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Mazda offers a bit of sportiness with the CX-5 crossover

Mazda is somewhat of the everyman’s BMW. The small Japanese company’s trophy case is stuffed with awards, its design language is passionate, and there is a dollop of the magical Miata in every car’s driving dynamic. And that is true even in the five-passenger CX-5 crossover.

Just one letter away from the MX-5 (Miata is a United States-only name), the CX-5 makes running errands fun as long as the children don’t get motion sickness. Drive it blindfolded — something I do not encourage — and you would swear you were piloting a crossover with a premium German badge.

The 2016 models have been refreshed with the obligatory grille and taillamp updates. A new interior has trim that would not look out of place in an Audi.

The Grand Touring has the larger of two available engines — a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder delivering 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The gearbox has six speeds, a sport mode, but surprisingly no paddle shifters.

New suspension refinements help to quiet the cabin, better to enjoy the Bose sound system. The chuckable nature of CX-5 means the ride quality is set to the firm end of comfortable. Like most modern automatic transmissions, the CX-5 eagerly upshifts for optimal fuel economy.

Eliminate that by dropping into Sport mode, but understand that it holds lower gears much longer — it’s a little too sporty for a crossover. Goldilocks would be looking for another “just right” mode. The all-wheel-drive system adapts to a number of elemental cues, including temperature, and will tackle light wilderness duty. Few owners will tax it.

The interior is appealing, but there are a few nitpicks. The gauge cluster graphics could use a modern colour display. The wiper-control stalk blocks the engine start button when the wheel is adjusted fully forward. Faux stitching is a faux pas because it is close to the driver’s eye in the LCD screen surround.

An intuitive user interface allows the choice of control knob or touch screen, though the radio presets are buried too deep in the menu. And although the seats are well sculpted, big drivers may find them snug.

Vented front seats, heated rear seats and a panoramic glass roof are not available. Back seats don’t slide fore and aft to max out cargo room, but friends and family will appreciate the leg and foot room. The cargo hold is about the same as the Subaru Forester’s. Demand maximum trunk space? The Honda CR-V’s is freakishly large.

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How well does the Nissan GTR stack up in terms of performance?

Hey Jim.

I want to know more about the Nissan GTR 2012 model. I don’t know the right questions to ask but I’d just like to know whether it is suitable for everyday use?

Is it efficient in terms of performance — power, speed and handling?

I have seen it on racetracks as well as locally on the streets. I would really appreciate some detailed information about it.

Martin

 

Hey there,

My name is not Jim; never was and has never been.

About that GTR: I once believed it to be Jack versus Porsche’s fee-fie-fo-fum, beanstalk-climbing 911 Turbo troll giant but lately the odds have started stacking up against it.

If BBC ‘Top Gear’’s recent showings are anything to go by, its earth-shattering performance doesn’t look so earth-shattering anymore.

That said, you will still be hard pressed to find a car that turns as hard as an Nissan R35.

The 2012 car is good for around 542bhp, which is the kind of power you will likely never fully explore.

Couple this to a clever trick-trick 4WD drive-train, a twin-clutch gearbox and huge nitrogen-filled tyres and the end result is… epic.

SPEED DEMON

This is a car that will show just how physically unfit you really are without having to run a mile.

I experienced its violent character at a military airbase in California on the west coast of the United States of Americaland.

It is a violent track car that may break your neck if you fail to sit properly while in it, but that is when ‘Race’ mode is engaged.

Disengage the psychopath setting and it turns into an amiable daily driver that even geriatrics can take for a quick nip down to the mall and back.

Disclaimer: said geriatric is advised not to go beyond 20 per cent throttle opening on such a shopping trip, because even with Race mode off, stomping the hot pedal will still release the demons of performance hell and the car will shoot forward, possibly at a faster speed than a senile mind can wrap itself around.

Expect 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds. Two. Point. Eight. By the time you read this sentence, the GTR will have launched itself from rest and gone beyond 120km/h. Say hello to Godzilla.

PERFORMANCE

For you to ask whether it is efficient in power, speed, handling and general performance is akin to you asking whether this column is written in English. The answer is “what do you think?” Those four parameters are EXACTLY why the GTR exists, and down the River Styx with humdrum plebeian concerns like economy and maintenance. Those are for losers in 900cc, three-cylinder hatchbacks. This is a twin-turbo, twin-clutch 3.8 litre V6 ground-hugging missile. Only those with substantial testicular fortitude need apply.

Detailed information about this car can be found on almost every motoring website on the internet and some non-motoring ones too. This, however, I will tell you for free: the GTR drives like nothing I have driven before, or since. It may be an adherent to the turbo 4WD formula of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Subaru Impreza STis, but while the GTR’s forebears battled these two small saloons, the Nissan R35 grew out of it and went hunting Porsches and Lamborghinis. It is now an accomplished assassin. This is the John Wick of Japanese sports cars.

SNAZZY INTERIOR

It has an interior that belies its badge. Nissans typically boast of naff, monochromatic — usually 50 Shades of Grey, beige or black — interiors festooned with ugly buttons, scratchy plastics, exposed seams, panel gap inconsistency and grainy surfaces with just a touch of faux-aluminium, but one can tell the GTR was made by people who took their time with it.

The leather is exquisitely stitched (and is real), the buttons are thoughtfully laid out, the thick-rimmed steering is good to the grip — which, in inexperienced hands, is less a tool for controlling the vehicle than a lifeline for hanging on to as the car threatens to toss you through the windows in hard corners.

Just to be sure of its everyday usability, there is even a woofer/sub-woofer embedded somewhere inside the back seat. And it has an automatic transmission. The car is quite a dandy daily driver.

Until someone drops the gauntlet and challenges you to a showdown.

You had best be awake when you mash the firewall. The transformation from “automatic Datsun coupé” to “Porsche-Slaying Maniac” is instantaneous. The downshifts become harder.

The upshifts become brutal. The acceleration is relentless. The braking is merciless. Cornering in this car actually hurts, it DOES hurt; more so if you had a heavy lunch involving numerous tacos and several cans of chilled soft drink in the baking California heat like yours truly.

While the car goes like it was launched by a giant rubber band and stops like it has hit a tree, it is through the turns that its ability beggars belief.

SHARP AND RESPONSIVE

One can actually feel how heavy this car is (it weighs in at around 1800kg, which is quite lardy), but then again one can also feel the electronic witchcraft and fastidiously built hardware working in tandem to overthrow the reign of heft; and one can feel these electronics and hardware winning the minor skirmish taking place underneath your seat.

The wide nitrogen-filled rubbers and mind-boggling 4WD boffinry really do transfigure what is essentially (weight-wise) an expectant rhino into a heavily caffeinated flea.

The GTR changes direction with the alacrity of a jumped-up insect- for lack of a better analogy- that is how sharp and responsive it is. It is, however, not twitchy with it; it carries this turning capability with grace and aplomb. It is a meister among minstrels.

Go into a moderate sweeping left at 140km/h, which is just about the point where an STi would typically start disobeying instructions, and the car turns with no drama.

It even feels underused. Go in at 160, right about where an Evo would be at its limit and same thing happens.

Try 180. Still works. Try 200…  Then realise that you may need fighter pilot training to fully harness this car’s potential, because while Godzilla will handle the speed with which you are straightening corners, your brain may not. The car goes faster than you can think, quite literally.

We did hot laps on a track laid out on a military airbase at a place called El Toro. Once you learn the track layout and know what the car can do, you then revert to your primeval petrolhead mindset, get the red mist over your eyes and start stringing corners together like the expert you clearly aren’t. The experience is sublime.

ACHING ARMS

Foot down. Exit the pit area and barrel down the short opening straight. Feel the surge of acceleration. Do NOT look at the speedometer; which should read 210km/h or thereabouts by the time you reach the first right which is a short distance away.

No need to brake, in fact you only need to lift ever so slightly to trim down your pace somewhat.

The corner leads into a short series of switchbacks. Still no brakes. Chuck the car apex-to-apex, throwing it left and right with something that may be mistaken as willful abandon. Feel the massive weight try to pull the car out of line.

Feel the tyres holding the car in place. Feel the 4WD system reeling the car back in. Also feel the numerous tacos and gallons of Pepsi slosh around uncomfortably in the pit of your stomach; and your brain bouncing off the sides of your skull. Feel your eyeballs slowly losing shape due to the unbelievable grip.

Feel your arms ache. Feel your neck strain. Feel your palms sweat. Try not to vomit. Exit the switchbacks faster than you thought possible in a car, front tyres screaming, steering on half-lock to the right. Let the steering wheel self-center in a controlled slip through your fingers as the car straightens itself out.

As the steering wheel steadily centers itself, simultaneously feed the power in, in such a way that by the time the car is pointing dead straight, you are at wide open throttle. All this is happening so fast your conscious mind can barely keep up and is not even present. In primeval petrol-head mode, you are not quite yourself; you are the Stig’s favorite Facebook follower.

Thunder down the main straight like a fighter aircraft on takeoff. “Lord have mercy, this car is bloody FAST!” you think, in something closely resembling pure panic. Hit 255km/h. See the huge BRAKE sign at the side of the track indicating the upcoming chicanes. Stand on the brakes.

UP FOR SECONDS

Hold your breath tightly because now it feels like your brains will pour copiously through your nostrils and splash all over the dashboard like projectile vomiting; that is how HARD a GTR sheds speed on the stoppers.

Realise you may have braked a bit too hard and washed off more speed than you needed to — after all, this is a GTR — so lift off the anchors and get back on the power. Maintain this power through the tight chicanes, throttling on and off as the track demands.

This is nothing to a GTR; it eats away at the apexes and leaves them wondering what just clipped them. The chicanes lead back into the pit area. Roll to a halt. Remove helmet. Wipe the thin film of sweat now coating your forehead— a byproduct of the combination of frazzling heat and nervous excitement. The hot lap is over and you did not put a foot wrong. Feel proud of yourself. Grin stupidly at your hostess, who you now think of as a goddess at whose feet you will worship henceforth since she let you drive a GTR in anger.

“That was some driving,” she says. “How was it?” she asks with a patronising smile.

“CAN I DO IT AGAIN?”

_________-

Dear Baraza,

 I have a Honda CRV which comes with tyres with the following specs 235/60 R18. I want to buy new tyres from a particular brand but the only specs they have are 235/65 R18 (bigger profile tyres). Will this affect the performance of the car in any way?

Martin

Yes, but the effect will be so minimal you will not notice it. I believe the word we scientists use to describe such an effect is “negligible”

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Hi Baraza,

I have been advised by at least three mechanics that coasting damages engine components, especially the clutch due to what they called “shock” when engaging ‘D’ from ‘N’ especially on high speed, downhill…..what’s your take?

Matata

 

This only applies to manual transmissions if declutching is not done properly.

With automatic transmissions, the engagement of the clutch mechanism is computerised, as is the gear selection; so the “shock” of re-engagement is not any harder or any softer than it is during normal upshifts and downshifts.

However, there is the risk of engaging ‘two’ or even ‘one’  instead of D, in which case… well, shock on you and your gearbox/clutch.

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Which is the fairest from the list of Rav4, XTrail, X3, Forester, CRV?

Hello Baraza,
I have previously owned a Toyota AE100 and 110. I now believe it is time for upgrade.

I am looking for a used car that won’t cost more than Sh2m. Though I mostly drive in urban areas, I won’t mind a four-wheel drive (4WD).

I am looking for stability, safety, comfort and manageable fuel cost. Help me make a decision on the following 2007/8 vehicles:

1. Toyota RAV 4: People say this vehicle is not very stable, though spacious.

2. Subaru Forester: I hear it is stable, safe but poor in fuel economy and in design. It is also associated with spoilt kids who are rude on the road. I am a family man and a professional. I wouldn’t like such a label. 

3. Xtrail: My mechanic tells me it is not stable and has a lot of electrical problems. 
4. Honda CRV: I am told it’s very comfortable, spacious, stable, but very poor in fuel economy.

5. BMW X3 (Diesel): I have not heard much about this one.

I would appreciate your objective advice to a confused brother. I suspect you might have previously responded to this kind of questions, but I do not seem to locate any from my library. 
Jack

Hello, Jack
So, in this list of yours, you want to pick a car that comes closest to your demands, right? Let us see…

Toyota RAV4: It is a bit spacious, yes, but it is not necessarily unstable. Those who allege it is so are the type of people who don’t seem to value the brake pedal, so they tend not to use it.

As a result, they take corners at full blast and end up in trouble. While it is not exactly a Jaguar stability-wise, the RAV4 is not a drunk, three-legged giraffe trying to lean on one side either.

Subaru Forester: Yes, it is stable, and yes, it is safe (as safe goes), but the fuel economy will depend on the specific model you opt for. The STi version is not your friend in this respect. The naturally aspirated 2.0 will not pinch any more than its rivals.

The association with spoilt kids is not a far cry, but it is not the Forester’s fault. More often than not, it will be the STi version being driven by a spoilt kid, and not the regular non-noisy naturally-aspirated Cross Sport spec.

But then again, most of these spoilt kids find their way into the Impreza WRX. The Forester STi is for the performance enthusiast, who also wants a bit of common sense in his life. Spoilt kids don’t fall into this category.

X-Trail: The stability issues raised were most likely brought up by those who survived crashing their RAV4s and never learnt from my comment above. It is not as unstable as described.

I have driven an unstable car before (a Land Cruiser Prado J120 5-door) and the X-Trail did not feel like it. The wonky electrics are a thing, though, especially in the automatic transmissions. This was a common problem in the first-generation X-Trail. I don’t know (yet) if it carries over to the 2007/8 car.

Honda CRV: Believe the hype until you reach the part where it says, “poor fuel economy”. Ignore this bit completely.

BMW X3: The choice of the discerning badge whore. No redeeming factors, considering it offers nothing more than the others except a BMW badge, and it costs a lot more. Avoid it if you are not a badge whore.

Safety: The Toyota gets 8.7, the Nissan gets 8.6, the Honda gets 8.8, the Subaru gets 8.1 and the BMW gets 8.4. Please note, these figures are the average scores based on expert and user reviews.

The users awarded the Honda and Subaru very high marks (9.2 apiece), but the experts got those users’ heads out of the clouds with a more worldly reflection not based on ownership and/or affection. The love Subaru owners have for their cars borders on the unnatural.

Comfort: It varies a little. The X3 looks promising but it doesn’t really deliver. The Honda is smooth, but it is not particularly special, nor are the RAV4 and the X-Trail.

Get something with wood and leather interior with all the trimmings available from the options list if you really want to split them on comfort. The Honda may win this, courtesy of its smoothness.

Fuel costs: Of course the diesel X3 wins this, hands down. The rest just flounder around the 9 km/litre mark, give or take, the giving or taking being heavily dependent on environment and style and load during driving. With the exception of the diesel X3, steer clear of anything with a Turbo under the bonnet.

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Hello Baraza,
I salute you for the wonderful insights you offer. I own a Toyota Caldina 2.0L, the latest model, and a full-time 4WD.

When I accelerate, I find the car really heavy, like an old Range rover 4.6 trying to hit a speed of 100 within five seconds. I find it so much slower than the 1.8 Toyota Wish and 1.5 Allion.

I was recently amazed to see how difficult it was to catch up with and overtake a Toyota Belta and Premio, which have smaller engine capacities.

I also find that the rmp indicator goes up to five for the car to swiftly overtake cars with lower engine capacity. My questions, thus, are as follows:

1. Why is it that some smaller engines can pick up speed fast enough to match bigger engines without much struggle (Caldina versus Belta/1.5 Premio)?

2. What indicators are there to check in a car if I want to know how fast it can pick up speed, e.g time it takes to hit a speed of 100km/hour?

3. Which car brands are best in picking up speed fast without revving too much and without screaming/sounding too heavy? Are Toyota’s comparable with Hondas or Nissan or Subaru on this one?

4. Which one is best among Caldina, Nissan Tienna, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, and Mazda Premacy in terms of acceleration, comfort, ease of handling, consumption, durability, and reliability on rough grounds?
Samson

Yours is a strange email, I will admit. Anyway, let us clarify something here: Have you heard an old Range Rover 4.6 (I guess this must be the P38A) try to clock 100 km/hour from rest in five seconds?

Of course it won’t make it, but that is what we call a full-bore standing start. From a 4.6 litre Rover V8 engine, it is raucous with it. If your Caldina sounds even remotely like that, you need to discard it.

Also, when you say at 5,000 rmp is when the “go” really comes in, that is not strange at all. It is called top-end power. Wait until you get to about 6,000 rpm then the VVT-i starts working.

Now to your questions: Smaller engines would “pick” faster than larger ones simply because they are generally found in smaller, lighter cars. So, they have less of a load to pull around.

However, I strongly suspect your Caldina is not in good working order if a Belta gets the better of it.

The indicators to check in a car to get a rough idea of how quickly it will get to 100 km/h include forced induction (turbochargers and superchargers) and engine capacity (bigger engines make cars go faster).

However, these are only for rough guesstimates and speculative comparisons. They are not scientific. To get the exact idea of how long a car will take from 0 – 100 km/h, you need the car in question and a bystander with a stopwatch.
The cars that pull hardest with the least amount of noise are of course German, especially the high end models – Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, more so the luxury barges, the S Class, 7 Series and A8, fitted with V8, V12 or W12 (Audi) engines of roughly 5.0 – 6.0 litres.

They will pull like nobody’s business and you won’t even hear them do it. You could throw the Lexus LS460 in there too. It is a taciturn one, this one…

Clearly Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas do not play in this league. A Toyota Corolla will cost what, about Sh3 million or less, brand new. The new S Class Mercedes starts at Sh18 million, and prices go up from there. We are comparing apples to dry leaves here.

Your final question is the least sensible, to be honest. First, you need to specify which model you refer to. Cars like the Subaru Legacy start from the 160hp 1.8 litre naturally aspirated version to the 2.0 turbo STi with almost 300hp (almost twice the power of its stablemate).

Clearly, they won’t “pick” in the same manner. So the Legacy Turbo accelerates hardest, the Teana is most comfortable. Handling is a wrangle between the Honda Accord and the Legacy.

Consumption goes to the Accord (again) as does reliability with which it ties with the Caldina. Durability will depend on how many times you hold these “picking” competitions of yours.

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Greetings JM,

1. On June 16, there was a feature in the DN2, about a man who had driven all the way from Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro. I hope you read it. One word for the man: Respect. Two words for the Toyota Land Cruiser 1997 VX: Enough respect.

Toyota Land Cruisers just do not give up, do they? They are the real giants on the roads; 42,000kms is some serious mileage.Anyway, methinks a Land Rover Defender 110 TDI, the older version, would have done an equally fantastic job.

The new ones with JLR engines have too many electronic controls. I don’t think they were meant to handle seriously tough conditions, but I stand to be corrected.

Also, any Toyota Land Cruiser of the J70 series, preferably a 4.5 litre V8 turbo-diesel, would have been just fine. Could I be wrong? The real giants are really few, and at this juncture, I just ran out of them.

2. There is this 2005 Toyota Prado with a D-4D engine type on automatic transmission. It put us through some really hard time last year.

Apparently, it had a problem with the gearbox, which made its diaphragm (separates the engine from the gearbox) develop serious problems. Eventually, the diaphragm had to be replaced.

It was so hectic, bearing in mind that it was just three months after the vehicle had been purchased. Not even our good old friends at Toyota Kenya could come close to deciphering the problem, let alone find the solution.

Could it have been the gearbox oil level that had gone below minimum and causing all the problem, or was that a manufacturing defect? It was the first time I encountered sucha thing.

3. I wonder, how is the high-pressure direct injection, which I see in Peugeots, different from the VVT-i, EFi or the D-4?
RM

Hello,
1. No, I didn’t see that feature. Despite the fact that I write in DN2, I am not really a fan of newspapers. That was quite a feat the Land Cruiser-driving man achieved.

A small correction though: he didn’t drive “all the way”, did he? There are oceans (or at least one) between here and Rio.

About the Land Rover. The bad reputation surrounding their poor reliability did not start with the latest electronically empowered versions. The old cars are to blame, particularly the early diesel versions. They were terrible.

They did not accelerate at all, they sounded like three extra-hardened tortoise shells being shaken vigorously inside a metallic dustbin. Their cabins were structurally unsound to the point that they let the weather in.

If the said weather was inclement, they rusted rapidly and broke down even more rapidly. Their ruggedness was their one redeeming quality.

Doing 42,000km in one would be a condemnation, not an adventure; but this would of course mean you really complete the 42,000km in the first place.

The petrol engines were a much better option, and I guess these would be the more appropriate choice. Then again, you could always get a Land Cruiser and do the trip worry-free.

The new versions have a lot of electronics, but it’s not the electronics taking the abuse of harsh terrain, is it? It’s the tyres and suspension (and sometimes the bodywork too).

These electronics just make life more bearable in them. Trust me, the new Defenders are just as capable (if not more) than the “Landys” of yore.

2. Diaphragm? Are you talking about the clutch/torque converter by any chance? I cannot tell for sure what would have led to these problems.

3. This is, or rather, these are topics I have covered in detail before. Explaining them calls for a 3,000-word essay, defining and detailing why and how each is completely different from the others.

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Automatic diffs, wipers, transmissions… boy, aren’t we all getting lazy!

Hi JM,

Could you please explain to us this small mystery… Many versatile 4x4s like the (police) Landcruisers have free-spinning front hubs which you must physically get out into the mud to lock before engaging four-wheel drive.

This free-wheeling, we were told long ago, enhances fuel consumption on tarmac by reducing drag on the front diff. But how come SUVs do not have this feature and one can engage various 4×4 modes from the comfort of one’s leather seat?

Maddo, “Car Clinic fan”

Greetings, cartoonist,

It has been a while since I heard from you. The first part of your query is true: Front-axle free-wheeling does save on consumption by reducing drag and/or rolling resistance occasioned by heavy transmission. It also makes the car easier to turn and reduces wear on the running gear during these turning manoeuvres.

The reason modern (and expensive) SUVs do not have this feature is convenience. In an era where you can get massaged by your own car, doors unlock themselves, wipers activate themselves, as do headlamps and tailgates when needed, the cost of cars shoot skywards.

Premium brands such as the Landcruiser VX and the Range Rover in all its three forms are bought by individuals who live a pampered life and do off-roading out of boredom or curiosity rather than necessity.

When this highly pampered person gets mired in the clag during his weekend adventures, he will not ruin his expensive shoes wallowing through swamp mud to engage the hub locks on his highly engineered front axle. Why go through all that and yet you could just press a button on the dashboard and the car will think things out for you…

I know this is a motoring column, but please allow me to do a bit of social commentary. Society is getting lazier and more reliant on assistance from machines. This explains the imminent death of manual transmission, the existence of smart phones, and the proliferation of the internet.

You could choose to cut costs as a manufacturer and do a basic vehicle like the police Landcruisers, then sell them cheaply. Cheap always sells… well, almost.

But your competitor will add conveniences to his car and sell it at a slightly higher price. Humanity will pay that little bit extra if it makes life easier. That also explains why manual winding windows are nearly extinct. To stay competitive, you have to shape up by adding even more convenience. This is also why power-steering systems are now standard. You can see where this is going.

Even if you do not live a highly pampered life and you do drive in bad conditions as a necessity, which would you rather have? A car that necessitates you stepping out into the rain and sinking knee-deep in malodorous quagmire to turn knobs on the front axle or one where you simply press a button, unseen mechanicals mesh and mate quietly beneath you, and suddenly your mode of transport acquires the surefootedness of a mountain goat escaping a determined predator?

Convenience by automation due to market — and social — pressure. That is the answer to your question.

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Dr Magari,

I was reading your article on 26 March, 2014, and you described your Mazda Demio as quite the car. Personally, I have always thought it is like a pitbull; tiny but will chomp your behind off without you even realising it, hence my love for it. As a professional “job-seeker”, I love to dream of the time I will get mine before moving on up to STi’s then M5s. So, on to my questions,

1) Did your Demio (I would like to know the year and make) come stock as you described it or did you mod it slightly?

2) How would you compare similar cars in its class in terms of performance and availability in our market?

3) Totally unrelated: What do you think of setting up a drag strip à la Kiambu Ring locally… possible locations? Cost? Licences? Appeal?
Jake

Hi,

1. The car is dead stock. The only mod it has is me behind the wheel. All that I described, namely the alloy rims, body kit, spoiler… It is all factory-spec. However, this will not stop me from experimenting with it once the money comes right…

2. Well, the Demio is a bit revvy: 3000 rpm in 5th at 100 km/h. Compare this to the automatic iST, which is essentially ticking over at slightly below 2,500 rpm at roughly the same speed.

It has very good torque too; I sometimes get wheelspin in second gear, or even third, when the road is wet — the key word here is sometimes. This is a Mazda, not a Corvette. It is pretty quick too, for a 1300; I have wound it up to the giddy side of 175 km/h but I will not say where and when lest a keen traffic officer lay a trap for me. This is not saying much since a lot of hatchbacks/superminis nowadays will do 180, but I doubt they will get there as quickly as the Demio Sport (with a manual gearbox) does, more so if they, too, are of 1300cc engine capacity.

Availability: There are very many Demios around, and this includes the Sport version, the likes of which I now drive. Getting one with a manual gearbox, however, calls for real connoisseurship and keenness in searching. You might have to do a DIY import if you are very particular. There is also the “new shape”coming soon (where soon is in a few years’ time) as a used car.

It looks too much like the current effeminate Vitz and might not be available with a manual transmission, so grab this model while you still can. Similar cars would be maybe the Vitz RS (sprightly and unsightly) or a Mitsubishi Colt at a stretch.

3. I think that is a good idea. A very good one. Given the kind of driving mettle I have seen among Kenyans when taking corners, they are better off going in a straight line. The major reason we have only one vehicle on the road at a time during “Kiamburing” is that not everybody knows what to do when you get to a turn and either a) there is a slowpoke in front of you or b) You are the slowpoke and The Paji is tailgating you, looking to pass.

There is such a thing as track decorum and a) we do not have the time to teach it to everybody and b) some people will ignore it anyway. The result would be disastrous and expensive.

So, one person at a time. That way, if you also crash, you will be on your own; you will not take someone out with you. With a drag strip, we could have two, or maybe even three, cars facing off at the same time with no risk of an unplanned coming together.

The tension quotient goes up, along with entertainment value, participant rivalry, and emotions, which should make for good entertainment for those watching. If you know of a disused airstrip with a serviceable tarmac runway, by all means let us know; it would be a good place to start…

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Hi Baraza,

I am an addict (yes, addict) of your Wednesday articles in the Daily Nation. I have been going through them for a very long time now and I have also filed the pages and really appreciate your work.

Now, I got employed two years ago by a private company in Nairobi. My boss says it is time I got myself a car because of the nature of my work and the hurdles I go through trying to use our limited company transport.

My company pays out mileage at the rate of Sh40/km. I have about Sh 1 million in savings and would like to get a car I love: The BMW 318i or 320i. I know I can get either of these second-hand at about Sh800,000.

However, my concern is that most people I talk to are talking me off getting this machine. I know I am a very careful driver and I love my electronics/machines. I have kept my Nintendo game in working condition to date.

Kindly advise on the merits and demerits of this car, including fuel consumption and servicing and overall maintenance cost.

Omega

Hi Omega,

How old is that Nintendo game of yours? You might maintain a gaming console for a long time, but maintaining a car is a different kettle of fish. The principles are the same but execution is different: House-bound electronics do not drive through puddles or over bumps or on dusty roads or get filled with fuel of indeterminate provenance. There is a lot to watch out for when maintaining a car.

So, merits and demerits. The merits are: BMWs make good driver’s cars, so you will enjoy driving it. The 318 and/or 320 have relatively small engines, so fuel economy will not scare you.

But again, these engines are highly developed with enough under-bonnet boffinry to make them quick enough when the situation demands it. Comfort is at a high level, as are NVH, handling, braking, looks and, do not forget: This is a German marque that comes with its own thick shroud of street-cred.

The demerits are this is a high-end German marque, so expect high-end German invoices when the undesirable happens. Repairs will be costly, as will be parts. This is particularly worrisome, because a Sh800,000 3 Series will more likely than not be in a less-than-factory condition.

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

Hi,

I will not start by paying you compliments like other readers. I am not a fan of soaps. All these questions your readers ask about fuel economy, availability of spares, maintenance cost, and so on really suck the life out of your column.

For the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the DN2 (the one about the Hiace vs the Caravan), and could not finish it.

It was (and I can hardly believe this), boring! I remember back when it was called Behind The Wheel, you used to preach how it was not about spare part availability or fuel economy, but rather, about the driving feel and pleasure you get behind the wheel (see what I did there? ) How hard it is to wipe that grin off your face when you shift down, give it the beans, and feel like The Stig… on heat.

I used to live vicariously through your experiences you know, because I did not, and still do not, own a car. Now it is just gone.

Allan

Well, well, well! We cannot allow this to happen now, can we? You actually did not finish reading that piece? It must have been really bad.

I know all the questions about spares, economy, and maintenance get really old really fast, but it is not entirely my doing. The reading culture is almost dead: The longest articles young people read nowadays are Facebook posts by celebrities who are not celebrities.

Nobody appreciates the entertainment value of witty wordplay anymore, so all my attempts at humour, alliteration, consonance, metaphors, and hyperbole blow ineffectively past their eyes and ears like the Harmattan would a covered Fulani tribesman’s head. Worse still is when some people take things literally or out of context – “…the silly Prius…” on April 9 actually drew an emotional response from quite a number of people, one of whom wrote, “How can a car be silly? Then tell me of a clever car…” This is what I have to deal with every week.

Demand: This is what drives Car Clinic, not the quality of writing or whatever obscure motoring facts I might have hidden away in the dark corners of my mind. I could do a proper article then along comes someone saying “We are not interested in your personal adventures, fool, we want to read about spares and economy and maintenance.”

Good examples are my experience on a go-kart, the Old Evolution vs New Impreza showdown, and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue review. Intellectual discourse, along with the appreciation of an intricately woven word scarf, is also dead, which is why I rarely discuss industry matters any more. Nobody is interested. What is a man to do? Man must live. If I do not do it, someone else will.

I, too, am getting sick and tired of comparing Foresters to RAV4s, CRVs and X-Trails week in, week out. I have answered this particular question in one form or other more than 10 times now, it is as if people do not read what I write and keep asking the same questions over and over again.

The advice I give, however questionable it may seem at times, is free (for now), but this does not make Car Clinic an avenue of convenience or a personalised service. Some people need to learn that.

However, all is not lost. I am still active in the road test world; all I have to do is find other outlets for my lengthy writings. And find them I will.

Posted on

Hondas are fine cars that attract insultingly low resale prices

In regards to the Honda Accord and Honda CRV, they are both good cars, but my friends advised me against them citing poor resale value.

Is this true? If yes, which is the better option with a better resale value? How about the Toyota Camry? Does it have good resale value like other Toyota vehicles because of “perception”.

Kindly comment on reliability, fuel economy, safety, and performance as compared to Honda Accord. Remember, I am looking for a used family car.

Ambrose.

There might be a grain of truth in the allegations of Honda vehicles not having strong resale characteristics in the Kenyan automotive field, but those who “Think Toyota, Today, and Tomorrow Too” have no idea what they are missing out on. Hondas are good cars, especially those equipped with V-TEC.

The Camry might suffer the Accord’s resale fate for a very different reason. A good number of Kenyans are “scared” of engines that stretch beyond 1800cc. Those that are indifferent will not be buying a Camry; they will go for something less plain and boring.

So that will be jumping from a lion’s cage in the zoo only to realise that you have now landed in the tiger’s cage. No difference in circumstances.

The parameters that you mention are more or less the same for the two cars, but from what I observed, the Accord may have the edge in performance over the Camry. If in doubt, you could always go for the Accord R, which has…. wait for it… a 2.2 litre V-TEC engine, good for almost 220hp.

**********

Hi Baraza,

Thank you for a good job done so far. A quick challenge of sorts, though. Have you ever done motorcycle reviews? If not, then how about it? An ideal place to begin would be the now Popular TVS Apache.

Nicholas Ngetah.

Thank you for the compliments, and no, I have not done any motorcycle reviews. This is chiefly because I do not want to die, and riding a motorcycle greatly increases the odds of that happening. So, borrowing from the sheep in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “Four wheels good, two wheels bad.”

I do, however, have a colleague who does not give much thought to the vagaries of the afterlife, and as such he loves motorcycles. I am talking about The Jaw. Maybe he could ride them, review them, then he and I see how I can put that review into my own words. Fair, Nicholas?

**********

Dear Baraza,

I am the second owner of a P38 4.6HSE 1998 Range Rover. It has 130,000km with a clean service history at a CMC dealer.

1. What is the best fuel consumption I should expect in kilometres per litre? It has averaged 5km per litre.

2. I am told the gearbox is four-speed. It has a 4HP-24. How does this compare with a five-speed box? I also cannot find the Overdrive switch.

3. These “tune ups” to improve consumption, are they real? If so, what do they entail? Some guy is promising 11km per litre on the highway after the tune up. I am not convinced a V8 engine can be this kind to anyone.

Muriithi.

1. The “best” fuel consumption will depend on your deftness as a “hypermiler” (one who ekes ridiculous mileages from a litre of fuel, usually through strange, illegal, or unsafe driving tactics). Five kpl for the old 4.6 sounds just about correct in normal driving situations.

2. Comparison between a four-speed and a five-speed? Depends on the gear ratios in the transmissions, but generally a five-speed will offer better acceleration (the engine speed can stay in the power band for a longer period of time) AND fuel economy (you do not need to rev very high in one gear to gain enough power to push you into the next), but NOT simultaneously. Also, the differences will be marginal and hardly noticeable in day-to-day use.

Also, not all automatic transmissions come with an Overdrive switch.

3. Yes, the tune-ups are real, but not to the extent you claim there. Simple tune-ups just involve getting the engine back to manufacturer settings through replacing worn out bits, refastening bolts that may have played loose, checking for loose or frayed wiring in the ignition system, and removing carbon from the valvetrain.

But these actions will NOT make a P38 4.6 V8 attain 11 kpl; if there exists such a P38 out there, I would like to buy it immediately. The best you can hope for is eight kpl, and that is by sedate driving on the highway.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of you column and bravo for a job well done. I recently purchased a Mercedes Benz E 280 year 2006 model and have driven it on Kenyan roads for less than one month.

On the dashboard are two messages displayed — “ESP defective visit workshop” and” Active light system unavailable”.

Kindly shed some light on what these two messages relate to and how they can be sorted out without much ado.

Kenneth.

“ESP Defective” means the electronic stability programme is malfunctioning and needs to be looked at. Without it, the Benz may become a bit of a handful when driven hard or on less-than-perfect surfaces. Without the ESP, it simply means the car will not compensate for your mistakes and/or lack of driving skill the way it used to.

The ESP defect may be a bug in the software or a malfunctioning sensor out of hundreds (yaw sensors, G-sensors, throttle position sensors, brake sensors etc… any sensor associated with vehicle dynamics could be the culprit).

The software bug is curable by programing the ECU. The sensor issues are curable by replacement and/or recalibration. The ESP is a complex system that uses ABS, EBD, an almost unfathomable network of sensors and/or adjustment of engine power, among other things, to “stabilise” a car to prevent skidding and/or oversteer/understeer.

“Active light system unavailable” means that one of the features found on higher level Benz cars such as yours is either not working, or was never there in the first place. Just to be sure, does it say “unavailable” or does it say “inoperative”? My research on that problem shows “inoperative”.

Anyway, this is not about nitpicking on the accuracy of descriptions. The active light system on a Mercedes was a setup where the headlamps followed the movements of the steering wheel to improve night-time visibility and optimise safety.

The swivel feature of the headlamps may, thus, have been rendered inactive or was never there in the first place (active light system was an option on the W211 sedan, of which yours is one).

Either way, a visit to a garage is in the books for you, my friend.

**********

Dear Baraza,

Recently, I took my G-Touring Toyota station wagon for a window repair. The wire man asked if my car overheats and I replied in the negative. The temperature gauge does not go even an 1/8 of the scale even after doing 15km.

He then asked me to open the bonnet and start the car to idle until gauge reaches the centre. To quicken the process, he accelerated the car while idle. The gauge reached the centre, something it has never done before. The fan went on and the gauge went slightly down, then stopped.

He told me everything seemed fine.

From that day the gauge started moving more than 1/8 up to the centre in the same distance I normally cover — around 15km to 20km. Could he have tampered with its functioning by accelerating the car while stationary? This is worrying me, although it does not go beyond the centre. Why is this? I check the coolant regularly. It has no power loss.

Second, does this model have problems with the gear system? I find the top gear a bit stiff to engage.The other day I added gear box oil but still the problem persists. It is a very well maintained car. I mostly use V-power but sometimes I use the ordinary fuel. Which one is the best and why?

Sammy.

Stop worrying about the engine temperature.

That mechanic did not ruin your car. That is how car engines are supposed to behave. When the thermometer reached “centre” position then the fans started suddenly, that was just the cooling system of the car trying to maintain the engine at an optimum operating temperature.

The fans are activated by the thermostat to prevent the engine from getting too hot, then they go off when the temperature drops. Your car is fine.

But again, your car is not really fine. Difficulty in engaging fifth gear means one of two things: Either the linkage is getting wonky or the fifth gear synchroniser unit is worn out. The linkage can easily be fixed with basic tools. Replacement of the synchroniser unit demands disassembling the entire gearbox.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I recently got one of these A150 Mercedes cars and every time I need to shift either from Drive to Neutral or Reverse (and vice versa), the whole car jerks. At times when I shift to Reverse, it does not engage even if I depress the gas pedal. It then jerks into motion quite violently when it finally does. Other times, particularly when driving in traffic, it “forgets” to shift up.

It remains in very high revs or develops a rumbling noise and does not shift smoothly. Now I am being advised to change the entire gearbox. These problems are particularly worse in the morning. I also find it to have massive under-steer for a car of that size. Please help before I lose my mind.

Ben.
I need not state the obvious: You clearly have transmission problems.

When the mechanics recommended a change of the TCM, had they done a diagnosis or did they follow the path of the electronic scapegoat? (Sensor problem over here! sensor problem over there! Even your flat tyre has been caused by a sensor problem!)

Most of the time when the TCM acts up, it might not be necessary to replace it; reprogramming it will do. It may be that the TCM and ECU are out of sync or have lost synergy and have started “confusing” each other.

A diagnosis should have been done on the original TCM to see whether the problem lay therein or not.That aside, these folks now want you to get a new gearbox. Have they verified that the current one is completely unserviceable or did they follow the path of “replacement is easier than repair”?

If they know nothing about the automatic transmission of a Mercedes-Benz A150, let them be honest and say so. They might end up telling you to buy a new car.Last thing: Does your A150 have an owner’s/operator’s handbook?

If yes, read it, especially the chapter that says “Transmission”. One of the things you said has led me to believe that your initial problems were caused by incorrect ATF levels within the transmission, and this may or may not have caused some transmission damage.

Sometimes it is as simple as topping up/draining excess fluids instead of shouting about “sensors” and “computers”, like a good number of Kenyan mechanics do (this has not escaped my notice, and the root cause I believe comes from the culture of apprenticeship from the days of yore instead of proper, formal training).

Posted on

The Surf slightly edges out the Pajero and RAV4

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for your advice on motoring.

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

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

2. Going to work in town.

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

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

Regards,

Livingstone T.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toyota Surf.

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

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

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

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

**********

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Regards,

BO

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

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

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

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

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

**********

Dear Baraza,

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

1. Availability and affordability of spare parts.

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

3. Its fuel economy.

Thank you,

Anthony.

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

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

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

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

**********

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

Regards,

Kevin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

**********

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

c) Does it save on fuel?

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

Thanks in advance,

Antony Ng’ang’a.

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

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

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

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

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

Do not do it. I once did an article in the newspaper back in 2010, and you can read it here:http://www.autotalk.co.ke/neutral-is-it-overrated-as-a-gear/

**********

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Don’t drive in Neutral gear, it makes no sense at all

Hello Braza,

Thank you very much for your advice on tyre size. It worked perfectly. I have one other question. Somebody advised me to be changing my gear selection to N (Neutral) when going downhill in order to save fuel. Is this true?

Does it have any adverse effect on the vehicle, especially when I change from D to N and vice-versa when the vehicle is in motion?

Please help, and God bless you.

Lisa

Don’t do it, Lisa. There may not be an “adverse effect” per se, but it is risky in that you may bump the lever into R instead of D when going out of N, though this is heavily dependent on the design of the car in question.

Also, it is self-defeating, in that most of the time before going into N most people accelerate hard in D (or whatever gear for a manual transmission) to gain the momentum they think they are preserving in neutral.

If you want to save fuel, drive like this: accelerate gently, but not so slowly as to be a nuisance to me when I come up behind you in a powerful car. Do it within reason.

As a driver, use your discretion as to what “within reason” means. Don’t crawl like an old woman.

Also, don’t stomp the accelerator to the bulk-head, unless under special circumstances… like when stuck at a railway crossing and a freight train is bearing down on you, but this is an unlikely occurrence. We don’t have freight trains any more.

Avoid braking as much as possible, but again within reason. I once said that to someone who offered to drive me from point A to point B, then the joker proceeded to drive into a crowd of people saying “Baraza said not to brake”.

Were it not for the cat-like reactions of the subsequently insanely furious bystanders, there might have been some injuries. No, no, no: brake when necessary, but only when necessary. This is because braking wastes precious energy in the form of momentum, which energy was expended getting up to speed.

Try this: rather than braking hard, try and lose speed with the throttle closed (foot off the accelerator) first, then when you have lost enough momentum and are ready to stop (or the car ahead of you is REALLY close now)… stop.

When going downhill, instead of going into N, simply take your foot off the accelerator. Gravity will still pull your car downhill, so you won’t stop. The compression in the engine will create a retardation effect, so you won’t have to keep braking to prevent your car from behaving like a runaway bicycle. And with modern engines, once the sensors tell that there is no load on the engine, fuel is cut off completely, so you use zero fuel. In neutral, some fuel is used for idling. Which is better?

Economy driving at first seemed fairly obvious to me, but over the nearly-three years of doing this column I have come to realise it is more of an art: not everybody understands it, not everybody can do it, or knows when to do it.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I have been driving a 1990 Nissan Primera (1838cc) for the past five years. The car has given me no problems at all — until recently, when it started emitting black smoke and guzzling petrol such that I had to ground it. My questions are:

1. What might be the problem, and what is the solution?

2. If I were to replace the engine with a second-hand 1500cc or 1600cc EFI or VVTI one from, which one would you recommend, and how much should I expect to pay for it?

3. What are the things that a layman should look out for when buying a replacement engine?

Luvembe

1. Your car is running rich, very rich, and these are the probable causes: Oxygen sensors, a leak in the intake or exhaust before the oxygen sensors, cracked or disconnected vacuum hoses, faulty fuel system, and clogged fuel lines, among others. The best way to determine the cause is to get an OBD (On Board Diagnostics) scanner that gives you feedback in real time.

2. Be specific. Almost all engines nowadays are EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection), and have some form of variable valve timing. My recommendation would be to buy an engine from that model range (Primera), but newer. It will be easier to install than trying to shoe-horn a Toyota engine into a Nissan engine bay.

3. You can’t. That is why it is advisable you have a reliable and trustworthy mechanic who can help you with such analyses. Either that or someone who knows his way around a car engine. Even I sometimes have to seek help from some of my friends on some matters.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been reading your articles for some time now and I must say I find them interesting.

I would like you to do some research on the Kenyan Traffic Act because I feel police officers have been making their own laws. For instance, who said driving without a driving licence in your car amounts to an offence?

The offence should only apply to those who have never been issued with a driving licence, not those who do not carry it around in person. If you have a licence but have not carried it with you, the law is specific that you should be allowed to produce it within 24 hours at the nearest police station. A lot of drivers continue to be harassed on the road simply because they do not know the provisions of the law.

Finally, I seek your advice on an unrelated matter. Which is the most ideal car to drive between an automatic and a manual one?

Thanks,

Peter Wachira.

I will study the Traffic Act (the full Act, not just the recent Amendments) and do something thorough about it. In the meantime, let me ask you this: if you get into an argument with a traffic policeman, who do you think will win?

If stopped at a road-block and you show signs of being hard-headed (kichwa ngumu) or extremely knowledgeable (mjuaji sana), your day will not go well, I assure you. Most of the time when the police stop you it will be for a legitimate reason. If not, then it is just to let you know that they are watching.

If you start getting argumentative, you are letting them know that you have plenty of time on your hands, and they will help you to occupy this time. Traffic policemen are experts at using time up.

On the second issue: manual or auto. Which one do you prefer? That is the better one. One man’s preferred gearbox could be another man’s accident-in-waiting.

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Dear Baraza,

Please tell me what, in engine sizes and configurations, does the number of valves in an engine mean? I have an example below to illustrate this:

How different is a 2006 6V 2.7-litre Hyundai Tuscon (JM-Japanese version) from a 2007 Toyota Rav-4 with 16V 2.4-litre, VVT-i engine? In terms of maintenance, is there anything peculiar these vehicles require regarding service intervals and requirements, given the different engine configurations?

Many thanks,

Josh.

The number of valves, simply, is the number of valves. There are two types in an engine, according to function: inlet and exhaust. The inlet valves open to allow air into the cylinders. All valves are closed during the compression and power strokes, then the exhaust valves open for the burnt air to be scavenged from the cylinders.

In a nut-shell, the higher the number of valves, the better the engine ‘breathes’ — takes in fresh air and expels exhaust. Still, there are several key constraints, one of which is cylinder head design and the increase in number of moving parts (increases friction and rotating inertia moments of the new masses). So sometimes instead of having many valves it might be better to make the few bigger.

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Hello Baraza,

Your article on hydro cars was a thriller. I’d like to share what seems like a rare find. I read about a Swiss inventor who’s patented square pistons for reciprocating engines… with reason.

Yes, you heard me right. They’re true squares, viewed from top. The square profile enables the piston to tilt with the rod on strokes, eliminating the gudgeon pin. A lighter reciprocating assembly is created by directly welding the piston to the rod or by forging one compact assembly.

Reciprocating masses reduced mean a harder revving, more powerful engine. I did a paper model of it and found it true. It can work. The problem was designing rings that can seal the wide cavities arising. You may consider getting a paper model of it from me absolutely FREE (I’m gifted in craft!) to see how true this is if you haven’t come across it.

I’ve since tried to look for it on the Internet in vain. But I’m not complaining; even more ambitious engine projects like Kauertz are in books but not online.

Lawrence Mutisya.

The problem with square pistons is that the corners create problems. This is how:

1. Lines of weakness. The high pressures and extreme stress caused by combustion will weaken the engine block along those corners first.

This is also the reason why water and fuel tankers have cylindrical containers rather than the cuboids used to transport TVs and other stuff.

The weight of the water will act on the edges first and weaken the structure. A round container has no definite stress point, so pressure is distributed evenly all over

2. The corners look like potential ‘hot spots’, places where pockets of heat form and these could cause detonation and or pre-ignition.

3. As you mentioned: sealing the corner gaps will not be easy.

4. The rotary engine, though clever, never really managed to oust the reciprocating engine. Lack of torque, high fuel consumption, high oil consumption and frequent replacement of rotor tips made them impractical. Mazda struggled to keep the rotary engine alive with the RX-8 sports car but even they had to give it up as a lost cause.

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Dear Baraza,

I work in Rift Valley and reside in Nairobi’s Eastlands. I have an automatic Toyota Fielder X, 1500cc that has proved very reliable. My only problem with it is that, when it rains, I get stuck all over the place, even on flat surfaces.

I am now thinking of replacing it with a good family car with adequate space for cargo. Which, among, the following, would you recommend: Toyota Noah/Voxy, ‘Nissan E-Trail’, Subaru Forester or Honda CRV? Fuel economy is of utmost importance to me, as is automatic transmission.

Thanks,

Zacheus Karimi.

Cargo Space: There is a five-seat option on the Voxy (two rows of seats instead of three), which leaves an entire warehouse of space where typically the other passenger bench would be. That particular configuration leaves the cross-over cars biting the dust in terms of capacious cargo holds. I don’t even want or need to give figures as proof; it is so obvious.

The Nissan X-trail comes second with 603 litres of space with the rear seats up and 1,773 litres with the seats down. This, however, you did not ask about, which leads me to ask a question of my own: what is a Nissan E-Trail?

The Subaru Forester comes at last place, with 450 litres if you don’t drop the rear seats and 1,660 litres if you do. The Honda CRV, according to my research, was quoted in cubic feet: 37.2 with the seats up and 70.9 with them down.

Further research resulted in this being an astonishing (and frankly unbelievable) 1,053.4 litres with the seats up and 2,008 litres with them down. This places it second, especially if you also remove the middle row of seats in the Voxy. It then turns into a pickup. (All figures quoted are for the latest versions of these cars. Next time be more specific about vintage).

Automatic transmissions: All these vehicles have them. The Subaru and the Nissan X-trail also have CVT options, which I’d encourage you to explore, if only to get more people into the world of CVT. I don’t know about the Nissan E-Trail (if such a thing even exists).

Again, these vehicles have some form or other of 4WD, which some would call AWD (Subaru). It is always on in the five-star Fuji product (stars on the logo, not its overall ranking), the Nissan X-Trail has deselectable 4WD via an electronic system (which turns it into a FWD), the CRV is predominantly front-drive until grip runs out fore then power is sent aft (an adaptive system, you could call it), while the drivetrain configuration of the Nissan E-Trail is unknown because the vehicle itself is unknown.

Fuel economy: All these cars rank somewhere in the 9l/100km zone, which translates to about 11kpl. The van can be thirsty if provoked. A way into even better economy would be to acquire a Forester diesel with a manual gearbox (for the 2013 model such a thing does exist), but then again you say you want an automatic car, so… too bad. Also, Subaru Kenya does not sell diesel Foresters. Given Subaru’s past output, it is highly likely they have never even seen a diesel engine over there.

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Dear Baraza,

I have a Nissan Sunny, B15 2002 which is in a good condition. The problem with the car is that I cannot read the odometer clock because it only shows half the digits. When I start the car in the morning I can barely see the whole mileage, and, as the car warms up, the numbers fade off. What could be the problem?

Titus Musyoka

The problem is that your digital odometer read-out is on the fritz, which is just what you have told me. What you want to know are probable causes.

It is unlikely to be temperature-related because engine heat has to go through a veritable buffer zone before it gets to the odo’. That buffer zone has a plethora of insulators within it (insulator in this case is not necessarily the dressing on heat or electricity-bearing components, but rather is any material that does not conduct heat… or electricity.

The opposite of the word “conductor”, in other words). My guess is a loose connection somewhere. The vibrations from the running engine slowly work loose some tiny little wires that feed the digital read-out, so half of it gets blurry or disappears.

That is my best guess. Whether or not I am right is immaterial here: either way you will have to see an electrical expert to sort you out. It may require pushing a wire back in place, soldering it or maybe replacing the whole readout.

Posted on

I’m moving back to Kenya, what car should I buy?

Hi Baraza,
Your column is like a special motoring university. Kudos! I am moving back to Kenya from the UK at the end of the year and intend to reward myself with a car after my studies.

I have identified the following used cars based on how much I want to spend (both cost here and tax in Kenya), age, and appeal: Toyota Avensis (most abundant but with unappealing dashboard), Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia (gorgeous), Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Dodge Caliber, Chevrolet Epica, Hyundai Sonata, and Tucson.

I want to spend about Sh10,000 a month on the car and do a maximum of 100 kilometres a week. Which would you recommend for consideration in terms of fuel efficiency, spares availability, Kenyan roads, my monthly budget, and being my first self-owned car?

NB: I do try to read the Daily Nation every day, but sometimes, as a student, I am sure you understand that the schedule just throws one off. So kindly copy me the response on e-mail.

Kind regards,

James.

Leave the Insignia, the Caliber, and the Epica alone if you want any form of confident support from this side. I can bet a large number of people do not even know what those are, let alone have the know-how to fix them when the need arises.

The Sonata, Accord, Passat, and Avensis are a better choice, but the problem is that you do not specify what model year these vehicles are.

Only the Passat will get support for the past three models, the Sonata and the Accord have only recently been formally introduced and it is my guess that current and future models will receive priority in support terms from the respective franchises, while past models may be overlooked.

If you choose backstreet Mr Fix-Its, well, good luck. My pick here would be the Passat B6 or B7. Not the B5, though. If you want to buy the Tucson, get the new one. The old one looked funny.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the informative articles. Please help me understand one issue. What is the relationship between the engine size (cc) and the gearbox? In other words, if I was able to put a jet engine in a tractor, would the tractor out-pace most cars on the road, not withstanding the aerodynamics?

Regards,

Ronald

With a jet engine on a tractor, you would not need a gearbox. All you would need is a reliable steering system and very good brakes (an added parachute has been found to be invaluable when stopping jet-powered ground vehicles).

This is because the jet engine works by pushing the entire vehicle using Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is a reaction equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. So the plasma stream of hot gases exiting the rear of the jet engine creates a force that pushes the jet/tractor in the opposite direction, enabling it to go forward.

Motor vehicle engines, the regular ones rather, exert force through the wheels of the vehicle through a transmission system of sorts. The whole setup is called the power-train and usually incorporates drive-shafts, transmissions, gearboxes, the engine itself, and the tyres. This is where you need a gearbox because the torque developed by the engine sometimes needs multiplication when the load increases.

Now, between the engine size and gearbox, there is definitely a relationship but the variables involved are numerous. The power and torque curves of the engine are the primary determinants of the ratios one uses in the gearbox.

Then there is application: are you designing a gearbox for a tractor that pulls tree stumps out of the ground or is the gearbox for a road car that is designed to break speed records? Engine size may or may not apply.

Here is an example American cars have very huge engines, typically in the 5.7-litre range. But these massive engines are built to drive everywhere at 88km/h while spooling lazily and effortlessly, sometimes towing a caravan or a speedboat if the 88 km/h drive is headed towards a holiday destination.

Then take a McLaren Mercedes SLR sports car, 5.5 litres (with a supercharger), which is smaller than the American equivalent, but will do almost four times the speed. Clearly, the gear ratios are dissimilar. At 88 km/h the SLR is going to be still in first gear.

Application and engine output characteristics (torque and power curves) directly determine the gear ratios in a gearbox more than engine size itself does. It is just that engine size again determines the torque and power, if everything else is kept constant, so that is how they are related. Indirectly.

Hi Baraza,

I would like you to shed some light on the interaction between brake horse power, torque, and engine rating. I am curious as to why a 2,000cc Evolution MR produces 400bhp yet a much bigger Mercedes Actros (2546) does 460bhp.

If a 2.0-litre engine can develop such a high HP, why do Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other super cars go to the length of making behemoth engines of 6,300cc and above that produce only 500bhp?

I once raced a Mercedes CLS 3500 CC (270bhp)) in a VW Golf GTI 2,000cc (200 bhp) and won. What do you attribute this to? Torque? A Range Rover Sport (2.7-litre) with 188bhp and 324.5lbs of torque easily wins against a GTI.

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

Brake horse power is the power of the car developed by an engine before losses occur in the transmission and peripherals (alternators, pumps, mufflers). It is not a very accurate way of determining the outright performance of a car. Wheel horse power is a much better indicator.

Torque is force applied over a certain distance, but to make it clear, it is what GETS you going. The effort needed to move a certain load, and determines the magnitude of load one can move as opposed to power, which is what keeps you going, the rate at which the force is applied and determines the absolute speed at which one can move.

For engine rating, see brake horse power. Now, the power output of an engine is directly related to the torque. An engine develops torque naturally. The power output is determined by how high that torque can be carried before the torque curve drops off.

That is the amount of rpm the engine keeps pulling with maximum force. An Actros develops massive torque, say 3000Nm or even more, but it revs to only 2500rpm. So power output is pegged at 460hp (this is still a lot, by the way).

The Evo, on the other hand, makes about 550Nm, but revs to 8,000rpm, hence the power is higher. I know of an Evo that makes, or made 820whp WITH A SLIPPING CLUTCH, but this particular Evo could rev to a stratospheric 9,000rpm.

Big engines with low-ish power outputs are unstressed and last longer. That is in direct contrast to small, high-strung engines with high outputs. They do not go far. That is why race cars go an engine a race.

About that VW vs CLS thing you are talking about: either the CLS driver was inept or he was concerned about wrecking his expensive saloon racing a hatchback. If he had chosen to open the taps on that CLS, you would have been blown out of the water.

Hello Baraza,

I am a fan of your articles and would like to figure out the problem with my car. It is Toyota RunX VVTi, a 2003 model that I have been driving for two years now. However, I started experiencing a problem when I changed tyres from the original ones (imported with the car).

I drive on two new front tyres and the original ones at the rear. The car vibration increases when the speed exceeds 80km/hr. The vibrations reduces when the new tyres are taken to the rear. I have done wheel balancing/alignment and the situation has not improved. What could be the problem?

Okomoli B.O.

You could be having directional tyres. Switching them front to back reduces the vibrations, right? So how about you switch them right to left? Some tyres are designed for use on one side of the car only, so placing them on the “wrong” side of the car creates an unpleasant driving experience.

I would also like to know what is the brand and size of the new tyres.

Hi,

My father has an S320 diesel import from UK registered in 2008. When you hit the 120kph mark, a hazard light appears on the speedometer. It says the ABS is not functioning. We have taken it to DT Dobie for diagnosis twice but it keeps coming back on and they keep charging him every time. He does not mind this, but I do. Do you have any idea what the issue is?

For a few months my father did not drive the car but the on-board computer says the car was due to be serviced, considering it has only travelled around 1,000km. Will anything happen to the car if he keeps driving it?

On a final note, when my father was importing the car, many of his friends, including DT Dobie staff, told him not to buy a diesel Mercedes, or a small diesel car for that matter, because the diesel in Kenya is not as pure as that in Europe. Is this true? For the past two years the car has been running smoothly, I think it is a myth.

Regards,

Victor.

Mercedes cars, more so the top-of-the-range S Class uber-saloon, cannot and should not be fixed by amateurs, driveway grease monkeys, or backstreet opportunists. Only approved dealers and franchises are supposed to handle the car.

So this is my advice: Go back to DT Dobie. Ask them to fix the car, if they cannot, let them be honest enough to say so. If they attempt to fix it and the results are unsatisfactory, inform them that you will not be paying, because why pay when the service you requested has not been delivered?

I do not know what usually happens when your Benz tells you it is due for service and you do not service it. Jeremy Clarkson of BBC Top Gear jokes a lot about that warning, but he has never said what will actually happen to the car. He just says “kooler, sree veeks” (three weeks in the cooler a.k.a jail), which is not very helpful. So I do not know. Service your car when it asks you to. It knows best when it needs attention.

The diesel allegation is mostly true, especially when it applies to Mercedes cars. But this is usually for small engines. The S320 CDI does not have a small engine, this is the same engine used in the ML320 CDI, a 3.2l 6-cylinder engine. It should not be much of a problem

Dear Baraza,

Kindly help me to choose between the new Honda CRV (2006-2007 model), Toyota RAV 4, and Mitsubishi Outlander in terms of price, availability of spare parts, durability/dependability, and fuel consumption.
Thanks,

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

Price: I visited that website I keep mentioning, autobazaar.co.ke, and this is what I found. A 2007 CRV that costs Sh1.83 million on the lower side, and a 2006 (eh??) CRV that costs Sh2.5 million on the upper side. Actually there were two of these.

Toyota RAV4: As low as Sh1.49 million for a 2006 car, as high as Sh2.87 million for another car of similar vintage. Most were going for Sh2.5 million. Mitsubishi Outlander: As low as Sh2 million, as high as Sh 2.1 million. Most of them had “Contact Seller” on the price tag, and contact them you will. Autobazaar.co.ke not only gives you the cars available, there is also a map below the search results that shows you exactly where the car is at that moment. Nifty, eh?

Availability of spares: I did not do research on this because none of these cars is limited edition or custom made. They are mass produced by Japan. The answer to this is fairly obvious.

Reliability and durability: Honda’s V-TEC line of engines are nicknamed “Terminator” by foreign journalists because they never suffer engine failure. This is unlike Toyota’s D4 and Mitsubishi’s GDI, which are fickle by comparison. The RAV4 also seems to age a bit fast compared to the Honda. The Outlanders I have seen are mostly pampered vehicles, so it is hard to tell what would happen if one gets abused.

Fuel economy: This is where Toyota and Mitsubishi get their revenge. D4 and GDI yield astonishing economy figures, the D4 more so. But would you rather save fuel or suffer engine failure?

Dear Baraza,

As we speak, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place because I am planning to buy an expedition vehicle (something tough enough to withstand the harsh off-road world).

I have been looking at expedition vehicle videos and I realised that most of them go for vehicles with solid axles (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Landcruiser 70 series) as compared to independent suspension (Discovery 3, Hummer).

a) Why is this? b) What would you advise me to buy? Thanks.

Sunus.

First, solid axles are tougher, more robust, simpler in design, and consequently cheaper to buy, instal, and repair. In actual terms, you are better off with independent suspension because this helps in wheel articulation, increases stroke room per wheel (up and down travel), and helps keep the car balanced even in extreme situations.

However, independent suspensions are a bit more delicate, so they break easily and they cost more. So it is wiser to just grin and bear it with the solid axles if you are going to participate in the Rhino Charge.

Second, it depends on the extremity of your off-road activities and the wherewithal available to you. I could suggest you buy a Series III Land Rover 109 and raise its suspension only to find out I am talking to a billionaire who rarely goes over anything taller than a tree stump and is better off in the 2013 Range Rover.

Then again I may suggest you buy the Landcruiser 200 V8 but it turns out Sh15 million is too much money to splash on a new off-road car, and your budget can only stretch to a clapped out J70 pick-up from a police auction. So, how extreme is your off-roading and how much are you ready to spend on your off-roader?

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Diesel is the new petrol, thanks to science and technology

Hello Baraza

For years, people have always had different issues on petrol and diesel engines. Some say diesel cars do not perform like petrol ones, they do not last long and are more expensive to maintain. Please clarify this issue for me in respect to the questions below:

1: I’ve always thought that car performance is determined by the power output of an engine and therefore would argue that a car with a two-litre diesel engine with an output of 163hp would be faster than a car with a two-litre petrol engine but with a 150hp power output. Am I wrong?

2: Taking into account two similar vehicles, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol engine, does it mean that the diesel engine vehicle will have a higher maintenance cost?

3: I’ve always been of the view that diesel engines are more efficient on SUVs rather than sedans, but these days there is a great number of sedans powered by diesel engines. What is your take on this?

4: At what point would it be effective having a diesel engine vehicle rather than a petrol one? That is, from what engine capacity would one rather go for a vehicle with a diesel engine?

5: I’ve seen lots of SUVs with diesel engines that have had long life spans. Is it true that their petrol engine counterparts would last much longer?

Kind regards,

Ndung’u.

I see the old argument is back.

1. You are right, generally. The higher the power output, the better the performance. To put this in perspective: Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson once demonstrated how a Skoda Octavia Diesel out-dragged a Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk IV over the quarter mile, and by quite a margin.

His point, however, was how bad the Golf had become, but our little discussion here applies too. A diesel car can be faster than a petrol car of similar capacity; if the diesel car’s power output is higher.

Other factors that determine these disparities in performance in vehicles of similar engine capacity are gross vehicle weight and gear ratios in the ‘box.

2. Again, generally yes; more so if that diesel car has a turbo also (as is common nowadays). This is down to the use of heavier (and sometimes bulkier) components that can withstand diesel torque and the application of high pressure injectors in the engine. They also have shorter service intervals.

3. My take on this is that diesel power can be used almost anywhere now. In fact, diesel engines are so developed that major races (Le Mans 24 Hours and Dakar, for instance) are now being dominated by diesel-propelled entries, in a history plagued by petrol victories.

The development of diesel engines is such that they are as smooth as, and as powerful as (if not more than) their petrol equivalents. This is due to turbo technology and material science.

Diesel engines have the added bonus of having good economy and low emissions, which is why they are finding their way into small cars, with incredible success. In France, more than half of the cars bought, irrespective of size or class, are diesel-powered.

4. From Point 4 above, any. Engines range from as small as the 1.0 litre 3-cylinder turbo in the VW Polo BlueMotion to massive units such as the 6.0 litre V12 TDI in the Audi Q7. These are just road cars.

Trucks have engines as huge as 16,000cc V8s, then we have trains, ships, earth-moving equipment…. There is no limit to size for diesel engines nowadays.

5. This greatly depends on how they are (ab)used.

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Hello Baraza,

I drive a Toyota Probox and would like to know how you rate this car in terms of speed, stability on the road and fuel consumption. Second, the fuel gauge is not working and it’s thus difficult to tell wether the car has enough fuel or not. What could the problem?

Eric.

The Probox’s speed is typical of Japanese econo-box cars: nothing special, in spite of what people may say (this includes those who will tell you that nowadays these things are used to transport miraa).

If and when you get to 180 km/h the car will stop accelerating. Japanese cars have a limiter set at this speed. Stability on the road is not the best either, especially given that the car is a bit tall and some use leaf-spring rear suspension.

Fuel consumption is good though, if you avoid trying to clock maximum velocity all the time. I’d say 10KPL is the worst reading you’ll ever get, but 16KPL is possible with sensible driving.

About that fuel gauge: eliminate the usual suspects first. Check to see the wiring in the dashboard is in order. These are the other common causes:

1. Defective Dash Voltage regulator (voltage limiter) or gauge

2. Loss of ground/earth at the sending unit

3. Break in the wire going to the dash

4. Bad Sending Unit

5. Fuel gauge itself is defective

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Hi Baraza,

I’m planning to buy a 2005 Pajero IO. I like the boxy look and whatnot, but I’ve been discouraged by those who say it has a high fuel consumption and its GDI engine is problematic.

If I decide to go for it anyway, should I buy one with an automatic or manual transmission? Plus, what is its off-road capabilities and comfort?

Mark.

As for whether to buy manual or auto: that is entirely up to you. Which do you prefer? I would go for the auto myself (that is not saying much: there is nothing to nominate the auto over the manual, I just prefer autoboxes on such cars).

Off-road capabilities: I’d give it a “Lower Fair”, on a scale of Poor – Average – Fair – Land Rover Defender – Mountain Goat. Maybe 5.5 out of 10, where 0 denotes a Lamborghini Aventador and 10 is a Rhino Charge-spec off-roader.

Off-Road Comfort: I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5, where 0 denotes maximum likelihood of car-sickness (vomiting due to the bounciness or the need for physiotherapy due to rock-hard ride.

It’s a little of both, actually and 5 is the point where you can’t tell if the car is off or on road, such is the smoothness (2013 Range Rover).

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Hello Baraza,

Thanks for the good work you are doing. I’m writing to make a rather unusual enquiry: I have a budget of just Sh200,000 for either an old 1.3-litre local Nissan B12, a Toyota AE86 or 90, or a Duet which I will use to cover a distance of 20 kilometres daily to work and back. Bearing in mind that I have never owned a car before, kindly tell me which of these, or any other, would suit me.

Thank you.

I was reading through your e-mail until I go to the point where you mention an AE86, and my eyes turned misty. Where can I get a Hachiroku for 200k? I definitely want one of those.

Maintenance and economy of course favor the Duet, but a Duet going for 200k is not likely to be a wise purchase. There must be something seriously wrong with it.

It is thus a close race between the B12 and the AE90 (the B12 was the last good Nissan Sunny car we saw for the longest time. Later models were rubbish), but I would say the AE90, especially if it is 1.3 like the Nissan.

The 86 Corolla might not be as economical as the others (the difference is negligible anyway), but it is a damn good car to drive.

Where can I get one for 200k?

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the wonderful job you are doing. I had a petrol Isuzu Trooper 2 and a Toyota Sprinter K25 which I have liquidated in order to acquire the old box-type Prado.

I would like to know the cons of this car since I made the mistake with the Trooper, which once guzzled Sh20,000 in fuel from Nairobi to Mombasa and back.

This time I don’t want my December journey to the coast to become a nightmare again, so your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thumbi.

The only con I can think of is that the Prado does not corner too nicely, but then again, this is not a car built for cornering. The box shape is also aerodynamically inefficient, but if you got one with a diesel engine (a well maintained one), Sh20,000 worth of fuel to and from Mombasa will be confined in the dark chasms of unpleasant memories and life’s hard lessons.

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Dear JM,

I am looking forward to purchasing two cars in the near future, kindly enlighten me on the following:

The first is a family car (madam, two daughters and I) to be used within Nairobi and going to Nakuru once in a while. I am torn between a Honda CRV, a Nissan X-Trail, and Volkswagen Tiguan, all local and manual versions. Which of these is the best in terms of performance, comfort and safety?

The second is a personal car for use within Nairobi. I am again torn between two versions of the same model, Mitsubishi Lancer GLX or EX.

Again, in terms of performance, comfort and safety, which is the best? I am made to understand that the Lancer EX comes in two versions, which is the best? The sport or the ordinary one?

Lastly, I prefer manual cars after near-death experiences with automatics. In a manual car, I feel more in control compared to autos, where one just sits ‘there’. Do manual cars have any distinct advantage over their cousins?

Performance may favour the X-Trail in the first lot, but only if it is the X-Trail GT. Otherwise, the Tiguan may be faster. And safer. And more comfortable.

For the second lot, the EX may be better than the GLX in comfort. Performance and safety is the same (it is the same car, after all, with different trim/specs). Of the two Lancers, I would opt for the GT, mostly because Mitsubishi tells us it is sporty, and it does look like an Evo X. I know these are not sensible reasons for choosing it, but hey: we all have our own peculiarities.

Manual cars offer better control (as you point out) as well as slightly improved fuel economy and marginally better performance.

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Hallo,

Thanks for your good work. I wish to take you back to the old-school era and I hope you will assist because, hey, we deserve your attention too!

I have driven a Peugeot 205 for 10 years, initially an 1124cc and later 1.4 which actually is 1360cc and the performance of the latter is above-average, except for suspension issues. I have two issues, though, that require your help:

1: How can I fix gear number two in the 1.4, which makes a loud sound when slowing down but all smooth when the car is stationary? I hear this is a common problem with these cars.

2: Any advice on dealing with suspension issues, especially on stabilisers and bushes, would be much appreciated.

3: How would you rate the 205 against the 206 and the Toyota Starlet?

Regards,

Joseph.

1: You are right, 205s suffered from jumpy drivelines, and this problem was most pronounced in the GTi. However, I suspect you may also be downshifting a bit early. A 405 I once had also did not favour early downshifts.

Try this: when slowing down, wait until you lose as much speed as possible (with the clutch engaged, wait until engine speed dips to 1,000 rpm or less) before shifting down. Tell me if there is a difference.

2: Yes. Change them when they go bust, and only use genuine parts. Avoid cheap fakes (or expensive fakes, for that matter, if they exist).

3: I sort of prefer the 205 to the 206. The 206 looks too girly and I have a thing for old-school, bare-knuckle, no-frills driving, which is what the 205 offers.

The 206 is more modern, softer, heavier, more mild and generally… feminine. Compared to the Starlet… well, they are very similar in terms of utility. The Starlet may be more practical though because it has a wider opening hatch at the back compared to the 206.

Posted on

If you like the prison feel, go Russian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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