Real Wheels Live

Apr 20, 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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Congratulations to the Land Rover Evoque. The Evoque won the 2012 Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY). 

The Supreme winners are;
1st - Land Rover Evoque
2nd - BMW 3-Series
3rd - Audi Q3 

If you're looking for a certain segment of car the WWCOTY broke down the winners as such; 


Family car:

1st - BMW 3-series 

2nd - Audi Q3 

3rd - Ford Focus  


Luxury car:

1st - Range Rover Evoque 

2nd - Jaguar XJ 

3rd - Audi A6  


Sports car:

1st - Porsche 911 

2nd - Jaguar XKR 

3rd - Mercedes Benz SLK


Economy car:

1st - Honda Civic 

2nd - VW Up! 

3rd - Ford Fiesta 



Hi Warren, I'm writing to thank you for your good advice. You encouraged me to buy a 2011 VW Jetta Sportwagen last year. I did so and have put over 20,000 miles on it in 6 months. I'm also averaging over 41 MPG with my smooth-running diesel engine. Thank you! Dick in Michigan

I'm happy to have been of service. Enjoy!

We are looking at the mini cooper countryman (2012). My concern is reliability of the car. The alternative is a Honda CRV. Wife loves the Mini. I wanted to get your opinion on the reliability of the Mini. thanks

Two completely different animals. I would have thought you would compare the CRV with the 2013 Escape (we're calling it the kick car because you can kick underneath the car and the backgate will open without using your hands) or the Mazda CX5, Kia Sportage, or RAV4. 

The MINI Countryman is a great little car in sport mode, but if you're going along the lines of a CRV I'd look at a Subaru instead. 

Warren, were the profit margins on small pick-ups really so minimal that dropping them made sense to manufacturers? I'd sure like to find a good, truly small pickup, but the choices for new vehicles are poor. And used ones.....well, they're just getting too old. So many behemoths!

Yes. Small pickups originally were inserted into the market to snag buyers who couldn't afford cars. They caught on and, in a big way, help to fuel the trend towards trucks as car-substitutes. The truck craze change economies of scale and, ironically, crushed small pickups in the process. The companies were making so much money on standard pickups (also now in decline) and extended and super-cabs, not to mention SUVs, it made little sense to them to keep assembly lines open for the small pickups, which had little demand.

Yes, the EPA gas estimates are based on fluff and nonsense, and I say that with all love for EPA, having worked there for 30+ years. They are done in ideal conditions and have no basis in the reality of driving. You evidently missed the EPA mea culpa a few years ago admitting as much, and promises to make the estimates more realistic. My question to you which was glossed over, is "Do car companies do their own estimates and why aren't they posted as well"?

 I wrote about this after the Detroit auto show.

I agree with you that the EPA needs to understand that the consumer is making fuel economy a priority and use the window sticker/ epa numbers more now as a purchasing consideration.

When a consumer looks at the sticker and it says “EPA certified” most people tend to think those numbers are more accurate than the car manufacturers. For this reason, there is not one single car company that uses their own number. They all use the EPA certified number. It is akin to putting FDA approved on a food product, it is a stamp of approval, a certification of the numbers one will get when driving.

Hi Warren, You've helped me in the past and I hope you can help me now. Granddaughter, 18, will be going off to college. Mom wants to buy a car for her to use while home and her 16 year old sister can drive it while 18 yr old is at college. They are thinking of a Fiat 500. I remember from the past the the Fiat was not a stellar car. Maybe they've improved? Should they buy used or new car? If not Fiat then what? Help. Helene Meyers

I wouldn't go the Fiat 500 route just yet. It's a cute car. I like it. But for a new driver, I'd much prefer the safety of a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, or Chevrolet Cruze.

Warren, does this exist? Small car (I really like my 1999 Corolla's size), excellent mileage, AND luxury and bells & whistles. I'll pay for what I like, well, nothing exorbitant. Thanks!

Would you consider a BMW 3-Series or Volvo S60 "exorbitant"?

Also look at the Hyundai Azera. Gorgeous little car. 

A neighbor is looking for a car. She's about eighty in very good health and needs to something to haul a few outsized things easily. I'm thinking a Honda CRV; easy to get in and out of, large cargo. Or if she is "buying American" a Chevy HHR. Any comments or additional suggestions?

I just drove a 2013 Ford Explorer about 250 miles yesterday. It's an easy to drive vehicle. I'm not in love with the steering wheel, feels like plastic. If you have wide feet the brake pedal and the gas pedal are a little close together. 

But the Escape gets 5 mpg more than the last generation at about the same price. Plus, if she is carrying items she doesn't have to open the back liftgate with her hands. She just kicks underneath it and it will open or close. very handy. 

You can also look at the Chevy Equinox. If not American, the Mazda CX5, Toyota RAV or Kia Sportage. 


Warren and Lou Ann, enjoy the talks each week. I was wondering if the American car manufactors were reviewing the increasing sales of diesel vehicles from VW, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. Besides the future Chevy Cruze and Cadillac ATS maybe the new Chevy Colorado (whenever it becomes available to replace that sorry Colorado they are selling now), are there any possible other vehicles which would be available with the diesel engines. I plan to buy a new Terrain Denali around March next year but, if the diesel option were available I would buy that in a heartbeat. GM used to sell (about 30 years ago) a diesel powered Chevy Luv pickup. My uncle had one at the time. That truck got about 40 miles to the gallon back in the day (he used to drive 180 miles a day to work). Just wondering if you may have heard something in your talks with the Auto companies.

You might be closer to your heartbeat than you think. My GM sources tell me that the company seriously is considering offering a diesel option in the GMC Terrain and, possibly, the Chevrolet Equinox sibling. If diesel sales continue growing, as they are, I'd say to look for those around late 2013, early 2014.

Mr. Brown, thank you for taking my question. I am looking at pre-owned SUVs: I am leaning towards the Honda Pilot, but Toyota's 4Runner is up there, along with the Nissan Pathfinder. All three are solid, though I guess if I had my druthers, I'd go with the Toyota Land Crusier (not the FJ), but that's a bit much for my budget. What are your thoughts on these? Thanks!

I wouldn't go with the Toyota Land Cruiser under any circumstance. It's big and heavy without a comensurate  amount of utility. It sucks fuel and isn't much fun to drive. And expensive. But I'd take the 4Runner in a heartbeat. It's a working vehicle with attitude.

But no one else made a vehicle with real off road capability since we do often drive on farm roads and in fields. Very few manufactures foreign and domestic make a CUV or SUV with a flat floor when you fold the rear seats down. I can fit two 21in wide dog crates side by side in the back. I also ahven't owned or driven a vehicle with a slushbox since 1978. So I test drove vehicles from Ford, Honda, Chevy, Land Rover, Mercedes, Audi, VW, Toyota, Nissan, Lexus and Caddy but the Jeep Grand Cherokee won the day. It drives smaller then its 5000lb would lead to believe. One of the more relaible of big 3 SUVs/CUVs and has a low range. Low range is missing SUVs/CUVs in the Grand Cherokees size range. I didn't need a Tahoe. Ford has nothing with a low range. I am still very nervous about buying a Chrylser product owned by Fiat. I remember Fiat and the X1/9s, 124s, 128s and 131s. They were less reliable then MGs. Now if Land Rover had the new Defender 110 available for sale in the US I would have paid MSRP +. Clifton, VA

Good mornng Clifton, 

I would be more worried about a Fiat owned by Chrysler. Chrysler is the profitable company right now. They are saving Fiat. 

And the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a great car. It is saving Jeep. 

I agree with the Jeep. I have a dog, so I'm always looking for flat fold down seats. Not all cars do that. The Honda CRV almost folds flat, but there are latches that are left open that a dog could get their paw caught in. ouch!! 

You've made a great choice and I really appreciate that you did so much homework before purchasing. What you did is referred to as total value. You will be happier with your car longer because you did your homework. 

Warren, have you tested the new Lexus GS model? Also, same question on the new BMW 3 series with the turbo 4. Thanks

No on the Lexus. Yes on the BMW 3-series turbo. The latter continues the 3-Series legacy as one of the best compact sedans available



I have driven both. You are not the first person to compare the lexus GS and the BMW 3-Series. Consider driving them and coming back to us with your thoughts. 

The Lexus and BMW are such different driving machines that I would like your thoughts after you have driven them. 

We're looking to get a commuter car. We do a city MPG commute, not highway. Is the diesel efficiency on the CITY MPG superior to standard gas CITY MPG that it is worth it (i.e. the premium at the pump) to get a diesel?

If you want a city commute car a hybrid might be more adviseable. That is where they shine. If you look at the numbers the hybrid should get better mpg for the city, less on the highway. 

There are hybrids that take regular fuel as well, so look for them. You can also consider an electric vehicle, such as the Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus, or a range extender (a hybrid of electricity and an engine that acts like a generator) such as the Chevy Volt. 

Go for the Jetta TDI and be happy.

Reposting from last week. The Wall Street Journal and Canada's Globe & Mail have both covered GM's refusal to add 5-door and station wagon versions of its vehicles to North America. A wagon version of the Regal is manufactured on the same assembly line as the sedans that are sold in this country. Europe has 5-door and wagon versions of the Chevrolet Cruze, but we in North America don't get them. Could you please convey to your colleagues at GM that: 1) there *is* a demand for wagons and 5-door vehicles; and 2) better to cannabalize your own sales rather than lose them to your competitors, including Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. Despite what GM may claim, the Equinox / Enclave are NOT proper wagons. Thank you!


Dear K.P and other friends at GM Europe.

As I told you, it makes absolutely no market sense to withhold wagon versions of the Cruze and Regal from the U.S. buying public. Can you at least ship some trial retail samples to the United States? What makes you think that we in the U.S. don't like or need wagons? And please don't give us that "crossover" marketing pitch "Crossovers" are just wagons by another name. We want real, genuine WAGONS!! Is that clear?

Warren and I have driven these cars in Europe and loved them. We both have told GM and GM Europe that they would be loved in America. So, Steve Girsky, Susan Docherty, don't you think It would help the European market to build some diesel wagons in Europe and ship them to America? 

I want to echo the previous thanks for the TDI recommendation. I have had my 2011 Sportwagon for 16 months and have put two major road trips on it. It is wonderful! We got 46mpg on one haul.

Wonderful! I love wagons and am glad to see hatchbacks and wagons making a comeback. Diesel is great for those long road trips. You looked at your needs and bought the right car. 

Hi Warren. Have you had a chance yet to drive the Fiat Abarth. I saw it at the Detroit show . The dealer here in Columbus, OH does not have any information on the timeline for release. Have you heard anything? Thanks Doug

Hey, Doug:

The Fiat 500 Abarth should be entering Chrysler U.S. dealerships this summer, early fall at the latest. I'm scheduled to drive one in two weeks.

I have a 2003 Nissan Murano AWD. Last fall I bought two new tires for it and at the recommendation of a man I work with, I asked to have them put on the rear wheels. I had my car in for service a month ago and the person at the dealership said that I should have the new tires on the front wheels. What is the correct answer so I know what to do in the future? Please explain the rationale.

The Nissan Murano is front-wheel-drive, which means the new tires would do most good on the front wheels. But be careful to make sure that all new tires are compatible with the old models, which usually means sticking with the same type/brand of tires when buying new.

For those of you considering Japanese models, now is the time to shop/buy. Hond, Tyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi et al are all offering incentives of one sort or another, trying to grab back U.S. market share lost as a result of production wiped out by Japan's March 11, 2011 tsunami-earthquake. The Japanese push to recapture market share will also have an effect on domestic and European manufacturers selling here. you can bargain.

My husband will NOT do hybrid or electric. So if we were looking at a VW jetta diesel or a Mazda 3 or 6, which would it be?

Then you have other questions to answer. 

Diesel will give you great mileage and low-end torque. 

Do you have a hilly drive? How long will you keep your car? 

You will pay a premium for a diesel vehicle. You can get a mazda 3 that takes regular gasoline for less. 

I love diesel, but if you pencil out the mpg in the city and the cost of the car that will be your answer. 

Per several articles by and others. May want to check them out, Warren.

I will check them out. But why put new tires where the drive wheels aren't? Can you give a quick answer, Master Mechanic?

We also have the Sportwagon and are looking to replace another car. Do you recommend the TDI Jetta Sedan? Any disadvantages to having 2 diesel cars?

Twice the savings on fuel, twice the enjoyment in torque.

I recently purchased a 2012 Ford Focus. I am getting exactly within in the range the EPA posted. It has a range of 26/38. I drive a combination of city highway and I am getting 33 and 34 mpg. In the winter I was getting 30 and 31. On a long road trip I even got 42! It was exactly as advertised. No complaints from this new owner.

you can go to and post your mpg. It helps other consumers see which cars are getting the mpg epa says the car should and which cars aren't getting those numbers. 

It's a reasonably educated guess, but a guess nonetheless. You can bring it up or down by changing tires, going to rubber with less or more rolling resistance. The rating also is affected by weather, road surfaces, driving styles.

Thank you! That helps...! It's a pretty hilly drive, but we pretty much keep our cars till they don't make sense financially to repair (see: 1999 Jeep Cherokee sport we have; also have 2010 CX-7). I guess I should add that I don't do math, but I'll find someone to pencil in the numbers for me! I would like to support diesel, because I believe it makes national sense, but it may not be right for us for this purpose. Thanks again!!

Here's some homework for you; 

Find 2-3 cars you want, with the price. get the mpg in the city 

send the information to me at lou at and I'll help you figure it out. 

We'll post it in two weeks when I'm back again. 

Do you have any thoughts on the CX-5? I was in the Mazda dealership the other day and I noticed very few CX-7s - are they being phased out? We are "Mazda people" as we use a CX-9 as the family hauler and an old Protege as my commuter. I'd like to upgrade the commuter but I'm not sure the CX-5 makes sense as a second car. Then I saw the MPG on the new Mazdas and thought about trading in the CX-9 (we love it, but it's a guzzler) - but the cash we'd have to bring to closing would be more than our savings on gas. Any suggestions on a commuter upgrade? We prefer to stay debt-free but the $$ I sink into the Protege just to keep it running and pass inspection is more than the lease payments on some new vehicles!

I frankly love the Mazda CX-5. It's one of my favorite urban wagons, more so because it is one of the most affordable of the genre. Perfect for small families in terms of utility and safety. A good driver, too. It won't please throttle jockeys. But I haven't run into many TJs who are overwhelmingly concernesd about safely moving families.

Because the most important thing tires do is stopping the car. Putting tires with the best gripping ability in the back makes it less likely that the rear wheels will skid around in a stop and the driver will lose control of the car. Putting the best tires on the drive wheels is a myth, and a dangerous one.

Doesn't it depend on whether it is a front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive? 

No question, just a comment. I was riding my bike the other day and nearly wrecked doing a double-take when I thought I saw a Nissan convertible SUV. Lo and behold, my eyes did not deceive me - there is now a Murano convertible. Who thought this was a good idea? What is the target market? Certainly not me.

I don't know. And I don't like it. Totally goofy to me. I experienced one with my buddy, Brian Armstead. We werre both disappointed. The Murano convertible's top went up but refused to come down...proves that God does not like ugly.

Warren, Would you have any idea on when the new MDX model would be coming through? Thanks

No. But, as always, I will check this out.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu for another fine production. Thank you both, Lou Ann and Master Mechanic Clifton, for your always-valued contributions. And thank you, Ria Manglapus, for all you do to keep things running. Eat lunch. Emjoy the 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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