Real Wheels Live

Apr 05, 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.

Good morning Warren and friends

Sometimes we drive so many cars we forget the simple ones, like the Kia Rio I drove last week. Great little car. It, and the Chevy Spark and MINI Paceman, have been great fun and good value for the money.

I panned the Ford Explorer Sport one time, but I drove it last week and found that  in regular driving conditions I actually liked it. I don't know if they changed the gearing or not, but I thought I should say something.

Last week we had a question about Hertz rent-a-car and debit cards. I contacted Hertz and this is their reply;

Regarding Debit Cards the
following applies:

      At most Hertz locations, debit cards issued under a VISA or
      Mastercard logo which draw funds directly from the cardholder's
      account may be used to rent a vehicle.  Debit cards must have
      available funds for the estimated amount of the rental charges plus
      up to $200 to cover any incidental charges in order to secure the
      rental. These debit cards may be used as a form of payment when the
      vehicle is returned.

      Customers opting to rent with a debit card, will be subject to a
      credit check via Equifax, typical to the type of credit check done
      when applying for credit.  This check is done at the rental location.

      When the car is returned, a charge for the total amount due is
      submitted to the customer’s credit/debit card company. Depending on
      the company, there may be a delay between the time the charges are
      received and when the hold is released. The length of time this takes
      is not determined by Hertz. Since the card issuer is responsible for
      releasing authorization holds/funds back to their customers'
      accounts, customers must contact the card issuer directly for

      All credit cards, debit cards, and/or charge cards may only be used
      by the person whose name is printed on the front of the card and
      whose signature (if any) is on the back of the card.

Let's chat about cars.

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Hello, thanks for taking my question. I am planning to give my newly-licensed son my old Toyota Highlander and buy a new car for myself. Celebrating the end of carpooling, I am looking for something small, economical, and gas-efficient, with a few bells and whistles such as Bluetooth capability and satellite radio. And the car must have a hatchback because it's easier for my darling Lab/Great Dane mix to use. I know Lab-loving Mr. Brown won't make fun of me for considering room for my dog! My research keeps bringing me back to the Honda Fit. What else should I be looking at? The Chevy Spark? The Nissan Versa? Thank you!

I would not give my newly licensed son a Highlander...or any other SUV, Teens, assuming he is a teen, have a very bad crash record in those, as your insurers will tell you. Give him a used Camry sedan, or something such as a used Impala or Volvo sedan. Check with the Insurance Institute for Highway safety before turning over the keys to the Highlander.

Considering that it just came out, if you have had a chance to see it, any reactions?

No more than any other auto magazine that comes out with an annual edition. I do have the mag already - It's done well, there is thought put behind it.

Read your great review of the Kia in this past Sunday's paper. As I always ask, how does it compare to the Mazda3? This is the first small car other than the 3 that I've seen you say is fun to drive.

It compares quite well. Kia is on a roll. I certainly would check it out before making a purchase decision.

I'm looking into buying a hybrid and I am considering the Ford Fusion due to its great gas mileage, looks, and comfort. However I am concerned about the quality. It seems that every review I am reading (including yours) questions the quality and reliability. Consumer Reports rates it dead lasts. As a happy Camry Hybrid owner looking for a change, am I being foolish buying the Ford.

Hunh? I like the Fusion Hybrid.  Build quality and materials are on par with its main competitors. If someone says otherwise, I'd like them to give specifics.

Hi Warren, I ordered a 2013 BMW 328i. I had to get the M package b/c I wanted the Le Mans Blue. Can you tell me about the run flat tires it comes with? I'm a little leary having never had run flat tires. Does it affect the performance of the car and is the ride as smooth? Thank you so much. Read your columns religiously.

I am not a fan of run flats. They have gotten better, but the tire is harder on my back. I believe run flats mean you have no spare tire, so if you're thinking of changing your tires from run flats you would also need to buy a fifth tire.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, I'm looking to buy a four-door sedan for transporting my 85-year-old Mom around in (she doesn't drive anymore). We're looking for something used that is extremely safe, has good visibility, and is easy to get into and out of (for example, has a power front passenger seat that raises up in addition to going back and forward). What do you suggest we consider? Thanks much!!

Here's a list: Buick LaCrosse, Toyota SAvalon and Camry, Nisam Altima, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Sonat

Warren, I have been fortunate to be able to afford 4 BMW five series during the last 22 years. Each one has become successively more complicated in terms of electronics, more emphasis on luxury and also it seems less emphasis on the enjoyment of driving---which is why I started buying BMS in the first place. You may or may not agree. But as I near retirement and have only myself to haul around what smaller car would you recommend for sheer driving pleasure? Thank you

Wait a bit. BMW is bringing forth, by fall, the new BMW 328 D, as in diesel, turbo 2-liter four. If the production car drives as well as the prototype, it'll be a winner. BMW also is working on a three-cylinder model for U.S. sales. It, too is a winner.

Having just finished with the 2013 BMW M5, I understand your concern about BMW's passionate romance with new technology. That new auto mated manual, seven-spped, dual clutch transmission takes some getting used to. But once you get used to it, you wonder where it has been all of your driving life.

I'm looking to replace my much loved Acura MDX. I don't love the dash set up on the newer MDX, but I still need lots of passenger room, so I'm checking out the Ford Flex (love the exterior), Toyota Highlander (love the hybrid option), and Honda Pilot (a dressed down Acura MDX). Do you have any suggestions on others I should look at or features on these three that I should particularly focus on?

There are some great 3-row SUVs out there and you are looking at some of the best. Let me give you some others;

Hyundai Santa Fe LWB

GMC Acadia and Yukon


Kia Sorrento

Mitsubishi Outlander

Mazda CX-9

Lincoln Navigator

Mercedes-Benz GL63


Nissan Pathfinder hybrid

Focus on fuel economy and price. How easy is it to get in and out of the 3rd row? Do you have animals? Is the cargo area flat when you fold down all seats? Are there hooks that are exposed that would hurt the animals?

Hi, I don't know if you answered this question before, so please let me apologize if this question is redundant...what do you think of the resdesigned MDX? Can an adult fit in the 3rd row or just kids? Thanks.

Never a need for chatters to apologize here. The industry is going crazy with upgrades in mid-size crossover utility vehicles. The latest work on the MDX does not disappoint, although I wish the company would change that snaggle-toothed front fascia. Other than that, the MDX easily is one of the most accommodating family haulers around.

Warren, have you driven the BMW 3 series with the new 4 cyclinder turbo? I have read that it sounds rough and strains to push the car. Thoughts?

Yes, I have driven it. No, there is no rough and straining sound.

We're looking to replace our 2005 Rav 4, which is in good shape but just much too small with something suitable as a family vehicle. Our other car is a 2013 Edge, but unfortunately our schedules don't always allow us to keep the Edge in the same place as the kid always. Not sure what to get though- would you suggest an "ultimate hauler" in the Explorer Class, another mid-size SUV like an Edge, or go a 4 door sedan?

Take a looke at the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, and the new Buick Encore--that's the smaller Encore. not the larger Enclave. Also cast a critical eye on the latest Ford Edge, the Titanium version. Ans did I mention the crossover lineup from Volkswagen? Check it out.

Good morning Warren, Any reason that the automakers put speedometers that read up to 140 to 160 mph, when most of us are driving 4 cyl that will never travel faster than 75 mph. Spreading out the range from 0 to 100 would make it easier to accurately check your speed. Thanks

Marketing. That's all I can think of. They are trying to placate all of those Walter Mitty-types out there who imagine that they and their vehicles really belong on the race track, or that there really is some legal place in this country where they can drive at 140 mph. It is dumb, as dumb as the TV commercials showing "professional drivers: tearing around desert and other roads at super speeds. Childish!

Have you driven the TDI? Edmunds thinks the mpg can be higher than the EPA estimates. Can you comment on the quality of construction? People who buy this car would plan on owning it for a while. Thanks

Here's a review of the 2012 Passat,

I like the Passat a lot. I like diesel a lot. I would buy the Passat.

I was impressed with the interior and noted the turning radius (36.4). I really appreciate a car that has a good turning radius. It's one of those things I watch for.

You would be happy in a Passat.

Hi, have had my first new car for a few months but decided (possibly foolishly) to wait till all the salt is gone before getting it washed. Prefer hand wash or is it a gimmick? At this point need exterior, undercarriage & tires. Interior maybe. Tyson's, Bethesda etc preference

I won't call you "foolish" for waiting. Let's just say it's risky. Salt is a first-class corrosive. The sonner you remove it, the better. Take it too any first-class car wash. I prefer automatic washes that clean both under and upper bodies with high-pressure sprays.

First, a quick note of thanks to Lou Ann and Hertz for resolving my issue to my complete satisfaction. Second, I was wondering about your opinion of the Abarth and, in particular, the new Abarth sort-of convertible. I have a Fiat 500 that replaced my GTI, and while it is cute and fun, I miss the HP of the GTI. Also, if you have any contacts with Fiat, you should tell them that they have to put an automatic in the Abarth and Turbo if they want to sell more of them in the US. I love manuals, but need the auto for my family. Thanks.

I so agree with you. I believe next week we might have a Fiat person on the chat with us, so you can tell them yourself.

I love the control a manual gives me, but lifestyle is so automatic. Why not an automatic? And I love horsepower and low end torque. The fiat would be great with a diesel engine and an automatic, wouldn't it?


For the poster asking about Fusion... I and several friends who own Fords (between us we have a mustang, an Edge, a Fusion and a Focus) have all been happy with the overall quality of the car. The only drawback all of us have is the Sync system, which is glitchy and has poor voice recognition software. Outside of that though, absolutely no complaints!

Yeah, the first Sync and My Ford Touch systems were a bit problematical. But they are fine, now.

Comfortable seating was the number one priority when I was looking for a car in 2011. I think I sat in every driver's and passenger's seat on the market and ended up with a Ford Flex. I've ended up being the designated driver to lots of meetings/conventions and I always receive rave reviews on the passenger seating comfort/leg room. And most importantly, I LOVE the driver's seat. Think La-Z-Boy comfort.

That's not as odd as you might think, your choice of the Flex for its great seats. It proves to me that Ford learned something from its recent asociation with Volvo, which has the m ost comfortable seats in the business as far as I'm concerned.

What are your thoughts on the Volvo XC90? Im anxiously awaiting for the redesign, but it doesnt appear it will be happening anytime soon.

It's too long in the tooth after a 10 year run. It needs to be updated and replace, which Volvo's current owner is doing.

Hi, Lou Ann and Warren: A person asked about a Mazda3 diesel for North America. Lou Ann mentioned diesels with SkyActiv technology coming. It's the Mazda6 that's arriving soon in diesel. Haven't seen anything about a Mazda3 with a diesel engine. Link: Garey, Ottawa

he Mazda6 with SKYACTIV-D clean-diesel technology will be available later this year, but they haven't said anything about the Mazda3.

They have a Mazda3 diesel in other countries. It's only a matter of time and demand.

We have narrowed down our search to the Mazda CX-5 and the Subaru Forester (CRV, RAV4, others are already off the list for various reasons) -- comparably equipped and with all-wheel drive. Any reasons to go with one over the other? If it helps your response, the primary driver will be my wife, who does not want to drive something that will make her look "mommy" (our minivan already does that).

I'm in the CX-5, now, and love it. I also loved the new Forester Wagon for many of the same reasons I love the CX-%--family friendly, great utility, great maneuverability in the city, reasonably fuel-efficient (the CX-5 wins here), reasonably affordable. I'd go with the best price offer in this case.

John and Helen Taylor of Australia averaged 84.1 mpg, way above EPA number in a Passat TDI they tested last year.  Garey, Ottawa

Hey Garey,

How are your driving costs per mile doing? :)

Were they trying for good numbers? I can get huge numbers when I'm trying, but I want numbers when I'm driving normally.

Honda CR-Z or Scion FRs or Subaru BRZ.... any real difference between the Scion and the Subaru....What do you think of the the CRZ

I prefer the real-wheel-drive BRZ from Subaru, mostly because I love Subaru's overal quality and reliability. I don't have the numbers with me, but my sense is that the BRZ isn't selling very fast, mostly because people don't really know much about the car. Also, it has this problem: It is a 'youth" car in a market where many youths can't afford it.

The latest Consumer Reports recommends that real gas, not ethanol be run in small motors, such as lawn mowers, which are eventually messed up by ethanol. There are a few places where I can buy it in my area. How much would it matter in preserving my vehicles? How much better mileage might I see?

It depends on how much ethanol is in your gasoline. Some groups are trying to get more ethanol in the gasoline, which would hurt older cars.

I talk to a friend that works on older cars and he's concerned about too much ethanol in gasoline.

It's not the engine actually, it's the lines. The lines were not set up for ethanol.

Car manufacturers and lawn mower manufacturers have to build for the new norm.

Warren: I seem to remember your mini lost its luster. Do you mind explaining why? I'm thinking of a mini because of its size (I need to navigate a small alley and an even smaller alley parking spot), but don't want to make a bad long term decision.


Most things lose luster after a while, particualrly most material things, such as cars, which undergo a bit of self-destruction everytime they are driven. Repairing those failures can become expensive, which is the case with our aging Mini. It's a pain. We're leaning toward the Forester Wagon. But there is an interloper. We've fallen madly in love with the new Beetle TDi.

I have a great picture of Warren in a Rolls-Royce Phantom at the New York auto show. It, like the MINI, is in the BMW family. It was just so funny to see Warren go from driving a MINI to being in a Rolls.

When you buy a new car - in my case a Subaru Outback - is there any real need or advantage in servicing the car at the dealership where you purchased it versus a more conveniently located dealership? Thank you.

Disclaimer: I do a lot of consulting with the Washington Area New Automobile Dealer's Association. But I do it because I know most franchise dealers can be trusted to take care of their customers, including their repair needs.Independent repair shops can be and often are great. But I'd go with good dealers on this one.

Lou Ann here:

I dont' work with the dealers, but think that they have the most up-to-date machinery to work with and they work closely with ASE, the certified board for car mechanics. I went to Lexus of Roseville to get my car serviced and they were right in line with the hourly rate of a non-car dealer.

Hi, Trying to decide between the Honda Odyssey vs. the Acura MDX, as I can see the pros and cons of these 2 different types of vehicles. Can you suggest something that will help me make my decision?! Thanks for this forum.

bit by bit

You're staying in the Honda family, one is the Honda, the other the luxury brand.I'm going to assume that you are going top of line in the Odyssey, the touring elite.

I believe there is an entertainment system in the honda Odyssey Touring Elite that is standard, not so in the MDX. I'm not sure you can get it in the MDX. If you have kids that is a big deal.

I also believe the Odyssey get better fuel economy than the MDX.

Hi, My in-laws are very generously offering to buy us a car, and the car they are offering to buy us is a Cube. How should we feel about that? We are a family of four (two small children) living in the city but my husband has a long reverse commute. Any other options we should consider? (Considering other options may not be an option, but I'm curious to know). Thanks!

How should you feel? You should say," Thank you very much." The Nissan Cube is a good, albeit odd-shaped urban wagon. At a starting price of about $17,000 with a combined city/highway mileage of 27 mpg using regular, it's a darned goood starter, especially free of charge. Take it. Use it until you can buy something else. Be happy. Be grateful.

What are your thoughts on this car? If we buy one used, are there any model years to avoid?

I loved the R-class. It's like a lxurious limo.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week.

A special thanks to our dear Jessica Urquiola, who is leaving us today to join the federal government in a self-sacrficing effort to keep us safe from all who would do us harm. Thank you, Jessica. May God bless and protect you, too.

And thanks to Lou Ann Hammond, Matt Monahan, Victoria Manglapus and Michelle Dawson-- all of whom help to make this a fun job.

Eat lunch. Have a good weekend.


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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