Real Wheels Live

May 18, 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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I drove two distinctly different cars this week - a Jaguar XKR convertible and a Honda Odyssey. 

I would recommend either of them, highly. 

Let's chat. 

Two questions about your RDX review: 1) How could you compare the RDX to a GMC Acadia? The Acadia has three rows of seats plus trunk space. I know they're about the same price, but they aren't in the same size class at all. The RDX's trunk is also oddly shaped, so while the cubic feet are not bad, you can't fill it with luggage or other rectangular items. 2) Is the fit and finish really improved? I have a 2008 RDX and the fit and finish is pretty bad. There are gaps between several trim pieces; the plate you rest your left foot on broke after a year, and the lift gate has gaps that allow random objects to get inside and roll around.

Easily. I start with the price, the most salient point of any product. What am I getting for the money? More cargo space and butt space in the Acadia? Yes. Better fit and finish in the Acadia? Not necessarily. The 2013 RDX is exceptionally well done. Better ergonomic layout? The RDX wins there. Do I or most people really need three rows of seats based on daily usage? No. Which means the RDX makes more sense.

I'm posting early, as I will be under the dreaded dental drill during the actual chat. Warren, I'd like to know your opinion of the Buick Verano. From what I've read, it seems to have a lot of what I -- now entering my late 50s and looking for quiet, comfortable ride for daily city commuting -- am looking for. It's a smaller sedan which seems to have good mileage, a quiet, smooth ride, and, with the leather trim, an upscale appearance and a good audio system with integrated Bluetooth and satellite radio. But what is Buick's reliability these days? And how good is the warranty? Thanks for any insight you can provide.

I feel your dental pain. Seems like all my 50 something friends - and I - are getting our teeth in order for the next 40 years. :)

I love the Buick Verano. Get the interior color Choccachino (choke-a-chino). It's a tan, accented with turquoise stitching. Sounds funky, but it's cool. The turquoise is more of a light ice blue that matches the ambient lighting in the instrument panel. The metallic film, that would have been chrome in days gone by, looks copper in this color scheme.

The Verano is super quiet and has a great BOSE sound system. 

I'm not a fan of turn-by-turn navigation. I like to see where I'm going, so I would buy a nav system 

Here's my review

I have a 1995-1/2 (dashboard change) Isuzu Rodeo. It only has about 80K miles on it, but the windows won't open. The two back doors don't open (at least from the outside) either. The AC is screwed up too (Most of the time it doesn't work, but some of the time it does). Is it possible to find a service station that has the skills to fix all that or do I have to buy a new car? Each one of those defects seem quite moderate to me. What shall I do?

I will put this out to Clifton or our fix-it geniuses at Repair Pal.COM.

I am dealing with cancer. I am in my late 40's, am married and have one 10 yo child. After my upcoming surgery, I am thinking about to get the kind of car I have always wanted: A fun-to-drive convertible. Financial consideration limit my budget to less than 40K (ideally significantly less). What I want is a tight-handling car that it is possible to sit three for brief periods (around town). I am thinking of a Mini Cooper S, but am wondering if I should consider anything else (e.g., VW EOS, Mustang). Bear in mind, I have wanted a MINI since I rented one in Europe in 2006. Any thoughts/Suggestions?

Warren is with me in sending our thoughts and prayers to you and your family. Tough time. 

Get the MINI. Get the John Cooper Works edition. In July MINI has a congregation of MINI owners called MINI takes the States. It's a great event with lots of love and laughter.

Let me know if you get a MINI and are going on the event. 

lou at

Get the Mini Cooper S, as that is the one that will bring you more smiles per mile. I've driven most of the Mini Line, including the John Cooper Works Roadster. All great fun. The difference: The S seats four. The JCW Roadster seats two, but has a bit more cargo space than the S. Practically no difference in ride, acceleration and least not to me. Good luck with the cancer therapy. Been there. Done that. I am a survivor. You will be, too. Keep smiling.

Warren, George Will, in his column last Sunday, basically says that if someone drives a Prius, they are smug and pretentious. Do you agree with the underlying concept -- that we can judge an entire group of people based on what they drive?

I agree that people do judge entire groups on what they drive. George Will was talking about the book “Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars” by Paul Ingrassia

Paul has been around the auto industry for a long time. Instead of just giving stats, Ingrassia talks about cars that belong to people. You might do it with dogs. You will see a dog and an owner together and say they belong together. 

Read the book and let me know what you think. 

BTW - Prius owners, when they are driving in 75 mph in the carpool lane, are smug and pretentious - just in the wrong way.

He is smug, pretentious, and woefully out of touch with the rest of the world. Heck, the dude still wears bow ties. I frankly ignore most of his opinions, especially anything he has to say about cars or the automobile industry. I humbly suggest that you do the same.

My bro has 2011 328i. Nice ride however, he is afraid to take it on long trips because of the run flats and difficulty in finding a replacement tire if he gets a flat. Another concern is the cost of the tire. My bro, sis, niece and brother-in-law are going out to OH to ride roller coasters today. My bro rented a car for the trip. With the new mpg regs coming from the Storm troopers at EPA we are all going to have to deal with the harsh ride, poor handling and cost of run flats in future vehicles. Warren, I finally purchased a vehicle with a slushbox after 34 years when I got my Grand Cherokee. If my next vehicle has run flats I replace them with regular tires within a 100 miles. Give me a spare even a compact one or give me death!!! Clifton, Va

I see no reason why your brother can't take a long trip on run flats. They are hard riders, but most BMW suspension systems compensate for that. Run flats can also save lives. Most are built to roll 50 miles at about 50 miles per hour after deflation, obviating the need for a weighty, fuel-consuming spare or for a dangerous roadside stop to  change tires. It's a good thing, I think, especially for spring and summer driving. And please get of the EPA's back. I've never met any Storm Troopers or other bad people in that agency. Most or just regular folks with families and mortgages who understand that oil is not forever and that it's good nationjal policy to save as much as possible.

Hello Warren, Lou Ann. Appreciate the chats and all your thoughts on the auto industry. Quite a while back (in the 60's and 70's) there were programs where consumers could order a vehicle directly from the factory with the specific options desired. This was usually tied in with membership in a company credit union or for the military overseas (think Vietnam) . Do any of these programs, other than the overseas delivery ones by MB and Volvo, still exist? It resulted in cheaper cars since the middleman was eliminated and the customer got exactly what they wanted instead of having to settle for a compromise 'off the dealer's lot'. With all the competition in the industry, would this be a viable consideration for the factories in the USA? I wouldn't mind flying from Hawaii to a mainland factory to pick up a vehicle and touring the US before shipping it home.

I am a member of a Credit Union and I don't see those deals anymore. Costco has a deal similar to the one you described, but it is only one car at a time. I think it is BMW now. 

Of course you can go online and order a car and pick it up through a dealer. Maybe that is why those deals aren't so popular anymore? It can be done on the internet. 

Warren, I would appreciate your recommendation on small, used car for my daughter to drive around her college town and on the highway. I'm looking for something around 2-3 years old with all the safety features you recommend (anti-lock brakes, airbags, traction control, stability control), good MPG, and good carrying capacity for trips and moving belongings to storage. I know that you like the Honda Fit. Any others -- Mazda 3speed, etc.? Thank you.

My favorite in that realm is the ever-trusty Toyota Corolla. But, yes, I also like the Honda Fit, Hyundai Elantra, and the new reliable and affordable Chevrolet Sonic. And tell her to get as many ointernships as possible while in college. Those kids usually get paying jobs after graduation.

Hi Mr. Brown - I keep meaning to send you a note on this. I know you are not a fan of extended warranties but I do think they can be a reasonable purchase if you are buying an expensive used car. I bought a low mileage, used BMW 5 series from Carmax and paid about $1800 for an extra 4 years or 70K miles warranty and I have easily had $9k in reimbursed claims - $2500 in the first four months to replace the motors in both headlights. I never bought an extended warrany for anything before that and would never do it for a new product but it is definitely something to consider for expensive used cars. And the Carmax warranty was accepted by both the dealer and the indpendent shops. Thanks and have a great weekend.

Wow! $9,000 worth of claims! $2,500 in the first four months! What year was your BMW 5-series? I'm not sure if that says more about Carmax or the BMW, but I would have been pretty upset if I had to pay $2,500 for BOTH headlights within 4 months of buying a car. 

There is nothing wrong with an extended warranty as long as you realize that some warranties were sold through dealerships and were not a manufacturer's warranty. It could only be used at that dealership. 

Your warranty, apparently, was different. 


I remain suspicious of most of them. But, as your personal experience indicates, extended warranties can be helpful. It's a gamble. It seems as if you gambled and won.

My family is looking for a crossover SUV with easy access to the third row and were pretty impressed with the features of the Infiniti JX. What are your thoughts on the new model? I don't have much experience with Infinitis. I also heard that the Nissan Pathfinder is being redesigned this fall based on the JX. Is it worth it to wait for the Pathfinder?

I'd wait for the Nissan Pathfinder and save money. Or, I would look at any number of other crossovers before settling in the Infiniti JX, which is surrounded by worthy, less expensive competitors.

Hello. I'm tempted by the financing deals offered by Toyota right now, particularly on the new Camry. What's the best way to proceed? Should I get pre-approval before dealing with a specific dealership? My goal is to do most of the negotiating for the new car online, rather than the showroom floor. Thanks for any guidance. It's been at least 14 years since I bought a new car and I'm a little intimidated by the process.

Love you!! You are being smart!! 

Yes, yes, yes. Now your FICO score before you go to any finance group. If you have a high FICO score (750-840) you will get a better interest rate, and will pay less on a monthly rate than someone who has a low FICO score (in the 600s).

Even if Toyota is offering 0 percent financing you will have to have a certain FICO score to get it. Find this out before you give anyone your name. 

I have two email addresses. One is for my friends and family. The other is the one I shop with. Open up an email account for just this purpose. That way your email for friends and family doesn't get weighed down with emails after you have purchased a car. 

Toyota is offering lots of good deals nowadays, trying to make up for market share lost as a result of production disruptions caused by last year's earthquake/tsunami in Japan. The deals are real. Most or good. But the Rule of Common Sense still applies. Arrange your financing beforehand, if possible. Even with a good deal, don't buy any more than you otherwise would have been able to afford. Cars come with ancillary costs, including maintenance, insurance, taxes and fees.

Warren - I've been shopping for a new car (I've had my car 14 years, but it's time for someone else to take on the maintenance who can DIY), and I narrowed down to the FR-S / BRZ twins or a WRX. However, in researching the WRX, it appears Subaru is going to come out with a new model late this year based on the new Impreza platform. More interestingly, they have patented a new method of forced air induction using the heat from the exhaust to make electricity, which powers an electric turbo. Have you heard anything about this new system, how it really works, and if Subaru is really ready for prime time with it?

My natural bias says go with Subaru. Why? Because my family has owned several with no major problems. I don't know much yet about Subaru's plan for forced air induction to power an electric turbocharger. Lou Ann? Clifton? Repair Pal? But if Subaru is doing it, I hav every confidence that it will work as designed.

Warren, It's de rigueur nowadays to see a Hyundai model on every top ten list, but my mechanics insist that Toyotas and Hondas are still better made. Since reliability is my number one consideration, should I go with a new Corolla or Civic over an Elantra? And would you go with the Corolla or the Civic?

I don't necessarily agree with your mechanic. But on the road experience tells me that I would be happier in the Corolla.

Warren: Now that the Priuses of the world are 5+ years old, it's time to think about purchasing a used one. Typically, for an IC vehicle, one knows what one is getting in terms of engine, etc. If you go to Carmax, you can find many autos for sale with > 100K miles...and you know what toi expect. Witha hybrid it's different. The batteries, which cost $10s of thousands to replace are part of the mix. Do you think that a hybrid with 100K miles on it, given the possibility of imminent battery failure, is a safe bet?

I'd get a guarantee on remaining battery life before buying. I'd certainly want all of the particulars on the type of battery (nickel metal hydride, lead acid, or lithium) and the age of the battery before buying. And as one of our chatters pointed out earlier, here is where an extended warranty plan (specifically on the battery) might make sense.

NiMH battery replacement costs for Toyota hybrids are a couple of thousand,
no where near 10s of thousands.  And at 100k miles, Toyota has not seen packs
fail. That is a rare phenomenon.

Hi Warren, I know you're a big fan of the GM trio of crossovers (Acadia, Traverse, Enclave). I've driven them and find them to be very roomy, but even the top of the line Buick had a somewhat cheesy and dated interior. I stumbled across a Ford dealership, drove and liked the Explorer(great craftsmanship and electronic toys), though, interior space is less than the GM CUVs. What's your thought on the Explorer? Whatever I decide on, I need the second row to have captains chairs(for babies) with easy access for adults to a comfy third row. That also rules out the Mazda CX-9(no captains chairs). Thanks!

The new (2011, 2012) Explorer is an excellent piece of work for all of the reasons you cited. I'd also look at the Edge and the Flex as long as you're considering Ford.

OK, pretend you've just struck it rich ($5 million windfall) with the Facebook IPO. You get to buy the car of your dreams. The catch is that after this, you're still going to keep your day job. Tell us what you'd buy and why?

Doesn't everyone think about this? You know we as journalists do. 

I would buy a Chevy Volt for the advanced technology of getting me off gasoline. If they build it I would buy the Fisker Atlantic because it's beautiful and has similar technology. 

If it's an internal combustion engine I would buy a Maserati Gran Turismo S, or a Jauguar XKR convertible because I love anything Ian Callum designs. 

My husband would buy a MINI Cooper John Cooper works edition. 


Good afternoon. First, thanks for all the good information you provide here. Second, how would you go about finding if and when the feature you want will be arriving here? We  are getting a Mazda5. Tracking down when Skyactive will hit though, is difficult. One site made it seem like Mazda would be putting it in the remaining 2012's even thought the '13s should be here before our 'must buy' date. Another says nothing about this. (And the Google is not too useful as it returns more CX-5 than 5).

Certainly, your dealer should no if a certain model is equipped with Mazda's fuel-saving, but nomenclature confusing Skyactiv technology. If not, find another dealer or check the VIN number and crosscheck that with Mazda customer service.

Warren and Lou Ann: what do you think of George Will, citing Paul Ingrassia, to make an overarching judgment about Prius drivers? You're in the business -- you've spoken with the engineers, the marketers, and probably thousands of drivers. Are all Prius drivers smug? Are all muscle car drivers suffering from self-images of masculine deficiency? Is every Benz driver trying to keep up with Jones's or trying to flaunt his/her wealth? Does every SUV owner hate the planet? Is there a car I can buy that is stereotype-proof?

Buty the car you want and be the person you want to be. All cars have some stereotype associated with them. It doesn't mean that all people fit that stereotype. 


Interesting. George Will is as smug as they come. Paul Ingrasia is one of the nicest guys around, given more to reporting than opinions. I like and respect Ingrasia. I've never paid much attention to George Will and have no intention of ever doing so. He simply is not of my world, as I'm sure that I'm in no way a part of his. But, stereotypes? They will be with us as long as there are people. Stereoptypes are intellectual (and I use that term loosely) taglines for the lazy--people who would rather damn you than get to know you. Sort of like my feelings about that smug-infested George Will. Prejudice, it works both ways and affects all things, even our feelings about cars and columnists.

Just scanned the article (didn't see it before). Is it AWD? How does it compare to the LaCrosse?

The Verano is the quietest Buick around. I like the design, and colors, of the Verano. I don't remember it being all wheel drive. 


Will we ever see one of these in the US? I have a Jetta TDI and would like to trade up.

I've asked BMW this question before. There are no plans, currently, to produce a 5-series BMW. 

But diesels are becoming hot, so I won't say no to the question. 

Figure at least $1k to repair AC. Non-opening windows in DC in summer is deadly. Are the windows power and the door locks? If so, a minimum of another $1k. Even if you buy used parts, you are still looking at a minimum of $2k on a vehicle that's parts are very difficult to get since Isuzu fled the US.  That's a minimum of about five car payments. The Isuzu will never be a classic and you will never see it a Mecum. Clifton, VA

There's our friend Clifton. Thanks buddy. 



I read your chat transcript each week, and have been meaning to send you a comment. I noticed that you receive many questions from families that are looking at minivans for their growing families. We have an 8 year-old and infant twins. When I knew that we were having twins, I got sad at the thought of getting rid of our Prius. Recently, though, car seats have been made to fit smaller cars. I didn't think it would be possible, but we can fit safely 3 car seats in the back seat of our Prius (we bought the Combi brand). Just giving an option for those of us who are not ready for a minivan (I hope that did not sound smug and pretentious! :-))

Stop worrying about smug and pretentious. It's nonsense. You want to protect your young family and save fuel. It seems as if you have done both. Congratulations. Just one bit of friendly advice: Please check with your local police or fire station officials to make sure that your Combi seats are installed correctly. The police and fire people tend to be experts in that matter.

I'm looking for a manual transmission, smaller SUV that gets decent gas mileage and is preferably American made. I'll be driving it places where a foreign car would stand out like a sore thumb. Doesn't have to be a brand new car. Any suggestions? 4WD/AWD is also preferable. Thanks!

Check out a Ford Escape or Chevrolet Equinox. I trhink regular manuals are available in those models.

Dear Mr. Brown and Ms. Hammond, Do you think Honda will ever resume selling a real Accord station wagon in the US? There are many Honda models here in Indonesia that are not sold in the US. My 1997 Accord wagon was a great car. I am not interested in crossovers, etc. Martha in Jakarta

Hi Martha in Jakarta

Thanks for joining us. Each region has different cars sold based on what the people in that region want to buy. One of the reasons Buick is doing so well in the United States is because Americans got a glimpse of the Buicks being sold in China and they started saying they wanted those Buicks. 

If there is a demand for a station wagon in the US, it will come. There was a period in the United STates that station wagons couldn't sell because the younger generation didn't want their parents car. Now people are starting to ask for station wagons and hatchbacks again. 

I don't know if Honda is planning a station wagon anytime soon, but I don't rule these things out. 

Would you recommend a Toyota Highlander or Honda Pilot for a family of five, occasional carpooling to activities; 6 hour road trips to visit family? Are there any major redesigns upcoming for 2013 or 14 for which it would be wise to wait a year or two?

The 2013 Honda Pilot is a complete redesign from the 2012. More comfortable, more intuitive design. 


I like the highlander, especially its reliability. and woul be perfectly comfortable having one as my major ride. It gets a thumbs-up here.

I see very few of these on the roads around NoVA. Aren't they selling well?

Maybe, in California. I have to go to the Automotive News Data Center to check the actual numbers. But your question raises a point that has been troubling Hyundai. People trust the company for turning out high-value economy products. But they are a little bit more skittish in trusting Hyundai in the luxury segment to which the Genesis belongs.

Saw a review of a car a couple weeks ago that described the visibility of most modern cars as being like looking through embrasures. Which was a wonderful description. Why is that? When I was looking for a car last October I noticed that they all have thick pillars supporting the roof, and the windows far from the driver. If I'm the first one in line at a streetlight Ican't see the light. I regularly lose sight of pickups in the blind spots on the Chevy Cruze I bought because of the pillars. Why are they designed that way?

I understand. It has to do with the way engineers design the roof. All cars have to pass NHTSA rating. All manufacturers want the 5-star rating. 

I thank you all for joining us today and look forward to your visit here next week. Just before closing, Lou Ann, who spends much of her time looking at batteries, says that Toyota's people vouch for the reliability of their Nickel metal hydride batteries after 100,000 miles. I still say you are better off with a written guarantee and extended warranty on that battery when buyin used. At any rate, Thanks to Lou Ann Hammond, Dominique Vu, Clifton, Repair, et all for helping to make this a great place to visit every Friday. And, of course, thanks to Ria Manglapus for helping to keep everything running. 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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