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The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about

Hello Baraza,
I love cars and they must be fast, but in Kenya they have put in place speed bumps, Alcoblow and what have you to stop us. Kindly give me the lowdown on the Nissan Murano; is it as good as its curves imply or is it “just another Nissan”?
Eriq B

The speed bumps and Alcoblow kits are necessary evils to protect Kenyans from themselves. Sometimes we take things too far, more often than not, with blatant disregard for existing dogma.

Rules are meant to be followed, and if the great unwashed thinks it knows better and is too large to capture (“They can’t arrest us all!”), systems can be put in place that make strict obeisance of such tenets unavoidable.

With speed bumps looming ahead, pushing the needle to previously unused sectors of the speedometer doesn’t look so attractive now, does it?

With a policeman in a high-visibility jacket ready and willing to ruin your weekend with a citation and court appointment (wherein penalties involving large sums of money and/or extended periods as a guest of the state will be on the menu), drink-driving is suddenly not as much fun as it used to be, is it?

NOT EASY ON FUEL

That aside, let us chat (very briefly) about the Murano. It is a good car if you buy it — if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t want to admit to anyone that you threw money down the toilet buying a useless vehicle, would you? It is a good car only if you own it, because it is an investment.

As an unsold car, it is hard to see the point of a Murano other than as a cut-price pose-mobile; an option where the Mercedes M Class looks too snobbish, a BMW X5/X6/X3 too expensive, a Lexus RX330/450h too cliché, a Subaru Tribeca too close to guilt by association with the boy-racer WRX, and where the propagator of the incipient purchase has a fetish for chrome.

It looks like an SUV but it won’t seat seven and will be flummoxed by some rough stuff that a Freelander could handle: the ground clearance is insufficient for tough terrain; the 4WD system is not for anything besides good traction on wet tarmac and/or a light coating of mud on hard-pack road; approach, departure and break-over angles are not ideal for crawling over anything tougher than a kerb; it is not easy on fuel and, to make matters worse, there is a pretender in the line-up: a little-known 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine that could easily haunt your engine bay, fooling the unwise into thinking they have the more famous 3.5 litre V6 (“sports car engine, mate! Straight off the 350Z!”); that is, until the day they go beyond the psychological barrier that is half-throttle and experience incredulity at being dusted by a sports saloon with high-lift cams, then ask themselves what all those cubic inches are for if the Murano can’t keep up with a tiny car.

Cross-over utilities are pointless in my opinion, and the Murano is one of them. More style than substance, more form than function, more panache than purpose. It is comfortable, though, and makes a good kerb-crawler and school run vehicle…

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Hi Baraza,
First, I wish to appreciate your column in the Daily Nation. I have a Land Rover Discovery 3, 2007,  2.7 diesel engine and am thinking of customising it. What I have in mind is to make it a twin turbo or add a supercharger to increase horsepower.

It’s a big project and I know it will incur significant costs; buying the turbo or supercharger itself is not cheap. Anyway, I wish to get your opinion as to whether this is not a very crazy undertaking.

And while at it, please tell me where I can get aftermarket parts in Kenya such as cold intakes and performance exhaust manifolds and any other ways to add those horses. I know this is not a race car and I don’t expect it to be, but boys will be boys, always competing to see who has the most power.
PS: I don’t think the Evo will ever see the tail lights of a Sub.
Kevin

Yes, it is a crazy undertaking. To begin with, nobody ever supercharges a diesel engine (the explanation is long and highly technical).

The other impediment is creating a twin-turbo set-up from a single turbo application. Will the twin turbo be sequential or parallel? Where will you fit the second turbo?

The Disco’s engine bay is already cramped enough as it is. It would be easier to either replace the factory turbo with an aftermarket unit, or simply increase the boost pressure in the current one.

Recent happenings in the Great Run (last year’s 4×4) indicate that the Disco 3’s turbo might not be the most faithful accomplice in attaining horsepower.

The one Discovery that took part blew its (stock) turbo or something along those lines — after limping along in safe-mode for a while. Maybe fiddling with the turbo on the Ford AJD-V6/PSADT17 engine might not be a good idea after all.

Buying a new turbo might not be your biggest headache in this undertaking. You might or might not need new injectors (high-flow units), depending on what comes as stock from the factory. You might or might not need an intercooler upgrade.

You will definitely need new headers and a new intake. You will also need either a new engine map for the ECU to gel with the new blower or a whole new ECU altogether. I don’t know of any local outfit that does Discovery engine maps.

Worse still, opening up the engine might prove to be the first obstacle you come across: some engines are built and held together using custom covers and fasteners, whose tools are very specific and supplied only to official dealers. I hardly think RMA Kenya will want to get in on this.

The easiest way to get a sizeable jump in power might be to simply increase boost in the current turbo by a very huge factor, then persevere the gnawing feeling in your stomach that soon, the turbo will most likely disintegrate into a cloud of metal shavings.

Shop around. Performance parts are not very hard to come by nowadays. PS: You are right. You will never see the tail lights of a car that is behind you.

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Dear Baraza,

I enjoy reading your articles and appreciate and respect your advice. Now, please give your comments on the performances of the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota Fortuner and the Land Rover Discovery.

I test-drove a Pathfinder and the car seemed excellent… power, comfort, and smoothness. Road grip at high speed on rough roads with what they call independent wheel suspension was very good compared to the others.

However, it has a lower power rating of only 2.5L. Or is there higher output for some cars even with a lower cc? Please advise because I need to make a decision. Mash.

Hello Mash,
I don’t follow. First, in Point 1 you say you like the power, comfort and smoothness of the Pathfinder, but then come Point 2, you complain that the vehicle is down on power. Which is which?

You are right, though, the Pathfinder is good on those three fronts, but even better is the Discovery, again on all three fronts. This leads to another question: which Discovery are you referring to?

We are on the fourth iteration, which is a whole lot different (and light years better) than the first two generations. This also applies to the Pathfinder: which generation are we talking about?

The earlier ones were close to hopeless, but the latest ones (R51 model onwards) are superb. Not so much the Fortuner.

The power might be much lower than the Pathfinder, especially where the diesel engines in the Hilux are concerned (101hp for the Toyota 2KD-FTV 2.5 litre compared to the Nissan’s 170hp YD25TT 2.5 litre diesel).

A BIT THIRSTY

The Fortuner is also not what we would call comfortable, and being based on a rugged, near-immortal, steel-boned, hewn-from-granite frame designed to do all sorts of menial tasks, from ferrying khat to carrying bags of cement to toting heavy artillery in war-torn areas, smoothness was not a priority during development, and it shows. It is based on a truck of sorts, and it feels like a truck of sorts.

Taking you at your word (verbatim), for the Pathfinder, you will not find a smaller engine than the 2.5, and by induction, it will not be more powerful because it does not exist in the first place.

However, bigger engines are available: you could get a 3.0 V6 turbodiesel making 240hp (only with the 2010 facelift model, though), 4.0 V6 petrol (good unit, this, but a bit thirsty) good for 266hp; or even a rare 5.6 litre V8, though this particular one might be available only in the Middle East.

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Dear Baraza,
I have one issue after another with my BMW E46 and all the diagnoses are misleading. I used to take my car to a local dealer but they were not of much help. What you should tell the BMW guys in Germany is that either we don’t have serious dealers or expertise in Kenya, or their machines are no longer exciting or trustworthy. One can sleep in the bush any time.
Harrison.

This should make things interesting, especially seeing what I wrote about BMW last week. Let us see if Bavaria follows this up. However, I agree with you: we don’t get exciting BMWs here, at least not via official channels.

No convertibles — although I did see one or two coupés at Bavaria Motors some time back — none of the M Cars (more so the mighty M5), and I can bet the futuristic i8 model that is rumoured to be on the premises is not for sale to the public just yet.

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Hi JM,
Thank you for your very informative column.
1. I recently witnessed an ambulance tear through the side of a saloon car and speed off, leaving the saloon driver gaping. The saloon car was in a traffic jam and could not climb the kerb to give way because of the posts on the side of the road.

(a) Do ambulance drivers have immunity from prosecution? To what extent are they exempted from obeying traffic rules?
(b) What course of action could the saloon car driver have taken under the circumstances?
(c) Are Cabinet and Principal Secretaries allowed by law to use the wrong lane on a dualcarriageway? I find it very dangerous to oncoming vehicles.

2. Which is the best buy between the Toyotas Spacio, Allion, Belta and NZE in terms of engineering quality and maintenance?
Thanks.

This is new…
1. a) I believe drivers of emergency vehicles enjoy a certain degree of immunity from prosecution, but a number of factors have to be in place first, chief being there has to be an emergency.

I have also witnessed an ambulance make short work of the front nearside fender of a saloon car whose only mistake was to peep a little too far into a T-junction, across which the ambulance was barrelling at full tilt, lights flashing and siren wailing.

Upon inquiry, I was told that the saloon car driver had no case; if anything, he was in danger of prosecution for failing to make way for an emergency vehicle. I am not sure to what extent this immunity stretches.

b) Typical accident scenario: step 1 is to assess the damage (and pray that you do not need an ambulance too… and/or a hearse). Step 2 is to contact your insurance company. They will know and advise you what the next course of action is.

Reporting this to the police might get you into deeper trouble (see the conclusion of (a) above), but I believe that at one point or other an accident report will have to be made.

c) I don’t think so. Very few people have this privilege, the President being the most obvious example, but Secretaries? I hardly think so.

2. These cars all come from the same company, so they will be built similarly. The level of quality and engineering precision will be reflected directly on the cost of the car: expect the Belta to be slightly inferior to the other three, which all feel the same.

Maintenance follows the same formula: the simplistic Belta should be easier to run and repair compared to the remaining trio.

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Okay guys, let’s take these little 4X4s off the tarmac

Hi Baraza,
Congratulations for the excellent job you’re doing. I have two questions:
1. Please give a critical analysis of the following high-end 4X4s: Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q7, BMW X6, Porshe Cayenne, VW Touareg and Mercedes M-class and G-Class.

Comment on performance on and off road, intelligence, comfort, safety, longevity and fuel consumption, and which of these you woul go for.

2. Please advice us on the precautions we should take to ensure we don’t get conned when importing a car and when buying a locally used one.

Thanks,

Sam.

1. On-Road Performance: The Porsche Cayenne is untouchable, especially as a Turbo or Turbo S. The rest would only attempt at catching up in their high performance variants, and the pecking order is like this, starting from second place (after the Porsche): BMW X6 M, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, Range Rover Vogue Supercharged — if there was a Range Rover Sport in this list, the Sport Supercharged would be No 2 after the Cayenne —, Audi Q7 V12 TDI, VW Touareg V10 TDI, Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG and finally the Land Rover Discovery V8. This list combines both handling and speed. For speed only, the Q7 would be No 3 and the G63 No 4.

Off-Road Performance: The Mercedes G Class is hard-core, closely followed by the Range Rover and the Land Rover Discovery. The Touareg and the Cayenne tie in 4th place (same chassis anyway), followed by the ML Benz.

The Q7 is second last, which would seem strange given the fact that it shares a platform with the Cayenne and the Touareg, but it has a much longer wheel-base and is a lot heavier; and the Quattro drivetrain is slow-thinking, so it cannot quite match up to the other two. Stone dead last is the X6, which is a fashion statement and should be treated as such.

Intelligence: I don’t know what you mean by “intelligence”, but these are all European cars, and they all pack some elaborate forms of cleverness under their bonnets, in their chasses and in their drivetrains.

The vote on engine development would go to the X6, especially the 3.0 litre turbodiesel. Drivetrain and chassis configuration: I’d say the Land Rover Discovery: double chassis, both monocoque and separate, air suspension, Hill Descent Control and the Terrain Response System. All these in one car. None of the others can boast such a feat.

Comfort: It’s no secret: the grandfather of all SUVs, the Range Rover Vogue, with air-suspension, set in Comfort mode, not Sport or Off-road setting. The rest fall into place one way or the other, if they have available air suspension. Some don’t, like the Cayenne. The G Class could be the least comfortable here.

Safety: These are the Euro-NCAP ratings for these vehicles according to the last model tested. Decide for yourself which is which.

Longevity: This depends on how you treat them and where you drive them (and how you drive them where you drive them). The G Class is like a hard rock that will not wear out. The Range Rover’s past history plays against it.

Consumption: If this is the class of cars in which you are looking for your next purchase, don’t ask this question.

But anyway: the diesel versions of these cars will give very good mileage, between 7 and 11 kpl, except the Cayenne diesel (and Touareg) which will still swill till you go shrill. The Q7 6.0 V12 TDI is another case altogether, I’d rather not even talk about it.

The petrol versions of these cars, on the other hand, will bankrupt you faster than those Campus Divas For Rich Men that you see on Facebook. Expect mileages in the region of 4-5 kpl. Worst culprits are the Cayenne Turbo and ML63 (see the rest of the list in the “On-road Performance” section)

The car I’d go for? The Gelandewagen, the Mercedes-Benz G Class, or G Wagon in hip-hop-speak. It looks the part, and in black, with black rims, the G63 AMG’s looks and sounds will ensure nosy neighbours never visit — and they will always lock up their daughte’s whenever they hear Germany’s rudest V8 rumbling into the compound. Class.

2. I did an article on this subject some time back, and it was plagiarised on so many Internet sites that finding it is not hard. Just search “How To Buy A Used Car”… or something like that.

Dear Baraza

I own an old manual Toyota Corolla stationwagon which I am planning to dispose of and buy a newer car. Kindly let me know the advantages and disadvantages of manual and automatic gearboxes before I make my choice.

I want to buy either a Toyota Corolla, a Subaru Legacy or a Subaru Impreza, but I’m yet to figure out the advantages each has over the other in terms of fuel consumption, reliability and performance.

Regards,

Muthoni

Manual transmissions tend to offer marginally better performance and fuel economy, while automatic cars are easier to drive… almost too easy.

Economy and maintenance (and performance) are broadly similar for the Corolla and Impreza (both of 1,500cc). The Legacy performs better than these two but will use more fuel per kilometer and might cost more to keep on the road.

Hello Baraza,

I recently acquired a Toyota Hilux 2007 model fitted with a Toyota 5L 3,000cc engine.

1. What are the pros and cons of this engine?

2. Being new to diesel engines, is this an EFI variant?

3. How does it compare to the Toyota 3L engine in terms of performance and fuel consumption?

4. Would it be wise to change to a smaller engine once the pros and cons are taken into account?

Regards,

Benjamin.

1. Good economy and reliability. Poor output compared to rivals of similar capacity.

2. Yes.

3. The 5L is of bigger capacity (2,986cc) compared to the 3L (2,779cc). It has better power (97 bhp @ 4,000 rpm versus 91 bhp @ 4,000 rpm) and torque (191 Nm @ 2,400 rpm versus 188 Nm @ 2,400 rpm). The fuel consumption depends on use, but the 3L is easier on the drink.

4. Yes. Like the 3L for instance. The differences in outputs (6 bhp and 3 Nm) don’t validate the difference in engine capacity (207cc).

Hi Baraza,
Many thanks for enlightening us through your insightful articles. I enjoy reading them every Wednesday and I have picked loads of tips. Now to my questions: In your experience, what are the common causes of turbo failure and how do you deal with the turbo once it fails? Does it require special care to keep it going?

Kind regards,

Daniel Makau.

Thank you Mr Makau. The common causes of turbo failure are poor lubrication and heat dumping (which is, in a way, the result of poor lubrication). The poor lubrication can either be by using the wrong grade of oil, having low oil levels or thrashing a turbocharged engine as soon as the key is turned.

When a turbocharged engine is cranked, it is advisable to wait for 2-5 minutes (depending on size of the engine and the turbocharger) for the oil to flow around the turbo shaft and into the bearings, and for oil pressure to build up before revving up the engine.

I am sure I do not need to explain the benefits of lubrication whenever metal parts are rubbing together, and in a turbocharger, these benefits are of paramount importance. Turbocharger vanes can sometimes spool at speeds of up to 25,000 rpm. That oil is important.

Heat dumping occurs when a turbocharged engine is turned off immediately after coming to a stop, more so after a period of continuous hard use.

An example is of a bus with a turbo engine charging hard from Nairobi to Mtito Andei before stopping. If the driver feels he must turn off the engine, he should wait, again 2-5 minutes (depending on time period and severity of usage of the engine) before killing the switch.

If the engine is turned off immediately, the oil pump stops working, so oil pressure drops. Poor lubrication. Another thing is that the turbocharger is still spinning at a very high rate, so without lubrication, you can see where the problem lies.

With these high rotation speeds comes heat. The oil that lubricates the turbo also serves to cool it. When the oil stops circulating, all the heat in the turbo is dumped into whatever little oil was left there, and this extreme heat causes something called coking in the oil, where the oil breaks down. Again, poor lubrication.

The 2-5 minute spool-down period thus allows the turbo to slow down and cool a bit before being starved of oil when the engine goes off.

Heat dumping not only damages the oil, but also the turbo itself. On one end of a turbocharger is the impeller, which feeds cold air into the engine.

The other end is the turbine, which is driven by extremely hot exhaust gases. The temperature differential between these two fans is very large, and their only connection is the shaft in between, which bears the brunt of the disparity in heat levels.

With the engine turned off suddenly, heat dumping occurs (rapid drop in temperature), and this sudden loss of heat can cause warping and lead to brittleness of components, which then break. This is the biggest (and costliest) issue with turbochargers.

The best way to deal with turbo failure is to replace the turbocharger unit. Some units are so complex, such as those equipped with variable geometry turbochargers, that opening them up to replace singular components might not be a wise proposition.

Turbos require extra care. Lubrication is of paramount importance. Proper oil grade and levels for the turbocharger, and sober driving techniques are the best palliatives against failure.

Also, let the engine idle a little before applying load on it; and after driving it, give it time to cool down before turning it off. Some cars are fitted with turbo timers which can do the latter for you if sitting in a car for five minutes doing nothing is not your cup of tea.

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for the good work. I own a Volkswagen Golf FSI 1600 CC, year 2006. When I start the engine, it roars very hard for a few seconds then runs quietly.

I have owned a Nissan and a Toyota but have never experienced such noise on cranking. The golf is ‘new’ and I’m the first owner In Kenya. Is this normal? Also, the stated speed of the car online is 197KPH yet my car has the top speed reading 260KPH, is this a fallacy by the manufactures?

Victor Otieno.

The roar could be an excess of fuel being fed into the engine on cranking to prevent hard starts. I am not sure if it is normal. What does CMC say? The speedometer reading is not a fallacy.

The manufacturers tend to use generic speedometers in a lot of their cars. Just because the speedometer has 260 km/h written on the bottom right corner does not mean that car will clock 260 km/h. Have a look at the Premios (first gen) that came in from Singapore. Their speedos also read 260, but that car can barely crack 210.

Hello Baraza

Sir, Toyota is to recall seven million vehicles due to possibly over-heating electric window switches. The recall is for vehicles sold in US, Asia and Europe.

My question is, how would someone in Kenya who drives an import from UK, Malaysia, Japan etc, find out if their car is on the recall list?

Second point: I was told by a Nissan executive that the best source of second-hand Nissans is the UK because the roads there are rough compared to other RHD countries.

UK cars therefore have tougher suspension and reinforced floorpan and suspension points. I drove a UK-built Almeira here for a while and the ride was firm! Your view?

Tony Gee.

To find out if your car is or has been on a recall list (and was actually recalled) is as simple as visiting either the manufacturer’s website or the NHTSA website. There you will find a list of VINs of affected vehicles. Compare it to your own VIN and see if your car is “hot”.

The second point may be true, but remember: UK also salts its roads in winter, and we know salt + water + air =…..?

Rust.

Especially brake discs/drums, wheel hubs, steering arms, etc.

Hello,

I drive a 2005 Volkswagen Golf fitted with an automatic gearbox. The car drives well but has two problems;

1 It jerks when shifting, especially the low gears (1, 2 and 3). A mechanic advised me to change the ATF oil but it didn’t help. Another mechanic told me to change the gearbox but it’s a very expensive affair. What could be the problem?

2. There is a noise on the right front side, at the suspension area, especially when on a rough road. The shocks are new but the whole assembly seems to have a problem. Those are the two issues making me not enjoy the this German technology.

Next time a mechanic tells you to do something as expensive as changing an entire gearbox, ask to explain what exactly is wrong with it and why there aren’t any cheaper alternatives. I have noticed that sometimes these people say things just for the sake of saying. Anyway, here goes:

1 When you changed the ATF, did you fill it up to the correct level? Did you flush the system first before filling in the new fluid? Did you buy a poor brand? Also, check for a leak.

Your ATF could be leaving the car without your notice. Other theories are a clogged filter preventing your transmission from working properly, or a malfunctioning pump and/or a problem with the Line Pressure Solenoid (ask your mech if he knows what this is).

You may not have to buy a new transmission, but if the problem is pressure, cleaning the valve body at the top of the gearbox might solve the issue (sometimes dirt causes the valves to stick and this causes the Line Pressure Solenoid to “malfunction” due to wrong pressure readings).

2. What does that noise sound like? Maybe your new suspension has not had time to bed in, or the fitting was done unprofessionally and there is a bit of play between components.

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for your highly informative articles. I have a Toyota Caldina, new shape. The car runs perfectly, but there is normally a “rotten egg” smell coming from the engine when I drive fast.

I suspected the battery could be the problem and I went to Chloride Exide who recommended an N40 battery but the problem still persists. Please advise me on what to do.
Paul.

The “rotten egg” smell is a characteristic of hydrogen sulphide gas (goes by other strange names such as dihydrogen monosulfide, dihydrogen sulfide, sewer gas, stink damp, sulfane sulfurated hydrogen, sulfureted hydrogen, sulfuretted hydrogen, sulfur hydride…).

From the little chemistry I know, stink damp can be produced when hydrogen gas (common lead-acid battery/accumulator by-product) reacts with molten sulphur.

The sulphur could be from the sulphuric acid used in that same accumulator. Even more worrying is that in that chemical equation, the hydrogen gas could be replaced by a hydrocarbon.

In an automotive engine, the most common hydrocarbon is petrol, though this is a stretch, I don’t see how petrol can reach the battery without human intervention.

The whole process could be cyclic. Sewer gas and oxygen react to form sulphur dioxide and water. In high temperature environments (car engine? I don’t know), the sulphur dioxide and more “rotten eggs” react to create sulphur and water (the Claus Process), and this is probably where the sulphur originated from to create the hydrogen sulphide.

As you can see, this is a self-generating menace right there, because, aside from the bad smell, stink damp is highly explosive.

Anyway, enough of the Chemistry. Why this occurs only when you drive at speed is what is important, and for that I have no answer. It could be something to do with the charging system.

Is the battery being overcharged at high rpm? Maybe. The electrical charging current could be creating undesired electrolysis (the accumulator, is after all, a voltaic /electrolytic cell)

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On the STi, Evo and ‘Godzilla’ battle, the jury is still out

Hi Baraza,
I have been arguing with my friends over which would be the winner in a battle involving the Subaru ST-i, the Mistubishi Evo VIII and ‘Godzilla’ (the Nissan GT-R R34).

I believe in the Evo due to its superior handling capabilities while the others go with the ST-i due to its superior acceleration.

Now, I’m not that well versed with the GTR, but from what I’ve read in this column, it seems that Nissan is a miracle of Asian engineering. So would you kindly set the record straight; when Jeremy Clarkson featured the cars, there was no straightforward answer.

And, on another note, was the M-class series of Mercedes a failure?

There has been no clear winner between the Evo and the ST-i. Personally, I swing the Evo way. The two cars are fundamentally the same, but there are differences.

The Impreza, through its numerous iterations, used mechanical differentials whereas the Evo applied a variety of electronic gizmos (AWC, AYC, etc) to switch torque back, forth, left and right.

The result is that the ST-i was harder to turn and had a tendency to understeer. and unprofessional suspension tuning usually made the understeer worse.

The Evo, on the other hand, handled sharply, turned better and carried more speed into and through corners, besides having a slightly higher corner exit velocity. It lost out (ever so slightly) to the ST-i in straight line speed.

ST-i pundits will yak about the near-perfect balance (owing to the boxer engine forming a straight line with the transmission and final drives through the centre of the car), against the Evo’s transversely laid in-line engine. Ignore them.

The R34 allegedly made 280 hp in factory spec, but since it developed more torque and carried that torque to higher revs than the R33, car reviewers suspected that the output was more like 320 hp, which was in direct contravention of a now-defunct gentleman’s agreement in Japan that all Japanese domestic market manufacturers will not build cars with a power output greater than 280hp.

I wonder why none of those reviewers never put Godzilla on a dyno to find out.

The GT-R’s magic comes from the ATTESA 4WD system that makes it turn at unbelievable speed. The vehicle enjoyed spectacular success in many racing series, particularly the JGTC, prompting race organisers to repeatedly make rules disfavouring the R34, if only to create a bit of competition and variety on the podium.

Its biggest disadvantage is weight, tipping the scales at close to 1,800 kg against the 1.5 tons of the two four-door saloons.

About the M-Class, the first generation was not exactly a sales failure, but it was a low point in Daimler’s history. They learnt never to design and build a car in America again, because it would come out American, which has never been a good thing.

Hi,

I’m really interested in cars and currently drive a Nissan B15 to school. I would like to know why you, in a way, hate on it because so far its okay for me.

It is not so much hate as disregard. Reliability issues, especially concerning suspension components and the fact that it ages disgracefully, has put the car off in my books. But take good care of it and it should return the love. Treat it the way some Nyeri women treat their hubbies and it will be just as unkind to you.

JM,

I have noticed that almost all Japanese cars, even fairly new ones, are permanently topped with engine coolant — you pop into a petrol station (especially ladies) and the attendants quickly notice how low your coolant is and offer it for a fee. But is engine coolant a necessity?

A normal operating engine with a working cooling system is designed to automatically keep your engine cool at all times. If your engine is overheating, you don’t need the cooling stuff, you need to have your engine checked. Correct me if I am wrong.

Yes, you are partly wrong. Sometimes coolant leaks and needs topping up. Remember heat capacities in physics? A greater mass of liquid will absorb more heat (that is, require more energy to warm up) than a smaller mass? The more coolant you have, the longer the engine will stay without getting unduly warm.

The reddish (coloured) coolant is actually anti-freeze, stuff we do not really need here, unless you live in Nyahururu where it sometimes “snows”. Anti-freeze is made to have an extremely low melting point so that it will take temperatures far below zero to freeze over.

Coolant is water based, and, again, from physics, we know about the anomalous expansion of water, where between 0 and -4 degrees, ice actually expands rather than contracts with a drop in temperature, and this expansion can do a great deal of damage to the cooling system and engine block.

Anti-freeze added once in a while (after several top ups of water, how many is not important) is a good idea even here around the equator because it also contains cleaning and anti-corrosion agents, which will keep your cooling ducts/pipes and radiator clear of build-up and rust. Okay now?

Baraza,

You have mentioned on about two occasions the engine of a Honda car — can’t remember the specific make — and you heaped a lot of praise on it, especially in comparison to the Nissan X-trail and that class of engines. Please enlighten me on this.

Secondly, my understanding of turbo engines was about more power and same fuel consumption as a non-turbo car, but from your articles I gather that this is not the case and that turbo engines are “fragile”. True?

Actually, what I like about Honda engines is the V-TEC boffinry (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control).

It gives the engine a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: below 5,000 rpm, it is docile, quiet and “teetotal”, get beyond 5,000 rpm and it turns into a wild, manic, racer-like dipsomaniac and will keep revving all the way to 9,000 rpm for most Type R cars and 10,000 rpm for the Honda S2000 sports car. Heady stuff, this.

I also mentioned the two-stage CVCC cylinder heads pioneered by Soichiro’s engineers way back in 1975. These revolutionised emissions control and fuel economy so that Honda did not have to fit power-sapping catalytic converters to its cars (the tiny cartoon-like Civic at the time).

These heads were tried even in the huge, thirsty American V8 engines and the results were spectacular.

Lambda sensor technology has since rendered the CVCC heads unnecessary.

Turbo engines will burn a little more fuel because a lot more air is going into the engine, and to avoid burning a leaner mixture than 14.7-to-1, a bit more fuel has to be fed in.

But the power jump is astonishing and worth the effort, especially compared to tuning an NA engine to produce the same power without forced induction. The result is actually improved consumption, for the output.

These engines are not exactly fragile, but they don’t take abuse very well. Damaging the turbo (very easy with a little carelessness) is an expensive mistake. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions keenly and you will be fine.

Hi Baraza,
I would like to know what ‘cruise control’ is all about. Is it good to have a car with this feature?

Christopher

Cruise control is an electronic feature that allows a car to maintain a steady speed without the driver using the accelerator or the brake. If you want to cruise at 100 km/h, accelerate to 100, set the cruise control and let go of the throttle.

You can either disengage it manually, deactivate it by braking or accelerating, or adjust it upwards or downwards using buttons around the driver (mostly on the steering wheel). This is how it worked in the Jaguar XJ saloon I drove last year.

The problem is that the car will try to do 100 km/h EVERYWHERE, including uphill, so fuel consumption might not be to your liking. There are chances that it may also have a soporific effect on the driver, leading to reduced alertness and consequently, sleep-swerve-hoot-screech-crash-bang-wallop-blood-tears-hospital bills-funeral expenses.

Hi,

I would like some general advice regarding the small Maruti Omni. I want a small car to use in my small business and also as a family car, occasionally travelling upcountry without struggling with matatus. I don’t mind the image associated with the car.

Mulwa

So far, you seem to have it down pat, apart from two things:

1. Use as a family car: I’m sure you love your family, but toting them from A to B in a Maruti is a sure-fire way of ensuring you will not get any gifts from them come Father’s Day.

2. How occasionally is “occasionally”? Your upcountry base had better be no further than Machakos because, again, this is not a vehicle to spend too much time in. Ukambani in general is hot, and the lack of interior space or an air-con will be a heavy cross to bear in this pre-April rains heat. Especially with your family on board.

Hi JM,

Kindly offer me your advice on these two cars: a black Subaru Impreza (hatchback) and a silver Subaru Impreza (sedan), which one is a better buy when considering efficiency, spare parts and so on?

Both cars have 1.5-litre engines but the hatchback is a 2005 car while the sedan is a 2006 car. The last car I had was a Mitsubishi Cedia, which was just hell.

The gearbox collapsed after just two months and getting a replacement was like going to the moon!

Allan

I would go for the sedan, repaint it blue, add a stonking huge rear spoiler, body kit and gold rims and fit a noisy exhaust; then I would drive like I was about to die and only three-figure speeds could save my life. ST-i owners/drivers, do you read me?

The car to go for is entirely up to you, Allan. Do you want a sedan or a hatchback? A hatchback may offer more practicality in carrying luggage, but the sedan looks better. Mechanically, the two are the same.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a businessman based in Nairobi. I also double up as a farmer, so I’m a complete “off-roadholic”.

I am looking to buy a double cabin 4WD pick-up truck that will comfortably do my kids’ school runs, carry bags of fertiliser to my farm every now and then and on school holidays, comfortably handle the terrain in Maasai Mara during the long rains… if you get my drift.

I’m torn between the Toyota Hilux, the Nissan Navara, the Isuzu D-MAX and the Ford Ranger. Please rate these cars for me in terms of consumption, build quality, durability, off-road handling, and cost and availability of spare parts.

Kevin

If you followed my articles last year, you may have noticed that, were it not for the outright weirdness of the act, I would buy a Navara as a Valentine’s gift. Luckily or unluckily, I don’t own a Navara. Yet.

Consumption: That same Navara is a bit worrisome; I suspect it either runs a higher boost pressure in the turbo or it has a small tank, either way, when pitted against a Ford Ranger, it emptied its tank quite fast.

I have driven the latest Hilux, two weeks ago in fact, but I did not get to empty its tank, nor did I empty the Ranger’s tank last year, so it is hard to say which of the two will give you a better range. Absolute consumption depends on the degree of madness within your right foot.

Build quality: The Navara. Its build quality is an exercise of near-Germanic obsession in terms of panel gap consistencies, solid feel and material science. Better than the other three.

Durability: I’d have to say it is a close call between Toyota and Ford, with my observations leaning towards the Ranger. Strange, yes, but the Ford seems like it is built out of rock — I have yet to see a weather-beaten example.

On the other hand, the Hilux pick-ups in use by large corporations and municipal councils don’t look too good after some time. The Navara also faces some complaints by users, some of whom complain that somebody somewhere cannot do a proper diagnosis. I don’t know how true this is.

Off-road handling: They should all do well, because more often than not, if the going gets military, the weakest link is usually found behind the wheel.

Cost: The Hilux is dearest and the D-MAX is cheapest. With the Ford, it depends on which spec you go for, but it varies within these two extremes. The Navara is second to Hilux in expensiveness.

Spares: These cars are all franchised, so DT Dobie for the Navara, GM for the D-MAX, Toyota Kenya for the Hilux and CMC for the Ranger. Costs of spares will depend on what these people tell you.

JM,

I would like to bring you back to your article in which you said that the Toyota Verossa is an ugly car. In my opinion, I think the principle applicable here is the same one used when judging the beauty of woman — beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

I agree with you that the car is ugly, but of late, it has been growing beautiful by the day, like a woman you might not find so beautiful on the first day but as you get to know her better, you start to notice her beauty.

To support my point, I will remind you of the Mercedes W210. When the car was first introduced to the market, there was an uproar from die-hard Mercedes fans (including me) who found the round lights peculiar.

However, with time, the car has grown on us and become more and more beautiful, I am sure you agree with that.

A woman will add weight if too thin, shed weight if too weighty, she will lose her pre-pubescent clumsiness as she matures, and life experiences will instill confidence in her and her eyes will acquire a worldliness that we find attractive whenever we gaze into them.

A car, on the other hand, embarks on a relentless downward free-fall the moment it leaves the showroom, shedding 30 per cent of its value at the door. It can only lose shape from that point onwards. Starting off ugly does not do it any favours; it won’t “mature”, or lose baby fat, or tone its muscles with a session at the gym.

This explains why the Verossa had the shortest life span of all Toyota cars ever, except, maybe, their Formula 1 car.