The Washington Post

Real Wheels

Apr 09, 2010

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

Warren is having some technical difficulties, but he will be on in a few minutes. Stay tuned!

What do you think of the revamped 2011 Sonata. It looks very nice. Have you tested it?

It's an excellent car, very well crafted. It might encounter some retail resistance with its solo four-cylinder format. We'll see.

I want to replace my 2004 Accord EX sedan with an american car with similar attributes including a five or six speed auto transmission, auto climate control, leather seating, XM/Sirrius radio and a sunroof. What so you recommend I get and why? Also are there any station wagons made in the US with similar features described above?

Easily done. Ford Fusion. For Fusion Hybrid. Chevrolet Malibu, four or six-cylinder.

Many GM products have gotten critical praise this year. Given three-year product lead times, I can infer that these products are the result of the pre-bankruptcy GM executive team. We're now one year post-GM bankruptcy, with a new post-bankruptcy GM executive team in place. What is your opinion on whether the current GM executive team can (or is willing to) continue the product direction/philosophy of their predecessor executives?

Good question. Those of you who are regular visitors to this space know that we have been saying for four years, long before the economic crash and corporate bankruptcies, that GM has been getting its act together in  product quality and design. Today's GM products are the result of that effort. Here's hoping that current GM Chairman Ed Whit5acre will continue what his unfairly dismissed and pilloried predecessors started.

Any more info on the new Mustang V6? If it had decent space in the rear seat, a red convertible would be hard to beat.

Actually, rear-seat space in that one is better than what you will find in most sports nconvertibles. Get it in red. Hire a lawyer.

Warren, Nitrogen is less corrosive and more stable than normal air when used to inflate tires. As a result tires last longer and tire temps remain more stable. Stable tire temps are necessary for racing but not for everyday use. Not worth money. Tire Rack great prices but you have to consider your bottom line out door price and tires on your vehicle. Many of Tire Racks approved installers charge $20 to $120 or more per wheel to mount and balance tires on your wheels. Warren, I have been using Radial Tire in Silver Spring for over 23 years. They have the best customer service in the area no matter what industry. Like American Service Center they set the standard. I drive an hour from Clifton, VA to Silver Spring. Could I use TIre Rack. yes but Radial TIre's prices are cheaper and always have been than Tire Rack for last 23 years. And they are one of the few places in the US that can balance the tires on the vehicle if needed. 90% of the track junkies use them. They know how to balance and mount the most exotic wheels and tires out there. And they charge less than $20 per tire to do it. Most times under $15. they are a one store local shop Owner is UMD alumni and racer.

Thank you.

Camaro vs. Mustang?

That's like asking: Catholic or Protestant? I'm a acatholic who favors Camaros. But I also hang out a lot at Protestant churches.

I am looking for a full sized sedan with real wheel drive and the Dodge Charger is about it. Since buying a V8 muscle car is not one of my criteria, is the Charger worth buying? Maybe I should instead abandon the rear wheel drive idea and just get a Buick Lacrosse or Ford Taurus?

Another option is the Taurus SHO, from Ford, which blows the wheels off the Charger both in terms of overall product quality and road performance.

Hi there! adding another member to our little family. I'm not ready for a van yet. Do you have any recommendations to any third row optional vehicles?

You don't need a van. I'm not terribly fond of those third-row seats, either. I have yet to see credible fatality-injury reports supporting my suspicion, but common sense tells me that too many of those third-row seats are situated too close to a possible rear-end collision.

That said, you have much to choose from. The Hyundai Tucson, for example, should serve a small family well. Top safety ratings. Excellent build quality. Looks good. Priced right, decent road performance and fuel economy. Aalso check Chevrolet Equino9x, Mazda CX7, Honda CR-V, and the very nice, but p0ricey T%oyota Rav-4.

Warren, thanks so much for all your good work helping us out. I am in my mid-50s, NOT going through a midlife crisis, just want some fun. I am trying to decide whether, for a second vehicle, to buy a used BMW motorcycle (I have owned bikes before but was much younger, and just two years ago re-took the safety course) for around $10k or so, or play it safe with 4 wheels in the form of a new Mazda Miata MX-5 manual, just the very base model, at just over $20k OTD. I will pay cash whichever I do. If I go with the Mazda, am I foolish to go base? I read the forums and a lot of folks say the suspension package with limited slip differential is a must, though I surely won't be driving any track laps. Anything else I should consider or is that base model just fine?

Have fun. Get the ragtop Miata MX-5, 2-liter, inline 4-cyl., double-overhead cam , 167 hp-140 ft-lbs. Five-speed manual tranny. Drinks premium. It's nobody's practical car. Nor, if we're being honest, is it anbody's performance buggy. But is is pretty, lovable, and a lot of fun.

Do you have an opinion of the Toyota Tacoma versus the Nissan Frontier? I'm trying to find a mid-size pickup truck that has a usable rear seat (not the flip seats that are unsafe for children). I looked at some of the full size (F-150, Dodge, etc) but they just seem huge. Thanks

I much prefer the build quality of the Toyota Tacoma, which I think is better than that of the Nissan Frontier. If it fits your pocket at a base of around $24K, get the Tacoma Crew Cab with safe seating in the rear.

Also, seriously, check out Chrysler's backlots for any leftover mid-range Dodge Dakota trucks. They're good.

Warren, I was in a car accident in my wife's 2007 Versa about three weeks ago, and since that time, we've been driving a 2010 Dodge Avenger. With the exception of it's poor ability to maintain speed going over mountains with the cruise control on, we've found it to be a perfectly competent, agile, and powerful car. If I were considering a mid-sized sedan, I would definitely consider the Avenger alongside an Accord, Altima, Fusion or Malibu. I do not, however, recall seeing any advertising or marketing for the car. If I were in the market for such a car, if not for my experience with the rental, I would never have considered the Dodge. Does Dodge have any sort of marketing strategy for their cars? I frequently see ads for their trucks, and I recall seeing ads for their minivans, but aren't family sedans still an important segment of the car buying marketplace? Has Dodge simply ceded this area to its competitors?

The ill-named Avenger (here's hoping that the new Chrysler dumps its pugilistic nomenclature) did not fare well in a marketplace filled with discernibly better, competitively priced midsize cars. It was trumped by better build quality (Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord), better performance (Accord V-6, Malibu V-6), and better exterior styling. Chrysler has wasted a lot of time and money developing cars for a dysfunctional retail audience, teenage boys who want hot wheels but who lack the money to buy them.

Warren, What should I look for to find a reputable firm to do a diminished value appraisal on my car that had $12,000 worth of repairs done on it after getting T-boned when someone went through a stop sign? I'd like an independent assessment so that I know the insurance company is dealing straight with me.

Google or Bing the Center for the Study of Services, Washington Consumers' Checkbook. You should find something there. Let us know.

Warren, I've come to the conclusion that I've endured my last winter out here without at least one AWD vehicle in the family. What would be your recommendation for a nice sedan? First, if price was no object, and then.......more sensibly, but still full size. Thanks for your recommendations over the years. I'm still driving a 2002 Kia Sedona that I would never have considered until I read your colum.

If price were no object, give me an Audi A6 4.2 Quattro, or any 4Matic Mercedes-Benz. Inasmuch as price-sensitivity is a reality, give me a Subaru Legacy 2.5GT sedan. And with that, I and my typo-weary crew (these tiny net pads are horrible!) will bid you all adeieu and welcome you to join us again next week.

Thanks Sakina and Delece.

Eat lunch, Ria.

I'm looking for a small, fairly inexpensive, fairly high-mileage car for commuting purposes. I was not impressed by the Yaris that I recently tested. What about the Kia Rio? I was waiting for the new Fiesta but read that it will not be that inexpensive after all. Any recommendations? Is it cost effective to even consider a hybrid? Thanks!

Quick answer: Kia Forte

Hi Warren, I like the design and eco-friendliness of the Honda Insight, and the practicality of the sliding doors on the Mazda5. Which would you recommend for a mom with 2 small kids and a 30 mile (round trip) commute each day? Or is there something else that takes regular unleaded gas and costs less than $20-24K that you'd suggest I look at?

Quick answer: I'd go with the Mazda 5. You are ight about those sliding doors, especially if you are working with child safety seats. Easier on you and the kids. That's fairly decent mileage. Also , the Mazda5 offers more overall utility.

Warren - I am about to take the plunge and purchase my first car. What should be a fun process has unfortunately been very stressful because (1) I don't really want to spend that kind of money but do really want a vehicle (and I can afford it) and (2) I am afraid of making a mistake. I think I am set on a Chevy Equinox with AWD and likely V6. I'd like to spend $25,000 or less, and it looks like I can get close to that with the Equinox. Is there a better deal out there for a comparable vehicle for less money - say $20,000? Quality and safety are important to me. Love the chats - I frequently send your advice along to friends!

No need to stress, Cleveland Park. The new Equinox is a good buy. And that's a good price. If you have any problems with the dealer or the vehicle, write me at We'll get on it and get it fixed. You might want to show this note to the dealer you chose. I fight for my people. You buy a car, you are one of my people. Breathe easy.

My husband wants to replace his 12 year old Camry. He has done some research and narrowed his choices down to the VW Golf, the Hondas (Fit, civic, accord), the Ford Fusion, and a Suzuki SX4. His criteria are pretty standard: dependable, safe, four doors. Ideally, the car would come in/around $20,000. Is there anything else he should consider? Thanks!

Best utility , dependability and fuel economy at that target price is the Honda Fit. It's also a heck of a lot of fun to drive.

Like the Dodge Avenger that has questionable relaibility when comapred to the class leaders. Chrysler since the early 60's has had issues in building a reliable stock auto trannie. And remember there is no such thing as a lifetime fluid in a vehicle. If you plan on keeping it change the trannie, diff fluid, radioator fluid etc.

Sounds like a note from Clifton? If  so, thanks, Clifton. We're all waiting to see what the New Chrysler will bring forth. Someone needs to remind that company that most teenage boys withou jobs, wives, or other adult responsibilities don't have the money to buy cars.  When it comes to automobiles, it's time for Chrysler to understand that the word "family" in a mass market is a good thing.

Hi Warren: Is there such a thing on the market right now as a small pick up truck? I am not looking for a lot of power under the hood or to pull a lot of wieght. I just want something to haul stuff around town or to the dump. I have read that GM is coming out with a new El Camino, but I am really looking for something like the Brat, or the small trucks that Datsun used to make (sorry I don't know the model names, but I am sure you know what I mean). Any suggestions?

At the moment, there isn't moch smaller than the Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. But lately, Chrysler, under its reconstituted Dodge label, has been considering the possiblity of bringing forth a Ram that's smaller than the Dakota. We'll watch that spot.

Good morning: The overwhelming product indication from car manufacturers and their suppliers is that we're entering an age of four-cylinder power. Hyundai, for example, will only produce four-cylinder Sonata models. Honda, Toyota, GM, Ford are all beefing up their four-cylinder lines, largely in response to government fuel economy mandates here and abroad. Problem is, foreign governments have put taxes and energy policies into play to help these four-cylinder runners sell. We haven't done that 8in the United States. Discuss.

That's my proposed discussion for next week. As always, fair ones, you have the option to change topics. This is your car forum, open to all, now brought to you in a format that both I and my new computer now understand. Cheers everybody. See you next week.

With the new vehicle fuel economy standards just announced, what proportion of meeting them will require more exotic technology (hybrids, fuel cells, etc) and what proportion can be achieved through conventional methods such as lighter vehicles, smaller engines, and optimized transmissions? The difference would translate into vehicle cost, which may be critical to early recovery of the market

Meeting those standards will be expensive, much more expensive than the feds would have us believe. Please keep in mind that these are weight-sensitive standards, meaning that smaller cars will have to hit one goal, larger cars another. Honda, arguably the most fuel-efficient car company selling in America, says it will have to employ several more expensive technologies to make its small cars even more efficient. None of this will be cheap, which is not the same thing as saying it should not be done. We need more efficient vehicles, period! But the way it's being done is political. Our Cowardly Congress does not want to be blamed for doing sensible things like raising fuel taxes. So, it's shifting the blame for necessary price increases to the car companies, which is what Congress has always done.

I bought a 2009 Santa Fe Limited 4wd, and love it, except for one thing: the gas mileage is nowhere near what I expected. We get 3-4 fewer miles per gallon on both the city and the highway. I read your review of the 4 cylinder one, and how it was a dog on the highway. I'm wondering if there's anything Hyundai can do for these to make them consume less gas while still being fairly big, fairly heavy vehicles. Maybe a 6th gear, a highway overdrive, or something like that?

A sixth or seventh gear would help. Ford, for example, is beginning to put six gears in everything to reduce engine stress at higher speeds and improve efficiency. Ditto GM and much of the rest of the industry. Also, check your driving style,  seriously. You can get atleast one or two mpg more by reducing speed and aggressive starts from stop.

Warren, is it, generally speaking, a bad idea to buy a car that is being discontinued, or is it a good time to get a bargain? The Volvo V70 appears to meet our needs better than the various compact to mid-size SUVs I had been considering, and it's cheaper than a comparable Audi wagon. Anything I need to consider in buying a soon-to-be discontinued car, or is this an ok move?

It's a good idea to get a bargain. OEM (original equipment manufacturer) replacement parts will remain in abundance. Generic parts abound. And it seems that Volvo will remain in the car business under new ownership, which means that Volvo dealerships and repair shops will remain open.  Buy that one and save.

Let's see - prices went up to $ 4/gallon in the Bush Administration and you claimed the oil industry had given itself a raise. Now they are going back up there, again due to world demand and our non-drilling policies at home. Still think that Econ 101 principles don't apply here?

First, I never claimed that the oil industry had given itself a raise at $4 a gallon. In fact, I applauded $4  fuel for the benefiicial effect it was having on consumer choices--such as more efficient vehicles, less wasteful driving behavior.

Indeed, it long has been my argument that we need higher fuel taxes to accelerate our move toward better fuel efficiency. But our Cowardly Congress won't do that--blithely ignoring a technique successfully used elsewhere in the developed world.  Our Congress chooses, instead, to put the entire burden for fuel efficiency on the car companies.

As for Econ 101, imagine: How much better off would the  U.S. Treasury be if it had collected higher taxes on $4 a gallon fuel?



Hi Mr. Brown, I hope you can take my question. I'm the mom of toddler aged twins. I need to buy a bigger car (I have a small sedan and it's 7 years old). I will NOT buy a mini-van. For one, I don't think it's necessary for two kids, for another, I don't like the way they look all. I wouldn't mind a crossover, wagon, or SUV. I checked out the CX-9, but was horrified by the gas mileage (if the estimate is 16mpg, I fear what the actual would be!) My non-existent dream would be a diesel Passat wagon. I don't want another sedan because we would like to bring our 70 pound boxer with us on road trips. Thanks for any and all recommendations!

Take a look at the Kia Sorento. Nice exterior. Family accommodating interior. Decent mileage. I suggest the  LX version. Or, check out the Subaru Outback wagon, VW  Tiguan, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Rav-4, Honda CR-V.

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

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