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Do Subarus really wear faster than Toyotas? I don’t think so

Hallo Baraza,

I want to purchase my first car and I’m in love with the Subaru Impreza (LA-GG3, 1500cc). Some of my friends are advising me to instead opt for a Toyota 100, 110, G-Touring or Allion, based on the following arguments;

1. The Subaru Impreza 1500cc consumes more fuel than a Toyota of the same engine capacity. The reason being that a Toyota Allion, for example, has a VVT-i engine while Subaru doesn’t. Is this true? If so, does Subaru have a similar offer to Toyota’s VVT-i engine technology?

2. Subaru spare parts are quite expensive compared to Toyota’s. How expensive are they on average? Ten per cent more, for instance? But again I hear Subaru parts wear out less often than Toyotas, thus the maintenance cost balances out. How true is this?

3. Subarus depreciate in value quite fast as compared to Toyotas, thus have a poor resale value. What is the average depreciation rate of a Subaru per year? What makes it lose value that fast compared to a Toyota?

Please advise as I intended to use my car mostly within Nairobi. Over to you.

Sande Stephen.

1. Let those friends of yours conduct a scientific test that specifically proves the Impreza will burn more fuel than a Corolla 100/G-Touring/Allion under the same conditions.

In the course of doing that, let them also say exactly how much more fuel is burnt, and let them also prove that the disparity (if any) in consumption cannot be compensated for by a simple adjustment in driving style and circumstances. While at it, ask them what AVCS means in reference to a Subaru engine, what its function is, what VVT-i means in reference to a Toyota engine and what its function is.

Make sure the answers to these last four questions are not similar in any way. If they are, then they owe you an apology for leading you down the garden path. Some friends, those are.

2. The same technique applies. I cannot quote the prices of these cars’ parts off-the-cuff, and my status as columnist has reached the point where any inquiries will be followed by cries of “Put me in the paper first, then I’ll get you a good deal!”

And anyway, my work is to review cars and offer advise where I can, not provide cataloging services for manufacturers and parts shops. So ask your friends to come up with two similar price lists: one for Toyota and one for Subaru, and compare the listings. And yes, Subaru cars are generally more robust than Toyotas, so they are less likely to break in similar conditions.

3. The question is: which Subaru? From (b) above the opposite would be true: since Subaru cars are less likely to go bang, then it follows they would hold their value longer. That is, unless we are talking turbocharged cars, in which case engine failures are not uncommon. Of particular notoriety is the twin-turbo Legacy GT.

Poor care and/or lack of sufficient knowledge on how to properly operate a turbo engine on the owner/driver’s part is the chief contributor to these failures.

Also, when one buys a turbocharged Subaru, one finds it extremely difficult to drive “sensibly” (for lack of a better word). Hard launches, manic acceleration and extreme cornering manoeuvres tend to be the order of the day, and these tend to wear the car out really fast. So maybe you are right: Subarus may depreciate faster than Toyotas, but this depends on the previous owner’s tendencies.

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Bwana Baraza,

1. I have had an ex-Japan Nissan X-Trail for the last three years. It must be about 11 years old now. As it grows older, something pleasantly surprising is happening; it is using less fuel per kilometre than it used to when it was ‘new’. In the past, I would fill the tank, drive to Naro Moru (about 190 kilometres, five of them off tarmac) and by the time I got back in Nairobi I would have just about a quarter tank to go. The empty tank light would come on at around the 470-kilometre mark.

Of late, I am coming back with slightly above half. I have hit the 560-kilometre mark with the fuel light still off. Might it be because these days I use only V-Power fuel for long journeys?

2. I want to purchase a used Isuzu D-Max or Hilux. Which would you advise me to go for, considering petrol or diesel as well as maintenance costs? It will be used for farming purposes in Naro Moru and regular trips to Nairobi. I hear (these may be rumours) that diesel engines demand prompt service, and that the service parts are more expensive compared to petrols.

I also hate the ‘morning sickness’ they exhibit when cranked in the wee hours. Given that Naro Moru is quite cold at night, the sluggishness might be regular. But I could be wrong.

B Chege.

1. Must be the V-Power. It has better quality additives and a high octane rating which not only cleans various engine parts, but also reduces the risk of knocking. Another cause of “improved” engine operation with time would be “bedding in”; where the various engine components tend to “settle” and assume tight-fitting mating surfaces.

I find this unlikely because the car has been in use for 11 years…  the engine must have bedded in by now, and anyway, with new technology, bedding is becoming less of a factor in engine performance. A third, and very unlikely cause, would be a malfunctioning fuel gauge.

2. You must be referring to the KB300 (that’s the name in South Africa, around here we just call it the DMAX 3.0). In maintenance terms, the petrol engine is cheaper overall, but diesel engines offer better performance — in terms of torque — and economy (both the Hilux and the DMAX have 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engines).

The “rumours” are true, diesel engines require careful service, especially now that these two are turbocharged. And they are more expensive — in case of repairs or replacement. That “morning sickness” you describe is because either the driver is not using the glow-plug (it warms the engine block prior to starting), or the glow plug itself is not working properly (or at all).

With these new diesel engines, the glow plug operation is automated, it is not necessary to operate it separately like earlier engines.

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Hi Baraza,

I would like to hear your opinion about the Toyota Mark II Blit; its power, comfort, stability, off-road capabilities, maintenance costs, fuel consumption and spare parts.

SM.

Mark II Blit, eh?

Power: Good, especially the one with the 2.5-litre turbocharged 1JZ-GTE engine.

Comfort: Good. Not excellent, and not shabby either. Just “good”.

Stability: Good also. A bit prone to oversteering, especially due to its propensity for spinning the inside wheel when a corner is taken hard under power.

Off-road: Don’t even go there.

Consumption: Depends. If you keep in mind that you are driving a large vehicle with a 2.0-litre or 2.5-litre 6-cylinder engine, then it is understandable that asking for 12-15kpl might be a bit ambitious. If you expect Premio or Corolla-like economy figures, you will be bitterly disappointed.

Spare Parts: What about the spares?

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Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a small family car and I’m thinking of the Suzuki Alto, 2007 model, 800cc with a manual gearbox and the Toyota Duet, 1,000cc with an automatic box. Both are going for Sh250,000. Advise me accordingly because I’m after :

1. Fuel efficiency

2. Reliability

3. Travelling up-country twice a year

4. Minimal maintenance cost.

God bless you.

David.

A small correction, Sir. These are NOT family cars, unless you are looking for a divorce and for your children to hate you. Or your family consists of three people only, but even then….

1. Fuel efficiency: The 800cc car wins in city driving, but by a small margin (by small I mean really small, given how tiny these cars are to begin with, and how minute their engines are). The 1.0 litre car will fare better on the highway.

2. Reliability: Could go either way. I’d vote for the Suzuki, because the Duet is a re-badged Daihatsu and may not have Toyota’s trademark reliability as part of its DNA.

3. For your own sake, you are better off in any other car except these two (and their ilk of similar size and engine capacity). But since you asked, the Duet is better, because of its “bigger” (more substantial) engine.

4. I seriously doubt if there are any actual differences in maintenance costs in cars this small.

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Hello Baraza,

I am in the process of importing a Mitsubishi Outlander. The car has a number of accessories, though I can only figure out two of them (the ABS and PS (which I presume is Power Steering). Kindly assist in interpreting the following: ABS, AC, AW, FOG, NV, PS, PW and WAB.

Samuel.

ABS: Anti-Blockier System, better known as Anti-Lock Brakes. It is a vehicle safety system that allows the maximum braking effort without locking the wheels and/or skidding. It applies the principles of cadence braking (on-and-off braking technique, such as you might see drivers of heavy commercial vehicles applying) and threshold braking (applying braking effort until the point just when the tyres begin to lock up).

AC: Air-Conditioning. Keeps you cool when the world outside your car is sweating.

AW: Given the make and type of car, I think AW in this case means All-Wheel Drive. Other possible meanings could be “Auxiliary Winding (voltage regulation)”, “Anti-Wear (hydraulic oil, additives)”, “Anchor Winch (for off road vehicles especially)”, or even “All Weather”

FOG: Fog lamps present. I think.

NV: No idea. I know NVH stands for Noise, Vibrations and Harshness. However, these are not car accessories but characteristics directly linked to a car’s construction

PS: Power steering. A more common acronym would be PAS: Power-Assisted Steering

PW: Power Windows. Electrically controlled.

WAB: No idea either. The best I can come up with is “Wheelchair Accessible Bus (?)”

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Hi Baraza,

I have a question about my recently imported 2006 ex-Japan VW Passat fitted with V5 engine:

1. The car has a 2324cc, five-cylinder petrol straight engine and is a station wagon. Is it common on our roads?

2. I do 40 kilometres daily to and from work and, gauging from the amount of fuel I use, I do about 7.8kpl and spend Sh3,000 from Monday to Friday (on Sh117/litre). I am a very careful driver, is this fuel consumption normal?

3. At some point the Check Engine light came on and upon taking it for diagnostics, the errors were cleared and the light went off. The mechanic said it was due to a previous engine service interval. After two weeks, the same light came on again, this time the mechanic blamed it on Unleaded Super petrol and recommended I use V-Power. Do I really need to be using the more expensive V-Power?

4. The engine used to whine a bit, especially in the morning and evening. The same mechanic told me the power steering pump was damaged and needed replacement. He, however, refilled the power steering fluid and the whining sound is now gone. Do I still need to replace the pump?. A second-hand unit will cost me around Sh23,000 while a new one is going for Sh52,000.

5. Is this car a good buy, considering the expenses? I imported it in April this year and it has clocked 81,000 kilometres on the odometre.

I will appreciate you feedback.

Mwangi.

1. I agree with you: I don’t think this car is very common. I think I have seen no more than three B6 Passat estate cars here in Nairobi. Then the V5 engine is also not a popular import option, and it was not sold by CMC.

2. How bad is the traffic on your road? The figure seems realistic to me, especially given the car has a 2.3 litre engine… with five cylinders (sporty).

3. What error codes did you get when the diagnosis was done? And if the octane rating of the fuel you were using was not ideal, then V-Power should have cured it. One other thing. Some petrol stations would “claim” to be selling Unleaded Premium but instead they peddle some swill that would only be fit for motorbikes and chain saws.

If you understand octane ratings, check out the results of the test done on some “super” petrol that was anonymously acquired from a local fuel forecourt (the company’s identity has been retained until further investigations). Tell me what that octane rating is worth. Clearly not Premium as recommended by manufacturers.

There are reports of other dealers selling water and subsequently ruining people’s engines in the process. You may be a victim of this. More to come soon.

4. If the power steering pump was actually damaged, then yes, you need to replace it. If it was not damaged — the whining was just a result of the whirring of a hydraulic fluid pump spooling with no hydraulic fluid to pump — then a replacement is not necessary… especially given the figures you are quoting.

5. I would say the car is not a bad one. Volkswagen make good cars, the B6 is a looker, wonderful to drive (I am sure that 2.3 litre V5 engine is a hoot) and the estate version must surely be more versatile than the sedan. the trick is to find someone (a garage) who will maintain it well for you.

Posted on

Turbo engines not always better

Baraza,

I understand that turbo-charged cars perform better than naturally aspirated engine ones. So, what exactly is the effect of a turbocharger on a car? Does it increase the horsepower, stability, or pick-up speed? And does a turbo-charged Nissan B13 stand a chance against an NA Subaru Legacy?

And do tuned engines perform better than non-tuned ones? A friend told me that tuning my car would reduce its engine life, whether tuned professionally or unprofessionally, does that statement hold any water?

About turbo vs NA, the general rule is that turbo cars are much quicker, and yes, the turbo does increase the power output and also improves acceleration, but it does nothing for stability. If anything, it may compromise stability if the chassis is not designed for high horsepower applications, especially for FF (front engine, front wheel drive) platform cars by creating torque steer and push-under (power understeer).

The B13 vs Legacy fight depends on many things. If the B13 has a two-litre engine and is running 1.8 bar boost pressure in the turbo, against a 1.8-litre NA Legacy, the Legacy will see dust. However, a light pressure device in the B13, coupled with a 1.2 or 1.3-litre engine, pitted against a 2.5-litre NA Legacy will not change anything: the Legacy will still cane the Nissan.

The statement about the lifespan of tuned engines holds water. Tuned engines undergo more stress than the manufacturer intended, and even then, running those kinds of temperatures, pressures, and high-rpm inertia moments on rotating and reciprocating parts will ensure the early demise of any given engine. The best example is race cars. Some go through one engine per race.

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Baraza,

I have a Toyota 100 that I have fitted with Safari Rally tyres and I have been receiving negative comments from people on how they will affect the car. So, tell me, do these tyres affect:

1. Fuel consumption,

2. Stability of the car,

3. Engine life span,

4. Ball joints and bushes?

Also, is it true that speeds of 80-120 km/h improve fuel economy?

Lastly, the car wobbles when braking, especially at high speed. What could be the problem?

Alex

Before I answer, what Safari Rally tyres are those? Tarmac, gravel, or snow (they vary greatly in several parameters)? Anyway, here goes:

1. Yes, they do affect consumption, slightly, but noticeably over considerable distances.

2. Yes, the tyres will affect stability, a lot. If you use the wrong type of tyre for a given surface, the car will skid, slide, spin its tyres (or itself), and generally becomes impossible to drive, like using snow tyres on a tight tarmac course, or using racing slicks in the mud. This is for directional stability.

For gravitational stability, tyres with stiffer sidewalls (ideal for tarmac) will not work well in the soft mud, which usually requires one to deflate one’s tyres so as to collapse the tyre sidewalls and increase the “footprint” area to aid in buoyancy.

So it follows that conversely, soft sidewall mud tyres used in a tarmac situation that calls for hard cornering will see the sidewalls folding, bending, and/or stretching, making the car dangerously easy to tip over.

Just so you know, there is a calculation as to what point a car, any car, even a Ferrari, will roll or tip over on its side. And part of that calculation embodies the gripping tendencies of the tyres and the sidewall stiffness.

3. No, not really.

4. To some extent yes, depending on your cornering speeds.

About fuel economy, generally, yes but many other factors come into play.

The wobbling could be because of one of several factors. Either the ABS and/or EBD and/or stability control systems are working very hard to brake the car in a straight line or the braking forces on each wheel are not equal (for cars without the fancy electronics).

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Hi,

I am thinking of importing a seven-seater, like a Toyota Isis or Nissan Lafesta, which run on VVT-i and VVL, respectively. Please advise on the best option, seeing as we cannot all buy Toyota Wish, Noah, or Voxy.

Yes, it is true, we cannot all buy a Wish or a Voxy. Cars like Isis and Lafesta should broaden the scope. There is a risk to pioneering a model change like this, though, and that is the lack of support infrastructure. At the garage, the mechanics will tell you “We have never worked on such a thing before,” while at the spares shop the salesman will ask you whether you are sure the Isis is a Toyota or a Honda or even a Hyundai.

Cue the email asking for assistance.

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Hi Baraza,

There has been an increase of this weird black colour on cars, I think it is called matte. What does the law say on the changing of a car’s colour and what does this change mean when it comes to maintenance costs? Then, do some people not know that some cars should not be repainted? There are Touaregs and X6s with these colours!

Stevie

You seem to be really bothered by the matte paint. Unfortunately for you, I am a fan and will paint my car matte black first chance I get. Also when I have a car to paint.

The law was (and I am guessing still is) very clear on changing the colour of one’s car: Go ahead, nobody is stopping you. It is just that you have to let the registrar know that the previously white Volkswagen Touareg KBR *** S now looks like it fell into a tin of black shoe polish and was not wiped clean, so can I please have a new logbook reflecting these changes? And no, the vehicle is not stolen.

Matte paint has some downfalls, especially in terms of maintenance. For one, you cannot take it to those automated car wash setups, the ones with the rotating brushes, because it will ruin the matte effect. And once a bird relieves itself on the bonnet, it is back to the paint shop for a whole new coat.

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JM,

My car (a two-door, 2800cc Pajero) is having hiccups that are now beyond me. First, she started with shaking whenever I tried to start her up.

So I changed the fuel filter (several times now) and serviced her. She behaved for two days, then started acting up again.

I serviced the fuel injector and even cleaned the tank. She again behaved for only a week or so. It is now got to a point where she cuts fuel supply when going up a hill and stops.

When I prime her, she gets back on the road like there was no issue. The mechanics are pinning the problem to the fuel injector and the pump, which I have serviced. What do you think is causing all this?

Kenn

Quick question, do you have a girlfriend, and if yes, what is her take on your referring to your car in feminine third person singular pronouns?

Anyway, when you talk of priming, my mind goes to the fuel pump, so I am guessing that it is the culprit here. Maybe it is due for replacement? Another suspect might be the air filter. Check the element and make sure it is not clogged. Also confirm that the fuel lines are not blocked; you could be focusing on the major devices and yet a simple blockage is the source of all your woes.

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Dear Baraza,

I am a first time car seeker and interested in importing either a Toyota Avensis or Subaru Legacy. What are their estimated prices and the general cons and pros about these cars? Consider that I love going to see my parents near Mau once every two months and carry away about 50 kg of food. What other cars compare with these two?

Lastly, how can I know which Japanese dealers are reliable? Do these dealers tamper with cars’ mileage, the way some of the local dealers do?

Langat

The two cars are good and the price range hovers around a million shillings for both, give or take a hundred grand in either direction.

Pros: The Subaru is fast, looks good, is spacious, and its reliability has gone up several steps. You also get standard AWD and the option of a manumatic transmission, that is if you buy a tropicalised version. The Avensis offers even more space, is comfortable, has outstanding economy, is reliable, and has understated good looks.

Cons: The Subaru has poor ground clearance if you buy a Japan-spec version. It is also uncomfortable and crashes over road imperfections (worse with low profile tyres). The economy will go to the dogs if you step on it. The manumatic transmission is a four-speed and using it makes the driver feel the need for a fifth gear. A turbo version might put you in trouble if you are not experienced behind the wheel. The Avensis is plain and boring to drive, it lacks any sense of urgency or sporting feel. D4 engines might go pfft, especially the D4D.

Other cars to look at might be the old model Caldina, Mitsubishi Airtek, Primera estate (eugh!) or even the Mark II Blitz.

The reputation of dealers in Japan, I am sorry to say, is not my problem, at least not anymore. I tried to steer Kenyans away from the careless and thoughtless importation of cars from locations and individuals unknown, and got insulted in the process. So now I watch them suffer and wait for the inevitable email asking for help.

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The Freelander vs the two-door Pajero

Hi Baraza,

I am a bit of an old school guy who loves short wheel base 4X4’s because of the great ground clearance and ease of manoeuvring. I am really not into the comfort, speed, and style of modern saloons (power windows, automatic transmission, heating etc). I am more interested in strong vehicles with few electronics that can last for years, like the small Land Rover 90 and the two-door Land Cruisers; I have seen Series III Land Rovers from the 70s still on the road.

1. I am interested in the Land Rover Freelander, although I have heard that it has issues with heating, is this true? From what I have seen, a used one from about year 2000 is affordable and I can handle the 1800cc engine.

2. Another vehicle of interest is the Land Rover 90 TDI, my number one choice. But it is completely unaffordable, so let us not even discuss it.

3. Car number three is the two-door Mitsubishi Pajero from around 1997/98. I have seen and driven some pretty clean and affordable ones, although I have also heard that they may have some innate engine problems like heating and blown turbos, is this true? What are the disadvantages of this vehicle?

4. The last choice is the two-door short wheel base Land Cruiser, which is a second choice from the 90 TDI, although it is also a bit costly.

Now that you have got a feel of what vehicles I prefer, please compare between the Freelander and the Pajero, (advantages and disadvantages) since the Land Cruiser and the 90 TDI are out of my league for now.

Jon

The Pajero suffers from turbo and injection problems, which could sometimes lead it to smoke badly and lose power when driving. The turbos also fail with some regularity, but this I relate to the uninformed owners and sketchy development of early turbodiesel engines (they have since improved). Installing a turbo timer might alleviate this problem a bit longer.

The Freelander is pretty and is something of a lady’s car, but ignore that. The issue with the original versions was build quality, like heating vents covered in upholstery, so dealers were asked to apply a sharp knife to the suede so that the demister could work.

The manual gearbox was also popping out of gear in long left hand corners and the output shaft transfer case sheared, rendering the car 2WD, with the unsuspecting owner still thinking he had a 4WD car. The power steering pump also had problems.

These issues were exposed back in 2000 when internal Land Rover documents were leaked; the Freelander suffered from 136 faults. This does not even include poor torsional rigidity and unsatisfactory wheel articulation.

Both cars will go off road, but the Pajero will go farther off, ford deeper rivers, climb taller rocks, and plug the clag with more aplomb. The Freelander is more of a lifestyle car than a proper off-roader and will be better to drive on tarmac and murram roads.

Save a bit more and go for the “adults”, especially the Land Cruiser.

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The X3 vs the Tiguan

Dear Baraza,

I would like to buy a comfortable, stable-to-manoeuvre-at-high-speed, 2500cc small classy 4WD (I do off road about 15 per cent of the time) car. Then, “when I grow up”, I will go for its bigger sibling, depending on the pick. In this regard, please compare and contrast the BMW X3 against the VW Tiguan and BMW X5 against the VW Touareg to help me decide.

Wekesa

I am only familiar with the first generation versions of the four vehicles. However, I will soon be able to report on the new lineup of BMW X cars. So my answer will be based on the old versions.

The X3

It did not look too good, its price was hard to justify (in other words not good value for money and felt cheap), it struggled in tough terrain, and was thus easily beaten by rivals as a sensible purchase. It was hard to find plus points on this car.

The Tiguan
Unfortunately lady-like, but again VW’s strengths appear in terms of refinement and build quality. Looks suspiciously inept if something worse than paved is thrown at it. A good looker but falls short in terms of sheer gravitas. Blame the badge on the bonnet.

The X5

The exact opposite of the X3’s shortfalls. It was and still is a worthy, or even better, alternative to the Range Rover.

The Touareg

Bland design, pointless V10 TDI engine option, the 3.2 V6 was thirsty and the gearbox operated on a glacial time scale. Also heavy, but it handled really well on road and the interior is typical VW: excellent build quality and feels robust and like it will last for ever.

Except for the Tiguan, there are new versions of all these other cars, sadly none of which I have had a chance to try yet. If and when I do, I will be glad to share.