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If you’re looking for a car simply to ferry your bikes, Avensis is fine

Hi Baraza,
Great work in your column. I am an avid cyclist and have been looking for a car that will help me get my bike(s) from point A to point B without having to completely dismantle them.

This would probably mean a roof-mounted bike carrier or an estate car with lots of boot space, with the rear seat up or folded.

I have been considering the Avensis estate but after your review of 30 July, I am growing cold feet. Given that I need the car mostly just to car pool with fellow cyclists while heading for rides, what would you advise?
IKG

How bad was the review of 30 July? I believe my opening statement was “Get the Avensis…”, though I admit I later changed my mind and told my inquisitor to just get a Mark X for reasons completely unrelated to ferrying bicycles.

All you want is to ferry bicycles, right? Looking good at the local eatery or making your neighbours envious is not the priority here, is it?

Nor are RWD dynamics, wheelspin capability, tiptronic-style controlled lock-up automatic transmissions, and V6 power, correct?

I believe I recommended the Mark X for the following reasons: fun to drive, it is bigger, faster, prettier, better specced, and more imposing.

None of these things matter when you are heading to a cycle track for some furious pedalling action, so I would say there is not any black mark against the Avensis here. Get the Avensis.

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Baraza,
I recently bought a Subaru Legacy 2007 wagon. It is a super lovely car, except for the few occasions when I have to use a rough road — which is not often — and experience ground clearance problems.

I have had lots of suggestions, including one that I should have bought an Outback (true, but not really useful advice at this point).

Anyway, between spacers (I have been told they affect stability and could create potential insurance issues), larger wheels (been told this spoils the AWD), and putting up with the occasional knock, what would be the best thing to do?
MN

This is a situation where the ball is more in your court than mine. Of those three options, choose the one that suits you best, though I would opt for spacers as the path that leads to fewest complications.

Provided the increase in loftiness does not border on the ridiculous, you should be safe both from the gremlins of instability and the scrutinising gaze of the insurance agent.

Larger wheels do not necessarily affect the AWD system, unless the wheels are all of different sizes, which, while absurd and unbelievable, some people do.

Those people had hell to pay when the AWD went bonkers on them at the very moment it should have come in handy (this was during the recce of last month’s Murang’a time trial event where one of the hopefuls spun out not once, but twice, during some cornering manoeuvres).

The larger wheels will, however, gear up your transmission, watering down the torque and dialling back the acceleration somewhat. To these options you could add this: avoid rough roads altogether.

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Hello Baraza,
Thanks for your article of 23 July regarding the Evo X and Subaru STI. You did justice by whipping the ignorance out of the Subie fanatics.

I do not know what gets into their heads when they are behind the wheel. Save for noisy exhausts, which Subie drivers mistake for power and speed, the less noisy Evo X beats them hands down, period.

I even gave one such Subie owner a run for his money with my lesser-known Lexus LS460 without turbo, which easily tops 200km/h in less than seven seconds.

Away from that, kindly review the 2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate and advise whether I can go for it or still go for the 2014 LS460-L.
Regards
JM

Your Lexus might be fast, but I think you are taking liberties with statistics. Zero to 200 km/h in seven seconds? That is Bugatti Veyron territory. Maybe you meant 0-100?

I cannot properly review the Hyundai Equus for two reasons, the obvious one being I have never driven one. The second reason is I do not think it is relevant to this market.

That said, the Lexus LS460-L is the better car overall, seeing how Lexus effectively invented this segment (a pocket-friendly alternative to the German threesome of the Mercedes S Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8).

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Hello Baraza,
God bless you for your informative, educative, and occasionally entertaining articles.

I drive a 2004 Toyota Surf with a 1KZ-TE engine. Due to its age and frequent failures of the turbo system, my mechanic has proposed removing the turbo system, essentially reducing it to a 1KZ-T engine.

Obviously, there will be loss of torque (343 to 295 Nm) and power (96 to 85 kW), but probably a gain in fuel consumption. My question is, what other effect will the removal of the turbo system have on the engine in terms of life, maintenance, etc.

Will the effort be worthwhile or should I continue struggling with a failure-prone turbo system?

Besides the obvious drop in torque and power figures, I do not think there will be any other drastic effect with the removal of the turbo.

The only other downside is directly associated with the reduced strength: the vehicle will be slow, very slow.

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Hello Mr Baraza,
I must start by appreciating the great job you are doing in your column. I read the column religiously and have found it quite helpful. I have two questions:

1. I recently imported a second-hand Toyota Premio 1500cc Petrol Autodrive, which I use to travel from Nairobi to Nyeri and back every week.

Somewhere on the speedometer there is an indication of what I believe is the distance covered per litre of fuel (km/ltr).

There are times when the figure is as high as 21km/l; the highest it has ever been is 21.6km/l. My question is, do these figures really indicate the consumption rate and if so, does it mean my Premio is that fuel-efficient?

2. I come from a remote part of Laikipia County where roads look like the surface of the moon and my Toyota Premio cannot manage such terrain.

I have been planning to get an affordable car which can comfortably manage the off-road terrain. The car I have in mind is the Daihatsu Terios (similar to the ones used by Kenya Power). My questions in this regard are:

1. Is it really a good off-road car?
2. Can one get one with a capacity of around 1500cc?
3. Is it a reliable car and are spares readily available?
Kindly advise me on anything else I need to know about it.
Kariuki S.W.

Greetings,
Yes, the Premio is that efficient. However, there is something you should be careful about: does that readout give the instantaneous economy figure or an average over a certain distance?

Do not be fooled into thinking that 21 km/l is the average consumption unless you have some special skill you use (which is both possible and probable).

In realistic driving conditions (factoring in town driving, acceleration from bumps, and the moonscape terrain close to your destination), anything between 11 km/l and 15 km/l on average is the norm for a Premio, but you could still achieve 21 km/l overall if you are something else.

So, yes, the Premio is that efficient (for a while, depending on what you are doing).

1. Yes.
2. Yes.
3. Yes.

The car is small and cramped inside, is a bit uncomfortable, especially on rough terrain where the ride is very bouncy and jars a little, does not corner properly due to its tall and narrow dimensions, and on the open road, it is badly affected by crosswinds, especially at speeds of 100km/h or more.

The gearing is short, so at those highway speeds, you could add noisiness (boom) from the engine to the battle with the wind on the list of crosses to bear.

The car is small inside because it is small outside, so this makes it nippy and easy to tool around town, squeezing into small spaces, and parking.

The small exterior measurements and well-nigh non-existent overhangs means it will tackle a surprising array of obstacles without grounding itself or even damaging the bodywork. Just steer clear of the versions with a body kit, though, because it completely undoes the benefits I just mentioned.

The short gearing allows it to ascend slopes of extreme severity without having to redline the engine, which is small and could potentially be a handful in the clag unless you mercilessly stomp the accelerator constantly.

This small engine, coupled with the small body, combine to create good fuel economy for what is essentially a pint-sized SUV. Just try not to go beyond 100km/h; you will not like it.

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Hi Barasa,
I am a 30-year-old newly married man with an expectant wife. I am looking for a family car that my wife and I would both be comfortable driving.

My options are the Mazda Demio, Mazda Verisa, Toyota Runx, Toyota Allex, and VW Golf. I have a budget of Sh500,000. Please also advise me whether to import or buy one locally.
Richard

Hi Richard,
Congratulations on your recent nuptials and all the best in married life.

I would normally have recommended a Demio, simply because I drive one, but the Verisa is a more practical car for a family man. The Demio is smaller and, therefore, less practical. So the Demio bows out of the list.

The Runx and the Allex are the same car, the difference is that one model comes with chrome side mirrors and door handles while the other comes with body-colour accoutrements.

That is it. This difference is so trivial that I am not even sure which car is lashed with chrome and which one is not, but the two are just the same car.

When these model was trending not too long ago, they cost quite a tidy sum for a vehicle so puny, so they might not represent the best value for money.

People paid a lot for them. Given Kenyans and their attitudes towards Toyota, depreciation (or the lack thereof) will not make things any better, so for Sh500,000 you will not get a vehicle in as good a condition as a Verisa costing Sh500,000.

The Golf will also not cost Sh500,000. A Golf going for that amount is more likely than not either really old (a mid-90s car) or knackered and in the throes of death. Putting it right is something you and the (new) missus might regret, as parts are costly and the labour prohibitive.

Dealer mark-ups are a manifestation of the personal greed that has afflicted modern society. Some cars are commanding as much as 80 per cent dealer mark-ups, depending on demand and vehicle model. This is the sole reason you should import the vehicle yourself instead of visiting a sales yard.

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Hi Baraza,
I will skip the compliments because I am sure many have already told you that you are doing a good job.

I plan to buy a Mazda Axela (Mazda 3). I have checked online reviews and they are encouraging. The driving experience is said to be excellent.

One thing that keeps popping up, though, is road noise. Mazdas are said to be noisy and even for the Axela, they had to firm up the suspension to reduce the noise.

I know you have driven the Demio and possibly other Mazdas on Kenyan roads. How is the noise? Is it tolerable? Please also comment on the Bose Audio system.

Hello,
Feel free to dish out the compliments; they will be accepted both graciously and gleefully.

This issue about road noise could be specific to some markets. Methinks the road noise people lament about could be tyre roar, which can be reduced by simply pumping up the tyres some more or changing brands.

The road noise could also be wind noise, especially around the A and B pillars, but this is more common in cars with steeply raked windscreens such as SUVs.

I drive a Mazda and nope, I do not experience any untoward noises (unless I am gunning for the red line, in which case the only noise is the induction rasp and sub-tenor howl from the engine bay).

I cannot picture exactly how firming up the suspension reduces road noise, but if they claim it helped, then bully for them. The Mazda 6 I tested two years ago did have a Bose sound system, and it was thumping.

It also had USB capability, Bluetooth, mp3, CD, and… well, it worked. I liked it.

I am not as good at reviewing car radios as I am at reviewing cars themselves, but the setup was easy to fathom, the sound was clean (and loud enough for my taste), and the diversity of playable media means you might have to go back 30 years in time and get an 8-track cartridge before you come across something it will not play.

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If you like the prison feel, go Russian

Hi Baraza,
I understand the Russians make some of the best war planes and tanks, but rarely do we see Russian products on our roads, like the Niva, or the Kamaz, which I understand has won the Dakar Rally nine times in a row. Tell me about the Lada Niva and the Mazda 6
Joe

The percentage of clients who buy trucks in order to win the Dakar Rally or a similar event is too small to be calculated, so a Dakar Championship is not necessarily a bragging right for lorry manufacturers.

In all other respects, Russian trucks are about as good as their prisons in usability: the Spartan level of build and kit is what we motoring hacks call “crudely effective”.

In comparison, a Mercedes Actros is a high-powered R93 Blaser Jagdwaffen sniper rifle while a Kamaz is a wooden club with nails driven into its head. Both will kill with only one blow but the cost difference is huge and the degrees of sophistication are poles apart.

The Lada Niva was a good seller in the ‘90s because it could do all that the Defender 90 could at a fraction of the cost, so it was a farmer’s favourite. It also attracted the off-road enthusiast with a small bank balance. But the prison cell passenger environment, 0-100 km/h in 22 seconds and the fearsome thirst from its 1.9-litre (and very unrefined) engine meant only the really desperate needed apply. For a harsher and more unforgiving analysis of cars from eastern Europe, please watch BBC Top Gear. You might die laughing.

The Mazda 6 is a very good car. I have been in one recently, the 2011 model, and it is exceptional to drive. Build quality is a step ahead of most of its rivals, as is its performance, and yet it costs less than its major rivals (the Hyundai Sonata costs about Sh4.5 million, the Camry a whopping Sh8 million, the Legacy Sh5.5 million.

The Mazda? Only Sh4.1 million). It is also quite practical: it can seat five and the boot is massive, large enough to accommodate a magazine editor and leave enough room for one of his writers to fit in there with him — pictorial evidence of this unusual test technique coming soon to a social network near you.

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Hi
In a past article in the Daily Nation, Shell had put up the final figures of their fuel challenge conducted over a distance between Nairobi and Naivasha. What astonished me is that a certain lady driver took her car over 181 km with only 3.32 litres, achieving an enviable consumption of 54.52 kpl. If this is achievable, then what is the magic, other than the fact that she is a salonist?
Kioko

There is no magic, there is only skill, patience and a set of cojones bigger than most other people’s. To achieve that kind of consumption figure requires some pretty oddball driving techniques, some of which include turning off the engine while in motion (no power assistance for the steering, no servo assistance for the brakes, you cannot accelerate should the need arise) and the risk of warping some delicate drive-shafts due to low-rev high-gear manoeuvres.

And the fact that she was salonist has nothing to do with her abilities. That lady is damn good behind the wheel, period.

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Dear Baraza,
I want to buy a vehicle that is a bit high from the ground due to my rural terrain but which is also stable and comfortable. I have in mind an 1800cc Honda CRV year 2000 and a 1600cc Suzuki Vitara year 1998. Please advise me in respect to consumption, spares, resale value and stability. And do we have old model CRVs with 4WD locally?

Yes, there are old CRVs with 4WD. The CRV is comfier and more economical than the Vitara, but the Suzuki can climb a wall with the right driver behind the wheel.
Spares are not a problem for either; resale value favours the CRV, as does stability (I presume we are referring to the absence of wobbling on the highway).

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Baraza,
A friend of mine wants to purchase a saloon car. His preference is a 2000cc to 2500cc Nissan, year 2005. After checking around, the car that comes to mind is the Nissan Teana, which comes with initials such as 230JK, 230JM, J31, etc, and a VQ23, with a 2300cc engine with CVTC technology and a compression ratio of 9.8:1. The model is said to produce 173PS (127Kw, 171hp) at 6000 rpm and 166ft.lbf (225 Nm) at 4400 rpm.
Kindly shed some light on the following:
1. The VQ23 engine compared to other engines in terms of performance and durability.
2. The CVTC technology in terms of fuel consumption and whether this is the same as the VVT-i technology used in most Toyotas.
3. What is a compression ratio and how does it determine fuel consumption in a vehicle? What is the difference, for example, between an engine with a compression ratio of 9.8:1 and one with 10.8:1?
4. With the power produced by this car as shown indicated, how many kilometres can it cover per litre on a highway and in traffic?
David

1. Nissan’s VQ line of engines are commonly used in sporty vehicles, so performance is not a worry. The most famous version is the VQ35 3.5-litre NA V6 engine, as used in the Nissan 350 Z/ Fairlady Z and the Murano. Durability is not a cause for concern if you stay away from bashing against the red line on a daily basis, and make your oil changes right on cue.

2. The variable valve timing system gives an engine two personalities, one for performance and one for economy, so you could say it does improve economy. It is similar to VVT-i and MIVEC and what not.

3. Compression ratio is the ratio of volume of all the air in the cylinder when the piston is at BDC (bottom dead centre, the lower most point of piston travel) to the volume with the piston at TDC (top dead centre, the uppermost point of piston travel), that is, the volume of the cylinder (V1) + volume of combustion chamber (V2) divided by the volume of the combustion chamber (V2), or (V1 + V2) / V2. It has no direct effect on fuel consumption, but it does affect torque and piston speed, which in itself determines power output.
High compression ratios create more torque and increase power output, but require higher octane fuels to prevent pre-ignition. An engine operation with a 9.8-to-1 compression ratio means the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) is not compressed as much as much as it is in the 10.8-to-1 engine.

While from my explanation it would be easy to assume that the latter engine develops more power than the former, it is not as simple as that. Sometimes the compression ratio is adjusted to allow an engine to run on a different type of fuel without adversely affecting power output.

The commonest way would be to use different pistons (with either concave or convex crowns, depending on whether you want to raise or lower the compression ratio) or replacing the cylinder head.

4. A 2.3-litre modern engine should return 8 to 9 kpl in the city and up to 14 kpl on the highway, though these figures are subject to driving style.

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JM,
I would like you to comment on the new technology that has been developed by Mazda called SkyActiv. Using this technology, the new Mazda Demio can achieve a consumption of up to 28 kpl. Also, what is your opinion of the turbocharged Mazda Axela with manual transmission? In some reviews on the Internet, it beats the Subaru Impreza hands down.
Derek

The SkyActiv tech covers a wide range of parameters, from engines (G: a type of direct injection for petrol engines that uses extremely high compression ratios and D: diesel engines that use two-stage turbos to widen the boost operating range); transmissions (DRIVE: an ordinary automatic with features from CVT and DSG and a wider lockup range for more efficient torque transfer and MT: a manual gearbox with lighter components and more compact dimensions); and platforms (body and chassis).

So I guess combining all this SkyActiv stuff in a tiny car like the Demio can result in 20 kpl, though I smell a lawsuit here. Ask Honda what happened when they took liberties with fuel economy figures and one lady driver failed to achieve said figures. Another issue is our fuel. Part of the reason you don’t see high performance cars on our roads is that even though we could afford them, our fuel couldn’t run them.

Cars with high-pressure turbos or high compression ratios require high octane fuel to run. A compression ratio of 11.0:1 is already very high: Mazda’s SkyActiv G boffinry boasts of 14.0:1, so for those who don’t follow the jargon, this means an engine with that kind of compression should run on something closer to paraffin or aviation fuel than to regular petrol. Let the SkyActiv cars get here first then we will see what is what.

In other news, I can bet that Impreza was not an STi. I am not an Impreza fan, but I know what the flagship car in the range can do and I highly doubt if the Axela is in that league. The closest Mazda came to the 280hp-4-cylinder-turbo-intercooler-4WD rally car formula was with the Mazda 6 MPS, and even that was not able to unseat the usual pair of tarmac terrorists: the Evo and the WRX Sti.

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Hello Baraza,
I want to buy a second-hand 1820cc Subaru Legacy Station Wagon STI, year 1996, petrol. What should I check for to ensure I’m getting a good deal? I’m a bit lame with cars.
Peter

You claim to be “a bit lame” with motor vehicles, but the car you are asking about is an enthusiast’s car. Interesting.

It is not a common car, this one, so my guess is you are getting one from Japan, in which case by the time it gets here a physical check will be too late. Anyway, with such performance-oriented cars, it is best to look at brakes and suspension mostly. Test the brakes to see if they work, and the car should not sag or lean on one side.

Then the tyres: check for bald spots, which suggest hard use or abuse. Finally, check the engine and gearbox (the oil especially, and the sounds). Any suspicious clinks, pings or rattles from the engine and/or transmission suggest that either something is broken or is about to. Go to one of the local tuning houses (they are almost always run by guys with names such as Singh, some of whom are my friends) for a checkup on the turbo, to see if it is boosting properly.

If you can afford it, also have the car checked for chassis straightness. Some may have been involved in a big accident then the evidence cleverly concealed underneath a fancy paint job.

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Hi Baraza,
I drive a manual 1998 Starlet EP 91, which has the following problems:
1. The engine vibrates excessively when idling.
2. It has reduced speed over time, even after replacing the plugs.
3. A mechanic removed the thermostat, is this in order?
4. Can the fuel consumption improve from 16 kpl?

1. Check engine mounts or the IAC (idle air control). From what you say in question two, it most likely is the IAC.
2. See 1 above.
3. It is not fatal, if that is what you are asking. But now that the water pump and the fans have to be connected directly to the car’s electrical power system since there is no switch, the car will overheat before going too far.
4. It can but why would you want to? Attaining a better economy figure than 16 kpl involves some unusual and extra-legal driving techniques, some of which I would not recommend.

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Hi Baraza,
My car is a Nissan Bluebird EU-12 (SR 18), and for sometime it has really been misbehaving. It slows down like it is about to stall, then suddenly picks up like a jet on the runway. It is now stripped down for repairs. My mechanic told me that the carburettor is faulty, and because he believes I cannot get its model in our shops (something to do with a CI model), I can only replace it with another model, meaning modification will be needed.
Because I believe in originality, I decided to consult another mechanic who said my carburettor isn’t the problem rather it is the computer that is faulty. He also believes that I cannot get its computer and advises me to get a carburettor of another vehicle and forget about the computer. Please advise me on the following as my financial status cannot allow my mind to dream of a new toy yet I need to be mobile as soon possible.
1. What was the cause of the stalling and picking up?
2. The computer and “CI carburettor” analysis by my two mechanics, what do you have to say?
3. If the mechanics are right about unavailability of both the computer and the carburettor, which I think may be true because of the age of the vehicle, what would you suggest I should get that will fit?
4. What do you think I should do to put this vehicle back on the road?

Both reasons are legitimate for a car that is not running smoothly. Other reasons could include wiring problems, fuel delivery issues (pumps, lines, filters, dirt in the fuel), and a lot more, so I cannot tell you why exactly your car is not running.

However, one of the two mechanics knows not of what he speaks, and my prime suspect is the chap who started the talk on computers. What year model is your car? Is he sure there is an ECU?

And incredible as it sounds, there are still carburettors on sale. While some are model specific, others are built to be installed on almost any engine (after-market Weber and SU), especially for those seeking to modify performance on their cars.

My advice: Get another mechanic. Even if I was to help you, I cannot begin describing here how to tune your carburettor, it will take at least 25,000 words just to explain what is what.

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Hi JM,
I would like to know more about the Chevy Aveo in terms of fuel consumption, spares availability, and performance. Would you advise one to acquire it?

Consumption: 10 kpl urban, 14 kpl extra-urban.

Spares: General Motors should still have parts for the car as they sold some not too long ago.

Performance: Nothing near a Ferrari if that’s what you are asking. It is a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine fitted into a small saloon car, so what do you expect?

Advice? It depends. How badly do you want an Aveo? If the answer is “very”, then get an Aveo. If the answer is “not very”, then shop around some more for something else. Anything I say beyond this point will amount to what someone once called “de-marketing”.