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Modern cars far outshine the classic Peugeot 404 or 504 you’re keen on

Hi Baraza,

I am torn between getting a classic Peugeot 404 and 504 station wagon for daily use.

I have driven modern cars, from SUVs to hatchbacks, but feel that the cars lack character.

When I was growing up, my father had a car that was treated like a family member; that does not happen nowadays. A car is just that — a car!

My research on the net has shown that there is not much difference between modern cars and the 404 and the 504 in regard to fuel consumption if the balancing/mixing is done correctly. Am I right?

Also advise on safety, speed, road handling, spare parts, comfort, etc. Which one would you advise me to get?

Ken

You are right, a sizeable percentage of modern cars lack character. Worse still, they are also quickly losing identity and all look the same.

About the “fuel balancing”, I would not go so far as to declare that there is no difference between 404/504 estates and modern cars.

To start with, what is this “fuel balancing” you refer to? Is it tweaking the carburettor to make the engine run a little bit lean?

If so, then you will also have to deal with loss in power, risk burnt valves and possibly misfiring, which could lead to other kinds of damage, up to and including, but not limited to, top-end (head) damage.

Is the “balancing” mixing petrol with other additives to increase economy?

If so, forget it, there is no such magic elixir that extracts extra mpgs and kpls from a litre of petrol out of the blue (this is a whole other discussion about octane ratings, so yes, such an elixir does exist but things are not exactly black and white here).

Unless you mean large-capacity, high-performance engines of today, then the answer is no, the 404/504s of yore (fitted with carburettors) will not return consumption figures as good as those of modern cars.

If anything, large-capacity, high-performance modern engines have very impressive economy figures when driven “normally”, two good examples being the 2014 Corvette C7 (6.0L V8 engine) and the Mercedes Benz CL65 AMG (6.0L twin-turbo V12 engine), both of which have manufacturer-claimed consumption figures of 30mpg (roughly 12-13 km/l), which is exactly what a Corolla Fielder will do and a 504 station wagon will not.

Most of the other aspects you enquire about are also poor by today’s standards.

Safety is terrible: there are no airbags, no ABS, no electronic driver aids.

The steel/chrome bumpers of both cars and the rounded headlamp fairings of the 404 ensure that the pedestrian had better stay away from the path of an approaching 404.

There are not any energy-absorbing crumple zones, no traction control, no stability control, and no seat belt pretensions… these cars are not safe, period.

Speed is nothing to write home about either: you might remember the days when we had Wepesi, Kukena, Crossroad Travellers and the like, but how long ago was that?

My 2006 Mazda Demio accelerates faster than those cars, and top speed… well, the 504s may have been able to clock 200 or more, but you would not want to do 200 km/h in a 504 with that motion-in-the-ocean suspension setting that was biased more for comfort than outright stability at high speed.

Speaking of suspension, let us deal with the last two traits: handling and comfort.

Handling may have been okay in the 504 saloon (with traces of understeer from the extremely soft suspension), but the lengthy 504 estate was weird when pushed hard.

I know; I tried. Turning hard, this is the order of events as they happen. First up is tremendous body roll. You would think that the car’s door handles will brush the tarmac at any moment.

If the shock absorbers are shot through, this might be as extreme as the tyre treads scraping away the lining of the wheel wells.

Next comes understeer. Feed in lock, feed in more lock, cross your forearms, and keep turning the wheel: all this leads to the car barrelling straight on, towards whatever obstacle might have necessitated the corner that is just about to be your undoing.

Braking only aggravates matters. You have to get your speed right if that understeer is not to end in a massive accident.

You are now midway into the corner and understeering. You will feel the vehicle bend in the middle as you turn, because 1. the 504 estate is very long and 2. structural rigidity is a well-known weak point of Peugeots in general, and 504s in particular.

The folding of the car about its midriff is worrisome; it is even more alarming than the understeer you are still fighting.

If you survive this, then now comes Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now that you were forcing the frame to warp through hard cornering, at one point the frame will want to straighten itself out.

The timing of this counter-action is most unfortunate, because it occurs at the moment when the vehicle stance is nose-down, back up.

This means that most of the weight is over the front wheels, leaving the rear with little or no grip at all.

Given that you were cornering hard, the normal oversteer typical of long cars is to be expected, but this oversteer is further exacerbated by the elastic rebound of the frame and the complete loss of grip at the back.

You will spin, and spin badly. Counter-steering does not really help, because 1. the steering rack is highly geared, requiring numerous turns from lock to lock and 2. Power steering was not available on all 504 models.

The best thing to do here is wait for the car to stop by itself. If it all goes belly up, you will then have a chance to discover the answer to your last question: 404/504 spares are hard to come by nowadays.

Dear Baraza,

I own a 2003 1.8cc Toyota Allion. I have experienced a strange phenomenon, about three times now.

When I am driving, the engine shuts down, all the lights on the dashboard — including the hazard lights— come on.

However, after a short while it comes on again or starts when I ignite it. What could be the problem?

I service the car even before its due date and this began about a week ago. I have had the car for two years.

Kindly assist since this might happen when I am speeding and the results could be disastrous.

Sam

This sounds exactly like a problem with an anti-theft device: the engine cutout. The symptoms are typical of when the cutout kicks in when running the car after failing to disengage it first.

What I really cannot explain is why it took years for it to become effective.

My guess is that the battery in the plipper (the part of the car key that you press to unlock the car doors and/or deactivate the alarm, if so equipped) could be running low, and that the cutout is part of the security system.

So, pressing the button might unlock the doors but the battery, being weak, might also fail to disengage the engine cutout.

As you drive along with the cutout still active, it gives you a small grace period, a sort of countdown, for you to disengage the cutout before the system assumes you are a thief who does not know where the cutout is and will thus impede your progress before you go too far.

This is just a theory, but it is the one I believe strongly in.

Have an electrician look at the vehicle, with emphasis on the ignition system. Let him trace a cutout.

If none exists, then he can go searching for other problems (which more likely than not, will still be electrical).

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column. I am a great fan of muscle cars.

Between the Mitsubishi Galant and the Subaru Impreza WRX sedan, which one is better in terms of performance?

Also, what is the difference between an SUV and an SAV?

Felix Kiprotich

Which Galant are you referring to? I can only assume that it is the VR4, because it is the most similar to the Impreza WRX.

The VR4 is faster. It has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, turbocharged and intercooled to 280hp, and this power is put down through a tiptronic-style semi-automatic gearbox.

The Impreza WRX is good for a “mere” 230hp (the latest model has to around 260-265, but there is no new Galant VR4, so we will compare age-mates here, old Galant vs old Impreza).

This makes the Galant superior. However, if you introduce the STi version of the Impreza WRX, the tables are turned and the STi dominates (it might have the same 280hp in one of its myriad iterations, but the packaging is smaller and lighter, offering better responses and performance).

An SUV is essentially what we used to call 4x4s: tall, high-riding, estate car look-alikes with some degree of off-road ability due to increased ground clearance, and maybe 4WD. Jeeps also fall under this category.

SAV is a class of vehicle that did not exist until BMW discovered that the automotive industry has some murky areas that could be taken advantage of, especially targeting the blissfully ignorant, who just so happened to have a lot of money.

Create an answer to a question nobody asked, imbue it with polarising and highly controversial looks, market it aggressively even before production starts, then sell it under a title that not even the most accomplished motoring journalist can explain convincingly: the Sports Activity Vehicle.

The premise looks good on paper. The top part is a sports car. The bottom part is (supposed to be) an off-roader. In the real world, this thing is a lumpen, high-priced trolley for ferrying privileged children from expansive homes to schools that other privileged children attend; an obese brat-mobile that does nothing convincingly, except seek attention.

It is neither a sports car nor an off-roader. Still, it sells so well that the original, the BMW X6, was later joined by 60 per cent of an X6, called an X4.

It sells so well that even that the most venerated of car makers, Mercedes Benz, has joined in the action with the recently announced GLA “sports activity vehicle”, a dead ringer for the BMW X6, save for the badge on the bonnet.

It makes a motoring writer want to pull his hair out, if he has any.

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The Land Cruiser ‘VX’ beats the Prado on many fronts

Dear Baraza,
I have always wanted to know, what is the difference between a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and a Toyota Land Cruiser VX based on the usual indicators, that is, on and off road prowess and stability, fuel consumption, availability of spares, purchase price, luggage room, comfort, and so on? Is the Toyota Fortuner and Kluger in the same class?

Mwenda

It is good to be specific, as in really specific, because the Prado also has a VX spec within its range. As does the RAV4. But by VX I take it you mean the full-size SUV flagship (the 100 or the current 200?)

On road: Both the 100 and 200 Series Land Cruisers are so much more stable on road than the Prado (all models from J90 to the current J150 have been wobbly and bouncy with a tendency to head for the bushes or lean dangerously with every small lapse of driver attention).

The VX, with its bigger engine, will also outrun the Prado by a very good margin.

Off-road: The Prado will venture further out owing to its more compact dimensions. The shorter overhangs and smaller wheelbase mean it can conquer obstacles more extreme than the 100/200 can handle. And it does have the full off-road kit and caboodle: low ranger gearbox, locking diffs and superior ground clearance.

Consumption: One has a 4.2-litre inline 6 turbo diesel, currently a 4.5 turbo diesel V8. The other has been hovering around the 3000cc 4-cylinder area since God was a boy. One is longer and wider and heavier than the other. I think the fuel economy argument is fairly obvious…

Availability of spares: Toyota were so concerned about readers repeatedly (and annoyingly) asking about spares and maintenance that they even opened another showroom in Westlands, which also doubles as a service centre.

How dare you question the availability of spares for one of the most popular and common Toyota models in the country today?

Purchase price: Really, you are asking me this? Between a Prado and a “VX” which one costs more? Honestly?

Luggage room: The “VX” has a bigger boot. If you are referring to human luggage, both will seat seven in comfort (for later models) or “relative” comfort for the earlier ones.

Comfort: Both are very comfortable, but if you are prone to motion sickness, the Prado will make you vomit like nobody’s business because of its marine-level pitching and wobble. Deep-sea sailors would be at home in one.

The Fortuner is one step below the Prado in this hierarchy, with the Kluger in turn looking up to the Fortuner. The “VX” occupies the top rank.

Baraza,

1. What factors should one consider when trying to make sure an old car (say a Peugeot 405 or 504) is as stable as possible, that is, apart from using a stiffer suspension, reduced ground clearance and low profile tyres?

2. What is the use of the front spoiler (the ones on the front bumpers, especially on Subaru’s) other than making the car look beautiful?

3. Apart from driving gently, is there anything one can do to reduce the fuel consumption of a carburettor car such as a Subaru Leone, or a Peugeot 405/504? Can one use the carburettor of a car with a smaller engine? Is this even possible?

1. Make sure the stiffer suspension is mounted or attached to a structurally sound vehicle body. There’s no point in having a fancy suspension system if the shocks are going to poke holes through the fenders. Reduction of ground clearance should also be done carefully: If you lower the front too much, the car will become nose heavy and understeer through corners, or even worse, oversteer at high speed turns due to lack of grip at the rear. If you lower the back too much, the front will suffer from vague and indirect steering, and a speed steering input could become compromised; not understeer exactly, but something very similar.

Finally, make sure the low profile tyres are well and evenly pumped with air. Varying pressures across and along axle lines will lead to wild and unpredictable cockroach-like darting on the road, especially under hard braking.

2. Spoilers create downforce and/or eliminate lift, the opposite of what an aircraft wing does. By pressing the front of the car downwards, cornering grip is improved, eliminating understeer and sharpening steering response. They also act as stabilisers at speed, along with the rear wing and diffuser where available.

3. You can use smaller carburettors but you will very quickly regret your decision. Lack of power does not even begin to describe the scope of your discomfort. I once told people that substituting the standard cylinder head for one of Honda’s CVCC units also works, but getting those heads is a bit of an issue. They were first used in 1975 and are unlikely to still be in existence. You could fashion one though, if you can get the schematics from somewhere, are good at crafts, have a smelter and a lathe at home and a lot of time on your hands.

Changing plugs and/or fuel pumps can also help, but they will create more problems than solve economy issues. You could switch the head to EFI, but you will find out in the process that it would have been a lot easier to just swap the whole engine.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Prado TZ and here are the issues I have had with it: 1. Since I purchased the car I have been experiencing brake disk jamming problems. I consulted a number of people but no one has been able to help me with this problem. I changed the brake pads and skimmed the brake disks but nothing changed. Another mechanic advised me to change the ball joints, which I did, but the problem persisted.

2. I was advised by one mechanic to install a turbo change-over switch so as to shift the turbo to ON when travelling long distance and OFF when using it locally. I didn’t agree with him. What is your advice on this; if I install it will it affect my engine in the long run?

PS: I totally agree with the point that the Prado is a bit wobbly car but it is a beast on the road.

1. The problem is called binding. Are the front discs or rear discs affected? If it is the rear, the tension in the hand brake cable could be too high and needs loosening a bit. For all brakes, another cure you could try is take the top off your fluid reservoir and make sure you have something to tap the fluid in then push the piston in the cylinder back in then pump it out not too far and push it back, repeat until it slides back easily.

2. That mechanic is just increasing your expenditure for no good reason. What good will the turbo do when off? If you don’t want to boost pressure acting in your engine just keep your engine revs low. Installing extra hardware is simply providing more scope for things to go wrong in your car.

JM,

I own a Toyota Ipsum 240i 2003 model. The car’s manual indicates a fuel consumption rate of 12 kpl but I have done several experiments and I have only managed to get between 10.3 – 10.6 kpl driving within Nairobi town. Do you think the car might have a problem? I’m a very gentle driver, driving at an average speed of 60 km/h. There are theories that speeds of between 90 to 120 km/h are fuel efficient and that below 90 and above 120, you are being fuel inefficient. What is your take on this?

How does this car compare to a Noah/Voxy and a Subaru Forester both non-turbo and turbo in terms of fuel consumption? What is your general view of this car?

Patrick

What the car’s manual refers to is called the “combined cycle”, that is, for both city and highway use. Your test was limited to town use only. The car does not have a problem, try it on the open road and you should see about 14 or even 15 kpl (at 100 km/h).

That speeds thing is not a theory, it is true. Most cars would comfortably do this speed in top gear, and top gear allows for maximum speed with minimum engine revs.

The actual figure varies between car models and could go as low as 60 km/h (for a Maruti Omni), but the common factor is that the transmission should be in top gear. Doing 90 km/h in second or 100 km/h in third is not efficient either.

Comparison with the Noah/Voxy and the Subaru Forester: It depends on how you drive, but the overall economy figure in litres per 100 km for the Ipsum should be lower than the figures for the other two (that is, it has better economy).

Generally, it is a good family car, but it shares one tendency with some Nissans (B15 and Wingroad) and the old Legacy B4 saloon: the car ages really fast if you are not gentle with it.

Baraza,

I am looking forward to acquiring a 4WD car. I am not sure of the best bet between a Kluger, Tribeca, Vigo (Hilux double cab), an old Land Cruiser VX, and a Mitsubishi double cab. The vehicle is intended for family use’ like travelling upcountry, and carrying light luggage.

Njiru

For a large family, the VX will accommodate up to eight people. The rest can handle only five, except the Tribeca, which is second with seven available human-shaped slots.

Luggage capacity is a scrum between the double cabs, then (surprise, surprise) the Tribeca (with the seats lowered). This is because of the Land Cruiser’s eight seats, none completely disappear like they do in the Subaru, and the high loading level is cumbersome if you are dealing with something very heavy.

My pick would be the VX, but ignore this, it is not for any sensible reason; it is because I prefer its looks to the Tribeca, which is the wise man’s choice here.

Hi Baraza,

I am currently in the market for a car, my 1996 Primera, imported in 2003, has given me faithful service but I feel it is time to move on. I am currently looking at the Toyota Avensis for saloon duty and a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD for non-saloon duty (a bit of off road, not bundu bashing). And here I also include the Lexus RX300. Now to the questions.

1. Is there a major difference between the hatchback Avensis and the Sedan Avensis apart from the obvious shape thing?

2. I have been told that the 2.4-litre engines on the Avensis are unreliable is that true? A

3. Is there a big difference between a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD and a Lexus RX 300 4WD in terms of consumption? I know the trim is worlds apart, but someone told me that the 2.4-litre would consume more because it would strain to carry the weight of the car, is this true? And what is its average consumption? (I am not a pedal to the floor type of driver)

4. I saw some very good prices for the Discovery 3 in the UK and I am very tempted. It looks like a very beautiful car, but before I mortgage the wife and kids I would like to know if the reliability issues are true. I am talking about the 2.7-litre diesel.

James

1. No, there are no differences between the “hatchback” and the sedan. Any differences, such as practicality and available space, are directly tied to “the obvious shape thing”. And I think you mean “estate” or “station wagon” for the Avensis, not “hatchback”.

2. Maybe, but what I suspect is that people are afraid of the D4 technology and are trying to make others avoid it too. The Avensis is one of Toyota’s best built cars and has won several awards over the years.

3. 2400cc is capacity enough to handle the Harrier/RX300 body, so you won’t have to strain it to get a modicum of performance. 3000cc is for elitists (like me). Average consumption should be somewhere around 9-10 kpl, especially for calm and sober motorists like you.

4. The 2.7 diesel now suffers from what you have just described in your third question; it struggles to lug all that weight around. The Disco 3’s double chassis adds an elephant’s worth of weight to the car and the 2.7 needs a bit of wringing before it goes anywhere. Good engine though. Avoid the air suspension. Reliability in this day and age is a non-issue.

Hi Baraza,

Having owned a vehicle for a few months, I’d like to further understand a number of things. The vehicle is a 2004 Toyota Noah. I have been using the tyre pressure (~33 psi) as indicated on the passenger side door frame and noticed that the treads are wearing out evenly. In case I change the tyres with locally available ones of similar size, do I still maintain this pressure?

How does terrain and temperature affect the required pressure?

Secondly, I’ve never changed the suspension since the current ones seem serviceable. Considering the car is Japanese, is there cause to worry?

Lastly, on the engine block, there is a label: “Use Iridium spark plugs only”. Is there any benefit to this apart from longevity?

Keep using the 33 psi. Terrain does play a part (deflate the tyres to 15 psi when driving on soft sand, for example), but temperature differences do not affect the tyre pressure that much.

That 33 psi is the manufacturers optimum figure, and gives an allowance for expansion or contraction without adversely affecting tyre performance depending on ambient temperature.

About suspension, if the car does not track straight, wobbles a bit or feels unstable in any way, you can worry. If the vehicle’s stance/posture is even and driving it does not arouse suspicions, then you’re fine.

On the iridium spark plugs issue, there is also thermodynamic efficiency.

Hi JM,

I am planning to buy my first car and I have always loved Subarus. Would you advice me to go for a 4WD with a turbocharged engine? How is the fuel consumption for such a car? I have heard people say that turbocharged engines are delicate how true is this? Finally, what do spoilers and traction control help with?

David

4WD is advisable when you have high-pressure turbo performance at your disposal. It helps in directional stability. Of course the fuel consumption will be worse that NA (naturally aspirated) and 2WD equivalents, but the driving experience will be worth it (in my book). I myself have said that turbocharged engines require care.

Spoilers help with downforce, which eliminates lift and improves grip and traction. Downforce is the opposite of lift. Lift is the result of Bernoulli’s effect, which is what helps aircraft get off the ground, so reversing that lift creates downforce, which presses the car harder on the ground and makes the tyres grip the road surface better. The spoilers work best at high speed, which is when the ground effects are needed anyway.

Traction control eliminates wheel spin by cutting engine power and/or torque to a spinning wheel. This reduces the chances of wild oversteer and/or understeer, or spinning out. It also saves tyres from damage and in some cars, improves cornering performance. In others, turning the TC off improves lap times but only in the hands of experienced drivers.