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Apart from the names, the Harrier and the Lexus have different specs

Congrats for the good work. I am working on my car magazine and for sure I’ve got a lot to write about, given what I am learning from you.

Now, apart from their names, what is the difference between the Toyota Harrier and Lexus? I only know that people love the Lexus because they say it is luxurious.

And, what is so good about the X trail? Almost everyone is buying one. Why don’t they go for machines like the Mark X?

Lastly, don’t you think the Mexico police were wrong in getting a Bugatti just to make sure that they outdo the fastest car on the road in case of a chase?

Assuming that I get a Land Rover Defender 110 and I commit a crime then take a damn rough road, would they get me with their Bugatti?

Mario Junior

Hello Junior,
All the best with your car magazine. I am looking forward to seeing it on the stands.

Apart from the names, the Toyota Harrier and Lexus RX also differ in spec levels, and the availability thereof. Only the top spec Toyota Harriers can match the Lexus RX cars trim for trim and engine for engine.

However, while the Toyota Harrier can be had with smaller engines, some of which have 4 cylinders, the Lexus RXs are all 6-cylinder cars. Meanwhile, the Lexus is also available as a hybrid, while the Harrier is not.

The choice of an X Trail over a Mark X is purely an individual preference and might not necessarily be a definite marker of trend. Maybe some buyers of the X Trail want a car that can drive over tall grass and small rocks because of the tracks they traverse.

Maybe some prefer the taller driving position and better outside view accorded to them by the cross-over utility. Some of them could be fearful of the 2.5 litre V6 thirst of the Mark X as opposed to the X Trail’s 2.0 litre straight-4 (relative) economy.

Maybe some love the square, breeze-block, sharp-edged pseudo-off roader looks of the X Trail instead of the Mark X’s curvy, artsy panel beater’s nightmare of a body. The reasons for choosing one car over another are as varied as they are numerous.

The police acquiring super cars are more of publicity stunts and tourist attraction gimmicks than an absolute need for speed. The only exceptions I’d put forward are South Africa using the Audi S3 and VW Golf GTi, the UK using Nissan Skyline GTRs (R33 and R34), Australia using Impreza WRX STis and Saudi Arabia using the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG as road patrol units.

They actually use these cars for high- speed pursuits. The Bugatti Veyrons, Ferraris, SLRs, SLS AMGs and Lamborghinis bought by various police forces around the world (especially Italy and the Middle East) are purely for show.

Those towns have clever mayors, and these mayors would really love it if tourists visited them more often, and one of the ways of attracting people is via a blatant show of opulence (this mightexplain why some men wear jewellery).

Ferrari and Lamborghini are names instantly identifiable to anyone, petrolhead or not. If your police department has one of them, people will definitely come to have a look. Your town thus gets a much higher profile on the world map.

One thing, though. If you are driving a Land Rover Defender 11 and you get chased by a Bugatti Veyron in police colours and you take the “damn rough road”, don’t for a moment stop and think you are home and dry. If that particular PD can operate a Bugatti Veyron, then they sure as hell can also operate a police helicopter.

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Hi Baraza,
First, I would like to declare that as I am writing this, I am not in that state of being friends with Mututho, though I will be driving towards home, thanks to my car knowing the way home as long as you put it on D.

I have been reading your articles for a while now, and I have some points to make/ask. Many of the emails that come to you ask about buying a first car, but they seem ambitious, asking about German cars and the likes of Range Rover Discovery and so on.

Is there an option of advising them to be real or else they tell us where they mine money to buy and maintain such cars as first-time buyers?

Second, I would like your review of the Nissan Teana, especially the comparisons between the JK, JM, and JX versions in terms of suitability for the Kenyan market.

Third, what’s your opinion concerning Nissans generally? Since the new CEO Goshen took over, they have been producing quality cars.

Do you see a possibility of upstaging Toyotas soon? I need to declare that I don’t hate Toyotas, but sometimes I think they just employ engineers who are not up to the task. Otherwise, how else do you explain the Platz and so forth?

Finally, how come you drive a Demio if you really are a petrolhead? The car, though not ugly, does nothing on the road apart from getting you from point A to B. If you appreciate car technology and the advancement of it, can’t you buy a better car?

I love the Demio, by the way; I bought one for my wife. It consumes relatively less fuel and keeps her away from my Teana JM 2009 model.

Finally, why is with Harrier becoming a lady’s car? I drove one recently and my friends asked if it was a new car for my mama. I hope my wife doesn’t read this, since it will spoil her birthday gift.

Just before I go and get my last one, why do you refer to Top Gear? It just a comedy show in which Jeremy is making £2m (Sh 296m) a year just to review supercars nobody will drive with our speed bumps. Mike the mouth

This is one of the most ridiculous emails I have received in the four years I have written the DN2’s Wednesday motoring column. In fact, it is one of the most absurd emails I have received in the 15 years I have owned an email address.

I don’t know if you are still alive to be reading this, but if you are, read it very carefully, my advice is short and simple: do not drive drunk.

Unless you own the as-yet-still-not-in-production Google car, your car does not know the way home; you just happen to be the momentary, and I do mean momentary, favourite of the cheeky deity behind the blind luck enjoyed by drunkards, the shameless god that is the reason the high and plastered somehow survive long falls, lightning strikes and dangerous drives from the local tavern back to whatever cave they crawled out from.

One day that benevolent spirit will turn malevolent and find a new favourite. It will drop you like a hot potato, and there will be hell to pay. I repeat: do not drive drunk.

There is no option for my readers telling you where they mine their money from. It is pretty obvious. If you want to own a Range Rover or a Land Rover Discovery, my advice is again short and simple: work hard. Also, there exists no such thing as a Range Rover Discovery.

What does “suitability for the Kenyan market” mean? The Teana, in whatever iteration, was meant to go on roads, while carrying people and burning fuel in the process.

We have roads in Kenya don’t we? Kenyans are people, are they not? Last time I checked, we had fuel too. The roads nowadays are good (mostly), some of the people (among which you are definitely not included) now take better care of their cars, so the griping about longevity is almost moot; and fuel quality has been steadily improving. Why would a Teana not be suitable for the Kenyan market?

The CEO of Renault-Nissan is called Carlos Ghosn, not “Goshen”, and yes, he has turned Nissan around. For a good example of his abilities, look no further than the R35 GTR, a car I fawn over endlessly.

However, upstaging Toyota is going to take some doing, if it even happens at all. Nissan has been growing better by the day, but then again, so has Toyota.

Catching up will not be easy, especially when factors like reputation favour your rival. The explanation behind the existence of the Platz (and the Opa, the Will and the Verossa) is: this is what happens when you employ 13,000 designers in the same company. These are way too many opinions and tastes. Some of their creations may be questionable.

Yes, I am a petrolhead, and yes I drive a Demio. It gets me from point A to B, but if you think that is all, then you either a) have never really driven a Demio properly or b) aren’t a petrolhead to start with.

That car puts smiles on my face, because I enjoy driving it. It is also affordable on a motor journalist’s weekly stipend.

If I drove a Range Rover Discovery (which does not exist), then I’d be a good businessman or a successful drug dealer (who is also a good businessman, if you think about it critically).

Your qualifying statement there reeks of innuendo: who says the Demio is unadvanced and devoid of technology? Those descriptions best fit the 1989 Peugeot 405 SR I drove before, but not the Demio.

While it is not the same as a Mercedes S Class — or even a Nissan GTR — in terms of gizmo deployment, it serves its purpose, and does it well.

I don’t need military-grade infra-red readouts on my windscreen or torque-vectoring AWD drivetrains, nor do I need launch control or a twin-clutch gearbox.

What I need is a responsive engine with electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing, a manual gearbox and nice grippy tyres. Check, check and check.

So you got the wife a Demio. Now she and I can have two things in common: we drive the same car and we are not sure your drink-driving habits are worth bragging about.

I cannot explain why women love the Harrier. However, I can make an educated guess, stemming from several interviews I have had with a number of them. They think it looks good.

They think it is a big enough car to make a statement without it being too big. They think it can handle most situations thrown at it, “most situations” in this case being bad roads. They are mostly right.

I know what Top Gear is, I know how much Jeremy Clarkson claims to make per year and I know exactly how seriously to take Top Gear.

What I do not know is how carefully you have been reading my writings. Quoting Top Gear is not the same as using them as a reference, and how often does it happen anyway?

Mr Barasa,

You must either be suffering from amnesia or you are so forgetful that you don’t remember what you wrote about the same car some years back.

You are the same person who described the Avensis as the best car ever made by Toyota. Today you call the same car blande, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means not interesting or exciting/lacking strong flavour”. How do you reconcile the two?

How can you use public media like the Daily Nation to display your ignorance to the whole nation and beyond. I might not be a car specialist, but today you have also proved not to be (although you want people to believe that you are).

One thing I know for sure is that the Avensis is not what you described it as in your recent article. Besides, how can you restrict your comparison to only the Mark X simply because the reader asked about the two.

I have driven both cars and I think going by the way you wrote, the makers of the Toyota Avensis should sue you.

The only problem is that you will not be in a position to pay a fine of $2 trillion like the case in the US where a woman was awarded a similar amount (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then that should explain why you write the way you do).

Let me not even waste more time with you. No more comments from me. Eric

Thank goodness. It was becoming difficult to keep up with your train of thought.

Anyway, it is not only unlikely, but also well nigh impossible that I would call the Avensis “the best car ever made by Toyota” because, where would that leave superb classics like the 80 Series Landcruiser? Or the Mk. IV Supra? or the AE86 Corolla Levin?

What you read was “one of the best built”, i.e. build quality is superb, but then again this is Toyota, very few, if any, of their cars are built below standard. So that is not saying much.

Also, what you read (“best car ever by Toyota”) was not written by me. This is not the first time I have called the Avensis a boring car.

The Merriam-Webster definition of “blandest” is exactly the one I was going for in my statements. Kindly prove otherwise, or else cut down on your Internet costs by not sending me any more bad mail like this one.

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Take note, Shell V-Power won’t turn your Vitz into a Ferrari

Hello Baraza,

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the ordinary super petrol and the V-Power fuel sold by Shell. I drive a supercharged Vitz — RS 1600cc — and have tried using both fuel types and experienced no difference at all in terms of speed, performance and kilometres per litre. Let me hear from you on this.

Nawaz Omar.

Shell were very careful when pointing this out. Much as the ads starred a Ferrari road car (and an F1 racer too, if I recall), it did not mean that putting V-Power in a Vitz will turn it into a 458 Italia. Nor did it mean that the fuel economy of a small car will be changed from the incredible to the scarcely believable.

Shell V-Power contains extra cleaning agents that will wipe away all the dirty sins, sorry, dirty deposits from your engine and fuel system, just like Christians insist Jesus will if you call out to Him.

Even more importantly (for those of us who love performance engines), it also contains octane levels high enough to allow high compression engines to run on it: engines such as those with forced induction (turbocharged/supercharged) or even… yes, a Ferrari F1 racer.

So Nawaz, take note: V-Power will clean the engine of your Vitz, not transform it.

Hi Baraza,

I enjoy reading your column every week. Good work! I would like to know the relationship between engine size and fuel consumption. Basically, what is the relationship between the fuel injected into the combustion chamber and engine size?
Thank you,
Kiama.

If we were in the year 1930, there would be a clear-cut answer to your question, but it is 2012 and we have with us technologies like Variable Valve Timing and Direct Injection which make things very hard to explain without pictures.

Anyway, I will try to make things as simple as possible, and, before I start, I hope you know the basic physiology of an engine.

For normal running, we have what we call the stoichiometric intake charge ratio, which is simply referred to as air-fuel ratio, and stands at 14.7:1. If it goes lower, it is called a rich mixture (such as 10:1 or 5:1). If it goes higher, it is called a lean mixture.

Now, if it was the year 1930, the calculation would be simple: for every 15 metric units of air sucked into the engine, the fuel levels would drop by just a shade more than 1 metric unit.

So for a 2.0 litre engine operating at a constant 1,500rpm, you have four cylinders, which go through 1500 revolutions in one minute, consuming fuel in one stroke out of every four, and two strokes make one revolution (0.5×1500=750 fuel-intensive strokes). Since the cylinders occupy 2,000cc, 750 strokes of 2,000cc would be 1,500,000cc worth of intake charge.

I talked about metric units, and it is here that you have to pay attention because it ties in with all the economy advise I give people about filling up early in the morning.

While at the dispenser down at the petrol station you will buy fuel by VOLUME, the injection system of a car measures it by MASS for the intake charge ratio.

The density of air at 25 degrees Celcius (RTP — room temperature and pressure) is about 1.2 kg/cubic metre. So 1.5 cubic metres (1,500,000cc) will weigh 3.6 kg, which constitutes 14.7/15.7 (93.6%) of the intake charge, with fuel covering the remaining 1/15.7 (6.4%), which by simple arithmetic translates to about 0.25 kg of fuel.

Fuel has a density of 0.74 kg/L, so 0.25 kg of petrol will translate to roughly 338 ml of the stuff, or about 1/3 of a litre.

This is for the 2.0 litre engine running at a steady 1,500rpm for exactly one minute under the stoichiometric intake charge ratio. In the year 1930.

Nowadays, with electronic engine management, direct injection and variable valve timing, the cars can run lean and the effective volume of the cylinder changed in real time, so it is not that easy to calculate the consumption by hand like I just did.

Hello JM,
I drive the new-model Caldina and whenever I encounter dusty roads or wade through muddy waters, the brakes become a gamble. Recently, I noticed the same on my friend’s Subaru Outback. Is it a manufacturer’s error or just the pads? I almost rammed another car because of this.
Sam.

No, Sam, that is not a manufacturers’ mistake. It is your mistake. What you are telling me is: “Look, I drove over a police spike strip and now all my tyres are flat. The manufacturer must be really useless.”

When wet or dirty, brakes don’t work as well as they should because the foreign material interferes with the friction surfaces that convert your kinetic energy into heat energy; and that is why at the driving school they told you to increase your braking distance by at least half if you are driving on a wet surface.

Just to prove my point, tell me, honestly, really truthfully, with a straight face: When clean and dry, the brakes work fine, don’t they?

Hi Baraza,

I imported a Subaru Imprezza GG2, 2004 model late last year and the mileage on the odometer at the time was around 82,000km. I had a small accident with it along Valley Road, Nairobi a month ago and the insurance company fixed the car, but since then there’s a “wheezing” sound that comes from the back as I drive.

Two mechanics have independently confirmed to me that the rear right bearing is the source of the noise and that, for this particular model, the bearing and the hub are sold together as one component. Could you confirm this? What would be the risk of driving it that way before I get it fixed? Can the rear right wheel come off as I’m driving?

Secondly, having done that mileage, what particular parts or components should I replace? Do I need to change the timing belt or any other particular thing? Kindly advise.

You could go to a shop and ask to buy a bearing. If they tell you that it sold with the hub as a unit, then there’s your answer.

I went through a similar case with a Peugeot 405 I had: the fourth gear synchroniser unit was damaged, and when I went to buy a new one, they handed over the unit, to which was attached a gear, and they quoted an unfriendly price. Told them the gear in my car was fine: lose the cog and drop the price. Can’t do, they said; the synchro is the one that costs that much, the gear is actually free. I wanted to weep.

The rear wheel will not necessarily come off, at first, but the bearing could collapse and this might lead to the studs in the hub breaking when the wheel wobbles. Then the wheel will come off.

You could pre-empt breakages by replacing parts such as the timing belt, but the Kenyan way is to drive a car until it stalls, right at the moment when you are at the front of a queue in a heavy traffic jam and the lights turn green or a traffic policeman waves you off.

A physical check will let you know what to replace before your dashboard lights up like a gaudy neon sign, but look at tyres, brakes, the timing belt and the transmission. The suspension too, the shocks especially.

Hi Baraza,

On a trip abroad I had a taste of the great Lexus LS400 and the Chevrolet Lumina SS, though I fell in love with the Lexus as it had a huge, all-leather interior and that ‘cruise feeling’ to it.

You wouldn’t want to go to work in that car, it makes you feel rich and lazy. The consumption, I was told, is on the higher side, but wouldn’t that depend on how heavy your foot is?

Then came the Lumina. She is a beauty, though fitted with plastic interior. I couldn’t help but feel the car had that ‘I’m gonna fall apart soon’ look. I mean, it looks like it wouldn’t survive a head-on with a Vitz. Fuel consumption was much the same.
Considering I can afford the two cars, which one would you suggest I go for?

Wilson.

Buy the Lexus and feel like you have arrived.

The SS is not meant for driving to the office through heavy traffic (the Lexus will shine here), it is meant to go through corners while facing the wrong way, executing massive powerslides and doing great big drifts in the process. It is a car for having fun in.

Your wife will not take it kindly if you show up one day exclaiming: “Honey, we are broke, but at least we have a 6.0 litre V8 car to show why.” The massive spoiler, fat tyres and unsubtle body kits will not tickle her fancy as it would yours. The SS is a sports car. Buy the Lexus.

Hi Baraza,

The ‘check engine’ light on my Nissan Wingroad 2001 model is permanently on. I did an OBD and the fault detected was the primary ignition coil, which I replaced. The plugs were also checked and found sound and of correct specification, but the engine light has refused to go off. I have tried four other OBDs and the result is the same. My mechanic is advising that I change the computer unit. Are the units repairable? Kindly advise.

Isaac.

You should have flushed the ECU after replacing the coil, especially if that cured the problem. It has to be done to most cars. The recommended method is using the same OBD scanner or a PC with the appropriate software and hardware links. Another method is to disconnect the battery overnight.

Dear Baraza,

I drive a 2002 Toyota Corolla station wagon EE103, 1490cc. It has served me diligently, but I would like to sell it to another financially challenged Kenyan and upgrade myself. I like fancy cars but I’m afraid of the cost implications.

I have made many visits to garages manned by thieving mechanics and would like my next car to guarantee me few mechanical breakdowns.

So help me make the big leap. Of the following, which one should I go for: Toyota Mark X, Mitsubishi Lancer, Mitsubishi Diamante, Nissan Wingroad or Toyota Wish? If I remember, you likened the Wish to a bicycle, but still….

Hassan Mahat

The only fancy cars in that list are the Mark X (lovely machine) and the Diamante (dodgy ancestry — Diamantes of old were unreliable). The rest are common fare, especially among the “financially challenged”.

The Wingroad feels — and is — cheap, and ages fast. The Lancer is pretty but suffers from wonky powertrains, especially as an auto. The Wish is aimed at those who have little interest in cars (and from the seating capacity, little control over their loins too).

Hi Baraza

I am 29 and want to buy my first car. I have sampled what’s on offer and this is the fare that has caught my attention: VW Golf, VW Polo, Toyota RunX, Mazda Demio, Toyota Cami, Toyota Opa, Suzuki Maruti and Suzuki Swift.

I’m looking for a second-hand car priced between Sh500,000 and Sh750,000, a car that can do long-distance drives twice a month (Nairobi-Mombasa), a car that is not a ‘Kenyan uniform’ and would still have a good resale value after four or five years. What should I go for?

Second, where is the best place to buy a car? Is it okay to trawl through the classifieds?

Job. 

Job, maintenance and consumption aside, what you want is the Golf if you are serious about doing the Nairobi-Mombasa run once in a while. The rest of the cars will prove to be a heavy cross to bear. For economy, get a diesel Golf.

On where to get it, cars can be bought from anywhere, but do not commit yourself to anything until you see the car itself. I know of some people who have been sold non-existent vehicles after following newspaper and Internet ads.

Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a car for the first time and I’m so much interested in the Subaru Forester. But after enquiring about it from various people, I’m beginning to get confused. Those who own it swear it’s the best car on Kenyan roads today, while those who don’t feel nothing for it. Kindly tell me more about this car, especially the 2000cc model.

Also, between the turbo-charged and non-turbo, 4WD and 2WD, which one is better in terms of fuel consumption, availability of spare parts, durability and performance.

In addition, what is the difference between these two Foresters: the 2.0XT and the 2.0XS?

Thank you.

I had no idea 2WD Foresters existed, but if they do, then they should have lower consumption but lose out on performance to their 4WD compadres. Turbo cars are faster, thirstier, harder to repair and a touch fragile compared to NA versions of the same vehicle. Generally.

The XS model is naturally aspirated (non-turbo) and has auto levelling rear suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, climate control and a CD Stacker (six-disc in-dash).

The XT is turbocharged and shares features with the the XS, but additionally, also has 17-inch alloy wheels, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, a Momo steering wheel and a seven-speaker stereo.

Hi Baraza,
1. I recently came across and advertisement for a motorcycle that can do 70 kilometres per litre. Is this practical?

2. VW have developing a car called the 1L and claim it can do 100 kilometres per litre, thus 10 litres will take you from Nairobi to Mombasa and back. Kindly shed more light on this.

Chris.

1. Yes, especially if it’s engine is of 50cc or less.

2. The reality remains to be seen, because the self-same Volkswagen had a “three-litre car” (3L/100km) which I have  discussed before, the Lupo/SEAT Arosa/Audi A2. It might have done the 33kpl, but not exactly daily. Our roads, diesel quality and traffic conditions may hamper drivers from easily attaining this kind of mileage.

Practicality will depend on the intensity of engineering genius behind it: how many passengers, how much luggage, whether or not it can sustain highway speeds, how easy it is to live with, and so on.

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The Tiggo will have criminals ‘shivering’ with laughter

Hi Baraza,
What is your take on the Kenyan government supplying police officers and provincial administration with the Cherry Tiggo cars? Are the cars the best they can use, considering that countries like the US use patrol cars that cannot be sold to the public, such as the Ford Victoria Crown and Dodge?

Is there any feature of the cars that can make criminals shiver at their sight? Are the cars meant for countries like Kenya, where most roads are not tarmacked? I think this was the reason behind the use of the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Land Rover.

Finally, are the Tiggos stable enough for high speed chases (like the Peugeot 504) or will they roll over, just like the military lorries do even at very low speed? I also fear that they may become old (lose shape) like the ones being used by the Chinese engineers constructing Thika road.

Walkins

You would be surprised that ex-police cruisers can be and are sold to the public in the US (after disarming them of the dash-stored shotguns and computers connected to security databases), especially the Crown Victoria and the Chevy Caprice.

The only reason criminals would shiver would be with laughter at the sight of the government’s cheapness in supplying Tiggos to the boys in blue. Not that they care, anyway.

The Chinese car would not be bad for the untarmacked roads, but their longevity is questionable. And gone are the days of the high speed police chase; nowadays they will just push a stinger into the path of the escaping felon and his goose would be well and truly cooked.

If and when the cops chase down the criminal, he could at least hope that the pursuit vehicle will age and break down some time during the chase (the reputation of China-sourced products).

Hi Baraza,

How does the Toyota Opa compare to the Toyota Fielder in terms of performance, handling, cost of maintenance, resale value, comfort, stability and power? I also want to know why you say the Opa is ugly and yet there are uglier cars, or is it just because beauty lies in the eye of the beholder?

Performance should be better than the Fielder, as is handling, but maintenance costs will depend on how well you take care of it. One on one, the D4 engine and the optional CVT transmission are harder to fix (and will thus cost more) than the equivalent VVT-i and auto/manual gearbox in the Fielder.

Resale value will be next to nothing, but if you can find a fellow Opa-lover, then all the best. Comfort: Very good, for the price and class. Stability: Better than the Fielder, but it is still not an F1 car. Power: 1.8 litre D4 performance, which means about 150 hp.

About its ugliness, just because there are other ugly cars, does that mean I should call the Opa pretty? If four students do an IQ test and one student gets a score of 1, and three others get 0, does that make that one student a genius? No, it is just that three other students happen to be less intellectually endowed. Same thing here; the Opa is still quite unsightly, whether or not Verossas and Wills exist.

Dear Baraza,

I want to move from a five- to seven-seater car to accommodate my family. Looking around, the following appealed to me because of looks, fuel economy, and parking space: Peugeot 307, Volkswagen Touran, Toyota Sienta, Honda Mobilio, and Nissan Cubecubic. I also visited CMC and saw the Maruti 800cc van.

What are your comments on these cars and which one would you recommend?

Muteti

From your list, I would say the Touran is the best seven-seater car. It is the most comfortable, has good power delivery, a six-speed gearbox, is highly versatile, and has Volkswagen’s bullet-proof build quality. Too bad it took an army friend of mine several attempts to get the gearbox fixed at CMC Motors before he was satisfied.

The 307 is also a good car, but with the French known to be unreliable, it may not be the best buy if you have resale value in mind. The Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans are generic Japanese products that I am yet to assess (but I strongly suspect there is not much difference between them).

That 800cc Maruti is another thing altogether. It will seat seven people, yes, much in the same way back in the day my three sisters and I could fit in one red KP&TC telephone booth when making a phone call to daddy at work.

It is not an experience you will particularly enjoy or want to repeat daily. The Maruti is a small-capacity delivery van (mostly for pizzas or inter-office documents), not a Swiss family mobility solution.
Of the lot, I pick the Touran.

Hi,

What is the difference between the 2004/5 Lexus RX 300/330 and Toyota Harrier 240G/300G besides engine displacement? These cars are identical! Which would you go, considering spare parts availability and running costs?

Tony

Besides displacement, the only other difference is the logo in the grille up front. Such vehicles as the Toyota Harrier, Aristo, Altezza, Crown, and Land Cruiser Cygnus (the top-rung 100 VX model) existed because at the time the Lexus brand was not available on sale in Japan, so they were rebranded as Toyota.

Their respective Lexus equivalents were the RX 300, GS 300, IS 200 (and IS 250 in the US), LS 400, and LX 470. There was even a “Lexusized” J120 Prado called the GX 450.

In my world, availability of spares and running costs mean diddly squat, so I would go for the one with the biggest engine and the most horsepower and with the most apportionment (options like leather, climate control, and sun-roof).

For the cash-sensitive types, the diametric opposite of my desire is what they should settle for; the smallest engine with the bare minimum of optional extras.

Hi Baraza,

1. Between a 6-litre V8 engine and a 6-litre V12 engine, which one consumes more fuel? Is it engine displacement or the number of cylinders in the engine?

2. I have been seeing exotic modern cars (Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bentleys, Rolls Royce, etc) in Nairobi streets. Where are these cars serviced? It is not that I am aspiring to buy these cars in the near future, a turbo-charged Subaru is good enough for me.

1. Given the extent of automotive engineering thus far, it is neither of the options you list there. Genius and boffinry will determine the consumption capabilities.

Engine management (injection maps, variable valve timing), supplementary innovations (variable intake plena, active exhausts, use of forced induction, injector and plug placement/relationship, cylinder deactivation, charged gasoline injection, etc), the shape and design of combustion chambers, intake manifolds and exhaust manifolds, along with a whole lot of other things will determine the fuel consumption of an engine.

That is why the CL 65 AMG Mercedes-Benz coupe is a 600 hp monster that can still manage 11 kpl.

2. These vehicles belong to individuals who prefer to stay outside the scope of the public eye. I have seen them too. My presumption is that given what it costs to buy one (and the kind of brain power that goes into building one), it is only natural for the owners to send the vehicle back to the makers for servicing.

Either that or factory engineers are flown in with a complete tool kit to service the vehicle from the privacy of the owner’s home.

Hi,

I want to know about the work of the cylinders in a car and why they vary from vehicle to vehicle, for example, some have four while others have eight cylinders. Aside from that, you are always sceptical about the Cadillac Escalade and yet it is still one of the most prestigious vehicles today.

So how do you rate the Cadillac CTS-V in terms of performance, power (which I assume is quite a lot with the over 400 hp), comfort, stability, and fuel economy?

Three cylinders or less are typically used in less than 1.0-litre capacity engines (except the noisy tractor road-building equipment that uses just one but displaces more than 1.0 litre).

Four cylinders (in line) are good for fuel economy. V4 engines are noisy, and prone to vibrations, which requires the use of heavy crankshaft journals and flywheels to dampen the vibrations.

As a result, they make the car nose heavy, that is why they found limited use in cars. They are used for bikes, though. Horizontally opposed or “flat” four engines (H4) provide even weight distribution, and no, they do not wear the cylinders out on one side, as some people assume.

Five-cylinder engines are not much different from 4-cylinder ones.Most provide extra capacity without resorting to enlargement of cylinders. This applies to both V5 and in-line 5 engines. Six cylinder engines have legendary smoothness and good top-end (high rev) power characteristics.

That is why Lexus used them to great effect in their smaller saloons. The top-end power applies to both in-line 6 (Nissan Skyline GTR, Toyota Supra Mk IV, BMW M3) and V6 engines (Nissan GTR R35, Lotus Evora).

V6 engines have the added benefit of being compact, allowing for a more stubby bonnet or installation in a mid-ship platform, what we call mid-engined cars, or rear engine chassis.

Eight-cylinder engines develop huge torque. Straight 8s saw action a long time ago but these died a natural death. It was only sensible to make V8s. W8 engines were recently “discovered”, but since they involve the juxtaposition of two V4s, they do not get much airtime.

Twelve-cylinder engines have very good power and can rev to “abnormal” levels (the V12 in the Ferrari F50 road car could soar to about 10,000 rpm).

That is why they are used in top-end sports and performance cars (Lamborghini, Ferrari, top-flight Mercedes-Benz AMG and BRABUS cars). Sadly, the engine in the recently released Lamborghini Aventador will have the last automotive V12 to be used as manufacturers are now favouring turbo-charged V8s, which are simpler to build, more robust, and meet ever-tightening emissions standards.

Weirdly, some army tanks also use V12 engines, diesel powered. V10 engines share tendencies with V12s.

Beyond this point, most engines take a W configuration rather than V for the sake of length. The W12 engine (a creation of the VW Group and commonly found in Bentley and Audi) is just the mating of two V6s, side by side. The W16 (Bugatti Veyron) is the joining of two V8s.

The CTS-V is America finally waking up to the realities of life. The original 400 hp car was good (which is saying a lot for a Yank Tank), but the 556 hp supercharged version was great (this has never been said of any American car).

The blown CTS-V killed the BMW M5’s lap record for fastest four-door saloon at the Nurburgring, what with the M5 having two more cylinders (V10 vs the Caddy’s V8) and 50 less hp.

This war is not over. BMW have brought out a new M5 (the F10). They have gone back to V8 engines, they have lowered the engine capacity but (the trump card) to compensate for that, the M car now has two turbochargers slotted under the bonnet.

Initial reports indicate the car goes like stink and is so good it could end hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and bring peace in the Middle East — this is of course an exaggeration. The car will actually bring more war as each country fights to be the one supplying the unleaded that goes into the M5’s fuel tank.

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The ugliest cars on our roads

There is no beauty that hath not some strangeness about its proportions,” so quoteth one Francis Bacon.

Another wag added: “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” and that went on to be modified in various ways, with “beholder” being swapped for “beer-holder” and, for automotive interiors, “cup-holder”.

Anyway, Mr Bacon had his own reasons for saying whatever he said, but it is the other philosopher whose words are of interest.

He was right: our perception of beauty is subjective, dependent on personal tastes and preferences.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world I live in, Planet Petrol, where tastes vary across a wide spectrum and where one man’s poison could be another man’s Toyota RAV4.

On the other hand, while beauty is subjective, sheer ugliness is universal: the visually offensive aberrations that make children disobedient, make wives unfaithful and turn men violent; the sort of ugliness responsible for the lack of peace in the Middle East; the grotesque looks that curdle milk even when pasteurised and frozen.

Simply put, the blinding mistakes that make our friends laugh at us as they ask “what in the name of all that is self-propelled were you thinking when buying a Toyota Opa?”

It is this philosophical vein that sets the tone of today’s column — another list broken into two parts: beauty and the beast, and we open the Miss Ugly contest with the self-same Toyota Opa lurking just outside the top three.

To keep things pertinent, I have decided to limit the contestants to vehicles available in the country right now, either brand new, or on dealer forecourts (within the 8-year import age limit, and in sufficient numbers).

Otherwise the flood of white goods from the Pacific Rim (which are, thankfully, not marketed here much) would fill a Top 100 Ugly Cars all on their own.

While the list itself is shocking in its composition, even more shocking are the contestants who narrowly missed entry: there are at least three or more BMWs (one of them the X6) and a Benz or two that would have made it had I decided to expand the list to cover 10 or 15 cars, never mind the numerous other Asian imports (Mahindra, you lucky bastard) that are all on sale at the moment.

Cars like the SsangYong Rodius (eugh!) also escape the dragnet because they are few and far between.

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Overdrive: Keep it off when overtaking or lugging loads

If there is one thing any columnist tries to avoid, it is repeating oneself. Unfortunately, I will have to do just that this week.

I had talked about overdrive earlier, but reader feedback suggests I left a lot of unsatisfied curiosities out there, so we will have to put aside the happy-go-lucky merry-making of test drives and racing this week and step back into the lecture theatre.

Class is now in session, and the topic today is automotive transmission characteristics in general and two things in particular: the overdrive unit and Continuously Variable Transmissions — close relatives of the typical automatic gearbox.

The Overdrive Unit

This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of automotive transmission systems, especially when coupled to an auto-box.

Let us start with the overdrive unit in a manual transmission car as it is easier to explain away. In some instances, it is used as a standalone gear, just after top (1-2-3-4-O/D).

In such a case, the top gear of a car channels power directly from the clutch past the gearbox to the differential unit, with no gear reduction whatsoever.

With overdrive, what you have is a gear taller than top, in a reverse situation where, instead of gearing down, now the unit gears up the entire powertrain.

The overdrive unit/gear gives the gearbox a higher output speed than input speed (in top gear, both input and output speeds are the same).

It is usually used for cruising in low load situations because it keeps engine speeds low thus saves fuel and reduces wear and tear on the engine.

The other type, used in old British sports cars was the type you engaged or disengaged at will. It provided intermediate gears for the manual transmission, such as third-and-a-half (taller than third but just below fourth).

In those days three-speed and four-speed boxes were all the rage, so the gearing was interstellar at best to cover the high-torque, low-speed demands met by the lower gears and still provide power-sensitive top end zoom in the higher gears.

For the sake of example, let us use third and fourth. Shifting up and down between third and fourth is not only annoying for the driver, but it also impedes smooth progress and affects fuel economy.

An intermediate gear becomes necessary, let us call it third-and-a-half. The only way of getting this gear 3½ without changing your entire gearbox is to use an overdrive for the third gear, giving the intermediate ratio.

This overdrive could also be used for the other gears, even reverse. Nowadays most manual transmissions are six-speed, so the overdrive gear has been rendered unnecessary.

In automatic powertrains, the overdrive unit is a bit more complex. Long ago, it was a selectable position in the auto-stick, P-R-N-D-O, but nowadays, it is electrically activated by a push-button, commonly found on the gear lever itself. For practical purposes, we will look at the overdrive unit in a Volvo car:

The overdrive unit uses an epicyclic gear set, which is in essence a set of gears, one nestled inside the other, almost concentrically, if you will.

It is not entirely dissimilar to the planetary gear set used in most auto-box transmissions, except that it is not so far-reaching and versatile.

When engaged, the driveshaft connects to the carrier gear, the outermost gear set of the epicyclic arrangement.

When the carrier gear turns, the internal gears rotate slightly faster. The innermost gear set is called the sun gear, and it rotates much faster than the outer planetary gears courtesy of the diverse ratios.

The sun gear is the one connected to the drive axles, which turn the wheels of the car. In a nutshell, the sun gear (output) rotates much faster, at higher rpm, than the carrier gear (input).

Pressing the O/D button on the gear lever (turning it on, in this case) sends an electronic signal to a switch located within the transmission that engages the overdrive gear.

The end result is reduced engine speed for a given road speed, which in turn means improved fuel economy and less engine strain. For cars with high torque outputs, this could also mean a higher top speed.

So when to use it? I’ll tell you when NOT to use it. Leave it off when lugging heavy payloads, when going up steep hills, when overtaking or accelerating hard and when off-roading.

In other words, where high torque application is necessary, using overdrive is self-defeating. Also, do not use overdrive when going downhill and depending on engine braking to keep your speed in check.

Engaging it will allow the car to “run away”, seeing that the rev range necessary to provide sufficient compression resistance to slow the car down might correspond to much higher road speeds than anticipated.

Leave it on during ordinary driving, though. The benefits are enormous. However, some people claim that using overdrive when passing slower traffic may boost your speed, but this is only applicable in cars with high torque outputs.

Try that in a Vitz, on a small hill, and you will see dust.

Continuously Variable Transmissions

This is an adaptation of a typical automatic gearbox, and some of you may have across it. Have you ever driven a car with what looks like an auto-box, but vehicular acceleration is not at par with engine revs?

The car may accelerate rapidly but the engine revs stay constant, and those who are keen may have asked: what the…?

No need to curse, it is called a continuously variable transmission, and is the only gearbox you will ever find anywhere with an infinite number of gears.

Such are common in Euro-spec and JDM Nissan road cars: it debuted in the second-generation Primera saloon, and has seen action in the minuscule Micra and of late, the second-generation X-Trail crossover.

Even some Toyota Opa cars have this type of gearbox, and most interestingly, those silly go-karts that scared me half to death in South Africa’s Cape Province depend on this type of transmission too.

This is how it works: Unlike your typical gearbox which sports distinct toothed wheels (cogs or, better yet, actual gears) the CVT setup uses belts and pulleys that vary ratios infinitely between low (first gear, for maximum torque) and high (top gear, for maximum speed) and everything in between, all steplessly, hence the claim of having an infinite number of gears.

The most common type of CVT (and the one we will dwell on today) is the belt-and pulley system. This setup uses two opposing cone-shaped variable-diameter pulleys connected by a chain or metal belt.

One pulley is mated to the engine (input shaft) while the other is attached to the wheels via the driveshaft. Each pulley is made of movable halves.

When the halves move apart, the pulley diameter reduces as the belt slides down the cone faces, and the belt is forced to ride lower.

When the halves move closer, the belt slides up the tapered cones and the pulley diameter increases.

Changing the diameter of the pulleys can be done in indistinct steps, and this varies the transmission’s ratios, i.e. the ratio of the rpm of the input shaft to that of the output shaft, which in essence is what a typical gearbox does.

The only difference is in the other transmission types, this is done in distinct steps: the gears themselves. Think of the CVT the same way as a 10-speed bicycle directs the chain over a number of smaller gears to multiply torque.

To maintain the tension in the belt, as one pulley reduces its diameter, the other increases its own, and all this juggling is what creates the infinite gear ratios.

Making the input shaft pulley diameter as small as possible and the driveshaft pulley as big as possible gives “first gear”: maximum engine revs giving minimum road speed.

With acceleration, the pulleys vary their diameters to optimise the engine speed/road speed relationship, up to a point where the input pulley is big and the output pulley small for lower engine speeds and higher road speeds: that is “top gear plus overdrive”.

All this is made possible through sensors and microprocessors. The CVT, however, sounds odd; if anything, the noises coming from under the hood would suggest a transmission failure of some sort in other powertrain configurations, but it is perfectly normal for a CVT.

Also, the seamless power delivery would give a feeling of lethargy from behind the wheel when in actual fact the CVT can outperform other conventional transmission types. As such, CVT cars are still struggling to find acceptance in society.

To counter this, car manufacturers have had to inculcate some features that are in direct contrast to CVT characteristics, such as the creep feature like you would find in a normal automatic, and “gear simulation”, distinct steps in the transmission progression.

Driving a car with a CVT is a bit disconcerting. Even before the unusual acceleration at constant engine speed, stomping the throttle at take off makes the car sound as though the clutch is slipping or the automatic gearbox is failing: there is more noise than movement as the car adjusts the engine speed and road speed for the most appropriate relationship.

The reliability of CVTs has also been brought into question as they are delicate by nature. However, more robust construction has made them able to handle more powerful engines.

Initially, the CVTs used earlier could not handle more than 100 hp, but the current ones are capable of channelling up to 290 hp (Nissan Altima) to the tyres form the engine.

Just how good is this type of transmission? For starters, it was banned in Formula 1 because it was making the cars too fast(!).

It is also used widely in farm machinery, from tiny garden John Deere tractors to full-scale combine harvesters.

The benefits of a CVT are more usable power, a smoother drive and better fuel economy; though how this works out I don’t know.

The Gen-II Nissan Primera with a CVT returned a mere 23 mpg (7 kpl) from a 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine. Maybe the economy figures have improved since then.

There are other forms of CVT, such as toroidal, hydrostatic, ratcheting and infinitely variable transmissions, but I doubt if I want to get into all that here and now. Maybe later.

Fun fact: The great scientist Leonardo Da Vinci actually invented the CVT back in 1490. Daf (from the Netherlands) put the first CVT into automobile application in 1958, and only in 1989 did the first US-sold production car have a CVT: the Subaru Justy GL hatchback.