In Summary
  • 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.
  • On the comparison of the Trailblazer to the Prado J120 and the Toyota Surf; these two may be highly capable Toyotas but they are outdated in the Trailblazer’s presence.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 engine has gobs of torque. Given that it is Euro 2 spec, it will practically swallow effluent and keep running without the moodiness expressed by overly sensitive, snobbish European mills such as the BMWs and Benzes and Volkswagens.

Baraza, I am an ardent reader of your articles and I must congratulate you for the influence you have on our choices of cars. I’d ike to upgrade my current SUV to a used, three-litre, luxury, mid-size, diesel SUV priced at about Sh3.5 million. I have done a bit of desktop research but don’t seem to arrive at a convincing conclusion. I am a Nairobi resident who drives 20 kilometres on tarmac daily to and from work, and I do the occasional travel run upcountry once every three months.

I have narrowed down the options to a BMW X5 40d M-Sport, Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI, and Mercedes ML350 CDI BlueTec Sport, all 2011 to 2012 models. My preferences in order of priority are driving and performance dynamics (I’m an enthusiastic driver), reliability (a car that doesn’t just fail when I’m in the middle of nowhere), comfort, and manageable maintenance costs (not just fuel costs).

My preference for the three-litre diesels is because I know diesel fuel expenses are manageable since all these vehicles quote above 30mpg on urban driving conditions.

Which of these vehicles is best suited for me, given my situation and priorities? Which one would stand the tests of time and Kenyan terrain? What are the known defects of these vehicles?

Meanwhile, how would you rate the diesel sold locally in terms of quality and impact on the engine and consequent running costs or durability of these cars?

Fred MT

PS: Should you ever seek a political seat, I will definitely vote for you!


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

1. Driving or 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 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 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.

3. Comfort

It is very, very hard to beat Mercedes at this game, so the others don’t even bother trying. End of story.

4. Running 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 No. 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.

Of 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.

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