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How well does the Nissan GTR stack up in terms of performance?

Hey Jim.

I want to know more about the Nissan GTR 2012 model. I don’t know the right questions to ask but I’d just like to know whether it is suitable for everyday use?

Is it efficient in terms of performance — power, speed and handling?

I have seen it on racetracks as well as locally on the streets. I would really appreciate some detailed information about it.

Martin

 

Hey there,

My name is not Jim; never was and has never been.

About that GTR: I once believed it to be Jack versus Porsche’s fee-fie-fo-fum, beanstalk-climbing 911 Turbo troll giant but lately the odds have started stacking up against it.

If BBC ‘Top Gear’’s recent showings are anything to go by, its earth-shattering performance doesn’t look so earth-shattering anymore.

That said, you will still be hard pressed to find a car that turns as hard as an Nissan R35.

The 2012 car is good for around 542bhp, which is the kind of power you will likely never fully explore.

Couple this to a clever trick-trick 4WD drive-train, a twin-clutch gearbox and huge nitrogen-filled tyres and the end result is… epic.

SPEED DEMON

This is a car that will show just how physically unfit you really are without having to run a mile.

I experienced its violent character at a military airbase in California on the west coast of the United States of Americaland.

It is a violent track car that may break your neck if you fail to sit properly while in it, but that is when ‘Race’ mode is engaged.

Disengage the psychopath setting and it turns into an amiable daily driver that even geriatrics can take for a quick nip down to the mall and back.

Disclaimer: said geriatric is advised not to go beyond 20 per cent throttle opening on such a shopping trip, because even with Race mode off, stomping the hot pedal will still release the demons of performance hell and the car will shoot forward, possibly at a faster speed than a senile mind can wrap itself around.

Expect 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds. Two. Point. Eight. By the time you read this sentence, the GTR will have launched itself from rest and gone beyond 120km/h. Say hello to Godzilla.

PERFORMANCE

For you to ask whether it is efficient in power, speed, handling and general performance is akin to you asking whether this column is written in English. The answer is “what do you think?” Those four parameters are EXACTLY why the GTR exists, and down the River Styx with humdrum plebeian concerns like economy and maintenance. Those are for losers in 900cc, three-cylinder hatchbacks. This is a twin-turbo, twin-clutch 3.8 litre V6 ground-hugging missile. Only those with substantial testicular fortitude need apply.

Detailed information about this car can be found on almost every motoring website on the internet and some non-motoring ones too. This, however, I will tell you for free: the GTR drives like nothing I have driven before, or since. It may be an adherent to the turbo 4WD formula of Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and Subaru Impreza STis, but while the GTR’s forebears battled these two small saloons, the Nissan R35 grew out of it and went hunting Porsches and Lamborghinis. It is now an accomplished assassin. This is the John Wick of Japanese sports cars.

SNAZZY INTERIOR

It has an interior that belies its badge. Nissans typically boast of naff, monochromatic — usually 50 Shades of Grey, beige or black — interiors festooned with ugly buttons, scratchy plastics, exposed seams, panel gap inconsistency and grainy surfaces with just a touch of faux-aluminium, but one can tell the GTR was made by people who took their time with it.

The leather is exquisitely stitched (and is real), the buttons are thoughtfully laid out, the thick-rimmed steering is good to the grip — which, in inexperienced hands, is less a tool for controlling the vehicle than a lifeline for hanging on to as the car threatens to toss you through the windows in hard corners.

Just to be sure of its everyday usability, there is even a woofer/sub-woofer embedded somewhere inside the back seat. And it has an automatic transmission. The car is quite a dandy daily driver.

Until someone drops the gauntlet and challenges you to a showdown.

You had best be awake when you mash the firewall. The transformation from “automatic Datsun coupé” to “Porsche-Slaying Maniac” is instantaneous. The downshifts become harder.

The upshifts become brutal. The acceleration is relentless. The braking is merciless. Cornering in this car actually hurts, it DOES hurt; more so if you had a heavy lunch involving numerous tacos and several cans of chilled soft drink in the baking California heat like yours truly.

While the car goes like it was launched by a giant rubber band and stops like it has hit a tree, it is through the turns that its ability beggars belief.

SHARP AND RESPONSIVE

One can actually feel how heavy this car is (it weighs in at around 1800kg, which is quite lardy), but then again one can also feel the electronic witchcraft and fastidiously built hardware working in tandem to overthrow the reign of heft; and one can feel these electronics and hardware winning the minor skirmish taking place underneath your seat.

The wide nitrogen-filled rubbers and mind-boggling 4WD boffinry really do transfigure what is essentially (weight-wise) an expectant rhino into a heavily caffeinated flea.

The GTR changes direction with the alacrity of a jumped-up insect- for lack of a better analogy- that is how sharp and responsive it is. It is, however, not twitchy with it; it carries this turning capability with grace and aplomb. It is a meister among minstrels.

Go into a moderate sweeping left at 140km/h, which is just about the point where an STi would typically start disobeying instructions, and the car turns with no drama.

It even feels underused. Go in at 160, right about where an Evo would be at its limit and same thing happens.

Try 180. Still works. Try 200…  Then realise that you may need fighter pilot training to fully harness this car’s potential, because while Godzilla will handle the speed with which you are straightening corners, your brain may not. The car goes faster than you can think, quite literally.

We did hot laps on a track laid out on a military airbase at a place called El Toro. Once you learn the track layout and know what the car can do, you then revert to your primeval petrolhead mindset, get the red mist over your eyes and start stringing corners together like the expert you clearly aren’t. The experience is sublime.

ACHING ARMS

Foot down. Exit the pit area and barrel down the short opening straight. Feel the surge of acceleration. Do NOT look at the speedometer; which should read 210km/h or thereabouts by the time you reach the first right which is a short distance away.

No need to brake, in fact you only need to lift ever so slightly to trim down your pace somewhat.

The corner leads into a short series of switchbacks. Still no brakes. Chuck the car apex-to-apex, throwing it left and right with something that may be mistaken as willful abandon. Feel the massive weight try to pull the car out of line.

Feel the tyres holding the car in place. Feel the 4WD system reeling the car back in. Also feel the numerous tacos and gallons of Pepsi slosh around uncomfortably in the pit of your stomach; and your brain bouncing off the sides of your skull. Feel your eyeballs slowly losing shape due to the unbelievable grip.

Feel your arms ache. Feel your neck strain. Feel your palms sweat. Try not to vomit. Exit the switchbacks faster than you thought possible in a car, front tyres screaming, steering on half-lock to the right. Let the steering wheel self-center in a controlled slip through your fingers as the car straightens itself out.

As the steering wheel steadily centers itself, simultaneously feed the power in, in such a way that by the time the car is pointing dead straight, you are at wide open throttle. All this is happening so fast your conscious mind can barely keep up and is not even present. In primeval petrol-head mode, you are not quite yourself; you are the Stig’s favorite Facebook follower.

Thunder down the main straight like a fighter aircraft on takeoff. “Lord have mercy, this car is bloody FAST!” you think, in something closely resembling pure panic. Hit 255km/h. See the huge BRAKE sign at the side of the track indicating the upcoming chicanes. Stand on the brakes.

UP FOR SECONDS

Hold your breath tightly because now it feels like your brains will pour copiously through your nostrils and splash all over the dashboard like projectile vomiting; that is how HARD a GTR sheds speed on the stoppers.

Realise you may have braked a bit too hard and washed off more speed than you needed to — after all, this is a GTR — so lift off the anchors and get back on the power. Maintain this power through the tight chicanes, throttling on and off as the track demands.

This is nothing to a GTR; it eats away at the apexes and leaves them wondering what just clipped them. The chicanes lead back into the pit area. Roll to a halt. Remove helmet. Wipe the thin film of sweat now coating your forehead— a byproduct of the combination of frazzling heat and nervous excitement. The hot lap is over and you did not put a foot wrong. Feel proud of yourself. Grin stupidly at your hostess, who you now think of as a goddess at whose feet you will worship henceforth since she let you drive a GTR in anger.

“That was some driving,” she says. “How was it?” she asks with a patronising smile.

“CAN I DO IT AGAIN?”

_________-

Dear Baraza,

 I have a Honda CRV which comes with tyres with the following specs 235/60 R18. I want to buy new tyres from a particular brand but the only specs they have are 235/65 R18 (bigger profile tyres). Will this affect the performance of the car in any way?

Martin

Yes, but the effect will be so minimal you will not notice it. I believe the word we scientists use to describe such an effect is “negligible”

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

Hi Baraza,

I have been advised by at least three mechanics that coasting damages engine components, especially the clutch due to what they called “shock” when engaging ‘D’ from ‘N’ especially on high speed, downhill…..what’s your take?

Matata

 

This only applies to manual transmissions if declutching is not done properly.

With automatic transmissions, the engagement of the clutch mechanism is computerised, as is the gear selection; so the “shock” of re-engagement is not any harder or any softer than it is during normal upshifts and downshifts.

However, there is the risk of engaging ‘two’ or even ‘one’  instead of D, in which case… well, shock on you and your gearbox/clutch.

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If you want a fast car, get yourself a Mercedes C180

Dear Baraza,

Over the years, I have gained a growing interest in German technology and become a fan of their machines. I am torn between buying an Audi A4, a Golf GTI and a Mercedes C180. The never-ending questions arise: fuel consumption, spares and servicing. Which is the best buy between these three options?

I also noticed that the C180 has a “plain” and a “Kompressor” version. What is the difference and does it matter if I want to buy the car? Albert Mwangi

A: The aspects you ask about are broadly similar across the range. Germans are notorious for designing cars shaped like briefcases that are exact copies of each other, irrespective of the logo on the bonnet/grille. Since you mention a Golf GTI and a C180 Mercedes, I am guessing by default the Audi should have an engine size of 2000cc or less, right? Turbo or naturally aspirated? I’ll go with turbo, since the GTI is turbocharged and the Kompressor is supercharged.

This brings us neatly to your second question without answering the first: the difference between the “plain” C180 and the Kompressor version is that the Kompressor is supercharged, while the plain one is, well, plain. No forced induction whatsoever.

This difference matters if you like to get where you are going really quickly and are ready to sacrifice a bit of fuel economy in the process. It also matters if you like overly complicated engines with many extra parts, which increase the likelihood of something very expensive going wrong. I like Kompressors. They are fast and offer seamless power from damn near idle, while turbo cars suffer from lag in most cases. Lag and heat problems.

So, to your original question: the consumption is good (a bit high in the GTI compared with the others), the parts are expensive, and so is servicing, but with proper maintenance, spares and servicing shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

n other words, all three are good buys. The question is whether you want a slightly unsubtle boy racer hatchback (Golf), an anonymous understeering briefcase (A4) or every overpaid Kenyan yuppie’s first automotive acquisition (C180K).

Dear Baraza,

Your column is one of the things that make the paper worth the coins and the time. Keep up the good work.

I drive a Toyota Raum 2006 model (NCZ20), 1490cc. The car is spacious, comfortable and handles very well – much better than other small cars I have driven. However, its fuel consumption of 10km/l seems out of line with my expectation of 15km/l. I have worked it out several times by filling the tank, setting the trip computer, filling the tank again when near-empty then dividing the kilometres by the litres. I consider myself a gentle driver, though I mostly drive in city traffic, and the car is always serviced at Oilibya before exhausting the service interval. Given this information, is the consumption normal or am I expecting too much of the vvti? Muthaura

A: Even though you drive in city traffic, that traffic must be spectacularly awful to push a Raum’s fuel consumption up to 10 km/l. Clearly, something is up.

My main suspicion is that the air cleaner element needs dusting or replacement. It could be clogged, thus suffocating the car and forcing it to burn more fuel in an effort to keep up appearances, appearances being the typical behaviour of a 1.5 litre four. The ECU wouldn’t be caught dead churning out the power of an 1100, now, would it?

Are there any warning lights blinking or glaring within the instrument cluster, especially the “check engine light”; is it on? How often do you use the AC? How much deadweight are you lugging around in your car? Are your tyres filled with air to the correct pressure? All these affect the fuel economy of your car; some in little ways, others majorly.

Hi Baraza,

I recently replaced the brake pads on my Nissan B15 and ever since, they have been screeching when I slow down or stop. My mechanic said it was because the disks were dirty so I had them cleaned but the noise persists. What is the problem? They also vibrate whenever I slow down.

Please help. Dave

A: The brake discs could be warped or the pads were not properly installed. Or maybe it is the pads that are dirty, not the discs.

Dear Baraza,

I have for a long time wanted to get myself a good 4×4 that will handle well and yet still be affordable to maintain. A vehicle that is comfortable but has luggage space. Affordable being that the parts are readily available and the prices reasonable, not prices that would make an ordinary citizen think of taking a soft loan to repair or fix. I admire the Porsche Cayenne, VW Toureg, Audi Q7, Mercedes GL, Jeep, Ford, Land Rover Discovery, basically most of the 4x4s.Please advise me on a good option.Victor

Hi,

None of the cars you list here falls in the affordable segment, going by your definition of affordable.

At least they are all comfortable for the most part, and will tread off the beaten path, though with varying degrees of success. They also offer luggage space, though the Touareg and the Cayenne might not be as good as the GL and Discovery in that respect. You need to specify which Jeep and which Ford you are referring to here.

I have always insisted there is little wrong with a Landcruiser Prado. It is more “affordable” than the vehicles you have listed.

Hello Baraza,

You write well. Very well. You know that. But compliments never hurt.

I am looking for a car that is a cross between a horse and a camel. It needs to have power measured in race horses with the looks to boot, desert camel hardiness enough to carry teens, bags, market shopping and planting maize for grandma.

It also needs to be a 7-seater and high enough not to scrape the large mini hills we call bumps. The price must also not be thoroughbred. What do you suggest? Judy

Hi Judy,

Your email makes for wonderful reading but not much sense. It is very vague and uses terms not commonly found in motoring. Besides, you need to narrow down my search parameters to a few models that you have your eye on. You DO have a few preferences, don’t you?

What you describe is a Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen (G Class, or G Wagon), especially the G500, or one of the AMG-fettled versions. It has “racehorse” power, it looks very fetching, especially with a subtle body kit and black rims, and it is very hardy (it gets military applications with just a few modifications). If it carries several army men and their weapons, teens, bags, groceries and grandma’s corn will not faze it. It is a 7-seater and bumps mean nothing to it.

Unfortunately, the price is thoroughbred. In fact, it costs as much as several thoroughbreds in AMG guise.

Kindly specify how much power you need, what constitutes a good-looking car to you and how far your budget can stretch. A J70 Prado could also fit this description if an engine swap is made, as could a Landcruiser VX, Land Rover Discovery and many others. Get two or three cars you have your eye on and let me help you choose one from there.

Hi Baraza,

You are doing a fabulous job, keep it up!

I am in the process of buying a Toyota Sienta to use as a taxi. I would really appreciate a review of this car and its off-road capabilities. Mwele

I have not driven this car far enough for me to do a comprehensive review but one thing I know is that it is not meant for any off-road adventures. However, it would be good as a taxi: it is economical, reliable, and roomy; and the sliding doors make it ideal for inner city use where outwardly swinging doors make exiting into the street a risk. It is also cheap to buy and repair.

Hi Baraza,

I occasionally read your articles. In one of the 2012articles, you viewed the Scannia monster machines (the P380 and the R440). You mentioned semi-manual transmission ,where cars have both manual and automatic transmissions. Could you please go into details about these cars. I am eager to hear from you. Boniface

Explaining the full workings of a semi-automatic transmission would take up quite a lot of space. Also, it is something I have done before and I’m not quite in the mood of repeating myself, though I sometimes do.

However, all is not lost. I am working on a book, a sort of almanac: a compilation of some select articles I have done over the years, the explanations behind those articles (and some Car Clinic Q& A classics), along with indexed addenda to clarify some things I might have skimped on with details. I will let the world know when this book is available and how to get a copy. You can be sure my demystification of transmission types will form part of the line-up.

Baraza, I am a fan of your Wednesday column and appreciate your efforts to educate us about cars. I have gained a lot, and thanks for that.
Now to business: I want to buy a vehicle and it is left-hand drive. I would like to change it to right-hand drive. Please tell me the dangers involved in changing, if it’s possible, and whether it will have any problems once it is changed? Kane Quntai

A: There are two problems to be faced in this endeavour of yours, the first being how to import the vehicle in the first place. The government will not allow you to bring in a car where the driver sits in the passenger’s seat, unless it is an emergency vehicle. Are you by any chance importing an ambulance or a fire engine?

That means to import the car, you have to switch the control panel to the correct side of the car BEFORE you import it, and therein lies the second problem: it is expensive and extremely difficult to do so, and for some cars, the shape of the firewall (the bulkhead between the engine and the passenger compartment) is heavily dependent on, and greatly limits the positioning of, the steering system, clutch and brake assemblies/linkages. Why not just buy a right-hand drive version of the same car, if available?

Dear Baraza,

Thanks very much for the helpful tips you give us every Wednesday.

Now, a close relative of mine has a Premio Model UA ZZT 240 that developed some engine problem that he is not very sure about but suspects that somebody malicious tampered with the engine even though the car is moving. Mechanics have tried to repair it, to no avail. I’d like to take it from him and replace the whole engine since he has two other cars and is disposing of the Premio “as is”. My problem is that my mechanic told me to ensure I buy an engine complete with gear box (automatic). The mechanic says this will guarantee a good future for the car in terms of maintenance.

Considering cost, I wanted to replace the engine only since the current gear box is okay. Please advise. Philip

A: If the current transmission is okay, just replace the engine; you don’t have to buy a new gearbox. This may sound callous, but from your friend’s perspective, it makes business sense: he is disposing of the vehicle, right? That means the car’s future is not really his concern. It will be out of his hands, won’t it? Selling the car is supposed to recoup some losses, isn’t it? If the gearbox fails later on, let that be someone else’s headache. And if he buys a new gearbox, what does he do with the old one? Selling a second-hand automatic gearbox is not easy, especially given that it is a Toyota one, and Toyotas are notorious for their unfailing reliability. Nobody knocks on my door asking for a Premio gearbox (and that is saying something, considering this is Car Clinic). What are the odds that someone will knock on HIS door?

Hello Baraza,

I want to buy a Hyundai Sonata. Kindly inform me about its pros and cons. Is it better than the Toyota Premio? Let me know the engine capacity, cost of spare parts and their availability in Kenya.Wainaina

Hi,

I was meant to test drive the Hyundai Sonata sometime back but I couldn’t because the sellers did not have a demo unit and putting test mileage on a customer car is not only unbecoming, but also hurts the asking price, thus lowers profits and, therefore, makes shareholders uncomfortable. A butterfly flapping its wings in Indonesia means no road test for me, if you get my drift.

I know it is one hell of a good car, better than the Premio, seeing how it is in the Camry’s firing line while the Premio sits one rank lower. Engine capacities vary between 1800 and 2500cc, and spare parts are available at the Hyundai base on Mombasa Road, though I have no idea how much they cost.

Hi there, You know how we, Toyota Country, take it when there’s even a hint of new upstarts getting undeserved credit when put up against the establishment! To even start suggesting that the subject Mitsu has the drop on the establishment is emasculation personified. Auto-sacrilege. Song of the damned. We won’t start debating reliability and retained value at later resale or how much punishment the car will take before flunking out (durability), although we should. Not to mention the number of years the car will last, looking nice and straight with equal care and use.Let it go. Live and let die! Sincerely seething, Kariuki

A: Interesting. Very interesting. You will notice that durability and resale value were NOT some of the criteria the inquisitor desired knowledge of, and so like a wise student who passed his exams at school (or most of them anyway… or some of them), I will not answer a question I wasn’t asked.
However, in terms of reliability (shock!), fuel economy and safety ratings, the Mitsu — as you call it — not only had the drop on the establishment, it was a Quick-Draw McGraw type of standoff and the Toyota found itself lying on the ground with its kneecaps blown off before it even came near its holster.

Next time they will think twice before releasing a half-baked car, though I am using the term half-baked here rather loosely. Rivals are awake and coming, and soon songs of damnation and cries of sacrilege will fill these pages.

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The non-turbo Impreza is easier to maintain and uses less fuel

 Hello Mr Baraza, I’m interested in buying a Subaru Impreza but there are some things I don’t understand, so I need some clarification: 1. What’s the difference between an Impreza plain, Impreza WRX and an Impreza WRX STi? 2. What are the pros and cons of a non-turbo Impreza and one with a turbo with regard to fuel consumption efficiency, speed and general maintenance?Please highlight any other aspect(s) in relation to the models, their effectiveness, efficiency and engine details.Eric Karani

Hi.

1. The difference could be as much as 150bhp. The regular Impreza is good for about 150bhp, the Impreza WRX makes roughly 230bhp while various forms of the WRX STi (JDM, factory-spec) develop anything between 276bhp and 320bhp. The Impreza “plain” is naturally aspirated, while the WRXes have turbos and intercoolers. They also have body kits, alloy rims and various addenda, which get less and less subtle the higher you go up the power scale.

2. The naturally aspirated “non-turbo” Impreza is far better where maintenance and fuel consumption are concerned. The turbo cars, not so much. However, if it is speed you want, you can never go wrong with the STi. De-limited, it will clock 260 km/h.

Effectiveness: The STi is very effective at what it does, which is going fast and cornering quickly, hence it’s rally heritage.

Engine details: the 2.0 litre cars all have EJ20 modular engines. With a turbo attached, the engine code is EJ20T.

Dear Baraza, Thanks for the great work you are doing. As a young hustler in Kisumu, I am thinking of getting a Mazda Familia (2000-2003) as my first car. I would appreciate your view on this car in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption, spare parts; in short, I’m interested in the economics of owning one. Regards. Andy

The economics of owning one are good. The car was cheap when new, so it will be cheap used. It uses a variety of puny powerplants, so no worries on the fuel economy front. Just make sure the unit you acquire is in a sound mechanical state. The vehicle is low maintenance (it is Japanese, you know, and small) and spare parts should not be a problem to obtain and/or buy.

Hi Baraza,

I am one of those people the government, and in particular the traffic police, are looking for because of using a Probox as matatu.

I use a 1400cc Probox to transport passengers from one town to another in a rural area  and it has been a very profitable business for a long time because on a normal day, I pocket between Sh2,500 and Sh3,500. That is more than a 14- seater makes, given that a Probox doesn’t have very my expenses because it requires only private insurance.

My question is, what makes the Probox a donkey that never gets tired because I overload it all the time and I have never replaced any part of the engine and it doesn’t show any signs of breaking down soon. I carry 10 to 14 passengers per trip and sometimes even 18, not counting kids, plus luggage like potatoes.

Now, what amazed me was the speed, because the traffic police chased me using their 110 Defender for an hour but didn’t catch me; I had 18 passengers and it was on a rough road. What’s more, it is a hilly village, so I became the village star.

How strong and durable is the 1400cc Probox engine, considering that I have had it for three years, I bought it second hand, and it doesn’t have any mechanical problem.

Gabu

Interesting confession, this. Also, one that is difficult to believe. If you earn Sh3,500 per day, which is more than that made by a 14-seater, exactly how much does a 14-seater make daily? I expect it to be more. But I don’t own a 14-seater matatu, so I wouldn’t know.

Cars don’t get “tired”. They are not living organisms, least of all donkeys, which is what you describe your Probox as. Provided they have fuel in them, motor vehicles will run endlessly until certain parts break/explode/shatter/disintegrate/fall off. Cars only suffer wear and tear.

So you carry between 14 and 18 passengers in your illegal PSV, plus luggage? How do they all fit in? Please, send in a picture of the 1.4 litre donkey in action. I have seen videos of similar vehicles used to smuggle would-be terrorists… sorry, illegal immigrants – from our unstable neighbour in the north-east into the country and the best they did was 12 (not counting driver and “conductor”). How to fit in six more people yet the ones already inside don’t even have breathing room?

The least credible part of your story is the point where you say a police Defender 110 pursued your overloaded (18-deep plus luggage) donkey over rough ground and lost. Either your Probox is not really a Probox, or the ground was not rough, or you didn’t have 18 people on board, or maybe even the pursuit didn’t happen.

Whichever of these factors applies, there is one undisputable fact glaring through this seemingly tall tale: you have cast aspersions upon the abilities of police drivers, and I don’t know what the boys in blue have to make of this. You will not outrun a Land Rover Defender 110 over “rough ground” if the helmsman of the said Land Rover is even remotely capable of driving. If this gets published, I guess it is “Goodbye Probox”, not just to yours, but also to all others operating in shadowy ways like yours.

To conclude: much as the veracity and quality of your email is in question, this I can say with confidence: The Probox is not built out of titanium or granite. It will give in eventually if you continue using it like that. There is nothing special about its construction or its engine, it is just a cheap car which is easier to drive flat out compared to something costlier.

Hello JM, Towards the end of last year, the motor vehicle enthusiasts’ fraternity and the fans of the series Fast and Furious suffered a tragic loss following an accident that occurred somewhere in the US.

It cost the life of one Paul Walker (RIP) and a colleague of his. More importantly though, is that he and his colleague were driving a Porsche Carrera GT, V10 engine capable of churning out around 600hp even though it is a 2005 model.

I have read some reviews online and some imply that the vehicle is quite aggressive and would require expert skill and experience. Do you have any idea what it feels like sitting behind the wheel of such a beautiful monster, plus I thought these kinds of vehicles (really powerful vehicles since there were those who believe that the particular Porsche in this case was modified to produce more power) have magnificent braking systems?

Regards.

RM

Hello,

Paul Walker’s demise was a shock to many, yours truly included, and very untimely: it came while filming of the seventh Fast and Furious movie was still under way. It is particularly galling, given that Paul Walker was a real-life motoring and racing enthusiast who owned a selection of potent and interesting motor vehicles, up to and including, but not limited to, a BNR34 Nissan Skyline GTR (the exact same car used in the 2 Fast 2 Furious film opening sequence) and a V8-powered Volvo station wagon.

The car that killed him is aggressive and difficult to drive. It takes a lot of skill to push it, and not many people can get anywhere near its limits. Theories abound as to what actually happened, and they vary from speeding (widely dismissed by on-the-ground witnesses), to street racing (also widely dismissed, though there was a yellow Honda S2000 on the scene immediately after the crash, the occupants of the Honda say they were going about their own business and were there to rescue any survivors), to avoidance of yet another accident, to the most absurd-sounding: that the man was murdered. I am not a CSI agent, so let us leave it at that.

I have sat behind the wheel of similar fare, literally sitting, but when it comes to driving, the farthest up the ladder I have reached is a 2012 R35 Nissan GTR. Its performance parameters compare thus to the Carrera GT’s: Power is 542bhp compared to the Porsche’s 620. Acceleration: the Nissan takes an otherworldly 2.8 seconds to clock 100 km/h from rest, while the Porsche takes about 3.5. Top speed of the Nissan is about 318 km/h, the Porsche pushes matters to the scary side of 330 km/h.

Whether or not the red Carrera GT was modified is moot: even in stock, factory-spec condition, that car tries the abilities of anyone who dares drive it. The Nissan’s abilities look quite similar (and superior in some cases) on paper, but the Nissan is harder to crash because it uses many computers to achieve stability and it has a very complicated 4WD system.

The Porsche is RWD and the last of the purpose-built no-frills supercars. The chips in the Nissan will intervene in the event of loss of directional stability, but even before that, they ensure that loss of grip does not occur in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Porsche will show you up for the driver you are, and the outcome is you will see God. Even BBC Top Gear’s anonymous race driver (The Stig), arguably one of the world’s most capable drivers, spun the Carrera GT several times before completing a full lap in it. That is how “dangerous” the Carrera GT can get.

The Porsche can get dangerous, but it is not dangerous. Advanced aerodynamics (including the deployment of the rear wing once a certain speed-110 km/h- is reached), a very low centre of gravity, even weight distribution, top-tier braking ability (100 km/h – 0 in 31m only) and fat tyres make for a stable and very fast car in the right hands.

The question is: was Paul Walker’s friend and business partner that much less of a driver? No. He and Walker both had racing experience, and their joint business interest dealt in vehicles of that calibre. Clearly, they knew how to drive these vehicles, and doing abnormally high speeds in a restricted zone in a flashy car would just be asking for unwanted attention from the authorities. Were they speeding? I don’t know. Does the Carrera GT require advanced driving skills to push hard? Yes. Is the Carrera GT dangerous? No.

RIP Paul Walker.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a Japanese import car to buy. I have a question, though. How do I know if the vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with? I learnt from a car importer that odometeters are tampered with in Mombasa, then the vehicles are advertised as having low milage. Is there a definitive way to tell what the actual mileage is? Thanks

NK

Well, there are ways of checking this:

1. Examine the odometer. Cars do an average of 20,000km per year. Use that against the age of the car. If the figure comes up short, get suspicious. Look closely at the numbers in cluster. For some analogue systems, a white space instead of a black space between the digits means the system has been tampered with. For some digital systems, interference with the mileage causes an asterisk to appear next to the readout.

2. Ask for FSH (full service history). Use the number of services against the service intervals to calculate a ballpark figure of the vehicle’s actual mileage.

3. Look for missing screws on or near the dashboard.

4. Check the pedals and floor mats. If they are shiny and/or worn out, that is a car that has seen many miles.

5. Inspect the vehicle for wear and tear. It should be consistent with the alleged mileage.

6. Check the tyre tread depth. Some people may roll back the od,o but their subterfuge may not be elaborate enough to get rid of such telltale evidence. Or the tyres might be too new for the indicated mileage, while the indicated mileage, might not being high enough to warrant a change of tyres.

Dear Baraza,I have a Nissan Navara  DCI D40 model Ex UK year 2006 and would like your professional opinion on what engine oil I should use. Currently, it is being serviced at D T DOBIE  and they are using normal oil 15w 40 but a friend of mine recently advised me to switch to full synthetic oil 5w 40 if I want a longer engine life for this vehicle. What’s your take on this?Kind Regards, Appi

What does the vehicle handbook/manual say?

Tell your friend to sod off. Unless the oil s/he is talking about is cheaper than yours, then s/he doesn’t have a valid point to make. The 15W 40 oil means the viscosity index is 40 for normal conditions, and 15 for winter conditions. The 5W 40 means a VI of 40 for normal conditions and 5 for winter.

We don’t have any winter here, do we? No. So we have no interest in the winter rating for the oil. It follows that the two of you are discussing the same bloody oil: one with a viscosity index of 40. If, for the sake of argument, we had winter, then “your” oil would be better than “theirs” due to the higher winter VI. So, again, tell your friend to sod off.

Mr Baraza JM,

I wish to thank you for the good work you are doing, educating us on various issues touching on different types of motor vehicles and motoring in general every Wednesday. I would like you to compare and guide me on which the better vehicle is between a Mitsubishi Outlander and a Rav 4, each of 2400cc or thereabouts in terms of:

Safety of passengers

Fuel efficiency

Availability of spares and cost thereof

Comfort on and off road.

Kind regards,

Stephen

Greetings Stephen,

I wish you had been more specific about the vintage of the vehicles in question. Factors like safety ratings and fuel economy tend to vary quite a lot from generation to generation. For your query, I will assume a 2007 car.

1. Passenger Safety: Interesting result here. The RAV4 scores 4 stars out of 5 for the UCSR (Used Car Safety Rating) while the Outlander scores the full 5 out of 5.

2. Fuel Economy: Again another interesting result. The RAV4 does 9.3 km/l while the Outlander out-teetotals it at 10.5km/l.

3. Spares: these vary widely in availability and cost, depending on where you look and who you ask. But trust Toyota parts to be widespread, though they may not necessarily be “cheap”
Comfort: broadly similar all round.

Posted on

Why cars made in the ’80s and ’90s will outlive the ’00s by far

Hi Baraza,

In the past two weeks, I have driven down to Nakuru three times, every time using a different car, namely a 2003 Toyota Kluger, a 2007 Toyota Premio, and a 1991 Mercedes Benz 190E.

By quite a distance, the 190E was the most comfortable and most stable. Older Volvos and Mercedes’ seem way more reliable than modern-day equivalents and also better cars than, say, a 2007 Premio. Do you agree with the saying that the golden age of motoring was the ’80s and early ’90s?

Pete.

It depends on one’s perspective. But in a way, yes, the ’80s and early ’90s were some of the best years in motoring.

This was the era when Formula 1 cars were turbocharged and did close to 1,500hp with few yawn-inducing rules and regulations to try and “balance the field” and ensure “close racing”.

This was the era of Group B in rallying, undeniably the most spectacular aspect of the sport.

Unfortunately, it is also the one with the highest rate of fatalities for both drivers and spectators.

The innovations of this time led to the current turbo 4WD cars on our roads.

This was the same era when the 200mph (322 km/h) mark was crossed by a production car — the Porsche 959 — also the shortest-lived fastest production car record ever.

The Porsche was unseated by the Ferrari F40 within a few short months by a mere 1mph (1.6 km/h). You do not get excitement like this nowadays.

The marvel was not limited to the rarefied atmosphere of race cars and limited-production, horribly expensive supercars.

This was also the era of the over-engineered Mercedes: Cars like the Addams Family dragster (the extra-long and extra-menacing W126), the Berlin Taxi (the ubiquitous W124) and what Top Gear and/or racer Martin Brundle called “the slowest sports sedan ever made”, the 190E.

These are cars that cannot and will not break, so they will last forever.

Their popularity and desirability are about to peak, so getting one now would be paramount for a collector before clean examples run out of stock.

The ’80s also saw the swan song of many small rear-drive Japanese saloon cars (Toyota Corolla, Nissan Bluebird, etc) with many of these going for an FF format, and thus becoming boring white goods for faceless, entry-level employees.

This was also the last time engineers had “free reign” to create a car exactly the way they wanted it.

From the ’90s onwards, things like emissions control and safety standards have steadfastly turned cars into heavy, ugly, self-driving, aluminium-and-plastic, lawsuit-perpetrating, smugness-generating cocoons in which people hide from the outside world while tapping away at heavy, ugly, think-for-you, plastic-and-glass, smugness-generating electronic devices while their cars’ electronic brains do their damnedest to overcome the nearly-fatal incompetence of the idiot behind the wheel through a variety of driver aids and a veritable battery of sensors and chips.

Gosh! The ’80s and early ’90s saw the last of the real driver’s cars!

Hi Baraza,

I currently own a 2013 Audi Q5 which I use here in the UK and plan to ship to Kenya next year when I relocate.

I have read an article regarding the DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) and have come to the conclusion that I will need to remove this and reprogramme the ECU before I send the vehicle to Kenya.

There are a lot of companies here in the UK that offer DPF removal (physically remove the DPF, add in a stainless steel pipe to connect the exhaust and reprogramme the ECU properly).

My question is, once I arrive in Kenya with the car and I need the ECU reprogrammed or anything else, is there anyone able to repair or update the ECU?

How much do they charge, approximately? Also, the car has something called Adblue. Is this available in Kenya? Any help would be great.

Pinal.

Hello Pinal,

ECU reprogramming is available now from a variety of individuals here in Kenya.

What they charge is entirely up to them; their rates vary so it is not easy to get a ballpark figure.

Adblue may not be readily available in Kenya, but that does not mean you cannot get it. A lot of people nowadays do to-order imports of spares and consummables rather than bulk importation and praying for a ready market.

What they do is take orders from different people until they have enough to fill a container, after which they go in search of the materials to import.

This would make more sense rather than importing a whole container of Adblue and discovering that only one person back here is interested.

These are the folks you need to get in touch with. They are all over the internet.

Hi Baraza,

I am a frequent reader of your column and love the advice you give on various issues.

I have a 2005 Toyota Harrier 240G and have the following questions regarding the car:

1. Does it come with a traction control function? If so, where is the button located?

2. I recently saw a VSC light on the speed gauge and was wondering what it was and what it does.

3. Could you also compare the Harrier with a Mark X 250G in terms of speed and performance?

3. It has a Japanese-language radio (Eclipse AVN 7705HD) and I was wondering if you have a list of translators who could help me since it seems the previous owners (the Japanese) already set it up to their preferences.

Thanks,

Kefahngwei

1. Yes, the car comes with a form of traction control programmed into it.

Do you want to turn it off? I strongly advise you not to because the car will become unpredictable and difficult to drive in slippery conditions.

I am not sure where the button to disengage the traction control is, but in most Toyota cars, it is found to the left of and slightly below the steering column.

However, in some models, especially those that are the same as Lexus, the VSC cannot be turned off.

The Harrier just happens to be such a model (it is also the Lexus RX), as are the Altezza (Lexus IS), Aristo (Lexus GS), and Crown (Lexus LS/ES). Therefore, there is no button to turn it off.

2. VSC is Vehicle Stability Control and it is what you were asking about in Question 1 above. The stability and traction controls are controlled together in some cars, of which this is one. In other cars, especially German ones, the stability and traction controls are (dis)engaged separately.

3. The Mark X is superior in both terms.

4. Unfortunately, I do not have such a list right now.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your wonderful insight and advice through this column.

I would like to purchase a four-wheel-drive car that will enable me to see Kenya when I retire soon.

Touring the country has been my dream for a long time and I need a strong vehicle that will take me into the deep interiors of our lovely nation any time of the year.

I am attracted to the Land Rover Defender 110, but would like to know more about it and other equally good 4WDs.

Does the Toyota Hilux Surf fit in this category? What about cost of maintenance due to the wear and tear that will arise?

Which tops the list among the Toyota Landcruiser Prado, the ordinary Landcruiser station wagon, and the Defender 110 in terms of 4WD capability?

Thanks,

Joshua.

Hello Joshua,

The Defender you mention perfectly fits the bill of the requirements you demand from your next car: It is a strong vehicle that will take you into deep interiors at any time of the year.

However, something in your question begs the warning; Not so fast!

You say you will be retiring soon. So you are approaching senior citizen status.

Well, Sir, the Defender will be quite a cross to bear owing to its suspension.

It is the hardest, stiffest assembly I have come across in any car bar none (except maybe a go-kart, which has no suspension at all).

Now that you want to go into “deep interiors” — by which I take it you mean to rush in where goats fear to tread — then you may need another car that will take it easier on your senior citizen spine.

Either that or change the settings and components of the 110 to something more forgiving.

The Land Rover Defender is not comfortable on tarmac and off-road, it will try you physically and emotionally as you bounce repeatedly off the pain barrier.

I think that is why policemen are always in a bad mood. They are forced to ride in Land Rover Defenders all day.

The Hilux Surf (nowadays it is just called a Surf, they dropped the Hilux prenom. Other markets call it the 4Runner) also fits in this category.

It has the full off-road running gear, ample clearance, low-range gearbox, 4WD transfer case, and diff-locks, but in extreme conditions, the Defender will keep going long after the Surf has given up.

This is due to the longer wheelbase length, longer rear overhang, and sometimes-there-sometimes-not subtle body kit present on the Surf.

They are all impediments to progress once you are off the beaten path.

The Defender also has more clearance.

Take heart though; by the time you notice the difference in abilities between the two SUVs, it will be less of driving and more of trying to survive. I doubt you will end up in such a situation.

Cost of repairs and maintenance are not horrendous for the Land Rover. It was designed to be rugged and simplistic intentionally.

Bush remedies are supposed to work and body damage is easily fixed because the aluminium panels are easy to remove/panel-beat/replace, even in the jungle.

However, the current Defender comes with a lot of electronic systems in it which has raised eyebrows among pundits as to whether or not its “simplistic” nature still applies.

The difference between the Landcruiser Prado, the regular Landcruiser station wagon (the J70, right?) and the Defender 110 in off-road conditions is not that big. The J70 and the Defender are especially hard to distinguish: One will follow the other without white-flagging to a point where the respective drivers will begin to wonder how they will get back to civilisation.

Both are unstoppable off-road in the right hands. The Land Rover’s only letdown will be reliability.

Hello Baraza,

I need a car to use in Nairobi, preferably an off-roader. We have an ex-Posta, 2.8-litre, diesel Daihatsu Rocky.

Is it an economical car for my needs?

Clifton.

Clifton,

An ex-Posta car, you say? Most likely my Daddy drove it at one point or the other. Anyway, that is besides the point.

I was exposed to the 2.8 diesel Daihatsu Rocky for very many years and its economy is, well, impressive.

But then again, it has a high-torque, low-revving diesel engine, so the economy is to be expected. Achieving 10kpl is easy, even more if you are something special behind the wheel.

I, however, do no’t see its point as a city car. A good number of these ex-KPTC/Telkom/Posta Rocky vehicles can be found in Uasin Gishu, where farmers need that diesel torque, high clearance, and 4WD ability due to the intractability of roads not attached to the A104.

A smaller car would be more ideal for city use.

The advantage is that with the tractor of a car that the Rocky is, you are unlikely to get bullied by matatus. So maybe it is ideal for city use, after all.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking forward to acquiring a VW Golf Touran but on checking fuel consumption for different engines, I realised that the 2.0 FSI offers better consumption than 1.6 FSI.

All same year. a) How is that possible? b) What is your take on FSI versus TSI engines in terms of performance, fuel consumption, general reliability and, most importantly, availability and cost of local support?

Both seem to cost nearly the same for same-year models.

Thanks sana,

Mwangi Kiguru.

Greetings Mwangi,

a) Yes, that is very possible. If anything, it is the norm, particularly at highway speeds.

The bigger 2.0-litre unit can effortlessly attain triple-digit velocities while the smaller 1.6 needs to be given a few more beans to keep up.

However, this difference is not big and is only more noticeable when there is a bigger percentage disparity in engine capacity and in smaller engines such as when comparing a 1.0 litre against a 1.5 or a 1.6.

b) The engines are very similar, though the technologies are slightly different.

Performance and general reliability are almost the same, as are the economy (which is good) and availability and cost of local support (which is shaky, I should point out).

The reason for the TSI and FSI techs are an attempt to meet and beat emissions regulations by optimising efficiency efficiently… if you get what I mean.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks to your column I can now almost beat my husband on motoring issues.

I even store your works in a special cabinet for future reviews! Straight to the point; I drive a Toyota Vanguard which has worked fantastically for me so far.

My husband suggests that it is time I let it go and chose something else (which he has already picked).

His view is that I should get an Isuzu Bighorn or a Mitsubishi Pajero, and that I may go for turbocharged or supercharged versions of these.

Now, Baraza, my wish is to change to a Toyota Prado. My questions, ignoring my ignorance, are:

a) How do these cars compare, considering I am always on rough roads?

b) What does “supercharged” mean? At least I know what “turbocharge” is all about.

Thanks,

Mercy.

I am glad I have a dedicated follower in you. Thank you for the compliment. Now, down to work.

a) The three cars are all capable off-road machines, though the Pajero, especially if not locally franchised (think Simba Colt) or tropicalised, may get a touch delicate when things get military.

Your choice of a Prado, therefore, is not bad.

The Bighorn, on the other hand, went out of production quite a while ago and so it is only a matter of time before parts, like hen’s teeth, become hard to come by. They are also few and far between, unlike the Prado and Pajero, which are all over.

b) If you know what turbocharging is, then supercharging should be easy to understand.

It is similar to turbocharging in that it is a means of forced induction. The difference is that a turbocharger’s turbine is driven by the momentum of exhaust gases and this turbine in turn drives the impeller/compressor.

A supercharger’s compressor/impeller is driven by a belt connected to the engine itself.

Posted on

Shopping for an SUV . . .

Jambo Baraza,

Thanks for your informative column. On June 12, 2013, you wrote a piece about SUVs that was quite interesting. I am shopping for an SUV and will appreciate if you could split the Petrol versions of the Toyota Landcruiser VX, Range Rover Vouge, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo CX90 along the following lines: durability, build quality, comfort, luxury, performance, versatility (not too extreme ‘off-load’ adventures), safety standards and resale value.

On tarmac alone, which one would you endorse? Why do Kenyans seems to shy away from the Cayenne and the CX90? Both seem to me as equally good and serious machines. Kindly give your overall rating.

Eric.

These are the results in order of merit. To the left are the superior vehicles, then things get steadily worse down the list:
Durability: Landcruiser VX. Then we have a sizeable gap before we come to the Porsche, then the Volvo. Last is the Range Rover, but this one is hard to tell because, except the VX, all these others have had new versions come out recently, so time has not passed enough to tell who will fall by the wayside. That list is purely based on former models.

Build Quality: The Germans rule. Porsche leads the pack. Then the 2013 Range Rover (L405), which might not make much of a difference because the L322 was also very well built. The VX 200 is third and the Volvo last.

Comfort/Luxury: L405 Range Rover runs this, both in comfort and luxury. The Cayenne is more luxurious than comfortable. The Volvo is more comfortable than luxurious. The VX is a little less of both, unless you opt for the Lexus LX 570 version of this car, which pushes it all the way up to second place from last.

Performance: That Porsche is a killer, if you opt for the Turbo S model. Then comes the Range Rover Supercharged. Then maybe the V8 Volvo XC90, owing to its lower weight, smaller size and road-optimised suspension gubbins, pushing the VX into last position.

Versatility: Nothing beats the VX in terms of versatility, but you specified “not too extreme off-load adventures” (should be off-road, I guess, but then again maybe you did mean off-load, as in sans-luggage). In that case, maybe the XC90 wins it here owing to its seating capacity. The VX has more perches, yes, but there are places where it would look, well, out of place. Like at an inner city party for the well-off. It looks too rugged and too off-roadish. The rest would work too in almost any situation, but the Volvo has more seats

Safety standards: Volvos are the kings of safe. The VX would be most unsafe because it does not use a monocoque chassis like the others, and it is too tall, making it very easy to tip over.

Resale value: The VX retains most of its value over the years. The rest are a tough call to make, but of the lot, the Porsche loses most of its value over the years.

Posted on

The Benz Wagen will go where no Audi Q7 would dare

Hello Baraza,

I drive a Mercedes Benz G Wagen while my husband drives an Audi Q7. We will be in Iten for six weeks, during which I will have to drive 12 kilometres off road every morning down and up the Kerio Valley as I trail him on his running track.

I would like your opinion on which of the two cars to use. I understand that the G Wagen is quite hardcore, but his coach says the Q7 is built on the same platform as his VW Touareg, which also works quite well off road. Could I use the Q7 and save my G Wagen the torture?

Ruthel Owano

Before I answer your question, there are two things I must make clear:

1. How sorry I am for responding to your mail as late as this, but my schedule has been unpredictable for the most part over the past two weeks.

2. How jealous I am of the choices you have to make (some of us have to decide on a bus that is slower but Sh10 cheaper or a faster but more expensive one).

Anyway, addressing your question, how bad is the track that your hubby runs on? My guess is, it is pretty tractable at best and very narrow at worst. This favours the G Wagen. If it is a lunar landscape that your man runs through, again the G Wagen is better suited for it because, compared to a Touareg and/or Q7, the G Wagen’s abilities are superior.

The mister’s coach may drive a Touareg, but let him know his Touareg will never beat a G Wagen when the going gets military.

Also, he was right; the Q7 does share a platform with the Touareg (and the Porsche Cayenne also), but while the Porsche and VW are compact and comparatively light (the key word here is comparatively), the Q7 is a lumbering whale, large on sheer pork and length of wheel base (these two are enemies of motor vehicle dynamics) but short of pulling power (the 3.0 diesel is the sensible car to buy, but the power it develops struggles with all that body weight.

Petrol versions are extremely thirsty, so just look away). However, the Q7 is more comfortable than the Mercedes.

Torture, you say? Thrash the Gelandewagen, and spare the Audi.

Dear Baraza

I have a Range Rover Sporthouse that has a problem with height adjustment. It has fallen on one side and even when I manage to raise it, it does not stay on the same level with the rest of the car. What do you think the problem could be?

Maggie

Your suspension has collapsed, or is leaking. Either way, replace it. It will cost you a tidy sum, but hey, this was to be expected; it is a Range Rover, after all, a luxury SUV. Huge bills come with the territory.

And, just a word: please use the correct names when referring to a vehicle. What is a “Range Rover Sporthouse?” I think you mean “Sport HSE”.

Dear Baraza,
I am a retired MD of a major franchise holder in Kenya. I know a bit about vehicles but I am fascinated by your knowledge of older vehicles, such as the ones I drove in the 1960s.

I have retired to a hi-altitude area with rough roads that require 4WDs and for the past 15 years have had diesels — Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, Nissan Patrol, and Toyota Rav 4. All have done well until overhauls were necessary, after which all have been big trouble.

My question is: Can one buy a new or used vehicle with an air-cooled engine today? The old VW Beetle with 15-inch wheels and rear engine layout was excellent and lasted years. It also negotiated tracks in the wilderness where no other vehicle had ever been at the time.

Peter Barnesi.

You could buy a used vehicle with an air-cooled engine, but not a new one. And you cannot import one either (thanks to an eight-year rule by the government).

The last cars to run air-cooled engines were the VW Type 1 (after a very long production run that lasted up to 2003) and the Porsche 911 (1993 model, went out of production in 1998). Anything else that ran or still runs an air-cooled engine after that is not worth buying, unless it is a motorcycle.

It is still unclear why nobody continues with air-cooled engines, but my guess would be that it is because engines are increasing in complexity, with accessories taking up space that would otherwise be used for channelling air around the cooling fins.

Also, with a water-cooled engine, thermoregulation is easier through the system of thermostats and water pumps. With air-cooled engines, the rate of air flow is more or less the same regardless of engine temperature (even with the use of thermostat-controlled fans, water cooling allows a much larger range of temperatures to be achieved compared to an air-cooled engine).

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for the good work; your articles are very informative. I have a Subaru Legacy B4 twin-turbo which, according to everybody, has a slow knock (there is a knocking sound on the lower right side of the engine) and it also keeps flashing the Check Engine light).

I have been informed that the only remedy is replacing the entire engine. Is there an alternative — for instance, replacing the crankshaft and the arms or whatever component that needs to be replaced to remedy the situation?

The wisdom out there is that it is not sustainable and cost-effective  to fix a Subaru engine. How true is this?

Robert.

Twin-turbo Legacy cars are building quite a reputation for having unreliable engines. A lot of enthusiasts are opting for engine swaps with single-turbo motors (but a Subaru nut being a Subaru nut, they will never backslide into a naturally aspirated situation).

Now, here is the deal: the engine can be repaired, depending on how bad the knock is. However, this does not give you immunity from a repeat occurrence.

You may have to follow in the footsteps of twin-turbo Subaru Legacy owners and change the engine. A common installation into second-mill Legacy cars is usually the engine from the Impreza WRX STi.

Thanks for all the help you give. I want to buy my first car but I am not sure which one to go for. Please advise based on the following.

1. I am in business, so I need a car that can carry a bit of luggage.

2. Fuel economy, availability of spares, resale value, and not very expensive because my budget is tight.

3. I also need a car I can use for other activities apart from business.

Damaris.

Well, in tune with the sheer vagueness of your question, my answers may not be to your liking, but hey, I am just answering the question as I see it. Let the suggestions in brackets guide you as to how more detailed answers can be arrived at:

1. A business vehicle that can carry a bit of luggage is usually a pick-up… or a van. (Please specify size and weight of said luggage. A bit of luggage could be a few travelling bags, or a few bags of cement, or a few electricity poles… it really depends on perspective).

2. For fuel economy, make that a diesel-powered pick-up, preferably without a turbocharger, although it will be slow, unrefined, and noisy as a result. For availability of spares, go Japanese.

3. If you want a good resale value, you can rarely go wrong with a Hilux, but then again, you say “not very expensive”. A Hilux is costly in comparison to rivals. (You could also get an economical petrol-powered pick-up, but this would have a 1300cc or 1500cc engine, hence a small payload, and this brings us back to one above: What luggage? A small pick-up can only carry so many bags of cement).

3. A car for other activities other than business? A double-cab pickup… it is versatile — being an SUV, an estate car, and a pick-up all-in-one (I am not sure I want to know these “other activities” but I stand by my answer here. Double-cabs really ARE versatile, as are vans. And estate cars. But mostly double-cabs).

Hi,

Thank you for your informative article. I am planning to buy my first car and my mind is stuck on a Toyota Mark X. I would, therefore, like to know more about this car in terms of fuel economy, off-road and on-road performance, spare parts availability, resale value, build quality, and the market price for a new Mark X and a second-hand one.

Nelly B.

Allow me to tell you that your expectations and your dream car may not agree on very many fronts. Here is why:

Fuel economy: Nobody asks this question, ever, unless they are afraid of pumpside bills. The Mark X is a good generator of those. Town-bound manoeuvres will see economy (ironical term, this) figures of less than seven kilometres per litre (kpl).

If you drive like other women I have seen in Mark Xs, expect 5kpl per litre, or even less. Highway driving will yield 12kpl at best (this is with a lot of effort. Nine or 10kpl should be the norm). These figures apply to the more common 250G vehicle with a 2.5 litre 6-cylinder engine.

There is one with a 3.0 litre engine and a supercharger that develops 316 hp that should be a real beauty… own one and you will always walk away whenever discussions about fuel economy come up. Either walk away or chip in using colourful PG-13 language.

Off-road performance: As a woman, I would like for you to explain to me one thing about the Mark X’s appearance that says “off-road” on any level. Name just one thing.

On-road performance: It is actually quite good when on tarmac. It is quick (and thirsty: the quicker you go the thirstier it gets), it handles well, it is sort of comfortable… I say sort of because it looks like some sort of aggressive Lexus that was relegated into a Toyota, but the ride, while good, does not quite amount to a Lexus. Also, it is a bit understeery owing to the soft suspension, but when you turn the VDC off, it will drift, as I was informed by one of my well-meaning readers. It will drift everywhere in this rainy season. Do not turn the VDC off.

Spare parts availability: There is such a place as Japan, where you can order your spares from if the shops here do not have them. Also Dubai, according to yet another of my well-meaning readers, where a set of injectors costs Sh60,000 (Sh10,000 per injector, and there are six of them). I do not know if this includes shipping. To avoid finding out, only buy fuel from reputable sources and run on Shell’s V-Power at least once a month. Among other things (maintenance-wise).

Resale value: Interesting question this, as I was having a discussion with a colleague over the weekend about how much a second-hand (Kenyan) Mark X would cost. He reckons one can get one for less than a million. I seriously doubt it unless the car, one, has very many kilometress on it or, two, is broken. But then again, Kenya has a fickle second-hand car market. Ask anyone who imported a Mitsubishi Galant about nine or 10 years ago how much they eventually sold it for. Ignore the insults that will be offered in response to that question.

Build quality: Very good. But not excellent. German cars have excellent build quality. The Mark X achieves, let us say, 85 per cent of that build quality.

Market price: Interesting results I got here. Autobazaar.co.ke tells me I can get a 2006, 250G for Sh1.3 million (Mombasa), Sh1.38 million (Mombasa also) or Sh1.65 million (Nairobi). Then, on the same page is a person selling a 2007 model model for Sh3.4 million (Nairobbery, in no uncertain terms), though to be fair to the seller, this one is a 3.0-litre, and I am guessing supercharged. I strongly suspect potato vines may grow inside the engine bay of that car before he gets someone who would rather walk away from a Mercedes E Class (2006) in favour of a Toyota for the same money.

A 2006 Toyota Mark X from Japan will cost just about $5,600 (Sh478,800) before you start paying for shipping and insurance. Then your car gets to the port and KRA doubles that figure with some change on top for good measure.

A brand new Mark X from Japan costs somewhere between $36,000 (Sh3.07 million) for a 2.5-litre and $50,000 (Sh4.3 million) for a 3.5-litre. The KRA thing and the shipping costs apply here also.

Baraza,

You keep saying if one cannot find spare parts locally, one should just Google them, but how safe is online payment? How easy is it to bring the parts over, and are courier costs not prohibitive? Once I needed a book from the US and courier cost was so high it could have bought me many more books.

Philip.

Now that is the downside of buying cars that were not meant for us. I doubt if even spares are the scary part; imagine a DIY motor vehicle import only to discover that you are dealing with fraudsters.

It is the life we chose, and those are some of the consequences. An alternative to the Googling would be for the reader to ask one of the shops that sells spares to do the importation for him/her, but picture my position: once I say that, the next request from the curious reader would be: “Point me towards such a shop.”

This will be followed by many shopkeepers falling over themselves trying to get me to endorse them on my page, and when I do, invariably one of them is going to run off with the reader’s money, overcharge the poor fellow, or sell him substandard products.

Outcome? An angry reader filing a police case about how I set them up with gangsters and/or con men, and three years of hard work goes down the drain just like that.

This is the exact same reason I rarely endorse any particular non-franchised garage over another. The one or two I may have mentioned have proprietors who are personally known to me, or are the only specialists in a particular field, so even if the reader was to do his own research he would still end up at the same place.

So, as far as I am concerned, I stand by my word: if the motor vehicle spares cannot be found in any shop, the Internet will be of more help, not me.

Posted on

The Forester is okay off-road, just don’t follow a Defender

Hi Baraza,

I currently own a Toyota Allion A18 and would like to upgrade to a Forester X20, the non-turbo version. I would like you to compare the two in terms of the following:

1. Fuel consumption.

2. Cost of maintenance.

3. Resale value.

Lastly, how hardy is the Forester for off-road use in respect to ground clearance and performance?

Omondi

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1. The Allion is more economical. No contest.

2. Again, the Allion may be cheaper to maintain.

3. The Forester costs more when new and is a cross-over utility, so it has a higher resale value.

The Allion tends to depreciate badly if used hard.

Off-road, the Forester is good in those respects. Just don’t follow a Land Rover Defender everywhere, you might end up in the clag and unable to come out.

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Baraza,

Please tell me more about Suzukis, especially the Samurai and Jimny models, in terms of fuel efficiency, stability and off-road nature.

I am planning to buy one for use both at the office and managing businesses in the village.

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Samurai and Jimny are a pair of hard-to-love cars that are, frankly, pretty outdated.

Fuel efficiency is good, but could be better with improved aerodynamics. Stability is very poor in both; falling over is very easy.

They are mean off-roaders: back when the Porsche Cayenne was new, it got its face pushed in by a Jimny in a tough off-road challenge.

Bear in mind that one Cayenne, particularly the Turbo, will cost you almost 15 Jimnys.

Where in God’s name are your office and village businesses located to warrant the use of a Jimny?

It is like saying “I bought a Defender to take my kids to school”.

The natural reaction would be; “Do your kids go to school in the Grand Canyon or the middle of the Sahara?”

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Hi,

I have a question that I hope you will address so as to bring some sanity in my home because, as it is now, my wife and I cannot agree on an issue that I consider light but which carries a lot of weight for her.

We have lived in Cyprus for close to 15 years and have decided to come back home.

For this reason, we are taking all our belongings with us apart from one, which is the bone of contention — my wife’s “Smart ForTwo” Cabrio road car.

Now, we happen to visit Nairobi once every year and, for close to ten years now, I have never seen this car on Kenyan roads.

The problem is that my wife seems to have bonded more with this car than she did with me.

She has driven both the first and second (newest) versions of the Smart car, and I must admit that it is a great car to drive.

It has a very light but compact chassis and it grips the road like a spider. It is very firm, spacious (in spite of it’s miniature size), comfortable, fast and very fuel efficient.

I do not know much about cars, but at least I know that the car is manufactured by Mercedes Benz and all parts and servicing is done by Mercedes Benz centres here in Lemesol and worldwide.

But the car is purely made for smooth-road driving and my fear is that it might not be able to handle the rough terrain that is characteristic of Kenyan roads.

I am also wary about the availability of spares and servicing at Mercedes centres in Nairobi. It is because of this that I am trying to convince my wife to sell it and get another car in Nairobi.

But she is adamant that she must have her two-seater toy in Nairobi. I am afraid that we will be looking for a scrap metal dealer soon after we arrive.

Please help, I need to know whether we should ship this car or whether we should just forget about it.

Joe

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Joe, you are right. It is unlikely that the Smart will survive the vagaries of driving on Kenyan roads.

And I seriously doubt if DT Dobie can handle its service and maintenance; it is built by Mercedes yes, but it is made by Swatch, the Swiss watch company.

I believe it uses a turbocharged 600cc three-cylinder engine, right? Where will the spares come from?

If you ding it in a parking lot, you will have to import the replacement panel, possibly from Smart themselves (the GRP bodywork cannot be panel-beaten).

And I doubt if Nairobians are as decent as Cypriots when it comes to driving, so believe me, dents are in the offing once you land here.

I have seen two Smart cars so far in Nairobi, though, but both were Smart ForFours.

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Jambo Baraza,

Kindly advise me on the usability or legal aspects of driving a left-hand vehicle in Kenya.

Mike

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It turns out that importation of LHDs has been kiboshed by our dear government, which throws a spanner into my plans for importing a used Bugatti Veyron.

That is unless the vehicle in question is an “emergency vehicle” (police, fire engine or ambulance).

Maybe I should stick a blue light on the roof of that Veyron.

Legal aspects? None that I know of. I still see LHDs on the road and no one seems to be going after them with lawsuits or charges.

Overtaking on the highway could be a real exercise though, and joining an oblique junction that was made specifically for RHDs will test your skills to the limit.

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JM,

I would like your opinion on something that has been disturbing me for a while now.

I imported a 2003 Toyota Voxy 2.0 two years ago and the car seems to be very thirsty.

1. I went to Mombasa once and used a full tank one way. Coming back, I used another full tank.

In Nairobi, I use Sh700 daily over a 24-kilometre distance, which translates to about 5kpl, yet I avoid traffic.

2. The engine and oil lights usually come on when I’m driving but later disappear.

3. The car is very uncomfortable; you can feel bumps and very small potholes.

I have driven a friend’s Fielder over the same road and it rides smoothly. Again, what could be the problem?

I installed heavy duty Monroe springs but not the shocks since I was told they were in good condition, but nothing changed.

4. The car is on 17 inch, low profile Pirelli tyres (it came with these); might these be affecting comfort?

And what’s the recommended tyre pressure? I use 30psi.

NB: The car does not carry heavy luggage.

Ian

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I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the consumption would be that high, given that you don’t encounter traffic.

Have you topped up the oil? Or replaced it? That should take care of the oil warning light.

If you did so recently, then the oil pressure may be too high.

The ‘check engine’ light might suggest weakening plugs (unlikely) or a faulty MAF sensor that is causing the abnormal consumption, but this would normally show in a diagnosis.

Maybe the ECU cable is loose (I’ve been there before, and somehow this also increased the consumption on my little Starlet to a highly abnormal 6kpl on the highway.

The low profile running gear and heavy duty shocks are responsible for the uncomfortable ride. Live with it or revert to default settings.

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Hi Baraza,

I overhauled my Toyota Surf 3L engine, replacing everything including the pistons, but the vehicle is still over heating.

My mechanic seems to have given up and now suspects that the cylinder head might have a crack or something.

The money I have spent so far is enough to buy a new engine, so I will greatly appreciate your help.

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What kind of overhaul was that in which the mechanic did not notice the cylinder head was cracked?

I am not a mechanic, but I have once overhauled an engine (believe it).

To check for hairline fractures, cracks or fissures, wash or douse the affected part in fine oil (like the type used in old typewriters or sewing machines), wipe it clean with a rag then dust it with French chalk.

The cracks and fissures will stain the chalk owing to the oil still in the cracks. Simple.

Was the head gasket replaced? Are the radiator hoses intact? Does the water pump work? The fans?

Check all these out and therein you will find your answer.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for your excellent motoring articles. Always a good read. Now, I drive a diesel 2002 Isuzu TFR54 pickup (local).

It was previously company branded, and most likely the limited slip differential label at the back has been painted over.

1. So, how do I tell if it has limited slip differential, and what are its benefits over an open diff?

2. I had the engine rebuilt and my conservative calculations indicate 13 kpl.

Is this possible with a 2.5-litre diesel engine? I live 30 km out of town and use it as my daily commute.

3. Is it true that after an engine rebuild it will take time (for lack of a better term) to “open up” and increase in speed and efficiency, could this also be described as a breaking-in period?

Vic

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1. The best way to tell if it has an LSD (not to be confused with the drug) is to try and drift it, but don’t do this, you will roll over and hurt yourself if you have not mastered the art.

And pickups don’t drift easily. Just ask the former owner for the handbook of that particular car. Benefits of an LSD over an open diff include better traction on treacherous surfaces with minimum waste of torque through one tyre spinning.

2. A consumption of 13 kpl is just fine, if anything, you should be proud of it.

3. Yes. The phrase you are looking for is not “open up” but “bedding in”, and yes, this is the breaking in period. It is usually 1,000 km for most Isuzu KB pickups ever since the days of Chev-Luv.

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Baraza,

There is something that has bothered me for a while but the mechanics I have spoken to haven’t been of much help.

The question is: Doesn’t the size of the tyres affect the accuracy of the odometer reading?

Allow me to explain. How does a car measure distance travelled?

I assume that it does this by “counting” the number of tyre revolutions (presumably somewhere around the differential or gearbox).

For instance, if you jack up the car and engage the gear, one of the drive wheels starts spinning and the odometer continues reading mileage “travelled”.

If this is so, then when you change the tyres (for example moving from say 13” to 14” tyres, or from normal to thin-profile tyres of the same radius) then the odometer reading can no longer be accurate since the car does “not know” that you have changed the tyre size.

Since I changed the tyres on my Starlet to bigger ones, I have found that the mileage seems to be understated. For example, a 100km distance now shows, say, 95 km. Am I making any sense?

Karani

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You are making sense, apart from the part where you say different profile tyres of the same radius will give different odometer readings.

Same radius equals same circumference, therefore one tyre revolution will cover the same distance, whether on low profile or high profile tyres, provided the wheel diameter is the same.

And, believe it or not, cars nowadays are so clever they can tell when you are being dodgy.

A tale has it that someone imported an E60 BMW M5 and tried to swap the low profiles (stock on the M5) with “ordinary” high profile tyres suitable for Kenyan roads, and the car simply would not start.

Changing them back put the car back in a good mood and away he went. Interesting.

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Dear Mr Baraza,

Your advice is succinct, your wit unmatched, and you’re quite entertaining. Thank you.

Now, there is something that has baffled me for a while now: Why is it so expensive to import cars into Kenya?

I know that the Government has set the import and excise duties and associated fees… but why so expensive?

It costs twice as much its value to import a car into Kenya. Even second hand cars are double the cost!

Cars in the US and UK are shipped (from Japan, Germany etc) just as cars are shipped to Kenya, yet cars in Kenya cost twice as much the cars in the two countries and many others.

I have tried in vain to contact KRA with this inquiry.

Paul

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Paul, If it is only now that you realise governments tend to rob their people, some more than others, then you have been asleep.

The tax I pay for educating my readers every week was doubled during the last budget; I almost packed up and left for Uganda where I am sure they have no Car Clinic (of this magnitude at least).

I, too, have no idea why we have to pay through our noses for things that have already been used by other people.

I am sure if you asked the economic czars (as cliche-spewing journalism dropouts are wont to call them) like the Finance Minister and Commissioner General of KRA for answers, they will reply with a maze of figures and a verbal soup of phrases that come straight out of a first-year economics lecture.

The end result will be that you will still give unto Caesar what belongs to the Revenue Authority.

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Hi Baraza,

You recently did a great piece on the Peugeot, thank you for that.

I am in love with the Peugeot 407 coupe and I am planning to buy one from the UK. This could be a 2700cc diesel or a 3000cc petrol 2007 automatic.

Can you please give me your take on the pros and cons. I have not seen many on the roads in Nairobi. Are spares readily available?

Philip

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The 406 was a pretty car, and the 406 coupe took the prettiness a step further in a refinement of Pinifarina’s design.

But I am sorry to say the 407 coupe failed to follow this script: while the saloon is a looker, the coupe turned out to be somewhat humdrum.

The reason we buy coupes is that they look good and they make us look good, right?

Performance has also flagged owing to the increased weight from the 406. So buying the diesel is making worse an already bad situation.

———————————-

Hi,

I am planning to buy a used 1999 Volvo S80 sedan. What is its fuel consumption and what do you think of its performance based on the fact that it has covered more that 200,000 km so far?

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If you are buying an S80, then fuel consumption should not be one of your worries, otherwise you don’t belong in the premium compact saloon clique.

But it is not bad, if that is what you are asking. Performance will depend on how well taken care of it has been.

———————————–

Dear Baraza,

I would like some advice on the Toyota Starlet. I am planning to buy one because of my constrained budget — I only have 250K.

I understand there are two types with different engine types, so which is the best and is it a car with low maintenance costs?

Antony

———————————–

What do you mean by different engine types? Diesel vs petrol? Otto cycle vs Miller’s cycle? Reciprocating vs rotary? Two-stroke vs four-stroke?

If it is the internal codes used by Toyota (2ZZ against 4GE and 1JZ or 1KZ and what not) then that depends: Which model of Starlet are you seeking?

I once had a red EP82 with a 4EF engine, which was carried over to the swansong 90 series. Unless you want a 1N diesel (don’t).

Maintenance costs are similar to those of a wheel barrow… it is dirt cheap to run.

Posted on

Yes, it’s that time of the year again

The year is 2011. Mercedes-Benz have as their absolute flagship a sports car: the SL 65 AMG Black Series. Developing 660 hp from a twin-turbo 6.0-litre V12 engine, the thing costs a jaw-dropping £250,000 (Sh37.5 million).

But even this price is nothing compared to the £350,000 (Sh52.5 million) SLR, undercutting the McLaren by the price of a small Ferrari (almost).

Incidentally, the SLR has less horsepower, at 626 (from a 5.5-litre supercharged V8). A case of shooting oneself in the foot, wouldn’t you think? Thankfully (at least for Daimler AG, owners of all things Mercedes), the SLR is no more.

Now, the SL Black, even at this stratospheric price, has flaws: it is very uncomfortable, what with the low profile rubbers and unyielding suspension, and the turning circle of a freight train. Its traction control system makes sure you’ll not be going anywhere at anything close to full throttle (self-defeating in a 660 hp car), and turning it off will cost you another car’s price in tyre bills alone.

And, the SL’s roof does not come off, yet it is based on a car that was a convertible from the very start.

Just in case you are wondering, the answer is no, I have not been driving the Black Series AMG, and this is not a review about it. I have not even seen one in the metal. Yet.

Rewind. The year is 1965. Mercedes-Benz has an SL, but this one is not a Black Series, the particular car is not even black: AMG, the skunk works division within Mercedes, has not even been founded yet. This ’65 drop-head SL (W113 to insiders) has half the number of cylinders the SL Black has, and probably makes about one-fifth of the horsepower.

I doubt if it costs as much either. It is a combination of a lot of things: a convertible, a cabriolet and a spider, but it is not a targa top and yet it is a roadster.

Just in case you are wondering what all those labels mean; it has only two doors and is an open top (cabriolet) whose roof can be stashed away underneath a tonneau cover that lies aft of where the back seats should be.

It also has a detachable pagoda-style hard-top (convertible), which leaves the windows independently “wind-able”. Both can be gotten rid of to yield a spider (à la Fiat, Alfa or Ferrari), but it does not have removable roof sections like Porsche and Honda’s NSX (targa roof). Nor does it have a solid rear roof section or roll-hoops (roadster), though it lacks a fixed roof and side protection. It is called a 230 SL.

Back to the present. Gai Cullen has one — the 230 SL, that is. So who is Gai Cullen? She is a woman, and not one to trifle with either. She happens to have a fleet of armoured vehicles at her disposal, besides the SL, and two vintage motorcycles: a 1960 Triumph Tiger Cub and a Harley-Davidson. She is the chief operative at Wells-Fargo. But I am not here to discuss the lady, let us go back to the Benz, her Benz.

It is blue, what some would call sky-blue, but like with foreign names, I am not good with colours either. It has a 2.3-litre in-line six multi-port fuel-injected engine that swills petrol. Since mass air flow (MAF) sensors had not been invented in 1965, the fuel delivery system on this one is mechanical, and needs constant adjustment depending on the prevailing barometric air pressure.

Miss Cullen has had hers tweaked accordingly. The camber on the wheels looks amusing: the front have positive camber while the rear have negative. The maintenance that has been done (and was still being done when I saw it) is nothing short of spectacular.

Though, it must be said, the fact that the 230 SL was built by a highly motivated clique within the ranks of the finest automotive engineers from the 20th century has plenty to do with its relatively pristine condition.

The car is evocative of TV shows like The Saint and the early James Bond movies; Sean Connery and Roger Moore in other words, though these two gentlemen tended to use the Aston Martin DB4 and Volvo P1800 in their roles as spies. The 230SL got its fifteen minutes under the helmsmanship of one Sophia Loren in an “arabesque”, whatever that is. But you get the point; the car is from that era. Sadly, like the AMG Black, I did not get to drive the 230 SL either.

So what am I on about? Ms Cullen will be bringing her two bikes and the SL drop-top to the Concours D’Elegance this coming Sunday. The event comes hot on the heels of the 2011 Total Motorshow, which ended just ten days ago, and in turn, precedes the Johannesburg show.

This is the time of year when the motoring industry tends to let its hair down and rest on its laurels, reminding itself that it ranks somewhere between religion and Hollywood, and just below football, when it comes to sheer fanaticism. This is the time of year when a good number of new vehicle models are launched (but not 2011), and there is a lot of oohing and aahing. This is the time of year when the automotive industry stops working and starts preening. Maybe.

Besides Cullen’s car and bikes, expect to see a Ferrari, and a red one at that, at the Concours: not the F60 Enzo, not even a 599 or a 458 Italia, but a 308 GT4 from way back in 1974 (and we thus put an end to the dullard: “There are no Ferraris in Kenya” argument that I sometimes get in my mail).

The blatantly phallic (and a major contender for the 20th Century’s most beautiful car) Jaguar E-Type is also expected to make a showing, and I sincerely hope it is a V12. That particular model might have had reliability issues, but Concours is about beauty, not ease of ownership. A 1930 Ford Model A should be putting up an appearance too, and alongside it, expect tears of nostalgia from geriatrics who remember that period as the lull between two World Wars.

The Concours D’Elegance is a worldwide event showcasing vintage cars, but the rules governing it are a bit slack. It literally means “meeting of elegance” in French, or what the Americans like to call frog language.

Conjured up in the 17th (or was it 18th) century, the French nobility and aristocracy would meet in a field to compare chariots to see who had the niftiest ride. Just so you know, these Frenchmen are the self-same chaps who invented motor vehicle suspension as we know it, fitting leaf spring setups on their carriages at a time when horsepower was measured by counting the number of animals tethered to the fronts of their carriages.

In the current age and time, static and rolling dynamometers do all the work, determining power outputs both at the flywheel and at the wheels (incidentally, your typical horse makes roughly two-thirds of one metric horsepower).

An industry joke also pokes fun at how the French also invented front-wheel drive and have adhered to the recipe ever since, but I digress.
Interestingly, in spite of being a car show, the Concours D’Elegance is classified as a form of motorsport, which means it falls under the aegis of the Kenya Motor Sport Foundation (KMSF). It is therefore a competition, and a hotly contested one at that.

If you want to participate, which by now is too late, all you have to do is bring a car, any car, a bike or a truck. If you want to compete, however, there are rules, the first of which is your car needs to be older than I am. Anything newer and you lose points.

The car also has to be in good mechanical and physical health, so rattletraps, jalopies, makeshifts, tumble-downs and rust buckets will be frowned upon. Most importantly, the car has to appear at the event under its own steam; if it arrives under the 17th century French horsepower I have just described, again you lose out.

Just to show you how much love this event receives from anoraks; here are a few things you should know. A sizeable proportion of the competing field is not even Kenyan. And, at this point, allow me to introduce one Roger Pearce, a former motorsport czar in the Republic of South Africa.

He has formed a posse that will be conducting what they call an “African Odyssey”, driving the 12,569-kilometre Cape-to-Cairo trip that many have attempted before, up to and including, but not limited to Mahatma Gandhi himself, God rest his soul. Rather than use internal combustion of fossil fuels in a wheeled automobile, old man Mahatma opted for the two pitons God gave him: his legs. The reasons were political though.

Mr Pearce’s choice of transport up the spine of Africa is not some kitted out SUV, nor is it a plush minivan; he is undertaking the journey by MG, a Magnette sedan, built in 1957.

So here we have a man who will drive an ageing automobile, from Africa’s closest proximity to the South Pole to Africa’s closest capital city in proximity to Europe and the Middle East (you will have to bear with me here, I am taking liberty with geography for the sake of making a point).

And that same ageing car will go up against pampered favourites that may or may not see sunlight once or twice a year. Does Mr. Pearce intend to win? I don’t know, but if he does, well… All I can do is wish him the best. Apparently, the whole “African Odyssey” thing came about from a TV show jolly Roger saw back in 2006; a show about the Kenyan Concours D’Elegance.

There is a lot more that can be said about the vintage car show but let us end it there for now.

Posted on

See you at the motor show

Now, everybody likes to be looked at, especially when the gaze in question is one of approval.

There is nothing quite like the knowledge that one is under the adulating gaze of another; it lends us a sense of worth, a sense of achievement, uniqueness and of being a cut above the rest — you could almost call it near-actualisation.

My favourite target of scrutiny — auto manufacturers — are not immune to this subliminal imposed-and-reflected narcissism that lurks within every one of us, and of all entities, this is one clique that loves to show off.

Hence the creation of the automotive equivalent of a multipurpose catwalk.

They vary in execution, but they all have one uniting factor: they are held expressly to impress the hell out of the general public, increase public relations, show clout and encroach on possible new markets.

The self-importance does not end there. It would be very simple to label these displays as My Car Show and The Other Guys’ Car Show, but no, nomenclature like Auto Salon (as in the Tokyo showpiece where Japanese tuners take their rivalries off the streets and into the hallowed halls of the local host), Autorama (CMC’s brainy name for their bi-annual, self-glorifying reminder that they hold the torch when it comes to sheer size of franchise) and Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (the world-famous Frankfurt Motor Show) gets bandied about.

International standards

Whatever fancy brand these organisers give their respective stationary parades, they all fall under the generic name Motor Show.

There are motor shows and then there are car displays. Motor shows have come to be accepted as the international standard events, usually held over the space of several days at some exclusive locale, and most major car makers dare not shun any of them.

They are held all over the world, showcasing the latest technological and design innovations from each company: be it under-bonnet boffinry, crankshaft-to-tarmac torque deployment systems or the ripping apart of industry rulebooks as was the case of the BMW X6.

Most fall under the aegis of the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles, chief organisers of these events, and there is even a calendar for them.

For instance, the Frankfurt Motor Show is held biennially in Frankfurt, Germany, and the Geneva Auto Salon is held every March in that oft-mentioned city.

These shows are on a grand scale and not just anybody gets to host them.

For starters, we don’t (nobody would want to host a fete this big in a country that is so close to Somalia, but the real reason is that we do not constitute a substantial enough market for any particular car brand to bother spending large sums trying to swing our opinions), but South Africa does, in Johannesburg.

Funny thing with these displays is that, at least for the international ones, it is not just preening and showboating, there is also a good deal of politics and mudslinging that goes on there.

Remember the Porsche vs. Nissan saga I mentioned in the track discussion? This is how it went down. Porsche AG had as their flagship model a 3.8 litre, direct-injected, 6-cylinder, twin-turbo, two-door coupé developing 480 hp and propelled by an elaborate 4WD transmission, the 997 generation 911 Turbo.

Now, Porsche is German, which means its cars could call the Nürburgring home. Along comes one Carlos Ghosn, head honcho at Nissan, with his own 3.8-litre, direct-injected 6-cylinder twin-turbo two-door coupé developing 480 hp and propelled by an elaborate 4WD transmission, the R35 GT-R.

During the launch at the Tokyo Motor Show (different from the Auto Salon), the car’s unveiling was timed to coincide with the end of a video which showed the GT-R poke a hole through the Green Hell in a seven-and-a-half minute blitzkrieg that hugely embarrassed the 911 Turbo, long considered the yardstick against which all sports cars are measured, right in the 911’s own backyard.

Porsche did not take things kindly and threw a wobbly, accusing Nissan of chicanery, which prompted the Japanese firm to send their vehicle out again and post an even better lap time than before. Porsche prudently chose to shut up henceforth.

Still with the politics, sometimes major auto makers could try and influence the economic setup of a given country (yes, they are that arrogant).

Failure of that country’s compliance with the manufacturer’s demands will see the company boycott the local international motor show and threaten closure of its factories, creating job losses, revenue losses and a potential economic crisis. BMW have once tried something similar with the Birmingham Motor Show.

Politics aside, mid-level managers and sales reps can also learn a thing or two. Pacific Rim auto builders also never miss participating in these shows, and they are well aware that their offerings are bland at best and typically offensive eyesores to those obsessed with internal combustion.

To keep things lively, what they do is drape good-looking women all over their shiny metalwork, guaranteeing that men will visit their stand no matter what.

This, however, does not mean we who have no political or economic influence over others do not dabble in our own lower-rung shows, which I will refrain from calling “car gatherings” (they are a little better than that).

Ignoring thematic events like the Concours D’Elegance, the closest thing we have to a world class motor show comes every other September, and goes by the straightforward name of the Total Kenya Motor Show.

Kenya Motor Industry Association (owners) and Total Kenya (sponsors) assert that theirs is the biggest and most comprehensive setup in East and Central Africa, and who is to gainsay that?

I have attended a few of these and they are right: the Total Kenya Motor Show is a meeting point for every serious player in the automotive industry worth his salt.

This, in other words, means that variety is a guarantee, what with franchise holders, parts dealers, body fabricators, garages and other interested parties turning up for the show.

Just to show how seriously Total takes things, two of the stands in the KICC Plenary Hall are going for a cool million plus change each for hire, just for that weekend (9th to 11th September).

And just to show how seriously these folks are taken by the local industry, those two stands have already been spoken for by now.

In yet another of my unpublished works, I did observe that these shows are not only a feast for the eyes and minds of petrolheads and non-petrolheads, but they also provide rich pickings for anthropologists.

It is as much fun, maybe more, observing the “enthusiasts” as it is gawping in stupefaction at the latest cars that we might probably never afford.

People come here to expose how little they know about cars, mouthing off facts that have been fabricated on the spot and quoting vital statistics that only they know about.

This is not limited to guests, sometimes staff also expose their lack of grasp of the subject matter.

I remember in a past show, I came across the just-launched Chevrolet Aveo, and the GM PR team thought it best to post a comely lass at the stand, who chimed:

“This is the new Chevrolet Aveo, the newest entry in the blah blah blah”, right on cue every time a group of would-be buyers appeared.

Just to test the waters, I gave the open bonnet a once-over, pointed at some serpentine mess and quietly asked:

“Are those the fuel lines feeding the injectors or are they spark plug leads?”, to which the answer was a stony glare and a curt bark to the nearest assistant to “please handle this”. Amusing.

Toyota will be there

What should we expect? All major franchises, in a nutshell. Expect Toyota to be there, with a raft of boring saloon cars, their heroic Hilux range and the LandCruiser with two fuel tanks (a filler cap on each side of the vehicle) and the corresponding two fuel gauges in the instrument panel. I have always wondered how these work; are they emptied simultaneously or one at a time?

DT Dobie should also make a showing — whether or not the new Jeep will be there is pure conjecture, but I have one question for them: when do we get the V6 Navara, the 3.0 liter with 240 hp?

The duel with Ford’s Ranger is still unsettled, and there is a new interloper in the field, in the unlikely guise of a Volkswagen Amarok double-cab. (yeah, you read that right, a VW double cab).

Speaking of Fords and VWs, CMC will surely not give the event a miss mainly because they have too many cars to sell and they need the marketing opportunity.

Part of the press blurb for the show went something like this: “Several new makes (not just new models) have entered the Kenya market since the previous show…”

No prizes for guessing, but this has got to be Jaguar, CMC’s latest shelf occupant, and the source of suspicion from some of my readers that I might be part of their PR asset.

Incidentally, I am not, I just think Jaguars are the bees’ knees when it comes to fancy transportation. And before I forget, Bavaria, whither the new 5?

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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.