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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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I’m moving back to Kenya, what car should I buy?

Hi Baraza,
Your column is like a special motoring university. Kudos! I am moving back to Kenya from the UK at the end of the year and intend to reward myself with a car after my studies.

I have identified the following used cars based on how much I want to spend (both cost here and tax in Kenya), age, and appeal: Toyota Avensis (most abundant but with unappealing dashboard), Mazda6, Vauxhall Insignia (gorgeous), Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Dodge Caliber, Chevrolet Epica, Hyundai Sonata, and Tucson.

I want to spend about Sh10,000 a month on the car and do a maximum of 100 kilometres a week. Which would you recommend for consideration in terms of fuel efficiency, spares availability, Kenyan roads, my monthly budget, and being my first self-owned car?

NB: I do try to read the Daily Nation every day, but sometimes, as a student, I am sure you understand that the schedule just throws one off. So kindly copy me the response on e-mail.

Kind regards,

James.

Leave the Insignia, the Caliber, and the Epica alone if you want any form of confident support from this side. I can bet a large number of people do not even know what those are, let alone have the know-how to fix them when the need arises.

The Sonata, Accord, Passat, and Avensis are a better choice, but the problem is that you do not specify what model year these vehicles are.

Only the Passat will get support for the past three models, the Sonata and the Accord have only recently been formally introduced and it is my guess that current and future models will receive priority in support terms from the respective franchises, while past models may be overlooked.

If you choose backstreet Mr Fix-Its, well, good luck. My pick here would be the Passat B6 or B7. Not the B5, though. If you want to buy the Tucson, get the new one. The old one looked funny.

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the informative articles. Please help me understand one issue. What is the relationship between the engine size (cc) and the gearbox? In other words, if I was able to put a jet engine in a tractor, would the tractor out-pace most cars on the road, not withstanding the aerodynamics?

Regards,

Ronald

With a jet engine on a tractor, you would not need a gearbox. All you would need is a reliable steering system and very good brakes (an added parachute has been found to be invaluable when stopping jet-powered ground vehicles).

This is because the jet engine works by pushing the entire vehicle using Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is a reaction equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. So the plasma stream of hot gases exiting the rear of the jet engine creates a force that pushes the jet/tractor in the opposite direction, enabling it to go forward.

Motor vehicle engines, the regular ones rather, exert force through the wheels of the vehicle through a transmission system of sorts. The whole setup is called the power-train and usually incorporates drive-shafts, transmissions, gearboxes, the engine itself, and the tyres. This is where you need a gearbox because the torque developed by the engine sometimes needs multiplication when the load increases.

Now, between the engine size and gearbox, there is definitely a relationship but the variables involved are numerous. The power and torque curves of the engine are the primary determinants of the ratios one uses in the gearbox.

Then there is application: are you designing a gearbox for a tractor that pulls tree stumps out of the ground or is the gearbox for a road car that is designed to break speed records? Engine size may or may not apply.

Here is an example American cars have very huge engines, typically in the 5.7-litre range. But these massive engines are built to drive everywhere at 88km/h while spooling lazily and effortlessly, sometimes towing a caravan or a speedboat if the 88 km/h drive is headed towards a holiday destination.

Then take a McLaren Mercedes SLR sports car, 5.5 litres (with a supercharger), which is smaller than the American equivalent, but will do almost four times the speed. Clearly, the gear ratios are dissimilar. At 88 km/h the SLR is going to be still in first gear.

Application and engine output characteristics (torque and power curves) directly determine the gear ratios in a gearbox more than engine size itself does. It is just that engine size again determines the torque and power, if everything else is kept constant, so that is how they are related. Indirectly.

Hi Baraza,

I would like you to shed some light on the interaction between brake horse power, torque, and engine rating. I am curious as to why a 2,000cc Evolution MR produces 400bhp yet a much bigger Mercedes Actros (2546) does 460bhp.

If a 2.0-litre engine can develop such a high HP, why do Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other super cars go to the length of making behemoth engines of 6,300cc and above that produce only 500bhp?

I once raced a Mercedes CLS 3500 CC (270bhp)) in a VW Golf GTI 2,000cc (200 bhp) and won. What do you attribute this to? Torque? A Range Rover Sport (2.7-litre) with 188bhp and 324.5lbs of torque easily wins against a GTI.

Thanks,

Anthony Mugo.

Brake horse power is the power of the car developed by an engine before losses occur in the transmission and peripherals (alternators, pumps, mufflers). It is not a very accurate way of determining the outright performance of a car. Wheel horse power is a much better indicator.

Torque is force applied over a certain distance, but to make it clear, it is what GETS you going. The effort needed to move a certain load, and determines the magnitude of load one can move as opposed to power, which is what keeps you going, the rate at which the force is applied and determines the absolute speed at which one can move.

For engine rating, see brake horse power. Now, the power output of an engine is directly related to the torque. An engine develops torque naturally. The power output is determined by how high that torque can be carried before the torque curve drops off.

That is the amount of rpm the engine keeps pulling with maximum force. An Actros develops massive torque, say 3000Nm or even more, but it revs to only 2500rpm. So power output is pegged at 460hp (this is still a lot, by the way).

The Evo, on the other hand, makes about 550Nm, but revs to 8,000rpm, hence the power is higher. I know of an Evo that makes, or made 820whp WITH A SLIPPING CLUTCH, but this particular Evo could rev to a stratospheric 9,000rpm.

Big engines with low-ish power outputs are unstressed and last longer. That is in direct contrast to small, high-strung engines with high outputs. They do not go far. That is why race cars go an engine a race.

About that VW vs CLS thing you are talking about: either the CLS driver was inept or he was concerned about wrecking his expensive saloon racing a hatchback. If he had chosen to open the taps on that CLS, you would have been blown out of the water.

Hello Baraza,

I am a fan of your articles and would like to figure out the problem with my car. It is Toyota RunX VVTi, a 2003 model that I have been driving for two years now. However, I started experiencing a problem when I changed tyres from the original ones (imported with the car).

I drive on two new front tyres and the original ones at the rear. The car vibration increases when the speed exceeds 80km/hr. The vibrations reduces when the new tyres are taken to the rear. I have done wheel balancing/alignment and the situation has not improved. What could be the problem?

Okomoli B.O.

You could be having directional tyres. Switching them front to back reduces the vibrations, right? So how about you switch them right to left? Some tyres are designed for use on one side of the car only, so placing them on the “wrong” side of the car creates an unpleasant driving experience.

I would also like to know what is the brand and size of the new tyres.

Hi,

My father has an S320 diesel import from UK registered in 2008. When you hit the 120kph mark, a hazard light appears on the speedometer. It says the ABS is not functioning. We have taken it to DT Dobie for diagnosis twice but it keeps coming back on and they keep charging him every time. He does not mind this, but I do. Do you have any idea what the issue is?

For a few months my father did not drive the car but the on-board computer says the car was due to be serviced, considering it has only travelled around 1,000km. Will anything happen to the car if he keeps driving it?

On a final note, when my father was importing the car, many of his friends, including DT Dobie staff, told him not to buy a diesel Mercedes, or a small diesel car for that matter, because the diesel in Kenya is not as pure as that in Europe. Is this true? For the past two years the car has been running smoothly, I think it is a myth.

Regards,

Victor.

Mercedes cars, more so the top-of-the-range S Class uber-saloon, cannot and should not be fixed by amateurs, driveway grease monkeys, or backstreet opportunists. Only approved dealers and franchises are supposed to handle the car.

So this is my advice: Go back to DT Dobie. Ask them to fix the car, if they cannot, let them be honest enough to say so. If they attempt to fix it and the results are unsatisfactory, inform them that you will not be paying, because why pay when the service you requested has not been delivered?

I do not know what usually happens when your Benz tells you it is due for service and you do not service it. Jeremy Clarkson of BBC Top Gear jokes a lot about that warning, but he has never said what will actually happen to the car. He just says “kooler, sree veeks” (three weeks in the cooler a.k.a jail), which is not very helpful. So I do not know. Service your car when it asks you to. It knows best when it needs attention.

The diesel allegation is mostly true, especially when it applies to Mercedes cars. But this is usually for small engines. The S320 CDI does not have a small engine, this is the same engine used in the ML320 CDI, a 3.2l 6-cylinder engine. It should not be much of a problem

Dear Baraza,

Kindly help me to choose between the new Honda CRV (2006-2007 model), Toyota RAV 4, and Mitsubishi Outlander in terms of price, availability of spare parts, durability/dependability, and fuel consumption.
Thanks,

Moses Mwanjala.

This is what my research yielded:

Price: I visited that website I keep mentioning, autobazaar.co.ke, and this is what I found. A 2007 CRV that costs Sh1.83 million on the lower side, and a 2006 (eh??) CRV that costs Sh2.5 million on the upper side. Actually there were two of these.

Toyota RAV4: As low as Sh1.49 million for a 2006 car, as high as Sh2.87 million for another car of similar vintage. Most were going for Sh2.5 million. Mitsubishi Outlander: As low as Sh2 million, as high as Sh 2.1 million. Most of them had “Contact Seller” on the price tag, and contact them you will. Autobazaar.co.ke not only gives you the cars available, there is also a map below the search results that shows you exactly where the car is at that moment. Nifty, eh?

Availability of spares: I did not do research on this because none of these cars is limited edition or custom made. They are mass produced by Japan. The answer to this is fairly obvious.

Reliability and durability: Honda’s V-TEC line of engines are nicknamed “Terminator” by foreign journalists because they never suffer engine failure. This is unlike Toyota’s D4 and Mitsubishi’s GDI, which are fickle by comparison. The RAV4 also seems to age a bit fast compared to the Honda. The Outlanders I have seen are mostly pampered vehicles, so it is hard to tell what would happen if one gets abused.

Fuel economy: This is where Toyota and Mitsubishi get their revenge. D4 and GDI yield astonishing economy figures, the D4 more so. But would you rather save fuel or suffer engine failure?

Dear Baraza,

As we speak, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place because I am planning to buy an expedition vehicle (something tough enough to withstand the harsh off-road world).

I have been looking at expedition vehicle videos and I realised that most of them go for vehicles with solid axles (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Landcruiser 70 series) as compared to independent suspension (Discovery 3, Hummer).

a) Why is this? b) What would you advise me to buy? Thanks.

Sunus.

First, solid axles are tougher, more robust, simpler in design, and consequently cheaper to buy, instal, and repair. In actual terms, you are better off with independent suspension because this helps in wheel articulation, increases stroke room per wheel (up and down travel), and helps keep the car balanced even in extreme situations.

However, independent suspensions are a bit more delicate, so they break easily and they cost more. So it is wiser to just grin and bear it with the solid axles if you are going to participate in the Rhino Charge.

Second, it depends on the extremity of your off-road activities and the wherewithal available to you. I could suggest you buy a Series III Land Rover 109 and raise its suspension only to find out I am talking to a billionaire who rarely goes over anything taller than a tree stump and is better off in the 2013 Range Rover.

Then again I may suggest you buy the Landcruiser 200 V8 but it turns out Sh15 million is too much money to splash on a new off-road car, and your budget can only stretch to a clapped out J70 pick-up from a police auction. So, how extreme is your off-roading and how much are you ready to spend on your off-roader?

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Enough of the aesthetics, now the power beneath the bonnet

For two weeks, I lightly discussed the aesthetic aspects of skin-deep motor vehicle design.

More detailed explanations will follow at a later date, but for now let us look at the other important design factor; performance.

While looks, and ultimately the outright appeal of a car, tend to be subjective and rely heavily on individual tastes (and strength of eyesight), the physical capabilities fall under a more exact science and can thus be taken to be the universal truth.

Judging a car’s appearance is as simple as eyeballing it, so how is the performance of a car measured?

Acceleration is first, most commonly expressed in 0-100 km/h times, or 0-60 mph in medieval units of measurement.

Quarter mile runs, standing kilometre, half mile and full mile figures are also quoted, which also give an idea of how fast a car accelerates, as does the observed speed at the end of the given acceleration distance.

Braking is next, and the most typical statistics quoted are 100 km/h to 0, 200 km/h to 0 (the McLaren Mercedes SLR does this in less than 65 metres, similar to a Ford Focus at half that speed, and the McLaren’s is almost half the distance that a Ford Anglia takes to brake from half the McLaren’s speed).

For the Bugatti Veyron’s 400km/h to 0, you will have covered a good four football field-lengths by the time this happens. Both distance and time intervals are usually quoted.

Last up is the cornering grip, the ultimate holding power of the tyres-suspension-chassis-centre of gravity-steering geometry collusion point.

This is usually expressed in terms of centrifugal acceleration, better known as lateral g. 1g is the numerical equivalent of the earth’s gravitational field constant, determined by Isaac Newton to be steady at 9.81 m/s2 (metres per second per second, or metres per second squared).

Braking and acceleration are also sometimes expressed in g. But a lot of us fear mathematics and physics, and don’t particularly care for numbers and SI units, especially that last part.

There should be a way of giving a single parameter that neatly sums up all those numbers.

Only really obsessive buffs, like yours truly, derive any sort of pleasure reading numbers on a multi-column table and comparing them to more numbers on other multi-column tables, and it is for this exact reason that normal production cars are taken to race-tracks to try and establish a respectable lap time.

After all, the lap time of the car neatly sums up everything: acceleration on the straights, braking coming up to the corners and the cornering ability through the corner, all rolled into one.

To bring a semblance of order in this (there must be hundreds of thousands of racetracks around the world), and for the sake of uniformity, there are a few racetracks worldwide that have been accepted as the benchmark determinants of a motor vehicle’s capabilities, and the most famous, the most dangerous, the most demanding and the most fun to drive is found in the Eifel Mountains in Germany.

Die Nürburgring (The Nuerburgring): The Green Hell: Seventy kilometres south of Cologne and 120 kilometres northwest of Frankfurt sleeps the medieval village of Nurburg, and around this sleepy hamlet loops the world’s most famous racetrack: the Nuerburgring.

The track is an unnerving 20.8 kilometres long in its current public-accessible format. Over the years, the track has changed configurations, and is at the moment split into the 22.8 km Nordschleife (Northern loop) which we are concerned with, and a 7.7 km Südschleife (Southern loop), mostly used for circuit race events such as F1, though the Nordschleife is still also used for some events.

There is a very good reason this track bears the nickname “The Green Hell”, and not just because several racing drivers have come to their ends along it over the years. The place is unforgiving and very few mistakes, if any, go unpunished.

There is little run off, the corners (of which there are countless) and crests are blind, so getting your line wrong or setting your car up badly will not end well.

The issue is that it is also a high speed arena, so driving slowly will only get you rear-ended by ambitious Germans in hard-charging 911s. It is not a place for the inept or the weak at heart.

This is exactly why auto builders bring their new-fangled hardware here in search of glory. Even the drivers have to be carefully selected when cars are put to the test: the driver too has to go the distance, not just the car.

Driving at an average speed of 160 km/h through more than 100 hairpins, sweepers, S-curves and crests for almost 10 minutes is sure to put a lot of pressure on both man and machine.

To cap it all off, there is a 300 km/h long straight at the very end, where high horsepower cars can really show their mettle, but on days when the track is opened to the public, drivers are required to slow down here, rather than speed.

This is how the lap times are significant, again to both driver and car. If you drive an ordinary car (200hp or less, say) and crack 10 minutes, you could be a bit special behind the wheel.

Less than 9 minutes and you might need the 200hp, or a little more; or better yet, superhuman driving skills. Between 8 minutes and 8 and a half calls for some 250hp plus.

Anything less than 8 minutes, in any car, and you would be advised to quit your day job and seek employment as a factory driver for any of the major companies.

The most hard-core sports cars have their lap times ranging in the early 7 minutes, at the hands of professional drivers.

So far only three production cars have broken the 7 minute barrier, and even so, two of them are not really road legal (the Radical SR3 at 6:57, an open-top racer with a motorbike engine and the first to register a sub-7 minute lap time; the Ferrari 599 XX, and the Pagani Zonda R, at 6:47, which took the record recently).

The Top Gear Test track: A lot of you must be familiar with this place, if only from the on-screen television marvel that is the BBC Top Gear show and its housekeeper, The Stig.

But are you aware that it is another unofficial test arena for motor cars, and that most manufacturers keep a keen eye on how their vehicles perform here?

The Power Lap Board, as it is now famously known, has been a make-or-break feature for vehicles participating on the show, and is something that is actually taken quite seriously, notwithstanding the zoo-like antics of one Jeremy Clarkson (he sometimes sets fire to the strips of paper on which the car’s lap time is written).

It is hard to actually tell what the track looks exactly like just from watching; all we hear is “Chicago”, “Gambon”, “Hammerhead”, “Follow-through” and so on, but extraordinarily, the track layout is in a figure of 8, meaning it would be worse than useless for holding a race (someone had once suggested that they should hold a Formula 1 race there).

Fancy names aside, all those corners and straights did not just fall out of the sky into view of BBC TV cameras; they were all designed intentionally — by the Lotus Group no less, meisters of automobile handling and chassis setup.

The track is usually run anticlockwise for the first loop of the figure 8. The first corner is a left curve of reducing radius (also called Willson Bend, but this name is rarely used), coming after a high-speed left-right kink on the opening straight.

Next up is Chicago, a steady state circumventing a tyre wall. Steady state corners are those taken without steering correction (constant application of lock), and the motor vehicle’s angle of attack is adjusted either using the throttle or the brakes.

This bend was purposely built by Lotus to expose a chassis’ propensity for either oversteer or understeer.

After that comes Hammerhead, a tightish left-right switchback that tests chassis balance, braking and brake balance, and the effect of hard braking on a car (tramlining, yawing or locking wheels).

This bend also shows up understeering chasses on entry into the second bend (the right after the left), or oversteering chasses as you exit the whole thing.

From there comes a right sweep that feeds into the follow-through, where the vehicles are maxed out, shooting past the tyre wall (again) into a left sweeper called Bentley (another rarely used name) and in to the second-to-last corner as it has now been known, another hard left and regarded as the trickiest bend in the whole course. It is easy to spin out on this bend by oversteering.

If you don’t oversteer into the grass (or spin wildly) through the penultimate corner, then the final corner will definitely get you.

Called Gambon, this corner has been the undoing of several high ranking individuals up to and including, but not limited to The Stig himself (it was named Gambon after Sir Michael Gambon took it on two wheels in an earlier season of Top Gear).

Besides Sir Gambon, other persons of note taking that corner on two wheels include Hollywood actor Tom Cruise and a former Arsenal player.

From there it is on to the start/ finish line. All this covers 2.82 kilometres. The lap time of any given vehicle through that course goes onto a board, called The Power Lap Board.

There are rules governing that board, first being that only vehicles available on sale in the UK can have their times posted on it.

Other rules include street legality (the appearance of number plates and indicator lamps confirm this), the ability to go over a sleeping policeman (a flattish speed bump) and the use of street tyres.

This means cars that are too low at the front, or cars running on slicks are not allowed, as are limited production cars that are sold out.

This does not deter the team from timing anything they can get their hands on. Formula 1 cars have had their chance to shine there, and the lap record is held, not by a car, but by a fighter aircraft, the Sea Harrier jump jet, at 31 seconds.

Not being anything roadworthy (not a car, not street legal, and not using road tyres), its time cannot be posted.

Most cars, particularly the top ranking marques on this board, would not be instantly recognisable to a good number of you out there, so I will not dwell too much on the merit list, but a few key facts: the first Veyron slotted in fourth position first time it went round, and was further dethroned rapidly in succession by a Zonda F roadster and a Caterham R500.

The successive Super Sport took the honours, but has now been unseated by a V8-powered Ariel Atom 500 at 1 min 15.1 sec.

Ehra-Lessien: Pronounced “error le scene” (including accent and inflection), this is a top secret test facility that became famous because of the Bugatti Veyron.

It is not used by just anybody; exclusive rights of ownership, management and use belong to the giant Volkswagen Group, the same posse of excessively clever people who engineered the Veyron.

While it covers 96 kilometres of any imaginable tarmac track condition, the most spectacular stretch is the 8.8 kilometre long arrow-straight section.

So straight and so long is this section that it is possible to see the curvature of the Earth’s surface along it, and it is here that the two Bugattis (407 km/h Veyron and 431 km/h Veyron Super Sport) set their respective production car speed records.

The stretch is parenthesized by two banked corners, usually taken at 200 km/h for those planning on clocking 400 km/h along the straight. It is one of few places on Earth where this is possible.

Nobody sat down and decided that the Nuerburgring and the Top Gear test track would be the benchmark facilities for determining a vehicle’s physical abilities, it just happened.

It has come to be that any sports car manufacturer who wants to build a name for themselves brings their vehicle to the Nuerburgring and sets a lap time, which they would shout about if it beats that of their competition.

Nissan and Porsche got into a scandalous tiff when the R35 GT-R beat Porsche’s 911 Turbo, causing Carlos Ghosn (head honcho at Nissan) to brag endlessly and Porsche to throw a wobbly, accusing Nissan of dishonesty.

Nissan returned for the second time and posted an even better lap time, after which they bragged even harder (“The Legend Is Real”, so goes their YouTube video showing the Nissan conquering the ‘Ring).

Ferrari set a lap record with the 599 XX car, but their rivals Pagani showed them up a few short weeks later with the Zonda R, making Ferrari’s one of the shortest-lived lap records ever, and leaving Pagani as the current holders of the mantle.

Maybe we should build a track of our own here and get in on the action.