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I insist, the Prius is not what it is made out to be

Hi Baraza,

I have read a number of your articles but not come across any on the Toyota Prius. Would you kindly review it; my apologies if you have already done so because I must have missed it. Regards. Freda

Hi Freda,

I have not done a full review per se, but I have mentioned the Prius several times before, and nothing I wrote was encouraging. The Prius is what we call a smugness generator, a car people buy so that they can look down on others. Someone tried it on me and it did not end well.

The problem is that the Prius is not what it is made out to be. Toyota intended it to be the last word in fuel efficiency but it isn’t.

Some European models offer better economy without resorting to battery assistance, especially the sub 1500cc diesel-powered hatchbacks. Toyota’s own superminis (the likes of the Yaris and the Aygo) also offer better returns on the mpg scale at a lower price.

The world’s leading motor journalist also says research shows that total assembly of this vehicle in the long run does more damage to the environment than a Land Rover Discovery would in its entire fuel-guzzling lifespan, courtesy of the mining, shipping, factory processing and manufacture of its batteries, which, incidentally, are supposed to be its party piece.

He further demonstrated that, driven at full speed, the Prius burns more fuel than an E92 BMW M3 moving at the same speed. The BMW is a sports car, a very fast one, with a 4000cc V8 engine and 414hp.

Meanwhile, the Prius has a 1500cc unit supplemented by an electric motor, making a combined horsepower figure I am unaware of and not interested in knowing.

One last shot: when running on batteries, the lack of engine noise makes it a whisper-mobile, so no one will hear you coming and you should, therefore, expect to slay a substantial number of unwitting, non-motorised street-users as a result.

How many children will you kill in this manner before you convince yourself that the Prius is, in fact, a car made for Hollywood stars to assuage their guilty consciences that they are doing the world some good?

Hi Baraza,

I have had a Starlet EP82 year 92 model for six years now. Mid last year, the temp gauge went close to the half mark and it would require water after covering about 500 kms.; initially, it would go for months. The car has no thermostat and the mechanic suggested a cylinder head gasket overhaul, which I declined, so we ended up changing the radiator cap but it still needs refilling after covering the same kms though the good thing is that the temp gauge never goes beyond the quarter mark.

I recently hinted to my mechanic that for the last two years the engine has lost power; no change even after replacing the clutch and pressure plate.

He suggested we replace the piston rings and crankshaft cone bearings to improve compression. Is he right? What could be the cause? I service it every 7,000 kms with Shell Helix HX5 15W-40, it has no oil leaks so no top-ups, and the car is very economical: 17.5-19kms/litre on the highway.
Regards.

Kamwago

Your mechanic might be on to something. The head gasket might need replacement. This would explain the two symptoms you mention: 1. Power loss: this could be due to compression leakage, hence the (latter) suggestion that you get new rings. But the case of worn out rings is almost always accompanied by oil consumption, which you say is absent. Compression leakage could also occur via the head gasket, so this is a more likely situation.

2. Loss of coolant: coolant could be leaking into the cylinders. Either that, or the cooling system has a leak somewhere.

I think you might need to check your cylinder head gasket after all.

Hi,You promised to tackle small engines that have turbo, especially motorcycles i.e (125cc). I own one but I don’t see much difference between it and other 125s; is it okay?

I do not know of any turbo motorcycles. Which model is this you own? I have a colleague who specialises in two-wheeled transport who might be able to shed some light on your machine, if it is what you say it is (I really doubt if your bike is turbocharged).

I have covered the topic of turbo charging so many times that I rarely delve into it any more.

Hi Baraza,

I own a manual Nissan B15. Recently, it began switching off on its own on the road and also when idling. I took it to a mechanic and he replaced the old plugs and it went off permanently. It also used to discharge its battery when left overninght but retain charge when disconnected.Kindly advise.Joseph Mutua

That sounds like a short circuit somewhere. It explains the stalling (current bypasses the ignition system and is grounded immediately) and also the battery discharge. Have someone look at the wiring and electrical system, the fault should not be hard to find.

Hi Baraza, I’m hoping to change my car this year and am interested in the Nissan Pathfinder or Land Rover Discovery 4, whichever is more affordable. However I would like you to give me insights into the pros and cons of the two vehicles. Secondly, which is your preferred 7-seater SUV ? Anthony Crispus.

Hello,

1. Discovery pros: good-looking, comfortable, smooth, luxurious, handles well, is nice to drive and has some clever tech in it (terrain response, air suspension etc). Also, the diesel engines are economical and all models are fast (this applies to the Disco 4 only. Previous Discos were dodgy in some areas). It is surprisingly capable in the clag.

Cons: Very expensive. It is prone to faults, which are also expensive to fix. Petrol-powered vehicles will get thirsty. The air suspension is unreliable. Also, a man in a Prius will look at you badly for driving a massive, wasteful fuel-guzzler.

2. Pathfinder pros: cheaper than Discovery. It is based on the Navara, so they share plenty of parts. It is also rugged, somewhat.

Cons: being a Navara in a jacket means it suffers some of the Navara’s foibles, such as a rapidly weakening structure under hard use, poor off-road clearance when the high-on-looks side-skirt option is selected and is noisy at high revs. They also don’t sell the 4.0 V6 engine option locally.

My preferred 7-seater SUV is the Landcruiser Prado. I like the Discovery, a lot, but the Prado is Iron Man (unashamedly faultless and immodest with it) to the Discovery’s Batman (good looks and god-like abilities but inherently flawed and thus susceptible to bouts of unpredictability and unreliability).

Hi,

I have a Toyota Allion. The problem is that it pulls to the left. The wheels are the same size and tyres are properly inflated. Wheel alignments, including computerized, don’t correct the problem. My mechanic does not know what the problem could be. Please advise.

Simon

Are you using directional tyres by any chance? Some tyres are meant to be used on a specific side of the vehicle and should not be switched. Also, check your brakes. Unlikely though it is, one of them could be binding.

Hi Baraza,

While I missed Munyonyi’s question on airbags, Sally was right about airbags in suspension. These are retro fitted bags installed (usually) inside the standard spring that function very similar to a tube within a tyre and come with a compressor.When pumped up they raise the ride height and reduce the spring give and body roll. They also increase load capacity. Pretty simple in function and relatively cheap. Favoured by offroaders. Your explanation on was right, just for different systems.

And now tomy question: Why does Toyota torture us with such reliable but sin ugly vehicles? I’m tired of defending these Picasso-looking machines with, “It will reach and come back.” Is there any good looking Toyota (except the 40 and 80 series Landcruisers)? Mwenda

I like the way the Mark X looks. And all the big Landcruisers (80, 100 and 200 Series); Prados look funny. The problem with having 13,000 designers in your employment is that sometimes you have to give some of them incentives not to migrate to Nissan or Honda. That means passing off their designs to production stage. It is hard to say what these designers do in their spare time, but drugs could be a possibility: how else would you explain such aberrations as the Verossa? Will? Platz? Opa?

I received several emails about the air-bag issue, and I apologize to Munyonyi and Sally. They were right. I wasn’t.

Hi JM,

I recently changed the tyres of my Mazda Demio from the manufacturer’s recommended 185/55/R15, which were too small for Kenya’s rough roads, to 195/65/R15 which are bigger. While I appreciate the significant increase in ground clearance, I also noticed a significant dip in engine power. It’s a manual transmission, and some of the steep slopes that I used to comfortably clear in third gear now force me to downshift to second gear two.
How can I get the original power back without having to replace the tyres again? Kelvin.

Fitting bigger tyres has the effect of gearing up your drivetrain, hence the apparent dip in power. If you revert to the original set, you will notice your car is fine.

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Why do you ‘hate’ the Range Rover Sport?

Hi Baraza,

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

Ngari.

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

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

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

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

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I’m waiting for new RAV4 to outrun the X-Trail and CRV

In the recent past I have found myself in a good number of new cars, all of which beg reviews, but since there is hardly any time (or space) to do them all, they will have to share a bed or rather a space. To kick things off we have the new RAV4, the 2013 model.

Toyota RAV2 and RAV4: New this year is another iteration of the Random Access Vehicle (RAV), and with it comes some interesting new changes. The exterior has been tweaked. The car still looks a bit odd, just like the last one, but a different kind of odd.

The face has some Korean-ness about it (sharp and pointy, slashes and curves, all angles and lines, and generally the typical Pacific Rim characteristic of overdesign), the side has been infused with a lot of character (inverse relief here, a mix of convex and concave surfaces there), and there is a shelf at the back.

On the outside. The acreage of metal on the tailgate is overwhelming, a tendency further accentuated by the relatively small tail lamps. And there is a black plastic skirt going round the lower hem of the vehicle that we are told will not be replaced with a colour-coded option.

In other words, the Really Amorphous Vehicle is what it should be called. I will not say it is ugly, but when the light hits it just right, this is one car that a motoring correspondent would be hard put to describe in plain words.

Exactly like the outgoing model. The design language, says Toyota, is to shed the feminine image the ‘Roses And Violets’ car has had to endure for the previous three generations.

At the test drive they even had an ad-banner with two Doberman pinschers in it, and the blurb said “Mark Your Territory”. Very manly. For animal lovers especially; or dog-loving, manly rappers like DMX.

The interior is typical Toyota. Again, there is a shelf on the centre console right below the radio (please note that these shelves I am referring to are instruments of form, not function. Do not place stuff on them expecting the stuff to stay put for long).

There is some “space” below the shelf, then the usual gear lever gate/cubby-holes/cup-holders/hand-brake tunnel but from there is where Toyota’s cleverness comes to light — a pun, this, because the RAV’s interior is actually quite dark.

The transmission tunnel from the B-pillar rearwards has been “buried” (and even been disposed of) under the floor, greatly improving floor space and manoeuvrability — though the reason a person would want to slide from one side of the car to the other on a regular basis is unbeknownst to me — but the concept has worked. The leg-room at the back is impressive even for bean-poles like The Jaw and I.

The rear drive shaft has been buried under the floor. It could also be missing because for the first time ever in the history of motoring, the RAV4 is now available in 2WD… FF platform to be exact. So why did they not call it the RAV2?

The LWB version of the outgoing model gets its own name (Toyota Vanguard), so why did the 2WD version of this model not get its own label? RAV2 to be exact, because RAV4 in reality stands for Recreational Active Vehicle, 4-wheel drive.

So the FF car in reality is a RAV2, not a RAV4. I guess we will never know.

Anyway, the existence of the FWD car is to “capture” a “niche” that apparently Toyota has been missing out on. The “niche” of pretenders who want a big car to drive in places where it would be more practical and convenient to walk, such as from your middle-class suburban house to the supermarket, which is 300m away on a well-tarmacked road.

Toyota seems keen to “capture” this “niche”, judging from the pricing, let them have a go at it. Pointless vehicles have had sales success before (all Hummers, the BMW X6, and the Toyota Prius), so why not now?

Price range: Aah, the pricing. The base 2.0 litre 2WD with a lazymatic auto-box costs about Sh4 million. The specced-up 2.5 litre 4WD costs almost half as much again (!!!), at Sh5.8 million, and this is the only one available with a manual gearbox. The reign of the petrolhead is dangerously under threat here, but it has been for a while now. My heart bleeds.

Given the pricing, it is clear Toyota wants our “lifestyling” activities to change from things like white-water rafting, bungee jumping, hand gliding and surfing to stuff like shopping, going to the gym and generally places where there is a tarmac road.

It is obvious they want the 2WD to sell more. Also, the RAV4 has now been lowered by some millimeters, making it slightly less off-roadish than its ancestors.

The non-enthusiasts who will obviously go for the 2.0 litre 2WD car will pay for their sins. I am not saying it drives badly — it actually drives well, and the economy is amazing: close to 11 kpl even when thrashing it on the open road — but the 2.5 4WD is so much better.

It feels more together where the 2WD feels a bit feathery and wayward when challenged by cross-winds. The bigger 2.5 litre engine gives it more punch and there is the possibility of kicking the tail out when exiting a junction under power and excessive steering lock (doing this in the 2WD just creates massive understeer that scares the hell out of nearby hawkers).

Body control (elk test-esque swerving and swift overtaking) is also better optimised in the 4WD, and in Sport mode, the engine growling all the way to the red line gives the impression that torque is being tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to keep up with a silver Mercedes-Benz ML500 that has just overtaken me, and I really should get back on topic….

Economy also suffers. Half a (60-litre) tank to cover 180km is not worth bragging about, but you can blame my heavy right foot for that. Equivalent acts in the 2.0 litre 2WD yield, say, 70 per cent of the same exuberance, and the belligerence of the engine is not as charismatic. It sounds like just another automatic car struggling to make a point at times and in places where it really should not.

Sports utility

But I loved the Sport mode in both cars: the Tiptronic override is really only useful in downshifting when you want some engine braking (lack of full lock-up control at clutch level means you will not get the same retardation effect as you would in a conventional manual, so be ready to dab the brakes a little if you want to slow down sooner), upshifts take place at a heady 6,500 rpm even on part throttle, a notch past the peak power point, and progress is swift.

They have also given the car some new features previously seen on upscale cars. The rear tailgate is now powered (I want that), there is auto-adjustment between high beam and low beam for the headlamps (I do not want that, but thankfully it can be turned off), and there is… hold on a moment.

That powered tailgate takes some getting used to. It can be opened from the driver’s seat or from a button next to the number plate light, but shutting it requires you to be there at the tailgate to press a button on the lower edge for it to come down.

Also, knowing when the tailgate button or the key-fob control will open the tailgate is not easy. Sometimes with the doors open the tailgate button itself does not work. So you have to lock the doors and then open them again electronically for it to work.

Sometimes. It is hard to tell from one day’s use. Not handy when you are an assassin trying to make a quick escape with your high-powered rifle and three police departments hot on your heels, but then again, it is not everyday that an assassin will drive a RAV4. Hollywood tells us they prefer Audis.

I fear I may have digressed again…

Overall I would say the new RAV4 is a step up on the old one, but here is a word of advice to Toyota Kenya. This car’s rival is NOT the Nissan Qashqai: you do not set your targets as “I will not be last”; rather, say “I will be first”. The Nissan X-Trail is a more worthy opponent and there is some work that needs to be done to catch up with the CRV, which is kicking dust in faces right now.

My opinion? Do not squeeze the RAV4 out of market in favour of the “RAV2”. It is a good car and deserves sales.

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Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Zimbabwe, border is where I have been this past week, driving a 2013 Range Rover Vogue L405 SDV8, a Land Rover Discovery 4 SDV6, a 2013 Range Rover Sport (SDV8 also) and a Range Rover Evoque SD4.

The Vogue and the Evoque I reviewed earlier, and they are the same amazing pieces of equipment they have always been, and since the Sport is due for replacement in the foreseeable future, let me talk about the Discovery 4.

It seats seven human beings (not five humans and two dolls like some other cars), the front and middle rows of seats both have sun-roofs and the seating arrangement is cinema hall-style: the middle row of seats is a bit higher than the front, and the back row overlooks the middle one. That way everybody can see where the driver is taking them.

Worth noting is the child-proofing of the hand-brake. It is electronic, yes, but it is accessible from a great number of locales within the car, so ill-behaved children can reach it.

The Discovery 4 has a safeguard against that. Applying the parking brake (inadvertently or the result of highly adventurous, safety-unconscious passengers) while in motion only activates the ABS, it does not lock the wheels like it normally should. You can try it if you own a Discovery 4… also, if you have the trousers for it.

The car is also roomier than its stable-mates and is an unstoppable force off-road, but has gone too far upmarket, unlike the first two generations which were essentially comfortable Defenders.

The current one is more of a “cheap” Range Rover (it donated its platform, like Adam donating a rib, for the creation of the Range Rover Sport). The Discovery 3 has a serious problem with the air suspension, which costs Sh300,000 per wheel to replace.

Seeing that you have to replace all four, the day you find your Discovery sitting on the floor like a relaxing elephant, know that Sh1.2 million is bout to fly out of your wallet. These are Range Rover bills right there.

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Motoring news this year

The Sky Has Finally Fallen

It is all doom and gloom along Lusaka Road as CMC Motors woke up to the shocking news that Jaguar Land Rover is no more.

No, the Indian-owned British corporation has not closed shop, but as far as CMC Motors are concerned, Jaguar and Land Rover cars may as well not exist beginning February 2013, if the world does not end in two week’s time.

CMC’s contract expires then (Feb), and it will NOT be renewed. I bet some individuals there wish the world would end this month, after all….

In a statement released to members of the motoring press all over Africa, one Willem Schoeman of JLR SSA (Jaguar Land Rover Sub Sahara Africa) made it clear that JLR as a company has high hopes for Kenya; only these hopes are tied to another company; one that few people have heard of: RMA.

It was not so much we don’t want CMC as it was we want RMA. These sentiments were echoed within the Tweet-verse and the blogosphere, the difference being that while JLR’s statement was more pro-RMA than anti-CMC, Internet opinions were the other way round.

“It has been a long time coming…” one of my Twitter followers chirped. “It is about time…” piped another. “Good riddance…” said a third. Hard times, these.

“Jaguar Land Rover is pleased to announce the appointment of a new partner in Kenya, the RMA Group,” thus quoth Herr Schoeman.

If a lady announces she is pleased to have a new boyfriend, more often than not that means the incumbent/outgoing squeeze was not up to scratch and was therefore relieved of his duties. I don’t know if this also applies in the corporate world.

“The RMA Group brings a broad range of expertise and experience in the… industry… with the (JLR) brand, which they currently represent in other global markets.”

( My new boyfriend is an accomplished lover and is way cooler; and all his old girlfriends still have the hots for him). These are not very encouraging words to be reading when one is being replaced: whether as a boyfriend or as a franchise holder.

On a more serious note: this is not a time to celebrate for the motoring giant (CMC, I mean, not JLR). JLR is on a roll, releasing new products faster than we can write about them, and now is not the time for anybody to fall off their wagon.

The 2013 Vogue has been received with rave reviews and plenty of excitement worldwide. There are updates for the two Jag saloons: the XF and the XJ.

There was the Discovery 4, and the Evoque not too long ago, the Freelander has just received its 2013 model year refresh, there will be an all-new Defender in the not too distant future, the long awaited Jaguar F Type is slotted for release next year, there should be an all-new Range Rover Sport somewhere within sight also….

Now is really not the time to get oneself fired, in a Trump-esque, Apprentice-style send-off.

You may have noticed that the word “surprise” does not appear anywhere in the preceding writing. This is because whispers and hints of the looming break-up reared their unseen heads as far back as September.

Back then, the grapevine had it that, first, CMC and RMA were to share the franchise, with RMA being primary importer. Then it became a contest as the two vied and jousted for the new contract (still on the grapevine, and thus unverifiable). Now word from Mzanzi is that CMC will not be selling JLR products much longer. This much is verifiable.

What Herr Schoeman’s missive doesn’t explain is exactly why CMC Motors have been kicked to the kerb in favour of RMA. The signs were there though: scandals – 1. the head honcho earning a bigger salary than the entire company’s profits, 2. his replacement being on the receiving end of some dirty, underhand maneuvers in an attempt to keep him and his whistle (which he blew very hard) away, 3. the disappearance of (of all things) an ex-President’s Range Rover car…

This, by the way, had been nearly forgotten until the vehicle surfaced several years later (a few weeks ago) in the hands of yet another high-profile individual, blowing the case wide open again.

An insider also confessed to yours truly that they were unable to move units in sufficient numbers, so the company depended heavily on maintenance and service of Range Rovers for the department to make money. Clearly all has not been rosy at the country’s biggest motoring franchise for a while.

It was good while it lasted, CMC Motors. Hold your heads up and work towards a brighter future. RMA: you have your work cut out.

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2013 Freelander

Still on matters Land Rover: The Freelander 2 has been updated for the 2013 model year. Cosmetic surgery has been done to great effect so that the new car looks much better than the outgoing one.

Not that the predecessor was ugly to start with, but it takes fresh input to put things in perspective, and the perspective is that the Freelander Two-And-A-Half is out in full force to threaten the competition which had been catching up.

Freelander 2.5, you ask? Well, yes. The changes are not just skin-deep. New engines and new transmissions appear too. The Evoque’s engines to be exact: the 2.0 litre petrol Si4, the 2.2 litre diesel SD4 (which we will get, good for 140kW/182bhp) and the 2.2 diesel TD4 (110kW/143bhp, which we will not get, and is also not found on the Evoque).

All are turbocharged 4-cylinder units: the 3.2 litre V6 is no more (boo!). The engines come attached to a 6-speed automatic gearbox with Tiptronic override. A new body, new engines and new transmissions: that sounds like a whole new car to me, but JLR says its is not the Freelander 3, so Freelander 2.5 I will call it.

The car is semi-skilled off-road (not that many of you will be driving it on cliff faces or underwater anyway), it is fine on road, with a floaty feel from the steering at speed.

In an odd turn of circumstances, the petrol engine is ok, you could even call it a bit special, but the diesel is a mite underwhelming in performance and response.

Weird, considering how diesel versions of a car are usually made to outshine the petrol version in order to boost sales. Couple this to a dim-witted automatic and it is easy to see which spec will win hearts: the petrol version, which you will most likely drive in Tiptronic mode 85 per cent of the time.

Expect the car to cost anything from Sh5 million upwards once it hits the showrooms next year.

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Nissan Qashqai

The-Nissan-with-a-name-that-cannot-be-pronounced has just been “launched”. This is despite its making an appearance in several local shows and displays, including DT Dobie’s own previous other-vehicle launches.

Quite a launch this particular one was though, featuring well-heeled senior corporate suits, finger food, fruit juice, paint guns and graffiti. I don’t know what effect DT Dobie was going for with this ensemble.

The Qash-and-Qarry continues Nissan’s recent tradition of unleashing slightly underpowered vehicles on an unsuspecting public (Tiida, Almera). 136bhp and 20kg.m are nothing to write home about, especially for a Kluger-sized car; when a mid 2000’s Honda Civic Type R hatchback has better outputs.

To sum up the irony, DT Dobie used words like “dynamic” and “distinguished” when they introduced the already familiar motor show prop. Interestingly enough, a sizeable portion of my Internet disciples detest this car.

The Nissan Qwerty can be had with 2WD or 4WD. It can be had with 5 or 7 seats. It can be had in black, or silver, and maybe in some other colours too. But there is no escaping from the 136bhp 2.0 litre “powerplant”. DT Dobie also says they sold out their initial stock, which took an entire year to accumulate.

Methinks either they are taking liberty with facts or that “stock” consisted of only three cars, because I kid you not: I have not seen a single Cash-Guy on the road. Maybe I’ve been driving on all the wrong roads….

The Nissan Quash-Key costs Sh3.6 million (more, if you spec it up). If and when I do a review on it, we will decide whether this Qar will be a Qlever Investment or a Nissan Waste-of-Qash.

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F30 BMW 3 Series

Another new vehicle release (in Kenya, at least) is that of the F30 BMW 3 Series. The front looks shark-like, which means it looks like the former 6 Series. The rear looks like just like it did on the outgoing car. I have not driven it yet, so for now that is that.