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If you’re looking for a car simply to ferry your bikes, Avensis is fine

Hi Baraza,
Great work in your column. I am an avid cyclist and have been looking for a car that will help me get my bike(s) from point A to point B without having to completely dismantle them.

This would probably mean a roof-mounted bike carrier or an estate car with lots of boot space, with the rear seat up or folded.

I have been considering the Avensis estate but after your review of 30 July, I am growing cold feet. Given that I need the car mostly just to car pool with fellow cyclists while heading for rides, what would you advise?
IKG

How bad was the review of 30 July? I believe my opening statement was “Get the Avensis…”, though I admit I later changed my mind and told my inquisitor to just get a Mark X for reasons completely unrelated to ferrying bicycles.

All you want is to ferry bicycles, right? Looking good at the local eatery or making your neighbours envious is not the priority here, is it?

Nor are RWD dynamics, wheelspin capability, tiptronic-style controlled lock-up automatic transmissions, and V6 power, correct?

I believe I recommended the Mark X for the following reasons: fun to drive, it is bigger, faster, prettier, better specced, and more imposing.

None of these things matter when you are heading to a cycle track for some furious pedalling action, so I would say there is not any black mark against the Avensis here. Get the Avensis.

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Baraza,
I recently bought a Subaru Legacy 2007 wagon. It is a super lovely car, except for the few occasions when I have to use a rough road — which is not often — and experience ground clearance problems.

I have had lots of suggestions, including one that I should have bought an Outback (true, but not really useful advice at this point).

Anyway, between spacers (I have been told they affect stability and could create potential insurance issues), larger wheels (been told this spoils the AWD), and putting up with the occasional knock, what would be the best thing to do?
MN

This is a situation where the ball is more in your court than mine. Of those three options, choose the one that suits you best, though I would opt for spacers as the path that leads to fewest complications.

Provided the increase in loftiness does not border on the ridiculous, you should be safe both from the gremlins of instability and the scrutinising gaze of the insurance agent.

Larger wheels do not necessarily affect the AWD system, unless the wheels are all of different sizes, which, while absurd and unbelievable, some people do.

Those people had hell to pay when the AWD went bonkers on them at the very moment it should have come in handy (this was during the recce of last month’s Murang’a time trial event where one of the hopefuls spun out not once, but twice, during some cornering manoeuvres).

The larger wheels will, however, gear up your transmission, watering down the torque and dialling back the acceleration somewhat. To these options you could add this: avoid rough roads altogether.

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Hello Baraza,
Thanks for your article of 23 July regarding the Evo X and Subaru STI. You did justice by whipping the ignorance out of the Subie fanatics.

I do not know what gets into their heads when they are behind the wheel. Save for noisy exhausts, which Subie drivers mistake for power and speed, the less noisy Evo X beats them hands down, period.

I even gave one such Subie owner a run for his money with my lesser-known Lexus LS460 without turbo, which easily tops 200km/h in less than seven seconds.

Away from that, kindly review the 2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate and advise whether I can go for it or still go for the 2014 LS460-L.
Regards
JM

Your Lexus might be fast, but I think you are taking liberties with statistics. Zero to 200 km/h in seven seconds? That is Bugatti Veyron territory. Maybe you meant 0-100?

I cannot properly review the Hyundai Equus for two reasons, the obvious one being I have never driven one. The second reason is I do not think it is relevant to this market.

That said, the Lexus LS460-L is the better car overall, seeing how Lexus effectively invented this segment (a pocket-friendly alternative to the German threesome of the Mercedes S Class, BMW 7 Series, and Audi A8).

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Hello Baraza,
God bless you for your informative, educative, and occasionally entertaining articles.

I drive a 2004 Toyota Surf with a 1KZ-TE engine. Due to its age and frequent failures of the turbo system, my mechanic has proposed removing the turbo system, essentially reducing it to a 1KZ-T engine.

Obviously, there will be loss of torque (343 to 295 Nm) and power (96 to 85 kW), but probably a gain in fuel consumption. My question is, what other effect will the removal of the turbo system have on the engine in terms of life, maintenance, etc.

Will the effort be worthwhile or should I continue struggling with a failure-prone turbo system?

Besides the obvious drop in torque and power figures, I do not think there will be any other drastic effect with the removal of the turbo.

The only other downside is directly associated with the reduced strength: the vehicle will be slow, very slow.

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Hello Mr Baraza,
I must start by appreciating the great job you are doing in your column. I read the column religiously and have found it quite helpful. I have two questions:

1. I recently imported a second-hand Toyota Premio 1500cc Petrol Autodrive, which I use to travel from Nairobi to Nyeri and back every week.

Somewhere on the speedometer there is an indication of what I believe is the distance covered per litre of fuel (km/ltr).

There are times when the figure is as high as 21km/l; the highest it has ever been is 21.6km/l. My question is, do these figures really indicate the consumption rate and if so, does it mean my Premio is that fuel-efficient?

2. I come from a remote part of Laikipia County where roads look like the surface of the moon and my Toyota Premio cannot manage such terrain.

I have been planning to get an affordable car which can comfortably manage the off-road terrain. The car I have in mind is the Daihatsu Terios (similar to the ones used by Kenya Power). My questions in this regard are:

1. Is it really a good off-road car?
2. Can one get one with a capacity of around 1500cc?
3. Is it a reliable car and are spares readily available?
Kindly advise me on anything else I need to know about it.
Kariuki S.W.

Greetings,
Yes, the Premio is that efficient. However, there is something you should be careful about: does that readout give the instantaneous economy figure or an average over a certain distance?

Do not be fooled into thinking that 21 km/l is the average consumption unless you have some special skill you use (which is both possible and probable).

In realistic driving conditions (factoring in town driving, acceleration from bumps, and the moonscape terrain close to your destination), anything between 11 km/l and 15 km/l on average is the norm for a Premio, but you could still achieve 21 km/l overall if you are something else.

So, yes, the Premio is that efficient (for a while, depending on what you are doing).

1. Yes.
2. Yes.
3. Yes.

The car is small and cramped inside, is a bit uncomfortable, especially on rough terrain where the ride is very bouncy and jars a little, does not corner properly due to its tall and narrow dimensions, and on the open road, it is badly affected by crosswinds, especially at speeds of 100km/h or more.

The gearing is short, so at those highway speeds, you could add noisiness (boom) from the engine to the battle with the wind on the list of crosses to bear.

The car is small inside because it is small outside, so this makes it nippy and easy to tool around town, squeezing into small spaces, and parking.

The small exterior measurements and well-nigh non-existent overhangs means it will tackle a surprising array of obstacles without grounding itself or even damaging the bodywork. Just steer clear of the versions with a body kit, though, because it completely undoes the benefits I just mentioned.

The short gearing allows it to ascend slopes of extreme severity without having to redline the engine, which is small and could potentially be a handful in the clag unless you mercilessly stomp the accelerator constantly.

This small engine, coupled with the small body, combine to create good fuel economy for what is essentially a pint-sized SUV. Just try not to go beyond 100km/h; you will not like it.

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Hi Barasa,
I am a 30-year-old newly married man with an expectant wife. I am looking for a family car that my wife and I would both be comfortable driving.

My options are the Mazda Demio, Mazda Verisa, Toyota Runx, Toyota Allex, and VW Golf. I have a budget of Sh500,000. Please also advise me whether to import or buy one locally.
Richard

Hi Richard,
Congratulations on your recent nuptials and all the best in married life.

I would normally have recommended a Demio, simply because I drive one, but the Verisa is a more practical car for a family man. The Demio is smaller and, therefore, less practical. So the Demio bows out of the list.

The Runx and the Allex are the same car, the difference is that one model comes with chrome side mirrors and door handles while the other comes with body-colour accoutrements.

That is it. This difference is so trivial that I am not even sure which car is lashed with chrome and which one is not, but the two are just the same car.

When these model was trending not too long ago, they cost quite a tidy sum for a vehicle so puny, so they might not represent the best value for money.

People paid a lot for them. Given Kenyans and their attitudes towards Toyota, depreciation (or the lack thereof) will not make things any better, so for Sh500,000 you will not get a vehicle in as good a condition as a Verisa costing Sh500,000.

The Golf will also not cost Sh500,000. A Golf going for that amount is more likely than not either really old (a mid-90s car) or knackered and in the throes of death. Putting it right is something you and the (new) missus might regret, as parts are costly and the labour prohibitive.

Dealer mark-ups are a manifestation of the personal greed that has afflicted modern society. Some cars are commanding as much as 80 per cent dealer mark-ups, depending on demand and vehicle model. This is the sole reason you should import the vehicle yourself instead of visiting a sales yard.

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Hi Baraza,
I will skip the compliments because I am sure many have already told you that you are doing a good job.

I plan to buy a Mazda Axela (Mazda 3). I have checked online reviews and they are encouraging. The driving experience is said to be excellent.

One thing that keeps popping up, though, is road noise. Mazdas are said to be noisy and even for the Axela, they had to firm up the suspension to reduce the noise.

I know you have driven the Demio and possibly other Mazdas on Kenyan roads. How is the noise? Is it tolerable? Please also comment on the Bose Audio system.

Hello,
Feel free to dish out the compliments; they will be accepted both graciously and gleefully.

This issue about road noise could be specific to some markets. Methinks the road noise people lament about could be tyre roar, which can be reduced by simply pumping up the tyres some more or changing brands.

The road noise could also be wind noise, especially around the A and B pillars, but this is more common in cars with steeply raked windscreens such as SUVs.

I drive a Mazda and nope, I do not experience any untoward noises (unless I am gunning for the red line, in which case the only noise is the induction rasp and sub-tenor howl from the engine bay).

I cannot picture exactly how firming up the suspension reduces road noise, but if they claim it helped, then bully for them. The Mazda 6 I tested two years ago did have a Bose sound system, and it was thumping.

It also had USB capability, Bluetooth, mp3, CD, and… well, it worked. I liked it.

I am not as good at reviewing car radios as I am at reviewing cars themselves, but the setup was easy to fathom, the sound was clean (and loud enough for my taste), and the diversity of playable media means you might have to go back 30 years in time and get an 8-track cartridge before you come across something it will not play.

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Dear Subie lovers, in the real world, the Evo outruns the STi. Hang me!

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for the thrilling experience you deliver to DN2 readers.

Honestly, it is a key driver for some of us to buy the Daily Nation on Wednesday. Mine is a sharp response to a number of recent scathing attacks you have unleashed on our ‘beast’… yes, the mighty Subaru STi.

While I appreciate the current milestones Mitsubishi Motors have gained on the locally hyped Evo X — I guess due to the current Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) standings and your confession of being in the habit of referencing Top Gear — I believe the STi is not a wobbly-crush-you-into-bush contraption, the kind you mystified two weeks ago in your comparison.

Allow me to refer you to some of the ‘allegations’ you fronted against our ‘bride’:

1. The many Subies you have seen crashed: How many? Is the comparison scientific? As a matter of fact, Subies are more in number locally than Evos. Therefore, common sense would expect a bigger risk, even if they were equivalent. So, a proportion would make more sense.

Tell me over a span of three years, 10 Subies and 10 Evo X were driven by X top drivers (Tommi Makinnen, Hideki Miyoshi, Ken Block, JM, et al) on different terrains and a statistical result was found. I mean, if you gave that Evo X to some mannerless rookie to do Nairobi-Namanga, he will end up in some national park trying to do a hairpin turn at 200kph, huh?

2.Please share some statistics on the comparison between the two monsters on world-known circuits. I will give you two: Nurburgring best lap time for Evo X (7.58), and 2011 STi (7.55), setting new saloon record after the Cardillac CTS-V; and Tsukuba circuit, Evo X (1.06.46) and STi (1.05.95).

Don’t forget Mark Higgins (my namesake) has delivered the best lap time on the Isle of Man in the 2015 STi. You haven’t had a chance to test this one, right?

3. In the history of WRC, Subaru stands at fourth position with Toyota, while your ‘copy me to survive’ piece of metal drags at position nine.

Honeslty, Subaru still leads Mitsubish in the ARC producer standings. Subie still leads Evo in the manufactures ARC standings. Moreover, out of the top current ARC standings, we have a 50/50 sharing for slots. Someone tell me how this would come to be if the STi was just a doppelganger of the Evo?

I wish for a one-on-one with you. I have to put my pen down because of family obligations, but before that, could you do a proper comparison of the STi with her peers? I am tired of this belittling activity you have been engaging our monster in.

Next time, write about the 2015 STi, Evo X (they stopped evolving?), Nissan GT-R, Toyota Celica, Mazda RX, Ford Focus, VW GTI, Citroen, Proton S2000, Peugeot 206, and give us full scientific comparison. And please don’t quote the Evo X-crazy Richard, Jeremy, Stig and James.

Let’s settle this once and for all today. Respect our Suba-space. Otherwise, you may be advised to acquire a contraption similar to that armoured presidential ride.
Peace! Marcus (Daddynduks)

Touchy, aren’t we, Daddynduks?

1. The “many” Subies I have seen crash are too many to count. In comparison, I have only seen one Evo crash. So, either Evos are not crashing with Subaru frequency, or if they are, then these accidents are well hidden, a tactic the Subaru Fan Club would be wont to adopt.

I do not have absolute population statistics of these two cars, but if only one in a group crashes against dozens and scores from the other group, I won’t need percentages to determine that there is an obvious pattern here. Subarus crash with alarming frequency. Maybe it’s the drivers, not the car.

2. I don’t drive on the Nurburgring or Tsukuba circuits, so those two locales are largely irrelevant. The professional drivers setting those lap times are also largely irrelevant. In the real world, an Evo would blow the STi out of the water anywhere any time.

If you keenly read my comparison of the Evo and the STi (the real world review I did two years ago), you’d realise that I did not exactly deride the STi. It is a capable car, but where some cars are capable, some are more capable than others. The STi is a very good car. In the right hands, it might even be faster than an Evo. However, those right hands are few and far between. This may explain point 1 above (crashing).

3. I repeat: not all of us go rallying. In the real world, there are many things that will determine the outcome of a race, including vehicle set-ups. A badly set up vehicle will not win anything, nor will a cowardly driver. While motorsports are good advertising avenues for car brands, merit lists are not always an accurate reflection of real world events.

4. I will review all those cars once I lay my hands on them. I did do a review of the R35 Nissan GTR, which never saw the light of day. Maybe I should redo it. I have not driven the 2015 WRX, so I have nothing to say about it except it looks a lot like the Evo X. If you have an idea where I can get those other vehicles, let me know. I’ll be glad to put them through their paces.

Lastly, Daddynduks, please don’t make threats like the last part of your email there. In this day and age of rampant insecurity and paranoia, it doesn’t… uuumh… sit well with some of us.

Dear Baraza,
I begin by commending you for your work advising and enlightening people oncar matters. Thank you.

I love cars, and my dream car is the Nissan GTR. While my understanding of cars is nothing close to yours, I think what attracts me to this vehicle is, first, the beauty. I imagine myself behind the wheel of a GTR and I can’t describe the feeling I get.

I humbly ask why this sports car isn’t common on our roads. I have this crazy dream of one day importing second-hand GTRs and selling them here, and in doing so, sharing with others the love I have for this car.

I think the GTR and the Chevy Camaro can prove to be popular with sports car lovers, over such offers as the Audi TT. Can these cars survive on Kenyan roads? Do you think they can sell in Kenya? Is the dream achievable (I know it is)? Mighty blessings.-Samuel

I am also enamoured of the Nissan GTR. That is a machine on a whole other level of performance. The reasons it’s not common on our roads are:

1. People were unaware of exactly how good it is (R32 and R33).

2. By the time they realised just what a good car it was, that KRA eight-year import ceiling prevented them from bringing in the less expensive versions. The last two models (R34 and R35) tend to be expensive.

This is further compounded by demand: Sony PlayStation and the Fast and Furious movie franchise have turned the GTR into a much-sought after street weapon.

3. The R34 GTR is very rare. It was produced for a very short time. After going out of production in 2002, you cannot import it even if you find it because of the that eight-year thing. The R35, which is not exactly rare, is quite expensive.

If you can open an importation enterprise, then by all means do so. I know a number of people who would love to get their hands on a GTR, yours truly included.

I don’t think the Chevy Camaro will meet much success locally, mostly because it is available only in LHD, which is a configuration that the government disallows for importation.

However, I have been wrong before concerning these American cars. If they create a RHD version, I am sure there are some locals who would try and get one.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for all the engaging and informative car articles. I own a Mazda Demio, 2006 model. I recently decided to test a new engine oil treatment after a lot of hype from my brother, who told me I would be amazed at the results.

As he had predicted, I was amazed. Upon adding the 325ml of the liquid to the existing engine oil, everything about the car changed.

First, the engine went silent. Secondly, when I travelled from Nairobi to Nyeri, the fuel consumption went low. I am still in awe because the car’s performance has changed since.

I still do not understand how that product worked on my car engine, but my fuel bill has gone down by half. Please explain what forces are at work here. -Maina

I don’t mean to sound condescending, but how badly were you driving the 2006 Demio for it to undergo such drastic changes after the oily treat?

I too have a 2006 Demio, and it is not exactly what you’d call noisy. How “quiet” has your car become? Is it on par with, say, a Lexus LS460h?

I also do 16-20 km/l in the 1500cc Mazda without even trying. I sometimes top 22 km/l when I go into “economy” mode (those hard times of the month).

What economy figures were you achieving initially for you to experience a 50 per cent improvement? Such an improvement on my end means roughly 33 km/l, which is encroaching on the territory of the difficult-to-believe.

I think what you poured into your engine was some revitalising fluid. Unlike the Harry Potter-style magical forces that people believe to be at work, their premise sounds plausible.

What that liquid does is ‘repair’ scoured metal by filling in and smoothing over scratches and chips on metal surfaces. A 2006 car is still in generally good shape, especially if you have been adhering to service schedules.

So, it wouldn’t really be in need of ‘revitalising’, and if it was revitalised anyway, the change would not be as wide or as far-reaching as you imply.

Your train of thought is also a little misleading because the conclusion one draws from it is that the strange elixir you bequeathed your workhorse somehow restores the engine to factory setting, essentially making it ‘brand new’.

It is not as simple as that. The causes of thirst and/or engine noises may not necessarily be cured by 325ml of some oil.

What if the thirst is caused by a faulty ECU or a clogged air filter? What if the noises are from a loose exhaust manifold or some bearings on the threshold of failure? Pouring the wonder liquid in amounts copious or conservative will not cure those problems.

I will have a harder look at that product and find a test bed to confirm its effects. Since I do not have issues with noises or thirst in my 2006 Demio, I will have to find another guinea pig.

Hi Baraza,

I have a 4WD Toyota Carib, 2002 model and I am considering changing the rear brakes from linings to discs. My mechanic agrees it is possible to do so. The question is, will I have better brakes or am I on a suicide mission? Kind regards, Mwenda

The result will be desirable. Yes, you will have better brakes if you change the rear set-up from drums to discs. However, this is not a simple exercise.

First you have to find a similar or compatible car with rear disc brakes (an uncommon feature in most affordable cars) from which you will have to take the rear sub-frame.

This naturally involves removing your own rear sub-frame and installing the other one. Removal and re-installation of sub-frames is not entirely dissimilar to reassembling the car. It is a highly technical undertaking.

If your car is fitted with ABS, you will also have to recalibrate the system. If swapping rear sub-frames was extremely difficult, then calibrating the ABS is well nigh impossible.

Car manufacturers spend large amounts of money just getting the ABS to work right. What chances do you have of replicating those results with your budget?

I’d say leave it. What exactly are you planning on doing with your car for it to require a brake upgrade of such a scale?

If your current system is unsatisfactory, then I suggest an overhaul, not a replacement. If those brakes are not well balanced, especially at the back, you will spin out the first time you deploy the stoppers, an occurrence that I have been an unwilling participant of. It is not a funny experience.

The factory brakes should suffice, provided they are in good working order.

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Still waiting for the Mobius; and yes, the Terios Kid can go uphill. Duh!

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your helpful advice. It is most appreciated. I read with interest the release of the Mobius, a Kenyan-made vehicle that is due to be launched in June. I would really like to hear your opinion on it. Joseph.

Hello sir,

I first heard of the Mobius almost four years ago, when this column was still new. Since then it has been nothing but on-and-off mentions here and there, random tweets “recommending” that I drive one… I believe at one point I even received an email from Mobius Motors itself, which was never followed up. At another point one of my editors asked me what I thought of the car and if I wanted to try it out (of course! I’m very curious). These discussions, however, never strayed outside the electronic realm of Safaricom, G-Mail, and Twitter. I have not test-driven the Mobius; heck, I have not even SEEN one yet.

Dear Baraza,

You are doing an excellent job in Car Clinic. My wife and I are in the Subie (Subaru) camp. She was asking me about understeer the other day and I knew immediately she had read your article on Mitsubishi Evo vs Subaru WRX STi. I did some quick reading on the Mitsubishi’s active differentials — A-AWC, SAYC — that enable the Evo to grip and corner better than way pricier super cars.

I would like to know, is this technology patented by Mitsubishi only? How come the likes of Nissan GT-R and Subaru STi have not borrowed a leaf from it? Also, what production cars have technology akin to these active differentials? I still love my STi but if they do not style up and give us active diffs, that Evo X is very tempting.

Tom.

Hello Tom,

Shockingly, I am still alive after the things I have written (and said) about the Subaru STi-Mitsubishi Evo standoffs. I half-expected to have a dent in the shape of a certain blue oval somewhere on my skull by now.

I am not sure if Mitsubishi’s particular drivetrain hardware-software is patented (it must be), but electronic diffs are not limited to the Evo. Even Lamborghinis and Ferraris have electronic diffs, as does the new WRX STi, which, I must repeat, is a doppelganger of the Lancer Evo X (“Copy Me To Survive”, I once read on a Mombasa-bound bus).

The GTR uses a very elaborate form of torque vectoring. The execution might be different but the result is the same: Twist is channeled to the tyres with most grip, depending on the vehicle attitude within a corner — angle of attack, throttle position, and whether or not the tyres are sliding.

Join us in the world of the three diamonds. These are high-precision scalpels designed specifically to excise blue oval stains off the landscape. Yea, I said it; now I have to hide again because I am sure I hear “the throb of a turbocharged flat four engine, a sound which all over the world heralds the imminent arrival of a (insert epithet here).

Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you on the very interesting way you write your articles. Although this email is a week late, I still thought it worth sending. I read your column the other day and was amused by the sarcasm, poetry, and conversational way in which you write.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly entertained. As a woman, I find most motoring articles bland and incomprehensible to the layman (or woman in this case).

I look forward to enjoying more of your articles with the side benefit of learning about cars (yes, I think that highly of them). You truly are in the league of Top Gear, which I also enjoy. Keep up the excellent job. Eva.

High praise indeed, Eva. I am in the habit of quoting or referencing Top Gear UK. However, I would not say I am quite in their league, but I hope to get there someday. I am glad you enjoy my writing and I will be sure to keep it coming as long as there is breath in my chest and electricity in my nerves.

Hi Baraza,Can the Daihatsu Terios Kid go uphill? I have seen the Suzuki Omni 800cc struggle up a hill and wondered how the Kid operates. How fast can it go? Can I carry my family of four plus a sack of potatoes to visit my shags in Kinangop? And will it pull out of the mud in Kinangop, given that it is a 4WD?

Eric.

Interesting observation. The Terios Kid you mention can go up a hill even if it means using first gear and giving it the beans — and kicking the clutch to keep the revs up the whole time — to claw your way up the incline.

You do, however, mention a family of four AND a sack of potatoes, which presents a new set of difficulties: How steep are the hills you intend to overcome? With 660cc, things do not look too promising.

However, this tax-dodge 660cc three-pot mill is turbocharged (and sometimes with intercooler) to give 59-63HP (the horsepower variance is determined by boost pressure in the turbo and the presence of an intercooler), which in a car of that size is not too bad, relatively speaking. It just may make it up the hill. To improve your chances, keep the potatoes few and/or the sack small.

The car will also pull itself out of the mud. Deftness behind the wheel and low severity of the muddy conditions will be to your advantage, but first off-load your passengers and potatoes should you get properly mired in the clag and need to liberate your Kid without too much hassle.

Hi Baraza1) Have you evaluated these cars called D4D? Sometime back I wrote to you about their brake shoes wearing out quickly compared to other Toyotas working in the same conditions.

We have two D4D double-cabins that are not more than two years old and not more than 10,000km each. They are both leaking the steering fluid, the seal on the steering rack is gone, as is the one on the pump. We have other Toyotas with more kilometres on the odometer but they are okay. Are these D4Ds a problem?

Rwihura Mutatina.

Hello Mutatina,

I know about D4D. It is not a specific car; it is actually a type of engine. The D4D stands for Direct Injection, 4-stroke cycle Diesel engine. Therefore, when you say they wear out their brake shoes rapidly, what does this have to do with the engine? Do the drivers do burnouts in them? (Hold the brakes and then rev the nuts off the engine in first gear).

This also applies to the seals in the steering system. The intrinsic operations of any direct injection engine, or 4-stroke, or even diesel, have no effect on the seals of the steering rack AT all. This is what I think the problem is: Either the parts being used are low quality (someone might be skimming your maintenance kitty at the expense of reliability) which would correctly explain both circumstances.

The brake issue could also be explained away by poor driving habits, such as riding the brakes or frequent and constant hard braking.

I would also have ventured that initial build quality could be a contributing factor, but this is the Toyota Hilux, the Indestructible; surely if a car is built so tough that it can drive to the North Pole and back, matters like power steering pump seals and racks would never be a problem, would they? Check the affected parts and ascertain if they are as recommended by the manufacturer and not substandard. Vet your drivers also.

Hello Baraza,

I am a motorbike fanatic (not the Boxer things) and a stunts expert for the same. My concern at the moment is that I have had this childhood dream of owning a convertible car, so I would like to one day buy either a Toyota Mark II or the Nissan Bluebird old model (both have stretch bodies and frame-less doors like the Subaru’s). I will then cut off the top and fix a frame to support a canvas top and thus create a cheap and unique convertible.

My question is, is this possible in Kenya, and will Toyota or Nissan sue me if I give the car a name of my choice? Will it be legal to drive on the roads with such a contraption?

Geekson.

That is an ambitious plan you have there, Geekson, but it is inherently flawed and your biggest hurdle is a little thing we call structural rigidity: The stiffness of the shell. Once you lope off the roof, a large percentage of this structural rigidity is ceded in your quest for open-top hedonism and you will find that your “new” convertible is terrible to drive… and very unsafe.

There will be a noticeable jiggle about the hips (that is what it feels like) as physics tries to impose its will on you, especially at a corner. The roof and floor bind the A, B, and C pillars, creating a rigid cage that is the passenger safety cell, which is in turn flanked by weighty components: The engine and front axle to one side and the rear sub-frame on the other. With the roof missing, only the floor holds these two flanks together. Your car will start to move its body like a snake, man.

The body will twist and flex on all three axes of the three-dimensional space. The X-axis twist will be across the car’s centre-line, or along the vehicle track (from the port side to the starboard side) to the point where your passenger may be a few millimetres above or below you because the car is no longer level.

There will also be a Y-axis twist, when the engine weighs down the front, the rear sub-frame weighs down the back and the floor thus bends or warps, unable to support these two masses by itself.

Going over a bump will aggravate this. Lastly is the Z-axis flex, or lateral twist. Turn right and the front of the car goes right. Since the rear is not attached properly to the rest of the car, the floor will bend a little as it tries to force the rear to stay in line and turn right also. This is what you will feel as “wiggling” or jiggling of the hips.

Keep this up and eventually your car will break into two, most likely somewhere on or near where the B-pillar is. There is a way around this, and that way involves the use of strengthening materials along the floor and door frames of the car, but then you say your candidates have no door frames, so you can see the scope of your difficulty.

There is another way out: Go targa. A targa top is an open top, but not a full convertible. Part of the roof is taken away but a strip/bar/pillar is left running the length of the safety cell connecting the front and rear windscreens. In fact, most targa tops have the roof over the driver’s and passenger’s heads carefully carved out and the rest left intact. Rear seat passengers do not get to enjoy the sunlight (or subsequent rain).

I do mean carefully carved out, because the roof over THE SPACE between the driver and passenger is left intact also and it is this strip of metal that forms the last bastion in support of structural rigidity.

Lose this strip and you might as well just throw the entire roof away (same difference). The result is an H shape, where the two vertical bars of the H are the front windscreen and the roof edge at the B-pillar and the cross-bar is the strip I am talking about. I hope you can visualise it. The Porsche 911 and Nissan 300ZX have targa top models.

An alternative to the targa top is the landau, where the back seat passengers get to bask but the driver does not. Sort of inverse targa. Common landau cars are the Mercedes-Benz 600 Größer Landau and some early custom versions of the Maybach.

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Evolution vs WRX STi: The White King vs the Dark Knight

It is by sheer happenstance that we had with us the best of both worlds: the best Evo ever made versus the best STi ever made (in my book). Or is it really coincidence? You see, these cars have been provided by The Paji, a man I introduced on these pages some weeks ago.

If there is a connoisseur of savage sports cars from the land of sushi and sake, it is him. And much as the Lancer Evolution and the Impreza STi are built specifically to try and embarrass the hell out of each other, our pair here could not have been more different.

In the white corner stands the CP9A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Extreme Edition, and from its registration plates you can tell that it is not what we could call “new”.

The car is bone stock, with a transversely mounted DOHC 1997cc, turbocharged and intercooled 4G63 in-line four block and packing a fancy 4WD powertrain with electronic diffs.

In the other corner, resplendent in black, stands the Subaru Impreza WRX STi in GD8 guise, a much later example (as the plates again tell us): 1998cc EJ20 flat-four block, turbocharged and intercooled and having 4WD too, though it uses mechanical diffs rather than electronic units, like the Evo.

The difference (besides the age and colour) is that while the Evo is largely untouched (new shocks and an aftermarket dump valve for the turbo are the only non-factory parts), the GD8 has undergone Stage 2 tuning and is developing what I would guess to be 400bhp against the Evo’s 276 horses. This will be interesting.

Subaru start

I have a go in the STi first. A very dark interior is festooned with gauges giving various pressures and temperatures in various systems: oil, turbo, water etc.

I also notice a short-throw shift kit and the DCCD (Driver Controlled Centre Differential), the pride and joy of all Subaru-nauts (they keep singing about it as though it is the best thing ever installed in a car).

The DCCD allows the driver to manually control the distribution of torque between the front and the rear axles. This particular DCCD has been set to channel more power to the rear rather than 50:50 back and front.

This setting is to have a big influence in later events.

Fire the GD8 up, clutch in, select first, and away we go, with the Evo leading. The clutch in WRX STis is usually a bit heavy, and there is no surprise here.

The surprise is the short throw shift kit: it needs a bit of forearm deftness to get the cogs into place, but what is even more amazing is the accuracy with which gears are selected.

Mis-shifts are almost impossible. Trail the Evo slowly, carefully, as I acclimatise to the driving experience in a Stage 2 modified car until we reach our secret test venue, at which point all hell breaks loose.

Without warning, the Evo breaks formation, hunting the horizon like a starving cheetah hunting down a baby gazelle. The fight is on, and I am not about to lose face. Shift down into third and slam the accelerator pedal to the floor. That is when I realise the beauty of Stage 2 tuning.

The car takes off as if it has been launched from a catapult, and the tach sails towards the red line (8,000 rpm). The roar coming from both ends of the car is deafening and the rate at which the engine gains and loses revs is shocking.

I am forced to short-shift into fourth at 6,000 rpm: stomp the clutch, blow-off valve sounding like an angry snake, yank the lever into fourth, dump the clutch, power on, get my nape forced into the head-rest as a relentless surge of torque is released, keep one eye on the road and the other on the tach; oh dear, 7,000 rpm, and I am almost on the limiter, if there even is one, clutch in, BOV goes pfft, slam the lever into fifth, listen to the ever-increasing roar emanating from under the bonnet and… oh shucks, here comes a corner. And the Evo is in it. I am catching up.

I have driven an STi before, but two things were different this time round. This one was Stage 2 tuned and had been set up with a rear-drive bias. Combine those two and what you have is a perfect drifting machine, as I learned the hard way.

Pile the car into a corner at full tilt and you get several feet of understeer (I could actually hear the tyres howling in protest). In a normal STi, to kill the understeer, you need to dial in more power. In a Stage 2 pseudo-rear drive STi, if you add on more power, the back breaks out. Oh my God!

The rear swings out. Apply opposite lock. The front washes out again. Again counter steer. Then you end up in an (admittedly unintentional) four-wheel drift. If you do not get your senses of judgment, perspective, and geometry right, you could easily leave the road… in reverse.

Kill the power, dab on the brakes, the car lines up nicely within the corner. Feed the power in again, this time more gently. Realise that all that floundering means the Evo has gained some yards on you. Try to catch up on the straights.

The problem with the STi is that it is a bit inaccurate, and violent with it. You cannot drive it with finesse, the way you can the Evo (I do not care what die-hard Subaru-holics will say to this).

The power may have been a bit too much. The steering may have been a touch on the heavy side, as was the brake feel. And speaking of brakes, they did not inspire much confidence.

They worked, yes, but feel was largely absent and one got the sensation that they were not working. The end result was that you lose too much speed on corner entry due to over-application of the anchors, so you get left by the Evo.

Enter The Evolution

Swap cars. In the Evo, it feels totally different. To start with, it is more comfortable… a lot more… until one wonders how Subaru-heads manage to drive any distance at all in their cars. The driving position is lower, and the car feels more intimate. The STi feels like a bus in comparison (oops, did I say that?)

Clutch in. Mmm, nice, smooth, oily clutch action, and lightly weighted. It is like dipping your foot in ultra-refined yoghurt. Shift into first. Since the shift kit is a factory affair, it feels a touch more vague than the aftermarket equipment in the STi, and is longer in the throw, but the gears slide in easily and surely. Take off in pursuit of the Subaru I have just exited.

The difference is immense. The steering is lighter, with a lot more feel. The engine revs more smoothly and more freely, and is quieter in the process. Also, though the red line is set at 7,000 rpm, one can rev the Evo’s power unit to 8,000 before hitting the limiter.

No need to, though; the car is quick enough without redlining it, but mostly because this is not my car and a blown engine is not something I want to think about early on a Sunday morning.

The intimate feeling; that feeling that one is at one with the car, means you can charge harder in the Evo than you can in the WRX. And the Lancer charges hard.

It has endless grip, it feels lighter, smaller, and more solid, and the reaction to input is instantaneous, so much so that the driver now in the STi, who had earlier humiliated me with the Evo, cannot pull away as easily as before in spite of being in the more powerful car.

The Subaru gains on the Evo on the straights, but driving behind, I can tell my rival is having to work much harder to get his racing line right through the corners, and he seems to be standing on the brakes a lot more often than he did in the Evo.

Behind him, I am having a picnic. In fourth gear, I do not need to brake to corner; if anything, I barely lift the throttle as the Evo’s sharper handling characteristics allow me to get the perfect line through the bends while still on part throttle.

The frequent brake lights and the popping of the anti-lag system in the STi tell me someone is trying his best to stay on the road through the power of restraint.

The battle ends with a unanimous verdict. Take a guess what it is.

Sum Up

First is the Subaru. It is a brash, violent, brutish, loud sledgehammer of a car. It is awesome. But more awesome is the laser beam, the precision instrument, the Evo VI.

This is why, despite four subsequent development stages (we are now at Evo X), the VI is still considered the best Lancer Evolution ever in its entire production history.

The Impreza requires a master’s touch to fully harness its, let us be honest, almost unlimited potential (all that power!) and corral its wilful and wayward nature. The Evo, on the other hand, flatters anyone who drives it, even the slightly inept.

Where the STi required wrestling to get any semblance of graceful motion out of it, the Evo was effortless. Cornering in the STi required bigger arm movements (so much so that my shoulders started aching at the end of the exercise), a constant sawing at the wheel to keep it in check as, first, understeer then oversteer reared their ugly heads.

The brakes were also not very comforting; especially given the acceleration abilities of the Stage 2 car, one needs the reassurance that one can stop on time if one runs out of talent (or sliding space) mid-corner.

It was also very loud (could be intentionally so, given the size of the tail-pipe), and it was uncomfortable; the ride was hard and the driver’s seat was not a good fit. The grip (before the loss thereof) meant that one was squeezed hard into the side-bolsters when turning hard.

This is a car for hard-core enthusiasts and only those with skills a cut above the rest can enjoy it. It is also the best Subaru I have ever driven, despite shaking my skeleton almost to bits. It is for this reason (and the colour also) that the Stage 2 GD8 Subaru Impreza WRX STi gets the title of The Dark Knight.

The Evolution was a different kettle of fish. Much quieter and with an engine that revs more smoothly, the fact that it was mostly standard did not mean it was a weaker entry.

Its relative shortness of breath on the straights was compensated by the sensation that the tyres have been glued to the road through the corners. This car will NOT slide, unless the driver does something stupid.

It was also more comfortable, a lot more, again a paradox given that it is built as a race-ready rally car and other car reviewers claim the STi is softer (maybe it is, in stock, non-Stage 2 format).

That an older, bone-stock Evo could almost kill a much newer Stage 2 rival earns it the title of The King. The White King.

Do you agree? Send your comments to [email protected]

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What is a Stage 2 Modified Car?

THE DEGREE of tuning done on a car can be wide. So, to specify the level of modification a car has undergone without necessarily listing the actual changes (this list can be long), a quick way of expressing it would be to classify the amount of tuning by stages. There are typically three stages of tuning:

Stage 1: Typically a single mod, more often than not a bolt-on part or small change of settings. It requires no more work for the car to still function as a daily driver. General reliability and ease of use is maintained. Examples are an ECU remap, sports exhaust, cold air intakes, or a brake upgrade.

Stage 2: A bigger power jump over Stage 1, Stage 2 tuning calls for the upgrading or replacement of several other parts, otherwise certain systems will fail or the car will behave unpredictably.

Typified by shortened service intervals. An example is a hybrid turbocharger that demands a remap and/or change of manifold, new dump valve, sports exhaust with different headers and mounts and internal components that call for a higher grade of fuel. Ideal for track use.

Stage 3: Applicable to motorsport. Also known as competition tune. Inappropriate for road use due to harshness: erratic idling, poor economy, and uncontrolled emissions are some of the characteristics.

High performance brakes that require heat before they work compound this problem. High timing causes the bad idling and heavy competition clutches make balancing a bitch. Not for the weak.

I wonder what a Stage 2 Evo would be like….

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Vroom your way to the concours this Sunday

FOR THE last 42 years, the annual Concours d’ Elegance, organised by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club, has become an elegant, stylish, and fun-filled family day and is now a major event on both the social and motoring calendars of Kenya. This year’s edition, which will be held at the Nairobi Racecourse this Sunday, promises a lot of fun.

The core activity of the event remains the judging of the highly prepared vintage and classic cars and motorcycles, and officials must comply with regulations approved by the Kenya Motor Sports Federation.

The event is also recognised and sanctioned by the FIM-AFRICA (the Africa edition of The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, an international organisation acting in all matters connected with motorcycling).

For many of the spectators who will be thronging the Nairobi Racecourse grounds, dressing up for the day is a priority. To reward them, the organisers have put various prizes up for grabs.

Throughout the day a team of brand ambassadors will be roving around to pick out the best dressed ladies, gentlemen and children.

Spectators are offered the choice of going for style and elegance, African patriotic dress, classical hats and the best representation of CBA colours (green and dark brown). Wearers of outfits that impress the brand ambassadors will be photographed and rewarded with instant prizes.

For spectators who would like to take a break and socialise between following the judging of the classic and vintage cars and motorcycles and walking through the motor trade stands, an Elegance Garden has been added to the menu.

Throughout the day, Concours competitors, officials and spectators will turn their attention to the sky from time to time to watch a series of fly pasts, a model aircraft display, and a spectacular free-fall parachute drop. See you there!

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If you worry about costs, do not buy an ‘extrovert’ car

Hi Baraza,

I want to upgrade my current vehicle to either a Toyota Mark X, 2499cc or Volkswagen Passat CC, 1799cc. Both being second-hand, auto and petrol engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of running these two vehicles in the Kenyan environment.

Bethi

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The pros and cons of running these two cars in the Kenyan environment, you ask? Prepare for a surprise:

The Mark X will get you respect and looks of envy as you ride by, but the down side is that it is now becoming a bit cliché.

The Passat CC is used widely by high-ranking civil servants (and maybe spooks, given that the registration plates I have observed on some of these vehicles do not tally with the age of the car, and some are fake), so substitute the “respect” aspect of the Mark X with “subtle awe and/or slight trepidation” for the CC.

Both ride comfortably, but the Mark X, if you buy the more common 2.5 or the bigger 3.0, will outrun the CC on an open space.

Driven carefully, both will take a while before showing symptoms of reaching “that time of the month” (nudge nudge).

And since you are choosing between two decidedly showy vehicles, I will say nothing on fuel consumption, buying price or cost of maintenance.

If these worry you, then buy a cheaper, smaller, less extrovert car.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy an Escalade. Please give me advice on its fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Also, let me know if it’s a good car and if it will be able to cope with Kenyan roads.

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Buy an Escalade and take it where? Apparently, there is an embargo on the importation of LHD vehicles, which is why you don’t see me driving a Veyron. Or a Zonda. So where will you take it to once you buy it yet it is LHD only?

Nobody buys an Escalade with fuel consumption in mind, because 4kpl is as good as you will ever get from it.

It might cope well on Kenyan roads, somewhat, but it is a bad car: the handling is poor, build quality is crap, the interior is made from cheap plastics, it is impossible to park and I can bet my salary it will not fit in some city alleyways. And that fuel consumption….

My advice? Go ahead and buy it. At least you will give the rest of us sensible Kenyans some entertainment as you try to live with it!

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Hi JM,

A friend of mine working for a multinational tea exporter in the scenic county of Kericho has asked my opinion on the 2004 Audi A4. Honestly, apart from knowing the manufacturer is German and a subsidiary of Volkswagen, I didn’t offer much. But I knew where to turn to: this column. Please enlighten him and I on the following matters:

1. Availability of appointed dealerships for the car in Kenya.

2. Does it come with a fuel saving piece technology like Toyota’s VVT-i?

3. Can you trust an advertisement for a freshly imported 2004 unit with a price tag of Sh1.45 million? I smelled a rat when I saw that ad.

4. The torque and power specs in simple language. I saw something like 166 foot pounds of torque @ 4700 rpm and 161 brake horsepower @ 5700 rpm. I cursed out aloud.

5. Is it naturally- or turbo-aerated, and which other car is in its class ?

Njeru

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Njeru, I know not of any official franchise or authorised dealership, but there is a small outfit housed in the same compound along Mombasa Road as Subaru Kenya that fiddles with the Four-Ringed German cars.

I’m sure they can handle an A4 without much stress. VVT-i is just variable valve timing, and is the norm with almost every new car since the year 2000 or thereabouts.

If Audi dabbles in turbocharging, I’m sure variable valve timing is on the menu too, it is just that they don’t have a catchy acronym for their version.

A 2004 A4 at 1.5M? That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. That particular dealer could be given the benefit of doubt.

The units used to express torque and power may be imperial or metric. You want metric but the ones you quote are imperial.

Use these conversions: 2.2 lb (pounds) per kilo or 0.45 kilos per pound, 9.8 Newtons per kilo, 3.3 feet per metre or 0.3 metres per foot, and 0.75 kW per horsepower or 1.3 hp per kW. Then calculate your figures.

Lastly, the Audi A4 is available both in turbo and NA forms. Its rivals are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 407, Alfa Romeo 159, and a lot more.

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Hi Baraza

I love German cars, particularly VWs, and a friend of mine wants to sell me a local 1996 Polo Classic 1400cc hatchback because he wants to go for a Tiguan.

It is in very good condition, having done 136,000km under one lady owner. On matters maintenance, a VW expert mechanic recommended it after inspection and a road test.

He dismissed the notion that spares are expensive, saying that a replaced part could last three to four times compared to the likes of Toyotas. The car still has its original shocks, CV joints, etc, and the engine has never been opened.

However, I was really discouraged when you dismissed the Polo as tiny and costly in your column.

For your information, I did a survey at several shops that deal in spares for European cars and the difference in prices is not as high as is believed.

I have always wondered why most of your articles are on Japanese vehicles, it clearly portrays your bias towards vehicles from the East.

What car, then, would you advise me to go for instead of the Polo? I want a car that is swift, stable on the road at speeds of around 160KPH, and fuel-efficient (the Polo does 18.9 kpl).

Karagi

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The Polo is tiny and costly, and the spares cost a little bit more than those of Toyotas. And you agree that the payoff is a better built and reliable vehicle overall.

I do not have a bias towards “the East” as you so graciously put it. If you followed my work last year, I let slip once or twice that I had a Peugeot 405.

France is not “East”, it is not even within Eastern Europe. I drive what I get my hands on, so if nobody will let me compare the new Passat against an E Class, that is not my fault. Japanese cars are more readily available for test drives, generally.

If you want the Polo, go ahead and buy it. There’s nothing to stop you. The reason I was hard on it was that the question involved money issues, and Toyotas were mentioned in the equation; I had to tell it like it is.

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Hallo Baraza,

Your discussion on SUV’s that can cost less than an million shillings was hilarious. Tell me, how does a Land Rover Freelander compare to a Suzuki Grand Vitara? What is your take on the two?

Muthoni

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The Landy is more comfy and luxurious than the Suzuki, but the Suzuki is hardier, and fast catching up in terms of spec and equipment. It is also less likely to break and will cost less to fix than the LR.

The Freelander is better to drive, and just a touch quicker for the V6; the diesels are economical but lethargic and might struggle with the weight. The Suzuki looks good, with its faux-RAV4 appearance.

This applies to the MK I Freelander; I have not tried the Freelander 2 yet.

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Hi Baraza

I’m engaged in diverse farming activities in Rift Valley and cannot do without a sturdy 4WD. I wish to replace my aging Hilux with a new 4WD pickup.

The Hilux has a front solid beam axle which, though bumpy due to the leaf springs, is very reliable if driven over terrain that would easily cause havoc to the rubber boots and drive shafts.

My problem is that most 4WD pickups currently in the market are of the wishbone suspension type with exposed driveshafts for the 4WD functions.

Kindly explain to me the virtues of the latter over the former (solid beam). Why are they widely used today yet “serious” 4WDs like the Land Cruiser, the Land Rover and even the Patrol have stuck to the solid beam?

If it were you, which one would you go for, a Land Cruiser, a Ford Ranger or Hilux?

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Independent front and rear suspension was once avoided because of how delicate they were, and because of wheel articulation.

Nowadays, advances in material science and suspension technology have made cars with independent suspensions just as skilled off-road as their live axle counterparts, if not better.

Independent suspension allows for better obstacle clearance compared to the beam axle cars. New cars with old suspensions are made so to keep costs down.

On which one I’d go for, the Ford Ranger comes first, the 3.0 TDCi double-cab in particular. Then maybe the Land Cruiser if my farm is REALLY inaccessible.

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JM,

I wanted a car badly, a pick-up for that matter, but had very little cash, so I settled for a 1993 Peugeot 504. From the first owner, a company, I was the fourth owner. Bodywise it was okay but the engine was in need.

So far, taking care of the engine has used up about 50K and I am now proud of its performance, at least for the last three weeks, though I’m still afraid of unwanted eventualities. Would you advise me to sell it or keep it and hope it will serve me more?

Muoki

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Given the cash flow issues, maintain the old donkey for a while. They were bought in plenty when new, so there still exist mechanics who understand them intimately and rusty examples can be cannibalised when parts are needed.

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a car enthusiast currently driving a 2004 Toyota Caldina. I would like to have your take on the Land Rover Freelander.

In terms of consumption, maintenance and how it compares with other cars in its class. I’m particularly interested in the 2.5-litre version.

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Consumption, I repeat for the umpteenth time, will depend on how you drive, but with the Freelander you will have to be extra careful.

It is a heavy car and the 2.5-litre engine will become a drunkard if you start racing fellow drunkards. Don’t expect much better than 11 kpl or so.

Maintenance: It is the younger brother of the Discovery and not too far removed from the Range Rover, so break one and you will weep.

But if you can afford a Freelander, you should afford to stay on top of sundry replacements and routine maintenance.

In this class, I prefer the X-Trail. BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see, as is the RAV4, which is better than the Nissan on the road, but not as good off it, though the Land Rover beats them all, save the BMW in terms of comfort and luxury. Ish.

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Baraza,

I own a Daewoo GTI (KAE) and it has never given me any major problems. However, in one of your columns, you called Daewoo obscure.

I am now concerned; can a Daewoo engine be replaced with one from a different make, such as Toyota or Nissan? Do we have dealers who stock Daewoo spare parts?

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I am not too sure about spares and dealers (the model, after all, is obscure), but you can heave a sigh of relief as concerns replacement engines. Early Daewoos (Nexus, Cielo, and what not) were just rebadged ex-GM models (Vauxhall Cavalier, Opel this and that), so any old GM engine will go in.

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Hi,

I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Cedia saloon that I acquired in 2009. However, towards the end of 2010, it developed problems with the gearbox only to realise that my mechanic had topped up the ATF with SPII instead of the SPIII that is recommended.

This damaged the gear box and I had to replace the same after a number of attempted repairs.

After replacing it mid 2011, it has since been damaging a certain plate between the gearbox and the engine. I have replaced that plate five times now.

My mechanic informed me that this is a problem with these type of vehicle and told me to change the gear selector to solve the problem permanently.

Is there a relationship between the selector and this plate, and what would you advise me to do other than change my mechanic, which I have already done after being in denial for long.

I haven’t replaced the selector yet and the plate is damaged again for the seventh time now thrice in a span of two weeks.

Mwaniki

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Is the car automatic or manual? I’m guessing automatic, now that you mention ATF, but then again you talk of plates and selectors, so it could be manual.

If the problem is associated with the selector, then the source is the linkage, not the selector itself, and yes, there should not be any connection between the clutch plates and the selector.

The problem, I suspect, is in the seating of the plate; it might be slightly skewed or of the wrong size.

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Hi JM,

Does turbocharging increase fuel economy in any way? I understand that forced induction, turbocharging included, increases the volume of air in the combustion chambers, thereby allowing more fuel to be burnt resulting in more power from the engine.

But I fail to understand how this may alter fuel economy positively as I have heard from some circles.

Isaac

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You have a lot more power from a similar capacity engine at similar revs, even if the turbo unit will burn a bit more fuel. What’s not to see?

The horsepower gains from a turbo are a lot more than from tuning an NA engine to within an inch of its life.

If you were to get 291hp from a 2.0 litre NA engine, it will sure burn a hell lot more fuel than the new Lancer Evo X does with its turbo and intercooler because, first, you will need bigger fuel pumps and injectors to deliver more fuel into the cylinders, and then couple this with a very high compression ratio so that you get bigger torque.

Then, the NA engine will have to carry that torque to higher revs so that it can deliver the maximum power. More revs mean more fuel getting combusted. Follow?

The turbo engine, on the other hand, can have a lower compression ratio and you won’t need to rev it madly to get proper power.

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Hi Baraza,

As far as engine configuration is concerned, one thing is still unclear to me.

When I was doing basic mechanics of machines, I was taught about the different diesel engines; naturally aspirated and turbocharged.

Looking at the principal of a turbocharger (recycling exhaust unburnt fuel into the inlet manifold, thereby reducing waste and emissions and giving extra power due to the high temperatures of the inflow gases), I still do not understand why typical turbocharged models consume more than the non-turbo models.

I have driven Hilux pickups for over five years, D-Max occasionally and now a naturally aspirated JMC Isuzu pickup, and you won’t believe the difference.

On average, the Hilux D4D 3.0-litre non-turbo gives 10 kpl; the Hilux D4D 2.5-litre turbocharged gives 12 kpl; the D-Max 3-litre turbocharged gives 11 kpl; and the JMC 2.8-litre non-turbo gives 14.6 kpl.

Though the consumption is a function of many factors including the weight on the accelerator, terrain and traffic, the equation still does not add up.

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the common rail and the direct injection and how this influences fuel consumption.

Lastly, referring to your column on January 11, I always advise people to go for new Asian pickups, which come with full warranties and have a guarantee on performance instead of going for a 5–7-year-old used top range model that goes for the same price yet you aren’t sure of its maintenance and whether the engine is inches away from failure.

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The secret lies in knowing the history of the engine, quality and reliability in terms of spares and technical back up. Most Asian models are clones of the originals hence the reason for non-durability and dissimilar performance.

First off, the operation you describe there is called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and is not turbocharging.

Turbocharging involves using the momentum of escaping exhaust gases to drive an impeller or turbine that, in turn, forces air into the engine under pressure (thus a bigger mass of oxygen gets into the engine).

While it is true that turbo cars burn more fuel than NA counterparts, you are forgetting the gains in torque and horsepower that come along with it.

The differences between common-rail and direct injection call for a full article (too long and technical to put here), but the fuel economy of each type depends heavily on execution, though it has long been believed that common rail delivery is the better option when going for fuel economy.

And finally, as things stand, it will be a cold night in hell before I recommend an Asian counterfeit over the original.

Posted on

Car clinic: expert answers to your motoring woes

I’m in the process of acquiring a used car. I have realised that I can get a nice Mitsubishi, Mazda or Subaru for about Sh400,000, but the same quality of Toyota costs almost Sh600,000.

However, I’ve been advised that these cheaper cars have serious problems when it comes to spare parts, and that they consume a lot of fuel even when their engines have low ratings.

I have had two Toyotas in the past and though their spare parts are easily available and cheap, one often runs the risk of buying fakes, which raises the cost of maintaining the car.

I have especially fallen for the Mitsubishi, either Lancer, Cedia or Galant. I will use the car to go to work daily, a round trip of about 32 km on a rough road. What’s the truth about the availability and cost of their spares as well as fuel consumption?

Njeru.

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Hello Njeru,

I keep saying over and over that though some cars consume more fuel than others generally, the biggest deciding factor is one’s own driving style. The spares cannot stay rare forever, especially given the abundance of Cedia/Lancer cars on the road.

As for fakes, I cannot risk giving you a definite answer right now without proper research; I might be forced to eat my words tomorrow.

I am yet to see a small Japanese car grounded on account of spares. The problem is usually money (or the lack thereof) on the owner’s part.

The spares themselves may cost more than equivalent Toyota parts, but if you take good care of your car, what you will need to replace are universal sundries like brakes, tyres, wipers and other small things, which means it will cost no more to maintain a Lancer/Cedia than it would a Toyota.

And, no, these cars are not thirsty, at all. In fact you could drive them as carelessly as you wanted and you still would not feel the pinch felt by someone running a petrol engine SUV.

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Dear Mr Baraza,

I have a Toyota Vista saloon with a 1800cc VVT-i engine whose steering wheel shakes when speeding at 140km/h. What could be causing this?

I’m selling this car and going for a bigger one. My options are Mercedes Benz 2010 E300CDi, 2004 S320CDi or 2004 BMW 520i.

My main concern is fuel consumption and maintenance costs. I’m told that diesel engines, especially for the S320CDi model, may not be compatible with our kind of diesel and such cars are made for European countries, yet I see them on our roads.

Kindly advise.

David Malonza

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Hello Malonza,

The steering shaking at 140 km/h could be due to bad alignment or unbalanced wheels, especially at the front.

I did not experience that kind of thing with the Vista I wrote about (and that was one Vista I drove quite extensively).

Just wondering: did you mean the E300 CGI by any chance, because I doubt there is a 2010 300 CDI. I know of an E320 CDI.

One is petrol-powered (the former-CGI), the other one (the latter) diesel. If you can afford a 2010 E-Class Benz, why would you want to plump for a 2004 5-Series, instead of a 2009 or 2010?

Anyway, that is not for me to judge. What I would advise you is this: step carefully around Mercedes cars, especially those with diesel power.

And BMW cars have far superior dynamic abilities. For sheer pose-worthiness, go for the S320 (if you can avoid the diesel, even better).

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Hello Baraza,

As a WRX owner, it was of interest to find out that you would prefer the Evo to the WRX, even with the Evo’s limitations. Is it that the WRX has more serious limitations than the Evo?

Muriithi

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Hello Muriithi,

Fear not, one man’s meat and all that. Actually the Impreza STi has consistently beaten the Evolution in terms of torque and outright performance (especially in-gear acceleration), but I would still go for the Evo because all those computers (AYC, ACD, AWC and so on) make the car handle sharply and zero-counter driving is easy (four wheel drifting).

But with the two latest models (Evo X vs 2010 Impreza), I think the Evo finally outdoes the Soob in everything. When I finally lay my hands on these two I will definitely let you people know what’s up.

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Dear Baraza,

I am about to buy a car and a German make is my preference for reasons of stability, power and durability. My first option (within my range of budget) is a VW Golf 2005 model.

My brothers, however, insist that a BMW 318i or a Merc C-200 Kompressor are a better bet since they will cost me about the same to purchase and a VW will be more expensive in the long run in terms of parts, maintenance and consumption.

Apparently, VW parts are mostly only available at CMC. Kindly help me unravel these issues.

Grace.

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What your friends tell you about the spares and CMC might be true but the rest is horse manure. Consumption will depend on how and where you drive, as will maintenance.

Parts will vary, but a little bird once told me that the exhaust system of a 3-Series goes for about Sh300,000, that is Kenya shillings and not Zimbabwean dollars (but I don’t know how true this is). Try and top that with a Golf.

Maybe your brothers just want a prestigious brand of car in the family. An ex-Singapore Benz will cause you nothing but grief, and the 3 has minimal ground clearance.

It is up to you to make the call but the choice in this instance is between the 3 (class leader, outstanding dynamics, excellent performance and BMW reliability) and the VW (another class leader, in the hatchback world, good dynamics and more practical than the other two).

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Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying the older model Pajero (the one just before the new one currently in the market).

Would you recommend it? If so, diesel or petrol? How is its consumption? Manual or auto? What other issues do I need to know about?

Henry.

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Hello,

Diesel/Petrol: Depends on where you intend to use it and how deep your pockets are. For exclusive on-road use, the petrol is better, but if you have the finance to keep it running.

If you will venture off-road, the torque offered by the 3.2 diesel is awesome and better than most rivals. Consumption: Stratospheric for the 3.5 litre petrol, and I wonder why they still do not offer a V8.

The diesel is okay, but it is still outclassed by the BMW X5, ML 270 CDI and Landcruiser Prado. Manual/Auto: Depends on how deft you are with your left foot, but I’d choose the manual.

Better performance (marginally), better economy (marginally) and the freedom to choose your own gears.

Any other issues? Yes. The car is outdated by now. And if you intend to go off-road, the body kit will be an inhibiting factor, as will the long rear overhang and long wheelbase.

But it is quite comfortable and very capable on-road. A good used buy.

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Hi Baraza,

I recently bought a Nissan X-Trail, 2007 2.2 Turbo Diesel. The car runs smoothly but it emits a lot of black smoke from the exhaust when trying to pick speed on the highway and has no power when climbing hills.

I tried getting advice from DT Dobie to no avail (this a local vehicle bought from them by the previous owner).

I hear it’s a common problem with the 2.2 Turbo Diesel X-Trails. Please advise on what you think could be the problem.

Really Frustrated X-Trail Owner

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Sorry, Mr Frustrated,

The problem could lie in the quality of diesel being fed to the engine: if it has been corrupted in any way (typically by adding a dash of paraffin), black smoke will be the order of the day for not just the X-trail, but generally any diesel engine.

I’m yet to establish if this problem is endemic to X-Trails, especially the Mark II versions.

Posted on

Try a tiptronic before you die

You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Says who? In the world of motor vehicle transmissions lately, there have been several attempts at both possessing and munching one’s gateau by having the lazy convenience of a full automatic and the option of performance-enhancing, DIY gearshifts when the need arises.

This type of transmission goes by numerous labels, depending on the manufacturer: Geartronic, Touchshift, Sport-tronic, Steptronic, TAPshift, Comfortronic, CommandShift, E-Shift and so many other –tronics or –shifts, but the most common name is Tiptronic, a joint Audi/Porsche trademark.

The proper name for the automatic gearbox with manual override, which is what I am talking about, is Manumatic, a portmanteau word combining manual and automatic.

And this is how it works: The standard transmission is your typical automatic, but it is equipped with a manual function in a smaller slot or gate extending from the D position.

While in D, the transmission is fully automatic, but pushing the gear stick into the smaller slot overrides the computers, meaning the car will not shift gears without driver input.

The smaller slot has two spring-loaded positions: “+” for changing up and “-” for changing down. The exact layout, again, depends on the manufacturer, because cars like the Mitsubishi Galant have the function working up and down, while Mercedes have theirs working left and right. When the gear lever is tapped into the + or -, it springs back into its original position.

How to drive the manumatic: Seeing how the manumatic starts life as an automatic, cars equipped with this trick transmission are driven like automatics.

If curiosity, or haste, gets the better of you and you resort to the “Tiptronic” function, this is what to do: Slide the selector lever into the Tiptronic/Steptronic slot, right where the “+” and “-” graphics are.

The transmission will stay in whatever gear it was in while automatic and it is from here that you will start shifting up or down. The rest is a PlayStation-style approach: push the lever towards the “+” to change up (2-3-4…) or towards the “-” to change down (4-3-2…).

Performance specialists like Mitsubishi’s Evo X, or the world-famous Bugatti Veyron, have paddle-shift Tiptronic transmissions (and DSG), which have a supplementary kit for even faster and more convenient shifting.

These are a pair of paddles mounted on the steering column just behind the wheel. One shifts up (+), and the other down (-).

Lexus’ RX330/ Toyota Harriers also have this layout, giving the driver the option of not taking his hands off the wheel even when going through the gears without electronic intervention.

Porsche’s Cayenne, a horribly expensive car, has buttons on the steering boss cross-member, four of them; two at the 3 o’clock and two at the 9 o’clock positions.

The upper button shifts up and the lower one down, on both sides. (We know, it can be a bit disorienting).

The joy of this transmission is that the switch between manual and auto occurs at any speed, you do not have to stop or go through some ritual to change over.

A reader was concerned that switching from auto to manual will cause the gearbox to default into first, and what if this happens at 150 km/h? Not a chance. When changing over to Tiptronic, all you are doing is telling the computer “I will take over from here, if you don’t mind”.

The only instances when the auto function cuts into the manual is when the revs dip to below tick-over (what you call idling) causing the transmission to downshift automatically to prevent the engine from stalling, or when redlining, really mashing the firewall, which causes the ‘box to upshift by itself to prevent over-revs or engine damage.

The boring stuff: The manumatic, like other typical automatic transmissions, uses a fluid clutch — the torque converter — rather than an electronically operated friction clutch.

The gearbox itself is governed automatically in D, but when the lever is pushed to the side, into the manumatic function, this is what happens.

Bumping the lever up/down or left/right shifts gears. What these little taps to the gear-stick do is rotate a notched wheel, a simple cog, which is meshed to a ratcheting drum.

The drum has grooves cut into its side, and it is these grooves that either move the gear selector forks directly if the drum is mounted next to the gears, or manipulate standard control rods which then manoeuvre the selector forks if the drum is mounted away from the gears.

The former setup is preferred because it is less complex and needs fewer parts. The selector forks are within the gearbox itself, and as their name suggests, they select the gears.

Moving the gear lever once causes the ratcheting drum to rotate through a certain degree, say 60, equivalent to one gearshift up or down.

The drum, in turn, moves the selector forks/rods in such a way as to select the next gear up or down.

Because of the drum, the gears are sequential and it is impossible to skip gears or miss a shift — a common occurrence during high-speed driving with fully manual transmissions.

Pros and cons: Obviously, manumatic transmissions offer a good compromise between fully manual and fully automatic powertrains. In “manual” mode, the shift speeds are quicker compared to conventional manuals.

Imagine the change from 2nd to 3rd: with an H-type manual, you push the lever up, over to the right and up again, clutching and declutching in the process, but with a manumatic you simply tap the lever.

Downshifts are easier and less painful for those who cannot double-declutch or rev-match by heel and toe. Balancing the clutch is also not an issue.
Consistency is another advantage, eliminating the need to think or rack your brains trying to remember if you were in 3rd or 4th.

The shifts are all the same: tap this way to shift up, the other way to shift down. In a manual, you will need to keep in mind what gear you were in to execute a flawless upshift or downshift (5th to 4th — pull down, move left and pull down again… no, wait! I AM in 4th already. Oh shoot).

The lever position in a manumatic is always the same irrespective of the gear you are in, unlike a manual where 1st and 5th are polar opposites location-wise. You do not need a darts champion’s skill to locate the gear positions.

One last advantage over a conventional manual is as mentioned above: it is impossible to miss a shift. No gear skipping going up or down, which in turn leads to a silky, flawless drive.

The manumatic’s advantage over a full automatic is simply the manual facility. This helps prevent hunting, the tendency of automatics to keep shuffling between two gears searching for the right ratio.

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In keeping with the torque coming from the engine and the load.

In hard driving, the manumatic also allows for short-shifting, where the driver changes up before the optimum engine revs in anticipation of circumstances ahead.

Short-shifting applies mostly in circuit racing where a series of switchbacks beckons and there are no straights in between to change gear in.
This brings us to the next advantage, that of holding onto a gear through a long corner.

In performance driving, changing gear mid-corner will cause a drift, and that is one of many reasons why nobody races in a fully automatic car.
But it is not all cake and flowers for manumatics.

Some have in-built characteristics that are, frankly, annoying. One is the tendency to default to the fully automatic setting if no manual input is made after eight seconds.

This is a feature of Porsche’s Tiptronic S system, as seen in the Boxster Cabriolet and Cayenne SUV. Audi’s 5-speed tiptronic will only allow you to play with gears 3, 4 and 5; 1st and 2nd are always engaged for you.
At the end of the day, the manumatic still does not feel like a manual, and it is ultimately slightly less engaging, but that is just nit-picking. It also does not let you control clutch engagement, and it will cost you a tidy sum over a similar car with a manual tranny.