Real Wheels Live

Jan 06, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will discuss the auto industry. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers.

Mr. Brown, When will Hyundai put the drivetrain/engine combination they are using in the new Elantra sedan in their hatchback? And, when will that be available in the US? Many thanks and best wishes to you and your family for 2012! Martha

It looks as if  they'll do it in the winter of 2012 with a marketing pitch presenting it as a "coupe"--1.8--liter,inline four-cylinder engine, 148-horsepower, 131 foot-pounds of torque. Is that what you're looking for?

After watching TV reports and seeing newspaper photos of the recent funeral in North Korea, I noticed that it appears that the principal vehicles (hearse, etc.) were variations of 1970s-era Cadillacs and Lincolns. Do you know if these are actual Detroit vehicles or are they knock-offs of American land yachts?

I'm surprise they weren't Buicks, samples of which long have beenj favors by rulers in North korea and China. They probably are pieces of Detroit metal, though.

Several testers concluded that VW "de-engineered" some critical aspects of the 2011 Jetta to permit lower prices and in the process lost a lot of what made the Jetta a "driver's car". Has that been improved with the 2012?

VW took content out of some jetta models that it once offered, or made available as standard. If you want that deleted content, you can get it for what it cost VW to put it in in the first place. Curious thing is, the huge numbers of people buying the "decontented" Jetta cars seem quite happy with what they got. Makes you wonder what the heck the journalists are talking about.

We live on a quarter mile down an awful pot-holed, country road. The road is so bad that our noble dinosaur, a 2000 Toyota Land Cruiser may be showing signs of bent axles. We need a heavy suspension, 4x4 for the farm but would like to get decent gas mileage. We ruled out the FJ Cruiser because of its limited vision on highways and the 4Runner because of mileage. We are reluctant to opt for the many unibody sedans and crossovers because of the drive into the house. Other than a 100,000 dollar repaving, is there any hope for a wonder car that can handle the bumps in the road?

Do the repaving.

Is this a good time or bad time to buy a Saab?

Saab, as you know, is being liquidated. I'm sure the company or its agents will be willing to sell you anything you want at a reasonable price. And don't worry about future repairs. GM, Saab's last real owner, is still around and, apparently, doing well enough to provide needed parts.

What are the worst cars you have driven this year....... and the best......

The Hyundai Veloster would be the "worst" in terms of feel, overall construction, and road performance. But that's a guarded "worst." What's "worst" to me seems to be pleasing a heck of a lot of people who don't have the money to buy what I would consider "best." Neither do I, for that matter.

Are you connected with the Post's new car blog, Kicking Tires?

When needed, if needed.

I am looking to buy a more eco-friendly replacement for my 11-yr old Tahoe. I am considering a diesel Audi SUV, but want to be sure that today's diesel truly is better for the environment than regular gas. We ski, so we need space, 4-wheel drive, and excellent safety, with a smaller carbon footprint. I'm open to all suggestions on what vehicles to consider.

Go with the  Audi Tdi Q5 or Q7 . Not cheap. But it will do the job and leave you feeling good about the environment.

More of a comment than a question... My wife and I just got back from picking up our 2012 Volvo XC60 through their Overseas Delivery Program. It was such an amazing experience. We were able to customize the car with single options that would normally only be available though larger, more expensive packages, we got a discount on the MSRP, and we got round trip airfare for what turned out being an awesome European vacation. Not only that, but the Volvo employee who led our tour through the Brand Experience Center mentioned you by name when talking about their new Pedestrian Avoidance System. Aside from having to wait for the final delivery of the vehicle here in the states, we could not recommend the program more highly. It's certainly not for everyone, especially if Volvo's lineup doesn't meet your needs/budget, but anyone in luxury segment of the market should consider this program if they can buy their car a few months before being able to drive it off the lot. Maybe one day soon they'll offer their D3 and D5 engines here in the States.

Thank you for that note. About that pedestrian-avoidance system. It works. At Va. Hospital Center a while back, a patient, presumably, was walking out of the  outpatient offices connected to the Green Parking garage, clearly unattentive to traffic. Stepped in front of my PAS-equipped Volvo. It stopped without touching him. I'm a believer.

Mr. Brown, I am new to your chats, so I am sure this has been covered, but what is the REAL reason for the Chevy Volts low sales numbers? Is it that demand just isn't there for a $35,000 (with tax break) compact size commuter car? Is it production issues? Is it going to take $5/gallon gas to get people to seriously consider these vehicles? I, myself, have no reason to consider one. I ran the numbers and it would take me like 17 years to recoup the difference between a $20k car and the Volt. This was factoring in electricty/gas costs and NOT just purchase price.

It's expensive, $40,000 or thereabouts.

Most people buying it aren't doing your gas-cost recovery math.

It's new--not only in term of hardware, but also in terms of what it demands of the buyer--understanding the modalities under which it does its best work and save the most fuel.

But the REAL reason is that we live in a country that does not have a meaningful energy policy, one in which our political nominees of the moment seem to go out of their way to persuade an adolescent electorate that all we have to do is drill somewhere else ro ensure our endless supplly of the world's cheapest gasoline.

I am so confused. How do I know if I need to get them or not?

No need to be confused. Winter tires are best bought in moderate to heavy snow areas. If you have no winter tires in this region, and it happens to snow heavily, park yourself, stay home, or find someone with four-wheel-drive and the tires to match.

Is there any chance the VW Minibus/Microbus ever goes into production? They keep toting around concepts at all of the major auto shows, but not a peep as to when or if it will ever be released in the US.

There's always a chance. But I'm guessing, a few days before the Detroit show, that we'll see nothing on that until/unless we resolve European and U.S. monetary crises.

Respected Warren Brown, I'm in the market to buy a family(3-ppl) vehicle which is also fun to drive so please advice if I go for Prius V or CRV EX-L both 2012 models. I just read your valuable comments on Prius V. Thanks in advance.

I love that new Prius V--makes perfect sense in flatland city traffic. But I'm often off to mountainous regions in upstate New York, where the need for guts trumps the need for fuel economy everytime.  That being the case, I'd go with the CR-V, Toyota Rav-4, new Ford Escape, or something even gutsier. (I never worried about fuel economy in a snow drift.)

I have had the TDI sportwagon for a year. It has two major road trips under its belt and has been wonderful, if that helps the Jetta-questioner at all.

Thank you.

Good Morning Warren, I am trying to help a co-worker find a reliable used or new four door sedan. Price IS an issue and she doesn't want something tiny or large. She will be going to Carmax this weekend to check on used cars. Can you please give me four or five specific makes/models/years for used cars and maybe one or two new cars to consider? Thank you Sir


Nissan Altima. Hyundai Elantra. Chevrolet Cruze. Ford Focus, or Fusion, if she can get the latter. A little larger? Inquire about the Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Canry used. Favor: Please come back to us here and talk about your experience, good or bad. Thanks.

Porsche Boxster S or Audi TTS Roadster?

The Boxster is more of a Porsche than the TTS Roadster is an Audi. The Boxster.

Has Nissan, with its Cross-Convertible -- a drop-top Murano -- eclipsed the Pontiac Aztek in the ugly-vehicle sweepstakes? Whatever were they thinking?

No. But I think it's beaten the Murano in that contest with the hippo-froggo Nissan Juke. Totally ugly!!

Dear Sir, Please help me to select a Family Car!

Get the Prius V and be happy....all the way to the bank. In my book, the Prius V gets the Common Sense Car of the Year...for the rest of us who have neither the time nor money to entertain visions of Black Forest driving.

Our '98 Altima finally reached its limit (tranny needs replacing) so we're finally shopping for a new (to us) car. We narrowed it down to the Volvo XC90 3.2 (~$23k, 40k miles) and the Lincoln MKX (~$24k, 51k miles, loaded w/ nav and pan-moon roof) -- both 2008 model years. We like the feel of both based on the test drive and are pressed to make a decision before the Altima finally gives up the ghost. Online research has shown that the MKX is basically a Ford Edge in somewhat nicer clothes. Other than that, the only true negative I've found is the soft braking (which my wife noticed on the test drive as well, I did not). For the XC90, there were issues with the transmission in earlier years, but I'm not seeing much chatter regarding that with the 2008. In terms of differences between the two, the third row seat in the XC90 is nice, but we already have an Odyssey, so it's not a must-have. Another difference is the requirement for premium gas in the XC90. (Or is that more of a recommendation for the 3.2?) What are your thoughts? Any issues with either you care to share? What should we expect w/ regard to future service issues? (We average about 8k miles on our cars annually.) Finally, if you reviewed either, could you provide a link to the review? I searched for both but didn't get a hit on either one.

I'm sure I've reviewed both at one time or another and, hereby, appeal to all of those assistants smarter and younger than I am to help you with your Internet search. I frankly would stay with the MKX or Edge, mostly because the corporate economics around Volvo seems to be in a bit a flux in terms of who finally will have a say over what happens with that company.

Warren, winter tires are for more than snow. They also help quite a bit in cold conditions (below about 45 F) because the rubber stays softer and stickier than summer or so-called all season tires. It reduces stopping distances and improves emergency handling. You don't need snow to need winter tires, that's why they don't call them snow tires any more.

You are right about that. My apologies for giving any other impression. Bottom line: I'd much prefer to have genuine winter ties on my car in the winter anywhere above North Carolina.

Has your opinion of the Fiat 500 changed since you wrote your review. We are looking for a car that will primarily be used for commuting. Our primary car is a Toyota Sienna since we have 3 kids.

The Fiat 500 simply shows that the American consumer is a rational economic being. Is it fuel efficient? Yes. Fun? Yes. But no more fuel efficient or fun than anything else small and cute cruuerntly available in the U.S. So much to look at: Ford Fiesta, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra/Versa/Juke, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, VW Golf, Bas Mini Cooper.

In your opinion, which one is a better choice? I am downgrading from Porsche Cayenne to one of these. Please let me know.

Subaru Outback for reasons of overall performance, especially standard symmetrical AWD.

I have a '96 Corolla with 155,000mi on it. It's still running well, but if at some point I need to put more than $1k in it for something, I will definitely begin looking for a replacement. Key points: I'm frugal (would want a car that costs less than $15k, preferably $12k, plus gets good gas mileage and would not cost a lot to insure), and I'm 6ft tall. I need legroom and headroom. Suggestions on what I should consider?

Another Corolla--used, if you want to save money.

Your new book, "David Buick's Marvelous Motor Car," is one of the best-written, most readable, most enjoyable, most insightful pieces of Detroit motor history ever written. I started reading it a few nights ago and did not put it down. Bravo! Great job, Larry. Great Job! "David Buick's Marvelous Motor Car," Lawrence R. Gustin with Kevin M. Kirbitz, 2011, published by Buick Gallery and Research Center, Alfred P. Sloan Museum

As seems to be the norm, with the onset of cold weather this week, the low tire pressure indicator on my Honda came on. Why do tires suddenly lose their pressure when the temperature drops? Or, is it simply the case that the temperature drop tends to fool the pressure indicator in some way, and that this problem will thus correct itself when the weather warms again this weekend?

Air expands in heat, contracts in cold with all of the predictable effects on devices such as air temperature monitors.

Thank you all for joining us this week. Lou Ann and I will be at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit for most of the week.  Please join us again next Friday at 11 a.m. Thanks, Dominique, for your noble production efforts. Thanks, Ria, for keeping the cars moving. Eat Lunch!!

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

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