Posted on

Yes, a Forester XT can beat a Lamborghini in a race, but…

Hi Baraza,

One of my friends who owns a Forester XT claims that, if fully stocked, the car stands a chance against a Lamborghini Gallardo LP-400 in a race. What’s your take on this?

Yes, there are races in which the Forester can beat a Lambo. Off-road races. Or a race to see who can carry the most people and the most luggage at a go without compromising on comfort.

Otherwise, if we are referring to racing as we know it, on tarmac and on a racetrack, or even a normal road, the Forester is a tree-stump compared to the Gallardo.

But the Forester, against its rivals (cross-over utilities), is a capable handler and is fast.

Hi Baraza,

I have always wanted to import a used car from the UK but friends have strongly discouraged me citing reliability issues. Is it true that cars from the UK are generally in poorer shape compared to their Japanese counterparts.

What I know is that it’s easier to get a manual transmission car from the UK — like the Mercedes C180 or Toyota RAV4 — which is my preferred choice of transmission unlike in Japan where most cars are autos nowadays. What’s your take on this?

The biggest problem with UK cars is rust. You see, way up in the North Atlantic where the UK lies, there is a part of the year that gets very cold.

Winter, it is called. The low temperatures create problems, especially for drivers. The snow on the ground creates a slippery surface on which it is extremely difficult to drive (unless your car is AWD).

Worse yet, something called black ice is created. Black ice is like wet glass.; it is a thin film of ice that forms on the road surface due to the freezing of the water on the surface (this does not even come from snow).

Here, not even AWD will help: if you try to drive on it you WILL crash. So how to deal with the black ice? Pour salt on it.

Salt is an impurity for water, so the freezing properties of water are disrupted, meaning that no matter how low the temperatures go, the water on the road will never freeze.

Having a salt solution covering the road surface makes the road more tractable, yes, but that salt solution sloshes into the various nooks and crannies underneath the car, and most of these gaps house iron or iron-based components.

Iron plus water equals rust, iron plus water plus salt equals rapid rust. Very rapid rusting. Need I continue?

Dear Baraza,

I just started reading your column a few weeks ago and I am wondering if you have compared the Nissan X-Trail to the Toyota Kluger 2.4S in the past editions. Which of these two SUVs would you prefer and why?

John

I prefer the X-Trail. It looks better, is more solid and feels robust, offers better space and you can buy a tropicalised version. Oh yeah, there is also a 280 hp GT.

Dear Baraza,

I am preparing to buy a Subaru Impreza. Could you please advise me on the advantages and differences of a Subaru Impreza 1500cc (2WD and 4WD) in terms of performance, durability, spares, and maintenance? What other alternatives should I consider?

There is no big difference between the two. Very small disparities exist in performance (the 4WD is marginally heavier, but you won’t notice), and maintenance, as far as the transmission is concerned, the 4WD is more complex to repair.

Alternatives are many: Toyota Corolla, Allion 1.5, Nissan B15, Bluebird, Mitsubishi Lancer, Honda Civic (if you can get one)… basically any small 1.5 litre saloon car fits the bill.

Hi Baraza,

There is this meter on the dashboard of my VW Polo that is scaled from 0 to 65 and is coloured red between 45 and 65. The needle moves as one accelerates and I always change gears before the needle reaches 30, which I presume is the middle. In the centre of the dial there is a scale which no one seems to understand; 1min/100. Please explain to me.

Karangi

That, sir, is called a tachometer, or a rev counter in simple terms, and it shows engine speed (the rate at which the engine crankshaft is spinning).

That is why the needle moves to higher numbers when you accelerate. Given the numbers you have quoted, I take it your car has a diesel engine (not that it matters here).

The label is actually 1/min X 100. So if the needle points to 30, it is 30/min X100, which comes to 3,000. So the engine is turning at 3,000 rpm (revolutions per minute).

The red zone should be avoided, because it is in this zone that engines blow, seize or start hydraulicking.

The tachometer is installed to help you avoid over-revving the engine, and in some instances to avoid straining it (when the revs dip too low). For professional or enthusiastic drivers, the tach’ is used to determine the maximum power and torque points of the engine speed and shift gears accordingly.

That is how race drivers set different “lap times” on tracks. The rest will be covered in something I am working on.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a Peugeot 406 that is currently consuming a lot of fuel. In addition, when driving in gear one, it makes jerking movements. The mechanic says that there is a fuel leak, that is, some gasket needs replacement. What are your thoughts?

Fuel leaks could explain the high consumption but not the jerking in first. Common causes of jerking in first gear (I take it the car has a manual transmission) are poor declutching technique, a worn out clutch kit and low fuel pressure in the injectors (first gear needs plenty of fuel), though the third option does not quite fit in here, it is just a theory.

Have the clutch system checked for fidelity in the release bearings.

Dear Baraza,

I want to upgrade my vehicle and I’m stuck on what to go for. I’m debating between 2005s BMW 530i, Audi A6 3.1-litre, Mercedes E320, the 2006 Lexus GS300 (Euro spec) or a Mark X with a 3-litre engine.

Yes, I know the Mark X feels out of place but I think its a very good looking car. What do you think is the best choice?

In addition, I’m trying to calculate the duty on these vehicles. Should I go with CRSP values or should I work with the conventional 76.5 per cent duty since the engines are quite huge?

In duty terms, either way the government will screw you. I cannot make a definite call on which one of the two calculations you should go for because I don’t know how much you have been asked for for these cars.

But know this: underquoting the vehicle’s price (CIF) will get you nowhere. The revenue authority has a minimum amount set for each class of car, so if you underquote, they will use their figure; if you overquote, well and good, they will still get your money anyways.

There is customs duty, excise duty, VAT (all these are calculated in compound form, one figure being used to derive the next) and some small amount for an IDF (Import Declaration Form).

Now to the cars: All the cars, except the A6, are available in RWD (an enthusiast’s dream). The Benz is classy, comfortable and handles well; the A6 has the best interior in the world but has a hard ride; the Lexus is a drug peddler’s transport and the detailing is a bit over-the-top (Lexus calls it good value for money, I call it vulgar); the BMW looks questionable but is best in performance; and the Mark X is cliche. Decide.

Hi JM,

I am in the UK and married to a Kenyan, so I am getting a Kenyan ID soon. I have been told I could import one vehicle into Kenya tax-free if it is for personal use. Is this correct?

Secondly, my cherished Mitsubishi Shogun is in tip top condition with everything working as it should, fully maintained and serviced to the highest degree, but it is a 1994 UK spec model.

Is there any way I could import this vehicle as I am aware there is a six-year block on imports, considering some of those I have seen are not as suitable for Kenyan roads as mine?

It is almost correct. You have to have owned the vehicle in question for a certain amount of time (grey area), then when selling it on, duty will have to be paid by the new owner.

The time cap is actually eight years, not six, but I think the above scenario (lengthy ownership in the land of emigration) also forms part of the list of exceptions.

This is a very grey area. I will have to consult with the relevant authorities for a concrete report, because all I have had are conflicting “expert” opinions from a variety of sources.

Hallo,

I was intrigued by your comment about the Prado being handful at 200km/h. Does it mean its very risky driving it at that speed or what? Please expound.

Samuel

Yes, that is what I meant. The Prado has an intrinsic instability courtesy of its off-road credentials (suspension and ride height), so winding one up to 200 km/h is gambling with the unforgiving laws of nature and physics.

Baraza,

Tell me, are there any advantages on fuel economy when driving a vehicle in tip-tronic mode?

Dr Ngure

There might be an advantage in fuel economy when driving in tip-tronic mode, courtesy of the ability to short-shift into a higher gear (shifting early, before the optimum rev level).

However, some tip-tronic systems override the driver’s instructions if the computer thinks it is wiser than him. Tip-tronic is mostly for performance driving. Switching from full automatic to tip-tronic can be done at will, even with the car in motion, after which, tapping the lever towards the plus sign (or using the steering mounted buttons) changes up while tapping it towards the minus sign changes down.

Mr Baraza,

I own a Toyota Vista 2000 model 1800cc. Recently, I noticed something peculiar on the fuel gauge; after I put in fuel worth Sh2,000, the gauge still read empty.

After driving to and from the office and while I was parking the car, the gauge suddenly shot to quarter tank. This has happened on a number of occasions.

I spoke to a mechanic who told me the gadget that measures the fuel level could be worn out and needs replacement. Kindly advise.

That is not a problem, it is a peculiarity with the Vista. I noted (and stated) this when I reviewed the Vista back in 2010 (check the archives for more on this car). One way of coping with it is turning off the car, waiting a full minute and then starting it again.

It should show an increase. No car will show an instantaneous increase in fuel levels on the gauge. This is because the fuel tank is slatted and thus the fuel takes time (and a bit of splashing) to spread itself evenly enough around the tank for the gauge sensor to get an accurate reading. Stop worrying.

Hello Baraza,
I’m a fan of diesel engines, and that’s why I bought a Mercedes Benz C220 CDI. What are the weaknesses of diesel engines compared to petrol ones?

I thought (hence the reason for liking diesel engines) that diesel engines have more power, especially in common rail versions. Is this true or should I be worried about my Merc?

Actually, petrol engines develop more power because they rev higher, though diesel engines are fast catching up owing to turbo-charger technology. What diesel engines have, in large amounts, is torque.

They are heavier than petrol engines and require more frequent servicing. Also, the injectors operate at very high pressure, so while in a petrol engine car running out of fuel simply means adding more and getting on your way, when the diesel injectors have no diesel to pump they are very easily damaged.

Staying on the same, diesel engines also need bleeding to be done before setting off to remove any air bubbles (vapour lock) in the fuel lines, which could also lead to injector damage.

The economy figures for a diesel engine are outstanding, though.

Posted on

A 4WD car doesn’t automatically make you an off-road hotshot

Baraza,

I have a Toyota Prado, model KZJ95, which I love as it is a lot of fun to ride in. However, I have two problems which I hope you can help me sort out. The first concerns consumption. The car is a 3.0 diesel and yet it consumes fuel as if crude is going out of fashion. What is the best way to cut down on this consumption?

The second problem is that, during the rainy season, I got stuck in mud in the village because I could not use the 4WD stick. How does this stick work? At what position is it engaged, and when should it be disenganged?

Njagah

You might be expecting too much from a 3.0-litre engine. What consumption figure does it return? If it actually does burn a lot of fuel, then maybe the transfer case is stuck in low.

About getting stuck in mud. The J90 Prado has full-time 4WD, so the transfer case switches between low range and high range. That is not your problem.

You see, putting on a Manchester United jersey and walking into Old Trafford does not make you the last word in professional football; you have to have the skill to go with it.

Most people assume that the presence of 4WD automatically makes them off-road champions. It doesn’t.

Like in football, you have to have the skill to use whatever you have. Not to brag, but I once manoeuvred a Toyota Starlet through the same quagmire that had trapped a Land Rover Discovery and an Isuzu Trooper.

Develop your off-road driving skills if you want to take full advantage of the 4WD system in your car.

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Hi,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I intend to buy a new single cab pick-up truck for delivery of office supplies and construction equipment and can’t seem to decide on whether to buy a Toyota Hilux, Nissan (any of the various types), Isuzu D-MAX, Ford Ranger or a Foton. Could you help me decide with regard to the following:

1. The maximum carrying capacity of the car.

2. The initial cost of the car and the cost of spare parts.

3. Between a diesel and a petrol engine, which one would be better for the long run since I want to hold onto the car for about five years before selling it?

Lastly, regarding the Toyota Vigo double-cab, what is its load carrying capacity?

When it comes to carrying capacity, the D-MAX or Hilux are massive.

The cheapest to buy is the Chinese knockoff, but cheapest overall (spares and maintenance) I’d put my money on the Nissan Hardbody/NP300.

On the best engine type, I would say petrol. It might cost more to fuel, but petrol engines have longer service intervals and are less prone to structural and mechanical strains.

The robust build of diesel engines may make them long lasting, but not as much as petrol engines.

The Vigo? I thought the discussion was on single cabs! Anyway, it can carry up to one tonne easily.

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Dear Baraza,

You seem not to have a lot of faith in the Nissan make, I wonder why. In 1999, I wanted to buy a Toyota 91, but I did not have the money. Instead I bought a second hand B12 ‘local’.

It faithfully and reliably served me for more than 10 years until, once again, I wanted a Toyota but couldn’t afford one and instead I bought a Wingroad.

The B12 served me well for three reasons: service was after every 3,000 km, and I changed the tyres and tubes and did engine overhauls every three years.

Now, because of what you have been saying here, I am convinced I should get a Subaru Forester non-turbo for climbing the Tugen Hills, which the B12 comfortably accomplished, by the way.

Oh no, it is not that I lack faith in the Nissan brand, it is just that some of its output belongs in the gutter. Like the B14. Or the Micra.

There are some Nissans that do get my blood racing, like the GTR.

The Murano is what I’d pick over rivals like Lexus RX and Subaru Tribeca. And don’t forget the praise I had for the Navara after that showdown in Kajiado last year….

The B12 was one of Nissan’s finest moments, right before it went bankrupt and almost collapsed.

A Renault merger saved it from doom, and it is under Ghosn (post-merger Renault-Nissan CEO) that the cars in the above paragraph were conceived.

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Hi Baraza,

I own 2002 X-Trail GT, petrol, 2000cc turbo and I’ve learnt to accept it’s 9kpl consumption, whether I try to limit my revs under 2000 rpm or not.

I noticed two months ago that when I’m doing speeds of over 110 km/h, its difficult to get to 3500 rpm even if I force it. It’s okay on low speeds though.

I also feel like the gears are taking longer to change. What could be the problem? The check-engine light is on.

Knowing GTs, I’d say check the ignition coil for the reluctance to rev. Run a diagnosis to see what the check-engine light is all about, but my guess is it ties in with the engine’s unwillingness to spin.

As for the gearbox, check the ATF levels; if it is low, top up, but prepare for a major bill soon — you might have to replace it. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

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Dear Baraza,

I intend to buy a car soon and I am kind of unable to decide what to buy from these three makes: Mercedes A-class, Peugeot 206 and VW Golf.

Since cheap is expensive, I am cautiously avoiding Toyotas, Mazdas and Nissans — plus I don’t know why most of them have their side mirrors chained to the door!

I can comfortably fuel an 1800cc engine and below. Kindly advise me on which one to buy, considering performance, durability and maintenance costs.

Martin

Martin, you are yet another Kenyan whose mind is firmly stuck in the bank account.

There are several others like you who are not interested in the ownership experience of a particular car; it all boils down to costs, costs and costs. Anyway, here goes:

Performance: If you choose to go GTi, the 206 GTi is the best of the pack, followed by the Golf.

Just how big the rift between these two is depends on whether it is the MK IV or MK V Golf.

There is no such thing as a Mercedes-Benz A Class GTi. There isn’t an AMG version either, and if a BRABUS A does exist, it will cost about the same as a regular S-Class.

So in performance terms the A-Class is out, unless you are talking about a MK IV Golf GTi, in which case the Golf is out.

Durability: The Golf will last forever. The Peugeot won’t. Somewhere in between lies the little Mercedes.

Maintenance cost: A lot for the Benz. Not so much for the Peugeot. The Golf lies in the middle, leaning towards the Peugeot.

PSST! I also think these Japanese ‘econoboxes’ look ridiculous with their chained mirrors!

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Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying a second-hand 4WD mid-size SUV and in mind are the first or second generation Honda CRV, Toyota RAV-4 and Nissan X-Trail.

Please tell me about fuel economy, performance, resale value, spares, other pros and cons — and your preference if it you were in my shoes.

Harry

Fuel economy: Similar across the range for similar engine sizes. The RAV-4 may be a bit thirstier than the rest, but marginally.

Performance: Again, broadly similar across the range. RAV-4 feels quicker than the rest, but the mantle belongs to the VTEC Honda, that is, until you introduce the 280hp X-Trail GT — pretty fast, this, but a friend alleges it will burn through Sh7,000 of premium unleaded petrol between Nairobi and Eldoret if you are not circumspect with the throttle. I believe him.

Resale value: Hard to call. The RAV might depreciate fastest due its steep initial asking price. If you can find a lady buyer, you can fob the CRV off on her at a good quote (women are suckers for these Hondas, apparently).

Second or third owner X-Trails are becoming uncommon; in my circles, the reputation of ephemeral automatic transmissions has really done the X-Trail no favours at all.

Spares: Why do people still ask this and yet week after week I keep saying spares are there for these cars; and if running costs are a source of worry to you then maybe you are not ready to own a car just yet.

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Hi JM,

I am based in Mombasa and I’m really keen on venturing into the business of transporting core building and construction material.

I am, therefore, looking for a 15-20 tonne tipper truck. Please advise on a reliable make seeing as to how, of late, the Chinese seem to be taking over the market but I’m wary of anything Chinese.

Mwashinga

There’s a wide choice here, starting from expensive European trucks like Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volvo, Scania and MAN, through the usual Japanese suspects of Mitsubishi Fuso, UD Trucks (formerly Nissan Diesel, now owned by Volvo) and Isuzu F Series, then finally the “disposable” Chinese products.

The reason Chinese trucks are becoming so popular is that they are dirt cheap. And you can tell why; I had a look at them at a recent motor show and they are rough-and-ready at best, with little investment going into R&D and with some of them simply manufacturing ex-Japanese engines under license.

They are also short-lived, as the reputations of various other Chinese products would attest.

Of the pick, I would go for a Scania P Series, more so the 310hp P94D.

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Hi Baraza,

Help me understand why or how some petrol engines have water dripping from the exhaust while others don’t.

I have heard it said that those dripping water are efficient burners of fuel or have something to do with CCs.

You were lied to. The water you see is the result of condensation from two sources: water vapour in the atmosphere cools within the pipe and is expelled when the engine is running, and water is a by-product (a very small one) of combustion — supercooling (a sharp drop in temperature) also causes condensation.

This phenomenon also explains the contrails you see coming out the back of a jet high up in the sky

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Hi JM,

“BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see.” This is a quote from your column on January 25 this year.

I was perplexed when I read that because in your column on December 14 last year, you heaped lot of praise on BMWs after an inquiry from a reader.

To quote you, “the performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW; class-leading, quick, handles like magic, fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into…”. Why the contradiction? Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Furthermore, in a previous article you didn’t heap much praise on the X-Trail, but in your column on January 25, you said you preferred the 2.5 diesel X-Trail auto transmission, how come?

Or is it that as some reader suggested, you are on the payroll of some local dealer? Is that why you are biased towards the East?

Njue

Let me explain it this way: I love apple juice. I also love pineapple juice. I don’t like orange juice. I really don’t like lemon juice. So in a contest of juices, I would go for apple, hands down, and when queried, I will say I am not a fan of lemon juice. With me so far?

Here’s another comparison. “Mr Baraza, what would you rather drink? We have lemon juice, human sweat and camel urine.” I would, of course, be an idiot not to say lemon juice.

That was the case with the X-Trail: I specifically said “in this class I prefer the X-Trail”.

In terms of personal taste, I do not like mini-SUVs, of which the X-Trail is one, but it is what I’d choose over all other mini-SUVs.

This, sir, means I don’t like the X-Trail, as I have said before, but among crossover utilities, it is the least of very many evils.

Onto the BMW. If BMW was called Hummer, who make a wide range of only one car, you could take me to task, but as it is, BMW make very many different cars.

The class-leading ride and handling maestro whose virtues I extolled was the 3-Series. The “unnecessarily expensive” waste of one’s salary was the X3. Still with me?

Here is a brief run down of my thoughts on BMWs.

Good: All M cars, except the X6M. Also 3,5,6 and 7 Series. The X5 is a lesson in German dominance of the manufacturing industry.

Bad: 1 Series, except 1M. X1 and X3 also.

Should never have existed: X6 and X6M.

PS: I know camels pass more of pellets than liquid urine, but you get my point, right?

Posted on

Avoid running on ‘E’ all the time, just fill up

Hi Baraza,

I have a well-maintained Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia, 1500cc, 2003 model. I often drive it when the low-fuel light is on and the car covers many kilometres before refuelling.

What are the implications of driving a car when this light is on for a long period? Another issue is that, whenever, I top up with fuel worth about Sh500, the light goes on immediately, even before I am out of the petrol station. Why? How effective is this vehicle in terms of fuel consumption?

I would also like you to generally comment about Mitsubishi Lancers as I have found this car to be much nicer compared to the Subaru Legacy I had before.

Frederick.

How many kilometres does your Lancer cover from the moment the light comes on?

If it is more than 100, then you might have a special car in your care: either the fuel consumption is extraordinary or the electricals are playing with your mind.

The biggest implication for running a car with the fuel light constantly on is that you might run out of fuel far from a filling station and you would go to a lot of trouble getting it running again.

Most cars indicate ‘empty’ or have the light shining when there is about five to 10 litres of fuel remaining.

So, if your tank was very nearly empty (say, had less than 100ml of petrol left) and you put in Sh500 worth of fuel (given that petrol is going for about Sh120 a litre, that is about four litres of fuel ), then what you have in your tank is still below the empty mark. Fill your tank if you can.

The Cedia is very economical, even in the 1.5 litre form, especially if the car has a GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection, similar to D4 in Toyota) engine, but to harness the maximum effect from GDI, maintain steady throttle openings (a light constant pressure on the accelerator) as the GDI system reverts to the normal stoichiometric charge ratio whenever the throttle opening is adjusted.

Let me get my hands on a Cedia and I will definitely give you something worth reading.

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Hi Baraza,

Let us separate two warring factions here: the D4 engine haters (a larger group) and those who praise it.

First things first; is the D4 engine different from a VVT-i one? Or, if I may shoot more straight, can D4 technology be used in a VVT-i engine?

I have heard things that make touching the engine sinful — it is significantly thirstier than the others and requires you to talk to the HR department for a loan to repair it once it goes nuts.

Please clarify whether all these things are true.

Finally, please confirm whether the new car models, specifically the Toyota Premio and the RAV4, can come with the D4 engine.

And is it possible for the D4 label not to appear on the engine cover?

Nyaga.

The D4 technology was supposed to be the motoring industry’s second-coming, but Toyota rushed it and. because of that, it does have a few weaknesses. It is my understanding that they are back to the drawing board over this.

D4 and VVT-i are two different technologies: one concerns fuel delivery (D4, Direct Injection 4-stroke cycle) while the other concerns valve timing (VVT-i, variable valve timing with intelligence). It is, therefore, possible to have both on the same engine.

Why would a D4 engine be thirstier than others?

The technology is supposed to improve fuel consumption, not make it worse. I have driven some cars (Toyota Vista the most) with D4 and if carefully driven, the 1.8 litre would return astonishing mileage.

Toyota Premios and RAV4s do come with D4 engines for some trim levels.

Most D4-equipped cars have the logo plastered on the engine cover. I have not seen one that did not, but this is not to say that it is impossible. I just have not seen one yet.

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Hi Baraza,

I always look forward to reading your articles even though I do not have a car yet. However, I’m planning to buy one in January and I needed you advice.

There is this car I see, Toyota Lexus/Altezza salon. I have not seen many on our roads, though, but I admire its aesthetics and I’m planning to acquire one.

Please advise me on its performance, engine size, handling, fuel consumption, speed, and spare parts availability. Your advice will be much appreciated.

First off, there is no such thing as a Toyota Lexus. Those are two different brands under the same umbrella. You either have a Toyota or you have a Lexus.

The car you are referring to is the Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS 200. Although you claim not to have seen many on our roads, believe me they are there, and in increasing numbers.

Answering your queries in order of presentation: damn-near excellent (in the 3 Series league, possibly faster); it is a 2.0 litre (the IS 250 that is strictly USDM is a 2.5); the handling is sublime, courtesy of the rear drive chassis; fuel consumption is passable under normal driving conditions, but it gets a bit thirsty when pushed; it is fast with good acceleration (clocks 100 km/h in less than 9 seconds); I am not too sure about spares but take heart in the fact that, with increasing numbers, their availability will improve.

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Hi Baraza,

I am interested in purchasing a Mitsubishi Pajero. I have already identified one, a 1998 Inter-cooler Turbo which looks fairly good and is going for Sh700,000. What do you think, is the price fair? How come a Toyota Landcruiser of the same age goes for almost double this price?

For a Pajero of this age and make, what mechanical problems are likely to plague it? Are spare parts available and is it a guzzler?

Robert

The biggest issue would be poor diesel combustion accompanied by a lack of power, so check for a smoky exhaust.

A good service/overhaul should put it back in order. Also, take it to a specialist to have the turbo looked at since most people do not know how to maintain turbodiesel cars.

It is not what you would call a guzzler, given its size and class. The price seems a bit optimistic but a thorough check should reveal whether or not you are going to pay more when fixing it.

Toyota SUVs are generally expensive to begin with, and their reputation for hardiness and reliability means they will not lose value fast.

I know of Landcruisers from the late 1990s that still have an asking price well north of Sh2.5 million.

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Dear Baraza,

I have two issues I need your wise counsel on:

1. We own a Toyota Noah 2000 model, 2184 cc, diesel. The car’s timing belt broke about four weeks ago. We got a mechanic to fix it and that is when the woes started. At first, he could not get the part and had to have it imported. Later the sleeves and pistons had to be replaced. The car is now working but it is smoking like a jiko, has a hard start, and shakes when idling. What could the mechanic have done wrong and how can we correct this? Is it worth it to continue fixing this engine or should we jut buy a new one? The mechanic reckons that the smoking will go away after three days.

2. If options run out for us, we are thinking of getting a new car but would like your advice on imports from Britain as compared to Japan. What would you recommend for a family of four? We would like a small 4×4 that can go to shags and also do local running in town. I had thought of a Land Rover Freelander but have no idea how the car performs. Your advice will be highly appreciated.

The smoking means a lot of things could be wrong. The valve seals, the piston rings, or even the entire cylinder head could be leaking. The hard start could be caused by faulty electricals or poor fuel delivery, and the shaking during idle means that one or more of your spark plugs could be giving up. That also ties in with the hard start.

It might be easier to just get a new engine, especially nowadays when a new one costs as little as Sh30,000 (expect to pay up to Sh70,000 for your Noah engine, but it will be a good investment in the long run). And next time, go to a proper garage that has a reputation to stake if they ruin your car.

The Freelander is good, but get a late model first-generation car, preferably diesel. The very first Freelander cars off the assembly line had a litany of problems that you do not want to deal with, believe me.

Or you could try the Nissan X-Trail, also in diesel, although even the petrol is not so bad. Avoid automatic for the X-Trail if you can. RAV4s are expensive and a touch thirstier than the X-Trail, while the iO is delicate and wobbly on the highway.

I have not visited the import scene that much to make a declaration which is better between Britain and Japan, but, as a personal preference, I would go Jap.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a Toyota Premio D4 manufactured in 2000. The body of the car and the mechanicals are as good as new.

However, while idling, the rev sometimes just shoots up even to 2000 without any obvious cause, hence seriously increasing fuel consumption. The interesting thing is that on some days it returns to normal by itself.

My mechanic appears lost on this. I have replaced the whole throttle body, including the sensors, but there is still no change. One mechanic thought there is a damaged pipe that sucks in air but he cannot say which one. I have tried a number of reputable garages but none can tell where the problem lies, but they insist there is a sensor somewhere with a problem.

Kindly let me know if there is a mechanic who can sort it out even if privately. I know D4 engines have issues but I believe there must be a way out.

Remove the IAC (idle air control) valve and clean it then put it back. Disconnect the battery for about five minutes to try and flush the ECU memory (if possible), but first try and use a scan tool (OBD II device).

Other causes can include: vacuum leaks, a build-up of contaminates obstructing movement of the IAC valve, a sticking or binding EGR valve or throttle linkage, an improperly adjusted or a sticking throttle position sensor, AC leakage from the alternator into the electrical system, fuel injector leakage, the evaporative control system, positive crankcase ventilation system, air leaks into the intake system, exhaust system leaks or a restriction, a contaminated oxygen sensor or an erratic sensor signal, and other related sensors.

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Hi Baraza

I would like to invest in the matatu business here in Kenya but I do not know which bus to choose. I want a 51-seater, either Isuzu FRR, Nissan MKB 210, or Mitsubishi. I am looking at durability, fuel economy, and ease of maintenance.

I have heard from a number of people that Isuzu is durable and easy to maintain while the Nissan is not that durable.

I also do not understand why the Isuzu FRR has a bigger engine (8200cc) than the Nissan MK210 (6900cc), yet the two vehicles yield the same horse power.

Does the Isuzu consume more fuel due to the bigger engine? Also, why is FH the most popular and fastest selling truck in Kenya?

Mwangi.

The MKB 210 is turbocharged and intercooled, that is why it yields almost the same power as the FRR (180 hp vs 187). The FH is popular due to its power (more than both MKB and FRR, at about 215 hp) and durability (the vehicle is quite hardy).

I am not sure about their fuel consumption yet, I will check with some industry players and get back to you.

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Hi,

I have a few questions concerning my Lexus RX330.

First, how can I change the language settings on the DVD screen, and where is the control DVD located?

The other problem is that when I attain speeds of between 60 to 80 kph, it vibrates, but when I stop accelerating it stops. I have tried all manner of wheel balancing and alignment but in vain.

Lastly, is there a DVD with Kenyan maps and can it work in my car? I hear something about PAL and NTSC, but I’m not familiar with these. Please help.

A tuning outfit called Auto Art says they can do Japanese-English translations for those telematics systems. Find them and ask. I do not know where the control DVD is located (or what it is, for that matter).

The vibrating could be caused by worn out engine or transmission mounts. Lexus were known to have installed active engine mounts on some cars (these mounts vibrate at the same frequency but half a wavelength out of sync with the engine vibration itself to cancel out the engine vibrations, which is why Lexus cars are so smooth).

I do not know who has the DVD with Kenyan maps, but I have seen cars with Nairobi sat-nav, and CMC boast that their Discovery 4 has a Kenyan road map sat-nav that includes game parks.

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Dear Baraza,

I live in the UK and read your article touching on V-Power fuel and I just wanted to make a comment.

I use a B6 VW Passat diesel and was recently introduced to V-Power diesel by Shell.

This is what I noticed: V-Power diesel is made from a different base stock. Instead of being refined from crude, a percentage will consist of liquified gas and is meant to be a “purer” fuel with cleaner burning. Whether it is worth the price premium is a point for endless discussion.

For what it is worth, I have tried every type of diesel fuel here (BP Ultimate Diesel, Total Excelium) plus a range of additives, and none has made any measurable, repeatable difference in performance or economy. All diesel fuel on sale from reputable UK forecourts meets or exceeds the EN590 standard that car manufacturers specify.

Musau.

Thank you Musau. When V-Power was first introduced back here in the motherland, Shell were careful to point out that it will not turn your Corolla estate into a Ferrari (in spite of using images of Ferrari cars to popularise the fuel).

It is more of a cleaning agent than a high-power output fuel. With the increased octane rating, it can be used in performance cars with high compression engines.

It will not, repeat NOT, increase the performance of your car or the fuel economy, but it will clean the engine of deposits in and around the combustion chamber.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a Subaru Forester 2003 Turbo. The turbo makes a whining sound at 5,000rpm while the boost has a slight delay. The sound can be heard from the cockpit. I have checked all the hoses. Is the turbo going? I am using V-Power and fully synthetic oil (Quartz 9000).

The car could be suffering from boost leak, which means that somewhere in the turbo or intake, there is an area where the air (boost) is escaping.

Typically, a boost leak is caused by a loose or bad seal or cracked housing. When there is a boost leak, the turbo will be able to generate boost, but it may not be able to hold it at a constant level, and pressure will drop off proportionally to the size of the leak.

The funny whining noise is a cyclic noise caused by unstable compressor operating conditions known as compressor surge.

This aerodynamic instability is the most noticeable during a rapid lift of the throttle following operation at full boost, which it may have in your case since you talk of running at 5,000rpm.

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Hi,

I have this car that I call an animal because I was driving on a highway and did not realise that I was doing 160km/h. It is an 1800cc Fielder S. Kindly advise on the most fuel-economic speed on highways.

I also wish to know whether switching the lever to neutral and back in attempt to save fuel, in an auto, can cause damage to the gearbox. Thanks.

The most economical speed depends mostly on engine capacity, but it lies between 90 km/h for small-engine cars and about 125–130 km/h for cars with large engines (3.5 litre plus). Shave off about 20 km/h each for diesel powered cars. You, however, need to have your windows shut and keep a steady throttle foot.

I had done an article on driving in neutral and declared it redundant in the face of current technology.

You are better off leaving the car in gear and getting off the throttle completely when going downhill.

Driving in neutral does not damage the gearbox but there is a big risk of you getting the shift wrong, like if you accidentally bump the lever up into R instead of down into D.

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Hi JM,

Your recent comments on the value of spacers needs a reply. The level of ground clearance of a vehicle when loaded is a vital and too-often-ignored factor when making a purchase. Many imported vehicles have soft suspensions and, even with small loads, cannot negotiate the ill-designed speed bumps without making contact.

While spacers may reduce the visual appearance of your favourite vehicle, it may be better for you to get something more practical for everyday use.

During the days of the 305, 404, and 504, the Peugeot factory spent a day every three or four months making these models for the African market with over 100 modifications, which included stiffer springs and increased ground clearance, and the 305 I owned never grounded when loaded.

The rules on importation of cars should be changed to include an established minimum ground clearance when loaded with the recommended load.

Muckle.

Thank you so much, Muckle. I did discuss tropicalisation and the import market in my first two articles of 2011, but, as has become the norm, accusations of being on the payroll of some local franchise flew left and right. It is difficult to help people when they do not want to be helped.

That was the beauty of the Peugeot cars of yore: they were built to a standard and the local driving conditions were taken into consideration.

If it was up to me, I would turn the import market into a forbidding venture for all but the most determined. It is time to get people back into proper cars and have them stop complaining about ruined suspensions, incompatible fuel systems, and other such problems.

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Dear Sir/Madam,

Recently, I came across an article on toxic cars from Japan. It seems that following the last nuclear disaster in Japan, unscrupulous used-car dealers and exporters are playing around with re-registration papers and processes in order to sell and export cars that are unsuitable for use, cars condemned by the Japanese government as having too high a radiation reading, hence unfit for use.

I do believe our “tough” business men and women will find a way of exporting these condemned units to unsuspecting consumers in Kenya and wherever RHD cars are used. If I recall correctly, after the Chernobyl nuclear fall-out, some pints of condemned milk did find their way into the local market.

Daniel.

Dear Sir/Madam? Seriously? I do not want to sound like a pompous, narcissistic, self-centred person here, but did you not see that the picture in the paper was that of a man?

That aside, you seem to be on to something here. If our government was serious, they would acquire a set of Geiger-Muller tubes and deploy them at the port to intercept any radioactive material that would otherwise be passed to the mwananchi.

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Is the Nissan NP300 Hardbody really new?

There has been a flurry of activity going down on Koinange Street, and no, it is not what you are thinking; please get your minds out of the gutter, this is a motoring column.

There has been talk and action surrounding the latest Jeep Cherokee, something called a Nissan Cash-and-Carry (actually Qashqai, but forgive my poor grasp of exotic nomenclature), some new Benz cars (latest CLS and E-Class coupés), and, naturally, a new vehicle launch.

The brief was simple — Ring-ring. Hello, Baraza. We are launching the new Nissan NP300 Hardbody pickup. Would you be so kind as to make an appearance? Yes I would. So I donned by best and walked into College House.

The affair was textbook and low key — a podium where grey-suited executive types would stand and remind us motoring hacks what we were there for and some cars kept undercover (literally) to increase the element of surprise and boost excitement.

And the excitement was there alright, at least for me, given how fired up I was when the NP200 came out, so I was sure the NP300 would be a pleasant surprise. It was a surprise, yes, but not the kind that makes one giddy.

I first became suspicious that I was going to be disappointed during one speech (I never listen to these speeches, by the way), in which there was talk of TD27s and QD32s.

This was supposed to be a new line of cars, but those two engine codes sounded awfully familiar, and they should be. If you have travelled in a 14-seater matatu that was not a Toyota, then it more likely than not had one of these two engines.

Confirmation of my suspicion (to my utter surprise) came when the cars were unveiled under a barrage of flashing cameras and half-hearted clapping (we motoring hacks tend to be arrogant and unappreciative of other people’s efforts).

The new Nissan NP300 Hardbody is exactly the same as the old one.

What is it?

It is the Nissan Hardbody as you have always known it. The only difference is that it is now called the NP300 Hardbody, unlike before when we simply called it the Hardbody.

The NP300 name smacks of pandering to American tastes, where a good number of car companies have realised that evocative names don’t go far with the Yanks; they seem to prefer a combination of letters and numbers.

That is why Lexus has been so successful there, and why Land Rover are ditching their Discovery and Freelander labels for LR3, LR4 and what not.

Available permutations

The NP300 can be had in 2WD or 4WD, single-cab or double-cab, or in Atoti form: the flagship Double Cab High Grade (that is what it is called in the brochure).

There are two naturally aspirated diesel engines: a 2.7 and a 3.2, both 4-cylinder and both having seen service in the E24 van, what we commonly refer to as the Nissan matatu.

The 3.2 only comes with 4WD for both single and double cab, while the 2.7 is for 2WD. Also available is a 2.4 litre petrol engine for the 2WD single-cab.

The High Grade has only one engine, a turbo-intercooled 2.5 litre, and no, this is not the engine in the Navara.

It is available as either 2WD or 4WD, and this puts it squarely within its big brother’s playing field, a fiercely contested segment that has already seen a few casualties so far; remember the Ranger XLT?

What are its abilities?

The van engines develop 85 hp (64kW) and 18kgm of torque for the 2.7 and 100 hp (76kW) and 22 kgm for the 3.2.

Now, these are just numbers on a page, and frankly, they look a little underwhelming, but get behind the wheel of a Hardbody pickup and you will understand what all the talk about torque really is. I have.

The power is nothing you are likely to dream about, but the torque is massive. I have driven the 2.7 before, and I was astonished.

You can take off in first, second or third if the vehicle is empty, even fourth if you are a bit special. No judder. No strain.

No bogging down and no stalling. The last time this happened I was trying my hand on a Massey-Ferguson cane tractor, without the cane.

You can crawl along in first, off-throttle, like you would an automatic, and when in second, if you brake without clutching in, you can actually feel the engine tugging against the anchors. That is how good the torque is.

Nissan prides itself with the tagline “Built Tough”. The NP300 is the embodiment of this claim, and again, no, the free branded hat (and key-chain) I received for my trouble has nothing to do with my saying that.

It is as rugged as they come, built using the crude but effective 18th century mangle technology of steel ladder frames and leaf springs.

Five cross-members ensure that the ladder chassis won’t flex when the NP300 is used as most Kenyans are wont to use them: grossly overloaded and crawling down a barely tractable goat path.

Ruggedness forms part of the NP300 picture, what with double-walled rear side panels, double-walled tailgate and extra-strong tailgate chains.

These features really encourage overloading, and some people I talked to (not DT Dobie) say when they buy a Hardbody, they double the number of slats on the rear leaf springs, and coupled with the torquey engine, the car can now bear a load double its intended capacity. Kenyans.

Behind the wheel

For that same 2.7, I had some issues with the interior. It was as usefully simple as it was greyly naff. I may have said that the base Ford Ranger XLT was Spartan, but this Nissan’s interior is what the Spartans would call Spartan.

Radio (tape) and air-con; that’s your lot, no power windows. The bench (that is what it is, a flat, unsculpted bench that sits three: the driver and two uncomfortable passengers) is covered in grey cloth and is barely adjustable.

Oh, and airbags now enter the picture (at least for the 4WD diesel). The rest of the specs remain the same. Driving it is not that much fun, unless you play around with the torque.

It is not an exercise in masochism either; the heavily assisted steering is now finger-light and the four-spoke tiller can be twirled like a baton with minimum effort.

The pedals are nicely weighted, the throttle is smooth and easy to modulate, as is the clutch pedal, which is sweetly progressive and can be mastered by anyone, even those who failed in driving school.

The problem is the brakes. They work fine but the pedal requires a lengthy tread before the callipers bite, and they can cause you quite some alarm the first time you step on it and nothing happens.

It is not that the pedal is stiff, but you need to push a long way before actuation occurs. Seeing that the NP300 is a mass-produced robot-assembled white good, I sincerely hope the problem was peculiar to the vehicle I drove.

The gear selector lever is long and angled backwards for ergonomic reasons. The shift action is fine, but close placement means second-to-fifth or first-to-fourth shifts are a common occurrence, which is just as well given how much torque these engines develop.

The light commercial vehicle sector is quite competitive. Almost every entrant has their own unique characteristic, which is also their selling point.

Toyota and the Hilux depend on their reliability and after sales maintenance record, as well as the carrying capacity (expansive load bay) but their untrustworthy D4 technology is not winning them many fans.

Isuzu’s DMAX is named like a hip-hop artist, and the turbocharged engine pushes it to incredible speeds, but a video clip showing one spilling its human cargo all over the road (in Kenya, no less) exposed issues with its stability and has seen prospective buyers turn wary.

Turbocharged cars also have cooling complications, especially the oil, and the diesel versions require extra care if you seek longevity.

Mitsubishi L200: the less said the better. The Chinese? Their biggest claim to fame is strong vehicle resemblance to existing market players and a price tag that is hard to walk away from.

That leaves Nissan. You will not find them powering their way to Wilson Airport from Meru like the Hilux, nor will you find them delivering newspapers in the wee hours like the DMAX, so what is their role in life?

The double-cab is a common sight at roadwork sites, and it is used as an ambulance in a good number of (remote) hospitals, while the single-cab has fans among contractors and builders.

It looks like the NP300s are good for carrying cement and rocks, but I am not one to judge.

Fellow long-timers

Just because Nissan is using power and suspension from back when Formula 1 cars ran on vodka and methylated spirit does not make the NP300 a weak entry.

Some engines have proved themselves impeccably. The Peugeot 504 ceased production worldwide a long time ago, but Kenya and Nigeria continued assembly up to as late as 2004.

The Isuzu MV118 bus used the same 13.7 litre engine for close to 30 years before it was superseded by the 9.8 litre MV123.

And CMC will tell you that one of their products, the Nissan Diesel UD CB31 SXN, uses a powerplant that dates back to before I was born, yet it still stays competitive against modern entries.

Don’t be so quick to write off the NP, even if its re-launch is something that needs to be looked into.

Change is the only constant

The flagship of the brand, the 2.5 litre turbo-diesel double-cab, is lovingly referred to as “Atoti” by DT Dobie.

Now I get it; remember Gidi Gidi Maji Maji singing “Atoti this way, Atoti that way”? What they meant was Atoti looks this way now, and Atoti has looked that way since time began.

The blurb on the NP300’s brochure reads in part: “It’s a dedication to looking at the familiar in a different way…”, which is dodgy PR-talk for “we have not really done much, and the little we have done you probably won’t notice, so here is a reminder that what you are looking at is actually different from what you saw on the road last week.”

This is a rare occasion when I have little to recommend. I would have suggested turbocharging the two diesel mills, but no, their attraction lies in their simplicity, and they are already handy enough as it is.

What I’d say is maybe DT Dobie should sell the 2WD cars with bigger wheels, because they look woefully undershod in those puny 14-inch steel dinner plates wrapped with narrow rubbers.

Posted on

Try a tiptronic before you die

You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Says who? In the world of motor vehicle transmissions lately, there have been several attempts at both possessing and munching one’s gateau by having the lazy convenience of a full automatic and the option of performance-enhancing, DIY gearshifts when the need arises.

This type of transmission goes by numerous labels, depending on the manufacturer: Geartronic, Touchshift, Sport-tronic, Steptronic, TAPshift, Comfortronic, CommandShift, E-Shift and so many other –tronics or –shifts, but the most common name is Tiptronic, a joint Audi/Porsche trademark.

The proper name for the automatic gearbox with manual override, which is what I am talking about, is Manumatic, a portmanteau word combining manual and automatic.

And this is how it works: The standard transmission is your typical automatic, but it is equipped with a manual function in a smaller slot or gate extending from the D position.

While in D, the transmission is fully automatic, but pushing the gear stick into the smaller slot overrides the computers, meaning the car will not shift gears without driver input.

The smaller slot has two spring-loaded positions: “+” for changing up and “-” for changing down. The exact layout, again, depends on the manufacturer, because cars like the Mitsubishi Galant have the function working up and down, while Mercedes have theirs working left and right. When the gear lever is tapped into the + or -, it springs back into its original position.

How to drive the manumatic: Seeing how the manumatic starts life as an automatic, cars equipped with this trick transmission are driven like automatics.

If curiosity, or haste, gets the better of you and you resort to the “Tiptronic” function, this is what to do: Slide the selector lever into the Tiptronic/Steptronic slot, right where the “+” and “-” graphics are.

The transmission will stay in whatever gear it was in while automatic and it is from here that you will start shifting up or down. The rest is a PlayStation-style approach: push the lever towards the “+” to change up (2-3-4…) or towards the “-” to change down (4-3-2…).

Performance specialists like Mitsubishi’s Evo X, or the world-famous Bugatti Veyron, have paddle-shift Tiptronic transmissions (and DSG), which have a supplementary kit for even faster and more convenient shifting.

These are a pair of paddles mounted on the steering column just behind the wheel. One shifts up (+), and the other down (-).

Lexus’ RX330/ Toyota Harriers also have this layout, giving the driver the option of not taking his hands off the wheel even when going through the gears without electronic intervention.

Porsche’s Cayenne, a horribly expensive car, has buttons on the steering boss cross-member, four of them; two at the 3 o’clock and two at the 9 o’clock positions.

The upper button shifts up and the lower one down, on both sides. (We know, it can be a bit disorienting).

The joy of this transmission is that the switch between manual and auto occurs at any speed, you do not have to stop or go through some ritual to change over.

A reader was concerned that switching from auto to manual will cause the gearbox to default into first, and what if this happens at 150 km/h? Not a chance. When changing over to Tiptronic, all you are doing is telling the computer “I will take over from here, if you don’t mind”.

The only instances when the auto function cuts into the manual is when the revs dip to below tick-over (what you call idling) causing the transmission to downshift automatically to prevent the engine from stalling, or when redlining, really mashing the firewall, which causes the ‘box to upshift by itself to prevent over-revs or engine damage.

The boring stuff: The manumatic, like other typical automatic transmissions, uses a fluid clutch — the torque converter — rather than an electronically operated friction clutch.

The gearbox itself is governed automatically in D, but when the lever is pushed to the side, into the manumatic function, this is what happens.

Bumping the lever up/down or left/right shifts gears. What these little taps to the gear-stick do is rotate a notched wheel, a simple cog, which is meshed to a ratcheting drum.

The drum has grooves cut into its side, and it is these grooves that either move the gear selector forks directly if the drum is mounted next to the gears, or manipulate standard control rods which then manoeuvre the selector forks if the drum is mounted away from the gears.

The former setup is preferred because it is less complex and needs fewer parts. The selector forks are within the gearbox itself, and as their name suggests, they select the gears.

Moving the gear lever once causes the ratcheting drum to rotate through a certain degree, say 60, equivalent to one gearshift up or down.

The drum, in turn, moves the selector forks/rods in such a way as to select the next gear up or down.

Because of the drum, the gears are sequential and it is impossible to skip gears or miss a shift — a common occurrence during high-speed driving with fully manual transmissions.

Pros and cons: Obviously, manumatic transmissions offer a good compromise between fully manual and fully automatic powertrains. In “manual” mode, the shift speeds are quicker compared to conventional manuals.

Imagine the change from 2nd to 3rd: with an H-type manual, you push the lever up, over to the right and up again, clutching and declutching in the process, but with a manumatic you simply tap the lever.

Downshifts are easier and less painful for those who cannot double-declutch or rev-match by heel and toe. Balancing the clutch is also not an issue.
Consistency is another advantage, eliminating the need to think or rack your brains trying to remember if you were in 3rd or 4th.

The shifts are all the same: tap this way to shift up, the other way to shift down. In a manual, you will need to keep in mind what gear you were in to execute a flawless upshift or downshift (5th to 4th — pull down, move left and pull down again… no, wait! I AM in 4th already. Oh shoot).

The lever position in a manumatic is always the same irrespective of the gear you are in, unlike a manual where 1st and 5th are polar opposites location-wise. You do not need a darts champion’s skill to locate the gear positions.

One last advantage over a conventional manual is as mentioned above: it is impossible to miss a shift. No gear skipping going up or down, which in turn leads to a silky, flawless drive.

The manumatic’s advantage over a full automatic is simply the manual facility. This helps prevent hunting, the tendency of automatics to keep shuffling between two gears searching for the right ratio.

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In keeping with the torque coming from the engine and the load.

In hard driving, the manumatic also allows for short-shifting, where the driver changes up before the optimum engine revs in anticipation of circumstances ahead.

Short-shifting applies mostly in circuit racing where a series of switchbacks beckons and there are no straights in between to change gear in.
This brings us to the next advantage, that of holding onto a gear through a long corner.

In performance driving, changing gear mid-corner will cause a drift, and that is one of many reasons why nobody races in a fully automatic car.
But it is not all cake and flowers for manumatics.

Some have in-built characteristics that are, frankly, annoying. One is the tendency to default to the fully automatic setting if no manual input is made after eight seconds.

This is a feature of Porsche’s Tiptronic S system, as seen in the Boxster Cabriolet and Cayenne SUV. Audi’s 5-speed tiptronic will only allow you to play with gears 3, 4 and 5; 1st and 2nd are always engaged for you.
At the end of the day, the manumatic still does not feel like a manual, and it is ultimately slightly less engaging, but that is just nit-picking. It also does not let you control clutch engagement, and it will cost you a tidy sum over a similar car with a manual tranny.