Real Wheels Live

Aug 02, 2013

The Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown and guest Lou Ann Hammond will discuss the auto industry. Plus, they'll give purchase advice to readers.

Good morning Warren and Friends

Warren and I attended a BMWi3 full electric car event. This is a game changer because it is not only fully electric (with the option of a range extender) but because it is made of carbon fiber.
It also has a very cool feature in the NAV system that allows you to know how far you can go in comfort or eco-pro mode AND it takes into account topography and traffic.

But the coolest thing is

BMW, Chevy and Cadillac are all putting solar panels on car dealerships and adding charging units so that anyone that has an electric vehicle can charge at their dealership.

Let's chat about cars

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When will the safety ratings be released for the new 2014 Mazda3?

As we speak, or certainly by end of summer.

Hi, suppose you're a tall guy (6'4"-6'5") and you've just found out that you are going to have to drive 1.5 hours each way every day for your job for the next couple of years. It's all highway driving. taking into account comfort, safety and fuel economy, what car(s) would you recommend? cost of car not as much a factor. Thanks.

Inasmuch as cost isn't a factor, I'd opt for a BMW 328 I Xdrive wagon, keep it in "Sport" mode, and smile all the way. But If you really want lots of space and comfort and reasonable driving pleasure, I'd go with the new Chevrolet Impala and be perfectly happy.

We really love our new Passat with the 2.5 gas engine and are approaching the end of our lease term. We are thinking of now buying a "certified" aka used Passat with the DIESEL engine as we like significant bump in fuel efficiency that it will bring us. Any reason not to go down this route?

Nope. None at all.

Lou Ann here:

The price of a diesel vehicle is usually more than a gasoline car, but you can make that up over the long run with better fuel economy. You also get a better low-end torque with diesel, which is worth its weight in gold.

It seems that most people who buy new cars keep them for a few years before getting their next new car. The warranty might last for 40, 50, or 60,000 miles. I know there are still cars on the road from the 60s and 70s, but how long is a car really designed to last? Personally, I would pay more for a car that was built as if it should last for 10+ years of daily use.

Most cars nowadays will last 10 years of daily use with proper maintenance, reasonable care.

Lou Ann here:

The average length a car is staying on the road these days is around 11 years. I have a 20 year old Lexus that is in cherry mint condition, garaged since the day it was born.

The difference isn't how long it will last, it's how much safety and technology there is on the car. My 20-year old car has a CD in it. New Lexus' have about 10 airbags, mind doesn't.

Newer cars are getting better fuel economy.

Parts can be replaced, but safety can't. If safety, fuel economy and technology are important to you trade your car in sooner than later.

Good Morning, I am in the market for a new car. I test drove both the 2013 V6 Accord and the 2013 AWD Lexus GS 350. I enjoyed both of the cars, however the Lexus brings more to the party in terms of enjoyment and luxuries. In your opinion, which of these two cars would be a better choice for a man in his mid 30s who plans on keeping the car for 10 years, and why? Also, reliability is a big reason why I am deciding between both these cars and not including Audi or BMW.

I wouldn't dismiss Audi and BMW so readily if you're talkng reliability, enjoyment and luxury.

The Accord has a great feature that no other car has - when you put your right blinker on the next lane shows up in the NAV system. For example, if you're in the fast lane and need to get to the next lane and think you have a clear lane to go to then you put your blinker on, the nav system shows you that your lane is clear but a car is coming up on you quickly that you might not have seen.

Lexus is reliable, you are right. I own a Lexus and it is comfortable and quiet. The Lexus is lower to the ground and a friend, Pete, says that causes more pebbles to be pushed up on his car.

Try driving an Audi A4 or BMW 3-series before you finalize your decision.

Mr. Brown, what do you think of Hyundai's Genesis and Equus. They look good (mostly) on the outside and they certainly undercut rivals in price, but is there any real driving satisfaction there? Do people pay thousands more for a BMW, MB just for the cache? Thanks

BMW cache is undeniable, mostly because it comes with remarkable substance, especially in terms on on-road performance. If you want a BMW, have driven and loved things BMW, nothing else will substitute. But if your primary concern is luxury, the feel and look of it, either the  Hyundai Equss or Genesis would do just fine with the added bonus of a big price break.

Carbon fiber is certainly light & strong. But how much to repair/replace body panels compared to good ol' steel?

My hunch is that the cost to repair carbon fiber, currently higher than still, will decline with the increased development and use of carbon fiber technology. I will take a trip to seattle soon to take a look at what is happening with carbon fiber in both the automotive and airline industries. So far, what I'm learning seems promising.

Lou Ann here:

Because of the way SGL produces their carbon fiber reinforced plastic they are able to omit 2 steps in the car manufacturing process which allows the production to be less expensive and have less of a carbon footprint.

Repairs will be 20-30% less, according to BMW.


Hi--we're expecting our first child this November and will need to trade my old Mitsubishi Eclipse (2003) for a more car seat friendly automobile. In addition, we're moving farther out and my commute will go from 7 miles to 37 miles. Can you recommend a family AND gas friendly vehicle in the $14-15,000 price range? My husband already drives a gas guzzling pick up truck, so this car really needs to be gas efficient! Thank you so much!

Congratulations on your new baby! ahh.

You're going to need more room, not just for your new family, but for all the stuff that goes along with it.

I would look at a used Hyundai Santa Fe. There are very few vehicles that you can get around $14-15K and you're going to want the one with the most safety features.

When your child starts walking get a car with a backup camera that makes a noise if there is something behind you.

Children are small, they can't always be seen, but a sensor will tell you that your child is behind you when backing up.

I wish for you a healthy baby.

Have you had a chance to drive this car? What are your thoughts compared to the other luxury cars in its class? Thanks!

I will drive it in mid-August 2013. Let's chat then.

What do you think of it? I know that, like all folding-hardtop convertibles, there isn't much trunk space with the top down. But are there any other major drawbacks? It doesn't seem to have been as popular as I would have expected.

The EOS unfortunately and erroneously developed the reputation as a "girl's car." To me, it is just a nice, cute convertible, not especially given or engineered for the hard driving "performance enthusiasts" supposedly like to do. There is nothing technically wrong with the EOS.

Hey guys, We're expecting child #2 this winter. We've managed so far with 1 carseat in our FJ Cruiser, but 2 carseats just won't work for us given the suicide doors and two tall parents in the front. We also recently bought a boat that we'll be towing that weighs in at about 5000lbs. We're looking at a 2010-ish Toyota Sequoia and Chevy Tahoe. Are there others we should be looking at, and do you recommend one over the other? Thanks in advance!

Keep looking at the Sequoia, Tahoe, or possibly the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Edge, or GMC Acadia. And face facts. You are parents, now. You will be doing lots of parental hauling at least for the next 15 years. Child-safety seats and baby carriages will give way ro athletic gear and bulky science projects. Climb into this mental space--you are no longer buying vehicles for you. You are buying for THEM and THEIR many transportation needs. CONGRATULATIONS ON THE NEW BABY.


Have either of you driven the Panamera with the V6? I wouldn't mind better gas mileage, but not at the expense of losing the driving experience that is the only reason to get a car like that (it's certainly not the looks . . .).

I disagree, I like the look of the Porsche Panamera. It's not a 911, never thought it was, but the ability to get 4 adults over 6' in a Porsche is astounding.

The first time I drove in the V6 Panamera was with Hurley Haywood. Here is the video;

Warren or Lou Ann, Good morning. Do you foresee a fully electric car that can go 100 miles without recharging under $20,000 within next five years? Ten years? Thanks.

Yes. But you probably will pay a tad more than $20,000, not much more. I'm keeping an eye on Nissan and Chevrolet (looking forward to driving the electrified Spark, no pun intended). Based on what I'm seeing now, and what I know is in development, especially in batteries and carbon fiber and aluminum tecnology, I truly believe that mass affordable electric drive technology is on the horizon.

Lou Ann here:

I'm looking forward to driving the Chevy Spark EV as well. I've heard it's a great little vehicle. I drove the Fiat 500e (not under $20,000) and I can understand why Fiat has sold out of them.

Although engines, transmissions, rear end, differentials, HVAC parts, body parts and interior parts have all become more reliable the big problem with new cars is the software and the computers. Rear and front view cameras, accident avoidance, side monitoring, keyless entry and software controlling seat, HVAC, car audio, Bluetooth etc all lead to reliability issues. I used to keep cars for over 200K miles to include numerous track days but not now I sell at 100K miles because of the maintenance costs because of the software and electronics. I can rebuild brakes, change a trannie or a differential and rebuild an engine but chasing software and electronic gremlins is not for me. Bring back carbs, part time 4wd and manual trannies. Clifton, Va

Clifton! We've missed you the last couple weeks. Where have you been?

I would bet that of the 285 people in Clifton, VA that you are one of the only people there that want to do any of those things.

Life has gotten faster Clifton. People want convenience and technology in their cars so that they can feel like they're keeping up.

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group in China is manufacturing a car priced in the $7,000 range. If one were to advocate introducing low-cost cars into the US market, the Panda model would be an excellent option: but I have no idea why such alternatives aren't showing up in showrooms?

Geely will tell you that they are still a long way from introducing a saleable, reliable electric car in the United States that meets all U.S. safety regulations. But a "long way" today might become a short distance tomorrow.

I am in a similar boat and wanted advice on how to choose between two good cars in different price ranges. When you could afford either one, but you want the GS 350 for the luxuries, the appeal and the fun. However, your fiscally responsible side says save the money and go for the reliable well built "vanilla" Accord?

Vanilla also tastes good.

If you have ever watched a Formula 1 race where they have used carbon fiber and other composites for over 30 years you will see carbon fiber wings and body components usually shatter into hundreds of pieces. Finding a good body shop that can handle repairs to aluminum body parts is almost impossible and carbon fiber near impossible. Back when Range Rover first introduced aluminum body work many insurance companies wouldnt insure or would charge you 3 to 4x more. And just because the body shop is owned by the dealer or does work for dealer doesn't mean it does quality work. Ask my brother about his 3 series and BMW Sterling. Yes we did the work per BMWNA specs. No they did not. Clifton VA


This carbon fiber reinforced plastic is not the same as other carbon fiber. I will be doing a story on it soon.

(and just to make sure everyone understands, Clifton's brother does not have a 3-series carbon fiber car - that was a different issue)

Lou Ann & Warren, I know that the Acura TSX is the Honda Accord in the World Outside North America. Does that mean that the Acura TSX Wagon is a re-badged Accord wagon?

Look at the options offered on an Accord versus Acura. The Accord will sometimes come standard with options that aren't available on the Acura.

I'm not sure that the two wagons are completely compliant , but they are similar.

Ah, Clifton, there you go again--embracing anecdotal history as proof of future impossibility. I simply don't share your cynicism on matters carbon fiber.

Ask: If it is so horribly problematic to repair, why have racing teams used it for 30 years. Why are all major car companies working to improve it now? Will all of their earnest efforts be for naught in the arena of repairability? I don't think so.

At 6-5, I've been doing that 90-minute drive on and off for years, and frankly, you'll find your back doesn't appreciate the unsupportive Impala seats. If cost isn't a big issue, go German, and consider the width of the seats too. For example, the seats in a BMW 3 are narrower than in a 5, and over a long drive, that might matter. You may also want to consider where the shoulder belt is harnessed -- in some GM's, the harness comes out of the seat, which means it has to go up your back and over your neck, whereas with some of the Germans (I know Audi and VW) it comes from the pillar and hangs at a more comfortable angle. JMO

Have you driven the 2014 Impala? I have--nearly 500 miles with a 65-year-old back, one that is quite sensitive to support or the lack thereof. I throughly enjoyed the ride. But, yes, BMW, in my estimation, makes the seats that my back loves.

Serious take a look at 2011 or newer Jeep Grand Cherokee V6. Will take two child seats no problem. Very reliable and both Tahoe and Sequia are a little long in the tooth. Clifton, VA

You are right, the Grand Cherokee is very nice. So is the Hyundai Santa Fe long-wheel base.

Looking forward to your GS 350 review, hopefully you mention if it's tastier than plain "vanilla".

I will give you my full take. But "tastier than vanilla?" What's clear in that statement is that you have not sampled the full range of vanilla, the different kinds and grades of vanilla bean and its mixture with ingredients such as nutmeg. There is a world of vanilla. I humbly recommend that you explore it.

"EOS" is wrong about all folding-hardtop convertibles. My Mazda Miata loses NO trunk room (thank god, 'cause there's not much to start with) with a retractable hardtop. It fits in the same space as the folding softtop...and never needs to be replaced. The Miata trunk will hold one golf bag - with the driver/woods pulled and loaded seperately. It'll also hold two good sized weekend bags with no trouble.

But Warren was right that it had less to do with the trunk size than the fact that the car is seen as a chick car. There are other cars that lose space with their hard top retractable and sales are fine.

The EOS is a better car than the sales reflect.

Hi, love your column. I have an old Honda Pilot and need to start thinking about a new car. My son is getting older so I don't need as much space for his stuff, but I still appreciate extra room for hauling junk around. I drive a mix of dc commute and md highway. I like the feeling of sitting up higher that an SUV gives. What should I be considering--taking into account price, reliability, fuel economy and safety. (i have nothing against wagons!)

Seriously, take a look at the Honda CR-V.

No -- to be fair, the last one I drove was a newish 2012 as a rental. The seat felt like a couch you'd put out on the curb, and with the body config I had to put it almost all the way down to keep my head off the ceiling. #Tall people problems.

The new one was just lauded as one of the best cars Consumer Reports has tested.

It's a switch from the Chevy of old and we are starting to see the results.

Do you know what a Formula 1 team's budget is? For a team that qualifies at the back of the grid north of a $100 million. Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull probably spend more $500 million a year each. This ain't NASCAR or Indy racing.  And BTW I used to work pit crew for a couple of Porsche teams in IMSA. Carbon Fiber gets replaced not repaired for body parts. The carbon fiber tub can be repaired but it requires autoclaves etc and special skills that most body shops cant afford or need. Carbon fiber reinforced fiberglass body parts is all marketing. Wow, look, we use carbon fiber. Actually Clifton has way more than 285 people. Clifton, VA

PS I refuse to pay the WP to access chats. Furlough days are tough in DOD

Clifton, Clifton, Clifton

I understand all of that, all of it. But it seems to me that you are trapped by your personal history. I'm not. My time, especially in these matters, is spent in the laboratory of the future where amazing things are happening in the matters of carbon fiber, fuel economy, and alternative propulsion systems.

Do you really think that the world's automotive companies are stupid enough to bring forth car bodies that have to be replaced at enormous consumer cost? There is no viable business case for such a thing. They're not dumb enough to make that kind of mistake.

Haha, you win, Mr. Brown. I am moving over to the food section, I'm getting hungry.


The Volvo S60 has very supportive seats and the T5 gets good mpg (20/29) for an AWD sedan. It is a very safe car for someone driving a lot of miles every day. I drive an S60 T6 and it is the car my husband prefers to drive on road trips and he is 6' 6".

great suggestions from all the tall people. 

Thank you everyone for all the suggestions.

Thank you all for joining us this week. Please return with all of your questions, humor an hubris next week. Thank you, Matt Monahan and Lou Ann Hammond, for all that you do. Thank you, Victoria "Ria" Manglapus and Michelle Dawson, for your valued assistance. Take care. 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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