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The Leone: A flower bed car

Hi Baraza,
I am currently in the process of acquiring a saloon Subaru Leone, 1500 cc. It’s an old model as far as I can see, with a carburettor boxer engine, (the one that fits a spare tyre in the hood) and is a 4-speed manual.

Please give me details of the car’s history and performance as well as consumption issues. Also, what do you know of the Daewoo Matiz, 1000cc? Can it be driven over long distances without issues?

You are right, the Leone is an old car, 30 years old to be exact. History? It was made at a time when Subaru’s unashamed sales quarry focused mainly on agriculture and how to achieve terminal velocity inside a flower bed, hence the boxer engine, ground clearance and 4WD.

And turbo. Only Subaru could think with that kind of foresight: the three technologies helped it win several world rally championships in later years and made the Impreza a common sight for rally enthusiasts. The Leone was also the predecessor to the Legacy.

Performance: Nothing to speak of by today’s standards, but back in its day, the Leone Turbo made as much noise as it did forward movement. Given how loud they were, that means they were also fast, and the 4WD enabled them to outhandle almost anything else… especially if it was in a flower bed.

Consumption: 4WD, plus carburettor, plus an optional turbocharger, done by engineers from 30 years ago — do not expect magic. The economy is terrible.

The Daewoo Matiz is not much. On long distances, it will be an interesting bet to see which loses its cool first: the driver or the car. It is punitive to drive far in the Matiz: tiny engine, short gears, incessant top gear drone on the highway. But then again, small engines tend to have simple cooling systems that cannot contain the engine heat for too long, especially since you will be hitting the red line just to keep up with everybody else.

So between you and the car, you could place a bet to see who will be the first to blow a gasket before the trip is over.

Hi JM,
1. I’m just hitting 30, with a small salary and almost starting a family. I am torn between a Premio 1500cc, a Fielder or a 1500cc Subaru Impreza, 2005. Kindly advise regarding consumption, availability of spares, durability and performance. Oh, and I love speed.

2. Are you a mechanic?

1. Consumption: The Premio should be the sippiest of the three, but for even better economy, get one with a D4 engine. The Impreza is least impressive in this regard, but it is not far off the mark from the other two.

Spares availability: This has now become a moot point for car models as common as the three you mention. Durability: Treat them well and all three should give you at least six years of service before problems threaten to break up your new family. Abuse them and the Premio will be the first to go.

Performance: Again the Premio, especially if you opt for a 1.8- or a 2-litre. The Fielder is also fast, but is likely to throw you off the road on loose surfaces.

The Impreza is bogged down by its elaborate AWD system. With a family on the way, are you sure performance is a priority? There is something more important than that which you are not asking about and that is…

Practicality: The Impreza and Fielder offer estate versatility, but the Fielder’s boot is bigger than the Impreza’s. Also its interior is roomier but harder to clean than the Impreza’s due to the use of brightly coloured felt on some surfaces (kids will smear dust, jam and chocolate on any clean surface they come across).

2. No, I am not.


Hi JM,
I recently noticed some black smoke coming out of my Nissan B15’s exhaust. The mechanic I consulted told me that maybe the fuel had a problem and advised me to use fuel treatment (motor honey).

Is this right? Please give me your expert advise on this.

Motor honey, to me, is a myth and has nothing to do with fuel. Use V-Power to clean your fuel system, replace your filter if it is clogged or full of water, and next time try to buy your fuel from a reputable dealer.

Another theory could be a weak spark, but that is accompanied by loss of power and misfiring. So if you don’t have these symptoms, then the issue is with your fuel system (dirt).


I have two pickups: a 2006 Toyota Vigo double-cab and an Isuzu D-Max single-cab. I want to increase the number of leaf springs at the rear of both pickups so that I can increase the load they both carry.

1. How will this affect stability when they are not loaded?

2. If I add the leaf springs, how many should I add and will I have to strengthen the chassis? What other changes will I have to make?

3. If one wants to import a used German car, which is the best market to source?

1. With a stiffer back end, the pickups will be more prone to oversteer because there is less give in the suspension. To understand what I mean by an oversteering D-Max, go to YouTube and search for a video shot by a local cameraman showing the vehicle spilling its human cargo onto the hot tarmac of Waiyaki Way. It started with oversteer.

2. Add as many as you want, but if you overload your pickup and get arrested, I was not privy to your escapade. It might also do you well to strengthen the front suspension as well and the mounting points for the shock absorbers. And the brackets holding the leaf springs.

3. Buy one from a local dealership if you really want a trouble-free experience.


I have the intention of buying a 1987 Mercedes Benz 230 and replacing its engine with that of a Toyota Shark so that I can enjoy stability and fuel saving benefits. Is this workable? Is it an offence by law?

It is not illegal and it may be workable if the Shark engine will fit into the Benz’s engine bay. But what does not fit or should be made illegal is your train of thought.

How does a Shark engine make a Benz saloon more stable than it already is? And how is it more economical? The Shark can get pretty thirsty if you cane it, that is why it outruns the Nissan Caravan QD easily.


Dear Mr Baraza,
I own a Rav 4 (automatic ) and on my dashboard there are two buttons: Manual and Power. Please let me know the functions of these buttons and the “side effects” of using them in terms of consumption, wear and tear, etc.

I have no idea what the “Manual” button does, but I know the “Power” one lets the ECT transmission programming shift to performance mode, which allows faster shift times, and downshifts and upshifts at higher revs.

It usually hurts fuel economy but the wear and tear appear by proxy (you will be revving harder and going faster, so the engine will be working harder).

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The need for speed: Debunking the myths

We are told repeatedly that speed kills, but speed does not kill. Hard acceleration might, and so will losing that speed instantaneously, but speed itself will not.

Those who disagree, please account for the existence of supersonic aircraft and the 430 km/h Bugatti Veyron Super Sport.

Couple that wrongful notion with the fact that Kenya has one of the highest accident-related deaths per capita per annum, and it is plain to see that we are unwittingly becoming a nation of slowpokes.

Speed does not kill, incompetence does. But who, in their right minds, would ban half the drivers from our roads?

Yes, Kenyans are moving slower and slower on the roads, and for several reasons. To start with, a good number of our roads are in a sad state of disrepair, and this, I think, plays a bigger role in causing accidents than actual speeding.

Then we also have heavy construction going on along some major thoroughfares, creating diversions that are hard to fathom by day and become Venus fly-traps for unwary drivers by night.

Add to that the biggest of Nairobi’s problems, the perennial gridlock, and you will see our collective velocity-time graph plummeting.

Then we have to consider the kinds of cars that we drive: aging, obsolete ex-Japan or ex-Singapore hardware that can (and will) kill you if pushed to the limit.

But must we drive slowly? We waste a lot of precious man-hours trundling up and down the country’s road network at a lethargic pace, and that is not good for the economy.

Sure, it is not entirely up to us drivers that the average Kenyan driving speed is low, sometimes factors play against our trying to get to point B a little sooner.

We need and we have to revise our legal speed limits; including putting minimum speed limits on some major highways.

The world’s most industrialised nations have super-highways on which one receives a citation if one drives slower than required. Think of that citation as a booking for obstruction.

Try Germany, for starters. The famous Bundesautobahn (Federal Freeway, more commonly called the Autobahn) has some lanes dedicated for driving at speeds between 240 km/h and 320 km/h… or faster if you have the right car… and this has become a high-speed test track for Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen whenever they want to see how fast their cars can really go.

The Autobahn stretches into Belgium which has no limits whatsoever (in Germany there are sections where the ‘Bahn is restricted). Six lanes of open road on which you can zoom as hard as you want to go. Italy has the Autostrada, with similar attributes.

In most of Europe, the typical minimum speed on a highway is about 130 km/h. Oddly enough, the accident rates on the German Autobahn are lower than those of the rest of Europe, in spite of the fact that some drivers try to clock 300km/h on it while dodging heavy trucks.

In South Africa, the road from Johannesburg to Pretoria is an engineering marvel, so wide and so smooth you could land fighter aircraft on it.
Think of the time we would save if we got our collective acts right.

The speed limit for a private car currently stands at 110 km/h, a limit set in the ‘60s. We have cars (and drivers) that do twice that on our highways today.

The speed limit for buses and other PSVs was set by one Hon Michuki at 80 km/h, but many of us have been in buses that periodically touch 140 km/h.

Or, worse yet, the infamous Toyota Shark that keeps accelerating beyond 150 km/h. The Northern Corridor (Mombasa–Nairobi–Eldoret–Malaba) has been more or less fixed; all it needs are a few more lanes on each side and this idea could work.

From experience, let us look at some figures. Private cars generally do 140–150 km/h between Nairobi and Nakuru. Smooth road, so we could set a speed limit of 130 km/h for now until we add some more lanes, after which the road can be derestricted.

Fourteen-seater matatus can have their limit set at 110 instead of 80, though they shouldn’t be derestricted, lanes or no lanes.

Buses do about 120–130 km/h, so their speed should be capped at 110. Can we do this? Yes we can. The time savings will be enormous.

There are those that will shout back, “But what about careless or drunk drivers?” Aah, laws should be enacted to deter such.

Britain and several other countries have a system where one earns points on one’s driving license for every traffic infraction, and should those points reach 10, one’s license is confiscated and a ban is imposed on the offender, for periods that could stretch up to five years or beyond.

Heavy traffic fines are also imposed (up to £200 in some cases, about Sh24,000) on offenders, as are vehicle impounds (sometimes vehicles also face bans).
The use of traffic cameras ensures very few, if any, transgressors will get away.

And just to be sure that carelessness is not acquired over time, renewal of driving licenses sometimes comes with a repeat driving test (theory), particularly for those with points on their documents. This should help keep drunks and incompetents off the roads.