Posted on

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

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

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

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

Ken

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hi Baraza, 

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

Matata

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

 

Hi JM,

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

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

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

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

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

(i) Durability;

(ii) Repair costs;

(iii) Fuel Consumption;

(iv) Stability control; and;

(v) Comfort. 

David

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hi Baraza,

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

Baba Quinton

 

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

The Forester’s bigger engine and weight make it more costly to run than the Allex

Hi,

I recently bought a second-hand 2006, turbo-charged, 1990cc Subaru Forester LL Bean edition and have noticed a significant change in my budget on fuel (I initially owned a Toyota Allex 2002 with a 1490cc engine).

I knew the larger engine size would consume a bit more but the disparity is sizeable.

Could it have anything to do with the symmetrical AWD feature in the car.

Noting that I drive mostly on rough roads, does engaging the ECO button have any impact on the vehicle’s stability and traction?

Did you expect the disparity not to be sizeable?

Besides the bigger engine, the Forester is a bigger car.

Couple this with the 4WD transmission (whether symmetrical or not doesn’t really make a difference here) and you have weight gains that will most definitely be reflected on your fuel consumption.

Then there is the aerodynamic profile too… I’ve written about this before, haven’t I?

Hi Baraza,

I buy the Wednesday paper just to read your articles on cars.

I want to point out to you that no matter how well you do, there will be people who always see the half-empty glass.

However, there are certain truths that we should accept, for instance, the fact that most Kenyans drive Toyota saloon cars.

We acknowledge that tastes differ, so what you do is tell readers the situation as it is on Kenyan roads.

I long to read nice terms you used some years back to describe cars.

For example, you described the bonnet of a Toyota NZE as looking as if it had been stung by a bee (I drive an NZE), said some car designers seemed to have worked under the influence of forbidden substances, or that the car would be thirsty and drill a hole in a man’s wallet.

What other expressions did you people enjoy? Any readers out there longing for such terms?

Let’s request Baraza to add more flavour….Mike

Roger that, sir. Beginning 2015 — if I am still here — it will be back to the original “nice terms” that I started off with.

You might have noticed a dearth of car reviews in recent days.

This is because of a certain scarcity of road tests that I can’t really explain.

I fear the era of the motoring journalist might be nearing its end, more so when one learns of new car launches from (other people’s) newspaper articles rather than the PR departments of respective brands.

Nowadays, business editors, lifestyle reporters and unknowledgeable bloggers (people who know diddly-squat about cars) get to sit at the automotive launch table while motoring hacks like yours truly are consigned to staring at pictures of the event on Instagram and asking, “When did that happen?”

The best we can hope for now is a memo from the PR ladies, quickly followed by a phone call confirming whether or not their press release will feature in one column or the other.

The answer is usually no. I find it hard to report on a car I have not driven.

These are subtle hints that we might have reached the end of our usefulness.

The end may be near, but it is not here yet. In the meantime, let us see what we can put together…

Dear Baraza,

I am a computer science lecturer at Chuka University.

I want to start by appreciating the good work you do educating our motorists.

Indeed, information is power and I believe your advice not only helps people make informed decisions regarding cars, but also save lives on our roads.

Keep up the fantastic work!

To my issues:

1. Car fuels: I have noted that whenever I refuel my car at some filling stations, mainly in the suburbs or some highways, its picking or accelerating pace slows down.

When I fuel at Total petrol stations, there is huge difference in performance.

I know you will advise me to be fuelling there but I would like to know the reason for the difference.

What is so special about Shell FuelSave petroleum, which they spend so much advertising, yet I have not noted any difference.

There is a brand of fuel from Shell known as V-Power, what on earth is that? It’s very expensive yet I did not notice any difference in my car. Or is it that my car has a problem?

2. There is a time you indicated that the performance of new Mercedes cars is coming down to about 12km per litre.

I would like to know which specific type and model and how much it costs.

3. Finally, thanks a lot for your article on Peugeot 504s and other ’70 cars and their ever ageing owners.

These guys, some of them professors, I am sorry to say, think that other cars are too useless to be on our roads. I hope they learn to grow with technology.

Another thing: the Nation should not hide your article inside the paper.

I always have to pull out and toss Living magazine aside in order to enjoy your articles without interruption.

Hello Charles,

I would have suggested to the bean counters at Nation Media to do away with Living magazine in your favour but the people who write, edit, print, publish, distribute and sell this Living magazine also have to make a living (see what I did there?).

The magazine also has fans just like Car Clinic does, and I am not going to enter into a contest to see who can spit the furthest, so just grin and bear it.

Anyway, 1. The slow picking/acceleration might be due to the fuel being adulterated and thus suffering erratic combustion properties, or the octane rating is too low so to prevent pinging/detonation, the ECU retards the ignition timing as far back as it possibly can, which in turn affects the revving characteristics and power outputs of the engine.

I have a colleague who has been quietly doing tests on various fuels from various forecourts and his results make for grim reading.

Some stations offer water adulterated with a hint of petrol in it (if you get my drift), others offer muddy sediment and well… our octane ratings are so low, even for the “high-octane fuels”, that what we call premium over here might as well be bathwater for those who know what proper high-octane fuel is.

I’ll see if I can steal those results and make them public.

That Shell FuelSave is like “V Power with added Aromat”, for lack of a better description.

I don’t know what exactly they put in it but Shell claims it improves fuel economy by optimising combustion and thus maximising on the energy transfers that define the four-stroke cycle.

Shell V Power is high-octane fuel (relatively, and I do mean relatively) with cleaning agents in it.

I haven’t tried the FuelSave (with a 1500cc car capable of returning 18km/l on regular driving, I am two steps away from having the consumption figures of an unused bicycle), but I have tried V Power several times and well… I didn’t notice any difference either.

I still use it, though; my engine purrs like new and who knows, it might be the cleansing powers of V Power behind it.

2. Pick any model of Mercedes and if properly driven, it will do 10-12 km/l… yes, even the AMGs. The latest CL65 AMG is a monster of a car, packing a 604hp 6.0 litre twin-turbo V12 engine, but Mercedes say it will do 12 km/l without resorting to desperate tactics.

I guess they mean when shuttling slowly (two miles an hour so everybody sees you) from the driveways of well-off people to the driveways of other well-off people.

Bring that AMG to the Kiamburing Time Trial and 12km/l will be something that you only read about in the brochures of plebeian vehicle models.

3. You are most welcome. When I err…. “slandered” the 504 (somewhat, I once had a Peugeot too), a reader was disappointed and asked me to try again, this time with a Volkswagen Type 2 bus and I was not kind to it either.

Now the VW Owners Club might have put out a contract on my head, if rumours are to be believed.

That aside, classic cars are an acquired taste and provide joy to some (mostly grease monkeys) while at the same time suffer derision from the PlayStation generation.

If I spot a well-kept Peugeot 404, I’d nod quietly to myself and be glad that there exists a motoring enthusiast out there with passion for the past.

Those who found more than one TV station on air at birth will look at it and ask why it is so slow, where the air-conditioning is and how come there is no letter at the end of the registration number.

Dear Baraza,

1.  Internal combustion engines give off lots of heat. Considerable effort and resources are actually spent cooling them.

Cooling systems take up space and make the cars heavier, etc. It seems to me there are lots of inefficiencies here.

It appears that it would make sense to somehow convert more of that heat energy to boost the propulsion of the vehicle instead of concentrating on just refining ways of losing the said heat to the environment.

To your knowledge and in your estimation, has there been exhaustive research in this area?

2.  The average car is equipped with a 12-volt battery and a generator (alternator).

Noting that for most cars I know, the alternator is always working, I expect that, as a result, it produces much more electricity than the car will ever require.

Does this not lend some credence to the concept of “hybrids’”, perhaps even the “loathsome” Prius?

Jeijii

1. Yes, the internal combustion engine is a paragon of inefficiency, barely cracking 40 per cent.

This is just about as far as it will go, for the engine itself.

Further losses occur in the transmission and drivetrain, which is why one type of hybrid involves the use of the engine as a generator rather than a source of tractive power.

There are fewer losses that way.

The heat dissipated from the engine is primarily a result of friction, and more often than not, this heat is radiated away from exposed parts, absorbed by convection where the cooling system can reach, and dissipated by conduction where heat shields are attached.

Your theorem sounds attractive: instead of wasting this heat, could it not be put to good use? Well, a) some of it does get put to good use, such as in declogging the catalytic convertor/diesel particulate filter (DPF) and in warming up the interior of the car b) there is one small problem, and that is how to trap this heat.

Of all energy forms, heat is the most dynamic and the most easily lost.

You will have to do a lot of capturing if you are to acquire any useable energy from heat, and while doing this capturing, some of it will be escaping.

Then where will you store this heat as you wait for it to accumulate to useful levels?

Lastly, heat being very dynamic, is more often than not the last form of energy before dissipation: it is easy to convert other energy forms into heat, but the reverse is not necessarily true without involving elaborate equipment.

Where will this equipment be stored?

Won’t you be making the car even heavier and more complicated?

Most of the research has been focused on minimising heat losses rather than trapping the heat itself.

Petrol inside your tank is chemical energy. When oxidised (combustion), it explodes, which means this chemical energy has now been transformed into various other energy forms: light energy (the flash of the explosion), sound energy (the “boom” of the explosion) and heat energy.

Light and sound are mostly wasted, though, through sound deadening and the use of non-reverberating materials, the sound waves can fail to be absorbed and become kinetic energy.

The heat energy is what is desired here; it causes a rapid expansion of air, and this rapid expansion results in motion of air particles: kinetic energy.

The kinetic energy of air molecules is then transferred by impact to the piston crown, and this energy forces the piston downwards and from here I think you know the rest… the end result is the engine rotates and eventually the vehicle moves.

The cooling system is designed to do away with heat from friction, and this heat can get to very high levels owing to piston speeds (in high performance engines like the E46 BMW M3’s, piston speeds can reach up to 87ft/s, which is quite high)

2. When you run out of fuel in your ordinary car, the car will not run on the battery, will it?

Posted on

Here, a lesson or two on best gear engagement for fuel economy

Hi Baraza,

I own a Suzuki Escudo with automatic transmission. I have been driving with the selector on “4H” during normal driving.

Recently, a friend advised that I should drive on “N” for better fuel consumption. The car feels lighter, but there is an intermittent whining sound and some letters (“N” and “4L”) appearing on the dashboard, also intermittently.

So, I re-engage 4H for fear of damaging the transmission system. Please advise me on the best gear engagement for fuel economy.

BJ

Wait a minute; are the gear positions only 4H, 4L and N? That’s odd. There should be 2H also, which is the recommended setting for ordinary driving. This is what those letters mean:

4H stands for 4-High, which basically means 4WD is engaged, but the transmission is in High range. This gives normal driving speeds. This setting is for use where one or more tyres are losing traction but speed is not an issue, such as on flat ground with a thin and slippery, muddy layer on top. It will keep the car moving even while suffering wheels pin, and will prevent skidding (up to a point).

In a car with selectable 4WD, it is not recommended for regular use, especially on tarmac, as it is heavy on the fuel and the car is difficult to turn (there is a tendency to go in a straight line). Extended use of 4H also wears down the transmission. Use only when necessary.

4L (4-Low): This means 4WD is on and the transmission is in low range. The least used 4WD setting for most drivers, 4L is intended for extreme conditions, where speed is undesirable and might actually lead to disaster. Such conditions include descending steep slopes, crawling over rocks or over terrain so twisted and gnarled that one or more wheels catch air every now and then.

The extremely slow speeds might cause the engine to stall in normal transmission settings, which is where the low range comes in. It allows high engine speeds with low road speeds.

The low range also multiplies torque and allows the car to crawl up inclines of high aspect ratios, which normal cars cannot tackle. In most cases, the diffs are locked by default when 4L is engaged.

2H (2-High): 4WD is disengaged and the car is on 2WD. This is the setting for normal, day-to-day use on regular road surfaces. It eases up the rolling resistance offered by the transmission weight, thus boosting performance and fuel economy. The car also steers easily since the workload on the steering wheels is reduced.

N: This has to be neutral. It works more or less the same as neutral in the primary gearbox. It disconnects both front and rear driveshafts, allowing the engine to be used for other purposes by means of a power take-off (PTO) shaft.

This is mostly old technology; most new 4x4s don’t come with PTOs, which in turn means some might not have the N position, especially for those using an electronic switch to engage/disengage 4WD rather than the traditional gear lever on the floor of the car.

This now begs the question: How was your car operating on N (neutral)? This is my surmise: your car uses the gear lever on the floor rather than the rotary switch found on new Escudos.

In trying to select N, you might have “partially” engaged 4L, which means that the gears are not meshed properly. This would also explain the whining noise and the flashing dashboard light. The cogs may be slipping in and out of position intermittently.

If your car has 2H, engage that immediately in the following manner: Bring the car to a complete stop. Engage the parking brake. Engage neutral in the primary gearbox (free). If it is an automatic, place the lever in N, and NOT P (Park).

Make sure the front tyres are pointed straight ahead (the steering is dead centre and not turned to any side).

Depress the clutch all the way in, just to be sure, for a manual car. Place the transfer box in 2H firmly and decisively. That is, make sure the tiny lever has clunked solidly into position. From there, drive as you normally do: engage gear, release the parking brake and go.

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

Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, and I wonder if you have a blog where readers can refer to your past articles. If not, it would be a great idea.

Now to my question: I have a Toyota Starlet EP 92 YOM ‘99. I must admit it has served me well for more than five years. The car is still in good condition, but for the past few months, it has developed a problem with its gearbox.

The car jerks when you engage drive from neutral. This happens after driving for about 10 minutes. Apart from the jerking, the gears still shift very well.

Some mechanics have advised me to change the whole gearbox, while others say it could be an electrical problem. Could you advise on what the issue might be? Is it time I replaced the whole gearbox despite the fact the gears shift well?

Morton Saulo

Hi,
I hardly think a gearbox replacement is necessary. Your problem does not sound fatal, and the cause could be something as simple as either topping up or replacing the ATF.

Have you done either of those in the five years you have owned the car? It is always wise to check the transmission oils at the same time you make the typical fluid checks in the engine bay.

How bad is the jerking? If the fluid is not the issue, then the control electronics could be the problem: the solenoids, the TCM, or even the valves or pumps in the transmission gubbins.

Get a mechanic who will look at it without resorting to last-ditch efforts just because they probably don’t understand what is happening. Your problem is not as critical as requiring a transplant just yet.

However, if you don’t remedy the situation pronto, then a transplant is what you will need eventually.

*********

Dear Baraza,

I always look forward to reading your articles in Car Clinic every Wednesday, and I have observed the following:

1. You are sometimes overly critical of some types of cars, which you dismiss, in my view, as almost useless, even though you do not say so outright. Your article of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, on the Nissan Murano with a heading reading, “The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about”, is a case in point.

While it is not my wish to correct your articles, since I am not a motor vehicle expert, I honestly feel that you sometimes go overboard in your criticism of some models.

You must bear in mind there are people who already own the models you so criticise, and I am sure it does not go down well with them. And neither does it, I believe, go down well with the respective car manufacturers (in case they read your articles!) let alone prospective buyers.

Years ago, there was on a comedy, Mind Your Language, on TV.

2. As well as your technical know-how regarding motor vehicles, I have noted with interest your good mastery of the English language, which you also put to good use.

However, in my view, you sometimes go overboard with your expressions, which to me would require the majority of your esteemed readers to consult a professor of the English language or refer to the Advanced Oxford English Dictionary.

Your language in the Murano article refers. I would like to know whether your questioner, Eriq B, understood your answers well!3.

Finally Sir, many automatic cars, if not all, have on their gear stick or lever, a button which when pressed in reads “O/D Off”. Kindly explain in simple terms, what it does.

DKoi

Hello Sir,

I may be a columnist on matters motoring, but first, I am a writer. And as a writer, I have certain tools at my disposal. These tools include metaphors, analogies and hyperbole. I use these tools to great effect and to style my product, and it is in the styling of this product that I came to the attention of the book-heads at NMG. The fact that I might know one or two things about cars is a bonus.

I believe that I am here primarily for my ability to string words together in a way that not many can easily emulate. It is typically the onus of the reader to discern where to take things literally and focus on the content, and where to gaze at the magnificence of the literary tapestry woven by a veteran wordsmith in his weekly attempts to prove himself as one of the greats, legitimate or otherwise.

I believe this addresses your second question. Given that Eriq B has not reverted ever since, there could be two explanations: 1. He fully understood what I wrote and accepted/dismissed it, letting it go at that, or 2. It all blew past his ears and he is up until now thumbing a copy of the Advanced Oxford English Dictionary you mention, in a desperate attempt to derive meaning from my somewhat elaborate literary tapestry.

I trust he is an intelligent man, so for now, we will work with the first theory until he reverts. Okay, let me put down my own trumpet, which I think I have blown enough.

To your first point: I admit I do dismiss some cars ruthlessly. And yes, there are people who own these cars and whose feelings get hurt every time my weekly word salad hits the stands.

Good examples are owners of the Toyota Prius, and Subaru drivers… especially Subaru drivers. This latter group can now have their sweet revenge while they still can.

The last Kiamburing TT championship was taken by an orange, 6-star Coupé, so there will be no end to the punitive payback these Subaru fans will mete out on me following the fun I have had with them over the years.

Given that the driver of the said winning vehicle is a friend of mine, I will have a “word” with him concerning his choice of vehicle and the awkward position he has placed me in. This “word” might or might not be delivered with the aid of a crude weapon. I do not much care for being placed in awkward positions.

Not so much for Murano drivers. Until a Murano wins a single off-road challenge, it still sits in the wastebasket of useless propositions alongside automotive jokes like the BMW X6. These cars really do not make any sense to me, at all.

Speaking of the BMW X6, yes, manufacturers read what I write, and while most will just watch and quietly hope that I get a job elsewhere (preferably away from newspapers), one or two will take exception and make known their discontent.

This invariably leads to a repeat road test (or a new one for cars previously undriven), a stern talking-to and the inevitable recommendation that any time I feel like walking all over their products, I should reconsider. I usually reconsider, as requested, and then I proceed to walk all over them again.

This is not done out of spite, as some might assume. My reviews are the result of critical analysis and the need for honesty, which is sometimes brutal.

Why, to be realistic, would I ever want to buy a Murano over, say, a BMW X5? How much of the planet is the Prius actually saving when, over its lifetime, it actually does more environmental damage than a V8 Land Rover Discovery?

What exactly is a Sports Activity Vehicle? Who would look at the face of a Chevrolet Utility pick-up and truthfully declare that it does not look a bit funny?

I hope you get my point. I am here not only to dispense advice and sample vehicles so that you don’t have to, but also to initiate discourse and encourage critical thinking. A car is the third biggest investment you will ever make in your life. The second is buying a house. The first is educating your child.

You wouldn’t want to take your child’s education lightly, would you? Schools of ill repute will be steered clear of. Neither would you want to spend good money on a hovel into which you will condemn yourself and your loved ones their whole lives. So why not exercise the same keenness when it comes to choosing a car?

Have a good week.

Posted on

Buy Evoque if you want luxury, and Evo if you want to corner like a rat

Hi,

I drive a Mercedes E240 year 2003 model. Now I want to upgrade to a bigger car. I am thinking of an Audi Q7/Lexus RX/Evoque. I want comfort, luxury, looks, and speed in that order.

I do not expect to go offroad; it just needs to handle potholes and diversions (during road constructions). I live in Kericho and travel to Nairobi and Kisumu twice a month.

Which one would you prefer, and why?

Shah

Hi,

I would buy a Land Rover Discovery with that kind of money and your priorities, but since the Discovery is not on your list, let us just pretend you did not ask me what I would prefer.

Speed: This depends on which engine you have in your car, but I will not even go into details here because:

1. All these cars will top 200 km/h, which I strongly advise against anyway (what for?) and

2. The biggest differences come in acceleration, but again, how many people do you see taking part in a drag race with an Evoque or a Q7 or an RX Lexus? There are SUVs built for that kind of thing (SRT Jeeps, AMG ML Mercs, Porsche Cayenne Turbos, BMW X5M and such).

What is more important is in-gear acceleration, or in pedestrian parlance, overtaking power. The Evoque takes the cake here: With the new nine-speed gearbox (yes, nine) and those clever-clever trick turbos used in both the petrol and diesel versions (plus the Evoque’s lower GVW overall), the Range Rover will go “like a starved rat”, to quote someone.

Luxury goes to the Range Rover. Does it now? The four pillars of luxury are space, light, silence, and comfort. The baby Rangie is quiet (if you drive soberly) and well-lit, especially if you open up the roof: The extended sun-roof opens all the way back, a feat none of these other cars can claim.

Comfort is a 70-30 split affair: The magneto-rheological suspension is optimised more towards handling and response rather than wafting, which is best left to the daddy: The Vogue (also not on your list), but then again, that active suspension does make for a good ride when the going is soft.

Space is where we might have an argument. The Evoque is certainly superior to the Lexus when inside (the spaciousness, whether real or perceived, is certainly not the same), but what of the Q7? It is a bigger car, but do the exterior dimensions reflect on the inside too?

No. The inside of the Q7 may not exactly be a portable toilet — it is actually quite roomy — but some of those interior colours work against that effect. A Q7 with a dark interior feels a bit like being inside a hole, and anybody who has been in a hole will tell you that the roominess of the hole is not the first thing that comes to mind.

Well-built and elegant interior it is, though, one of the best in the world outside of a Bentley. So the Q7 drops back in light and perception of space… and comfort: The ride is a bit hard. Silence also suffers a little (the competition here is very stiff, in the form of a Range Rover and a Lexus, hence the harsh judgement). The Lexus… well, the Lexus is certainly quiet and comfortable, but it is not very roomy, nor is it exceptionally well-lit.

A good car, it is also slain by the same sword that fells the Q7: The third option is just too good. Oh, well….

Looks: This is highly subjective. I have always detested the Q7’s marine appearance (I once called it “The Prince of Whales”), and the Lexus looks really boring and just a little bit aloof, the kind of thing you would expect from someone in IT who earned billions for making an app before they turned 22.

They have not had enough time to fully develop tastes and preferences and priorities and have life experiences like sleeping in jail (or with a streetwalker) but because they are a genius, they come up with something that works really well but lacks sex appeal, passion, and character. It is just there, functional and neat. Exactly like his billion-dollar app. The Evoque, in my eyes, reeks of Victoria Beckham, which in turn brings to mind Victoria’s Secret and I think I need to stop now…. Where is that Discovery?

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

Dear Baraza,

I hope you have been well. I am torn between the following vehicles and I just cannot make up my mind on which to go for. Please advise on which is the better option between the Mitsubishi Evo 10 and the Subaru N14 WRX STi hatchback in terms of performance (both in six-speed manual transmission).

I have owned Subarus and can confirm that getting parts in not a problem. How about the Evo? Will parts be readily available? Also, what reliability issues should I expect from these cars? Finally, which will cope better with enhancements to boost the horses?

Thanks and regards.

Hello Sir,

Thank you for opening Pandora’s Box yet again. The last time I wrote extensively about the two cars — which people mistook for a consumer report based on a comparison even after I had specifically introduced my writing as not consumer advice, I mean, one car was from 1996, the other from 2004 — I almost got murdered by loyalists of The Blue Oval. I guess it is time I sought protection again… or maybe not.

This time I will answer your queries randomly (on purpose). Evo parts may or may not be readily available. This is mostly determined by what exact parts you want and what your idea of “readily available” is: Over-the-counter? A day’s delay? A month’s delay? Or can they be acquired at all? For a performance car (such as the Evo), a little wait for model-specific parts is not unusual.

Modification/tuning/enhancement of horsepower is a common practice in the world dominated by these two cars, but some characters in Japan, whom I follow with keen interest, claim that these two particular vehicles are not easy to tune.

They seem complicated, and they are, but that has not stopped people from tuning them anyway. The response to increased performance will depend on how the enhancement itself is done, but the fact that the Evo — and not the Subaru — is available with 440hp straight from the factory speaks a lot about the drivetrain and chassis’ receptiveness to extra horsepower. It seems to be better adapted to these power upgrades, or so Mitsubishi Motors would want us to believe.

Then again, those same Japanese that I follow pitted a tuned N14 (or N16, whatever) against a tuned R35 Nissan GTR in one of their hardcore showdowns, and not an Evo… this also tells a lot, seeing how an Evo X had dropped out of contention earlier, tournament-style. For now, I will call a draw and say they are both tunable with exceptional results, but only if done properly.

Discussion of reliability is where I will probably get myself killed. I am not saying that Subies are unreliable (twin turbo Subaru engines are unreliable, but the N14 does not have this).

However, from local observation, STis suffer more turbo and engine failures compared to Evos. And they crash more often — a lot, actually. This could boil down to the driver: Maybe Evo owners are more fastidious in car maintenance and are generally better drivers, or maybe, just maybe, Evos are better cars overall, I cannot say for sure (I need to stay alive long enough to provide next week’s Car Clinic, you know), but statistics say this is so.

And now to the can of worms: Performance. There are few rival cars as evenly matched as these two models. Their engines are of the same capacity, they develop similar power and torque (a kilowatt here and Newton-meter there do not make much difference), both use 4WD powertrains and when raced flat out, they will generally invade each other’s privacy in a battle for supremacy… until you get to a corner.

In stock form, the Evo will gracefully make short work of the turn and keep charging until the driver takes his foot off the accelerator. The Subaru will head for the nearest thicket, or tree, or ditch, or whatever obstacle will inflict the most pain and/or embarrassment on the hapless and helpless driver as the vehicle ignores all instructions to change direction and washes its nose wide in a humiliating, tyre-wasting phenomenon called understeer.

This is where the Blue Oval loyalists come out with their pitchforks and torches, so I have to run now. Goodbye!

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

Hello JM,I was pleasantly surprised to read my question to you about the Discovery 2.

Ever since, I have been looking at the Outback, Box Prado, and Toyota Surf (year 2002, 3000TD). I steered clear of the Outback after I found out it does not have protection on its underbelly. Good car all round, though, although on the online forums, there were many complaints. The Box Prado did not have airbags and ABS.

The Surf… many thumbs up online, so I have been taking a second look at it. What is your take on it? I am looking for a comfortable, powerful all-terrain car.

Robert Kyalo.

Hello Kyalo,

Glad I was of help. That is what I go for in this column. Now, the Surf fits the bill of “comfortable, powerful, all-terrain car”.

It is comfortable, at least a lot more comfortable than some SUVs on offer (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Fortuner, to name a few…). It actually feels a bit similar to the Prado, with less body roll on corners and oceanic wallow on undulating surfaces.

It is powerful… in a way, and if the power is not to your liking, it is nothing that a tweak to the turbo (for diesel engines), an addition of an intercooler, or an engine swap will not fix.

And it is all-terrain. It has the full off-road tackling gear: Good ground clearance, 4WD transfer box, low-range gearbox, and locking diffs. It also has airbags and ABS.

The Outback lacks clearance, low range and diff locks (alleviated by use of AWD rather than conventional 4WD), and the Box Prado, which I like very much (70 Series), has no ABS and airbags, as you say (are you very sure about this?) So, Surf it is. Problem solved, if you ask me.

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

Baraza,

With all due respect, you have all your facts wrong on the Toyota Prius. I have, for the third time, read your views on the Hybrid and decided that enough is enough.

You are either misadvised or too ignorant. I have been a driver for the past 26 years and, as you can imagine, have driven quite a number of vehicles, from the Mitsubishi Rosa that was popular on the Eastleigh Route, through to half-gear vehicles, trucks, pick-ups, station wagons, and saloons.

Now, let us get back to the Prius. We Prius lovers feel insulted by your continuous criticism. I have driven a Prius since 2008, when I imported the first-generation NHW11 and I have no regrets whatsoever. I am now driving a 2005 NHW20 and still have the older one.

My sister drives a 2004 NHW20 and I have two friends who drive the same. None has had any problem with the vehicles and their contacts are available, should you wish to clarify anything.

I have yet to drive a used import vehicle of the same capacity that picks and is as fuel-efficient as my Prius and I can challenge you to a drive down to Mombasa (never been more serious) if only to have you set the record straight on the Prius Hybrid (I am willing to fuel both vehicles).

I hope you will be bold enough to publish this and accept my challenge down to the coast. If you will not, please give Prius lovers a break!

Francis

Hello Sir,

I will start off by saying I will give Prius lovers a break, simply because this has been going on for far too long and needs to come to an end.

I also need to clarify a few things, the first being my criticism of the Prius. I have not declared it a mechanical fiend, nor have I called it problematic.

My biggest gripe with this car is that it is over-glorified. It does not live up to its name. Do not believe the hype. You and your friends might drive Prii — I finally confirmed it: Toyota says it is “Prii” and not “Pria” or “Priuses”— with the best of intentions: Saving the planet for capitalists who do not care and who compensate for your good deeds by driving Lamborghinis and pointless SUVs, but that Prius you are so proud of does not save the planet. This much I have repeated several times.

The second problem comes with Prius owners: Self-righteousness. Holier-than-thou.

The salt of the earth, while the rest of us petrolheads are the bane of human existence who should be banished to a world where we will be forced to ride bicycles for the rest of our lives as penitence for taking too much pleasure in big-bore throttle bodies and Stage 2 Supercharger kits.

Owning a Prius was fast-approaching religious fanaticism, the kind of zealotic snobbishness that eventually leads to fundamentalism: “I am right and you are wrong and if you don’t agree with me I have some sticks of dynamite under my shirt that will convince you otherwise”.

Prii are good, but so are other cars. Also, Prii, like other cars, are fallible. The kind of pomp and circumstance that accompanied the vehicle’s entry into this world did nothing but set it up for backlash from the likes of yours truly. If you claim to be a horse, someone will pull down your trousers to confirm it.

The Prius is no horse.

Posted on

Automatic diffs, wipers, transmissions… boy, aren’t we all getting lazy!

Hi JM,

Could you please explain to us this small mystery… Many versatile 4x4s like the (police) Landcruisers have free-spinning front hubs which you must physically get out into the mud to lock before engaging four-wheel drive.

This free-wheeling, we were told long ago, enhances fuel consumption on tarmac by reducing drag on the front diff. But how come SUVs do not have this feature and one can engage various 4×4 modes from the comfort of one’s leather seat?

Maddo, “Car Clinic fan”

Greetings, cartoonist,

It has been a while since I heard from you. The first part of your query is true: Front-axle free-wheeling does save on consumption by reducing drag and/or rolling resistance occasioned by heavy transmission. It also makes the car easier to turn and reduces wear on the running gear during these turning manoeuvres.

The reason modern (and expensive) SUVs do not have this feature is convenience. In an era where you can get massaged by your own car, doors unlock themselves, wipers activate themselves, as do headlamps and tailgates when needed, the cost of cars shoot skywards.

Premium brands such as the Landcruiser VX and the Range Rover in all its three forms are bought by individuals who live a pampered life and do off-roading out of boredom or curiosity rather than necessity.

When this highly pampered person gets mired in the clag during his weekend adventures, he will not ruin his expensive shoes wallowing through swamp mud to engage the hub locks on his highly engineered front axle. Why go through all that and yet you could just press a button on the dashboard and the car will think things out for you…

I know this is a motoring column, but please allow me to do a bit of social commentary. Society is getting lazier and more reliant on assistance from machines. This explains the imminent death of manual transmission, the existence of smart phones, and the proliferation of the internet.

You could choose to cut costs as a manufacturer and do a basic vehicle like the police Landcruisers, then sell them cheaply. Cheap always sells… well, almost.

But your competitor will add conveniences to his car and sell it at a slightly higher price. Humanity will pay that little bit extra if it makes life easier. That also explains why manual winding windows are nearly extinct. To stay competitive, you have to shape up by adding even more convenience. This is also why power-steering systems are now standard. You can see where this is going.

Even if you do not live a highly pampered life and you do drive in bad conditions as a necessity, which would you rather have? A car that necessitates you stepping out into the rain and sinking knee-deep in malodorous quagmire to turn knobs on the front axle or one where you simply press a button, unseen mechanicals mesh and mate quietly beneath you, and suddenly your mode of transport acquires the surefootedness of a mountain goat escaping a determined predator?

Convenience by automation due to market — and social — pressure. That is the answer to your question.

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

Dr Magari,

I was reading your article on 26 March, 2014, and you described your Mazda Demio as quite the car. Personally, I have always thought it is like a pitbull; tiny but will chomp your behind off without you even realising it, hence my love for it. As a professional “job-seeker”, I love to dream of the time I will get mine before moving on up to STi’s then M5s. So, on to my questions,

1) Did your Demio (I would like to know the year and make) come stock as you described it or did you mod it slightly?

2) How would you compare similar cars in its class in terms of performance and availability in our market?

3) Totally unrelated: What do you think of setting up a drag strip à la Kiambu Ring locally… possible locations? Cost? Licences? Appeal?
Jake

Hi,

1. The car is dead stock. The only mod it has is me behind the wheel. All that I described, namely the alloy rims, body kit, spoiler… It is all factory-spec. However, this will not stop me from experimenting with it once the money comes right…

2. Well, the Demio is a bit revvy: 3000 rpm in 5th at 100 km/h. Compare this to the automatic iST, which is essentially ticking over at slightly below 2,500 rpm at roughly the same speed.

It has very good torque too; I sometimes get wheelspin in second gear, or even third, when the road is wet — the key word here is sometimes. This is a Mazda, not a Corvette. It is pretty quick too, for a 1300; I have wound it up to the giddy side of 175 km/h but I will not say where and when lest a keen traffic officer lay a trap for me. This is not saying much since a lot of hatchbacks/superminis nowadays will do 180, but I doubt they will get there as quickly as the Demio Sport (with a manual gearbox) does, more so if they, too, are of 1300cc engine capacity.

Availability: There are very many Demios around, and this includes the Sport version, the likes of which I now drive. Getting one with a manual gearbox, however, calls for real connoisseurship and keenness in searching. You might have to do a DIY import if you are very particular. There is also the “new shape”coming soon (where soon is in a few years’ time) as a used car.

It looks too much like the current effeminate Vitz and might not be available with a manual transmission, so grab this model while you still can. Similar cars would be maybe the Vitz RS (sprightly and unsightly) or a Mitsubishi Colt at a stretch.

3. I think that is a good idea. A very good one. Given the kind of driving mettle I have seen among Kenyans when taking corners, they are better off going in a straight line. The major reason we have only one vehicle on the road at a time during “Kiamburing” is that not everybody knows what to do when you get to a turn and either a) there is a slowpoke in front of you or b) You are the slowpoke and The Paji is tailgating you, looking to pass.

There is such a thing as track decorum and a) we do not have the time to teach it to everybody and b) some people will ignore it anyway. The result would be disastrous and expensive.

So, one person at a time. That way, if you also crash, you will be on your own; you will not take someone out with you. With a drag strip, we could have two, or maybe even three, cars facing off at the same time with no risk of an unplanned coming together.

The tension quotient goes up, along with entertainment value, participant rivalry, and emotions, which should make for good entertainment for those watching. If you know of a disused airstrip with a serviceable tarmac runway, by all means let us know; it would be a good place to start…

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

Hi Baraza,

I am an addict (yes, addict) of your Wednesday articles in the Daily Nation. I have been going through them for a very long time now and I have also filed the pages and really appreciate your work.

Now, I got employed two years ago by a private company in Nairobi. My boss says it is time I got myself a car because of the nature of my work and the hurdles I go through trying to use our limited company transport.

My company pays out mileage at the rate of Sh40/km. I have about Sh 1 million in savings and would like to get a car I love: The BMW 318i or 320i. I know I can get either of these second-hand at about Sh800,000.

However, my concern is that most people I talk to are talking me off getting this machine. I know I am a very careful driver and I love my electronics/machines. I have kept my Nintendo game in working condition to date.

Kindly advise on the merits and demerits of this car, including fuel consumption and servicing and overall maintenance cost.

Omega

Hi Omega,

How old is that Nintendo game of yours? You might maintain a gaming console for a long time, but maintaining a car is a different kettle of fish. The principles are the same but execution is different: House-bound electronics do not drive through puddles or over bumps or on dusty roads or get filled with fuel of indeterminate provenance. There is a lot to watch out for when maintaining a car.

So, merits and demerits. The merits are: BMWs make good driver’s cars, so you will enjoy driving it. The 318 and/or 320 have relatively small engines, so fuel economy will not scare you.

But again, these engines are highly developed with enough under-bonnet boffinry to make them quick enough when the situation demands it. Comfort is at a high level, as are NVH, handling, braking, looks and, do not forget: This is a German marque that comes with its own thick shroud of street-cred.

The demerits are this is a high-end German marque, so expect high-end German invoices when the undesirable happens. Repairs will be costly, as will be parts. This is particularly worrisome, because a Sh800,000 3 Series will more likely than not be in a less-than-factory condition.

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

Hi,

I will not start by paying you compliments like other readers. I am not a fan of soaps. All these questions your readers ask about fuel economy, availability of spares, maintenance cost, and so on really suck the life out of your column.

For the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the DN2 (the one about the Hiace vs the Caravan), and could not finish it.

It was (and I can hardly believe this), boring! I remember back when it was called Behind The Wheel, you used to preach how it was not about spare part availability or fuel economy, but rather, about the driving feel and pleasure you get behind the wheel (see what I did there? ) How hard it is to wipe that grin off your face when you shift down, give it the beans, and feel like The Stig… on heat.

I used to live vicariously through your experiences you know, because I did not, and still do not, own a car. Now it is just gone.

Allan

Well, well, well! We cannot allow this to happen now, can we? You actually did not finish reading that piece? It must have been really bad.

I know all the questions about spares, economy, and maintenance get really old really fast, but it is not entirely my doing. The reading culture is almost dead: The longest articles young people read nowadays are Facebook posts by celebrities who are not celebrities.

Nobody appreciates the entertainment value of witty wordplay anymore, so all my attempts at humour, alliteration, consonance, metaphors, and hyperbole blow ineffectively past their eyes and ears like the Harmattan would a covered Fulani tribesman’s head. Worse still is when some people take things literally or out of context – “…the silly Prius…” on April 9 actually drew an emotional response from quite a number of people, one of whom wrote, “How can a car be silly? Then tell me of a clever car…” This is what I have to deal with every week.

Demand: This is what drives Car Clinic, not the quality of writing or whatever obscure motoring facts I might have hidden away in the dark corners of my mind. I could do a proper article then along comes someone saying “We are not interested in your personal adventures, fool, we want to read about spares and economy and maintenance.”

Good examples are my experience on a go-kart, the Old Evolution vs New Impreza showdown, and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue review. Intellectual discourse, along with the appreciation of an intricately woven word scarf, is also dead, which is why I rarely discuss industry matters any more. Nobody is interested. What is a man to do? Man must live. If I do not do it, someone else will.

I, too, am getting sick and tired of comparing Foresters to RAV4s, CRVs and X-Trails week in, week out. I have answered this particular question in one form or other more than 10 times now, it is as if people do not read what I write and keep asking the same questions over and over again.

The advice I give, however questionable it may seem at times, is free (for now), but this does not make Car Clinic an avenue of convenience or a personalised service. Some people need to learn that.

However, all is not lost. I am still active in the road test world; all I have to do is find other outlets for my lengthy writings. And find them I will.

Posted on

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Hi Freda,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Kamwago

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

Hi,

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

Simon

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

Hi JM,

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

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

Posted on 1 Comment

Can I drive my Toyota Mark X without the oxygen sensors?

Hi Barasa,

I have owned a Toyota Mark X, 2005 model for six months. Last week, it started showing the check engine light. A diagnostic revealed one of its oxygen sensors had stopped functioning. Is it ok to still drive it?

A lot of Mark X have these problems. Also, when I press on the brakes, it makes a ticking noise. I have put genuine brake pads but the problem persists. A mechanic told me it is the front shocks that have leaked and are causing the noise. Please advise,

Mark X owner

It is not okay to keep driving when one or more of the oxygen sensors is malfunctioning. There is the real and present danger of the catalytic convertor getting damaged or clogged in the process.

When you finally have to replace one of these, you will wish that you had taken care of the oxygen sensors.

With a failed sensor, the engine control unit (ECU) can’t tell whether or not the car is effectively burning its fuel and cannot thus adjust the timing accordingly.

What happens is that a good amount of unburnt hydrocarbons make their way to the cat and from there… clogging. Premature replacement or unclogging, can cost a pretty figure.

Just get a new sensor. Maintenance, replacements and repairs are part of motor vehicle ownership, much in the same way that when one has a child, school fees and medical bills are part of the deal.

The ticking noise under braking could be anything. A more definitive description would make it easier to narrow down on probable causes.

**********

Hi Baraza,

My car has been consuming vast amounts of coolant lately. I thought it was normal until one evening when the fan belt refused to stop. My mechanic advised me to disconnect the battery terminal.

The next day as I was driving to the mechanic at CMC, I noticed cloudy substance spewing out. I stopped and checked. The coolant container was empty, with the lid thrown out.

Surprisingly, the temperature gauge on the dashboard was reading normal. I let it cool, poured lots of water and drove to the mechanic, who on inspection said the coolant was leaking from the thermostat and some other pipes. I am about to replace the thermostat, but I wish to know the following:

1. How could this leakage have started?

2. What would have been the likely outcome if I never discovered the leakage early enough?

3. What are the possible remedies to prevent future leaks?

4. Water, red or green coolant; which one is preferred?

5. Could the tempereture gauge on the dashboard have been faulty and the reason it didn’t show that the engine was heating up?

Ben

Let me guess, the vehicle in question is a MK 1 Freelander, right? The very early pre-facelift examples, right? They were not a manifestation of Land Rover’s finest moment, having come into production when the Rover Group was facing imminent death (and was subsequently rescued by BMW). Anyway:

1. This is a CSI-type question because the exact source of the problem cannot be determined without dismantling the cooling system. However, the Freelander MK 1 was engineered in a hurry and on a shoestring budget, so build quality was not one of its strong points. Nor was reliability.

The research that went into material science is sketchy at best, and attention to detail must have been placed under a management team full of ADHD sufferers.

About 136 different faults were discernible on any car that left the factory, ranging from searing drive-shafts that rendered the car FWD only, to seizing power-steering pumps and upholstery that somebody forgot to drill HVAC holes into.

UK dealers were secretly asked to take a knife and cut holes into the fabric/leather dashboard and panel linings for the front and rear windscreens. Otherwise, the demisters would not work. If such an obvious thing as an outlet for the heater/AC was forgotten or shoddily executed, what then would you expect to happen when the engineering team started handling complex systems like the cooling and transmission?

The cause could be a blockage, a poorly strapped cooling pipe, a circlip that was left unfastened, a bolt omitted, a hole somewhere… or they simply did not take time to find out how long the cooling system would last before the fan got a mind of its own and blew the coolant cap off its moorings. It is really is hard to tell.

2. Overheating is what would have occurred, and from there it is a probability tree of various disasters depending on your luck. Your menu would have had options like blown head gaskets, warped cylinder heads and compression leakage. Further down the tree, you would be facing an engine seizure or a bonnet fire that could easily consume your vehicle if it went on long enough.

3. You need a complete overhaul of your cooling system. This is where I’ll ask you to subscribe to Land Rover Owner magazine because there is a wealth of information in there, specific to your vehicle. I have never overhauled the cooling system of a Freelander before, and even if I had, the process is too long and detailed to get into here. The general exercise involves replacing OEM hoses and pipes with units that are:

i) Made of better material and,

ii) possibly of larger diameter.

A new water pump is also typically added to the list as might a radiator core, and of course the offending thermostat replaced with something more trustworthy.

If there are any modifications to be made, that LRO magazine from the UK will be of more help than me.

4. The colour of coolant is hardly a selling point of any brand. Just use manufacturer-recommended coolant mixed with water.

5. About the temperature guage, the answer is yes, and also no. The temperature gauge is calibrated to indicate a certain range of temperature. There is a slight possibility that the car boiled away its coolant at temperatures within the “normal” range. With the filler cap blown off and the thermostat leaking, you don’t need a hot engine to quickly run out of coolant.

***********

Hi Baraza,

Your column is a must read for me.

Thanks for the good work. I am want to my first car and due to budgetary constraints, I am focusing on a used subcompact. My top considerations are fuel efficiency, reliability, longevity and ease of maintenance.

With these factors in mind, please help me choose between Mazda Demio, Honda Fit and Mitsubishi Colt, all 2006, 1300cc engines.

If you were in my shoes which of the three would you buy? What other small cars would you recommend? Finally, is it possible to get locally assembled, tropicalised versions of the three cars?

John

There is not much to split these three cars on whatever criteria you are asking about. However, if I was in your shoes, I’d buy a Colt R, simply because that thing is very, very quick. With that haste, away goes comfort and fuel economy.

The Demio is also a joy to drive, but I’ve tried the punchy 1.5cc. The 1.3cc could be underwhelming.

An untuned Honda Fit is the car for a person who lacks imagination. I know, I have not really answered your question but refer to my first statement: cars of this size are very similar irrespective of manufacturer.

Another way of looking at them, if you really have to pick one, is this: the Colt shares a platform with the Smart car, which in turn is a joint project between Mercedes-Benz and Swatch, the Swiss chronometer assembly masters. So you could cheat yourself that it is a Benz. However distant the relationship (and it is very, very distant). The Mazda Demio also has some Ford DNA in it. The Honda is a Honda, full stop.

Again, I know this is of no help at all, but for the third time: it is not easy to split these cars on characteristics other than pricing and specs. And the fact that you are looking at vehicles built seven years ago, these are moot points.

Those two qualities will vary greatly depending on who is selling them to you and where that person got them in the first place.

A small car I would recommend is even more irrelevant than the useless nuggets of information I have just given above.

A Fiat 500 looks like a good drive, and a Mini is most definitely a hoot to drive, but these will cost you, and I may not have an answer when you inevitably come back asking where to get spares for them.

Unfortunately for you, none of these cars were assembled locally, nor was there any franchise that sold them new in Kenya. So forget about tropicalisation.

**********

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the very informative responses that you give every week about motoring. Between an Isuzu TFR single cab and a Toyota Hilux single cab, which has lower maintenance costs and would be best suited in an agricultural business? And which one would be advisable to purchase between petrol engine and diesel engine?

Which of the two is more durable and has better resale value in the event that I considered reselling at a later date.

Andrew
Any of the two pick-ups would do well in agri-business. They are both powerful. They will both lug heavy loads. They have good ground clearance, large payload areas and are both available in either 2WD or 4WD.Maintenance: If we are strictly referring to a TFR, then it will cost more to run because it is an older vehicle and is more likely to break down because it will be used.

However, if you are referring to the DMAX, then as new vehicles, both that and the Hilux will be covered by warranty. If and when the warranty runs out, then word on the street is that Hilux parts cost more but break less often. Do the math.

I advise in favour of a petrol engine simply because they last longer. Diesel engines are a bit fragile, especially with poor care; and these two pickups are nowadays available with turbodiesel engines, which require special handling to avoid early failures. If you can get a naturally aspirated diesel Hilux, go for that one. The advantage of diesel engines is that the fuel economy is amazing…. in a good way.

Durability is relative: This depends on how you treat the vehicle. But by sheer force of reputation, the Hilux wins this. The car will simply not break. This also applies to resale value.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I am interested in buying a car for personal use. I do about 400km a week. I am interested in a fuel efficient, easy to maintain and comfortable car to ride in. I have identified two cars, a VW Golf plus 2006 1.6 FSI and Toyota Corolla NZE 1500cc in terms of build quality, reliability, safety, comfort, fuel consumption and ease of maintenance. which of the two cars do you recommend.

In addition any suggestion of an alternative to the above cars is welcome. My friends are urging me to consider the Toyota Avensis or Premio, but I do not fancy them. I would like an expert opinion.

Douglas

Golf Plus vs NZE Corolla, eh? From your first requirements (fuel efficient, affordable and comfortable), the vote swings to Golf (but this depends on driving style and environment).

The NZE, while not exactly a bed of rocks, lacks the refinement of the German hatchback and crashes a bit over potholes, so it loses out on comfort. It is, however, cheaper (or easier) to buy and maintain.

Your other requirements are more about expounding of those three. Build quality is unmatched in Volkswagen products, ever since one can remember. The Japanese simply cannot hold a candle to the Germans when it comes to building solid, well-put-together cars.

Incidentally, both these vehicles started out as “world cars” for their respective manufacturers, but while the Corolla stayed true to its roots, the Golf has been inching steadily upmarket with every model change. You cannot creep upwards without raising your standards respectively.

Reliability would also theoretically look like an even split between the two, but the complaints against the Golf, more so regarding the automatic gearbox, are coming thick and fast. You might be better off with the manual.

Fuel economy depends on how you drive, and where. And what you carry in the car with you. Both engines have clever-clever tech, Toyota brags with its VVT-i system while VW’s Fuel Stratified Injection (the FSI in the name) is as close to magic as one can possibly come. It works wonders. In a controlled environment, the NZE would win because it has a smaller engine and it is lighter. Ease of maintenance: The Corolla, obviously.

***********

Hi Baraza,

I bought it recently from a friend. It’s a 2000cc YOM 2005, VVTi engine and fully loaded. Its from Japan but seems intended for European Market since my friend shipped it from Germany, where he was working.

I’m comfortable with its performance especially on the highways, but I believe it is not economical on shorter distances and in the Nairobi jams.

Kindly advice on the following:

1. Does this model of Toyota rank as a hybrid,

2. How would you compare its performance and features to the Fielder, Caldina and Premio within the same cc range in terms of maintenance?

3. It has a GPS mechanism with a display unit programmed in Japanese. Is there a place in Kenya (preferably in Nairobi) where this can be re-programmed to the local co-ordinates?

Eric

The subject field in your e-mail says Toyota Avensis, so I am guessing this is the car in question, and not a Toyota Prius. So:1. No, it is not a hybrid. Hybrid cars have more than one type of propulsion system/power source in them, hence the term hybrid.

In most cases it is fossil fuel and electricity — for example an electric motor that is either charged or supplemented by a small petrol/diesel engine.2. Performance and features are very similar to the others, especially the Premio.

The Fielder may be just a little bit more basic than the Avensis. Maintenance is also broadly similar.3. I am still looking for someone competent enough to do the installation.

Posted on

I’m waiting for new RAV4 to outrun the X-Trail and CRV

In the recent past I have found myself in a good number of new cars, all of which beg reviews, but since there is hardly any time (or space) to do them all, they will have to share a bed or rather a space. To kick things off we have the new RAV4, the 2013 model.

Toyota RAV2 and RAV4: New this year is another iteration of the Random Access Vehicle (RAV), and with it comes some interesting new changes. The exterior has been tweaked. The car still looks a bit odd, just like the last one, but a different kind of odd.

The face has some Korean-ness about it (sharp and pointy, slashes and curves, all angles and lines, and generally the typical Pacific Rim characteristic of overdesign), the side has been infused with a lot of character (inverse relief here, a mix of convex and concave surfaces there), and there is a shelf at the back.

On the outside. The acreage of metal on the tailgate is overwhelming, a tendency further accentuated by the relatively small tail lamps. And there is a black plastic skirt going round the lower hem of the vehicle that we are told will not be replaced with a colour-coded option.

In other words, the Really Amorphous Vehicle is what it should be called. I will not say it is ugly, but when the light hits it just right, this is one car that a motoring correspondent would be hard put to describe in plain words.

Exactly like the outgoing model. The design language, says Toyota, is to shed the feminine image the ‘Roses And Violets’ car has had to endure for the previous three generations.

At the test drive they even had an ad-banner with two Doberman pinschers in it, and the blurb said “Mark Your Territory”. Very manly. For animal lovers especially; or dog-loving, manly rappers like DMX.

The interior is typical Toyota. Again, there is a shelf on the centre console right below the radio (please note that these shelves I am referring to are instruments of form, not function. Do not place stuff on them expecting the stuff to stay put for long).

There is some “space” below the shelf, then the usual gear lever gate/cubby-holes/cup-holders/hand-brake tunnel but from there is where Toyota’s cleverness comes to light — a pun, this, because the RAV’s interior is actually quite dark.

The transmission tunnel from the B-pillar rearwards has been “buried” (and even been disposed of) under the floor, greatly improving floor space and manoeuvrability — though the reason a person would want to slide from one side of the car to the other on a regular basis is unbeknownst to me — but the concept has worked. The leg-room at the back is impressive even for bean-poles like The Jaw and I.

The rear drive shaft has been buried under the floor. It could also be missing because for the first time ever in the history of motoring, the RAV4 is now available in 2WD… FF platform to be exact. So why did they not call it the RAV2?

The LWB version of the outgoing model gets its own name (Toyota Vanguard), so why did the 2WD version of this model not get its own label? RAV2 to be exact, because RAV4 in reality stands for Recreational Active Vehicle, 4-wheel drive.

So the FF car in reality is a RAV2, not a RAV4. I guess we will never know.

Anyway, the existence of the FWD car is to “capture” a “niche” that apparently Toyota has been missing out on. The “niche” of pretenders who want a big car to drive in places where it would be more practical and convenient to walk, such as from your middle-class suburban house to the supermarket, which is 300m away on a well-tarmacked road.

Toyota seems keen to “capture” this “niche”, judging from the pricing, let them have a go at it. Pointless vehicles have had sales success before (all Hummers, the BMW X6, and the Toyota Prius), so why not now?

Price range: Aah, the pricing. The base 2.0 litre 2WD with a lazymatic auto-box costs about Sh4 million. The specced-up 2.5 litre 4WD costs almost half as much again (!!!), at Sh5.8 million, and this is the only one available with a manual gearbox. The reign of the petrolhead is dangerously under threat here, but it has been for a while now. My heart bleeds.

Given the pricing, it is clear Toyota wants our “lifestyling” activities to change from things like white-water rafting, bungee jumping, hand gliding and surfing to stuff like shopping, going to the gym and generally places where there is a tarmac road.

It is obvious they want the 2WD to sell more. Also, the RAV4 has now been lowered by some millimeters, making it slightly less off-roadish than its ancestors.

The non-enthusiasts who will obviously go for the 2.0 litre 2WD car will pay for their sins. I am not saying it drives badly — it actually drives well, and the economy is amazing: close to 11 kpl even when thrashing it on the open road — but the 2.5 4WD is so much better.

It feels more together where the 2WD feels a bit feathery and wayward when challenged by cross-winds. The bigger 2.5 litre engine gives it more punch and there is the possibility of kicking the tail out when exiting a junction under power and excessive steering lock (doing this in the 2WD just creates massive understeer that scares the hell out of nearby hawkers).

Body control (elk test-esque swerving and swift overtaking) is also better optimised in the 4WD, and in Sport mode, the engine growling all the way to the red line gives the impression that torque is being tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to keep up with a silver Mercedes-Benz ML500 that has just overtaken me, and I really should get back on topic….

Economy also suffers. Half a (60-litre) tank to cover 180km is not worth bragging about, but you can blame my heavy right foot for that. Equivalent acts in the 2.0 litre 2WD yield, say, 70 per cent of the same exuberance, and the belligerence of the engine is not as charismatic. It sounds like just another automatic car struggling to make a point at times and in places where it really should not.

Sports utility

But I loved the Sport mode in both cars: the Tiptronic override is really only useful in downshifting when you want some engine braking (lack of full lock-up control at clutch level means you will not get the same retardation effect as you would in a conventional manual, so be ready to dab the brakes a little if you want to slow down sooner), upshifts take place at a heady 6,500 rpm even on part throttle, a notch past the peak power point, and progress is swift.

They have also given the car some new features previously seen on upscale cars. The rear tailgate is now powered (I want that), there is auto-adjustment between high beam and low beam for the headlamps (I do not want that, but thankfully it can be turned off), and there is… hold on a moment.

That powered tailgate takes some getting used to. It can be opened from the driver’s seat or from a button next to the number plate light, but shutting it requires you to be there at the tailgate to press a button on the lower edge for it to come down.

Also, knowing when the tailgate button or the key-fob control will open the tailgate is not easy. Sometimes with the doors open the tailgate button itself does not work. So you have to lock the doors and then open them again electronically for it to work.

Sometimes. It is hard to tell from one day’s use. Not handy when you are an assassin trying to make a quick escape with your high-powered rifle and three police departments hot on your heels, but then again, it is not everyday that an assassin will drive a RAV4. Hollywood tells us they prefer Audis.

I fear I may have digressed again…

Overall I would say the new RAV4 is a step up on the old one, but here is a word of advice to Toyota Kenya. This car’s rival is NOT the Nissan Qashqai: you do not set your targets as “I will not be last”; rather, say “I will be first”. The Nissan X-Trail is a more worthy opponent and there is some work that needs to be done to catch up with the CRV, which is kicking dust in faces right now.

My opinion? Do not squeeze the RAV4 out of market in favour of the “RAV2”. It is a good car and deserves sales.

————————-

Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Zimbabwe, border is where I have been this past week, driving a 2013 Range Rover Vogue L405 SDV8, a Land Rover Discovery 4 SDV6, a 2013 Range Rover Sport (SDV8 also) and a Range Rover Evoque SD4.

The Vogue and the Evoque I reviewed earlier, and they are the same amazing pieces of equipment they have always been, and since the Sport is due for replacement in the foreseeable future, let me talk about the Discovery 4.

It seats seven human beings (not five humans and two dolls like some other cars), the front and middle rows of seats both have sun-roofs and the seating arrangement is cinema hall-style: the middle row of seats is a bit higher than the front, and the back row overlooks the middle one. That way everybody can see where the driver is taking them.

Worth noting is the child-proofing of the hand-brake. It is electronic, yes, but it is accessible from a great number of locales within the car, so ill-behaved children can reach it.

The Discovery 4 has a safeguard against that. Applying the parking brake (inadvertently or the result of highly adventurous, safety-unconscious passengers) while in motion only activates the ABS, it does not lock the wheels like it normally should. You can try it if you own a Discovery 4… also, if you have the trousers for it.

The car is also roomier than its stable-mates and is an unstoppable force off-road, but has gone too far upmarket, unlike the first two generations which were essentially comfortable Defenders.

The current one is more of a “cheap” Range Rover (it donated its platform, like Adam donating a rib, for the creation of the Range Rover Sport). The Discovery 3 has a serious problem with the air suspension, which costs Sh300,000 per wheel to replace.

Seeing that you have to replace all four, the day you find your Discovery sitting on the floor like a relaxing elephant, know that Sh1.2 million is bout to fly out of your wallet. These are Range Rover bills right there.

Posted on

Importing a hybrid car? Ship in the mechanic as well

Hi Baraza,

I once overheard a former Toyota Prius owner lament about how much trouble the car had put him through when its photovoltaic cell broke down. Finding a competent mechanic to fix it was a nightmare.

Toyota EA, the franchise holders, did not stock it too. Please comment on the whole hybrid car phenomenon in terms of purchase price, maintenance, spares, resale value, and future prospects for mass adoption by the motoring public.

Secondly, what is the verifiable benefit of Shell V-Power fuel on engine life, engine performance, exhaust emissions, and the general health of a vehicle?

Kikuvi

I visited the hybrid car issue some time back and the conclusion I arrived at was that it was expensive and irrelevant. It is also inappropriate for our market at the moment, seeing how we lack the technology and know-how to fix them when they break down. But anyway, here are your answers:

Purchase price: Eye-watering. Maintenance: You will hate hybrids even more than Jeremy Clarkson does when things start going wrong.

Spares: Unavailable here. They cost too much where available (before you even consider shipping costs).

Resale value: After people read this, poor. It will still be poor even if they do not read this because of the following reason: the battery pack for the hybrid system is horrendously expensive.

Also, it has a finite life cycle and has to be replaced after a short span (five years or so). So, buying a second-hand hybrid means its battery pack will be close to the end of its life and, therefore, not only will you buy the car, you will soon need to buy more batteries and the total cost will not differ greatly with buying a new car.

Future prospects for mass adoption by the motoring public: Tricky. Hybrids have been trashed for not being as economical as small diesels, for being too costly, for under-performing and for having an effeminate, holier-than-thou, condescending, patronising, goody-two-shoes image.

Also, with the advent of science, extraction, storage, and dispensation of hydrogen will be both accessible and affordable in the not-too-distant future, and hydrogen cars have proved to be far more effective and efficient.

Electric cars have also made huge strides, with companies like Tesla and Fisker churning out impressive purely electric cars (Fisker is now bankrupt, but the reasons behind this are a whole other story).

That said, it was only this week that Toyota announced that it had sold one million Priuses… Priii…. Pria… whatever the plural of Prius is.

On to the other issue of Shell V-Power fuel:

Engine life: It extends it through its “sanitary” characteristics (it cleans the engine).

Engine performance: Read this very carefully. Shell V-Power improves engine performance. However, by this I do not mean that if the manufacturer has built an engine that develops 280hp, then that engine will develop 281hp when you feed it V-Power. No. What I mean is, that if your engine components such as injectors were clogged or almost clogged with deposits, then performance suffers.

V-Power, with its cleansing properties, will restore the hygienic status of your engine (I have a feeling hygiene is not the right word to use here). Also, if you have a high compression engine designed to run on high octane fuel then you put ordinary fuel in it, it will very easily knock.

Either that or the timing will be so retarded as to make the car switch to “safe mode” (limited performance). Putting V Power (which is also a high octane fuel) restores these performance capabilities. But it does NOT cure knocking.

Exhaust emissions: I may hazard a guess that a cleaner, smoother running engine has less emissions than a filthy, rough one.

General health of a vehicle: Ignore this. General health of a vehicle may extend to systems that have nothing to do with fuel or combustion such suspension, body work, electrical system…. I do not need to go on.

**********

Hi Baraza,
I would like to make a “soft upgrade” and switch to a better but affordable car that shares the same qualities as my first car — a Toyota Corolla Fielder 1500cc, manufactured in 2003 and bought in the year 2011 with 60,000km mileage.

I drive at least 250kms a week and it has not developed any major problems, thanks to regular servicing. My driving is an average of 15km/l (am I a good driver?)

Now, please assist me on available choices for a more powerful car with good resale value, on- and off-road friendly, not thirsty beyond 1800cc yet pocket-friendly enough to allow me to invest my limited earnings on potential projects.

Then, from what I have as above, how long can my existing car give me valuable service?

R Nyaga

If your driving averages 15km/l then, Sir, you are a very GOOD driver. Credit where credit is due.

Now, you have heaped praises on the Fielder that you own and drive and you want to upgrade to a vehicle with “almost same qualities” and also a more powerful version with not more than 1800cc.

Well, have you considered a Fielder with 1800cc? It fits the bill to a T and it is a car that you are not only familiar with but you also seem to love and understand. The meaning of “off-road friendly” is heavily dependent on what you mean exactly.

Some people say “off-road” when they mean “unpaved” or “untarmacked”, while people like me say off-road when we mean circumstances where there is no discernible path and the only penetrable points are strewn with obstacles.

If you go by the first definition, then the Fielder will sort you out. If you mean the second one, then “not thirsty, not beyond 1800cc, and pocket friendly” does not apply here: you have to look farther afield.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I have a few burning queries that need expert advice. Since I am green on matters concerning motoring, you will have to excuse me for some of the questions and the length of this email.

I am looking forward to buying my first car with a budget of around Sh800,000. I feel it would be better to import a car directly from Japan as I assume local vehicle dealers are in the business of making maximum profit. That said, I have settled on SBTjapan.com as they have an office in Mombasa.

I have settled on the following models : Toyota Premio, Toyota Caldina, Nissan Sylphy, and Nissan Tiida — all 2006 models.

I need a vehicle for commuting to town — I live 40km from Nairobi and with monthly or bi-monthly travel to western Kenya and back.

Now, here are the questions:

What is your honest expert advice to a novice importing a vehicle directly from Japan, including cost of buying, shipping, and KRA taxes. Please advise if SBT Japan, which I have settled on, is reliable. If you can give me other references I will be glad.

From the choice of Toyota Premio, Toyota Caldina, Nissan Sylphy, and Nissan Tiida, kindly give me your expert opinion on which vehicle is suitable for Kenya in terms of availability of spare parts and experienced mechanics, resale value, reliability, durability, and endurance. Which of the four has economical fuel consumption?

Why are Toyota Caldinas cheaper than Premios? What are the factors that determine the higher prices of a Premio of the same year of manufacture as a Caldina, yet the Premio ends up higher priced despite higher mileage. Why are Toyotas generally higher priced compared to Nissans (I may have to make a choice between the two)?

In some of your articles, I remember you saying that Honda’s VTEC engine is touted as the best. I have also heard people saying Toyota’s VVT-i engine is good. I have no idea what type of engine Nissan uses, but how does it compare to VTEC and VVT-i?

How does a vehicle’s mileage affect the performance of a car? I seem to have a general phobia of vehicles whose mileage is above 100,000km.

Finally, when does an engine start having issues in terms of mileage?

Victor

You are right, this is one lengthy email. My honest, not-so-expert advice (I am also green in the field of motor vehicle importation) would be to elicit the assistance of someone knowledgeable in the import business and known well to you, say a friend or relative.

I was once asked the exact same question by another reader and I assumed his position and did a ghost importation up to to the point of payment but did not actually buy the car. And interestingly enough, the company I chose to do my ghost import from was SBT Japan.

However, I cannot vouch for their (or anybody else’s) trustworthiness because as far as I am concerned, importation is a pig-in-a-poke setup. Buying what you cannot actually see is always a huge risk, and I do not see why I should recommend them over others. I have not had cause to think they are better in any way. My exercise was strictly as a tutorial for that reader on what might happen should he head down that path.

Two years ago, I started the year on a belligerent note, speaking against imported vehicles and their lack of suitability in markets for which they were not designed.

After the series of two articles based on tropicalisation, I was berated for being elitist, narrow-minded, and possibly in the pay of brand-new vehicle dealers (I may be elitist and/or narrow-minded, but my one and only paycheque comes from the Nation Media Group, nowhere else).

Later that year, the Car Clinic received thousands of emails containing this (or variations thereof) statement: “I bought this car from Japan/Dubai/UK/Singapore some time ago and now it is not working properly. The mechanics make wild guesses and charge me exorbitantly for every wrong guess they make. Help!”

To cut a long story short, the vehicles you are referring to were built in and for Japan, so they may not be suitable for Kenyan conditions. In cases like the Nissan Tiida and Sylphy (which were also sold locally as the Tiida and Sunny N16), you might get away with the intersection of different markets, hence availability of (trustworthy) parts and experienced mechanics.

For the rest, you may just have to search until you find one. Of the four, the Tiida is available with the smallest engine and so may give the best economy.

Caldinas are cheaper than Premios because of demand.

Toyotas cost more than Nissans also because of demand.

Nissan uses something called NTEC, which in essence is more or less the same as VVT-i and VTEC — some form of variable valve timing which may or may not have “intelligence”(VVT-i and i-VTEC). Kenyan drivers will sing about Toyota’s VVT-i because it offers a good Jekyll-and-Hyde personality between economy and performance but most of them will be lying.

Not that VVT-i is bad. No. In fact VVT-i is very good, but most of these drivers have never experienced the effect of VVT-i. The switching of cam profiles (and thus valve timing) occurs at engine speeds most of us rarely reach (6,000rpm- plus) where the “economy” camshaft profile is swapped for a more aggressive profile and the vehicle gets a surge in performance.

Most of the time we drive in “economy” mode, optimised for torque and gently breezing along.

Honda’s VTEC has the praise of pioneering this whole variable timing and lift control thing (as far back as 1983 compared to Toyota’s 1991 VVT) and in Type R vehicles (Civic, Integra, Accord, and NSX), the switch-over is so marked as to almost feel like a turbo is kicking in. This is an effect driving enthusiasts love.

It also occurs lower in the rev range, increasing the overall sportiness of the vehicle. And also, Honda’s VTEC engines have been nicknamed “Terminator” by European motor journalists because they never fail. They are almost unbreakable.

The higher the mileage, the more likely the engines (and other parts) will have problems because of wear and tear. Why do you think a 1983 Corolla does not look and sound like a 2006 Corolla? Technology aside, the 1983 car has endured a longer beating so it is no longer as solid, or as together, as it was when new.

Posted on

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

Dear Sir,

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

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

Mak

——————

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————

Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

Joe

——————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Opondo

——————

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

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

——————

Dear Baraza,

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

Keziah

——————

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

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

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

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

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

——————

Hi,

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

——————

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

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

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

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

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

——————

Hi Baraza

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

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

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

——————

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

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

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

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

——————

Hi,

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

——————

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

——————

Hi,

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

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

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

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

——————

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

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

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

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

JM.

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

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

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

Kefa

——————

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

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

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

——————

Hi Baraza,

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

——————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————

Hello,

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

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

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

——————

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

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

——————

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

——————

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

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

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

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