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

Hi,

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

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

Which one would you prefer, and why?

Shah

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

Thanks and regards.

Hello Sir,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Kyalo.

Hello Kyalo,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francis

Hello Sir,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prius is no horse.

Posted on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports utility

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

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

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

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

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

I fear I may have digressed again…

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

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

————————-

Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Motoring news this year

The Sky Has Finally Fallen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2013 Freelander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nissan Qashqai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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F30 BMW 3 Series

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

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2013 Range Rover: The bar has been raised… yet again

The car behind mine had run aground in a trough between two dunes, impeding the progress of our expensive little five-car convoy (part of a larger 15- or 20-car fleet).

We all stood outside to watch as the poor journalist was guided out of his predicament. I may have expressed dissatisfaction at the fact that the man’s gross ineptitude at simple off-road helmsmanship was costing us precious driving time.

I may have further bragged that I’ve done a bit of off-roading myself, and one will never catch me welded against the geography, immobile and unable to move, least of all in a Range Rover. What I am sure of is God heard me, and He gave me life long enough to make a fool of myself.

That long life was exactly 90 seconds. After the stuck fellow dislodged himself from the quagmire, we drove on, and I promptly beached my Autobiography atop the next dune, in the space of less than a minute.

Humility has never been brought upon my psyche with such force before. It was my turn to drop back, choose a new line and give the car the beans to crest the offending monolith. I wisely kept my mouth shut from that point forth.

This is not to say the 2013 Range Rover (internally known as the L405) has shortfalls. No, as with any machine that is almost attaining the apogee of its development, the weakest link in the man-machine interface is the human being in control of said machine. And what a machine the L405 is!

When asked what Jaguar Land Rover should do with the outgoing car, this is what the customers said:

Don’t change it, just make it better.

And JLR did.

Off-road:

One of the key changes was the introduction of the second generation terrain response system, the Terrain Response II (no fishy acronyms here, unlike the ironical stuff the Germans tend to come up with).

It is broadly similar to Terrain Response I, only this one responds better and greatly increases the vehicle’s off-road talents.

The ability to rush in where goats fear to tread has always been a standing characteristic of Range Rovers since inception, even though owners rarely exploit this.

There is still the rock crawl, sand, mud and snow, normal and whatever other setting was there before, but this time round there is also an Auto function, installed specifically for those who are flustered by off-road activities.

People like my fellow hack whose actions led to an interruption of the smooth flow of our convoy. And whose actions, by extension, led to my embarrassment atop a sand-dune in Lawrence of Arabia’s playground.

Speaking of which: that mishap was my fault, not the car’s. We were told to maintain momentum, try and stick to the beaten path and be gentle with the steering: don’t twirl the tiller like you are throwing together a cake mix by hand.

Unfortunately, all I heard was “maintain momentum”. That’s easy when you have 245bhp worth of turbocharged diesel power. This is what happened.

The car ahead of me took a sharp turn under power, spewing a 15-foot high rooster tail of tyre-excavated sand skywards. That tickled the little boy in me, and I proceeded to do the cha-cha, spraying my own sizeable blizzard of desert sand in my wake.

The car may have drifted a bit. I may have counter-steered into the drift, throwing up even more sand. I may have grinned stupidly and squirted more power to the wheels, while spinning the helm lock-to-lock. That is drifting.

Extending my new-found (lack of) wisdom, I may have spotted the crest of the sand dune coming up, and I may or may not have decided to give the cameraman something to bore people with at the pub later.

I decided to sail over the top of the dune sideways in spectacular fashion, in a blast of sand and growling diesel thrum, with substantial wheel-spin to boot, just to show how much of a maestro I thought I was.

This (lack of) wisdom may have led me off the beaten path, and that is where my difficulties arose.

My plan was 40 per cent successful, in that I did ascend the dune sideways, and in a cloud of sand. But I was off the compacted, pre-trodden trail, ploughing through virgin sand. Now, if you are throwing sand OUT of the ground, it only follows that you are digging yourself IN to the ground.

That never occurred to me. By the time I reached the zenith of the monolith, I was more than 15 feet off the track, lost almost all momentum and my heavy throttle foot was making sure I was sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire at the rate of a foot a minute. I was well and truly stuck. Power off. Abashed grin. Wait for help.

The beauty of the off-road kit and terrain response software is that they make the Range Rover so easy to drive anywhere, and I mean anywhere.

Over and above the five settings for the terrain, there is a button that engages low range, and at the same time activates the Hill Descent Control. That HDC works a little too well: when instructed to drive down what looked like a vertical wall, the way to keep it working is to keep your feet off the pedals.

You need nerves of titanium to do that when all that fills the windscreen is the ground ahead and you can actually feel the rear tyres wiggling in the air. Did somebody just say head-over-heels somersault?

Construction: Slim-possible:

Aluminium was used extensively in the construction of the space-frame chassis, replacing steel in several areas. That and a new engine and transmission led to a net weight-loss of 420kg.

Yes, you read that right. The new car is almost half a tonne lighter than the previous one, and it shows, exactly where you would expect to feel the difference: when hooning through hairpins.

On The Road

The car’s pork reduction is a man’s weight short of half a tonne. The suspension components are not entirely dissimilar to those found in cars like the Audi R8, Ferrari 599 and lately the little Evoque (the magneto-rheological-iron-filing-in-oil-plus-electric-current mechanism), the difference being that unlike the super cars, the 2013 Autobiography uses cushions of air instead of coil springs. This sports car setup is manifest in bends.

In the pre-drive press briefing, we were shown a picture depicting the difference in handling between the outgoing L322 and the incoming L405.

That picture showed the L322 almost on its door handles as it took a sharp curve, while through the same bend, the L405 displayed only the most subtle of leans.

Unbeknownst to the providers of the Range Rover, I intended to get the L405 on its door handles as soon as I ecountered some corners. And there are corners aplenty in Morocco.

I don’t need to stress the fact that the car handles well: really well. Steering input is now relayed more sharply to the front axle, response is immediate, body roll is minimal, and grip is reassuring. In other words, it feels like a larger-than-normal hot hatch.

It is actually similar in handling to the Evoque (and feels more composed than the current Sport), save for the extra tonne in vehicle mass. Confidence (and speed) grows with each successive hairpin, sweeper and switchback, to the point that my co-driver announced he did not know about my future plans, but on his part he intended to see tomorrow; so could I please dial it back a little. I didn’t.

The only reason I didn’t push the car to the point of understeer (or oversteer) was that these turns formed a hill-climb section along the wall of a gorge within the Atlas mountains, and that gorge contained a river through which we had just driven (and here the L405 was exceptional too).

It was a 300-foot straight drop from the edge of the road back into the river from which we had just emerged. I also intended to see tomorrow.

Detailing:

About that river: most off-road cars require a snorkel if they are going to drive in deep water. The 2013 Range Rover does not, courtesy of what the engineers call Queen Mary ducts.

These are vents that ingest air from just below the clam-shell bonnet, through upward-facing plastic ducts into a labyrinth of passageways on the underside of the bonnet cover itself before terminating in the air-cleaner, which then feeds the intercoolers. Sounds fancy, huh? Also sounds familiar, right? It should.

I discussed the same innovation when I reviewed the Mahindra Genius… sorry, Genio… earlier in the year. It uses similar tech.

The thinking behind this is that even if water gets into the bonnet intakes, it is well nigh impossible for it to flow upwards into the underbonnet rat tunnels, and the little that does will be stymied by the numerous kinks, bends, curves and second upward flow into the air cleaner (the rat tunnels somehow bend downwards again, then up again).

I can testify right here right now that the boffinry works: we drove upriver, in water that was at headlamp-level most of time and which occasionally came over the bonnet, and the car didn’t drown.

There is more detailing, not all of it functional. The side blades that were on the L322’s front fender, aft of the wheel arch, have been maintained, the difference being they are now on the front door and serve no real purpose over and above aesthetics.

There is now a full-length sun-roof, Evoque-style, and both front and rear passengers can open the glass top for a neo-targa top experience. The split tail-gate (an enduring Range Rover legacy) is now powered. The car seats four.

There are 50 per cent fewer buttons in the centre console (a trick put to good use in the Rolls-Royce Phantom luxury waft-mobile). The seats have a massage function. There are 16 airbags. And the radio, my goodness, that radio!

Twenty nine speakers, they said. Twenty nine speakers we put into the car, and if you don’t believe us, count ‘em.

If you can’t count that far, then just listen. Surround sound, with intensity and quality to shame the most decorated of Nairobi’s finest matatus, and that was a third of the total capacity (at Volume 7, one has to shout, at 10, conversation is impossible. The dial goes all the way up to 30. I don’t know what for).

There is more Rolls-Royce-esque obsession with details. The wood in the dash is now symmetrical (as it is in the Phantom), and the leather comes from Scotland (only).

The stitching in the seats is worthy of a plastic surgeon, and in one of the cars, the raised centre console stretches to the back, forming a tray for the two rear seat passengers to rest their wealthy elbows on.

Within this cabinet lies cubby space, and in that cubby space are two remote controls for the DVD screens on the back of the front head-rests. The remotes themselves have screens too. I don’t know what to say.

McGovern and The Amazing Technicolor Paintwork and Body Design

This is one of the few cars that look exactly as the do in the pre-release photos, no matter the prevailing lighting conditions.

Some say that it looks like a man’s Evoque (the baby Range, it is now accepted, is a smidgen on the girly side). Others say that those lamps look awfully familiar, and the deja vu is not a very classy one (Ford Explorer).

What we all agree is that the design evolution of the Range Rover has culminated in something epic. Just look at the pictures. Look at ‘em, and tell me you don’t like what you see.

That is the handiwork of one Gerry McGovern, the fellow who also did the Evoque (forget Mrs Beckham, she thinks “clamshell bonnet” is a type of headscarf. Maybe).

We got a chance to meet him (McGovern, not Beckham) and pick his brains at a pre-drive cocktail, and two things became immediately clear, one: he is not big on social dos, and two: he is damn proud of his five-year sweat.

I would be too, if Sheikh Mohamed from somewhere in the oily Middle Eastern desert throws a cheque (or more commonly, cold hard cash) at me to acquire one of my creations even before it hits the shelves.

What I did not like about this car

1. The… uhmmm… price: My reviews are known for fault-finding, and this one is no exception. The car is too expensive.

Prices have not been cast in stone yet, but we heard words like 120,000 Euros abroad, and something to the tune of Sh20 million locally. Once they get here we will confirm.

Secondly, we in the Sub-Saharan market will be denied two engine options (see side-bar) We only get forced induction powerplants, and huge ones at that. The more appropriate smaller diesel and NA petrol have been placed out of reach.

2. The gearbox: The 8-speed gearbox is a wonder in the petrol engine, but I find it superfluous in the diesel version. The engine already has enough torque, and it uses a torque converter with the ZF autobox, with automatic (and quite intelligent) lock-up control. What are the eight gears for?

3. Noisy massage parlour: The massage function is very noisy. From the sidebar, you can see how quiet the Range Rover is inside. The seat massage buzzes noisily, easily betraying your (lewd?) actions to fellow passengers. It is also an irritating noise. Not loud, but it grates on the nerves a bit.

4. Too many electronics: And we know how that usually works out in cars. Yes, we encountered gremlins on Day 2. After the river crossing, and a small hooning session on gravel roads, we arrived at the next checkpoint with the instrument panel blinking “Error: Suspension Fault — Vehicle Dynamics Control” in a red font that was unnerving.

Yeah, a looming suspension failure, no vehicle dynamics control and we are charging hard and fast through the sinuous byways that go up into the Atlas: with a mountainside on your left and a sheer drop on your right. Buzzkill.

Interestingly, the car only needed a pit-stop (like its drivers). Turn it off, have some Moroccan tea, call for a mechanic, crank it up before the mech arrives on scene and voila! Everything is fine.

The car handles ok, and it has stopped complaining. Drive on. I am not sure I want a car guessing when self-diagnosing, especially if I have just parted with 20 million shekels for it. Either that, or I am wrong: the 2013 Range Rover Autobiography is a car that can repair itself.

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The baby Range Rover: An understated pleasure

I was going to start off this article making analogies involving fashion accessories — about how they are high on looks and low on practicality — and I also intended to talk about the unwise move of deploying the pop star wife of a football legend in the automotive world to influence the end product of what, we have to admit, is the most profound Land Rover vehicle ever since Charles Spencer King installed a Chrysler V8 into the very first Range Rover car.

I even thought of touching on the defining characteristics of one Judas Iscariot, a man for whom the word “loyalty” was Roman to his Jewish “sell-out”.

Basically, I was not planning on being kind to the Evoque, the latest and most controversial Range Rover car, ever. Here is why.

Range Rovers have been typified over the years by several key ingredients. They are tall, massive, seat five (or more), have full-time 4WD, and contain six or more cylinders in their engines.

They were also thirsty, most of the time. The Evoque is none of these. Range Rovers have also been manly cars and the manifestation of an engineer’s passion.

This one, the Evoque, was designed by a woman, not even an “engineeress”, so to speak, but a diva from the now-defunct British girl band called the Spice Girls.

It is like asking Beyoncé Knowles, former lead of Destiny’s Child, to come up with the new Scania prime mover. Sounds like a corporation committing suicide, right? Wrong.

What Mrs David Beckham, née Victoria Caroline Adams, unleashed on us is nothing short of epic. Again, here is why.

The engine

While Range Rovers past have always packed 2.5-litre plus six — or eight — shooters under the hood, the Evoque arrived toting a puny four-cylinder with a single turbo.

This flouts all known automotive technology rules: Range Rovers are supposed to have massive engines, and nowadays nobody does single turbos anymore.

To eliminate lag without resorting to an anti-lag system (ALS), which is dangerous to both engine and pedestrians as it shoots flames out of the exhaust pipe, most engine builders use twin turbos; a small one for low revs, complemented by a larger one for full top end power.

The brochure says: “The Si4 petrol engine is a lightweight all aluminium unit…” I believe them. Driving the Evoque, one would be hard pressed to tell that there is even an engine up front.

So even is the weight distributed through the front chassis components that balance is not a point one would want to raise when criticising this vehicle.

The brochure also says: “It uses the latest direct injection technology and advanced turbocharging…” Again, I believe them.

So cleanly and smoothly does this engine run, you would not be fooled into thinking it belongs in a cheaper car — that is courtesy of the direct injection.

But more important is the authoritative pulling power that is accessible from low revs. Now, that is the turbo. Most single turbo setups suffer from tremendous lag or very narrow torque bands (or even both), but the Evoque’s engine is something else.

From as low as 1200 rpm, pedal-to-the-metal antics yield results, and impressive results at that. Acceleration is instantaneous and torque delivery is linear. Woe unto any competitive drivers of lesser cars who would want to take this on.

There is also twin independent variable valve timing that allows economy when the driver is circumspect with the hot pedal and haste when he turns lead-footed.

It works, believe me, it does.

With a three-cylinder economy on demand, it is actually a four-cylinder, emits a five-cylinder growl under WOT (wide open throttle), gives six-cylinder smoothness, delivers V8 torque, and still possesses the top-end screaming power of a V12. Dr Jekyll’s doings have nothing on a road test of the little Evoque.

Performance

That single turbo suffers from so little lag you would hardly notice it at all. At full tilt, the Evoque will humiliate anything affordable on the road right now — it even shamed its ancestor, the grandfather of all SUVs, the Vogue, on an open road.

(If you were driving a black Range Rover Vogue along the northern bypass on 17 May and a tiny, grey Evoque pulled away from you despite your best efforts, that was me. Sorry).

While the top-end power is quite impressive, there was still a moment of weakness somewhere. The car will pull from rest to 180 km/h effortlessly, but between 180 and 200, it gets a little breathless.

Beyond 200 requires an autobahn to find out, and we do not have one here. Yet.

Power had a dead spot somewhere, but torque did not. Overtaking was not even an epiphany, nor was it even momentous: there is no adjective majestic enough to describe what happened the first time I sent the pedal all the way to the floor while on the wrong side of the road.

The figures in the mirrors could not disappear backwards any faster if I was in a low-flying aircraft. Stupid grins were available all round as my road test crew suddenly realised that we were not in yet another ordinary 4-cylinder mini-SUV.

Sum up: While the general consensus is that BMW builds the best engines in the world, the Automotive Engine of the Year last year was from the bigger Range Rovers.

It was the 4.4-litre TDV8, now available in the Vogue and the Sport. The Evoque’s 4-cylinder mill proves that this was not a lucky hit; the engineers at Jaguar Land Rover are on a roll.

Tip: Use the cruise control. At 80 km/h, it will stick to fifth gear at 1950 rpm, but it will not stay in sixth (1400 rpm), even if you force it. Sixth gear works best at 95 km/h and 1600 rpm, which, I believe, is the most economical state of this car.

The suspension

More magic here; the little Rangie uses magneto-rheological dampers and shocks. This simply means that the suspension stiffness varies in real time according to the prevailing conditions, and is controlled by an electrical current and billions of tiny little iron filings in the shock absorber fluid.

When the current is off (such as on smooth, steady surfaces), the little metal bits just float around giving a comfortable and slightly floaty, pillow-like feel.

During hard cornering, an electrical current runs along the metal casing of the shocks, causing the iron filings to bunch up together and stiffen the suspension, thus improving handling by eliminating body roll.

This is the same setup used in the Audi R8 sports car. It is also used in the most powerful road-going Ferrari car ever made, the 599.

Ride and handling

This being a Range Rover, no matter how small, it is a given that from ordinary road use one would expect ultra-smooth ride quality and quietness. Enter our handling test course.

Anybody who has driven from Nyeri town to Nanyuki knows of the smooth and sinuous tarmac that lies just outside Nyeri. Sweeping S-curves, tight hairpins coupled with blind switchbacks and no run-off area whatsoever define this five-kilometre stretch of bitumen.

A sneeze at any point along this course from the driver would mean instant death. We wrung the little Evoque’s neck here, but the tyres would not give, nor would the suspension, nor would the steering. Bliss.

Taking those tight turns at 85 km/h yielded no understeer. There was also no tyre squeal and no body roll. The only downside was that this is a two-way road; start clipping apexes and you might end up a statistic.

Sum up: This is a GTI car, a performance hatchback, a luxury saloon, and an SUV all rolled into one, with the focus bending towards the performance hatchback. Many tried to keep up along this stretch of our test route and many failed.

The styling

Being a footballer’s wife, a pop star, and a businesswoman exposed Mrs Beckham to the finer things in life, and that is what she has tried to replicate here.

The Evoque looks a lot like the Range Stormer I talked about some time back, only this time there is clearly a feminine shade and shadow on the silhouette.

Really clever cues include a three-quarter length skylight roof. The massive tyres are pushed to the very edges of the vehicle body, not only lending the car a sporty look, but this is also responsible for the sublime handling.

Lastly, the roof tapers backwards from the top edge of the front windscreen to the back windscreen. The side mirrors are also cleverly designed but massive, and could be a visual impediment on oblique junctions.

A bit of bad and good

The tapering roofline has a negative effect: it robs the car of rear headroom and boot space, and creates a very tiny rear window, thus impeding the rear view.

The window shoulder line is also a bit high, creating a pillbox effect for the driver and passengers. First time in the car feels like a sniper’s hideout, so it does take some getting used to, however much you fiddle with the seat controls.

The massive side mirrors create huge blind spots at junctions, so a little care is needed.

The body styling and the skylight roof, on the other hand, will generate more attention than you have ever wanted.

Not even the police are immune to the Beckham effect, gawking as the car weaves through their stingers (thus forgetting to ask themselves why three scruffy, sweaty, grinning men would be driving a car that fancy on a road that lonely and at a speed that absurd).

Sum up: Attention seekers, your Google equivalent has arrived. Looks of lust, looks of envy, and looks of approval will henceforth be your lot.

The road test

As tests go, this has been our most thorough to date. Pity there is not enough space to report everything. We did a dyno run: power hit 160 whp (which translates to about 190 bhp — the traction control and ABS kept cutting in); 336 lb ft or 458 Nm/46 kgm of torque; and top speed (225 km/h, or 140 mph).

We also played with the toys (Bluetooth can be a headache sometimes). In fact, we played with everything, short of disassembling the entire car; not a wise proposition for something worth Sh12 million or so.

Doing it differently

I will make no bones about it: my car reviews are not always regarded highly by those in the motor vehicle business. So it came as a shock to me that I was invited to drive the Evoque out of the blue.

And not in the typical Kenyan road test fashion where you are supplied with a car, a driver, and a security guard (for the car, not for you) and required to fill out 1,300 pages of paper work, before being driven round the nearest roundabout then told to get out, go back home, and write something nice.

You will have the car for two days, they said. Who is the driver and who is the security guard, I wanted to know. You will be on your own, they said.

It does not make sense, I countered. Why would I drive today, give the car back, then drive again tomorrow? You will not, they chimed. You will go home with the car, then give it back tomorrow, they added. We trust you, they cooed. What is more, we are giving you a full tank of fuel, they gushed.

I did not go home. A Range Rover Evoque, two test drivers, and a photographer: the wisest thing to do was to point the car towards the biggest and most picturesque mountain available and gun it.

That is exactly what we did, and in my mental checklist, on the dotted line next to the entry labelled “Most Spectacular Road Test, 2012”, I quietly filled in “Range Rover Evoque Si4”.

The tank was empty when I handed the car back.

Posted on

The Tiguan is built with the family in mind

Hi Baraza,

I am confused about which of these vehicles to go for: the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, and the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Given that I drive long distances and intend to use it for both business trips and family outings, which one is most suitable? Currently, I am using a manual X-Trail diesel.

Kolibai

Go for the Tiguan. Being a mini-MPV, it is built with long-distance family haulage in mind, so it will be the most quiet, most comfortable, and roomiest.

It also has tall gearing to minimise engine boom at cruising speeds. It is, after all, a six-speed.

The Grand Vitara and Mitsubishi Outlander are lifestyle vehicles and are thus optimised for light off-roading and carrying stuff like gym bags, skis, and surf boards. Their slight ruggedness reduces comfort and on the highway they will not cruise with as much aplomb as the Tiguan family van.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a Nissan Sunny B14 for the past six years. Before that, I owned a B13. As much as you like “rubbishing” Nissans, I have only replaced the two CV joints apart from the normal service and I have achieved up to 19 kpl.

Now I want to upgrade to a Nissan X-Trail so as to accommodate my family, have more luggage space, and manage the big bumps on Kenyan roads.

A friend told me that X-Trails have a problem of stability. What does this mean? I am a slow driver and rarely go beyond 120 km/h on a good stretch. Also, let me know what I should consider first before deciding whether to buy a diesel or petrol model.

My other question is about freewheeling. I am normally able to freewheel for more than 20 kilometres right after Mau Summit to a short distance just before Salgaa.

I have done this for a long time and a friend told me that it is not good for automatic transmission vehicles, yet I have not noticed any anomaly. Please advise.

Owuor

I do not “rubbish” cars, I tell it like it is. If it is below standard, then too bad. The X-Trail is not unstable at speed. If anything, it is one of the most stable of the cross-over utilities around, yielding only to costly stuff like the BMW X3 and maybe the Range Rover Evoque (I will know more once I drive the Evoque).

Diesel or petrol: Diesel engines provide better bottom-end, low-rpm torque and fuel economy, but they are more expensive to buy and require frequent servicing.

Turbocharged versions are delicate and susceptible to turbo failure. Petrol engines are good for top-end, high-rpm power and have longer service intervals.

They can also take a bit of abuse, such as over-revving, without risking a blown engine.

Your friends are very unreliable, I must tell you that. Did they also tell you that a visit to the witch doctor would solve all your financial difficulties?

There is nothing wrong with freewheeling, dieseling, or coasting (yes, it is also called dieseling irrespective of the fuel being saved) other than the fact that you cede a bit of control over to mother nature.

Risk to the transmission is greater in a manual car than in an automatic. If you want to keep doing it, go ahead. There is nothing wrong.

Hi Baraza,

My car manufacturer recommends 98 RON petrol fuel for my car. I read around and found out that using a lower RON rating of fuel can cause engine knocking.

What is engine knocking and how can one detect if it is occurring? Secondly, where does one get 98 RON petrol fuel in Kenya? Shell offers V-Power, is it 98 RON?

Lastly, what advantages does 98 RON fuel have over the normal super unleaded fuel (I am assuming this fuel is at a lower RON rating).

Mike

I prefer to call the problem “pre-ignition”, rather than engine knocking, and it is the situation when the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) catches fire and burns before its due moment (before the spark plug fires up).

The worst symptom is, of course, engine failure from mechanical damage. Smaller symptoms are a pinging noise from the engine bay, or with carburettor engines, the car cannot be turned off (the engine keeps running even when the ignition has been cut out).

I do not know the octane rating of Shell’s V-Power, but I am made to understand it is our version of high octane fuel. Hopefully, Shell will clear for us whether or not it has clocked 98.

Octane reduces the propensity of fuel to ignite, which allows engines to run very high compression ratios, or boost devices (turbos and superchargers) without risking pre-ignition.

This is because petrol, being flammable, can easily burn from high pressure (Charles’ Gas Law) or localised hot spots like the exhaust valves or incandescent carbon deposits.

If the fuel is more resistant to combustion, it is less likely to pre-ignite.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking to buy a saloon Benz and I’m torn between the E350 and the S350. They cost roughly the same (for a 2012 E350 and a 2011 S350). My questions are:

1. Why has Daimler decided to go with diesel engines as opposed to petrol?

2. Is it true that the diesel available in our Kenyan fuel stations has high levels of sulphur?

3. Would you go for a 2011 Prado or Discovery 4, with the car being used both off road (mostly) and on city roads?

Kyalo

1. Who told you Daimler no longer makes petrol engines? The two saloons are not the first diesel engines Daimler is building and petrol powered mills are still being churned out of Stuttgart on a regular basis.

2. The oil companies allege that they dropped the sulphur levels in our diesel fuel but not everybody believes them, especially considering that some of their biggest victims are the self-same diesel-powered Benz engines we are discussing here (this applies to the small diesel engines, Actros and Axor trucks do not seem to have a problem).

3. Tough call, but it will have to be the Prado. The Discovery is prettier, comfier, roomier, better equipped, and a better on-road handler, but it costs a lot more money and the air suspension, once it goes on the fritz, will force you to sell your children… and your wife… and her siblings… in order to fix it.

The Prado feels more robust and less delicate and is easier to abuse without pangs of guilt tugging at your heartstrings.

This is in answer to your off-road bias. If I lived in a leafy suburb and drove to my office in another leafy suburb, it would be the Discovery, no contest.

Hello,

I would like to enquire about the various hybrid cars that one can own in Kenya and which of these would be economical, taking into account purchase price and running costs. Do the mechanics in Kenya understand these vehicles? And are there hybrid 4X4s.

Stephen

I have only seen three hybrid brands in Kenya and all fall under the Toyota umbrella. I have seen the world-famous Toyota Pious… sorry, Prius, and two Lexuses (Lexi, Lexa?); the RX 450h and GS 450h.

None of these are cheap, or even affordable for ordinary folk, especially the Lexus. It is also unlikely that we have mechanics skilful or knowledgeable enough to handle these hybrids.

There are hybrid 4x4s, even here in Kenya. The RX450h is one. In other places, there is an Escalade hybrid, Ford Escape, and a few others.

Dear Baraza

Before the ’80s, Fiat trucks were almost the only ones in the market, with the traditional arrangement of a complete truck taking one container and with a trailer, free-standing on its own wheels, taking another container.

They had front-built cabins, maybe pioneering this, when other makes had long-nose cabins. Amazingly, you can still see some old Fiats on the road north of Mombasa. When did their production stop?

Next, why is it that nowadays almost all heavy trucks consist of a prime mover and a semi-trailer? In advertisements for trucks, the wheel arrangement is given with two figures, for example 8×4 for the FAW CA1311, the DAF, and the Scania P380, all double steer tippers.

What do the figures stand for and what are the benefits of double steer, which, to me, is complicated and costly?

When exploring the second-hand market (for cars), I found that people give the age of a car according to its Kenyan registration rather then the year of production, which I am accustomed to. Can you please give me the code to translate the letters into years?

Baba Uno

Aah, the noisy Fiat 682 N3 truck. It evokes such nostalgic thoughts, although I only saw the last of the dying breed as a child.

I am not sure exactly when the 682 N went out of production, but my guess would be just around the time Iveco took over with the Eurotrakker (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial vehicle line).

The prime mover semi-combo is a better choice than the lorry-plus-trailer setup. It is easier to manoeuvre, especially when reversing, and is stable at speed because, with the latter arrangement, the trailer tends to fishtail a lot.

What numbers, specifically, do you mean? The 8×4 means the vehicle has eight wheels, of which four are driven. If it is the codes after the truck names, some mean the power output (Scania P380 has 380 hp), the rest I have no idea (FAW CA1311).

Double-wheel steer, I suspect, is made to reduce the radius of the trucks’ turning circle and increase turning traction to combat push-under (understeer as a result of too much forward momentum).

Finally, the codes on a car that are used to determine the vehicle’s age vary between manufacturers. Every manufacturer has his own system of ciphering that info.

PS: Long-nose trucks still exist. Scania and Volvo especially, have them for the South American market, while North American companies like Freightliner also build long nose tractors.

Hi,

I plan to import a Nissan Pathfinder 2.5L SE model (similar to what is available at DT Dobie for assurance of parts availability and so on).

The year of manufacture is between 2005 and 2007. Are there any known complaints, and, this being a diesel (could there be a petrol one of the same capacity), what could be its lifespan? What is its consumption like?

Kiiri

The Pathfinder a Navara with a fuller dress. Known complaints include the ECU getting emotional once in a while, fuel economy going bad when caned (this is not a complaint, it is a consequence of bad habits), and cost of suspension parts (shocks, especially).

I do not know about the availability of a petrol engine within the range. Lifespan depends on how cruel you are as a motor vehicle owner/operator. Consumption should average at about 10 kpl, plus or minus 3 kpl, depending on skill and environment.

Hi,

Compared to most station wagons, what is your take on the Subaru Outback? What are the merits and demerits of this car?

The Outback does not fall into the usual estate category, it is in a sub-category that stars other cars like the Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70. Of the lot, the Audi is the most expensive but best built, and most capable off-road, the Volvo is boring to look at and the Subaru is good value for money.

Hey Baraza,

I’m planning to get my first car and I’m confused which of the following cars is best for a woman in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption and engine size; Toyotas Allex, RunX, iST, or Raum or the Mazda Demio. Please advise.

The Allex and RunX are the same thing. They are slightly more expensive than the rest (about 900K compared to the Demio, which is the cheapest at around half a million shillings). Maintenance, economy and engine size varies very little for these cars, but my pick of the bunch is the Mazda Demio

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1998 auto 1500cc efi Subaru Impreza non-turbo hatchback. I usually cover a distance of about 50 kilometres in daily town driving, so I rarely go past 80 kph.

My questions are: What’s the average fuel consumption of this car (considering normal driving habits)? What is the radiator coolant top up frequency since my car gulps almost two litres of water every day?

Charles

From a car that size, expect roughly 10 kpl in the city and 14 kpl on the open road. The coolant top up frequency is directly related to the coolant leakage frequency.

And from what you tell me, your car is incontinent: the cooling system wets itself daily, or there is a very bad leak somewhere, in standard English. Find the leak and plug it.

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Toyota Harrier, does it have any convincing credentials other than the good looks? I find the Hummer menacing on the outside but it appears not so good on the inside, does the hullaballoo about this vehicle count for anything?

Kibiwott

The Harrier is also very smooth, especially when it has a Lexus logo on the grille. The hullabaloo about the Hummer counts for nothing, it is another American export that the world does not really need, like junk food and tort lawsuits. Fortunately, Hummer is now Chinese, so we can poke fun at it… like saying that it will not last long.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to get my first car soon. Between the Fielder and the Wish (new models), which one would you recommend, taking performance, spares, engine output and durability into consideration?

Also, is there any difference in terms of consumption (fuel) in both 1500cc engine models? In terms of civility, which is better?

I seriously doubt if either car is uncivil in any way. Both will clock 100 km/h from rest in a shade over 10 seconds, spares will depend on where you look, engine output is unimpressive, none will last very long and there is no difference in fuel economy, especially when driven like normal people drive them.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a mini SUV to fit my newly acquired taste for off-road travel; going to ushago over the weekends, or doing game drives in the park. I want something I can go meet the boys in and feel manly enough yet my wife can still drive it and not look too macho in it.

Trouble is that I am torn between a RAV 4 and a Pajero IO of between 1500–1800cc, with a year of manufacture between 1998 and 2000.

What is your take in terms of fuel consumption, versatility, service and parts, stability at high speeds, negotiating sharp bends and climbing steep lanes, durability, and the image factor?

Fuel usage: The RAV is bad, but the iO is even worse. The GDI tech in the Paj is useless.

Versatility: Both are convincing as lifestyle vehicles though the Paj can stumble further off road owing to its short overhangs and superior ground clearance.

Service and parts: Depends on Simba Colt and Toyota Kenya.

Stability at high speed: The Paj is really bad at this, especially around sharp bends.

Climbing steep lanes: Both can go uphill, just like every other car.

Durability: The Paj is not very good here, the RAV is a better bet.

Image factor: Both look good, but I do not rate the RAV 4 highly in terms of overall appearance.

Dear Baraza,

I want to import the Evo10 (FQ300 or FQ360). How reliable is it? My other options are the Audi S4 or the BMW 330i.

Patrick

It is not very reliable, you are better off in a stock Evo rather than the super-tuned UK-spec FQ versions. Their servicing intervals are ridiculously short, they need high octane fuel to run, their fuel tanks are small, giving poor range (as bad as 80 km per tank at full tilt for the FQ 400), the suspension tuning gives them woeful turning circles and it is very easy to overload the turbo owing to the high boost pressures being run. The S4 is better, or even a 330i with M Sport Pack.