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The Surf, good. The Montero, so-so. The Fortuner, ish-ish!

Dear Baraza,

Thanks for the incisive analyses.

I want to upgrade to a 4X4 but I am wondering which, between the Toyota Fortuner, the Toyota Surf and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, I should go for. I have not driven any of them but they look quite capable. Kindly give me your views in terms of performance, handling, and operating costs (spares and fuel).

Regards,

Okumu.

In keeping with the theme of road tests promised but not delivered is the Pajero Sport, the new one. Since you call it a Montero Sport, I will guess you are talking about the old model, which some call the Nativa (most of these names depend on where you buy the car).

In terms of performance, I hope you do not mean speed, because these cars are not meant to be driven fast, except, maybe, for the Surf, which is a lot better than the other two on tarmac.

The Montero Sport (old model) used the power train from the L200 Warrior/Storm, and in a review I did on this car, I found the gear ratios to be mismatched with the engine characteristics.

The first three gears were too high, bogging down initial acceleration, and then the final two gears were too low, giving a noisy, thrashy, belligerent highway cruise, not to mention a poor top speed and unimpressive fuel economy.

Then again, in a car that tall, you don’t want to be going really fast, do you? The height and separate frame chassis puts some distance between this vehicle and the Lancer Evolution in handling terms, irrespective of the fact that they are both Mitsubishis. Don’t corner hard in it.

The Fortuner is very similar to the Montero in handling, except the ride is worse. It is uncomfortable. It also has a useless diesel engine that huffs and puffs and blows your patience down: to get any semblance of movement you need the petrol version. For that you sacrifice fuel economy: even the 2.7 VVT-i is quite thirsty.

These two cars are based on pickups, and therein lies the problem. Also, being cheaper than their elder siblings (the Pajero and the Prado), they seem aimed at the hardcore off-road enthusiast rather than the causal SUV-lover (this explains the unusual engine-gearbox relationship: it is more ideal for off-road than on-road).

And that is where the Surf comes in. The Fortuner is actually spiritual successor of the Surf, but the Surf is more comfortable, faster, smoother, more economical and is less likely to do a somersault through a corner. The diesel turbo engine also seems better suited to all conditions.

These are big 4×4 vehicles, so fuel economy will be scary if you opt for a petrol engine, and maintaining the turbo will be painful if you go for the diesel and don’t know what you are doing. 4X4 tyres are also generally more expensive than saloon car tyres.

Get the Surf. It even has a bigger boot!

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Hi Baraza,

I recently imported a 2005 Toyota Avensis fitted with a 2000cc D4-VVTi engine. Being my first ride, I must say it has been excellent, especially on highways and smooth roads. The ground clearance, however, is an issue when I have to do a bit of off-roading. My questions:

1. Other than my driving skills, how else should I protect the belly of the vehicle without compromising stability (don’t tell me to stay away from off-roads).

2. Other than normal servicing after covering particular mileage, are there any special pointers to look out for?

3. Other than Toyota Kenya, kindly recommend for me a mechanic I can depend on for minor maintenance, especially body works, though I intend to visit Toyota Kenya for engine-related issues.

4. There are Avensis’ made specifically for European markets and others for Japanese use. Which of these is superior, and are the parts and trims the same?

Regards,

JM.

1. You could under-seal the belly of the car. That is, install a sort of iron sheet, in the fashion of a sump guard, that goes all the way to the back of the car. I will not tell you to stay away from off-road, but I will tell you to try and get the right vehicle for it, if it is really off-road. I have noticed people have a tendency to refer to any untarmacked paths as “off-road”.

2. Not really. Just keep an eye on expendables (tyres, brakes, fluids), drive carefully, wash your car regularly and don’t be afraid to use Shell’s V-Power once in a while, especially with that D4 engine. Also, buy your fuel from reputable sources only.

3. I normally don’t refer people to mechanics outside of the franchise, so for now…. stick to Toyota Kenya.

4. The Avensis for the European market is called Avensis. The Avensis for the Japanese market is called Premio (not Avensis). They are essentially similar, though the Avensis (European) has a wider choice of engines, including diesel. When buying parts, just buy the model-specific stuff, don’t interchange, because there are certain items that might not be interchangeable.

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Hi Baraza,

My car, an 1,800cc, 2002 Toyota Fielder that has clocked 68,000 kilometres so far, makes a soft clicking sound when I start it in the morning. The noise comes from the front, but when I open the bonnet and listen I can’t locate it.

When I close the bonnet, it sounds as if the noise is coming from the front wheels. The noise disappears after driving for a few minutes, when, I guess, when the engine has become warm.

My mechanic told me to change the ATF, but that did not help. I have always used Total Quartz 7000 oil, the drive shaft and wheel joints are OK, the bushes are new, the choke clean and all shocks and engine mounts are in good condition.

Another mechanic suggested that it might be the bearing next to the water pump, and I am now confused! For your information, this problem came about after my friend borrowed the car for a 750-kilometre journey on bad roads. What might be the problem?

Sospeter.

Step 1 is to ask your friend what happened or what he did in the course of that 750-kilometre drive, and press upon him that honesty is a requirement, though I highly doubt he did anything untoward with the vehicle.

Noises are hard to diagnose without actually hearing them, and what makes your situation even more sticky is the fact that you can’t isolate the source of the noise. Soft clicking could be anything, it could even be a fan blade brushing against something.

It could be low oil pressure in the valve train (typical with a cold engine), it could be a loose or out-of-kilter belt, it could even be the bearing the other mechanic is talking about. Check everything, Sir.

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Dear Baraza,

My Toyota Wish has been showing the Check Engine light on and off. The light is very erratic and may come on after weeks. I have taken the car for diagnosis twice. The first time they changed the fuel filter but the light persisted. The second diagnosis did not show anything wrong. Please advise.

Thanks,

Robert.

Your car, I suspect, is fine; it is just that the ECU was not flushed after the diagnosis (and repair, I presume) was done. Disconnect the battery overnight and reconnect in the morning.

This typically flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas (after the problem has been solved, don’t just flush the ECU when the source of the Check Engine light has not been rectified).

However, first confirm that disconnecting the battery will not disorient your car. I have said it flushes the ECUs of lesser Toyotas, but I don’t know if the Wish is one of them. Sometimes disconnecting the battery creates a whole lot of complications with the ECU itself, resetting things and maybe calling for a reprogramming.

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Dear Baraza,

I really enjoy reading your weekly articles. Please keep up the good work. I have lived in Europe for a while now and I’m planning to come back home. I would like to purchase a Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI (diesel, turbocharged engine).

I think it’s the same models as those used by several ministries in Kenya (but again maybe those are FSI models). The car has a manual transmission, and I would like to know the following about it:

1. Is it easy to own a Volkswagen in Kenya, in respect to maintenance costs?

2. Which one is more economical, the TDI or the FSI?

3. Are there merchandise in Kenya for the Volkswagen?

4. What are the other Japanese models that equal the Passat, and are they available in Kenya?

Your advice will be truly appreciated.

Muiru.

1. It is not “easy”, but it is not particularly hard either. We have CMC Motors, who deal in Passats among other things. The government cars you see are FSI models, and I am not sure if they have any diesels in the fleet. I am also not sure if CMC will maintain a small diesel… especially an imported, non-tropicalised one.

2. TDI of course. Diesel engines are the sippiest of all sippy engines, though FSI and other direct injection petrol engines come really close. The diesel is still cheaper to fuel because diesel is cheaper here in Kenya than petrol, unlike some other countries.

3. Merchandise? Yes. We have Golfs, Polos, Passats, Touaregs, Jettas, Amaroks, we even have Volkswagen trucks and lorries; in fact what I have not seen around is the Phaeton uber-saloon. But I am guessing what you were really asking about is FRANCHISE, in which case the answer is also yes.

CMC Motors have the local Volkswagen franchise.

4. The Passat’s biggest Japanese rival is the Toyota Camry, which we have here in Kenya, but for some reason, Toyota Kenya have priced it out of the market: it costs more than an E Class Mercedes (asking price of Sh9 million as of February last year).

Other Japanese rivals are the Honda Accord (good car, this), but Honda is still establishing itself (again) in the country, so not much noise has been made about this car. From Nissan and Mitsubishi it is only import cars that would serve any real competition to the Passat (Teana and Galant/Diamante).

Local line ups at DT Dobie and Simba Colt do not have anything of that size. We also have the Mazda 6 (nice to drive, and looks sharp, costs about Sh3.85 million from CMC) and the Subaru Legacy (very big boot, looks weird and the 2.0 litre boxer without a turbo feels underpowered. It IS underpowered.

Costs about Sh5.5m at Subaru Kenya). A well-kept secret (until now) is the Hyundai Sonata. Very good car, well-specced, pretty and competitively priced to boot at Sh4.5m, though it is not Japanese.

And the government also has a few :-). My personal pick is the Mazda. It understeers a bit, but it feels the best to drive of the lot. It actually feels like a sports car, though the Tiptronic gate has been reversed and is counter-intuitive.

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Thanks for your very informative articles in the Daily Nation. Keep up the good work. I just realised that we went to Alliance High School the same year (Class of ‘02), from your Facebook page.

I recently bought a Toyota Mark X (2.5L), rear-wheel-drive, and it’s been giving me two major problems;

1. It skids a lot on wet surfaces (even on not-so-wet surfaces), and its traction control, unfortunately, offers little help. I noticed on the dashboard there is a light for 4WD; does this mean it has an option for 4WD? I believe this would reduce the skidding. How can I activate it? There is no button for it.

2. The ground clearance is so low and I am contemplating raising it a little bit using coil springs, but I have been advised that this would negatively impact on its stability and the electronically controlled shock absobers? What are your thoughts on this?

Hillary.

This is Hillary Kiboro, right?

1. The traction control SHOULD help. Is it on or off? And from the way you describe the situation, I think someone has a heavy foot. Either that or you may have bought an enthusiast’s car. Those Japanese tend to do funny things to cars, which include, but are not limited to, doing away with the traction control.

It is as simple as using a custom map in the ECU. I also suspect your car develops more than the 212bhp made by the stock 2.5 litre engine. You may have in your hands what we call a “sleeper”, an ordinary-looking vehicle with extra-ordinary firepower under the bonnet.

Saloon cars do not have deselectable 4WD like SUVs. The car itself decides how much power it channels to which axle, depending on circumstances. No driver influence is available.

The closest one can come to having deselectable 4WD in a saloon car is with the DCCD (driver controlled centre differential) in the Subaru Impreza WRX STi. If your car had 4WD when new and now behaves like a rear-drive drifting car, then I suspect the former owner also did away with the front drive shaft. He may have intentionally modified the Mark X to drift easily, which is what you are (unintentionally) doing.

2. In keeping with my suspicions that you have bought a drifting car is my other surmise: it may also have been lowered. Installing stock springs should help. If it is on stock suspension (which I doubt, because yours sounds like it has adjustable suspension), then taller springs will do. It will not affect the car adversely if the height increase is also not adverse.

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

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

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

What is it?

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

Outside

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

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

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

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

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

The inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driving

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

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

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

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

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

Ride and handling

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

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

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

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

So why no boxing comparison?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parting shot

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

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

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

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