Real Wheels Live

Jul 22, 2011

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

Past Real Wheels Live Chats

Can you offer a comparison of the Optima and the Sonata?

They are essentially the same sedans made by the same company--Hyundai/Kia. Kia is a Hyundai subsidiary. The Optima, I think, is prettier.

We love you, Warren. Will you incorporate great pre-owned cars into your discussions. $30-40,000 new cars are starting to strain our baby boomer budgets.

Unfortunately, for about the past six months, partly due to the earthquake-tsunami trouble in Japan, prices have been rising on used cars, too. Why? It was hard to get new cars, especially small, fuel-efficient models. That is changing. Japan is coming back on line faster than expected. Supply chain easing. Prices stabilizing on  used and new. Same rules apply to used as new: Don't buy above your actual financial weight. Expensive cars generally require expensive maintenance, used or new. I'd shop Carmax. Then, I'd compare prices and warranties offered by a franchised dealer offering the same brand.

Warren.. It's been a while since you've reviewed a Lexus.. Any chance we'll have a new model reviewed soon?

Yes, and I apologize to you and the good people at Lexus. That part of our supply line is being repaired as I write this. I'm learning how to manage a business.

Hi! I am looking to purchase a used Subaru Outback V6. What is your opinion about purchasing one with more than 160,000 miles? Are there any significant repairs that may be needed that I should be aware of?

No problem. Subaru flat-six engines are excellent. You should have at least another 160,000 miles..or more. Do your homework. Have a certified auto technician check it out before you turn over any money.

Hi Warren, Have you tried many cars with air conditioned seats? This weekend's heat may bias you, but are they worth the cost?

Yes, I've tried many of them. No, they aren't worth the cost. You can reduce seat summer heat and humidity simply by placing a clean, dry towel on the seat before crowning it with your bottom.

Which one would you recommend (and why) a Fusion or a Sonata hybrid? Assume the high end option package for both. Are there dealers you would recommend? Or better yet a purchasing service (as I hate negotiating with car salesmen!)?

I'd go with the Fusion Hybrid, largely because I have more informed bias on that model. I closely tracked the development of the Ford Fusion Hybrid from beginning to end. I know the care Ford's designers and engineers put into that model. I'm biased. I did not have the same opportunity to track the development of the Sonata hybrid. But I have no reason to believe that the people at  Hyundai are any less talented, or devoted to excellence, as the people at Ford. The truth is often less than clear in these matters.

I have to tell you, one safety feature that I wish was mandatory on all cars was side-turn signals. Not so much the arrow you see embedded behind the side view mirror, but a bulb that's on the side of the car (often below the side-view mirror or on the outside tip of side-view mirror). I can't tell you how many times that I'm changing lanes simultaneously as another car is - into the same spot. I can easily back off because their side blinker registers in my brain much quicker than the whole car moving into the lane. Not that I've ever been involved in a collision because of the lack of side marker, but it seems that there's a 1 second advantage to aborting the lane change, and at 60 MPH that's huge.

Thank you. I would add to that safety standard-equipment wish list the following: blind-side warning systems, which practically eliminate the driving problems you described; lane-departure warning systems, which help to keep you safer when you do something as unsafe as drowsy driving.

Hi Warren -- Have you driven the 2012 Focus yet? I've been thinking of getting it, but I read a recent review that confirmed my impression on a short test-drive -- that the transmission doesn't shift smoothly at low speeds. I imagine that would be pretty annoying in city driving. If you've driven it, did you notice the same thing? What were your impressions? If not the Focus, what's my best bet for an affordable hatchback that gets very good gas mileage?

I've driven a pre-production version of the new Focus. But I drove it with the mindset of a person owning/driving an economy car, which it is. There are now BMW-type shifts in this one, low or high gear. There is something of the shifting mannerism of a Mazda 3, which is good. But the Mazda 3 does it better. Compare.

I really like the looks of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. It is a bit expensive and a bit larger than I need. Do you know if the 2012 Liberty will have the new Penastar engine? Is the major restyling of the Liberty coming in model year 2013?

I cannot  answer your question on the Liberty and Pentastar engine. Here's hoping that  a Chrysler official out there can help. But I can tell you that I have been spending the past seven weeks going through the new Chrysler Group lineup--the neat little 200 and larger, more luxurious 300; the entire SRT group; and the impressive V-6 Charger, which has now accumulated 350 miles in my possession. I'm impressed. Overall substantially improved design, engineering, fit-and-finish quality. A kind of product thoughtfulness missing from previous Chrysler products. The bailout worked.

Warren, Sorry you should be driving, not texting or talking on your cell. No surfing the internet. The compnay you work for should not require you to conduct business as your are driving down the road. If they do they should face criminal felony charges for Reckless Endangerment. The problem with the electronic driving aides is it gives drivers a feeling of invincibility. back when seat belts first came out studies proved that drivers were taking more risks. Also drivers need to remember traction control, ABS, and stability programs are not invincible. You can still lose control and spin. many years ago during a o dark thirty thunder storm the car infron of me on 395N climbing up the hill lost control and hydroplaned. I barely touched my brakes and went into a spin. I pushed in the clutch and hit the brake pedal hard. No effect. 4 360's later I came to a stop. No ABS both feet in would have stopped the spin a lot quicker and more predictably. Clifton VA

I am now a freelance writer, working under the rubric: The Utility Shed: A Freelance Enterprise. The Washington Post, of course, remains my major, favored client. In my nearly 35 years with the Post, as a fulltime staff writer and now as a freelance agent, no one has ever requested that I phone, text, scan the Internet, or do anything else while driving. The Post, in fact, expressly discourages that type of thing. So should all other employers.

But on the matter of new safety technology--blind-side warning and lane-departure warning systems, electronic brake force distribution and that sort of thing, I humbly disagree with you. They all WORK. They prevent crashes. They save lives. They should be made standard equipment as soon as possible.

Now Warren I like performance and SUVs but the Cherokee SRT8 makes no sense. It can't really go off road with the performance tires and suspension and its a Chrysler/Jeep product so its relaibility makes in land Rover look good. But Jeep forced this vehicle oneveryone for tests from Autoweek to R&T. If Jeep ever improves their reliability especially their trannies I might buy one. Clifton VA.

You are right, Clifton. It makes no sense. An SUV that fast, powerful, with sports-car handling, really makes no sense, which is why it was never intended for me and, apparently, you. But you are wrong, Clifton, this one can make it in the rough, albeit that is not its primary intent. Also wrong on Chrysler quality. Do what I've been doing. Check out the new Chrysler Group's product quality. It's not your daddy's Chrysler. It's not the nasty old Chrysler of your cynical imagination, either. People can and often do change for the better, Clifton. Haven't you?

Hi Warren, I am in the market to buy a mid-size luxury SUV. I have couple in mind, Porsche Cayenne S, MB ML550, BMW X5, Rang Rover Sport. Which one would you recommend in terms of reliability?

None of those listed, assuming I'm reading various quality reports correctly. I'd probably go with a high-end version of the remarkable Toyota 4Runner...and be happy.

I did shop at Carmax last week, checking prices on a hot model. I dropped your name and the price quoted went up 7%, thanks Warren.

That could mean a couple of things:

You dropped my name and, thus recognizing that you are someone who demands top quality, they offered you a better and, alas, more expensive version of the vehicle you were shopping.


You should never drop names, including mine.


Add to the list (PLEASE!): automatic headlights on all cars. As brightly-illuminated instrument clusters become more common, I'm convinced people are less aware of the need to turn on their headlights. I see so many "dark cars". Combine this with the the intense lights (HIDs) on many other cars, and the dark ones become even more invisible. I know it's partly a factor of my aging eyes, but everyone else's are aging, too!


...back in '04 I purchased my car by visiting a company's website, noting that the exact car I wanted (their only stickshift hatchback out of 130+ Elantras) was available at a great price, calling with a credit card to hold it until I could pick it up two weeks later, and then coming by with a check from my credit union. -- they'll treat you right and it looks like they have at least one Sonata hybrid in stock.

Just caught this one on my way out. It is possible to do much the same thing with Internet shopping. Let's talk next week, or by e-mail at

Thank you all for visiting this week. Please join us again next week. Thank you Gaurav and Dominique and your happy crew for another fine production. Thank you, Ria, my trusted assistant, for helping me out with the Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible. Remember, we are an independent business, now. No tickets..if possible. Eat lunch.

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

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