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BEHIND THE WHEEL: If it is a Forester and has an STI logo on it, walk past the sluggish Legacy

Hi Baraza,

Kindly look into these two matters:

I have noticed quite a number of the dual-exhaust Legacies having their right exhaust broken/missing. Does this imply these models have an inherent body flaw or have the exhaust pieces become hot cakes like Toyota rear-view mirrors?

I currently own a Subaru Impreza and am looking to upgrade to a 2008 model of either a Forester or Legacy.

I am indifferent to turbo or non-turbo models. If price, running and maintenance costs are not a concern to you, which of these two models (turbo vs turbo and/or non-turbo vs non-turbo variants) would you advise me to go for, and why?

I do about 200km weekly and an additional 600km round trip every two months going upcountry.

 

Hi,

I have never really understood what is going on with these Legacy cars because I, too, have noticed the gaping hole in both estate and saloon versions. I don’t think it is the exhaust pipe that is missing, otherwise you’d notice the absence immediately through the sound coming from  the car.

These are my theories: 1. These vehicles might be fitted with single-exit exhaust pipes but the rear bumpers are swapped from vehicles that had dual-exit exhausts. 2. You might be right that the dual-exit exhaust pipes are highly desirable, so maybe the cars were factory-fitted with dual-exit exhausts (and the bumpers to accommodate them) but these pipes were later removed and replaced with single-exit units, leaving the gaping hole on the right. My money is on the second theory.

Forester vs Legacy: It is a smarter choice to go for the Forester due to increased versatility and practicality compared to the Leggy.

Since you don’t mind turbo engines, how about going the whole hog and bagging yourself an STi version? The car looks good, it will still clear small obstacles without scratching the undercarriage, and it will go like stink should a pressing need to go like stink arise.

You could also go for the more discreet Cross Sport turbo version, which, while not as quick as the STi, is still pretty fast. The naturally-aspirated versions are a bit humdrum, but they, too, will not lead to any major regrets. Take your pick; taste takes preference here rather than all-out mechanical advice.

The same cannot be said for the Legacy. It is a bit low, it is not the most comfortable car in its class and it might be the black sheep in Subaru’s performance stable. The naturally aspirated Legacy has felt underpowered for the last two generations, more so with the 2.0 litre engine.

The twin-turbo GT has a knack for knocking when pushed hard and/or suffering turbo failure when owned by people who shouldn’t really own turbocharged Subarus (turbo Subies are meant for one class of people only: performance enthusiasts who should probably know better).

The B-Sport  seems to make a case for itself — it’s not a bad car at all — but if there is a Forester STi on the menu, then please, for the love of this column, walk past the B-Sport.

 

Baraza,

I envy your knowledge of cars; your column is truly informative.

I have an obsession for vintage cars, particularly VW beetles. I plan to get one this year, and to use it as my everyday car. The problem is that I am afraid I might not get one that will not embarrass me by breaking down in the middle of a highway on a busy morning/evening. What would you advise me to look out for?

Which place would you recommend for well-maintained oldies?

Karim Suleiman

 

Beetles are not known for breaking down in the middle of highways. That said, once you buy one, it is not advisable to start driving it immediately; first have a complete systems check to ensure it actually works.

A good place to get well-maintained oldies would be the Internet. Nowadays there are plenty of forums and some of them specialise in particular brands.

Join one, wait patiently for something you like to pop up, then open a line of communication immediately.

 

 

Hi JM,

My comments below got published on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

I did not know that speed stickers were meant for the driver behind. Thank you for the information.

But I still do not understand why we have to have them only on commercial and public service vehicles;  I mean, private vehicles also have speed limits, and if they provide information to a clueless driver following you (foreigner or otherwise) as you said, then they should be on all vehicles.

As for the chevrons,  we should do away with them and instead have high visibility decals (reflective strips), not just at the rear, but also running along the length, height and width of trucks and matatus.

Pick-ups from the UK do not come with these nondescript sheets riveted to their tailgates. Since it snows there and visibility becomes worse than our worst here, how do they achieve visibility? Do we have to, in this time and age, rivet mabatis to our vehicles?

We are so stuck on colonial and pre-colonial vehicular systems that we have near-zero improvements on what we inherited from the British.

Still on this subject of commercial vehicles and PSVs, they are still subjected to annual inspection, ostensibly to ensure their roadworthiness. Yet some of the contraptions we see on our roads with inspection stickers belong to scrap yards. This is a testament to the failure of this exercise, which only serves as a means for the government to collect taxes.

The recent proposal to have all classes of vehicles inspected attracted lots of protests from motorists, but I think it is the way to go.

Let’s establish inspection centres akin to the MoT test in Britain to keep unroadworthy vehicles off our roads.

 

Hello,

Ideally, any country’s roads are supposed to be well built, well maintained and, most importantly, well marked. Besides, anyone intending to drive in a foreign country should have  rudimentary knowledge of its traffic laws.

The road markings and basic education mostly affect what Kenyans call “personal” cars, that is, non-commercial vehicles, the road markings in question being speed limits. More often than not, most roads will have the situational speed limit indicated on signposts by the road.

Road access laws governing tonnage, height, width and speed tend to target commercial vehicles in almost every country, which is why they have the stickers.  While driving, you might notice that the speed allowance on a particular stretch  is 120km/h, but this does not apply to lorries and buses; they are supposed to stick to 80.

Suggesting that we do away with chevrons and replace them with high visibility stickers is redundant: a chevron is supposed to be a high-visibility sticker. I think what you mean is that we need better quality chevrons, unlike what we see on some vehicles.

From your description, commercial vehicles would not have paint jobs; they would just be moving reflective signboards.

When it snows, drivers are required to switch their lights on. Visibility difficulties solved.

You are right, though: we are stuck in colonial times as far as traffic laws are concerned. The 50km/h town driving speed limit  came from the colonial era when cars had drum brakes all round and ABS was non-existent.

The same applies to the 110km/h highway speed limit. The laws might have an effect on speed-related accidents, but they have had no effect on road usage, which I think is our country’s primary problem as far as road carnage goes.

A popular Mombasa bus recently had its face torn off and the vehicle run off the road by a truck whose driver claimed he was asleep. Two other buses suffered a similar fate in the same 72-hour period, and this begged the question: what exactly is the role of the NTSA besides collecting revenue?

They will spend tremendous amounts of energy nabbing drivers doing 55km/h in a 50km  zone and imposing spot fines, but let incompetent — and ultimately lethal — truck drivers by without batting an eyelid.

They will clamp down on PSVs, create an uproar about night travel, seat-belt installation and speed-governor usage; they even go as far as raising hell about paint jobs which, in my opinion, have nothing to do with road accidents, but the real cause of road deaths rumble by unchecked.

How about clamping down on truck drivers with the same zeal and vigor they’ve been pointing their speed guns at the rest of us? We might have stopped killing ourselves due to their stringent laws, but now  truck drivers are killing us.

An MoT-style annual inspection would be a good idea, but how good? Do you still believe in this day and age that unroadworthy vehicles are the cause of accidents? Or will this be yet another avenue for  fleecing drivers?

I insist yet again: our biggest problem is driver indiscipline. A large number of vehicles involved in accidents are actually newish and in top shape… at least before they crashed. Having a vehicle inspected does not remove the lethal variable in the equation: a driver with issues.

Bullies, speed freaks, drunkards and show-offs abound on the roads, and these are far more dangerous than someone driving with a broken tail light.

 

Hi Baraza,

Many thanks for your highly informative column. I own an old model, locally assembled Toyota Corolla NZE, year 2006. Its performance is so good that I want to keep it instead of buying a new one. However, its engine rating is low (1299cc) and it uses manual transmission.

Its maximum speed is 220kph according to the speedometer, which makes me believe it is a high-performance car despite its low engine rating. Once in a while I travel from Mombasa to western Kenya but I have never used it . Kindly enlighten me on the difference between this 1299cc NZE and others that are 1500cc. Keep up the good work.

Mwongera Nick

 

The biggest difference is, of course,  in the engine size: one is 1300cc and the other is 1500cc.

Obviously, the car with the bigger engine is faster and more powerful; however, it might not necessarily be thirstier.

Apart from that, given the traditions of most manufacturers, the car with the bigger engine might more likely be better specced: it might have a better radio, more optional extras such as powered accessories, a better body kit or colour coding, and fancier rims/wheel caps in comparison to its lowlier version.

 

Hello Baraza,

My query concerns the legal requirements for operating a private nine-seater van. I have had several encounters with our esteemed law enforcers and the issues raised have been as varied as the number of encounters.

In some cases, the officer will check the “usual” items: insurance, licence, tyres, etc, as he would in the case of a private saloon vehicle.

However, there have been instances when I have been asked for inspection stickers, “commercial” vehicle insurance and even a speed governor.

I have enquired from senior traffic officers (when I end up at the station), but have not been given uniform answers. And queries to the NTSA through their website have not elicited any response.

Kindly enlighten me on whether the following are mandatory for a private, nine-seater van:

A speed governor

Vehicle inspection sticker

Insurance as a commercial vehicle.

Also, kindly advise if the above requirements would change if I modified it to a seven-seater, like many  SUVs, which do not have any special restrictions.

Please note that the van is a standard Toyota Hiace, customised to seat nine, including the driver.

Patrick.

 

Hello Patrick,

The proliferation of various sub-models, new body types and shapes and the sharing of platforms across model ranges has turned motor vehicle classification into a grey area.

That is why a 4WD double-cab is considered a pick-up (with all its attendant legal requirements such as chevrons), while that exact same vehicle with a canopy over the luggage bay is considered an SUV and is exempt from the commercial vehicle sticker regimen.

As for your vehicle, there is such a thing as guilt by association. That model is widely used as public transport, and/or as a delivery vehicle, so it is a commercial vehicle whether you like it or not. It, therefore, has to go for inspection and requires a commercial vehicle licence.

As for the speed governor, if that vehicle has a PSV sticker anywhere on its body, you need to have a limiter installed. This applies even to vans owned by tour companies and taxi services.

However, yours being a privately owned and operated vehicle, it is exempt from this regulation. Oh, and reducing the number of seats will not help. At all!

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The Benz Wagen will go where no Audi Q7 would dare

Hello Baraza,

I drive a Mercedes Benz G Wagen while my husband drives an Audi Q7. We will be in Iten for six weeks, during which I will have to drive 12 kilometres off road every morning down and up the Kerio Valley as I trail him on his running track.

I would like your opinion on which of the two cars to use. I understand that the G Wagen is quite hardcore, but his coach says the Q7 is built on the same platform as his VW Touareg, which also works quite well off road. Could I use the Q7 and save my G Wagen the torture?

Ruthel Owano

Before I answer your question, there are two things I must make clear:

1. How sorry I am for responding to your mail as late as this, but my schedule has been unpredictable for the most part over the past two weeks.

2. How jealous I am of the choices you have to make (some of us have to decide on a bus that is slower but Sh10 cheaper or a faster but more expensive one).

Anyway, addressing your question, how bad is the track that your hubby runs on? My guess is, it is pretty tractable at best and very narrow at worst. This favours the G Wagen. If it is a lunar landscape that your man runs through, again the G Wagen is better suited for it because, compared to a Touareg and/or Q7, the G Wagen’s abilities are superior.

The mister’s coach may drive a Touareg, but let him know his Touareg will never beat a G Wagen when the going gets military.

Also, he was right; the Q7 does share a platform with the Touareg (and the Porsche Cayenne also), but while the Porsche and VW are compact and comparatively light (the key word here is comparatively), the Q7 is a lumbering whale, large on sheer pork and length of wheel base (these two are enemies of motor vehicle dynamics) but short of pulling power (the 3.0 diesel is the sensible car to buy, but the power it develops struggles with all that body weight.

Petrol versions are extremely thirsty, so just look away). However, the Q7 is more comfortable than the Mercedes.

Torture, you say? Thrash the Gelandewagen, and spare the Audi.

Dear Baraza

I have a Range Rover Sporthouse that has a problem with height adjustment. It has fallen on one side and even when I manage to raise it, it does not stay on the same level with the rest of the car. What do you think the problem could be?

Maggie

Your suspension has collapsed, or is leaking. Either way, replace it. It will cost you a tidy sum, but hey, this was to be expected; it is a Range Rover, after all, a luxury SUV. Huge bills come with the territory.

And, just a word: please use the correct names when referring to a vehicle. What is a “Range Rover Sporthouse?” I think you mean “Sport HSE”.

Dear Baraza,
I am a retired MD of a major franchise holder in Kenya. I know a bit about vehicles but I am fascinated by your knowledge of older vehicles, such as the ones I drove in the 1960s.

I have retired to a hi-altitude area with rough roads that require 4WDs and for the past 15 years have had diesels — Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, Nissan Patrol, and Toyota Rav 4. All have done well until overhauls were necessary, after which all have been big trouble.

My question is: Can one buy a new or used vehicle with an air-cooled engine today? The old VW Beetle with 15-inch wheels and rear engine layout was excellent and lasted years. It also negotiated tracks in the wilderness where no other vehicle had ever been at the time.

Peter Barnesi.

You could buy a used vehicle with an air-cooled engine, but not a new one. And you cannot import one either (thanks to an eight-year rule by the government).

The last cars to run air-cooled engines were the VW Type 1 (after a very long production run that lasted up to 2003) and the Porsche 911 (1993 model, went out of production in 1998). Anything else that ran or still runs an air-cooled engine after that is not worth buying, unless it is a motorcycle.

It is still unclear why nobody continues with air-cooled engines, but my guess would be that it is because engines are increasing in complexity, with accessories taking up space that would otherwise be used for channelling air around the cooling fins.

Also, with a water-cooled engine, thermoregulation is easier through the system of thermostats and water pumps. With air-cooled engines, the rate of air flow is more or less the same regardless of engine temperature (even with the use of thermostat-controlled fans, water cooling allows a much larger range of temperatures to be achieved compared to an air-cooled engine).

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for the good work; your articles are very informative. I have a Subaru Legacy B4 twin-turbo which, according to everybody, has a slow knock (there is a knocking sound on the lower right side of the engine) and it also keeps flashing the Check Engine light).

I have been informed that the only remedy is replacing the entire engine. Is there an alternative — for instance, replacing the crankshaft and the arms or whatever component that needs to be replaced to remedy the situation?

The wisdom out there is that it is not sustainable and cost-effective  to fix a Subaru engine. How true is this?

Robert.

Twin-turbo Legacy cars are building quite a reputation for having unreliable engines. A lot of enthusiasts are opting for engine swaps with single-turbo motors (but a Subaru nut being a Subaru nut, they will never backslide into a naturally aspirated situation).

Now, here is the deal: the engine can be repaired, depending on how bad the knock is. However, this does not give you immunity from a repeat occurrence.

You may have to follow in the footsteps of twin-turbo Subaru Legacy owners and change the engine. A common installation into second-mill Legacy cars is usually the engine from the Impreza WRX STi.

Thanks for all the help you give. I want to buy my first car but I am not sure which one to go for. Please advise based on the following.

1. I am in business, so I need a car that can carry a bit of luggage.

2. Fuel economy, availability of spares, resale value, and not very expensive because my budget is tight.

3. I also need a car I can use for other activities apart from business.

Damaris.

Well, in tune with the sheer vagueness of your question, my answers may not be to your liking, but hey, I am just answering the question as I see it. Let the suggestions in brackets guide you as to how more detailed answers can be arrived at:

1. A business vehicle that can carry a bit of luggage is usually a pick-up… or a van. (Please specify size and weight of said luggage. A bit of luggage could be a few travelling bags, or a few bags of cement, or a few electricity poles… it really depends on perspective).

2. For fuel economy, make that a diesel-powered pick-up, preferably without a turbocharger, although it will be slow, unrefined, and noisy as a result. For availability of spares, go Japanese.

3. If you want a good resale value, you can rarely go wrong with a Hilux, but then again, you say “not very expensive”. A Hilux is costly in comparison to rivals. (You could also get an economical petrol-powered pick-up, but this would have a 1300cc or 1500cc engine, hence a small payload, and this brings us back to one above: What luggage? A small pick-up can only carry so many bags of cement).

3. A car for other activities other than business? A double-cab pickup… it is versatile — being an SUV, an estate car, and a pick-up all-in-one (I am not sure I want to know these “other activities” but I stand by my answer here. Double-cabs really ARE versatile, as are vans. And estate cars. But mostly double-cabs).

Hi,

Thank you for your informative article. I am planning to buy my first car and my mind is stuck on a Toyota Mark X. I would, therefore, like to know more about this car in terms of fuel economy, off-road and on-road performance, spare parts availability, resale value, build quality, and the market price for a new Mark X and a second-hand one.

Nelly B.

Allow me to tell you that your expectations and your dream car may not agree on very many fronts. Here is why:

Fuel economy: Nobody asks this question, ever, unless they are afraid of pumpside bills. The Mark X is a good generator of those. Town-bound manoeuvres will see economy (ironical term, this) figures of less than seven kilometres per litre (kpl).

If you drive like other women I have seen in Mark Xs, expect 5kpl per litre, or even less. Highway driving will yield 12kpl at best (this is with a lot of effort. Nine or 10kpl should be the norm). These figures apply to the more common 250G vehicle with a 2.5 litre 6-cylinder engine.

There is one with a 3.0 litre engine and a supercharger that develops 316 hp that should be a real beauty… own one and you will always walk away whenever discussions about fuel economy come up. Either walk away or chip in using colourful PG-13 language.

Off-road performance: As a woman, I would like for you to explain to me one thing about the Mark X’s appearance that says “off-road” on any level. Name just one thing.

On-road performance: It is actually quite good when on tarmac. It is quick (and thirsty: the quicker you go the thirstier it gets), it handles well, it is sort of comfortable… I say sort of because it looks like some sort of aggressive Lexus that was relegated into a Toyota, but the ride, while good, does not quite amount to a Lexus. Also, it is a bit understeery owing to the soft suspension, but when you turn the VDC off, it will drift, as I was informed by one of my well-meaning readers. It will drift everywhere in this rainy season. Do not turn the VDC off.

Spare parts availability: There is such a place as Japan, where you can order your spares from if the shops here do not have them. Also Dubai, according to yet another of my well-meaning readers, where a set of injectors costs Sh60,000 (Sh10,000 per injector, and there are six of them). I do not know if this includes shipping. To avoid finding out, only buy fuel from reputable sources and run on Shell’s V-Power at least once a month. Among other things (maintenance-wise).

Resale value: Interesting question this, as I was having a discussion with a colleague over the weekend about how much a second-hand (Kenyan) Mark X would cost. He reckons one can get one for less than a million. I seriously doubt it unless the car, one, has very many kilometress on it or, two, is broken. But then again, Kenya has a fickle second-hand car market. Ask anyone who imported a Mitsubishi Galant about nine or 10 years ago how much they eventually sold it for. Ignore the insults that will be offered in response to that question.

Build quality: Very good. But not excellent. German cars have excellent build quality. The Mark X achieves, let us say, 85 per cent of that build quality.

Market price: Interesting results I got here. Autobazaar.co.ke tells me I can get a 2006, 250G for Sh1.3 million (Mombasa), Sh1.38 million (Mombasa also) or Sh1.65 million (Nairobi). Then, on the same page is a person selling a 2007 model model for Sh3.4 million (Nairobbery, in no uncertain terms), though to be fair to the seller, this one is a 3.0-litre, and I am guessing supercharged. I strongly suspect potato vines may grow inside the engine bay of that car before he gets someone who would rather walk away from a Mercedes E Class (2006) in favour of a Toyota for the same money.

A 2006 Toyota Mark X from Japan will cost just about $5,600 (Sh478,800) before you start paying for shipping and insurance. Then your car gets to the port and KRA doubles that figure with some change on top for good measure.

A brand new Mark X from Japan costs somewhere between $36,000 (Sh3.07 million) for a 2.5-litre and $50,000 (Sh4.3 million) for a 3.5-litre. The KRA thing and the shipping costs apply here also.

Baraza,

You keep saying if one cannot find spare parts locally, one should just Google them, but how safe is online payment? How easy is it to bring the parts over, and are courier costs not prohibitive? Once I needed a book from the US and courier cost was so high it could have bought me many more books.

Philip.

Now that is the downside of buying cars that were not meant for us. I doubt if even spares are the scary part; imagine a DIY motor vehicle import only to discover that you are dealing with fraudsters.

It is the life we chose, and those are some of the consequences. An alternative to the Googling would be for the reader to ask one of the shops that sells spares to do the importation for him/her, but picture my position: once I say that, the next request from the curious reader would be: “Point me towards such a shop.”

This will be followed by many shopkeepers falling over themselves trying to get me to endorse them on my page, and when I do, invariably one of them is going to run off with the reader’s money, overcharge the poor fellow, or sell him substandard products.

Outcome? An angry reader filing a police case about how I set them up with gangsters and/or con men, and three years of hard work goes down the drain just like that.

This is the exact same reason I rarely endorse any particular non-franchised garage over another. The one or two I may have mentioned have proprietors who are personally known to me, or are the only specialists in a particular field, so even if the reader was to do his own research he would still end up at the same place.

So, as far as I am concerned, I stand by my word: if the motor vehicle spares cannot be found in any shop, the Internet will be of more help, not me.