King of the road

Africa is becoming one of the most important global markets for prestige cars. Michael Mwai investigates the phenomenon and picks 10 of the continent’s most desirable drives

The rate of urbanisation in Africa has increased dramatically over the last decade, signalling a rise in the middle class and triggering an increase in consumerism on the continent. In Kenya, the programme of development, Vision 2030, is on course and promises to change the lives of its more educated population. Investors are flocking to Africa to take advantage of the rise in consumerism. Industries that can serve the growing middle class, such as vehicle manufacturers, are experiencing a rise in demand on the continent. The speed of infrastructural development and the creation of effective road networks between Africa’s modern mega cities is also good news for the car industry. Here are ten of the most luxurious vehicles that are turning heads on a street near you.

1. BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe
If some super-luxury vehicles appear too over-the-top or expensive, there is an exciting alternative. Forget the 7 Series flagship model from BMW and go for the new 6 Series – a supreme grand tourer. It has everything the 7 Series offers, with a little more swagger and panache, ideal for the younger motorist. The BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe comes with a host of luxurious finishes, including special leather and wood trim more often found on super yachts. A Bang & Olufsen high-end surround sound system ensures that your eardrums get the perfect treatment en route, while the BMW individual package gives you plenty of customisation options. Powerful engines come as standard, from the entry-level in-line 6-cylinder version right up to the rabid V8 twin turbo with 444hp.  Competing directly with the Porsche Panamera, the Gran Coupe also seeks to tempt those considering the Mercedes CLS and the Audi A7.
• Edgy and trendy
• Might be outpaced by the Jaguar XJ black and the AMG unless you go for the M6 Gran Coupe with its 552hp
• From $164,000 to $293,000
• Available at: Bavaria Auto, Mombasa Road, Kenya

2. AUDI Q7
This beast from the VW stable took the world by storm when it was introduced in 2005 and continues to sell well. Its success encouraged the introduction of the Q5 and Q3 softroaders. The Q7 is available with engines ranging from a 3.0-litre V6 to the out-of-this-world 6.0-litre V12. A choice of six- or eight-speed gearbox is on offer. It has a firm ride which can be a challenge on some African roads but it’s still a joy to drive.
In terms of interior comfort, well, it’s an Audi, one of the star features is the Bang & Olufsen advanced sound system, which has 14 speakers specially designed to compensate for wind and tyre noise. Turn on the stereo and two lens speakers emerge smoothly from the instrument panel on the dashboard.
• Subtle elegance, spacious and powerful
• Sporty, clever AWD Quattro system
• From $93,000  to $120,000.
• AVailable from Audi South Africa, Johannesburg

3. Rolls-Royce
This much sought-after quintessential British brand presents the ultimate in luxury road mobility. Famously referred to as the ‘best car in the world’, it comes in three guises: Phantom, Ghost and, most recently, the dramatic Wraith. This marque has been engineered to perform at the highest levels possible and yet is designed with simple elegance to indulge and delight anyone who interacts with it. Rolls-Royce insist that their hand-built beauties captivate the senses. Everything you touch, from the leather to the wood, oozes premium quality. The roof lining can be custom-ordered with thousands of fibre-optic lights that shine like romantic stars on a dark clear night. Skilled craftsmanship is evident everywhere. It takes up to 60 pairs of hands and more than 450 hours to design, construct and craft each vehicle. Although Rolls-Royce is now owned by BMW it will remain the pride of British Motoring. The Phantom Series II four-door saloon is available in extended wheelbase, as a Coupe or the even more enthralling Drophead Coupe. The Ghost comes in standard and extended wheelbase versions, gliding silently on 22-inch tyres, while the brand new two-door Wraith, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March, has an eight-speed gearbox and 6.75-litre V12 engine, offering acceleration so smooth it feels like you have an infinite first gear.
• You would be crazy not to want a Rolls Royce
• Fast but not so agile, although the Wraith might fix that
• From around $850,000 to $1m. Each Rolls Royce is custom-built to order.
• Available at: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Sandton (Pty) Ltd, South Africa

4. Mercedes S55 AMG
The Mercedes S Class is the most popular luxury vehicle in Kenya and many other African countries. Once described as ‘the most beautiful car in the world’, it continues to be the choice of presidents, politicians and business leaders. While it is not as exclusive as the Rolls Royce or even the Jaguar XJ, it offers a balanced menu of luxury, performance and drivability. The most coveted version is the AMG Performance. Mercedes is not typically a driver’s car, but one where the back seat offers a cosseted, cocoon-like capsule to isolate the businessman from the elements. Build quality can rarely be faulted and it continues to deliver, year after year.
• Smart and reliable
• Smooth ride
• From $170,000 to $287,000
• Available at: DT Dobie, Nairobi

5. 2013 Range Rover
Bigger, better, lighter and faster, the 2013 Range Rover has shed 420kg and manages to consume less fuel. Now in its fourth generation, this iconic brand (now owned by Tata) has managed to improve on the ultimate luxury 4WD. Everything about the new Range Rover exudes practical extravagance. Sublime performance from highly refined engines and adjustable pneumatic suspension ensure you glide over African roads without a worry in the world. On the inside you get sumptuous leather and a 29-speaker sound system from Meridian. You will find it very difficult to take the shorter route home. Tested in 20 countries over 18 months on some of the toughest roads, this vehicle can take on extremes and deliver you safely to your destination. The new all-aluminium monocoque did more than save weight. It also increased the interior by 39 percent, affording 118mm more legroom for rear passengers and making large luxury saloon cars almost seem irrelevant. The new Range Rover comes with a choice of four swift engines, including a supercharged 5.0-litre V8 and a more affordableV6 turbo diesel.
• Visibly handsome with grown-up, masculine Evoque looks
• Luxurious and beguilingly quick
• Prices range from $200,000 to $280,000
• Available at: CMC Motors, Nairobi

6. Maybach
There is a new Mercedes S Class that represents the ‘essence of luxury’, but another product from Daimler Benz offers even more opulence. Currently doing service for King Mswati III of Swaziland, the Maybach is a treat enjoyed by only a select group of billionaires. It represents a new standard of high-class motoring. The Maybach has a long list of tailor-made options, such as reclining seats, an exquisite flacon perfume atomiser and WLAN router for wireless Internet on the go. An optional 19-inch screen is available with the Maybach 62. When you buy a Maybach you even get a concierge service that ensures your every need is catered for, from airline tickets to hotel bookings. Measuring up to 6.2m in length, the car features a panoramic roof, reclining heated rear seats split by a refrigerator big enough to house that all-important bottle of bubbly and crystal champagne flutes. Rest assured, the V12 630hp engine will not disappoint.
• You can get better-looking cars for this kind of money
• Too long for narrow roads
• Expect to pay $700,000 to $800,000
• Available at: DT Dobie, Nairobi

7. Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Luxury often defies common sense, but with the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT it defies logic. Here is a vehicle that should be an offroader but wants to do just the opposite. It comes with a 470hp, 6.4-litre V8 Hemi engine that is mated to a quick-shifting 8-speed gearbox. To cut fuel consumption you can deactivate four cylinders turning the V8 into a 3.2-litre V-4. You can also tap into the Selec-Track system, which includes Auto, Sport, Tow, Track, and Snow modes. This allows you to drive in any terrain – something you will not want to do because this is a performance SUV that detests mud and dirt. It prefers to kick sand in the face of its rivals. To help bring you to a stop it is fitted with six-piston front brake calipers grabbing 15-inch ventilated discs and four-piston callipers at the back. Its sport-tuned suspension has thick stabiliser bars to help keep you planted in corners. On the inside you get sumptuous Natura leather and open-pore wood trim, plus body-hugging sports seats and a host of expensive toys, including embedded cellular technology, a back-seat Blu-Ray entertainment system and an 825-watt Harmon Kardon audio system. Also look at the BMW X5, Mercedes ML and Subaru Tribeca.
• Every boy’s dream SUV
• Too much power corrupts
• From $80,000 to $112,000
• Available at: DT Dobie, Nairobi

8. Infiniti FX
Nissan do not want to be left behind by the gravy train of luxury vehicles and that’s where the Infiniti FX storms in. Available as a saloon, coupe, convertible and crossover, its curves are an acquired taste – you either love ‘em or loathe ‘em. What it has in spades, though, is grunt. The FX50 manages a top speed of 250kph, while the FX37 and FX30d managed 233kph and 212kph respectively from their automatic gearboxes. At the top end, you can reach 100kph in just 5.8 seconds with your foot planted to the floor. If you love Team Red Bull then you will want to opt for the FX Vettel Edition that comes with a special kit and uprated power.
• Powerful engines and unique styling
• Agile and fluid movement
• From $117,000 to $180,000
• Available at Infiniti Jo’burg

9. Jaguar XJ Ultimate
Classic British heritage is written all over this marque, from the Marao-style alloy wheels to the leather interior, where rear seats boast a massage feature and drinks chiller. The Ultimate gets maximum power from the supercharged 510hp, 5.0-litre V8 model that manages 0-100kph in just 4.7 seconds. You can also opt for an all-wheel-drive version with a 3.0-litre, V6 engine.
• Stand out from the crowd with this car
• Perfect power to weight ratio
• From $160,000 to $250,000
• Available at: CMC Motors, Nairobi

10. Porsche Panamera
Renowned for their super-fast sports cars, Porsche have plenty to offer the discerning executive looking for the ultimate luxury four-door saloon. There’s a choice of no less than 12 variants, from the entry-level Panamera, with its 3.6 litre, six-cylinder boxer engine (maximum speed 261kph) to the Panamera Twin Turbo, which boasts a 4.8-litre V8 capable of pumping out 500hp and attaining speeds of just over 300kph. This could well be the answer for anyone looking to avoid the obvious Mercedes Benz S Class, BMW 7 Series or Audi A8. The Porsche Panamera has been absent from Kenya for many years, but plans to reintroduce it are at an advanced stage. An exclusive model – only 28,000 were sold worldwide in 2011.
• Guaranteed to turn heads at the board meeting
• Like all Porsches, it’s a great drive, but there is stiff competition
• Prices range from $90,000 to $262,000
• Available at: Porsche Centre South Africa