Toyota Alphrad

Toyota Alphrad minivan.

| File

Which of these minivans will serve me well?

Hi Baraza

I would like to acquire a family car, a low-end minivan. This will be my first car. Please advise on something away from the Noah and Voxy, perhaps the Serena, Biante and Stepwgn

Enlighten me on suitability:

1. For long trips upcountry (Mombasa-Nyanza)

2. Legroom, luggage space and comfort

3. Affordability (Acquisition and maintenance)

4. Fuel consumption

5. Very minimal to zero off-road activity

With thanks


Hello Victor,

You have a sizeable family, ey? Or you're playing it smart by getting a roomy vehicle to optimise comfort, no? I took a quick glance at your list and would have suggested a third-owner Toyota Alphard, the Lexus of family vans which is slowly trickling into affordability status, but then I reread your correspondence and saw "first time car owner" so we can push the cruise ship aside for now.

It is a very large vehicle with a lot of ccs under the bonnet, so it may not be exactly the set of wheels to cut your teeth on, unless your money is long and your learning skills are quick. So that leaves one Nissan, one Mazda and a Honda to choose from.

1. Long trips: you need a Toyota Alphard for this because big engines, more so of the smooth V6 variety, are ideal here, as are comfort and luxury of which the Alphard has boatloads thereof. The Nissan Serena and Honda Stepwgn top out at 2.0 litres, while the Mazda Biante edges forward with a 2.3-liter flagship, which is the one you need if you'll be doing those long haul drives often. Displacement is your tool of trade if distance is your challenge du jour.

Unfortunately, all three cars have four-cylinder engines which are not paragons of smooth, but again the Mazda is available with a 2.0-liter SkyActiv block which has been designed specifically to counter NVH, among other advantages (lower emissions, better economy). That means you could choose either of the two Mazda engines and both will be superior to the Honda and the Nissan.

2. Legroom: you need a Toyota Alphard for this because the interior has been designed with what we call "captain's chairs", or "preferential seating for all" in translation. Every occupant is made to feel special through luxury seating on highly adjustable seats that can swivel around. Being larger, the external dimensions reflect in the interior: it is very roomy inside an Alphard.

These being vans, legroom will not really be an issue, unless you have exceptionally tall children, and even then, unless they're breaking Guinness world records, those beanpoles will not face any difficulty sliding into the seats.

The Serena is 4770mm long, the Biante is 4715mm and the Stepwgn is 4690mm. You know what this means. A win for Nissan.

Luggage space: the Mazda will host 255 litres worth of carry-ons with all the seats up. The Nissan will do 350. Strangely for the Honda, there is only a claim of 1541 litres with all the back seats lowered, which sounds like cheating to me. Searching for this detail reveals unhelpful commentary along the lines of "two medium sized suitcases" (not enough) and "really good sized luggage space" (very vague), so for this tally, we award another win to the Nissan.

Comfort: well, the Toyota Alphard is very highly specced, which increases convenience, which is good for comfort, as is the use of large capacity V6 engines. NVH is constrained excellently, unlike the Nissan and Honda which are a bit buzzy and revvy with much poorer NVH containment compared to the Mazda. That SkyActiv engine is quite smooth, better than its rivals, and the seats are not as hard as that of the Nissan. The Mazda comes out ahead.

3. Affordability (acquisition): first generation Toyota Alphards are lurking around the million-shilling mark, but if you look hard enough, you may find one or two on sale for a lot less than that, but chances of them being lemons are quite high. Play around the million-bob zone and a few gems could be had.

You could add 300,000/- to that million to get a 2014 Nissan Serena.

For an extra 100,000 over the Nissan's price, you could pony up for a 2014 Mazda Biante, but I spotted one that was on sale for the same price as a Serena, but it was an outlier, most of them cost 1.4 million and up.

You will need an extra 200,000 from the Biante's asking price to get yourself into a 2014 Honda Stepwgn, which makes it pricey, but like I said, if you look hard enough you can get a good deal somewhere. I saw one 2014 unit at Sh1,490,000, but again, this was an exception: most lie within the Sh1.6 to Sh1.8 million bracket.

Affordability (maintenance): the Alphard may be a Toyota but it will not be cheap to maintain, more so given that the affordable ones are getting on a bit in age. For minimum maintenance, go for a four-cylinder engine.

The Nissan is plagued by reliability issues, so much as the maintenance may not be costly per session, the frequency of the sessions approach frustrating levels.

Scarcity of parts

The Mazda is nice, and from experience, isn't very problematic, but Mazda owners are always whining endlessly about scarcity of parts, which makes me wonder if the manufacturer does not make spare parts at all, or if they do, where do they take them to?

The Honda has a bullet-proof engine, the problem will be the transmission, if recent correspondence is anything to go by. Fixing this does not sound as straightforward as it should be since the aforementioned correspondence mentioned plenty of guesswork and pointless purchase of parts before attaining resolution.

This will sound odd, but the winner here is the wild card, the Alphard. It can be had with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine which has proven itself a proud bearer of Toyota's reliability flag, and the larger size and robust construction means it won't be breaking itself easily.

4. Fuel consumption: forget the Alphard. It is a big heavy vehicle, with big, heavy engines and big, heavy transmissions, and you will soon find out what this means for fuel economy on your first road trip. The vehicle you want here is the Biante, with a 2.0-liter SkyActiv engine. There are claims that aggressive driving negates the economy gains made by the SkyActiv technology, but that is neither here nor there: drive any car aggressively and "economy" is not a word you will use frequently, you will replace it with "consumption".

5. Minimal to zero off-road activity: in this regard, anything goes. Literally.

So, these are your options: if you want space, go for the Nissan. If you want cheap, go for the Nissan. If you want a good drive with good economy, go for the Mazda. Or, chuck all this in the toilet and get an Alphard, it is the ultimate affordable family road trip car if you disregard petty details like number plates. Get a first generation Alphard and enjoy the trips.


A Honda Stream.

A Honda Stream.

Photo credit: File

On my list is the Honda Stream, Toyota Fielder and Toyota Wish, which do you recommend?

Hi Baraza,

I am a prospective car buyer and hope to buy one soon. Among the Honda Stream, Toyota Fielder and Toyota Wish, which would you recommend? My choice is the Honda Stream. Do the other two that you favour and could motivate me to change my mind? Please do not mention the resale value because I am not keen to sell it soon.

Thank you.



It is laudable that you refuse to place premium or priority on resale, which means that we can comfortably omit the Fielder from this list: the only saving grace this car has over the others is good resale value, but if you really want a Toyota badge for its reliability, then you could always turn to the Wish. It has the added advantage of sitting seven, compared to the Fielder's pews which only allow five.

Or: overcome fear, live life and get a Honda Stream RSZ. It looks meaner than the two Toyos, and will outrun both of them once VTEC kicks in, all while seating seven like the Wish. Yes, Honda may not have had a good showing in recent times as far as reliability of imported units goes, but that's the price you pay for not supporting your local motoring industry: uncertainty. Live with the decision.

Go for the Stream like you already intend to, but make it an RSZ-spec for a slightly more exciting drive, something neither the resale king (Fielder) nor the Addams Family school van (Wish) can muster.


Mazda CX-5

Mazda CX-5.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Baraza, I would like to get myself the Mazda CX-5, is the car worth my money?

Greeting Mr Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your column. I have come across an article about the Mazda CX-5 and I am quite interested in it. I currently have a BMW 320i which has served me well since 2017 and now feel the need to get another car, specifically the CX-5. I have a few questions:

1. If it were up to you, which one would you go for, the diesel one or the petrol one?

2. Why is the diesel one cheaper than the one that runs on petrol?

3. What is the average consumption for the two cars?

Also, why is it very difficult finding your professional mail online?



1. Well, it’s never up to me, is it? However, of the two I’d advise you to go for the petrol one.

2. Market dynamics: the diesel one is cheap because nobody wants it. Nobody wants it because it is problematic: faulty radiator caps, overheating, gasket issues, blown motors and the like. Secondly, diesel engines are naturally just not popular for small passenger cars.

Despite technological advancements, the inherent combustion characteristics of diesel fuel means the engines are a bit gruff during operation and they develop substantial torque in tiny discrete burps interspersed with flat spots which makes for slightly erratic acceleration as the powertrain works its way up the gears, a jerkiness that is made worse by the use of a single turbo, more so if the turbo does not involve variable geometry.

3. This is almost entirely dependent on driving style, with a few outlying factors such as environment and load coming into play, but if you keep it sensible and are lucky with traffic conditions, the weaker of the 2.2-liter diesel variants will allegedly do 20.3km/l. Take note of the word “allegedly” because you will never really attain this figure in real life, and it was achieved in a manual 2WD version of the CX5 diesel, a vehicle that you will be hard pressed to find on sale here or from Japan where most of our CX5s come from. Should you land one of these anyway, and drive like an undertaker, you may come within whiffing distance of the 20km/l claim, but expect consumption to lie in the 13-15km/l range under ordinary driving conditions.

The petrol one does a lot worse in 2.5-liter guise: 27mpg which is 11km/l, which sounds just about right. The 2.0-liter petrol allegedly does between 36 and 38 mpg depending in transmission, which translates to between 15 and 16km/l, or “figures you will never actually achieve in real life” in simple English. Expect 12km/l and below, realistically.

It is very difficult to find my professional mail online because, perhaps, you have been searching the wrong places? I do have a company, you know, the Motoring Press Agency, with attendant email addresses. You could trace me through the company website or official phone line, which is also in the public domain, if you search the right places.

Alternatively, just do what you have done and reach me at this address. It worked, didn’t it?


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