Real Wheels Live

Jan 04, 2013

The Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will discuss the auto industry. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers.

Maybe, we can govern without politicians. Certainly, the economy might do better. Auto dealers nationwide were in a dither barely a week ago over the "fiscal cliff" stupidity on Capitol Hill.  Auto sales had been booming all year, reaching 14.5 million new cars and trucks for the first time since 2007. But things started to slow in December because of the ideological nonsense that literally was interfering with the Nation's Business. With that silliness at least temporarily in abeyance, sales have started picking up again. Now, U.S. auto industry analysts are predicting new-vehicle sales of at least 15 million in 2013...assuming the politicians don't get in the way again. Let's talk.

I am considering a replacement for my aging Forester and am disappointed in low mileage numbers for the Subarus. So, looking at hybrids. Do you have thoughts on the Highlander hybrid? Also I'm looking at the Prius V. Very different vehicles for sure. Thanks.

Adjust your expectations. Subaru, with the exception of the rear-wheel-drive BRZ, is an all-wheel-drive manufacturer. AWD means more work, which means the consumption of more fuel. You are not likely to get 40mpg+ in that segment anytime soon, at least not for what many of us consider "affordable." The Highlander Hybrid won't give it to you. The wonderful little Prius V wagon will. But, as you said, they are entirely two different vehicles.

I currently have a 2001 Jeep Cherokee Limited so I'm use to and like an SUV. I'm trying to locate a 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid through a local Ford dealer. I'm also considering test driving the Ford Fusion and C-Max hybrids. I've seen several good reviews on line. My main criteria are safety, price and performance. Are there any other hybrids I should consider given my main criteria and the fact I like an SUV? Are there any fuel efficient non-hybrids I should consider?

1. You don't have to worry about active or passive crash safety with any of your choices. They've been vetted to the max by the federal government and private insurers.

2. My favorite, and there are many dissenters, is the Ford C-Max hybrid. I got less than advertised mileage, but didn't care. It effectively delivered at least 35 highway running with regular gasoline. It fits perfectly in the city. I love it.

Warren,  My Acura dealer and several enthusiast publications indicate that 2013 will be the last year for the TSX and that the TL will be downsized , becoming the TLX to fit between the ILX and the new RLX--lots of X's there. Still a good idea to buy a TSX this year ? I know that the current TSX is the same as the European Accord, but would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks !!

Yes, because the curent TSX IS the same as the European Accord, which is a very good thing.

My new CRV came delivered with nitro fill & 1 yr road hazard complimentary from the dealer's service dept. My regular mechanic at another Honda dealer wants to take out nitrofill ASAP. Have tested with & without nitro. Don't mind it, but don't want more expenses either. Pros, cons? Where do I get nitrofill if I keep it? Can I add regular air?

Nitrofill yields lighter tires and supposedly better vehicle handling. Many "enthusiasts" rave about it. I don't. I live in a world of normal drivers, regulations, and traffic law enforcement. I do fine with regular air.

Happy new year! In the next year, the husband & I are looking to replace our Ford Focus with either a similar sized car (but hoping for an upgrade in terms of options/luxury) OR a very nice mid-sized sedan. I primarily use the Focus for commuting and love that it's small & fits into city parking spaces fairly easily. We'd like to keep the cost to 30-40K. In terms of timing, we are looking to replace either this year or can wait until next year if something intriguing is coming out. Any suggestions you have would be great!

Good morning and Happy New Year!

You have soo many choices, including the 2013 Ford Fusion Titanium I drove this week. The car only had one problem--a defective right-side headlamp apparently attributable to a bum fuse. But, as I said, the choices are many, including the Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord. Check for AWD options, if that is your wish. All of the models cited are offered with the latest electronic communications and navigation systems.

Warren, How would you rank the BMW 5 vs Audi A6 vs MB E series and why? Thanks

I'd take the BMW 535i X-drive, simply because it is such a fun car, which does not speak to common sense or value for dollar. Both the Audi A6 and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class have more of that. Plus, they are also fun to drive.

Warren...I haven't seen this question addressed before, and would like to get your thoughts. I'll be in the market for a new car at some point, and I've been fortunate to have gotten to the point in life where I can afford a nicer car, so I'm thinking about going a bit more upmarket than my current and previous choices. However, I know that the purchase price isn't the whole story...you have to consider cost of upkeep. As an example: my colleague owns an Audi A6, and he just had a brake job done that cost about four times what I paid for the most recent brake job on my Accord. Is there anything available that can provide guidance on costs like this? (Parts as well; he had one of his fancy headlights replaced and it cost over $1000.) Sites like Edmunds do a great job of providing expected costs for preventive/routine maintenance...but I haven't been able to find guides for repair costs. The only thing I can think of doing is...when shopping for a car...have a list of 3-4 repair items and ask for quotes from the service department. But this seems clunky, and wouldn't allow me to eliminate cars with high repair costs until I get to the dealer, which is a waste of time. Thanks, and I enjoy your columns and chats...hope you continue them.

Again, adjust your expectations. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, et cetera are high-end cars that usually come with high-end repair bills. If you want a high-end car that comes with at least a moderate purchase price, look at the Hyundai Genesis. I don't know about the repair costs on that one. But Hyundai has one of the best fix-it warranties in the business.

Happy New Year Warren and Lou Ann! Did either of you check out the new Subaru Forester at the LA auto show? Have a chance to test drive? Any preliminary thoughts? Thank you, and here's to a happy, healthy 2013 to you and yours.

Lou Ann deservedly is off today. But both of us will be at the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit (Press Days begininning January 13). We'll answer your Subaru question from there, unless Lou Ann, who wouldn't know a vacation if it smacked her in the face, is somehow lurking about today.

That article pretty much is on spot. I just scanned it. The Buick Verano, especially with that sloppy six-speed manual transmission, would not be one of my choices. But I'd happily take almost everything else.

Warren, Many cars are coming out with a with Turbo and without Turbo option. The Turbo option is normally a couple thousand more plus the extra fuel costs. I have test driven both and I can't see where the Turbo would come into play in most road conditions. Is this option really needed in most cars and normal driving? Thanks.

Turbos, loosely, "forced air" engines, generally offer nice increases in power without comensurate increases in fuel economy. I like them for that and happily would buy one. But not all turbos are the same.

Based on your recommendations we bought a brand new 2007 Saturn Aura. Less than six years, the transmission has to be replaced. What's your opinion on this disaster?

Hmmm.

Question: Having recommended a cure that killed my spouse, what is your assessment of your recommendation?

My answer: I'm sorry to hear that. But, as you know, it's called the practice of medicine.

I plead similarly in this case. So does Saturn, apparently. The Saturn brand no longer exists.

Someone told me that what I've been doing won't amount to much savings, but here goes:  When I suspect that the price is going up, I fill up my tank thinking that the next time I go to the gas station, gas will be more expensive. When I suspect that prices are going down, I don't fill up my tank thinking that the next time I go to the gas station, gas will be cheaper.

Whoever told you to stop wasting time and effort chasing gasoline prices was right. Those prices fluctuate too much too often to yield a sure-fire favorable buyer strategy.

A city parking garage in Tampa offers 1st-level parking for electric cars that are charging. A sign right there, above the spaces, reads "Warning, Prone to Flooding." Not that we have much rain or storms down here...

I'm trying to laugh. But the thought of what might happen there in a flood is sobering.

Warren, Main reason I got Nitro fill is not having to check air pressure that often. Doesn't take that long but with 3 cars, I am letting service dept handle when they rotate tires (free) and check/fill tires (free). As far as lighter and handling, I have not noticed.

Fair enough. Thank you.

Warren, why are used car pricing guides so different? Kelly Blue Book "dealer price to sell" and Edmunds "dealer true market price to sell" are different by about 10%. So which price should I expect to pay? (Both websites ask for your zip code & ostensibly factor it into the quoted price).

Competition. It's all about money and market positioning for the various guides. Which is why I often read three or more to get a better sense of the market. With all of the pricing information out there, there's no way of getting around checking multiple sources.

Good morning! Recently the remote cover to my Odyssey key completely cracked and broke. The metal key came out of the remote fob entirely. Good thing I wasn't driving at the time, the dealer told me (after the van had been towed to them) the engine shuts off if that happens, some kind of security feature. Family members who own the 2012 Odyssey report the same problem, as well as the dealer's shuttle driver who was driving a new Odyssey to take me to work!  Honda never used to combine the key and remote-you always got separate remote fobs. Now that they have, it's not a quality product. I complained to American Honda and they paid for the new key along with the dealer. Just disappointed in this as overall the van is terrific-especially as it seems it could be a safety hazard. Thoughts?

New technology, new problems. I'm not trying to be flippant. But that's the reality. I don't know for certain about engines cutting off when the electronic key fob goes bust. Most of the cars I drive come with a manual backup. So do most of those that are sold. But, could it happen? Yes. The electronic fobs might also malfunction because of radio wave interruption.

Love the chat! My sister's Ford Expedition is on its last legs, and she is looking for a used, large SUV that will seat 8. Her husband is a Chevy man, so they are considering a Tahoe (they owned one before) and GMC Acadia. Yet CR doesn't have good ratings for the Acadia, and they don't like the interior finishings on the Toyota Highlander. I recommended they look at the Honda Odyssey minivan. Do you have any suggestions for SUVs they should consider? Thanks!

I'd split the difference and look at a Ford Flex, Chevrolet Traverse, or Kia Sorrento, the latter of which offers the best value for the money.

One of these days you will be able to get good millage and AWD and space and fun. A4 Avant 2.0 TFSI quattro gets 41 MPG combined, Q5 3.0 TDI quattro gets 37 MPG, or the S4 Avant 3.0 TFSI quattro gets 30MPG (have to go for the V6 ). I just returned from a trip to Pittsburgh in my A3 TDI, averaged 46 MPG and did not observe the speed limit.

Thanks for that, I think.

My 2012 Chevy Cruze Eco has 25k miles already. Love the high gas mileage (it replaced a Honda Element), which covers about 1/4th of the payment, but. The check engine light came on, it started idling rough, and I took it to the dealer. PCV valve, apparently. At 25000 miles? My Honda didn't start having problems until it had over 150000 miles, and a year after it had been through a collision that resulted in $8000 worth of repairs. I am now seriously rethinking my decision to buy a Chevy.

You are not driving your Honda.

Are small trucks going the way of the dodo? Ford has killed the Ranger, Chevy stopped buiding the Colorado, and Nissan and Toyota haven't updated their small truck platforms in years. I own a business and want the flexibility of a pickup truck without having to deal with a full-size vehicle in the city, and still have modern conveniences and improved mileage. Why are manufacturers abandoning small trucks? I though the MPG offsets of small trucks helped manufacters meet US standards for their large trucks?

The short answer is "No."

The longer answer is "only in the U.S. market, for the time being."

My wife, Mary Anne, and I recently attended the Sao Paulo Auto Show in Brazil, where we were shocked to see several updated versions of the very trucks you ask about. They were slated for South America, Southeast Asia, Africa and other places where the car companies say those trucks sell very well. Apparently, they don't sell well enough in the United States to warrant their continued market presence here.

Good morning! Do you know when Hyundai will be introducing it's new 7 seater to dealerships? Have you seen it or have any opinions about it yet?

I'll tell you in two weeks. We should see a copy at the Detroit show.

I am looking to replace my 2005 Murano. I LOVE it but it is time for a new car. Should I go with a new Murano or switch? I was also thinking of the Acura RDX.

Love means never having to say "I switch." Hit your favorite Nissan dealer up for a new Murano. Make sure you ask for a returning customer loyalty discount. Seriously.

Honda Fit or Mazda 2?

Honda Fid, specifically the Honda Fit Sport.

Hi, Warren. Is the new ILX the return of my beloved Integra only better? Thanks and have a good weekend!

Your Integra remains beloved..in eternity. To me, the ILX is a Honda Civic in a tuxedo, attending a prom for geeks.

I am just so fed up with the process of buying a car. What happened to the days when you could walk into a dealership, and they'd be happy to take you out on a test drive even if you were "just looking"? I've been to 5 dealerships in the past week to try to narrow the choices of my next car, and all but one has been less than kind in allowing me to test drive a vehicle unless I'm ready to buy it. When I mention I'm in the early stages of looking, salespeople immediately get hesitant to go any further. All I want to do is get a feel for the vehicle and narrow the field of choices. What's next, will we need to put down a non-refundable deposit before doing a test drive? Why can't manufacturers just set up testing centers in every major city for people to test all of the models in one spot, and buy straight from the manufacturer instead of dealing with the ridiculous salespeople. It probably would save the carmakers tons of money, and would make a much more pleasant experience for buyers and cities not wanting the blight of endless car dealerships and parking lots.

Actually, GM, VW, Ford and Honda are working on  the kind of buyer experience you want--time to get to know the car before you buy it. It's risky, form a possible loss viewpoint. But, in my humble opinion, way too many dealers are afraid of the risk. I firmly believe that better customer retention would come from a greater investment in more knowledgeable sales people and friendlier customer handling. This isn't rocket science.

Warren, if you were driving a Toyota Sienna in the snow, under what conditions (e.g., uphill, downhill, ice) would you use the transmission gears other than D -- labeled 3, 4, and L -- and how fast would you allow the vehicle to go with each of those? Or is D all I need? Thanks.

I'd keep it in 3 uphill and L downhill. And I'd drive very slowly and carefully.

Mainly let me note that I rented a C-Max diesel in Italy last October and it was wonderful. The engine was as good as in my Golf TDI here at home. Too bad Ford will not sell the diesel C-Max in the US.

So noted. So long until next week, everybody.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please join us again, next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. As always, dear Ria, thanks for everything. Eat lunch.

In This Chat
Warren Brown
Warren Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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