Which makes more economic sense? A VW Variant, Mazda 3 or Honda Stream

Would a used 2012 VW Variant, a 2012 Mazda 3 or a 2012 Honda Stream make economic sense in terms of cost of purchase, fuel consumption and overall maintenance? PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • There is the belief that Volkswagen parts are expensive and there is the not-unfounded reputation of everlasting Check Engine Lights. All the best.

  • The Honda? Swap out the automatic gearbox for a manual and you are home and dry, or else be prepared to send a few messages featuring the words “jerking” and “failed to engage” to this page in future.

Would a used 2012 VW Variant, a 2012 Mazda 3 or a 2012 Honda Stream make economic sense in terms of cost of purchase, fuel consumption and overall maintenance?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,


Last week this part of your message went unanswered, Garney, so here we are revisiting it to see it to completion:

Cost of Purchase:

As usual, I went right back to the very popular car-selling website I usually visit occasionally whenever I want to inspire myself by checking how cheap used European SUVs have become, and this is what I found: these three cars all cost the same. They really do, all their pricing hovers around the Sh1.1 million mark. So I dug a little further.

2012 Volkswagen Golf Variant: As stated, it costs Sh1.1 million. If you venture towards engines bigger than the 1.4, expect an attendant surge in pricing towards one-and-a-half thousand. Oddly enough, the Variant is bigger and more practical than the hatchback but costs less generally. Also Tyrone, my friend who has appeared here in this column every time a Variant comes up, and thus appears again since we are discussing Variants again, sold his well-kept example to a mutual acquaintance for a fair price which I will not disclose here for obvious reasons, but the point I am making is this: private punters, especially of German cars, are an open secret as far as bargains-of-the-century go. Perhaps you need a friend like Tyrone to help you save a couple of hundred grand.

2012 Mazda 3: Costs Sh1.1 million, but hold on a minute. It is easily the cheapest car here, probably because it is the smallest, a characteristic that we will discuss shortly, but after poking around the sellers a little more, I realised that you shouldn’t pay a shilling over a million bob for one of these, or else you’ll be doing what the youth nowadays call “kujishikisha handball”. Expect quotes in the 950-980 range once you steer clear of the opportunists, but these can be negotiated down to 900 flat if you have a deft tongue in your head and a penchant for incessant haggling.

2012 Honda Stream: Charges lurk in the Sh1.1 million range with a few money-hungry dealers wandering as high up as 1.3. Avoid these avaricious types and pay the 1.1 that I have told you about … or, don’t pay. In fact, don’t pay anything at all. So, while these are just numbers, with some looking bigger than others, what do they actually mean? Let’s start with the Stream, since I just asked you not to pay for one. I have praised Honda mills here before, particularly those with “VTEC” written on the engine covers, but take note I was not as effusive about their transmissions, more so of the self-shifting kind. A cursory perusal of Car Clinic’s 2019 to 2020 history should provide an answer to this — we not only had the lengthiest consistent correspondence with a reader, Alice, her husband and the case of her temperamental Fit last year, but a mere two weeks ago we had two different Airwave owners both decrying the state of disrepair their transmissions had fallen into after use. So, through guilt by association, I daresay buy the Stream if you like repairing automatic transmissions.

And now the Volkswagen. The Mk. 6 estate does not actually carry Golf Mk. 6 underpinnings, it is a facelifted Mk. 5 — a peculiarity limited to the Variant derivative only from within the Golf family. That means that, not unlike Hollywood actresses, scratch beneath the surface and you discover that it is in reality five years older than it claims to be. Hmm. Despite these false pretences, the other two cars still trail the Teuton in terms of premium feel, so you could still buy the Golf for its sheer Germanic solidity and not feel cheated.

Not so the Mazda. Wonderful little car that is amazing to drive, but the operative word here is “little”. It has neither the practicality and carrying capacity of the Variant nor the seven-seat versatility of the Stream yet it costs the same as them. Why? If “value for money” carried a score, the Mazda would perform poorly in this company. If I pay a million for a car, I expect to see a bit more metal than the shadow the 3 casts on the driveway.

Fuel Consumption:

None of these is particularly thirsty, but I keep saying time and again the seven-speed DSG in the Volkswagen does wonders for its fuel economy that the other two will be hard-pressed to match, especially the Honda. If the Mazda has that SkyActiv witchcraft, then it may, just may, come within spitting distance of the German, but really, there is no matching The People’s Fuel Economy.

Overall Maintenance:

This will boil down to how badly you treat your car, but again, a little history of the correspondence this column has carried over the years should put things in perspective. There is the belief that Volkswagen parts are expensive and there is the not-unfounded reputation of everlasting Check Engine Lights. All the best.

Mazdas face allegations of having chicken’s teeth for spare parts: they are not easily found. I’m not sure how much this new generation of Mazdas share with other cars, but once upon a time when I owned a Demio, I discovered that certain engine components were interchangeable with those from a Nissan Wingroad. Hardly high praise, this Wingroad link, but that means spares should not be scarce, but then again, we have the internet.

The Honda? Swap out the automatic gearbox for a manual and you are home and dry, or else be prepared to send a few messages featuring the words “jerking” and “failed to engage” to this page in future.

The Subaru Impreza G4: Is it worth it?

Hi Baraza, there is this relatively new entrant on Kenyan roads known as Subaru Impreza G4. Kindly educate us on its specs and prowess. I’m particularly interested in the NA 2000cc AWD. What are its improvements on the predecessor the GH version. Does it have any inherent mechanical weaknesses? It looks rugged and beautiful, is its performance and reliability the same as its looks?

Thiga Muraya

Hi Thiga,

For the umpteenth time, let’s not discuss “performance” in a Subaru if the word “turbocharged” does not appear in a positive light anywhere within that same discourse. Capisce? Now, with that out of the way, let us sit and talk properly. I will address your concerns in order of appearance:

1.Improvements over its predecessor

The biggest and most obvious change is the switch from EJ engines to FA and FB engines. The new engines have longer strokes (cylinder heights) and smaller bores (cylinder diameters), which mean better economy and lower emissions while widening the torque band and increasing twist. You will not notice any of the physical changes because you will not be opening up those engines yourself, but you may feel the difference, more so if you drive the different generations back to back

The Impreza G4 has derivatives, one of which is the Levorg, a CVT-only wagon that is yet to come over in large numbers but give it time. The XV, yet another derivative, also seems to be picking up in popularity as well, if last week’s query and the increasing numbers on the roads are anything to go by, so the G4 seems to be in good company.

Since I haven’t weighed or done any economy tests on this car, I will have to take Subaru’s word for it that the Impreza G4 is lighter and more efficient than its predecessor courtesy of that unlivable CVT gearbox, but from observation, I can definitely say it is better packaged. A longer wheelbase improves interior space and the resultant growth spurt means it is now the same size as the first and second generation Legacy saloons. That means it is no longer “compact”. Ha!

There is the introduction of EyeSight technology which has made it a darling of proponents of Vision Zero (to the tune of being an IIHS Top Safety Pick), and the styling is less controversial. I have actually driven one and I noticed NVH management is better than before — or is it because it is a newer car? I can also say the CVT is still odious and a blemish and should be done away with. Save the manuals! Or at least give us a conventional automatic.

2. Inherent mechanical weaknesses

None that I know of, but we can extrapolate a few plot holes from the narrative of the Fuji almanac, the first one being new-age Subarus consume a lot of oil. Not a few times I have engaged both users and experts and the general consensus is that modern Subarus burn oil, sometimes alarmingly so, which means top-ups between services are necessary.

Compare this to El Turbo which, at age 19, should be a leaky, smoky mess but instead burns no oil at all — five litres of oil go in at this service, and five litres of oil come out at the next without me going anywhere near the oil filler cap between those two points

(An anecdote I learnt in Subaru circles many years ago stipulates that by the time the oil pressure warning light comes on, it is already too late. Buy another engine.)

The steering too is a potential flash point. These new-fangled electric affairs are known to fail on a basis of when, not if. Replacements cost anything between Sh110,000 and Sh150,000 depending on how hard your life is at that particular moment.

If the car comes with that SI drive gobbledegook, expect some mild problems as well. A former neighbour had a Subaru so equipped that one day it refused to start despite me throwing all the motoring know-how towards its obtuseness.

It turns out this motoring know-how does not include the inner workings of SI drive and the results of the failure thereof. I need to brush up on this. The head of motorsports at the Motoring Press Agency also says the SI drive on his car one day lit up the entire dashboard. Luckily in both cases, the fix was simple, a fuse pulled here or a sensor cleaned there and all was fine and dandy.

I said I have driven a G4. It was not a full test, but even the brevity of the drive was not enough to shield the car from leading me to certain conclusions. The performance is wanting as shall be curtly mentioned below and the CVT and engine collaborate to emit a din that can get tiresome really quickly. This is further exacerbated by noisy road tyres aided and abetted by poor soundproofing (despite the improvement in NVH containment, it is still not a Golf Variant)

3. Performance

It will be an embarrassment to repeat myself twice in the same article. See the opening paragraph.

4. Reliability

Well, it’s a Subaru. Yes, the steering will go and the SI drive may confuse its nervous network once in a while, but Subarus never break, they just don’t. You don’t win world rally championships by fielding flimsy cars.

Keep an occasional eye on the dipstick and be mindful of the timing kit and I can guarantee you pain-free motoring in a Subaru. Since the car you want isn’t turbocharged, there are no risks of you blowing the engine or even knocking, but run away from anything described as “direct injection”. It may be the culmination of a boffin’s quest towards an automotive magnum opus, but it has its own downsides, which I will not discuss today.