Real Wheels Live (May 13)

May 13, 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.

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Good Morning Warren and Friends,

Is anyone taking a summer vacation and you want to see some incredible pieces of rolling art? I've listed five art shows that you can walk around and get up close and see the cars. These shows will be the closest you get to some of these sculpted steel art pieces in your lifetime. If you're going to any of these states, make these shows part of your stop over.

Last week I was in San Antonio, TX and drove the 2017 Honda Ridgeline. Great compact pickup, easy to drive and lots of versatility

I drove the 2016 Buick Encore this week. The starting MSRP for the Encore is $24,065 and the EPA estimated fuel economy is  28 city / 34 highway.

What plans does everyone have for the summer?

Let's chat about cars.

One of the biggest transportation rivalries nowadays has not to do with automobile manufacturing and selling. It has to to with transportation services--the fight between China's Didi and the U.S. Uber.

I wouldn't expect a DC auto editor to be able to answer the question about which model year very old vehicles which would still be operable in case of an EMP but perhaps the team could route it to the Pentagon? :-)


I'd take a look at a fully equipped Kia Sorento.

Warren and Lou Ann, What would you recommend to provide more passenger room for a family of 4 with 2 active and growing boys. We are not looking for a CUV/SUV. This would probably replace a 2008 Infiniti G35, the other car is a 2011 Acura TSX Wagon. This is not an immediate need but a future need.

Honestly, I love the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan with the stow and go seats and stow and go vac. I haven't seen the new Honda Odyssey, but I hear it is trick too.


Loving my new A6 thanks for the reccos, one thing people might want to be aware of is there is a bug of some sort where if in nav you hit the "traffic" button, you get traffic updates from miles away (I tend to get traffic updates from Route 66 in VA -- but I'm traveling to and from Annapolis on Route 97). They are looking for a fix but meanwhile ... nothing to do I guess. The XM nav map works fine. Rest of the car is great (although I do miss my Infiniti's music box that recorded my CDs as I played them -- Audi won't do that).

Hm. Check the manual for the nav specifically.

Hey Warren and Lou Ann, replacing my Jetta Sport Wagon this summer and looking at several factors in terms of replacement. Cargo volume is key since my wife hauls lots of furniture and other stuff. Since i will be the primary driver I want it to at least have some level of power akin to the diesel torque (of course wont be the same), and reliability long-term is the other factor. Will be buying CPO probably vice new. Looking at the following: Honda CRV, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, or Toyota Rav4. Also considering Suburu Outback although this tends to price higher. Not looking to go three-row, want to stay in this size range. Is there anything i am missing? Thanks!

I'd go with the CR-V and be happy.

About 1989 there was an over sized solar burst of atmospheric electricity, sort of an electromagnetic pulse, that knocked out electricity in large areas. How old a car would you have to be driving to have it protected from something like an EMP and still driveable?

Spooky action at a distance! It was an EMP, that was the aliens talking to you - haven't you seen independence day dude?

The old cars weren't impervious to EMP shocks - the new ones are - they are  made out of aluminum

Stock up on duct tape

What happened last week? We missed you!

Easy. I am 68 and very lucky. Health scare. But, thank God, I am ok.

Hi guys, we need a huge 4WD SUV. I looked at the Chevy Suburban and its sister, the GMC Yukon XL. I wasn't that impressed with the way they drive and handle (yes, I realize they aren't sports cars) but I also question the reliability of these two. We also have a 2013 Ford F-150 and love its quality, but Ford's Expedition is very dated technologically, and frankly, ugly. The GM Suburban/Yukon is ubiquitous nationally. Why isn't any other manufacturer (namely Ford) going after some of those dollars with a better product?

No need to question the reliability of the Suburban. It lasts...and lasts.

It would survive an EMP?

No, not made out of aluminum and you need something with good gas mileage if you're going to go to the EMP museum for the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek tribute.

Live long and prosper

I expect VW to buy my Jetta Sportwagen TDI. I would like to buy a similar wagon or hatchback with manual transmission. Suggestions?

I  am thinking a Subaru Outback.

The only reason to buy a hybrid is improved gas mileage. But hybrids cost considerably more than comparable traditional vehicles (whose mpg has generally improved substantially in recent years). Is there a formula or calculator that allows you to plug in mpg, distances traveled, purchase price, gasoline cost etc. to get an idea of whether buying a hybrid makes sense? Also, do hybrids -- with more complicated systems than ordinary cars -- generally incur higher maintenance costs?

The other reason is low-end torque - comes in right away. might have some of that information.

I would buy the plug-in hybrid, which is even more complicated but keeps me from buying gasoline 90% of the time

The other reason to buy a hybrid is improved air quality.

Look for something with a carburetor, distributor etc and computer chips. I would avoid HEI ignition systems. Most American cars before 1985 especially pick ups and Jeeps. BMW, Mercedes, and Porsches with mechanical fuel injection or now late than about 1984. My understanding is an EMP attack will most if not all vehicles in mobil even if they are old school with no chips. Alternators, starters and batteries fried. Freeze dried food and multiple firearms to include FNH M249s, glass bottles, rags, and gas along with several thousand rounds of ammo for each firearm you have. Clifton, VA

because you and Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith are all going to make it to Area 51?


I have a Beetle Convertible with a TDI, so I'm in the market for a new car when VW gets the buyback under way. The Beetle is a fun car to drive, and I love the acceleration when pulling on to the Beltway in rush hour, but it's not particularly (or at all) practical as the only car for a homeowner who sometimes has to haul stuff from home depot, or to the landfill. On the other hand, it has excellent visibility with the top down, and decent (except to the rear) with the top up. I take a car out for a test rive, turn my head to see if anything is in the lane I'm changing into, and there's a huge pillar right in my line of sight. Argh. And all cars seem to have this. If they can eliminate the pillar in convertibles, surely they can do so in hardtops! VW seems to have the best prices for cars that have all the safety features (adaptive cruise control, etc.) and infotainment (Apple Car Play/Android Auto, SiriusXM). Hyundai and Kia have some of these at lower prices, but not all of them. Honda has all of them, but only in the top trim lines. I'm not looking at American cars because I prefer to buy cars from people who know how to build them. Americans can make pickups, yes, but I'm not in the market for that. Although an AWD Ford Ranger would definitely get my attention.

Americans know how to build cars as well as anyone else.  No need to worry excessively about visibility. Nearly everyone nowadays has blind-side monitoring. Hyundai has the best prices for cars with advanced electronic safety.

Isn't that a bit excessive?

That was from Clifton - if you are a regular reader/chatter that will explain it.

Any sedans you would recommend, that would offer more interior room than the G35 and TSX wagon?

Yes--the Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion.

The question asked about A6 traffic reports may reflect an increasingly common phenomenon, drivers who consider infotainment systems be the most important part of their cars. Have you noticed this or am I imagining this? Is there any hope for those of us who only want an AM/FM radio and a place to plug in an MP3 player and prefer to use a free standing GPS? Are engines, transmissions, suspensions, brakes, etc., becoming just things designed to haul around expensive and trouble-prone electronics?

It's your Imagination. Cars are becoming computers with wheels. It is inevitable.

Wouldn't a plug-in hybrid be a bad decision if there was an EMP attack, since you need to plug it in?

I think someone has been watching too much science fiction and reading too much newsmax. 

The likelihood of an EMP actually happening before we go to war over oil again is not good, in my opinion.I am sticking to getting off the dependence of foreign oil produced by people who would rather see us dead.


I was looking at the Consumer Reports auto issue. They ranked the BMW 5 way down the list for luxury sedans---well below Audi and MB. Anything wrong with the 5 or are the other cars just that much better in that class?

People who want a BMW want a BMW and are willing to put up with most BMW distemperaments over anything else.

You didn't challenge a previous poster about why he "needs" a Chevy Suburban? Unless he's a commercial contractor carrying supplies and tools, who needs a giant, gas-guzzling, road-hogging, too-big-to-park behemoth? If he has a big family, let him get a nice Toyota or Honda minivan. People who buy giant SUVs are making a statement to the rest of the world, a statement that boils down to a four-letter word followed by "you." '

While I wouldn't buy a Suburban there are families that buy them and love them.

The big SUVs and pickups are selling because of the low price of gasoline. Parking them - priceless

I am a happy Prius V owner..... Loads of Space . rear seats slide forward...... Great gas mileage / drove cross country..... loaded ----- average 40 plus mpg.... has a power mode for merging onto ramps....

It is a good little car.

What I meant was that I could imagine a calculator, like other financial calculators, that would let you plug in variables and get a conclusion. Obviously you get back the higher cost of a hybrid if you drive 100 miles a day vs. 20, if gas is $4 instead of $2, if the premium is $2,000 instead of $5,000, etc. There are things like this to calculate the pay-off points for home insulation, new windows, mortgage refinancing, etc., etc., and it wouldn't be hard to design one for hybrids. I suspect that for most drivers the hybrid doesn't save much money.

Hybrids get their best mpg in town, so I would think the pay out is best because most people don't drive more than 40 mpg a day.

I don't know of a site that does what you are asking.


The hybrid does not save much money. But it removes mobile-source pollution, reduces fossil-fuel usage, which are good things.

Another reason to buy a hybrid (depending on where you live) is to have access to HOV lanes.

That is accurate, but California Air Resources Board said that they will eventually take HOV lane access away from hybrids and only give to zero emission vehicles, such as electric and hydrogen. maybe phev too.

hybrids are becoming mainstream.

Lou Ann and Warren, Both GM and Ford offer 2-liter turbo engines that offer good torque and HP. Do you know if there is information comparing the reliability and service requirements of the two engines? Perhaps there is information on their relative resistance to an EMP?

I have no such information; and I've just found out the meaning of EMP. Pity me.

I've never been able to drive even 1 MPG per day. How does anyone reach 40?

Not even 1 mpg?

Lou Ann here:

ha! I got it, my bad. 40 miles per day, not 40 mpg.

Thanks for the catch.

Last night, around Columbus, OH, I saw a late model Prius with a Trump bumper sticker. Does that make the Prius an environmentally friendly clown car?

That sounds as consistent as TRUMP.

I was surprised and happy to find out that my 2015 auto uses no power steering fluid -- electronic steering, I believe. Do all new cars go this route?

I have to check.

I need the vehicle because we have 5 kids and we drive into the mountains and in rough terrain for frequent camping trips. We also pull our boat and sometimes a trailer. If it makes anyone feel better, we also have a plug-in Nissan Leaf. Please answer my question, about why no one else makes a competent alternative. regardless of what Warren says about durability of the Suburban, I don't like it.

Because the money isn't there. The money is in trucks. The Ford Expedition was the closest anyone came, but really, the Suburban had a corner on that market and none of the competition could catch it.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline can only tow 5,000 pounds - I don't know any other vehicle, which is why you're stuck with the Suburban

There is something to be said for just AM/FM and then a separate nav, but a lot of the "Expensive and trouble-prone electronics' you mention are actually brilliantly designed safety features. And they aren't trouble prone (I can live until the traffic bug is fixed).

i agree.

This might help the person who is trying to figure out whether or not to buy a hybrid. It appears to be useful to compare any vehicles on their "True Cost to Own." I haven't tried it yet, as I am not in the market for another vehicle, but it looks like it might work.

I think that includes repairs etc for that certain car, but it could also include fuel mileage comparison.



What do you recommend? COnsidering that 2017 A4 is a total redesign, is it worth extra $$$s? Or I should just go with 2016 A4 and save few thousand $$s?

How long do you keep your cars? If you keep them forever, get the latest model. It will have the most equipment and safety features.

If you keep it 2-5 years get the 2016

Unless you really like the new design, then you have to get the new car :)

Warren even you could wave your WP issued magic wand and turn every internal combustion vehicle and diesel powered one into a ZEV it would have no real effect on air quality.

It did in Los Angeles in the'70s.

Having said that, Placer County in Northern California still allows people to burn their leaves etc on clear days, which to me is an abomination. Especially since they don't charge for a burn permit.

They say it helps with fires in the summer. I say it's a bunch of cheap people who don't want to pay to take their green to a landfill.

But cars, yes, especially in California.

LouAnne, thank you for taking the time to provide an appropriate answer to my question. You are never rude or dismissive. I appreciate it.

As my good friend Denise McCluggage once told me, why not be kind?

I miss her. Google her, she was one of a kind

I have no WP Magic wand. But I have traveled enough to know that the world has a major problem with emissions and that we had better do something about it.

Does Mercedes offer a model of the Sprinter that would meet this person's needs?

It could - especially if they got the diesel version of the passenger van. It's so high, much higher I think then the Suburban, but it could be an option.


Note: Yes, the M_B Sprinter would meet large transportation needs along with some large-transportation problems, parking being one of them.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week.

Thanks Gene, Lou Ann and Ria. Eat Lunch.

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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