Real Wheels Live

Mar 04, 2011

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

Hi Warren, I really enjoy your chats, even though it's been eleven years since my husband or I bought our cars. It's now about time to get one new (or maybe new-to-us) one and I'm hoping you can steer us in a good direction since we're clearly out of the auto loop. We have 2 kids, now 3 and 5, looking for a vehicle with a 3rd row of seats for inevitable carpooling. We'd really like AWD given the lack of plowing in our Falls Church neighborhood. Looking for decent driving and mileage and ease of use comforts like seats folding, but aren't sticklers for a DVD player or souped up gadgets. Hoping to spend ~$30K, probably able to go to $35 but would be thrilled to find something good for $25. In the minivan set, it looks like the Toyota Sienna is the front runner with the AWD. ! I haven't tackled research on crossovers. Any recommendations for what path to explore? Many thanks!!

Good morning. You have a number of choices, practically all of them crossover utility vehicles. Leading that list is the GM group--Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave and the GMC Acadia. All have seating for eight passengers, come with all-wheel-drive option, excellent onboard utility, and decent mileage, recommended regular gasoline, superior passenger safety.

Given that gas prices are going to rise and I need to replace my 10 year old car, should I get a hybrid or diesel? The car needs to haul two boys and all their sports equipment and be fun to drive. My daily commute is about 45 miles round trip. I'd like to keep the price under $35k. Thanks.

We're in the market for a new vehicle and our criteria is a third row of seats (will not be used regularly), AWD or 4WD (we live in Colorado so this is a must), a V6 engine, and not a full-size SUV. We've narrowed it down to the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, and maybe the Toyota Sienna. For totally irrational reasons, we won't consider a GM or Chevy. We like the idea of the Highlander hybrid even though the payback time is about 5 years, maybe a little less depending on gas prices. What would you recommend? Are there any others we should look at?

In the U.S., diesel is usually more expensive than gasoline. But it's 30-percent more fuel-efficient than gasoline. One of the best diesels is the VW Jetta TDI.

A gas-electric hybrid is a very good choice in the current environment. Two of the very best are the Toyota Prius and the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Check out both of them before making a decision.

Your thoughts please wise sir: 2 kids Me - '10 'stang GT 'vert, 5spd ... love it Wife - '04 Santa Fe (per your recommendation on the old radio show) All cars, will be fully loaded, GPS, rear camera, leather, etc.. We need a third row ... I'm willing to go up to 45k Kia Sorrento (best value) Hyundai Veracruz (not sure it has rear camera yet) Toyota Highlander Volvo XC90 (good styling, safety features) We're usually very "value oriented people" (thus the Santa Fe), but I do like the Volvo quite a bit and don't mind spending the extra $$'s ... You only live once. Your wise commentary would be greatly appreciated.

Again, the answer is on of the GM Three: Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia or Buick Enclave. Others, of course, include the Mazda CX7 or CX9, best value Kia Sorrento. No need to spend $45K here. Also there's the  minivan group--excellent Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, and Chrysler/Dodge New Yorker.

Hi Warren, Have you had the opportunity to drive the new BMW X3? I'm interested in your thoughts on it vs. the Audi Q5, which you recently reviewed. I'm leaning toward the Q5, but saw this video comparing xDrive and Quattro, which is making me think twice. Thanks in advance for your thoughts, I always value your opinion.

No need to think twice on that one. I drove them both...several times. I'd take the Q5 in a heartbeat. Better utility, excellent all-wheel-drive, better comfort, more reasonable pricing, more standard equipment, one of the best interiors in the business. Advantage, Audi.

American small cars are better than ever. Ford is introducing its new Focus this spring. How does it compare to the current model? Chevy' new Cruze came out last fall how does it compare? How do both compare to current offerings from other companies?

Both are excellent. I'm looking forward to the new Focus Sport, really snazzy styling inside and out, excellent application of electronic infotainment, great gas mileage--mid-30s highway I think. Cruze also well done: Great crafstmanship, excellent styling inside and out, great safety and utility, and standard OnStar emergency communications system--like driving with a personal EMT team. Both small car compare well with any small car from anywhere.

Warren, where are your current reviews? When I go to the On Wheels Archive the most recent review is the Nissan Altima from 1/30/2011.

Click here for all the latest reviews

Answer attached.

warren, Latest technology is a not a gas or diesel engine with electric motor hybrid, or a plug in hybrid or even an all electric car but a internal combustion engine that combines the best of both a gas and diesel engine. Mercedes has a protype S class with tis engine that get 36mpg on the highway with performance or a 5liter V8. Remember is the EU and UK diesel fuel gets big tax breaks from the govt. Diesel powered cars in the UK and EU are also very dirty. w/o the tax break here and US and with premium charged for diesel powered vehicles diesel doesnt make sense except in HD p/us Clifton

Perhaps. But most automobile showrooms don't sell prototypes. Let M-B bring this one to market. Then, we can talk.

What do you think of Consumer Reprots recent slam of the Volt and the Leaf?

I have to read that slam. Personally, I think both are great when used as designed. I prefer the Volt. And had I not spent sooooo much money on home remodeling, I'd buy a Volt today.

Hi Warren: I am reading a fascinating book, Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation by Steve Lehto. It's a history of Chrysler's turbine car program of the mid 1960s. Have you read it? Do you think Chrysler regrets abandoning the project and why didn't any other U.S. automakers get behind the turbine car?

Back then, the problem with turbine engines was finding ceramic components that could withstand the stress of daily operation in an automobile. Ceramic technology was outlandishly expensive, which made most turbine engines unmarketable for the mass market. That, plus the risk of expensive breakdowns in a mass-market car, made the turbine an expensive nonstarter. Ceramic technology has now improved. It's still costly. But, who knows? Maybe the industry will give it another go.

Going to look at the two this weekend. I have a set of newborn twins and already have a Lexus RX330. Currently have an '06 Accord, looking to get something bigger. With the Sonata I'd get more bang for your buck, while the Outback will give me safety net of AWD. What's your take?

Outback. The Sonata, especially the turbo four version, is a nice piece of work. But the Ouback offers more utility, excellent safety, and standard AWD. Outback.

Need a new car. Currently have a 2001 Saab 9-5 wagon. Have two kids and giant dog. City living, do not use car Monday to friday. Like to take longish trips on weekend (Baltimore, West Va, etc). Would love to get something similar but with much better gas mileage. Where do i start looking? Volvo50? Passat Wagon? Special diesel? Help!

Kia Sorrento. Trust me on this.

My Mazda Protege will be 20 next year and I am saving for a new car. Right now I want Honda Fit - but also am considering a Hyundai Elantra and perhaps even a Mazda 3. What do you think? I live in Frederick, am retired and really go only to the store and church. Perhaps some road trips to Vacations pots within two states.

That's a tough one. But given your history with the Mazda Protege, I'm thinking that you'd be more comfortable with the Mazda3. But you also won't make a mistake by choosing either the Honda Fit or the new Hyundai Elantra, both of which are excellent small cars.

Warren - Aside from price and fuel economy (or lack therof), what do you think of late model (2008 - today) Range Rover Sports? I love the look and the drive.

Aside from price and fuel economy, I love the Range Rover Sport.

Hey Warren, thanks for chatting. With a two year old and twins on the way, I'm now in the market for a used Kia Sedona. Browsing internet listings I see widely divergent prices on what appear to be very similar cars. Carmax is highest, followed by other big-name dealers and some private sellers, then cheapest are more distant dealerships and some "brokers" who have prices significantly lower than blue-book. How wary should I be of these seemingly too-good-to-be-true listings? Thanks!

Carmax is higher because Carmax means when it says that it stands behind its product and fully supports its customers. It takes money to do that. Ditto outfits such as AutoNation. They cost a little more because they do much more in customer support.

Hi Warren, What is your opinion of the Acura TSX? Is it as reliable and economical in the luxury segment (relatively speaking) as its cousins (Accords and Civics) in the regular segment?

Yeah, just finished driving it. Excellent craftsmanship, great drive and handling. Decent small wagon utility. It's a nice station wagon, despite the "sports car" hype in TSX marketing.

Good morning! We have 15K to buy us a nice, safe, reliable, good-gas-mileage 4 door sedan. We are fine with a used car. Do you have any recommendations? I'm currently interested in the Honda Fit, but I'd like some other options too. Thank you!

Given your price restriction, I'd go for the new Hyundai Elantra. you might have to finacially stretch a little to cover everything. But it's worth it.

Warren, Should I be worried about putting fuel with ethanol in it into my '04 Acura TSX? I'm a little confused about which cars are harmed by ethanol. Also do any gas stations <not> use ethanol blends? Is ethanol mixed in with all grades of fuel, regular to premium? What about diesel? And if the pump says "may contain up to 10% ethanol" is there any way to find out exactly how much is in there? Sorry for all of the questions, I'm just worried about digging my car an early grave because of this.

Most cars circa 2004 can deal with 10-percent or 15-percent ethanol blends, based on current information and evidence. Newer cars are being expresly designed to deal with those blends. Petroleum refinieries use and sell different blends based on their capacities and abilities. But the major brands--Shell, BP, Exxon--nearly always get it right. Diesel in this country is oddly more expensive than gasoline. But diesel is 30-percent more efficient than gasoline. Diesel pricing and emisisons regulations, which require expensive after-treatment in cars, present barriers to the introduction of more diesel passenger vehicles in the United States. Credit the absence of a real energy policy in this country. Blame the wimps, Republican and Democrat, in Congress.

I've been looking at 3 smaller SUVs for the last month and I cant seem to make up my mind. Could I have your two cents? I'm I missing another good choice? I'm looking at a Jeep Wrangler Unlimitted, Nissan Xterra, and Toyota FJ.

Your list implies that you plan to do a lot of driving off-road, in which case my first choice of an excellent list of three would be the Nissan Xterra. If you're not planning heavy off-road travel, or none at all, look at the Chevrolet Equinox. In any case, your choice might be influenced by which has 5-mph bumpers front and rear and which complies with the wimpy, insuficient federal standard of 2.5-mph front bumper and 1.5 mph rear.

The Hyundai Tuscon GLS is currently edging out the Forester X in our hunt for a small SUV. For unknown reasons, a moonroof is an option only for the highest-trim level Hyundai. For my wife, a moonroof is mandatory equipment. The Hyundai salesman recommended an aftermarket moonroof, about which I have serious reservations. Should I? We're not willing to step up to the Tuscon Limited, so it might Subaru for this family.

Go with the Subaru. A moonroof is not equipment. It's an unnecessary bauble, and one that conceivably could  waste fuel in the heat of summer. Those glass roof panels could allow more heat into vehicles in the summer. That requires more use of air conditioning, which requires a greater consumption of fuel. They are pretty, which makes them attractive. But they in no way contribute to the drivability of the vehicle chosen.

Any chance that GM will expand Volt Technology to other car lines/type? I like the concept but would prefer either a station wagon or small van. The current sedan seems a little small for my family.

Yes, especially thanks to current events in North Africa and the Middle East.

Hi Warren Looking to buy for a 5 door hatchback. Should I wait for the new Focus? I like the looks of the car (titanium trim level). Some of the other have significant flaws in my opinion: MINI (reliability), Elantra/Forte (boring), Mazda3 (looks) and Volkswagon/Volvo (price). It looks like the hatchback market is becoming more competitive. How would you rank the hatchbacks in the low to mid 20's price range?

I'd wait for the new Focus, which promises to be a best-seller.

Thank you for joining us this week. My apologies for the late start. Somehow screwed up my password. Please come back next week. Thank you, Gaurav, for fixing things. And thank you, Ria, for your assistance at the Washington Automotive Press Association dinner last night. Eat lunch

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

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