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How well does the Nissan GTR stack up in terms of performance?

Hey Jim.

I want to know more about the Nissan GTR 2012 model. I don’t know the right questions to ask but I’d just like to know whether it is suitable for everyday use?

Is it efficient in terms of performance — power, speed and handling?

I have seen it on racetracks as well as locally on the streets. I would really appreciate some detailed information about it.

Martin

 

Hey there,

My name is not Jim; never was and has never been.

About that GTR: I once believed it to be Jack versus Porsche’s fee-fie-fo-fum, beanstalk-climbing 911 Turbo troll giant but lately the odds have started stacking up against it.

If BBC ‘Top Gear’’s recent showings are anything to go by, its earth-shattering performance doesn’t look so earth-shattering anymore.

That said, you will still be hard pressed to find a car that turns as hard as an Nissan R35.

The 2012 car is good for around 542bhp, which is the kind of power you will likely never fully explore.

Couple this to a clever trick-trick 4WD drive-train, a twin-clutch gearbox and huge nitrogen-filled tyres and the end result is… epic.

SPEED DEMON

This is a car that will show just how physically unfit you really are without having to run a mile.

I experienced its violent character at a military airbase in California on the west coast of the United States of Americaland.

It is a violent track car that may break your neck if you fail to sit properly while in it, but that is when ‘Race’ mode is engaged.

Disengage the psychopath setting and it turns into an amiable daily driver that even geriatrics can take for a quick nip down to the mall and back.

Disclaimer: said geriatric is advised not to go beyond 20 per cent throttle opening on such a shopping trip, because even with Race mode off, stomping the hot pedal will still release the demons of performance hell and the car will shoot forward, possibly at a faster speed than a senile mind can wrap itself around.

Expect 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds. Two. Point. Eight. By the time you read this sentence, the GTR will have launched itself from rest and gone beyond 120km/h. Say hello to Godzilla.

PERFORMANCE

For you to ask whether it is efficient in power, speed, handling and general performance is akin to you asking whether this column is written in English. The answer is “what do you think?” Those four parameters are EXACTLY why the GTR exists, and down the River Styx with humdrum plebeian concerns like economy and maintenance. Those are for losers in 900cc, three-cylinder hatchbacks. This is a twin-turbo, twin-clutch 3.8 litre V6 ground-hugging missile. Only those with substantial testicular fortitude need apply.

Detailed information about this car can be found on almost every motoring website on the internet and some non-motoring ones too. This, however, I will tell you for free: the GTR drives like nothing I have driven before, or since. It may be an adherent to the turbo 4WD formula of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Subaru Impreza STis, but while the GTR’s forebears battled these two small saloons, the Nissan R35 grew out of it and went hunting Porsches and Lamborghinis. It is now an accomplished assassin. This is the John Wick of Japanese sports cars.

SNAZZY INTERIOR

It has an interior that belies its badge. Nissans typically boast of naff, monochromatic — usually 50 Shades of Grey, beige or black — interiors festooned with ugly buttons, scratchy plastics, exposed seams, panel gap inconsistency and grainy surfaces with just a touch of faux-aluminium, but one can tell the GTR was made by people who took their time with it.

The leather is exquisitely stitched (and is real), the buttons are thoughtfully laid out, the thick-rimmed steering is good to the grip — which, in inexperienced hands, is less a tool for controlling the vehicle than a lifeline for hanging on to as the car threatens to toss you through the windows in hard corners.

Just to be sure of its everyday usability, there is even a woofer/sub-woofer embedded somewhere inside the back seat. And it has an automatic transmission. The car is quite a dandy daily driver.

Until someone drops the gauntlet and challenges you to a showdown.

You had best be awake when you mash the firewall. The transformation from “automatic Datsun coupé” to “Porsche-Slaying Maniac” is instantaneous. The downshifts become harder.

The upshifts become brutal. The acceleration is relentless. The braking is merciless. Cornering in this car actually hurts, it DOES hurt; more so if you had a heavy lunch involving numerous tacos and several cans of chilled soft drink in the baking California heat like yours truly.

While the car goes like it was launched by a giant rubber band and stops like it has hit a tree, it is through the turns that its ability beggars belief.

SHARP AND RESPONSIVE

One can actually feel how heavy this car is (it weighs in at around 1800kg, which is quite lardy), but then again one can also feel the electronic witchcraft and fastidiously built hardware working in tandem to overthrow the reign of heft; and one can feel these electronics and hardware winning the minor skirmish taking place underneath your seat.

The wide nitrogen-filled rubbers and mind-boggling 4WD boffinry really do transfigure what is essentially (weight-wise) an expectant rhino into a heavily caffeinated flea.

The GTR changes direction with the alacrity of a jumped-up insect- for lack of a better analogy- that is how sharp and responsive it is. It is, however, not twitchy with it; it carries this turning capability with grace and aplomb. It is a meister among minstrels.

Go into a moderate sweeping left at 140km/h, which is just about the point where an STi would typically start disobeying instructions, and the car turns with no drama.

It even feels underused. Go in at 160, right about where an Evo would be at its limit and same thing happens.

Try 180. Still works. Try 200…  Then realise that you may need fighter pilot training to fully harness this car’s potential, because while Godzilla will handle the speed with which you are straightening corners, your brain may not. The car goes faster than you can think, quite literally.

We did hot laps on a track laid out on a military airbase at a place called El Toro. Once you learn the track layout and know what the car can do, you then revert to your primeval petrolhead mindset, get the red mist over your eyes and start stringing corners together like the expert you clearly aren’t. The experience is sublime.

ACHING ARMS

Foot down. Exit the pit area and barrel down the short opening straight. Feel the surge of acceleration. Do NOT look at the speedometer; which should read 210km/h or thereabouts by the time you reach the first right which is a short distance away.

No need to brake, in fact you only need to lift ever so slightly to trim down your pace somewhat.

The corner leads into a short series of switchbacks. Still no brakes. Chuck the car apex-to-apex, throwing it left and right with something that may be mistaken as willful abandon. Feel the massive weight try to pull the car out of line.

Feel the tyres holding the car in place. Feel the 4WD system reeling the car back in. Also feel the numerous tacos and gallons of Pepsi slosh around uncomfortably in the pit of your stomach; and your brain bouncing off the sides of your skull. Feel your eyeballs slowly losing shape due to the unbelievable grip.

Feel your arms ache. Feel your neck strain. Feel your palms sweat. Try not to vomit. Exit the switchbacks faster than you thought possible in a car, front tyres screaming, steering on half-lock to the right. Let the steering wheel self-center in a controlled slip through your fingers as the car straightens itself out.

As the steering wheel steadily centers itself, simultaneously feed the power in, in such a way that by the time the car is pointing dead straight, you are at wide open throttle. All this is happening so fast your conscious mind can barely keep up and is not even present. In primeval petrol-head mode, you are not quite yourself; you are the Stig’s favorite Facebook follower.

Thunder down the main straight like a fighter aircraft on takeoff. “Lord have mercy, this car is bloody FAST!” you think, in something closely resembling pure panic. Hit 255km/h. See the huge BRAKE sign at the side of the track indicating the upcoming chicanes. Stand on the brakes.

UP FOR SECONDS

Hold your breath tightly because now it feels like your brains will pour copiously through your nostrils and splash all over the dashboard like projectile vomiting; that is how HARD a GTR sheds speed on the stoppers.

Realise you may have braked a bit too hard and washed off more speed than you needed to — after all, this is a GTR — so lift off the anchors and get back on the power. Maintain this power through the tight chicanes, throttling on and off as the track demands.

This is nothing to a GTR; it eats away at the apexes and leaves them wondering what just clipped them. The chicanes lead back into the pit area. Roll to a halt. Remove helmet. Wipe the thin film of sweat now coating your forehead— a byproduct of the combination of frazzling heat and nervous excitement. The hot lap is over and you did not put a foot wrong. Feel proud of yourself. Grin stupidly at your hostess, who you now think of as a goddess at whose feet you will worship henceforth since she let you drive a GTR in anger.

“That was some driving,” she says. “How was it?” she asks with a patronising smile.

“CAN I DO IT AGAIN?”

_________-

Dear Baraza,

 I have a Honda CRV which comes with tyres with the following specs 235/60 R18. I want to buy new tyres from a particular brand but the only specs they have are 235/65 R18 (bigger profile tyres). Will this affect the performance of the car in any way?

Martin

Yes, but the effect will be so minimal you will not notice it. I believe the word we scientists use to describe such an effect is “negligible”

*************

Hi Baraza,

I have been advised by at least three mechanics that coasting damages engine components, especially the clutch due to what they called “shock” when engaging ‘D’ from ‘N’ especially on high speed, downhill…..what’s your take?

Matata

 

This only applies to manual transmissions if declutching is not done properly.

With automatic transmissions, the engagement of the clutch mechanism is computerised, as is the gear selection; so the “shock” of re-engagement is not any harder or any softer than it is during normal upshifts and downshifts.

However, there is the risk of engaging ‘two’ or even ‘one’  instead of D, in which case… well, shock on you and your gearbox/clutch.

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Is replacing the Toyota Caldina’s engine impossible? I beg to differ…

After fixing the overheating, problem in my Toyota Caldina’s D4 engine, fuel consumption went from an average of 10-11km/l to an average of 7-8km/l.

I would now like to replace the engine with a new 1.8 engine from a Toyota Caldina or Premio. My mechanic says that this change is not possible because the gearbox of a 1.8 is not compatible with that of 2.0.

I also suggested changing the nozzles and replacing them with ones from a 1.8 Caldina, but he disagreed. Though my car is a new model 4WD, I cannot sell it because I have used the logbook as collateral.

Kindly advise me on a way out of this quagmire.

Simon

Your mechanic needs a little more exposure. The engine can be changed, the gearbox ratios notwithstanding. In many car models, the gearbox ratios used are the same all round.

If there is a difference anywhere, it should be in the final drive, which is not part of the gearbox, unless the car uses a transaxle.

Engine swaps are done daily with no corresponding transmission changes and the cars work just fine. Alternatively, you could get an entire powertrain, engine plus gearbox as one unit and replace the whole thing but I don’t see the need for this.

If you find someone willing to buy your old gearbox, you can consider this step.

Changing injectors is also possible; it is done regularly by those in the tuning community, though in their case, they typically go for bigger injectors, not smaller ones.

The injector swap is also not necessary as the current units can be tweaked to run at a lower capacity. That again, is part of what the tuning community does.

This, I advise, is also an unnecessary step, because electronic fuel injection (EFI) tuning is a whole other world that will consume you once you discover the possibilities on hand.

But more importantly, if you decide to dabble in EFI tuning, it is best to start with an engine that is 100 per cent sound. Your change in fuel consumption tells me your engine is not of 100 per cent sound.

There is a third way, which you might not want to hear, but I’ll mention it anyway, since it is what I’d recommend. Don’t change anything; not the engine, not the gearbox, not the injectors.

Find out what caused the poorer economy figures. Start by investigating what exactly that “surgery” entailed and if everything was put back correctly afterwards.

Poor placement of certain components (especially around the throttle body and the mass airflow sensor) can lead the car to go into a kind of safe mode where it burns fuel erratically because the ECU (Engine Control Unit) is not sure whether there is a problem or not, so it goes for the setting that will keep the car running, and that is burning as much fuel as it can. I once had that problem with a leaking Starlet throttle body and the result was 4km/l.

Hi Baraza,

I read your article on the Ford Mustang coming to Kenya… what did you mean when you said it has a “rare axile”?

Mike

I wish some of you would pay proper attention to your writing as I do mine. I did not say the Ford Mustang has a “rare axile” (whatever that is); I said it had a “live rear axle”.

A live rear axle is like a truck axle. It is a beam axle, whereby the wheel-points on either side of the car are rigidly linked and are thus dependent and move as a single unit, though in the automotive world we prefer to say “not independent”.

The connection is a solid beam that does not allow independent axial movement of the tyres (their rotation is, however, not affected). Live rear axle means this is a beam axle, located aft and is also powered. The unpowered equivalent is referred to as a dead axle.

The downside of this kind of set-up is that the vehicle is not as comfortable as one with independent rear suspension (whereby the wheels are independent of each other). This is due to the road surface changes not being isolated to one wheel but are transferred across the entire axle.

It also results in poorer handling around corners because there is no relative camber change between tyres due to their rigid connection: camber change on one side means a similar camber change on the other as well.

The advantage is that the live rear axle is very robust, able to withstand great loads, hence their application in commercial vehicles.

In a car like the Ford Mustang, it made the car a handy tool for drag-racing: enormous amounts of power were able to be channelled to the tarmac, resulting in a hard launch but with minimised axle tramp.

Until now, some of the most extreme drag racing cars use live rear axles because the independent one is too delicate for that kind of abuse.

Dear Barasa,

After reading your article on the Xado magic elixirs, I swiftly purchased their gearbox treatment syringe as well as a fuel system cleaner. I’m still racking up the mileage in my VW Golf Mark 5 and so far, so good.

I paid particular attention to the word “robotised gearbox” on the product package, given that the Mark 5 has a DSG robotised autobox.

My wife has joined your camp and purchased an automatic 2004 Mazda Demio. A very competent hatchback which ticks all the right boxes with its economical 1300cc VVT engine.

However, after about 30 minutes in slow traffic, it emits the distinct smell of a cooking clutch. This is strange because it’s an automatic. Are autoboxes prone to such misdemeanors? 

PS: Please test drive and review the 2008 Mazda Demio currently being shipped in from Japan.

Hatchback fan

Hello Hatchback Fan,

The feedback on Xado the wonder-drug was a little bit more than I expected. It transpires I was not the only one feeding Soviet gels into my car’s internal organs; a sizeable number of fellow drivers were too.

Their responses are unanimous and sound just like yours: We love the Russian lube. Maybe we are on to something, eh? Time will tell.

The “cooking clutch smell” problem is not endemic to automatic transmissions, otherwise traffic jams would stink like a tyre factory on fire.

Most automatic transmission cars use torque converters, which are fluid clutches, so it is unlikely that the clutch itself is the problem. Some auto cars use electronically controlled friction clutches.

If that is the case here, it is possible that either the lockup control is wonky or the clutch itself is on its last legs, but this would also be accompanied by other symptoms such as slippage, vibrations or delayed reactions when throttling up while in gear.

It is not the ATF though. Bad ATF smells like burning bread, for reasons I have never understood. One more theory: the brakes could be binding.

This may be an underlying problem which is then aggravated by frequent braking (you did say slow traffic, didn’t you?).

The result is the calipers hold on to the discs when you start moving, and the resulting friction heats them up to the point of them giving out a smell.

Next time you get the smell, if possible, check the front tyres around the rim and hub areas to see how hot they are.

I will do a review of the new Demio once I get hold of it. Snazzy little thing, though the looks are a touch feminine. But if public opinion is anything to go by, it should be a hoot to drive.

The gearbox of my Toyota Noah jerks everytime I engage the “R” or “D”. My mechanic calls it rough engagement.

He ran a diagnosis and the report indicated it was a solenoid circuit high.

He then opened the gearbox sump and closed it after a few minutes. He put back the ATF and the problem disappeared. However, that same evening, it was back. What could be the cause?

R. Ndungu, Mtwapa

The problem came back because the main issue was not solved. Opening and closing the sump will not really do much if the error report says “solenoid circuit high”.

The solenoid circuit is obviously an electrical component, and these have never been repaired by just looking at them (literally staring at them; did that mech even do anything after opening up the fluid reservoir?).

I have a Land Rover Discovery 1994 model, which has a problem of leakage on the transfer gearbox. I have had several mechanics look at it but all in vain. Is this a problem with the Landrover Discovery?

Daniel

Yes it is.

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The ‘cc’ is engine capacity, usually expressed in cubic centimetres

Dear Baraza,

Please enlighten me on the 1500cc and 1800cc capacity of a car. I want to choose between a Toyota Wish, a Fielder, a Premio and an Allion. My question is, what does the cc of a car translate to?

I have been told an 1800cc car consumes more fuel than a 1500cc. But is there a benefit I would derive from the 1800cc? Does the car “perform” better? Is it “stronger/more powerful”?

I live in Kikuyu and currently drive a 1500cc NZE. On a rainy day, a 200m stretch of a dirt road takes a lot of prayers as I skid through the mud. A 4 x 4 is not within my budget at the moment.

Caro

The “cc” of a car is called the engine displacement, which in layman’s terms means the engine size. In a nutshell, an engine works like this: air goes into the engine, this air is mixed with fuel in a particular ratio then this air-fuel mixture (called the intake charge) is fed into the engine cylinders where it is set on fire by spark plugs through electrical arcing.

Petrol is explosive, so when mixed with air and set on fire, it explodes.

This is the basic set-up of a cylinder: at the top are two sets of valves, one set called the inlet valves which allow the intake charge to enter the cylinder, and another set called the exhaust valves that allow the burnt gases (exhaust) to leave the cylinder. The cylinder is basically a tube with a tight-fitting but movable piston within it.

When the intake charge enters the cylinder, it is set on fire and explodes. This explosion forces the piston downwards, in what we call the power stroke.

The effect of this explosion pushing the piston downwards is equivalent to that of your leg pushing downwards when pedalling a bicycle. It provides the torque that gives rotating motion and movement.

This is where we pause for a moment. The piston goes down, but how does it come back up? Just like a bicycle, when the pedal goes down, it is brought back up by the downward push of the opposite pedal.

The main sprocket (the big-toothed wheel to which the chain and pedals are attached on a bicycle) has its equivalent as the crankshaft in a vehicle engine. It translates reciprocating motion (up and down or back and forth movement) into rotating motion (circular movement).

Therefore, the piston in an engine is brought upwards by the downward motion of other pistons (a typical engine has several pistons: 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12 or even 16, but the commonest number is four).

For single-cylinder engines like motorcycles and chainsaws, the momentum gained by the downward push is what brings the piston up.

So, back to the cylinder: Primary school mathematics taught us that cylinders have volume, got by the base area (pi multiplied by the square of the radius) multiplied by the length/height of the cylinder.

The length of the cylinder is determined by the limits of piston travel, that is, from the topmost limit that the piston reaches before starting to head back downwards, to the lowest limit it reaches before going back up.

This cylinder volume, multiplied by the number of cylinders, is what gives us the engine capacity, commonly expressed in cc (actually cubic centimeters) such as 1500cc or 1800cc; and in litres as 3,0-litre engine or 4.7-litre engine.

More cc means more swept volume by the cylinders, right? More swept volume means more intake charge going into the engine, right? More intake charge means more air and more petrol, and therefore, bigger explosions which create more downward force on the piston crowns.

So yes: a bigger engine develops more power. An 1800cc car is “stronger/more powerful” than a 1500cc one and it performs better.

I also live in Kikuyu, but I will not specify where exactly for obvious reasons. It can get quite unbecoming in the rainy season, I know, and now that you cannot buy an SUV, your options are a little limited.

You could buy a 4WD version of the listed vehicles (they do come with 4WD as an option, these cars) which will offer increased directional stability and better traction, and/or (especially and) buy deeply treaded tyres which have better grip in the mud.

You will be surprised at how well they hold the muddy ground. The payoff is that they are not very good on tarmac, but then again, they are not disastrous either.

I don’t think you spend your time cornering at the limit or hunting STI Subarus, so the reduced tarmac-gripping ability will go unnoticed. Just buy the treaded tyres.

Hi Baraza,

Good work you’re doing.

I bought a non-turbo Imprezza in February last year. Towards the end of the year, it developed a clunky noise at the front right wheel, which I suspect to be a worn out bush.

As I organise my finances, please tell me what risk(s) I run if I delay replacement of the same.

Lastly, which exhaust configuration would you recommend for a non-turbo to gain slightly more pick up speed?

Ndung’u Ngaruiya

Hello,

A late replacement of the bush means you first have to put up with the clunky noise a bit longer.

The steering might also feel a little unusual with time and the bush gets eaten away some more, losing part of the geometry in the process. And the ride will become a little thumpy and rattly over bumps and ruts.

You need to get what is called a through-pipe (straight exhaust, no cat) if you want better engine response.

Without the restrictions caused by the kinks, catalytic converter and silencer, exhaust gases flow faster out of the engine and offer reduced back pressure, leading to what I’d call a “zingy” response: a slightly increased “revviness” of the engine.

Hi,
I am an ardent reader of your column. I recently bought an automatic Toyota Fielder 1500cc, new model.

Note that I have never had an automatic car before, and that during my driving classes in 2003, I did not use an automatic car. If I was taught anything about automatic cars, I must have forgotten it all. So, kindly explain:

1. Why is it that when I am driving slowly, the ECO light appears on the screen/dash board but disappears as I increase speed?

2. The gear has the letters N, P, R and D-S (not arranged according to how they appear in the vehicle) marked at different points, except D and S, which are side by side.

What does S stand for and when is it supposed to be used. Also, explain fuel consumption when driving on S in comparison to driving on D.

3. If you don’t mind, explain the meanings of those D, P, R, S, D1, D2 in automatic vehicles and when one is supposed to engage them. This is what I know so far: D-Drive, P-Parking, R-Reverse and S-Speed/Screed, not sure which.

(Last but not the least, I don’t want my questions to appear in the newspaper).

Too bad for you, it looks like you made it into the paper anyway! We will not divulge your identity though, so don’t worry.

1. The ECO light comes on when the vehicle is in economy mode, meaning it is burning very little fuel, if any.

Common in most Japanese saloons, especially those equipped with automatic transmissions, the mode is activated by a driving style that epitomises hypermiling; in the instances that I witnessed this light glowing (while driving the Toyotas Vista and Premio, but of course not both at the same time), the accelerator pedal was either depressed very lightly or not at all.

Invariably, I was rolling downhill in both, at moderate speeds, meaning the engine was doing no work and probably the injectors were shut off in turn, meaning the vehicles were consuming little or no fuel, hence economy mode, ergo the ECO light.

2. Those are a lot of things you have listed: are you sure they are all in the same car? Anyway, here goes. P is for Park, a selector position that locks the transmission in both forward and reverse, acting as a static brake.

The vehicle cannot move in either direction as both directions are engaged. R is for Reverse, and is used if you want to go backwards. N is for Neutral, the exact opposite of Park.

Whereas in Park both forward and reverse gears are selected, in Neutral no gear is selected, so the vehicle is in freewheel mode.

This is mostly used when towing, but as I have come to learn, certain people take the things I say rigidly so I will issue a disclaimer: A vehicle can only be towed when it is in Neutral, however, Neutral is not only for towing.

I hope I’m clear on that. D is for Drive, which is the opposite of Reverse. Select it if you want to go forward.

S is Sport mode, a selection in which the transmission holds onto gears for longer, changing up and down at higher revs than in Drive (Normal mode). The positions 1 (or L), 2 and 3 — where available — lock the transmission in those gears, disallowing upshifts beyond the respective selector position but allowing downshifts.

Lastly, what, in the name of burnt clutches, is Screed?

Thanks for the very informative Car Clinic story on October 29, 2014.  

I have a similar situation. My car has four options; N, 4H, 4L, 2L. Whenever I select N, the car makes the same noise on the dash board.

When I drive the car on 4H, the consumption is quite high; recently I monitored the consumption with this selection and noted that 18 litres took me 136km, which translated to 7.5km local running.

The other two selections are quite heavy for the car, with even worse consumption. My car’s consumption is currently very high. I expected it to be relatively low, considering that it is a VVT.  I have reached out to local dealer CMC, to no avail.\

Please advise. 

George

What car is this? By mentioning CMC and VVT (not VVTi), I’ll hazard a guess and say it is a Suzuki of some sort, possibly a Grand Vitara.

For starters, what engine does it have? You might say 7.5km/l is quite high, but if you have the 2.7 litre V6 engine, that is not high. After all, it is an SUV, isn’t it?

The other two selections give worse economy figures, and they should. This is because they constitute the low-range section of the transfer case, meaning extra low gearing for the sake of torque multiplication, which in turn means the engine revs a lot but the corresponding motion is snail-like, just like a tractor. It is very hard on fuel, so again, the high consumption is to be expected.

Yes, you need help; help in the form of advice. Drive in High range only, unless you are doing some pretty hardcore off-road stuff that would warrant the use of Low range. Just one quick question: what dashboard noise does the car make in N (Neutral)?

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2014: The year of Mobius II, Great Run 6 and the Russian revitalisant

  1. Kenya vs Uganda: Mobius II vs Kiira EV

Our neighbours across the border are a demure, taciturn lot and as such, it is a little difficult to imagine what they are up to all the time.

Never mistake quietness for lack of resolve; and, clearly, meekness is not weakness, because what they did recently was win a game of top trumps against Kenya in a match that nobody knew was even happening.

Mobius Motors has been in Kenya for a while, just simmering below the surface of the motoring grapevine. The name would crop up every now and then in discussions surrounding the local automotive industry and the prospects of developing a homegrown automobile.

A few pictures here and there, an inactive website, a silent (or possibly non-existent) public relations department, a hardworking and single-mindedly determined man, cheers from one corner, jeers from another; hope from a few, proclamations of doom from many more, disregard by the government, the ever-present threat of the used vehicle import grey market and….

…And they did it. Mobius Motors actually built a car intended for sale! What’s more, it even got the C-in-C to attend the car’s launch festivities.

The Mobius II is less of a pukka petrolhead’s tarmac-tearing, corner-carving chariot and more of a motorised donkey, a beast of burden, a tool to get things done. It is basically a wheelbarrow with extra wheels, an engine, lights, windscreen, and bench seats.

The vehicle does not break any boundaries. If anything, part of the R&D does smack a little of corner-cutting. What they call a “tubular steel monocoque” is essentially a heavy roll-cage, not entirely dissimilar to the type used as buggy frames. The bodywork is then wrapped around this roll-cage.

The suspension is… well, you have to see it to believe it. There are exposed leaf springs, lightly fastened to the rear axle via some slim metal brackets and the whole set-up does not look as robust as Mobius’ blurb claims it is. It looks rather flimsy and likely to shear off its moorings if the vehicle goes round a bend at anything apart from crawling speed.

If the coat is threadbare, then the inside is almost nonexistent. The interior is festooned with only one gauge directly ahead of the driver and what looks like a sports steering wheel.

My pre-drive analysis might seem a little acerbic, and it is. But this is a tough world.

There are many ways of developing homegrown automotive output without trying to re-invent the wheel or starting from zero.

Building a car from scratch is an effort 100 years too late, especially if you are not introducing anything new and lack financial backing.

You can build motor vehicles under licence instead of trying to come up with one.

The countries of the Pacific Rim discovered this: where initially they tried making their own vehicles which were frankly odious sacks of potatoes, building old versions of Japanese cars under different badges led to an explosion of their auto industries and now they can afford to make their own cars.

he fastest expanding auto industry at the moment is China’s.

What we need to do is get the licence to reproduce the Toyota Corolla AE100 (one of the best and most appropriate cars ever to hit these shores) and either reprint it as is, or at least copy the hell out of it.

What, pray, is wrong with borrowing ideas? That way, a much better result can be realised at the same or lower cost than making a new vehicle.

This car does remind me of something I wrote about back in 2013, the OX. That vehicle was, incidentally, launched just around the same time as the current Mercedes-Benz S Class, and while one was quite literally a motorised ox-cart, the other was a machine so highly developed as to be in danger of being smarter than its creators.

I recall saying (not in these exact words) that the OX was a racist machine, a stereotyping of the developing world’s requirements, and that we did not really need it. Not surprisingly, I have not heard of it since.

That said, credit where it is due. The efforts of Joel Jackson are laudable, if not necessarily ground-breaking. It should be obvious to anyone that one cannot discuss the Mobius car without at least thinking of the infamous Nyayo Pioneer from three decades back.

Jackson has managed what an entire government could not, and that is to put a fully functional, locally developed motor vehicle into production and on sale — however simplistic the vehicle may be — and it is this kind of thing that inspires others.

The car might be rendered irrelevant in a few years, necessitating a whole new project, but clearly, the intentions behind the current Mobius II were honorable. You might not reinvent the wheel, but that should not stop you from making your own. Jackson is the name behind Mobius Motors, just to be clear.

Then there are our Ugandan neighbours. Theirs was something else altogether, and at face value, they seem to have their motoring fingers solidly inside the automotive pot. Their car is the definition of how to grasp current affairs and keep up with the times. Where the Mobius harks back to the uncomplicated wheels of yore, Uganda’s Kiira EV Smack is a trendy concept, if a little overstyled. The builders chose to go the hybrid way, which seems like an intelligent option in these days of uncertainty about the longevity of the world’s oil fields.

I don’t honestly expect the Smack to enjoy unprecedented sales success either, but one thing is for sure: it will grab the attention of the motoring world’s big shots.

Developing a hybrid car is terribly expensive, and hybrid cars are the present and foreseeable future, so investment is most likely going to be channelled in that direction. The internal combustion engine in the Mobius is a relic by comparison and is about to see the end of its usefulness.

Will I get to test these cars? I don’t know. What I do know is that this is not the last you will hear of them. The battle lines have been drawn.

 

  1. Pretty Great Run through Aberdares

December 6 marked the end of our third successful year of motoring campaigns with a charitable bent as we staged a pretty remarkable Great Run.

The Great Run is always a challenge, or rather, is supposed to be. This time round we thought we had a real doozy of a run, one that would test skill rather than endurance. You had to be at one with your fully-fledged 4WD car to make it, and a 4WD it had to be. End-of-year runs are off-road specials.

The path we chose was a little unusual, Nairobi-Nyeri, but not the way you know it.

We went through Naivasha, and then up the escarpment through a little-explored back route that feeds its users directly to one of the gates of the Aberdare National Park.

It is from this gate  that things get thick, and by things I mean the muck we had to crawl through.

A stone’s throw from the gate and into the park lurks a mud-hole of the type and consistency that could hide fully grown crocodiles. You need a proper 4WD transmission to plough your way through. You also need horsepower, but most important, you need ground clearance.

Up ahead lay some pools of variable depths, some of which hid large stones that could rip apart even the most solidly put-together undercarriage.

There is a rocky slope that demands the use of a low-range gearbox if one is to go up at all without risking a burnt clutch or slipping tyres.

There are more mud holes, the roads are narrow, twisty and have no run-off areas, what with the thick undergrowth creeping almost over the road itself. It is very easy to lose each other if the vehicles do not stick to tight formation, and it is very easy to lose one’s footing if one does not pay proper attention to one’s driving.

So it was with confidence that we announced that participants this time really do need to bring proper SUVs for the exercise — and then a lady showed up in a Toyota RAV4.

Long story short: not many people had high hopes for her on arrival at the mud hole, or at the end of the line in Nyeri, to which she made it without incident (or pulling shortcuts).

Fellow participants reached one of two conclusions: maybe the course was not tough enough (it actually was), or maybe we tend to seriously underestimate the off-road abilities of Toyota RAV4s (this part is subject to a lot of argument). Inarguably, everybody was impressed with the lady’s spunk.

Having held six discrete drives so far over the course of three years, it is indisputable that the Great Run is growing bigger, with each event, and is here to stay. Expect more interesting things come 2015.

 

  1. From Russia with some XADO

 

From the deep mines of Siberia and into your vehicle’s internal organs comes the weird product boasting the seemingly alchemical (and scarcely believable) ability to cure metal: the engine revitalisant.

Once dismissed as yet another brand of snake oil, it has had to be reconsidered and the prognosis looks promising.

Research with no funding is both risky and expensive. Paying for experiments out of one’s own pocket doesn’t always yield results that are thorough and/or impressive (look at the Mobius), more so if that research is done on oneself.

However, that did not stop me from going in head-first: I bought the snake oil and put it in a car fitted with a manual transmission.

There was one clear problem from the start: the fluid is meant to improve and refurbish worn out or fatigued metal surfaces, so how exactly does one determine the effectiveness of a miracle cure using an otherwise perfectly healthy guinea pig?

The car used for the experiment did not seem to need any revitalising — not in the engine, not in the transmission, not in the suspension. I wasn’t going to deliberately ruin a car just to make it eligible as a test subject. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try.

There were results, albeit a little indefinite. But they were there all the same.

After less than 150km of driving with the revitalisant in the transmission, the gear change did become a little bit slicker, less notchy and fell that much more easily to hand. The stuff actually does work, contrary to my admittedly cynical expectations.

Would I buy it? Yes, and I actually did, if only initially for experimental purposes.

The transmission revitalisant seems especially ideal for a used car, say in the 10-12 year-old age bracket that has seen some use and might start showing early signs of wear.

Rather than face the quandary of replacing apparently unbroken parts or waiting for them to fail expensively, one could revitalise them, and revitalise does seem like the most apt description for what happens when it works.

Let us be clear on one thing though: what I tried was a mineral oil-based transmission fluid specifically for use in a manual gearbox, with an SAE rating of 80W 90. The instructions on the bottle say it can also be used in transfer cases and differentials, basically anywhere with a mechanical transmission. I guess this means if you have a Lamborghini, Ferrari or BMW M5, you cannot use it because these cars have electronic diffs.

I guess, also, most new-age SUVs wouldn’t be appropriate candidates for its use because a number of them use viscous couplings for the centre diff, meaning they do not have transfer cases per se.

Was I impressed? A little, considering the alleged modus operandi of the revitalising fluid. Was I surprised? Yes. I really didn’t expect to feel any difference, especially in a car with no underlying problems, but I did.

Roll on the engine oil, this experiment is not over.

 

Posted on

The Forester’s bigger engine and weight make it more costly to run than the Allex

Hi,

I recently bought a second-hand 2006, turbo-charged, 1990cc Subaru Forester LL Bean edition and have noticed a significant change in my budget on fuel (I initially owned a Toyota Allex 2002 with a 1490cc engine).

I knew the larger engine size would consume a bit more but the disparity is sizeable.

Could it have anything to do with the symmetrical AWD feature in the car.

Noting that I drive mostly on rough roads, does engaging the ECO button have any impact on the vehicle’s stability and traction?

Did you expect the disparity not to be sizeable?

Besides the bigger engine, the Forester is a bigger car.

Couple this with the 4WD transmission (whether symmetrical or not doesn’t really make a difference here) and you have weight gains that will most definitely be reflected on your fuel consumption.

Then there is the aerodynamic profile too… I’ve written about this before, haven’t I?

Hi Baraza,

I buy the Wednesday paper just to read your articles on cars.

I want to point out to you that no matter how well you do, there will be people who always see the half-empty glass.

However, there are certain truths that we should accept, for instance, the fact that most Kenyans drive Toyota saloon cars.

We acknowledge that tastes differ, so what you do is tell readers the situation as it is on Kenyan roads.

I long to read nice terms you used some years back to describe cars.

For example, you described the bonnet of a Toyota NZE as looking as if it had been stung by a bee (I drive an NZE), said some car designers seemed to have worked under the influence of forbidden substances, or that the car would be thirsty and drill a hole in a man’s wallet.

What other expressions did you people enjoy? Any readers out there longing for such terms?

Let’s request Baraza to add more flavour….Mike

Roger that, sir. Beginning 2015 — if I am still here — it will be back to the original “nice terms” that I started off with.

You might have noticed a dearth of car reviews in recent days.

This is because of a certain scarcity of road tests that I can’t really explain.

I fear the era of the motoring journalist might be nearing its end, more so when one learns of new car launches from (other people’s) newspaper articles rather than the PR departments of respective brands.

Nowadays, business editors, lifestyle reporters and unknowledgeable bloggers (people who know diddly-squat about cars) get to sit at the automotive launch table while motoring hacks like yours truly are consigned to staring at pictures of the event on Instagram and asking, “When did that happen?”

The best we can hope for now is a memo from the PR ladies, quickly followed by a phone call confirming whether or not their press release will feature in one column or the other.

The answer is usually no. I find it hard to report on a car I have not driven.

These are subtle hints that we might have reached the end of our usefulness.

The end may be near, but it is not here yet. In the meantime, let us see what we can put together…

Dear Baraza,

I am a computer science lecturer at Chuka University.

I want to start by appreciating the good work you do educating our motorists.

Indeed, information is power and I believe your advice not only helps people make informed decisions regarding cars, but also save lives on our roads.

Keep up the fantastic work!

To my issues:

1. Car fuels: I have noted that whenever I refuel my car at some filling stations, mainly in the suburbs or some highways, its picking or accelerating pace slows down.

When I fuel at Total petrol stations, there is huge difference in performance.

I know you will advise me to be fuelling there but I would like to know the reason for the difference.

What is so special about Shell FuelSave petroleum, which they spend so much advertising, yet I have not noted any difference.

There is a brand of fuel from Shell known as V-Power, what on earth is that? It’s very expensive yet I did not notice any difference in my car. Or is it that my car has a problem?

2. There is a time you indicated that the performance of new Mercedes cars is coming down to about 12km per litre.

I would like to know which specific type and model and how much it costs.

3. Finally, thanks a lot for your article on Peugeot 504s and other ’70 cars and their ever ageing owners.

These guys, some of them professors, I am sorry to say, think that other cars are too useless to be on our roads. I hope they learn to grow with technology.

Another thing: the Nation should not hide your article inside the paper.

I always have to pull out and toss Living magazine aside in order to enjoy your articles without interruption.

Hello Charles,

I would have suggested to the bean counters at Nation Media to do away with Living magazine in your favour but the people who write, edit, print, publish, distribute and sell this Living magazine also have to make a living (see what I did there?).

The magazine also has fans just like Car Clinic does, and I am not going to enter into a contest to see who can spit the furthest, so just grin and bear it.

Anyway, 1. The slow picking/acceleration might be due to the fuel being adulterated and thus suffering erratic combustion properties, or the octane rating is too low so to prevent pinging/detonation, the ECU retards the ignition timing as far back as it possibly can, which in turn affects the revving characteristics and power outputs of the engine.

I have a colleague who has been quietly doing tests on various fuels from various forecourts and his results make for grim reading.

Some stations offer water adulterated with a hint of petrol in it (if you get my drift), others offer muddy sediment and well… our octane ratings are so low, even for the “high-octane fuels”, that what we call premium over here might as well be bathwater for those who know what proper high-octane fuel is.

I’ll see if I can steal those results and make them public.

That Shell FuelSave is like “V Power with added Aromat”, for lack of a better description.

I don’t know what exactly they put in it but Shell claims it improves fuel economy by optimising combustion and thus maximising on the energy transfers that define the four-stroke cycle.

Shell V Power is high-octane fuel (relatively, and I do mean relatively) with cleaning agents in it.

I haven’t tried the FuelSave (with a 1500cc car capable of returning 18km/l on regular driving, I am two steps away from having the consumption figures of an unused bicycle), but I have tried V Power several times and well… I didn’t notice any difference either.

I still use it, though; my engine purrs like new and who knows, it might be the cleansing powers of V Power behind it.

2. Pick any model of Mercedes and if properly driven, it will do 10-12 km/l… yes, even the AMGs. The latest CL65 AMG is a monster of a car, packing a 604hp 6.0 litre twin-turbo V12 engine, but Mercedes say it will do 12 km/l without resorting to desperate tactics.

I guess they mean when shuttling slowly (two miles an hour so everybody sees you) from the driveways of well-off people to the driveways of other well-off people.

Bring that AMG to the Kiamburing Time Trial and 12km/l will be something that you only read about in the brochures of plebeian vehicle models.

3. You are most welcome. When I err…. “slandered” the 504 (somewhat, I once had a Peugeot too), a reader was disappointed and asked me to try again, this time with a Volkswagen Type 2 bus and I was not kind to it either.

Now the VW Owners Club might have put out a contract on my head, if rumours are to be believed.

That aside, classic cars are an acquired taste and provide joy to some (mostly grease monkeys) while at the same time suffer derision from the PlayStation generation.

If I spot a well-kept Peugeot 404, I’d nod quietly to myself and be glad that there exists a motoring enthusiast out there with passion for the past.

Those who found more than one TV station on air at birth will look at it and ask why it is so slow, where the air-conditioning is and how come there is no letter at the end of the registration number.

Dear Baraza,

1.  Internal combustion engines give off lots of heat. Considerable effort and resources are actually spent cooling them.

Cooling systems take up space and make the cars heavier, etc. It seems to me there are lots of inefficiencies here.

It appears that it would make sense to somehow convert more of that heat energy to boost the propulsion of the vehicle instead of concentrating on just refining ways of losing the said heat to the environment.

To your knowledge and in your estimation, has there been exhaustive research in this area?

2.  The average car is equipped with a 12-volt battery and a generator (alternator).

Noting that for most cars I know, the alternator is always working, I expect that, as a result, it produces much more electricity than the car will ever require.

Does this not lend some credence to the concept of “hybrids’”, perhaps even the “loathsome” Prius?

Jeijii

1. Yes, the internal combustion engine is a paragon of inefficiency, barely cracking 40 per cent.

This is just about as far as it will go, for the engine itself.

Further losses occur in the transmission and drivetrain, which is why one type of hybrid involves the use of the engine as a generator rather than a source of tractive power.

There are fewer losses that way.

The heat dissipated from the engine is primarily a result of friction, and more often than not, this heat is radiated away from exposed parts, absorbed by convection where the cooling system can reach, and dissipated by conduction where heat shields are attached.

Your theorem sounds attractive: instead of wasting this heat, could it not be put to good use? Well, a) some of it does get put to good use, such as in declogging the catalytic convertor/diesel particulate filter (DPF) and in warming up the interior of the car b) there is one small problem, and that is how to trap this heat.

Of all energy forms, heat is the most dynamic and the most easily lost.

You will have to do a lot of capturing if you are to acquire any useable energy from heat, and while doing this capturing, some of it will be escaping.

Then where will you store this heat as you wait for it to accumulate to useful levels?

Lastly, heat being very dynamic, is more often than not the last form of energy before dissipation: it is easy to convert other energy forms into heat, but the reverse is not necessarily true without involving elaborate equipment.

Where will this equipment be stored?

Won’t you be making the car even heavier and more complicated?

Most of the research has been focused on minimising heat losses rather than trapping the heat itself.

Petrol inside your tank is chemical energy. When oxidised (combustion), it explodes, which means this chemical energy has now been transformed into various other energy forms: light energy (the flash of the explosion), sound energy (the “boom” of the explosion) and heat energy.

Light and sound are mostly wasted, though, through sound deadening and the use of non-reverberating materials, the sound waves can fail to be absorbed and become kinetic energy.

The heat energy is what is desired here; it causes a rapid expansion of air, and this rapid expansion results in motion of air particles: kinetic energy.

The kinetic energy of air molecules is then transferred by impact to the piston crown, and this energy forces the piston downwards and from here I think you know the rest… the end result is the engine rotates and eventually the vehicle moves.

The cooling system is designed to do away with heat from friction, and this heat can get to very high levels owing to piston speeds (in high performance engines like the E46 BMW M3’s, piston speeds can reach up to 87ft/s, which is quite high)

2. When you run out of fuel in your ordinary car, the car will not run on the battery, will it?

Posted on

Your engine’s faulty; Demios don’t normally make tractor-like sounds

Hello Baraza,
I really love your column and look forward to the Wednesday issue of the Daily Nation. I hope you will respond to my mail this time round.

Now on to my question: I have a 2005 Mazda Demio and of late, I have been seriously disturbed by a noise coming from under the hood.

The car sounds like a tractor/diesel engine and somebody can tell from a kilometre away that I am approaching. In fact, my children have become so used to the noise that they open the gate when I am still some distance away. Several mechanics have told me that it is the normal sound of Mazda engines. Is this true?

Secondly, the car is a 4WD. How do I know whether the 4WD is damaged or in working condition? Could it be the reason the consumption is not good since the car (1300cc) is doing about 11km/l, which I think is awful.I would greatly appreciate your help. MK

I would say something is definitely broken under the bonnet. Demios do not sound like tractors and/or diesel powered cars, unless so equipped. You might have an engine with a knock.

To test the 4WD, you could jack the car up, i.e put it on stands/stones. Just to be safe, prop up all four wheels.

Start the vehicle, then engage the transmission (D or first gear, depending on transmission type). Observe the wheels. If the 4WD is functional, all four wheels should spin.

If they do not, then the 4WD drivetrain has a problem, though I suspect you might get a dashboard light warning you of something to that effect.

Drivetrain problems could be a reason for high fuel consumption, though at 11 km/l, I would first ask what your driving style and environment look like before pointing a finger at the 4WD.

————————–

Hello Baraza,
I am a great fan of your column, which I read religiously every Wednesday. I am in the process of importing a car and after looking at a few options (the usual Honda Fit, Mazda Demio, Honda Mobilio Spike), I settled on a Fiat Panda.

It is a 1200cc automanual model and I would think it might be the only one on Kenyan roads. What is your opinion of the car? I am comforted by the fact that the guys at Top Gear really liked it….

Fiat has a reputation for making unreliable cars and this might actually be reflected all across the range.

Fiat cars have long been known to break down not very long into the vehicle’s lifespan, as do Alfa Romeos, which are made by Fiat, while certain models of Ferrari (another Fiat brand) tend to spontaneously combust, which could be seen as a reliability issue. You cannot call a car reliable if it catches fire by itself, can you?

Let Top Gear be. The UK market is more varied and more forgiving than ours. Cars there, being mostly brand-new, are protected by warranties and dedicated dealer networks; Britons rarely ask whether spares for a particular car are available.

They know there exists such a thing as the internet, which they put to good use (mostly). So, for a motoring journalist with a six-figure annual income (in pounds sterling), a Fiat Panda is more an object of amusement and experimentation than the sole solution to his transport needs, as could be your case. Buy it at your own risk.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
Having just sold my Toyota Surf, I am planning to buy a Nissan Patrol 2007 model, diesel, or a Harrier Lexus 2006/07 model, petrol. I would greatly appreciate your advice. Pandit

This is what we call a vague or ambiguous question. What, exactly, is your dilemma? I think in a case like this, you decide what you want, whether it is a Nissan Patrol or a Toyota Harrier or a Lexus RX.

The purchase will mostly depend on how much money you have to spare and what you intend to use the car for. Do not buy the Patrol if you do not do any serious off-road excursions.

————————-

Hi Baraza,
I want your expert advice on the following cars:
1) Between the Toyota Belta 1000cc and 1300cc, which is better for Kenyan roads and fuel efficiency?
2) Is the Toyota Passo 1300 cc better than the Vitz?
3) Is the Nissan Tiida 1490cc a good car to drive and is it fuel-efficient?
4) When importing the above cars from Japan, is it okay to buy cars with mileage above 87,000 kilometres or will they break down?
Andy

1. The 1000cc car is better in fuel efficiency if you are using it in the city. The 1300 will be more appropriate for extended highway use.

In this era of the NTSA and its sometimes mind-boggling speed limits, you might be better off with the 1000cc car. You might not need the extra 300cc, especially if your car does not bear loads that extend beyond your person.

2. Better in what way? The Vitz might be the better car overall.

3. Yes, it is a good car to drive, although the 1500cc version feels a bit underpowered. But remember the NTSA and its speed limits, so you do not exactly need a very powerful Nissan car to drive around the country.

4. They will break down. However, being Japanese cars, this breakdown will happen later rather than sooner. The good thing is, a car with an odo reading above 87,000km will obviously be cheaper than one with lower mileage.

————————-

Hello Sir,
I am a young hustler whose father uses a Toyota Fielder 1400cc 2006 model. I admire the vehicle for its fuel efficiency, stability, and comfort.

I want to buy a vehicle for myself and would like a fuel-efficient one (like the Fielder). My favourite models are the Fielder, Avensis, and Allion. Kindly advise.
Thanks, and I appreciate your work. John Maina

Well, now that you are already familiar with the Fielder, it will not hurt if you get one of your own, will it? The consumption figures are not very much different with the Avensis and the Allion, but there is comfort in familiarity.

————————-

Dear John,
It was a cold day in Wolfsburg, Germany, when your current car, the Mazda Demio, won the World Car of the Year in 2008, its heyday.

However, in true German fashion, the VW board summoned their engineers and ordered them to create the finest hatchback floorpan in the automotive world and wipe the smug smile off the faces of the Japanese Demio makers.

Money was no object. The result was the VW Golf Mark 5, each built carefully in 50 hours bristling with innovation, with a Euro NCAP 5-star rating to boot, which was promptly crowned World Car of the Year 2009.

Richard Hammond, a Top Gear presenter, even had a Mark 5 Golf struck by 600,000 volts of nature’s finest lighting while seated inside as a testament to its German over-engineering.

However, the fly in the ointment and let-down to many Kenyan motorists who ship the used version of this car from Japan is the DSG gearbox which, in simple terms, is two separate manual gearboxes (and clutches), contained within one housing and working as one unit.

It was designed by Herr and was initially licensed to the Volkswagen Group. Designed to shift gears more smoothly than a conventional manual gearbox and quicker than your reflexes, this automated manual gearbox resulted in a worldwide recall by VW of 1.6 million sold vehicles.

This has caused grief to many a Golf Mark 5 owner, who experience intermittent transmission jerking, usually at low speed, and agonising delays in shifting down once the car has warmed up. VW has finally figured out the cause after a lot of head scratching since the computer does not produce any fault codes.

Apparently, the DSG transmission has a protection mechanism switch built in that prevents excessive power from being delivered to it if the brakes are engaged.

When you take your foot off the brake and step on the accelerator for power, the switch lags and makes the transmission tranny think the brakes are still on, resulting in the annoying shifting delays. Once this brake switch sensor is replaced, the fly is removed from the German ointment.

As a preventative measure, it is also worthwhile to drain all the synthetic gearbox oil from the Golf Mark 5 with a DSG gearbox  and replace it with a good quality mineral oil before making the maiden trip from Mombasa port to Nairobi as VW has confirmed during recalls that in hot climates, the synthetic oil causes short circuits in the gearbox power supply due to build-up of sulphur, a scenario absent in the frigid testing grounds of Wolfsburg.

Lots of innovations remain true to form, like the fuel stratified injection (FSI) engine in the Golf Mark 5 gem in increasing fuel economy in tandem with power, and is kinder to the environment and better built than the Toyota D4 and Mitsubishi GDI employing similar engine concepts. The only catch is to ensure that no adulterated fuel ever enters the filler cap.

The ultimate Golf mark 5 innovation has to do with safety, giving it a Jekyll and Hyde personality; a safe family car packed with curtain airbags, ESP wizardly, and doors like a steel safe to ferry the children to summer camp when needed to a non-turbo Impreza and Evo thrashing hatchback when provoked by their loud exhausts on the way back home to a classy, yet frugal transporter to work on Monday.

Truly, the Golf is the car you will ever need, even in the land where the car in front is always a papier-mâché Toyota. VW fan club member

This is very enlightening. And yes, the Golf is a marvellous car; too bad about the DSG. Impressive gearbox, this one, if a little glitch-prone. I would still have me a pukka three-pedal, six-on-the-floor Golf (GTI, to be specific) if I had the inclination.

—————————————————-

Kindly tell me how a Toyota D4 engine is different from that of other Toyotas and how I can achieve maximum performance.
Also, what is its consumption (km/petrol) rate?

Toyota’s D4 engine is different from (some) others in that it uses direct injection rather than port injection. Direct injection is where the fuel is delivered directly into the cylinders of the engine, where it mixes with air and is then ignited by the spark plug.

This is at variance with previously established systems of port injection, in which fuel was injected/fed into the intake port, where it mixes with air before being delivered into the engine’s cylinders.

Achieving maximum performance is simple. Use high-octane (and reputable) fuel and stomp on the accelerator pedal as hard as you can. The fuel consumption varies, depending on the size of the engine and the size of the vehicle bearing that engine.

D4 engines are quite economical. However, when maximising performance, do not expect the fuel consumption to be impressive.

Posted on

Which is the fairest from the list of Rav4, XTrail, X3, Forester, CRV?

Hello Baraza,
I have previously owned a Toyota AE100 and 110. I now believe it is time for upgrade.

I am looking for a used car that won’t cost more than Sh2m. Though I mostly drive in urban areas, I won’t mind a four-wheel drive (4WD).

I am looking for stability, safety, comfort and manageable fuel cost. Help me make a decision on the following 2007/8 vehicles:

1. Toyota RAV 4: People say this vehicle is not very stable, though spacious.

2. Subaru Forester: I hear it is stable, safe but poor in fuel economy and in design. It is also associated with spoilt kids who are rude on the road. I am a family man and a professional. I wouldn’t like such a label. 

3. Xtrail: My mechanic tells me it is not stable and has a lot of electrical problems. 
4. Honda CRV: I am told it’s very comfortable, spacious, stable, but very poor in fuel economy.

5. BMW X3 (Diesel): I have not heard much about this one.

I would appreciate your objective advice to a confused brother. I suspect you might have previously responded to this kind of questions, but I do not seem to locate any from my library. 
Jack

Hello, Jack
So, in this list of yours, you want to pick a car that comes closest to your demands, right? Let us see…

Toyota RAV4: It is a bit spacious, yes, but it is not necessarily unstable. Those who allege it is so are the type of people who don’t seem to value the brake pedal, so they tend not to use it.

As a result, they take corners at full blast and end up in trouble. While it is not exactly a Jaguar stability-wise, the RAV4 is not a drunk, three-legged giraffe trying to lean on one side either.

Subaru Forester: Yes, it is stable, and yes, it is safe (as safe goes), but the fuel economy will depend on the specific model you opt for. The STi version is not your friend in this respect. The naturally aspirated 2.0 will not pinch any more than its rivals.

The association with spoilt kids is not a far cry, but it is not the Forester’s fault. More often than not, it will be the STi version being driven by a spoilt kid, and not the regular non-noisy naturally-aspirated Cross Sport spec.

But then again, most of these spoilt kids find their way into the Impreza WRX. The Forester STi is for the performance enthusiast, who also wants a bit of common sense in his life. Spoilt kids don’t fall into this category.

X-Trail: The stability issues raised were most likely brought up by those who survived crashing their RAV4s and never learnt from my comment above. It is not as unstable as described.

I have driven an unstable car before (a Land Cruiser Prado J120 5-door) and the X-Trail did not feel like it. The wonky electrics are a thing, though, especially in the automatic transmissions. This was a common problem in the first-generation X-Trail. I don’t know (yet) if it carries over to the 2007/8 car.

Honda CRV: Believe the hype until you reach the part where it says, “poor fuel economy”. Ignore this bit completely.

BMW X3: The choice of the discerning badge whore. No redeeming factors, considering it offers nothing more than the others except a BMW badge, and it costs a lot more. Avoid it if you are not a badge whore.

Safety: The Toyota gets 8.7, the Nissan gets 8.6, the Honda gets 8.8, the Subaru gets 8.1 and the BMW gets 8.4. Please note, these figures are the average scores based on expert and user reviews.

The users awarded the Honda and Subaru very high marks (9.2 apiece), but the experts got those users’ heads out of the clouds with a more worldly reflection not based on ownership and/or affection. The love Subaru owners have for their cars borders on the unnatural.

Comfort: It varies a little. The X3 looks promising but it doesn’t really deliver. The Honda is smooth, but it is not particularly special, nor are the RAV4 and the X-Trail.

Get something with wood and leather interior with all the trimmings available from the options list if you really want to split them on comfort. The Honda may win this, courtesy of its smoothness.

Fuel costs: Of course the diesel X3 wins this, hands down. The rest just flounder around the 9 km/litre mark, give or take, the giving or taking being heavily dependent on environment and style and load during driving. With the exception of the diesel X3, steer clear of anything with a Turbo under the bonnet.

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Hello Baraza,
I salute you for the wonderful insights you offer. I own a Toyota Caldina 2.0L, the latest model, and a full-time 4WD.

When I accelerate, I find the car really heavy, like an old Range rover 4.6 trying to hit a speed of 100 within five seconds. I find it so much slower than the 1.8 Toyota Wish and 1.5 Allion.

I was recently amazed to see how difficult it was to catch up with and overtake a Toyota Belta and Premio, which have smaller engine capacities.

I also find that the rmp indicator goes up to five for the car to swiftly overtake cars with lower engine capacity. My questions, thus, are as follows:

1. Why is it that some smaller engines can pick up speed fast enough to match bigger engines without much struggle (Caldina versus Belta/1.5 Premio)?

2. What indicators are there to check in a car if I want to know how fast it can pick up speed, e.g time it takes to hit a speed of 100km/hour?

3. Which car brands are best in picking up speed fast without revving too much and without screaming/sounding too heavy? Are Toyota’s comparable with Hondas or Nissan or Subaru on this one?

4. Which one is best among Caldina, Nissan Tienna, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, and Mazda Premacy in terms of acceleration, comfort, ease of handling, consumption, durability, and reliability on rough grounds?
Samson

Yours is a strange email, I will admit. Anyway, let us clarify something here: Have you heard an old Range Rover 4.6 (I guess this must be the P38A) try to clock 100 km/hour from rest in five seconds?

Of course it won’t make it, but that is what we call a full-bore standing start. From a 4.6 litre Rover V8 engine, it is raucous with it. If your Caldina sounds even remotely like that, you need to discard it.

Also, when you say at 5,000 rmp is when the “go” really comes in, that is not strange at all. It is called top-end power. Wait until you get to about 6,000 rpm then the VVT-i starts working.

Now to your questions: Smaller engines would “pick” faster than larger ones simply because they are generally found in smaller, lighter cars. So, they have less of a load to pull around.

However, I strongly suspect your Caldina is not in good working order if a Belta gets the better of it.

The indicators to check in a car to get a rough idea of how quickly it will get to 100 km/h include forced induction (turbochargers and superchargers) and engine capacity (bigger engines make cars go faster).

However, these are only for rough guesstimates and speculative comparisons. They are not scientific. To get the exact idea of how long a car will take from 0 – 100 km/h, you need the car in question and a bystander with a stopwatch.
The cars that pull hardest with the least amount of noise are of course German, especially the high end models – Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, more so the luxury barges, the S Class, 7 Series and A8, fitted with V8, V12 or W12 (Audi) engines of roughly 5.0 – 6.0 litres.

They will pull like nobody’s business and you won’t even hear them do it. You could throw the Lexus LS460 in there too. It is a taciturn one, this one…

Clearly Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas do not play in this league. A Toyota Corolla will cost what, about Sh3 million or less, brand new. The new S Class Mercedes starts at Sh18 million, and prices go up from there. We are comparing apples to dry leaves here.

Your final question is the least sensible, to be honest. First, you need to specify which model you refer to. Cars like the Subaru Legacy start from the 160hp 1.8 litre naturally aspirated version to the 2.0 turbo STi with almost 300hp (almost twice the power of its stablemate).

Clearly, they won’t “pick” in the same manner. So the Legacy Turbo accelerates hardest, the Teana is most comfortable. Handling is a wrangle between the Honda Accord and the Legacy.

Consumption goes to the Accord (again) as does reliability with which it ties with the Caldina. Durability will depend on how many times you hold these “picking” competitions of yours.

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Greetings JM,

1. On June 16, there was a feature in the DN2, about a man who had driven all the way from Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro. I hope you read it. One word for the man: Respect. Two words for the Toyota Land Cruiser 1997 VX: Enough respect.

Toyota Land Cruisers just do not give up, do they? They are the real giants on the roads; 42,000kms is some serious mileage.Anyway, methinks a Land Rover Defender 110 TDI, the older version, would have done an equally fantastic job.

The new ones with JLR engines have too many electronic controls. I don’t think they were meant to handle seriously tough conditions, but I stand to be corrected.

Also, any Toyota Land Cruiser of the J70 series, preferably a 4.5 litre V8 turbo-diesel, would have been just fine. Could I be wrong? The real giants are really few, and at this juncture, I just ran out of them.

2. There is this 2005 Toyota Prado with a D-4D engine type on automatic transmission. It put us through some really hard time last year.

Apparently, it had a problem with the gearbox, which made its diaphragm (separates the engine from the gearbox) develop serious problems. Eventually, the diaphragm had to be replaced.

It was so hectic, bearing in mind that it was just three months after the vehicle had been purchased. Not even our good old friends at Toyota Kenya could come close to deciphering the problem, let alone find the solution.

Could it have been the gearbox oil level that had gone below minimum and causing all the problem, or was that a manufacturing defect? It was the first time I encountered sucha thing.

3. I wonder, how is the high-pressure direct injection, which I see in Peugeots, different from the VVT-i, EFi or the D-4?
RM

Hello,
1. No, I didn’t see that feature. Despite the fact that I write in DN2, I am not really a fan of newspapers. That was quite a feat the Land Cruiser-driving man achieved.

A small correction though: he didn’t drive “all the way”, did he? There are oceans (or at least one) between here and Rio.

About the Land Rover. The bad reputation surrounding their poor reliability did not start with the latest electronically empowered versions. The old cars are to blame, particularly the early diesel versions. They were terrible.

They did not accelerate at all, they sounded like three extra-hardened tortoise shells being shaken vigorously inside a metallic dustbin. Their cabins were structurally unsound to the point that they let the weather in.

If the said weather was inclement, they rusted rapidly and broke down even more rapidly. Their ruggedness was their one redeeming quality.

Doing 42,000km in one would be a condemnation, not an adventure; but this would of course mean you really complete the 42,000km in the first place.

The petrol engines were a much better option, and I guess these would be the more appropriate choice. Then again, you could always get a Land Cruiser and do the trip worry-free.

The new versions have a lot of electronics, but it’s not the electronics taking the abuse of harsh terrain, is it? It’s the tyres and suspension (and sometimes the bodywork too).

These electronics just make life more bearable in them. Trust me, the new Defenders are just as capable (if not more) than the “Landys” of yore.

2. Diaphragm? Are you talking about the clutch/torque converter by any chance? I cannot tell for sure what would have led to these problems.

3. This is, or rather, these are topics I have covered in detail before. Explaining them calls for a 3,000-word essay, defining and detailing why and how each is completely different from the others.

Posted on

Still waiting for the Mobius; and yes, the Terios Kid can go uphill. Duh!

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your helpful advice. It is most appreciated. I read with interest the release of the Mobius, a Kenyan-made vehicle that is due to be launched in June. I would really like to hear your opinion on it. Joseph.

Hello sir,

I first heard of the Mobius almost four years ago, when this column was still new. Since then it has been nothing but on-and-off mentions here and there, random tweets “recommending” that I drive one… I believe at one point I even received an email from Mobius Motors itself, which was never followed up. At another point one of my editors asked me what I thought of the car and if I wanted to try it out (of course! I’m very curious). These discussions, however, never strayed outside the electronic realm of Safaricom, G-Mail, and Twitter. I have not test-driven the Mobius; heck, I have not even SEEN one yet.

Dear Baraza,

You are doing an excellent job in Car Clinic. My wife and I are in the Subie (Subaru) camp. She was asking me about understeer the other day and I knew immediately she had read your article on Mitsubishi Evo vs Subaru WRX STi. I did some quick reading on the Mitsubishi’s active differentials — A-AWC, SAYC — that enable the Evo to grip and corner better than way pricier super cars.

I would like to know, is this technology patented by Mitsubishi only? How come the likes of Nissan GT-R and Subaru STi have not borrowed a leaf from it? Also, what production cars have technology akin to these active differentials? I still love my STi but if they do not style up and give us active diffs, that Evo X is very tempting.

Tom.

Hello Tom,

Shockingly, I am still alive after the things I have written (and said) about the Subaru STi-Mitsubishi Evo standoffs. I half-expected to have a dent in the shape of a certain blue oval somewhere on my skull by now.

I am not sure if Mitsubishi’s particular drivetrain hardware-software is patented (it must be), but electronic diffs are not limited to the Evo. Even Lamborghinis and Ferraris have electronic diffs, as does the new WRX STi, which, I must repeat, is a doppelganger of the Lancer Evo X (“Copy Me To Survive”, I once read on a Mombasa-bound bus).

The GTR uses a very elaborate form of torque vectoring. The execution might be different but the result is the same: Twist is channeled to the tyres with most grip, depending on the vehicle attitude within a corner — angle of attack, throttle position, and whether or not the tyres are sliding.

Join us in the world of the three diamonds. These are high-precision scalpels designed specifically to excise blue oval stains off the landscape. Yea, I said it; now I have to hide again because I am sure I hear “the throb of a turbocharged flat four engine, a sound which all over the world heralds the imminent arrival of a (insert epithet here).

Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you on the very interesting way you write your articles. Although this email is a week late, I still thought it worth sending. I read your column the other day and was amused by the sarcasm, poetry, and conversational way in which you write.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly entertained. As a woman, I find most motoring articles bland and incomprehensible to the layman (or woman in this case).

I look forward to enjoying more of your articles with the side benefit of learning about cars (yes, I think that highly of them). You truly are in the league of Top Gear, which I also enjoy. Keep up the excellent job. Eva.

High praise indeed, Eva. I am in the habit of quoting or referencing Top Gear UK. However, I would not say I am quite in their league, but I hope to get there someday. I am glad you enjoy my writing and I will be sure to keep it coming as long as there is breath in my chest and electricity in my nerves.

Hi Baraza,Can the Daihatsu Terios Kid go uphill? I have seen the Suzuki Omni 800cc struggle up a hill and wondered how the Kid operates. How fast can it go? Can I carry my family of four plus a sack of potatoes to visit my shags in Kinangop? And will it pull out of the mud in Kinangop, given that it is a 4WD?

Eric.

Interesting observation. The Terios Kid you mention can go up a hill even if it means using first gear and giving it the beans — and kicking the clutch to keep the revs up the whole time — to claw your way up the incline.

You do, however, mention a family of four AND a sack of potatoes, which presents a new set of difficulties: How steep are the hills you intend to overcome? With 660cc, things do not look too promising.

However, this tax-dodge 660cc three-pot mill is turbocharged (and sometimes with intercooler) to give 59-63HP (the horsepower variance is determined by boost pressure in the turbo and the presence of an intercooler), which in a car of that size is not too bad, relatively speaking. It just may make it up the hill. To improve your chances, keep the potatoes few and/or the sack small.

The car will also pull itself out of the mud. Deftness behind the wheel and low severity of the muddy conditions will be to your advantage, but first off-load your passengers and potatoes should you get properly mired in the clag and need to liberate your Kid without too much hassle.

Hi Baraza1) Have you evaluated these cars called D4D? Sometime back I wrote to you about their brake shoes wearing out quickly compared to other Toyotas working in the same conditions.

We have two D4D double-cabins that are not more than two years old and not more than 10,000km each. They are both leaking the steering fluid, the seal on the steering rack is gone, as is the one on the pump. We have other Toyotas with more kilometres on the odometer but they are okay. Are these D4Ds a problem?

Rwihura Mutatina.

Hello Mutatina,

I know about D4D. It is not a specific car; it is actually a type of engine. The D4D stands for Direct Injection, 4-stroke cycle Diesel engine. Therefore, when you say they wear out their brake shoes rapidly, what does this have to do with the engine? Do the drivers do burnouts in them? (Hold the brakes and then rev the nuts off the engine in first gear).

This also applies to the seals in the steering system. The intrinsic operations of any direct injection engine, or 4-stroke, or even diesel, have no effect on the seals of the steering rack AT all. This is what I think the problem is: Either the parts being used are low quality (someone might be skimming your maintenance kitty at the expense of reliability) which would correctly explain both circumstances.

The brake issue could also be explained away by poor driving habits, such as riding the brakes or frequent and constant hard braking.

I would also have ventured that initial build quality could be a contributing factor, but this is the Toyota Hilux, the Indestructible; surely if a car is built so tough that it can drive to the North Pole and back, matters like power steering pump seals and racks would never be a problem, would they? Check the affected parts and ascertain if they are as recommended by the manufacturer and not substandard. Vet your drivers also.

Hello Baraza,

I am a motorbike fanatic (not the Boxer things) and a stunts expert for the same. My concern at the moment is that I have had this childhood dream of owning a convertible car, so I would like to one day buy either a Toyota Mark II or the Nissan Bluebird old model (both have stretch bodies and frame-less doors like the Subaru’s). I will then cut off the top and fix a frame to support a canvas top and thus create a cheap and unique convertible.

My question is, is this possible in Kenya, and will Toyota or Nissan sue me if I give the car a name of my choice? Will it be legal to drive on the roads with such a contraption?

Geekson.

That is an ambitious plan you have there, Geekson, but it is inherently flawed and your biggest hurdle is a little thing we call structural rigidity: The stiffness of the shell. Once you lope off the roof, a large percentage of this structural rigidity is ceded in your quest for open-top hedonism and you will find that your “new” convertible is terrible to drive… and very unsafe.

There will be a noticeable jiggle about the hips (that is what it feels like) as physics tries to impose its will on you, especially at a corner. The roof and floor bind the A, B, and C pillars, creating a rigid cage that is the passenger safety cell, which is in turn flanked by weighty components: The engine and front axle to one side and the rear sub-frame on the other. With the roof missing, only the floor holds these two flanks together. Your car will start to move its body like a snake, man.

The body will twist and flex on all three axes of the three-dimensional space. The X-axis twist will be across the car’s centre-line, or along the vehicle track (from the port side to the starboard side) to the point where your passenger may be a few millimetres above or below you because the car is no longer level.

There will also be a Y-axis twist, when the engine weighs down the front, the rear sub-frame weighs down the back and the floor thus bends or warps, unable to support these two masses by itself.

Going over a bump will aggravate this. Lastly is the Z-axis flex, or lateral twist. Turn right and the front of the car goes right. Since the rear is not attached properly to the rest of the car, the floor will bend a little as it tries to force the rear to stay in line and turn right also. This is what you will feel as “wiggling” or jiggling of the hips.

Keep this up and eventually your car will break into two, most likely somewhere on or near where the B-pillar is. There is a way around this, and that way involves the use of strengthening materials along the floor and door frames of the car, but then you say your candidates have no door frames, so you can see the scope of your difficulty.

There is another way out: Go targa. A targa top is an open top, but not a full convertible. Part of the roof is taken away but a strip/bar/pillar is left running the length of the safety cell connecting the front and rear windscreens. In fact, most targa tops have the roof over the driver’s and passenger’s heads carefully carved out and the rest left intact. Rear seat passengers do not get to enjoy the sunlight (or subsequent rain).

I do mean carefully carved out, because the roof over THE SPACE between the driver and passenger is left intact also and it is this strip of metal that forms the last bastion in support of structural rigidity.

Lose this strip and you might as well just throw the entire roof away (same difference). The result is an H shape, where the two vertical bars of the H are the front windscreen and the roof edge at the B-pillar and the cross-bar is the strip I am talking about. I hope you can visualise it. The Porsche 911 and Nissan 300ZX have targa top models.

An alternative to the targa top is the landau, where the back seat passengers get to bask but the driver does not. Sort of inverse targa. Common landau cars are the Mercedes-Benz 600 Größer Landau and some early custom versions of the Maybach.

Posted on

The Surf slightly edges out the Pajero and RAV4

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for your advice on motoring.

Could you kindly take your time to help me decide on what is the best vehicle in relation to the issues I state below?

1. Infrequent travel on the rough roads of areas like Marsabit, Turkana, and the coastal region.

2. Going to work in town.

The vehicle should be able to tackle rough roads with potholes and other rough road conditions, be fuel efficient and comfortable, have good ground clearance and strong suspension, and be affordable.

The vehicles I have in mind are the Honda CRV, Mitsubishi Pajero (SWB or LWB), Toyota Hilux Surf, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Vitara, Toyota RAV4, Land Rover Discovery, and any other you may suggest.

Regards,

Livingstone T.

Livingstone, the Land Rover Discovery does not tick the ‘affordable’ box on this list, but it more or less covers the rest. Watch out on the “strong suspension” aspect also; the air suspension on the Discovery 3 is very leaky and someone once told me that replacement costs Sh300,000 per corner… and you have to fix all four corners because they are all linked in a car with air suspension.

Since you say those off-road excursions are infrequent, this is a risk you can take if you can afford the car to begin with.

Toyota’s RAV4 fails on the ground clearance and strong suspension aspects. It neither hugs the ground, nor is its suspension built out of spaghetti; it is just that this list also includes the Mitsubishi Pajero, Land Rover Discovery, Toyota Surf, and the Suzuki Vitara.

The RAV4’s shortcomings similarly plague the Subaru Forester and the Honda CRV. Comfort, efficiency, and affordability are well covered by these crossovers (for the Suzuki Vitara, comfort is a bit lower than in the other three).

Having eliminated the Land Rover Discovery and three of the four crossovers (the Suzuki Vitara just barely crosses the line into the next elimination stage due to comfort), we are left with the Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, and Suzuki Vitara.The little Suzuki is the cheapest, so we could call it the most affordable. Diesel-powered versions are not very common, and the petrol engines are 2.0, 2.4, and 2.7.

The 2.7 is best but it compromises on fuel economy. Also, much as it has ground clearance and strong suspension, it is eclipsed by the Mitsubishi and the Toyota; it just cannot compare. So it falls by the wayside in third position.

The Surf and the Pajero are not very different, except that the Pajero is a bit more upmarket and, therefore, more expensive. It is also more comfortable, but by an almost imperceptible margin. The Surf will go anywhere the Pajero does. Since the disparity in cost is not proportional to the disparity in comfort, we have a winner.

The Toyota Surf.

My suggestion? Get a Defender 110, in white. The latest version has a 2.2 litre turbo-diesel engine, so it is very economical. It will go anywhere (which Defender cannot)?

It is not very expensive compared to brand-new versions of all these other vehicles (ignore the little crossovers, they failed our test quite early in the game). Ground clearance like that was last seen on a giraffe.

The suspension is strong, but it is well optimised, making the new Defender actually hospitable to be in (Defenders of old had the ride quality of Fred Flintstone’s car). Check, check, check, and check.

The added bonus is that your car is unlikely to be stolen. There is a reason I specified a white one… wink, wink!

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Hi Baraza,

I love your articles; they are very informative and helpful.

However, I beg to differ on the advice you gave on February 6 regarding car resale value. If someone buys the Nissan at, say, Sh250,000 and its re-sale value is Sh100,000, is it not the same as someone investing Sh800,000 in a Toyota whose re-sale value is Sh600,000?

You have also mentioned that you do not understand why some cars are overrated in this market. Do you not think that the extra amount tied in a car can be used in income-generating activities? After all, only good maintenance and care ensures that you get from point A to point B, regardless of the make.

What say ye? On that note, I want to buy a KIA Sportage. It is beautiful. Any advice? Fuel consumption and availability of parts is not an issue.

Regards,

BO

I see you suffer from an affliction I once suffered from too: excessive number crunching. The figures you give there are true in percentage terms or ratios, but not in the real world. In one case, the owner loses Sh150,000. In the other he loses Sh200,000. That is not the same, irrespective of the numbers involved. This is one of the reasons why very expensive cars depreciate badly.

This is what I mean by the real world. You have a salary of Sh100,000, the Bible says to submit a tenth of that to God. So you have to part with Sh10,000. Depending on how devout you are, that is something you can live with.

Now, here is a shrewd business man with earnings of close to Sh100 million a month. He is not going to give up Sh10 million, no matter how devout he is, because Sh10 million is a lot of money, although in both cases it is 10 per cent of the principal sum.

If I have a sit-down with a friend and I tell him about how I lost Sh150,000 on a B12 and he tells me how he lost Sh200,000 on a Vista, I will not care about percentages. I will laugh at him because at the end of the day, he has lost more money than I did.

The KIA Sportage is a good RAV4 alternative, and friendlier to the pocket. We also have a KIA dealership, and KIA are world-famous for giving ridiculously generous warranties, so you will be in a good place in life if you get one. And, as you say, the car is beautiful.

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Dear Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column. Keep up the good work. I have developed a liking for the Jaguar X and would like to own one. Kindly advise me on:

1. Availability and affordability of spare parts.

2.Its performance off-road and on-road.

3. Its fuel economy.

Thank you,

Anthony.

Availability of spares: Questionable outside of the Internet. However, affordability should not be too much of a worry, under the skin of that Jaguar you are swooning over is actually a Ford, a mid-range Mondeo saloon.

Performance on-road: Very Ford-like. Which means it is very un-Jaguar-ish. Not as fast as a real Jag. But while Ford-like, it is just a mite better than the Mondeo saloon lurking in its genes.

Off-road performance: That you can dare ask me this tells me maybe you are not as regular a reader of my column as you claim to be. Several times I have asked my readers not to use cars on tasks for which they were not designed. The X-Type is poor off-road. But the 4WD version is good on ice, which is irrelevant.

Fuel economy: A diesel-powered X Type will do 18kpl without breaking a sweat. A V6-engined 3.0 petrol X Type will dip below 5kpl if you drive in such a way as to make your passengers break into a sweat. The middle positioned 2.5 litre and 2.0 litre petrol engines should do about 11kpl and 13kpl respectively.

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Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your ever-refreshing motoring advice. Your column’s value to us motoring novices in Kenya is truly ineffable.

Now, I am looking to buy an MPV for ferrying my family around town and I am totally confused on which is best. I am torn between the Toyota Wish, Toyota Estima, Mazda Premacy, Toyota Avanza, and Toyota Ipsum. Kindly compare their build quality, light off-roading ability, fuel consumption, parts availability, and resale value (in around five to seven years).

Most importantly, can I get any of these cars in manual transmission? I absolutely hate automatic cars and would only buy one if there was no other option.

Regards,

Kevin.

Build quality: The Mazda Premacy is incredibly well-built.

Light off-roading ability: The Avanza is better than the rest, which are equal in their uselessness in this area.

Fuel consumption: Again, the Avanza. It is the only one available here with a 1.5 litre engine with VVT-i. The rest have 1.8 litre-plus engines and are big vans. The Avanza is thin and small.

Parts availability: If you cannot find parts for your car, use Google. Or your friends.

Resale value (in around five to seven years) is hard to tell. But the Mazda and Estima/Previa seem to hold their values better, more so the Toyota.

Manual transmission: Yes, the Avanza and the Previa are available with manual transmissions, but the Previa is UK-spec only. Otherwise… live with an automatic.

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Dear Baraza,

Thanks for your very informative articles. The information has really been helpful. I drive an automatic Toyota Wish. When driving to and from Mombasa I find myself hitting 140km/hr. I usually prefer a steady 120 km/hour.

When I notice this, instead of braking, I usually engage the free gear (neutral) and let the car slow down. A friend noticed this and told me applying free gear (neutral) destroys the gears while another friend tells me it lets the engine rest. My queries;

a) Does engaging the neutral gear allow the engine to rest ?

b) Does it destroy the gears, as my friend claims?

c) Does it save on fuel?

d) What would be any advantages and disadvantages of engaging the neutral gear?

Thanks in advance,

Antony Ng’ang’a.

a) No. Does the engine need to rest? Is it a living organism? With adequate fuel, lubrication, and cooling, an engine will run endlessly; it does not need to ‘rest’.

b) Only if re-engaging the gears is done improperly. This is why I always speak against driving in neutral. It is also a bit hard on the clutch, especially if no rev-matching occurs.

c) No, not really. Not as much as intelligent driving (driving in neutral to save fuel is not classified as intelligent driving, unless in desperate situations where the engine is off).

d) Advantages: you get to enjoy the feeling of “free-fall” when going downhill. Also, if done with plenty of forethought, driving in neutral will save fuel (this involves the engine being cut off).

Disadvantages: the risk of damaging your transmission is very real. Also, it does not save as much fuel as people think (if you drive with your engine off you ought to be shot).

Do not do it. I once did an article in the newspaper back in 2010, and you can read it here:http://www.autotalk.co.ke/neutral-is-it-overrated-as-a-gear/

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Hi,

Your article on fuel saving devices a few weeks back was spot on. I would like to get your opinion on a number of issues:

1. Is it illegal not to have a spare wheel for your car in Kenya?

2. If it is illegal, don’t you think we should have a clause exempting vehicles with run-flat tires like Toyota RAV4 sports and BMW X3 from having the spare wheel because, with such cars, the spare wheel is of no use?

3. Is it illegal for car dealers selling cars, whether imported second-hand or new, to sell cars without spare wheels in Kenya?

1. I am not sure, but it should be if it isn’t. Last week I promised one of my readers I will read the Traffic Act nicely and clear the air on what is what. I am yet to get a copy, the elections have everybody on edge and all I am getting is a curt “Wait!” from relevant sources. Watch this space though.

In addition, I was once stopped by traffic policemen who wanted to see my spare (the Starlet EP82 I mentioned once or twice before had just gotten into my hands), only for him to discover that the tyre and the rim were two separate entities. He asked what I would do in case I got a flat. I told him something about prayers, moving mountains and the power of positive thinking. He let me go.

Less than an hour later I got a puncture. To add to the irony, the rubber got shredded by the rim so that now I had TWO wheels whose tyres and rims were separate: the flat and the spare.

I have never been so stranded in my life (this was in Timboroa, at night). I have also never been so cold. I have also never been so happy to see a village mechanic (he oversaw the marriage ceremony between the rim and tyre of my spare).

2. Ah, but you see, run-flat tyres are not spares. There is a limit to how far and how fast you can go on a run-flat tyre. Typically its 80km and 80 km/h respectively. The faster you go, the less the distance it will stay put.

Then what? If you are far from civilisation, you will start thinking about prayers, moving mountains and the power of positive thinking to avoid panicking; then you will wish you had a spare and not a stupid run-flat.

3. It is not illegal, but there should be disclosure. I know abroad that is how it is: anyone selling a car is required to fully disclose any underlying defects or deficiencies so that the new owner does not break the law by proxy.

If you are sold a car, and the law requires you have a spare, a warning triangle and a fire extinguisher, it is uncouth for the seller not to advise you to get these things if they are missing from the car, otherwise you have no defence when stopped by the upholders of the law and you have none of them.

Some people (like me) buy a car and immediately drive long distances, provided there is oil in the engine and fuel in the tank. The seller should let you know that you need to acquire such and such.

This also applies to mechanical aspects. You may buy a car with worn suspension and understeer through the first roundabout you come across, wrecking your car.

Posted on

Don’t drive in Neutral gear, it makes no sense at all

Hello Braza,

Thank you very much for your advice on tyre size. It worked perfectly. I have one other question. Somebody advised me to be changing my gear selection to N (Neutral) when going downhill in order to save fuel. Is this true?

Does it have any adverse effect on the vehicle, especially when I change from D to N and vice-versa when the vehicle is in motion?

Please help, and God bless you.

Lisa

Don’t do it, Lisa. There may not be an “adverse effect” per se, but it is risky in that you may bump the lever into R instead of D when going out of N, though this is heavily dependent on the design of the car in question.

Also, it is self-defeating, in that most of the time before going into N most people accelerate hard in D (or whatever gear for a manual transmission) to gain the momentum they think they are preserving in neutral.

If you want to save fuel, drive like this: accelerate gently, but not so slowly as to be a nuisance to me when I come up behind you in a powerful car. Do it within reason.

As a driver, use your discretion as to what “within reason” means. Don’t crawl like an old woman.

Also, don’t stomp the accelerator to the bulk-head, unless under special circumstances… like when stuck at a railway crossing and a freight train is bearing down on you, but this is an unlikely occurrence. We don’t have freight trains any more.

Avoid braking as much as possible, but again within reason. I once said that to someone who offered to drive me from point A to point B, then the joker proceeded to drive into a crowd of people saying “Baraza said not to brake”.

Were it not for the cat-like reactions of the subsequently insanely furious bystanders, there might have been some injuries. No, no, no: brake when necessary, but only when necessary. This is because braking wastes precious energy in the form of momentum, which energy was expended getting up to speed.

Try this: rather than braking hard, try and lose speed with the throttle closed (foot off the accelerator) first, then when you have lost enough momentum and are ready to stop (or the car ahead of you is REALLY close now)… stop.

When going downhill, instead of going into N, simply take your foot off the accelerator. Gravity will still pull your car downhill, so you won’t stop. The compression in the engine will create a retardation effect, so you won’t have to keep braking to prevent your car from behaving like a runaway bicycle. And with modern engines, once the sensors tell that there is no load on the engine, fuel is cut off completely, so you use zero fuel. In neutral, some fuel is used for idling. Which is better?

Economy driving at first seemed fairly obvious to me, but over the nearly-three years of doing this column I have come to realise it is more of an art: not everybody understands it, not everybody can do it, or knows when to do it.

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Dear Baraza,

I have been driving a 1990 Nissan Primera (1838cc) for the past five years. The car has given me no problems at all — until recently, when it started emitting black smoke and guzzling petrol such that I had to ground it. My questions are:

1. What might be the problem, and what is the solution?

2. If I were to replace the engine with a second-hand 1500cc or 1600cc EFI or VVTI one from, which one would you recommend, and how much should I expect to pay for it?

3. What are the things that a layman should look out for when buying a replacement engine?

Luvembe

1. Your car is running rich, very rich, and these are the probable causes: Oxygen sensors, a leak in the intake or exhaust before the oxygen sensors, cracked or disconnected vacuum hoses, faulty fuel system, and clogged fuel lines, among others. The best way to determine the cause is to get an OBD (On Board Diagnostics) scanner that gives you feedback in real time.

2. Be specific. Almost all engines nowadays are EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection), and have some form of variable valve timing. My recommendation would be to buy an engine from that model range (Primera), but newer. It will be easier to install than trying to shoe-horn a Toyota engine into a Nissan engine bay.

3. You can’t. That is why it is advisable you have a reliable and trustworthy mechanic who can help you with such analyses. Either that or someone who knows his way around a car engine. Even I sometimes have to seek help from some of my friends on some matters.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been reading your articles for some time now and I must say I find them interesting.

I would like you to do some research on the Kenyan Traffic Act because I feel police officers have been making their own laws. For instance, who said driving without a driving licence in your car amounts to an offence?

The offence should only apply to those who have never been issued with a driving licence, not those who do not carry it around in person. If you have a licence but have not carried it with you, the law is specific that you should be allowed to produce it within 24 hours at the nearest police station. A lot of drivers continue to be harassed on the road simply because they do not know the provisions of the law.

Finally, I seek your advice on an unrelated matter. Which is the most ideal car to drive between an automatic and a manual one?

Thanks,

Peter Wachira.

I will study the Traffic Act (the full Act, not just the recent Amendments) and do something thorough about it. In the meantime, let me ask you this: if you get into an argument with a traffic policeman, who do you think will win?

If stopped at a road-block and you show signs of being hard-headed (kichwa ngumu) or extremely knowledgeable (mjuaji sana), your day will not go well, I assure you. Most of the time when the police stop you it will be for a legitimate reason. If not, then it is just to let you know that they are watching.

If you start getting argumentative, you are letting them know that you have plenty of time on your hands, and they will help you to occupy this time. Traffic policemen are experts at using time up.

On the second issue: manual or auto. Which one do you prefer? That is the better one. One man’s preferred gearbox could be another man’s accident-in-waiting.

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Dear Baraza,

Please tell me what, in engine sizes and configurations, does the number of valves in an engine mean? I have an example below to illustrate this:

How different is a 2006 6V 2.7-litre Hyundai Tuscon (JM-Japanese version) from a 2007 Toyota Rav-4 with 16V 2.4-litre, VVT-i engine? In terms of maintenance, is there anything peculiar these vehicles require regarding service intervals and requirements, given the different engine configurations?

Many thanks,

Josh.

The number of valves, simply, is the number of valves. There are two types in an engine, according to function: inlet and exhaust. The inlet valves open to allow air into the cylinders. All valves are closed during the compression and power strokes, then the exhaust valves open for the burnt air to be scavenged from the cylinders.

In a nut-shell, the higher the number of valves, the better the engine ‘breathes’ — takes in fresh air and expels exhaust. Still, there are several key constraints, one of which is cylinder head design and the increase in number of moving parts (increases friction and rotating inertia moments of the new masses). So sometimes instead of having many valves it might be better to make the few bigger.

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Hello Baraza,

Your article on hydro cars was a thriller. I’d like to share what seems like a rare find. I read about a Swiss inventor who’s patented square pistons for reciprocating engines… with reason.

Yes, you heard me right. They’re true squares, viewed from top. The square profile enables the piston to tilt with the rod on strokes, eliminating the gudgeon pin. A lighter reciprocating assembly is created by directly welding the piston to the rod or by forging one compact assembly.

Reciprocating masses reduced mean a harder revving, more powerful engine. I did a paper model of it and found it true. It can work. The problem was designing rings that can seal the wide cavities arising. You may consider getting a paper model of it from me absolutely FREE (I’m gifted in craft!) to see how true this is if you haven’t come across it.

I’ve since tried to look for it on the Internet in vain. But I’m not complaining; even more ambitious engine projects like Kauertz are in books but not online.

Lawrence Mutisya.

The problem with square pistons is that the corners create problems. This is how:

1. Lines of weakness. The high pressures and extreme stress caused by combustion will weaken the engine block along those corners first.

This is also the reason why water and fuel tankers have cylindrical containers rather than the cuboids used to transport TVs and other stuff.

The weight of the water will act on the edges first and weaken the structure. A round container has no definite stress point, so pressure is distributed evenly all over

2. The corners look like potential ‘hot spots’, places where pockets of heat form and these could cause detonation and or pre-ignition.

3. As you mentioned: sealing the corner gaps will not be easy.

4. The rotary engine, though clever, never really managed to oust the reciprocating engine. Lack of torque, high fuel consumption, high oil consumption and frequent replacement of rotor tips made them impractical. Mazda struggled to keep the rotary engine alive with the RX-8 sports car but even they had to give it up as a lost cause.

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Dear Baraza,

I work in Rift Valley and reside in Nairobi’s Eastlands. I have an automatic Toyota Fielder X, 1500cc that has proved very reliable. My only problem with it is that, when it rains, I get stuck all over the place, even on flat surfaces.

I am now thinking of replacing it with a good family car with adequate space for cargo. Which, among, the following, would you recommend: Toyota Noah/Voxy, ‘Nissan E-Trail’, Subaru Forester or Honda CRV? Fuel economy is of utmost importance to me, as is automatic transmission.

Thanks,

Zacheus Karimi.

Cargo Space: There is a five-seat option on the Voxy (two rows of seats instead of three), which leaves an entire warehouse of space where typically the other passenger bench would be. That particular configuration leaves the cross-over cars biting the dust in terms of capacious cargo holds. I don’t even want or need to give figures as proof; it is so obvious.

The Nissan X-trail comes second with 603 litres of space with the rear seats up and 1,773 litres with the seats down. This, however, you did not ask about, which leads me to ask a question of my own: what is a Nissan E-Trail?

The Subaru Forester comes at last place, with 450 litres if you don’t drop the rear seats and 1,660 litres if you do. The Honda CRV, according to my research, was quoted in cubic feet: 37.2 with the seats up and 70.9 with them down.

Further research resulted in this being an astonishing (and frankly unbelievable) 1,053.4 litres with the seats up and 2,008 litres with them down. This places it second, especially if you also remove the middle row of seats in the Voxy. It then turns into a pickup. (All figures quoted are for the latest versions of these cars. Next time be more specific about vintage).

Automatic transmissions: All these vehicles have them. The Subaru and the Nissan X-trail also have CVT options, which I’d encourage you to explore, if only to get more people into the world of CVT. I don’t know about the Nissan E-Trail (if such a thing even exists).

Again, these vehicles have some form or other of 4WD, which some would call AWD (Subaru). It is always on in the five-star Fuji product (stars on the logo, not its overall ranking), the Nissan X-Trail has deselectable 4WD via an electronic system (which turns it into a FWD), the CRV is predominantly front-drive until grip runs out fore then power is sent aft (an adaptive system, you could call it), while the drivetrain configuration of the Nissan E-Trail is unknown because the vehicle itself is unknown.

Fuel economy: All these cars rank somewhere in the 9l/100km zone, which translates to about 11kpl. The van can be thirsty if provoked. A way into even better economy would be to acquire a Forester diesel with a manual gearbox (for the 2013 model such a thing does exist), but then again you say you want an automatic car, so… too bad. Also, Subaru Kenya does not sell diesel Foresters. Given Subaru’s past output, it is highly likely they have never even seen a diesel engine over there.

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Dear Baraza,

I have a Nissan Sunny, B15 2002 which is in a good condition. The problem with the car is that I cannot read the odometer clock because it only shows half the digits. When I start the car in the morning I can barely see the whole mileage, and, as the car warms up, the numbers fade off. What could be the problem?

Titus Musyoka

The problem is that your digital odometer read-out is on the fritz, which is just what you have told me. What you want to know are probable causes.

It is unlikely to be temperature-related because engine heat has to go through a veritable buffer zone before it gets to the odo’. That buffer zone has a plethora of insulators within it (insulator in this case is not necessarily the dressing on heat or electricity-bearing components, but rather is any material that does not conduct heat… or electricity.

The opposite of the word “conductor”, in other words). My guess is a loose connection somewhere. The vibrations from the running engine slowly work loose some tiny little wires that feed the digital read-out, so half of it gets blurry or disappears.

That is my best guess. Whether or not I am right is immaterial here: either way you will have to see an electrical expert to sort you out. It may require pushing a wire back in place, soldering it or maybe replacing the whole readout.