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Tempting the Grim Reaper on dusty Arabian streets

What is the single most stupid driving activity you can think of right now? Drunk-driving? Hitting 200 km/h in the middle of town? Running red lights with blatant disregard for cross-junctions?

Engaging the police in a high speed chase with the fuel gauge at E? Not even close. You have not seen the kind of things that our friends in the Middle East are capable of.

Witness one of these events, just one, and you will realise that when God created man, there was a shortage of grey matter, so some of us have roomy skulls. Welcome to the horrific world of Hagwalah.

It is hard to define just what exactly Hagwalah means. For one, it sounds like a hard-core Swahili insult for a dunderhead, and the people who take part in it fit that bill perfectly.

It could be a place, because from the video footage the venues all look similar, but it happens in Saudi Arabia where everywhere looks the same (sand, highways and buildings) so that is hard to tell.

It could be an activity, because the basis of Hagwalah is, in fact, one of the latest, fastest growing and most visually entertaining forms of motorsport: drifting.

Drifting is the act of intentionally causing a motor vehicle to oversteer. It started off with racing drivers as they tried to negotiate corners faster or without losing too many engine revs, before seeping into society as an underground-type of competition.

The dangers of drifting were obvious: it was done by young, often intoxicated and inexperienced drivers on public roads, there were no safety precautions whatsoever and lacking a proper points-scoring system, every drifting event almost always ended in altercations between warring drivers and factions.

This led to some forward-thinking individuals establishing formal series, the D1 Grand Prix and Formula D, where drivers could show off their skills in a controlled environment, in properly modified cars and under a standardised points system that produces a clear winner.

This is Hagwalah

Enter some backward-thinking jobless youths from Saudi Arabia. They took the sport of drifting back to its original roots, but lacking anything else to do, they have introduced a few touches that you might find interesting.

In these Hagwalah acts, you will notice that there is no actual competition taking place. It is just a group of young people trying to “have fun”.

That is what their lawyer would probably say, because if this is fun, I’d rather stick to my boring Hagwalah-less life. There is no time to compete because the drivers are too busy avoiding death and destruction.

Unlike proper drifting (originating in Japan), which was done at night because it was illegal, Hagwalah is done in broad daylight, and in front of as many witnesses as have the nerve to stand by and watch.

Normal drifting is done using vehicles specifically modified to do the job. Hagwalah is done using stock vehicles, almost always rented. If you have a car hire business in Saudi Arabia, I suggest you shut it down pronto. You might not have the stomach to watch these people do their stuff in your cars.

Sticking to cars, drifting is also the preserve of powerful rear-drive sports cars, because the breaking traction of the rear tyres might require a surfeit of torque to overcome grip levels.

The Arabs seem to prefer front-drive family saloons, the hardest imaginable vehicle to drift short of a Ford tractor. Of particular notoriety is the Toyota Camry.

The Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata have also been known to star in this madness, and one especially insane Hagwalah artist drifted a Toyota Hilux single cab pickup.

The final and scariest addition to Hagwalah over normal drifting is the number of people in the car. The Japanese would have the driver alone in the car, or at most, with one passenger next to him.

In Saudi Arabia, the more the merrier: sometimes these saloons are overloaded six-deep with screaming individuals (yes, the driver also screams), and the screams are not out of horror but out of glee.

More often than not half the passengers are hanging out of the car windows. The last video of Hagwalah I watched had three of the passengers toting loaded AK47 assault rifles releasing sporadic bursts of gunfire every now and then.

How it’s done

The procedure is this: find a slightly busy two-way street, preferably having multiple lanes, think Thika Road as it is right now. Curves are an added bonus.

Ensure it is broad daylight, and there are many people watching, especially if these people have cameras or video-enabled cell-phones. There must be traffic, preferably fuel tankers and school buses.

Pack your car chock-full of unwise forms of human life (your roomy-skulled friends) till the body work threatens to burst at the seams. Wind your vehicle up to about 140 km/h, turn the steering wheel hard to one side, yank the handbrake and struggle to control your wildly pirouetting vehicle as the six, seven or eight of you dice with death.

If you go for the Kalashnikov option, ask the people holding them to make sure none of their weapons is pointed at your head at any given moment during the “drift”. Wait a few hours for the video of your act to be uploaded on the Internet and try not to take the ensuing barrage of insults to heart.

As a scientist, I did notice there is a certain technique to Hagwalah-ing hard. Speed is essential, as is use of the handbrake to get the rear tyres sliding.

To keep grip from returning to the rear tyres as speed is shed, a few trips onto the sandy verge prove helpful, so the driver has to control his drift in such a way that the back end of the car sweeps over sandy patches of the road shoulder every five seconds or so. Control depends on how susceptible the driver is to car-sickness.

Skill or luck?

As far as control goes, one cannot say with any degree of confidence whether or not the drivers are extremely skilled or possess the uncanny good luck usually enjoyed by drunkards and the foolhardy.

From outside, much as the act itself will disgust or entertain you (depends), you have to be impressed by the accuracy with which these Hagwalah-ists place their vehicles on the road, cutting in front of trucks with only a few inches to spare, achieving insane angles of drift, executing chain drifts (several connected drifts, with opposing angles each time: very difficult to do in any car, let alone a front-drive vehicle equipped with traction control) and doing 1800s.

Wondering what an 1800 is? We know what a 360 is: doing a 360-degree spin and continuing in your intended direction of travel. Well, these clowns spin their leased cars a record four or five times in quick succession, and somehow manage to never lose their bearings in the process.

If and when the traction control overcomes the driver’s lack of wisdom, the car could do a full 180-degree turn, say clockwise, face backwards and correct itself, this time anticlockwise, facing forwards again; a sight even more spectacular than a 360. All this at speeds higher than 120 km/h.

One particular stunt had these people (same chaps with the AK 47s) try a 360 as they were overtaking a yellow school bus, and during the stunt, the car corrected itself, resulting in them overtaking the school bus, while going in reverse! All this time, their assault rifles were pointed at the petrified children in the bus. One slip of the trigger finger, just one…

The in-car videos are hilarious to say the least. They start off showing a stereotypical Middle Eastern man, complete with head-gear and flowing white robe, driving along sedately enough, searching for his favourite radio station when he suddenly reacts like he has just noticed an Egyptian cobra coiled around the steering column.

There is a flurry of activity: arms flailing all over, the video recording becomes very shaky and excited shouts can be heard from everyone inside the car.

It is pure bedlam, and unless you slow down the video, you will not even know what the driver is doing. It is like he has three hands, one on the wheel, one on the handbrake and one on the gear lever.

Murphy’s Law: Decapitation, dismemberment and death

If anything can go wrong, it will, as it so often does when humans tempt the hand of Fate, like our dear Arabs for instance. If their drifts are a sight to behold, even more spectacular is the outcome when the laws of physics take over. Cars flip end over end, cartwheeling and somersaulting into the enthralled crowd, ploughing some of the onlookers into the dirt like, well, a plough.

Due to the over-abundance of recording equipment on site, these videos get as many uploads on the Internet as the non-fatal Hagwalahs.

Graphic footage of corpses flying out of car windows and body parts raining on bewildered spectators as a Honda Accord gets pulverised into a cloud of tiny particles can be found on the Web with little effort. This is more disturbing than entertaining.

Socio-political impact

In Frederick Forsyth’s The Fist Of God, part of the story was the Western disbelief that Saddam Hussein could build a weapon complex enough to fire a missile far enough to hurt Western interests.

Someone was quoted as calling Arabs “a bunch of desert clowns wearing tea-towels on their heads too stupid to assemble a bicycle, let alone invent one”.

This is obviously not true, I have Arab friends, all are intelligent and some even impart motoring knowledge upon me; but our dear Hagwalah superstars are not helping matters, not at all.

Their activities have not gone unnoticed: first time I learnt about Hagwalah was way back in 2002, when they were drifting Toyota Mark IIs on the street.

It has since become wilder. Worldwide attention was recently brought innocuously enough by contemporary artiste M.I.A in the video of her song “Bad Girls”. There is some mild Hagwalah-ing in that video, starring a few 3-Series BMWs, an E Class Mercedes and a dusty Alfa Romeo 156.

It was not just fans of M.I.A who noticed the Hagwalah activities going on, the Saudi government did too. So when one recent drift went wrong and resulted in the deaths of two passengers in a car that was rammed by a drifter, the authorities came down hard on the drifter.

The fellow will be beheaded in a few days’ time. The government was quoted saying something to the effect that there was a lack of morality on the drifter’s part and whatnot, but I think what they really meant was that it is bad enough the world’s bigots do not trust Arab intellect without having online videos as supporting evidence, so such activities will have to be stopped by any means necessary.

Anthropologists blame the state itself for the proliferation of street drifting. Much as the kingdom is wealthy, this wealth is not evenly spread, and unemployment is rampant.

In a culture where they are not allowed to partake of alcohol, are not allowed to have sex outside marriage, cannot abuse narcotics (capital offence) and lacking the money for proper forms of diversion, Saudi Arabia’s idle youth find release in Hagwalah.

This, in my opinion, is a chicken-and-egg situation, because someone with the kind of mind that would lead him to a Hagwalah fest does not really qualify to be employed in any organisation. Imagine a taxi company trying to curb unemployment by engaging the services of Hagwalah veterans…

Bus madness

By the time I was through writing the main article, a new Hagwalah video had been uploaded. Always keen to outdo each other, this time the madmen were drifting a passenger bus… with passengers in it.

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The Voltz: Thank God its production was stopped

Hi Baraza,

1. How does the 2004 Subaru Forester 2.0 XT compare to the 2004 Toyota Voltz S 1.8/2.0 in terms of performance, comfort, driver appeal, practicality, safety and insurance?

2. Why was the production of the Voltz stopped after 2004?

3. What criteria is used to determine a vehicle’s insurance policy cover in relation to premiums?

4. How much would it cost annually in terms of insurance for any one of the above cars?

5. Is it true that tuning a vehicle’s performance and appearance may void insurance?

Githaka

1. Performance: Forester XT.

Comfort: No idea; I have not driven a Voltz, but I’d say Subaru again.

Driver Appeal: Subaru, again. It looks better and is based on the Impreza chassis, which ensures good handling.

That Voltz is based on a Pontiac (Vibe), an American car, which was itself based on yet another Toyota (Matrix), so the Voltz is the derivative of a derivative, with American influence thrown in. That can never be good.

Practicality: Take a guess. Yes, you are right: Subaru. It has a bigger boot and better interior seating space. AWD is a much bigger advantage than the Voltz’s FF chassis, especially with Noah’s revenge falling from the skies this season.

Safety: Hard to call, because both cars have airbags and ABS and whatnot. But where the Subaru wins it (are you surprised?) is by having AWD, which provides directional stability when the going gets unpredictable. I know the hardships of driving an FF on slippery roads, so I would opt for the AWD.

Insurance: Please see your agent for details.

2. Production of the Toad, sorry, Voltz, stopped in 2004 due to poor sales (Thank God!). I don’t know what they were thinking putting it on sale in the first place.

3. This criteria varies from one agent/company to another, so I cannot speak for them. But stuff like driving records (previous accidents), age and sex would determine the individual’s premiums; with the car’s value, mechanical condition and age determining how high or how low your premiums will be set.

4. Third party insurance is Sh2,500 for one month’s coverage. Anything beyond that, please see your agent.

5. Depends on the company, but in some countries it is the law. Changing the car’s appearance (such as a repaint or adding spoilers) will not really affect your insurance, but some mechanical modifications (installation of spacers, abnormally lowered suspension systems or having nitrous injection kits) are both insurance and warranty voiding, and against the law (some people have been known to inhale the nitrous oxide themselves instead of directing it to the car’s engine).

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Hi Baraza,

I fitted my X-Trail with Rob’s Magic springs and got better ground clearance but the vehicle is now very bumpy. The dealer told me that they will stabilise with use but since I don’t often use the vehicle, they are still very hard. Will they affect the car’s body?

Away from suspension, there are small vehicles made in Korea called Atos and Tico, and others found in Italy that I hear have very good consumption. Do we have these vehicles here in Kenya? And if I were to get one, who would I go to for service?

About the springs, sometimes this happens when a car’s torsional rigidity is not up to par. The worst victim of this was the first generation Land Rover Freelander whose body would flex to such an extent that the doors would not open (or close) properly, and sometimes the windscreen would crack (typically a crack would appear at the base of the windscreen in the middle and then snake its way up and to the left). I am not sure how the X-Trail would behave in this respect.

In the olden days, I would stop at the word “Korea” and reply with ROFLMAO, but not anymore. The Koreans have really come of age; have you seen the new Sonata?

It is beautiful. Anyway, the Hyundai Atos (called ATOZ in the UK, which is actually A to Z) was once on sale in Kenya but not anymore. If my memory is not playing tricks on me, a former Miss Kenya had one of these. I don’t know what a Tico is.

Italian micro-cars are just the best, but again, nobody seems to sell them here.

I remember the tiny Cinquecento Sporting had a 7-speed gearbox in a body barely three metres long and two metres wide.

The old Fiat 500 was a “bubble” car; very tiny. Nowadays we have the Alfa Romeo MiTo (Milan, where the design is done, and Torino/Tourin, where it is assembled) and the new Fiat 500 (I would go for the Abarth version of this. Abarth is like AMG).

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Dear Baraza,

I have recently become a fan of the Nissan brand because their vehicles are cheaper in terms of price compared to Toyota models. Now, is there a major difference in regards to fuel economy, stability, durability and maintenance costs between the B13 and B14?

Also, I have been shopping around for a B15, but after 3 test drives I was not happy with the way the back suspensions felt. On a rough road, or when I hit a pothole, it sways sideways at the back. Is there a known problem with these vehicle?

The B13 was more unstable, especially at 110 km/h with the windows open; it experienced an alarming degree of lift. Fuel economy is similar, though the B13 had carburettors for some cars while the B14 is mostly EFI. The B14 is flimsier than the B13 and loses shape (and parts) much faster, hence its bad reputation.

I don’t know if I can call it “known”, but I recognise there is a problem with the B15 suspension, especially at the front, as far as bad roads are concerned.

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Hi,

I am about to be a first time car owner and I am torn between a Toyota Allion, Premio (new shape) and the “Kenya uniform” (Toyota NZE); all automatic transmission, 1500cc and 2003 model.

I am looking for a car that is easy and cheap to maintain and comfortably does 15 kpl (I do Kasarani to town and back every day). If you were in my shoes, which of the three would you go for and why?

Nderitu

The Premio looks the best, but costs the most. The Allion is the sportiest but also the most fragile. The NZE will make you look like an undercover CID officer (they use these in large numbers).

All are easy to maintain, with the NZE’s parts costing the least of the three, and all will do 15 kpl without too much struggling (though between Kasarani and town 15 kpl is a bit ambitious, irrespective of the new Thika Road).

Of the three I would go for the Premio. Not only is it a looker and economical, it is also smoothest and the most comfortable.

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JM,

1. Between petrol engines and diesel engines, which ones pick better on turbo?

2. Are petrol engines faster compared to diesel engines that have massive torque?

3. If you put two turbocharged 3000cc Prados, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol engine against each other, which one would come first on straight stretch?

4. Do turbocharged engines consume a lot of fuel as compared to NA engines, assuming both cars have 2000cc engines?

It really depends on the degree of tune of the turbocharging setup. In some cases, the diesel will beat the petrol on initial acceleration, but the petrol will come out tops in terms of absolute speed. In other cases, the petrol will shine all the way.

Turbocharged engines generally burn more fuel, but in factory spec, some have transmissions that compensate for the extra push that the turbo provides by having slightly taller gears, thus improving economy.

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Hi Baraza,

1. Are there Toyota sedans that come with an automanual gearbox? I ask this because I saw an advert for a Toyota Avensis on sale that was said to have an automanual gearbox.

2. What’s the difference between 4WD and AWD in saloon cars?

3. Why, for example, do the NZE-Toyota Luxel and some Toyota Wish have rear disc breaks while others in the same family don’t, including the much loved Premio?

4. Sometime back you said that Allions physically depreciate faster than Premios if carelessly used, is there a difference in how their bodies are made? And does Allion’s chassis being heavier than Premio’s have anything to do with this?

5. What are CVT and FAT transmissions and how are they different from the common transmission?

6. Is the Toyota Verossa related to the Mark II in any aspect and how does it perform compared to other popular machines in the Toyota family of equal engine size?

Fanon

1. Yes, there are automanual gearboxes (more accurately referred to as automatic transmissions with manual override) in Toyota sedans, the latest of which I have experienced in the 2012 Camry saloon.

2. AWD is similar to full-time 4WD, except that torque distribution between axles and tyres varies. In 4WD, the torque distribution is constant.

3. The cars with rear disc brakes are of a higher spec (and thus cost a bit more when new) than their drum-equipped stablemates.

4. The details of the construction of these two vehicles are unknown to me, except for the fact that I know both use steel spaceframe chassis and aluminium body construction. Or something.

5. CVT stands for continuously variable transmission while FAT stands for fully automatic transmission. CVTs are alleged to optimise performance and economy, but some types actually do the opposite and feel weird to drive (such as the car accelerating at constant engine revs or the road speed and engine revs seem at odds with each other).

6. Yeah, the Verossa, Mark II, Mark X and Camry are all members of one family. The Camry is the FF option (front engine, front wheel drive), the Mark II is the FR option (front engine, rear wheel drive), the Verossa widens the variety with optional 4WD and the Mark X is the spiritual successor to all these, except the Camry.

The Premio and the Allion are also siblings (but of a different class from the Verossa) with the Premio bending towards comfort and the Allion towards sportiness. The Wish is just something I don’t think much about, it could be a bicycle for all I care.

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Dear Baraza,

I am intending to purchase a Japanese import among the following: a 2000cc Subaru B4, a 2000cc Mitsubishi Galant GDI or a 2000cc Premio. Looking at the market price, the Galant seems to be the cheapest. What is your take on the longevity, consumption and reliability of the three vehicles and what which one do you think would be the best purchase?

Gichohi

Longevity: Poor across the board.

Consumption: Subaru and Galant will burn more fuel than the Premio, especially if their electric performance capabilities are tapped.

Reliability: Also not very good across the board, again with the Premio possibly holding out longer than the other two before packing it in.

Advice: Buy a Galant or a B4, but not one that was in use in Japan. Simba Colt used to sell Galants, so a locally sold unit with full FSH will be a much wiser purchase than an ex-Japanese example. The same applies to the Legacy: one that was sold and maintained by Subaru Kenya will offer better longevity and reliability. Of the two my pick is the Galant.

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Hey,

I want to purchase my first car and I am stuck between the Subaru Legacy and the Mitsubishi Galant. I drive both offroad and on the highway for about 30 km to my workplace. Please advice on which one to go for considering fuel consumption, maintenance, stability when in high speed (I like racing) and style.

Offroad, both cars will break your heart, but on road, the Galant feels better to drive. Fuel consumption will go as low as 5 kpl for both if you indulge your urge to race, and maintenance costs will bite for both (frequently replacing tyres, brakes, maybe a burnt clutch here and there, using high grade engine oil etc).

Stability is good for both. The Subarus are (on paper) more stable though, because of the symmetrical AWD, but then again word on the street is they weed out the unskilled by sending them to hospital and/or the morgue. I find the Galant more stylish than the Legacy.

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Hi,

I intend to purchase a 2.4-litre Toyota Harrier and would appreciate your advice on the following issues in regards to the car:

1. What is the difference in respect to fuel consumption and maintenance cost between a 4WD and 2WD? How many kpls can either of the two do in town and on the highway?

2. How does the Harrier compare to a 2.4-litre Toyota Ipsum in terms of fuel consumption?

3. What other Toyota model that can do offroad, has a VVT-i engine and with an engine capacity of 1800cc-2400cc would you advise?

Fred.

1. The disparity is marginal at best, but 4WD systems lead to higher consumption due to added weight and increased rolling resistance, and are more complex mechanically than 2WD. About the kpls, it largely depends on your driving style, but it’s roughly 7 kpl in town and 10 or 11 on the highway, for both. Like I said, the disparity is not noticeable, and the weight issue could easily swing the other way with the inclusion of a heavy passenger.

2. The Ipsum is optimised for gentle use and might be less thirsty. 3. Depends. Could be anything from an Avensis to a Surf. What are your needs?

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Hi Baraza,

I am 24 years old and thinking of buying my first car. I love muscle cars and there is a Ford Capri I have been eyeing (I think it’s a former rally car). What advice can you offer about muscle cars in terms of fuel consumption and other technical issues such as maintenance. Also, do you think it is a good buy considering that I can resell it later since its a vintage car?

Muscle cars and fuel economy are two concepts that will never meet. Maintaining it also requires commitment not dissimilar to that of marrying a temperamental, high-strung, materialistic (albeit achingly beautiful) woman. Finance and passion are the two key requirements to owning and running a muscle car.

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Cami vs Fielder

Hi Baraza,

I am a teacher who is about to acquire his first car. Therefore, forgive my KCSE-like question: After much soul-searching I have settled on acquiring either a Toyota Fielder or a Cami. Could you please compare the two in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, handling of rough roads, maintenance cost and resale value?

Comfort: The Cami is bought by those who don’t love themselves. Hard ride and bouncy, and it won’t track straight at speed because cross-winds affect it badly. It is like being in a small boat sailing through a typhoon. It makes the Fielder look like a Maybach in comparison.

Fuel economy: The Cami is bought by those who spend their money on other things that are not fuel. A tiny body with a 1290cc engine means very low consumption. The Fielder is commonly available in 1500cc guise, a whole 210cc more, and in a larger body.

Handling on rough roads: The Cami is bought by those who are scared of Land Rover Defenders (or cannot afford one). It is available with proper off-road hardware, and its ground clearance means it won’t get easily stuck. Its compact dimensions and light weight means it can be carried by hand when it does get stuck. Possibly. The Fielder will get stuck long before the Cami does.

Maintenance cost: The Cami is bought by… I don’t know, but it should not cost much to fix when it goes belly up. Tiny engines are usually very cheap and easy to repair and maintain, that is why motorbikes are everywhere.

Resale value: The Cami is bought by those who did not think hard about disposal when buying it. Unless you fool your potential buyer into believing that the Cami is a better vehicle than the Fielder (pray that the said potential buyer does not read this), you are most likely going to lose that buyer to someone selling a used Fielder. Unless you lower your price to unbelievable levels.

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If you worry about costs, do not buy an ‘extrovert’ car

Hi Baraza,

I want to upgrade my current vehicle to either a Toyota Mark X, 2499cc or Volkswagen Passat CC, 1799cc. Both being second-hand, auto and petrol engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of running these two vehicles in the Kenyan environment.

Bethi

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The pros and cons of running these two cars in the Kenyan environment, you ask? Prepare for a surprise:

The Mark X will get you respect and looks of envy as you ride by, but the down side is that it is now becoming a bit cliché.

The Passat CC is used widely by high-ranking civil servants (and maybe spooks, given that the registration plates I have observed on some of these vehicles do not tally with the age of the car, and some are fake), so substitute the “respect” aspect of the Mark X with “subtle awe and/or slight trepidation” for the CC.

Both ride comfortably, but the Mark X, if you buy the more common 2.5 or the bigger 3.0, will outrun the CC on an open space.

Driven carefully, both will take a while before showing symptoms of reaching “that time of the month” (nudge nudge).

And since you are choosing between two decidedly showy vehicles, I will say nothing on fuel consumption, buying price or cost of maintenance.

If these worry you, then buy a cheaper, smaller, less extrovert car.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy an Escalade. Please give me advice on its fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Also, let me know if it’s a good car and if it will be able to cope with Kenyan roads.

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Buy an Escalade and take it where? Apparently, there is an embargo on the importation of LHD vehicles, which is why you don’t see me driving a Veyron. Or a Zonda. So where will you take it to once you buy it yet it is LHD only?

Nobody buys an Escalade with fuel consumption in mind, because 4kpl is as good as you will ever get from it.

It might cope well on Kenyan roads, somewhat, but it is a bad car: the handling is poor, build quality is crap, the interior is made from cheap plastics, it is impossible to park and I can bet my salary it will not fit in some city alleyways. And that fuel consumption….

My advice? Go ahead and buy it. At least you will give the rest of us sensible Kenyans some entertainment as you try to live with it!

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Hi JM,

A friend of mine working for a multinational tea exporter in the scenic county of Kericho has asked my opinion on the 2004 Audi A4. Honestly, apart from knowing the manufacturer is German and a subsidiary of Volkswagen, I didn’t offer much. But I knew where to turn to: this column. Please enlighten him and I on the following matters:

1. Availability of appointed dealerships for the car in Kenya.

2. Does it come with a fuel saving piece technology like Toyota’s VVT-i?

3. Can you trust an advertisement for a freshly imported 2004 unit with a price tag of Sh1.45 million? I smelled a rat when I saw that ad.

4. The torque and power specs in simple language. I saw something like 166 foot pounds of torque @ 4700 rpm and 161 brake horsepower @ 5700 rpm. I cursed out aloud.

5. Is it naturally- or turbo-aerated, and which other car is in its class ?

Njeru

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Njeru, I know not of any official franchise or authorised dealership, but there is a small outfit housed in the same compound along Mombasa Road as Subaru Kenya that fiddles with the Four-Ringed German cars.

I’m sure they can handle an A4 without much stress. VVT-i is just variable valve timing, and is the norm with almost every new car since the year 2000 or thereabouts.

If Audi dabbles in turbocharging, I’m sure variable valve timing is on the menu too, it is just that they don’t have a catchy acronym for their version.

A 2004 A4 at 1.5M? That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. That particular dealer could be given the benefit of doubt.

The units used to express torque and power may be imperial or metric. You want metric but the ones you quote are imperial.

Use these conversions: 2.2 lb (pounds) per kilo or 0.45 kilos per pound, 9.8 Newtons per kilo, 3.3 feet per metre or 0.3 metres per foot, and 0.75 kW per horsepower or 1.3 hp per kW. Then calculate your figures.

Lastly, the Audi A4 is available both in turbo and NA forms. Its rivals are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 407, Alfa Romeo 159, and a lot more.

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Hi Baraza

I love German cars, particularly VWs, and a friend of mine wants to sell me a local 1996 Polo Classic 1400cc hatchback because he wants to go for a Tiguan.

It is in very good condition, having done 136,000km under one lady owner. On matters maintenance, a VW expert mechanic recommended it after inspection and a road test.

He dismissed the notion that spares are expensive, saying that a replaced part could last three to four times compared to the likes of Toyotas. The car still has its original shocks, CV joints, etc, and the engine has never been opened.

However, I was really discouraged when you dismissed the Polo as tiny and costly in your column.

For your information, I did a survey at several shops that deal in spares for European cars and the difference in prices is not as high as is believed.

I have always wondered why most of your articles are on Japanese vehicles, it clearly portrays your bias towards vehicles from the East.

What car, then, would you advise me to go for instead of the Polo? I want a car that is swift, stable on the road at speeds of around 160KPH, and fuel-efficient (the Polo does 18.9 kpl).

Karagi

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The Polo is tiny and costly, and the spares cost a little bit more than those of Toyotas. And you agree that the payoff is a better built and reliable vehicle overall.

I do not have a bias towards “the East” as you so graciously put it. If you followed my work last year, I let slip once or twice that I had a Peugeot 405.

France is not “East”, it is not even within Eastern Europe. I drive what I get my hands on, so if nobody will let me compare the new Passat against an E Class, that is not my fault. Japanese cars are more readily available for test drives, generally.

If you want the Polo, go ahead and buy it. There’s nothing to stop you. The reason I was hard on it was that the question involved money issues, and Toyotas were mentioned in the equation; I had to tell it like it is.

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Hallo Baraza,

Your discussion on SUV’s that can cost less than an million shillings was hilarious. Tell me, how does a Land Rover Freelander compare to a Suzuki Grand Vitara? What is your take on the two?

Muthoni

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The Landy is more comfy and luxurious than the Suzuki, but the Suzuki is hardier, and fast catching up in terms of spec and equipment. It is also less likely to break and will cost less to fix than the LR.

The Freelander is better to drive, and just a touch quicker for the V6; the diesels are economical but lethargic and might struggle with the weight. The Suzuki looks good, with its faux-RAV4 appearance.

This applies to the MK I Freelander; I have not tried the Freelander 2 yet.

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Hi Baraza

I’m engaged in diverse farming activities in Rift Valley and cannot do without a sturdy 4WD. I wish to replace my aging Hilux with a new 4WD pickup.

The Hilux has a front solid beam axle which, though bumpy due to the leaf springs, is very reliable if driven over terrain that would easily cause havoc to the rubber boots and drive shafts.

My problem is that most 4WD pickups currently in the market are of the wishbone suspension type with exposed driveshafts for the 4WD functions.

Kindly explain to me the virtues of the latter over the former (solid beam). Why are they widely used today yet “serious” 4WDs like the Land Cruiser, the Land Rover and even the Patrol have stuck to the solid beam?

If it were you, which one would you go for, a Land Cruiser, a Ford Ranger or Hilux?

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Independent front and rear suspension was once avoided because of how delicate they were, and because of wheel articulation.

Nowadays, advances in material science and suspension technology have made cars with independent suspensions just as skilled off-road as their live axle counterparts, if not better.

Independent suspension allows for better obstacle clearance compared to the beam axle cars. New cars with old suspensions are made so to keep costs down.

On which one I’d go for, the Ford Ranger comes first, the 3.0 TDCi double-cab in particular. Then maybe the Land Cruiser if my farm is REALLY inaccessible.

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JM,

I wanted a car badly, a pick-up for that matter, but had very little cash, so I settled for a 1993 Peugeot 504. From the first owner, a company, I was the fourth owner. Bodywise it was okay but the engine was in need.

So far, taking care of the engine has used up about 50K and I am now proud of its performance, at least for the last three weeks, though I’m still afraid of unwanted eventualities. Would you advise me to sell it or keep it and hope it will serve me more?

Muoki

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Given the cash flow issues, maintain the old donkey for a while. They were bought in plenty when new, so there still exist mechanics who understand them intimately and rusty examples can be cannibalised when parts are needed.

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a car enthusiast currently driving a 2004 Toyota Caldina. I would like to have your take on the Land Rover Freelander.

In terms of consumption, maintenance and how it compares with other cars in its class. I’m particularly interested in the 2.5-litre version.

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Consumption, I repeat for the umpteenth time, will depend on how you drive, but with the Freelander you will have to be extra careful.

It is a heavy car and the 2.5-litre engine will become a drunkard if you start racing fellow drunkards. Don’t expect much better than 11 kpl or so.

Maintenance: It is the younger brother of the Discovery and not too far removed from the Range Rover, so break one and you will weep.

But if you can afford a Freelander, you should afford to stay on top of sundry replacements and routine maintenance.

In this class, I prefer the X-Trail. BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see, as is the RAV4, which is better than the Nissan on the road, but not as good off it, though the Land Rover beats them all, save the BMW in terms of comfort and luxury. Ish.

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Baraza,

I own a Daewoo GTI (KAE) and it has never given me any major problems. However, in one of your columns, you called Daewoo obscure.

I am now concerned; can a Daewoo engine be replaced with one from a different make, such as Toyota or Nissan? Do we have dealers who stock Daewoo spare parts?

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I am not too sure about spares and dealers (the model, after all, is obscure), but you can heave a sigh of relief as concerns replacement engines. Early Daewoos (Nexus, Cielo, and what not) were just rebadged ex-GM models (Vauxhall Cavalier, Opel this and that), so any old GM engine will go in.

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Hi,

I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Cedia saloon that I acquired in 2009. However, towards the end of 2010, it developed problems with the gearbox only to realise that my mechanic had topped up the ATF with SPII instead of the SPIII that is recommended.

This damaged the gear box and I had to replace the same after a number of attempted repairs.

After replacing it mid 2011, it has since been damaging a certain plate between the gearbox and the engine. I have replaced that plate five times now.

My mechanic informed me that this is a problem with these type of vehicle and told me to change the gear selector to solve the problem permanently.

Is there a relationship between the selector and this plate, and what would you advise me to do other than change my mechanic, which I have already done after being in denial for long.

I haven’t replaced the selector yet and the plate is damaged again for the seventh time now thrice in a span of two weeks.

Mwaniki

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Is the car automatic or manual? I’m guessing automatic, now that you mention ATF, but then again you talk of plates and selectors, so it could be manual.

If the problem is associated with the selector, then the source is the linkage, not the selector itself, and yes, there should not be any connection between the clutch plates and the selector.

The problem, I suspect, is in the seating of the plate; it might be slightly skewed or of the wrong size.

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Hi JM,

Does turbocharging increase fuel economy in any way? I understand that forced induction, turbocharging included, increases the volume of air in the combustion chambers, thereby allowing more fuel to be burnt resulting in more power from the engine.

But I fail to understand how this may alter fuel economy positively as I have heard from some circles.

Isaac

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You have a lot more power from a similar capacity engine at similar revs, even if the turbo unit will burn a bit more fuel. What’s not to see?

The horsepower gains from a turbo are a lot more than from tuning an NA engine to within an inch of its life.

If you were to get 291hp from a 2.0 litre NA engine, it will sure burn a hell lot more fuel than the new Lancer Evo X does with its turbo and intercooler because, first, you will need bigger fuel pumps and injectors to deliver more fuel into the cylinders, and then couple this with a very high compression ratio so that you get bigger torque.

Then, the NA engine will have to carry that torque to higher revs so that it can deliver the maximum power. More revs mean more fuel getting combusted. Follow?

The turbo engine, on the other hand, can have a lower compression ratio and you won’t need to rev it madly to get proper power.

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Hi Baraza,

As far as engine configuration is concerned, one thing is still unclear to me.

When I was doing basic mechanics of machines, I was taught about the different diesel engines; naturally aspirated and turbocharged.

Looking at the principal of a turbocharger (recycling exhaust unburnt fuel into the inlet manifold, thereby reducing waste and emissions and giving extra power due to the high temperatures of the inflow gases), I still do not understand why typical turbocharged models consume more than the non-turbo models.

I have driven Hilux pickups for over five years, D-Max occasionally and now a naturally aspirated JMC Isuzu pickup, and you won’t believe the difference.

On average, the Hilux D4D 3.0-litre non-turbo gives 10 kpl; the Hilux D4D 2.5-litre turbocharged gives 12 kpl; the D-Max 3-litre turbocharged gives 11 kpl; and the JMC 2.8-litre non-turbo gives 14.6 kpl.

Though the consumption is a function of many factors including the weight on the accelerator, terrain and traffic, the equation still does not add up.

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the common rail and the direct injection and how this influences fuel consumption.

Lastly, referring to your column on January 11, I always advise people to go for new Asian pickups, which come with full warranties and have a guarantee on performance instead of going for a 5–7-year-old used top range model that goes for the same price yet you aren’t sure of its maintenance and whether the engine is inches away from failure.

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The secret lies in knowing the history of the engine, quality and reliability in terms of spares and technical back up. Most Asian models are clones of the originals hence the reason for non-durability and dissimilar performance.

First off, the operation you describe there is called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and is not turbocharging.

Turbocharging involves using the momentum of escaping exhaust gases to drive an impeller or turbine that, in turn, forces air into the engine under pressure (thus a bigger mass of oxygen gets into the engine).

While it is true that turbo cars burn more fuel than NA counterparts, you are forgetting the gains in torque and horsepower that come along with it.

The differences between common-rail and direct injection call for a full article (too long and technical to put here), but the fuel economy of each type depends heavily on execution, though it has long been believed that common rail delivery is the better option when going for fuel economy.

And finally, as things stand, it will be a cold night in hell before I recommend an Asian counterfeit over the original.

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Peugeot: A story of fantastic successes and pitiful failures

Of all the great car companies and brands, one of the most overlooked is Peugeot of France.

As a brand, it is a bit despised in the UK and rarely bought in Germany, but who cares what those Europeans think?

The places where these cars have had the biggest impact are Africa and the Middle East. Come across any current or previous Peugeot owner/driver and he will either swear by his car or swear at it.

I happen to fall in this particular demographic, having had (and still have) one of the original 405s in my care, and I have sworn both by and at it. Repeatedly. I still do.

Locally, Peugeot’s problems started with the 504. The car was powerful in all its iterations.

The saloon, with its monocoque chassis, was very comfortable (and this unitary body construction led many to declare — sagely and quite wrongly — that the car had no chassis).

The estate had an enormous boot and the pickup could take a considerable amount of luggage and abuse and still hold itself together.

As such, the saloon became the car of choice for the discerning, aspiring patrician — bank managers and pseudo-senior civil servants who had their own offices rather than sharing.

The estate, on the other hand, went into service in the police force, transporting shadowy men in trench coats who subscribed to a discipline more stringent than the Boy Scouts, and as a ground-hugging passenger aircraft (memories of Crossroad Travellers and WEPESI bring about tears of nostalgia), while the pickup became the farmer’s friend, and nemesis to the Toyota Hilux. Good times.

The bad

But there were issues. A common adage went “A Peugeot will give you flawless service for 16 years, after which it will stall if the doors have not fallen off yet”.

Too true. Peugeots were near-perfect machines for the tasks they were assigned, but as they say, when it rains, it pours.

If and when mechanical infidelity reared its unsightly noggin, the problems came in droves, never singularly. I know, I have a Peugeot under my care.

The electricals were usually the first to act up, closely followed by the doors divorcing themselves from the rest of the car.

This is not just a garage myth, it actually happens. The driver’s door on my fickle 405 came off its hinges one day at a petrol station, and as such the fuel flap could not open, what with the central locking system being tied to every single orifice of the car other than the bonnet.

A well placed six-inch nail brought it back to position, but it had a slight sag, so shutting it involved some careful balancing of the door itself.

The nail made the pump attendant quip something about Jesus and crucifixion, but I felt I was the one being crucified here by a car I actually loved.

Rust was also a common problem for the 504 and the absence of a ladder frame chassis meant that the car was also structurally weak because when it was invented, strengthening monocoques was still a new field of research.

Several years of hard use would bend the car out of shape, meaning resale value was a joke. If you bought a Peugeot, you bought it for life. It is this car that gave Peugeot cars their bad reputation.

The 505 was not much different. It was slightly more comfortable and offered better fuel economy than its predecessor, but the typical Peugeot gremlins still haunted it.

And it was not as much of a looker as the 504. The estate version sported a toned down look from the 504 while the saloon was a bit drab to look at.

However, the introduction of turbos for some models in the engine bay compensated for the less pretty appearance and imbued these cars with an outstanding sprinting ability. The 505 was an early ’80s introduction, while the 405 followed it in the mid-’80s.

The 405 started life with a bang, winning several COTY (Car of the Year) awards between 1985 and 1989. That is how good it was at the time, and the reason I gambled with getting one.

It was designed by Pininfarina, the same studio that does Ferraris and Alfa Romeos, making it a dead ringer for the Alfa 164.

It was fast and comfy (I can attest to this), had sublime handling (either because of or despite its front drive chassis), the boot space was class-leading and its appearance was the best of any car at that time.

In fact, the model was (is) so good that it is still in production in Egypt and Iran, where it is sold not as a Peugeot, but as the Paykan.

As I found out (to my horror and to the detriment of my wallet) it was not immune to the same demons that haunted earlier Peugeots.

However, at the end of its production run, it ushered in a new era, the era of the reliable Peugeot.

A leap of faith

So far, it might be easy to assume from my story that owning a Peugeot from that era is not entirely different from a kamikaze mission — the motive is honourable but the end result is less than pleasant — but I assure you it is not.

It is more of a leap of faith. The best analogy I can come up with is getting into a relationship with someone you met at the bar: you never know where it will lead or what will happen next.

Just like in liquor-assisted romance, the good times are really good. There rarely had been an ugly Peugeot up until the 607, just like there are no ugly people in the bar after 2am — that is, until dawn breaks.

The brief period when the car is mechanically sound, you will love driving it. Then the problems start and you either bail out like me (I have had to ground the poor 405 after it almost bankrupted me), or stay on and persevere the vagaries of a bad relationship when true colours start showing.

So, the 607. It was meant to be to France what Jaguar is to the UK — a homegrown product for government officials to run around in without having to gaze longingly towards Germany.

But the blatant plagiarism of the W220 Mercedes S-Class design language (and subsequent failure to resolve the swoopy lines into a properly pretty shape) did not win it many fans.

Its suspension was so-so, and then Peugeot went ahead and tried to make it clever by adding some complex gadgetry, and made it worse. The introduction of air suspension completely ruined what was a fallible item to begin with, and the 607 went on to suffer an ignominious death. No one will miss it.

Now the upside

Starting off with the 403 and 404, classics at the moment and fashion statements in their time, these cars are (surprisingly) still in service in small numbers if you look around rural municipalities, despite their age.

Enthusiasts might gush about the indestructibility of the Hilux utility, but the 403 and 404 pickups were harder to kill than a family of cockroaches on steroids.

And you cannot ignore Peugeot’s sporting credentials: The 205 Turbo 16 was a Group B monster that did not accept defeat easily.

The 405 Turbo 16 (T16) conquered the Dakar rally convincingly and then went on to claim a hill-climb record at Pikes Peak, Colorado in the hands of Finn Ari Vatanen. And who can forget the 206 WRC and its relentless chain of victories?

Away from motorsport, there has only been one definitive hot hatchback of all time, and that is the 205 GTI. Just like all software geeks aspire to be Steve Jobs one day, all sporting hatchbacks aspire to be the 205 GTI.

Originally, the VW Golf GTI was “it” but the Germans lost the plot and the French swooped in to show the world how to build a small car that is still a hoot to drive (ignore the cheap interior plastics and jumpy driveline).

Since then, France has incessantly churned out a succession of (really) hot hatchbacks, and not just Peugeots.

I had said the 405, towards the end of its production run, ushered in the era of the reliable Peugeot. Well, reliable is not exactly the right adjective. Let us say ‘improved’. And the improvement was drastic.

The 406 (it was originally to be branded 506) is downright pretty, again penned by Pininfarina, and is a less dear alternative to, of all cars, the BMW 3 Series (benchmark, yardstick, pace-setter, trend-setter, reference point: call it what you want, but the description is “the car to beat”).

The 306 is a driver’s car through and through, right down to the oil-burning versions that feed from the black pump.

The 206 is a lovely little number, and the 180 hp GTI version is geared in such a way that you can clock 70 km/h in first — insane.

Subsequent models are just as good, if not better: 207, 208, 307, 308, 407; all of them are good and as far removed from the flimsy products of the ’80s as one can possibly imagine.

Which brings me to the 508 and a firm called Eurysia. A quick survey among the general public reveals that many still assume Peugeot cars are sold and serviced by Marshalls.

They are not. Marshalls now peddles TATA vehicles (incidentally, TATA now owns Jaguar and Land Rover, but these two are sold by CMC. The motoring industry is a game of musical chairs, I tell you).

Also, a good number think the 406 or 407 are Peugeot’s latest offerings, but they are not. Peugeots are sold by a low key outfit called Eurysia, and towards the close of 2010 they made a small noise about the 508.

The 508 is one of the prettiest cars to come out in 2011, and one that I am dying to drive. The estate is also one of the most versatile cars available now, what with its boot space rivalling the hearse-like E Class estate, and this has got to be the best-looking station wagon outside of the shooting brake clique.

The manual gearbox — a man’s transmission of choice — is standard, its interior is second in beauty and execution only to Audi (and the company from Ingolstadt has the honour of making the best interiors ever. Forget Rolls, forget Maybach, and forget Bentley, Audis have the best interiors in the business, period).

So why are we not being inundated with promotions and ads glorifying the 508 and begging us to climb proudly back into Peugeots, like we once did two or three decades ago? I do not know. Over to you, Eurysia.

The children in the basement

Not all Peugeots were good in one way or the other. While some turned heads, others turned stomachs. In fact some were (and are) total garbage, the most notorious being the 309.

Poorly labelled (it came after the 305), poorly designed and poorly packaged, it was a poor performer that held its value poorly and was consequently poorly received by pundits, punters, and the press. It did not help matters that it was sold alongside the outstanding 405.

The 607, as described earlier, was another. Nobody knows what exactly was going on inside Peugeot’s head when they dreamed up this car.

Nobody still does. Also largely unloved is the 1007. It is hard to place: sized like a super-mini, designed to look like an MPV and it has a van’s sliding doors, through which both driver and passengers climb.

It falls in the same group as the Mitsubishi RVR: cars that are hard to place, trying to fill too many niches at the same time and as such fail miserably in all areas. Thankfully, I have not seen any on our roads. Yet.

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How the Probox escaped list of ugliest things

While last week’s article may have been a bit controversial, it did not provoke a post-bag of outrage as sizeable as I may have desired, but there were responses.

Suspects were fronted, and disagreement reared its ugly (pun intended) head more than once.

Of note was the concord over the Toyota Will’s lack of visual appeal. This is how those who replied thought of my lists, and these are the offenders and unrecognised beauties.

Toyota Platz

One reader, a lady — quite obviously — defended the Platz as not just an art student’s runabout, but also a means of escape for those who cannot afford costlier hardware but would still wish to eschew the insanity that passes for public transport around this corner of God’s green planet.

Maybe, but just because women like it does not mean it is pretty. It still maintains its place on the queue of syphilitic warthogs on our roads.

Toyota Probox

Most of our readers expected to see this box on wheels vilified as an eyesore, but let us be honest, is it really that bad?

Yes, it lacks any sort of charm whatsoever, but keep in mind that this successor to the venerable Corolla DX is a commercial vehicle first, and commercial vehicles are not really about getting dates. They are meant to lug stuff and staff from one site to the next.

The Probox is what the Fiat 124 estate would have looked like had the Italians kept building it: instead, they gave the whole factory, plus parts, paperwork and foundries, to the Russians; who rebadged it the Lada Riva; and who in turn handed it over to the Egyptians; who still build the damn thing exactly as it was built 30 years ago.

That it is not sold (or imported to these shores) saves it from occupying a place on last week’s list of nasty sights; otherwise it would have been a more fitting replacement for the Probox.

Porsche Cayenne

Evidence that automotive ugliness is created by the manufacturer but propagated by the customer appeared in my inbox in the form of a man claiming that this car is “cute”.

What’s more, he went ahead to claim that it should have been listed there instead of the Jaguar XJ. Have your cataracts checked, Sir. In no way is this car “cute”.

The Nissan Micra is “cute”, and so is the Ford Fiesta, but the Porsche Cayenne has been listed as one of the ugliest cars in recent history, and not even by me.

The face of a 911 sports car grafted onto the body of a Volkswagen Touareg does not make “cute” anything. Thank God that the Porsche has the performance to justify the asking price.

BMW X6

A vitriolic response showed up on Twitter about “this writer thinking that the X6 is ugly”. What would you call the result of mating a swimsuit model’s torso onto the lower extremities of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

An aberration, most likely. BMW’s attempt at creating a niche that nobody asked for got the acerbic reaction it deserved from the world’s motoring Press.

The X6 tries to be a sports car and an off-roader, but it fails at both and loses the looks along with it.

It is too heavy to be any good on-road; and too focused on trying to be impressive on-road to be any good off it; and the huge, tall body with that sloping roofline leads to an epic fail in what would otherwise have been a good alternative to the Range Rover Sport.

The Design Process

It is time to start pointing fingers, and, to narrow down the list of likely suspects, we have to look at what exactly goes on during the design process of a given motor vehicle.

While it can sometimes be done purely by computer (leading to designs as disparate as the manufacturers are far apart: the Nissan GT-R is not pretty, but the Ferrari 458 Italia is, and both are computer-generated.

Maybe one company used a Mac while the other used a PC), what we are interested in is the handiwork of living, breathing humans.

Most cars are designed by a team, typically made of people with degrees and backgrounds in art.

More often than not there is a lead designer, though in some cases a car could be drawn by one man only, and this lead designer receives a brief from the big fish in corner offices.

The brief could be to go retro, to “revolutionalise” car design in general, to establish a corporate “face”, or quite simply, to “shock” the world. And it is at this point that problems arise.

While the brief could be worded in such a way that it will sound pleasing to shareholders, artsy types are not known to decipher such flowery language or show initiative that will be at cross-purposes with the administration, so they follow instructions to the letter.

This is how cars like the bug-eyed Ford Scorpio came to exist (the horror, the horror…).

Going retro also sometimes tends to fail quite badly, especially when designers are asked to draw from iconic elements in that manufacturer’s past.

The old Jaguar Mark II was a paragon of elegance, so the English firm thought that visage would look good on a modern car, and they proceeded to slap it onto the S-Type.

The result almost moved bowels. Thankfully, the S-Type has been replaced with the XF saloon. The Porsche Cayenne suffers from a similar problem.

So what would happen if a designer took it into his head to show initiative? Cars like the outgoing 5-series and 7-series BMWs creep into existence.

Chris Bangle wanted to make an impact design-wise, and make an impact he did. The 7 was so bad it had to have a facelift less than a year after launch.

The 5 was “controversial”, to put it diplomatically, and these two cars made the man famous as the “one who will finally bring BMW to its knees”.

It is a wonder these cars were bought at all: it says a lot about BMW’s technological supremacy that they were able to sell any of these cars at all.

Sometimes one man’s need to “express” himself ought to be checked, lest such terribleness afflicts us all.

On some occasions, I presume, the sheer volume of cars under manufacture also leads to bad design, and that, I strongly suspect, is the reason

Toyota scored freely on the list of uglies. Maybe the engineers are coming up with chasses faster than the designers can draw corresponding bodywork art, and so some of them come out a little bit rushed (Verossa). Either that or no imagination at all applies in the overall design (Probox, Platz).
Engineering also fudges up an otherwise passable design, especially when form follows function.

That is how winged and spoilered monsters like the Impreza WRX and Nissan GT-R rise from the depths of factory recesses to fill up your side mirrors menacingly on the road.

A good design could bite the dust when engines get too big or suspension components cannot be well-hidden, resulting in lengthy overhangs and bizarre fender flares; or when the outlandish performance on tap demands the installation of air dams and spoilers for aerodynamic integrity and stability at speed.

Geographical preferences

Can we surmise that geography also plays a part? America has never come up with what we could call a gorgeous motor vehicle — size seems to be their obsession; while the Asians don’t seem to even bother.

But Europe has been constantly churning out a steady supply of stunning bodies, especially England (Aston Martin, Jaguar) and Italy (Lancia, Alfa Romeo).

Small wonder then that all the great automotive artists (both firms and individuals) are registered in Italy.

Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro and the great Sergio Pininfarina have been charged by car builders all over the world as great artists, and their skills are highly sought whenever one company wants to have one up on their competition in good looks.

Planned obsolescence is a business concept dreamt up by one Alfred P Sloan, Jr, former head at General Motors in the early 20th Century, and the idea was that, to entice the client base into show rooms on a regular basis, they needed annual model changes in their lineups.

Sounds good, but people tend to run out of creative thoughts rather fast, leaving them in trouble when it is time for another refresh.

This, I think, has also been an affliction in Japan, as it closely follows the surplus of chasses and dearth of designs theory.

Henry Ford, forever the visionary, rejected this notion and stuck to the principles of simplicity, economies of scale and design integrity.

Much to his consternation, the planned obsolescence thing worked and GM overtook Ford in sales soon after.

All in all, I have just one suggestion to make. To all aspiring car designers, do not do it like your colleagues have been doing: at one point take a step back and have a good look at whatever you have drawn before you release it for manufacture.

It will save a lot of people some embarrassment.