Real Wheels Live

Jun 24, 2011

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

Past Real Wheels Live Chats

We love our 2002 Prius and our 2007 Camry hybrids, but our family and our hauling needs are growing. The Escape hybrid is nice but a little small; the Highlander is also nice but quite expensive. When oh when is somebody going to produce a hybrid minivan?

The Honda Cr-Z hybrid might interest you. It will be available in late 2011 or early 2012 probably as a 2012 model. But it, too, will cost more than a non-hybrid CRV. Ditto any hybrid minivan. Battery technology remains expensive. Also, hybrid engineering costs are higher. Industry analysts predict that hybrids will remain at, or below 10-percent of the overall vehicle market by 2015.

My 8 year old car is on its last legs and I need a new one that can seat 6 or 7. I'm not a van person and would like something in the not-hideously-priced luxury market. I know you think American manufacturers are putting better products out there, and wondered what you think of Lincoln's new MKT?

It's ridiculously pricey at $44k-plus. I'd rather go with the less-expensive ($29K-plus), exceptionally utilitarian (seats eight without jamming third-row next to hatch) Chevrolet Traverse crossover.

I'm looking at the 2012 Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus. What are the worst things you can say about these cars? Hyundais still have a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Is that an important consideration, or are these really parts that rarely break in the first 100,000 miles? Also, there was a time when it was a mistake to buy any car in its first model year. Does that philosophy still apply?

The worst thing I can say about them is that they are compact sedans with tight rear seating quarters, better suited for two adult bodies (in the rear) as opposed to advertised rear seating for three. Otherwise, both are extremely competent compacts that have rendered the once invulnerable Honda Civic quite vulnerable in the retail wars. The world has changed dramatically. In the auto industry, that means the maturity of computer-assisted design and engineering, and early collaboration among designers, engineers, tool makers and assembly plants have rendeered obsolete the old myth about the inherent poor quality of first-year products.

What is your opinion? We have owned Accords previously and at this stage of the game we want a reliable workhorse. We haven't gotten to the stage of a fun roadster or a float boat of a car. Question: What should we rent to transport a college student and their life possessions since the Accord is too small? Thank you!!!

Rent alm0st any crossover utility vehicle. Consult kbb.com, cars.com, edmunds.com or similar web sites. Warning: The problem isn't the vehicle you use to transport the college bound. The problem is the tendency to bring too much stuff, all of the supposed comforts and necessities of home that often are thrown on trash heaps outside of college dorm gates at the end of  each academic term, especially at the end of academic years. Edit the amount of stuff you want to haul. That will make hauling it a lot easier.

Good morning Warren, My wife is looking to buy a new SUV this fall. She likes the Toyota Highlander, Ford Escape Hybrid, and the Jeep Compass. She gets to pick but how would you rank the three?

Toyota Highlander is larger (sort of mid-size plus) and one of the best interms of overall construction, safety and performance.

The Ford Escape is mid-size bordering on compact and one of the best in terms of overall construction, safety and performance.

At this writing, I would not consider the Jeep Compass. That opinion might change upon examination of the latest versions of that vehicle. But previous iterations have been downright tacky.

Hi, Warren: My buddy recently bought a 2011 Ram 1500 in Canada. (We're Canadian.) We found that the three dealers we went to wouldn't put anything on paper unless it looked like my friend was going to buy. How are informed consumers to get around this and get the best deal? I also used carcostcanada.com to get dealer invoice prices. That helped. On a related point, one dealer had an admin fee of almost $1,100, but couldn't explain what it covered. My friend ended up buying from the fourth dealer he visited, where the admin fee was $650 and the truck was priced lower, too. Final point: Chrysler claims it costs ~$1,400 for delivery. Really? In North America? I thought that charge usually covered delivery and PDI. Thanks!

I usually deal with dealers who ply those kind of silly, time-wasting games by walking out and shopping elsewhere, even if that means choosing another manufacturer. Given the amount of information available on the Internet (edmunds.com, kbb.com, cars.com, greencars.com, among many others), there is no reason for a consumer to enter any showroom uninformed. For that matter, given the reach of the Internet, you can shop almost any competitive dealer in Canada or elsewhere. Education. That is how you handle that mess-with-the-consumer foolishness. Smart dealers know this and have adjusted their point-of-sale approach accordingly. The dumb guys are steal (pun intended) screwing around and, as your story illustrates, losing customers.

Is GM, Ford and Chrysler taking advantage of the limited supply of Toyotas and Hondas? Or are they just as dependent on Japan's factories also? I mean, if you only get a few parts from Japan, you still can't sell the car. Thanks.

Yes. And it appears that they will be doing so at least through July 2011. But they don't have time to dawdle before losing that advantage. Both Toyota and Honda are far ahead of schedule in ramping up production after the earthquake-tsunami interruptions of March. That means both should have a steady flow of inventory by August. As indicated by Toyota's current U.S. retail behavior, both will be prepared to move that inventory with very attractive consumer incentive programs. Hint: If you want the best Japanese car deal in the United States, wait until August. Or, check out Toyota right now. That company is simply amazing in its ability to recover.

I have in the past had a Jeep liberty...liked it, but now I want something with more room. Have thought about the Ford Escape, but am also considering something a size larger likw the Pilot, Highlander,etc. Don't really need the third row of seats, but would be nice on those occasions when the grandkids are in town. Any suggestions?

I'd shop the Pilot, Highlander, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Edge. I would not worry about that third row of seats. How many grandkids, by the way? What is the likelihood that they are all going to want to go the same place at the  same time? If you choose the third-seat option, examine the amount of crush space between the rear liftgate and the rear-most seat. Is it so close that heads touch, or nearly touch the rear window? If so, DO NOT BUY. That is a tragedy waiting to happen.

If you are thinking about a 2011 car for which safety ratings are not out yet, is it accurate to use the 2010 ratings? And what if the new car is, say, a hatchback, but the safety ratings are for a sedan? I'm thinking about the Kia Forte.

I'd check with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, www.iihs.org (I think). IIHS usually is ahead of everyone else with latest and most thorough safety ratings. Previous iterations of the Kia Forte  have fared well in IIHS testing. I have no reason to believe that the 2011 model (standard side and head air bags, four-wheel disc brakes with antilock protection, electronic stability and traction control) would be any less safe.

Hi Warren, I test drove an Elantra and was surprised at how noisy it is compared to say a Honda accord. When thinking about 25K or under sedans (preferably ones with some get up and go... no Corollas thank you), which ones have more road and engine noise protection?

The Elantra is best compared with the Honda Civic, as opposed to the larger and better sound-insulated Honda Accord. Check out the Elantra Limited ($20k-plus). I'm certain you will find it as quiet as anything in the compact catregory except, perhaps the Chevrolet Cruze LTZ ($22k+), Ford Focus Titanium ($22k-plus), or the Honda Civic EX-L (rounded $22K).

Warren, do you have any information or assessment of this story: http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2011/06/24/saab_says_it_cant_pay_employees/

Saab has been struggling to get longterm financing and has been having some difficulties in that endeavor. I did not know about the pay angle and, at this writing, can't confirm it.

Admin fees etc are all profit . How many minutes does it take to process your order for new tags and call you? $400 for this is a rip off. I have a bottom line price that includes everything. I don't want door edge guards and pinstripes. One of the best sites for car shopping and well worth the $35 it costs to join is the NRA. NRA does a great job of providing a member with prices at at least three local dealers. And all of us should be for protecting our Constitutional rights. Clifton VA

Are we shopping for cars, guns, or both Clifton? You are right, of course, in your basic argument. "Administrative fees" are mostly bogus, especially in our Internet age. There are manyprograms to help dealers efficiently move all point-of-sale information by wire at reduced administrative costs. Dealers who aren't using those systems probably should not be in business or, certainly, should not be doing business with you.

Thanks for the comments....there are 4 grands under 8. Usually have 2 of them at any given time but 5 or 6 times each year we tend to end up with all of them. Little enough to be convinced they want to go to the same place....but need the space for the carseats. Other option would be to rent a lage van ?

Suggestion: when you know you will have all of the grands together, rent a crossover, such as a Chevrolet Traverse. It's less expensive than paying retail and operating costs for something larger, the full capacity of which you will use on a few occasions.

Here are some thoughts for the original post: check out minivans. The new minivans have things like cylinder deactivation and get terrific gas mileage (given their size). Look at the new Prius wagon/van thing. What about a Mazda5, which is bigger and performs well? Perhaps consider a station wagon - the Acura TSX gets solid mileage and is very well-priced, the Subaru Outback is terrific, the Venza (basically a wagon) is nice, etc. Lots of options, and many of them will perform nearly as well as a hybrid.

Thank you for those excellent suggestions.

My question last Friday wasn't  specific enough, and thus was misunderstood. I was trying to learn of any specific forthcoming offerings of 3-row high fuel economy (30+ mpg highway) people movers, now that planned availability of the Kia Rondo, Chevy Orlando, and Ford C-Max Grand has been canceled for the U.S. market. They seem popular enough in Canada and Europe.

My fault. I should have said "I don't know" and "I will check," which is what I will do today. My apologies.

Good morning! Last week you advised me on a new Porsche Cayman vs. used 911 sports car choice. Follow-up question: What is driving a mid-engined/rear-engined car like? Is there a vast difference (and learning curve) compared to the front-engined, front-wheel-drive cars I've always owned? I don't drive like a maniac, but I do enjoy a good sprint. Thanks for your time. Eat lunch.

It's addictive, the mid-engine drives. So well-balanced! The danger is that you are tempted to drive beyond your real-world competence, taking sweepers and all of that. Such cars often are more competent than their drivers, although too many of their drivers refuse to admit as much. Take some time to get to know the car in a non-lethal (to yourself or others) environment. Drive within your abilities. You want more excitement? Find a supervised raceway, such as Summit Point in West Virginia or the Virginia International Raceway. Seek out those drivers who actually know what they are doing on the track. Learn from them. Have fun. Pause for lunch.

Sorry if I missed your review, but what is your opinion of the new Audi A7? It looks like perfect combination of driving pleasure and technological convenience. Plus, it is just a beautiful profile. I've seen comparisons to the Porsche Panamara, which, while nice, looks exaggerated. Thoughts?

I love the A7 both for its performance and utility--yes, its utility. You actually can carry a meaningful lod of stuff in that one. I've driven the Panamara only onc in Pebble Beach, Ca.--fantasy car in a fantasy setting. I've yet to experience it in the real world.

I agree with you - the parents should not rent a car to transport the college student's "life possessions". When my son needed furniture for his college apartment, we bought stuff at Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores. When he graduated, the stuff was given away or thrown away, depending on its wear and tear. Not too much to bring home, either.

Thank you. And with that, I bid you all a good weekend. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique, for another fine production. Eat lunch, Ria. Me? Rosa Parks Brown, the Chocolate Lab, is sleeping on the floor of my new office. Time to take her for her mid-day pee-poop walk. Cheers.

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

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