Real Wheels Live

Aug 31, 2012

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

Good morning:

I try not to comment on politics in this space, although politics and the automomobile industry are about as intertwined, with probably as many complications, as sex and marrriage.

But what prompts today's pontification is a weird and completely unsettling thing, at least for me, that happened toward the end of the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

There was one of the heroes of my youth, Clint Eastwood, whom I've long admired and actually had the pleasure of meeting a while back in Northern California, making a fool of himself in an ill-advised attempt to make a fool of President Obama.

Forget the insult, intended or not. (A high school literature student vaguely familiar with the Ralph Ellison novel, "The Invisible man," would understand the deeply offensive implication of betraying an African-American man as "invisible.") Forget that. Besides, having personally met Eastwood and found him warm and charming, I just don't think he's that kind of guy.

What throws me is that this was the same Eastwood that did that tear-jerker of a Chrysler Super Bowl commercial, "Halftime in America," that extolled Detroit's gutsy comeback after bankruptcy and intervention on Detroit's behalf...by President Obama.

"Detroit is showing us what can be done," Eastwood said in "Halftime in America." He added: "What's true about t5hem [DETROIT] is true about all of us..."

Too bad Clint ruined my day by not following his own advice.

I'm tempted to trade my aging intermediate for a small car with a manual transmission (for both economy and performance). Trouble is, the last time I drove a stick shift was 1970. Is it difficult to relearn driving a stick, and, are manual transmissions a problem in stop and go (New York City) traffic?

It is not difficult to re-learn driving a stick. But I see no need to undertake the enterprise, especially not in pursuit of better fuel economy. The reas0n? Today's automatics and manumatics are just as fuel efficient, in many cases more so, than manual gearboxes. And the automatic and dual-mode transmissions are much easier to cope with in congested city traffic.

No. In fact, more investment should be made in the perfection of batteries--advanced lead-acid, lithium, and others. More should  be done with the development of electric charging (quick-charging) infrastructure. More also should be done to bring about efficiencies in traditional fossil fuel engines. Where did we in this country lose our drive for invention, for visualizing the future? Of course, we have problems with electrics as they currently exist. But do we solve those problems by abandoning them? Are we now that kind of America?

Hi Warren, my wife hates station wagons (go figure), so, if I can't convince her to get an Audi All-Road I will be in the market for a "small" upscale SUV. Models I am considering including Audi Q5, BMW X1, Acura RDX and Range Rover Evoque. What can you tell, pro and con, about these vehicles. For reference purpose, this will be replacing an Audi A6. Thanks!

Put her in the Range Rover Evoque, which easily strides the image and performance lines dear to wagon haters who want to stay on the right side of fashion.  The Evoque has enough eye appeal, power, and utility to take care of those complex practical/image needs. It has an overwhelming "cool" factor.

Warren, great to have these chats. I'm going to be in the market next year to get a smaller SUV for the family and family (our 2 year old is already 3 feet tall). So I'm split between the GMC Terrain Denali or GLK Diesel. Don't know when the GLK Diesel is going to be available though. So do you have any information from the Mercedes guys. I know it is good price difference (about $10,000 fully loaded). So waiting to see if you have any info on the Diesel or will it be available by next summer when I will need to order the new family SUV.

We should have the GLK Diesel here by the end of 2013, assuming that my M-B sources aren't blowing smoke.  And, I'm tgoing out on a narrow limb here, but there is a slight possibility that Ford, via For of Europe, might supply us stateside with diesel powered version of the strikingly well redone Ford Escape.

Speaking of which: Congrats go out to my good friend and  mentor, Mark LaNeve, who is taking over marketing for Ford's luxury. Good move in putting Mark in that spot, Alan. Really good and smart move.

Warren, Car reviewers spend considerable time discussing MPGs, 0-60 etc but not about comfort. Considering that many of us spend most of our time traveling under 20 MPH on I66, 395 etc, seat comfort can be an important criteria when choosing a car. Im surprised how many manufacturers put hard seats in their cars. Which cars would you most like to sit in if you were stuck in traffic? Thanks!

You are right. My choices for best seats include, Volvo, Audi, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz.

Cannot go ignored. You're my hero!

All "heroes" should understand the profound meaning of Palm Sunday greetings. I do. I recognize that there always is a Friday, good or bad, at the end of the week.  So, I thank you but hope you understand my habitual wariness of praise.

All I'm saying is that we're better than we are portraying ourselves to be in our partisan politics. Here's calling on Republicans and Democrats to prove it.

Friend recently bought one. We rode in it and my wife loved it. Your opinion? Doesn't exactly convey the tone of the old song, "Hot Rod Lincoln," but also easier to drive than a Town Car.

You are married to a wise and good woman. Follow her lead and be happy.

Don't worry about the pontification. You give a very fair consideration of the issue and the person.

I only met him once. I was thrilled. I'm sure he remembers nothing about me. I was in a crowd of well-wishers at a Monterey event put on for super-wealthy car buyers by Bentley. But Eastwood was gracious and egalitarian, witty and wise. I'm angry with whoever manages him for allowing him to be part of that woefully embarrassing RNC routine. The Clint Eastwood I've admired all my life--never missed one of his movies--is better than that. At least, I want to believe he is.

What is your view on the Buick Regal with e-assist? It appears to not be selling well, but it looks attractive, gets good gas mileage, and is eligible for VA hybrid HOV exemption. What am I missing?

It is an excellent car for people who want Buick quality and style with Chevrolet Cruze fuel efficiency. But people who want a regal to be a Regal, as the none-eaasist Regal is, probably won't like it.

Warren, thanks for the chats! I'm wondering if you've had the opportunity to see or drive the new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe? I understand they have been rolling out to the dealerships over the past couple of weeks. The amenities and price point are definitely of interest to me. I'm wondering if you have thoughts on that particular vehicle, or if you have general thoughts for or against buying a car in the first year after a major redesign (i.e. should I be worried that there are still many kinks to be worked out)?

Coming within two weeks, I'm told by several of my schedulers.

The 2013 Dodge Ram will shut of the engine after the truck stops and automatically restart the engine when the break pedal is released. Seems to me that this feature would not make the driver a happy camper if the truck is stuck in the bumper to bumper creep on the beltway and it's the usual hot muggy summer day in DC area the engine is shut off and kills the AC. Might not be such a great idea.

I've had much experience with start-stop engine technology in a variety of cars and trucks in myriad driving scenarios stateside and overseas. No problems. None at all, and that includes driving start-stop engines in Italy where "driving," is more akin to dancing on an extremely crowded floor than it is to anything else.

I read that there were several new models to be debuted at the Moscow show, which started this week. Was there anything of particular note shown yet?

I think our dearest Lou Ann is at that show. I will check with her. Ha, ha. I'm going to the Paris Show, instead.

I saw one on the road the other day with Michigan Manufacturer plates, and it was quite a piece of work. It was one of the most visually appealing small sedans I've seen in ages. When can I buy one? They don't appear to be on dealer lots yet.

You can order one, now. Right, Mark LaNeve?

I'm in the market for a new vehicle, and I'm looking for a crossover-type SUV. Something large enough for kids, but not too big--maybe the size of the Chevy Equinox. What are your stand-outs in that category? Of course, the less expensive, the better. I have a 60-mile round-trip commute, so great gas mileage is a must.

I only read you sporadically, because I'm not a real car guy. But, I was about to recommend you to my son, and I saw your intro remarks. They are about as apt as they can be, about Clint, and about The Invisible Man. Thanks for making those connections.

Thank you, happy to talk with your son about writing, literature, history anytime. Part of the "Ellison" reference should go to one of my two learned daughters, Binta Brown. She and her sister, Kafi, are smarter than I will ever be. Cheers.

On behalf of Warren, thanks everyone for joining us today. Warren and Lou Ann will be live next Friday answering your questions. Thanks and have a safe holiday weekend!

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

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