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Manual or automatic, which is more likely to use less fuel?

JM,

I am an ardent reader of your informative column, thank you for the good work. In terms of fuel consumption, which mode of transmission is better — manual or automatic?

What are the other similarities/differences between the two? Steve

 

The short answer here is a manual transmission is better. Or is it? You see, I think things are not as black and white as they may seem.

Once upon a time, automatic transmissions were slapped with massive, heavy torque convertors with no lockup control, while the slush-box itself bore only two or three ratios. Yes, things were that crude. Having only two or three gears means the ratios are very widely spaced and the engine has to reach stratospheric rev levels before shifting upwards to prevent a substantial loss in momentum.

The  (relatively) poorly developed clutches also caused quite some energy wastage through losses in slip and energy expenditure in rotating it. The comparative manual transmissions at least allowed the drivers to choose the ratios themselves, so they could short-shift and thus maintain low engine speeds thereby saving fuel.

Things are different now.

To start with, the skill and deftness of hand needed to row a four-on-the-floor H-pattern manual transmission is becoming the stuff of legend.

I am afraid I may be among the last of a dying breed; the breed of drivers whose abilities extend beyond stabbing the clutch with a toe and wiggling a shifter with a forearm.

Back in the day, everybody knew how to drive a manual, and drive it properly. Now, people with real driving licenses find excuses to occupy the passenger seat when presented with a vehicle sporting three pedals.

The few who man up and step up to the breach then proceed to show a glaring ineptitude at judging the power and torque curves of an engine through erratic shift programmes’ and failure to maintain a smooth flow of motion. Fuel consumption, alongside the clutch mechanism, then suffers.

It’s not all about the driver, though.

The technology itself has also brought the use of electronically controlled friction clutches for use in automatics, or the use of lockup control in torque converters. It has also brought about the manual override, which goes by a variety of names depending on the marque.

The commonest label is “Tiptronic”. Last, but not least, automatic transmissions now come with numerous ratios.

The madness was kicked off by Mercedes when they introduced a 7-speed automatic (with not one, but TWO reverse gears; whatever the hell for, I don’t know); then this was picked up by Lexus and Rolls Royce who bumped it up to eight and as of last year, a very fun trip to the fringes of the Kalahari desert introduced this columnist to a 9-speed automatic transmission in a Range Rover Evoque.

The advantage of these numerous gears is that the vehicle can be driven in a variety of customisable ways: economy, power, smoothness…. you pick a characteristic and the transmission will run with it. The Evoque can trundle around at 1500rpm in ninth gear and not hold up any other traffic.

It can also trundle around at 1500rpm in second gear and be slow enough for the driver to shout out a comprehensive list of insults at passers-by, for whatever reason.

This essentially means the Evoque can be driven everywhere at 1500rpm, leading to outstanding fuel economy. The bigger Range Rover Vogue also got an 8-speed tranny that massively improved reduced its infamous fuel consumption.

There are other instances where automatic transmissions trounce manual. I referenced them earlier in the formative days of this column, but I’ll quickly repeat them here.

Automatics are better for off-roading (they just are) and may be the more appropriate transmission for heavy commercial vehicles (they just are). Given the way some PSVs are driven, I’d say they’d make a case for themselves too in public transport.

The Paji once told me that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X with the twin-clutch SST transmission is an impressive machine. I don’t really believe him; nor do I understand why he would choose to extol the virtues of an automatic 2.0 liter saloon car.

However, now that automatic transmissions have taken over in range-topping hyper cars (you cannot buy a brand new Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren road car with a manual transmission, they don’t exist anymore) and time trial specialists (Nissan GTR, Evo X SST), it may be time to wave goodbye to the pukka three-pedal, H-pattern manual gearbox.

*Fun fact: the ‘Muricans’ don’t give a damn about twin-clutch direct-shift transmissions with or without full lockup control or whatever. The current Corvette C7 can be had either as a proper automatic, or as a 7-speed conventional manual. Yes, a manual gearbox with seven forward speeds, like a truck.

 

Hallo Baraza,

Commercial and passenger service vehicles are required by law to affix at the rear, max speed allowable stickers and twin chevrons that are supposed to reflect when illuminated by a following motor vehicle thus enhancing visibility.

The former serves no purpose, since they are meant to remind the driver his maximum speed, why have them affixed at the rear?

If they are to serve their purpose, have them affixed at the dashboard area where the driver can glance at it and it serves as a reminder as it is meant to.

As for the Chevrons, they have become so substandard that some are just white and red strips with no reflective material.

Why not have reflective strips all along the length of especially trucks?

Moreover, modern vehicles have inbuilt reflectors in their taillights. They (reflectors) serve well in private vehicles and commercial vehicles being imported into the country do not have these chevrons. How is visibility achieved in their countries of origin?

 

The sticker serves no purpose, eh? How about acting as a source of information for foreign drivers unfamiliar to the finer details of our Traffic Act who may be driving behind these commercial vehicles? The sticker informs them that these vehicles are allowed a maximum of 80km/h, so make your decision: tail them and stick to 80 or overtake them if you plan to go faster. It is always better to have an excess of information than a dearth thereof.

As for the reflectors: They’d best be left intact because rescinding the decision to have them in place means EVERYBODY will take them off, including the penny-pinching businessmen with rattletrap, barely legal pickup trucks of fringe roadworthiness. Have you ever encountered an unilluminated cane tractor in the dead of night while at high speed? You will understand why reflectors are important. You will also thank God for disc brakes.

 

 

Hi Baraza,

What are the cons of a turbo charged car? I hear it is costly to repair let alone buy a new one. Can removing the turbo lead to engine problems or loss of power?

Thiga

 

The downside of a turbocharged car lies in costs: buying, maintaining and selling. You will lose money on all three counts. Removing the turbo will of course cause a noticeable drop in power.

 

Whats up JM,

I have a Toyota Corolla E80 purchased in 1985 by my mum and christened “Whitney Houston”.

Five years ago, we had the carburettor engine changed to a 16 VALVE EFI 1.5 cc engine with a 4-speed gear box. Does having a 4-speed gear box affect the car in anyway considering it has an EFI engine?

I like the way people on the highway underestimate Whitney just because its number plate doesn’t have a letter at the end. Once I start revving the engine, those cars see dust. Now that the history lesson is behind, the questions;

1) Would it have been possible to change a VVTi engine? If not, why?

2)We wanted to change the 4-speed gear box to a 5-speed automatic gear box but the mechanic told us it would not be possible? Is it possible to change a manual to an automatic gear?

3) The car starts perfectly in the morning but then in the course of the day develops a hard start. What do you think might be issue?

4) The engine makes a lot of noise, now I am not sure if it is because it is getting old or there is a problem?

5) When I take the car for engine wash it will refuse to start until I jumpstart it. Would you propose I wash the engine or just let it stay dirty?

6) Whitney has on a pair of 12’ inch wheels and I was considering of getting her 14’ inch wheels. What are the ramifications of putting such wheels on a car? Or do we have to do certain adjustments to the car?

7)The back wheels of Whitney are bent inwards and my mechanic told me that she needs to be taken for kember. What is kember?

8) Whitney is a front-wheel drive. I have taken her for numerous wheel alignments but it still gets lost on the road and especially on rough roads. I have replaced all the parts of the front wheel, tie-rods, shocks, springs, bearing and so on. What might be the problem?

9) Insurance companies in Kenya don’t give comprehensive insurance to cars like mine claiming that if the car were to be in an accident, it would be hard to source for parts. Can my car be reconditioned in Kenya? What  does reconditioning mean?

10) Is it true a showroom car has a rear rectangular number plate while a second hand car has a rear square number plate?

11) Finally, I work at a boys club. The boys are crazy about cars and I was hoping maybe you would find time on a Saturday to come and talk to them. I know they would love it. Our email [email protected]

Thanks,

Alvaro

 

Quite a lengthy email.  Also, an interesting one. Whitney Houston, you say? Very interesting.

 

1) In a world where people can replace a tiny melon-sized two-rotor Wankel engine with a leviathan LS2 6.0 litre small-block Chevy V8, I don’t think engine swaps are exactly a problem anymore.

In this case it should be more straightforward seeing how the engine and the car both came from the same company. So, yes, a VVT-i engine would have fitted, provided the engine mounts are compatible with Whitney’s body.

2) It is possible but the involved labour is off-putting. Also you may need to shop for a new ECU(Electronic Control Unit)  or programme the current one to control the automatic gearbox but a) Toyota chips are almost impossible to hack and b) how does one start programming an automatic transmission? It will take years, if at all. The easiest way of doing such a conversion is to get an engine and gearbox combination (such composites are available).

3) I think your plugs could be on the throes of death. Poke around your electrical system: the HT leads, wiring, plugs etc.

4) This depends on what noise it is. An engine at 5,000 rpm will also be “noisy” by default, especially with the bonnet open.

5) I find the lack of lateral thinking in garages and motoring establishments humorous; more so in regard to the engine wash.  Has nobody ever heard of a wet rag? Is the verb “to wipe” so alien to us?

6) Provided the 14” rims fit, there should be no problem at all…

7) It is not “kember”, it is “camber”; and the car is not “taken for camber”, it requires “camber adjustment”. Camber is the offset position of the wheel along the Y axis, — the top of the wheel is not in line with the bottom of the wheel. If the top is offset inwards or the bottom is offset outwards (leading to a knock-kneed stance), it is called negative camber, whereas the opposite (bow-legged stance) is called positive camber. Camber adjustment is part of the wheel alignment process.

8) Now check your bushes. Also, make sure the tyre pressures are equal or close to equal on both sides of the car. Lastly, see 7) above. The misalignment at the rear could have an effect on handling.

9) Reconditioning a car such as yours will depend on how much dedication YOU have.

10) Not necessarily. It just applies to majority of situations but there are several not-so-isolated cases where the converse is true.

11) I’d be happy to give you folks a talk.

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Better choice: Toyota Wish or Nissan X trail?

I am an ardent reader of your motoring column on DN2 every Wednesday.

I intend to get my first car — a used car — and your expert advise will help inform my decision.

I’m considering either a Toyota Wish, 1800cc, Year 2004 or Nissan X-trail. 2000cc, Year 2003.

The reason am looking at Toyota Wish is it’s sitting capacity for seven passengers and therefore ideal for family outings while the X-Trail offers me off-road capabilities whenever needed.

The car will be 80 per cent town drives and 20 per cent off-road adventures. Other than differences in off-road handling capabilities, please advise on differences in:

(a) Fuel efficiency and consumption Km/l.

(b) Maintenance costs  — I have very lean maintenance budget especially on parts.

(c) Reliability

(d) Ease in handling, stability, comfort and speed.

Looking forward to your kind response.

Mukaria.

a) The Wish is generally more economical than the X-Trail but the absolute figures will depend on how and where you drive, and how often you carry seven people in the car. Expect anything between 7km/l and 15km/l for both.

b) A “lean maintenance budget” is not going to do you any favours in light of the fact that you are buying a used car that has already seen thousands of kilometers of service in another person’s hands. Breakdowns WILL happen, and a lean maintenance budget might not be sufficient to keep the car in good working condition.

A particular sore point is the X-Trail’s automatic transmission that fails with alarming certainty; replacing it will be an exercise in six-figure expenditure.

c) Reliability: see b) above. You are buying a used car. Its reliability will depend on how well the previous owners maintained it. Again, that being said, the X-Trail is more of a garage queen compared to the Wish.

d) Handling, stability, comfort and speed: don’t expect anything like an Evo in terms of handling, stability and speed. Both cars will reach 180km/h before the electronic nanny interferes, and both cars will crash spectacularly if you try cornering in them at that speed.

Comfort: the X-Trail has more room inside and a bigger glass-house, so it is generally a better place to be in. A Wish seven-deep with humanity is like a school bus.

Hi Baraza,
There is something you didn’t address comprehensively on January 3.

It had to do with fuel gauge (level) light going on before and after refuelling. I noted the same anomaly recently where the light came on and I refilled with 4.55 litres of fuel two kilometres on.

However, I noted the light came on again after driving for about 15km.

Could the vehicle have spent the 4.55 litres to do 17 kilometres whereas it does 10km/l-11km/l?

The road gradient was not significantly different so as to affect the fuel ‘positioning’ inside the tank.      

L. Magambo.

There is one thing you need to understand here, and that is the internal design of a fuel tank. It is not just an empty can with a hole at one end for filling it and another at the other end for emptying it.

There are baffles inside it.

These baffles are like small walls; ramparts if you will, and their main function is to still the fluid and prevent it from splashing about in the tank.

The splashing about may cause bubbles which, when fed into the fuel lines, will cause vapour lock which in turn cause stalling and sometimes may lead to injector damage.

The splashing about may also cause fuel starvation: this is a common problem in sports cars with high performance capabilities, such as an Impreza STi or a Nissan GTR: the lateral G when cornering, or longitudinal G when accelerating hard/braking forces the fuel to one side/wall of the tank and if it so happens that the fuel is forced away from the outlet/fuel pump, then fuel starvation occurs and the car goes off.

Much as they are prevalent in performance cars, you do not need a high-strung race car to experience these problems. They can also be faced in lesser vehicles, hence the baffled tank design being universal. These baffles have another effect, though:
They form little “pockets” of fuel when running low and this is where gauge accuracy is slightly lost.

The sensor is a rheostat attached to float device which is in turn attached to the tank wall.

When refilling, small amounts of fuel such as four and a half litres may not be spread out evenly through those “pockets”. Depending on the splash patter when refilling, shape of the fuel tank and size/severity of the tank baffles, the fuel gauge may lose accuracy by quite a margin.
It may show a considerable jump in fuel level, or it may show none at all. It is not 100 per cent accurate, and this is why you will never come across a highly calibrated fuel gauge indicating exactly how many litres of fuel there are in the tank.
Some cars may have the fancy gadgetry telling you how many kilometers of driving you have left with the fuel at hand but none of them is ever dead right, it is always pessimistic so that when it finally reads zero, you are still in motion and your hopes get lifted.
So, no, your car does not do 4km/l. To get an accurate reading, fill the tank up to the brim (automatic cut-off point for the fuel hose), take note of your odometer reading then drive around a little. It doesn’t matter how far you go, but the further you drive, the more accurate the outcome.
Preferably, keep going until when almost empty, then fuel up; again brimming the tank. Take note of the number of litres that will go into the tank before cut-off.

Take note of the new odometer reading. Your very accurate fuel economy figure will be (Odo’ reading 2 – odo’ reading 1) divide by the number of litres taken it at the second fuel stop.

Hi Baraza,
I was happy to bump into you at Kiamburing TT. Do tell, where and when is the next one? I drive a 2.0  D4 ZT Caldina, full time  4 wheel drive.

It has excellent leg room and a spacious boot and it’s  performance on slippery/muddy areas is quite good.

However, I am a speed maniac and the car regularly disappoints me in this area. When driving against the VW Passat, ‘government model’ (for lack of better term) and the sleek Mark X, I noticed they pick up much faster than my car.

Now, I am thinking of trading my Caldina later in the year with either of the above but please compare and contrast the two (Mark X and VW Passat) in terms of comfort and performance both on highway and off-road. Reliability and durability as well as ability to drive in a  semi-muddy area.
Do they have front wheel drive version or even 4-wheel version and if so, which models? What of the ability to pick up/accelerate to speeds of 180km/h?
And finally, Does any of them have a semi-automatic (tiptronic) gearbox.
Simon.

I’m glad I made your day. The next Kiamburing is still in the pipeline and dates are tentative but we are looking at end of April. This is owing to a busy motorsports calendar this year and seeing how a large number of the people involved have overlapping duties across discrete events, we thought it best if each race had its own date.

This also allows for fans to maximise on their indulgence and not have to be forced to choose between one event and another should they happen to fall on the same date.
Onto your question, The Mark X is a beast. I have been running around in one in the recent past and the way it pulls on a wide open throttle beggars belief for a car that heavy and that laid back.

Perhaps it should have been born as some form of semi-F Sport Lexus than a run-of-the-mill Toyota.
You may have to specify which particular model of VW Passat you had in mind, because there are quite a number of iterations with drivetrain variations and engine variations.

I’m guessing you got monstered by a 2.0 litre turbo.
The two cars are broadly similar in comfort and performance (though performance will be heavily dependent on what engine the Passat has) but the bias is towards the Mark X.

That car really goes like a bat out of hell, relatively. Comfort may favour the Passat a little: I found the Mark X’s driver area feeling cramped — it’s not actually cramped, it just feels like it, and the electric seat adjustment takes a while to shuttle back and forth on its rails.
Reliability: Toyota. ‘Nuff said
Spec Levels: Passat. It can be had in a myriad of flavours with choices of engines, transmissions, drivetrains, colors, body styles (Passat CC, anyone? Estate, maybe?) and sub-models.

For more details on these, please visit the internet.
Tiptronic transmission: both are available with Tiptronic-style manual overrides on automatic transmissions. In the Passat, it is an option, in the Mark X it is standard.

Dear Baraza,
I imported a Range Rover Sport 2007, with a diesel engine from the UK some six months ago and it experienced total engine failure within four months.

I have since heard of a few other cases with the same make of car.
I was informed that it has something to do with the diesel fuel available in Kenya. How true is this? 
Robert Omwando

At the risk of drawing the ire of the British/Indians, I will say this is more of a Range Rover problem than a Kenyan problem.
That being said, whenever you buy a second hand car, especially one as expensive as a Range Rover Sport, details like FSH are very important. FSH is Full Service History.

Range Rovers are not the most reliable cars out there, but their unreliability can be partially circumvented.

One can delay the inevitable through good care and proper maintenance.
Diesel-powered Range Rovers are not any worse than their petrol-swilling stable-mates, if anything; a diesel Range Rover is the thinking man’s option.

The right engine will still run with the petrol version and return economy and environmental friendliness.
There are many diesel-powered Range Rovers still running on our roads. The word here is “maintenance”.

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Is replacing the Toyota Caldina’s engine impossible? I beg to differ…

After fixing the overheating, problem in my Toyota Caldina’s D4 engine, fuel consumption went from an average of 10-11km/l to an average of 7-8km/l.

I would now like to replace the engine with a new 1.8 engine from a Toyota Caldina or Premio. My mechanic says that this change is not possible because the gearbox of a 1.8 is not compatible with that of 2.0.

I also suggested changing the nozzles and replacing them with ones from a 1.8 Caldina, but he disagreed. Though my car is a new model 4WD, I cannot sell it because I have used the logbook as collateral.

Kindly advise me on a way out of this quagmire.

Simon

Your mechanic needs a little more exposure. The engine can be changed, the gearbox ratios notwithstanding. In many car models, the gearbox ratios used are the same all round.

If there is a difference anywhere, it should be in the final drive, which is not part of the gearbox, unless the car uses a transaxle.

Engine swaps are done daily with no corresponding transmission changes and the cars work just fine. Alternatively, you could get an entire powertrain, engine plus gearbox as one unit and replace the whole thing but I don’t see the need for this.

If you find someone willing to buy your old gearbox, you can consider this step.

Changing injectors is also possible; it is done regularly by those in the tuning community, though in their case, they typically go for bigger injectors, not smaller ones.

The injector swap is also not necessary as the current units can be tweaked to run at a lower capacity. That again, is part of what the tuning community does.

This, I advise, is also an unnecessary step, because electronic fuel injection (EFI) tuning is a whole other world that will consume you once you discover the possibilities on hand.

But more importantly, if you decide to dabble in EFI tuning, it is best to start with an engine that is 100 per cent sound. Your change in fuel consumption tells me your engine is not of 100 per cent sound.

There is a third way, which you might not want to hear, but I’ll mention it anyway, since it is what I’d recommend. Don’t change anything; not the engine, not the gearbox, not the injectors.

Find out what caused the poorer economy figures. Start by investigating what exactly that “surgery” entailed and if everything was put back correctly afterwards.

Poor placement of certain components (especially around the throttle body and the mass airflow sensor) can lead the car to go into a kind of safe mode where it burns fuel erratically because the ECU (Engine Control Unit) is not sure whether there is a problem or not, so it goes for the setting that will keep the car running, and that is burning as much fuel as it can. I once had that problem with a leaking Starlet throttle body and the result was 4km/l.

Hi Baraza,

I read your article on the Ford Mustang coming to Kenya… what did you mean when you said it has a “rare axile”?

Mike

I wish some of you would pay proper attention to your writing as I do mine. I did not say the Ford Mustang has a “rare axile” (whatever that is); I said it had a “live rear axle”.

A live rear axle is like a truck axle. It is a beam axle, whereby the wheel-points on either side of the car are rigidly linked and are thus dependent and move as a single unit, though in the automotive world we prefer to say “not independent”.

The connection is a solid beam that does not allow independent axial movement of the tyres (their rotation is, however, not affected). Live rear axle means this is a beam axle, located aft and is also powered. The unpowered equivalent is referred to as a dead axle.

The downside of this kind of set-up is that the vehicle is not as comfortable as one with independent rear suspension (whereby the wheels are independent of each other). This is due to the road surface changes not being isolated to one wheel but are transferred across the entire axle.

It also results in poorer handling around corners because there is no relative camber change between tyres due to their rigid connection: camber change on one side means a similar camber change on the other as well.

The advantage is that the live rear axle is very robust, able to withstand great loads, hence their application in commercial vehicles.

In a car like the Ford Mustang, it made the car a handy tool for drag-racing: enormous amounts of power were able to be channelled to the tarmac, resulting in a hard launch but with minimised axle tramp.

Until now, some of the most extreme drag racing cars use live rear axles because the independent one is too delicate for that kind of abuse.

Dear Barasa,

After reading your article on the Xado magic elixirs, I swiftly purchased their gearbox treatment syringe as well as a fuel system cleaner. I’m still racking up the mileage in my VW Golf Mark 5 and so far, so good.

I paid particular attention to the word “robotised gearbox” on the product package, given that the Mark 5 has a DSG robotised autobox.

My wife has joined your camp and purchased an automatic 2004 Mazda Demio. A very competent hatchback which ticks all the right boxes with its economical 1300cc VVT engine.

However, after about 30 minutes in slow traffic, it emits the distinct smell of a cooking clutch. This is strange because it’s an automatic. Are autoboxes prone to such misdemeanors? 

PS: Please test drive and review the 2008 Mazda Demio currently being shipped in from Japan.

Hatchback fan

Hello Hatchback Fan,

The feedback on Xado the wonder-drug was a little bit more than I expected. It transpires I was not the only one feeding Soviet gels into my car’s internal organs; a sizeable number of fellow drivers were too.

Their responses are unanimous and sound just like yours: We love the Russian lube. Maybe we are on to something, eh? Time will tell.

The “cooking clutch smell” problem is not endemic to automatic transmissions, otherwise traffic jams would stink like a tyre factory on fire.

Most automatic transmission cars use torque converters, which are fluid clutches, so it is unlikely that the clutch itself is the problem. Some auto cars use electronically controlled friction clutches.

If that is the case here, it is possible that either the lockup control is wonky or the clutch itself is on its last legs, but this would also be accompanied by other symptoms such as slippage, vibrations or delayed reactions when throttling up while in gear.

It is not the ATF though. Bad ATF smells like burning bread, for reasons I have never understood. One more theory: the brakes could be binding.

This may be an underlying problem which is then aggravated by frequent braking (you did say slow traffic, didn’t you?).

The result is the calipers hold on to the discs when you start moving, and the resulting friction heats them up to the point of them giving out a smell.

Next time you get the smell, if possible, check the front tyres around the rim and hub areas to see how hot they are.

I will do a review of the new Demio once I get hold of it. Snazzy little thing, though the looks are a touch feminine. But if public opinion is anything to go by, it should be a hoot to drive.

The gearbox of my Toyota Noah jerks everytime I engage the “R” or “D”. My mechanic calls it rough engagement.

He ran a diagnosis and the report indicated it was a solenoid circuit high.

He then opened the gearbox sump and closed it after a few minutes. He put back the ATF and the problem disappeared. However, that same evening, it was back. What could be the cause?

R. Ndungu, Mtwapa

The problem came back because the main issue was not solved. Opening and closing the sump will not really do much if the error report says “solenoid circuit high”.

The solenoid circuit is obviously an electrical component, and these have never been repaired by just looking at them (literally staring at them; did that mech even do anything after opening up the fluid reservoir?).

I have a Land Rover Discovery 1994 model, which has a problem of leakage on the transfer gearbox. I have had several mechanics look at it but all in vain. Is this a problem with the Landrover Discovery?

Daniel

Yes it is.

Posted on

Blue boxer boys and biased bloggers

This is a clarification and a disclaimer. I do not know any female bloggers,  much less any who have underlying and/or unresolved issues with drivers of blue Subarus.

I did not train, nor did I request any Internet superhero to pick fights with yuppie-grade Six-Star specialists.

I did not ask for any help in disparaging the Boxer Boys. My relation with Subaru (drivers) transcends colour and creed: an Impreza doesn’t have to be blue to get beaten by a Lancer Evolution.

My on-off disagreement with the Subaru fan club is not a judgmental and jaundiced look at their lifestyles, or their romantic capabilities, life choices or financial health; it is a simple debate that is quite easily solved through an orgy of octane overdose, twin turbos, advanced timing, burning rubber, wild understeer, missed gearshifts, shattered valves and bent con-rods. In other words, this is banter between petrolheads, not social commentary.

It is high time prejudiced “keyboard activists” left Subaru drivers alone.

Only I am allowed to poke fun at them. I don’t write about age-disparate, inappropriate, financially-fuelled social pairings involving sugar-parents (daddies or mommies) in my weekly column, seeing how little I know about them.

It is only fair NOT to  include motor vehicles in a questionable write-up involving the devious machinations of scheming trollops; obnoxious opportunists seeking pots of gold where they aren’t supposed to, more so if the author of the said piece thinks a Range Rover Sport is the beginning and the end all things motoring.

Leave the Subaru-bashing to me. I got this.

Posted on

I prefer a first-generation Vitara to the tiny, bouncy Camis and Jimnys

Dear Baraza,

I have been wondering why you answer questions only from people who drive big and expensive cars? This is the third mail I am sending, although I can already tell you won’t respond – if at all you care to read it.

Now to my question: Which small SUV would you go for between a Toyota Cami and Suzuki Jimny, both year 2006, 1.3litre, in terms of off-road ability in muddy conditions, engineering, and availability of spare parts. I want one for commuting to work and visiting the farm in a remote shags on weekends.

Patrick

Hi,

Yes, I only answer questions from people who drive big and expensive cars, cars like the Nissan Note, Mazda Demio and Subaru Impreza. They don’t come any bigger or more expensive than these.

Perhaps I should start charging a consultation fee; that way, maybe the owners of these big cars will stop sending emails and allow drivers of smaller cars to have their 15 minutes.

Secondly, there is a backlog in my inbox: I have hundreds of unanswered emails, and yours was one of them – until now.

So, to your question: I wouldn’t buy either of the two since they are both horrible to drive. I’d rather buy a first-generation 5-door Suzuki Vitara, which costs less but gets you more of a car and is cheaply available with an optional V6 engine.

The Cami and Jimny are tiny, bouncy little things that are badly afflicted by crosswinds on the highway, will not seat enough human beings for you to have a memorable road trip, and will shatter your pelvis on a rough road. However, they are also very capable when the ground underfoot gets industrial.

Off-road: Their non-existent overhangs, narrow bodies and relatively high ground clearance make them handy tools for penetrating the impenetrable, and unless you fall inside a peat bog or drive off a cliff, you are unlikely to ever get stuck in one.

The muddy conditions you inquire about may prove to be their undoing, though: their tiny, underpowered engines don’t generate enough power to force your way through the clag, which is why Landcruisers are recommended for such. You need plenty of power when going through mud, otherwise you run the risk of wedging yourself into the landscape.

With power, you also need bigger wheels. The Jimny and Cami both run on dinner plates that will cut through the mud and beach your vehicle faster than you can say “I knew 1.3 litres was not enough engine…” The Jimnys sold by CMC had slightly wider wheels, though, which would improve matters. Here’s why:

When forging a path through the quagmire, you need a modicum of buoyancy to prevent getting stuck. The bigger tyres offer a bit of floatation, and the speed complements it.

Of course, it is not recommended that you try and do 100 kph in a swamp, but it is imperative that you keep moving and not stop at all, and sometimes to keep moving, you need plenty of revs and a bit of wheelspin.

With no power at your disposal, compounded by smaller wheels, you will start to sink in the mud and if you try to generate a bit of wheelspin, you burn your clutch and/or stall the vehicle.

The Jimny has a slight advantage over the Cami in that, as a 3-door, it has a shorter wheelbase, and the lack of a body-kit even as an option gives it superior approach and departure angles, and much better ground clearance.

Engineering: These are cheap, narrow, 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder Kei cars. The engineering in them is rudimentary at best, and their only bragging points would be over things we take for granted in other cars such as AC, power steering, power windows and variable valve timing.

Forget about hill descent control, torque vectoring, terrain response systems or submersion sensor technology; for those, you need to multiply your budget by 30 and start looking at Range Rovers, the kind of cars driven by people whose emails I respond to (you opened a can of worms here, my friend).

Availability of spare parts: small, Japanese cars are the topic at hand. What was your question again?

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Hi Baraza,
Thanks to you, we petrolheads now look forward to Wednesdays as if it is Friday. Your writing prowess and knowledge about cars is simply outstanding. Keep up the good work. Anyway, to my queries.

1) Why don’t the turbo-charged Subies and Evos come with turbo timers from the factory? And they don’t come with damp valves either: does it mean they are not necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I know what they are used for but it bothers me that the manufacturers of these speed machines don’t fit these gadgets as standard.

2) This is a proposal: I think it’s high time rally organisers used the Jamuhuri Park circuit, where two cars race side by side on gravel, as a spectator stage. They did so last time and it was really exciting.

I am disappointed that this year they have skipped it for the boring Migaa circuit. To the rally organisers: let’s build more circuits like that in our bid to lure the WRC. I doubt it’s costly, plus they can always charge entry fees to recover the costs.

Last but not least, what’s the shape of an Evo’s tail lights? Because we sub drivers can’t recall….

Elly

Hi,

1. These turbo cars don’t come with timers because in stock form, they do not really need them. Once the owners/drivers start tuning/modifying/upgrading them by installing bigger turbos, increasing boost pressures and using manual boost controllers, the need for timers arises.

The turbos spool faster, generate more heat, and the bigger units require more oil for lubrication, which is where the need for timers comes in. The timers assist in heat dumping and spool-down manoeuvres to prevent damage and oil coking. The stock turbos are usually designed during R&D to compensate for this sudden cool-down, according to their capacity.

A small correction though: the factory cars DO come with dump valves, it’s just that these BOVs are not as loud as the aftermarket devices. Some people install new dump valves simply for the noise they make, a noise I will admit is highly addictive. Even I will buy a new BOV just for the “pssshh!!” throttle-off hiss.

2. Well, nowadays we have something called Club TT Motorsports, and though unintended, it sometimes steps in where rally fears to tread. Club TT Motorsports is the committee behind the famous time trials, four of which have been held so far. Three of the four races were the Kiamburing TT hill-climbs, and one was the Murang’a TT.

I will pass your recommendation on to the organising committee and see if Jamhuri Park can be put to good use. Wheel-to-wheel racing is the most dangerous aspect of motorsport, especially where amateurs are concerned, but then again, its entertainment quotient is infinitely greater than the standard time trial format.

If we can get two cars to run side by side (Evo vs STi, anyone?) but demarcate the two lanes into separate pathways, we will be sure to have a show we will not forget soon. What was that you said about Evo tail-lights?

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Dear Mr Baraza,

Thank you for sharing your column. The information is very helpful and insightful. Keep up and do not be discouraged by the few negative comments.

I recently bought a 1800cc Premio but need to improve the clearance. I have put strong coil springs and there is some improvement, but when fully loaded, it’s still low on high bumps.

1. Is it true that bigger tyres will increase fuel consumption? I am using 185/70/14. I wanted to use 195/70/15. Will they affect stability?

2. Since I imported it, whenever I drive beyond 100 kph, if I brake, the steering wheel shakes. I have checked the brakes, had the wheels aligned and balanced but no change.

3. The back seat has only two safety belts, with an arm rest in between that can be folded back to accommodate three passengers.

The import inspection sheet indicated that it can accommodate five passengers, so I am assuming there should have been a safety belt for the middle passenger at the back.

Hello,

1. Not really. Okay, it will, but the difference will be barely discernible and anyway, the instantaneous consumption varies quite a bit. Overall, you will not notice anything.

2. Check your brakes again. Your problem sounds like warped brake discs. You might need new ones.

3. I’d assume so too, so either a) we are both wrong, or b) there WAS a seat belt but for one reason or another it was removed.

When I reviewed a Premio a long time ago, I sat in the back seat to check out the legroom (which was good) but didn’t check for a centre belt, so I cannot tell if this is an isolated case or if it is the norm with Premios.

It is at times like this that reader feedback comes in handy; maybe other Premio owners out there can tell us if their cars are also blighted by fewer seatbelts than there are seats, or if this problem is yours alone.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I like your expert advice on the advantages or otherwise of various car makes/models and solutions you suggest for car problems.

I am an admirer of SUVs currently driving a Subaru Forrester. I would like to upgrade, maybe to a BMW X5 or X6.

Which one do you consider a better deal in terms of performance, fuel economy, and local support, bearing in mind that it would most likely be a second-hand import?

Also, should I buy one that uses petrol or diesel, given that there are issues with the quality of locally available diesel.

Dan N

Hi,

I can’t help but notice you share a name with a TV comedian, the famous “Churchill”. You are not he, are you?

The two cars are largely similar and share engines, so performance, economy and local support are no different irrespective of which X-car you go for.

Local support is the bone of contention here: a visit to Bavaria Motors assured me that they do not discriminate against imports; they will support ANY BMW you throw at them. The reports on the ground are a little different but not too worrisome. Some claim they have not got a stellar reception at Bavaria.

Petrol vs diesel: BMWs have not had as many complications with diesel engines as their German rivals, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I think it is a calculable risk, and the calculations say you can take a gamble.

However, the petrol engines are a lot more powerful and much more fun to drive but you need a sizeable fuel budget if you plan to take advantage of the hiatus in the 50km/h town-bound speed limit.

***********

Sir,
I am contemplating importing a Honda Fit 1500 cc , but the mileage (all in Japan) seems high at 98,000 km. What would you advise?
C Shah

I would advise that you not pay too much money for it; 98,000km is a lot for a small ex-Japan car. Alternatively, expand your search and hope to find one with lower mileage (it will cost a little bit more, though).

**********

Hi Baraza,
I read your article on revitalisants in Car Clinic with lots of interest.

This Russian revitalisant was introduced to me by a doctor friend who had earlier used it in the UK.I added the gel to my engine oil in September this year and the engine of my Mitsubishi Warrior double- cab has improved in sound quality. It used to be rough, like a truck, but I can now say there is definitely an improvement.

I have also noticed an improvement in fuel economy. The car now does 7 kpl from a low 5.5 kpl, which is poor for a diesel vehicle.

I am ready to take the plunge with you on the gearbox. Let’s compare notes sometime in November.

Cheers, iKay.

Interesting feedback. I did review a Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab pick-up some two years ago and two of the many shortcomings on that particular vehicle involved the gruffness of the engine and the poor fuel economy. Maybe that vehicle needed some “revitalising”.

November is here, I will soon get my bottle of magic Russian juice, then we will see what is what. This Russian elixir is called XADO (pronounced “ha-do”) and has apparently been around for some time. Strange how I had not heard of it till recently.

Posted on

Apart from the names, the Harrier and the Lexus have different specs

Congrats for the good work. I am working on my car magazine and for sure I’ve got a lot to write about, given what I am learning from you.

Now, apart from their names, what is the difference between the Toyota Harrier and Lexus? I only know that people love the Lexus because they say it is luxurious.

And, what is so good about the X trail? Almost everyone is buying one. Why don’t they go for machines like the Mark X?

Lastly, don’t you think the Mexico police were wrong in getting a Bugatti just to make sure that they outdo the fastest car on the road in case of a chase?

Assuming that I get a Land Rover Defender 110 and I commit a crime then take a damn rough road, would they get me with their Bugatti?

Mario Junior

Hello Junior,
All the best with your car magazine. I am looking forward to seeing it on the stands.

Apart from the names, the Toyota Harrier and Lexus RX also differ in spec levels, and the availability thereof. Only the top spec Toyota Harriers can match the Lexus RX cars trim for trim and engine for engine.

However, while the Toyota Harrier can be had with smaller engines, some of which have 4 cylinders, the Lexus RXs are all 6-cylinder cars. Meanwhile, the Lexus is also available as a hybrid, while the Harrier is not.

The choice of an X Trail over a Mark X is purely an individual preference and might not necessarily be a definite marker of trend. Maybe some buyers of the X Trail want a car that can drive over tall grass and small rocks because of the tracks they traverse.

Maybe some prefer the taller driving position and better outside view accorded to them by the cross-over utility. Some of them could be fearful of the 2.5 litre V6 thirst of the Mark X as opposed to the X Trail’s 2.0 litre straight-4 (relative) economy.

Maybe some love the square, breeze-block, sharp-edged pseudo-off roader looks of the X Trail instead of the Mark X’s curvy, artsy panel beater’s nightmare of a body. The reasons for choosing one car over another are as varied as they are numerous.

The police acquiring super cars are more of publicity stunts and tourist attraction gimmicks than an absolute need for speed. The only exceptions I’d put forward are South Africa using the Audi S3 and VW Golf GTi, the UK using Nissan Skyline GTRs (R33 and R34), Australia using Impreza WRX STis and Saudi Arabia using the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG as road patrol units.

They actually use these cars for high- speed pursuits. The Bugatti Veyrons, Ferraris, SLRs, SLS AMGs and Lamborghinis bought by various police forces around the world (especially Italy and the Middle East) are purely for show.

Those towns have clever mayors, and these mayors would really love it if tourists visited them more often, and one of the ways of attracting people is via a blatant show of opulence (this mightexplain why some men wear jewellery).

Ferrari and Lamborghini are names instantly identifiable to anyone, petrolhead or not. If your police department has one of them, people will definitely come to have a look. Your town thus gets a much higher profile on the world map.

One thing, though. If you are driving a Land Rover Defender 11 and you get chased by a Bugatti Veyron in police colours and you take the “damn rough road”, don’t for a moment stop and think you are home and dry. If that particular PD can operate a Bugatti Veyron, then they sure as hell can also operate a police helicopter.

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Hi Baraza,
First, I would like to declare that as I am writing this, I am not in that state of being friends with Mututho, though I will be driving towards home, thanks to my car knowing the way home as long as you put it on D.

I have been reading your articles for a while now, and I have some points to make/ask. Many of the emails that come to you ask about buying a first car, but they seem ambitious, asking about German cars and the likes of Range Rover Discovery and so on.

Is there an option of advising them to be real or else they tell us where they mine money to buy and maintain such cars as first-time buyers?

Second, I would like your review of the Nissan Teana, especially the comparisons between the JK, JM, and JX versions in terms of suitability for the Kenyan market.

Third, what’s your opinion concerning Nissans generally? Since the new CEO Goshen took over, they have been producing quality cars.

Do you see a possibility of upstaging Toyotas soon? I need to declare that I don’t hate Toyotas, but sometimes I think they just employ engineers who are not up to the task. Otherwise, how else do you explain the Platz and so forth?

Finally, how come you drive a Demio if you really are a petrolhead? The car, though not ugly, does nothing on the road apart from getting you from point A to B. If you appreciate car technology and the advancement of it, can’t you buy a better car?

I love the Demio, by the way; I bought one for my wife. It consumes relatively less fuel and keeps her away from my Teana JM 2009 model.

Finally, why is with Harrier becoming a lady’s car? I drove one recently and my friends asked if it was a new car for my mama. I hope my wife doesn’t read this, since it will spoil her birthday gift.

Just before I go and get my last one, why do you refer to Top Gear? It just a comedy show in which Jeremy is making £2m (Sh 296m) a year just to review supercars nobody will drive with our speed bumps. Mike the mouth

This is one of the most ridiculous emails I have received in the four years I have written the DN2’s Wednesday motoring column. In fact, it is one of the most absurd emails I have received in the 15 years I have owned an email address.

I don’t know if you are still alive to be reading this, but if you are, read it very carefully, my advice is short and simple: do not drive drunk.

Unless you own the as-yet-still-not-in-production Google car, your car does not know the way home; you just happen to be the momentary, and I do mean momentary, favourite of the cheeky deity behind the blind luck enjoyed by drunkards, the shameless god that is the reason the high and plastered somehow survive long falls, lightning strikes and dangerous drives from the local tavern back to whatever cave they crawled out from.

One day that benevolent spirit will turn malevolent and find a new favourite. It will drop you like a hot potato, and there will be hell to pay. I repeat: do not drive drunk.

There is no option for my readers telling you where they mine their money from. It is pretty obvious. If you want to own a Range Rover or a Land Rover Discovery, my advice is again short and simple: work hard. Also, there exists no such thing as a Range Rover Discovery.

What does “suitability for the Kenyan market” mean? The Teana, in whatever iteration, was meant to go on roads, while carrying people and burning fuel in the process.

We have roads in Kenya don’t we? Kenyans are people, are they not? Last time I checked, we had fuel too. The roads nowadays are good (mostly), some of the people (among which you are definitely not included) now take better care of their cars, so the griping about longevity is almost moot; and fuel quality has been steadily improving. Why would a Teana not be suitable for the Kenyan market?

The CEO of Renault-Nissan is called Carlos Ghosn, not “Goshen”, and yes, he has turned Nissan around. For a good example of his abilities, look no further than the R35 GTR, a car I fawn over endlessly.

However, upstaging Toyota is going to take some doing, if it even happens at all. Nissan has been growing better by the day, but then again, so has Toyota.

Catching up will not be easy, especially when factors like reputation favour your rival. The explanation behind the existence of the Platz (and the Opa, the Will and the Verossa) is: this is what happens when you employ 13,000 designers in the same company. These are way too many opinions and tastes. Some of their creations may be questionable.

Yes, I am a petrolhead, and yes I drive a Demio. It gets me from point A to B, but if you think that is all, then you either a) have never really driven a Demio properly or b) aren’t a petrolhead to start with.

That car puts smiles on my face, because I enjoy driving it. It is also affordable on a motor journalist’s weekly stipend.

If I drove a Range Rover Discovery (which does not exist), then I’d be a good businessman or a successful drug dealer (who is also a good businessman, if you think about it critically).

Your qualifying statement there reeks of innuendo: who says the Demio is unadvanced and devoid of technology? Those descriptions best fit the 1989 Peugeot 405 SR I drove before, but not the Demio.

While it is not the same as a Mercedes S Class — or even a Nissan GTR — in terms of gizmo deployment, it serves its purpose, and does it well.

I don’t need military-grade infra-red readouts on my windscreen or torque-vectoring AWD drivetrains, nor do I need launch control or a twin-clutch gearbox.

What I need is a responsive engine with electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing, a manual gearbox and nice grippy tyres. Check, check and check.

So you got the wife a Demio. Now she and I can have two things in common: we drive the same car and we are not sure your drink-driving habits are worth bragging about.

I cannot explain why women love the Harrier. However, I can make an educated guess, stemming from several interviews I have had with a number of them. They think it looks good.

They think it is a big enough car to make a statement without it being too big. They think it can handle most situations thrown at it, “most situations” in this case being bad roads. They are mostly right.

I know what Top Gear is, I know how much Jeremy Clarkson claims to make per year and I know exactly how seriously to take Top Gear.

What I do not know is how carefully you have been reading my writings. Quoting Top Gear is not the same as using them as a reference, and how often does it happen anyway?

Mr Barasa,

You must either be suffering from amnesia or you are so forgetful that you don’t remember what you wrote about the same car some years back.

You are the same person who described the Avensis as the best car ever made by Toyota. Today you call the same car blande, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means not interesting or exciting/lacking strong flavour”. How do you reconcile the two?

How can you use public media like the Daily Nation to display your ignorance to the whole nation and beyond. I might not be a car specialist, but today you have also proved not to be (although you want people to believe that you are).

One thing I know for sure is that the Avensis is not what you described it as in your recent article. Besides, how can you restrict your comparison to only the Mark X simply because the reader asked about the two.

I have driven both cars and I think going by the way you wrote, the makers of the Toyota Avensis should sue you.

The only problem is that you will not be in a position to pay a fine of $2 trillion like the case in the US where a woman was awarded a similar amount (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then that should explain why you write the way you do).

Let me not even waste more time with you. No more comments from me. Eric

Thank goodness. It was becoming difficult to keep up with your train of thought.

Anyway, it is not only unlikely, but also well nigh impossible that I would call the Avensis “the best car ever made by Toyota” because, where would that leave superb classics like the 80 Series Landcruiser? Or the Mk. IV Supra? or the AE86 Corolla Levin?

What you read was “one of the best built”, i.e. build quality is superb, but then again this is Toyota, very few, if any, of their cars are built below standard. So that is not saying much.

Also, what you read (“best car ever by Toyota”) was not written by me. This is not the first time I have called the Avensis a boring car.

The Merriam-Webster definition of “blandest” is exactly the one I was going for in my statements. Kindly prove otherwise, or else cut down on your Internet costs by not sending me any more bad mail like this one.