perform them in an arboreal environment. Blame the soft bushes, soft front suspension, skinny front tyres, prominent front overhang, long wheelbase and long overall length for that, plus the fact that the engine is transversely mounted right in front of the

front axle, which wreaks havoc on weight distribution and grip when turning hard. The car looks sharp but the handling isn’t. It’s not meant for your kind of driving.

2.There exists such a forum somewhere; it is my group ( Perhaps you could join us and regale us with war stories involving your Camry…

  1. “Hey, Subaru guys, Maj says that all normal Japanese cars —turbo or not — are limited to 180km/h!”

There, I said it. Happy New Year and have a good week.


Hello Baraza JM,Mine is an observation in the trends of the motoring world and I am speak specifically about the Citroëns of old, those from the ’70s and ’80s. As a young boy I was awed by their self-levelling hydraulic suspension that would enable them

to “sit” when parked and climb to riding height when the ignition was turned on. The suspension ride was so smooth and the car rode on any lunar surface like it was gliding. Fast forward 30 years, why did other auto makers not adopt this technology and

why did Citroën let it ‘die’? Michael GN


Happy New Year, Michael,

The car you refer to is the Citroën D Special (better known as the DS) and the correct description of its self-levelling suspension is “hydropneumatic”; not hydraulic. To be exact, it is actually oleopneumatic (of oil and air), but let’s leave that aside for now.

It’s not that other automakers did not adopt this tech. They actually did,with Mercedes-Benz being the latest to take it up, preceded by the likes of Peugeot, Rolls-Royce and Maserati. Citroën themselves used it in the DS for its entire 20-year production life. The reasons why it is not as popular as one might expect are:

1Citroën took out a patent on it, meaning no one else could use it unless under licence from Citroën. Sometimes these licences are costly, which led to other automakers to develop their own, simpler air-based systems. These systems are the forebears of today’s air suspension, as seen on all kinds of cars, from Jaguars to Landcruisers to Scania buses.

2The system is very complex, incorporating actuators, pumps, nitrogen canisters, links, valves and goodness knows what else. This increases overall development and production costs, which in turn maight impact the vehicle’s cost, which might lead some manufacturers to probably price themselves out of the market.

3This inherent complexity highlights yet another issue: only garages equipped with special tools could work on them. That made ownership a bit of a pain: it is like owning a McLaren 650S in today’s world.

4The hydropneumatic system might improve both ride quality and handling for a vehicle, but it has no natural roll stiffness. This necessitates the inclusion of anti-roll technology such as sway bars and active body roll control, which again increases the

vehicle’s costs. Combine these with the complexity of the hydrolastic system and yet another issue comes to the fore: weight. A heavy car is a thirsty car, and one whose handling is compromised. Installing the hydropneumatic setup to improve ride and

handling only to make it worse by making the car heavy smacks of a Chinese fire drill to me.



One thought on “Although it looks like a shoe, the HRV is a stable car that is great fun to drive

  1. Hi BARAZA,
    I must admit this is the most insightful place to be.
    Speaking of Insight, I am contemplating acquiring an Honda Insight 2009 for my ride once back home from states.
    While i see a number of these cars here, i am not sure how they will perform on “Kenyan roads”, kindly shed some light.

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