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I prefer a first-generation Vitara to the tiny, bouncy Camis and Jimnys

Dear Baraza,

I have been wondering why you answer questions only from people who drive big and expensive cars? This is the third mail I am sending, although I can already tell you won’t respond – if at all you care to read it.

Now to my question: Which small SUV would you go for between a Toyota Cami and Suzuki Jimny, both year 2006, 1.3litre, in terms of off-road ability in muddy conditions, engineering, and availability of spare parts. I want one for commuting to work and visiting the farm in a remote shags on weekends.

Patrick

Hi,

Yes, I only answer questions from people who drive big and expensive cars, cars like the Nissan Note, Mazda Demio and Subaru Impreza. They don’t come any bigger or more expensive than these.

Perhaps I should start charging a consultation fee; that way, maybe the owners of these big cars will stop sending emails and allow drivers of smaller cars to have their 15 minutes.

Secondly, there is a backlog in my inbox: I have hundreds of unanswered emails, and yours was one of them – until now.

So, to your question: I wouldn’t buy either of the two since they are both horrible to drive. I’d rather buy a first-generation 5-door Suzuki Vitara, which costs less but gets you more of a car and is cheaply available with an optional V6 engine.

The Cami and Jimny are tiny, bouncy little things that are badly afflicted by crosswinds on the highway, will not seat enough human beings for you to have a memorable road trip, and will shatter your pelvis on a rough road. However, they are also very capable when the ground underfoot gets industrial.

Off-road: Their non-existent overhangs, narrow bodies and relatively high ground clearance make them handy tools for penetrating the impenetrable, and unless you fall inside a peat bog or drive off a cliff, you are unlikely to ever get stuck in one.

The muddy conditions you inquire about may prove to be their undoing, though: their tiny, underpowered engines don’t generate enough power to force your way through the clag, which is why Landcruisers are recommended for such. You need plenty of power when going through mud, otherwise you run the risk of wedging yourself into the landscape.

With power, you also need bigger wheels. The Jimny and Cami both run on dinner plates that will cut through the mud and beach your vehicle faster than you can say “I knew 1.3 litres was not enough engine…” The Jimnys sold by CMC had slightly wider wheels, though, which would improve matters. Here’s why:

When forging a path through the quagmire, you need a modicum of buoyancy to prevent getting stuck. The bigger tyres offer a bit of floatation, and the speed complements it.

Of course, it is not recommended that you try and do 100 kph in a swamp, but it is imperative that you keep moving and not stop at all, and sometimes to keep moving, you need plenty of revs and a bit of wheelspin.

With no power at your disposal, compounded by smaller wheels, you will start to sink in the mud and if you try to generate a bit of wheelspin, you burn your clutch and/or stall the vehicle.

The Jimny has a slight advantage over the Cami in that, as a 3-door, it has a shorter wheelbase, and the lack of a body-kit even as an option gives it superior approach and departure angles, and much better ground clearance.

Engineering: These are cheap, narrow, 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder Kei cars. The engineering in them is rudimentary at best, and their only bragging points would be over things we take for granted in other cars such as AC, power steering, power windows and variable valve timing.

Forget about hill descent control, torque vectoring, terrain response systems or submersion sensor technology; for those, you need to multiply your budget by 30 and start looking at Range Rovers, the kind of cars driven by people whose emails I respond to (you opened a can of worms here, my friend).

Availability of spare parts: small, Japanese cars are the topic at hand. What was your question again?

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Hi Baraza,
Thanks to you, we petrolheads now look forward to Wednesdays as if it is Friday. Your writing prowess and knowledge about cars is simply outstanding. Keep up the good work. Anyway, to my queries.

1) Why don’t the turbo-charged Subies and Evos come with turbo timers from the factory? And they don’t come with damp valves either: does it mean they are not necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I know what they are used for but it bothers me that the manufacturers of these speed machines don’t fit these gadgets as standard.

2) This is a proposal: I think it’s high time rally organisers used the Jamuhuri Park circuit, where two cars race side by side on gravel, as a spectator stage. They did so last time and it was really exciting.

I am disappointed that this year they have skipped it for the boring Migaa circuit. To the rally organisers: let’s build more circuits like that in our bid to lure the WRC. I doubt it’s costly, plus they can always charge entry fees to recover the costs.

Last but not least, what’s the shape of an Evo’s tail lights? Because we sub drivers can’t recall….

Elly

Hi,

1. These turbo cars don’t come with timers because in stock form, they do not really need them. Once the owners/drivers start tuning/modifying/upgrading them by installing bigger turbos, increasing boost pressures and using manual boost controllers, the need for timers arises.

The turbos spool faster, generate more heat, and the bigger units require more oil for lubrication, which is where the need for timers comes in. The timers assist in heat dumping and spool-down manoeuvres to prevent damage and oil coking. The stock turbos are usually designed during R&D to compensate for this sudden cool-down, according to their capacity.

A small correction though: the factory cars DO come with dump valves, it’s just that these BOVs are not as loud as the aftermarket devices. Some people install new dump valves simply for the noise they make, a noise I will admit is highly addictive. Even I will buy a new BOV just for the “pssshh!!” throttle-off hiss.

2. Well, nowadays we have something called Club TT Motorsports, and though unintended, it sometimes steps in where rally fears to tread. Club TT Motorsports is the committee behind the famous time trials, four of which have been held so far. Three of the four races were the Kiamburing TT hill-climbs, and one was the Murang’a TT.

I will pass your recommendation on to the organising committee and see if Jamhuri Park can be put to good use. Wheel-to-wheel racing is the most dangerous aspect of motorsport, especially where amateurs are concerned, but then again, its entertainment quotient is infinitely greater than the standard time trial format.

If we can get two cars to run side by side (Evo vs STi, anyone?) but demarcate the two lanes into separate pathways, we will be sure to have a show we will not forget soon. What was that you said about Evo tail-lights?

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Dear Mr Baraza,

Thank you for sharing your column. The information is very helpful and insightful. Keep up and do not be discouraged by the few negative comments.

I recently bought a 1800cc Premio but need to improve the clearance. I have put strong coil springs and there is some improvement, but when fully loaded, it’s still low on high bumps.

1. Is it true that bigger tyres will increase fuel consumption? I am using 185/70/14. I wanted to use 195/70/15. Will they affect stability?

2. Since I imported it, whenever I drive beyond 100 kph, if I brake, the steering wheel shakes. I have checked the brakes, had the wheels aligned and balanced but no change.

3. The back seat has only two safety belts, with an arm rest in between that can be folded back to accommodate three passengers.

The import inspection sheet indicated that it can accommodate five passengers, so I am assuming there should have been a safety belt for the middle passenger at the back.

Hello,

1. Not really. Okay, it will, but the difference will be barely discernible and anyway, the instantaneous consumption varies quite a bit. Overall, you will not notice anything.

2. Check your brakes again. Your problem sounds like warped brake discs. You might need new ones.

3. I’d assume so too, so either a) we are both wrong, or b) there WAS a seat belt but for one reason or another it was removed.

When I reviewed a Premio a long time ago, I sat in the back seat to check out the legroom (which was good) but didn’t check for a centre belt, so I cannot tell if this is an isolated case or if it is the norm with Premios.

It is at times like this that reader feedback comes in handy; maybe other Premio owners out there can tell us if their cars are also blighted by fewer seatbelts than there are seats, or if this problem is yours alone.

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Hello Baraza,

I like your expert advice on the advantages or otherwise of various car makes/models and solutions you suggest for car problems.

I am an admirer of SUVs currently driving a Subaru Forrester. I would like to upgrade, maybe to a BMW X5 or X6.

Which one do you consider a better deal in terms of performance, fuel economy, and local support, bearing in mind that it would most likely be a second-hand import?

Also, should I buy one that uses petrol or diesel, given that there are issues with the quality of locally available diesel.

Dan N

Hi,

I can’t help but notice you share a name with a TV comedian, the famous “Churchill”. You are not he, are you?

The two cars are largely similar and share engines, so performance, economy and local support are no different irrespective of which X-car you go for.

Local support is the bone of contention here: a visit to Bavaria Motors assured me that they do not discriminate against imports; they will support ANY BMW you throw at them. The reports on the ground are a little different but not too worrisome. Some claim they have not got a stellar reception at Bavaria.

Petrol vs diesel: BMWs have not had as many complications with diesel engines as their German rivals, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I think it is a calculable risk, and the calculations say you can take a gamble.

However, the petrol engines are a lot more powerful and much more fun to drive but you need a sizeable fuel budget if you plan to take advantage of the hiatus in the 50km/h town-bound speed limit.

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Sir,
I am contemplating importing a Honda Fit 1500 cc , but the mileage (all in Japan) seems high at 98,000 km. What would you advise?
C Shah

I would advise that you not pay too much money for it; 98,000km is a lot for a small ex-Japan car. Alternatively, expand your search and hope to find one with lower mileage (it will cost a little bit more, though).

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Hi Baraza,
I read your article on revitalisants in Car Clinic with lots of interest.

This Russian revitalisant was introduced to me by a doctor friend who had earlier used it in the UK.I added the gel to my engine oil in September this year and the engine of my Mitsubishi Warrior double- cab has improved in sound quality. It used to be rough, like a truck, but I can now say there is definitely an improvement.

I have also noticed an improvement in fuel economy. The car now does 7 kpl from a low 5.5 kpl, which is poor for a diesel vehicle.

I am ready to take the plunge with you on the gearbox. Let’s compare notes sometime in November.

Cheers, iKay.

Interesting feedback. I did review a Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab pick-up some two years ago and two of the many shortcomings on that particular vehicle involved the gruffness of the engine and the poor fuel economy. Maybe that vehicle needed some “revitalising”.

November is here, I will soon get my bottle of magic Russian juice, then we will see what is what. This Russian elixir is called XADO (pronounced “ha-do”) and has apparently been around for some time. Strange how I had not heard of it till recently.

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The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about

Hello Baraza,
I love cars and they must be fast, but in Kenya they have put in place speed bumps, Alcoblow and what have you to stop us. Kindly give me the lowdown on the Nissan Murano; is it as good as its curves imply or is it “just another Nissan”?
Eriq B

The speed bumps and Alcoblow kits are necessary evils to protect Kenyans from themselves. Sometimes we take things too far, more often than not, with blatant disregard for existing dogma.

Rules are meant to be followed, and if the great unwashed thinks it knows better and is too large to capture (“They can’t arrest us all!”), systems can be put in place that make strict obeisance of such tenets unavoidable.

With speed bumps looming ahead, pushing the needle to previously unused sectors of the speedometer doesn’t look so attractive now, does it?

With a policeman in a high-visibility jacket ready and willing to ruin your weekend with a citation and court appointment (wherein penalties involving large sums of money and/or extended periods as a guest of the state will be on the menu), drink-driving is suddenly not as much fun as it used to be, is it?

NOT EASY ON FUEL

That aside, let us chat (very briefly) about the Murano. It is a good car if you buy it — if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t want to admit to anyone that you threw money down the toilet buying a useless vehicle, would you? It is a good car only if you own it, because it is an investment.

As an unsold car, it is hard to see the point of a Murano other than as a cut-price pose-mobile; an option where the Mercedes M Class looks too snobbish, a BMW X5/X6/X3 too expensive, a Lexus RX330/450h too cliché, a Subaru Tribeca too close to guilt by association with the boy-racer WRX, and where the propagator of the incipient purchase has a fetish for chrome.

It looks like an SUV but it won’t seat seven and will be flummoxed by some rough stuff that a Freelander could handle: the ground clearance is insufficient for tough terrain; the 4WD system is not for anything besides good traction on wet tarmac and/or a light coating of mud on hard-pack road; approach, departure and break-over angles are not ideal for crawling over anything tougher than a kerb; it is not easy on fuel and, to make matters worse, there is a pretender in the line-up: a little-known 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine that could easily haunt your engine bay, fooling the unwise into thinking they have the more famous 3.5 litre V6 (“sports car engine, mate! Straight off the 350Z!”); that is, until the day they go beyond the psychological barrier that is half-throttle and experience incredulity at being dusted by a sports saloon with high-lift cams, then ask themselves what all those cubic inches are for if the Murano can’t keep up with a tiny car.

Cross-over utilities are pointless in my opinion, and the Murano is one of them. More style than substance, more form than function, more panache than purpose. It is comfortable, though, and makes a good kerb-crawler and school run vehicle…

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Hi Baraza,
First, I wish to appreciate your column in the Daily Nation. I have a Land Rover Discovery 3, 2007,  2.7 diesel engine and am thinking of customising it. What I have in mind is to make it a twin turbo or add a supercharger to increase horsepower.

It’s a big project and I know it will incur significant costs; buying the turbo or supercharger itself is not cheap. Anyway, I wish to get your opinion as to whether this is not a very crazy undertaking.

And while at it, please tell me where I can get aftermarket parts in Kenya such as cold intakes and performance exhaust manifolds and any other ways to add those horses. I know this is not a race car and I don’t expect it to be, but boys will be boys, always competing to see who has the most power.
PS: I don’t think the Evo will ever see the tail lights of a Sub.
Kevin

Yes, it is a crazy undertaking. To begin with, nobody ever supercharges a diesel engine (the explanation is long and highly technical).

The other impediment is creating a twin-turbo set-up from a single turbo application. Will the twin turbo be sequential or parallel? Where will you fit the second turbo?

The Disco’s engine bay is already cramped enough as it is. It would be easier to either replace the factory turbo with an aftermarket unit, or simply increase the boost pressure in the current one.

Recent happenings in the Great Run (last year’s 4×4) indicate that the Disco 3’s turbo might not be the most faithful accomplice in attaining horsepower.

The one Discovery that took part blew its (stock) turbo or something along those lines — after limping along in safe-mode for a while. Maybe fiddling with the turbo on the Ford AJD-V6/PSADT17 engine might not be a good idea after all.

Buying a new turbo might not be your biggest headache in this undertaking. You might or might not need new injectors (high-flow units), depending on what comes as stock from the factory. You might or might not need an intercooler upgrade.

You will definitely need new headers and a new intake. You will also need either a new engine map for the ECU to gel with the new blower or a whole new ECU altogether. I don’t know of any local outfit that does Discovery engine maps.

Worse still, opening up the engine might prove to be the first obstacle you come across: some engines are built and held together using custom covers and fasteners, whose tools are very specific and supplied only to official dealers. I hardly think RMA Kenya will want to get in on this.

The easiest way to get a sizeable jump in power might be to simply increase boost in the current turbo by a very huge factor, then persevere the gnawing feeling in your stomach that soon, the turbo will most likely disintegrate into a cloud of metal shavings.

Shop around. Performance parts are not very hard to come by nowadays. PS: You are right. You will never see the tail lights of a car that is behind you.

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Dear Baraza,

I enjoy reading your articles and appreciate and respect your advice. Now, please give your comments on the performances of the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota Fortuner and the Land Rover Discovery.

I test-drove a Pathfinder and the car seemed excellent… power, comfort, and smoothness. Road grip at high speed on rough roads with what they call independent wheel suspension was very good compared to the others.

However, it has a lower power rating of only 2.5L. Or is there higher output for some cars even with a lower cc? Please advise because I need to make a decision. Mash.

Hello Mash,
I don’t follow. First, in Point 1 you say you like the power, comfort and smoothness of the Pathfinder, but then come Point 2, you complain that the vehicle is down on power. Which is which?

You are right, though, the Pathfinder is good on those three fronts, but even better is the Discovery, again on all three fronts. This leads to another question: which Discovery are you referring to?

We are on the fourth iteration, which is a whole lot different (and light years better) than the first two generations. This also applies to the Pathfinder: which generation are we talking about?

The earlier ones were close to hopeless, but the latest ones (R51 model onwards) are superb. Not so much the Fortuner.

The power might be much lower than the Pathfinder, especially where the diesel engines in the Hilux are concerned (101hp for the Toyota 2KD-FTV 2.5 litre compared to the Nissan’s 170hp YD25TT 2.5 litre diesel).

A BIT THIRSTY

The Fortuner is also not what we would call comfortable, and being based on a rugged, near-immortal, steel-boned, hewn-from-granite frame designed to do all sorts of menial tasks, from ferrying khat to carrying bags of cement to toting heavy artillery in war-torn areas, smoothness was not a priority during development, and it shows. It is based on a truck of sorts, and it feels like a truck of sorts.

Taking you at your word (verbatim), for the Pathfinder, you will not find a smaller engine than the 2.5, and by induction, it will not be more powerful because it does not exist in the first place.

However, bigger engines are available: you could get a 3.0 V6 turbodiesel making 240hp (only with the 2010 facelift model, though), 4.0 V6 petrol (good unit, this, but a bit thirsty) good for 266hp; or even a rare 5.6 litre V8, though this particular one might be available only in the Middle East.

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Dear Baraza,
I have one issue after another with my BMW E46 and all the diagnoses are misleading. I used to take my car to a local dealer but they were not of much help. What you should tell the BMW guys in Germany is that either we don’t have serious dealers or expertise in Kenya, or their machines are no longer exciting or trustworthy. One can sleep in the bush any time.
Harrison.

This should make things interesting, especially seeing what I wrote about BMW last week. Let us see if Bavaria follows this up. However, I agree with you: we don’t get exciting BMWs here, at least not via official channels.

No convertibles — although I did see one or two coupés at Bavaria Motors some time back — none of the M Cars (more so the mighty M5), and I can bet the futuristic i8 model that is rumoured to be on the premises is not for sale to the public just yet.

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Hi JM,
Thank you for your very informative column.
1. I recently witnessed an ambulance tear through the side of a saloon car and speed off, leaving the saloon driver gaping. The saloon car was in a traffic jam and could not climb the kerb to give way because of the posts on the side of the road.

(a) Do ambulance drivers have immunity from prosecution? To what extent are they exempted from obeying traffic rules?
(b) What course of action could the saloon car driver have taken under the circumstances?
(c) Are Cabinet and Principal Secretaries allowed by law to use the wrong lane on a dualcarriageway? I find it very dangerous to oncoming vehicles.

2. Which is the best buy between the Toyotas Spacio, Allion, Belta and NZE in terms of engineering quality and maintenance?
Thanks.

This is new…
1. a) I believe drivers of emergency vehicles enjoy a certain degree of immunity from prosecution, but a number of factors have to be in place first, chief being there has to be an emergency.

I have also witnessed an ambulance make short work of the front nearside fender of a saloon car whose only mistake was to peep a little too far into a T-junction, across which the ambulance was barrelling at full tilt, lights flashing and siren wailing.

Upon inquiry, I was told that the saloon car driver had no case; if anything, he was in danger of prosecution for failing to make way for an emergency vehicle. I am not sure to what extent this immunity stretches.

b) Typical accident scenario: step 1 is to assess the damage (and pray that you do not need an ambulance too… and/or a hearse). Step 2 is to contact your insurance company. They will know and advise you what the next course of action is.

Reporting this to the police might get you into deeper trouble (see the conclusion of (a) above), but I believe that at one point or other an accident report will have to be made.

c) I don’t think so. Very few people have this privilege, the President being the most obvious example, but Secretaries? I hardly think so.

2. These cars all come from the same company, so they will be built similarly. The level of quality and engineering precision will be reflected directly on the cost of the car: expect the Belta to be slightly inferior to the other three, which all feel the same.

Maintenance follows the same formula: the simplistic Belta should be easier to run and repair compared to the remaining trio.

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When your car is turned into a yatch…

Baraza,

Recently, a rain storm in South C tried to convert my Nissan B15 into a yacht; the water line was just below (about 1 cm) the side wind windows.

It refused to float and ended up taking in water. Once safe, I got it towed to higher ground and left it overnight to get as much water out as possible before attempting to crank it.

When I tried, it refused to start up, even though the dashboard lights came on after pressing the cut-out key.

My mechanic later checked it out and found the ECU flooded. This I replaced and the engine roared back to life. I later noticed that the airbag light keeps blinking.

I had this guy with a tablet-like device probing it and said that it probably is not the airbags but the seat belt sensors that are usually close to the floor, so they must have also been baptised in the “South Sea”. How true is this?

I also noticed that the engine starts okay, but when I attempt to drive off, it jerks as if I am attempting to drive off in second gear in a manual car (the car is automatic transmission by the way).

It also has no power and I have to rev hard to get it going. The overdrive button does not work and if I shift to gear two or one, expecting it to remain in either gear, the gears keep changing as if it is on D.

After about 15 or so minutes, everything resolves itself and the gears start working well. If I dare switch off even at this point, the cycle starts all over again. What could be the issue here?

Could you also elaborate on what other damage occurs to submerged cars?

Arthur

Yours is a legitimate case of a near-drowning experience. Most of those problems are water-related, I presume, mostly because they started after your voyage in the “South Sea”.

The tablet-wielding soothsayer’s surmise might not be far off the mark as concerns the seat belts. After all, it was he who was chatting with the car and the car told him the airbags were fine, it’s the belts that needed looking into.

The gearbox too seems to have admitted water, hence the take-off lethargy and malfunctioning overdrive. The overdrive system is electronically controlled, and remember what our mothers told us: water plus electronics equals a bad day.

Other kinds of damage that occur to submerged cars? Besides the filth (I’ve been in such a position before, so that makes two of us), there is also the huge risk of water getting into the engine.

If it gets into the sump, it will be churned along with the oil, turning the engine oil into slugde and wrecking the motor.

If it gets into the cylinders, Lord help you, because the cylinders will try to compress the water (which cannot be compressed), thus damaging the cylinder heads, deforming the piston crowns or warping the con-rods. In which case a full engine rebuild is in the books for you.

In most countries, drowned cars are considered write-offs. An example is the scandal that ensued soon after the infamous Hurricane Katrina incident in the US where some corrupt motor dealers tried to sell off cars that had been submerged in flood waters. Prosecution ensued.

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought an X-Trail 2001 model that has a GT engine, meaning it is turbocharged. I have three questions concerning the car:

1. The gearbox area keeps jerking when in low gears or when reversing. I took it to my mechanic who changed the ATF (which was black as coal). The jerking has reduced but it’s still there when I engage low gear. So the mechanic now says that it might be the gearbox bushes. What do you think?

2. What is your opinion about the model as far as engine performance is concerned? It’s full time 4WD.

3. Where can I get more information on this model? A recommended website will do.

Kirenga

1. Black ATF is not good news. Maybe you should have flushed the system first with some spare ATF before running on new stock. Then again, maybe your mech is right, the gearbox might need new mounts.

2. The performance is electric. It is bloody fast.

3. One of those single car-based forums could be helpful, but beware of idiots; they crowd there and mislead innocent askers.

Hi,

I’m currently driving a Nissan Wing road and am considering upgrading to a Nissan X-Trail. Guys tell me that the car has gearbox issues. Is this true, and if so, does the problem affect all models?
James

The Mark I X-Trail automatic seems to bring about serious issues. I know of one that went through two transmissions in a year. The Mark II X-Trail seems fine.

Hi,

Most imported cars come into the country with a pre-installed DVD navigation system. Unfortunately most of the drivers in Kenya never get to enjoy this technology already embedded in their cars because they are in a foreign language and don’t have local maps.

Where can one purchase the Africa edition of these navigation DVD’s?

Chris

You could avoid buying someone else’s second-hand leavings from another continent and buy something that was built for you.

The other option is to be patient and wait for the nerds who live in my basement to complete the project they are working on, which includes translating the MMI from Japanese into English and installing a local map in the DVD.

Hi JM,

I find your article on the Voltz (DN2, May 9, 2012) unbalanced considering that you’ve not driven the car and your assumption that all models are FF. I own a 2003 4WD model that has covered 80,000 km on Kenya roads with no complaints at all.

The handling is great, the braking is awesome and nothing has fallen apart since I bought it two years ago. Kindly take time to drive a Voltz and talk to guys running the vehicle then offer a revised review. That’s just my two cents worth.

Shem

According to Mendelian syllogism, the Voltz had a pretty poor ancestry, so the general assumption is that it too is not much. The Subaru, on the other hand, has impeccable credentials and its lineage is long and impressive.

And I have driven the Subaru. Anything better than that is either German or costs twice as much (same thing, really), and the Voltz is neither of those.

To keep things “balanced”, I will drive a Voltz, and I will write a review. I cannot promise that you will like what you read, but who knows, the shock might be on me.

Baraza,

Please compare the Defender 110 and the Land Cruiser (the one our police use) and declare what you would go for. I would love a car that I won’t need to think too hard about where I want to go, and which is comfortable.

Okoth

Once upon a time, the two were inseparable, the Toyota inching ahead on reliability. But the tables have turned, the Defender now has creature comforts like climate control and leather (for higher spec cars) and electronic toys like ABS and traction control. The Toyota is still as basic as it was 20 years ago.

Dear Baraza,

I am about to acquire a Mercedes Benz 126, possibly a 280SE or a 300SE. I don’t mind much about the fuel consumption, as I do engine power and the how fast the car picks up speed.

Between the 103 engine and the 111 engine, which one is best suited for the 126 series, and would you advise me to go for a manual gearbox, or an automatic gearbox based on the aforementioned parameters?

I would also really appreciate if you would share more information on the 126.

Both engines work pretty fine, though the 103 is considered not “best suited” as such but more superior to the 110 owing to the introduction of fuel injection. However, the 110s had double camshafts while the 103 came with single.

And if economy is not an issue, my favourite 126 is the 560 SEL, with the 5.6-litre V8 up front and curtains on all windows, except the windscreen of course. Such large saloons are best sampled as automatics. Smaller cars (like the 190 E) are the ones that are enjoyable as manuals.

Dear Baraza,

I am shopping for a new car, and since I hate the “Kenyan uniform” mentality, I am looking for something unique yet low priced.

While shopping around, I came across a Nissan Teana, and I like it. It has the sleekness that I am looking for, both with the interior and exterior.

The engine is slightly big, at 2300cc, which I don’t mind. What is your take on this car, in terms of performance, stability, maintenance, availability of spare parts, resale value, and the likes. How does it compare, for instance, with the Nissan Tiida? Which models are its contemporaries?

Nick

The Teana and the Tiida are of two different classes. The Tiida is a weedy, little, underpowered Japanese tax dodge (but looks really good) while the Teana is an executive saloon, whose rivals are the Toyota Mark II and Mark X, and the Mitsubishi Diamante. A full road test of the Teana is still pending on my end.

Hello Baraza,

I’ve always admired mini coopers for their elegance, power and fairly economic fuel consumption. What’s your take on owning one in Kenya? And what other car(s) would you prefer over it?

Nice car, and seeing how it is built by BMW, Bavaria can take care of it. But avoid bad roads; the flimsy little thing with its Ferrari-like ground clearance will suffer if you don’t.

Other cars that I can compare it to (but not necessarily pick over it) are equally small and equally unavailable in the country and include the Fiat 500 Abarth, or the Twin-Air, a Ford Fiesta ST or, going old school, the Peugeot 106 Rallye, Citroen Saxo VTS, and of course the Daihatsu Mira Cuore Avanzato TR-XX.

Hi Baraza,

I once heard a driver remark that front engine front drive cars are better in rough terrain and muddy roads, while front engine rear drive ones are very poor in such conditions. How true is this and why?

FR cars have a tendency to oversteer (lose traction or skid from the back) while FF cars tend to understeer (lose traction at the front). Generally, understeer is easier to control (just get off the power) compared to oversteer (application of opposite steering lock, feathering the throttle and brakes; getting off the power suddenly can create a much worse counter-swing from the original fish-tail.

Also, with FF cars, the weight of the engine is resting on the driven wheels, improving their traction, so they will not break loose easily.

Dear Baraza,
I would like to acquire a 1993-1995 BMW 320i with an E36 engine. After researching the vehicle on the Internet, I have learnt that this model came with a DOHC engine, what does this mean in terms of power output, fuel efficiency, acceleration and any other aspect regarding this model? Is it a good car to have? Any known issues?

The use of single or double camshafts (SOHC and DOHC) matters depending on the degree of genius of the engineers behind the project.

Most Japanese cars have DOHC engines being the sporty, high performance alternative to their SOHC counterparts (the use of DOHC is what led to things like VVT-i, VTEC and MiVEC), while for others, such as Mercedes, they abandoned DOHC engines for SOHC ones.

JM,

What’s your take on the upcoming Subaru BZR 2013? I understand it incorporates a Toyota body design, injectors and the Subaru boxer engine, but the AWD has been dropped. What does this mean to us STI enthusiasts?

You STI enthusiasts still have your car, the WRX (which has been divorced from the Impreza name the way GT-R was cleaved off the Skyline name).

The BRZ (not BZR) is actually meant to be the next “Hachiroku” — “8-6” in Japanese — a nickname for the exceedingly marvellous rear-drive Corolla’s swansong, the AE86 Corolla Levin.

So loved is that car that, though 20 years old, it has become a collector’s item and is also a tuner special (the chassis blends well with the 9,000 rpm engine and transmission from the Honda S2000, for instance).

Toyota, bowing to public demand, decided to resurrect the Hachiroku, but called the new car GT 86 (the original was AE86). Having a substantial stake in Subaru meant it also commissioned the creation of the BRZ, the identical twin of the GT86.

It has been a rather confusing game of musical chairs with announcements from Toyota every now and then saying one car will be dropped, the other will not, or both will be dropped, or both have been reinstated and will see production. All we can do is wait and see.

Hey Baraza,

I am torn between a 1997 Mercerdes Benz , 1997 Honda CRV and a 2002 Subaru Forester.

1. Which of this cars is more reliable, fuel efficient, stable and cheaper to maintain?

2. Is it true that you can drive the Merc for 20,000 km before taking it for service unlike the Japanese ones that need servicing after every 5,000 km?

Does it mean that the German machines are easier to maintain bearing in mind that you will use it longer before you go for service and that once you change the parts they tend to last longer?

1. Reliability: Look towards Japan.

Fuel economy: Mostly determined by the eagerness of your right foot.

Stability: Saloon cars are generally more stable than SUVs or cross-overs, especially if that saloon car is a Benz.

Maintenance costs: Depends on the degree of abuse the vehicle is subjected to but ideally, while the Japanese cars have cheaper parts, the German car’s parts will break down less often (or need less frequent changing).

2. It is true that in a Benz you could clock up to 20,000 km between services, but that is not what the manufacturer recommends. Rather than counting kilometres, the vehicle uses an elaborate system of sensors and computers to decide whether or not a tune-up is due, after which it will notify you via a dashboard readout.

Mercedes claims this is a better way than giving a ball-park mileage at which to change the oil. It allows careless drivers to avoid engine damage by asking them to change the oil earlier than usual and rewards sober pilots by allowing them to go farther for longer without incurring unnecessary costs.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 1996 Toyota Hilux 2Y, petrol. I have noticed that because of the endless Nairobi traffic jams, balancing the clutch makes engaging gears difficult even when the clutch is pressed to the metal. What could be the problem?

If the clutch assembly uses hydraulic lines to connect the pedal to the release forks/springs, then either the brake fluid level (yeah, the hydraulic clutch system uses brake fluid) is low or it may have vapour locks (air bubbles) in it. Check for leakages in the lines or at the master cylinder.

If the clutch assembly uses cables, then the cable is loose: it may have slid off a pulley or may be fraying at some point, which means it will get cut very soon.

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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?