BEHIND THE WHEEL: Want to impress the ladies? Go for a Merc or a BMW

Wednesday February 24 2016

The ladies seem to have a taste for German

The ladies seem to have a taste for German performance.  Teutonic vehicles with a sporty bent carried the day, so we are looking mostly at the Mercedes-Benz and BMW. PHOTO | AUDREY CHEPTOO 

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Hi Baraza

I’m a college student currently in my third year. I’m planning to buy a car in a few weeks and honestly don’t know which one to go for. However, there are a few things I would like in the car. 

1. Affordable and cheap to maintain. For a student, the main source of “income” is HELB and sometimes a well-off sibling abroad. For me it is Sh1 million or the nearest offer.

2. It should have some qualities that attract girls. Yeah, the only reason I would want a car in college is to help me achieve 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 on a car, what on earth do you need the HELB disbursement for? Or has the Joint Admissions Board become very generous?

1. Reasonable budget: One rule of thumb I have laid down several times, but which continues to be roundly ignored, is this: if you have Sh1M to spend on a car, don’t buy a car worth that amount. Your upper limit should be Sh850,000, and this is why: for a

million shillings, 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 car. 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.

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. Always leave some money aside for emergencies.

2. Qualities that attract girls: This is what a quick poll yielded:

The ladies seem to have a taste for German performance.  Teutonic vehicles with a sporty bent carried the day, so we are looking mostly at the Mercedes-Benz and BMW. A unanimous agreement among those polled was metallic paint, as well as speed and


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 Sh1 million. You’ll do yourself one better if you get a silver one, according to the respondents of my 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 the 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 of 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 coloured, 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. 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.

†Addendum 2: of all the respondents, 95 per cent 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 per cent.

After collating all the data, a follow-up review revealed that 90 per cent would date a man in a silver BMW, while 100 per cent would date a man in a silver Mercedes.


Hello Baraza,

I 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. I want to talk about handling, in vehicle dynamics, as not all “experts” and know-it-alls are

schooled in the same, and not every one 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 at their 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, stabilises 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’s 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 tough technical terms and presume Kenyans are savvy, although  they will always feign it to seem tough. So, there we go. Please review the Toyota Vanguard, if you haven’t. It handles well, 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 we ramble non-stop about power-on understeer and lift-off oversteer. I’m sure the Physics terminology will please our resident know-it-alls to 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 set-up for most family cars because

it is the safest. Don’t go for any handling tests with a Vanguard, though; it might be based on a saloon car platform, but is a lofty crossover and it

does not take much encouragement for it to tip over.


Hi Baraza,

A while ago you featured the Ford double cabin. I am interested in buying a new double cab to serve me on the farm — the roads gets really sticky when it rains (black cotton soil) — and on weekends as a family car. I am interested in either the

Toyota Hilux four-wheel (D4D) or the Nissan four-wheel Hardbody “Atoti”. Please educate me on the engine types, power developed, etc. The diesel engine will give me the torque I need, I believe.

a) Are the four-wheel designs and engines technically different, and if so, which is superior ?

b) I would prefer the Nissan; it is more compact and I like the shape, unless there are serious flaws in performance and running costs.




I will skip the Hilux section in the first part of your query because 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 litre 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 litre 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 litre turbo used in the Navara (170hp, 403Nm). The direct injection engine is surprisingly hardy for a diesel turbo, and failures are almost unheard of. 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 there would be no need to wring as much boost from the turbo as one can

without compromising reliability.

The 2.5 litre Hilux develops its meagre power a bit more smoothly and predictably. The reliability of the Nissan’s engine is unbelievable. That  is why you should get one, if for no other reason

than 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 modernisation.

It has no known serious flaws in performance and running costs, especially if you opt for the diesel engine, but overheating is something to watch out for, particularly with the QD32 engine.

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.