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The Surf, good. The Montero, so-so. The Fortuner, ish-ish!

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

I want to upgrade to a 4X4 but I am wondering which, between the Toyota Fortuner, the Toyota Surf and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I should go for. I have not driven any of them but they look quite capable. Kindly give me your views in terms of performance, handling, and operating costs (spares and fuel).

Regards,

Okumu.

In keeping with the theme of road tests promised but not delivered is the Pajero Sport, the new one. Since you call it a Montero Sport, I will guess you are talking about the old model, which some call the Nativa (most of these names depend on where you buy the car).

In terms of performance, I hope you do not mean speed, because these cars are not meant to be driven fast, except, maybe, for the Surf, which is a lot better than the other two on tarmac.

The Montero Sport (old model) used the power train from the L200 Warrior/Storm, and in a review I did on this car, I found the gear ratios to be mismatched with the engine characteristics.

The first three gears were too high, bogging down initial acceleration, and then the final two gears were too low, giving a noisy, thrashy, belligerent highway cruise, not to mention a poor top speed and unimpressive fuel economy.

Then again, in a car that tall, you don’t want to be going really fast, do you? The height and separate frame chassis puts some distance between this vehicle and the Lancer Evolution in handling terms, irrespective of the fact that they are both Mitsubishis. Don’t corner hard in it.

The Fortuner is very similar to the Montero in handling, except the ride is worse. It is uncomfortable. It also has a useless diesel engine that huffs and puffs and blows your patience down: to get any semblance of movement you need the petrol version. For that you sacrifice fuel economy: even the 2.7 VVT-i is quite thirsty.

These two cars are based on pickups, and therein lies the problem. Also, being cheaper than their elder siblings (the Pajero and the Prado), they seem aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast rather than the causal SUV-lover (this explains the unusual engine-gearbox relationship: it is more ideal for off-road than on-road).

And that is where the Surf comes in. The Fortuner is actually spiritual successor of the Surf, but the Surf is more comfortable, faster, smoother, more economical and is less likely to do a somersault through a corner. The diesel turbo engine also seems better suited to all conditions.

These are big 4×4 vehicles, so fuel economy will be scary if you opt for a petrol engine, and maintaining the turbo will be painful if you go for the diesel and don’t know what you are doing. 4X4 tyres are also generally more expensive than saloon car tyres.

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

I recently imported a 2005 Toyota Avensis fitted with a 2000cc D4-VVTi engine. Being my first ride, I must say it has been excellent, especially on highways and smooth roads. The ground clearance, however, is an issue when I have to do a bit of off-roading. My questions:

1. Other than my driving skills, how else should I protect the belly of the vehicle without compromising stability (don’t tell me to stay away from off-roads).

2. Other than normal servicing after covering particular mileage, are there any special pointers to look out for?

3. Other than Toyota Kenya, kindly recommend for me a mechanic I can depend on for minor maintenance, especially body works, though I intend to visit Toyota Kenya for engine-related issues.

4. There are Avensis’ made specifically for European markets and others for Japanese use. Which of these is superior, and are the parts and trims the same?

Regards,

JM.

1. You could under-seal the belly of the car. That is, install a sort of iron sheet, in the fashion of a sump guard, that goes all the way to the back of the car. I will not tell you to stay away from off-road, but I will tell you to try and get the right vehicle for it, if it is really off-road. I have noticed people have a tendency to refer to any untarmacked paths as “off-road”.

2. Not really. Just keep an eye on expendables (tyres, brakes, fluids), drive carefully, wash your car regularly and don’t be afraid to use Shell’s V-Power once in a while, especially with that D4 engine. Also, buy your fuel from reputable sources only.

3. I normally don’t refer people to mechanics outside of the franchise, so for now…. stick to Toyota Kenya.

4. The Avensis for the European market is called Avensis. The Avensis for the Japanese market is called Premio (not Avensis). They are essentially similar, though the Avensis (European) has a wider choice of engines, including diesel. When buying parts, just buy the model-specific stuff, don’t interchange, because there are certain items that might not be interchangeable.

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Hi Baraza,

My car, an 1,800cc, 2002 Toyota Fielder that has clocked 68,000 kilometres so far, makes a soft clicking sound when I start it in the morning. The noise comes from the front, but when I open the bonnet and listen I can’t locate it.

When I close the bonnet, it sounds as if the noise is coming from the front wheels. The noise disappears after driving for a few minutes, when, I guess, when the engine has become warm.

My mechanic told me to change the ATF, but that did not help. I have always used Total Quartz 7000 oil, the drive shaft and wheel joints are OK, the bushes are new, the choke clean and all shocks and engine mounts are in good condition.

Another mechanic suggested that it might be the bearing next to the water pump, and I am now confused! For your information, this problem came about after my friend borrowed the car for a 750-kilometre journey on bad roads. What might be the problem?

Sospeter.

Step 1 is to ask your friend what happened or what he did in the course of that 750-kilometre drive, and press upon him that honesty is a requirement, though I highly doubt he did anything untoward with the vehicle.

Noises are hard to diagnose without actually hearing them, and what makes your situation even more sticky is the fact that you can’t isolate the source of the noise. Soft clicking could be anything, it could even be a fan blade brushing against something.

It could be low oil pressure in the valve train (typical with a cold engine), it could be a loose or out-of-kilter belt, it could even be the bearing the other mechanic is talking about. Check everything, Sir.

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Dear Baraza,

My Toyota Wish has been showing the Check Engine light on and off. The light is very erratic and may come on after weeks. I have taken the car for diagnosis twice. The first time they changed the fuel filter but the light persisted. The second diagnosis did not show anything wrong. Please advise.

Thanks,

Robert.

Your car, I suspect, is fine; it is just that the ECU was not flushed after the diagnosis (and repair, I presume) was done. Disconnect the battery overnight and reconnect in the morning.

This typically flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas (after the problem has been solved, don’t just flush the ECU when the source of the Check Engine light has not been rectified).

However, first confirm that disconnecting the battery will not disorient your car. I have said it flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas, but I don’t know if the Wish is one of them. Sometimes disconnecting the battery creates a whole lot of complications with the ECU itself, resetting things and maybe calling for a reprogramming.

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Dear Baraza,

I really enjoy reading your weekly articles. Please keep up the good work. I have lived in Europe for a while now and I’m planning to come back home. I would like to purchase a Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI (diesel, turbocharged engine).

I think it’s the same models as those used by several ministries in Kenya (but again maybe those are FSI models). The car has a manual transmission, and I would like to know the following about it:

1. Is it easy to own a Volkswagen in Kenya, in respect to maintenance costs?

2. Which one is more economical, the TDI or the FSI?

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

4. What are the other Japanese models that equal the Passat, and are they available in Kenya?

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

1. It is not “easy”, but it is not particularly hard either. We have CMC Motors, who deal in Passats among other things. The government cars you see are FSI models, and I am not sure if they have any diesels in the fleet. I am also not sure if CMC will maintain a small diesel… especially an imported, non-tropicalised one.

2. TDI of course. Diesel engines are the sippiest of all sippy engines, though FSI and other direct injection petrol engines come really close. The diesel is still cheaper to fuel because diesel is cheaper here in Kenya than petrol, unlike some other countries.

3. Merchandise? Yes. We have Golfs, Polos, Passats, Touaregs, Jettas, Amaroks, we even have Volkswagen trucks and lorries; in fact what I have not seen around is the Phaeton uber-saloon. But I am guessing what you were really asking about is FRANCHISE, in which case the answer is also yes.

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

4. The Passat’s biggest Japanese rival is the Toyota Camry, which we have here in Kenya, but for some reason, Toyota Kenya have priced it out of the market: it costs more than an E Class Mercedes (asking price of Sh9 million as of February last year).

Other Japanese rivals are the Honda Accord (good car, this), but Honda is still establishing itself (again) in the country, so not much noise has been made about this car. From Nissan and Mitsubishi it is only import cars that would serve any real competition to the Passat (Teana and Galant/Diamante).

Local line ups at DT Dobie and Simba Colt do not have anything of that size. We also have the Mazda 6 (nice to drive, and looks sharp, costs about Sh3.85 million from CMC) and the Subaru Legacy (very big boot, looks weird and the 2.0 litre boxer without a turbo feels underpowered. It IS underpowered.

Costs about Sh5.5m at Subaru Kenya). A well-kept secret (until now) is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good car, well-specced, pretty and competitively priced to boot at Sh4.5m, though it is not Japanese.

And the government also has a few :-). My personal pick is the Mazda. It understeers a bit, but it feels the best to drive of the lot. It actually feels like a sports car, though the Tiptronic gate has been reversed and is counter-intuitive.

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Thanks for your very informative articles in the Daily Nation. Keep up the good work. I just realised that we went to Alliance High School the same year (Class of ‘02), from your Facebook page.

I recently bought a Toyota Mark X (2.5L), rear-wheel-drive, and it’s been giving me two major problems;

1. It skids a lot on wet surfaces (even on not-so-wet surfaces), and its traction control, unfortunately, offers little help. I noticed on the dashboard there is a light for 4WD; does this mean it has an option for 4WD? I believe this would reduce the skidding. How can I activate it? There is no button for it.

2. The ground clearance is so low and I am contemplating raising it a little bit using coil springs, but I have been advised that this would negatively impact on its stability and the electronically controlled shock absobers? What are your thoughts on this?

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

1. The traction control SHOULD help. Is it on or off? And from the way you describe the situation, I think someone has a heavy foot. Either that or you may have bought an enthusiast’s car. Those Japanese tend to do funny things to cars, which include, but are not limited to, doing away with the traction control.

It is as simple as using a custom map in the ECU. I also suspect your car develops more than the 212bhp made by the stock 2.5 litre engine. You may have in your hands what we call a “sleeper”, an ordinary-looking vehicle with extra-ordinary firepower under the bonnet.

Saloon cars do not have deselectable 4WD like SUVs. The car itself decides how much power it channels to which axle, depending on circumstances. No driver influence is available.

The closest one can come to having deselectable 4WD in a saloon car is with the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. If your car had 4WD when new and now behaves like a rear-drive drifting car, then I suspect the former owner also did away with the front drive shaft. He may have intentionally modified the Mark X to drift easily, which is what you are (unintentionally) doing.

2. In keeping with my suspicions that you have bought a drifting car is my other surmise: it may also have been lowered. Installing stock springs should help. If it is on stock suspension (which I doubt, because yours sounds like it has adjustable suspension), then taller springs will do. It will not affect the car adversely if the height increase is also not adverse.

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My Toyota RunX has a ‘check engine’ light on throughout

Dear sir,
I own a Toyota Corolla RunX, 2001 model. Recently, the ‘Check Engine’ light came on as the engine was idling. Since then it has remained on whenever the engine is running.

Sometimes it goes off, but for a very short time. At first I thought it was the faulty battery I had which had problems cranking the engine, but after I replaced it, the problem persisted.

The car runs well, there are no funny noises from the engine, even at highway speeds. I haven’t taken the car to a mechanic (I’m low on cash right now), but I’m still bothered. Is there any cause for alarm?

Kenneth.

The best way to know what that ‘Check Engine’ light is all about is to do a diagnosis. However, these here are common causes of the light coming on out of the blue:

1. Faulty Oxygen Sensor: the device is not transmitting accurate information to the ECU and this is sometimes accompanied by a reduction in fuel economy. Cars have two to four of these sensors: the OBD code will identify the culprit for you. The cause is this: over time, the sensor gets covered in oil/soot and thus does not determine the quality of oxygen in the exhaust properly.

2. My research leads me to a very strange cause: a loose or cracked fuel filler cap. Apparently leakage of fuel vapour from the tank can very easily confuse the entire fuel system. This is also accompanied by worse fuel economy. Check the filler cap for cracks, or remove it and tighten it again, then drive a bit to see if the light will go off.

3. Faulty Catalytic Convertor: Failure of this device can be caused by 1 above (a faulty oxygen sensor makes the car run rich and this fouls up the plugs and the cat. Fouled plugs can be caused by a faulty oxygen sensor too. As you can see, these problems can sometimes be interconnected in a veritable web of complexity)

4. Faulty MAF Sensor: This is NOT the oxygen sensor as some are wont to believe. The oxygen sensor senses the amount of unreacted oxygen in the exhaust and adjusts the timing accordingly to optimise economy and reduce emissions. The mass air flow sensor senses the amount of air going INTO the engine and instructs the ECU to meter out the fuel accordingly via the injectors.

MAF sensors tend to fail because of a badly installed or rarely-replaced air cleaner element. A once-annual replacement of the air cleaner is just about enough to keep the sensor from failing.

5. Weak Electrical Connections: Plugs and wires in particular. This is usually accompanied by the vehicle jerking while in motion. Since you have not mentioned this, we can leave that at that. Only Part 3 would cause you to worry because cats are expensive to replace and require specialised skill to install.

Hi, I hope you enjoyed your trip down south. I confess I did not take your advice to sell my Mitsubishi Chariot when it started giving me trouble. I had it repaired and, despite the cost of having to change several sensors, I still kept the car.

Call me names, but I had become accustomed to its comfort. Now, the mother of all problems has come up; the gear is stuck at Three. I have had several diagnosis from different mechanics until my head is now spinning, but none of them has been able to solve the problem.

I have sworn the moment the problem is solved I SHALL SELL it. What do you think could be the problem? This time I promise to heed your advice.

Margaret (@MachariaWanjiru)

To reduce guesswork, obtain a code from the TCM (Transmission Control Module). This will give you a code from which you will know exactly what the problem is.

Usually this 3rd-Gear drive is the fail-safe, limp-home mode, which is usually triggered whenever the TCM receives an electronically generated error code. In case you cannot communicate with the TCM, then therein lies your problem: the TCM itself is cooked.

The transmission may have to be opened. A coil pack may have failed and overheated from an electrical surge, melting the module. Mitsubishi, for some reason, thought it wise to place the two in close proximity to each other. If this is the case you are facing some major (and expensive) repairs. I can bet the mechs will tell you: “Nunua gearbox ingine, Mummy!”

Hello Baraza,

Just to let you know, your column is remarkable! Here is my dilemma. I am looking for a seven- or eight-seater vehicle for airport transport business and car hire services, mostly around Western and Nyanza (as you know, Kisumu is now an international airport).

Comfort, reliability, availability of spare parts and a bit off-roading are important. I have in mind these cars: Toyota Estima 4WD 2.4cc, Toyota Isis 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Wish 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Sienta 1500cc 4WD.

I am aware they are all Toyotas, but you will have to forgive me because I am new in this. Any other suggestions will be really appreciated.

In an unrelated matter, there is this car I wanted to buy from a friend, a Skoda Octavia station wagon, 1.9 diesel TDi, 2006 manual gearbox model, for my personal use.

How would you size up this car in terms of reliability, performance, spare parts availability and fuel consumption. It is going for Sh650,000.

Thank you in advance.

Buy the Previa, also known as Estima. None of these cars will go off-road properly (what international airports are these you visit that require one to off-road a bit to get there?), but the Previa is the best in all the cars you mention.

You may have to compromise on economy (2400cc compared to sub 2.0 litre for the rest, and the bigger body); but not so you’d notice. And, believe me, that Estima is worth it.

It is roomier, more comfortable by far and better equipped. The Isis may have powered sliding doors as a boasting point (these doors fascinated me so much I took the car for a spin in the dead of night to find out what else was good about it) but that is just about it. It won’t do anything that the Previa will not. Thew same applies to the rest of the pack.

About the Skoda: damn fine car that is. Reliability is Germanic (good), as is performance, even in the diesel iteration you mention. It can outrun a Mk IV Golf GTI over the quarter mile, which is saying a lot.

Spares are also Germanic (a touch pricey) but CMC should have them. If not, try the Internet. Economy is superb. Just watch out for DPF failure due to our twig-ridden and waterlogged diesel, and there is the fear that high-altitude use causes the turbos to spin too fast and fail within a year.

Care should be taken. Invest in a turbo timer to be safe, use only high quality oil and, unless you are at the coast, keep the revs low. Avoid the temptation to drag-race a Golf GTI between red robots.

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your Car Clinic articles and I must stay I appreciate your work. Good job. I’m planning to buy a car but I can’t seem to make a choice between the Audi A4 (2005) and the Mercedes Benz C180/200 Kompressor (2005).

I am a Second Year university student and I want a car, between the two, that I can service well and move up and about with. Also, of the two, which one has a quick resale value?
Thank you.

Mwaura.

As a Second Year student, my choice of transport was to either walk or take a bus. Clearly you are facing a dilemma a lot different from that which I faced. Anyway…

Spare Parts and Maintenance: If this is a worry for you, then maybe you should be looking eastwards (read Pacific Rim/China/Japan) for a vehicle, not Germany; but here is your answer anyway.

Audi has no franchise at the moment; at least none that I know of, so getting spares may be a hit-and-miss affair. Also, these are not cars you want to take to the seedier avenues in lower Nairobi, or any other town, so getting someone to do a proper job of maintaining that A4 will not be easy.

You may have to queue up at Arrow Motors and wait your turn. Mercedes, on the other hand, receives good support from DT Dobie, so it wins this.

Fuel consumption: Again, if this is a worry, then maybe you should be making Second Year decisions like mine. Both cars will not hurt your pocket fuel-wise though: provided you don’t drive in a way that will fascinate your impressionable lady classmates.

Expect town-bound economy of about 7-9KPL and highway figures up to 16KPL. This also applies to the supercharged Mercedes. Keep those classmates away from your car though: extra weight is an enemy of good economy.

Resale: The Benz will fetch customers faster than the Audi. Kenyans fear Audis, except for the Q7, which for some reason (I don’t know this reason) they seem to love and worship. On the other hand, we also love Mercs and we are buying them in large numbers, especially the C and E Classes.

Hello Baraza,

I have four questions for you:

1.What determines the engine capacity of a given vehicle?

2.How is the engine capacity related to engine rating?

3.My car is a 1300cc Nissan B12. What is the typical fuel consumption rate of such vehicles?

4.What is the most economical speed one should drive at to ensure the car does not exceed the designed fuel consumption rate under ideal conditions?

Mbogo Munyau,

Embu.

1. The volume of one cylinder, which is got by the base area of the cylinder (pi multiplied by the square of the bore multiplied by 0.25) multiplied by the stroke of the cylinder.

The bore is the diameter of the cylinder and the stroke is the height of the cylinder. The figure you get from this calculation is then multiplied by the number of cylinders in the engine block (possible configurations are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 and 16).

The final figure is the engine capacity you are talking about, usually expressed in litres (L), cubic centimeters (cc) or cubic inches (ci, commonly used in the US when quoting the capacities of classic muscle cars/trucks).

2. By engine rating I assume you mean power rating. The general rule is: the larger the engine capacity, the higher the power output, but this applies up to a point. Other factors play an equally big role in getting the power of an engine: forced induction, material used to forge moving parts, valve timing/camshaft profiles, torque development of the engine, and how high (in terms of rpm) the engine can carry that torque.

3. There is what the rest of the world achieves when driving such cars, and then there is what I can achieve (if I may say so myself) when I go “economical”. Expect 10 or 12KPL in town conditions (this is greatly dependent on how bad traffic conditions are.

It could be as low as 5KPL in a particularly tight gridlock) and as high as 20KPL on the open road. I have once achieved 25KPL in a 1300cc EP82 Starlet without trying really hard. Typical returns should be about 17 or 18 KPL for “normal” highway driving.

4. Keep the revs at about 1,800rpm or slightly less in top gear. This avoids engine strain due to low-rev driving, and the revs are still low enough for the car to sip.

Whatever speed this occurs at is the optimum driving speed for economy. It is possible to get even better economy than this, but from there you will be straying into hypermiling territory, which is highly risky, a bit technical and sometimes dangerous.

Hi Baraza,

Greetings from southern Tanzania! Great work you are doing with straight-up answers to our motoring queries. My organisation wants to buy several double-cabs for a project this year.

The options are Toyota Hilux, Nissan Hardbody, Ford Ranger and the all-new VW Amarok. Kindly share your thoughts on power, off-road capabilities, comfort, drive feel and overall ranking.

Cheers,

Sam

Power: The Amarok Bi-Turbo and the Ford Ranger lead the pack at 176 hp and 197 hp (2012 model, 3.2 TDCi) respectively. The rest are left floundering at the back. The Ranger wins out on torque also: 470Nm compared to the VW’s 400Nm.

Off-road ability: All these cars will go off-road convincingly. They are all fitted with proper off-road kit in their 4X4 iterations, and they have ground clearance to boot. Seeing how none of them use fancy viscous couplings/torque vectoring technology with that 4WD, this makes them all equal players in the field.

Getting far from the beaten track in one will depend on how skilled the driver is.
Comfort: Interesting state of affairs here.

The Amarok I tested was the base model 4X2 diesel turbo, and it was the most uncomfortable double-cab I have ever driven, owing to a ride quality that was both bouncy AND hard.

A South African colleague, however, has driven the Bi-Turbo, and he, on the other hand, tells me it is the most comfortable in the pack of double-cabs he has tried. This may be true, as you will see in just a moment. The Hilux is next in line from the bottom, then the Hardbody is in third place.

Feel: Hard to tell. The base model Amarok is really not that good, but again, the Bi-Turbo comes with an options list like that of a German saloon: featuring things like wood and leather.

The Hilux has a bright grey interior that is not at all endearing while the Hardbody’s is a bit better and darker shade of grey. The Ford’s interior, judging from what I saw at the launch, could very easily be the best here (until I see that wood-and-leather Bi-Turbo, that is).

Drive: Both the base-model single-turbo Amarok and the Hilux suffer from tremendous turbo lag. While the Hilux stays breathless almost throughout, the Amarok will run off into the distance.

The Bi-Turbo should counteract this by having that extra turbo under the bonnet to reduce lag. The Hardbody is a bit so-so (definitely more involving than the Hilux) while the Ranger….

Overall Ranking: You might think this will go the Bi-Turbo way, but then you’d think wrong. You may have noticed that I don’t say much about the Ranger in Drive, Feel and Comfort; and there is a very good reason.

Even after promises were made, I am yet to drive the Ford Ranger. So I cannot rank it conclusively against the rest of the pack. Judging from what every other motoring journalist has said, however, the Ranger T6 is almost as good as good gets in the double-cab world. So it gets first place.

Then the Amarok Bi-Turbo comes second. The Hilux is stone dead last. Poor ride quality and the unresponsive, lag-plagued and underpowered engine are the car’s worst failings. A naff interior also doesn’t help matters. The Hardbody is much better.

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The Mahindra Genio: You don’t know whether to love or laugh

For some people, 2012 is the year when the world as we know it will come to an end.

For me, 2012 will be marked down as The Year of Great Surprises, one of which was a Mahindra vehicle.

If the world actually does end, that will be another (stop laughing at the back, please, this is not funny).

The Mahindra brand is back in the country and out in full force to do battle with Japan, and possibly Europe (I said stop laughing. I am serious). They have a whole line of vehicles to do this, with more to come, and within their stash of secret weapons is something called M-Hawk, which I will discuss shortly (for the last time, will you cut out the tittering back there?)

The Mahindra Genio

I have had a chance to sample one of their new products, and I must say the prognosis thus far is very promising. The vehicle in question is the Genio 4X2 single-cab pick-up, and it is quite unlike a lot of other pick-ups you may have seen.

To put things in perspective, I will compare it to the usual suspects that dominate the market, the output from the other automotive corner of Asia that is not India. Or China. Or Korea. Or Malaysia. Japan, in other words.

1. Physical Appearance:

The Genio looks a bit odd in the face. It is not as critically pretty as the Toyota Hilux or the Mitsubishi L200, nor does it have the conventional robust handsomeness of the D-MAX.

It actually looks a little bit like Hyundai, which is forgivable for a company that has not been in the game long enough to master car design.

Nevertheless, Mahindra is getting there, especially when you see what else they have to offer. The cabin is taller than the Japs’. However, and this gives the Genius — sorry, Genio — a driving feel akin to that of an SUV; a feeling that most of us desire, owing to the generous view outside.

It also has a short stubby bonnet, so threading the front end into and out of tight spaces will not be a hassle. However, threading the back end into and out of tight spaces might be a hassle because of…

2. Carrying Capacity:

Look carefully and you will notice that the payload area of the Genius — sorry, Genio — is a little longer (at 2.4 metres) than that of the D-MAX and the Hilux, which are already quite long (at two metres).

While the rest are classified as one-tonne pick-ups, the Genio is rated at 1.25 tonnes, with the capability to stretch to two. Therefore, either Mahindra as a company has a lot of insight into the thought processes of Kenyan businessmen, or they are trying to sell us a lorry and are calling it a pick-up. I am vouching for the former because of…

3. Price:

The Genius — sorry, Genio — 4X2 diesel will cost you Sh2.2 million, which you can negotiate down to Sh1.95 million, so let us just say that it costs about Sh2 million flat.

This is clearly not lorry money, so the Genio is definitely a pick-up. However, even as a pick-up, that is quite cheap, far cheaper than all three members of the Japanese Triad. Some of you might call that China money, so you might be getting a China-grade vehicle. I disagree, because of…

4. Build Quality and Amenities:

That SUV feeling comes about again. The cabin, in beige, looks a bit too fancy to be on a commercial vehicle.

It is not exactly a Volkswagen Touareg in here — panel gap consistency is still one or two degrees off and there might be a bit of plastic — but the execution is stupendous.

The steering wheel is chunky and feels nice to the touch. Talking of steering, the rack has been tightened up a bit. There is no play whatsoever (on the road, so instantaneous is the response to tiller twirling that it feels like you are driving a Golf. Yeah, I said it).

The controls are just where you want them, and there are one or two (actually four) little touches that people take for granted but will come to appreciate in the long term.

The air-con actually works as it should (Toyota Hilux, please pay attention), heating and cooling as instructed. There are cup-holders within sight and within reach. There are arm-rests (yeah Japan, you never thought of that, did you?) and what is more, there is a good-looking, crystal clear stereo that will play CD, MP3, and has a USB slot for those who cannot afford iPods and still walk around with flash drives full of pirated music.

One particularly fancy touch I liked was the cubbyhole on the left, also called the glove compartment in American English. While in most cars the lid drops open like the jaw of a hand puppet, in the Genius — sorry, Genio — it appears as a sliding door, and not just your typical French window style portal.

No, this door is made of flexible plastic, so when you slide it open, it opens wide as the plastic disappears to God-knows-where. You can have a full width gap, enough to push a wheel spanner through. Or even a whole wheel, though it will not fit into the box itself. That SUV feeling does not end with the interior. It is also felt through the…

5. Ride Quality:

I have driven the new Hilux 2.5, and I have driven the D-MAX. I have also driven the NP300 Hardbody, and I am sorry to say none of these holds a candle to the Genio in terms of comfort. Yeah, I said that too.

The Hilux is too hard to the point of being uncomfortable. Its stiffness is to such a degree that one is afraid it will oversteer dangerously if driven hard on a loose surface. Many call that stiffness an advantage. A visit to the chiropractor is not an advantage.

The D-MAX, on the other hand, is soft to the point of wobbliness, and it actually does oversteer, even on tarmac. There is a YouTube video as evidence of this dynamic infidelity (where it eventually overturns and pours out a mass of humanity off its bed).

The NP300 is both hard and bouncy, somehow managing to combine the two wrong qualities of the preceding pair. I will concede, the hardness and the bounciness of these three Japanese commercials arise from tropicalisation, but the Genio is also tropicalised (so they say), itself coming from an environment very similar to ours, and yet it rides well.

On the highway, it does not feel like a ship on the high seas (D-MAX), nor does it feel like the suspension has been set in concrete (Hilux). On rough roads, it will not grind your teeth to dust (Amarok, base model).

The clutch weighting is just right (again, base Amarok), though the gear lever seems to have been borrowed from the Scania, which I reviewed a few days ago. Mis-shifts are not on the menu, thank God. The brakes feel right and the accelerator pedal is easily modulated. This complements the magic ingredient of the whole setup, the…

6. Engine:

Mahindra calls it M-Hawk, which sounds like a currently fashionable (and questionable) hair-do common among both men and women below the age of 25. It is a 2.2 litre 4-cylinder common rail diesel, turbocharged and intercooled, good for 120 bhp and 295 Nm of torque.

So proud of it Mahindra is, that they use the exact same engine in the XUV 500, their idea of what a BMW X5 should be, only that in the XUV it has been tweaked to 140 bhp (you cannot keep up with an X5 if you only have 120 bhp; that is obvious).

There is some art behind the science of the Mohawk engine. Rather than having a front-mount intercooler in the style of a Lancer Evolution, the heat exchanger is located on top of the engine block, like a tea tray, as seen in a Subaru STi.

This setup would call for a bonnet scoop, but again the artists take over from the engineers: instead of an ostentatious scoop, the intercooler is fed by ducts, which start from the grille and feed into a pair of externally invisible plastic nostrils, which then force the air into air-ways carved into the underside of the bonnet.

These terminate halfway up the bonnet on top of the intercooler. To keep it airtight, the air-way terminus is lined with a rubber seal where the bonnet meets the fridge.

As with front-mount intercoolers, this arrangement reeks of potential cooling problems because the radiator has been robbed of precious airflow by the needs of the turbo-intercooling kit, and that is why the Genio has such a wide face. The top side of the grille (on the bonnet leading edge) feeds the heat exchanger, while the rest of the face provides the airflow channels for the radiator. All is well.

All is well because the turbo and the intercooler work in tandem with the 2.2 diesel to provide grin-inducing low-end torque and high-end power. Wheel-spin is possible in first and second gear (!!), even on tarmac, and overtaking in fourth is not a gamble with the idiocy of the person being overtaken and/or the bravado of the person coming the other way. Or even your own.

Seven times out of 10, all my overtakes along Mombasa Road were made in fourth: it was as simple as changing lanes and stamping the accelerator. No discernible turbo lag (Volkswagen Amarok), the torque band is quite wide (again Amarok, and the Hilux) and no mis-matched gear ratios (Toyota Hilux double-cab).

I have never enjoyed driving a pickup as much as I did this one. Mahindra claims fuel economy in the region of 12kpl. I believe them.

Sum-Up: The power of reputation

From my ramblings, it is easy to assume that the Mahindra betters its Japanese competition in almost every aspect that matters, and the quick answer is yes.

I know most readers will be cagey about buying something Indian over something Japanese, and this is down to the power of reputation: How can the Indians, makers of the Mahindra jeep that threw egg on the face of our police force, master, in a few short years, what has taken the Japanese, makers of the most reliable vehicles on the planet, decades to master?

I do not know, I honestly do not. But this is how good the Genio actually is: my fellow test driver, with whom I have test-driven the Hilux, the Range Rover Evoque, the Scania truck, and several other cars (in other words, whose opinion I trust) was so impressed that he suggested we take a Genio to Meru and pit it against the grand-daddy of toting miraa, the Hilux, to see if it will beat the Hilux at its own game.

That is how confident he was of the Genio’s abilities. And no, he is not a shareholder at Simba Colt, owners of the Mahindra franchise.

And no, he is not the fellow you saw at the Car Clinic Live event.

I, however, prefer a more cautious approach: let us not be so quick to draw conclusions from a single road test of a new model of car. A long-term test is called for.

While the Genio is a step above China-spec, it is still a step below Japan-spec for now, especially seeing how longevity and reliability is yet to be confirmed. Japan has been in the game for a while, let us not forget that; and the tall cabin and increased ride height might not gel well with the high-speed application that is the transportation of perishable narcotics.

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See you at the motor show

Now, everybody likes to be looked at, especially when the gaze in question is one of approval.

There is nothing quite like the knowledge that one is under the adulating gaze of another; it lends us a sense of worth, a sense of achievement, uniqueness and of being a cut above the rest — you could almost call it near-actualisation.

My favourite target of scrutiny — auto manufacturers — are not immune to this subliminal imposed-and-reflected narcissism that lurks within every one of us, and of all entities, this is one clique that loves to show off.

Hence the creation of the automotive equivalent of a multipurpose catwalk.

They vary in execution, but they all have one uniting factor: they are held expressly to impress the hell out of the general public, increase public relations, show clout and encroach on possible new markets.

The self-importance does not end there. It would be very simple to label these displays as My Car Show and The Other Guys’ Car Show, but no, nomenclature like Auto Salon (as in the Tokyo showpiece where Japanese tuners take their rivalries off the streets and into the hallowed halls of the local host), Autorama (CMC’s brainy name for their bi-annual, self-glorifying reminder that they hold the torch when it comes to sheer size of franchise) and Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (the world-famous Frankfurt Motor Show) gets bandied about.

International standards

Whatever fancy brand these organisers give their respective stationary parades, they all fall under the generic name Motor Show.

There are motor shows and then there are car displays. Motor shows have come to be accepted as the international standard events, usually held over the space of several days at some exclusive locale, and most major car makers dare not shun any of them.

They are held all over the world, showcasing the latest technological and design innovations from each company: be it under-bonnet boffinry, crankshaft-to-tarmac torque deployment systems or the ripping apart of industry rulebooks as was the case of the BMW X6.

Most fall under the aegis of the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles, chief organisers of these events, and there is even a calendar for them.

For instance, the Frankfurt Motor Show is held biennially in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Geneva Auto Salon is held every March in that oft-mentioned city.

These shows are on a grand scale and not just anybody gets to host them.

For starters, we don’t (nobody would want to host a fete this big in a country that is so close to Somalia, but the real reason is that we do not constitute a substantial enough market for any particular car brand to bother spending large sums trying to swing our opinions), but South Africa does, in Johannesburg.

Funny thing with these displays is that, at least for the international ones, it is not just preening and showboating, there is also a good deal of politics and mudslinging that goes on there.

Remember the Porsche vs. Nissan saga I mentioned in the track discussion? This is how it went down. Porsche AG had as their flagship model a 3.8 litre, direct-injected, 6-cylinder, twin-turbo, two-door coupé developing 480 hp and propelled by an elaborate 4WD transmission, the 997 generation 911 Turbo.

Now, Porsche is German, which means its cars could call the Nürburgring home. Along comes one Carlos Ghosn, head honcho at Nissan, with his own 3.8-litre, direct-injected 6-cylinder twin-turbo two-door coupé developing 480 hp and propelled by an elaborate 4WD transmission, the R35 GT-R.

During the launch at the Tokyo Motor Show (different from the Auto Salon), the car’s unveiling was timed to coincide with the end of a video which showed the GT-R poke a hole through the Green Hell in a seven-and-a-half minute blitzkrieg that hugely embarrassed the 911 Turbo, long considered the yardstick against which all sports cars are measured, right in the 911’s own backyard.

Porsche did not take things kindly and threw a wobbly, accusing Nissan of chicanery, which prompted the Japanese firm to send their vehicle out again and post an even better lap time than before. Porsche prudently chose to shut up henceforth.

Still with the politics, sometimes major auto makers could try and influence the economic setup of a given country (yes, they are that arrogant).

Failure of that country’s compliance with the manufacturer’s demands will see the company boycott the local international motor show and threaten closure of its factories, creating job losses, revenue losses and a potential economic crisis. BMW have once tried something similar with the Birmingham Motor Show.

Politics aside, mid-level managers and sales reps can also learn a thing or two. Pacific Rim auto builders also never miss participating in these shows, and they are well aware that their offerings are bland at best and typically offensive eyesores to those obsessed with internal combustion.

To keep things lively, what they do is drape good-looking women all over their shiny metalwork, guaranteeing that men will visit their stand no matter what.

This, however, does not mean we who have no political or economic influence over others do not dabble in our own lower-rung shows, which I will refrain from calling “car gatherings” (they are a little better than that).

Ignoring thematic events like the Concours D’Elegance, the closest thing we have to a world class motor show comes every other September, and goes by the straightforward name of the Total Kenya Motor Show.

Kenya Motor Industry Association (owners) and Total Kenya (sponsors) assert that theirs is the biggest and most comprehensive setup in East and Central Africa, and who is to gainsay that?

I have attended a few of these and they are right: the Total Kenya Motor Show is a meeting point for every serious player in the automotive industry worth his salt.

This, in other words, means that variety is a guarantee, what with franchise holders, parts dealers, body fabricators, garages and other interested parties turning up for the show.

Just to show how seriously Total takes things, two of the stands in the KICC Plenary Hall are going for a cool million plus change each for hire, just for that weekend (9th to 11th September).

And just to show how seriously these folks are taken by the local industry, those two stands have already been spoken for by now.

In yet another of my unpublished works, I did observe that these shows are not only a feast for the eyes and minds of petrolheads and non-petrolheads, but they also provide rich pickings for anthropologists.

It is as much fun, maybe more, observing the “enthusiasts” as it is gawping in stupefaction at the latest cars that we might probably never afford.

People come here to expose how little they know about cars, mouthing off facts that have been fabricated on the spot and quoting vital statistics that only they know about.

This is not limited to guests, sometimes staff also expose their lack of grasp of the subject matter.

I remember in a past show, I came across the just-launched Chevrolet Aveo, and the GM PR team thought it best to post a comely lass at the stand, who chimed:

“This is the new Chevrolet Aveo, the newest entry in the blah blah blah”, right on cue every time a group of would-be buyers appeared.

Just to test the waters, I gave the open bonnet a once-over, pointed at some serpentine mess and quietly asked:

“Are those the fuel lines feeding the injectors or are they spark plug leads?”, to which the answer was a stony glare and a curt bark to the nearest assistant to “please handle this”. Amusing.

Toyota will be there

What should we expect? All major franchises, in a nutshell. Expect Toyota to be there, with a raft of boring saloon cars, their heroic Hilux range and the LandCruiser with two fuel tanks (a filler cap on each side of the vehicle) and the corresponding two fuel gauges in the instrument panel. I have always wondered how these work; are they emptied simultaneously or one at a time?

DT Dobie should also make a showing — whether or not the new Jeep will be there is pure conjecture, but I have one question for them: when do we get the V6 Navara, the 3.0 liter with 240 hp?

The duel with Ford’s Ranger is still unsettled, and there is a new interloper in the field, in the unlikely guise of a Volkswagen Amarok double-cab. (yeah, you read that right, a VW double cab).

Speaking of Fords and VWs, CMC will surely not give the event a miss mainly because they have too many cars to sell and they need the marketing opportunity.

Part of the press blurb for the show went something like this: “Several new makes (not just new models) have entered the Kenya market since the previous show…”

No prizes for guessing, but this has got to be Jaguar, CMC’s latest shelf occupant, and the source of suspicion from some of my readers that I might be part of their PR asset.

Incidentally, I am not, I just think Jaguars are the bees’ knees when it comes to fancy transportation. And before I forget, Bavaria, whither the new 5?