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Mazda offers a bit of sportiness with the CX-5 crossover

Mazda is somewhat of the everyman’s BMW. The small Japanese company’s trophy case is stuffed with awards, its design language is passionate, and there is a dollop of the magical Miata in every car’s driving dynamic. And that is true even in the five-passenger CX-5 crossover.

Just one letter away from the MX-5 (Miata is a United States-only name), the CX-5 makes running errands fun as long as the children don’t get motion sickness. Drive it blindfolded — something I do not encourage — and you would swear you were piloting a crossover with a premium German badge.

The 2016 models have been refreshed with the obligatory grille and taillamp updates. A new interior has trim that would not look out of place in an Audi.

The Grand Touring has the larger of two available engines — a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder delivering 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The gearbox has six speeds, a sport mode, but surprisingly no paddle shifters.

New suspension refinements help to quiet the cabin, better to enjoy the Bose sound system. The chuckable nature of CX-5 means the ride quality is set to the firm end of comfortable. Like most modern automatic transmissions, the CX-5 eagerly upshifts for optimal fuel economy.

Eliminate that by dropping into Sport mode, but understand that it holds lower gears much longer — it’s a little too sporty for a crossover. Goldilocks would be looking for another “just right” mode. The all-wheel-drive system adapts to a number of elemental cues, including temperature, and will tackle light wilderness duty. Few owners will tax it.

The interior is appealing, but there are a few nitpicks. The gauge cluster graphics could use a modern colour display. The wiper-control stalk blocks the engine start button when the wheel is adjusted fully forward. Faux stitching is a faux pas because it is close to the driver’s eye in the LCD screen surround.

An intuitive user interface allows the choice of control knob or touch screen, though the radio presets are buried too deep in the menu. And although the seats are well sculpted, big drivers may find them snug.

Vented front seats, heated rear seats and a panoramic glass roof are not available. Back seats don’t slide fore and aft to max out cargo room, but friends and family will appreciate the leg and foot room. The cargo hold is about the same as the Subaru Forester’s. Demand maximum trunk space? The Honda CR-V’s is freakishly large.

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Why is it so hard to find a good and fair deal at the mechanic’s?

Greetings Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your column, and I find your articles very educative. Now, my problem: I find it very difficult to get an honest mechanic who isn’t out to ensure you make repeat visits to their garage. This is especially so for women. Continue reading Why is it so hard to find a good and fair deal at the mechanic’s?

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Why the Mazda Verisa is a good buy…and speed like you have never known it

VIVIAN VERISA: Baraza, I have heard your call for someone to offer you a 2008 Mazda Demio to test-drive and review…. sort of. I don’t have a Demio, but I do have a 2008 Mazda Verisa.

She is a sweet, sweet ride — although I might not be the best judge as the car I had before then was a 1998 Toyota Premio. Back to the Verisa; there is scant information out there, both locally and elsewhere.

During the purchase process I felt like I was literally re-inventing the wheel trying to get even a drop of information on the car. Anyway, I’d be honoured if you could use my Vivian to preach the Mazda gospel to one and all.

I am always looking for more information on the Verisa, anything and everything. Let me know if you’d be interested in test-driving the Mazda Verisa at any time. If you have already done a review on it, please send a link to shame-faced me. Thanks, EK

 

EK, of course I’m interested in test-driving a Mazda Verisa. I have driven one before, and apart from the driving experience — which I rather liked — I didn’t have much to report.

This may or may not be because I was not doing a full-on road test at the time. If feedback is anything to go by, the Verisa should be a happy purchase: the accolades are flowing and the reports are glowing from various satisfied owners.

A pre-test review may reveal that the Verisa is one up on the Demio — I will grudgingly admit — particularly on practicality (the Verisa is bigger in and out without being any slower or any thirstier) and that annoying “off-road” use that people are always asking about (it also has better ground clearance). Off-road use does not mean Rhino Charge shenanigans.

It basically means straying off-tarmac onto estate roads that would otherwise scrape the bellies and/or body kits of low slung cars, such as an unmolested factory Demio. The Verisa should suffer no such problems.

Vivian, eh? Vivian Verisa. Sounds like the name of a socialite. Please get back to me on the need to give one’s car a name; I have never understood the concept behind it.

The furthest I have gone on this end is to brand mine a “Mazdalago LP111-2”, a play on Lamborghini’s Murcielago LP640-4, but calling it Eric? Or Erica? It doesn’t click at all.

 

UNDER PRESSURE: Baraza, I have just read about the last Great Run and I can assure you that I will be in the next one. Kindly place an advert for the same early enough, and enlighten me on the following issues: i)

My Toyota Premio wheels are okay and drive well when I put pressure at 30psi each, yet a boda boda motorcycle, which has smaller wheels, takes 70psi into each wheel.

A tractor, which has far much bigger wheels than any car on earth, lets 30psi as well. Which science or magic or Illuminati is this? ii) What unit is used to measure the pressure? I’m sure it’s not kilos.

  1. ii) I got into a 2006 Toyota Camry and when the driver put on the AC, the vehicle started vibrating a lot. What could be the cause? Is it a common problem with Camries?
  2. iv) Between a Camry with a 2400cc engine and a Mark X with a 2500cc engine, which one is more powerful, and which one is more thirsty? How much would each of the above do on the road in terms of kilometres per litre? Wainaina

 

Wainaina: i) There isn’t any magic or Illuminati in it, it is just science. I love it whenever such questions come up, because now we can tell who paid attention in class and who didn’t. Ever heard students complain about learning obscure topics in even more obscure subjects and wondering aloud where they will ever apply that knowledge? Well, the chickens have come home to roost.

Anyway, the Illuminati: Pressure is force per unit area. A small force applied over a small area is basically the same as a large force applied over a large area, provided the relative sizes are constant for the two parameters.

An example is the pressure exerted by a force of 5 Newtons applied over 1 square meter is the same as the resultant pressure by a force of 10 Newtons applied over 2 square meters: simple arithmetic, 5 divide by one is the same as 10 divide by 2. Fairly obvious. This force, in Newtons, in most cases is exerted by a mass (called weight outside of a physics lab), and the mass (weight) in most cases is expressed in kilograms.

What common thing in this column has kilograms? Yes, you are right, motor vehicles. Motor vehicles have kilograms, and these kilograms exert a force on the tyres. These tyres have a contact patch (the surface area touching the ground). See where this is going?

The motorbike has a rather small weight, but it has puny, skinny little rubbers, so that weight/mass/force exerted on a very tiny area ends up exerting a lot of pressure.

The pressure in the tyre has to counteract the pressure resulting from the weight of the bike, so it has to be high or else the tyre will compress and become near flat.

Same thing with a car: a lot heavier than a motorbike but it has much bigger tyres, and what’s more, there are FOUR of them, so we have a force/mass/weight being applied over a relatively larger area and the resulting pressure is comparably lower (again simple arithmetic: a bigger denominator and/or a smaller numerator means a smaller fraction). Extrapolate this argument to understand why tractors too put 30… speaking of which:

  1. There are various units of pressure… seriously, where were you when the rest were in science class? Was it an optional subject? If yes, the prevailing Minister of Education at the time should be serving time for doing the country a great disservice…. and so should your science teachers in case you actually attended science class.

The units of pressure are Newtons/meter2, kilos/metre2, psi (pounds per square inch), atmospheres, bars, or Pascals. I’m not going to explain any further.

  1. That doesn’t sound like a common Camry problem. It seems like when the AC compressor was (retro)fitted, possibly after a refill, the installation was a half-ass job and now something somewhere is not sitting true within its channels. Check all belts and pulleys.
  2. As retribution for your ridiculous question in No. 2 above I will not answer this. Use the Internet to find out the power figures of the Camry 2.4 and Mark X 2.5. “Seek and ye shall find”, thus spake The Lord. Indulge The Lord and seek. As for economy figures: I have said time and again they vary greatly.

There doesn’t exist a definite consumption figure for a given motor vehicle, but there are averages (which you can find in the research above too). All I will state is the obvious: the Mark X is more powerful and burns more fuel on average compared to the Camry.

 

ROAD HOGS: Baraza, I read with interest — and dismay — the letter from James Wachira in the Car Clinic of June 3, 2015, where he talked about racing on the Nairobi-Nakuru road with fellow drivers.

As a regular user of the Road, I can assure him that the drivers of the other vehicles he mentioned did not see any reason to engage him in his antics as it would simply have been an exercise in vanity.

Let me explain: The vehicle density on this road simply does not afford one with any safe opportunity to engage in such.

To achieve the kind of speeds Wachira mentioned means accelerating to very high revs, especially when overtaking, and then swerving back to your lane after a very short distance, and then stomping (quite literally) on the brakes. Quite simply, it is suicidal to race on this road.

Had he taken some time to stop at the bus stop at Westlands in Nairobi, he would have noticed that a matatu he overtook at Naivasha driving at a sedate 80KPH wouldn’t have been no more than 10 minutes behind him. He would then have realised that it was pointless to subject the poor Honda Fit to such horrendous treatment.

Please advise him to keep to the speed limit next time round; it is so much safer not only to himself but to other road users as well. Boniface

 

Thank you Boniface. I made that same observation a while back and described it as a Chinese fire drill (definition: a lot of expended effort achieving nothing; in his case a lot of expended fuel not going much faster than other traffic on average).

Yes, he will overtake others, but more likely than not he will be held up behind slower traffic as the vehicles he has just overtaken catch up. Then what?

That being said, overtaking is an art form. If the Nairobi-Nakuru drive was a canvas on an easel, our Fit (and seemingly unfit) driver would be a burly man throwing buckets of paint against the easel to see what sticks and generally conjuring something incorrigible and senseless (there is no sense is burning excess fuel to go no faster than other drivers, is there?).

Then there are those — mostly truck and SUV drivers — who, while overtaking, would force other traffic off the road. These are throwing paint on the easel and sometimes missing it entirely and getting the wall instead.

The consequences are ugly and expensive to put right again: you can equate cleaning the walls to cleaning the blood off the tarmac once the undesirable happens, a la KCD 060Q/KBS 282A or whatever that red Range Rover Sport was registered as.

Then there are the real artists. Cold calculation, presence of mind and a mastery of their tools lead them to display a beautifully executed masterpiece that leaves observers in awe of their talent.

Once you understand how to avoid braking and how to maintain a certain average speed while observant of vehicles around you, one can time their overtaking maneuvers to coincide with moments of blank opposite lanes.

In some cases, holding back a little helps, so that one powers up from afar in such a way as to easily skip over entire queues of vehicles in one fell swoop.

It does not apply to traffic jams; that is then called “overlapping” and will garner a hefty fine from the authorities if they catch you at it.

It’s not all black and white though. Like all skills, it takes a lot of practice, exposure, presence of mind and great understanding of what one is doing to hone it. If unsure, best to stick to the Fit method: power, brake, power, brake, power…. fuel gauge at E. Drat!

 

SPEED FREAKS: Baraza, I recently overheard some rallying enthusiasts discussing the latest rally cars that can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/hr in about two seconds flat.

From what I gathered from them, these cars are equally fast in braking. As a motor sports pundit and freak, I would like to know:

  1. i) Which are these cars with such capabilities? Are they available in Kenya?
  2. ii) Will their turbochargers have picked up in under two seconds so as to achieve such a feat?

iii) Can the human body withstand the G-Force associated with such acceleration and deceleration? Henry G

 

Henry: i) The ones I am sure of are rally cross cars. These are mostly tiny little hatchbacks (Fords, Renaults, SEATs), stripped out, 2.0-litre, highly boosted machinery capable of 700bhp, hence the insane acceleration.

Back when I was still getting the necessary nutrients to emerge as a motoring columnist, I recall reading about a superstar in the French Rally Cross, a Citroën Xantia that had about 750hp on tap and could do the 0-100 dash (more like flash) in 1.8 seconds.

Yes, one point eight, not eighteen. In a Citroën. It had a turbo the size of a municipal dustbin and a six-speed dog-type sequential gearbox that the driver would bang from first to fourth in a flurry of snap shifts within a space of around 150 metres, by which time he would be well past the 130km/h mark: acceleration like you wouldn’t believe.

I’m yet to see one in Kenya.

  1. ii) Yes, their turbos would be on song. To start with, their engines gain and lose revs with such incredible alacrity that you can barely see the needle on the tach. Then there is the use of antilag, as the exhaust is popping like small arms fire at the start line, that means the turbo is already boosting, and boosting hard.

Once the driver sidesteps the clutch, all 700bhp is dumped through the four wheels and the car is launched like a projectile…. and 0-100 happens faster than you can exclaim “Son of a b…!!!” in your native tongue.

iii) The human body can withstand a lot more than that. Allow me to introduce one John Paul Stapp, a WWII scientist and genetic combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and a Stinger heat-seeker.

The man was a flight surgeon during the Second World War, and while the general consensus at the time was that the human body could not withstand forces greater than 18g, he hit 35g simply because he was a badass and because he could (the acceleration/deceleration in that Xantia tops out at about 3-4g). He tied four rocket engines together — generating about 6,000lb of thrust — which propelled him to the pants-wetting side of 1,000km/h: faster than a bullet.

In 1954, he braked from 200km/h to 0 in 1.4 seconds, an insane feat that rewarded him with two black eyes: the result of his own eyeballs punching his face from inside his skull.

The impact blinded him for two days; he fractured his arm and wrist, lost six fillings and got a hernia. So what did he do? He built a bigger rocket. Steel cojones, titanium huevos: like I said, the guy was like the bastard child of The Terminator and an anti-aircraft missile. Chuck Norris has nothing on him.

**Note: the “rocket” in question was basically an armchair strapped to a bobsled onto which the four (later six) rocket engines were attached.

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Why attend motor vehicle launches if you don’t even get to drive the car?

Everybody by now must have heard about the new Land Rover Discovery Sport.

If you haven’t, you need to leave your cave immediately and step into the sunlight just a little bit. It is the latest release from the makers of the best four by fours by far.

The local launch was done last Thursday by the local franchise; at least I think it was — I saw an ad in the paper and everything, you know.

I dislike motor vehicle launch parties. They are mostly attended by people who have more money than you, dress better than you and are more likely to buy the vehicle being launched. Continue reading Why attend motor vehicle launches if you don’t even get to drive the car?

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To spare yourself trouble and tears in future, be careful with Peugeots

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, thanks to which I have learnt a lot about cars.

In 2013 I bought an ex-Japan Peugeot  206 SW. My husband didn’t understand why and how I settled for the car, but I was in love, period.

However, after a year, it started overheating, forcing me to stop abruptly on two or three occasions.

I went to Marshalls and was advised to replace the ECU after spending a few thousands on unnecessary spares. I thought it would be prudent to seek a second or third opinion before spending Sh100,000 on the ECU.

Luck was on my side as I was referred to a mechanic with years of experience with Peugeots. He replaced the ECU with a second-hand one, which served me very well until sometime in January, when my door locks decided to open only when they were “in the mood”.

Miraculously, they started working well again, jamming only occasionally. One day recently,  the engine overheated but the problem hasn’t recurred.

My husband thinks I should sell the car although he definitely enjoys the way it picks up speed  when he occasionally wants to frustrate the V8 crowd.

I love my Peugeot, although this problem is worrying me. My questions are:

  1. What would you recommend to sort this overheating?
  2. Should I keep the car or sell it ?

3.Your opinion on Peugeots.

Esther.

 

Esther, welcome to the world of Peugeot ownership, a world I left near tears.

The tears were occasioned as much by the financial and logistical pain caused by the car’s wilful and unpredictable tendencies as it was by the need to part ways with something so beautiful, and to which I had given so much of myself.

I once did an entire article about Peugeot ownership and I likened it to dabbling in a relationship with someone you met at the bar. It is a leap of faith.

I also sketched out the peculiarities Peugeots  seem to have, and listed some of my own experiences. Your description fits that bill to a T. I smiled when you mentioned the door locks as I remembered how the car locked me out courtesy of a wayward central locking system that I never eventually put right.

Now, I would like to challenge you and invite bets from spectators. You bring the 206 SW and I will bring a V8. Let hubby drive the Pug, I will take the helm of the V8 then we will see who gets  humiliated.

Anyway, to your questions:

  1. Find the cause of overheating before looking for a solution. If the radiator or any of its feeder pipes/hoses and/or the channels/water jackets in the engine block are clogged, have them unclogged. If the water pump is malfunctioning, replace it. If the fans have gone on the blink, have an electrical person check what the problem is.

A quick solution would be to connect the fans directly to the electrical power, bypassing the thermostat, but that might not be necessary. Speaking of thermostats, is yours okay?

Finally, make sure you do not have a leaking or blown head gasket.

  1. Seek a new owner. Avoid the tears that plagued me; seek a new owner and pray that he/she does not read this column, otherwise you might have a hard time selling the car.
  2. I believe I have cleared this up in the preceding paragraphs.

 

Baraza, thanks to you, I now know some things about my car better than some mechanics. Keep up the good work.

Now to my questions:

1) My car, an automatic Toyota DX, jerks whenever  I engage the reverse gear; and

2) It vibrates, though not very much, especially when I drive in traffic jams (I usually engage “N”  at such times… and the engine runs so smoothly that it’s hard to tell whether it is still on).

My mechanic recommended that I replace the engine mountings, which I did, but the vibration persisted.  When I went back to him, he said that the mountings would take some time to “adapt”.

Seriously?!

 

Hilarious! The mountings must be human for them to adapt to their new surroundings. Try checking the transmission mountings, they might be the culprits here. Also, check the level of ATF and the driveline (CV) joints.

 

Baraza, please indulge us, drivers of second-hand, imported Japanese cars. Review commonly driven cars and give us a break from the Prados, Lexuses and Benzes. Give us something we can identify with.

Evans

 

Evans, I’ve done that more times than I care to count. Five years in the business means we are looking at close to 260 weeks of this column, give or take 20.

Two hundred and forty weeks’ worth of Behind The Wheel/Car Clinic (assuming we are at 20 less than exactly five years) are more than enough to have covered even the most rudimentary of motor vehicles (the Mobius, or maybe the OX) as well as the most complicated (the latest Mercedes S Class).

In between, we have covered countless Toyotas, Subarus, Nissans; we have also had Range Rovers, Jaguars, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, among others, and I might even have talked about the Bugatti Veyron once or twice.

In fact,  I have reviewed a go-kart at the low end of the size scale, and a Scania truck on the higher end. In between have been saloon cars, estates, pick-ups and SUVs. Invariably, most of the content has centered on used cars bought by the middle class, the sort of car you claim to “identify with”.

Take a good look at the rest of the content in this week’s write-up. While I have mentioned in the same section the very cars that seem to rub you up the wrong way (Prado, Benz), the subject matter has been on commonly driven, second-hand, imported Japanese cars.

If you do not like the Prados, I’m sure you will be especially miffed come end of April when I go to Mauritius to test-drive the latest product from Land Rover: the all-new Discovery Sport.

I will  compensate for it immediately after by reviewing a Nissan Note… or perhaps  I should review my own Mazda Demio; after all, it is a commonly driven second-hand, imported Japanese car.

 

Baraza, I want to buy my first car and  my biggest challenge is which to choose between a Toyota NZE and the New Nissan Bluebird. How do fuel consumption, maintenance and depreciation of the two cars of 1500cc engine capacity compare?

Nick

 

Nick, I will  ignore your question and answer one of my own. This is mainly because the comparison you ask for is neither here nor there, and the results can swing one way or the other, depending on the operator’s idiosyncrasies.

Get the Bluebird and ditch the NZE. I’m guessing it is the so-called Sylphy, and it is one of the best kept secrets in the used-car market (well, not anymore).

Here is why you should get the Nissan rather than the Toyota (over and above fuel economy, maintenance and depreciation):

The Nissan is prettier. It just is. The rear may be a bit bulbous and could be more of an acquired taste but the rest of the car has a whiff of executive about it.

The size too: it could be considered Premio-grade, rather than NZE-class. This classification extends to creature comforts as well: spec levels, roominess, ride quality….

The rear legroom is especially fantastic; believe it or not, there is more space around the back seats of a Sylphy than there is at the back of the newest Mercedes Benz E Class model. I have sat in both (and driven one) and can say that with some authority.

This brings us to pricing. The Sylphy is cheap, or rather, it is cheaper than an NZE, which is ironical given that it is far better than an NZE.

I know of a friend who got a used one from Japan and after paying all sundry charges and taxes, he had plenty of change left over from the million he had budgeted. Get a similar Corolla from Japan — or worse still, locally — and you will not be counting many leftover shekels in your hand.

And now the big question: why? Blame your fellow Kenyans. They are split into two factions: the first comprises worshippers of Toyota, who believe the corporate giant is the only purveyor of value-for-money automobiles and any other car manufacturer is a charlatan out to swindle unsuspecting buyers of their hard-earned money by selling sub-Toyota grade automobiles at super-Toyota level prices.

It is a very large group and consists mostly of cab drivers, owners of 14-seater matatus, about 85 per cent of the people who buy used Toyotas and my friend from a tea plantation who once said a Hilux can keep up with an Evo. I still soil my pants with laughter every time I remember that conversation.

The second faction is the exact opposite of the first one. It is a smaller clique that believes Toyotas are hugely overrated, and that Toyota are dishonest money-grabbers, not Nissan or Honda or Mitsubishi or the little-known Mitsuoka (the ninth largest car manufacturer in Japan).

They think anyone who buys a Toyota just because it is a Toyota is an idiot who deserves to be relieved of his money, as is the case when they buy a Toyota anyway.

They believe better deals can be had in other brands. Some members of this faction then buy European cars, which they immediately regret when an invoice quoting parts pricing is thrown their way; or buy Chinese, which they also immediately regret when they discover that they have bought a disposable car that will never see the used-car  market because of its ephemeral life expectancy.

Their purchase decisions are usually mostly based on leaps of faith rather than cold, clinical analysis.

Well, Toyota-haters, rejoice, for your time is nigh. While both trains of thought are right in their own way, one is more right than the other. Ignore the fundamentalist train of thought employed by both crowds and sift through the extremism to see their points.

Toyotas are the bees’ knees in value-for-money terms, but this only applies if they are bought new. Get into the pre-owned sector and reputation starts to make itself felt. This might explain why Corolla 100s are still commanding prices painfully close to Sh400,000 despite their age.

It also explains why Premios and Allions cost almost twice as much as they really should on the used-car market. Reputation.

With reputation comes demand, and with demand comes price mark-ups to take advantage of the market dynamic. The sucker is the end user who pays these prices to someone who drives an ex-UK Range Rover Sport, and that someone the owner of the used car lot from which the Premio is sold.

The above might justify the Toyota-hating, but then again, this clique’s George W Bush style of reasoning is flawed. There is a good deal to be had out there on a Toyota, but only if you search hard enough.

Just because used Toyotas are overpriced does not make them rubbish; in most cases, they really are superior to the competition.

A good example is the Nissan Bluebird you enquire about. Its rival is the Premio, not the Corolla, but the Premio costs almost half as much again over the Sylphy for the simple reason that the Premio will sell faster.

The Sylphy is lowly priced to get rid of it and avoid its spending too much time in the dealer lot. This does not change the fact that the Premio is superior to the Sylphy.

Long story short: when in doubt, go for a Toyota. If you have time on your hands and a clever friend, shop around for an alternative.

This Toyota/not-a-Toyota quandary is not cast in stone, nor is it exactly black and white. While your dilemma might favour the Nissan, other decisions are no-brainers whose answer is definitely Toyota. Hilux double-cab vs Navara? Go Toyota. Landcruiser  vs Patrol? Landcruiser any time. Fielder vs. Wingroad? Take a guess…

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Should I get a Honda Airwave or just stick to a trusted Toyota?

Thanks for your informative articles. Kindly contrast and compare Honda Airwave and any Toyota such as the Toyota Wish. I have seen many Kenyans buy Hondas.

I wanted to buy an Airwave but out of the people I talked to, including mechanics, about one out of ten encouraged me. One of my friends who owned one a 1500cc mentioned that it even consumes less than a normal Toyota with the same 1500cc.

Majority cited issues of availability of spare parts and resale value. I looked more spacious than a Toyota Wish considering that you can fold the back seats. The price difference between the two then was around Sh200,000.What is your take on Hondas? Is it that the Toyota did a lot in marketing?

Ken

 

Hondas are an open secret in the motoring world. If you want the best of Japan while avoiding the too-obvious Toyota, get a Honda.

If anything, this is the one car that is more reliable than a Toyota, too bad the Civic did not and does not sell like the Corolla; and Honda doesn’t build a pickup.

They do build and sell dozens of millions of motorcycles, though, and no, that is not hyperbole, they DO build motorbikes in the eight figures.

Spare parts are not and should never be a problem. How many Airwaves have you seen around? How do THOSE owners maintain their vehicles? Feel free to join them.

Resale value may be disheartening at the moment owing to the “should-I-shouldn’t-I?” uncertainty and indecisive mindset that you and many others seem to have; so hopefully this will clear things up: Yes, you should. I plan to, too, one day…. VTEC coming soon to a column near you.

Residual values are something else; related to resale value but not dependent on it.

Actually, the converse is true: resale value is dependent on residual value. Residual value is how well the car holds up over several years of usage and ownership, but this is not per car, it is per model of car.

Here are examples: cars with good residual values are best exemplified by the Toyota Landcruiser and the Toyota Hilux. They simply never depreciate.

This does not mean that you cannot find a grounded or worthless Hilux, you can and will, though this will be an isolated case; but as a model, it maintains its physical (not sentimental) value over time.

Cars with bad residual values? They’re almost exclusively European and almost exclusively French. Peugeot tops the list closely followed by its fellow Frog-mobiles: Renault and Citroen. Alfa Romeo also joins the list of Euro-letdowns, but this brand of car is usually rescued from ignominy by its sentimental value. Its residual value is below zero.

Toyota may have done a lot of marketing, but the biggest contributing factor to their success was they let their products speak for themselves. The two aforementioned vehicles, the Hilux and the Landcruiser, have done more to market Toyota as a brand than a billion-dollar advertising budget ever could.

Honda’s engines may also speak for themselves, but this is only in closed circles: Ask anyone to explain what VTEC means (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) or how it works (a camshaft with two cam profiles or two different camshafts; one of which is oriented for economy and the other for performance, and the switchover occurs at around 6,000rpm) and they’ll stare at you like you were a creature from Star Wars.

Yet VTEC engines are the one type of engine to have never suffered a single failure in their entire history, not one, and this is in spite of them being in production since 1988 and now numbering in the tens of millions.

How about the fact that Honda designed a cylinder head (CVCC heads) for use in its American version of the Civic hatchback, a design so delightfully simple and so fiendishly clever that the fuel economy figures achieved from a carburetor-fed engine from the 1970s are still unbeaten even by today’s cleverest EFI systems?

This geeky techno-frippery may be what scared people off Honda. Everybody is cagey about innovation, especially the really technical ones.

Try selling an all-in-one app to a major corporation and see them approach it like a cat approaching a bath.

Then again, maybe the movies,  newsreels of war theatres, bush ambulances, adventuring tourists, lifestyling twentysomethings, successful businessmen and happy farmers almost always feature a Toyota Landcruiser or a Toyota HIlux and we are thus indoctrinated from childhood to believe that Toyota is the beginning and the end of everything; anything outside of that is nothing but a brief and temporary sojourn into the unknown.

 

Hi Baraza, 

Does engaging ‘N’ (neutral gear) when going downhill save on fuel, mine is a Toyota  DX with a 4E engine, what’s  the average fuel consumption in terms of l/km.

Matata

Yes, coasting downhill saves fuel… somewhat. It is not the best fuel-saving driving technique, though. A Toyota DX will return anything from 10km/l to 20km.k, depending on who is driving and how it is being driven, but the mean (average) and mode (commonest) rate of consumption is around 13km/l.

 

Hi JM,

I am an ardent reader of your motoring column every Wednesday. Keep up the good work.

A friend of mine is looking for a mid-size 4×4 vehicle, probably a SUV. The car will be used by his wife in rural areas on weather roads. The wife is a teacher and every morning crosses a seasonal river when going to school.

He is weighing on four Models: Nissan X-trail, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano and Subaru Tribeca. All 2008 models.  

A quick check on Youtube shows a lot similarities on handling of off-road conditions for the four vehicles. This leaves us more confused.

Given the kind of terrain the vehicle will be used on, which one is better putting into considerations other factors such as:

(i) Durability;

(ii) Repair costs;

(iii) Fuel Consumption;

(iv) Stability control; and;

(v) Comfort. 

David

 

I will do something unusual this time round and ignore the actual question you are asking, and go ahead and answer your inquiry according to what stands out with these vehicles. You can make your judgment call from my seemingly impertinent (or are they?) responses.

To start with, yes, YouTube is mostly right; these cars are basically facsimiles of each other. This is the primary reason why I will ignore the (i) to (v) queries up there, except for (iii).

Let us focus on the elephant in the room and think about that seasonal river you are talking about…. I have sampled the first generations of all the cars listed (and the second generation X- Trail too), and the most fitting for wading through a water carpet thicker than ankle-deep would be the X-Trail.

Forget the others, their ground clearances are too low and/or their wheelbases too long and/or their overhangs too intrusive for them to make a case for themselves as anything other than high-priced shopping baskets for the housewives with slightly larger disposable incomes. This is especially noteworthy of the Tribeca.

Speaking of the Subaru: it has the biggest engine here, a 3.6 litre flat six (forget the original Tribeca B9 with its weedy little 3.0 litre), so it is also the thirstiest: 5km/l on a normal day, stretching to 7km/l when the going is good.

The drop in fuel prices may have brought smiles in many a Tribeca-borne household. I liked its automatic gearbox the best too, but the swoopy, futuristic, beige interior of the test car I drove is the kind that attracts fingerprints like a mirror in the hands of a toddler.

The Tribeca is also the lowest riding, whether for real or apparently is hard to tell; but the long wheelbase doesn’t help -making it the most inappropriate for off-tarmac jaunts.

It is the only car in this list that seats seven, though (the rest seat five), so you could always look for paying passengers to offset the fuel bills…

The Mazda CX7 is a rocket ship. It is hard to tell exactly what the car was meant for, because what starts life as a cramped cross-over utility — in essence what looks like a Mazda 6 with a hatch and a lift-kit- is then saddled with a limp-wristed engine that has no torque. To ensure that this lack of torque is not noticed by drivers, the engine has a little extra something bolted to it: a stinking turbocharger.

The result is this Mazda goes like a getaway vehicle in a PG13 TV program.

If you want to humiliate the Tribeca-driving housewives on tarmac, then this is your weapon of choice. Sadly for it, speed is about all that it’s good for: with turbo comes compromised reliability (the front-mount intercooler is an especially sensitive sticking point) and woeful fuel bills. 245 horsepower ain’t a joke.

The CX7, however, comes a close second to the X-Trail in off-road acts.

Next up is the Murano. This is a car I lambasted not too long ago (to my own detriment: I have been unable to live down the dressing down I received from pundits who won’t calm down).

The first-generation model still looks funny to me; what with that fat rump at the back and the leering rictus up front. While the Mazda goes like a sports car, the best the Murano can do is claim to have an engine from a sports car: the veritable VQ35 unit from the Z33 Nissan 350Z, the famous Fairlady. The Murano is not that fast though. It also takes some getting used to: not everything is where you’d expect it to be.

Try filling up at a fuel forecourt for the first time in one and prepare for some red-faced scrabbling around in the driver’s foot-well looking for the release catch for the fuel filler cap. Here is a hint: stop looking, it doesn’t exist.

Another problem with the Nissan is one could easily end up with the more plebeian 2.5 litre 4-cylinder as opposed to the 3.5 V6, and you’d never know the difference… that is, until you try to overtake a Mazda CX7 and wonder why a 1200cc capacity advantage and two extra cylinders are not helping. Not a bad car for roughing it, but then again not quite at the CX7’s level.

Lastly, the X-Trail. This is the one you should get. It may not necessarily be the most durable (Murano), nor the most comfortable (Tribeca), nor the most stable (CX7) but it should be the cheapest to buy, fuel and maintain. It is definitely the most appropriate car for the terrain. It also has the most boring interior of the four cars. Invest in a good sound system to take your mind off the naff ambience.

 

Hi Baraza,

I have been thinking of two cars, Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids. Tell me, what are the advantages and disadvantages of buying a hybrid car? Which one should I buy?

Baba Quinton

 

Advantages of a hybrid car: they put you in a good mood because you think you are saving the world. Disadvantages of a hybrid car: you are not actually saving the world.

Trade-off: the lower fuel bills will be a joy until you discover how much of a swine a hybrid car really is to fix. Ask your mechanic if he knows what Miller cycle is as opposed to Otto cycle.

If he cannot answer this, he cannot fix your Prius; even if he is also an electrician by night, he still can’t fix your Prius.

Between eating bitter fruit at 10am and eating bitter fruit at 3pm, which is better? Neither, at the end of it you still eat bitter fruit.

Get a Prius, there are quite a few around, maybe there exists an owner’s club for these things by now (a good source for unreliable and unverifiable information) and/or a graveyard of dead Prii/Pria/Prix/Priuses  (a good source of parts).

Posted on

Is replacing the Toyota Caldina’s engine impossible? I beg to differ…

After fixing the overheating, problem in my Toyota Caldina’s D4 engine, fuel consumption went from an average of 10-11km/l to an average of 7-8km/l.

I would now like to replace the engine with a new 1.8 engine from a Toyota Caldina or Premio. My mechanic says that this change is not possible because the gearbox of a 1.8 is not compatible with that of 2.0.

I also suggested changing the nozzles and replacing them with ones from a 1.8 Caldina, but he disagreed. Though my car is a new model 4WD, I cannot sell it because I have used the logbook as collateral.

Kindly advise me on a way out of this quagmire.

Simon

Your mechanic needs a little more exposure. The engine can be changed, the gearbox ratios notwithstanding. In many car models, the gearbox ratios used are the same all round.

If there is a difference anywhere, it should be in the final drive, which is not part of the gearbox, unless the car uses a transaxle.

Engine swaps are done daily with no corresponding transmission changes and the cars work just fine. Alternatively, you could get an entire powertrain, engine plus gearbox as one unit and replace the whole thing but I don’t see the need for this.

If you find someone willing to buy your old gearbox, you can consider this step.

Changing injectors is also possible; it is done regularly by those in the tuning community, though in their case, they typically go for bigger injectors, not smaller ones.

The injector swap is also not necessary as the current units can be tweaked to run at a lower capacity. That again, is part of what the tuning community does.

This, I advise, is also an unnecessary step, because electronic fuel injection (EFI) tuning is a whole other world that will consume you once you discover the possibilities on hand.

But more importantly, if you decide to dabble in EFI tuning, it is best to start with an engine that is 100 per cent sound. Your change in fuel consumption tells me your engine is not of 100 per cent sound.

There is a third way, which you might not want to hear, but I’ll mention it anyway, since it is what I’d recommend. Don’t change anything; not the engine, not the gearbox, not the injectors.

Find out what caused the poorer economy figures. Start by investigating what exactly that “surgery” entailed and if everything was put back correctly afterwards.

Poor placement of certain components (especially around the throttle body and the mass airflow sensor) can lead the car to go into a kind of safe mode where it burns fuel erratically because the ECU (Engine Control Unit) is not sure whether there is a problem or not, so it goes for the setting that will keep the car running, and that is burning as much fuel as it can. I once had that problem with a leaking Starlet throttle body and the result was 4km/l.

Hi Baraza,

I read your article on the Ford Mustang coming to Kenya… what did you mean when you said it has a “rare axile”?

Mike

I wish some of you would pay proper attention to your writing as I do mine. I did not say the Ford Mustang has a “rare axile” (whatever that is); I said it had a “live rear axle”.

A live rear axle is like a truck axle. It is a beam axle, whereby the wheel-points on either side of the car are rigidly linked and are thus dependent and move as a single unit, though in the automotive world we prefer to say “not independent”.

The connection is a solid beam that does not allow independent axial movement of the tyres (their rotation is, however, not affected). Live rear axle means this is a beam axle, located aft and is also powered. The unpowered equivalent is referred to as a dead axle.

The downside of this kind of set-up is that the vehicle is not as comfortable as one with independent rear suspension (whereby the wheels are independent of each other). This is due to the road surface changes not being isolated to one wheel but are transferred across the entire axle.

It also results in poorer handling around corners because there is no relative camber change between tyres due to their rigid connection: camber change on one side means a similar camber change on the other as well.

The advantage is that the live rear axle is very robust, able to withstand great loads, hence their application in commercial vehicles.

In a car like the Ford Mustang, it made the car a handy tool for drag-racing: enormous amounts of power were able to be channelled to the tarmac, resulting in a hard launch but with minimised axle tramp.

Until now, some of the most extreme drag racing cars use live rear axles because the independent one is too delicate for that kind of abuse.

Dear Barasa,

After reading your article on the Xado magic elixirs, I swiftly purchased their gearbox treatment syringe as well as a fuel system cleaner. I’m still racking up the mileage in my VW Golf Mark 5 and so far, so good.

I paid particular attention to the word “robotised gearbox” on the product package, given that the Mark 5 has a DSG robotised autobox.

My wife has joined your camp and purchased an automatic 2004 Mazda Demio. A very competent hatchback which ticks all the right boxes with its economical 1300cc VVT engine.

However, after about 30 minutes in slow traffic, it emits the distinct smell of a cooking clutch. This is strange because it’s an automatic. Are autoboxes prone to such misdemeanors? 

PS: Please test drive and review the 2008 Mazda Demio currently being shipped in from Japan.

Hatchback fan

Hello Hatchback Fan,

The feedback on Xado the wonder-drug was a little bit more than I expected. It transpires I was not the only one feeding Soviet gels into my car’s internal organs; a sizeable number of fellow drivers were too.

Their responses are unanimous and sound just like yours: We love the Russian lube. Maybe we are on to something, eh? Time will tell.

The “cooking clutch smell” problem is not endemic to automatic transmissions, otherwise traffic jams would stink like a tyre factory on fire.

Most automatic transmission cars use torque converters, which are fluid clutches, so it is unlikely that the clutch itself is the problem. Some auto cars use electronically controlled friction clutches.

If that is the case here, it is possible that either the lockup control is wonky or the clutch itself is on its last legs, but this would also be accompanied by other symptoms such as slippage, vibrations or delayed reactions when throttling up while in gear.

It is not the ATF though. Bad ATF smells like burning bread, for reasons I have never understood. One more theory: the brakes could be binding.

This may be an underlying problem which is then aggravated by frequent braking (you did say slow traffic, didn’t you?).

The result is the calipers hold on to the discs when you start moving, and the resulting friction heats them up to the point of them giving out a smell.

Next time you get the smell, if possible, check the front tyres around the rim and hub areas to see how hot they are.

I will do a review of the new Demio once I get hold of it. Snazzy little thing, though the looks are a touch feminine. But if public opinion is anything to go by, it should be a hoot to drive.

The gearbox of my Toyota Noah jerks everytime I engage the “R” or “D”. My mechanic calls it rough engagement.

He ran a diagnosis and the report indicated it was a solenoid circuit high.

He then opened the gearbox sump and closed it after a few minutes. He put back the ATF and the problem disappeared. However, that same evening, it was back. What could be the cause?

R. Ndungu, Mtwapa

The problem came back because the main issue was not solved. Opening and closing the sump will not really do much if the error report says “solenoid circuit high”.

The solenoid circuit is obviously an electrical component, and these have never been repaired by just looking at them (literally staring at them; did that mech even do anything after opening up the fluid reservoir?).

I have a Land Rover Discovery 1994 model, which has a problem of leakage on the transfer gearbox. I have had several mechanics look at it but all in vain. Is this a problem with the Landrover Discovery?

Daniel

Yes it is.

Posted on

I prefer a first-generation Vitara to the tiny, bouncy Camis and Jimnys

Dear Baraza,

I have been wondering why you answer questions only from people who drive big and expensive cars? This is the third mail I am sending, although I can already tell you won’t respond – if at all you care to read it.

Now to my question: Which small SUV would you go for between a Toyota Cami and Suzuki Jimny, both year 2006, 1.3litre, in terms of off-road ability in muddy conditions, engineering, and availability of spare parts. I want one for commuting to work and visiting the farm in a remote shags on weekends.

Patrick

Hi,

Yes, I only answer questions from people who drive big and expensive cars, cars like the Nissan Note, Mazda Demio and Subaru Impreza. They don’t come any bigger or more expensive than these.

Perhaps I should start charging a consultation fee; that way, maybe the owners of these big cars will stop sending emails and allow drivers of smaller cars to have their 15 minutes.

Secondly, there is a backlog in my inbox: I have hundreds of unanswered emails, and yours was one of them – until now.

So, to your question: I wouldn’t buy either of the two since they are both horrible to drive. I’d rather buy a first-generation 5-door Suzuki Vitara, which costs less but gets you more of a car and is cheaply available with an optional V6 engine.

The Cami and Jimny are tiny, bouncy little things that are badly afflicted by crosswinds on the highway, will not seat enough human beings for you to have a memorable road trip, and will shatter your pelvis on a rough road. However, they are also very capable when the ground underfoot gets industrial.

Off-road: Their non-existent overhangs, narrow bodies and relatively high ground clearance make them handy tools for penetrating the impenetrable, and unless you fall inside a peat bog or drive off a cliff, you are unlikely to ever get stuck in one.

The muddy conditions you inquire about may prove to be their undoing, though: their tiny, underpowered engines don’t generate enough power to force your way through the clag, which is why Landcruisers are recommended for such. You need plenty of power when going through mud, otherwise you run the risk of wedging yourself into the landscape.

With power, you also need bigger wheels. The Jimny and Cami both run on dinner plates that will cut through the mud and beach your vehicle faster than you can say “I knew 1.3 litres was not enough engine…” The Jimnys sold by CMC had slightly wider wheels, though, which would improve matters. Here’s why:

When forging a path through the quagmire, you need a modicum of buoyancy to prevent getting stuck. The bigger tyres offer a bit of floatation, and the speed complements it.

Of course, it is not recommended that you try and do 100 kph in a swamp, but it is imperative that you keep moving and not stop at all, and sometimes to keep moving, you need plenty of revs and a bit of wheelspin.

With no power at your disposal, compounded by smaller wheels, you will start to sink in the mud and if you try to generate a bit of wheelspin, you burn your clutch and/or stall the vehicle.

The Jimny has a slight advantage over the Cami in that, as a 3-door, it has a shorter wheelbase, and the lack of a body-kit even as an option gives it superior approach and departure angles, and much better ground clearance.

Engineering: These are cheap, narrow, 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder Kei cars. The engineering in them is rudimentary at best, and their only bragging points would be over things we take for granted in other cars such as AC, power steering, power windows and variable valve timing.

Forget about hill descent control, torque vectoring, terrain response systems or submersion sensor technology; for those, you need to multiply your budget by 30 and start looking at Range Rovers, the kind of cars driven by people whose emails I respond to (you opened a can of worms here, my friend).

Availability of spare parts: small, Japanese cars are the topic at hand. What was your question again?

**********

Hi Baraza,
Thanks to you, we petrolheads now look forward to Wednesdays as if it is Friday. Your writing prowess and knowledge about cars is simply outstanding. Keep up the good work. Anyway, to my queries.

1) Why don’t the turbo-charged Subies and Evos come with turbo timers from the factory? And they don’t come with damp valves either: does it mean they are not necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I know what they are used for but it bothers me that the manufacturers of these speed machines don’t fit these gadgets as standard.

2) This is a proposal: I think it’s high time rally organisers used the Jamuhuri Park circuit, where two cars race side by side on gravel, as a spectator stage. They did so last time and it was really exciting.

I am disappointed that this year they have skipped it for the boring Migaa circuit. To the rally organisers: let’s build more circuits like that in our bid to lure the WRC. I doubt it’s costly, plus they can always charge entry fees to recover the costs.

Last but not least, what’s the shape of an Evo’s tail lights? Because we sub drivers can’t recall….

Elly

Hi,

1. These turbo cars don’t come with timers because in stock form, they do not really need them. Once the owners/drivers start tuning/modifying/upgrading them by installing bigger turbos, increasing boost pressures and using manual boost controllers, the need for timers arises.

The turbos spool faster, generate more heat, and the bigger units require more oil for lubrication, which is where the need for timers comes in. The timers assist in heat dumping and spool-down manoeuvres to prevent damage and oil coking. The stock turbos are usually designed during R&D to compensate for this sudden cool-down, according to their capacity.

A small correction though: the factory cars DO come with dump valves, it’s just that these BOVs are not as loud as the aftermarket devices. Some people install new dump valves simply for the noise they make, a noise I will admit is highly addictive. Even I will buy a new BOV just for the “pssshh!!” throttle-off hiss.

2. Well, nowadays we have something called Club TT Motorsports, and though unintended, it sometimes steps in where rally fears to tread. Club TT Motorsports is the committee behind the famous time trials, four of which have been held so far. Three of the four races were the Kiamburing TT hill-climbs, and one was the Murang’a TT.

I will pass your recommendation on to the organising committee and see if Jamhuri Park can be put to good use. Wheel-to-wheel racing is the most dangerous aspect of motorsport, especially where amateurs are concerned, but then again, its entertainment quotient is infinitely greater than the standard time trial format.

If we can get two cars to run side by side (Evo vs STi, anyone?) but demarcate the two lanes into separate pathways, we will be sure to have a show we will not forget soon. What was that you said about Evo tail-lights?

***********

Dear Mr Baraza,

Thank you for sharing your column. The information is very helpful and insightful. Keep up and do not be discouraged by the few negative comments.

I recently bought a 1800cc Premio but need to improve the clearance. I have put strong coil springs and there is some improvement, but when fully loaded, it’s still low on high bumps.

1. Is it true that bigger tyres will increase fuel consumption? I am using 185/70/14. I wanted to use 195/70/15. Will they affect stability?

2. Since I imported it, whenever I drive beyond 100 kph, if I brake, the steering wheel shakes. I have checked the brakes, had the wheels aligned and balanced but no change.

3. The back seat has only two safety belts, with an arm rest in between that can be folded back to accommodate three passengers.

The import inspection sheet indicated that it can accommodate five passengers, so I am assuming there should have been a safety belt for the middle passenger at the back.

Hello,

1. Not really. Okay, it will, but the difference will be barely discernible and anyway, the instantaneous consumption varies quite a bit. Overall, you will not notice anything.

2. Check your brakes again. Your problem sounds like warped brake discs. You might need new ones.

3. I’d assume so too, so either a) we are both wrong, or b) there WAS a seat belt but for one reason or another it was removed.

When I reviewed a Premio a long time ago, I sat in the back seat to check out the legroom (which was good) but didn’t check for a centre belt, so I cannot tell if this is an isolated case or if it is the norm with Premios.

It is at times like this that reader feedback comes in handy; maybe other Premio owners out there can tell us if their cars are also blighted by fewer seatbelts than there are seats, or if this problem is yours alone.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I like your expert advice on the advantages or otherwise of various car makes/models and solutions you suggest for car problems.

I am an admirer of SUVs currently driving a Subaru Forrester. I would like to upgrade, maybe to a BMW X5 or X6.

Which one do you consider a better deal in terms of performance, fuel economy, and local support, bearing in mind that it would most likely be a second-hand import?

Also, should I buy one that uses petrol or diesel, given that there are issues with the quality of locally available diesel.

Dan N

Hi,

I can’t help but notice you share a name with a TV comedian, the famous “Churchill”. You are not he, are you?

The two cars are largely similar and share engines, so performance, economy and local support are no different irrespective of which X-car you go for.

Local support is the bone of contention here: a visit to Bavaria Motors assured me that they do not discriminate against imports; they will support ANY BMW you throw at them. The reports on the ground are a little different but not too worrisome. Some claim they have not got a stellar reception at Bavaria.

Petrol vs diesel: BMWs have not had as many complications with diesel engines as their German rivals, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I think it is a calculable risk, and the calculations say you can take a gamble.

However, the petrol engines are a lot more powerful and much more fun to drive but you need a sizeable fuel budget if you plan to take advantage of the hiatus in the 50km/h town-bound speed limit.

***********

Sir,
I am contemplating importing a Honda Fit 1500 cc , but the mileage (all in Japan) seems high at 98,000 km. What would you advise?
C Shah

I would advise that you not pay too much money for it; 98,000km is a lot for a small ex-Japan car. Alternatively, expand your search and hope to find one with lower mileage (it will cost a little bit more, though).

**********

Hi Baraza,
I read your article on revitalisants in Car Clinic with lots of interest.

This Russian revitalisant was introduced to me by a doctor friend who had earlier used it in the UK.I added the gel to my engine oil in September this year and the engine of my Mitsubishi Warrior double- cab has improved in sound quality. It used to be rough, like a truck, but I can now say there is definitely an improvement.

I have also noticed an improvement in fuel economy. The car now does 7 kpl from a low 5.5 kpl, which is poor for a diesel vehicle.

I am ready to take the plunge with you on the gearbox. Let’s compare notes sometime in November.

Cheers, iKay.

Interesting feedback. I did review a Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab pick-up some two years ago and two of the many shortcomings on that particular vehicle involved the gruffness of the engine and the poor fuel economy. Maybe that vehicle needed some “revitalising”.

November is here, I will soon get my bottle of magic Russian juice, then we will see what is what. This Russian elixir is called XADO (pronounced “ha-do”) and has apparently been around for some time. Strange how I had not heard of it till recently.

Posted on

Modern cars far outshine the classic Peugeot 404 or 504 you’re keen on

Hi Baraza,

I am torn between getting a classic Peugeot 404 and 504 station wagon for daily use.

I have driven modern cars, from SUVs to hatchbacks, but feel that the cars lack character.

When I was growing up, my father had a car that was treated like a family member; that does not happen nowadays. A car is just that — a car!

My research on the net has shown that there is not much difference between modern cars and the 404 and the 504 in regard to fuel consumption if the balancing/mixing is done correctly. Am I right?

Also advise on safety, speed, road handling, spare parts, comfort, etc. Which one would you advise me to get?

Ken

You are right, a sizeable percentage of modern cars lack character. Worse still, they are also quickly losing identity and all look the same.

About the “fuel balancing”, I would not go so far as to declare that there is no difference between 404/504 estates and modern cars.

To start with, what is this “fuel balancing” you refer to? Is it tweaking the carburettor to make the engine run a little bit lean?

If so, then you will also have to deal with loss in power, risk burnt valves and possibly misfiring, which could lead to other kinds of damage, up to and including, but not limited to, top-end (head) damage.

Is the “balancing” mixing petrol with other additives to increase economy?

If so, forget it, there is no such magic elixir that extracts extra mpgs and kpls from a litre of petrol out of the blue (this is a whole other discussion about octane ratings, so yes, such an elixir does exist but things are not exactly black and white here).

Unless you mean large-capacity, high-performance engines of today, then the answer is no, the 404/504s of yore (fitted with carburettors) will not return consumption figures as good as those of modern cars.

If anything, large-capacity, high-performance modern engines have very impressive economy figures when driven “normally”, two good examples being the 2014 Corvette C7 (6.0L V8 engine) and the Mercedes Benz CL65 AMG (6.0L twin-turbo V12 engine), both of which have manufacturer-claimed consumption figures of 30mpg (roughly 12-13 km/l), which is exactly what a Corolla Fielder will do and a 504 station wagon will not.

Most of the other aspects you enquire about are also poor by today’s standards.

Safety is terrible: there are no airbags, no ABS, no electronic driver aids.

The steel/chrome bumpers of both cars and the rounded headlamp fairings of the 404 ensure that the pedestrian had better stay away from the path of an approaching 404.

There are not any energy-absorbing crumple zones, no traction control, no stability control, and no seat belt pretensions… these cars are not safe, period.

Speed is nothing to write home about either: you might remember the days when we had Wepesi, Kukena, Crossroad Travellers and the like, but how long ago was that?

My 2006 Mazda Demio accelerates faster than those cars, and top speed… well, the 504s may have been able to clock 200 or more, but you would not want to do 200 km/h in a 504 with that motion-in-the-ocean suspension setting that was biased more for comfort than outright stability at high speed.

Speaking of suspension, let us deal with the last two traits: handling and comfort.

Handling may have been okay in the 504 saloon (with traces of understeer from the extremely soft suspension), but the lengthy 504 estate was weird when pushed hard.

I know; I tried. Turning hard, this is the order of events as they happen. First up is tremendous body roll. You would think that the car’s door handles will brush the tarmac at any moment.

If the shock absorbers are shot through, this might be as extreme as the tyre treads scraping away the lining of the wheel wells.

Next comes understeer. Feed in lock, feed in more lock, cross your forearms, and keep turning the wheel: all this leads to the car barrelling straight on, towards whatever obstacle might have necessitated the corner that is just about to be your undoing.

Braking only aggravates matters. You have to get your speed right if that understeer is not to end in a massive accident.

You are now midway into the corner and understeering. You will feel the vehicle bend in the middle as you turn, because 1. the 504 estate is very long and 2. structural rigidity is a well-known weak point of Peugeots in general, and 504s in particular.

The folding of the car about its midriff is worrisome; it is even more alarming than the understeer you are still fighting.

If you survive this, then now comes Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now that you were forcing the frame to warp through hard cornering, at one point the frame will want to straighten itself out.

The timing of this counter-action is most unfortunate, because it occurs at the moment when the vehicle stance is nose-down, back up.

This means that most of the weight is over the front wheels, leaving the rear with little or no grip at all.

Given that you were cornering hard, the normal oversteer typical of long cars is to be expected, but this oversteer is further exacerbated by the elastic rebound of the frame and the complete loss of grip at the back.

You will spin, and spin badly. Counter-steering does not really help, because 1. the steering rack is highly geared, requiring numerous turns from lock to lock and 2. Power steering was not available on all 504 models.

The best thing to do here is wait for the car to stop by itself. If it all goes belly up, you will then have a chance to discover the answer to your last question: 404/504 spares are hard to come by nowadays.

Dear Baraza,

I own a 2003 1.8cc Toyota Allion. I have experienced a strange phenomenon, about three times now.

When I am driving, the engine shuts down, all the lights on the dashboard — including the hazard lights— come on.

However, after a short while it comes on again or starts when I ignite it. What could be the problem?

I service the car even before its due date and this began about a week ago. I have had the car for two years.

Kindly assist since this might happen when I am speeding and the results could be disastrous.

Sam

This sounds exactly like a problem with an anti-theft device: the engine cutout. The symptoms are typical of when the cutout kicks in when running the car after failing to disengage it first.

What I really cannot explain is why it took years for it to become effective.

My guess is that the battery in the plipper (the part of the car key that you press to unlock the car doors and/or deactivate the alarm, if so equipped) could be running low, and that the cutout is part of the security system.

So, pressing the button might unlock the doors but the battery, being weak, might also fail to disengage the engine cutout.

As you drive along with the cutout still active, it gives you a small grace period, a sort of countdown, for you to disengage the cutout before the system assumes you are a thief who does not know where the cutout is and will thus impede your progress before you go too far.

This is just a theory, but it is the one I believe strongly in.

Have an electrician look at the vehicle, with emphasis on the ignition system. Let him trace a cutout.

If none exists, then he can go searching for other problems (which more likely than not, will still be electrical).

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column. I am a great fan of muscle cars.

Between the Mitsubishi Galant and the Subaru Impreza WRX sedan, which one is better in terms of performance?

Also, what is the difference between an SUV and an SAV?

Felix Kiprotich

Which Galant are you referring to? I can only assume that it is the VR4, because it is the most similar to the Impreza WRX.

The VR4 is faster. It has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, turbocharged and intercooled to 280hp, and this power is put down through a tiptronic-style semi-automatic gearbox.

The Impreza WRX is good for a “mere” 230hp (the latest model has to around 260-265, but there is no new Galant VR4, so we will compare age-mates here, old Galant vs old Impreza).

This makes the Galant superior. However, if you introduce the STi version of the Impreza WRX, the tables are turned and the STi dominates (it might have the same 280hp in one of its myriad iterations, but the packaging is smaller and lighter, offering better responses and performance).

An SUV is essentially what we used to call 4x4s: tall, high-riding, estate car look-alikes with some degree of off-road ability due to increased ground clearance, and maybe 4WD. Jeeps also fall under this category.

SAV is a class of vehicle that did not exist until BMW discovered that the automotive industry has some murky areas that could be taken advantage of, especially targeting the blissfully ignorant, who just so happened to have a lot of money.

Create an answer to a question nobody asked, imbue it with polarising and highly controversial looks, market it aggressively even before production starts, then sell it under a title that not even the most accomplished motoring journalist can explain convincingly: the Sports Activity Vehicle.

The premise looks good on paper. The top part is a sports car. The bottom part is (supposed to be) an off-roader. In the real world, this thing is a lumpen, high-priced trolley for ferrying privileged children from expansive homes to schools that other privileged children attend; an obese brat-mobile that does nothing convincingly, except seek attention.

It is neither a sports car nor an off-roader. Still, it sells so well that the original, the BMW X6, was later joined by 60 per cent of an X6, called an X4.

It sells so well that even that the most venerated of car makers, Mercedes Benz, has joined in the action with the recently announced GLA “sports activity vehicle”, a dead ringer for the BMW X6, save for the badge on the bonnet.

It makes a motoring writer want to pull his hair out, if he has any.

Posted on

Your engine’s faulty; Demios don’t normally make tractor-like sounds

Hello Baraza,
I really love your column and look forward to the Wednesday issue of the Daily Nation. I hope you will respond to my mail this time round.

Now on to my question: I have a 2005 Mazda Demio and of late, I have been seriously disturbed by a noise coming from under the hood.

The car sounds like a tractor/diesel engine and somebody can tell from a kilometre away that I am approaching. In fact, my children have become so used to the noise that they open the gate when I am still some distance away. Several mechanics have told me that it is the normal sound of Mazda engines. Is this true?

Secondly, the car is a 4WD. How do I know whether the 4WD is damaged or in working condition? Could it be the reason the consumption is not good since the car (1300cc) is doing about 11km/l, which I think is awful.I would greatly appreciate your help. MK

I would say something is definitely broken under the bonnet. Demios do not sound like tractors and/or diesel powered cars, unless so equipped. You might have an engine with a knock.

To test the 4WD, you could jack the car up, i.e put it on stands/stones. Just to be safe, prop up all four wheels.

Start the vehicle, then engage the transmission (D or first gear, depending on transmission type). Observe the wheels. If the 4WD is functional, all four wheels should spin.

If they do not, then the 4WD drivetrain has a problem, though I suspect you might get a dashboard light warning you of something to that effect.

Drivetrain problems could be a reason for high fuel consumption, though at 11 km/l, I would first ask what your driving style and environment look like before pointing a finger at the 4WD.

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Hello Baraza,
I am a great fan of your column, which I read religiously every Wednesday. I am in the process of importing a car and after looking at a few options (the usual Honda Fit, Mazda Demio, Honda Mobilio Spike), I settled on a Fiat Panda.

It is a 1200cc automanual model and I would think it might be the only one on Kenyan roads. What is your opinion of the car? I am comforted by the fact that the guys at Top Gear really liked it….

Fiat has a reputation for making unreliable cars and this might actually be reflected all across the range.

Fiat cars have long been known to break down not very long into the vehicle’s lifespan, as do Alfa Romeos, which are made by Fiat, while certain models of Ferrari (another Fiat brand) tend to spontaneously combust, which could be seen as a reliability issue. You cannot call a car reliable if it catches fire by itself, can you?

Let Top Gear be. The UK market is more varied and more forgiving than ours. Cars there, being mostly brand-new, are protected by warranties and dedicated dealer networks; Britons rarely ask whether spares for a particular car are available.

They know there exists such a thing as the internet, which they put to good use (mostly). So, for a motoring journalist with a six-figure annual income (in pounds sterling), a Fiat Panda is more an object of amusement and experimentation than the sole solution to his transport needs, as could be your case. Buy it at your own risk.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
Having just sold my Toyota Surf, I am planning to buy a Nissan Patrol 2007 model, diesel, or a Harrier Lexus 2006/07 model, petrol. I would greatly appreciate your advice. Pandit

This is what we call a vague or ambiguous question. What, exactly, is your dilemma? I think in a case like this, you decide what you want, whether it is a Nissan Patrol or a Toyota Harrier or a Lexus RX.

The purchase will mostly depend on how much money you have to spare and what you intend to use the car for. Do not buy the Patrol if you do not do any serious off-road excursions.

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Hi Baraza,
I want your expert advice on the following cars:
1) Between the Toyota Belta 1000cc and 1300cc, which is better for Kenyan roads and fuel efficiency?
2) Is the Toyota Passo 1300 cc better than the Vitz?
3) Is the Nissan Tiida 1490cc a good car to drive and is it fuel-efficient?
4) When importing the above cars from Japan, is it okay to buy cars with mileage above 87,000 kilometres or will they break down?
Andy

1. The 1000cc car is better in fuel efficiency if you are using it in the city. The 1300 will be more appropriate for extended highway use.

In this era of the NTSA and its sometimes mind-boggling speed limits, you might be better off with the 1000cc car. You might not need the extra 300cc, especially if your car does not bear loads that extend beyond your person.

2. Better in what way? The Vitz might be the better car overall.

3. Yes, it is a good car to drive, although the 1500cc version feels a bit underpowered. But remember the NTSA and its speed limits, so you do not exactly need a very powerful Nissan car to drive around the country.

4. They will break down. However, being Japanese cars, this breakdown will happen later rather than sooner. The good thing is, a car with an odo reading above 87,000km will obviously be cheaper than one with lower mileage.

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Hello Sir,
I am a young hustler whose father uses a Toyota Fielder 1400cc 2006 model. I admire the vehicle for its fuel efficiency, stability, and comfort.

I want to buy a vehicle for myself and would like a fuel-efficient one (like the Fielder). My favourite models are the Fielder, Avensis, and Allion. Kindly advise.
Thanks, and I appreciate your work. John Maina

Well, now that you are already familiar with the Fielder, it will not hurt if you get one of your own, will it? The consumption figures are not very much different with the Avensis and the Allion, but there is comfort in familiarity.

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Dear John,
It was a cold day in Wolfsburg, Germany, when your current car, the Mazda Demio, won the World Car of the Year in 2008, its heyday.

However, in true German fashion, the VW board summoned their engineers and ordered them to create the finest hatchback floorpan in the automotive world and wipe the smug smile off the faces of the Japanese Demio makers.

Money was no object. The result was the VW Golf Mark 5, each built carefully in 50 hours bristling with innovation, with a Euro NCAP 5-star rating to boot, which was promptly crowned World Car of the Year 2009.

Richard Hammond, a Top Gear presenter, even had a Mark 5 Golf struck by 600,000 volts of nature’s finest lighting while seated inside as a testament to its German over-engineering.

However, the fly in the ointment and let-down to many Kenyan motorists who ship the used version of this car from Japan is the DSG gearbox which, in simple terms, is two separate manual gearboxes (and clutches), contained within one housing and working as one unit.

It was designed by Herr and was initially licensed to the Volkswagen Group. Designed to shift gears more smoothly than a conventional manual gearbox and quicker than your reflexes, this automated manual gearbox resulted in a worldwide recall by VW of 1.6 million sold vehicles.

This has caused grief to many a Golf Mark 5 owner, who experience intermittent transmission jerking, usually at low speed, and agonising delays in shifting down once the car has warmed up. VW has finally figured out the cause after a lot of head scratching since the computer does not produce any fault codes.

Apparently, the DSG transmission has a protection mechanism switch built in that prevents excessive power from being delivered to it if the brakes are engaged.

When you take your foot off the brake and step on the accelerator for power, the switch lags and makes the transmission tranny think the brakes are still on, resulting in the annoying shifting delays. Once this brake switch sensor is replaced, the fly is removed from the German ointment.

As a preventative measure, it is also worthwhile to drain all the synthetic gearbox oil from the Golf Mark 5 with a DSG gearbox  and replace it with a good quality mineral oil before making the maiden trip from Mombasa port to Nairobi as VW has confirmed during recalls that in hot climates, the synthetic oil causes short circuits in the gearbox power supply due to build-up of sulphur, a scenario absent in the frigid testing grounds of Wolfsburg.

Lots of innovations remain true to form, like the fuel stratified injection (FSI) engine in the Golf Mark 5 gem in increasing fuel economy in tandem with power, and is kinder to the environment and better built than the Toyota D4 and Mitsubishi GDI employing similar engine concepts. The only catch is to ensure that no adulterated fuel ever enters the filler cap.

The ultimate Golf mark 5 innovation has to do with safety, giving it a Jekyll and Hyde personality; a safe family car packed with curtain airbags, ESP wizardly, and doors like a steel safe to ferry the children to summer camp when needed to a non-turbo Impreza and Evo thrashing hatchback when provoked by their loud exhausts on the way back home to a classy, yet frugal transporter to work on Monday.

Truly, the Golf is the car you will ever need, even in the land where the car in front is always a papier-mâché Toyota. VW fan club member

This is very enlightening. And yes, the Golf is a marvellous car; too bad about the DSG. Impressive gearbox, this one, if a little glitch-prone. I would still have me a pukka three-pedal, six-on-the-floor Golf (GTI, to be specific) if I had the inclination.

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Kindly tell me how a Toyota D4 engine is different from that of other Toyotas and how I can achieve maximum performance.
Also, what is its consumption (km/petrol) rate?

Toyota’s D4 engine is different from (some) others in that it uses direct injection rather than port injection. Direct injection is where the fuel is delivered directly into the cylinders of the engine, where it mixes with air and is then ignited by the spark plug.

This is at variance with previously established systems of port injection, in which fuel was injected/fed into the intake port, where it mixes with air before being delivered into the engine’s cylinders.

Achieving maximum performance is simple. Use high-octane (and reputable) fuel and stomp on the accelerator pedal as hard as you can. The fuel consumption varies, depending on the size of the engine and the size of the vehicle bearing that engine.

D4 engines are quite economical. However, when maximising performance, do not expect the fuel consumption to be impressive.