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

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

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

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

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

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

NOT EASY ON FUEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A BIT THIRSTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I insist, the Prius is not what it is made out to be

Hi Baraza,

I have read a number of your articles but not come across any on the Toyota Prius. Would you kindly review it; my apologies if you have already done so because I must have missed it. Regards. Freda

Hi Freda,

I have not done a full review per se, but I have mentioned the Prius several times before, and nothing I wrote was encouraging. The Prius is what we call a smugness generator, a car people buy so that they can look down on others. Someone tried it on me and it did not end well.

The problem is that the Prius is not what it is made out to be. Toyota intended it to be the last word in fuel efficiency but it isn’t.

Some European models offer better economy without resorting to battery assistance, especially the sub 1500cc diesel-powered hatchbacks. Toyota’s own superminis (the likes of the Yaris and the Aygo) also offer better returns on the mpg scale at a lower price.

The world’s leading motor journalist also says research shows that total assembly of this vehicle in the long run does more damage to the environment than a Land Rover Discovery would in its entire fuel-guzzling lifespan, courtesy of the mining, shipping, factory processing and manufacture of its batteries, which, incidentally, are supposed to be its party piece.

He further demonstrated that, driven at full speed, the Prius burns more fuel than an E92 BMW M3 moving at the same speed. The BMW is a sports car, a very fast one, with a 4000cc V8 engine and 414hp.

Meanwhile, the Prius has a 1500cc unit supplemented by an electric motor, making a combined horsepower figure I am unaware of and not interested in knowing.

One last shot: when running on batteries, the lack of engine noise makes it a whisper-mobile, so no one will hear you coming and you should, therefore, expect to slay a substantial number of unwitting, non-motorised street-users as a result.

How many children will you kill in this manner before you convince yourself that the Prius is, in fact, a car made for Hollywood stars to assuage their guilty consciences that they are doing the world some good?

Hi Baraza,

I have had a Starlet EP82 year 92 model for six years now. Mid last year, the temp gauge went close to the half mark and it would require water after covering about 500 kms.; initially, it would go for months. The car has no thermostat and the mechanic suggested a cylinder head gasket overhaul, which I declined, so we ended up changing the radiator cap but it still needs refilling after covering the same kms though the good thing is that the temp gauge never goes beyond the quarter mark.

I recently hinted to my mechanic that for the last two years the engine has lost power; no change even after replacing the clutch and pressure plate.

He suggested we replace the piston rings and crankshaft cone bearings to improve compression. Is he right? What could be the cause? I service it every 7,000 kms with Shell Helix HX5 15W-40, it has no oil leaks so no top-ups, and the car is very economical: 17.5-19kms/litre on the highway.
Regards.

Kamwago

Your mechanic might be on to something. The head gasket might need replacement. This would explain the two symptoms you mention: 1. Power loss: this could be due to compression leakage, hence the (latter) suggestion that you get new rings. But the case of worn out rings is almost always accompanied by oil consumption, which you say is absent. Compression leakage could also occur via the head gasket, so this is a more likely situation.

2. Loss of coolant: coolant could be leaking into the cylinders. Either that, or the cooling system has a leak somewhere.

I think you might need to check your cylinder head gasket after all.

Hi,You promised to tackle small engines that have turbo, especially motorcycles i.e (125cc). I own one but I don’t see much difference between it and other 125s; is it okay?

I do not know of any turbo motorcycles. Which model is this you own? I have a colleague who specialises in two-wheeled transport who might be able to shed some light on your machine, if it is what you say it is (I really doubt if your bike is turbocharged).

I have covered the topic of turbo charging so many times that I rarely delve into it any more.

Hi Baraza,

I own a manual Nissan B15. Recently, it began switching off on its own on the road and also when idling. I took it to a mechanic and he replaced the old plugs and it went off permanently. It also used to discharge its battery when left overninght but retain charge when disconnected.Kindly advise.Joseph Mutua

That sounds like a short circuit somewhere. It explains the stalling (current bypasses the ignition system and is grounded immediately) and also the battery discharge. Have someone look at the wiring and electrical system, the fault should not be hard to find.

Hi Baraza, I’m hoping to change my car this year and am interested in the Nissan Pathfinder or Land Rover Discovery 4, whichever is more affordable. However I would like you to give me insights into the pros and cons of the two vehicles. Secondly, which is your preferred 7-seater SUV ? Anthony Crispus.

Hello,

1. Discovery pros: good-looking, comfortable, smooth, luxurious, handles well, is nice to drive and has some clever tech in it (terrain response, air suspension etc). Also, the diesel engines are economical and all models are fast (this applies to the Disco 4 only. Previous Discos were dodgy in some areas). It is surprisingly capable in the clag.

Cons: Very expensive. It is prone to faults, which are also expensive to fix. Petrol-powered vehicles will get thirsty. The air suspension is unreliable. Also, a man in a Prius will look at you badly for driving a massive, wasteful fuel-guzzler.

2. Pathfinder pros: cheaper than Discovery. It is based on the Navara, so they share plenty of parts. It is also rugged, somewhat.

Cons: being a Navara in a jacket means it suffers some of the Navara’s foibles, such as a rapidly weakening structure under hard use, poor off-road clearance when the high-on-looks side-skirt option is selected and is noisy at high revs. They also don’t sell the 4.0 V6 engine option locally.

My preferred 7-seater SUV is the Landcruiser Prado. I like the Discovery, a lot, but the Prado is Iron Man (unashamedly faultless and immodest with it) to the Discovery’s Batman (good looks and god-like abilities but inherently flawed and thus susceptible to bouts of unpredictability and unreliability).

Hi,

I have a Toyota Allion. The problem is that it pulls to the left. The wheels are the same size and tyres are properly inflated. Wheel alignments, including computerized, don’t correct the problem. My mechanic does not know what the problem could be. Please advise.

Simon

Are you using directional tyres by any chance? Some tyres are meant to be used on a specific side of the vehicle and should not be switched. Also, check your brakes. Unlikely though it is, one of them could be binding.

Hi Baraza,

While I missed Munyonyi’s question on airbags, Sally was right about airbags in suspension. These are retro fitted bags installed (usually) inside the standard spring that function very similar to a tube within a tyre and come with a compressor.When pumped up they raise the ride height and reduce the spring give and body roll. They also increase load capacity. Pretty simple in function and relatively cheap. Favoured by offroaders. Your explanation on was right, just for different systems.

And now tomy question: Why does Toyota torture us with such reliable but sin ugly vehicles? I’m tired of defending these Picasso-looking machines with, “It will reach and come back.” Is there any good looking Toyota (except the 40 and 80 series Landcruisers)? Mwenda

I like the way the Mark X looks. And all the big Landcruisers (80, 100 and 200 Series); Prados look funny. The problem with having 13,000 designers in your employment is that sometimes you have to give some of them incentives not to migrate to Nissan or Honda. That means passing off their designs to production stage. It is hard to say what these designers do in their spare time, but drugs could be a possibility: how else would you explain such aberrations as the Verossa? Will? Platz? Opa?

I received several emails about the air-bag issue, and I apologize to Munyonyi and Sally. They were right. I wasn’t.

Hi JM,

I recently changed the tyres of my Mazda Demio from the manufacturer’s recommended 185/55/R15, which were too small for Kenya’s rough roads, to 195/65/R15 which are bigger. While I appreciate the significant increase in ground clearance, I also noticed a significant dip in engine power. It’s a manual transmission, and some of the steep slopes that I used to comfortably clear in third gear now force me to downshift to second gear two.
How can I get the original power back without having to replace the tyres again? Kelvin.

Fitting bigger tyres has the effect of gearing up your drivetrain, hence the apparent dip in power. If you revert to the original set, you will notice your car is fine.

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If you drive an open double-cab, stay under 80kph or face the law

Dear Baraza,
In your column last week, you mentioned that the Nissan Pathfinder is a dressed-up Navara. I could not agree more, and this remark reminded me of an experience I had with traffic police officers out to nab motorists exceeding the speed limit just before Naivasha on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway a while back.

I was flagged down for doing 100 km/h in an Isuzu D-Max Turbo double-cab pickup. My argument that a double-cab with all the LS trimmings is really a passenger vehicle and well within the 100 km/h limit fell on deaf ears.

The officer, credit to him, was civil and countered my argument by leading me to the back of my vehicle to show me a round sticker with ‘80KPH’ printed on it. This, according to the law, classified the double-cab as a commercial vehicle.

In the end other offenders and I were hauled to a police station, locked up in a wire mesh cell, and taken to court five hours later, where we were fined Sh2,000.

But this was after a passionate lecture by the base commander on the ills of driving over the limit. Incidentally, as we waited by the roadside, double-cab pickups fitted with those sleek canopies cruised by. According to an officer, those were SUVs!

In this era of common platforms (Navara/Pathfinder, Hilux/Fortuna, Ranger/Explorer, Tougher/Frontier, etc), where SUVs are built on pickup chassis, should the KMI not lobby for the reclassification of double-cab pickups to the passenger vehicle category?

The double-cab pickup is undoubtedly one of the fastest selling group of vehicles in the country today. Indeed, the trim and comfort levels of the top-end models put most saloon cars to shame. What is your take on this?

Tom

The policeman who busted you is either the new Sang (traffic police hero) or he was really idle. I am going with the first presumption.

Motor vehicle manufacturing is a wide field. Actually, the Pathfinder is not built on the Navara chassis, it is the other way round; the Navara is built on a Pathfinder plinth. That is why it is so good and feels very car-like, unlike the other double-cabs, which are dedicated commercial vehicles.

Some time in 2010, I wrote an article in which I argued that our speed limits were outdated and needed refreshing. My argument did not register with anyone.

Although I will admit it was unfair for the canopied pickups to drive by while your open-backed unit got flagged down, I must tell you that the police were unwittingly right: the covered vehicles were actually more aerodynamically stable than the open ones.

That payload area at the back acts as an air scoop at speed, and given the lack of weight over the rear axle, oversteer and extreme yawing will finally get the better of your steering input, and you will crash.

KMI, KEBS, the Transport Ministry, and anybody else concerned should compile a comprehensive list of what qualifies as a car, a light commercial vehicle, and a heavy commercial vehicle.

Anything from a 14-seater matatu to a tiny Maruti van requires reflectors, chevrons, and the “80KPH” sticker, but none of the Noahs/Voxys I see on the road has them. Why? Just because they do not serve as public transport?

Same to the pickups, more so the double-cabs; a good number of Navara and Vigo pickups do not have chevrons, and nobody seems to bother with them.

But try driving an ordinary NP300 or Hilux without them. Some of the SUVs we drive are actually heavier than the buses we (or our maidservants) use home, but the ordinary class E licence is good enough.

Hi,

I own a Toyota Corolla E98 with a 3E, 1469cc carburettor engine that has been leaking oil through one of the valves, but the mechanic insists that there is no problem.

The big blow came when it started mixing oil, fuel, and water. What is the main problem? I am thinking of changing the engine to EFI, so which will be the best for my car?

That aside, I have driven a Honda CRV Mugen and it is an amazing car in terms of comfort and fuel consumption. Which is the best Honda model in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, and maintenance costs?

Philip

That mechanic is a fraudster and knows not his trade. The problem is the valve seal of that particular valve — even an apprentice could tell you that.

The water could be from either a leaking gasket (replace) or one of the water jackets has cracked around the top, in which case a new engine block may be needed. The leaking water then mixes with the leaking oil, which in turn mixes with the intake charge to create the soup you describe there.

That Honda Mugen sounds like a real charmer, where can I find one for review?

Hello Baraza,
I have a question for you about Scania buses, since I use them to travel upcountry.

1. What makes them climb hills so fast (I am usually thrilled and fascinated when a bus shoots up with so much power that makes my whole body suddenly feel heavy and numb).

2. With this power, does it mean it can tackle any hill with varying angles/gradients easily?

3. If it is uses turbo, why does it change its sound when it begins to tackle a slope? The sound is like a continuous hiss and its engine generally does not sound like it is turbocharged.

4. Why do you never talk about nations that are leaders in auto engineering because Scania, which I heard is from Sweden, does not get highlighted and yet they have a good product?

1. Huge turbos and intercoolers boost the engine power and torque, the close-ratio short-geared transmission gives it good pulling power even on mountains, and variable valve timing and EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) improve combustion efficiency, give you lower fuel consumption, and reduce emissions.

Of course the engineers behind the engines are also the world’s best.

2. Err, not just any hill. But most of them, yes. It takes one roughly 15 minutes to go up the western escarpment of the Rift Valley (Salgaa-Mau Summit) in seventh and eighth gears (for the F330).

The Mitsubishis I see belonging to some bus company I will not mention take more than half an hour to cover the same distance, usually in third gear and making a lot of noise in the process.

3. The hissing (and for the old F94 HB, whistling or whining) sound you hear is the turbo spooling up and increasing boost pressure.

4. Sometimes I talk about these nations. Have you not heard me sing the praises of Germany more than once? Sweden is good in trucks — Volvo and Scania. Incidentally, the former bought out the latter from its parent company, Saab-Scania.

Their latest acquisition is Nissan Diesel UD commercial vehicles, so yes, even the UD buses are now relatives of their Scania competitors, by adoption.

Baraza,

Recently, you said that NZEs are a bit treacherous. Does the 1.8cc Toyota Luxel 16-valve VVT-i fall in that group too? If not, why? In terms of stability and reliability at speeds of around 120 km/h, how would you rank Toyota Allion A20, the new shape Premio, the new shape Caldina ZT, the Allex XS180, and the Luxel?

And what are the pros and cons of the 4WD types of the above mentioned cars?

Lastly, what are the pros and cons of having an auto or manual gear box in Toyota models, especially the saloons/sedans?

Fanon

Yes, the Luxel you describe is as treacherous — it is, after all, an NZE 120 (what we call NZE).

The Allion and Premio do not feel much different, but the Premio is smoother and quieter. The Caldina feels most planted (if it has a rear wing). The Luxel feels most dodgy, unsettled, and nervous (this is by comparison, it is not actually as bad as it sounds here), the Allex a little less so.

The pros of having 4WD models: good traction in the wet. The cons: increased weight and complexity of the transmission, hurts economy, and costs more to repair when damaged
Manual or auto?

Boils down to personal preference and proficiency with a clutch pedal. Some like manual transmissions (more control, fewer energy losses) while others prefer automatic (relaxing, any idiot can drive one).

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Cherry Tiggo vs the Land Rover vs the infamous Mahindra? There are plans by the Kenya Police to buy almost 800 of these vehicles (the Tiggo), can it withstand a beating like the Land Rover? I think the government is making yet another mistake on this procurement and someone needs to raise the alarm.

Ken

I would rather not delve into the procurement procedures of certain entities, least of all the police.

I know we do not live in the Nyayo era anymore, but I have a certain phobia for a white Land Rover parked outside my house at 2.30am with men in trench coats in my sitting room convincing me that a change in my career path would be most welcome for both the government and myself, or else…

Anyway, the Land Rover is the best of the three. The original police Mahindra is not even worth mentioning. The current Mahindra range’s performance and abilities are yet to be seen in hard use, but they are a damn sight better than the pioneers.

The Scorpio even looks like a Defender (if it is 2.30 in the morning and you have lost your spectacles, maybe to an angry man in a trench coat, and there are tears in your eyes…)

The Tiggo is a blatant RAV4 knock-off, but if other Chinese products are anything to go by, well, do not expect too much from it in terms of long service.

PS: The police thing is a joke, do not take it seriously. Nowadays, they visit people at 5 in the morning, not 2.30am.

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The Tiguan is built with the family in mind

Hi Baraza,

I am confused about which of these vehicles to go for: the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, and the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Given that I drive long distances and intend to use it for both business trips and family outings, which one is most suitable? Currently, I am using a manual X-Trail diesel.

Kolibai

Go for the Tiguan. Being a mini-MPV, it is built with long-distance family haulage in mind, so it will be the most quiet, most comfortable, and roomiest.

It also has tall gearing to minimise engine boom at cruising speeds. It is, after all, a six-speed.

The Grand Vitara and Mitsubishi Outlander are lifestyle vehicles and are thus optimised for light off-roading and carrying stuff like gym bags, skis, and surf boards. Their slight ruggedness reduces comfort and on the highway they will not cruise with as much aplomb as the Tiguan family van.

Dear Baraza,

I am a proud owner of a Nissan Sunny B14 for the past six years. Before that, I owned a B13. As much as you like “rubbishing” Nissans, I have only replaced the two CV joints apart from the normal service and I have achieved up to 19 kpl.

Now I want to upgrade to a Nissan X-Trail so as to accommodate my family, have more luggage space, and manage the big bumps on Kenyan roads.

A friend told me that X-Trails have a problem of stability. What does this mean? I am a slow driver and rarely go beyond 120 km/h on a good stretch. Also, let me know what I should consider first before deciding whether to buy a diesel or petrol model.

My other question is about freewheeling. I am normally able to freewheel for more than 20 kilometres right after Mau Summit to a short distance just before Salgaa.

I have done this for a long time and a friend told me that it is not good for automatic transmission vehicles, yet I have not noticed any anomaly. Please advise.

Owuor

I do not “rubbish” cars, I tell it like it is. If it is below standard, then too bad. The X-Trail is not unstable at speed. If anything, it is one of the most stable of the cross-over utilities around, yielding only to costly stuff like the BMW X3 and maybe the Range Rover Evoque (I will know more once I drive the Evoque).

Diesel or petrol: Diesel engines provide better bottom-end, low-rpm torque and fuel economy, but they are more expensive to buy and require frequent servicing.

Turbocharged versions are delicate and susceptible to turbo failure. Petrol engines are good for top-end, high-rpm power and have longer service intervals.

They can also take a bit of abuse, such as over-revving, without risking a blown engine.

Your friends are very unreliable, I must tell you that. Did they also tell you that a visit to the witch doctor would solve all your financial difficulties?

There is nothing wrong with freewheeling, dieseling, or coasting (yes, it is also called dieseling irrespective of the fuel being saved) other than the fact that you cede a bit of control over to mother nature.

Risk to the transmission is greater in a manual car than in an automatic. If you want to keep doing it, go ahead. There is nothing wrong.

Hi Baraza,

My car manufacturer recommends 98 RON petrol fuel for my car. I read around and found out that using a lower RON rating of fuel can cause engine knocking.

What is engine knocking and how can one detect if it is occurring? Secondly, where does one get 98 RON petrol fuel in Kenya? Shell offers V-Power, is it 98 RON?

Lastly, what advantages does 98 RON fuel have over the normal super unleaded fuel (I am assuming this fuel is at a lower RON rating).

Mike

I prefer to call the problem “pre-ignition”, rather than engine knocking, and it is the situation when the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) catches fire and burns before its due moment (before the spark plug fires up).

The worst symptom is, of course, engine failure from mechanical damage. Smaller symptoms are a pinging noise from the engine bay, or with carburettor engines, the car cannot be turned off (the engine keeps running even when the ignition has been cut out).

I do not know the octane rating of Shell’s V-Power, but I am made to understand it is our version of high octane fuel. Hopefully, Shell will clear for us whether or not it has clocked 98.

Octane reduces the propensity of fuel to ignite, which allows engines to run very high compression ratios, or boost devices (turbos and superchargers) without risking pre-ignition.

This is because petrol, being flammable, can easily burn from high pressure (Charles’ Gas Law) or localised hot spots like the exhaust valves or incandescent carbon deposits.

If the fuel is more resistant to combustion, it is less likely to pre-ignite.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking to buy a saloon Benz and I’m torn between the E350 and the S350. They cost roughly the same (for a 2012 E350 and a 2011 S350). My questions are:

1. Why has Daimler decided to go with diesel engines as opposed to petrol?

2. Is it true that the diesel available in our Kenyan fuel stations has high levels of sulphur?

3. Would you go for a 2011 Prado or Discovery 4, with the car being used both off road (mostly) and on city roads?

Kyalo

1. Who told you Daimler no longer makes petrol engines? The two saloons are not the first diesel engines Daimler is building and petrol powered mills are still being churned out of Stuttgart on a regular basis.

2. The oil companies allege that they dropped the sulphur levels in our diesel fuel but not everybody believes them, especially considering that some of their biggest victims are the self-same diesel-powered Benz engines we are discussing here (this applies to the small diesel engines, Actros and Axor trucks do not seem to have a problem).

3. Tough call, but it will have to be the Prado. The Discovery is prettier, comfier, roomier, better equipped, and a better on-road handler, but it costs a lot more money and the air suspension, once it goes on the fritz, will force you to sell your children… and your wife… and her siblings… in order to fix it.

The Prado feels more robust and less delicate and is easier to abuse without pangs of guilt tugging at your heartstrings.

This is in answer to your off-road bias. If I lived in a leafy suburb and drove to my office in another leafy suburb, it would be the Discovery, no contest.

Hello,

I would like to enquire about the various hybrid cars that one can own in Kenya and which of these would be economical, taking into account purchase price and running costs. Do the mechanics in Kenya understand these vehicles? And are there hybrid 4X4s.

Stephen

I have only seen three hybrid brands in Kenya and all fall under the Toyota umbrella. I have seen the world-famous Toyota Pious… sorry, Prius, and two Lexuses (Lexi, Lexa?); the RX 450h and GS 450h.

None of these are cheap, or even affordable for ordinary folk, especially the Lexus. It is also unlikely that we have mechanics skilful or knowledgeable enough to handle these hybrids.

There are hybrid 4x4s, even here in Kenya. The RX450h is one. In other places, there is an Escalade hybrid, Ford Escape, and a few others.

Dear Baraza

Before the ’80s, Fiat trucks were almost the only ones in the market, with the traditional arrangement of a complete truck taking one container and with a trailer, free-standing on its own wheels, taking another container.

They had front-built cabins, maybe pioneering this, when other makes had long-nose cabins. Amazingly, you can still see some old Fiats on the road north of Mombasa. When did their production stop?

Next, why is it that nowadays almost all heavy trucks consist of a prime mover and a semi-trailer? In advertisements for trucks, the wheel arrangement is given with two figures, for example 8×4 for the FAW CA1311, the DAF, and the Scania P380, all double steer tippers.

What do the figures stand for and what are the benefits of double steer, which, to me, is complicated and costly?

When exploring the second-hand market (for cars), I found that people give the age of a car according to its Kenyan registration rather then the year of production, which I am accustomed to. Can you please give me the code to translate the letters into years?

Baba Uno

Aah, the noisy Fiat 682 N3 truck. It evokes such nostalgic thoughts, although I only saw the last of the dying breed as a child.

I am not sure exactly when the 682 N went out of production, but my guess would be just around the time Iveco took over with the Eurotrakker (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial vehicle line).

The prime mover semi-combo is a better choice than the lorry-plus-trailer setup. It is easier to manoeuvre, especially when reversing, and is stable at speed because, with the latter arrangement, the trailer tends to fishtail a lot.

What numbers, specifically, do you mean? The 8×4 means the vehicle has eight wheels, of which four are driven. If it is the codes after the truck names, some mean the power output (Scania P380 has 380 hp), the rest I have no idea (FAW CA1311).

Double-wheel steer, I suspect, is made to reduce the radius of the trucks’ turning circle and increase turning traction to combat push-under (understeer as a result of too much forward momentum).

Finally, the codes on a car that are used to determine the vehicle’s age vary between manufacturers. Every manufacturer has his own system of ciphering that info.

PS: Long-nose trucks still exist. Scania and Volvo especially, have them for the South American market, while North American companies like Freightliner also build long nose tractors.

Hi,

I plan to import a Nissan Pathfinder 2.5L SE model (similar to what is available at DT Dobie for assurance of parts availability and so on).

The year of manufacture is between 2005 and 2007. Are there any known complaints, and, this being a diesel (could there be a petrol one of the same capacity), what could be its lifespan? What is its consumption like?

Kiiri

The Pathfinder a Navara with a fuller dress. Known complaints include the ECU getting emotional once in a while, fuel economy going bad when caned (this is not a complaint, it is a consequence of bad habits), and cost of suspension parts (shocks, especially).

I do not know about the availability of a petrol engine within the range. Lifespan depends on how cruel you are as a motor vehicle owner/operator. Consumption should average at about 10 kpl, plus or minus 3 kpl, depending on skill and environment.

Hi,

Compared to most station wagons, what is your take on the Subaru Outback? What are the merits and demerits of this car?

The Outback does not fall into the usual estate category, it is in a sub-category that stars other cars like the Audi Allroad and Volvo XC70. Of the lot, the Audi is the most expensive but best built, and most capable off-road, the Volvo is boring to look at and the Subaru is good value for money.

Hey Baraza,

I’m planning to get my first car and I’m confused which of the following cars is best for a woman in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption and engine size; Toyotas Allex, RunX, iST, or Raum or the Mazda Demio. Please advise.

The Allex and RunX are the same thing. They are slightly more expensive than the rest (about 900K compared to the Demio, which is the cheapest at around half a million shillings). Maintenance, economy and engine size varies very little for these cars, but my pick of the bunch is the Mazda Demio

Hi Baraza,

I own a 1998 auto 1500cc efi Subaru Impreza non-turbo hatchback. I usually cover a distance of about 50 kilometres in daily town driving, so I rarely go past 80 kph.

My questions are: What’s the average fuel consumption of this car (considering normal driving habits)? What is the radiator coolant top up frequency since my car gulps almost two litres of water every day?

Charles

From a car that size, expect roughly 10 kpl in the city and 14 kpl on the open road. The coolant top up frequency is directly related to the coolant leakage frequency.

And from what you tell me, your car is incontinent: the cooling system wets itself daily, or there is a very bad leak somewhere, in standard English. Find the leak and plug it.

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Toyota Harrier, does it have any convincing credentials other than the good looks? I find the Hummer menacing on the outside but it appears not so good on the inside, does the hullaballoo about this vehicle count for anything?

Kibiwott

The Harrier is also very smooth, especially when it has a Lexus logo on the grille. The hullabaloo about the Hummer counts for nothing, it is another American export that the world does not really need, like junk food and tort lawsuits. Fortunately, Hummer is now Chinese, so we can poke fun at it… like saying that it will not last long.

Hi Baraza,

I am planning to get my first car soon. Between the Fielder and the Wish (new models), which one would you recommend, taking performance, spares, engine output and durability into consideration?

Also, is there any difference in terms of consumption (fuel) in both 1500cc engine models? In terms of civility, which is better?

I seriously doubt if either car is uncivil in any way. Both will clock 100 km/h from rest in a shade over 10 seconds, spares will depend on where you look, engine output is unimpressive, none will last very long and there is no difference in fuel economy, especially when driven like normal people drive them.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a mini SUV to fit my newly acquired taste for off-road travel; going to ushago over the weekends, or doing game drives in the park. I want something I can go meet the boys in and feel manly enough yet my wife can still drive it and not look too macho in it.

Trouble is that I am torn between a RAV 4 and a Pajero IO of between 1500–1800cc, with a year of manufacture between 1998 and 2000.

What is your take in terms of fuel consumption, versatility, service and parts, stability at high speeds, negotiating sharp bends and climbing steep lanes, durability, and the image factor?

Fuel usage: The RAV is bad, but the iO is even worse. The GDI tech in the Paj is useless.

Versatility: Both are convincing as lifestyle vehicles though the Paj can stumble further off road owing to its short overhangs and superior ground clearance.

Service and parts: Depends on Simba Colt and Toyota Kenya.

Stability at high speed: The Paj is really bad at this, especially around sharp bends.

Climbing steep lanes: Both can go uphill, just like every other car.

Durability: The Paj is not very good here, the RAV is a better bet.

Image factor: Both look good, but I do not rate the RAV 4 highly in terms of overall appearance.

Dear Baraza,

I want to import the Evo10 (FQ300 or FQ360). How reliable is it? My other options are the Audi S4 or the BMW 330i.

Patrick

It is not very reliable, you are better off in a stock Evo rather than the super-tuned UK-spec FQ versions. Their servicing intervals are ridiculously short, they need high octane fuel to run, their fuel tanks are small, giving poor range (as bad as 80 km per tank at full tilt for the FQ 400), the suspension tuning gives them woeful turning circles and it is very easy to overload the turbo owing to the high boost pressures being run. The S4 is better, or even a 330i with M Sport Pack.

Posted on

All looks but no oomph: The warrior from the Mitsubishi regiments

Here is my latest victim in our 4WD utility free-for-all. Let me kill the suspense right off the bat: this car is not worthy of any boxing analogies, the kind that defined the Ranger-Navara-Ranger-again reviews that preceded this one.

Maybe it is the fact that it is outdated (production run was between 2000 and 2006), but its replacement, called Sportero, is nothing to write home about either. We will discover why shortly. I am, of course, talking about the Mitsubishi L200 Warrior, also called the Storm in some other places.

What is it?

Same old formula: selectable 4WD, 2.5-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine, turbocharged with intercooler, and wrapped in a tall, off-grey-off-beige double-cabin garb — just like the main protagonist in this commercial, suburban-housewife transport drama — the Navara, and its biggest antagonists the Ranger, the DMAX, and the Vigo.

Outside

You cannot hope to make any sales in this sector unless you garnish your product in the most macho, in-your-face, unsubtle visual addenda, and Mitsubishi stuck to form. It has big wheels shod in big rims, body-colour wheel arch extensions, a huge toothy grin up front, a fat bumper, side steps, the lot.

All these combine to yield Arnold Schwarzenegger: not exactly an underwear model, but the massive musculature does provide a certain brutish charm that cannot be defined exactly.

This charm is further enhanced by the presence of a bonnet scoop that is off-set slightly to the nearside and a sporty scaffolding in the payload area. That bonnet scoop, by the way, does not feed the turbo, as many are wont to believe; it feeds the heat exchanger, which nestles at the top of the engine, just above the cylinder head, like a tray of cookies on a kitchen counter.

The version I drove was the face-lifted one. The result of the facelift was to further mar a visage that was hardly pageant-worthy to begin with.

The early versions had sunken headlamps that gelled well with the slight swoops of the bonnet’s leading edge, but the later versions got flush headlamps that gave the car a pinched, pointy frontal appearance, not entirely dissimilar to that despicable, dreadlocked monstrosity from the Predator movie franchise. Arnold Schwarzenegger indeed.

The inside

It is a bit of a love-hate mix inside. I loved the leather adornment that covered the door panels, seats, dashboard top, steering wheel, gear levers, handbrake, and grab handles (some of these smacked of aftermarket installation).

I also loved the elephant-ear side mirrors, the ensconced driver’s seat, and the space up front. It was cossetting, a feature that lacks in most cars of this size. It felt like one was seated in the chair rather than on it, increasing the comfort levels.

But I hated the fact that there was no rear-view mirror. What gives, Mitsubishi? I hated the driving position too, which is not a contradiction to the enjoyment of sitting in the driver’s seat. It is fun sitting there, yes, until you start driving, at which point it becomes an exercise in endurance.

The pedal/steering wheel arrangement is better suited to a lower primate rather than a human. I particularly despised the rear bench, which has little headroom, even less shoulder room and non-existent legroom.

Other dislikes stretch to the rungu-type 4WD selector lever in an era when the rest of the world has moved to a rotary-switch electronically-operated setup. I also did not like the fact that the electric windows at the back had gone on the fritz, responding to instructions that only they knew from whence they came.

Oddly, this car should be a range-topper and yet it was devoid of kit. The inside reminded me of the base XLT that was killed by the Nissan in our first round. Air-con, electric windows, and radio, and that is your lot. To make matters worse, some of these things looked like afterthoughts, like the dash-top incline-o-meter and outside temperature gauge, which was dishonest (when it was freezing cold, it told us that outside temperature stood at 24C).

The demist button also looked like a late addition, standing lonely on the aluminium-effect surface next to the steering wheel. Get this; getting the demister to actually work involved working out a certain permutation that involved the fan (get the speed just right), the air-flow (circulate or flow-through?), the ambient temperature (hot, cold, or in between?), and whether or not the climate-control button was on or off.

Naturally, you must have pressed the demist button before working all this out. My degree in mathematics and physics did not help me here.

Driving

The primary controls felt different from the kits normally found in SUVs. The steering wheel, for example, offered slightly stiffer resistance, like that in a hatchback with an unassisted system.

The brake pedal was not mushy (thank God), and the throttle pedal travelled in a long satisfying arc, as did the lightweight clutch pedal, making modulation easy and enjoyable. If you ever leave driving school before mastering how to balance the clutch, maybe you should practise on this car.

It felt so much better, especially because the car I had tried my hand at just before this was, incidentally, another Mitsubishi L200 pickup — a petrol-powered, carb-fed 2.0 litre 2WD car from the mid-nineties with a mousetrap clutch action.

The Warrior comes with a 5-speed manual transmission. Long in the throw, it was fairly easy to slide the gears into position when shifting upwards, but the downshift from 5th to 4th was a touch awkward, and was the only fly in the ointment for what was clearly the L200’s only strong point: the fact that double-declutching and heel-and-toe were an absolute doddle.

So easy was it, and so much fun, that I found myself doing these two shifting techniques even when it was not necessary. And necessary the double-clutch shift was, because the long-throw shift action sometimes let the revs decay a bit too much before the clutch was re-engaged.

Ride and handling

An independent front suspension and a leaf-spring rear stilt makes for an interesting combo. The front works hard to engage the driver while the rear does its best hop-skip-and-jump impression. This effect was felt best on the gnarled stretch of road between Nakuru and Eldoret, near the Kapsabet turn-off, where the smallest twitch of the wheel caused alarming results out back.

On smooth roads, the massive bucket that serves as the payload was also an aerodynamic fiend: not only did it hold the vehicle back at speed, it also caused a tendency to swing from one side to the other.

But the surprising thing was, if you get your line right, the car actually corners quite well, with minimal body roll, despite the tall height, with little sign of understeer (I suspect this thing would oversteer like crazy on loose surfaces).

And here is some shocking news: It has no ABS! Thankfully, I did not have to find this out the hard way.

So why no boxing comparison?

Ah, but to be a boxer, you must have power. The Warrior has none. Low-end torque is also sorely missing.

The engine was weak to start with and the gear ratios were poorly selected. Actually, they went opposite to what is typically expected from these kinds of vehicles. First, second, and third gears were too high, so take-off and pick-up were pathetic, to say the least.

As for the low-end torque required to launch a car, you needed to really give it the beans (thus engaging the turbo), up to about 2500 rpm before any sense of poke was felt. The result of this effort was a noisy, banshee-scream launch that would cause outsiders to judge you and your driving skills unfavourably.

Fourth and fifth gear, on the other hand, were too low. Trying for outright speed on the highway found me in either fourth or fifth, with the engine wailing its heart out, only to discover I could not inch much past 110km/h irrespective of gear.

It made no difference whether I was in fourth or fifth, they both felt like the same cog. I think the transmission, with its wafer-thin power band, is more biased towards lugging loads and a bit of off-road work, which should really be the primary purpose for these cars.

The overall result was this: the drive turned into a noisy orgy of revs and gear-stirring, topped off with several visits to the black pump that revealed we were averaging less than 7 kpl — on the highway. What was going to happen when we got into town? It did not help that the engine was a bit off-colour and badly in need of a tune-up, and an oil change.

Parting shot

This car is one of a pair of weak links in Mitsubishi’s otherwise impressive vehicle lineup. The other is the Pajero Sport/Shogun or Sport/Challenger (the name depends on where you buy it from). Both cars suffer the same faults: little thought went into specifications, overall design, and engine development.

They both have noisy, weak, thirsty, revvy, and smoky 2.5 litre diesel engines that hark back to the time when Cain decimated a quarter of the world’s population (his brother Abel).

Why did they not just install the Pajero’s engine into this one, the way Nissan did with the Navara/Pathfinder? Incidentally, Mitsubishi also makes television sets. Maybe they got the TV guys to make a car, and this was it. Warrior? Maybe of the Lilliputian sort. Storm? Must be the kind that comes in a teacup.

What you probably didn’t know: Despite its failings, this car was Britain’s best-selling pickup for most of its production run (2000-2005). Just goes to show how looking the part can compensate for major weaknesses. This also explains why anyone with half a brain would ever think of buying a Hummer.