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

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

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

Regards,

Okumu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,

JM.

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Sospeter.

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

Thanks,

Robert.

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

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

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

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

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

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

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

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 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.

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All looks but no oomph: The warrior from the Mitsubishi regiments

Here is my latest victim in our 4WD utility free-for-all. Let me kill the suspense right off the bat: this car is not worthy of any boxing analogies, the kind that defined the Ranger-Navara-Ranger-again reviews that preceded this one.

Maybe it is the fact that it is outdated (production run was between 2000 and 2006), but its replacement, called Sportero, is nothing to write home about either. We will discover why shortly. I am, of course, talking about the Mitsubishi L200 Warrior, also called the Storm in some other places.

What is it?

Same old formula: selectable 4WD, 2.5-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine, turbocharged with intercooler, and wrapped in a tall, off-grey-off-beige double-cabin garb — just like the main protagonist in this commercial, suburban-housewife transport drama — the Navara, and its biggest antagonists the Ranger, the DMAX, and the Vigo.

Outside

You cannot hope to make any sales in this sector unless you garnish your product in the most macho, in-your-face, unsubtle visual addenda, and Mitsubishi stuck to form. It has big wheels shod in big rims, body-colour wheel arch extensions, a huge toothy grin up front, a fat bumper, side steps, the lot.

All these combine to yield Arnold Schwarzenegger: not exactly an underwear model, but the massive musculature does provide a certain brutish charm that cannot be defined exactly.

This charm is further enhanced by the presence of a bonnet scoop that is off-set slightly to the nearside and a sporty scaffolding in the payload area. That bonnet scoop, by the way, does not feed the turbo, as many are wont to believe; it feeds the heat exchanger, which nestles at the top of the engine, just above the cylinder head, like a tray of cookies on a kitchen counter.

The version I drove was the face-lifted one. The result of the facelift was to further mar a visage that was hardly pageant-worthy to begin with.

The early versions had sunken headlamps that gelled well with the slight swoops of the bonnet’s leading edge, but the later versions got flush headlamps that gave the car a pinched, pointy frontal appearance, not entirely dissimilar to that despicable, dreadlocked monstrosity from the Predator movie franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger indeed.

The inside

It is a bit of a love-hate mix inside. I loved the leather adornment that covered the door panels, seats, dashboard top, steering wheel, gear levers, handbrake, and grab handles (some of these smacked of aftermarket installation).

I also loved the elephant-ear side mirrors, the ensconced driver’s seat, and the space up front. It was cossetting, a feature that lacks in most cars of this size. It felt like one was seated in the chair rather than on it, increasing the comfort levels.

But I hated the fact that there was no rear-view mirror. What gives, Mitsubishi? I hated the driving position too, which is not a contradiction to the enjoyment of sitting in the driver’s seat. It is fun sitting there, yes, until you start driving, at which point it becomes an exercise in endurance.

The pedal/steering wheel arrangement is better suited to a lower primate rather than a human. I particularly despised the rear bench, which has little headroom, even less shoulder room and non-existent legroom.

Other dislikes stretch to the rungu-type 4WD selector lever in an era when the rest of the world has moved to a rotary-switch electronically-operated setup. I also did not like the fact that the electric windows at the back had gone on the fritz, responding to instructions that only they knew from whence they came.

Oddly, this car should be a range-topper and yet it was devoid of kit. The inside reminded me of the base XLT that was killed by the Nissan in our first round. Air-con, electric windows, and radio, and that is your lot. To make matters worse, some of these things looked like afterthoughts, like the dash-top incline-o-meter and outside temperature gauge, which was dishonest (when it was freezing cold, it told us that outside temperature stood at 24C).

The demist button also looked like a late addition, standing lonely on the aluminium-effect surface next to the steering wheel. Get this; getting the demister to actually work involved working out a certain permutation that involved the fan (get the speed just right), the air-flow (circulate or flow-through?), the ambient temperature (hot, cold, or in between?), and whether or not the climate-control button was on or off.

Naturally, you must have pressed the demist button before working all this out. My degree in mathematics and physics did not help me here.

Driving

The primary controls felt different from the kits normally found in SUVs. The steering wheel, for example, offered slightly stiffer resistance, like that in a hatchback with an unassisted system.

The brake pedal was not mushy (thank God), and the throttle pedal travelled in a long satisfying arc, as did the lightweight clutch pedal, making modulation easy and enjoyable. If you ever leave driving school before mastering how to balance the clutch, maybe you should practise on this car.

It felt so much better, especially because the car I had tried my hand at just before this was, incidentally, another Mitsubishi L200 pickup — a petrol-powered, carb-fed 2.0 litre 2WD car from the mid-nineties with a mousetrap clutch action.

The Warrior comes with a 5-speed manual transmission. Long in the throw, it was fairly easy to slide the gears into position when shifting upwards, but the downshift from 5th to 4th was a touch awkward, and was the only fly in the ointment for what was clearly the L200’s only strong point: the fact that double-declutching and heel-and-toe were an absolute doddle.

So easy was it, and so much fun, that I found myself doing these two shifting techniques even when it was not necessary. And necessary the double-clutch shift was, because the long-throw shift action sometimes let the revs decay a bit too much before the clutch was re-engaged.

Ride and handling

An independent front suspension and a leaf-spring rear stilt makes for an interesting combo. The front works hard to engage the driver while the rear does its best hop-skip-and-jump impression. This effect was felt best on the gnarled stretch of road between Nakuru and Eldoret, near the Kapsabet turn-off, where the smallest twitch of the wheel caused alarming results out back.

On smooth roads, the massive bucket that serves as the payload was also an aerodynamic fiend: not only did it hold the vehicle back at speed, it also caused a tendency to swing from one side to the other.

But the surprising thing was, if you get your line right, the car actually corners quite well, with minimal body roll, despite the tall height, with little sign of understeer (I suspect this thing would oversteer like crazy on loose surfaces).

And here is some shocking news: It has no ABS! Thankfully, I did not have to find this out the hard way.

So why no boxing comparison?

Ah, but to be a boxer, you must have power. The Warrior has none. Low-end torque is also sorely missing.

The engine was weak to start with and the gear ratios were poorly selected. Actually, they went opposite to what is typically expected from these kinds of vehicles. First, second, and third gears were too high, so take-off and pick-up were pathetic, to say the least.

As for the low-end torque required to launch a car, you needed to really give it the beans (thus engaging the turbo), up to about 2500 rpm before any sense of poke was felt. The result of this effort was a noisy, banshee-scream launch that would cause outsiders to judge you and your driving skills unfavourably.

Fourth and fifth gear, on the other hand, were too low. Trying for outright speed on the highway found me in either fourth or fifth, with the engine wailing its heart out, only to discover I could not inch much past 110km/h irrespective of gear.

It made no difference whether I was in fourth or fifth, they both felt like the same cog. I think the transmission, with its wafer-thin power band, is more biased towards lugging loads and a bit of off-road work, which should really be the primary purpose for these cars.

The overall result was this: the drive turned into a noisy orgy of revs and gear-stirring, topped off with several visits to the black pump that revealed we were averaging less than 7 kpl — on the highway. What was going to happen when we got into town? It did not help that the engine was a bit off-colour and badly in need of a tune-up, and an oil change.

Parting shot

This car is one of a pair of weak links in Mitsubishi’s otherwise impressive vehicle lineup. The other is the Pajero Sport/Shogun or Sport/Challenger (the name depends on where you buy it from). Both cars suffer the same faults: little thought went into specifications, overall design, and engine development.

They both have noisy, weak, thirsty, revvy, and smoky 2.5 litre diesel engines that hark back to the time when Cain decimated a quarter of the world’s population (his brother Abel).

Why did they not just install the Pajero’s engine into this one, the way Nissan did with the Navara/Pathfinder? Incidentally, Mitsubishi also makes television sets. Maybe they got the TV guys to make a car, and this was it. Warrior? Maybe of the Lilliputian sort. Storm? Must be the kind that comes in a teacup.

What you probably didn’t know: Despite its failings, this car was Britain’s best-selling pickup for most of its production run (2000-2005). Just goes to show how looking the part can compensate for major weaknesses. This also explains why anyone with half a brain would ever think of buying a Hummer.