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Evos, STis, Q7s, and why a smaller engine is not always economical

Hi Baraza,

I have a number of questions, but before I begin you must agree that Subarus are miles ahead of Mitsubishis.

Look at this tyranny of machines: Subaru WRS STi may be outdone by the Evo, but the Forester will outdo the Outlander and the Airtrek. So, who is the winner in the ‘majority race’?

Now, to my questions:

 The other day I got a chance to be in a Volkswagen Golf GTI ABT. What fascinated me the most was the top speed, which, if my eyes did not deceive me, is a sweet 300km/h.  What does ABT mean, and what makes it better than a Volkwagen which has none?

 Between the BMW X6 and the Audi Q7, which is the best in terms of fuel consumption, stability at high speeds and resale value?

 When does a car consume more? When on high or low speeds? I asked someone who owns a Subaru Legacy B4 and he told me that at high speeds, he can make 10km/l but  in traffic jams, he can end up with a painful 7km/l.

 Finally, anybody who owns a Toyota Sienta as a family car must HATE his or her family. Sitting in the  far-rear seats feels like sitting in a pan.  No window, no nothing.

PS: I salute those guys who have dared bring the Rolls Royce and Lamborghini to Kenya. Kindly send me a contact if you know any of them ‘cos I really need a lift in one of those machines. I wonder why nobody has given us the Nissan GTR.

Phineus

 

Hello Sir,

If you want to discuss who wins the ‘majority race’ between Subaru and Mitsubishi, I’d like you to first point out a Subaru lorry, a Subaru bus, a Subaru van, a Subaru pick-up and a Subaru SUV. No, the Tribeca is not an SUV because it won’t go off-road, so try again.

Also, point out a Subaru television — yes, Mitsubishi builds electronics too, such as TVs on which you can watch Subarus losing to Mitsubishis.

Any pointers?

I didn’t think so.

The actual battle lies between the WRX STi and the Lancer Evolution. Leave the rest out of the argument for the time being. That said, I may bash on the little STi every now and then, but I believe I have mentioned here more than once that I might be a sucker for the Forester STi.

That may be the only Subaru I’d actively seek to buy: if I was to buy any other, it would be for lack of choice and/or desperation; which is the same thing really.

I know the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s speedometer has 300 scrawled on the exciting side of the scale, but it won’t do 300 — at least not without some major modifications to the engine.

This brings us neatly to the ABT you inquire about: ABT is not a spec level for the Golf; it is a tuning house that fettles German cars. What they do is take a boring briefcase, which is what most German saloon cars look like; then convert this briefcase into a fire-breathing chariot capable of moving at speeds normal people should not be moving at.

One of my neighbours has a Passat sedan with an ABT touch-up. It still looks like a briefcase, but one with bigger tyres and a Roman candle under the bonnet.

On the BMW X6 vs Audi Q7, both are rubbish. Depending on which engine you have opted for, both will guzzle. At least with the X6 you have the option of the X6 xDrive30d, which has a detuned 3.0 litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that can still move the car respectably fast if you so wish and return fair economy figures.

The Q7 comes with a large petrol engine that burns fuel at Arab-pleasing rates, or with a puny diesel engine that needs thrashing to eke out any semblance of motion out of it, so it will still send your money to the Middle East either way.

High speed stability is not bad in either car, but then these are big and heavy vehicles, maybe “high speeds” are not what you should be aiming for in them.

Also, at high speed the fuel evaporates in ways that make the stock price graphs in the Arabian financial index blink green and shoot skywards. Resale value? It will not be so great once the general public reads this.

A car consumes a lot of fuel at speeds below, say, 40-50km/h, consumes the least fuel at speeds between 80km/h and 120km/h, then the consumption goes up again from 120km/h onwards.

At 200km/h, it burns quite a lot of fuel. At 220km/h, it eats fuel in huge lumps. At 250km/h, the Arabs will send you t-shirts and Christmas cards.

There are a lot of caveats involved here though; the biggest ones surrounding engine size, transmission type and traffic conditions. Bigger engines are more economical at slightly higher speeds: for example, the Lamborghini you gush about later in your message is better off at 120 than it is at 80.

Smaller engines thrive at “non-motorised” pace: a 600cc Kei car is better at 70-80km/h than it would be at 120km/h.

Automatic transmissions may not allow short-shifting unless equipped with a manual override or has numerous ratios like the Range Rover’s 9-speed. So at low speed, it will likely be at a very low gear, possibly first or second, which is exactly when Shell and BP start awarding bonuses to employees. You may be better off maintaining 100km/h, give or take 15km/h.

Traffic conditions are fairly obvious: an open road is far better than a clogged one. Stop-start driving triples your fuel consumption as compared to steady-state driving.

These factors may apply in a variety of permutations, along with other variables such as vehicle weight, aerodynamic profile, right-foot flexibility, mechanical condition, and fuel quality, to prove one point I have been saying all along: fuel economy is not an exact science.

This is also why I nowadays refrain from quoting definite consumption figures for readers, because there is no telling what particular Arab-centric circumstances may be at play in a particular driving situation.

I have had people who revert like this: You said you did 25km/l in your stupid Mazda. Why can’t I achieve the same result? That is a difficult question to answer.

Interesting feedback on the Sienta. I will be careful not to get into the back seat of one. If Toyota reads this, then good for them. They will hopefully now install a window at the back of this car.

I may have the contact details of the chap in the green Lamborghini, but sadly for you I will not share them. That is proprietary information to begin with; and anyway, I want to get a lift from him too. The fewer of us lift-begging lowlifes there are banging at his door, the higher the chances of one of us actually getting to sit in that car.

In the course of looking for the man, do look around you in traffic. There are Nissan GTRs around; quite a number, in fact. I’d say there are more GTRs around than there are Lamborghinis. And yes, I have the contact details of some of the GTR owners; and no, I will not be sharing those either.

_______

Greetings Baraza,

I bought a 1993 Toyota Starlet EP82 from my employer after she endured all manner of abuse from five different drivers for seven years.

She has done Mombasa, Loitokitok, Nyahururu, Kakamega, Murang’a, Nyeri, Nakuru, and Kisumu countless times.

She was also once hit from behind by a Mercedes in control of a drunken guy, but the little lady flew and perched herself atop a fence, with her rear wheels stuck to the body.

Her engine still holds and is strong. With four full grown men cramped inside her as she purrs uphill, she overtakes boys like Fielders, Airwaves, and Pajeros like a joke. I bought her because of the price, the fuel consumption and her power.

Recently, however, she started smoking in the morning like crazy! Grey and heavy smoke. She does this in front of other ladies who park overnight next to her, like Vitzs, Honda Fits and Duets, and she is the least remorseful.

Our parking lot slants 40 degrees, and yesterday I let her rest with her nostrils facing downhill towards the fence. I think she wasn’t happy; to get out, you have to reverse, look for space to turn and head to the gate at the top of the hill.

She embarrassed me so badly with her smoking that I needed full lights to see. I could even hear the other ladies nearby (Vitzs, Fits and Duets) choking.

At speeds of 80kph on Thika Road, if I sneak a peak on the rear view mirror I can see her smoking behind my back.

One mechanic told me to do an engine overhaul, another one said I change piston rings, another that I should replace the entire engine, and yet another that my lady is drinking oil, even though I religiously service her on due dates.

Please help save this relationship because, since I don’t smoke myself, I can’t live with her like this, not matter how much I love her.

Finally, I recently drove an Allion, 1800cc, dual VVTi to Loitokitok and back to Nairobi. It was amazing because, on average, he did 23km/l. The Starlet returns 16km/l on the same journey with the same shopping and passengers, yet I thought a bigger engine consumes more. Some of us fear big engines (by big I mean anything beyond 1,490cc).

Godfrey

 

Godfrey, I also once had an EP82 that gave me trouble-free operation until some idiot tampered with the wiring harness linking to the ECU and from there it was one problem after the other: stalling, poor consumption, lack of power… all this against the backdrop of an intermittent now-on-now-off ‘Check Engine’ light.

It was eventually sorted though, and shortly afterwards, the car found a new owner.

I’d like you to fit four grown men in that Starlet then challenge me to a hill-climb drive-off we see if what you say is true. I’ll bring a Pajero, possibly one with a 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine (I believe you listed a Pajero as one of your victims), and I’ll be alone in it.

Any readers out there who want to place bets on who reaches the mountain-top first are free to do so, but we split the winnings 50-50. Care to indulge?

Anyway, the smoke: the heavy grey vapours indicate either a blown head gasket (ruptured or cracked), which is letting water into the cylinder; water which is then burnt off as steam; or the vehicle may be burning ATF (automatic transmission fluid), if the vehicle is automatic.

Another cause could be oil and water mixing: either water is getting into the oil and the oil gets burnt, or oil leaks into the coolant, and the coolant in turn is leaking into the cylinders. Either way, that engine needs to be taken apart.

Now, that Allion. First off, it has VVT-i, which the Starlet lacks. That’s a plus.

Then there is the small matter of highway driving. You see, at highway speeds, bigger engines return better economy. It doesn’t apply across the board, I mean, a Bugatti Veyron is not the most economical car at highway speeds, but for motor vehicle engines between, say, 800cc and 2,000cc, at 120km/h the 2.0 litre will be most economical.

Why? Because it requires little effort to attain and maintain that speed. It will definitely have taller gearing, so 120km/h will correspond to roughly 3,000rpm in top gear.

Smaller cars will be revving higher and longer, therefore burning more fuel. The Allion is also more aerodynamic than the little hatch, it has a very pointy nose: so it encounters less resistance at those highway speeds. Less resistance means less engine effort to cut through the air.

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How well does the Nissan GTR stack up in terms of performance?

Hey Jim.

I want to know more about the Nissan GTR 2012 model. I don’t know the right questions to ask but I’d just like to know whether it is suitable for everyday use?

Is it efficient in terms of performance — power, speed and handling?

I have seen it on racetracks as well as locally on the streets. I would really appreciate some detailed information about it.

Martin

 

Hey there,

My name is not Jim; never was and has never been.

About that GTR: I once believed it to be Jack versus Porsche’s fee-fie-fo-fum, beanstalk-climbing 911 Turbo troll giant but lately the odds have started stacking up against it.

If BBC ‘Top Gear’’s recent showings are anything to go by, its earth-shattering performance doesn’t look so earth-shattering anymore.

That said, you will still be hard pressed to find a car that turns as hard as an Nissan R35.

The 2012 car is good for around 542bhp, which is the kind of power you will likely never fully explore.

Couple this to a clever trick-trick 4WD drive-train, a twin-clutch gearbox and huge nitrogen-filled tyres and the end result is… epic.

SPEED DEMON

This is a car that will show just how physically unfit you really are without having to run a mile.

I experienced its violent character at a military airbase in California on the west coast of the United States of Americaland.

It is a violent track car that may break your neck if you fail to sit properly while in it, but that is when ‘Race’ mode is engaged.

Disengage the psychopath setting and it turns into an amiable daily driver that even geriatrics can take for a quick nip down to the mall and back.

Disclaimer: said geriatric is advised not to go beyond 20 per cent throttle opening on such a shopping trip, because even with Race mode off, stomping the hot pedal will still release the demons of performance hell and the car will shoot forward, possibly at a faster speed than a senile mind can wrap itself around.

Expect 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds. Two. Point. Eight. By the time you read this sentence, the GTR will have launched itself from rest and gone beyond 120km/h. Say hello to Godzilla.

PERFORMANCE

For you to ask whether it is efficient in power, speed, handling and general performance is akin to you asking whether this column is written in English. The answer is “what do you think?” Those four parameters are EXACTLY why the GTR exists, and down the River Styx with humdrum plebeian concerns like economy and maintenance. Those are for losers in 900cc, three-cylinder hatchbacks. This is a twin-turbo, twin-clutch 3.8 litre V6 ground-hugging missile. Only those with substantial testicular fortitude need apply.

Detailed information about this car can be found on almost every motoring website on the internet and some non-motoring ones too. This, however, I will tell you for free: the GTR drives like nothing I have driven before, or since. It may be an adherent to the turbo 4WD formula of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Subaru Impreza STis, but while the GTR’s forebears battled these two small saloons, the Nissan R35 grew out of it and went hunting Porsches and Lamborghinis. It is now an accomplished assassin. This is the John Wick of Japanese sports cars.

SNAZZY INTERIOR

It has an interior that belies its badge. Nissans typically boast of naff, monochromatic — usually 50 Shades of Grey, beige or black — interiors festooned with ugly buttons, scratchy plastics, exposed seams, panel gap inconsistency and grainy surfaces with just a touch of faux-aluminium, but one can tell the GTR was made by people who took their time with it.

The leather is exquisitely stitched (and is real), the buttons are thoughtfully laid out, the thick-rimmed steering is good to the grip — which, in inexperienced hands, is less a tool for controlling the vehicle than a lifeline for hanging on to as the car threatens to toss you through the windows in hard corners.

Just to be sure of its everyday usability, there is even a woofer/sub-woofer embedded somewhere inside the back seat. And it has an automatic transmission. The car is quite a dandy daily driver.

Until someone drops the gauntlet and challenges you to a showdown.

You had best be awake when you mash the firewall. The transformation from “automatic Datsun coupé” to “Porsche-Slaying Maniac” is instantaneous. The downshifts become harder.

The upshifts become brutal. The acceleration is relentless. The braking is merciless. Cornering in this car actually hurts, it DOES hurt; more so if you had a heavy lunch involving numerous tacos and several cans of chilled soft drink in the baking California heat like yours truly.

While the car goes like it was launched by a giant rubber band and stops like it has hit a tree, it is through the turns that its ability beggars belief.

SHARP AND RESPONSIVE

One can actually feel how heavy this car is (it weighs in at around 1800kg, which is quite lardy), but then again one can also feel the electronic witchcraft and fastidiously built hardware working in tandem to overthrow the reign of heft; and one can feel these electronics and hardware winning the minor skirmish taking place underneath your seat.

The wide nitrogen-filled rubbers and mind-boggling 4WD boffinry really do transfigure what is essentially (weight-wise) an expectant rhino into a heavily caffeinated flea.

The GTR changes direction with the alacrity of a jumped-up insect- for lack of a better analogy- that is how sharp and responsive it is. It is, however, not twitchy with it; it carries this turning capability with grace and aplomb. It is a meister among minstrels.

Go into a moderate sweeping left at 140km/h, which is just about the point where an STi would typically start disobeying instructions, and the car turns with no drama.

It even feels underused. Go in at 160, right about where an Evo would be at its limit and same thing happens.

Try 180. Still works. Try 200…  Then realise that you may need fighter pilot training to fully harness this car’s potential, because while Godzilla will handle the speed with which you are straightening corners, your brain may not. The car goes faster than you can think, quite literally.

We did hot laps on a track laid out on a military airbase at a place called El Toro. Once you learn the track layout and know what the car can do, you then revert to your primeval petrolhead mindset, get the red mist over your eyes and start stringing corners together like the expert you clearly aren’t. The experience is sublime.

ACHING ARMS

Foot down. Exit the pit area and barrel down the short opening straight. Feel the surge of acceleration. Do NOT look at the speedometer; which should read 210km/h or thereabouts by the time you reach the first right which is a short distance away.

No need to brake, in fact you only need to lift ever so slightly to trim down your pace somewhat.

The corner leads into a short series of switchbacks. Still no brakes. Chuck the car apex-to-apex, throwing it left and right with something that may be mistaken as willful abandon. Feel the massive weight try to pull the car out of line.

Feel the tyres holding the car in place. Feel the 4WD system reeling the car back in. Also feel the numerous tacos and gallons of Pepsi slosh around uncomfortably in the pit of your stomach; and your brain bouncing off the sides of your skull. Feel your eyeballs slowly losing shape due to the unbelievable grip.

Feel your arms ache. Feel your neck strain. Feel your palms sweat. Try not to vomit. Exit the switchbacks faster than you thought possible in a car, front tyres screaming, steering on half-lock to the right. Let the steering wheel self-center in a controlled slip through your fingers as the car straightens itself out.

As the steering wheel steadily centers itself, simultaneously feed the power in, in such a way that by the time the car is pointing dead straight, you are at wide open throttle. All this is happening so fast your conscious mind can barely keep up and is not even present. In primeval petrol-head mode, you are not quite yourself; you are the Stig’s favorite Facebook follower.

Thunder down the main straight like a fighter aircraft on takeoff. “Lord have mercy, this car is bloody FAST!” you think, in something closely resembling pure panic. Hit 255km/h. See the huge BRAKE sign at the side of the track indicating the upcoming chicanes. Stand on the brakes.

UP FOR SECONDS

Hold your breath tightly because now it feels like your brains will pour copiously through your nostrils and splash all over the dashboard like projectile vomiting; that is how HARD a GTR sheds speed on the stoppers.

Realise you may have braked a bit too hard and washed off more speed than you needed to — after all, this is a GTR — so lift off the anchors and get back on the power. Maintain this power through the tight chicanes, throttling on and off as the track demands.

This is nothing to a GTR; it eats away at the apexes and leaves them wondering what just clipped them. The chicanes lead back into the pit area. Roll to a halt. Remove helmet. Wipe the thin film of sweat now coating your forehead— a byproduct of the combination of frazzling heat and nervous excitement. The hot lap is over and you did not put a foot wrong. Feel proud of yourself. Grin stupidly at your hostess, who you now think of as a goddess at whose feet you will worship henceforth since she let you drive a GTR in anger.

“That was some driving,” she says. “How was it?” she asks with a patronising smile.

“CAN I DO IT AGAIN?”

_________-

Dear Baraza,

 I have a Honda CRV which comes with tyres with the following specs 235/60 R18. I want to buy new tyres from a particular brand but the only specs they have are 235/65 R18 (bigger profile tyres). Will this affect the performance of the car in any way?

Martin

Yes, but the effect will be so minimal you will not notice it. I believe the word we scientists use to describe such an effect is “negligible”

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

Hi Baraza,

I have been advised by at least three mechanics that coasting damages engine components, especially the clutch due to what they called “shock” when engaging ‘D’ from ‘N’ especially on high speed, downhill…..what’s your take?

Matata

 

This only applies to manual transmissions if declutching is not done properly.

With automatic transmissions, the engagement of the clutch mechanism is computerised, as is the gear selection; so the “shock” of re-engagement is not any harder or any softer than it is during normal upshifts and downshifts.

However, there is the risk of engaging ‘two’ or even ‘one’  instead of D, in which case… well, shock on you and your gearbox/clutch.

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Manual or automatic, which is more likely to use less fuel?

JM,

I am an ardent reader of your informative column, thank you for the good work. In terms of fuel consumption, which mode of transmission is better — manual or automatic?

What are the other similarities/differences between the two? Steve

 

The short answer here is a manual transmission is better. Or is it? You see, I think things are not as black and white as they may seem.

Once upon a time, automatic transmissions were slapped with massive, heavy torque convertors with no lockup control, while the slush-box itself bore only two or three ratios. Yes, things were that crude. Having only two or three gears means the ratios are very widely spaced and the engine has to reach stratospheric rev levels before shifting upwards to prevent a substantial loss in momentum.

The  (relatively) poorly developed clutches also caused quite some energy wastage through losses in slip and energy expenditure in rotating it. The comparative manual transmissions at least allowed the drivers to choose the ratios themselves, so they could short-shift and thus maintain low engine speeds thereby saving fuel.

Things are different now.

To start with, the skill and deftness of hand needed to row a four-on-the-floor H-pattern manual transmission is becoming the stuff of legend.

I am afraid I may be among the last of a dying breed; the breed of drivers whose abilities extend beyond stabbing the clutch with a toe and wiggling a shifter with a forearm.

Back in the day, everybody knew how to drive a manual, and drive it properly. Now, people with real driving licenses find excuses to occupy the passenger seat when presented with a vehicle sporting three pedals.

The few who man up and step up to the breach then proceed to show a glaring ineptitude at judging the power and torque curves of an engine through erratic shift programmes’ and failure to maintain a smooth flow of motion. Fuel consumption, alongside the clutch mechanism, then suffers.

It’s not all about the driver, though.

The technology itself has also brought the use of electronically controlled friction clutches for use in automatics, or the use of lockup control in torque converters. It has also brought about the manual override, which goes by a variety of names depending on the marque.

The commonest label is “Tiptronic”. Last, but not least, automatic transmissions now come with numerous ratios.

The madness was kicked off by Mercedes when they introduced a 7-speed automatic (with not one, but TWO reverse gears; whatever the hell for, I don’t know); then this was picked up by Lexus and Rolls Royce who bumped it up to eight and as of last year, a very fun trip to the fringes of the Kalahari desert introduced this columnist to a 9-speed automatic transmission in a Range Rover Evoque.

The advantage of these numerous gears is that the vehicle can be driven in a variety of customisable ways: economy, power, smoothness…. you pick a characteristic and the transmission will run with it. The Evoque can trundle around at 1500rpm in ninth gear and not hold up any other traffic.

It can also trundle around at 1500rpm in second gear and be slow enough for the driver to shout out a comprehensive list of insults at passers-by, for whatever reason.

This essentially means the Evoque can be driven everywhere at 1500rpm, leading to outstanding fuel economy. The bigger Range Rover Vogue also got an 8-speed tranny that massively improved reduced its infamous fuel consumption.

There are other instances where automatic transmissions trounce manual. I referenced them earlier in the formative days of this column, but I’ll quickly repeat them here.

Automatics are better for off-roading (they just are) and may be the more appropriate transmission for heavy commercial vehicles (they just are). Given the way some PSVs are driven, I’d say they’d make a case for themselves too in public transport.

The Paji once told me that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X with the twin-clutch SST transmission is an impressive machine. I don’t really believe him; nor do I understand why he would choose to extol the virtues of an automatic 2.0 liter saloon car.

However, now that automatic transmissions have taken over in range-topping hyper cars (you cannot buy a brand new Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren road car with a manual transmission, they don’t exist anymore) and time trial specialists (Nissan GTR, Evo X SST), it may be time to wave goodbye to the pukka three-pedal, H-pattern manual gearbox.

*Fun fact: the ‘Muricans’ don’t give a damn about twin-clutch direct-shift transmissions with or without full lockup control or whatever. The current Corvette C7 can be had either as a proper automatic, or as a 7-speed conventional manual. Yes, a manual gearbox with seven forward speeds, like a truck.

 

Hallo Baraza,

Commercial and passenger service vehicles are required by law to affix at the rear, max speed allowable stickers and twin chevrons that are supposed to reflect when illuminated by a following motor vehicle thus enhancing visibility.

The former serves no purpose, since they are meant to remind the driver his maximum speed, why have them affixed at the rear?

If they are to serve their purpose, have them affixed at the dashboard area where the driver can glance at it and it serves as a reminder as it is meant to.

As for the Chevrons, they have become so substandard that some are just white and red strips with no reflective material.

Why not have reflective strips all along the length of especially trucks?

Moreover, modern vehicles have inbuilt reflectors in their taillights. They (reflectors) serve well in private vehicles and commercial vehicles being imported into the country do not have these chevrons. How is visibility achieved in their countries of origin?

 

The sticker serves no purpose, eh? How about acting as a source of information for foreign drivers unfamiliar to the finer details of our Traffic Act who may be driving behind these commercial vehicles? The sticker informs them that these vehicles are allowed a maximum of 80km/h, so make your decision: tail them and stick to 80 or overtake them if you plan to go faster. It is always better to have an excess of information than a dearth thereof.

As for the reflectors: They’d best be left intact because rescinding the decision to have them in place means EVERYBODY will take them off, including the penny-pinching businessmen with rattletrap, barely legal pickup trucks of fringe roadworthiness. Have you ever encountered an unilluminated cane tractor in the dead of night while at high speed? You will understand why reflectors are important. You will also thank God for disc brakes.

 

 

Hi Baraza,

What are the cons of a turbo charged car? I hear it is costly to repair let alone buy a new one. Can removing the turbo lead to engine problems or loss of power?

Thiga

 

The downside of a turbocharged car lies in costs: buying, maintaining and selling. You will lose money on all three counts. Removing the turbo will of course cause a noticeable drop in power.

 

Whats up JM,

I have a Toyota Corolla E80 purchased in 1985 by my mum and christened “Whitney Houston”.

Five years ago, we had the carburettor engine changed to a 16 VALVE EFI 1.5 cc engine with a 4-speed gear box. Does having a 4-speed gear box affect the car in anyway considering it has an EFI engine?

I like the way people on the highway underestimate Whitney just because its number plate doesn’t have a letter at the end. Once I start revving the engine, those cars see dust. Now that the history lesson is behind, the questions;

1) Would it have been possible to change a VVTi engine? If not, why?

2)We wanted to change the 4-speed gear box to a 5-speed automatic gear box but the mechanic told us it would not be possible? Is it possible to change a manual to an automatic gear?

3) The car starts perfectly in the morning but then in the course of the day develops a hard start. What do you think might be issue?

4) The engine makes a lot of noise, now I am not sure if it is because it is getting old or there is a problem?

5) When I take the car for engine wash it will refuse to start until I jumpstart it. Would you propose I wash the engine or just let it stay dirty?

6) Whitney has on a pair of 12’ inch wheels and I was considering of getting her 14’ inch wheels. What are the ramifications of putting such wheels on a car? Or do we have to do certain adjustments to the car?

7)The back wheels of Whitney are bent inwards and my mechanic told me that she needs to be taken for kember. What is kember?

8) Whitney is a front-wheel drive. I have taken her for numerous wheel alignments but it still gets lost on the road and especially on rough roads. I have replaced all the parts of the front wheel, tie-rods, shocks, springs, bearing and so on. What might be the problem?

9) Insurance companies in Kenya don’t give comprehensive insurance to cars like mine claiming that if the car were to be in an accident, it would be hard to source for parts. Can my car be reconditioned in Kenya? What  does reconditioning mean?

10) Is it true a showroom car has a rear rectangular number plate while a second hand car has a rear square number plate?

11) Finally, I work at a boys club. The boys are crazy about cars and I was hoping maybe you would find time on a Saturday to come and talk to them. I know they would love it. Our email [email protected]

Thanks,

Alvaro

 

Quite a lengthy email.  Also, an interesting one. Whitney Houston, you say? Very interesting.

 

1) In a world where people can replace a tiny melon-sized two-rotor Wankel engine with a leviathan LS2 6.0 litre small-block Chevy V8, I don’t think engine swaps are exactly a problem anymore.

In this case it should be more straightforward seeing how the engine and the car both came from the same company. So, yes, a VVT-i engine would have fitted, provided the engine mounts are compatible with Whitney’s body.

2) It is possible but the involved labour is off-putting. Also you may need to shop for a new ECU(Electronic Control Unit)  or programme the current one to control the automatic gearbox but a) Toyota chips are almost impossible to hack and b) how does one start programming an automatic transmission? It will take years, if at all. The easiest way of doing such a conversion is to get an engine and gearbox combination (such composites are available).

3) I think your plugs could be on the throes of death. Poke around your electrical system: the HT leads, wiring, plugs etc.

4) This depends on what noise it is. An engine at 5,000 rpm will also be “noisy” by default, especially with the bonnet open.

5) I find the lack of lateral thinking in garages and motoring establishments humorous; more so in regard to the engine wash.  Has nobody ever heard of a wet rag? Is the verb “to wipe” so alien to us?

6) Provided the 14” rims fit, there should be no problem at all…

7) It is not “kember”, it is “camber”; and the car is not “taken for camber”, it requires “camber adjustment”. Camber is the offset position of the wheel along the Y axis, — the top of the wheel is not in line with the bottom of the wheel. If the top is offset inwards or the bottom is offset outwards (leading to a knock-kneed stance), it is called negative camber, whereas the opposite (bow-legged stance) is called positive camber. Camber adjustment is part of the wheel alignment process.

8) Now check your bushes. Also, make sure the tyre pressures are equal or close to equal on both sides of the car. Lastly, see 7) above. The misalignment at the rear could have an effect on handling.

9) Reconditioning a car such as yours will depend on how much dedication YOU have.

10) Not necessarily. It just applies to majority of situations but there are several not-so-isolated cases where the converse is true.

11) I’d be happy to give you folks a talk.

Posted on

Blue boxer boys and biased bloggers

This is a clarification and a disclaimer. I do not know any female bloggers,  much less any who have underlying and/or unresolved issues with drivers of blue Subarus.

I did not train, nor did I request any Internet superhero to pick fights with yuppie-grade Six-Star specialists.

I did not ask for any help in disparaging the Boxer Boys. My relation with Subaru (drivers) transcends colour and creed: an Impreza doesn’t have to be blue to get beaten by a Lancer Evolution.

My on-off disagreement with the Subaru fan club is not a judgmental and jaundiced look at their lifestyles, or their romantic capabilities, life choices or financial health; it is a simple debate that is quite easily solved through an orgy of octane overdose, twin turbos, advanced timing, burning rubber, wild understeer, missed gearshifts, shattered valves and bent con-rods. In other words, this is banter between petrolheads, not social commentary.

It is high time prejudiced “keyboard activists” left Subaru drivers alone.

Only I am allowed to poke fun at them. I don’t write about age-disparate, inappropriate, financially-fuelled social pairings involving sugar-parents (daddies or mommies) in my weekly column, seeing how little I know about them.

It is only fair NOT to  include motor vehicles in a questionable write-up involving the devious machinations of scheming trollops; obnoxious opportunists seeking pots of gold where they aren’t supposed to, more so if the author of the said piece thinks a Range Rover Sport is the beginning and the end all things motoring.

Leave the Subaru-bashing to me. I got this.

Posted on

Still waiting for the Mobius; and yes, the Terios Kid can go uphill. Duh!

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your helpful advice. It is most appreciated. I read with interest the release of the Mobius, a Kenyan-made vehicle that is due to be launched in June. I would really like to hear your opinion on it. Joseph.

Hello sir,

I first heard of the Mobius almost four years ago, when this column was still new. Since then it has been nothing but on-and-off mentions here and there, random tweets “recommending” that I drive one… I believe at one point I even received an email from Mobius Motors itself, which was never followed up. At another point one of my editors asked me what I thought of the car and if I wanted to try it out (of course! I’m very curious). These discussions, however, never strayed outside the electronic realm of Safaricom, G-Mail, and Twitter. I have not test-driven the Mobius; heck, I have not even SEEN one yet.

Dear Baraza,

You are doing an excellent job in Car Clinic. My wife and I are in the Subie (Subaru) camp. She was asking me about understeer the other day and I knew immediately she had read your article on Mitsubishi Evo vs Subaru WRX STi. I did some quick reading on the Mitsubishi’s active differentials — A-AWC, SAYC — that enable the Evo to grip and corner better than way pricier super cars.

I would like to know, is this technology patented by Mitsubishi only? How come the likes of Nissan GT-R and Subaru STi have not borrowed a leaf from it? Also, what production cars have technology akin to these active differentials? I still love my STi but if they do not style up and give us active diffs, that Evo X is very tempting.

Tom.

Hello Tom,

Shockingly, I am still alive after the things I have written (and said) about the Subaru STi-Mitsubishi Evo standoffs. I half-expected to have a dent in the shape of a certain blue oval somewhere on my skull by now.

I am not sure if Mitsubishi’s particular drivetrain hardware-software is patented (it must be), but electronic diffs are not limited to the Evo. Even Lamborghinis and Ferraris have electronic diffs, as does the new WRX STi, which, I must repeat, is a doppelganger of the Lancer Evo X (“Copy Me To Survive”, I once read on a Mombasa-bound bus).

The GTR uses a very elaborate form of torque vectoring. The execution might be different but the result is the same: Twist is channeled to the tyres with most grip, depending on the vehicle attitude within a corner — angle of attack, throttle position, and whether or not the tyres are sliding.

Join us in the world of the three diamonds. These are high-precision scalpels designed specifically to excise blue oval stains off the landscape. Yea, I said it; now I have to hide again because I am sure I hear “the throb of a turbocharged flat four engine, a sound which all over the world heralds the imminent arrival of a (insert epithet here).

Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you on the very interesting way you write your articles. Although this email is a week late, I still thought it worth sending. I read your column the other day and was amused by the sarcasm, poetry, and conversational way in which you write.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly entertained. As a woman, I find most motoring articles bland and incomprehensible to the layman (or woman in this case).

I look forward to enjoying more of your articles with the side benefit of learning about cars (yes, I think that highly of them). You truly are in the league of Top Gear, which I also enjoy. Keep up the excellent job. Eva.

High praise indeed, Eva. I am in the habit of quoting or referencing Top Gear UK. However, I would not say I am quite in their league, but I hope to get there someday. I am glad you enjoy my writing and I will be sure to keep it coming as long as there is breath in my chest and electricity in my nerves.

Hi Baraza,Can the Daihatsu Terios Kid go uphill? I have seen the Suzuki Omni 800cc struggle up a hill and wondered how the Kid operates. How fast can it go? Can I carry my family of four plus a sack of potatoes to visit my shags in Kinangop? And will it pull out of the mud in Kinangop, given that it is a 4WD?

Eric.

Interesting observation. The Terios Kid you mention can go up a hill even if it means using first gear and giving it the beans — and kicking the clutch to keep the revs up the whole time — to claw your way up the incline.

You do, however, mention a family of four AND a sack of potatoes, which presents a new set of difficulties: How steep are the hills you intend to overcome? With 660cc, things do not look too promising.

However, this tax-dodge 660cc three-pot mill is turbocharged (and sometimes with intercooler) to give 59-63HP (the horsepower variance is determined by boost pressure in the turbo and the presence of an intercooler), which in a car of that size is not too bad, relatively speaking. It just may make it up the hill. To improve your chances, keep the potatoes few and/or the sack small.

The car will also pull itself out of the mud. Deftness behind the wheel and low severity of the muddy conditions will be to your advantage, but first off-load your passengers and potatoes should you get properly mired in the clag and need to liberate your Kid without too much hassle.

Hi Baraza1) Have you evaluated these cars called D4D? Sometime back I wrote to you about their brake shoes wearing out quickly compared to other Toyotas working in the same conditions.

We have two D4D double-cabins that are not more than two years old and not more than 10,000km each. They are both leaking the steering fluid, the seal on the steering rack is gone, as is the one on the pump. We have other Toyotas with more kilometres on the odometer but they are okay. Are these D4Ds a problem?

Rwihura Mutatina.

Hello Mutatina,

I know about D4D. It is not a specific car; it is actually a type of engine. The D4D stands for Direct Injection, 4-stroke cycle Diesel engine. Therefore, when you say they wear out their brake shoes rapidly, what does this have to do with the engine? Do the drivers do burnouts in them? (Hold the brakes and then rev the nuts off the engine in first gear).

This also applies to the seals in the steering system. The intrinsic operations of any direct injection engine, or 4-stroke, or even diesel, have no effect on the seals of the steering rack AT all. This is what I think the problem is: Either the parts being used are low quality (someone might be skimming your maintenance kitty at the expense of reliability) which would correctly explain both circumstances.

The brake issue could also be explained away by poor driving habits, such as riding the brakes or frequent and constant hard braking.

I would also have ventured that initial build quality could be a contributing factor, but this is the Toyota Hilux, the Indestructible; surely if a car is built so tough that it can drive to the North Pole and back, matters like power steering pump seals and racks would never be a problem, would they? Check the affected parts and ascertain if they are as recommended by the manufacturer and not substandard. Vet your drivers also.

Hello Baraza,

I am a motorbike fanatic (not the Boxer things) and a stunts expert for the same. My concern at the moment is that I have had this childhood dream of owning a convertible car, so I would like to one day buy either a Toyota Mark II or the Nissan Bluebird old model (both have stretch bodies and frame-less doors like the Subaru’s). I will then cut off the top and fix a frame to support a canvas top and thus create a cheap and unique convertible.

My question is, is this possible in Kenya, and will Toyota or Nissan sue me if I give the car a name of my choice? Will it be legal to drive on the roads with such a contraption?

Geekson.

That is an ambitious plan you have there, Geekson, but it is inherently flawed and your biggest hurdle is a little thing we call structural rigidity: The stiffness of the shell. Once you lope off the roof, a large percentage of this structural rigidity is ceded in your quest for open-top hedonism and you will find that your “new” convertible is terrible to drive… and very unsafe.

There will be a noticeable jiggle about the hips (that is what it feels like) as physics tries to impose its will on you, especially at a corner. The roof and floor bind the A, B, and C pillars, creating a rigid cage that is the passenger safety cell, which is in turn flanked by weighty components: The engine and front axle to one side and the rear sub-frame on the other. With the roof missing, only the floor holds these two flanks together. Your car will start to move its body like a snake, man.

The body will twist and flex on all three axes of the three-dimensional space. The X-axis twist will be across the car’s centre-line, or along the vehicle track (from the port side to the starboard side) to the point where your passenger may be a few millimetres above or below you because the car is no longer level.

There will also be a Y-axis twist, when the engine weighs down the front, the rear sub-frame weighs down the back and the floor thus bends or warps, unable to support these two masses by itself.

Going over a bump will aggravate this. Lastly is the Z-axis flex, or lateral twist. Turn right and the front of the car goes right. Since the rear is not attached properly to the rest of the car, the floor will bend a little as it tries to force the rear to stay in line and turn right also. This is what you will feel as “wiggling” or jiggling of the hips.

Keep this up and eventually your car will break into two, most likely somewhere on or near where the B-pillar is. There is a way around this, and that way involves the use of strengthening materials along the floor and door frames of the car, but then you say your candidates have no door frames, so you can see the scope of your difficulty.

There is another way out: Go targa. A targa top is an open top, but not a full convertible. Part of the roof is taken away but a strip/bar/pillar is left running the length of the safety cell connecting the front and rear windscreens. In fact, most targa tops have the roof over the driver’s and passenger’s heads carefully carved out and the rest left intact. Rear seat passengers do not get to enjoy the sunlight (or subsequent rain).

I do mean carefully carved out, because the roof over THE SPACE between the driver and passenger is left intact also and it is this strip of metal that forms the last bastion in support of structural rigidity.

Lose this strip and you might as well just throw the entire roof away (same difference). The result is an H shape, where the two vertical bars of the H are the front windscreen and the roof edge at the B-pillar and the cross-bar is the strip I am talking about. I hope you can visualise it. The Porsche 911 and Nissan 300ZX have targa top models.

An alternative to the targa top is the landau, where the back seat passengers get to bask but the driver does not. Sort of inverse targa. Common landau cars are the Mercedes-Benz 600 Größer Landau and some early custom versions of the Maybach.

Posted on

A beginner’s guide to importing a car… minus the headache

Hi Baraza,

I’m one of the regular readers of your column and I must say that I appreciate your work very much. I’m planning to import a Toyota Corolla on my own, but my friends who have done it before are not willing to help me.

Please advise me on genuine dealer websites that I can trust in order to carry out this exercise without losing money, and kindly detail the general procedure of importing a car. I feel this is a dangerous venture because I have never done it before.

Thanks in advance.

I am not sure about the selling/clearance companies, though SBT Japan seems to make quite an impression on a lot of people. Anyway, I gave it a try for your sake and this is what happened:

1 Since I wanted to look for a car, I first created a user profile (they want names, numbers, e-mail addresses and the like).

I wanted a Lancer Evolution IX. So under the vehicle makes I chose Mitsubishi, under model I chose ‘Lancer’ (there was no option like Lancer Evolution. Only Wagons, and Cedias and Cedia Wagons…). Pah! I didn’t want any of those.

2 Two minutes later, a phone call, from a +815 number. SBT called me up from Japan to personally inform me that they had no Lancer Evos at the moment.

“What about a WRX STi?”

“Nope, these have all been bought out. In the sports car category I have some Toyota Celicas, but let us do this. I will send you an updated inventory of what we have. Look through it and tell us what you like…”

3. Well, the stock list came, and I looked through it. Not very interesting. No Evos, no STis, just a few regular GD and GG chassis Imprezas…

I ended up choosing a 2006 B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 with an automatic transmission (ARGH!! The only manual transmission cars were a few lorries and one Corolla NZE 121). Black in colour, 2000cc, 95,000 km $5,300 (Sh464,015) FOB, $800(Sh70,040) Freight, and $200 (Sh17,510) for Inspection. A total of $6,300 (Sh551,565). I also took note of the Stock ID Number.

4 Having my stock number ready, I went back to the website, typed in the Stock ID Number in the relevant text box and voila! My Legacy was there! There was a negotiating option which I didn’t explore, because, you see, I was NOT going to actually BUY the car. This was research for a reader.

The negotiating page included a breakdown of the $6,650 (Sh573,452) it would take to release the vehicle from Japan, and a choice of shipment (RoRo, whatever that is, a 20-feet container or a 40-feet container). The $6,650 (Sh573,452) came from the $6,300 (Sh551,565) total cost plus $300 (Sh26,265) Vanning fee and $50 (Sh4,377) insurance. I clicked on “Buy Now”.

5 You have to select a consignee, give his address, then place your order. I chose Kenfreight as my consignee, but they had quite a number of requirements.

You need the Import Declaration Form (IDF), Certificate of Conformity, Master Bill of Lading (MBL), Packing List, Commercial Invoice, Exemption Letter where applicable, then they started going on about Customs Clearance Procedure and a lot of other technical importation-finance-accounting-speak, and to be honest I quickly lost interest. After all, I was not actually buying the car.

You need an IDF from KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority), which you will have to fill out in order to get a consignee. The consignee is the clearing and forwarding company at the port of entry for your imported vehicle. The best way of getting the exact procedure is to ask a friend. I have asked a friend and he is yet to get back to me.

After giving the consignee, click on the button that says “Place Order”, then I guess from there it is a case of ‘yer pays yer monies and yer waits fer yer steed at th’ neares’ port, mate’.

7 Anyway, we cannot forget Caesar. The taxman. The government will charge you to introduce your imported good onto our sovereign soil. This is where a website like autobazaar.co.ke comes in handy. There is an option where you can calculate exactly how it will cost you to get your car ashore and ready for a KBU plate. On the home page of autobazaar.co.ke, there is such a tab as “Buyer Tools”. Click on it and select “Calculate Import taxes on used cars”.

That will bring you to a page where you can quickly estimate how much it will cost to import your car according to the prevailing KRA rates. My 2006 black 2.0 litre B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 automatic had, as cost of vehicle, Sh497,250 (at Sh85 per dollar exchange rate, the $5,850 — all costs minus freight) and KRA taxes amounting to Sh671,354, bringing the total cost to Sh1,168,604.

On the same page you could get a consignee by filling out the form on the right hand side of the page, after which they’d contact you with their clearing and forwarding process quote. Interestingly enough, from the AutoBazaar website you can also get loan quotes and insurance without having to leave the website. They seem to have everything, short of the vehicle itself…

As of the time I wrote this, none of the clearing companies had gotten back to me. Also, I did not have the Sh1.2 million I would need to get the black 2006 B4 Subaru Legacy BL5 2000cc automatic gear box, four doors and 4WD ontomy driveway.

A more comprehensive answer coming soon….

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Dear Baraza,

The information you provide on this column is invaluable, and you deserve all the compliments. I am keen on acquiring a non-turbo, manual-gearbox, locally assembled Toyota Prado that is affordable to both buy and run.

My search has yielded two machines; an L3 and an LJ95, one of which I am considering purchasing. Both of the machines were manufactured in 1999, and while they are in very good condition, are powerful and have smooth engines and superb bodies, they have clocked very high mileages — 245,000km each.

Both machines were previously owned by UN agencies, probably explaining the long distances covered. Before making up my mind, I’d like your advice regarding these vehicles on:

a) Availability and affordability of spare parts, including a complete suspension system for both.

b) If the machines are in perfect working condition — no pungent exhaust smoke — does the high mileage matter?

c) Their overall performance.

Your advice would be deeply appreciated.

a) Availability of parts: This should not worry you. At all. Affordability is entirely up to you, but if you are running a Prado, then you should afford to keep it running.

b) Does mileage matter? Yes, it does… a bit. For the sake of service intervals, and also to give you an idea of when a complete engine overhaul or rebuild is due. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear before taking action. Most engines are rebuilt at around 300,000km to 500,000km, depending on where and how they are used.

c) Overall performance? Well… they are very good off-road, not so bad on-road, poor in corners. Is that it?

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Hi Baraza,

I am a constant reader of your column, and thanks for the good work. I am planning to buy a Nissan Sunny B12, 1300cc, for use on tarmac roads, save for the occasional drive on all-weather tracks. Now;

a) What is the market value of this car if in good condition?

b) Are the spares parts of this car readily available? And are they expensive?

c) Can this car cover 500km without demanding a rest?

d) What is the maximum speed this car can achieve without compromising stability?

e) What is its standard fuel economy?

Thanks,

F Kirochi.

a) A car of this age will go for any price, literally, irrespective of mechanical condition. A well maintained car from this era could command as much as Sh300,000, but try selling someone a B12 at that price and watch them laugh in your face.

Then watch them make a counter offer of Sh100,000; not a penny more. It really depends on buyer-seller relationship, but on average, a good car should go for about Sh250,000.

b) Spares are available, I am not sure about the “readily” part. They are cheap though. Very cheap.

c) Depends. If it is in a mechanically sound condition, I don’t see why not. But first make sure you have enough fuel.

d) Maximum speed should be 120KPH. Anything beyond that and you are gambling with physics.

e) Expect about 14KPL on the open road for a carburettor engine, and about 16KPL to 18KPL for an EFI. Town use depends on traffic density.

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Hi Baraza,

We always appreciate your articles and the professional advice you offer to car owners, and even those who wish to own one.

Please advice me on the best buy between a Toyota Premio and the Allion in terms of performance, cost of spare parts, longevity, maintenance (frequency of breakdowns), off-road capability, ease of handling. Also, which one would you recommend for a car hire business, and please compare the NZE for the same role.

Anthony.

These two cars are the same. Believe me. The differences are very small, with the Allion seeming to age just a little bit faster than the Premio.

And I ask again: why do you people buy an Allion to take it off-road? What is wrong with you? Do you just willfully ignore what I say, or do you derive some pleasure from using the wrong tool in a task?

The Premio seems a bit more popular in the car hire business, although it costs a bit more on the dealer forecourts. On that front, the Allion might be the better choice.

Posted on

Diesel is the new petrol, thanks to science and technology

Hello Baraza

For years, people have always had different issues on petrol and diesel engines. Some say diesel cars do not perform like petrol ones, they do not last long and are more expensive to maintain. Please clarify this issue for me in respect to the questions below:

1: I’ve always thought that car performance is determined by the power output of an engine and therefore would argue that a car with a two-litre diesel engine with an output of 163hp would be faster than a car with a two-litre petrol engine but with a 150hp power output. Am I wrong?

2: Taking into account two similar vehicles, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol engine, does it mean that the diesel engine vehicle will have a higher maintenance cost?

3: I’ve always been of the view that diesel engines are more efficient on SUVs rather than sedans, but these days there is a great number of sedans powered by diesel engines. What is your take on this?

4: At what point would it be effective having a diesel engine vehicle rather than a petrol one? That is, from what engine capacity would one rather go for a vehicle with a diesel engine?

5: I’ve seen lots of SUVs with diesel engines that have had long life spans. Is it true that their petrol engine counterparts would last much longer?

Kind regards,

Ndung’u.

I see the old argument is back.

1. You are right, generally. The higher the power output, the better the performance. To put this in perspective: Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson once demonstrated how a Skoda Octavia Diesel out-dragged a Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk IV over the quarter mile, and by quite a margin.

His point, however, was how bad the Golf had become, but our little discussion here applies too. A diesel car can be faster than a petrol car of similar capacity; if the diesel car’s power output is higher.

Other factors that determine these disparities in performance in vehicles of similar engine capacity are gross vehicle weight and gear ratios in the ‘box.

2. Again, generally yes; more so if that diesel car has a turbo also (as is common nowadays). This is down to the use of heavier (and sometimes bulkier) components that can withstand diesel torque and the application of high pressure injectors in the engine. They also have shorter service intervals.

3. My take on this is that diesel power can be used almost anywhere now. In fact, diesel engines are so developed that major races (Le Mans 24 Hours and Dakar, for instance) are now being dominated by diesel-propelled entries, in a history plagued by petrol victories.

The development of diesel engines is such that they are as smooth as, and as powerful as (if not more than) their petrol equivalents. This is due to turbo technology and material science.

Diesel engines have the added bonus of having good economy and low emissions, which is why they are finding their way into small cars, with incredible success. In France, more than half of the cars bought, irrespective of size or class, are diesel-powered.

4. From Point 4 above, any. Engines range from as small as the 1.0 litre 3-cylinder turbo in the VW Polo BlueMotion to massive units such as the 6.0 litre V12 TDI in the Audi Q7. These are just road cars.

Trucks have engines as huge as 16,000cc V8s, then we have trains, ships, earth-moving equipment…. There is no limit to size for diesel engines nowadays.

5. This greatly depends on how they are (ab)used.

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Hello Baraza,

I drive a Toyota Probox and would like to know how you rate this car in terms of speed, stability on the road and fuel consumption. Second, the fuel gauge is not working and it’s thus difficult to tell wether the car has enough fuel or not. What could the problem?

Eric.

The Probox’s speed is typical of Japanese econo-box cars: nothing special, in spite of what people may say (this includes those who will tell you that nowadays these things are used to transport miraa).

If and when you get to 180 km/h the car will stop accelerating. Japanese cars have a limiter set at this speed. Stability on the road is not the best either, especially given that the car is a bit tall and some use leaf-spring rear suspension.

Fuel consumption is good though, if you avoid trying to clock maximum velocity all the time. I’d say 10KPL is the worst reading you’ll ever get, but 16KPL is possible with sensible driving.

About that fuel gauge: eliminate the usual suspects first. Check to see the wiring in the dashboard is in order. These are the other common causes:

1. Defective Dash Voltage regulator (voltage limiter) or gauge

2. Loss of ground/earth at the sending unit

3. Break in the wire going to the dash

4. Bad Sending Unit

5. Fuel gauge itself is defective

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Hi Baraza,

I’m planning to buy a 2005 Pajero IO. I like the boxy look and whatnot, but I’ve been discouraged by those who say it has a high fuel consumption and its GDI engine is problematic.

If I decide to go for it anyway, should I buy one with an automatic or manual transmission? Plus, what is its off-road capabilities and comfort?

Mark.

As for whether to buy manual or auto: that is entirely up to you. Which do you prefer? I would go for the auto myself (that is not saying much: there is nothing to nominate the auto over the manual, I just prefer autoboxes on such cars).

Off-road capabilities: I’d give it a “Lower Fair”, on a scale of Poor – Average – Fair – Land Rover Defender – Mountain Goat. Maybe 5.5 out of 10, where 0 denotes a Lamborghini Aventador and 10 is a Rhino Charge-spec off-roader.

Off-Road Comfort: I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5, where 0 denotes maximum likelihood of car-sickness (vomiting due to the bounciness or the need for physiotherapy due to rock-hard ride.

It’s a little of both, actually and 5 is the point where you can’t tell if the car is off or on road, such is the smoothness (2013 Range Rover).

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Hello Baraza,

Thanks for the good work you are doing. I’m writing to make a rather unusual enquiry: I have a budget of just Sh200,000 for either an old 1.3-litre local Nissan B12, a Toyota AE86 or 90, or a Duet which I will use to cover a distance of 20 kilometres daily to work and back. Bearing in mind that I have never owned a car before, kindly tell me which of these, or any other, would suit me.

Thank you.

I was reading through your e-mail until I go to the point where you mention an AE86, and my eyes turned misty. Where can I get a Hachiroku for 200k? I definitely want one of those.

Maintenance and economy of course favor the Duet, but a Duet going for 200k is not likely to be a wise purchase. There must be something seriously wrong with it.

It is thus a close race between the B12 and the AE90 (the B12 was the last good Nissan Sunny car we saw for the longest time. Later models were rubbish), but I would say the AE90, especially if it is 1.3 like the Nissan.

The 86 Corolla might not be as economical as the others (the difference is negligible anyway), but it is a damn good car to drive.

Where can I get one for 200k?

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the wonderful job you are doing. I had a petrol Isuzu Trooper 2 and a Toyota Sprinter K25 which I have liquidated in order to acquire the old box-type Prado.

I would like to know the cons of this car since I made the mistake with the Trooper, which once guzzled Sh20,000 in fuel from Nairobi to Mombasa and back.

This time I don’t want my December journey to the coast to become a nightmare again, so your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thumbi.

The only con I can think of is that the Prado does not corner too nicely, but then again, this is not a car built for cornering. The box shape is also aerodynamically inefficient, but if you got one with a diesel engine (a well maintained one), Sh20,000 worth of fuel to and from Mombasa will be confined in the dark chasms of unpleasant memories and life’s hard lessons.

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Dear JM,

I am looking forward to purchasing two cars in the near future, kindly enlighten me on the following:

The first is a family car (madam, two daughters and I) to be used within Nairobi and going to Nakuru once in a while. I am torn between a Honda CRV, a Nissan X-Trail, and Volkswagen Tiguan, all local and manual versions. Which of these is the best in terms of performance, comfort and safety?

The second is a personal car for use within Nairobi. I am again torn between two versions of the same model, Mitsubishi Lancer GLX or EX.

Again, in terms of performance, comfort and safety, which is the best? I am made to understand that the Lancer EX comes in two versions, which is the best? The sport or the ordinary one?

Lastly, I prefer manual cars after near-death experiences with automatics. In a manual car, I feel more in control compared to autos, where one just sits ‘there’. Do manual cars have any distinct advantage over their cousins?

Performance may favour the X-Trail in the first lot, but only if it is the X-Trail GT. Otherwise, the Tiguan may be faster. And safer. And more comfortable.

For the second lot, the EX may be better than the GLX in comfort. Performance and safety is the same (it is the same car, after all, with different trim/specs). Of the two Lancers, I would opt for the GT, mostly because Mitsubishi tells us it is sporty, and it does look like an Evo X. I know these are not sensible reasons for choosing it, but hey: we all have our own peculiarities.

Manual cars offer better control (as you point out) as well as slightly improved fuel economy and marginally better performance.

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Hallo,

Thanks for your good work. I wish to take you back to the old-school era and I hope you will assist because, hey, we deserve your attention too!

I have driven a Peugeot 205 for 10 years, initially an 1124cc and later 1.4 which actually is 1360cc and the performance of the latter is above-average, except for suspension issues. I have two issues, though, that require your help:

1: How can I fix gear number two in the 1.4, which makes a loud sound when slowing down but all smooth when the car is stationary? I hear this is a common problem with these cars.

2: Any advice on dealing with suspension issues, especially on stabilisers and bushes, would be much appreciated.

3: How would you rate the 205 against the 206 and the Toyota Starlet?

Regards,

Joseph.

1: You are right, 205s suffered from jumpy drivelines, and this problem was most pronounced in the GTi. However, I suspect you may also be downshifting a bit early. A 405 I once had also did not favour early downshifts.

Try this: when slowing down, wait until you lose as much speed as possible (with the clutch engaged, wait until engine speed dips to 1,000 rpm or less) before shifting down. Tell me if there is a difference.

2: Yes. Change them when they go bust, and only use genuine parts. Avoid cheap fakes (or expensive fakes, for that matter, if they exist).

3: I sort of prefer the 205 to the 206. The 206 looks too girly and I have a thing for old-school, bare-knuckle, no-frills driving, which is what the 205 offers.

The 206 is more modern, softer, heavier, more mild and generally… feminine. Compared to the Starlet… well, they are very similar in terms of utility. The Starlet may be more practical though because it has a wider opening hatch at the back compared to the 206.

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Evolution vs WRX STi: The White King vs the Dark Knight

It is by sheer happenstance that we had with us the best of both worlds: the best Evo ever made versus the best STi ever made (in my book). Or is it really coincidence? You see, these cars have been provided by The Paji, a man I introduced on these pages some weeks ago.

If there is a connoisseur of savage sports cars from the land of sushi and sake, it is him. And much as the Lancer Evolution and the Impreza STi are built specifically to try and embarrass the hell out of each other, our pair here could not have been more different.

In the white corner stands the CP9A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Extreme Edition, and from its registration plates you can tell that it is not what we could call “new”.

The car is bone stock, with a transversely mounted DOHC 1997cc, turbocharged and intercooled 4G63 in-line four block and packing a fancy 4WD powertrain with electronic diffs.

In the other corner, resplendent in black, stands the Subaru Impreza WRX STi in GD8 guise, a much later example (as the plates again tell us): 1998cc EJ20 flat-four block, turbocharged and intercooled and having 4WD too, though it uses mechanical diffs rather than electronic units, like the Evo.

The difference (besides the age and colour) is that while the Evo is largely untouched (new shocks and an aftermarket dump valve for the turbo are the only non-factory parts), the GD8 has undergone Stage 2 tuning and is developing what I would guess to be 400bhp against the Evo’s 276 horses. This will be interesting.

Subaru start

I have a go in the STi first. A very dark interior is festooned with gauges giving various pressures and temperatures in various systems: oil, turbo, water etc.

I also notice a short-throw shift kit and the DCCD (Driver Controlled Centre Differential), the pride and joy of all Subaru-nauts (they keep singing about it as though it is the best thing ever installed in a car).

The DCCD allows the driver to manually control the distribution of torque between the front and the rear axles. This particular DCCD has been set to channel more power to the rear rather than 50:50 back and front.

This setting is to have a big influence in later events.

Fire the GD8 up, clutch in, select first, and away we go, with the Evo leading. The clutch in WRX STis is usually a bit heavy, and there is no surprise here.

The surprise is the short throw shift kit: it needs a bit of forearm deftness to get the cogs into place, but what is even more amazing is the accuracy with which gears are selected.

Mis-shifts are almost impossible. Trail the Evo slowly, carefully, as I acclimatise to the driving experience in a Stage 2 modified car until we reach our secret test venue, at which point all hell breaks loose.

Without warning, the Evo breaks formation, hunting the horizon like a starving cheetah hunting down a baby gazelle. The fight is on, and I am not about to lose face. Shift down into third and slam the accelerator pedal to the floor. That is when I realise the beauty of Stage 2 tuning.

The car takes off as if it has been launched from a catapult, and the tach sails towards the red line (8,000 rpm). The roar coming from both ends of the car is deafening and the rate at which the engine gains and loses revs is shocking.

I am forced to short-shift into fourth at 6,000 rpm: stomp the clutch, blow-off valve sounding like an angry snake, yank the lever into fourth, dump the clutch, power on, get my nape forced into the head-rest as a relentless surge of torque is released, keep one eye on the road and the other on the tach; oh dear, 7,000 rpm, and I am almost on the limiter, if there even is one, clutch in, BOV goes pfft, slam the lever into fifth, listen to the ever-increasing roar emanating from under the bonnet and… oh shucks, here comes a corner. And the Evo is in it. I am catching up.

I have driven an STi before, but two things were different this time round. This one was Stage 2 tuned and had been set up with a rear-drive bias. Combine those two and what you have is a perfect drifting machine, as I learned the hard way.

Pile the car into a corner at full tilt and you get several feet of understeer (I could actually hear the tyres howling in protest). In a normal STi, to kill the understeer, you need to dial in more power. In a Stage 2 pseudo-rear drive STi, if you add on more power, the back breaks out. Oh my God!

The rear swings out. Apply opposite lock. The front washes out again. Again counter steer. Then you end up in an (admittedly unintentional) four-wheel drift. If you do not get your senses of judgment, perspective, and geometry right, you could easily leave the road… in reverse.

Kill the power, dab on the brakes, the car lines up nicely within the corner. Feed the power in again, this time more gently. Realise that all that floundering means the Evo has gained some yards on you. Try to catch up on the straights.

The problem with the STi is that it is a bit inaccurate, and violent with it. You cannot drive it with finesse, the way you can the Evo (I do not care what die-hard Subaru-holics will say to this).

The power may have been a bit too much. The steering may have been a touch on the heavy side, as was the brake feel. And speaking of brakes, they did not inspire much confidence.

They worked, yes, but feel was largely absent and one got the sensation that they were not working. The end result was that you lose too much speed on corner entry due to over-application of the anchors, so you get left by the Evo.

Enter The Evolution

Swap cars. In the Evo, it feels totally different. To start with, it is more comfortable… a lot more… until one wonders how Subaru-heads manage to drive any distance at all in their cars. The driving position is lower, and the car feels more intimate. The STi feels like a bus in comparison (oops, did I say that?)

Clutch in. Mmm, nice, smooth, oily clutch action, and lightly weighted. It is like dipping your foot in ultra-refined yoghurt. Shift into first. Since the shift kit is a factory affair, it feels a touch more vague than the aftermarket equipment in the STi, and is longer in the throw, but the gears slide in easily and surely. Take off in pursuit of the Subaru I have just exited.

The difference is immense. The steering is lighter, with a lot more feel. The engine revs more smoothly and more freely, and is quieter in the process. Also, though the red line is set at 7,000 rpm, one can rev the Evo’s power unit to 8,000 before hitting the limiter.

No need to, though; the car is quick enough without redlining it, but mostly because this is not my car and a blown engine is not something I want to think about early on a Sunday morning.

The intimate feeling; that feeling that one is at one with the car, means you can charge harder in the Evo than you can in the WRX. And the Lancer charges hard.

It has endless grip, it feels lighter, smaller, and more solid, and the reaction to input is instantaneous, so much so that the driver now in the STi, who had earlier humiliated me with the Evo, cannot pull away as easily as before in spite of being in the more powerful car.

The Subaru gains on the Evo on the straights, but driving behind, I can tell my rival is having to work much harder to get his racing line right through the corners, and he seems to be standing on the brakes a lot more often than he did in the Evo.

Behind him, I am having a picnic. In fourth gear, I do not need to brake to corner; if anything, I barely lift the throttle as the Evo’s sharper handling characteristics allow me to get the perfect line through the bends while still on part throttle.

The frequent brake lights and the popping of the anti-lag system in the STi tell me someone is trying his best to stay on the road through the power of restraint.

The battle ends with a unanimous verdict. Take a guess what it is.

Sum Up

First is the Subaru. It is a brash, violent, brutish, loud sledgehammer of a car. It is awesome. But more awesome is the laser beam, the precision instrument, the Evo VI.

This is why, despite four subsequent development stages (we are now at Evo X), the VI is still considered the best Lancer Evolution ever in its entire production history.

The Impreza requires a master’s touch to fully harness its, let us be honest, almost unlimited potential (all that power!) and corral its wilful and wayward nature. The Evo, on the other hand, flatters anyone who drives it, even the slightly inept.

Where the STi required wrestling to get any semblance of graceful motion out of it, the Evo was effortless. Cornering in the STi required bigger arm movements (so much so that my shoulders started aching at the end of the exercise), a constant sawing at the wheel to keep it in check as, first, understeer then oversteer reared their ugly heads.

The brakes were also not very comforting; especially given the acceleration abilities of the Stage 2 car, one needs the reassurance that one can stop on time if one runs out of talent (or sliding space) mid-corner.

It was also very loud (could be intentionally so, given the size of the tail-pipe), and it was uncomfortable; the ride was hard and the driver’s seat was not a good fit. The grip (before the loss thereof) meant that one was squeezed hard into the side-bolsters when turning hard.

This is a car for hard-core enthusiasts and only those with skills a cut above the rest can enjoy it. It is also the best Subaru I have ever driven, despite shaking my skeleton almost to bits. It is for this reason (and the colour also) that the Stage 2 GD8 Subaru Impreza WRX STi gets the title of The Dark Knight.

The Evolution was a different kettle of fish. Much quieter and with an engine that revs more smoothly, the fact that it was mostly standard did not mean it was a weaker entry.

Its relative shortness of breath on the straights was compensated by the sensation that the tyres have been glued to the road through the corners. This car will NOT slide, unless the driver does something stupid.

It was also more comfortable, a lot more, again a paradox given that it is built as a race-ready rally car and other car reviewers claim the STi is softer (maybe it is, in stock, non-Stage 2 format).

That an older, bone-stock Evo could almost kill a much newer Stage 2 rival earns it the title of The King. The White King.

Do you agree? Send your comments to [email protected]

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What is a Stage 2 Modified Car?

THE DEGREE of tuning done on a car can be wide. So, to specify the level of modification a car has undergone without necessarily listing the actual changes (this list can be long), a quick way of expressing it would be to classify the amount of tuning by stages. There are typically three stages of tuning:

Stage 1: Typically a single mod, more often than not a bolt-on part or small change of settings. It requires no more work for the car to still function as a daily driver. General reliability and ease of use is maintained. Examples are an ECU remap, sports exhaust, cold air intakes, or a brake upgrade.

Stage 2: A bigger power jump over Stage 1, Stage 2 tuning calls for the upgrading or replacement of several other parts, otherwise certain systems will fail or the car will behave unpredictably.

Typified by shortened service intervals. An example is a hybrid turbocharger that demands a remap and/or change of manifold, new dump valve, sports exhaust with different headers and mounts and internal components that call for a higher grade of fuel. Ideal for track use.

Stage 3: Applicable to motorsport. Also known as competition tune. Inappropriate for road use due to harshness: erratic idling, poor economy, and uncontrolled emissions are some of the characteristics.

High performance brakes that require heat before they work compound this problem. High timing causes the bad idling and heavy competition clutches make balancing a bitch. Not for the weak.

I wonder what a Stage 2 Evo would be like….

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Vroom your way to the concours this Sunday

FOR THE last 42 years, the annual Concours d’ Elegance, organised by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club, has become an elegant, stylish, and fun-filled family day and is now a major event on both the social and motoring calendars of Kenya. This year’s edition, which will be held at the Nairobi Racecourse this Sunday, promises a lot of fun.

The core activity of the event remains the judging of the highly prepared vintage and classic cars and motorcycles, and officials must comply with regulations approved by the Kenya Motor Sports Federation.

The event is also recognised and sanctioned by the FIM-AFRICA (the Africa edition of The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, an international organisation acting in all matters connected with motorcycling).

For many of the spectators who will be thronging the Nairobi Racecourse grounds, dressing up for the day is a priority. To reward them, the organisers have put various prizes up for grabs.

Throughout the day a team of brand ambassadors will be roving around to pick out the best dressed ladies, gentlemen and children.

Spectators are offered the choice of going for style and elegance, African patriotic dress, classical hats and the best representation of CBA colours (green and dark brown). Wearers of outfits that impress the brand ambassadors will be photographed and rewarded with instant prizes.

For spectators who would like to take a break and socialise between following the judging of the classic and vintage cars and motorcycles and walking through the motor trade stands, an Elegance Garden has been added to the menu.

Throughout the day, Concours competitors, officials and spectators will turn their attention to the sky from time to time to watch a series of fly pasts, a model aircraft display, and a spectacular free-fall parachute drop. See you there!

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Nairobi to Namanga and back: Petrolheads with a cause

The Birth of Great Run: In the world of petrolheads, a “run” is simply a drive from here to there, and possibly back to here.

It has nothing to do with the Olympic Games — even though “run” is also a word whose meaning our Olympic athletes seem to have forgotten.

However, depending on the degree of organisation, there could be an element of competition. The Paji and I introduced a mutual acquintance called The Jaw (or simply Jaw) into the picture.

Our three heads agreed that a run would be a good idea. Creative juices were at an all time low that day, and so, lacking a better name, we decided to call our gig “The Great Run”. The name stuck.

Precedents, Precautions and Preparations: Ours is not the first run in history; it is not even the first run locally, but it was certainly the first to be — almost — commercialised over here.

It was shaped in the fashion of the world-famous Cannonball Sea-To-Shining-Sea Trophy, better known as the Cannonball Run, in the US. Other runs of note are the Gumball 3000 of Europe and… ummh… yeah.

There were a few issues to be careful of. While the Cannonball and Gumball runs involve competitive driving, foresight demanded that we eschew this line of thought.

Introduce a clique of restless Kenyan drivers in high-powered vehicles to a driving “competition” and you will have opened a veritable can of legal, administrative and life-threatening worms. For evidence of this, refer to Subaru Fest’s Gymkhana Challenge.

We had to have something with gravitas. We needed a sponsor to endorse our arrangement and lend an air of legitimacy to our project. We needed participants. We needed a route. We needed to divide these responsibilities amongst ourselves. Most of all, we needed money. This is how it went.

The one sponsor we got pulled out at the last minute. It followed that costs had to be covered out of our own pockets, but I will confess: costs were covered mostly out of The Paji’s pockets.

The Jaw handled the fruitless phone calls demanding sponsorship and sought entities that would provide “background support”, such support being the printing of T-shirts and stickers for the participating drivers and their vehicles.

I adopted a managerial position: the key responsibility being standing around looking important while actually doing nothing. The Paji and The Jaw are two very patient men, I must point out here.

Three weeks, it took us — them, rather. Three weeks to establish an online presence, gather a sizeable crowd, find a route, do a recce, print T-shirts and stickers, find (and subsequently lose) a sponsor, and identify the unwitting beneficiary of another last-minute occurrence: a charity addition to our list of requirements.

You see, we may love cars, but we also give back to society. Note: We were told to say this by someone who whispered to us that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is fashionable in big companies, so talk of charity will help you snare an unsuspecting firm with money to lose… I mean… spend.

July 14, 2012: This was the date of The Great Run. The starting point was at a fuel forecourt in Parklands, Nairobi, and the variety of hardware present was enough to warm the cockles of any auto-oriented heart. I could not have hoped for a bigger turnout, especially considering my “managerial” approach to the whole thing; but the response was enormous.

There were Nissan Skyline GTRs, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and countless Subarus, in various forms, shapes, colours, ages and degrees of tune (later in the run, also various states of mechanical soundness, but let me not dwell on this).

There was a Hummer H3 (!!), which I would have chased off were it not for the fact that its (mostly human) contents were instrumental in making our event a success then and afterwards.

There were a lot of other cars, but the ones that stood out the most were a father-and-son pair in a Mk IV Toyota Supra and a Nissan 350 Z “Fairlady”. Time to drive.

The Event: Had we got a sponsor, we would have had the money to make maps and print navigational details for everybody, and this shortcoming was felt within three gear changes from the starting point.

In spite of the instructions I shouted at the gathered crowd just before departing (We are going to the Tanzanian border!!), after the start some of the cars left in several different directions and it was with a sinking feeling that I assumed maybe people were heading back home after collecting their T-shirts. The Jaw insisted I should have more faith in human nature.

And I should have. There were no deserters (at that point). I took a wrong route myself, my excuse being that I was trailing one of the “lost” vehicles.

Our first unintended meeting point was 10 minutes from the start when it transpired that one of the cars had a six-cylinder engine, but, ahem, was only running on five — spark plug issues.

(To protect the privacy of owners, drivers and participants, certain details will be omitted). Everybody had stopped in a long queue behind the stricken car, on the side of the road. I was last to arrive at the scene, approaching it from the wrong direction.

More Drama: The run was not without incident. The burnt spark plug was just the first of several. When turning off the Mombasa highway to enter Kitengela, two cars got lost (again) and went on towards Mombasa (Mr Not-Sponsor, are you reading this? We need maps!). They were reined in in short order.

One of the cars, a blue Lancer Evolution (VIII or IX, it was hard to tell), suffered a heart attack. Pumped full of steroids, the extremely capable tarmac athlete over-exerted itself and got a myocardial infarction, haemorrhaging to death.

It had to finish the trip at the back of a hearse. In real terms, the Evo was pulling hard when an oil seal blew and the car lost all oil pressure and had to retire, returning home atop a tow truck. This was the first DNF (Did Not Finish).

Next victim was another Evo, a grey one. Said vehicle was conducting a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre when the driver found himself on the receiving end of the unfinished work results from an incompetent road repair crew.

The fellows had abandoned the site, leaving it unmarked and with rocks strewn all over the road surface. This put the Evo driver between a rock and a hard choice.

Too late to stop, he noticed some especially daunting bits of landscape right in his overtaking path. If he dodged them to the left, he would slam broadside into the car he was trying to pass.

To the right was a guard rail, beyond which lay an abyss. If he continued straight, he was going to hit the rocks and shatter at least one of his rims.

He chose to continue (wise decision), and his fears were manifested: three spokes and a section of the front offside rim edge were bent out of shape, shredding the tyre into useless ribbons of rubber. Hopeless space-saver spare in the boot… second DNF.

The remaining DNFs were not DNFs per se, they intentionally did not finish; and they were the biker gang.

Heading for the nearest border requires one to cover quite some distance, and balancing a 150kg lump of metal between your legs while moving at warp speed can really sap one’s strength and resolve, almost as fast as some of those cars were draining their fuel tanks.

They begged leave of us and we graciously allowed them to. I would not want to be responsible, by virtue of duress, for the outcome of when a biker man is approaching a sharp turn and tries to apply the brakes only to realise that his fingers have gone numb from the sustained blast of cold wind on them…

Charity: Hawa Children’s Home: The route was very simple. Drive to Namanga and back. It so happens that along this route lies a children’s home just 9km outside of Kitengela town as you drive towards Kajiado.

This was our point of charitable focus and a brief stopover there provided not only a respite from the hard charging on the highway, but also allowed the little orphans to mingle with the owners of cars they would probably like to own when things eventually turn out right in their lives.

The place is called Hawa Children’s Home, and it is run by the Rotary Club and the St Andrew’s Church. It serves as the abode for 24 no-longer-unfortunate orphans of various ages between four and 18, with room for up to 200, and they were the surprised recipients of clothing, stationery and several cash handouts from participants of the Great Run.

Who says we waste all our resources on fuel, eh?

What We Learnt From The Great Run: Most of the questions I receive in my Car Clinic were brought to the fore that day. Performance (about 60 to 70 per cent of the cars had the kind of performance you wouldn’t dare exploit fully), fuel economy — or the lack thereof (Toyota Supra), cost of spares (again, the Toyota Supra), maintenance costs (take a guess. You’re right! the Supra), reliability (the oil-less Evo and a mechanically unfaithful Subaru whose brakes caused the driver untold worry) and ground clearance — or the lack thereof (about 30 per cent of the cars will struggle on unpaved roads).

What can I say? That orange Supra has been modified to the apogee of motor vehicle tuning. Nothing is stock, except, maybe, for the engine block. And I can’t even begin to describe what had been done to the Evo that lost its oil.

Why? Back to my original question: What were we thinking? Why did The Paji, The Jaw and Yours Truly stage The Great Run? It is mostly because we wanted to. And because we could.

We wanted something extraordinary; let us call it a moving motor show. Static shows are fine, yes, but car buffs prefer seeing and hearing these vehicles do their thing in the metal.

To “legalise” the project and keep a lid on potential hazardous behaviour, we formalised the whole affair and included a safety car, which I drove (more drama: as the safety car driver, I had to tail the entire convoy, but returning from Namanga, I found myself as Car Number 3 in a split convoy of about 20.

Unbeknownst to me, out back the Supra had ground to a halt, having lost one expensive tyre to a puncture. I had to turn back. Total mileage at the end of the day: 464km).

An unexpected bonus was the charity. Little did we know that we had opened a channel for philanthropic minds which otherwise did not know where to direct their generosity.

It turned out to be a blast, the only complaints from participants being that we did not spend enough time at the home, and that had they known beforehand, they would have given more (that charity thing was literally last minute, I tell you).

As a result, there has been public demand for an encore. Auto Art the Paji, Jaw the Jaw and I intend to honour that demand.

Missed Shifts: Two elements that should have been there — but weren’t — were a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 coupé (part of the sponsorship package that we lost) and a news reader (not part of the sponsorship package).

I was hoping to drive the supercharged car with the news reader in it, but having been withdrawn from the table, I resorted to a naturally aspirated 3.4-litre V6 vehicle, further plundering The Paji’s already stretched resources.

The news reader is a personal friend who thinks she likes cars, but an entropy in the lines of communication led to her missing out on The Great Run. As a result, rather than having a comely news reader in the passenger seat of the 3.4 V6 with me, I had to put up with a Jaw.

Bring on the next run.

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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.