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The Y62 Nissan Patrol: Smooth, elegant fuel-guzzling in style

I want to stand with the Y62 Nissan Patrol on a mountain; I want to bathe with the Y62 Nissan Patrol in the sea… but I am not sure if I want to take it home with me.

There is plenty to enamour one with the massive off-road wagon — and never has the word “wagon” been more befitting of a motor vehicle than with the Y62 — but on inspection, there is plenty to introduce more than a modicum of doubt to the patently ponderous among us.

Why would I want a torrid tryst with the Patrol but bolt like a rabbit at the first demand of commitment?

Well, first there is:

The costs: The vehicle is sold for $155,000 here; which means it will cost anything between Sh13 million and Sh16 million, depending on what time of the year it is and whatever is happening in the US at the time. Dollar pricing is pretty finicky at best and very easy to take advantage of, which is why all the dealers are doing it.

One could literally make millions overnight if a well-timed national incident — either here or there — was to make it to CNN. Sheer happenstance; not entirely dissimilar to playing the stock market.

I am not saying the Patrol is too expensive; not at all. It is priced just like its biggest rival: the Toyota Landcruiser VX. That makes them both very expensive.

However, when you fork out sixteen of your millions for the VX, you know you are getting Toyota’s renowned reliability, the Landcruiser’s relatively good looks and a car that might outlive your grandson.

MASSIVE BEAST

With the Patrol, it seems, well… different. It is more like you will pay the Sh16 million, yes, but on condition that you will pay it in small currency: Sh20 coins probably; and this money will then be weighed and you will be given a vehicle equal in mass to your pile of copper guineas and silver doubloons… and the vehicle will be the Y62 Nissan Patrol. This is one heavy automobile.

The weight brings another issue to the fore: fuel consumption. A vehicle that comes within a hair of three tonnes is not going anywhere fast unless a powerful engine acts as palliator to the sheer heft. Grand Heft Auto, it should be called.

Nissan thought to introduce their very clever — and shamelessly Amero-centric — 5.6 litre petrol V8 engine here; an engine that delivers 560Nm of torque, a figure which means nothing to those of you who don’t understand torque, and more importantly, 298kW; or what is commonly referred to as 400 horsepower. You will need all 400 of these horsepowers, just you wait…

A 400hp engine pulling an aerodynamically fiendish, three-tonne breeze-block body has demands, chief among them being its drink. You will burn through fuel faster than the Exxon Valdez if you choose to fully exploit the underbonnet drays like I did scampering up an escarpment in third gear at 5000rpm — an insane but deeply satisfying exercise, if you ask me; more so if someone else is paying for the fuel.

Remember Heracles and Dionysus? He of Greek mythology who was challenged to a drinking contest and ended up swilling half a lake — literally half a lake — because the water levels dipped noticeably? But this is Greek mythology where women have snakes as weaves, so let’s not focus too much on the plausibility of it.

But the Nissan Patrol is Heracles. Its ability beggars belief, just like the size of Heracles’ ego in challenging a god to a drinking contest; but just like Heracles, even more impressive is the amount of liquid it can put away when pressed. The fuel gauge carved a neat discernible little arc over a distance of just 15 kilometers…. uphill.

There are those who will say “if you can afford a Patrol then money is no issue”. Of course it isn’t; anybody can see that. And the absence of a diesel option clearly shows that this car is not targeted at the more frugal driver.

This car is clearly meant for dune-bashing oligarchs of oil and highway-cruisin’ patrons of McDonalds: the Middle East and the US; where petrol is cheap, cars are huge and high-speed road accidents mean you will fare better if your transport module is one step removed from a battle tank in size and constitution.

The problem here is not the fuel consumption (which is obviously terrible); it is more a matter of convenience. How many times will you have to pull in at a petrol station to refill the tank?

CHROME EVERYWHERE 

The looks: The Patrol splits opinion in terms of appearance. This is a diplomatic way of saying that there are those who think it is an underwear model in military fatigues holding an RPG, while there are those who believe it is an effluent and overgrown hippo with an engine in its mouth (the eco-mentalist’s view of a three-ton SUV). Extreme views on both ends, these, and nobody seems to hold any middle ground… until I come along.

From some angles (the front) the Patrol looks the part. From some angles (rear three-quarters) it may come off a little ungainly. The expansive metalwork on the sides also makes it look undershod; and it seems a bit saggy around the rear axle. However, wash it clean, park it in front of an upmarket hotel’s lobby and it just might dazzle.

No, really, it might dazzle, especially if the sun is out; because of the amount of brightwork that the designers plopped onto it. There is chrome everywhere, in varying amounts. Witness it, for it is shiny.

As a critic of auto design, among other things, one of the rules is beware of too much chrome. It may be hiding something.

Evidence that the designer was not all there can be summed up thus: the corporate grille seems fine, unmistakable. The overall outline is proper SUV-ish, if just a little bit Toyota. The rear fascia seems rushed: the back panel looks a bit ghost-faced due to a striking lack of detail in it.

Ah, you say; but you see, simplicity is key to classiness.

True that, and it would be if the rest of the car had not been festooned with too many and oversized “details” such as the fake chrome vents on the front fenders (what are they for, Nissan?), chrome door handles, chrome window surrounds, chrome nose and grill (witness me!), the sculpted body work around the rear fenders, the pentagonal quarter windows aft of the C pillar… only for them to go for a plain back end dotted with small tail lamps. If you are going for the Korean theme of highly convoluted design language, then stick with it. The back end could have come off a panel van, for all we know.

SENATOR’S CONVOY

So why the infatuation?: The Nissan Patrol is easy to criticise, but that is right up to the moment you get in it, in the real world. The first time I drove one was two years ago, at a place called El Toro on the West Coast of the US; in a predetermined off-road course that just made me uncomfortable because

  1. a) it was left-hand drive,
  2. b) the course was laid out in such a way that you were actually forced to use some of the car’s features, such as the 360-degree camera — it is unnerving driving while staring at the centre console instead of through the windscreen, and c) the instructor had this belief that power-assisted steering does not exist outside of The Matrix, and therefore a thin waif-like auto-journo like me had no business grappling with the massive steering wheel of the Y62 and he would therefore intervene at the most inopportune of moments by grabbing the wheel and this almost resulted in “us” damaging the front offside tyre on a well-placed and dangerously jagged log of wood on a steep incline over which we were trying to manoeuvre.

I was painfully close to calling it a day, parking the vehicle on the muddy slope and sliding downhill on my skinny posterior to the 4.0 litre Navara that seemed more user-friendly and had a more accommodating, smiling (female) instructor. I didn’t like the Y62 much at that point.

But that was two years ago. This is now: in the real world, where I live. And I was liking the Patrol very much. From the back seat it is very spacious and quite comfortable even when packed seven-up, the AC works like a charm, whatever controls lie within reach are intuitive and easy to use — though the TV screens mounted on the front headrests can only be operated by 12-year-olds who have spent their lives around electronics and have probably never seen sunlight.

This could really work in a senator’s convoy. NVH is not totally contained, but it is not intrusive either; and with the radio off, one can hear the distant thunder that is the V8 rumble under power. I prefer the engine sound to the radio, because the radio is not so good, especially if you have experienced the 29-speaker setup in the Range Rover that costs twice as much as the Nissan.

OFF-ROAD TALENT 

Behind the wheel: Driving the Y62 is the fun part of it. For starters, you sit high up, but not so high as to feel like you are helming a semi truck. The vehicle is still tractable, you think. One cannot resist the urge to compare it to the Landcruiser VX, so I will.

The instrument cluster in the Nissan Patrol is large, clearly laid out and easy to read, while the VX “cluster-pack” (geddit?) seems a little squeezed. Score one for the Patrol. The steering wheel is huge and thin-rimmed, whereas the Landcruiser’s tiller is a trifle smaller and thick-rimmed. One point to the Toyota.

The Nissan has a larger greenhouse. Coupled to the elephant-ear side mirrors and the rear view camera, visibility is damn near excellent; not just for an SUV but for any car. The Landcruiser has smaller mirrors, less glasshouse and the model I drove from Toyota Kenya not only lacked a rear view camera, it had no screen in the centre console at all. Three points to the Patrol for this.

Driving the Y62 is the fun part of it. For starters, you sit high up, but not so high as to feel like you are helming a semi truck. PHOTO | COURTESY

The interior cockpit layout favours the Landcruiser though: the placement of some buttons in the Patrol seems like an afterthought, the presence of an LCD screen in the centre console does not mean it is a good one — this one needs time to be understood and the GUI (graphic user interface) could do with quite some improvement — the off-road setup buttons are a little strange and also require training for first-time drivers, and the gear lever seems borrowed from a car with a manual transmission. In fact, it is very similar to the stick used in the Nissan 370Z coupé that I also drove in California. The Patrol loses two points here.

Driving it is another matter though. Let us first look at the off-road talent. For some reason, and unlike the Landcruiser, the Patrol is NOT full-time 4WD. That means you have three settings to go through rather than just two, and that is before you start locking the diffs. In light of that, you can only lock the rear diff: the front one stays open while the centre one is a viscous coupling.

These do not detract too much from its off-road abilities though: clearance is good, grip is present but wheel spin may nab you unawares if you don’t know what you are doing, in which case good luck keeping those three tons from slithering downslope. In the US, the hill-descent control worked excellently, almost as well as the one in the Range Rover. In Naivasha… err…. things were a little different.

This is how HDC works (in almost all cars so equipped). Once engaged, the driver is only supposed to steer: feet off all pedals. The vehicle uses gyroscopes, traction control and EBD to determine where and how hard to apply the brakes. The steeper the slope, the harder the vehicle brakes itself, but it still maintains forward motion.  If you happen to touch either the accelerator or the brakes, the HDC is overridden and… I’d rather not think about it.

CODE BROWN!!

In California, the HDC worked like a charm. The slope I went down was so steep that even the short front overhang of the Y62 still did not prevent the front valance from scraping the ground at the bottom.

Having already done it, during the recent test drive in Naivasha’s Eburu Forest, I let my fellow test drivers have their turns in it and that’s when it almost went code brown (the soiling of pants). I sat at the back to watch proceedings. HDC on, brakes off, inch forward slowly, yes… yes… OK that’s a little too fast… that is REALLY TOO FAST… Hey…HEY! Oh sweet Lord, that is WAY too fast; are we even slowing down?… small beads of sweat started forming, glutius muscles were clenched, visions of three tonnes of bent metal swam before my eyes then there was a sudden surge and my shoulder strained against the seat belt and…. we were braking.

A little hard at first but we slowed down enough to a crawl as the driver carefully threaded his way down the slope. “The HDC works well” he said. I thought otherwise. I have used HDC many times before and this was the second time it almost brought bile to my mouth. Thank goodness I wasn’t driving.

(*Note: it turns out that Nissan’s HDC is actually quite excellent. The hair-raising moment was from our approach speed being a little on the higher side, but even then the HDC still managed to come in and faultlessly see the vehicle down the hill). Look out for the next instalment where we  exercise the 5.6 litre V8 on tarmac.

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Which is the fairest from the list of Rav4, XTrail, X3, Forester, CRV?

Hello Baraza,
I have previously owned a Toyota AE100 and 110. I now believe it is time for upgrade.

I am looking for a used car that won’t cost more than Sh2m. Though I mostly drive in urban areas, I won’t mind a four-wheel drive (4WD).

I am looking for stability, safety, comfort and manageable fuel cost. Help me make a decision on the following 2007/8 vehicles:

1. Toyota RAV 4: People say this vehicle is not very stable, though spacious.

2. Subaru Forester: I hear it is stable, safe but poor in fuel economy and in design. It is also associated with spoilt kids who are rude on the road. I am a family man and a professional. I wouldn’t like such a label. 

3. Xtrail: My mechanic tells me it is not stable and has a lot of electrical problems. 
4. Honda CRV: I am told it’s very comfortable, spacious, stable, but very poor in fuel economy.

5. BMW X3 (Diesel): I have not heard much about this one.

I would appreciate your objective advice to a confused brother. I suspect you might have previously responded to this kind of questions, but I do not seem to locate any from my library. 
Jack

Hello, Jack
So, in this list of yours, you want to pick a car that comes closest to your demands, right? Let us see…

Toyota RAV4: It is a bit spacious, yes, but it is not necessarily unstable. Those who allege it is so are the type of people who don’t seem to value the brake pedal, so they tend not to use it.

As a result, they take corners at full blast and end up in trouble. While it is not exactly a Jaguar stability-wise, the RAV4 is not a drunk, three-legged giraffe trying to lean on one side either.

Subaru Forester: Yes, it is stable, and yes, it is safe (as safe goes), but the fuel economy will depend on the specific model you opt for. The STi version is not your friend in this respect. The naturally aspirated 2.0 will not pinch any more than its rivals.

The association with spoilt kids is not a far cry, but it is not the Forester’s fault. More often than not, it will be the STi version being driven by a spoilt kid, and not the regular non-noisy naturally-aspirated Cross Sport spec.

But then again, most of these spoilt kids find their way into the Impreza WRX. The Forester STi is for the performance enthusiast, who also wants a bit of common sense in his life. Spoilt kids don’t fall into this category.

X-Trail: The stability issues raised were most likely brought up by those who survived crashing their RAV4s and never learnt from my comment above. It is not as unstable as described.

I have driven an unstable car before (a Land Cruiser Prado J120 5-door) and the X-Trail did not feel like it. The wonky electrics are a thing, though, especially in the automatic transmissions. This was a common problem in the first-generation X-Trail. I don’t know (yet) if it carries over to the 2007/8 car.

Honda CRV: Believe the hype until you reach the part where it says, “poor fuel economy”. Ignore this bit completely.

BMW X3: The choice of the discerning badge whore. No redeeming factors, considering it offers nothing more than the others except a BMW badge, and it costs a lot more. Avoid it if you are not a badge whore.

Safety: The Toyota gets 8.7, the Nissan gets 8.6, the Honda gets 8.8, the Subaru gets 8.1 and the BMW gets 8.4. Please note, these figures are the average scores based on expert and user reviews.

The users awarded the Honda and Subaru very high marks (9.2 apiece), but the experts got those users’ heads out of the clouds with a more worldly reflection not based on ownership and/or affection. The love Subaru owners have for their cars borders on the unnatural.

Comfort: It varies a little. The X3 looks promising but it doesn’t really deliver. The Honda is smooth, but it is not particularly special, nor are the RAV4 and the X-Trail.

Get something with wood and leather interior with all the trimmings available from the options list if you really want to split them on comfort. The Honda may win this, courtesy of its smoothness.

Fuel costs: Of course the diesel X3 wins this, hands down. The rest just flounder around the 9 km/litre mark, give or take, the giving or taking being heavily dependent on environment and style and load during driving. With the exception of the diesel X3, steer clear of anything with a Turbo under the bonnet.

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Hello Baraza,
I salute you for the wonderful insights you offer. I own a Toyota Caldina 2.0L, the latest model, and a full-time 4WD.

When I accelerate, I find the car really heavy, like an old Range rover 4.6 trying to hit a speed of 100 within five seconds. I find it so much slower than the 1.8 Toyota Wish and 1.5 Allion.

I was recently amazed to see how difficult it was to catch up with and overtake a Toyota Belta and Premio, which have smaller engine capacities.

I also find that the rmp indicator goes up to five for the car to swiftly overtake cars with lower engine capacity. My questions, thus, are as follows:

1. Why is it that some smaller engines can pick up speed fast enough to match bigger engines without much struggle (Caldina versus Belta/1.5 Premio)?

2. What indicators are there to check in a car if I want to know how fast it can pick up speed, e.g time it takes to hit a speed of 100km/hour?

3. Which car brands are best in picking up speed fast without revving too much and without screaming/sounding too heavy? Are Toyota’s comparable with Hondas or Nissan or Subaru on this one?

4. Which one is best among Caldina, Nissan Tienna, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, and Mazda Premacy in terms of acceleration, comfort, ease of handling, consumption, durability, and reliability on rough grounds?
Samson

Yours is a strange email, I will admit. Anyway, let us clarify something here: Have you heard an old Range Rover 4.6 (I guess this must be the P38A) try to clock 100 km/hour from rest in five seconds?

Of course it won’t make it, but that is what we call a full-bore standing start. From a 4.6 litre Rover V8 engine, it is raucous with it. If your Caldina sounds even remotely like that, you need to discard it.

Also, when you say at 5,000 rmp is when the “go” really comes in, that is not strange at all. It is called top-end power. Wait until you get to about 6,000 rpm then the VVT-i starts working.

Now to your questions: Smaller engines would “pick” faster than larger ones simply because they are generally found in smaller, lighter cars. So, they have less of a load to pull around.

However, I strongly suspect your Caldina is not in good working order if a Belta gets the better of it.

The indicators to check in a car to get a rough idea of how quickly it will get to 100 km/h include forced induction (turbochargers and superchargers) and engine capacity (bigger engines make cars go faster).

However, these are only for rough guesstimates and speculative comparisons. They are not scientific. To get the exact idea of how long a car will take from 0 – 100 km/h, you need the car in question and a bystander with a stopwatch.
The cars that pull hardest with the least amount of noise are of course German, especially the high end models – Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, more so the luxury barges, the S Class, 7 Series and A8, fitted with V8, V12 or W12 (Audi) engines of roughly 5.0 – 6.0 litres.

They will pull like nobody’s business and you won’t even hear them do it. You could throw the Lexus LS460 in there too. It is a taciturn one, this one…

Clearly Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas do not play in this league. A Toyota Corolla will cost what, about Sh3 million or less, brand new. The new S Class Mercedes starts at Sh18 million, and prices go up from there. We are comparing apples to dry leaves here.

Your final question is the least sensible, to be honest. First, you need to specify which model you refer to. Cars like the Subaru Legacy start from the 160hp 1.8 litre naturally aspirated version to the 2.0 turbo STi with almost 300hp (almost twice the power of its stablemate).

Clearly, they won’t “pick” in the same manner. So the Legacy Turbo accelerates hardest, the Teana is most comfortable. Handling is a wrangle between the Honda Accord and the Legacy.

Consumption goes to the Accord (again) as does reliability with which it ties with the Caldina. Durability will depend on how many times you hold these “picking” competitions of yours.

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Greetings JM,

1. On June 16, there was a feature in the DN2, about a man who had driven all the way from Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro. I hope you read it. One word for the man: Respect. Two words for the Toyota Land Cruiser 1997 VX: Enough respect.

Toyota Land Cruisers just do not give up, do they? They are the real giants on the roads; 42,000kms is some serious mileage.Anyway, methinks a Land Rover Defender 110 TDI, the older version, would have done an equally fantastic job.

The new ones with JLR engines have too many electronic controls. I don’t think they were meant to handle seriously tough conditions, but I stand to be corrected.

Also, any Toyota Land Cruiser of the J70 series, preferably a 4.5 litre V8 turbo-diesel, would have been just fine. Could I be wrong? The real giants are really few, and at this juncture, I just ran out of them.

2. There is this 2005 Toyota Prado with a D-4D engine type on automatic transmission. It put us through some really hard time last year.

Apparently, it had a problem with the gearbox, which made its diaphragm (separates the engine from the gearbox) develop serious problems. Eventually, the diaphragm had to be replaced.

It was so hectic, bearing in mind that it was just three months after the vehicle had been purchased. Not even our good old friends at Toyota Kenya could come close to deciphering the problem, let alone find the solution.

Could it have been the gearbox oil level that had gone below minimum and causing all the problem, or was that a manufacturing defect? It was the first time I encountered sucha thing.

3. I wonder, how is the high-pressure direct injection, which I see in Peugeots, different from the VVT-i, EFi or the D-4?
RM

Hello,
1. No, I didn’t see that feature. Despite the fact that I write in DN2, I am not really a fan of newspapers. That was quite a feat the Land Cruiser-driving man achieved.

A small correction though: he didn’t drive “all the way”, did he? There are oceans (or at least one) between here and Rio.

About the Land Rover. The bad reputation surrounding their poor reliability did not start with the latest electronically empowered versions. The old cars are to blame, particularly the early diesel versions. They were terrible.

They did not accelerate at all, they sounded like three extra-hardened tortoise shells being shaken vigorously inside a metallic dustbin. Their cabins were structurally unsound to the point that they let the weather in.

If the said weather was inclement, they rusted rapidly and broke down even more rapidly. Their ruggedness was their one redeeming quality.

Doing 42,000km in one would be a condemnation, not an adventure; but this would of course mean you really complete the 42,000km in the first place.

The petrol engines were a much better option, and I guess these would be the more appropriate choice. Then again, you could always get a Land Cruiser and do the trip worry-free.

The new versions have a lot of electronics, but it’s not the electronics taking the abuse of harsh terrain, is it? It’s the tyres and suspension (and sometimes the bodywork too).

These electronics just make life more bearable in them. Trust me, the new Defenders are just as capable (if not more) than the “Landys” of yore.

2. Diaphragm? Are you talking about the clutch/torque converter by any chance? I cannot tell for sure what would have led to these problems.

3. This is, or rather, these are topics I have covered in detail before. Explaining them calls for a 3,000-word essay, defining and detailing why and how each is completely different from the others.

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Any car can ferry president round a 400-metre track

Dear Baraza,
The President has conspicuously changed the ceremonial vehicle from the traditional Land Rover to the Toyota Land Cruiser VX.

Apart from the bullet-proof glass, how do the two vehicles compare for such a noble task, or was the president literally driving home a turn-East point? –King’ori Wangechi.

Hello Sir,
I believe His Excellency El Jefe’s choice of vehicle lies outside my circle of consideration and influence. Nothing I say will make him or whoever chooses his cars change their minds.

That said, I would have done a real-world comparison of the two, but your inquiry says, “for such a noble task”, the noble task in question being carrying several men — including but not limited to El Presidenté himself — for one or two laps of a sports stadium two or three times a year, for a distance of 400m per lap.

Any car could do it, provided it has the coat of arms on the door, those ceremonial red-carpeted steps and the roof chopped off. I don’t know why the Land Cruiser replaced the Land Rover.

Point of correction: the Land Cruiser in question is a 70 Series pick-up, Landcruiser 79, it is called, the kind policemen use, and not a VX. The only Land Cruisers with a VX spec level are the daddy (80, 100 and 200 series) and the Prado (J120 and J150).

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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in either a BMW 318i or Mercedes Benz 190E, both manufactured in the late 1990s, naturally aspirated and non-carburettor. Could you compare the two and give advice on which would be the better buy? I also heard that the 190E has no airbags, is it true?–Ibrah

Hello,
Too bad for you: there is no such thing as a Mercedes 190E manufactured in the late 1990s. The W201 went out of production in 1993. So maybe you meant the late ’80s?

A BMW 318 of similar vintage is the E30 model, the last 3 Series to sport two distinct round headlamps. A 318 made in the late ’90s would be either one of the last models of the E36 generation or the early E46s.

Since the E46 went on sale in 1999, we will consider the E36 instead as the “late ’90s 318i”, the so-called “dolphin shape”. There was a 318 as well as a 318is.

The 318i featured a SOHC 1.8-litre, 8-valve engine developing 113hp and good for 208 km/h. The 318is had a DOHC 16-valve 140hp engine that wound the E36 up to 215 km/h.

It also featured BMW’s Vanos variable valve timing system. The wheelbase for all four-door models was 2700mm, beating the 190E’s 2664mm (good for interior space, this wheelbase superiority). This model had a Z axle multilink rear suspension.

The 190E had engines ranging from a 90hp 8-valve 1.8 litre to a 2.6L 140hp 24-valve. There was also the 2.3 litre Cosworth, developing 185hp from a 16-valve head with DOHC.

It was capable of 230 km/h, the “slowest sports saloon” ever made. It also featured a dog-leg 1st gear in the manual transmission, with reverse gear north of 1st, and 1st gear down and to the left.

This was cause for confusion for inattentive drivers, and potentially risky in stop-start driving. 190Es featured a patented 5-link rear suspension set-up.

A more appropriate 3 Series rival for the 190E vintage-wise would be the E30, but this car was far much smaller — 2570mm wheelbase — and had “dangerous” handling, with a knack for oversteering. The cure?

Increase rear-end grip by driving around with a slab of concrete or some bags of cement in the boot. The 318i had the same 1766cc M10 engine as the 316, but while the 316 featured carburettors, the 318 used fuel injection, bringing power to 105hp (later increased to 114hp). The best 318i was the early ‘90s model, with a 16-valve DOHC M42 1.8.

The 190E did have airbags, as well as ABS and seat-belt pretensioners, though I believe these were the last models before the switch to the first generation C Class. A £600 million (Sh90 bn) budget in 1982 meant the car was over-engineered to the point where it simply refuses to die.

Of the three, clearly the E36 Dolphin 318is is the best of the lot. It has the longest wheelbase (more interior space), it is the most modern of the lot and while the 190E 2.3 Cosworth looks attractive from a driver’s perspective, you are unlikely to find one on sale.

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Hallo JM,
I need your very valuable view on a purchase I want to make. I want to buy either a 2.0 FSI VW Passat or a 2.0 FSI VW Jetta.

Both seem to have the same engine and apart from body size, seem pretty much the same. Which would you choose? Which is the better import, an ex-Japan or ex-UK, all other variables being constant, in terms of reliability, durability and maintenance?

Please give your feedback as soon as you can since I have already started the import process. Thank you very much for your valuable articles and, like many Kenyans, I find them handy, understandable, valuable and they come at a small cost.–Fan Philip.

I’d go for the Passat since it is the bigger car, so it has to be roomier inside. It ranks higher in the Volkswagen saloon car hierarchy, so more likely than not, it will have more features as standard than the Jetta.

The Jetta, from what I observe on the road, seems to be the forte of career women still on the rise — accomplished career women drive BMW X6s, trust me — or single moms.

I’m not judging, but I’m not a single mother. I’m not even a mother. So I’d choose the Passat.

There is no difference whether you import from Japan or England… actually there is: the instruments in the Asian cars will be in metric units (km/h) while the English versions will be in imperial units (mph).

Speaking of English, ex-Japanese cars will come with those hieroglyphics that are impossible to learn if you are not Japanese to start with, festooning the operating manual, TV/DVD/Infotainment screen where available and safety warnings — those yellow stickers with exclamation marks found under the bonnet and on door frames.

Reliability, durability and maintenance is the same, since it is exactly the same vehicle; it just came from a different port.

So you have started the import process. How? What exactly are you importing? You haven’t seen my response yet (if it matters), until now.

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Hi Baraza,
I drive a BMW E46 year 2002, and since January last year, I have been having one issue after another. At this rate, I wish I had just bought a new engine.

The latest issue has been a check engine light that comes on. At first, the diagnostics machine indicated that the oxygen sensor was faulty, so I replaced it.

Immediately thereafter, the light came back on, and I took it back to the mechanic, who said the oxygen sensor was not the issue; it was the airflow sensor, which was even more expensive.

After replacing it ( I bought an original part from a reputable company), I had hardly gone three kilometres when the check engine light came on again.

I am yet to go back to the mechanic because now I feel that either these diagnostic machines are faulty (having used the one at the place I bought the airflow sensor as well as the one at the mechanic’s), or there could be another reason for this.

I am now very frustrated but on driving the car I don’t feel the issues that were there, such as the car losing power, or having a hard start during the day, etc.

I feel like the mechanics are now playing trisex with the car since whatever they are replacing is not solving the problem indicated by the check engine light.–JN

Which mechanics are these who are “now playing ‘trisex’” (what on earth is that?) with your car? Rarely do diagnostic machines get things wrong. It may be that your E46 does have a variety of engine problems, though this is atypical of E46 BMWs.

The first time you got a CEL (check engine light), the problem was the oxygen sensor. The second CEL was for the MAF sensor (after the lambda sensors were replaced), which means that the lambda sensor problem had been cured.

Now you have a third CEL which you are scared to dig into. I understand your fears. Go for the diagnosis. But, go to Bavaria Motors.

They handle anything with a BMW logo or BMW parts in it. The former general manager (a good friend of mine) told me they will even fix New Age Rolls Royce cars because they are BMW derivatives.

An E46, whether locally sold or imported, is welcome there and trust me, you will come out relieved (and maybe relieved of your money also, but hey, we are talking BMWs here).

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Dear Baraza,
Thank you for the useful tips you give in your column. My car, a 2000 Toyota Carib, was hit from behind and the damage repaired at a garage approved by my insurer.

However, since then the car produces all sorts of noises, most notably when turning at a junction or roundabout. What could be the problem?

Could the garage have tampered with something? Please note that after the accident, I drove the car for two days and it was okay — until I took it to the garage for the rear door to be replaced.–Joan

Could you be a bit more specific about the “all sorts of noises”? They could be creaks and squeaks, clangs and bangs and pops, hisses, whistles — anything.

Also, can you localise those noises? Are they coming from the suspension? The rear hatch? Inside the car? Underneath? The exhaust maybe?

They are most likely related to the original accident you had. Since you say your car gets noisy at junctions or roundabouts, it could be having problems with bent/warped/distorted suspension elements, or even the body itself towards the back, to the extent that maybe the new door doesn’t fit properly or isn’t aligned properly with the rest of the car, so when the car turns and there is a bit of flex (not unusual), the result is, well, a noise.

Where was the damage localised after the impact? What kinds of repair techniques were applied? Have you tried letting your insurance company know that “their” garage’s efforts are not up to scratch?

—————————————

Dear Baraza,
I have been admiring the old school Mercedes Benz, mostly the 200 series, for a long time. I want to sell my Toyota Noah Townace and buy an old Benz and pimp it up a bit. What I am afraid of is buying one that will have mechanical problems or consume a lot of fuel. Kindly advise.

Go ahead and buy the Benz… but take a reliable mechanic friend with you when making the purchase. Alternatively, engage the services of the AA. It is invaluable. They will let you know whether or not you are buying a white elephant.

Posted on

Automatic diffs, wipers, transmissions… boy, aren’t we all getting lazy!

Hi JM,

Could you please explain to us this small mystery… Many versatile 4x4s like the (police) Landcruisers have free-spinning front hubs which you must physically get out into the mud to lock before engaging four-wheel drive.

This free-wheeling, we were told long ago, enhances fuel consumption on tarmac by reducing drag on the front diff. But how come SUVs do not have this feature and one can engage various 4×4 modes from the comfort of one’s leather seat?

Maddo, “Car Clinic fan”

Greetings, cartoonist,

It has been a while since I heard from you. The first part of your query is true: Front-axle free-wheeling does save on consumption by reducing drag and/or rolling resistance occasioned by heavy transmission. It also makes the car easier to turn and reduces wear on the running gear during these turning manoeuvres.

The reason modern (and expensive) SUVs do not have this feature is convenience. In an era where you can get massaged by your own car, doors unlock themselves, wipers activate themselves, as do headlamps and tailgates when needed, the cost of cars shoot skywards.

Premium brands such as the Landcruiser VX and the Range Rover in all its three forms are bought by individuals who live a pampered life and do off-roading out of boredom or curiosity rather than necessity.

When this highly pampered person gets mired in the clag during his weekend adventures, he will not ruin his expensive shoes wallowing through swamp mud to engage the hub locks on his highly engineered front axle. Why go through all that and yet you could just press a button on the dashboard and the car will think things out for you…

I know this is a motoring column, but please allow me to do a bit of social commentary. Society is getting lazier and more reliant on assistance from machines. This explains the imminent death of manual transmission, the existence of smart phones, and the proliferation of the internet.

You could choose to cut costs as a manufacturer and do a basic vehicle like the police Landcruisers, then sell them cheaply. Cheap always sells… well, almost.

But your competitor will add conveniences to his car and sell it at a slightly higher price. Humanity will pay that little bit extra if it makes life easier. That also explains why manual winding windows are nearly extinct. To stay competitive, you have to shape up by adding even more convenience. This is also why power-steering systems are now standard. You can see where this is going.

Even if you do not live a highly pampered life and you do drive in bad conditions as a necessity, which would you rather have? A car that necessitates you stepping out into the rain and sinking knee-deep in malodorous quagmire to turn knobs on the front axle or one where you simply press a button, unseen mechanicals mesh and mate quietly beneath you, and suddenly your mode of transport acquires the surefootedness of a mountain goat escaping a determined predator?

Convenience by automation due to market — and social — pressure. That is the answer to your question.

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

Dr Magari,

I was reading your article on 26 March, 2014, and you described your Mazda Demio as quite the car. Personally, I have always thought it is like a pitbull; tiny but will chomp your behind off without you even realising it, hence my love for it. As a professional “job-seeker”, I love to dream of the time I will get mine before moving on up to STi’s then M5s. So, on to my questions,

1) Did your Demio (I would like to know the year and make) come stock as you described it or did you mod it slightly?

2) How would you compare similar cars in its class in terms of performance and availability in our market?

3) Totally unrelated: What do you think of setting up a drag strip à la Kiambu Ring locally… possible locations? Cost? Licences? Appeal?
Jake

Hi,

1. The car is dead stock. The only mod it has is me behind the wheel. All that I described, namely the alloy rims, body kit, spoiler… It is all factory-spec. However, this will not stop me from experimenting with it once the money comes right…

2. Well, the Demio is a bit revvy: 3000 rpm in 5th at 100 km/h. Compare this to the automatic iST, which is essentially ticking over at slightly below 2,500 rpm at roughly the same speed.

It has very good torque too; I sometimes get wheelspin in second gear, or even third, when the road is wet — the key word here is sometimes. This is a Mazda, not a Corvette. It is pretty quick too, for a 1300; I have wound it up to the giddy side of 175 km/h but I will not say where and when lest a keen traffic officer lay a trap for me. This is not saying much since a lot of hatchbacks/superminis nowadays will do 180, but I doubt they will get there as quickly as the Demio Sport (with a manual gearbox) does, more so if they, too, are of 1300cc engine capacity.

Availability: There are very many Demios around, and this includes the Sport version, the likes of which I now drive. Getting one with a manual gearbox, however, calls for real connoisseurship and keenness in searching. You might have to do a DIY import if you are very particular. There is also the “new shape”coming soon (where soon is in a few years’ time) as a used car.

It looks too much like the current effeminate Vitz and might not be available with a manual transmission, so grab this model while you still can. Similar cars would be maybe the Vitz RS (sprightly and unsightly) or a Mitsubishi Colt at a stretch.

3. I think that is a good idea. A very good one. Given the kind of driving mettle I have seen among Kenyans when taking corners, they are better off going in a straight line. The major reason we have only one vehicle on the road at a time during “Kiamburing” is that not everybody knows what to do when you get to a turn and either a) there is a slowpoke in front of you or b) You are the slowpoke and The Paji is tailgating you, looking to pass.

There is such a thing as track decorum and a) we do not have the time to teach it to everybody and b) some people will ignore it anyway. The result would be disastrous and expensive.

So, one person at a time. That way, if you also crash, you will be on your own; you will not take someone out with you. With a drag strip, we could have two, or maybe even three, cars facing off at the same time with no risk of an unplanned coming together.

The tension quotient goes up, along with entertainment value, participant rivalry, and emotions, which should make for good entertainment for those watching. If you know of a disused airstrip with a serviceable tarmac runway, by all means let us know; it would be a good place to start…

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

Hi Baraza,

I am an addict (yes, addict) of your Wednesday articles in the Daily Nation. I have been going through them for a very long time now and I have also filed the pages and really appreciate your work.

Now, I got employed two years ago by a private company in Nairobi. My boss says it is time I got myself a car because of the nature of my work and the hurdles I go through trying to use our limited company transport.

My company pays out mileage at the rate of Sh40/km. I have about Sh 1 million in savings and would like to get a car I love: The BMW 318i or 320i. I know I can get either of these second-hand at about Sh800,000.

However, my concern is that most people I talk to are talking me off getting this machine. I know I am a very careful driver and I love my electronics/machines. I have kept my Nintendo game in working condition to date.

Kindly advise on the merits and demerits of this car, including fuel consumption and servicing and overall maintenance cost.

Omega

Hi Omega,

How old is that Nintendo game of yours? You might maintain a gaming console for a long time, but maintaining a car is a different kettle of fish. The principles are the same but execution is different: House-bound electronics do not drive through puddles or over bumps or on dusty roads or get filled with fuel of indeterminate provenance. There is a lot to watch out for when maintaining a car.

So, merits and demerits. The merits are: BMWs make good driver’s cars, so you will enjoy driving it. The 318 and/or 320 have relatively small engines, so fuel economy will not scare you.

But again, these engines are highly developed with enough under-bonnet boffinry to make them quick enough when the situation demands it. Comfort is at a high level, as are NVH, handling, braking, looks and, do not forget: This is a German marque that comes with its own thick shroud of street-cred.

The demerits are this is a high-end German marque, so expect high-end German invoices when the undesirable happens. Repairs will be costly, as will be parts. This is particularly worrisome, because a Sh800,000 3 Series will more likely than not be in a less-than-factory condition.

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

Hi,

I will not start by paying you compliments like other readers. I am not a fan of soaps. All these questions your readers ask about fuel economy, availability of spares, maintenance cost, and so on really suck the life out of your column.

For the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the DN2 (the one about the Hiace vs the Caravan), and could not finish it.

It was (and I can hardly believe this), boring! I remember back when it was called Behind The Wheel, you used to preach how it was not about spare part availability or fuel economy, but rather, about the driving feel and pleasure you get behind the wheel (see what I did there? ) How hard it is to wipe that grin off your face when you shift down, give it the beans, and feel like The Stig… on heat.

I used to live vicariously through your experiences you know, because I did not, and still do not, own a car. Now it is just gone.

Allan

Well, well, well! We cannot allow this to happen now, can we? You actually did not finish reading that piece? It must have been really bad.

I know all the questions about spares, economy, and maintenance get really old really fast, but it is not entirely my doing. The reading culture is almost dead: The longest articles young people read nowadays are Facebook posts by celebrities who are not celebrities.

Nobody appreciates the entertainment value of witty wordplay anymore, so all my attempts at humour, alliteration, consonance, metaphors, and hyperbole blow ineffectively past their eyes and ears like the Harmattan would a covered Fulani tribesman’s head. Worse still is when some people take things literally or out of context – “…the silly Prius…” on April 9 actually drew an emotional response from quite a number of people, one of whom wrote, “How can a car be silly? Then tell me of a clever car…” This is what I have to deal with every week.

Demand: This is what drives Car Clinic, not the quality of writing or whatever obscure motoring facts I might have hidden away in the dark corners of my mind. I could do a proper article then along comes someone saying “We are not interested in your personal adventures, fool, we want to read about spares and economy and maintenance.”

Good examples are my experience on a go-kart, the Old Evolution vs New Impreza showdown, and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue review. Intellectual discourse, along with the appreciation of an intricately woven word scarf, is also dead, which is why I rarely discuss industry matters any more. Nobody is interested. What is a man to do? Man must live. If I do not do it, someone else will.

I, too, am getting sick and tired of comparing Foresters to RAV4s, CRVs and X-Trails week in, week out. I have answered this particular question in one form or other more than 10 times now, it is as if people do not read what I write and keep asking the same questions over and over again.

The advice I give, however questionable it may seem at times, is free (for now), but this does not make Car Clinic an avenue of convenience or a personalised service. Some people need to learn that.

However, all is not lost. I am still active in the road test world; all I have to do is find other outlets for my lengthy writings. And find them I will.

Posted on

A Subaru should not turn you into a revving idiot

Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the informative articles on motoring. I would like you to clarify something about Subarus.

Are they the strongest and most powerful cars around?

I am saying this because all the people I have come across driving Subarus are big-headed and arrogant on the road.

They go to the extreme of blocking your way when you want to overtake them, hardly give way, and they overtake at corners.

———————————–

No, Subarus are neither the strongest nor the most powerful vehicles around. They are not even the fastest.

These cars are fast earning a reputation for being the wheels of choice of indisciplined sociopaths, a rather sad state of affairs because the cars are quite good.

Buying one now, especially an STi (WRX or Forester, huge spoilers and massive exhaust in place) has become a social no-no; the law will watch you a bit more keenly and ladies will avoid you, suspecting that you are not as mature as you might look. Unfortunate.

But, no, Subarus do not turn you into an idiot.

Last Friday, I took one to Narok and back (Legacy saloon, black, two-litre, non-turbo) and, while the temptation to bounce off the limiter at 180 km/h was quite strong, I do not recall feeling the urge to privatise the road and inconvenience other users.

If anything, I remember being quite courteous, yielding more than I normally would.

————————————-

Hi Baraza,

I own a Subaru Impreza. Everything about it is okay but I am concerned because when I start the engine, the car smokes for about five seconds after which the smoke disappears.

I service the car regularly after every 2,500 km, so what might be the problem?

—————————————

Five seconds you say? Hmmm! ’Does not sound too bad, but all the same a car should never smoke.

What colour is the smoke? Blue means you are burning oil, in which case the valve seals may be leaking.

White smoke means you are burning coolant, so the head gasket may be leaking.

It could also mean you are burning ATF if your car is an automatic, so check the transmission seals for integrity.

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JM,

We have a 2003 Nissan X-Trail and I am not comfortable with how the fuel gauge rapidly falls even when the vehicle is in 2WD mode.

We replaced the fuel filter and it is still bad compared to a normal Nissan X-Trail.

The mechanic checked and saw that the bonding record of the fuel gauge was up, not down, as it was supposed to be.

I request you to enlighten and advise me on what I am supposed to do.

1. Do I request the mechanic to kindly re-check it and try to correct it?

2. If not to re-check it, what could be the problem?

3. In your view, what should be done to correct the problem?

Thomas

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1. Yes, request the mechanic to have another look at it. Not necessarily kindly, unless you want him to do it for free, in which case, yes, request kindly.

2. The problem was identified: you said the issue was the irregular movements of the fuel gauge and you found an anomaly in the equipment, so through syllogism, it follows that the equipment is the harbinger of chaos on your dashboard.

3. Repair. Replacement. Anything that will get it working well again.

————————————

Hi JM,

I have owned a Nissan B15 for the past 11 months. Recently, it started to produce a strange sound from the engine.

My mechanic told me it has a slow knock and we bought motor honey for it.

What are the signs of a knocking engine and what measures should one take to prevent this?

Nyagah

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Motor honey? Anyway, signs of a knocking engine: first the oil warning light will come on, which means you should top up the oil (honey?) shortly.

It might go off and on a few times, or it might stay permanently on if you do not top up.

Depending on how hard, how far, and where you are driving, sooner or later a slight rattle will emanate from around the cylinder head area whenever the throttle is opened (off throttle, everything sounds OK).

If you can hear the rattle, then it is too late, you have suffered an engine knock.

To prevent an engine knock, always have the right amount of oil flowing through the engine.

Regular checks, especially before and after long/hard driving should be done to determine whether an oil change is due.

And always change the oil after wading through sump-deep water.

————————————-

Hi,

I would like to buy a 2002 Peugeot 406, 1800cc. How would you rate this car and are its spares readily available?

Where can you service this vehicle in case you have it?

————————————-

This calls for a bit of research because I am not sure if Marshalls turned over all things Peugeot to Urasia, or if they still have stocks of old model Peugeot parts.

What I know is they are there. If these two do not have them, then good ol’ Grogan Road will.

I have found spares for my old 405 there on numerous occasions (and that silly thing is now 24 years old).

I rate the 406 very, very highly, and would buy one too once the money comes right. Servicing can be done at any garage of repute.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Corolla NZE, which is a full-time 4WD. Please advise me on consumption as compared to a 2WD.

Secondly, someone told me that the gearbox for this kind of vehicle is difficult to repair in case need arises, that it is difficult to even transform from manual to automatic.

Please help me understand this.

————————————–

Consumption is just a touch higher in the 4WD, but you will never notice under ordinary driving conditions.

And yes, the transmission will be a swine to fix once broken because the marriage of the primary gearbox and secondary transfer case makes for an elaborate mechanical maze.

However, I am not so sure about the swap. It is usually easy in other cars, but I cannot declare anything yet until I study the schematics of the NZE powertrain.

—————————————-

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Trueno and want to upgrade the carburettor engine to EFI.

It has a 1428cc 3A engine and I feel that the consumption is a little bit on the higher side (currently doing 10 kpl) so I want a more fuel efficient engine.

Should I replace it with a 6A or 5A Toyota engine? Which EFI engine is compatible with a 3A carburettor engine?

If I maintain the same carburettor power unit, how do I make it more fuel efficient?

—————————————–

The 5A is a better unit and you have a choice of two: the 5A-FE, for really good economy, or the 5A-FHE, which offers the economy but is tuned for a more aggressive output and better performance.

In order to maximise economy on a carburettor engine, the first thing you need to do is drive slower.

Then make sure the choke is in the correct position. If you want to get technical, you can fit smaller carburettors.

If you want to get really technical, you can swap the entire cylinder head for one of Honda’s CVCC heads, if you can find one, that is (this is technology from 1975, but it works like magic).

The CVCC engines have two-stage cylinder heads and two-channel carburettors.

One channel from the carburettor feeds a rich mixture into the upper combustion chamber, in which the spark plug is located, for easy combustion.

The other channel feeds a lean mixture into the lower combustion chamber, and the ignition heat from the rich mixture burning lights up the lean mixture, so the plugs do not have to be strained trying to ignite the lean mixture.

The result is almost 18 kpl from a 1.5 litre carburettor engine. Neat.

—————————————

Hi,

I am a part-time university student who is thinking of buying my first car.

I really admire the Land Rover 110 but know how costly they are. Recently, I found used ones that go for around Sh500,000.

Should I go for one and slowly change its looks by going for bodyworks and other stuff or should I purchase a different car that you would recommend, based on fuel consumption, maintenance, and resale value?

Griff

—————————————–

Griff, what do you want, or expect, from the Defender?

I also crave one too, just so you know, but fuel consumption and resale value are primary considerations for me, more so given that my heart is set on the petrol-powered V8 (it has a fearsome thirst, not even a loan from HELB could get you substantial mileage).

The diesel engines are a bit so-so. Anything pre-1999 is going to introduce you to the diametric opposite of a Lexus in terms of smoothness. And acceleration.

The petrol variants, on the other hand, will help clear your HELB loan faster than a feminist female classmate on a revenge mission against men.

There is a five-cylinder model that came out at the turn of the Millennium that might please you.

Turbocharged and intercooled, the 2.5-litre diesel can manage up to 11 kpl (avoid Thika Road at rush hour, if you catch my drift) and it can propel the Defender up to 140 km/h, at which point the laws of physics and nature take over to remind you that your car is not the last word in aerodynamics.

Maintenance sessions should fall within the “manageable” classification; not necessarily cheap, but thankfully far between, and the body construction of the Defender means prangs are easily cured by replacing the low-cost body panels rather than going for a hit-or-miss panel beating and/or repaint.

The addenda will cost you, though, especially those knobbly tyres. The exact costs will depend on what you want to add and what shop you buy it from.

—————————————-

Hi Baraza,

I intend to replace my Toyota Mark 2 (XJ100) 2000 model with a Mercedes S class W140, but my wife will hear none of it, saying Mercs are expensive to maintain.

But I know that Merc owners see garages less often than their Japanese vehicles counterparts, thus more savings in the long run.

Is there anything you can say to help me convince her?

Marto

———————————–

Yes, there is something I can add. It is a sad day when a woman chooses a Toyota over a Benz.

Suddenly, there is no need for us men to work hard any more if buying a Mercedes rather than a Toyota makes no difference to a woman — the woman we are trying to get on the good side of — or worse yet, she goes for the underdog Toyota. What gives?

———————————–

Hi Baraza,

I work in the automotive industry and regularly read your column. I wonder if your responses are based on facts.

You could be de-marketing some models, you know.

Nyambura Njuguna

————————————-

“De-marketing some models”? Mine is not to promote vehicle models, or demote them for that matter. I just answer questions.

And I should take exception to the fact that you suspect my responses are the product of pure conjecture or guesswork.

But I am good like that, so I will not.

The various franchises and dealerships/outlets have their respective PR and marketing departments, so I will not do their work for them.

I gain nothing by marketing one make of car over another without good reason to, or without supporting evidence; much in the same way I gain nothing by “de-marketing” others.

If the advice I dole out happens to hurt one brand over another, I am sorry, but that is from my various observations.

It is thus up to the respective PR/marketing firm/department of that company to do some damage control, and that does NOT include saying “Baraza JM (not Jim, by the way, as some people insist on calling me) knows not what he speaks”.

Please go over my answers again, carefully. You will notice that I answer questions according to how I am asked.

If a reader asks what the fuel consumption of a Cadillac Escalade is and I tell him “very poor”, it is because the Escalade is heavy on petrol: 4kpl is pretty whack, even for a lorry, and the Escalade WILL do 4kpl.

If a reader asks me what I prefer between a Land Cruiser and a Ranger pickup, I say Ranger pickup because I ACTUALLY prefer it to the Land Cruiser (but not to the Navara, incidentally).

If I do not know the answer to a question, I will confess my ignorance, as was the case over the Audi franchise holder.

What I know about are the horrors of posting untruths in a national newspaper: it is safer to say I do not know rather than publish nonsense for which I will take the flak, and what for?

As regards mechanical difficulties, mine is a consultation service, for which I charge my readers no fee; what I offer them is guidance or a starting point for them to solve their problems.

It may or may not work, but I am proud to say it mostly works.

Long story short, the answer to your query is yes, there is research behind my answers. And a personal touch too; I am human, after all.

And if you think I “de-market” cars, go watch a programme called Top Gear, you will thank me for how polite I am.

Posted on

I insist, the Verossa looks horrible

Hi Baraza,
I have owned a Toyota Verossa for the past two years and I am aware that you included it in your list of most ugly cars, and that one of your readers requested guidance on whether to go for a Verossa or a Premio (DN2 Dec, 7).

Surely, looks should not be the only yardstick when judging a car’s performance. My opinion of the Verossa is that it handles well, is spacious, and spare parts are easily available, same as with Mark II.

Being a V6, it is a good alternative in handling, comfort, power, cost of running, and spare parts availability when compared to either a BMW or a Mercedes Benz.

In as much as I enjoy your column, which is quite educative, please be objective on all fronts, not just on the looks of a car.

Keep up the good work!

Jack.

Jack, tell me why I would walk past a Mark II, a Mark X, and a Crown (all Toyotas), a Diamante (Mitsubishi) ,and a Skyline (Nissan) just so I can place my hard-earned money into another man’s hands and relieve him of a Verossa.

All these cars cost more or less the same, and in the case of the Toyotas, they share plenty of parts, seeing as how they are almost all the same thing underneath — the Mark X is a spiritual successor of the Mark II.

When I spend my money, it has to be worth it. Why buy a car that you cannot gaze at for longer than five minutes before nausea makes its presence felt?

I am sorry, Sir, but in car reviews, looks do play a part. They are not the biggest thing, but in some cases they are the deciding factor for two or more very similar cars. Verossa, Mark II, Crown? I would go for the Crown any time.

Objectivity comes into question under brand loyalties (a colleague would die for a Mercedes and thinks all other cars are crap) rather than looks.

Some cars are downright beautiful (Mark X), some split opinions (BMW X6), while we can all quietly agree that some (Verossa, Will) are the reason women leave their husbands, children play truant, and dogs bite the hands that feed them. Yes, they are that ugly.

—————

Dear Baraza,

I am keen to delimit my Forester Turbo S/TB (please do not lecture me on the dangers or law issues). It currently does slightly above 180 kph.

I have done my research and asked around and have been presented with three options: buy a gadget called a speed limit defencer that is connected to the ECU (it supposedly overrides the limiter) but I will not know how fast I am going as the speedo will just keep rotating, “fool” a sensor at the back of the speedometer (the downside being that the check engine light will probably appear and again I will not know how fast I am moving, and, last, buy a speed dial that reads more than 180, probably from the UK. I am for the first or last option.

My question is, will installing a dial that reads more than 180 actually work? I have always thought it is a bit more complicated than that. I thought the speed limit is programmed in the ECU, hence the need to remap.

Hilary.

The third option will not work, for the reasons you suspect. Combine either option one or two with three to know what your exact speed is when past 180.

But the ECU could be reprogrammed or even replaced instead of employing “fools” and “defencers” to circumvent the electronic nanny.

There is a company called Ganatra that deals in ECUs, among other things, like combining a Platz, a Landcruiser VX, and a supercharger into a 450hp Mendelian road-going progeny that inherits all its parents’ phenotypes.

—————

Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes Benz-124 series 200E. What is the difference with the E200? I have heard talk that the latter is superior.

Nick.

There is no clearer way of putting this, so let me speak Japanese. In Japan, cars like the Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 240 SX have “Kouki” models and “Zenki” models.

Zenki models are the ones that were produced in the early lifetime of that particular model of car, while Kouki versions came after recalls, modifications, face-lifts, and adjustments, though still on the same model.

So, while the 124 200E and the 124 E200 might be the same car, the 200E is a “Zenki” (early) model while the E200 is a better developed, better specified, and better engineered “Kouki” (late) model. I hope this clears the air, Jap or no Jap.

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Dear Baraza,

First, I would like to know how one can fix the flashing on/off light of an automatic RAV4. It started this problem after changing the engine.

Two, immediately after engaging gear D or R, the vehicle jerks. What could be the problem?

Gikaru.

What light is that? Is it overdrive? That sounds like an electronic problem. The jerking is because the clutch does not fully disengage when the transmission is shifted from neutral into gear, so there is something called shift shock. I have seen it in a B15 before, what was supposedly a “new” car.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the good job you have been doing. My auto Nissan Wingroad, a 1497cc 2002 model, has started consuming every coin I make on fuel.

For 13 litres of fuel, it covers a distance of 98 km instead of between 170 km and 182 km, the way it used to.

Friends who own a similar ride have given me various reasons, including the sensor and braking.

Kindly let me know what exactly is the problem, where it can be diagnosed, and how to fix it, once and for all. The engine runs smoothly, picks fast, and does not misfire.

Seven kilometres per litre on a Wingroad? Clearly, something is wrong. Diagnosis can be done at any garage with an OBD II device. Get it done and get back to me with an error code.

As for brakes and fuel consumption, unless the brakes are binding, I do not see what the efficiency/mechanical state of one has to do with the magnitude of the other.

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Hello Baraza,

I am trying to decide which is the best car to buy, so could you please compare the Audi A3, Ford Focus, Mazda Premacy, and Volkswagen Golf (GTI grade) — all with a 1.8cc or 2.0cc engine — in terms of fuel consumption, maintenance, long mileage coverage, and some added comfort.

I am not planning to go for a new car, but I prefer post-2001 models. Any other recommendation would be highly appreciated.

Charles.

Correct me if I am wrong, but the Mazda Premacy is a van, is it not? The rest are hatchbacks. Ignoring the Mazda temporarily, the fuel consumption should be highest in the Ford and lowest in the Audi, with the Golf languishing in between, but for non-GTi. The GTi is thirstier than the Ford.

Maintenance is the same for the Audi and the Golf because they share a platform, but availability of spares for the Audi may be subject to a lot of factors.

When it comes to long mileage, Golf goes first, then Ford, then Audi. This split is — despite the shared platform between the Audi and the VW — because of the Audi’s high waistline and thick C pillars: view is obscured and the interior is dark and cramped. Comfort? Audi, Golf, Ford.

The car I have been talking about here is the MK 5 Golf. The MK 4 was pathetic and a sham, an embarrassment to the GTi badge.

It was abnormally heavy, ponderously slow (slower than a Rover automatic and Skoda Octavia Diesel, of all things!) did not handle too well and the interior was not the best.

The Mazda, on this scale of things, lies next to Ford in almost all aspects: they too, share a platform and engines.

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Hey,

I am researching cars with a turbo engine to know the advantages and disadvantages. Kindly assist.

Advantages: Insane power, volumetric efficiency, fuel consumption is low comparatively (likened to a car of similar power and capacity but naturally aspirated).

Disadvantages: Delicate (needs tender care, especially turbo-diesel), a swine to fix once the turbo goes phut, generally costlier than naturally aspirated equivalents, cooling problems, sensitive to oil type and temperature fluctuations, and lag (the delay between throttle action and corresponding turbo activity), if anti-lag is fitted, engine damage is common and fuel consumption is no longer a strong point.

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Hi,
I have a 2003 Wingroad. Every time I hit a small stone, it feels like a thud on the steering. I have at the front new Monroe shocks and the original springs at the back. I drove a Fielder for some time and hitting the same stone in it would give a springy feel. Why the difference?

The difference lies in the steering system and the front suspension/chassis setup. The NZE 120 model (Fielder is the estate version of this car) was built with driver orientation in mind, so the steering feel, performance and handling, among other things, feel quite good, especially compared to Wingroad.

The Wingroad comes off as a loveless white good strictly for generating profit and serving the most basic of motoring needs.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a frequent reader of your motoring column, keep up the good work. I am planning to buy a saloon car early next year.

I am, however, torn between three choices, which somehow look similar but are of different makes and models.

My major concerns are on cost price, fuel consumption, availability of spares, and durability. My options are a Toyota Mark II Grande, 2000cc, VVT-i, second-hand direct import from Japan or Singapore, a Nissan Teana 230JM, 2300cc, CVT, second-hand direct import from Japan or Singapore, and Mercedes Benz E200 Kompressor, 1796cc, used in Kenya, probably a 2002 model.

Kindly advise on the difference between VVT-i and CVT engines in terms of fuel consumption and, based on the above concerns, which of the three vehicles is best.

David.

David, go for the Benz. The others are basic clones of each other and are not entirely dissimilar. The added advantage of a locally sold Benz is that it would be tropicalised and maintained under warranty, so more likely than not you will end up with a car with FSH (full service history) and the ability to run in our conditions.

CVT (the valve control system, not the transmission type) and VVT-i do the same thing (varying the valve timing and controlling valve lift in real time) but in different ways.

There is neither the space nor time for me to get into the actual differences here, maybe in a future article, but rest assured the effects are the same: better performance, better economy, and reduced emissions.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been considering swapping my Caldina, which I have used for five years, with a bigger car for a big family. I wonder if there are Prados of that range and if not, what the best alternatives for a civil servant would be.

Yes, there are Prados of that range. There are also 4Runners (also called Surf), Nissan Terranos, Mitsubishi Pajeros, and maybe an old school Land Rover Discovery (could be costly, though).

“The best alternatives for a civil servant”? Are you planning on keeping your car a secret? Try a Land Rover Defender. Seating for 10, go-anywhere ability — and climate control by God Himself courtesy of the huge panel gaps and absence of A/C in some models.

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Dear Baraza,

I am planning to buy a BMW 318i or 320i, 2005 model saloon sedan. The main reason is security — I notice the car is not popular with carjackers or robbers.

However, I am not sure about the performance of this car, especially its fuel consumption, and parts availability in Kenya. I will appreciate your advice on this. Also, do we have alternatives in the market for this car?

Jared.

The performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW: class-leading, quick, and it handles like magic. The fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into: the degree of German technology under the bonnet means that 16 kpl is possible, even realistic, from a two-litre engine (or up-rated 1.8, which is what the 320 is), provided you do not try and reach 200 km/h. Drive sensibly.

Parts are available; we do have Bavaria Motors, BMW specialists, you know. But BMW is a premium brand and so parts cost in keeping with the image and quality of the car, so you will pay through the nose. But treat the car well and drive maturely and you will not have to wear your wallet thin running it.

Alternatives are the Mercedes C-Class (not only available, but also common) and the Audi A4 (less common). A recent entry into the class is the VW Passat (bland MK1 version and the MK 2 makes you look like a government official/NSIS spy), while a cheaper option is the Peugeot 406 (yes, I actually did it. I recommended a Peugeot)!

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Hi,

I am in a dilemma here; I have a passion for Impezas, specifically the 1490cc ones, but almost all my friends say Subarus are thirsty, their resale value drops pretty fast, and their spares are expensive.

When I compare the cost of acquiring the Impreza with that of the NZE/Fielder, the latter is far much expensive whether already used on Kenyan roads or not.

Kindly advise me on whether to take the Impreza, considering that I have no information on its fuel efficiency when in the heavy traffic common on our city roads.

Charles.

What is stopping you from buying the Impreza? If it is not a turbo, then there is nothing to worry you about fuel consumption. Spares are there; how else would you explain the growing number of Subarus on the roads? And you yourself admit that the Fielder is costlier to “acquire”.

I see you yearn for the little Scooby, go for it. But take good care of it and try not to race fellow drivers if you want your fuel economy to stay within affordable margins.

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Hi,
Kindly tell me the difference between turbo-charged and turbo-unchanged. Also, what does naturally-aspirated mean?

Most tuning outfits specialise typically in Japanese cars (STi Subaru, Lancer Evo, Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7, Nissan GT-R etc), a good number of which are turbo-charged.

Sometimes, in the quest for bigger horsepower, the factory turbo is either replaced for a bigger unit or another one is added to create a twin turbo setup if the original was single.

Also, the stock turbo can have devices added/modified/replaced such as the anti-lag, wastegate, blow-off valve and actuators.

Naturally, an engine built to develop 280hp will not last very long if forced to output 500-plus hp, and the kind of people who do this kind of thing do not go easy on their cars.

As a result, the resale value of tuned cars is next to nothing. If you own one of the cars I mentioned, or other performance vehicles (especially from Japan) and you intend to resell it, you might have to say “turbo-unchanged” to mean that the car still runs on a factory turbo.

This means that any outstanding warranties will still be valid, the vehicle’s manual can be followed if the turbo needs repair, the performance and fuel consumption will not be too far from the manufacturer’s claims, etc…. In other words, the car will not have any surprises under the bonnet.

Turbo-charging is the act of forcing air under great pressure into an engine (any engine) to increase the power output.

The fan (impeller) that forces this air into the engine is driven via a shaft connected to another fan (turbine), and this turbine is driven by the force exerted by exhaust gases leaving the engine. This is as opposed to supercharging, whereby the impeller is driven by the engine itself rather than by an exhaust turbine.

Naturally-aspirated means “neither turbo-charged nor super-charged”, i.e air goes into the engine under atmospheric pressure only; no extra force is exerted.

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Hi,

My Mitsubishi Cedia is back on the road after your advice, thanks a lot. I recently bought a Toyota Prado TX but it did not come with a manual. Kindly expound on the following available gadgets, their use, and at what times or situations they are to be used.

1 Button marked PWR.

2. 2ND.

3. Red button.

All these buttons are next to the main gear lever with all the other functions well indicated, that is, P, R, N, D, 2, L.

The vehicle is auto but with a manual 4WD gear lever and I wish to ask, why is the vehicle very poor in handling slippery terrain?

It skids too easily. And what is this overdrive thing and when is it supposed to be used? When it indicates “Overdrive Off” on the dashboard, what does this mean?

Juma.

Where were you when I was discussing overdrive and how to drive an automatic? Anyway, mine is not to chide, but to inform and educate, so here goes:

1. The PWR (Power) button is a function of what Toyota calls ECT or ECT-i (Electronically Controlled Transmission). When that button is pressed, the settings for the gearbox change, shifts happen faster, downshifts happen earlier, and upshifts later (much higher in the rev range) to maximise the car’s performance.

2. 2ND locks the transmission and limits the gearbox from going beyond second gear.

3. I have never found out what the red button is for, but I suspect it is a shift lock. I have pressed it surreptitiously (out of owners’ view) in the numerous automatic cars so equipped but nothing happened, as far as I could tell. Further research is on-going.

4. Overdrive allows the engine to spin at fewer rpms for a given road speed at a particular gear. The effect is to save fuel and reduce strain on the engine and transmission. If it says Overdrive OFF on the dash, then the unit has been disengaged and you should turn it on again. The circumstances that warrant its disengagement may be outside your skill range, judging from your email.

Finally, when your Prado skids, is it in 2WD or 4WD? Allow me to digress a little. The advent of ABS led to more carelessness among drivers and as such braking-related accidents went up statistically.

It is in this vein that I should ask you not to fall into the same trap: your car having 4WD does not mean that after engaging the transfer case (4L or 4H) you are now a driving god and can go anywhere.

If anything, off-roading is one of the most difficult driving tactics ever and requires plenty of skill. You will still skid, spin, or wedge yourself into the countryside if you do not know how to use the hardware available to you.

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Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your informative articles. My question is, what are the advantages of a Toyota Corolla NZE, G-Grade, for example?

Ben.

Advantages: It is cheap, common, easy to maintain, easy on the fuel, and has an eager autobox.

Disadvantages: It is VERY common, the eager autobox is actually overeager and hunts too much, I do not like the looks too much (my opinion), and the car is treacherous if you are not paying attention.