Upping the game: The Vanguard posed a threat to Lexus market

Wednesday November 15 2017

Baraza JM, Vanguard, Toyota

The RAV4-like Vanguard: Production was stopped to prevent it from poaching sales from existing brands. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Hi Baraza,

I really appreciate the work you are doing and the effort you put in informing and educating us about cars.  I read your articles whenever I can and admire your knowledge of cars; Is it possible for you to have a YouTube channel where you can upload videos of the cars you review, for example the Volkswagen Polo Vivo Maxx, in the near future? It would be great to get a review of the cars and see their capabilities, handling, as well as any shortcomings.

Now to my main question: I admire the Toyota Vanguard for its stylish design as well as performance and off-road capabilities. I have noted there has been an increase in Vanguards and the sales are higher compared to its competitors in the mid-size SUV range such as Outlanders, X-Trails and Foresters.

What concerns me, though, is that I  have little information. I need to understand why Toyota decided to stop producing the Vanguard in 2012 and instead focused on the RAV4 platform. Isn’t this strange, considering the Vanguard’s features, such as most of them being 7-seaters, affordable and being roomier than the RAV4?

Is it that the car had a problem or what reason did they have for stopping its production? And does that mean that getting spares for the Vanguard will be a challenge in future?



Hello Brian,

I do have a YouTube channel called Motoring Press Agency, just like the website.

The Vanguard had to die for several reasons. First, Japan has a unique automotive tax obligation regime that centres on external dimensions and engine capacity; that is why the Kei car is so popular in that archipelago. It might be more out of necessity (availability of space to manoeuvre around, let alone park, is at a perigee) and fiscal sense (those taxes can get punitive the higher up you go in vehicle size) than the forced cuteness of the little mobility pods.

The Vanguard is the antithesis of the establishment’s regulations: it is the blue-pill Pfizer version of an already fairly sizeable vehicle: the Toyota RAV4.

The vehicle would prove costly to own in its own home market, and it, therefore, had to die.


(Addendum I: methinks the ordinary RAV4 will meet its end soon as well, to abdicate its position in favour of the newfangled and frankly hateful new kid on the block called the C-HR. I hope I’m wrong on this).


Speaking of abdicating positions, the second reason the Vanguard croaked was to allow its sexier cousin from Lexus to rule the roost undisturbed.

This is something I discussed when I reviewed the all-new Land Rover Discovery some weeks ago.

Model positioning to prevent a new vehicle from poaching sales from an existing one is something only Toyota seems to have mastered since at one point they had the Verossa, the Mark II and the Mark X on sale at the same time.

Let not the skin fool you, this is the same car. However, with the new RAV4 model out, built on what they call the “New MC underpinnings”, Lexus took a shortcut and based their new RX crossover on that platform as well, the same platform that you’ll find supporting vehicles like the Alphard and the Prius.

The quandary facing the corporate giant was the Verossa-Mark II-Mark X one all over again, the difference being that, unlike then, nowadays the general public is fed distilled intelligence by an overenthusiastic motoring press agency and the proliferation of Internet access in general and social media in particular means critical information can be, and is, disseminated in real time.

Decisions can be made and unmade right there on the showroom floor by a few quick taps on a smartphone screen. It would not make sense to have the RAV4, the Vanguard and the Harrier XU60 on sale concurrently as they would cannibalize sales from each other, despite them all falling under the same umbrella. One had to go, but which one?

The RAV4 started it all back in 1994, the real OG. You don’t just pull the rug out from under grandpa’s feet, do you? The Harrier is the Lexus, and Lexus needs representation in that sector, or else German fare like the Mercedes GLE and BMW’s X cars fester unfettered all over the motoring landscape and if you recall my earlier discussion about Lexus, the reason it swung into existence was to keep the Germans in check and inform them that luxury can be had for reasonable money.

So with the RAV4’s and Harrier’s job securities guaranteed, the Vanguard suddenly found itself drawing the short straw and getting tossed out in the cold. The role of the roomy crossover will continue to be assumed by the Highlander, or what Kenyans know as the Kluger. Sayonara, Vanguard, you have been declared redundant and no one will really miss you.

You were nothing but a priapic RAV4. Bring on the C-HR...


(Addendum II: Why are you worried about Toyota spares? Really, why? How long do you plan on keeping a Vanguard for you to worry about spares availability when until now spares for vehicles from 30 years ago are still readily available? Take a breath and contemplate on the ephemeral lifespan of the lengthened RAV4 derivative, and if Toyota shot itself in the foot by killing the wrong car).



The Wingroad vs Golf Variant? There is no comparison there


I really enjoy your articles. Have you reviewed the Golf Variant? I have seen a lot of them lately and I have been considering it as an alternative to the Wingroad or the pricier Fielder. I’m curious as to whether it is a better option, considering total cost of ownership, which definitely includes maintenance.



You are doing the Golf a disservice by comparing it to the Wingroad. One is the longroof version of a global icon, the other was conceived by a cash-strapped company badly in need of a wealthy benefactor. Go figure.

As stated in the response to Brian (left), the cost of ownership will depend on the condition you find the Golf in. Both sets of cars have their reputations preceding them: Japanese being generally reliable (not so sure about the Nissan, though) and cheap to run and maintain, German being a substantial pain in the neck once they reach a certain age and mileage. I’d advise you to go for a Variant if you appreciate class, quality, excellent roadholding and instant power on demand if you go for the twin-charged version. I would, on the other hand, advise you to get a Fielder if you are averse to risk and like to play it safe. You decide.



I’m looking for a  suitable mid-size SUV and I’m musing over the X-Trail

Dear Mr Baraza,

First, I salute you for your very educative articles on car models and motoring in general, although of late you’ve been concentrating only on the big SUVs.

I’m seeking your advice on a suitable, mid-size SUV. I live in Nakuru town and on average do 30km a day, 12kms of this off-road on murram (I mean a  potholed, rut-filled road).

In addition, my job requires me to travel and visit farmers at least twice a month; this is where I sometimes encounter real off-road challenge.

I drive a Tiida Latio, my first and learning car (Don’t even start on it!), which is, of course, unsuitable for my needs. So I need a suitable, medium, off-road car but not a full-time 4WD.

I’ve mused over the RAV4 but the engine is too big (above 2000cc) for the other ordinary days driving.

The same applies to the Vanguard and Ford Escape. The CRV is also big and besides, it’s too beautiful (pun intended!) to be taken for a romp in the bundus. All these models are pricey.

 That leaves me with the Nissan X-Trail (a 2007-2013 model), which is a reasonably priced SUV with 4WD option and a 2000cc engine. But I recalled that you once dismissed this car with a sarcastic comment and I quote: “If You Like CVTs”.    

Please advise on the suitability of the X-Trail and anything to watch out for. Also, feel free to criticise and discourage me if I’m making a poor choice for my needs.

 TK Njogu


Hello TK,

Well, my biggest gripe with the X-Trail was just that: the use of CVT, which is a piece of genius from an engineering perspective but an unintuitive and noisy pig’s ear for the discerning motorist like myself. It is not actually bad but I just don’t like how it works. If a car is nothing more than an appliance to you, then you won’t even notice the difference between a CVT and a pukka automatic.

The X-Trail seems fine for you, though. Subjectively, you’ll be graduating from one Nissan to another one better suited for your needs. Objectively, you say your search has proved that the X-Trail undercuts the rest of the field in price, which is an immediate — if shortsighted — advantage to the budding shopper.

So, for the low price, what downsides are you looking at? Early versions of the second generation car, the one you want, had problematic steering shafts that resulted in a lot of play and noise in the rack. If unchecked, the steering system could fail completely, but this last part is unheard of and mostly syllogistically speculative.

The power assistance control unit could also overheat due to poor heat sink specification but this was fixed under a TSB in some cars. Expect wonky electrics around the dashboard and in the window control panels as well.

In the interest of full disclosure, all these bugs were mostly fixed under TSB so you need to confirm whether  the vehicle you are buying went under the scalpel or not.

Any other attendant issues will now be pegged on how the previous owner(s) used these vehicles and we all know that, Japanese notwithstanding,

Nissans don’t handle misuse with the same stoicism as their Oriental brethren from Toyota and Subaru.




I have been reading your articles and would like some advice. I have a Pajero iO but  I want to get a slightly bigger car – something that’s efficient, with good performance, for city use.  Kindly advise; I’m torn between the Mitsubishi RVR, Mitsubishi Outlander and Honda CRV. But please let me know whether or not  I am making the right choice in the first place and if I am on the right track,  which is stress-free to maintain.




Ignore the two Mitsubishis on the grounds of “stress-free to maintain” and you have your answer by elimination. You can have an answer by induction as well: the CRV actually is a good car and has been a favourite of ladies for some time now, and with good reason. It is not half bad: smooth, cute, classy and whatnot. It’s efficient and much as it won’t win any time trials, its performance is not exactly what we’d call pathetic. You are not planning to race it, are you? The two iO relatives are not exactly scions of dependability and much as they are well made in their own way, they pale into insignificance in the dazzling brightness that is the CRV’s comparative magnificence...


Having car trouble? Write to [email protected] for free advice.



Is it advisable to convert an automatic car to manual?


I own an automatic 2008 Toyota Vitz that is still in very good condition, although I have always longed to own a manual transmission vehicle. Is it advisable to have it changed from automatic to manual or should I just buy an already configured manual transmission car?



Hi Wilshere,

This is where you break out the calculator app on your phone and get a pen and piece of paper.

Draw a chart with two columns in it. In one column, sum up the total cost of replacing the automatic transmission in your car with a manual one.

Factor in the sale of the autobox, if you will. In the other column, sum up the total cost of replacing the entire vehicle with a different one.

Look at the two numbers at the bottom of both columns. One number looks less fearsome than the other. Go with the more appealing column...