If you like the prison feel, go Russian

Hi Baraza,
I understand the Russians make some of the best war planes and tanks, but rarely do we see Russian products on our roads, like the Niva, or the Kamaz, which I understand has won the Dakar Rally nine times in a row. Tell me about the Lada Niva and the Mazda 6
Joe

The percentage of clients who buy trucks in order to win the Dakar Rally or a similar event is too small to be calculated, so a Dakar Championship is not necessarily a bragging right for lorry manufacturers.

In all other respects, Russian trucks are about as good as their prisons in usability: the Spartan level of build and kit is what we motoring hacks call “crudely effective”.

In comparison, a Mercedes Actros is a high-powered R93 Blaser Jagdwaffen sniper rifle while a Kamaz is a wooden club with nails driven into its head. Both will kill with only one blow but the cost difference is huge and the degrees of sophistication are poles apart.

The Lada Niva was a good seller in the ‘90s because it could do all that the Defender 90 could at a fraction of the cost, so it was a farmer’s favourite. It also attracted the off-road enthusiast with a small bank balance. But the prison cell passenger environment, 0-100 km/h in 22 seconds and the fearsome thirst from its 1.9-litre (and very unrefined) engine meant only the really desperate needed apply. For a harsher and more unforgiving analysis of cars from eastern Europe, please watch BBC Top Gear. You might die laughing.

The Mazda 6 is a very good car. I have been in one recently, the 2011 model, and it is exceptional to drive. Build quality is a step ahead of most of its rivals, as is its performance, and yet it costs less than its major rivals (the Hyundai Sonata costs about Sh4.5 million, the Camry a whopping Sh8 million, the Legacy Sh5.5 million.

The Mazda? Only Sh4.1 million). It is also quite practical: it can seat five and the boot is massive, large enough to accommodate a magazine editor and leave enough room for one of his writers to fit in there with him — pictorial evidence of this unusual test technique coming soon to a social network near you.

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Hi
In a past article in the Daily Nation, Shell had put up the final figures of their fuel challenge conducted over a distance between Nairobi and Naivasha. What astonished me is that a certain lady driver took her car over 181 km with only 3.32 litres, achieving an enviable consumption of 54.52 kpl. If this is achievable, then what is the magic, other than the fact that she is a salonist?
Kioko

There is no magic, there is only skill, patience and a set of cojones bigger than most other people’s. To achieve that kind of consumption figure requires some pretty oddball driving techniques, some of which include turning off the engine while in motion (no power assistance for the steering, no servo assistance for the brakes, you cannot accelerate should the need arise) and the risk of warping some delicate drive-shafts due to low-rev high-gear manoeuvres.

And the fact that she was salonist has nothing to do with her abilities. That lady is damn good behind the wheel, period.

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Dear Baraza,
I want to buy a vehicle that is a bit high from the ground due to my rural terrain but which is also stable and comfortable. I have in mind an 1800cc Honda CRV year 2000 and a 1600cc Suzuki Vitara year 1998. Please advise me in respect to consumption, spares, resale value and stability. And do we have old model CRVs with 4WD locally?

Yes, there are old CRVs with 4WD. The CRV is comfier and more economical than the Vitara, but the Suzuki can climb a wall with the right driver behind the wheel.
Spares are not a problem for either; resale value favours the CRV, as does stability (I presume we are referring to the absence of wobbling on the highway).

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Baraza,
A friend of mine wants to purchase a saloon car. His preference is a 2000cc to 2500cc Nissan, year 2005. After checking around, the car that comes to mind is the Nissan Teana, which comes with initials such as 230JK, 230JM, J31, etc, and a VQ23, with a 2300cc engine with CVTC technology and a compression ratio of 9.8:1. The model is said to produce 173PS (127Kw, 171hp) at 6000 rpm and 166ft.lbf (225 Nm) at 4400 rpm.
Kindly shed some light on the following:
1. The VQ23 engine compared to other engines in terms of performance and durability.
2. The CVTC technology in terms of fuel consumption and whether this is the same as the VVT-i technology used in most Toyotas.
3. What is a compression ratio and how does it determine fuel consumption in a vehicle? What is the difference, for example, between an engine with a compression ratio of 9.8:1 and one with 10.8:1?
4. With the power produced by this car as shown indicated, how many kilometres can it cover per litre on a highway and in traffic?
David

1. Nissan’s VQ line of engines are commonly used in sporty vehicles, so performance is not a worry. The most famous version is the VQ35 3.5-litre NA V6 engine, as used in the Nissan 350 Z/ Fairlady Z and the Murano. Durability is not a cause for concern if you stay away from bashing against the red line on a daily basis, and make your oil changes right on cue.

2. The variable valve timing system gives an engine two personalities, one for performance and one for economy, so you could say it does improve economy. It is similar to VVT-i and MIVEC and what not.

3. Compression ratio is the ratio of volume of all the air in the cylinder when the piston is at BDC (bottom dead centre, the lower most point of piston travel) to the volume with the piston at TDC (top dead centre, the uppermost point of piston travel), that is, the volume of the cylinder (V1) + volume of combustion chamber (V2) divided by the volume of the combustion chamber (V2), or (V1 + V2) / V2. It has no direct effect on fuel consumption, but it does affect torque and piston speed, which in itself determines power output.
High compression ratios create more torque and increase power output, but require higher octane fuels to prevent pre-ignition. An engine operation with a 9.8-to-1 compression ratio means the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) is not compressed as much as much as it is in the 10.8-to-1 engine.

While from my explanation it would be easy to assume that the latter engine develops more power than the former, it is not as simple as that. Sometimes the compression ratio is adjusted to allow an engine to run on a different type of fuel without adversely affecting power output.

The commonest way would be to use different pistons (with either concave or convex crowns, depending on whether you want to raise or lower the compression ratio) or replacing the cylinder head.

4. A 2.3-litre modern engine should return 8 to 9 kpl in the city and up to 14 kpl on the highway, though these figures are subject to driving style.

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JM,
I would like you to comment on the new technology that has been developed by Mazda called SkyActiv. Using this technology, the new Mazda Demio can achieve a consumption of up to 28 kpl. Also, what is your opinion of the turbocharged Mazda Axela with manual transmission? In some reviews on the Internet, it beats the Subaru Impreza hands down.
Derek

The SkyActiv tech covers a wide range of parameters, from engines (G: a type of direct injection for petrol engines that uses extremely high compression ratios and D: diesel engines that use two-stage turbos to widen the boost operating range); transmissions (DRIVE: an ordinary automatic with features from CVT and DSG and a wider lockup range for more efficient torque transfer and MT: a manual gearbox with lighter components and more compact dimensions); and platforms (body and chassis).

So I guess combining all this SkyActiv stuff in a tiny car like the Demio can result in 20 kpl, though I smell a lawsuit here. Ask Honda what happened when they took liberties with fuel economy figures and one lady driver failed to achieve said figures. Another issue is our fuel. Part of the reason you don’t see high performance cars on our roads is that even though we could afford them, our fuel couldn’t run them.

Cars with high-pressure turbos or high compression ratios require high octane fuel to run. A compression ratio of 11.0:1 is already very high: Mazda’s SkyActiv G boffinry boasts of 14.0:1, so for those who don’t follow the jargon, this means an engine with that kind of compression should run on something closer to paraffin or aviation fuel than to regular petrol. Let the SkyActiv cars get here first then we will see what is what.

In other news, I can bet that Impreza was not an STi. I am not an Impreza fan, but I know what the flagship car in the range can do and I highly doubt if the Axela is in that league. The closest Mazda came to the 280hp-4-cylinder-turbo-intercooler-4WD rally car formula was with the Mazda 6 MPS, and even that was not able to unseat the usual pair of tarmac terrorists: the Evo and the WRX Sti.

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Hello Baraza,
I want to buy a second-hand 1820cc Subaru Legacy Station Wagon STI, year 1996, petrol. What should I check for to ensure I’m getting a good deal? I’m a bit lame with cars.
Peter

You claim to be “a bit lame” with motor vehicles, but the car you are asking about is an enthusiast’s car. Interesting.

It is not a common car, this one, so my guess is you are getting one from Japan, in which case by the time it gets here a physical check will be too late. Anyway, with such performance-oriented cars, it is best to look at brakes and suspension mostly. Test the brakes to see if they work, and the car should not sag or lean on one side.

Then the tyres: check for bald spots, which suggest hard use or abuse. Finally, check the engine and gearbox (the oil especially, and the sounds). Any suspicious clinks, pings or rattles from the engine and/or transmission suggest that either something is broken or is about to. Go to one of the local tuning houses (they are almost always run by guys with names such as Singh, some of whom are my friends) for a checkup on the turbo, to see if it is boosting properly.

If you can afford it, also have the car checked for chassis straightness. Some may have been involved in a big accident then the evidence cleverly concealed underneath a fancy paint job.

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Hi Baraza,
I drive a manual 1998 Starlet EP 91, which has the following problems:
1. The engine vibrates excessively when idling.
2. It has reduced speed over time, even after replacing the plugs.
3. A mechanic removed the thermostat, is this in order?
4. Can the fuel consumption improve from 16 kpl?

1. Check engine mounts or the IAC (idle air control). From what you say in question two, it most likely is the IAC.
2. See 1 above.
3. It is not fatal, if that is what you are asking. But now that the water pump and the fans have to be connected directly to the car’s electrical power system since there is no switch, the car will overheat before going too far.
4. It can but why would you want to? Attaining a better economy figure than 16 kpl involves some unusual and extra-legal driving techniques, some of which I would not recommend.

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Hi Baraza,
My car is a Nissan Bluebird EU-12 (SR 18), and for sometime it has really been misbehaving. It slows down like it is about to stall, then suddenly picks up like a jet on the runway. It is now stripped down for repairs. My mechanic told me that the carburettor is faulty, and because he believes I cannot get its model in our shops (something to do with a CI model), I can only replace it with another model, meaning modification will be needed.
Because I believe in originality, I decided to consult another mechanic who said my carburettor isn’t the problem rather it is the computer that is faulty. He also believes that I cannot get its computer and advises me to get a carburettor of another vehicle and forget about the computer. Please advise me on the following as my financial status cannot allow my mind to dream of a new toy yet I need to be mobile as soon possible.
1. What was the cause of the stalling and picking up?
2. The computer and “CI carburettor” analysis by my two mechanics, what do you have to say?
3. If the mechanics are right about unavailability of both the computer and the carburettor, which I think may be true because of the age of the vehicle, what would you suggest I should get that will fit?
4. What do you think I should do to put this vehicle back on the road?

Both reasons are legitimate for a car that is not running smoothly. Other reasons could include wiring problems, fuel delivery issues (pumps, lines, filters, dirt in the fuel), and a lot more, so I cannot tell you why exactly your car is not running.

However, one of the two mechanics knows not of what he speaks, and my prime suspect is the chap who started the talk on computers. What year model is your car? Is he sure there is an ECU?

And incredible as it sounds, there are still carburettors on sale. While some are model specific, others are built to be installed on almost any engine (after-market Weber and SU), especially for those seeking to modify performance on their cars.

My advice: Get another mechanic. Even if I was to help you, I cannot begin describing here how to tune your carburettor, it will take at least 25,000 words just to explain what is what.

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Hi JM,
I would like to know more about the Chevy Aveo in terms of fuel consumption, spares availability, and performance. Would you advise one to acquire it?

Consumption: 10 kpl urban, 14 kpl extra-urban.

Spares: General Motors should still have parts for the car as they sold some not too long ago.

Performance: Nothing near a Ferrari if that’s what you are asking. It is a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine fitted into a small saloon car, so what do you expect?

Advice? It depends. How badly do you want an Aveo? If the answer is “very”, then get an Aveo. If the answer is “not very”, then shop around some more for something else. Anything I say beyond this point will amount to what someone once called “de-marketing”.

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