Real Wheels Live

Nov 11, 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.

As I write you this morning I am sitting at the same table that my parents set us at each night for dinner. Every four years we packed up our belongings and moved to another base, and this trusty old table went with us, from Air Force base to Air Force base. 

My Father retired after serving 28 years, and one war in the Air Force. He was buried a couple years ago. I remember  the military with their white gloves and the twenty-one gun salute. I wore black gloves.

From one little military brat (what all kids in the military who have parents serving called themselves) to all the veterans and military of today, thank you.

Let's talk about muscle cars. Are they having a resurgence because of the baby boomers nostalgia for them? And what's your opinion about them? Which one's the best?

I don't think they are having much of a resurgence--big consumptive engines, space eaters at a time when the numbers show a rapid increase in the manufacture and sale of peppy four-cylinder engines. The fuel scene is too dicey to wholeheartedly embrace the fuel guzzlers of yesteryear.

Warren, how is the new BMW 550i in terms of performance? What are its competitors and how does it stack up in the performance category?

It's all BMW, which means it is all mostly good. I think you can compare it to the Audi A-6 3.0T, or maybe something in the  high-end Mercedes-Benz C-class. My colleagues Lou Ann Hammond and Brian Armstead are with me today. Both are performance nuts, especially Brian. Here's hoping that they have worked their way through the new technology maze here at The Washington  Post and will share an answer.

Concerning drivers who don't use their turn signals (which I find irritating), can it be possible that the reason for that is that they feel that they are prolonging their battery life?

No. It's either laziness or just down right rudeness. I was, however, told that in New Jersey drivers don't use their blinkers because the driver in the other lane would speed up so that you couldn't get in.

Blinkers are not an option on cars folks. Be kind to yourself and the people around you. Plus, you can get a ticket for not using your blinker.


Hello, I am looking for a new vehicle (2011 or 2012). I am considering the Honda Pilot, Subaru Forrester and the Mazda CX-9. How would you rank these in order of preference?

My first instinct is the AWD Subaru, but both Honda and Mazda have AWD as well.

I haven't seen the 2012 Subaru, but the 2011 is a 4-speed automatic, the Honda is a 5-speed and the Mazda is a 6-speed. Honda and Mazda take regular gasoline, Subaru says they want you to use premium.

All three are great vehicles. Before I make a decision I would wait for the Forrester to come out with their 2012 model or get the Mazda CX-9.


Warren - I bought a 2011 Odyssey Touring 2 months ago. First of all, I was surprised at how HARD it was to buy a $40K vehicle in a depressed economy! I'm not talking about inventory issues, I'm talking about dealers that just don't seem interested in selling vehicles. Not returning phone calls, no follow-up after test drive, etc. But that's not my question today....we've discovered that when the van is turned off and then restarted, if a DVD is playing, the DVD also restarts from the very beginning (as in FBI warnings, etc.). It's not a major issue, but it's very annoying when you have small children, and quite frankly, should work by playing continuously. I called my dealer, who acted as if this was how it was suppose to work, and told me to push "pause" on the DVD menu before turning the van off. I just don't feel this is acceptable. I have found a forum online of other Odyssey owners, and seems like this is a problem with 2012, and I'm assuming some late 2011's (mine was assembled in mid-August). The general sales manager at my dealership is no help even though he promised to inquire with his regional staff, and when I call American Honda, I'm told that they are aware of this issue with 2012 Touring Elites, but not 2011 Tourings. In the meanwhile, some owners on the forum are getting different information, even getting their DVD players replaced. Do you have any suggestions? I'm just trying to get confirmation that a) this is a problem and b) there will be a solution (ideally a software update). This is my first Honda, and while I know they've had a bad year (tsunami), I'm REALLY disappointed in their customer service both on a dealer level and corporately. Any advice on how to handle would be appreciated.


By the way, aside from the battle over the DVD issue, I really do love the van and don't miss our old SUV (Ford Expedition). As a mom of 2, my only regret is not buying one sooner! Although, in light of the lack of customer service I seem to be getting, I wonder if I shouldn't have at least walked into a Toyota dealership....

First, despite what Honda and Toyota say publicly, they are continuing to have inventory and supply issues stemming from the March 11 earthquake/tsunami. October sales for both, dismal in relation to their past performance, continue to be hampered by supplier interruptions. ManyToyota and Honda dealers in the U.S. know this and are playing a reworked version of the unfriendly to customers Hull-Dobbs sale technique To wit: Hold the reaigns on supply in hand for a popular product, wait for the buyer to bargain up. The highest bidder wins.

Second: A lot of the infotainment technology is so new, it's hard for many salespeople to figure out, let alone customers. I'm not nagging, but you will have to thoroughly read the vehicle manual on this one until we get more help from the manufacturers. Ford, for example, is busy trying to take the kinks out pf its various new infotainment and communications systems.

Are EV's really going to become mainstream this time around? And if they do, is it because the government has helped nudge them along? What about other fuel-efficient technologies to get us to those new CAFE standards?

What time frame are you giving me for mainstream?

Five years - not mainstream.Ten years - more acceptance.

Full EVs are limited in power density. Range anxiety is a real issue.

I believe Ev hybrids will be more accepted than full EVs. why? Hybrids are still not fully embraced as the way to get to CAFE standards by some. But they are publically known and understood.

The next step is the bridge from hybrids, which would be the Toyota Prius V or the Chevy Volt. You can plug in for the first part of the drive and let the car become a hybrid, or generator, for the second part of the drive.

Plus our electrical system nationwide is not ready for a full onslaught of EV cars. I have an old home and had to do some rewiring to have it be EV ready when I got the Nissan Leaf to test drive.

EVs are good in urban areas or for people who have concentrated drives. I applaud anyone who buys one, especially if they charge it with solar panels.


Good morning Warren and Lou Ann: As 2011 winds down, which of the Big 3 U.S. automakers (Chrysler, Ford and G.M.) do you think has been most successful in terms of meeting the interest and needs of the American public? And, who seems to be best positioned in being successful in 2012?

They are all tied in effort, really. It's impressive to see how hard all three are working to do the right thing. There is a new spirit in Detoit. It's palpable, and it's not just because of the newly successful Lions.

In terms of numbers, Ford and GM are nip and tuck, with Ford having the edge (despite some mostly electronic quality problems).

Chrysler's is the biggest and best comeback story, although it trails Ford and GM in numbers.

Have you noticed a change in attitude? All three now take cunsumer complaints seriously. They no longer diddle consumers, according to consumer reports I'm now getting. They now jump on the reported problem.

If you have a different story, contact us (Lou Ann, Brian, me) here. Also, you can contact me at

Warren is right, they are all taking consumer complaints seriously.And they are all doing much better. Chrysler was hot last month, up 27%. GM took number one this year in global sales, a position that has been held by Toyota for years.

I might note, though, Chrysler is now majority owned by Fiat, which is an Italian company.

What do you think are the best hatchbacks on the market today? Like the Mazda M3 size. Thanks.

I am so in love with the new hatchbacks.

The Mazda 3 just came out with skyactive technology (basically gasoline direct injection with a 14:1 compression ratio). You'll love it.

A couple of others to consider would be a Mini Cooper, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Prius, VW Golf diesel, or VW golf.

If you want to go less expensive you can look at the Fiat 500 or Scion IQ.

If you want to look at alternative look at Nissan Leaf.

A different design completely would be the 3-door (the third is hidden) Hyundai Veloster.

Will diesel passenger car sales ever take off like in Europe?

No, not until our silly, childish politicians grow up and come up with a national energy policy based on science and the real best interests of the American people instead of the sheer poppycock they think will get them elected. For example, if we really are stupid enough to go along with Michele Bachmann's proposals for $2.00 per gallon for gasoline--30-percent less fuel efficient than diesel--which is more expensive in the United State--not many car manufacturers will risk more investment in diesel technology in this country. Just dumb.

My wife bought a 335I at BMW of Fairfiax three years ago, and they could not have been more helpful. In essence, they built the car in Germany to her specifications. I went in the dealership earlier this week looking for 4 wheel drive and stick shift. They politely blew me off, saying buy what we've got or take a walk. Has BMW's success gone to its head, or am I shopping in the wrong store?

You are shopping in the wrong dealership. By the way, the BMW plant in Alabama, Vance, I think, will give you the same, or better, detailed customer service as the plants in Germany. Hint: Call the plant, first. Tell the people there exactly what you want. They have a wonderful way of telling you what deaelr you should go too.

I also like it when people put their blinkers on even when they're in a turn only lane. I think some people don't do it because they assume every knows they're going to turn. But it's not always obvious to everyone else that it's a turn only lane - for example, those on the opposite side of the intersection.

I thoroughly agree with this sentiment. Trying to read another driver's mind can lead to a tragic misread. Give me more solid direction of your next intended move, please!

Ten years ago there were questions about our country's natural gas supply and prices frequently spiked. Today, natural gas supplies are plentiful and the price is expected to stay relatively low for years. Is ANYBODY going to figure out how to crack the CNG nut? The fuel (natural gas) supply/price question has been answered but do you hear of any carmakers (vehicles) or natural gas companies (filling technology) taking any big steps to move this market? Our current path seems to be: use the natural gas to make electricity (growth is natural gas generation has outstripped wind, solar and everything else over the past decade). Then use the electricity for plug-in cars. OK, but not optimal.

I was just at a Honda Civic GX CNG event. Hard to believe that car has been on sale for 15 years. Why? It's been mainly fleet. But Honda is bringing the Civic GX to the retail customer.

The Civic GX is the best buy so far in CNG. It will have less tank space (maybe two golf club sets on top of each other). But the car is seamless in its driving.

The problem is filling it. Honda had Hal Snyder from Sempra/San Diego Gas & Electric at the event.

SDGE put out a request for home fillers. They got 11 responses. I will let you know what happens with that, but for know there is only one home filler (PHILL) that you can buy to fill your cng at home. Since there is no compression with that cng it will take a full night to fill your tank half way. But that could be fine.

The infrastructure for cng is still not there, but Honda has a cng station finder in there Civic GX. We used the NAV to find the station nearest us and it was for the city of Berkeley so we couldn't use it because we didn't have a city card and it didn't take credit cards. There are public cng stations, but not enough. But those stations fill in the same time it takes to fill a regular gasoline car, so that is a plus.

Some people are concerned about using cng to energize cars because that is what we use to heat our homes. But if we're going to usd cng to make elelctricity and we're going to use elelctricity for our cars isn't that a problem too?

Above and beyond all of that, what really gets me is when a company like VPG autos gets $50 million dollars in DOE money to build a cng van. VPG autos? Look it up. One of their biggest stakeholders is T Boone Pickens.

I'm thinking about trading my 2004 Mazda 3, and there are few beauties (IMO) that I have my eye on.. Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 3, Kia Optima, Chyrsler 200, what say you?? Happy Veteran's Day to my fellow Vets!!

My choices would be, first, the new Mazda3, second, the Kia Optima. And you would be missing the boat if you did not at least check out the Chevrolet Cruze, new Ford Focus, or Chrysler 200. Really, you'll be a very good way.

I'm interested in the Audi A3 hatchback (4 wheel drive version - live in New England). Any thoughts?

Love the vehicle, it's actually considered a wagon I think. If they had a VW Passat wagon all-wheel drive I would tell you to consider that, but they don't.

Audi still makes you pay for bluetooth, even on the higher level premium versions, so price out all your options before making your decision.

Honda is offering a discount on the updated DVD for my car's built-in GPS system; the maps I have are 3 years old. Do you know how up-to-date these new DVDs are, and do you have an opinion on whether they are worth the money?

Yes, and I'm not trying to be cute here. Buy a portable Tom-Tom or one of the other popular handhelds. Or, buy  a popular iPhone with advanced GPS capability. My experience shows me that tha handhelds are more easily updated, and usually are ahead of the in-car, stationary models in advanced technology.

I am looking for a 4 wheel drive sedan with stick shift new. Cost not a consideration. Any suggestions? Also suggestions re dealerships?

You've got to drive the Audi A-6 3.0T Quattro with the Premium or Prestige package. Amazing!

Warren, Thanks for the advice choosing between the TL, CC or G35. We bought the G35, Great car! We are planning to replace our other car, '97 240sx, in about a year. While the G35 is great, we could use a little more trunk space. We prefer sedans and station wagons, to SUVs and minivans, due to parking in DC and the size of our garage. What would you recommend along the lines of the G35, CC or TL that would have a larger trunk? Thanks

I would recommend the CC. Great little car with a lot of fun and performance.

Also think of hatcbacks; Mini Cooper, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Prius, VW Golf diesel, or Mazda 3.

Hello Warren, I have a 2003 Avalon. So far, I think I get an average of 25 miles per gallon with 114,000. I am looking to replace this car hopefully sometime late spring next year. I average 70+ miles round trip commute, averaging almost 400+ miles on a 7day course. One thing that I would like to do is to save some money  but still have a stylish look. Not sure if I can afford a new car with a higher note but I am really interested in a 2005 - 2006 Acura RL or TL or even possible an Audi A4 Wagon. I really don't have enough time or enough money to run a car to the shop as some review reports from the Audi A4. Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on what I should do on my next car purchase? Best regards, Mac

Mac, my choices:

Check all-wheel drive oferings under Hyundai, Kia, Subaru.

Do the same with offerings under Chevrolet (especially the new Malibu), Ford Focus, and Chysler 200 (AWD is coming to that model, if not lready there.)

Compare features, tactile and performance quality, price, and buy accordingly.

More expensive: You've got to check Audi (A-6 3.0T); BMW, Mercedes-Benz.

Thank you to all the veterans and military people. Today and everyday.

Dominique, thank you for all you do every Friday.

And remember, never drive faster than your angel can fly.

Allow me to introduce them. I've known and worked with them for years. Drum alphabetical order to protect the all enormous egos:

Brian Armstead: Been with this dude all over the worl on automotive stories. A total performance nut, which I am not. But I much value his knowledge, opinions, and insights. He runs autsense. net.

Paul Eisenstein: Truly one of the first  to build a highly profitable busness in internet journalism. He now runs, of which I am happy tobe a contributor.

Lou Ann Hammond, of Driving the Nation. Com. She, like  Paul and Brian, just keep digging and digging. Put us all together, and you get a fountain of up-to-the minute knowledge. Me? I concentrate on automotive regulation and product, corporate governance and feeral regulation. Welcome to The Post Car Chat Group.

Thanks for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks, Dominique, for another worthy production, Thanks, Ria, for keeping the cars moving.

Salute our Veterans by doing everthing you can by giving them acces to civilian jobs through education. Do something real!

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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