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Evos, STis, Q7s, and why a smaller engine is not always economical

Hi Baraza,

I have a number of questions, but before I begin you must agree that Subarus are miles ahead of Mitsubishis.

Look at this tyranny of machines: Subaru WRS STi may be outdone by the Evo, but the Forester will outdo the Outlander and the Airtrek. So, who is the winner in the ‘majority race’?

Now, to my questions:

 The other day I got a chance to be in a Volkswagen Golf GTI ABT. What fascinated me the most was the top speed, which, if my eyes did not deceive me, is a sweet 300km/h.  What does ABT mean, and what makes it better than a Volkwagen which has none?

 Between the BMW X6 and the Audi Q7, which is the best in terms of fuel consumption, stability at high speeds and resale value?

 When does a car consume more? When on high or low speeds? I asked someone who owns a Subaru Legacy B4 and he told me that at high speeds, he can make 10km/l but  in traffic jams, he can end up with a painful 7km/l.

 Finally, anybody who owns a Toyota Sienta as a family car must HATE his or her family. Sitting in the  far-rear seats feels like sitting in a pan.  No window, no nothing.

PS: I salute those guys who have dared bring the Rolls Royce and Lamborghini to Kenya. Kindly send me a contact if you know any of them ‘cos I really need a lift in one of those machines. I wonder why nobody has given us the Nissan GTR.

Phineus

 

Hello Sir,

If you want to discuss who wins the ‘majority race’ between Subaru and Mitsubishi, I’d like you to first point out a Subaru lorry, a Subaru bus, a Subaru van, a Subaru pick-up and a Subaru SUV. No, the Tribeca is not an SUV because it won’t go off-road, so try again.

Also, point out a Subaru television — yes, Mitsubishi builds electronics too, such as TVs on which you can watch Subarus losing to Mitsubishis.

Any pointers?

I didn’t think so.

The actual battle lies between the WRX STi and the Lancer Evolution. Leave the rest out of the argument for the time being. That said, I may bash on the little STi every now and then, but I believe I have mentioned here more than once that I might be a sucker for the Forester STi.

That may be the only Subaru I’d actively seek to buy: if I was to buy any other, it would be for lack of choice and/or desperation; which is the same thing really.

I know the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s speedometer has 300 scrawled on the exciting side of the scale, but it won’t do 300 — at least not without some major modifications to the engine.

This brings us neatly to the ABT you inquire about: ABT is not a spec level for the Golf; it is a tuning house that fettles German cars. What they do is take a boring briefcase, which is what most German saloon cars look like; then convert this briefcase into a fire-breathing chariot capable of moving at speeds normal people should not be moving at.

One of my neighbours has a Passat sedan with an ABT touch-up. It still looks like a briefcase, but one with bigger tyres and a Roman candle under the bonnet.

On the BMW X6 vs Audi Q7, both are rubbish. Depending on which engine you have opted for, both will guzzle. At least with the X6 you have the option of the X6 xDrive30d, which has a detuned 3.0 litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that can still move the car respectably fast if you so wish and return fair economy figures.

The Q7 comes with a large petrol engine that burns fuel at Arab-pleasing rates, or with a puny diesel engine that needs thrashing to eke out any semblance of motion out of it, so it will still send your money to the Middle East either way.

High speed stability is not bad in either car, but then these are big and heavy vehicles, maybe “high speeds” are not what you should be aiming for in them.

Also, at high speed the fuel evaporates in ways that make the stock price graphs in the Arabian financial index blink green and shoot skywards. Resale value? It will not be so great once the general public reads this.

A car consumes a lot of fuel at speeds below, say, 40-50km/h, consumes the least fuel at speeds between 80km/h and 120km/h, then the consumption goes up again from 120km/h onwards.

At 200km/h, it burns quite a lot of fuel. At 220km/h, it eats fuel in huge lumps. At 250km/h, the Arabs will send you t-shirts and Christmas cards.

There are a lot of caveats involved here though; the biggest ones surrounding engine size, transmission type and traffic conditions. Bigger engines are more economical at slightly higher speeds: for example, the Lamborghini you gush about later in your message is better off at 120 than it is at 80.

Smaller engines thrive at “non-motorised” pace: a 600cc Kei car is better at 70-80km/h than it would be at 120km/h.

Automatic transmissions may not allow short-shifting unless equipped with a manual override or has numerous ratios like the Range Rover’s 9-speed. So at low speed, it will likely be at a very low gear, possibly first or second, which is exactly when Shell and BP start awarding bonuses to employees. You may be better off maintaining 100km/h, give or take 15km/h.

Traffic conditions are fairly obvious: an open road is far better than a clogged one. Stop-start driving triples your fuel consumption as compared to steady-state driving.

These factors may apply in a variety of permutations, along with other variables such as vehicle weight, aerodynamic profile, right-foot flexibility, mechanical condition, and fuel quality, to prove one point I have been saying all along: fuel economy is not an exact science.

This is also why I nowadays refrain from quoting definite consumption figures for readers, because there is no telling what particular Arab-centric circumstances may be at play in a particular driving situation.

I have had people who revert like this: You said you did 25km/l in your stupid Mazda. Why can’t I achieve the same result? That is a difficult question to answer.

Interesting feedback on the Sienta. I will be careful not to get into the back seat of one. If Toyota reads this, then good for them. They will hopefully now install a window at the back of this car.

I may have the contact details of the chap in the green Lamborghini, but sadly for you I will not share them. That is proprietary information to begin with; and anyway, I want to get a lift from him too. The fewer of us lift-begging lowlifes there are banging at his door, the higher the chances of one of us actually getting to sit in that car.

In the course of looking for the man, do look around you in traffic. There are Nissan GTRs around; quite a number, in fact. I’d say there are more GTRs around than there are Lamborghinis. And yes, I have the contact details of some of the GTR owners; and no, I will not be sharing those either.

_______

Greetings Baraza,

I bought a 1993 Toyota Starlet EP82 from my employer after she endured all manner of abuse from five different drivers for seven years.

She has done Mombasa, Loitokitok, Nyahururu, Kakamega, Murang’a, Nyeri, Nakuru, and Kisumu countless times.

She was also once hit from behind by a Mercedes in control of a drunken guy, but the little lady flew and perched herself atop a fence, with her rear wheels stuck to the body.

Her engine still holds and is strong. With four full grown men cramped inside her as she purrs uphill, she overtakes boys like Fielders, Airwaves, and Pajeros like a joke. I bought her because of the price, the fuel consumption and her power.

Recently, however, she started smoking in the morning like crazy! Grey and heavy smoke. She does this in front of other ladies who park overnight next to her, like Vitzs, Honda Fits and Duets, and she is the least remorseful.

Our parking lot slants 40 degrees, and yesterday I let her rest with her nostrils facing downhill towards the fence. I think she wasn’t happy; to get out, you have to reverse, look for space to turn and head to the gate at the top of the hill.

She embarrassed me so badly with her smoking that I needed full lights to see. I could even hear the other ladies nearby (Vitzs, Fits and Duets) choking.

At speeds of 80kph on Thika Road, if I sneak a peak on the rear view mirror I can see her smoking behind my back.

One mechanic told me to do an engine overhaul, another one said I change piston rings, another that I should replace the entire engine, and yet another that my lady is drinking oil, even though I religiously service her on due dates.

Please help save this relationship because, since I don’t smoke myself, I can’t live with her like this, not matter how much I love her.

Finally, I recently drove an Allion, 1800cc, dual VVTi to Loitokitok and back to Nairobi. It was amazing because, on average, he did 23km/l. The Starlet returns 16km/l on the same journey with the same shopping and passengers, yet I thought a bigger engine consumes more. Some of us fear big engines (by big I mean anything beyond 1,490cc).

Godfrey

 

Godfrey, I also once had an EP82 that gave me trouble-free operation until some idiot tampered with the wiring harness linking to the ECU and from there it was one problem after the other: stalling, poor consumption, lack of power… all this against the backdrop of an intermittent now-on-now-off ‘Check Engine’ light.

It was eventually sorted though, and shortly afterwards, the car found a new owner.

I’d like you to fit four grown men in that Starlet then challenge me to a hill-climb drive-off we see if what you say is true. I’ll bring a Pajero, possibly one with a 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine (I believe you listed a Pajero as one of your victims), and I’ll be alone in it.

Any readers out there who want to place bets on who reaches the mountain-top first are free to do so, but we split the winnings 50-50. Care to indulge?

Anyway, the smoke: the heavy grey vapours indicate either a blown head gasket (ruptured or cracked), which is letting water into the cylinder; water which is then burnt off as steam; or the vehicle may be burning ATF (automatic transmission fluid), if the vehicle is automatic.

Another cause could be oil and water mixing: either water is getting into the oil and the oil gets burnt, or oil leaks into the coolant, and the coolant in turn is leaking into the cylinders. Either way, that engine needs to be taken apart.

Now, that Allion. First off, it has VVT-i, which the Starlet lacks. That’s a plus.

Then there is the small matter of highway driving. You see, at highway speeds, bigger engines return better economy. It doesn’t apply across the board, I mean, a Bugatti Veyron is not the most economical car at highway speeds, but for motor vehicle engines between, say, 800cc and 2,000cc, at 120km/h the 2.0 litre will be most economical.

Why? Because it requires little effort to attain and maintain that speed. It will definitely have taller gearing, so 120km/h will correspond to roughly 3,000rpm in top gear.

Smaller cars will be revving higher and longer, therefore burning more fuel. The Allion is also more aerodynamic than the little hatch, it has a very pointy nose: so it encounters less resistance at those highway speeds. Less resistance means less engine effort to cut through the air.

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

Hey Jim.

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

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

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

Martin

 

Hey there,

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPEED DEMON

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

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

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

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

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

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

PERFORMANCE

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

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

SNAZZY INTERIOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHARP AND RESPONSIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACHING ARMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UP FOR SECONDS

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

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

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

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

“CAN I DO IT AGAIN?”

_________-

Dear Baraza,

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

Martin

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Matata

 

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

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

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

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Manual or automatic, which is more likely to use less fuel?

JM,

I am an ardent reader of your informative column, thank you for the good work. In terms of fuel consumption, which mode of transmission is better — manual or automatic?

What are the other similarities/differences between the two? Steve

 

The short answer here is a manual transmission is better. Or is it? You see, I think things are not as black and white as they may seem.

Once upon a time, automatic transmissions were slapped with massive, heavy torque convertors with no lockup control, while the slush-box itself bore only two or three ratios. Yes, things were that crude. Having only two or three gears means the ratios are very widely spaced and the engine has to reach stratospheric rev levels before shifting upwards to prevent a substantial loss in momentum.

The  (relatively) poorly developed clutches also caused quite some energy wastage through losses in slip and energy expenditure in rotating it. The comparative manual transmissions at least allowed the drivers to choose the ratios themselves, so they could short-shift and thus maintain low engine speeds thereby saving fuel.

Things are different now.

To start with, the skill and deftness of hand needed to row a four-on-the-floor H-pattern manual transmission is becoming the stuff of legend.

I am afraid I may be among the last of a dying breed; the breed of drivers whose abilities extend beyond stabbing the clutch with a toe and wiggling a shifter with a forearm.

Back in the day, everybody knew how to drive a manual, and drive it properly. Now, people with real driving licenses find excuses to occupy the passenger seat when presented with a vehicle sporting three pedals.

The few who man up and step up to the breach then proceed to show a glaring ineptitude at judging the power and torque curves of an engine through erratic shift programmes’ and failure to maintain a smooth flow of motion. Fuel consumption, alongside the clutch mechanism, then suffers.

It’s not all about the driver, though.

The technology itself has also brought the use of electronically controlled friction clutches for use in automatics, or the use of lockup control in torque converters. It has also brought about the manual override, which goes by a variety of names depending on the marque.

The commonest label is “Tiptronic”. Last, but not least, automatic transmissions now come with numerous ratios.

The madness was kicked off by Mercedes when they introduced a 7-speed automatic (with not one, but TWO reverse gears; whatever the hell for, I don’t know); then this was picked up by Lexus and Rolls Royce who bumped it up to eight and as of last year, a very fun trip to the fringes of the Kalahari desert introduced this columnist to a 9-speed automatic transmission in a Range Rover Evoque.

The advantage of these numerous gears is that the vehicle can be driven in a variety of customisable ways: economy, power, smoothness…. you pick a characteristic and the transmission will run with it. The Evoque can trundle around at 1500rpm in ninth gear and not hold up any other traffic.

It can also trundle around at 1500rpm in second gear and be slow enough for the driver to shout out a comprehensive list of insults at passers-by, for whatever reason.

This essentially means the Evoque can be driven everywhere at 1500rpm, leading to outstanding fuel economy. The bigger Range Rover Vogue also got an 8-speed tranny that massively improved reduced its infamous fuel consumption.

There are other instances where automatic transmissions trounce manual. I referenced them earlier in the formative days of this column, but I’ll quickly repeat them here.

Automatics are better for off-roading (they just are) and may be the more appropriate transmission for heavy commercial vehicles (they just are). Given the way some PSVs are driven, I’d say they’d make a case for themselves too in public transport.

The Paji once told me that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X with the twin-clutch SST transmission is an impressive machine. I don’t really believe him; nor do I understand why he would choose to extol the virtues of an automatic 2.0 liter saloon car.

However, now that automatic transmissions have taken over in range-topping hyper cars (you cannot buy a brand new Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren road car with a manual transmission, they don’t exist anymore) and time trial specialists (Nissan GTR, Evo X SST), it may be time to wave goodbye to the pukka three-pedal, H-pattern manual gearbox.

*Fun fact: the ‘Muricans’ don’t give a damn about twin-clutch direct-shift transmissions with or without full lockup control or whatever. The current Corvette C7 can be had either as a proper automatic, or as a 7-speed conventional manual. Yes, a manual gearbox with seven forward speeds, like a truck.

 

Hallo Baraza,

Commercial and passenger service vehicles are required by law to affix at the rear, max speed allowable stickers and twin chevrons that are supposed to reflect when illuminated by a following motor vehicle thus enhancing visibility.

The former serves no purpose, since they are meant to remind the driver his maximum speed, why have them affixed at the rear?

If they are to serve their purpose, have them affixed at the dashboard area where the driver can glance at it and it serves as a reminder as it is meant to.

As for the Chevrons, they have become so substandard that some are just white and red strips with no reflective material.

Why not have reflective strips all along the length of especially trucks?

Moreover, modern vehicles have inbuilt reflectors in their taillights. They (reflectors) serve well in private vehicles and commercial vehicles being imported into the country do not have these chevrons. How is visibility achieved in their countries of origin?

 

The sticker serves no purpose, eh? How about acting as a source of information for foreign drivers unfamiliar to the finer details of our Traffic Act who may be driving behind these commercial vehicles? The sticker informs them that these vehicles are allowed a maximum of 80km/h, so make your decision: tail them and stick to 80 or overtake them if you plan to go faster. It is always better to have an excess of information than a dearth thereof.

As for the reflectors: They’d best be left intact because rescinding the decision to have them in place means EVERYBODY will take them off, including the penny-pinching businessmen with rattletrap, barely legal pickup trucks of fringe roadworthiness. Have you ever encountered an unilluminated cane tractor in the dead of night while at high speed? You will understand why reflectors are important. You will also thank God for disc brakes.

 

 

Hi Baraza,

What are the cons of a turbo charged car? I hear it is costly to repair let alone buy a new one. Can removing the turbo lead to engine problems or loss of power?

Thiga

 

The downside of a turbocharged car lies in costs: buying, maintaining and selling. You will lose money on all three counts. Removing the turbo will of course cause a noticeable drop in power.

 

Whats up JM,

I have a Toyota Corolla E80 purchased in 1985 by my mum and christened “Whitney Houston”.

Five years ago, we had the carburettor engine changed to a 16 VALVE EFI 1.5 cc engine with a 4-speed gear box. Does having a 4-speed gear box affect the car in anyway considering it has an EFI engine?

I like the way people on the highway underestimate Whitney just because its number plate doesn’t have a letter at the end. Once I start revving the engine, those cars see dust. Now that the history lesson is behind, the questions;

1) Would it have been possible to change a VVTi engine? If not, why?

2)We wanted to change the 4-speed gear box to a 5-speed automatic gear box but the mechanic told us it would not be possible? Is it possible to change a manual to an automatic gear?

3) The car starts perfectly in the morning but then in the course of the day develops a hard start. What do you think might be issue?

4) The engine makes a lot of noise, now I am not sure if it is because it is getting old or there is a problem?

5) When I take the car for engine wash it will refuse to start until I jumpstart it. Would you propose I wash the engine or just let it stay dirty?

6) Whitney has on a pair of 12’ inch wheels and I was considering of getting her 14’ inch wheels. What are the ramifications of putting such wheels on a car? Or do we have to do certain adjustments to the car?

7)The back wheels of Whitney are bent inwards and my mechanic told me that she needs to be taken for kember. What is kember?

8) Whitney is a front-wheel drive. I have taken her for numerous wheel alignments but it still gets lost on the road and especially on rough roads. I have replaced all the parts of the front wheel, tie-rods, shocks, springs, bearing and so on. What might be the problem?

9) Insurance companies in Kenya don’t give comprehensive insurance to cars like mine claiming that if the car were to be in an accident, it would be hard to source for parts. Can my car be reconditioned in Kenya? What  does reconditioning mean?

10) Is it true a showroom car has a rear rectangular number plate while a second hand car has a rear square number plate?

11) Finally, I work at a boys club. The boys are crazy about cars and I was hoping maybe you would find time on a Saturday to come and talk to them. I know they would love it. Our email [email protected]

Thanks,

Alvaro

 

Quite a lengthy email.  Also, an interesting one. Whitney Houston, you say? Very interesting.

 

1) In a world where people can replace a tiny melon-sized two-rotor Wankel engine with a leviathan LS2 6.0 litre small-block Chevy V8, I don’t think engine swaps are exactly a problem anymore.

In this case it should be more straightforward seeing how the engine and the car both came from the same company. So, yes, a VVT-i engine would have fitted, provided the engine mounts are compatible with Whitney’s body.

2) It is possible but the involved labour is off-putting. Also you may need to shop for a new ECU(Electronic Control Unit)  or programme the current one to control the automatic gearbox but a) Toyota chips are almost impossible to hack and b) how does one start programming an automatic transmission? It will take years, if at all. The easiest way of doing such a conversion is to get an engine and gearbox combination (such composites are available).

3) I think your plugs could be on the throes of death. Poke around your electrical system: the HT leads, wiring, plugs etc.

4) This depends on what noise it is. An engine at 5,000 rpm will also be “noisy” by default, especially with the bonnet open.

5) I find the lack of lateral thinking in garages and motoring establishments humorous; more so in regard to the engine wash.  Has nobody ever heard of a wet rag? Is the verb “to wipe” so alien to us?

6) Provided the 14” rims fit, there should be no problem at all…

7) It is not “kember”, it is “camber”; and the car is not “taken for camber”, it requires “camber adjustment”. Camber is the offset position of the wheel along the Y axis, — the top of the wheel is not in line with the bottom of the wheel. If the top is offset inwards or the bottom is offset outwards (leading to a knock-kneed stance), it is called negative camber, whereas the opposite (bow-legged stance) is called positive camber. Camber adjustment is part of the wheel alignment process.

8) Now check your bushes. Also, make sure the tyre pressures are equal or close to equal on both sides of the car. Lastly, see 7) above. The misalignment at the rear could have an effect on handling.

9) Reconditioning a car such as yours will depend on how much dedication YOU have.

10) Not necessarily. It just applies to majority of situations but there are several not-so-isolated cases where the converse is true.

11) I’d be happy to give you folks a talk.

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Blue boxer boys and biased bloggers

This is a clarification and a disclaimer. I do not know any female bloggers,  much less any who have underlying and/or unresolved issues with drivers of blue Subarus.

I did not train, nor did I request any Internet superhero to pick fights with yuppie-grade Six-Star specialists.

I did not ask for any help in disparaging the Boxer Boys. My relation with Subaru (drivers) transcends colour and creed: an Impreza doesn’t have to be blue to get beaten by a Lancer Evolution.

My on-off disagreement with the Subaru fan club is not a judgmental and jaundiced look at their lifestyles, or their romantic capabilities, life choices or financial health; it is a simple debate that is quite easily solved through an orgy of octane overdose, twin turbos, advanced timing, burning rubber, wild understeer, missed gearshifts, shattered valves and bent con-rods. In other words, this is banter between petrolheads, not social commentary.

It is high time prejudiced “keyboard activists” left Subaru drivers alone.

Only I am allowed to poke fun at them. I don’t write about age-disparate, inappropriate, financially-fuelled social pairings involving sugar-parents (daddies or mommies) in my weekly column, seeing how little I know about them.

It is only fair NOT to  include motor vehicles in a questionable write-up involving the devious machinations of scheming trollops; obnoxious opportunists seeking pots of gold where they aren’t supposed to, more so if the author of the said piece thinks a Range Rover Sport is the beginning and the end all things motoring.

Leave the Subaru-bashing to me. I got this.

Posted on

A Prado you can easily tip over but a BMW? I don’t see how

Hello Sir,
I need some clarification on two issues. A friend of mine says that Toyota Prado is one of the easiest cars to flip over.

I have seen a couple of overturned Toyota Landcruisers, although they were older models. How stable is the Toyota Prado V6 4000cc?

I have driven a not-so-recent model BMW 523i series in which I skidded, but miraculously didn’t flip. I guess it would have been a different story with a Prado.
Please advise.

Your friend is right. A Landcruiser Prado is notoriously easy to roll over. This is because the vehicle is tall and narrow.

The great height and small base area give it a high centre of gravity, so when that centre of gravity starts swinging about, the amount of effort required to overcome the stability offered by the base area is very small.

Small effort = easily done. Therefore, the Prado is easy to tip over. All you need to do is take a corner at high speed. The 4000cc V6 Prado is a Prado, is it not?

Not flipping a BMW is the rule, not the exception. Flipping a 5 Series is the miracle here.

Obviously, it has a very low centre of gravity, so it won’t be easy getting the centre of gravity to start swinging about, and if you get it to, it will still take considerable effort before getting the car to topple.

The actual explanation of this phenomenon can be found in classical mechanics, under the topic covering moments, inertia and centres of mass and gravity. Mechanics in this case has nothing to do with cars.

Calculating the likelihood of this event requires a series of equations that will send you running for the hills. However, I will simplify it using an analogy.

Let’s start with the Prado. Compare its overall shape to that of a book. Its height-to-width ratio is more like a book balancing on its spine, is it not? Getting that book to fall over is not hard; all it takes is a simple tap on the side.

Now consider the BMW. Its height-to-width ratio is more like a book lying flat on the table. Try getting that book on its spine using the same single-finger tap that you used above.

Nothing happens, right? The book is infinitely stable, it will not turn over. If anything, it will start sliding along the table the more you push it, but it will not flip, unless other forces are introduced. This explains why you were skidding but not rolling or flipping over.

—————————————————–

First, thank you for not imitating other car reviewers (i.e. Autocar, Top Gear, Fifth…, etc) with your style of journalism.

I really appreciate that and if you can, please intervene in Autovault by bringing in a “natural” character for a presenter (they do a good job but they appear to try too hard)…that would be swell.

On to your critic, the Mike Mouth: If anyone has to explain Top Gear to him, then he really needs to stop drinking.

As for the Demios, I believe you are talking about small practical cars that don’t need super charging or turbo charging to spike the driver’s adrenaline. I totally get your point. But do this: try the Swift Sport 1600cc… You will trade in the Demio. I can guarantee you that.

Now, on to a personal query, could you compare the Lexus IS250 with the GS 300 and how can one get a brand new one, given that there are no specialised dealerships. I have gathered that second-hand luxury cars are time bombs and I am trying to avoid that.Kim

Hello,
Thank you for the compliment. And you are most welcome: I prefer to be original. I discovered that one tends to achieve more that way.

Unfortunately, I cannot intervene on Autovault. To start with, my contributions are in the editorial department, while Autovault is on TV.

Secondly, I cannot intervene without invitation. That is someone else’s project; Car Clinic is mine. And you say they do a good job, so where exactly is the problem?

I have not watched the show, and I am not exactly clear on what a “natural” character is, so I might get on board and appear even less natural than the current presenters do.

I have seen and heard about the Swift Sport, but I haven’t driven it. What I have driven is the standard Swift, and first impressions were excellent, to be honest. I might believe you: the Swift Sport could just knock my socks off.

Where do I get one and how much will it cost me? I will also consider how it stacks up against a MazdaSpeed, which is what I have been thinking of lately when the time comes for me to graduate from the Demio “Sport”.

Now, the Lexuses… Lexi… Lexus cars. The GS is bigger than the IS, but the IS handles better and in my view, looks sharper. It should be more responsive on the road, making it more fun to drive.

If you are into creature comforts rather than outright driving experience, then the GS is more up your alley. Getting a brand new one will not be easy or cheap.

Off the cuff, I’d say these are your options: contact Toyota Kenya and see if they can bring one in for you. The whole idea is they import the car and you buy it from them, though in effect you mported the car. You have to promise to pay them once the car gets here.

If you change your mind when the vehicle is already on the ship, they won’t be very happy with you. Also, I cannot guarantee that they would agree to such a proposal.

The second option is to buy it yourself. You will buy it expensively brand new to start with, then get it to the port (Mombasa) — or Nairobi if by air — and discover that the taxman assumes a DIY import of a brand new car means the importer has more money than he knows what to do with, and will thus be glad to assist him reduce that money to manageable levels, and no sir, don’t worry, it is all very legal, they are not stealing from you, it is right here on paper.

Look, it is called Customs Duty and what in the name of… isn’t that a little high, yes it is, but rules are rules. If you want lower taxes, then buy older cars that have already been used and the whole process is frustrating and confusing.

In the end you will discover that maybe, just maybe, importing brand new cars is a bit of a no-no for those who do not enjoy tax exemptions or government subsidies.

There is a third option, which focuses on exploiting loopholes and operating in legal grey areas. It also involves dishonesty, and that is what might land you in trouble.

Take this path at your own risk. The overall picture is this: buy the car from wherever you are buying it. While still there, drive around in it a little. Put a few miles on the odometer. Then import it as a used car.

—————————————————

Hi,
I followed club the TT Murang’a circuit very keenly from route practice in June until the actual race on August 3.

However, I noted the following issues and would like you to clarify:

1. Some Evolutions and Subarus produced a unique “Shhhh” sound like gas coming from a jet, (like a perfume spray can) when slowing down. What is the cause and purpose of that sound?

2 There is that Toyota 110 GT. How is it different from a normal 110? Apart from being fast and, of course, having orange rims and a big exhaust pipe. Any other difference?

3. I noted that most drivers had their front windows open; why? Yet we are told that open windows increase drag/wind resistance, thereby reducing speed.

4 Are you sure you were there? I never saw a clean shaven face with a goatee. I actually looked around for you.

Murage

1. The source of that sound is the BOV (blow-off valve), also called the dump valve, in the turbocharger. The purpose of the dump valve is to “dump” or “blow off” air from the turbo once the throttle is closed to prevent something called compressor surge.

This is what happens: when a turbocharged petrol engine is running, the turbo is forcing more air than usual into the engine by compressing the air first then sending it into the inlet manifold. When you take your foot off the accelerator, the throttle valve closes.

This means that the compressed air that was coming in from the turbo now has nowhere to go; the way into the engine is closed. The only way is to decompress backwards, and given that the turbo spools in one direction, when the air moves in reverse, there is a sort of “clash”.

It is called compressor surge, and is the one that causes the turbo to slow down suddenly, and in a potentially fatal manner; given that it was spinning at speeds that can go up to 60,000rpm, spooling down to or near 0rpm in an instant does stretch its physical abilities to the limit. You could very easily kill your turbo like that.

To prevent compressor surge, the BOV gives the compressed air a way out. When the throttle is closed, the dump valve opens, dumping all the compressed air, usually into the atmosphere, though some dump valves send the air around and back into the turbo. This dumping of compressed air is what makes the “pfff!” noise on lifting off the accelerator.

2. The difference between a Corolla 110 GT and a regular Corolla 110 is that it’s code is E111, not E110. The E110 is the “regular” Corolla. The GT uses the high-performance 1600cc DOHC 165hp 4A-GE engine with 5 valves per cylinder, while the rest use lower output engines (perkiest being the 100hp 4A-FE 16 valve DOHC).

It also came with a 6-speed gearbox versus 5-speed. Optional extras include a subtle body kit, red and black interior, silver or white dash dials, 15” alloy rims and fog lights.

However, orange rims and fat exhausts were not part of the manufacturer’s offerings, so this particular Corolla GT you refer to may be a lot different from regular Corollas… and regular Corolla GTs for that matter. The owner might have done any number of modifications to it.

3. That is purely a matter of choice for them. I, however, recall telling them explicitly to wind their windows up at the starting line just before being flagged off, because, as you say, the buffeting that comes with a lowered window is an aerodynamic fiend.

4. I am sure I was there, otherwise point 3 above would not make any logical sense, would it? (not the part about aerodynamics, but the part about me telling them to put up their windows).

I was at the starting line, wearing a high-visibility jacket and doing my scrutineer’s duties of ensuring everything was tip-top and stamping inspection forms (at which point the drivers then wound up their windows) before sending them on their way.

There is an issue here, though: if you came to look for me at the TT, then that was not very wise use of your entry fee. Watch the cars. That is where the fun is.

I am not much to look at, and I certainly wouldn’t charge anyone to look at, or look for me. See you in Kiambu on October 19. Just watch the cars. I will be the one stamping inspection forms and asking drivers to roll up their windows…

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards,

James.

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Regards,

Ronald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

Okomoli B.O.

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

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

Hi,

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

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

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

Regards,

Victor.

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

Sunus.

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

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

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

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

Posted on

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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Nairobi to Namanga and back: Petrolheads with a cause

The Birth of Great Run: In the world of petrolheads, a “run” is simply a drive from here to there, and possibly back to here.

It has nothing to do with the Olympic Games — even though “run” is also a word whose meaning our Olympic athletes seem to have forgotten.

However, depending on the degree of organisation, there could be an element of competition. The Paji and I introduced a mutual acquintance called The Jaw (or simply Jaw) into the picture.

Our three heads agreed that a run would be a good idea. Creative juices were at an all time low that day, and so, lacking a better name, we decided to call our gig “The Great Run”. The name stuck.

Precedents, Precautions and Preparations: Ours is not the first run in history; it is not even the first run locally, but it was certainly the first to be — almost — commercialised over here.

It was shaped in the fashion of the world-famous Cannonball Sea-To-Shining-Sea Trophy, better known as the Cannonball Run, in the US. Other runs of note are the Gumball 3000 of Europe and… ummh… yeah.

There were a few issues to be careful of. While the Cannonball and Gumball runs involve competitive driving, foresight demanded that we eschew this line of thought.

Introduce a clique of restless Kenyan drivers in high-powered vehicles to a driving “competition” and you will have opened a veritable can of legal, administrative and life-threatening worms. For evidence of this, refer to Subaru Fest’s Gymkhana Challenge.

We had to have something with gravitas. We needed a sponsor to endorse our arrangement and lend an air of legitimacy to our project. We needed participants. We needed a route. We needed to divide these responsibilities amongst ourselves. Most of all, we needed money. This is how it went.

The one sponsor we got pulled out at the last minute. It followed that costs had to be covered out of our own pockets, but I will confess: costs were covered mostly out of The Paji’s pockets.

The Jaw handled the fruitless phone calls demanding sponsorship and sought entities that would provide “background support”, such support being the printing of T-shirts and stickers for the participating drivers and their vehicles.

I adopted a managerial position: the key responsibility being standing around looking important while actually doing nothing. The Paji and The Jaw are two very patient men, I must point out here.

Three weeks, it took us — them, rather. Three weeks to establish an online presence, gather a sizeable crowd, find a route, do a recce, print T-shirts and stickers, find (and subsequently lose) a sponsor, and identify the unwitting beneficiary of another last-minute occurrence: a charity addition to our list of requirements.

You see, we may love cars, but we also give back to society. Note: We were told to say this by someone who whispered to us that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is fashionable in big companies, so talk of charity will help you snare an unsuspecting firm with money to lose… I mean… spend.

July 14, 2012: This was the date of The Great Run. The starting point was at a fuel forecourt in Parklands, Nairobi, and the variety of hardware present was enough to warm the cockles of any auto-oriented heart. I could not have hoped for a bigger turnout, especially considering my “managerial” approach to the whole thing; but the response was enormous.

There were Nissan Skyline GTRs, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and countless Subarus, in various forms, shapes, colours, ages and degrees of tune (later in the run, also various states of mechanical soundness, but let me not dwell on this).

There was a Hummer H3 (!!), which I would have chased off were it not for the fact that its (mostly human) contents were instrumental in making our event a success then and afterwards.

There were a lot of other cars, but the ones that stood out the most were a father-and-son pair in a Mk IV Toyota Supra and a Nissan 350 Z “Fairlady”. Time to drive.

The Event: Had we got a sponsor, we would have had the money to make maps and print navigational details for everybody, and this shortcoming was felt within three gear changes from the starting point.

In spite of the instructions I shouted at the gathered crowd just before departing (We are going to the Tanzanian border!!), after the start some of the cars left in several different directions and it was with a sinking feeling that I assumed maybe people were heading back home after collecting their T-shirts. The Jaw insisted I should have more faith in human nature.

And I should have. There were no deserters (at that point). I took a wrong route myself, my excuse being that I was trailing one of the “lost” vehicles.

Our first unintended meeting point was 10 minutes from the start when it transpired that one of the cars had a six-cylinder engine, but, ahem, was only running on five — spark plug issues.

(To protect the privacy of owners, drivers and participants, certain details will be omitted). Everybody had stopped in a long queue behind the stricken car, on the side of the road. I was last to arrive at the scene, approaching it from the wrong direction.

More Drama: The run was not without incident. The burnt spark plug was just the first of several. When turning off the Mombasa highway to enter Kitengela, two cars got lost (again) and went on towards Mombasa (Mr Not-Sponsor, are you reading this? We need maps!). They were reined in in short order.

One of the cars, a blue Lancer Evolution (VIII or IX, it was hard to tell), suffered a heart attack. Pumped full of steroids, the extremely capable tarmac athlete over-exerted itself and got a myocardial infarction, haemorrhaging to death.

It had to finish the trip at the back of a hearse. In real terms, the Evo was pulling hard when an oil seal blew and the car lost all oil pressure and had to retire, returning home atop a tow truck. This was the first DNF (Did Not Finish).

Next victim was another Evo, a grey one. Said vehicle was conducting a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre when the driver found himself on the receiving end of the unfinished work results from an incompetent road repair crew.

The fellows had abandoned the site, leaving it unmarked and with rocks strewn all over the road surface. This put the Evo driver between a rock and a hard choice.

Too late to stop, he noticed some especially daunting bits of landscape right in his overtaking path. If he dodged them to the left, he would slam broadside into the car he was trying to pass.

To the right was a guard rail, beyond which lay an abyss. If he continued straight, he was going to hit the rocks and shatter at least one of his rims.

He chose to continue (wise decision), and his fears were manifested: three spokes and a section of the front offside rim edge were bent out of shape, shredding the tyre into useless ribbons of rubber. Hopeless space-saver spare in the boot… second DNF.

The remaining DNFs were not DNFs per se, they intentionally did not finish; and they were the biker gang.

Heading for the nearest border requires one to cover quite some distance, and balancing a 150kg lump of metal between your legs while moving at warp speed can really sap one’s strength and resolve, almost as fast as some of those cars were draining their fuel tanks.

They begged leave of us and we graciously allowed them to. I would not want to be responsible, by virtue of duress, for the outcome of when a biker man is approaching a sharp turn and tries to apply the brakes only to realise that his fingers have gone numb from the sustained blast of cold wind on them…

Charity: Hawa Children’s Home: The route was very simple. Drive to Namanga and back. It so happens that along this route lies a children’s home just 9km outside of Kitengela town as you drive towards Kajiado.

This was our point of charitable focus and a brief stopover there provided not only a respite from the hard charging on the highway, but also allowed the little orphans to mingle with the owners of cars they would probably like to own when things eventually turn out right in their lives.

The place is called Hawa Children’s Home, and it is run by the Rotary Club and the St Andrew’s Church. It serves as the abode for 24 no-longer-unfortunate orphans of various ages between four and 18, with room for up to 200, and they were the surprised recipients of clothing, stationery and several cash handouts from participants of the Great Run.

Who says we waste all our resources on fuel, eh?

What We Learnt From The Great Run: Most of the questions I receive in my Car Clinic were brought to the fore that day. Performance (about 60 to 70 per cent of the cars had the kind of performance you wouldn’t dare exploit fully), fuel economy — or the lack thereof (Toyota Supra), cost of spares (again, the Toyota Supra), maintenance costs (take a guess. You’re right! the Supra), reliability (the oil-less Evo and a mechanically unfaithful Subaru whose brakes caused the driver untold worry) and ground clearance — or the lack thereof (about 30 per cent of the cars will struggle on unpaved roads).

What can I say? That orange Supra has been modified to the apogee of motor vehicle tuning. Nothing is stock, except, maybe, for the engine block. And I can’t even begin to describe what had been done to the Evo that lost its oil.

Why? Back to my original question: What were we thinking? Why did The Paji, The Jaw and Yours Truly stage The Great Run? It is mostly because we wanted to. And because we could.

We wanted something extraordinary; let us call it a moving motor show. Static shows are fine, yes, but car buffs prefer seeing and hearing these vehicles do their thing in the metal.

To “legalise” the project and keep a lid on potential hazardous behaviour, we formalised the whole affair and included a safety car, which I drove (more drama: as the safety car driver, I had to tail the entire convoy, but returning from Namanga, I found myself as Car Number 3 in a split convoy of about 20.

Unbeknownst to me, out back the Supra had ground to a halt, having lost one expensive tyre to a puncture. I had to turn back. Total mileage at the end of the day: 464km).

An unexpected bonus was the charity. Little did we know that we had opened a channel for philanthropic minds which otherwise did not know where to direct their generosity.

It turned out to be a blast, the only complaints from participants being that we did not spend enough time at the home, and that had they known beforehand, they would have given more (that charity thing was literally last minute, I tell you).

As a result, there has been public demand for an encore. Auto Art the Paji, Jaw the Jaw and I intend to honour that demand.

Missed Shifts: Two elements that should have been there — but weren’t — were a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 coupé (part of the sponsorship package that we lost) and a news reader (not part of the sponsorship package).

I was hoping to drive the supercharged car with the news reader in it, but having been withdrawn from the table, I resorted to a naturally aspirated 3.4-litre V6 vehicle, further plundering The Paji’s already stretched resources.

The news reader is a personal friend who thinks she likes cars, but an entropy in the lines of communication led to her missing out on The Great Run. As a result, rather than having a comely news reader in the passenger seat of the 3.4 V6 with me, I had to put up with a Jaw.

Bring on the next run.

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The Mahindra Genio: You don’t know whether to love or laugh

For some people, 2012 is the year when the world as we know it will come to an end.

For me, 2012 will be marked down as The Year of Great Surprises, one of which was a Mahindra vehicle.

If the world actually does end, that will be another (stop laughing at the back, please, this is not funny).

The Mahindra brand is back in the country and out in full force to do battle with Japan, and possibly Europe (I said stop laughing. I am serious). They have a whole line of vehicles to do this, with more to come, and within their stash of secret weapons is something called M-Hawk, which I will discuss shortly (for the last time, will you cut out the tittering back there?)

The Mahindra Genio

I have had a chance to sample one of their new products, and I must say the prognosis thus far is very promising. The vehicle in question is the Genio 4X2 single-cab pick-up, and it is quite unlike a lot of other pick-ups you may have seen.

To put things in perspective, I will compare it to the usual suspects that dominate the market, the output from the other automotive corner of Asia that is not India. Or China. Or Korea. Or Malaysia. Japan, in other words.

1. Physical Appearance:

The Genio looks a bit odd in the face. It is not as critically pretty as the Toyota Hilux or the Mitsubishi L200, nor does it have the conventional robust handsomeness of the D-MAX.

It actually looks a little bit like Hyundai, which is forgivable for a company that has not been in the game long enough to master car design.

Nevertheless, Mahindra is getting there, especially when you see what else they have to offer. The cabin is taller than the Japs’. However, and this gives the Genius — sorry, Genio — a driving feel akin to that of an SUV; a feeling that most of us desire, owing to the generous view outside.

It also has a short stubby bonnet, so threading the front end into and out of tight spaces will not be a hassle. However, threading the back end into and out of tight spaces might be a hassle because of…

2. Carrying Capacity:

Look carefully and you will notice that the payload area of the Genius — sorry, Genio — is a little longer (at 2.4 metres) than that of the D-MAX and the Hilux, which are already quite long (at two metres).

While the rest are classified as one-tonne pick-ups, the Genio is rated at 1.25 tonnes, with the capability to stretch to two. Therefore, either Mahindra as a company has a lot of insight into the thought processes of Kenyan businessmen, or they are trying to sell us a lorry and are calling it a pick-up. I am vouching for the former because of…

3. Price:

The Genius — sorry, Genio — 4X2 diesel will cost you Sh2.2 million, which you can negotiate down to Sh1.95 million, so let us just say that it costs about Sh2 million flat.

This is clearly not lorry money, so the Genio is definitely a pick-up. However, even as a pick-up, that is quite cheap, far cheaper than all three members of the Japanese Triad. Some of you might call that China money, so you might be getting a China-grade vehicle. I disagree, because of…

4. Build Quality and Amenities:

That SUV feeling comes about again. The cabin, in beige, looks a bit too fancy to be on a commercial vehicle.

It is not exactly a Volkswagen Touareg in here — panel gap consistency is still one or two degrees off and there might be a bit of plastic — but the execution is stupendous.

The steering wheel is chunky and feels nice to the touch. Talking of steering, the rack has been tightened up a bit. There is no play whatsoever (on the road, so instantaneous is the response to tiller twirling that it feels like you are driving a Golf. Yeah, I said it).

The controls are just where you want them, and there are one or two (actually four) little touches that people take for granted but will come to appreciate in the long term.

The air-con actually works as it should (Toyota Hilux, please pay attention), heating and cooling as instructed. There are cup-holders within sight and within reach. There are arm-rests (yeah Japan, you never thought of that, did you?) and what is more, there is a good-looking, crystal clear stereo that will play CD, MP3, and has a USB slot for those who cannot afford iPods and still walk around with flash drives full of pirated music.

One particularly fancy touch I liked was the cubbyhole on the left, also called the glove compartment in American English. While in most cars the lid drops open like the jaw of a hand puppet, in the Genius — sorry, Genio — it appears as a sliding door, and not just your typical French window style portal.

No, this door is made of flexible plastic, so when you slide it open, it opens wide as the plastic disappears to God-knows-where. You can have a full width gap, enough to push a wheel spanner through. Or even a whole wheel, though it will not fit into the box itself. That SUV feeling does not end with the interior. It is also felt through the…

5. Ride Quality:

I have driven the new Hilux 2.5, and I have driven the D-MAX. I have also driven the NP300 Hardbody, and I am sorry to say none of these holds a candle to the Genio in terms of comfort. Yeah, I said that too.

The Hilux is too hard to the point of being uncomfortable. Its stiffness is to such a degree that one is afraid it will oversteer dangerously if driven hard on a loose surface. Many call that stiffness an advantage. A visit to the chiropractor is not an advantage.

The D-MAX, on the other hand, is soft to the point of wobbliness, and it actually does oversteer, even on tarmac. There is a YouTube video as evidence of this dynamic infidelity (where it eventually overturns and pours out a mass of humanity off its bed).

The NP300 is both hard and bouncy, somehow managing to combine the two wrong qualities of the preceding pair. I will concede, the hardness and the bounciness of these three Japanese commercials arise from tropicalisation, but the Genio is also tropicalised (so they say), itself coming from an environment very similar to ours, and yet it rides well.

On the highway, it does not feel like a ship on the high seas (D-MAX), nor does it feel like the suspension has been set in concrete (Hilux). On rough roads, it will not grind your teeth to dust (Amarok, base model).

The clutch weighting is just right (again, base Amarok), though the gear lever seems to have been borrowed from the Scania, which I reviewed a few days ago. Mis-shifts are not on the menu, thank God. The brakes feel right and the accelerator pedal is easily modulated. This complements the magic ingredient of the whole setup, the…

6. Engine:

Mahindra calls it M-Hawk, which sounds like a currently fashionable (and questionable) hair-do common among both men and women below the age of 25. It is a 2.2 litre 4-cylinder common rail diesel, turbocharged and intercooled, good for 120 bhp and 295 Nm of torque.

So proud of it Mahindra is, that they use the exact same engine in the XUV 500, their idea of what a BMW X5 should be, only that in the XUV it has been tweaked to 140 bhp (you cannot keep up with an X5 if you only have 120 bhp; that is obvious).

There is some art behind the science of the Mohawk engine. Rather than having a front-mount intercooler in the style of a Lancer Evolution, the heat exchanger is located on top of the engine block, like a tea tray, as seen in a Subaru STi.

This setup would call for a bonnet scoop, but again the artists take over from the engineers: instead of an ostentatious scoop, the intercooler is fed by ducts, which start from the grille and feed into a pair of externally invisible plastic nostrils, which then force the air into air-ways carved into the underside of the bonnet.

These terminate halfway up the bonnet on top of the intercooler. To keep it airtight, the air-way terminus is lined with a rubber seal where the bonnet meets the fridge.

As with front-mount intercoolers, this arrangement reeks of potential cooling problems because the radiator has been robbed of precious airflow by the needs of the turbo-intercooling kit, and that is why the Genio has such a wide face. The top side of the grille (on the bonnet leading edge) feeds the heat exchanger, while the rest of the face provides the airflow channels for the radiator. All is well.

All is well because the turbo and the intercooler work in tandem with the 2.2 diesel to provide grin-inducing low-end torque and high-end power. Wheel-spin is possible in first and second gear (!!), even on tarmac, and overtaking in fourth is not a gamble with the idiocy of the person being overtaken and/or the bravado of the person coming the other way. Or even your own.

Seven times out of 10, all my overtakes along Mombasa Road were made in fourth: it was as simple as changing lanes and stamping the accelerator. No discernible turbo lag (Volkswagen Amarok), the torque band is quite wide (again Amarok, and the Hilux) and no mis-matched gear ratios (Toyota Hilux double-cab).

I have never enjoyed driving a pickup as much as I did this one. Mahindra claims fuel economy in the region of 12kpl. I believe them.

Sum-Up: The power of reputation

From my ramblings, it is easy to assume that the Mahindra betters its Japanese competition in almost every aspect that matters, and the quick answer is yes.

I know most readers will be cagey about buying something Indian over something Japanese, and this is down to the power of reputation: How can the Indians, makers of the Mahindra jeep that threw egg on the face of our police force, master, in a few short years, what has taken the Japanese, makers of the most reliable vehicles on the planet, decades to master?

I do not know, I honestly do not. But this is how good the Genio actually is: my fellow test driver, with whom I have test-driven the Hilux, the Range Rover Evoque, the Scania truck, and several other cars (in other words, whose opinion I trust) was so impressed that he suggested we take a Genio to Meru and pit it against the grand-daddy of toting miraa, the Hilux, to see if it will beat the Hilux at its own game.

That is how confident he was of the Genio’s abilities. And no, he is not a shareholder at Simba Colt, owners of the Mahindra franchise.

And no, he is not the fellow you saw at the Car Clinic Live event.

I, however, prefer a more cautious approach: let us not be so quick to draw conclusions from a single road test of a new model of car. A long-term test is called for.

While the Genio is a step above China-spec, it is still a step below Japan-spec for now, especially seeing how longevity and reliability is yet to be confirmed. Japan has been in the game for a while, let us not forget that; and the tall cabin and increased ride height might not gel well with the high-speed application that is the transportation of perishable narcotics.

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If you’re determined, you can achieve 1 kpl in a Forester

Hi Baraza,
Kindly educate me on the following issues:

1. What is the consumption of the Subaru Forester when driving in a normal manner and when driving like you want to fly?

2. What is the cost of the new model of the Volkswagen Passat and can I get a second-hand one?

3. Which among the following has a higher fuel consumption rate? A 3000cc BMW X5, 2200cc BMW 530i, 2000cc Subaru Forester, 2700cc Prado and a 2000cc VW Passat, all with petrol engines.

4. What is the cost of a good motorbike with an 800cc engine?
Paul
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1. Is the Forester turbocharged or not? I know if you drive like a nun, you will manage maybe 11 kpl in town, provided you don’t end up in the sort of gridlock that we find ourselves in when the president is driving past at that particular moment.

If you are feeling particularly unwise, you can clock a record 1 kpl by driving in first gear only, bouncing off the rev limiter all the while.

Not only will you set new records in noise emission and fuel consumption, but you will also have a blown engine to show for your efforts at the end of the day.

2. The new Passat should cost something north of Sh4.5 million, which is roughly what all its rivals cost (the Toyota Camry 2012 leads the pack in absurdity, costing a scarcely believable Sh8 million).

The Passat’s price could be as high as 6 million though, it mostly depends on spec levels and engine size. As to whether or not one can get one second-hand… it depends. If someone out there is selling his already, then yes, there is a second-hand Passat for sale.

3. The Prado. Its off-road orientation and higher coefficient of drag compared to the X5 means it is hardest on fuel, especially with that 2.7 power unit. The rest are small road-biased passenger cars with small engines, so they can be safely left out of the argument.

4. No idea. I am not a huge fan of two-wheeled transport solutions, except my own God-given setup (my legs, in case you are wondering), but a bike fanatic I am acquainted with tells me they start at about Sh900,000 and work upwards into the millions.

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Baraza,

I am newly employed and I’m planning to get a car to fit the following requirements:

1. A price range of up to 800k.
2. Good clearance.
3. Good fuel consumption.
4. Preferably a seven-seater.
I have been eyeing the Toyota Avanza, but it looks a bit unstable. What do you think?
Any other suggestions?
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Well, the Avanza does not inspire confidence on some fronts, the stability being one. The other is the 1.5-litre engine. I am not a fan of small engines in big vehicles (but the converse works well for me).

How about a mainstream cross-over, but used; the usual RAV-4s and X-Trails and Foresters? How often will you carry seven passengers?

Most seven-seaters are either Prados, Pajeros, Land Rovers (all out of the price range) or family vans (with no ground clearance).

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Baraza,
I want to know how I can increase ground clearance without affecting the safety of the car. I have gone round asking how best I can do this and I have been offered the following recommendations

1. Add spacers.
2. Get a bigger rim.
3. Fit the car with larger profile tyres.
4. Fit Rob Magic coil springs. This was suggested by an auto engineer but I need to compare notes.

I am tempted to fit the springs as well as increase my tyre profile since this is an imported car.

In case you are wondering why I have to do this; coming from shags I am often forced by my mother to carry vegetables and cereals for my family and the road there is rough. What’s your take?
Muteti
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I cannot vouch for option 4 because this calls for a comparison against its competition, which I have not done yet.

You could adopt option 1, but then you will have to be very careful around corners, especially if you drive fast.

You could also go for option 2, but remember bigger rims could mean low-profile tyres, so your wheels and ground clearance are still the same size, the difference now being that your car looks good, the belly still scrapes the ground and your tyre bills threaten to break up your family. So combine two and three, though the stability thing will still be an issue.

Or you could do what I always tell my readers: buy the most appropriate car for your needs. No need to buy a small saloon car if you trade in potatoes and cabbages at a far-off market centre, or buy a nine-seater van to drive yourself to the office daily.

Get a cross-over if ground clearance is an issue in the areas you frequent.
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JM,
I recently bought a second-hand Mitsubishi Gallant (1999 model) with a GDI engine. I then replaced the battery and serviced the car.

I have not encountered any other problems so far. What I want to know is, what is a GDI engine?

Secondly, I have heard that there were some issues with this particular make and that’s why they are not very common in Kenya, is this true? What are the pros and cons of this car?
Osiro
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GDI stands fore gasoline direct injection. It is a technology similar to Toyota’s D4, in that fuel is fed directly into the cylinder, in the fashion of a diesel engine, rather than into the intake manifold as was usual with petrol engines in times past.

It is supposed to improve performance and economy by optimising combustion efficiency and the injection timing. The Galant cars were specified to run on Mobil 1 engine oil, which is a high performance grade of lubricant.

Lesser oil grades tended to, well, degrade the engine, especially for those who imported JDM models. Also, splashing about in puddles was not a good idea, because water got into the electronics fairly easily, the worst culprits being the ECU and throttle electronics system, which then resulted in the throttle being jammed wide open (engine revs on its own).

All the same, the Galant was a very fine car: a good looker, a sublime handler and a convincing performer. The rare VR4 was even considered a watered down Lancer Evolution for the less-than-hardcore, because it had a twin-turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre engine good for 280hp and 4WD.
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Baraza,
I intend to acquire my first car and I am torn between a Honda Airwave and a VW Touran. The Airwave is 1500cc, a five-seater and has four airbags. The Touran is 1600cc, a seven-seater and has eight airbags.

Please advice me on the vehicles’ reliability and the availability of spare parts for each. I love power and reasonable speed; if you were in my shoes, which one would you go for?
Raphael
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Go for the Touran. From your own description it offers more stuff, that is, airbags and seats. Hondas are legendarily reliable, while VW are legendarily well built.

The Touran’s spares may or not may be available at CMC: if they are not, you may have to shop around.

The Honda franchise is still not very well grounded in the country but rumour has it that our Far Eastern car-making compadres might be opening a fully-fledged showroom soon.
So the Touran it is, for now.
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Dear Baraza,
I have a 2003 model Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon 100 series which has one worrying issue: when I shift the gear (automatic) from R to D fast, there is a small bang, and the same is heard, though rarely, when the gears are shifting while driving. In slow shifts, there is no sound.

Several mechanics have tried to diagnose the fault but all have concluded that its mechanical rather than electrical.

We have checked the propeller, front and rear diffs and gearbox, but most mechanics say its the transfer box (case).

They all also said that since the sound is very low and rare, we don’t need to bring it down unless the sound becomes louder and driving comfort is compromised.

Since the transfer case is purely mechanical, can it be opened to replace faulty parts or is it a must that I buy a new one?

About how much does a new transfer case cost, or are am I supposed to but a complete gearbox? Lastly, are there other known problems with this model?
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I find it unlikely that it is the transfer case because the Amazon is full-time 4WD. Unless you were shifting between low range and high range, I don’t see how the transfer case could be the culprit. I still suspect the primary gearbox.

Seeing how it is an automatic, maybe the ATF levels are low, otherwise, the issue could be in the programming of the gearbox settings (clutch operation and gear changes are out of sync at some engine/road speeds, so there is shift shock, which is the bang you experience).

Just in case it is the transfer case, it is reparable, but I would not be too excited about the bill that will follow. It will be better than a new transfer case though. The 100, otherwise, is not a bad car.
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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in a Suzuki Escudo, 2005 model. Kindly enlighten me on the following:
1. What size is engine J20A in terms of cc?
2. Does this kind of an engine have any serious problems?
3. What fuel system does it use; VVT-i, EFI or carburettor?
4. Kindly compare it with the RAV-4 in terms of consumption.
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1. The engine capacity is 1,995cc, easily rounded off as 2,000cc.
2. None that I know of so far.
3. It uses EFI. To get VVT, you have to opt for the newer, and larger engines (2.4 and 3.0).
4. The Suzuki is thirstier, but how you drive it really matters.
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Hi Baraza,
I roll in an old model Toyota Starlet. Sometimes, when I step on the clutch, it makes some roaring sound like that of the engine, but after sometime, this goes away. What could be the problem? Also, offer advise on small machines every now and then in your column.
Leah
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That roaring noise that sounds like the engine actually is the engine. The noise comes from the revs flaring since the load of the drive-train components (shafts, gears, dog clutches, etc) has been taken off, so the engine does not have to put in extra effort just to keep turning.

Your idle settings must be messed up, which is why the revs flare like that when the clutch is disengaged. Either that or you should take your foot off the throttle any time when clutching in.

I address all cars, big and small. If you have read this column long enough, you might remember an era of Demios, Vitzes, Duets, iSTs, Micras, Colts and other similar pint-sized fare.
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Baraza,
I am buying an ex-Japan Chevrolet LT Optra station wagon 2005 model. Please advise whether this is be a good option considering it’s not a common car around.

Also, what does DOHC and supercharged mean in terms of efficiency, fuel consumption and reliability? Someone told me that its a pretty fast car but also heavy, so handling is not a problem, is this correct?

Does the supercharger need any care? Do I need to install a timer?
Sam
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The Optra was part of GM’s lineup not too long ago, so they should have an idea about how to maintain one. DOHC means double overhead Camshafts, and supercharging is a means of forced induction by use of engine power.

Both are an enemy of reliability because they add more moving parts to the engine, so there is a wider scope for things to go wrong.

Supercharging also is an enemy of fuel economy, because the reason we supercharge cars is to make them faster (and thus harder on fuel).

The DOHC could improve efficiency somewhat, but not enough to counteract the thirst occasioned by the blower.

Superchargers, unlike turbos, do not need special care as such, but just be careful to keep the kit well lubricated.

One last thing. Weight is an enemy of handling, not a friend. People mistake stability at speed for handling.

A heavy car will sit well on the road at 300 km/h, sure, but show it a few corners and understeer will be your lot.
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Hi Baraza,
1. I drive a Toyota Mark II Grande. My wife thinks that apart from the spacious interior, there is nothing much in this car compared to a Premio and an Allion.

But I feel the Mark II is stable and the engine performance (Beams 2000) is superior and better than what’s in the Allion and the Premio.

How does the Mark II compare to the two when it comes to stability and engine performance? How would you rate it against an Avensis?

2. Is it true that some Mercedes service parts (filters, plugs, pads) can fit in the Mark II?

3. I want to upgrade and I am considering a Mark X, a Mercedes C 200 or 220 or a Volvo S80. I am more inclined towards the Volvo because I feel the other two have become clichés and I don’t like going with the crowd.

So how does the S80 compare with the others in terms of maintenance, engine efficiency, safety, durability, speed, stability on the road, interior and extra features (cruise control, sensors etc)?
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1. The Mark II outruns them all, including the Avensis. If your wife does not buy our allegation, introduce her to the 2.5-litre 6-cylinder Mark II. Then she will see our point.

2. I find that unlikely. What the person probably meant was that universal spares can go into either a Mark II or a Benz.

If genuine Benz parts could fit in a Mark II, then the converse would be true too: Toyota parts would be applicable in a Benz. And that, in motoring language, is heresy.

3. Smart choice. And don’t worry about repairs or parts, there is a Volvo showroom right next to the Peugeot showroom somewhere near Koinange Street.