Lifestyle

The most luxurious SUVs money can buy in Kenya

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Bentley-Bentayga. PHOTO | MIKE MWAI

These vehicles, which are shaping conversations in 2016, create a clear balance between opulence and raw power.

Kenya is an amazing country craving to be explored. While you can do it efficiently via a privately chartered flight or get yourself a helicopter, personally, I would rather drive. It gives me more flexibility because I can stop anywhere and sniff at beautiful flowers by the roadside or sip a cup of Kenyan tea at that undiscovered roadside ‘kiband’.

In the 15 years I have been writing and sharing my sub-normal love for all things automotive, rarely have I been so impressed by the efforts employed by manufacturers to win the hearts of the discerning driver.

While I have driven many performance luxury vehicles, the three SUVs featured here today are so different yet so impressive in their own unique ways. One of them shall make it to my wish list and another to my bucket list.

Over the last 10 years, things have changed so drastically that we can longer keep up with the advances in automotive technology.

From hybrids to all-electrics and now we are faced with self-driving cars. One can no longer depend on claims to engineering superiority (as articulated by manufacturers or the cliquey coterie of motoring journalists) to determine which car is king.

We all do our research and personally get behind the wheel and feel that unique connection.

If you listen carefully, you may even feel the passion with which the vehicle was designed and developed.

That flocculent balance between opulence and raw power, the great handling and grippy braking, more importantly, how the vehicle makes you feel deep inside your soul and in the eyes of your admirers and peers.

All said and done, a high-end luxury vehicle should not only perform the task of moving you swiftly from point A to B, it must do so elegantly and define your purpose on earth.

After all, you did not just buy it to lower your tax burden but to explore the unseen parts of the globe.  So, which of these three vehicles will shape the conversations in 2016?

These high-end off-roaders have the ability roam the continent’s best and worst roads without compromising on the trappings of luxury and comfort.

Mercedes G Wagon AMG - 2015

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Never has this phrase been more true. The Mercedes G Wagon has remained true to this and like it or not, it offers little to look at for the modern eye.

No curves, sexy headlights or reclining seats, at least not in this version. What it has is history and extreme ability to please the die-hard offroader.

So why is it considered among a small number of must-have vehicles? It features on the bucket list of every wealthy man. Please note, I did not say rich.

Built originally as military vehicle, it has remained typically unchanged and now has a cult following that has helped retain its classic character for almost four decades. More importantly, it is an extreme vehicle. Its sturdy ladder frame and galvanised body are hand-welded.

The electrical wiring harnesses are hand-loomed. Nothing is left to chance with the G Wagon. It is manufactured in a painstaking process that lasts 40 hours. To resist corrosion, the frame is flowed with hot wax.

It is produced in small numbers, only 3616 were produced in 2015 so this is certainly not a mass-produced vehicle.

To manually craft each vehicle is no easy task and this only makes it extra special. Every owner can individualise their car with a choice of unique interior and exterior colours.

If you really want to impress your peers, order the DINAMICA Interior package. You get the AMG performance steering wheel. Half a mile of thread is converted into 45,000 precise stitches lovingly pierced through the leather of the seats, dashboard and doors. It looks awesome.

Every panel of wood was sustainably forested and exquisitely finished like an orchestral musical instrument. For me, the dark tobacco duo-tone seats with top-stitching looks grand, as does the deep sea blue leather that pairs well with black.

The most impressive part of this car aside from its off-road ability is its power to impress on the open road. With the help of the 7-speed AMG Speedshift Plus paddles on the steering wheel sprints from 0 – 100 in just 5.4 seconds.

It is able to achieve a limited top speed of between 210kph but with the AMG driver’s package, top speed can be increased to 230kph. Unfortunately for us you can only order the AMG G 63 locally.

Offroad, the GClass can scale an 80 per cent incline, up or down, or manage a 54 per cent lateral slope. On slippery roads, its allwheel drive and 4wheel Electronic Traction System can instantly send the engine’s torque to the wheels with the best grip.

Who would buy this car?

Trusted by the current Nigerian President, the G Wagon is truly presidential. The first family of any nation that has an economy worth speaking of must have one in its fleet.

The wealthy that have every other premium or luxury model want one in their fleet. This is a real man’s vehicle. The owner of an AMG most likely wears a timepiece from IWC Schaffhausen and sport shoes from Santoni.

Stretch your imagination and the discontinued (and now highly coveted) G Wagon AMG 6x6 becomes very desirable. It was built specifically for the Middle East market.

Locally, some notable local personalities Jeff Koinange and a young man who lives at the big white house on the hill enjoy its trappings.

Others requested anonymity but it is a growing community. If you decide to buy this vehicle, please book yourself in to the AMG Driving Academy so that you do not waste its potential and miss its passion.

What sets it apart from the pack? Mercedes brand promise, iconic status, offroad ability.

2016 Range Rover SV Autobiography

This car is no stranger to Kenya and has been the undisputed king of the local ‘luxury’ offroad segment with little or no real competitor for years. While it is much younger than the Bentley brand and a little older than the Mercedes G Wagon, it has managed to achieve amazing success from a brand equity perspective.

According to Gerry McGovern, Design Director and Chief Creative Office at Land Rover, this is a sophisticated and modern vehicle with peerless characteristics from a unique lineage. I cannot argue with that.

It has a suite of technologies so well-packaged it defies convention and manages to deliver both on and wade through 900mm of water off road, as well as glide elegantly to a red carpet event.

To compete with the luxury saloons that have been eating into its market share, Range Rover introduced the extended wheelbase.

To fend off the competition in the SUV segment, Land Rover went further and introduced the SVAutobiography. Its specification sheet that reads like a 7-course dinner, at a 7-star hotel, with a five star Michelin chef at your disposal.

The rear seat entertainment comes with 8-inch built-in screens (10.2 inch mounted screens come in LWB version), as well as the amazing 1700 watt Meridian Signature Reference Sound System featuring many speakers.

British craftmanship is demonstrated in many ways including the sliding loadspace floor built from aluminium and veneer.

The features list includes gesture tailgate that allows you to open or close the upper and lower tailgate without touching the car or the key fob. Simply wave your foot on either side of the rear and like magic, the rear opens up. If you have a stiff or short neck, tick the self-parking feature.

This will allow you to park with ease into tight spots. The car will choose a space it can fit into and manoeuvre in automatically.

The distinctive non-performance based difference between this car and the rest of the Vogue range is the knurled detailing.

It starts at the Range Rover signage on the bonnet to the rotary drive, air vents, pedals and even the start stop button.

In addition to the reclining rear seats and more than ample leg room, you get an electrically-controlled table. At the touch of a button, it ejects from the wooden paneling of the centre console.

Who is buying this car?

Mainly old money but the ‘nouveau riche’ are not being left behind. The CEOs of profitable multi-nationals and many successful entrepreneurs are making this their car of choice.

Everyone that has self-actualised and is willing to make the point that a Toyota VX or Nissan Patrol may be practical and affordable, but not necessarily as classy, is a good candidate.

What sets it apart from the pack?

It brings quintessential British opulence and class to the party. It is hugely capable offroad and uses the finest materials. Like the Bentley, it has heritage and pedigree. Under the hood, it has power in abundance.

What sets it back?

Perception of maintenance cost and fear of nagging technical issues associated with previous models.

So the Bentley goes into my wishlist, the Mecerdes G Wagon into my bucket list and the Range Rover stays in my garage. What more can one ask for in life?

2016 Bentley Bentayga

 If you are looking to be more than different, to be extraordinary, then this is the vehicle to have. Is it the best looking? Not by a mile, but it will get you noticed more than any other car on the road today. Because it is a Bentley.

It has been around for over 95 years and that means something, for they have managed to cut a niche for themselves in the ultra luxury car market.

Why would Bentley, known for luxury saloon cars, build an SUV? Because that’s what the market demands. They plan to produce about 5000 units a year so that keeps it relatively exclusive.

It is built by the Volkswagen Group on the MLB platform that produces the Audi Q7 and the next generation Porsche Cayene and VW Touareg.

However, 80 per cent of its parts are unique and it takes 130 hours to hand build one vehicle at the Crewe factory in the UK. It joins the three other models, the Flying Spur, the Mulsanne and the Continental range.

 Bentley design is currently headed by Mr Stefan Sielaff who has been at the helm since July 2015. However, the duo responsible for this vehicle’s look now work for Hyundai’s Prestige Design Division. Luc Donckerwolke, was VW’s head of advanced design and has worked with Audi, Skoda, SEAT and Lamborghini since 1992.

He, last week, poached Sang Yup Lee, a Korean national, who was hugely responsible for the exterior look of the 2016 Bentayga. Mr Lee will now be responsible for the Genesis and Hyundai brands as they attempt to grab a share of the Luxury segment in America.

 Back to Bentley’s first foray into the 4x4 market. They have loaded this car with immense ability on every front. It is the most powerful, most advanced and opulent 4x4 in its segment.

Under the hood is a 600bhp(447kW)@5000-6000rpm from its twin turbo 5950cc W12 engine that is good for a hugely impressive 900Nm of torque available as early as 1350rpm. 

0 -100kph in happens just 4.1 seconds. That is more than just quick, it is swift. Fuel consumption is not an issue in this segment but because you asked, it needs 13.1 litres for every 100km you travel, on average.

That is if you do not attempt to reach its top speed of 300kph. In which case you will manage less than 5 litres per kilometer. I can read you mind.

How much does it cost? Well, there is no standard price here. This is luxury so as you can customise it to your liking. Plan to spend more than Sh30million.

The best place to experience this vehicle is on the inside. The leather, wood and every material is the best available. You also get onboard WI FI and a superior sounding stereo through 18-speakers that pump 1950 watts. The rear entertainment includes detachable 10.2 inch tablets that control everything except the cars speed and braking.

Offroad abilities cannot be confirmed by me but tests reveal it does not shy away from any challenge. It is the fastest car here so you can be sure it will spend most of its time on road.

Who will buy this car?

The wealthy. The ultra high net worth individual who has achieved everything but can’t have a yacht because he feels the sea is too far away from his business or just lacks the creative will to stretch his imagination.

Orders are already being taken locally by the Multiple Hauliers Group who also own the Porsche dealership. The Bentayga goes very well if you already have a Rolls Royce Ghost, Wraith, an Aston Martin sports car and a couple of horses.

What will set it back?

Brand awareness and its odd looks. 

What sets it apart from the pack? 

Rich heritage, ultra luxurious finishes, exclusivity.

Mwai is the CEO of the Luxury Network Kenya and a passionate automotive buff.