Real Wheels Live

Jun 17, 2011

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.

Past Real Wheels Live Chats

When I was on a couple of weeks ago there were a couple questions we couldn't answer. I have followed up on them :

Will Hyundai be offering a new Touring based on their new, greatly improved sedan, or will they continue to sell two different Elantras?

Miles C. Johnson, Manager, Product Public Relations answered the question: The Elantra Touring is not off of the Elantra sedan architecture it is the Hyundai i30 wagon sold in Europe and imported over to the US as the Elantra Touring.  There will be a next generation Elantra Touring and once again it will be based off of the Hyundai i30.

BTW - I just got through driving the Hyundai Accent and if you're looking at a Fiesta, Sonic, Versa or Yaris you might want to give the Accent a look as well. If you're looking for a sporty feel you're going to want to stay with a Fit or Mazda 2 because they have an independent rear suspension.

The person that was looking for a dog car:
I drove a Volvo XC 70 and noticed that the back had flat fold down seats and thought of you. Also, think about the Honda Element - they have a dog version. The seats fold up and to the side and it has a dog ramp included.

I also drove a Kia Sportage. The seats fold down flat so that a dog can climb in, but it's high so you would need a dog ramp.

I visited Tennessee last week. That's where the new Passat is being built. It you're looking at a Honda Accord you definitely want to look at the Passat. In fact, if you're looking at a high priced Jetta look at the low end Passat. The interior is so much plusher.

I drove a Lotus Evora and Evora S on Laguna Seca Saturday. If Colin Chapman (the founder of Lotus) were alive he would be very pleased with the Lotus Evora. The Evora S needs some work, but the Evora I would buy in a heartbeat.

Is negotiation on new cars still the same as it was years ago, to learn the dealer's true price for the vehicle, make an initial offer close to that value (allowing for some dealer profit), and hope to meet somewhere under the sticker price? What new cars nowadays are not negotiable in terms of price? (The Toyota Prius comes to mind; with shortages of Japanese parts, perhaps all Toyotas?)

No, largely thanks to the Internet. There are a variety of info services availaible to tell you everything you need to know about a vehicle, including available financing, before you buy it. Examples are, and Smart dealers know this and don't waste time trying to "qualify" (aka, Sell) potential customers. Do your research. You'll be okay.--Warren

Hi Warren - A/C is bust on my 10 year old Santa Fe. Apparently it's the compressor and I got a quote of $1,200.  Also, we never replaced the timing belt so together it's going to cost $3k.  I'm wondering if it's time to replace the vehicle? I'm worried that there would be more issues now that it's almost 11 years old. We did all the regular maintenance pretty well but never washed it regularly.  Also, I see that the bottom is starting to rust  because of all the salt during winter on our Massachusetts roads. BTW, we bought a Ford Flex (2nd car) based on your advise a couple of years ago and couldn't be happier!

Lou Ann here -

Yes. Replace the vehicle. You will be a lot happier putting that $3,000 into a new vehicle than trying to keep up with repairs on the old one.

Any idea of what you want to replace it with?

I heard a rumor that the 2012 Chevy Avalanche will be the last year in production, any truth to this rumor? Thanks,

Yes. The Avalanche isn't selling very well. The New GM does not waste time or money with slow sellers.

Warren, I have a fever and the only cure is more Porsche. Do you recommend a new Cayman or a slightly-used 911? The back seats of the 911 do appeal to me, even if they will be rarely (if ever) used by people. The Cayman, on the other hand, has two trunks! Thoughts?  Especially thoughts on how they drive? Thanks.

The Cayman. It comes with a warranty. Also the Cayman is a mid-engine. The 911 is rear engine. They both have independent rear suspension, so they're both going to be fun to drive.

The Cayman is 2-seater, the 911 is 4 seats, so depends on what you need.

I have heard that Mazda is working on a new Miata that will be much lighter than the current models. Have you heard anything that indicates that it might have a slightly larger interior that would accomodate moderately tall drivers? Alexandria

Yes on both. Mazda is trying to get the Miata's fuel economy more in line with its small size--without diminishing performance. It's also trying to expand the market for the car--literally, by putting larger people into the driver's seat. I can't wait to see the result of all of this environmental, performance, and social engineering in the new Miata!

lightweight is a key part of the development of all Mazdas, under the skyactiv banner.Perhaps that what they meant?


The Wall Street Journal had an article on June 8 by Joseph B White about this being a good time to trade in a used car. Do you agree?

Lou Ann here -

Yes I agree. With the tragedy in Japan, supplies are tight.

For normal driving conditions, average mileage, and using the most common oil blends (not high priced synthetics), what is a reasonable mileage interval for oil changes?

Whatever the owner's manual tells you. Let's get rid of the groundless cynicism that owners' manuals are published simply to make you spend more money on repairs and maintenance than is actually needed. OMs are engineering best-guess estimates of what care a vehicle will need when needed. Follow the OM.

Okay, folks, because it is a slow morning, we have time for a few news flashes, including:

1. It appears that concerns over the summertime availability of Japanese cars in the United States have been greatly exaggerated. Eartquake-tsunami-caused shortages of vehicles and parts are being cleared up quickly, largely thanks to heroic efforts by Japanese automobile workers and their employers. Expect US shortages during the month of July--and all that means for prices and any rebates. But shortages are expected to disappear around mid-August. And because companies such as Toyota and Honda have lost market share due to Mother Nature, expect them to price aggressively (in the  consumers' favor) when more supply becomes available in August and September. Meaning, if you are buying Japanese in the US market, you might find better deals in August, September and October. In the interim, GM, Ford and Chrysler are working hard to take advantage of the Japanese disadvantage. Meaning, right now through July might be the best time to buy American.

And it's a good time to buy Korean.

Hyundai says they think they will sell 600,000 this year, so you know they are interested in selling before the Japanese get back on line.

They just introduced the Accent and the new Genesis. The Genesis is taking sells away from Lexus and for good reason.

And don't forget our European friends - BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz are all bringing out new cars. I recently drove the Audi A7 and it is a beautiful car. The BMW has a 6-series convertible that is gorgeous.


My 2003 Acura RSX has only 80,000 miles on it, but a recent minor accident put a dent in my door and busted my A/C compressor, comes with a $2,200 price tag. I've been considering moving to a larger vehicle (maybe a small suv/crossover).  Do you think this is the time to make a move?

I'd get the car repaired. Here's why: Unless you really need a larger vehicle (and it sounds as if you don't), a $2k+ repair bill is a lot less expensive than buying new. Also, a larger vehicle is likely to come with larger operating costs. Do you really need that at this time in  our sour economic history?

Get the 911 it's almost a real Porsche. Real Porsches are air cooled and never have AWD. Warren and Ms Hammond, if you want make an interesting comparison test, drive the nastiest and meanest road going Porsche ever made: the 1970 or 71 911S. Engine is the poster girl for high strung and difficult to drive smoothly. Handling lift even slightly on the loud pedal and the rear end will be chasing the front end. I almost purchased a mint comdition Gulf Blue one in 1984 but I was laid off that next week. Compare to a current just rear wheel drive 911. Current production 911's even the GT2 and GT3RS have become way to civilized. Used to take some skill to hustle a 911 or a 3 series down the road quickly. With 3 series that ended in 1991. Clifton VA

Ah, Clifton. The reason why you have today's (less than real, according to you) Porsches is because too many customers were annoyed by the "real" ones. They wanted more space (thus, the success of the Cayenne and the emergence of the Panamerica). They wanted less fuss, better fuel economy and smoother rides. Porsche, realizing that it could not possibly survive making and selling "real" Porsches, gave the buyers what they wanted. Getting "real" in the car industry is staying alive to manufacture another day.

But Clifton, if you still want fun, try driving the Lotus Evora with the traction control off. Because when they say off, they mean all the way off.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, I have two cars both with manual transmissions: a 2011 Honda Fit and a 2008 Infiniti G37. The G37 has a 6 speed and the Fit has a 5 speed. I'm wondering why the manufacturers don't make the overdrive gear have lower revs at highway speeds. The Infiniti cruises at 75 mph at over 3,000 rpm and the Honda cruises at nearly 4,000 rpm. Both cars can accelerate in top gear, but for real passing maneuvers, still require at least one downshift to get around someone on a 2 lane road. I don't understand why they don't drop the revs down to say 2,000 on the Infiniti with the big honking V6 and say less than 3,000 with the Honda. They would still be able to cruise on the highway effortlessly (and with less engine noise) but get much better mpg. They would still require a downshift to pass someone. Does this have something to do with litigation, because there would be somebody out there that doesn't know how to downshift to get out of their own way and potentially cause an accident? Thanks for your ideas! Is there any way for me to lower my highway revs short of designing a new transmission? Incidentally, I know people with both of these cars with automatics and they both cruise at lower revs!

Lou Ann here -

You love that sporty feel!

I asked Kyle Bazemore from Infiniti why your revs would be so high. He wasn't sure, but he is going to look into it. I will publish it next time I'm on. 

He did say the gearing ratio on the G37 hasn't changed. I drove the 2011 G37 a couple weeks ago and it's such a great car. I have to admit I didn't notice the high gear as much since I was more intent on going around the sweepers. That car is made to sweep!

Enjoy both of them and I'll look into it for you.

Warren here: The G37 is a nice ride. Made for sweepers? Maybe in Lou Ann's exurban California neighborhood. But, where else? On PCH? No. Almost any other California freeway? No. NJ Turnpike? No. West Virginia mountain roads? Only if you are lucky. The sad truth is that there are more performance cars nowadays than there are actual roads on which to drive them. We have a reality conflict here

I am in the market for a mid-size SUV with third row seating. What would you recommend in a reasonable price range? Also, is it worth considering the hybrid versions (Highlander etc))? Thanks!

The Chevrolet Equinox or its upscale twin, The GMC Terrain. Reasonably priced and well-erxecuted. But do you really need that optional third-row seat? Five seats are not enough? Thinkl about it.

With Kia, Chevy, and now Ford discontinuing plans to offer highly fuel efficient (30+ highway mpg) 3-row people movers in the U.S. market, is there any hope for this segment in the near future- other than performing extreme hypermiling techniques in a Mazda 5?

First, I disagree with your premise. Fuel-efficiency in all categories is on the menu of all vehicle manufacturers doing business in the United States and Europe. If there is some move toward ending the third row, and I don't think there is, it probably has more to do with litigation. Look at the third-row seating in vehicles offering that option. The third row is jammed near the rear hatch--perfect for liability lawyers seeking the monetary benefits of rear-end collisions.

Hi Warren- is there any truth to the rumor that Ford is about to kill off the poorly-selling Flex in favor of the Explorer, since they share the same platform?

That's what I hear. Ford Chairman Mulally does not have much patience flor slow sellers, especially because he is selling every Explorer the company can make using the same platform. The Flex now seems to have a very brittle life in Ford's product lineup.

The Flex is selling really well in California and Michigan. I haven't heard that they are getting rid of the Flex. Ford wants to grow as quickly as they can in California and it wouldn't behoove them to get rid of it.

I'm looking at the Elantra Limited, Honda Civic sedan and Golf (love the TDI feel, but aren't sure I can afford it). I have a 2003 Forester to trade (which I chose after your recommendation). What to do?

Lou Ann here

Love the Elantra and the Golf. The Civic needs a little more plushness on the interior. Look at the new Passat as well.

Is there any web site that tells you when a model is going to have a drastic re-design? I am about to buy a new car and don't want to have a newer, cooler model come out next year!,,,,,

We are considering the Chevy Equinox. Any other recommendations? We need to fit 3 car seats in the back. 15 month old twins and a toddler. Prefer somewhat high seating...

Nissan Murano, Ford Edge, $21,250, Kia Sorento, dodge Journey


We have 2 dogs - a lab and and a lab/hound mix. What type of wagon/SUV would you recommend? We currently have a 2004 Santa Fe so not looking to replace right away but within a couple of years...

We have one, big Chocolate Lab, Rosa Parks Brown. She prefers the Subaru Outback, Kia Sorento, and Chevrolet Equinox. She likes comfort and space. Those models give her both.

According to my mechanic, the Mini 1) has a Dodge Neon engine and 2) is a frequent visitor to the local mechanic. Warren, you're really enjoying yours - are you finding #2 to be true, and can you please comment on #1? Thanks!

I don't know where your mechanic is getting that stuff. The Mini has a BMW-derived small engine, 1.8-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder in mine. It visits the repair shop infrequently, but expensively when it does. We love the car and we're open to the possiblity of buying a new one.

Do you know anything about the Hyundai Veloster? I've been hearing positive things about the new Accent on which is is apparently based. I love the idea of the three doors and a hatch!

Lou Ann here

Just drove the Accent yesterday. Great vehicle!

I've seen it at several car shows. Looks good. I'm still waiting to drive it.

Thank you all for joining us this week. Thank you Lou Ann and Dominique. Eat lunch, Ria.

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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