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The Leone: A flower bed car

Hi Baraza,
I am currently in the process of acquiring a saloon Subaru Leone, 1500 cc. It’s an old model as far as I can see, with a carburettor boxer engine, (the one that fits a spare tyre in the hood) and is a 4-speed manual.

Please give me details of the car’s history and performance as well as consumption issues. Also, what do you know of the Daewoo Matiz, 1000cc? Can it be driven over long distances without issues?
Hanningtone

You are right, the Leone is an old car, 30 years old to be exact. History? It was made at a time when Subaru’s unashamed sales quarry focused mainly on agriculture and how to achieve terminal velocity inside a flower bed, hence the boxer engine, ground clearance and 4WD.

And turbo. Only Subaru could think with that kind of foresight: the three technologies helped it win several world rally championships in later years and made the Impreza a common sight for rally enthusiasts. The Leone was also the predecessor to the Legacy.

Performance: Nothing to speak of by today’s standards, but back in its day, the Leone Turbo made as much noise as it did forward movement. Given how loud they were, that means they were also fast, and the 4WD enabled them to outhandle almost anything else… especially if it was in a flower bed.

Consumption: 4WD, plus carburettor, plus an optional turbocharger, done by engineers from 30 years ago — do not expect magic. The economy is terrible.

The Daewoo Matiz is not much. On long distances, it will be an interesting bet to see which loses its cool first: the driver or the car. It is punitive to drive far in the Matiz: tiny engine, short gears, incessant top gear drone on the highway. But then again, small engines tend to have simple cooling systems that cannot contain the engine heat for too long, especially since you will be hitting the red line just to keep up with everybody else.

So between you and the car, you could place a bet to see who will be the first to blow a gasket before the trip is over.

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Hi JM,
1. I’m just hitting 30, with a small salary and almost starting a family. I am torn between a Premio 1500cc, a Fielder or a 1500cc Subaru Impreza, 2005. Kindly advise regarding consumption, availability of spares, durability and performance. Oh, and I love speed.

2. Are you a mechanic?
Kimenyi

1. Consumption: The Premio should be the sippiest of the three, but for even better economy, get one with a D4 engine. The Impreza is least impressive in this regard, but it is not far off the mark from the other two.

Spares availability: This has now become a moot point for car models as common as the three you mention. Durability: Treat them well and all three should give you at least six years of service before problems threaten to break up your new family. Abuse them and the Premio will be the first to go.

Performance: Again the Premio, especially if you opt for a 1.8- or a 2-litre. The Fielder is also fast, but is likely to throw you off the road on loose surfaces.

The Impreza is bogged down by its elaborate AWD system. With a family on the way, are you sure performance is a priority? There is something more important than that which you are not asking about and that is…

Practicality: The Impreza and Fielder offer estate versatility, but the Fielder’s boot is bigger than the Impreza’s. Also its interior is roomier but harder to clean than the Impreza’s due to the use of brightly coloured felt on some surfaces (kids will smear dust, jam and chocolate on any clean surface they come across).

2. No, I am not.

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Hi JM,
I recently noticed some black smoke coming out of my Nissan B15’s exhaust. The mechanic I consulted told me that maybe the fuel had a problem and advised me to use fuel treatment (motor honey).

Is this right? Please give me your expert advise on this.

Motor honey, to me, is a myth and has nothing to do with fuel. Use V-Power to clean your fuel system, replace your filter if it is clogged or full of water, and next time try to buy your fuel from a reputable dealer.

Another theory could be a weak spark, but that is accompanied by loss of power and misfiring. So if you don’t have these symptoms, then the issue is with your fuel system (dirt).

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Hi,
I have two pickups: a 2006 Toyota Vigo double-cab and an Isuzu D-Max single-cab. I want to increase the number of leaf springs at the rear of both pickups so that I can increase the load they both carry.

1. How will this affect stability when they are not loaded?

2. If I add the leaf springs, how many should I add and will I have to strengthen the chassis? What other changes will I have to make?

3. If one wants to import a used German car, which is the best market to source?

1. With a stiffer back end, the pickups will be more prone to oversteer because there is less give in the suspension. To understand what I mean by an oversteering D-Max, go to YouTube and search for a video shot by a local cameraman showing the vehicle spilling its human cargo onto the hot tarmac of Waiyaki Way. It started with oversteer.

2. Add as many as you want, but if you overload your pickup and get arrested, I was not privy to your escapade. It might also do you well to strengthen the front suspension as well and the mounting points for the shock absorbers. And the brackets holding the leaf springs.

3. Buy one from a local dealership if you really want a trouble-free experience.

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Baraza,
I have the intention of buying a 1987 Mercedes Benz 230 and replacing its engine with that of a Toyota Shark so that I can enjoy stability and fuel saving benefits. Is this workable? Is it an offence by law?

It is not illegal and it may be workable if the Shark engine will fit into the Benz’s engine bay. But what does not fit or should be made illegal is your train of thought.

How does a Shark engine make a Benz saloon more stable than it already is? And how is it more economical? The Shark can get pretty thirsty if you cane it, that is why it outruns the Nissan Caravan QD easily.

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Dear Mr Baraza,
I own a Rav 4 (automatic ) and on my dashboard there are two buttons: Manual and Power. Please let me know the functions of these buttons and the “side effects” of using them in terms of consumption, wear and tear, etc.
Thomas

I have no idea what the “Manual” button does, but I know the “Power” one lets the ECT transmission programming shift to performance mode, which allows faster shift times, and downshifts and upshifts at higher revs.

It usually hurts fuel economy but the wear and tear appear by proxy (you will be revving harder and going faster, so the engine will be working harder).

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The Land Cruiser ‘VX’ beats the Prado on many fronts

Dear Baraza,
I have always wanted to know, what is the difference between a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and a Toyota Land Cruiser VX based on the usual indicators, that is, on and off road prowess and stability, fuel consumption, availability of spares, purchase price, luggage room, comfort, and so on? Is the Toyota Fortuner and Kluger in the same class?

Mwenda

It is good to be specific, as in really specific, because the Prado also has a VX spec within its range. As does the RAV4. But by VX I take it you mean the full-size SUV flagship (the 100 or the current 200?)

On road: Both the 100 and 200 Series Land Cruisers are so much more stable on road than the Prado (all models from J90 to the current J150 have been wobbly and bouncy with a tendency to head for the bushes or lean dangerously with every small lapse of driver attention).

The VX, with its bigger engine, will also outrun the Prado by a very good margin.

Off-road: The Prado will venture further out owing to its more compact dimensions. The shorter overhangs and smaller wheelbase mean it can conquer obstacles more extreme than the 100/200 can handle. And it does have the full off-road kit and caboodle: low ranger gearbox, locking diffs and superior ground clearance.

Consumption: One has a 4.2-litre inline 6 turbo diesel, currently a 4.5 turbo diesel V8. The other has been hovering around the 3000cc 4-cylinder area since God was a boy. One is longer and wider and heavier than the other. I think the fuel economy argument is fairly obvious…

Availability of spares: Toyota were so concerned about readers repeatedly (and annoyingly) asking about spares and maintenance that they even opened another showroom in Westlands, which also doubles as a service centre.

How dare you question the availability of spares for one of the most popular and common Toyota models in the country today?

Purchase price: Really, you are asking me this? Between a Prado and a “VX” which one costs more? Honestly?

Luggage room: The “VX” has a bigger boot. If you are referring to human luggage, both will seat seven in comfort (for later models) or “relative” comfort for the earlier ones.

Comfort: Both are very comfortable, but if you are prone to motion sickness, the Prado will make you vomit like nobody’s business because of its marine-level pitching and wobble. Deep-sea sailors would be at home in one.

The Fortuner is one step below the Prado in this hierarchy, with the Kluger in turn looking up to the Fortuner. The “VX” occupies the top rank.

Baraza,

1. What factors should one consider when trying to make sure an old car (say a Peugeot 405 or 504) is as stable as possible, that is, apart from using a stiffer suspension, reduced ground clearance and low profile tyres?

2. What is the use of the front spoiler (the ones on the front bumpers, especially on Subaru’s) other than making the car look beautiful?

3. Apart from driving gently, is there anything one can do to reduce the fuel consumption of a carburettor car such as a Subaru Leone, or a Peugeot 405/504? Can one use the carburettor of a car with a smaller engine? Is this even possible?

1. Make sure the stiffer suspension is mounted or attached to a structurally sound vehicle body. There’s no point in having a fancy suspension system if the shocks are going to poke holes through the fenders. Reduction of ground clearance should also be done carefully: If you lower the front too much, the car will become nose heavy and understeer through corners, or even worse, oversteer at high speed turns due to lack of grip at the rear. If you lower the back too much, the front will suffer from vague and indirect steering, and a speed steering input could become compromised; not understeer exactly, but something very similar.

Finally, make sure the low profile tyres are well and evenly pumped with air. Varying pressures across and along axle lines will lead to wild and unpredictable cockroach-like darting on the road, especially under hard braking.

2. Spoilers create downforce and/or eliminate lift, the opposite of what an aircraft wing does. By pressing the front of the car downwards, cornering grip is improved, eliminating understeer and sharpening steering response. They also act as stabilisers at speed, along with the rear wing and diffuser where available.

3. You can use smaller carburettors but you will very quickly regret your decision. Lack of power does not even begin to describe the scope of your discomfort. I once told people that substituting the standard cylinder head for one of Honda’s CVCC units also works, but getting those heads is a bit of an issue. They were first used in 1975 and are unlikely to still be in existence. You could fashion one though, if you can get the schematics from somewhere, are good at crafts, have a smelter and a lathe at home and a lot of time on your hands.

Changing plugs and/or fuel pumps can also help, but they will create more problems than solve economy issues. You could switch the head to EFI, but you will find out in the process that it would have been a lot easier to just swap the whole engine.

Hi Baraza,

I own a Toyota Prado TZ and here are the issues I have had with it: 1. Since I purchased the car I have been experiencing brake disk jamming problems. I consulted a number of people but no one has been able to help me with this problem. I changed the brake pads and skimmed the brake disks but nothing changed. Another mechanic advised me to change the ball joints, which I did, but the problem persisted.

2. I was advised by one mechanic to install a turbo change-over switch so as to shift the turbo to ON when travelling long distance and OFF when using it locally. I didn’t agree with him. What is your advice on this; if I install it will it affect my engine in the long run?

PS: I totally agree with the point that the Prado is a bit wobbly car but it is a beast on the road.

1. The problem is called binding. Are the front discs or rear discs affected? If it is the rear, the tension in the hand brake cable could be too high and needs loosening a bit. For all brakes, another cure you could try is take the top off your fluid reservoir and make sure you have something to tap the fluid in then push the piston in the cylinder back in then pump it out not too far and push it back, repeat until it slides back easily.

2. That mechanic is just increasing your expenditure for no good reason. What good will the turbo do when off? If you don’t want to boost pressure acting in your engine just keep your engine revs low. Installing extra hardware is simply providing more scope for things to go wrong in your car.

JM,

I own a Toyota Ipsum 240i 2003 model. The car’s manual indicates a fuel consumption rate of 12 kpl but I have done several experiments and I have only managed to get between 10.3 – 10.6 kpl driving within Nairobi town. Do you think the car might have a problem? I’m a very gentle driver, driving at an average speed of 60 km/h. There are theories that speeds of between 90 to 120 km/h are fuel efficient and that below 90 and above 120, you are being fuel inefficient. What is your take on this?

How does this car compare to a Noah/Voxy and a Subaru Forester both non-turbo and turbo in terms of fuel consumption? What is your general view of this car?

Patrick

What the car’s manual refers to is called the “combined cycle”, that is, for both city and highway use. Your test was limited to town use only. The car does not have a problem, try it on the open road and you should see about 14 or even 15 kpl (at 100 km/h).

That speeds thing is not a theory, it is true. Most cars would comfortably do this speed in top gear, and top gear allows for maximum speed with minimum engine revs.

The actual figure varies between car models and could go as low as 60 km/h (for a Maruti Omni), but the common factor is that the transmission should be in top gear. Doing 90 km/h in second or 100 km/h in third is not efficient either.

Comparison with the Noah/Voxy and the Subaru Forester: It depends on how you drive, but the overall economy figure in litres per 100 km for the Ipsum should be lower than the figures for the other two (that is, it has better economy).

Generally, it is a good family car, but it shares one tendency with some Nissans (B15 and Wingroad) and the old Legacy B4 saloon: the car ages really fast if you are not gentle with it.

Baraza,

I am looking forward to acquiring a 4WD car. I am not sure of the best bet between a Kluger, Tribeca, Vigo (Hilux double cab), an old Land Cruiser VX, and a Mitsubishi double cab. The vehicle is intended for family use’ like travelling upcountry, and carrying light luggage.

Njiru

For a large family, the VX will accommodate up to eight people. The rest can handle only five, except the Tribeca, which is second with seven available human-shaped slots.

Luggage capacity is a scrum between the double cabs, then (surprise, surprise) the Tribeca (with the seats lowered). This is because of the Land Cruiser’s eight seats, none completely disappear like they do in the Subaru, and the high loading level is cumbersome if you are dealing with something very heavy.

My pick would be the VX, but ignore this, it is not for any sensible reason; it is because I prefer its looks to the Tribeca, which is the wise man’s choice here.

Hi Baraza,

I am currently in the market for a car, my 1996 Primera, imported in 2003, has given me faithful service but I feel it is time to move on. I am currently looking at the Toyota Avensis for saloon duty and a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD for non-saloon duty (a bit of off road, not bundu bashing). And here I also include the Lexus RX300. Now to the questions.

1. Is there a major difference between the hatchback Avensis and the Sedan Avensis apart from the obvious shape thing?

2. I have been told that the 2.4-litre engines on the Avensis are unreliable is that true? A

3. Is there a big difference between a 2.4-litre Harrier 4WD and a Lexus RX 300 4WD in terms of consumption? I know the trim is worlds apart, but someone told me that the 2.4-litre would consume more because it would strain to carry the weight of the car, is this true? And what is its average consumption? (I am not a pedal to the floor type of driver)

4. I saw some very good prices for the Discovery 3 in the UK and I am very tempted. It looks like a very beautiful car, but before I mortgage the wife and kids I would like to know if the reliability issues are true. I am talking about the 2.7-litre diesel.

James

1. No, there are no differences between the “hatchback” and the sedan. Any differences, such as practicality and available space, are directly tied to “the obvious shape thing”. And I think you mean “estate” or “station wagon” for the Avensis, not “hatchback”.

2. Maybe, but what I suspect is that people are afraid of the D4 technology and are trying to make others avoid it too. The Avensis is one of Toyota’s best built cars and has won several awards over the years.

3. 2400cc is capacity enough to handle the Harrier/RX300 body, so you won’t have to strain it to get a modicum of performance. 3000cc is for elitists (like me). Average consumption should be somewhere around 9-10 kpl, especially for calm and sober motorists like you.

4. The 2.7 diesel now suffers from what you have just described in your third question; it struggles to lug all that weight around. The Disco 3’s double chassis adds an elephant’s worth of weight to the car and the 2.7 needs a bit of wringing before it goes anywhere. Good engine though. Avoid the air suspension. Reliability in this day and age is a non-issue.

Hi Baraza,

Having owned a vehicle for a few months, I’d like to further understand a number of things. The vehicle is a 2004 Toyota Noah. I have been using the tyre pressure (~33 psi) as indicated on the passenger side door frame and noticed that the treads are wearing out evenly. In case I change the tyres with locally available ones of similar size, do I still maintain this pressure?

How does terrain and temperature affect the required pressure?

Secondly, I’ve never changed the suspension since the current ones seem serviceable. Considering the car is Japanese, is there cause to worry?

Lastly, on the engine block, there is a label: “Use Iridium spark plugs only”. Is there any benefit to this apart from longevity?

Keep using the 33 psi. Terrain does play a part (deflate the tyres to 15 psi when driving on soft sand, for example), but temperature differences do not affect the tyre pressure that much.

That 33 psi is the manufacturers optimum figure, and gives an allowance for expansion or contraction without adversely affecting tyre performance depending on ambient temperature.

About suspension, if the car does not track straight, wobbles a bit or feels unstable in any way, you can worry. If the vehicle’s stance/posture is even and driving it does not arouse suspicions, then you’re fine.

On the iridium spark plugs issue, there is also thermodynamic efficiency.

Hi JM,

I am planning to buy my first car and I have always loved Subarus. Would you advice me to go for a 4WD with a turbocharged engine? How is the fuel consumption for such a car? I have heard people say that turbocharged engines are delicate how true is this? Finally, what do spoilers and traction control help with?

David

4WD is advisable when you have high-pressure turbo performance at your disposal. It helps in directional stability. Of course the fuel consumption will be worse that NA (naturally aspirated) and 2WD equivalents, but the driving experience will be worth it (in my book). I myself have said that turbocharged engines require care.

Spoilers help with downforce, which eliminates lift and improves grip and traction. Downforce is the opposite of lift. Lift is the result of Bernoulli’s effect, which is what helps aircraft get off the ground, so reversing that lift creates downforce, which presses the car harder on the ground and makes the tyres grip the road surface better. The spoilers work best at high speed, which is when the ground effects are needed anyway.

Traction control eliminates wheel spin by cutting engine power and/or torque to a spinning wheel. This reduces the chances of wild oversteer and/or understeer, or spinning out. It also saves tyres from damage and in some cars, improves cornering performance. In others, turning the TC off improves lap times but only in the hands of experienced drivers.

 

Posted on

If you drive an open double-cab, stay under 80kph or face the law

Dear Baraza,
In your column last week, you mentioned that the Nissan Pathfinder is a dressed-up Navara. I could not agree more, and this remark reminded me of an experience I had with traffic police officers out to nab motorists exceeding the speed limit just before Naivasha on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway a while back.

I was flagged down for doing 100 km/h in an Isuzu D-Max Turbo double-cab pickup. My argument that a double-cab with all the LS trimmings is really a passenger vehicle and well within the 100 km/h limit fell on deaf ears.

The officer, credit to him, was civil and countered my argument by leading me to the back of my vehicle to show me a round sticker with ‘80KPH’ printed on it. This, according to the law, classified the double-cab as a commercial vehicle.

In the end other offenders and I were hauled to a police station, locked up in a wire mesh cell, and taken to court five hours later, where we were fined Sh2,000.

But this was after a passionate lecture by the base commander on the ills of driving over the limit. Incidentally, as we waited by the roadside, double-cab pickups fitted with those sleek canopies cruised by. According to an officer, those were SUVs!

In this era of common platforms (Navara/Pathfinder, Hilux/Fortuna, Ranger/Explorer, Tougher/Frontier, etc), where SUVs are built on pickup chassis, should the KMI not lobby for the reclassification of double-cab pickups to the passenger vehicle category?

The double-cab pickup is undoubtedly one of the fastest selling group of vehicles in the country today. Indeed, the trim and comfort levels of the top-end models put most saloon cars to shame. What is your take on this?

Tom

The policeman who busted you is either the new Sang (traffic police hero) or he was really idle. I am going with the first presumption.

Motor vehicle manufacturing is a wide field. Actually, the Pathfinder is not built on the Navara chassis, it is the other way round; the Navara is built on a Pathfinder plinth. That is why it is so good and feels very car-like, unlike the other double-cabs, which are dedicated commercial vehicles.

Some time in 2010, I wrote an article in which I argued that our speed limits were outdated and needed refreshing. My argument did not register with anyone.

Although I will admit it was unfair for the canopied pickups to drive by while your open-backed unit got flagged down, I must tell you that the police were unwittingly right: the covered vehicles were actually more aerodynamically stable than the open ones.

That payload area at the back acts as an air scoop at speed, and given the lack of weight over the rear axle, oversteer and extreme yawing will finally get the better of your steering input, and you will crash.

KMI, KEBS, the Transport Ministry, and anybody else concerned should compile a comprehensive list of what qualifies as a car, a light commercial vehicle, and a heavy commercial vehicle.

Anything from a 14-seater matatu to a tiny Maruti van requires reflectors, chevrons, and the “80KPH” sticker, but none of the Noahs/Voxys I see on the road has them. Why? Just because they do not serve as public transport?

Same to the pickups, more so the double-cabs; a good number of Navara and Vigo pickups do not have chevrons, and nobody seems to bother with them.

But try driving an ordinary NP300 or Hilux without them. Some of the SUVs we drive are actually heavier than the buses we (or our maidservants) use home, but the ordinary class E licence is good enough.

Hi,

I own a Toyota Corolla E98 with a 3E, 1469cc carburettor engine that has been leaking oil through one of the valves, but the mechanic insists that there is no problem.

The big blow came when it started mixing oil, fuel, and water. What is the main problem? I am thinking of changing the engine to EFI, so which will be the best for my car?

That aside, I have driven a Honda CRV Mugen and it is an amazing car in terms of comfort and fuel consumption. Which is the best Honda model in terms of comfort, fuel consumption, and maintenance costs?

Philip

That mechanic is a fraudster and knows not his trade. The problem is the valve seal of that particular valve — even an apprentice could tell you that.

The water could be from either a leaking gasket (replace) or one of the water jackets has cracked around the top, in which case a new engine block may be needed. The leaking water then mixes with the leaking oil, which in turn mixes with the intake charge to create the soup you describe there.

That Honda Mugen sounds like a real charmer, where can I find one for review?

Hello Baraza,
I have a question for you about Scania buses, since I use them to travel upcountry.

1. What makes them climb hills so fast (I am usually thrilled and fascinated when a bus shoots up with so much power that makes my whole body suddenly feel heavy and numb).

2. With this power, does it mean it can tackle any hill with varying angles/gradients easily?

3. If it is uses turbo, why does it change its sound when it begins to tackle a slope? The sound is like a continuous hiss and its engine generally does not sound like it is turbocharged.

4. Why do you never talk about nations that are leaders in auto engineering because Scania, which I heard is from Sweden, does not get highlighted and yet they have a good product?

1. Huge turbos and intercoolers boost the engine power and torque, the close-ratio short-geared transmission gives it good pulling power even on mountains, and variable valve timing and EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) improve combustion efficiency, give you lower fuel consumption, and reduce emissions.

Of course the engineers behind the engines are also the world’s best.

2. Err, not just any hill. But most of them, yes. It takes one roughly 15 minutes to go up the western escarpment of the Rift Valley (Salgaa-Mau Summit) in seventh and eighth gears (for the F330).

The Mitsubishis I see belonging to some bus company I will not mention take more than half an hour to cover the same distance, usually in third gear and making a lot of noise in the process.

3. The hissing (and for the old F94 HB, whistling or whining) sound you hear is the turbo spooling up and increasing boost pressure.

4. Sometimes I talk about these nations. Have you not heard me sing the praises of Germany more than once? Sweden is good in trucks — Volvo and Scania. Incidentally, the former bought out the latter from its parent company, Saab-Scania.

Their latest acquisition is Nissan Diesel UD commercial vehicles, so yes, even the UD buses are now relatives of their Scania competitors, by adoption.

Baraza,

Recently, you said that NZEs are a bit treacherous. Does the 1.8cc Toyota Luxel 16-valve VVT-i fall in that group too? If not, why? In terms of stability and reliability at speeds of around 120 km/h, how would you rank Toyota Allion A20, the new shape Premio, the new shape Caldina ZT, the Allex XS180, and the Luxel?

And what are the pros and cons of the 4WD types of the above mentioned cars?

Lastly, what are the pros and cons of having an auto or manual gear box in Toyota models, especially the saloons/sedans?

Fanon

Yes, the Luxel you describe is as treacherous — it is, after all, an NZE 120 (what we call NZE).

The Allion and Premio do not feel much different, but the Premio is smoother and quieter. The Caldina feels most planted (if it has a rear wing). The Luxel feels most dodgy, unsettled, and nervous (this is by comparison, it is not actually as bad as it sounds here), the Allex a little less so.

The pros of having 4WD models: good traction in the wet. The cons: increased weight and complexity of the transmission, hurts economy, and costs more to repair when damaged
Manual or auto?

Boils down to personal preference and proficiency with a clutch pedal. Some like manual transmissions (more control, fewer energy losses) while others prefer automatic (relaxing, any idiot can drive one).

Hi Baraza,

What is your take on the Cherry Tiggo vs the Land Rover vs the infamous Mahindra? There are plans by the Kenya Police to buy almost 800 of these vehicles (the Tiggo), can it withstand a beating like the Land Rover? I think the government is making yet another mistake on this procurement and someone needs to raise the alarm.

Ken

I would rather not delve into the procurement procedures of certain entities, least of all the police.

I know we do not live in the Nyayo era anymore, but I have a certain phobia for a white Land Rover parked outside my house at 2.30am with men in trench coats in my sitting room convincing me that a change in my career path would be most welcome for both the government and myself, or else…

Anyway, the Land Rover is the best of the three. The original police Mahindra is not even worth mentioning. The current Mahindra range’s performance and abilities are yet to be seen in hard use, but they are a damn sight better than the pioneers.

The Scorpio even looks like a Defender (if it is 2.30 in the morning and you have lost your spectacles, maybe to an angry man in a trench coat, and there are tears in your eyes…)

The Tiggo is a blatant RAV4 knock-off, but if other Chinese products are anything to go by, well, do not expect too much from it in terms of long service.

PS: The police thing is a joke, do not take it seriously. Nowadays, they visit people at 5 in the morning, not 2.30am.

Posted on

A 4WD car doesn’t automatically make you an off-road hotshot

Baraza,

I have a Toyota Prado, model KZJ95, which I love as it is a lot of fun to ride in. However, I have two problems which I hope you can help me sort out. The first concerns consumption. The car is a 3.0 diesel and yet it consumes fuel as if crude is going out of fashion. What is the best way to cut down on this consumption?

The second problem is that, during the rainy season, I got stuck in mud in the village because I could not use the 4WD stick. How does this stick work? At what position is it engaged, and when should it be disenganged?

Njagah

You might be expecting too much from a 3.0-litre engine. What consumption figure does it return? If it actually does burn a lot of fuel, then maybe the transfer case is stuck in low.

About getting stuck in mud. The J90 Prado has full-time 4WD, so the transfer case switches between low range and high range. That is not your problem.

You see, putting on a Manchester United jersey and walking into Old Trafford does not make you the last word in professional football; you have to have the skill to go with it.

Most people assume that the presence of 4WD automatically makes them off-road champions. It doesn’t.

Like in football, you have to have the skill to use whatever you have. Not to brag, but I once manoeuvred a Toyota Starlet through the same quagmire that had trapped a Land Rover Discovery and an Isuzu Trooper.

Develop your off-road driving skills if you want to take full advantage of the 4WD system in your car.

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Hi,

Thanks a lot for your invaluable advice. I intend to buy a new single cab pick-up truck for delivery of office supplies and construction equipment and can’t seem to decide on whether to buy a Toyota Hilux, Nissan (any of the various types), Isuzu D-MAX, Ford Ranger or a Foton. Could you help me decide with regard to the following:

1. The maximum carrying capacity of the car.

2. The initial cost of the car and the cost of spare parts.

3. Between a diesel and a petrol engine, which one would be better for the long run since I want to hold onto the car for about five years before selling it?

Lastly, regarding the Toyota Vigo double-cab, what is its load carrying capacity?

When it comes to carrying capacity, the D-MAX or Hilux are massive.

The cheapest to buy is the Chinese knockoff, but cheapest overall (spares and maintenance) I’d put my money on the Nissan Hardbody/NP300.

On the best engine type, I would say petrol. It might cost more to fuel, but petrol engines have longer service intervals and are less prone to structural and mechanical strains.

The robust build of diesel engines may make them long lasting, but not as much as petrol engines.

The Vigo? I thought the discussion was on single cabs! Anyway, it can carry up to one tonne easily.

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Dear Baraza,

You seem not to have a lot of faith in the Nissan make, I wonder why. In 1999, I wanted to buy a Toyota 91, but I did not have the money. Instead I bought a second hand B12 ‘local’.

It faithfully and reliably served me for more than 10 years until, once again, I wanted a Toyota but couldn’t afford one and instead I bought a Wingroad.

The B12 served me well for three reasons: service was after every 3,000 km, and I changed the tyres and tubes and did engine overhauls every three years.

Now, because of what you have been saying here, I am convinced I should get a Subaru Forester non-turbo for climbing the Tugen Hills, which the B12 comfortably accomplished, by the way.

Oh no, it is not that I lack faith in the Nissan brand, it is just that some of its output belongs in the gutter. Like the B14. Or the Micra.

There are some Nissans that do get my blood racing, like the GTR.

The Murano is what I’d pick over rivals like Lexus RX and Subaru Tribeca. And don’t forget the praise I had for the Navara after that showdown in Kajiado last year….

The B12 was one of Nissan’s finest moments, right before it went bankrupt and almost collapsed.

A Renault merger saved it from doom, and it is under Ghosn (post-merger Renault-Nissan CEO) that the cars in the above paragraph were conceived.

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Hi Baraza,

I own 2002 X-Trail GT, petrol, 2000cc turbo and I’ve learnt to accept it’s 9kpl consumption, whether I try to limit my revs under 2000 rpm or not.

I noticed two months ago that when I’m doing speeds of over 110 km/h, its difficult to get to 3500 rpm even if I force it. It’s okay on low speeds though.

I also feel like the gears are taking longer to change. What could be the problem? The check-engine light is on.

Knowing GTs, I’d say check the ignition coil for the reluctance to rev. Run a diagnosis to see what the check-engine light is all about, but my guess is it ties in with the engine’s unwillingness to spin.

As for the gearbox, check the ATF levels; if it is low, top up, but prepare for a major bill soon — you might have to replace it. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

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Dear Baraza,

I intend to buy a car soon and I am kind of unable to decide what to buy from these three makes: Mercedes A-class, Peugeot 206 and VW Golf.

Since cheap is expensive, I am cautiously avoiding Toyotas, Mazdas and Nissans — plus I don’t know why most of them have their side mirrors chained to the door!

I can comfortably fuel an 1800cc engine and below. Kindly advise me on which one to buy, considering performance, durability and maintenance costs.

Martin

Martin, you are yet another Kenyan whose mind is firmly stuck in the bank account.

There are several others like you who are not interested in the ownership experience of a particular car; it all boils down to costs, costs and costs. Anyway, here goes:

Performance: If you choose to go GTi, the 206 GTi is the best of the pack, followed by the Golf.

Just how big the rift between these two is depends on whether it is the MK IV or MK V Golf.

There is no such thing as a Mercedes-Benz A Class GTi. There isn’t an AMG version either, and if a BRABUS A does exist, it will cost about the same as a regular S-Class.

So in performance terms the A-Class is out, unless you are talking about a MK IV Golf GTi, in which case the Golf is out.

Durability: The Golf will last forever. The Peugeot won’t. Somewhere in between lies the little Mercedes.

Maintenance cost: A lot for the Benz. Not so much for the Peugeot. The Golf lies in the middle, leaning towards the Peugeot.

PSST! I also think these Japanese ‘econoboxes’ look ridiculous with their chained mirrors!

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Hi Baraza,

I’m interested in buying a second-hand 4WD mid-size SUV and in mind are the first or second generation Honda CRV, Toyota RAV-4 and Nissan X-Trail.

Please tell me about fuel economy, performance, resale value, spares, other pros and cons — and your preference if it you were in my shoes.

Harry

Fuel economy: Similar across the range for similar engine sizes. The RAV-4 may be a bit thirstier than the rest, but marginally.

Performance: Again, broadly similar across the range. RAV-4 feels quicker than the rest, but the mantle belongs to the VTEC Honda, that is, until you introduce the 280hp X-Trail GT — pretty fast, this, but a friend alleges it will burn through Sh7,000 of premium unleaded petrol between Nairobi and Eldoret if you are not circumspect with the throttle. I believe him.

Resale value: Hard to call. The RAV might depreciate fastest due its steep initial asking price. If you can find a lady buyer, you can fob the CRV off on her at a good quote (women are suckers for these Hondas, apparently).

Second or third owner X-Trails are becoming uncommon; in my circles, the reputation of ephemeral automatic transmissions has really done the X-Trail no favours at all.

Spares: Why do people still ask this and yet week after week I keep saying spares are there for these cars; and if running costs are a source of worry to you then maybe you are not ready to own a car just yet.

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Hi JM,

I am based in Mombasa and I’m really keen on venturing into the business of transporting core building and construction material.

I am, therefore, looking for a 15-20 tonne tipper truck. Please advise on a reliable make seeing as to how, of late, the Chinese seem to be taking over the market but I’m wary of anything Chinese.

Mwashinga

There’s a wide choice here, starting from expensive European trucks like Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volvo, Scania and MAN, through the usual Japanese suspects of Mitsubishi Fuso, UD Trucks (formerly Nissan Diesel, now owned by Volvo) and Isuzu F Series, then finally the “disposable” Chinese products.

The reason Chinese trucks are becoming so popular is that they are dirt cheap. And you can tell why; I had a look at them at a recent motor show and they are rough-and-ready at best, with little investment going into R&D and with some of them simply manufacturing ex-Japanese engines under license.

They are also short-lived, as the reputations of various other Chinese products would attest.

Of the pick, I would go for a Scania P Series, more so the 310hp P94D.

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Hi Baraza,

Help me understand why or how some petrol engines have water dripping from the exhaust while others don’t.

I have heard it said that those dripping water are efficient burners of fuel or have something to do with CCs.

You were lied to. The water you see is the result of condensation from two sources: water vapour in the atmosphere cools within the pipe and is expelled when the engine is running, and water is a by-product (a very small one) of combustion — supercooling (a sharp drop in temperature) also causes condensation.

This phenomenon also explains the contrails you see coming out the back of a jet high up in the sky

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Hi JM,

“BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see.” This is a quote from your column on January 25 this year.

I was perplexed when I read that because in your column on December 14 last year, you heaped lot of praise on BMWs after an inquiry from a reader.

To quote you, “the performance of this car is exactly what you would expect from a BMW; class-leading, quick, handles like magic, fuel consumption is better than these Toyotas that everyone is trying to get into…”. Why the contradiction? Which side of the fence do you sit on?

Furthermore, in a previous article you didn’t heap much praise on the X-Trail, but in your column on January 25, you said you preferred the 2.5 diesel X-Trail auto transmission, how come?

Or is it that as some reader suggested, you are on the payroll of some local dealer? Is that why you are biased towards the East?

Njue

Let me explain it this way: I love apple juice. I also love pineapple juice. I don’t like orange juice. I really don’t like lemon juice. So in a contest of juices, I would go for apple, hands down, and when queried, I will say I am not a fan of lemon juice. With me so far?

Here’s another comparison. “Mr Baraza, what would you rather drink? We have lemon juice, human sweat and camel urine.” I would, of course, be an idiot not to say lemon juice.

That was the case with the X-Trail: I specifically said “in this class I prefer the X-Trail”.

In terms of personal taste, I do not like mini-SUVs, of which the X-Trail is one, but it is what I’d choose over all other mini-SUVs.

This, sir, means I don’t like the X-Trail, as I have said before, but among crossover utilities, it is the least of very many evils.

Onto the BMW. If BMW was called Hummer, who make a wide range of only one car, you could take me to task, but as it is, BMW make very many different cars.

The class-leading ride and handling maestro whose virtues I extolled was the 3-Series. The “unnecessarily expensive” waste of one’s salary was the X3. Still with me?

Here is a brief run down of my thoughts on BMWs.

Good: All M cars, except the X6M. Also 3,5,6 and 7 Series. The X5 is a lesson in German dominance of the manufacturing industry.

Bad: 1 Series, except 1M. X1 and X3 also.

Should never have existed: X6 and X6M.

PS: I know camels pass more of pellets than liquid urine, but you get my point, right?

Posted on

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.