Real Wheels Live

Jan 18, 2013

The Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown and guest Lou Ann Hammond will discuss the auto industry. Plus, they'll give purchase advice to readers.

Good Morning Warren and friends

A belated Happy Birthday to Warren. Yesterday was his birthday.

The Detroit auto show is over. Fuel efficiency and design were the name of the game. And trophies.

Congratulations to Cadillac for winning the North American Car of the Year with the Cadillac ATS. And, congratulations to Ram for winning the North American Truck of the year for the Ram 1500.

Eyes on design has become an integral part of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Designers that used to work in the auto field judge the cars that come out at the Detroit auto show. The Cadillac ELR won the production car of the year, and the Nissan Resonance won the concept car of the year.

Warren and I were on the John Batchelor radio show on Monday. You can listen at

If you want to see some cool concept technology and autonomous driving you can watch

but for now let's chat about cars

I was into the hybrids until I started reading about how the mileage numbers didn't match real-world usage, and the "return on investment" would take many years. Don't know if I care about ROI, but I do care about real-world; I don't live in a city, so would not use the braking regeneration thing much, mostly use the gas engine! I don't think I want to pay diesel fuel prices for a not-so-fabulous mileage increase. Can you help me clarify my thinking? And, I'm more interested in a cross-over than a sedan. THANK YOU!

There are only a couple of cars that I have driven that didn't get the mileage the EPA touted. Part of that is my fault, I don't drive like the EPA. Part of that is the EPA's fault, they need to upgrade their testing. But when my mpg numbers are more than 15-20% off what the EPA/manufacturers say they should be then I say something. That was the case for the Ford Fusion.

Sadly, I still got 39-40 miles per gallon, which is a great mpg. Just not what they said - at 47 mpg.

I am with you. I don't care about ROI as much, I care about not spending as much on gasoline. That is because I keep my cars till they die, which is about 15 years.

In your case I would recommend the Lexus RX 450h. It's around $50,000 one of the few hybrid SUV/CUVs around.

You could also look at the Toyota Prius plug-in, or the Ford C-Max plug-in. I like the idea of starting out using electricity then going to gasoline.

My neighbors and I have been discussing the widely varying comfort in cars' front seats. All of us agree that unless the seats are comfortable from the get go, we won't even consider further evaluation of the vehicle. Which cars are consistently well known for car seat comfort?

I love that you have a neighborhood that gets together. My little neighborhood does the same.

The most plush seats will start at the top as a luxury car. But check out the Nissan Altima. They came out with some space seats made for NASA-inspired zero gravity seats and they are really comfy.

I'm looking into getting a new car in the next year or two (whenever mine gives out), and would like to get a small SUV (I currently have a 2002 Hyundai Elantra hatchback). I've been looking at the Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV-4 and Honda CR-V. What are your thoughts? Is there something better that's still in this price range?

Wow, you're as bad as I am, keeping your car for more than 10 years!

The Honda CR-V is great, as well as the Hyundai Santa Fe. If you need a 3 row the Hyundai Santa Fe is coming out with a long-wheel version this year.

Also think about the Mazda CX-5 (touring version), Subaru Crosstrek (premium version) and the Kia Sportage LX. Let me know when you narrow it down again.

Am I right in thinking that having a car with "Turbo" in the name means highly complicated and expensive repairs and service? They seem to have good mileage and performance, but friends who have had cars with "turbo" complain about higher costs etc. Thanks

Anytime you have more technology there is a chance you will have more repairs or service.

Having said that, turbo makes such a difference in the drive that I would take that chance. I'm not talking about the 0-60 here. I'm talking about the 40-50 mph, going up a hill with an 18-wheeler breathing up your back.

gasoline direct injection (GDI) with turbo charging is the newest kid on the block. You will see better horsepower from a 4-cylinder (like a V-6 numbers) and still get the mpg of a 4-cylinder.


In the market for a small crossover. Trying to compare different makes/models, specifically around MPG, cargo space, and some other interior and exterior dimensions (head room, hip space, etc.). Problem: Esp with cargo space, I'm not sure I'm comparing apples to apples. Example: Most brands list the cargo space "behind rear sear", which I get - that's the "trunk". But what of "behind front seat"? See: Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe. And "with rear seats folded"? See: Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V. Do these terms ("behind front seat" and "with rear seats folded") really mean the same thing? Any suggestions?

I'm with you, that's the way I read it.

At first glance it looks like behind rear seat is the trunk. with rear seats folded means behind front seats, which would mean the same as with rear seats folded.

are the numbers for trunk space close on the rear seats folded and behind front seats?

Have either of you driven it? How much different is it than driving the Explorer with the standard engine?

There are other midsize SUVs that I would steer you towards; Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Murano, Mazda CX-9 Touring.

Do you know if Honda plans to reintroduce an Accord station wagon (not a cross-over) or Toyota plans to reintroduce either a Corolla or Camry wagon (not the Matrix) anytime in the next few years? Thanks for these very helpful chats.

Station wagon is under discussion for Europe. The world's car companies seem to think the U.S. dodes not want station wagons.

I have a 2008 smart fortwo and the other morning the ABS light came on while driving to work. I was able to take the car to the dealer that afternoon and had the problem fixed, but it seems the smart fortwo has a quirk that if the ABS system isn't working, it can lock the car in park by preventing the gear shift from moving. I am not sure what I did, but I was lucky to be able to get the light to go off for a few minutes and did manage to shift out of park. Why would they lock down the car that way?

First time I heard of this. Tech folks, please help!

Hi Warren, I understand you were at the Detroit Auto Show where there were many intriguing new and concept vehicles unveiled. One that particularly caught my eye was the VW CrossBlue as it is a plug-in diesel hybrid that's good for traveling 14 on battery power alone and in hybrid mode returns 35 mpg. Too good to be true or do you think we'll see it in the market someday soon? Would be a great choice for my family as we need the space and love the thought of being able to run our daily errands on battery power alone. Thanks for your thoughts!

How much do you want to pay for it? A diesel powertrain alone is more expensive than a gasoline engine. A hybrid is more expensive than a gasoline engine.

You can get 35 miles on a Chevy Volt and then 30 mpg on it's generator. If the Crossblue gives you about the same mpg how much more would you spend for it?

I'm drooling over the new Corvette -- will we be able to drool over it in person at the Washington Auto Show this year?

I would put money on it. You should have seen Mark Reuss, President of GM North AMerica, when he unveiled it. He was like a little kid. He was smiling all night long. It's a beautiful vehicle.

By the way, I will be at the washington auto show, so come up and say hi to Warren and myself.

Well Mr. B, a couple of weeks ago I asked your advice - on getting a "new" used BMW (which we did 10 years ago for a 2000 BMW 323i which finally had to be replaced) or an actual new one. Following your advice my wife and I checked out the new Caddy, but, as you also suggested (in different words) we followed our hearts and now have a new BMW. We're completely happy, Sterling BMW is happy, and, I assume, the BMW 328i is happy. I'll check in again 8-10 years from now.

That's optimistic, and I thank you. Just goes to prove what I've always said: BMW people are BMW people. Sterling knows that, which is why he loves selling BMW products.

I'm wondering why Subaru is hardly ever mentioned when people ask about small SUVs? The Subaru Forester is certainly a competitor to a Honda CR-V.

Subaru really has no small SUV models, or large or mid-size SUVs either. The Forester is a wagon. The Outback is, at best, a crossover,

The Tesla S -- MT 2013 Car of the Year. Who would have thought? Any new/updated opinions? Any updates on when the base or midline versions will be available?

Is this James from Tesla? :)

Yes, the Tesla S won Motortrend car of the year. Bigger than that award, I overheard a BMW executive say that they were impressed with the fit and finish of the Tesla. That's huge!

Have you seen the Tesla X? Gorgeous! It is going right to the heart of the BMW X5 owner.

Take a look

Is he not chatting today?

Yes, I'm chatting. I just learned the hard way today that my wife and lovely daughters were right. They told me NOT to buy a Lenovo laptop. They urged me to get an Apple. They were right. I was wrong. This Lenovo is less than ideal.

Kind of a three-corner-shot question, but after the Detroit show this week, as you look at the automotive horizon and hybrid/electric cars in development, do you see Tesla as a carmaker of the future or as more of a technology catalyst?

Good question

BTW - Warren and I will be at the washington auto show, so stop in and say hi.

Tesla has built an EV SUV for Toyota. They are working with Mercedes to build a B-class car.

They are building cars on a "for order only" basis, which means there are no cars sitting on dealers lots. In fact, the only lots you see are owned by Tesla.

In some respects I see them pushing the envelope as a technology catalyst for EV cars. In others I see them as a paradigm shift for how car manufacturers and car dealers sell cars to the consumer.


I'm looking to buy a new, inexpensive small car. The Honda Fit is my current favorite. But I notice that some manufacturers (like Hyundai and Kia) have some nice-looking competition at very good prices. But quality is important to me. (Like you, I keep cars for a decade or more.) And those two manufacturers in particular have not always had a good reputation in that area. But some say that has changed, and that they're now competitive in terms of quality and reliability. What's your take?

I love the Honda Fit, particularly the Sport iteration. But you have nothing to worry about if you choose Hyundai instead. Hyundai is competitive.

The ABS light went on in my 2007 Elantra once, and when I took it to the dealer, they said that, even though the brakes themselves were OK, they could not allow me to drive the car if the ABS module itself was non-functioning, as it was a liability issue for Hyundai. They gave me a loaner until the module came in and was installed. So maybe the car locking in P when the ABS light is on is to prevent the driver from using the car at all if the ABS module is kaput, which is consistent with what the dealer told me.

Thanks for that. Sounds logical--lawyer engineering and all of that.

And I respectfully suggest that you not blame Lenovo for what are more likely to be Microsoft's sins.

Thank you for the Birthday greeting and the advice. But I blame myself for NOT listening to Mary Anne, Binta, and Kafi--all of whom know more about computers than I do.

For years my fun car was a 91 Miata; it ran on regular. Then I traded it for something more practical. Now my wife would like one, but some of the websites I've seen say it requires premium. True? I mean, it still has a tiny 4 banger without turbo charging.

That's what I have as well, that it requires premium. It has to do with the valve timing, detonation, but I will check with Mazda and get back to you.


Hi Warren and Lou Ann, Always enjoy your commentary! I'm expecting a baby later this year and need a family car. I'm looking to purchase a Passat (09) and am wondering about the reliability as I plan to keep this car for a number of years. Also considering an 09 Audi or 10 Volvo, but really like the Passat. Your thoughts??? Thanks.

I would ignore the used Passat and buy something such as a new Hyundai Sonata, probably for about the same warranty. Here's why: Substantially better warranty on the Hyundai Sonata. So good, you really don't need one of those extended warranties. Excellent overall safety and quality, including rear-seat tetgers for that new baby's REQUIRED safety seat. Good price.

Please use your influence every chance you get, and tell the world's car companies they are dead wrong. I realize that sales figure may be driving this perception.

There was a time when station wagons were looked at as your family car, but that time has passed. There were some beautiful station wagons at the Detroit auto show.

But, alas, if people do not buy them, they won't be for sale.

I think station wagons, like the Audi Allroad, are beautiful.

The world's car companies are victims to what they think is U.S. fashion. They've been Hollywod Hood-winked into believing that "normal Americans" don't like hatchbacks and station wagons, that we regard such vehicles as "not cool." It is utter nonsense. Lou Ann, I, and other automotive journalists have been telling them that. But it is time for all of you to speak up and demand what you want. Journalists hardly buy anything.

Which car(s) did you wish you could pack up and bring home?

There were more beautiful cars in Detroit than I have ever seen?

The Cadillac ELR, with the guts of the Chevy Volt, was beautiful.  The new BMW 4 coupe hasn't announced the powertrain yet, but it was gorgeousss. Acura had another beautiful hybrid, there was an electric blue b-class Mercedes showed off (that I think Tesla will produce for them). Tesla had the X with falcon wing doors that were beautiful to look at.

Toyota had a newly designed Corolla that was wayyy out there for Toyota. Have you seen the Lexus LF-CC?

I like the interior design of the jeeps, Klaus Busse (interior designer) is great.

I'm forgetting some, but those are the ones that stick out.


The Tesla Model S. gets 150 miles on single charge. Can be  recharged (supercharged) in 30 minutes. It is where the car world is going, probably sooner than later. Congrats, Tesla!!!

Love these chats! Just a couple of comments on points raised already today. Regarding seat comfort, it's a statement of the obvious, but it really is an individual issue. As we were shopping a month ago for a small SUV, we drove the RAV 4, (just sat in) a CRV, drove a Subaru Outback (wasn't interested in the Forrester - wife thought it looked "clunky), and then took the VW Tiguan out for a spin. To the person asking about a small SUV - try this one! We really loved it - so much that we bought one. Been tooling around in it for a month now and are enjoying the ride, the "fit-and-finish" (wonderful, by the way), the amazing power (turbo 4), the stability - and the fact that it has gotten lots of safety accolades. And the seats? For both of us, they beat the you-know-what out of the Subaru seats. Extremely comfortable (for us, anyway). Enjoy this weather, all. We were ready to try the all-wheel drive in the awesome snowstorm that hit downtown DC yesterday. Yeah, right...

The older I get, the more important seats are to me. Subaru could use more work in that regard. To your small SUV list, add Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, The new Ford Escape.

Warren and Lou Ann, I wanted to thank you for your past advice and trustworthy reviews. I've submitted questions before about finding an affordably priced (under 30K) sedan to replace my 1996 Corolla. Well, I finally traded in the old bucket at 221,000 miles and bought a new 2013 Honda Accord 4cyl sedan. Although I tried out some other cars in the moderately priced bracket (Hyundai Elantra, Sonata; Kia Optima; Buick Verano), the Honda was just so well-equipped I couldn't resist. The collision sensor, backup camera, and lane-creep warnings are also making me a better driver. Couldn't be happier with it-- and like Lou Ann, I'll be keeping it a LONG time.


I'm a big fan of the Honda Accord. Did you get the blind spot camera that shows the traffic on your right side? I love that invention. It's a first for the industry.

I call it the 4-year itch. As soon as one gets through paying off their loan, they start looking at new cars. To me, that is when you are making money!

Enjoy your car, great decision.

I have read other reports of the ABS light being linked to problems with the gear shift being locked in park. It seems that when the ABS light is on, there may be a problem where the car doesn't "realize" the brake is being pressed and will not allow the car to be shifted... You must have your foot on the brake to shift gears (at least between Park, Reverse, and Drive). Drive to Neutral is fine.

Still sounds like lawyer engineering to me.

Hiya Warren After listening to Lance Armstrong's inspiring tale last night, I am planning to sell my cars and use nothing but bicycles to get around. It will be difficult in the cold months, but I understand that performance enhancing drugs will give me a warm glow. My question is whether it is better to sell the 2007 Volvo XC70 now or wait until spring time when demand may be higher. Is there a particular time of year that is best to recoup the most money when selling a used car?

Do you have facebook? My facebook account has been overrun with jokes about that interview!

Even theonion had a great piece on it.

Enjoy your Volvo XC70. Thanks for the cute quips.

Ignore the wives' tales. Do local research. Are cars like yours in high demand in your market. Check with R.L. Polk, Kellu Blue Book, Autobyte, Carmax, and for latest info. Act accordingly.

I have to replace my beloved 2001 Xterra XE. Is there something that has equivalent power (for the snow) yet may have some luxury to it? I'll have the vehicle for 10-15 years, so I want something that is a bit more upscale than the Xterra this time around. thanks!

Yes. The Ford Escape Titanium. Toyota Highlander, too.

Lou Ann and I thank you all for joining us today. We thank the able and agile Dominique Vu, our producer, for getting us through the Lenovo laptop crisis. We apologize to Apple for not listening. We won't make that mistake, again. As always, we thank Ria Manglapus for keeping things going. 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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