BMW 116i

BMW 116i.

| Pool

My heart wants the BMW 116i, my brain the Auris 2013…


I'm about to buy my first car and I'm torn between a BMW 116i (2011/2012) and an Auris 2013 (because really, the 2011 model isn’t anything close to appealing). My heart is for the 116i whereas my brain is whispering Toyota Auris 2013 because of how affordable and reliable it is.

I'm not sure if it’s going to be a bumpy ride with the 116i (pun intended) or if it’s going to be amazing. Everyone keeps saying it will cost me a fortune to maintain the car and that eventually something will go wrong. The Auris is everything I would imagine for my pocket and all the biased comments I’ve heard. On the 116i, I’m 50/50 because of all the negative comments I’ve heard. Are these true? I'm also considering a Subaru Impreza. Please help me in making this decision before I mess up. I want my first car to be a hatchback; I have a thing for them.

Toyota Auris

A Toyota Auris car.

Photo credit: Pool


Let's start with the Auris and get it out of the way because I have a lot to say about the BMW 116i. I'm surprised you find the Auris unappealing, because it is one of Toyota's finer moments in car manufacture.

It is appreciably better to drive than a lot of the white rice that they throw at their own home market, which eventually gets imported here, like the Belta and the Ractis and Passo. Perhaps a second look at the Auris is warranted? If the Toyota is not appealing, then the BMW may be even less so.

The 116's ride may not necessarily be a bumpy one, but it sure will be a slow one. The car accelerates to 100 from rest in 11 never-ending seconds, which is just about long enough to save up and buy a second 116i.

The car is lethargic, and it is easy to see why: the 1.6 litre four makes 114hp (two more and its name would be synonymous with its horsepower count), which is more or less what I got from my previous Mazdalago with 100cc less. A 2012 BMW with 2006 Demio power.

There's more. The car's looks are "polarising" which, in diluted English, means "looks funny". The proportions are a little odd. Practicality is compromised by BMW's curious decision to go rear-drive in a segment where all vehicles pull from the front.

This means in the real world it will not seat five: there is a transmission tunnel housing, a driveshaft eating up what would otherwise be the backseat passenger's leg space, and the boot is woefully small because there is a diff where your shopping would normally nestle.

And then we come to the real fly in the ointment: security (or the lack thereof).

Let us talk about something called "security through obscurity". This is a concept powered by the deliberate lack of information in that a system designed or enforced by secretive methods is safe from compromise because, well, everything about it is a secret.

You can't hack anything if you don't know how it works. Some cars have their ECUs locked through this technique to prevent random mapping by lead-footed hoons with laptops. It's not exactly a great system, but it has worked for people like Toyota.

Enter BMW with their electronic key. Nothing wrong with that, everybody has an electronic key nowadays, even Mazda.

Toyota Auris Hybrid.

Toyota Auris Hybrid.

Photo credit: Pool

In the course of embracing security through obscurity (STO), they failed to develop a strict enough firewall, which allowed easy access to the OBD network, which is where and how a 1 Series is started.

With hope and prayer that thieves will not figure out the loopholes in the security (STO), and without a passcode-protected firewall, thieves did figure out loopholes in the security and blam! 1 Series TWOCcing ensued, in large numbers.

It was as simple as programming a blank key fob to crank the vehicle via the OBD port, basically anyone with a blank electronic key could log in and start up a 1 Series with a few deft keystrokes. One documented case had hackers violate the vehicle in under three minutes. It got so bad that Midlands and East London police in the UK had to remove the OBD ports from their own 1 Series fleet in fear of losing their inventory.

One Emmanuel Adebayor of Istanbul, Turkey—- formerly of London, UK—- lost his X6 through this subterfuge.

A software update had to be hashed up pronto to prevent the Woodstock-style, late-'60s hippie-like free love the BMW 1 Series was receiving from those who prefer not to pay for their own cars.

Scared yet? No? So we continue: the N43 engine, which is one of the pair powering the 116i (the other is the N47), has problems with ignition coils and fuel injectors.

So do you avoid the N43 and go for the N47? You wish! The N47 on the other hand has a timing chain failure problem. Ask Subaru owners such as myself the kind of stomach-churning horror that accompanies a timing kit failure on a running engine.

We will narrate a tale of pain, terror and demoralisation, and we will narrate it with a glint in our eye.

The glint not being a fiery resolve to battle timing issues to the bitter end, but a single diamond: a lone tear balancing on the edge of our eyelid as we recall the strength oozing out of our shoulders when we first heard that noise, that clatter like someone blending pebbles in a juice mixer, before the power went out from under us in a depressing surge, manifesting what car magazines refer to as catastrophic engine failure. It is not a good space to be in.

So, is the 1 Series your enemy? Perhaps, perhaps not. If you want to do something, do it properly.

Take advantage of BMW's superior driving dynamics and stern-oriented drivability by bestowing it with the firepower necessary and deserving to eke out the maximum driving experience from it. Get the 130i (with a 6MT); or take a glass of cold water, sober up and get a 3 Series instead if you really want a small BMW, or a Volkwagen Golf if you really want a German hatchback. (Note:the 1.6 litre Toyota Auris does 0-100 in 8 seconds)

(Note 2: a quick peek at the PistonHeads forum reveals that the weak security may not really be BMW's fault after all.

European competition regulations dictate that OBD access should not be restricted, which allows non-BMW enterprises to work on the car. Interesting... It allows thieves to work on the car too.

Axela Sport is the best choice out of your options

Mazda Axela Sport.

Mazda Axela Sport.

Photo credit: Pool


I'm about to be a first car owner and I'm confused about which type of car to purchase. I'm looking for something that is easier to maintain in terms of service, fuel consumption. I'm working on a low budget of Sh800,000. I'm torn between the Toyota Auris, Mazda Axela Sport, Honda Insight or Toyota Prius. I wouldn't mind a locally used car as long as it is in good shape. But I want a powerful machine that can serve me for quite some time.

None of these machines is powerful, and in this day and age of planned obsolescence, do not expect immortality from them. The Auris and Axela Sport come close enough — but no cigar — to the two criteria, so you may have to choose between them. Sh800,000 may get you an old Auris at a stretch but it will also get you a newer Axela, so it seems the Axela may be the specking victor, however, Toyota's fame for longevity implies perhaps you are really better off in the Auris. The sporty Mazda wins again on power. So the Axela Sport it is.

I’m torn between Volvo and Subaru, help me pick one


Volvo XC70.

Volvo XC70.

Photo credit: Pool

Hello Baraza,

I am keen on getting a 2009 Volvo XC70 here in Kenya. Though they are not common, I know they are good cars in terms of safety and perhaps reliability.

I currently drive a 2009 Subaru Outback and I know that it tops this range and easily beats the Volvo in terms of off road handling capability. It is also a very reliable car both in town and upcountry. On consumption, both cars guzzle, with the Volvo on the upper. I also know that the Volvo is fully loaded and well built.

Having all the above in mind, what’s your advice for someone who has driven for like 16 years with a clean record?


Subaru Outback.

Subaru Outback.

Photo credit: Pool

My advice is that you seem to have done 90 percent of the work already and all that is left is to make the choice. Seeing how it’s not my money on the line here, I don’t think it’s my prerogative to pick a vehicle either...

Congratulations on your decade and two thirds of clean driving. We need more drivers like you, though this will cause a surge in the population of Subaru Outbacks on the road simply because it is the vehicle I would recommend you acquire over the Volvo. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Volvo, in fact, it may be the superior vehicle overall, but there is just one glaring omission from its East African existence, and that is believable dealer support. I don’t know if Amazon Motors still exists, and if they do, whether they still sell and maintain these Sweden Specials. Someone needs to lecture Corporate Kenya about the upshots of advertising and PR to potential clients...

Subaru on the other hand suffers no dearth of enthusiastic followership, so out of every three garages, one will be a Subaru specialist, not counting Subaru Kenya itself. Both genuine and “alternative” spare parts exist, so you are spoilt for choice. You could stumble over a flat engine or two just roaming in the seedier sections of Lang’ata, where all the horizontally opposed rumbling seems to come from.

Get the Subie simply on the grounds that you will never come back here asking where to buy Volvo spares or where you can find someone who speaks mechanical or electronic Swedish. For now, anything goes provided it’s Japanese.