alexa The AWD function in a car is not just for navigating rough terrains - Daily Nation

The AWD function in a car is not just for navigating rough terrains

Wednesday March 20 2019


File photo of Hondas. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More by this Author

Hello JM,

Thank you for your honest and informative advice when it comes to mechanical issues with our cars.

I however tend to agree with my fellow Kenyan who said you are biased when you see the word SUBARU.

Before that article, someone had asked for advice between a Harrier, Vanguard and Subaru Forester, and you went ahead to give the Subaru praise like you always do, and even summarised your praise by saying "cannot go wrong with the Forester.

This has been written here before, ad nauseam.” I am not saying you are wrong (actually you are 100 per cent correct about Subarus and their superb performance), but when it comes to practicality, you are not. I am into motoring as well and like driving all sorts of vehicles

Many times, I offer myself to go to the coast to pick up a car just to experience how it drives.


Been doing some personal research to find out why the ever-powerful, reliable, pretty Subaru is never bought in numbers not only in Kenya but globally (excluding States). The answer is AWD. I have been to Car Bazaars as well and you know what the hardest thing to sell is? It is a saloon car which is 4WD (now you can imagine what AWD is like, unless someone doesn’t know about it).

Ever ask yourself why Mercedes, Ford, Porsche, BMW name it (nearly all) don’t have AWD in them even with their engineering skills?

It is because with the global recession and higher prices of fuel, people are becoming conscious of vehicle consumption irrespective of the make.

Who really needs an AWD while nowadays almost all roads are tarmacked or well kept?

Is it practical to buy one when you will experience tough terrain once a year or not (like you did when you gave your friend a lift) at the expense of more fuel?

Why will a Subaru Impreza, a 1500cc, need AWD? To make it worse, they now have a Legacy 2500cc with the same AWD.

Is it necessary when you have 2500cc under the bonnet? That’s why you see people opting for Mark X.

Drive one to Nakuru and back, then a Toyota, a Mercedes 200 or a BMW with the same engine size.

The Subaru will consume more. Why? It is because of AWD.

Comparing between Subaru Forester and Honda CRV, I would advise your reader to take the Honda if they want practicality, but if they don’t mind the fuel prices and consumption, only then should they consider Forester.

I hope this will get Subaru makers to know that if they want to sell more, let them make cars like the rest do and keep a few like the Outback for the motor enthusiasts.

By doing this, the middle class will be able to comfortably fuel a Subaru and thus increase their market share.



Thank you for the ‘fandom’ but please clean your research tools thoroughly, then go back and find out which cars have and which don’t have AWD.

Here are some truths: Mercedes-Benz — Have you never heard or seen the tag "4Matic" on any car?

Ford — Even their fire-breathing Focus RS hot hatch comes with AWD and something called "Drift Mode" which disconnects one axle to allow the car to slide about in spectacular fashion.

Porsche — Do you know what the "4" in "Carrera 4" stands for?

BMW — X-Drive, anybody?


I can name a lot more but the essence of this is there are very few car models that are offered without AWD than there are available with the system as an option.

AWD is not just for rough terrain; in fact AWD is not for rough terrain when discussing the world outside of SUVs — that is what 4WD is for. AWD on small cars is for two things: directional stability by curbing tendencies to oversteer through distributing power across both axles and for when one or more tyres start losing grip such as when driving on snow or ice, or even slick surfaces after a rainy squall.

You didn't think about that, did you?

This is exactly why a 1.5 litre Impreza will need AWD. Also, the Legacy does not "now" have AWD, it has always had it since inception. These cars are not only sold in Kenya or geographical regions with high climatic certainty; they are chiefly sold where snow and ice are a clear and present hazard, including in their own home market of Japan.

People who opt for a Mark X do so because they either don't want a Subaru due to brand hang-ups through guilt by association or are enamoured of Toyotas in general and the Mark X shape in particular, which is admittedly handsome and more comely than Subaru’s somewhat strange renderings.

For your information, the Mark X is also available in AWD.

I have driven both a Mercedes-Benz and a Subaru to the village — which lies further down the road from Nakuru — and back; and the Subaru won that economy battle which was not really a battle.

Granted, the Subaru has a turbo and the Mercedes has an extra 3000cc and two more cylinders but the Benz is hobbled by its weight and the automatic transmission.

This has nothing to do with AWD or the lack thereof; the difference in consumption occasioned by the presence of an extra driveshaft can be quite easily undone or compensated for by some nifty driving.

The phrase "This has been written here before, ad nauseam" is true because week in week out someone will ask about an Outback, a Forester, an Impreza or a Legacy, and I know how good these vehicles are compared to their rivals.

A large part of that goodness stems from the much vaunted Symmetrical AWD system that gives these cars a sense of balance you won't find in many others, more so if you are one to explore the outer reaches of the performance envelope once in a while like yours truly.

The CRV's superiority comes in having a third row of seats for the newer models as you failed to mention (you just said "practicality" but didn't go into specifics), but its suspension is not built to cope with Kenyan heavy-handedness when it comes to operating motor vehicles.

The Subaru, borne of successful rallying attempts, can withstand this kind of use and that is why it rules.

I need not mention that the CRV you love so much is also available with AWD, so I'm beginning to wonder if the bone you have to pick is with AWD or with the Subaru brand.

(We could also delve in the joys of operating a turbocharged longroof warhorse that is dabbling more in the same fandom you accuse me of and I do not want to provide you with any more ammunition for your poorly aimed shots at me.)

It is unlikely that Subaru will take your advice on marketing and product positioning, more so given that your grasp of the motor industry is cursory at best and erroneous at worst.

As it is, they are outdoing themselves so much in sales terms that they have started compromising quality, leading to recalls. The best advice one can give them right now is to tone down the increased production to more manageable levels where quality control can be fully exercised.


Manual or automatic, always keep your car in serviceable condition

Dear Mr Baraza,

Most motor vehicles in the market are now equipped with automatic (gearboxes) transmissions which has made driving easy for many.

However, this has come with new challenges which were easy to address with the old manual (gearboxes) transmissions.

In the event of a flat battery or a faulty starter motor, the vehicles could still be started with a push or a short tow.

On the other hand, a flat battery can easily be handled with “jumper cables” and another good battery to crank up the engine with automatic transmission.

The dilemma is in a vehicle which is good in all senses but has developed a faulty starter motor in the middle of a long trip or in a remote place at odd hours.

What alternative method, if any, is there to get the said vehicle’s engine running again?

Mr Khan


Hello Mr Khan,

Well, with the advent of increasingly complex technology in motor vehicles, bush cures and roadside repairs are very quickly sliding out of reach of the budding grease monkey.

With modern cars, any signs of trouble should be immediately addressed lest you wind up stranded and in need of a flatbed truck.

My cousin and I had such a problem with a Toyota Mark X some years back whereby the starter motor (accessible only from beneath the car owing to the V6 and its accessories filling out the entirety of the engine bay) had to be given a substantial whack with a blunt object for it to get to work and at some point gave out altogether.

The stopgap measure was to keep the engine running even when we stopped, if we were to complete our journey without expensive assistance.

That meant keeping the vehicle within sight at all times during bathroom breaks and food stops. What a drive that was.

There exist methods of bump-starting an automatic car but they are not foolproof and you risk doing considerable damage to your vehicle in the process, so I will not share them here lest some curious types try to verify for themselves the efficacy of these methods and then quote me as a respondent when asked to foot the repair costs.

Keep your car in serviceable condition and you will be good.


Hybrid cars are good until something goes wrong with them

Dear Baraza,

I am currently saving up for my first car and I would like your advice.

I read your article where you praised the Mazda Demio and thus was aiming to get one as I don’t want to break the bank for my first car.

However, I’ve seen a couple of Honda Fit hybrids around and they have intrigued me. Can you advice on the pros and cons of a hybrid with regards to maintenance and consumption and how its matches up to the Demio?




Small hybrids are good for economy but most of them have very little going on in them owing to the tiny little engines they are supplied with. Then there is the fact that they come with a battery pack and while these have high reliability records, failure is not unheard of.

These failures can set you back a pretty penny, deep in the higher six figures, which, given that we are talking used cars, could quite easily be the purchase price of a replacement vehicle.

So, hybrids are good but they are not the answer to peace in the Middle East.

Unless covered by a warranty, buying used is a bit of a risk. Having said that, this is entirely up to you whether the grim satisfaction derived from the greenness of your driving is worth a potential fire hazard in your finances if things start to short-circuit.


The second-hand Nissan Almera is a good car if you buy it in good condition

Hello JM,

I am a great follower of your column. I was looking for my second low-budget car after being frustrated by the Mitsubishi Gallant GDI engine.

I recently got a good deal for a 2012 locally assembled Nissan Almera, manual transmission.

However, I don’t know much about this unit and I have not spotted even one on our roads. What would you advice?



Now that you are speaking low budgets, you are barking up the right tree with the manual Almera; the question is, what is the asking price and what condition is the car in?

I have seen a few on the road and it’s not half bad, to be honest, provided it is priced correctly. It is a bland car, but it will serve its purpose, which is to get you from point A to B while burning as little money as possible in the process. Just don’t expect any excitement out of it.


Are RAV 4 doors this costly?

Hello Baraza,

I own a manual 1999 RAV 4 J, which is in good condition (almost brand-new). Unfortunately, it was hit and the boot got dented.

I repaired it at a local garage but it produces sound on rough roads. I wanted to buy a brand-new door but at Toyota Kenya, it goes for Sh230,000. Kindly advice.



Dear Abdi,

I truly don’t know where you got that cost from.

I am interested in hearing from others how much a brand-new door for a 1999 Toyota RAV4 goes for.

Hopefully, we will be able to settle this in the next write-up, because what you have sent as the cost of a door has raised a number of questions. Anyone out there with different figures?