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Should I get a Honda Airwave or just stick to a trusted Toyota?

Thanks for your informative articles. Kindly contrast and compare Honda Airwave and any Toyota such as the Toyota Wish. I have seen many Kenyans buy Hondas.

I wanted to buy an Airwave but out of the people I talked to, including mechanics, about one out of ten encouraged me. One of my friends who owned one a 1500cc mentioned that it even consumes less than a normal Toyota with the same 1500cc.

Majority cited issues of availability of spare parts and resale value. I looked more spacious than a Toyota Wish considering that you can fold the back seats. The price difference between the two then was around Sh200,000.What is your take on Hondas? Is it that the Toyota did a lot in marketing?

Ken

 

Hondas are an open secret in the motoring world. If you want the best of Japan while avoiding the too-obvious Toyota, get a Honda.

If anything, this is the one car that is more reliable than a Toyota, too bad the Civic did not and does not sell like the Corolla; and Honda doesn’t build a pickup.

They do build and sell dozens of millions of motorcycles, though, and no, that is not hyperbole, they DO build motorbikes in the eight figures.

Spare parts are not and should never be a problem. How many Airwaves have you seen around? How do THOSE owners maintain their vehicles? Feel free to join them.

Resale value may be disheartening at the moment owing to the “should-I-shouldn’t-I?” uncertainty and indecisive mindset that you and many others seem to have; so hopefully this will clear things up: Yes, you should. I plan to, too, one day…. VTEC coming soon to a column near you.

Residual values are something else; related to resale value but not dependent on it.

Actually, the converse is true: resale value is dependent on residual value. Residual value is how well the car holds up over several years of usage and ownership, but this is not per car, it is per model of car.

Here are examples: cars with good residual values are best exemplified by the Toyota Landcruiser and the Toyota Hilux. They simply never depreciate.

This does not mean that you cannot find a grounded or worthless Hilux, you can and will, though this will be an isolated case; but as a model, it maintains its physical (not sentimental) value over time.

Cars with bad residual values? They’re almost exclusively European and almost exclusively French. Peugeot tops the list closely followed by its fellow Frog-mobiles: Renault and Citroen. Alfa Romeo also joins the list of Euro-letdowns, but this brand of car is usually rescued from ignominy by its sentimental value. Its residual value is below zero.

Toyota may have done a lot of marketing, but the biggest contributing factor to their success was they let their products speak for themselves. The two aforementioned vehicles, the Hilux and the Landcruiser, have done more to market Toyota as a brand than a billion-dollar advertising budget ever could.

Honda’s engines may also speak for themselves, but this is only in closed circles: Ask anyone to explain what VTEC means (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) or how it works (a camshaft with two cam profiles or two different camshafts; one of which is oriented for economy and the other for performance, and the switchover occurs at around 6,000rpm) and they’ll stare at you like you were a creature from Star Wars.

Yet VTEC engines are the one type of engine to have never suffered a single failure in their entire history, not one, and this is in spite of them being in production since 1988 and now numbering in the tens of millions.

How about the fact that Honda designed a cylinder head (CVCC heads) for use in its American version of the Civic hatchback, a design so delightfully simple and so fiendishly clever that the fuel economy figures achieved from a carburetor-fed engine from the 1970s are still unbeaten even by today’s cleverest EFI systems?

This geeky techno-frippery may be what scared people off Honda. Everybody is cagey about innovation, especially the really technical ones.

Try selling an all-in-one app to a major corporation and see them approach it like a cat approaching a bath.

Then again, maybe the movies,  newsreels of war theatres, bush ambulances, adventuring tourists, lifestyling twentysomethings, successful businessmen and happy farmers almost always feature a Toyota Landcruiser or a Toyota HIlux and we are thus indoctrinated from childhood to believe that Toyota is the beginning and the end of everything; anything outside of that is nothing but a brief and temporary sojourn into the unknown.

 

Hi Baraza, 

Does engaging ‘N’ (neutral gear) when going downhill save on fuel, mine is a Toyota  DX with a 4E engine, what’s  the average fuel consumption in terms of l/km.

Matata

Yes, coasting downhill saves fuel… somewhat. It is not the best fuel-saving driving technique, though. A Toyota DX will return anything from 10km/l to 20km.k, depending on who is driving and how it is being driven, but the mean (average) and mode (commonest) rate of consumption is around 13km/l.

 

Hi JM,

I am an ardent reader of your motoring column every Wednesday. Keep up the good work.

A friend of mine is looking for a mid-size 4×4 vehicle, probably a SUV. The car will be used by his wife in rural areas on weather roads. The wife is a teacher and every morning crosses a seasonal river when going to school.

He is weighing on four Models: Nissan X-trail, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Murano and Subaru Tribeca. All 2008 models.  

A quick check on Youtube shows a lot similarities on handling of off-road conditions for the four vehicles. This leaves us more confused.

Given the kind of terrain the vehicle will be used on, which one is better putting into considerations other factors such as:

(i) Durability;

(ii) Repair costs;

(iii) Fuel Consumption;

(iv) Stability control; and;

(v) Comfort. 

David

 

I will do something unusual this time round and ignore the actual question you are asking, and go ahead and answer your inquiry according to what stands out with these vehicles. You can make your judgment call from my seemingly impertinent (or are they?) responses.

To start with, yes, YouTube is mostly right; these cars are basically facsimiles of each other. This is the primary reason why I will ignore the (i) to (v) queries up there, except for (iii).

Let us focus on the elephant in the room and think about that seasonal river you are talking about…. I have sampled the first generations of all the cars listed (and the second generation X- Trail too), and the most fitting for wading through a water carpet thicker than ankle-deep would be the X-Trail.

Forget the others, their ground clearances are too low and/or their wheelbases too long and/or their overhangs too intrusive for them to make a case for themselves as anything other than high-priced shopping baskets for the housewives with slightly larger disposable incomes. This is especially noteworthy of the Tribeca.

Speaking of the Subaru: it has the biggest engine here, a 3.6 litre flat six (forget the original Tribeca B9 with its weedy little 3.0 litre), so it is also the thirstiest: 5km/l on a normal day, stretching to 7km/l when the going is good.

The drop in fuel prices may have brought smiles in many a Tribeca-borne household. I liked its automatic gearbox the best too, but the swoopy, futuristic, beige interior of the test car I drove is the kind that attracts fingerprints like a mirror in the hands of a toddler.

The Tribeca is also the lowest riding, whether for real or apparently is hard to tell; but the long wheelbase doesn’t help -making it the most inappropriate for off-tarmac jaunts.

It is the only car in this list that seats seven, though (the rest seat five), so you could always look for paying passengers to offset the fuel bills…

The Mazda CX7 is a rocket ship. It is hard to tell exactly what the car was meant for, because what starts life as a cramped cross-over utility — in essence what looks like a Mazda 6 with a hatch and a lift-kit- is then saddled with a limp-wristed engine that has no torque. To ensure that this lack of torque is not noticed by drivers, the engine has a little extra something bolted to it: a stinking turbocharger.

The result is this Mazda goes like a getaway vehicle in a PG13 TV program.

If you want to humiliate the Tribeca-driving housewives on tarmac, then this is your weapon of choice. Sadly for it, speed is about all that it’s good for: with turbo comes compromised reliability (the front-mount intercooler is an especially sensitive sticking point) and woeful fuel bills. 245 horsepower ain’t a joke.

The CX7, however, comes a close second to the X-Trail in off-road acts.

Next up is the Murano. This is a car I lambasted not too long ago (to my own detriment: I have been unable to live down the dressing down I received from pundits who won’t calm down).

The first-generation model still looks funny to me; what with that fat rump at the back and the leering rictus up front. While the Mazda goes like a sports car, the best the Murano can do is claim to have an engine from a sports car: the veritable VQ35 unit from the Z33 Nissan 350Z, the famous Fairlady. The Murano is not that fast though. It also takes some getting used to: not everything is where you’d expect it to be.

Try filling up at a fuel forecourt for the first time in one and prepare for some red-faced scrabbling around in the driver’s foot-well looking for the release catch for the fuel filler cap. Here is a hint: stop looking, it doesn’t exist.

Another problem with the Nissan is one could easily end up with the more plebeian 2.5 litre 4-cylinder as opposed to the 3.5 V6, and you’d never know the difference… that is, until you try to overtake a Mazda CX7 and wonder why a 1200cc capacity advantage and two extra cylinders are not helping. Not a bad car for roughing it, but then again not quite at the CX7’s level.

Lastly, the X-Trail. This is the one you should get. It may not necessarily be the most durable (Murano), nor the most comfortable (Tribeca), nor the most stable (CX7) but it should be the cheapest to buy, fuel and maintain. It is definitely the most appropriate car for the terrain. It also has the most boring interior of the four cars. Invest in a good sound system to take your mind off the naff ambience.

 

Hi Baraza,

I have been thinking of two cars, Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrids. Tell me, what are the advantages and disadvantages of buying a hybrid car? Which one should I buy?

Baba Quinton

 

Advantages of a hybrid car: they put you in a good mood because you think you are saving the world. Disadvantages of a hybrid car: you are not actually saving the world.

Trade-off: the lower fuel bills will be a joy until you discover how much of a swine a hybrid car really is to fix. Ask your mechanic if he knows what Miller cycle is as opposed to Otto cycle.

If he cannot answer this, he cannot fix your Prius; even if he is also an electrician by night, he still can’t fix your Prius.

Between eating bitter fruit at 10am and eating bitter fruit at 3pm, which is better? Neither, at the end of it you still eat bitter fruit.

Get a Prius, there are quite a few around, maybe there exists an owner’s club for these things by now (a good source for unreliable and unverifiable information) and/or a graveyard of dead Prii/Pria/Prix/Priuses  (a good source of parts).

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Better choice: Toyota Wish or Nissan X trail?

I am an ardent reader of your motoring column on DN2 every Wednesday.

I intend to get my first car — a used car — and your expert advise will help inform my decision.

I’m considering either a Toyota Wish, 1800cc, Year 2004 or Nissan X-trail. 2000cc, Year 2003.

The reason am looking at Toyota Wish is it’s sitting capacity for seven passengers and therefore ideal for family outings while the X-Trail offers me off-road capabilities whenever needed.

The car will be 80 per cent town drives and 20 per cent off-road adventures. Other than differences in off-road handling capabilities, please advise on differences in:

(a) Fuel efficiency and consumption Km/l.

(b) Maintenance costs  — I have very lean maintenance budget especially on parts.

(c) Reliability

(d) Ease in handling, stability, comfort and speed.

Looking forward to your kind response.

Mukaria.

a) The Wish is generally more economical than the X-Trail but the absolute figures will depend on how and where you drive, and how often you carry seven people in the car. Expect anything between 7km/l and 15km/l for both.

b) A “lean maintenance budget” is not going to do you any favours in light of the fact that you are buying a used car that has already seen thousands of kilometers of service in another person’s hands. Breakdowns WILL happen, and a lean maintenance budget might not be sufficient to keep the car in good working condition.

A particular sore point is the X-Trail’s automatic transmission that fails with alarming certainty; replacing it will be an exercise in six-figure expenditure.

c) Reliability: see b) above. You are buying a used car. Its reliability will depend on how well the previous owners maintained it. Again, that being said, the X-Trail is more of a garage queen compared to the Wish.

d) Handling, stability, comfort and speed: don’t expect anything like an Evo in terms of handling, stability and speed. Both cars will reach 180km/h before the electronic nanny interferes, and both cars will crash spectacularly if you try cornering in them at that speed.

Comfort: the X-Trail has more room inside and a bigger glass-house, so it is generally a better place to be in. A Wish seven-deep with humanity is like a school bus.

Hi Baraza,
There is something you didn’t address comprehensively on January 3.

It had to do with fuel gauge (level) light going on before and after refuelling. I noted the same anomaly recently where the light came on and I refilled with 4.55 litres of fuel two kilometres on.

However, I noted the light came on again after driving for about 15km.

Could the vehicle have spent the 4.55 litres to do 17 kilometres whereas it does 10km/l-11km/l?

The road gradient was not significantly different so as to affect the fuel ‘positioning’ inside the tank.      

L. Magambo.

There is one thing you need to understand here, and that is the internal design of a fuel tank. It is not just an empty can with a hole at one end for filling it and another at the other end for emptying it.

There are baffles inside it.

These baffles are like small walls; ramparts if you will, and their main function is to still the fluid and prevent it from splashing about in the tank.

The splashing about may cause bubbles which, when fed into the fuel lines, will cause vapour lock which in turn cause stalling and sometimes may lead to injector damage.

The splashing about may also cause fuel starvation: this is a common problem in sports cars with high performance capabilities, such as an Impreza STi or a Nissan GTR: the lateral G when cornering, or longitudinal G when accelerating hard/braking forces the fuel to one side/wall of the tank and if it so happens that the fuel is forced away from the outlet/fuel pump, then fuel starvation occurs and the car goes off.

Much as they are prevalent in performance cars, you do not need a high-strung race car to experience these problems. They can also be faced in lesser vehicles, hence the baffled tank design being universal. These baffles have another effect, though:
They form little “pockets” of fuel when running low and this is where gauge accuracy is slightly lost.

The sensor is a rheostat attached to float device which is in turn attached to the tank wall.

When refilling, small amounts of fuel such as four and a half litres may not be spread out evenly through those “pockets”. Depending on the splash patter when refilling, shape of the fuel tank and size/severity of the tank baffles, the fuel gauge may lose accuracy by quite a margin.
It may show a considerable jump in fuel level, or it may show none at all. It is not 100 per cent accurate, and this is why you will never come across a highly calibrated fuel gauge indicating exactly how many litres of fuel there are in the tank.
Some cars may have the fancy gadgetry telling you how many kilometers of driving you have left with the fuel at hand but none of them is ever dead right, it is always pessimistic so that when it finally reads zero, you are still in motion and your hopes get lifted.
So, no, your car does not do 4km/l. To get an accurate reading, fill the tank up to the brim (automatic cut-off point for the fuel hose), take note of your odometer reading then drive around a little. It doesn’t matter how far you go, but the further you drive, the more accurate the outcome.
Preferably, keep going until when almost empty, then fuel up; again brimming the tank. Take note of the number of litres that will go into the tank before cut-off.

Take note of the new odometer reading. Your very accurate fuel economy figure will be (Odo’ reading 2 – odo’ reading 1) divide by the number of litres taken it at the second fuel stop.

Hi Baraza,
I was happy to bump into you at Kiamburing TT. Do tell, where and when is the next one? I drive a 2.0  D4 ZT Caldina, full time  4 wheel drive.

It has excellent leg room and a spacious boot and it’s  performance on slippery/muddy areas is quite good.

However, I am a speed maniac and the car regularly disappoints me in this area. When driving against the VW Passat, ‘government model’ (for lack of better term) and the sleek Mark X, I noticed they pick up much faster than my car.

Now, I am thinking of trading my Caldina later in the year with either of the above but please compare and contrast the two (Mark X and VW Passat) in terms of comfort and performance both on highway and off-road. Reliability and durability as well as ability to drive in a  semi-muddy area.
Do they have front wheel drive version or even 4-wheel version and if so, which models? What of the ability to pick up/accelerate to speeds of 180km/h?
And finally, Does any of them have a semi-automatic (tiptronic) gearbox.
Simon.

I’m glad I made your day. The next Kiamburing is still in the pipeline and dates are tentative but we are looking at end of April. This is owing to a busy motorsports calendar this year and seeing how a large number of the people involved have overlapping duties across discrete events, we thought it best if each race had its own date.

This also allows for fans to maximise on their indulgence and not have to be forced to choose between one event and another should they happen to fall on the same date.
Onto your question, The Mark X is a beast. I have been running around in one in the recent past and the way it pulls on a wide open throttle beggars belief for a car that heavy and that laid back.

Perhaps it should have been born as some form of semi-F Sport Lexus than a run-of-the-mill Toyota.
You may have to specify which particular model of VW Passat you had in mind, because there are quite a number of iterations with drivetrain variations and engine variations.

I’m guessing you got monstered by a 2.0 litre turbo.
The two cars are broadly similar in comfort and performance (though performance will be heavily dependent on what engine the Passat has) but the bias is towards the Mark X.

That car really goes like a bat out of hell, relatively. Comfort may favour the Passat a little: I found the Mark X’s driver area feeling cramped — it’s not actually cramped, it just feels like it, and the electric seat adjustment takes a while to shuttle back and forth on its rails.
Reliability: Toyota. ‘Nuff said
Spec Levels: Passat. It can be had in a myriad of flavours with choices of engines, transmissions, drivetrains, colors, body styles (Passat CC, anyone? Estate, maybe?) and sub-models.

For more details on these, please visit the internet.
Tiptronic transmission: both are available with Tiptronic-style manual overrides on automatic transmissions. In the Passat, it is an option, in the Mark X it is standard.

Dear Baraza,
I imported a Range Rover Sport 2007, with a diesel engine from the UK some six months ago and it experienced total engine failure within four months.

I have since heard of a few other cases with the same make of car.
I was informed that it has something to do with the diesel fuel available in Kenya. How true is this? 
Robert Omwando

At the risk of drawing the ire of the British/Indians, I will say this is more of a Range Rover problem than a Kenyan problem.
That being said, whenever you buy a second hand car, especially one as expensive as a Range Rover Sport, details like FSH are very important. FSH is Full Service History.

Range Rovers are not the most reliable cars out there, but their unreliability can be partially circumvented.

One can delay the inevitable through good care and proper maintenance.
Diesel-powered Range Rovers are not any worse than their petrol-swilling stable-mates, if anything; a diesel Range Rover is the thinking man’s option.

The right engine will still run with the petrol version and return economy and environmental friendliness.
There are many diesel-powered Range Rovers still running on our roads. The word here is “maintenance”.

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West Africans have outclassed us in the race for home-made cars

At the close of 2014, I took a brief look at the goings-on within the local automotive industry — and in Uganda — but, unknown to me, things were happening on a much grander scale in West Africa.

Ghana and Nigeria also have homegrown motoring scenes.

Unlike the Ugandans, they are not dealing in futuristic, technology-soaked, flamboyantly styled prototypes.

Unlike us, they are not trying to make an “African” car.  No,  they have an entire industry, a whole line of cars that run the gamut, from regular pint-sized saloons to full-on SUVs to ready-to-work commercial vehicles. Here is part of the lineup:

Kantanka

A Ghanaian apostle is behind this one. In addition, he has some aeronautic prototypes in the pipeline. Talk about ambition.

The Katanka line-up is publicised by two vehicles.  One is an SUV of indeterminate size. The photos on the Internet all lack reference points from which to deduce the actual size of the car.

Given the design characteristics, I’d say it lies somewhere between an X-Trail and a Landcruiser Prado, with the bias being more towards the Prado.

It has a whiff of the Prado J150 about its countenance, what with the toothy grin and slightly Mongoloid, slightly off-square headlamps.

But it also has the very square corners around the bonnet leading edge and fender tops which typify the Nissan X-Trail. From the A pillar rearwards, it starts to look a little like an Isuzu Wizard.

There are roof rails to complete the SUV-ness of it all.

It might sound like a mess, but it actually isn’t. The whole car somehow seems to gel together in an inoffensive, pseudo-Chinese, lightly “I’d-expect-this-from-TATA-on-a-good-day” manner.

There is no word on engines, suspension or transmissions, but expect something generic, possibly crate-borne from General Motors or Japan.

Spec levels are not indicated, but judging from the external cues — mirror-mounted repeater lamps, roof rails, alloy rims, fat tyres, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors, fog lamps, rubbing strips and side-steps — I’d say the specification inside must be generous too.

Oddly enough, I did not see sun-roofs in any of the photos, and yet as a trend, a large number of cars sold in West Africa come with sun-roofs. Maybe it is an optional extra.

There is also a double-cab pick-up, which is clearly an Isuzu DMAX. I mean it; it IS a DMAX without the “Isuzu” name on the grille; instead, it has the Kantanka logo: a circle circumscribing a filled-out 5-pointed star.

What did I say about copying the hell out of existing vehicles?

Innoson

You cannot leave Nigeria out of any action that goes down in West Africa, and they throw their hat in the ring with the Innoson. While Kantanka’s cars are expected to hit the streets sometime this month, Innoson already have units on sale, and they have the widest range of cars, and also the most Chinese-looking.

Their fanciest filly is an SUV which, oddly enough, only appeared in black in photos. Maybe there are other colours available.

It looks like what the Toyota Fortuner should look like. The overall appearance is even better resolved than the Kantanka, and one would be forgiven for assuming that it not locally made. I especially liked the rear; it wears that chunky and butch SUV uniform of roof spoiler, vertical tailgate, large lamps, fat bumpers complete with integrated reflectors and rear screen wiper with considerable aplomb.

But admittedly, it also comes off as being a bit too cliché. In a parking lot game of spot-that-rear, expect any of these answers: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner, Chevrolet Trailblazer or some Ford something-or-other.

The interior smacks of General Motors too. Dual tone plastics, buttons festooned all over the centre console, a few million cubbyholes and a thick-rimmed, three-spoke steering wheel, which I also swear, is straight off the new DMAX.

The Nigerian Road Safety Corps, among other clients, get a double-cab iteration of the Innoson, and well, it is a Grand Tiger (Chinese double-cab), like the ones our policemen use. The resemblance is uncanny.

Rounding up the line-up is the IVM Fox, the only car identified by name. It looks like yet another Chinese copy of a European econo-box from the late 90s or early 2000s, a Ford Fiesta/Citroen Saxo kind of thing; or maybe a KIA… nowadays Korean cars are barely distinguishable from their European rivals.

 

*             *             *             *

The future of the auto industry in West Africa looks promising, and for two very good reasons:

  1. West Africans are fiercely patriotic. They go everywhere in their national dress, come out in full force to cheer their national sports teams, and they strongly support their local producers.

It, therefore, follows that these cars will most likely move units. Innoson and Kantanka will shift metal in numbers that Mobius can only dream about, and they will be cheered on by opinion shapers in their communities.

That is not what one would expect around here. I don’t see an “opinion leader” selling his gold-plated Landcruiser VX in exchange for a gold-plated Mobius II.

  1. They have numbers on their side. They have the massive populations necessary for breaking even — if not making outright profit — sales levels, and they have giant economies to back it all up, with oil fields and sizeable export quotas as an added bonus. There is plenty of money in West Africa and they are not afraid to spend it. To make money, you must spend money. Expect to see massive investmentbeing channelled in Innoson’s and Kantanka’s directions.

A third, not so important reason:  West Africans will get one up on East Africa just to rub our noses in it. Anybody remember #KOT vs #NOT?

To the south

Tanzania has been at it too, although they decided to go the commercial way and not spend too much effort coming up with their own thing.

They have is a truck line called the Nyumbu.  Their Ministry of Defence and National Service apparently “developed” a truck (they clearly didn’t) and the result is an Ashok Leyland Stallion/G-90/U Truck/e-Comet (they all look the same), which in itself was a derivative from IVECO (Fiat) or British Leyland.

All they did was change the headlamps from single squares to double round, then change the name from “Ashok Leyland” to “Nyumbu”. Lower down the hierarchy is another Nyumbu.

It is hard to describe without sounding nasty, but if it were painted a dull green and sent back in time to the Soviet Union during the Second World War, it wouldn’t be out of place.

Their final entry in this list is a tractor, which is… very basic, and is also called a Nyumbu. Sadly, the website I visited did not distinguish these vehicles properly by model.

 

*             *             *             *

It is clear from the visions of West Africa — and Tanzania, we’ll give them that too for now —  that  setting a milestone, more so in the motoring industry, does not necessarily call for a dramatic paradigm shift in existing frameworks.

It might not even be necessary to set a milestone at all. Our  Mobius has been roundly outclassed from all directions, Mr Joel Jackson is not setting new production standards like Henry Ford did with the Model T, he is not introducing new technology like Elon Musk with his Tesla cars; and, admittedly, the Mobius II is not going to conquer any markets like the Toyota Hilux, unless, of course, we go the South East Asian way and make importation of motor vehicles prohibitively difficult, if not downright impossible.

But then again, neither is the apostle from Ghana or the brains behind Innoson.

Some of the techniques necessary to push sales might seem a little underhanded (plagiarism) and/or unfair (punitive import tariffs on foreign cars), but look where it got Hyundai and KIA – where they are right now, worrying Toyota and Peugeot.

Ford… again

Speaking of Henry Ford, he is the man who created FoMoCo, the Ford Motor Company, the same company that told us they would bring in the Mustang in the last quarter of 2014.

I’m yet to see a contemporary Mustang in the country. If they exist, I’d also like to take one on a road test, thank you.

Ford also wants us to be Focused. They are not accusing us of being scatter-brained, no. They want us to drive Ford Focuses, Foci, Foca, or whatever you call more thanone Ford Focus.  It is with this in mind that they chose to announce the presence of the new Ford Focus in their showrooms.

Anyway, the car in question is the new Ford Focus, and FoMoCo says a lot of things about it, most of which I choose to ignore until further notice. However, one or two things I pay attention to.

The Ford Focus has mostly been a driver’s car in spite of, or because of, it’s front-drive platform.

It is, or was, a fun handler: easy to chuck into a corner, fiddle around with throttle and steering to create various levels of understeer and bite, all the while staying safely out of the undergrowth.

The compact dimensions ensured its responsiveness and ease of handling, and a small, naturally aspirated engine created both  fuel economy and smile-worthy maintenance costs. No wonder it became a successful rally car.

The words I paid attention to in Ford’s press release were about it having a lower, wider stance than the outgoing car, which in turn had a lower, wider stance than the Mk I model before it.

How much lower and wider is the current Focus, which I have not driven, compared to the original model, which I have driven? And how much more fun is the new one than the one before it? The answer lies in a road test.

One question, though: We know there exists a vehicle such as a Ford Focus RS, where is it?

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A gel that repairs your worn-out engine? Let me go have a look-see

Hi Baraza,

1) I have a Subaru WRX Impreza with a manual transmission that produces a buzzing noise in Gear 5. What could be the problem?

2) As you might have noticed, I am a diehard Subaru fan and I do not think much about your Evo reviews. I am a keen follower of the time trial competitions and was at the Murang’a TT. The Evos might have won the battle, but they are yet to win the war. I noticed that there were only two branded vehicles competing, one of them a Subaru Impreza N8 with the stickers of a revitalisant. What is that?
Subaru Diehard

Greetings, Subaru Diehard,

1. The buzzing noise is more like a continuous drone, especially at highway speeds, is it not? This sounds as if a synchroniser might be worn out or the gear itself might be chipped. The remedy in such a case is to open up your manual transmission and replace the offending component, be it the gear or synchroniser unit.

2. I did a little research and the results were… well, VERY interesting. This is what I learnt:

a) The manufacturers of the revitalisant have a whole line of products, most of which are in liquid and gel form. If there is a liquid that goes into the engine (oil, transmission fluids, power steering fluid etc), more likely than not, they have their version of it, save for petrol/diesel.

b) They also have other products that they call “revitalisants”, which in essence are “metal conditioners”. What these conditioners do is “heal” scarred metal, like your gear in 1 above. Scratched surfaces can be “revitalised” by the application of a “revitalising” product such as benzoyl peroxide in the control of acne or Candid B cream in getting rid of ringworms.

Now, here is where the plot thickens. Their own blurb says that the revitalising cream (it really is hard to think of it as anything else) will seep into the hairline fractures and scratches on any metal surface, sealing them completely.

It apparently forms a ceramic layer over old metal surfaces, rendering them “as good as new”. Since most metal surfaces damaged in this manner are part of a rubbing, friction-prone pair, the mode of the gel, it is claimed, is to form a kind of hard-pack cement the more heat and pressure is applied, and if it is heat and pressure you seek, you need not look further than the engine. The result is filler material and a coating that effectively restores the metal surface to its factory smoothness.

Derision was not far off. Real petrolheads are a discerning lot and are incredibly difficult to please and/or convince about certain matters. There were those who cried “Heresy!” and dismissed the metal conditioner as a marketing ploy for “magical cement” that has no place in the real world.

Further research reveals that this marketing ploy is nothing short of a cliché, seen before in a million other miracle cures that do not really work, preying on fear and gullibility to generate sales. Then there was the warning notice on the tubes of gel, which tend to come in threes (engine, transmission, and something else, I am not sure what): “Parts, if worn out, will still need replacing.”

Parts will still need replacing. The next question is fairly obvious: if these parts will still need replacing, what is the point of the conditioner?

It turns out that some people blew their engines, then applied the gel thinking that it would restore them. That is not how it works. It does not unblow your engine. It will not fuse broken metal pieces together, nor will it reduce the mileage covered. It repairs distressed surfaces.

The theory is embedded in nanotechnology, which I will not delve into right now for fear of making this column look like the introduction or research notes of a Michael Crichton novel. Nanotech is a field known to many but understood by few. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the manufacturers chose this word to sell their stuff.

A bit of their history (this should make good reading for Cold War pundits): The discovery of the active agent in their revitalisants came about from a mining operation in Russia in which the engineers noticed that the further down they dug, the “newer” their drill bits became, which was the exact opposite of what they expected.

Apparently, the drill bits were coated in a kind of ceramic material derived from the soil, which kept the bits in a shiny, new condition, whereas in normal digging, the drill bits get eaten away and need replacement every now and then.

This happened very many years ago and some Soviet scientists got interested and started poking into the soil around that particular mine shaft, conveniently located in or near Siberia, in what I believe was a government-sanctioned and KGB-protected undercover experiment lasting several years before the agent (still a secret, clearly, since it goes unnamed) was isolated and put to the test in industrial applications.

This sounds a bit like a flight of fancy, does it not? A legend created by the legend itself in the style of Verbal Kent/Kaiser Soze. Maybe, maybe not, but ask yourself this: Have you ever seen a Russian tank breaking down in any war theatre? Those things are more reliable than the rainfall in Kakamega. In fact, have you seen any old Russian tank? They are all new. There could be some truth to this.

Stepping out of the Ludlum novel and into the real world, the world of testimonies. Of course there are those who will dismiss the revitalisant as a joke, what with the crazy Russian story behind it, the incomprehensible nanotechnology explanation (I do not know if those scientists discovered a colony of nanobots living in the cold Siberian wilderness or what), and the fact that it is cheap for what it does.

Given how much income evangelists generate from mere prayers, imagine how much money Jesus would make if He came back and decided to charge people for resurrections. This is the logic here: If it is actually a miracle cure, why does it not cost more?

There is the flipside of the coin. I have colleagues who have dared to revitalise their engines with the gel and this is what they say. The first one declared “no noticeable difference” and described it as just another oil. Clearly, this person did not follow instructions. You are supposed to add the gel to the oil in your engine. He does not recall any gel, so he is out.

The second one said that his engine actually ran smoother after adding the gel; not just smoother, but noticeably smoother after a distance of about 500km. He is seconded by a third individual.

The fourth one says he, too, had a slightly noisy transmission (like yours in 1 above), with the added benefit of a notchy gear-shift action, but this has since improved dramatically after putting in the gel. There was one who suffered a seized engine following a crankshaft bearing failure, but he swore it had nothing to do with the gel.

I looked each of them straight in the eye for several seconds to determine whether brown Russian envelopes had changed hand, particularly in the case of the last guy. They all seemed legitimate and their claims seemed to hold water (I may have ridden in one or two of these “smoother” vehicles and they are not half bad), so this is where I will conclude my response: I, too, am taking the plunge in the name of research.

I am going to test the revitalisant first week of November. Not that my car actually needs it, though I might have started developing a “slightly notchy” gear-change too. My engine is perfect, if I may brag a little. If the nanotech is nonsense, as some people claim, then I would rather risk my gearbox, which is easier to fix, than my engine.

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Jambo Baraza,
In one of your articles you said: “Nobody ever supercharged a diesel engine.” You were wrong. Check the website Diesel Hub, Supercharged Diesel engines. Also, supercharged and turbocharged are two different things.
J. Jesse (Mzungu)

Yes, Mzungu, I know supercharged and turbocharged are two different things. I have explained this difference too many times for me to make an error in response.

Yes, supercharged diesel engines exist, but these are mostly 2-stroke engines, marine diesels and generators on oil rigs. Some of these engines are V12s with pistons boasting 8-inch bores — not the kind of engine you will find in any car. More importantly, how old are these engines anyway? Few, if any, of the current crop of modern diesel engines used in any application are supercharged.

Part of the logic is this: diesel engines use economy and efficiency as their main selling points. A turbocharger derives its functioning energy from what was otherwise dismissed as waste, increasing its efficiency rating by a wide margin.

A supercharger uses precious engine power to run, which would be self-defeating and in contravention of the conceptual purpose of a diesel engine: efficiency. While providing a substantial boost in power, superchargers are inherently inefficient, more so in comparison to turbos.

The beauty of a diesel engine is that it can take insane boost pressures in the turbochargers with little risk of getting wrecked. Generating more power from a turbocharged diesel engine is relatively simple: keep increasing the boost pressure in the turbo and tweak/replace the injectors with bigger ones.

If you hit a horsepower ceiling with the current set-up, get a bigger turbo, or a second one (or even third, if you are BMW), and even bigger injectors. To begin with, the robust nature of the diesel engine block means it can accommodate a massive horsepower jump with little need for strengthening.

This explains why BMW has an xDrivex30d and xDrivex40d in the X5/X6 line-up. It is the exact same 3.0 6-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, but in the x40d, it develops a lot more power with little modification.

With the supercharger rendered pointless (now that you can turbocharge the diesel engine endlessly), and it being wasteful in its own way, why would anyone in their right mind want to supercharge a diesel engine?

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Hi Baraza,

I would like to commend you for your good advice to people. I want to buy my first car and am torn between a Toyota Premio, Wish, Voxy, and Nissan X-Trail.

I am an off-road guy who does a lot of travelling upcountry, so I would like a machine that is economically efficient in terms of both fuel and maintenance costs. Secondly, it should manage off-road trips and carry luggage because I am also a farmer. Kindly advise.

Bob

Interesting query we have here because you want to choose between a saloon car, a people carrier, a van, and a crossover, but what you actually need is a pick-up with 4WD. These are five different classes of vehicles.

The saloon car (Premio) will be cheapest to fuel and maintain. The crossover (X-Trail) has running costs not entirely dissimilar to that of a saloon car, itself being based on a saloon car (the Primera), and also has the added benefit of a modicum of off-road talent. Among the crossovers, the X-Trail is actually surprisingly adept at tackling the hard stuff.

None of these cars is exactly ideal for carrying a farmer’s “luggage” (your words, not mine), because in my mind, a farmer’s “luggage” would include tractor parts, ploughs, bags of seeds, fertiliser, animal feed, the animals themselves and/or plants, pesticides, acaricides, fungicides…

You need a pick-up for this kind of “luggage” because, who knows how many bags of seed you will be moving around? Who knows what tractor parts you might be carrying? A diff and a gearbox count as parts, don’t they?

For fuel efficiency, you will need a diesel pick-up. For lower maintenance costs, you will need a diesel pick-up without a turbocharger. For off-road purposes, this diesel pick-up will need to have at least good ground clearance, and possibly 4WD…

Posted on

Apart from the names, the Harrier and the Lexus have different specs

Congrats for the good work. I am working on my car magazine and for sure I’ve got a lot to write about, given what I am learning from you.

Now, apart from their names, what is the difference between the Toyota Harrier and Lexus? I only know that people love the Lexus because they say it is luxurious.

And, what is so good about the X trail? Almost everyone is buying one. Why don’t they go for machines like the Mark X?

Lastly, don’t you think the Mexico police were wrong in getting a Bugatti just to make sure that they outdo the fastest car on the road in case of a chase?

Assuming that I get a Land Rover Defender 110 and I commit a crime then take a damn rough road, would they get me with their Bugatti?

Mario Junior

Hello Junior,
All the best with your car magazine. I am looking forward to seeing it on the stands.

Apart from the names, the Toyota Harrier and Lexus RX also differ in spec levels, and the availability thereof. Only the top spec Toyota Harriers can match the Lexus RX cars trim for trim and engine for engine.

However, while the Toyota Harrier can be had with smaller engines, some of which have 4 cylinders, the Lexus RXs are all 6-cylinder cars. Meanwhile, the Lexus is also available as a hybrid, while the Harrier is not.

The choice of an X Trail over a Mark X is purely an individual preference and might not necessarily be a definite marker of trend. Maybe some buyers of the X Trail want a car that can drive over tall grass and small rocks because of the tracks they traverse.

Maybe some prefer the taller driving position and better outside view accorded to them by the cross-over utility. Some of them could be fearful of the 2.5 litre V6 thirst of the Mark X as opposed to the X Trail’s 2.0 litre straight-4 (relative) economy.

Maybe some love the square, breeze-block, sharp-edged pseudo-off roader looks of the X Trail instead of the Mark X’s curvy, artsy panel beater’s nightmare of a body. The reasons for choosing one car over another are as varied as they are numerous.

The police acquiring super cars are more of publicity stunts and tourist attraction gimmicks than an absolute need for speed. The only exceptions I’d put forward are South Africa using the Audi S3 and VW Golf GTi, the UK using Nissan Skyline GTRs (R33 and R34), Australia using Impreza WRX STis and Saudi Arabia using the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG as road patrol units.

They actually use these cars for high- speed pursuits. The Bugatti Veyrons, Ferraris, SLRs, SLS AMGs and Lamborghinis bought by various police forces around the world (especially Italy and the Middle East) are purely for show.

Those towns have clever mayors, and these mayors would really love it if tourists visited them more often, and one of the ways of attracting people is via a blatant show of opulence (this mightexplain why some men wear jewellery).

Ferrari and Lamborghini are names instantly identifiable to anyone, petrolhead or not. If your police department has one of them, people will definitely come to have a look. Your town thus gets a much higher profile on the world map.

One thing, though. If you are driving a Land Rover Defender 11 and you get chased by a Bugatti Veyron in police colours and you take the “damn rough road”, don’t for a moment stop and think you are home and dry. If that particular PD can operate a Bugatti Veyron, then they sure as hell can also operate a police helicopter.

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Hi Baraza,
First, I would like to declare that as I am writing this, I am not in that state of being friends with Mututho, though I will be driving towards home, thanks to my car knowing the way home as long as you put it on D.

I have been reading your articles for a while now, and I have some points to make/ask. Many of the emails that come to you ask about buying a first car, but they seem ambitious, asking about German cars and the likes of Range Rover Discovery and so on.

Is there an option of advising them to be real or else they tell us where they mine money to buy and maintain such cars as first-time buyers?

Second, I would like your review of the Nissan Teana, especially the comparisons between the JK, JM, and JX versions in terms of suitability for the Kenyan market.

Third, what’s your opinion concerning Nissans generally? Since the new CEO Goshen took over, they have been producing quality cars.

Do you see a possibility of upstaging Toyotas soon? I need to declare that I don’t hate Toyotas, but sometimes I think they just employ engineers who are not up to the task. Otherwise, how else do you explain the Platz and so forth?

Finally, how come you drive a Demio if you really are a petrolhead? The car, though not ugly, does nothing on the road apart from getting you from point A to B. If you appreciate car technology and the advancement of it, can’t you buy a better car?

I love the Demio, by the way; I bought one for my wife. It consumes relatively less fuel and keeps her away from my Teana JM 2009 model.

Finally, why is with Harrier becoming a lady’s car? I drove one recently and my friends asked if it was a new car for my mama. I hope my wife doesn’t read this, since it will spoil her birthday gift.

Just before I go and get my last one, why do you refer to Top Gear? It just a comedy show in which Jeremy is making £2m (Sh 296m) a year just to review supercars nobody will drive with our speed bumps. Mike the mouth

This is one of the most ridiculous emails I have received in the four years I have written the DN2’s Wednesday motoring column. In fact, it is one of the most absurd emails I have received in the 15 years I have owned an email address.

I don’t know if you are still alive to be reading this, but if you are, read it very carefully, my advice is short and simple: do not drive drunk.

Unless you own the as-yet-still-not-in-production Google car, your car does not know the way home; you just happen to be the momentary, and I do mean momentary, favourite of the cheeky deity behind the blind luck enjoyed by drunkards, the shameless god that is the reason the high and plastered somehow survive long falls, lightning strikes and dangerous drives from the local tavern back to whatever cave they crawled out from.

One day that benevolent spirit will turn malevolent and find a new favourite. It will drop you like a hot potato, and there will be hell to pay. I repeat: do not drive drunk.

There is no option for my readers telling you where they mine their money from. It is pretty obvious. If you want to own a Range Rover or a Land Rover Discovery, my advice is again short and simple: work hard. Also, there exists no such thing as a Range Rover Discovery.

What does “suitability for the Kenyan market” mean? The Teana, in whatever iteration, was meant to go on roads, while carrying people and burning fuel in the process.

We have roads in Kenya don’t we? Kenyans are people, are they not? Last time I checked, we had fuel too. The roads nowadays are good (mostly), some of the people (among which you are definitely not included) now take better care of their cars, so the griping about longevity is almost moot; and fuel quality has been steadily improving. Why would a Teana not be suitable for the Kenyan market?

The CEO of Renault-Nissan is called Carlos Ghosn, not “Goshen”, and yes, he has turned Nissan around. For a good example of his abilities, look no further than the R35 GTR, a car I fawn over endlessly.

However, upstaging Toyota is going to take some doing, if it even happens at all. Nissan has been growing better by the day, but then again, so has Toyota.

Catching up will not be easy, especially when factors like reputation favour your rival. The explanation behind the existence of the Platz (and the Opa, the Will and the Verossa) is: this is what happens when you employ 13,000 designers in the same company. These are way too many opinions and tastes. Some of their creations may be questionable.

Yes, I am a petrolhead, and yes I drive a Demio. It gets me from point A to B, but if you think that is all, then you either a) have never really driven a Demio properly or b) aren’t a petrolhead to start with.

That car puts smiles on my face, because I enjoy driving it. It is also affordable on a motor journalist’s weekly stipend.

If I drove a Range Rover Discovery (which does not exist), then I’d be a good businessman or a successful drug dealer (who is also a good businessman, if you think about it critically).

Your qualifying statement there reeks of innuendo: who says the Demio is unadvanced and devoid of technology? Those descriptions best fit the 1989 Peugeot 405 SR I drove before, but not the Demio.

While it is not the same as a Mercedes S Class — or even a Nissan GTR — in terms of gizmo deployment, it serves its purpose, and does it well.

I don’t need military-grade infra-red readouts on my windscreen or torque-vectoring AWD drivetrains, nor do I need launch control or a twin-clutch gearbox.

What I need is a responsive engine with electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing, a manual gearbox and nice grippy tyres. Check, check and check.

So you got the wife a Demio. Now she and I can have two things in common: we drive the same car and we are not sure your drink-driving habits are worth bragging about.

I cannot explain why women love the Harrier. However, I can make an educated guess, stemming from several interviews I have had with a number of them. They think it looks good.

They think it is a big enough car to make a statement without it being too big. They think it can handle most situations thrown at it, “most situations” in this case being bad roads. They are mostly right.

I know what Top Gear is, I know how much Jeremy Clarkson claims to make per year and I know exactly how seriously to take Top Gear.

What I do not know is how carefully you have been reading my writings. Quoting Top Gear is not the same as using them as a reference, and how often does it happen anyway?

Mr Barasa,

You must either be suffering from amnesia or you are so forgetful that you don’t remember what you wrote about the same car some years back.

You are the same person who described the Avensis as the best car ever made by Toyota. Today you call the same car blande, which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means not interesting or exciting/lacking strong flavour”. How do you reconcile the two?

How can you use public media like the Daily Nation to display your ignorance to the whole nation and beyond. I might not be a car specialist, but today you have also proved not to be (although you want people to believe that you are).

One thing I know for sure is that the Avensis is not what you described it as in your recent article. Besides, how can you restrict your comparison to only the Mark X simply because the reader asked about the two.

I have driven both cars and I think going by the way you wrote, the makers of the Toyota Avensis should sue you.

The only problem is that you will not be in a position to pay a fine of $2 trillion like the case in the US where a woman was awarded a similar amount (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then that should explain why you write the way you do).

Let me not even waste more time with you. No more comments from me. Eric

Thank goodness. It was becoming difficult to keep up with your train of thought.

Anyway, it is not only unlikely, but also well nigh impossible that I would call the Avensis “the best car ever made by Toyota” because, where would that leave superb classics like the 80 Series Landcruiser? Or the Mk. IV Supra? or the AE86 Corolla Levin?

What you read was “one of the best built”, i.e. build quality is superb, but then again this is Toyota, very few, if any, of their cars are built below standard. So that is not saying much.

Also, what you read (“best car ever by Toyota”) was not written by me. This is not the first time I have called the Avensis a boring car.

The Merriam-Webster definition of “blandest” is exactly the one I was going for in my statements. Kindly prove otherwise, or else cut down on your Internet costs by not sending me any more bad mail like this one.

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.

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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.

Posted on

The Merc 180’s main problem is the battery and wiper motor

I recently bought a ’99 Mercedes Benz C180 (? 202). Having driven other cars, namely, Toyota, Daihatsu Rocky and Honda, I must say this car is a different thing all together.

The engine delivers real power effortlessly, the handling is very smooth and the fear of excessive consumption, I discovered, is unfounded because its consumption is comparable to most Toyotas with engine capacities above 1500.

I think the Germans build their cars well. I would be glad if you could point out the troublesome areas with this car. So far, I can’t complain about this machine.

Christopher

Hello Chris,

The W202 (which I guess is what you meant by ?202), like other cars, does have a few problem areas, the first being electrical: wiper motors and indicators intermittently packing up, power seats sometimes malfunctioning and ECU failures. Other known issues include: faulty MAF sensors (this causes erratic acceleration) and automatic transmission problems (rough shifting of gears).

There was an issue with exploding batteries – instigated by gas emissions building up in the boot area and ignited when the owner opens the trunk lid while smoking/using his cell-phone, which causes the hydrogen gas to explode. Some vehicles were recalled while others were fixed under warranty.

A solution to this was for the owner/driver to check electrolyte levels regularly to prevent the gas buildup. To confirm whether your car was part of the recall, check your owner’s manual. There should be big stickers placed over the original battery maintenance information section.

Most of these issues (except for the battery and wiper motor problems) stem from isolated cases and will not necessarily happen to your car. They are just things to watch out for.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I read your column every Wednesday and cannot honestly imagine not having my copy of the Daily Nation on this particular day of the week. It is both informative and well researched.

I currently own  2004 and 2006 Toyota Vitz. Both cars have served me very well for the past year. They are mainly used for town running and are both very efficient. However, my concern is with the 2006 model (I will address the concerns of the 2004 model separately). It has a 1000cc engine, with 3 cylinders. I have noted that there is no dip stick for the gear box. Subsequent research informs me that these cars use long-life oil, capable of running for 100,000 km.

If this is the case, which is the correct oil to use? Over the years I have noted that Volkswagen Golf and Passat gearboxes have failed due to the use of wrong lubricants. Will I run into the same problem?

PS. I agree with you on fuel consumption of Subarus compared with other models. They are less efficient and more expensive to run as non-original parts do not work on these cars. I have experienced it and will share more on that later.Best regards.

Mig Maina

Greetings, Vitz Owner,

Has your car covered the 100,000km yet? If yes, how far is it from the next 100,000km transmission service interval? Does it have FSH (full service history)? It should. Under that FSH, they should specify what transmission fluid was used, if flushing and replacement were done. If it has not been done yet, then it is about to be done, under your care.

Your car does have a service/maintenance handbook, doesn’t it? It should specify what transmission fluid should be used.

Whether or not your car will experience Volkswagen-type problems depends on how badly off the grade of transmission fluid is. For some cars, there is a huge tolerance built into the components, such as the gearbox, to allow for some errors of judgment such as in replacement or maintenance of transmission fluid levels.

For other cars, such as the first-generation Nissan X-Trail, the smallest mistake will lead to the acquisition of a whole new gearbox.

**********

Dear car doctor,

Let me start by saying I have enjoyed every article of yours that I have read, but since the upgrade to the new site, it been hard to get your articles http://www.nation.co.ke/ , unless you look at the site on a Thursday. Well, enough of the whining.

I recently bought a Subaru Forester 2006 cross sports, auto transmission, which I have come to love, but there is this button with a selection of three levels next to the gear shift marked   ECO, A/T and Hold, I don’t know what it does, so I would appreciate some help regarding when to use it, but when it’s on A/T the picking is excellent. Warm regards,

Simon Wanjau Maina

Hello Simon,

The ECO button initiates a gearbox setting that improves the fuel economy but at the expense of performance. The “Hold” button, I guess, makes the transmission shift up sooner and holds the higher gear while preventing downshifting unless absolutely necessary, but it still skips first gear.

It is ideal for snow and slippery conditions where the high torque of lower gears would just lead to wheel-spin and little or no forward movement. When used in D, the car takes off in second gear instead of first.

When position 3 is selected using the gear lever, the cars shuffles between gears 2 and 3 (takes off in second and quickly shifts into third). When 2 is selected, the vehicle uses only second gear, skipping first. It is claimed that HOLD also makes the transfer clutch in the centre differential lock up sooner and harder.

By inference, A/T would mean “All Terrain”, which would make the transmission automatically react to the grip conditions, depending on which wheel is spinning. It uses input from the traction control system.

You are right; the format of the new website makes it extremely difficult to locate my write-ups, unless you delve deep into the pages searching piece by piece. It is a bit frustrating to my online readers and you are not the first to complain about this.

**********

Dear Baraza,

I find your column informative and was amazed by what I read in the January 1, 2014 issue. One gentleman thanked God that he had not landed in a ditch despite doing 180 in his Nissan Wingroad.

Andrew claimed that the Prado is very stable even at 170 kph. Please advise the two gentlemen to stop doing these speeds on public roads. They pose great danger to other road users and themselves. Such risky manoeuvres are simply against the law.

Vincent

Gentlemen, you heard Nick. Maxing out your cars is not safe, and it is illegal… (I don’t know about Andrew’s case, though, since he says he is in Afghanistan, and the traffic laws there are unknown to me).

**********

Hi,

First things first. Your column inspires me a lot. My dream towards the end of this year is to own a Range Rover, manual transmission, from around year 1990 to around 2000, with 3.9 V8 engine or slightly above. The reason is that I am a —rrain is quite a challenge. Besides, I am a Rhino Charge enthusiast and like tough machines.

Second, I would like to look a bit formal walking in high offices pursuing tenders and the like without switching Machines.

Kindly enlighten me on this since I am an automobile novice if I am willing to spend between 1m

and 1.6m.I have googled one on OLX website: year 1990, mileage 139,000 kms, 4wd with a 3.9 V8 engine going for Sh1.250m but I thought it was a bit old and maybe I will have to make some costly replacements. Hope I can read your article online. Get me into class, please.

Moses Mutwirih

Hello Moses,

A bit ambitious, aren’t we? Your demands are quite specific, and not all of them can be met.

You cannot get a 3.9 litre V8 Range Rover any newer than 1992-spec. The 3.9 engine went out with the Classic in 1992, and was substituted by a bored-out 4.2 V8 until 1996 before being replaced as the range-topper (so to speak) by the 4.6-litre V8 in the P38.The P38 is also available with a 4.0 V8, which should be closest to what you are looking for, but again herein lies another impediment:

The P38 had a manual transmission available on only one spec level: the BMW-powered 2.5 litre DSE diesel. The V8s only have automatic transmissions.

This means the particular car you want cannot be any older than a 1990 model or any newer than 1996. That really narrows down the scope of availability, as these were the final years of manufacture for the Classic model. This means these are the units in best condition. Seeing how they are fast becoming collectors’ items, getting one in good condition for sale is a search for a Land Rover Holy Grail. The people who have them will not likely be selling them, cheaply or at all.

Should you come by one, expect the following: a stiff asking price, rust problems, poor handling and unavailability and/or costliness of parts. Owning a Range Rover is not for the weak of pocket.

**********

Dear Jim Baraza,

Hallo sir. I am recently married and I want to replace my ageing 2001 model Toyota Corona with a bigger, affordable 4x 4. I am a Toyota person due to the availability of spare parts so I was thinking of getting either a 2007 Toyota Harrier 2.4 litre or a 2007 year Toyota Kluger. I have little knowledge of the performance of either and I would greatly appreciate your input on the performance, problems and reliability of the 2007 Harrier and the 2007 Kluger.

Thank you.

Nashon

Hello Nashon,

Congratulations on your recent nuptials. My name is not Jim.

Performance: Depends on what engine the Kluger is packing. The 2.4 Harrier is a bit underwhelming, but should do slightly better than the 2.4 Kluger. However, if the Kluger has a 3.0 engine, or even the 3.5…. then the Harrier fails.

Problems: none in particular stands out as “recurrent” or “notable”. Most of these seem to stem from poor maintenance. Toyotas are highly reliable. Whichever car you choose, just stay on top of the maintenance schedule and you will be fine.

Reliability: see “Problems” above. The Kluger is more rugged, or at least was intended to be more rugged than the Harrier, so it should suffer less use-related glitches in the course of its lifetime.

Posted on

Do Subarus really wear faster than Toyotas? I don’t think so

Hallo Baraza,

I want to purchase my first car and I’m in love with the Subaru Impreza (LA-GG3, 1500cc). Some of my friends are advising me to instead opt for a Toyota 100, 110, G-Touring or Allion, based on the following arguments;

1. The Subaru Impreza 1500cc consumes more fuel than a Toyota of the same engine capacity. The reason being that a Toyota Allion, for example, has a VVT-i engine while Subaru doesn’t. Is this true? If so, does Subaru have a similar offer to Toyota’s VVT-i engine technology?

2. Subaru spare parts are quite expensive compared to Toyota’s. How expensive are they on average? Ten per cent more, for instance? But again I hear Subaru parts wear out less often than Toyotas, thus the maintenance cost balances out. How true is this?

3. Subarus depreciate in value quite fast as compared to Toyotas, thus have a poor resale value. What is the average depreciation rate of a Subaru per year? What makes it lose value that fast compared to a Toyota?

Please advise as I intended to use my car mostly within Nairobi. Over to you.

Sande Stephen.

1. Let those friends of yours conduct a scientific test that specifically proves the Impreza will burn more fuel than a Corolla 100/G-Touring/Allion under the same conditions.

In the course of doing that, let them also say exactly how much more fuel is burnt, and let them also prove that the disparity (if any) in consumption cannot be compensated for by a simple adjustment in driving style and circumstances. While at it, ask them what AVCS means in reference to a Subaru engine, what its function is, what VVT-i means in reference to a Toyota engine and what its function is.

Make sure the answers to these last four questions are not similar in any way. If they are, then they owe you an apology for leading you down the garden path. Some friends, those are.

2. The same technique applies. I cannot quote the prices of these cars’ parts off-the-cuff, and my status as columnist has reached the point where any inquiries will be followed by cries of “Put me in the paper first, then I’ll get you a good deal!”

And anyway, my work is to review cars and offer advise where I can, not provide cataloging services for manufacturers and parts shops. So ask your friends to come up with two similar price lists: one for Toyota and one for Subaru, and compare the listings. And yes, Subaru cars are generally more robust than Toyotas, so they are less likely to break in similar conditions.

3. The question is: which Subaru? From (b) above the opposite would be true: since Subaru cars are less likely to go bang, then it follows they would hold their value longer. That is, unless we are talking turbocharged cars, in which case engine failures are not uncommon. Of particular notoriety is the twin-turbo Legacy GT.

Poor care and/or lack of sufficient knowledge on how to properly operate a turbo engine on the owner/driver’s part is the chief contributor to these failures.

Also, when one buys a turbocharged Subaru, one finds it extremely difficult to drive “sensibly” (for lack of a better word). Hard launches, manic acceleration and extreme cornering manoeuvres tend to be the order of the day, and these tend to wear the car out really fast. So maybe you are right: Subarus may depreciate faster than Toyotas, but this depends on the previous owner’s tendencies.

**********

Bwana Baraza,

1. I have had an ex-Japan Nissan X-Trail for the last three years. It must be about 11 years old now. As it grows older, something pleasantly surprising is happening; it is using less fuel per kilometre than it used to when it was ‘new’. In the past, I would fill the tank, drive to Naro Moru (about 190 kilometres, five of them off tarmac) and by the time I got back in Nairobi I would have just about a quarter tank to go. The empty tank light would come on at around the 470-kilometre mark.

Of late, I am coming back with slightly above half. I have hit the 560-kilometre mark with the fuel light still off. Might it be because these days I use only V-Power fuel for long journeys?

2. I want to purchase a used Isuzu D-Max or Hilux. Which would you advise me to go for, considering petrol or diesel as well as maintenance costs? It will be used for farming purposes in Naro Moru and regular trips to Nairobi. I hear (these may be rumours) that diesel engines demand prompt service, and that the service parts are more expensive compared to petrols.

I also hate the ‘morning sickness’ they exhibit when cranked in the wee hours. Given that Naro Moru is quite cold at night, the sluggishness might be regular. But I could be wrong.

B Chege.

1. Must be the V-Power. It has better quality additives and a high octane rating which not only cleans various engine parts, but also reduces the risk of knocking. Another cause of “improved” engine operation with time would be “bedding in”; where the various engine components tend to “settle” and assume tight-fitting mating surfaces.

I find this unlikely because the car has been in use for 11 years…  the engine must have bedded in by now, and anyway, with new technology, bedding is becoming less of a factor in engine performance. A third, and very unlikely cause, would be a malfunctioning fuel gauge.

2. You must be referring to the KB300 (that’s the name in South Africa, around here we just call it the DMAX 3.0). In maintenance terms, the petrol engine is cheaper overall, but diesel engines offer better performance — in terms of torque — and economy (both the Hilux and the DMAX have 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engines).

The “rumours” are true, diesel engines require careful service, especially now that these two are turbocharged. And they are more expensive — in case of repairs or replacement. That “morning sickness” you describe is because either the driver is not using the glow-plug (it warms the engine block prior to starting), or the glow plug itself is not working properly (or at all).

With these new diesel engines, the glow plug operation is automated, it is not necessary to operate it separately like earlier engines.

**********

Hi Baraza,

I would like to hear your opinion about the Toyota Mark II Blit; its power, comfort, stability, off-road capabilities, maintenance costs, fuel consumption and spare parts.

SM.

Mark II Blit, eh?

Power: Good, especially the one with the 2.5-litre turbocharged 1JZ-GTE engine.

Comfort: Good. Not excellent, and not shabby either. Just “good”.

Stability: Good also. A bit prone to oversteering, especially due to its propensity for spinning the inside wheel when a corner is taken hard under power.

Off-road: Don’t even go there.

Consumption: Depends. If you keep in mind that you are driving a large vehicle with a 2.0-litre or 2.5-litre 6-cylinder engine, then it is understandable that asking for 12-15kpl might be a bit ambitious. If you expect Premio or Corolla-like economy figures, you will be bitterly disappointed.

Spare Parts: What about the spares?

**********

Hi Baraza,

I want to buy a small family car and I’m thinking of the Suzuki Alto, 2007 model, 800cc with a manual gearbox and the Toyota Duet, 1,000cc with an automatic box. Both are going for Sh250,000. Advise me accordingly because I’m after :

1. Fuel efficiency

2. Reliability

3. Travelling up-country twice a year

4. Minimal maintenance cost.

God bless you.

David.

A small correction, Sir. These are NOT family cars, unless you are looking for a divorce and for your children to hate you. Or your family consists of three people only, but even then….

1. Fuel efficiency: The 800cc car wins in city driving, but by a small margin (by small I mean really small, given how tiny these cars are to begin with, and how minute their engines are). The 1.0 litre car will fare better on the highway.

2. Reliability: Could go either way. I’d vote for the Suzuki, because the Duet is a re-badged Daihatsu and may not have Toyota’s trademark reliability as part of its DNA.

3. For your own sake, you are better off in any other car except these two (and their ilk of similar size and engine capacity). But since you asked, the Duet is better, because of its “bigger” (more substantial) engine.

4. I seriously doubt if there are any actual differences in maintenance costs in cars this small.

**********

Hello Baraza,

I am in the process of importing a Mitsubishi Outlander. The car has a number of accessories, though I can only figure out two of them (the ABS and PS (which I presume is Power Steering). Kindly assist in interpreting the following: ABS, AC, AW, FOG, NV, PS, PW and WAB.

Samuel.

ABS: Anti-Blockier System, better known as Anti-Lock Brakes. It is a vehicle safety system that allows the maximum braking effort without locking the wheels and/or skidding. It applies the principles of cadence braking (on-and-off braking technique, such as you might see drivers of heavy commercial vehicles applying) and threshold braking (applying braking effort until the point just when the tyres begin to lock up).

AC: Air-Conditioning. Keeps you cool when the world outside your car is sweating.

AW: Given the make and type of car, I think AW in this case means All-Wheel Drive. Other possible meanings could be “Auxiliary Winding (voltage regulation)”, “Anti-Wear (hydraulic oil, additives)”, “Anchor Winch (for off road vehicles especially)”, or even “All Weather”

FOG: Fog lamps present. I think.

NV: No idea. I know NVH stands for Noise, Vibrations and Harshness. However, these are not car accessories but characteristics directly linked to a car’s construction

PS: Power steering. A more common acronym would be PAS: Power-Assisted Steering

PW: Power Windows. Electrically controlled.

WAB: No idea either. The best I can come up with is “Wheelchair Accessible Bus (?)”

**********

Hi Baraza,

I have a question about my recently imported 2006 ex-Japan VW Passat fitted with V5 engine:

1. The car has a 2324cc, five-cylinder petrol straight engine and is a station wagon. Is it common on our roads?

2. I do 40 kilometres daily to and from work and, gauging from the amount of fuel I use, I do about 7.8kpl and spend Sh3,000 from Monday to Friday (on Sh117/litre). I am a very careful driver, is this fuel consumption normal?

3. At some point the Check Engine light came on and upon taking it for diagnostics, the errors were cleared and the light went off. The mechanic said it was due to a previous engine service interval. After two weeks, the same light came on again, this time the mechanic blamed it on Unleaded Super petrol and recommended I use V-Power. Do I really need to be using the more expensive V-Power?

4. The engine used to whine a bit, especially in the morning and evening. The same mechanic told me the power steering pump was damaged and needed replacement. He, however, refilled the power steering fluid and the whining sound is now gone. Do I still need to replace the pump?. A second-hand unit will cost me around Sh23,000 while a new one is going for Sh52,000.

5. Is this car a good buy, considering the expenses? I imported it in April this year and it has clocked 81,000 kilometres on the odometre.

I will appreciate you feedback.

Mwangi.

1. I agree with you: I don’t think this car is very common. I think I have seen no more than three B6 Passat estate cars here in Nairobi. Then the V5 engine is also not a popular import option, and it was not sold by CMC.

2. How bad is the traffic on your road? The figure seems realistic to me, especially given the car has a 2.3 litre engine… with five cylinders (sporty).

3. What error codes did you get when the diagnosis was done? And if the octane rating of the fuel you were using was not ideal, then V-Power should have cured it. One other thing. Some petrol stations would “claim” to be selling Unleaded Premium but instead they peddle some swill that would only be fit for motorbikes and chain saws.

If you understand octane ratings, check out the results of the test done on some “super” petrol that was anonymously acquired from a local fuel forecourt (the company’s identity has been retained until further investigations). Tell me what that octane rating is worth. Clearly not Premium as recommended by manufacturers.

There are reports of other dealers selling water and subsequently ruining people’s engines in the process. You may be a victim of this. More to come soon.

4. If the power steering pump was actually damaged, then yes, you need to replace it. If it was not damaged — the whining was just a result of the whirring of a hydraulic fluid pump spooling with no hydraulic fluid to pump — then a replacement is not necessary… especially given the figures you are quoting.

5. I would say the car is not a bad one. Volkswagen make good cars, the B6 is a looker, wonderful to drive (I am sure that 2.3 litre V5 engine is a hoot) and the estate version must surely be more versatile than the sedan. the trick is to find someone (a garage) who will maintain it well for you.

Posted on

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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Don’t drive in Neutral gear, it makes no sense at all

Hello Braza,

Thank you very much for your advice on tyre size. It worked perfectly. I have one other question. Somebody advised me to be changing my gear selection to N (Neutral) when going downhill in order to save fuel. Is this true?

Does it have any adverse effect on the vehicle, especially when I change from D to N and vice-versa when the vehicle is in motion?

Please help, and God bless you.

Lisa

Don’t do it, Lisa. There may not be an “adverse effect” per se, but it is risky in that you may bump the lever into R instead of D when going out of N, though this is heavily dependent on the design of the car in question.

Also, it is self-defeating, in that most of the time before going into N most people accelerate hard in D (or whatever gear for a manual transmission) to gain the momentum they think they are preserving in neutral.

If you want to save fuel, drive like this: accelerate gently, but not so slowly as to be a nuisance to me when I come up behind you in a powerful car. Do it within reason.

As a driver, use your discretion as to what “within reason” means. Don’t crawl like an old woman.

Also, don’t stomp the accelerator to the bulk-head, unless under special circumstances… like when stuck at a railway crossing and a freight train is bearing down on you, but this is an unlikely occurrence. We don’t have freight trains any more.

Avoid braking as much as possible, but again within reason. I once said that to someone who offered to drive me from point A to point B, then the joker proceeded to drive into a crowd of people saying “Baraza said not to brake”.

Were it not for the cat-like reactions of the subsequently insanely furious bystanders, there might have been some injuries. No, no, no: brake when necessary, but only when necessary. This is because braking wastes precious energy in the form of momentum, which energy was expended getting up to speed.

Try this: rather than braking hard, try and lose speed with the throttle closed (foot off the accelerator) first, then when you have lost enough momentum and are ready to stop (or the car ahead of you is REALLY close now)… stop.

When going downhill, instead of going into N, simply take your foot off the accelerator. Gravity will still pull your car downhill, so you won’t stop. The compression in the engine will create a retardation effect, so you won’t have to keep braking to prevent your car from behaving like a runaway bicycle. And with modern engines, once the sensors tell that there is no load on the engine, fuel is cut off completely, so you use zero fuel. In neutral, some fuel is used for idling. Which is better?

Economy driving at first seemed fairly obvious to me, but over the nearly-three years of doing this column I have come to realise it is more of an art: not everybody understands it, not everybody can do it, or knows when to do it.

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Dear Baraza,

I have been driving a 1990 Nissan Primera (1838cc) for the past five years. The car has given me no problems at all — until recently, when it started emitting black smoke and guzzling petrol such that I had to ground it. My questions are:

1. What might be the problem, and what is the solution?

2. If I were to replace the engine with a second-hand 1500cc or 1600cc EFI or VVTI one from, which one would you recommend, and how much should I expect to pay for it?

3. What are the things that a layman should look out for when buying a replacement engine?

Luvembe

1. Your car is running rich, very rich, and these are the probable causes: Oxygen sensors, a leak in the intake or exhaust before the oxygen sensors, cracked or disconnected vacuum hoses, faulty fuel system, and clogged fuel lines, among others. The best way to determine the cause is to get an OBD (On Board Diagnostics) scanner that gives you feedback in real time.

2. Be specific. Almost all engines nowadays are EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection), and have some form of variable valve timing. My recommendation would be to buy an engine from that model range (Primera), but newer. It will be easier to install than trying to shoe-horn a Toyota engine into a Nissan engine bay.

3. You can’t. That is why it is advisable you have a reliable and trustworthy mechanic who can help you with such analyses. Either that or someone who knows his way around a car engine. Even I sometimes have to seek help from some of my friends on some matters.

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Hi Baraza,

I have been reading your articles for some time now and I must say I find them interesting.

I would like you to do some research on the Kenyan Traffic Act because I feel police officers have been making their own laws. For instance, who said driving without a driving licence in your car amounts to an offence?

The offence should only apply to those who have never been issued with a driving licence, not those who do not carry it around in person. If you have a licence but have not carried it with you, the law is specific that you should be allowed to produce it within 24 hours at the nearest police station. A lot of drivers continue to be harassed on the road simply because they do not know the provisions of the law.

Finally, I seek your advice on an unrelated matter. Which is the most ideal car to drive between an automatic and a manual one?

Thanks,

Peter Wachira.

I will study the Traffic Act (the full Act, not just the recent Amendments) and do something thorough about it. In the meantime, let me ask you this: if you get into an argument with a traffic policeman, who do you think will win?

If stopped at a road-block and you show signs of being hard-headed (kichwa ngumu) or extremely knowledgeable (mjuaji sana), your day will not go well, I assure you. Most of the time when the police stop you it will be for a legitimate reason. If not, then it is just to let you know that they are watching.

If you start getting argumentative, you are letting them know that you have plenty of time on your hands, and they will help you to occupy this time. Traffic policemen are experts at using time up.

On the second issue: manual or auto. Which one do you prefer? That is the better one. One man’s preferred gearbox could be another man’s accident-in-waiting.

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Dear Baraza,

Please tell me what, in engine sizes and configurations, does the number of valves in an engine mean? I have an example below to illustrate this:

How different is a 2006 6V 2.7-litre Hyundai Tuscon (JM-Japanese version) from a 2007 Toyota Rav-4 with 16V 2.4-litre, VVT-i engine? In terms of maintenance, is there anything peculiar these vehicles require regarding service intervals and requirements, given the different engine configurations?

Many thanks,

Josh.

The number of valves, simply, is the number of valves. There are two types in an engine, according to function: inlet and exhaust. The inlet valves open to allow air into the cylinders. All valves are closed during the compression and power strokes, then the exhaust valves open for the burnt air to be scavenged from the cylinders.

In a nut-shell, the higher the number of valves, the better the engine ‘breathes’ — takes in fresh air and expels exhaust. Still, there are several key constraints, one of which is cylinder head design and the increase in number of moving parts (increases friction and rotating inertia moments of the new masses). So sometimes instead of having many valves it might be better to make the few bigger.

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Hello Baraza,

Your article on hydro cars was a thriller. I’d like to share what seems like a rare find. I read about a Swiss inventor who’s patented square pistons for reciprocating engines… with reason.

Yes, you heard me right. They’re true squares, viewed from top. The square profile enables the piston to tilt with the rod on strokes, eliminating the gudgeon pin. A lighter reciprocating assembly is created by directly welding the piston to the rod or by forging one compact assembly.

Reciprocating masses reduced mean a harder revving, more powerful engine. I did a paper model of it and found it true. It can work. The problem was designing rings that can seal the wide cavities arising. You may consider getting a paper model of it from me absolutely FREE (I’m gifted in craft!) to see how true this is if you haven’t come across it.

I’ve since tried to look for it on the Internet in vain. But I’m not complaining; even more ambitious engine projects like Kauertz are in books but not online.

Lawrence Mutisya.

The problem with square pistons is that the corners create problems. This is how:

1. Lines of weakness. The high pressures and extreme stress caused by combustion will weaken the engine block along those corners first.

This is also the reason why water and fuel tankers have cylindrical containers rather than the cuboids used to transport TVs and other stuff.

The weight of the water will act on the edges first and weaken the structure. A round container has no definite stress point, so pressure is distributed evenly all over

2. The corners look like potential ‘hot spots’, places where pockets of heat form and these could cause detonation and or pre-ignition.

3. As you mentioned: sealing the corner gaps will not be easy.

4. The rotary engine, though clever, never really managed to oust the reciprocating engine. Lack of torque, high fuel consumption, high oil consumption and frequent replacement of rotor tips made them impractical. Mazda struggled to keep the rotary engine alive with the RX-8 sports car but even they had to give it up as a lost cause.

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Dear Baraza,

I work in Rift Valley and reside in Nairobi’s Eastlands. I have an automatic Toyota Fielder X, 1500cc that has proved very reliable. My only problem with it is that, when it rains, I get stuck all over the place, even on flat surfaces.

I am now thinking of replacing it with a good family car with adequate space for cargo. Which, among, the following, would you recommend: Toyota Noah/Voxy, ‘Nissan E-Trail’, Subaru Forester or Honda CRV? Fuel economy is of utmost importance to me, as is automatic transmission.

Thanks,

Zacheus Karimi.

Cargo Space: There is a five-seat option on the Voxy (two rows of seats instead of three), which leaves an entire warehouse of space where typically the other passenger bench would be. That particular configuration leaves the cross-over cars biting the dust in terms of capacious cargo holds. I don’t even want or need to give figures as proof; it is so obvious.

The Nissan X-trail comes second with 603 litres of space with the rear seats up and 1,773 litres with the seats down. This, however, you did not ask about, which leads me to ask a question of my own: what is a Nissan E-Trail?

The Subaru Forester comes at last place, with 450 litres if you don’t drop the rear seats and 1,660 litres if you do. The Honda CRV, according to my research, was quoted in cubic feet: 37.2 with the seats up and 70.9 with them down.

Further research resulted in this being an astonishing (and frankly unbelievable) 1,053.4 litres with the seats up and 2,008 litres with them down. This places it second, especially if you also remove the middle row of seats in the Voxy. It then turns into a pickup. (All figures quoted are for the latest versions of these cars. Next time be more specific about vintage).

Automatic transmissions: All these vehicles have them. The Subaru and the Nissan X-trail also have CVT options, which I’d encourage you to explore, if only to get more people into the world of CVT. I don’t know about the Nissan E-Trail (if such a thing even exists).

Again, these vehicles have some form or other of 4WD, which some would call AWD (Subaru). It is always on in the five-star Fuji product (stars on the logo, not its overall ranking), the Nissan X-Trail has deselectable 4WD via an electronic system (which turns it into a FWD), the CRV is predominantly front-drive until grip runs out fore then power is sent aft (an adaptive system, you could call it), while the drivetrain configuration of the Nissan E-Trail is unknown because the vehicle itself is unknown.

Fuel economy: All these cars rank somewhere in the 9l/100km zone, which translates to about 11kpl. The van can be thirsty if provoked. A way into even better economy would be to acquire a Forester diesel with a manual gearbox (for the 2013 model such a thing does exist), but then again you say you want an automatic car, so… too bad. Also, Subaru Kenya does not sell diesel Foresters. Given Subaru’s past output, it is highly likely they have never even seen a diesel engine over there.

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Dear Baraza,

I have a Nissan Sunny, B15 2002 which is in a good condition. The problem with the car is that I cannot read the odometer clock because it only shows half the digits. When I start the car in the morning I can barely see the whole mileage, and, as the car warms up, the numbers fade off. What could be the problem?

Titus Musyoka

The problem is that your digital odometer read-out is on the fritz, which is just what you have told me. What you want to know are probable causes.

It is unlikely to be temperature-related because engine heat has to go through a veritable buffer zone before it gets to the odo’. That buffer zone has a plethora of insulators within it (insulator in this case is not necessarily the dressing on heat or electricity-bearing components, but rather is any material that does not conduct heat… or electricity.

The opposite of the word “conductor”, in other words). My guess is a loose connection somewhere. The vibrations from the running engine slowly work loose some tiny little wires that feed the digital read-out, so half of it gets blurry or disappears.

That is my best guess. Whether or not I am right is immaterial here: either way you will have to see an electrical expert to sort you out. It may require pushing a wire back in place, soldering it or maybe replacing the whole readout.