The Benz Wagen will go where no Audi Q7 would dare

Hello Baraza,

I drive a Mercedes Benz G Wagen while my husband drives an Audi Q7. We will be in Iten for six weeks, during which I will have to drive 12 kilometres off road every morning down and up the Kerio Valley as I trail him on his running track.

I would like your opinion on which of the two cars to use. I understand that the G Wagen is quite hardcore, but his coach says the Q7 is built on the same platform as his VW Touareg, which also works quite well off road. Could I use the Q7 and save my G Wagen the torture?

Ruthel Owano

Before I answer your question, there are two things I must make clear:

1. How sorry I am for responding to your mail as late as this, but my schedule has been unpredictable for the most part over the past two weeks.

2. How jealous I am of the choices you have to make (some of us have to decide on a bus that is slower but Sh10 cheaper or a faster but more expensive one).

Anyway, addressing your question, how bad is the track that your hubby runs on? My guess is, it is pretty tractable at best and very narrow at worst. This favours the G Wagen. If it is a lunar landscape that your man runs through, again the G Wagen is better suited for it because, compared to a Touareg and/or Q7, the G Wagen’s abilities are superior.

The mister’s coach may drive a Touareg, but let him know his Touareg will never beat a G Wagen when the going gets military.

Also, he was right; the Q7 does share a platform with the Touareg (and the Porsche Cayenne also), but while the Porsche and VW are compact and comparatively light (the key word here is comparatively), the Q7 is a lumbering whale, large on sheer pork and length of wheel base (these two are enemies of motor vehicle dynamics) but short of pulling power (the 3.0 diesel is the sensible car to buy, but the power it develops struggles with all that body weight.

Petrol versions are extremely thirsty, so just look away). However, the Q7 is more comfortable than the Mercedes.

Torture, you say? Thrash the Gelandewagen, and spare the Audi.

Dear Baraza

I have a Range Rover Sporthouse that has a problem with height adjustment. It has fallen on one side and even when I manage to raise it, it does not stay on the same level with the rest of the car. What do you think the problem could be?

Maggie

Your suspension has collapsed, or is leaking. Either way, replace it. It will cost you a tidy sum, but hey, this was to be expected; it is a Range Rover, after all, a luxury SUV. Huge bills come with the territory.

And, just a word: please use the correct names when referring to a vehicle. What is a “Range Rover Sporthouse?” I think you mean “Sport HSE”.

Dear Baraza,
I am a retired MD of a major franchise holder in Kenya. I know a bit about vehicles but I am fascinated by your knowledge of older vehicles, such as the ones I drove in the 1960s.

I have retired to a hi-altitude area with rough roads that require 4WDs and for the past 15 years have had diesels — Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, Nissan Patrol, and Toyota Rav 4. All have done well until overhauls were necessary, after which all have been big trouble.

My question is: Can one buy a new or used vehicle with an air-cooled engine today? The old VW Beetle with 15-inch wheels and rear engine layout was excellent and lasted years. It also negotiated tracks in the wilderness where no other vehicle had ever been at the time.

Peter Barnesi.

You could buy a used vehicle with an air-cooled engine, but not a new one. And you cannot import one either (thanks to an eight-year rule by the government).

The last cars to run air-cooled engines were the VW Type 1 (after a very long production run that lasted up to 2003) and the Porsche 911 (1993 model, went out of production in 1998). Anything else that ran or still runs an air-cooled engine after that is not worth buying, unless it is a motorcycle.

It is still unclear why nobody continues with air-cooled engines, but my guess would be that it is because engines are increasing in complexity, with accessories taking up space that would otherwise be used for channelling air around the cooling fins.

Also, with a water-cooled engine, thermoregulation is easier through the system of thermostats and water pumps. With air-cooled engines, the rate of air flow is more or less the same regardless of engine temperature (even with the use of thermostat-controlled fans, water cooling allows a much larger range of temperatures to be achieved compared to an air-cooled engine).

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for the good work; your articles are very informative. I have a Subaru Legacy B4 twin-turbo which, according to everybody, has a slow knock (there is a knocking sound on the lower right side of the engine) and it also keeps flashing the Check Engine light).

I have been informed that the only remedy is replacing the entire engine. Is there an alternative — for instance, replacing the crankshaft and the arms or whatever component that needs to be replaced to remedy the situation?

The wisdom out there is that it is not sustainable and cost-effective  to fix a Subaru engine. How true is this?

Robert.

Twin-turbo Legacy cars are building quite a reputation for having unreliable engines. A lot of enthusiasts are opting for engine swaps with single-turbo motors (but a Subaru nut being a Subaru nut, they will never backslide into a naturally aspirated situation).

Now, here is the deal: the engine can be repaired, depending on how bad the knock is. However, this does not give you immunity from a repeat occurrence.

You may have to follow in the footsteps of twin-turbo Subaru Legacy owners and change the engine. A common installation into second-mill Legacy cars is usually the engine from the Impreza WRX STi.

Thanks for all the help you give. I want to buy my first car but I am not sure which one to go for. Please advise based on the following.

1. I am in business, so I need a car that can carry a bit of luggage.

2. Fuel economy, availability of spares, resale value, and not very expensive because my budget is tight.

3. I also need a car I can use for other activities apart from business.

Damaris.

Well, in tune with the sheer vagueness of your question, my answers may not be to your liking, but hey, I am just answering the question as I see it. Let the suggestions in brackets guide you as to how more detailed answers can be arrived at:

1. A business vehicle that can carry a bit of luggage is usually a pick-up… or a van. (Please specify size and weight of said luggage. A bit of luggage could be a few travelling bags, or a few bags of cement, or a few electricity poles… it really depends on perspective).

2. For fuel economy, make that a diesel-powered pick-up, preferably without a turbocharger, although it will be slow, unrefined, and noisy as a result. For availability of spares, go Japanese.

3. If you want a good resale value, you can rarely go wrong with a Hilux, but then again, you say “not very expensive”. A Hilux is costly in comparison to rivals. (You could also get an economical petrol-powered pick-up, but this would have a 1300cc or 1500cc engine, hence a small payload, and this brings us back to one above: What luggage? A small pick-up can only carry so many bags of cement).

3. A car for other activities other than business? A double-cab pickup… it is versatile — being an SUV, an estate car, and a pick-up all-in-one (I am not sure I want to know these “other activities” but I stand by my answer here. Double-cabs really ARE versatile, as are vans. And estate cars. But mostly double-cabs).

Hi,

Thank you for your informative article. I am planning to buy my first car and my mind is stuck on a Toyota Mark X. I would, therefore, like to know more about this car in terms of fuel economy, off-road and on-road performance, spare parts availability, resale value, build quality, and the market price for a new Mark X and a second-hand one.

Nelly B.

Allow me to tell you that your expectations and your dream car may not agree on very many fronts. Here is why:

Fuel economy: Nobody asks this question, ever, unless they are afraid of pumpside bills. The Mark X is a good generator of those. Town-bound manoeuvres will see economy (ironical term, this) figures of less than seven kilometres per litre (kpl).

If you drive like other women I have seen in Mark Xs, expect 5kpl per litre, or even less. Highway driving will yield 12kpl at best (this is with a lot of effort. Nine or 10kpl should be the norm). These figures apply to the more common 250G vehicle with a 2.5 litre 6-cylinder engine.

There is one with a 3.0 litre engine and a supercharger that develops 316 hp that should be a real beauty… own one and you will always walk away whenever discussions about fuel economy come up. Either walk away or chip in using colourful PG-13 language.

Off-road performance: As a woman, I would like for you to explain to me one thing about the Mark X’s appearance that says “off-road” on any level. Name just one thing.

On-road performance: It is actually quite good when on tarmac. It is quick (and thirsty: the quicker you go the thirstier it gets), it handles well, it is sort of comfortable… I say sort of because it looks like some sort of aggressive Lexus that was relegated into a Toyota, but the ride, while good, does not quite amount to a Lexus. Also, it is a bit understeery owing to the soft suspension, but when you turn the VDC off, it will drift, as I was informed by one of my well-meaning readers. It will drift everywhere in this rainy season. Do not turn the VDC off.

Spare parts availability: There is such a place as Japan, where you can order your spares from if the shops here do not have them. Also Dubai, according to yet another of my well-meaning readers, where a set of injectors costs Sh60,000 (Sh10,000 per injector, and there are six of them). I do not know if this includes shipping. To avoid finding out, only buy fuel from reputable sources and run on Shell’s V-Power at least once a month. Among other things (maintenance-wise).

Resale value: Interesting question this, as I was having a discussion with a colleague over the weekend about how much a second-hand (Kenyan) Mark X would cost. He reckons one can get one for less than a million. I seriously doubt it unless the car, one, has very many kilometress on it or, two, is broken. But then again, Kenya has a fickle second-hand car market. Ask anyone who imported a Mitsubishi Galant about nine or 10 years ago how much they eventually sold it for. Ignore the insults that will be offered in response to that question.

Build quality: Very good. But not excellent. German cars have excellent build quality. The Mark X achieves, let us say, 85 per cent of that build quality.

Market price: Interesting results I got here. Autobazaar.co.ke tells me I can get a 2006, 250G for Sh1.3 million (Mombasa), Sh1.38 million (Mombasa also) or Sh1.65 million (Nairobi). Then, on the same page is a person selling a 2007 model model for Sh3.4 million (Nairobbery, in no uncertain terms), though to be fair to the seller, this one is a 3.0-litre, and I am guessing supercharged. I strongly suspect potato vines may grow inside the engine bay of that car before he gets someone who would rather walk away from a Mercedes E Class (2006) in favour of a Toyota for the same money.

A 2006 Toyota Mark X from Japan will cost just about $5,600 (Sh478,800) before you start paying for shipping and insurance. Then your car gets to the port and KRA doubles that figure with some change on top for good measure.

A brand new Mark X from Japan costs somewhere between $36,000 (Sh3.07 million) for a 2.5-litre and $50,000 (Sh4.3 million) for a 3.5-litre. The KRA thing and the shipping costs apply here also.

Baraza,

You keep saying if one cannot find spare parts locally, one should just Google them, but how safe is online payment? How easy is it to bring the parts over, and are courier costs not prohibitive? Once I needed a book from the US and courier cost was so high it could have bought me many more books.

Philip.

Now that is the downside of buying cars that were not meant for us. I doubt if even spares are the scary part; imagine a DIY motor vehicle import only to discover that you are dealing with fraudsters.

It is the life we chose, and those are some of the consequences. An alternative to the Googling would be for the reader to ask one of the shops that sells spares to do the importation for him/her, but picture my position: once I say that, the next request from the curious reader would be: “Point me towards such a shop.”

This will be followed by many shopkeepers falling over themselves trying to get me to endorse them on my page, and when I do, invariably one of them is going to run off with the reader’s money, overcharge the poor fellow, or sell him substandard products.

Outcome? An angry reader filing a police case about how I set them up with gangsters and/or con men, and three years of hard work goes down the drain just like that.

This is the exact same reason I rarely endorse any particular non-franchised garage over another. The one or two I may have mentioned have proprietors who are personally known to me, or are the only specialists in a particular field, so even if the reader was to do his own research he would still end up at the same place.

So, as far as I am concerned, I stand by my word: if the motor vehicle spares cannot be found in any shop, the Internet will be of more help, not me.

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