Real Wheels Live

Sep 23, 2011

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

Past Real Wheels Live Chats

We're back from Frankfurt. I drove an Audi TT RS, Chevy Sonic and a Toyota Plug-in this week. Ask me questions about them.

Dear Warren, Why are the American versions of cars typically feature a larger engine than the European ones? For example, the European Focus features a 1,600cc /150hp/177ft-lbs engine (or even smaller ones), while the American Focus features a 2,000 cc/160hp/146 ft-lbs engine. The European Focus goes 0-60mph in 8.6 sec, as fast as the American one, but it seems quite less thirsty (30/38/46 vs. 27/31/37mpg). The same can be said about many other cars: e.g., the European Mazda 5 has a 2,000cc/147hp engine, while the American M5 has a 2,000cc/157hp entgine. Thus, the former makes 25/34/41 mpg and the latter 21/28. The European Yaris 1,300cc/100hp (or smaller), the American Yaris 1,500cc/106hp. the former makes 36/45/51 mpg, the latter 30/38.). Part of the difference in economy may be due to different testing procedure, but still....

Europeans have been forced to accept the reality of expensive, limited-supply gasoline. Gasoline is taxed higher than diesel, which is 30 percent more efficient than gasoline in terms of power produced per unit burned. As a result. European consumers see value in purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles. America will follow, sooner or later.

I'm making my first foray into the luxury vehicle market. Looking for something fun to drive as I make my daily 45 minute to an hour commute into the city (no highways). I've narrowed my choices to the Infiniti G35 or Audi A4. Which do you prefer?

Both are great vehicles, but I don't like CVT on either. That leaves you with a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic on the Audi.

It's a tie in my mind. But I prefer the sassier styling of the G35.

Thanks for taking my question, Warren. I have been living car-less for about a year now (live in Bethesda, work downtown, don't mind walking/biking where I can), but I'd like to go back to having a car and am looking at buying something used. I know some people looking to unload a very low-mileage 2004 Acura TSX and they've made me a very good offer, but I think I might want something more versatile-- since I'm commuting via metro and will only use it for errands/activities, I'm more concerned with maximizing utility over mileage, etc. To that end, what are your thoughts on the Honda Element? There doesn't seem to be much middle ground in opinions on it. It's either a really useful, versatile car, or really dumb. Sure it's weird looking and mileage isn't great for its size, but I like the overall very short length combined with a lot of space to put things-- almost 1 foot shorter than the CRV by comparison but with even more cargo volume. I'm fairly active and would like to be able to just throw my bike in the back or sleep in it on an overnight trip, or also throw in some lumber and hardware form home depot for a weekend project. Thanks

The Honda Element, I think, is now out of production. But you can still find good, used copies at outlets such as Carmax. It's a good, versatile, reliable vehicle. Nothing sexy about it. So, what? It's like a good marriage. It works.

The Mazda 5 makes a good case for a people mover without the fat of typical minivans, but falls short on fuel economy, which isn't much better than theirs. Did Mazda reveal any plans at Frankfort to infuse the 5 with Skyactiv technology to address that shortcoming?

I'm going to a skyactiv technology workshop in October.

In Frankfurt Mazda showed the CX-5. The European market will get the SkyActiv G (gasoline engine) or the SkyActiv D (diesel engine).  There will be two transmissions available; the SkyActiv Drive automatic and the SkyActiv MT six-speed manual.

America will get  the 160-hp SkyActiv G engine here, along with both transmissions. I don't know if they will offer the diesel engine in America.

Do you have any updates regarding your broken Ford watch?

Yes. The Ford Lifestyle people are shipping me a new one Sept. 26 or thereabouts. I'm returning the defective one via mail the same date. They were quite agreeable to an exchange and quite helpful in bringing it about. All retailers should work that way. I thank Ford Lifestyle.

I'd also like to thank BMW. One of Washington Post's readers had a problem with their BMW and I sent them to BMW PR. They have been corresponding with him (and cc'ing me) and it looks like the problem will be solved.

The same for a Hyundai customer. It's nice to see.

Hi, Warren and Lou Ann: Hoping that there really is no such thing as a stupid question, I ask: Why isn't there a worldwide diesel standard so we can see more of the wonderful diesels available elsewhere? Are emissions standards that much tougher in North America than in the rest of the world, and are diesel engines that much more costly when manufactured for this side of the pond?

Your question isn't stupid. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing for our U.S. politicians and their continued unwillingness to come up with a national energy policy that makes sense, which is why most car companies are reluctant to introduce diesel in the United States. They want diesel regulations that consider advances in diesel technology. They would prefer a higher tax on gasoline, which is 30 percent less efficient than diesel. They would like politicians, such as Michele Bachmann, to stop promising the U.S. electorate $2 a gallon gasoline.

My husband and I have twin 13 year-olds. Our Dodge Caravan, bought when I was pregnant, is definitely showing its age and it's time to break down and get a new vehicle. The minivan is great -- we can pile in the kids and some of their friends and soccer gear, etc..and also convenient for our vacations - lots of room. However, my husband wants to downsize a bit to a small SUV, like the Honda CRV, for better gas mileage, etc. What do you think?

Or a smaller minivan with no loss of utility, such as the newest version of the Nissan Quest, Seats your kids and traveling elements of the soccer team. Parks easily. Gets about 20 mpg city and 29 mpg hwy. V-6 version has lots of zoom. But beware of options. They can cost you on this one.

I am in the market for a new car, but I have no idea whether I want another sedan or an SUV or even a Crossover type vehicle. I've been looking at cars online, but feel that I am going to need to test drive lots of cars to narrow my choices down. Any thoughts in particular of what I should take note of when looking at cars? I thought I'd make a list of items and use that list to evaluate the cars in a consistent manner. What would you include? and I suppose I'm looking for thoughts on the more intangible things rather than something like fuel efficiency.

You've got a lot of work to do before you step into a dealership. Please do this before you go to a dealership. Remember, your goal, and mine, is to make sure YOU get the car you want for the price you want.

Do you know your FICO score? I assume you're going to be financing, so find out your FICO score and talk to your bank/credit union and see how much you can afford.

Do you do a lot of city driving, or is it half and half? If it is mainly city driving you might consider a hybrid (they get better miles per gallon in the city). If not then you can go for an internal combustion engine.

Do you know where you are going, or will you want a NAV system? Don't forget you can buy an external NAV system that you can plug into a car, and take with you on vacations as well.

I am loving the new hatchbacks that are coming out now. I just drove the Chevy Sonic hatchback turbo for under $20,000 fully loaded and it was great.

Do a little more work, keep coming back to us as you narrow it down. While you're doing that start putting a monthly payment away so that you have a good down payment.


Good morning. Looking to buy a small/compact car with AWD, and the 2012 model seems to be superior to the current 2011 model. A local Subaru dealer is taking pre-orders of the 2012 Subaru Impreza at $250 over invoice. Any thoughts on the 2012 model, and any reason not to buy this and go with another make/model? What about the $250 over that a good deal? Thanks!

Impreza is a good subcompact AWD choice. Dealers have to make money to stay in business. $250 over invoice, if true, seems a good deal. That dealer obviously is trying to build customer loyalty and repeat business.

I am in love with the Copper Mini "S". Beyond fuel economy, I think they look cool, have great technology (iPhone sync etc.) and look like they are a lot of fun to drive. My concern is maintenance. How expensive is it to keep one these on the road for 100,000+?

There's a site that has a lot of information on MINIs. If you go to the bottom of that website you'll see faults and fixes, recalls etc.

Have you heard the start-up on these? I assume that they chose cartoon noises for a reason...

Car companies are doing this more and more. They want to make certain cars cult-like. The MINI is the best at organic cult status, but the Nissan Leaf has waves and other things they do to make all Leaf purchasers feel like they're part of the crowd.

You have been a big fan of the Honda CR-V. How does the 2012 version compare to the 2011? Are there any areas where it's been cheaped-out, as has happened with some other new models?

For good reason. The Honda CR-V sits at the top of the compact crossover utility segment in terms of overall design and quality, which is why it is the best seller in that segment. The new model, the introduction of which has been delayed by Japan's March 11 tsunami/earthquake, is sleeker, more coupe-like. Looks good. It will neither surprise nor offend CR-v loyalists.

Hi Warren - probably looking to replace my trusty 1998 Pathfinder SUV shortly. Saw the commercial last night for the BMW X5 diesel SUV and was smitten. Any early thoughts on it? Before I saw the commercial my thoughts were to go with the Audi small SUV or one of the Acura SUVs since Nissan SUVs are now much larger than I'm comfortable with. Thanks for any input.

X5 is bigger than X3, but if you want that much room X5 diesel would make sense. Also, the X5 is made in America, near you, in South Carolina.

I believe Audi is bringing a Q5 diesel and a Q5 hybrid to the market, so check those out as well.

I'm a bit confused by your question. BMW is planning to introduce its X5 ActiveHybrid ( 4.4-liter gasoline/electric V8 with variable valve timing) in the United States as a 2012 model. But diesel? My understanding is that that's still under discussion.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Hammond: Could you ask your GM colleagues when I'll be able to buy a Buick Regal / Regal Turbo / Regal GS station wagon? The Opel Insignia is available in Europe in this configuration. If I could buy a Cadillac CTS-V wagon (with manual transmission, no less), why can't I buy a Regal wagon? I'm interested in buying a car, not a car masquerading as an SUV. Thanks!

Yes it is, the Opel Insignia, available as a station wagon. We know because we both drove the Insignia OPC wagon, which GM, at this writing, has no plans tointroduce stateside---too bad. It's a beautiful, fun-to-drive machine. But the Regal GS should be coming out this fall.

Also think about how you want to use the car and what kind of driving you do. Do you frequently have to haul stuff? Do you have a wood stove or fireplace that requires fairly regular loads of firewood? Do you have a dog (or dogs)? How often do you drive, and how far do you drive when you do so? After doing what Warren has suggested, start researching the dealerships in your area and figure out which one has the best service department-- they are likely to also have the most reliable used cars (if you are considering used). Start there and see what they have-- all dealerships have websites with lists of inventory, so that's a great place to start. If you see something you like, PRINT OUT the online description and price and take it with you. Generally the best prices are online, and if you don't print it out you may find that the price on the window is somewhat higher than the one on the website. If you're not under pressure to buy something immediately, take your time. If you truly love your car, you won't mind making the monthly payments!

If you truly love your car, you won't mind making the monthly payments! - There is the key. Great advice.

Doing your homework so that you know what you can afford and what you want is the key to getting the car you love.


I'm hoping you can tell me if what I'm thinking about is even possible. I would love to buy a Mercedes E class, but not the ones they sell here. In Germany you can get an E220 (I think) diesel with 6-speed manual. Is it even possible to register such a car in the U.S. (specifically, Virginia)? It would be German-spec, i.e., speedometer and odometer in km rather than miles. But is the diesel one that would be allowed here, and would it run on the diesel fuel available in the U.S.? If yes, what kind of hoops would I have to jump thru to register it here? Vielen Dank.

The answer is yes. But you will have to jump through hoops. Check with your local EOA/DMV to see what type of environmental/safety fixes are needed to meet local laws. You might have to pay some type of retainer fee to a local agency assuring that the work is being/has been done. Other fees may apply.

Hello. My husband and I preordered the 2012 Subaru Impreza Sport last week. We got invoice price (plus the delivery fee), plus .9 financing, plus 2 year maintance/24,000 miles. There is also a Saburu-issued deal that gives you a choice of 5 or 6 options for preordering (including 500.00 in accessories, which is what we chose). I did a ton of research before chosing that particular dealer - many said they didn't have an deals available or that we couldn't even order it yet!

Thanks for that input.

Were there any new reasonably priced convertibles (under $40K) shown at Frankfurt?

Warren and I compared notes of the questions people had asked before we left and we had your question on the list.

I didn't see any convertibles that were new to the market under $40K. The VW Eos is already on the market.

Here are some convertibles to consider;

Audi A5 convertible

Audi TT convertible

VW Eos convertible

BMW 1-Series convertible

Lexus IS 250C convertible

Nissan 370 convertible

Volvo C70 convertible

To echo earlier commentators -- my wife and I bought a house last November right on the bus route to my office, so when my rarely-used car rarely dies I'd like to replace it with a compact diesel pickup. It looks like Mahindra isn't making it to these shores any time soon after half a decade of "maybe". What hope do I have and from whom?

Diesel pickup? Your best hope probably is from Nissan (in about two years) or Chrysler-Fiat (in about three). GM was showing of a concept version of the Colorado pickup in Frankfurt. If concept goes to production, it almost certainly will be sold as diesel in Europe. Slim chances for it coming to the Unites States, though.

BMW diesel X5 is available according to BMW website. Also a 335 in diesel. The commercial for it shows the X5. BMW website has MSRP of about 51,000 for X5. Since I keep cars a long time I'm wondering about thoughts on getting a diesel.

I have to check that. It certainly makes sense. I was bugging the BMW people about why they were selling that one in Europe with no apparent plans to market it in the United States. I guess they saw the light. Here's hoping.

Thanks for taking my previous question about the Regal. I've driven various versions of the Regal several times, but the one I haven't driven is the wagon. Could you please convey to GM that no Regal wagon means no sale for this consumer? Thanks!

Consider it done, again. Both Lou Ann and I bugged the GM-Opel people about this when we met with them in Russelsheim.

but we will send them this chat piece to remind them. :)

Hatchbacks and station wagons are back in, come on Buick.

Please consider this as a second to the motion of the earlier comment: No Regal Wagon means that I will take my business to another marque.

I'll send GM this second as well. :)In fact, I'll send it to Mark Reuss, current President of General Motors North America

Station wagons and hatchbacks are so versatile, they don't have roll over issues  like SUVs.

It's a no brainer.

Definitely would like to hear your take on the Audi TT-RS. Feedback I've read favors the DSG (automatic) over the 6-speed (manual), though only the 6-speed is coming to the US.

I could easily fall in love with that car. So sweet.It hugs the road like a vacuum cleaner.I'm good with manual, especially on a sportscar.

In Frankfurt Porsche showed the new 911 with a 7-speed manual transmission. I asked the Audi folks if Audi would get one. They wouldn't say, but Porsche is in the family, so...

I think it could use a 7-speed for fuel economy. Especially if you're going 75-130 mph, allegedly :)

Great car

With a base price of $56,850, that's a lot of money for a little car, even for an Audi with a 360-hp, 2.5-liter, inline 5-cylinder emgine. Fun-to-drive? Yes! Fun-to-drive more than 100 miles at a stretch? No. It's tight. Utility? Virtually none. This is a roadster. You buy it for hauling dreams and fantasies, not for hauling stuff.

Hiya Warren and Lou Ann--I recently purchased a 2011 Nissan Xterra, and the operator's manual said something along the lines of using (regular) unleaded gasoline with an octane rating of at least 87. It is the "at least" that threw me. Does this mean that Nissan recommends regular unleaded gas ? Does using a medium grade do anything for the car other than cost me additional money? What happens inside the engine when you burn higher octane gasolines ? Thanks a lot for doing these chats! I always learn something.

The manual might not have been for just the United States market. Other countries may have gasoline with lower octane levels.

Higher octane levels give better performance in many cars. Some car manufacturers say that the preformance comes at a cost to fuel efficiency, others say it doesn't.

Love the new Impreza and the Focus Hatches. The AWD in the Impreza most likely seals the deal. Have you driven both, and do either of you have a preference? Thank you.

Yes. And I, too, would go with the Impreza and its symmetrical AWD system.

Any thoughts on the Murano? I like the way it looks. Right now, I'm in a very low mile, mint condition 2003 Highlander and am getting bored. I know, it's not a great reason to buy a new car. But there it is.

The Murano is nice. A minivan by another name. Which is why, to me, the new Nissan Quest makes more sense. Check it out.

You wrote: "I am loving the new hatchbacks that are coming out now. " Oh, do tell! I've a C30 now, which I absolutely love but wonder sometimes what I'd move to if I needed a 4 door. There seem to be lots of small crossovers that kind of look like hatchbacks but that don't really have the drive and handling and reasonable size.

Okay, the Volvo C30 is a love of a car. But in your price range there have to be 35 hatchbacks. Two I can think of right now are the Mazda3 and the Volkswagen Golf. and I think the golf comes in diesel.

Hi Warren, What would you recommend for a reliable and fun mid-sized German-brand SUV?

My favorite, the Mercedes-Benz GLK.

I understand VW showed their Up concept (AGAIN!) at Frankfurt. Any idea when they are finally going to build it instead of dragging the concept cars to every car show in the world? That thing has been around for about 3 years already.

I think Volkswagen had SIX up! concept cars at Frankfurt. :)

Volkswagen Up!.Volkswagen e-Up!, Volkswagen eco-Up!, Volkswagen Up! Volkswagen cross Up!, and the Volkswagen GT Up!.

I heard the Up! was going to launch in 2013

VW. like everyone else in the industry, will make concept a reality as soon as they are convinced that doing so will yield profits instead of losses. I like the idea that VW is still playing with the Up. But here's betting that they are looking at that one for developing markets--Russia, India, Africa.

Warren, It seems like that are a lot of Rang Rover Sport on the road nowadays. I thought the brand has a poor record in term of relialbity rate. I recently tested one of out and it was incrediable in both handling and feels. Would you recommend one? Will a low mileage 2008 Range Rover Sport has many years of free of repairs?

Range Rover has had some reliability problems, mostly fixed. What bothers me is how RR misses the boat on simple stuff, such as automatic liftgates. The vehicle sits higher than most of us short people, which means we have to stretch our limbs to bring the liftgate down. Annoying. Otherwise, yeah, it is an absolutely great ride with great people backing it up when something goes wrong.  I like it.

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique, for another fine production; and thank you, Lou Ann, for your insightful contributions. Thank you, Ria, for everything. 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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