Real Wheels Live

Jan 14, 2011

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

We just found out that we have twins on the way. An unexpected surprise, which results in a need for a new car that can accomodate 3 car seats (we have a toddler already). I dread the thought of a minivan with the price of gas these days. We thought maybe a station wagon (are they still made?). Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

First, congratulations on the expected new arrivals. Twins! Gasoline mone is the least of your problems. I recommend that you look at the Mazda CX9 or CX 7--the least minivan of the minivans. Or, frankly, the Toyota Sienna is excellent. Bottom line is that minivans usually will consume more fuel. But you're also asking them to do more work--to carry an entire family and its load. Fair trade, actually.

Thank you, Mr. Brown. Great advice!

My pleasure. Enjoy.

We were blessed in December with child number 4 (no worries, they all have names...). My wife is looking ahead at the gear of 4 and friends, etc. I am now researching the mega SUVs -- Suburban, Denali XL, and Escalade. She currently drives a Toyota Sequoia, which she loves. My wife can handle the size. I am impressed with the amount of cargo room w/ the seats in the vehicle compared to the Sequoia and similar sized SUVs. Are any available with diesel engines? Am I missing any brands/models? What are your thoughts?

Congratulations. But please not that you don't need a mega SUV. You need a mega crossover, something with space, durability, reliability and fun. In those categories, it's hard to beat the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, or their GMC sibling, whose proper name now escapes me. There's also the Ford Flex and Ford Edge. And how could I possibly forget the simply superb new Honda Odyssey. You have choices.

Between the Camry, the Accord, and the Fusion, which would be your choice and why?

The Fusion, especially the Fusion Hybrid. Better overall value, better overall build quality, and Ford is really paying attention to ANY customer complaints. I'd go with the Fusion.

Warren - I'm curious if you saw the new Passat at the Detroit Auto Show and what your reaction was. How is possible that VW could be reducing the sticker price of the car by $8,000?

Yes, I saw it. Looks okay. But it has two problems--respectively Hyundai and Kia.  But the hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, especially the Optima SX, offer more bang for the buck in terms of styling and amenities.

Noticed some reports that they are finally focusing in on the appearance part of auto designs. The impreza concept appear to display this new design focus. Did you hear when the new designs will start to emerge? The AWD is a attractive feature especially in recent unpredictable weather patterns and if subaru can make these cars a bit more 'stylish', they are sure to benefit greatly. Hope that is the case.

Subaru has been working on its design problem for years.  And the company does have a design problem. It has confused practicality and reliability, both of which its has plenty, with attractive styling. Now it says it is moving from the  convent and the rectory to the House of Sexy Design. Subaru has said the same thing in the past. We're still waiting.

Hello Mr Brown. I have really enjoyed reading your chats! I'm hoping you might have some good advise for me. I'd like to buy a used Audi A3 or A4 with Quattro. Am I better off going with Carmax or a dealership's certified used cars? I'm planning on buying within the next 6 or so months, so that I can get a car I'm really happy with. Any recommendations? I currently use Auto Scandia in Herndon, VA to service my VW. Should I take the prospective car there for them to look at as well?

Warren Brown: I'd go to Carmax, or to a dealer selling certified used Audi cars. The point is to buy from someone who offers a reasonable warranty and who stands behind the product. Carmax does that (at least, in my experience with that company.) Good independent dealers do the same thing.

Anything that we haven't seen yet at the DC show? And on the Detroit show, was there anything there that really surprised or excited you? The new A6 seem hot, but not much different from previous model. The new passat seem like a extended Jetta. Other than the small cars, all others looked a bit dull.

The DC show is improving. But it still remains pretty much a regional show in comparison with Detroit, Los Angeles, Paris, Geneva, Beijing and Tokyo. Is it worh attending? Yes. There will be a few introductions there. Detroit? The most surprising thing was China's BYD platform.  BYD has been displaying at the Detroit show for your years now. It has yet to offer a car in this country. It plans to do that by 2012 or thereabouts. What's surprising is this: BYD really is a battery and energy company. It has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into alternative energy generating  and storage systems. It wants to offer the most efficient, most affordable electric vehicles in the world--electric vehicles that don't trade mobile source air pollution for electric-plant-generated stationary  air pollution. In other words, BYD wants to power electric cars by first extablishing an infrastructure using wind power and other renewable energy sources. That's bold! That's farsighted! And when  you finish laughing at the idea, just remember that a few short years ago we were laughing at Hyundai, Kia. Who's laughing now?

Any thoughts on snow tires versus all-weather tires in an area like DC where we don't get feet of snow (well, usuallY)

We can get away with supposed "all season" tires in much of the mid-Atloantic region, where it normally does not snow much. But in Detroit and environs, and places such as Cornwall, NY, where my family keeps a second home,  you'd better get real winter tires. There's no substitute for snow tires in regions of heavy snow.

Mr. Brown, Have you driven the new Optima? How does it compare with the Hyundai Sonata?

Yes. What's remarkable is that the Sonata and Optima sahre the same platforms and engines. But the cars have completely different personalities and appearances. The Sonata is more mainstream, more "family."  The Optima is, well, more opulent. I drove the SX and was hard put to imagine why I'd pay more for a "real" luxury car.

How funny is that these two are now becoming the measuring stick for "regular" cars. Do you anticipate that the Hondas and Toyotas will step it up or play complacent? Seems Ford learned their lesson, but it took almost bankruptcy.

I've always said that talent and competence don't have specific ethnic residencies. Hyundai and Kia prove it. Ford's comeback, a multicultural company if ever there was one, prove it.  The chief  ingredients  in all three case are  will, determination, dedication, pride of craftsmanship, and a passion to become the best.  Toyota had it and lost it, but is more than likely to regain it again. Hyundai and Kia are deeply infused with all of those qualities. So are the new Ford and GM...and Chrysler. It's the human spirit. It's tangible proof of validity in belief of redemption. It's what keeps all of us going.

Carmax, in our experience, does what they do by marking up prices by a huge amount. We had a car to sell recently, and judging by what they were charging for similar vehicles,they were taking more than a 50% markup over what they offered us for it. Car needed only minimal work and a good detailing.

Fair enough. Experiences vary. That wasn't my experience in dealing with Carmax (Atlanta, Ga., and Carmax near Richmond) on two occasions.

Mr Brown, I am hoping the Volt does well and would like to buy one should it turn out to be a good car. I do live in an apartment though and was wondering if charging the car would be an issue for people who do not own homes? I mean our community parking lot does not have any suitable spots for charging the car? what are your thoughts on this issue? Thanks.

That is a problem. The Volt requires charging time and access. It's convenience and value are based on easy access to both. If our genius politicians had any sense, they would pay close attention to BYD's plan to invest in infrastructure in tandem with developing cars and batteries. It really bugs me that we're setting ourselves up to be beaten again.

Afternoon! I'm giving my '02 Acura CLS to my younger brother and am in need of a pre-owned vehicle. I was deciding between the BMW 1 series and the Mercedes C300 (very different cars, I know) and wasn't really impressed by either. I love the exterior of both but the interior seemed so basic. I was thinking to go test drive the Lexus IS this weekend....any other suggestions? I'm looking to keep it under 30k (pre-owned).

The Audi A8, Cadillac CTS-V, and Jaguar XF all have very attractive interiors. I humbly suggest you try one of those.

I am impressed by the mileage estimates for the Prius but concerned about repetitive reports of its unconventional driving position. Please explain this. Is it awkward and uncomfortable? Will the new Prius V minivan have the same eccentric driving position as the current small Prius?

My experience is that the Prius' alleged "awkward driving position" has more to do with the size of the driver than it has to do with the Prius. The Prius is a short person's car. I'm short, barely 5'6". Taller people complain mightily about the little car's "awkward driving position."

LOve the OUtback, but spouse will only drive manual. Is the Outback Sport 4 cyl as good as the 6 cyl auto?

Tell oyur beloved spouse to get over it. It's a guy thing. And like most "guy things," it's based more on myth than reality. Here's the deal: Barely 11 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States are sold with manual transmissions. And that number is falling rapidly.

Guy thing: Manual transmission puts you in closer contact with the behavior of the car. Pure baloney. A computerized automatic transmission will beat a manual all the time in terms of performance and fuel economy.

Guy thing: "I like to shift." Reality: You like to shift as long as you have neither a debilitating physical injury or disease, one of which you will have sooner or later. When that happens, you'll have no problems accepting a good automatic transmission.

Another bit of reality: We are moving from dedicated manual and automatic transmissions to shiftable, dual-mode manumatics. Guess which one will have a higher resale value?

Love my Lincoln Aviator, but it is getting old. I expect to replace it in the next year with another SUV (hopefully with better mileage) or two, and I don't like the current Lincolns I would like a traditional SUV, since I actually do haul things in it, but the Navigator is too big and those M cars just don't do it for me. Do you think the higher end re-done Explorer would be a good bet? What others should I look at?

Absolutely. This is one Truck of the Year Award I totally agree with. The new Explorer has a heck of a lot going for it--including improved safety and mileage.

Hi Warren Thanks for doing these chats. Is there any other diesel sedan that you recommend to compare against the Volkswagen Jetta TDI? I like the idea of great mileage without having two drive trains. Any other sedans that you recommend that come close to the diesel mileage? Thanks!

I can't think of any in the Jetta TDI's price range, circa $25 K.

It's come time for me to finally buy a car. My job will probably be moving to a new location not served by public transit. I don't have a lot of money saved up, and insurance in Baltimore is very high, so I'm going with something cheap... I'm thinking a small 90's Honda or Toyota since everyone says they are reliable brands. Do you have any recommendations, or tips? I've read a few guides online and think I know the major issues to look for. I apologize for not having a more interesting question... like... "Which is better? Lotus Evora or Corvette!?" Hopefully I can ask that one in a few years. Thanks!

Take yourself to Hyundai or Kia. At Hyundai, look at the Elantra. At Kia, look at the Forte. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Thank you all for joining us today. My sincere apologies for the late start. Please come back next week. Thanks for a fine production, Gaurav Jain and Dominique Vu. Thanks Ria for all you do. Eat lunch.

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

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