Real Wheels Live

Jul 29, 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

Thanks for having me back.

Mercedes-Benz Museum and design center

I went to Sindelfingen, Germany and Stuttgart, Germany a couple weeks ago. Did you know that you can go to a local dealer to order your car and then go to Germany and pick up your car and take a European trip, bring it back to them and they will ship it home for you? Go to


The Mercedes-Benz museum showcases Mercedes cars, but it also showcases dates in history that were significant.

Really cool was talking to the designers. I got to talk to  Martin Bremer Senior Manager, Color and Trim, and Hans Dieter Futschik, head of exterior design, Daimler AG. They showed me some concepts that were beautiful and the B-Class they are going to show at the Frankfurt auto show in September. Their A-Class car was the most spectacular!

Thoughts from our last chat:

Anyone who watches this chat regularly knows that I try to answer the lingering issues from the previous chat.

Volkswagen will not be bringing a VW Passat station wagon to the U.S. I, like you, think they should. More and more people in this chat are asking about station wagons. Volkswagen has a Jetta station wagon, but I like the Passat interior better.

A couple of women wrote to me about their not-so pleasant dealings with dealers. As Warren said in the last chat, if a dealer doesn't treat you with respect don't give them your business. For the one woman that I thought had a cause for concern I did send her note to the car manufacturer. I know them and they will care. In fact, they have already started talking to her.

Cars I've driven in the past two weeks

Kia Optima hybrid

A couple weeks ago I wrote in this chat that I had driven the Kia Optima and "I can't say a single bad thing about the Kia Optima. great little car. "

The Kia Optima got 22 miles per gallon in the city, 34 on the highway. With a Nav System and Infinity premium audio sound the total sticker price for the 2011 Kia Optima was $30,840.

The hybrid, according to EPA, gets 35 miles per gallon in the city, 40 miles per gallon on the highway. The Kia Optima hybrid I drove with NAV and Infinity premium audio sound cost $32,250.

Even if the hybrid were the same price as the internal combustion engine I wouldn't recommend it. There's a lag in the hybrid off the line that isn't in the regular Optima.

Ford Transit Connect

If you're a dog lover the back of the Ford Transit could be for you. Just put something down on the slick bottom so you're dog doesn't go sliding when they jump in. The XLT 5-passenger that I drove was less than $25,000 out the door and EPA says it got 21 city miles per gallon and 26 highway miles per gallon.

The Ford Transit connect is great if you need to deliver anything, and you still need a car for your family. The only issue I have is the Transit is a 4-speed. Yes, it's a 4cylinder, but that would be fine if it were a 5 or 6-speed. If you're on the highway you're going to be going 65 miles per hour at 3,000 rpm or better. I can't see that configuration staying the same. Ford has already said that 90 percent of its fleet will have eco-boost by 2013 and this is one vehicle that could use it.

But the best idea for this vehicle is as a taxi. Just ask New York. They have said they will buy the 2.0-liter inline 4cylinder gasoline engine or the upcoming compressed-natural-gas or electric vehicle to their fleet. Great legroom, great suitcase room. Smart move.

Cadillac SRX

While at the SRX launch in Santa Barbara I found out that Cadillac will be bringing out a new compact luxury sedan (against the BMW 3-series), a vehicle that is smaller than the CTS. You might hear it referred to as ATS (the internal name) in other articles, but Cadillac has not announced that nomenclature as the retail name.  A Cadillac XTS (the retail name) sedan is a large luxury sedan that will also come out in the second half of 2012. Chevy will bring out the next generation Chevy Malibu mid-sized sedan in the first quarter of 2012 and a Korean-made Spark minicar later in 2012.

What's new about the 2012 Cadillac SRX

The old Cadillac had a 3.0-liter V-6 engine. FWD 18/25 AWD 17/23. The new Cadillac SRX is showcasing the new engine 3.6-liter and becomes the sole engine offered in the SRX in North America (the SRX is a global car). It is rated at 308 horsepower. It also delivers 265 lb.-ft. of torque, but at a much lower band than the previous generation. And best news! The fuel economy stayed almost the same. The new numbers are FWD 17/24 AWD 16/23.  I put the SRX in ECO mode and got a respectable 22 miles per gallon on a twisty mountainous part of our drive, with three people in the car. Not bad.

Lastly, I just received this from a group called financial finesse.

Employees sustained a trend seen since 2009 in improving their day-to-day money management skills. In the first two quarters of 2011:
·       71% of employees reported having a handle on their cash flow versus 64% 2010.
·       88% of employees reported paying bills on time up from 82% in 2010.
·       53% of employees reported having an emergency fund versus 48% in 2010.
·       57% of employees reported regularly paying off credit card balances in full versus 51% in 2010.

Warren, I'm looking to replace my '98 S70, with a '09 or newer model. Currently have one car seat, will need another while we own this car. Considering the G37, TL and CC. The G37 was the #1 choice until I noticed the CC, any recommendations?

I'd still keep the Infiniti G37 as your first choice of those listed, although the Volkswagen CC is tempting. It's just that I think, in terms of overall quality and performance, Nissan/Infiniti has done a better job with the G37.

Have you had the chance to drive the new (2011) BMW 5 series? What are your impressions of the 3 engine choices? How does this car compare to the A6 and E Class?

Of your three choices I would pick Audi.
I put an extra car in the mix for you. The 2012 Cadillac SRX. It has a new engine that gets 303 horsepower and 265 lb.-ft. of torque, but at a much lower band than the previous generation. The fuel economy stayed almost the same. The new numbers are FWD 17/24 AWD 16/23. Last year's model was around $35,000 and they don't expect it to change much. I know you're looking European, but drive it and let me know what you think. And check out the trick track system in the rear.
I love Audi's engines. I love the way a BMW drives and I love the way a Mercedes makes me feel. If you're financing J.D. Power just awarded BMW their 8th consecutive year of being recognized for dealer financing satisfaction.
The three Europeans are similar in cost. Audi and Cadillac are similar in fuel economy.  BMW is the only one with 8-speed. I think Audi is the only one that offers NAV as standard of the three.

Warren, two questions: 1) What are your views of BMW x3 vs Audi 5 2) What sporty car would you recommend for a 63 year old guy who has trouble getting into small sports cars like Porsche, BMW Z4 and some of the MB's. I want to have fun but I want some comfort also. Thanks, Seattle

I prefer the Audi Q5 over the BMW X3, as I have stated here several times before. The Q5 simply is more accommodating, comfortable and less interested in making a statement than it is in making you happy. But here's a surprise for 64-year-olds who still want to roll and be happy:   The Hyundai Genesis R-Spec...seriously. Super-smooth and super-pretty.

I noticed after the chat was over that someone had asked why so many Virginia license plates start with the letter X. Virginia recently started with a backwards sequential numbering scheme -- ZZZ-9999, ZZZ-9998, ..., ZZZ-0001, ZZZ-0000, ZZY-9999, etc. They have finished the Z and Y sequences and are currently on the Xes. More info:

Thank you.

I just parted with my 14-year-old Subaru Legacy "Outback" station wagon, and I'm looking to buy a same-size replacement but -- jeepers -- there aren't many actual wagons available nowadays! Although the Sub served me well, I always found it to be just a bit underpowered and, anyhow, I'm yearning for a change. I'm also on a budget, and will be buying used, perhaps a 2008 model. I don't care much about luxury, but I would appreciate pep and a bit of comfort. Suggestions?

You are right, there are not that many station wagons and more and more people are asking for them.
Look at Chevy HHR, Dodge Caliber, Mitsubishi Outlander, Kia Rio, Scion Xb, another Subaru or the VW Jetta

If you can find an old Jetta wagon that would be my first choice.  But if your Subaru is 14 years old you may want to look at a 2008 Subaru. They are great wagons.

You can stick with Subaru, inasmuch as you are familiar with and like Subaru, by moving from a flat-four to a flat-six, probably in a used Outback. Or, check out a used Volvo V-70.

My husband and I recently got a Jetta Sportwagen TDI, in large part inspired by the reviews we've read here, and absolutely love it - all the bells and whistles and diesel fuel economy for a great price. I'm writing because my parents are looking for a mid-sized SUV for my dad to drive to work in the city and take on road trips to visit the grandkids. They've been looking at cars ranging from the Ford Edge and Toyota Highlander to the Acura MDX and Lexus 350. They didn't like how the MDX only took premium gas and the low visibility in some of the other SUVs (like the Lexus 350). So, can you give me a few suggestions for mid-sized SUVs that are good in the city or for highway driving and have a sporty/cool look and nice interior? They'd like to feel like they're getting a good deal but still have a solid amount of luxury. Any thoughts would be appreciated!

I would keep the Ford Edge as an option and add Mazda CX-9 and, once again, the Cadillac SRX. All three are regular gasoline. Watch out for sunroofs that only offer mesh covers. I was in one the other day and the mesh allows filtered sun. When it's 100 degrees out you want no sun!

Lou, I'm in a bit of a pickle in terms of making a decision. Honestly, I don't know if there's a car that exists (in this country) that really can fulfill the main items on my wish list. I've been reading you on Warren Brown's weekly WaPo chat for awhile, and I now turn to you for some thoughts.

I live in KC, MO, and work about 45 miles away in Lawrence, KS. That means some yucky driving when winter hits the Plains, which means I'm VERY interested in AWD. However, the distance also means I'm committed to buying something that gets really good mileage. I've been a devoted BMW owner for 25 years and have been spoiled by the great driving experience BMWs offer. My 1990 (amazing but true) 325i with 200K+ on it is finally showing signs of wear. I've replaced the tires and timing belt this summer, but can see that I'm definitely going to need a new car in the next year or so. Even so, the way I drive, it gets 22/28 mpg, which is substantially better than what new Beemers seem to be getting. Oh, and I also have a dog (60-lb. lab), so I'd love to have an area other than the back seat where I can stash her.

I've been thinking/hoping the X1 would fit the bill, but BMW seems awfully sluggish in introducing that in the U.S. I'd really hope for a diesel because of the mileage, but again, it's unclear whether or when that will come to the States. Unclear what either would cost, too. Ditto for the advertised hatchback additions to the 1-series line. That brings me to non-BMWs. I'm thinking about the MINI Countryman but am worried about MINI's reliability, and mores when it comes to a brand-new model. Otherwise, the Prius V, although I'm not impressed by the reports of its handling and I've never been impressed by the pickup Priuses (don't) have.

So this is the point where I ask: Do you have any suggestions or ideas?

Warren here: Do not be like the U.S. Congress. Understand and accept that life is a matter of tradeoffs. You want excellent snow-weather traction, great mileage and great overall driving performance. You are not going to get all of that in the same car/vehicle, certainly not at a low price. That puts you back with BMW, probably a 3-Series shod with Blizzak tires for winter driving. Shop the car used. Buy the tires new.

Excuse what could be a dumb question ... we're about a third of the way into a lease of a 2010 Lexus RX450h. We love the vehicle. We could not afford the payments if we had bought the car outright. But we do want to purchase it. At what point in the lease does buying the car make the most sense? I have no problem leasing, but my wife, an accountant, says that leasing is a bad idea. The sooner we pull the trigger and buy the car the better. But we want to do it at the right time. I suspect that we'll drive it until it falls apart.

I majored in accounting so I'm right there with your wife. Let me explain my thoughts; As we get older I try to get rid of all my fixed expenses, including car costs. If you own the car you can pay it off faster and not have that monthly bill. And yes, I drive my car into the ground as well, but once I realize I have to buy one soon I start putting a little money aside each month so that when I end up on the side of the road with no car I have a decent down payment. Talk to the dealer now. Cars are scarce so they may try to dissuade you but if you've got a contract that you're comfortable with buy it.

A higher gas tax is politically unfeasible. A Higher gas tax is politically unfeasible. A Higher gas tax is politically unfeasible. I don't like the mechanics of the increased CAFE standards, but how else can you get out ahead of the game of pushing up MPGs without touching the price of fuel? Displacement / CO2 tax?

A higher gas tax is not nearly as politically unworkable as a country that can't run its finances, or come up with an energy policy that reflects reality. We need to elect political leaders. At the moment, we seemed saddled with politicians who have mistaken celebrity for mandate. Whatever happened to the concept of tradeoffs? Here's one: No real energy policy will equal higher fuel prices, one way or another, in the future.

Mr. Brown: I've been very interested in the Chevy Volt. I'm not in the market for a car, but am kind of "rooting" for it to do well. Cool technology, great execution and (my personal bias) it's an American car. Any idea whether it's selling in decent numbers, or is it a marketplace flop?

Just talked to the Chevy folks the other day. So far 3,180 volts have been sold. They had to take the Detroit Hammtrack plant offline for two months (this was planned) to re-engineer the plant. It will be back up soon and sales will flourish. I saw an article the other day that said a woman had driven 4,700 miles per gallon with her volt because she always used electricity!

The ironic part is that we bought flex-fuel vehicles and there was a tax credit and very few people (outside of the corn states) used 85% ethanol in the fuel tanks. The Volt didn't get a tax credit on the 2011 version, but everyone is using electricity on the car.

The 2012 Volt is supposed to get the tax credit.

I'm hoping they will announce more iterations of the technology in more cars soon.

Hi Warren. Last week I asked you to compare two hybrids the Fusion and the Sonata. This week I found out they are all but impossible to get. 7 months wait for the Sonata and 3 for the Fusion - at least for the high end versions that I requested. So I back off to the 'normal' sedans but now put the Altima into play. I found them to be available and reasonably priced. In what order would you recommend these 3 - all with their high end option packages? (Right now since I can not decide myself I am leaning to whatever one gives me the lowest price. And so far that is the Altima.) Also are buying services worth the $200 cost?

Apparently, the problem is batteries--that is, the lack of the lithium-ion type in enough capacity to satysfy the growing demand (at the moment) for gas-electrics. More  battery capacity slowly is coming on line. The Altima is a decent choice for non-hybrid wheels. But an even better choice for MPG  would be the nifty Hyundai Elantra at 40 mpg hwy using regular gas.

I'm intrigued by it's sportiness, good mileage and hatchback.

Yes, I drove it in Seattle. It's a great driving car. sporty, whips around corners. gets good mileage, especially for a turbo, but it also takes premium gasoline.

Look at a Mazda 3 as well.

We just had child #2 5 weeks ago, and are in the market for a minivan to replace our aging Expedition, but are in no hurry. I'm really attracted to the Odyssey and found out that the local dealer just received a Touring yesterday (which have been hard to find in our neck of the woods). Should we consider moving on it now, or wait a couple of months for inventory to increase (hoping to score a better deal)?

Yes. But tell the dealer that you would be even more inclined to buy it without any "market adjustment" premiums...and with a promise of a suitable loaner when/if your Odyssey is in for repairs. It's a friendly way of retaining customers without the price of paying more for advertising.

I drive a 2001 Jetta TDI and consistently get between 48 and 52 MPG. I feel like this engine does not get the praise it deserves compared to hybrids. Why is Audi only offering the engine in the A3, it would be sweet in the A4.

You are right. But here we go, again--sacrificing tradeoffs in the search for silver bullets. We have, in this country, anointed gas/electrics as the way of the future in automobility much to the disadvantage of other technoligies (in terms of political support), such as diesel. Here's hoping that will change with the acquisition/development of new political intelligence and will. Until that happens, expect companies such as Audi to continue hedging their bets in the U.S. in the introduction of diesel technology.

Our 1998 Volvo v70 bit the dust and we're looking to go smaller. We'd like a hatchback/small wagon that gets good mileage and has room in the backseat for a rapidly growing teen or our larger dogs. I was thinking of the Elantra Touring or Honda Fit, but would be open to other thoughts.

The Elantra Touring is a much different car than the Honda Fit. If you're looking at the Fit you would consider the Hyundai Accent, or the Chevy Cruze  (which is coming out in diesel) or the Volkswagen Golf or the Toyota Prius.

If you're looking at the Hundai Elantra Touring you could look at the Sonata, The Ford focus, Honda Accord

If you're looking for a large teen and a dog you might want to look at a Subaru Forester or a Hyundai Tucson

Hi Warren - We decided to see if we could score an "end of year" deal on a new Odyssey (Touring), but quickly realized there is a pretty decent shortage, so there are no deals to be had. We're on the gulf coast of AL, and have a local dealer that has one on order that we are contemplating putting a deposit on to claim. My apologizes if you've covered this before, but I understand only about 15% of the parts for the Odyssey are sourced in Japan. This may be silly, but any reason to be concerned about radioactive parts? Also, would you buy now if you had the opportunity, or wait it out until inventory increases. Obviously there is much more demand for the van than the folks in Lincoln, AL can supply right now!

You are right, 85% of the parts for Hondas built in the United States are from the United States, according to John Mendel of Honda. If you wait a while production will be back up which means more supplies which means better prices for the customer.


Good morning, Warren. I read with great interest today about Fiat's new management structure and its plans to bring Chrysler into its fold. And, I see that Sergio Marchionne plans to remain as the chief executive of both Fiat and Chrysler and have responsibility for their North American business. How important is the Fiat-Chrysler integration to the U.S. auto industry and does this mean we might begin to see an increased Fiat presence in the U.S.?

What's im portant is that, at long last, Chrysler seems to have found a partner that is committed to making Chrysler a better company. That will help Chrysler, U.S. manufacturing and U.S. jobs. The tradeoff--there's that word, again--is that Fiat also will gain a stronger foothold in the United States. That's good for Fiat and, considering models such as the appealing Fiat 500, the American consumer.

You don't seem to be a big Volvo fan but they have the same deal. Order car from a dealer in the states and pick up in Sweden - they give you plane tickets, factory tour and night at hotel. We spent a month touring Sweden and Norway then shipped the car home.

I like Volvo. As you know, the company has been busy reorganizing itself lately. The apparent lack of Volvo coverage on this end is because the product line has been somewhat stymied...and because we are waiting to see how it all shakes out.

Suggestions for someone upgrading from a '92 Tercel? Most important requirement is that it be reliable and not fussy in a northeastern climate/winters. Will be used mostly for commuting, it would be nice if there was some trunk space. Used is fine, aiming for something $15K or under. Thinking of a Corolla, but would be open to other options if the reliability is there.

Others to consider would be Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, VW Jetta, Nissan Sentra.

Personally, of those you mentioned, I actually prefer the Honda Fit, particularly the Honda Fit Sport. It's a small, exceptionally well built car with as much utility as some arger models. I'd go with the Fit. Safety? Tradeoffs, again. Small generally is not as safe as large. Large generally is not as fuel-efficient or economi8cal as small. Note to you and Congtress: There is no such thing as Earthly perfection. Wear your seat belts.

Good morning. Do you all have thoughts on the hatchback Ford Focus? What about the hatchback Hyundai? I think I want a Honda Fit, but I'm trying to research the other possibilities. Plus, my parents (despite the fact that I've been an adult for many years) keep stating that the Fit is So Small and seems unsafe. Sigh. Thanks.

Okay, larger hatchbacks - Focus is good, Kia Forte has a hatchback that I just drove and liked. If you want good fuel economy go with the Toyota Prius or Volkswagen diesel Golf. Fun to drive would  be the MINI Clubman.


We looked at the Honda Fit when we needed a new car that would accommodate an infant car seat without making the front passenger ride with their knees in the dashboard. Loved the ease with which you could move or remove the back seats, but it wouldn't fit the carseat. Ultimately we went with the Nissan Versa. Not fancy, but lots of room in the backseat for long legs (and carseats) and good mileage. We love it.

Thank you. And you are right. We should have given props to the neat Nissan Versa.

May I ask what the two of you think of this car--and others you might weigh against it? Many thanks.

I like the Buick Regal GS. Was throughly impressed with the first edition.  I am going to drive the new version in 2 weeks so ask me again in 2 fridays. :)

Buick wants you weigh it against the Acura TSX and Lexus IS 250.

Should I wait til 2012 for improvments or get a deal on a 2011?

Get a deal on the 2011 model. 2012 won't be that dramatically different.

For the rest of you: Early curtain call today. Thank you for joining us. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique, for another fine production. Thank you, Lou Ann Hammond, for being the wonderful colleague and friend that you are. The lovely Ria is on vacation, which means she's eating lunch at some resort. Here's hoping Congress wakes up this weekend. We want a happy August.

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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