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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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For town service, the Premio will edge out the Noah

Hello Baraza,
Thank you for the good work; it is educating. I intend to buy a vehicle for an airport transfers contract and I am eyeing a Toyota Premio (1800cc), a Toyota Voxy, and a Toyota Noah, all 2005 or 2006 models.

From my research, I am likely to get both the Voxy and Noah cheaper by Sh250,000 in comparison with the Premio. I have received conflicting advice from two different mechanics on the Voxy.

I am made to understand that its 1AZ engine is actually a D4, which one of the mechanics says will have problems sooner rather than later, and that repairing it will bee too expensive, if possible at all.

The other mechanic says the engine should be okay for quite some time (I intend to dispose of the car and replace it with a “new” one after two years), but in case it starts having issues, usually related to overheating, I may have to throw away the engine. Both say a 3S engine would be a good replacement.

a) Comment on the performance and durability of the 1AZ engine in the Voxy and the Noah.

b) If the 3S engine is better, do they instal them any more in Noahs and Voxys?

c) Considering the purpose of the car, which one would you advise me to buy, with the resale value, durability, and cost of spares in mind? Fuel consumption is a non-issue in this case, and any of the cars will give exactly the same monthly income from the contract.Thank you, Samuel,

The fact that you are comparing a saloon car to a van means carrying capacity is a moot point. I will first ignore your questions and tell you this: Get the Premio. It makes much more sense, especially now that you are talking airports (which means you are also talking town driving somewhat).

The saloon is nippier, more versatile, and generally a better and more sensible prospect compared to a van, which is bulkier and wasteful.

Now to your questions:

a) Performance is good (for a van with a 2.0 litre engine, that is). Durability depends on how you use the engine and what you put into it.

b) Who said the 3S engine is better? The 1AZ is actually the successor of the S engines (of which the 3S is one), so it goes to reason that the later engine is a development of the previous. Hence the 1AZ is better.

Just because your mech friends cannot fix a D4 does not mean the engine is rubbish. And, no, they do not use the S engines is Voxies (Voxys?) anymore.

c) Resale value favours the Voxy/Noah. People have an undying thirst for these vans, for some reason, but market demand can be a fickle mistress; what is in demand now could be shunned like the plague in two years’ time.

Remember the Galant? Durability depends on usage, while costs of spares do not vary by much

I will be curt here; buy the Premio.

Hello Baraza,

Thank you for enlightening us on car issues. I would like you to give me the pros and cons of the Mitsubishi Airtrek compared to the Nissan Teana. I am torn between buying the two.

Ian.

You cannot compare the two outright because they occupy different market niches and are targeted at different demographics. The Airtrek is a lifestyle vehicle whose sales quarry mostly includes yuppies and up-and-coming 20-somethings with plenty of out-of-town action, especially on weekends.

The Teana, on the other hand, is a middle-management executive’s car, not as lowly as the sales-rep’s Tiida/Almera and not as flashy as the Deputy CEO’s S320 Benz (or Fuga, if the said CEO is poorly paid or is a cheapskate).

So the question goes back to you: what do you expect from the car that you buy?

Hi JM

I have owned and nicely maintained for five years a 1995 Toyota AE100 saloon. Lately, it seems to have lost power and the engine seems to howl during drives. This is despite changing the clutch kit and regular servicing, including trying out Iridium spark plugs (I hear they are not for old cars, but I was desperate).

Braking is also not up to scratch and the linings seem to lose friction almost immediately after adjustment. Kindly note I always buy genuine parts from Toyota Kenya. How can I rejuvenate this car that I am so attached to, or is it time to part ways?

Amos.

I really cannot say what is wrong with your 100, but I can tell you this: the only time I know of engines howling is when they are revved madly — nudging the red line — and the only cure for that is to ease off the accelerator pedal.

Power loss could come from insufficient electricity in the HT leads or bad plugs (usually accompanied by a distant smell of gasoline in the exhaust), compression leakage (too much blow-by), or slipping components in the transmission.

You may have to look at your clutch again. The only conjecture I can come up with to connect the howling with the loss of power is a slipping clutch, which allows your engine to rev up but the corresponding speed in the transmission (and hence the road wheels) is not proportional to the increase in engine revs.

As for the braking system, you just have to do an overhaul.

Hello Baraza,

I recently upgraded from a Vitz to a Belta and I am confused by the new gear lever. I am used to the usual arrangement of P-R-D-2-L, but the Belta has P-R-D-B-S. What is the meaning of the B and S and how do they function? And, in your opinion, is the Belta better than the Vitz?Sarah.

The Belta should be a sort of Vitz sedan (remember the Toyota Echo concept car?) just like the now-defunct Platz. Actually, the Belta is the new Platz, the way the Allion replaced the Carina. Follow?

The only difference between the Vitz and the Belta could be that the Belta has a bigger boot. And is newer. On the gear lever, I have never seen or heard of a P-R-D-B-S arrangement in an autobox, so I have no idea what the B and the S stand for. As for now, just use P-R and D, the most essential gears.

Hi JM,

So many second-hand car imports come loaded with gizmos that add to the complexity of maintenance, increase weight, and result in poor fuel consumption. There is a move in the UK for “back-to-basics” cars:

small, simple, minimalist, and relatively cheap-to-run things. Examples are the Dacia Duster, the Citroen C1 VT, the Chevrolet Spark+1.0, the Suzuki Alto 1.0 VVT SZ, and the VW Take UP!

These all retail in the UK for less than £9,000 or about Sh1.2 million. No electric windows, mirrors, or seat adjustment, just simple, basic motoring.

I think such cars have great potential here. Chevrolet, Suzuki, and VW all have franchises here and I wonder why they do not bring such cars here. There are many, like me, who would welcome a no-frills car. My longest trips are Kilifi to Mombasa or Malindi, and such economical motoring is most attractive.

Tony Gee.

We do have such cars here, or at least one that I know of: the Ford Figo. Another one is coming, from China, to be sold by Simba Colt…. Go figure! Meanwhile, General Motors are dead on their feet.

I had to go to South Africa to try out their Chevrolet cars (nine of them, over three days!) which they do not even bother marketing (the 1.0 Spark is a feisty little fighter while the Lumina SS is a Corvette for introverts).

These cars make sense, especially in the city, due to their manoeuvrability and fuel economy. Doing 500km-plus in one hit in them, however, is another matter altogether. Let us hope our conversation here provokes the franchise holders into taking action.

Hey Baraza,

I am a big fan of your articles and I know that your advice has enlightened many Kenyans into making wise decisions when it comes to acquiring vehicles. Kudos! I would like you to assist me in getting something straight;

I like the Toyota Premio X Edition (1,800cc) because of its high performance and reliability, but I am a huge fan of the manual transmission, which I have not seen so far in these cars. Are there any Premios with manual transmission? If there are not, what is your take on modifying an automatic box into a manual one?

Ken.

Sadly, the Premios I have seen are all automatic. However, there were manual versions of the Corona Premio, or what people call “the old Premio”. There is nothing wrong with swapping the autobox for a conventional manual.

If anything, I would like to see someone do it. I have this idea of getting a 4WD Allion (Premio’s sister car) and fitting it with a manual gearbox, after which I will bolt on a TRD supercharger to the engine….

Hi Baraza,

I appreciate the good work that you are doing. I must say I am now well versed in cars because of your articles. I own a Toyota AE111 (1,600cc) with a manual transmission which has served me well for the past three years. I have the following queries;

1. Is it true that wheel alignment done on a car fitted with Yana tyres normally has issues? I have been told this by many people when doing alignment. What is your take?

2. Is it a fallacy that engine oil should always be changed every 5,000km. I service my car every 10,000km and have never noticed change in performance.

3. I intend to buy new 185/14’’ tyres to replace my current 175/14’’ ones. How will this affect my car? Thanks once again for the good work.

IM

1. Ahem… eerr… aah… I cannot comment on that just yet.

2. The 5,000km figure is what we call a “ball-park figure”, a general safe zone for changing oil considering all types of driving. It covers both sensible and unwise driving techniques.

With careful driving, you could easily triple or even quadruple that mileage, though this will be major gambling on your part. Manufacturers like Mercedes now make engines with service intervals on a needful basis, that is, the car will tell you when it wants a new shot of lubricant.

The three-pointed star claimed some of their engines could easily run to 22,000km before needing new oil. However, since your 111 does not have that tech, just stick to the 5,000km. A few quarts of oil will be cheaper in the long run than a new engine, which is what you will need if you lose the gamble.

3. You will be able to corner harder since your new tyres are wider than the previous set.

Hello Baraza,

I have a 2006 Pajero Exceed fitted with a 3,000cc petrol engine. I would like to customise it and add a turbo-charger, and my mechs tell me that it is possible, not possible, possible, not possible….

Research on the Net tells me that it is very much possible to do this, but I will have to change the exhaust manifold and also probably the pistons and the brakes. So tell me, is it possible to do it?

If yes, please explain briefly the “how” and the “who” that you recommend for such changes. I am also interested in its performance and would like to push its power to about 250+ horsepower.

Again, is it possible? Please note that I am aware that there are more powerful cars like the 2012 Nissan Patrol and the Toyota VX, but I would like to stick to my Pajero and make these changes. Peter.

Yes, it is possible to turbo-charge the Paj. As you mentioned, you have to change the manifolds (especially exhaust) to accommodate the presence of the blower.

A little mapping of the ECU will ensure smooth running of the “new” engine. It is advisable to instal an intercooler also to go with the turbo, as well as upgrading your cooling system (turbo engines tend to have a lot of heat).

The “who” is very simple. I have an acquaintance who does this kind of thing. Visit Auto Art K Ltd in Industrial Area, Gilgil Road, behind the Total petrol station. Ask to see Amit Mohamed.

On upping the horsepower, yes, it is possible, although I find it odd that you settled at exactly 250hp. Most people give a ball-park figure (“around 230 to 280, maybe 250”, is what a typical statement of request sounds like).

Getting the 250hp involves mapping the ECU and adjusting the boost pressure in your new turbo. However, you can still up the power levels by other tuning methods.

Mohamed can do the turbo adjustment, but I have yet another acquaintance who does ECU maps, a certain Amit Pandya of AMS Performance… no relation to Mohamed despite the similar first names

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A Prado, an Everest and a Grand Vitara, which is best?

Dear Baraza,

I’d like to know how the Ford Everest (you rarely talk about it, why?), Suzuki Grand Vitara, and Prado compare with regard to:

(a) Fuel consumption (please don’t bash me, I’m so keen on this!).

(b) Performance on rough and tarmac roads.

(c) Durability.

(d) Availability of spare parts.

(e) General maintenance costs.

(f) Other important factors, such as cost, resale value, speed, comfort, etc.

Which of the vehicles would you prefer?

Sammy

Fuel consumption: If they are all diesel or all petrol, the Suzuki will give the best economy, but the Prado and the Everest will go a long way further on a full tank before needing a refill.

Rough road performance: the Prado is king, closely followed by the Everest. Their superior ground clearance means they can go anywhere, at almost any speed.

The Everest is not that comfortable though. On tarmac, the cross-over Vitara feels best, then the Everest. The Prado is too bouncy to be taken seriously, but it hits back with outright speed; it is the fastest one here.

Durability: All three will last forever, but from driving feel, one could say the Everest will bury the other two when they die from natural causes. It feels like it was hewn out of granite.

Spares: Toyota Kenya for the Prado and CMC Motors for the other two.

Maintenance: This is hard to tell as it depends on what goes wrong, but I presume the Prado will cost the most to fix when broken, then Everest, then Vitara.

Resale: Prado is the best bet here.

Comfort: If you like a wobbly roller-coaster ride, the Prado is your car, if you are married to a chiropractor (or plan to marry one), the Everest is here for you, while the Vitara is the most “normal” of the three.

Of the three I would buy the Prado — it is capable, fast, and the turbodiesel has a certain deep thrum derived from the insane torque coming out of the exhaust and a subtle turbo whine coming from under the bonnet that announces to the whole world you are driving a serious vehicle.

The Everest sounds underwhelming in comparison, but is no less capable and might even be more practical in terms of space.

I wouldn’t bother with the Suzuki; in my world, people who buy cross-overs are declaring to the world that they wanted an SUV but couldn’t quite stretch their budgets that far. Malta Guinness versus the real stout, in other words….

Hi,

I bought a Suzuki Swift Sport sometime back. This car is absolutely amazing; the acceleration is superb, the handling good and fuel economy is good as well.

NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) is poor, but I can live with that since it is a sports car and not a luxury ride.

My only problem is that it is way lower than the standard model, so low that when it came with its original 195/50/15 tyres, I would literally scrape pebbles off the ground.

I installed a sump guard and replaced the tyres with 195/55/15.

Now the car is at a reasonable height but on dips, if I don’t slow down significantly, the tyres touch the wheel housing. I am afraid that the wheel housing will get ripped out over time.

What options do I have on this? Some people have recommended installing spacers, but I have taken this with a grain of salt.

Apart from that, are Suzuki spares readily available?

Also, I am considering supercharging the little beast. What are the disadvantages of this? (The advantages are obvious; blistering acceleration and speed!)

Mike

You say you wanted a sports car, now you want to raise it, and this will compromise its sportiness (and safety).

Try changing the springs and shocks for stiffer ones to reduce the stroke room and travel of the suspension.

The other option is to learn to live with the challenges of living in a country non-conducive to sporty vehicles. And the third option is to install spacers and roll over at the first right-hander you come across.

As far as maintenance is concerned, talk to CMC and find out if they can manage the car. The disadvantages of supercharging are poor fuel consumption and, if done unprofessionally, shortened engine life.

Hi,

I am looking to buy my first car. Now, my options are limited by cost but I would love to buy a Honda Civic. So far, from my calculations, a Honda Fit, Nissan Bluebird, Mazda Demio and a Honda Aria are within budget (though I am not keen on a Nissan).

What would you advise, especially when taking spare parts availability and cost, and resale value into consideration?

Hannah

If you love the Civic, just buy one — it cannot be that much more expensive than the stuff you mention there. But do a DIY import, it is cheaper than going through a car dealer.

Spares availability and costs depend on the shops selling them, but none of these cars will keep you on a waiting list, or a wailing list for that matter.

Resale, right now, goes the Demio and Bluebird way, but my crystal ball says the Fit/Aria is going to become the new Toyota Starlet (the car had amazing resale value and still changed hands very easily and really fast even after three or four previous owners).

Hi Baraza,

I recently bought a BMW 525 E34 with an M20 engine (6-cylinder, 2500cc). Is it a pocket-friendly car? How is it when it comes to consumption?

I also have an 1800cc BMW 316i, which, from Nairobi to Embu and back, consumes about Sh3,000 in fuel. Can compare the two BMWs in terms of consumption?

No, it is not pocket-friendly. It is a 6-cylinder BMW, the preserve of executive types. The consumption should vary between 5 kpl and 10-11 kpl, with an average of around 7 or 8 kpl.

The 5-Series and the 3-series cannot be compared — the 3-Series is a small compact saloon with a small 4-cylinder engine (good economy), while the E34 is a large, heavy, executive saloon with a 2.5-litre straight six made from iron; none of these characteristics promotes fuel economy.

Hi Baraza,

1. What’s the difference between the Legacy, the Outback and the Brighton?

2. What do these acronyms in Subarus mean: GT, TS-R, TX and LX?

3. What’s the meaning of E-TUNE in Subarus?

4. When is your DRIVE magazine going to hit the streets?

Ken

1. The difference between Legacy and Outback is that the Outback uses a 6-cylinder (H6) larger capacity engine while the Legacy uses a 4-cylinder (H4) smaller capacity unit.

The Outback is biased for slightly more off-road ability than the Legacy (increased ground clearance, plastic mouldings around lower half of the car) and usually (not always) has two-tone paint.

Available (optionally) on the Legacy and not on the Outback are a manual gearbox and a turbocharger (or two). Brighton is just a Legacy with a fancy tag, just like the Forester LL Bean edition.

2. GT, TS-R, TX and LX are the various spec levels within the Legacy range. While I care little about the TX and LX, I know the GT and TS-R are turbocharged, with the GT having two turbos and developing some 280 hp.

3. E-tune is yet another spec level within a spec level: it is a type of Legacy GT with clear lenses all round rather than the amber turn signals and red brake lights.

4. From the current outlook, never; but before you start panicking take a look at the April edition of Destination magazine and all forthcoming issues of Motor Trader magazine (starting with the March edition). My work features heavily, especially in the latter.

Baraza,

I own a new model Premio. In the morning, while trying to shift the automatic gear lever from Parking to Drive or Reverse, the lever does not move easily, you have to force it.

What could be the problem? I recently (two weeks ago) changed the ATF but the problem persists, more so when the car is parked for two or more days.

Nike

The problem may be with the linkage, which is the mechanical connection between the gear selector lever and the gear box, the connection that transmits the lever movement from driver action into gear position selection within the gearbox.

If the lever is hard to move, then the linkage is jamming somewhere; either a cable or shaft is snagged or a joint/knuckle needs lubrication…. This is one of those things that one has to see to know exactly where the problem lies.

Hi Baraza,

1. I have driven a number of Carina Si (1800cc) and Carina Ti (1500cc) vehicles and have noticed that the Si consumes less fuel by approximately 2kpl, all other factors held constant. What could be the reason for this?

2. It is alleged that some insurance companies do not insure vehicles fitted with spacers, is it true? Why?

3. What are the merits and demerits of replacing size 13 tyres with size 14s on a car?

4. What is the relationship between sound — as produced by racing cars — and fuel consumption? How does the exhaust system, including the size of the exhaust pipe or dual exhaust pipes, affect the performance of a vehicle?

1. It is because an 1800cc doesn’t need caning to behave appropriately, especially on the highway. The effect can be magnified by expanding the parameters: drive a 2500cc Mark II at 120 km/h, then try a 1000cc Vitz or Nissan March at 120 km/h. One will be strained, guess which?

2. I cannot speak for all of them, but I know that in the UK, installation of spacers or nitrous injection voids one’s insurance.

3. Merits: The car will have higher ground clearance, and a higher top speed. Demerits: Low gear acceleration is compromised. But seeing how the difference is one inch, you will not notice any of these things (but they will be there).

4. A Lexus LS600 at 3,000rpm is quieter than a diesel tractor at 1,200rpm, but it is burning a lot more fuel. Sound has no direct correlation with fuel consumption among different cars, though it must be said that on the same car, more noise means more fuel is being consumed, whether by increasing rpm or by a leaking/broken exhaust (energy is wasted mechanically as sound).

The diameter (and number) of exhaust pipes affects performance as follows: bigger (or more) exhausts provide a free-flowing pathway for the exhaust gases, allowing the car to breathe easier and rev higher.

However, other factors such as combustion chamber shape, injector and plug placement, valve timing and emissions control will determine whether or not it makes sense to expand the exhaust system of your car. In some cases, it may prove counter-productive.

Dear Baraza,

I have observed that a lot of questions from your readers dwell so much on fuel economy and cost of spares.

Most vehicle manufacturers publish a fuel consumption figure for their cars, however, there is always a big disparity between the published figures and the actual consumption on the road.

A lady motorist recently sued Honda Motor Company in the USA for what she stated as the cost difference between her car’s actual fuel consumption and the manufacturers quoted figures.

She said that no matter how she drove, she could not achieve the fuel economy figures quoted by the manufacturer.

Back home, how come people never ask about the cost of insurance? I think a Kenyan motorist spends more on insurance premiums than fuel cost and spares combined.

Moses

Thanks a lot Moses. Maybe I should sign you up as my sidekick.

I read about the Honda case, and it made me unhappy about the direction society is taking. Pretty soon, we will sue our butchers for selling us meat that does not quite come out in the saucepan like it did in the recipe cookbook (and whose fault is that?).

One of my fears is that I might end up in the same hotpot as Honda: “Baraza said a Platz can do 22 kpl but try as I might, I’ve only got to 14 kpl. I will sue the bastard for that!”

The obsession with money is the biggest issue. More people are concerned about fuel consumption and cost of spares rather than whether or not the vehicle is appropriate or enjoyable and stress free to own.

The spares might be cheap and readily available, but where is the fun in that if you are buying the (cheap) spares every three days?

Posted on

Fuel tablets do not improve consumption

Hi,

I had a 1982 Toyota DX-KE70 model that had a 1300cc carburettor for five years. The car was lovely, extremely hardy and very reliable.

It used to do 10kpl but I used to buy fuel tablets, which I would put in the fuel tank — one tablet for every 30 litres or as recommended — and that would improve fuel consumption to 13 kpl.

I sold the car eight months ago and replaced it with a 1995 1500cc Toyota AE100 LX model with an EFI engine that does 15.4 kpl.

I decided to try the fuel tablets on it but there is no significant change; the best it can do with or without the tablets is 16 kpl at an average speed of 100 km/h, which I do on the Nairobi-Embu highway.

I thought that with the tablets and the EFI engine, I would get better results, like 18 kpl. Why is this not the case? Please advise.

Phil

Fuel tablets belong in the same category as snake oil and Father Christmas; they are best left as bedtime stories. They NEVER work, much in the same way that Santa Claus will never show up at anyone’s house at Christmas time.

If you achieved a lower consumption with your E70, then the tablets had a psychological effect on you and turned you into a gentler driver, hence the improved economy. In simple terms, you have been buying a placebo.

Hey,

I have a Forester and I’m now thinking of buying a Wingroad for the sole reason that the price is fair and the interior does not look too bad.

Kindly tell me what I will be getting myself into with this car and if you think I should put out this fire. Thank you.

Flo

From a “personal friend” point of view, I’d ask you to “put out this fire”. But if you owed me money, I’d say ditch the Forester, get a Wingroad and pay me sooner than immediately.

As it is, it is entirely up to you. I don’t entirely agree with your judgment of the Wingroad’s interior, but this is an apple juice-lemon juice sort of thing, so I will not dictate matters of taste.

Beware of the car’s flimsiness and watch out for various electronics, especially the dashboard lights. They may light up like a Christmas tree once in a while.

Stick to proper roads if a suspension overhaul is not on your budget in the near future. Fuel is not a problem, nor is the asking price.

Hello,

I will be a first car owner very soon and need your advice. I am thinking of getting one of these Japanese “econoboxes”; FunCargo, Passo, Vitz or a Mitsubishi Pajero Mini. If you were in my situation, what would you go for?

Sandra

If I was in that position I would go for a Vitz, but not for the reasons you might think. It turns out that when a Vitz is supercharged, it becomes a pint-sized Bugatti Veyron for those living close to the poverty line.

What do you expect from these cars? Forget any sort of performance (you could supercharge a Vitz though) and forget space. If it is economy you are after, any of these cars will do, but the Pajero Mini is not a very smart choice.

It is a very smart choice, however, if light off-roading forms part of your weekend activities.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes A160, a 2000 model, which is a beautiful little car. But a year ago I blew up the sump pan after hitting a stone while driving on a rough road.

This damaged the gear box and it cost me almost another car to fix.

During my time at the garage, I learnt that these cars are poorly designed and heard that almost all of them experience a gearbox failure in their lifetime. Others say that the Mitsubishi Cedia also suffers from the same illness.

In summary, these small cars tend to have a problem with the gearbox design.

I’m now scared of these small cars and have lost faith in them. What do you have to say about them?

Small cars are awful, and you get what you pay for. You see, small cars exist so that the not-so-well-to-do can also experience the world of motoring, but these cars are half-baked lest the not-so-well-to-do forget their station in life and think they are now haves and have-mores.

Truth is, for small cars to be as cheap as they usually are, R&D costs have to be minimised, and cheap, fragile materials used to build them. Learn to accept this.

Hi Baraza,

I have a Nissan B15 and it recently developed a fuel pump problem. I changed the pump but the new one is now producing some funny noise when I start the car or when moving.

The mechanic tells me that new pumps behave that way and that the noise will go away in time. What do you think? The car is also consuming more fuel than before.

Your mechanic seems to think every component of a car needs a bedding-in period to work properly, but this is not always the case.

What is the noise like? It may be that you are running on low fuel and the pump is sucking a mixture of fuel and air (and sometimes just the scent of fuel) hence making a buzzing noise.

Or maybe you have sludge in your tank and it is getting into your pump, in which case the new pump will go the way of the old one. Check these two theories out, if it is none of the above, get back to me.

Hello Baraza,

Do you have any experience with the Citroen C3 Super Mini, specifically the 1.4-litre petrol model in the Kenyan market?

I understand that, in accordance with its manufacturer’s (PSA Group) policy, the C3’s chassis was used for the Peugeot 1007 and 207, and that many of its components are the same as those of the 206. Is this true? You have written of your experience with Peugeot models, so I am hoping you can advise me on this.

Also, I would like to hear your thoughts on why the Citroen WRC team tends to excel consistently with their range of Citroen racing cars. I thought that, on this basis alone, people would be buying this make, but you can hardly sport a modern-day Citroen on our roads.

Mwaura

I have not had much experience with Citroens, new or old, nor have I had much experience with the new crop of Peugeots. The newest I’ve tried is the 307, I think, which is currently obsolete anyway.

It is true that some Citroen cars share platforms and components with Peugeot products. Whether or not the franchise will take this into consideration is a matter of conjecture.

Citroen’s WRC success comes from a variety of factors, some of which include a strong team and the withdrawal of past supremos like Subaru and Mitsubishi. Also, the Citroen WRC is not on sale as is, while back in the day, the Impreza WRC, Lancer Evo, and even Group B monstrosities like Lancia’s Delta HF and Stratos could be bought in a spec very close to that of the competition car.

Kenya’s taste in cars is an odd one. Citroen cars in Europe enjoy a huge market, especially with the successful DS3 (a new car), but here in Kenya, if the car is not Japanese, then it had better be cheap to buy, cheap to run and its spares readily available for plucking from the nearest tree.

Hi Baraza,

Why do you say the B14 belongs to the gutter when I was thinking of getting one? Second, what would you say of the Mazda Familia in terms of fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, what would be a good car in the rural area where I work and operate a chemist? And would you recommend a second-hand auto or manual?

Eliud

Drive the B14’s main competitor, the Corolla 110, and you will see where Nissan went wrong. Check power, suspension and build quality especially. The Mazda Familia is an OK car on both fronts.

What exactly will this rural-based car you seek do? And how is the infrastructure in that rural zone? These two questions will decide the type of car to buy. Auto or manual is entirely up to you. Which one do you prefer?

Hello,

My friend bought some Tata 407 trucks in a public auction by a parastatal and wants to sell one of these to me. Please advice on cost, maintenance and fuel consumption. Do you think it would be a wise investment?

Given what it is, it cannot cost much. Given that it is sold locally, maintenance should not be too difficult. And given that it is diesel-powered, fuel consumption should not be too high.

Whether or not it is a wise investment, hmmm… I find it crude and badly built at best, with poorly contained NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), and unresolved design. So many of these that I see on the road smoke harder than wet firewood. You decide.

Hey Baraza,

I own a 1977 Range Rover Classic three-door model with an original 3528cc petrol engine. My mechanic proposes that we fit it with a TD27 power plant for better fuel economy.

He further proposes that we retain its original four-speed gearbox. Please advise on the merits and demerits of this move.

Macharia

Die-hard Land Rover lovers like me will deride you for installing the engine of a Japanese commercial vehicle into something as regal as a Range Rover Classic.
More importantly, how does your mechanic know that the engine will fit? The 3.5 was a V8, the TD27 is an in-line four. And then the gear ratios may not be appropriate.

Baraza,

I want to buy my first car, which must be either a Toyota NZE or a Premio, and there are some issues I would like you to advise me on.

1. Is it true that a 1800cc Premio has a fuel consumption similar to that of a 1500cc NZE?

2. What is the meaning of the alphabet letters at the end of the model name, like Premio G, and Corolla X?

3. How can a 1200cc Datsun have a speedometer reading a top speed of 200 km/h and a 3000cc Prado have one ending at 180km/h?

4. If an 1800cc Premio and a 3000cc Prado are driven on a straight 20-kilometre stretch, both at a speed of 120km/h, which car will reach the end before the other?

1. Depends on very many things. How and where are they driven? How loaded are they? Their aerodynamic profiles? The 1800 might be more economical at highway speeds but thirstier in town, though by a very small difference, if everything else is kept constant.

2. It is what we call spec levels, or trim levels: cloth vs leather seats, wood vs aluminium trim and such. These letters differentiate the various spec levels.

3. It is mostly because at the factory, the 1200 was given a 200 km/h speedo while the Prado was given one maxed at 180 km/h. Actually, the Prado is most likely ex-Japan while the 1200 isn’t. In Japan, there was a gentleman’s agreement that all cars made in Japan will have a power cap at 280 hp and will be limited to 180 km/h. Finally, a 1200cc at 200 km/h is drivable. A Prado at 200 km/h (if it can even get there) is a handful.
4. This is not a very well thought out question. Read it again. Which one do you think will get to the other end first?

Dear Baraza,

What is the fuel consumption of a 1000cc Toyota Platz? Can this car be driven for over 500 km? Does it have a problem in climbing a road that is steep?

If I take a Platz on an economy run on the highway, I can clock 22kpl. I have managed that in an EP 82 Starlet. I have a friend, though, who I am sure will do no better than 8kpl.

The difference between us is body mass (I am a bean pole) and driving style (when the mood takes me I can be ridiculously snail-like in pace). Go figure.

About the driving distance, yes it can. Surely, there would be no Platzes (Platices?) on our roads if they could only drive 500km or less (other cars get to hundreds of thousands of kilometres before dying).

If you are asking whether it can do 500km in one shot, then the answer is maybe. I wouldn’t risk it though, one or two stops in between are advisable.

How steep is the road? If the slope has an aspect ratio of 1:1, or what we call a 50 per cent incline (forgive the jargon, this simply means the slope is at 45 degrees off the horizontal), then no. But a Land Cruiser can. Much gentler slopes can be tackled in a Platz, though.

Baraza,

We all know that Kenyan number plates are some of the ugliest in the East African region. As a result, many owners, especially of high-end cars, are getting customised plastic plates with all types of artistic fonts and customisation.

What is the rule on such plates? Are they illegal and can one be arrested for having them? Does KRA issue customised number plates, and how does this work?

Moses

As far as I recall, custom plates were and are still illegal. This includes funny fonts and personalised plates, like BARAZA 1. One can be arrested for having them.

Thing is, these are mostly found on high-end cars, and there is no telling who is being transported inside that car. I doubt if there is a traffic police officer willing to risk his employment just because he pulled over the “clandestine arrangement” of a high-ranking individual for having illegal plates.
JM,

I came across an article about the CVT transmission (specifically in Honda cars) and was amazed that they perform way better than all others in terms of fuel economy and power output.

Yet we Kenyans remain stuck with the Toyota mentality. Now I think I know why you were quite positive about Honda cars, though a select few. Maybe you could tell folks around here to look at that brand.

Yes, it’s true, CVTs are close to sorcery in operation and efficiency. Don’t be so quick to deride Toyotas though, they do have CVTs also (Allion, Wish…), but not all. Some are just regular automatics.

And no, that is not why I rave about Hondas. I like Hondas chiefly because of the high-revving, dual-natured VTEC engines (where available) and the trick helical differentials that make the front-wheel-drive variants such sweet cars to drive and corner with.

Posted on

An SUV for less than a million? You are fishing for trouble

Dear Sir,

I have a 1996 Toyota Corolla 110 that I love so much since it’s my first car, but everyone else thinks that’s wasted love — especially my mum and my girlfriend — so I want to sell it and buy a used SUV.

Considering the local roads, what should I go for on a tight budget below one mili, never mind fuel consumption and spare parts.

Mak

——————

A used SUV for less than a million? Hmm… I know of two or three Range Rovers (3.5-litre V8, 3-door, carburettors, from 1978) that are going for about 400K apiece.

Jokes aside, getting an SUV for less than a million is like buying meat at Sh40 a kilo — it could be from Naivasha and might not even be beef (maybe donkey).

In other words, if you want a big car, then you have to pay big money. An SUV for less than Sh1 million means a knackered example; the engine could be mere inches away from complete failure, the 4WD transmission could be dysfunctional or missing entirely and it might be having only one seat. Not to mention a family of rats living inside it.

Sh1.5 million is a better bet, and could net you the Prado Box (J70) or a V46 Pajero, the best bets so far and in good condition. An old Land Rover Discovery could also fall here, but running it might be beyond your means.

The same Sh1.5 million can also get you any number of 4WD double-cabs, also in good condition.

That is unless you land yourself a deal, following the advice I gave some time back on how to get the most out of your money when buying a car.

——————

Dear Baraza,

Many thanks for your very educative column. I want to buy a car that can accommodate a family of three soon.

Please assist me in choosing from the following in regard to maintenance, spares, fuel consumption and reliability: Mazda 2 (or is it Demio?) with a DHOC VVT engine, Nissan FB15, or a used 1998 Mercedes Benz C200.

Also, is it true that the bodywork of some of these cars degenerates faster than others even with proper care? And lastly, what is the difference between a four-wheel-drive and an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

Joe

——————

Demio vs B15 vs Mercedes? Quite a diverse selection, I must say! If it was up to me, I would buy the Benz and live on greens for six months, but anyway, here goes.

Maintenance: The Mercedes should be the easiest to maintain, seeing as to how they don’t break down easily.

And in the late 90s, Daimler introduced this technology that informed the driver exactly when to service the vehicle, as opposed to after a given time or distance.

So, when properly handled, the Benz can go almost double the typical distance before its service is due.

The B15 might cause you a spot of bother given what I have gathered from readers, and the Demio might be a better bet between the two lowly Japs.

Spares: Of course you will sell your kidneys once the Merc’s bits start demanding replacement. Not so the Demio and B15.

And I don’t know if this still holds true, but once upon a time, whenever a busted headlamp or indicator lamp on a Benz wanted replacement, you had to buy an entire set of lights, not just the affected one.

The logic given was that if one shoe goes bust, it is atypical to walk into a shoe store and demand to buy one shoe; you normally just buy another pair.

Fuel consumption: Drive soberly and maturely and you will be hard pressed to tell the difference. And yes, this includes the Merc! In C180 or C200 form, it will still do 16kpl. along with the other two.

Reliability: Benz is best, then Demio, then the silly B15. 4WD vs AWD: Here’s a quick differentiation; 4WD implies switchable 4WD (that is, can shuffle between 2WD and 4WD).

AWD, on the other hand, is a form of full-time 4WD, the difference with full-time 4WD being the use of viscous diffs to distribute torque (automatically) between axles fore and aft, and between sides, starboard and port.

——————

Hi Baraza,

I am planing to buy a VW Polo Classic 98, manual, with a 1600cc petrol engine and I will be the fifth owner.

That’s all I know about it. This is going to be my first car and I intend to use it within Nairobi and occasionally go with it upcountry.

My mechanic has convinced me to buy it, so what is your take on it?

Opondo

——————

Merits: It’s a Volkswagen, so bullet-proof build quality and good fuel economy.

Demerits: It is tiny. And it is a Volkswagen, so beware of costs. You are the fifth owner, which is never a good thing.

——————

Dear Baraza,

I would like to buy a Suzuki Jimny. Could you please give me the pros and cons of this type of car in terms of spare parts availability, fuel consumption, engine problems?

Keziah

——————

I don’t like the Jimny, at all, but that is besides the point. The spares are available, second-hand or from CMC Motors, so no problems there.

The fuel consumption is manageable (1300cc) but could be a bit compromised by the breeze-block aerodynamics.

I do not know of any engine problems it suffers, but given how basic the power unit is, it is unlikely that anything would go wrong.

And in answering questions that you did not ask: The car is an off-road maestro, yes, but it is punishment on road.

The ride is hard and bouncy, the engine is noisy at cruising speed, the puny dimensions means you will not be spending a lot of time inside it and that tall ride height means you should take corners like a true Christian, lest you roll over.

——————

Hi,

How good is the 2000cc Avensis and what other cars does it compare to? Also, please comment on its fuel efficiency, D4 VVT-i engine and general handling.

——————

The Avensis is very good and compares to the likes of the Subaru Legacy and, in some cases, the entry level BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class, so an Audi A4 also.

You could slot in the Volvo S40 too, and maybe the Jaguar X-Type; that Toyota is that upmarket. Fuel efficiency is at an optimum, what with D4 and VVT-i, and D4 does what D4 does.

Feed it the right fuel and treat it like you would your son and it should not present problems, at least not anytime soon.

Handling? Not bad, but nothing to keep your wife awake at night gabbling about. It is not, unlike the European competition, a sporting vehicle, so it will not tickle your fancy when driven in anger.

Genteel is more like it. It is an old man’s car, so drive like an old man if you want to enjoy it.

——————

Hi Baraza

I have a Toyota AE 111 assembled in South Africa and which I bought from one lady owner.

The car has given me good service for the last one year, but of late I have been experiencing problems with power steering oil leaking from the rack.

One mechanic told me nothing can fix the problem except a new replacement. Which is the best option?

——————

Did the mechanic make a roadside declaration like a past president of ours or did he crawl under the car and try to find the leak?

It could be a broken hose or bad seals causing the leakage, which would cost less that Sh1,500 to fix and replace.

What he is suggesting is much more costly; an appraisal on my own 24-year-old Peugeot lies somewhere in the region of 60K (replacing the entire power steering system).

The Corolla’s may be cheaper, but you can see where I am going… first make sure that it is not something fixable before opting for replacement.

——————

Hi,

I have a budget of 550K to buy a car, so would you advise that I go for a Kenyan used car or a new imported car like the Platz, Alto and such?

——————

Kenyan used, definitely. FSH and tropicalised, you can never go wrong. And more likely than not the franchise that sold it still exists, unless you buy something obscure like a Daewoo Cielo.

——————

Hi,

I own a VW Golf MK 3 ABD. For the last six months, it has developed poor combustion, producing sooty exhaust fumes and carrying a strong smell of petrol.

It has stalled in the jam a few times and then restarted after like 15 minutes. I actually suspect the previous owner may have sold it for the earlier versions of this problem.

But I believe I may have my finger on the problem. Being a single-point petrol injection arrangement, it is flooding the intake manifold at idling and intermediate engine speeds, though this seems to happen consecutively nowadays, with high speed running.

I suspect any of the relays/actuators/switches and/or sensors around the injector are faulty but the problem is that this model (1994) does not have a port for the diagnostic equipment to confirm or rule out my diagnosis. Any help out there?
Maringa

——————

It has sensors but no OBD port? Are you sure it has no port or it is you who cannot find the port?

Are the plugs fine? It is very rare for a fuel injected vehicle to flood; it used to happen back in the days of carburettors.

Find the port because all cars since 1991 have them, most of them at least (I doubt if crap like Mahindras and UAZ jeeps have them).

But the Golf should, even if it is OBD I (as from 1994 all cars conformed to the OBD II standard). And check the plugs because I suspect they may have reached the end of their lives.

JM.

——————
I intend to buy a car (my first car ever) for use upcountry and I’m split between a Nissan B15 and a Mitsubishi Lancer, both manufactured in 1999.

Please help me make a decision by highlighting the merits and demerits of each, including such things as fuel consumption and spare parts availability.

Lastly, is there any other alternative in terms of acquiring, maintenance and running costs?

Kefa

——————

Lancer, any day. It is prettier, and I get more complaints about the B15 than I do the Lancer.

It is also a touch smoother: the shift shock I experienced the first time I drove a B15 as I switched from P through to D informed me that I was in a low quality product. The Lancer has a better interior too, only just.

Consumption is low for both (average of 12–16kpl) and spares are available at reasonable prices. The Lancer’s GDI engine, however, needs a bit more care. Alternative? Corolla NZE, or Honda Fit sedan.

——————

Hi Baraza,

I am considering buying either a 2005 Mazda RX8 or a 2004 Forester XT and I am mostly after speed, safety and at least 10 kpl in traffic. Oh, and I do not want to get stuck in mud, I find that embarrassing. So, of the two, which is the better bet?

——————

Of course the Forester. It is fast and won’t get stuck in mud. But forget about 10kpl in traffic — it will not happen. Consumption and power aside, there is one very BIG reason not to buy an RX-8, and that is the engine.

It is what we call a Wankel (the RX-8 was nicknamed the Wankel Wunderkind) and is not what you normally find under most bonnets.

Ordinary piston engines are what we call “reciprocating” engines, and have circular pistons that pump up and down and the crankshaft is below the engine.

The Wankel engine is a rotary engine; the pistons are triangular and go round and round, and the crankshaft runs through the middle of the engine.

The engine itself is the size of a good watermelon. I can’t wait to see the look on your mechanic’s face when you present one to him for overhauling!

The problems with the RX-8’s engine in particular, and rotary engines in general, are thus: they develop very poor torque, are quite thirsty, they consume oil heavily and the rotor (triangular piston) tips get fried every few kilometres, calling for an expensive overhaul every now and then.

That is why Mazda are the only ones dabbling in that technology. There is one good point behind the poor torque: to develop any semblance of power, the engine has to have the nuts revved off it, and the RX-8’s engine is redlined at a heady 9500 rpm. Yikes!

——————

Hello,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I have read reviews, especially on ex-UK vehicles ( VW Jetta and Toyota Avensis) using D4-D engines.

Would I be putting my money in the right place if I bought any of the above vehicles?

And which is better than the other? Do we have enough know-how on these engines in Kenya?

——————

Buying any of the two would be money well wasted, but the Avensis is a safer bet if only because Toyota is familiar to us and you can always swap the engine for an ordinary petrol unit once the diesel goes bang.

And, no, I am not too confident about our ability to handle this degree of boffinry just yet.

——————

Hi Baraza,

I own a 2001 Toyota Prius 1500cc/Electric. The car is good, powerful for its class and fuel efficient (16km/l). On the flip side, the shape is whack and it’s ugly.

I want to ditch the Prius for the 2005 Honda Accord 2.0EL (2WD) saloon. I have seen other Hondas on the road but the Accord is rare, any particular reason?

The other option is a 2000cc VW Golf wagon. I’m worried about two things though: fuel economy and, more so, availability of spare parts for both cars.

The Accord has an auto/manual transmission, any problems with these types of transmissions? I am not worried about resale value, what I want is a comfortable and reliable ride.

——————

The Accord is fast becoming popular, just so you know. If I get a Type R, I will not hesitate to buy one.

Fuel economy is nothing to worry about with these cars. Or any other for that matter; in this era where a 4.4-litre V8 Range Rover returns 10 kpl at 140 km/h on the highway, I wish people would just buy new cars and stop asking about fuel economy.

(The Range Rover is the new TDV8 though, a diesel). Spares are readily available for both, and no, there is nothing wrong with the “manumatic” transmission in the EL, that is why almost every new car has such.

I prefer the Accord on looks, handling and weight. The Golf would beat the Honda on build quality and maybe, just maybe, ride comfort. And carrying capacity; it is, after all, an estate.

Posted on

Turbo operation depends on engine speed, not road speed

Hi Baraza,
I have learnt a lot about cars through your column, thanks. I own a Lancer Cedia wagon 2001 model that has a GDI and turbo 1830cc engine. I like it because its pretty powerful compared to my bro’s “flimsy” Toyota Fielder.

Now, If I may ask:

1. I was told that the turbo will kick in only beyond 80km/h, and only if I use a particular type of fuel, is this true?

2. The car has a small delay between the time the accelerator pedal is pressed and when the car actually responds (about half a second), what could be causing this?

3. I use 5W oil for the engine as I was instructed that its the best for this car, is this okay?

4. There was a motorist in one of your columns who claimed that his Subaru Forester (2000cc) can do Nairobi to Thika and back on Sh1000 worth of fuel; I do not think my car is consuming a lot of fuel but I also know it cannot do a thousand bob for that distance, yet its lighter and has a smaller engine. How can I verify that its consumption is okay? A diagnostic was last done in August and it came out clean; the consumption hasn’t changed since then.
1. No and no. The turbo operation is dependent on engine speed, not road speed, so watch the rpm instead of the km/h. For proper boost achievement, keep it boiling at 3500rpm plus, but get ready to pay through the nose for fuel. Speaking of which, provided you have put petrol in the car and the engine is running, the turbo will work. Let no one lie to you that one particular brand of fuel will activate the turbo while another won’t.

2. The delay could be caused by turbo lag or a faulty throttle sensor. My money’s on the lag.

3. The 5W sounds a bit inappropriate and just a touch worrisome. We do not need a winter-use oil in these climes, and the low viscosity index means that the oil changes viscosity rapidly with heat; and if there is one thing in plenty from a turbo engine, it’s heat. But if the 5W is for kinematic viscosity, then that is what you need, to allow the oil to seep into the turbo workings properly. If I were you I’d try maybe a 10W, or 15W.

4. I have said repeatedly that driving style is the biggest contributing factor to fuel economy, though, at Sh 120 a litre and given the kind of traffic conditions that prevail on Thika Road, our Forester couple may or may not have been making their trips at 3am when everybody else is asleep. So if the diagnosis says your car is okay, and your car looks, sounds and feels okay, then it is okay.

*****************

Hi Baraza,

I have an automatic 2009 X-Trail which I bought two years ago. Could you please tell me its advantages and disadvantages? Also, please tell me how much horsepower it has… and if its ugly or not.

You do not know if your car is ugly or not? Have you seen the car in question or is this hypothetical? Anyway, I like the X-Trail’s external looks, it is very handsome.

In fact, I think it is one of the best looking cross-over utilities (eat that BMW X3, you ugly thing!). I don’t care much for the interior though.

Here are the power figures:

2.0 Petrol: 103kw/134hp @6000rpm, torque – 192Nm @4000rpm

2.0 Diesel: 110kw/143hp @4000rpm, torque – 320Nm @2000rpm

2.2 Diesel: 84kw/112hp @4000rpm, torque – 270Nm @2000rpm

2.5 Petrol: 132kw/176hp @6000rpm, torque – 245Nm @4000rpm

These figures apply to all 2004/2005 cars, except the 2.0 Diesel, whose figures also apply to the 2010 model.

******************

Hi Baraza,
I have a Subaru Legacy GT Twin Turbo and have three queries:

1. Is there any specific engine oil type for this model (I prefer synthetic oil)? What about spark plugs?

2. I went for greasing and was told Legacies cannot be greased unless the wheel mechanism is removed. Now is there a grease type that can last around six months for this type of car?

3. If the spark plugs are overused, is fuel consumption going to be on the higher end? What are the signs of over-used spark plugs?

1. Synthetic oils are recommended for turbocharged engines, so you are bang on the money on that issue.

2. Does the car need greasing? If yes, then go ahead and grease it. Forget about wheel mechanisms and time lines.

3. Fuel consumption will definitely go up. Signs of dying spark plugs include misfiring, a notable drop in power and the smell of unburnt or poorly combusted petrol coming from the exhaust.

*****************

Hi JM,

I want to buy a small car which is not thirsty (1000cc to 1300cc) but with good space and good performance. I had the following cars in mind: FunCargo, Platz, Vitz, Duet (all Toyotas) and Mazda Demio. Which one of these might be the best, something I can own for over five years?

Mulwa

Go for the Demio. It is the roomiest, followed by the Platz (boot space) and/or FunCargo (headroom, rear legroom). Forget the Vitz.

*******************

Hi Baraza,
I am an automotive technologist and would like to help you out on the question by Juma (DN2, December 14, 2011) on the red button on auto gear levers. It’s actually used when trying to shift to neutral in case you would like to push or tow the vehicle if you do not have the key. Normally, you cannot shift if the ignition is not turned on and the brake pedal depressed. The little red button helps you avoid all this.
Cheruiyot

Okay, thanks for the heads up, Cheruiyot!

*******************

Hi,
I am a great fun of your column. Now, I have an interest in the BMW 116i, kindly advise me on its mechanical reliability of suitability in this region. According to some online reviews I have read, the fuel efficiency of the car is quite okay at 4.8l/100km.

Isaac

At 4.8l/100km, that must have been the 120d. Why do you want a 1-Series? The only reason anyone would buy a 1-Series is for performance ONLY, because it is unnecessarily expensive, its rear-drive chassis means rear seat space and boot capacity are a joke, and it is not exactly a looker. If I was to buy a 1-Series, I would go the whole hog and get me a 130i.

Mechanical reliability? Well, it is a BMW, so it will not fail easily, but when it does, expect the usual tear-jerking repair bills. Pertinence to the region? As a developing country, our choice of cars is quickly turning to personal preference rather than mechanical capability as was the case previously.

***********************

Hi Baraza,
I have a 2002 Mitsubishi Cedia wagon, 1800cc, 4WD tiptronic. My nightmare started when it stalled and the gear indicator on the dashboard started blinking N even after shifting to D or R. I hopped from one mechanic to the next and all of them told me to buy a new gearbox. One even told me to write off the car. Finally I got one who fixed it by replacing a chain in the gearbox and a sensor.

One month ago it started making some really loud noise from the left side and stalled 10 metres from where it started making that noise. The mechanic did a diagnosis and found it was the 4WD gearbox that had broken down; the main gearbox was okay.

I had to replace the whole gearbox plus the pressure sensor (and it wasn’t cheap at 110k). It took a while to find it because, apparently, Cedias are not that many on our roads and they haven’t been in accidents enough to get parts from their write-offs, so spares are rare and expensive.

After changing the gearbox, there was some other noise; this time, the flywheel had cracked. I changed that. Now, when starting the car there is a noise that sounds like stuff banging against each other in the chassis. This goes on for a while then goes silent when the engine warms up.

When the gear lever is on N it’s silent, but on R or D its there even when I engage manual. The car also vibrates when at idle on D but not on N.

My mechanic tells me he has changed the engine mounts, so I’m at a point where I am thinking writing it off would have been a better solution. I need your insight here. Saidia!

Caroline.

Unfortunately, not even I would have had the foresight to tell you to get the entire transmission system overhauled — starting from the clutch to the primary gearbox, transfer case and shafts — had you come to me with the problem earlier.

The damage the transmission suffered earlier could have warped some of your drive shafts, hence the noises and subsequent failures.

Either that or, after the 4WD system, chain, sensor and flywheel, your clutch is now taking cue and packing up too.

Writing off the car sounds extreme but, with six-figure repair bills, I can see where you are coming from. It might be the wisest move at this point.

You could scrap the car. Sell it in bits. To avoid getting short-changed, go to the shop, ask how much a part costs (as if you want to buy) and then offer to sell them the parts at that quoted price or slightly lower. See what they tell you…. It might help you recoup some of your losses.

***********************

Hi Baraza,

Please enlighten me on the following:

1. Is there any performance change when wheel sizes are altered?

2. What is the allowable extent of adjusting wheel sizes (plus one or plus two inches of what the manufacturer gave)?

3. Is it true that the main effect of changing the wheel diameter on a car is the need to change the gears, which change the ratio of engine speed to wheel rotation speed?

4. Is it true that larger wheels rotate more slowly for a given car speed?

5. Is there any (even the remotest) possibility of compromising stability and therefore safety of the vehicle by replacing smaller manufacturer-spec wheels with larger ones?

May 2012 be yet another good year for all motoring enthusiasts through your column.

1. Yes, such a change will definitely affect the car’s performance.

2. It is wise to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, but the available space within your wheel archs will guide you too.

3. Not the “need”, but bigger wheels do have an effect of gearing up the transmission at tyre level. The bigger the wheels, the more noticeable the effect.

4. Yes, they have a lower angular velocity. Speed= Distance/Time, so for bigger speed, you have bigger distance (circumference of the tyre) and constant time.

5. It’s a definite yes, not “a chance”, outsize tyres will definitely corrupt the manufacturer’s settings.

************************

Hi Jim,
What is your opinion on the Mercedes ML class? The used models are mainly available in the ML 280 and ML 320 diesel versions, what’s your take on them? The few reviews I have read have ranked the M5, Q7 and Range Rovers higher. Although I like the classy looks, Range Rovers are rather ubiquitous locally. I shall be much obliged to hear your views.
Eric

Not a good car. Heavy, ugly, the diesel versions were not Daimler’s finest moment and the car was built in America for Americans, so built quality is dodgy and panel gap consistencies are measured to the nearest foot. The AMG version is an overweight, over-thirsty pointless exercise. The M5 is a saloon car and does not belong to this group.

The Q7 is not that good either; it has a woeful turning circle, is extremely heavy and, as such, the engines are overworked and fuel consumption suffers. But it has the best interior in the world.

Oh, and my name is not Jim.

***********************

Dear Baraza,

I own a Toyota K70 saloon car. The vehicle was manufactured in 1980, but registered in 1983. I have christened her ‘Historic’ because there are very few of them remaining on the road. The vehicle is very intact.

Having had two previous owners, it has done only 110,000 kilometres and still wears authentic Firestone tires of old. Since it was manufactured, according to my mechanic, the clutch had not been charged and this was done only this year when some young adults I was teaching how to drive a manual burned the clutch (whatever this means!).

The engine still bears the manufacturer’s nuts and bolts as it has never been opened (I have only changed the fuel pump after some malfunction). Though it has a carburettor system, it does about 12 km per litre (is this good? Can it do better?) and have travelled immensely with it going to far off places like Eldoret. Spares, though Taiwanese, are available both in Kirinyaga Road, Industrial Area or even Kariobangi.

I normally find your answers quite straightforward and realistic, so I pose this question: Do you have something good (or bad) to say about this small vehicle? Something that can justify my holding onto this old relic that went out of production many years back? Please let me know, in your own honest way, the good, the bad and the ugly of this vehicle.

Lawrence

Congratulations on two fronts: One, now I can relax knowing I am not the only one out there still flogging carburettors, and two, honestly, congrats on a car well kept. But I think you may have to change the tyres sooner rather than later.

For any car, 12 kpl is quite good, let alone one with a carburettor. And the K70 can do better, but you’d rather not because this means resorting to some funny techniques, not all of them sensible or legal.

By all means, keep your car. I don’t see why you would want to sell it, given how you have gushed about it and extolled its virtues. It is something special given that it has survived to its current age and in its current condition, and it is a show of just how well you can maintain your car.

Again, congratulations!

Posted on

In motoring, many Kenyans want a kind of come-we-stay

Hi JM,
I have owned a 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia wagon 1800cc GDI for more than three years with no problem other than the usual wear and tear, brakes, shocks, etc.

And so I fail to understand the Kenyan phobia for any car with an engine other than a VVT-i or stone-aged engines, minus some rare options like the smaller but stronger, faster and quieter engines.

I use recommended platinum sparks, Shell V-power or equivalent, and full synthetic oil to keep the car in optimum performance — these might be pricey for some, but I considered them while purchasing the car.

Most of the time, the petrol mileage pays for most of the maintenance cost, especially if you drive as much as I do; I bought the car with the mileage at about 110,000 km and it’s now at over 400,000 km.

I wonder why Kenyans always go with advise from Toyota crazed people, some of whom have never owned a car or who want a car that they can neglect.

People rarely ask what your needs are and what you can invest to maintain and repair the car.

My dad gave me six months tops on the car yet his 2004 Nissan AD VAN has cost him more in repairs and petrol than my Cedia, which offers me better options, safety, comfort and power.

My advice: There are better cars out there, just make sure you know what you are getting into, that is, the advantages and disadvantages.

Also, having a mechanic who knows the car’s ins and outs on speed dial helps. So, am I crazy like all the people (and the Government) who have cars with GDI, FSI and turbo engines or what?

————–

Nice one. There are several problems with Kenyans as far as motoring is concerned. That is why 110 per cent of the mail I receive concerns either “how thirsty is it?” or “are the spares expensive?”

We want the motoring equivalent of a come-we-stay marriage, getting the milk without buying the cow, colloquially speaking. That is why I once told my readers not to rush into car ownership if they are not ready for the commitment involved.

But what can I do? I cannot tell a person, “You are not mentally ready to buy a car yet, so don’t”; I will wait for them to buy the car, mess it up and then contact me for help. The variety of vehicles in South Africa is staggering and yes, there are Toyotas too, but they, surprisingly, are not the majority.

————–

Hi Baraza,

I religiously look forward to the Wednesday paper just to have a go at your column. Now, I have two questions:

1. I drive a Nissan Bluebird U11 1985 model, 1800cc carburettor engine. It does 7–8 km/l in town and 10–12 km/l on the highway. I am planning to purchase a new ex-Japan EFI engine for the car because I fear the carburettor is not 100 per cent reliable. I am torn between a Wingroad and a Nissan B15 1500cc engine. Most of my friends prefer the B15 engine while I feel the Wingroad one is more faithful. Kindly advise on which one would be best for stress free driving on such an old car.

2. This is a bit personal and I’m sure I will get it rough from you. What car do you drive because I got shocked to learn that you drive a Toyota Platz — in a previous article you really dissed the vehicle.

Akala

——————-

First off, I don’t like either of the two Nissans, and sadly for you, both are prone to glitches.

From the mail I receive from readers, the B15 has suspension made out of used matchsticks while the Wingroad suffers electrical gremlins.

From what I see on the road, the Wingroad ages gracelessly while the B15 clings on tenaciously for a slightly longer time before succumbing to old age. So maybe you should go for the B15.

Now, about your second question: What I drive is not very important at the moment, but it sure as hell is not the unsightly Platz! Where did you get that information from? If a friend told you they know me and that I drive a Platz, lose the friend.

Hi Baraza,

Kindly offer your thoughts on the Audi A4. How does it compare with BMW 318i and Mercedes C-class?

Looks: Near tie between C-Class Mercedes (pretty) and Audi A4 (understated and classy).

Performance: The BMW 3-Series both handles and performs better than the other two.

They have recently started offering 4WD (x-Drive) versions, so Audi no longer has the advantage of traction.

The A4 can be a bit lethargic with the smaller non-turbo power units.

The C-Class is a pleasure to drive, such is the smoothness, and the supercharged Kompressors are plenty quick.

Handling wise, the BMW is best and the A4 worst, courtesy of its understeering tendencies.

Cost: When you buy a Merc, you will know, mostly from the moths that will fly out of your wallet and the echoes coming from the emptiness that is your bank account. BMW follows not too far behind, but is a bit more affordable.

A4 is the cheapest, generally. Where you buy and what spec you choose can easily swing the order one way or another.

These are premium cars, so you will fork out for spares. Good thing is it will not happen often.

—————-

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Wish with a 2000cc VVT-i engine. The vehicle has no overdrive button but there’s an ‘S’ button, which I presume stands for “sport”.

On engaging it, the vehicle becomes lighter and speed shifts with a lot of ease.

What I need to know is, how is the fuel consumption when I engage this gear, is it high or low?

Is it economical/safe for the engine if engaged at low speeds? There’s also another button labelled ‘Snow’ but I have never known what it is for. Kindly help.

Abdulrehman

——————–

When you engage this “S gear”, does the car leave a trail of your belongings on the road behind you? Or maybe a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of cogs, nuts, bolts, trunnions and wing-nuts? The car does not become lighter, it “feels” lighter, because the transmission is in a ‘Sport’ setting and so the vehicle’s performance is optimised, or “sporty”. The lightness may also come from the suspension stiffening, but I doubt this is the case for the Wish; such technology is found in costlier fare.

The consumption will definitely go up, but not enough to bankrupt you in one trip. It will also not damage the engine, or gearbox, at all; engines are built to withstand a wide range of performance parameters.

The ‘Snow’ setting acts as a sort of traction control for the gearbox, slowing down changes and sticking to higher gears at lower revs to minimise torque-induced wheelspin and skids.

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Hi Baraza,

Once, I went upcountry with a Toyota Prado and had no problem climbing the long hills.

But on another day, when I used a Land Rover Discovery Tdi, I realised its performance was weak compared to the Prado’s. Is it that the car had a problem or does it mean Prados are more powerful than Land Rovers?

Please compare the two. Also, I’m puzzled by words like supersaloon, special edition, splendid, and so on, that are used on Toyotas and Nissans. Do these cars have anything special?

Kahara

————–

Which Discovery did you use? And which Prado? The earlier Discovery cars were a bit agricultural, crap to be honest, especially because of the ageing 2.5, 4-cylinder diesel engine they used.

The new ones, on the other hand, are Range Rovers for those who cannot afford real Range Rovers. I will compare the two — similar vintage and matching specs — in a future road test, just give me time to set this up.

Those labels ‘SuperSaloon’, ‘Executive’ and so on are actually names for trim levels and specifications.

Instead of saying “this car has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, automatic transmission, sunroof, air-con, climate control, leather interior, alloy rims, six-CD changer, etc”, just call it SuperSaloon.

For the same model of car, the “Executive” could be the same as SuperSaloon but with no leather interior and no sunroof.

A lower spec model (let’s call it Deluxe) deletes climate control but maintains air-con and swaps the six-CD changer for, say, radio/tape/CD.

Follow?

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Dear Baraza,

I am planning to buy my next car, either a Subaru Forester or a Toyota Kluger.

But the one I have currently is a Fielder, which is good when it comes to fuel consumption, spare parts and resale value.

I want you to advise me on the car (Forester or Kluger) that is fuel efficient, has reasonably priced spares and a good resale value.

————–

Just drive decently and both will not hurt where consumption is concerned.

Spares should not have too big a disparity between them, though I suspect the Kluger’s might command a slight (very slight) premium over the Forester’s. Asking around will clear this up.

Resale? It is hard to tell. Klugers have not been around long enough for statistical data on second- or third-owner territory to be gathered. And there has been a now-diminishing phobia of Subaru cars, so for now, steer clear of the Turbo.

————–

Hi,
I am importing a Subaru Outback and I want to use it for my upcountry excursions, which include a very slippery road to my upcountry home.

How good is it in wet, slippery, hilly roads? Can you suggest some modifications or areas to watch on this ex-Japan model?

————–

Smart choice. It has 4WD, so it should tackle the slippery stuff quite convincingly.

But no serious off-roading (fording rivers that have burst their banks or trying to drive up a sheer cliff), leave that to the Land Cruisers).

It can survive without any major modifications, but heavy duty suspension would not be money wasted when installed.

————–

Hi,
I intend to buy a second-hand car whose engine capacity is 1000cc or below.

I particularly have the Toyota Platz, Toyota Starlet or Toyota Alto LX in mind. Please advise me in terms of maintenance and performance.

————–

Once you go below 1,000cc, cars stop being cars, they become a means of transport.

As such, there is precious little to separate them, unless you go for mentalist hardware like the turbocharged Daihatsu Miras and “twin-charged” Fiat 500s. Otherwise, they are all the same.

I have had quite some experience with a Starlet EP82, which at 1300cc, could still run with the best of them (19.76 litres of fuel yielded 407 km, empty to empty. Try and beat that, even in a Vitz).

The three cars you mention should be about the same in performance and maintenance, so if you are hard pressed to choose, close your eyes, throw a stone in the air and see where it lands.

That will be the car to buy. Or just go for the Alto — it is newer than the Starlet (so obviously better engineered) and much, much prettier than the goggle-eyed “Platzypus”

————–

Hello Baraza,

I bought a five-speed 1996 Hyundai Accent car from a friend. The vehicle is quite okay, but I need your advice on the following:

1. Where do I get spare parts, such as door locks, water pumps and radiators, among others, at a fair price?

2. Is it possible to get a good place to refurbish its interior, especially the seats, floor covers, inside door covers etc?

3. What are the merits and demerits of this vehicle since I hardly hear people talk about it?

Yatich

————–

The reason nobody talks about the Hyundai Accent is because it is Korean, and 1996 is a clean decade and a half ago. Anybody born at that time would be in high school second or going to third form now.

Later iterations of this car have not been good either (there is a 3-cylinder diesel that takes 20 secs to hit 100 km/h from rest). So it is in this vein that I will answer your questions:

1. Fellow Hyundai enthusiasts will help with this, but until then, the usual trawl through Kirinyaga Road and Industrial Area will give you an idea on the rarity of spares.

2. Interior reworking can be done at any good body shop.

3. Merits: None that I know of. Cheap, maybe. Demerits: Not a feat of engineering, flimsy, performs poorly and not that pretty. And there’s also bad interior design and poor use of materials.

Posted on

How the Probox escaped list of ugliest things

While last week’s article may have been a bit controversial, it did not provoke a post-bag of outrage as sizeable as I may have desired, but there were responses.

Suspects were fronted, and disagreement reared its ugly (pun intended) head more than once.

Of note was the concord over the Toyota Will’s lack of visual appeal. This is how those who replied thought of my lists, and these are the offenders and unrecognised beauties.

Toyota Platz

One reader, a lady — quite obviously — defended the Platz as not just an art student’s runabout, but also a means of escape for those who cannot afford costlier hardware but would still wish to eschew the insanity that passes for public transport around this corner of God’s green planet.

Maybe, but just because women like it does not mean it is pretty. It still maintains its place on the queue of syphilitic warthogs on our roads.

Toyota Probox

Most of our readers expected to see this box on wheels vilified as an eyesore, but let us be honest, is it really that bad?

Yes, it lacks any sort of charm whatsoever, but keep in mind that this successor to the venerable Corolla DX is a commercial vehicle first, and commercial vehicles are not really about getting dates. They are meant to lug stuff and staff from one site to the next.

The Probox is what the Fiat 124 estate would have looked like had the Italians kept building it: instead, they gave the whole factory, plus parts, paperwork and foundries, to the Russians; who rebadged it the Lada Riva; and who in turn handed it over to the Egyptians; who still build the damn thing exactly as it was built 30 years ago.

That it is not sold (or imported to these shores) saves it from occupying a place on last week’s list of nasty sights; otherwise it would have been a more fitting replacement for the Probox.

Porsche Cayenne

Evidence that automotive ugliness is created by the manufacturer but propagated by the customer appeared in my inbox in the form of a man claiming that this car is “cute”.

What’s more, he went ahead to claim that it should have been listed there instead of the Jaguar XJ. Have your cataracts checked, Sir. In no way is this car “cute”.

The Nissan Micra is “cute”, and so is the Ford Fiesta, but the Porsche Cayenne has been listed as one of the ugliest cars in recent history, and not even by me.

The face of a 911 sports car grafted onto the body of a Volkswagen Touareg does not make “cute” anything. Thank God that the Porsche has the performance to justify the asking price.

BMW X6

A vitriolic response showed up on Twitter about “this writer thinking that the X6 is ugly”. What would you call the result of mating a swimsuit model’s torso onto the lower extremities of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

An aberration, most likely. BMW’s attempt at creating a niche that nobody asked for got the acerbic reaction it deserved from the world’s motoring Press.

The X6 tries to be a sports car and an off-roader, but it fails at both and loses the looks along with it.

It is too heavy to be any good on-road; and too focused on trying to be impressive on-road to be any good off it; and the huge, tall body with that sloping roofline leads to an epic fail in what would otherwise have been a good alternative to the Range Rover Sport.

The Design Process

It is time to start pointing fingers, and, to narrow down the list of likely suspects, we have to look at what exactly goes on during the design process of a given motor vehicle.

While it can sometimes be done purely by computer (leading to designs as disparate as the manufacturers are far apart: the Nissan GT-R is not pretty, but the Ferrari 458 Italia is, and both are computer-generated.

Maybe one company used a Mac while the other used a PC), what we are interested in is the handiwork of living, breathing humans.

Most cars are designed by a team, typically made of people with degrees and backgrounds in art.

More often than not there is a lead designer, though in some cases a car could be drawn by one man only, and this lead designer receives a brief from the big fish in corner offices.

The brief could be to go retro, to “revolutionalise” car design in general, to establish a corporate “face”, or quite simply, to “shock” the world. And it is at this point that problems arise.

While the brief could be worded in such a way that it will sound pleasing to shareholders, artsy types are not known to decipher such flowery language or show initiative that will be at cross-purposes with the administration, so they follow instructions to the letter.

This is how cars like the bug-eyed Ford Scorpio came to exist (the horror, the horror…).

Going retro also sometimes tends to fail quite badly, especially when designers are asked to draw from iconic elements in that manufacturer’s past.

The old Jaguar Mark II was a paragon of elegance, so the English firm thought that visage would look good on a modern car, and they proceeded to slap it onto the S-Type.

The result almost moved bowels. Thankfully, the S-Type has been replaced with the XF saloon. The Porsche Cayenne suffers from a similar problem.

So what would happen if a designer took it into his head to show initiative? Cars like the outgoing 5-series and 7-series BMWs creep into existence.

Chris Bangle wanted to make an impact design-wise, and make an impact he did. The 7 was so bad it had to have a facelift less than a year after launch.

The 5 was “controversial”, to put it diplomatically, and these two cars made the man famous as the “one who will finally bring BMW to its knees”.

It is a wonder these cars were bought at all: it says a lot about BMW’s technological supremacy that they were able to sell any of these cars at all.

Sometimes one man’s need to “express” himself ought to be checked, lest such terribleness afflicts us all.

On some occasions, I presume, the sheer volume of cars under manufacture also leads to bad design, and that, I strongly suspect, is the reason

Toyota scored freely on the list of uglies. Maybe the engineers are coming up with chasses faster than the designers can draw corresponding bodywork art, and so some of them come out a little bit rushed (Verossa). Either that or no imagination at all applies in the overall design (Probox, Platz).
Engineering also fudges up an otherwise passable design, especially when form follows function.

That is how winged and spoilered monsters like the Impreza WRX and Nissan GT-R rise from the depths of factory recesses to fill up your side mirrors menacingly on the road.

A good design could bite the dust when engines get too big or suspension components cannot be well-hidden, resulting in lengthy overhangs and bizarre fender flares; or when the outlandish performance on tap demands the installation of air dams and spoilers for aerodynamic integrity and stability at speed.

Geographical preferences

Can we surmise that geography also plays a part? America has never come up with what we could call a gorgeous motor vehicle — size seems to be their obsession; while the Asians don’t seem to even bother.

But Europe has been constantly churning out a steady supply of stunning bodies, especially England (Aston Martin, Jaguar) and Italy (Lancia, Alfa Romeo).

Small wonder then that all the great automotive artists (both firms and individuals) are registered in Italy.

Bertone, Giorgetto Giugiaro and the great Sergio Pininfarina have been charged by car builders all over the world as great artists, and their skills are highly sought whenever one company wants to have one up on their competition in good looks.

Planned obsolescence is a business concept dreamt up by one Alfred P Sloan, Jr, former head at General Motors in the early 20th Century, and the idea was that, to entice the client base into show rooms on a regular basis, they needed annual model changes in their lineups.

Sounds good, but people tend to run out of creative thoughts rather fast, leaving them in trouble when it is time for another refresh.

This, I think, has also been an affliction in Japan, as it closely follows the surplus of chasses and dearth of designs theory.

Henry Ford, forever the visionary, rejected this notion and stuck to the principles of simplicity, economies of scale and design integrity.

Much to his consternation, the planned obsolescence thing worked and GM overtook Ford in sales soon after.

All in all, I have just one suggestion to make. To all aspiring car designers, do not do it like your colleagues have been doing: at one point take a step back and have a good look at whatever you have drawn before you release it for manufacture.

It will save a lot of people some embarrassment.