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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.

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The non-turbo Impreza is easier to maintain and uses less fuel

 Hello Mr Baraza, I’m interested in buying a Subaru Impreza but there are some things I don’t understand, so I need some clarification: 1. What’s the difference between an Impreza plain, Impreza WRX and an Impreza WRX STi? 2. What are the pros and cons of a non-turbo Impreza and one with a turbo with regard to fuel consumption efficiency, speed and general maintenance?Please highlight any other aspect(s) in relation to the models, their effectiveness, efficiency and engine details.Eric Karani

Hi.

1. The difference could be as much as 150bhp. The regular Impreza is good for about 150bhp, the Impreza WRX makes roughly 230bhp while various forms of the WRX STi (JDM, factory-spec) develop anything between 276bhp and 320bhp. The Impreza “plain” is naturally aspirated, while the WRXes have turbos and intercoolers. They also have body kits, alloy rims and various addenda, which get less and less subtle the higher you go up the power scale.

2. The naturally aspirated “non-turbo” Impreza is far better where maintenance and fuel consumption are concerned. The turbo cars, not so much. However, if it is speed you want, you can never go wrong with the STi. De-limited, it will clock 260 km/h.

Effectiveness: The STi is very effective at what it does, which is going fast and cornering quickly, hence it’s rally heritage.

Engine details: the 2.0 litre cars all have EJ20 modular engines. With a turbo attached, the engine code is EJ20T.

Dear Baraza, Thanks for the great work you are doing. As a young hustler in Kisumu, I am thinking of getting a Mazda Familia (2000-2003) as my first car. I would appreciate your view on this car in terms of maintenance, fuel consumption, spare parts; in short, I’m interested in the economics of owning one. Regards. Andy

The economics of owning one are good. The car was cheap when new, so it will be cheap used. It uses a variety of puny powerplants, so no worries on the fuel economy front. Just make sure the unit you acquire is in a sound mechanical state. The vehicle is low maintenance (it is Japanese, you know, and small) and spare parts should not be a problem to obtain and/or buy.

Hi Baraza,

I am one of those people the government, and in particular the traffic police, are looking for because of using a Probox as matatu.

I use a 1400cc Probox to transport passengers from one town to another in a rural area  and it has been a very profitable business for a long time because on a normal day, I pocket between Sh2,500 and Sh3,500. That is more than a 14- seater makes, given that a Probox doesn’t have very my expenses because it requires only private insurance.

My question is, what makes the Probox a donkey that never gets tired because I overload it all the time and I have never replaced any part of the engine and it doesn’t show any signs of breaking down soon. I carry 10 to 14 passengers per trip and sometimes even 18, not counting kids, plus luggage like potatoes.

Now, what amazed me was the speed, because the traffic police chased me using their 110 Defender for an hour but didn’t catch me; I had 18 passengers and it was on a rough road. What’s more, it is a hilly village, so I became the village star.

How strong and durable is the 1400cc Probox engine, considering that I have had it for three years, I bought it second hand, and it doesn’t have any mechanical problem.

Gabu

Interesting confession, this. Also, one that is difficult to believe. If you earn Sh3,500 per day, which is more than that made by a 14-seater, exactly how much does a 14-seater make daily? I expect it to be more. But I don’t own a 14-seater matatu, so I wouldn’t know.

Cars don’t get “tired”. They are not living organisms, least of all donkeys, which is what you describe your Probox as. Provided they have fuel in them, motor vehicles will run endlessly until certain parts break/explode/shatter/disintegrate/fall off. Cars only suffer wear and tear.

So you carry between 14 and 18 passengers in your illegal PSV, plus luggage? How do they all fit in? Please, send in a picture of the 1.4 litre donkey in action. I have seen videos of similar vehicles used to smuggle would-be terrorists… sorry, illegal immigrants – from our unstable neighbour in the north-east into the country and the best they did was 12 (not counting driver and “conductor”). How to fit in six more people yet the ones already inside don’t even have breathing room?

The least credible part of your story is the point where you say a police Defender 110 pursued your overloaded (18-deep plus luggage) donkey over rough ground and lost. Either your Probox is not really a Probox, or the ground was not rough, or you didn’t have 18 people on board, or maybe even the pursuit didn’t happen.

Whichever of these factors applies, there is one undisputable fact glaring through this seemingly tall tale: you have cast aspersions upon the abilities of police drivers, and I don’t know what the boys in blue have to make of this. You will not outrun a Land Rover Defender 110 over “rough ground” if the helmsman of the said Land Rover is even remotely capable of driving. If this gets published, I guess it is “Goodbye Probox”, not just to yours, but also to all others operating in shadowy ways like yours.

To conclude: much as the veracity and quality of your email is in question, this I can say with confidence: The Probox is not built out of titanium or granite. It will give in eventually if you continue using it like that. There is nothing special about its construction or its engine, it is just a cheap car which is easier to drive flat out compared to something costlier.

Hello JM, Towards the end of last year, the motor vehicle enthusiasts’ fraternity and the fans of the series Fast and Furious suffered a tragic loss following an accident that occurred somewhere in the US.

It cost the life of one Paul Walker (RIP) and a colleague of his. More importantly though, is that he and his colleague were driving a Porsche Carrera GT, V10 engine capable of churning out around 600hp even though it is a 2005 model.

I have read some reviews online and some imply that the vehicle is quite aggressive and would require expert skill and experience. Do you have any idea what it feels like sitting behind the wheel of such a beautiful monster, plus I thought these kinds of vehicles (really powerful vehicles since there were those who believe that the particular Porsche in this case was modified to produce more power) have magnificent braking systems?

Regards.

RM

Hello,

Paul Walker’s demise was a shock to many, yours truly included, and very untimely: it came while filming of the seventh Fast and Furious movie was still under way. It is particularly galling, given that Paul Walker was a real-life motoring and racing enthusiast who owned a selection of potent and interesting motor vehicles, up to and including, but not limited to, a BNR34 Nissan Skyline GTR (the exact same car used in the 2 Fast 2 Furious film opening sequence) and a V8-powered Volvo station wagon.

The car that killed him is aggressive and difficult to drive. It takes a lot of skill to push it, and not many people can get anywhere near its limits. Theories abound as to what actually happened, and they vary from speeding (widely dismissed by on-the-ground witnesses), to street racing (also widely dismissed, though there was a yellow Honda S2000 on the scene immediately after the crash, the occupants of the Honda say they were going about their own business and were there to rescue any survivors), to avoidance of yet another accident, to the most absurd-sounding: that the man was murdered. I am not a CSI agent, so let us leave it at that.

I have sat behind the wheel of similar fare, literally sitting, but when it comes to driving, the farthest up the ladder I have reached is a 2012 R35 Nissan GTR. Its performance parameters compare thus to the Carrera GT’s: Power is 542bhp compared to the Porsche’s 620. Acceleration: the Nissan takes an otherworldly 2.8 seconds to clock 100 km/h from rest, while the Porsche takes about 3.5. Top speed of the Nissan is about 318 km/h, the Porsche pushes matters to the scary side of 330 km/h.

Whether or not the red Carrera GT was modified is moot: even in stock, factory-spec condition, that car tries the abilities of anyone who dares drive it. The Nissan’s abilities look quite similar (and superior in some cases) on paper, but the Nissan is harder to crash because it uses many computers to achieve stability and it has a very complicated 4WD system.

The Porsche is RWD and the last of the purpose-built no-frills supercars. The chips in the Nissan will intervene in the event of loss of directional stability, but even before that, they ensure that loss of grip does not occur in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Porsche will show you up for the driver you are, and the outcome is you will see God. Even BBC Top Gear’s anonymous race driver (The Stig), arguably one of the world’s most capable drivers, spun the Carrera GT several times before completing a full lap in it. That is how “dangerous” the Carrera GT can get.

The Porsche can get dangerous, but it is not dangerous. Advanced aerodynamics (including the deployment of the rear wing once a certain speed-110 km/h- is reached), a very low centre of gravity, even weight distribution, top-tier braking ability (100 km/h – 0 in 31m only) and fat tyres make for a stable and very fast car in the right hands.

The question is: was Paul Walker’s friend and business partner that much less of a driver? No. He and Walker both had racing experience, and their joint business interest dealt in vehicles of that calibre. Clearly, they knew how to drive these vehicles, and doing abnormally high speeds in a restricted zone in a flashy car would just be asking for unwanted attention from the authorities. Were they speeding? I don’t know. Does the Carrera GT require advanced driving skills to push hard? Yes. Is the Carrera GT dangerous? No.

RIP Paul Walker.

Hi Baraza,

I am looking for a Japanese import car to buy. I have a question, though. How do I know if the vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with? I learnt from a car importer that odometeters are tampered with in Mombasa, then the vehicles are advertised as having low milage. Is there a definitive way to tell what the actual mileage is? Thanks

NK

Well, there are ways of checking this:

1. Examine the odometer. Cars do an average of 20,000km per year. Use that against the age of the car. If the figure comes up short, get suspicious. Look closely at the numbers in cluster. For some analogue systems, a white space instead of a black space between the digits means the system has been tampered with. For some digital systems, interference with the mileage causes an asterisk to appear next to the readout.

2. Ask for FSH (full service history). Use the number of services against the service intervals to calculate a ballpark figure of the vehicle’s actual mileage.

3. Look for missing screws on or near the dashboard.

4. Check the pedals and floor mats. If they are shiny and/or worn out, that is a car that has seen many miles.

5. Inspect the vehicle for wear and tear. It should be consistent with the alleged mileage.

6. Check the tyre tread depth. Some people may roll back the od,o but their subterfuge may not be elaborate enough to get rid of such telltale evidence. Or the tyres might be too new for the indicated mileage, while the indicated mileage, might not being high enough to warrant a change of tyres.

Dear Baraza,I have a Nissan Navara  DCI D40 model Ex UK year 2006 and would like your professional opinion on what engine oil I should use. Currently, it is being serviced at D T DOBIE  and they are using normal oil 15w 40 but a friend of mine recently advised me to switch to full synthetic oil 5w 40 if I want a longer engine life for this vehicle. What’s your take on this?Kind Regards, Appi

What does the vehicle handbook/manual say?

Tell your friend to sod off. Unless the oil s/he is talking about is cheaper than yours, then s/he doesn’t have a valid point to make. The 15W 40 oil means the viscosity index is 40 for normal conditions, and 15 for winter conditions. The 5W 40 means a VI of 40 for normal conditions and 5 for winter.

We don’t have any winter here, do we? No. So we have no interest in the winter rating for the oil. It follows that the two of you are discussing the same bloody oil: one with a viscosity index of 40. If, for the sake of argument, we had winter, then “your” oil would be better than “theirs” due to the higher winter VI. So, again, tell your friend to sod off.

Mr Baraza JM,

I wish to thank you for the good work you are doing, educating us on various issues touching on different types of motor vehicles and motoring in general every Wednesday. I would like you to compare and guide me on which the better vehicle is between a Mitsubishi Outlander and a Rav 4, each of 2400cc or thereabouts in terms of:

Safety of passengers

Fuel efficiency

Availability of spares and cost thereof

Comfort on and off road.

Kind regards,

Stephen

Greetings Stephen,

I wish you had been more specific about the vintage of the vehicles in question. Factors like safety ratings and fuel economy tend to vary quite a lot from generation to generation. For your query, I will assume a 2007 car.

1. Passenger Safety: Interesting result here. The RAV4 scores 4 stars out of 5 for the UCSR (Used Car Safety Rating) while the Outlander scores the full 5 out of 5.

2. Fuel Economy: Again another interesting result. The RAV4 does 9.3 km/l while the Outlander out-teetotals it at 10.5km/l.

3. Spares: these vary widely in availability and cost, depending on where you look and who you ask. But trust Toyota parts to be widespread, though they may not necessarily be “cheap”
Comfort: broadly similar all round.

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Nairobi to Namanga and back: Petrolheads with a cause

The Birth of Great Run: In the world of petrolheads, a “run” is simply a drive from here to there, and possibly back to here.

It has nothing to do with the Olympic Games — even though “run” is also a word whose meaning our Olympic athletes seem to have forgotten.

However, depending on the degree of organisation, there could be an element of competition. The Paji and I introduced a mutual acquintance called The Jaw (or simply Jaw) into the picture.

Our three heads agreed that a run would be a good idea. Creative juices were at an all time low that day, and so, lacking a better name, we decided to call our gig “The Great Run”. The name stuck.

Precedents, Precautions and Preparations: Ours is not the first run in history; it is not even the first run locally, but it was certainly the first to be — almost — commercialised over here.

It was shaped in the fashion of the world-famous Cannonball Sea-To-Shining-Sea Trophy, better known as the Cannonball Run, in the US. Other runs of note are the Gumball 3000 of Europe and… ummh… yeah.

There were a few issues to be careful of. While the Cannonball and Gumball runs involve competitive driving, foresight demanded that we eschew this line of thought.

Introduce a clique of restless Kenyan drivers in high-powered vehicles to a driving “competition” and you will have opened a veritable can of legal, administrative and life-threatening worms. For evidence of this, refer to Subaru Fest’s Gymkhana Challenge.

We had to have something with gravitas. We needed a sponsor to endorse our arrangement and lend an air of legitimacy to our project. We needed participants. We needed a route. We needed to divide these responsibilities amongst ourselves. Most of all, we needed money. This is how it went.

The one sponsor we got pulled out at the last minute. It followed that costs had to be covered out of our own pockets, but I will confess: costs were covered mostly out of The Paji’s pockets.

The Jaw handled the fruitless phone calls demanding sponsorship and sought entities that would provide “background support”, such support being the printing of T-shirts and stickers for the participating drivers and their vehicles.

I adopted a managerial position: the key responsibility being standing around looking important while actually doing nothing. The Paji and The Jaw are two very patient men, I must point out here.

Three weeks, it took us — them, rather. Three weeks to establish an online presence, gather a sizeable crowd, find a route, do a recce, print T-shirts and stickers, find (and subsequently lose) a sponsor, and identify the unwitting beneficiary of another last-minute occurrence: a charity addition to our list of requirements.

You see, we may love cars, but we also give back to society. Note: We were told to say this by someone who whispered to us that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is fashionable in big companies, so talk of charity will help you snare an unsuspecting firm with money to lose… I mean… spend.

July 14, 2012: This was the date of The Great Run. The starting point was at a fuel forecourt in Parklands, Nairobi, and the variety of hardware present was enough to warm the cockles of any auto-oriented heart. I could not have hoped for a bigger turnout, especially considering my “managerial” approach to the whole thing; but the response was enormous.

There were Nissan Skyline GTRs, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and countless Subarus, in various forms, shapes, colours, ages and degrees of tune (later in the run, also various states of mechanical soundness, but let me not dwell on this).

There was a Hummer H3 (!!), which I would have chased off were it not for the fact that its (mostly human) contents were instrumental in making our event a success then and afterwards.

There were a lot of other cars, but the ones that stood out the most were a father-and-son pair in a Mk IV Toyota Supra and a Nissan 350 Z “Fairlady”. Time to drive.

The Event: Had we got a sponsor, we would have had the money to make maps and print navigational details for everybody, and this shortcoming was felt within three gear changes from the starting point.

In spite of the instructions I shouted at the gathered crowd just before departing (We are going to the Tanzanian border!!), after the start some of the cars left in several different directions and it was with a sinking feeling that I assumed maybe people were heading back home after collecting their T-shirts. The Jaw insisted I should have more faith in human nature.

And I should have. There were no deserters (at that point). I took a wrong route myself, my excuse being that I was trailing one of the “lost” vehicles.

Our first unintended meeting point was 10 minutes from the start when it transpired that one of the cars had a six-cylinder engine, but, ahem, was only running on five — spark plug issues.

(To protect the privacy of owners, drivers and participants, certain details will be omitted). Everybody had stopped in a long queue behind the stricken car, on the side of the road. I was last to arrive at the scene, approaching it from the wrong direction.

More Drama: The run was not without incident. The burnt spark plug was just the first of several. When turning off the Mombasa highway to enter Kitengela, two cars got lost (again) and went on towards Mombasa (Mr Not-Sponsor, are you reading this? We need maps!). They were reined in in short order.

One of the cars, a blue Lancer Evolution (VIII or IX, it was hard to tell), suffered a heart attack. Pumped full of steroids, the extremely capable tarmac athlete over-exerted itself and got a myocardial infarction, haemorrhaging to death.

It had to finish the trip at the back of a hearse. In real terms, the Evo was pulling hard when an oil seal blew and the car lost all oil pressure and had to retire, returning home atop a tow truck. This was the first DNF (Did Not Finish).

Next victim was another Evo, a grey one. Said vehicle was conducting a spectacular overtaking manoeuvre when the driver found himself on the receiving end of the unfinished work results from an incompetent road repair crew.

The fellows had abandoned the site, leaving it unmarked and with rocks strewn all over the road surface. This put the Evo driver between a rock and a hard choice.

Too late to stop, he noticed some especially daunting bits of landscape right in his overtaking path. If he dodged them to the left, he would slam broadside into the car he was trying to pass.

To the right was a guard rail, beyond which lay an abyss. If he continued straight, he was going to hit the rocks and shatter at least one of his rims.

He chose to continue (wise decision), and his fears were manifested: three spokes and a section of the front offside rim edge were bent out of shape, shredding the tyre into useless ribbons of rubber. Hopeless space-saver spare in the boot… second DNF.

The remaining DNFs were not DNFs per se, they intentionally did not finish; and they were the biker gang.

Heading for the nearest border requires one to cover quite some distance, and balancing a 150kg lump of metal between your legs while moving at warp speed can really sap one’s strength and resolve, almost as fast as some of those cars were draining their fuel tanks.

They begged leave of us and we graciously allowed them to. I would not want to be responsible, by virtue of duress, for the outcome of when a biker man is approaching a sharp turn and tries to apply the brakes only to realise that his fingers have gone numb from the sustained blast of cold wind on them…

Charity: Hawa Children’s Home: The route was very simple. Drive to Namanga and back. It so happens that along this route lies a children’s home just 9km outside of Kitengela town as you drive towards Kajiado.

This was our point of charitable focus and a brief stopover there provided not only a respite from the hard charging on the highway, but also allowed the little orphans to mingle with the owners of cars they would probably like to own when things eventually turn out right in their lives.

The place is called Hawa Children’s Home, and it is run by the Rotary Club and the St Andrew’s Church. It serves as the abode for 24 no-longer-unfortunate orphans of various ages between four and 18, with room for up to 200, and they were the surprised recipients of clothing, stationery and several cash handouts from participants of the Great Run.

Who says we waste all our resources on fuel, eh?

What We Learnt From The Great Run: Most of the questions I receive in my Car Clinic were brought to the fore that day. Performance (about 60 to 70 per cent of the cars had the kind of performance you wouldn’t dare exploit fully), fuel economy — or the lack thereof (Toyota Supra), cost of spares (again, the Toyota Supra), maintenance costs (take a guess. You’re right! the Supra), reliability (the oil-less Evo and a mechanically unfaithful Subaru whose brakes caused the driver untold worry) and ground clearance — or the lack thereof (about 30 per cent of the cars will struggle on unpaved roads).

What can I say? That orange Supra has been modified to the apogee of motor vehicle tuning. Nothing is stock, except, maybe, for the engine block. And I can’t even begin to describe what had been done to the Evo that lost its oil.

Why? Back to my original question: What were we thinking? Why did The Paji, The Jaw and Yours Truly stage The Great Run? It is mostly because we wanted to. And because we could.

We wanted something extraordinary; let us call it a moving motor show. Static shows are fine, yes, but car buffs prefer seeing and hearing these vehicles do their thing in the metal.

To “legalise” the project and keep a lid on potential hazardous behaviour, we formalised the whole affair and included a safety car, which I drove (more drama: as the safety car driver, I had to tail the entire convoy, but returning from Namanga, I found myself as Car Number 3 in a split convoy of about 20.

Unbeknownst to me, out back the Supra had ground to a halt, having lost one expensive tyre to a puncture. I had to turn back. Total mileage at the end of the day: 464km).

An unexpected bonus was the charity. Little did we know that we had opened a channel for philanthropic minds which otherwise did not know where to direct their generosity.

It turned out to be a blast, the only complaints from participants being that we did not spend enough time at the home, and that had they known beforehand, they would have given more (that charity thing was literally last minute, I tell you).

As a result, there has been public demand for an encore. Auto Art the Paji, Jaw the Jaw and I intend to honour that demand.

Missed Shifts: Two elements that should have been there — but weren’t — were a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 coupé (part of the sponsorship package that we lost) and a news reader (not part of the sponsorship package).

I was hoping to drive the supercharged car with the news reader in it, but having been withdrawn from the table, I resorted to a naturally aspirated 3.4-litre V6 vehicle, further plundering The Paji’s already stretched resources.

The news reader is a personal friend who thinks she likes cars, but an entropy in the lines of communication led to her missing out on The Great Run. As a result, rather than having a comely news reader in the passenger seat of the 3.4 V6 with me, I had to put up with a Jaw.

Bring on the next run.

Posted on

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.

Walkins

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?

Muteti

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.

Hi,

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?

Tony

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.

Hi,

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.

Posted on

There is more to a car than fuel consumption and parts

Hi Baraza,
There is a car that I do not think I have read about in the recent past in your column; the Pajero iO. I would be really grateful if you can let me know its merits/demerits as a 4WD, its fuel consumption, durability and maintenance (are the spares readily available and cost effective).

Joan

First, I have to chastise you for falling into that clique of money-minded Kenyans who ask the wrong questions about motor vehicle ownership. Are you sure you do not want to hear about stability issues at highway speeds? Or the fact that space is not one of the iO’s strongest points? Or even that it is not that comfortable?

Anyway, to your questions. As a 4WD it is not half bad, but it is not that good either. It is easily beaten by the RAV-4 and the Nissan X-Trail, though the short overhangs provide it with goat-like manoeuvrability in tight nooks. In some trim levels, it comes with over-the-top body addenda that could hamper extreme off-road progress.

The same goes for fuel consumption: the fact that GDI technology is used under the bonnet still does not make this the epitome of fuel economy. Imported versions, like almost all other imported cars, suffer under our Third World infrastructure, so durability is also a non-starter.

Maintenance will depend on how badly you treat the car, but take comfort from the fact that spares are there and engine swaps are easy… if you can find a Galant engine lying around.

Hi JM,

I have a BMW 320i which is due for service shortly. I have used synthetic oil on all the cars I have used before.

Now, the company that services the car is a BMW centre, and the mechanics there have told me that, going by BMW guidelines, I should use regular motor oil for the 2003 model and stay away from the synthetic stuff. I’m now confused because I assumed synthetic oil beats regular oil any day.

Is the mechanic right or should I insist on synthetic oil?

While still on the same topic, which brand of synthetic oil is the best in the market and ideal for a performance car, if at all I am right in my choice of oil?

Robert

By regular oil, I’m guessing you mean mineral oil. That mechanic of yours should be hung, drawn and quartered; how dare he?

Synthetic oils are the best, period. If in doubt, you can never go wrong with a blend, but I still maintain, there is nothing wrong with synthetic oils. If anything, they are the best for the highly developed European engines such as BMWs.

Read the handbook/manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations, it will clear the air. The mechanic does not work for BMW, I doubt if he’s even been to Germany.

Now, it is not my place to recommend one oil type over another one, but there have been some which have not only been proven in motorsport, but are actually recommended by manufacturers for their vehicles, so go on and do a bit of research.

Hi JM,

I’ve been doing some research on the BMW 3 Series and keeping an eye out for the same on our roads. One particular YouTube clip by ‘Top Gear’ totally dismissed the 318i, which is the most common on Kenyan roads.

My preference is for a 2001–2005, 328i E46. How would you compare the 318i, 330, 328i and 330i in terms of fuel consumption, performance, cost, usability on Kenyan roads, and so on?

Evans

Except applicability, all the characteristics you mention increase in magnitude with increasing engine capacity or degree of tune.

Of the various 3-Series, the best, discounting the M3, is the 330i with M Sport Pack for outright performance, or the 330d with its massive diesel torque, making for entertaining wheelspin and tail-wagging action — on a track, don’t try it on public roads.

Applicability? One day, take a drive from Nairobi to Sotik through Narok and Bomet, and you will discover a playground where you can wind your BMW up to top speed without running the risk of driving into someone you “did not see”. But if you get arrested for speeding, remember, I had nothing to do with it.

Baraza,

I drive a B14 which I bought from its second owner and, of late, the engine won’t start when cold unless I floor the fuel pedal. When it finally starts, it makes a noise and vibrates like a diesel motor for a few seconds before it starts running smoothly, but it still produces a lot of white smoke from the exhaust.

I did a diagnosis, tuned the engine, and changed the plugs, air filter, engine oil and oil filter as well as the auto gearbox oil, but the problem persisted. When I went back to the mechanic, he asked me to change the idle control unit.

So I decided to go to another garage for a second opinion and was told that the idle control unit sensor and cold start sensor switches were okay. He even swapped the ECU from another B14 engine, but there was no change. He then told me to have the engine overhauled, suspecting that the valves were faulty.

I did a cylinder head carbon cleaning and put a petrol booster/cleaner and injector cleaner in the tank but there were still no changes.

The auto tranny also jerks on second gear, I think, because it happens after the speed reaches 20 kph, and when shifting from P to R. Please advice.

That is one problematic car you have there. I must add that the B14 has fans that are few and far between, if they even exist.

From what you describe, you replaced almost the entire engine short of the engine block itself. Funny that you did not check the entire electrical system, though faults here should have shown up on the diagnosis screen.

A common cause of hard starts is a faulty starter or weak battery. The shaking and shuddering, and diesel-like roaring, suggest an engine knock, or even worse, imminent seizure, but let’s not go there yet.

This is my theory: maybe the transmission line is vibrating against the block. Fitting a spacer clip between the line and the block might help cure the problem. This situation might also explain the white smoke (burning ATF) and the badly behaving transmission (low ATF levels due to combustion of the same).

Hi Baraza,

Between a Nissan Tiida (hatchback, 2005 model), and a Honda Fit, which car would you advise a lady to buy? Is a Toyota iST any better than the two, even though its shape completely turns me off?

Kate

A very close call, this one, I might have to say go with either. The cars are similar in a lot of ways, right down to appearance. If you are into tuning or modifications, go for the Honda; it responds better to modification.

The iST may not be as good. I have driven one a bit and I was not very impressed with the weighting of the steering or the visibility out. But it is a feisty little performer. The central instrument stack also puts me off, but that is a personal thing.

Oh, and the fuel gauge in the iST has a non-linear movement, so you need a keen eye and presence of mind to avoid an embarrassing episode.

Baraza,

I have a 2002 Nissan Hi-Rider pickup, 2400cc with a petrol engine. Recently, I sought a mechanic’s opinion on transforming it to diesel and was advised to try a Nissan TD27 engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of this move.

Also, I have been having challenges with its carburettor system and consistent faults with the spark plugs.

The TD27 is in use within the current Hardbody/NP300 range, so my bet would be it would fit into the Hi-Rider’s engine bay without any modifications. The issue is this: Diesel engines develop a lot of torque and as such they are built with heavy duty drivetrain components compared to petrol engines.

I cannot say with much confidence how long your current drive shafts/prop shafts will last under the twisting torque that is the TD27’s forte. Maybe they too should be replaced.

The gearbox: petrol engines develop smaller torque and rev higher than diesel equivalents, so, again, that too may need swapping.

Otherwise, the Nissan TD is a good powerplant. It has seen service in many 14-seater matatus, besides the Hardbody pickups, where it has shown a tendency to develop cooling problems.

This could be a difficulty unique to the vans, though; Hardbody owners don’t seem to suffer this affliction.

Hi Baraza,

I am a big admirer of the Nissan Skyline series, specifically the GTR R34, which is my dream car. I am, however, skeptical about how this vehicle will cope in Kenya.

I haven’t seen many of them on Kenyan roads and only have information from the Internet. Could you check up on this car and give me your take on it, especially how well it would cope here?

I’m a huge fan of Godzilla too (the R34) and there are quite a number in the country, including even the Nismo Beast and a Mine’s tuned R34 GT-T.

If you buy one, it will be no different from getting a Lancer Evolution or Impreza STi: your biggest problem will be finding a road big enough to accommodate this car’s monster performance.

And where do you plan to buy one? The car went out of production in 2002, so it is outside the taxman’s eight-year importation bracket.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a station wagon buff, so, with that in mind, what information can you give me on the Nissan Wingroad regarding fuel consumption, suitability to the local rough conditions, suspension system, among others?

The 1300cc Wingroad has outstanding fuel economy (you can wind one up to 16 or 17 kpl without using any tricks or special techniques). However, these are non-tropicalised ex-Japan cars, and from what I see on the roads, they get out of shape pretty fast, aging gracelessly and really quickly.

The Probox may be a better bet… or even the AD Van, which is a more basic form of the Wingroad and a commercial vehicle, and thus a bit more robust.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Mazda Demio 2004 model. The only problem I have is with its consumption, which is about 12 kpl. I replaced the usual plugs to iridium platinum NGK plugs, but it only improved slightly, by 1kpl. What might be the issue? I never miss servicing it after 5,000 km.

Edwin

At 12 kpl, what more do you want from your Demio? How much did the plugs cost you, and how long will it take to recover the money, basing your maths on the improved economy figure? There’s nothing wrong with your car.

If you want a better figure, stop driving in town and stick on the highways, don’t carry anyone else in your car, and drift as many other cars as you can to minimise drag. In other words, improving on that 12 kpl will call for some extremist manoeuvres; be happy with it as it is.

Posted on

I insist, the Verossa looks horrible

Hi Baraza,
I have owned a Toyota Verossa for the past two years and I am aware that you included it in your list of most ugly cars, and that one of your readers requested guidance on whether to go for a Verossa or a Premio (DN2 Dec, 7).

Surely, looks should not be the only yardstick when judging a car’s performance. My opinion of the Verossa is that it handles well, is spacious, and spare parts are easily available, same as with Mark II.

Being a V6, it is a good alternative in handling, comfort, power, cost of running, and spare parts availability when compared to either a BMW or a Mercedes Benz.

In as much as I enjoy your column, which is quite educative, please be objective on all fronts, not just on the looks of a car.

Keep up the good work!

Jack.

Jack, tell me why I would walk past a Mark II, a Mark X, and a Crown (all Toyotas), a Diamante (Mitsubishi) ,and a Skyline (Nissan) just so I can place my hard-earned money into another man’s hands and relieve him of a Verossa.

All these cars cost more or less the same, and in the case of the Toyotas, they share plenty of parts, seeing as how they are almost all the same thing underneath — the Mark X is a spiritual successor of the Mark II.

When I spend my money, it has to be worth it. Why buy a car that you cannot gaze at for longer than five minutes before nausea makes its presence felt?

I am sorry, Sir, but in car reviews, looks do play a part. They are not the biggest thing, but in some cases they are the deciding factor for two or more very similar cars. Verossa, Mark II, Crown? I would go for the Crown any time.

Objectivity comes into question under brand loyalties (a colleague would die for a Mercedes and thinks all other cars are crap) rather than looks.

Some cars are downright beautiful (Mark X), some split opinions (BMW X6), while we can all quietly agree that some (Verossa, Will) are the reason women leave their husbands, children play truant, and dogs bite the hands that feed them. Yes, they are that ugly.

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Dear Baraza,

I am keen to delimit my Forester Turbo S/TB (please do not lecture me on the dangers or law issues). It currently does slightly above 180 kph.

I have done my research and asked around and have been presented with three options: buy a gadget called a speed limit defencer that is connected to the ECU (it supposedly overrides the limiter) but I will not know how fast I am going as the speedo will just keep rotating, “fool” a sensor at the back of the speedometer (the downside being that the check engine light will probably appear and again I will not know how fast I am moving, and, last, buy a speed dial that reads more than 180, probably from the UK. I am for the first or last option.

My question is, will installing a dial that reads more than 180 actually work? I have always thought it is a bit more complicated than that. I thought the speed limit is programmed in the ECU, hence the need to remap.

Hilary.

The third option will not work, for the reasons you suspect. Combine either option one or two with three to know what your exact speed is when past 180.

But the ECU could be reprogrammed or even replaced instead of employing “fools” and “defencers” to circumvent the electronic nanny.

There is a company called Ganatra that deals in ECUs, among other things, like combining a Platz, a Landcruiser VX, and a supercharger into a 450hp Mendelian road-going progeny that inherits all its parents’ phenotypes.

—————

Hi Baraza,

I have a Mercedes Benz-124 series 200E. What is the difference with the E200? I have heard talk that the latter is superior.

Nick.

There is no clearer way of putting this, so let me speak Japanese. In Japan, cars like the Mazda RX-7 and Nissan 240 SX have “Kouki” models and “Zenki” models.

Zenki models are the ones that were produced in the early lifetime of that particular model of car, while Kouki versions came after recalls, modifications, face-lifts, and adjustments, though still on the same model.

So, while the 124 200E and the 124 E200 might be the same car, the 200E is a “Zenki” (early) model while the E200 is a better developed, better specified, and better engineered “Kouki” (late) model. I hope this clears the air, Jap or no Jap.

—————

Dear Baraza,

First, I would like to know how one can fix the flashing on/off light of an automatic RAV4. It started this problem after changing the engine.

Two, immediately after engaging gear D or R, the vehicle jerks. What could be the problem?

Gikaru.

What light is that? Is it overdrive? That sounds like an electronic problem. The jerking is because the clutch does not fully disengage when the transmission is shifted from neutral into gear, so there is something called shift shock. I have seen it in a B15 before, what was supposedly a “new” car.

—————

Hi Baraza,

Thank you for the good job you have been doing. My auto Nissan Wingroad, a 1497cc 2002 model, has started consuming every coin I make on fuel.

For 13 litres of fuel, it covers a distance of 98 km instead of between 170 km and 182 km, the way it used to.

Friends who own a similar ride have given me various reasons, including the sensor and braking.

Kindly let me know what exactly is the problem, where it can be diagnosed, and how to fix it, once and for all. The engine runs smoothly, picks fast, and does not misfire.

Seven kilometres per litre on a Wingroad? Clearly, something is wrong. Diagnosis can be done at any garage with an OBD II device. Get it done and get back to me with an error code.

As for brakes and fuel consumption, unless the brakes are binding, I do not see what the efficiency/mechanical state of one has to do with the magnitude of the other.

—————

Hello Baraza,

I am trying to decide which is the best car to buy, so could you please compare the Audi A3, Ford Focus, Mazda Premacy, and Volkswagen Golf (GTI grade) — all with a 1.8cc or 2.0cc engine — in terms of fuel consumption, maintenance, long mileage coverage, and some added comfort.

I am not planning to go for a new car, but I prefer post-2001 models. Any other recommendation would be highly appreciated.

Charles.

Correct me if I am wrong, but the Mazda Premacy is a van, is it not? The rest are hatchbacks. Ignoring the Mazda temporarily, the fuel consumption should be highest in the Ford and lowest in the Audi, with the Golf languishing in between, but for non-GTi. The GTi is thirstier than the Ford.

Maintenance is the same for the Audi and the Golf because they share a platform, but availability of spares for the Audi may be subject to a lot of factors.

When it comes to long mileage, Golf goes first, then Ford, then Audi. This split is — despite the shared platform between the Audi and the VW — because of the Audi’s high waistline and thick C pillars: view is obscured and the interior is dark and cramped. Comfort? Audi, Golf, Ford.

The car I have been talking about here is the MK 5 Golf. The MK 4 was pathetic and a sham, an embarrassment to the GTi badge.

It was abnormally heavy, ponderously slow (slower than a Rover automatic and Skoda Octavia Diesel, of all things!) did not handle too well and the interior was not the best.

The Mazda, on this scale of things, lies next to Ford in almost all aspects: they too, share a platform and engines.

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Hey,

I am researching cars with a turbo engine to know the advantages and disadvantages. Kindly assist.

Advantages: Insane power, volumetric efficiency, fuel consumption is low comparatively (likened to a car of similar power and capacity but naturally aspirated).

Disadvantages: Delicate (needs tender care, especially turbo-diesel), a swine to fix once the turbo goes phut, generally costlier than naturally aspirated equivalents, cooling problems, sensitive to oil type and temperature fluctuations, and lag (the delay between throttle action and corresponding turbo activity), if anti-lag is fitted, engine damage is common and fuel consumption is no longer a strong point.

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Hi,
I have a 2003 Wingroad. Every time I hit a small stone, it feels like a thud on the steering. I have at the front new Monroe shocks and the original springs at the back. I drove a Fielder for some time and hitting the same stone in it would give a springy feel. Why the difference?

The difference lies in the steering system and the front suspension/chassis setup. The NZE 120 model (Fielder is the estate version of this car) was built with driver orientation in mind, so the steering feel, performance and handling, among other things, feel quite good, especially compared to Wingroad.

The Wingroad comes off as a loveless white good strictly for generating profit and serving the most basic of motoring needs.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a frequent reader of your motoring column, keep up the good work. I am planning to buy a saloon car early next year.

I am, however, torn between three choices, which somehow look similar but are of different makes and models.

My major concerns are on cost price, fuel consumption, availability of spares, and durability. My options are a Toyota Mark II Grande, 2000cc, VVT-i, second-hand direct import from Japan or Singapore, a Nissan Teana 230JM, 2300cc, CVT, second-hand direct import from Japan or Singapore, and Mercedes Benz E200 Kompressor, 1796cc, used in Kenya, probably a 2002 model.

Kindly advise on the difference between VVT-i and CVT engines in terms of fuel consumption and, based on the above concerns, which of the three vehicles is best.

David.

David, go for the Benz. The others are basic clones of each other and are not entirely dissimilar. The added advantage of a locally sold Benz is that it would be tropicalised and maintained under warranty, so more likely than not you will end up with a car with FSH (full service history) and the ability to run in our conditions.

CVT (the valve control system, not the transmission type) and VVT-i do the same thing (varying the valve timing and controlling valve lift in real time) but in different ways.

There is neither the space nor time for me to get into the actual differences here, maybe in a future article, but rest assured the effects are the same: better performance, better economy, and reduced emissions.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been considering swapping my Caldina, which I have used for five years, with a bigger car for a big family. I wonder if there are Prados of that range and if not, what the best alternatives for a civil servant would be.

Yes, there are Prados of that range. There are also 4Runners (also called Surf), Nissan Terranos, Mitsubishi Pajeros, and maybe an old school Land Rover Discovery (could be costly, though).

“The best alternatives for a civil servant”? Are you planning on keeping your car a secret? Try a Land Rover Defender. Seating for 10, go-anywhere ability — and climate control by God Himself courtesy of the huge panel gaps and absence of A/C in some models.

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Dear Baraza,

I am planning to buy a BMW 318i or 320i, 2005 model saloon sedan. The main reason is security — I notice the car is not popular with carjackers or robbers.

However, I am not sure about the performance of this car, especially its fuel consumption, and parts availability in Kenya. I will appreciate your advice on this. Also, do we have alternatives in the market for this car?

Jared.

The performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW: class-leading, quick, and it handles like magic. The fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into: the degree of German technology under the bonnet means that 16 kpl is possible, even realistic, from a two-litre engine (or up-rated 1.8, which is what the 320 is), provided you do not try and reach 200 km/h. Drive sensibly.

Parts are available; we do have Bavaria Motors, BMW specialists, you know. But BMW is a premium brand and so parts cost in keeping with the image and quality of the car, so you will pay through the nose. But treat the car well and drive maturely and you will not have to wear your wallet thin running it.

Alternatives are the Mercedes C-Class (not only available, but also common) and the Audi A4 (less common). A recent entry into the class is the VW Passat (bland MK1 version and the MK 2 makes you look like a government official/NSIS spy), while a cheaper option is the Peugeot 406 (yes, I actually did it. I recommended a Peugeot)!

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Hi,

I am in a dilemma here; I have a passion for Impezas, specifically the 1490cc ones, but almost all my friends say Subarus are thirsty, their resale value drops pretty fast, and their spares are expensive.

When I compare the cost of acquiring the Impreza with that of the NZE/Fielder, the latter is far much expensive whether already used on Kenyan roads or not.

Kindly advise me on whether to take the Impreza, considering that I have no information on its fuel efficiency when in the heavy traffic common on our city roads.

Charles.

What is stopping you from buying the Impreza? If it is not a turbo, then there is nothing to worry you about fuel consumption. Spares are there; how else would you explain the growing number of Subarus on the roads? And you yourself admit that the Fielder is costlier to “acquire”.

I see you yearn for the little Scooby, go for it. But take good care of it and try not to race fellow drivers if you want your fuel economy to stay within affordable margins.

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Hi,
Kindly tell me the difference between turbo-charged and turbo-unchanged. Also, what does naturally-aspirated mean?

Most tuning outfits specialise typically in Japanese cars (STi Subaru, Lancer Evo, Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7, Nissan GT-R etc), a good number of which are turbo-charged.

Sometimes, in the quest for bigger horsepower, the factory turbo is either replaced for a bigger unit or another one is added to create a twin turbo setup if the original was single.

Also, the stock turbo can have devices added/modified/replaced such as the anti-lag, wastegate, blow-off valve and actuators.

Naturally, an engine built to develop 280hp will not last very long if forced to output 500-plus hp, and the kind of people who do this kind of thing do not go easy on their cars.

As a result, the resale value of tuned cars is next to nothing. If you own one of the cars I mentioned, or other performance vehicles (especially from Japan) and you intend to resell it, you might have to say “turbo-unchanged” to mean that the car still runs on a factory turbo.

This means that any outstanding warranties will still be valid, the vehicle’s manual can be followed if the turbo needs repair, the performance and fuel consumption will not be too far from the manufacturer’s claims, etc…. In other words, the car will not have any surprises under the bonnet.

Turbo-charging is the act of forcing air under great pressure into an engine (any engine) to increase the power output.

The fan (impeller) that forces this air into the engine is driven via a shaft connected to another fan (turbine), and this turbine is driven by the force exerted by exhaust gases leaving the engine. This is as opposed to supercharging, whereby the impeller is driven by the engine itself rather than by an exhaust turbine.

Naturally-aspirated means “neither turbo-charged nor super-charged”, i.e air goes into the engine under atmospheric pressure only; no extra force is exerted.

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Hi,

My Mitsubishi Cedia is back on the road after your advice, thanks a lot. I recently bought a Toyota Prado TX but it did not come with a manual. Kindly expound on the following available gadgets, their use, and at what times or situations they are to be used.

1 Button marked PWR.

2. 2ND.

3. Red button.

All these buttons are next to the main gear lever with all the other functions well indicated, that is, P, R, N, D, 2, L.

The vehicle is auto but with a manual 4WD gear lever and I wish to ask, why is the vehicle very poor in handling slippery terrain?

It skids too easily. And what is this overdrive thing and when is it supposed to be used? When it indicates “Overdrive Off” on the dashboard, what does this mean?

Juma.

Where were you when I was discussing overdrive and how to drive an automatic? Anyway, mine is not to chide, but to inform and educate, so here goes:

1. The PWR (Power) button is a function of what Toyota calls ECT or ECT-i (Electronically Controlled Transmission). When that button is pressed, the settings for the gearbox change, shifts happen faster, downshifts happen earlier, and upshifts later (much higher in the rev range) to maximise the car’s performance.

2. 2ND locks the transmission and limits the gearbox from going beyond second gear.

3. I have never found out what the red button is for, but I suspect it is a shift lock. I have pressed it surreptitiously (out of owners’ view) in the numerous automatic cars so equipped but nothing happened, as far as I could tell. Further research is on-going.

4. Overdrive allows the engine to spin at fewer rpms for a given road speed at a particular gear. The effect is to save fuel and reduce strain on the engine and transmission. If it says Overdrive OFF on the dash, then the unit has been disengaged and you should turn it on again. The circumstances that warrant its disengagement may be outside your skill range, judging from your email.

Finally, when your Prado skids, is it in 2WD or 4WD? Allow me to digress a little. The advent of ABS led to more carelessness among drivers and as such braking-related accidents went up statistically.

It is in this vein that I should ask you not to fall into the same trap: your car having 4WD does not mean that after engaging the transfer case (4L or 4H) you are now a driving god and can go anywhere.

If anything, off-roading is one of the most difficult driving tactics ever and requires plenty of skill. You will still skid, spin, or wedge yourself into the countryside if you do not know how to use the hardware available to you.

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Hi Baraza,

Thanks for your informative articles. My question is, what are the advantages of a Toyota Corolla NZE, G-Grade, for example?

Ben.

Advantages: It is cheap, common, easy to maintain, easy on the fuel, and has an eager autobox.

Disadvantages: It is VERY common, the eager autobox is actually overeager and hunts too much, I do not like the looks too much (my opinion), and the car is treacherous if you are not paying attention.

Posted on

Want more vroom? Force extra air into your engine

Anybody who has watched Top Gear, the popular British motoring show, must know of Jeremy Clarkson, a belligerent but charming chap known for screaming “Poweeeeer!” when driving something expensive very fast on a runway.

So, how do the makers of the power machines he spins squeeze more power out of their engines? The easiest (and laziest) way is to go for cubic capacity: bigger engines develop more power, naturally, but the payoff is increased weight and dimensions, making it tricky to design good handling into the car’s chassis. Americans are notorious for this.

Another way is to adopt boffinry like variable valve timing, redesigning the combustion chambers, minimising friction and such, but this involves too much brainwork and requires a lot of resources in prototype form before one gets it right.

There is, however, a third way that does not require the brute force approach of supersizing or the Einstein-esque chipping and techno-frippery model of improvement: Forced induction.

Supercharging: Supercharging is forced induction by means of rotating fans. To run, a typical internal combustion engine requires air (oxygen) and fuel (petrol or diesel), mixed in varying proportions. The resultant chemical reaction, triggered by a spark, causes a violent explosion that releases tremendous amounts of energy that is then converted into noise, heat and motion.

If you paid attention in high school during Chemistry, you must have heard of the Mole concept. More moles of a given substance involved in a chemical reaction mean more energy transactions conducted. So in an engine, if you wanted more power, you have to add one or both of the reactants to get more energy, and thus more power.

Adding fuel is easy. Fit bigger injectors, or more carburetors and higher capacity pumps. Getting more air into the engine is, however, trickier since air goes in by atmospheric pressure, which you cannot adjust no matter how hard you tried. The air thus needs a pump of its own, and it is this pump that is known as a supercharger.

The supercharger is an air pump driven by the car’s engine mechanically, just like the power steering system or the alternator. Early superchargers were first invented for use in blast furnaces (!), from which combining innovations resulted in their motor vehicle application.

Turbocharging: Turbocharging is an easier pronunciation of “turbo-supercharging”, which is itself derived from “turbine supercharging”. The reason it is called thus is that, unlike supercharging, the system uses turbines to force the air into the cylinders. The name is a bit confusing since some aircraft companies still say “turbosupercharging” when talking about turbocharging, while petrolheads refer to turbosupercharging as using both a turbo and a supercharger, like the Lancia Delta Integrale Group B rally car.

The turbo is made of two fans, the turbine mounted in the exhaust manifold; and the compressor, or the impeller, in the intake manifold, connected by a shaft. When exhaust gases are pushed out of the cylinders, they turn the main turbine at high speed, which, in turn, drives the compressor, forcing more air into the cylinder.

Turbochargers spin at speeds of up to 200,000 rpm. The two fans are hidden inside conical housings whose size and shape varies according to manufacturer and application. The centre housing/hub rotating assembly (CHRA) is what conceals the shaft connecting the two fans. One common feature of turbocharger units is the wastegate, a device used to control the boost pressure. It is the one that goes ‘pffft’ every time you come off the throttle in a turbocharged car.

Sometimes the output flow volume of the turbo exceeds engine volumetric flow, and thus pressure builds. Should the turbo speed up beyond its recommended setting, a control method is needed, the wastegate.

To prevent detonation/pre-ignition of the intake mixture due to excess pressure and thus heat, the wastegate is used, and it vents excess exhaust gases to bypass the turbine. The wastegate actuator is connected to the compressor by a signal hose, which is itself controlled by a solenoid run by the engine control unit.

Turbo lag is the time needed to bring the turbo up to speed, and is manifested as hesitation in throttle response. Most auto reviewers complain about turbo lag in boosted cars, and typically warn fast drivers against being caught “off-boost”. Lag can be dealt with by lowering the rotational inertia of turbine by using lightweight material to reduce spool up time, such as ceramic. However, fragility is a limiting factor.

Better wastegate response also helps to reduce lag, but is costly and unreliable. Using foil bearings instead of oil bearings reduces friction and kills lag, too.

The last method of anti-lag effort is application of different sizes of boosters: small ones spool faster, so they work at low engine speeds, but at high rpm the bigger one takes over to provide large masses of air into the cylinder.

One other key feature of a turbocharger is the anti-dump, or blow-off, valve. When hard under power, closing the throttle suddenly will cause the compressed air to stop at the throttle plate and start decompressing backwards towards the impeller. Compressor stall can easily occur, causing turbo failure because the shaft connecting the two fans will be forced to slow down suddenly.

A valve fitted between the turbo charger and the intake vents excess air, either to the atmosphere (diverter) or back into the turbo (blow-off valve, BOV).

Engines that use MAF sensors demand the use of BOVs because dumping the air into the atmosphere causes the burning of a rich mixture, seeing as the sensor already sent the signal that excess air was getting into the engine, thus injecting more fuel, but the air gets diverted.

There is a lot to say about turbocharging, but I’ll try to keep it short and simple for now. One of its biggest advantages is that it is immune to the sort of parasitic losses that plague other types of forced induction. Turbocharging also allows vast amounts of horsepower to be derived from a relatively small engine. Toyota Supras and Nissan Skylines have been known to push 1,500hp from heavy boosting.

Turbos also give car manufacturers the chance to sell two versions of the same engine, cutting R&D costs instead of developing a whole new engine.

I had already talked about maintaining a turbocharged car, but just a quick reminder. To prevent thermal shock, where the sudden and uneven cooling of the turbos components causes fractures, a brief cool-down period is needed, about 3-5 minutes.

The sudden stop also causes the accumulated heat to be dumped into the lubricating oil, causing coking, a destructive distillation of that oil. A turbo timer is usually used here: the timer is a device that keeps the engine running briefly after cutting out to allow the turbo to cool normally, before shutting down the engine.

It is necessary to make frequent checks on one’s turbo to prevent a nasty surprise some time in the future. For reliability, it is recommended that clean (very clean) synthetic oil be used. Dirty oil is lethal, considering the stratospheric rotational speeds that turbos sometimes attain. Synthetic oils are known for their heat capacities, and they can withstand the mechanical violence that comes with components spinning at up to 200,000 rpm.

Twin Turbo Technology: Speed freaks and Subaru lovers always talk of twin turbos. Twin turbos are exactly as the name says: two turbos working together. The layout, however, varies a little. They could either work side by side, each blower boosting its own bank of cylinders in what we call parallel turbocharging, common to V engines; or they could work in tandem, in a setup referred to as sequential turbocharging.
In this scenario, the first turbo compresses the air taken in and then sends it to the next turbo, which compresses the already compressed air even further, delivering it into the cylinders at extremely high pressure.

Another way of using sequential turbos is having one acting across the entire rev range and another one checking in only at high rpm, below which the secondary turbo does not work but the first one does. Porsche’s monstrous 959 is an early subscriber to this school of thought.
They are, however, more complex and, thus, costly. Two small turbos work like one big turbo, but they reach their optimal rpm speed and deliver boost faster. The first car to use parallel turbos was the Maserati Biturbo, later followed by the Audi TT, the Toyota Supra (nice) and the Nissan GT-R (even nicer).

Asymmetric turbocharging: Saab aficionados will agree with me that the Swedes are a quirky lot. With the 9-5 Griffin car, Saab introduced the world to asymmetric turbocharging. They started with a run-of-the-mill 2.5-litre V6 engine from General Motors. The turbo in it is driven by both banks of cylinders, yes, but the compressor works on only half the cylinders; on only one bank of the V6. Odd, very odd, but it works. Somehow.

Intercooler: Because of the temperatures involved in a turbocharged engine, pre-ignition is a bit of an issue, as well as the self-defeating concept of density reducing (Chemistry: high pressures mean high temperatures, a phenomenon which tries to expand the gases and reduce density).

To prevent this, a heat exchanger is used. The exchanger cools the intake charge, thereby reducing the risk of pre-ignition, and simultaneously increasing the charge density to create an effect similar to turbocharging since a greater mass of air finds its way into the cylinders. This heat exchanger is the intercooler, and will be discussed elsewhere.