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The Leone: A flower bed car

Hi Baraza,
I am currently in the process of acquiring a saloon Subaru Leone, 1500 cc. It’s an old model as far as I can see, with a carburettor boxer engine, (the one that fits a spare tyre in the hood) and is a 4-speed manual.

Please give me details of the car’s history and performance as well as consumption issues. Also, what do you know of the Daewoo Matiz, 1000cc? Can it be driven over long distances without issues?
Hanningtone

You are right, the Leone is an old car, 30 years old to be exact. History? It was made at a time when Subaru’s unashamed sales quarry focused mainly on agriculture and how to achieve terminal velocity inside a flower bed, hence the boxer engine, ground clearance and 4WD.

And turbo. Only Subaru could think with that kind of foresight: the three technologies helped it win several world rally championships in later years and made the Impreza a common sight for rally enthusiasts. The Leone was also the predecessor to the Legacy.

Performance: Nothing to speak of by today’s standards, but back in its day, the Leone Turbo made as much noise as it did forward movement. Given how loud they were, that means they were also fast, and the 4WD enabled them to outhandle almost anything else… especially if it was in a flower bed.

Consumption: 4WD, plus carburettor, plus an optional turbocharger, done by engineers from 30 years ago — do not expect magic. The economy is terrible.

The Daewoo Matiz is not much. On long distances, it will be an interesting bet to see which loses its cool first: the driver or the car. It is punitive to drive far in the Matiz: tiny engine, short gears, incessant top gear drone on the highway. But then again, small engines tend to have simple cooling systems that cannot contain the engine heat for too long, especially since you will be hitting the red line just to keep up with everybody else.

So between you and the car, you could place a bet to see who will be the first to blow a gasket before the trip is over.

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Hi JM,
1. I’m just hitting 30, with a small salary and almost starting a family. I am torn between a Premio 1500cc, a Fielder or a 1500cc Subaru Impreza, 2005. Kindly advise regarding consumption, availability of spares, durability and performance. Oh, and I love speed.

2. Are you a mechanic?
Kimenyi

1. Consumption: The Premio should be the sippiest of the three, but for even better economy, get one with a D4 engine. The Impreza is least impressive in this regard, but it is not far off the mark from the other two.

Spares availability: This has now become a moot point for car models as common as the three you mention. Durability: Treat them well and all three should give you at least six years of service before problems threaten to break up your new family. Abuse them and the Premio will be the first to go.

Performance: Again the Premio, especially if you opt for a 1.8- or a 2-litre. The Fielder is also fast, but is likely to throw you off the road on loose surfaces.

The Impreza is bogged down by its elaborate AWD system. With a family on the way, are you sure performance is a priority? There is something more important than that which you are not asking about and that is…

Practicality: The Impreza and Fielder offer estate versatility, but the Fielder’s boot is bigger than the Impreza’s. Also its interior is roomier but harder to clean than the Impreza’s due to the use of brightly coloured felt on some surfaces (kids will smear dust, jam and chocolate on any clean surface they come across).

2. No, I am not.

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Hi JM,
I recently noticed some black smoke coming out of my Nissan B15’s exhaust. The mechanic I consulted told me that maybe the fuel had a problem and advised me to use fuel treatment (motor honey).

Is this right? Please give me your expert advise on this.

Motor honey, to me, is a myth and has nothing to do with fuel. Use V-Power to clean your fuel system, replace your filter if it is clogged or full of water, and next time try to buy your fuel from a reputable dealer.

Another theory could be a weak spark, but that is accompanied by loss of power and misfiring. So if you don’t have these symptoms, then the issue is with your fuel system (dirt).

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Hi,
I have two pickups: a 2006 Toyota Vigo double-cab and an Isuzu D-Max single-cab. I want to increase the number of leaf springs at the rear of both pickups so that I can increase the load they both carry.

1. How will this affect stability when they are not loaded?

2. If I add the leaf springs, how many should I add and will I have to strengthen the chassis? What other changes will I have to make?

3. If one wants to import a used German car, which is the best market to source?

1. With a stiffer back end, the pickups will be more prone to oversteer because there is less give in the suspension. To understand what I mean by an oversteering D-Max, go to YouTube and search for a video shot by a local cameraman showing the vehicle spilling its human cargo onto the hot tarmac of Waiyaki Way. It started with oversteer.

2. Add as many as you want, but if you overload your pickup and get arrested, I was not privy to your escapade. It might also do you well to strengthen the front suspension as well and the mounting points for the shock absorbers. And the brackets holding the leaf springs.

3. Buy one from a local dealership if you really want a trouble-free experience.

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Baraza,
I have the intention of buying a 1987 Mercedes Benz 230 and replacing its engine with that of a Toyota Shark so that I can enjoy stability and fuel saving benefits. Is this workable? Is it an offence by law?

It is not illegal and it may be workable if the Shark engine will fit into the Benz’s engine bay. But what does not fit or should be made illegal is your train of thought.

How does a Shark engine make a Benz saloon more stable than it already is? And how is it more economical? The Shark can get pretty thirsty if you cane it, that is why it outruns the Nissan Caravan QD easily.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
I own a Rav 4 (automatic ) and on my dashboard there are two buttons: Manual and Power. Please let me know the functions of these buttons and the “side effects” of using them in terms of consumption, wear and tear, etc.
Thomas

I have no idea what the “Manual” button does, but I know the “Power” one lets the ECT transmission programming shift to performance mode, which allows faster shift times, and downshifts and upshifts at higher revs.

It usually hurts fuel economy but the wear and tear appear by proxy (you will be revving harder and going faster, so the engine will be working harder).

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The Land Cruiser ‘VX’ beats the Prado on many fronts

Dear Baraza,
I have always wanted to know, what is the difference between a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and a Toyota Land Cruiser VX based on the usual indicators, that is, on and off road prowess and stability, fuel consumption, availability of spares, purchase price, luggage room, comfort, and so on? Is the Toyota Fortuner and Kluger in the same class?

Mwenda

It is good to be specific, as in really specific, because the Prado also has a VX spec within its range. As does the RAV4. But by VX I take it you mean the full-size SUV flagship (the 100 or the current 200?)

On road: Both the 100 and 200 Series Land Cruisers are so much more stable on road than the Prado (all models from J90 to the current J150 have been wobbly and bouncy with a tendency to head for the bushes or lean dangerously with every small lapse of driver attention).

The VX, with its bigger engine, will also outrun the Prado by a very good margin.

Off-road: The Prado will venture further out owing to its more compact dimensions. The shorter overhangs and smaller wheelbase mean it can conquer obstacles more extreme than the 100/200 can handle. And it does have the full off-road kit and caboodle: low ranger gearbox, locking diffs and superior ground clearance.

Consumption: One has a 4.2-litre inline 6 turbo diesel, currently a 4.5 turbo diesel V8. The other has been hovering around the 3000cc 4-cylinder area since God was a boy. One is longer and wider and heavier than the other. I think the fuel economy argument is fairly obvious…

Availability of spares: Toyota were so concerned about readers repeatedly (and annoyingly) asking about spares and maintenance that they even opened another showroom in Westlands, which also doubles as a service centre.

How dare you question the availability of spares for one of the most popular and common Toyota models in the country today?

Purchase price: Really, you are asking me this? Between a Prado and a “VX” which one costs more? Honestly?

Luggage room: The “VX” has a bigger boot. If you are referring to human luggage, both will seat seven in comfort (for later models) or “relative” comfort for the earlier ones.

Comfort: Both are very comfortable, but if you are prone to motion sickness, the Prado will make you vomit like nobody’s business because of its marine-level pitching and wobble. Deep-sea sailors would be at home in one.

The Fortuner is one step below the Prado in this hierarchy, with the Kluger in turn looking up to the Fortuner. The “VX” occupies the top rank.

Baraza,

1. What factors should one consider when trying to make sure an old car (say a Peugeot 405 or 504) is as stable as possible, that is, apart from using a stiffer suspension, reduced ground clearance and low profile tyres?

2. What is the use of the front spoiler (the ones on the front bumpers, especially on Subaru’s) other than making the car look beautiful?

3. Apart from driving gently, is there anything one can do to reduce the fuel consumption of a carburettor car such as a Subaru Leone, or a Peugeot 405/504? Can one use the carburettor of a car with a smaller engine? Is this even possible?

1. Make sure the stiffer suspension is mounted or attached to a structurally sound vehicle body. There’s no point in having a fancy suspension system if the shocks are going to poke holes through the fenders. Reduction of ground clearance should also be done carefully: If you lower the front too much, the car will become nose heavy and understeer through corners, or even worse, oversteer at high speed turns due to lack of grip at the rear. If you lower the back too much, the front will suffer from vague and indirect steering, and a speed steering input could become compromised; not understeer exactly, but something very similar.

Finally, make sure the low profile tyres are well and evenly pumped with air. Varying pressures across and along axle lines will lead to wild and unpredictable cockroach-like darting on the road, especially under hard braking.

2. Spoilers create downforce and/or eliminate lift, the opposite of what an aircraft wing does. By pressing the front of the car downwards, cornering grip is improved, eliminating understeer and sharpening steering response. They also act as stabilisers at speed, along with the rear wing and diffuser where available.

3. You can use smaller carburettors but you will very quickly regret your decision. Lack of power does not even begin to describe the scope of your discomfort. I once told people that substituting the standard cylinder head for one of Honda’s CVCC units also works, but getting those heads is a bit of an issue. They were first used in 1975 and are unlikely to still be in existence. You could fashion one though, if you can get the schematics from somewhere, are good at crafts, have a smelter and a lathe at home and a lot of time on your hands.

Changing plugs and/or fuel pumps can also help, but they will create more problems than solve economy issues. You could switch the head to EFI, but you will find out in the process that it would have been a lot easier to just swap the whole engine.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Prado TZ and here are the issues I have had with it: 1. Since I purchased the car I have been experiencing brake disk jamming problems. I consulted a number of people but no one has been able to help me with this problem. I changed the brake pads and skimmed the brake disks but nothing changed. Another mechanic advised me to change the ball joints, which I did, but the problem persisted.

2. I was advised by one mechanic to install a turbo change-over switch so as to shift the turbo to ON when travelling long distance and OFF when using it locally. I didn’t agree with him. What is your advice on this; if I install it will it affect my engine in the long run?

PS: I totally agree with the point that the Prado is a bit wobbly car but it is a beast on the road.

1. The problem is called binding. Are the front discs or rear discs affected? If it is the rear, the tension in the hand brake cable could be too high and needs loosening a bit. For all brakes, another cure you could try is take the top off your fluid reservoir and make sure you have something to tap the fluid in then push the piston in the cylinder back in then pump it out not too far and push it back, repeat until it slides back easily.

2. That mechanic is just increasing your expenditure for no good reason. What good will the turbo do when off? If you don’t want to boost pressure acting in your engine just keep your engine revs low. Installing extra hardware is simply providing more scope for things to go wrong in your car.

JM,

I own a Toyota Ipsum 240i 2003 model. The car’s manual indicates a fuel consumption rate of 12 kpl but I have done several experiments and I have only managed to get between 10.3 – 10.6 kpl driving within Nairobi town. Do you think the car might have a problem? I’m a very gentle driver, driving at an average speed of 60 km/h. There are theories that speeds of between 90 to 120 km/h are fuel efficient and that below 90 and above 120, you are being fuel inefficient. What is your take on this?

How does this car compare to a Noah/Voxy and a Subaru Forester both non-turbo and turbo in terms of fuel consumption? What is your general view of this car?

Patrick

What the car’s manual refers to is called the “combined cycle”, that is, for both city and highway use. Your test was limited to town use only. The car does not have a problem, try it on the open road and you should see about 14 or even 15 kpl (at 100 km/h).

That speeds thing is not a theory, it is true. Most cars would comfortably do this speed in top gear, and top gear allows for maximum speed with minimum engine revs.

The actual figure varies between car models and could go as low as 60 km/h (for a Maruti Omni), but the common factor is that the transmission should be in top gear. Doing 90 km/h in second or 100 km/h in third is not efficient either.

Comparison with the Noah/Voxy and the Subaru Forester: It depends on how you drive, but the overall economy figure in litres per 100 km for the Ipsum should be lower than the figures for the other two (that is, it has better economy).

Generally, it is a good family car, but it shares one tendency with some Nissans (B15 and Wingroad) and the old Legacy B4 saloon: the car ages really fast if you are not gentle with it.

Baraza,

I am looking forward to acquiring a 4WD car. I am not sure of the best bet between a Kluger, Tribeca, Vigo (Hilux double cab), an old Land Cruiser VX, and a Mitsubishi double cab. The vehicle is intended for family use’ like travelling upcountry, and carrying light luggage.

Njiru

For a large family, the VX will accommodate up to eight people. The rest can handle only five, except the Tribeca, which is second with seven available human-shaped slots.

Luggage capacity is a scrum between the double cabs, then (surprise, surprise) the Tribeca (with the seats lowered). This is because of the Land Cruiser’s eight seats, none completely disappear like they do in the Subaru, and the high loading level is cumbersome if you are dealing with something very heavy.

My pick would be the VX, but ignore this, it is not for any sensible reason; it is because I prefer its looks to the Tribeca, which is the wise man’s choice here.

Hi Baraza,

I am currently in the market for a car, my 1996 Primera, imported in 2003, has given me faithful service but I feel it is time to move on. I am currently looking at the Toyota Avensis for saloon duty and a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD for non-saloon duty (a bit of off road, not bundu bashing). And here I also include the Lexus RX300. Now to the questions.

1. Is there a major difference between the hatchback Avensis and the Sedan Avensis apart from the obvious shape thing?

2. I have been told that the 2.4-litre engines on the Avensis are unreliable is that true? A

3. Is there a big difference between a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD and a Lexus RX 300 4WD in terms of consumption? I know the trim is worlds apart, but someone told me that the 2.4-litre would consume more because it would strain to carry the weight of the car, is this true? And what is its average consumption? (I am not a pedal to the floor type of driver)

4. I saw some very good prices for the Discovery 3 in the UK and I am very tempted. It looks like a very beautiful car, but before I mortgage the wife and kids I would like to know if the reliability issues are true. I am talking about the 2.7-litre diesel.

James

1. No, there are no differences between the “hatchback” and the sedan. Any differences, such as practicality and available space, are directly tied to “the obvious shape thing”. And I think you mean “estate” or “station wagon” for the Avensis, not “hatchback”.

2. Maybe, but what I suspect is that people are afraid of the D4 technology and are trying to make others avoid it too. The Avensis is one of Toyota’s best built cars and has won several awards over the years.

3. 2400cc is capacity enough to handle the Harrier/RX300 body, so you won’t have to strain it to get a modicum of performance. 3000cc is for elitists (like me). Average consumption should be somewhere around 9-10 kpl, especially for calm and sober motorists like you.

4. The 2.7 diesel now suffers from what you have just described in your third question; it struggles to lug all that weight around. The Disco 3’s double chassis adds an elephant’s worth of weight to the car and the 2.7 needs a bit of wringing before it goes anywhere. Good engine though. Avoid the air suspension. Reliability in this day and age is a non-issue.

Hi Baraza,

Having owned a vehicle for a few months, I’d like to further understand a number of things. The vehicle is a 2004 Toyota Noah. I have been using the tyre pressure (~33 psi) as indicated on the passenger side door frame and noticed that the treads are wearing out evenly. In case I change the tyres with locally available ones of similar size, do I still maintain this pressure?

How does terrain and temperature affect the required pressure?

Secondly, I’ve never changed the suspension since the current ones seem serviceable. Considering the car is Japanese, is there cause to worry?

Lastly, on the engine block, there is a label: “Use Iridium spark plugs only”. Is there any benefit to this apart from longevity?

Keep using the 33 psi. Terrain does play a part (deflate the tyres to 15 psi when driving on soft sand, for example), but temperature differences do not affect the tyre pressure that much.

That 33 psi is the manufacturers optimum figure, and gives an allowance for expansion or contraction without adversely affecting tyre performance depending on ambient temperature.

About suspension, if the car does not track straight, wobbles a bit or feels unstable in any way, you can worry. If the vehicle’s stance/posture is even and driving it does not arouse suspicions, then you’re fine.

On the iridium spark plugs issue, there is also thermodynamic efficiency.

Hi JM,

I am planning to buy my first car and I have always loved Subarus. Would you advice me to go for a 4WD with a turbocharged engine? How is the fuel consumption for such a car? I have heard people say that turbocharged engines are delicate how true is this? Finally, what do spoilers and traction control help with?

David

4WD is advisable when you have high-pressure turbo performance at your disposal. It helps in directional stability. Of course the fuel consumption will be worse that NA (naturally aspirated) and 2WD equivalents, but the driving experience will be worth it (in my book). I myself have said that turbocharged engines require care.

Spoilers help with downforce, which eliminates lift and improves grip and traction. Downforce is the opposite of lift. Lift is the result of Bernoulli’s effect, which is what helps aircraft get off the ground, so reversing that lift creates downforce, which presses the car harder on the ground and makes the tyres grip the road surface better. The spoilers work best at high speed, which is when the ground effects are needed anyway.

Traction control eliminates wheel spin by cutting engine power and/or torque to a spinning wheel. This reduces the chances of wild oversteer and/or understeer, or spinning out. It also saves tyres from damage and in some cars, improves cornering performance. In others, turning the TC off improves lap times but only in the hands of experienced drivers.