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Nairobi to Namanga and back: Petrolheads with a cause

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring on the next run.

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The Tiggo will have criminals ‘shivering’ with laughter

Hi Baraza,
What is your take on the Kenyan government supplying police officers and provincial administration with the Cherry Tiggo cars? Are the cars the best they can use, considering that countries like the US use patrol cars that cannot be sold to the public, such as the Ford Victoria Crown and Dodge?

Is there any feature of the cars that can make criminals shiver at their sight? Are the cars meant for countries like Kenya, where most roads are not tarmacked? I think this was the reason behind the use of the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Land Rover.

Finally, are the Tiggos stable enough for high speed chases (like the Peugeot 504) or will they roll over, just like the military lorries do even at very low speed? I also fear that they may become old (lose shape) like the ones being used by the Chinese engineers constructing Thika road.

Walkins

You would be surprised that ex-police cruisers can be and are sold to the public in the US (after disarming them of the dash-stored shotguns and computers connected to security databases), especially the Crown Victoria and the Chevy Caprice.

The only reason criminals would shiver would be with laughter at the sight of the government’s cheapness in supplying Tiggos to the boys in blue. Not that they care, anyway.

The Chinese car would not be bad for the untarmacked roads, but their longevity is questionable. And gone are the days of the high speed police chase; nowadays they will just push a stinger into the path of the escaping felon and his goose would be well and truly cooked.

If and when the cops chase down the criminal, he could at least hope that the pursuit vehicle will age and break down some time during the chase (the reputation of China-sourced products).

Hi Baraza,

How does the Toyota Opa compare to the Toyota Fielder in terms of performance, handling, cost of maintenance, resale value, comfort, stability and power? I also want to know why you say the Opa is ugly and yet there are uglier cars, or is it just because beauty lies in the eye of the beholder?

Performance should be better than the Fielder, as is handling, but maintenance costs will depend on how well you take care of it. One on one, the D4 engine and the optional CVT transmission are harder to fix (and will thus cost more) than the equivalent VVT-i and auto/manual gearbox in the Fielder.

Resale value will be next to nothing, but if you can find a fellow Opa-lover, then all the best. Comfort: Very good, for the price and class. Stability: Better than the Fielder, but it is still not an F1 car. Power: 1.8 litre D4 performance, which means about 150 hp.

About its ugliness, just because there are other ugly cars, does that mean I should call the Opa pretty? If four students do an IQ test and one student gets a score of 1, and three others get 0, does that make that one student a genius? No, it is just that three other students happen to be less intellectually endowed. Same thing here; the Opa is still quite unsightly, whether or not Verossas and Wills exist.

Dear Baraza,

I want to move from a five- to seven-seater car to accommodate my family. Looking around, the following appealed to me because of looks, fuel economy, and parking space: Peugeot 307, Volkswagen Touran, Toyota Sienta, Honda Mobilio, and Nissan Cubecubic. I also visited CMC and saw the Maruti 800cc van.

What are your comments on these cars and which one would you recommend?

Muteti

From your list, I would say the Touran is the best seven-seater car. It is the most comfortable, has good power delivery, a six-speed gearbox, is highly versatile, and has Volkswagen’s bullet-proof build quality. Too bad it took an army friend of mine several attempts to get the gearbox fixed at CMC Motors before he was satisfied.

The 307 is also a good car, but with the French known to be unreliable, it may not be the best buy if you have resale value in mind. The Toyotas, Hondas, and Nissans are generic Japanese products that I am yet to assess (but I strongly suspect there is not much difference between them).

That 800cc Maruti is another thing altogether. It will seat seven people, yes, much in the same way back in the day my three sisters and I could fit in one red KP&TC telephone booth when making a phone call to daddy at work.

It is not an experience you will particularly enjoy or want to repeat daily. The Maruti is a small-capacity delivery van (mostly for pizzas or inter-office documents), not a Swiss family mobility solution.
Of the lot, I pick the Touran.

Hi,

What is the difference between the 2004/5 Lexus RX 300/330 and Toyota Harrier 240G/300G besides engine displacement? These cars are identical! Which would you go, considering spare parts availability and running costs?

Tony

Besides displacement, the only other difference is the logo in the grille up front. Such vehicles as the Toyota Harrier, Aristo, Altezza, Crown, and Land Cruiser Cygnus (the top-rung 100 VX model) existed because at the time the Lexus brand was not available on sale in Japan, so they were rebranded as Toyota.

Their respective Lexus equivalents were the RX 300, GS 300, IS 200 (and IS 250 in the US), LS 400, and LX 470. There was even a “Lexusized” J120 Prado called the GX 450.

In my world, availability of spares and running costs mean diddly squat, so I would go for the one with the biggest engine and the most horsepower and with the most apportionment (options like leather, climate control, and sun-roof).

For the cash-sensitive types, the diametric opposite of my desire is what they should settle for; the smallest engine with the bare minimum of optional extras.

Hi Baraza,

1. Between a 6-litre V8 engine and a 6-litre V12 engine, which one consumes more fuel? Is it engine displacement or the number of cylinders in the engine?

2. I have been seeing exotic modern cars (Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bentleys, Rolls Royce, etc) in Nairobi streets. Where are these cars serviced? It is not that I am aspiring to buy these cars in the near future, a turbo-charged Subaru is good enough for me.

1. Given the extent of automotive engineering thus far, it is neither of the options you list there. Genius and boffinry will determine the consumption capabilities.

Engine management (injection maps, variable valve timing), supplementary innovations (variable intake plena, active exhausts, use of forced induction, injector and plug placement/relationship, cylinder deactivation, charged gasoline injection, etc), the shape and design of combustion chambers, intake manifolds and exhaust manifolds, along with a whole lot of other things will determine the fuel consumption of an engine.

That is why the CL 65 AMG Mercedes-Benz coupe is a 600 hp monster that can still manage 11 kpl.

2. These vehicles belong to individuals who prefer to stay outside the scope of the public eye. I have seen them too. My presumption is that given what it costs to buy one (and the kind of brain power that goes into building one), it is only natural for the owners to send the vehicle back to the makers for servicing.

Either that or factory engineers are flown in with a complete tool kit to service the vehicle from the privacy of the owner’s home.

Hi,

I want to know about the work of the cylinders in a car and why they vary from vehicle to vehicle, for example, some have four while others have eight cylinders. Aside from that, you are always sceptical about the Cadillac Escalade and yet it is still one of the most prestigious vehicles today.

So how do you rate the Cadillac CTS-V in terms of performance, power (which I assume is quite a lot with the over 400 hp), comfort, stability, and fuel economy?

Three cylinders or less are typically used in less than 1.0-litre capacity engines (except the noisy tractor road-building equipment that uses just one but displaces more than 1.0 litre).

Four cylinders (in line) are good for fuel economy. V4 engines are noisy, and prone to vibrations, which requires the use of heavy crankshaft journals and flywheels to dampen the vibrations.

As a result, they make the car nose heavy, that is why they found limited use in cars. They are used for bikes, though. Horizontally opposed or “flat” four engines (H4) provide even weight distribution, and no, they do not wear the cylinders out on one side, as some people assume.

Five-cylinder engines are not much different from 4-cylinder ones.Most provide extra capacity without resorting to enlargement of cylinders. This applies to both V5 and in-line 5 engines. Six cylinder engines have legendary smoothness and good top-end (high rev) power characteristics.

That is why Lexus used them to great effect in their smaller saloons. The top-end power applies to both in-line 6 (Nissan Skyline GTR, Toyota Supra Mk IV, BMW M3) and V6 engines (Nissan GTR R35, Lotus Evora).

V6 engines have the added benefit of being compact, allowing for a more stubby bonnet or installation in a mid-ship platform, what we call mid-engined cars, or rear engine chassis.

Eight-cylinder engines develop huge torque. Straight 8s saw action a long time ago but these died a natural death. It was only sensible to make V8s. W8 engines were recently “discovered”, but since they involve the juxtaposition of two V4s, they do not get much airtime.

Twelve-cylinder engines have very good power and can rev to “abnormal” levels (the V12 in the Ferrari F50 road car could soar to about 10,000 rpm).

That is why they are used in top-end sports and performance cars (Lamborghini, Ferrari, top-flight Mercedes-Benz AMG and BRABUS cars). Sadly, the engine in the recently released Lamborghini Aventador will have the last automotive V12 to be used as manufacturers are now favouring turbo-charged V8s, which are simpler to build, more robust, and meet ever-tightening emissions standards.

Weirdly, some army tanks also use V12 engines, diesel powered. V10 engines share tendencies with V12s.

Beyond this point, most engines take a W configuration rather than V for the sake of length. The W12 engine (a creation of the VW Group and commonly found in Bentley and Audi) is just the mating of two V6s, side by side. The W16 (Bugatti Veyron) is the joining of two V8s.

The CTS-V is America finally waking up to the realities of life. The original 400 hp car was good (which is saying a lot for a Yank Tank), but the 556 hp supercharged version was great (this has never been said of any American car).

The blown CTS-V killed the BMW M5’s lap record for fastest four-door saloon at the Nurburgring, what with the M5 having two more cylinders (V10 vs the Caddy’s V8) and 50 less hp.

This war is not over. BMW have brought out a new M5 (the F10). They have gone back to V8 engines, they have lowered the engine capacity but (the trump card) to compensate for that, the M car now has two turbochargers slotted under the bonnet.

Initial reports indicate the car goes like stink and is so good it could end hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and bring peace in the Middle East — this is of course an exaggeration. The car will actually bring more war as each country fights to be the one supplying the unleaded that goes into the M5’s fuel tank.

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I insist, the Verossa looks horrible

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

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

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

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

Keep up the good work!

Jack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

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

Hilary.

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

Nick.

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

Gikaru.

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hello Baraza,

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

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

Charles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

David.

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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Dear Baraza,

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

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

Jared.

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

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

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

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Hi,

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

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

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

Charles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi,

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

1 Button marked PWR.

2. 2ND.

3. Red button.

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

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

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

Juma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

Ben.

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

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

Posted on

Want more vroom? Force extra air into your engine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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