For transport, get the Subie SH; for speed, go for the SG model

Dear Mr Baraza,

I look forward to your article every week. Keep up the good work. I hope you will land the first ever Kenyan motor show soon.

I have always wanted to own a Forester. Now that I have my finances in order,  I’m spoilt for choice. Should I go for a 2007 station wagon, or a 2008 SUV (new shape). Since the specs are similar, which one would you advise me to buy in terms of performance, fuel economy and handling.




It has been a while since we discussed Foresters. So today we revert to form. The new Fozzie (SH platform) is less Subaru-ish compared with the previous SG body type. It is less of an enthusiast’s car and seems to pay unashamed homage to the demands of basement-bound bean counters and the flimsy whimsy of the middle class family that wants an “all-weather” vehicle that will serve 95 per cent of their needs.

What am I saying? The SH has lost the brutish appearance of the previous model and now looks like any other generic paint-by-numbers crossover utility festooning many a driveway. It could have borne a Toyota badge, or even a KIA logo at launch and nobody would have been the wiser. The dashboard now looks modern and tastefully done, while rear legroom — a constant pain in the preceding SG car — has been optimised. It is a comfortable car to sit in, but this also means it is now boring. It does everything too well. It has lost character.

Performance: of course it will perform better than the SG, but this mostly depends on the particular engine you are running. The SG9 STi is still king of the hill in the Forester pecking order.

Fuel economy: Subaru started fitting CVTs in these cars, so if you get one with a CVT, then it will obviously do better than an automatic SG. Just avoid the turbo cars if economy is a matter of great consideration, but by doing so you will be defeating the whole point of buying a Subaru, which is to either go turbo or go on foot. Naturally aspirated Subarus feel wasted and are underwhelming to drive.

Handling: well, the newer car looks more compact and its suspension feels more sorted for a regular (daily) driver. But when you explore the outer edges of the performance envelope and start carving some corners, the SH is exposed for the RAV4 aspirant it  pretends not to be. There is body roll; it is not dramatic but is a lot more noticeable than in the SG. This is easily attributable to the lofty dimensions, before one even thinks about its family-friendly ambitions,  diluted and muffled driving characteristics.

So, you want a Forester? The newer SH is the better car. It just is, but that only applies to people who have no real interest in cars over and above the need to avoid public transport as much as possible. If you enjoy driving at any level, get an SG Fozzie… with a turbo… and a 5-speed manual (or 6-speed if you go the whole hog and catch an STi).


Dear Baraza,

I have heard that when you put your automatic gearbox on Neutral mode you will damage it. Is it true?



Not really. Just be careful when getting back into gear. Don’t go into reverse or else, as the stories go, your gearbox will be toast.


Bwana Baraza,

We were in JKUAT together and I am a huge fan of your column. After all, being an engineer as well, I dare say this market needs an actual engineer to save us from the hit-and-miss tactics of your friendly neighbourhood Oti Mechanic. Kudos for your informative articles! 

Now to my question. I recently took my M271 engine, W203 C 180 Kompressor for what I thought was routine repair work on my rear bumper after getting involved in a minor accident (the other idiotic driver’s fault). Unfortunately, during the repair, the garage broke the rear windshield, which it replaced. 

Thereafter began my of woes. The radio reception became poor and I could no longer lock the car remotely using the fob key. Extensive research on this issue seems to point to the antennae amp module (located on the rear windshield) as being the culprit, but the new windshield came with its own (presumably working?) antennae amp module. Also, at times the radio reception can be quite clear, which, presumably, would never happen if this amp were faulty.

This car has been examined by all the so-called Mercedes experts around Nairobi but none has been able to resolve the issue, so here’s your chance to shine. What could be the issue? Is there a way of separately testing the antenna module? You solve this issue for me and you can count on me for your favourite bottle of the devil’s spit.



Unless the garage did further damage to the car and is keeping mum about it (we ain’t tellin’, we ain’t no snitches!), that rear window is the culprit. The antenna amp module is contained in the window, but did you know that the antenna itself is also embedded in the glass?

Electronic keys, particularly those of German cars, can be really pedantic, for lack of a better word. They have to be programmed to work with a particular car, which is why they always ask for your VIN when replacing it. They have to know exactly which car it is, not just the make and model. I’m guessing, given how complicated Mercs can get.

Maybe the key does not recognise the antenna as the original and decides it wants its original pairing. This is a wild guess, though, but not entirely improbable. As for the on-and-off radio reception, maybe the antenna connection is loose or there is dust in it or something, which might also explain the unco-operative key fob.

I don’t know of any extra testing methods besides the install-and-see-if-it-works elimination technique. If there are other test regimes, then they could be classified as internal to-whom-it-may-concern proprietary information not intended for consumption by the general public.


Dear Barasa,

Thank you very much for your informative column.  I drive a Subaru Forester 2007 model automatic transmission. I have used it for exactly one year now. I have done periodic service when due using original Subaru parts which I buy from Subaru Kenya, the local dealer. It has served me well, until four months ago, when I noticed a drastic fall in the power. Now the vehicle can hardly clock 120 km/h even if I flatten the accelerator. Even though I don’t exceed 100km/h often,  when driving at, say 90km/h and I want to overtake an equally fast vehicle, I  expect the speed the speed to go higher than 120km/h, at least temporarily.

Besides, the acceleration has become annoyingly slow, especially when overtaking. The reverse gear is the most affected. I have heard people say that the reverse gear is the strongest in a car. When reversing from, say the parking lot, sometimes the vehicle doesn’t move at all for even up to a minute, even with the accelerator completely pressed down. The changing of gear from parking to drive or to reverse is also not the smooth exercise it was earlier, and the car jerks when it finally happens. Sometimes when climbing a steep slope it feels like the car could roll backwards. Some mechanics have tried to explain it, saying there could be a problem with the gearbox but I am afraid I don’t want them to touch that part. What could these symptoms mean and what should I do?

I know that lately the trend here has been to vilify mechanics for being thieving charlatans without comprehensive knowledge in their respective fields who use chicanery and sleight of hand,  not only to maintain credibility, but also financial comfort.

That is not always the case. In fact, most times the mechanic is right, and this is one of those many times. Yours is a transmission problem. It could be as complicated as an electronic gremlin, or it could be as simple as low fluid levels.

Start by confirming the transmission fluid is not the cause. The level might be low or it might be in need of a change; sniff for a smell like burnt bread or flakes of black and brown in the fluid itself if you want to know whether it is overdue for a change. Next, use a diagnostic machine to ensure the transmission control module is not working properly. What about the solenoid valves? The next troubleshooting step you are looking at from here is disassembling the transmission, and possibly, replacement.



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