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The new Land Rover Discovery sport: Smooth, roomy and quite responsive

I ate a palm tree. Not the fruit from the tree, not even the leaves; but the tree ITSELF, the stem, the trunk.

The person behind this occurrence is the Number two chef in Mauritius, a good hostess who takes real pride in her work; and she must, seeing how she convinced a large group of straight-thinking adults that they can actually eat a tree trunk without having to gnaw on it like a termite. Continue reading The new Land Rover Discovery sport: Smooth, roomy and quite responsive

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Why attend motor vehicle launches if you don’t even get to drive the car?

Everybody by now must have heard about the new Land Rover Discovery Sport.

If you haven’t, you need to leave your cave immediately and step into the sunlight just a little bit. It is the latest release from the makers of the best four by fours by far.

The local launch was done last Thursday by the local franchise; at least I think it was — I saw an ad in the paper and everything, you know.

I dislike motor vehicle launch parties. They are mostly attended by people who have more money than you, dress better than you and are more likely to buy the vehicle being launched. Continue reading Why attend motor vehicle launches if you don’t even get to drive the car?

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Better choice: Toyota Wish or Nissan X trail?

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

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

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

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

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

(a) Fuel efficiency and consumption Km/l.

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

(c) Reliability

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

Looking forward to your kind response.

Mukaria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L. Magambo.

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

There are baffles inside it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blue boxer boys and biased bloggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Prado you can easily tip over but a BMW? I don’t see how

Hello Sir,
I need some clarification on two issues. A friend of mine says that Toyota Prado is one of the easiest cars to flip over.

I have seen a couple of overturned Toyota Landcruisers, although they were older models. How stable is the Toyota Prado V6 4000cc?

I have driven a not-so-recent model BMW 523i series in which I skidded, but miraculously didn’t flip. I guess it would have been a different story with a Prado.
Please advise.

Your friend is right. A Landcruiser Prado is notoriously easy to roll over. This is because the vehicle is tall and narrow.

The great height and small base area give it a high centre of gravity, so when that centre of gravity starts swinging about, the amount of effort required to overcome the stability offered by the base area is very small.

Small effort = easily done. Therefore, the Prado is easy to tip over. All you need to do is take a corner at high speed. The 4000cc V6 Prado is a Prado, is it not?

Not flipping a BMW is the rule, not the exception. Flipping a 5 Series is the miracle here.

Obviously, it has a very low centre of gravity, so it won’t be easy getting the centre of gravity to start swinging about, and if you get it to, it will still take considerable effort before getting the car to topple.

The actual explanation of this phenomenon can be found in classical mechanics, under the topic covering moments, inertia and centres of mass and gravity. Mechanics in this case has nothing to do with cars.

Calculating the likelihood of this event requires a series of equations that will send you running for the hills. However, I will simplify it using an analogy.

Let’s start with the Prado. Compare its overall shape to that of a book. Its height-to-width ratio is more like a book balancing on its spine, is it not? Getting that book to fall over is not hard; all it takes is a simple tap on the side.

Now consider the BMW. Its height-to-width ratio is more like a book lying flat on the table. Try getting that book on its spine using the same single-finger tap that you used above.

Nothing happens, right? The book is infinitely stable, it will not turn over. If anything, it will start sliding along the table the more you push it, but it will not flip, unless other forces are introduced. This explains why you were skidding but not rolling or flipping over.

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First, thank you for not imitating other car reviewers (i.e. Autocar, Top Gear, Fifth…, etc) with your style of journalism.

I really appreciate that and if you can, please intervene in Autovault by bringing in a “natural” character for a presenter (they do a good job but they appear to try too hard)…that would be swell.

On to your critic, the Mike Mouth: If anyone has to explain Top Gear to him, then he really needs to stop drinking.

As for the Demios, I believe you are talking about small practical cars that don’t need super charging or turbo charging to spike the driver’s adrenaline. I totally get your point. But do this: try the Swift Sport 1600cc… You will trade in the Demio. I can guarantee you that.

Now, on to a personal query, could you compare the Lexus IS250 with the GS 300 and how can one get a brand new one, given that there are no specialised dealerships. I have gathered that second-hand luxury cars are time bombs and I am trying to avoid that.Kim

Hello,
Thank you for the compliment. And you are most welcome: I prefer to be original. I discovered that one tends to achieve more that way.

Unfortunately, I cannot intervene on Autovault. To start with, my contributions are in the editorial department, while Autovault is on TV.

Secondly, I cannot intervene without invitation. That is someone else’s project; Car Clinic is mine. And you say they do a good job, so where exactly is the problem?

I have not watched the show, and I am not exactly clear on what a “natural” character is, so I might get on board and appear even less natural than the current presenters do.

I have seen and heard about the Swift Sport, but I haven’t driven it. What I have driven is the standard Swift, and first impressions were excellent, to be honest. I might believe you: the Swift Sport could just knock my socks off.

Where do I get one and how much will it cost me? I will also consider how it stacks up against a MazdaSpeed, which is what I have been thinking of lately when the time comes for me to graduate from the Demio “Sport”.

Now, the Lexuses… Lexi… Lexus cars. The GS is bigger than the IS, but the IS handles better and in my view, looks sharper. It should be more responsive on the road, making it more fun to drive.

If you are into creature comforts rather than outright driving experience, then the GS is more up your alley. Getting a brand new one will not be easy or cheap.

Off the cuff, I’d say these are your options: contact Toyota Kenya and see if they can bring one in for you. The whole idea is they import the car and you buy it from them, though in effect you mported the car. You have to promise to pay them once the car gets here.

If you change your mind when the vehicle is already on the ship, they won’t be very happy with you. Also, I cannot guarantee that they would agree to such a proposal.

The second option is to buy it yourself. You will buy it expensively brand new to start with, then get it to the port (Mombasa) — or Nairobi if by air — and discover that the taxman assumes a DIY import of a brand new car means the importer has more money than he knows what to do with, and will thus be glad to assist him reduce that money to manageable levels, and no sir, don’t worry, it is all very legal, they are not stealing from you, it is right here on paper.

Look, it is called Customs Duty and what in the name of… isn’t that a little high, yes it is, but rules are rules. If you want lower taxes, then buy older cars that have already been used and the whole process is frustrating and confusing.

In the end you will discover that maybe, just maybe, importing brand new cars is a bit of a no-no for those who do not enjoy tax exemptions or government subsidies.

There is a third option, which focuses on exploiting loopholes and operating in legal grey areas. It also involves dishonesty, and that is what might land you in trouble.

Take this path at your own risk. The overall picture is this: buy the car from wherever you are buying it. While still there, drive around in it a little. Put a few miles on the odometer. Then import it as a used car.

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Hi,
I followed club the TT Murang’a circuit very keenly from route practice in June until the actual race on August 3.

However, I noted the following issues and would like you to clarify:

1. Some Evolutions and Subarus produced a unique “Shhhh” sound like gas coming from a jet, (like a perfume spray can) when slowing down. What is the cause and purpose of that sound?

2 There is that Toyota 110 GT. How is it different from a normal 110? Apart from being fast and, of course, having orange rims and a big exhaust pipe. Any other difference?

3. I noted that most drivers had their front windows open; why? Yet we are told that open windows increase drag/wind resistance, thereby reducing speed.

4 Are you sure you were there? I never saw a clean shaven face with a goatee. I actually looked around for you.

Murage

1. The source of that sound is the BOV (blow-off valve), also called the dump valve, in the turbocharger. The purpose of the dump valve is to “dump” or “blow off” air from the turbo once the throttle is closed to prevent something called compressor surge.

This is what happens: when a turbocharged petrol engine is running, the turbo is forcing more air than usual into the engine by compressing the air first then sending it into the inlet manifold. When you take your foot off the accelerator, the throttle valve closes.

This means that the compressed air that was coming in from the turbo now has nowhere to go; the way into the engine is closed. The only way is to decompress backwards, and given that the turbo spools in one direction, when the air moves in reverse, there is a sort of “clash”.

It is called compressor surge, and is the one that causes the turbo to slow down suddenly, and in a potentially fatal manner; given that it was spinning at speeds that can go up to 60,000rpm, spooling down to or near 0rpm in an instant does stretch its physical abilities to the limit. You could very easily kill your turbo like that.

To prevent compressor surge, the BOV gives the compressed air a way out. When the throttle is closed, the dump valve opens, dumping all the compressed air, usually into the atmosphere, though some dump valves send the air around and back into the turbo. This dumping of compressed air is what makes the “pfff!” noise on lifting off the accelerator.

2. The difference between a Corolla 110 GT and a regular Corolla 110 is that it’s code is E111, not E110. The E110 is the “regular” Corolla. The GT uses the high-performance 1600cc DOHC 165hp 4A-GE engine with 5 valves per cylinder, while the rest use lower output engines (perkiest being the 100hp 4A-FE 16 valve DOHC).

It also came with a 6-speed gearbox versus 5-speed. Optional extras include a subtle body kit, red and black interior, silver or white dash dials, 15” alloy rims and fog lights.

However, orange rims and fat exhausts were not part of the manufacturer’s offerings, so this particular Corolla GT you refer to may be a lot different from regular Corollas… and regular Corolla GTs for that matter. The owner might have done any number of modifications to it.

3. That is purely a matter of choice for them. I, however, recall telling them explicitly to wind their windows up at the starting line just before being flagged off, because, as you say, the buffeting that comes with a lowered window is an aerodynamic fiend.

4. I am sure I was there, otherwise point 3 above would not make any logical sense, would it? (not the part about aerodynamics, but the part about me telling them to put up their windows).

I was at the starting line, wearing a high-visibility jacket and doing my scrutineer’s duties of ensuring everything was tip-top and stamping inspection forms (at which point the drivers then wound up their windows) before sending them on their way.

There is an issue here, though: if you came to look for me at the TT, then that was not very wise use of your entry fee. Watch the cars. That is where the fun is.

I am not much to look at, and I certainly wouldn’t charge anyone to look at, or look for me. See you in Kiambu on October 19. Just watch the cars. I will be the one stamping inspection forms and asking drivers to roll up their windows…

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Hiace is great on road, the Caravan on wallet

Hi JM, Thank you for the good work you are doing. I wish to acquire a van for personal use and I am torn between going for a Toyota Hiace and a Nissan Caravan — petrol or diesel.

I mostly drive in town and in the rural areas every other weekend, mostly alone, and rarely carry heavy stuff. I rarely, if ever, drive above 100 kph.

My main area of interest in the comparison between these vehicles is performance, maintenance, fuel consumption, and general wear with time.

Also, I have heard that a 3000cc diesel engine is more efficient than a 2700cc one. Kindly elaborate.

Waimiri.

The Hiace is slightly superior to the Caravan on several fronts, but before we continue I have to ask: You want a van for personal use? You drive alone, in town, rarely ferry stuff, and travel to the bush on alternate weekends. Why on earth would you want a large van? These things can easily carry up to 18 people (14 in this post-Michuki era) and the load capacity stretches up to 1,250kg (factory sanctioned). What exactly is the van for?

Anyway, the Hiace performs better than the Caravan. Maintenance will not be too bad, given that you do not intend to subject your vehicle to heavy use, but the Nissan’s parts may be cheaper compared to the Toyota’s.

Fuel consumption will hover around the 8 km/l area for both, sinking to 5 km/l or slightly less in traffic. General wear? Well, a Toyota is a Toyota, if you get what I mean.

Whoever said a 3-litre engine is more efficient than a 2.7 is not exactly right. As Kenyans say: “How now?” Yes, on paper the 3.0 will develop more power and more torque and will, thus, pull as well as the 2.7 at lower engine speeds, but this disparity is best seen in sub 1.8 litre cars. In vans, SUVs, and large saloon cars, the cubic capacity does become a limiting factor in fuel economy in that the bigger the engine, the more fuel it consumes.

For a 2.7 against a 3.0, the gearbox ratios tend to be the same without any major sacrifices being made in pulling power, so on the highway, at 100 km/h, both the 2.7 and the 3.0 will be running along at, say, 2000 rpm in top gear.

The difference is, sticking to stoichiometric AFRs (air-fuel ratios), the 3,000cc engine has a bigger space to fill with the intake charge (air-fuel mixture), and will, thus, burn a little more fuel. If you are going for full bore standing starts, manic acceleration, or terminal velocity, the 2.7 will have its work cut out for it trying to keep up with the 3.0.

That is when the 2.7 will burn more fuel than the 3.0. Otherwise, no, the smaller engine is more economical.

Hi Baraza,

I salute you for your knowledge of motor cars, although I know you are sometimes careless with your words and can hurt a person who asks a question about motorcycles in a column clearly titled “Car Clinic”.

However, I still feel that I should ask. I ride a Chinese motorcycle that works well, but I feel that I should find a better bike. What is your opinion on the Indian bikes in the market, and which would you recommend in the 150cc to 250cc classes considering the look, reliabity, maintenance cost, and fuel economy? Could you also highlight genuine market prices of the model(s) you recommend?

Mwahanje

Greetings, Sir,

Thank you for the salute, but I take exception to the accusation of random carelessness with my choice of words.

The intention is not to hurt; it is to educate. And I will educate, emphasis being on impact and ease of memory.

I never sugar-coat anything; if I consider a question ridiculous, inappropriate, or downright unintelligent, there will surely be a literary salvo headed that question’s way. No matter, as you said, this is Car Clinic, not therapy.

Anyway, as I have said before, I am not a fan of two-wheeled transport for a variety of reasons. As such, I do not even ride bicycles anymore, let alone motorbikes, so I know precious little about them. However, the little I have I will share:

Indian bikes are generally better than Chinese ones. Another way of saying this is: Chinese bikes are possibly the worst you can ever come across. Low-build quality, poor reliability, and a housefly-esque lifespan define their existence.

They even look suspect, though maintenance is manageable even for those living below the bread line, courtesy of the cheapness of parts. For a sub-250cc motorbike, I think fuel economy is not something worth discussing, but remember: The smaller the engine, the better the economy, and always carry thin passengers. An overweight load could easily double your fuel consumption.

On the other end of the scale sit Japanese motorcycles: Well-built, highly reliable, and they last forever if not abused.

Even their appearance is reassuring. They are highly economical: A person from my childhood once had a 125cc Yamaha DT and he clocked 70 km/l on it easily (or so he claims), and this did not include freewheeling or pedalling.

They do not break down easily, but they do cost a wee bit more than the Chinese versions. Just so you know, like millions of other things, these have not been spared the Chinese duplication protocol: I have spotted Yamakha and Keweseki motorcycles on the streets of Nairobi. They look as suspicious as their names sound.

Dead in the middle lies the Indian output. Hardy little things these, far better than Chinese but not as good as Japanese. Everything about them is an average of the two extremes.

This advice is based on regular workaday motorbikes, the type used by rural pastors and urban messengers, the type on which one sits bolt upright and buzzes around noisily at relatively low speed. For performance bikes, I might have to consult with The Jaw.

Hi,
I guess you must be a genius when it comes to vehicles because you seem to know almost everything! Anyway, a big thumbs-up for the excellent work you are doing.

I was thinking of buying a cheap car and after some research, I learnt that the Toyota AE91 is a good car. A friend also told me that since he bought his Nissan B13, he has never had any problem with it. I also learnt that the Nissan B12 with an EFI engine is cheap, economical, and has readily available spares. My question is, is this old B12 a good car if I get one in a good condition?

Freddy Ambitious.

I guess calling me a genius when it comes to cars may be overstating things a little, but hey, thanks for the compliment.

The answer to your question is, yes, the B12 is a very good car if you get one in good condition. My question is, where will you get one in good condition? These cars are getting fewer on the road and far between, and quite a good number served as taxi cabs in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

About the B13: I am not so keen on it. It is more delicate than the B12 and highly unstable at speeds above 110 km/h on the open road when crosswinds are involved.

Wind one up to 100 km/h on the highway and open the windows then tell me what happens. See if it will not feel like you are about to take flight. Even worse is the B14: Underpowered, ugly, suspension that feels like wet cardboard, and a propensity to bend in the middle, along the B pillar. Let me not even start on the B15…

Hi,

Whenever I come across a Wednesday Daily Nation, my first stop is Car Clinic. Anyway that aside, I have  got some issues with the Subaru Outback 2500cc and Legacy 2000cc. Lately, they come in almost the same wagon shape, which I like, so I am kind of torn between the two.

Could you explain in a nutshell the pros and cons of the two in terms of fuel efficiency, performance, and overall cost?

Which of the two is the better buy, taking all things into consideration?

Robert Mboga.

Well, yours is an easy question to answer.

Fuel efficiency: Legacy all the way. 2000cc in a less frilly car compared to 2500cc in a car fitted with many toys? No contest.

Performance: Barring any turbocharged Legacy (especially the STi tuned versions), the Outback wins.

Overall cost: The Legacy is a lot cheaper. Of the two, I would buy a Legacy, but then mine would be turbocharged.

I like going quickly and the puff from the dump valve when closing the throttle is a noise I can never get tired of. Use your three parameters to make a decision, then add this:

The Outback makes you look trendy and lifestyle-y, as though you spend your weekends going to interesting places with your physically fit, yuppie-grade, tablet-wielding, twenty-something-year-old friends. Or at least that is one of the target markets for this car…

Alternatively, you could look like you take your family on picnics in scenic locales, ferrying baskets laden with sandwiches and tea, bringing along the family dog, and enjoying the various amenities Subaru chooses to imbue the Outback with. This is another image that the company hopes to project with this vehicle, which explains the car’s popularity with suburban parents in Europe and America.

In Kenya, the Outback is used to visit the pub and overtake anything naturally aspirated and with less than 2500cc on the highway. It is also used to visit the farm, straddling paths that would best suit a Land Rover Defender or a Lada Niva.

This is just my observation, though I am sure there are Outback owners out there who go picnicking in interesting locales with their rock-climbing, kayaking, bungee-jumping, lifestyling, super-fit yuppie companions… exactly as Subaru intended.

Buy the Legacy.

Hi Baraza, I wonder what criteria you use to answer readers’ mail. This is because I am sending this mail for the third time. I guess you receive so much mail that it might be challenging to print some. Anyway I will not tire, so here it is again.

First, I must congratulate you for the good motoring advice you give readers. Some time ago, you spoke ill of the Nissan Note in comparison to the Mazda Demio. Well, I owned a Demio and now own a Note and I must say the Note drives better.
To my question: When I turn it on (Note) a “Sport” light appears on the dashboard and disappears immediately (with all the other necessary lights). On the gear lever where there is normally an OD button, it is labelled “S”. When I press it, nothing happens (I assume).

Please enlighten me on what this “Sport” light is and the meaning of the “S” button on the gear lever instead of OD. The car is an automatic (CVT) transmission, 1500cc.

Peter M.
Sorry for not answering your email earlier. My inbox does tend to get flooded sometimes and it, thus, follows that certain messages go unseen or unanswered. So here is your answer:

When I “spoke ill” of the Note, it was relative. It is not as awful as I made it sound, but then again, it is not the last word in driving dynamics.

You owned a Demio, I have one now, and I drive it daily. I have also sampled a Nissan Note, and the drive was unmemorable. It was like making a photocopy of a newspaper or something; an event so boring and devoid of lustre that I doubt if I will remember it ever, which explains why I have never reviewed it.

The Note is exciting because it has a light on the dashboard that says “Sport”, no? Or is it because it has a Sport button, the one labelled “S”, where normally the overdrive button would be?

The Demio I drive has no Sport button, nor Sport dashboard illumination, but it does have a 5-speed, close-ratio manual gearbox with a short final drive, short pedal-travel clutch set-up, quick steering, sharp brakes, tight suspension, alloy wheels, and a body kit, complete with a rear roof spoiler, none of which I recall seeing on the Note. So, whose car is exciting now…?

I have sampled the two vehicles and found the Demio better.

The “S” button you refer to, I guess, is for Sport, which makes the CVT adopt a more aggressive shift pattern, if you can even call it shifting. CVTs are strange. For you to Note (pun intended) any difference, I suggest you explore the little-visited world that lies beyond 60 per cent throttle opening? Go flat out in normal mode. Gauge the car’s responsiveness and acceleration. Then go flat out in “S” mode and take Note (pun intended) of the difference. If there is a difference, then, there you go.

If there is no difference: 1. That button is malfunctioning or 2. That button does not work at all, so the Note is not as good as the Demio, which was the point I made originally!

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Why do you ‘hate’ the Range Rover Sport?

Hi Baraza,

Thanks to your articles, I am very comfortable talking about cars nowadays. Anyway, in one of your articles you advised someone to “get a Land Rover product that is not a Range Rover Sport”. Why is this so? This car is quite the looker. It so striking I have to turn my head whenever I see one drive by. Why, exactly, do you hate it?

Ngari.

I don’t hate the Range Rover Sport. I actually like it. I like it very much. But I like its brothers more.

My personal tastes aside, what the questioner wanted was comfort. Land Rover SUVs are very comfortable, but not all of them. The Defender can break your back, or cause you to bite your tongue.

The Sport feels stiff, because it is. It has to be for it to be able to corner properly, and thus chase the Cayenne (though it won’t catch it. That is a story for another day).

In comfort terms, the best SUVs I’ve ridden in, and driven, are the Discovery 4 and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue (L405). Especially the L405. Nothing comes close.

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The Camry is not sexy, but it is still a Toyota

Hi Baraza,

I always enjoy reading your insightful reviews on various brands of vehicles. I am just wondering whether you have ever tried out the Toyota Camry.

It seems to me a very well-built car and good shape and gives me the impression that it is a very stable car. But I do not see many of these cars on the road compared to, say, the Toyota Mark X, which has a 2500cc while the Camry is 2400cc. What could be the issue with them? Are they thirsty cars?

Secondly, the Nissan Murano: How would you compare it with the 2007 Rav4 or the Honda CRV RD 5? I do not see so many of them on the road too.

Thanks,

Albert.

I have actually tried several Camry models and you are right: They are well-built… at least the later models are. They are well-shaped… again at least the 2012 one is, and it is stable on the road courtesy of its front-drive chassis.

The reason Kenyans opt for the Mark X is that it is prettier than the Camry. Kenyans are very image-conscious. While the Camry is “well shaped”, you would not really call it striking to look at or even sexy. It is a bit bland. The Mark X, on the other hand, attracts instant attention anywhere it goes. They certainly are not thirsty cars, especially when compared to the Mark X.

The Murano is not in the CR-V/RAV4 class of vehicles. It is more of a premium type of thing, closer to stuff like the Toyota Harrier/Subaru Tribeca. Therefore, in comparison to the RAV and the CRV, the Murano is bigger, better-specced, and more powerful. It is also a lot more comfortable and handles better. There are not many Muranos on the road, but give them time: They will come.

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Hi Baraza,

I would like your opinion on which is the better between a Toyota Landcruiser VX (4.7-litre petrol and 4.2-litre diesel engines) and Nissan Patrol (4.2-litre turbo-diesel and 4.7-litre petrol).

I would like a car I can use for work, travelling, and off-roading. Which one is suited to Africa’s rugged terrain? How do these cars compare on the following grounds: power, speed, comfort, stability, off-road use, and ease of maintenance (not prices but accessibility of spare parts).

Thank you.

Regards,

Aryan

Apparently there is a new Nissan Patrol out, but I have only seen one on the road. One. And that was on the road. I do not even know if DT Dobie has them in stock. As such, I will base my arguments on the outgoing model.

Power: The best is the petrol-powered Landcruiser VX 4.7-litre at 314hp, mostly because it has clever VVT-i and is turbocharged. The 4.5-litre turbo-diesel is not half bad either. The Nissan Patrol’s best is the 4.8-litre GRX with 281hp (no match for the VX, though the current model uses 5.6-litre engines which I doubt we will get until smaller engines are available).

Speed: See above. The VX petrol rules. The Nissan Patrol does struggle a bit with its weight, low power, lack of forced induction, and breeze-block aerodynamics.

Comfort: Ahem… VX, again. It is stable, smooth, and well optimised. The Patrol is floaty and wobbly and bouncy, like a ship in a less-than-calm sea
Stability: See comfort above. That roly-poly chassis of the Patrol can be treacherous if you try to keep up with a VX when the going gets gnarly.

Off-road use: You may not believe it, but these vehicles are evenly matched. Some say the Patrol is more capable, and for older versions this was somewhat true (the underpowered engines were the weak link in an otherwise perfect setup) but take it from me: these two vehicles will keep going long after any competition has fallen by the wayside. If the going gets extreme enough to split these two on ability, I am yet to meet the driver skilled enough to get to that point. This one is a tie.

Ease of maintenance: There is a reason why the car in front is always a Toyota, and that is because spares are everywhere. Drive a Toyota and you should NEVER ever worry about spares availability.

I expect to hear from you about how life with your new VX is; because the VX is what you will buy… I think.

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Hi Baraza,

I have a locally assembled 2005 MT Chevrolet Aveo. Six months ago I replaced the clutch plate and pressure plate and all has been well until recently when I started to hear a strange grinding noise from the gearbox area whenever I start the car in the morning. It goes away after the engine has run for about two or three minutes.

If I depress the clutch pedal, the noise disappears but comes back immediately I release it. My mechanic insists that the culprit is the release bearing (I did not replace it when I did the clutch job) but the information I gather from the Internet is that a faulty release bearing will produce some noise when you depress the clutch pedal and not the other way round. What is your take on this?

Secondly, the car has been producing a whistling sound since I replaced its alternator bearings. My guess is that the alternator bearings are responsible but more importantly, do I need to get worried? Thanks a lot.

Kefa Marendi.

Hi,

For that grinding noise, check the input shaft bearing if you can confirm that it is not the release bearing — I agree, though: If it was the release bearing, then the noise would come when the clutch pedal is depressed (disengaged). It may need replacement (or in some cases you may need a new gearbox).

About the alternator: The belt may be loose or the bearings misaligned.

**********

Hi Baraza,

First, let me thank you for the good work you are doing on the Car Clinic. I own an automatic-transmission Nissan B14 manufactured in 1998 . I have owed this car for the past three years and this is my fourth year.

The problem with the car is that its fuel consumption has increased while its engine power has decreased tremendously. It also produces white smoke when I start it in the morning but this fades as I go to work.

For instance, last week I went to my rural area, Nyahururu, via the Nyeri route, which is around 230km from Nairobi one way. When I had already done around 120km just near Karatina town (at a place called Kagocho, known for a steep uphill slope), my car totally lost power and started overheating.

I decided to stop for one hour, topped water in the radiator, and resumed my journey. It started the same problem at a place called Nairutia past Mweiga after about 80km. I topped the water again, then reached my destination. All this time I was going at an average speed of 100-120kms/hr.

After consulting with my mechanic over the phone, I travelled back the following day but with an average speed of 80km/hr and my car did not overheat at any interval.

The following day the mechanic inspected the vehicle and found the radiator and the fans to be fine. He told me that my engine had worn out the piston rings and valves and that they needed replacement, which I was hesitant to do.

I have not replaced these rings and valves until now because the cost of replacing them plus the labour is almost equal to the cost of buying a new ex-Japan engine, so I would prefer buying a new one and getting it fitted.

With this regard, I wanted to consult you on the best recommended auto-garage shops to buy an engine from and if this is a good move.

I plan to buy the engine from General Japanese Auto Garage at Industrial Area where I had asked the quotation of the price and they said it costs Sh65,000 together with its auxiliaries (alternator, computer, aircon), but they can sell it to me at Sh55,000 without these auxiliaries.

Is this the recommended price? Please advise.

Gilbert

Did your mechanic say anything about a blown head gasket? These symptoms are also similar to those one gets when one blows a gasket: the overheating (the combustion heat escapes into the coolant) and the power loss (compression leakage). Have another word with him (or get a second opinion) just to be sure because replacing a cylinder head gasket is not as expensive as buying a new engine/replacing the rings and valves.

However, if your mechanic was right, then just buy a new engine. It will save you plenty of time, the risk of a shoddy repair, and some money. I do not normally endorse shops in my column so just look around for whichever one looks the most credible and offers the most sensible arrangement.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I am planning on buying a diesel SUV since I travel extensively across East Africa on what are often terrible roads.

I would, therefore, appreciate your opinion on which one to buy based on the following criteria: Off-road capability, availability of spare parts, build quality, comfort, luxury, and resale value. Initial purchase cost is not an issue.

Eric S

Since your question is very vague, my answers will also be vague.

Off-road capability: Most SUVs are of similar ability, but the Range Rover is the easiest to drive in extreme conditions. Not many people buy a Range Rover to do Rhino Charge-style green-laning, though. So, anything with good ground clearance, 4WD, low-range, and diff locks will do.
Availability of spare parts: Japanese. Anything Japanese will never lack spares.

Build Quality: German. Anything German will be assembled to a degree of perfection that is hard to emulate. And hard to believe.

Comfort: Get a Land Rover product that is not a Range Rover Sport, or a Freelander, or a Defender… especially a Defender, and discover what motoring journalists mean when they start using sentences like “wafting on a feathered pillow” or “floating on a cloud”.

Luxury: The 2013 Range Rover Vogue, aka the L405. No contest.

Resale Value: Most SUVs hold their value well, but I have noticed that the Landcruiser VX especially does not lose value, more so the earlier versions (80 Series).

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I’m waiting for new RAV4 to outrun the X-Trail and CRV

In the recent past I have found myself in a good number of new cars, all of which beg reviews, but since there is hardly any time (or space) to do them all, they will have to share a bed or rather a space. To kick things off we have the new RAV4, the 2013 model.

Toyota RAV2 and RAV4: New this year is another iteration of the Random Access Vehicle (RAV), and with it comes some interesting new changes. The exterior has been tweaked. The car still looks a bit odd, just like the last one, but a different kind of odd.

The face has some Korean-ness about it (sharp and pointy, slashes and curves, all angles and lines, and generally the typical Pacific Rim characteristic of overdesign), the side has been infused with a lot of character (inverse relief here, a mix of convex and concave surfaces there), and there is a shelf at the back.

On the outside. The acreage of metal on the tailgate is overwhelming, a tendency further accentuated by the relatively small tail lamps. And there is a black plastic skirt going round the lower hem of the vehicle that we are told will not be replaced with a colour-coded option.

In other words, the Really Amorphous Vehicle is what it should be called. I will not say it is ugly, but when the light hits it just right, this is one car that a motoring correspondent would be hard put to describe in plain words.

Exactly like the outgoing model. The design language, says Toyota, is to shed the feminine image the ‘Roses And Violets’ car has had to endure for the previous three generations.

At the test drive they even had an ad-banner with two Doberman pinschers in it, and the blurb said “Mark Your Territory”. Very manly. For animal lovers especially; or dog-loving, manly rappers like DMX.

The interior is typical Toyota. Again, there is a shelf on the centre console right below the radio (please note that these shelves I am referring to are instruments of form, not function. Do not place stuff on them expecting the stuff to stay put for long).

There is some “space” below the shelf, then the usual gear lever gate/cubby-holes/cup-holders/hand-brake tunnel but from there is where Toyota’s cleverness comes to light — a pun, this, because the RAV’s interior is actually quite dark.

The transmission tunnel from the B-pillar rearwards has been “buried” (and even been disposed of) under the floor, greatly improving floor space and manoeuvrability — though the reason a person would want to slide from one side of the car to the other on a regular basis is unbeknownst to me — but the concept has worked. The leg-room at the back is impressive even for bean-poles like The Jaw and I.

The rear drive shaft has been buried under the floor. It could also be missing because for the first time ever in the history of motoring, the RAV4 is now available in 2WD… FF platform to be exact. So why did they not call it the RAV2?

The LWB version of the outgoing model gets its own name (Toyota Vanguard), so why did the 2WD version of this model not get its own label? RAV2 to be exact, because RAV4 in reality stands for Recreational Active Vehicle, 4-wheel drive.

So the FF car in reality is a RAV2, not a RAV4. I guess we will never know.

Anyway, the existence of the FWD car is to “capture” a “niche” that apparently Toyota has been missing out on. The “niche” of pretenders who want a big car to drive in places where it would be more practical and convenient to walk, such as from your middle-class suburban house to the supermarket, which is 300m away on a well-tarmacked road.

Toyota seems keen to “capture” this “niche”, judging from the pricing, let them have a go at it. Pointless vehicles have had sales success before (all Hummers, the BMW X6, and the Toyota Prius), so why not now?

Price range: Aah, the pricing. The base 2.0 litre 2WD with a lazymatic auto-box costs about Sh4 million. The specced-up 2.5 litre 4WD costs almost half as much again (!!!), at Sh5.8 million, and this is the only one available with a manual gearbox. The reign of the petrolhead is dangerously under threat here, but it has been for a while now. My heart bleeds.

Given the pricing, it is clear Toyota wants our “lifestyling” activities to change from things like white-water rafting, bungee jumping, hand gliding and surfing to stuff like shopping, going to the gym and generally places where there is a tarmac road.

It is obvious they want the 2WD to sell more. Also, the RAV4 has now been lowered by some millimeters, making it slightly less off-roadish than its ancestors.

The non-enthusiasts who will obviously go for the 2.0 litre 2WD car will pay for their sins. I am not saying it drives badly — it actually drives well, and the economy is amazing: close to 11 kpl even when thrashing it on the open road — but the 2.5 4WD is so much better.

It feels more together where the 2WD feels a bit feathery and wayward when challenged by cross-winds. The bigger 2.5 litre engine gives it more punch and there is the possibility of kicking the tail out when exiting a junction under power and excessive steering lock (doing this in the 2WD just creates massive understeer that scares the hell out of nearby hawkers).

Body control (elk test-esque swerving and swift overtaking) is also better optimised in the 4WD, and in Sport mode, the engine growling all the way to the red line gives the impression that torque is being tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to keep up with a silver Mercedes-Benz ML500 that has just overtaken me, and I really should get back on topic….

Economy also suffers. Half a (60-litre) tank to cover 180km is not worth bragging about, but you can blame my heavy right foot for that. Equivalent acts in the 2.0 litre 2WD yield, say, 70 per cent of the same exuberance, and the belligerence of the engine is not as charismatic. It sounds like just another automatic car struggling to make a point at times and in places where it really should not.

Sports utility

But I loved the Sport mode in both cars: the Tiptronic override is really only useful in downshifting when you want some engine braking (lack of full lock-up control at clutch level means you will not get the same retardation effect as you would in a conventional manual, so be ready to dab the brakes a little if you want to slow down sooner), upshifts take place at a heady 6,500 rpm even on part throttle, a notch past the peak power point, and progress is swift.

They have also given the car some new features previously seen on upscale cars. The rear tailgate is now powered (I want that), there is auto-adjustment between high beam and low beam for the headlamps (I do not want that, but thankfully it can be turned off), and there is… hold on a moment.

That powered tailgate takes some getting used to. It can be opened from the driver’s seat or from a button next to the number plate light, but shutting it requires you to be there at the tailgate to press a button on the lower edge for it to come down.

Also, knowing when the tailgate button or the key-fob control will open the tailgate is not easy. Sometimes with the doors open the tailgate button itself does not work. So you have to lock the doors and then open them again electronically for it to work.

Sometimes. It is hard to tell from one day’s use. Not handy when you are an assassin trying to make a quick escape with your high-powered rifle and three police departments hot on your heels, but then again, it is not everyday that an assassin will drive a RAV4. Hollywood tells us they prefer Audis.

I fear I may have digressed again…

Overall I would say the new RAV4 is a step up on the old one, but here is a word of advice to Toyota Kenya. This car’s rival is NOT the Nissan Qashqai: you do not set your targets as “I will not be last”; rather, say “I will be first”. The Nissan X-Trail is a more worthy opponent and there is some work that needs to be done to catch up with the CRV, which is kicking dust in faces right now.

My opinion? Do not squeeze the RAV4 out of market in favour of the “RAV2”. It is a good car and deserves sales.

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Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Zimbabwe, border is where I have been this past week, driving a 2013 Range Rover Vogue L405 SDV8, a Land Rover Discovery 4 SDV6, a 2013 Range Rover Sport (SDV8 also) and a Range Rover Evoque SD4.

The Vogue and the Evoque I reviewed earlier, and they are the same amazing pieces of equipment they have always been, and since the Sport is due for replacement in the foreseeable future, let me talk about the Discovery 4.

It seats seven human beings (not five humans and two dolls like some other cars), the front and middle rows of seats both have sun-roofs and the seating arrangement is cinema hall-style: the middle row of seats is a bit higher than the front, and the back row overlooks the middle one. That way everybody can see where the driver is taking them.

Worth noting is the child-proofing of the hand-brake. It is electronic, yes, but it is accessible from a great number of locales within the car, so ill-behaved children can reach it.

The Discovery 4 has a safeguard against that. Applying the parking brake (inadvertently or the result of highly adventurous, safety-unconscious passengers) while in motion only activates the ABS, it does not lock the wheels like it normally should. You can try it if you own a Discovery 4… also, if you have the trousers for it.

The car is also roomier than its stable-mates and is an unstoppable force off-road, but has gone too far upmarket, unlike the first two generations which were essentially comfortable Defenders.

The current one is more of a “cheap” Range Rover (it donated its platform, like Adam donating a rib, for the creation of the Range Rover Sport). The Discovery 3 has a serious problem with the air suspension, which costs Sh300,000 per wheel to replace.

Seeing that you have to replace all four, the day you find your Discovery sitting on the floor like a relaxing elephant, know that Sh1.2 million is bout to fly out of your wallet. These are Range Rover bills right there.

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The Benz Wagen will go where no Audi Q7 would dare

Hello Baraza,

I drive a Mercedes Benz G Wagen while my husband drives an Audi Q7. We will be in Iten for six weeks, during which I will have to drive 12 kilometres off road every morning down and up the Kerio Valley as I trail him on his running track.

I would like your opinion on which of the two cars to use. I understand that the G Wagen is quite hardcore, but his coach says the Q7 is built on the same platform as his VW Touareg, which also works quite well off road. Could I use the Q7 and save my G Wagen the torture?

Ruthel Owano

Before I answer your question, there are two things I must make clear:

1. How sorry I am for responding to your mail as late as this, but my schedule has been unpredictable for the most part over the past two weeks.

2. How jealous I am of the choices you have to make (some of us have to decide on a bus that is slower but Sh10 cheaper or a faster but more expensive one).

Anyway, addressing your question, how bad is the track that your hubby runs on? My guess is, it is pretty tractable at best and very narrow at worst. This favours the G Wagen. If it is a lunar landscape that your man runs through, again the G Wagen is better suited for it because, compared to a Touareg and/or Q7, the G Wagen’s abilities are superior.

The mister’s coach may drive a Touareg, but let him know his Touareg will never beat a G Wagen when the going gets military.

Also, he was right; the Q7 does share a platform with the Touareg (and the Porsche Cayenne also), but while the Porsche and VW are compact and comparatively light (the key word here is comparatively), the Q7 is a lumbering whale, large on sheer pork and length of wheel base (these two are enemies of motor vehicle dynamics) but short of pulling power (the 3.0 diesel is the sensible car to buy, but the power it develops struggles with all that body weight.

Petrol versions are extremely thirsty, so just look away). However, the Q7 is more comfortable than the Mercedes.

Torture, you say? Thrash the Gelandewagen, and spare the Audi.

Dear Baraza

I have a Range Rover Sporthouse that has a problem with height adjustment. It has fallen on one side and even when I manage to raise it, it does not stay on the same level with the rest of the car. What do you think the problem could be?

Maggie

Your suspension has collapsed, or is leaking. Either way, replace it. It will cost you a tidy sum, but hey, this was to be expected; it is a Range Rover, after all, a luxury SUV. Huge bills come with the territory.

And, just a word: please use the correct names when referring to a vehicle. What is a “Range Rover Sporthouse?” I think you mean “Sport HSE”.

Dear Baraza,
I am a retired MD of a major franchise holder in Kenya. I know a bit about vehicles but I am fascinated by your knowledge of older vehicles, such as the ones I drove in the 1960s.

I have retired to a hi-altitude area with rough roads that require 4WDs and for the past 15 years have had diesels — Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota Surf, Nissan Patrol, and Toyota Rav 4. All have done well until overhauls were necessary, after which all have been big trouble.

My question is: Can one buy a new or used vehicle with an air-cooled engine today? The old VW Beetle with 15-inch wheels and rear engine layout was excellent and lasted years. It also negotiated tracks in the wilderness where no other vehicle had ever been at the time.

Peter Barnesi.

You could buy a used vehicle with an air-cooled engine, but not a new one. And you cannot import one either (thanks to an eight-year rule by the government).

The last cars to run air-cooled engines were the VW Type 1 (after a very long production run that lasted up to 2003) and the Porsche 911 (1993 model, went out of production in 1998). Anything else that ran or still runs an air-cooled engine after that is not worth buying, unless it is a motorcycle.

It is still unclear why nobody continues with air-cooled engines, but my guess would be that it is because engines are increasing in complexity, with accessories taking up space that would otherwise be used for channelling air around the cooling fins.

Also, with a water-cooled engine, thermoregulation is easier through the system of thermostats and water pumps. With air-cooled engines, the rate of air flow is more or less the same regardless of engine temperature (even with the use of thermostat-controlled fans, water cooling allows a much larger range of temperatures to be achieved compared to an air-cooled engine).

Dear Baraza,

Thank you for the good work; your articles are very informative. I have a Subaru Legacy B4 twin-turbo which, according to everybody, has a slow knock (there is a knocking sound on the lower right side of the engine) and it also keeps flashing the Check Engine light).

I have been informed that the only remedy is replacing the entire engine. Is there an alternative — for instance, replacing the crankshaft and the arms or whatever component that needs to be replaced to remedy the situation?

The wisdom out there is that it is not sustainable and cost-effective  to fix a Subaru engine. How true is this?

Robert.

Twin-turbo Legacy cars are building quite a reputation for having unreliable engines. A lot of enthusiasts are opting for engine swaps with single-turbo motors (but a Subaru nut being a Subaru nut, they will never backslide into a naturally aspirated situation).

Now, here is the deal: the engine can be repaired, depending on how bad the knock is. However, this does not give you immunity from a repeat occurrence.

You may have to follow in the footsteps of twin-turbo Subaru Legacy owners and change the engine. A common installation into second-mill Legacy cars is usually the engine from the Impreza WRX STi.

Thanks for all the help you give. I want to buy my first car but I am not sure which one to go for. Please advise based on the following.

1. I am in business, so I need a car that can carry a bit of luggage.

2. Fuel economy, availability of spares, resale value, and not very expensive because my budget is tight.

3. I also need a car I can use for other activities apart from business.

Damaris.

Well, in tune with the sheer vagueness of your question, my answers may not be to your liking, but hey, I am just answering the question as I see it. Let the suggestions in brackets guide you as to how more detailed answers can be arrived at:

1. A business vehicle that can carry a bit of luggage is usually a pick-up… or a van. (Please specify size and weight of said luggage. A bit of luggage could be a few travelling bags, or a few bags of cement, or a few electricity poles… it really depends on perspective).

2. For fuel economy, make that a diesel-powered pick-up, preferably without a turbocharger, although it will be slow, unrefined, and noisy as a result. For availability of spares, go Japanese.

3. If you want a good resale value, you can rarely go wrong with a Hilux, but then again, you say “not very expensive”. A Hilux is costly in comparison to rivals. (You could also get an economical petrol-powered pick-up, but this would have a 1300cc or 1500cc engine, hence a small payload, and this brings us back to one above: What luggage? A small pick-up can only carry so many bags of cement).

3. A car for other activities other than business? A double-cab pickup… it is versatile — being an SUV, an estate car, and a pick-up all-in-one (I am not sure I want to know these “other activities” but I stand by my answer here. Double-cabs really ARE versatile, as are vans. And estate cars. But mostly double-cabs).

Hi,

Thank you for your informative article. I am planning to buy my first car and my mind is stuck on a Toyota Mark X. I would, therefore, like to know more about this car in terms of fuel economy, off-road and on-road performance, spare parts availability, resale value, build quality, and the market price for a new Mark X and a second-hand one.

Nelly B.

Allow me to tell you that your expectations and your dream car may not agree on very many fronts. Here is why:

Fuel economy: Nobody asks this question, ever, unless they are afraid of pumpside bills. The Mark X is a good generator of those. Town-bound manoeuvres will see economy (ironical term, this) figures of less than seven kilometres per litre (kpl).

If you drive like other women I have seen in Mark Xs, expect 5kpl per litre, or even less. Highway driving will yield 12kpl at best (this is with a lot of effort. Nine or 10kpl should be the norm). These figures apply to the more common 250G vehicle with a 2.5 litre 6-cylinder engine.

There is one with a 3.0 litre engine and a supercharger that develops 316 hp that should be a real beauty… own one and you will always walk away whenever discussions about fuel economy come up. Either walk away or chip in using colourful PG-13 language.

Off-road performance: As a woman, I would like for you to explain to me one thing about the Mark X’s appearance that says “off-road” on any level. Name just one thing.

On-road performance: It is actually quite good when on tarmac. It is quick (and thirsty: the quicker you go the thirstier it gets), it handles well, it is sort of comfortable… I say sort of because it looks like some sort of aggressive Lexus that was relegated into a Toyota, but the ride, while good, does not quite amount to a Lexus. Also, it is a bit understeery owing to the soft suspension, but when you turn the VDC off, it will drift, as I was informed by one of my well-meaning readers. It will drift everywhere in this rainy season. Do not turn the VDC off.

Spare parts availability: There is such a place as Japan, where you can order your spares from if the shops here do not have them. Also Dubai, according to yet another of my well-meaning readers, where a set of injectors costs Sh60,000 (Sh10,000 per injector, and there are six of them). I do not know if this includes shipping. To avoid finding out, only buy fuel from reputable sources and run on Shell’s V-Power at least once a month. Among other things (maintenance-wise).

Resale value: Interesting question this, as I was having a discussion with a colleague over the weekend about how much a second-hand (Kenyan) Mark X would cost. He reckons one can get one for less than a million. I seriously doubt it unless the car, one, has very many kilometress on it or, two, is broken. But then again, Kenya has a fickle second-hand car market. Ask anyone who imported a Mitsubishi Galant about nine or 10 years ago how much they eventually sold it for. Ignore the insults that will be offered in response to that question.

Build quality: Very good. But not excellent. German cars have excellent build quality. The Mark X achieves, let us say, 85 per cent of that build quality.

Market price: Interesting results I got here. Autobazaar.co.ke tells me I can get a 2006, 250G for Sh1.3 million (Mombasa), Sh1.38 million (Mombasa also) or Sh1.65 million (Nairobi). Then, on the same page is a person selling a 2007 model model for Sh3.4 million (Nairobbery, in no uncertain terms), though to be fair to the seller, this one is a 3.0-litre, and I am guessing supercharged. I strongly suspect potato vines may grow inside the engine bay of that car before he gets someone who would rather walk away from a Mercedes E Class (2006) in favour of a Toyota for the same money.

A 2006 Toyota Mark X from Japan will cost just about $5,600 (Sh478,800) before you start paying for shipping and insurance. Then your car gets to the port and KRA doubles that figure with some change on top for good measure.

A brand new Mark X from Japan costs somewhere between $36,000 (Sh3.07 million) for a 2.5-litre and $50,000 (Sh4.3 million) for a 3.5-litre. The KRA thing and the shipping costs apply here also.

Baraza,

You keep saying if one cannot find spare parts locally, one should just Google them, but how safe is online payment? How easy is it to bring the parts over, and are courier costs not prohibitive? Once I needed a book from the US and courier cost was so high it could have bought me many more books.

Philip.

Now that is the downside of buying cars that were not meant for us. I doubt if even spares are the scary part; imagine a DIY motor vehicle import only to discover that you are dealing with fraudsters.

It is the life we chose, and those are some of the consequences. An alternative to the Googling would be for the reader to ask one of the shops that sells spares to do the importation for him/her, but picture my position: once I say that, the next request from the curious reader would be: “Point me towards such a shop.”

This will be followed by many shopkeepers falling over themselves trying to get me to endorse them on my page, and when I do, invariably one of them is going to run off with the reader’s money, overcharge the poor fellow, or sell him substandard products.

Outcome? An angry reader filing a police case about how I set them up with gangsters and/or con men, and three years of hard work goes down the drain just like that.

This is the exact same reason I rarely endorse any particular non-franchised garage over another. The one or two I may have mentioned have proprietors who are personally known to me, or are the only specialists in a particular field, so even if the reader was to do his own research he would still end up at the same place.

So, as far as I am concerned, I stand by my word: if the motor vehicle spares cannot be found in any shop, the Internet will be of more help, not me.