If you want a hardy, reliable  car, a Subaru is a good bet

Wednesday May 16 2018

A Subaru Forester. If you want a car that won’t let you down, you can count on a Subaru. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

A Subaru Forester. If you want a car that won’t let you down, you can count on a Subaru. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BARAZA JM
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Dear Baraza, 

First, I would like to thank you for your honest opinion in this column.  It is an eye-opener and challenges our thinking and views as well as debunks some myths.

I amm looking forward to buying an SUV.   I currently drive a Golf MKV but I live in an area where the road is so bad that I want to replace it with a car with better ground clearance.  I have  researched on different  cars and have a few in mind:  the Subaru  Forester,  Nissan Dualis,  Nissan X-Trail,  BMW x1, and VW Tiguan, all 2l petrol turbo/non-turbo. On the basis of reliability, safety and frugality, which one would you recommend. 

Secondly, have seen you advise against turbo engines, especially in a Forester; can it be extended to the Tiguan TSI and X1 twin turbo? 

 

Hello,

This is a topic I have covered at length before, so you will forgive me for not going into details. Reliability is a Subaru forte, so the Forester takes that cake... though we could say it is more of dependability in light of the European competition and the Dualis.

Safety is a funny result because they all score rather poorly on pedestrian safety, fairly well for child occupants, and excellently for adults.

The X1 and the Tiguan do one better by scoring an equal 71 per cent on the safety-assist front, so these two tie for the lead here. Frugality depends on how you drive these cars.

The engine tune and development of the Euro cars means they can develop a fearsome thirst if you are heavy-handed with your footwork, in a manner of speaking, but they can return outstanding figures as well when well driven.

The Tiguan was observed by end-users to be notoriously dipsomaniac for a car of that size with its corresponding engine, so there is that to consider too.

And now we go to the real reason why I responded, and that is the claim that I advised someone to steer clear of a turbo Fozzie.

Au contraire, I have repeatedly insisted that there is no point buying a Subaru if it is not turbocharged because those tin snails give the cars their character and raisons d’être, that of quick, all-wheel-driven conveyance between geographical coordinates to the accompaniment of an exhaust burble whose charisma is a highly debated topic.

The only boosted Subaru mill I have asked people to watch out for is the Legacy-bound EJ208 (EJ206 for the tiptronic model), a highly convoluted and needlessly complex 2-stage twin turbo affair with 24 vacuum lines, an inaudible dump valve you are well advised  not to replace with an aftermarket unit, and high susceptibility to knock.

It is a swine to fix, which is why El Turbo is currently powered by a replacement WRX Version 7 power plant that is rorty and punchy enough for my tastes, complete with a subtle BOV hiss. Don’t ask.

The Forester turbo should be fine to run provided you don’t abuse it, but even then it can take a few knocks before caving in. Just watch out for gaskets and timing belts.

The same advice applies to the Europeans, though full disclosure: I have recently been seeing a spate of turbo issues with small Volkswagens, especially with burning oil, so perhaps the Japanese are a safer bet for forced induction.

 

My Merc jerks when I accelerate?

Hi Baraza,

It’s been a while since I last wrote to you (circa 2011) regarding a second-hand Mercedes Benz E240 2008 model which I had just imported from Singapore, only for the SBC to pack up!  Suffice it to say I managed to get MB Germany to intervene, and I got a new SBC unit from DT Dobie at a “reasonable price”!

Back to my current issue; I bought a 2011 WDD212 in December 2016 from Japan.  It’s doing fine save for one issue – sometimes when I push the accelerator down suddenly (e.g. when overtaking) the car starts jerking and this may go on for while even when I ease on the accelerator.

However, when I stop, switch the engine off and then start a few minutes later, the car doesn’t jerk any more.

I asked my mechanic what the problem could be and he said it might be due to dirty fuel.  He adjusted some “settings” and advised me to  fuel at specific stations (known to sell clean fuel!).  However, the problem persists. I have a sneaky feeling that perhaps some sensor(s) is/are faulty; what’s your take?

Keep up the good work!

Kimathi

If you have trouble with the WDD212,  start by using  an OBD II tool to get an error code. PHOTO| COURTESY

If you have trouble with the WDD212, start by using an OBD II tool to get an error code. PHOTO| COURTESY

Hello Kimathi,

Nice to hear from you again. My sympathies for your W212 woes, which is a bit unfortunate because the 212 is one damn fine car and probably the best Mercedes E Klasse ever made since the indestructible 124. So now, let me tell how things go from here:

I will do my usual duty by asking you to extract an error code using an OBD II tool, then use that code to triangulate the exact problem and its source - a problem which sounds more electronic (such as a throttle position sensor on the fritz, part of a system which has never been a strong point for the E Klasse line ever since they took up drive-by-wire technology) than mechanical (such as a case of bad fuel like your mechanic surmises).

However, rereading your message, I’m starting to believe that the issue could be mechanical after all, probably something to do with the fuel pump or the fuel pressure regulator. Check those too.

After I write all that, this will get published, then someone from the Mercedes Owners’ Club of Kenya will get in touch to diagnose the car for me remotely, inclusive of counter-measures aimed at restoring your 212 to its original greatness, and I will share that correspondence here and, eventually, we will have a solid answer... hopefully.

The only question now is how long it will take for that owner’s club member to revert...

 

Tell me the pros and cons of the  Merc W124 Series

Hi JM,

I am an ardent reader of your column and I always find it very helpful. God bless you for the good work.

I have this love for Mercedes,  and no, it’s not the MLs of this world. I love the old-time Mercedes Benz, specifically the W124 E-series. I am talking about cars from the late seventies to early eighties. Could you be so kind as to do a nice review of the same some day?  (or you probably already did but I missed it?)

I would really want to know the pros and cons of the W124 s with caburettor. Could they be a disaster-in-waiting or a nightmare as far as maintenance is concerned?  

Duncan

Hi Duncan,

The car you are referring to must be the W123, not the 124. The latter went into production from the late ‘80s to the mid ‘90s, so you are referring to its predecessor, the 123.

I could do a review if I get my hands on one, and not just a written review but video as well. I have gone into videography to expand my horizons and diversify my portfolio.

The expected results would be a hardy, thoroughly engineered and fastidiously built vehicle designed to do millions of kilometres on the worst that African roads can throw at it, which is what went down anyway.

The carburetted engine will not be as economical as one might hope, but at least it is highly dependable, provided you teach yourself how to tune carburetors like I did, because the number of mechanics possessing this skill set is rapidly dwindling into nonexistence, along with the carburettor itself.

 

If you want help, tell me what you want in a car

I am relocating to western Kenya (Luanda) and wish to purchase a small vehicle to help me get around. Kindly advise which one I should go for. My budget is less than Sh600,000.

Margaret

The insight is not a huge, heavy or thirsty car. PHOTO| COURTESY

The insight is not a huge, heavy or thirsty car. PHOTO| COURTESY

Go for one that suits your needs and costs less than 600k.

Seriously, I need more to go on here. The number of small cars you can get for 600 large or less is impossible to cover with my weekly 2000-word limit. What do you expect from the car, and have you singled out any candidates for comparative purposes?

Please make my work easier... please

 

Hi Baraza,

Thanks for the good work.  Sometimes it is difficult to choose which car to buy for a start.  I mean fair price, cheap to maintain and also the right car dealers or the right people to deal with who import cars. Can you advise on that. I have never owned a car but am looking forward to getting one next month. I like the Honda Insight Hybrid. I  have tried to look around but I am confused. It seems I cannot get all the information I want. Or can you suggest one for me that I am likely to be comfortable with for a start.  Please.

Lydia

 

Hello Lydia,

You, like Margaret , also need to be a bit more specific. Yes, you have mentioned the Insight, which I will get to in a moment, but in the meantime, here is a pro tip: cheap, fast, reliable. A car can at best be only two of those things, some that I critique harshly are only one of those and then we have a few special cases where the car is none of the above. Cheap to buy does not always translate to cheap to maintain.

I, too, do not have a lot of information on the Insight, apart from two things: it is a hybrid, which is very economical (fairly obvious) but less obvious is the second observation: a lot of these cars are being resold shortly after import, sometimes within three months of purchase.

I do not know why exactly, but it is a matter of concern. Another vehicle being resold in large numbers is the Landcruiser VX.

This is because most buyers of this car run towards it for the sake of image before they discover the hard way what they are in for: a huge, heavy, difficult-to-park vehicle that swills fuel and has very costly parts.

New money need not apply. Some cut their losses early and put them up for sale immediately while some persevere,  only to cave in later.

The Insight is not a huge, heavy vehicle, it is not thirsty and it is not difficult to park, plus I doubt that the parts cost Landcruiser money, so it is not clear why people are ditching them in droves.

In concept, it is meant to be the perfect city runabout, a compact economy car with fairly straightforward componentry - save the for the hybrid drive, which could be an engineer’s nightmare if he is not pre-armed with the necessary training.

Let me see if I can find out the reason for the strange resale statistics, but in the meantime, hang in there. The advantage is, if the car turns out to be an ideal, you could get one cheaply due  to the dumping going on in the market.

 

How do you rate the Mitsubishu RVR?

Hi JM,

You once said (on October 25, 2016 ) that  the problem with Mitsubishis is that when they are good, they are very good and when they are bad, they are damn near pathetic. Where does the RVR/ASX fall?  I have noted that they are becoming common on our roads (YOM 2010-2011).

Sam

The RVR is a handy little crossover. PHOTO| COURTESY

The RVR is a handy little crossover. PHOTO| COURTESY

Hello Sam,

This sounds like a trap, because answering that question might lead to accusations of slander. Yes, I wrote exactly what you say I did, and even cited some examples.

The RVR/ASX is a handy little crossover that I have yet to test,  while new ones are yet to be made accessible. Here is a little story...

One of my compatriots, who is also a contractor at my agency, once visited the local franchise holder to  review the little ASX, which went rather well, until he poured forth a critique of the vehicle that led said franchise to ask him, in no uncertain terms, never to darken their doorstep again.

That is not entirely surprising, given that many  of these importers (what head offices call the local franchise holders) have the erroneous notion that  we, motoring journalists, can double up as PR mouthpieces. That is unethical and plain wrong; objectivity is supposed to be our mainstay.

If an autojourno does a hatchet job on one of your products, try and understand where s/he is coming from rather than summarily declaring him/her persona non grata. If they are factually wrong, show them the error of their ways.

This kind of working condition are what makes us sometimes go over the importer’s head and communicate directly with the head office, where they are generally more open-minded and responsive to criticism.

So it is in light of that that I’m not in a hurry to review an ASX, until and unless I’m invited to; and even then, if my colleague made a critique, I cannot promise to be gentle either.

Not to approach this with preconceived notions, but for the record, that colleague was not unnecessarily obtuse or out of order; he in reality gave the car an overall thumbs-up, specifically in terms of user friendliness and comfort, I think he just said the car looks a bit awkward from some angles, or something similar to that; and that is what did him in.

So there is your advance review from a third party, await mine should hell freeze over and they actually ask me to have a go at the car myself.

Having car trouble? Write to [email protected]