Real Wheels Live

Oct 12, 2012

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

Warren, Lou Ann, I need to get a new car but, for the life of me, cannot make up my mind. I like the sporty look like a coupe but I want it to ride like a sensible luxury car (such as a Lincoln or a Volvo: comfortable, upscale interior, feel safe in it, don't feel all the bumps on the road). I used to have a Volvo and loved it and possibly still open to getting one but I want also other options. And it has to be under 35K, possibly could stretch to 40K (with some options such as navigation). Does such a car exist? Thank you.

If you are still open to Volvo--and I hope you are in this case--I heartily recommend the S 60 sedan, R-design package, running with a Turbo 6. Driving this car is addictive--the best seats in the car business, wonderfully responsive, but needs premium grade gasoline.  Starts in the mid $40K, but I might be too high on that. Certainly worth the look,

Hi, Mr. Brown. 20 years in, I'm finally ready to replace my current hatchback. After studying Consumer Reports for safety, reliability, and cost, I've narrowed it down to the Honda Fit and the Mazda 2. My head says the Fit -- it has great ratings. My heart says the 2 -- it's good, and I swoon over that bright green. Haven't tried either yet, though. I plan to keep it perhaps as long as the current car. Your thoughts?

Your heart and head need an option. I recommend the new Hyundai Elantra Coupe with six-speed manual transmission. This is the way to make a small economy car! Fluidic body sculpture, great looks inside and out with careful attention to detail formerly uncommon in small cars. It starts a tad under $17k with a 1.8-liter, 148-hp, inline four-cylinder gasoline engine. Great weight to power ratio.  Yes, fun to drive.

Whats more American? A Ford Fusion built in Mexico or a Toyota Camry built in KY?

Both. It is a global industry. Both companies use designers, engineers, components from the United States and worldwide. We have to change our perceptions accordingly.

Mr. Brown, have you driven the BMW 128 or 135? What did you think of them? What advantages do they have over the 3 series? And finally do you think there are safety issues with such a small car? Thanks

Not lately. I have to get back into BMW. Soon, I hope.

Quick run of numbers (tax credit plus our state rebate) says we can buy a plug in (leaf or focus) for about the same as any $28K gas engine vehicle. Given that wide-open choice, what would you buy? Need room for 4.

Both are all-electrics, perfect for city-suburban commuting. But I'd go with the Focus, designed, I think, with a better handle on what U.S. drivers want in an all-electric car in terms of utility, ride, and handling.

Hi, Warren! I'm submitting this early, so I'm crossing my fingers that you see it and can help me out. Our Saturn needs a new transmission and my husband's employer has generously offered to give us several thousand dollars for a down payment on a newer car. His is the secondary car, so we really just need safe, reliable, and good gas mileage. And a backseat big enough to fit at least one carseat. We're leaning towards a 2010 or 2012 Civic and would like to stay under $15,000. Before we buy, though, do you have any suggestions for other cars we should also take a look at? Thanks!

I think it would be wise to consider the 2013 Hyundai Elantra sedan in that mix. Excellent build quality. 1.8-liter, inline 4-cylinder engine, about 140 hp. 26 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway. Also check the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Dodge Dart, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla for comparison. It's really hard to go wrong nowadays in the small economy segment. And, almost forgot, the Toyota Prius V wagon, which makes good sense for families.

Hi Warren, since you seem to have the well-deserved ear of the automotive industry, please share my hope/wish for the near future: a vehicle that can seat 7 and incorporates hybrid/plug-in technology. The approx 15 miles we travel each day are realized 99% of the time in the city and boy, would better mileage be a boon to our family! I suspect other families of similar size would echo our sentiments with their wallets should such an option be available. Any thoughts?

Believe me, the car companies hear you. They are working on it. But they seem mired in energy policy politics in terms of U.S. delivery. I've just been to the Paris show; and I'm now on my way to Sao Paulo. Advanced diesel technology, which I've witnessed in Paris and elsewhere, is fully capable of delivering better mileage for 7-passenger vehicles. But getting that technology to the U.S. in what the car companies deem a profitable way is a big problem.

What automobile innovations over the past 10 years do you think have improved the driving experience the most.

Safety, starting with rearview cameras and parking proximity warning systems. Much better brakes, including an increase in the use of four-wheel discs. Better, more fuel-efficient automatic transmissions. Variable valve timing and lift for more efficient use of gasoline engines. Lightweight, high-strentgh materials. The evloution of telematics, which has completely changed the perception and use of the automobile. I need to do a story on all of the changes.

Please gaze into your crystal ball, and tell me when I might be able to buy a street-legal driverless car in Maryland. Thanks. Love the chats.

Keep your eye on the military, which started this push toward driverless vehicles--the idea being that we don't need to risk our men and women in uniform on step-and-fetch missions that can be handled just as effectively with driverless vehicles. I say a decade, at most. But probably sooner than that.

Do you have any familiarity with the new Chevrolet Impala? Will it be rear-wheel drive?

I've seen static representations of the new Impala at international car shows. It is unlike any Impala I've ever seen in terms of attractive styling, fit, finish, overall design. But it will be front-wheel-drive, based on the info I have at this writing.

It will go with a 3.6-liter, 300 hp V-6, according to my notes. It should be introduced in the Spring of 2013 as a 2014 model.

Mr. Brown, This might be a question for your Money colleague, but I wanted to get your advice. What would you recommend be the best way to pay for a car? Should I save up my (truthfully meager) fund and buy a used hooptie, or should I look into financing a newer car by taking a loan? I'm afraid a 'new' car, regardless of the deal, is out of the question right now. Thanks for any insight that you'd like to offer.

I have consulted my Inner Michelle Singletary (our money guru at The Post) and have come up with the advice I'm sure she would give: Stay within your means. If your means are mean, buy accordingly, or delay purchase. If you cannot afford new, buy used--or shop Hyundai (the latter being my advice, not Ms. Sintgletary's). Seriously. I'm very impressed by that company, which seems to have a mission to make driving affordable and enjoyable for everybody. Check out the excellently rendered and priced Hyundai Accent and Elantra.

The funniest thing from Google's testing with driverless cars: they will not go faster than the speed limit, which aggravates the people driving cars around it. I can see how this will be infuriating to much of the driving public.

The driving public is going to have to get accustomed to many new things including, eventually, driverless vehicles. Keep in mind that driverless technology primarily is being developed to save lives--the idea being that a programmed vehicle will "automatically obey" traffic lights and signs, not intrude into busy intersections, et cetera. That seems to destroy the "romance" of driving. But that romance nowadays is still costing us about 35,000 human lives annually. We'll see how this develops.

I've been tossing this around in my head for the last while, and want to know if I'm missing something in my reasoning The car industry (and media) seem to hail electric cars as "clean" (because they don't consume as many fossil fuels) and "efficient" (because they run longer on the fuel that they do use and operate on electric charge). But it seems to me that every time you plug in a car, you're still using fossil fuels of some sort - our power doesn't come out of nowhere. It's usually coal-powered or nuclear-powered, right? So it's a trade-off between the Big Oil Devil and the Big Coal Devil. And what about the electricity bill for the owners who install and run charging stations in their garages? Doesn't that extra big electric bill wipe out savings you'd see at the pump? Have any studies been done to show the trade-off costs/savings in these two areas?

Yours is an old argument, no offense meant. The simple truth is that there is no such thing as movement without an expenditure of energy somehow, somewhere. There is no such thing as an expenditure of energy without creation of waste matter.

The current push for alternative propulsion technology in personal transportation stems from the realization that oil isn't forever, that mobile source pollution has to be reduced, that other chronic factors attending our current use of mobile-need fossil fuels have to be mitigated. There is no such thing as a "free ride" in any of this. The alternative is no movement, which is akin to economic and other forms of death.

Thanks, Warren, for the response on Nissan Leaf vs Ford Focus. Given a choice, would YOU buy a plug-in Focus, or is there a gas (or diesel) for under $28K that you would prefer to drive? (assuming driving needs would be met by any of the above)

I'd by a plug-in hybrid--one that could run at least 40 miles electric only but that has a fossil powered generator to keeep going if I'm driving considerably more than 40 miles on a given trip.

Mr. Brown, I always enjoy your well-though out columns! Have you had a chance to look at the 2013 Infiniti JX? I'm considering buying this, but the engine power seems so-so at best for its class. Any thoughts?

Thank you. But, Geez, if you are going to spend $40k+, I'd frankly turn away from the Infiniti JX toward the comparably priced Mercedes-Benz GLK, which is a much more capable vehicle in terms of utility, engine power and, for my money, safety.

I have and love my old Acura Integra, but alas cars do not last forever and mine is past due to be replaced. Acura has sized me out of their cars, and I can't find a small but not tiny car with great handling and a bit of a luxe feel ... both things I loved about my Integra coupe. Any suggestions?


The Volvo S60 sedan and the new Cadillac ATS

Take a serious look at the ATS, not a coupe but a sporty 4 door with the ride you might be looking for. Warren, S60 R designed by the Chinese is not want the OP wants. If you can spend a little more, check out the Caddy CTS coupe. Clifton VA

I just recommended the Cadilacc ATS. But I still also recommend the Volvo S60. I don't care that Volvo is owned by China's Geely Group as long as Geely continues doing a good job with Volvo. Geely is doing a darned good job!!!

It seems that my 2013 Ford Edge (with 18 Gallon tank) is programmed to tell me that it reaches zero at 15 gallons, meaning I have a 3 gallon reserve. First, why do they do this? Second, is there any way I can reprogram it to tell me how much fuel is actually in my tank versus the countdown from 15 gallons?

I don't know. But I will check.

Thank you all for joining us this week. Please come back next week. Thank you, Matt Monahan, for a fine production. (See, ya'll, I can work with guys.) Thanks Ria, for all that you do. Eat Lunch.

P.S. Check out the many wonderful new things The Post's digital team is doing with our online Cars coverage at

Sorry we didn't get to all the questions today folks. We'll be back next week, as usual.


In the meantime, have a look at our new Real Wheels Live search feature, which you can find by navigating to the Cars section and clicking Ask Warren Brown in the sub-nav at the top. On this page you can search any previous chats with Warren and Lou Ann, or scroll to the bottom to browse previous shows for the last few months.

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Warren Brown
Warren Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

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