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The Surf slightly edges out the Pajero and RAV4

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for your advice on motoring.

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

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

2. Going to work in town.

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

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


Livingstone T.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toyota Surf.

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

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

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

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


Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


Dear Baraza,

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

1. Availability and affordability of spare parts.

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

3. Its fuel economy.

Thank you,


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

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

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

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


Dear Baraza,

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

c) Does it save on fuel?

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

Thanks in advance,

Antony Ng’ang’a.

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

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

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

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

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

Do not do it. I once did an article in the newspaper back in 2010, and you can read it here:



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If you’re determined, you can achieve 1 kpl in a Forester

Hi Baraza,
Kindly educate me on the following issues:

1. What is the consumption of the Subaru Forester when driving in a normal manner and when driving like you want to fly?

2. What is the cost of the new model of the Volkswagen Passat and can I get a second-hand one?

3. Which among the following has a higher fuel consumption rate? A 3000cc BMW X5, 2200cc BMW 530i, 2000cc Subaru Forester, 2700cc Prado and a 2000cc VW Passat, all with petrol engines.

4. What is the cost of a good motorbike with an 800cc engine?

1. Is the Forester turbocharged or not? I know if you drive like a nun, you will manage maybe 11 kpl in town, provided you don’t end up in the sort of gridlock that we find ourselves in when the president is driving past at that particular moment.

If you are feeling particularly unwise, you can clock a record 1 kpl by driving in first gear only, bouncing off the rev limiter all the while.

Not only will you set new records in noise emission and fuel consumption, but you will also have a blown engine to show for your efforts at the end of the day.

2. The new Passat should cost something north of Sh4.5 million, which is roughly what all its rivals cost (the Toyota Camry 2012 leads the pack in absurdity, costing a scarcely believable Sh8 million).

The Passat’s price could be as high as 6 million though, it mostly depends on spec levels and engine size. As to whether or not one can get one second-hand… it depends. If someone out there is selling his already, then yes, there is a second-hand Passat for sale.

3. The Prado. Its off-road orientation and higher coefficient of drag compared to the X5 means it is hardest on fuel, especially with that 2.7 power unit. The rest are small road-biased passenger cars with small engines, so they can be safely left out of the argument.

4. No idea. I am not a huge fan of two-wheeled transport solutions, except my own God-given setup (my legs, in case you are wondering), but a bike fanatic I am acquainted with tells me they start at about Sh900,000 and work upwards into the millions.



I am newly employed and I’m planning to get a car to fit the following requirements:

1. A price range of up to 800k.
2. Good clearance.
3. Good fuel consumption.
4. Preferably a seven-seater.
I have been eyeing the Toyota Avanza, but it looks a bit unstable. What do you think?
Any other suggestions?

Well, the Avanza does not inspire confidence on some fronts, the stability being one. The other is the 1.5-litre engine. I am not a fan of small engines in big vehicles (but the converse works well for me).

How about a mainstream cross-over, but used; the usual RAV-4s and X-Trails and Foresters? How often will you carry seven passengers?

Most seven-seaters are either Prados, Pajeros, Land Rovers (all out of the price range) or family vans (with no ground clearance).


I want to know how I can increase ground clearance without affecting the safety of the car. I have gone round asking how best I can do this and I have been offered the following recommendations

1. Add spacers.
2. Get a bigger rim.
3. Fit the car with larger profile tyres.
4. Fit Rob Magic coil springs. This was suggested by an auto engineer but I need to compare notes.

I am tempted to fit the springs as well as increase my tyre profile since this is an imported car.

In case you are wondering why I have to do this; coming from shags I am often forced by my mother to carry vegetables and cereals for my family and the road there is rough. What’s your take?

I cannot vouch for option 4 because this calls for a comparison against its competition, which I have not done yet.

You could adopt option 1, but then you will have to be very careful around corners, especially if you drive fast.

You could also go for option 2, but remember bigger rims could mean low-profile tyres, so your wheels and ground clearance are still the same size, the difference now being that your car looks good, the belly still scrapes the ground and your tyre bills threaten to break up your family. So combine two and three, though the stability thing will still be an issue.

Or you could do what I always tell my readers: buy the most appropriate car for your needs. No need to buy a small saloon car if you trade in potatoes and cabbages at a far-off market centre, or buy a nine-seater van to drive yourself to the office daily.

Get a cross-over if ground clearance is an issue in the areas you frequent.

I recently bought a second-hand Mitsubishi Gallant (1999 model) with a GDI engine. I then replaced the battery and serviced the car.

I have not encountered any other problems so far. What I want to know is, what is a GDI engine?

Secondly, I have heard that there were some issues with this particular make and that’s why they are not very common in Kenya, is this true? What are the pros and cons of this car?

GDI stands fore gasoline direct injection. It is a technology similar to Toyota’s D4, in that fuel is fed directly into the cylinder, in the fashion of a diesel engine, rather than into the intake manifold as was usual with petrol engines in times past.

It is supposed to improve performance and economy by optimising combustion efficiency and the injection timing. The Galant cars were specified to run on Mobil 1 engine oil, which is a high performance grade of lubricant.

Lesser oil grades tended to, well, degrade the engine, especially for those who imported JDM models. Also, splashing about in puddles was not a good idea, because water got into the electronics fairly easily, the worst culprits being the ECU and throttle electronics system, which then resulted in the throttle being jammed wide open (engine revs on its own).

All the same, the Galant was a very fine car: a good looker, a sublime handler and a convincing performer. The rare VR4 was even considered a watered down Lancer Evolution for the less-than-hardcore, because it had a twin-turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre engine good for 280hp and 4WD.

I intend to acquire my first car and I am torn between a Honda Airwave and a VW Touran. The Airwave is 1500cc, a five-seater and has four airbags. The Touran is 1600cc, a seven-seater and has eight airbags.

Please advice me on the vehicles’ reliability and the availability of spare parts for each. I love power and reasonable speed; if you were in my shoes, which one would you go for?

Go for the Touran. From your own description it offers more stuff, that is, airbags and seats. Hondas are legendarily reliable, while VW are legendarily well built.

The Touran’s spares may or not may be available at CMC: if they are not, you may have to shop around.

The Honda franchise is still not very well grounded in the country but rumour has it that our Far Eastern car-making compadres might be opening a fully-fledged showroom soon.
So the Touran it is, for now.

Dear Baraza,
I have a 2003 model Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon 100 series which has one worrying issue: when I shift the gear (automatic) from R to D fast, there is a small bang, and the same is heard, though rarely, when the gears are shifting while driving. In slow shifts, there is no sound.

Several mechanics have tried to diagnose the fault but all have concluded that its mechanical rather than electrical.

We have checked the propeller, front and rear diffs and gearbox, but most mechanics say its the transfer box (case).

They all also said that since the sound is very low and rare, we don’t need to bring it down unless the sound becomes louder and driving comfort is compromised.

Since the transfer case is purely mechanical, can it be opened to replace faulty parts or is it a must that I buy a new one?

About how much does a new transfer case cost, or are am I supposed to but a complete gearbox? Lastly, are there other known problems with this model?

I find it unlikely that it is the transfer case because the Amazon is full-time 4WD. Unless you were shifting between low range and high range, I don’t see how the transfer case could be the culprit. I still suspect the primary gearbox.

Seeing how it is an automatic, maybe the ATF levels are low, otherwise, the issue could be in the programming of the gearbox settings (clutch operation and gear changes are out of sync at some engine/road speeds, so there is shift shock, which is the bang you experience).

Just in case it is the transfer case, it is reparable, but I would not be too excited about the bill that will follow. It will be better than a new transfer case though. The 100, otherwise, is not a bad car.

Hi Baraza,
I am interested in a Suzuki Escudo, 2005 model. Kindly enlighten me on the following:
1. What size is engine J20A in terms of cc?
2. Does this kind of an engine have any serious problems?
3. What fuel system does it use; VVT-i, EFI or carburettor?
4. Kindly compare it with the RAV-4 in terms of consumption.

1. The engine capacity is 1,995cc, easily rounded off as 2,000cc.
2. None that I know of so far.
3. It uses EFI. To get VVT, you have to opt for the newer, and larger engines (2.4 and 3.0).
4. The Suzuki is thirstier, but how you drive it really matters.

Hi Baraza,
I roll in an old model Toyota Starlet. Sometimes, when I step on the clutch, it makes some roaring sound like that of the engine, but after sometime, this goes away. What could be the problem? Also, offer advise on small machines every now and then in your column.

That roaring noise that sounds like the engine actually is the engine. The noise comes from the revs flaring since the load of the drive-train components (shafts, gears, dog clutches, etc) has been taken off, so the engine does not have to put in extra effort just to keep turning.

Your idle settings must be messed up, which is why the revs flare like that when the clutch is disengaged. Either that or you should take your foot off the throttle any time when clutching in.

I address all cars, big and small. If you have read this column long enough, you might remember an era of Demios, Vitzes, Duets, iSTs, Micras, Colts and other similar pint-sized fare.

I am buying an ex-Japan Chevrolet LT Optra station wagon 2005 model. Please advise whether this is be a good option considering it’s not a common car around.

Also, what does DOHC and supercharged mean in terms of efficiency, fuel consumption and reliability? Someone told me that its a pretty fast car but also heavy, so handling is not a problem, is this correct?

Does the supercharger need any care? Do I need to install a timer?

The Optra was part of GM’s lineup not too long ago, so they should have an idea about how to maintain one. DOHC means double overhead Camshafts, and supercharging is a means of forced induction by use of engine power.

Both are an enemy of reliability because they add more moving parts to the engine, so there is a wider scope for things to go wrong.

Supercharging also is an enemy of fuel economy, because the reason we supercharge cars is to make them faster (and thus harder on fuel).

The DOHC could improve efficiency somewhat, but not enough to counteract the thirst occasioned by the blower.

Superchargers, unlike turbos, do not need special care as such, but just be careful to keep the kit well lubricated.

One last thing. Weight is an enemy of handling, not a friend. People mistake stability at speed for handling.

A heavy car will sit well on the road at 300 km/h, sure, but show it a few corners and understeer will be your lot.

Hi Baraza,
1. I drive a Toyota Mark II Grande. My wife thinks that apart from the spacious interior, there is nothing much in this car compared to a Premio and an Allion.

But I feel the Mark II is stable and the engine performance (Beams 2000) is superior and better than what’s in the Allion and the Premio.

How does the Mark II compare to the two when it comes to stability and engine performance? How would you rate it against an Avensis?

2. Is it true that some Mercedes service parts (filters, plugs, pads) can fit in the Mark II?

3. I want to upgrade and I am considering a Mark X, a Mercedes C 200 or 220 or a Volvo S80. I am more inclined towards the Volvo because I feel the other two have become clichés and I don’t like going with the crowd.

So how does the S80 compare with the others in terms of maintenance, engine efficiency, safety, durability, speed, stability on the road, interior and extra features (cruise control, sensors etc)?

1. The Mark II outruns them all, including the Avensis. If your wife does not buy our allegation, introduce her to the 2.5-litre 6-cylinder Mark II. Then she will see our point.

2. I find that unlikely. What the person probably meant was that universal spares can go into either a Mark II or a Benz.

If genuine Benz parts could fit in a Mark II, then the converse would be true too: Toyota parts would be applicable in a Benz. And that, in motoring language, is heresy.

3. Smart choice. And don’t worry about repairs or parts, there is a Volvo showroom right next to the Peugeot showroom somewhere near Koinange Street.