Real Wheels Live

Jul 15, 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

I'm just back from Berlin, Germany driving the all new 2012 Volkswagen Beetle. I used to own a 1972 Green Volkswagen Bug (I never called it a beetle). I also owned a Fiat 124, so it's interesting that the market is bringing back the Beetle and a Fiat.

What's more interesting is that Volkswagen is trying to hold onto its icon roots from the past, while Fiat seems to not want people to remember it was here before. For the record, I loved both those cars, had fond memories of both, and was happy to hear that both were coming back. Both are trying to give MINI a run for their money.

The cool thing about the Beetle is it will be coming out in diesel in 2012 and will get 29 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway.

The 2.5-liter 170 horsepower will go from $18,995-$25,195. The 2.0-liter turbo 200 horsepower goes from $23,395-$29,095. Add $770 onto that for destination charges.

If you like the Audi TT and Porsche 911 design those are the family cars VW is taking its DNA from. But let's face it, when you take the flower vase and the long dash out of the Beetle it could be many cars.

The cars I've driven in the last couple weeks:

Kia Optima

I can't say a single bad thing about the Kia Optima. great little car. Drove it to San Francisco and back to Auburn, CA. We had a NAV system that would tell us when traffic was bad (by green, yellow and red on the traffic lines). We knew how bad it was going to be and for how long. And it was amazingly accurate!

I took Norma with me to San Francisco. Norma is 77 years old and used to take care of my Great Aunt in St. Petersburg, FL when she was alive. I brought Norma out for the holiday. But just like any other friend, I use them in my car stories :)

Norma noticed right away that the Optima had a front and back sunroof. She loved the heated seats and liked the interior as well.

The Optima gets 22 miles per gallon in the city, 34 on the highway. With a Nav System and Infinity premium audio sound the total sticker price was $30,840.

Cadillac Escalade

I also drove a Cadillac Escalade. Remember I drove the Ford F150 crew cab last week? And I loved the NAV system and liked part of the backup camera. Ford's NAV backup system is so much better than Cadillac's version that is in the Escalade. Ford's system has steering wheel trajectory that tells you where you are headed by the way you turn the steering wheel. Cadillac does not. Ford had beeping on their backup system (not on the front), Cadillac does not. Beeping is very important. Think of your seat belt. Don't you sometimes click just to make the beeping go away? Over time people forget about looking at a camera, but they never tire of that obnoxious beeping.

The Cadillac gets 13 miles per gallon in the city, 18 in the highway. The Escalade's got three rows of the most comfortable seating in the industry. The sticker price on the one I drove was $88,285.

Infiniti FX

I'm just not a fan of that pit bull in your face style. My neighbor Jill loved the look and wants to get the Infiniti. She's got two boys and two young dogs and it would fit her lifestyle completely.

Jill has two generations back Toyota Avalon and is in the market for a new car. She loved the Bose 11-speaker audio system. Her husband, Eric, liked the paddle shifters.

I had to use the pet ramp to put my dog, PJ, in the back, but there was plenty of room in the fold down back two rows. That's important because I have to have room for the pet ramp and the dog.

Infiniti is a luxury vehicle so you'll get a luxury drive and luxury interior.

Mazda Mazda5

I also drove the Mazda5 minivan. Love that little vehicle. I didn't get a chance to take PJ for a ride, but Mazda has done a spectacular job on design on that vehicle.

Stretch, my husband, likes the torque. He says there is better torque between 2nd and 3rd gears.

So, let's get started with questions.

Thank you for your review of the Chrysler 200 convertible. At $27K it sounds like a good buy. How would you compare it to the Saab 9-3, Volkswagen Eos, Infiniti G7, and Audi A5 convertibles? And what about the Mustang convertible?

It matches the 9-3, beats the Eos and is bested by the Infiniti G7 and Audi A5, as well as the Mustang. The 200 is a remarkable improvement over what Chrysler has done in the past. And, yes, it's worth the money. It still has a way to go.

I would buy the Infiniti G and the Audi A5 first. I also love the VW Eos - a hard top retractable convertible.

I'm thinking of a high-end sporty car like a BMW M Series or a Porsche, but I don't like the idea of low-profile tires. Am I wasting the performance of such cars if I substitute all-weather M&S tires?

Yes. These are purpose-oriented cars. And the purpose is fast driving and brilliant handling, both of which would be compromised by "all-weather" M+S tires. There are some performance-oriented snows. Check out Blizzak. Bring your wallet.

Hello Warren; I have a 2006 550 with an I-drive glitch. It started after the dealer "re-installed" the software. Despite showing the service guys a video of the anomally, they insist they can't duplicate the problem and as a result can't diagnose and fix it. BMW customer service gave the same response. I'd like to take this issue up the food chain. Any suggestions on how to approach BMW to get someone's attention at a higher level? Thanks.

I saw this question and quickly emailed the PR guys from BMW. They would like to follow up with you. If you can send me your contact info at I can forward it to them.  They can talk to their customer relations colleagues to see what can be done.



Warren here: Consider this a movement up the food chain. The simple trutyh is that BMW has been having this I-drive problem fo a while, now. There has to be somebody somewhere in the organization  who can fix this.

Warren, I'm trying to be like Michelle Singletary and buy a used Hyundai Elantra Touring, but the prices aren't that far off from the new (especially the GLS). Is this the new reality? Also, is there a less expensive alternative (small wagon) I should look at? Thanks!

At least until September. Cars are in great shortage because of the devastation in Japan. By September, or so, the Japanese should be back on line. But Japan is still having power/electric issues. They have gone to a Saturday to Wednesday work week. If you can wait, bank the monthly payment till the prices start to come down in the fall.

Warren here: I'd go back to the dealer and buy a new Elantra Touring. Keep the price reasonable by scrapping unnecessary options, any and all of which can be added at a later date when your pockets are a bit more filled.

Warren, have you driven the Chevy Equinox in snow/ice on hills/sloping drives? If so, what was the experience? I know you recommend the Subaru for ice/snow but I am also looking at the Equinox and would prefer a more objective view. Thanks.

Yes, I've driven the Chevy Equinox in all of those conditions, thanks to frequent winter visits to our eldest daughter's home in Cornwall, N.Y. The awd Equinox performed admirably, even on icy drives up steep Mine Hill Road. Also, check out a Nissan Xterra, new or used.

We rented a minivan during our week-long vacation recently and my husband loved the space and maneuverability of it. When, oh when, will the auto manufacturers come out with a hybrid minivan, or at least one with great fuel efficiency. We currently have a Volvo XC70 and can fit all 3 kids/toddler in the backseat, as well as a 16 year-old Corolla. If the Corolla ever conks out, we'd love to have a minivan, but we don't want to have two cars that get 18/24 mpg or less.

What about the Mazda 5 minivan?

2012 Mazda Mazda5 minivan is on sale now - it is intuitive and easy

Cost: $19,990 to $24,670

Competitors: Kia Rondo, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and all minivans.

Powertrains: 2.5-liter inline four: 157 hp, 163 lb-ft; six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. This replaces the 2.3-liter.

EPA Fuel Economy: 21 city/28 highway miles per gallon using regular gasoline

Warren here: Decide whether you want power or fuel economy and live with the decision. In which case, assuming you choose fuel economy, check out four-cylinder offerings in minivans. Four usuall bats six in fuel economy.


Warren, I've followed the chat off and on for a few years now, but I've never written to say how much I appreciate your perspective on cars and the industry in general. I just purchased my first 2008 BMW 335i with the twin-turbo inline six, and I couldn't be happier. As you often say, the heart wants what it wants, and after the first test drive, I knew it was "my" car. Thanks again for your advice over the years.

Which is why Lou Ann and I and so many others love cars. Cars are substantially more than the sums of their parts, which is why I just took a quick trip to Los Angeles to check out the new and stunningly attractive Street and Racing Technology line from Chrysler. These are all totally impractical vehicles in the way that art and theater are "impractical," especially my favorite, the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, 470-hp, 465 ft-lbs of torque, 0-60 in 4.8 seconds, and arguably handles better than a Porsche 911 sports car, 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway and drinks premium. Not an SUV that would make sense to many people, except people who are fascinated by the very idea of speed and automobility.

And Ralph Gilles is heading up the SRT-8 group and he brings a racing background with him. It's nice to see people who love cars having input in the type of cars that are coming off the line.

Warren here: I spoke to Mr. Gilles, who thinks like an executive (business cases for products and all of that), but who has the passion of a teenager when it comes to performance cars and trucks. Poor guy. He was being pestered with interviews our entire time at Willow Springs Raceway near Los Angeles--all the while, like a frustrated little kid, he was clinging to his black racing helmet, yearning to get on the track.

I just bought a 2011 Chevy Silverado truck with the chrome package/20" wheels... and everywhere I go, people are shocked how great this "American" product looks and drives. It seems that in general, people still have a bad idea about GM products and therefore rarely visit a GM dealership when shopping for new cars and trucks. What do you (Warren and Lou Ann) think?

I think it is getting better. GM and Chrysler took a hit because they took the bailout. Ford was able to stay on track. They have seen an increase in sales on the coasts. When you get beyond selling to your base that is when you know you are climbing in sales. Ford is selling Flex vehicles in California which is new for them.

I also think because cars are so expensive people are willing to give all cars a look. I was talking to Volkswagen and they said the Jetta is selling like hotcakes. I would buy a Passat, so we'll see how that one does when it comes out.

I had a Cadillac Escalade for a week. With three rows that car had everything you would ever need to live in it.

Warren here: Blame Lou Ann and her California buddies who for the longest time have turned a blind eye to almost anything Detroit was offering. Okay, Detroit wasn't offering much a couple of decades ago. But that clearly has changed. It will take time. In the interim, here's hoping that GM, Ford and Chrysler keep the products coming. That's the only thing that works. The car industry is about proof in metal and performance. More proof, please!!

I'd be more interested in a Prius-like vehicle if they were available in an SUV-like style - any in the future with 4wd so they'd be more useful in rural areas or in icy conditions? Thx

Go to and check out listings for hybrid suvs. There are several, including  Toyota's Highlander and the Hybrid Ford Escape. Gas-electric technology is spreading.

Congratulations to the UAW and GM for finally figuring out what Wal Mart has known all along. Nobody buys the union label. But they do buy well-mde, fairly priced products sold at a profit that keeps the enterprise going. The UAW and GM seem to be doing that in the design, development and manufacture of their new small car, the Sonic, which is being built at GM's plant in orion Township, near Detroit.  A reasonable wage package to turn out a well-built, reasonably priced car. Looks like GM is serious about giving us good small cars that we WANT to buy.

Any news on the future availability of 3-row fuel sippers, now that Rondo, Orlando, and C-Max Grand are kaput for this country?

Here are a group of them, some not sippers, but it gives you an idea of what is available. And don't shy away from minivans. I love minivans for three seats too

   2011 Mazda MAZDA5
    2011 Kia Sorento
    2011 Toyota Highlander
    2011 Nissan Pathfinder
    2011 Honda Pilot
    2011 Hyundai Veracruz
    2011 Ford Explorer
    2011 Ford Flex
    2011 Mazda CX-9
    2011 Dodge Durango
    2011 Chevrolet Traverse
    2011 GMC Acadia
    2011 Ford Expedition
    2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
    2011 Chevrolet Tahoe
    2011 Nissan Armada
    2011 Volvo XC90
    2011 GMC Yukon
    2011 Ford Expedition
    2011 Toyota Sequoia
    2011 Chevrolet Suburban
    2011 GMC Yukon Xl
    2011 Acura MDX
    2011 Audi Q7
    2011 Land Rover LR4
    2011 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
    2011 GMC Yukon Hybrid
    2011 Lincoln Navigator
    2011 Infiniti QX56
    2011 Lincoln Navigator L
    2011 Mercedes-benz Gl-class
    2011 Cadillac Escalade
    2011 Toyota Land Cruiser
    2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
    2011 Lexus LX 570
    2011 Honda Odyssey
    2011 Toyota RAV4

How does this work?

Sensors, fluid, interlinked roll bars. The sensor detect a potential roll and send fluid through channels in roll bars, which stiffen and automatically adjust vehicle weight distribution in an attempt to prevent rollover. At least, that5's my understanding of it. Clifton?

Thanks for taking our questions! I test drove Jeep Rubicons at two different DC-area dealerships the past couple weeks and can't get anyone to offer me a price. As a middle-age woman, are they afraid I'll wreck their brand image like when a bunch of old people started buying the PT Cruisers meant for a younger audience? :) Seriously, shouldn't dealers be unloading their 2011 models about now?

In which case, they are idiots. All any dealer should care about is pleasing the customer, man, woman, cross-gender, whatever.  I'll post this. I'm sure there is a sensible Jeep dealer out there who would be happy to put you into a Rubicon at a fair price. Send me particulars at Lou Ann, can you believe this?!

No I can't. I know many of the hard-working people at Jeep and know they are looking for every sale they can get.

I will send this to them. Warren is right. Send him your contact info, or me at, and we will send it to the Jeep people.

I doubt it has anything to do with your race or gender, but we would need more information

If you can afford an M series BMW or a Porsche you can afford to invest in a second set of wheels with snow tires for the winter.

It's the same thing people think when they buy a car that says to use premium gas, but after a while they start wondering if it is okay to use regular.

People's financial lives change and we understand that. It's why we caution all of you to look at the variable expenses of owning a car further than just the purchase price.


I want to replace a 2001 Saturn LW200- way underrated vehicle if you ask me. (Decent handling, great mileage, huge cargo space...) I'm seeing the possibility of a Buick Regal Wagon maybe coming out in 2012. I'm genetically predisposed to buy American, but really want a wagon, NOT an SUV/CUV/AnyUV. Do you think the Regal Wagon will happen? If not, any thoughts on the Saab 9-3 or VW Passat or Jetta wagons?

Regal sedan sales re going well enough to support a nifty, compact Regal wagon. Yes. I think that will happen and I think it will sell well. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cruze morph into a wagon non-uv vehicle, too. In fact, Lou Ann, haven't we already seen that in Europe?

Do the seats fold flat for a flat floor in the FX and Escalade. All your readers who owns dogs want to know! Come on you promised to include this info in all your reviews. What would the sisters say? Clifton, VA

The FX does fold flat. I took my dog for a ride. But my dog is almost 12 and I had to use a pet ramp to get him into it. The Escalade would be the same way. The backend is tall, so you need to think of how old your dog is, how long you plan to have the car and then make the decision.

It does. My husband is a car salemen and he told me most of his coworkers avoid single women. I SET HIM STRAIGHT, lol, and he thinks he's made a few sales his coworkers missed because he always walks right up to single women and doesn't ask them when their husband is coming. The bigotry is still out there, believe me. I've expereiced it myself looking for a sofa last week. When my H. was along, salemen would follow us through the store. The day I went alone, I got through the whole football-field sized store without one single contact.

Wow. That is amazing that much gender bias still exists. I knew it did in the 80s and 90s, but I thought we as a nation had gotten smarter. Women have money and it has been proven many times that in most car purchases the woman has equal say in the purchase.

That's the way I understand it too. I am old fashioned I prefer stiff springs and shocks and using the anti roll bars to fine tune the car ie a little understeer, neutral or a little oversteer. You really shouldnt be driving if you dont have a clue that the spped you are going is to fast for the corner. Alson once the vehicle is out of warranty it is going to cost a fortune to fix these the electronic driving aids. I alwys preferred a well balanced RWD with a limited slip and the ability to use the pedals to control the car's handling. I want the ability especially in a performance car to turn all these aids off to include ABS. Lets go back to the days of straight cut gears, no synchros and trail braking!

We'll never get those days back. All the cars are being made more safe because people want to do more in their car than drive it.

Ford has new technology called curve control. A software program that uses all the other programs on the vehicle to sense when a driver is losing control in a curve and will reduce the vehicle ten miles per hour per second.

Buick has not released any news on a REgal wagon. Jetta has a wagon, Passat should have, but I will have to check for you. email me  -

Sadly, I'm not sure what will happen with Saab. They are stuggling financially.

I know, when I shop alone, salemen ignore me. It is a travesty what old myths salesmen still cling to: women can't buy cars without their husband's permission, women can't make up their minds. Be firm. Walk up to a saleman and say "I'm ready to take this car home TODAY. What is your BEST price?"


Luckily for you, there are many more dealers out there who will treat you with respect and take care of your needs and wants. Forget the goofballs who "qualify" you with visual observations of your gender, speech, age, color, mode of dress. Shop elsewhere.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you Dominique Vu for another fine production. Thank you Lou Ann for your participation. And thank you, Ria, for retrieving me from the clutches of Dulles Airport last night. My regards to Bori and Q, too. 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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