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My Toyota RunX has a ‘check engine’ light on throughout

Dear sir,
I own a Toyota Corolla RunX, 2001 model. Recently, the ‘Check Engine’ light came on as the engine was idling. Since then it has remained on whenever the engine is running.

Sometimes it goes off, but for a very short time. At first I thought it was the faulty battery I had which had problems cranking the engine, but after I replaced it, the problem persisted.

The car runs well, there are no funny noises from the engine, even at highway speeds. I haven’t taken the car to a mechanic (I’m low on cash right now), but I’m still bothered. Is there any cause for alarm?

Kenneth.

The best way to know what that ‘Check Engine’ light is all about is to do a diagnosis. However, these here are common causes of the light coming on out of the blue:

1. Faulty Oxygen Sensor: the device is not transmitting accurate information to the ECU and this is sometimes accompanied by a reduction in fuel economy. Cars have two to four of these sensors: the OBD code will identify the culprit for you. The cause is this: over time, the sensor gets covered in oil/soot and thus does not determine the quality of oxygen in the exhaust properly.

2. My research leads me to a very strange cause: a loose or cracked fuel filler cap. Apparently leakage of fuel vapour from the tank can very easily confuse the entire fuel system. This is also accompanied by worse fuel economy. Check the filler cap for cracks, or remove it and tighten it again, then drive a bit to see if the light will go off.

3. Faulty Catalytic Convertor: Failure of this device can be caused by 1 above (a faulty oxygen sensor makes the car run rich and this fouls up the plugs and the cat. Fouled plugs can be caused by a faulty oxygen sensor too. As you can see, these problems can sometimes be interconnected in a veritable web of complexity)

4. Faulty MAF Sensor: This is NOT the oxygen sensor as some are wont to believe. The oxygen sensor senses the amount of unreacted oxygen in the exhaust and adjusts the timing accordingly to optimise economy and reduce emissions. The mass air flow sensor senses the amount of air going INTO the engine and instructs the ECU to meter out the fuel accordingly via the injectors.

MAF sensors tend to fail because of a badly installed or rarely-replaced air cleaner element. A once-annual replacement of the air cleaner is just about enough to keep the sensor from failing.

5. Weak Electrical Connections: Plugs and wires in particular. This is usually accompanied by the vehicle jerking while in motion. Since you have not mentioned this, we can leave that at that. Only Part 3 would cause you to worry because cats are expensive to replace and require specialised skill to install.

Hi, I hope you enjoyed your trip down south. I confess I did not take your advice to sell my Mitsubishi Chariot when it started giving me trouble. I had it repaired and, despite the cost of having to change several sensors, I still kept the car.

Call me names, but I had become accustomed to its comfort. Now, the mother of all problems has come up; the gear is stuck at Three. I have had several diagnosis from different mechanics until my head is now spinning, but none of them has been able to solve the problem.

I have sworn the moment the problem is solved I SHALL SELL it. What do you think could be the problem? This time I promise to heed your advice.

Margaret (@MachariaWanjiru)

To reduce guesswork, obtain a code from the TCM (Transmission Control Module). This will give you a code from which you will know exactly what the problem is.

Usually this 3rd-Gear drive is the fail-safe, limp-home mode, which is usually triggered whenever the TCM receives an electronically generated error code. In case you cannot communicate with the TCM, then therein lies your problem: the TCM itself is cooked.

The transmission may have to be opened. A coil pack may have failed and overheated from an electrical surge, melting the module. Mitsubishi, for some reason, thought it wise to place the two in close proximity to each other. If this is the case you are facing some major (and expensive) repairs. I can bet the mechs will tell you: “Nunua gearbox ingine, Mummy!”

Hello Baraza,

Just to let you know, your column is remarkable! Here is my dilemma. I am looking for a seven- or eight-seater vehicle for airport transport business and car hire services, mostly around Western and Nyanza (as you know, Kisumu is now an international airport).

Comfort, reliability, availability of spare parts and a bit off-roading are important. I have in mind these cars: Toyota Estima 4WD 2.4cc, Toyota Isis 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Wish 1800cc 4WD, Toyota Sienta 1500cc 4WD.

I am aware they are all Toyotas, but you will have to forgive me because I am new in this. Any other suggestions will be really appreciated.

In an unrelated matter, there is this car I wanted to buy from a friend, a Skoda Octavia station wagon, 1.9 diesel TDi, 2006 manual gearbox model, for my personal use.

How would you size up this car in terms of reliability, performance, spare parts availability and fuel consumption. It is going for Sh650,000.

Thank you in advance.

Buy the Previa, also known as Estima. None of these cars will go off-road properly (what international airports are these you visit that require one to off-road a bit to get there?), but the Previa is the best in all the cars you mention.

You may have to compromise on economy (2400cc compared to sub 2.0 litre for the rest, and the bigger body); but not so you’d notice. And, believe me, that Estima is worth it.

It is roomier, more comfortable by far and better equipped. The Isis may have powered sliding doors as a boasting point (these doors fascinated me so much I took the car for a spin in the dead of night to find out what else was good about it) but that is just about it. It won’t do anything that the Previa will not. Thew same applies to the rest of the pack.

About the Skoda: damn fine car that is. Reliability is Germanic (good), as is performance, even in the diesel iteration you mention. It can outrun a Mk IV Golf GTI over the quarter mile, which is saying a lot.

Spares are also Germanic (a touch pricey) but CMC should have them. If not, try the Internet. Economy is superb. Just watch out for DPF failure due to our twig-ridden and waterlogged diesel, and there is the fear that high-altitude use causes the turbos to spin too fast and fail within a year.

Care should be taken. Invest in a turbo timer to be safe, use only high quality oil and, unless you are at the coast, keep the revs low. Avoid the temptation to drag-race a Golf GTI between red robots.

Hi Baraza,

I am a regular reader of your Car Clinic articles and I must stay I appreciate your work. Good job. I’m planning to buy a car but I can’t seem to make a choice between the Audi A4 (2005) and the Mercedes Benz C180/200 Kompressor (2005).

I am a Second Year university student and I want a car, between the two, that I can service well and move up and about with. Also, of the two, which one has a quick resale value?
Thank you.

Mwaura.

As a Second Year student, my choice of transport was to either walk or take a bus. Clearly you are facing a dilemma a lot different from that which I faced. Anyway…

Spare Parts and Maintenance: If this is a worry for you, then maybe you should be looking eastwards (read Pacific Rim/China/Japan) for a vehicle, not Germany; but here is your answer anyway.

Audi has no franchise at the moment; at least none that I know of, so getting spares may be a hit-and-miss affair. Also, these are not cars you want to take to the seedier avenues in lower Nairobi, or any other town, so getting someone to do a proper job of maintaining that A4 will not be easy.

You may have to queue up at Arrow Motors and wait your turn. Mercedes, on the other hand, receives good support from DT Dobie, so it wins this.

Fuel consumption: Again, if this is a worry, then maybe you should be making Second Year decisions like mine. Both cars will not hurt your pocket fuel-wise though: provided you don’t drive in a way that will fascinate your impressionable lady classmates.

Expect town-bound economy of about 7-9KPL and highway figures up to 16KPL. This also applies to the supercharged Mercedes. Keep those classmates away from your car though: extra weight is an enemy of good economy.

Resale: The Benz will fetch customers faster than the Audi. Kenyans fear Audis, except for the Q7, which for some reason (I don’t know this reason) they seem to love and worship. On the other hand, we also love Mercs and we are buying them in large numbers, especially the C and E Classes.

Hello Baraza,

I have four questions for you:

1.What determines the engine capacity of a given vehicle?

2.How is the engine capacity related to engine rating?

3.My car is a 1300cc Nissan B12. What is the typical fuel consumption rate of such vehicles?

4.What is the most economical speed one should drive at to ensure the car does not exceed the designed fuel consumption rate under ideal conditions?

Mbogo Munyau,

Embu.

1. The volume of one cylinder, which is got by the base area of the cylinder (pi multiplied by the square of the bore multiplied by 0.25) multiplied by the stroke of the cylinder.

The bore is the diameter of the cylinder and the stroke is the height of the cylinder. The figure you get from this calculation is then multiplied by the number of cylinders in the engine block (possible configurations are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12 and 16).

The final figure is the engine capacity you are talking about, usually expressed in litres (L), cubic centimeters (cc) or cubic inches (ci, commonly used in the US when quoting the capacities of classic muscle cars/trucks).

2. By engine rating I assume you mean power rating. The general rule is: the larger the engine capacity, the higher the power output, but this applies up to a point. Other factors play an equally big role in getting the power of an engine: forced induction, material used to forge moving parts, valve timing/camshaft profiles, torque development of the engine, and how high (in terms of rpm) the engine can carry that torque.

3. There is what the rest of the world achieves when driving such cars, and then there is what I can achieve (if I may say so myself) when I go “economical”. Expect 10 or 12KPL in town conditions (this is greatly dependent on how bad traffic conditions are.

It could be as low as 5KPL in a particularly tight gridlock) and as high as 20KPL on the open road. I have once achieved 25KPL in a 1300cc EP82 Starlet without trying really hard. Typical returns should be about 17 or 18 KPL for “normal” highway driving.

4. Keep the revs at about 1,800rpm or slightly less in top gear. This avoids engine strain due to low-rev driving, and the revs are still low enough for the car to sip.

Whatever speed this occurs at is the optimum driving speed for economy. It is possible to get even better economy than this, but from there you will be straying into hypermiling territory, which is highly risky, a bit technical and sometimes dangerous.

Hi Baraza,

Greetings from southern Tanzania! Great work you are doing with straight-up answers to our motoring queries. My organisation wants to buy several double-cabs for a project this year.

The options are Toyota Hilux, Nissan Hardbody, Ford Ranger and the all-new VW Amarok. Kindly share your thoughts on power, off-road capabilities, comfort, drive feel and overall ranking.

Cheers,

Sam

Power: The Amarok Bi-Turbo and the Ford Ranger lead the pack at 176 hp and 197 hp (2012 model, 3.2 TDCi) respectively. The rest are left floundering at the back. The Ranger wins out on torque also: 470Nm compared to the VW’s 400Nm.

Off-road ability: All these cars will go off-road convincingly. They are all fitted with proper off-road kit in their 4X4 iterations, and they have ground clearance to boot. Seeing how none of them use fancy viscous couplings/torque vectoring technology with that 4WD, this makes them all equal players in the field.

Getting far from the beaten track in one will depend on how skilled the driver is.
Comfort: Interesting state of affairs here.

The Amarok I tested was the base model 4X2 diesel turbo, and it was the most uncomfortable double-cab I have ever driven, owing to a ride quality that was both bouncy AND hard.

A South African colleague, however, has driven the Bi-Turbo, and he, on the other hand, tells me it is the most comfortable in the pack of double-cabs he has tried. This may be true, as you will see in just a moment. The Hilux is next in line from the bottom, then the Hardbody is in third place.

Feel: Hard to tell. The base model Amarok is really not that good, but again, the Bi-Turbo comes with an options list like that of a German saloon: featuring things like wood and leather.

The Hilux has a bright grey interior that is not at all endearing while the Hardbody’s is a bit better and darker shade of grey. The Ford’s interior, judging from what I saw at the launch, could very easily be the best here (until I see that wood-and-leather Bi-Turbo, that is).

Drive: Both the base-model single-turbo Amarok and the Hilux suffer from tremendous turbo lag. While the Hilux stays breathless almost throughout, the Amarok will run off into the distance.

The Bi-Turbo should counteract this by having that extra turbo under the bonnet to reduce lag. The Hardbody is a bit so-so (definitely more involving than the Hilux) while the Ranger….

Overall Ranking: You might think this will go the Bi-Turbo way, but then you’d think wrong. You may have noticed that I don’t say much about the Ranger in Drive, Feel and Comfort; and there is a very good reason.

Even after promises were made, I am yet to drive the Ford Ranger. So I cannot rank it conclusively against the rest of the pack. Judging from what every other motoring journalist has said, however, the Ranger T6 is almost as good as good gets in the double-cab world. So it gets first place.

Then the Amarok Bi-Turbo comes second. The Hilux is stone dead last. Poor ride quality and the unresponsive, lag-plagued and underpowered engine are the car’s worst failings. A naff interior also doesn’t help matters. The Hardbody is much better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi,

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

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

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

Philip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baraza,

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

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

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

Fanon

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

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

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

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

Hi Baraza,

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

Ken

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on

On the STi, Evo and ‘Godzilla’ battle, the jury is still out

Hi Baraza,
I have been arguing with my friends over which would be the winner in a battle involving the Subaru ST-i, the Mistubishi Evo VIII and ‘Godzilla’ (the Nissan GT-R R34).

I believe in the Evo due to its superior handling capabilities while the others go with the ST-i due to its superior acceleration.

Now, I’m not that well versed with the GTR, but from what I’ve read in this column, it seems that Nissan is a miracle of Asian engineering. So would you kindly set the record straight; when Jeremy Clarkson featured the cars, there was no straightforward answer.

And, on another note, was the M-class series of Mercedes a failure?

There has been no clear winner between the Evo and the ST-i. Personally, I swing the Evo way. The two cars are fundamentally the same, but there are differences.

The Impreza, through its numerous iterations, used mechanical differentials whereas the Evo applied a variety of electronic gizmos (AWC, AYC, etc) to switch torque back, forth, left and right.

The result is that the ST-i was harder to turn and had a tendency to understeer. and unprofessional suspension tuning usually made the understeer worse.

The Evo, on the other hand, handled sharply, turned better and carried more speed into and through corners, besides having a slightly higher corner exit velocity. It lost out (ever so slightly) to the ST-i in straight line speed.

ST-i pundits will yak about the near-perfect balance (owing to the boxer engine forming a straight line with the transmission and final drives through the centre of the car), against the Evo’s transversely laid in-line engine. Ignore them.

The R34 allegedly made 280 hp in factory spec, but since it developed more torque and carried that torque to higher revs than the R33, car reviewers suspected that the output was more like 320 hp, which was in direct contravention of a now-defunct gentleman’s agreement in Japan that all Japanese domestic market manufacturers will not build cars with a power output greater than 280hp.

I wonder why none of those reviewers never put Godzilla on a dyno to find out.

The GT-R’s magic comes from the ATTESA 4WD system that makes it turn at unbelievable speed. The vehicle enjoyed spectacular success in many racing series, particularly the JGTC, prompting race organisers to repeatedly make rules disfavouring the R34, if only to create a bit of competition and variety on the podium.

Its biggest disadvantage is weight, tipping the scales at close to 1,800 kg against the 1.5 tons of the two four-door saloons.

About the M-Class, the first generation was not exactly a sales failure, but it was a low point in Daimler’s history. They learnt never to design and build a car in America again, because it would come out American, which has never been a good thing.

Hi,

I’m really interested in cars and currently drive a Nissan B15 to school. I would like to know why you, in a way, hate on it because so far its okay for me.

It is not so much hate as disregard. Reliability issues, especially concerning suspension components and the fact that it ages disgracefully, has put the car off in my books. But take good care of it and it should return the love. Treat it the way some Nyeri women treat their hubbies and it will be just as unkind to you.

JM,

I have noticed that almost all Japanese cars, even fairly new ones, are permanently topped with engine coolant — you pop into a petrol station (especially ladies) and the attendants quickly notice how low your coolant is and offer it for a fee. But is engine coolant a necessity?

A normal operating engine with a working cooling system is designed to automatically keep your engine cool at all times. If your engine is overheating, you don’t need the cooling stuff, you need to have your engine checked. Correct me if I am wrong.

Yes, you are partly wrong. Sometimes coolant leaks and needs topping up. Remember heat capacities in physics? A greater mass of liquid will absorb more heat (that is, require more energy to warm up) than a smaller mass? The more coolant you have, the longer the engine will stay without getting unduly warm.

The reddish (coloured) coolant is actually anti-freeze, stuff we do not really need here, unless you live in Nyahururu where it sometimes “snows”. Anti-freeze is made to have an extremely low melting point so that it will take temperatures far below zero to freeze over.

Coolant is water based, and, again, from physics, we know about the anomalous expansion of water, where between 0 and -4 degrees, ice actually expands rather than contracts with a drop in temperature, and this expansion can do a great deal of damage to the cooling system and engine block.

Anti-freeze added once in a while (after several top ups of water, how many is not important) is a good idea even here around the equator because it also contains cleaning and anti-corrosion agents, which will keep your cooling ducts/pipes and radiator clear of build-up and rust. Okay now?

Baraza,

You have mentioned on about two occasions the engine of a Honda car — can’t remember the specific make — and you heaped a lot of praise on it, especially in comparison to the Nissan X-trail and that class of engines. Please enlighten me on this.

Secondly, my understanding of turbo engines was about more power and same fuel consumption as a non-turbo car, but from your articles I gather that this is not the case and that turbo engines are “fragile”. True?

Actually, what I like about Honda engines is the V-TEC boffinry (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control).

It gives the engine a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: below 5,000 rpm, it is docile, quiet and “teetotal”, get beyond 5,000 rpm and it turns into a wild, manic, racer-like dipsomaniac and will keep revving all the way to 9,000 rpm for most Type R cars and 10,000 rpm for the Honda S2000 sports car. Heady stuff, this.

I also mentioned the two-stage CVCC cylinder heads pioneered by Soichiro’s engineers way back in 1975. These revolutionised emissions control and fuel economy so that Honda did not have to fit power-sapping catalytic converters to its cars (the tiny cartoon-like Civic at the time).

These heads were tried even in the huge, thirsty American V8 engines and the results were spectacular.

Lambda sensor technology has since rendered the CVCC heads unnecessary.

Turbo engines will burn a little more fuel because a lot more air is going into the engine, and to avoid burning a leaner mixture than 14.7-to-1, a bit more fuel has to be fed in.

But the power jump is astonishing and worth the effort, especially compared to tuning an NA engine to produce the same power without forced induction. The result is actually improved consumption, for the output.

These engines are not exactly fragile, but they don’t take abuse very well. Damaging the turbo (very easy with a little carelessness) is an expensive mistake. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions keenly and you will be fine.

Hi Baraza,
I would like to know what ‘cruise control’ is all about. Is it good to have a car with this feature?

Christopher

Cruise control is an electronic feature that allows a car to maintain a steady speed without the driver using the accelerator or the brake. If you want to cruise at 100 km/h, accelerate to 100, set the cruise control and let go of the throttle.

You can either disengage it manually, deactivate it by braking or accelerating, or adjust it upwards or downwards using buttons around the driver (mostly on the steering wheel). This is how it worked in the Jaguar XJ saloon I drove last year.

The problem is that the car will try to do 100 km/h EVERYWHERE, including uphill, so fuel consumption might not be to your liking. There are chances that it may also have a soporific effect on the driver, leading to reduced alertness and consequently, sleep-swerve-hoot-screech-crash-bang-wallop-blood-tears-hospital bills-funeral expenses.

Hi,

I would like some general advice regarding the small Maruti Omni. I want a small car to use in my small business and also as a family car, occasionally travelling upcountry without struggling with matatus. I don’t mind the image associated with the car.

Mulwa

So far, you seem to have it down pat, apart from two things:

1. Use as a family car: I’m sure you love your family, but toting them from A to B in a Maruti is a sure-fire way of ensuring you will not get any gifts from them come Father’s Day.

2. How occasionally is “occasionally”? Your upcountry base had better be no further than Machakos because, again, this is not a vehicle to spend too much time in. Ukambani in general is hot, and the lack of interior space or an air-con will be a heavy cross to bear in this pre-April rains heat. Especially with your family on board.

Hi JM,

Kindly offer me your advice on these two cars: a black Subaru Impreza (hatchback) and a silver Subaru Impreza (sedan), which one is a better buy when considering efficiency, spare parts and so on?

Both cars have 1.5-litre engines but the hatchback is a 2005 car while the sedan is a 2006 car. The last car I had was a Mitsubishi Cedia, which was just hell.

The gearbox collapsed after just two months and getting a replacement was like going to the moon!

Allan

I would go for the sedan, repaint it blue, add a stonking huge rear spoiler, body kit and gold rims and fit a noisy exhaust; then I would drive like I was about to die and only three-figure speeds could save my life. ST-i owners/drivers, do you read me?

The car to go for is entirely up to you, Allan. Do you want a sedan or a hatchback? A hatchback may offer more practicality in carrying luggage, but the sedan looks better. Mechanically, the two are the same.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a businessman based in Nairobi. I also double up as a farmer, so I’m a complete “off-roadholic”.

I am looking to buy a double cabin 4WD pick-up truck that will comfortably do my kids’ school runs, carry bags of fertiliser to my farm every now and then and on school holidays, comfortably handle the terrain in Maasai Mara during the long rains… if you get my drift.

I’m torn between the Toyota Hilux, the Nissan Navara, the Isuzu D-MAX and the Ford Ranger. Please rate these cars for me in terms of consumption, build quality, durability, off-road handling, and cost and availability of spare parts.

Kevin

If you followed my articles last year, you may have noticed that, were it not for the outright weirdness of the act, I would buy a Navara as a Valentine’s gift. Luckily or unluckily, I don’t own a Navara. Yet.

Consumption: That same Navara is a bit worrisome; I suspect it either runs a higher boost pressure in the turbo or it has a small tank, either way, when pitted against a Ford Ranger, it emptied its tank quite fast.

I have driven the latest Hilux, two weeks ago in fact, but I did not get to empty its tank, nor did I empty the Ranger’s tank last year, so it is hard to say which of the two will give you a better range. Absolute consumption depends on the degree of madness within your right foot.

Build quality: The Navara. Its build quality is an exercise of near-Germanic obsession in terms of panel gap consistencies, solid feel and material science. Better than the other three.

Durability: I’d have to say it is a close call between Toyota and Ford, with my observations leaning towards the Ranger. Strange, yes, but the Ford seems like it is built out of rock — I have yet to see a weather-beaten example.

On the other hand, the Hilux pick-ups in use by large corporations and municipal councils don’t look too good after some time. The Navara also faces some complaints by users, some of whom complain that somebody somewhere cannot do a proper diagnosis. I don’t know how true this is.

Off-road handling: They should all do well, because more often than not, if the going gets military, the weakest link is usually found behind the wheel.

Cost: The Hilux is dearest and the D-MAX is cheapest. With the Ford, it depends on which spec you go for, but it varies within these two extremes. The Navara is second to Hilux in expensiveness.

Spares: These cars are all franchised, so DT Dobie for the Navara, GM for the D-MAX, Toyota Kenya for the Hilux and CMC for the Ranger. Costs of spares will depend on what these people tell you.

JM,

I would like to bring you back to your article in which you said that the Toyota Verossa is an ugly car. In my opinion, I think the principle applicable here is the same one used when judging the beauty of woman — beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

I agree with you that the car is ugly, but of late, it has been growing beautiful by the day, like a woman you might not find so beautiful on the first day but as you get to know her better, you start to notice her beauty.

To support my point, I will remind you of the Mercedes W210. When the car was first introduced to the market, there was an uproar from die-hard Mercedes fans (including me) who found the round lights peculiar.

However, with time, the car has grown on us and become more and more beautiful, I am sure you agree with that.

A woman will add weight if too thin, shed weight if too weighty, she will lose her pre-pubescent clumsiness as she matures, and life experiences will instill confidence in her and her eyes will acquire a worldliness that we find attractive whenever we gaze into them.

A car, on the other hand, embarks on a relentless downward free-fall the moment it leaves the showroom, shedding 30 per cent of its value at the door. It can only lose shape from that point onwards. Starting off ugly does not do it any favours; it won’t “mature”, or lose baby fat, or tone its muscles with a session at the gym.

This explains why the Verossa had the shortest life span of all Toyota cars ever, except, maybe, their Formula 1 car.

Posted on

A 4WD car doesn’t automatically make you an off-road hotshot

Baraza,

I have a Toyota Prado, model KZJ95, which I love as it is a lot of fun to ride in. However, I have two problems which I hope you can help me sort out. The first concerns consumption. The car is a 3.0 diesel and yet it consumes fuel as if crude is going out of fashion. What is the best way to cut down on this consumption?

The second problem is that, during the rainy season, I got stuck in mud in the village because I could not use the 4WD stick. How does this stick work? At what position is it engaged, and when should it be disenganged?

Njagah

You might be expecting too much from a 3.0-litre engine. What consumption figure does it return? If it actually does burn a lot of fuel, then maybe the transfer case is stuck in low.

About getting stuck in mud. The J90 Prado has full-time 4WD, so the transfer case switches between low range and high range. That is not your problem.

You see, putting on a Manchester United jersey and walking into Old Trafford does not make you the last word in professional football; you have to have the skill to go with it.

Most people assume that the presence of 4WD automatically makes them off-road champions. It doesn’t.

Like in football, you have to have the skill to use whatever you have. Not to brag, but I once manoeuvred a Toyota Starlet through the same quagmire that had trapped a Land Rover Discovery and an Isuzu Trooper.

Develop your off-road driving skills if you want to take full advantage of the 4WD system in your car.

—————–

Hi,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I intend to buy a new single cab pick-up truck for delivery of office supplies and construction equipment and can’t seem to decide on whether to buy a Toyota Hilux, Nissan (any of the various types), Isuzu D-MAX, Ford Ranger or a Foton. Could you help me decide with regard to the following:

1. The maximum carrying capacity of the car.

2. The initial cost of the car and the cost of spare parts.

3. Between a diesel and a petrol engine, which one would be better for the long run since I want to hold onto the car for about five years before selling it?

Lastly, regarding the Toyota Vigo double-cab, what is its load carrying capacity?

When it comes to carrying capacity, the D-MAX or Hilux are massive.

The cheapest to buy is the Chinese knockoff, but cheapest overall (spares and maintenance) I’d put my money on the Nissan Hardbody/NP300.

On the best engine type, I would say petrol. It might cost more to fuel, but petrol engines have longer service intervals and are less prone to structural and mechanical strains.

The robust build of diesel engines may make them long lasting, but not as much as petrol engines.

The Vigo? I thought the discussion was on single cabs! Anyway, it can carry up to one tonne easily.

—————

Dear Baraza,

You seem not to have a lot of faith in the Nissan make, I wonder why. In 1999, I wanted to buy a Toyota 91, but I did not have the money. Instead I bought a second hand B12 ‘local’.

It faithfully and reliably served me for more than 10 years until, once again, I wanted a Toyota but couldn’t afford one and instead I bought a Wingroad.

The B12 served me well for three reasons: service was after every 3,000 km, and I changed the tyres and tubes and did engine overhauls every three years.

Now, because of what you have been saying here, I am convinced I should get a Subaru Forester non-turbo for climbing the Tugen Hills, which the B12 comfortably accomplished, by the way.

Oh no, it is not that I lack faith in the Nissan brand, it is just that some of its output belongs in the gutter. Like the B14. Or the Micra.

There are some Nissans that do get my blood racing, like the GTR.

The Murano is what I’d pick over rivals like Lexus RX and Subaru Tribeca. And don’t forget the praise I had for the Navara after that showdown in Kajiado last year….

The B12 was one of Nissan’s finest moments, right before it went bankrupt and almost collapsed.

A Renault merger saved it from doom, and it is under Ghosn (post-merger Renault-Nissan CEO) that the cars in the above paragraph were conceived.

————–

Hi Baraza,

I own 2002 X-Trail GT, petrol, 2000cc turbo and I’ve learnt to accept it’s 9kpl consumption, whether I try to limit my revs under 2000 rpm or not.

I noticed two months ago that when I’m doing speeds of over 110 km/h, its difficult to get to 3500 rpm even if I force it. It’s okay on low speeds though.

I also feel like the gears are taking longer to change. What could be the problem? The check-engine light is on.

Knowing GTs, I’d say check the ignition coil for the reluctance to rev. Run a diagnosis to see what the check-engine light is all about, but my guess is it ties in with the engine’s unwillingness to spin.

As for the gearbox, check the ATF levels; if it is low, top up, but prepare for a major bill soon — you might have to replace it. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

——————

Dear Baraza,

I intend to buy a car soon and I am kind of unable to decide what to buy from these three makes: Mercedes A-class, Peugeot 206 and VW Golf.

Since cheap is expensive, I am cautiously avoiding Toyotas, Mazdas and Nissans — plus I don’t know why most of them have their side mirrors chained to the door!

I can comfortably fuel an 1800cc engine and below. Kindly advise me on which one to buy, considering performance, durability and maintenance costs.

Martin

Martin, you are yet another Kenyan whose mind is firmly stuck in the bank account.

There are several others like you who are not interested in the ownership experience of a particular car; it all boils down to costs, costs and costs. Anyway, here goes:

Performance: If you choose to go GTi, the 206 GTi is the best of the pack, followed by the Golf.

Just how big the rift between these two is depends on whether it is the MK IV or MK V Golf.

There is no such thing as a Mercedes-Benz A Class GTi. There isn’t an AMG version either, and if a BRABUS A does exist, it will cost about the same as a regular S-Class.

So in performance terms the A-Class is out, unless you are talking about a MK IV Golf GTi, in which case the Golf is out.

Durability: The Golf will last forever. The Peugeot won’t. Somewhere in between lies the little Mercedes.

Maintenance cost: A lot for the Benz. Not so much for the Peugeot. The Golf lies in the middle, leaning towards the Peugeot.

PSST! I also think these Japanese ‘econoboxes’ look ridiculous with their chained mirrors!

————–

Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying a second-hand 4WD mid-size SUV and in mind are the first or second generation Honda CRV, Toyota RAV-4 and Nissan X-Trail.

Please tell me about fuel economy, performance, resale value, spares, other pros and cons — and your preference if it you were in my shoes.

Harry

Fuel economy: Similar across the range for similar engine sizes. The RAV-4 may be a bit thirstier than the rest, but marginally.

Performance: Again, broadly similar across the range. RAV-4 feels quicker than the rest, but the mantle belongs to the VTEC Honda, that is, until you introduce the 280hp X-Trail GT — pretty fast, this, but a friend alleges it will burn through Sh7,000 of premium unleaded petrol between Nairobi and Eldoret if you are not circumspect with the throttle. I believe him.

Resale value: Hard to call. The RAV might depreciate fastest due its steep initial asking price. If you can find a lady buyer, you can fob the CRV off on her at a good quote (women are suckers for these Hondas, apparently).

Second or third owner X-Trails are becoming uncommon; in my circles, the reputation of ephemeral automatic transmissions has really done the X-Trail no favours at all.

Spares: Why do people still ask this and yet week after week I keep saying spares are there for these cars; and if running costs are a source of worry to you then maybe you are not ready to own a car just yet.

————–

Hi JM,

I am based in Mombasa and I’m really keen on venturing into the business of transporting core building and construction material.

I am, therefore, looking for a 15-20 tonne tipper truck. Please advise on a reliable make seeing as to how, of late, the Chinese seem to be taking over the market but I’m wary of anything Chinese.

Mwashinga

There’s a wide choice here, starting from expensive European trucks like Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volvo, Scania and MAN, through the usual Japanese suspects of Mitsubishi Fuso, UD Trucks (formerly Nissan Diesel, now owned by Volvo) and Isuzu F Series, then finally the “disposable” Chinese products.

The reason Chinese trucks are becoming so popular is that they are dirt cheap. And you can tell why; I had a look at them at a recent motor show and they are rough-and-ready at best, with little investment going into R&D and with some of them simply manufacturing ex-Japanese engines under license.

They are also short-lived, as the reputations of various other Chinese products would attest.

Of the pick, I would go for a Scania P Series, more so the 310hp P94D.

—————-

Hi Baraza,

Help me understand why or how some petrol engines have water dripping from the exhaust while others don’t.

I have heard it said that those dripping water are efficient burners of fuel or have something to do with CCs.

You were lied to. The water you see is the result of condensation from two sources: water vapour in the atmosphere cools within the pipe and is expelled when the engine is running, and water is a by-product (a very small one) of combustion — supercooling (a sharp drop in temperature) also causes condensation.

This phenomenon also explains the contrails you see coming out the back of a jet high up in the sky

————–

Hi JM,

“BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see.” This is a quote from your column on January 25 this year.

I was perplexed when I read that because in your column on December 14 last year, you heaped lot of praise on BMWs after an inquiry from a reader.

To quote you, “the performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW; class-leading, quick, handles like magic, fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into…”. Why the contradiction? Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Furthermore, in a previous article you didn’t heap much praise on the X-Trail, but in your column on January 25, you said you preferred the 2.5 diesel X-Trail auto transmission, how come?

Or is it that as some reader suggested, you are on the payroll of some local dealer? Is that why you are biased towards the East?

Njue

Let me explain it this way: I love apple juice. I also love pineapple juice. I don’t like orange juice. I really don’t like lemon juice. So in a contest of juices, I would go for apple, hands down, and when queried, I will say I am not a fan of lemon juice. With me so far?

Here’s another comparison. “Mr Baraza, what would you rather drink? We have lemon juice, human sweat and camel urine.” I would, of course, be an idiot not to say lemon juice.

That was the case with the X-Trail: I specifically said “in this class I prefer the X-Trail”.

In terms of personal taste, I do not like mini-SUVs, of which the X-Trail is one, but it is what I’d choose over all other mini-SUVs.

This, sir, means I don’t like the X-Trail, as I have said before, but among crossover utilities, it is the least of very many evils.

Onto the BMW. If BMW was called Hummer, who make a wide range of only one car, you could take me to task, but as it is, BMW make very many different cars.

The class-leading ride and handling maestro whose virtues I extolled was the 3-Series. The “unnecessarily expensive” waste of one’s salary was the X3. Still with me?

Here is a brief run down of my thoughts on BMWs.

Good: All M cars, except the X6M. Also 3,5,6 and 7 Series. The X5 is a lesson in German dominance of the manufacturing industry.

Bad: 1 Series, except 1M. X1 and X3 also.

Should never have existed: X6 and X6M.

PS: I know camels pass more of pellets than liquid urine, but you get my point, right?

Posted on

A Subaru should not turn you into a revving idiot

Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the informative articles on motoring. I would like you to clarify something about Subarus.

Are they the strongest and most powerful cars around?

I am saying this because all the people I have come across driving Subarus are big-headed and arrogant on the road.

They go to the extreme of blocking your way when you want to overtake them, hardly give way, and they overtake at corners.

———————————–

No, Subarus are neither the strongest nor the most powerful vehicles around. They are not even the fastest.

These cars are fast earning a reputation for being the wheels of choice of indisciplined sociopaths, a rather sad state of affairs because the cars are quite good.

Buying one now, especially an STi (WRX or Forester, huge spoilers and massive exhaust in place) has become a social no-no; the law will watch you a bit more keenly and ladies will avoid you, suspecting that you are not as mature as you might look. Unfortunate.

But, no, Subarus do not turn you into an idiot.

Last Friday, I took one to Narok and back (Legacy saloon, black, two-litre, non-turbo) and, while the temptation to bounce off the limiter at 180 km/h was quite strong, I do not recall feeling the urge to privatise the road and inconvenience other users.

If anything, I remember being quite courteous, yielding more than I normally would.

————————————-

Hi Baraza,

I own a Subaru Impreza. Everything about it is okay but I am concerned because when I start the engine, the car smokes for about five seconds after which the smoke disappears.

I service the car regularly after every 2,500 km, so what might be the problem?

—————————————

Five seconds you say? Hmmm! ’Does not sound too bad, but all the same a car should never smoke.

What colour is the smoke? Blue means you are burning oil, in which case the valve seals may be leaking.

White smoke means you are burning coolant, so the head gasket may be leaking.

It could also mean you are burning ATF if your car is an automatic, so check the transmission seals for integrity.

—————————————-

JM,

We have a 2003 Nissan X-Trail and I am not comfortable with how the fuel gauge rapidly falls even when the vehicle is in 2WD mode.

We replaced the fuel filter and it is still bad compared to a normal Nissan X-Trail.

The mechanic checked and saw that the bonding record of the fuel gauge was up, not down, as it was supposed to be.

I request you to enlighten and advise me on what I am supposed to do.

1. Do I request the mechanic to kindly re-check it and try to correct it?

2. If not to re-check it, what could be the problem?

3. In your view, what should be done to correct the problem?

Thomas

————————————-

1. Yes, request the mechanic to have another look at it. Not necessarily kindly, unless you want him to do it for free, in which case, yes, request kindly.

2. The problem was identified: you said the issue was the irregular movements of the fuel gauge and you found an anomaly in the equipment, so through syllogism, it follows that the equipment is the harbinger of chaos on your dashboard.

3. Repair. Replacement. Anything that will get it working well again.

————————————

Hi JM,

I have owned a Nissan B15 for the past 11 months. Recently, it started to produce a strange sound from the engine.

My mechanic told me it has a slow knock and we bought motor honey for it.

What are the signs of a knocking engine and what measures should one take to prevent this?

Nyagah

————————————-

Motor honey? Anyway, signs of a knocking engine: first the oil warning light will come on, which means you should top up the oil (honey?) shortly.

It might go off and on a few times, or it might stay permanently on if you do not top up.

Depending on how hard, how far, and where you are driving, sooner or later a slight rattle will emanate from around the cylinder head area whenever the throttle is opened (off throttle, everything sounds OK).

If you can hear the rattle, then it is too late, you have suffered an engine knock.

To prevent an engine knock, always have the right amount of oil flowing through the engine.

Regular checks, especially before and after long/hard driving should be done to determine whether an oil change is due.

And always change the oil after wading through sump-deep water.

————————————-

Hi,

I would like to buy a 2002 Peugeot 406, 1800cc. How would you rate this car and are its spares readily available?

Where can you service this vehicle in case you have it?

————————————-

This calls for a bit of research because I am not sure if Marshalls turned over all things Peugeot to Urasia, or if they still have stocks of old model Peugeot parts.

What I know is they are there. If these two do not have them, then good ol’ Grogan Road will.

I have found spares for my old 405 there on numerous occasions (and that silly thing is now 24 years old).

I rate the 406 very, very highly, and would buy one too once the money comes right. Servicing can be done at any garage of repute.

—————————————

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Corolla NZE, which is a full-time 4WD. Please advise me on consumption as compared to a 2WD.

Secondly, someone told me that the gearbox for this kind of vehicle is difficult to repair in case need arises, that it is difficult to even transform from manual to automatic.

Please help me understand this.

————————————–

Consumption is just a touch higher in the 4WD, but you will never notice under ordinary driving conditions.

And yes, the transmission will be a swine to fix once broken because the marriage of the primary gearbox and secondary transfer case makes for an elaborate mechanical maze.

However, I am not so sure about the swap. It is usually easy in other cars, but I cannot declare anything yet until I study the schematics of the NZE powertrain.

—————————————-

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Trueno and want to upgrade the carburettor engine to EFI.

It has a 1428cc 3A engine and I feel that the consumption is a little bit on the higher side (currently doing 10 kpl) so I want a more fuel efficient engine.

Should I replace it with a 6A or 5A Toyota engine? Which EFI engine is compatible with a 3A carburettor engine?

If I maintain the same carburettor power unit, how do I make it more fuel efficient?

—————————————–

The 5A is a better unit and you have a choice of two: the 5A-FE, for really good economy, or the 5A-FHE, which offers the economy but is tuned for a more aggressive output and better performance.

In order to maximise economy on a carburettor engine, the first thing you need to do is drive slower.

Then make sure the choke is in the correct position. If you want to get technical, you can fit smaller carburettors.

If you want to get really technical, you can swap the entire cylinder head for one of Honda’s CVCC heads, if you can find one, that is (this is technology from 1975, but it works like magic).

The CVCC engines have two-stage cylinder heads and two-channel carburettors.

One channel from the carburettor feeds a rich mixture into the upper combustion chamber, in which the spark plug is located, for easy combustion.

The other channel feeds a lean mixture into the lower combustion chamber, and the ignition heat from the rich mixture burning lights up the lean mixture, so the plugs do not have to be strained trying to ignite the lean mixture.

The result is almost 18 kpl from a 1.5 litre carburettor engine. Neat.

—————————————

Hi,

I am a part-time university student who is thinking of buying my first car.

I really admire the Land Rover 110 but know how costly they are. Recently, I found used ones that go for around Sh500,000.

Should I go for one and slowly change its looks by going for bodyworks and other stuff or should I purchase a different car that you would recommend, based on fuel consumption, maintenance, and resale value?

Griff

—————————————–

Griff, what do you want, or expect, from the Defender?

I also crave one too, just so you know, but fuel consumption and resale value are primary considerations for me, more so given that my heart is set on the petrol-powered V8 (it has a fearsome thirst, not even a loan from HELB could get you substantial mileage).

The diesel engines are a bit so-so. Anything pre-1999 is going to introduce you to the diametric opposite of a Lexus in terms of smoothness. And acceleration.

The petrol variants, on the other hand, will help clear your HELB loan faster than a feminist female classmate on a revenge mission against men.

There is a five-cylinder model that came out at the turn of the Millennium that might please you.

Turbocharged and intercooled, the 2.5-litre diesel can manage up to 11 kpl (avoid Thika Road at rush hour, if you catch my drift) and it can propel the Defender up to 140 km/h, at which point the laws of physics and nature take over to remind you that your car is not the last word in aerodynamics.

Maintenance sessions should fall within the “manageable” classification; not necessarily cheap, but thankfully far between, and the body construction of the Defender means prangs are easily cured by replacing the low-cost body panels rather than going for a hit-or-miss panel beating and/or repaint.

The addenda will cost you, though, especially those knobbly tyres. The exact costs will depend on what you want to add and what shop you buy it from.

—————————————-

Hi Baraza,

I intend to replace my Toyota Mark 2 (XJ100) 2000 model with a Mercedes S class W140, but my wife will hear none of it, saying Mercs are expensive to maintain.

But I know that Merc owners see garages less often than their Japanese vehicles counterparts, thus more savings in the long run.

Is there anything you can say to help me convince her?

Marto

———————————–

Yes, there is something I can add. It is a sad day when a woman chooses a Toyota over a Benz.

Suddenly, there is no need for us men to work hard any more if buying a Mercedes rather than a Toyota makes no difference to a woman — the woman we are trying to get on the good side of — or worse yet, she goes for the underdog Toyota. What gives?

———————————–

Hi Baraza,

I work in the automotive industry and regularly read your column. I wonder if your responses are based on facts.

You could be de-marketing some models, you know.

Nyambura Njuguna

————————————-

“De-marketing some models”? Mine is not to promote vehicle models, or demote them for that matter. I just answer questions.

And I should take exception to the fact that you suspect my responses are the product of pure conjecture or guesswork.

But I am good like that, so I will not.

The various franchises and dealerships/outlets have their respective PR and marketing departments, so I will not do their work for them.

I gain nothing by marketing one make of car over another without good reason to, or without supporting evidence; much in the same way I gain nothing by “de-marketing” others.

If the advice I dole out happens to hurt one brand over another, I am sorry, but that is from my various observations.

It is thus up to the respective PR/marketing firm/department of that company to do some damage control, and that does NOT include saying “Baraza JM (not Jim, by the way, as some people insist on calling me) knows not what he speaks”.

Please go over my answers again, carefully. You will notice that I answer questions according to how I am asked.

If a reader asks what the fuel consumption of a Cadillac Escalade is and I tell him “very poor”, it is because the Escalade is heavy on petrol: 4kpl is pretty whack, even for a lorry, and the Escalade WILL do 4kpl.

If a reader asks me what I prefer between a Land Cruiser and a Ranger pickup, I say Ranger pickup because I ACTUALLY prefer it to the Land Cruiser (but not to the Navara, incidentally).

If I do not know the answer to a question, I will confess my ignorance, as was the case over the Audi franchise holder.

What I know about are the horrors of posting untruths in a national newspaper: it is safer to say I do not know rather than publish nonsense for which I will take the flak, and what for?

As regards mechanical difficulties, mine is a consultation service, for which I charge my readers no fee; what I offer them is guidance or a starting point for them to solve their problems.

It may or may not work, but I am proud to say it mostly works.

Long story short, the answer to your query is yes, there is research behind my answers. And a personal touch too; I am human, after all.

And if you think I “de-market” cars, go watch a programme called Top Gear, you will thank me for how polite I am.

Posted on

Is the Nissan NP300 Hardbody really new?

There has been a flurry of activity going down on Koinange Street, and no, it is not what you are thinking; please get your minds out of the gutter, this is a motoring column.

There has been talk and action surrounding the latest Jeep Cherokee, something called a Nissan Cash-and-Carry (actually Qashqai, but forgive my poor grasp of exotic nomenclature), some new Benz cars (latest CLS and E-Class coupés), and, naturally, a new vehicle launch.

The brief was simple — Ring-ring. Hello, Baraza. We are launching the new Nissan NP300 Hardbody pickup. Would you be so kind as to make an appearance? Yes I would. So I donned by best and walked into College House.

The affair was textbook and low key — a podium where grey-suited executive types would stand and remind us motoring hacks what we were there for and some cars kept undercover (literally) to increase the element of surprise and boost excitement.

And the excitement was there alright, at least for me, given how fired up I was when the NP200 came out, so I was sure the NP300 would be a pleasant surprise. It was a surprise, yes, but not the kind that makes one giddy.

I first became suspicious that I was going to be disappointed during one speech (I never listen to these speeches, by the way), in which there was talk of TD27s and QD32s.

This was supposed to be a new line of cars, but those two engine codes sounded awfully familiar, and they should be. If you have travelled in a 14-seater matatu that was not a Toyota, then it more likely than not had one of these two engines.

Confirmation of my suspicion (to my utter surprise) came when the cars were unveiled under a barrage of flashing cameras and half-hearted clapping (we motoring hacks tend to be arrogant and unappreciative of other people’s efforts).

The new Nissan NP300 Hardbody is exactly the same as the old one.

What is it?

It is the Nissan Hardbody as you have always known it. The only difference is that it is now called the NP300 Hardbody, unlike before when we simply called it the Hardbody.

The NP300 name smacks of pandering to American tastes, where a good number of car companies have realised that evocative names don’t go far with the Yanks; they seem to prefer a combination of letters and numbers.

That is why Lexus has been so successful there, and why Land Rover are ditching their Discovery and Freelander labels for LR3, LR4 and what not.

Available permutations

The NP300 can be had in 2WD or 4WD, single-cab or double-cab, or in Atoti form: the flagship Double Cab High Grade (that is what it is called in the brochure).

There are two naturally aspirated diesel engines: a 2.7 and a 3.2, both 4-cylinder and both having seen service in the E24 van, what we commonly refer to as the Nissan matatu.

The 3.2 only comes with 4WD for both single and double cab, while the 2.7 is for 2WD. Also available is a 2.4 litre petrol engine for the 2WD single-cab.

The High Grade has only one engine, a turbo-intercooled 2.5 litre, and no, this is not the engine in the Navara.

It is available as either 2WD or 4WD, and this puts it squarely within its big brother’s playing field, a fiercely contested segment that has already seen a few casualties so far; remember the Ranger XLT?

What are its abilities?

The van engines develop 85 hp (64kW) and 18kgm of torque for the 2.7 and 100 hp (76kW) and 22 kgm for the 3.2.

Now, these are just numbers on a page, and frankly, they look a little underwhelming, but get behind the wheel of a Hardbody pickup and you will understand what all the talk about torque really is. I have.

The power is nothing you are likely to dream about, but the torque is massive. I have driven the 2.7 before, and I was astonished.

You can take off in first, second or third if the vehicle is empty, even fourth if you are a bit special. No judder. No strain.

No bogging down and no stalling. The last time this happened I was trying my hand on a Massey-Ferguson cane tractor, without the cane.

You can crawl along in first, off-throttle, like you would an automatic, and when in second, if you brake without clutching in, you can actually feel the engine tugging against the anchors. That is how good the torque is.

Nissan prides itself with the tagline “Built Tough”. The NP300 is the embodiment of this claim, and again, no, the free branded hat (and key-chain) I received for my trouble has nothing to do with my saying that.

It is as rugged as they come, built using the crude but effective 18th century mangle technology of steel ladder frames and leaf springs.

Five cross-members ensure that the ladder chassis won’t flex when the NP300 is used as most Kenyans are wont to use them: grossly overloaded and crawling down a barely tractable goat path.

Ruggedness forms part of the NP300 picture, what with double-walled rear side panels, double-walled tailgate and extra-strong tailgate chains.

These features really encourage overloading, and some people I talked to (not DT Dobie) say when they buy a Hardbody, they double the number of slats on the rear leaf springs, and coupled with the torquey engine, the car can now bear a load double its intended capacity. Kenyans.

Behind the wheel

For that same 2.7, I had some issues with the interior. It was as usefully simple as it was greyly naff. I may have said that the base Ford Ranger XLT was Spartan, but this Nissan’s interior is what the Spartans would call Spartan.

Radio (tape) and air-con; that’s your lot, no power windows. The bench (that is what it is, a flat, unsculpted bench that sits three: the driver and two uncomfortable passengers) is covered in grey cloth and is barely adjustable.

Oh, and airbags now enter the picture (at least for the 4WD diesel). The rest of the specs remain the same. Driving it is not that much fun, unless you play around with the torque.

It is not an exercise in masochism either; the heavily assisted steering is now finger-light and the four-spoke tiller can be twirled like a baton with minimum effort.

The pedals are nicely weighted, the throttle is smooth and easy to modulate, as is the clutch pedal, which is sweetly progressive and can be mastered by anyone, even those who failed in driving school.

The problem is the brakes. They work fine but the pedal requires a lengthy tread before the callipers bite, and they can cause you quite some alarm the first time you step on it and nothing happens.

It is not that the pedal is stiff, but you need to push a long way before actuation occurs. Seeing that the NP300 is a mass-produced robot-assembled white good, I sincerely hope the problem was peculiar to the vehicle I drove.

The gear selector lever is long and angled backwards for ergonomic reasons. The shift action is fine, but close placement means second-to-fifth or first-to-fourth shifts are a common occurrence, which is just as well given how much torque these engines develop.

The light commercial vehicle sector is quite competitive. Almost every entrant has their own unique characteristic, which is also their selling point.

Toyota and the Hilux depend on their reliability and after sales maintenance record, as well as the carrying capacity (expansive load bay) but their untrustworthy D4 technology is not winning them many fans.

Isuzu’s DMAX is named like a hip-hop artist, and the turbocharged engine pushes it to incredible speeds, but a video clip showing one spilling its human cargo all over the road (in Kenya, no less) exposed issues with its stability and has seen prospective buyers turn wary.

Turbocharged cars also have cooling complications, especially the oil, and the diesel versions require extra care if you seek longevity.

Mitsubishi L200: the less said the better. The Chinese? Their biggest claim to fame is strong vehicle resemblance to existing market players and a price tag that is hard to walk away from.

That leaves Nissan. You will not find them powering their way to Wilson Airport from Meru like the Hilux, nor will you find them delivering newspapers in the wee hours like the DMAX, so what is their role in life?

The double-cab is a common sight at roadwork sites, and it is used as an ambulance in a good number of (remote) hospitals, while the single-cab has fans among contractors and builders.

It looks like the NP300s are good for carrying cement and rocks, but I am not one to judge.

Fellow long-timers

Just because Nissan is using power and suspension from back when Formula 1 cars ran on vodka and methylated spirit does not make the NP300 a weak entry.

Some engines have proved themselves impeccably. The Peugeot 504 ceased production worldwide a long time ago, but Kenya and Nigeria continued assembly up to as late as 2004.

The Isuzu MV118 bus used the same 13.7 litre engine for close to 30 years before it was superseded by the 9.8 litre MV123.

And CMC will tell you that one of their products, the Nissan Diesel UD CB31 SXN, uses a powerplant that dates back to before I was born, yet it still stays competitive against modern entries.

Don’t be so quick to write off the NP, even if its re-launch is something that needs to be looked into.

Change is the only constant

The flagship of the brand, the 2.5 litre turbo-diesel double-cab, is lovingly referred to as “Atoti” by DT Dobie.

Now I get it; remember Gidi Gidi Maji Maji singing “Atoti this way, Atoti that way”? What they meant was Atoti looks this way now, and Atoti has looked that way since time began.

The blurb on the NP300’s brochure reads in part: “It’s a dedication to looking at the familiar in a different way…”, which is dodgy PR-talk for “we have not really done much, and the little we have done you probably won’t notice, so here is a reminder that what you are looking at is actually different from what you saw on the road last week.”

This is a rare occasion when I have little to recommend. I would have suggested turbocharging the two diesel mills, but no, their attraction lies in their simplicity, and they are already handy enough as it is.

What I’d say is maybe DT Dobie should sell the 2WD cars with bigger wheels, because they look woefully undershod in those puny 14-inch steel dinner plates wrapped with narrow rubbers.

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

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

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

What is it?

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

Outside

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

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

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

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

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

The inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving

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

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

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

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

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

Ride and handling

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

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

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

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

So why no boxing comparison?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parting shot

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

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

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

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

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See you at the motor show

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

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

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

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

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

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

International standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota will be there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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