Real Wheels Live

Mar 02, 2012

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

Warren, which car would you choose for long-run, daily commuter use: Porsche 911 or BMW six series? I understand neither is "practical" but looking for fun and better investment. Thanks

Practicality is in the mind of the beholder, which is why I would choose the Six-Series BMW.  I can do more with that car than I can with a 911 coupe...and still have a great driving experience for a similar amount of money. Think: Practicality and "fun to drive" are not inherently exclusive values.

Any predictions for the rest of the year? Will gas prices define the outcome of the Nov. Presidential election?

I believe the American electorate is far more intelligent and insightful than the media that cover it, or the politicians who supposedly represent it, or the many businesses and financial institutions that daily work to exploit it.

That being the case, I believe the American electorate is smart enough to understand that no president  or political party controls oil prices, that no amount of "drill-baby-drill" rhetoric will decrease or otherwise abate rapidly growing global demand for a rapidly diminishing and increasingly difficult to get and expensive to bring to market resource.

I also believe that most Americans aren't dumb enough to think we can burn the carbonized remains of our ancestors, human and otherwise, ad infinitum without consequence.

That being the case, I think Americans are smart enough to dismiss as charlatans  politicians who are dumb enough to pretend that they have a formula for controlling something over which they have absolutely no control.

Most of us have learned and accepted the truth that the United States can not and does not run the world.

Warren, have you driven the new Lexus GS? Catching up to German rivals? Thanks

Not yet. Soon, I hope.

Warren: I've seen rumors that Chinese, Indian, Turkish companies and, perhaps, even BMW are interested in buying Saab. Do you think Saabs will ever be built again? My 2000 9-5 Wagon has been a troublesome but nice car. Russell in WV

True: All of those rumors exist.

True: No one has shown us the money, or a business plan.

Probable: Somebody somewhere will resurrect SAAB.

Buy the pre-2011 model or the newer model? (or some other mini-v?) We plan to keep the vehicle until the kids go off to college, meaning 10+ years, but we would put ~5k or less a year on it in milage.

By the 2011 or 2012  model Odyssey--perhaps the best Odyssey minivan ever.

I am single and live alone, yet I have two cars. When the smart fortwo was introduced in the US, I bought one. But since I had a dog and was hosting foreign exchange students, I kept my SUV. The SUV comes in handy from time to time, but for the daily commute, I almost exclusively drive the smart car. Each month that goes by, I realize that the SUV is sitting in the street without being driven. I try to take it out a few times each month, but I am not sure that is enough. There are enough times when I still need something bigger than the smart car to justify keeping it. What can / should I do to make sure that my SUV doesn't suffer problems from lack of use?

You've answered your own question. You don't really need that SUV. Nor do you need its various liabilities. As for the times when a SUV would help--rent or borrow one. At the moment, you are paying carrying charges (fees, insurance, taxes) on a vehicle that seldom carries anything.

Good morning Warren: As the cost of gas has risen to well over $4 a gallon, it's become more important than ever to have a car that gets optimal mileage while also being affordable. Is there a such a car on the market that stands out in these cost-conscious times?

Many. Check out the Green Car Journal, or Green Cars (Decisive Magazine, where I am an editor), or for the best, most specific recommendations. Or...Consumer Reports.

Fords with their past problems scare me. I had a Taurus that had the problem stalling. However, now I hear that the Ford Fusion is a pretty dependable car. What do you think?

Every single vehicle manufacturer in the world has had scary problems of one sort or another, one time or another. Ford is no different. But smart manufacturers have corrected and overcome those problems yielding high-quality, reliable, safe products. Ford, especially under its current boss, Alan Mulally, is a smart manufacturer. The Fusion mid-size sedan is one of its products.

If you had only 20K to spend on a comfortable vehicle -new or used- for long trips, what are some vehicles that you would favor? Need to take wife, dog and luggage. Respectfully, Russell in WV

Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, Chrysler 200, Subaru Impreza, something along those lines. You are looking for price, utility, safety, relaibility, reasonable comfort and likability. The above-mentioned vehicles meet those criteria.

I really get so tired of this kind of baloney journalism. Of course, most economic changes such as an uptick in fuel prices will produce winners and losers. That's analysis? What about: Will we "win" in the U.S. by continuing to have the cheapest gasoline in the developed world? By maintaining our dependence on foreign oil, are we winning are losing? Market speculation on the availability of fossil fuel reserves boosts or lowers prices every time someone in the Middle East or Nigeria sneezes. Exactly, how do we control that? Cut off their politically irritable noses? At what costs? Shouldn't we in the United States really be concentrating on the development of alternative forms of energy, or on finding ways to use less of a resource whose availability is compromised every time we hit a "start" switch? If we keep swallowing oil at the rate we've been consuming it today, what will our tommorows look like in terms of fossil-fuel availability and pricing, or the air we breathe? What are we sacrificing now in pursuit of the cheapest gasoline possible?

Warren, I love the Mini and would have bought one a long time ago if not for a detail (seemingly shallow). I don't like the colors they come in. Not enough varieties/finishes. Where other manufacturers have 3 shades of black, white, grey, red, Mini just has one. Any chance they'll come out with more colors?

Mini will come out with more colors. I just hope they come out with a product that is less expensive to maintain and repair. When we get rid of the Cooper coupe (Indigo blue and white) we have now, that's it. We'll go back to Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, or Mazda. Fun to drive is one thing. Paying the piper painfully is quite another. We're getting older. We have much better things to do with our money.

Warren - I have heard rumors that there will be hybrid version of the new 2013 RAV4; however, I can obtain no infrormation on it. Can you help me? And, when we will be able to see the 2013 model? I am waiting for it before making my final decision between the new CRV (I now have 2003 which I love) and the upcoming RAV4. Thanks Charles

Lou Ann and I will be in Geneva next week checking out all of those rumors. We'll report to you Friday, March 9. Please stay tuned.

Warren, I have a prius that's starting to get a bit older. I'm considering getting a new one, but wanted to see what else compares before I just check the prius box. What do you think of other hybrids? I've heard promising thing about the Ford Fusion hybrid. Think I should give it a whirl?

I like the new Prius V wagon and would recommend you take a look at that. And I seriously think you'd be cheating yourself not to look at the excellent Ford Fusion hybrid.

What cars did the world car industry "copy" to bring to market the great car choices we have today?

Everybody borrows from everybody and everything, including past designs and engineering theories. A few companies, such as McLaren Automotive in Surrey, England, are super-engineering wonk houses that come up with new materials and new ways of producing and using them. But even McLaren borrows from ideas long ago discarded or not totally developed. Ideas are much like matter. You never really create or destroy them. You discover, or rediscover, and latch onto the moment.

Hi Warren - Two questions for 2006 Audi has some scratches and dings that I would like to have repaired. My concern is that a body shop will tell me that I need a whole new bumper, and that the paint will never match (car has been office-garaged for all 6 1/2 years of its life but at home it lives outside)...are there other options for fixing small scratches & scrapes that don't require complete replacement of parts and won't be as obvious? I know you can't recommend a specific shop but at least the "type" of shop I should be researching would be great. Second question...I am looking for a used small SUV ($10K max), probably a 2001 Jeep Cherokee or maybe a slightly newer Ford Escape(I'm not a fan of Honda or Toyota vehicles). What's the most important thing to look for in a used vehicle -- total mileage, service records, current condition? I don't normally buy used but this is going to be a true utility vehicle and I don't want to spring for a new one. Thanks for your help!

Question One: I'd search out an auto detailing shop. One-A: You can tell if a bumper or other external part needs to be replaced. Use your best judgment. One-B: It's a competitive world. Deal only with those busineses that respect your dignity and intelligence. You'll know who they are by the way they treat you.

Question Two: Go to Carmax. Check out a used Hyundai Santa Fe.

My 17-yr old is driving a 2010 Honda Element with a learner's permit. I am shotgun, or driver ed guy, by law. She stares straight ahead, is careful and responsible. Rarely looks in side view mirrors, does not "twist" to eyeball lane changes, just uses rearview mirror. I turn my head & look. Is this wrong? (She has only driven six times total, a newbie.) Want to inculcate good habits...

Driving is much like dancing. Your moves improve with practice. Roads have their various rhythms and movement cues. Again, you learn them with experience. Some basics in learning include proper hand posture on the steering wheel--both hands, please, with left and right thumbs atop the steering wheel. Shuffle steer, which avoids all of that time-wasting hand-over-hand stuff. Shuffle to the right if you are turning right. Shuffle to the left if turning left. Anticipate the road--best done by looking ahead while also being mindful of what's immediately in front of you. The eyes have it. You tend to move in the direction of what you're looking at. Make sure you are paying rapt attention to where you are trying to go, which means no texting, phoning, or other distracting foolishness. Understand that you are your neighbor's keeper on the road, regardless of your actual religious beliefs. Suppress any temptation to act out or act up behind the wheel. The consequences of such behavior too often involve tragedy. Forgiveness today is much better than crying and grief tomorrow.

Which would you buy? Or would you hold out for the S7?

I like the BMW Five Series and I'd try to get it in diesel if at all possible. Wonderful torque and excellent fuel economy in a mid-size sedan.

No Hyundai for me, for the same reason I don't like Honda or Toyota (I've looked at and test-driven a whole bunch). I'm only 5 feet tall and I must have strangely proportioned arms & legs but I just can't find comfortable seating positions where I can reach the pedals comfortably but not be sitting on top of the steering wheel. The Cherokee (I had one for 10 years) and Escape (driven several as rentals) are far more comfortable for me. But I wasn't actually asking for a brand recommendation, as I know which vehicles I'm considering. I'm actually asking which aspect of purchasing a used car is the most important: mileage, overall condition, service records, or something else?

My apologies for misunderstanding your question. All of the things you mentioned are important in purchasing a used vehicle. Add the reputation and actual abilities of the retailer. To wit: Does the retailer have the personnel and equipment to take care of your car should and when you need it?

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks, Dominique, for another fine production. And thank you, Ria, for keeping the cars, trucks...and me...moving. Time for lunch.

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

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