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If you worry about costs, do not buy an ‘extrovert’ car

Hi Baraza,

I want to upgrade my current vehicle to either a Toyota Mark X, 2499cc or Volkswagen Passat CC, 1799cc. Both being second-hand, auto and petrol engine. Kindly advise me on the pros and cons of running these two vehicles in the Kenyan environment.

Bethi

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The pros and cons of running these two cars in the Kenyan environment, you ask? Prepare for a surprise:

The Mark X will get you respect and looks of envy as you ride by, but the down side is that it is now becoming a bit cliché.

The Passat CC is used widely by high-ranking civil servants (and maybe spooks, given that the registration plates I have observed on some of these vehicles do not tally with the age of the car, and some are fake), so substitute the “respect” aspect of the Mark X with “subtle awe and/or slight trepidation” for the CC.

Both ride comfortably, but the Mark X, if you buy the more common 2.5 or the bigger 3.0, will outrun the CC on an open space.

Driven carefully, both will take a while before showing symptoms of reaching “that time of the month” (nudge nudge).

And since you are choosing between two decidedly showy vehicles, I will say nothing on fuel consumption, buying price or cost of maintenance.

If these worry you, then buy a cheaper, smaller, less extrovert car.

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Hi,

I am planning to buy an Escalade. Please give me advice on its fuel consumption and cost of maintenance. Also, let me know if it’s a good car and if it will be able to cope with Kenyan roads.

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Buy an Escalade and take it where? Apparently, there is an embargo on the importation of LHD vehicles, which is why you don’t see me driving a Veyron. Or a Zonda. So where will you take it to once you buy it yet it is LHD only?

Nobody buys an Escalade with fuel consumption in mind, because 4kpl is as good as you will ever get from it.

It might cope well on Kenyan roads, somewhat, but it is a bad car: the handling is poor, build quality is crap, the interior is made from cheap plastics, it is impossible to park and I can bet my salary it will not fit in some city alleyways. And that fuel consumption….

My advice? Go ahead and buy it. At least you will give the rest of us sensible Kenyans some entertainment as you try to live with it!

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Hi JM,

A friend of mine working for a multinational tea exporter in the scenic county of Kericho has asked my opinion on the 2004 Audi A4. Honestly, apart from knowing the manufacturer is German and a subsidiary of Volkswagen, I didn’t offer much. But I knew where to turn to: this column. Please enlighten him and I on the following matters:

1. Availability of appointed dealerships for the car in Kenya.

2. Does it come with a fuel saving piece technology like Toyota’s VVT-i?

3. Can you trust an advertisement for a freshly imported 2004 unit with a price tag of Sh1.45 million? I smelled a rat when I saw that ad.

4. The torque and power specs in simple language. I saw something like 166 foot pounds of torque @ 4700 rpm and 161 brake horsepower @ 5700 rpm. I cursed out aloud.

5. Is it naturally- or turbo-aerated, and which other car is in its class ?

Njeru

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Njeru, I know not of any official franchise or authorised dealership, but there is a small outfit housed in the same compound along Mombasa Road as Subaru Kenya that fiddles with the Four-Ringed German cars.

I’m sure they can handle an A4 without much stress. VVT-i is just variable valve timing, and is the norm with almost every new car since the year 2000 or thereabouts.

If Audi dabbles in turbocharging, I’m sure variable valve timing is on the menu too, it is just that they don’t have a catchy acronym for their version.

A 2004 A4 at 1.5M? That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. That particular dealer could be given the benefit of doubt.

The units used to express torque and power may be imperial or metric. You want metric but the ones you quote are imperial.

Use these conversions: 2.2 lb (pounds) per kilo or 0.45 kilos per pound, 9.8 Newtons per kilo, 3.3 feet per metre or 0.3 metres per foot, and 0.75 kW per horsepower or 1.3 hp per kW. Then calculate your figures.

Lastly, the Audi A4 is available both in turbo and NA forms. Its rivals are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C Class, Volvo S40, Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 407, Alfa Romeo 159, and a lot more.

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Hi Baraza

I love German cars, particularly VWs, and a friend of mine wants to sell me a local 1996 Polo Classic 1400cc hatchback because he wants to go for a Tiguan.

It is in very good condition, having done 136,000km under one lady owner. On matters maintenance, a VW expert mechanic recommended it after inspection and a road test.

He dismissed the notion that spares are expensive, saying that a replaced part could last three to four times compared to the likes of Toyotas. The car still has its original shocks, CV joints, etc, and the engine has never been opened.

However, I was really discouraged when you dismissed the Polo as tiny and costly in your column.

For your information, I did a survey at several shops that deal in spares for European cars and the difference in prices is not as high as is believed.

I have always wondered why most of your articles are on Japanese vehicles, it clearly portrays your bias towards vehicles from the East.

What car, then, would you advise me to go for instead of the Polo? I want a car that is swift, stable on the road at speeds of around 160KPH, and fuel-efficient (the Polo does 18.9 kpl).

Karagi

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The Polo is tiny and costly, and the spares cost a little bit more than those of Toyotas. And you agree that the payoff is a better built and reliable vehicle overall.

I do not have a bias towards “the East” as you so graciously put it. If you followed my work last year, I let slip once or twice that I had a Peugeot 405.

France is not “East”, it is not even within Eastern Europe. I drive what I get my hands on, so if nobody will let me compare the new Passat against an E Class, that is not my fault. Japanese cars are more readily available for test drives, generally.

If you want the Polo, go ahead and buy it. There’s nothing to stop you. The reason I was hard on it was that the question involved money issues, and Toyotas were mentioned in the equation; I had to tell it like it is.

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Hallo Baraza,

Your discussion on SUV’s that can cost less than an million shillings was hilarious. Tell me, how does a Land Rover Freelander compare to a Suzuki Grand Vitara? What is your take on the two?

Muthoni

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The Landy is more comfy and luxurious than the Suzuki, but the Suzuki is hardier, and fast catching up in terms of spec and equipment. It is also less likely to break and will cost less to fix than the LR.

The Freelander is better to drive, and just a touch quicker for the V6; the diesels are economical but lethargic and might struggle with the weight. The Suzuki looks good, with its faux-RAV4 appearance.

This applies to the MK I Freelander; I have not tried the Freelander 2 yet.

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Hi Baraza

I’m engaged in diverse farming activities in Rift Valley and cannot do without a sturdy 4WD. I wish to replace my aging Hilux with a new 4WD pickup.

The Hilux has a front solid beam axle which, though bumpy due to the leaf springs, is very reliable if driven over terrain that would easily cause havoc to the rubber boots and drive shafts.

My problem is that most 4WD pickups currently in the market are of the wishbone suspension type with exposed driveshafts for the 4WD functions.

Kindly explain to me the virtues of the latter over the former (solid beam). Why are they widely used today yet “serious” 4WDs like the Land Cruiser, the Land Rover and even the Patrol have stuck to the solid beam?

If it were you, which one would you go for, a Land Cruiser, a Ford Ranger or Hilux?

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Independent front and rear suspension was once avoided because of how delicate they were, and because of wheel articulation.

Nowadays, advances in material science and suspension technology have made cars with independent suspensions just as skilled off-road as their live axle counterparts, if not better.

Independent suspension allows for better obstacle clearance compared to the beam axle cars. New cars with old suspensions are made so to keep costs down.

On which one I’d go for, the Ford Ranger comes first, the 3.0 TDCi double-cab in particular. Then maybe the Land Cruiser if my farm is REALLY inaccessible.

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JM,

I wanted a car badly, a pick-up for that matter, but had very little cash, so I settled for a 1993 Peugeot 504. From the first owner, a company, I was the fourth owner. Bodywise it was okay but the engine was in need.

So far, taking care of the engine has used up about 50K and I am now proud of its performance, at least for the last three weeks, though I’m still afraid of unwanted eventualities. Would you advise me to sell it or keep it and hope it will serve me more?

Muoki

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Given the cash flow issues, maintain the old donkey for a while. They were bought in plenty when new, so there still exist mechanics who understand them intimately and rusty examples can be cannibalised when parts are needed.

After saving up, you can then upgrade.

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Hi Baraza,

I am a car enthusiast currently driving a 2004 Toyota Caldina. I would like to have your take on the Land Rover Freelander.

In terms of consumption, maintenance and how it compares with other cars in its class. I’m particularly interested in the 2.5-litre version.

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Consumption, I repeat for the umpteenth time, will depend on how you drive, but with the Freelander you will have to be extra careful.

It is a heavy car and the 2.5-litre engine will become a drunkard if you start racing fellow drunkards. Don’t expect much better than 11 kpl or so.

Maintenance: It is the younger brother of the Discovery and not too far removed from the Range Rover, so break one and you will weep.

But if you can afford a Freelander, you should afford to stay on top of sundry replacements and routine maintenance.

In this class, I prefer the X-Trail. BMWs are expensive for no good reason that I can see, as is the RAV4, which is better than the Nissan on the road, but not as good off it, though the Land Rover beats them all, save the BMW in terms of comfort and luxury. Ish.

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Baraza,

I own a Daewoo GTI (KAE) and it has never given me any major problems. However, in one of your columns, you called Daewoo obscure.

I am now concerned; can a Daewoo engine be replaced with one from a different make, such as Toyota or Nissan? Do we have dealers who stock Daewoo spare parts?

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I am not too sure about spares and dealers (the model, after all, is obscure), but you can heave a sigh of relief as concerns replacement engines. Early Daewoos (Nexus, Cielo, and what not) were just rebadged ex-GM models (Vauxhall Cavalier, Opel this and that), so any old GM engine will go in.

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Hi,

I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Cedia saloon that I acquired in 2009. However, towards the end of 2010, it developed problems with the gearbox only to realise that my mechanic had topped up the ATF with SPII instead of the SPIII that is recommended.

This damaged the gear box and I had to replace the same after a number of attempted repairs.

After replacing it mid 2011, it has since been damaging a certain plate between the gearbox and the engine. I have replaced that plate five times now.

My mechanic informed me that this is a problem with these type of vehicle and told me to change the gear selector to solve the problem permanently.

Is there a relationship between the selector and this plate, and what would you advise me to do other than change my mechanic, which I have already done after being in denial for long.

I haven’t replaced the selector yet and the plate is damaged again for the seventh time now thrice in a span of two weeks.

Mwaniki

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Is the car automatic or manual? I’m guessing automatic, now that you mention ATF, but then again you talk of plates and selectors, so it could be manual.

If the problem is associated with the selector, then the source is the linkage, not the selector itself, and yes, there should not be any connection between the clutch plates and the selector.

The problem, I suspect, is in the seating of the plate; it might be slightly skewed or of the wrong size.

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Hi JM,

Does turbocharging increase fuel economy in any way? I understand that forced induction, turbocharging included, increases the volume of air in the combustion chambers, thereby allowing more fuel to be burnt resulting in more power from the engine.

But I fail to understand how this may alter fuel economy positively as I have heard from some circles.

Isaac

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You have a lot more power from a similar capacity engine at similar revs, even if the turbo unit will burn a bit more fuel. What’s not to see?

The horsepower gains from a turbo are a lot more than from tuning an NA engine to within an inch of its life.

If you were to get 291hp from a 2.0 litre NA engine, it will sure burn a hell lot more fuel than the new Lancer Evo X does with its turbo and intercooler because, first, you will need bigger fuel pumps and injectors to deliver more fuel into the cylinders, and then couple this with a very high compression ratio so that you get bigger torque.

Then, the NA engine will have to carry that torque to higher revs so that it can deliver the maximum power. More revs mean more fuel getting combusted. Follow?

The turbo engine, on the other hand, can have a lower compression ratio and you won’t need to rev it madly to get proper power.

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Hi Baraza,

As far as engine configuration is concerned, one thing is still unclear to me.

When I was doing basic mechanics of machines, I was taught about the different diesel engines; naturally aspirated and turbocharged.

Looking at the principal of a turbocharger (recycling exhaust unburnt fuel into the inlet manifold, thereby reducing waste and emissions and giving extra power due to the high temperatures of the inflow gases), I still do not understand why typical turbocharged models consume more than the non-turbo models.

I have driven Hilux pickups for over five years, D-Max occasionally and now a naturally aspirated JMC Isuzu pickup, and you won’t believe the difference.

On average, the Hilux D4D 3.0-litre non-turbo gives 10 kpl; the Hilux D4D 2.5-litre turbocharged gives 12 kpl; the D-Max 3-litre turbocharged gives 11 kpl; and the JMC 2.8-litre non-turbo gives 14.6 kpl.

Though the consumption is a function of many factors including the weight on the accelerator, terrain and traffic, the equation still does not add up.

Kindly enlighten me on the difference between the common rail and the direct injection and how this influences fuel consumption.

Lastly, referring to your column on January 11, I always advise people to go for new Asian pickups, which come with full warranties and have a guarantee on performance instead of going for a 5–7-year-old used top range model that goes for the same price yet you aren’t sure of its maintenance and whether the engine is inches away from failure.

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The secret lies in knowing the history of the engine, quality and reliability in terms of spares and technical back up. Most Asian models are clones of the originals hence the reason for non-durability and dissimilar performance.

First off, the operation you describe there is called EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) and is not turbocharging.

Turbocharging involves using the momentum of escaping exhaust gases to drive an impeller or turbine that, in turn, forces air into the engine under pressure (thus a bigger mass of oxygen gets into the engine).

While it is true that turbo cars burn more fuel than NA counterparts, you are forgetting the gains in torque and horsepower that come along with it.

The differences between common-rail and direct injection call for a full article (too long and technical to put here), but the fuel economy of each type depends heavily on execution, though it has long been believed that common rail delivery is the better option when going for fuel economy.

And finally, as things stand, it will be a cold night in hell before I recommend an Asian counterfeit over the original.

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Enough of the aesthetics, now the power beneath the bonnet

For two weeks, I lightly discussed the aesthetic aspects of skin-deep motor vehicle design.

More detailed explanations will follow at a later date, but for now let us look at the other important design factor; performance.

While looks, and ultimately the outright appeal of a car, tend to be subjective and rely heavily on individual tastes (and strength of eyesight), the physical capabilities fall under a more exact science and can thus be taken to be the universal truth.

Judging a car’s appearance is as simple as eyeballing it, so how is the performance of a car measured?

Acceleration is first, most commonly expressed in 0-100 km/h times, or 0-60 mph in medieval units of measurement.

Quarter mile runs, standing kilometre, half mile and full mile figures are also quoted, which also give an idea of how fast a car accelerates, as does the observed speed at the end of the given acceleration distance.

Braking is next, and the most typical statistics quoted are 100 km/h to 0, 200 km/h to 0 (the McLaren Mercedes SLR does this in less than 65 metres, similar to a Ford Focus at half that speed, and the McLaren’s is almost half the distance that a Ford Anglia takes to brake from half the McLaren’s speed).

For the Bugatti Veyron’s 400km/h to 0, you will have covered a good four football field-lengths by the time this happens. Both distance and time intervals are usually quoted.

Last up is the cornering grip, the ultimate holding power of the tyres-suspension-chassis-centre of gravity-steering geometry collusion point.

This is usually expressed in terms of centrifugal acceleration, better known as lateral g. 1g is the numerical equivalent of the earth’s gravitational field constant, determined by Isaac Newton to be steady at 9.81 m/s2 (metres per second per second, or metres per second squared).

Braking and acceleration are also sometimes expressed in g. But a lot of us fear mathematics and physics, and don’t particularly care for numbers and SI units, especially that last part.

There should be a way of giving a single parameter that neatly sums up all those numbers.

Only really obsessive buffs, like yours truly, derive any sort of pleasure reading numbers on a multi-column table and comparing them to more numbers on other multi-column tables, and it is for this exact reason that normal production cars are taken to race-tracks to try and establish a respectable lap time.

After all, the lap time of the car neatly sums up everything: acceleration on the straights, braking coming up to the corners and the cornering ability through the corner, all rolled into one.

To bring a semblance of order in this (there must be hundreds of thousands of racetracks around the world), and for the sake of uniformity, there are a few racetracks worldwide that have been accepted as the benchmark determinants of a motor vehicle’s capabilities, and the most famous, the most dangerous, the most demanding and the most fun to drive is found in the Eifel Mountains in Germany.

Die Nürburgring (The Nuerburgring): The Green Hell: Seventy kilometres south of Cologne and 120 kilometres northwest of Frankfurt sleeps the medieval village of Nurburg, and around this sleepy hamlet loops the world’s most famous racetrack: the Nuerburgring.

The track is an unnerving 20.8 kilometres long in its current public-accessible format. Over the years, the track has changed configurations, and is at the moment split into the 22.8 km Nordschleife (Northern loop) which we are concerned with, and a 7.7 km Südschleife (Southern loop), mostly used for circuit race events such as F1, though the Nordschleife is still also used for some events.

There is a very good reason this track bears the nickname “The Green Hell”, and not just because several racing drivers have come to their ends along it over the years. The place is unforgiving and very few mistakes, if any, go unpunished.

There is little run off, the corners (of which there are countless) and crests are blind, so getting your line wrong or setting your car up badly will not end well.

The issue is that it is also a high speed arena, so driving slowly will only get you rear-ended by ambitious Germans in hard-charging 911s. It is not a place for the inept or the weak at heart.

This is exactly why auto builders bring their new-fangled hardware here in search of glory. Even the drivers have to be carefully selected when cars are put to the test: the driver too has to go the distance, not just the car.

Driving at an average speed of 160 km/h through more than 100 hairpins, sweepers, S-curves and crests for almost 10 minutes is sure to put a lot of pressure on both man and machine.

To cap it all off, there is a 300 km/h long straight at the very end, where high horsepower cars can really show their mettle, but on days when the track is opened to the public, drivers are required to slow down here, rather than speed.

This is how the lap times are significant, again to both driver and car. If you drive an ordinary car (200hp or less, say) and crack 10 minutes, you could be a bit special behind the wheel.

Less than 9 minutes and you might need the 200hp, or a little more; or better yet, superhuman driving skills. Between 8 minutes and 8 and a half calls for some 250hp plus.

Anything less than 8 minutes, in any car, and you would be advised to quit your day job and seek employment as a factory driver for any of the major companies.

The most hard-core sports cars have their lap times ranging in the early 7 minutes, at the hands of professional drivers.

So far only three production cars have broken the 7 minute barrier, and even so, two of them are not really road legal (the Radical SR3 at 6:57, an open-top racer with a motorbike engine and the first to register a sub-7 minute lap time; the Ferrari 599 XX, and the Pagani Zonda R, at 6:47, which took the record recently).

The Top Gear Test track: A lot of you must be familiar with this place, if only from the on-screen television marvel that is the BBC Top Gear show and its housekeeper, The Stig.

But are you aware that it is another unofficial test arena for motor cars, and that most manufacturers keep a keen eye on how their vehicles perform here?

The Power Lap Board, as it is now famously known, has been a make-or-break feature for vehicles participating on the show, and is something that is actually taken quite seriously, notwithstanding the zoo-like antics of one Jeremy Clarkson (he sometimes sets fire to the strips of paper on which the car’s lap time is written).

It is hard to actually tell what the track looks exactly like just from watching; all we hear is “Chicago”, “Gambon”, “Hammerhead”, “Follow-through” and so on, but extraordinarily, the track layout is in a figure of 8, meaning it would be worse than useless for holding a race (someone had once suggested that they should hold a Formula 1 race there).

Fancy names aside, all those corners and straights did not just fall out of the sky into view of BBC TV cameras; they were all designed intentionally — by the Lotus Group no less, meisters of automobile handling and chassis setup.

The track is usually run anticlockwise for the first loop of the figure 8. The first corner is a left curve of reducing radius (also called Willson Bend, but this name is rarely used), coming after a high-speed left-right kink on the opening straight.

Next up is Chicago, a steady state circumventing a tyre wall. Steady state corners are those taken without steering correction (constant application of lock), and the motor vehicle’s angle of attack is adjusted either using the throttle or the brakes.

This bend was purposely built by Lotus to expose a chassis’ propensity for either oversteer or understeer.

After that comes Hammerhead, a tightish left-right switchback that tests chassis balance, braking and brake balance, and the effect of hard braking on a car (tramlining, yawing or locking wheels).

This bend also shows up understeering chasses on entry into the second bend (the right after the left), or oversteering chasses as you exit the whole thing.

From there comes a right sweep that feeds into the follow-through, where the vehicles are maxed out, shooting past the tyre wall (again) into a left sweeper called Bentley (another rarely used name) and in to the second-to-last corner as it has now been known, another hard left and regarded as the trickiest bend in the whole course. It is easy to spin out on this bend by oversteering.

If you don’t oversteer into the grass (or spin wildly) through the penultimate corner, then the final corner will definitely get you.

Called Gambon, this corner has been the undoing of several high ranking individuals up to and including, but not limited to The Stig himself (it was named Gambon after Sir Michael Gambon took it on two wheels in an earlier season of Top Gear).

Besides Sir Gambon, other persons of note taking that corner on two wheels include Hollywood actor Tom Cruise and a former Arsenal player.

From there it is on to the start/ finish line. All this covers 2.82 kilometres. The lap time of any given vehicle through that course goes onto a board, called The Power Lap Board.

There are rules governing that board, first being that only vehicles available on sale in the UK can have their times posted on it.

Other rules include street legality (the appearance of number plates and indicator lamps confirm this), the ability to go over a sleeping policeman (a flattish speed bump) and the use of street tyres.

This means cars that are too low at the front, or cars running on slicks are not allowed, as are limited production cars that are sold out.

This does not deter the team from timing anything they can get their hands on. Formula 1 cars have had their chance to shine there, and the lap record is held, not by a car, but by a fighter aircraft, the Sea Harrier jump jet, at 31 seconds.

Not being anything roadworthy (not a car, not street legal, and not using road tyres), its time cannot be posted.

Most cars, particularly the top ranking marques on this board, would not be instantly recognisable to a good number of you out there, so I will not dwell too much on the merit list, but a few key facts: the first Veyron slotted in fourth position first time it went round, and was further dethroned rapidly in succession by a Zonda F roadster and a Caterham R500.

The successive Super Sport took the honours, but has now been unseated by a V8-powered Ariel Atom 500 at 1 min 15.1 sec.

Ehra-Lessien: Pronounced “error le scene” (including accent and inflection), this is a top secret test facility that became famous because of the Bugatti Veyron.

It is not used by just anybody; exclusive rights of ownership, management and use belong to the giant Volkswagen Group, the same posse of excessively clever people who engineered the Veyron.

While it covers 96 kilometres of any imaginable tarmac track condition, the most spectacular stretch is the 8.8 kilometre long arrow-straight section.

So straight and so long is this section that it is possible to see the curvature of the Earth’s surface along it, and it is here that the two Bugattis (407 km/h Veyron and 431 km/h Veyron Super Sport) set their respective production car speed records.

The stretch is parenthesized by two banked corners, usually taken at 200 km/h for those planning on clocking 400 km/h along the straight. It is one of few places on Earth where this is possible.

Nobody sat down and decided that the Nuerburgring and the Top Gear test track would be the benchmark facilities for determining a vehicle’s physical abilities, it just happened.

It has come to be that any sports car manufacturer who wants to build a name for themselves brings their vehicle to the Nuerburgring and sets a lap time, which they would shout about if it beats that of their competition.

Nissan and Porsche got into a scandalous tiff when the R35 GT-R beat Porsche’s 911 Turbo, causing Carlos Ghosn (head honcho at Nissan) to brag endlessly and Porsche to throw a wobbly, accusing Nissan of dishonesty.

Nissan returned for the second time and posted an even better lap time, after which they bragged even harder (“The Legend Is Real”, so goes their YouTube video showing the Nissan conquering the ‘Ring).

Ferrari set a lap record with the 599 XX car, but their rivals Pagani showed them up a few short weeks later with the Zonda R, making Ferrari’s one of the shortest-lived lap records ever, and leaving Pagani as the current holders of the mantle.

Maybe we should build a track of our own here and get in on the action.