Why is this BMW not on our roads?

Hi Baraza,

I am in the process of importing a BMW 3 series E90 (320i). My query is: Why does it have rave reviews in Europe, yet it hardly features on our roads? Is there something about the car that I may have overlooked?

Second, I am told it is a rear-wheel-drive. How does that affect stability?

Third, Mercedes lovers here categorise it as an inferior car, especially in terms of durability. Is there any truth to this? Does this affect safety? Or is it just BMW-bashing by Merc fanboys? They say a Mercedes ages better than a BMW, is there any truth to this?

Finally, in your opinion, how reliable is the 3 Series BMW. Thanks for reading this and keep up the good work.

Jim

The reason the E90 BMW has rave reviews in Europe and elsewhere is that it, like almost every other 3 Series BMW before it (but not necessarily after it), is a fine car. There are a few on our roads, obviously bought new, for the most part.

The reason you do not see many on these roads is that we discovered something called a grey import market, where one can get seven- or eight-year-old, good-as-new cars from overseas at a quarter of the original showroom price.

No need to pay Sh6 million or so for a brand-new car when six years down the line you will get that same car, slightly used, at Sh1.5 million. That is the thinking behind most Kenyans who steer clear of buying brand-new cars and the associated benefits, and instead gamble on buying a car that they cannot see from people they cannot see on the Internet.

What I am driving at is: Give it some time and you will see the car festoon our city roads. It is almost always used in the city. Any time now… and no, I do not think you overlooked anything. The E90 really is a good car.

Yes, it is rear-drive. And some are also 4WD. The effect on stability? It makes the car a bit oversteery, but only if you have the traction control fully disengaged.

The beauty of the BMW stability control programme is that there are varying degrees of intrusion; it is not an on-or-off setup, like a wall socket. You can actually select how much nannying to receive from the electronics. “Hoons” (overly enthusiastic drivers) prefer the rear-drive setup compared to front-drive because it is easy to “get the tail out” (oversteer).

It is a fun thing to do if you know what you are doing, and it looks very impressive to anybody who is not a traffic policeman. A traffic policeman will nab you if he spots you oversteering through a roundabout.

For those of limited ability when it comes to chucking a vehicle about, the advice is to keep the traction control on and maybe stick to front-drive cars. So, yes, the BMW is stable. And balanced. And well set-up. It will not surprise you if you stay within your limits.

There have been long-standing wars between rival camps in almost all aspects of our lives. Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopards. Coke vs Pepsi. Condoms vs abstinence. Mercedes vs BMW. Rarely will you get one faction saying good things about the other, and this is no exception.

The E90 is not any less reliable than the C Class Benz… if anything, since the invention of the C Class, Mercs have not been famous for their reliability (this is from the same Europeans who “raved” about the E90). It is only in the early-to-mid-2000s that the legendary Mercedes quality and fastidiousness came back to its line of road cars.

But why am I discussing the Benz; you wanted to know about the BMW. The BMW is well-built, carefully engineered, and will not age badly if you maintain it well. I have a friend who has, among other things, an E46 330i and it looks brand-new. I would buy it from him at showroom price very easily, especially if I was drunk and not thinking straight…

A Mercedes and a BMW will age at more or less the same rate, keeping all factors constant. And the BMW is no more unreliable than a Benz… if anything, it could be better.

I hope this was of some help.

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