Motor clinic: Mark X, Crown Royal Saloon or Camry, which do I get?

The Toyota Crown Royal Saloon, Toyota Mark X and Toyota Camry.

The Toyota Crown Royal Saloon, Toyota Mark X and Toyota Camry.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • The three models Toyota’s Mark X or Crown Royal Saloon and Camry are close cousin-brothers.
  • But they come from a long line of not-best designs that were tinkered with in the search for a successful formula so – over a time span of 70 years – it is not a comparison of three options.
  • Crown, Mark X, Camry, etc, are a general reference to many dozens of variants. 

Hi Gavin,
I am a faithful reader of your educative writing every Wednesday. Thank you for a good job. I want to get my first car and I am torn between the Toyota’s Mark X or Crown Royal Saloon or Camry in terms of power, fuel consumption and maintenance.

Regards, Anthony 

The three models you mention are close cousin-brothers, but they come from a long line of not-best designs that were tinkered with in the search for a successful formula so – over a time span of 70 years – it is not a comparison of three options.

Crown, Mark X, Camry, etc, are a general reference to many dozens of variants. 

Their engines have ranged from 4 cylinder-in-line to V6 or V8, from 2.5 litres to 4.6, with gearboxes from automatic to sequential or manual, trim levels from pretty basic to highly elaborate. Some are rear-wheel drive and others front-wheel drive, so you would need to specify the year of manufacture and the specific variant of that year to have any chance of comparing their “performance, fuel consumption and maintenance”. 

Toyota’s small and medium cars have been global best-sellers for more than half a century, and their 4WD Land-Cruiser family is all-time legendary. Undeniably and deservedly so. Their big saloon cars share the brand standard for reliability and durability (arguably the most important qualities!), but have not stood out in any aspect of performance, technical prowess or the sales charts…until the Lexus. 

It was to solve their long-standing big-car “ordinariness” that Toyota established a specialised luxury car arm called Lexus - with an independent team and separate manufacturing plants - which, though wholly owned by Toyota, now wisely uses the Lexus name to dissociate itself from its less impressive predecessors. The hugely successful Lexus range is all the things the Crown, the Mark X, the Camry, the Avalon, the Corona and several others never quite achieved.

It looks exotic, it is extremely fast, exquisitely appointed, luxuriantly comfortable, thoroughly up-to-date, a paragon of quality…and it is succeeding in the “prestige” echelon, alongside BMW, Volvo, Audi… 
History does not yet relate to what Toyota might do with its big car class. Perhaps start with a clean sheet based on electric vehicles and hybrids. 

Meanwhile, my guess is that in any given year, the Mark X, Crown and Camry were similar in power, economy and serviceability to the equivalent variants of the same period.

And none of them has an especially impressive score on any criterion. Yes they are Toyotas, yes they are big cars, and yes they are competent at the core job they were designed to do in the markets they were aimed at - principally North America and China. 

I’m shopping for a Beetle, where do I get one?

Thanks for your informative articles on motor vehicles. I am interested in old-model VW Beetles. I drove one back 1970s, it was effective, efficient and delightful. Please guide me on where to get one and confirm that new/well-serviced engines complete with gearbox are available locally. 
Morrison W 

I share your delight, having run a 1961 Beetle for some years. I was sad to sell it. There are some still running in Kenya and your first check could be on the internet with a search phrase like “Used VW Beetles Kenya”.

Many of the options will be the newer model, interspersed with originals ranging from well-preserved collector’s items to hideously modified contraptions and old wrecks. The Beetle is such an icon of motoring history that you won’t be short of linked sites to explore. 

While spare parts for 50-year-old vehicles are not spilling off the shelves, a remarkable number of parts can be found, and the simple technology of bygone days is very serviceable. Though production of the original Beetle in Germany was discontinued decades ago, it continued in other parts of the world, notably Brazil, so component manufacture has been copious and quite recent, but you might have to go shopping off-shore. 

I need to get my beloved Suzuki Samurai moving again…

Is it possible to change the design and suspension of my old Suzuki Samurai? It has been difficult to identify someone who can show or advise me on that. I love the car so much, but seeing it always parked makes me feel bad and irresponsible. I hope to receive your feedback soon. 

Cossy K 

Old Suzuki Samurais use very basic design elements, including their suspension, which is beam axles and leaf springs with shock absorbers fore and aft. These are technically simple to restore, replace or modify, and any competent garage should be able to assess the ones you have and fix problems or adjust settings.

There are a number of simple adjustments you can make to change the ride height or comfort. If you want to change the design of the suspension system itself (for example to coil springs), the technical possibility is there, but the design and build will require an accomplished automotive engineer and the cost might be more than the vehicle is worth.

Steering is very safety-critical, have the whole system checked as soon as possible

I am an avid follower of your columns. I drive a 2007 Subaru GG2 manual which is fairly comfortable and okay, however, doing any speed above 140km per hour, the car seems to lose its stability. I feel like the steering control has extra play. Is this normal or a warning of some sort of failure?
Regards, Rosh 

Any defect in steering integrity would normally reveal itself to some extent well before 140kph, even at especially low speeds while turning, yet you are suggesting that an unusual handling feel only starts at 140 or more! That’s puzzling…and quick enough for aerodynamics (not just the steering or suspension) to be significant.

While a complete lack of symptoms at low and cruising speeds suggests there is nothing much wrong with the steering system itself, nevertheless, steering is so very safety-critical that I suggest you have the whole system and the front suspension thoroughly checked, and until then, set yourself a speed limit of, say, 139km.

The ‘bumpitude’ that we deal with every day is ridiculous

Do the speed bumps and ruinous rumble strips erected between the Makutano Junction and Embu through Mwea comply with the ‘rules’? I usually take an hour to cover the 80 km from my home in Nairobi to Makutano Junction and another 1.5 hours or more to cover the remaining 40 or so bump-riddled kilometres to Embu town. Some argue they are there to rein in the miraa pickups and mûgûka Proboxes, but these literally fly over these bumps while harassing other motorists. It is law-abiding motorists who suffer the inconvenience and unnecessary extra fuel consumption. How much fuel and foreign currency would we save by doing away with these bumps across the country? 
Alfred N 

Because the number, size, shape, non-marking and often dangerous positioning of our speed bumps is such an aberration, and the time and cost consequences have been comprehensively critiqued in this column and elsewhere so often over such a long period, let me just answer your specific questions: 

Do our bumps comply with lawful standards? Some do. The overwhelming majority do not. More than a few are not just slightly outside the design limits – they are up to 400 per cent more severe than the law intends or allows. In some instances, they represent a greater hazard than the danger they are intended to prevent. 

There are too many variations in vehicles, drivers, traffic levels and routes to give an exact figure on the additional fuel consumption our bumps cause. But, through informal testing and extrapolation, we can get an “indicative estimate” of circa 30 per cent difference in fuel consumption between a journey on a highway with no bumps, and a similar journey where the road is riddled with out–sized bumps. 

Across our entire national road transport system, that equates to several million litres of additional fuel consumption…per day! About 1.5 billion litres per year. 

And that is just the fuel penalty, not the additional wear on tyres, brakes, clutches, gearboxes and bushes, and not the additional journey times which axiomatically increase congestion (more time and hazard) and waste millions of man-hours. 

All of this must be qualified by the presumption that our bumps policy is not without cause. Their purpose is to improve safety for all road users. This objective has unanimous public support. Huge bumps, as a last-resort measure to achieve that objective, do not, nor ever could, would or should. 

And that could be why no other country does or ever has used bumps of such severe design, intensity or quantities. I have driven in 22 countries on four continents, from the Cape of Good Hope to the Shetland Islands, from Western Canada to the Middle East (and hope to add Norway and the Arctic in mid-winter this year), from eight-lane motorways to mountain tracks and desert pistes, and have never encountered even 1 per cent of the current bumpitude that we deal with all and every day, everywhere. Clearly, our bumps are a desperate/emergency measure. The motive is valid. The method is not.

Change oil before it is past its best

I recently acquired a Toyota Harrier 2015. I immediately changed the oil and associated service parts. The service station advised me to change the synthetic oil and do service after 10,000 kilometres, but my regular mechanic advised that I should at least change the oil after every 5,000 kilometres. What do you advise me to do? 
John O 

Top-quality synthetic oils claim 10,000kms and even 20,000kms change intervals in some markets. In relatively new cars used moderately in relatively clean and gentle environments, they may indeed maintain adequate viscosity and lubricity for that length of use, and not have excessive contamination, but they are not at their very best throughout. 

Your Harrier is eight years old, and the average age of all cars in Kenya is a lot higher than that. Our motoring conditions are not usually moderate and are often both hot and very dusty. 

I run two high-mileage cars across a full gamut of conditions, and I want my engine oils to be at their best all the time, so I use the highest quality mineral or synthetic oil I can find, and change the oil and oil filters as scrupulously as possible every 5,000kms.

And attend to all grease points. Both cars are approaching 300,000kms lifelong engine use and have never needed engine repair. Both your service station’s and your mechanic’s suggestions are valid. Your driving patterns and your wallet must decide which is wiser for you.