Real Wheels Live

Feb 03, 2012

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

What did you think about the DC auto show? Herndon

It has been a good show. I'm happy that President Obama stopped by earlier in the week. His presence, as well as that of many members of Congress, highlights the D.C. show as a policy venue, which is good. Lots of public participation, too. A success, I think.

I'm looking to replace my beloved '01 Saab 9-3, and so far I'm looking mainly at VW Jetta or Passat. I really like the idea of a diesel (my husband has a Jetta TDI that he loves), and it has to have a stick shift (that is non-negotiable). Any suggestions?

The family that dieher stays together stays together, especially if they are dieseling with a VW TDi product--simple, efficient, safe, reliable at a reasonably affordable price.

Warren - I've read your columns for years and love them. Anyway, I'm replacing my wife's 2004 Toyota Camry XLE and am debating between a 2012 Camry XLE, Hyundai Sonata Limted, and Kia Optima EX. I'd go with the 2.5L 4 cyl in the Camry or the 2.4L 4 cyl in the Sonata or Optima. Your thoughts?

I'd go with the 2012 Optima--24 mpg city/35 mpg hwy EPA rating, always reduced by real-world driving. Get the EX version, $23,200 base, 2.4-liter, inline 4 cylinder, 200 hp/186 ft-lbs of torque. A very nice piece of work, more fun to drive than Camry. Looks better, too.

I am considering trading my 2009 Accord for either the Nissan Maxima or Toyota Avalon. Which is the best buy?

I'd go with the Avalon, the best Buick Toyota ever made. It's unchanged for 2012, which means you might save money buying a leftover 2011 model. Starts at about $33k. Solid, reliable, well constructed, conservative big sedan.

Dear Warren Brown, I do not know if this is the right place to ask this question. What do you think of photo enforcement cameras? Do you think that they save lives? The District of Columbia is placing them everywhere. I have seen at least 2 new speed cameras in my neighborhood already in the past year. I think that photo enforcement cameras may discourage driving and force people to use public transportation. This may have an impact on the auto industry. If a trip to the grocery store, dentist, restaurant etc cost an additional $150.00 driving will get be a lot more expensive. True it is best to obey the law but a moments loss of concentration will cost you. Misjudging a yellow light time will result in a ticket. Myself, I am looking at the side of road to spot the signs (traffic laws photo enforced) and camouflaged cameras to avoid a ticket. Thanks for reading, Richard P. Gunion

Photo enforcement cameras are a business proposition that have little to do with safety, especially in the District where the ticket is sent to the license plate instead of the actual driver, who isn't photographed. I've gotten tickets in the district when I was in Shanghai and Paris, because of an infraction allegedly committed by my wife or my nephew, neither of whom knew they had committed a boo-boo because no law enforcement person stopped them to ticket them for their alleged error. The Photo ticket came to me, because I owned the car. What that has to do with safety is beyond me. It's about money--not safety, not justice--just cash. The District drivers need to get together and file a class-action lawsuit demanding to know how much the camera provider gets in cash, the name of the camera provider, the exact information on the contract between the District and the camera provider. Due process is being eroded here at our expense.

Why is it difficult to find a diesel that isn't small (Golf, A3) or way too pricy (MB BMW). Specifically the BMW 335D "starts" at 45k but good luck finding on under 50K. It sounds like a great car, pure torque and reasonable MPG. The MB E350 is even pricier (MSRP 51K). Is there no middle ground.? The only car I can find is the Passat. One car is not a choice.

Diesel choices are growing in the United States--slowly. Mercedes-Benz and VW now are leading the diesel pack, because they believe in diesel and have invested lots of money in the technology--much to their benefit in European sales. In the United States, diesel remains a retail proposition too risky for many manufacturers, largely because of the USA consumer history of rejecting diesel (for performance and environmental reasons that no longer apply) and because we have a national energy policy that favors less-efficient gasoline over diesel, which is 30-percent more efficient.

Warren, After 12 years sticking with my VW I just bought my 2nd new car (and I'm almost 40). It's a 2012 Subaru Impreza wagon. So far, no buyers remorse in any way. These have been tough to get but it was worth the wait. I think it was the best decision as someone who prioritizes safety above most other concerns. While most compacts these days are really safe, and my short list was pretty long, the AWD for someone who lives in a snowy/slushy/icy/rainy area of the country (I'm in new england) gives it a clear advantage. I also appreciated how above the other two cars I test drove (mazda3 and Focus), it has the most conservative styling - I thought those other cars were just a little bit too youthful. I know it won't be cross shopped, but it seems a very good poor-man's A3. The only other thing of note is while the Focus was my #2, Ford seemed to set their required trims/upgrades/technology packages in a way that I had to choose a much higher optioned vehicle for 1-or-2 must haves on my list. Subaru's trims had everything I wanted and nothing I didn't want. BTW: this car is CHEAP to insure! I hope this can help some of your readers.

Yeah, the styling of the Impreza wagon is conservative. But its safety, performance and cost values are many. You're getting a break on your insurance because the insurance companies love the psychographic profiles of  most Subaru buyers: Responsible, trustworthy (meaning they pay their bills on time), honest (they tend not to be involved in fake accidents), family people (meaning they don't take unnecessary chances behind the wheel).

I went to the auto show and was surprised that Porsche wasn't there. I didn't see Mitsubishi, either (although I might have overlooked them). What gives?

The DC show is a regional retail affair as opposed to a manufacturer's show. At least one retail dealer, Euro Motorcars, I think, had a 911 Porsche on display downstairs. But Porsche the manufacturer will not incur the enormous expense (nearly $1 million) of putting up a booth at a regional auto show in a region where Porsche sells very few cars.

Good morning, Warren: I read with interest yesterday about news of Chrysler's $183 million profit for 2011, its first full year of positive earnings since 2005. It seems to me that the smallest of the Detroit automakers is being the most aggressive. What can other automakers learn from Chrysler?

All of Detroit's automakers are being aggressive nowadays inasmuch as all of them posted 4th quarter earnings and sales gains; all now have hot products; all now understand that they are in the car business. They will have to keep pushing. The Japanese companies are pushing back hard, coming off production and marketshare losses caused by last year's earthquake and tsunami.

What do you think about all the hype around Hyundai lately? Are they for real or still not quite there yet when it come to playing with the big boys?

Hyundai IS a big boy with a lot of great products. But it's a very young big boy with lots of hubris and resultant  errors--such as theVeloster, which, in my opinion, doesn't match the quality or performance of other Hyundai products.

Hi Warren, keep up the great work! Since Hyundai/Kia are on impressive tear refreshing their stable with well-received cars, I was wondering if you knew when they were going to give their aging minivans the same treatment. Thanks!

My hunch is that they're sitting back trying to figure out if the minivan market truly has a lucrative future. Once they've made up their minds on that question, they will act accordingly.

Hi Warren, With one dog and a baby on the way, I need to add a vehicle. I have a truck for what trucks do, but my wife wants a good combination of safety, luxury, and easy access for baby, baby accessories,and somewhere in the back for the dog. And she likes being high up, so wagons are non-starters. Budget is around $35k with some flexibility, looking at certified used RX350's, Acura MDX's or RDX's, or Audi Q5's if I can find them. Anything else you'd suggest? And what'll get me the most bang for my buck? Thanks!

Check out the Honda CR-V.

Hello, Warren- After six years, I'm really tired of my gas-guzzling Honda Pilot. While it is nice for long trips, it gets 10 MPG or less in the city - which is probably 80% or more of the driving I do in it. We're a family with two elementary-school aged children. We originally went with the Pilot for the third row (which we never use) and the cargo space (which we never fill). I'd like to sell it and buy a smaller and more fuel efficient used car for the same price (approx. $16K). Do you have any recommendations on what would make sense for us to get for that $ - I've been looking at the Toyota Prius, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, and VW Passat Wagon. Thanks in advance for any guidance you may have.

Of the bunch mentioned, the Honda CR-V makes the most sense for a small family with dog. It is one of the most family friendly compact crossover/wagon around. Als look at the Chevrolet Equinox (seriously) and Toyota Rav-4.

Hi Warren, I recently bought a Hyundai Tucson, in part because I was attracted to its sticker price as compared to competitors. However, upon closing the deal, I was told that under-body sealants were extra (over $1k). The salesperson explained that while this sealant is standard with other makes, it is no longer standard with Hyundai. This extra charge unexpectedly changed the attractiveness of Hyundai's sticker price. I am wondering whether you have heard of this sealant and/or extra charge and whether you think the sealant is a worthy investment.

Baloney. That sealant is standard on all new cars and trucks sold in the United States. Has that salesperson ever been in an assembly plant? Cars and trucks in assembly are dipped and rustproofed at least seven different ways before they reach final assembly. Post-production sealant mostly is a waste of money. No manufacturer would introduce an easy-rust car in today's U.S. market.

I just saw a commercial for the new "sports car" from Acura. Any thoughts on it? I used to have an Acura RDX that I traded in for a Honda Civic SI (it was leased) and my wife has an Acrua TL. I haven't read any info on it but after the commercial, I'm curious.

I want to drive it as soon as possible!

I'm looking for a new car and I'd like it to fit my teeny tiny parking space better. I found the specs for my current car, but it just says width (not with/without mirrors). Should I assume it is with mirrors or without? Thanks!

Check or, the latter an associate of The Washington Post. Ample specs can be found in those places, including notes on whether the car you choose comes with standard/optional automatically folding sideview mirrors. Good luck.

Why is it necessary for modern hybrid vehicles to have the large heavy batteries? Diesel railroad locomotives use an internal combustion engine to drive a generator/electric motor to drive the wheels. Wouldn't we save expense and weight in automobiles if we used the same system--a small internal combustion engine (motorcycle type) to drive the generator? Thanks.

There are many variations on the hybrid theme, including those with smaller, lightweight lithium ion batteries. Shop around.

Is there anything better than the new Golf for doing all day on the highway, is economical in total ownership cost, and will carry a six-footer, wife and dog in comfort?


Passat, Ford Fusion Hybrid 2013 (soon going on sale), Buick Regal GS (don't thum your nose until you actually drive it, Chrysler 200, Nissan Altima among many, many others.

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

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