Real Wheels Live

Aug 23, 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

I have a question for you. In the last couple of weeks there have been comments about other people making sure they read their contracts before signing them.

Are some of you concerned that we are heading down the 2008/2009 problem of people spending more than they have? Are you worried that we could go back into a recession?

This week, yesterday actually, I was in your neck of the woods. I drove the A6, A7 and Q5 diesel vehicles through DC around the backroads of Virginia. Boy, you guys have some beautiful countryside out there. Sad to say, we didn't make it to Clifton, VA :) My favorite? The A7 #AudiTDI. Sa-weet.

Now I am in Jackson Hole, WY getting ready to drive a Toyota tundra and forerunner. Unfortunately, there is no wifi in that area. If I can get on I will, but it is doubtful. I will go in afterwards and read your answers.

Thanks everyone.

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Never drive faster than your angel can fly.

Ford's reinvention of the Thunderbird underperformed production capacity, despite being highly anticipated and promoted by the auto media. In your opinion, why did this happen? Was it weak or absent marketing, lack of price concessions, or lack of a performance option in a sports car that was not only not sporty, but decidedly soft and slow?

Nostalgia does not have the same effect on the general public as it does on the car people and the media. The revised Thunderbird was schasing a market that no longer really existed.

Good Morning Warren, I am looking to buy a new small SUV. So far I am considering the Honda CRV, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tuscon, Kia Sportage, Ford Escape and Chevy Equinox. I am interested in pretty much the base AWD model of each. This will be used as a daily commuter of appox. 80/day so one of my major concerns is driver seat comfort. Irrespective of price, can you rank these in terms of safety, reliability, comfort etc. If there are any to avoid at all cost please let me know that as well. Thank you

It would be difficult to go wrong with the CR-V unless you are looking for more power, which you aren't. If your primary concern is price/value, I would go with Chevrolet or Kia.

I was reading a review on an electric car and it said the acceleration and breaking were more controlled to save energy. I wondered how that would play out in a real world situation were extra acceleration or quick breaking were required to avoid an accident.

It plays out quite well, based on my actual experiences in a variety of all-electric and plug-inelectric vehicles. Electric models are engineered to recapture braking energy that otherwise would be lost as heat. But that strategy does not undermine braking effectiveness per se. Acceleration? It is excellent in electrics.

I saw some buzz on the internet that the new Mustang will be lighter and smaller on the outside than the current model (two very good things). Have you heard anything about how its interior size (specifically the convertible) will compare with the current model? I am not quite as tall as Lou Ann's husband, Stretch, but many cars are simply too small for me. Thanks.

Every car company is making new models lighter, generally smaller, using composite materials and that sort of thing. Witness the new Corvette Stingray--all-aluminum spaceframe, extensive use of carbon fiber, the lightest-tightest Corvette ever.

Within the last year I bought a 2013 BMW 328i (EPA 23city/33hwy) and a 2014 BMW X1 (EPA 23city/34hwy). Before moving one vehicle out-of-state, I drove both many times on my 140 mile commute, which is almost entirely on state highways/federal interstates where I average about 53 mph from engine on to engine off. The 328i averaged about 39 mpg while the X1 averaged about 35 mpg. (I'm relying on manual calculation of miles driven divided by fuel consumed, not the car's trip computers, which are different from one another). Given that the two vehicles share the same engine and 8-speed automatic transmission, (1) what -- besides weight and aerodynamic differences -- would explain the 4 mpg fuel efficiency difference and (2) why would the 328i FAR exceed its EPA hwy estimate when the X1 only marginally exceeds it? Appreciate your thoughts. fwiw - With other cars I've owned, I've typically slightly exceeded EPA hwy numbers, usually by a mile or two, as with the X1. The 328, though, is the first car I've ever owned where I beat that number by almost 20%.

So many things--overall weight, transmission type, the way both vehicles interface with the wind, goes on forever.

If you are driving an all electric car and suddenly realize that you are 20 miles from home with only enough power to go an estimated 15 miles, what do you do? I know that I have been driving on the Interstate and realized I needed gas and the next exit (and possible gas station) was 10-15 miles ahead. But, with gas, there seems to be a quick way to fill the tank. Can you just swap batteries and be on your way or do you always need to wait for the car to recharge?

I assume you are referring to an all-electric? With plug-ins, the fossil-fuel generator extends your mileage. All-electrics require planning--knowing how far you can go Bbefore you leave.

Warren and Lou Ann: I have an '04 VW Passat 1.8T with 279,000 miles. Since January the check-engine light has been illuminated even though the car performs normally. Our mechanic, who has always done right by my family and me, says he has cleared the codes but the light remains lit. He's concerned the onboard computer (or whatever controls that light) might need to be replaced, costing several hundred dollars. He also says the car otherwise is in good condition. My wife will kill me if I put that much money into the car, but I hate to start making car payments again when it doesn't seem necessary. Have you heard of this problem with VWs and, if so, whether VW might be willing to help?

Yes, I've experienced that problem, often fixed by making sure my gas cap fit properly. Otherwise, take it to another technician. Have him/her check it out, again. If nothing is found, tape over the annoying check-engine light.

Warren, have you driven the KIA Cadenza? Any views on KIA's long term quality? Thanks

I'm driving it, now. It is an excellent piece in terms of fit. finish, drive feel. kia certainly can make a luxury car. But it is dogged by competitors, including models such as the Buick Verano.

I've got first world problems in spades. My commute just doubled in length and time and I'm stuck driving a 10 year old minivan after my protege5 was wrecked by a texter in a Jeep two years ago. So I'm in the market for a 5ish years or younger hatchback or wagon type car, but only want one with a stick shift because I despise throttle lag. I drove a non-ST Focus yesterday and absolutely loved the feel, but it's a little small and indulgent to play the family support role well (it'd be tight with two kids, two adults, and luggage). Are there any slightly bigger wagons available with stick shifts that are reliable and comfortable without breaking the bank? ($20-25k is a stretch for me so I'm leaning towards used)

Take a look at a late-model Hyundai Sonata, or Ford Fusion.

I've been looking for a small SUV (or SUV-like) vehicle. The Buick Encore and Ford C-Max Hybrid have been my favorites so far. Would you recommend either? What else should I test drive? (The looks of the latest RAV-4, CR-V, Equinox, and Terrain don't thrill me, but I might consider a gently used version of one of them from before their latest redesigns.)

I lean toward the Equinox. Disagree on appearance, although that is a subjective matter.

For 2014 Jeep is debuting new Cherokee. It is available with a 4 cylinder and V6. it will also be offered with various off road packages. clifton, VA

Thank you.

Since it seems to be electric car day, I'm wondering if, in your real-world tests of all-electric cars, you've gotten a feel for how much air conditioning or heater use reduces range. Many thanks.

Yes, and it is nothing surprising. Increased use of power consuming devices drains the batteries accordingly. So, you temper some of that. But better batteries are helping.

I find the buzz about electric cars to be very interesting. Given my driving patterns I would be a good candidate for one. But the big problem is that I live in a condo building so there's no way I would ever be able to install the charger in the garage. To me the electric car revolution will have a hard time getting going with no charging infrastructure available for people like me.

That is an infrastructure problem, a very real one, which will have to be addressesed if electric motoring is ever to become more than a niche reality.

Warren, What is your impression of the CVT that Nissan is using. I am considering one, but have read some horrible reviews and stories of people having multiple transmission replacements.

Nissan has perfected its continuously variable transmission (CVT). The rubbery feeel of previous models seems to be gone. Still, a CVT, primarily used to help improve fuel economy, probably won't please anybody wedded to traditionally geared transmissions.

If you trust your mechanic you don't need a 2nd opinion. It's time to seriously consider retiring the Passat. Spending serious money will only recur when other systems fail. You gotten your money's worth. Sorry, car payments maybe on the horizon. Problem is, modern cars have computers and the government is mandating more computers. Computers fail and can't be repaired. It's only going to get worse with mandated back up cameras, etc. If you need a camera you really shouldn't be driving. My Grand Cherokee has a back up camera and I still use the mirrors and look where I need to go. Clifton, VA

Thanks, Clifton.

If you own one than you should pay for the electricity you use to charge it. No free rides since building your EV did more environmental damage than 100 1970 big block Corvettes circling the beltway 24/7 for a month. An EV will never make up for the pollution they create since no amount of zero emissions will ever repair the initial damage.

Baloney. The simple truth is that we will have to use some form of electric or other alternative propulsion sooner or later.

I'm surprised that you recommended "taping over the annoying check engine light" vs. "take the car to a VW dealer and have them evaluate the vehicle." Neighborhood mechanics, while they may be great for routine problems and maintenance, often don't have the knowledge of a particular brand to be able diagnose and solve complex problems. Case in point: my 2006 Audi kept stuttering on acceleration. 6 trips to my neighborhood mechanic (who markets himself as a German car specialist) and nothing got fixed, but I spent a LOT of money on stuff that didn't need fixing. Finally got annoyed and concerned that I was going to end up stuck on a highway at midnight somewhere, and took it to the Audi dealer. Their tech diagnosed the problem in one 5-minute test drive, and it turned out that the problem was an aftermarket part that was installed by my "expert" neighborhood mechanic. If you really love your Passat, do yourself a favor and visit your VW dealer, don't just "tape over it."

No need to be surprised. I've done that on several occasions where no one could find a cause for the light coming on. Worked fine for three years.

Huh Why will we have to use EV or some alternative when our oil reserves in the US and off our coasts are great than Saudia Arabia and would provide enough oil to last well over a 100 years. a rational energy and foreign policy would see a gallon of regular gas cost $2.50 a gallon. Sorry Warren if all the vehicles powered by internal combustion engines magically became EVs tomorrow it would have no effect on climate change. A few billion Indians and Chinese polluting to max means anything we do is a waste.

Your belief in endlessly exploitable oil reserves are as suspect as the thinking of people who think there is no such thing as climate change. There is a global push for alternative propulsion...for a very good reason. Car companies worldwide have concluded that we can't burn fossil fuel forever.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please return next week, Have a good weekend, folks.

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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