Real Wheels Live

Aug 26, 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

Another couple weeks of crazy travel for me. But I got to spend a couple days with my big buddy Warren. Finally!

But first I headed off to Korea with Kia Motor Company

In July, 2011 the Hyundai group was only 7,000 units away from beating the Chrysler group in sales. The Chrysler group consists of Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Fiat and Jeep. Hyundai consists of Hyundai and Kia.

Kia is bringing out new, and refreshed, product. The 2012 Kia Soul will have a new engine and refreshed styling. The 2012 Kia Rio will be the first Kia car in the United States to have a gasoline direct injection (GDI) with idle stop and go technology (ISG), commonly known as start-stop. Both of those cars are inexpensive and will get 35 miles per gallon and 40 miles per gallon respectively.

Kia has been the Korean supplier of military vehicles for the past thirty years. Kia also supplies countries like the Philippines and Indonesia with their military vehicles. Interestingly, Kia used to be number one in consumer sales in Syria. When I asked Hank Lee, Vice Chairman and CEO of Kia Motors why he didn't sell military vehicles to Syria Lee said that Kia would not sell military vehicles to Syria, that Kia/Korea is an ally of the United States.

In Korea the average GDP per person is $20,000. In America our average GDP is $40,000. In Korea the average gallon of gasoline is $8 a gallon. In the United States a gallon of gasoline will cost, on average, under $4 a gallon.

Washington DC: earthquakes, Volkswagen and Martin Luther King memorial

What's up with this? I come to visit Virginia, from California, and you guys have an earthquake! The funniest part was we were using the Breaux winery as the staging site to test the 2012 Volkswagen full line-up of cars. As the earthquake was happening I said we were having an earthquake. A friend from New York said, "We don't have earthquakes out here. You have them in california"

And can I just say, your congestion on your freeways looks like California also.

Aside from all that, we had a great day. Volkswagen presented the Martin Luther King memorial with a million dollars. I video'd Warren speaking with Jonathan Browning, President and CEO, Volkswagen of America, and Harry E. Johnson, Sr., President and CEO of the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation.

I like the video because it talks about how much the car companies did to help the freedom of mobility, the freedom to dream. But it also talks about how African Americans left the South to go North to work. Warren made a good point: maybe with car companies creating jobs in the South some of those folks can come back home.

Cars I've driven

I drove the Volkswagen Passat for a week at the house. The Passat is made in Chattanooga, jobs for the South. They did a great job on the car. I like it and think it beats the Honda Accord. I haven't driven the new Toyota Camry yet, but that will be the test.

Then I got the Dodge Avenger. The basic theory of the Avenger I like, a four door sedan for under $23,000 that gets 31 miles per gallon on the highway. There are many Dodges I like, the Avenger is not one of them. I poked the panel on the console and the plastic piece went in. The interior fit and finish is yesterday. I did like their new audio system much better than the previous system. Chrysler has had its hands full, they will be upgrading the interior on this as well.

Once again, thanks for having me join you. Let's get down to some of your questions.

Hyundai Elantra Limited? Honda Fit? Nissan Juke? Nissan Sentra? Ford Fiesta? Don't drive that much, but when I do, it's a lot of city streets. Also, do you know when the 2012 Fit will arrive? And, is there a difference in the sheet metals being used in say, the Hyundais vs. the Hondas? Would a Hyundai rack up more dents than a Honda?

The 2012 Fit should arrive in the fall. Pun intended, it's a nice fit for city driving. But so is the Elantra. The Nissan Juke is more than you need, unless you are carting a Chocolate Labrador around. Quality in all cases is comensurate.

A month ago one of your fellow readers complained about Hyundai. I forwarded that information to Hyundai. I just received an email from her saying that Hyundai had helped her with her issues in buying a car and "I was never really leaning towards a Hyundai, but I've been very impressed with my recent interactions with them and am going to take a closer look at the Sonata and Tuscon."


Hi Lou Ann and Warren!: I'm always really impressed by your technical knowledge of cars. It leaves me wondering if you've ever encountered situations where your knowledge is off-putting in an industry traditionally dominated by men. I (female) work in a field also typically populated by men, but thanks to the presence of women before me, I've never really noticed a severe gender gap. Have you ever had any uncomfortable experiences in your work because of your gender?


On a lighter note, we replaced our sedan with a Mazda 5 two years ago. We got the 5-speed because my husband loves a manual and is the primary driver in our household. I'm not sure I'm super crazy about driving a 5-speed regularly (especially in this traffic). But, it's a great car (not a minivan!!!) and is fun to drive (zoom zoom!). My husband is annoyed at me now, because on further contemplation and listening to Warren's input, I can't imagine ever putting our kid in that third row - it's SO close to the hatch. Thanks to you both for all your great advice and commentary!

You are right. The auto industry does have gender gaps, but not nearly as bad as they used to be, and it is because there are more women as auto journalist. When we women first started writing we had to write about horsepower and gear ratios. Then automobile articles started appearing in places other than automobile magazines and we were able to write more to a women's audience and what they cared about. I always try to think of women that have children and what it is like for them to drive a car with a bunch of kids in back of them.
I'm glad you love the Mazda 5 minivan. Love it as well. I would use the back row to put all my luggage in, or my dog.

Most interesting part of this is the scam some manufactures play. Vehicle comes with lets say 17" wheels and tires. You upgrade to the 19" wheel package for $2K. Now I seriously doubt the cost of the upgrade is anywhere close Warren and they keep the 17" wheels and tires. Audi, Acura, BMW. Mercedes, Lexus and expecially Porsche love to pull this on unsuspecting car buyers. Also remember especially in this area and the NE, the larger the wheel the smaller the sidewall. Smaller sidewalls mean less flex and over a pothole this could result in a bent wheel or blown out tire or both. Think Kenilworth Ave in DC or some of this area's other well maintained roads. A wider tire on a taller wheel changes the shape of the contact patch of the tire and never increases the total size of the contact patch. You were correct a couple weeks ago, Warren. Suggested reading by Carrol Smith Tune to Win, Prepare to Win and the rest of the series. Clifton VA

First, no one in the automobile industry is crazy enough to mess with Lou Ann. A few have tried. They paid the price. They won't do it, again. Most of us intelligent sorts happily recognize that she is what she is--darned smart, intuitive, a colleague who does her homework and always comes prepared. Which is why she is my partner in this business. I'm following my late Dad's advice to "stay with women who are smarter than you." I've been married to one, Mary Anne, for 42 years thick and thin. I've been working with Lou Ann for at least 15 of those years. No complaints here.

As for manual gearboxes: They make absolutely no sense to me in congested city traffic. Too much work. And they can be distracting. I'll take a good automatic in urban traffic anytime.

Thanks for the great information Clifton. Having experienced your roads and congestion Mon-Wed I can see all your points, and think they are good ones. Tires are not given the respect they should be given. I try to tell people - you wear different shoes in the summer then you do in the winter. Think of tires the same way.

I am taking a serious look at the 2012 Equinox. I am downsizing from my '02 TrailBlazer as I no longer need its size, towing capibility, or 4-wheel drive capability. Besides its other positive atributes, what is drawing me to the Equinox is its size. It seems to fit in the middle between small and mid-size crossovers. What other vehicles should I be comparing it to. I'd like to keep the price in the $30k range but am willing to go to $40k for the right vehicle.

You are looking at the Equinox for all of the right reasons. As for others, there are the usual suspects: The Honda Cr-V, Toyota Rav4, Ford Escape. You might also add the Kia Sportage to your list. That Soportage is worth the look.

You've mentioned your concern about third-row seats in vehicles like suvs and minivans and their proximity to the back of the vehicle, but struck me the other day that a Chevy Venture minivan had rearmost seats in about the same relative position as its parking-lot neighbor, a VW Tiguan (with 5 seats). Same with a Mazda 5 and a Nissan Versa hatchback. Is there really something to be concerned about here? Along those lines, and exploring the market for a large-ish vehicle with a seven seat option for occasional use, is there any benefit in a rear-end collision to a frame-based construction (like, say, a Pathfinder) as opposed to a car-based crossover like the similarly-sized Highlander? If there were, is that worth other handling compromises that might make the Pathfinder worse in other situations? Curious to hear your thoughts and look forward to your identification of the vehicle that does everything and compromises nothing! Thanks.

I don't like third-row seats, regardless of the vehicle in which they are found. I see the third-row seat as a marketing exercise that offends physical common sense. Do I have documented proof? No. Not yet. But here's the deal: Those seats usually are reserved for the smallest, most vulnerable passengers--the children who can fit into them. Those seats are very close to the rear hatches. Car companies argue that the crush structure of their vehicles mitigates danger to third-row passengers. Maybe. I'd hate to see them proved wrong. But their argument frequently is absent one big if: IF THE THIRD-ROW PASSENGER IS PROPERLY SECURED- BUCKLED. That's a really big "if." I'm sure there are leagues of product liability lawyers out there keeping an eagle eye on that 'if."

Did the Koreans say anything about having a small roadster in the pipeline?

Yes, first I asked the question just the way you asked it and when I got to the part "and will Americans be able to fit in it" they laughed.

Then they said no, they had no plans for a roadster at this time. Why did you ask? Did you hear a rumor?

Good morning, dear hosts! My wife just got a job where she's now travelling over 100 miles/day, but not an actual commute (think sales). North-central Pennsylvania with it's mountains, snow, badly-maintained roads, you get the point. She insists--and I concur--on all wheel drive. Unfortunately--and I disagree--she wants no parts of a Subaru. What are our options? Thanks!

I'm with you. And this is for your spouse: Subaru vehicles, as currently presented, are not sexy, hip. They loudly proclaim you as an adult with responsibilities. As I said, not too sexy. Very Mom-car like. Big deal. We keep a Subaru Outback at our house in Cornwall, N.Y. We do it for a reason. Winters are hard up there. Lots of snow and ice. Lots of foothills. In our experience, Subaru beats all other vehicles--and we drive many--in handling those unpleasant conditions. We can worry about personal image after we safely arrive home.

It must be true, I read it on the internet! I saw this rumor a few weeks ago an a site I have since forgotten.

I'm glad you asked and we confirmed for now they are not going to produce a roadster. But, they are showing a rear-wheel drive compact at the Frankfurt auto show. Both Warren and I will be at the Frankfurt auto show so if you have questions about the show start asking now so we can ask them in Frankfurt.

Good morning Warren and Lou Ann: Which automobile company do you think does the most effective job of advertising their product on TV and in print, and does it surprise you to see Chrysler take what seems to me to be the high road in creating commercials that make you think about their product as well as the automobile industry in the U.S.?

The most effective job overall is done by Hyundai--emphasis on product attributes and value, evident concern about what the consumer might think, want. Among the domestics, Ford and Chrysler are leaders. Ford smartly puts emphases on product attributes and isn't afraid to brag when it thinks it is offering a better product than the competition. Ditto Chrysler, which is emphasizing product attributes, quality--and the simple fact that its products are designed and made by Americans. I like that. Chrysler isn't telling you to buy its products because they emanate from Detroit. It's telling you that those products are worth buying because they are made well. Congrats to Chrysler! GM, on the other hand, needs to fire ALL of its outside advertising agencies. They don't know what they are doing, which is sad, because GM has darned good products.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann I am looking for a vehicle that will be about half commuter car (30 miles round trip) and half more remote driving (cabins, woods, camping, yadda x3). Normally it will only have 3 passengers in it, so I don't need a big vehicle. Do you have any suggestions for a such a utilitarian kind of vehicle?

Lots to look at, primarily in the compact SUV/Crossover utility category. That Mens Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V. Kia Sportage, Ford Escape. Please let us know what you decide.

You got carried away bloviating again and did not answer the question.

I will blovate less than Warren.

She is wrong. Subarus are some of the best all-wheel drive vehicles around. But no is no. So, other all-wheel drive vehicles;

BMW 335i xDrive
Ford Fusion
Volvo S60
Ford Taurus
Acura RL
Buick LaCrosse
Acura MDX
Ford Edge
Infiniti G37x
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Volkswagen Tiguan

Hyundai Tucson

Kia Sportage

Nissan Xterra

Is it just you and your wife? Does she want a car or SUV/CUV? Narrow it down for me.

I was not bloviating. I answered the question. Subaru makes more sense for what you said your wife wants to do, whether or not she likes or wants Subaru. It's the same as in prayer: God gave you your answer. You didn't want to hear it.

Options: any Jeep or all-wheel-drive version of the Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage--none of which, in my bloviated opinion, has a better or more reliable all-wheel-drive system than Subaru. The choice is hers/yours. Just remember to check out winter tires. Feel free to contact us after the first major winter storm.

Who do you think will be worse... the Saudis or PEPCO? I'd love to get an electric car but I fear that the cost of electricity will spike after electric cars get past the early adopter stage. With a gas powered car, at least you have the option of getting your gas across the street or across the Potomac if your local gas station is sticking it to you.

Two options:

1. Buy a Ford Focus EV for about $20,000. They have struck a deal with Sunpower that allows you to get 2.5 kw (3,000 watts annually) of solar panels for $10,000! That's after federal credits, but before state and county credits, so check your state/county for additional credits.

2. Buy a Chevy Volt. Find out if your local Chevy dealership is going to be one of the dealerships that get a solar canopy that will allow you charge your EV car for free (and it's not just the Volt, it's any EV car). In either case, with the Volt you can use electricity or gasoline, whichever is cheaper.

Why does your review always say the the transmission can be shifted manually? That's been possible with most every automatic transmission ever built. Now, if you mean you can shift it from the steering wheel, that's another thing entirely. But, just to say it can be shifted manually sounds like something a fourth grader would write. Pay some attention to what goes into the nuts and bolts.

Sometimes, Fourth Graders make more sense than adults. For example, you can have a strictly automatic or strictly manual gearbox. But, at least since 1997, you can also have an automatic transmission that can be operated much in the manner of a manual gearbox--and it does not really matter where the shift levers are placed. It sometimes makes sense to pay attention to Fourth Graders.

What's the current status of Saab. Is the company dead in the water? I love my 2008 9/5 wagon.

The latest word is that Saab is seeking bank protection from creditors. It doesn't look good. Saab's dealers worldwide are upset because they have not been receiving new products. They haven't been receiving new products because Saab's suppliers have withheld supply shipments until Saab pays them amounts due. The company is cash strapped with no white knights in sight.

Measure from the rear bumper in 24" and this is the rear crush zone. It begins to deform at speeds above about 18mph. Do you really want a family member sitting there? Warren your lovely daughter, the attorney, if she litigates could make enough money in just a few years to retire. Clifton, VA


Lou Ann, in your last visit here, you mentioned you were slated to drive the new model year's Buick Regal. Have you gotten behind its wheel yet? Is this car a worthy option for a Saab refugee?

I just drove the Buick Regal GS yesterday. I will report on it next time (in 2 weeks). But...

I didn't think of Saab when I drove the Regal, but you are right, the Regal is a 4-banger and now they have a turbo version.

I'm sorry to say that Saab may be going to metal heaven. I had high hopes for Victor Muller reviving it. :(

I liked the Regal GS. It's competitors would be the Audi A4, Acura TSX, Volvo S60, Lexus IS 250 and Infiniti G25.

The Buick Regal GS is the upscale version of the Regal, completing the line-up of Regals for anyone who ever wanted a Regal in any color or configuration. First you have the Buick Regal 2.4-liter that gets 180 horsepower and 19 city/30 miles per gallon for $26,670. Or for $2,000 more you can have the 2.4-liter Buick Regal e-assist with a 15-horsepower electric motor that gives you 25 city/36 highway miles per gallon. Add $860 for destination.

You can upgrade to a Buick Regal turbo for $29,875 (plus $860 destination) that will give you 220 horsepower. The manual transmission gives you 20 city/32 highway miles per gallon, or you can get the automatic transmission, for the same price, that gives you 18 city/28 highway miles per gallon. But the grand poopa, the Papa Bear of Regals is the Buick Regal GS.

The 2012 Buick Regal GS Ecotec 2.0-liter turbo engine delivers 270 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 295 lb.-ft of torque at 2,400 rpm. EPA says the fuel economy is 19 city/27 highway miles per gallon, using premium gasoline. The base MSRP is $35,310 (including destination), fully loaded will cost you $38,650.

Warren here: Just finished driving the new Buick Regal T, six-speed manual, a lovely Opel in GM clothing. A better-than-substitute Saab substitute.

Do you mean the Taurus X?

all of the cars mentioned were all-wheel drive versions.


You left out the most important spec. How many cup holders? I gotta have lots of cup holders.

Are you trying to be funny? I haven't mentioned cup holders in nearly a decade. Be advised that almost all vehicles sold in the United States have enough cup holders to keep you and at least four passengers peeing for days.

I stopped looking at Subaru when a friend got a flat tire and HAD TO REPLACE ALL 4 TIRES because having 1 new and 3 used tires would ruin their AWD system. I don't want a car that costs $600 if I get a flat.

This is not a normal occurence for all-wheel drive cars. How worn were the tires?

On the Subaru tire replacement story: That smells and sounds fishy. Clifton, if you will, plase chime in on this. I think somebody has given the affected Subaru owner a lot of baloney. Let's say you are driving a new Outback. You deflate the Outback's front tire. You replace that tire with a tire identical to the new tires on the other three wheels. I fail to see how that could possibly affect the cars all-wheel-drive system. Clifton?

After much research, my husband and I have decided we want to buy a Toyota Tacoma (we are moving to the mountains and plan to tow a small camper). I figured we'd buy used, but the difference between a used Tacoma and new is only a couple of thousand dollars, so I wonder if it's worth it to get the new one? The reason I think--we need a 4x4, and it seems like the only used Tacomas available are 4-door. We really only want and need an access cab. Do you have any thoughts of whether its worth it to get the slightly more expensive new truck with an access cab, or the slightly cheaper used truck with the crew cab?

I would approach your research as follows:
Weight of "small camper" with likely configuration
Towing weight capacity of considered vehicle
Torque, torque, torque comparison of considered vehicles - and not just torque but where the torque starts. The Cadillac SRX just changed their torque from 5,600 rpm to like 1,800 rpm and smoothed it out all the way through and it is a beauty to drive. You can't pull without good torque, no matter how much horsepower you have.
Four wheel drive
Number and kind of doors (crew cab vs others)

I didn't say you were bloviating, that was another chatter. We already have a Ford Freestyle AWD which she's come to love, but we're already racking the mileage up on that. We'd be replacing a 2001 Mercury Sable LS and keeping the Freestyle, so we don't need another hauler; sedan is preferred. Thanks again for your input!

My apologies for bloviating on the allegation of bloviation. I'd still check Subaru products, something smaller than both the Legacy and Outback.

Who drives a car at 5300 rpm? What's the real horsepower in the rpm range most people drive.

From 2,300 to 3,700 you have 95% of your horsepower

When do you get to take a look at the new Camry?

In a few weeks, as well as a host of other Toyota products. I'm looking forward to it. The new Camry America is an important car for Toyota's bid to keep the sales crown for mid-size family sedans in this country. And congrats to Toyota for being smart enough NOT to dismiss the effectiveness of Chrysler's America-centric commercials.

Aren't you courting a lot of people who don't know anything about gear shifting to go out and trash their automatic transmission?

Not at all. Presumably people who are intelligent enough to have earned the median $28,000 or so it takes to buy a new car nowadeays are also intelligent enough to know that they've bought a strictly automatic, strictly manual, or "manumatic" or "auto/manual" gearbox. And, certainly,  I would expect the selling agent to know and explain the difference.

The CRV and Escape will be all new for 2012 so you mught want to wait. CRV more interior room and better fuel mileage. Escape finally 4 wheel disces and more swoopy styling Clifton VA.

You might want to wait only if your dealer is NOT offering you a better financial deal on current models. If you are getting a better deal on the older models, buy. The new models are not all that terribly different. Four-wheel disc brakes are recommended here. But front-discs/rear drums work well, too. You know that, Clifton.

Scam there shouldnt be enough difference in the overall wheel and tire diameter from bald to brand new to make a difference. Probably same difference as running at car makers psi for the car and tires and the max inflation pressure in overall diameter. Now you use quarter not a penny to check tread depth. You dont pinch pennies on tires. The ebst tires based on overall quality and QC are Michelin, then Toyo, Yokohama, Bridgestone, then another step Pirelli, Continental, and then s ginicant step below these Goodyear and Firestone and then the Chinese.

I agree - there could be a questionable business transaction there.

Most importantly "You dont pinch pennies on tires."

They got your business the first time, shame on you if you give them more.

Thanks, Clifton, for the tire replacement answer. It sounded like a scam. Thanks, again.

For the rest of you, please come back next week. Thanks, Dominique, for your production efforts. Thanks to you, Lou Ann, for your always fine contributions to these chats. And, as always, thanks to you, Ria, for keeping the cars moving in the right direction--and always on time. (And congratulations to the mighty Q, Ria's youngest son, for his latest tennis championship win!)

Time for lunch.

Happy birthday, Liz Fetter. Exactly, der, how old is that?

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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: