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Apart from the names, the Harrier and the Lexus have different specs

Congrats for the good work. I am working on my car magazine and for sure I’ve got a lot to write about, given what I am learning from you.

Now, apart from their names, what is the difference between the Toyota Harrier and Lexus? I only know that people love the Lexus because they say it is luxurious.

And, what is so good about the X trail? Almost everyone is buying one. Why don’t they go for machines like the Mark X?

Lastly, don’t you think the Mexico police were wrong in getting a Bugatti just to make sure that they outdo the fastest car on the road in case of a chase?

Assuming that I get a Land Rover Defender 110 and I commit a crime then take a damn rough road, would they get me with their Bugatti?

Mario Junior

Hello Junior,
All the best with your car magazine. I am looking forward to seeing it on the stands.

Apart from the names, the Toyota Harrier and Lexus RX also differ in spec levels, and the availability thereof. Only the top spec Toyota Harriers can match the Lexus RX cars trim for trim and engine for engine.

However, while the Toyota Harrier can be had with smaller engines, some of which have 4 cylinders, the Lexus RXs are all 6-cylinder cars. Meanwhile, the Lexus is also available as a hybrid, while the Harrier is not.

The choice of an X Trail over a Mark X is purely an individual preference and might not necessarily be a definite marker of trend. Maybe some buyers of the X Trail want a car that can drive over tall grass and small rocks because of the tracks they traverse.

Maybe some prefer the taller driving position and better outside view accorded to them by the cross-over utility. Some of them could be fearful of the 2.5 litre V6 thirst of the Mark X as opposed to the X Trail’s 2.0 litre straight-4 (relative) economy.

Maybe some love the square, breeze-block, sharp-edged pseudo-off roader looks of the X Trail instead of the Mark X’s curvy, artsy panel beater’s nightmare of a body. The reasons for choosing one car over another are as varied as they are numerous.

The police acquiring super cars are more of publicity stunts and tourist attraction gimmicks than an absolute need for speed. The only exceptions I’d put forward are South Africa using the Audi S3 and VW Golf GTi, the UK using Nissan Skyline GTRs (R33 and R34), Australia using Impreza WRX STis and Saudi Arabia using the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG as road patrol units.

They actually use these cars for high- speed pursuits. The Bugatti Veyrons, Ferraris, SLRs, SLS AMGs and Lamborghinis bought by various police forces around the world (especially Italy and the Middle East) are purely for show.

Those towns have clever mayors, and these mayors would really love it if tourists visited them more often, and one of the ways of attracting people is via a blatant show of opulence (this mightexplain why some men wear jewellery).

Ferrari and Lamborghini are names instantly identifiable to anyone, petrolhead or not. If your police department has one of them, people will definitely come to have a look. Your town thus gets a much higher profile on the world map.

One thing, though. If you are driving a Land Rover Defender 11 and you get chased by a Bugatti Veyron in police colours and you take the “damn rough road”, don’t for a moment stop and think you are home and dry. If that particular PD can operate a Bugatti Veyron, then they sure as hell can also operate a police helicopter.

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Hi Baraza,
First, I would like to declare that as I am writing this, I am not in that state of being friends with Mututho, though I will be driving towards home, thanks to my car knowing the way home as long as you put it on D.

I have been reading your articles for a while now, and I have some points to make/ask. Many of the emails that come to you ask about buying a first car, but they seem ambitious, asking about German cars and the likes of Range Rover Discovery and so on.

Is there an option of advising them to be real or else they tell us where they mine money to buy and maintain such cars as first-time buyers?

Second, I would like your review of the Nissan Teana, especially the comparisons between the JK, JM, and JX versions in terms of suitability for the Kenyan market.

Third, what’s your opinion concerning Nissans generally? Since the new CEO Goshen took over, they have been producing quality cars.

Do you see a possibility of upstaging Toyotas soon? I need to declare that I don’t hate Toyotas, but sometimes I think they just employ engineers who are not up to the task. Otherwise, how else do you explain the Platz and so forth?

Finally, how come you drive a Demio if you really are a petrolhead? The car, though not ugly, does nothing on the road apart from getting you from point A to B. If you appreciate car technology and the advancement of it, can’t you buy a better car?

I love the Demio, by the way; I bought one for my wife. It consumes relatively less fuel and keeps her away from my Teana JM 2009 model.

Finally, why is with Harrier becoming a lady’s car? I drove one recently and my friends asked if it was a new car for my mama. I hope my wife doesn’t read this, since it will spoil her birthday gift.

Just before I go and get my last one, why do you refer to Top Gear? It just a comedy show in which Jeremy is making £2m (Sh 296m) a year just to review supercars nobody will drive with our speed bumps. Mike the mouth

This is one of the most ridiculous emails I have received in the four years I have written the DN2’s Wednesday motoring column. In fact, it is one of the most absurd emails I have received in the 15 years I have owned an email address.

I don’t know if you are still alive to be reading this, but if you are, read it very carefully, my advice is short and simple: do not drive drunk.

Unless you own the as-yet-still-not-in-production Google car, your car does not know the way home; you just happen to be the momentary, and I do mean momentary, favourite of the cheeky deity behind the blind luck enjoyed by drunkards, the shameless god that is the reason the high and plastered somehow survive long falls, lightning strikes and dangerous drives from the local tavern back to whatever cave they crawled out from.

One day that benevolent spirit will turn malevolent and find a new favourite. It will drop you like a hot potato, and there will be hell to pay. I repeat: do not drive drunk.

There is no option for my readers telling you where they mine their money from. It is pretty obvious. If you want to own a Range Rover or a Land Rover Discovery, my advice is again short and simple: work hard. Also, there exists no such thing as a Range Rover Discovery.

What does “suitability for the Kenyan market” mean? The Teana, in whatever iteration, was meant to go on roads, while carrying people and burning fuel in the process.

We have roads in Kenya don’t we? Kenyans are people, are they not? Last time I checked, we had fuel too. The roads nowadays are good (mostly), some of the people (among which you are definitely not included) now take better care of their cars, so the griping about longevity is almost moot; and fuel quality has been steadily improving. Why would a Teana not be suitable for the Kenyan market?

The CEO of Renault-Nissan is called Carlos Ghosn, not “Goshen”, and yes, he has turned Nissan around. For a good example of his abilities, look no further than the R35 GTR, a car I fawn over endlessly.

However, upstaging Toyota is going to take some doing, if it even happens at all. Nissan has been growing better by the day, but then again, so has Toyota.

Catching up will not be easy, especially when factors like reputation favour your rival. The explanation behind the existence of the Platz (and the Opa, the Will and the Verossa) is: this is what happens when you employ 13,000 designers in the same company. These are way too many opinions and tastes. Some of their creations may be questionable.

Yes, I am a petrolhead, and yes I drive a Demio. It gets me from point A to B, but if you think that is all, then you either a) have never really driven a Demio properly or b) aren’t a petrolhead to start with.

That car puts smiles on my face, because I enjoy driving it. It is also affordable on a motor journalist’s weekly stipend.

If I drove a Range Rover Discovery (which does not exist), then I’d be a good businessman or a successful drug dealer (who is also a good businessman, if you think about it critically).

Your qualifying statement there reeks of innuendo: who says the Demio is unadvanced and devoid of technology? Those descriptions best fit the 1989 Peugeot 405 SR I drove before, but not the Demio.

While it is not the same as a Mercedes S Class — or even a Nissan GTR — in terms of gizmo deployment, it serves its purpose, and does it well.

I don’t need military-grade infra-red readouts on my windscreen or torque-vectoring AWD drivetrains, nor do I need launch control or a twin-clutch gearbox.

What I need is a responsive engine with electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing, a manual gearbox and nice grippy tyres. Check, check and check.

So you got the wife a Demio. Now she and I can have two things in common: we drive the same car and we are not sure your drink-driving habits are worth bragging about.

I cannot explain why women love the Harrier. However, I can make an educated guess, stemming from several interviews I have had with a number of them. They think it looks good.

They think it is a big enough car to make a statement without it being too big. They think it can handle most situations thrown at it, “most situations” in this case being bad roads. They are mostly right.

I know what Top Gear is, I know how much Jeremy Clarkson claims to make per year and I know exactly how seriously to take Top Gear.

What I do not know is how carefully you have been reading my writings. Quoting Top Gear is not the same as using them as a reference, and how often does it happen anyway?

Mr Barasa,

You must either be suffering from amnesia or you are so forgetful that you don’t remember what you wrote about the same car some years back.

You are the same person who described the Avensis as the best car ever made by Toyota. Today you call the same car blande, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means not interesting or exciting/lacking strong flavour”. How do you reconcile the two?

How can you use public media like the Daily Nation to display your ignorance to the whole nation and beyond. I might not be a car specialist, but today you have also proved not to be (although you want people to believe that you are).

One thing I know for sure is that the Avensis is not what you described it as in your recent article. Besides, how can you restrict your comparison to only the Mark X simply because the reader asked about the two.

I have driven both cars and I think going by the way you wrote, the makers of the Toyota Avensis should sue you.

The only problem is that you will not be in a position to pay a fine of $2 trillion like the case in the US where a woman was awarded a similar amount (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then that should explain why you write the way you do).

Let me not even waste more time with you. No more comments from me. Eric

Thank goodness. It was becoming difficult to keep up with your train of thought.

Anyway, it is not only unlikely, but also well nigh impossible that I would call the Avensis “the best car ever made by Toyota” because, where would that leave superb classics like the 80 Series Landcruiser? Or the Mk. IV Supra? or the AE86 Corolla Levin?

What you read was “one of the best built”, i.e. build quality is superb, but then again this is Toyota, very few, if any, of their cars are built below standard. So that is not saying much.

Also, what you read (“best car ever by Toyota”) was not written by me. This is not the first time I have called the Avensis a boring car.

The Merriam-Webster definition of “blandest” is exactly the one I was going for in my statements. Kindly prove otherwise, or else cut down on your Internet costs by not sending me any more bad mail like this one.

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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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If you want a fast car, get yourself a Mercedes C180

Dear Baraza,

Over the years, I have gained a growing interest in German technology and become a fan of their machines. I am torn between buying an Audi A4, a Golf GTI and a Mercedes C180. The never-ending questions arise: fuel consumption, spares and servicing. Which is the best buy between these three options?

I also noticed that the C180 has a “plain” and a “Kompressor” version. What is the difference and does it matter if I want to buy the car? Albert Mwangi

A: The aspects you ask about are broadly similar across the range. Germans are notorious for designing cars shaped like briefcases that are exact copies of each other, irrespective of the logo on the bonnet/grille. Since you mention a Golf GTI and a C180 Mercedes, I am guessing by default the Audi should have an engine size of 2000cc or less, right? Turbo or naturally aspirated? I’ll go with turbo, since the GTI is turbocharged and the Kompressor is supercharged.

This brings us neatly to your second question without answering the first: the difference between the “plain” C180 and the Kompressor version is that the Kompressor is supercharged, while the plain one is, well, plain. No forced induction whatsoever.

This difference matters if you like to get where you are going really quickly and are ready to sacrifice a bit of fuel economy in the process. It also matters if you like overly complicated engines with many extra parts, which increase the likelihood of something very expensive going wrong. I like Kompressors. They are fast and offer seamless power from damn near idle, while turbo cars suffer from lag in most cases. Lag and heat problems.

So, to your original question: the consumption is good (a bit high in the GTI compared with the others), the parts are expensive, and so is servicing, but with proper maintenance, spares and servicing shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

n other words, all three are good buys. The question is whether you want a slightly unsubtle boy racer hatchback (Golf), an anonymous understeering briefcase (A4) or every overpaid Kenyan yuppie’s first automotive acquisition (C180K).

Dear Baraza,

Your column is one of the things that make the paper worth the coins and the time. Keep up the good work.

I drive a Toyota Raum 2006 model (NCZ20), 1490cc. The car is spacious, comfortable and handles very well – much better than other small cars I have driven. However, its fuel consumption of 10km/l seems out of line with my expectation of 15km/l. I have worked it out several times by filling the tank, setting the trip computer, filling the tank again when near-empty then dividing the kilometres by the litres. I consider myself a gentle driver, though I mostly drive in city traffic, and the car is always serviced at Oilibya before exhausting the service interval. Given this information, is the consumption normal or am I expecting too much of the vvti? Muthaura

A: Even though you drive in city traffic, that traffic must be spectacularly awful to push a Raum’s fuel consumption up to 10 km/l. Clearly, something is up.

My main suspicion is that the air cleaner element needs dusting or replacement. It could be clogged, thus suffocating the car and forcing it to burn more fuel in an effort to keep up appearances, appearances being the typical behaviour of a 1.5 litre four. The ECU wouldn’t be caught dead churning out the power of an 1100, now, would it?

Are there any warning lights blinking or glaring within the instrument cluster, especially the “check engine light”; is it on? How often do you use the AC? How much deadweight are you lugging around in your car? Are your tyres filled with air to the correct pressure? All these affect the fuel economy of your car; some in little ways, others majorly.

Hi Baraza,

I recently replaced the brake pads on my Nissan B15 and ever since, they have been screeching when I slow down or stop. My mechanic said it was because the disks were dirty so I had them cleaned but the noise persists. What is the problem? They also vibrate whenever I slow down.

Please help. Dave

A: The brake discs could be warped or the pads were not properly installed. Or maybe it is the pads that are dirty, not the discs.

Dear Baraza,

I have for a long time wanted to get myself a good 4×4 that will handle well and yet still be affordable to maintain. A vehicle that is comfortable but has luggage space. Affordable being that the parts are readily available and the prices reasonable, not prices that would make an ordinary citizen think of taking a soft loan to repair or fix. I admire the Porsche Cayenne, VW Toureg, Audi Q7, Mercedes GL, Jeep, Ford, Land Rover Discovery, basically most of the 4x4s.Please advise me on a good option.Victor

Hi,

None of the cars you list here falls in the affordable segment, going by your definition of affordable.

At least they are all comfortable for the most part, and will tread off the beaten path, though with varying degrees of success. They also offer luggage space, though the Touareg and the Cayenne might not be as good as the GL and Discovery in that respect. You need to specify which Jeep and which Ford you are referring to here.

I have always insisted there is little wrong with a Landcruiser Prado. It is more “affordable” than the vehicles you have listed.

Hello Baraza,

You write well. Very well. You know that. But compliments never hurt.

I am looking for a car that is a cross between a horse and a camel. It needs to have power measured in race horses with the looks to boot, desert camel hardiness enough to carry teens, bags, market shopping and planting maize for grandma.

It also needs to be a 7-seater and high enough not to scrape the large mini hills we call bumps. The price must also not be thoroughbred. What do you suggest? Judy

Hi Judy,

Your email makes for wonderful reading but not much sense. It is very vague and uses terms not commonly found in motoring. Besides, you need to narrow down my search parameters to a few models that you have your eye on. You DO have a few preferences, don’t you?

What you describe is a Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen (G Class, or G Wagon), especially the G500, or one of the AMG-fettled versions. It has “racehorse” power, it looks very fetching, especially with a subtle body kit and black rims, and it is very hardy (it gets military applications with just a few modifications). If it carries several army men and their weapons, teens, bags, groceries and grandma’s corn will not faze it. It is a 7-seater and bumps mean nothing to it.

Unfortunately, the price is thoroughbred. In fact, it costs as much as several thoroughbreds in AMG guise.

Kindly specify how much power you need, what constitutes a good-looking car to you and how far your budget can stretch. A J70 Prado could also fit this description if an engine swap is made, as could a Landcruiser VX, Land Rover Discovery and many others. Get two or three cars you have your eye on and let me help you choose one from there.

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a fabulous job, keep it up!

I am in the process of buying a Toyota Sienta to use as a taxi. I would really appreciate a review of this car and its off-road capabilities. Mwele

I have not driven this car far enough for me to do a comprehensive review but one thing I know is that it is not meant for any off-road adventures. However, it would be good as a taxi: it is economical, reliable, and roomy; and the sliding doors make it ideal for inner city use where outwardly swinging doors make exiting into the street a risk. It is also cheap to buy and repair.

Hi Baraza,

I occasionally read your articles. In one of the 2012articles, you viewed the Scannia monster machines (the P380 and the R440). You mentioned semi-manual transmission ,where cars have both manual and automatic transmissions. Could you please go into details about these cars. I am eager to hear from you. Boniface

Explaining the full workings of a semi-automatic transmission would take up quite a lot of space. Also, it is something I have done before and I’m not quite in the mood of repeating myself, though I sometimes do.

However, all is not lost. I am working on a book, a sort of almanac: a compilation of some select articles I have done over the years, the explanations behind those articles (and some Car Clinic Q& A classics), along with indexed addenda to clarify some things I might have skimped on with details. I will let the world know when this book is available and how to get a copy. You can be sure my demystification of transmission types will form part of the line-up.

Baraza, I am a fan of your Wednesday column and appreciate your efforts to educate us about cars. I have gained a lot, and thanks for that.
Now to business: I want to buy a vehicle and it is left-hand drive. I would like to change it to right-hand drive. Please tell me the dangers involved in changing, if it’s possible, and whether it will have any problems once it is changed? Kane Quntai

A: There are two problems to be faced in this endeavour of yours, the first being how to import the vehicle in the first place. The government will not allow you to bring in a car where the driver sits in the passenger’s seat, unless it is an emergency vehicle. Are you by any chance importing an ambulance or a fire engine?

That means to import the car, you have to switch the control panel to the correct side of the car BEFORE you import it, and therein lies the second problem: it is expensive and extremely difficult to do so, and for some cars, the shape of the firewall (the bulkhead between the engine and the passenger compartment) is heavily dependent on, and greatly limits the positioning of, the steering system, clutch and brake assemblies/linkages. Why not just buy a right-hand drive version of the same car, if available?

Dear Baraza,

Thanks very much for the helpful tips you give us every Wednesday.

Now, a close relative of mine has a Premio Model UA ZZT 240 that developed some engine problem that he is not very sure about but suspects that somebody malicious tampered with the engine even though the car is moving. Mechanics have tried to repair it, to no avail. I’d like to take it from him and replace the whole engine since he has two other cars and is disposing of the Premio “as is”. My problem is that my mechanic told me to ensure I buy an engine complete with gear box (automatic). The mechanic says this will guarantee a good future for the car in terms of maintenance.

Considering cost, I wanted to replace the engine only since the current gear box is okay. Please advise. Philip

A: If the current transmission is okay, just replace the engine; you don’t have to buy a new gearbox. This may sound callous, but from your friend’s perspective, it makes business sense: he is disposing of the vehicle, right? That means the car’s future is not really his concern. It will be out of his hands, won’t it? Selling the car is supposed to recoup some losses, isn’t it? If the gearbox fails later on, let that be someone else’s headache. And if he buys a new gearbox, what does he do with the old one? Selling a second-hand automatic gearbox is not easy, especially given that it is a Toyota one, and Toyotas are notorious for their unfailing reliability. Nobody knocks on my door asking for a Premio gearbox (and that is saying something, considering this is Car Clinic). What are the odds that someone will knock on HIS door?

Hello Baraza,

I want to buy a Hyundai Sonata. Kindly inform me about its pros and cons. Is it better than the Toyota Premio? Let me know the engine capacity, cost of spare parts and their availability in Kenya.Wainaina

Hi,

I was meant to test drive the Hyundai Sonata sometime back but I couldn’t because the sellers did not have a demo unit and putting test mileage on a customer car is not only unbecoming, but also hurts the asking price, thus lowers profits and, therefore, makes shareholders uncomfortable. A butterfly flapping its wings in Indonesia means no road test for me, if you get my drift.

I know it is one hell of a good car, better than the Premio, seeing how it is in the Camry’s firing line while the Premio sits one rank lower. Engine capacities vary between 1800 and 2500cc, and spare parts are available at the Hyundai base on Mombasa Road, though I have no idea how much they cost.

Hi there, You know how we, Toyota Country, take it when there’s even a hint of new upstarts getting undeserved credit when put up against the establishment! To even start suggesting that the subject Mitsu has the drop on the establishment is emasculation personified. Auto-sacrilege. Song of the damned. We won’t start debating reliability and retained value at later resale or how much punishment the car will take before flunking out (durability), although we should. Not to mention the number of years the car will last, looking nice and straight with equal care and use.Let it go. Live and let die! Sincerely seething, Kariuki

A: Interesting. Very interesting. You will notice that durability and resale value were NOT some of the criteria the inquisitor desired knowledge of, and so like a wise student who passed his exams at school (or most of them anyway… or some of them), I will not answer a question I wasn’t asked.
However, in terms of reliability (shock!), fuel economy and safety ratings, the Mitsu — as you call it — not only had the drop on the establishment, it was a Quick-Draw McGraw type of standoff and the Toyota found itself lying on the ground with its kneecaps blown off before it even came near its holster.

Next time they will think twice before releasing a half-baked car, though I am using the term half-baked here rather loosely. Rivals are awake and coming, and soon songs of damnation and cries of sacrilege will fill these pages.

Posted on

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards,

James.

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Regards,

Ronald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello Baraza,

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

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

Okomoli B.O.

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

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

Hi,

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

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

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

Regards,

Victor.

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

Sunus.

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

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

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

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

Posted on

Toyota RunX beats the Spacio and Peugeot 206 hands down

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column and I must say I appreciate your work, even though I don’t own a car yet.

However, I am looking to buy my first car, and I have in my sights a Toyota RunX/Allex, Toyota Spacio and a Peugeot 206.

Please advice me on the best buy between these three in terms of durability, availability and cost of spare parts, maintenance (frequency of breakdowns given that I will be a very careful driver), fuel consumption, off-road capability, ease of handling, and resale value.

Thanks and God bless,

Wanjiru.

Thank you for the compliment. I am always glad to help where I can. On to the three cars you ask about:

Durability: The Runx/Allex is best. It is basically a Corolla with the boot chopped off, and we all know that Corollas run tirelessly.

Only a really abusive ownership will ever bog down a Corolla. The Spacio is not so good on longevity. I have seen several lose shape quite badly after only a few months’ use on Kenyan roads. It does not seem like a solid car.

Even worse, by sheer power of reputation, is the little Peugeot. Nobody uses the words “durability” and “Peugeot” in the same sentence, unless one is telling a joke.

This I know from experience (I owned a 405 for a while) and from observation. I once did an article on Peugeots, and I remember saying acquiring ownership of a Peugeot is like getting into a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is very exciting, but there is no knowing where it will lead to.

Availability and costs of spare parts: Spares are there for all these cars, but the Toyotas will have cheaper ones than the Peugeot.

The clutch of my 405 cost me Sh14,000 to replace, and that was three years ago. Compare to the then cost of Sh3,000 for the same job on a Corolla 110.

Maintenance: The Peugeot will frustrate you, let me be honest. The RunX, like I said, is a Corolla, which never breaks down unless you force it to.

Fuel consumption: Buy a 206 diesel and discover the joys of 25 kpl-plus motoring. Briefly. That is, until the DPF (diesel particulate filter) gets choked by mud and/or the little turbo over-spins at high altitude and fails.

The RunX will hover around 12-15 kpl, more if you drive like a lady (pun intended). The Spacio will give slightly worse economy than the RunX.

Off-road capability: None of the above, least of all the Spacio, with its long wheelbase and minimal ground clearance. How many times must I tell you people to use appropriate cars for specific activities?

Handling: The 206 has the sweetest handling of the three cars you mention, especially if you opt for the GTI. The RunX is a close second, losing out only because there is less “feel”, or driver engagement.

The Spacio looks like a small van, and handles like one. Don’t try to get on its door handles through tight corners, because it WILL get on its door handles.

Resale: You will grow old and die trying to transfer the Peugeot’s problems to someone else.

The Spacio will not exactly fly off the shelf either, but it will not gather as much dust as the Peugeot before getting a new owner.

The RunX is pretty popular: someone might even make you an offer while sitting in traffic; that is how much Kenyans love them. Kenyan ladies, to be exact: I know a few women here and there who drive a RunX. Join the pack.

Dear Baraza,

I am writing for advice on the cooling system of my 1987 short-wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser.

I’ve had it for one year now and bought it without an engine and gearbox. I installed what I was told was the ‘original’ engine, the 2H. While the radiator is large and the fan as large as can fit within the available space, the vehicle overheats when driving up steep hills slowly.

I’ve had the radiator flushed, coolant added, and the fan is working. Also, if the car is idling in traffic I do not have a problem with overheating. This suggests that the cooling system is just not efficient enough.

Could this be the case, or could something else be wrong? I had a similar problem with a previous vehicle and the fundi told me the fan was spinning too slowly, tightened something to increase the speed and I never had a problem again.

Would this help?  Another suggestion I’ve had is to add a fan guard to better channel the air to cool the engine. I’m reluctant to try this as it seems yet another expense without sufficient promise of solving the problem. Could you please advise?
Cheers,

Darcy Ogada

The capacity of the current cooling system may be inadequate to counter the 2H engine’s thermal output. Either that or the car is running lean under power, which causes heating problems (and may even damage the exhaust valves).

For the first cause, a bigger fan may help, as may a fan guard. Some people go the extra mile and upgrade the entire system, fitting bigger/auxiliary radiators, fatter hoses and high-capacity water pumps, but this is costly.

Before diving into extra expenditure, first ensure the following:

1. The radiator core is clean

2. The radiator screen is clean

3. Side panels have nuts at the bottom

4. The water/antifreeze ratio is right (typically 50:50)

5. There are no blockages in the cooling system hoses/water jackets.

Check the timing also, and the valve tappet clearance.

Hi Baraza

I have an Opel Astra 1.4 1996 model. I’ve driven it for 10 years and it has given me excellent service.

Benta, for that is her name, still looks good, drives fast, handles well, is solid… and strong. An excellent, extremely reliable ride.

In the last six months, though, I’ve been to the mechanic more times than in the 10 years combined. My question: Is my car just old, has the mechanic lost the plot, or is it a combination of both?

(It’s the same mechanic I’ve used all along and though he’s been super in the past, he has employed many young men who may not have the same thorough training he obviously had)

Lately, when the car goes to the shop it is fixed for one thing but leaves with another problem, usually small, but still a problem. So, is this the signal that I should start looking for another car? Or should I hang in there, get all her little problems fixed and move on with her for another 10 years?

If you think I should move on (sob!), what car would you recommend that is just as strong and fuss-free as my girl has been? I live in a place where there is no road, so this new car has to be solid enough to handle that, be fuel-efficient, look good, and not attract thieves

Thanks for your help,

Judy.

Benta, eh? Prejudices are like foreheads, everybody has one; and some are bigger than others.

I have one concerning people who name their cars and call them “she” and “her”. Don’t let that stop you though; the good thing with prejudices is that they are almost always unfounded.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I wish you were more specific about the little problems you mention. How bad is the frequency with which you keep returning to your mechanic? And what does he say?

A 10-year-old car is still serviceable and should easily give you another six years of painless ownership, unless you bought the car second-hand, in which case it may be time to lay Benta to rest (or palm her off to someone else to struggle with).

If you don’t mind buying a second-hand car, stay German. An ex-Mashariki E39 BMW 520 should cover most of these bases. Or you could look farther back and get a W124 E200 (or 200E) Mercedes. From Japan, the ideal car would be a Toyota Corolla, or even a Camry, but a locally sold, fully tropicalised unit. The problem is, it might get stolen.

Generally, any locally sold saloon with an engine of 2.4 litres or smaller will serve your purpose. Just don’t buy an Alfa though… Car & General sold a few units some years back and keeping one on the road will be a hard lesson you will not easily forget.

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1997 Toyota Premio that has served me well. Recently it has developed two problems.

First, when the gear lever in on neutral or parking, the idling is high at about 1200rpm and the engine is rather noisy. I have checked with my mechanic and he pointed out that the problem was with the throttle and opened it up and cleaned with WD40. However, the problem still persists.

Second, in the morning the steering wheel is difficult to turn but softens after a short drive. I replaced the automatic transmission oil pump but the problem still persists. Kindly advise what could be wrong.

Regards,

Macharia.

That high-rev idling: when does it occur? If it is only on start-up, then that is normal, the engine is warming up. If it happens all the time, check your Idle Air Control valve. There could also be a vacuum leak at the intake manifold or at the vacuum hose.

For the hard steering: your PAS fluid could be low, or the pump is taking too long to work. Check the fluid levels first, then the pump. Does the car make a screeching noise when you turn the steering? If so, then the fan belt is not sitting true within the pulley of the power steering pump.

Hi Baraza,

Kindly talk about Korean cars, specifically the Hyundai Accent.

I own a 1996 model and it has never disappointed me. The fuel efficiency is more than excellent (at 19 kilometres per litre). Of late I have seen many Hyundai minibuses plying the Embakasi route, could it be a sign of Kenyans realising that they have colonised their minds for too long with Japanese models and ignored better alternatives?

Give people time, they will realise how good Hyundai cars have now become.

Once upon a time they were close to rubbish (if not actually rubbish), and they stayed above water by building and rebadging obsolete vehicle models.

Then they tried their hand at making their own cars (also bottom-rung stuff). Now they build their cars in a way convincing enough for the American market to sit up and pay attention. Maybe it is about time we did too.

Hi Baraza,

1. Ever since Toyota changed their double-cabin pick-up, why are Volkswagen and Ford copying the look? And who told Volkswagen to venture into that pick-up field yet it’s not their thing? I know Ford has a history with the Ranger, but why copy the Toyota look?

2. Now that the ‘freno’ is always on heavy commercial vehicles, how come I have heard it on some Subaru? What purpose does it serve in both cases, and how come in some vehicles its auto while some are manual?

Regards,

Brian.

1. The VW pickup you deride here is actually quite a machine, and it rocked the double-cab world at launch. It is not as hopeless as you may suspect. As for Ford and VW “copying” the Hilux look: well, that is your opinion.

In my view they took completely different design routes. The VW has a blocky, butch, almost square design, the Hilux is swoopy and curvy while the Ford is Amero-centric: big toothy grille, plenty of chrome, oversize with a simplified execution, though not as simplified as that of the Amarok.

2. What you heard in the Subaru cars was not an exhaust brake (so-called ‘freno’), it is called a BOV (blow-off valve/dump valve), and it is used to prevent compressor surge (air rushing the wrong way up the turbo) when the throttle is closed (the compressed air is trapped between the closed throttle plate and the turbo fan blades, and starts depressurising backwards into the turbo, causing the turbo to slow down suddenly).

Automatic and manual exhaust brakes depend on the manufacturer’s wishes. I know the exhaust brakes on Scanias are integrated into the foot brake (they also have a separate engine brake and retarder).

On most other trucks/buses it is manually activated using a lever/stalk on the steering column. However, deactivation may be manual (pull/push the stalk back into its original position) or automatic (the exhaust brake is deactivated automatically whenever the accelerator or clutch pedals are touched).

The exhaust brake is used in HCVs to slow down without having to use the foot brake. This reduces wear and tear on the wheel brakes, and is especially handy at high speed where there is a real risk of burning out the wheel brakes due to vehicle momentum.

Hi Baraza,

Great work with the column. I know it is specified ‘car trouble’, but I have a question on motorsports in Kenya. Which categories are there? Which is the easiest (read cheapest) way to join the industry, assuming all I have is the passion and a little money?

Under KMSF, I know of the rally circuit and karting competitions, especially in Mombasa. There are also buggy races (I don’t know the exact name of that race series).

Then there is the Concours D’Elegance (yes, believe it). I doubt if the Rhino Charge falls under the aegis of KMSF.

Outside of KMSF we have the Great Run (sic!). It is not competitive, but hey, you get numbers and stickers on your car. And it is cheap to take part in.

You don’t even need a specialised vehicle, your own daily runabout will serve the purpose quite well.

Let me get a more comprehensive answer from KMSF then I will get back to you with it…

Posted on

My Toyota RunX has a ‘check engine’ light on throughout

Dear sir,
I own a Toyota Corolla RunX, 2001 model. Recently, the ‘Check Engine’ light came on as the engine was idling. Since then it has remained on whenever the engine is running.

Sometimes it goes off, but for a very short time. At first I thought it was the faulty battery I had which had problems cranking the engine, but after I replaced it, the problem persisted.

The car runs well, there are no funny noises from the engine, even at highway speeds. I haven’t taken the car to a mechanic (I’m low on cash right now), but I’m still bothered. Is there any cause for alarm?

Kenneth.

The best way to know what that ‘Check Engine’ light is all about is to do a diagnosis. However, these here are common causes of the light coming on out of the blue:

1. Faulty Oxygen Sensor: the device is not transmitting accurate information to the ECU and this is sometimes accompanied by a reduction in fuel economy. Cars have two to four of these sensors: the OBD code will identify the culprit for you. The cause is this: over time, the sensor gets covered in oil/soot and thus does not determine the quality of oxygen in the exhaust properly.

2. My research leads me to a very strange cause: a loose or cracked fuel filler cap. Apparently leakage of fuel vapour from the tank can very easily confuse the entire fuel system. This is also accompanied by worse fuel economy. Check the filler cap for cracks, or remove it and tighten it again, then drive a bit to see if the light will go off.

3. Faulty Catalytic Convertor: Failure of this device can be caused by 1 above (a faulty oxygen sensor makes the car run rich and this fouls up the plugs and the cat. Fouled plugs can be caused by a faulty oxygen sensor too. As you can see, these problems can sometimes be interconnected in a veritable web of complexity)

4. Faulty MAF Sensor: This is NOT the oxygen sensor as some are wont to believe. The oxygen sensor senses the amount of unreacted oxygen in the exhaust and adjusts the timing accordingly to optimise economy and reduce emissions. The mass air flow sensor senses the amount of air going INTO the engine and instructs the ECU to meter out the fuel accordingly via the injectors.

MAF sensors tend to fail because of a badly installed or rarely-replaced air cleaner element. A once-annual replacement of the air cleaner is just about enough to keep the sensor from failing.

5. Weak Electrical Connections: Plugs and wires in particular. This is usually accompanied by the vehicle jerking while in motion. Since you have not mentioned this, we can leave that at that. Only Part 3 would cause you to worry because cats are expensive to replace and require specialised skill to install.

Hi, I hope you enjoyed your trip down south. I confess I did not take your advice to sell my Mitsubishi Chariot when it started giving me trouble. I had it repaired and, despite the cost of having to change several sensors, I still kept the car.

Call me names, but I had become accustomed to its comfort. Now, the mother of all problems has come up; the gear is stuck at Three. I have had several diagnosis from different mechanics until my head is now spinning, but none of them has been able to solve the problem.

I have sworn the moment the problem is solved I SHALL SELL it. What do you think could be the problem? This time I promise to heed your advice.

Margaret (@MachariaWanjiru)

To reduce guesswork, obtain a code from the TCM (Transmission Control Module). This will give you a code from which you will know exactly what the problem is.

Usually this 3rd-Gear drive is the fail-safe, limp-home mode, which is usually triggered whenever the TCM receives an electronically generated error code. In case you cannot communicate with the TCM, then therein lies your problem: the TCM itself is cooked.

The transmission may have to be opened. A coil pack may have failed and overheated from an electrical surge, melting the module. Mitsubishi, for some reason, thought it wise to place the two in close proximity to each other. If this is the case you are facing some major (and expensive) repairs. I can bet the mechs will tell you: “Nunua gearbox ingine, Mummy!”

Hello Baraza,

Just to let you know, your column is remarkable! Here is my dilemma. I am looking for a seven- or eight-seater vehicle for airport transport business and car hire services, mostly around Western and Nyanza (as you know, Kisumu is now an international airport).

Comfort, reliability, availability of spare parts and a bit off-roading are important. I have in mind these cars: Toyota Estima 4WD 2.4cc, Toyota Isis 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Wish 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Sienta 1500cc 4WD.

I am aware they are all Toyotas, but you will have to forgive me because I am new in this. Any other suggestions will be really appreciated.

In an unrelated matter, there is this car I wanted to buy from a friend, a Skoda Octavia station wagon, 1.9 diesel TDi, 2006 manual gearbox model, for my personal use.

How would you size up this car in terms of reliability, performance, spare parts availability and fuel consumption. It is going for Sh650,000.

Thank you in advance.

Buy the Previa, also known as Estima. None of these cars will go off-road properly (what international airports are these you visit that require one to off-road a bit to get there?), but the Previa is the best in all the cars you mention.

You may have to compromise on economy (2400cc compared to sub 2.0 litre for the rest, and the bigger body); but not so you’d notice. And, believe me, that Estima is worth it.

It is roomier, more comfortable by far and better equipped. The Isis may have powered sliding doors as a boasting point (these doors fascinated me so much I took the car for a spin in the dead of night to find out what else was good about it) but that is just about it. It won’t do anything that the Previa will not. Thew same applies to the rest of the pack.

About the Skoda: damn fine car that is. Reliability is Germanic (good), as is performance, even in the diesel iteration you mention. It can outrun a Mk IV Golf GTI over the quarter mile, which is saying a lot.

Spares are also Germanic (a touch pricey) but CMC should have them. If not, try the Internet. Economy is superb. Just watch out for DPF failure due to our twig-ridden and waterlogged diesel, and there is the fear that high-altitude use causes the turbos to spin too fast and fail within a year.

Care should be taken. Invest in a turbo timer to be safe, use only high quality oil and, unless you are at the coast, keep the revs low. Avoid the temptation to drag-race a Golf GTI between red robots.

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your Car Clinic articles and I must stay I appreciate your work. Good job. I’m planning to buy a car but I can’t seem to make a choice between the Audi A4 (2005) and the Mercedes Benz C180/200 Kompressor (2005).

I am a Second Year university student and I want a car, between the two, that I can service well and move up and about with. Also, of the two, which one has a quick resale value?
Thank you.

Mwaura.

As a Second Year student, my choice of transport was to either walk or take a bus. Clearly you are facing a dilemma a lot different from that which I faced. Anyway…

Spare Parts and Maintenance: If this is a worry for you, then maybe you should be looking eastwards (read Pacific Rim/China/Japan) for a vehicle, not Germany; but here is your answer anyway.

Audi has no franchise at the moment; at least none that I know of, so getting spares may be a hit-and-miss affair. Also, these are not cars you want to take to the seedier avenues in lower Nairobi, or any other town, so getting someone to do a proper job of maintaining that A4 will not be easy.

You may have to queue up at Arrow Motors and wait your turn. Mercedes, on the other hand, receives good support from DT Dobie, so it wins this.

Fuel consumption: Again, if this is a worry, then maybe you should be making Second Year decisions like mine. Both cars will not hurt your pocket fuel-wise though: provided you don’t drive in a way that will fascinate your impressionable lady classmates.

Expect town-bound economy of about 7-9KPL and highway figures up to 16KPL. This also applies to the supercharged Mercedes. Keep those classmates away from your car though: extra weight is an enemy of good economy.

Resale: The Benz will fetch customers faster than the Audi. Kenyans fear Audis, except for the Q7, which for some reason (I don’t know this reason) they seem to love and worship. On the other hand, we also love Mercs and we are buying them in large numbers, especially the C and E Classes.

Hello Baraza,

I have four questions for you:

1.What determines the engine capacity of a given vehicle?

2.How is the engine capacity related to engine rating?

3.My car is a 1300cc Nissan B12. What is the typical fuel consumption rate of such vehicles?

4.What is the most economical speed one should drive at to ensure the car does not exceed the designed fuel consumption rate under ideal conditions?

Mbogo Munyau,

Embu.

1. The volume of one cylinder, which is got by the base area of the cylinder (pi multiplied by the square of the bore multiplied by 0.25) multiplied by the stroke of the cylinder.

The bore is the diameter of the cylinder and the stroke is the height of the cylinder. The figure you get from this calculation is then multiplied by the number of cylinders in the engine block (possible configurations are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 and 16).

The final figure is the engine capacity you are talking about, usually expressed in litres (L), cubic centimeters (cc) or cubic inches (ci, commonly used in the US when quoting the capacities of classic muscle cars/trucks).

2. By engine rating I assume you mean power rating. The general rule is: the larger the engine capacity, the higher the power output, but this applies up to a point. Other factors play an equally big role in getting the power of an engine: forced induction, material used to forge moving parts, valve timing/camshaft profiles, torque development of the engine, and how high (in terms of rpm) the engine can carry that torque.

3. There is what the rest of the world achieves when driving such cars, and then there is what I can achieve (if I may say so myself) when I go “economical”. Expect 10 or 12KPL in town conditions (this is greatly dependent on how bad traffic conditions are.

It could be as low as 5KPL in a particularly tight gridlock) and as high as 20KPL on the open road. I have once achieved 25KPL in a 1300cc EP82 Starlet without trying really hard. Typical returns should be about 17 or 18 KPL for “normal” highway driving.

4. Keep the revs at about 1,800rpm or slightly less in top gear. This avoids engine strain due to low-rev driving, and the revs are still low enough for the car to sip.

Whatever speed this occurs at is the optimum driving speed for economy. It is possible to get even better economy than this, but from there you will be straying into hypermiling territory, which is highly risky, a bit technical and sometimes dangerous.

Hi Baraza,

Greetings from southern Tanzania! Great work you are doing with straight-up answers to our motoring queries. My organisation wants to buy several double-cabs for a project this year.

The options are Toyota Hilux, Nissan Hardbody, Ford Ranger and the all-new VW Amarok. Kindly share your thoughts on power, off-road capabilities, comfort, drive feel and overall ranking.

Cheers,

Sam

Power: The Amarok Bi-Turbo and the Ford Ranger lead the pack at 176 hp and 197 hp (2012 model, 3.2 TDCi) respectively. The rest are left floundering at the back. The Ranger wins out on torque also: 470Nm compared to the VW’s 400Nm.

Off-road ability: All these cars will go off-road convincingly. They are all fitted with proper off-road kit in their 4X4 iterations, and they have ground clearance to boot. Seeing how none of them use fancy viscous couplings/torque vectoring technology with that 4WD, this makes them all equal players in the field.

Getting far from the beaten track in one will depend on how skilled the driver is.
Comfort: Interesting state of affairs here.

The Amarok I tested was the base model 4X2 diesel turbo, and it was the most uncomfortable double-cab I have ever driven, owing to a ride quality that was both bouncy AND hard.

A South African colleague, however, has driven the Bi-Turbo, and he, on the other hand, tells me it is the most comfortable in the pack of double-cabs he has tried. This may be true, as you will see in just a moment. The Hilux is next in line from the bottom, then the Hardbody is in third place.

Feel: Hard to tell. The base model Amarok is really not that good, but again, the Bi-Turbo comes with an options list like that of a German saloon: featuring things like wood and leather.

The Hilux has a bright grey interior that is not at all endearing while the Hardbody’s is a bit better and darker shade of grey. The Ford’s interior, judging from what I saw at the launch, could very easily be the best here (until I see that wood-and-leather Bi-Turbo, that is).

Drive: Both the base-model single-turbo Amarok and the Hilux suffer from tremendous turbo lag. While the Hilux stays breathless almost throughout, the Amarok will run off into the distance.

The Bi-Turbo should counteract this by having that extra turbo under the bonnet to reduce lag. The Hardbody is a bit so-so (definitely more involving than the Hilux) while the Ranger….

Overall Ranking: You might think this will go the Bi-Turbo way, but then you’d think wrong. You may have noticed that I don’t say much about the Ranger in Drive, Feel and Comfort; and there is a very good reason.

Even after promises were made, I am yet to drive the Ford Ranger. So I cannot rank it conclusively against the rest of the pack. Judging from what every other motoring journalist has said, however, the Ranger T6 is almost as good as good gets in the double-cab world. So it gets first place.

Then the Amarok Bi-Turbo comes second. The Hilux is stone dead last. Poor ride quality and the unresponsive, lag-plagued and underpowered engine are the car’s worst failings. A naff interior also doesn’t help matters. The Hardbody is much better.

Posted on

A 4WD car doesn’t automatically make you an off-road hotshot

Baraza,

I have a Toyota Prado, model KZJ95, which I love as it is a lot of fun to ride in. However, I have two problems which I hope you can help me sort out. The first concerns consumption. The car is a 3.0 diesel and yet it consumes fuel as if crude is going out of fashion. What is the best way to cut down on this consumption?

The second problem is that, during the rainy season, I got stuck in mud in the village because I could not use the 4WD stick. How does this stick work? At what position is it engaged, and when should it be disenganged?

Njagah

You might be expecting too much from a 3.0-litre engine. What consumption figure does it return? If it actually does burn a lot of fuel, then maybe the transfer case is stuck in low.

About getting stuck in mud. The J90 Prado has full-time 4WD, so the transfer case switches between low range and high range. That is not your problem.

You see, putting on a Manchester United jersey and walking into Old Trafford does not make you the last word in professional football; you have to have the skill to go with it.

Most people assume that the presence of 4WD automatically makes them off-road champions. It doesn’t.

Like in football, you have to have the skill to use whatever you have. Not to brag, but I once manoeuvred a Toyota Starlet through the same quagmire that had trapped a Land Rover Discovery and an Isuzu Trooper.

Develop your off-road driving skills if you want to take full advantage of the 4WD system in your car.

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Hi,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I intend to buy a new single cab pick-up truck for delivery of office supplies and construction equipment and can’t seem to decide on whether to buy a Toyota Hilux, Nissan (any of the various types), Isuzu D-MAX, Ford Ranger or a Foton. Could you help me decide with regard to the following:

1. The maximum carrying capacity of the car.

2. The initial cost of the car and the cost of spare parts.

3. Between a diesel and a petrol engine, which one would be better for the long run since I want to hold onto the car for about five years before selling it?

Lastly, regarding the Toyota Vigo double-cab, what is its load carrying capacity?

When it comes to carrying capacity, the D-MAX or Hilux are massive.

The cheapest to buy is the Chinese knockoff, but cheapest overall (spares and maintenance) I’d put my money on the Nissan Hardbody/NP300.

On the best engine type, I would say petrol. It might cost more to fuel, but petrol engines have longer service intervals and are less prone to structural and mechanical strains.

The robust build of diesel engines may make them long lasting, but not as much as petrol engines.

The Vigo? I thought the discussion was on single cabs! Anyway, it can carry up to one tonne easily.

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Dear Baraza,

You seem not to have a lot of faith in the Nissan make, I wonder why. In 1999, I wanted to buy a Toyota 91, but I did not have the money. Instead I bought a second hand B12 ‘local’.

It faithfully and reliably served me for more than 10 years until, once again, I wanted a Toyota but couldn’t afford one and instead I bought a Wingroad.

The B12 served me well for three reasons: service was after every 3,000 km, and I changed the tyres and tubes and did engine overhauls every three years.

Now, because of what you have been saying here, I am convinced I should get a Subaru Forester non-turbo for climbing the Tugen Hills, which the B12 comfortably accomplished, by the way.

Oh no, it is not that I lack faith in the Nissan brand, it is just that some of its output belongs in the gutter. Like the B14. Or the Micra.

There are some Nissans that do get my blood racing, like the GTR.

The Murano is what I’d pick over rivals like Lexus RX and Subaru Tribeca. And don’t forget the praise I had for the Navara after that showdown in Kajiado last year….

The B12 was one of Nissan’s finest moments, right before it went bankrupt and almost collapsed.

A Renault merger saved it from doom, and it is under Ghosn (post-merger Renault-Nissan CEO) that the cars in the above paragraph were conceived.

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Hi Baraza,

I own 2002 X-Trail GT, petrol, 2000cc turbo and I’ve learnt to accept it’s 9kpl consumption, whether I try to limit my revs under 2000 rpm or not.

I noticed two months ago that when I’m doing speeds of over 110 km/h, its difficult to get to 3500 rpm even if I force it. It’s okay on low speeds though.

I also feel like the gears are taking longer to change. What could be the problem? The check-engine light is on.

Knowing GTs, I’d say check the ignition coil for the reluctance to rev. Run a diagnosis to see what the check-engine light is all about, but my guess is it ties in with the engine’s unwillingness to spin.

As for the gearbox, check the ATF levels; if it is low, top up, but prepare for a major bill soon — you might have to replace it. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

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Dear Baraza,

I intend to buy a car soon and I am kind of unable to decide what to buy from these three makes: Mercedes A-class, Peugeot 206 and VW Golf.

Since cheap is expensive, I am cautiously avoiding Toyotas, Mazdas and Nissans — plus I don’t know why most of them have their side mirrors chained to the door!

I can comfortably fuel an 1800cc engine and below. Kindly advise me on which one to buy, considering performance, durability and maintenance costs.

Martin

Martin, you are yet another Kenyan whose mind is firmly stuck in the bank account.

There are several others like you who are not interested in the ownership experience of a particular car; it all boils down to costs, costs and costs. Anyway, here goes:

Performance: If you choose to go GTi, the 206 GTi is the best of the pack, followed by the Golf.

Just how big the rift between these two is depends on whether it is the MK IV or MK V Golf.

There is no such thing as a Mercedes-Benz A Class GTi. There isn’t an AMG version either, and if a BRABUS A does exist, it will cost about the same as a regular S-Class.

So in performance terms the A-Class is out, unless you are talking about a MK IV Golf GTi, in which case the Golf is out.

Durability: The Golf will last forever. The Peugeot won’t. Somewhere in between lies the little Mercedes.

Maintenance cost: A lot for the Benz. Not so much for the Peugeot. The Golf lies in the middle, leaning towards the Peugeot.

PSST! I also think these Japanese ‘econoboxes’ look ridiculous with their chained mirrors!

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Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying a second-hand 4WD mid-size SUV and in mind are the first or second generation Honda CRV, Toyota RAV-4 and Nissan X-Trail.

Please tell me about fuel economy, performance, resale value, spares, other pros and cons — and your preference if it you were in my shoes.

Harry

Fuel economy: Similar across the range for similar engine sizes. The RAV-4 may be a bit thirstier than the rest, but marginally.

Performance: Again, broadly similar across the range. RAV-4 feels quicker than the rest, but the mantle belongs to the VTEC Honda, that is, until you introduce the 280hp X-Trail GT — pretty fast, this, but a friend alleges it will burn through Sh7,000 of premium unleaded petrol between Nairobi and Eldoret if you are not circumspect with the throttle. I believe him.

Resale value: Hard to call. The RAV might depreciate fastest due its steep initial asking price. If you can find a lady buyer, you can fob the CRV off on her at a good quote (women are suckers for these Hondas, apparently).

Second or third owner X-Trails are becoming uncommon; in my circles, the reputation of ephemeral automatic transmissions has really done the X-Trail no favours at all.

Spares: Why do people still ask this and yet week after week I keep saying spares are there for these cars; and if running costs are a source of worry to you then maybe you are not ready to own a car just yet.

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Hi JM,

I am based in Mombasa and I’m really keen on venturing into the business of transporting core building and construction material.

I am, therefore, looking for a 15-20 tonne tipper truck. Please advise on a reliable make seeing as to how, of late, the Chinese seem to be taking over the market but I’m wary of anything Chinese.

Mwashinga

There’s a wide choice here, starting from expensive European trucks like Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volvo, Scania and MAN, through the usual Japanese suspects of Mitsubishi Fuso, UD Trucks (formerly Nissan Diesel, now owned by Volvo) and Isuzu F Series, then finally the “disposable” Chinese products.

The reason Chinese trucks are becoming so popular is that they are dirt cheap. And you can tell why; I had a look at them at a recent motor show and they are rough-and-ready at best, with little investment going into R&D and with some of them simply manufacturing ex-Japanese engines under license.

They are also short-lived, as the reputations of various other Chinese products would attest.

Of the pick, I would go for a Scania P Series, more so the 310hp P94D.

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Hi Baraza,

Help me understand why or how some petrol engines have water dripping from the exhaust while others don’t.

I have heard it said that those dripping water are efficient burners of fuel or have something to do with CCs.

You were lied to. The water you see is the result of condensation from two sources: water vapour in the atmosphere cools within the pipe and is expelled when the engine is running, and water is a by-product (a very small one) of combustion — supercooling (a sharp drop in temperature) also causes condensation.

This phenomenon also explains the contrails you see coming out the back of a jet high up in the sky

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Hi JM,

“BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see.” This is a quote from your column on January 25 this year.

I was perplexed when I read that because in your column on December 14 last year, you heaped lot of praise on BMWs after an inquiry from a reader.

To quote you, “the performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW; class-leading, quick, handles like magic, fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into…”. Why the contradiction? Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Furthermore, in a previous article you didn’t heap much praise on the X-Trail, but in your column on January 25, you said you preferred the 2.5 diesel X-Trail auto transmission, how come?

Or is it that as some reader suggested, you are on the payroll of some local dealer? Is that why you are biased towards the East?

Njue

Let me explain it this way: I love apple juice. I also love pineapple juice. I don’t like orange juice. I really don’t like lemon juice. So in a contest of juices, I would go for apple, hands down, and when queried, I will say I am not a fan of lemon juice. With me so far?

Here’s another comparison. “Mr Baraza, what would you rather drink? We have lemon juice, human sweat and camel urine.” I would, of course, be an idiot not to say lemon juice.

That was the case with the X-Trail: I specifically said “in this class I prefer the X-Trail”.

In terms of personal taste, I do not like mini-SUVs, of which the X-Trail is one, but it is what I’d choose over all other mini-SUVs.

This, sir, means I don’t like the X-Trail, as I have said before, but among crossover utilities, it is the least of very many evils.

Onto the BMW. If BMW was called Hummer, who make a wide range of only one car, you could take me to task, but as it is, BMW make very many different cars.

The class-leading ride and handling maestro whose virtues I extolled was the 3-Series. The “unnecessarily expensive” waste of one’s salary was the X3. Still with me?

Here is a brief run down of my thoughts on BMWs.

Good: All M cars, except the X6M. Also 3,5,6 and 7 Series. The X5 is a lesson in German dominance of the manufacturing industry.

Bad: 1 Series, except 1M. X1 and X3 also.

Should never have existed: X6 and X6M.

PS: I know camels pass more of pellets than liquid urine, but you get my point, right?

Posted on

If you worry about costs, do not buy an ‘extrovert’ car

Hi Baraza,

I want to upgrade my current vehicle to either a Toyota Mark X, 2499cc or Volkswagen Passat CC, 1799cc. Both being second-hand, auto and petrol engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of running these two vehicles in the Kenyan environment.

Bethi

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The pros and cons of running these two cars in the Kenyan environment, you ask? Prepare for a surprise:

The Mark X will get you respect and looks of envy as you ride by, but the down side is that it is now becoming a bit cliché.

The Passat CC is used widely by high-ranking civil servants (and maybe spooks, given that the registration plates I have observed on some of these vehicles do not tally with the age of the car, and some are fake), so substitute the “respect” aspect of the Mark X with “subtle awe and/or slight trepidation” for the CC.

Both ride comfortably, but the Mark X, if you buy the more common 2.5 or the bigger 3.0, will outrun the CC on an open space.

Driven carefully, both will take a while before showing symptoms of reaching “that time of the month” (nudge nudge).

And since you are choosing between two decidedly showy vehicles, I will say nothing on fuel consumption, buying price or cost of maintenance.

If these worry you, then buy a cheaper, smaller, less extrovert car.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy an Escalade. Please give me advice on its fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Also, let me know if it’s a good car and if it will be able to cope with Kenyan roads.

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Buy an Escalade and take it where? Apparently, there is an embargo on the importation of LHD vehicles, which is why you don’t see me driving a Veyron. Or a Zonda. So where will you take it to once you buy it yet it is LHD only?

Nobody buys an Escalade with fuel consumption in mind, because 4kpl is as good as you will ever get from it.

It might cope well on Kenyan roads, somewhat, but it is a bad car: the handling is poor, build quality is crap, the interior is made from cheap plastics, it is impossible to park and I can bet my salary it will not fit in some city alleyways. And that fuel consumption….

My advice? Go ahead and buy it. At least you will give the rest of us sensible Kenyans some entertainment as you try to live with it!

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Hi JM,

A friend of mine working for a multinational tea exporter in the scenic county of Kericho has asked my opinion on the 2004 Audi A4. Honestly, apart from knowing the manufacturer is German and a subsidiary of Volkswagen, I didn’t offer much. But I knew where to turn to: this column. Please enlighten him and I on the following matters:

1. Availability of appointed dealerships for the car in Kenya.

2. Does it come with a fuel saving piece technology like Toyota’s VVT-i?

3. Can you trust an advertisement for a freshly imported 2004 unit with a price tag of Sh1.45 million? I smelled a rat when I saw that ad.

4. The torque and power specs in simple language. I saw something like 166 foot pounds of torque @ 4700 rpm and 161 brake horsepower @ 5700 rpm. I cursed out aloud.

5. Is it naturally- or turbo-aerated, and which other car is in its class ?

Njeru

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Njeru, I know not of any official franchise or authorised dealership, but there is a small outfit housed in the same compound along Mombasa Road as Subaru Kenya that fiddles with the Four-Ringed German cars.

I’m sure they can handle an A4 without much stress. VVT-i is just variable valve timing, and is the norm with almost every new car since the year 2000 or thereabouts.

If Audi dabbles in turbocharging, I’m sure variable valve timing is on the menu too, it is just that they don’t have a catchy acronym for their version.

A 2004 A4 at 1.5M? That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. That particular dealer could be given the benefit of doubt.

The units used to express torque and power may be imperial or metric. You want metric but the ones you quote are imperial.

Use these conversions: 2.2 lb (pounds) per kilo or 0.45 kilos per pound, 9.8 Newtons per kilo, 3.3 feet per metre or 0.3 metres per foot, and 0.75 kW per horsepower or 1.3 hp per kW. Then calculate your figures.

Lastly, the Audi A4 is available both in turbo and NA forms. Its rivals are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 407, Alfa Romeo 159, and a lot more.

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Hi Baraza

I love German cars, particularly VWs, and a friend of mine wants to sell me a local 1996 Polo Classic 1400cc hatchback because he wants to go for a Tiguan.

It is in very good condition, having done 136,000km under one lady owner. On matters maintenance, a VW expert mechanic recommended it after inspection and a road test.

He dismissed the notion that spares are expensive, saying that a replaced part could last three to four times compared to the likes of Toyotas. The car still has its original shocks, CV joints, etc, and the engine has never been opened.

However, I was really discouraged when you dismissed the Polo as tiny and costly in your column.

For your information, I did a survey at several shops that deal in spares for European cars and the difference in prices is not as high as is believed.

I have always wondered why most of your articles are on Japanese vehicles, it clearly portrays your bias towards vehicles from the East.

What car, then, would you advise me to go for instead of the Polo? I want a car that is swift, stable on the road at speeds of around 160KPH, and fuel-efficient (the Polo does 18.9 kpl).

Karagi

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The Polo is tiny and costly, and the spares cost a little bit more than those of Toyotas. And you agree that the payoff is a better built and reliable vehicle overall.

I do not have a bias towards “the East” as you so graciously put it. If you followed my work last year, I let slip once or twice that I had a Peugeot 405.

France is not “East”, it is not even within Eastern Europe. I drive what I get my hands on, so if nobody will let me compare the new Passat against an E Class, that is not my fault. Japanese cars are more readily available for test drives, generally.

If you want the Polo, go ahead and buy it. There’s nothing to stop you. The reason I was hard on it was that the question involved money issues, and Toyotas were mentioned in the equation; I had to tell it like it is.

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Hallo Baraza,

Your discussion on SUV’s that can cost less than an million shillings was hilarious. Tell me, how does a Land Rover Freelander compare to a Suzuki Grand Vitara? What is your take on the two?

Muthoni

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The Landy is more comfy and luxurious than the Suzuki, but the Suzuki is hardier, and fast catching up in terms of spec and equipment. It is also less likely to break and will cost less to fix than the LR.

The Freelander is better to drive, and just a touch quicker for the V6; the diesels are economical but lethargic and might struggle with the weight. The Suzuki looks good, with its faux-RAV4 appearance.

This applies to the MK I Freelander; I have not tried the Freelander 2 yet.

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Hi Baraza

I’m engaged in diverse farming activities in Rift Valley and cannot do without a sturdy 4WD. I wish to replace my aging Hilux with a new 4WD pickup.

The Hilux has a front solid beam axle which, though bumpy due to the leaf springs, is very reliable if driven over terrain that would easily cause havoc to the rubber boots and drive shafts.

My problem is that most 4WD pickups currently in the market are of the wishbone suspension type with exposed driveshafts for the 4WD functions.

Kindly explain to me the virtues of the latter over the former (solid beam). Why are they widely used today yet “serious” 4WDs like the Land Cruiser, the Land Rover and even the Patrol have stuck to the solid beam?

If it were you, which one would you go for, a Land Cruiser, a Ford Ranger or Hilux?

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Independent front and rear suspension was once avoided because of how delicate they were, and because of wheel articulation.

Nowadays, advances in material science and suspension technology have made cars with independent suspensions just as skilled off-road as their live axle counterparts, if not better.

Independent suspension allows for better obstacle clearance compared to the beam axle cars. New cars with old suspensions are made so to keep costs down.

On which one I’d go for, the Ford Ranger comes first, the 3.0 TDCi double-cab in particular. Then maybe the Land Cruiser if my farm is REALLY inaccessible.

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JM,

I wanted a car badly, a pick-up for that matter, but had very little cash, so I settled for a 1993 Peugeot 504. From the first owner, a company, I was the fourth owner. Bodywise it was okay but the engine was in need.

So far, taking care of the engine has used up about 50K and I am now proud of its performance, at least for the last three weeks, though I’m still afraid of unwanted eventualities. Would you advise me to sell it or keep it and hope it will serve me more?

Muoki

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Given the cash flow issues, maintain the old donkey for a while. They were bought in plenty when new, so there still exist mechanics who understand them intimately and rusty examples can be cannibalised when parts are needed.

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a car enthusiast currently driving a 2004 Toyota Caldina. I would like to have your take on the Land Rover Freelander.

In terms of consumption, maintenance and how it compares with other cars in its class. I’m particularly interested in the 2.5-litre version.

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Consumption, I repeat for the umpteenth time, will depend on how you drive, but with the Freelander you will have to be extra careful.

It is a heavy car and the 2.5-litre engine will become a drunkard if you start racing fellow drunkards. Don’t expect much better than 11 kpl or so.

Maintenance: It is the younger brother of the Discovery and not too far removed from the Range Rover, so break one and you will weep.

But if you can afford a Freelander, you should afford to stay on top of sundry replacements and routine maintenance.

In this class, I prefer the X-Trail. BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see, as is the RAV4, which is better than the Nissan on the road, but not as good off it, though the Land Rover beats them all, save the BMW in terms of comfort and luxury. Ish.

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Baraza,

I own a Daewoo GTI (KAE) and it has never given me any major problems. However, in one of your columns, you called Daewoo obscure.

I am now concerned; can a Daewoo engine be replaced with one from a different make, such as Toyota or Nissan? Do we have dealers who stock Daewoo spare parts?

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I am not too sure about spares and dealers (the model, after all, is obscure), but you can heave a sigh of relief as concerns replacement engines. Early Daewoos (Nexus, Cielo, and what not) were just rebadged ex-GM models (Vauxhall Cavalier, Opel this and that), so any old GM engine will go in.

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Hi,

I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Cedia saloon that I acquired in 2009. However, towards the end of 2010, it developed problems with the gearbox only to realise that my mechanic had topped up the ATF with SPII instead of the SPIII that is recommended.

This damaged the gear box and I had to replace the same after a number of attempted repairs.

After replacing it mid 2011, it has since been damaging a certain plate between the gearbox and the engine. I have replaced that plate five times now.

My mechanic informed me that this is a problem with these type of vehicle and told me to change the gear selector to solve the problem permanently.

Is there a relationship between the selector and this plate, and what would you advise me to do other than change my mechanic, which I have already done after being in denial for long.

I haven’t replaced the selector yet and the plate is damaged again for the seventh time now thrice in a span of two weeks.

Mwaniki

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Is the car automatic or manual? I’m guessing automatic, now that you mention ATF, but then again you talk of plates and selectors, so it could be manual.

If the problem is associated with the selector, then the source is the linkage, not the selector itself, and yes, there should not be any connection between the clutch plates and the selector.

The problem, I suspect, is in the seating of the plate; it might be slightly skewed or of the wrong size.

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Hi JM,

Does turbocharging increase fuel economy in any way? I understand that forced induction, turbocharging included, increases the volume of air in the combustion chambers, thereby allowing more fuel to be burnt resulting in more power from the engine.

But I fail to understand how this may alter fuel economy positively as I have heard from some circles.

Isaac

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You have a lot more power from a similar capacity engine at similar revs, even if the turbo unit will burn a bit more fuel. What’s not to see?

The horsepower gains from a turbo are a lot more than from tuning an NA engine to within an inch of its life.

If you were to get 291hp from a 2.0 litre NA engine, it will sure burn a hell lot more fuel than the new Lancer Evo X does with its turbo and intercooler because, first, you will need bigger fuel pumps and injectors to deliver more fuel into the cylinders, and then couple this with a very high compression ratio so that you get bigger torque.

Then, the NA engine will have to carry that torque to higher revs so that it can deliver the maximum power. More revs mean more fuel getting combusted. Follow?

The turbo engine, on the other hand, can have a lower compression ratio and you won’t need to rev it madly to get proper power.

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Hi Baraza,

As far as engine configuration is concerned, one thing is still unclear to me.

When I was doing basic mechanics of machines, I was taught about the different diesel engines; naturally aspirated and turbocharged.

Looking at the principal of a turbocharger (recycling exhaust unburnt fuel into the inlet manifold, thereby reducing waste and emissions and giving extra power due to the high temperatures of the inflow gases), I still do not understand why typical turbocharged models consume more than the non-turbo models.

I have driven Hilux pickups for over five years, D-Max occasionally and now a naturally aspirated JMC Isuzu pickup, and you won’t believe the difference.

On average, the Hilux D4D 3.0-litre non-turbo gives 10 kpl; the Hilux D4D 2.5-litre turbocharged gives 12 kpl; the D-Max 3-litre turbocharged gives 11 kpl; and the JMC 2.8-litre non-turbo gives 14.6 kpl.

Though the consumption is a function of many factors including the weight on the accelerator, terrain and traffic, the equation still does not add up.

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the common rail and the direct injection and how this influences fuel consumption.

Lastly, referring to your column on January 11, I always advise people to go for new Asian pickups, which come with full warranties and have a guarantee on performance instead of going for a 5–7-year-old used top range model that goes for the same price yet you aren’t sure of its maintenance and whether the engine is inches away from failure.

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The secret lies in knowing the history of the engine, quality and reliability in terms of spares and technical back up. Most Asian models are clones of the originals hence the reason for non-durability and dissimilar performance.

First off, the operation you describe there is called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and is not turbocharging.

Turbocharging involves using the momentum of escaping exhaust gases to drive an impeller or turbine that, in turn, forces air into the engine under pressure (thus a bigger mass of oxygen gets into the engine).

While it is true that turbo cars burn more fuel than NA counterparts, you are forgetting the gains in torque and horsepower that come along with it.

The differences between common-rail and direct injection call for a full article (too long and technical to put here), but the fuel economy of each type depends heavily on execution, though it has long been believed that common rail delivery is the better option when going for fuel economy.

And finally, as things stand, it will be a cold night in hell before I recommend an Asian counterfeit over the original.

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Peugeot: A story of fantastic successes and pitiful failures

Of all the great car companies and brands, one of the most overlooked is Peugeot of France.

As a brand, it is a bit despised in the UK and rarely bought in Germany, but who cares what those Europeans think?

The places where these cars have had the biggest impact are Africa and the Middle East. Come across any current or previous Peugeot owner/driver and he will either swear by his car or swear at it.

I happen to fall in this particular demographic, having had (and still have) one of the original 405s in my care, and I have sworn both by and at it. Repeatedly. I still do.

Locally, Peugeot’s problems started with the 504. The car was powerful in all its iterations.

The saloon, with its monocoque chassis, was very comfortable (and this unitary body construction led many to declare — sagely and quite wrongly — that the car had no chassis).

The estate had an enormous boot and the pickup could take a considerable amount of luggage and abuse and still hold itself together.

As such, the saloon became the car of choice for the discerning, aspiring patrician — bank managers and pseudo-senior civil servants who had their own offices rather than sharing.

The estate, on the other hand, went into service in the police force, transporting shadowy men in trench coats who subscribed to a discipline more stringent than the Boy Scouts, and as a ground-hugging passenger aircraft (memories of Crossroad Travellers and WEPESI bring about tears of nostalgia), while the pickup became the farmer’s friend, and nemesis to the Toyota Hilux. Good times.

The bad

But there were issues. A common adage went “A Peugeot will give you flawless service for 16 years, after which it will stall if the doors have not fallen off yet”.

Too true. Peugeots were near-perfect machines for the tasks they were assigned, but as they say, when it rains, it pours.

If and when mechanical infidelity reared its unsightly noggin, the problems came in droves, never singularly. I know, I have a Peugeot under my care.

The electricals were usually the first to act up, closely followed by the doors divorcing themselves from the rest of the car.

This is not just a garage myth, it actually happens. The driver’s door on my fickle 405 came off its hinges one day at a petrol station, and as such the fuel flap could not open, what with the central locking system being tied to every single orifice of the car other than the bonnet.

A well placed six-inch nail brought it back to position, but it had a slight sag, so shutting it involved some careful balancing of the door itself.

The nail made the pump attendant quip something about Jesus and crucifixion, but I felt I was the one being crucified here by a car I actually loved.

Rust was also a common problem for the 504 and the absence of a ladder frame chassis meant that the car was also structurally weak because when it was invented, strengthening monocoques was still a new field of research.

Several years of hard use would bend the car out of shape, meaning resale value was a joke. If you bought a Peugeot, you bought it for life. It is this car that gave Peugeot cars their bad reputation.

The 505 was not much different. It was slightly more comfortable and offered better fuel economy than its predecessor, but the typical Peugeot gremlins still haunted it.

And it was not as much of a looker as the 504. The estate version sported a toned down look from the 504 while the saloon was a bit drab to look at.

However, the introduction of turbos for some models in the engine bay compensated for the less pretty appearance and imbued these cars with an outstanding sprinting ability. The 505 was an early ’80s introduction, while the 405 followed it in the mid-’80s.

The 405 started life with a bang, winning several COTY (Car of the Year) awards between 1985 and 1989. That is how good it was at the time, and the reason I gambled with getting one.

It was designed by Pininfarina, the same studio that does Ferraris and Alfa Romeos, making it a dead ringer for the Alfa 164.

It was fast and comfy (I can attest to this), had sublime handling (either because of or despite its front drive chassis), the boot space was class-leading and its appearance was the best of any car at that time.

In fact, the model was (is) so good that it is still in production in Egypt and Iran, where it is sold not as a Peugeot, but as the Paykan.

As I found out (to my horror and to the detriment of my wallet) it was not immune to the same demons that haunted earlier Peugeots.

However, at the end of its production run, it ushered in a new era, the era of the reliable Peugeot.

A leap of faith

So far, it might be easy to assume from my story that owning a Peugeot from that era is not entirely different from a kamikaze mission — the motive is honourable but the end result is less than pleasant — but I assure you it is not.

It is more of a leap of faith. The best analogy I can come up with is getting into a relationship with someone you met at the bar: you never know where it will lead or what will happen next.

Just like in liquor-assisted romance, the good times are really good. There rarely had been an ugly Peugeot up until the 607, just like there are no ugly people in the bar after 2am — that is, until dawn breaks.

The brief period when the car is mechanically sound, you will love driving it. Then the problems start and you either bail out like me (I have had to ground the poor 405 after it almost bankrupted me), or stay on and persevere the vagaries of a bad relationship when true colours start showing.

So, the 607. It was meant to be to France what Jaguar is to the UK — a homegrown product for government officials to run around in without having to gaze longingly towards Germany.

But the blatant plagiarism of the W220 Mercedes S-Class design language (and subsequent failure to resolve the swoopy lines into a properly pretty shape) did not win it many fans.

Its suspension was so-so, and then Peugeot went ahead and tried to make it clever by adding some complex gadgetry, and made it worse. The introduction of air suspension completely ruined what was a fallible item to begin with, and the 607 went on to suffer an ignominious death. No one will miss it.

Now the upside

Starting off with the 403 and 404, classics at the moment and fashion statements in their time, these cars are (surprisingly) still in service in small numbers if you look around rural municipalities, despite their age.

Enthusiasts might gush about the indestructibility of the Hilux utility, but the 403 and 404 pickups were harder to kill than a family of cockroaches on steroids.

And you cannot ignore Peugeot’s sporting credentials: The 205 Turbo 16 was a Group B monster that did not accept defeat easily.

The 405 Turbo 16 (T16) conquered the Dakar rally convincingly and then went on to claim a hill-climb record at Pikes Peak, Colorado in the hands of Finn Ari Vatanen. And who can forget the 206 WRC and its relentless chain of victories?

Away from motorsport, there has only been one definitive hot hatchback of all time, and that is the 205 GTI. Just like all software geeks aspire to be Steve Jobs one day, all sporting hatchbacks aspire to be the 205 GTI.

Originally, the VW Golf GTI was “it” but the Germans lost the plot and the French swooped in to show the world how to build a small car that is still a hoot to drive (ignore the cheap interior plastics and jumpy driveline).

Since then, France has incessantly churned out a succession of (really) hot hatchbacks, and not just Peugeots.

I had said the 405, towards the end of its production run, ushered in the era of the reliable Peugeot. Well, reliable is not exactly the right adjective. Let us say ‘improved’. And the improvement was drastic.

The 406 (it was originally to be branded 506) is downright pretty, again penned by Pininfarina, and is a less dear alternative to, of all cars, the BMW 3 Series (benchmark, yardstick, pace-setter, trend-setter, reference point: call it what you want, but the description is “the car to beat”).

The 306 is a driver’s car through and through, right down to the oil-burning versions that feed from the black pump.

The 206 is a lovely little number, and the 180 hp GTI version is geared in such a way that you can clock 70 km/h in first — insane.

Subsequent models are just as good, if not better: 207, 208, 307, 308, 407; all of them are good and as far removed from the flimsy products of the ’80s as one can possibly imagine.

Which brings me to the 508 and a firm called Eurysia. A quick survey among the general public reveals that many still assume Peugeot cars are sold and serviced by Marshalls.

They are not. Marshalls now peddles TATA vehicles (incidentally, TATA now owns Jaguar and Land Rover, but these two are sold by CMC. The motoring industry is a game of musical chairs, I tell you).

Also, a good number think the 406 or 407 are Peugeot’s latest offerings, but they are not. Peugeots are sold by a low key outfit called Eurysia, and towards the close of 2010 they made a small noise about the 508.

The 508 is one of the prettiest cars to come out in 2011, and one that I am dying to drive. The estate is also one of the most versatile cars available now, what with its boot space rivalling the hearse-like E Class estate, and this has got to be the best-looking station wagon outside of the shooting brake clique.

The manual gearbox — a man’s transmission of choice — is standard, its interior is second in beauty and execution only to Audi (and the company from Ingolstadt has the honour of making the best interiors ever. Forget Rolls, forget Maybach, and forget Bentley, Audis have the best interiors in the business, period).

So why are we not being inundated with promotions and ads glorifying the 508 and begging us to climb proudly back into Peugeots, like we once did two or three decades ago? I do not know. Over to you, Eurysia.

The children in the basement

Not all Peugeots were good in one way or the other. While some turned heads, others turned stomachs. In fact some were (and are) total garbage, the most notorious being the 309.

Poorly labelled (it came after the 305), poorly designed and poorly packaged, it was a poor performer that held its value poorly and was consequently poorly received by pundits, punters, and the press. It did not help matters that it was sold alongside the outstanding 405.

The 607, as described earlier, was another. Nobody knows what exactly was going on inside Peugeot’s head when they dreamed up this car.

Nobody still does. Also largely unloved is the 1007. It is hard to place: sized like a super-mini, designed to look like an MPV and it has a van’s sliding doors, through which both driver and passengers climb.

It falls in the same group as the Mitsubishi RVR: cars that are hard to place, trying to fill too many niches at the same time and as such fail miserably in all areas. Thankfully, I have not seen any on our roads. Yet.