Real Wheels Live (Feb. 19)

Feb 19, 2016

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,

I had the most fun last week. I got to drive the new MINI convertible in Los Angeles, and then we flew up to Carmel and drove the BMW M2 coupe down to Big Sur, CA. It was just a stunning day to be driving highway 1. 

How many of you have been out to California and driven Highway 1? What are your best memories? Any good tips to pass on to other travelers? 

The second part of the day we drove the M2 coupe around Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. I'm not a race car driver. I have been on the track enough times to know that I am not a race car driver. I do love taking a car such as the M2 out on the track even though I am so slow I embarrass myself. Why? Because it shows me how good the car is; the faster I go over the corkscrew the more I appreciate how well that car is built. Great power-to-weight-ratio, great torque, I would buy this car if I were in the market for a car in this segment. 

It was a BMW group all week; when I got home, I had a 2016 MINI Cooper S Clubman waiting for me. This Clubman is not a MINI of yore, the go-kart feel, but this is a MINI I would buy because it has all the function I need. As all of you know, I think it would be even more perfect if it were a plug-in hybrid. The 5-door starts at $27,650. The one I drove was $38,750 out the door. EPA estimate is 24 city/34 highway/27 combined. We got around mpg. 

And for all of you wondering, Stretch likes the MINI Clubman, but his favorite is the old go-kart MINI John Cooper Works. The new ones are "too civilized" :) Remember, Stretch built his taildragger airplane and flys it :) 

Let's chat about cars 

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Hi Lou. I'm the fed with 4 small kids. The issue I'm running into is that Toyota Sienna's and Chrysler T&C's only have one anchor in the 3rd row. Are there any good resources on how to figure out which minivans/models/years have anchors for each seat? We're going to have one in a booster, and three in car seats come September.

I don't know of a single place you can find that information - you just have to do some digging. You've already got my email, ping me again and I'll send a couple of emails out. 

If anyone knows which minivans have more than one anchor in the 3rd row let us know. 


I have a driverless car question/comment. I would love to have a driverless car and be able to work or read on the way to the office but as I am in my late 40s I fear I won't live long enough for that to happen. One question I have is that I understand the car is supposed to be able to read traffic signals, i.e., stop at a red light, keep going if the light is green. But what about the situation I see in many places in Arlington where there is a stop sign and then a bush or tree grows over it and the sign becomes almost invisible. Will the computer in the driverless car see the stop sign? One alternative is that the computer will know ahead of time which intersections there are stop signs, but that would depend on the government reporting such date accurately.

The Nissan Murano (and Altima now) have a camera that allows the car to sense when the car TWO cars in front of you is slowing down. It's all about sensors and MEMs, little tiny units that are making the autonomous vehicle more likely to part of your life in your lifetime. 

It's also about building vehicle to infrastructure, V2X, so that buildings, buses, stop signs, stop lights all talk to the car. 


Is there any real difference between 17-inch wheels and 19-inch wheels? Traction, gas mileage, ride comfort, getting knocked out of alignment by bad pavement, and so on? Looking at an AWD Mazda CX-5 - salesman is pushing 19 inches but I think 17 inch makes more sense. Thanks.

The difference in tires can be a smoother ride, better mpg and better traction. It also has to do with the compound/makeup of the tire. 

Make sure the rims match the tire size and that you take sidewall height into consideration.   

If you buy larger tires will the performance and mpg be effected? Ask your salesman? 

So, I drove the new Civic and the new 2017 Elantra. They are interesting direct competitors. They have nearly exactly the same features, price and size. I liked (but didn't really love) them both. In general I would lean to the Elantra because I like the slightly more conservative styling and the liked Hyundai's touchscreen interface better BUT the steering is just so vague and numb. I think the Civic's steering was slightly better and I do like their passenger side camera. I've been driving MINIs for the last 9 years. I think that might have ruined me for driving other cars since the handling is just so much better. So I've decided to bide my time for now. If GM ever decides to finally put the new Cruze on sale I'm interested to give it a look too.

Do me a favor. Test drive the Nissan Sentra

You are right, a MINI of that age has a go-kart, fun to drive feel. You won't get that in the Clubman, but you will get more functionality. 

I've driven the Elantra, Civic and Sentra and would like to know which one you think - as a MINI driver - is the best driving machine. 

you can email me  at lou at drivingthenation dot com

A while back (pre-GPS) we headed north from Huntington Beach with the intention of flying home from Portland. We got on the 1 and then the 101 as soon as we got out of Santa Monica and had a delightful drive for that first day. Dinner and the night in Pismo, if I remember correctly. The next day, we headed north again, and there were So. Many. RV's. We finally couldn't take the stop-and-start and bailed off on some little mountain road (pretty fun trying to negotiate that in a Town Car) and headed east. Ran across a really cool Spanish mission on the way to the 5, and spent a night in Yreka (neat little town if you don't have to make living). The next thing I remember is that we were eating blackberries at a rest stop near Medford before heading back out to the coast to spend a night in Ecola. Awesome road trip, except for the RV's. They had every right to be there, but they ruined 100 miles of PCH for us.

Next time, try taking that trip in an RV. Nothing like it. Total leisure. And you don't have to worry about the cars.

Lou Ann, Buy the BMW M2. Have your hubby get a 2nd job to pay for it. Join the BMW Car Club of America. Your local chapter out there in Cali has a driver education program at places like Sears Point and Laguna Seca. Hopefully the also offer wet skidpad time. Clifton, VA and former Drivers School coordinator for the local CCA chapter.

You and Stretch are smarter than that, Lou Ann.

OK, so millions of autonomous cars are all going to talk to each other and to the millions (billions?) of traffic control devices out there. I've never heard a cogent explanation for how we'll keep all of this cyber infrastructure secure. We hae a hard enough time protecting systems that have fewer hackable nodes (banking, payments, medical, power grid, etc.) Heck, other countries have the plans for some of our most advanced weapons. Yet if they can't secure the transportation system, it could be...dangerous. Not being a Luddite here, but seriously asking - how will they keep it secure? For real.

It's a fight right now. The way it could happen is by having one dedicated 5.9 gigahertz band just for autonomous vehicles. The problem is getting companies to leave it alone. Other companies, because of the bandwidth etc want that bandwidth as well. 

There's a fight going on right now, but the investment in autonomous cars is so great I'm hoping it will win. 

How about if we use the HOV lanes for autonomous cars only? That is my vision, but it makes sense to most people when I tell them that. 

After well over a decade of a great time with her excellent Ford Freestyle she is thinking of a new or newer replacement. Right now she is leaning toward the Pilot. She is convinced the price difference between a new mid level Pilot and one of the similar Korean options to be to close to make a difference. She also thinks there is very little price difference between a new Pilot and a low mileage one 2-3 years old. I find that hard to believe? Is she reading that price closeness accurately? I always assume the Honda to cost more than the others ? Any thoughts as to a best choice for her and is there a best time of the year to buy as far as price for something as popular as the Pilot? She does want one that seats 7 :-( Thanks John

I frankly would look at one of the Korean models. I see nothing that says the Pilot is that much better.

Please define hybrid classifications such as plug-in hybrid, mild hybrid, etc. This may seem like a dumb question, but there seems to be so many systems that all operate differently, especially from brand to brand.

Quick notes: Plug-ins can run 20 to 40 miles on electric alone before switching to fossil fuel power. Full hybrid constantly switches from fossil to electric as needed, one supporting the other. Mild hybrid is not worth your consideration.

What are your thoughts about the Buick Cascada? I saw one the other day and it looked cheesy like a Chrysler Sebring rental. It could have been so much more. My other question is, when is the next generation Buick Enclave hitting the streets? What do you know about it? Thanks.

The Buick Cascada is an Opel Cascada brought over from Europe and rebadged. Same car.

The next model is 2017 Buick Enclave and it will have a redesign and new technology

at some point our trusty Toyota Highlander (2005, almost 100K miles) will need to be retired-or turned over to our oldest child as long as he proves himself worthy of a vehicle- and we would need something to fit 6 people. My husband really wants 4WD this time. New or used, what would you recommend? We already have a minivan so something not minivan-ish for him to drive :) I love my van but he cringes when driving it

Get a Highlander AWD and be happy.

Only done it once, but with a Z3, top down, wife, sunny skies, blue ocean vistas - does it get any better? It was a few years ago when, due to construction, it was down to a single lane. Nevertheless, this highway should be a modern National Park.

I agree. Just beautiful ragged natural cliffs sculpted by God. I could get stuck on highway 1 and it wouldn't bother me. 

How was the new Mini convertible?

Loved it. It helped that it was 82 degrees and we were driving in Southern California :) 

Easy to drive, lots of new features and good redesign. The soft-top goes up/down in 18 seconds and has a sunroof in it. 

It would be an easy sell for Stretch and myself

Thanks for your recommendations on 7-seater SUVs. We decided on the Infiniti QX60. We used the 3rd row often in our former minivan because there are three generations of us The QX60's 3rd row is roomier than the Acura MDX and the Mazda CX9. The Pathfinder was disappointing due to the stiff suspension and sluggish pickup (odd, as it shares an engine and transmission with the QX60)

. You are welcome..and rare. Most people who get the seven seaters seldom use all seven seats.

So cool to be able to drive @ Laguna Seca. I saw World Superbikes there years ago. Staggering to watch somebody pop over the hill and plunge down the Corkscrew as fast as they dare. But when you go to those events, do they ever bring samples of their competitors' cars, so that you can see how the new manufacturer's car compares with its rivals? Just curious.

Sometimes they do, this time they didn't. More fun, they bring out the big guns; the Bill Auberlen, Scott Pruett to drive you around the track faster than I could ever drive it. 

Do you think there's any possibility that the car manufacturers are going to start competing on the basis of providing privacy for their users? Apple seems to have gotten a bit of a boost because of their encryption policy (even though they're getting a bit of stick over it at the moment). Seems like this is a big issue. It was even discussed in one of your competitors' publications this week. See here.

Not really. They all will wait for governments to act first.

Why have automakers gone to providing fake engine noises (e.g., BMW's (and others) engine noise through the speakers, Ford's (and others) pipes into the cockpit, etc.? It isn't like the manufacturers don't know how to make a good sounding motor.

They are responding to consumers. Period.

If all else is equal, a bigger rim/tire combo probably has more rotating mass, affecting handling, acceleration and ride. Smaller sidewalls are stiffer and give a harder ride, but can provide better handling. That being said, all else won't be equal. They're probably mounting different tires on the 17" and 19" wheels, and that has its own affect on handling, acceleration, ride and tire wear. But for the most part, it's a style thing. Big rims are in fashion.

Yeah, and style costs money at point of sale and repair. I hate those low-profile tires on winter-damaged streets.

Problem with the Sentra is that it's missing all of the new tech stuff that the Civic and Elantra have.

oh - interesting. what technology does the civic and elantra have that you wanted and the Sentra doesn't have? 


Used Quattoporte or new Ghibli?

Quattroporte, which at least hints at practicality.

I drove the Clubby. But frankly I think the pricing is insane for a MINI.

It if it were just a MINI I would agree, but it is a 5-door almost more of a BMW feel than a MINI feel. 

We're in the market for an AWD SUV (hubby's preference) that's bigger than the CRV/Escape class and smaller than the giant Pilot/Explorer/Highlander set. We tend to keep cars for a long time (current SUV has 190K!) and want them to last and have decent mileage. Given the size we want, we think our only options are the Ford Edge and (??????), and maybe the Grand Cherokee, but are leery about the repair track record on them. Any other ideas? We really need something to comfortably fit 2 rear facing car seats, assorted kiddo and outdoor play gear -- and 2 tallish adults in the front.

Also consider, seriously, the Chevy Equinox, 2016 Ford Escape, and take a close look at all of the Koreans.

Sigh. I miss living in the West. Somehow driving up the Gulf Coast from Naples to Tampa isn't quite the same as LA to SF. We do have Applebee's *and* Chili's, though, plus lots and lots of 2007 Buicks with the left turn signal on.

LOL My great Aunt used to live in Tampa. 

I understand your pain

We were visiting my daughter in the SF area and she suggested that we drive down Highway 1 to the Taco Bell on the beach in Pacifica. Yes, it's Taco Bell, but it's literally on the beach, about 50 or 100 feet off the ocean. They even had an outdoor "walk-up" window so the surfers wouldn't have to track sand and water inside. The day we visited there were lots of surfers riding the waves, even though it was early November. It's a fun visit if you're in the area.

Taco Bell on the beach. I guess there is a good reason to do everything.

Don't forget Highway 101 along the Oregon Coast. Gorgeous (and EVERY beach is open to the public)

HA! Supposedly every beach is public and open to the public in California, the problem is you can't get to them because of the private homes. 

California's coast is a bit more rugged and ragged than Oregon, but I like highway 101 and being able to stop at Tillamook. 

Have you driven it? It looks nice, but I sure wouldn't want to have one out of warranty.

Not yet. You, Lou Ann?

Umm, who exactly are these consumers that want fake engine noises? I cannot see any rational person in a survey saying that they would prefer it if their car made fake "vroom, vroom" sounds. It's silly.

There are people that want the sound of the engine roaring, but want the fuel economy of a CVT. 

The 19-inch rims will provide better handling at the cost of some softness in the ride. The 19s are also much more likely to be damaged by potholes, etc. Theoretically there could be a difference in mileage if the weight of the wheel/tire combination is materially different, but that seems unlikely unless, for example, the 17s are steel and the 19s are aluminum alloy. Typically tires for 19 inch rims will also be more expensive to replace. I would go for the 17s on that car.

Bottom line is that serious potholes come with winter and can cause serious, costly damage to low-profile 19s.

I've had my AWD Mazda CX5 with 19-inch wheels for two years and have had no problems with traction, comfort, or alignment. It's super fun to drive and my vehicle mileage is fine. I got the bigger wheels because to me, they just made the car look better.

Some of us are lucky, or blessed.

Warren, I just purchase a new Volvo XC90 for my wife. She loves it. The problem is I had the dealer install a Volvo trailer hitch. They promised it would look better than an aftermarket. However, the dealer did a hack job on cutting through the bumper. I now have a crooked, jagged cut out of my new bumper. So far after a week of discussion with the dealer, I still have no resolution. Now my wife hates the mangled bumper. What can I do?

Well, it's pretty easy - you're not getting rid of the wife and if she ain't happy...

What has the dealer said? email me at lou at drivingthenation dot com. 

I know volvo doesn't want to pay your alimony bill, maybe they can help fix the bumper :) 

19" stiff ride and more expensive tires. They are more easily damaged by potholes and the like. Only perceived advantage is slightly better handling but they do maximize dealer profit and put a few more bucks in the salesman's pocket. 17" wheels Tires are cheaper and the wheels are less susceptible to pot hole damage. Handling not as firm and less profit for dealer and no money is sales dude's pocket Go with the 17" wheels unless they are really ugly. Clifton, VA

I agree. Go with 17".

Over the years I have leased four F35/F37's. Great lease deals and a great suv, but they're getting " long in the tooth" on design and technical features. My lease is up in October. Do you know when Infiniti will do a complete redesign of the QX 70? Thanks, Frank in NH

I have sent your question to Infinti. I will post next week when they respond (unless they respond before the chat is over) 

Is there any other SUV you are considering?

First time I drove the PCH was in October 1997. I was single guy sharing a house with a couple of guys. One of my housemates had passed away a couple of months before. My then-girlfriend and I flew to SF and drove down the PCH. Gorgeous weather, sublime views. The Bixby Bridge, Pacific Grove/Monterey, Carmel, Laguna Seca and all kinds of places you just needed to stop the car, gape at the views and feel the wind in your hair. At one stop, a woman offered to take our picture. As she took the picture, she said, "These are the moments memories are made of." That girlfriend has been my wife for years, and that picture sits on our mantle. Good times.

Lovely memories. You will always remember your housemate because of that trip and you will always have your girlfriend. 

Perhaps another trip out here for an anniversary? 

Test drive a Mazda 3.

I don't think the Mazda3 is numb at all. Do ou lve at a racetrack?

Me too. The machines are going to take over and we're going to miss out. I don't know if that's good or bad.

The machines are going to take away the numbing of the brain commuting we do everyday. 

I'm an old school BMW owner and ashamed that BMW disrespects its enthusiast drivers so much to provide fake engine noise for its 5-series. If, as Warren says, its in response to consumer demand, I suspect its more "perceived" than real consumer demand. This is a total WASTE of whatever pieces BMW had to design into the car. Is BMW really the "ultimate driving machine" or does it merely sound like one. Happily, as Lou Ann's write up on the M2 demonstrates, someone at BMW still cares about the enthusiast.

Fake engine noises tend to please the driver while NOT disturbing real neighborhoods.

I'm considering the Lexus RX350, MB GLC, Audi Q7 and possibly the Jaguar F Pace. Thanks

Take the Audi Q7 and be happy.

I'm with Vroom Vroom. I don't want fake engine noises coming out of the stereo. I want my motor to make music, and the stereo to play the other kind of music. And I get Lou Ann's point that CVT-equipped cars don't necessarily make the "traditional" car soundtrack, but it isn't just being done with CVTs. That BMW she tested has fake engine noises, and I'm pretty sure that doesn't have a CVT. (And if she got a ride around Laguna Seca from Bill Auberlin, I'm officially jealous.) (And no, I'm not Clifton.)

Be officially jealous!

The video I didn't put up was because he went so fast it threw the camera out of the holder! I was reeling when I got out of the car. (You don't think he went that fast because I told him Scott Pruett is my neighbor, do you?) 

Most people don't know they are fake noises. 

Even mid-profile. On Tuesday, after the ice in NoVa melted, I found a pothole on Georgetown Pike. $200 for a new tire on the Beetle and I was thankful the rim was OK.

You're lucky. Warren just replaced a tire - over $400!

Was recommending that the Civic/Elanta person (numb handling) test drive a Mazda 3, because Mazdas definitely do NOT have numb handling.

Oh, I see. My apologies for the misread.

Many thanks for joining us today. Please return next week. The new post building looks nice, more efficient. Technology changes everything. Thanks to Gene, Tanya, Lou Ann and Ria. Eat lunch, people.

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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