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Buy Evoque if you want luxury, and Evo if you want to corner like a rat

Hi,

I drive a Mercedes E240 year 2003 model. Now I want to upgrade to a bigger car. I am thinking of an Audi Q7/Lexus RX/Evoque. I want comfort, luxury, looks, and speed in that order.

I do not expect to go offroad; it just needs to handle potholes and diversions (during road constructions). I live in Kericho and travel to Nairobi and Kisumu twice a month.

Which one would you prefer, and why?

Shah

Hi,

I would buy a Land Rover Discovery with that kind of money and your priorities, but since the Discovery is not on your list, let us just pretend you did not ask me what I would prefer.

Speed: This depends on which engine you have in your car, but I will not even go into details here because:

1. All these cars will top 200 km/h, which I strongly advise against anyway (what for?) and

2. The biggest differences come in acceleration, but again, how many people do you see taking part in a drag race with an Evoque or a Q7 or an RX Lexus? There are SUVs built for that kind of thing (SRT Jeeps, AMG ML Mercs, Porsche Cayenne Turbos, BMW X5M and such).

What is more important is in-gear acceleration, or in pedestrian parlance, overtaking power. The Evoque takes the cake here: With the new nine-speed gearbox (yes, nine) and those clever-clever trick turbos used in both the petrol and diesel versions (plus the Evoque’s lower GVW overall), the Range Rover will go “like a starved rat”, to quote someone.

Luxury goes to the Range Rover. Does it now? The four pillars of luxury are space, light, silence, and comfort. The baby Rangie is quiet (if you drive soberly) and well-lit, especially if you open up the roof: The extended sun-roof opens all the way back, a feat none of these other cars can claim.

Comfort is a 70-30 split affair: The magneto-rheological suspension is optimised more towards handling and response rather than wafting, which is best left to the daddy: The Vogue (also not on your list), but then again, that active suspension does make for a good ride when the going is soft.

Space is where we might have an argument. The Evoque is certainly superior to the Lexus when inside (the spaciousness, whether real or perceived, is certainly not the same), but what of the Q7? It is a bigger car, but do the exterior dimensions reflect on the inside too?

No. The inside of the Q7 may not exactly be a portable toilet — it is actually quite roomy — but some of those interior colours work against that effect. A Q7 with a dark interior feels a bit like being inside a hole, and anybody who has been in a hole will tell you that the roominess of the hole is not the first thing that comes to mind.

Well-built and elegant interior it is, though, one of the best in the world outside of a Bentley. So the Q7 drops back in light and perception of space… and comfort: The ride is a bit hard. Silence also suffers a little (the competition here is very stiff, in the form of a Range Rover and a Lexus, hence the harsh judgement). The Lexus… well, the Lexus is certainly quiet and comfortable, but it is not very roomy, nor is it exceptionally well-lit.

A good car, it is also slain by the same sword that fells the Q7: The third option is just too good. Oh, well….

Looks: This is highly subjective. I have always detested the Q7’s marine appearance (I once called it “The Prince of Whales”), and the Lexus looks really boring and just a little bit aloof, the kind of thing you would expect from someone in IT who earned billions for making an app before they turned 22.

They have not had enough time to fully develop tastes and preferences and priorities and have life experiences like sleeping in jail (or with a streetwalker) but because they are a genius, they come up with something that works really well but lacks sex appeal, passion, and character. It is just there, functional and neat. Exactly like his billion-dollar app. The Evoque, in my eyes, reeks of Victoria Beckham, which in turn brings to mind Victoria’s Secret and I think I need to stop now…. Where is that Discovery?

**************

Dear Baraza,

I hope you have been well. I am torn between the following vehicles and I just cannot make up my mind on which to go for. Please advise on which is the better option between the Mitsubishi Evo 10 and the Subaru N14 WRX STi hatchback in terms of performance (both in six-speed manual transmission).

I have owned Subarus and can confirm that getting parts in not a problem. How about the Evo? Will parts be readily available? Also, what reliability issues should I expect from these cars? Finally, which will cope better with enhancements to boost the horses?

Thanks and regards.

Hello Sir,

Thank you for opening Pandora’s Box yet again. The last time I wrote extensively about the two cars — which people mistook for a consumer report based on a comparison even after I had specifically introduced my writing as not consumer advice, I mean, one car was from 1996, the other from 2004 — I almost got murdered by loyalists of The Blue Oval. I guess it is time I sought protection again… or maybe not.

This time I will answer your queries randomly (on purpose). Evo parts may or may not be readily available. This is mostly determined by what exact parts you want and what your idea of “readily available” is: Over-the-counter? A day’s delay? A month’s delay? Or can they be acquired at all? For a performance car (such as the Evo), a little wait for model-specific parts is not unusual.

Modification/tuning/enhancement of horsepower is a common practice in the world dominated by these two cars, but some characters in Japan, whom I follow with keen interest, claim that these two particular vehicles are not easy to tune.

They seem complicated, and they are, but that has not stopped people from tuning them anyway. The response to increased performance will depend on how the enhancement itself is done, but the fact that the Evo — and not the Subaru — is available with 440hp straight from the factory speaks a lot about the drivetrain and chassis’ receptiveness to extra horsepower. It seems to be better adapted to these power upgrades, or so Mitsubishi Motors would want us to believe.

Then again, those same Japanese that I follow pitted a tuned N14 (or N16, whatever) against a tuned R35 Nissan GTR in one of their hardcore showdowns, and not an Evo… this also tells a lot, seeing how an Evo X had dropped out of contention earlier, tournament-style. For now, I will call a draw and say they are both tunable with exceptional results, but only if done properly.

Discussion of reliability is where I will probably get myself killed. I am not saying that Subies are unreliable (twin turbo Subaru engines are unreliable, but the N14 does not have this).

However, from local observation, STis suffer more turbo and engine failures compared to Evos. And they crash more often — a lot, actually. This could boil down to the driver: Maybe Evo owners are more fastidious in car maintenance and are generally better drivers, or maybe, just maybe, Evos are better cars overall, I cannot say for sure (I need to stay alive long enough to provide next week’s Car Clinic, you know), but statistics say this is so.

And now to the can of worms: Performance. There are few rival cars as evenly matched as these two models. Their engines are of the same capacity, they develop similar power and torque (a kilowatt here and Newton-meter there do not make much difference), both use 4WD powertrains and when raced flat out, they will generally invade each other’s privacy in a battle for supremacy… until you get to a corner.

In stock form, the Evo will gracefully make short work of the turn and keep charging until the driver takes his foot off the accelerator. The Subaru will head for the nearest thicket, or tree, or ditch, or whatever obstacle will inflict the most pain and/or embarrassment on the hapless and helpless driver as the vehicle ignores all instructions to change direction and washes its nose wide in a humiliating, tyre-wasting phenomenon called understeer.

This is where the Blue Oval loyalists come out with their pitchforks and torches, so I have to run now. Goodbye!

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Hello JM,I was pleasantly surprised to read my question to you about the Discovery 2.

Ever since, I have been looking at the Outback, Box Prado, and Toyota Surf (year 2002, 3000TD). I steered clear of the Outback after I found out it does not have protection on its underbelly. Good car all round, though, although on the online forums, there were many complaints. The Box Prado did not have airbags and ABS.

The Surf… many thumbs up online, so I have been taking a second look at it. What is your take on it? I am looking for a comfortable, powerful all-terrain car.

Robert Kyalo.

Hello Kyalo,

Glad I was of help. That is what I go for in this column. Now, the Surf fits the bill of “comfortable, powerful, all-terrain car”.

It is comfortable, at least a lot more comfortable than some SUVs on offer (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Fortuner, to name a few…). It actually feels a bit similar to the Prado, with less body roll on corners and oceanic wallow on undulating surfaces.

It is powerful… in a way, and if the power is not to your liking, it is nothing that a tweak to the turbo (for diesel engines), an addition of an intercooler, or an engine swap will not fix.

And it is all-terrain. It has the full off-road tackling gear: Good ground clearance, 4WD transfer box, low-range gearbox, and locking diffs. It also has airbags and ABS.

The Outback lacks clearance, low range and diff locks (alleviated by use of AWD rather than conventional 4WD), and the Box Prado, which I like very much (70 Series), has no ABS and airbags, as you say (are you very sure about this?) So, Surf it is. Problem solved, if you ask me.

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Baraza,

With all due respect, you have all your facts wrong on the Toyota Prius. I have, for the third time, read your views on the Hybrid and decided that enough is enough.

You are either misadvised or too ignorant. I have been a driver for the past 26 years and, as you can imagine, have driven quite a number of vehicles, from the Mitsubishi Rosa that was popular on the Eastleigh Route, through to half-gear vehicles, trucks, pick-ups, station wagons, and saloons.

Now, let us get back to the Prius. We Prius lovers feel insulted by your continuous criticism. I have driven a Prius since 2008, when I imported the first-generation NHW11 and I have no regrets whatsoever. I am now driving a 2005 NHW20 and still have the older one.

My sister drives a 2004 NHW20 and I have two friends who drive the same. None has had any problem with the vehicles and their contacts are available, should you wish to clarify anything.

I have yet to drive a used import vehicle of the same capacity that picks and is as fuel-efficient as my Prius and I can challenge you to a drive down to Mombasa (never been more serious) if only to have you set the record straight on the Prius Hybrid (I am willing to fuel both vehicles).

I hope you will be bold enough to publish this and accept my challenge down to the coast. If you will not, please give Prius lovers a break!

Francis

Hello Sir,

I will start off by saying I will give Prius lovers a break, simply because this has been going on for far too long and needs to come to an end.

I also need to clarify a few things, the first being my criticism of the Prius. I have not declared it a mechanical fiend, nor have I called it problematic.

My biggest gripe with this car is that it is over-glorified. It does not live up to its name. Do not believe the hype. You and your friends might drive Prii — I finally confirmed it: Toyota says it is “Prii” and not “Pria” or “Priuses”— with the best of intentions: Saving the planet for capitalists who do not care and who compensate for your good deeds by driving Lamborghinis and pointless SUVs, but that Prius you are so proud of does not save the planet. This much I have repeated several times.

The second problem comes with Prius owners: Self-righteousness. Holier-than-thou.

The salt of the earth, while the rest of us petrolheads are the bane of human existence who should be banished to a world where we will be forced to ride bicycles for the rest of our lives as penitence for taking too much pleasure in big-bore throttle bodies and Stage 2 Supercharger kits.

Owning a Prius was fast-approaching religious fanaticism, the kind of zealotic snobbishness that eventually leads to fundamentalism: “I am right and you are wrong and if you don’t agree with me I have some sticks of dynamite under my shirt that will convince you otherwise”.

Prii are good, but so are other cars. Also, Prii, like other cars, are fallible. The kind of pomp and circumstance that accompanied the vehicle’s entry into this world did nothing but set it up for backlash from the likes of yours truly. If you claim to be a horse, someone will pull down your trousers to confirm it.

The Prius is no horse.

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If you want a fast car, get yourself a Mercedes C180

Dear Baraza,

Over the years, I have gained a growing interest in German technology and become a fan of their machines. I am torn between buying an Audi A4, a Golf GTI and a Mercedes C180. The never-ending questions arise: fuel consumption, spares and servicing. Which is the best buy between these three options?

I also noticed that the C180 has a “plain” and a “Kompressor” version. What is the difference and does it matter if I want to buy the car? Albert Mwangi

A: The aspects you ask about are broadly similar across the range. Germans are notorious for designing cars shaped like briefcases that are exact copies of each other, irrespective of the logo on the bonnet/grille. Since you mention a Golf GTI and a C180 Mercedes, I am guessing by default the Audi should have an engine size of 2000cc or less, right? Turbo or naturally aspirated? I’ll go with turbo, since the GTI is turbocharged and the Kompressor is supercharged.

This brings us neatly to your second question without answering the first: the difference between the “plain” C180 and the Kompressor version is that the Kompressor is supercharged, while the plain one is, well, plain. No forced induction whatsoever.

This difference matters if you like to get where you are going really quickly and are ready to sacrifice a bit of fuel economy in the process. It also matters if you like overly complicated engines with many extra parts, which increase the likelihood of something very expensive going wrong. I like Kompressors. They are fast and offer seamless power from damn near idle, while turbo cars suffer from lag in most cases. Lag and heat problems.

So, to your original question: the consumption is good (a bit high in the GTI compared with the others), the parts are expensive, and so is servicing, but with proper maintenance, spares and servicing shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

n other words, all three are good buys. The question is whether you want a slightly unsubtle boy racer hatchback (Golf), an anonymous understeering briefcase (A4) or every overpaid Kenyan yuppie’s first automotive acquisition (C180K).

Dear Baraza,

Your column is one of the things that make the paper worth the coins and the time. Keep up the good work.

I drive a Toyota Raum 2006 model (NCZ20), 1490cc. The car is spacious, comfortable and handles very well – much better than other small cars I have driven. However, its fuel consumption of 10km/l seems out of line with my expectation of 15km/l. I have worked it out several times by filling the tank, setting the trip computer, filling the tank again when near-empty then dividing the kilometres by the litres. I consider myself a gentle driver, though I mostly drive in city traffic, and the car is always serviced at Oilibya before exhausting the service interval. Given this information, is the consumption normal or am I expecting too much of the vvti? Muthaura

A: Even though you drive in city traffic, that traffic must be spectacularly awful to push a Raum’s fuel consumption up to 10 km/l. Clearly, something is up.

My main suspicion is that the air cleaner element needs dusting or replacement. It could be clogged, thus suffocating the car and forcing it to burn more fuel in an effort to keep up appearances, appearances being the typical behaviour of a 1.5 litre four. The ECU wouldn’t be caught dead churning out the power of an 1100, now, would it?

Are there any warning lights blinking or glaring within the instrument cluster, especially the “check engine light”; is it on? How often do you use the AC? How much deadweight are you lugging around in your car? Are your tyres filled with air to the correct pressure? All these affect the fuel economy of your car; some in little ways, others majorly.

Hi Baraza,

I recently replaced the brake pads on my Nissan B15 and ever since, they have been screeching when I slow down or stop. My mechanic said it was because the disks were dirty so I had them cleaned but the noise persists. What is the problem? They also vibrate whenever I slow down.

Please help. Dave

A: The brake discs could be warped or the pads were not properly installed. Or maybe it is the pads that are dirty, not the discs.

Dear Baraza,

I have for a long time wanted to get myself a good 4×4 that will handle well and yet still be affordable to maintain. A vehicle that is comfortable but has luggage space. Affordable being that the parts are readily available and the prices reasonable, not prices that would make an ordinary citizen think of taking a soft loan to repair or fix. I admire the Porsche Cayenne, VW Toureg, Audi Q7, Mercedes GL, Jeep, Ford, Land Rover Discovery, basically most of the 4x4s.Please advise me on a good option.Victor

Hi,

None of the cars you list here falls in the affordable segment, going by your definition of affordable.

At least they are all comfortable for the most part, and will tread off the beaten path, though with varying degrees of success. They also offer luggage space, though the Touareg and the Cayenne might not be as good as the GL and Discovery in that respect. You need to specify which Jeep and which Ford you are referring to here.

I have always insisted there is little wrong with a Landcruiser Prado. It is more “affordable” than the vehicles you have listed.

Hello Baraza,

You write well. Very well. You know that. But compliments never hurt.

I am looking for a car that is a cross between a horse and a camel. It needs to have power measured in race horses with the looks to boot, desert camel hardiness enough to carry teens, bags, market shopping and planting maize for grandma.

It also needs to be a 7-seater and high enough not to scrape the large mini hills we call bumps. The price must also not be thoroughbred. What do you suggest? Judy

Hi Judy,

Your email makes for wonderful reading but not much sense. It is very vague and uses terms not commonly found in motoring. Besides, you need to narrow down my search parameters to a few models that you have your eye on. You DO have a few preferences, don’t you?

What you describe is a Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen (G Class, or G Wagon), especially the G500, or one of the AMG-fettled versions. It has “racehorse” power, it looks very fetching, especially with a subtle body kit and black rims, and it is very hardy (it gets military applications with just a few modifications). If it carries several army men and their weapons, teens, bags, groceries and grandma’s corn will not faze it. It is a 7-seater and bumps mean nothing to it.

Unfortunately, the price is thoroughbred. In fact, it costs as much as several thoroughbreds in AMG guise.

Kindly specify how much power you need, what constitutes a good-looking car to you and how far your budget can stretch. A J70 Prado could also fit this description if an engine swap is made, as could a Landcruiser VX, Land Rover Discovery and many others. Get two or three cars you have your eye on and let me help you choose one from there.

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a fabulous job, keep it up!

I am in the process of buying a Toyota Sienta to use as a taxi. I would really appreciate a review of this car and its off-road capabilities. Mwele

I have not driven this car far enough for me to do a comprehensive review but one thing I know is that it is not meant for any off-road adventures. However, it would be good as a taxi: it is economical, reliable, and roomy; and the sliding doors make it ideal for inner city use where outwardly swinging doors make exiting into the street a risk. It is also cheap to buy and repair.

Hi Baraza,

I occasionally read your articles. In one of the 2012articles, you viewed the Scannia monster machines (the P380 and the R440). You mentioned semi-manual transmission ,where cars have both manual and automatic transmissions. Could you please go into details about these cars. I am eager to hear from you. Boniface

Explaining the full workings of a semi-automatic transmission would take up quite a lot of space. Also, it is something I have done before and I’m not quite in the mood of repeating myself, though I sometimes do.

However, all is not lost. I am working on a book, a sort of almanac: a compilation of some select articles I have done over the years, the explanations behind those articles (and some Car Clinic Q& A classics), along with indexed addenda to clarify some things I might have skimped on with details. I will let the world know when this book is available and how to get a copy. You can be sure my demystification of transmission types will form part of the line-up.

Baraza, I am a fan of your Wednesday column and appreciate your efforts to educate us about cars. I have gained a lot, and thanks for that.
Now to business: I want to buy a vehicle and it is left-hand drive. I would like to change it to right-hand drive. Please tell me the dangers involved in changing, if it’s possible, and whether it will have any problems once it is changed? Kane Quntai

A: There are two problems to be faced in this endeavour of yours, the first being how to import the vehicle in the first place. The government will not allow you to bring in a car where the driver sits in the passenger’s seat, unless it is an emergency vehicle. Are you by any chance importing an ambulance or a fire engine?

That means to import the car, you have to switch the control panel to the correct side of the car BEFORE you import it, and therein lies the second problem: it is expensive and extremely difficult to do so, and for some cars, the shape of the firewall (the bulkhead between the engine and the passenger compartment) is heavily dependent on, and greatly limits the positioning of, the steering system, clutch and brake assemblies/linkages. Why not just buy a right-hand drive version of the same car, if available?

Dear Baraza,

Thanks very much for the helpful tips you give us every Wednesday.

Now, a close relative of mine has a Premio Model UA ZZT 240 that developed some engine problem that he is not very sure about but suspects that somebody malicious tampered with the engine even though the car is moving. Mechanics have tried to repair it, to no avail. I’d like to take it from him and replace the whole engine since he has two other cars and is disposing of the Premio “as is”. My problem is that my mechanic told me to ensure I buy an engine complete with gear box (automatic). The mechanic says this will guarantee a good future for the car in terms of maintenance.

Considering cost, I wanted to replace the engine only since the current gear box is okay. Please advise. Philip

A: If the current transmission is okay, just replace the engine; you don’t have to buy a new gearbox. This may sound callous, but from your friend’s perspective, it makes business sense: he is disposing of the vehicle, right? That means the car’s future is not really his concern. It will be out of his hands, won’t it? Selling the car is supposed to recoup some losses, isn’t it? If the gearbox fails later on, let that be someone else’s headache. And if he buys a new gearbox, what does he do with the old one? Selling a second-hand automatic gearbox is not easy, especially given that it is a Toyota one, and Toyotas are notorious for their unfailing reliability. Nobody knocks on my door asking for a Premio gearbox (and that is saying something, considering this is Car Clinic). What are the odds that someone will knock on HIS door?

Hello Baraza,

I want to buy a Hyundai Sonata. Kindly inform me about its pros and cons. Is it better than the Toyota Premio? Let me know the engine capacity, cost of spare parts and their availability in Kenya.Wainaina

Hi,

I was meant to test drive the Hyundai Sonata sometime back but I couldn’t because the sellers did not have a demo unit and putting test mileage on a customer car is not only unbecoming, but also hurts the asking price, thus lowers profits and, therefore, makes shareholders uncomfortable. A butterfly flapping its wings in Indonesia means no road test for me, if you get my drift.

I know it is one hell of a good car, better than the Premio, seeing how it is in the Camry’s firing line while the Premio sits one rank lower. Engine capacities vary between 1800 and 2500cc, and spare parts are available at the Hyundai base on Mombasa Road, though I have no idea how much they cost.

Hi there, You know how we, Toyota Country, take it when there’s even a hint of new upstarts getting undeserved credit when put up against the establishment! To even start suggesting that the subject Mitsu has the drop on the establishment is emasculation personified. Auto-sacrilege. Song of the damned. We won’t start debating reliability and retained value at later resale or how much punishment the car will take before flunking out (durability), although we should. Not to mention the number of years the car will last, looking nice and straight with equal care and use.Let it go. Live and let die! Sincerely seething, Kariuki

A: Interesting. Very interesting. You will notice that durability and resale value were NOT some of the criteria the inquisitor desired knowledge of, and so like a wise student who passed his exams at school (or most of them anyway… or some of them), I will not answer a question I wasn’t asked.
However, in terms of reliability (shock!), fuel economy and safety ratings, the Mitsu — as you call it — not only had the drop on the establishment, it was a Quick-Draw McGraw type of standoff and the Toyota found itself lying on the ground with its kneecaps blown off before it even came near its holster.

Next time they will think twice before releasing a half-baked car, though I am using the term half-baked here rather loosely. Rivals are awake and coming, and soon songs of damnation and cries of sacrilege will fill these pages.

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Why do you ‘hate’ the Range Rover Sport?

Hi Baraza,

Thanks to your articles, I am very comfortable talking about cars nowadays. Anyway, in one of your articles you advised someone to “get a Land Rover product that is not a Range Rover Sport”. Why is this so? This car is quite the looker. It so striking I have to turn my head whenever I see one drive by. Why, exactly, do you hate it?

Ngari.

I don’t hate the Range Rover Sport. I actually like it. I like it very much. But I like its brothers more.

My personal tastes aside, what the questioner wanted was comfort. Land Rover SUVs are very comfortable, but not all of them. The Defender can break your back, or cause you to bite your tongue.

The Sport feels stiff, because it is. It has to be for it to be able to corner properly, and thus chase the Cayenne (though it won’t catch it. That is a story for another day).

In comfort terms, the best SUVs I’ve ridden in, and driven, are the Discovery 4 and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue (L405). Especially the L405. Nothing comes close.

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Shopping for an SUV . . .

Jambo Baraza,

Thanks for your informative column. On June 12, 2013, you wrote a piece about SUVs that was quite interesting. I am shopping for an SUV and will appreciate if you could split the Petrol versions of the Toyota Landcruiser VX, Range Rover Vouge, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo CX90 along the following lines: durability, build quality, comfort, luxury, performance, versatility (not too extreme ‘off-load’ adventures), safety standards and resale value.

On tarmac alone, which one would you endorse? Why do Kenyans seems to shy away from the Cayenne and the CX90? Both seem to me as equally good and serious machines. Kindly give your overall rating.

Eric.

These are the results in order of merit. To the left are the superior vehicles, then things get steadily worse down the list:
Durability: Landcruiser VX. Then we have a sizeable gap before we come to the Porsche, then the Volvo. Last is the Range Rover, but this one is hard to tell because, except the VX, all these others have had new versions come out recently, so time has not passed enough to tell who will fall by the wayside. That list is purely based on former models.

Build Quality: The Germans rule. Porsche leads the pack. Then the 2013 Range Rover (L405), which might not make much of a difference because the L322 was also very well built. The VX 200 is third and the Volvo last.

Comfort/Luxury: L405 Range Rover runs this, both in comfort and luxury. The Cayenne is more luxurious than comfortable. The Volvo is more comfortable than luxurious. The VX is a little less of both, unless you opt for the Lexus LX 570 version of this car, which pushes it all the way up to second place from last.

Performance: That Porsche is a killer, if you opt for the Turbo S model. Then comes the Range Rover Supercharged. Then maybe the V8 Volvo XC90, owing to its lower weight, smaller size and road-optimised suspension gubbins, pushing the VX into last position.

Versatility: Nothing beats the VX in terms of versatility, but you specified “not too extreme off-load adventures” (should be off-road, I guess, but then again maybe you did mean off-load, as in sans-luggage). In that case, maybe the XC90 wins it here owing to its seating capacity. The VX has more perches, yes, but there are places where it would look, well, out of place. Like at an inner city party for the well-off. It looks too rugged and too off-roadish. The rest would work too in almost any situation, but the Volvo has more seats

Safety standards: Volvos are the kings of safe. The VX would be most unsafe because it does not use a monocoque chassis like the others, and it is too tall, making it very easy to tip over.

Resale value: The VX retains most of its value over the years. The rest are a tough call to make, but of the lot, the Porsche loses most of its value over the years.

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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.

Posted on

Okay guys, let’s take these little 4X4s off the tarmac

Hi Baraza,
Congratulations for the excellent job you’re doing. I have two questions:
1. Please give a critical analysis of the following high-end 4X4s: Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q7, BMW X6, Porshe Cayenne, VW Touareg and Mercedes M-class and G-Class.

Comment on performance on and off road, intelligence, comfort, safety, longevity and fuel consumption, and which of these you woul go for.

2. Please advice us on the precautions we should take to ensure we don’t get conned when importing a car and when buying a locally used one.

Thanks,

Sam.

1. On-Road Performance: The Porsche Cayenne is untouchable, especially as a Turbo or Turbo S. The rest would only attempt at catching up in their high performance variants, and the pecking order is like this, starting from second place (after the Porsche): BMW X6 M, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, Range Rover Vogue Supercharged — if there was a Range Rover Sport in this list, the Sport Supercharged would be No 2 after the Cayenne —, Audi Q7 V12 TDI, VW Touareg V10 TDI, Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG and finally the Land Rover Discovery V8. This list combines both handling and speed. For speed only, the Q7 would be No 3 and the G63 No 4.

Off-Road Performance: The Mercedes G Class is hard-core, closely followed by the Range Rover and the Land Rover Discovery. The Touareg and the Cayenne tie in 4th place (same chassis anyway), followed by the ML Benz.

The Q7 is second last, which would seem strange given the fact that it shares a platform with the Cayenne and the Touareg, but it has a much longer wheel-base and is a lot heavier; and the Quattro drivetrain is slow-thinking, so it cannot quite match up to the other two. Stone dead last is the X6, which is a fashion statement and should be treated as such.

Intelligence: I don’t know what you mean by “intelligence”, but these are all European cars, and they all pack some elaborate forms of cleverness under their bonnets, in their chasses and in their drivetrains.

The vote on engine development would go to the X6, especially the 3.0 litre turbodiesel. Drivetrain and chassis configuration: I’d say the Land Rover Discovery: double chassis, both monocoque and separate, air suspension, Hill Descent Control and the Terrain Response System. All these in one car. None of the others can boast such a feat.

Comfort: It’s no secret: the grandfather of all SUVs, the Range Rover Vogue, with air-suspension, set in Comfort mode, not Sport or Off-road setting. The rest fall into place one way or the other, if they have available air suspension. Some don’t, like the Cayenne. The G Class could be the least comfortable here.

Safety: These are the Euro-NCAP ratings for these vehicles according to the last model tested. Decide for yourself which is which.

Longevity: This depends on how you treat them and where you drive them (and how you drive them where you drive them). The G Class is like a hard rock that will not wear out. The Range Rover’s past history plays against it.

Consumption: If this is the class of cars in which you are looking for your next purchase, don’t ask this question.

But anyway: the diesel versions of these cars will give very good mileage, between 7 and 11 kpl, except the Cayenne diesel (and Touareg) which will still swill till you go shrill. The Q7 6.0 V12 TDI is another case altogether, I’d rather not even talk about it.

The petrol versions of these cars, on the other hand, will bankrupt you faster than those Campus Divas For Rich Men that you see on Facebook. Expect mileages in the region of 4-5 kpl. Worst culprits are the Cayenne Turbo and ML63 (see the rest of the list in the “On-road Performance” section)

The car I’d go for? The Gelandewagen, the Mercedes-Benz G Class, or G Wagon in hip-hop-speak. It looks the part, and in black, with black rims, the G63 AMG’s looks and sounds will ensure nosy neighbours never visit — and they will always lock up their daughte’s whenever they hear Germany’s rudest V8 rumbling into the compound. Class.

2. I did an article on this subject some time back, and it was plagiarised on so many Internet sites that finding it is not hard. Just search “How To Buy A Used Car”… or something like that.

Dear Baraza

I own an old manual Toyota Corolla stationwagon which I am planning to dispose of and buy a newer car. Kindly let me know the advantages and disadvantages of manual and automatic gearboxes before I make my choice.

I want to buy either a Toyota Corolla, a Subaru Legacy or a Subaru Impreza, but I’m yet to figure out the advantages each has over the other in terms of fuel consumption, reliability and performance.

Regards,

Muthoni

Manual transmissions tend to offer marginally better performance and fuel economy, while automatic cars are easier to drive… almost too easy.

Economy and maintenance (and performance) are broadly similar for the Corolla and Impreza (both of 1,500cc). The Legacy performs better than these two but will use more fuel per kilometer and might cost more to keep on the road.

Hello Baraza,

I recently acquired a Toyota Hilux 2007 model fitted with a Toyota 5L 3,000cc engine.

1. What are the pros and cons of this engine?

2. Being new to diesel engines, is this an EFI variant?

3. How does it compare to the Toyota 3L engine in terms of performance and fuel consumption?

4. Would it be wise to change to a smaller engine once the pros and cons are taken into account?

Regards,

Benjamin.

1. Good economy and reliability. Poor output compared to rivals of similar capacity.

2. Yes.

3. The 5L is of bigger capacity (2,986cc) compared to the 3L (2,779cc). It has better power (97 bhp @ 4,000 rpm versus 91 bhp @ 4,000 rpm) and torque (191 Nm @ 2,400 rpm versus 188 Nm @ 2,400 rpm). The fuel consumption depends on use, but the 3L is easier on the drink.

4. Yes. Like the 3L for instance. The differences in outputs (6 bhp and 3 Nm) don’t validate the difference in engine capacity (207cc).

Hi Baraza,
Many thanks for enlightening us through your insightful articles. I enjoy reading them every Wednesday and I have picked loads of tips. Now to my questions: In your experience, what are the common causes of turbo failure and how do you deal with the turbo once it fails? Does it require special care to keep it going?

Kind regards,

Daniel Makau.

Thank you Mr Makau. The common causes of turbo failure are poor lubrication and heat dumping (which is, in a way, the result of poor lubrication). The poor lubrication can either be by using the wrong grade of oil, having low oil levels or thrashing a turbocharged engine as soon as the key is turned.

When a turbocharged engine is cranked, it is advisable to wait for 2-5 minutes (depending on size of the engine and the turbocharger) for the oil to flow around the turbo shaft and into the bearings, and for oil pressure to build up before revving up the engine.

I am sure I do not need to explain the benefits of lubrication whenever metal parts are rubbing together, and in a turbocharger, these benefits are of paramount importance. Turbocharger vanes can sometimes spool at speeds of up to 25,000 rpm. That oil is important.

Heat dumping occurs when a turbocharged engine is turned off immediately after coming to a stop, more so after a period of continuous hard use.

An example is of a bus with a turbo engine charging hard from Nairobi to Mtito Andei before stopping. If the driver feels he must turn off the engine, he should wait, again 2-5 minutes (depending on time period and severity of usage of the engine) before killing the switch.

If the engine is turned off immediately, the oil pump stops working, so oil pressure drops. Poor lubrication. Another thing is that the turbocharger is still spinning at a very high rate, so without lubrication, you can see where the problem lies.

With these high rotation speeds comes heat. The oil that lubricates the turbo also serves to cool it. When the oil stops circulating, all the heat in the turbo is dumped into whatever little oil was left there, and this extreme heat causes something called coking in the oil, where the oil breaks down. Again, poor lubrication.

The 2-5 minute spool-down period thus allows the turbo to slow down and cool a bit before being starved of oil when the engine goes off.

Heat dumping not only damages the oil, but also the turbo itself. On one end of a turbocharger is the impeller, which feeds cold air into the engine.

The other end is the turbine, which is driven by extremely hot exhaust gases. The temperature differential between these two fans is very large, and their only connection is the shaft in between, which bears the brunt of the disparity in heat levels.

With the engine turned off suddenly, heat dumping occurs (rapid drop in temperature), and this sudden loss of heat can cause warping and lead to brittleness of components, which then break. This is the biggest (and costliest) issue with turbochargers.

The best way to deal with turbo failure is to replace the turbocharger unit. Some units are so complex, such as those equipped with variable geometry turbochargers, that opening them up to replace singular components might not be a wise proposition.

Turbos require extra care. Lubrication is of paramount importance. Proper oil grade and levels for the turbocharger, and sober driving techniques are the best palliatives against failure.

Also, let the engine idle a little before applying load on it; and after driving it, give it time to cool down before turning it off. Some cars are fitted with turbo timers which can do the latter for you if sitting in a car for five minutes doing nothing is not your cup of tea.

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for the good work. I own a Volkswagen Golf FSI 1600 CC, year 2006. When I start the engine, it roars very hard for a few seconds then runs quietly.

I have owned a Nissan and a Toyota but have never experienced such noise on cranking. The golf is ‘new’ and I’m the first owner In Kenya. Is this normal? Also, the stated speed of the car online is 197KPH yet my car has the top speed reading 260KPH, is this a fallacy by the manufactures?

Victor Otieno.

The roar could be an excess of fuel being fed into the engine on cranking to prevent hard starts. I am not sure if it is normal. What does CMC say? The speedometer reading is not a fallacy.

The manufacturers tend to use generic speedometers in a lot of their cars. Just because the speedometer has 260 km/h written on the bottom right corner does not mean that car will clock 260 km/h. Have a look at the Premios (first gen) that came in from Singapore. Their speedos also read 260, but that car can barely crack 210.

Hello Baraza

Sir, Toyota is to recall seven million vehicles due to possibly over-heating electric window switches. The recall is for vehicles sold in US, Asia and Europe.

My question is, how would someone in Kenya who drives an import from UK, Malaysia, Japan etc, find out if their car is on the recall list?

Second point: I was told by a Nissan executive that the best source of second-hand Nissans is the UK because the roads there are rough compared to other RHD countries.

UK cars therefore have tougher suspension and reinforced floorpan and suspension points. I drove a UK-built Almeira here for a while and the ride was firm! Your view?

Tony Gee.

To find out if your car is or has been on a recall list (and was actually recalled) is as simple as visiting either the manufacturer’s website or the NHTSA website. There you will find a list of VINs of affected vehicles. Compare it to your own VIN and see if your car is “hot”.

The second point may be true, but remember: UK also salts its roads in winter, and we know salt + water + air =…..?

Rust.

Especially brake discs/drums, wheel hubs, steering arms, etc.

Hello,

I drive a 2005 Volkswagen Golf fitted with an automatic gearbox. The car drives well but has two problems;

1 It jerks when shifting, especially the low gears (1, 2 and 3). A mechanic advised me to change the ATF oil but it didn’t help. Another mechanic told me to change the gearbox but it’s a very expensive affair. What could be the problem?

2. There is a noise on the right front side, at the suspension area, especially when on a rough road. The shocks are new but the whole assembly seems to have a problem. Those are the two issues making me not enjoy the this German technology.

Next time a mechanic tells you to do something as expensive as changing an entire gearbox, ask to explain what exactly is wrong with it and why there aren’t any cheaper alternatives. I have noticed that sometimes these people say things just for the sake of saying. Anyway, here goes:

1 When you changed the ATF, did you fill it up to the correct level? Did you flush the system first before filling in the new fluid? Did you buy a poor brand? Also, check for a leak.

Your ATF could be leaving the car without your notice. Other theories are a clogged filter preventing your transmission from working properly, or a malfunctioning pump and/or a problem with the Line Pressure Solenoid (ask your mech if he knows what this is).

You may not have to buy a new transmission, but if the problem is pressure, cleaning the valve body at the top of the gearbox might solve the issue (sometimes dirt causes the valves to stick and this causes the Line Pressure Solenoid to “malfunction” due to wrong pressure readings).

2. What does that noise sound like? Maybe your new suspension has not had time to bed in, or the fitting was done unprofessionally and there is a bit of play between components.

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for your highly informative articles. I have a Toyota Caldina, new shape. The car runs perfectly, but there is normally a “rotten egg” smell coming from the engine when I drive fast.

I suspected the battery could be the problem and I went to Chloride Exide who recommended an N40 battery but the problem still persists. Please advise me on what to do.
Paul.

The “rotten egg” smell is a characteristic of hydrogen sulphide gas (goes by other strange names such as dihydrogen monosulfide, dihydrogen sulfide, sewer gas, stink damp, sulfane sulfurated hydrogen, sulfureted hydrogen, sulfuretted hydrogen, sulfur hydride…).

From the little chemistry I know, stink damp can be produced when hydrogen gas (common lead-acid battery/accumulator by-product) reacts with molten sulphur.

The sulphur could be from the sulphuric acid used in that same accumulator. Even more worrying is that in that chemical equation, the hydrogen gas could be replaced by a hydrocarbon.

In an automotive engine, the most common hydrocarbon is petrol, though this is a stretch, I don’t see how petrol can reach the battery without human intervention.

The whole process could be cyclic. Sewer gas and oxygen react to form sulphur dioxide and water. In high temperature environments (car engine? I don’t know), the sulphur dioxide and more “rotten eggs” react to create sulphur and water (the Claus Process), and this is probably where the sulphur originated from to create the hydrogen sulphide.

As you can see, this is a self-generating menace right there, because, aside from the bad smell, stink damp is highly explosive.

Anyway, enough of the Chemistry. Why this occurs only when you drive at speed is what is important, and for that I have no answer. It could be something to do with the charging system.

Is the battery being overcharged at high rpm? Maybe. The electrical charging current could be creating undesired electrolysis (the accumulator, is after all, a voltaic /electrolytic cell)

Posted on

Other than looks, the X6 doesn’t have much to offer

Hi JM,

I recently rolled over at a corner in a Nissan X-Trail but survived… with great lessons. Now I know that speed that thrills can kill. Also, I have developed a great fear for this car because I have comfortably done the same corner at a higher speed in a BMW 318.

Speaking of BMWs brings me to my question: I have driven an X6 from Thika to Gertrude’s Hospital in Muthaiga and back (the child’s father was too anxious to drive) and did not see any major issues with this car.

In fact, I outdid most cars with ease. I relish motoring, although I am not an expert, so I think you should have this car for a day, try it out, and write a review.

And, by the way, why is it that nowadays you do not have proper reviews anymore and have instead resorted to answering questions only. I used to find the articles comprehensive, and thus more educative.

Do not blame the car for the accident. How fast were you going when you took the bend? And a 3-Series is very different from an X-Trail in terms of handling. I am sorry about your accident, but you need to be more careful and sensible on the road.

About the X6, I know it is good in its own way, but a man running alone thinks he runs fastest. Pit the X6 against rivals (including its own brother, the X5) and it is shown up for the pretender that it is.

Pointless, heavy, ponderous, not as good on road as its looks would suggest, totally useless off-road due to the absence of ride height control, locking diffs and low range transmission, poor rear head room compared to the others… and just what in God’s name is a “Sports Activity Coupe” or whatever BMW calls it?

What they did was graft Beyonce Knowles’ beautiful upper body to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heavily muscled running gear in the hope that the resultant chimaera would appeal to a wider demographic. Instead, they made those of us with a sense of taste throw up at the sight of it.

The reviews? Editorial policy is driven by consumer demand, or so I guess. Somehow, people prefer the heavily summarised responses I give to their questions rather than the more elaborate reviews, so we had to abide by the adage “the customer is always right” (this also explains the X6: some customers actually wanted such a thing). I still write long articles, though.

Hi Baraza.

I would to like to have your opinion about speed cameras. I believe that the police want to install some more to add to the lone camera along Thika Road. Every year — or rather, week — we hear the traffic police blame speeding as the major cause of accidents on our roads. Please answer these questions for me:

1. Is putting up speed cameras a waste of money, considering they are expensive to install and run? I read somewhere that they require around Sh5 million to operate.

2. Does it mean that if you pass the limit they have been set, you have a 99 per cent chance to cause an accident?

3. What criteria is used to determine the maximum speed that one should drive on our roads?

4. Are there any cheaper methods to prevent accidents since, according to me, these cameras are expensive for nothing?

5. Why do your readers not ask you about car safety levels and features despite the high number of road accidents on our roads? I ask this because many of the accidents that occur are not necessarily due to speeding.

Lastly, I would like to go to a driving school, and I am torn between going to a school and learning at “home” because I do not think the schools offer anything more than a driving licence. What do you think?

Walkins
1. Yes, it will be a waste of money. Motor vehicle registration in Kenya is sketchy compared to other countries with speed camera technology — offenders are normally traced and subsequently arrested or given citations using their car number plates.

Most of us drive hired (or even stolen) vehicles, meaning a photo of your car committing a traffic infraction is all the police will end up with, rather than the offender himself.

Still, even with the vehicle owner’s information, tracing them will be difficult owing to lack of manpower and the frequency with which people change rental houses. It will not work.

2. That is nonsense. If that were true, the only people still alive would be the chaps in rural areas who have never boarded a motor vehicle all their lives (our population figure would be hovering around the 1.5 to 2 million mark, rather than nudging 40 million, as the government alleges). The police blame speeding for fatalities in road accidents because they have nothing clever to say about the whole road safety issue.

3. On our roads, no idea. On roads in other countries, factors like long range visibility, size, type and condition of the road (and the road surface), the presence of junctions, acceleration lanes, climbing lanes, hard shoulders, runoff areas, social amenities such as schools and churches, traffic density (average), and the layout of the road (whether it is dead straight like in America or has twisty and curvy switchbacks like in the French Alps) are some of the things considered.

4. Yes. Give a bonus to traffic policemen for every offender they rope in. The police are our last hope in forcing people to behave well on the road.

A small campaign could run in print and electronic media telling people how to avoid the traffic policeman’s lasso around the neck: respect the rule of law and drive like you were taught at the driving school, not as you think you should.

Punitive measures against offenders should include confiscation of both driving licence and motor vehicle, and hefty fines, with a possibility of a total driving ban for repeat offenders.

5. The nature of Kenyans is such that they would rather die and save money than stay in one piece and have less money than the Joneses.

That explains why halves of vehicles written off in accidents get welded onto halves of other cars and put back on the road. And the furore when the late John Michuki made us strap on safety belts in PSVs.

And why some of us would flog a car to such a point that it is held together by bits of paint and rust rather than conceding that our trusty vehicle has reached the end of its usefulness and is due for euthanasia.

I agree with you, and thank you for raising the issue. I did discuss safety at the end of 2010, but my writing went largely ignored. The best way out is to follow in the late Michuki’s footsteps and come down hard on those who think rules were made for wimps and sissies.

Hi Baraza,
I drive a 2005 Toyota Land Cruiser. Lately I have been feeling like upgrading into something more classy but still reliable, that is, a Range Rover Sport or an Audi Q7 since I travel to my rural home at least twice a year and the roads there are non-existent. In your opinion, which among the two is more reliable?

Reliability issues among these huge SUVs tend not to be publicised too much, and anyway, repairs should not worry you who can afford them. The inconvenience of the car breaking down, though, can be frustrating.

The Range Rover Sport is what I would vouch for, and for a very strange reason. You see, the Q7 was not built as well as it could have been; I am not saying that it is bad, it is actually quite good, but it could have been better.

It was built to a price and targeted at Americans for whom size means everything, so Audi avoided the typical aluminium diet and went for crude steel. The interior is still world class, though, and the Germans have a reputation for building solid, bullet proof (not literally, but meaning free of holes or weaknesses) machines.

The Range Rover Sport, on the other hand, has enthusiasm behind it. It was built with passion by engineers who only wanted the very best, and this shows in the execution.

It is ultimately better to drive and will go further off-road owing to its shorter wheelbase and overhangs and its Discovery-derived double chassis. The Q7 is based on a Touareg/Cayenne, which is not very off-roadish.

Hello Baraza,

I thought Nissans were inferior to the Toyotas (please correct me if I am wrong), and during the weekend I had a chance to drive a 1500cc Wingroad — its comfort as well as pick up speed was nowhere close to the Toyota Allion 1500cc.

You have praised the Nissan X-Trail (280hp) GT and rated it above the Toyota Kluger and the RAV4. Is the pick up speed of the X-Trail GT faster than that of the two Toyotas? What about the ‘comfortability’ and off-road performance?

Please do not create words (comfortability) — only I am allowed to do so. Moving on. The X-Trail GT is bloody fast, 280hp is not a joke.

It will blow your Klugers and RAV4 out of the water any day. However, that turbocharged engine requires handling with kid gloves, the fuel economy will not befriend environmentalists, and one of my mechanics claims it eats ignition coils for breakfast and lunch.

Naturally, hard springing and competition shocks make for a hard ride, and I am not sure you want to take a car with this kind of performance off-road…

Nissan vehicles are not always inferior to Toyotas; it depends on which model you are talking about. For further reference, drive a Navara back-to-back against a Hilux double-cab, then document your findings.

Hi Baraza,
I was wondering which car, between a Forester XT 2003 model and the Mercedes C180 Kompressor (supercharged), would win in a five-kilometre drag, a sharp-cornered circuit, and a sprint from Nairobi to Nakuru, and why?

The outcome of such a trio of races would boil down to the skills of the drivers of the two cars, though in a five-kilometre drag with simple pedal-to-the-metal action, the Benz would take it (260 km/h).

The circuit might favour the Forester (smaller mass and 4WD torque distribution) but a Nairobi-Nakuru blitzkrieg would favour the Benz (this, again, goes down to whichever driver has the biggest cojones).

Hi,
I am planning to get my first car soon. Kindly advise on which of these cars, the old-shape Premio and the Carina, is better in terms of performance, spares, engine output, and durability. Also, is there much difference in terms of fuel consumption between 1800cc and 1500cc models of these cars? Lastly, what is the difference between EFI and VVT-i, and does it influence engine reliability?
Mutuku

For the same engine size, the two cars are essentially the same in almost all aspects, with the Carina being a touch sportier (and thus fathered the Allion). The difference in fuel economy between 1.5- and 1.8-litre engines is not big, especially with careful driving. The kpl achieved will depend on how you drive. Expect 10–15 kpl.

EFI is electronic fuel injection, and it is a precise and computerised method of delivering fuel from the fuel lines into the engine. VVT-i is variable valve timing with intelligence, and it is a system by which valve lag and valve lead (delaying of the opening and closing of valves) are computer-controlled to optimise performance and reduce emissions.

Yes, it influences engine reliability. The more complex an engine, the bigger the likelihood that things will fail, and the harder it is to fix the problems when they arise.

Baraza,

I am thinking of buying a car soon and I am in a dilemma about the car to invest in. I have these saloon options: a BMW 318i, a Subaru WRX Impreza, and a Toyota Avensis.

According to you, which of the three cars is ideal for a young man who is struggling in this Kenyan economy, especially bearing in mind high fuel prices, maintenance, and repairs?

Which of the three cars performs well on Kenyan roads and can handle rough terrain as well?

Which of the three is cheap to maintain and service?

Davy

For fuel economy, get a D4 Avensis. The 3-Series is also a sipper when driven soberly. The WRX will bite your wallet.

Maintenance and repairs: The BMW will take longest before it breaks, but when it does it will cost the rest of your life savings to get it running again. The Toyota is also reliable, but the D4, like BMW, will cost you if it goes bang.

The WRX should not cost much to maintain, that is until you overload the turbo and it goes boom, then you will really know hardship.

Normal, sane driving and regular checks and servicing should give you satisfactory ownership from all three cars. The 3-Series will cost the most to service and the Toyota the least.

The WRX is the handler and performer of the three, but stiff suspension and low profile tyres are not for rough terrain. The BMW’s minimal ground clearance also rules it out of any rough stuff, but it also handles, and performs. The Avensis is the easiest to take on unpaved roads.

Posted on

The Forester is okay off-road, just don’t follow a Defender

Hi Baraza,

I currently own a Toyota Allion A18 and would like to upgrade to a Forester X20, the non-turbo version. I would like you to compare the two in terms of the following:

1. Fuel consumption.

2. Cost of maintenance.

3. Resale value.

Lastly, how hardy is the Forester for off-road use in respect to ground clearance and performance?

Omondi

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1. The Allion is more economical. No contest.

2. Again, the Allion may be cheaper to maintain.

3. The Forester costs more when new and is a cross-over utility, so it has a higher resale value.

The Allion tends to depreciate badly if used hard.

Off-road, the Forester is good in those respects. Just don’t follow a Land Rover Defender everywhere, you might end up in the clag and unable to come out.

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Baraza,

Please tell me more about Suzukis, especially the Samurai and Jimny models, in terms of fuel efficiency, stability and off-road nature.

I am planning to buy one for use both at the office and managing businesses in the village.

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Samurai and Jimny are a pair of hard-to-love cars that are, frankly, pretty outdated.

Fuel efficiency is good, but could be better with improved aerodynamics. Stability is very poor in both; falling over is very easy.

They are mean off-roaders: back when the Porsche Cayenne was new, it got its face pushed in by a Jimny in a tough off-road challenge.

Bear in mind that one Cayenne, particularly the Turbo, will cost you almost 15 Jimnys.

Where in God’s name are your office and village businesses located to warrant the use of a Jimny?

It is like saying “I bought a Defender to take my kids to school”.

The natural reaction would be; “Do your kids go to school in the Grand Canyon or the middle of the Sahara?”

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Hi,

I have a question that I hope you will address so as to bring some sanity in my home because, as it is now, my wife and I cannot agree on an issue that I consider light but which carries a lot of weight for her.

We have lived in Cyprus for close to 15 years and have decided to come back home.

For this reason, we are taking all our belongings with us apart from one, which is the bone of contention — my wife’s “Smart ForTwo” Cabrio road car.

Now, we happen to visit Nairobi once every year and, for close to ten years now, I have never seen this car on Kenyan roads.

The problem is that my wife seems to have bonded more with this car than she did with me.

She has driven both the first and second (newest) versions of the Smart car, and I must admit that it is a great car to drive.

It has a very light but compact chassis and it grips the road like a spider. It is very firm, spacious (in spite of it’s miniature size), comfortable, fast and very fuel efficient.

I do not know much about cars, but at least I know that the car is manufactured by Mercedes Benz and all parts and servicing is done by Mercedes Benz centres here in Lemesol and worldwide.

But the car is purely made for smooth-road driving and my fear is that it might not be able to handle the rough terrain that is characteristic of Kenyan roads.

I am also wary about the availability of spares and servicing at Mercedes centres in Nairobi. It is because of this that I am trying to convince my wife to sell it and get another car in Nairobi.

But she is adamant that she must have her two-seater toy in Nairobi. I am afraid that we will be looking for a scrap metal dealer soon after we arrive.

Please help, I need to know whether we should ship this car or whether we should just forget about it.

Joe

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Joe, you are right. It is unlikely that the Smart will survive the vagaries of driving on Kenyan roads.

And I seriously doubt if DT Dobie can handle its service and maintenance; it is built by Mercedes yes, but it is made by Swatch, the Swiss watch company.

I believe it uses a turbocharged 600cc three-cylinder engine, right? Where will the spares come from?

If you ding it in a parking lot, you will have to import the replacement panel, possibly from Smart themselves (the GRP bodywork cannot be panel-beaten).

And I doubt if Nairobians are as decent as Cypriots when it comes to driving, so believe me, dents are in the offing once you land here.

I have seen two Smart cars so far in Nairobi, though, but both were Smart ForFours.

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Jambo Baraza,

Kindly advise me on the usability or legal aspects of driving a left-hand vehicle in Kenya.

Mike

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It turns out that importation of LHDs has been kiboshed by our dear government, which throws a spanner into my plans for importing a used Bugatti Veyron.

That is unless the vehicle in question is an “emergency vehicle” (police, fire engine or ambulance).

Maybe I should stick a blue light on the roof of that Veyron.

Legal aspects? None that I know of. I still see LHDs on the road and no one seems to be going after them with lawsuits or charges.

Overtaking on the highway could be a real exercise though, and joining an oblique junction that was made specifically for RHDs will test your skills to the limit.

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JM,

I would like your opinion on something that has been disturbing me for a while now.

I imported a 2003 Toyota Voxy 2.0 two years ago and the car seems to be very thirsty.

1. I went to Mombasa once and used a full tank one way. Coming back, I used another full tank.

In Nairobi, I use Sh700 daily over a 24-kilometre distance, which translates to about 5kpl, yet I avoid traffic.

2. The engine and oil lights usually come on when I’m driving but later disappear.

3. The car is very uncomfortable; you can feel bumps and very small potholes.

I have driven a friend’s Fielder over the same road and it rides smoothly. Again, what could be the problem?

I installed heavy duty Monroe springs but not the shocks since I was told they were in good condition, but nothing changed.

4. The car is on 17 inch, low profile Pirelli tyres (it came with these); might these be affecting comfort?

And what’s the recommended tyre pressure? I use 30psi.

NB: The car does not carry heavy luggage.

Ian

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I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the consumption would be that high, given that you don’t encounter traffic.

Have you topped up the oil? Or replaced it? That should take care of the oil warning light.

If you did so recently, then the oil pressure may be too high.

The ‘check engine’ light might suggest weakening plugs (unlikely) or a faulty MAF sensor that is causing the abnormal consumption, but this would normally show in a diagnosis.

Maybe the ECU cable is loose (I’ve been there before, and somehow this also increased the consumption on my little Starlet to a highly abnormal 6kpl on the highway.

The low profile running gear and heavy duty shocks are responsible for the uncomfortable ride. Live with it or revert to default settings.

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Hi Baraza,

I overhauled my Toyota Surf 3L engine, replacing everything including the pistons, but the vehicle is still over heating.

My mechanic seems to have given up and now suspects that the cylinder head might have a crack or something.

The money I have spent so far is enough to buy a new engine, so I will greatly appreciate your help.

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What kind of overhaul was that in which the mechanic did not notice the cylinder head was cracked?

I am not a mechanic, but I have once overhauled an engine (believe it).

To check for hairline fractures, cracks or fissures, wash or douse the affected part in fine oil (like the type used in old typewriters or sewing machines), wipe it clean with a rag then dust it with French chalk.

The cracks and fissures will stain the chalk owing to the oil still in the cracks. Simple.

Was the head gasket replaced? Are the radiator hoses intact? Does the water pump work? The fans?

Check all these out and therein you will find your answer.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for your excellent motoring articles. Always a good read. Now, I drive a diesel 2002 Isuzu TFR54 pickup (local).

It was previously company branded, and most likely the limited slip differential label at the back has been painted over.

1. So, how do I tell if it has limited slip differential, and what are its benefits over an open diff?

2. I had the engine rebuilt and my conservative calculations indicate 13 kpl.

Is this possible with a 2.5-litre diesel engine? I live 30 km out of town and use it as my daily commute.

3. Is it true that after an engine rebuild it will take time (for lack of a better term) to “open up” and increase in speed and efficiency, could this also be described as a breaking-in period?

Vic

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1. The best way to tell if it has an LSD (not to be confused with the drug) is to try and drift it, but don’t do this, you will roll over and hurt yourself if you have not mastered the art.

And pickups don’t drift easily. Just ask the former owner for the handbook of that particular car. Benefits of an LSD over an open diff include better traction on treacherous surfaces with minimum waste of torque through one tyre spinning.

2. A consumption of 13 kpl is just fine, if anything, you should be proud of it.

3. Yes. The phrase you are looking for is not “open up” but “bedding in”, and yes, this is the breaking in period. It is usually 1,000 km for most Isuzu KB pickups ever since the days of Chev-Luv.

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Baraza,

There is something that has bothered me for a while but the mechanics I have spoken to haven’t been of much help.

The question is: Doesn’t the size of the tyres affect the accuracy of the odometer reading?

Allow me to explain. How does a car measure distance travelled?

I assume that it does this by “counting” the number of tyre revolutions (presumably somewhere around the differential or gearbox).

For instance, if you jack up the car and engage the gear, one of the drive wheels starts spinning and the odometer continues reading mileage “travelled”.

If this is so, then when you change the tyres (for example moving from say 13” to 14” tyres, or from normal to thin-profile tyres of the same radius) then the odometer reading can no longer be accurate since the car does “not know” that you have changed the tyre size.

Since I changed the tyres on my Starlet to bigger ones, I have found that the mileage seems to be understated. For example, a 100km distance now shows, say, 95 km. Am I making any sense?

Karani

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You are making sense, apart from the part where you say different profile tyres of the same radius will give different odometer readings.

Same radius equals same circumference, therefore one tyre revolution will cover the same distance, whether on low profile or high profile tyres, provided the wheel diameter is the same.

And, believe it or not, cars nowadays are so clever they can tell when you are being dodgy.

A tale has it that someone imported an E60 BMW M5 and tried to swap the low profiles (stock on the M5) with “ordinary” high profile tyres suitable for Kenyan roads, and the car simply would not start.

Changing them back put the car back in a good mood and away he went. Interesting.

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Dear Mr Baraza,

Your advice is succinct, your wit unmatched, and you’re quite entertaining. Thank you.

Now, there is something that has baffled me for a while now: Why is it so expensive to import cars into Kenya?

I know that the Government has set the import and excise duties and associated fees… but why so expensive?

It costs twice as much its value to import a car into Kenya. Even second hand cars are double the cost!

Cars in the US and UK are shipped (from Japan, Germany etc) just as cars are shipped to Kenya, yet cars in Kenya cost twice as much the cars in the two countries and many others.

I have tried in vain to contact KRA with this inquiry.

Paul

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Paul, If it is only now that you realise governments tend to rob their people, some more than others, then you have been asleep.

The tax I pay for educating my readers every week was doubled during the last budget; I almost packed up and left for Uganda where I am sure they have no Car Clinic (of this magnitude at least).

I, too, have no idea why we have to pay through our noses for things that have already been used by other people.

I am sure if you asked the economic czars (as cliche-spewing journalism dropouts are wont to call them) like the Finance Minister and Commissioner General of KRA for answers, they will reply with a maze of figures and a verbal soup of phrases that come straight out of a first-year economics lecture.

The end result will be that you will still give unto Caesar what belongs to the Revenue Authority.

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Hi Baraza,

You recently did a great piece on the Peugeot, thank you for that.

I am in love with the Peugeot 407 coupe and I am planning to buy one from the UK. This could be a 2700cc diesel or a 3000cc petrol 2007 automatic.

Can you please give me your take on the pros and cons. I have not seen many on the roads in Nairobi. Are spares readily available?

Philip

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The 406 was a pretty car, and the 406 coupe took the prettiness a step further in a refinement of Pinifarina’s design.

But I am sorry to say the 407 coupe failed to follow this script: while the saloon is a looker, the coupe turned out to be somewhat humdrum.

The reason we buy coupes is that they look good and they make us look good, right?

Performance has also flagged owing to the increased weight from the 406. So buying the diesel is making worse an already bad situation.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy a used 1999 Volvo S80 sedan. What is its fuel consumption and what do you think of its performance based on the fact that it has covered more that 200,000 km so far?

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If you are buying an S80, then fuel consumption should not be one of your worries, otherwise you don’t belong in the premium compact saloon clique.

But it is not bad, if that is what you are asking. Performance will depend on how well taken care of it has been.

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Dear Baraza,

I would like some advice on the Toyota Starlet. I am planning to buy one because of my constrained budget — I only have 250K.

I understand there are two types with different engine types, so which is the best and is it a car with low maintenance costs?

Antony

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What do you mean by different engine types? Diesel vs petrol? Otto cycle vs Miller’s cycle? Reciprocating vs rotary? Two-stroke vs four-stroke?

If it is the internal codes used by Toyota (2ZZ against 4GE and 1JZ or 1KZ and what not) then that depends: Which model of Starlet are you seeking?

I once had a red EP82 with a 4EF engine, which was carried over to the swansong 90 series. Unless you want a 1N diesel (don’t).

Maintenance costs are similar to those of a wheel barrow… it is dirt cheap to run.

Posted on

How the Probox escaped list of ugliest things

While last week’s article may have been a bit controversial, it did not provoke a post-bag of outrage as sizeable as I may have desired, but there were responses.

Suspects were fronted, and disagreement reared its ugly (pun intended) head more than once.

Of note was the concord over the Toyota Will’s lack of visual appeal. This is how those who replied thought of my lists, and these are the offenders and unrecognised beauties.

Toyota Platz

One reader, a lady — quite obviously — defended the Platz as not just an art student’s runabout, but also a means of escape for those who cannot afford costlier hardware but would still wish to eschew the insanity that passes for public transport around this corner of God’s green planet.

Maybe, but just because women like it does not mean it is pretty. It still maintains its place on the queue of syphilitic warthogs on our roads.

Toyota Probox

Most of our readers expected to see this box on wheels vilified as an eyesore, but let us be honest, is it really that bad?

Yes, it lacks any sort of charm whatsoever, but keep in mind that this successor to the venerable Corolla DX is a commercial vehicle first, and commercial vehicles are not really about getting dates. They are meant to lug stuff and staff from one site to the next.

The Probox is what the Fiat 124 estate would have looked like had the Italians kept building it: instead, they gave the whole factory, plus parts, paperwork and foundries, to the Russians; who rebadged it the Lada Riva; and who in turn handed it over to the Egyptians; who still build the damn thing exactly as it was built 30 years ago.

That it is not sold (or imported to these shores) saves it from occupying a place on last week’s list of nasty sights; otherwise it would have been a more fitting replacement for the Probox.

Porsche Cayenne

Evidence that automotive ugliness is created by the manufacturer but propagated by the customer appeared in my inbox in the form of a man claiming that this car is “cute”.

What’s more, he went ahead to claim that it should have been listed there instead of the Jaguar XJ. Have your cataracts checked, Sir. In no way is this car “cute”.

The Nissan Micra is “cute”, and so is the Ford Fiesta, but the Porsche Cayenne has been listed as one of the ugliest cars in recent history, and not even by me.

The face of a 911 sports car grafted onto the body of a Volkswagen Touareg does not make “cute” anything. Thank God that the Porsche has the performance to justify the asking price.

BMW X6

A vitriolic response showed up on Twitter about “this writer thinking that the X6 is ugly”. What would you call the result of mating a swimsuit model’s torso onto the lower extremities of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

An aberration, most likely. BMW’s attempt at creating a niche that nobody asked for got the acerbic reaction it deserved from the world’s motoring Press.

The X6 tries to be a sports car and an off-roader, but it fails at both and loses the looks along with it.

It is too heavy to be any good on-road; and too focused on trying to be impressive on-road to be any good off it; and the huge, tall body with that sloping roofline leads to an epic fail in what would otherwise have been a good alternative to the Range Rover Sport.

The Design Process

It is time to start pointing fingers, and, to narrow down the list of likely suspects, we have to look at what exactly goes on during the design process of a given motor vehicle.

While it can sometimes be done purely by computer (leading to designs as disparate as the manufacturers are far apart: the Nissan GT-R is not pretty, but the Ferrari 458 Italia is, and both are computer-generated.

Maybe one company used a Mac while the other used a PC), what we are interested in is the handiwork of living, breathing humans.

Most cars are designed by a team, typically made of people with degrees and backgrounds in art.

More often than not there is a lead designer, though in some cases a car could be drawn by one man only, and this lead designer receives a brief from the big fish in corner offices.

The brief could be to go retro, to “revolutionalise” car design in general, to establish a corporate “face”, or quite simply, to “shock” the world. And it is at this point that problems arise.

While the brief could be worded in such a way that it will sound pleasing to shareholders, artsy types are not known to decipher such flowery language or show initiative that will be at cross-purposes with the administration, so they follow instructions to the letter.

This is how cars like the bug-eyed Ford Scorpio came to exist (the horror, the horror…).

Going retro also sometimes tends to fail quite badly, especially when designers are asked to draw from iconic elements in that manufacturer’s past.

The old Jaguar Mark II was a paragon of elegance, so the English firm thought that visage would look good on a modern car, and they proceeded to slap it onto the S-Type.

The result almost moved bowels. Thankfully, the S-Type has been replaced with the XF saloon. The Porsche Cayenne suffers from a similar problem.

So what would happen if a designer took it into his head to show initiative? Cars like the outgoing 5-series and 7-series BMWs creep into existence.

Chris Bangle wanted to make an impact design-wise, and make an impact he did. The 7 was so bad it had to have a facelift less than a year after launch.

The 5 was “controversial”, to put it diplomatically, and these two cars made the man famous as the “one who will finally bring BMW to its knees”.

It is a wonder these cars were bought at all: it says a lot about BMW’s technological supremacy that they were able to sell any of these cars at all.

Sometimes one man’s need to “express” himself ought to be checked, lest such terribleness afflicts us all.

On some occasions, I presume, the sheer volume of cars under manufacture also leads to bad design, and that, I strongly suspect, is the reason

Toyota scored freely on the list of uglies. Maybe the engineers are coming up with chasses faster than the designers can draw corresponding bodywork art, and so some of them come out a little bit rushed (Verossa). Either that or no imagination at all applies in the overall design (Probox, Platz).
Engineering also fudges up an otherwise passable design, especially when form follows function.

That is how winged and spoilered monsters like the Impreza WRX and Nissan GT-R rise from the depths of factory recesses to fill up your side mirrors menacingly on the road.

A good design could bite the dust when engines get too big or suspension components cannot be well-hidden, resulting in lengthy overhangs and bizarre fender flares; or when the outlandish performance on tap demands the installation of air dams and spoilers for aerodynamic integrity and stability at speed.

Geographical preferences

Can we surmise that geography also plays a part? America has never come up with what we could call a gorgeous motor vehicle — size seems to be their obsession; while the Asians don’t seem to even bother.

But Europe has been constantly churning out a steady supply of stunning bodies, especially England (Aston Martin, Jaguar) and Italy (Lancia, Alfa Romeo).

Small wonder then that all the great automotive artists (both firms and individuals) are registered in Italy.

Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro and the great Sergio Pininfarina have been charged by car builders all over the world as great artists, and their skills are highly sought whenever one company wants to have one up on their competition in good looks.

Planned obsolescence is a business concept dreamt up by one Alfred P Sloan, Jr, former head at General Motors in the early 20th Century, and the idea was that, to entice the client base into show rooms on a regular basis, they needed annual model changes in their lineups.

Sounds good, but people tend to run out of creative thoughts rather fast, leaving them in trouble when it is time for another refresh.

This, I think, has also been an affliction in Japan, as it closely follows the surplus of chasses and dearth of designs theory.

Henry Ford, forever the visionary, rejected this notion and stuck to the principles of simplicity, economies of scale and design integrity.

Much to his consternation, the planned obsolescence thing worked and GM overtook Ford in sales soon after.

All in all, I have just one suggestion to make. To all aspiring car designers, do not do it like your colleagues have been doing: at one point take a step back and have a good look at whatever you have drawn before you release it for manufacture.

It will save a lot of people some embarrassment.