Real Wheels Live

Oct 02, 2015

The Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown and guest Lou Ann Hammond discussed what they're seeing in the auto industry. Plus, they gave purchase advice to readers.

Good Morning Warren and friends,

The Dow is down today because of the jobs market, but car sales are up.

If you bought a car this year, do you consider it a one-off buy that you had to have, or do you feel more comfortable about the market? How do you characterize the overall economy? Do you think the United States economy is slowing or is there economic growth? What about global developments?
Ford Focus hatchback

(The Ford Focus hatchback. Photo courtesy of Lou Ann Hammond)

This week I had the Ford Fiesta sedan and the Ford Focus hatchback. Both were good cars, but I have taken a liking to hatchbacks. The versatility of them makes them my go-to vehicle.

I was a guest on the John Batchelor radio show last night talking about Volkswagen's diesel disgrace. You can click here to listen to the piece.

Let's chat about cars.

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Are there any cars that have a good solution for the wet umbrellas? Sometimes, I think I get wetter using the umbrella than if I just run for it. Trying to open the umbrella, close the umbrella, and get it in and out of the car always take longer than if just skipping the umbrella.

Ahhh, the season has changed. Questions about rain begin :) 

Rolls-Royce has an umbrella holder built into the interior of the drivers side door. 

I think you should buy it just for that reason. 


Have either of you spent any time with the new MINI Clubman? I hear it has the most "premium" feeling of any MINI to date. My problem is that the price tag jumps in a hurry when you start adding options. When I outfit one with the things I would want it come to $31k for regular Cooper Clubman (not S). That seems insane to me. There are so many other small wagons and hatchbacks of similar size that can be had for thousands less even at MSRP, and most other manufacturers are able to offer more deals. The two MINIs I have ordered have been pretty much at list price, no negotiating.

You are correct, the Clubman does have that premium - dare I say it, BMW feel. Along with that feel and drivability BMW has brought along their pricing strategy. 


Local dealers are promoting discounts on 2015 models and not commenting about their vehicles with Takata airbags. What kind of reassurance are manufacturers offering buyers of leftover 2015 - or even new 2016 models - that the Takata airbag issue has been resolved in a way that will protect buyers' safety? A discount does not compensate for an overly forceful explosion.

Have ou checked to see if the car has a Takata airbag? It's fall, it's the same season every year that there are deep discounts and deals on 2015 cars. 

The airbag issue may not have any part of the discount 

I'm trying to assess the comparative reliability of the various hot hatches, but I'm finding lots of disparate information. Consumer's Reports apparently decided the Focus ST was completely unreliable. Car & Driver only had niggling problems with their long term test. The VW GTI seems to be a bit better, but not much. And a co-worker was having lots of problems with hers, to the point of debating using the Lemon Law to return it. The Mazda 3 seems the best of the bunch. But it's hard to assess. How much of this can be put on new model teething troubles?

I would go with the Mazda 3 or 3 speed as well. 

You can also look at the Honda HRV and Mazda CX-3 for a new segment

My beloved 2003 Ford Focus ZX3 is on its last legs with another round of strut damage and motor mount cracks thanks to upper 16th St, Beach Drive, and all the bad neighborhood roads. With winter approaching and knowing that nothing other than Fiat-sized potholes will be fixed, I'm looking for a car that will be fun to drive, but be more durable while not going up to an SUV (shudder). I'm looking at sportier cars like Subaru WRX or Mazda3 - I prefer performance to comfort. I prefer automatic and/or paddle shifters. Until Jeep makes a rally car, what would you recommend?

Do you want all-wheel drive? go with subaru. Performance and fuel economy go with mazda 3 

My wife is looking to replace her 2001 vehicle as it approaches 200,000 miles. We are looking for a 7 passenger vehicle. As she works in the health profession and must get to work even during blizzards, awd or 4wd is required. Do you have any suggestions for new vehicles or used one that are 3 years old or less?

Volvo XC 90 

Honda Pilot 

both have safety on them that are standard 

you can also wait for the Volvo XC 90 pHEV if you have time and the ability to charge 

You are expressing contradictory needs. You wand a car with suspension strong enough to deal with winter potholes. That means you might want a sports car but that you really need something else--including possibly SUV.

I like Volkswagens - I really do, and I've owned six. In Europe I always ask for a diesel VW if there's one available. I was seriously considering buying another VW (diesel, of course). And then they pull the fraudulent, and criminal stunt, that we see unfolding! So I'm angry, and I'm left thinking that if they're willing to do that to governments (who can lock you up and take away your money) that they really wouldn't hesitate a moment to ^%$#@! me over if they gained a few cents by so. If VW want to survive, this is a problem. Were I Matthias Müller, I'd be thinking very hard about how to restore some degree of trust, and one of the steps would be to announce that every VW, new or old, now has a 10-year or 100K mile warranty from bumper to bumper. I'm not holding my breath on that one, but would like to see something like this to help the recovery of a manufacturer whose engineering can be so good.

Muller is the exec who publicly revealed and apologized for the fraud. He seems to be moving quickly to meet your request.


I looked it up and you are right - extending their engine warranty to 120,000 might be an answer. It's required by the california air resources board for a diesel durability anyway. 

I know that in our little corner of The Other West Coast, true long-term unemployment/under employment/working but earning half of what you used to earn is still in the 25-30% range, as it has been since '07. People in power have an obvious interest in making unemployment numbers look lower than they are, so they only count *new* unemployment claims. "Careers" don't exist any more, unless you were smart enough to get into government or academic work. And that matters because an old car that runs is still a better "investment" than 5 years of $500/month.

The simple truth--major income discrepancy with very few having nearly everything and the rest struggling--not good for peace or democracy.

Hi Warren, Thanks so much for taking my comment regarding insurance companies' level of service. My friend and I Friday afternoon sat with our insurance agent to vent our frustration. While she still required numerous calls to 1-800 numbers to resolve the claim, the claim was successfully resolved. This brings me to a replacement recommendations question. She and I will go test driving on Saturday. She wants something that meets the following criteria: 1) 4WD or AWD 2) sufficient cargo space to carry 3 people plus gear for camping/backpacking 3) great acceleration and pep 4) used under 25K 5) NOT a "mom" style car. What's made the list so far: Subaru Forester, Crosstrek, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier. Consumer Reports rated all Jeeps as having reliability issues. Is there anything we should test drive?

I'd go with the Nissan Frontier, choosing from your list. It is proven, especially for off-road duty.

Ever since the 1968 BMW 1600, I have considered purchasing a BMW, but there has always been a reason that it would not work, finances, need to be able to carry 7 people in school carpool, etc. As I consider the acquisition of a new vehicle in the next 1-2 years, none of these restrictions exists. My only concern is that the cost of maintaining and repairing a BMW for 10 years might be too high. I am considering leasing a 3 series for 3 years, so that it will be returned before the warranty runs out. Does this make sense? Thanks

Maybe. You have to run the numbers and decide if you simply want access to the personal transportation of your choice--or actually own a car.

I am thinking about a CR-V as our next vehicle. Any thoughts on new features or a release date fr the 2016 model please?

I like the CR-V, which is one of my favorite compact crossovers. The 2016 has a full raft of available advanced electronic safety equipment.

If you're going to drive a lot of hills drive that way - straight down hill - before you buy it. It felt a little kludgy to us, like the software needed to be adjusted. 

Is there going to be a MazdaSpeed 3? Rumor was it was going to be announced at Frankfurt, but nothing...

There will be. Lots wasn't announced at Frankfurt. Much was.

VW is still mum about the recall for diesels in the US. They lawyered up, have assured their dealers of compensation, BUT nothing for the US car owner. Seems that VW's attitude towards its customers has yet to change. Meanwhile, card dealers are sending out offers to TDI owners about fair price for TDIs if they want to trade-in their stigmatized TDI. When will TDI owners finally hear form VW? Germantown, MD

First, the car you own does meet the emission standards set by spa and carb. the problem is that Volkswagen put an alternate system in the car that allows it to spew emissions when not being tested by EPA/CARB. All they would need to do is take that system out of the car. They have 45 days to do it and then your car will be compliant again. 

The question is, why did they do that in the first place? What fix came with that technology that they might have to fix now? 

There are plenty of stories on about this issue and video interviews with CARB. 

You mentioned the Mazdaspeed3 in an earlier response. Is that model coming? BTW hatchbacks are great. I just got rid of a 2002 Civic Si and I miss it already because so many things fit in it so easily. Thank you

I know a Mazda3 is coming. No details.

It's easy, as a layperson, to make a leap of assumption that VW is the manufacturer that got caught cheating in an industry full of cheaters. As insiders, how do you assess corporate responsibility across the board in the auto industry?

Corporations are run by people. People are naturally sinful. Some cheat. They often get caught. Sometimes, not. How do we rate one another? Any  other children of the Immaculate Conception we don't know about?

Will the car be drive-able when they take that system out of the car? It's possible (likely?) the car's performance will be severely degraded by running clean all the time.

Yes, it will be driveable. My understanding is that they are putting in a system that truly reduces emissions.

Seems VW has already tried removing the offending software during a limited recall over the past few months and that fix did not work. (Multiple new reports on the web point to this) The solution/fix for some vehicles that do not have the SCR (Ad Blue) may not be as simple as removing the software, it seems.

The true fix time started September 11-12. They have 45 days for a true fix. 

Once again, the car is compliant with EPA/CARB regulations - it's the alternate system that is the problem. 

Once that alternate system is taken off the car we will find out if anything else on the car - performance or durability of the engine - are an issue. 

What's your take on this small SUV? Consumer Reports says it doesn't ride steadily but other reviews have been more favorable. Thanks.

It's not the best, certainly not an Audi Q3 or even a Hyundai Santa Fe. Strikes me as being badge engineering, trying to turn the Escape into something it's not.

My guess would be real-world mpg, as well as power, would be nowhere near VW claims if the defeat software were not installed.

There are many speculations right now of why - money, market share performance durability of the engine.

The car is compliant with spa/carb emissions and mpg. 

It could be power/performance but I have been told it is not mpg. 

It could be that they were running the car so lean the engine wouldn't make it to 120,000 which is what CARB requires. 

All of this is speculation - Volkswagen has not said -CARB can only guess as well 

For people in rain-soaked areas: Please slow the heck down. Stop trying to beat the light on slippery roads. And, really, your SUV is NO MATCH for rapidly flowing water. AVOID.  Stay safe and come back next week, please. Michelle, Lou Ann, Ria--be safe, eat lunch. Love you all.

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

On Wheels Archive

Real Wheels Live Q&A Archive
Lou Ann Hammond
Lou Ann Hammond is the founder and owner of the first privately owned automobile website Recently Lou Ann has developed an automotive and energy issues related website,, that covers a broader range of subjects than solely the automotive or the energy industry.
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