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Manual or automatic, which is more likely to use less fuel?

JM,

I am an ardent reader of your informative column, thank you for the good work. In terms of fuel consumption, which mode of transmission is better — manual or automatic?

What are the other similarities/differences between the two? Steve

 

The short answer here is a manual transmission is better. Or is it? You see, I think things are not as black and white as they may seem.

Once upon a time, automatic transmissions were slapped with massive, heavy torque convertors with no lockup control, while the slush-box itself bore only two or three ratios. Yes, things were that crude. Having only two or three gears means the ratios are very widely spaced and the engine has to reach stratospheric rev levels before shifting upwards to prevent a substantial loss in momentum.

The  (relatively) poorly developed clutches also caused quite some energy wastage through losses in slip and energy expenditure in rotating it. The comparative manual transmissions at least allowed the drivers to choose the ratios themselves, so they could short-shift and thus maintain low engine speeds thereby saving fuel.

Things are different now.

To start with, the skill and deftness of hand needed to row a four-on-the-floor H-pattern manual transmission is becoming the stuff of legend.

I am afraid I may be among the last of a dying breed; the breed of drivers whose abilities extend beyond stabbing the clutch with a toe and wiggling a shifter with a forearm.

Back in the day, everybody knew how to drive a manual, and drive it properly. Now, people with real driving licenses find excuses to occupy the passenger seat when presented with a vehicle sporting three pedals.

The few who man up and step up to the breach then proceed to show a glaring ineptitude at judging the power and torque curves of an engine through erratic shift programmes’ and failure to maintain a smooth flow of motion. Fuel consumption, alongside the clutch mechanism, then suffers.

It’s not all about the driver, though.

The technology itself has also brought the use of electronically controlled friction clutches for use in automatics, or the use of lockup control in torque converters. It has also brought about the manual override, which goes by a variety of names depending on the marque.

The commonest label is “Tiptronic”. Last, but not least, automatic transmissions now come with numerous ratios.

The madness was kicked off by Mercedes when they introduced a 7-speed automatic (with not one, but TWO reverse gears; whatever the hell for, I don’t know); then this was picked up by Lexus and Rolls Royce who bumped it up to eight and as of last year, a very fun trip to the fringes of the Kalahari desert introduced this columnist to a 9-speed automatic transmission in a Range Rover Evoque.

The advantage of these numerous gears is that the vehicle can be driven in a variety of customisable ways: economy, power, smoothness…. you pick a characteristic and the transmission will run with it. The Evoque can trundle around at 1500rpm in ninth gear and not hold up any other traffic.

It can also trundle around at 1500rpm in second gear and be slow enough for the driver to shout out a comprehensive list of insults at passers-by, for whatever reason.

This essentially means the Evoque can be driven everywhere at 1500rpm, leading to outstanding fuel economy. The bigger Range Rover Vogue also got an 8-speed tranny that massively improved reduced its infamous fuel consumption.

There are other instances where automatic transmissions trounce manual. I referenced them earlier in the formative days of this column, but I’ll quickly repeat them here.

Automatics are better for off-roading (they just are) and may be the more appropriate transmission for heavy commercial vehicles (they just are). Given the way some PSVs are driven, I’d say they’d make a case for themselves too in public transport.

The Paji once told me that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X with the twin-clutch SST transmission is an impressive machine. I don’t really believe him; nor do I understand why he would choose to extol the virtues of an automatic 2.0 liter saloon car.

However, now that automatic transmissions have taken over in range-topping hyper cars (you cannot buy a brand new Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren road car with a manual transmission, they don’t exist anymore) and time trial specialists (Nissan GTR, Evo X SST), it may be time to wave goodbye to the pukka three-pedal, H-pattern manual gearbox.

*Fun fact: the ‘Muricans’ don’t give a damn about twin-clutch direct-shift transmissions with or without full lockup control or whatever. The current Corvette C7 can be had either as a proper automatic, or as a 7-speed conventional manual. Yes, a manual gearbox with seven forward speeds, like a truck.

 

Hallo Baraza,

Commercial and passenger service vehicles are required by law to affix at the rear, max speed allowable stickers and twin chevrons that are supposed to reflect when illuminated by a following motor vehicle thus enhancing visibility.

The former serves no purpose, since they are meant to remind the driver his maximum speed, why have them affixed at the rear?

If they are to serve their purpose, have them affixed at the dashboard area where the driver can glance at it and it serves as a reminder as it is meant to.

As for the Chevrons, they have become so substandard that some are just white and red strips with no reflective material.

Why not have reflective strips all along the length of especially trucks?

Moreover, modern vehicles have inbuilt reflectors in their taillights. They (reflectors) serve well in private vehicles and commercial vehicles being imported into the country do not have these chevrons. How is visibility achieved in their countries of origin?

 

The sticker serves no purpose, eh? How about acting as a source of information for foreign drivers unfamiliar to the finer details of our Traffic Act who may be driving behind these commercial vehicles? The sticker informs them that these vehicles are allowed a maximum of 80km/h, so make your decision: tail them and stick to 80 or overtake them if you plan to go faster. It is always better to have an excess of information than a dearth thereof.

As for the reflectors: They’d best be left intact because rescinding the decision to have them in place means EVERYBODY will take them off, including the penny-pinching businessmen with rattletrap, barely legal pickup trucks of fringe roadworthiness. Have you ever encountered an unilluminated cane tractor in the dead of night while at high speed? You will understand why reflectors are important. You will also thank God for disc brakes.

 

 

Hi Baraza,

What are the cons of a turbo charged car? I hear it is costly to repair let alone buy a new one. Can removing the turbo lead to engine problems or loss of power?

Thiga

 

The downside of a turbocharged car lies in costs: buying, maintaining and selling. You will lose money on all three counts. Removing the turbo will of course cause a noticeable drop in power.

 

Whats up JM,

I have a Toyota Corolla E80 purchased in 1985 by my mum and christened “Whitney Houston”.

Five years ago, we had the carburettor engine changed to a 16 VALVE EFI 1.5 cc engine with a 4-speed gear box. Does having a 4-speed gear box affect the car in anyway considering it has an EFI engine?

I like the way people on the highway underestimate Whitney just because its number plate doesn’t have a letter at the end. Once I start revving the engine, those cars see dust. Now that the history lesson is behind, the questions;

1) Would it have been possible to change a VVTi engine? If not, why?

2)We wanted to change the 4-speed gear box to a 5-speed automatic gear box but the mechanic told us it would not be possible? Is it possible to change a manual to an automatic gear?

3) The car starts perfectly in the morning but then in the course of the day develops a hard start. What do you think might be issue?

4) The engine makes a lot of noise, now I am not sure if it is because it is getting old or there is a problem?

5) When I take the car for engine wash it will refuse to start until I jumpstart it. Would you propose I wash the engine or just let it stay dirty?

6) Whitney has on a pair of 12’ inch wheels and I was considering of getting her 14’ inch wheels. What are the ramifications of putting such wheels on a car? Or do we have to do certain adjustments to the car?

7)The back wheels of Whitney are bent inwards and my mechanic told me that she needs to be taken for kember. What is kember?

8) Whitney is a front-wheel drive. I have taken her for numerous wheel alignments but it still gets lost on the road and especially on rough roads. I have replaced all the parts of the front wheel, tie-rods, shocks, springs, bearing and so on. What might be the problem?

9) Insurance companies in Kenya don’t give comprehensive insurance to cars like mine claiming that if the car were to be in an accident, it would be hard to source for parts. Can my car be reconditioned in Kenya? What  does reconditioning mean?

10) Is it true a showroom car has a rear rectangular number plate while a second hand car has a rear square number plate?

11) Finally, I work at a boys club. The boys are crazy about cars and I was hoping maybe you would find time on a Saturday to come and talk to them. I know they would love it. Our email [email protected]

Thanks,

Alvaro

 

Quite a lengthy email.  Also, an interesting one. Whitney Houston, you say? Very interesting.

 

1) In a world where people can replace a tiny melon-sized two-rotor Wankel engine with a leviathan LS2 6.0 litre small-block Chevy V8, I don’t think engine swaps are exactly a problem anymore.

In this case it should be more straightforward seeing how the engine and the car both came from the same company. So, yes, a VVT-i engine would have fitted, provided the engine mounts are compatible with Whitney’s body.

2) It is possible but the involved labour is off-putting. Also you may need to shop for a new ECU(Electronic Control Unit)  or programme the current one to control the automatic gearbox but a) Toyota chips are almost impossible to hack and b) how does one start programming an automatic transmission? It will take years, if at all. The easiest way of doing such a conversion is to get an engine and gearbox combination (such composites are available).

3) I think your plugs could be on the throes of death. Poke around your electrical system: the HT leads, wiring, plugs etc.

4) This depends on what noise it is. An engine at 5,000 rpm will also be “noisy” by default, especially with the bonnet open.

5) I find the lack of lateral thinking in garages and motoring establishments humorous; more so in regard to the engine wash.  Has nobody ever heard of a wet rag? Is the verb “to wipe” so alien to us?

6) Provided the 14” rims fit, there should be no problem at all…

7) It is not “kember”, it is “camber”; and the car is not “taken for camber”, it requires “camber adjustment”. Camber is the offset position of the wheel along the Y axis, — the top of the wheel is not in line with the bottom of the wheel. If the top is offset inwards or the bottom is offset outwards (leading to a knock-kneed stance), it is called negative camber, whereas the opposite (bow-legged stance) is called positive camber. Camber adjustment is part of the wheel alignment process.

8) Now check your bushes. Also, make sure the tyre pressures are equal or close to equal on both sides of the car. Lastly, see 7) above. The misalignment at the rear could have an effect on handling.

9) Reconditioning a car such as yours will depend on how much dedication YOU have.

10) Not necessarily. It just applies to majority of situations but there are several not-so-isolated cases where the converse is true.

11) I’d be happy to give you folks a talk.

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Buy Evoque if you want luxury, and Evo if you want to corner like a rat

Hi,

I drive a Mercedes E240 year 2003 model. Now I want to upgrade to a bigger car. I am thinking of an Audi Q7/Lexus RX/Evoque. I want comfort, luxury, looks, and speed in that order.

I do not expect to go offroad; it just needs to handle potholes and diversions (during road constructions). I live in Kericho and travel to Nairobi and Kisumu twice a month.

Which one would you prefer, and why?

Shah

Hi,

I would buy a Land Rover Discovery with that kind of money and your priorities, but since the Discovery is not on your list, let us just pretend you did not ask me what I would prefer.

Speed: This depends on which engine you have in your car, but I will not even go into details here because:

1. All these cars will top 200 km/h, which I strongly advise against anyway (what for?) and

2. The biggest differences come in acceleration, but again, how many people do you see taking part in a drag race with an Evoque or a Q7 or an RX Lexus? There are SUVs built for that kind of thing (SRT Jeeps, AMG ML Mercs, Porsche Cayenne Turbos, BMW X5M and such).

What is more important is in-gear acceleration, or in pedestrian parlance, overtaking power. The Evoque takes the cake here: With the new nine-speed gearbox (yes, nine) and those clever-clever trick turbos used in both the petrol and diesel versions (plus the Evoque’s lower GVW overall), the Range Rover will go “like a starved rat”, to quote someone.

Luxury goes to the Range Rover. Does it now? The four pillars of luxury are space, light, silence, and comfort. The baby Rangie is quiet (if you drive soberly) and well-lit, especially if you open up the roof: The extended sun-roof opens all the way back, a feat none of these other cars can claim.

Comfort is a 70-30 split affair: The magneto-rheological suspension is optimised more towards handling and response rather than wafting, which is best left to the daddy: The Vogue (also not on your list), but then again, that active suspension does make for a good ride when the going is soft.

Space is where we might have an argument. The Evoque is certainly superior to the Lexus when inside (the spaciousness, whether real or perceived, is certainly not the same), but what of the Q7? It is a bigger car, but do the exterior dimensions reflect on the inside too?

No. The inside of the Q7 may not exactly be a portable toilet — it is actually quite roomy — but some of those interior colours work against that effect. A Q7 with a dark interior feels a bit like being inside a hole, and anybody who has been in a hole will tell you that the roominess of the hole is not the first thing that comes to mind.

Well-built and elegant interior it is, though, one of the best in the world outside of a Bentley. So the Q7 drops back in light and perception of space… and comfort: The ride is a bit hard. Silence also suffers a little (the competition here is very stiff, in the form of a Range Rover and a Lexus, hence the harsh judgement). The Lexus… well, the Lexus is certainly quiet and comfortable, but it is not very roomy, nor is it exceptionally well-lit.

A good car, it is also slain by the same sword that fells the Q7: The third option is just too good. Oh, well….

Looks: This is highly subjective. I have always detested the Q7’s marine appearance (I once called it “The Prince of Whales”), and the Lexus looks really boring and just a little bit aloof, the kind of thing you would expect from someone in IT who earned billions for making an app before they turned 22.

They have not had enough time to fully develop tastes and preferences and priorities and have life experiences like sleeping in jail (or with a streetwalker) but because they are a genius, they come up with something that works really well but lacks sex appeal, passion, and character. It is just there, functional and neat. Exactly like his billion-dollar app. The Evoque, in my eyes, reeks of Victoria Beckham, which in turn brings to mind Victoria’s Secret and I think I need to stop now…. Where is that Discovery?

**************

Dear Baraza,

I hope you have been well. I am torn between the following vehicles and I just cannot make up my mind on which to go for. Please advise on which is the better option between the Mitsubishi Evo 10 and the Subaru N14 WRX STi hatchback in terms of performance (both in six-speed manual transmission).

I have owned Subarus and can confirm that getting parts in not a problem. How about the Evo? Will parts be readily available? Also, what reliability issues should I expect from these cars? Finally, which will cope better with enhancements to boost the horses?

Thanks and regards.

Hello Sir,

Thank you for opening Pandora’s Box yet again. The last time I wrote extensively about the two cars — which people mistook for a consumer report based on a comparison even after I had specifically introduced my writing as not consumer advice, I mean, one car was from 1996, the other from 2004 — I almost got murdered by loyalists of The Blue Oval. I guess it is time I sought protection again… or maybe not.

This time I will answer your queries randomly (on purpose). Evo parts may or may not be readily available. This is mostly determined by what exact parts you want and what your idea of “readily available” is: Over-the-counter? A day’s delay? A month’s delay? Or can they be acquired at all? For a performance car (such as the Evo), a little wait for model-specific parts is not unusual.

Modification/tuning/enhancement of horsepower is a common practice in the world dominated by these two cars, but some characters in Japan, whom I follow with keen interest, claim that these two particular vehicles are not easy to tune.

They seem complicated, and they are, but that has not stopped people from tuning them anyway. The response to increased performance will depend on how the enhancement itself is done, but the fact that the Evo — and not the Subaru — is available with 440hp straight from the factory speaks a lot about the drivetrain and chassis’ receptiveness to extra horsepower. It seems to be better adapted to these power upgrades, or so Mitsubishi Motors would want us to believe.

Then again, those same Japanese that I follow pitted a tuned N14 (or N16, whatever) against a tuned R35 Nissan GTR in one of their hardcore showdowns, and not an Evo… this also tells a lot, seeing how an Evo X had dropped out of contention earlier, tournament-style. For now, I will call a draw and say they are both tunable with exceptional results, but only if done properly.

Discussion of reliability is where I will probably get myself killed. I am not saying that Subies are unreliable (twin turbo Subaru engines are unreliable, but the N14 does not have this).

However, from local observation, STis suffer more turbo and engine failures compared to Evos. And they crash more often — a lot, actually. This could boil down to the driver: Maybe Evo owners are more fastidious in car maintenance and are generally better drivers, or maybe, just maybe, Evos are better cars overall, I cannot say for sure (I need to stay alive long enough to provide next week’s Car Clinic, you know), but statistics say this is so.

And now to the can of worms: Performance. There are few rival cars as evenly matched as these two models. Their engines are of the same capacity, they develop similar power and torque (a kilowatt here and Newton-meter there do not make much difference), both use 4WD powertrains and when raced flat out, they will generally invade each other’s privacy in a battle for supremacy… until you get to a corner.

In stock form, the Evo will gracefully make short work of the turn and keep charging until the driver takes his foot off the accelerator. The Subaru will head for the nearest thicket, or tree, or ditch, or whatever obstacle will inflict the most pain and/or embarrassment on the hapless and helpless driver as the vehicle ignores all instructions to change direction and washes its nose wide in a humiliating, tyre-wasting phenomenon called understeer.

This is where the Blue Oval loyalists come out with their pitchforks and torches, so I have to run now. Goodbye!

*****************

Hello JM,I was pleasantly surprised to read my question to you about the Discovery 2.

Ever since, I have been looking at the Outback, Box Prado, and Toyota Surf (year 2002, 3000TD). I steered clear of the Outback after I found out it does not have protection on its underbelly. Good car all round, though, although on the online forums, there were many complaints. The Box Prado did not have airbags and ABS.

The Surf… many thumbs up online, so I have been taking a second look at it. What is your take on it? I am looking for a comfortable, powerful all-terrain car.

Robert Kyalo.

Hello Kyalo,

Glad I was of help. That is what I go for in this column. Now, the Surf fits the bill of “comfortable, powerful, all-terrain car”.

It is comfortable, at least a lot more comfortable than some SUVs on offer (Land Rover Defender, Toyota Fortuner, to name a few…). It actually feels a bit similar to the Prado, with less body roll on corners and oceanic wallow on undulating surfaces.

It is powerful… in a way, and if the power is not to your liking, it is nothing that a tweak to the turbo (for diesel engines), an addition of an intercooler, or an engine swap will not fix.

And it is all-terrain. It has the full off-road tackling gear: Good ground clearance, 4WD transfer box, low-range gearbox, and locking diffs. It also has airbags and ABS.

The Outback lacks clearance, low range and diff locks (alleviated by use of AWD rather than conventional 4WD), and the Box Prado, which I like very much (70 Series), has no ABS and airbags, as you say (are you very sure about this?) So, Surf it is. Problem solved, if you ask me.

************

Baraza,

With all due respect, you have all your facts wrong on the Toyota Prius. I have, for the third time, read your views on the Hybrid and decided that enough is enough.

You are either misadvised or too ignorant. I have been a driver for the past 26 years and, as you can imagine, have driven quite a number of vehicles, from the Mitsubishi Rosa that was popular on the Eastleigh Route, through to half-gear vehicles, trucks, pick-ups, station wagons, and saloons.

Now, let us get back to the Prius. We Prius lovers feel insulted by your continuous criticism. I have driven a Prius since 2008, when I imported the first-generation NHW11 and I have no regrets whatsoever. I am now driving a 2005 NHW20 and still have the older one.

My sister drives a 2004 NHW20 and I have two friends who drive the same. None has had any problem with the vehicles and their contacts are available, should you wish to clarify anything.

I have yet to drive a used import vehicle of the same capacity that picks and is as fuel-efficient as my Prius and I can challenge you to a drive down to Mombasa (never been more serious) if only to have you set the record straight on the Prius Hybrid (I am willing to fuel both vehicles).

I hope you will be bold enough to publish this and accept my challenge down to the coast. If you will not, please give Prius lovers a break!

Francis

Hello Sir,

I will start off by saying I will give Prius lovers a break, simply because this has been going on for far too long and needs to come to an end.

I also need to clarify a few things, the first being my criticism of the Prius. I have not declared it a mechanical fiend, nor have I called it problematic.

My biggest gripe with this car is that it is over-glorified. It does not live up to its name. Do not believe the hype. You and your friends might drive Prii — I finally confirmed it: Toyota says it is “Prii” and not “Pria” or “Priuses”— with the best of intentions: Saving the planet for capitalists who do not care and who compensate for your good deeds by driving Lamborghinis and pointless SUVs, but that Prius you are so proud of does not save the planet. This much I have repeated several times.

The second problem comes with Prius owners: Self-righteousness. Holier-than-thou.

The salt of the earth, while the rest of us petrolheads are the bane of human existence who should be banished to a world where we will be forced to ride bicycles for the rest of our lives as penitence for taking too much pleasure in big-bore throttle bodies and Stage 2 Supercharger kits.

Owning a Prius was fast-approaching religious fanaticism, the kind of zealotic snobbishness that eventually leads to fundamentalism: “I am right and you are wrong and if you don’t agree with me I have some sticks of dynamite under my shirt that will convince you otherwise”.

Prii are good, but so are other cars. Also, Prii, like other cars, are fallible. The kind of pomp and circumstance that accompanied the vehicle’s entry into this world did nothing but set it up for backlash from the likes of yours truly. If you claim to be a horse, someone will pull down your trousers to confirm it.

The Prius is no horse.

Posted on

Automatic diffs, wipers, transmissions… boy, aren’t we all getting lazy!

Hi JM,

Could you please explain to us this small mystery… Many versatile 4x4s like the (police) Landcruisers have free-spinning front hubs which you must physically get out into the mud to lock before engaging four-wheel drive.

This free-wheeling, we were told long ago, enhances fuel consumption on tarmac by reducing drag on the front diff. But how come SUVs do not have this feature and one can engage various 4×4 modes from the comfort of one’s leather seat?

Maddo, “Car Clinic fan”

Greetings, cartoonist,

It has been a while since I heard from you. The first part of your query is true: Front-axle free-wheeling does save on consumption by reducing drag and/or rolling resistance occasioned by heavy transmission. It also makes the car easier to turn and reduces wear on the running gear during these turning manoeuvres.

The reason modern (and expensive) SUVs do not have this feature is convenience. In an era where you can get massaged by your own car, doors unlock themselves, wipers activate themselves, as do headlamps and tailgates when needed, the cost of cars shoot skywards.

Premium brands such as the Landcruiser VX and the Range Rover in all its three forms are bought by individuals who live a pampered life and do off-roading out of boredom or curiosity rather than necessity.

When this highly pampered person gets mired in the clag during his weekend adventures, he will not ruin his expensive shoes wallowing through swamp mud to engage the hub locks on his highly engineered front axle. Why go through all that and yet you could just press a button on the dashboard and the car will think things out for you…

I know this is a motoring column, but please allow me to do a bit of social commentary. Society is getting lazier and more reliant on assistance from machines. This explains the imminent death of manual transmission, the existence of smart phones, and the proliferation of the internet.

You could choose to cut costs as a manufacturer and do a basic vehicle like the police Landcruisers, then sell them cheaply. Cheap always sells… well, almost.

But your competitor will add conveniences to his car and sell it at a slightly higher price. Humanity will pay that little bit extra if it makes life easier. That also explains why manual winding windows are nearly extinct. To stay competitive, you have to shape up by adding even more convenience. This is also why power-steering systems are now standard. You can see where this is going.

Even if you do not live a highly pampered life and you do drive in bad conditions as a necessity, which would you rather have? A car that necessitates you stepping out into the rain and sinking knee-deep in malodorous quagmire to turn knobs on the front axle or one where you simply press a button, unseen mechanicals mesh and mate quietly beneath you, and suddenly your mode of transport acquires the surefootedness of a mountain goat escaping a determined predator?

Convenience by automation due to market — and social — pressure. That is the answer to your question.

********************

Dr Magari,

I was reading your article on 26 March, 2014, and you described your Mazda Demio as quite the car. Personally, I have always thought it is like a pitbull; tiny but will chomp your behind off without you even realising it, hence my love for it. As a professional “job-seeker”, I love to dream of the time I will get mine before moving on up to STi’s then M5s. So, on to my questions,

1) Did your Demio (I would like to know the year and make) come stock as you described it or did you mod it slightly?

2) How would you compare similar cars in its class in terms of performance and availability in our market?

3) Totally unrelated: What do you think of setting up a drag strip à la Kiambu Ring locally… possible locations? Cost? Licences? Appeal?
Jake

Hi,

1. The car is dead stock. The only mod it has is me behind the wheel. All that I described, namely the alloy rims, body kit, spoiler… It is all factory-spec. However, this will not stop me from experimenting with it once the money comes right…

2. Well, the Demio is a bit revvy: 3000 rpm in 5th at 100 km/h. Compare this to the automatic iST, which is essentially ticking over at slightly below 2,500 rpm at roughly the same speed.

It has very good torque too; I sometimes get wheelspin in second gear, or even third, when the road is wet — the key word here is sometimes. This is a Mazda, not a Corvette. It is pretty quick too, for a 1300; I have wound it up to the giddy side of 175 km/h but I will not say where and when lest a keen traffic officer lay a trap for me. This is not saying much since a lot of hatchbacks/superminis nowadays will do 180, but I doubt they will get there as quickly as the Demio Sport (with a manual gearbox) does, more so if they, too, are of 1300cc engine capacity.

Availability: There are very many Demios around, and this includes the Sport version, the likes of which I now drive. Getting one with a manual gearbox, however, calls for real connoisseurship and keenness in searching. You might have to do a DIY import if you are very particular. There is also the “new shape”coming soon (where soon is in a few years’ time) as a used car.

It looks too much like the current effeminate Vitz and might not be available with a manual transmission, so grab this model while you still can. Similar cars would be maybe the Vitz RS (sprightly and unsightly) or a Mitsubishi Colt at a stretch.

3. I think that is a good idea. A very good one. Given the kind of driving mettle I have seen among Kenyans when taking corners, they are better off going in a straight line. The major reason we have only one vehicle on the road at a time during “Kiamburing” is that not everybody knows what to do when you get to a turn and either a) there is a slowpoke in front of you or b) You are the slowpoke and The Paji is tailgating you, looking to pass.

There is such a thing as track decorum and a) we do not have the time to teach it to everybody and b) some people will ignore it anyway. The result would be disastrous and expensive.

So, one person at a time. That way, if you also crash, you will be on your own; you will not take someone out with you. With a drag strip, we could have two, or maybe even three, cars facing off at the same time with no risk of an unplanned coming together.

The tension quotient goes up, along with entertainment value, participant rivalry, and emotions, which should make for good entertainment for those watching. If you know of a disused airstrip with a serviceable tarmac runway, by all means let us know; it would be a good place to start…

********************

Hi Baraza,

I am an addict (yes, addict) of your Wednesday articles in the Daily Nation. I have been going through them for a very long time now and I have also filed the pages and really appreciate your work.

Now, I got employed two years ago by a private company in Nairobi. My boss says it is time I got myself a car because of the nature of my work and the hurdles I go through trying to use our limited company transport.

My company pays out mileage at the rate of Sh40/km. I have about Sh 1 million in savings and would like to get a car I love: The BMW 318i or 320i. I know I can get either of these second-hand at about Sh800,000.

However, my concern is that most people I talk to are talking me off getting this machine. I know I am a very careful driver and I love my electronics/machines. I have kept my Nintendo game in working condition to date.

Kindly advise on the merits and demerits of this car, including fuel consumption and servicing and overall maintenance cost.

Omega

Hi Omega,

How old is that Nintendo game of yours? You might maintain a gaming console for a long time, but maintaining a car is a different kettle of fish. The principles are the same but execution is different: House-bound electronics do not drive through puddles or over bumps or on dusty roads or get filled with fuel of indeterminate provenance. There is a lot to watch out for when maintaining a car.

So, merits and demerits. The merits are: BMWs make good driver’s cars, so you will enjoy driving it. The 318 and/or 320 have relatively small engines, so fuel economy will not scare you.

But again, these engines are highly developed with enough under-bonnet boffinry to make them quick enough when the situation demands it. Comfort is at a high level, as are NVH, handling, braking, looks and, do not forget: This is a German marque that comes with its own thick shroud of street-cred.

The demerits are this is a high-end German marque, so expect high-end German invoices when the undesirable happens. Repairs will be costly, as will be parts. This is particularly worrisome, because a Sh800,000 3 Series will more likely than not be in a less-than-factory condition.

*****************************

Hi,

I will not start by paying you compliments like other readers. I am not a fan of soaps. All these questions your readers ask about fuel economy, availability of spares, maintenance cost, and so on really suck the life out of your column.

For the first time in years, I picked up a copy of the DN2 (the one about the Hiace vs the Caravan), and could not finish it.

It was (and I can hardly believe this), boring! I remember back when it was called Behind The Wheel, you used to preach how it was not about spare part availability or fuel economy, but rather, about the driving feel and pleasure you get behind the wheel (see what I did there? ) How hard it is to wipe that grin off your face when you shift down, give it the beans, and feel like The Stig… on heat.

I used to live vicariously through your experiences you know, because I did not, and still do not, own a car. Now it is just gone.

Allan

Well, well, well! We cannot allow this to happen now, can we? You actually did not finish reading that piece? It must have been really bad.

I know all the questions about spares, economy, and maintenance get really old really fast, but it is not entirely my doing. The reading culture is almost dead: The longest articles young people read nowadays are Facebook posts by celebrities who are not celebrities.

Nobody appreciates the entertainment value of witty wordplay anymore, so all my attempts at humour, alliteration, consonance, metaphors, and hyperbole blow ineffectively past their eyes and ears like the Harmattan would a covered Fulani tribesman’s head. Worse still is when some people take things literally or out of context – “…the silly Prius…” on April 9 actually drew an emotional response from quite a number of people, one of whom wrote, “How can a car be silly? Then tell me of a clever car…” This is what I have to deal with every week.

Demand: This is what drives Car Clinic, not the quality of writing or whatever obscure motoring facts I might have hidden away in the dark corners of my mind. I could do a proper article then along comes someone saying “We are not interested in your personal adventures, fool, we want to read about spares and economy and maintenance.”

Good examples are my experience on a go-kart, the Old Evolution vs New Impreza showdown, and the 2013 Range Rover Vogue review. Intellectual discourse, along with the appreciation of an intricately woven word scarf, is also dead, which is why I rarely discuss industry matters any more. Nobody is interested. What is a man to do? Man must live. If I do not do it, someone else will.

I, too, am getting sick and tired of comparing Foresters to RAV4s, CRVs and X-Trails week in, week out. I have answered this particular question in one form or other more than 10 times now, it is as if people do not read what I write and keep asking the same questions over and over again.

The advice I give, however questionable it may seem at times, is free (for now), but this does not make Car Clinic an avenue of convenience or a personalised service. Some people need to learn that.

However, all is not lost. I am still active in the road test world; all I have to do is find other outlets for my lengthy writings. And find them I will.

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Why do you ‘hate’ the Range Rover Sport?

Hi Baraza,

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

Ngari.

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

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

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

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

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Shopping for an SUV . . .

Jambo Baraza,

Thanks for your informative column. On June 12, 2013, you wrote a piece about SUVs that was quite interesting. I am shopping for an SUV and will appreciate if you could split the Petrol versions of the Toyota Landcruiser VX, Range Rover Vouge, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo CX90 along the following lines: durability, build quality, comfort, luxury, performance, versatility (not too extreme ‘off-load’ adventures), safety standards and resale value.

On tarmac alone, which one would you endorse? Why do Kenyans seems to shy away from the Cayenne and the CX90? Both seem to me as equally good and serious machines. Kindly give your overall rating.

Eric.

These are the results in order of merit. To the left are the superior vehicles, then things get steadily worse down the list:
Durability: Landcruiser VX. Then we have a sizeable gap before we come to the Porsche, then the Volvo. Last is the Range Rover, but this one is hard to tell because, except the VX, all these others have had new versions come out recently, so time has not passed enough to tell who will fall by the wayside. That list is purely based on former models.

Build Quality: The Germans rule. Porsche leads the pack. Then the 2013 Range Rover (L405), which might not make much of a difference because the L322 was also very well built. The VX 200 is third and the Volvo last.

Comfort/Luxury: L405 Range Rover runs this, both in comfort and luxury. The Cayenne is more luxurious than comfortable. The Volvo is more comfortable than luxurious. The VX is a little less of both, unless you opt for the Lexus LX 570 version of this car, which pushes it all the way up to second place from last.

Performance: That Porsche is a killer, if you opt for the Turbo S model. Then comes the Range Rover Supercharged. Then maybe the V8 Volvo XC90, owing to its lower weight, smaller size and road-optimised suspension gubbins, pushing the VX into last position.

Versatility: Nothing beats the VX in terms of versatility, but you specified “not too extreme off-load adventures” (should be off-road, I guess, but then again maybe you did mean off-load, as in sans-luggage). In that case, maybe the XC90 wins it here owing to its seating capacity. The VX has more perches, yes, but there are places where it would look, well, out of place. Like at an inner city party for the well-off. It looks too rugged and too off-roadish. The rest would work too in almost any situation, but the Volvo has more seats

Safety standards: Volvos are the kings of safe. The VX would be most unsafe because it does not use a monocoque chassis like the others, and it is too tall, making it very easy to tip over.

Resale value: The VX retains most of its value over the years. The rest are a tough call to make, but of the lot, the Porsche loses most of its value over the years.

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

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Thanks,

Albert.

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

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

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

**********

Hi Baraza,

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

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

Thank you.

Regards,

Aryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

Kefa Marendi.

Hi,

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

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

**********

Hi Baraza,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this the recommended price? Please advise.

Gilbert

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

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

**********

Hello Baraza,

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

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

Eric S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports utility

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

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

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

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

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

I fear I may have digressed again…

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

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

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Range Rover Sport borrowed from Defender 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Motoring news this year

The Sky Has Finally Fallen

It is all doom and gloom along Lusaka Road as CMC Motors woke up to the shocking news that Jaguar Land Rover is no more.

No, the Indian-owned British corporation has not closed shop, but as far as CMC Motors are concerned, Jaguar and Land Rover cars may as well not exist beginning February 2013, if the world does not end in two week’s time.

CMC’s contract expires then (Feb), and it will NOT be renewed. I bet some individuals there wish the world would end this month, after all….

In a statement released to members of the motoring press all over Africa, one Willem Schoeman of JLR SSA (Jaguar Land Rover Sub Sahara Africa) made it clear that JLR as a company has high hopes for Kenya; only these hopes are tied to another company; one that few people have heard of: RMA.

It was not so much we don’t want CMC as it was we want RMA. These sentiments were echoed within the Tweet-verse and the blogosphere, the difference being that while JLR’s statement was more pro-RMA than anti-CMC, Internet opinions were the other way round.

“It has been a long time coming…” one of my Twitter followers chirped. “It is about time…” piped another. “Good riddance…” said a third. Hard times, these.

“Jaguar Land Rover is pleased to announce the appointment of a new partner in Kenya, the RMA Group,” thus quoth Herr Schoeman.

If a lady announces she is pleased to have a new boyfriend, more often than not that means the incumbent/outgoing squeeze was not up to scratch and was therefore relieved of his duties. I don’t know if this also applies in the corporate world.

“The RMA Group brings a broad range of expertise and experience in the… industry… with the (JLR) brand, which they currently represent in other global markets.”

( My new boyfriend is an accomplished lover and is way cooler; and all his old girlfriends still have the hots for him). These are not very encouraging words to be reading when one is being replaced: whether as a boyfriend or as a franchise holder.

On a more serious note: this is not a time to celebrate for the motoring giant (CMC, I mean, not JLR). JLR is on a roll, releasing new products faster than we can write about them, and now is not the time for anybody to fall off their wagon.

The 2013 Vogue has been received with rave reviews and plenty of excitement worldwide. There are updates for the two Jag saloons: the XF and the XJ.

There was the Discovery 4, and the Evoque not too long ago, the Freelander has just received its 2013 model year refresh, there will be an all-new Defender in the not too distant future, the long awaited Jaguar F Type is slotted for release next year, there should be an all-new Range Rover Sport somewhere within sight also….

Now is really not the time to get oneself fired, in a Trump-esque, Apprentice-style send-off.

You may have noticed that the word “surprise” does not appear anywhere in the preceding writing. This is because whispers and hints of the looming break-up reared their unseen heads as far back as September.

Back then, the grapevine had it that, first, CMC and RMA were to share the franchise, with RMA being primary importer. Then it became a contest as the two vied and jousted for the new contract (still on the grapevine, and thus unverifiable). Now word from Mzanzi is that CMC will not be selling JLR products much longer. This much is verifiable.

What Herr Schoeman’s missive doesn’t explain is exactly why CMC Motors have been kicked to the kerb in favour of RMA. The signs were there though: scandals – 1. the head honcho earning a bigger salary than the entire company’s profits, 2. his replacement being on the receiving end of some dirty, underhand maneuvers in an attempt to keep him and his whistle (which he blew very hard) away, 3. the disappearance of (of all things) an ex-President’s Range Rover car…

This, by the way, had been nearly forgotten until the vehicle surfaced several years later (a few weeks ago) in the hands of yet another high-profile individual, blowing the case wide open again.

An insider also confessed to yours truly that they were unable to move units in sufficient numbers, so the company depended heavily on maintenance and service of Range Rovers for the department to make money. Clearly all has not been rosy at the country’s biggest motoring franchise for a while.

It was good while it lasted, CMC Motors. Hold your heads up and work towards a brighter future. RMA: you have your work cut out.

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2013 Freelander

Still on matters Land Rover: The Freelander 2 has been updated for the 2013 model year. Cosmetic surgery has been done to great effect so that the new car looks much better than the outgoing one.

Not that the predecessor was ugly to start with, but it takes fresh input to put things in perspective, and the perspective is that the Freelander Two-And-A-Half is out in full force to threaten the competition which had been catching up.

Freelander 2.5, you ask? Well, yes. The changes are not just skin-deep. New engines and new transmissions appear too. The Evoque’s engines to be exact: the 2.0 litre petrol Si4, the 2.2 litre diesel SD4 (which we will get, good for 140kW/182bhp) and the 2.2 diesel TD4 (110kW/143bhp, which we will not get, and is also not found on the Evoque).

All are turbocharged 4-cylinder units: the 3.2 litre V6 is no more (boo!). The engines come attached to a 6-speed automatic gearbox with Tiptronic override. A new body, new engines and new transmissions: that sounds like a whole new car to me, but JLR says its is not the Freelander 3, so Freelander 2.5 I will call it.

The car is semi-skilled off-road (not that many of you will be driving it on cliff faces or underwater anyway), it is fine on road, with a floaty feel from the steering at speed.

In an odd turn of circumstances, the petrol engine is ok, you could even call it a bit special, but the diesel is a mite underwhelming in performance and response.

Weird, considering how diesel versions of a car are usually made to outshine the petrol version in order to boost sales. Couple this to a dim-witted automatic and it is easy to see which spec will win hearts: the petrol version, which you will most likely drive in Tiptronic mode 85 per cent of the time.

Expect the car to cost anything from Sh5 million upwards once it hits the showrooms next year.

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Nissan Qashqai

The-Nissan-with-a-name-that-cannot-be-pronounced has just been “launched”. This is despite its making an appearance in several local shows and displays, including DT Dobie’s own previous other-vehicle launches.

Quite a launch this particular one was though, featuring well-heeled senior corporate suits, finger food, fruit juice, paint guns and graffiti. I don’t know what effect DT Dobie was going for with this ensemble.

The Qash-and-Qarry continues Nissan’s recent tradition of unleashing slightly underpowered vehicles on an unsuspecting public (Tiida, Almera). 136bhp and 20kg.m are nothing to write home about, especially for a Kluger-sized car; when a mid 2000’s Honda Civic Type R hatchback has better outputs.

To sum up the irony, DT Dobie used words like “dynamic” and “distinguished” when they introduced the already familiar motor show prop. Interestingly enough, a sizeable portion of my Internet disciples detest this car.

The Nissan Qwerty can be had with 2WD or 4WD. It can be had with 5 or 7 seats. It can be had in black, or silver, and maybe in some other colours too. But there is no escaping from the 136bhp 2.0 litre “powerplant”. DT Dobie also says they sold out their initial stock, which took an entire year to accumulate.

Methinks either they are taking liberty with facts or that “stock” consisted of only three cars, because I kid you not: I have not seen a single Cash-Guy on the road. Maybe I’ve been driving on all the wrong roads….

The Nissan Quash-Key costs Sh3.6 million (more, if you spec it up). If and when I do a review on it, we will decide whether this Qar will be a Qlever Investment or a Nissan Waste-of-Qash.

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F30 BMW 3 Series

Another new vehicle release (in Kenya, at least) is that of the F30 BMW 3 Series. The front looks shark-like, which means it looks like the former 6 Series. The rear looks like just like it did on the outgoing car. I have not driven it yet, so for now that is that.

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Okay guys, let’s take these little 4X4s off the tarmac

Hi Baraza,
Congratulations for the excellent job you’re doing. I have two questions:
1. Please give a critical analysis of the following high-end 4X4s: Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery, Audi Q7, BMW X6, Porshe Cayenne, VW Touareg and Mercedes M-class and G-Class.

Comment on performance on and off road, intelligence, comfort, safety, longevity and fuel consumption, and which of these you woul go for.

2. Please advice us on the precautions we should take to ensure we don’t get conned when importing a car and when buying a locally used one.

Thanks,

Sam.

1. On-Road Performance: The Porsche Cayenne is untouchable, especially as a Turbo or Turbo S. The rest would only attempt at catching up in their high performance variants, and the pecking order is like this, starting from second place (after the Porsche): BMW X6 M, Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG, Range Rover Vogue Supercharged — if there was a Range Rover Sport in this list, the Sport Supercharged would be No 2 after the Cayenne —, Audi Q7 V12 TDI, VW Touareg V10 TDI, Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG and finally the Land Rover Discovery V8. This list combines both handling and speed. For speed only, the Q7 would be No 3 and the G63 No 4.

Off-Road Performance: The Mercedes G Class is hard-core, closely followed by the Range Rover and the Land Rover Discovery. The Touareg and the Cayenne tie in 4th place (same chassis anyway), followed by the ML Benz.

The Q7 is second last, which would seem strange given the fact that it shares a platform with the Cayenne and the Touareg, but it has a much longer wheel-base and is a lot heavier; and the Quattro drivetrain is slow-thinking, so it cannot quite match up to the other two. Stone dead last is the X6, which is a fashion statement and should be treated as such.

Intelligence: I don’t know what you mean by “intelligence”, but these are all European cars, and they all pack some elaborate forms of cleverness under their bonnets, in their chasses and in their drivetrains.

The vote on engine development would go to the X6, especially the 3.0 litre turbodiesel. Drivetrain and chassis configuration: I’d say the Land Rover Discovery: double chassis, both monocoque and separate, air suspension, Hill Descent Control and the Terrain Response System. All these in one car. None of the others can boast such a feat.

Comfort: It’s no secret: the grandfather of all SUVs, the Range Rover Vogue, with air-suspension, set in Comfort mode, not Sport or Off-road setting. The rest fall into place one way or the other, if they have available air suspension. Some don’t, like the Cayenne. The G Class could be the least comfortable here.

Safety: These are the Euro-NCAP ratings for these vehicles according to the last model tested. Decide for yourself which is which.

Longevity: This depends on how you treat them and where you drive them (and how you drive them where you drive them). The G Class is like a hard rock that will not wear out. The Range Rover’s past history plays against it.

Consumption: If this is the class of cars in which you are looking for your next purchase, don’t ask this question.

But anyway: the diesel versions of these cars will give very good mileage, between 7 and 11 kpl, except the Cayenne diesel (and Touareg) which will still swill till you go shrill. The Q7 6.0 V12 TDI is another case altogether, I’d rather not even talk about it.

The petrol versions of these cars, on the other hand, will bankrupt you faster than those Campus Divas For Rich Men that you see on Facebook. Expect mileages in the region of 4-5 kpl. Worst culprits are the Cayenne Turbo and ML63 (see the rest of the list in the “On-road Performance” section)

The car I’d go for? The Gelandewagen, the Mercedes-Benz G Class, or G Wagon in hip-hop-speak. It looks the part, and in black, with black rims, the G63 AMG’s looks and sounds will ensure nosy neighbours never visit — and they will always lock up their daughte’s whenever they hear Germany’s rudest V8 rumbling into the compound. Class.

2. I did an article on this subject some time back, and it was plagiarised on so many Internet sites that finding it is not hard. Just search “How To Buy A Used Car”… or something like that.

Dear Baraza

I own an old manual Toyota Corolla stationwagon which I am planning to dispose of and buy a newer car. Kindly let me know the advantages and disadvantages of manual and automatic gearboxes before I make my choice.

I want to buy either a Toyota Corolla, a Subaru Legacy or a Subaru Impreza, but I’m yet to figure out the advantages each has over the other in terms of fuel consumption, reliability and performance.

Regards,

Muthoni

Manual transmissions tend to offer marginally better performance and fuel economy, while automatic cars are easier to drive… almost too easy.

Economy and maintenance (and performance) are broadly similar for the Corolla and Impreza (both of 1,500cc). The Legacy performs better than these two but will use more fuel per kilometer and might cost more to keep on the road.

Hello Baraza,

I recently acquired a Toyota Hilux 2007 model fitted with a Toyota 5L 3,000cc engine.

1. What are the pros and cons of this engine?

2. Being new to diesel engines, is this an EFI variant?

3. How does it compare to the Toyota 3L engine in terms of performance and fuel consumption?

4. Would it be wise to change to a smaller engine once the pros and cons are taken into account?

Regards,

Benjamin.

1. Good economy and reliability. Poor output compared to rivals of similar capacity.

2. Yes.

3. The 5L is of bigger capacity (2,986cc) compared to the 3L (2,779cc). It has better power (97 bhp @ 4,000 rpm versus 91 bhp @ 4,000 rpm) and torque (191 Nm @ 2,400 rpm versus 188 Nm @ 2,400 rpm). The fuel consumption depends on use, but the 3L is easier on the drink.

4. Yes. Like the 3L for instance. The differences in outputs (6 bhp and 3 Nm) don’t validate the difference in engine capacity (207cc).

Hi Baraza,
Many thanks for enlightening us through your insightful articles. I enjoy reading them every Wednesday and I have picked loads of tips. Now to my questions: In your experience, what are the common causes of turbo failure and how do you deal with the turbo once it fails? Does it require special care to keep it going?

Kind regards,

Daniel Makau.

Thank you Mr Makau. The common causes of turbo failure are poor lubrication and heat dumping (which is, in a way, the result of poor lubrication). The poor lubrication can either be by using the wrong grade of oil, having low oil levels or thrashing a turbocharged engine as soon as the key is turned.

When a turbocharged engine is cranked, it is advisable to wait for 2-5 minutes (depending on size of the engine and the turbocharger) for the oil to flow around the turbo shaft and into the bearings, and for oil pressure to build up before revving up the engine.

I am sure I do not need to explain the benefits of lubrication whenever metal parts are rubbing together, and in a turbocharger, these benefits are of paramount importance. Turbocharger vanes can sometimes spool at speeds of up to 25,000 rpm. That oil is important.

Heat dumping occurs when a turbocharged engine is turned off immediately after coming to a stop, more so after a period of continuous hard use.

An example is of a bus with a turbo engine charging hard from Nairobi to Mtito Andei before stopping. If the driver feels he must turn off the engine, he should wait, again 2-5 minutes (depending on time period and severity of usage of the engine) before killing the switch.

If the engine is turned off immediately, the oil pump stops working, so oil pressure drops. Poor lubrication. Another thing is that the turbocharger is still spinning at a very high rate, so without lubrication, you can see where the problem lies.

With these high rotation speeds comes heat. The oil that lubricates the turbo also serves to cool it. When the oil stops circulating, all the heat in the turbo is dumped into whatever little oil was left there, and this extreme heat causes something called coking in the oil, where the oil breaks down. Again, poor lubrication.

The 2-5 minute spool-down period thus allows the turbo to slow down and cool a bit before being starved of oil when the engine goes off.

Heat dumping not only damages the oil, but also the turbo itself. On one end of a turbocharger is the impeller, which feeds cold air into the engine.

The other end is the turbine, which is driven by extremely hot exhaust gases. The temperature differential between these two fans is very large, and their only connection is the shaft in between, which bears the brunt of the disparity in heat levels.

With the engine turned off suddenly, heat dumping occurs (rapid drop in temperature), and this sudden loss of heat can cause warping and lead to brittleness of components, which then break. This is the biggest (and costliest) issue with turbochargers.

The best way to deal with turbo failure is to replace the turbocharger unit. Some units are so complex, such as those equipped with variable geometry turbochargers, that opening them up to replace singular components might not be a wise proposition.

Turbos require extra care. Lubrication is of paramount importance. Proper oil grade and levels for the turbocharger, and sober driving techniques are the best palliatives against failure.

Also, let the engine idle a little before applying load on it; and after driving it, give it time to cool down before turning it off. Some cars are fitted with turbo timers which can do the latter for you if sitting in a car for five minutes doing nothing is not your cup of tea.

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for the good work. I own a Volkswagen Golf FSI 1600 CC, year 2006. When I start the engine, it roars very hard for a few seconds then runs quietly.

I have owned a Nissan and a Toyota but have never experienced such noise on cranking. The golf is ‘new’ and I’m the first owner In Kenya. Is this normal? Also, the stated speed of the car online is 197KPH yet my car has the top speed reading 260KPH, is this a fallacy by the manufactures?

Victor Otieno.

The roar could be an excess of fuel being fed into the engine on cranking to prevent hard starts. I am not sure if it is normal. What does CMC say? The speedometer reading is not a fallacy.

The manufacturers tend to use generic speedometers in a lot of their cars. Just because the speedometer has 260 km/h written on the bottom right corner does not mean that car will clock 260 km/h. Have a look at the Premios (first gen) that came in from Singapore. Their speedos also read 260, but that car can barely crack 210.

Hello Baraza

Sir, Toyota is to recall seven million vehicles due to possibly over-heating electric window switches. The recall is for vehicles sold in US, Asia and Europe.

My question is, how would someone in Kenya who drives an import from UK, Malaysia, Japan etc, find out if their car is on the recall list?

Second point: I was told by a Nissan executive that the best source of second-hand Nissans is the UK because the roads there are rough compared to other RHD countries.

UK cars therefore have tougher suspension and reinforced floorpan and suspension points. I drove a UK-built Almeira here for a while and the ride was firm! Your view?

Tony Gee.

To find out if your car is or has been on a recall list (and was actually recalled) is as simple as visiting either the manufacturer’s website or the NHTSA website. There you will find a list of VINs of affected vehicles. Compare it to your own VIN and see if your car is “hot”.

The second point may be true, but remember: UK also salts its roads in winter, and we know salt + water + air =…..?

Rust.

Especially brake discs/drums, wheel hubs, steering arms, etc.

Hello,

I drive a 2005 Volkswagen Golf fitted with an automatic gearbox. The car drives well but has two problems;

1 It jerks when shifting, especially the low gears (1, 2 and 3). A mechanic advised me to change the ATF oil but it didn’t help. Another mechanic told me to change the gearbox but it’s a very expensive affair. What could be the problem?

2. There is a noise on the right front side, at the suspension area, especially when on a rough road. The shocks are new but the whole assembly seems to have a problem. Those are the two issues making me not enjoy the this German technology.

Next time a mechanic tells you to do something as expensive as changing an entire gearbox, ask to explain what exactly is wrong with it and why there aren’t any cheaper alternatives. I have noticed that sometimes these people say things just for the sake of saying. Anyway, here goes:

1 When you changed the ATF, did you fill it up to the correct level? Did you flush the system first before filling in the new fluid? Did you buy a poor brand? Also, check for a leak.

Your ATF could be leaving the car without your notice. Other theories are a clogged filter preventing your transmission from working properly, or a malfunctioning pump and/or a problem with the Line Pressure Solenoid (ask your mech if he knows what this is).

You may not have to buy a new transmission, but if the problem is pressure, cleaning the valve body at the top of the gearbox might solve the issue (sometimes dirt causes the valves to stick and this causes the Line Pressure Solenoid to “malfunction” due to wrong pressure readings).

2. What does that noise sound like? Maybe your new suspension has not had time to bed in, or the fitting was done unprofessionally and there is a bit of play between components.

Hello Baraza,

Thanks for your highly informative articles. I have a Toyota Caldina, new shape. The car runs perfectly, but there is normally a “rotten egg” smell coming from the engine when I drive fast.

I suspected the battery could be the problem and I went to Chloride Exide who recommended an N40 battery but the problem still persists. Please advise me on what to do.
Paul.

The “rotten egg” smell is a characteristic of hydrogen sulphide gas (goes by other strange names such as dihydrogen monosulfide, dihydrogen sulfide, sewer gas, stink damp, sulfane sulfurated hydrogen, sulfureted hydrogen, sulfuretted hydrogen, sulfur hydride…).

From the little chemistry I know, stink damp can be produced when hydrogen gas (common lead-acid battery/accumulator by-product) reacts with molten sulphur.

The sulphur could be from the sulphuric acid used in that same accumulator. Even more worrying is that in that chemical equation, the hydrogen gas could be replaced by a hydrocarbon.

In an automotive engine, the most common hydrocarbon is petrol, though this is a stretch, I don’t see how petrol can reach the battery without human intervention.

The whole process could be cyclic. Sewer gas and oxygen react to form sulphur dioxide and water. In high temperature environments (car engine? I don’t know), the sulphur dioxide and more “rotten eggs” react to create sulphur and water (the Claus Process), and this is probably where the sulphur originated from to create the hydrogen sulphide.

As you can see, this is a self-generating menace right there, because, aside from the bad smell, stink damp is highly explosive.

Anyway, enough of the Chemistry. Why this occurs only when you drive at speed is what is important, and for that I have no answer. It could be something to do with the charging system.

Is the battery being overcharged at high rpm? Maybe. The electrical charging current could be creating undesired electrolysis (the accumulator, is after all, a voltaic /electrolytic cell)

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The baby Range Rover: An understated pleasure

I was going to start off this article making analogies involving fashion accessories — about how they are high on looks and low on practicality — and I also intended to talk about the unwise move of deploying the pop star wife of a football legend in the automotive world to influence the end product of what, we have to admit, is the most profound Land Rover vehicle ever since Charles Spencer King installed a Chrysler V8 into the very first Range Rover car.

I even thought of touching on the defining characteristics of one Judas Iscariot, a man for whom the word “loyalty” was Roman to his Jewish “sell-out”.

Basically, I was not planning on being kind to the Evoque, the latest and most controversial Range Rover car, ever. Here is why.

Range Rovers have been typified over the years by several key ingredients. They are tall, massive, seat five (or more), have full-time 4WD, and contain six or more cylinders in their engines.

They were also thirsty, most of the time. The Evoque is none of these. Range Rovers have also been manly cars and the manifestation of an engineer’s passion.

This one, the Evoque, was designed by a woman, not even an “engineeress”, so to speak, but a diva from the now-defunct British girl band called the Spice Girls.

It is like asking Beyoncé Knowles, former lead of Destiny’s Child, to come up with the new Scania prime mover. Sounds like a corporation committing suicide, right? Wrong.

What Mrs David Beckham, née Victoria Caroline Adams, unleashed on us is nothing short of epic. Again, here is why.

The engine

While Range Rovers past have always packed 2.5-litre plus six — or eight — shooters under the hood, the Evoque arrived toting a puny four-cylinder with a single turbo.

This flouts all known automotive technology rules: Range Rovers are supposed to have massive engines, and nowadays nobody does single turbos anymore.

To eliminate lag without resorting to an anti-lag system (ALS), which is dangerous to both engine and pedestrians as it shoots flames out of the exhaust pipe, most engine builders use twin turbos; a small one for low revs, complemented by a larger one for full top end power.

The brochure says: “The Si4 petrol engine is a lightweight all aluminium unit…” I believe them. Driving the Evoque, one would be hard pressed to tell that there is even an engine up front.

So even is the weight distributed through the front chassis components that balance is not a point one would want to raise when criticising this vehicle.

The brochure also says: “It uses the latest direct injection technology and advanced turbocharging…” Again, I believe them.

So cleanly and smoothly does this engine run, you would not be fooled into thinking it belongs in a cheaper car — that is courtesy of the direct injection.

But more important is the authoritative pulling power that is accessible from low revs. Now, that is the turbo. Most single turbo setups suffer from tremendous lag or very narrow torque bands (or even both), but the Evoque’s engine is something else.

From as low as 1200 rpm, pedal-to-the-metal antics yield results, and impressive results at that. Acceleration is instantaneous and torque delivery is linear. Woe unto any competitive drivers of lesser cars who would want to take this on.

There is also twin independent variable valve timing that allows economy when the driver is circumspect with the hot pedal and haste when he turns lead-footed.

It works, believe me, it does.

With a three-cylinder economy on demand, it is actually a four-cylinder, emits a five-cylinder growl under WOT (wide open throttle), gives six-cylinder smoothness, delivers V8 torque, and still possesses the top-end screaming power of a V12. Dr Jekyll’s doings have nothing on a road test of the little Evoque.

Performance

That single turbo suffers from so little lag you would hardly notice it at all. At full tilt, the Evoque will humiliate anything affordable on the road right now — it even shamed its ancestor, the grandfather of all SUVs, the Vogue, on an open road.

(If you were driving a black Range Rover Vogue along the northern bypass on 17 May and a tiny, grey Evoque pulled away from you despite your best efforts, that was me. Sorry).

While the top-end power is quite impressive, there was still a moment of weakness somewhere. The car will pull from rest to 180 km/h effortlessly, but between 180 and 200, it gets a little breathless.

Beyond 200 requires an autobahn to find out, and we do not have one here. Yet.

Power had a dead spot somewhere, but torque did not. Overtaking was not even an epiphany, nor was it even momentous: there is no adjective majestic enough to describe what happened the first time I sent the pedal all the way to the floor while on the wrong side of the road.

The figures in the mirrors could not disappear backwards any faster if I was in a low-flying aircraft. Stupid grins were available all round as my road test crew suddenly realised that we were not in yet another ordinary 4-cylinder mini-SUV.

Sum up: While the general consensus is that BMW builds the best engines in the world, the Automotive Engine of the Year last year was from the bigger Range Rovers.

It was the 4.4-litre TDV8, now available in the Vogue and the Sport. The Evoque’s 4-cylinder mill proves that this was not a lucky hit; the engineers at Jaguar Land Rover are on a roll.

Tip: Use the cruise control. At 80 km/h, it will stick to fifth gear at 1950 rpm, but it will not stay in sixth (1400 rpm), even if you force it. Sixth gear works best at 95 km/h and 1600 rpm, which, I believe, is the most economical state of this car.

The suspension

More magic here; the little Rangie uses magneto-rheological dampers and shocks. This simply means that the suspension stiffness varies in real time according to the prevailing conditions, and is controlled by an electrical current and billions of tiny little iron filings in the shock absorber fluid.

When the current is off (such as on smooth, steady surfaces), the little metal bits just float around giving a comfortable and slightly floaty, pillow-like feel.

During hard cornering, an electrical current runs along the metal casing of the shocks, causing the iron filings to bunch up together and stiffen the suspension, thus improving handling by eliminating body roll.

This is the same setup used in the Audi R8 sports car. It is also used in the most powerful road-going Ferrari car ever made, the 599.

Ride and handling

This being a Range Rover, no matter how small, it is a given that from ordinary road use one would expect ultra-smooth ride quality and quietness. Enter our handling test course.

Anybody who has driven from Nyeri town to Nanyuki knows of the smooth and sinuous tarmac that lies just outside Nyeri. Sweeping S-curves, tight hairpins coupled with blind switchbacks and no run-off area whatsoever define this five-kilometre stretch of bitumen.

A sneeze at any point along this course from the driver would mean instant death. We wrung the little Evoque’s neck here, but the tyres would not give, nor would the suspension, nor would the steering. Bliss.

Taking those tight turns at 85 km/h yielded no understeer. There was also no tyre squeal and no body roll. The only downside was that this is a two-way road; start clipping apexes and you might end up a statistic.

Sum up: This is a GTI car, a performance hatchback, a luxury saloon, and an SUV all rolled into one, with the focus bending towards the performance hatchback. Many tried to keep up along this stretch of our test route and many failed.

The styling

Being a footballer’s wife, a pop star, and a businesswoman exposed Mrs Beckham to the finer things in life, and that is what she has tried to replicate here.

The Evoque looks a lot like the Range Stormer I talked about some time back, only this time there is clearly a feminine shade and shadow on the silhouette.

Really clever cues include a three-quarter length skylight roof. The massive tyres are pushed to the very edges of the vehicle body, not only lending the car a sporty look, but this is also responsible for the sublime handling.

Lastly, the roof tapers backwards from the top edge of the front windscreen to the back windscreen. The side mirrors are also cleverly designed but massive, and could be a visual impediment on oblique junctions.

A bit of bad and good

The tapering roofline has a negative effect: it robs the car of rear headroom and boot space, and creates a very tiny rear window, thus impeding the rear view.

The window shoulder line is also a bit high, creating a pillbox effect for the driver and passengers. First time in the car feels like a sniper’s hideout, so it does take some getting used to, however much you fiddle with the seat controls.

The massive side mirrors create huge blind spots at junctions, so a little care is needed.

The body styling and the skylight roof, on the other hand, will generate more attention than you have ever wanted.

Not even the police are immune to the Beckham effect, gawking as the car weaves through their stingers (thus forgetting to ask themselves why three scruffy, sweaty, grinning men would be driving a car that fancy on a road that lonely and at a speed that absurd).

Sum up: Attention seekers, your Google equivalent has arrived. Looks of lust, looks of envy, and looks of approval will henceforth be your lot.

The road test

As tests go, this has been our most thorough to date. Pity there is not enough space to report everything. We did a dyno run: power hit 160 whp (which translates to about 190 bhp — the traction control and ABS kept cutting in); 336 lb ft or 458 Nm/46 kgm of torque; and top speed (225 km/h, or 140 mph).

We also played with the toys (Bluetooth can be a headache sometimes). In fact, we played with everything, short of disassembling the entire car; not a wise proposition for something worth Sh12 million or so.

Doing it differently

I will make no bones about it: my car reviews are not always regarded highly by those in the motor vehicle business. So it came as a shock to me that I was invited to drive the Evoque out of the blue.

And not in the typical Kenyan road test fashion where you are supplied with a car, a driver, and a security guard (for the car, not for you) and required to fill out 1,300 pages of paper work, before being driven round the nearest roundabout then told to get out, go back home, and write something nice.

You will have the car for two days, they said. Who is the driver and who is the security guard, I wanted to know. You will be on your own, they said.

It does not make sense, I countered. Why would I drive today, give the car back, then drive again tomorrow? You will not, they chimed. You will go home with the car, then give it back tomorrow, they added. We trust you, they cooed. What is more, we are giving you a full tank of fuel, they gushed.

I did not go home. A Range Rover Evoque, two test drivers, and a photographer: the wisest thing to do was to point the car towards the biggest and most picturesque mountain available and gun it.

That is exactly what we did, and in my mental checklist, on the dotted line next to the entry labelled “Most Spectacular Road Test, 2012”, I quietly filled in “Range Rover Evoque Si4”.

The tank was empty when I handed the car back.