Honda Fit Shuttle is a good choice for a person living with a disability

Wednesday March 06 2019

For people living with disability, get a spacious, low-profile car with sliding doors tailored for your comfort. PHOTO | COURTESY


Hello JM

Thank you for the good work you are doing of informing and answering your readers. Keep up the good work. I have several questions. I am a person living with a disability, and I wonder if you ever did a review of the best car for physically disabled people. If you did, please mention it again. Take into consideration a person who uses a wheelchair.

Secondly, I own a second-generation Mazda Demio, which has served me very well for the last four years. However, last year the alternator got damaged during engine cleaning. I replaced it as advised by the mechanic. Since then, an engine icon keeps popping up on the dashboard whenever I drive on a rough road or when I hit bumps.

It remains there for a day or two before it disappears. The engine is also vibrating and producing the sound of a burst exhaust pipe. What could be the problem? I want to sell this car but in good condition. Thirdly, I would like to replace it with a similar or one with superior attributes including fuel economy, reliability and comfort.

What would you recommend? I live in Nairobi and regularly travel to the remote parts of Meru County with my family, so a spacious car will be ideal. Please compare the following: Volkswagen Tiguan, Suzuki Escudo, Honda Fit Shuttle, Volkswagen Touran and Honda Insight Hybrid.



Hello Maju,

I will be honest and state that I haven't reviewed any vehicle from the perspective of a person with a disability (PWD) and that is an interesting alternative view now that you have brought it up.

The quick answer to such a question would be “get a van”, but who said anybody wheelchair-bound must drive or ride around in a van? Sure, they are the easiest to fit a ramp on, are roomy and the sliding doors are very practical, but it is not a PWD’s only forte. Some may want to enjoy the superior performance and handling dynamics of a sports car — and no, R63 AMGs don’t count, because they are very few and extremely expensive to buy and fix.

Others may simply want a car whose form they can gaze at fondly on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Vans are not this car. In my reviews, I always take ergonomics into consideration to count towards the meritorious ranking of a car, especially in this era of the Car of the Year Award; but never from the perspective of a PWD.

Perhaps this needs to change. Now that you mention wheelchair use, any dreams of a 2-door snazz-mobile may need to be abandoned and vans looked at again; or at least long-roofs which carry more kerbside appeal if you don’t want to look like an airport shuttle service or inner city deliveryman. About the engine light, I think some items were fiddled with during the alternator replacement, and those items are now loose, which cause the check engine light (that “engine icon” as you call it) to glow. Take the car for a diagnosis to find out what exactly is causing the check engine light.

About replacing the car, how about a newer Demio? Then again, you say you travel a lot to remote Meru with family and need something roomy, so maybe this will not serve you well. This brings us back to a van-based discussion.

The Touran is the best option at first glance: it is a van that will not make you look like you distribute stationery to bookshops.


Honda Shuttle. PHOTO | COURTESY

However, new-age Volkswagens and long engine life are two mutually exclusive concepts that have no convergence point in any existing Venn diagram. The Escudo is a pukka off-roading crossover, a Prado dressed as a RAV4 with a Suzuki badge, and the ground clearance may provide you with a daily workout swinging up from your wheelchair into the passenger cabin. If you don’t mind the upper body callisthenics, then it makes a good road-trip car and is reliable.

The Honda Insight Hybrid is small and sanctimonious; and if the battery pack expires, it may cost $7,000 to replace. I don't need to convert that figure into any other currency to know that nobody needs that kind of unforeseen expense in their life. These are the kinds of sums that lead to a divorce; either with family or with your insurance company. (I’m not saying the battery pack will fail, but when it does then, yes, you are looking at the price of a whole other car just to replace it. Ask yourself if you really need a used, warranty-less hybrid with no supporting infrastructure.)

The Tiguan is a pretty little car, a bit too pretty for my taste in first-gen form, but extremely handsome and staid in brand-new, unaffordable second-generation spec. The one I drove had hyper-touchy controls, especially the brakes; so it makes for a rather embarrassing first drive as you try to acclimatise yourself to the car. This is very “un-Germanic”.

The clearance is also a bit high, though not as high as an Escudo. However, short engine life notwithstanding, you will enjoy wringing its little neck up those Meru hills until either the manifolds melt or the gearbox disintegrates or the computer gets a virus or whatever it is that New-Age Volkswagens do when they reach their preprogrammed, planned, obsolescence breaking point and turn into money-sucking, garage-dwelling sculptures-in-the-round.

The Honda Fit Shuttle is not bad, when you think of it. It is a van (check) that doesn’t look like an airport taxi (uncheck — it actually does). It will offer good fuel economy (check) because of the available two vodka bottle’s worth of engine capacity in either petrol or diesel form.

There is also a hybrid that you are perhaps well advised to avoid for now, for reasons I have just mentioned but two paragraphs ago. It is reliable (check) — as can be confirmed by any survey you can find on the internet and by Honda’s history of building high-performance 9000rpm engines for 30 years straight with a failure rate close to zero (their recent Formula 1 history does not apply here).

Comfort is definitely better than an Escudo and the hateful Insight, but Volkswagen does know how to build a solid car, so the Fit has to play second fiddle to the two Germans. However attractive the VW pair may be, the Fit Shuttle is the car you are looking for.



With the age limit here, is there a way one can import a vintage car?

Dear Baraza,

I am a big fan of your work and would be delighted if you could help me in the subject of importing vintage cars, let’s say a 1960s Mercedes SL.

Now that the age limit for imported cars keeps reducing, I have two questions: Is there a way of legally importing a classic car or are we stuck with what we already have? There are plenty of us who would gladly pay KRA any amount just to get our hands on these wonderful cars.

In an unrelated matter, there has been a myth that since Toyota bought shares of Subaru Corporation (formerly Fuji Heavy Industries) there is a certain “Toyotaness” about their products recently. Is there a way of putting this claim to test?



A vintage car. PHOTO | COURTESY

Greetings Lodge1,

Yes, there is a legal way of importing an overage motor vehicle, but it involves a lot of protocols. You will also need to question your own moral compass if you want to follow this path.

Initially, one would simply import it to a neighbouring country, register it there and use it in Kenya with a renewable permit that you have to update regularly to smooth your way through police roadblocks.

That is just flagrant rule-bending and anyway, our neighbours are starting to exercise age limits on their motor vehicle imports, which closes that loophole.

There is a second method: motorsports in general, and the Kenya Motor Sports Federation.

This outfit enjoys some privileges from the government, one of which is that its registered membership has an allowance to import a competition car of whatever vintage, but the caveat is the vehicle must be used for competition only. I doubt the taxman will follow you around to ensure that you actually race the car and not just drive your girlfriend around in it, but even then, I doubt KMSF will give you the clearance letter to import the Mercedes SL under the guise of motorsports when you clearly do not intend to race it.

Like I said: there is some red tape involved and you need a long, hard look into your soul if you want an SL so badly that you want to either exploit loopholes or abuse foundation privileges just to satisfy your whims. [There should be a similar loophole for the Concours D’Elegance, some type of “Show & Display” exemption for vintage imports, but the classic car show also falls under KMSF anyway, so there is no escaping them. I am not very conversant about these exemptions since they vary depending on who you ask.]

Toyota buying a stake in Fuji Heavy Industries is not a myth. It is a fact; but this has nothing to do with the so-called “Toyotarification” of the Subaru brand. Subaru softened up because they are currently enjoying a sales boom in the United States and as such, they have to pander to the vagaries of market dynamics. Their “weirdness” was not their USP; it was their robustness, low cost of acquisition and AWD capability which comes in handy during winter driving that boosted them ahead of cheaply developed home-grown products. The quirkiness had to go for the brand to broaden its appeal across a wider demographic.

Case in point: the Tribeca Crossover. It started off as the highly unusual B9 Tribeca which wrought so much controversy it had to be quickly euthanised and the slightly revamped (and consequently watered-down) to a second-gen Tribeca that replaced it. This sold slightly better but still, was wanting.

What we have now is called the Ascent, launched last year, a cookie-cutter paint-by-numbers template for the exact type of vehicle that Americans really want: an inoffensive seven-seat crossover with a record-breaking 19 cup holders in it. Americans love their coffee and fizzy gulps. So confident are Subaru in projected sales numbers that they may not even bother selling it anywhere else in the world. So we can say that rather than being “Toyotafied”, Subaru “Americanised” itself.


The Jetta power lies in its small turbo

Hi Baraza,

I am a religious follower of your segment and marvel at your knowledge of vehicles, which makes me believe that you are the perfect man to answer my question. I live in Nairobi and work in Machakos. Daily, and without fail there is this beautiful white VW Jetta that seems to baffle all motoring logic.

This car is always poised to take off and even when the need to slow down arises, the driver seems to do it without much effort, much to my astonishment.

I have seen all manner of big cars from Mercedes S classes to Toyota VXs to Subarus try catch to up with this car much to their disappointment. The thing I don’t understand is that I have driven such a vehicle before and I can’t seem to understand how this car is able to move so quickly yet it looks like all other Jettas. Do you know where I can I buy one like it?




Dear Wilfred

The Jetta is very responsive because it has a very small turbo the size of my fist that comes online sooner than immediately. My lawyer had such a car, 1.4 litres but its motion belied its cubic endowment. We narrowed our suspicions down to the turbo because it certainly wasn’t the weight.

Small turbos tend to develop boost quite quickly with minimum lag and at low-ish revs which makes them ideal for initial acceleration, which I believe is what the Jetta banks on to outrun Landcruisers, Subarus and S Class Mercs in the traffic-infested Nairobi-Machakos stretch.

You need a lower boost threshold and minimum lag to achieve instant turbo-assisted acceleration, just the thing you need for constant overtaking.

Outrunning a Landcruiser is barely an achievement. It is a big, heavy wagon; so what do you expect from it? Outrunning a naturally aspirated Subaru in a turbocharged Volkswagen is similar to packing your boxing gloves with bricks before stepping into the ring to spar.

Mercedes S Class? Mercs are engineered for wafting so they have a tendency to do just that — waft. It takes injudicious prods of the throttle to get them to wake up; and even then, they still wheeze and lurch and burn a metric ton of fuel before picking up any speed. I know this because an E Klasse is the latest addition to my regular driving list.

Ever heard the proverb “A man running alone thinks he runs fastest”? Perhaps the Jetta outguns others because the driver is always racing against himself and the people in the S Klasse and Landcruisers are so comfortable with their lives they are in no hurry to get anywhere.