Real Wheels Live (April 21)

Apr 21, 2017

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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It's hard to believe it's only one week since the New York auto show. It's been a long week, and I'm so happy to be back with you. I put up a post about the cars I saw at the New York International Auto show.

The last of my Mother's brothers died this week. I traveled from California to St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada, then drove eight hours - four in snow - to his home in La Scie to say goodbye to my favorite Uncle.

If you have ever been to Michigan and complained about their potholes, go to the hinterlands of Newfoundland, Canada. Michigan's potholes are nothing compared to the quality and quantity of the potholes on the road to La Scie, Newfoundland.

A couple of my cousins - the two thirteen-year-olds - drove with me and we had a blast. Every time I went by a sign that said "beware, potholes" I would yell take a picture, take a picture. I am just baffled at how much money it takes to make a sign, paint it, pay someone to dig a hole and stick a rod in the dirt, and put the sign up that says beware potholes. It is incredulous. Just fill the bloody holes! Seriously.

Before I left for Canada, I drove the 2017 Ford Transit 350, HR Cargo Van. It reminded me of the Dodge 2500 that Stretch and I drove from Toronto to California to bring his beloved Steinway piano home. They turn on a dime; you can haul anything. It's not a vehicle you would want to drive around town, but you can buy this working cargo van at $47,820 out the door. 

What is the advantage/disadvantes of the start stop feature in many cars now? Everyone is saying it's easier on gas but don't you use more gas when you're always starting the engine again? I can imagine it's going to be hard to get used to.

You save gasoline by not burning unnecessary fuel at idle, whih also promotes cleaner emissions.

I had a 2006 Acura TL that I LOVED however was in a total loss accident last week. I could have that car back but the damage alone is almost 10k (far more than it's worth). I'm contemplating a 2017 Jeep Cherokee (Latitude model) - AWD, V6. I wanted to do cloth seats versus leather because the leather in my acura was really badly cracked/wrinkled and I took care of that care. I'm limited on funds but what is your thought on the Jeep Cherokee?

I hope you and the other crash victim, assuming there was one, are okay. Cloth seats are fine, actually cooler in summer. The Jeep is okay.

Hi Lou Ann and Warren, Did you see the new Buick Regal/Opel Insignia at the New York Auto Show? Your opinions, please. Dan in Arlington.

It's going to be called a crossover (because every SUV/CUV is selling like hotcakes!) but it is more like a sportswagen.

The Regal TourX will sell here and I would imagine they're going to send it to China as well.

I would expect that battery electric vehicles (BEV) would have lower maintenance requirements/costs, due to their lack of an internal combustion engine (ICE). Is this correct, and, if so, how much of an advantage would a BEV be expected to have over an ICE vehicle?


I got emails from two local dealers saying they had "limited" 2015 TDI Golfs available on the cheap. Presumably they mean limited numbers. How "limited" are they after the necessary fixes? Has anyone seriously tested these things?

It is a simple, lomg-used marketing pitch.

Looking for a new car, I like the Ford Edge, but they don't come as manual transmission, which is a requirement for me. I'm willing to consider a KIA or Hyundai, do any of them come manual? THANK YOU!

The Ford edge is a SUV/CUV, so even though you say new car, I'm thinking you mean SUV/CUV?

Try a Nissan Juke Nismo, Mazda CX-5, MINI Countryman, a couple of Jeeps still have manuals.

I have a great 2013 Impreza for commuting, but our 20 year old CRV back-up car is on it's last legs and we'd like a car for weekends and trips that is closer in size to the old CRV. We like to camp, and my husband would like something that could occasionally traverse rougher roads, so a higher clearance would be helpful. What would you recommend we consider?

Honestly, look at a 2017 CR-V Touring.

Good morning Warren, My new Honda Civic Touring sedan, with a lockable trunk, does not have a valet-key feature. It has a slide-out key in the remote, but that only opens the driver’s door if the battery in the remote is low. I was very disappointed with Honda when I discovered this. Is this a common omission with the push-button-start cars these days?

Sounds like a dealer's error. Check.

I read that the price of oil is expected to increase. How high do you think the price of gasoline would have to go before our national enthusiasm for SUVs would start to wane?

Yws, it will in crease. How high? Who knows.

Good morning, I am considering the Kia Niro. The MPG is quite desirable. What are your thoughts re the tradeoffs in interior amenities, finish quality and road noise? Are there any other SUVs or vehicles with a high seat entry height with comparable MPG? The compact cars that fill that MPG range have too low of a seat / door surround, and I either strain my knees/hips or bang my head getting into those cars. Or both.

I loved the Kia Niro when I drove it. I think it got about 50 mpg when I drove it. ONly the Toyota Prius will give you that in the hybrid. Have you tried that one? The price on the Niso is great as well, starting at $22K and change.

What are you recommending for families (2 adults and 2 or 3 kids) these days?

There is a lot. Check Hyundai, aKia (The new Niro really is a good buy), Chevrolet, Ford (especially the Fusion).

I understand that a new Buick hatchback and station wagon were announced last week. Do you know anything about them yet? Thank you.

Buick Envison Regal TourX station wagon and the new Enclave.

I don't have more information than that but will get some for you next week.

When do they become mandatory on cars sold in the US? Will they also be required on pickups and vans? Thanks.

I honestly don't know.

Buick Regal Sportback highlights:

  • Available intelligent all-wheel drive (AWD) with active twin-clutch for improved vehicle control and efficiency in any conditions.
  • AWD models have an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive models have a nine-speed automatic.
  • The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces a GM-estimated 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque (FWD) and 295 lb-ft of torque (AWD).
  • The discreetly integrated rear opening has tri-folding 40/20/40 rear seat available and 60/40 split-folding seat standard.
  • Safety innovations include a Buick-first active hood pedestrian safety system, Front Pedestrian Braking, Lane Keep Assist.
  • There’s more overall cargo space than the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4-series Gran Coupe, with 1719 litres (60.7 cu. ft.) behind the first row.
  • Signature Buick QuietTuning includes all-new tire insulation to help reduce road noise on front-wheel-drive models and premium five-link rear suspension on AWD models.

Warren, you bypassed the real question with your pithy response. I could care less about marketing ploys. How badly has VW's re-engineering of these TDIs to make them legal impacted the car's all around performance?

My pithy response was correct. VW made a dumb mistake. It also makes very good vehicles worth exploring.

I blame Michigan's bad roads for the Big 3's inability to make a car that handled well (until relatively recently). Since the managers who signed off on those cars drove those pothole filled roads daily. Comfort ruled the day. A joke from a friend who lives in Michigan is that there are two seasons: Winter & Road Repair.

Don't they pay gas taxes in Michigan with part of it going to road care? We do in California but they kept using it to balance the budget.

The Trans Atlantic Canadian highway itself isn't bad, but the roads off of that are bad. I was joking with the kids telling them that if it weren't for the ice in the potholes the road would be a lot worse.

This is not a dealer error. The dealership’s technicians scratched their heads, went over the car and agreed that there is not valet key feature. The only keyhole in the car is in the driver’s door. This is true of the other Civic Tourings also.

Odd. We'll check.

What do you think about the new Impreza? I want an AWD hatchback that is reliable but have a very frugal budget. I hear there is a recall on a vapor lock issue and the infotainment software already. Are these recalls concerning? Thanks.

The Chevrolet Impreza is a nice fulll-size car in a market shrinking for car sales. Dealers are willing to bargain. Recalls on cars are common. Check the dealer for fix sched,

For Warren: I have coffee with a VW salesman at Tim Hortons almost every day, and all 50 they had were spoken for in a few days. I knew they would sell -- still lots of TDI fans -- but that fast? Wow. One customer basically traded in his old TDI and with all the discounts got a 2015 TDI for almost nothing. For Lou Ann: One of these days I'd love to do a driving trip to Newfoundland, potholes and all, in large part to see the puffins. Apparently, you aren't allowed to hunt/eat puffins in Newfoundland -- the bird is protected there -- but according to one Newfoundlander I see at Tims, apparently you can eat them in Iceland. Garey, Ottawa

Garey! How are you?

I'm not sure I could eat a puffin. They're so cute. and tiny. All that work...

You would love Newfoundland in the summertime. Come in September for the targa Newfoundland and say hi to my buddy Kenzie - he wins it all the time. Drive up to St. Anthony and visit Lands aux meadows where the Vikings landed.

Newfoundlanders are wonderful people. If you love rugged landscapes and friendly people you will love Newfoundland.

And if you get to Clarenville stay at St. Jude's hotel - free wifi and hot coffee.

Some of the folks that have had the modifications done on their own 2015 VW diesel cars have reported better mileage and no loss in performance.

Good to know. I love the drivability of the VW so it is sad to see that they lost track of their core values all in the name of marketshare. Hopefully all those people are gone and they are back on track.

It didn't occur to me, but my new Mazda3 Sport only has a drivers' door keyhole as well. I have two identical remotes, both of which open and lock the doors, open the trunk, and have an alarm feature. So, presumably if someone else is driving the car they would have access to the trunk (since they would need the remote to start the car).

I thought the whole idea of a valet key was that the person could only drive the car?

Don't forget batteries have to be changed out. They do wear out and become less efficient over time so as you vehicle gets older and charges and discharges the ultimate range of your vehicle will decrease. May last 5 to 7 years. Todays modern gas engines with proper maintenance and care easily over 200K miles. Cost of replacement batteries and labor may exceed the value of the vehicle. Clifton, VA

They last longer than 5 to 7 years and the batteries are programmed to use only about 60-80% of the battery. They are looking at what would happen now if they opened that up in it's later years - so that you could use more of the battery, say 90 percent.

They are also working on using the older batteries for other uses.

A selling component of the Hyundai Ioniq equation is that Hyundai has a lifetime warranty on the battery for the first time owner. That’s wicked crazy. Tell me they’re not going right after Toyota Prius’s resale value, where a NiMH battery costs $2,500 (labor not included). So, how often does a battery go bad? Hyundai’s Mike O’Brien told me that they tested the L-ion polymer battery and there wasn’t a point that they could find the end of the life of a battery.

I was referring to the Subaru Impreza, not a Chevrolet. Does the answer still apply? Thanks.

Yes, it does, Both are good vehicles for the masses.

Now is a good time for buying cars. Lots of aggressive discounts on automobiles, per se. Trucks have bargains, to. But not as many as traditional automobiles.

Stay away from super-high horsepower, unless that really is what you want. Gasoline prices won't be low forever. See you next week.

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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