Real Wheels Live

Jan 27, 2012

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

Time to trade in the single lady car for a family vehicle. I'm considering the Mini Countryman. But I'm also looking at used luxury cars in the same price range as the new Mini, specifically BMWs and Mercedes. For the long haul, which is the better value?

The Mini Cooper Countryman, despite its rustic name, is not much of a family vehicle. It's cute, fun, but not really family. Inasmuch as you seem to be shopping German upscale, take a look at the Mercedes-Benz R-Class wagon or B-Class Hatchback.

I can hardly believe the statistics I'm reading about the forthcoming four-cylinder turbo BMW 328. Are they for real? 0-60 in 5.7 seconds, and STILL gets 36 mph on the highway? Why will anyone buy BMW's 6 cylinder 3-series that accelerates only .3 seconds faster, gets worse mileage, and costs @ $8,000 more? And why can't Audi, Mercedes, etc. get acceleration figures under 6 seconds (or 7 seconds, for that matter) and comparable mileage from their 4 cylinders? (C250 7.1 seconds/31 mpg highway; A4 7.2 (multitronic); 30 mpg highway (multitronic). What has BMW figured out that the rest of the automotive world hasn't?

Exactly the reason BMW bested Mercedes and Lexus as the luxury car of the year. And Mercedes was none too happy about either.

I'll be driving their new 3-series next week and will have a review up for you.

Part of the reason is carbon fiber. BMW went into a joint venture with a carbon fiber group and that makes a car lighter, more agile, just as strong etc.

I have a video of BMW's newest electric cars I'll put up later today. It is beautiful.


Warren, A recent addition to our family is nudging me towards letting go of my beloved Miata (11 years of fun driving) into something with a back seat. I am smitten by the A5, but have seen its reliability rated below the A4. And there is a 10K price difference. But I know if I buy the A4, every time I see an A5 go by, I'll kick myself. Talk some sense into me?

Why not the A4 Allroad Wagon? It makes perfect sense for family travel but, unfortunately, won't be available for another six months. But here's the deal. If you buy the Audi A5 now, I guarantee that you will be kicking yourself when the A4 Allroad Wagon rolls out especially if, as expected, it rolls out with a diesel option.

I have been thinking of using Rustoleum Automotive Touch Up Kit. Any reactions? Has anyone already tried it?

Try it. Techhie inputs, anyone?

Hi there, My family needs a new SUV and we like both the Honda Pilot and Jeep Grand Cherokee. My husband's company will be paying for us to lease whichever we choose and once the lease is up we can turn it back in or pay the difference to purchase it ourselves. I think the Hondas hold their value better? And might last longer? Which one is the better car for a family of four? Kids are about to turn two and four if that matters...Thanks!

You're right, Honda has a more consistent reliability number. But the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee is going to be a great car. The kids will like the Jeep factor when you take them to school in it. If you can buy a car for only what is left on the lease I would go with the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Warren, “ You were asked this question last week (someone beat me to the punch!) - Same question - but take the CR-V out of the equation and add an engine with more oomph - which are your top 3? "Of the 2012 midsize SUVs in the under $30k category, as far as MPG economy, safety, seats for 5, navigation included, AWD and good visibility, what would you consider the top three candidates? I'm replacing a 2001 Mazda Tribute that had good interior space and good visibility. Newer models in this group seem to have reduced visibility. Not a family vehicle, a grandma vehicle, sometimes I cart 3 grandchildren but not too often."

So, we're talking at least V-6 models? V-8's make no sense, unless you are in construction or something. That being the case, I'd go with the Jeep Laredo, GMC Terrain, or Nissan Xterra.

I wrote in last week about diesel and why it's under used in the US.  Some wrote in saying I was wrong . "Hi, Warren. The recent post about diesel fuel in the USA is wrong. USA/Canada have some of the most stringent diesel standards in the world, only 15 ppm of sulphur in Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel at all pumps."

Yes the US is at 15 PPM we got there just as the EU went to 10 PPM. last developed country there, and will be the last to 10 PPM. Also in US oil companies see standard as the high jump, how close to the bar can you get in Europe its the limbo, how low can you go. Actual average in Germany has been below 5 PPM for 7 or 8 years. But I wasn't talking about just sulfur. the EU has very tight requirements for everything from aromatic content to Cetane,flash point, viscosity... This results in very consistent fuel which allows engine makers to tune Euro engines much better both from mileage and emission. In the US there is much wider range for these attributes, save refining costs, which make it harder to tune engines especially to meet emission standards.

Diesel was in the United States, but it was dirty, smoking. It got a bad reputation. The oil companies didn't want to clean up the diesel. They did it kicking and fighting Congress for five years.

Once the diesel was cleaned up the oil companies kicked up the price of diesel because it cost them to clean it up. Diesel is still higher than gasoline in some states. The car is more expensive than gasoline. Gasoline is in every fuel station, diesel is not.

Diesel is starting to make head way again. The car companies are bringing their European diesel engines over to the US.


We seem to be talking about two different things. You are talking about clean-air standards for diesel. I am talking about the growth of diesel sales in the U.S. I checked last night with the Diesel Technology Forum, admittedly not greatly admired by environmentalists. But they do keep track of what is close to their hearts--sales. U.S. diesel sales are rising dramatically, up 27 percent in 2011, beating all combined sales of electrified vehicles.

Come on down to the Washington Auto Show at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. I will be there Saturday from 12 to 4pM and Sunday from 1PM to 5PM. It's a good show, mostly retail stuff, but a few good glimpses into the future. Stop by. I'm sure that Gaurav and Dominique will have a table for me UPSTAIRS.

With respect to your answer to the question about BMW vs Mercedes, and the 0-60 times and gas mileage, I can't believe that BMW is using carbon fiber in the regular (non-M) 3 series! It is coming down in price, but not that low. I think the real answer is greater use of aluminum and BMW's new small, turbocharged engines.

You are right, it is in the M3. The roof of the M3 coupe is carbon fiber. The bumper bars on all M cars are carbon fiber. The M6 was the first carbon fiber roof.

BMW built a plant in Washington State for the BMW i series. It will have a complete body structure of carbon fiber.


I could not disagree with you more. The A5 is a sultry piece of rolling art, with a flowing curved flank that screams "look at me!" The A4 is a dependable Bauhaus-inspired "plain-Jane" that can be dolled up with some accessories, but will never have the va-va-vavoom of the big sister A5.

You said you wanted a "family" vehicle, assuming you are the same chatter.  If you are not the same person, please understand that I don't put "sultry" in the same category as "family," although sultriness helps to get thee to "family."

Hi Warren, we like the new Odyssey van style..there seems to be lots of 2011s out there with low miles, $5-8K less than the brand new 2012s. Any thoughts? We don't need lots of fancy extras like leather or DVD system, just a reliable people-mover for a family.

The Odyssey is one of the best minivans ever. But the style proved polarizing. Detractors likened it to a hearse. I disagree. I love that one--one of the best family haulers available today. You can get a deal. Go for it.

Hi Warren, I am looking at used 2010 Lexus RX350 AWD with Nav. I have read reviews said that the engine is noisy and other engine related issues. Have you heard anything like that or other known issues. I thought this is very unlikely especially for Lexus. Any other better alternatives or I am pretty safe with a RX? On the other hand, I like Porsche Cayenne as well. However, with the same money, I would have to go down to 2008 and start to worry about repair and high maintenance costs. Your thoughts?

I have a girlfriend, Maryann, that has an RX and she has the same complaint. Her husband says it sounds like the lifters are loose, but the dealership says that when the car is cold the lifters go up and down really quickly and that's what makes the noise.Once it gets warm the noise goes away.

I will check this out with Lexus and get back to you.

I own a 1993 Lexus LS400 and it is so quiet. You don't hear a thing. I'm surprised that a new car would be noisier than a 1993.


Are they available in the US this year? Best I've found is that the plan is to have them available in 2013. Tell me I'm wrong (please! I kinda like 'em) but if not, it's a wasted recommendation for the previous LW.

The Mercedes-Benz B-Class hatchback will carry a 2013 model-year designation, to be available in the late sspring-early fall of 2012.

Scheduled for the U.S. in late spring-early summer 2012.

Warren Last week I took your advice and went to shop for a new Nissan Pathfinder LE vice a used 08 Lexus GX 470 and I have to say I was very disapointed with the trim quality of the LE. The faux wood was surprisingly cheap plastic, particularly surprising given the MSRP was close to 40k...I follow your chats weekly and had previsouly crossed off the MDX given the proximity of the third row seat head rests to the back window...Plan to look at the Q-7 and Volvo XC90 this weekend, should I worry about third row safety on these as well? What would you reccomend for SUV with leather and third row seats at about 30k? Thanks

Seriously, I'd go with a Buick Enclave or GMC Acadia. Reason: Interior materials are top quality, as is layout; lots of power; excellent reliability; GM has been sued so many times, the company's engineers and lawyers anticipated possible law suits over 3rd row seats and placed them a safe distance from rear hatches.

Warren, You suggested a B-Class to the Mini Countryman submitter. Is M-B importing these to the U.S. now?! We drove one of these (along with an A-Class for a day) for a week in Europe several years ago and it's been our city dream car every since! Mercedes got that people hauler right. It was sad to see ads for them in the Canadian papers when we visit Michigan knowing we couldn't bring them across the border. If so, are the diesels coming?

I was in Stuttgart last year and got to see the new B-Class and A-Class. The A-Class is just as spectacular as the B-Class. Gorgeous cars.

Mercedes has confirmed that they will be bringing in smaller luxury Mercedes all the way through 2015.

I heard that Mercedes will bring a plug-in hybrid to the US, but they won't confirm it. But technology is a core element for all manufacturers so expect it.

Use the Metro and avoid parking hassles and prices.

I might buy a new Jetta Sportwagen TDI, essentially a Golf station wagon with clean diesel engine. Can I be sure that diesel fuel sold throughout the USA will be as refined and green/clean as it is in Europe, where this VW engine was developed?

The VW engine sold in America meets all the specs of the American market. So does the diesel fuel.

VW waited for the two to be compatible before bringing their engine over.

I'm wondering if you could elaborate on the difference between the Elantra and Sonata other than size. The elantra seems to be recognized over and over again as a great buy but I am not seeing the same excitement over the that because it has alot more to compete with? I'm trying to figure out which of the two best fits my needs! - Thanks

The Elantra, quite simply, is an excellent First Car, as in first purchase. That generates excitement. The Sonata is a "family" car, a mid-size car, an extremely crowded segment filled with buyers who are "settling down," coming off their crazy days. By definition, they are a bit less exciting.

I am shipping a rebuilt Land Rover 1978 series III 88 Santana back to DC from Canberra, Australia. Any ideas where I can get it fixed when something eventually breaks? Cheers!

Any Land Rover dealer in the United States.

I am still driving my first car, a 2002 Honda Civic coupe. I am interested in upgrading to something a little more "luxurious" but still small, but every car I have sat in / test drove seems to have horrible visibility compared to my current ride. The pillers or columns are in the way, the windshields are tiny, etc. I want to feel like I can SEE out of the car in all directions to drive safely. Do you have any recommendations I might be missing? Or is just that each car is different, and it will take time to get used to a different car no matter what it is?

Try the Buick Verano turbo edition.

The Nissan Maxima

Those are two I can think of right off the bat. Let me know what you like or don't like about them and we'll continue to narrow it down.

Thank you all for joining us today. We started a bit early. Here's hoping that didn't throw too many of you off. Please come back next week. Again, I will be at the DC Auto Show Saturday, 12 pm to 4 PM, and Sunday 1PM to 5PM. Please stop by. Thanks, Dominique, for everything. And please forgive me, Ria, for last night's miscue on the DC Show pickup. 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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