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It’s a tight contest between the Hilux, Navara and L200

Hello Baraza,
What are the in-trend features in the new Toyota Hilux D4D, the Nissan Hardbody, the Nissan Navara, and the Mitsubishi L200? Which of these, in your opinion, is likely to out-sell the other, based on consumer satisfaction, pricing and durability?

That is one elaborate question you have there. The Hilux D4D started off well in terms of sales because of the sheer power of its brand reputation, but buyers soon caught on the fact that the Hilux was not what it used to be.

The 2.5 litre is underpowered, making the 3.0 litre a more sensible buy, but then again the 3.0 is much thirstier, and the car costs a lot when new.

The Hardbody (YN25) has been largely ignored, I do not know why. The vehicle is a strong workhorse and will commonly be found around construction sites and road works in use by engineers. In other markets, the Hardbody was called Navara.

The Navara we know is increasing in popularity, and with good reason. It is quite comfortable for a utility vehicle, spacious, and luxurious inside if you spec it up properly. It will outrun the rest of the pack on any road and is now quite cheap, fresh from the UK (about Sh2.5 million to Sh3 million).

It also looks really good (a quite handsome fella, this). These pros have convinced buyers to overlook its two biggest cons: the car does not stop very well and hard use will age it faster than a cup of fresh milk in warm weather. Also, ECUs may or may not get emotional once a month (wink wink…). It also works well off-road, if you avoid the optional side-steps.

The Mitsubishi L200 is a paragon of controversy. It was styled after the Hilux, but whereas the Hilux’s swoopy lines make it quite a looker, the L200 “splits opinions”.

That is diplo-speak, for not many people like its styling and the few who do cannot explain convincingly just what exactly they like about it. It is a strong vehicle, though. Pity they had to pair the torquey engine with a gearbox whose ratios are a bit mismatched and the interior is a bit bland.

In the path set by the previous model L200 Warrior, the L200 Sportivo is best used as a hardcore off-road vehicle. None of the others can match its skill and grunt in the clag.

That is why you will not see many around: how often do we need to sacrifice comfort and “swag” for the sake of military-grade diff-locks and a billion Nm of torque in our daily driving?

Hello Baraza,

I’m torn between a non-turbo Subaru Forester and a Nissan X-Trail. I prefer a good off-road vehicle since I drive upcountry regularly. However, my mechanic says that X-Trail is plagued with problems — hence dies faster — and recommends a Forester. Please advise me on the following:

1. Which is the classiest of these two?2. Compare their fuel economy and maintenance.

3. Of the three X-Trail engines (T30 diesel, T30 petrol, T31 petrol), which would you recommend?

4. Give me any other information on these two as the word out is there is that buying an X-Trail might push one into the poverty line if it decides to misbehave.

Fred.

1. Class boils down to personal taste. Some would prefer an X-Trail because it sits taller, I would prefer a Forester. STi. SG9 model spec. With a stonking huge turbo…. But this is not your area of interest, so let me stop there.

2. The fuel economy will depend on your driving style, the environment and vehicle load, though after answering close to 7,000 e-mails over the past two years, I would say the Forester returns a slightly poorer mileage. But not by much.

3. Depends. What do you want it for? For economy and torque, get the diesel. For smoothness and Forester-chasing pace, get the petrol.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a 2001 Subaru Impreza GG2. At 128,000km mileage, my timing belt broke and, as a result, ruined six valves in the engine. I replaced the timing system components (the timing belt, bearings, and tensioner) and replaced the six valves.

I was doing 60KPH when the belt broke. Now I always hear a small ticking (like a clock) noise from the engine when accelerating. The ticking increases in pace and loudness the more I accelerate. What could this be?

Please advise people to change timing system components according to manufacturers’ recommendations regardless of how good the condition of those components looks like to the naked eye.

Secondly, the car always drags to the left when my hands are not on the steering wheel. It works well after wheel alignment, but the problem returns after two days max. How can this be fixed? Alignment does not seem to solve it.

Does the ticking noise come from the top of the engine? I agree with your surmise: the timing kit was not re-installed properly and the valves could be bouncing in their seats, the lifters are malfunctioning, or the belt tensioner is loose. One more theory could be a badly fitted exhaust gasket.

If wheel alignment is not solving your car’s wayward steering, then the cause could be something else, something as unusual as different size tyres left and right of the vehicle or unequal tyre pressure on the two sides.

However, you allege that after alignment, things work fine briefly before the pull to the left is experienced again, so you could be the victim of binding brakes.

After the brakes, check for toe-in and toe-out on the offending side, and suspension integrity: ride height should be equal both sides of the car WITH THE DRIVER IN IT, and camber should not be too negative.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a 124-chassis, 102-engine Mercedes 200, manufactured in 1989. Since you started this column, you have dwelt on Toyotas and done little on the Mercedes side of things, especially on the older models.

My research on the Net shows that the car was the best researched and ever designed Benz, but mine seems to have developed a fuel and oil consumption problem.

I am its second owner and acquired it in 2009 at 77,000 kilometres on the odometer. It has now done 140,000 kilometres. I have done four trips to Mombasa at between 140KPH and 150KPH comfortably, and many others to Garissa.

I am not bragging about it, but the fuel efficiency on these runs has been 12 kilometres per litre at constant speed.

Over the past two years, I have noticed that the car smokes from the dashboard and consumes a lot of oil. I usually do 5,000 kilometres before the next service, and personally supervise the mechanic, who is from a reputable Kenyan car dealer.

The car is currently doing eight kilometres per litre and sometimes I have to top up the oil three times before the next service. That regular top-up may consume up to 15 litres cumulatively.

The differential is making some noise at 80KPH and above and the suspension is wearing down at an alarming level. I have to buy at least two suspension brackets for either the left or right sides in a month because the car has developed the habit of breaking them regularly.

The car’s body is as good as new, the interior better than a five-year-old ex-Dubai import. I love it, and although selling it is not an option, it is becoming hard to maintain. What is your take on this? Or are there charity companies that sponsor the rebuilding of these cars?

N.E.K.I.

Forget about charity for now and start saving. The smoke from the dashboard sounds like a short-circuit in the dashboard electronics, where a wire is burning its insulation or singeing a nearby equally flammable component.

Another theory is overheating, although I would not expect this from any Benz, let alone the mighty 124. The engine might be due for an overhaul (common symptom is increased oil and fuel consumption). Has the car lost power also?

If and when you buy new suspension parts, it is advisable to replace the entire setup — from mount to shock to spring (especially the mount).

This is because sometimes the new (springs, especially) units have a bedding-in period; that is, they start off rock-hard before settling into their particular characteristic after a certain mileage.

During this time, if your mounts are brittle with age, they are susceptible to breakage because the new spring does not store enough energy (very low spring rate), so impacts from the road surface are channelled directly to the mounts and brackets.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to buy my first car and I am torn between my college-day dream car, the Subaru Legacy B4 RSK 2000 Edition, and the Toyota Mark II Grande (35th Anniversary Edition).

With me being a typical Kenyan buyer, kindly advise on the following parameters: performance, speed, fuel consumption, durability, and spare parts availability. Solomon.

Performance and speed: The RSK is better than the Grande. Fuel consumption: You are looking in the wrong car segment. Try two rungs lower in the hierarchy because both these cars will not see 10kpl without involving a lot of maths in your driving technique.

Durability: Maybe the Grande. The RSK is built for hard driving, so the cost of brakes and clutch kits will be included in your budget more often than not.

Spare parts availability: I wish people would stop asking about spares. If they cannot be found along Kirinyaga Road or in Industrial Area, they can be found on the Internet. And they might be cheaper on the Net because that price does not include dealer mark-ups (Kenyans can be shockingly greedy sometimes).

Hi Baraza,
I am planning to buy my first car and my budget is Sh450,000. I have the option of going for a Toyota 110 and a 2005 Mitsubishi Cedia. The Cedia is relatively new, but I am being discouraged that its gearbox breaks down easily and that the car does not have consistency in fuel consumption.

The Toyota, on the other hand, looks a bit bland in its interior and I am more inclined towards the Cedia, which looks better and more lady-like. Please advise.

You really have to decide what matters more to you: do you want to look lady-like and pretty but run the risk of a broken gearbox, or do you want a boringly reliable car with a boringly grey or beige interior and run the risk of being stopped at every road-block simply because all traffic policemen assume that all 110s are taxis (and unlicensed, at that)?

If you can handle a manual transmission (stick shift), you could get a Cedia manual. The gearbox will be cheaper to replace (if it ever breaks), and you will still look ladylike. You will also achieve good economy if you know how to use a manual gearbox properly.

Hi Baraza,

I have just imported a 2005 Nissan X-Trail. Although everything else is fairly simple to figure out, I have failed to work out how the reverse camera works.

I am told that it should show up automatically when the car is put in reverse gear, but this does not work. I have searched the Internet for a solution in vain. Any helpful suggestion? Could this also be the reason the boot lights are not lighting up when the door is lifted? (I admit I have not checked the bulbs yet).

Are you sure you do not have a broken connection somewhere between the front of the car and the boot-lid? Think about it: what are the odds that the reversing camera (which is mounted on the boot-lid) and the boot lights (which are inside the boot) both do not work?

There might be a loose connection in the wiring harness that powers the rear end of the car. Drive the X-Trail to an electrician and see what s/he comes up with.

Hi Mr Baraza,

Thanks for your informative articles. I have a Noah Liteace SR40, 1990cc, 2001 petrol model. Now, on the gear handle:

1. When do you put the ‘O/D’ switch on and off, and how does it affect fuel consumption in either case?

2. What’s the standard fuel consumption for such a car in km/l.

Ibrahim.

1. Keep the O/D on. Only turn it off when towing another vehicle or when taking off on a steep hill and the vehicle is fully loaded. When ON, economy is good, when off, the economy is affected negatively.

2. The manufacturer alleges up to 15kpl, but I would say 11-12 is more realistic.

Hi Baraza,

I love your work and always look forward to reading something new every Wednesday. Today (September 18, 2012), one of your readers, Sarah, caught my attention.

She upgraded from a Vitz to a Belta and is confused with the new gear arrangement. The Belta’s gear selector arrangement is labelled P-R-D-B-S, and the meaning of B and S and how they function is as stated below:

B (Brake): This is a mode selectable on Beltas and some Toyota models in non-hybrid cars. It allows the engine to do compression braking, also known as engine braking, typically down a steep hill.

Instead of engaging the brakes, the engine in a non-hybrid car switches to a lower gear and slows down the spinning tyres, hence holding the car back instead of the brakes slowing it down.

S (Sport): Commonly referred to as sport mode, it operates in an identical manner as D mode, except that the up-shifts change much higher up the engine’s rev range.

This has the effect of maximising all the available engine output and, therefore, enhances the performance of the vehicle, particularly during acceleration. Predictably, it has a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

I hope this will sort out Sarah’s confusion, otherwise thanks for your good work. Keep it up. Fred.

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The Hilux vs the Hardbody

Hi Baraza,

I am in need of a four-wheel-drive, double-cab pick-up that can haul a tonne to and from my farm once a month.

I live in Nairobi, about 300 kilometres from the farm, and have homed in on a 2001 Toyota Hilux, 2800cc with a 3L diesel engine, and a 2002 Nissan Hardbody, 3100cc diesel. They are both used vehicles but in fairly good condition.

Their purchase prices are almost the same and my current financial commitments and status can only allow me to move that much. What are the differences in the two workhorses’ performance, power, speed, fuel consumption, durability and spare parts availability.

S Richards

Performance: The performance is broadly similar, but I was impressed by the Hardbody’s torque. That’s the one with the QD32 engine, right?

Power: See “Performance” above.

Speed: I have pushed the 3.2 Hardbody harder than the Hilux. But ferrying stuff to and from the farm does not require competition-grade speeds. Both will do 140, which is about as fast as you would want to go in either.

Fuel Economy: Smaller engine means less fuel consumed. I have heard complaints about the Toyota though, but I’d say Toyota all the same.

Durability: Reputation favours the Toyota, but my observation favours the Hardbody. These cars don’t seem to wither at all…

Spares: No difference here. DT Dobie and Toyota Kenya are everywhere, so availability is not an issue for either.

Hi Baraza,

I bought a Toyota Harrier from an individual who had imported it second-hand from Japan. This gentleman did not give me the user’s manual and so I have been using the vehicle with limited knowledge of the use of various press buttons on the dashboard. My request therefore is:

a) Is it possible to get a user’s manual in English?

b)What is the Power switch for and when is it appropriate to use it? Does it increase fuel consumption?

c) When is the vehicle in overdrive mode and what is the effect of the overdrive function in terms of power and fuel consumption?

d) Can one use the Power switch when in “L” drive?

e) Can you use the Power switch with overdrive?

The vehicle is a year 2000 model and is 3000cc petrol.

Thank you,

Peter.

You could trawl the Internet for PDF files of the vehicle’s manual. I would have done it for you but I don’t have your car specifications.

a) Yes, if you try really hard.

b) The power switch is for when you want the ECT gearbox to perform “sportily”, that is, hold on to a gear longer and shift at higher rpm than usual. It is appropriate especially on hill-climbs, such as from Naivasha to Kimende, or Salgaa to Mau Summit. It increases consumption by a fair margin (a lot, actually).

c) Overdrive does not affect power, but it reduces fuel consumption by allowing the engine speed to drop without reducing road speed. Very good for economy. Keep it on at all times.

d) No need. In L, the car is stuck in first gear, so it will not change up. Using the Power switch is superfluous, unless your car uses full lock-up control in the torque converter (usually in 2nd gear for Lexus cars and their derivatives). To find this out, see ‘a’). Or, in other words, get the manual.

e) Yes

Hello,

I would like to thank you for educating the public, you are doing a good job. I want to buy a used 2006 Toyota Premio with a two-litre D4 engine, but I have been discouraged by some people, who say this car develops mechanical problems frequently, its spare parts are difficult to get, and that very few mechanics have the skills to repair this type of engine.

I have also heard that it needs high-octane fuel, which is not readily available in Kenya. Could you please enlighten me on this engine and whether it is worth the buy?

Also, kindly tell me how often one should change the automatic transmission oil in used cars. Finally, I have been discouraged from using synthetic oil on used Japanese cars. Kindly enlighten me on this.
Thanks.

Whoever discouraged you was on to something, and I had discussed direct injection in petrol engines and the difficulties of managing such engines in the country. I have since been informed by Toyota Kenya that they do service such engines… and service them properly. You may have to pay them a visit if and when you get the Premio.

Direct injection engines run best on high-octane fuel as you mention. But they can also run on the typical premium unleaded, even though I cannot say for how long for sure. What I know is that dirty or untrustworthy fuel will wreck your D4 really fast. Shell’s V-Power is an (expensive) option.

Synthetic oil can be used on any engine as it possesses superior qualities to mineral oils. There’s a belief that blends are the best compromise. For the direct injection engine, I’d advise you to go synthetic.

I don’t know where the belief that mineral oils are good for modern engines came from. I once had a reader narrate how his mechanic advised him to only use mineral oil in a 2005 BMW 3 Series, when I know that BMW themselves advise end users to pour Castrol GTX into their engines, and the GTX is a synthetic oil.

Hello Baraza,

Please give your opinion and advice on the replacement of brake and power steering fluids, and automatic transmission fluids (ATF). Are these replacements necessary if recommended?

After what milage or years should these be replaced? Can the power steering fluid be used as ATF? What are the pros and cons of not replacing or replacing any of the above-mentioned fluids.

Regards,

A A.

Brake fluid is replaced at every service, normally. But this depends on a lot of factors: if you use a less heat-resistant brand (lower DOT number) and you engage in “performance” driving, you may have to change it sooner.

Your mechanic should advise you if and when a premature replacement is necessary. If you experience reduced stopping power after a hard drive, or excessive heat in the discs, then your fluid may be boiling and reaching the end of its usefulness.

ATF is usually replaced according to the manufacturers’ instructions. A typical interval is after every other service. However, your car may experience some things that will inform you it is time to change the ATF. A physical check is necessary: if the ATF is dark brown, has bits in it and/or has a burnt smell, flush and replace ASAP.

These replacements are necessary if recommended. You need your brakes, obviously. You also need your ATF, otherwise your car will under-perform, waste fuel or in some instances not move at all.

Power steering fluid is usually topped up rather than replaced, though it too may suffer from heat damage.

For that last part, the reverse is true. ATF is almost always used as power steering fluid, and, to the best of my knowledge, it works just fine.

Hi Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of your articles. Good work. Kindly inform me whether the BMW franchise has a pick-up truck, and what the ‘AMG’ on the Mercedes flagship stands for.

If you mean the BMW brand, then no, none that I know of, not even one-offs. However, BMW still owns a small stake in Rover — along with India’s TATA and China’s SAIC — and Rover builds Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles. And I do know for a fact that there exists such a vehicle as a Land Rover Defender pick-up, so you could call this car “BMW’s pick-up”.

Cars manufactured under this arrangement between 1994 and the year 2000 are even more qualified for that title because it was during this period that BMW fully owned Rover. The Range Rover P38 2.5 DSE from this era uses a 2.5 litre BMW turbo-diesel engine, for instance. The Defender does not, though.

‘AMG’ stands for Aufrecht, Melcher and Großaspach: (Hans Werner) Aufrecht and (Erhard) Melcher were the founders of the original company, AMG Motorenbau und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH (AMG Engine Production and Development, Ltd) which was an engine forge. I have no idea what Großaspach represents.

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid fan of you articles, which are one of the reasons I don’t miss to buy the Wednesday Daily Nation. I own a Nissan B15, YOM 2000, with a manual gear box. The car has served me well for the four years, but I have some questions regarding it:

1) The car has a very rough ride even though I fitted new shocks at the front aimed to improve this. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do to improve the suspension?

2) The head lamps appear to be very dim at night or when it rains. Even after increasing the bulb wattage to 100 watts, they are still dull. How can I improve them for better visibility in general?

3) I replaced the front bushes and rack ends around three years ago. At the moment there is some rattling noise at the front, especially on rough roads. Do they wear out at such a fast pace? I use the car mostly in town and rarely upcountry.

Thanks,

Evans.

1. Install long-travel suspension (bigger stroke room), fit high-profile tyres, and reduce the tyre pressures slightly. The car will feel softer and more pillowy (but still, a Maybach it will not be).

2. How dull is dull? In the rain, most people have “dull” headlamps, unless you have installed spotlights with the kind of wattage and luminosity that can wither surrounding vegetation.

You could try going for the roof-mounted light bar with LEDs, but this will be unfair to oncoming traffic, because you will have given new meaning to the term “blinding light”.

I think the reason your car’s lamps still appear dull is that they demand more electricity than the headlight fuse is willing to let through. Try bypassing the fuse (at your own risk) with the current set and see if the luminosity improves.

If it doesn’t, get a set of grille-mounted rally spotlights, and risk being the subject of undiluted hate from fellow road users. Or have the headlights cleaned with a special agent if they appear dirty to the eye even during the day.

3. That rattling noise could be anything, including the symptom of suspension mounts on the verge of collapse. Only a physical check will verify from whence is their provenance. If the car has stability rings, check those as well.

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The Mahindra Genio: You don’t know whether to love or laugh

For some people, 2012 is the year when the world as we know it will come to an end.

For me, 2012 will be marked down as The Year of Great Surprises, one of which was a Mahindra vehicle.

If the world actually does end, that will be another (stop laughing at the back, please, this is not funny).

The Mahindra brand is back in the country and out in full force to do battle with Japan, and possibly Europe (I said stop laughing. I am serious). They have a whole line of vehicles to do this, with more to come, and within their stash of secret weapons is something called M-Hawk, which I will discuss shortly (for the last time, will you cut out the tittering back there?)

The Mahindra Genio

I have had a chance to sample one of their new products, and I must say the prognosis thus far is very promising. The vehicle in question is the Genio 4X2 single-cab pick-up, and it is quite unlike a lot of other pick-ups you may have seen.

To put things in perspective, I will compare it to the usual suspects that dominate the market, the output from the other automotive corner of Asia that is not India. Or China. Or Korea. Or Malaysia. Japan, in other words.

1. Physical Appearance:

The Genio looks a bit odd in the face. It is not as critically pretty as the Toyota Hilux or the Mitsubishi L200, nor does it have the conventional robust handsomeness of the D-MAX.

It actually looks a little bit like Hyundai, which is forgivable for a company that has not been in the game long enough to master car design.

Nevertheless, Mahindra is getting there, especially when you see what else they have to offer. The cabin is taller than the Japs’. However, and this gives the Genius — sorry, Genio — a driving feel akin to that of an SUV; a feeling that most of us desire, owing to the generous view outside.

It also has a short stubby bonnet, so threading the front end into and out of tight spaces will not be a hassle. However, threading the back end into and out of tight spaces might be a hassle because of…

2. Carrying Capacity:

Look carefully and you will notice that the payload area of the Genius — sorry, Genio — is a little longer (at 2.4 metres) than that of the D-MAX and the Hilux, which are already quite long (at two metres).

While the rest are classified as one-tonne pick-ups, the Genio is rated at 1.25 tonnes, with the capability to stretch to two. Therefore, either Mahindra as a company has a lot of insight into the thought processes of Kenyan businessmen, or they are trying to sell us a lorry and are calling it a pick-up. I am vouching for the former because of…

3. Price:

The Genius — sorry, Genio — 4X2 diesel will cost you Sh2.2 million, which you can negotiate down to Sh1.95 million, so let us just say that it costs about Sh2 million flat.

This is clearly not lorry money, so the Genio is definitely a pick-up. However, even as a pick-up, that is quite cheap, far cheaper than all three members of the Japanese Triad. Some of you might call that China money, so you might be getting a China-grade vehicle. I disagree, because of…

4. Build Quality and Amenities:

That SUV feeling comes about again. The cabin, in beige, looks a bit too fancy to be on a commercial vehicle.

It is not exactly a Volkswagen Touareg in here — panel gap consistency is still one or two degrees off and there might be a bit of plastic — but the execution is stupendous.

The steering wheel is chunky and feels nice to the touch. Talking of steering, the rack has been tightened up a bit. There is no play whatsoever (on the road, so instantaneous is the response to tiller twirling that it feels like you are driving a Golf. Yeah, I said it).

The controls are just where you want them, and there are one or two (actually four) little touches that people take for granted but will come to appreciate in the long term.

The air-con actually works as it should (Toyota Hilux, please pay attention), heating and cooling as instructed. There are cup-holders within sight and within reach. There are arm-rests (yeah Japan, you never thought of that, did you?) and what is more, there is a good-looking, crystal clear stereo that will play CD, MP3, and has a USB slot for those who cannot afford iPods and still walk around with flash drives full of pirated music.

One particularly fancy touch I liked was the cubbyhole on the left, also called the glove compartment in American English. While in most cars the lid drops open like the jaw of a hand puppet, in the Genius — sorry, Genio — it appears as a sliding door, and not just your typical French window style portal.

No, this door is made of flexible plastic, so when you slide it open, it opens wide as the plastic disappears to God-knows-where. You can have a full width gap, enough to push a wheel spanner through. Or even a whole wheel, though it will not fit into the box itself. That SUV feeling does not end with the interior. It is also felt through the…

5. Ride Quality:

I have driven the new Hilux 2.5, and I have driven the D-MAX. I have also driven the NP300 Hardbody, and I am sorry to say none of these holds a candle to the Genio in terms of comfort. Yeah, I said that too.

The Hilux is too hard to the point of being uncomfortable. Its stiffness is to such a degree that one is afraid it will oversteer dangerously if driven hard on a loose surface. Many call that stiffness an advantage. A visit to the chiropractor is not an advantage.

The D-MAX, on the other hand, is soft to the point of wobbliness, and it actually does oversteer, even on tarmac. There is a YouTube video as evidence of this dynamic infidelity (where it eventually overturns and pours out a mass of humanity off its bed).

The NP300 is both hard and bouncy, somehow managing to combine the two wrong qualities of the preceding pair. I will concede, the hardness and the bounciness of these three Japanese commercials arise from tropicalisation, but the Genio is also tropicalised (so they say), itself coming from an environment very similar to ours, and yet it rides well.

On the highway, it does not feel like a ship on the high seas (D-MAX), nor does it feel like the suspension has been set in concrete (Hilux). On rough roads, it will not grind your teeth to dust (Amarok, base model).

The clutch weighting is just right (again, base Amarok), though the gear lever seems to have been borrowed from the Scania, which I reviewed a few days ago. Mis-shifts are not on the menu, thank God. The brakes feel right and the accelerator pedal is easily modulated. This complements the magic ingredient of the whole setup, the…

6. Engine:

Mahindra calls it M-Hawk, which sounds like a currently fashionable (and questionable) hair-do common among both men and women below the age of 25. It is a 2.2 litre 4-cylinder common rail diesel, turbocharged and intercooled, good for 120 bhp and 295 Nm of torque.

So proud of it Mahindra is, that they use the exact same engine in the XUV 500, their idea of what a BMW X5 should be, only that in the XUV it has been tweaked to 140 bhp (you cannot keep up with an X5 if you only have 120 bhp; that is obvious).

There is some art behind the science of the Mohawk engine. Rather than having a front-mount intercooler in the style of a Lancer Evolution, the heat exchanger is located on top of the engine block, like a tea tray, as seen in a Subaru STi.

This setup would call for a bonnet scoop, but again the artists take over from the engineers: instead of an ostentatious scoop, the intercooler is fed by ducts, which start from the grille and feed into a pair of externally invisible plastic nostrils, which then force the air into air-ways carved into the underside of the bonnet.

These terminate halfway up the bonnet on top of the intercooler. To keep it airtight, the air-way terminus is lined with a rubber seal where the bonnet meets the fridge.

As with front-mount intercoolers, this arrangement reeks of potential cooling problems because the radiator has been robbed of precious airflow by the needs of the turbo-intercooling kit, and that is why the Genio has such a wide face. The top side of the grille (on the bonnet leading edge) feeds the heat exchanger, while the rest of the face provides the airflow channels for the radiator. All is well.

All is well because the turbo and the intercooler work in tandem with the 2.2 diesel to provide grin-inducing low-end torque and high-end power. Wheel-spin is possible in first and second gear (!!), even on tarmac, and overtaking in fourth is not a gamble with the idiocy of the person being overtaken and/or the bravado of the person coming the other way. Or even your own.

Seven times out of 10, all my overtakes along Mombasa Road were made in fourth: it was as simple as changing lanes and stamping the accelerator. No discernible turbo lag (Volkswagen Amarok), the torque band is quite wide (again Amarok, and the Hilux) and no mis-matched gear ratios (Toyota Hilux double-cab).

I have never enjoyed driving a pickup as much as I did this one. Mahindra claims fuel economy in the region of 12kpl. I believe them.

Sum-Up: The power of reputation

From my ramblings, it is easy to assume that the Mahindra betters its Japanese competition in almost every aspect that matters, and the quick answer is yes.

I know most readers will be cagey about buying something Indian over something Japanese, and this is down to the power of reputation: How can the Indians, makers of the Mahindra jeep that threw egg on the face of our police force, master, in a few short years, what has taken the Japanese, makers of the most reliable vehicles on the planet, decades to master?

I do not know, I honestly do not. But this is how good the Genio actually is: my fellow test driver, with whom I have test-driven the Hilux, the Range Rover Evoque, the Scania truck, and several other cars (in other words, whose opinion I trust) was so impressed that he suggested we take a Genio to Meru and pit it against the grand-daddy of toting miraa, the Hilux, to see if it will beat the Hilux at its own game.

That is how confident he was of the Genio’s abilities. And no, he is not a shareholder at Simba Colt, owners of the Mahindra franchise.

And no, he is not the fellow you saw at the Car Clinic Live event.

I, however, prefer a more cautious approach: let us not be so quick to draw conclusions from a single road test of a new model of car. A long-term test is called for.

While the Genio is a step above China-spec, it is still a step below Japan-spec for now, especially seeing how longevity and reliability is yet to be confirmed. Japan has been in the game for a while, let us not forget that; and the tall cabin and increased ride height might not gel well with the high-speed application that is the transportation of perishable narcotics.

Posted on

An electric vehicle in Kenya? Not a good idea

Hi Baraza,
1. Do electric vehicles stand a chance in Kenya?
2. Is it possible to convert a car to use electricity? If so, what are the pros and cons of implementing such an idea in Kenya?
Nick

1. At the moment, not a chance in hell.

2. Yes, but the costs and labour involved are prohibitive, especially given that the end product will not be worth the sweat or the money.

Pros: Your running costs will go down tremendously. Electricity is cheaper than petrol per kilometre driven.

Cons: Travel any distance greater than 50 km and you will be very, very late for whatever you were going for.

Also, self-servicing when things go on the fritz, and of course acquiring the vehicle in the first place (whether bought or assembled in your backyard), calls for a massive financial outlay. Not worth it at all.

———————–

Baraza,

I drive a pre-owned FWD automatic transmission Subaru Impreza GC1, 1998 model with an EJ15 engine. The car has 140,000km on the odometer and I service it regularly. It serves me diligently.

I have been driving it for the past one year. I have taken it for OBD diagnosis and no faults were found, apart from a problem with the ABS and the thermosensor, which I sorted out.

I also feel that the thirst that is associated with Subarus does not apply to this one; I am able to do 10 km/litre, except when I floor the accelerator. Here is what I would like to know:

1. In your opinion and knowledge, how much mileage should one clock on a car before declaring that it has served its purpose?

2. Would you recommend to anyone driving such a car to do an engine swap with a bigger engine like an EJ20, tune the car, sell it, or do a trade-in? Is it sensible to change the engine or is it better to just buy another car altogether?

3. For the past one week, my car occasionally sputters in the morning when starting, especially during cold weather. But if I start it with the gas pedal partially depressed, it starts just fine, though I notice that the fuel consumption is not good. What could be the problem? The problem is much worse when I put it in reverse gear. But once the engine warms up, all this disappears. On the highway it does just fine.

4. Is it true that all EJ engines, both the naturally aspirated and turbocharged, including WRX EJ engine variants, can fit in a stock GC1 1998 Impreza? If so, what other modification should I do if I instal such an engine?

5. Can someone fit a used engine from a manual transmission model into an automatic transmission model, or one has to change the tranny completely? And how realistic is it to change from FWD to AWD on such a car?

Robert

1. It depends on the state of the car. Some world record holders have done more than two million kilometres in their cars. The general rule of thumb is roughly 500,000km for passenger cars before an engine swap or grounding of the car.

2. Do an engine swap if repairs on the current unit prove to be too expensive to justify. Tune the car if you want to liven things up (or even resort to settings close to new) without having to buy another car. Sell it if you are sick of it.

Trade it in if the finances for a replacement vehicle lie just outside your reach. Changing the engine or buying another car: that is up to you, to be honest, but here is a guideline. Replacement engines are a lot cheaper than replacement vehicles, but if the swap is done poorly, you will regret it.

3. The issue could be a clogged fuel filter, requiring a wider opening of the throttle plate to create negative pressure high enough to suck fuel through the filter.

Another problem could be the idle air control valve (IAC), which allows air to come into the engine whenever you do not have your foot on the throttle.

It automatically varies idle speed by load, temperature, etc. If it fails, you will not have sufficient air flow into the engine to make it run when the throttle is closed.

That is why the car runs normally when it goes down the road. Some people talk of cleaning the IAC but replacement is usually the best option.

4. Yes. The GC chassis can accommodate any of those engines. Most of those engines are similar anyway, the difference being the presence of turbos/intercoolers and capacity.

However, the peripherals may necessitate some modifying, especially of the front air dams, to accommodate intakes/front-mount intercoolers.

5. Changing from auto to manual tranny is a common practice in the car world, and is quite easily done. However, changing from 2WD to 4WD is a lot more complex and may not be worth it. Changing from 4WD to 2WD is easy: you just disconnect the offending drive shaft.

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Hi JM,

What is your take on 2005 Nissan Tiida Latio in terms of performance, availability of spare parts, and fuel consumption? How does it compare with the 2005 Toyota Corolla (NZE)? In your opinion which is a better buy?

Henry

Performance is poor but economy is good and spares are available at DT Dobie. The NZE may be a better car, especially on the performance front, but the Tiida is prettier.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a BMW E34 (520i), with a 2000cc, six-cylinder M20 engine. Now, can a 6-cylinder engine be 2000cc? If it is true, how is the consumption compared to a four-cylinder 2000cc engine and a 2500cc, 6-cylinder one?

Otieno

Yes, a 2000cc engine can have six cylinders. Yours does, doesn’t it? Alfa Romeo race cars of yore had 12-cylinder engines of only 1500cc. Consumption may be slightly higher than a 4-cylinder of similar capacity, but this is tied to so many factors that the question cannot be answered in black and white. It will be less thirsty than a 2500cc six-cylinder, though.

———————————-

JM,

I have a 1997 Nissan B14 that I took for an overhaul. Afterwards, it did only 100km before it heated up badly. It has now stalled. What could be the problem here and what should I do?

The problem is exactly as you have described it: the car over-heated. What to do: Since the heat problem came about after the overhaul, the prime suspect is the cylinder head gasket.

Either the product itself was low quality or the work done was low quality, but in each case, the gasket may be leaking.

Other things to do: Check the obvious. Was there enough water in the radiator? Is the radiator leaking? The overflow pipe/jar? Are the fans working? What about the water pump?

Is the radiator clean (outside)? What of internal blockages?

———————————-

Hello JM,

I own a Nissan Hardbody double-cab. Whenever I make a sharp turn, there is a sharp creaking noise from the front right tyre area. I have no idea about what could be causing this problem. Any ideas?
Fide

The fan belt is either old and worn out or is sitting badly within the pulley of the power steering pump. A quick cure of the symptom is to splash some brake fluid on it, but check the two above parameters for a longer lasting solution.

———————————-

Hi Baraza,

1. I have a differential problem with my 2004 Nissan Navara 2.5D double-cab, turbocharged, D22 chassis, diesel. In December last year, it started producing a funny noise and my mechanic suggested replacing the bearings.

The whole job ended up being messy due to the inexperience of the mechanic and resulted in differential lock, damaging the crown wheel and the pinion.

I looked for another mechanic who initially suggested repairing the differential, but even after replacing the pinion and the crown wheel, the noise still remained.

Later, he suggested replacement of the entire differential assembly, including the casing and the axle. We did this but since it was not the right fit, the vehicle lost power.

I therefore had to go back to my repaired differential. I now rarely use the vehicle.

(a) Can you advise on a mechanic who can be of assistance?

(b) Where can one obtain such a differential, locally or elsewhere?

(c) Do you think the continued use of the vehicle in its current state could create other complications?

2. I also have an auto 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia with a 4G15 engine, 1460cc, CS2A model. Sometime back, I noticed that the car had a problem with gaining speed and its fuel consumption had gone up significantly.

My mechanic checked the plugs and the fuel filter but these were okay. I then carried out a computer diagnosis that pointed to a faulty exhaust system. The mechanic recommended replacement of the catalytic converter and the car improved, slightly. What could be the problem?

The advice I have received, so far, including replacement of the gear system, is just scary.
JMM

1. Why did you not go to the franchise holder, DT Dobie? And did you just put any diff or did you buy a Navara diff? You have to be careful about specifying the vehicle make and model (and YOM) when buying spares.

What we know as the Hardbody NP300 double-cab is actually called Navara in other markets, but it is mechanically different from the current Navara car. So, here are your answers:

(a) DT Dobie. They sell Navara vehicles under franchise, so they must be able to service/repair it and provide spares.

(b) DT Dobie. For the same reasons as above.

(c) Yes. The entire 4WD transmission may be ruined, more so given that the Navara is a delicate vehicle and uses electronic 4WD engagement.
2. The diagnosis said the exhaust system is faulty and changing the converter improved things slightly, so that is where the problem is: the exhaust system. After changing the converter, have a look at the lambda sensors also. And check for a leak too.

———————————-

Hello Baraza,
I recently bought a 2005 VW Jetta 1.6-litre engine. The check engine light is always coming on and when I raise this with my mechanic, the answer I get is that I over-rev the engine.

Is this true? Also, whenever I park the car on a gentle slope, I get the check oil light even though I changed the oil a couple of weeks ago. Is this a common feature with VWs?
Mshengah

Do a diagnosis. That is the only way you will know what that check engine light is all about. Your mechanic is very dodgy, judging by his response; over-revving will not necessarily cause the light to come on.

Parking the car on a slope means that the oil level in the sump goes up on one side and down on the other. The oil level sensor is on one side, so that change of level causes a false reading:
either too much or too little, depending on which side the sensor is mounted.

Park your car on level ground, wait for the engine to cool, and use the dipstick to establish whether or not, in fact, your oil level is outside the accepted range. I do not think it is a common feature with all VWs.

———————————-

Baraza,

I will skip the details about how much of an old school enthusiast I am but and ask: What are the odds of being able to put a new engine into an old car? For instance, I would like to fit a 1977 Toyota Celica with a Subaru WRX or Impreza engine. What should I consider when taking such a step? Will it be as efficient as it should be, and what are the constraints?

Do not be afraid of trying that out; it is actually a common method of tuning cars. Just make sure the engine fits, and if it does not, you can always make modifications to the mounts and firewall (front bulkhead). Also, remember to strengthen the mounts and front cross-member.

———————————-

Hi Baraza,
1. Does engine capacity significantly influence the car’s road speed? Case in point: A Toyota Prado with a 3.4-litre V6 petrol engine doing 100 km/h versus a Mercedes Benz E240 with a V6 petrol engine and around 200hp also doing 100 km/h, all other factors held constant.

My understanding of physics is that speed is not relative but absolute, meaning 100km/h is the same in all cars irrespective of the engine capacity and all other relevant factors, such as forced induction or lack of, and transmission mode. However, I feel like I have this entirely wrong. What is your opinion?

2. In terms of safety, what is the effect of installing big wheels and wider tyres (ridiculously wide) on an SUV, bearing in mind that they are not low profile tyres?

3. Sometime ago you wrote an in-depth article about tropicalisation of cars. Would you mind doing a quick overview of the important points for those of us with a short-term memory?

Bryan

1. Engine capacity does affect road speed, but not in the way you describe here. Case in point: I was in South Africa last month to drive a variety of cars from General Motors. One of them was the Chevrolet Spark, which had a tiny 1.2-litre engine. Despite my best efforts, I only managed 175 km/h in it. It could not be pushed any further.

Enter the dragon, the Chevrolet Lumina SS, sporting a 6.0-litre V8 engine from the Corvette supercar. Five minutes after I took the wheel, I had hit a heady 240 km/h without even trying, which the little Spark could not do if its life depended on it.

However, power output aside (that SS was something else I tell you), when the convoy was cruising along at 120 km/h, ALL cars were doing 120 km/h and ALL speedometers showed 120 km/h. 120 is 120, whether you do it in a small aircraft or in a motorised wheelbarrow.

2. I am guessing that you mean the huge rubber lumps that are bigger than asteroids used by hardcore off-road enthusiasts, right? They make the car wobbly and are totally useless on smooth roads. Do not use them if you do not need their abilities. They are meant for wading through swamps.

3. Here are the pointers:

  • Modify the engine (compression ratios especially) for the sake of our low octane fuel.
  • Increase the capacity of the cooling system (bigger ducts, pipes, radiators, high capacity water pumps)
  • Toughen up the suspension.
  • In some cases, another coat of paint (or UV resistant lacquer) may also come in handy.
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.

—————–

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.

—————

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.

————–

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.

——————

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!

————–

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.

————–

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.

—————-

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

————–

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

Is the Nissan NP300 Hardbody really new?

There has been a flurry of activity going down on Koinange Street, and no, it is not what you are thinking; please get your minds out of the gutter, this is a motoring column.

There has been talk and action surrounding the latest Jeep Cherokee, something called a Nissan Cash-and-Carry (actually Qashqai, but forgive my poor grasp of exotic nomenclature), some new Benz cars (latest CLS and E-Class coupés), and, naturally, a new vehicle launch.

The brief was simple — Ring-ring. Hello, Baraza. We are launching the new Nissan NP300 Hardbody pickup. Would you be so kind as to make an appearance? Yes I would. So I donned by best and walked into College House.

The affair was textbook and low key — a podium where grey-suited executive types would stand and remind us motoring hacks what we were there for and some cars kept undercover (literally) to increase the element of surprise and boost excitement.

And the excitement was there alright, at least for me, given how fired up I was when the NP200 came out, so I was sure the NP300 would be a pleasant surprise. It was a surprise, yes, but not the kind that makes one giddy.

I first became suspicious that I was going to be disappointed during one speech (I never listen to these speeches, by the way), in which there was talk of TD27s and QD32s.

This was supposed to be a new line of cars, but those two engine codes sounded awfully familiar, and they should be. If you have travelled in a 14-seater matatu that was not a Toyota, then it more likely than not had one of these two engines.

Confirmation of my suspicion (to my utter surprise) came when the cars were unveiled under a barrage of flashing cameras and half-hearted clapping (we motoring hacks tend to be arrogant and unappreciative of other people’s efforts).

The new Nissan NP300 Hardbody is exactly the same as the old one.

What is it?

It is the Nissan Hardbody as you have always known it. The only difference is that it is now called the NP300 Hardbody, unlike before when we simply called it the Hardbody.

The NP300 name smacks of pandering to American tastes, where a good number of car companies have realised that evocative names don’t go far with the Yanks; they seem to prefer a combination of letters and numbers.

That is why Lexus has been so successful there, and why Land Rover are ditching their Discovery and Freelander labels for LR3, LR4 and what not.

Available permutations

The NP300 can be had in 2WD or 4WD, single-cab or double-cab, or in Atoti form: the flagship Double Cab High Grade (that is what it is called in the brochure).

There are two naturally aspirated diesel engines: a 2.7 and a 3.2, both 4-cylinder and both having seen service in the E24 van, what we commonly refer to as the Nissan matatu.

The 3.2 only comes with 4WD for both single and double cab, while the 2.7 is for 2WD. Also available is a 2.4 litre petrol engine for the 2WD single-cab.

The High Grade has only one engine, a turbo-intercooled 2.5 litre, and no, this is not the engine in the Navara.

It is available as either 2WD or 4WD, and this puts it squarely within its big brother’s playing field, a fiercely contested segment that has already seen a few casualties so far; remember the Ranger XLT?

What are its abilities?

The van engines develop 85 hp (64kW) and 18kgm of torque for the 2.7 and 100 hp (76kW) and 22 kgm for the 3.2.

Now, these are just numbers on a page, and frankly, they look a little underwhelming, but get behind the wheel of a Hardbody pickup and you will understand what all the talk about torque really is. I have.

The power is nothing you are likely to dream about, but the torque is massive. I have driven the 2.7 before, and I was astonished.

You can take off in first, second or third if the vehicle is empty, even fourth if you are a bit special. No judder. No strain.

No bogging down and no stalling. The last time this happened I was trying my hand on a Massey-Ferguson cane tractor, without the cane.

You can crawl along in first, off-throttle, like you would an automatic, and when in second, if you brake without clutching in, you can actually feel the engine tugging against the anchors. That is how good the torque is.

Nissan prides itself with the tagline “Built Tough”. The NP300 is the embodiment of this claim, and again, no, the free branded hat (and key-chain) I received for my trouble has nothing to do with my saying that.

It is as rugged as they come, built using the crude but effective 18th century mangle technology of steel ladder frames and leaf springs.

Five cross-members ensure that the ladder chassis won’t flex when the NP300 is used as most Kenyans are wont to use them: grossly overloaded and crawling down a barely tractable goat path.

Ruggedness forms part of the NP300 picture, what with double-walled rear side panels, double-walled tailgate and extra-strong tailgate chains.

These features really encourage overloading, and some people I talked to (not DT Dobie) say when they buy a Hardbody, they double the number of slats on the rear leaf springs, and coupled with the torquey engine, the car can now bear a load double its intended capacity. Kenyans.

Behind the wheel

For that same 2.7, I had some issues with the interior. It was as usefully simple as it was greyly naff. I may have said that the base Ford Ranger XLT was Spartan, but this Nissan’s interior is what the Spartans would call Spartan.

Radio (tape) and air-con; that’s your lot, no power windows. The bench (that is what it is, a flat, unsculpted bench that sits three: the driver and two uncomfortable passengers) is covered in grey cloth and is barely adjustable.

Oh, and airbags now enter the picture (at least for the 4WD diesel). The rest of the specs remain the same. Driving it is not that much fun, unless you play around with the torque.

It is not an exercise in masochism either; the heavily assisted steering is now finger-light and the four-spoke tiller can be twirled like a baton with minimum effort.

The pedals are nicely weighted, the throttle is smooth and easy to modulate, as is the clutch pedal, which is sweetly progressive and can be mastered by anyone, even those who failed in driving school.

The problem is the brakes. They work fine but the pedal requires a lengthy tread before the callipers bite, and they can cause you quite some alarm the first time you step on it and nothing happens.

It is not that the pedal is stiff, but you need to push a long way before actuation occurs. Seeing that the NP300 is a mass-produced robot-assembled white good, I sincerely hope the problem was peculiar to the vehicle I drove.

The gear selector lever is long and angled backwards for ergonomic reasons. The shift action is fine, but close placement means second-to-fifth or first-to-fourth shifts are a common occurrence, which is just as well given how much torque these engines develop.

The light commercial vehicle sector is quite competitive. Almost every entrant has their own unique characteristic, which is also their selling point.

Toyota and the Hilux depend on their reliability and after sales maintenance record, as well as the carrying capacity (expansive load bay) but their untrustworthy D4 technology is not winning them many fans.

Isuzu’s DMAX is named like a hip-hop artist, and the turbocharged engine pushes it to incredible speeds, but a video clip showing one spilling its human cargo all over the road (in Kenya, no less) exposed issues with its stability and has seen prospective buyers turn wary.

Turbocharged cars also have cooling complications, especially the oil, and the diesel versions require extra care if you seek longevity.

Mitsubishi L200: the less said the better. The Chinese? Their biggest claim to fame is strong vehicle resemblance to existing market players and a price tag that is hard to walk away from.

That leaves Nissan. You will not find them powering their way to Wilson Airport from Meru like the Hilux, nor will you find them delivering newspapers in the wee hours like the DMAX, so what is their role in life?

The double-cab is a common sight at roadwork sites, and it is used as an ambulance in a good number of (remote) hospitals, while the single-cab has fans among contractors and builders.

It looks like the NP300s are good for carrying cement and rocks, but I am not one to judge.

Fellow long-timers

Just because Nissan is using power and suspension from back when Formula 1 cars ran on vodka and methylated spirit does not make the NP300 a weak entry.

Some engines have proved themselves impeccably. The Peugeot 504 ceased production worldwide a long time ago, but Kenya and Nigeria continued assembly up to as late as 2004.

The Isuzu MV118 bus used the same 13.7 litre engine for close to 30 years before it was superseded by the 9.8 litre MV123.

And CMC will tell you that one of their products, the Nissan Diesel UD CB31 SXN, uses a powerplant that dates back to before I was born, yet it still stays competitive against modern entries.

Don’t be so quick to write off the NP, even if its re-launch is something that needs to be looked into.

Change is the only constant

The flagship of the brand, the 2.5 litre turbo-diesel double-cab, is lovingly referred to as “Atoti” by DT Dobie.

Now I get it; remember Gidi Gidi Maji Maji singing “Atoti this way, Atoti that way”? What they meant was Atoti looks this way now, and Atoti has looked that way since time began.

The blurb on the NP300’s brochure reads in part: “It’s a dedication to looking at the familiar in a different way…”, which is dodgy PR-talk for “we have not really done much, and the little we have done you probably won’t notice, so here is a reminder that what you are looking at is actually different from what you saw on the road last week.”

This is a rare occasion when I have little to recommend. I would have suggested turbocharging the two diesel mills, but no, their attraction lies in their simplicity, and they are already handy enough as it is.

What I’d say is maybe DT Dobie should sell the 2WD cars with bigger wheels, because they look woefully undershod in those puny 14-inch steel dinner plates wrapped with narrow rubbers.