Real Wheels Live

Feb 17, 2012

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

Curious to know if either of you is going to be attending the Geneva Auto Show and if so, what cars are you looking forward to seeing?

Yes, Warren speaking. I'm attending the Geneva Show where I will pay particular atttention to where the global industry is going--or not--with electrified vehicles and other alternative propulsion systems. I also will take a hard look at what U.S.-based manufacturers are offering overseas with no immediate intention of selling at home. A diesel-powered Chevrolet Cruze station wagon comes to mind on the latter point.

The World Future Society recently predicted that, "In a few years, one out of every two cars on the road could be a hybrid or electric." Agree? Disagree? http://www.wfs.org/content/futurist/march-april-2012-vol-46-no-2/road-ahead-for-gasoline-free-cars

Clearly, no one in the World Future Society makes or sells cars. Electrified vehicles--be they all battery powered or hybrid--clearly will play an important role in future passenger vehicle choices. But there's nothing happening in the market now that even remotely indicates a 50-percent penetration of all new vehicles sold. If electrics maintain a healthy 10-percent, proponents of that technology should be happy. The reason involves rapid advances being made in traditional fossil-fuel engines. Would you buy an advanced-diesel Mercedes-Benz sedan that could get up to 37 miles per gallon on the highway, or a dual drive system hybrid that gets the same mileage or less?

You praised the new Honda CRV a few weeks ago. Are there any areas where Honda has reduced content or features in the new model, as several manufacturers have done? Was there anything you liked about the old version that is missing from the new one?

There is nothing missing in the new CR-V--at least not egregiously absent. The interior is simple bordering on Spartan. But it works. It's comfortable and ergonomically sensible. There's no six-cylunder engine available. Consumers desiring more power are likely to balk at that. But for daily commuting and occasional road-tripping, the new CR-V works just fine.

After going to the car show, and after many years of buying "boring" but sensible cars, I want a fun car. What do you think? Audi TTS coupe, BMW Z4, Audi A4?...I wouldn't mind a hard top convertible that's not too big..Thank you!

I'd go with the A4 Audi and be happy. I can't get it out of my mind that the hard-riding TTS Coupe is little more than a VW Beetle on expensive steroids. If you want a really neat hard-top convertible, check out the hard-top convertible version of the Mazda Miata MX-5, which is simply beautiful.

We just bought a new minivan and are looking for a reliable used car to act as our second car. It would be used mostly for running errands and for going out without the kids, so a compact 4-cyl, 5-seater sedan is ideal, 2006-2009 model years with 40-50k miles. We are trying to choose among the Volvo S40, Audi A4, Lexus IS250. Which of these is going to require the least amount of maintenance but have the most longevity? Any others we should consider? Please don't propose a Camry. I want something that will make date nights exciting, not ho-hum or remind us of the kids when we ride around in the family sedan. Thank you!

Of the date night cars you suggested, I'd choose the Audi A4--sophisticated design, excellent build quality, one of the best interiorors in the business, lacks the Walter Mitty make believe of the Lexus IS 250, adult. Which means it can lead to all things adult. Which is the way to celebrate a date night.

I read in the Washington Post that General Motors was doing better financially, but none of my neighbors or co-workers seem to be buying Chevys or Buicks. I even read the new Volt was only selling about 150 cars a week. What is GM selling that's earning these big profits?

The Chevrolet Cruze, which is selling exceptionally well worldwide. The Buick Regal and all things Buick, especially in China. The Cadillac CTS and its various derivatives. Trucks. The GM crossovers--Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia. And the new subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, which also is selling well worldwide. As for the Volt, it's selling okay. A $40,000 car that remains an experimental automobile in the minds of many consumers is selling okay. As for GM, kindly review 2005-2009 archives of this chat and my columns. I told you: If you actually spent time looking at GM and talking to its engineers, designers and exexecutives, you would not now be surprised by GM's current success. This was building before the financial crash of 2008, which is why I heartily endorsed the bailout of GM and Chrysler. Obama was right on this one. So was I.

Is there a difference between the Shelby Cobra GT500 vs. the Cobra Super Snake? The latter in the past required you to put down money for the special order/custom make.

Carol Shelby's ability to roll in the cash as a multiple-organ-transplant octogenerian both amazes and inspires me. His Cobra GT500 is a gloriously insane work of power and performance. I don't know much about the Super Snake. But I doubt that it can take much of a bite out of the Shelby GT500.

With a 3 year old and another on the way, looking for another family car in addition to our aging 04 Volvo XC 70, preferably a mid-sized SUV under $30 (new or slightly used). Intrigued by the Kia Sorrento, esp with all the positive reviews, but worried about longevity (I'm still driving my 97 Acura 2.2 cl from college). Thanks!

I'd get the Kia Sorento and not worry about a thing. It comes with one of the longest and best warranties in the business. You are getting it as a family hauler, not a sports performance vehicle. It does the family hauling  job and does it well at minimal cost.

Warren, thanks for your response. I'm the date night driver. I thought Audis and Volkswagens were plagued with poor maintenance/service? Will I be ruining my date night buzz with costly repairs (and/or bad service) for a 2006-2009 A4?

No, Vw/Audi finally has improved in the reliability and service areas. If anything happens, tell your date not to worry. The VW group, which now has its U.S. headquarters in the Washington Metropolitan Area (Herndon, Va.) will take care of it.

I had to replace the battery this week and while I was waiting, the shop told two different customers that they would have to replace all four tires instead of just the one that was damaged because their car had "all wheel drive". A quick internet search when I got home seemed to bear this out. Is there some kind of tire insurance to cover this?

I dispute the shops costly recommendation. You can replace only the damaged tire as long as it is of the same brand and tread pattern of the three remaining good tires. To even out wear, the shop can rotate all tires, which is less costly than buying four new ones.

Hi Warren, I see the Hyundai Elantra touring is a 2009 body style (not the same style as the sedan). I understand there is a new i 30 available, but not in the U. S. I've seen a photo and it's much nicer than the current touring. Do you have any information as to if and when the Elantra i 30 touring will be available here? Wash., DC

I'll check that one in Genevea and get back to you with what I hope will be an intelligent answer.

How does historic reliability for a brand or model influence your reviews of a current car? For example, the Audi Q5 seems to be well reviewed by critics, but I am a little leery of Audi's reliability ratings by JD Power and others. Are you able to evaluate/estimate future reliability when reviewing a new car?

Yeah. First, I try to understand how JD Power et al define "reliability" and "consumer satisfaction." Are we talking real problems, catastrophic problems, reasonably occuring difficulties, what? Then, I try to understand the complainants. Did the car break down, pose a safety hazard? Or did it otherwise perform beneath the sometimes unreasonable expectations of some people who buy high-end automobiles? Was the problem fixed? What was the degree of difficulty in the repair? How much of that, if any, was caused by a lousy dealer back shop? After answering all of those questions, I now feel confident in recommending Audi products.

Warren, I'm trying to find a base model at or near MSRP, which is in the $48K range. A number of dealers in the DMV tell me that Porsche does not produce the base. One or two have said I might be able to order it. I've seen folks report online that they've purchased the base model at or near that price (none in the DMV). What gives? How can I get into the new Cayenne (base) at a price of below $50K? Would appreciate your advice/expertise.

Everybody produces a base something. That includes Porsche. Area dealers may not order it because they don't make much money off of it. I'd check out Porsche's web site, spec the car I want, and then hunt for a dealer willing to handle the order.

Hi Warren, I'm one of the many who saw the Super Bowl commercial for the Fiat Abarth Scorpion and was captivated by that hot...car. I know that the 500 has been a slow mover sales- (and acceleration-)wise, but the Abarth looks like what a Mini JCW could be if it hadn't been piling on the pounds since '06 or so, and it has less wonky ergonomics and more style than the Mini. Might even be more reliable...? Assembled in Mexico with a Chrysler motor built in Michigan too (go USA). 160hp, stability control, five airbags, 35(?) city...What do you think? Any chance you'll drive one soon?

It certainly looks nice. I'm driving it in a few weeks, after which I can say more about it. Should be in Chrysler/Fiat showrooms late spring.

What's your opinion of the new Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ, and how do you think it compares to the 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe? My fiancee is looking at cars she'd like to get to replace her Mustang. She's looking at autos, not sticks. The higher power of the 2013 Genesis Coupe looks nice, but everyone is raving about the FR-S/BRZ handling. Thoughts?

I didn't particularly like the Genesis coupe, which reminded me too much of a Hyundai coupe, whose name escapes me at the moment, of yesteryear. I eagerly await a chance to drive the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ, after which I can say more about them.

Sorry, but if you want a car that is cheap to maintain, the A4 is not it. Check the parts prices. My mom has a MY2006, and she bought a $1700 extended warranty when it was new that paid for itself 10 days out of the manufacturer's warranty (a camshaft and high-pressure fuel pump repair that would have cost $2500ish without the warranty). I'd also be suspicious of the Volvo S40 -- they don't have Lexus-level reliability. As much as I'd hate to recommend an IS250, it's going to be the most reliable and cheapest to fix if it does break.

I'm betting that you are a teenage guy who reads car buff magazines. Don't be fooled. The IS250 can be costly to repair, too. For me, the overall styling of the IS250 is borderline adolescent, which isn't something I want to be bothered with on an adult date night. Finally, I am convinced that the A4 will hold up in the repair department without unduly holding the owner up at the payment counter.

How does the buick lacrosse shape up against other cars in its range? Thank you.

I've driven the 2012 Buick LaCrosse Premium 1 sedan with GM's "eAssist"  ($32,935; 2.4-liter inline 4, 182 Hp, 172 foot-pounds of torque) and found it comfortable, fun-to-drive, and reasonably fuel-efficient at about 36 miles per gallon on the highway. Compares favorably with four-cylinder Camry and Honda Accord.

I was trying to find out how much diesel fuel can be refined from a barrel of oil. It seems that under current refining "settings" we optimize for gasoline, thus all of the information I can find shows what we are doing, not what we could if we valued diesel. I am looking at getting a new car and I'd like to understand what uses less oil, a new BMW 328 or a used 335d that get approximately the same mileage. All of the information shows we make more gasoline from oil, but it think if the refining were tuned correctly, diesel should be easier to make (cheaper assuming equal taxing). Also, and comment on urea refills and a users ability do DIY? Thanks for all of the information.

It's a mystery to me. I'm still trying to understand why we do what we do when it comes to refining and taxing fossil fuels.

Hi, Warren. I recently traded in my 1996 Taurus for a 2009 model, As you can imagine, the newer model has all sorts of new to me bells and whistles, of which my favorite is the one that shows your fuel range. However, it is now driving me crazy! Several people have explained to me that it's based on how fast you're going, but still. The gauge recently said 220 miles when I left home and 247 after I had driven 50 miles. And last week it fell from 107 to 84 miles in the space of just 2 miles! Is this typical? I never let my gas get below a quarter anyway, so now I just pretty much ignore it.

Those fuel gauges measure always changing extant realities. For example, if you are running with a full tanks, your "distance to empty" reading will go down, because the fuel gauge algorithm is accounting for the extra weight of a full tank of fuel. When the tank is emptying, DTE numbers sometimes will appear to go up, accounting for the lighter weight of the car and the cecreased amountof fuel needed to move it. So, I, tooo, pretty much ignore it.

Thank you for joining us today. Please visit us again next week. Thank you, Dominique, for another fine production. Thank you, Ria, for handling transportation needs. Eat lunch. Have a great weekend, everybody!

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

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