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I prefer a first-generation Vitara to the tiny, bouncy Camis and Jimnys

Dear Baraza,

I have been wondering why you answer questions only from people who drive big and expensive cars? This is the third mail I am sending, although I can already tell you won’t respond – if at all you care to read it.

Now to my question: Which small SUV would you go for between a Toyota Cami and Suzuki Jimny, both year 2006, 1.3litre, in terms of off-road ability in muddy conditions, engineering, and availability of spare parts. I want one for commuting to work and visiting the farm in a remote shags on weekends.

Patrick

Hi,

Yes, I only answer questions from people who drive big and expensive cars, cars like the Nissan Note, Mazda Demio and Subaru Impreza. They don’t come any bigger or more expensive than these.

Perhaps I should start charging a consultation fee; that way, maybe the owners of these big cars will stop sending emails and allow drivers of smaller cars to have their 15 minutes.

Secondly, there is a backlog in my inbox: I have hundreds of unanswered emails, and yours was one of them – until now.

So, to your question: I wouldn’t buy either of the two since they are both horrible to drive. I’d rather buy a first-generation 5-door Suzuki Vitara, which costs less but gets you more of a car and is cheaply available with an optional V6 engine.

The Cami and Jimny are tiny, bouncy little things that are badly afflicted by crosswinds on the highway, will not seat enough human beings for you to have a memorable road trip, and will shatter your pelvis on a rough road. However, they are also very capable when the ground underfoot gets industrial.

Off-road: Their non-existent overhangs, narrow bodies and relatively high ground clearance make them handy tools for penetrating the impenetrable, and unless you fall inside a peat bog or drive off a cliff, you are unlikely to ever get stuck in one.

The muddy conditions you inquire about may prove to be their undoing, though: their tiny, underpowered engines don’t generate enough power to force your way through the clag, which is why Landcruisers are recommended for such. You need plenty of power when going through mud, otherwise you run the risk of wedging yourself into the landscape.

With power, you also need bigger wheels. The Jimny and Cami both run on dinner plates that will cut through the mud and beach your vehicle faster than you can say “I knew 1.3 litres was not enough engine…” The Jimnys sold by CMC had slightly wider wheels, though, which would improve matters. Here’s why:

When forging a path through the quagmire, you need a modicum of buoyancy to prevent getting stuck. The bigger tyres offer a bit of floatation, and the speed complements it.

Of course, it is not recommended that you try and do 100 kph in a swamp, but it is imperative that you keep moving and not stop at all, and sometimes to keep moving, you need plenty of revs and a bit of wheelspin.

With no power at your disposal, compounded by smaller wheels, you will start to sink in the mud and if you try to generate a bit of wheelspin, you burn your clutch and/or stall the vehicle.

The Jimny has a slight advantage over the Cami in that, as a 3-door, it has a shorter wheelbase, and the lack of a body-kit even as an option gives it superior approach and departure angles, and much better ground clearance.

Engineering: These are cheap, narrow, 1.3 litre, 4-cylinder Kei cars. The engineering in them is rudimentary at best, and their only bragging points would be over things we take for granted in other cars such as AC, power steering, power windows and variable valve timing.

Forget about hill descent control, torque vectoring, terrain response systems or submersion sensor technology; for those, you need to multiply your budget by 30 and start looking at Range Rovers, the kind of cars driven by people whose emails I respond to (you opened a can of worms here, my friend).

Availability of spare parts: small, Japanese cars are the topic at hand. What was your question again?

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Hi Baraza,
Thanks to you, we petrolheads now look forward to Wednesdays as if it is Friday. Your writing prowess and knowledge about cars is simply outstanding. Keep up the good work. Anyway, to my queries.

1) Why don’t the turbo-charged Subies and Evos come with turbo timers from the factory? And they don’t come with damp valves either: does it mean they are not necessary? Don’t get me wrong, I know what they are used for but it bothers me that the manufacturers of these speed machines don’t fit these gadgets as standard.

2) This is a proposal: I think it’s high time rally organisers used the Jamuhuri Park circuit, where two cars race side by side on gravel, as a spectator stage. They did so last time and it was really exciting.

I am disappointed that this year they have skipped it for the boring Migaa circuit. To the rally organisers: let’s build more circuits like that in our bid to lure the WRC. I doubt it’s costly, plus they can always charge entry fees to recover the costs.

Last but not least, what’s the shape of an Evo’s tail lights? Because we sub drivers can’t recall….

Elly

Hi,

1. These turbo cars don’t come with timers because in stock form, they do not really need them. Once the owners/drivers start tuning/modifying/upgrading them by installing bigger turbos, increasing boost pressures and using manual boost controllers, the need for timers arises.

The turbos spool faster, generate more heat, and the bigger units require more oil for lubrication, which is where the need for timers comes in. The timers assist in heat dumping and spool-down manoeuvres to prevent damage and oil coking. The stock turbos are usually designed during R&D to compensate for this sudden cool-down, according to their capacity.

A small correction though: the factory cars DO come with dump valves, it’s just that these BOVs are not as loud as the aftermarket devices. Some people install new dump valves simply for the noise they make, a noise I will admit is highly addictive. Even I will buy a new BOV just for the “pssshh!!” throttle-off hiss.

2. Well, nowadays we have something called Club TT Motorsports, and though unintended, it sometimes steps in where rally fears to tread. Club TT Motorsports is the committee behind the famous time trials, four of which have been held so far. Three of the four races were the Kiamburing TT hill-climbs, and one was the Murang’a TT.

I will pass your recommendation on to the organising committee and see if Jamhuri Park can be put to good use. Wheel-to-wheel racing is the most dangerous aspect of motorsport, especially where amateurs are concerned, but then again, its entertainment quotient is infinitely greater than the standard time trial format.

If we can get two cars to run side by side (Evo vs STi, anyone?) but demarcate the two lanes into separate pathways, we will be sure to have a show we will not forget soon. What was that you said about Evo tail-lights?

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Dear Mr Baraza,

Thank you for sharing your column. The information is very helpful and insightful. Keep up and do not be discouraged by the few negative comments.

I recently bought a 1800cc Premio but need to improve the clearance. I have put strong coil springs and there is some improvement, but when fully loaded, it’s still low on high bumps.

1. Is it true that bigger tyres will increase fuel consumption? I am using 185/70/14. I wanted to use 195/70/15. Will they affect stability?

2. Since I imported it, whenever I drive beyond 100 kph, if I brake, the steering wheel shakes. I have checked the brakes, had the wheels aligned and balanced but no change.

3. The back seat has only two safety belts, with an arm rest in between that can be folded back to accommodate three passengers.

The import inspection sheet indicated that it can accommodate five passengers, so I am assuming there should have been a safety belt for the middle passenger at the back.

Hello,

1. Not really. Okay, it will, but the difference will be barely discernible and anyway, the instantaneous consumption varies quite a bit. Overall, you will not notice anything.

2. Check your brakes again. Your problem sounds like warped brake discs. You might need new ones.

3. I’d assume so too, so either a) we are both wrong, or b) there WAS a seat belt but for one reason or another it was removed.

When I reviewed a Premio a long time ago, I sat in the back seat to check out the legroom (which was good) but didn’t check for a centre belt, so I cannot tell if this is an isolated case or if it is the norm with Premios.

It is at times like this that reader feedback comes in handy; maybe other Premio owners out there can tell us if their cars are also blighted by fewer seatbelts than there are seats, or if this problem is yours alone.

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Hello Baraza,

I like your expert advice on the advantages or otherwise of various car makes/models and solutions you suggest for car problems.

I am an admirer of SUVs currently driving a Subaru Forrester. I would like to upgrade, maybe to a BMW X5 or X6.

Which one do you consider a better deal in terms of performance, fuel economy, and local support, bearing in mind that it would most likely be a second-hand import?

Also, should I buy one that uses petrol or diesel, given that there are issues with the quality of locally available diesel.

Dan N

Hi,

I can’t help but notice you share a name with a TV comedian, the famous “Churchill”. You are not he, are you?

The two cars are largely similar and share engines, so performance, economy and local support are no different irrespective of which X-car you go for.

Local support is the bone of contention here: a visit to Bavaria Motors assured me that they do not discriminate against imports; they will support ANY BMW you throw at them. The reports on the ground are a little different but not too worrisome. Some claim they have not got a stellar reception at Bavaria.

Petrol vs diesel: BMWs have not had as many complications with diesel engines as their German rivals, Mercedes and Volkswagen. I think it is a calculable risk, and the calculations say you can take a gamble.

However, the petrol engines are a lot more powerful and much more fun to drive but you need a sizeable fuel budget if you plan to take advantage of the hiatus in the 50km/h town-bound speed limit.

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Sir,
I am contemplating importing a Honda Fit 1500 cc , but the mileage (all in Japan) seems high at 98,000 km. What would you advise?
C Shah

I would advise that you not pay too much money for it; 98,000km is a lot for a small ex-Japan car. Alternatively, expand your search and hope to find one with lower mileage (it will cost a little bit more, though).

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Hi Baraza,
I read your article on revitalisants in Car Clinic with lots of interest.

This Russian revitalisant was introduced to me by a doctor friend who had earlier used it in the UK.I added the gel to my engine oil in September this year and the engine of my Mitsubishi Warrior double- cab has improved in sound quality. It used to be rough, like a truck, but I can now say there is definitely an improvement.

I have also noticed an improvement in fuel economy. The car now does 7 kpl from a low 5.5 kpl, which is poor for a diesel vehicle.

I am ready to take the plunge with you on the gearbox. Let’s compare notes sometime in November.

Cheers, iKay.

Interesting feedback. I did review a Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab pick-up some two years ago and two of the many shortcomings on that particular vehicle involved the gruffness of the engine and the poor fuel economy. Maybe that vehicle needed some “revitalising”.

November is here, I will soon get my bottle of magic Russian juice, then we will see what is what. This Russian elixir is called XADO (pronounced “ha-do”) and has apparently been around for some time. Strange how I had not heard of it till recently.

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Here, a lesson or two on best gear engagement for fuel economy

Hi Baraza,

I own a Suzuki Escudo with automatic transmission. I have been driving with the selector on “4H” during normal driving.

Recently, a friend advised that I should drive on “N” for better fuel consumption. The car feels lighter, but there is an intermittent whining sound and some letters (“N” and “4L”) appearing on the dashboard, also intermittently.

So, I re-engage 4H for fear of damaging the transmission system. Please advise me on the best gear engagement for fuel economy.

BJ

Wait a minute; are the gear positions only 4H, 4L and N? That’s odd. There should be 2H also, which is the recommended setting for ordinary driving. This is what those letters mean:

4H stands for 4-High, which basically means 4WD is engaged, but the transmission is in High range. This gives normal driving speeds. This setting is for use where one or more tyres are losing traction but speed is not an issue, such as on flat ground with a thin and slippery, muddy layer on top. It will keep the car moving even while suffering wheels pin, and will prevent skidding (up to a point).

In a car with selectable 4WD, it is not recommended for regular use, especially on tarmac, as it is heavy on the fuel and the car is difficult to turn (there is a tendency to go in a straight line). Extended use of 4H also wears down the transmission. Use only when necessary.

4L (4-Low): This means 4WD is on and the transmission is in low range. The least used 4WD setting for most drivers, 4L is intended for extreme conditions, where speed is undesirable and might actually lead to disaster. Such conditions include descending steep slopes, crawling over rocks or over terrain so twisted and gnarled that one or more wheels catch air every now and then.

The extremely slow speeds might cause the engine to stall in normal transmission settings, which is where the low range comes in. It allows high engine speeds with low road speeds.

The low range also multiplies torque and allows the car to crawl up inclines of high aspect ratios, which normal cars cannot tackle. In most cases, the diffs are locked by default when 4L is engaged.

2H (2-High): 4WD is disengaged and the car is on 2WD. This is the setting for normal, day-to-day use on regular road surfaces. It eases up the rolling resistance offered by the transmission weight, thus boosting performance and fuel economy. The car also steers easily since the workload on the steering wheels is reduced.

N: This has to be neutral. It works more or less the same as neutral in the primary gearbox. It disconnects both front and rear driveshafts, allowing the engine to be used for other purposes by means of a power take-off (PTO) shaft.

This is mostly old technology; most new 4x4s don’t come with PTOs, which in turn means some might not have the N position, especially for those using an electronic switch to engage/disengage 4WD rather than the traditional gear lever on the floor of the car.

This now begs the question: How was your car operating on N (neutral)? This is my surmise: your car uses the gear lever on the floor rather than the rotary switch found on new Escudos.

In trying to select N, you might have “partially” engaged 4L, which means that the gears are not meshed properly. This would also explain the whining noise and the flashing dashboard light. The cogs may be slipping in and out of position intermittently.

If your car has 2H, engage that immediately in the following manner: Bring the car to a complete stop. Engage the parking brake. Engage neutral in the primary gearbox (free). If it is an automatic, place the lever in N, and NOT P (Park).

Make sure the front tyres are pointed straight ahead (the steering is dead centre and not turned to any side).

Depress the clutch all the way in, just to be sure, for a manual car. Place the transfer box in 2H firmly and decisively. That is, make sure the tiny lever has clunked solidly into position. From there, drive as you normally do: engage gear, release the parking brake and go.

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Hi Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column, and I wonder if you have a blog where readers can refer to your past articles. If not, it would be a great idea.

Now to my question: I have a Toyota Starlet EP 92 YOM ‘99. I must admit it has served me well for more than five years. The car is still in good condition, but for the past few months, it has developed a problem with its gearbox.

The car jerks when you engage drive from neutral. This happens after driving for about 10 minutes. Apart from the jerking, the gears still shift very well.

Some mechanics have advised me to change the whole gearbox, while others say it could be an electrical problem. Could you advise on what the issue might be? Is it time I replaced the whole gearbox despite the fact the gears shift well?

Morton Saulo

Hi,
I hardly think a gearbox replacement is necessary. Your problem does not sound fatal, and the cause could be something as simple as either topping up or replacing the ATF.

Have you done either of those in the five years you have owned the car? It is always wise to check the transmission oils at the same time you make the typical fluid checks in the engine bay.

How bad is the jerking? If the fluid is not the issue, then the control electronics could be the problem: the solenoids, the TCM, or even the valves or pumps in the transmission gubbins.

Get a mechanic who will look at it without resorting to last-ditch efforts just because they probably don’t understand what is happening. Your problem is not as critical as requiring a transplant just yet.

However, if you don’t remedy the situation pronto, then a transplant is what you will need eventually.

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Dear Baraza,

I always look forward to reading your articles in Car Clinic every Wednesday, and I have observed the following:

1. You are sometimes overly critical of some types of cars, which you dismiss, in my view, as almost useless, even though you do not say so outright. Your article of Wednesday, September 10, 2014, on the Nissan Murano with a heading reading, “The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about”, is a case in point.

While it is not my wish to correct your articles, since I am not a motor vehicle expert, I honestly feel that you sometimes go overboard in your criticism of some models.

You must bear in mind there are people who already own the models you so criticise, and I am sure it does not go down well with them. And neither does it, I believe, go down well with the respective car manufacturers (in case they read your articles!) let alone prospective buyers.

Years ago, there was on a comedy, Mind Your Language, on TV.

2. As well as your technical know-how regarding motor vehicles, I have noted with interest your good mastery of the English language, which you also put to good use.

However, in my view, you sometimes go overboard with your expressions, which to me would require the majority of your esteemed readers to consult a professor of the English language or refer to the Advanced Oxford English Dictionary.

Your language in the Murano article refers. I would like to know whether your questioner, Eriq B, understood your answers well!3.

Finally Sir, many automatic cars, if not all, have on their gear stick or lever, a button which when pressed in reads “O/D Off”. Kindly explain in simple terms, what it does.

DKoi

Hello Sir,

I may be a columnist on matters motoring, but first, I am a writer. And as a writer, I have certain tools at my disposal. These tools include metaphors, analogies and hyperbole. I use these tools to great effect and to style my product, and it is in the styling of this product that I came to the attention of the book-heads at NMG. The fact that I might know one or two things about cars is a bonus.

I believe that I am here primarily for my ability to string words together in a way that not many can easily emulate. It is typically the onus of the reader to discern where to take things literally and focus on the content, and where to gaze at the magnificence of the literary tapestry woven by a veteran wordsmith in his weekly attempts to prove himself as one of the greats, legitimate or otherwise.

I believe this addresses your second question. Given that Eriq B has not reverted ever since, there could be two explanations: 1. He fully understood what I wrote and accepted/dismissed it, letting it go at that, or 2. It all blew past his ears and he is up until now thumbing a copy of the Advanced Oxford English Dictionary you mention, in a desperate attempt to derive meaning from my somewhat elaborate literary tapestry.

I trust he is an intelligent man, so for now, we will work with the first theory until he reverts. Okay, let me put down my own trumpet, which I think I have blown enough.

To your first point: I admit I do dismiss some cars ruthlessly. And yes, there are people who own these cars and whose feelings get hurt every time my weekly word salad hits the stands.

Good examples are owners of the Toyota Prius, and Subaru drivers… especially Subaru drivers. This latter group can now have their sweet revenge while they still can.

The last Kiamburing TT championship was taken by an orange, 6-star Coupé, so there will be no end to the punitive payback these Subaru fans will mete out on me following the fun I have had with them over the years.

Given that the driver of the said winning vehicle is a friend of mine, I will have a “word” with him concerning his choice of vehicle and the awkward position he has placed me in. This “word” might or might not be delivered with the aid of a crude weapon. I do not much care for being placed in awkward positions.

Not so much for Murano drivers. Until a Murano wins a single off-road challenge, it still sits in the wastebasket of useless propositions alongside automotive jokes like the BMW X6. These cars really do not make any sense to me, at all.

Speaking of the BMW X6, yes, manufacturers read what I write, and while most will just watch and quietly hope that I get a job elsewhere (preferably away from newspapers), one or two will take exception and make known their discontent.

This invariably leads to a repeat road test (or a new one for cars previously undriven), a stern talking-to and the inevitable recommendation that any time I feel like walking all over their products, I should reconsider. I usually reconsider, as requested, and then I proceed to walk all over them again.

This is not done out of spite, as some might assume. My reviews are the result of critical analysis and the need for honesty, which is sometimes brutal.

Why, to be realistic, would I ever want to buy a Murano over, say, a BMW X5? How much of the planet is the Prius actually saving when, over its lifetime, it actually does more environmental damage than a V8 Land Rover Discovery?

What exactly is a Sports Activity Vehicle? Who would look at the face of a Chevrolet Utility pick-up and truthfully declare that it does not look a bit funny?

I hope you get my point. I am here not only to dispense advice and sample vehicles so that you don’t have to, but also to initiate discourse and encourage critical thinking. A car is the third biggest investment you will ever make in your life. The second is buying a house. The first is educating your child.

You wouldn’t want to take your child’s education lightly, would you? Schools of ill repute will be steered clear of. Neither would you want to spend good money on a hovel into which you will condemn yourself and your loved ones their whole lives. So why not exercise the same keenness when it comes to choosing a car?

Have a good week.

Posted on

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…

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The Murano is certainly comfy, but that’s about all it can boast about

Hello Baraza,
I love cars and they must be fast, but in Kenya they have put in place speed bumps, Alcoblow and what have you to stop us. Kindly give me the lowdown on the Nissan Murano; is it as good as its curves imply or is it “just another Nissan”?
Eriq B

The speed bumps and Alcoblow kits are necessary evils to protect Kenyans from themselves. Sometimes we take things too far, more often than not, with blatant disregard for existing dogma.

Rules are meant to be followed, and if the great unwashed thinks it knows better and is too large to capture (“They can’t arrest us all!”), systems can be put in place that make strict obeisance of such tenets unavoidable.

With speed bumps looming ahead, pushing the needle to previously unused sectors of the speedometer doesn’t look so attractive now, does it?

With a policeman in a high-visibility jacket ready and willing to ruin your weekend with a citation and court appointment (wherein penalties involving large sums of money and/or extended periods as a guest of the state will be on the menu), drink-driving is suddenly not as much fun as it used to be, is it?

NOT EASY ON FUEL

That aside, let us chat (very briefly) about the Murano. It is a good car if you buy it — if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t want to admit to anyone that you threw money down the toilet buying a useless vehicle, would you? It is a good car only if you own it, because it is an investment.

As an unsold car, it is hard to see the point of a Murano other than as a cut-price pose-mobile; an option where the Mercedes M Class looks too snobbish, a BMW X5/X6/X3 too expensive, a Lexus RX330/450h too cliché, a Subaru Tribeca too close to guilt by association with the boy-racer WRX, and where the propagator of the incipient purchase has a fetish for chrome.

It looks like an SUV but it won’t seat seven and will be flummoxed by some rough stuff that a Freelander could handle: the ground clearance is insufficient for tough terrain; the 4WD system is not for anything besides good traction on wet tarmac and/or a light coating of mud on hard-pack road; approach, departure and break-over angles are not ideal for crawling over anything tougher than a kerb; it is not easy on fuel and, to make matters worse, there is a pretender in the line-up: a little-known 2.5 litre 4-cylinder engine that could easily haunt your engine bay, fooling the unwise into thinking they have the more famous 3.5 litre V6 (“sports car engine, mate! Straight off the 350Z!”); that is, until the day they go beyond the psychological barrier that is half-throttle and experience incredulity at being dusted by a sports saloon with high-lift cams, then ask themselves what all those cubic inches are for if the Murano can’t keep up with a tiny car.

Cross-over utilities are pointless in my opinion, and the Murano is one of them. More style than substance, more form than function, more panache than purpose. It is comfortable, though, and makes a good kerb-crawler and school run vehicle…

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Hi Baraza,
First, I wish to appreciate your column in the Daily Nation. I have a Land Rover Discovery 3, 2007,  2.7 diesel engine and am thinking of customising it. What I have in mind is to make it a twin turbo or add a supercharger to increase horsepower.

It’s a big project and I know it will incur significant costs; buying the turbo or supercharger itself is not cheap. Anyway, I wish to get your opinion as to whether this is not a very crazy undertaking.

And while at it, please tell me where I can get aftermarket parts in Kenya such as cold intakes and performance exhaust manifolds and any other ways to add those horses. I know this is not a race car and I don’t expect it to be, but boys will be boys, always competing to see who has the most power.
PS: I don’t think the Evo will ever see the tail lights of a Sub.
Kevin

Yes, it is a crazy undertaking. To begin with, nobody ever supercharges a diesel engine (the explanation is long and highly technical).

The other impediment is creating a twin-turbo set-up from a single turbo application. Will the twin turbo be sequential or parallel? Where will you fit the second turbo?

The Disco’s engine bay is already cramped enough as it is. It would be easier to either replace the factory turbo with an aftermarket unit, or simply increase the boost pressure in the current one.

Recent happenings in the Great Run (last year’s 4×4) indicate that the Disco 3’s turbo might not be the most faithful accomplice in attaining horsepower.

The one Discovery that took part blew its (stock) turbo or something along those lines — after limping along in safe-mode for a while. Maybe fiddling with the turbo on the Ford AJD-V6/PSADT17 engine might not be a good idea after all.

Buying a new turbo might not be your biggest headache in this undertaking. You might or might not need new injectors (high-flow units), depending on what comes as stock from the factory. You might or might not need an intercooler upgrade.

You will definitely need new headers and a new intake. You will also need either a new engine map for the ECU to gel with the new blower or a whole new ECU altogether. I don’t know of any local outfit that does Discovery engine maps.

Worse still, opening up the engine might prove to be the first obstacle you come across: some engines are built and held together using custom covers and fasteners, whose tools are very specific and supplied only to official dealers. I hardly think RMA Kenya will want to get in on this.

The easiest way to get a sizeable jump in power might be to simply increase boost in the current turbo by a very huge factor, then persevere the gnawing feeling in your stomach that soon, the turbo will most likely disintegrate into a cloud of metal shavings.

Shop around. Performance parts are not very hard to come by nowadays. PS: You are right. You will never see the tail lights of a car that is behind you.

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Dear Baraza,

I enjoy reading your articles and appreciate and respect your advice. Now, please give your comments on the performances of the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota Fortuner and the Land Rover Discovery.

I test-drove a Pathfinder and the car seemed excellent… power, comfort, and smoothness. Road grip at high speed on rough roads with what they call independent wheel suspension was very good compared to the others.

However, it has a lower power rating of only 2.5L. Or is there higher output for some cars even with a lower cc? Please advise because I need to make a decision. Mash.

Hello Mash,
I don’t follow. First, in Point 1 you say you like the power, comfort and smoothness of the Pathfinder, but then come Point 2, you complain that the vehicle is down on power. Which is which?

You are right, though, the Pathfinder is good on those three fronts, but even better is the Discovery, again on all three fronts. This leads to another question: which Discovery are you referring to?

We are on the fourth iteration, which is a whole lot different (and light years better) than the first two generations. This also applies to the Pathfinder: which generation are we talking about?

The earlier ones were close to hopeless, but the latest ones (R51 model onwards) are superb. Not so much the Fortuner.

The power might be much lower than the Pathfinder, especially where the diesel engines in the Hilux are concerned (101hp for the Toyota 2KD-FTV 2.5 litre compared to the Nissan’s 170hp YD25TT 2.5 litre diesel).

A BIT THIRSTY

The Fortuner is also not what we would call comfortable, and being based on a rugged, near-immortal, steel-boned, hewn-from-granite frame designed to do all sorts of menial tasks, from ferrying khat to carrying bags of cement to toting heavy artillery in war-torn areas, smoothness was not a priority during development, and it shows. It is based on a truck of sorts, and it feels like a truck of sorts.

Taking you at your word (verbatim), for the Pathfinder, you will not find a smaller engine than the 2.5, and by induction, it will not be more powerful because it does not exist in the first place.

However, bigger engines are available: you could get a 3.0 V6 turbodiesel making 240hp (only with the 2010 facelift model, though), 4.0 V6 petrol (good unit, this, but a bit thirsty) good for 266hp; or even a rare 5.6 litre V8, though this particular one might be available only in the Middle East.

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Dear Baraza,
I have one issue after another with my BMW E46 and all the diagnoses are misleading. I used to take my car to a local dealer but they were not of much help. What you should tell the BMW guys in Germany is that either we don’t have serious dealers or expertise in Kenya, or their machines are no longer exciting or trustworthy. One can sleep in the bush any time.
Harrison.

This should make things interesting, especially seeing what I wrote about BMW last week. Let us see if Bavaria follows this up. However, I agree with you: we don’t get exciting BMWs here, at least not via official channels.

No convertibles — although I did see one or two coupés at Bavaria Motors some time back — none of the M Cars (more so the mighty M5), and I can bet the futuristic i8 model that is rumoured to be on the premises is not for sale to the public just yet.

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Hi JM,
Thank you for your very informative column.
1. I recently witnessed an ambulance tear through the side of a saloon car and speed off, leaving the saloon driver gaping. The saloon car was in a traffic jam and could not climb the kerb to give way because of the posts on the side of the road.

(a) Do ambulance drivers have immunity from prosecution? To what extent are they exempted from obeying traffic rules?
(b) What course of action could the saloon car driver have taken under the circumstances?
(c) Are Cabinet and Principal Secretaries allowed by law to use the wrong lane on a dualcarriageway? I find it very dangerous to oncoming vehicles.

2. Which is the best buy between the Toyotas Spacio, Allion, Belta and NZE in terms of engineering quality and maintenance?
Thanks.

This is new…
1. a) I believe drivers of emergency vehicles enjoy a certain degree of immunity from prosecution, but a number of factors have to be in place first, chief being there has to be an emergency.

I have also witnessed an ambulance make short work of the front nearside fender of a saloon car whose only mistake was to peep a little too far into a T-junction, across which the ambulance was barrelling at full tilt, lights flashing and siren wailing.

Upon inquiry, I was told that the saloon car driver had no case; if anything, he was in danger of prosecution for failing to make way for an emergency vehicle. I am not sure to what extent this immunity stretches.

b) Typical accident scenario: step 1 is to assess the damage (and pray that you do not need an ambulance too… and/or a hearse). Step 2 is to contact your insurance company. They will know and advise you what the next course of action is.

Reporting this to the police might get you into deeper trouble (see the conclusion of (a) above), but I believe that at one point or other an accident report will have to be made.

c) I don’t think so. Very few people have this privilege, the President being the most obvious example, but Secretaries? I hardly think so.

2. These cars all come from the same company, so they will be built similarly. The level of quality and engineering precision will be reflected directly on the cost of the car: expect the Belta to be slightly inferior to the other three, which all feel the same.

Maintenance follows the same formula: the simplistic Belta should be easier to run and repair compared to the remaining trio.

Posted on

Our dirty diesel will kill your Touareg, Audi, Range Rover and Discovery

Hello,

First off let me start by saying I am not to sure my question is going to the intended recipient. Still, I seem to have stumbled upon a quagmire of a situation in picking the right luxury SUV for myself, and I’m split between a BMW X5, a Volkswagen Touareg and an Audi Q7, all having 3.0-litre diesel engines and manufactured in 2008.

1. Which of the above three is the best to buy?

2. About the BMW X5, how frequently does it get the electronic bugs that people keep reporting? Is there a way to avoid the said electronic problems, and are there any other problems/bugs known in this beast?

3. About the Touareg, how frequently does it get the dreaded transmission mishaps? How often does this occur? Is it possible to avoid the said problem, and are there any other known problems/bugs regarding the same vehicle?

4. Other than the SUVs mentioned above, is there any other out there that you would advise one to consider? I have singled out the BMW and VW because those are the ones I am very keen on.

Thank you in advance,

Jude Musebe

Worry not, Sir, this has landed on J M Baraza’s desk, and this is he. On to your questions:

1. The X5 is the best of the three as it suffers from the least amount of complaints both as a vehicle and as a long-term investment. The other two cars have problems, the biggest one being how to run them here.

Our diesel fuel, I have said time and again, is not to standard, least of all prevailing European standards (Euro 4, Euro 5 etc). Bring those cars here and see how long they last swilling the muck that passes for derv in our forecourts. Watch your DPF (and subsequently the engine) fail as surely as the sun rises. Feel free to write me another email. I will express my sympathy… before signing off with a big I TOLD YOU SO!

The situation is so sticky that VW does not offer diesel engines for the Touareg via the local franchise. Should you insist on importing a diesel car through them, they will not offer a warranty; at least that is according to word from a fellow motor hack. The Q7, buddy, is essentially a Touareg in a different frock.

Strangely, BMW, whom you would expect to build a more “choosy” engine, say that their engines are a lot more accommodating to a range of fuel quality.

Want a diesel? Sure, have one. We will fix it for you when it goes on the fritz, not that you should expect that to happen. It gets even trickier now that you want a 2008 car, which means a second-hand import.

Again, allegations are that the local VW outlet won’t touch anything that they didn’t sell themselves, though I highly doubt this. I have had readers who say they took their imported cars to VW and one thing or the other happened there, but dismissal was not one of them.

Bavaria Motors, on the other hand, welcomes any vehicle that has any affiliation to BMW in any way. They have a direct link to BMW HQ in Germany where the engines can be fixed by proxy or phone or via the Internet or through whatever this link is made of, again not that you would expect this to happen on a regular basis.

As cars, both the Q7 and the Touareg have hard rides. The X5 is more comfortable. The Touareg has poor rear visibility, so you may one day reverse into your own child because you didn’t see him or her run behind the car as you tried to leave for work in the morning.

The gearbox for the automatic in the first generation Touareg was designed for trees, not humans. Its perception of time and urgency runs into “moments”, not milliseconds. And the Touareg is not exactly the prettiest SUV ever made, is it?

Even less pretty is the Q7. To the hard ride add hard seats and wallowy suspension to complete the poor ride quality trifecta. The car is huge; a stretched Touareg with extra weight. This poses problems: the handling is not ideal, a foible further exacerbated by the boat-like suspension action and the great weight. Understeer and body roll will be your new vocabulary words in conversations.

Also, the large mass of the vehicle puts the 3.0 diesel to task, which leads to further problems: the 3.0 diesel Q7 is slow and, to add to this, the engine struggles with the weight on its back. This in turn hurts fuel economy.

2. The X5’s bugs are few and far between. Not much has been reported on this car; neither here nor out there where I roam and forage for vehicles to drive/learn about. If the car has problems, then the owners are very cagey about letting them known.

The best way to avoid electronic issues starts with cleanliness. Keep the car clean, especially in areas of high electronic device concentration: sensors, harnesses, terminals etc.

3. The gremlins afflicting the Touareg are almost guaranteed to surface at one point or the other. Besides the DPF, turbo actuator failures are also fairly common with diesel Touaregs. Not a lot of good is said about this car, sadly.

Most of its issues lie around reliability with the diesel engine when run on low quality fuel and the build characteristics that went into it, which I have listed in 1 above and which you cannot change.

4. This answer depends on what you want an SUV for. Your list seems to imply a taste for status, in which case you could turn your eye towards a Mercedes Benz ML320 CDI.

Other options include a diesel Range Rover (L322 or first-generation Sport) or a Discovery 3, but these tend to present more problems than usual. If you want a proper, reliable, capable and painless-to-own sports utility that has no pretentiousness about it, Japan would like to see you now in its office.

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

Hello Baraza,

A few weeks ago I hired a Toyota Corolla NZE for a safari to my home. I returned the car to the owner in good condition, but a few hours later he called to say the reverse gear was not working.

My question is, can an automatic gearbox just stop working suddenly or is this an ignored service problem that recurs and the owner is being cagey about it?

Thank you,

Mayday! SOS! Help!

Hello Mr/Mrs/Miss Mayday! SOS! Help!

For me to give a comprehensive answer, I will need a better description of the situation. Does the gear lever refuse to slide into reverse position? Does it slide into position but the car fails to move even with the throttle opened? Does it make any untowardly noises? Is there any kind of warning light on the dashboard?

The most important question here is: was the reverse gear working when you submitted the vehicle back to its providence?

Reverse gears don’t “just stop working suddenly”, at least that is not a common occurrence. The most likely causes would be: lack of lockup in the torque converter, or if the car uses an electronic clutch, then the clutch control mechanism gets befuddled once reverse is engaged. Also, the TCM (transmission control module) could be having a bad day and taking it out on the driver.

Gear linkages may be lacking in structural integrity; maybe the gears themselves are broken (this would be accompanied by tremendous amounts of unpleasant noises)…. The reasons are as many as they are diverse.

Tread carefully. There is a third, unsavory element to your unfortunate circumstance here. Not everybody can be trusted nowadays. This looks like a situation where someone broke the gearbox and is looking for a scapegoat; in this case, you.

Car hire vehicles are usually inspected BEFORE and AFTER the lease, just to make sure everything is where it is supposed to be. Calling you a few hours later means a lot could have happened in those few hours, including the marring of a transmission by persons unknown.

**********

Dear Baraza,

This is a passionate appeal to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA). Unfortunately, those who are supposed to enforce the law (the police) are unable to do so, do not want to do so or are condoning the breaking of the law, hence the reason the appeal is not directed to them.

Government of Kenya-registered vehicles, parastatal cars and now county government 4X4s are breaking nearly every traffic law that exists; from reckless driving, over-lapping in traffic jams, bullying their way on roads, driving in the wrong lanes, going against traffic and even behaving as if they are emergency vehicles.

The police are top on the list. How do law enforcers expect the rest to obey the law when they disregard it in the first place?

Buses carrying prisoners or suspects are also known to overlap as if they have right of way, and those with chase cars that in no way appear as police vehicles also join this clique.

My reading of the law is that it is only emergency vehicles (police, fire engines and ambulances) and the president’s escort that have a right of way. A common feature on these vehicles is sirens and strobe lights, so the issue of hazard lights or indicators acting as strobe lights should never arise. And why do hearses have strobe lights?

Going forward, I urge all motorists to stop condoning the breaking of the law as they are guilty as abettors, just as the actual perpetrators. Do not give way to vehicles that are not listed as having a right of way, whether or not they have strobe lights and a siren.

Police vehicles operating as emergency vehicles can be easily and clearly identified, hence ignore all those non-police chase cars. This is the only way to discipline these rogue drivers. And, trust me, they will not dare charge you for breaking a non-existent law while they are breaking the law.

To the Inspector General of police, we have a right to receive quality service from you and that is why you occupy that office. Let your officers enforce the law to the letter.

I end with a quote from a honourable judge:

“On a balance of probabilities and based on the above evidence, I would find that both drivers were to blame. Although the road had been cleared for the presidential motorcade and the appellant was a driver of the presidential escort vehicle, he ought to have looked out for other vehicles and I would thus apportion the blame equally between the two drivers. The driver of the lorry that belonged to the respondent similarly ought to have been on the look out of other road users and not to enter the road suddenly without due regard to other motorists”.

— Rose Koome, Judge in Civil Appeal No 51 of 2003, delivering a High Court verdict in Kericho against Felican Maina (appellant) vs Ajiwa Shamji (respondent).

Yours motorist,

Maina Roy.

Over to you, Cabinet Secretary of Transport and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA).

Posted on

The Land Rover Discovery 1 is relatively cheap

Baraza,

Your columns are very enlightening. I am looking to owning an old school Land Rover and I am interested in the Land Rover Discovery 1.  I am inclined towards the Tdi of between 2500 and 3000cc. According to my research, I can get one that fits my budget of Sh500,000 to 1m.

I have realised most of them have a worn-out interior while the exterior is in most cases relatively intact, despite most having been manufactured in the early ’90s. The transmission varies; it’s good in some while in others it needs a lot of work.
Could you please provide more information on the good, the bad, and the ugly? Solomon

The Good: the car will most likely be cheap. It is also one of the most hardy and most capable off-road vehicles out there.

Repairs will be delightfully simple and the Discovery 1 responds well to bush remedies, especially now that it shares many parts with the Land Rover Defender and Range Rover Classic from the same period. Driving a Discovery also offers one a sense of occasion: there are not that many Disco 1s still running out there.

The Bad: you can’t win. The diesel-powered versions are dreadfully slow and sound like someone kicking a rusty can full of nails down a cobbled street, or like a very busy quarry.

Raucous is what I’d describe it as. The petrol-powered versions are marginally faster than the diesel units, but they are still slow. The engine won’t rev and, therefore, the car won’t accelerate. To compound matters is the fearsome thirst, courtesy of the ancient V8s under the bonnet. You can’t win.

The Ugly: Rust and handling. The Land Rovers of the ’80s and early ’90s were prone to rust, especially in and around the steel chassis. The handling was awful: cornering usually meant the door handles would scrape the tarmac. *Note: this is hyperbole, but to be honest, the body roll that the Discovery 1 and its sibling, the Range Rover Classic, suffered from was epic. It felt like a loaded trawler trying to survive a particularly nasty tempest in the open sea. To cap it all is the terrible interior space, especially around the driver’s quarters. You have to be really short to drive one comfortably.

Redemption: the 300Tdi is actually not so bad. Its performance is passable, its fuel economy is actually good and it doesn’t sound like a giant chewing magnets and large rocks. Handling can be improved with aftermarket suspension bits, but there is nothing you can do about the rust (except hope for the best) or the poor legroom (modify the driver’s seat and to Hades with whoever sits behind you).

Dear JM,
Allow me to appreciate your informative articles and opinions. I drive a Peugeot 406. Recently, the temperature gauge was indicating high engine temperatures.

The mechanic diagnosed it as a failed thermostat and went on to remove it. The problem has since been “cured”. He further advised that there is no need to install another one.

How important is the thermostat and is it safe to maintain a vehicle without one.

Secondly, I was being driven in a vehicle where the driver was extremely reluctant to use the AC despite the hot weather, arguing that it would lead to high fuel consumption. Kindly advise on the overall effect of AC on fuel consumption. Kind regards, Allan

The thermostat is important, otherwise it wouldn’t be installed in a vehicle, now, would it? However, you can still run your car without it.
The thermostat is a thermoregulator (controls temperature levels in the engine) that ensures the engine is always within the correct operating temperature range.

During cold starts, it will impede the operation of the water pump and fans, depriving the engine of coolant to facilitate rapid warm up. In hot conditions, the water pump and fans go into full operation to prevent overheating.

Many before you have removed the thermostats from their engines, and many after you will remove thermostats from their engines. However, to safeguard against overheating, the fans and water pump have to be connected directly to the electrical system, which means they are always running whenever the car is “On”.

On cold days, it takes much longer for the engine to warm up (increased fuel and oil consumption) and also the pump and fans sap power from the engine, but not so much that you’d notice. You might or might not want to reinstall the thermostat. It won’t kill your car to run without it, but it does have its advantages.

The use of AC increases fuel consumption, but the degree of increase differs from vehicle to vehicle, and it depends on the type of AC you are using and the engine size of the vehicle in question.

Cars with smaller engines suffer dramatic power losses and/or increased fuel consumption (up to 15 per cent in some cases) while vehicles with larger engines usually have so much power to spare that running the AC and other accessories has a very tiny effect on them. That is why you will find most cars with AC on the options list tend to have that option higher up in the range where the engines are bigger.

Choose.

You could increase your fuel consumption by less than 10 per cent (and counteract it by employing economy-biased driving techniques), or you could sweat it out (quite literally) in the name of saving fuel. I always use AC whenever the interior of the car feels like a sauna. Driving is supposed to be pleasurable, not punitive.

Dear Mr Baraza,

It’s always great to read your column on DN2.

I own a Subaru Impreza GG2, and intend to upgrade to a good, reliable, affordable and efficient 4×4 to run errands in Nairobi and, once a month, to make an off-road trip within the country.

For a long time I have admired the Subaru Tribeca B9 (talk of brand loyalty). Now, before I settle for B9, kindly expound on three specific 4x4s, that is, the Tribeca B9, BMW X5, and VW Tuareg (all at 3000cc).

And more specifically on the BMW X5, which is better, a petrol- or a diesel-powered engine?

Regards. Michael

Hello Michael,

Of the three cars, what more would you want to know? The VW is the most capable off-road machine of the lot (but this is not to say that the Touareg is the most capable 4×4 ever. It is beaten by many others). The BMW looks and feels the best to drive, and is the most technologically advanced. It is also the most comfortable and most economical. Affordability is relative.

The Tribeca will not go off-road. Have a look at its ground clearance and its subtle side-skirts then tell me how far off the beaten path you think it will go before running aground on a tree stump.

It also uses low profile road tyres compared with the chunky, all-terrain common to the German duo. At this point, brand loyalty will have to hit the back burner in favour of realism. If not, buy the Tribeca and a donkey with it, for you will need the animal to continue with your journey over some rough ground you will encounter.

The X5 diesel is quite good.

The X5 petrol is also quite good. The diesel offers economy, the petrol offers power. Once upon a time I was a diesel disciple whenever it came to SUVs, but I have started swaying towards petrol engines again (poweeeerrrr!). The diesel engine is a bit complicated, what with the turbos and intercoolers and DPFs, and common rails and injectors and God knows what else.

Dear Baraza,You have a totally exquisite article that I love to read once every issue is out. I wanted to know  if you have a special  blog page, Twitter account or website where I can be reading your articles  and learning many different things about automobiles. I would highly appreciate any information.Maxillian
Hello Maxillian,

Thank you for the compliment. I did have a blog once (www.motoringpressagency.com), then I had another one (www.autotalk.co.ke) but these have since become inactive for a variety of reasons that I would rather not get into right now.

I intend to create yet another one, an all-inclusive website with guest writers and videos and pictures and polls and all those features that make a website stand out from others. The original Motoring Press Agency website was like that, but the Autotalk one was a mite more bland.

I do have a Twitter handle: @BarazaJM. I also have a Facebook group, www.facebook.com/groups/barazajm. You can find some stuff there, but not much.

Hello Baraza,

I’m about to buy a station wagon and I still can’t make up my mind whether to go for a Honda Airwave, Toyota Fielder or Nissan Wingroad. Which one is the best in terms of reliability and durability. All of them at 1500cc.P. Kibaara

You have heard of the word “reputation”, right? Well, from reputation, there is a clear winner here, and that is the Toyota Fielder. From reputation, there is also a clear loser here: the Nissan Wingroad, with the additional non-bonus of being extremely hideous in its current form (what’s up with the rising roofline between the A and B pillars?)

The Honda Airwave falls dead centre, but by observation, either a) people don’t take good care of their Airwaves or b) the Airwave is as much of a sponge-cake as the Wingroad. These things don’t stick to their original shapes for long once they land here. Maybe they should cost more, and then people will value them more.

Posted on

BMW X5 spits on the face of the Land Rover Discovery 3

Dear Baraza,

I am an ardent reader of your column and this time round need your advice on BMW X5 versus the 2006 Land Rover Discovery 3.

I am basically looking at maintenance, fuel consumption, and occasional upcountry off-road usage. Another issue of concern to me is the passenger capacity and boot space.

Also, kindly advise me on the issue of petrol versus diesel. I am not a fan of diesel, thanks to the sound of the engine… and the smoke.

Alberto.

Maintenance: Both will cost a lot to repair once they go ping! But the Discovery will be especially painful when the air suspension is in need of replacement. Notice I said “when”, not “if”…

Fuel Consumption: The petrol versions of these vehicles will struggle to crack 7km per litre, especially in V8 guise (4.4 litres for both). There is a 3.0 petrol option for the BMW (straight 6) and a 4.0 litre V6 petrol for the Discovery. None of these is especially friendly to the pocket.

Alternatives are the 2.7 turbodiesel for the Discovery (not a smart choice, the engine struggles to pull that very heavy Land Rover double-chassis) and the 3.0 litre turbodiesel for the BMW.

What I would go for is the 4.0 litre diesel V8 for the X5, an uncommon engine and surprisingly comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox. It is the only X5 that I know of with a manual gearbox, and like I said, there are not too many that were imported from the UK.

Off-Road Usage: The Discovery spits in the face of the X5 and insults its mother to boot. Locking diffs, ride height control, low range gearbox, and the terrain response system. Enough said.

Passenger Capacity: The Discovery again spits in the face of the X5, and again insults its mother. Seven full-size seats versus the X5’s five. Again, enough said.

Boot Space: The X5 has a bigger boot when both cars are full of people. However, with two people less in the Disco (five-seater), its boot gets bigger than the X5’s. When the rear seats in both cars are lowered, the Discovery starts to spit in the face of the….

Petrol vs Diesel: You are better off in the 4.0 petrol Discovery. The 4.4 is too thirsty while the diesel struggles with power. The X5 manages to outshine the Land Rover here in that you can have any engine and it will still work like a charm.

The 4.8iS is for thundering along the road at 220+ km/h. The 4.4i is for thundering after someone with a 4.8iS without catching up. The 3.0 diesel is for those who are worried about fuel economy.

The 3.0i is for those who are comfortable in their own skin and have nothing to prove to anybody, so they make sensible decisions and care nothing about stuff like “power” or “exhaust notes” or “fuel economy” because after all they have an X5: what do you have?

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Hi Baraza,

I have taken your advice several times and it always works. I have a problem with the fuel consumption of my 2005 Toyota Fielder. I have owned the vehicle for two years and it has been serviced twice.

During the second service (at about 2,000km), the mechanic changed the spark plugs. Before this the vehicle was doing between 11 and 12 km per litre.

However a number of weeks after this service it went down to 5km per litre. I went back to the garage and removed the “new” plugs (they did not look good). I put back the plugs that had been earlier removed after the mechanic cleaned them.

That day it did 10km per litre. The following day it went down to 5km per litre. Back to the garage again and this time the mechanic recommended original plugs (platinum something). However, even with this change, it is doing around 6km per litre. The fuel system and engine seem fine. What could really be the problem?

Jona

When you say the plugs “did not look good”, what exactly do you mean?

It seems your car has a problem with the ignition system, most likely an ignition coil is over-supplying current to the high tension leads and burning out your plugs. Have it checked.

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Dear Baraza,

I find your column very informative and detailed, so I would like to ask a question. I have a Mistubishi Galant 2000 model. Is it possible to interchange the Galant’s engine with a Toyota engine? I have been thinking of using the engine of the old Premio Corona or the new Premio.

Of course I understand that I have to replace everything, even the transmission, the radiator, the dashboard display, the computers (transmission and engine). I know it is going to be an expensive venture, but is it possible?

Sam.

Sam, instead of making all those changes, why don’t you just buy a Toyota? It will be a cheaper and less frustrating path to take.

I am not sure about a Toyota engine fitting in a Mitsubishi engine bay. The engine mounts might be incompatible, making fabrication and modification necessary.

I am not sure many mechanics would want to assume that task. The risk factor is too high.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for your informative articles. I am venturing into transport business that will involve sourcing my products upcountry and transporting them to Nairobi. To this end, I am considering buying a pick-up. What is your input on the Great Wall Wingle 5, 4×2 Diesel? Can this car perform or will it fail before it hits the road?

Evans

I have not tested one, so I cannot give a verdict just yet. However, popular opinion (which is sometimes wrong) will lean towards the vehicle failing faster than fresh milk going bad in hot weather.

Some off-the-cuff advice would be to go for the pick-up if it is for the short term. I know it is cheap (it is Chinese, after all) so the initial outlay necessary to get one on the road is less punitive than that of a more established non-Chinese marque.

You might smile when buying it but its resale value plummets fast (only the really desperate would buy a Chinese commercial vehicle second-hand… especially after it has seen hard use on Kenyan roads).

You might be better off getting a second-hand Japanese pickup.

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Dear Baraza,

What is your expert opinion on Toyota Noah 2005/2006 models. Engine (1AZ) performance, dust immunity for engine, parts availability, suspension strength, fuel efficiency, maintenance economy, long safari durability, resale value and flaws, if any.

Jacob

For the Toyota Noah engine:

Performance: 154 horse power, 9.8 seconds from zero to 100 km/h,  top speed: 175 km/h.

Dust Immunity: Nobody has ever asked me that. I do not even know what it means. If you do not want your engine to get dusty, then either;

1. Do not drive in dusty places or

2. Clean the engine regularly. Wipe, do not blast it with a water jet from a hose.

Parts availability: Look at the number of Noahs on the road. What conclusion does that lead you to?

Suspension strength: Strong enough to bear a combined weight of roughly two tonnes (the car alone is 1,500kg, so that plus a half-tonne allowance)

Fuel efficiency: 15km per litre is a reality on an open road and without the extra half tonne weight penalty I mentioned above. It will do 10km per litre in town-bound traffic, less if the traffic is especially bad.

Maintenance economy: What is “maintenance economy”? Take good care of your car and it will not bite back

Long safari durability: How long is long? Provided the car is in serviceable condition and there is fuel in the tank, the car will drive whatever distance you want to drive.

Resale value: Most used ones have prices hovering between Sh750,000 and Sh850,000. Do the math.

Flaws: Poor ground clearance, absence of a diesel engine in later models. Also, it is a van with van handling and van driving characteristics.

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Hi Baraza,

Thank you for your great articles, they have been informative to the motoring novice that I am.

I am interested in buying a Toyota Fielder that has the following description; Toyota Fielder Z Aero Tourer, 6-speed manual transmission with strut tower brace (STB). A VVTL-i 180 hp engine and does 12km per litre fitted with rally adjustable DMS shock absorber and special gauge to measure fuel consumption and kilometres left before fuel is done.

My questions are;

1. Being a first-time car owner, would you advise me to buy such a car?

2. What are the advantages of the 6-speed manual transmission over the regular 5-speed MT?

3. Is it really possible for the above 1800cc car to have a fuel consumption rate of 12km per litre?

4. My guesswork believes this model requires the high octane fuel type such as V-Power, can you confirm?

5. The strut tower brace and adjustable DMS shock absorber specs, what are they and are they available in Kenya in case of need for replacement and at what cost?

6. Is it possible to “tone” down these rallying specs to more general and probably economic specs, or should they remain intact in the car. I am probably going to be an average user with the occasional upcountry road trip.

What is your take on the car’s suitability for my needs? Any Toyota model you would recommend for my user profile?

Henry.

1. If you are a petrolhead, yes. But question six tells me you are not. Buy the car anyway, it might turn you into one.

2. More gear ratios mean less hunting and better control over engine performance: It is easier to keep the engine speed in rpm (revolutions per minute) well within the power band/torque band and thus eke the best performance out of it. But a 5-speed gearbox is generally more robust and thus harder to break. These are issues we discussed with a colleague while looking at a Lancer Evolution with 820hp, so it might not really apply here… the 6-speed is better. Simple as that.

3. Yes. If you do not drive as if your trousers are on fire.

4. Not necessarily. I am guessing this is the same engine in the Toyota Celica. Incidentally, the person we were discussing the 820hp Evo with also has a car with these same specs (Fielder, 6MT, 180hp 2ZZ engine). The recommended fuel for that engine is 91 RON (Reasearch Octane Number) premium — what we call “super”.

Our version of V-Power is somewhere around 95 RON (more suitable for that 820hp Evo) so it is not that necessary. But use it once in a while, especially seeing that the 2ZZ engine is MFI (multi-point fuel injection). It will help keep your injector nozzles clear.

5. The strut tower bar is the metal rod that you see going cross-wise when you open the bonnet. It is connected to the tops of the shock absorbers, where they peep through the bodywork in the bonnet. It stiffens the structure of the vehicle and improves handling and enhances driving feel. DMS —Drummond Motor Sport — shocks are just shocks. Possibly aftermarket, so slightly stiffer or better engineered than stock. They also stiffen the car, lower ride height, and improve handling and road holding.

They might sacrifice a bit of comfort, though. These are all available on the Internet. You might also get them locally but only if you visit a tuning garage. Like the one that houses that 820hp Evolution.

6. You could “tone down” the car but why would you want to do that? That would be sacrilegious to a petrolhead like me.

I would advise you to just get an ordinary Fielder if a “warm” vehicle like this does not tickle your fancy, but this car has my personal recommendation written all over it. Get it. You will enjoy driving it.

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No, they don’t make them like they used to

WHEN BMW announced last month that it was recalling 30,000 of its 2007 to 2010 X5 sport utility vehicles over the mere possibility that they could lose power brake assist, few took notice of the fact that the car manufacturer was not saying that the braking system was faulty, but that it could become faulty over time.

The announcement signalled how car safety has become absolutely non-negotiable in the motoring world.

In 2010 BMW recalled about 200,000 vehicles for the same problem, and this time they said the brake booster could fail, meaning that while the brakes would still function, the power assist could be lost.

BMW laid the problem to a check valve of the brake vacuum pump leaking a small amount of lubricating oil into the vacuum hose. If that reaches the brake booster, it could fail.

In another action, Chrysler says it is recalling 3,660 2003 to 2004 Dodge Vipers because the air bags might deploy without the vehicles being in an accident. Now, that is serious.

In a report to safety agencies, Chrysler said it recently determined that the high-performance sports cars had the same problem that required about 745,000 Jeeps to be recalled last year.

BMW and Chrysler described their recalls as voluntary, but once a manufacturer is aware of a safety problem it has five working days to tell the agency of its plan for a recall or face a civil fine.

As manufacturers grapple with the recalls, they are also taking in suggestions aimed at lessening the risks of “distracted driving” by voluntarily limiting the functions of electronic devices built into vehicles.

The suggestions focus on amenities, including communication, entertainment, and navigation devices that the makers include in their vehicles nowadays.

It could be a few years before any of the guidelines are adopted, but automakers have scrambled in recent years to offer the latest technology — whether 3-D displays, access to Facebook, internal Wi-Fi, or voice-activated calling.

A study showed that the visual and manual tasks required by hand-held phones and other devices tripled the risks of an accident. The study found that text messaging required drivers to take their eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds total, for example.

The guidelines recommend limiting the amount of time drivers have to take their eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time and a total of 12 seconds.

Activists want automakers to make it impossible for drivers to use some electronic functions, like text messaging, Internet browsing, and video-based entertainment or communications unless the vehicle is stopped and is locked in “Park”.

Yes, that is how far we have come, from the days of a simple, rickety box to Wi-Fi and Facebook on the dashboard. Below, the evolution of car safety through the years:

1771: Experimental steam-driven tractor invented

1869: Earliest recorded automobile fatality

1889: First production of automobile, by Karl Benz

1889: First vehicle designed from scratch to be an automobile rather than a horse-drawn carriage fitted with an engine

1893: First budget for rural road development to serve wagons, coaches, and bicycles on dirt roads in the US

1895: George B. Selden is granted a US patent for a two-stroke automobile engine

1914: First ‘STOP’ sign introduced

1919: First three-colour traffic light installed

1930s: Official advocation for seat belts and padded dashboards

1934: First barrier crash test performed

1949: First safety cage rolls out, world’s first padded dashboard fitted

1951: Car doors fitted with safety latches to prevent door from opening during accidents

1958: ABS brake testing on motorcycles shows a 30 per cent improvement in braking system

1958: United Nations establishes an international auto safety forum

1968: Front seat belts required by law in US for new model cars. After seat belts became mandatory, a 50 per cent overall reduction was reported in the number of drivers per 100 vehicles being admitted to hospital

1969: British research results in widespread 55mph speed limits and drink-driving laws

1973: Side-impact standards required for all new cars

1974: First big lawsuit over safety item pitting Richard Grimshaw against Ford Motoring Company

1978: First jurisdiction in the world passes passenger safety law

1979: Road safety bodies begin crash-testing popular cars and publishing the test results to consumers

1984: First seat belt use law

1991: Volvo introduces side-impact protection system

2008: Tyre pressure monitoring systems are required on all new cars and light tracks

2010: Pedestrian detection system makes its debut

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The Mahindra Genio: You don’t know whether to love or laugh

For some people, 2012 is the year when the world as we know it will come to an end.

For me, 2012 will be marked down as The Year of Great Surprises, one of which was a Mahindra vehicle.

If the world actually does end, that will be another (stop laughing at the back, please, this is not funny).

The Mahindra brand is back in the country and out in full force to do battle with Japan, and possibly Europe (I said stop laughing. I am serious). They have a whole line of vehicles to do this, with more to come, and within their stash of secret weapons is something called M-Hawk, which I will discuss shortly (for the last time, will you cut out the tittering back there?)

The Mahindra Genio

I have had a chance to sample one of their new products, and I must say the prognosis thus far is very promising. The vehicle in question is the Genio 4X2 single-cab pick-up, and it is quite unlike a lot of other pick-ups you may have seen.

To put things in perspective, I will compare it to the usual suspects that dominate the market, the output from the other automotive corner of Asia that is not India. Or China. Or Korea. Or Malaysia. Japan, in other words.

1. Physical Appearance:

The Genio looks a bit odd in the face. It is not as critically pretty as the Toyota Hilux or the Mitsubishi L200, nor does it have the conventional robust handsomeness of the D-MAX.

It actually looks a little bit like Hyundai, which is forgivable for a company that has not been in the game long enough to master car design.

Nevertheless, Mahindra is getting there, especially when you see what else they have to offer. The cabin is taller than the Japs’. However, and this gives the Genius — sorry, Genio — a driving feel akin to that of an SUV; a feeling that most of us desire, owing to the generous view outside.

It also has a short stubby bonnet, so threading the front end into and out of tight spaces will not be a hassle. However, threading the back end into and out of tight spaces might be a hassle because of…

2. Carrying Capacity:

Look carefully and you will notice that the payload area of the Genius — sorry, Genio — is a little longer (at 2.4 metres) than that of the D-MAX and the Hilux, which are already quite long (at two metres).

While the rest are classified as one-tonne pick-ups, the Genio is rated at 1.25 tonnes, with the capability to stretch to two. Therefore, either Mahindra as a company has a lot of insight into the thought processes of Kenyan businessmen, or they are trying to sell us a lorry and are calling it a pick-up. I am vouching for the former because of…

3. Price:

The Genius — sorry, Genio — 4X2 diesel will cost you Sh2.2 million, which you can negotiate down to Sh1.95 million, so let us just say that it costs about Sh2 million flat.

This is clearly not lorry money, so the Genio is definitely a pick-up. However, even as a pick-up, that is quite cheap, far cheaper than all three members of the Japanese Triad. Some of you might call that China money, so you might be getting a China-grade vehicle. I disagree, because of…

4. Build Quality and Amenities:

That SUV feeling comes about again. The cabin, in beige, looks a bit too fancy to be on a commercial vehicle.

It is not exactly a Volkswagen Touareg in here — panel gap consistency is still one or two degrees off and there might be a bit of plastic — but the execution is stupendous.

The steering wheel is chunky and feels nice to the touch. Talking of steering, the rack has been tightened up a bit. There is no play whatsoever (on the road, so instantaneous is the response to tiller twirling that it feels like you are driving a Golf. Yeah, I said it).

The controls are just where you want them, and there are one or two (actually four) little touches that people take for granted but will come to appreciate in the long term.

The air-con actually works as it should (Toyota Hilux, please pay attention), heating and cooling as instructed. There are cup-holders within sight and within reach. There are arm-rests (yeah Japan, you never thought of that, did you?) and what is more, there is a good-looking, crystal clear stereo that will play CD, MP3, and has a USB slot for those who cannot afford iPods and still walk around with flash drives full of pirated music.

One particularly fancy touch I liked was the cubbyhole on the left, also called the glove compartment in American English. While in most cars the lid drops open like the jaw of a hand puppet, in the Genius — sorry, Genio — it appears as a sliding door, and not just your typical French window style portal.

No, this door is made of flexible plastic, so when you slide it open, it opens wide as the plastic disappears to God-knows-where. You can have a full width gap, enough to push a wheel spanner through. Or even a whole wheel, though it will not fit into the box itself. That SUV feeling does not end with the interior. It is also felt through the…

5. Ride Quality:

I have driven the new Hilux 2.5, and I have driven the D-MAX. I have also driven the NP300 Hardbody, and I am sorry to say none of these holds a candle to the Genio in terms of comfort. Yeah, I said that too.

The Hilux is too hard to the point of being uncomfortable. Its stiffness is to such a degree that one is afraid it will oversteer dangerously if driven hard on a loose surface. Many call that stiffness an advantage. A visit to the chiropractor is not an advantage.

The D-MAX, on the other hand, is soft to the point of wobbliness, and it actually does oversteer, even on tarmac. There is a YouTube video as evidence of this dynamic infidelity (where it eventually overturns and pours out a mass of humanity off its bed).

The NP300 is both hard and bouncy, somehow managing to combine the two wrong qualities of the preceding pair. I will concede, the hardness and the bounciness of these three Japanese commercials arise from tropicalisation, but the Genio is also tropicalised (so they say), itself coming from an environment very similar to ours, and yet it rides well.

On the highway, it does not feel like a ship on the high seas (D-MAX), nor does it feel like the suspension has been set in concrete (Hilux). On rough roads, it will not grind your teeth to dust (Amarok, base model).

The clutch weighting is just right (again, base Amarok), though the gear lever seems to have been borrowed from the Scania, which I reviewed a few days ago. Mis-shifts are not on the menu, thank God. The brakes feel right and the accelerator pedal is easily modulated. This complements the magic ingredient of the whole setup, the…

6. Engine:

Mahindra calls it M-Hawk, which sounds like a currently fashionable (and questionable) hair-do common among both men and women below the age of 25. It is a 2.2 litre 4-cylinder common rail diesel, turbocharged and intercooled, good for 120 bhp and 295 Nm of torque.

So proud of it Mahindra is, that they use the exact same engine in the XUV 500, their idea of what a BMW X5 should be, only that in the XUV it has been tweaked to 140 bhp (you cannot keep up with an X5 if you only have 120 bhp; that is obvious).

There is some art behind the science of the Mohawk engine. Rather than having a front-mount intercooler in the style of a Lancer Evolution, the heat exchanger is located on top of the engine block, like a tea tray, as seen in a Subaru STi.

This setup would call for a bonnet scoop, but again the artists take over from the engineers: instead of an ostentatious scoop, the intercooler is fed by ducts, which start from the grille and feed into a pair of externally invisible plastic nostrils, which then force the air into air-ways carved into the underside of the bonnet.

These terminate halfway up the bonnet on top of the intercooler. To keep it airtight, the air-way terminus is lined with a rubber seal where the bonnet meets the fridge.

As with front-mount intercoolers, this arrangement reeks of potential cooling problems because the radiator has been robbed of precious airflow by the needs of the turbo-intercooling kit, and that is why the Genio has such a wide face. The top side of the grille (on the bonnet leading edge) feeds the heat exchanger, while the rest of the face provides the airflow channels for the radiator. All is well.

All is well because the turbo and the intercooler work in tandem with the 2.2 diesel to provide grin-inducing low-end torque and high-end power. Wheel-spin is possible in first and second gear (!!), even on tarmac, and overtaking in fourth is not a gamble with the idiocy of the person being overtaken and/or the bravado of the person coming the other way. Or even your own.

Seven times out of 10, all my overtakes along Mombasa Road were made in fourth: it was as simple as changing lanes and stamping the accelerator. No discernible turbo lag (Volkswagen Amarok), the torque band is quite wide (again Amarok, and the Hilux) and no mis-matched gear ratios (Toyota Hilux double-cab).

I have never enjoyed driving a pickup as much as I did this one. Mahindra claims fuel economy in the region of 12kpl. I believe them.

Sum-Up: The power of reputation

From my ramblings, it is easy to assume that the Mahindra betters its Japanese competition in almost every aspect that matters, and the quick answer is yes.

I know most readers will be cagey about buying something Indian over something Japanese, and this is down to the power of reputation: How can the Indians, makers of the Mahindra jeep that threw egg on the face of our police force, master, in a few short years, what has taken the Japanese, makers of the most reliable vehicles on the planet, decades to master?

I do not know, I honestly do not. But this is how good the Genio actually is: my fellow test driver, with whom I have test-driven the Hilux, the Range Rover Evoque, the Scania truck, and several other cars (in other words, whose opinion I trust) was so impressed that he suggested we take a Genio to Meru and pit it against the grand-daddy of toting miraa, the Hilux, to see if it will beat the Hilux at its own game.

That is how confident he was of the Genio’s abilities. And no, he is not a shareholder at Simba Colt, owners of the Mahindra franchise.

And no, he is not the fellow you saw at the Car Clinic Live event.

I, however, prefer a more cautious approach: let us not be so quick to draw conclusions from a single road test of a new model of car. A long-term test is called for.

While the Genio is a step above China-spec, it is still a step below Japan-spec for now, especially seeing how longevity and reliability is yet to be confirmed. Japan has been in the game for a while, let us not forget that; and the tall cabin and increased ride height might not gel well with the high-speed application that is the transportation of perishable narcotics.

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If you’re determined, you can achieve 1 kpl in a Forester

Hi Baraza,
Kindly educate me on the following issues:

1. What is the consumption of the Subaru Forester when driving in a normal manner and when driving like you want to fly?

2. What is the cost of the new model of the Volkswagen Passat and can I get a second-hand one?

3. Which among the following has a higher fuel consumption rate? A 3000cc BMW X5, 2200cc BMW 530i, 2000cc Subaru Forester, 2700cc Prado and a 2000cc VW Passat, all with petrol engines.

4. What is the cost of a good motorbike with an 800cc engine?
Paul
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1. Is the Forester turbocharged or not? I know if you drive like a nun, you will manage maybe 11 kpl in town, provided you don’t end up in the sort of gridlock that we find ourselves in when the president is driving past at that particular moment.

If you are feeling particularly unwise, you can clock a record 1 kpl by driving in first gear only, bouncing off the rev limiter all the while.

Not only will you set new records in noise emission and fuel consumption, but you will also have a blown engine to show for your efforts at the end of the day.

2. The new Passat should cost something north of Sh4.5 million, which is roughly what all its rivals cost (the Toyota Camry 2012 leads the pack in absurdity, costing a scarcely believable Sh8 million).

The Passat’s price could be as high as 6 million though, it mostly depends on spec levels and engine size. As to whether or not one can get one second-hand… it depends. If someone out there is selling his already, then yes, there is a second-hand Passat for sale.

3. The Prado. Its off-road orientation and higher coefficient of drag compared to the X5 means it is hardest on fuel, especially with that 2.7 power unit. The rest are small road-biased passenger cars with small engines, so they can be safely left out of the argument.

4. No idea. I am not a huge fan of two-wheeled transport solutions, except my own God-given setup (my legs, in case you are wondering), but a bike fanatic I am acquainted with tells me they start at about Sh900,000 and work upwards into the millions.

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Baraza,

I am newly employed and I’m planning to get a car to fit the following requirements:

1. A price range of up to 800k.
2. Good clearance.
3. Good fuel consumption.
4. Preferably a seven-seater.
I have been eyeing the Toyota Avanza, but it looks a bit unstable. What do you think?
Any other suggestions?
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Well, the Avanza does not inspire confidence on some fronts, the stability being one. The other is the 1.5-litre engine. I am not a fan of small engines in big vehicles (but the converse works well for me).

How about a mainstream cross-over, but used; the usual RAV-4s and X-Trails and Foresters? How often will you carry seven passengers?

Most seven-seaters are either Prados, Pajeros, Land Rovers (all out of the price range) or family vans (with no ground clearance).

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Baraza,
I want to know how I can increase ground clearance without affecting the safety of the car. I have gone round asking how best I can do this and I have been offered the following recommendations

1. Add spacers.
2. Get a bigger rim.
3. Fit the car with larger profile tyres.
4. Fit Rob Magic coil springs. This was suggested by an auto engineer but I need to compare notes.

I am tempted to fit the springs as well as increase my tyre profile since this is an imported car.

In case you are wondering why I have to do this; coming from shags I am often forced by my mother to carry vegetables and cereals for my family and the road there is rough. What’s your take?
Muteti
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I cannot vouch for option 4 because this calls for a comparison against its competition, which I have not done yet.

You could adopt option 1, but then you will have to be very careful around corners, especially if you drive fast.

You could also go for option 2, but remember bigger rims could mean low-profile tyres, so your wheels and ground clearance are still the same size, the difference now being that your car looks good, the belly still scrapes the ground and your tyre bills threaten to break up your family. So combine two and three, though the stability thing will still be an issue.

Or you could do what I always tell my readers: buy the most appropriate car for your needs. No need to buy a small saloon car if you trade in potatoes and cabbages at a far-off market centre, or buy a nine-seater van to drive yourself to the office daily.

Get a cross-over if ground clearance is an issue in the areas you frequent.
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JM,
I recently bought a second-hand Mitsubishi Gallant (1999 model) with a GDI engine. I then replaced the battery and serviced the car.

I have not encountered any other problems so far. What I want to know is, what is a GDI engine?

Secondly, I have heard that there were some issues with this particular make and that’s why they are not very common in Kenya, is this true? What are the pros and cons of this car?
Osiro
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GDI stands fore gasoline direct injection. It is a technology similar to Toyota’s D4, in that fuel is fed directly into the cylinder, in the fashion of a diesel engine, rather than into the intake manifold as was usual with petrol engines in times past.

It is supposed to improve performance and economy by optimising combustion efficiency and the injection timing. The Galant cars were specified to run on Mobil 1 engine oil, which is a high performance grade of lubricant.

Lesser oil grades tended to, well, degrade the engine, especially for those who imported JDM models. Also, splashing about in puddles was not a good idea, because water got into the electronics fairly easily, the worst culprits being the ECU and throttle electronics system, which then resulted in the throttle being jammed wide open (engine revs on its own).

All the same, the Galant was a very fine car: a good looker, a sublime handler and a convincing performer. The rare VR4 was even considered a watered down Lancer Evolution for the less-than-hardcore, because it had a twin-turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre engine good for 280hp and 4WD.
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Baraza,
I intend to acquire my first car and I am torn between a Honda Airwave and a VW Touran. The Airwave is 1500cc, a five-seater and has four airbags. The Touran is 1600cc, a seven-seater and has eight airbags.

Please advice me on the vehicles’ reliability and the availability of spare parts for each. I love power and reasonable speed; if you were in my shoes, which one would you go for?
Raphael
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Go for the Touran. From your own description it offers more stuff, that is, airbags and seats. Hondas are legendarily reliable, while VW are legendarily well built.

The Touran’s spares may or not may be available at CMC: if they are not, you may have to shop around.

The Honda franchise is still not very well grounded in the country but rumour has it that our Far Eastern car-making compadres might be opening a fully-fledged showroom soon.
So the Touran it is, for now.
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Dear Baraza,
I have a 2003 model Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon 100 series which has one worrying issue: when I shift the gear (automatic) from R to D fast, there is a small bang, and the same is heard, though rarely, when the gears are shifting while driving. In slow shifts, there is no sound.

Several mechanics have tried to diagnose the fault but all have concluded that its mechanical rather than electrical.

We have checked the propeller, front and rear diffs and gearbox, but most mechanics say its the transfer box (case).

They all also said that since the sound is very low and rare, we don’t need to bring it down unless the sound becomes louder and driving comfort is compromised.

Since the transfer case is purely mechanical, can it be opened to replace faulty parts or is it a must that I buy a new one?

About how much does a new transfer case cost, or are am I supposed to but a complete gearbox? Lastly, are there other known problems with this model?
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I find it unlikely that it is the transfer case because the Amazon is full-time 4WD. Unless you were shifting between low range and high range, I don’t see how the transfer case could be the culprit. I still suspect the primary gearbox.

Seeing how it is an automatic, maybe the ATF levels are low, otherwise, the issue could be in the programming of the gearbox settings (clutch operation and gear changes are out of sync at some engine/road speeds, so there is shift shock, which is the bang you experience).

Just in case it is the transfer case, it is reparable, but I would not be too excited about the bill that will follow. It will be better than a new transfer case though. The 100, otherwise, is not a bad car.
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Hi Baraza,
I am interested in a Suzuki Escudo, 2005 model. Kindly enlighten me on the following:
1. What size is engine J20A in terms of cc?
2. Does this kind of an engine have any serious problems?
3. What fuel system does it use; VVT-i, EFI or carburettor?
4. Kindly compare it with the RAV-4 in terms of consumption.
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1. The engine capacity is 1,995cc, easily rounded off as 2,000cc.
2. None that I know of so far.
3. It uses EFI. To get VVT, you have to opt for the newer, and larger engines (2.4 and 3.0).
4. The Suzuki is thirstier, but how you drive it really matters.
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Hi Baraza,
I roll in an old model Toyota Starlet. Sometimes, when I step on the clutch, it makes some roaring sound like that of the engine, but after sometime, this goes away. What could be the problem? Also, offer advise on small machines every now and then in your column.
Leah
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That roaring noise that sounds like the engine actually is the engine. The noise comes from the revs flaring since the load of the drive-train components (shafts, gears, dog clutches, etc) has been taken off, so the engine does not have to put in extra effort just to keep turning.

Your idle settings must be messed up, which is why the revs flare like that when the clutch is disengaged. Either that or you should take your foot off the throttle any time when clutching in.

I address all cars, big and small. If you have read this column long enough, you might remember an era of Demios, Vitzes, Duets, iSTs, Micras, Colts and other similar pint-sized fare.
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Baraza,
I am buying an ex-Japan Chevrolet LT Optra station wagon 2005 model. Please advise whether this is be a good option considering it’s not a common car around.

Also, what does DOHC and supercharged mean in terms of efficiency, fuel consumption and reliability? Someone told me that its a pretty fast car but also heavy, so handling is not a problem, is this correct?

Does the supercharger need any care? Do I need to install a timer?
Sam
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The Optra was part of GM’s lineup not too long ago, so they should have an idea about how to maintain one. DOHC means double overhead Camshafts, and supercharging is a means of forced induction by use of engine power.

Both are an enemy of reliability because they add more moving parts to the engine, so there is a wider scope for things to go wrong.

Supercharging also is an enemy of fuel economy, because the reason we supercharge cars is to make them faster (and thus harder on fuel).

The DOHC could improve efficiency somewhat, but not enough to counteract the thirst occasioned by the blower.

Superchargers, unlike turbos, do not need special care as such, but just be careful to keep the kit well lubricated.

One last thing. Weight is an enemy of handling, not a friend. People mistake stability at speed for handling.

A heavy car will sit well on the road at 300 km/h, sure, but show it a few corners and understeer will be your lot.
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Hi Baraza,
1. I drive a Toyota Mark II Grande. My wife thinks that apart from the spacious interior, there is nothing much in this car compared to a Premio and an Allion.

But I feel the Mark II is stable and the engine performance (Beams 2000) is superior and better than what’s in the Allion and the Premio.

How does the Mark II compare to the two when it comes to stability and engine performance? How would you rate it against an Avensis?

2. Is it true that some Mercedes service parts (filters, plugs, pads) can fit in the Mark II?

3. I want to upgrade and I am considering a Mark X, a Mercedes C 200 or 220 or a Volvo S80. I am more inclined towards the Volvo because I feel the other two have become clichés and I don’t like going with the crowd.

So how does the S80 compare with the others in terms of maintenance, engine efficiency, safety, durability, speed, stability on the road, interior and extra features (cruise control, sensors etc)?
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1. The Mark II outruns them all, including the Avensis. If your wife does not buy our allegation, introduce her to the 2.5-litre 6-cylinder Mark II. Then she will see our point.

2. I find that unlikely. What the person probably meant was that universal spares can go into either a Mark II or a Benz.

If genuine Benz parts could fit in a Mark II, then the converse would be true too: Toyota parts would be applicable in a Benz. And that, in motoring language, is heresy.

3. Smart choice. And don’t worry about repairs or parts, there is a Volvo showroom right next to the Peugeot showroom somewhere near Koinange Street.