Real Wheels Live

Apr 23, 2010

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

Waren Brown will answer questions shortly. Please bear with us.

Mr. Brown, I agree completely with your recent review of the 2010 Infinity G-37x sedan. I bought one in late February and it has been a joy to drive. My wife and I took it to Texas and back and it performed beautifully on the interstates with lots of power in reserve. Our highway gas mileage was also about 26 mpg. The car's suspension system provided smoothe riding on bumpy city steets in New Orleans ( a side trip). The navigation system was tremendous in all cities along the way where we had never before ventured and even showed us a choice of hotels and restaurants at every exit. We don't have the quick-steering ratio option you discussed, but steering and handling are nevertheless very responsive.

I'm happy to have made you happy. As for the rest of you, thanks for your patience. It appears that, wonder of computer wonders, I spent the last 30 minutes answering questions from April 9.

WB - Love to read your take on cars and the industry. We're thinking of adding an AWD vehicle to our stable. Don't want anything too big or thirsty. We're down to the Nissan Rogue or Subaru Forester. How would you compare the two, and which do you prefer? Thanks!

That's easy. I'd take the Forester. Subaru is a master of AWD technology. It's boxer-type engines work perfectly with its symmetrical all-wheel-drive systems.

Warren, a writer at The Big Money, a publication of WashPo's sister, recently wrote an article calling the Prius "the most important car of all time." Would you agree or disagree with that statement? I'd go with the Model T, but that's just me. What do you think?

The Big Money writer apparently is no fan of history--industrial, technical, or otherwise. Here's the deal:

. Porsche was the first to experiment with hybrid technology, circa 1918-1920. It abandoned the technology for lack of torque.

. All other car companies in the late 1990s were familiar with gas-electric technology. But nearly all--foreign and domestic--considered that an expensive interim technology and chose to go other routes--cleaner and more efficient hydrogen, equally efficient and more practical clean diesel, natural gas, et cetera.

. But Toyota's approach was smarter in terms of public relations. It hyped the heck out of hybrid tech. The mass media bit. U.S. politicians hopped on the hybrid bandwagon, doing things such as setting up hybrid highway lanes, thereby defeating the purpose/strength of early hybrids and clogging with single drivers lanes designed for car pools. Dumb.

. Perception is reality in the car business. And the perception was  that Toyota, which proportionately sells as many gas-guzzling trucks as anyone else, had somehow become The Green Giant of Autodom. That was as much baloney as tales of  Toyota's flawless quality. But it worked.

. So, in a bid to placate perception, as opposed to science, car companies worldwide began rolling out hybrids. Some--would you believe, Ford?--have eclipsed Toyota in that technology. Need proof? Check out the Ford Fusion Hybrid.  All-electric (plug-in and extended range) have followed suit.

Bottom line: Hybrids are a reality. So is their downside--end-of-life battery treatment and disposal, using two drivetrains to do the work of one, unfortunate delay in the movement toward hydrogen,  unfortunate ignorance of the use of clean diesel as a more sensible way to go, the illusion that clean tailpipes equals clean energy. I think there are a number of families in West Virginia who would disagree with that.

You've had decent things to say about Hyundai's Genesis. Any thoughts between the 3.8l 6 and the 4.6l 8 cyl?

Frankly, I liked the six better. It felt tighter, more balanced. It made  more sense in terms of usable power (power reasonably complicit with U.S. highway rules and design) and fuel economy. I suspect that Hyundai brought forthy the V-8 only because it heard that, well, that's would people do in the United States.

I got married and we now have a one year old and I think it's time to trade in the Mustang for something with four doors, sporty, good mileage, and has a good safety rating. Think the Hyundai Sonata Turbo is worth waiting for? Is there something else you would recommend? Thanks!

Yesss!! I'll do the 2011 Sonata review at the end of April. But, believe me, this one will pleasantly shock the heck out of you. Mid-size class-leading exterior and interior design. Wonderfully balanced handling. The non-turbo four is a gutsy thing. I haven't driven the turbo model. But at about 55 hp more, it certainly can't be any worse.

Here are my predictions for the new Sonata:

. It will eclipse, or come close to eclipsing Chevrolet Malibu sales.

. It will discernibly weaken sales of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

I know that's stepping out on a limb. But, having spent hundreds of highway miles with the 2011 Sonata, I'm willing to take that risk.


I've been thinking about getting a Mini (I currently drive a 2003 Corolla), but not sure how I feel about the lack of trunk space and less of a back seat. Is it considered a good car? Is it worth the money?

My wife and I own a 2001 model. We've had many offers for it. We're not selling. We love that car. Cargo space (with rear seats folded down) is more than adequate for most of the stuff we bring home from the store. We have the base 116 hp four. Doesn't sound like much. But the thing can move. Downside: Requires premium gas for best performance. Short wheel base can be troublesome (in terms of comfort) on bad roads. We've never been able to get the rattle out of our glass roof.

your take?

Nope. Don't like it at all. Instead, it reminds me so much of a Hyundai Tiburon, I would've preferred Hyndai to have brought this one back under the Tiburon name.

I've driven the Honda Fit and really like the economy, flexibility and "zippiness". Although I've (always) driven and prefer a manual transmission physical limitations (arthritis) make a clutch sometimes difficult - probably need to go to an automatic. The Fit with an automatic transmission seems to lose something as a drivers car. Any suggestions? I may wind up in a Civic (which I like) or equivalent but they just seem not as much fun. Roseville, CA

Hmm. I, too, love the Fit, particularly the Honda Fit Sport--for all of the reasons you cited. But, nowadays, I'm feeling a bit like the teenage lover who is tempted to cheat on his girl because he's met someone new. Her name is Fiesta--Ford Fiesta. Looks better, feels better, handles as well or better than the Fit. And she has a five-speed manual whose movements are so fluid it will make your arthritis smile. But, I love the Fit. Really, I love the Fit...really.

My husband is looking for a new car in the $20K range. He has test driven a bunch and has narrowed it down to an Accord, a Jetta and a Legacy. (If it helps, he has driven and discarded for various reasons: Camry, CR-V, Forester, Elantra, Fusion, Golf, RAV-4, Altima). Two questions: Are there any major pluses (or minuses) on his top three choices? Is there anything else he should test drive before choosing? Thanks for your thoughts.

He should take a look at the 2011 Sonata. Compare quality, price, warranties. Otherwise, the only thing wrong with his top three is that they should be a top four, including the new Sonata.

I'm seriously considering a new Kia Sorrento and I was wondering about the quality and reliability of Kia in general. Any thoughts?

There is no need to worry about the quality and reliability of the Sorento, which is made by a bunch of quality-fanatics in West Point, Ga. Those people are so proud of the work they do for Kia, some of them wear their assembly line uniforms home from the plant. I have no worries about the vehicles they produce.

I am considering buying the BMW 335d for my next car. Would you recommend the diesel over the equivalent gasoline version, the BMW 335i? Thanks for your advice.

Yessssss!!!!! Hey, BMW, we'd like to take a, hmmm, longer-range look at this one. Can we have it back? Please? Pretty please? True story. Last Sunday, we took the 335d out for "a short run." We returned 400 miles later.  You've never felt a mid-size car with so much torque! Downside: BMW can option you into bankruptcy with this one. I mean, geez BMW, a car of this quality and price (base $43,950) should come standard with onboard navigation and automatically locking (at "drive") doors.

Warren, largely on your review, my wife and I bought a 2010 Chevrolet Equinox from a dealer in suburban Baltimore. We ordered the vehicle, waited the eight weeks and got a call from the sales lady saying the car had been shipped to Maryland and would arrive to the dealer in a few days. The next call we got was from the sales manager saying our vehicle had been "accidentally" sold. Is this possible? Wouldn't a dealer track a customer's order in a way that this could never happen? We are suspicious.

That dealer should be embarrassed. My hunch is that someone walked in while you were at home waiting and offered to pay more for your newly arrived Equinox. Rather than honor its commitent to you, the dealership, in the visage of a commission-hungry salesperson, took the money at hand. You sound like a nice person. The dealership took advantage of your niceness. That is shameful. It is wrong. It is the kind of reprehensible behavior that gives car dealers a bad name. I can assure you that there are other Chevrolet dealers who would not do such a thing. Contact me at

Warren, Have you driven Suzuki Kizashi yet? What are your thoughts - does Suzuki finally have a real player in the mid-sized sedan market?

Not yet. On the list. Ria?

Warren: Thanks for taking my question. My wife needs a safe car to take our 12 and 17 year olds to schools and various activities. Also we like long driving vacations and my son is a basketball player so we have lots of games to travel to and he needs lots of room. We like the Accord but don't like its safety ratings so we are looking at the Nissan Maxima. Also we live in the Midwest so get some bad weather. Any suggestions? You have given us much good advice over the years so thank you again. Urbana, IL

Actually, the Accord, particularly the latest iteration, has one of the best crash safety ratings in the U.S. market, if not the world. Want an even better rating? Get the Acura MDX with it's brilliantly engineered ACE body structure, designed for maximum transfer of crash energy away from the vehicle's occupants. If you want superior crash safety, stay with Honda.

Warren Interesting to see the rise of quality ratings for US vs. foreign makes. Our family has had mostly Fords, but also Honda and Nissan over the years. Our 2006 Ford Escape and current 2009 Mercury Mariner have been flawless performers, no complaints, no buyer remorse. Detroit iron really has matched anything from Germany or the Far East in design, build-quality, innovation, safety and value.

'Tis mostly true, despite too many unfortunate slips. But now, we all should see that, given Toyota's current spring of discontent, we all can make such mistakes. We're human.

That said, I ask you to forgive me for my silly error today (I didn't hit the "show" button) and checking in late. Like Toyota, GM, Ford and, maybe, Chrysler, I will do better. T%hanks for joining us this week. Please come back next week.

Thanks Sakina Rangwala, our glorious producer.

And where would any of us be without Ria Manglapus. Probably still waiting at Dulles Airport with undriven cars piling up in the driveways. Thanks for all you do, Ria. Eat lunch.

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

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