Real Wheels Live

Aug 03, 2012

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

So, there you have it. Last week's abrupt departure of GM's popular marketig chief, J. Ewanick, had more to do with personality than any real marketing failure. At least, according to GM CEO Dan Akerson who has told the media: "No one person" runs the company's marketing. "It's a team effort," the boss said. Well, okay. Then somebody had better suit up a new team. Despite excellent, competitive products, GM"s sales are falling when others--hey, Chrysler!--are rising. My take: Chrysler routinely, emotionally tells us what Chrysler is. Chrysler tells us why we should buy Chrysler. Chryselr has good products made by people Chrysler hsows to GM? It's still acting as if all of its buyers are middle-class folks from Kansas. They aren't. One wonders when GM's marketers will figure that out.

Good morning, Mr. Brown. We need a replacement for our Subaru wagon. Smaller, better gas mileage (no 4-wheel drive needed any more). Preferably a hatchback or very small wagon. Honda Fit? Ford Focus? Something else? Budget not unlimited, but we want to keep the car forever so want quality to start with.

Mazda 3 or CX5; Volkswagen Jetta; Toyota Prius V; Ford Focus or Fiesta, preferably Focus; Chevrolet Cruze or Sonic, seriously. Look closely at the Cruze for overall quality, efficiency and utility. I'd again recommend Subaru, except you don't want all-wheel-drive. Try those.

Warren, I was leaning toward buying a BMW 650 coupe then the new 640 grand coupe came out. Have you driven the newer car? Recommendations? Thanks.

The 640i coupe, right, tight, 350 Hp six, actually two side doors, is more of what many of us have long though of as a coupe. That's the one I'd go with. Avoid coupes that really are sedans meant for drivers who need haulers more than they joy of driving a real coupe.

Good morning Warren - I've enjoyed your columns for a very long time - in the 15 yr range - can that be? Maybe not that long, I've lost track. Anyway, we are considering the 2013 Avalon - how does it stack up against the LaCrosse & Taurus? Which engine do you like? Thanks

Yes, it can be and is. Time passes. As for your 2013 Avalon inquiry, it gets a "buy" here.  It is fully redesigned for 2013. Comes with Toyota's excellent 3.5-liter, 228 hp V-6. Toyota is on a roll nowadays. The 2013 Avalon shows it. And you don't have to deal with dealers who think that they are doing you a favor by selling you one. It's an extremely competitive market out there. Buy from a delership that demonstrates its respect for your common sense. Stars at about $33k+.

Will these be viable "over the road" fuels in the future? If so, have restrictions for tunnels and the Bay Bridge, which once applied to propane tanks on travel trailers, been lifted?

Ah, infrastructure! CNG (compressed natural gas) will be a viable road fuel in the future, as it is now. I see CNG being used primarily in fleet vehicles with defined routes that have easy access to CNG fueling stations. CNG burns cleaner than gasoline, which makes it a more sensible fuel for defined-rout fleets. Ditto LPG (liquid propane gas) for factory and industrial campus transportation. In short, we will use multiple fuels and propulsion systems in future, depending on application needs. Oil/gasoline probably will fuel most wheels. But I fully expect us to use less of traditional fossil fuels in cars and trucks. We will need service and road safety infrastructure updates, though....and smarter politicians than most of those we have now.

Thanks for the list of hatchbacks to look at. Glad to see the Cruze there as I hadn't thought of it. Is the Fit still worth considering?

Yes on the Honda Fit, especially the Honda Fit Sport. I love that little car because it delivers  reasonably big performance and handling and lots of utility at an affordable price.

Hi Warren - Looking for more space in the next six months (250+ pounds spread over 3 dogs plus, new need for car seats) and have focused in on the 2012 Explorer and the 2012 Grand Cherokee. Specific models are up for debate, but leaning toward Limited and Laredo. Need flat floor space and square corners for the dog crates, reasonable sight lines and leg/head room (I'm 5'3", partner is 6'4"). Safety, gas mileage and comfortable drive on long distances are more important than a dvd player and premium sound systems. Looking to keep the next car purchase for at least 8 years, hopefully longer. Are there any cars we are missing and should add to the test drive list? Thank you!

I think you've answered your own question. The Grand Cherokee will handle all of your needs. Caution: Don't buy more Cherokee--off-road and trailering packages, for example--than you need. It is a waste of money to buy more capability than you'll ever use. And consider your driving terrain. Buy tires for your Cherokee accordingly.

What are some of the new and about to be introduced vehicles that you would advise potential buyers to consider in the various vehicle categories (Subcompact, compact, mid, Crossover, near luxury, etc)?

That's a resource question. To best answer it, I will send you to three of the best resource lists on this matter. To wit:



., an affiliate of The Washington Post

. Consumer Reports

. Consumer's Digest.




In short, all of those resources do a much better job of categoring products and prices in a single  spot for easy review than do most individual journalists.

We need to replace an aging Honda Accord, and want something different just for variety This new car will see relatively low mileage, suburban driving - and doesn't need to haul kids or large loads. I'm arguing for something like a Smart Car or Mini-Cooper, but my wife feels really uncomfortable in those really small cars. A few luxury creature comforts is a plus - $30-40k range.

Check out an Audi A4. She'll feel rich and liberated from Mommy-ism. You'll both be happy with the vehicle, without takkin too much money out of retirement funds. Prices start at about $36,400 for the A4 wagon. But you can look at an also-likeable A3 diesel for about $6,000 less.

Mr. Brown. I live in a very rural area in Virginia. House prices here are much lower than NOVA. Why can't cars be priced down?  Our salaries here are much lower than the NOVA area. I probably make 25% less working here than in NOVA but cars are priced the same; especially new models.

Good questions all. My take: Thanks to the Internet, many dealers do not have to price according to the local/regional economic milieu. But, you easily can use the Internet in your favor, too. Check any one of the shopping/vehicle information sites, such as, I listed earlier in this chat. Also, considered certified-repaired used models, wich offer lots of service for relatively little money. Also, know this: If a certainvehicle is a hot seller in your area, you can almost be certain that it will come with a higher price. What isn't selling? Shop there for better prices.

Just because something isn't selling does not mean that it is unsafe or technically deficient. Fashion, which has little basis in reason, drives the car industry as much as anything else.

No Internet at home? You pay taxes, I'm sure. Check a local library or a library at a local public school, community college, or university. Good luck.

Warren, have you recently rated local dealerships for such qualities as honesty, fairness, flexibility in dealmaking, etc? If not, would you consider doing so? I think that it would be great service to your faithful readers. Thanks.


But I'd happily give you the best information I have privately. Contact me at

Why not do it publicly?

I have bosses who don't necessarily want to pay lawyers, even if I'm right, which I may or may not be. Dealers have lawyers, too. No offense, but not many people in my business like dealing with lawyers. You never know how such dealings will turn out. That's as honest as I can be.

Hi. I'm in the market for a new family-friendly vehicle that will accommodate two adults, a toddler, and a baby comfortably and safely. I'm open to either a sedan or an SUV (although I'm still not sure about the rollover risk in the latest crop of SUVs). If you could pick only one family sedan and only one SUV, what would they be? My primary concerns are safety and reliability. Coming in a close second (or third) is value. My budget tops out at $35K. Thanks!

Get a Kia Sorento for your family hauler--safe, well-made and well-appointed, powerful enough for most driving needs, actually attractive and loaded with amenities, all at a reasonable price.

Check out a Hyundai Sonata for the sedan. Here's betting that you will be pleasantly surprised.

Hi, Warren: Every week, the Toronto Globe and Mail posts its deals of the week. With many deals, the final price is less than the original price. I'm guessing the dealers aren't giving cars away, but how is one to always get the best deal? It's the same with the national ads touting sometimes $10K-$15K off truck prices. Thanks!

I always ask these questions:

If the vehicle was worth what it was originally priced, why is it selling for substantially less now? Over-production? Quality problems? What? All of which means you have to do some research.

What is the financial relationship between the Toronto Globe and Mail and those dealers providing "the deal of the week?" Inasmuch as  such announced deals involve some degree of collusion, what is the collusion process? Who is getting money? For What?

Are there equally good deals that have been left out of "deals of the week'? Why?

Bottom line: Ask questions. Do research. Be skeptical, as opposed to cynical. Deal accordingly. You might get a deal.

Remember Warren it doesnt have the BTUS as gas and therefore your will get less mpgs and your range will decrease. Last thing I want is some of knucklehead neighbors being able to have CNG or whatever filling stations in their garages. Scary enough when their propane tanks for their gas grills blow up. Clifton VA

Yes, Clifton. I agree. But keep in mind that I recommended CMG fuel for fleet vehicles with dedicated routes, just as I am suggesting LPG for factory and other industrial campus transportation. There is absolutely no need to keep pouring gasoline and diesel fuels into those things. Cheers, my brother!

Thank you all for joining us this week. Please return next week. Thanks, Dominique Vu, for another fine Real Wheels production. Thank you, Ria Manglapus, for keeping the vehicles moving. By the way, we need more stuff from Toyota, Lexus, VW, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. I know. My apologies. 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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