Real Wheels Live

Apr 06, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will be joined by Lou Ann Hammond to discuss the auto industry. Plus, they'll give purchase advice to readers.

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If you are in New York this holiday weekend looking for a family entertainment venue, drop by the Javits Convention Center to take a look at one of North America's premier international auto exhibits. Pots of new vehicle introductions, including the reborn Chevrolet Impala, Honda Crosstour, and Hyundai Santa Fe.  Many premium offerings, including the stunning BMW M6 convertible. Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $5 for children under 12 years. Groups of 20 or more, assuming you're bringing the entire clan, get a $2 discount. Visit and enjoy. Lou Ann and I promise you: This show is worth both the money and the time.

The past couple chats there have been requests for 4-seater convertibles under $35,000. I put together a list of all 2012 Convertibles that meet those requirements. You can see it at


Warren and I have been at the 2012 New York International Auto Show all week. We've seen some great new cars, flying cars, or driving planes and new technology like AHA and East Penn. 


Is your car a classic beauty or a modern speed machine? Upload photos of your prized wheels in our Cool Cars photo gallery!

What shall we look for at the New York Auto Show?

We'd appreciate your opinion on the new Chevrolet Impala, Honda Crosstour, Hyundai Santa Fe (both revised short-wheelbase model and completely new long-wheelbase version), the BMW M6 convertiblr and revised X1, and, of course, the 2013 Jaguar XK and XK Portfolio pack. The show runs through April 15. Enjoy!

I think it's correct. I talked to Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) and he said that the people are buying more 4-cylinder vehicles. They are trading in their 10-11 year old cars and not buying a 6-cylinder, so the car they are buying will give them better gas mileage. 

taylor also said that he was concerned about the next 6 months because the first quarter had been such good weather that it might have brought some car sales forward to the first quarter. 

We will see

Warren Any info on the new Acura ILX model? What does it compare to in terms of size and "niche" competition? Thanks

I'll have to check on that one. At NYIAS 2012, Acura seems to be pushing its update of the RDX. Will check on the ILX.

Warren, I am about ready to trade in my old Corolla and am looking at the sporty-hatchback segment. Particularly I am looking at the MazdaSpeed3, an upgraded Ford Focus, Volvo C30 and the Volkswagen GTI. I think I am at the age where comfort has a slight edge over performance all things equal but price is a factor. Thanks!

I love all these! The Mazdaspeed3 is fun to drive. 

How much do you drive, how far? Ford is coming out with an electric Ford Focus, I believe it will come in hatchback. You can also get solar panels for $10,000 from sunpower (a discount) if you tell them you bought a Ford Focus. 

The Volvo C30 is pretty inside and out. 

The GTI, does it come in diesel? If so get that one. 

I'd go with the MazdaSpeed3, a subcompact that lives up to its marketing hype, and be happy.

Mr. Brown and/or Ms. Hammond: What do you think of the Scion IQ? My dad likes small cars and is very interested in this model. Thanks

I sat in all versions of the Scion IQ at NYIAS. I'm still scratching my head. It seems well made. Fuel economy is now in the requisite 40 mpg hwy region. But if you were my kid, I'd put you in the much more substantial, also fuel-efficient Toyota Corolla.

Warren- I have read your On Wheels reviews for several years. Is there a way I can access the old columns (from 5 or 6 years ago)?

Producer Dominique here. We have purged reviews older than 2009 from the site. We apologize for any inconvenience. 

I'm hoping you can help with a debate in our house. My husband thinks we need to trade in one of our cars for an SUV or crossover for "safety reasons" and car seat ease, due to an impending baby. He has a 2005 Mazda 3 sedan with about 50K miles and I have a 2006 Corolla with under 30K miles. I can't imagine that the safety benefits of an SUV are that significant compared to our cars and find it hard to justify replacing cars with low mileage and many more years to come. Do you have any suggestions on things we should be weighing in this decision?

And baby makes three! Congratulations.

I think you're right. SUVs, traditionally, because of their height, have been in more rollovers than sedans. Car companies are making great strides with that, but I'm with you, why replace two cars when you don't need to. 

Both of your cars are paid off, you've got a new baby on the way. Yes, the cars are getting older, but if the two of you would agree to put - let's say - $300 away each month you could buy a car with a nice down payment (which could help on your interest rate)  by the time you needed a new car. The more money you have for a down payment, or cash in full, the better you can negotiate. 

I hope you have a healthy baby. 

Hi Warren, I just bought a 2009 subaru impreza with 24k miles. I'm picking it up tomorrow and I'm super excited. I haven't owned a car in about 10 years and back then, my dad took care of everything related to car care (I was in college). What should I do? I've spent all my time researching cars and not car maintenance so I'm feeling a little overwhelmed/uninformed about how to plan for maintenance and repairs down the road. I want to be a good car owner and I want my new baby to drive forever! Any advice? Thanks!

You've come to the right place.

First, there is no reason to be overwhelmed. There is nothing mysterious about cars or car buying.

Second, approach car buying with facts over emotion and fantasy. To wit:

. How much money do I have in my bank accounts?

. How much of that can I allocate to a car purchase and still meet my other financial obligations without suffering?

. What do I need in a car? Am I mostly a commuter? Do I regularly drive long distances? What and who do I normally transport?

. What do I want? Why do I want it? Remember, prestige might impress friends. But it doesn't pay the bills.

The hard fact:

A car is a physical, material thing. Nothing physical or material has eternal life. It can not and will not "last forever." It will break down sooner or later. The question is how soon. Check,,, and Consumer Reports for estimates on vehicle reliability and durability.

Good luck. Let us know how you handle this.


As the miles mount up on my 15 year old Accord, I'm wrestling with what to look at for my next purchase. The current car is the most bare bones Accord Honda made 15 years ago and I'd like both more power and better handling as well as better fuel efficiency. I have a long-ish, mostly highway, mostly reverse commute and love Honda reliability, so am not sure a hybrid's for me yet. (I worry they'll be expensive to maintain). Should I just go get another Accord? Or is there another car out there that basically does the same reliability with better performance and not too much over the top conspicuous consumption? (I don't mind paying more than I did for the current car, but I'm not sure I'm a BMW person.)

That's easy. Given your stated concerns, I'd get another Accord, much improved over the last 15 years, especially in the area of vehicle safety, and be happy.

Hi guys, love the chats, keep up the good work! Am a fan of Acura though have been disappointed with their offerings as of late. I saw the new design for their flagship sedan- the RLX- that debuted at the NY Auto Show and was really disappointed. It seems to ape Lexus LX and not push any design boundaries at all, do you think it will sell in this ultra-competitive segment and do you think Acura has a chance to get their mojo back?

I agree that Acura's designs are a little staid. I just drove the RDX and ILX and they're great driving machines. Acura had a 4-cylinder turbo, but decided to go back to a V6 and I like it. 

Acura is supposed to bring the RLX out in a hybrid version, based off the NSX. Subaru, Acura and Honda are all going to use AHA. AHA is a division of Harman/Sony. The system brings all podcasts/audio files into one area and allows you to view them from your nav system. If you want to hear your favorite podcast they are all there in one spot and you can just tell aha what to play

Technology is becoming very important in luxury cars. Expect to see many car companies paying more attention to it, especially the luxury cars. 

Have you driven a Godzilla yet?

Ah, the old Nissan Skyline GT-R. I have driven the Skyline GT-R in Japan, but not the newest version. 

Impressed by Warren's review of the new 2013 Mazda CX-5, but don't know that I would be happy with the performance of the Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder gasoline engine. Would the 2.2 liter turbocharged diesel be worth waiting for, and can you justify paying the $2,560 price premium they are getting for them in the UK?

Yes, if you can wait, I'd wait for the turbo diesel model. For two reasons: They are at least  30-percent more efficient than gasoline models. They are reliable, have lots of torque. More manufacturers are bringining in diesels. If customer experience with those advanced diesels is as good as we'll think it will be, that means a higher resale value for U.S.-market diesels in the future.

Why are European consumers paying a price premium for diesels. It's simple: Lou Ann and I were in Geneva and France a few months ago. We paid the U.S. equivalent of $8 a gallon for regular gasoline!

Hi Warren, I've narrowed my next car purchase down to the new Lexus GS or BMW 335d. What are your thoughts on these similar yet different cars? Thanks - Chris

Hey Chris,

If you buy the GS you would want to buy the hybrid. I say that because you're looking at a diesel BMW which gives low end torque. The only gasoline engine that can truly meet that is a hybrid. 

The drive is so completely different on these two cars it's almost not a comparison. The BMW is a sports car like feel, the Lexus a smoother drive. 


Warren - any chance you'll be driving the new MINI Cooper Roadster soon? I'm looking at the S model, but wanted to get your take before making a buying decision.

Yes, I'll drive the new MINI Roadster, Countryman, and Clubman in the next few months, according to the East Coast drive schedule. Also check Lou Ann's Those West Coast people sometimes get the new stuff sooner.

For the person considering another Accord, wait for the 2013. It will be chock full of incredible new technology. Charles in DC

Thanks, Charles DC.

Hi. I'm excited about the entry of Car2Go into the DC market. Is there anything that the only-occasional driver should know about driving a SmartCar? I've never been behind the wheel of one.

Car2go is only one of the car sharing programs in the United States today. Smart cars are fine in the city, so if you're going around DC it will be perfect. And finding parking will be so much easier because Smart cars are so small. 

Relay cars is another service that allows you to rent from your neighbors. 

Zipcar is another service,

All these services are in the DC area, or coming soon. 

I won't deny that it's hard to fit car seats in our sedans. Not worth trading in a car, though. Just buy a different car seat - the Combi Coccoros are not too tall when rear-facing and very narrow. Radian Sunshines are very narrow but tall, so can be hard to fit in a back seat. The Graco Snugrides are fine as long as you don't need three of them across the back seat. But by the time you'd need 3 anyway, it will be time to trade in for a new car. The higher seat will actually be harder on your child when they start to be able to climb in themselves - then you'll want a sedan so you can encourage the independence!

It is highly recommended here that you take your car to a local fire or police department and seek the advice of those officials for which car seat works best in your automobile. Why? Because they are the people who have the unfortunate job of discovering which seats fail easily, either because of installation or design, in a crash. They've really studied up on this. We would would take advantage of their knowledge.

I don't understand the purpose in Audi's approach to offer a base A model, then a S model, and then a RS model. BMW has base and M. Mercedes has base and AMG. Audi needs to follow the KISS model. Keep it simple.

It is a discussion we journalists have quite often. Unless you're an aficionado on a car manufacturer you don't know what all these nomenclatures mean. 

but you have them in the right order, A is a sedan, S is sporty and RS is the high performance. 

It's just confusing. And don't ask someone if they want to go for a ride in your Cadillac SRX without checking your autocorrect first. :) 

We have Lexus GS and son has a BMW 3 series. As Lou Ann said concerning the ride they are completely different. I prefer the Bimmer ride/handling to the uber comfortable GS. The BMW will give better road feel and sensitive handling. You should try both. Both great cars. Depends on what you want.

I love that you use a German word to describe a Lexus car :) 

Uber comfortable! I may have to use that in a review. 


Hi guys, really enjoy reading your chats/comments. What new electrics are you seeing at the show that you like? Does it make sense to convert a car currently owned to electric? Thanks.

Almost every manufacturer displaying at 2012 NYIAS is offering some form of electrified vehicle. But the real story here is a new report by the Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium, "Low Cost-Life Cycle Lead Carbon," announcing an important breakthrough in lead-acid battery technology. It seems that scientists have discovered a way to make those batteries last longer with improved reliability. Most interesting: They are two to four times less expensive than their lithium counterparts, thus opening the door for less expensive electrified vehicles. We're keeping an eye on that one.

How is this station wagon not really a "station wagon?" Is this vehicle popular with dudes?

Dear Dudette, 

(I'm assuming you're a woman?)

A rose by any other name? Did you know that there was a time that if a car company called a car a station wagon it wouldn't sell? Hence the reason they make up silly names for station wagons. 

I grew up in a station wagon and love them. Enjoy your station wagon. It can fit all kinds of people, surfboards, stand up bass - anything in a big ole station wagon. Enjoy. 

On the hatchbacks question: are you looking to buy a manual or automatic. I have and adore the c30 and would go right back out and buy it again. But, I did think the clutch point was a bit wierd and and springy and hard to get used to on it and, of the lot, thought the Mazda3Speed had the nicest manual. On the automatic side, the standard manumatic on the c30 is kind of fun and also something I've liked for mountain driving etc.

Many thanks for that contribution.

Since it seems unlikely that the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 disiel versions are not coming to the US, so I have been thinking about the Mazda CX5. Is that a good subsitute?

A great substitute. And Mazda is planning to put a diesel in that one. Is that what you're thinking?

Any thoughts on the 2012 Subaru Forester? As background, after being a Honda family for years, we bought a new Outback in 2012 and absolutely love it. We've just moved from DC to Atlanta and now have to go from a one-car to a two-car family. We have one toddler, will probably be adding a baby in the next year or two, and the car will be used primarily for taking children to preschool/daycare and me to work and running errands. We don't need something quite as large as the Outback, but I do like the smaller SUV style. Does the Forester sound like a good fit for us? Anything else we should consider?

Look at the Mazda CX-5 as well. It's a great little drive and is listed as the most fuel-efficient in its segment (CUVs under 180 inches) 

Remember, think of gasoline as the variable interest rate even after you've finished paying off the car. If gasoline goes to $6 a gallon you want a car that you can afford that fits your growing family. 

Warren,  from reading your columns and these chats, we know what you like today. The Mini. Well-built luxury and speed from Infiniti and Audi. Recognizing that modern vehicles will always offer more and better than their forebears, is there anything, at least in memory, that you will always love, if not wish to own or drive today? (For me, it's Roger Moore's Volvo P1800 in The Saint or a cigar box shaped E-Type Jag.)

You'll hate me for this. But I've driven almost every Chevrolet Impala there is to drive. Love those cars. Love the new one. The Chevrolet Impala, as silly as it probably seems to many of you, is my all-time favorite.

Hi - I'm driving a 2009 Fusion, 6-cylindar gasoline engine, and would like a more fuel-efficient, eco-friendly vehicle. I grew up in Detroit and many of my relatives worked for Ford back in the day, so it's going to be hard to get me into a car by another manufacturer, rational or not. Do you have an opinion on the Fusion Hybrid versus the upcoming electric Focus, and is there anything else I should be looking at?

I like Ford products. I like the Fusion hybrid. It allows you to go wherever you want to go without worry about running out of electricity.

If you have short commutes, or the Ford Focus EV is a second car I would recommend it. 

You are eligible for the $7,500 federal tax incentive. 

Ford says the charge will be between $1and $2– which enables 76 miles of average driving. In a gasoline vehicle that gets a fuel-efficient 38 mpg at $5per gallon, the cost to drive that same 76 miles is $10. 

Plus, you can get a 2kw solar panel from sunpower for less than $10,000 after federal tax credits if you buy a Ford Focus EV. 

Check it out to make sure I have all the particulars correct. I think I do, but imagine getting a tax credit to buy solar panels that will offset the cost of your electric bill, and getting a tax credit to buy a car. 


On a recent business trip, I arrived at my destination airport and the car rental agency handed me the keys to a 2012 Mitsubishi Galant. I was surprised to learn that these are still being made and was admittedly curious about what I would find. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a piece of junk. Even though it had less than 4,000 miles on it, it rattled and whistled like a car approaching 100,000. It never started on the first try, and when it did, it was woefully anemic and underpowered for its size and its handling reminded me of my parents' old Ciera. I knew Mitsubishi had fallen over the years, but I had no idea how far. How long can they keep going if a car intended to compete with the latest offerings from Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, and Chevy cannot even match the experience I used to get from my 1990 Mazda 626?

Good question. Wondering the same thing, I stopped by the Mitsubishi pavillion at NYIAS 2012. Great Sushi. Even better beer. (They really pamper the international media at these shows.) But still the same question. On display were updated versions of the Galant, all-electric Mitsu i, Lancer, Lancer Evolution, Outlander and Outlander Sport. They looked good, but not good enough to waylay the surrounding competition. We'll see...

Warren, what is your opinion on the most comfortable three-row SUV? I need to make sure the third row is comfy and relatively roomy because adults will be there often. Twins with car seats will be in the second row. Thanks

The GM Crossover group: Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. You'd be sheating yourself not to look at those.

I'm a dude and asked that question. I like the Audi A4 and A6 avants because they offer utility that I don't want from a SUV. I want a sport sedan that I can take to Home Depot to pick up some mulch, hardware, etc., but I don't like the idea of driving a station wagon. I can't even pass off the Avant as a hatchback to make it sound more respectable. I would like the A3 if it was offered with a manual and with quattro, but that's not offered (I'm the one who's asked you in the past about this option).

Were you the person that asked the below question? Did you see I got an answer from Audi for you? But I was talking to Johan DeNyschen the President of Audi of America and showed him your question. He started to give me a more thorough answer but we got interrupted and I forgot to get back to him. 

I will and let you know what he says. 

I really like this vehicle, but can't seem to figure out why the Quattro isn't offered with a manual tranny. BTW, should I hold my breath for the A4 with the 3.0L supercharged engine? I just don't want the 2.0L turbo.

Audi gave me the answer; 
The FWD A3 TDI was configured that way to boost fuel economy rating. The A4 with a 3.0T supercharged is otherwise known as the S4.

Hi,  a friend in Hawaii just got a Lexus 200H and loves its flexibility. What do you think?

Expensive envoironmentalism. But it works well.

We're looking for a commuter car, but will need to accommodate car seats in the even the family car (Mazda CX-7) is in the shop. We're considering the VW 4-door Golf and the Jetta (both in diesel). Not sure about car seats in the Golf, though? Also, if we do mostly city commuting, is diesel worth it, or would a very efficient gasoline be the same? (Hubby will NOT do hybrid!) Thanks!

Again, check with your local police and fire departments for best, unbiased advice on which cars best match which car-safety seats.

Lou Ann and Warren: I know carmakers have run from that term for about 35 years. Do you know the origin? I always envision a New Rochelle housewife driving to pick up her husband at the commuter train.

The origin of the term station wagon, or why they run away from it?

They run away from it because our generation didn't want to buy a car they had grown up in. As a kid I was always stuck in the back next to the window, by the ice cooler. I was one of five kids, with two parents, all crammed in one vehicle on a summer vacation. When we stopped for a snack my Mom opened a can of Campbells vegetable beef soup, drained the juice off the top and I ate the rest. 

I loved it, other people wanted more personal space around them. They didn't have such fond memories. :) 

Thank you everyone for all the questions. We have many we were not able to get to, but if you come back next week, we'll still be here. 

Have a wonderful Easter or Passover.

However you spend your weekend, enjoy it, and remember 

Never drive faster than your Angel can fly. 

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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