Real Wheels Live

Mar 21, 2014

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.

Good morning Warren and Friends

This week I drove the Chrysler 200 in Louisville, Kentucky. Kentucky is a pretty state, one I should visit more often. The Chrysler 200 has some stiff competition. My prediction is the Limited will do the best of all the trim levels. It starts at a reasonable price for the competition.

I also drove the 2015 Audi A3 in my own state of California down the road in Menlo Park. Now that is a nice sedan and it was a beautiful drive down to Santa Cruz on highway 1, along the ocean. That's a drive some of you should could visit. Danny Garad, the designer, was on hand and drew a picture of the car for me in less than 10 minutes. I"m always amazed at car designers, so much talent.

Last week someone asked which vehicles were body-on-frame. Some that I think are still body-on-frame are
Toyota 4runner Lexus GX460
CAdillac Escalade
Chevy Tahoe and Suburban GMC Yukon
I think the Wrangler is the only BOF of the Jeeps
Infiniti QX56

Let's chat about cars

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Lou Ann Hammond

We seem to have slipped our mooring in last week's discussion (March 14th). A reader asked a question about the 2014 Chevrolet Impala and Warren and Lou Ann responded with a colloquy about whether Buick was an "old person's car." The original question remains. Is anyone surprised that Consumer Reports is excited about the new Impala that up to now has mostly been known for mediocrity?

I only caught my mistake after I went back and read it after I got back from the race track. It appears the rest of you were trying to tell us that the whole hour. Warren would not have gotten it because I answered the oiriginal question.

So, yes, Consumer Reports likes the Impala. It's a nice car, with far better reliability than it did have. It's a little bland of the fun to drive for me, but it gets the job done. It's the same type of vehicle as the Malibu. They are getting better, the start stop is better than just start stop. It has the ability to engage if you have not fully stopped.


Why not get him another Accord , or a Ford Fusion Hybrid?

Lou Ann Here

Great idea, Warren. How about a Ford Fusion energi (plug-in hybrid)?

Warren, I am reading a lot about new Audi s3, BMW2, MB cla entry level cars. 1) have you driven any? 2) favorites? 3) better values out there? Thanks

The Germans, actually the Europeans, are all looking at smaller cars for reasons of fuel economy and lower tailpi[pe emissions. I've drieven the Mini variants of things BMW, which share the same front-wheel-drive platform of similarly sized Bimmers, I've ddriven trhe smaller MB models in Germany.

Lou Ann here

I just drove the A3 sedan and loved it. The difference is drivability. You will have other smaller cars, but Audi and BMW do a great job with their engines.

As a longtime Honda owner (accord, odyssey and civic) I love the reliability and I happen to live near Brown Honda which makes initial maintenance appts. easy. BUT I'm itching for something other than Honda. My husband turns 50 in May and needs a new car bad. He drives a 20m commute in a 14 yr old Civic and I'd love to get him something more sophisticated and fun. He loves convertibles and enjoyed driving his Dad's BMW convertible but BMW's are $1,500 every time you bring one in (even an oil change I hear). We're not pretentious folk and we have 2 teens nearing college so I can't go spending crazy. I'm thinking 30-40k. The KIA Optima Hybrid looks interesting (it would be nice to save on gas and be a little more environmentally friendly) but not loving the "the bigger my grill, the better" look. Most of the driving is DC metro area. Any cars come to mind? btw: My husband is not a car geek, I call him "grampy" behind the wheel. I'm the one that usually does all the test driving, purchasing and most times driving-he prefers my driving because he likes to look out the window. I'm more type A I guess. :-) I mention this so you know that a high-performance, muscle car would be lost on him.

I'm going to assume you want a new car? Sedan seems to be what you are leaning towards. 

In case you do decide to go convertible you should know that most manufacturers now have a longer warranty and service time than they did 14 years ago, so some of the big ticket items could be taken care of.

It's a once in a lifetime deal, turning 50, get him something with some fun to drive even if he is a little grampy when driving. His next car will probably be a safer car (if you do keep them for 14 years on average) because he will have grandchildren.

The Optima hybrid wouldn't be my first choice for him. I like the VW Passat TDI. If he were going to go the hybrid route could he do a plug-in hybrid like the Toyota Prius V?

I've listed some convertibles (the Lexus may be more expensive, but I like them and Lexus does hybrid versions)

drive those and let me know next week what you think.

Audi A5
Audi S5
BMW 1-Series
BMW 3-Series 
Lexus IS250
Lexus IS350
Volkswagen Beetle
Volkswagen Eos   
Volvo C70

Volkswagen Passat TDI and Hyundai Sonata 2.4

Love this chat! It's been very helpful as I think about what car to get as I trade in my 10 year old car. I've heard both of you praise the Mazda 5 in the small SUV category. Are your reviews for the 2014 model or for the 2015? Is there any reason to get the 2015 over the 2014? My husband has a bit of a bias against Mazda (not sure why), but is open to it. While we are doing some comparison shopping, what would be a few other good small SUVs/crossovers to look at? I would be looking for similar price and size to the Mazda. Thank you!! Thank you so much!

Frankly, I see no compelling reason to spend more on the 2015. I'd shop for a 2014, look for all of the desired options in the best package--blind-side monitoring and lane-departure warning being key among them--and buy accordingly.

Lou Ann here

Also look at the Subaru Forester

Already done. In fact, car companies have entire staffs researching colors, looking at everything from house paint to, even, the color os caskets.

Hi, Here's an idea for car manufacturers. Ask customers how much more they're willing to pay to get the color they want on their next new car (whole-color exterior paint). Ask customers what their special-order color(s) is. (Mine is gold.) Compile a list of the most popular special-order colors. Estimate the cost of producing cars with a special-order color. Then for the most popular special-order color(s), ask each customer who wanted that color, for a deposit of earnest money and a contract. Next, do a limited production run producing cars with the special-order color. Sincerely, Elkridge, Maryland

Good Morning Elkridge.

Dodge does something like that already. I think it is the Viper Charger and the Challenger Ralph Gilles, President and CEO of the SRT Brand and Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler Group LLC was telling me about. They make the cars for a short period of time, maybe 6 months. I have an interview coming out with him, I'll try to do it this week and post it on

Good idea.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann. I am really interested in the new Volvo V60, especially in light of the eye-popping EPA figures (37 hwy!). Any first impressions? It appears, in particular, they they've skimped on cargo capacity, which concerns me. Thanks!

I'm happy with Volvo in general. I though the company would fall off its horse under its new Chinese management. It hasn't as proved by the new S60 sedan and V60. I love the new interiors--simple, straightforward, easy to use. New technology, such as pedestrian safety, is hipt, too. Definitely worth a look.

I have a new job that requires daily commute from DC to Baltimore, and I'm ready to say goodbye to my ten year old Acura. While it's a big jump in pay, and my income is fine, I just think it's foolish to spend more than $45,000 on a car. On the other hand, if I have to sit in that thing for an hour+ each way, I want to look forward to actually getting in it. I want nice seats, nice sound, even a little oomph when I press the pedal. If you were me, what would you look at going back to 2012 or 2011 models?

You don't have to spend $45 K for any of that. If you want to spend less for those niceties and be happy, take a look at the 2015 Hyundai Genesis, which also comes with a cabin CO2 minitor--to keep you from falling asleep on lomg drives--among other things.

Dear Warren, As the owner of a 2003 Subaru Outback (currently 160,000 miles and counting), i enjoyed your review of the 2014 model in last Sunday's Post. There was only one weakness, which you mentioned in your very positive review but did not comment on, and that is the gas mileage. Frankly, 27 mpg on the highway is not competitive with the Outback's main rivals, even those offering AWD or 4WD. I know Subaru is just beginning to think of hybrids, but is a diesel Outback incompatible with the horizontally mounted engine Subaru uses? There are a number of diesel AWD cars in Europe, so why won't Subaru, or anyone else for that matter, make one for the US market?

The mileage is not tops in the new Outback. But I am willing to accept that deficit in return for everything else that is offered. I peresonally log many miles on the road in all kinds of weathere, about 40,000 annually. I love a vehicle that is a very reliable, high-traction running mate. Advantage, Subaru.

This minivan handles reasonably well. But don't be fooled by AWD here. It is long, big, which means it can slip a bit on compromised surfaces. Best advice is to take it slowly in the snow. Other advice is to park it if you are looking at six inches or more.

Hi folks, Can you tell me how well you think the Toyota Sienna AWD actually handles in the snow? We need an AWD vehicle, and with two kids and a dog, we think a mini-van makes sense, but I wonder how well it handles, given its size. Thanks!

I can see why you think Minivan, but why not broaden your horizons to something like a mid-size SUV all-wheel drive. The Sienna is fine, but an SUV all-wheel drive is made for the snow. While Suburban might be to big, or more expensive, I would look at that first. What about a Subaru? The Crosstrek just came out. Drive that and see what you think.


Had an interesting experience there the other day. I'm executor for an estate being settled in Illinois, Carmax offered trade in Blue Book for the vehicle, as they always do when I trade here in Maryland, AND allowed me to complete the (harsh adjectives, nsfw) paperwork here in Maryland. When I showed up at Carmax Laurel, fully expecting a long, unpleasant experience, the young, young lady who stepped up to the counter to help me knew precisely what I was talking about, grabbed the envelope, and in five minutes I was done, a bunch of forms signed. Impressive.

Warren always raves about carmax and it's nice to see why.

Sorry about your loss, but glad people are making the paperwork easier.

For all of you who have been complaining, loudly in many cases, about the hassle of securing a loaner car when your ride is in for repair, welcome a service called the Concourse Express, now being featured at several Washington Area high-end dealerships. You are in the garage for needed repairs and in your loaner car almost immediately--pretty darned fast. Here's hoping that the program catches on.

Hello, Lou Ann and Warren...I have a 2008 Sentra SER SpecV, the 2.5 liter engine and transmission our great...but, the rest of the car feels so cheap that I can't like this car. I purchased it a couple of years ago...and wish I bought something else. Do you have any suggestions for an alternative in this category? I'm willing to spend some real cash on this...Thanks!

Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V is the sport compact version of the Nissan Sentra. If I was going to suggest a Sentra it would be the Spec V. so hmmm.

The competitors would have to be a race version of any car, like the R version of a Volkswagen, or an ST for a Ford.

Look at the Subaru Impreza STI  as well.

You bought an economy car. and the Sentra in question back before Nissan and everyone else took small economy cars seriously. Thus the chesp feeel Today's economy cars, the Corolla and Fit come immediately to mind, are much, much better. Try one.

Good morning, Warren and Lou Ann. I will need to replace a vehicle fairly soon. I have a blissfully short commute of fewer than three miles, but I need to take longer-range rides fairly regularly. A plug-in hybrid sounds like a possibility for me, but would you think diesel is a better option for mileage and longevity?

I'd go with diesel. something like a Jetta TDI, and be perfectly happy. Make that a Passat TDI.

Any third-row crossover or minivan you get should have ample crush space between the rear hatch and rear row. I'm thinkinkin the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, all of which purposely designed the rear end to protect rear seat passengers. Also, take a serious look at the Kia Sorento.

Hi, We're considering one of the 3-row SUV's, but are having a hard time deciding. We have two small kids (meaning: carseats) and we're getting a dog in a month (it's classified as medium, so about 24 inches high and 50 pounds). I can envision occasionally needing the third row for people, but am resigning myself to this requiring moving the kids to the third row for the trip. But for the dog - I don't imagine there is room behind the third row for him and on top of a folded down third row doesn't seem safe. So I'm assuming we'll need a second row captain's chair option, so it can lay down between the chairs? Or could it safely/comfortably lay between the second and third rows? Also, it MUST have a back-up camera. And good safety ratings, given our precious cargo! :-) And it must be under $40K (although substantially less than that would be fantastic!). We've been considering the following: Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder. Which would you pick or would you recommend something we haven't considered? Thanks!

Include a Honda in your search. 96% of Honda's come standard with a back-up camera. Some of them even have the beeping standard. It's a must!

It depends how you train your dog from the start. I would look at SUVs that can fold flat without the hooks (or you can get a heavy rug so that their paws don't go into the hooks). It's actually safer for you to keep the kids further up front and the dog in the back. My dog decided he wanted to a front seat passenger and would try to get in the front seat.

Go to nhtsa's website‎ and see how many recalls each of these cars have had and if there are safety issues looming. You seem to value safety and I appreciate that.

The Hyundai Santa Fe 3 row has a lot of amenities as standard. Compare side-to-side which amenities you want and then look at the price.

Do you have a trade-in? If it is a conquest vehicle (a different manufacturer than the one you're buying) ask the dealer if you get a better deal because of that. All manufacturers are looking for more marketshare and each time you trade in your car for a different brand that means one manufacturer loses marketshare while the other gains it.

If you have more questions after this let me know.


Seriously, as a veteran of that commute: consider the seats. Are they shaped right for your body? Do they have a comfortable angle? Are they heated? If you can't take a 60-minute test drive, don't buy that car.

all good points. I like a snug heated seat. I do like the high-end Mercedes for the seats that cinch you in when you go around the corner.

Warren, In your opinion which is the best full-size pickup truck, Ram 1500, Fodr F-150, Chevy Silverado or Nissan Titan. I don't do any towing so that doesn't matter. I'm loooking more for comfort and handling.

Comfort and easier handling, the Ford F-150. Real work, the Ram 1500 or Chevrolet Silverado. Getting too many wuality complaints on the Titan to recommend that one. Also, of course, take a serious look at the Toyota Tundra.

Any news/experience with the new Legacy yet? I'm hearing Subaru really wants to make inroads on Toyota and Honda in this class, since it's probably their least best-selling vehicle they produce.

Only news is that we here in the Brown househol seiously are looking at the new Legacy and the Outback.

Frankly, I woul go with the new Explorer instead.

Need to trade in my 2007 Hyundai Sonata, and ready for a mid-size SUV. I'm leaning towards the Ford Edge. What do you think of the Edge vs its competitors? Thanks

Okay, you would be a conquest buyer. Make sure you tell the dealer you know they are gaining marketshare from Hyundai if you buy a Ford.

The Ford Edge is competitive to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Murano, Buick Enclave (because I don't like the Encore as much as the Enclave)

You might also look at the Mazda CX-5

What are the pros and cons of buying a new car with hail damage?

CAn you see any physical damage? Ask your mechanic to go over the inside as well. Are you going to get a markedly better price on this vehicle?

Thanks for the mention Warren. The concept originated inside the Euro Motorcars Dealer Group and customers appreciate the fast and "frictionless" approach to getting in and out of loaners. Specifically, they appreciate no loaner counters, no walk-arounds and that their service advisors onboard them into loaners in less than 2 minutes. - Tom Klaff, CEO, Concourse Express

Again, here is hoping that your program catches on, especially in the Washington area where myriad Type A personalities have been looking for that type of service. Congrats on thinking out of te box.

Insist on taking any car you are seriously considering overnight, or if that's not possible, see if you can rent one for a couple of days. I did both, and it made all the difference when I finally decided on the right (most comfortable) vehicle to buy.

Great idea. Hertz just loaned me a Porsche Cayman last week out of their dream car series and I thought it was the perfect way to help decide which car you would want, especially if it were an expensive car. 

It's a small price to pay for a long term investment.

My son will be graduating in May and moving to Austin TX for a job (yeah!) where he will need a car. Assuming he can afford/wants a good used car (say no more than $12,000 of which he could put $6,000 down), is it better to buy one here where we have a trusted mechanic who could look it over and put the miles on it to drive to Texas, or buy one there where we know no one. What sort of car would you recommend?

I'd walk him over to the nearest Hyundai or Kia dealer and buy brand new--Forte or Elantra--and be happy. Reasonably priced, good reliability, high NHTSA and IIHS safety ratings, and one of the best warranties in the business. That is what I'd do. Hey, he has a JOB! Yehhh! Hold onto it, dude.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please return next week. Thanks to Matthew Monahan, Lou Ann Hammond, Ria Manglapus and Michelle Dawson for all you all do to keep this going. Eat lunch!!

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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