Real Wheels Live

Mar 01, 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.

Congress has left Washington for the weekend. The "sequester" automatic federal cost-cut dealine is here. By monday, it will be gone and the likelihood is that most of us will be okay...for a while. The federal workforce have at least a 30-day cushion before they start receiving any furlough notices. Congress has a similar cushion, until March 27, before they start feeling real heat from an upset public. My hunch, the geniuses on Capitol Hill and at the White House will reach a budget deal by March 27.


Good morning Warren and friends

Many years ago, in the Ninth ward, two young people fell in love, got married and dreamed about the future, about raising children together, watching them grow into upstanding adults.

Yesterday, Warren had the honor of accompanying his eldest daughter, Binta, to the White House to meet the President of the United States, as part of a group of young people who are changing the world.

Congratulations Warren and Mary Anne Reed Brown.

now, let's chat about cars.

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Any idea when Toyota will bring the 3 row Prius to the US? It seems like great match for vehicle and market. Any other similar high-mileage 7 passenger cars on the horizon?

We'll know more about Toyota's plans next week in Geneva. My hunch is that Toyota will  increase Prius passenger room by 2014. Why? Competition, such as the Ford C.Max. And GM wisely is doubling down on its increasingly popular Chevrolet Volt technology, moving it to other nameplates in the GM fleet.

What do you think about the latest Consumer Reports ratings of the top cars in each category? No American cars made the list.

I have to study that report more before I attempt to answer intelligently.

Warren and Lou Ann, I always look forward to your chats. I have been lusting after the Ford Focus ST since I saw the prototype at the Washington Auto show 2 years ago. I finally test drove one a couple weeks ago and it lived up to my expectations. Have been a Honda Si / Acura Integra GSR owner the last 20 years will I regret going back to an American car? Seems like Ford has gotten on-par if not surpassed some of the Japanese in design and manufacturing, but how about reliability? Is the Ford Focus ST a good choice for someone that will be eligible to join AARP in a few months? Thanks.

Thanks for joining us in the chat room.

The Focus is a good car. I wouldn't have thought of it as a mid-life crisis car. I just think of it as a good, all-around car.

The one issue Ford gets dinged on, the most, is their infotainment system. They have made adjustments, but it can still be cumbersome. I tend to like it. Once you get to know the system I think you will like it. It offers so much.

I got the miles per gallon with the Focus that Ford said I should, so I am happy there as well.

Enjoy the car.

In this economy, what are the pros and cons of leasing or buying Volvo C70?

Not having the money to pay for it. Check your accounts and future spending needs. What are your transportation needs and wants. How do they match funds on hand and credit rating. Buy accordingly.

Dear Warren, I purchased a 2012 Honda CRV last July and the sticker stated mileage at around 31 mpg on highway and about 27 mpg in traffic. Since I purchased it, highway mileage amounted to only about 27 mpg max. and city driving sometimes only around 20 mpg. Should I complain to the dealer? I've read that some attribute this to the type of regular gasoline sold these days. Do you agree? What do you think accounts for this low mileage on my CRV? Thank you. Mariane Dunne

No. The simple truth is that most EPA mileage stickers are, at  best, estimates. Your real mileage will vary for a variety of reasons--road conditions, driving style, weather, passenger and cargo load on board, fuel type. The list is endless.

Hi. I'm looking for a car for a family of four. We sometimes need seats for one or two more. Do you know if the RAV 4 still come with an optional 3rd row? Any other suggestions? I'd rather stay with smaller vehicles with the optional third row than go with a Sienna or Odyssey. Thanks.

The Hyundai Santa Fe is coming out with a 3rd row seat. If you want a fun peppy car that has 3 rows look at the Ford Flex V6 Ecoboost. It's base price is almost $44,000 but I love that car.

Drive the RAV4, and then drive both of those and let me know what you think.

Warren if you were retired, and there was just you and your wife to squire about, but also still love to drive what cars would be your first choice? Thanks

First, I've never taken "retiement" seriously. I have no idea of what it means.

Second, I've been married to the same woman for 45 years, during which time she has never allowed me or anyone else to "squire" her about. She'd rather drive.

Bottom line:  We'll drive whatever car SHE wants, and we can afford.

My girlfriend could not wait on a 2014 Subaru Forester, but was happy to get a good deal on a 2013 edition. It's her very first new car. One of the issues she faces now is deciding between dealerships service vs independent Subaru specialist for general on-going maintenance. When it comes time to sell or trade-in, will dealership service records boost a low mileage car's value more than a trusted independent shop? What would you recommend? Thank you.

I'd stick with dealership service unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise. I'd keep all records of service, whether they be from a dealer or an independent shop. Record keeping is essential to proving any product recall fixes, which could affect resale value.

I read articles about cars with speedometers that show a top speed of 120, 140, or even 160 mph. It said that some of the cars can't even reach those speeds. My question is, "why?"  I don't know anywhere in the US where it is legal to drive on a road over 100mph. I don't think I have ever driven over 80mph. I would think that a speedometer would give a more accurate reading if the ranges were lower. Would it be so bad if a car could reach a top speed that was higher than the speedometer could display?

I just glanced at an article last night that was talking about this.  I came away thinking It's all about the art of illusion, People want a car that is zippy, fun to drive and can go fast.

Your'e right, I don't think even OJ Simpson did 160 mph, but there is that Dukes of Hazard mentality and if one car has it, other car companies will follow suit if sales say to do so.

How does the new Ford Escape compare to its many competitors in the crowded small SUV market segment?

It compares well, especially the Escape Titanium version. You know the routine: Wallet and credit check; needs and wants list; Consumer Reports reliability ratings; transaction price (total purchase price); condition of dealership back shop. If you buy your car there, would you want it repaired there?

Fiat Abarth or 500T or the Scion br-z

Scion BR-Z

Just curious: Now that the big Crown Vics, Town Cars and Devilles are gone, what do you hear from fleet buyers about the substitutes? How do the police like their Taurus cruisers (I've seen a lot of them around D.C.)? What are the black sedan car services and taxi companies buying now?

The police seem to love their Dodge Chargers and Ford Taurus cruisers. Sadillac  seems to be filling a lot of black sedan services with its Escalade models. Lincoln must've pre-sold a bunch of Crown Vic-platform executive sedans. I'm seeing them at airports everywhere in the U.S.

Have you seen new lease agreements with a penalty if you don't buy the vehicle upon end of contract?

No, have you? That seems counter-intuitive, especially now. Used cars have been in high demand, car dealers want those cars back to sell at a premium.

Have you seen this happening?

The Federal Government should only allow speedometers to go up to 85 and there should be a national 55 mph speed limit. It's what I grew up with but the kids today don't believe you when you tell them these stories.

I grew up with the same thing, largeky thanks to Joan Claybrook and Clarence Ditlow who lobbied for that. I thought it was dumb at the time. I was young...and stupid. Fact is, there are no places that I know of in the Unite States where you legally can run 85. Most roads nowadays are so crowded, you are lucky to do 55 steadily. I now see no need for speedometers that exceed 100.

Do you know when the Sante Fe 7-seater is coming out to dealers? Do you have any impressions about it vis a vis the highlander or sienna? Also, do you have any thoughts about when the third row is so close to the back glass (like the kia sorrento) and the safety for that occasional back passenger? Thanks very much.

I think it's coming out as a 2013 model. I will be driving it in a couple weeks and will be able to give driving impressions then.

I can't ride in the 3rd row. I am claustrophobic and would freak out. I have visions of being in an accident and not having a door to get out of the car.

I wouldn't put anone that isn't young and agile in the back seat, ever. I've read that most people don't use the back seat regularly to carry passengers, they use it to haul stuff.

With a 3rd row you can seat 5 amicably and still carry all their stuff.

Love reading your column every Friday. My mother needs to sell her Malibu--old lady car in excellent condition with 6,000 miles on it. How much above KBB should she ask for it? In AL

First, make sure your mother "needs' or "wants" to sell her Malibu.

Second, Chevy Malibu cars, especially the newer models, are not "old lady" cars.

Third, your Mom is not an old lady. She is your Mom, which makes her forever Regal.

Fourth, also check with Carmax, whose used-car buying prices strike me as fair and realistic.

Fifth, act accordingly.


Warren, good morning. What are your picks for best under $20k four door sedans or hatchbacks? Thanks.

Geez. I can give you a quick list: Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Spark.

I did a list - at the bequest of all of you - of 2012 cars under $15,000

Here it is

There have been many cars since then that have come out and I will do another list for 2013. The list is under $15,000 which gives you plenty of space to add options

I always thought that it had to do with efficiency. A car that CAN go 160 mph will not have to work as hard to go 65 as, say, a car that can go 80.

It mostly has to deal with marketing.

Yes, my coworker just got a 2014 Pathfinder. If she doesn't buy it after lease the dealer gets more money. Hard to find a NON all-black interior as well.

Wow. Have her email me at lou at carlist .com.

I'm interested in this. Warren, have you heard of this?

Warren, interesting answer re: dealer vs. independent service. It seems to me that cars are so complicated these days that you almost need an expert on your car's specific brand to do much beyond changing the oil. Agree or disagree?

It's why we keep our old cars, so that my husband can work on them. Nowadays you have to take your car to a service person in a white coat and have them hook it up to what looks like an EKG machine. It's all computerized.

I thought I was being clever when I invited you all to vote on which car we should buy--the Mini Cooper Countryman or the 2014 Subaru Forester wagon. Scores of you have responded, with the Countryman so far in a very narrow lead. But it might all be for naught. Mary Anne has been in the new Volkswagen Beetle TDI. She loves it.

Hi Warren, have just pulled the trigger on a 2001 BMW 325i wagon, only 75K miles on it, very nice condition. Can you please let the auto manufacturers know that Americans do indeed love wagons (just saw the new Mazda 6 wagon, wow!, though apparently it won't be making it over to our shores). We'd love to buy a new one down the road if there were similar models available here as elsewhere in the world.

Both Warren and I have been telling manufacturers that for a while. The Audi Allroad just came back on the market and I love it!

It's interesting that some SUVs are getting shorter, making them more wagon like.

I really wanted to get a Subaru Impreza, the hatchback style. But they don't seem to make them any more and I can't find a late model used one. Any suggestions for an alternative?

Ford C-Max, Kia Rio, Honda Fit, VW GTI and Golf R, Ford Focus.

Gosh, there's so many. It's the one segment that is floursihing.

Good news, bad news: a friend of mine, pushing 40, just found out she is pregnant with her second child. The bad news is that her current car is on its last legs. She needs something new(er), but can only spend about $4,000, tops. The older child is age 5. She wants safe, reliable, transportation with room for the kids and her ailing husband.

Do you have any friends that have an older car that is in decent shape? At that price point you might try the classifieds, but make sure to have a mechanic look it over.

Congratulations on the new bundle of joy.

Hi! My family (two young kids and two parents) currently drives a Honda Fit, which has worked well for us, but my wife is thinking she'd like to have more space for ferrying around friends of the kids as well - the Honda Pilot is appealing to her, and it looks like a fine vehicle to me too, only I'm concerned that it might be quite a bit more expensive than what we have now. What would you suggest we consider? We've also thought about the Mazda5, which also has 3 rows, but I believe seats 6 rather than 8 like the Pilot - my guess is that anything larger will be more expensive than our cute little Fit has been, but as the family cheapskate I am certainly interested in getting the best value... :-) Thanks for your time!

I like what they've done with the new Pilot and you are right you won't get that type of car for cheap. I love the Ford Flex, Hyundai is coming out with a Santa Fe long wheel base, Buick Enclave. But you will pay more.

You should also consider getting the backup camera. That many kids running around you don't want to be in reverse and not be able to see them.



I haven't had the chance to look at the nuances. I will have to get back to you on it.

Hi, we're considering a diesel vehicle as our next commuter car. But I thought I read that under the new VA transportation bill, the sales tax on diesel would not be eliminated. That would make it, I believe, even more expensive than regular fuel, to a greater extent than it already is. Is my understanding correct? Should we continue to consider a diesel, as VA residents?

You have to take into account the more miles you will get on diesel fuel and decide from there.

That's it for today folks. Have a wonderful weekend. Join us again next Friday.

And remember -

Never drive faster than your Angel can fly.

We're ending early today. Thank you all for joining us. Please come back next week with questions, the more the merrier. Thanks to our producer, Jessica J. Urquiola; to our West Coast correspondent, Lou Ann Hammond; to Ria Manglapus, our everything operating officer; and to our dealer representative, Michelle "Jaguar" Dawson.

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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