Want to impress the ladies? Go for a Merc or a BMW

Hope this email finds you well.
I’m a college student currently in my third year. I’m planning to buy a car in a few weeks and honestly I don’t know which to go for. However, there are a few things in the car.
1. Reasonable budget and cheap to maintain. For a student, the main source of ‘income’ is HELB and sometimes a well off sibling abroad. For me it’s 1 million ONO.
2. It should have some qualities that attract girls. Yeah, the only reason I’d want a car college is to aid in achieving the Alpha Male status.

I typically refrain from commentary on people’s life situations but damn, son, if you have a cool million to throw down on a car what on earth do you need the HELB disbursement for? Or is the Joint Admissions Board getting plenty generous nowadays? In my day, the best one could hope for was 52,000 shillings (which I was promptly denied); or just enough to buy a used Chinese motorcycle. You are doing better than 99% of Kenyans. But that is really none of my business; you don’t have to answer that.

1. Reasonable budget: one rule of thumb I have laid down severally but continues to be roundly ignored is this: if you have a million shillings to spend on a car, don’t buy a car worth a million shillings. 850 grand should be your upper limit, and this is why: for a million silver ones, you will not be buying a brand new car. If you do get a brand new car, Question 2 becomes invalid: no self-respecting gold-digger is going to be caught dead riding in a third-year undergraduate male’s Mobius II** or 800cc three-cylinder Maruti Omni** van. Their mindsets are aligned towards a career path as socialites, and socialites only get cabbed from here to there in high-end cars with more than four cylinders. So you are looking at a used automobile. Used cars have two unique qualities: a) they develop problems sooner rather than later and b) they are not covered by warranty; and Kenya, backward state that it is, is yet to discover non-franchise companies that sell warranties/covers. That means that your outlay has to be split into two: the immediate expenditure and the contingency fund. Bill splits his disposable car-buying income in the ratio 9:1. Bill is a smart buyer. Be like Bill.

The contingency fund is to cover the inevitable insurance costs and the not-so-random acts of God such as when the gearbox drops out from under the car or when the suspension collapses if (or when) you hit the bumps outside the girls’ hostels a little too hard in your enthusiasm seeking a second-year female co-driver for the evening. I know of people who spent all their money importing cars and then those cars failed to reach their destinations (Nairobi) because, yes, the gearbox dropped out from under the Subaru Legacy BL5 somewhere near Voi and a replacement transmission had an asking price of a quarter of a million shillings. The suspension also collapsed because the pay driver had no respect for other people’s property and he was pushing the Legacy over potholed roads like he was trying to win the Dakar Rally from 5000km away. That was two years ago. I think the car is still in Voi, I’m not sure. Always leave some money aside for emergency purposes.

2. Qualities that attract girls: I had no idea what these qualities are since I am not a girl (my own preference is horsepower aplenty); but that did not stump me. Research is part of my forte; and this is what a quick poll -accompanied by harshly worded queries along the lines of “Why are you calling me so late in the night, Baraza?”- yielded:

The ladies seem to have a taste for German performance. Only one lady mentioned Subaru, and I’m not sure her motives were honorable. Teutonic vehicles with a sporty bent carried the day, so we are looking mostly at Mercedes-Benz and BMW. A unanimous agreement among those polled was metallic paint (One blue Subaru Legacy wagon will be heading to a paint shop as soon as I’m done typing this), as well as speed and comfort/luxury. Class was implied; more overtly than covertly. This leaves you with the following options: Get a C Class or a 3 Series.

The E46 BMW 3 Series is the best-looking Bavarian in my book, and fortunately for you, fairly clean examples are easy to come by for a hair under a million shillings. You’ll do yourself one better if you get a silver one, according to the sleep-talking respondents of my late-night survey. No one will ever say a BMW is cheap to maintain but if well taken care of, the car will not shock you financially, and it can be fast; though I don’t encourage the exploration of this characteristic. Be safe.

The Stuttgart alternative is the W203 C Class Benz. It is a touch prettier than the BMW (again this is subjective); it comes with Mercedes’ unmistakable gravitas, and some models are supercharged (the Kompressor models); which will be a handy tool should any skeptical ladies call you out on the performance capabilities of your bird-catcher. I repeat: this is a path I discourage descending into: pushing a supercharged Mercedes to the hot end of the speedometer is not likely to end well for either you or your joy-riding conquests. In addition, W203s seem to hold on to their prices tighter than the E46: most still command figures on or slightly above the million-shilling mark. Those costing less than seven figures tend to have issues that will cost a lot to put right.

**These are the only cars whose prices when new hover at or near the million-shilling mark. If any readers out there know of any other cars that cost a million or less brand new, hit me up; but I can bet they look/feel/drive like the Mobius and the Maruti.

†Addendum 1: the field surveyed was not, in fact, the campus demographic, but rather mid-twenties career women on the rise. They say they still remember their campus days, so… yea. They invariably placed condition of the car (clean, neat, tasteful) over the actual make of the car; however, they say while the gaily decorated, shockingly colored, heavily decaled and vinyled Fast-and-Furious type of vehicle will make girls SEE you, that wouldn’t necessarily mean they would want to be SEEN with you. Apparently it doesn’t really matter what you drive – even if it is an electric blue Subaru Impreza WRX STi – provided it is a tidy car, not too loud and most definitely NOT a moving billboard for Japanese parts manufacturers, then you stand a chance. Apparently one lifestyle blog has not had the effect it was going for, I’m just saying. They’d go out with a man in practically any car; but oddly enough they all drew the line at the Probox. They say they’d rather stay single than date a man in a Probox. Not even the minuscule and positively effeminate Vitz received this kind of vitriol from the ladies. Probox? No. Just no.

†Addendum 2: of all the respondents, 95% had no idea what a Mobius II is. To be fair, they had no idea what a Maruti Omni is either, unless described to them in which case, that figure then dropped to 25%. After collating all the data, a follow-up review revealed 90% would date a man in a silver BMW, while 100% would date a man in a silver Mercedes. Also, 100% were still befuddled by the fact that I joined the same group I have been deriding all these years…
Hi Baraza.
Am a petrol head but on the bureaucratic side of things. As such, you can bet I seethe with murderous rage when you and your cronies discuss speed. Let me not catch anyone of you dead walking, or is it riding, your talk. LOL! Anyhow, am grateful for your awesome column.
Just wanted to talk about handling, in vehicle dynamics, as not all “experts” and know-it-alls are schooled in the same, and not everyone of them is an automobile technologist. Some are experts in their specialised areas but as dumb as a layman in things auto, though they pose as boffins, in the local drinking holes. Owning a car does not replace a basic mechanic’s tutelage.
Vehicle handling is the measure of the rate at which a vehicle, on a steady state motion, stabilizes after a disturbing force is removed. The measure of the efficiency of a system’s response is called ‘transient response,” but I bet that’s not important. Steady state motion could be uniform speed on a straight trajectory or on a curve. The agent of a disturbing force could be anything ranging from wind to a pot hole.
The type of suspension system determines the vehicle handling capacity; the serviceability (wear) of the components of the system, however sophisticated, also affect the geometry and hence the efficiency of the same.
I thought it wise not to throw around heavy-laden technical terms and presume Kenyans are savvy; albeit they will always feign it to seem tough. So, there we go–please review the Toyota Vanguard, if you haven’t. It HANDLES good in my not-so-fine judgement.
Charles Mutugi.
Thank you for your input.
It’s true the handling of a vehicle is the result of the vehicle’s responsiveness to situational disturbances such as wind and potholes, but we prefer to define it using another situational disturbance parameter: the act of turning the steering wheel. That is why ramble non-stop about power-on understeer and lift-off oversteer. Anyway, again: thanks for the input. I’m sure the Physics terminology will please our resident know-it-alls no end.
The Vanguard is a RAV4 with an insufficient dose of Viagra. The extra inches have absolutely no effect on the handling; which is mostly neutral with a heavy dose of understeer when goaded. This is the default handling setup for most family cars because it is the safest. Don’t go for any handling tests with a Vanguard though; it may be based on a saloon car platform but it is a lofty crossover and tipping over does not take much encouragement to occur.
hi Baraza,

A while ago you featured the Ford double cabin. Am interested in buying a new double cab to serve me in the farm, the roads gets really sticky when it rains( black cotton soils) and weekend use as a family car.
My interest is either the Toyota Hilux 4 wheel( D4D) or the Nissan four wheel Hard body ‘Atoti”, please educate me on the engine types, power developed etc.diesel engine will give me the torgue i need, i believe.
a), Is the four wheel design and engines technically different, and if so which is superior ?
b), I have a preference for the Nissan, it is more compact and i like the shape.Unless there are serious flaws in performance and running cost

I will skip the Hilux section of the first part of your query because I think we have discussed enough of Toyota’s engines in their trucks and SUVs. The Prado, the Surf and the Hilux all use the same engines with the exception of the 4.7 liter V8 which is unavailable for the Hilux. But all other engines are the same across the ranks. Let’s instead look at the Nissan’s power source: for the sake of relevance, we will look at the diesel engine.
The D22 Hardbody “Atoti” diesel engine is a direct injection 2.5 liter turbo with intercooler, designated YD25DDTi. It should be noted that this is the YD25DDTi VP44 pump, which is rated at 130hp and 280Nm of torque; as opposed to the YD25DDTi DCi High Power – the common rail 2.5 liter turbo used in the Navara (170hp, 403Nm). The direct injection engine is surprisingly hardy for a diesel turbo; and failures are almost unheard of. I repeat: this is insanely impressive for a diesel engine with a turbo. The engine pulls well, but as is typical with an unadvanced powerplant in a low ranking, long-in-the-tooth vehicle model, one can see where the D40 Navara bests its ageing ancestor: the Harbody’s engine is peaky with a narrow torque band that is not very much alleviated by the use of a turbo. There is no replacement for displacement: if it had more cubic inches, the torque spread would be more generous and they’d be no need to wring as much boost from the turbo as one can get without compromising reliability. The 2.5 liter Hilux develops its meager power a bit more smoothly and predictably. One more time: the reliability of the Nissan’s engine is unbelievable. It is why you should get one, if for no other reason that simply because it is unlikely to fail.
a) The 4WD systems are roundly similar in that they feature (de)selectable 4X4 with low range transmissions and diff locks.
b) The Nissan is more compact, but it loses out ever so slightly on ground clearance, load capacity, interior space and outright performance. The interior also shows its age (from the ’90s) and could do with a bit of modernization. It has no known serious flaws in performance (cough*) and running costs, especially if you opt for the diesel engines, but overheating is something to watch out for, particularly with the QD32 engine that also sees service in the E24 Caravan matatu. This engine is not available for the “Atoti”, though. One very huge factor that will more of drive you away from the Toyota than push you towards the Nissan is this: the outgoing Hilux’s frame is a bit weak and is prone to bending at the seam where the payload meets the passenger cab. It is so big a deterrent that the new Hilux was built with specifically that problem in mind; and it has since been addressed. But since we are comparing apples with oranges, I guess the Hilux model you have in mind is the outgoing; and that is the one with the bendy chassis.

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