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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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The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about

Hello Baraza,
I love cars and they must be fast, but in Kenya they have put in place speed bumps, Alcoblow and what have you to stop us. Kindly give me the lowdown on the Nissan Murano; is it as good as its curves imply or is it “just another Nissan”?
Eriq B

The speed bumps and Alcoblow kits are necessary evils to protect Kenyans from themselves. Sometimes we take things too far, more often than not, with blatant disregard for existing dogma.

Rules are meant to be followed, and if the great unwashed thinks it knows better and is too large to capture (“They can’t arrest us all!”), systems can be put in place that make strict obeisance of such tenets unavoidable.

With speed bumps looming ahead, pushing the needle to previously unused sectors of the speedometer doesn’t look so attractive now, does it?

With a policeman in a high-visibility jacket ready and willing to ruin your weekend with a citation and court appointment (wherein penalties involving large sums of money and/or extended periods as a guest of the state will be on the menu), drink-driving is suddenly not as much fun as it used to be, is it?

NOT EASY ON FUEL

That aside, let us chat (very briefly) about the Murano. It is a good car if you buy it — if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t want to admit to anyone that you threw money down the toilet buying a useless vehicle, would you? It is a good car only if you own it, because it is an investment.

As an unsold car, it is hard to see the point of a Murano other than as a cut-price pose-mobile; an option where the Mercedes M Class looks too snobbish, a BMW X5/X6/X3 too expensive, a Lexus RX330/450h too cliché, a Subaru Tribeca too close to guilt by association with the boy-racer WRX, and where the propagator of the incipient purchase has a fetish for chrome.

It looks like an SUV but it won’t seat seven and will be flummoxed by some rough stuff that a Freelander could handle: the ground clearance is insufficient for tough terrain; the 4WD system is not for anything besides good traction on wet tarmac and/or a light coating of mud on hard-pack road; approach, departure and break-over angles are not ideal for crawling over anything tougher than a kerb; it is not easy on fuel and, to make matters worse, there is a pretender in the line-up: a little-known 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine that could easily haunt your engine bay, fooling the unwise into thinking they have the more famous 3.5 litre V6 (“sports car engine, mate! Straight off the 350Z!”); that is, until the day they go beyond the psychological barrier that is half-throttle and experience incredulity at being dusted by a sports saloon with high-lift cams, then ask themselves what all those cubic inches are for if the Murano can’t keep up with a tiny car.

Cross-over utilities are pointless in my opinion, and the Murano is one of them. More style than substance, more form than function, more panache than purpose. It is comfortable, though, and makes a good kerb-crawler and school run vehicle…

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Hi Baraza,
First, I wish to appreciate your column in the Daily Nation. I have a Land Rover Discovery 3, 2007,  2.7 diesel engine and am thinking of customising it. What I have in mind is to make it a twin turbo or add a supercharger to increase horsepower.

It’s a big project and I know it will incur significant costs; buying the turbo or supercharger itself is not cheap. Anyway, I wish to get your opinion as to whether this is not a very crazy undertaking.

And while at it, please tell me where I can get aftermarket parts in Kenya such as cold intakes and performance exhaust manifolds and any other ways to add those horses. I know this is not a race car and I don’t expect it to be, but boys will be boys, always competing to see who has the most power.
PS: I don’t think the Evo will ever see the tail lights of a Sub.
Kevin

Yes, it is a crazy undertaking. To begin with, nobody ever supercharges a diesel engine (the explanation is long and highly technical).

The other impediment is creating a twin-turbo set-up from a single turbo application. Will the twin turbo be sequential or parallel? Where will you fit the second turbo?

The Disco’s engine bay is already cramped enough as it is. It would be easier to either replace the factory turbo with an aftermarket unit, or simply increase the boost pressure in the current one.

Recent happenings in the Great Run (last year’s 4×4) indicate that the Disco 3’s turbo might not be the most faithful accomplice in attaining horsepower.

The one Discovery that took part blew its (stock) turbo or something along those lines — after limping along in safe-mode for a while. Maybe fiddling with the turbo on the Ford AJD-V6/PSADT17 engine might not be a good idea after all.

Buying a new turbo might not be your biggest headache in this undertaking. You might or might not need new injectors (high-flow units), depending on what comes as stock from the factory. You might or might not need an intercooler upgrade.

You will definitely need new headers and a new intake. You will also need either a new engine map for the ECU to gel with the new blower or a whole new ECU altogether. I don’t know of any local outfit that does Discovery engine maps.

Worse still, opening up the engine might prove to be the first obstacle you come across: some engines are built and held together using custom covers and fasteners, whose tools are very specific and supplied only to official dealers. I hardly think RMA Kenya will want to get in on this.

The easiest way to get a sizeable jump in power might be to simply increase boost in the current turbo by a very huge factor, then persevere the gnawing feeling in your stomach that soon, the turbo will most likely disintegrate into a cloud of metal shavings.

Shop around. Performance parts are not very hard to come by nowadays. PS: You are right. You will never see the tail lights of a car that is behind you.

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Dear Baraza,

I enjoy reading your articles and appreciate and respect your advice. Now, please give your comments on the performances of the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota Fortuner and the Land Rover Discovery.

I test-drove a Pathfinder and the car seemed excellent… power, comfort, and smoothness. Road grip at high speed on rough roads with what they call independent wheel suspension was very good compared to the others.

However, it has a lower power rating of only 2.5L. Or is there higher output for some cars even with a lower cc? Please advise because I need to make a decision. Mash.

Hello Mash,
I don’t follow. First, in Point 1 you say you like the power, comfort and smoothness of the Pathfinder, but then come Point 2, you complain that the vehicle is down on power. Which is which?

You are right, though, the Pathfinder is good on those three fronts, but even better is the Discovery, again on all three fronts. This leads to another question: which Discovery are you referring to?

We are on the fourth iteration, which is a whole lot different (and light years better) than the first two generations. This also applies to the Pathfinder: which generation are we talking about?

The earlier ones were close to hopeless, but the latest ones (R51 model onwards) are superb. Not so much the Fortuner.

The power might be much lower than the Pathfinder, especially where the diesel engines in the Hilux are concerned (101hp for the Toyota 2KD-FTV 2.5 litre compared to the Nissan’s 170hp YD25TT 2.5 litre diesel).

A BIT THIRSTY

The Fortuner is also not what we would call comfortable, and being based on a rugged, near-immortal, steel-boned, hewn-from-granite frame designed to do all sorts of menial tasks, from ferrying khat to carrying bags of cement to toting heavy artillery in war-torn areas, smoothness was not a priority during development, and it shows. It is based on a truck of sorts, and it feels like a truck of sorts.

Taking you at your word (verbatim), for the Pathfinder, you will not find a smaller engine than the 2.5, and by induction, it will not be more powerful because it does not exist in the first place.

However, bigger engines are available: you could get a 3.0 V6 turbodiesel making 240hp (only with the 2010 facelift model, though), 4.0 V6 petrol (good unit, this, but a bit thirsty) good for 266hp; or even a rare 5.6 litre V8, though this particular one might be available only in the Middle East.

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Dear Baraza,
I have one issue after another with my BMW E46 and all the diagnoses are misleading. I used to take my car to a local dealer but they were not of much help. What you should tell the BMW guys in Germany is that either we don’t have serious dealers or expertise in Kenya, or their machines are no longer exciting or trustworthy. One can sleep in the bush any time.
Harrison.

This should make things interesting, especially seeing what I wrote about BMW last week. Let us see if Bavaria follows this up. However, I agree with you: we don’t get exciting BMWs here, at least not via official channels.

No convertibles — although I did see one or two coupés at Bavaria Motors some time back — none of the M Cars (more so the mighty M5), and I can bet the futuristic i8 model that is rumoured to be on the premises is not for sale to the public just yet.

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Hi JM,
Thank you for your very informative column.
1. I recently witnessed an ambulance tear through the side of a saloon car and speed off, leaving the saloon driver gaping. The saloon car was in a traffic jam and could not climb the kerb to give way because of the posts on the side of the road.

(a) Do ambulance drivers have immunity from prosecution? To what extent are they exempted from obeying traffic rules?
(b) What course of action could the saloon car driver have taken under the circumstances?
(c) Are Cabinet and Principal Secretaries allowed by law to use the wrong lane on a dualcarriageway? I find it very dangerous to oncoming vehicles.

2. Which is the best buy between the Toyotas Spacio, Allion, Belta and NZE in terms of engineering quality and maintenance?
Thanks.

This is new…
1. a) I believe drivers of emergency vehicles enjoy a certain degree of immunity from prosecution, but a number of factors have to be in place first, chief being there has to be an emergency.

I have also witnessed an ambulance make short work of the front nearside fender of a saloon car whose only mistake was to peep a little too far into a T-junction, across which the ambulance was barrelling at full tilt, lights flashing and siren wailing.

Upon inquiry, I was told that the saloon car driver had no case; if anything, he was in danger of prosecution for failing to make way for an emergency vehicle. I am not sure to what extent this immunity stretches.

b) Typical accident scenario: step 1 is to assess the damage (and pray that you do not need an ambulance too… and/or a hearse). Step 2 is to contact your insurance company. They will know and advise you what the next course of action is.

Reporting this to the police might get you into deeper trouble (see the conclusion of (a) above), but I believe that at one point or other an accident report will have to be made.

c) I don’t think so. Very few people have this privilege, the President being the most obvious example, but Secretaries? I hardly think so.

2. These cars all come from the same company, so they will be built similarly. The level of quality and engineering precision will be reflected directly on the cost of the car: expect the Belta to be slightly inferior to the other three, which all feel the same.

Maintenance follows the same formula: the simplistic Belta should be easier to run and repair compared to the remaining trio.

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

Hi,

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

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

Which one would you prefer, and why?

Shah

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

Thanks and regards.

Hello Sir,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Kyalo.

Hello Kyalo,

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

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

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

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

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

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Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francis

Hello Sir,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prius is no horse.

Posted on

Mazda CX-7 vs Toyota Fortuner

Hi Baraza,

I am in a dilemma as to which car is preferable for me between the Mazda CX-7 and Toyota Fortuner. Please advise me bearing in mind the initial cost, maintenance, fuel consumption and availability of spare parts.

The Mazda looks unique and stylish, but is it as reliable and durable as the Fortuner?

Thanks,

Stephen.

All your criteria favour the Fortuner. However, the CX-7 is a lot more comfortable and better to drive, plus that turbo engine pushes the Mazda like an aircraft. I have seen one or two around.

With time, and given the increasing popularity of Mazda vehicles, issues like spare parts (which directly affect maintenance) will no longer be a bother. The initial cost is also not too bad (the other option is a fully-fledged SUV anyway) but consumption may be a pinch if you make the turbo puff hard. And you most likely will, the CX-7 is not designed to be driven at low-rev, low-speed economy runs.

Posted on

The Surf, good. The Montero, so-so. The Fortuner, ish-ish!

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

I want to upgrade to a 4X4 but I am wondering which, between the Toyota Fortuner, the Toyota Surf and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I should go for. I have not driven any of them but they look quite capable. Kindly give me your views in terms of performance, handling, and operating costs (spares and fuel).

Regards,

Okumu.

In keeping with the theme of road tests promised but not delivered is the Pajero Sport, the new one. Since you call it a Montero Sport, I will guess you are talking about the old model, which some call the Nativa (most of these names depend on where you buy the car).

In terms of performance, I hope you do not mean speed, because these cars are not meant to be driven fast, except, maybe, for the Surf, which is a lot better than the other two on tarmac.

The Montero Sport (old model) used the power train from the L200 Warrior/Storm, and in a review I did on this car, I found the gear ratios to be mismatched with the engine characteristics.

The first three gears were too high, bogging down initial acceleration, and then the final two gears were too low, giving a noisy, thrashy, belligerent highway cruise, not to mention a poor top speed and unimpressive fuel economy.

Then again, in a car that tall, you don’t want to be going really fast, do you? The height and separate frame chassis puts some distance between this vehicle and the Lancer Evolution in handling terms, irrespective of the fact that they are both Mitsubishis. Don’t corner hard in it.

The Fortuner is very similar to the Montero in handling, except the ride is worse. It is uncomfortable. It also has a useless diesel engine that huffs and puffs and blows your patience down: to get any semblance of movement you need the petrol version. For that you sacrifice fuel economy: even the 2.7 VVT-i is quite thirsty.

These two cars are based on pickups, and therein lies the problem. Also, being cheaper than their elder siblings (the Pajero and the Prado), they seem aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast rather than the causal SUV-lover (this explains the unusual engine-gearbox relationship: it is more ideal for off-road than on-road).

And that is where the Surf comes in. The Fortuner is actually spiritual successor of the Surf, but the Surf is more comfortable, faster, smoother, more economical and is less likely to do a somersault through a corner. The diesel turbo engine also seems better suited to all conditions.

These are big 4×4 vehicles, so fuel economy will be scary if you opt for a petrol engine, and maintaining the turbo will be painful if you go for the diesel and don’t know what you are doing. 4X4 tyres are also generally more expensive than saloon car tyres.

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

**********

Hi Baraza,

I recently imported a 2005 Toyota Avensis fitted with a 2000cc D4-VVTi engine. Being my first ride, I must say it has been excellent, especially on highways and smooth roads. The ground clearance, however, is an issue when I have to do a bit of off-roading. My questions:

1. Other than my driving skills, how else should I protect the belly of the vehicle without compromising stability (don’t tell me to stay away from off-roads).

2. Other than normal servicing after covering particular mileage, are there any special pointers to look out for?

3. Other than Toyota Kenya, kindly recommend for me a mechanic I can depend on for minor maintenance, especially body works, though I intend to visit Toyota Kenya for engine-related issues.

4. There are Avensis’ made specifically for European markets and others for Japanese use. Which of these is superior, and are the parts and trims the same?

Regards,

JM.

1. You could under-seal the belly of the car. That is, install a sort of iron sheet, in the fashion of a sump guard, that goes all the way to the back of the car. I will not tell you to stay away from off-road, but I will tell you to try and get the right vehicle for it, if it is really off-road. I have noticed people have a tendency to refer to any untarmacked paths as “off-road”.

2. Not really. Just keep an eye on expendables (tyres, brakes, fluids), drive carefully, wash your car regularly and don’t be afraid to use Shell’s V-Power once in a while, especially with that D4 engine. Also, buy your fuel from reputable sources only.

3. I normally don’t refer people to mechanics outside of the franchise, so for now…. stick to Toyota Kenya.

4. The Avensis for the European market is called Avensis. The Avensis for the Japanese market is called Premio (not Avensis). They are essentially similar, though the Avensis (European) has a wider choice of engines, including diesel. When buying parts, just buy the model-specific stuff, don’t interchange, because there are certain items that might not be interchangeable.

**********

Hi Baraza,

My car, an 1,800cc, 2002 Toyota Fielder that has clocked 68,000 kilometres so far, makes a soft clicking sound when I start it in the morning. The noise comes from the front, but when I open the bonnet and listen I can’t locate it.

When I close the bonnet, it sounds as if the noise is coming from the front wheels. The noise disappears after driving for a few minutes, when, I guess, when the engine has become warm.

My mechanic told me to change the ATF, but that did not help. I have always used Total Quartz 7000 oil, the drive shaft and wheel joints are OK, the bushes are new, the choke clean and all shocks and engine mounts are in good condition.

Another mechanic suggested that it might be the bearing next to the water pump, and I am now confused! For your information, this problem came about after my friend borrowed the car for a 750-kilometre journey on bad roads. What might be the problem?

Sospeter.

Step 1 is to ask your friend what happened or what he did in the course of that 750-kilometre drive, and press upon him that honesty is a requirement, though I highly doubt he did anything untoward with the vehicle.

Noises are hard to diagnose without actually hearing them, and what makes your situation even more sticky is the fact that you can’t isolate the source of the noise. Soft clicking could be anything, it could even be a fan blade brushing against something.

It could be low oil pressure in the valve train (typical with a cold engine), it could be a loose or out-of-kilter belt, it could even be the bearing the other mechanic is talking about. Check everything, Sir.

**********

Dear Baraza,

My Toyota Wish has been showing the Check Engine light on and off. The light is very erratic and may come on after weeks. I have taken the car for diagnosis twice. The first time they changed the fuel filter but the light persisted. The second diagnosis did not show anything wrong. Please advise.

Thanks,

Robert.

Your car, I suspect, is fine; it is just that the ECU was not flushed after the diagnosis (and repair, I presume) was done. Disconnect the battery overnight and reconnect in the morning.

This typically flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas (after the problem has been solved, don’t just flush the ECU when the source of the Check Engine light has not been rectified).

However, first confirm that disconnecting the battery will not disorient your car. I have said it flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas, but I don’t know if the Wish is one of them. Sometimes disconnecting the battery creates a whole lot of complications with the ECU itself, resetting things and maybe calling for a reprogramming.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I really enjoy reading your weekly articles. Please keep up the good work. I have lived in Europe for a while now and I’m planning to come back home. I would like to purchase a Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI (diesel, turbocharged engine).

I think it’s the same models as those used by several ministries in Kenya (but again maybe those are FSI models). The car has a manual transmission, and I would like to know the following about it:

1. Is it easy to own a Volkswagen in Kenya, in respect to maintenance costs?

2. Which one is more economical, the TDI or the FSI?

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

4. What are the other Japanese models that equal the Passat, and are they available in Kenya?

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

1. It is not “easy”, but it is not particularly hard either. We have CMC Motors, who deal in Passats among other things. The government cars you see are FSI models, and I am not sure if they have any diesels in the fleet. I am also not sure if CMC will maintain a small diesel… especially an imported, non-tropicalised one.

2. TDI of course. Diesel engines are the sippiest of all sippy engines, though FSI and other direct injection petrol engines come really close. The diesel is still cheaper to fuel because diesel is cheaper here in Kenya than petrol, unlike some other countries.

3. Merchandise? Yes. We have Golfs, Polos, Passats, Touaregs, Jettas, Amaroks, we even have Volkswagen trucks and lorries; in fact what I have not seen around is the Phaeton uber-saloon. But I am guessing what you were really asking about is FRANCHISE, in which case the answer is also yes.

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

4. The Passat’s biggest Japanese rival is the Toyota Camry, which we have here in Kenya, but for some reason, Toyota Kenya have priced it out of the market: it costs more than an E Class Mercedes (asking price of Sh9 million as of February last year).

Other Japanese rivals are the Honda Accord (good car, this), but Honda is still establishing itself (again) in the country, so not much noise has been made about this car. From Nissan and Mitsubishi it is only import cars that would serve any real competition to the Passat (Teana and Galant/Diamante).

Local line ups at DT Dobie and Simba Colt do not have anything of that size. We also have the Mazda 6 (nice to drive, and looks sharp, costs about Sh3.85 million from CMC) and the Subaru Legacy (very big boot, looks weird and the 2.0 litre boxer without a turbo feels underpowered. It IS underpowered.

Costs about Sh5.5m at Subaru Kenya). A well-kept secret (until now) is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good car, well-specced, pretty and competitively priced to boot at Sh4.5m, though it is not Japanese.

And the government also has a few :-). My personal pick is the Mazda. It understeers a bit, but it feels the best to drive of the lot. It actually feels like a sports car, though the Tiptronic gate has been reversed and is counter-intuitive.

**********

Thanks for your very informative articles in the Daily Nation. Keep up the good work. I just realised that we went to Alliance High School the same year (Class of ‘02), from your Facebook page.

I recently bought a Toyota Mark X (2.5L), rear-wheel-drive, and it’s been giving me two major problems;

1. It skids a lot on wet surfaces (even on not-so-wet surfaces), and its traction control, unfortunately, offers little help. I noticed on the dashboard there is a light for 4WD; does this mean it has an option for 4WD? I believe this would reduce the skidding. How can I activate it? There is no button for it.

2. The ground clearance is so low and I am contemplating raising it a little bit using coil springs, but I have been advised that this would negatively impact on its stability and the electronically controlled shock absobers? What are your thoughts on this?

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

1. The traction control SHOULD help. Is it on or off? And from the way you describe the situation, I think someone has a heavy foot. Either that or you may have bought an enthusiast’s car. Those Japanese tend to do funny things to cars, which include, but are not limited to, doing away with the traction control.

It is as simple as using a custom map in the ECU. I also suspect your car develops more than the 212bhp made by the stock 2.5 litre engine. You may have in your hands what we call a “sleeper”, an ordinary-looking vehicle with extra-ordinary firepower under the bonnet.

Saloon cars do not have deselectable 4WD like SUVs. The car itself decides how much power it channels to which axle, depending on circumstances. No driver influence is available.

The closest one can come to having deselectable 4WD in a saloon car is with the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. If your car had 4WD when new and now behaves like a rear-drive drifting car, then I suspect the former owner also did away with the front drive shaft. He may have intentionally modified the Mark X to drift easily, which is what you are (unintentionally) doing.

2. In keeping with my suspicions that you have bought a drifting car is my other surmise: it may also have been lowered. Installing stock springs should help. If it is on stock suspension (which I doubt, because yours sounds like it has adjustable suspension), then taller springs will do. It will not affect the car adversely if the height increase is also not adverse.

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

Here’s why some predated Mercs are making a comeback

There is a sudden spurt in the number of 190E Mercs on Nairobi roads. Kindly offer your thoughts on why this is so and review the car for safety, reliability, performance and maintenance.
Pete

The car is obsolete, very much so, seeing how it pre-dates and precedes the current line of C-Class Mercs. As such, against the current crop of cars, it will score poorly on all fronts.

Even in its heyday, the “performance” version, the 190E 2.3 16V Cosworth, was too slow, and the dog-leg first gear confused the unwary.

The proliferation of 190Es may be due to the fact that they were built in the Era of the Over-Engineered Benz (124s and 126s), cars that will simply never break down unless you ram a tree, or a wall, so their reputation has gone up. And they can now be had for as little as 300K. And they are fun to drive.

My crystal ball tells me 200Es (whatever happened to the old Mercedes Kenatco taxi cabs of old, I wonder? And the Presidential Escort vehicles…) and 280 SEs are following suit.

This crystal ball has been mostly right over the years (one or two misfires), so let me wait and see how it pans out.

—————-

Hi Mr Baraza,

I have just acquired a new-model Caldina ZT, D4 engine, 4WD, with low profile tyres. I wish to know the following:

1. I have installed two-inch spacers but I feel the car has become a bit wobbly on uneven tarmac. How can I enhance stability on the road? Would things like wider tyres do?

2. As for the low profile tyres, some friends tell me they are not reliable in rough areas, is this true?

3. How best can I maintain the engine since I hear it is a bit sensitive? I am a careful driver, but at times I do about 150kph on the Thika Highway.

4. Any other tips in ensuring long service from this newly found love?
Silvester

1. Lose the spacers and fit taller springs/shocks and bigger tyres (try not to go beyond 17 inches). You could widen the track, but while this reduces the wobbliness, it also corrupts the steering geometry if not done with a lot of maths and could make your car handle funny.

2. Yes, this is true.

3. Being a direct injection petrol engine, run on V-Power as much as you can afford and use fuel from reputable stations when V-Power is a bit too much to run on daily.

There is nothing wrong with driving at 150kph, except, perhaps, for the fact that you are breaking the law. But don’t do 150kph in low gears.

4. Just treat it the way you would want to be treated if you were a car and your owner loved you.

——————–

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to buy my first car with a budget not exceeding Sh600,000. I am torn between buying a locally used but well maintained Mitsubishi Galant and a Peugeot 406, both of which can fit my budget. My considerations for the two cars are:

1. Good safety record

2. Ride quality and comfort

3. Maintenance and availability of spares

4. Fuel consumption

5. Speed and stability

I know that both cars have low resale value. Please advise on the best choice.

Safety record: The 406.

Ride quality: I’d say Galant, but that’s from the driver’s perspective; passengers will prefer the 406.

Comfort: 406.

Maintenance: Hard to tell. Peugeots are reputably unreliable, and after Marshalls lost the franchise, one cannot say with any amount of confidence that the new company will service old models.

However, Peugeot owners tend to be fastidious about caring for their vehicles (because of the reputation?) so, most likely, whichever one you buy will have been well maintained.

The Galant, on the other hand, is Japanese. It will still go bang once in a while, but spares should not be too hard to find, or too costly to buy.

However, VR-G and VR-M models tended to be bought by boy-racer types, either as first or second owners, so most of the cars on sale tend to be knackered.

Consumption: Depends on how you drive. If you can get a 406 diesel, with a manual gearbox (don’t!), 20kpl is less of theory and more of reality.

Speed and stability: The Galant. A VR-4 with a boot spoiler and front-splitter is the fastest and most stable car in your chosen bracket. But remember it has a turbo and is 2500cc, so….

——————–

Hi Mr Baraza,

I own a Nissan Wingroad and I need your expert advise on the following:

1. Which is the right plug for the Wingroad; NGK BKR 6e or BKR 5e, and what gap should I keep?

2. The car is 1500cc twin-cam. What is the advantage/disadvantage of twin-cam? It gives me 8km per litre yet the exhaust is clean and clear.

3. When doing the diagnostics, what readings should I get for the injectors?

4. Can I change the injectors to give 1300cc instead of 1500cc? Do Wingroads have VVT-i engines? How can I improve on the fuel consumption?

5. Can the display monitor on the dashboard be changed to English? It is in Japanese presently.

Kasmani

1. To be honest, I have no idea. You have now gone into the details of brand marketing and nomenclature, which I rarely pay attention to. You may have to refer to the NGK website for details on which plug is used where.

2. Twin-cam makes it easier to control the camshafts; very handy when you have variable valve timing.

3. Readings of what? Nozzle clearance? Injection pulses?

4. You can fit smaller injectors but I am not sure how wise that is. I know the 1.6- and 2.0-litre Wingroads have a form of Variable Valve Timing (and DOHC for the 1600), but not sure about the 1.5. Now that you raise the issue of injectors: has your car been tuned?

Does it perform unusually well? If so, then that explains your poor economy. If not, then a change of driving style and/or environment will change your consumption figures.

5. It can be translated, that I believe; I am just waiting for someone really clever to step up to the challenge.

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Hi,
Last year, I wrote in and asked for your advice on my Allion, whose ground clearance was troubling me. Well, a year down the line, the car is still fine and I no longer have issues with ground clearance, even when fully loaded.

Now, I service the car after every 4,000km to 5,000km but I’d like to know whether I can change the engine plugs from the current Denso one-pin plugs to the Denso iridium one-pin plugs.

I wanted to change to the Denso iridium but my mechanic insisted that they are very powerful and can damage some electrical parts of the car.

1. Compare the general performance of the Denso iridium plugs to that of ordinary Ddenso plugs.

2. How real is my mechanic’s argument, and is it applicable to all cars that don’t come with the iridium plugs?

3. Is it true that Denso iridium plugs are more effective than ordinary plugs in terms of power, fuel consumption and maintenance costs, which are my reasons for wanting to install them?

1. Iridium plugs generally last longer and are reputed to perform better, but seeing how their only job is to throw a spark, it is hard to tell whether they indeed fire better than other brands like Champion and NGK (originals; fake plugs will always fail soon after installation), if they still exist.

2. The most important aspects of a spark plug, in order of priority, are: whether or not they fit into your particular engine block, whether they are genuine or fakes, and heat range.

Plugs don’t have “power”, they are merely wires with a gap at one end through which a spark flies. The “power” you speak of is determined by the ignition coil, the integrity of the HT leads and the condition of the plugs themselves.

3. The power delivery of the engine (as determined by combustion efficiency) as well as fuel economy, is, again, determined by whether or not the plugs are fake (most genuine single-pin plugs perform the same) and the number of ground electrodes in the spark plug. Plugs with twin electrodes (what mechanics call “pembe mbili”) are better, but they cost more.

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Mr Baraza,

I wish to get a second-hand car from Japan and I am considering the Passo or the FunCargo. A friend tells me the FunCargo tends to overheat, particularly when on high speed.

Is this true and does the same apply to the Passo given that it is 1000cc? What speed is comfortable driving for these kinds of cars?

Which would you advice me to buy? I am looking for an automatic.

Joan

The Passo is still too new in the (second-hand) market for me to make any substantive statements about it.

What I know is that the FunCargo is fairly crap, what with the overheating and unreliable 4WD transmission in the versions so equipped. Sometimes, the fuel consumption goes up on its own.

Not to mention the car is hideous and lacks a proper boot (the headroom and leg room are both impressive, though).

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Hi Baraza,
I have a 2005 Toyota Fortuner in which I got a slight accident last year. Before the accident, it used to consume about 8km/l.

After the repairs — replacing all the damaged parts and doing a ‘red’ service including fuel filter and mass airflow filter — the consumption is terrible, with an average of 4.5km/l. In fact when driving uphill, it soars to even 1km/l!

In addition, the exhaust is producing a lot of soot, meaning the combustion is not very efficient. Mechanics have tried resolving the problem but all has been in vain. What is your advice?

I blame the MAF sensor; it is misreading the flow of air and making your car burn an extremely rich mixture, hence the sooty exhaust (poor combustion) and high fuel consumption. Either the sensor that was put in is faulty, or is the wrong type (verifiable by remapping the ECU to adapt to the new sensor “type”).

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Dear Baraza,

Following last week’s column, in my view, the problem with electric cars is that they take too long to charge, compared to filling up a conventional car at the petrol station.

I think the solution to this problem lies in changing the whole recharging philosophy.

What if there was a battery that is recharged by replacing the electrolyte? The ordinary lead-acid and lithium ion don’t like electrolyte replacement at all.

That’s why they say DO NOT ADD ACID. But there is a new technology known as “flow batteries”, which have separate electrolyte storage tanks and a reactor chamber.

The electrolyte flows to the reactor, produces electricity and moves out to a second “used” tank.

With this kind of battery, the electric car just needs to pull up at a “petrol” station (okay, electrolyte station), off-load the used electrolyte and replenish it with a charged one.

The beauty of it is that the station can then use grid electricity to recharge the used electrolyte and fill it in the next car.

This type of system can use the existing petrol stations; they only need to add new electrolyte tanks and a charger. I think this is where the future of electric motoring lies.
Mungai Kihanya

Well, with the lead-acid accumulator, not only does the electrolyte get degraded, but the electrodes do too (eroding at one end and getting a metal coating at the other, for a simple electrolytic cell).

So along with the electrolyte, you also need to replace the electrodes. A cheap plastic container is worth about Sh50 to Sh100. Electrodes + Electrolyte + Plastic shell (of negligible cost) = A new accumulator!

Now the questions:

1. Instead of having an electrolyte station, why not just use the shops we already have?

2. How much for a new charge of electrolyte? (and possibly electrodes?) Compare this with the price of petrol and/or hydrogen, and divide by the range provided by each. Cars will be limited to the same group that buys business jets at the moment.

3. A petrol station selling electrolytes is not a bad idea. But charging that electrolyte too? Electrical activity (such as charging) is normally associated with “sparks”, or arcing: a spark + a 10,000-litre tank of unleaded premium = BOOM!

Posted on

The Land Cruiser ‘VX’ beats the Prado on many fronts

Dear Baraza,
I have always wanted to know, what is the difference between a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and a Toyota Land Cruiser VX based on the usual indicators, that is, on and off road prowess and stability, fuel consumption, availability of spares, purchase price, luggage room, comfort, and so on? Is the Toyota Fortuner and Kluger in the same class?

Mwenda

It is good to be specific, as in really specific, because the Prado also has a VX spec within its range. As does the RAV4. But by VX I take it you mean the full-size SUV flagship (the 100 or the current 200?)

On road: Both the 100 and 200 Series Land Cruisers are so much more stable on road than the Prado (all models from J90 to the current J150 have been wobbly and bouncy with a tendency to head for the bushes or lean dangerously with every small lapse of driver attention).

The VX, with its bigger engine, will also outrun the Prado by a very good margin.

Off-road: The Prado will venture further out owing to its more compact dimensions. The shorter overhangs and smaller wheelbase mean it can conquer obstacles more extreme than the 100/200 can handle. And it does have the full off-road kit and caboodle: low ranger gearbox, locking diffs and superior ground clearance.

Consumption: One has a 4.2-litre inline 6 turbo diesel, currently a 4.5 turbo diesel V8. The other has been hovering around the 3000cc 4-cylinder area since God was a boy. One is longer and wider and heavier than the other. I think the fuel economy argument is fairly obvious…

Availability of spares: Toyota were so concerned about readers repeatedly (and annoyingly) asking about spares and maintenance that they even opened another showroom in Westlands, which also doubles as a service centre.

How dare you question the availability of spares for one of the most popular and common Toyota models in the country today?

Purchase price: Really, you are asking me this? Between a Prado and a “VX” which one costs more? Honestly?

Luggage room: The “VX” has a bigger boot. If you are referring to human luggage, both will seat seven in comfort (for later models) or “relative” comfort for the earlier ones.

Comfort: Both are very comfortable, but if you are prone to motion sickness, the Prado will make you vomit like nobody’s business because of its marine-level pitching and wobble. Deep-sea sailors would be at home in one.

The Fortuner is one step below the Prado in this hierarchy, with the Kluger in turn looking up to the Fortuner. The “VX” occupies the top rank.

Baraza,

1. What factors should one consider when trying to make sure an old car (say a Peugeot 405 or 504) is as stable as possible, that is, apart from using a stiffer suspension, reduced ground clearance and low profile tyres?

2. What is the use of the front spoiler (the ones on the front bumpers, especially on Subaru’s) other than making the car look beautiful?

3. Apart from driving gently, is there anything one can do to reduce the fuel consumption of a carburettor car such as a Subaru Leone, or a Peugeot 405/504? Can one use the carburettor of a car with a smaller engine? Is this even possible?

1. Make sure the stiffer suspension is mounted or attached to a structurally sound vehicle body. There’s no point in having a fancy suspension system if the shocks are going to poke holes through the fenders. Reduction of ground clearance should also be done carefully: If you lower the front too much, the car will become nose heavy and understeer through corners, or even worse, oversteer at high speed turns due to lack of grip at the rear. If you lower the back too much, the front will suffer from vague and indirect steering, and a speed steering input could become compromised; not understeer exactly, but something very similar.

Finally, make sure the low profile tyres are well and evenly pumped with air. Varying pressures across and along axle lines will lead to wild and unpredictable cockroach-like darting on the road, especially under hard braking.

2. Spoilers create downforce and/or eliminate lift, the opposite of what an aircraft wing does. By pressing the front of the car downwards, cornering grip is improved, eliminating understeer and sharpening steering response. They also act as stabilisers at speed, along with the rear wing and diffuser where available.

3. You can use smaller carburettors but you will very quickly regret your decision. Lack of power does not even begin to describe the scope of your discomfort. I once told people that substituting the standard cylinder head for one of Honda’s CVCC units also works, but getting those heads is a bit of an issue. They were first used in 1975 and are unlikely to still be in existence. You could fashion one though, if you can get the schematics from somewhere, are good at crafts, have a smelter and a lathe at home and a lot of time on your hands.

Changing plugs and/or fuel pumps can also help, but they will create more problems than solve economy issues. You could switch the head to EFI, but you will find out in the process that it would have been a lot easier to just swap the whole engine.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Prado TZ and here are the issues I have had with it: 1. Since I purchased the car I have been experiencing brake disk jamming problems. I consulted a number of people but no one has been able to help me with this problem. I changed the brake pads and skimmed the brake disks but nothing changed. Another mechanic advised me to change the ball joints, which I did, but the problem persisted.

2. I was advised by one mechanic to install a turbo change-over switch so as to shift the turbo to ON when travelling long distance and OFF when using it locally. I didn’t agree with him. What is your advice on this; if I install it will it affect my engine in the long run?

PS: I totally agree with the point that the Prado is a bit wobbly car but it is a beast on the road.

1. The problem is called binding. Are the front discs or rear discs affected? If it is the rear, the tension in the hand brake cable could be too high and needs loosening a bit. For all brakes, another cure you could try is take the top off your fluid reservoir and make sure you have something to tap the fluid in then push the piston in the cylinder back in then pump it out not too far and push it back, repeat until it slides back easily.

2. That mechanic is just increasing your expenditure for no good reason. What good will the turbo do when off? If you don’t want to boost pressure acting in your engine just keep your engine revs low. Installing extra hardware is simply providing more scope for things to go wrong in your car.

JM,

I own a Toyota Ipsum 240i 2003 model. The car’s manual indicates a fuel consumption rate of 12 kpl but I have done several experiments and I have only managed to get between 10.3 – 10.6 kpl driving within Nairobi town. Do you think the car might have a problem? I’m a very gentle driver, driving at an average speed of 60 km/h. There are theories that speeds of between 90 to 120 km/h are fuel efficient and that below 90 and above 120, you are being fuel inefficient. What is your take on this?

How does this car compare to a Noah/Voxy and a Subaru Forester both non-turbo and turbo in terms of fuel consumption? What is your general view of this car?

Patrick

What the car’s manual refers to is called the “combined cycle”, that is, for both city and highway use. Your test was limited to town use only. The car does not have a problem, try it on the open road and you should see about 14 or even 15 kpl (at 100 km/h).

That speeds thing is not a theory, it is true. Most cars would comfortably do this speed in top gear, and top gear allows for maximum speed with minimum engine revs.

The actual figure varies between car models and could go as low as 60 km/h (for a Maruti Omni), but the common factor is that the transmission should be in top gear. Doing 90 km/h in second or 100 km/h in third is not efficient either.

Comparison with the Noah/Voxy and the Subaru Forester: It depends on how you drive, but the overall economy figure in litres per 100 km for the Ipsum should be lower than the figures for the other two (that is, it has better economy).

Generally, it is a good family car, but it shares one tendency with some Nissans (B15 and Wingroad) and the old Legacy B4 saloon: the car ages really fast if you are not gentle with it.

Baraza,

I am looking forward to acquiring a 4WD car. I am not sure of the best bet between a Kluger, Tribeca, Vigo (Hilux double cab), an old Land Cruiser VX, and a Mitsubishi double cab. The vehicle is intended for family use’ like travelling upcountry, and carrying light luggage.

Njiru

For a large family, the VX will accommodate up to eight people. The rest can handle only five, except the Tribeca, which is second with seven available human-shaped slots.

Luggage capacity is a scrum between the double cabs, then (surprise, surprise) the Tribeca (with the seats lowered). This is because of the Land Cruiser’s eight seats, none completely disappear like they do in the Subaru, and the high loading level is cumbersome if you are dealing with something very heavy.

My pick would be the VX, but ignore this, it is not for any sensible reason; it is because I prefer its looks to the Tribeca, which is the wise man’s choice here.

Hi Baraza,

I am currently in the market for a car, my 1996 Primera, imported in 2003, has given me faithful service but I feel it is time to move on. I am currently looking at the Toyota Avensis for saloon duty and a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD for non-saloon duty (a bit of off road, not bundu bashing). And here I also include the Lexus RX300. Now to the questions.

1. Is there a major difference between the hatchback Avensis and the Sedan Avensis apart from the obvious shape thing?

2. I have been told that the 2.4-litre engines on the Avensis are unreliable is that true? A

3. Is there a big difference between a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD and a Lexus RX 300 4WD in terms of consumption? I know the trim is worlds apart, but someone told me that the 2.4-litre would consume more because it would strain to carry the weight of the car, is this true? And what is its average consumption? (I am not a pedal to the floor type of driver)

4. I saw some very good prices for the Discovery 3 in the UK and I am very tempted. It looks like a very beautiful car, but before I mortgage the wife and kids I would like to know if the reliability issues are true. I am talking about the 2.7-litre diesel.

James

1. No, there are no differences between the “hatchback” and the sedan. Any differences, such as practicality and available space, are directly tied to “the obvious shape thing”. And I think you mean “estate” or “station wagon” for the Avensis, not “hatchback”.

2. Maybe, but what I suspect is that people are afraid of the D4 technology and are trying to make others avoid it too. The Avensis is one of Toyota’s best built cars and has won several awards over the years.

3. 2400cc is capacity enough to handle the Harrier/RX300 body, so you won’t have to strain it to get a modicum of performance. 3000cc is for elitists (like me). Average consumption should be somewhere around 9-10 kpl, especially for calm and sober motorists like you.

4. The 2.7 diesel now suffers from what you have just described in your third question; it struggles to lug all that weight around. The Disco 3’s double chassis adds an elephant’s worth of weight to the car and the 2.7 needs a bit of wringing before it goes anywhere. Good engine though. Avoid the air suspension. Reliability in this day and age is a non-issue.

Hi Baraza,

Having owned a vehicle for a few months, I’d like to further understand a number of things. The vehicle is a 2004 Toyota Noah. I have been using the tyre pressure (~33 psi) as indicated on the passenger side door frame and noticed that the treads are wearing out evenly. In case I change the tyres with locally available ones of similar size, do I still maintain this pressure?

How does terrain and temperature affect the required pressure?

Secondly, I’ve never changed the suspension since the current ones seem serviceable. Considering the car is Japanese, is there cause to worry?

Lastly, on the engine block, there is a label: “Use Iridium spark plugs only”. Is there any benefit to this apart from longevity?

Keep using the 33 psi. Terrain does play a part (deflate the tyres to 15 psi when driving on soft sand, for example), but temperature differences do not affect the tyre pressure that much.

That 33 psi is the manufacturers optimum figure, and gives an allowance for expansion or contraction without adversely affecting tyre performance depending on ambient temperature.

About suspension, if the car does not track straight, wobbles a bit or feels unstable in any way, you can worry. If the vehicle’s stance/posture is even and driving it does not arouse suspicions, then you’re fine.

On the iridium spark plugs issue, there is also thermodynamic efficiency.

Hi JM,

I am planning to buy my first car and I have always loved Subarus. Would you advice me to go for a 4WD with a turbocharged engine? How is the fuel consumption for such a car? I have heard people say that turbocharged engines are delicate how true is this? Finally, what do spoilers and traction control help with?

David

4WD is advisable when you have high-pressure turbo performance at your disposal. It helps in directional stability. Of course the fuel consumption will be worse that NA (naturally aspirated) and 2WD equivalents, but the driving experience will be worth it (in my book). I myself have said that turbocharged engines require care.

Spoilers help with downforce, which eliminates lift and improves grip and traction. Downforce is the opposite of lift. Lift is the result of Bernoulli’s effect, which is what helps aircraft get off the ground, so reversing that lift creates downforce, which presses the car harder on the ground and makes the tyres grip the road surface better. The spoilers work best at high speed, which is when the ground effects are needed anyway.

Traction control eliminates wheel spin by cutting engine power and/or torque to a spinning wheel. This reduces the chances of wild oversteer and/or understeer, or spinning out. It also saves tyres from damage and in some cars, improves cornering performance. In others, turning the TC off improves lap times but only in the hands of experienced drivers.