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West Africans have outclassed us in the race for home-made cars

At the close of 2014, I took a brief look at the goings-on within the local automotive industry — and in Uganda — but, unknown to me, things were happening on a much grander scale in West Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria also have homegrown motoring scenes.

Unlike the Ugandans, they are not dealing in futuristic, technology-soaked, flamboyantly styled prototypes.

Unlike us, they are not trying to make an “African” car.  No,  they have an entire industry, a whole line of cars that run the gamut, from regular pint-sized saloons to full-on SUVs to ready-to-work commercial vehicles. Here is part of the lineup:

Kantanka

A Ghanaian apostle is behind this one. In addition, he has some aeronautic prototypes in the pipeline. Talk about ambition.

The Katanka line-up is publicised by two vehicles.  One is an SUV of indeterminate size. The photos on the Internet all lack reference points from which to deduce the actual size of the car.

Given the design characteristics, I’d say it lies somewhere between an X-Trail and a Landcruiser Prado, with the bias being more towards the Prado.

It has a whiff of the Prado J150 about its countenance, what with the toothy grin and slightly Mongoloid, slightly off-square headlamps.

But it also has the very square corners around the bonnet leading edge and fender tops which typify the Nissan X-Trail. From the A pillar rearwards, it starts to look a little like an Isuzu Wizard.

There are roof rails to complete the SUV-ness of it all.

It might sound like a mess, but it actually isn’t. The whole car somehow seems to gel together in an inoffensive, pseudo-Chinese, lightly “I’d-expect-this-from-TATA-on-a-good-day” manner.

There is no word on engines, suspension or transmissions, but expect something generic, possibly crate-borne from General Motors or Japan.

Spec levels are not indicated, but judging from the external cues — mirror-mounted repeater lamps, roof rails, alloy rims, fat tyres, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors, fog lamps, rubbing strips and side-steps — I’d say the specification inside must be generous too.

Oddly enough, I did not see sun-roofs in any of the photos, and yet as a trend, a large number of cars sold in West Africa come with sun-roofs. Maybe it is an optional extra.

There is also a double-cab pick-up, which is clearly an Isuzu DMAX. I mean it; it IS a DMAX without the “Isuzu” name on the grille; instead, it has the Kantanka logo: a circle circumscribing a filled-out 5-pointed star.

What did I say about copying the hell out of existing vehicles?

Innoson

You cannot leave Nigeria out of any action that goes down in West Africa, and they throw their hat in the ring with the Innoson. While Kantanka’s cars are expected to hit the streets sometime this month, Innoson already have units on sale, and they have the widest range of cars, and also the most Chinese-looking.

Their fanciest filly is an SUV which, oddly enough, only appeared in black in photos. Maybe there are other colours available.

It looks like what the Toyota Fortuner should look like. The overall appearance is even better resolved than the Kantanka, and one would be forgiven for assuming that it not locally made. I especially liked the rear; it wears that chunky and butch SUV uniform of roof spoiler, vertical tailgate, large lamps, fat bumpers complete with integrated reflectors and rear screen wiper with considerable aplomb.

But admittedly, it also comes off as being a bit too cliché. In a parking lot game of spot-that-rear, expect any of these answers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer or some Ford something-or-other.

The interior smacks of General Motors too. Dual tone plastics, buttons festooned all over the centre console, a few million cubbyholes and a thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, which I also swear, is straight off the new DMAX.

The Nigerian Road Safety Corps, among other clients, get a double-cab iteration of the Innoson, and well, it is a Grand Tiger (Chinese double-cab), like the ones our policemen use. The resemblance is uncanny.

Rounding up the line-up is the IVM Fox, the only car identified by name. It looks like yet another Chinese copy of a European econo-box from the late 90s or early 2000s, a Ford Fiesta/Citroen Saxo kind of thing; or maybe a KIA… nowadays Korean cars are barely distinguishable from their European rivals.

 

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The future of the auto industry in West Africa looks promising, and for two very good reasons:

  1. West Africans are fiercely patriotic. They go everywhere in their national dress, come out in full force to cheer their national sports teams, and they strongly support their local producers.

It, therefore, follows that these cars will most likely move units. Innoson and Kantanka will shift metal in numbers that Mobius can only dream about, and they will be cheered on by opinion shapers in their communities.

That is not what one would expect around here. I don’t see an “opinion leader” selling his gold-plated Landcruiser VX in exchange for a gold-plated Mobius II.

  1. They have numbers on their side. They have the massive populations necessary for breaking even — if not making outright profit — sales levels, and they have giant economies to back it all up, with oil fields and sizeable export quotas as an added bonus. There is plenty of money in West Africa and they are not afraid to spend it. To make money, you must spend money. Expect to see massive investmentbeing channelled in Innoson’s and Kantanka’s directions.

A third, not so important reason:  West Africans will get one up on East Africa just to rub our noses in it. Anybody remember #KOT vs #NOT?

To the south

Tanzania has been at it too, although they decided to go the commercial way and not spend too much effort coming up with their own thing.

They have is a truck line called the Nyumbu.  Their Ministry of Defence and National Service apparently “developed” a truck (they clearly didn’t) and the result is an Ashok Leyland Stallion/G-90/U Truck/e-Comet (they all look the same), which in itself was a derivative from IVECO (Fiat) or British Leyland.

All they did was change the headlamps from single squares to double round, then change the name from “Ashok Leyland” to “Nyumbu”. Lower down the hierarchy is another Nyumbu.

It is hard to describe without sounding nasty, but if it were painted a dull green and sent back in time to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, it wouldn’t be out of place.

Their final entry in this list is a tractor, which is… very basic, and is also called a Nyumbu. Sadly, the website I visited did not distinguish these vehicles properly by model.

 

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It is clear from the visions of West Africa — and Tanzania, we’ll give them that too for now —  that  setting a milestone, more so in the motoring industry, does not necessarily call for a dramatic paradigm shift in existing frameworks.

It might not even be necessary to set a milestone at all. Our  Mobius has been roundly outclassed from all directions, Mr Joel Jackson is not setting new production standards like Henry Ford did with the Model T, he is not introducing new technology like Elon Musk with his Tesla cars; and, admittedly, the Mobius II is not going to conquer any markets like the Toyota Hilux, unless, of course, we go the South East Asian way and make importation of motor vehicles prohibitively difficult, if not downright impossible.

But then again, neither is the apostle from Ghana or the brains behind Innoson.

Some of the techniques necessary to push sales might seem a little underhanded (plagiarism) and/or unfair (punitive import tariffs on foreign cars), but look where it got Hyundai and KIA – where they are right now, worrying Toyota and Peugeot.

Ford… again

Speaking of Henry Ford, he is the man who created FoMoCo, the Ford Motor Company, the same company that told us they would bring in the Mustang in the last quarter of 2014.

I’m yet to see a contemporary Mustang in the country. If they exist, I’d also like to take one on a road test, thank you.

Ford also wants us to be Focused. They are not accusing us of being scatter-brained, no. They want us to drive Ford Focuses, Foci, Foca, or whatever you call more thanone Ford Focus.  It is with this in mind that they chose to announce the presence of the new Ford Focus in their showrooms.

Anyway, the car in question is the new Ford Focus, and FoMoCo says a lot of things about it, most of which I choose to ignore until further notice. However, one or two things I pay attention to.

The Ford Focus has mostly been a driver’s car in spite of, or because of, it’s front-drive platform.

It is, or was, a fun handler: easy to chuck into a corner, fiddle around with throttle and steering to create various levels of understeer and bite, all the while staying safely out of the undergrowth.

The compact dimensions ensured its responsiveness and ease of handling, and a small, naturally aspirated engine created both  fuel economy and smile-worthy maintenance costs. No wonder it became a successful rally car.

The words I paid attention to in Ford’s press release were about it having a lower, wider stance than the outgoing car, which in turn had a lower, wider stance than the Mk I model before it.

How much lower and wider is the current Focus, which I have not driven, compared to the original model, which I have driven? And how much more fun is the new one than the one before it? The answer lies in a road test.

One question, though: We know there exists a vehicle such as a Ford Focus RS, where is it?

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touchy, aren’t we, Daddynduks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can I service these cars in Kenya?

Dear Baraza,

I live in the UK and would like to return home with any of the following cars: Fiat Panda, Ford Focus/Fiesta, Hyundai i10/i20/i30, or Skoda Octavia/Yeti/Superb. Do we have any local service dealership or franchise for any of them in Kenya, please?

Masiya.

Ford and Skoda are handled by CMC Motors who, according to some of my readers, will not touch with a barge pole a car they themselves did not sell.

Hyundai has an outlet too, overseen by the manufacturer itself and they would prefer if you steered clear of their diesel engines for now owing to the muddy, sulfurous sludge that passes for diesel over here. With Fiat it is “Good luck, you are on your own”.

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I insist, the Verossa looks horrible

Hi Baraza,
I have owned a Toyota Verossa for the past two years and I am aware that you included it in your list of most ugly cars, and that one of your readers requested guidance on whether to go for a Verossa or a Premio (DN2 Dec, 7).

Surely, looks should not be the only yardstick when judging a car’s performance. My opinion of the Verossa is that it handles well, is spacious, and spare parts are easily available, same as with Mark II.

Being a V6, it is a good alternative in handling, comfort, power, cost of running, and spare parts availability when compared to either a BMW or a Mercedes Benz.

In as much as I enjoy your column, which is quite educative, please be objective on all fronts, not just on the looks of a car.

Keep up the good work!

Jack.

Jack, tell me why I would walk past a Mark II, a Mark X, and a Crown (all Toyotas), a Diamante (Mitsubishi) ,and a Skyline (Nissan) just so I can place my hard-earned money into another man’s hands and relieve him of a Verossa.

All these cars cost more or less the same, and in the case of the Toyotas, they share plenty of parts, seeing as how they are almost all the same thing underneath — the Mark X is a spiritual successor of the Mark II.

When I spend my money, it has to be worth it. Why buy a car that you cannot gaze at for longer than five minutes before nausea makes its presence felt?

I am sorry, Sir, but in car reviews, looks do play a part. They are not the biggest thing, but in some cases they are the deciding factor for two or more very similar cars. Verossa, Mark II, Crown? I would go for the Crown any time.

Objectivity comes into question under brand loyalties (a colleague would die for a Mercedes and thinks all other cars are crap) rather than looks.

Some cars are downright beautiful (Mark X), some split opinions (BMW X6), while we can all quietly agree that some (Verossa, Will) are the reason women leave their husbands, children play truant, and dogs bite the hands that feed them. Yes, they are that ugly.

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Dear Baraza,

I am keen to delimit my Forester Turbo S/TB (please do not lecture me on the dangers or law issues). It currently does slightly above 180 kph.

I have done my research and asked around and have been presented with three options: buy a gadget called a speed limit defencer that is connected to the ECU (it supposedly overrides the limiter) but I will not know how fast I am going as the speedo will just keep rotating, “fool” a sensor at the back of the speedometer (the downside being that the check engine light will probably appear and again I will not know how fast I am moving, and, last, buy a speed dial that reads more than 180, probably from the UK. I am for the first or last option.

My question is, will installing a dial that reads more than 180 actually work? I have always thought it is a bit more complicated than that. I thought the speed limit is programmed in the ECU, hence the need to remap.

Hilary.

The third option will not work, for the reasons you suspect. Combine either option one or two with three to know what your exact speed is when past 180.

But the ECU could be reprogrammed or even replaced instead of employing “fools” and “defencers” to circumvent the electronic nanny.

There is a company called Ganatra that deals in ECUs, among other things, like combining a Platz, a Landcruiser VX, and a supercharger into a 450hp Mendelian road-going progeny that inherits all its parents’ phenotypes.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes Benz-124 series 200E. What is the difference with the E200? I have heard talk that the latter is superior.

Nick.

There is no clearer way of putting this, so let me speak Japanese. In Japan, cars like the Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 240 SX have “Kouki” models and “Zenki” models.

Zenki models are the ones that were produced in the early lifetime of that particular model of car, while Kouki versions came after recalls, modifications, face-lifts, and adjustments, though still on the same model.

So, while the 124 200E and the 124 E200 might be the same car, the 200E is a “Zenki” (early) model while the E200 is a better developed, better specified, and better engineered “Kouki” (late) model. I hope this clears the air, Jap or no Jap.

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Dear Baraza,

First, I would like to know how one can fix the flashing on/off light of an automatic RAV4. It started this problem after changing the engine.

Two, immediately after engaging gear D or R, the vehicle jerks. What could be the problem?

Gikaru.

What light is that? Is it overdrive? That sounds like an electronic problem. The jerking is because the clutch does not fully disengage when the transmission is shifted from neutral into gear, so there is something called shift shock. I have seen it in a B15 before, what was supposedly a “new” car.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the good job you have been doing. My auto Nissan Wingroad, a 1497cc 2002 model, has started consuming every coin I make on fuel.

For 13 litres of fuel, it covers a distance of 98 km instead of between 170 km and 182 km, the way it used to.

Friends who own a similar ride have given me various reasons, including the sensor and braking.

Kindly let me know what exactly is the problem, where it can be diagnosed, and how to fix it, once and for all. The engine runs smoothly, picks fast, and does not misfire.

Seven kilometres per litre on a Wingroad? Clearly, something is wrong. Diagnosis can be done at any garage with an OBD II device. Get it done and get back to me with an error code.

As for brakes and fuel consumption, unless the brakes are binding, I do not see what the efficiency/mechanical state of one has to do with the magnitude of the other.

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Hello Baraza,

I am trying to decide which is the best car to buy, so could you please compare the Audi A3, Ford Focus, Mazda Premacy, and Volkswagen Golf (GTI grade) — all with a 1.8cc or 2.0cc engine — in terms of fuel consumption, maintenance, long mileage coverage, and some added comfort.

I am not planning to go for a new car, but I prefer post-2001 models. Any other recommendation would be highly appreciated.

Charles.

Correct me if I am wrong, but the Mazda Premacy is a van, is it not? The rest are hatchbacks. Ignoring the Mazda temporarily, the fuel consumption should be highest in the Ford and lowest in the Audi, with the Golf languishing in between, but for non-GTi. The GTi is thirstier than the Ford.

Maintenance is the same for the Audi and the Golf because they share a platform, but availability of spares for the Audi may be subject to a lot of factors.

When it comes to long mileage, Golf goes first, then Ford, then Audi. This split is — despite the shared platform between the Audi and the VW — because of the Audi’s high waistline and thick C pillars: view is obscured and the interior is dark and cramped. Comfort? Audi, Golf, Ford.

The car I have been talking about here is the MK 5 Golf. The MK 4 was pathetic and a sham, an embarrassment to the GTi badge.

It was abnormally heavy, ponderously slow (slower than a Rover automatic and Skoda Octavia Diesel, of all things!) did not handle too well and the interior was not the best.

The Mazda, on this scale of things, lies next to Ford in almost all aspects: they too, share a platform and engines.

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Hey,

I am researching cars with a turbo engine to know the advantages and disadvantages. Kindly assist.

Advantages: Insane power, volumetric efficiency, fuel consumption is low comparatively (likened to a car of similar power and capacity but naturally aspirated).

Disadvantages: Delicate (needs tender care, especially turbo-diesel), a swine to fix once the turbo goes phut, generally costlier than naturally aspirated equivalents, cooling problems, sensitive to oil type and temperature fluctuations, and lag (the delay between throttle action and corresponding turbo activity), if anti-lag is fitted, engine damage is common and fuel consumption is no longer a strong point.

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Hi,
I have a 2003 Wingroad. Every time I hit a small stone, it feels like a thud on the steering. I have at the front new Monroe shocks and the original springs at the back. I drove a Fielder for some time and hitting the same stone in it would give a springy feel. Why the difference?

The difference lies in the steering system and the front suspension/chassis setup. The NZE 120 model (Fielder is the estate version of this car) was built with driver orientation in mind, so the steering feel, performance and handling, among other things, feel quite good, especially compared to Wingroad.

The Wingroad comes off as a loveless white good strictly for generating profit and serving the most basic of motoring needs.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a frequent reader of your motoring column, keep up the good work. I am planning to buy a saloon car early next year.

I am, however, torn between three choices, which somehow look similar but are of different makes and models.

My major concerns are on cost price, fuel consumption, availability of spares, and durability. My options are a Toyota Mark II Grande, 2000cc, VVT-i, second-hand direct import from Japan or Singapore, a Nissan Teana 230JM, 2300cc, CVT, second-hand direct import from Japan or Singapore, and Mercedes Benz E200 Kompressor, 1796cc, used in Kenya, probably a 2002 model.

Kindly advise on the difference between VVT-i and CVT engines in terms of fuel consumption and, based on the above concerns, which of the three vehicles is best.

David.

David, go for the Benz. The others are basic clones of each other and are not entirely dissimilar. The added advantage of a locally sold Benz is that it would be tropicalised and maintained under warranty, so more likely than not you will end up with a car with FSH (full service history) and the ability to run in our conditions.

CVT (the valve control system, not the transmission type) and VVT-i do the same thing (varying the valve timing and controlling valve lift in real time) but in different ways.

There is neither the space nor time for me to get into the actual differences here, maybe in a future article, but rest assured the effects are the same: better performance, better economy, and reduced emissions.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been considering swapping my Caldina, which I have used for five years, with a bigger car for a big family. I wonder if there are Prados of that range and if not, what the best alternatives for a civil servant would be.

Yes, there are Prados of that range. There are also 4Runners (also called Surf), Nissan Terranos, Mitsubishi Pajeros, and maybe an old school Land Rover Discovery (could be costly, though).

“The best alternatives for a civil servant”? Are you planning on keeping your car a secret? Try a Land Rover Defender. Seating for 10, go-anywhere ability — and climate control by God Himself courtesy of the huge panel gaps and absence of A/C in some models.

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Dear Baraza,

I am planning to buy a BMW 318i or 320i, 2005 model saloon sedan. The main reason is security — I notice the car is not popular with carjackers or robbers.

However, I am not sure about the performance of this car, especially its fuel consumption, and parts availability in Kenya. I will appreciate your advice on this. Also, do we have alternatives in the market for this car?

Jared.

The performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW: class-leading, quick, and it handles like magic. The fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into: the degree of German technology under the bonnet means that 16 kpl is possible, even realistic, from a two-litre engine (or up-rated 1.8, which is what the 320 is), provided you do not try and reach 200 km/h. Drive sensibly.

Parts are available; we do have Bavaria Motors, BMW specialists, you know. But BMW is a premium brand and so parts cost in keeping with the image and quality of the car, so you will pay through the nose. But treat the car well and drive maturely and you will not have to wear your wallet thin running it.

Alternatives are the Mercedes C-Class (not only available, but also common) and the Audi A4 (less common). A recent entry into the class is the VW Passat (bland MK1 version and the MK 2 makes you look like a government official/NSIS spy), while a cheaper option is the Peugeot 406 (yes, I actually did it. I recommended a Peugeot)!

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Hi,

I am in a dilemma here; I have a passion for Impezas, specifically the 1490cc ones, but almost all my friends say Subarus are thirsty, their resale value drops pretty fast, and their spares are expensive.

When I compare the cost of acquiring the Impreza with that of the NZE/Fielder, the latter is far much expensive whether already used on Kenyan roads or not.

Kindly advise me on whether to take the Impreza, considering that I have no information on its fuel efficiency when in the heavy traffic common on our city roads.

Charles.

What is stopping you from buying the Impreza? If it is not a turbo, then there is nothing to worry you about fuel consumption. Spares are there; how else would you explain the growing number of Subarus on the roads? And you yourself admit that the Fielder is costlier to “acquire”.

I see you yearn for the little Scooby, go for it. But take good care of it and try not to race fellow drivers if you want your fuel economy to stay within affordable margins.

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Hi,
Kindly tell me the difference between turbo-charged and turbo-unchanged. Also, what does naturally-aspirated mean?

Most tuning outfits specialise typically in Japanese cars (STi Subaru, Lancer Evo, Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7, Nissan GT-R etc), a good number of which are turbo-charged.

Sometimes, in the quest for bigger horsepower, the factory turbo is either replaced for a bigger unit or another one is added to create a twin turbo setup if the original was single.

Also, the stock turbo can have devices added/modified/replaced such as the anti-lag, wastegate, blow-off valve and actuators.

Naturally, an engine built to develop 280hp will not last very long if forced to output 500-plus hp, and the kind of people who do this kind of thing do not go easy on their cars.

As a result, the resale value of tuned cars is next to nothing. If you own one of the cars I mentioned, or other performance vehicles (especially from Japan) and you intend to resell it, you might have to say “turbo-unchanged” to mean that the car still runs on a factory turbo.

This means that any outstanding warranties will still be valid, the vehicle’s manual can be followed if the turbo needs repair, the performance and fuel consumption will not be too far from the manufacturer’s claims, etc…. In other words, the car will not have any surprises under the bonnet.

Turbo-charging is the act of forcing air under great pressure into an engine (any engine) to increase the power output.

The fan (impeller) that forces this air into the engine is driven via a shaft connected to another fan (turbine), and this turbine is driven by the force exerted by exhaust gases leaving the engine. This is as opposed to supercharging, whereby the impeller is driven by the engine itself rather than by an exhaust turbine.

Naturally-aspirated means “neither turbo-charged nor super-charged”, i.e air goes into the engine under atmospheric pressure only; no extra force is exerted.

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Hi,

My Mitsubishi Cedia is back on the road after your advice, thanks a lot. I recently bought a Toyota Prado TX but it did not come with a manual. Kindly expound on the following available gadgets, their use, and at what times or situations they are to be used.

1 Button marked PWR.

2. 2ND.

3. Red button.

All these buttons are next to the main gear lever with all the other functions well indicated, that is, P, R, N, D, 2, L.

The vehicle is auto but with a manual 4WD gear lever and I wish to ask, why is the vehicle very poor in handling slippery terrain?

It skids too easily. And what is this overdrive thing and when is it supposed to be used? When it indicates “Overdrive Off” on the dashboard, what does this mean?

Juma.

Where were you when I was discussing overdrive and how to drive an automatic? Anyway, mine is not to chide, but to inform and educate, so here goes:

1. The PWR (Power) button is a function of what Toyota calls ECT or ECT-i (Electronically Controlled Transmission). When that button is pressed, the settings for the gearbox change, shifts happen faster, downshifts happen earlier, and upshifts later (much higher in the rev range) to maximise the car’s performance.

2. 2ND locks the transmission and limits the gearbox from going beyond second gear.

3. I have never found out what the red button is for, but I suspect it is a shift lock. I have pressed it surreptitiously (out of owners’ view) in the numerous automatic cars so equipped but nothing happened, as far as I could tell. Further research is on-going.

4. Overdrive allows the engine to spin at fewer rpms for a given road speed at a particular gear. The effect is to save fuel and reduce strain on the engine and transmission. If it says Overdrive OFF on the dash, then the unit has been disengaged and you should turn it on again. The circumstances that warrant its disengagement may be outside your skill range, judging from your email.

Finally, when your Prado skids, is it in 2WD or 4WD? Allow me to digress a little. The advent of ABS led to more carelessness among drivers and as such braking-related accidents went up statistically.

It is in this vein that I should ask you not to fall into the same trap: your car having 4WD does not mean that after engaging the transfer case (4L or 4H) you are now a driving god and can go anywhere.

If anything, off-roading is one of the most difficult driving tactics ever and requires plenty of skill. You will still skid, spin, or wedge yourself into the countryside if you do not know how to use the hardware available to you.

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Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your informative articles. My question is, what are the advantages of a Toyota Corolla NZE, G-Grade, for example?

Ben.

Advantages: It is cheap, common, easy to maintain, easy on the fuel, and has an eager autobox.

Disadvantages: It is VERY common, the eager autobox is actually overeager and hunts too much, I do not like the looks too much (my opinion), and the car is treacherous if you are not paying attention.

Posted on

Enough of the aesthetics, now the power beneath the bonnet

For two weeks, I lightly discussed the aesthetic aspects of skin-deep motor vehicle design.

More detailed explanations will follow at a later date, but for now let us look at the other important design factor; performance.

While looks, and ultimately the outright appeal of a car, tend to be subjective and rely heavily on individual tastes (and strength of eyesight), the physical capabilities fall under a more exact science and can thus be taken to be the universal truth.

Judging a car’s appearance is as simple as eyeballing it, so how is the performance of a car measured?

Acceleration is first, most commonly expressed in 0-100 km/h times, or 0-60 mph in medieval units of measurement.

Quarter mile runs, standing kilometre, half mile and full mile figures are also quoted, which also give an idea of how fast a car accelerates, as does the observed speed at the end of the given acceleration distance.

Braking is next, and the most typical statistics quoted are 100 km/h to 0, 200 km/h to 0 (the McLaren Mercedes SLR does this in less than 65 metres, similar to a Ford Focus at half that speed, and the McLaren’s is almost half the distance that a Ford Anglia takes to brake from half the McLaren’s speed).

For the Bugatti Veyron’s 400km/h to 0, you will have covered a good four football field-lengths by the time this happens. Both distance and time intervals are usually quoted.

Last up is the cornering grip, the ultimate holding power of the tyres-suspension-chassis-centre of gravity-steering geometry collusion point.

This is usually expressed in terms of centrifugal acceleration, better known as lateral g. 1g is the numerical equivalent of the earth’s gravitational field constant, determined by Isaac Newton to be steady at 9.81 m/s2 (metres per second per second, or metres per second squared).

Braking and acceleration are also sometimes expressed in g. But a lot of us fear mathematics and physics, and don’t particularly care for numbers and SI units, especially that last part.

There should be a way of giving a single parameter that neatly sums up all those numbers.

Only really obsessive buffs, like yours truly, derive any sort of pleasure reading numbers on a multi-column table and comparing them to more numbers on other multi-column tables, and it is for this exact reason that normal production cars are taken to race-tracks to try and establish a respectable lap time.

After all, the lap time of the car neatly sums up everything: acceleration on the straights, braking coming up to the corners and the cornering ability through the corner, all rolled into one.

To bring a semblance of order in this (there must be hundreds of thousands of racetracks around the world), and for the sake of uniformity, there are a few racetracks worldwide that have been accepted as the benchmark determinants of a motor vehicle’s capabilities, and the most famous, the most dangerous, the most demanding and the most fun to drive is found in the Eifel Mountains in Germany.

Die Nürburgring (The Nuerburgring): The Green Hell: Seventy kilometres south of Cologne and 120 kilometres northwest of Frankfurt sleeps the medieval village of Nurburg, and around this sleepy hamlet loops the world’s most famous racetrack: the Nuerburgring.

The track is an unnerving 20.8 kilometres long in its current public-accessible format. Over the years, the track has changed configurations, and is at the moment split into the 22.8 km Nordschleife (Northern loop) which we are concerned with, and a 7.7 km Südschleife (Southern loop), mostly used for circuit race events such as F1, though the Nordschleife is still also used for some events.

There is a very good reason this track bears the nickname “The Green Hell”, and not just because several racing drivers have come to their ends along it over the years. The place is unforgiving and very few mistakes, if any, go unpunished.

There is little run off, the corners (of which there are countless) and crests are blind, so getting your line wrong or setting your car up badly will not end well.

The issue is that it is also a high speed arena, so driving slowly will only get you rear-ended by ambitious Germans in hard-charging 911s. It is not a place for the inept or the weak at heart.

This is exactly why auto builders bring their new-fangled hardware here in search of glory. Even the drivers have to be carefully selected when cars are put to the test: the driver too has to go the distance, not just the car.

Driving at an average speed of 160 km/h through more than 100 hairpins, sweepers, S-curves and crests for almost 10 minutes is sure to put a lot of pressure on both man and machine.

To cap it all off, there is a 300 km/h long straight at the very end, where high horsepower cars can really show their mettle, but on days when the track is opened to the public, drivers are required to slow down here, rather than speed.

This is how the lap times are significant, again to both driver and car. If you drive an ordinary car (200hp or less, say) and crack 10 minutes, you could be a bit special behind the wheel.

Less than 9 minutes and you might need the 200hp, or a little more; or better yet, superhuman driving skills. Between 8 minutes and 8 and a half calls for some 250hp plus.

Anything less than 8 minutes, in any car, and you would be advised to quit your day job and seek employment as a factory driver for any of the major companies.

The most hard-core sports cars have their lap times ranging in the early 7 minutes, at the hands of professional drivers.

So far only three production cars have broken the 7 minute barrier, and even so, two of them are not really road legal (the Radical SR3 at 6:57, an open-top racer with a motorbike engine and the first to register a sub-7 minute lap time; the Ferrari 599 XX, and the Pagani Zonda R, at 6:47, which took the record recently).

The Top Gear Test track: A lot of you must be familiar with this place, if only from the on-screen television marvel that is the BBC Top Gear show and its housekeeper, The Stig.

But are you aware that it is another unofficial test arena for motor cars, and that most manufacturers keep a keen eye on how their vehicles perform here?

The Power Lap Board, as it is now famously known, has been a make-or-break feature for vehicles participating on the show, and is something that is actually taken quite seriously, notwithstanding the zoo-like antics of one Jeremy Clarkson (he sometimes sets fire to the strips of paper on which the car’s lap time is written).

It is hard to actually tell what the track looks exactly like just from watching; all we hear is “Chicago”, “Gambon”, “Hammerhead”, “Follow-through” and so on, but extraordinarily, the track layout is in a figure of 8, meaning it would be worse than useless for holding a race (someone had once suggested that they should hold a Formula 1 race there).

Fancy names aside, all those corners and straights did not just fall out of the sky into view of BBC TV cameras; they were all designed intentionally — by the Lotus Group no less, meisters of automobile handling and chassis setup.

The track is usually run anticlockwise for the first loop of the figure 8. The first corner is a left curve of reducing radius (also called Willson Bend, but this name is rarely used), coming after a high-speed left-right kink on the opening straight.

Next up is Chicago, a steady state circumventing a tyre wall. Steady state corners are those taken without steering correction (constant application of lock), and the motor vehicle’s angle of attack is adjusted either using the throttle or the brakes.

This bend was purposely built by Lotus to expose a chassis’ propensity for either oversteer or understeer.

After that comes Hammerhead, a tightish left-right switchback that tests chassis balance, braking and brake balance, and the effect of hard braking on a car (tramlining, yawing or locking wheels).

This bend also shows up understeering chasses on entry into the second bend (the right after the left), or oversteering chasses as you exit the whole thing.

From there comes a right sweep that feeds into the follow-through, where the vehicles are maxed out, shooting past the tyre wall (again) into a left sweeper called Bentley (another rarely used name) and in to the second-to-last corner as it has now been known, another hard left and regarded as the trickiest bend in the whole course. It is easy to spin out on this bend by oversteering.

If you don’t oversteer into the grass (or spin wildly) through the penultimate corner, then the final corner will definitely get you.

Called Gambon, this corner has been the undoing of several high ranking individuals up to and including, but not limited to The Stig himself (it was named Gambon after Sir Michael Gambon took it on two wheels in an earlier season of Top Gear).

Besides Sir Gambon, other persons of note taking that corner on two wheels include Hollywood actor Tom Cruise and a former Arsenal player.

From there it is on to the start/ finish line. All this covers 2.82 kilometres. The lap time of any given vehicle through that course goes onto a board, called The Power Lap Board.

There are rules governing that board, first being that only vehicles available on sale in the UK can have their times posted on it.

Other rules include street legality (the appearance of number plates and indicator lamps confirm this), the ability to go over a sleeping policeman (a flattish speed bump) and the use of street tyres.

This means cars that are too low at the front, or cars running on slicks are not allowed, as are limited production cars that are sold out.

This does not deter the team from timing anything they can get their hands on. Formula 1 cars have had their chance to shine there, and the lap record is held, not by a car, but by a fighter aircraft, the Sea Harrier jump jet, at 31 seconds.

Not being anything roadworthy (not a car, not street legal, and not using road tyres), its time cannot be posted.

Most cars, particularly the top ranking marques on this board, would not be instantly recognisable to a good number of you out there, so I will not dwell too much on the merit list, but a few key facts: the first Veyron slotted in fourth position first time it went round, and was further dethroned rapidly in succession by a Zonda F roadster and a Caterham R500.

The successive Super Sport took the honours, but has now been unseated by a V8-powered Ariel Atom 500 at 1 min 15.1 sec.

Ehra-Lessien: Pronounced “error le scene” (including accent and inflection), this is a top secret test facility that became famous because of the Bugatti Veyron.

It is not used by just anybody; exclusive rights of ownership, management and use belong to the giant Volkswagen Group, the same posse of excessively clever people who engineered the Veyron.

While it covers 96 kilometres of any imaginable tarmac track condition, the most spectacular stretch is the 8.8 kilometre long arrow-straight section.

So straight and so long is this section that it is possible to see the curvature of the Earth’s surface along it, and it is here that the two Bugattis (407 km/h Veyron and 431 km/h Veyron Super Sport) set their respective production car speed records.

The stretch is parenthesized by two banked corners, usually taken at 200 km/h for those planning on clocking 400 km/h along the straight. It is one of few places on Earth where this is possible.

Nobody sat down and decided that the Nuerburgring and the Top Gear test track would be the benchmark facilities for determining a vehicle’s physical abilities, it just happened.

It has come to be that any sports car manufacturer who wants to build a name for themselves brings their vehicle to the Nuerburgring and sets a lap time, which they would shout about if it beats that of their competition.

Nissan and Porsche got into a scandalous tiff when the R35 GT-R beat Porsche’s 911 Turbo, causing Carlos Ghosn (head honcho at Nissan) to brag endlessly and Porsche to throw a wobbly, accusing Nissan of dishonesty.

Nissan returned for the second time and posted an even better lap time, after which they bragged even harder (“The Legend Is Real”, so goes their YouTube video showing the Nissan conquering the ‘Ring).

Ferrari set a lap record with the 599 XX car, but their rivals Pagani showed them up a few short weeks later with the Zonda R, making Ferrari’s one of the shortest-lived lap records ever, and leaving Pagani as the current holders of the mantle.

Maybe we should build a track of our own here and get in on the action.