Real Wheels Live

Oct 07, 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

Both Warren and I drove the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque this week. Ask us about it. Since we talked last I have driven a Mercedes SLK 350 retractable hardtop convertibles, 2011 Acura TSX w/Tech V6, Volvo S60R and Jeep Patriot.

Most German cars (BMW and Benz) demand the use of premium fuels. Considering that the small gain in mileage verses increased cost why don't the firms give the consumer a break and lower the compression enough to allow the use of regular gas?

Your assumption is incorrect, probably stemming from the large number of high-performance German cars sent to and built in the United States. Most of the new cars built in Germany run on diesel, about 52 percent, I think. Most others use regular petrol. Premium fuel goes in cars with turbocharged, supercharged and other high-compression engines,

We find ourselves needing to buy a new car somewhat earlier than expected (the car to be replaced needs over 2k of repairs and is over 11 yrs old) and we are stuck between cars in the small CUV market. Thoughts on the following: Mazda CX-7, Volkswagen Tiguan, Acura RDX? The price differential between the Mazda and the other two is significant, but there are some things about it that are bothersome. Opinions? Suggestions? Help please!

I like the Mazda CX-7 and the Acura RDX. If the price is so different go with the Mazda.

Some time ago a reader submitted a question asking when you and your team would be updating your review of Lexus luxury cars. I am hearing so many great things about the LS460L, I am close to purchasing. I have two dear friends; one owns a 2007 LS460L and another a 2009. I watched the servicing and experienced the comfort, reliability and driving of both cars over time. They both have very good track records in all these categories. My other friends who own same year BMW and MB have more service issues than the LS. Of course the MS has the best ride and options, but for the money the LS comes out on top. What are your thoughts?

I love the Lexus. I have owned a LS400 since they came out and I can still set the bar on some cars against my 1993 LS400. And my 1993 LS400 still gets 20mpg and the only money I've spent on it is for minor issues.


I'm looking at new tires for my old car. TireRack found that some LRR tires gained almost 5% in mpg over O.E. tires, but I'm leery about giving up too much traction. Should I worry that LRR equates to diminished traction? They seem like opposites. If a few million motorists could switch to LRR when it's time, without jeopardizing traction and safety, that could amount to some serious national fuel savings and pollution reductions. Thanks! SpokaneMan

LRR, low rolling resistance tires, translate to less friction between tire and road, which usually means less traction inasmuch as traction and friction are mates. But all of the manufacturers of LRR tires insist that they have not sacrificed safety in pursuit of better fuel economy. We're also reminded that most cars nowadays have substantially improved, redundant braking systems. But I still worry about the overall safety of the LRR types. I'd rather spend more money on gasoline, as opposed to hospitals.

Warren, Have you had the opportunity to drive the new Mini Coupe? I test drove on a couple of weeks ago and loved it. We will be replacing our 2003 Mini Cooper S with a Mini Coupe. Thanks, Memphis

I'm just putting a video together about the mini coupe (will be on next week) . There is a review of the MINI on - bottom line, they loved it. It's small the way a mini is supposed to be and goes back to the elements of the mini that made it great.

Can I trust buying a Ford car, in particular a Taurus.

The Ford Taurus has been around forever, as has Ford. They are well positioned to be here for a long time to come.

Bottom line - yes, buy a Ford. If you like the Taurus buy it. Ford is coming out with great engines for fuel economy.

Hi, Warren. I'm the woman who wrote in last week asking for suggestions on a fun second family car. Thanks (and especially for the advice on negotiating for a loaner clause). You suggested a minivan, crossover or wagon, but the three models you listed were all minivans. We already have an Odyssey -- thanks to another suggestion of yours 3 years ago -- and you were right; it is super. However, we were hoping not to get another minivan. We need something that fits all three kids, but it does not need to be their primary transport vehicle and would like something a bit sportier and smaller. AWD is important. Any specific suggestions on the cross-over or wagon options? I like the look of the Toyota Venza. Or are the minivans so superior to cross-overs and wagons that you'd recommend we get a second minivan? Thanks again!

It's just that I think the minivans mentioned--Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey, Chrysle Town & Country (also sold, practically, as the VW Routan)--make more sense. Crossovers are a marketing answer to the question: How can we have fun in a minivan? The premise of that question is wrong. It should be: How can the people, who usually are family members, have more fun together in the minivan they share? The answer to that question cannot be found in steel, metal, plastic and rubber. But I'm sure the automobile industry bwill keep trying.

Have you looked at the Mazda 5? I love the way it drives and the design is beautiful - yes, on a minivan.

A few weeks ago, you wrote about your fondness for "automated manuals." How do you define automatic or automated manual transmissions? I think as automated manuals as transmissions with gears and automatics as transmissions with torque converters. Am I on the right track?

Yes you are spot on.

I am not a fan of CVT, continually variable transmission. It is brought out for fuel economy, for CAFE requirements. I much prefer a 6 or 7-speed automatic with manual. Look at the new Maserati 4.7 engine. I know it costs more than most of us can spend, but it's a great example of an engine with great capability and paddle shifters. I don't like the SLK 350 7-speed automatic. There is no subtleness in the software, which causes a lag from the time you press the pedal to the time the car moves. You really have to drive any car you are going to buy before you purchase. Take it on city roads and merge onto a highway. If you can take on a hill that will give you an idea of where the torque comes in.

My husband and I have been looking to buy a new Toyota Matrix for the last 6 months, but unfortunately we can't find one anywhere even remotely close to where we live (and the used ones are selling for more than they cost new). Toyota seem to have put out a limited number of 2011s and so far no 2012s. Any thoughts on where they're is headed with this model? And any other suggestions for us - we'd like something as reliable as a Toyota (we currently own 2 Corollas with 500k+ miles, combined), with gas mileage over 30, that comes in a manual, and has 5 doors. Under 18k new is a plus, too. Thanks.

Supplies of the Matrix wagon/crossover should be getting better right about now. The March 11 tsunami/earthquake in Japan literally shut down production of many Japanese cars, including those manufactured by Toyota. It has been a long stretch getting production back on track. But it now seems as though Toyota and its brethren manufacturers in Japan have turned that corner.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann, I'm considering a Passat for a new car, but I'm concerned because I seem to recall something about lesser quality parts (like drum brakes) on new 2012 VWs. Is it true that VW has tried to lower costs by using lesser quality features? Thanks

Not to worry. The 2012 VW Passat, assuming that you are looking at that one, is designed in Germany and manufactured at VW's new plant in Chattanooga. It has all-wheel-disc brakes (in the popularly equipped SE model). Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs with four-wheel antilock protection and electronic brake force distribution. Pretty safe. Standard braking fare on high-quality mid-size sedans. Some complaints about the lack of zoom in the Passat's standard 2.5-liter, 170-hp engine. But most of those gripes are coming from young atutomobile writers who have yet to change a diaper, pay a mortgage, scrap together a tuition payment...or worry about when a teenager is coming home from a party.

My owner's manual suggests using gas with an octane rating of at least 87. Most "regular" grade gas fits this bill. Are there any benefits to using a higher octane gas (e.g., better mileage, longer engine life, etc.) or would it simply be a waste of money? Thanks for all your help in these chats.

Higher octane gas gives a better acceleration. Having said that, better gasoline gives better acceleration. There are gas companies, such as Chevron and Shell (I'd say BP but I'm still upset with them over the Gulf spill) that put additives into their gasoline to give a better, cleaner burn. Even the Fiat 500 says they would prefer you use premium fuel. It may not make a difference in miles per gallon but it will make a difference in performance.

I'd really appreciate some thoughts on the Tiguan - it's probably our front runner right now, but due to short supply, we haven't actually seen one in the configuration we'd be likely to buy!

Not all Tiguan models are created equally. You can spend as little as $22,840 for a Tiguan S and get what amounts to an ordinary station wagon. You can spend as much as $35,930 and get a wagon/SUV/crossover that, in my humble opinion, makes more sense than a substantially more expensive VW Touareg luxury SUV. I'd probably buy somewhere in the middle of the Tiguan line and be happy.

Having a hard time deciding between the forthcoming VW Golf R or the Mini John Cooper Work Hatch. Any opinions? Maybe one I'm forgetting to include on this list?

I drove the VW Golf R in Europe. Great car. (you can see the review on It will come to the United States in manual transmission only, so if you're wanting automatic it would have to be JCW. But I would only buy either in manual. These cars are meant to be driven in manual, just as the Audi TT RS should be as well.

You could look at the BMW 135i, the Subaru WRX STI and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo for competition. 

If I were buying any of the aforementioned cars (I haven't looked at price) I would buy the Audi TT RS, VW Golf R, MINI JCW.

I'm considering the VW Golf (should I be)? The question is regular vs. diesal - what are hte pros & cons? thanks!

I'm much in favor of the diesel--30 to 35 percent more effiicent than gasoline in terms of fuel use; much more low-end torque, thus more fun to drive. Demerits: Diesel vehicles usually cost more than their gasoline counterparts. Diesel fuel is more expensive. Some namby-pamby, greener-than-thou county governments frown on diesel (but seem to have no qualms about allowing the construction of mini-mansions on little lots).

When considering a Mazda 5 in place of a Matrix, what is the story on SkyActiv technology being in one to correct the current deficient gas mileage?

Wow. Tough choice. I love Mazda cars, but like the Matrix as well.

I will be in Los Angeles on Sunday to talk to mazda about their skyactiv technology. A lot of it will have to do with power to weight ratio.

Let me get back to you in two weeks on the system and your question.

I love the SkyActiv technology--another way to conserve without increasing the complexity of an already complex automobile.

Kudos to you and yours for the good research and counsel. How much have you heard on Toyota's paint quality. I'm a little worried about the quality of paint on my wife's new Highlander. It seems way too vulnerable to scratches, more so than her previous Lexus. Dealer says there's no problem, and obviously the Toyota won't be of the same quality, but to this degree? I don't know, but I'm sure having second thoughts...

Toyota hears you. Seriously. And this comes from someone who has been a bitter Toyota critic--me. The company seems to have corrected something I have long faulted--it's unspeakable arrogance, far worse than anything at GM. The new Toyota, because that is what it is in mindset and culture, the new Toyota now takes seriously customer complaints about paint and everything else. The new Toyota no longer assumes that the customer is at fault. If you have a paint problem, the new Toyota will fix it. I like this new Toyota.

Hi Warren and Lou Ann: My wife needs a a larger vehicle and we live in a ruural area that receives quite a bit of snow. After extensive research she has narrowed down to Acura MDX or Honda Odyssey.Are looking for AWD and safety and room. Our issue wiht the Acura is nearest dealership is over 100 miles away so warranty work would be an issue. Your thoughts would be very welcome and thank you.

I have a great new SUV I want you to drive. The Land Rover/ Range Rover Evoque. I am still in Vancouver on the test drive. Warren drove it earlier and the review will come out in Sunday's paper.

With a base price of $43,995 for the five-door "Pure Plus" trim level—the three-door is $44,995 that puts in your ballpark.

The difference is the added "just in case" features of off-road that you have. The things you don't get are power steering column and heated rear seats. For the first time ever Range Rover has a power liftback.

It's a great vehicle for snow and mud, guts and ruts.

Try it and let me know what you think.

You can also look at an Audi Q5, BMW X3.

Warren here: Neither. Subaru instead. Seriously. We keep a Subaru Outback at our house in Cornwall, NY, near the Adirondacks--Storm King Mountain and all of that.  Awful winter weather when the winter gets awful. That Outback pulls us out  every time. We call it the Cornwall car.

Good morning Warren and Lou Ann: I am interested in your thoughts about what makes for effective TV advertising for today's automobiles. Should Chrysler be lauded for taking a mature, serious approach that seems to be as much a campaign for the Detroit auto industry as it is for its product? Or, do you think the general public prefers something more dare-devilish or whimsical? What sells best?

I applaud Chrysler's advertising strategy. It not only speaks to the intrinsic merits of the featured products; it also speaks to the humanity, smarts, work ethic and determination of the people who design and manufacture those products--the people of Detroit. Hooray for Chrysler on that one! If the products were lousy, that advertising strategy would flop on its face. But anyone who has driven the new Chrysler 300, or Jeep Grand Cherokee, or Chrysler 200 has to believe that Chrysler and Detroit are moving in the right direction.

My low mileage 2009 Honda Fit was just totaled in a wreck; besides a new Fit what other cars in the same category should I look at?

I so love hatchbacks. They are so versatile, and car companies are bringing out more and more of them. 

Lots of offerings here; Toyota Prius plug-in hatchback

Lexus CT 200h hatchback

MINI John Cooper Works hatchback

If you want some a little less expensive try;

Kia Rio hatchback

Hyundai Elantra hatchback

Hyundai Veloster hatchback

Kia Forte hatchback

Mazda 3 hatchback

Scion xd hatchback and

Volkswagen Golf hatchback

I'd like to point out that, while you may be angry at the BP Corporation itsef, most BP gas stations are independently owned, and their owners shouldn't be faulted -- and lose business -- simply because they chose to own a BP station. They're not at fault, and I'd hate to put one out of business for something they had no control over.

You must be talking to Lou Ann, not me. She's Ms. Environmental. I'm all for drilling with Sarah Palin, wherever safely possible. I like BP. I like Exxon. Heck, I even like Lukoil. Why? Try living without them for a month.

Warren is right and you are right as well. But I am still upset with BP because they knew better. Gasoline station owners are, for the most part, independently owned and they make more profit on the goods they sell in the store than the gasoline they sell outside. If you want a great read get the book "Oil on the brain" by Lisa Margonelli.

For 100 years now we have had oil/gasoline/diesel. In the '70s we found out what it was like to have a shortage. We don't want that again. But we do want to hold the oil companies to a standard that allows us safety in our waters. Water is proving to be as important a commodity as oil.

Hi Warren - I am loving my Jetta TDI wagon (thank you again!). As my husband's 2003 Passat ages, we wonder if getting another Jetta TDI would be a smart move or if we should have cars requiring two types of fuel in the event of shortages, etc. We would appreciate your opinion. Thank you.

We have seen spikes in prices of gasoline and diesel. Gasoline has a history of spiking, and being more volatile, than diesel.

There are other advantages to diesel. Do you need more torque? Diesel has it. I also think the Jetta TDI is going to have a higher resale value than the gasoline version. I don't have data for it, just my thought.

I loved my '99 Passat when it wasn't in the shop. Brakes, wheels, etc. were issues for me, along with the electrical system. Other Passat owners talk about their cars self-destructing around 100K miles. The newer models seem to have added bulk without performance. Have they addressed reliability? That's what would keep me from buying another one.

I think VW has increased reliability. But we only drive test cars for a week or two, which is why we keep a very close eye on customer complaints. If you have any, please direct them to me at, or to Thank you.

End of July, I went to the VW dealer looking to buy a 2011 Tiguan LUX and left with a 2012 Touareg Sport Gas. The better performance and more room were that decision easy for me.

Understandable, from one point of view. You look at the high-end Tiguan and decide to pop a few more dollars on the slightly more expensive Touareg. I get that. But my view is this: The high-end Tiguan has everything I want. It feels as good on the road as the Touareg.  State Troopers don't care which one you drive. Speed limits are speed limits. Get caught exceeding one, you'll get a ticket..or worse..either in a Tiguan or a Touareg.

What does a person who does NOT like all the "bells & whistles" do .. ie no power windows , likes the ? wing windows ...the ones that were at the front of the side windows that could be opened instead of air conditioning? etc etc Do companies make "less fancy p type vehicles ? Thank you

Get a Nissan Versa manual transmission for $10,990.  I like it better than the automatic.

A couple other cars that are under $15,000;

Chevy Aveo

Chevy Sonic

Ford Fiesta

Hyundai Accent

Kia Rio

Kia Soul

Mazda 2

Nissan Cube

Smart fortwo

Suzuki SX4

Toyota Yaris

Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thank you, Lou Ann and Dominique. My apologies for the screw-ups last week, Ria. Decompress. Eat lunch. Everybody, drive safely over the holiday 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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: