I’d like to upgrade to a mid-sized 4x4; how about the Yeti?


What you need to know:

  • I assume it also does wonders for handling, but I repeat, I am yet to drive one.
  • Also, Yetis are not really aimed at competitive drivers.
  • The Yeti is a Volkswagen underneath, which means it is not immune to certain forms of malaise.

Dear Mr Baraza,

I am an avid reader of your motoring column. I own a Toyota Premio 2010 that has served me quite well over the years.

I’d now like to upgrade to a used mid-sized 4x4 and I’ve several choices.

I really love the Subaru Forester XT 2012, but its price is way beyond my reach. Please help me choose from the Honda CRV 2012, Nissan X-Trail 2010 and Toyota RAV-4 or Vanguard 2010, Suzuki Escudo 2010 and Mazda CX-5 2012.

Though not in the same class, please also include Skoda Yeti in your analysis. I remember you spoke quite fondly about its off-road abilities a while ago.

I would like something nifty with fuel in an urban setting, capable off-tarmac, requiring fewer trips to my mechanic and looking good (especially to the girls).

I spend 60 per cent of my life in Nairobi but I have recently founded a small engineering company, therefore I anticipate running off-road once in a while.

Eng. John M.N

Greetings Engineer,

I have already discussed those other vehicles at length, so I will proceed to ignore them summarily and instead focus on the Skoda Yeti which I only mentioned once: the time one gate-crashed our little philanthropic convoy as we took on the dusty expanses of Tsavo East National Park during The Great Run VIII: The Gr8 Re-Run.

Now, the Yeti is quite the car.

For starters it looks like nothing else on the road, mostly. It is also a product of the Volkswagen Group from a division so dedicated that its products threaten to unseat VW-branded products despite them being derivatives or rebadged items. So far, so promising.

Now, I haven't driven one yet, I haven't even sat in one so don't expect an in-depth review that is just a reproduction of someone else's experiences. I don't do that kind of work.

However, I watched a comical and strangely metaphorical analysis by the famous Jeremy Clarkson, a TV piece from which we can draw several conclusions, the first being that it is a very roomy vehicle.

It is almost like a panel van in there. This can be deduced from its exterior dimensions: short compact bonnet coupled to a long and tall passenger compartment with the wheels pushed out to the edges of the car, maximising the wheelbase.

I assume it also does wonders for handling, but I repeat, I am yet to drive one. Also, Yetis are not really aimed at competitive drivers.

A perennial Kenyan problem is the thoughtlessly designed speed bump or the terminally unrepaired pothole.

The Skoda has passable ground clearance for a non-SUV and will not be scraping its underbelly unless you unwisely go rushing in where goats fear to tread, in which case it will be entirely your fault and not the car's.

Keeping with the themes of television and SUVs, I watched a Russian video where a Yeti was pitted against several full-on 4x4s up to and including but not limited to Land Cruiser Prados and Nissan Patrols, and the Yeti did not put a foot wrong.

Which brings us back to The Great Run.

A band of travellers in a Skoda Yeti were peacefully going about their business along the A109 when our convoy descended on them, and like a starving amoeba, proceeded to engulf the Yeti into itself. The travellers' curiosity overcame their sense of priority and they opted to follow us where the elephants roam.

It was not an easy drive: the route was rough and dusty and muddy and very long, and somewhere along the way it claimed the welfare of a Nissan Patrol but who'd have thought, the little Yeti soldiered on with nary a struggle and without placing any undue pressure on the occupants. This obviously meant one thing: it is a very ideal road trip car.

The engines wouldn't make you believe that at first glance, though. Typical of Volkswagen, the Yeti comes with a slew of microscopic powerplants that start off with a puny 1.2 and top out at about 2 litres, available in both diesel (don't) and petrol (do).

The gas-powered cars are the ones you want, and you need to allay your fuel economy fears and get one with the biggest engine for the most effortless driving.

It will even work well if you go driving up muddy slopes if you think you are something special behind the wheel.

The Yeti is a Volkswagen underneath, which means it is not immune to certain forms of malaise.

Oil consumption is fairly high and many owners don't address this, so buying a high mileage example means you will be getting an engine that is worn and torn and down on its last legs.

So low oil levels are a warning sign. Turbo failure is common as well, due to poor servicing habits (frequency and materials). Avoid the diesel because of DPF problems (duuh!) and in a strange turnaround, high oil levels are also a sign of trouble because it means there is fuel in the oil courtesy of DPF regeneration.

Fuel leaks are probable (cracked high pressure fuel lines) and you may want to avoid crashing the vehicle because the side airbags and seat belt pretensioners can malfunction and make your bad day way worse than it already was.

Then we have people who have watched Russian videos like myself and/or are happy-go-lucky adventurers who fly where the wind takes them like our gate-crashing party during the Great Run which in turn means odds of off-road damage are up there. Check the underside of the car to ensure it has not been competing with Land Cruisers off the beaten path.

Mud especially is a dangerous symptom because it both causes and hides corrosion.

If you go into the bush with it, beware of the immobiliser: it might lock you out of your vehicle at the exact moment that you need an urgent ingress, such as when some marauding animal purposes to join your expedition.


Baraza unpacks the first Nissan R35 GTR ever owned and driven on Kenyan soil

Hello J.M,

I'll cut to the chase.

My friends and I had a debate regarding the grey Nissan GTR that has recently been doing rounds on Social Media.

The bone of contention is the vehicle's HP which the owner claims to be currently 1300 HP after tuning. I'm on the sceptic’s bench.

As an authority on automobiles, could you highlight what it would take to achieve that HP, and do you think the car is actually running on 1300HP?

Kind Regards,

Allan Metto

Hi Allan,

I just happen to know the vehicle you are referring to as well as the entire roster of its owners since it first landed in the country - speaking of which, I daresay this was the first R35 GTR ever owned and driven on Kenyan soil. It has lived a rather public and high profile life.

But how public? Last I checked, the current owner had installed a KR650 Stage 4.25 Performance Pack, a box of goodies from a UK-based company called Knight Racer.

As you may have gleaned from the label, this suite of modifications takes the power of the Nissan GTR from the 480-ish that it started life with way back in the late Noughties and bumps it up to 650, transforming what is an already fearsome performer into something that should never land in the hands of the inept.

As was seen in the video that made this car ghetto fabulous, that kind of power is not a joke.

So what does this Stage 4 KR650 Performance Pack get you? You get an uprated intake system which includes high flow air filters.

 You get bigger fuel injectors made by Bosch. You get some advanced piping which I will not get into because explaining what they are will be difficult without diagrams. There is also custom programming for both the engine and transmission management computers.

There is a stainless steel exhaust, and the good folks at Knight Racer strongly recommend a 102mm full exhaust and upgraded dump valves for the turbos.

Of course this stuff doesn't come cheap, but if you are capable of running an R35 no matter how infrequently, you should be able to afford it.

However, I may know the car and the owners but I don't live with either of them. 650 is not the upper limit of what the VR38DETT engine that powers the GTR can withstand, in fact that sounds more like a Stage 1 modification to an R35.

The adventurous owner may have turned the wick up a little between the time I spied the installation of the KR650 kit and now, since the observation was from some years back, it wasn't that recent. 1300hp may seem like a flight of fancy for those of us who live the 200hp life, but GTRs are capable of more than that... a lot more.

There is the famous Alpha Omega series from AMS Tuning that regularly strays north of 1500hp, with their flagship churning out a scarcely believable 2000hp.

This means 0 - 100 in 1.5 seconds, a 7-second quarter mile at 314km/h (which is the standard GTR's top speed) and I have no idea what it tops out at, but at 800m from rest, a.k.a the half mile, the thing will be ambling along at 360km/h... and still charging hard.

The Alpha Omega replication will cost you 23 million shillings ($225,000) so we are in the land of fantasy in case the insane performance figures had not already convinced you yet. Just to be clear, that price does not include the car itself.

You have to buy it first, depending on vintage, a GTR will cost anything between 5 million bob for a raggedy, beaten up unit to another 22 million for a brand spanking new 2020 Nismo car. This is before shipping and taxes.

If you are still reading I am assuming you have not given up yet, so let's keep rolling. The near-quarter-million-dollar tuning kit includes a forged engine made from a billet block (a billet block is a solid piece of metal that has been carved into the exact shape of an engine rather than assembled from different components or built by casting which is the addition of material.

Forging is a branch of metallurgy developed for military purposes way back in the Middle Ages to strengthen swords and armour). The raw VR38DETT engine block in the GTR has a capacity of 3800cc. The AMS version is 4000cc.

You also get ported and machined cylinder heads, custom valvetrain and camshafts, upgraded turbos and dump valves, full exhaust system, a brushless fuel pump, massive injectors, an upgraded fuel rail, a transmission upgrade, carbon fibre intake, big bore throttle bodies, a new intercooler, standalone engine management and a raft of cosmetic and physiological enhancements to both the exterior and the interior of the vehicle that will respectively prevent you from taking to the sky if you attempt to attain V-max and hopefully keep your corpse in one piece if you somehow manage to take flight despite the aerodynamic bodywork and inevitably wreck in so spectacular a fashion that you will dominate the internet for several years to come.

50 million (duty not paid) is a lot of bread to put down on a car, but from that list it is clear you are re-engineering the entire vehicle from the inside out just so you can get closer to the speed of sound using nothing but internal combustion.

It is a heady feeling going full power in a tuned car, I know this first hand, but the financial implications are not for the 99 percent. And true to statistics, 99 percent of us will ever experience the full power of a GTR, stock or tuned.

I can only but brag about being in the 1 percent that has gone wide-open throttle in a GTR, but there are caveats here: it was an unmodified unit, 2013 model, good for 542hp, and we were at a military airbase in California, but it still made me feel things I had only previously felt in a commercial aircraft at take-off speed (Car Clinic, February 15, 2015).

Now reread that brief review and try picture the same car with four times the power...


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