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Turbo engines not always better

Baraza,

I understand that turbo-charged cars perform better than naturally aspirated engine ones. So, what exactly is the effect of a turbocharger on a car? Does it increase the horsepower, stability, or pick-up speed? And does a turbo-charged Nissan B13 stand a chance against an NA Subaru Legacy?

And do tuned engines perform better than non-tuned ones? A friend told me that tuning my car would reduce its engine life, whether tuned professionally or unprofessionally, does that statement hold any water?

About turbo vs NA, the general rule is that turbo cars are much quicker, and yes, the turbo does increase the power output and also improves acceleration, but it does nothing for stability. If anything, it may compromise stability if the chassis is not designed for high horsepower applications, especially for FF (front engine, front wheel drive) platform cars by creating torque steer and push-under (power understeer).

The B13 vs Legacy fight depends on many things. If the B13 has a two-litre engine and is running 1.8 bar boost pressure in the turbo, against a 1.8-litre NA Legacy, the Legacy will see dust. However, a light pressure device in the B13, coupled with a 1.2 or 1.3-litre engine, pitted against a 2.5-litre NA Legacy will not change anything: the Legacy will still cane the Nissan.

The statement about the lifespan of tuned engines holds water. Tuned engines undergo more stress than the manufacturer intended, and even then, running those kinds of temperatures, pressures, and high-rpm inertia moments on rotating and reciprocating parts will ensure the early demise of any given engine. The best example is race cars. Some go through one engine per race.

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Baraza,

I have a Toyota 100 that I have fitted with Safari Rally tyres and I have been receiving negative comments from people on how they will affect the car. So, tell me, do these tyres affect:

1. Fuel consumption,

2. Stability of the car,

3. Engine life span,

4. Ball joints and bushes?

Also, is it true that speeds of 80-120 km/h improve fuel economy?

Lastly, the car wobbles when braking, especially at high speed. What could be the problem?

Alex

Before I answer, what Safari Rally tyres are those? Tarmac, gravel, or snow (they vary greatly in several parameters)? Anyway, here goes:

1. Yes, they do affect consumption, slightly, but noticeably over considerable distances.

2. Yes, the tyres will affect stability, a lot. If you use the wrong type of tyre for a given surface, the car will skid, slide, spin its tyres (or itself), and generally becomes impossible to drive, like using snow tyres on a tight tarmac course, or using racing slicks in the mud. This is for directional stability.

For gravitational stability, tyres with stiffer sidewalls (ideal for tarmac) will not work well in the soft mud, which usually requires one to deflate one’s tyres so as to collapse the tyre sidewalls and increase the “footprint” area to aid in buoyancy.

So it follows that conversely, soft sidewall mud tyres used in a tarmac situation that calls for hard cornering will see the sidewalls folding, bending, and/or stretching, making the car dangerously easy to tip over.

Just so you know, there is a calculation as to what point a car, any car, even a Ferrari, will roll or tip over on its side. And part of that calculation embodies the gripping tendencies of the tyres and the sidewall stiffness.

3. No, not really.

4. To some extent yes, depending on your cornering speeds.

About fuel economy, generally, yes but many other factors come into play.

The wobbling could be because of one of several factors. Either the ABS and/or EBD and/or stability control systems are working very hard to brake the car in a straight line or the braking forces on each wheel are not equal (for cars without the fancy electronics).

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Hi,

I am thinking of importing a seven-seater, like a Toyota Isis or Nissan Lafesta, which run on VVT-i and VVL, respectively. Please advise on the best option, seeing as we cannot all buy Toyota Wish, Noah, or Voxy.

Yes, it is true, we cannot all buy a Wish or a Voxy. Cars like Isis and Lafesta should broaden the scope. There is a risk to pioneering a model change like this, though, and that is the lack of support infrastructure. At the garage, the mechanics will tell you “We have never worked on such a thing before,” while at the spares shop the salesman will ask you whether you are sure the Isis is a Toyota or a Honda or even a Hyundai.

Cue the email asking for assistance.

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Hi Baraza,

There has been an increase of this weird black colour on cars, I think it is called matte. What does the law say on the changing of a car’s colour and what does this change mean when it comes to maintenance costs? Then, do some people not know that some cars should not be repainted? There are Touaregs and X6s with these colours!

Stevie

You seem to be really bothered by the matte paint. Unfortunately for you, I am a fan and will paint my car matte black first chance I get. Also when I have a car to paint.

The law was (and I am guessing still is) very clear on changing the colour of one’s car: Go ahead, nobody is stopping you. It is just that you have to let the registrar know that the previously white Volkswagen Touareg KBR *** S now looks like it fell into a tin of black shoe polish and was not wiped clean, so can I please have a new logbook reflecting these changes? And no, the vehicle is not stolen.

Matte paint has some downfalls, especially in terms of maintenance. For one, you cannot take it to those automated car wash setups, the ones with the rotating brushes, because it will ruin the matte effect. And once a bird relieves itself on the bonnet, it is back to the paint shop for a whole new coat.

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JM,

My car (a two-door, 2800cc Pajero) is having hiccups that are now beyond me. First, she started with shaking whenever I tried to start her up.

So I changed the fuel filter (several times now) and serviced her. She behaved for two days, then started acting up again.

I serviced the fuel injector and even cleaned the tank. She again behaved for only a week or so. It is now got to a point where she cuts fuel supply when going up a hill and stops.

When I prime her, she gets back on the road like there was no issue. The mechanics are pinning the problem to the fuel injector and the pump, which I have serviced. What do you think is causing all this?

Kenn

Quick question, do you have a girlfriend, and if yes, what is her take on your referring to your car in feminine third person singular pronouns?

Anyway, when you talk of priming, my mind goes to the fuel pump, so I am guessing that it is the culprit here. Maybe it is due for replacement? Another suspect might be the air filter. Check the element and make sure it is not clogged. Also confirm that the fuel lines are not blocked; you could be focusing on the major devices and yet a simple blockage is the source of all your woes.

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Dear Baraza,

I am a first time car seeker and interested in importing either a Toyota Avensis or Subaru Legacy. What are their estimated prices and the general cons and pros about these cars? Consider that I love going to see my parents near Mau once every two months and carry away about 50 kg of food. What other cars compare with these two?

Lastly, how can I know which Japanese dealers are reliable? Do these dealers tamper with cars’ mileage, the way some of the local dealers do?

Langat

The two cars are good and the price range hovers around a million shillings for both, give or take a hundred grand in either direction.

Pros: The Subaru is fast, looks good, is spacious, and its reliability has gone up several steps. You also get standard AWD and the option of a manumatic transmission, that is if you buy a tropicalised version. The Avensis offers even more space, is comfortable, has outstanding economy, is reliable, and has understated good looks.

Cons: The Subaru has poor ground clearance if you buy a Japan-spec version. It is also uncomfortable and crashes over road imperfections (worse with low profile tyres). The economy will go to the dogs if you step on it. The manumatic transmission is a four-speed and using it makes the driver feel the need for a fifth gear. A turbo version might put you in trouble if you are not experienced behind the wheel. The Avensis is plain and boring to drive, it lacks any sense of urgency or sporting feel. D4 engines might go pfft, especially the D4D.

Other cars to look at might be the old model Caldina, Mitsubishi Airtek, Primera estate (eugh!) or even the Mark II Blitz.

The reputation of dealers in Japan, I am sorry to say, is not my problem, at least not anymore. I tried to steer Kenyans away from the careless and thoughtless importation of cars from locations and individuals unknown, and got insulted in the process. So now I watch them suffer and wait for the inevitable email asking for help.

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The Freelander vs the two-door Pajero

Hi Baraza,

I am a bit of an old school guy who loves short wheel base 4X4’s because of the great ground clearance and ease of manoeuvring. I am really not into the comfort, speed, and style of modern saloons (power windows, automatic transmission, heating etc). I am more interested in strong vehicles with few electronics that can last for years, like the small Land Rover 90 and the two-door Land Cruisers; I have seen Series III Land Rovers from the 70s still on the road.

1. I am interested in the Land Rover Freelander, although I have heard that it has issues with heating, is this true? From what I have seen, a used one from about year 2000 is affordable and I can handle the 1800cc engine.

2. Another vehicle of interest is the Land Rover 90 TDI, my number one choice. But it is completely unaffordable, so let us not even discuss it.

3. Car number three is the two-door Mitsubishi Pajero from around 1997/98. I have seen and driven some pretty clean and affordable ones, although I have also heard that they may have some innate engine problems like heating and blown turbos, is this true? What are the disadvantages of this vehicle?

4. The last choice is the two-door short wheel base Land Cruiser, which is a second choice from the 90 TDI, although it is also a bit costly.

Now that you have got a feel of what vehicles I prefer, please compare between the Freelander and the Pajero, (advantages and disadvantages) since the Land Cruiser and the 90 TDI are out of my league for now.

Jon

The Pajero suffers from turbo and injection problems, which could sometimes lead it to smoke badly and lose power when driving. The turbos also fail with some regularity, but this I relate to the uninformed owners and sketchy development of early turbodiesel engines (they have since improved). Installing a turbo timer might alleviate this problem a bit longer.

The Freelander is pretty and is something of a lady’s car, but ignore that. The issue with the original versions was build quality, like heating vents covered in upholstery, so dealers were asked to apply a sharp knife to the suede so that the demister could work.

The manual gearbox was also popping out of gear in long left hand corners and the output shaft transfer case sheared, rendering the car 2WD, with the unsuspecting owner still thinking he had a 4WD car. The power steering pump also had problems.

These issues were exposed back in 2000 when internal Land Rover documents were leaked; the Freelander suffered from 136 faults. This does not even include poor torsional rigidity and unsatisfactory wheel articulation.

Both cars will go off road, but the Pajero will go farther off, ford deeper rivers, climb taller rocks, and plug the clag with more aplomb. The Freelander is more of a lifestyle car than a proper off-roader and will be better to drive on tarmac and murram roads.

Save a bit more and go for the “adults”, especially the Land Cruiser.

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The X3 vs the Tiguan

Dear Baraza,

I would like to buy a comfortable, stable-to-manoeuvre-at-high-speed, 2500cc small classy 4WD (I do off road about 15 per cent of the time) car. Then, “when I grow up”, I will go for its bigger sibling, depending on the pick. In this regard, please compare and contrast the BMW X3 against the VW Tiguan and BMW X5 against the VW Touareg to help me decide.

Wekesa

I am only familiar with the first generation versions of the four vehicles. However, I will soon be able to report on the new lineup of BMW X cars. So my answer will be based on the old versions.

The X3

It did not look too good, its price was hard to justify (in other words not good value for money and felt cheap), it struggled in tough terrain, and was thus easily beaten by rivals as a sensible purchase. It was hard to find plus points on this car.

The Tiguan
Unfortunately lady-like, but again VW’s strengths appear in terms of refinement and build quality. Looks suspiciously inept if something worse than paved is thrown at it. A good looker but falls short in terms of sheer gravitas. Blame the badge on the bonnet.

The X5

The exact opposite of the X3’s shortfalls. It was and still is a worthy, or even better, alternative to the Range Rover.

The Touareg

Bland design, pointless V10 TDI engine option, the 3.2 V6 was thirsty and the gearbox operated on a glacial time scale. Also heavy, but it handled really well on road and the interior is typical VW: excellent build quality and feels robust and like it will last for ever.

Except for the Tiguan, there are new versions of all these other cars, sadly none of which I have had a chance to try yet. If and when I do, I will be glad to share.

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In motoring, many Kenyans want a kind of come-we-stay

Hi JM,
I have owned a 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Cedia wagon 1800cc GDI for more than three years with no problem other than the usual wear and tear, brakes, shocks, etc.

And so I fail to understand the Kenyan phobia for any car with an engine other than a VVT-i or stone-aged engines, minus some rare options like the smaller but stronger, faster and quieter engines.

I use recommended platinum sparks, Shell V-power or equivalent, and full synthetic oil to keep the car in optimum performance — these might be pricey for some, but I considered them while purchasing the car.

Most of the time, the petrol mileage pays for most of the maintenance cost, especially if you drive as much as I do; I bought the car with the mileage at about 110,000 km and it’s now at over 400,000 km.

I wonder why Kenyans always go with advise from Toyota crazed people, some of whom have never owned a car or who want a car that they can neglect.

People rarely ask what your needs are and what you can invest to maintain and repair the car.

My dad gave me six months tops on the car yet his 2004 Nissan AD VAN has cost him more in repairs and petrol than my Cedia, which offers me better options, safety, comfort and power.

My advice: There are better cars out there, just make sure you know what you are getting into, that is, the advantages and disadvantages.

Also, having a mechanic who knows the car’s ins and outs on speed dial helps. So, am I crazy like all the people (and the Government) who have cars with GDI, FSI and turbo engines or what?

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Nice one. There are several problems with Kenyans as far as motoring is concerned. That is why 110 per cent of the mail I receive concerns either “how thirsty is it?” or “are the spares expensive?”

We want the motoring equivalent of a come-we-stay marriage, getting the milk without buying the cow, colloquially speaking. That is why I once told my readers not to rush into car ownership if they are not ready for the commitment involved.

But what can I do? I cannot tell a person, “You are not mentally ready to buy a car yet, so don’t”; I will wait for them to buy the car, mess it up and then contact me for help. The variety of vehicles in South Africa is staggering and yes, there are Toyotas too, but they, surprisingly, are not the majority.

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Hi Baraza,

I religiously look forward to the Wednesday paper just to have a go at your column. Now, I have two questions:

1. I drive a Nissan Bluebird U11 1985 model, 1800cc carburettor engine. It does 7–8 km/l in town and 10–12 km/l on the highway. I am planning to purchase a new ex-Japan EFI engine for the car because I fear the carburettor is not 100 per cent reliable. I am torn between a Wingroad and a Nissan B15 1500cc engine. Most of my friends prefer the B15 engine while I feel the Wingroad one is more faithful. Kindly advise on which one would be best for stress free driving on such an old car.

2. This is a bit personal and I’m sure I will get it rough from you. What car do you drive because I got shocked to learn that you drive a Toyota Platz — in a previous article you really dissed the vehicle.

Akala

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First off, I don’t like either of the two Nissans, and sadly for you, both are prone to glitches.

From the mail I receive from readers, the B15 has suspension made out of used matchsticks while the Wingroad suffers electrical gremlins.

From what I see on the road, the Wingroad ages gracelessly while the B15 clings on tenaciously for a slightly longer time before succumbing to old age. So maybe you should go for the B15.

Now, about your second question: What I drive is not very important at the moment, but it sure as hell is not the unsightly Platz! Where did you get that information from? If a friend told you they know me and that I drive a Platz, lose the friend.

Hi Baraza,

Kindly offer your thoughts on the Audi A4. How does it compare with BMW 318i and Mercedes C-class?

Looks: Near tie between C-Class Mercedes (pretty) and Audi A4 (understated and classy).

Performance: The BMW 3-Series both handles and performs better than the other two.

They have recently started offering 4WD (x-Drive) versions, so Audi no longer has the advantage of traction.

The A4 can be a bit lethargic with the smaller non-turbo power units.

The C-Class is a pleasure to drive, such is the smoothness, and the supercharged Kompressors are plenty quick.

Handling wise, the BMW is best and the A4 worst, courtesy of its understeering tendencies.

Cost: When you buy a Merc, you will know, mostly from the moths that will fly out of your wallet and the echoes coming from the emptiness that is your bank account. BMW follows not too far behind, but is a bit more affordable.

A4 is the cheapest, generally. Where you buy and what spec you choose can easily swing the order one way or another.

These are premium cars, so you will fork out for spares. Good thing is it will not happen often.

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Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Wish with a 2000cc VVT-i engine. The vehicle has no overdrive button but there’s an ‘S’ button, which I presume stands for “sport”.

On engaging it, the vehicle becomes lighter and speed shifts with a lot of ease.

What I need to know is, how is the fuel consumption when I engage this gear, is it high or low?

Is it economical/safe for the engine if engaged at low speeds? There’s also another button labelled ‘Snow’ but I have never known what it is for. Kindly help.

Abdulrehman

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When you engage this “S gear”, does the car leave a trail of your belongings on the road behind you? Or maybe a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of cogs, nuts, bolts, trunnions and wing-nuts? The car does not become lighter, it “feels” lighter, because the transmission is in a ‘Sport’ setting and so the vehicle’s performance is optimised, or “sporty”. The lightness may also come from the suspension stiffening, but I doubt this is the case for the Wish; such technology is found in costlier fare.

The consumption will definitely go up, but not enough to bankrupt you in one trip. It will also not damage the engine, or gearbox, at all; engines are built to withstand a wide range of performance parameters.

The ‘Snow’ setting acts as a sort of traction control for the gearbox, slowing down changes and sticking to higher gears at lower revs to minimise torque-induced wheelspin and skids.

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Hi Baraza,

Once, I went upcountry with a Toyota Prado and had no problem climbing the long hills.

But on another day, when I used a Land Rover Discovery Tdi, I realised its performance was weak compared to the Prado’s. Is it that the car had a problem or does it mean Prados are more powerful than Land Rovers?

Please compare the two. Also, I’m puzzled by words like supersaloon, special edition, splendid, and so on, that are used on Toyotas and Nissans. Do these cars have anything special?

Kahara

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Which Discovery did you use? And which Prado? The earlier Discovery cars were a bit agricultural, crap to be honest, especially because of the ageing 2.5, 4-cylinder diesel engine they used.

The new ones, on the other hand, are Range Rovers for those who cannot afford real Range Rovers. I will compare the two — similar vintage and matching specs — in a future road test, just give me time to set this up.

Those labels ‘SuperSaloon’, ‘Executive’ and so on are actually names for trim levels and specifications.

Instead of saying “this car has a 2.5 litre V6 engine, automatic transmission, sunroof, air-con, climate control, leather interior, alloy rims, six-CD changer, etc”, just call it SuperSaloon.

For the same model of car, the “Executive” could be the same as SuperSaloon but with no leather interior and no sunroof.

A lower spec model (let’s call it Deluxe) deletes climate control but maintains air-con and swaps the six-CD changer for, say, radio/tape/CD.

Follow?

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Dear Baraza,

I am planning to buy my next car, either a Subaru Forester or a Toyota Kluger.

But the one I have currently is a Fielder, which is good when it comes to fuel consumption, spare parts and resale value.

I want you to advise me on the car (Forester or Kluger) that is fuel efficient, has reasonably priced spares and a good resale value.

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Just drive decently and both will not hurt where consumption is concerned.

Spares should not have too big a disparity between them, though I suspect the Kluger’s might command a slight (very slight) premium over the Forester’s. Asking around will clear this up.

Resale? It is hard to tell. Klugers have not been around long enough for statistical data on second- or third-owner territory to be gathered. And there has been a now-diminishing phobia of Subaru cars, so for now, steer clear of the Turbo.

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Hi,
I am importing a Subaru Outback and I want to use it for my upcountry excursions, which include a very slippery road to my upcountry home.

How good is it in wet, slippery, hilly roads? Can you suggest some modifications or areas to watch on this ex-Japan model?

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Smart choice. It has 4WD, so it should tackle the slippery stuff quite convincingly.

But no serious off-roading (fording rivers that have burst their banks or trying to drive up a sheer cliff), leave that to the Land Cruisers).

It can survive without any major modifications, but heavy duty suspension would not be money wasted when installed.

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Hi,
I intend to buy a second-hand car whose engine capacity is 1000cc or below.

I particularly have the Toyota Platz, Toyota Starlet or Toyota Alto LX in mind. Please advise me in terms of maintenance and performance.

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Once you go below 1,000cc, cars stop being cars, they become a means of transport.

As such, there is precious little to separate them, unless you go for mentalist hardware like the turbocharged Daihatsu Miras and “twin-charged” Fiat 500s. Otherwise, they are all the same.

I have had quite some experience with a Starlet EP82, which at 1300cc, could still run with the best of them (19.76 litres of fuel yielded 407 km, empty to empty. Try and beat that, even in a Vitz).

The three cars you mention should be about the same in performance and maintenance, so if you are hard pressed to choose, close your eyes, throw a stone in the air and see where it lands.

That will be the car to buy. Or just go for the Alto — it is newer than the Starlet (so obviously better engineered) and much, much prettier than the goggle-eyed “Platzypus”

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Hello Baraza,

I bought a five-speed 1996 Hyundai Accent car from a friend. The vehicle is quite okay, but I need your advice on the following:

1. Where do I get spare parts, such as door locks, water pumps and radiators, among others, at a fair price?

2. Is it possible to get a good place to refurbish its interior, especially the seats, floor covers, inside door covers etc?

3. What are the merits and demerits of this vehicle since I hardly hear people talk about it?

Yatich

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The reason nobody talks about the Hyundai Accent is because it is Korean, and 1996 is a clean decade and a half ago. Anybody born at that time would be in high school second or going to third form now.

Later iterations of this car have not been good either (there is a 3-cylinder diesel that takes 20 secs to hit 100 km/h from rest). So it is in this vein that I will answer your questions:

1. Fellow Hyundai enthusiasts will help with this, but until then, the usual trawl through Kirinyaga Road and Industrial Area will give you an idea on the rarity of spares.

2. Interior reworking can be done at any good body shop.

3. Merits: None that I know of. Cheap, maybe. Demerits: Not a feat of engineering, flimsy, performs poorly and not that pretty. And there’s also bad interior design and poor use of materials.