Take your pick: the Mark X is comfy ,the Impreza fast, the Honda cheap

Dear Baraza,

I recently came across a Honda Civic Type R and not only did I like its looks, but its speed was also amazing. I had been thinking of getting a Subaru WRX STi or a Toyota Mark X, so could you kindly confirm if  this Honda is  better  on the highway than the other two. How do they compare in terms of cornering stability at high speed, reliability, spec levels, comfort, etc?

Also, what are the key differences that matter when making a decision on which car  to get, assuming that I drive mostly on tarmac, doing about 80km daily on even terrain?



Simon, whether or not the Civic Type R is a better car on the highway than a WRX STi or Mark X is a matter of conjecture. The STi might be quickest from start, the Mark X might be the most relaxing and least intrusive — which is what you really want from a highway cruiser, rather than the twitchy  nervousness of the two smaller cars — but the Civic is something slightly different.

I know where the Civic will be  better, and that is when being used as intended by Honda engineers: during competitive driving in general, and in tight corner situations in particular — like a gymkhana course, for instance.

There is not much to be said about a compact, front-drive platform with just the right amount of power and a trick front differential that completely eliminates understeer.  Apart from that, it makes for a formidable track weapon.

Corner stability would be best in the Civic Type R. The STi is notorious for understeer, while the Mark X goes in the exact opposite direction: it over steers very easily and will ensnare the unwary.

The LSD fitted in it (if any) allows for a very small speed differential, so wheelspin galore will be the enthusiastic driver’s lot.

Not so the Civic Type R. It will not understeer (a common front-drive failing) unless you do something foolish and uncalled for, such as entering a corner too fast or while hard on the power.

It will not torque-steer either (pulling to one side under hard acceleration, a common front-drive trait too, prevalent in powerful cars).

Reliability: Choose any, but  note  this: the Mark X has a huge engine, which is a bit complex, keeping in mind it is a large-capacity V6.

Injector problems might occur once in a while, and there are six of those to consider. It might or might not suffer starter problems. It is a Toyota, after all, and maintenance will determine what happens during its lifetime of operation.

The STi is a Subaru, meaning it was engineered with a farmer in mind (a throwback to the days of the Leone). However, it has things like a turbocharger, intercooler, water-spray and other things thrown in alongside the 4WD system to enable these farmers to achieve terminal velocity in a vegetable crop, and also to make the car win rallies.

The introduction of a turbocharger to any engine obviously contributes to lots of power, but it also broadens the perspective across which gremlins can traverse and wreak havoc on the farmer/rally driver’s peace of mind.

This is particularly true of the Legacy, which no longer rallies, not so much the Impreza STi, which can be called “reliable” (the calling is best served with a hint of delicacy and tact as an engine knock is always one redline shift away from introducing an under-bonnet clatter owing to low octane fuel.

There is also something called safe-mode that is helpful in preserving engine life but undesirable when going flat out across your own vegetables or when trying to win a rally in a non-works car).

The Civic looks like the most likely candidate to fail. The Type R concept calls for hand-building and fastidious fettling of a high-strung, high-revving engine (you have to wring it up to 8500 rpm to reach the top shelf where all the power is).

Anything hand-built in the motoring world is rarely reliable.

These engines also have the insanely complicated Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) systems for earlier models and i-VTEC (intelligent VTEC, i.e VTEC with added processors) for newer units.

Clearly, this sounds like a recipe for disaster, but oddly enough, it isn’t. Such is the engineering that Honda puts into its engines that there has never been a single VTEC failure since 1989, and with an output of 20 million or more engines.

Not. One. Failure.

Who said Toyotas are reliable? They should try Honda.

For high spec levels, you are best looking at a Mark X. It is more of a fancy executive with plenty of kit, while the Subaru and the Honda are essentially stripped-out racers with number plates.

This also applies to comfort.

Key points boil down to taste. Some might  prefer the Mark X for its class, which is fast becoming a cliché. Others might go for the Impreza simply because their friends have one or they saw one going really fast  and they thus assume nothing goes faster.

I would go for the Type R: 9000rpm is a heady experience, the vehicle is rare so exclusivity is guaranteed and once the VTEC gets boiling… well, there will be a lot of surprised road users.

You decide: if it is raw power you want, get the Impreza. If you prefer comfort, get the Mark X. If you like economy, try the Type R, though this lot of cars was not designed with frugality in mind.


Dear So-Called JM Baraza,

I hope that the heavy rains bring  more blessings than traffic jams your way. Speaking of the rains, I recently overheard an intelligent man saying that if one is driving through floods, one shouldn’t let off the accelerator, otherwise water will happily begin exploring one’s engine through the exhaust. Kindly comment on this.

Also, does this work for any car? And does this also work when one has engaged neutral?

Second, I have a very annoying friend who claims that an engine, say a two-litre, gets strained when it runs at  more than 4000 rpms, that is, between 4000 and where the red line starts, say 6000 rpms. I say that so long as the rev counter hasn’t touched the red line, the only effect is high fuel consumption and embarrassment  for other drivers in similar cars trying to keep up. Who’s right?

Finally, do you know of any racing schools in the country? It’s a sport that I badly want to get into. You might  not be able to put them on the paper, but you’ve got my email.

Your Fellow Petrolhead.

Well, the title actually is “JM Baraza”, and not “so-called”. I really am called JM Baraza, just to be clear.

The rains are blessings because I am a remote-control farmer (who does not drive a Subaru Leone or Brat). I dabble in agriculture by correspondence, and rains are always a good thing as far as that goes. I also live in the city (or near it), so rain-related traffic jams are inevitable. One cannot have everything.

There is some truth to the stipulation by the intelligent man, but it  might not necessarily be tied in with the explanation.

It is advisable to keep the engine throttled up when wading through water, but not too much because there is the risk of running full tilt into hitherto unseen underbelly-scarring obstacles such as rocks.

Part throttle is the way to go here and this is why:

There is something called exhaust back pressure and, typically, this is the resistance experienced by exhaust gases as they exit the engine.

The back pressure is caused by the atmosphere (obviously) and the design of the exhaust system: a system with many twists and turns and small bore (pipe diameter) experiences more back pressure than a through-pipe, which is essentially straight and has no fripperies like a silencer or catalytic converter.

When this back pressure is increased to a critical point, the exhaust gases cannot exit the engine, so they remain in the cylinder, occupying room otherwise intended for the intake charge (air-fuel mixture) in the combustion cycle.

Starved of fresh charge, the engine cuts out. That is why (depending on how old you are) the police interceptor in the movie Beverly Hills Cop stalled (to our unbridled child-like amusement) when Eddie Murphy shoved a banana up its exhaust pipe.

Wading through water means that, more likely than not, your tailpipe will be under water. This also means water will start flowing up the pipe towards the engine, exponentially increasing the back pressure.

If you let it idle, it will cut out eventually, so one is urged to deftly apply one’s foot to the accelerator pedal to keep the revs up.

Keeping the revs up means a higher flow rate of exhaust gases, which in turn means slightly increased exhaust pressure.

The increased exhaust pressure keeps the water out of the exhaust pipe and the engine block.

This applies to any internal combustion engine and yes, it also works in neutral, though the preferable circumstance would be to stay in gear and keep moving to get out of the water. Do not sit in it for too long, revs or no revs.

Revving your engine while wading through water is not the same as water-proofing the engine. There are also the electrical system and intake to consider.

Water in the electrics means, again, the engine will cut out and all the revving will be for nothing. Water in the intake means a new engine if it goes on longer than a few seconds.

On revving beyond 4000rpms on the road, your friend might not be exposed to many engines. Yes, it strains the engine once it strays over 4,000rpm, but what strain exactly?

If it is a diesel engine, then yes, you are killing it by over-revving, but a petrol engine? 4,000rpm is where the fun starts — at least that is where it starts in the Lancer Evolution, which we will not be seeing much of in the near future.

That is the point at which the turbo kicks in. Honda’s and Toyota’s aggressive camshaft profiles do not make an appearance until around 6,000 rpm for their variable valve timing systems. What strain?

This is what strains the engine: high revving, low speed operations (driving everywhere in 1st gear) which heat up the engine and overloads the moving components; high-gear low-speed operations (driving in 5th gear where 3rd would be more appropriate), which wear out the transmission more than they  do the engine; overloading the vehicle and mud-plugging in a car not kitted for such.

Otherwise, 4,000rpm is the point at which I sit up and grip the wheel a little tighter, my right foot gets a little twitchier and the red mist descends over my eyes. Because 4,000rpm is where the good stuff starts to happen. 4,000rpm is the threshold at which I quit being a driver and become a helmsman.

PS: There is only racing school I know, and it is actually a rally school and not a racing school:  the Abdul Sidi Rally Academy (ASRA). You can easily find it by simply typing the name in the search box on Facebook.



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