Real Wheels Live

May 25, 2012

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will discuss the auto industry. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers.

It is a buyers' market, especially if you are looking at Japanese models. Honda, Toyota, Nissan, et al are offering sales incentives in a bid to regain market share lost in 2011. The deals are real, but the rule of common sense still applies. Don't buy more car than you otherwise would have been able to afford.

Overall, according to industry analysts, car and truck sales in the United States are trending near 14.5 million units, about 500,000 units less than they were when things went south in 2008. Shop carefully. There are good deals out there this Memorial Day weekend. Special note to military families: Don't let slick talkers take advantage of your service to our country. Study carefully any deal offered, including so-called "military specials."

I just read about Mazda and Fiat teaming up on a new roadster. Is this the new Miata we have been hearing about? Have you heard anything new about when we can expect the new Miata/Alfa?

Fiat and Mazda are doing what car companies nowadays are doing everywhere--getting together on special projects to cut development and production costs. Yes, that might affect the next MX-5 Miata just as it has already affected the current generation Dodge Dart, which rests on a Fiat platform. Stay tuned.

I'm submitting this early as I will be swamped tomorrow. VW is not forthcoming regarding towing with this vehicle. They offer a tow hitch - but not a tow package. Does this mean it already HAS the additional engine and transmission cooling capacities built in? If not - is there room to install aftermarket upgrades? I don't need a weight-distributing frame for my trailer - but if I did, can it be used with this vehicle? Not even the VW mechanics in this area were helpful. Evidently not enough folks like diesels around here. Admittedly, I'm lucky. Where I live, diesel (B5 or less [VW wimped out and won't get behind the B10-B20) is only 9.8% more than 87 octane gas and 0.008% less than premium. Diesel is more efficient. So would owning a vehicle that is the same length as an Outback but can pull 7700 lbs as long as the tongue weight isn't excessive. My trailer's tongue weight is about 200 pounds...but it's 5000 lbs when fully loaded. Admittedly, I think $515 for a class III hitch installation is robbery. I can have the local horse trailer dealer install the hitch to the frame AND include the proper wiring for that amount - or less. Thanks so much. I hope you and your family enjoy the long holiday weekend.

I can't believe that there is a VW dealer, any dealer, who is nutty enough not to give you the complete skinny on a trailering package. Check another VW dealer, or a Porsche dealer inasmuch as your Touareg is a Porsche Cayenne with a VW badge. Tell the dealer what you want to pull/haul. I'm sure you'll get a straight answer on the proper trailering package--which is usually sold as a package, including hitch.

Hi Warren, wanted your opinion on a used Volvo XC 2008 with 60k miles. Everything looks really good, has many interior features, tires are about a year old. My only concern is the mileage, do you think the mileage is too high for this car? It's my second car purchase, and it's for my wife and family. Thanks.

You should be okay with that mileage. The XC90 is engineered to give you at least 200,000 miles with proper maintenance.

Have you driven the new Lexus GS? If so, your views? Also, Jaguar convertible vs BMW 6 convertible? Thanks.

I've driven the Jaguar and BM6 convertible, both exceptionally fine luxury drop-tops. My bias (sorry, Michelle, quen of all things Jaguar) is with BMW. There simply isn't much that drives like it. Besides, I like BMW's new maintenance plan.

After years of car-free existence and city living, I finally bought a nice barely used car two months ago. Now, every time I get into the car, I'm paranoid that something will break, that I'll hear noises that mean thousands of dollars, etc. How do I get over this concern and learn to love my car? I drive it only on weekends and it's greatly improved my flexibility so that's been all positive.

Just drive the car. Maintain it in the manner described in the accompanying owner's manual. You'll be okay. And stop worrying: The car will get scratched, possibly dented. Birds will poop on it because that is what bird's do. God forbid that you crash the thing, which is quite possible. Just in case, wear your seatbelts at all times and stay off the doggone phone when the car is in motion. Driving is a full-attention enterprise.

re Honda Accord.  Whether to flush or just replace transmission fluid. There seems to be a great debate. Which is it? Thanks.

Check the mileage. If high, 100,000 miles or so, replace the transmission fluid. Hey, Clifton, are you with us today? Repair Pal.Com? Anybody?

Warren, My 12 year-old hatchback is wearing out its welcome by having expensive components fail before their time. One more $1500+ strike and it's gone. So I've begun looking at replacement candidates. My requirements: The vehicle has to have good cargo capacity, enough to haul a week's worth of camping gear, as well as bicycles (on a trailer hitch) and two kayaks on the roof rack. The vehicle needs to have enough power to handle East Coast Corridor traffic while loaded to the gills. In my experience, this translates to at least 210 HP and 220 pound feet of torque. If AWD is part of the package, I'll take it, but I'd prefer 2WD for lower purchase price and fuel costs. I've given up on getting a manual tranny, but I want something that will drive lively around town or when it's not loaded down. I'd like a vehicle that has some nice features like heated seats and a sunroof. Finally, I'd like to keep the out-the-door price under $40K, which rules out the BMW 328 wagon (grumble-grumble). Benchmark vehicle for this search is our SAAB 9-3 wagon, which meets all the requirements. Another SAAB is obviously not an option. My search keeps bringing me back to 2 vehicles: KIA Sportage V-6 and Subaru Outback V-6. Are there other vehicles -- current an near future -- that I should put on the list? Is there hope for a Buick-Opel Regal Wagon over there? I'm even open to considering the new version of the Chevy Colorado with a cap, if GM offers it with a more powerful engine than the current model.

Given your stated particulars, I'd check out the Mazda CX-5.

Warren - I was looking at a 2012 WRX but upon doing my research, noted that Subaru is planning a trick new forced induction with the 2013 WRX (and later STi) - it will take waste heat from the engine exhaust and convert it to electricity, which charges a battery that spools an electric turbo. So no turbo lag - the electric motor will spin the turbo immediately. No alternator even! What have you heard about this new system? Regardless, I think I'm buying an FR-S next week (I would do a BRZ but the wait list is 6 months long to get one). I have a deposit on one after 4 Subaru dealers said to pound sand and wanted to mark up over MSRP. Scion sticking with their pure price deal.

On Subaru's proposed electric turbo, I've heard everything you've heard. I'm looking forward to driving it 500 miles or so. Mazda and many of its rivals are working overtime on drivetrains that deliver more zoom AND lower fuel consumption, which is what we have here. Good for Toyota/Scion to honor price as stated on the FR-S. I think you'll be happy with that one.

Hi Warren, this is more of an announcement than a question, but I wanted to comment on your introductory remarks that it is a buyers market these days and that there are great offers this weekend. I wanted to tell buyers to keep an eye out for guaranteed trade-in allowances. I recently traded in a 1995 Corolla for 2012 RAV4 and got $3,000 for my trade-in. Yes, can you believe it? I was just planning to donate the little guy but I couldn't pass up the trade-in offer. Potential buyers, make sure you look into such deals. They seem too good to be true, but they are!

Thanks for that input. Have a good weekend.

My good friend's son is heading to law school. His car died and he is looking at new car options. My friend's wife likes the new Fiat because it is "so cute." I advised them his son would be better off with a car that is proven. They are looking at the $15,000 range. Are there any good new cars in that price range? That said, what would you recommend? Warren thanks!

He'll have enough to worry about in law school. A car should not be one of them. Buy a Toyota Corolla and be happy. It's not as cute as the Fiat 500. But it lasts as long and serves as well as a good marriage.

With the demise of Saturn, is there any car company willing to step up and eliminate the dealer problem in this country? Why do car buyers have to buy a car from a dealer? Why can't we buy a car strictly online or at a mass retailer like Target? Why can't the price on the sticker be the lowest price the retailer is willing to sell the car for on that day? I think the car buying process has gotten ridiculous, and there's got to be some smart executives out there willing to buck the trend and allow buyers a new, easier approach to purchasing a car than through the existing dealer system.

Saturn dealers had very little to do with the demise of Saturn. The all-too-often lackluster product did that. I assume you are referring to the consumer friendly point-of-sale practices pioneered by Saturn. Not to worry, most of those practices have been adapted throughout the automotive retail industry. Will some dealers still play games? Yes. But it's an exceptionally competitive business. Shop with a dealer who treats you the way you want to be treated. They are out there.

Are EPA Mileage ratings done by independant testers or by the car companies themselves through a perscribed test? I ask because I have two relatively new cars, one that gets well over the highway mileage rating and another that doesn't come close the to city mileage rating even though I drive them the same way on similar routes. Is someone tweaking the tests so some vehicles can be touted as "best in class" or did I somehow get a lemon that hasn't gotten over the city mileage rating in over 10k miles, even on 4-hour long highway trips.

EPA does its on tests. Is there input from manufacturers? Yes. Does that input color the test results. No. So, what's the problem? EPA's numbers are, at their very best, guesstimates. Those guestimates are affected in the real world by weather, driving conditions, driving habits, traffic conditions, road surfaces, tire types, tire size, onboard weight, et cetera. You'll seldom get the same EPA number in real-world driving.

Dear Warren, always appreciate your work and those with whom you collaborate. I grew up in a college town and there were many Saabs and Volvos shuttled around by professors. These cars distinguished themselves by a unique styling aesthetic, emphasis on safety, efficient motors and tasteful appointments. Today, it seems these qualities have been drowned out by an emphasis on ostentatious luxury, more powerful engines, and ratcheting up of prestige. Any cars out there that you'd recommend that fall under the former category?

We all tend to see what we want to see. Fact is, Volvo, under Gheely Holding, its new owner, is still turning out high-quality cars of understated luxury and exceptional safety. For example, check out the new S-60.

How much does the Audi Q5 have in common with the VW Tiguan? Are they both built on the same Golf chasis, or does the Audi have a unique platform? I really liked to Q5, but I'm trying to figure out if it's work the extra $5k over a top of the line Tiguan. Is that premium just for the Audi badge and styling or is there more than meets the eye?

I am sure that the Tiguan and Q5 share some components. When it comes to cost cutting, that's the way car manufacturing goes nowadays. But, Audi is Audi. You pay for that.

Took delivery last Thurs. So far no problems or anything that needs attention. First tankful delivered 21.9 mpg. Man is the GC quiet on the road compared to an Element. It is taking awhile to get used to keyless starting but now I just keep my keys in my pocket. Allegedly Jeep will offer an 8spd on or about Jan 2013 when they do a mid cylce refresh of GC. Not owrth waiting for since it only would mean 1-2mpg and a tranny that hunts for the right gear. Also tranny made by Chrysler and not Mercedes. Overall I am very pelased with my GC and was very leery of buying American. Clifton, VA

Clifton, my brother. Give me a break. The difference between the Honda Element and the Jeep GrandCherokee is the difference between a cute girl and a beautiful woman.

We started early and we're closing early today. Got to get on the road ahead of the Memorial Holiday weekend rush. Thanks for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks, Dominique Vu and Ria Manglapus for all that the two of you do. And thanks to our veterans and military, including my late father and brother, Daniel Thomas Brown Sr. and Junior, both proud Army men, one who fought in Italy and North Africa in WWII, and the other who served two tours of duty in Vietnam. Thanks for keeping us free.

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Warren Brown
Warren Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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