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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.

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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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I prefer a first-generation Vitara to the tiny, bouncy Camis and Jimnys

Dear Baraza,

I have been wondering why you answer questions only from people who drive big and expensive cars? This is the third mail I am sending, although I can already tell you won’t respond – if at all you care to read it.

Now to my question: Which small SUV would you go for between a Toyota Cami and Suzuki Jimny, both year 2006, 1.3litre, in terms of off-road ability in muddy conditions, engineering, and availability of spare parts. I want one for commuting to work and visiting the farm in a remote shags on weekends.

Patrick

Hi,

Yes, I only answer questions from people who drive big and expensive cars, cars like the Nissan Note, Mazda Demio and Subaru Impreza. They don’t come any bigger or more expensive than these.

Perhaps I should start charging a consultation fee; that way, maybe the owners of these big cars will stop sending emails and allow drivers of smaller cars to have their 15 minutes.

Secondly, there is a backlog in my inbox: I have hundreds of unanswered emails, and yours was one of them – until now.

So, to your question: I wouldn’t buy either of the two since they are both horrible to drive. I’d rather buy a first-generation 5-door Suzuki Vitara, which costs less but gets you more of a car and is cheaply available with an optional V6 engine.

The Cami and Jimny are tiny, bouncy little things that are badly afflicted by crosswinds on the highway, will not seat enough human beings for you to have a memorable road trip, and will shatter your pelvis on a rough road. However, they are also very capable when the ground underfoot gets industrial.

Off-road: Their non-existent overhangs, narrow bodies and relatively high ground clearance make them handy tools for penetrating the impenetrable, and unless you fall inside a peat bog or drive off a cliff, you are unlikely to ever get stuck in one.

The muddy conditions you inquire about may prove to be their undoing, though: their tiny, underpowered engines don’t generate enough power to force your way through the clag, which is why Landcruisers are recommended for such. You need plenty of power when going through mud, otherwise you run the risk of wedging yourself into the landscape.

With power, you also need bigger wheels. The Jimny and Cami both run on dinner plates that will cut through the mud and beach your vehicle faster than you can say “I knew 1.3 litres was not enough engine…” The Jimnys sold by CMC had slightly wider wheels, though, which would improve matters. Here’s why:

When forging a path through the quagmire, you need a modicum of buoyancy to prevent getting stuck. The bigger tyres offer a bit of floatation, and the speed complements it.

Of course, it is not recommended that you try and do 100 kph in a swamp, but it is imperative that you keep moving and not stop at all, and sometimes to keep moving, you need plenty of revs and a bit of wheelspin.

With no power at your disposal, compounded by smaller wheels, you will start to sink in the mud and if you try to generate a bit of wheelspin, you burn your clutch and/or stall the vehicle.

The Jimny has a slight advantage over the Cami in that, as a 3-door, it has a shorter wheelbase, and the lack of a body-kit even as an option gives it superior approach and departure angles, and much better ground clearance.

Engineering: These are cheap, narrow, 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder Kei cars. The engineering in them is rudimentary at best, and their only bragging points would be over things we take for granted in other cars such as AC, power steering, power windows and variable valve timing.

Forget about hill descent control, torque vectoring, terrain response systems or submersion sensor technology; for those, you need to multiply your budget by 30 and start looking at Range Rovers, the kind of cars driven by people whose emails I respond to (you opened a can of worms here, my friend).

Availability of spare parts: small, Japanese cars are the topic at hand. What was your question again?

**********

Hi Baraza,
Thanks to you, we petrolheads now look forward to Wednesdays as if it is Friday. Your writing prowess and knowledge about cars is simply outstanding. Keep up the good work. Anyway, to my queries.

1) Why don’t the turbo-charged Subies and Evos come with turbo timers from the factory? And they don’t come with damp valves either: does it mean they are not necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I know what they are used for but it bothers me that the manufacturers of these speed machines don’t fit these gadgets as standard.

2) This is a proposal: I think it’s high time rally organisers used the Jamuhuri Park circuit, where two cars race side by side on gravel, as a spectator stage. They did so last time and it was really exciting.

I am disappointed that this year they have skipped it for the boring Migaa circuit. To the rally organisers: let’s build more circuits like that in our bid to lure the WRC. I doubt it’s costly, plus they can always charge entry fees to recover the costs.

Last but not least, what’s the shape of an Evo’s tail lights? Because we sub drivers can’t recall….

Elly

Hi,

1. These turbo cars don’t come with timers because in stock form, they do not really need them. Once the owners/drivers start tuning/modifying/upgrading them by installing bigger turbos, increasing boost pressures and using manual boost controllers, the need for timers arises.

The turbos spool faster, generate more heat, and the bigger units require more oil for lubrication, which is where the need for timers comes in. The timers assist in heat dumping and spool-down manoeuvres to prevent damage and oil coking. The stock turbos are usually designed during R&D to compensate for this sudden cool-down, according to their capacity.

A small correction though: the factory cars DO come with dump valves, it’s just that these BOVs are not as loud as the aftermarket devices. Some people install new dump valves simply for the noise they make, a noise I will admit is highly addictive. Even I will buy a new BOV just for the “pssshh!!” throttle-off hiss.

2. Well, nowadays we have something called Club TT Motorsports, and though unintended, it sometimes steps in where rally fears to tread. Club TT Motorsports is the committee behind the famous time trials, four of which have been held so far. Three of the four races were the Kiamburing TT hill-climbs, and one was the Murang’a TT.

I will pass your recommendation on to the organising committee and see if Jamhuri Park can be put to good use. Wheel-to-wheel racing is the most dangerous aspect of motorsport, especially where amateurs are concerned, but then again, its entertainment quotient is infinitely greater than the standard time trial format.

If we can get two cars to run side by side (Evo vs STi, anyone?) but demarcate the two lanes into separate pathways, we will be sure to have a show we will not forget soon. What was that you said about Evo tail-lights?

***********

Dear Mr Baraza,

Thank you for sharing your column. The information is very helpful and insightful. Keep up and do not be discouraged by the few negative comments.

I recently bought a 1800cc Premio but need to improve the clearance. I have put strong coil springs and there is some improvement, but when fully loaded, it’s still low on high bumps.

1. Is it true that bigger tyres will increase fuel consumption? I am using 185/70/14. I wanted to use 195/70/15. Will they affect stability?

2. Since I imported it, whenever I drive beyond 100 kph, if I brake, the steering wheel shakes. I have checked the brakes, had the wheels aligned and balanced but no change.

3. The back seat has only two safety belts, with an arm rest in between that can be folded back to accommodate three passengers.

The import inspection sheet indicated that it can accommodate five passengers, so I am assuming there should have been a safety belt for the middle passenger at the back.

Hello,

1. Not really. Okay, it will, but the difference will be barely discernible and anyway, the instantaneous consumption varies quite a bit. Overall, you will not notice anything.

2. Check your brakes again. Your problem sounds like warped brake discs. You might need new ones.

3. I’d assume so too, so either a) we are both wrong, or b) there WAS a seat belt but for one reason or another it was removed.

When I reviewed a Premio a long time ago, I sat in the back seat to check out the legroom (which was good) but didn’t check for a centre belt, so I cannot tell if this is an isolated case or if it is the norm with Premios.

It is at times like this that reader feedback comes in handy; maybe other Premio owners out there can tell us if their cars are also blighted by fewer seatbelts than there are seats, or if this problem is yours alone.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I like your expert advice on the advantages or otherwise of various car makes/models and solutions you suggest for car problems.

I am an admirer of SUVs currently driving a Subaru Forrester. I would like to upgrade, maybe to a BMW X5 or X6.

Which one do you consider a better deal in terms of performance, fuel economy, and local support, bearing in mind that it would most likely be a second-hand import?

Also, should I buy one that uses petrol or diesel, given that there are issues with the quality of locally available diesel.

Dan N

Hi,

I can’t help but notice you share a name with a TV comedian, the famous “Churchill”. You are not he, are you?

The two cars are largely similar and share engines, so performance, economy and local support are no different irrespective of which X-car you go for.

Local support is the bone of contention here: a visit to Bavaria Motors assured me that they do not discriminate against imports; they will support ANY BMW you throw at them. The reports on the ground are a little different but not too worrisome. Some claim they have not got a stellar reception at Bavaria.

Petrol vs diesel: BMWs have not had as many complications with diesel engines as their German rivals, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I think it is a calculable risk, and the calculations say you can take a gamble.

However, the petrol engines are a lot more powerful and much more fun to drive but you need a sizeable fuel budget if you plan to take advantage of the hiatus in the 50km/h town-bound speed limit.

***********

Sir,
I am contemplating importing a Honda Fit 1500 cc , but the mileage (all in Japan) seems high at 98,000 km. What would you advise?
C Shah

I would advise that you not pay too much money for it; 98,000km is a lot for a small ex-Japan car. Alternatively, expand your search and hope to find one with lower mileage (it will cost a little bit more, though).

**********

Hi Baraza,
I read your article on revitalisants in Car Clinic with lots of interest.

This Russian revitalisant was introduced to me by a doctor friend who had earlier used it in the UK.I added the gel to my engine oil in September this year and the engine of my Mitsubishi Warrior double- cab has improved in sound quality. It used to be rough, like a truck, but I can now say there is definitely an improvement.

I have also noticed an improvement in fuel economy. The car now does 7 kpl from a low 5.5 kpl, which is poor for a diesel vehicle.

I am ready to take the plunge with you on the gearbox. Let’s compare notes sometime in November.

Cheers, iKay.

Interesting feedback. I did review a Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab pick-up some two years ago and two of the many shortcomings on that particular vehicle involved the gruffness of the engine and the poor fuel economy. Maybe that vehicle needed some “revitalising”.

November is here, I will soon get my bottle of magic Russian juice, then we will see what is what. This Russian elixir is called XADO (pronounced “ha-do”) and has apparently been around for some time. Strange how I had not heard of it till recently.

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Your engine’s faulty; Demios don’t normally make tractor-like sounds

Hello Baraza,
I really love your column and look forward to the Wednesday issue of the Daily Nation. I hope you will respond to my mail this time round.

Now on to my question: I have a 2005 Mazda Demio and of late, I have been seriously disturbed by a noise coming from under the hood.

The car sounds like a tractor/diesel engine and somebody can tell from a kilometre away that I am approaching. In fact, my children have become so used to the noise that they open the gate when I am still some distance away. Several mechanics have told me that it is the normal sound of Mazda engines. Is this true?

Secondly, the car is a 4WD. How do I know whether the 4WD is damaged or in working condition? Could it be the reason the consumption is not good since the car (1300cc) is doing about 11km/l, which I think is awful.I would greatly appreciate your help. MK

I would say something is definitely broken under the bonnet. Demios do not sound like tractors and/or diesel powered cars, unless so equipped. You might have an engine with a knock.

To test the 4WD, you could jack the car up, i.e put it on stands/stones. Just to be safe, prop up all four wheels.

Start the vehicle, then engage the transmission (D or first gear, depending on transmission type). Observe the wheels. If the 4WD is functional, all four wheels should spin.

If they do not, then the 4WD drivetrain has a problem, though I suspect you might get a dashboard light warning you of something to that effect.

Drivetrain problems could be a reason for high fuel consumption, though at 11 km/l, I would first ask what your driving style and environment look like before pointing a finger at the 4WD.

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Hello Baraza,
I am a great fan of your column, which I read religiously every Wednesday. I am in the process of importing a car and after looking at a few options (the usual Honda Fit, Mazda Demio, Honda Mobilio Spike), I settled on a Fiat Panda.

It is a 1200cc automanual model and I would think it might be the only one on Kenyan roads. What is your opinion of the car? I am comforted by the fact that the guys at Top Gear really liked it….

Fiat has a reputation for making unreliable cars and this might actually be reflected all across the range.

Fiat cars have long been known to break down not very long into the vehicle’s lifespan, as do Alfa Romeos, which are made by Fiat, while certain models of Ferrari (another Fiat brand) tend to spontaneously combust, which could be seen as a reliability issue. You cannot call a car reliable if it catches fire by itself, can you?

Let Top Gear be. The UK market is more varied and more forgiving than ours. Cars there, being mostly brand-new, are protected by warranties and dedicated dealer networks; Britons rarely ask whether spares for a particular car are available.

They know there exists such a thing as the internet, which they put to good use (mostly). So, for a motoring journalist with a six-figure annual income (in pounds sterling), a Fiat Panda is more an object of amusement and experimentation than the sole solution to his transport needs, as could be your case. Buy it at your own risk.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
Having just sold my Toyota Surf, I am planning to buy a Nissan Patrol 2007 model, diesel, or a Harrier Lexus 2006/07 model, petrol. I would greatly appreciate your advice. Pandit

This is what we call a vague or ambiguous question. What, exactly, is your dilemma? I think in a case like this, you decide what you want, whether it is a Nissan Patrol or a Toyota Harrier or a Lexus RX.

The purchase will mostly depend on how much money you have to spare and what you intend to use the car for. Do not buy the Patrol if you do not do any serious off-road excursions.

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Hi Baraza,
I want your expert advice on the following cars:
1) Between the Toyota Belta 1000cc and 1300cc, which is better for Kenyan roads and fuel efficiency?
2) Is the Toyota Passo 1300 cc better than the Vitz?
3) Is the Nissan Tiida 1490cc a good car to drive and is it fuel-efficient?
4) When importing the above cars from Japan, is it okay to buy cars with mileage above 87,000 kilometres or will they break down?
Andy

1. The 1000cc car is better in fuel efficiency if you are using it in the city. The 1300 will be more appropriate for extended highway use.

In this era of the NTSA and its sometimes mind-boggling speed limits, you might be better off with the 1000cc car. You might not need the extra 300cc, especially if your car does not bear loads that extend beyond your person.

2. Better in what way? The Vitz might be the better car overall.

3. Yes, it is a good car to drive, although the 1500cc version feels a bit underpowered. But remember the NTSA and its speed limits, so you do not exactly need a very powerful Nissan car to drive around the country.

4. They will break down. However, being Japanese cars, this breakdown will happen later rather than sooner. The good thing is, a car with an odo reading above 87,000km will obviously be cheaper than one with lower mileage.

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Hello Sir,
I am a young hustler whose father uses a Toyota Fielder 1400cc 2006 model. I admire the vehicle for its fuel efficiency, stability, and comfort.

I want to buy a vehicle for myself and would like a fuel-efficient one (like the Fielder). My favourite models are the Fielder, Avensis, and Allion. Kindly advise.
Thanks, and I appreciate your work. John Maina

Well, now that you are already familiar with the Fielder, it will not hurt if you get one of your own, will it? The consumption figures are not very much different with the Avensis and the Allion, but there is comfort in familiarity.

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Dear John,
It was a cold day in Wolfsburg, Germany, when your current car, the Mazda Demio, won the World Car of the Year in 2008, its heyday.

However, in true German fashion, the VW board summoned their engineers and ordered them to create the finest hatchback floorpan in the automotive world and wipe the smug smile off the faces of the Japanese Demio makers.

Money was no object. The result was the VW Golf Mark 5, each built carefully in 50 hours bristling with innovation, with a Euro NCAP 5-star rating to boot, which was promptly crowned World Car of the Year 2009.

Richard Hammond, a Top Gear presenter, even had a Mark 5 Golf struck by 600,000 volts of nature’s finest lighting while seated inside as a testament to its German over-engineering.

However, the fly in the ointment and let-down to many Kenyan motorists who ship the used version of this car from Japan is the DSG gearbox which, in simple terms, is two separate manual gearboxes (and clutches), contained within one housing and working as one unit.

It was designed by Herr and was initially licensed to the Volkswagen Group. Designed to shift gears more smoothly than a conventional manual gearbox and quicker than your reflexes, this automated manual gearbox resulted in a worldwide recall by VW of 1.6 million sold vehicles.

This has caused grief to many a Golf Mark 5 owner, who experience intermittent transmission jerking, usually at low speed, and agonising delays in shifting down once the car has warmed up. VW has finally figured out the cause after a lot of head scratching since the computer does not produce any fault codes.

Apparently, the DSG transmission has a protection mechanism switch built in that prevents excessive power from being delivered to it if the brakes are engaged.

When you take your foot off the brake and step on the accelerator for power, the switch lags and makes the transmission tranny think the brakes are still on, resulting in the annoying shifting delays. Once this brake switch sensor is replaced, the fly is removed from the German ointment.

As a preventative measure, it is also worthwhile to drain all the synthetic gearbox oil from the Golf Mark 5 with a DSG gearbox  and replace it with a good quality mineral oil before making the maiden trip from Mombasa port to Nairobi as VW has confirmed during recalls that in hot climates, the synthetic oil causes short circuits in the gearbox power supply due to build-up of sulphur, a scenario absent in the frigid testing grounds of Wolfsburg.

Lots of innovations remain true to form, like the fuel stratified injection (FSI) engine in the Golf Mark 5 gem in increasing fuel economy in tandem with power, and is kinder to the environment and better built than the Toyota D4 and Mitsubishi GDI employing similar engine concepts. The only catch is to ensure that no adulterated fuel ever enters the filler cap.

The ultimate Golf mark 5 innovation has to do with safety, giving it a Jekyll and Hyde personality; a safe family car packed with curtain airbags, ESP wizardly, and doors like a steel safe to ferry the children to summer camp when needed to a non-turbo Impreza and Evo thrashing hatchback when provoked by their loud exhausts on the way back home to a classy, yet frugal transporter to work on Monday.

Truly, the Golf is the car you will ever need, even in the land where the car in front is always a papier-mâché Toyota. VW fan club member

This is very enlightening. And yes, the Golf is a marvellous car; too bad about the DSG. Impressive gearbox, this one, if a little glitch-prone. I would still have me a pukka three-pedal, six-on-the-floor Golf (GTI, to be specific) if I had the inclination.

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Kindly tell me how a Toyota D4 engine is different from that of other Toyotas and how I can achieve maximum performance.
Also, what is its consumption (km/petrol) rate?

Toyota’s D4 engine is different from (some) others in that it uses direct injection rather than port injection. Direct injection is where the fuel is delivered directly into the cylinders of the engine, where it mixes with air and is then ignited by the spark plug.

This is at variance with previously established systems of port injection, in which fuel was injected/fed into the intake port, where it mixes with air before being delivered into the engine’s cylinders.

Achieving maximum performance is simple. Use high-octane (and reputable) fuel and stomp on the accelerator pedal as hard as you can. The fuel consumption varies, depending on the size of the engine and the size of the vehicle bearing that engine.

D4 engines are quite economical. However, when maximising performance, do not expect the fuel consumption to be impressive.

Posted on 1 Comment

Can I drive my Toyota Mark X without the oxygen sensors?

Hi Barasa,

I have owned a Toyota Mark X, 2005 model for six months. Last week, it started showing the check engine light. A diagnostic revealed one of its oxygen sensors had stopped functioning. Is it ok to still drive it?

A lot of Mark X have these problems. Also, when I press on the brakes, it makes a ticking noise. I have put genuine brake pads but the problem persists. A mechanic told me it is the front shocks that have leaked and are causing the noise. Please advise,

Mark X owner

It is not okay to keep driving when one or more of the oxygen sensors is malfunctioning. There is the real and present danger of the catalytic convertor getting damaged or clogged in the process.

When you finally have to replace one of these, you will wish that you had taken care of the oxygen sensors.

With a failed sensor, the engine control unit (ECU) can’t tell whether or not the car is effectively burning its fuel and cannot thus adjust the timing accordingly.

What happens is that a good amount of unburnt hydrocarbons make their way to the cat and from there… clogging. Premature replacement or unclogging, can cost a pretty figure.

Just get a new sensor. Maintenance, replacements and repairs are part of motor vehicle ownership, much in the same way that when one has a child, school fees and medical bills are part of the deal.

The ticking noise under braking could be anything. A more definitive description would make it easier to narrow down on probable causes.

**********

Hi Baraza,

My car has been consuming vast amounts of coolant lately. I thought it was normal until one evening when the fan belt refused to stop. My mechanic advised me to disconnect the battery terminal.

The next day as I was driving to the mechanic at CMC, I noticed cloudy substance spewing out. I stopped and checked. The coolant container was empty, with the lid thrown out.

Surprisingly, the temperature gauge on the dashboard was reading normal. I let it cool, poured lots of water and drove to the mechanic, who on inspection said the coolant was leaking from the thermostat and some other pipes. I am about to replace the thermostat, but I wish to know the following:

1. How could this leakage have started?

2. What would have been the likely outcome if I never discovered the leakage early enough?

3. What are the possible remedies to prevent future leaks?

4. Water, red or green coolant; which one is preferred?

5. Could the tempereture gauge on the dashboard have been faulty and the reason it didn’t show that the engine was heating up?

Ben

Let me guess, the vehicle in question is a MK 1 Freelander, right? The very early pre-facelift examples, right? They were not a manifestation of Land Rover’s finest moment, having come into production when the Rover Group was facing imminent death (and was subsequently rescued by BMW). Anyway:

1. This is a CSI-type question because the exact source of the problem cannot be determined without dismantling the cooling system. However, the Freelander MK 1 was engineered in a hurry and on a shoestring budget, so build quality was not one of its strong points. Nor was reliability.

The research that went into material science is sketchy at best, and attention to detail must have been placed under a management team full of ADHD sufferers.

About 136 different faults were discernible on any car that left the factory, ranging from searing drive-shafts that rendered the car FWD only, to seizing power-steering pumps and upholstery that somebody forgot to drill HVAC holes into.

UK dealers were secretly asked to take a knife and cut holes into the fabric/leather dashboard and panel linings for the front and rear windscreens. Otherwise, the demisters would not work. If such an obvious thing as an outlet for the heater/AC was forgotten or shoddily executed, what then would you expect to happen when the engineering team started handling complex systems like the cooling and transmission?

The cause could be a blockage, a poorly strapped cooling pipe, a circlip that was left unfastened, a bolt omitted, a hole somewhere… or they simply did not take time to find out how long the cooling system would last before the fan got a mind of its own and blew the coolant cap off its moorings. It is really is hard to tell.

2. Overheating is what would have occurred, and from there it is a probability tree of various disasters depending on your luck. Your menu would have had options like blown head gaskets, warped cylinder heads and compression leakage. Further down the tree, you would be facing an engine seizure or a bonnet fire that could easily consume your vehicle if it went on long enough.

3. You need a complete overhaul of your cooling system. This is where I’ll ask you to subscribe to Land Rover Owner magazine because there is a wealth of information in there, specific to your vehicle. I have never overhauled the cooling system of a Freelander before, and even if I had, the process is too long and detailed to get into here. The general exercise involves replacing OEM hoses and pipes with units that are:

i) Made of better material and,

ii) possibly of larger diameter.

A new water pump is also typically added to the list as might a radiator core, and of course the offending thermostat replaced with something more trustworthy.

If there are any modifications to be made, that LRO magazine from the UK will be of more help than me.

4. The colour of coolant is hardly a selling point of any brand. Just use manufacturer-recommended coolant mixed with water.

5. About the temperature guage, the answer is yes, and also no. The temperature gauge is calibrated to indicate a certain range of temperature. There is a slight possibility that the car boiled away its coolant at temperatures within the “normal” range. With the filler cap blown off and the thermostat leaking, you don’t need a hot engine to quickly run out of coolant.

***********

Hi Baraza,

Your column is a must read for me.

Thanks for the good work. I am want to my first car and due to budgetary constraints, I am focusing on a used subcompact. My top considerations are fuel efficiency, reliability, longevity and ease of maintenance.

With these factors in mind, please help me choose between Mazda Demio, Honda Fit and Mitsubishi Colt, all 2006, 1300cc engines.

If you were in my shoes which of the three would you buy? What other small cars would you recommend? Finally, is it possible to get locally assembled, tropicalised versions of the three cars?

John

There is not much to split these three cars on whatever criteria you are asking about. However, if I was in your shoes, I’d buy a Colt R, simply because that thing is very, very quick. With that haste, away goes comfort and fuel economy.

The Demio is also a joy to drive, but I’ve tried the punchy 1.5cc. The 1.3cc could be underwhelming.

An untuned Honda Fit is the car for a person who lacks imagination. I know, I have not really answered your question but refer to my first statement: cars of this size are very similar irrespective of manufacturer.

Another way of looking at them, if you really have to pick one, is this: the Colt shares a platform with the Smart car, which in turn is a joint project between Mercedes-Benz and Swatch, the Swiss chronometer assembly masters. So you could cheat yourself that it is a Benz. However distant the relationship (and it is very, very distant). The Mazda Demio also has some Ford DNA in it. The Honda is a Honda, full stop.

Again, I know this is of no help at all, but for the third time: it is not easy to split these cars on characteristics other than pricing and specs. And the fact that you are looking at vehicles built seven years ago, these are moot points.

Those two qualities will vary greatly depending on who is selling them to you and where that person got them in the first place.

A small car I would recommend is even more irrelevant than the useless nuggets of information I have just given above.

A Fiat 500 looks like a good drive, and a Mini is most definitely a hoot to drive, but these will cost you, and I may not have an answer when you inevitably come back asking where to get spares for them.

Unfortunately for you, none of these cars were assembled locally, nor was there any franchise that sold them new in Kenya. So forget about tropicalisation.

**********

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the very informative responses that you give every week about motoring. Between an Isuzu TFR single cab and a Toyota Hilux single cab, which has lower maintenance costs and would be best suited in an agricultural business? And which one would be advisable to purchase between petrol engine and diesel engine?

Which of the two is more durable and has better resale value in the event that I considered reselling at a later date.

Andrew
Any of the two pick-ups would do well in agri-business. They are both powerful. They will both lug heavy loads. They have good ground clearance, large payload areas and are both available in either 2WD or 4WD.Maintenance: If we are strictly referring to a TFR, then it will cost more to run because it is an older vehicle and is more likely to break down because it will be used.

However, if you are referring to the DMAX, then as new vehicles, both that and the Hilux will be covered by warranty. If and when the warranty runs out, then word on the street is that Hilux parts cost more but break less often. Do the math.

I advise in favour of a petrol engine simply because they last longer. Diesel engines are a bit fragile, especially with poor care; and these two pickups are nowadays available with turbodiesel engines, which require special handling to avoid early failures. If you can get a naturally aspirated diesel Hilux, go for that one. The advantage of diesel engines is that the fuel economy is amazing…. in a good way.

Durability is relative: This depends on how you treat the vehicle. But by sheer force of reputation, the Hilux wins this. The car will simply not break. This also applies to resale value.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I am interested in buying a car for personal use. I do about 400km a week. I am interested in a fuel efficient, easy to maintain and comfortable car to ride in. I have identified two cars, a VW Golf plus 2006 1.6 FSI and Toyota Corolla NZE 1500cc in terms of build quality, reliability, safety, comfort, fuel consumption and ease of maintenance. which of the two cars do you recommend.

In addition any suggestion of an alternative to the above cars is welcome. My friends are urging me to consider the Toyota Avensis or Premio, but I do not fancy them. I would like an expert opinion.

Douglas

Golf Plus vs NZE Corolla, eh? From your first requirements (fuel efficient, affordable and comfortable), the vote swings to Golf (but this depends on driving style and environment).

The NZE, while not exactly a bed of rocks, lacks the refinement of the German hatchback and crashes a bit over potholes, so it loses out on comfort. It is, however, cheaper (or easier) to buy and maintain.

Your other requirements are more about expounding of those three. Build quality is unmatched in Volkswagen products, ever since one can remember. The Japanese simply cannot hold a candle to the Germans when it comes to building solid, well-put-together cars.

Incidentally, both these vehicles started out as “world cars” for their respective manufacturers, but while the Corolla stayed true to its roots, the Golf has been inching steadily upmarket with every model change. You cannot creep upwards without raising your standards respectively.

Reliability would also theoretically look like an even split between the two, but the complaints against the Golf, more so regarding the automatic gearbox, are coming thick and fast. You might be better off with the manual.

Fuel economy depends on how you drive, and where. And what you carry in the car with you. Both engines have clever-clever tech, Toyota brags with its VVT-i system while VW’s Fuel Stratified Injection (the FSI in the name) is as close to magic as one can possibly come. It works wonders. In a controlled environment, the NZE would win because it has a smaller engine and it is lighter. Ease of maintenance: The Corolla, obviously.

***********

Hi Baraza,

I bought it recently from a friend. It’s a 2000cc YOM 2005, VVTi engine and fully loaded. Its from Japan but seems intended for European Market since my friend shipped it from Germany, where he was working.

I’m comfortable with its performance especially on the highways, but I believe it is not economical on shorter distances and in the Nairobi jams.

Kindly advice on the following:

1. Does this model of Toyota rank as a hybrid,

2. How would you compare its performance and features to the Fielder, Caldina and Premio within the same cc range in terms of maintenance?

3. It has a GPS mechanism with a display unit programmed in Japanese. Is there a place in Kenya (preferably in Nairobi) where this can be re-programmed to the local co-ordinates?

Eric

The subject field in your e-mail says Toyota Avensis, so I am guessing this is the car in question, and not a Toyota Prius. So:1. No, it is not a hybrid. Hybrid cars have more than one type of propulsion system/power source in them, hence the term hybrid.

In most cases it is fossil fuel and electricity — for example an electric motor that is either charged or supplemented by a small petrol/diesel engine.2. Performance and features are very similar to the others, especially the Premio.

The Fielder may be just a little bit more basic than the Avensis. Maintenance is also broadly similar.3. I am still looking for someone competent enough to do the installation.

Posted on

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

Hallo Baraza,
Thank you for your very resourceful articles that sometimes remind me of a Sunday Nation humour writer by the name Mwalimu Andrew!

I have a 2009 left-hand drive Toyota Landcruiser Hardtop that we bought brand new and had it shipped from Toyota Motors Europe in Gibralta, South of Spain. It has so far done approximately 10,000 kilometres.

We currently wish to dispose it but do not seem to know how much would be a good price, considering we spent about $65,000USD (about Sh5.4 million) to but and transport it all the way to Nairobi.

I have even contacted the local Toyota dealers who quote Sh7 million for a new one, but they don’t seem to know what is the best price or market for this vehicle. Kindly assist.

Regards,

Kelvin

The fact that the driver sits where the passenger is usually found will complicate matters for you. As a car, it may well be still valuable, but not in Kenya. It will be a long search before you find someone who will buy a left-hand drive car for use in a right-hand drive country at its actual value.

AA (Automobile Association) would be a good place to start to get the real value of the car. From there, you may have to look outside the borders for a quick sale. Try Southern Sudan, they have LHDs there. Or Somalia (problem is there is a war going on there).

Hi Baraza JM

First, thanks for a job well done. You have made Wednesday’s Daily Nation a must-read. I would like you to do a comprehensive comparison between two cars: Toyota Corona (1600cc, 1800cc and 2000cc) and Toyota Carina (1800cc and 1500cc).

Please consider durability, fuel consumption and spare parts availability. These two cars are old models; what some people would call “out of fashion”. Which one would you advise a first-timer to go for? And, finally, why are there no more productions of the Toyota Carina?

Regards,

Maina ML

Maybe you should have specified the model years for these cars. But, anyway, except for fuel consumption, everything else is the same for all model permutations that you have given there. The 1.5s are the most economical; the 2.0 litre the most thirsty. The 1.8 has always been the best compromise.

Out of personal experience, I would go for the Carina (Ti), in 1.8 guise. Sure, you will look like you are driving one of Nairobi’s 10 million taxi-cabs, but the balance between performance and economy in the 1.8 is exceptional.
The Carina is not made any more because now we have the Allion.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks a lot for the wonderful, highly informative articles. I own a 1995 Toyota Corolla 100 that I love to bits. I got it as a third owner, so the first thing I did was change the suspension and now it runs like new.

My mechanic recently discovered a leak in the steering system requiring I top up the ATF every three to four weeks. He advises an overhaul of the whole steering system, arms and all, but I think this is a little exaggeration. Is there a way I can have the leak fixed without necessarily changing the arms since it steers just fine?

Second, I love speeding and have installed a second set of brake discs on the rear set of wheels. Does this in anyway interfere with the performance of the car? I kind of enjoy wheezing through traffic knowing I can halt at will!

Thank you.

Eric Ochomo

Where is the leak? If it is in a little pipe from the reservoir for the PAS, you don’t need an overhaul. If it is in the steering box, you still don’t need an overhaul. In fact, you might not need an overhaul at all, just find the leak and plug it.

I’d like to see what your car looks like with two sets of brake kits at the back, instead of one. And, if you want to stop really well, brake bias should be set towards the front. Having stronger brakes at the back is inviting oversteer, instability and possibly fishtailing if your car does not have EBD (which it doesn’t).

When slowing down, the weight of the car is thrown forwards, which is why the front brakes need more stopping power than the rear ones.

Hello
I bought a Toyota Fortuner from Toyota Nairobi in March this year and use it mostly within town, thus I do not use 4X4 add-on. I am getting a fuel mileage of nine kilometres per litre average, yet it is a manual diesel.

It is big and smart but has no extra-ordinary comfort (climbing up to the seat isn’t very easy). I paid Sh5 million for the car, so tell me, did I make the right decision?

Dipak

Dipak, do you FEEL you made the right decision? Is there a nagging feeling of regret or some underlying suspicion that you threw good money away? If yes, then no: that was not the right decision. If no, then yes: you made the right decision.

Over and above the consumer advice and motor-journalist reviews given on cars, there is also a secret desire that shapes our decisions, and this desire is not always rational.

I’m dreaming of getting an Allion, changing the gearbox into a manual and supercharging the thing, but I know it will cost me money, the car’s reliability will go to the dogs and I will use the (very expensive) supercharger’s abilities less than five per cent of the time. I am also dreaming of getting a Defender 110, with a V8 engine.

Both options do not make any sense at all, but I doubt I will regret my decision if I decide to take that path. So, again I ask: how do YOU feel about your car?

How are you Mr Baraza?I want to thank you for your quick response to my e-mail, which was on the user’s manual of a Toyota Harrier and the use of various function keys on the console. You hinted that if you had the details of the vehicle you could try and obtain a manual for me.

As you may have guessed, I have not managed to get it, so I have been relying on the information you gave me and it has been very useful. However, I have a few questions: 

i) The opposite side of the POWER key is written SNOW. When is it appropriate to use this facility?

ii) Can the SNOW key be used together with the gear shift at position ‘L’?

iii) The details of the vehicle are: Harrier, manufactured in the year 2000, 3000cc, 24-valve four wheel drive. If it’s not too much to ask, how about trying to obtain the manual for me?

iv) Some mechanics claim they can do ‘manual diagnosis’ on vehicles. Is this possible? How is it done?

We all appreciate what you have been doing for the Kenyan motorist. Thank you very much.

Peter.

Nairobi.

Nice to hear from you again Peter. Here goes:

i) Since we don’t have snow here, I’m guessing it is usable in very slippery (but NOT deep) mud. But it is not really necessary, one can still manoeuvre without using it.

ii) That would be unnecessary. The PWR and SNOW settings are for the ECT gearbox (different settings). L locks the gearbox in 1st, so there will be no need to adjust the settings of the gearbox shift patterns and lock-up control.
iii) Let me see what I can do…. But I’m not promising anything.

iv) Manual diagnosis can be done, but only on mechanical bits. It is quite easy: it is done by eye (look for broken, loose, frayed, worn out, cracked, misplaced misaligned, discoloured, leaking or burnt components).

It is also done by a simple, short road test (be keen on ride quality, steering behaviour, shakes, rattles, wandering, sagging, bouncing, diving, squatting, braking behaviour etc).

Also, signs of leakage, smoke or funny smells or noises… all these constitute a manual diagnosis. However, “manual” diagnosis cannot be done on things like electronic equipment or sensors. Let your mechanic know you are aware of that.

Hello Baraza,Thank you for the good job. I’m a newly qualified driver who knows nothing about cars. However, I’m planning to buy my first car by December, hence I need your advice.

Please compare for me these three cars in terms of availability of spare parts, durability, stability on the road in case I need to drive from Nairobi to Narok over the weekend, and, above all, fuel consumption.

The cars are Subaru Impreza 1500cc, Mazda Demio and Honda Fit. Please consider the fact that I like the Subaru a lot. Thank you.

Annah.

If you like Subaru a lot, then I will ignore the rest of your question and ask you to buy a Subaru. Why buy something else and then spend your driving days imagining what owning the car you desired would have been like?

There is nothing you will regret about it that you cannot also regret in the other cars. If anything, it outshines the other two in numbers of mechanics and garages doing them: Honda and Mazda are only making inroads on the import market as of the recent past, but the Impreza has been imported in sizable shiploads since the days of the GC chassis.

Baraza

Why are AMG versions of Mercedes Benzes not readily available in Kenya, or are the local Benz buyers unaware of them? Maybe you should explain what the AMG spec really is.

Spider Waigwa

I can’t help but notice you signed your name as “Spider”.

Anyway, AMG Mercs are not readily available for several reasons, first being a lot of people are unaware of what an AMG Benz is (capable of). Then there is the cost, both of purchase and running (fuel and service/maintenance). Maybe one day I will explain what an AMG Benz is: it should be easy since almost all of them use the same engine (and what an engine!)

Local mechs may not be able to deal with these units, except for St Austin’s Garage, which is a subsidiary of DT Dobie. I have spotted quite a number of AMGs there (including SLs and S Classes)

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for your very well researched articles. I have a Toyota Corolla G-Touring that has no other issues except when engaged on Gear 4, when the lever jumps to neutral even at highway speeds. Mechs tell me I need to change the gearbox. Is there a cheaper option?

David

I had an EP82 Starlet with that same problem. I later sold it (with that same problem). Anyway, don’t panic, I’m not asking you to sell your car. You don’t even need a new gearbox.

The cause of the problem is either internal or external. Internal causes could be worn bearings (very common). External causes are linkage issues (easy to diagnose), or a problem with the gearbox mountings (not that easy).

Irrespective of which of these causes is the source of your fourth gear woes, as you can see, it will not take a new gearbox to sort it out.

Hello Mr Baraza,

I’m an avid reader of your very helpful articles and have utmost respect for your knowledge of cars (and trucks). With the current weather conditions, I have noted an increase of accidents in which the vehicles lose traction on very wet tarmac and start drifting.

I was a victim of such an incident recently, and would like you to advise us on the steps to take should one lose control of the car. I hear in manual cars, one gears down to reduce the car’s speed before applying the brakes.

But what about the automatics? Lastly, where can one get their upholstery done should their car take a swim? Looking forward to your response. Nduati.

The safest way to drive in the wet is to lower your speed and increase the distance between your car and the one ahead of you. You don’t have to gear down; however, if you want to gear down, brake first then gear down, don’t gear down then brake.

When you shift down without braking, that is when you will drift due to the extra burst of torque brought about by the lower gear. This is actually one of the drifting techniques used by professional drivers: gear down at speed, then counter steer the car once it starts sliding (and it WILL slide). Nowadays many car wash outfits offer cleaning of both interiors and exteriors. Any big outfit will do the job well.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the worthy counsel, though I must say you are often somewhat hard on most of us as we continue exhibiting inherent peculiarity in petro-misery.

Now, I haven’t seen much in this column regarding the Toyota Rush. Would you say the 2007 model stands any chance against the Forester (say) 2006 model in terms of stability, performance, handling, looks, fuel economy (pardon me!) and variations in terms of accessories?

Austin

Aah, the return of the Toyota Rush to this inbox. As to whether or not it can stack up against a Forester, here are the answers:

Stability: No

Performance: No

Handling: No

Looks: I guess by this you mean appearance. Well, that is relative, but for me…. No.

Fuel economy: Actually, yes, and it can go one better, by quite a margin. 1300cc vs 2000cc is no contest (pardon me!)

Variations in terms of accessories: No.

Posted on

A Prado, an Everest and a Grand Vitara, which is best?

Dear Baraza,

I’d like to know how the Ford Everest (you rarely talk about it, why?), Suzuki Grand Vitara, and Prado compare with regard to:

(a) Fuel consumption (please don’t bash me, I’m so keen on this!).

(b) Performance on rough and tarmac roads.

(c) Durability.

(d) Availability of spare parts.

(e) General maintenance costs.

(f) Other important factors, such as cost, resale value, speed, comfort, etc.

Which of the vehicles would you prefer?

Sammy

Fuel consumption: If they are all diesel or all petrol, the Suzuki will give the best economy, but the Prado and the Everest will go a long way further on a full tank before needing a refill.

Rough road performance: the Prado is king, closely followed by the Everest. Their superior ground clearance means they can go anywhere, at almost any speed.

The Everest is not that comfortable though. On tarmac, the cross-over Vitara feels best, then the Everest. The Prado is too bouncy to be taken seriously, but it hits back with outright speed; it is the fastest one here.

Durability: All three will last forever, but from driving feel, one could say the Everest will bury the other two when they die from natural causes. It feels like it was hewn out of granite.

Spares: Toyota Kenya for the Prado and CMC Motors for the other two.

Maintenance: This is hard to tell as it depends on what goes wrong, but I presume the Prado will cost the most to fix when broken, then Everest, then Vitara.

Resale: Prado is the best bet here.

Comfort: If you like a wobbly roller-coaster ride, the Prado is your car, if you are married to a chiropractor (or plan to marry one), the Everest is here for you, while the Vitara is the most “normal” of the three.

Of the three I would buy the Prado — it is capable, fast, and the turbodiesel has a certain deep thrum derived from the insane torque coming out of the exhaust and a subtle turbo whine coming from under the bonnet that announces to the whole world you are driving a serious vehicle.

The Everest sounds underwhelming in comparison, but is no less capable and might even be more practical in terms of space.

I wouldn’t bother with the Suzuki; in my world, people who buy cross-overs are declaring to the world that they wanted an SUV but couldn’t quite stretch their budgets that far. Malta Guinness versus the real stout, in other words….

Hi,

I bought a Suzuki Swift Sport sometime back. This car is absolutely amazing; the acceleration is superb, the handling good and fuel economy is good as well.

NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is poor, but I can live with that since it is a sports car and not a luxury ride.

My only problem is that it is way lower than the standard model, so low that when it came with its original 195/50/15 tyres, I would literally scrape pebbles off the ground.

I installed a sump guard and replaced the tyres with 195/55/15.

Now the car is at a reasonable height but on dips, if I don’t slow down significantly, the tyres touch the wheel housing. I am afraid that the wheel housing will get ripped out over time.

What options do I have on this? Some people have recommended installing spacers, but I have taken this with a grain of salt.

Apart from that, are Suzuki spares readily available?

Also, I am considering supercharging the little beast. What are the disadvantages of this? (The advantages are obvious; blistering acceleration and speed!)

Mike

You say you wanted a sports car, now you want to raise it, and this will compromise its sportiness (and safety).

Try changing the springs and shocks for stiffer ones to reduce the stroke room and travel of the suspension.

The other option is to learn to live with the challenges of living in a country non-conducive to sporty vehicles. And the third option is to install spacers and roll over at the first right-hander you come across.

As far as maintenance is concerned, talk to CMC and find out if they can manage the car. The disadvantages of supercharging are poor fuel consumption and, if done unprofessionally, shortened engine life.

Hi,

I am looking to buy my first car. Now, my options are limited by cost but I would love to buy a Honda Civic. So far, from my calculations, a Honda Fit, Nissan Bluebird, Mazda Demio and a Honda Aria are within budget (though I am not keen on a Nissan).

What would you advise, especially when taking spare parts availability and cost, and resale value into consideration?

Hannah

If you love the Civic, just buy one — it cannot be that much more expensive than the stuff you mention there. But do a DIY import, it is cheaper than going through a car dealer.

Spares availability and costs depend on the shops selling them, but none of these cars will keep you on a waiting list, or a wailing list for that matter.

Resale, right now, goes the Demio and Bluebird way, but my crystal ball says the Fit/Aria is going to become the new Toyota Starlet (the car had amazing resale value and still changed hands very easily and really fast even after three or four previous owners).

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought a BMW 525 E34 with an M20 engine (6-cylinder, 2500cc). Is it a pocket-friendly car? How is it when it comes to consumption?

I also have an 1800cc BMW 316i, which, from Nairobi to Embu and back, consumes about Sh3,000 in fuel. Can compare the two BMWs in terms of consumption?

No, it is not pocket-friendly. It is a 6-cylinder BMW, the preserve of executive types. The consumption should vary between 5 kpl and 10-11 kpl, with an average of around 7 or 8 kpl.

The 5-Series and the 3-series cannot be compared — the 3-Series is a small compact saloon with a small 4-cylinder engine (good economy), while the E34 is a large, heavy, executive saloon with a 2.5-litre straight six made from iron; none of these characteristics promotes fuel economy.

Hi Baraza,

1. What’s the difference between the Legacy, the Outback and the Brighton?

2. What do these acronyms in Subarus mean: GT, TS-R, TX and LX?

3. What’s the meaning of E-TUNE in Subarus?

4. When is your DRIVE magazine going to hit the streets?

Ken

1. The difference between Legacy and Outback is that the Outback uses a 6-cylinder (H6) larger capacity engine while the Legacy uses a 4-cylinder (H4) smaller capacity unit.

The Outback is biased for slightly more off-road ability than the Legacy (increased ground clearance, plastic mouldings around lower half of the car) and usually (not always) has two-tone paint.

Available (optionally) on the Legacy and not on the Outback are a manual gearbox and a turbocharger (or two). Brighton is just a Legacy with a fancy tag, just like the Forester LL Bean edition.

2. GT, TS-R, TX and LX are the various spec levels within the Legacy range. While I care little about the TX and LX, I know the GT and TS-R are turbocharged, with the GT having two turbos and developing some 280 hp.

3. E-tune is yet another spec level within a spec level: it is a type of Legacy GT with clear lenses all round rather than the amber turn signals and red brake lights.

4. From the current outlook, never; but before you start panicking take a look at the April edition of Destination magazine and all forthcoming issues of Motor Trader magazine (starting with the March edition). My work features heavily, especially in the latter.

Baraza,

I own a new model Premio. In the morning, while trying to shift the automatic gear lever from Parking to Drive or Reverse, the lever does not move easily, you have to force it.

What could be the problem? I recently (two weeks ago) changed the ATF but the problem persists, more so when the car is parked for two or more days.

Nike

The problem may be with the linkage, which is the mechanical connection between the gear selector lever and the gear box, the connection that transmits the lever movement from driver action into gear position selection within the gearbox.

If the lever is hard to move, then the linkage is jamming somewhere; either a cable or shaft is snagged or a joint/knuckle needs lubrication…. This is one of those things that one has to see to know exactly where the problem lies.

Hi Baraza,

1. I have driven a number of Carina Si (1800cc) and Carina Ti (1500cc) vehicles and have noticed that the Si consumes less fuel by approximately 2kpl, all other factors held constant. What could be the reason for this?

2. It is alleged that some insurance companies do not insure vehicles fitted with spacers, is it true? Why?

3. What are the merits and demerits of replacing size 13 tyres with size 14s on a car?

4. What is the relationship between sound — as produced by racing cars — and fuel consumption? How does the exhaust system, including the size of the exhaust pipe or dual exhaust pipes, affect the performance of a vehicle?

1. It is because an 1800cc doesn’t need caning to behave appropriately, especially on the highway. The effect can be magnified by expanding the parameters: drive a 2500cc Mark II at 120 km/h, then try a 1000cc Vitz or Nissan March at 120 km/h. One will be strained, guess which?

2. I cannot speak for all of them, but I know that in the UK, installation of spacers or nitrous injection voids one’s insurance.

3. Merits: The car will have higher ground clearance, and a higher top speed. Demerits: Low gear acceleration is compromised. But seeing how the difference is one inch, you will not notice any of these things (but they will be there).

4. A Lexus LS600 at 3,000rpm is quieter than a diesel tractor at 1,200rpm, but it is burning a lot more fuel. Sound has no direct correlation with fuel consumption among different cars, though it must be said that on the same car, more noise means more fuel is being consumed, whether by increasing rpm or by a leaking/broken exhaust (energy is wasted mechanically as sound).

The diameter (and number) of exhaust pipes affects performance as follows: bigger (or more) exhausts provide a free-flowing pathway for the exhaust gases, allowing the car to breathe easier and rev higher.

However, other factors such as combustion chamber shape, injector and plug placement, valve timing and emissions control will determine whether or not it makes sense to expand the exhaust system of your car. In some cases, it may prove counter-productive.

Dear Baraza,

I have observed that a lot of questions from your readers dwell so much on fuel economy and cost of spares.

Most vehicle manufacturers publish a fuel consumption figure for their cars, however, there is always a big disparity between the published figures and the actual consumption on the road.

A lady motorist recently sued Honda Motor Company in the USA for what she stated as the cost difference between her car’s actual fuel consumption and the manufacturers quoted figures.

She said that no matter how she drove, she could not achieve the fuel economy figures quoted by the manufacturer.

Back home, how come people never ask about the cost of insurance? I think a Kenyan motorist spends more on insurance premiums than fuel cost and spares combined.

Moses

Thanks a lot Moses. Maybe I should sign you up as my sidekick.

I read about the Honda case, and it made me unhappy about the direction society is taking. Pretty soon, we will sue our butchers for selling us meat that does not quite come out in the saucepan like it did in the recipe cookbook (and whose fault is that?).

One of my fears is that I might end up in the same hotpot as Honda: “Baraza said a Platz can do 22 kpl but try as I might, I’ve only got to 14 kpl. I will sue the bastard for that!”

The obsession with money is the biggest issue. More people are concerned about fuel consumption and cost of spares rather than whether or not the vehicle is appropriate or enjoyable and stress free to own.

The spares might be cheap and readily available, but where is the fun in that if you are buying the (cheap) spares every three days?

Posted on

There is more to a car than fuel consumption and parts

Hi Baraza,
There is a car that I do not think I have read about in the recent past in your column; the Pajero iO. I would be really grateful if you can let me know its merits/demerits as a 4WD, its fuel consumption, durability and maintenance (are the spares readily available and cost effective).

Joan

First, I have to chastise you for falling into that clique of money-minded Kenyans who ask the wrong questions about motor vehicle ownership. Are you sure you do not want to hear about stability issues at highway speeds? Or the fact that space is not one of the iO’s strongest points? Or even that it is not that comfortable?

Anyway, to your questions. As a 4WD it is not half bad, but it is not that good either. It is easily beaten by the RAV-4 and the Nissan X-Trail, though the short overhangs provide it with goat-like manoeuvrability in tight nooks. In some trim levels, it comes with over-the-top body addenda that could hamper extreme off-road progress.

The same goes for fuel consumption: the fact that GDI technology is used under the bonnet still does not make this the epitome of fuel economy. Imported versions, like almost all other imported cars, suffer under our Third World infrastructure, so durability is also a non-starter.

Maintenance will depend on how badly you treat the car, but take comfort from the fact that spares are there and engine swaps are easy… if you can find a Galant engine lying around.

Hi JM,

I have a BMW 320i which is due for service shortly. I have used synthetic oil on all the cars I have used before.

Now, the company that services the car is a BMW centre, and the mechanics there have told me that, going by BMW guidelines, I should use regular motor oil for the 2003 model and stay away from the synthetic stuff. I’m now confused because I assumed synthetic oil beats regular oil any day.

Is the mechanic right or should I insist on synthetic oil?

While still on the same topic, which brand of synthetic oil is the best in the market and ideal for a performance car, if at all I am right in my choice of oil?

Robert

By regular oil, I’m guessing you mean mineral oil. That mechanic of yours should be hung, drawn and quartered; how dare he?

Synthetic oils are the best, period. If in doubt, you can never go wrong with a blend, but I still maintain, there is nothing wrong with synthetic oils. If anything, they are the best for the highly developed European engines such as BMWs.

Read the handbook/manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations, it will clear the air. The mechanic does not work for BMW, I doubt if he’s even been to Germany.

Now, it is not my place to recommend one oil type over another one, but there have been some which have not only been proven in motorsport, but are actually recommended by manufacturers for their vehicles, so go on and do a bit of research.

Hi JM,

I’ve been doing some research on the BMW 3 Series and keeping an eye out for the same on our roads. One particular YouTube clip by ‘Top Gear’ totally dismissed the 318i, which is the most common on Kenyan roads.

My preference is for a 2001–2005, 328i E46. How would you compare the 318i, 330, 328i and 330i in terms of fuel consumption, performance, cost, usability on Kenyan roads, and so on?

Evans

Except applicability, all the characteristics you mention increase in magnitude with increasing engine capacity or degree of tune.

Of the various 3-Series, the best, discounting the M3, is the 330i with M Sport Pack for outright performance, or the 330d with its massive diesel torque, making for entertaining wheelspin and tail-wagging action — on a track, don’t try it on public roads.

Applicability? One day, take a drive from Nairobi to Sotik through Narok and Bomet, and you will discover a playground where you can wind your BMW up to top speed without running the risk of driving into someone you “did not see”. But if you get arrested for speeding, remember, I had nothing to do with it.

Baraza,

I drive a B14 which I bought from its second owner and, of late, the engine won’t start when cold unless I floor the fuel pedal. When it finally starts, it makes a noise and vibrates like a diesel motor for a few seconds before it starts running smoothly, but it still produces a lot of white smoke from the exhaust.

I did a diagnosis, tuned the engine, and changed the plugs, air filter, engine oil and oil filter as well as the auto gearbox oil, but the problem persisted. When I went back to the mechanic, he asked me to change the idle control unit.

So I decided to go to another garage for a second opinion and was told that the idle control unit sensor and cold start sensor switches were okay. He even swapped the ECU from another B14 engine, but there was no change. He then told me to have the engine overhauled, suspecting that the valves were faulty.

I did a cylinder head carbon cleaning and put a petrol booster/cleaner and injector cleaner in the tank but there were still no changes.

The auto tranny also jerks on second gear, I think, because it happens after the speed reaches 20 kph, and when shifting from P to R. Please advice.

That is one problematic car you have there. I must add that the B14 has fans that are few and far between, if they even exist.

From what you describe, you replaced almost the entire engine short of the engine block itself. Funny that you did not check the entire electrical system, though faults here should have shown up on the diagnosis screen.

A common cause of hard starts is a faulty starter or weak battery. The shaking and shuddering, and diesel-like roaring, suggest an engine knock, or even worse, imminent seizure, but let’s not go there yet.

This is my theory: maybe the transmission line is vibrating against the block. Fitting a spacer clip between the line and the block might help cure the problem. This situation might also explain the white smoke (burning ATF) and the badly behaving transmission (low ATF levels due to combustion of the same).

Hi Baraza,

Between a Nissan Tiida (hatchback, 2005 model), and a Honda Fit, which car would you advise a lady to buy? Is a Toyota iST any better than the two, even though its shape completely turns me off?

Kate

A very close call, this one, I might have to say go with either. The cars are similar in a lot of ways, right down to appearance. If you are into tuning or modifications, go for the Honda; it responds better to modification.

The iST may not be as good. I have driven one a bit and I was not very impressed with the weighting of the steering or the visibility out. But it is a feisty little performer. The central instrument stack also puts me off, but that is a personal thing.

Oh, and the fuel gauge in the iST has a non-linear movement, so you need a keen eye and presence of mind to avoid an embarrassing episode.

Baraza,

I have a 2002 Nissan Hi-Rider pickup, 2400cc with a petrol engine. Recently, I sought a mechanic’s opinion on transforming it to diesel and was advised to try a Nissan TD27 engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of this move.

Also, I have been having challenges with its carburettor system and consistent faults with the spark plugs.

The TD27 is in use within the current Hardbody/NP300 range, so my bet would be it would fit into the Hi-Rider’s engine bay without any modifications. The issue is this: Diesel engines develop a lot of torque and as such they are built with heavy duty drivetrain components compared to petrol engines.

I cannot say with much confidence how long your current drive shafts/prop shafts will last under the twisting torque that is the TD27’s forte. Maybe they too should be replaced.

The gearbox: petrol engines develop smaller torque and rev higher than diesel equivalents, so, again, that too may need swapping.

Otherwise, the Nissan TD is a good powerplant. It has seen service in many 14-seater matatus, besides the Hardbody pickups, where it has shown a tendency to develop cooling problems.

This could be a difficulty unique to the vans, though; Hardbody owners don’t seem to suffer this affliction.

Hi Baraza,

I am a big admirer of the Nissan Skyline series, specifically the GTR R34, which is my dream car. I am, however, skeptical about how this vehicle will cope in Kenya.

I haven’t seen many of them on Kenyan roads and only have information from the Internet. Could you check up on this car and give me your take on it, especially how well it would cope here?

I’m a huge fan of Godzilla too (the R34) and there are quite a number in the country, including even the Nismo Beast and a Mine’s tuned R34 GT-T.

If you buy one, it will be no different from getting a Lancer Evolution or Impreza STi: your biggest problem will be finding a road big enough to accommodate this car’s monster performance.

And where do you plan to buy one? The car went out of production in 2002, so it is outside the taxman’s eight-year importation bracket.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a station wagon buff, so, with that in mind, what information can you give me on the Nissan Wingroad regarding fuel consumption, suitability to the local rough conditions, suspension system, among others?

The 1300cc Wingroad has outstanding fuel economy (you can wind one up to 16 or 17 kpl without using any tricks or special techniques). However, these are non-tropicalised ex-Japan cars, and from what I see on the roads, they get out of shape pretty fast, aging gracelessly and really quickly.

The Probox may be a better bet… or even the AD Van, which is a more basic form of the Wingroad and a commercial vehicle, and thus a bit more robust.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Mazda Demio 2004 model. The only problem I have is with its consumption, which is about 12 kpl. I replaced the usual plugs to iridium platinum NGK plugs, but it only improved slightly, by 1kpl. What might be the issue? I never miss servicing it after 5,000 km.

Edwin

At 12 kpl, what more do you want from your Demio? How much did the plugs cost you, and how long will it take to recover the money, basing your maths on the improved economy figure? There’s nothing wrong with your car.

If you want a better figure, stop driving in town and stick on the highways, don’t carry anyone else in your car, and drift as many other cars as you can to minimise drag. In other words, improving on that 12 kpl will call for some extremist manoeuvres; be happy with it as it is.