THE LEXUS RX 350: For a city driver, this is the ideal car

Wednesday October 11 2017

The Lexus is the pair of high heels you want

The Lexus is the pair of high heels you want and need. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Dear Baraza,

Thank you for your continued enlightenment on all things cars. Your in-depth knowledge and sharing of the same gives women like myself some wisdom in the field. Kindly advise which of the following three cars I should buy:

1) Land Rover Discovery IV

2) Lexus RX 350

3) Toyota Landcruiser Prado (TX)

I live and work in Nairobi and do the occasional upcountry run during festivities. The car is basically a reward to myself for having accomplished my goals and reached where I am today. Hence I want a car that is reliable and won’t cost me much in terms of maintenance.



Hi Eva,

The fact that you live and work in Nairobi automatically disqualifies two of these vehicles on the grounds of common sense, unless your daily commute involves a Great Run stint.

Of the three, only the Lexus can pass muster as a city car; the other two landlubbers will just make you look pretentious and thoughtless.

The “occasional” upcountry run does not really justify the need for a Landcruiser; again, unless you hail from the back of beyond, and since the visits are occasional anyway, you can also on occasion lease a Landcruiser for that purpose if you actually need a car like that.

You don’t really need it.

You might notice that I have not mentioned the Land Rover, but that is because your question included the word “reliable”, and the Land Rover is not. Sure, the vehicle is handsome and powerful and comfortable, but it is also up to its neck in electronics and wizardry that will fail, the only question is when. This, of course, translates directly to maintenance costs; and again,  we are looking at things like forced induction, air suspension, ride height control, a sonar array for depth sensors to assist with wading, terrain response systems... if any of these go AWOL, putting them back online will leave you with a hefty bill that you will not like.

The Landcruiser might be reliable and comparatively friendly of pocket on the maintenance front, but you want a “reward for yourself”, in your own words.

The Landcruiser is not a reward for a city dweller; it is a tribulation and a test of patience.

It shines when used where it was designed to be used — in the clag — but in the city, the high-ratio steering box, the spongy brakes, the massive blind spots, the jouncy ride and the lethargic reaction to driver inputs will soon have you breathing through your teeth as you ask yourself for the umpteenth time why you opted for a rugged application tool for humanitarian missions as an urban assault vehicle rather than something better suited to the task.

Not only is the big SUV inappropriate, it is also tiring to use in the concrete jungle.

That leaves the Lexus. You might lose a bit of identity by joining a billion other Nairobi women in driving one, but you can rest assured that you are not reporting to the office in Wellingtons (Landcruiser) or Caterpillars (Land Rover). The Lexus is the pair of high heels you want and need.


Hi Baraza,

My husband has been promising to buy me a car for years and finally it’s about to happen. He has asked me to choose between a Toyota Vitz, Ractis and iST.  The year of Manufacture has to be 2010. I have just got my driving licence so I don’t have a lot of experience with cars. I feel the Vitz is small, the Ractis is a favourite among taxi operators so I’m leaning towards the iST. The fuel consumption is also a concern.

Please advise.



Hi Hellen,

Cheers to your incipient new wheels! This decision is fairly simple, and we can look at it from two angles, the first being one based on social dynamics.

You are getting a present from a loved one and you have the luxury of choice so don’t hold back.

Like Eva’s case above, two cars get sent to the dugout immediately:  one by virtue of size, the other by virtue of reputation - leaving a sole contender: the iST.

The second angle we can view this decision from is the practical one based on your question: fuel consumption.

All three are compact Japanese hatchbacks of sub-1500cc capacity, so the fuel economy figures are broadly similar.

Whatever little differences exist are unjustifiable since all three consume such little fuel that separating them on that front is nothing but pointless nit-picking. And since you like neither the Vitz (which I like) nor the Ractis (which I don’t like), then that makes your choice straightforward: the iST



Dear Mr Baraza,

I’m an occasional reader of your very informative article and quite enjoy it. Keep it up!

My query is on (petrol) RON ratings for the different fuel providers in the country; do you know or can you get the figures?

The basis of this question is also due to an issue we’ve been having with a (late) 2009 ex-Japan Mercedes-Benz W212 E250 CGI (with the M271 EVO engine). The car seems to be occasionally cutting power on acceleration. On several occasions, the engine has also been jerky  and  the turbo does not kick in when it should until you stop, switch off the car for an hour or two, then it’s okay for a while. This is even on Shell’s V-Power petrol. We even had a mech change an ECU setting that tells the car it’s in a region with low-quality fuel. Before that, the car had shown a check engine light that went away after a day or two (note: no check engine since the ECU mode switch).On computer diagnosis, the mech mentioned something to do with knocking/pre-ignition (can’t quite remember the exact message). Also, the car has had a full service consisting of oil (correct Shell Helix Ultra 5W-40 meeting spec 229.5), respective filters and spark plugs. What do you think could be the issue?

Finally, I have a friend who recently acquired a brand new (ex-SA) W213 Mercedes-Benz E400 (3.0l Petrol V6 Bi-turbo). He refuses to fuel it with V-Power saying it’s “a waste of money” and puts any fuel. What’s your take on this?



Hello Brian,

I do not have the RON ratings of fuel from different providers off-hand, but I can get them. It will just take some time since it will involve acquiring samples and testing them. I could simply ask the providers themselves for these statistics but people have a tendency to massage the truth a little where and when it suits them, so it’s best if we just do the testing ourselves.

That Mercedes anecdote of yours is full of loopholes. The jerky driving was offset by turning the car off for some time then restarting it, you say, which points to fuel quality being an issue; and by fuel quality I don’t meant octane rating, I mean purity  - whether or not the fuel has rocks in it. Turning the car off ends that particular start cycle and does a sort of mini-reset for the ECU since the cause of the problem is extraneous and not intrinsic. If the ECU could talk, it would say it assumed you turned off the car to drain the bilge water you call petrol and put in actual fuel so it, too, was ready to start on a fresh page. A persistent check engine light usually signifies a problem with the vehicle itself, not external factors such as fuel type.

However, you go on to say that this problem arose even with the car running on Shell’s V Power, which, at the risk of sounding like a marketing shill, is quite easily the best fuel you can get for your car at the moment in terms of cleaning agents and octane rating. If the fuel quality was bad originally, then changing the fuelling points would have alleviated the problem, but it didn’t. So the problem is with the car.

Your mech needs to come clean on what parameter he adjusted on the ECU, because the ECU does not have a “geographical” setting that tells it where fuel sellers are corrupt and dishonest and so could it please lower its standards a little. If the ECU threw a knock/preignition code, then that means it was interfered with initially and someone set it to run very high timing, a setting that is extremely sensitive to fuel type, which I think is exactly what happened.

Most cars with ECUs have a “window” within which to operate, depending on fuel type. As the car runs, the ECU advances the timing as much as it can until the knock sensors detect when a certain knock count threshold has been exceeded, after which it retards the timing a little, just enough to get it back within the threshold.

This allows the engine to perform to its theoretical maximum for a given octane rating without wrecking itself. However, the timing can be “manually” set to high, but only if you are sure you have the correct fuel type for this type of operation. High timing improves engine responsiveness and is a basic tuning principle for people who “mod” their cars, but the downside is knocking becomes a perpetual risk.

Methinks someone manually advanced the timing on that engine to Japanese standard where they have 100 RON, only for it to land in Kenya where we have 95 RON at best (and that is being optimistic). The later mech then either retarded the timing himself or simply restored default settings in the ECU, which would allow the engine to set its own timing depending on knock count like it was supposed to in the first place.

Your friend with the twin turbo V6 can do as he pleases with his car, but just like random hookups, random fuelling will one day come back to bite him. It behooves him to be more circumspect about his forecourt choices, more so given that he is operating a high-compression direct injection engine.



Hi Barasa,

I reside in Uganda but read most of your articles. I am considering getting an SUV car for my wife. The car will be for daily use and regular upcountry travel. I am torn between getting a 2008 Honda CRV and a BMW X3. Which one would you recommend, considering the availability of spare parts and the mechanical skills.


Keep things simple and buy a CRV.


Dear Baraza,

I would first wish to thank you for the superb insights you are giving readers as far as motoring is concerned. 

However, I am contemplating buying a Subaru Impreza saloon manual and convert it to automatic; what advise do you give?

Odipo Dibo



Unless you are doing the conversion for research or tutorial purposes, I don’t see the point. Converting an automatic car to a manual one is fairly simple, but the reverse is not true and is rarely worth the effort. Just buy an automatic Impreza if you want an automatic Impreza.


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