Real Wheels Live

Jan 28, 2011

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will be joined by Lou Ann Hammond to discuss the emerging trends from 2011 auto shows.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome Lou Ann Hammond, who will join me in today's chat. Lou Ann and I have covered the global automobile industry, and all that means, for 30 years. She hails from California and is the proprietress of, for which I also do a little work. Welcome, Lou Ann.

Thanks for having me on Warren. It will be fun to talk about the new year and what it holds for the auto industry. We talked to some great people at the Detroit auto show, and we learned a lot. 

I am looking to buy a hybrid sedan this Spring and looking at Kia and Hyundai mid-size. I know the two companies are "related" but are these cars comparable?

Good morning. Hyundai owns Kia. They share vehicle platforms and components in the same way that many sublings share clothes. So, yes, any car you buy from hyundai is structurally similar to anything you'll find at Kia. The difference is in personality and presentation. You and a sibling might have the same familial DNA, but you have distinctly different personalities. Car companies achieve that magic via computer assisted design. Lou Ann?

Lou Ann-- I agree Warren. Both Hyundai and Kia have made great strides and both are bringing out turbo and hybrids. Kia has a game changer for them with their new Kia Optima. Hyundai's Sonata is beautiful in any engine.

Hyundai has an Elantra coming out that will give the Chevy Cruze eco and the new Ford Focus competition.

Happy Friday! Do you think that the public will respond favorably to GM's Cruze and Spark compacts/subcompacts? I know they are beginning to turn out good products, but how will GM convince people that they're not suckers for buying American cars? I know it's no longer the truth, but it seems like the stigma still exists. Thoughts?

Looking at the sales numbers, the public already is responding favorable to the Chevrolet Cruze. The little Spark is, well, little and new. The U.S. does not have a good record with little cars, subcompacts, from anybody. Our political leaders are, so far, afraid to to anything with fuel taxes to make small cars more attractive in an age of hard-to-get oil. We'll see.

Hi Warren- It seems to me that we're in a new golden age of the automobile. It's almost like all the manufacturers are tripping over each other trying to introduce the most luxurious cars at fairly reasonable prices. It now seems like the only reason to buy an old line luxury car (Mercedes, BMW) is so people know you spent a lot. Keep up the great work, your weekly reviews are always a joy to read!

Lou Ann here - Warren and I just talked to Ed Welburn at the 2011 Detroit auto show and he talked about the difference in little cars.

It used to be that small and midsize cars didn't get the respect they are getting now. Welburn made the point that people who are buying those cars are sometimes spending a bigger percentage of their income on those cars and that needs to be given more respect.

And if you're going to want respect for spending money on the old line luxury car you need to buy the Mercedes S-Class. If a Mercedes owner (C-Class, or E-Class) is asked if they own a Mercedes they say yes, unless it's an S-Class. Then the owner says "I own an S-Class".

Mr. Brown, have you formed any views on the Countryman? Any idea whether area dealers will improve upon MSRP? I'm strongly considering buying one although I'm also interested in the Volvo S60 T5 and the upcoming Lexus hybrid (and I can't fit the Fusion into my garage - or a Sonata - hence my choices). Will either the Volvo or the Lexus be at the auto show?

The countryman is the smartest car MINI has come out with yet. It's an answer to all the questions. But be warned, if you buy a MINI you will have instant friends. The MINI seems to be a cult car with MINI rallys and events for all MINI owners. In fact, I think there is a MINI rally later this year in Portugal.

I have heard folks say the gov't should mandate all cars have AWD to handle the snow. Let's go cheaper, all that is needed in FWD or RWD is a limited slip differential and 4 snow tires.   I used to ahve a 90 325i BMW with a LSD and 4 snow tires. I could go anywhere in snow as long as it wasn't 10" deep or more.   I could control the car with the brake, gas pedal and steering wheel since it was set up for track days. Even with no seasons, it would still go in the snow. No seasons made it more fun. Knowing how to drive and understanding vehicle dynamics and weight shift is all it takes. I would 4 wheel drift exit ramps etc in the snow because that attitude meant a touch of the gas or lessening the pressure would straighten car up. And finally the gas pedal is not and an on/off switch. It needs to be stroked gently and respected like a beautiful woman. Clifton

Or an attractive man. Agreed.  I did a winter-driving piece on Fox yesterday (If your're on the left, don't hate me. If you're on the right, don't love me. I'm just a guy plying his craft).  In the Fox piece, I made many of the same points you made here, especially about trires. You don't necessarily need all-wheel-drive or dedicates four-wheel-drive to get through the snow. What you need are common sense, winter tires, and a well-balance (front-wheel- drive or rear-wheel-drive) automobile.  "Balance" here refers to front-rear weight distribution,

Common sense: If your car's ground clearance is 5.4 inches and the snow on the ground is eight inches, you are likel to get stuck, regardless of your drive system.

Common sense: Ice means no traction. No traction means skidding regardless of the drive  system, because all drive systems need traction/tire-road friction.

Common sense: Sometimes, it's best to stay put, which is what I did last night, eschewing several dinner/party invitations because my street began to glaze over around 5 P.M.

Winter tires: Check with Tire Rack, Goodyear, Michelin, et cetera for a proper fit for your car.

The accelerator: Our contributor is correct. Think foreplay. Go slowly, carefully, respectfully.

Warren--Any chance that you'll do a "meet and greet" at the DC auto show?

Yes, I will be there most of the day tomorrow, beginning at 11 AM. I also will be there Sunday at around noon until about 5 pm. I think we'll have a Washington Post table set up. If not, here's alerting the people in our public relations office to set up a WP table and at least one chair. I'm 63. Sometimes, I like to sit.

Hi Mr. Brown,  Is there an easy way to figure out what cars Consumer Reports compares other cars to? We recently shopped for an SUV with useful 3rd-row seats that can handle my husband's friends, but didn't want a behemoth (Suburban, Excursion, etc.). We drove just about everything -- Mazda CX-9, Volvo, Toyota Highlander, Acura/Honda, Lincoln MKT, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some -- and by far the best 3rd-row seats were the Buick Enclave. I mean, totally different category. Then we looked on Consumer Reports, and found that the Enclave's 3rd-row seats were ranked pretty poor! ??? What gives? Were they comparing them to something like the Excursion? I know you always, always say take rankings and ratings with a grain of salt, and believe me, I do. But to see a ranking like that that was so divorced from what I personally experienced just made be wonder about the reliability and trustworthiness of everything else they found. BTW, we bought the Enclave -- GREAT vehicle!

It's the thing about Warren, he makes sensible answers. the car you bought fits your needs. Consumer Reports could have different tests then the one you have.

Buick is doing a great job, so enjoy your vehicle.

Drive a C class or 3 series compared to these so called cars at near luxury prices. Close but no cigar when it comes to driving dynamics.  If driving dynamics dont matter by that Sonata or Fusion. Better yet take the car to 7 or 8ths on a race track and the difference is readily apparent. Now BMW and Mercedes are losing their way, but they still have it all over these near luxury competitors.

Both BMW and Mercedes have great cars. I don't count them out. But Hyundai is coming up and BMW and Mercedes both know it.

Most people don't take their cars on the race track, just like most SUV owners don't go off-roading.

Warren and I try to test drive the cars we drive like most owners do.

Lou Ann, Are the American makers finally getting away from the antiquated and dangerous drum brake system? ABS is no good with drums, which are prone to locking up.

Warren and I talked to Dr. Degenhart, CEO of Continental AG at the Detroit auto show.Warren asked Degenhart why Continental still had drum brakes in their portfolio and Degenhart said it was for emerging markets, China - India, etc.

So yes, America is getting away from them, but not other countries.

Warren--Isn't BMW/Mini running the Mini in the FIA World Rally Championship this year? You really need to travel to the UK for their rally and stand next to the road as these drivers literally fly by.

Just asked the MINI group for you. Here is their answer - Yes, MINI has announced its comeback to the international rally circuit at the Paris Auto Show last year. From 2011, MINI will compete at selected rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship and will go on to contest the entire season from 2012 onwards.

For similar safe, defensive driving, my coworker says his 4wd F150 is better than my A4 with quattro + traction control on snowy and icy roads. I'm pretty certain unless I drive into a 2' snow drift, I'll maintain more control and and movement than he will. What say you?

Please, good people, dispense with that kind of silly thinking. Here's why: Hubris is the friend of collision on icy roads--especially icy, congested roads. We saw way too much of that in Wednesday night's heavy snowstorm in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Some people with dedicated four-wheel-drive, locking differentials and all of that, apparently thought they had been tapped by God to move up the food chain. Some of them literally were bullying their way through traffic, only to crash into lesser-wheeled souls. The end results were traffic jams all over the place. The problem? The 4x4 bullies misunderstood God's tap. The Dude was trying to tell them to be careful, more considerate of their road neighbors. He was trying to tell them to take it slowly, to treat their accelerators gently, to understand the Golden Rule of Winter Driving: "ICE IS THE GREAT LEVELER. DON'T BE A FOOL. YOU WILL CRASH, SOONER OR LATER, IF YOU DON'T RESPECT ICE. PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION, REGARDLESS OF YOUR DRIVE SYSTEM."

Warren: Your answer last week to the question about winter-blend gasoline could have done without the lecture about geopolitics, because I've been wondering the same thing as the questioner. Normally, my gas mileage drops about 10 percent with winter-blend fuel, but this winter -- same car, same driving -- my mileage is down closer to 20 percent. My mechanic says there's nothing wrong with the car, so it must be the fuel. Is there something different between this year's winter blend and the winter blends of previous years?

Lou Ann, if you are there, can you help with this?

Lou Ann--Checking around now, but I don't think I can get an answer this week. I know the government has been pushing more ethanol and more ethanol would mean cleaner emissions and less fuel economy. I can't verify the winter blend has more ethanol, but that would be my first guess.

Hey Warren, Always enjoy your chats and hope you and yours are doing well. I'm interested in the Cruze, in particular the ECO version (manual tranny is a must). Have you driven it yet? What do you think? (I think 10 airbags has to be a plus for the Cruze). BTW I've only owned imports since the '80s and would love to buy from "Gummint Motors" but I do want quality and reliability. So what other cars (regarding seats/comfort/fuel economy) should I check out? I already intend to look at the Golf TDi--I've never been uncomfortable in a veedub--but, even though reputable sources (including yourself) say they've improved, I'm a little leary. (Also, w/ diesel higher than premium, is it false economy?) Again, the most important issue is seat comfort/driving position. I gotta bad back--really bad. Does the ECO offer adjustable lumbar support, or is the seat at least good? Should I look more at an LTZ--do they have better seats? Thanks, Tim in Mobtown

I just drove the manual Cruze Eco this week from Los Angeles to San Diego and back again. I am happy to report I got 42.8 mpg on the highway and my back never hurt! I liked the interior and really appreciated Onstar when I got lost.

You can also check out the Ford Focus and the Hyundai Elantra. I like the Golf TDI as well, and agree with you that diesel can be higher, but we all have to keep in mind that gasoline and diesel are forecasted to go back up within a year.

Why don't the American makers make more use of turbos for their 4 cylinder cars? Turbos provide more power to some of these small, anemic engines.

Proportionately, American manufacturers make more use of turbochargers and superchargers as anyone else. And you'll see more of those in coming years as domestic and foreign manufacturers try to meet tougher fuel economy standards without kiilling the fun-to-drive genie in their cars.

Quick tutorial for the rest of us:  Engines essentially are air/fuel pumps. Engines that use more air and fuel tend to produce more power. The trick is to use that air and fuel more efficiently to produce more power without an appreciable increase in fuel consumption. That's where turbochargers and superchargers come in. Turbochargers use exhaust gases to spin an impeller and pull more air into engine combustion changes. Gives a bigger bang for the buck. Superchargers are more up front in pulling in the extra air to acvieve the same purpose.

Good morning, Mr. Brown, Whatever happened to the review that you were going to do on the new Saab 9-5? Are you still planning to review this car? Thanks, Charles in Accokeek

Yes, I will do that review as soon as I have access to the car, which is all my fault. I should have requested it much earlier. Ria is working on it. Seriously.

I thought I was set on getting a new Ford Fiesta Hatchback. I thought I always wanted a nice small hatchback for zipping around the city. I am a late 20s professional who lives in the suburbs with currently no kids, but I keep seeing the Hyundai Sonata and I love the design and it seems like a really good value.  Roomy and fuel efficient. The sonata seems so grown up though. They are two completely different styles and each one says something different. I can't decide. Which would you choose?

Wow - you are right, two different types of cars!

Do you own a dog? I love hatchbacks because I have a dog and can take him with me.

The Sonata is affordable and fuel efficient and has striking good looks.

Really depends on your lifestyle.


Name 3 American cars that use turbos.

Any ecoboost car has turbo - so if you see a Ford or Lincoln with ecoboost you've got the turbo

To "Identity Crisis": Go with the turbo-4 Sonata. Sporty. More power. Yet still darned good fuel economy and the best looks in the business. Excellent safety and handling, too. You have just pointed out the key challenge to the global automobile industry: Hyundai and Kia, two Korean companies making excellent cars at world-beater prices. They are changing everybody's game.

Warren - Thanks for doing the chats. I'm just starting to look for a 2-3 year old small SUV - -- probably a Honda CRV. What are your thoughts on getting one that is "certified" as opposed to just taking it to a mechanic to have it checked over? Also, are all the certifications the same? Thanks and enjoy the snow!

Make sure the certified is through the manufacturer. If you buy a certified, or a warranty, through the dealer and the dealer goes under you may have problems.

Even if a car is certified you can always get your mechanic to look it over.

Peace of mind is best

Saturn has groupies too. So what!

Huh? Yeah, there are Mini rallies and all of that. But the Mini is very much a mainstream car. Look at the sales numbers ( center). That "cult" sems to have become a religion. Saturn, by comparison, is more of a cult. It's worshiupped by owners, but is no longer made by a manufacturer.

Any thoughts on the new Volvo S60 T5? It's a good-looking car but I am rather surprised Volvo didn't work on getting better gas mileage - 20 mpg/city is rather low these days for a mid-sized sedan.  Wish it were better - Volvo's international purchase program is so attractive! Too bad Mini doesn't have one (seems odd in light of the fact that BMW does).

You can't beat physics. It's a beautiful car, but it is heavy. Power to weight ratio is a real thing that causes fuel economy to go down.


Warren, my wife needs a new car and we're likely going to choose between a CPO BMW 328, Audi A4, or Mercedes C300. We'd prefer AWD, 4 door, and lastly, my wife needs a higher seat for driving comfort. I think that may rule out the BMW, and, obviously, she needs to test drive them all to see how they feel, but which is the better option and value between those three?

I'd go with the Audi A4 or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class 4Matic. And I'm so torn between those, it choice would depend largely on price, day of week, personality of the respective dealership.

Hi Warren, love the chats and thanks for taking my question. What are your thoughts on the new Elantra? Do you think Hyundai will add a Turbo for that car like they did for the Sonata?

Since the Sonata is getting a turbo and the Kia Optima is getting a turbo, I'm thinking it could happen.

I liked the new Elantra and it gets 40 mpg. The new competitors are the Ford Focus (which will be even better with an ecoboost engine) and the Chevy Cruze eco.

Hi Warren, what do you think of Sport Utility Trucks?

Many SUT models, such as the one sold by Hummer in its last gasp, were stylistic/marketing answers to a question no one really asked in the marketplace. For example, anyone wanting a pickup with dedicated 4x4 prowess had only to walk over to Ford, GMC, Chevrolet, Dodge, or Toyota and get one--usually at a lower price and with more utility.

Hi, Warren! The last time I asked for car advice, you suggested a Mazda. We ended up with the Tribute, which was not the model you recommended, but we're very happy with it and I thank you for steering us in the right direction. Now, I need a new commuter car. I've taken a new job and drive more than 50 miles one way, so I need something with great gas mileage. Obviously, reliability is also key when I'm putting that many miles on a car. Comfort and affordability are also important. And if it could be just a little bit sporty and fun, it would be the perfect car. Just to give you an idea of where my tastes lie, I used to love my VW Beetle, except that it was in the shop as much as it was on the road, and I really like the Mazda 2 and 3, as well. What would you recommend? Thanks again and have a super weekend.

Aaah, my first car was a green VW beetle. named Herman - get it, her man :)

If you're looking at the Mazda also look at the MINI, the Scion.

Have you had a chance to drive the new Fiat 500 yet? I have seen them in Europe but am happy to finally get a chance to give it a good look-see at the auto show. I understand the US model is a little different than the Euro model and is being made in Mexico. I have a MINI now which I like but am intrigued by the 500.

I'm also intrigued by the Fiat 500, which I've observed in static form at International car shows. My understanding is that one also is rolling into the Washington Auto Show, underway at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, open to the public today (Jan. 28) through February 6.

I have yet to drive a Fiat 500, but should be doing so in a bit. If it drives as good as it looks, it could be a contender to the mighty MINI.

Hi Warren, After this week I am thinking about a small SUV/Cross over. Any thoughts on one under $30,000 that gets good gas miliage and is fun to drive. I love cars with great European type handling. Thanks.

Have you looked at the Mazda speed3? BMW? BMW SUV/CUVs are made in South Carolina, so you'd be helping the US economy, but getting a European feel car. 

Does it really hold 20 gallons of gas? Seems like a lot for most cars today.

Yes, it holds 20 gallons of gas.

Yes, it seems like a lot for that size of car.

Warren, I wanted to thank you again for your advice. I am almost two months into my ownership of a VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI and I could not be happier. I was also pumped to see that Mercedes is bringing the C-class diesel to the US in a year or so. I emailed Mini last night telling them I would have bought their car if they offered the diesel (which they do in other countries). Listen up, car manufacturers! We want diesel! p.s. Lawmakers, give us some tax incentives like they do in Europe. (Maybe that's too 'socialist' *roll eyes*) Thanks again!

I join you in that protest/demand. Not to Capitol Hill: Governing could be easy.  Use common sense. If, for example, one fossil fuel (diesel) gives 30-percent better fuel economy than the other (gasoline), tax accordingly. And please don't give us that gibberish about "picking winners." The idea is to improve fuel economy.

Hi Mr. Brown, We're looking forward to adding to our family (yay!) and are in the market for a slightly used vehicle with enough space for 2 carseats, a stroller, and a 70-pound dog. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Congrats family man

Subaru forester, non-turbo'd. the new one is bigger, but the older ones are great too.

"aaah, my first car was a green VW beetle. named Herman - get it, her man :)" Mine was also green and named Bailey. Get it? Beetle Bailey. Appropriate because it looked like an old Army helmet. Welcome to the chat. And thanks!

Sounds like something for my friend, Lou Ann. But I've got to tell you that the lady doesn't know didly about communism. We were in Communist China together on several occasions. She wanted to shop for high-end, Western name brands!


Lou Ann- Yes comrade, anything for a party!

Love you warbro.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. And thank you, Lou Ann Hammond, for co-hosting today's show. And, yes, Brian Armstead, any time you want to, my brother. And Ria, you noble soul, plowing through the ice and snow in the early hours of the morning to deliver the Porsche Cayenne, thank you. Eat lunch.

For full coverage of the 2011 DC Auto Show click here.  Also, upload pictures of your favorites from the show in our photo gallery.

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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