Real Wheels Live (Oct. 20)

Oct 20, 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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Will Cadillac make a high-performance sports car? I've read they plan to do so, using the next-generation, mid-engine Corvette as a base. But supposedly with their own 4.0 liter DOHC V-8, not with Chevy's push-rod used in Corvettes. That would seem to mesh with Caddy's strategy to take on the German luxury brands, all of which offer such a car, while being more than a dressed-up Vette. Will it be more like a grand tourer à la Aston Martin, or a Benz AMG racer? Note that Cadillac has successful racing effort.

They are talking about it.Price? Buyers? We'll see?

My husband and I are empty-nesters and need to replace our 2001 Civic. We are planning on looking at the 2017 Civic sedan and hatchback (with Honda Sensing) ), the 2018 Fit (because we can get it with Honda Sensing) and the 2017 Subaru Impreza (five door with Eyesight). Our most important criteria in a new car are mileage, safety and reliability. We keep our cars for at least ten years. We have always driven Hondas, but are willing to look at other models. Are there any other models that you would recommend? Thank you

Seriously consider

Civic with Honda Sensing. Honda's electronic safety system works beautifully.

Good morning warren and friends, 


I am chatting with you from 150 miles off the coast of the golf of Mexico. I am on an oil rig owned by Shell oil company called Auger. If you have any questions about oil or Shell I'm hanging with a couple Shell people now. 


There are 4700 miles of pipeline underwater in the Gulf of Mexico. Think of it as train tracks - the flow of oil can be switched from one pipeline to another depending on price to refine, storms or refinery closures. It is a well-oiled machine pun intended. 


About 30% of US production comes from the Gulf. There are about 2,400 platforms out here and Shell is the largest producer. 


Shell is also heavy into alternative fuels having just invested about five Billion dollars into alternative energy. 


Before I could even come out to the oil rig I had to spend an entire day taking a helicopter escape training class. If any of you follow Indy racing one of the people that took the class with me was Josef Newgarden from Team Penske. He is also the 2017 IndyCar Champion. I'm happy to say that both of us rocked the course.


It is amazing how many years I have been flying in an airplane and rarely think about safety. But in order to go out on a shell oil rig we had to have the helicopter underwater escape training - HUET. It's required of everyone that goes out on the oil rig and the certificate  only last four years. Imagine the people that go out as employees for thirty years - every four years they have to go through the training. Why? Because our instructor, Derek Joyner, does such a good job of teaching safety that it has reduced fatalities in helicopter crashes to almost nothing. I've attached a YouTube video so that you can see what we went through.


We flew into Austin and hooked up with shell. Shell is a sponsor of the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 race that will be at the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday. I chatted with Sebastian Vettel, a four-time race car World Champion; not of just any race, Vettel is a four-time Formula one World Championship race car driver. Vettel’s racing skills have been compared to Michael Schumacher more than any other race car driver. When you get to that level of expertise, you have spent time with pretty much every aspect of the racing. That involves the car, the companies, and the gasoline.


One of my favorite events of the year will be held in Sonoma, California in April, 2018. The Sonoma Raceway is the location for the 2018 Shell Eco-marathon. I have been following the Shell Eco-marathon since 2007 when the Los Altos’ Infusion won first place[] in the fuel cell hydrogen category with 1,038 miles per gallon. The best part of the event is the collaboration between the companies, the teachers, and the University students. My favorite interview was in 2009 with a teacher from George Shur High School.


If you love Rolls-Royce I have all the news about the new Phantom 8. In the last 92 years, this is only the eighth generation of the Phantom. Phantom VIII builds on the bespoke of Rolls-Royce capturing the essence of beauty, wrapped in technology and an all-new aluminum architecture, which will be the underpinning going forward, even for the Cullinan SUV.



At home we drove the BMW Plug-in hybrid. This is a car that I could see myself buying. I would have to trade-in my 1993 Lexus LS 400 but I like luxury, performance and plug-ins. 

I just read rave reviews of both the 2018 Accord and the 2018 Camry sedans. Excluding people who are big on brand loyalty, what type of driver would each of these two highly rated sedans satisfy most? Older, younger? Style-conscious? Comfort-conscious? Reliability? Highway versus local? Warren versusLouAnn? Is it truly just a toss up or are there "any" significant differences?

Both will satisfy what I call normal drivers---people who want to get from Point A to B; who want to do so reliably, safely and economically.

Hello - Lou Ann, I just read that Consumer Reports puts GMC and Cadillac at the bottom of the list for reliability among American cars. How is it that the Buick division can perform so well but not other GM products? Is there not a cohesive plan for quality across their entire lineup?

Buick has been consistent in their pursuit since China said they wanted them as a luxury unit, not Cadillac. 

People talk about Tesla's tough production starts but it's been tough for General Motors from 2008 to now to find their way. They've made some announcements, they have some great cars, but there is a cohesiveness that hasn't been brought out to the public yet. 

Let's hope they're getting there, they've got great technology I'd like to see on the market. 

I am just entering my twilight years, but my 2003 Hyundai Sonata is already there and needs replacing. Whatever I replace it with will most likely be the last car I ever own. I was looking at the Subaru Outback. It is not too big, good for hauling small loads, behaves well in bad weather, and overall I thought it would be a good car to grow old with. But it doesn’t look like Subaru has any hybrids for sale. And, after reviewing my finances, I realize I still only have a Hyundai budget to work with. So now I am considering the Kia Niro. Based on your experience, is this a good car for an old fogey like me, even without the AWD?

Get another Sonata. Why not? Play up the senior customer story. Seriously. Go for a discount.

CVTs (continuously variable transmissions?) are used to improve fuel economy. Could they also be designed to improve performance, specifically acceleration, over other types of transmissions.

It would have to be in combination with another technology. I haven't seen one that can do it by itself. Continental just partnered with nexteer and formed a company called cnxmotion. I would watch to see what they do, and what ZF transmissions can do. 

Perhaps a hybrid with a CVT can give low-end torque which would help with acceleration, but I can't think of anything else. 

Do you often find that what reviewers [and Consumer Reports] say about a brand is one thing and the way that brand is perceived by the public can be quite another thing? In just the last chat, one reader joked that someone who paid 10K for an Audi must have overpaid by 9K and another said - I don't know on what basis and criteria - that a BMW series 4 is superior to both the c300 and the A5. These are probably people who know cars and if they feel this way, this might be indicative of a much broader image problem.

Yes, but it could also be expectations. Consumer Reports allows people who have had their car for six years to value that car in the same report that people who have had their car for a year to voice their opinion. 

A person that has just purchased their car is always going to like it more and as the car gets older and has some issues, well....

I don't get it

arrgh. I wrote that on my iphone coming over in the helicopter. It's supposed to be "it's a well-oiled machine" I'll change it now. Thanks

Do you haver any comments on the recently released Consumer Reports reliability ratings, which contain several changes in the relative ranking of manufacturers?

I've long had arguments with the narrowness of CR's

readership research base. But I've learned to trust them.

I have written about this before, knowing that you, Warren, also have a bad back. I bought an Infiniti Q50, which has been a great relief versus other cars I have driven. My question is: Why don't manufacturers compete on seat comfort, particularly given that older, better heeled drivers would appreciate this more?

They do and I know for a fact that my good buddy, Warren, loves the Volvo seats. The Nissan NASA seats are good as well. 

Not enough companies compete on seat comfort, but the more people ask for better seats the more they will pay attention. I remember the first generation Chevy Volt had horrible seats. It was one of the only things I didn't like about the Volt. I mentioned it to Chevy and the second generation seats were much better. 

Manufacturers DO compete on seat comfort. Volvo does the best job for my back

I'm on my second Murano CVT, and the one thing you don't get is acceleration. Smooth ride, sure ... once you get going.

What exactly are you looking for in acceleration? More oomph from stop. Check out available drivetrains in overall nissan line. Choose more robust engine.

Things Volvo are best for my back. But the Rav4 is good, too, Do the entry-exit test before you buy.

My husband, in his mid-40s, has a physically demanding job, a bad back, and needs a vehicle that is easier to enter and exit than his BMW 335d, as well as less to maintain. He likes the Toyota RAV-4 because of the gas mileage and low maintenance costs. We also test drove the Tiguan AWD and he liked the styling and the 6 yr/ 60,000 mile warranty. Do you have a preference on the RAV-4 or the Tiguan? We also have a 14 year old daughter that would eventually learn to drive on this vehicle.

I want you to drive a couple other SUVs because of your husband's back. Drive the Volvo XC 60 (they have a plug-in version that is only $2,000 more than the gasoline version if you are able to charge) 

And drive a Nissan Murano with Nasa seats. 

If you are stuck on a VW try the Atlas. The Toyota RAV-4 is a fine machine, but after a year or so he's going to have that back problem flare up and not know what he did differently. 

CVTs are used for performance vehicles. But they're snowmobiles and Formula 440 and 500 racecars. The problem is CVTs are inherently a inefficient relative to a standard gearbox. The advantage is they can sit at the engine's power peak constantly. But that means the engine has a constant monotonous loud engine note. I think that's pretty wearing on an average driver. So commercial CVTs aren't tuned that way.


CVTs are used for performance vehicles. But they're snowmobiles and Formula 440 and 500 racecars. The problem is CVTs are inherently a inefficient relative to a standard gearbox. The advantage is they can sit at the engine's power peak constantly. But that means the engine has a constant monotonous loud engine note. I think that's pretty wearing on an average driver. So commercial CVTs aren't tuned that way.
I'm sitting next to Josef Newgarden, Indy race car driver champion for Team Penske. I asked him your question and here is his reply, he says his cars don't have CVT. 

I saw the ads on Fox News and burst out laughing. Come on really Fox News. Conservatives and Republicans don't buy Volvos especially since they are owned by the Chinese govt.

So wrong! Affluent people buy Volvos, and they are manufactured in Sweden. And as long as Volvo is making such great cars - with each car segment coming out with a plug-in hybrid - they will continue to sell. 

Warren, please expound on your comment. I've actually worked on CVTs on racecars. What are you talking about?

Which race cars? I just asked Josef Newgarden from Team Penske Indy fame and they don't use CVTs. 

"The advantage is they can sit at the engine's power peak constantly." Really? In my experience, they do the exact opposite, sitting at peak efficiency to the detriment of power.

Basic nonesense. CVT's generally save fuel and provide reliable, competent service. People who buy exotic performance cars generallyrally don;t look at CVt

There's a reason you don't find CV transmissions on premium cars. They're louder and slower than traditional transmissions. If you're willing to make the trade off that's your choice, but you're not entitled to your own facts.

You don't find CVT trannies on premium cars because they are engineered and designed to serve economy cars and the people who can afford those cars,

I'm reading a book titled "Misbehaving" by Richard Thaler, recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics based upon irrational behavior by consumers. It will answer many of your questions about why buyers believe what they believe but often do something different than they say they believe.

Thanks. I am familiar with Thaler. Also this: Average price of new car is $34,800. Most Americans  struggle to pay it.

My car is now 10 years old and I probably want to get something new in a year or two. The technology seems to be moving faster and faster. what do you think of leasing for 3 years while technology continues to improve and then make my next purchase? I'm thinking hybrid. thank you!

Leasing makes sense. The technology will continue to improve. There is no stopping point here.

What are my best options/best values in a sedan if I want to spend 40-50K in terms of size and amenities? Thx

Consider something Lincoln.

Thank you LouAnn. Is there a difference in seat comfort on a new vehicle vs a CPO? Does age of the car make a difference? My husband has a 30 mile commute and I want him to be as comfortable as possible.

Junk. How many customers worry about that?

Warren, I understand that you're a fan of CVTs, but they do provide less power, and are also louder than conventional transmissions. If you're OK with that, fine...but some people will factor that into their buying decisions. I'm not aware of any performance car with a CVT. As to the competitive side of things, they're not used in Formula 1; you can see the drivers shifting with the wheel-mounted paddles. Lou Ann: congratulations on your interview with Sebastian Vettel. He's an exciting driver to watch (although I'll be rooting for Lewis Hamilton and Valtery Bottas on Sunday).

Who cares if CVTs aren't used in Formula One? How many of us drive that way in daily traffic?

Thank you all for visiting today. Please return next week. Thanks Gene, Lou Ann and Ria.

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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