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

Dear Baraza,

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

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

Patrick

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elly

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Mr Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Dan N

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, iKay.

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

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

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An SUV for less than a million? You are fishing for trouble

Dear Sir,

I have a 1996 Toyota Corolla 110 that I love so much since it’s my first car, but everyone else thinks that’s wasted love — especially my mum and my girlfriend — so I want to sell it and buy a used SUV.

Considering the local roads, what should I go for on a tight budget below one mili, never mind fuel consumption and spare parts.

Mak

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A used SUV for less than a million? Hmm… I know of two or three Range Rovers (3.5-litre V8, 3-door, carburettors, from 1978) that are going for about 400K apiece.

Jokes aside, getting an SUV for less than a million is like buying meat at Sh40 a kilo — it could be from Naivasha and might not even be beef (maybe donkey).

In other words, if you want a big car, then you have to pay big money. An SUV for less than Sh1 million means a knackered example; the engine could be mere inches away from complete failure, the 4WD transmission could be dysfunctional or missing entirely and it might be having only one seat. Not to mention a family of rats living inside it.

Sh1.5 million is a better bet, and could net you the Prado Box (J70) or a V46 Pajero, the best bets so far and in good condition. An old Land Rover Discovery could also fall here, but running it might be beyond your means.

The same Sh1.5 million can also get you any number of 4WD double-cabs, also in good condition.

That is unless you land yourself a deal, following the advice I gave some time back on how to get the most out of your money when buying a car.

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Dear Baraza,

Many thanks for your very educative column. I want to buy a car that can accommodate a family of three soon.

Please assist me in choosing from the following in regard to maintenance, spares, fuel consumption and reliability: Mazda 2 (or is it Demio?) with a DHOC VVT engine, Nissan FB15, or a used 1998 Mercedes Benz C200.

Also, is it true that the bodywork of some of these cars degenerates faster than others even with proper care? And lastly, what is the difference between a four-wheel-drive and an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

Joe

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Demio vs B15 vs Mercedes? Quite a diverse selection, I must say! If it was up to me, I would buy the Benz and live on greens for six months, but anyway, here goes.

Maintenance: The Mercedes should be the easiest to maintain, seeing as to how they don’t break down easily.

And in the late 90s, Daimler introduced this technology that informed the driver exactly when to service the vehicle, as opposed to after a given time or distance.

So, when properly handled, the Benz can go almost double the typical distance before its service is due.

The B15 might cause you a spot of bother given what I have gathered from readers, and the Demio might be a better bet between the two lowly Japs.

Spares: Of course you will sell your kidneys once the Merc’s bits start demanding replacement. Not so the Demio and B15.

And I don’t know if this still holds true, but once upon a time, whenever a busted headlamp or indicator lamp on a Benz wanted replacement, you had to buy an entire set of lights, not just the affected one.

The logic given was that if one shoe goes bust, it is atypical to walk into a shoe store and demand to buy one shoe; you normally just buy another pair.

Fuel consumption: Drive soberly and maturely and you will be hard pressed to tell the difference. And yes, this includes the Merc! In C180 or C200 form, it will still do 16kpl. along with the other two.

Reliability: Benz is best, then Demio, then the silly B15. 4WD vs AWD: Here’s a quick differentiation; 4WD implies switchable 4WD (that is, can shuffle between 2WD and 4WD).

AWD, on the other hand, is a form of full-time 4WD, the difference with full-time 4WD being the use of viscous diffs to distribute torque (automatically) between axles fore and aft, and between sides, starboard and port.

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Hi Baraza,

I am planing to buy a VW Polo Classic 98, manual, with a 1600cc petrol engine and I will be the fifth owner.

That’s all I know about it. This is going to be my first car and I intend to use it within Nairobi and occasionally go with it upcountry.

My mechanic has convinced me to buy it, so what is your take on it?

Opondo

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Merits: It’s a Volkswagen, so bullet-proof build quality and good fuel economy.

Demerits: It is tiny. And it is a Volkswagen, so beware of costs. You are the fifth owner, which is never a good thing.

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Dear Baraza,

I would like to buy a Suzuki Jimny. Could you please give me the pros and cons of this type of car in terms of spare parts availability, fuel consumption, engine problems?

Keziah

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I don’t like the Jimny, at all, but that is besides the point. The spares are available, second-hand or from CMC Motors, so no problems there.

The fuel consumption is manageable (1300cc) but could be a bit compromised by the breeze-block aerodynamics.

I do not know of any engine problems it suffers, but given how basic the power unit is, it is unlikely that anything would go wrong.

And in answering questions that you did not ask: The car is an off-road maestro, yes, but it is punishment on road.

The ride is hard and bouncy, the engine is noisy at cruising speed, the puny dimensions means you will not be spending a lot of time inside it and that tall ride height means you should take corners like a true Christian, lest you roll over.

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Hi,

How good is the 2000cc Avensis and what other cars does it compare to? Also, please comment on its fuel efficiency, D4 VVT-i engine and general handling.

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The Avensis is very good and compares to the likes of the Subaru Legacy and, in some cases, the entry level BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, so an Audi A4 also.

You could slot in the Volvo S40 too, and maybe the Jaguar X-Type; that Toyota is that upmarket. Fuel efficiency is at an optimum, what with D4 and VVT-i, and D4 does what D4 does.

Feed it the right fuel and treat it like you would your son and it should not present problems, at least not anytime soon.

Handling? Not bad, but nothing to keep your wife awake at night gabbling about. It is not, unlike the European competition, a sporting vehicle, so it will not tickle your fancy when driven in anger.

Genteel is more like it. It is an old man’s car, so drive like an old man if you want to enjoy it.

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Hi Baraza

I have a Toyota AE 111 assembled in South Africa and which I bought from one lady owner.

The car has given me good service for the last one year, but of late I have been experiencing problems with power steering oil leaking from the rack.

One mechanic told me nothing can fix the problem except a new replacement. Which is the best option?

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Did the mechanic make a roadside declaration like a past president of ours or did he crawl under the car and try to find the leak?

It could be a broken hose or bad seals causing the leakage, which would cost less that Sh1,500 to fix and replace.

What he is suggesting is much more costly; an appraisal on my own 24-year-old Peugeot lies somewhere in the region of 60K (replacing the entire power steering system).

The Corolla’s may be cheaper, but you can see where I am going… first make sure that it is not something fixable before opting for replacement.

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Hi,

I have a budget of 550K to buy a car, so would you advise that I go for a Kenyan used car or a new imported car like the Platz, Alto and such?

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Kenyan used, definitely. FSH and tropicalised, you can never go wrong. And more likely than not the franchise that sold it still exists, unless you buy something obscure like a Daewoo Cielo.

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Hi,

I own a VW Golf MK 3 ABD. For the last six months, it has developed poor combustion, producing sooty exhaust fumes and carrying a strong smell of petrol.

It has stalled in the jam a few times and then restarted after like 15 minutes. I actually suspect the previous owner may have sold it for the earlier versions of this problem.

But I believe I may have my finger on the problem. Being a single-point petrol injection arrangement, it is flooding the intake manifold at idling and intermediate engine speeds, though this seems to happen consecutively nowadays, with high speed running.

I suspect any of the relays/actuators/switches and/or sensors around the injector are faulty but the problem is that this model (1994) does not have a port for the diagnostic equipment to confirm or rule out my diagnosis. Any help out there?
Maringa

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It has sensors but no OBD port? Are you sure it has no port or it is you who cannot find the port?

Are the plugs fine? It is very rare for a fuel injected vehicle to flood; it used to happen back in the days of carburettors.

Find the port because all cars since 1991 have them, most of them at least (I doubt if crap like Mahindras and UAZ jeeps have them).

But the Golf should, even if it is OBD I (as from 1994 all cars conformed to the OBD II standard). And check the plugs because I suspect they may have reached the end of their lives.

JM.

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I intend to buy a car (my first car ever) for use upcountry and I’m split between a Nissan B15 and a Mitsubishi Lancer, both manufactured in 1999.

Please help me make a decision by highlighting the merits and demerits of each, including such things as fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, is there any other alternative in terms of acquiring, maintenance and running costs?

Kefa

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Lancer, any day. It is prettier, and I get more complaints about the B15 than I do the Lancer.

It is also a touch smoother: the shift shock I experienced the first time I drove a B15 as I switched from P through to D informed me that I was in a low quality product. The Lancer has a better interior too, only just.

Consumption is low for both (average of 12–16kpl) and spares are available at reasonable prices. The Lancer’s GDI engine, however, needs a bit more care. Alternative? Corolla NZE, or Honda Fit sedan.

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Hi Baraza,

I am considering buying either a 2005 Mazda RX8 or a 2004 Forester XT and I am mostly after speed, safety and at least 10 kpl in traffic. Oh, and I do not want to get stuck in mud, I find that embarrassing. So, of the two, which is the better bet?

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Of course the Forester. It is fast and won’t get stuck in mud. But forget about 10kpl in traffic — it will not happen. Consumption and power aside, there is one very BIG reason not to buy an RX-8, and that is the engine.

It is what we call a Wankel (the RX-8 was nicknamed the Wankel Wunderkind) and is not what you normally find under most bonnets.

Ordinary piston engines are what we call “reciprocating” engines, and have circular pistons that pump up and down and the crankshaft is below the engine.

The Wankel engine is a rotary engine; the pistons are triangular and go round and round, and the crankshaft runs through the middle of the engine.

The engine itself is the size of a good watermelon. I can’t wait to see the look on your mechanic’s face when you present one to him for overhauling!

The problems with the RX-8’s engine in particular, and rotary engines in general, are thus: they develop very poor torque, are quite thirsty, they consume oil heavily and the rotor (triangular piston) tips get fried every few kilometres, calling for an expensive overhaul every now and then.

That is why Mazda are the only ones dabbling in that technology. There is one good point behind the poor torque: to develop any semblance of power, the engine has to have the nuts revved off it, and the RX-8’s engine is redlined at a heady 9500 rpm. Yikes!

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Hello,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I have read reviews, especially on ex-UK vehicles ( VW Jetta and Toyota Avensis) using D4-D engines.

Would I be putting my money in the right place if I bought any of the above vehicles?

And which is better than the other? Do we have enough know-how on these engines in Kenya?

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Buying any of the two would be money well wasted, but the Avensis is a safer bet if only because Toyota is familiar to us and you can always swap the engine for an ordinary petrol unit once the diesel goes bang.

And, no, I am not too confident about our ability to handle this degree of boffinry just yet.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a 2001 Toyota Prius 1500cc/Electric. The car is good, powerful for its class and fuel efficient (16km/l). On the flip side, the shape is whack and it’s ugly.

I want to ditch the Prius for the 2005 Honda Accord 2.0EL (2WD) saloon. I have seen other Hondas on the road but the Accord is rare, any particular reason?

The other option is a 2000cc VW Golf wagon. I’m worried about two things though: fuel economy and, more so, availability of spare parts for both cars.

The Accord has an auto/manual transmission, any problems with these types of transmissions? I am not worried about resale value, what I want is a comfortable and reliable ride.

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The Accord is fast becoming popular, just so you know. If I get a Type R, I will not hesitate to buy one.

Fuel economy is nothing to worry about with these cars. Or any other for that matter; in this era where a 4.4-litre V8 Range Rover returns 10 kpl at 140 km/h on the highway, I wish people would just buy new cars and stop asking about fuel economy.

(The Range Rover is the new TDV8 though, a diesel). Spares are readily available for both, and no, there is nothing wrong with the “manumatic” transmission in the EL, that is why almost every new car has such.

I prefer the Accord on looks, handling and weight. The Golf would beat the Honda on build quality and maybe, just maybe, ride comfort. And carrying capacity; it is, after all, an estate.