Real Wheels Live

Sep 20, 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

It's been another whirlwind week for me. I want to introduce you to a woman I met in Frankfurt, GY. Her name is Alicia Boler-Davis. She is the Vice President of Quality and customer experience. She had dinner with 7 journalists and as I sat and listened to her I couldn't help but think of all of you that have had issues with dealers/manufacturers. She talked about the ways GM is changing the ways they communicate with their customers (they now have a chat box on each of their websites).

I can't say much about the Ram/Durango/Cherokee because the information is under embargo, but next week I'll give you some of my thoughts.

If you're looking for a C-segment sedan/hatchback drive the 2014 Mazda3 with skyactive technology.  Mazda started implementing the skyactive technology in the last generation, but the 2014 is even better.

And I finished off the week with the Cadillac CTS-V Sport. If you want a Corvette, but have to have 4 doors drive the CAdillac CTS-V sport. The two cars have the same technology in the suspension and it rocks!

Let's chat about cars

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Warren, rarely disagree with you, but a few weeks ago when I asked which car you would own if it was going to be your last I believe you opted for the BMW 328i. For three days I had a 328i as a loaner car from a dealer. While I was impressed with the power of the turbo four, I found it noisy with the radio off and very noisy when I stepped out of the car with the engine running. The steering had little road feel and the stop-start function shakes the driver and the whole vehicle. I am not sure I would consider it a real "drivers' " car any more.

Thanks for your note. My last experience in a 3-Series BMW wasquite enjoyable. Your experience proves that all 3-Series Bimmers are not necessarily the same. You are not alone. I've heard similar complaints.

My wife and I traded in our 2005 Buick Le Sabre for a 2013 Dodge Dart Limited six months ago. We have been very pleased with the value of the features that were standard on this car, including a power driver's seat in cloth instead of leather, and the U Connect with back up camera. I understand that Chrysler has decided to raise the price of the 2014 Dodge Dart Limited by making many of the optional features standard, including leather seats and sunroof. Does Chrysler realize that they are loosing potential older demographic customers in search of a comfortable vehicle at a reasonable price by loading the Dart Limited with these expensive options?

FRirst, I'm happy that you are happy with your Dodge Dart which, yet again, proves that individual experiences with individual cars vary. The Dart is one of my least favorite automobiles. The auto industry, including Chrysler/Dodge/Fiat, is rolling in profits nowadays and struggling to keep up with demand. Price hikes right along hereare inevitable.

I just bought a Camaro convertible. This is my 8th convertible but now I am having a disagreement with a co-worker who is also a convertible lover.  I was told that it can damage the top if you raise and lower it in weather below 60 degrees. Layers of rubber or vinyl within the top can be brittle when cold and will eventually crack. The other guy says this is nonsense and he rides with the top down in 40 degree weather. Am I being too cautious?

I'd say that you are being unnecessarily concerned. Those convertible tops have been tested and re-tested in all kinds of weather before they received the production go-ahead.

Do you have any feelings about this debate?:

There does need to be a standardization for testing vehicles and a standardization for advertising to the consumer about fuel economy.

Right now the EPA does not do "real world" testing. That means that some of the newest technology - such as start/stop - is not recognized. But as a consumer you will see better fuel economy numbers. If there is an improvement in fuel economy technology it should be recognized. It does make a difference to the people that are buying cars on this chat. One of the things you talk about the most is the price of gasoline and how much money you are spending on a car. Since gasoline is the biggest variable in how much you spend it makes sense that you would want to know how many miles per gallon you get.

California is asking DMV to investigate Tesla for deceptive advertising practices because of the way they advertise their cars

Comment: If you are looking at a new GM pickup or SUV, or if you happen to own one, take a look at the area between the two front seats. Would you want to give up the cubbies or the cup holders to make room for a floor shifter? Comment 2: Judging from what I've read so far about the new Impala, Chevrolet really paid attention to every suggestion and every critical remark about the outgoing model and did something about it. Kudos! Is Chrysler planning a "Ram Dakota"?

Many thanks. But Chrysler and rival car companies all seem to be shying away from small trucks for the U.S. market. But, based on what I've seen at auto shows in South America, they are all putting really nice small trucks into South America and Africa. They claim they can't make money on small trucks in the United States.

There is a BMW commercial on TV where the driver is careening around a curve and dodges a cow in the road. The driver makes no attempt to slow and the adoring passenger acts like it is wonderful. Keep up that kind of irresponsible driving in Northern Virginia and he will find out what $5,000 in front end damage looks like. And the deer weigh a thousand pounds less than that cow. My guess is that if the MB commercial where the girl chases a ball into the street and the car stops safely were done by BMW the driver would have swerved and gunned it, possibly blowing his horn. We don't need commercials which extol irresponsible, aggressive driving. We have far too much of it now.

I agree. There are other ways to show off the newest technology that will keep you, the car drivier, safe, but people react to fear and emotion.

If you can buy a car that will keep you out of an accident versus a car that keeps you safe during an accident which car would you buy?

Five years ago, when I got my smart fortwo, I like the price, gas mileage, and size of the car. I didn't like the noise and rattle it had. I would also like a little more storage space in the trunk. But, as I am in the market for a new car, I am torn. The smart fortwo fits easily into my garage, it is easier to find street parking in DC, and it can fit next to the guy in the SUV that parked over the line between two parking spaces. I don't need a big car, I have a 50 mile round trip commute every day and I don't have to worry about taking the kids or dog anywhere. I just can't see myself needing a big car. Is there another small car that gets good miles but is quiet inside? Something that can accelerate from 0 to 55mph in a reasonable amount of time for merging into traffic? Did I mention that I like small cars?

Take a look at the Chevrolet Spark and Fiat 500. Keep in mind that road noise tends to increase as vehicle weight and size decreases. Smaller cars generally are noisier. It's a tradeoff:--small equals better fuel economy and urban maneuvrability, but also, generally speaking, more noise.

It seems like 3 of the past 5 times I got a rental from the company that provides rentals while your car is in the shop, the rental car had less than a quarter tank of gas. I think two of them had fewer than 100 miles. That only makes me think that these companies send the cars out with the gallon of gas from the factory. People only refill the tank to replace the gas they used. Since my daily commute is 50 miles a day, the first thing I need to do is to stop by the gas station and fill the car with gas. What happened to the rental companies that gave people cars with a full tank or at least 3/4 of a tank of gas?

Good question. Perhaps, they are responding to rising gasline prices by not filling--or underfilling--gasoline tanks. On the other end, rental customers are doing the same thing by returning vehicles with low fuel.

But...rental companies charge you extra when you return vehicles needing fuel. So the rental companies really have no excuse.

Warren and Lou Ann, Could you share any thoughts on the Subaru Tribeca? Our family (two adults and two kids under age of seven) has been happy with our Outback wagon, especially for our winter weather challenges. But perhaps once or twice a month, we could use a third row of seats, for taking around other kids on brief trips. Unfortunately, it seems the RAV4 no longer has a third row option. At the same time, something like an Enclave just feels too big for our needs (and might not fit our garage). And I just can't see spending the extra money for an Acura MDX. We're pretty short (all of us under 5'7"), so leg room is not a pressing need. One thing I'm curious about: what difficulties could result if Subaru discontinues the model? We tend to own cars for a long time, so resale is less important. But reliability and safety are top concerns. Separately, have you heard anything about the quality of after market cameras for reversing? As I understand it, the Hyundai Santa Fe does not have a camera option. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

If Subaru discontinues the Tribeca that is not a problem, they will still have parts at Subaru dealerships to take care of you.

I think one of the most important parts of a long-wheel base, 3rd row, is a back-up camera with sensors. I have sent a note to Hyundai to ask them if they do have a camera option for the long-wheel base. I would be surprised, and dissapointed it they didn't. I would ask that you also get sensors on the back-up camera that make a noise if there is something in the way.

Just like seat belts, we can all get a little careless occasionally and not put our seat belt on immediately, but that warning sound reminds us to do it.

With a back-up camera you can look in the camera but the instant you take your eye away a child with a ball might come behind you. The noise tells you to look again.

I just heard from Hyundai and they said they will have the camera in the 2014 models. I will let you know about the sensors. says it best. To paraphrase, the Subaru Tribeca has a few good things going for it, but most other mid-size crossover utility vehicles are better choices. That model never has sold well. I don't think Subaru--Fuji Heavy Industries--will lose anything by dropping it.

You have both mentioned mazda "skyactiv", as if that was "a" technology. It's a marketing term. All car companies are progressing on lighter weight/more efficiency etc. Mazda may be doing a fine job in their combined efforts, and so are other companies. But it's not helpful to use their marketing term as if it's a real world noun. If Chevy said their increased efficiency was due to "HeavenFlow" technology, I would expect you to translate that as more turbocharging or aluminum body panels or whatever the actual changes are.

Each company has their own term for many technologies. Skyactive technology is Mazda's term.Since Audi, Ford etc have their own name, Mazda has their own name, but it basically means better fuel economy and higher performance. For 2014 Mazda3 will have an exhaust manifold that's completely integrated into the block that makes it even more efficient.

Not me.

I've always described Mazda's "Skyactiv" as a marketing rubric describing the companies combanination of weight reduction, drivetrain improvement and fuel economy technologies.

Ah come on its a TV commercial and I am sure BMW and their advertising agency tested it before it it the tube. Clifton, VA

Good Morning Clifton,

Just because it is tested before it goes on television doesn't mean anything. Look at all the junk that goes on television these days.

There are people out there that don't want to think about these things. Animation might be better.

Which of the Detroit automakers do think is making the greatest improvements in quality? By that I mean primarily reliability, but also fit and finish and related factors.

They are all making measurable improvements. It's a hot race, which means no one is falling behind.

Have you had a chance to drive the new 2014 Buick LaCrosse? If so, would you purchase the LaCrosse over the Toyota Avalon?

Yes and Yes. It would all depend on the dealoffered inasmuch as the two cars are so close together in quality and reliability.

Day before yesterday I was stopped at a light next to an AMG 63, and notice that it had stop/start technology. I realize that this saves fuel, but I wonder what it does to the service life of the starter. I assume that the average service like of a starter has not greatly increased in the past few years, which means that anyone who owns a vehicle with Stop/Start technology will need to replace the starter somewhere in the 5-7 year time frame. Have manufacturers redesigned the engine bay to enable easier access to the starter for replacement? Or are vehicles owners looking at 3-figure repair bills when the starters die?

You are right, but there are auto suppliers that have thought of this. Bosch has worked on this. Bosch has incorporated a temperature unit in a sensor that is directly on the negative post of the lead acid battery so that the sensor can measure volt, temperature and current. The Start/stop function puts more pressure on the battery. All the technology in a car puts more demand on the battery.

What is the benefit of this sensor?

Does the sensor mitigate the demands on a start/stop?

I've been spending time with Valeo, Bosch, Conti and other suppliers who are developing start-stop technology. Based on what I've learned, they all have looked at and improved the reliability of starters used in that technology.

A friend of mine is about to close a deal on a MB GLK 250 BlueTec. Just for grins, I went to the MB web site and built one. even though the starting price of the GLK 250 BlueTec is $41K and change, MB wants to charge customers just under a grand to get heated, power adjustable seats. Even worse, a customer has to spring for a 4-figure option package to get blind-side monitoring. Outrageous! All I can say is that Daimler Benz better be ready to have their lunch eaten when someone like Hyundai puts a diesel in an SUV.

John Krafcik, President of Hyundai Motor America, has said before that some of the Hyundai cars, Equus, Genesis, are reaching into the luxury cars and getting conquests from them.

You are right.

An inline 6 cylinder engine is the smoothest engine configuration out there currently. Even V12s aren't as smooth. An inline 4 cylinder is going to be significantly rougher in comparison. You aren't usually going to get BMWs best with a service loaner unless your sales person is trying to sell you a new one and you might get the latest and greatest 7 series etc. Back 20 years ago the typical service loaner at my BMW dealer was 8yo 535i. Clifton, VA

Thank you.

Lou Ann, The commercial was tested and it scored with its target audience. The OP wasnt in the target audience obviously. Come on it would be like a vegan watching a commercial for Peter Lugar's where they show the steak being cut off the roast and then grilling it. Its all about target audience. BTW BMW's marketing has been awful for the last 20+ years on and off. Clifton, VA

A vegan will never eat a piece of beef, but a Hyundai car buyer might buy a BMW. I disagree, BMW has done some great long videos.

Warren - Why is the Dart among your least favorite?

I drove the initial run of Fiat sposored DodgeDarts. The car struck me as being an unhappy amalgam of things Fiat and Dodge. I did not like it one bit. Felt cheap, too.

Have you reviewed the new Chevy with stop/start-if so what did you think of this mechanization?

Yes, and I think GM sto be congratulated for mass-marketing this important, urban motoring fuel-saving technology.

Warren, Chrysler/Jeep is falling behind because Fiat doesnt have the money to spend on good R&D and quality. Your good buddy Sergio wants all of Chrysler as soon as possible so he can start raiding the Chrysler coffers. Spend some time reading the and and you see all the little quality problems along with big quality issues Jeep is having because of Fiat. Fiat has never built a vehicle that Consumers Report would give anything but black circles to. Clifton, VA

I disagree, based on drives of all Chrysler/Dodge trucks and sedans, which are competitive with anything in terms of overall quality. You just don't like or trust Sergio.

Lou Ann here:

I just drove the Jeep Cherokee and I disagree as well. Remember, forums are based on people who have Jeeps. They are not based on the newest Jeeps. Some of these people could have Jeeps that are 12 years old, long before Sergio took over.

Until a car company figures out how to get a guest appearance from the GEICO camel, their commercials will not be memorable.

There are a couple I've liked that are just fun -  the British are coming/the Italians are coming from Fiat. The Audi versus MBZ, old spook versus new. They're fun, they show off new technology, no one gets hurt.

Warren, Price a Jeep Grand Cherokee with the diesel option and you can only get it with Limited package and on up and certain options are mandatory. Diesel option cost can vary from approx $5k more to over $8k. Clifton, VA

Okay. I will checkk and I suggest you all do the same.

Whatever else we can say about Fiat, we should be grateful that they haven't tried to export their Berlusconi model to North America. It lightens your wallet every time your drive it, and the engine makes a horrible "bunga-bunga" noise.


Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you Matthew Monahan, Lou Ann Hammond,Michelle Dawson and Ria Manglapus for all that you all do. Eat Lunch. Have a great weekend.

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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