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Yes, a Forester XT can beat a Lamborghini in a race, but…

Hi Baraza,

One of my friends who owns a Forester XT claims that, if fully stocked, the car stands a chance against a Lamborghini Gallardo LP-400 in a race. What’s your take on this?

Yes, there are races in which the Forester can beat a Lambo. Off-road races. Or a race to see who can carry the most people and the most luggage at a go without compromising on comfort.

Otherwise, if we are referring to racing as we know it, on tarmac and on a racetrack, or even a normal road, the Forester is a tree-stump compared to the Gallardo.

But the Forester, against its rivals (cross-over utilities), is a capable handler and is fast.

Hi Baraza,

I have always wanted to import a used car from the UK but friends have strongly discouraged me citing reliability issues. Is it true that cars from the UK are generally in poorer shape compared to their Japanese counterparts.

What I know is that it’s easier to get a manual transmission car from the UK — like the Mercedes C180 or Toyota RAV4 — which is my preferred choice of transmission unlike in Japan where most cars are autos nowadays. What’s your take on this?

The biggest problem with UK cars is rust. You see, way up in the North Atlantic where the UK lies, there is a part of the year that gets very cold.

Winter, it is called. The low temperatures create problems, especially for drivers. The snow on the ground creates a slippery surface on which it is extremely difficult to drive (unless your car is AWD).

Worse yet, something called black ice is created. Black ice is like wet glass.; it is a thin film of ice that forms on the road surface due to the freezing of the water on the surface (this does not even come from snow).

Here, not even AWD will help: if you try to drive on it you WILL crash. So how to deal with the black ice? Pour salt on it.

Salt is an impurity for water, so the freezing properties of water are disrupted, meaning that no matter how low the temperatures go, the water on the road will never freeze.

Having a salt solution covering the road surface makes the road more tractable, yes, but that salt solution sloshes into the various nooks and crannies underneath the car, and most of these gaps house iron or iron-based components.

Iron plus water equals rust, iron plus water plus salt equals rapid rust. Very rapid rusting. Need I continue?

Dear Baraza,

I just started reading your column a few weeks ago and I am wondering if you have compared the Nissan X-Trail to the Toyota Kluger 2.4S in the past editions. Which of these two SUVs would you prefer and why?

John

I prefer the X-Trail. It looks better, is more solid and feels robust, offers better space and you can buy a tropicalised version. Oh yeah, there is also a 280 hp GT.

Dear Baraza,

I am preparing to buy a Subaru Impreza. Could you please advise me on the advantages and differences of a Subaru Impreza 1500cc (2WD and 4WD) in terms of performance, durability, spares, and maintenance? What other alternatives should I consider?

There is no big difference between the two. Very small disparities exist in performance (the 4WD is marginally heavier, but you won’t notice), and maintenance, as far as the transmission is concerned, the 4WD is more complex to repair.

Alternatives are many: Toyota Corolla, Allion 1.5, Nissan B15, Bluebird, Mitsubishi Lancer, Honda Civic (if you can get one)… basically any small 1.5 litre saloon car fits the bill.

Hi Baraza,

There is this meter on the dashboard of my VW Polo that is scaled from 0 to 65 and is coloured red between 45 and 65. The needle moves as one accelerates and I always change gears before the needle reaches 30, which I presume is the middle. In the centre of the dial there is a scale which no one seems to understand; 1min/100. Please explain to me.

Karangi

That, sir, is called a tachometer, or a rev counter in simple terms, and it shows engine speed (the rate at which the engine crankshaft is spinning).

That is why the needle moves to higher numbers when you accelerate. Given the numbers you have quoted, I take it your car has a diesel engine (not that it matters here).

The label is actually 1/min X 100. So if the needle points to 30, it is 30/min X100, which comes to 3,000. So the engine is turning at 3,000 rpm (revolutions per minute).

The red zone should be avoided, because it is in this zone that engines blow, seize or start hydraulicking.

The tachometer is installed to help you avoid over-revving the engine, and in some instances to avoid straining it (when the revs dip too low). For professional or enthusiastic drivers, the tach’ is used to determine the maximum power and torque points of the engine speed and shift gears accordingly.

That is how race drivers set different “lap times” on tracks. The rest will be covered in something I am working on.

Hi Baraza,

I drive a Peugeot 406 that is currently consuming a lot of fuel. In addition, when driving in gear one, it makes jerking movements. The mechanic says that there is a fuel leak, that is, some gasket needs replacement. What are your thoughts?

Fuel leaks could explain the high consumption but not the jerking in first. Common causes of jerking in first gear (I take it the car has a manual transmission) are poor declutching technique, a worn out clutch kit and low fuel pressure in the injectors (first gear needs plenty of fuel), though the third option does not quite fit in here, it is just a theory.

Have the clutch system checked for fidelity in the release bearings.

Dear Baraza,

I want to upgrade my vehicle and I’m stuck on what to go for. I’m debating between 2005s BMW 530i, Audi A6 3.1-litre, Mercedes E320, the 2006 Lexus GS300 (Euro spec) or a Mark X with a 3-litre engine.

Yes, I know the Mark X feels out of place but I think its a very good looking car. What do you think is the best choice?

In addition, I’m trying to calculate the duty on these vehicles. Should I go with CRSP values or should I work with the conventional 76.5 per cent duty since the engines are quite huge?

In duty terms, either way the government will screw you. I cannot make a definite call on which one of the two calculations you should go for because I don’t know how much you have been asked for for these cars.

But know this: underquoting the vehicle’s price (CIF) will get you nowhere. The revenue authority has a minimum amount set for each class of car, so if you underquote, they will use their figure; if you overquote, well and good, they will still get your money anyways.

There is customs duty, excise duty, VAT (all these are calculated in compound form, one figure being used to derive the next) and some small amount for an IDF (Import Declaration Form).

Now to the cars: All the cars, except the A6, are available in RWD (an enthusiast’s dream). The Benz is classy, comfortable and handles well; the A6 has the best interior in the world but has a hard ride; the Lexus is a drug peddler’s transport and the detailing is a bit over-the-top (Lexus calls it good value for money, I call it vulgar); the BMW looks questionable but is best in performance; and the Mark X is cliche. Decide.

Hi JM,

I am in the UK and married to a Kenyan, so I am getting a Kenyan ID soon. I have been told I could import one vehicle into Kenya tax-free if it is for personal use. Is this correct?

Secondly, my cherished Mitsubishi Shogun is in tip top condition with everything working as it should, fully maintained and serviced to the highest degree, but it is a 1994 UK spec model.

Is there any way I could import this vehicle as I am aware there is a six-year block on imports, considering some of those I have seen are not as suitable for Kenyan roads as mine?

It is almost correct. You have to have owned the vehicle in question for a certain amount of time (grey area), then when selling it on, duty will have to be paid by the new owner.

The time cap is actually eight years, not six, but I think the above scenario (lengthy ownership in the land of emigration) also forms part of the list of exceptions.

This is a very grey area. I will have to consult with the relevant authorities for a concrete report, because all I have had are conflicting “expert” opinions from a variety of sources.

Hallo,

I was intrigued by your comment about the Prado being handful at 200km/h. Does it mean its very risky driving it at that speed or what? Please expound.

Samuel

Yes, that is what I meant. The Prado has an intrinsic instability courtesy of its off-road credentials (suspension and ride height), so winding one up to 200 km/h is gambling with the unforgiving laws of nature and physics.

Baraza,

Tell me, are there any advantages on fuel economy when driving a vehicle in tip-tronic mode?

Dr Ngure

There might be an advantage in fuel economy when driving in tip-tronic mode, courtesy of the ability to short-shift into a higher gear (shifting early, before the optimum rev level).

However, some tip-tronic systems override the driver’s instructions if the computer thinks it is wiser than him. Tip-tronic is mostly for performance driving. Switching from full automatic to tip-tronic can be done at will, even with the car in motion, after which, tapping the lever towards the plus sign (or using the steering mounted buttons) changes up while tapping it towards the minus sign changes down.

Mr Baraza,

I own a Toyota Vista 2000 model 1800cc. Recently, I noticed something peculiar on the fuel gauge; after I put in fuel worth Sh2,000, the gauge still read empty.

After driving to and from the office and while I was parking the car, the gauge suddenly shot to quarter tank. This has happened on a number of occasions.

I spoke to a mechanic who told me the gadget that measures the fuel level could be worn out and needs replacement. Kindly advise.

That is not a problem, it is a peculiarity with the Vista. I noted (and stated) this when I reviewed the Vista back in 2010 (check the archives for more on this car). One way of coping with it is turning off the car, waiting a full minute and then starting it again.

It should show an increase. No car will show an instantaneous increase in fuel levels on the gauge. This is because the fuel tank is slatted and thus the fuel takes time (and a bit of splashing) to spread itself evenly enough around the tank for the gauge sensor to get an accurate reading. Stop worrying.

Hello Baraza,
I’m a fan of diesel engines, and that’s why I bought a Mercedes Benz C220 CDI. What are the weaknesses of diesel engines compared to petrol ones?

I thought (hence the reason for liking diesel engines) that diesel engines have more power, especially in common rail versions. Is this true or should I be worried about my Merc?

Actually, petrol engines develop more power because they rev higher, though diesel engines are fast catching up owing to turbo-charger technology. What diesel engines have, in large amounts, is torque.

They are heavier than petrol engines and require more frequent servicing. Also, the injectors operate at very high pressure, so while in a petrol engine car running out of fuel simply means adding more and getting on your way, when the diesel injectors have no diesel to pump they are very easily damaged.

Staying on the same, diesel engines also need bleeding to be done before setting off to remove any air bubbles (vapour lock) in the fuel lines, which could also lead to injector damage.

The economy figures for a diesel engine are outstanding, though.

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

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

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

What is it?

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

Outside

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

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

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

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

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

The inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving

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

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

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

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

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

Ride and handling

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

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

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

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

So why no boxing comparison?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parting shot

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

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

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

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