This Week On Car Clinic: X540d vs Touareg V6 TDI vs ML350 CDI Bluetec

Alfred Tuks

Dear Mr. Baraza,

I am usually an ardent reader of your Wednesday’s DN articles about automobiles and i must congratulate you for the influence you have on our choices as far as the same is concerned. I would soon like to upgrade my current SUV to a used diesel (3.0ltrs) luxury mid-size SUV of about Kshs. 3.5mln and have done just a bit of desktop research but don’t seem to arrive at a convincing conclusion. I am a Nairobi resident who drives through our tarmac roads daily to and from home/work (total 20kms) and occasional travel to rural home perhaps on quarterly basis.

My choice has narrowed to between BMW X5 40d M-sport, Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI and Mercedes ML350 CDI Bluetec Sport (all about 2011/12 models). My preferences in order of priority is driving & performance dynamics (i’m an enthusiastic driver), reliability (car that doesn’t just fail when i’m in the middle of nowhere), comfort and manageable maintenance costs (not fuel costs per se). My choice for 3.0ltrs diesel is because i know diesel fuel expenses are manageable because all vehicles are above 30 mpg on urban driving conditions.

Kindly enlighten me on which of these vehicles is best suited for me given my situation & priorities and that would stand the test of time/terrain for our not so good Kenyan roads. Any known defects?

Finally, how would you rate our local diesel in Kenya generally in terms of quality and its impact to the engine and consequent running costs/durability on either of these cars?

Your ample input on this will be highly appreciated, (if you were vying, i would definitely vote for you, light note though).Thanks in advance,

Fred MT

 

Hello Fred,

Straight to the point we shall go with your three entries, and we start off with:

  1. Driving/Performance dynamics: you can’t beat the BMW. The fact that it says “M-Sport” on the tin is just the cherry on top; it means that it has been breathed upon, however slightly, by the inmates at BMW’s M Division asylum. It is not a full-on M car, but it looks the part, and it handles passably as well. The Mercedes ML350 is anodyne in comparison, and the Touareg is nondescript
  2. Reliability: you are barking up the wrong tree here because you are talking reliability in cars that are a) European b) diesel-powered and c) turbocharged. Ouch! Can you say ”The Trifecta Of Gloom”? There is no clear winner here since they all have their failings, which are broadly similar across the board. Oh, there is a fourth Parameter Of Pity as well: they are operated via a network of complex electronics. It really doesn’t look very good for them.

That being said, the Touareg is the most infamous of the three with its DPF-related ailments, but that was endemic with the first generation car. Its replacement seems to be holding its own fairly well and nowadays we import our entire diesel stash, so we need not worry too much about choking DPFs.

  1. Comfort: it is very, VERY hard to beat Mercedes at this game, so the others don’t even bother trying.
  2. Maintenance Costs: you did not need the disclaimer that we are not discussing fuel costs; after all these are diesel engines, they were invented to save fuel. Non-fuel related costs are also likely to be tear-jerking because see Np. 2 above: the cars are all European, diesel-powered, turbocharged and festooned with electronics. The parts prices really are eye-watering, with numerous sundry odds and ends nestling comfortably within six-figure territory, so the next time you come across a grown man weeping copiously in a spares shop, fret not; he may have just been presented with an invoice for a turbo actuator replacement on his V6 TDI Touareg.

For the three, which would I nominate for the Methuselah Award? It will have to be the Touareg. Electronics and first-generation hang-ups aside, these vehicles are very solidly built; they are the reason auto journos like me use words like “bullet proof” when describing their build quality. The Benz is a touch dainty especially with dangly bits and is strictly for suburban housewife application, while the BMW has ephemeral interior materials (the leather in particular) and is for yuppies performing drive-bys on Wall Street; but the Touareg… The Touareg is the only one of the three that dares to get down and dirty and come out the other side smiling.

(Thank you for your confidence in me. If they ever hold a poll for Best Columnist I will come looking for your vote)

Njenga Njoroge <njenganjoroge3@gmail.com>

Dear Baraza,

You really know quite a lot about cars and that’s why I write to you.

I have never owned a vehicle and I’m considering buying one soon. I need a basic personal car for running errands in weekends and for going to work which among other things saves on fuel and spares. Which one do i go for as a beginner.

Njenga Njoroge

 

Go for the one you can immediately afford. Since you don’t sound like a trust fund beneficiary, I’d say start with something Japanese, preferably a small Toyota. This will ease you gently into the realm of honor as a motor vehicle owner/operator, before you venture into the world of pain that is running a Euro-box; if and when you are so inclined

 

Lawrence Waller

Hello, I am Martin just completed my university studies and I am thinking of buying a good car that will fit my age. I already have a 1998 BMW e36 in mind. The owner says that it has a new gearbox. Is this car worth me? What has been your experience with this model? What should I look when I go to see the car? Your help will be appreciated.

Image credit: 16isles

 

Whether or not the car is worth it depends on how much you are paying for it. Keep in mind it is 19 years old, the car could probably be your agemate, damn. Then what spec is it? If it is a 316 Compact then it should be as close to free as you can haggle its price down to. Prices go up gradually with engine size before suddenly shooting skywards for the 3.2 liter straight-six M3. I think there are only three of these in the country, so the vehicle you are eying is unlikely to be one of them.

 

My experience? Awesome car to drive, but then I was in a 325i. I don’t know what breadline versions like the 316 Compact drive like, but if car magazines from 20 years ago are to be believed,  if what you can afford is a Compact then perhaps use that money t go back to school and further your education to Masters or PhD level and get a job that will allow you to earn enough to buy an actual BMW and not a lily-livered facsimile of one and long story short is: to Hades with the Compact, that is not a real car. So, the 325 is really good to drive, well balanced and rear-drive antics can be dabbled in especially in cold/wet weather like the one we have now. The driver-centric ergonomics in the cockpit are obvious with the chunky, thick-rimmed (for the era) and smallish steering wheel; and the center console canted ever so slightly but not so subtly towards the driver. You want this car with three pedals, yes siree. The fun also increases with engine size and climaxes with the aforementioned M3, but I think there are only three of these in the … you know how that sentence ends.

 

What to look out for? I really can’t say. You are buying metal that has seen the best part of two decades; anything could be wrong or go wrong. Check everything, literally. The trick here is to pay as little for it as you possibly can without actually driving the seller away with an insane counteroffer. You are unlikely to be buying Concours-grade transport, and if you are, I’d advise against it. You will not enjoy the car that way, and you will always feel guilty about driving it hard given how ‘clean’ you bought it and how much you paid for it. And this was the last real BMW for the enthusiastic masses; the E46 that followed was softened pulp targeted at inattentive badge whores who cared less about driving and more about the logos on their key-holders; a stain on the 3’s garment that the E90 tried to overcompensate for by adding turbos to the first born 335i and cylinders to the nuclear M3. You really cannot compare an E46’s mushiness to the raw sensuality it failed to inherit from the E36. Not that the E46 is awful; far from it, it is still a good ‘un; but the E36 is why BMW marketed itself as makers of the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’, because this was the Ultimate Driving Machine: it was affordable rear-drive enjoyment for the budding road warrior without any bourgeois pretence that later models seem to have sunk into.

 

Clement Gitau

Dear Baraza,

I’m a fun of GM cars having experienced the prowess of the D-Max capabilities and roughness especially the diesel turbo. I am eyeing GM’s Chevrolet Trailbalzer and I would like your profound advice on the pros and cons of the car and finally your comparison of the traiblazer with the surf and prado j 120.

Clement

 

 

Image Credit: Judgefloro

The Trailblazer’s similarities to the Prado are uncanny. I did a review of the Trailblazer right here, on November 9th 2016, to be exact. Here are some extracts from that article:

 

“…So that means it is essentially a DMAX longroof, a la Everest/Pajero Sport/Fortuner; or what exactly are you saying?

Yes, and no. Yes, because that is what this wagon is intended to be in concept. Its placement in the market lies right in the firing line of the aforementioned vehicles, which are, as stated, 7-seat covered versions of their respective double-cab pickup stablemates.

However; while the Everest, Pajero Sport, Fortuner -and Nissan Pathfinder – are obviously related to their truck versions, the Trailblazer is not immediately recognizably as a covered DMAX. And it actually isn’t. The similarities go only as far as using torquey turbodiesel engines and having a body-on-frame construction…”

That takes care of the DMAX relations, now on to the highlights.

Pros:

Greater visual appeal, both inside and out

– A raft of new technology, particularly in safety and driver assistance

– Roomy interior

– Excellent NVH containment in what should be, for all intents and purposes, an agricultural implement

– Well optimized suspension makes it comfortable with slightly better handling than the boogey-man Prado

-Feels solid and unbreakable, which it probably is

-The engine has gobs of torque. Given that it is Euro 2 spec, it will practically swallow sewage and keep running without the moodiness expressed by snobbish European mills such as the trio in the first query above.

Cons

– It may handle better than the Prado but it is still wobbly to some extent. Drive carefully. The ride is a touch bouncy, and the slab-sided design means crosswinds on the open road forcefully demand intimacy.

-The brakes are… let’s just say try and stick to the speed limit; this is a big, heavy car and shedding speed lacks the immediacy and urgency you may be used to in lighter, sportier fare such as, I don’t know, an E36 325i.

-It is a county government staff car so you will look like one of them

Now, the comparison to the Prado J120 and the Surf… These two may be highly capable Toyotas but they are outdated in the Trailblazer’s presence. The only logical reason to shop here would be to save money or if you are a coward who is averse to straying from the mainstream. The Trailblazer really is a diamond in the rough that’s yet to be found; but I found it last year in Amboseli National Park as part of an all-white convoy blowing dust at tourists who came expecting to see elephants but were instead affronted by entitled autojournos in borrowed American demonstrators. Don’t judge us; we do it for your sake.

 

 

 

 

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