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Any car can ferry president round a 400-metre track

Dear Baraza,
The President has conspicuously changed the ceremonial vehicle from the traditional Land Rover to the Toyota Land Cruiser VX.

Apart from the bullet-proof glass, how do the two vehicles compare for such a noble task, or was the president literally driving home a turn-East point? –King’ori Wangechi.

Hello Sir,
I believe His Excellency El Jefe’s choice of vehicle lies outside my circle of consideration and influence. Nothing I say will make him or whoever chooses his cars change their minds.

That said, I would have done a real-world comparison of the two, but your inquiry says, “for such a noble task”, the noble task in question being carrying several men — including but not limited to El Presidenté himself — for one or two laps of a sports stadium two or three times a year, for a distance of 400m per lap.

Any car could do it, provided it has the coat of arms on the door, those ceremonial red-carpeted steps and the roof chopped off. I don’t know why the Land Cruiser replaced the Land Rover.

Point of correction: the Land Cruiser in question is a 70 Series pick-up, Landcruiser 79, it is called, the kind policemen use, and not a VX. The only Land Cruisers with a VX spec level are the daddy (80, 100 and 200 series) and the Prado (J120 and J150).


Hi Baraza,
I am interested in either a BMW 318i or Mercedes Benz 190E, both manufactured in the late 1990s, naturally aspirated and non-carburettor. Could you compare the two and give advice on which would be the better buy? I also heard that the 190E has no airbags, is it true?–Ibrah

Too bad for you: there is no such thing as a Mercedes 190E manufactured in the late 1990s. The W201 went out of production in 1993. So maybe you meant the late ’80s?

A BMW 318 of similar vintage is the E30 model, the last 3 Series to sport two distinct round headlamps. A 318 made in the late ’90s would be either one of the last models of the E36 generation or the early E46s.

Since the E46 went on sale in 1999, we will consider the E36 instead as the “late ’90s 318i”, the so-called “dolphin shape”. There was a 318 as well as a 318is.

The 318i featured a SOHC 1.8-litre, 8-valve engine developing 113hp and good for 208 km/h. The 318is had a DOHC 16-valve 140hp engine that wound the E36 up to 215 km/h.

It also featured BMW’s Vanos variable valve timing system. The wheelbase for all four-door models was 2700mm, beating the 190E’s 2664mm (good for interior space, this wheelbase superiority). This model had a Z axle multilink rear suspension.

The 190E had engines ranging from a 90hp 8-valve 1.8 litre to a 2.6L 140hp 24-valve. There was also the 2.3 litre Cosworth, developing 185hp from a 16-valve head with DOHC.

It was capable of 230 km/h, the “slowest sports saloon” ever made. It also featured a dog-leg 1st gear in the manual transmission, with reverse gear north of 1st, and 1st gear down and to the left.

This was cause for confusion for inattentive drivers, and potentially risky in stop-start driving. 190Es featured a patented 5-link rear suspension set-up.

A more appropriate 3 Series rival for the 190E vintage-wise would be the E30, but this car was far much smaller — 2570mm wheelbase — and had “dangerous” handling, with a knack for oversteering. The cure?

Increase rear-end grip by driving around with a slab of concrete or some bags of cement in the boot. The 318i had the same 1766cc M10 engine as the 316, but while the 316 featured carburettors, the 318 used fuel injection, bringing power to 105hp (later increased to 114hp). The best 318i was the early ‘90s model, with a 16-valve DOHC M42 1.8.

The 190E did have airbags, as well as ABS and seat-belt pretensioners, though I believe these were the last models before the switch to the first generation C Class. A £600 million (Sh90 bn) budget in 1982 meant the car was over-engineered to the point where it simply refuses to die.

Of the three, clearly the E36 Dolphin 318is is the best of the lot. It has the longest wheelbase (more interior space), it is the most modern of the lot and while the 190E 2.3 Cosworth looks attractive from a driver’s perspective, you are unlikely to find one on sale.


Hallo JM,
I need your very valuable view on a purchase I want to make. I want to buy either a 2.0 FSI VW Passat or a 2.0 FSI VW Jetta.

Both seem to have the same engine and apart from body size, seem pretty much the same. Which would you choose? Which is the better import, an ex-Japan or ex-UK, all other variables being constant, in terms of reliability, durability and maintenance?

Please give your feedback as soon as you can since I have already started the import process. Thank you very much for your valuable articles and, like many Kenyans, I find them handy, understandable, valuable and they come at a small cost.–Fan Philip.

I’d go for the Passat since it is the bigger car, so it has to be roomier inside. It ranks higher in the Volkswagen saloon car hierarchy, so more likely than not, it will have more features as standard than the Jetta.

The Jetta, from what I observe on the road, seems to be the forte of career women still on the rise — accomplished career women drive BMW X6s, trust me — or single moms.

I’m not judging, but I’m not a single mother. I’m not even a mother. So I’d choose the Passat.

There is no difference whether you import from Japan or England… actually there is: the instruments in the Asian cars will be in metric units (km/h) while the English versions will be in imperial units (mph).

Speaking of English, ex-Japanese cars will come with those hieroglyphics that are impossible to learn if you are not Japanese to start with, festooning the operating manual, TV/DVD/Infotainment screen where available and safety warnings — those yellow stickers with exclamation marks found under the bonnet and on door frames.

Reliability, durability and maintenance is the same, since it is exactly the same vehicle; it just came from a different port.

So you have started the import process. How? What exactly are you importing? You haven’t seen my response yet (if it matters), until now.


Hi Baraza,
I drive a BMW E46 year 2002, and since January last year, I have been having one issue after another. At this rate, I wish I had just bought a new engine.

The latest issue has been a check engine light that comes on. At first, the diagnostics machine indicated that the oxygen sensor was faulty, so I replaced it.

Immediately thereafter, the light came back on, and I took it back to the mechanic, who said the oxygen sensor was not the issue; it was the airflow sensor, which was even more expensive.

After replacing it ( I bought an original part from a reputable company), I had hardly gone three kilometres when the check engine light came on again.

I am yet to go back to the mechanic because now I feel that either these diagnostic machines are faulty (having used the one at the place I bought the airflow sensor as well as the one at the mechanic’s), or there could be another reason for this.

I am now very frustrated but on driving the car I don’t feel the issues that were there, such as the car losing power, or having a hard start during the day, etc.

I feel like the mechanics are now playing trisex with the car since whatever they are replacing is not solving the problem indicated by the check engine light.–JN

Which mechanics are these who are “now playing ‘trisex’” (what on earth is that?) with your car? Rarely do diagnostic machines get things wrong. It may be that your E46 does have a variety of engine problems, though this is atypical of E46 BMWs.

The first time you got a CEL (check engine light), the problem was the oxygen sensor. The second CEL was for the MAF sensor (after the lambda sensors were replaced), which means that the lambda sensor problem had been cured.

Now you have a third CEL which you are scared to dig into. I understand your fears. Go for the diagnosis. But, go to Bavaria Motors.

They handle anything with a BMW logo or BMW parts in it. The former general manager (a good friend of mine) told me they will even fix New Age Rolls Royce cars because they are BMW derivatives.

An E46, whether locally sold or imported, is welcome there and trust me, you will come out relieved (and maybe relieved of your money also, but hey, we are talking BMWs here).


Dear Baraza,
Thank you for the useful tips you give in your column. My car, a 2000 Toyota Carib, was hit from behind and the damage repaired at a garage approved by my insurer.

However, since then the car produces all sorts of noises, most notably when turning at a junction or roundabout. What could be the problem?

Could the garage have tampered with something? Please note that after the accident, I drove the car for two days and it was okay — until I took it to the garage for the rear door to be replaced.–Joan

Could you be a bit more specific about the “all sorts of noises”? They could be creaks and squeaks, clangs and bangs and pops, hisses, whistles — anything.

Also, can you localise those noises? Are they coming from the suspension? The rear hatch? Inside the car? Underneath? The exhaust maybe?

They are most likely related to the original accident you had. Since you say your car gets noisy at junctions or roundabouts, it could be having problems with bent/warped/distorted suspension elements, or even the body itself towards the back, to the extent that maybe the new door doesn’t fit properly or isn’t aligned properly with the rest of the car, so when the car turns and there is a bit of flex (not unusual), the result is, well, a noise.

Where was the damage localised after the impact? What kinds of repair techniques were applied? Have you tried letting your insurance company know that “their” garage’s efforts are not up to scratch?


Dear Baraza,
I have been admiring the old school Mercedes Benz, mostly the 200 series, for a long time. I want to sell my Toyota Noah Townace and buy an old Benz and pimp it up a bit. What I am afraid of is buying one that will have mechanical problems or consume a lot of fuel. Kindly advise.

Go ahead and buy the Benz… but take a reliable mechanic friend with you when making the purchase. Alternatively, engage the services of the AA. It is invaluable. They will let you know whether or not you are buying a white elephant.

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2013 Range Rover: The bar has been raised… yet again

The car behind mine had run aground in a trough between two dunes, impeding the progress of our expensive little five-car convoy (part of a larger 15- or 20-car fleet).

We all stood outside to watch as the poor journalist was guided out of his predicament. I may have expressed dissatisfaction at the fact that the man’s gross ineptitude at simple off-road helmsmanship was costing us precious driving time.

I may have further bragged that I’ve done a bit of off-roading myself, and one will never catch me welded against the geography, immobile and unable to move, least of all in a Range Rover. What I am sure of is God heard me, and He gave me life long enough to make a fool of myself.

That long life was exactly 90 seconds. After the stuck fellow dislodged himself from the quagmire, we drove on, and I promptly beached my Autobiography atop the next dune, in the space of less than a minute.

Humility has never been brought upon my psyche with such force before. It was my turn to drop back, choose a new line and give the car the beans to crest the offending monolith. I wisely kept my mouth shut from that point forth.

This is not to say the 2013 Range Rover (internally known as the L405) has shortfalls. No, as with any machine that is almost attaining the apogee of its development, the weakest link in the man-machine interface is the human being in control of said machine. And what a machine the L405 is!

When asked what Jaguar Land Rover should do with the outgoing car, this is what the customers said:

Don’t change it, just make it better.

And JLR did.


One of the key changes was the introduction of the second generation terrain response system, the Terrain Response II (no fishy acronyms here, unlike the ironical stuff the Germans tend to come up with).

It is broadly similar to Terrain Response I, only this one responds better and greatly increases the vehicle’s off-road talents.

The ability to rush in where goats fear to tread has always been a standing characteristic of Range Rovers since inception, even though owners rarely exploit this.

There is still the rock crawl, sand, mud and snow, normal and whatever other setting was there before, but this time round there is also an Auto function, installed specifically for those who are flustered by off-road activities.

People like my fellow hack whose actions led to an interruption of the smooth flow of our convoy. And whose actions, by extension, led to my embarrassment atop a sand-dune in Lawrence of Arabia’s playground.

Speaking of which: that mishap was my fault, not the car’s. We were told to maintain momentum, try and stick to the beaten path and be gentle with the steering: don’t twirl the tiller like you are throwing together a cake mix by hand.

Unfortunately, all I heard was “maintain momentum”. That’s easy when you have 245bhp worth of turbocharged diesel power. This is what happened.

The car ahead of me took a sharp turn under power, spewing a 15-foot high rooster tail of tyre-excavated sand skywards. That tickled the little boy in me, and I proceeded to do the cha-cha, spraying my own sizeable blizzard of desert sand in my wake.

The car may have drifted a bit. I may have counter-steered into the drift, throwing up even more sand. I may have grinned stupidly and squirted more power to the wheels, while spinning the helm lock-to-lock. That is drifting.

Extending my new-found (lack of) wisdom, I may have spotted the crest of the sand dune coming up, and I may or may not have decided to give the cameraman something to bore people with at the pub later.

I decided to sail over the top of the dune sideways in spectacular fashion, in a blast of sand and growling diesel thrum, with substantial wheel-spin to boot, just to show how much of a maestro I thought I was.

This (lack of) wisdom may have led me off the beaten path, and that is where my difficulties arose.

My plan was 40 per cent successful, in that I did ascend the dune sideways, and in a cloud of sand. But I was off the compacted, pre-trodden trail, ploughing through virgin sand. Now, if you are throwing sand OUT of the ground, it only follows that you are digging yourself IN to the ground.

That never occurred to me. By the time I reached the zenith of the monolith, I was more than 15 feet off the track, lost almost all momentum and my heavy throttle foot was making sure I was sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire at the rate of a foot a minute. I was well and truly stuck. Power off. Abashed grin. Wait for help.

The beauty of the off-road kit and terrain response software is that they make the Range Rover so easy to drive anywhere, and I mean anywhere.

Over and above the five settings for the terrain, there is a button that engages low range, and at the same time activates the Hill Descent Control. That HDC works a little too well: when instructed to drive down what looked like a vertical wall, the way to keep it working is to keep your feet off the pedals.

You need nerves of titanium to do that when all that fills the windscreen is the ground ahead and you can actually feel the rear tyres wiggling in the air. Did somebody just say head-over-heels somersault?

Construction: Slim-possible:

Aluminium was used extensively in the construction of the space-frame chassis, replacing steel in several areas. That and a new engine and transmission led to a net weight-loss of 420kg.

Yes, you read that right. The new car is almost half a tonne lighter than the previous one, and it shows, exactly where you would expect to feel the difference: when hooning through hairpins.

On The Road

The car’s pork reduction is a man’s weight short of half a tonne. The suspension components are not entirely dissimilar to those found in cars like the Audi R8, Ferrari 599 and lately the little Evoque (the magneto-rheological-iron-filing-in-oil-plus-electric-current mechanism), the difference being that unlike the super cars, the 2013 Autobiography uses cushions of air instead of coil springs. This sports car setup is manifest in bends.

In the pre-drive press briefing, we were shown a picture depicting the difference in handling between the outgoing L322 and the incoming L405.

That picture showed the L322 almost on its door handles as it took a sharp curve, while through the same bend, the L405 displayed only the most subtle of leans.

Unbeknownst to the providers of the Range Rover, I intended to get the L405 on its door handles as soon as I ecountered some corners. And there are corners aplenty in Morocco.

I don’t need to stress the fact that the car handles well: really well. Steering input is now relayed more sharply to the front axle, response is immediate, body roll is minimal, and grip is reassuring. In other words, it feels like a larger-than-normal hot hatch.

It is actually similar in handling to the Evoque (and feels more composed than the current Sport), save for the extra tonne in vehicle mass. Confidence (and speed) grows with each successive hairpin, sweeper and switchback, to the point that my co-driver announced he did not know about my future plans, but on his part he intended to see tomorrow; so could I please dial it back a little. I didn’t.

The only reason I didn’t push the car to the point of understeer (or oversteer) was that these turns formed a hill-climb section along the wall of a gorge within the Atlas mountains, and that gorge contained a river through which we had just driven (and here the L405 was exceptional too).

It was a 300-foot straight drop from the edge of the road back into the river from which we had just emerged. I also intended to see tomorrow.


About that river: most off-road cars require a snorkel if they are going to drive in deep water. The 2013 Range Rover does not, courtesy of what the engineers call Queen Mary ducts.

These are vents that ingest air from just below the clam-shell bonnet, through upward-facing plastic ducts into a labyrinth of passageways on the underside of the bonnet cover itself before terminating in the air-cleaner, which then feeds the intercoolers. Sounds fancy, huh? Also sounds familiar, right? It should.

I discussed the same innovation when I reviewed the Mahindra Genius… sorry, Genio… earlier in the year. It uses similar tech.

The thinking behind this is that even if water gets into the bonnet intakes, it is well nigh impossible for it to flow upwards into the underbonnet rat tunnels, and the little that does will be stymied by the numerous kinks, bends, curves and second upward flow into the air cleaner (the rat tunnels somehow bend downwards again, then up again).

I can testify right here right now that the boffinry works: we drove upriver, in water that was at headlamp-level most of time and which occasionally came over the bonnet, and the car didn’t drown.

There is more detailing, not all of it functional. The side blades that were on the L322’s front fender, aft of the wheel arch, have been maintained, the difference being they are now on the front door and serve no real purpose over and above aesthetics.

There is now a full-length sun-roof, Evoque-style, and both front and rear passengers can open the glass top for a neo-targa top experience. The split tail-gate (an enduring Range Rover legacy) is now powered. The car seats four.

There are 50 per cent fewer buttons in the centre console (a trick put to good use in the Rolls-Royce Phantom luxury waft-mobile). The seats have a massage function. There are 16 airbags. And the radio, my goodness, that radio!

Twenty nine speakers, they said. Twenty nine speakers we put into the car, and if you don’t believe us, count ‘em.

If you can’t count that far, then just listen. Surround sound, with intensity and quality to shame the most decorated of Nairobi’s finest matatus, and that was a third of the total capacity (at Volume 7, one has to shout, at 10, conversation is impossible. The dial goes all the way up to 30. I don’t know what for).

There is more Rolls-Royce-esque obsession with details. The wood in the dash is now symmetrical (as it is in the Phantom), and the leather comes from Scotland (only).

The stitching in the seats is worthy of a plastic surgeon, and in one of the cars, the raised centre console stretches to the back, forming a tray for the two rear seat passengers to rest their wealthy elbows on.

Within this cabinet lies cubby space, and in that cubby space are two remote controls for the DVD screens on the back of the front head-rests. The remotes themselves have screens too. I don’t know what to say.

McGovern and The Amazing Technicolor Paintwork and Body Design

This is one of the few cars that look exactly as the do in the pre-release photos, no matter the prevailing lighting conditions.

Some say that it looks like a man’s Evoque (the baby Range, it is now accepted, is a smidgen on the girly side). Others say that those lamps look awfully familiar, and the deja vu is not a very classy one (Ford Explorer).

What we all agree is that the design evolution of the Range Rover has culminated in something epic. Just look at the pictures. Look at ‘em, and tell me you don’t like what you see.

That is the handiwork of one Gerry McGovern, the fellow who also did the Evoque (forget Mrs Beckham, she thinks “clamshell bonnet” is a type of headscarf. Maybe).

We got a chance to meet him (McGovern, not Beckham) and pick his brains at a pre-drive cocktail, and two things became immediately clear, one: he is not big on social dos, and two: he is damn proud of his five-year sweat.

I would be too, if Sheikh Mohamed from somewhere in the oily Middle Eastern desert throws a cheque (or more commonly, cold hard cash) at me to acquire one of my creations even before it hits the shelves.

What I did not like about this car

1. The… uhmmm… price: My reviews are known for fault-finding, and this one is no exception. The car is too expensive.

Prices have not been cast in stone yet, but we heard words like 120,000 Euros abroad, and something to the tune of Sh20 million locally. Once they get here we will confirm.

Secondly, we in the Sub-Saharan market will be denied two engine options (see side-bar) We only get forced induction powerplants, and huge ones at that. The more appropriate smaller diesel and NA petrol have been placed out of reach.

2. The gearbox: The 8-speed gearbox is a wonder in the petrol engine, but I find it superfluous in the diesel version. The engine already has enough torque, and it uses a torque converter with the ZF autobox, with automatic (and quite intelligent) lock-up control. What are the eight gears for?

3. Noisy massage parlour: The massage function is very noisy. From the sidebar, you can see how quiet the Range Rover is inside. The seat massage buzzes noisily, easily betraying your (lewd?) actions to fellow passengers. It is also an irritating noise. Not loud, but it grates on the nerves a bit.

4. Too many electronics: And we know how that usually works out in cars. Yes, we encountered gremlins on Day 2. After the river crossing, and a small hooning session on gravel roads, we arrived at the next checkpoint with the instrument panel blinking “Error: Suspension Fault — Vehicle Dynamics Control” in a red font that was unnerving.

Yeah, a looming suspension failure, no vehicle dynamics control and we are charging hard and fast through the sinuous byways that go up into the Atlas: with a mountainside on your left and a sheer drop on your right. Buzzkill.

Interestingly, the car only needed a pit-stop (like its drivers). Turn it off, have some Moroccan tea, call for a mechanic, crank it up before the mech arrives on scene and voila! Everything is fine.

The car handles ok, and it has stopped complaining. Drive on. I am not sure I want a car guessing when self-diagnosing, especially if I have just parted with 20 million shekels for it. Either that, or I am wrong: the 2013 Range Rover Autobiography is a car that can repair itself.

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The Tiggo will have criminals ‘shivering’ with laughter

Hi Baraza,
What is your take on the Kenyan government supplying police officers and provincial administration with the Cherry Tiggo cars? Are the cars the best they can use, considering that countries like the US use patrol cars that cannot be sold to the public, such as the Ford Victoria Crown and Dodge?

Is there any feature of the cars that can make criminals shiver at their sight? Are the cars meant for countries like Kenya, where most roads are not tarmacked? I think this was the reason behind the use of the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Land Rover.

Finally, are the Tiggos stable enough for high speed chases (like the Peugeot 504) or will they roll over, just like the military lorries do even at very low speed? I also fear that they may become old (lose shape) like the ones being used by the Chinese engineers constructing Thika road.


You would be surprised that ex-police cruisers can be and are sold to the public in the US (after disarming them of the dash-stored shotguns and computers connected to security databases), especially the Crown Victoria and the Chevy Caprice.

The only reason criminals would shiver would be with laughter at the sight of the government’s cheapness in supplying Tiggos to the boys in blue. Not that they care, anyway.

The Chinese car would not be bad for the untarmacked roads, but their longevity is questionable. And gone are the days of the high speed police chase; nowadays they will just push a stinger into the path of the escaping felon and his goose would be well and truly cooked.

If and when the cops chase down the criminal, he could at least hope that the pursuit vehicle will age and break down some time during the chase (the reputation of China-sourced products).

Hi Baraza,

How does the Toyota Opa compare to the Toyota Fielder in terms of performance, handling, cost of maintenance, resale value, comfort, stability and power? I also want to know why you say the Opa is ugly and yet there are uglier cars, or is it just because beauty lies in the eye of the beholder?

Performance should be better than the Fielder, as is handling, but maintenance costs will depend on how well you take care of it. One on one, the D4 engine and the optional CVT transmission are harder to fix (and will thus cost more) than the equivalent VVT-i and auto/manual gearbox in the Fielder.

Resale value will be next to nothing, but if you can find a fellow Opa-lover, then all the best. Comfort: Very good, for the price and class. Stability: Better than the Fielder, but it is still not an F1 car. Power: 1.8 litre D4 performance, which means about 150 hp.

About its ugliness, just because there are other ugly cars, does that mean I should call the Opa pretty? If four students do an IQ test and one student gets a score of 1, and three others get 0, does that make that one student a genius? No, it is just that three other students happen to be less intellectually endowed. Same thing here; the Opa is still quite unsightly, whether or not Verossas and Wills exist.

Dear Baraza,

I want to move from a five- to seven-seater car to accommodate my family. Looking around, the following appealed to me because of looks, fuel economy, and parking space: Peugeot 307, Volkswagen Touran, Toyota Sienta, Honda Mobilio, and Nissan Cubecubic. I also visited CMC and saw the Maruti 800cc van.

What are your comments on these cars and which one would you recommend?


From your list, I would say the Touran is the best seven-seater car. It is the most comfortable, has good power delivery, a six-speed gearbox, is highly versatile, and has Volkswagen’s bullet-proof build quality. Too bad it took an army friend of mine several attempts to get the gearbox fixed at CMC Motors before he was satisfied.

The 307 is also a good car, but with the French known to be unreliable, it may not be the best buy if you have resale value in mind. The Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans are generic Japanese products that I am yet to assess (but I strongly suspect there is not much difference between them).

That 800cc Maruti is another thing altogether. It will seat seven people, yes, much in the same way back in the day my three sisters and I could fit in one red KP&TC telephone booth when making a phone call to daddy at work.

It is not an experience you will particularly enjoy or want to repeat daily. The Maruti is a small-capacity delivery van (mostly for pizzas or inter-office documents), not a Swiss family mobility solution.
Of the lot, I pick the Touran.


What is the difference between the 2004/5 Lexus RX 300/330 and Toyota Harrier 240G/300G besides engine displacement? These cars are identical! Which would you go, considering spare parts availability and running costs?


Besides displacement, the only other difference is the logo in the grille up front. Such vehicles as the Toyota Harrier, Aristo, Altezza, Crown, and Land Cruiser Cygnus (the top-rung 100 VX model) existed because at the time the Lexus brand was not available on sale in Japan, so they were rebranded as Toyota.

Their respective Lexus equivalents were the RX 300, GS 300, IS 200 (and IS 250 in the US), LS 400, and LX 470. There was even a “Lexusized” J120 Prado called the GX 450.

In my world, availability of spares and running costs mean diddly squat, so I would go for the one with the biggest engine and the most horsepower and with the most apportionment (options like leather, climate control, and sun-roof).

For the cash-sensitive types, the diametric opposite of my desire is what they should settle for; the smallest engine with the bare minimum of optional extras.

Hi Baraza,

1. Between a 6-litre V8 engine and a 6-litre V12 engine, which one consumes more fuel? Is it engine displacement or the number of cylinders in the engine?

2. I have been seeing exotic modern cars (Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bentleys, Rolls Royce, etc) in Nairobi streets. Where are these cars serviced? It is not that I am aspiring to buy these cars in the near future, a turbo-charged Subaru is good enough for me.

1. Given the extent of automotive engineering thus far, it is neither of the options you list there. Genius and boffinry will determine the consumption capabilities.

Engine management (injection maps, variable valve timing), supplementary innovations (variable intake plena, active exhausts, use of forced induction, injector and plug placement/relationship, cylinder deactivation, charged gasoline injection, etc), the shape and design of combustion chambers, intake manifolds and exhaust manifolds, along with a whole lot of other things will determine the fuel consumption of an engine.

That is why the CL 65 AMG Mercedes-Benz coupe is a 600 hp monster that can still manage 11 kpl.

2. These vehicles belong to individuals who prefer to stay outside the scope of the public eye. I have seen them too. My presumption is that given what it costs to buy one (and the kind of brain power that goes into building one), it is only natural for the owners to send the vehicle back to the makers for servicing.

Either that or factory engineers are flown in with a complete tool kit to service the vehicle from the privacy of the owner’s home.


I want to know about the work of the cylinders in a car and why they vary from vehicle to vehicle, for example, some have four while others have eight cylinders. Aside from that, you are always sceptical about the Cadillac Escalade and yet it is still one of the most prestigious vehicles today.

So how do you rate the Cadillac CTS-V in terms of performance, power (which I assume is quite a lot with the over 400 hp), comfort, stability, and fuel economy?

Three cylinders or less are typically used in less than 1.0-litre capacity engines (except the noisy tractor road-building equipment that uses just one but displaces more than 1.0 litre).

Four cylinders (in line) are good for fuel economy. V4 engines are noisy, and prone to vibrations, which requires the use of heavy crankshaft journals and flywheels to dampen the vibrations.

As a result, they make the car nose heavy, that is why they found limited use in cars. They are used for bikes, though. Horizontally opposed or “flat” four engines (H4) provide even weight distribution, and no, they do not wear the cylinders out on one side, as some people assume.

Five-cylinder engines are not much different from 4-cylinder ones.Most provide extra capacity without resorting to enlargement of cylinders. This applies to both V5 and in-line 5 engines. Six cylinder engines have legendary smoothness and good top-end (high rev) power characteristics.

That is why Lexus used them to great effect in their smaller saloons. The top-end power applies to both in-line 6 (Nissan Skyline GTR, Toyota Supra Mk IV, BMW M3) and V6 engines (Nissan GTR R35, Lotus Evora).

V6 engines have the added benefit of being compact, allowing for a more stubby bonnet or installation in a mid-ship platform, what we call mid-engined cars, or rear engine chassis.

Eight-cylinder engines develop huge torque. Straight 8s saw action a long time ago but these died a natural death. It was only sensible to make V8s. W8 engines were recently “discovered”, but since they involve the juxtaposition of two V4s, they do not get much airtime.

Twelve-cylinder engines have very good power and can rev to “abnormal” levels (the V12 in the Ferrari F50 road car could soar to about 10,000 rpm).

That is why they are used in top-end sports and performance cars (Lamborghini, Ferrari, top-flight Mercedes-Benz AMG and BRABUS cars). Sadly, the engine in the recently released Lamborghini Aventador will have the last automotive V12 to be used as manufacturers are now favouring turbo-charged V8s, which are simpler to build, more robust, and meet ever-tightening emissions standards.

Weirdly, some army tanks also use V12 engines, diesel powered. V10 engines share tendencies with V12s.

Beyond this point, most engines take a W configuration rather than V for the sake of length. The W12 engine (a creation of the VW Group and commonly found in Bentley and Audi) is just the mating of two V6s, side by side. The W16 (Bugatti Veyron) is the joining of two V8s.

The CTS-V is America finally waking up to the realities of life. The original 400 hp car was good (which is saying a lot for a Yank Tank), but the 556 hp supercharged version was great (this has never been said of any American car).

The blown CTS-V killed the BMW M5’s lap record for fastest four-door saloon at the Nurburgring, what with the M5 having two more cylinders (V10 vs the Caddy’s V8) and 50 less hp.

This war is not over. BMW have brought out a new M5 (the F10). They have gone back to V8 engines, they have lowered the engine capacity but (the trump card) to compensate for that, the M car now has two turbochargers slotted under the bonnet.

Initial reports indicate the car goes like stink and is so good it could end hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and bring peace in the Middle East — this is of course an exaggeration. The car will actually bring more war as each country fights to be the one supplying the unleaded that goes into the M5’s fuel tank.

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Peugeot: A story of fantastic successes and pitiful failures

Of all the great car companies and brands, one of the most overlooked is Peugeot of France.

As a brand, it is a bit despised in the UK and rarely bought in Germany, but who cares what those Europeans think?

The places where these cars have had the biggest impact are Africa and the Middle East. Come across any current or previous Peugeot owner/driver and he will either swear by his car or swear at it.

I happen to fall in this particular demographic, having had (and still have) one of the original 405s in my care, and I have sworn both by and at it. Repeatedly. I still do.

Locally, Peugeot’s problems started with the 504. The car was powerful in all its iterations.

The saloon, with its monocoque chassis, was very comfortable (and this unitary body construction led many to declare — sagely and quite wrongly — that the car had no chassis).

The estate had an enormous boot and the pickup could take a considerable amount of luggage and abuse and still hold itself together.

As such, the saloon became the car of choice for the discerning, aspiring patrician — bank managers and pseudo-senior civil servants who had their own offices rather than sharing.

The estate, on the other hand, went into service in the police force, transporting shadowy men in trench coats who subscribed to a discipline more stringent than the Boy Scouts, and as a ground-hugging passenger aircraft (memories of Crossroad Travellers and WEPESI bring about tears of nostalgia), while the pickup became the farmer’s friend, and nemesis to the Toyota Hilux. Good times.

The bad

But there were issues. A common adage went “A Peugeot will give you flawless service for 16 years, after which it will stall if the doors have not fallen off yet”.

Too true. Peugeots were near-perfect machines for the tasks they were assigned, but as they say, when it rains, it pours.

If and when mechanical infidelity reared its unsightly noggin, the problems came in droves, never singularly. I know, I have a Peugeot under my care.

The electricals were usually the first to act up, closely followed by the doors divorcing themselves from the rest of the car.

This is not just a garage myth, it actually happens. The driver’s door on my fickle 405 came off its hinges one day at a petrol station, and as such the fuel flap could not open, what with the central locking system being tied to every single orifice of the car other than the bonnet.

A well placed six-inch nail brought it back to position, but it had a slight sag, so shutting it involved some careful balancing of the door itself.

The nail made the pump attendant quip something about Jesus and crucifixion, but I felt I was the one being crucified here by a car I actually loved.

Rust was also a common problem for the 504 and the absence of a ladder frame chassis meant that the car was also structurally weak because when it was invented, strengthening monocoques was still a new field of research.

Several years of hard use would bend the car out of shape, meaning resale value was a joke. If you bought a Peugeot, you bought it for life. It is this car that gave Peugeot cars their bad reputation.

The 505 was not much different. It was slightly more comfortable and offered better fuel economy than its predecessor, but the typical Peugeot gremlins still haunted it.

And it was not as much of a looker as the 504. The estate version sported a toned down look from the 504 while the saloon was a bit drab to look at.

However, the introduction of turbos for some models in the engine bay compensated for the less pretty appearance and imbued these cars with an outstanding sprinting ability. The 505 was an early ’80s introduction, while the 405 followed it in the mid-’80s.

The 405 started life with a bang, winning several COTY (Car of the Year) awards between 1985 and 1989. That is how good it was at the time, and the reason I gambled with getting one.

It was designed by Pininfarina, the same studio that does Ferraris and Alfa Romeos, making it a dead ringer for the Alfa 164.

It was fast and comfy (I can attest to this), had sublime handling (either because of or despite its front drive chassis), the boot space was class-leading and its appearance was the best of any car at that time.

In fact, the model was (is) so good that it is still in production in Egypt and Iran, where it is sold not as a Peugeot, but as the Paykan.

As I found out (to my horror and to the detriment of my wallet) it was not immune to the same demons that haunted earlier Peugeots.

However, at the end of its production run, it ushered in a new era, the era of the reliable Peugeot.

A leap of faith

So far, it might be easy to assume from my story that owning a Peugeot from that era is not entirely different from a kamikaze mission — the motive is honourable but the end result is less than pleasant — but I assure you it is not.

It is more of a leap of faith. The best analogy I can come up with is getting into a relationship with someone you met at the bar: you never know where it will lead or what will happen next.

Just like in liquor-assisted romance, the good times are really good. There rarely had been an ugly Peugeot up until the 607, just like there are no ugly people in the bar after 2am — that is, until dawn breaks.

The brief period when the car is mechanically sound, you will love driving it. Then the problems start and you either bail out like me (I have had to ground the poor 405 after it almost bankrupted me), or stay on and persevere the vagaries of a bad relationship when true colours start showing.

So, the 607. It was meant to be to France what Jaguar is to the UK — a homegrown product for government officials to run around in without having to gaze longingly towards Germany.

But the blatant plagiarism of the W220 Mercedes S-Class design language (and subsequent failure to resolve the swoopy lines into a properly pretty shape) did not win it many fans.

Its suspension was so-so, and then Peugeot went ahead and tried to make it clever by adding some complex gadgetry, and made it worse. The introduction of air suspension completely ruined what was a fallible item to begin with, and the 607 went on to suffer an ignominious death. No one will miss it.

Now the upside

Starting off with the 403 and 404, classics at the moment and fashion statements in their time, these cars are (surprisingly) still in service in small numbers if you look around rural municipalities, despite their age.

Enthusiasts might gush about the indestructibility of the Hilux utility, but the 403 and 404 pickups were harder to kill than a family of cockroaches on steroids.

And you cannot ignore Peugeot’s sporting credentials: The 205 Turbo 16 was a Group B monster that did not accept defeat easily.

The 405 Turbo 16 (T16) conquered the Dakar rally convincingly and then went on to claim a hill-climb record at Pikes Peak, Colorado in the hands of Finn Ari Vatanen. And who can forget the 206 WRC and its relentless chain of victories?

Away from motorsport, there has only been one definitive hot hatchback of all time, and that is the 205 GTI. Just like all software geeks aspire to be Steve Jobs one day, all sporting hatchbacks aspire to be the 205 GTI.

Originally, the VW Golf GTI was “it” but the Germans lost the plot and the French swooped in to show the world how to build a small car that is still a hoot to drive (ignore the cheap interior plastics and jumpy driveline).

Since then, France has incessantly churned out a succession of (really) hot hatchbacks, and not just Peugeots.

I had said the 405, towards the end of its production run, ushered in the era of the reliable Peugeot. Well, reliable is not exactly the right adjective. Let us say ‘improved’. And the improvement was drastic.

The 406 (it was originally to be branded 506) is downright pretty, again penned by Pininfarina, and is a less dear alternative to, of all cars, the BMW 3 Series (benchmark, yardstick, pace-setter, trend-setter, reference point: call it what you want, but the description is “the car to beat”).

The 306 is a driver’s car through and through, right down to the oil-burning versions that feed from the black pump.

The 206 is a lovely little number, and the 180 hp GTI version is geared in such a way that you can clock 70 km/h in first — insane.

Subsequent models are just as good, if not better: 207, 208, 307, 308, 407; all of them are good and as far removed from the flimsy products of the ’80s as one can possibly imagine.

Which brings me to the 508 and a firm called Eurysia. A quick survey among the general public reveals that many still assume Peugeot cars are sold and serviced by Marshalls.

They are not. Marshalls now peddles TATA vehicles (incidentally, TATA now owns Jaguar and Land Rover, but these two are sold by CMC. The motoring industry is a game of musical chairs, I tell you).

Also, a good number think the 406 or 407 are Peugeot’s latest offerings, but they are not. Peugeots are sold by a low key outfit called Eurysia, and towards the close of 2010 they made a small noise about the 508.

The 508 is one of the prettiest cars to come out in 2011, and one that I am dying to drive. The estate is also one of the most versatile cars available now, what with its boot space rivalling the hearse-like E Class estate, and this has got to be the best-looking station wagon outside of the shooting brake clique.

The manual gearbox — a man’s transmission of choice — is standard, its interior is second in beauty and execution only to Audi (and the company from Ingolstadt has the honour of making the best interiors ever. Forget Rolls, forget Maybach, and forget Bentley, Audis have the best interiors in the business, period).

So why are we not being inundated with promotions and ads glorifying the 508 and begging us to climb proudly back into Peugeots, like we once did two or three decades ago? I do not know. Over to you, Eurysia.

The children in the basement

Not all Peugeots were good in one way or the other. While some turned heads, others turned stomachs. In fact some were (and are) total garbage, the most notorious being the 309.

Poorly labelled (it came after the 305), poorly designed and poorly packaged, it was a poor performer that held its value poorly and was consequently poorly received by pundits, punters, and the press. It did not help matters that it was sold alongside the outstanding 405.

The 607, as described earlier, was another. Nobody knows what exactly was going on inside Peugeot’s head when they dreamed up this car.

Nobody still does. Also largely unloved is the 1007. It is hard to place: sized like a super-mini, designed to look like an MPV and it has a van’s sliding doors, through which both driver and passengers climb.

It falls in the same group as the Mitsubishi RVR: cars that are hard to place, trying to fill too many niches at the same time and as such fail miserably in all areas. Thankfully, I have not seen any on our roads. Yet.

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Ghost recalls, ‘terrorist cars’ and other motor news

CMC’s cup runneth over?

Anyone with half an eye on the motoring industry must be aware that something is seriously amiss at Cooper Motors. It first came to my notice through the Daily Nation (naturally).

The affair went thus: Mr William (better known as Bill) Lay, former paterfamilias at General Motors and a man I first heard of when he lectured Junior Achievement students at Kenya High School several years back (don’t ask, I’m a creature of vast resources and far-reaching talents) mailed shareholders, “snitching” on the outgoing chair and the powers that were, accusing them of misappropriating funds off the books and stashing them offshore to a tune in the vicinity of a quarter billion shillings. Abnormal pay hikes were on the menu too.

At the same time, former chairman Peter Muthoka, through his other company, Andy Forwarders, had allegedly made half a billion shillings off CMC through overcharging for its services, thereby earning more than the entire company which made a profit of Sh400 million.

That is a tidy sum, in whatever currency, if you ask me. And that is the point at which this whole mess became my choice scandal of the month.

I will not delve further into the matter just yet, mostly because somebody else already has (and still is).

And also because at this stage it is hard to separate fact from fabrication and constructive evidence from conjecture and as such it is dangerously easy to talk oneself into a lawsuit — not a good thing especially if the litigant may be having more than half a billion silver coins at his disposal.

But from what I have gathered, the entire saga takes a juicy twist involving immigration, denied entry permits, and some good ol’ dirty politics. Stay tuned for developments.


GM and the Chevrolet Cruze

Switching lanes from Bill Lay’s current haunt to his former one, and this time round on a positive key.

Now cars like the Nissan Tiida and Toyota Corolla have cause for alarm as General Motors release their newest pet into the wilds that are Kenya roads. It is called the Chevrolet Cruze. Moving on…


Rolls-Royce Ghost faces a recall

If there were any two terms that were unlikely bedfellows in the same sentence it would be “Rolls-Royce” and “recall”, unless they were separated by negative connectors/conjunctions or whatever.

But no, pinch yourself if you think you are reading this wrong and kick yourself if you thought marrying BMW technology with good ol’ English charm and elegance would be the automotive Holy Grail: it is happening.

The Ghost, also fondly referred to as the “Baby Rolls”, has fallen victim to that most terrible of automotive plagues: the massive recall. Do not blame the brand.

Once upon a time, when Rolls-Royce was still independent and derived profit from slinging jet engines onto passenger aircraft, they had a “Terms and Conditions Apply” clause in their motor vehicle sales agreement, the terms being that you will not under any circumstances be shown by the company how to open the bonnet and the conditions being you will not open it even if you found out how to do it.

The reason? Passersby will see the car with the engine lid agape and might assume something was wrong with it.

That is how fastidious the company was. Until it was bought by BMW.

We will go ahead and assume that German technology is the knees of the bee on Planet Car, where some of us live.

So it was only natural that the finest engines in the world would find their way under the bonnets of the finest cars in the world.

The pinnacle of this arrangement was the Roll-Royce Phantom, in its various (two, actually) iterations.

We live in a world driven by the root of all evil (the love of money), so the bean counters over at BMW thought it would be a wise move to create a poverty-spec Rolls.

Since it would be “pocket friendly”, development costs had to be cut for profit to be realised.

The easiest way was to simply reskin an existing car (in this case the BMW 7 Series) with Rolls-Royce bodywork and Rolls-Royce interior trimmings — sort of like a lady in an expensive Gucci evening gown but underneath is the hard, muscled (albeit very well-toned) body of a female decathlete.

Those who cannot see under the frock do not know any better, so everybody is happy. That is the thinking behind the Ghost.

Cheaper and smaller than a Phantom, it is meant for those who cannot afford real Phantoms but would not want to be seen in a German saloon (too typical). Clever. That is the brief, business-oriented history of the Rolls-Royce Ghost. But the timing of its release could not have been worse.

BMW has recently announced a serious problem in their 8- and 12-cylinder engines.

The auxiliary water pump fastened onto them is showing a tendency to overheat and as such could be the instigator of unforeseen under-bonnet conflagrations, or in simple English, it could cause an engine fire.

The real problem lies with a circuit board that controls operation of a dedicated water pump meant to cool the turbocharger after the car has been shut off.

The board has the potential to overheat the pump, causing fire. If the problem arises, the driver would be most likely warned by a light in the instrumental panel.

We need those engines back, says BMW. If you drive any of the following cars with a V8 or a V12 engine, 32,000 of them, take note: 5 Series, 5 Series Gran Turismo, 7 Series, X5 or X6. Oh, and lest we forget, we might also need back the “other” 7 Series, the Rolls Royce Ghost. It does have a BMW V12 powerplant, you know.

None of the 1,900 Ghosts worldwide has been reported to suffer a problem just yet, but about 600 of them have so far been recalled.

So now the next time an American rapper broadcasts “I’m on fire”, he might not be bragging about his ongoing success, he could really be in need of help from the emergency services.


Toyota, terror, tort

I have already said that it is very simple to box oneself into a legal wrangle through careless declarations. Well, here is someone who did. And it cost him $7.5 million.

News clips of war-torn, terror-stricken, democratically-unsound countries share one thing in common: they almost always star a Toyota pickup, or three, even five. Anyone seen that J70 pickup doing a wheelie while overloaded during Gaddafi’s ouster recently?

In the spirit of competition (or maybe he thought it was funny, I don’t know) an American car salesman thought to point out the connection between his Iranian rival’s nationality, the problems back home, and the Toyota pickup’s role in all that. It did not end well for him.

Shawn Esfahani was born in Tehran (a Shawn from Iran? I know Shahs, but Shawn?) and owns Eastern Shore Toyota in the state of Alabama.

Bob Tyler Toyota is his cross-border competitor over in Pensacola, Florida. Word got to Shawn that Tyler’s workforce was referring to his outfit as “Middle Eastern Shore Toyota”, or “Taliban Toyota” and was alleging that not only does he support terrorists financially using his business, he also launders their money.

“I can’t believe you are buying from that terrorist. He is from Iraq, and he is funnelling money back to his family and other terrorists. I have a brother over there, and what you’re doing is helping kill my brother.” Those are words spoken to a visiting couple by a Bob Tyler salesperson.

An enraged Esfahani found his way to a courtroom and said only $28 million will restore his offended sensibilities.

In the ensuing trial, both entities accused each other of engaging in underhandedness to boost their failing businesses, and after a three-hour deliberation, jolly Shawn had been awarded $7.5 million.

Good for him.


Toyota does not seem to mind the popularity of their pickups among unsavoury clients.

A spokesman even went ahead to say that the Taliban, like any normal farmer, businessman or contractor, looks for “the same qualities as any truck buyer: durability and reliability.’’ Not everyone shares these sentiments, though.

Strangely enough, Taliban fighters have been seen getting maple leaf tattoos. The maple leaf can be found on flags that brand Canadian built Hilux pickups, and the tattoos are in honour of their favourite workhorse (besides the AK-47).

Also, there was a war between Chad and Libya so dominated by Toyota pickups, it is still called the Toyota War.