Real Wheels Live

Dec 02, 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.

Another paper, one 4 hours up north by Amtrack, says Ford hired a young design hotshot from Cadillac to reinvigorate Lincoln. They are to reveal a radical new design next month at the Detroit Auto Show. Are you one of the journalists given a preview? If so, did you like what you saw? If not, what have you heard?

You mean "Automotive News," or that other paper? At any rate, yes, apparently, Ford has plans to reinvigorate Lincoln. The company displayed a swanky, but (to me) somewhat old school concept car, during recent media preview days at the LA Auto Show. Loaded with technology. We'll see what happens. Almost all of the big car manufacturers are hiring, trading young design hotshots. It's the constant state of the industry.

Have you ever seen a carturner turntable? If so, what is your opinion? Costs seem lower and it is stainless steel. Any history?

If it is what I am thinking about, yes, I've seen many carturner turntables, mostly in specialty-niche manufacturing and other high-end manufacturing shops. Such turntables are used to "transport" cars from one line to another--work in progress reaches end of one line with front-end facing forward, is automatically loaded onto a turntable, is automatically turned around and loade onto a second line with rear end moving in direction of work to be done. Is that what you are referring to?

What's your opinion about the Chevy Volt:  Dependable? Reasonable price? Good mileage? Easy to repair?Thanks..

Right now, according to Consumer's Report, it's the "best loved," highest ranked car in America. I certainly would buy it--but not because of that ranking. The Volt has had some post-crash battery fires. GM has jumped on the problem immediately. No excuses. Buy back the car. Give consumers new battery, car. GM is committed to the success of the Volt. And that is why I would buy it.

What is your opinion on buying a high efficient small gasoline car or a diesel car that gives even better mileage per gallon?

Are you trying to set me up? Readers of this chat know how I feel about that one. Fact is, diesel is 30-percent more efficient than gasoline in terms of fuel economy. I'd take the 30-percent improvement, and better torque, without the hybrid razzmatazz, unless it's a diesel-gas electric, which, at the moment, remains prohibitively expensive.

Both stick...which one would you buy with no regrets?

The Audi S4 quattro, a beautiful driver on the highway and city streets. I love the BMW 335xi (also all-wheel-drive for those of you wondering about the x" factor in the name), but it can be annoying to deal with in stop-go-stop-go-nowhere city traffic. I want ease at this point in my life.

I wrote in a few months ago asking when hybrid minivans were going to be on the market. Lou Ann said that she needed to do some research. Have either of you found anything yet? We've heard great things about the Toyota and Honda (we're only interested in 8-seater minivans) but everyone tells us their mileage is bad, and gas prices are only going to go up (in the long term; we plan on keeping the car for 10-15 years). Thanks!

It looks like, judging from what is being shown in the current run of shows, a hybrid minivan, is still a couple of years off. The problem is that most consumers are rational economists. To satisfy them, Toyota and evryone else has to get design, manufacturing, and sales costs down on such a vehicle, which they haven't found a way to do yet. At this juncture, A hybrid minivan would cost from $2,000 to $5,000 more than a non-hybrid, gasoline-fueled package. That's quite a bump for many consumers. And, as you said, gasoline prices ultimately are moving upward. What to do? Look for a minivan with one of the new, powerful turbo-fours. Hint: Shop Hyundai, Kia, Nissan. I know, you said 8-seater. My question is why, really? Will you always carry seven passengers with you evry trip? If so, check out the Audi Q7 TDI diesel package, pricey (MSRP fron $51,450) but much more fiel-efficient than gasoline and much more enjoyable than anything from Toyota.

I drive an over ten year old Lexus sedan that I definitely need to replace especially since I am now pregnant with my first child. My dad has generously offered to give me a certified pre-owned Buick enclave for Christmas just because he likes their looks and he's totally obsessed with me having a newer car. I know it's necessary but it hasn't been high priority for me (yet). Are there other cars I should consider besides the Buick Enclave? I need a not too huge car/crossover that can 1. fit in my carport and 2. that isn't too high so I can lift up a car seat into it. I also want it to have some kind of cargo capacity.

First, congratulations on your coming motherhood. Second, take the Buick Enclave from your Dad. He's doing you a favor. Ease of ingress and egress in that one, especially with a child-safety seat in tow (check with local police or fire offficials for recommendations on best one), is best in class. It is designed to fit in driveways and garages. Interior craftsmanship is among best in class. If you are woried about being chided for being a young woman in a Buick, just pretend you are Chinese. Buick is a top-seller, highly valued brand in China, which is becoming the world's biggest markets. It's an international brand that is here to stay for a while.

I am looking for something somewhat sporty and keep coming back to either a new Elantra or a gently used 2-door Accord (budget is up to $20K). My gut tells me a slightly used Accord is preferable but I'm wondering your take. Thanks!

Use your head. Look at the quality and styling of the new Elantra. Look at the price and warranty on that new car verus a "gently used"--"used" by any definition--Accord coupe. Financially, what makes more sense? The Elantra, in my book. But you are probably more concerned about the cool factor. If so, track down a "gently used" Hyundai Genesis coupe. Compare with the Accord, using the standards suggested here. Your decision.

I have what I hope is a fun question for you. My father, who has done well for himself, has never had a fun car to drive. He always bought the cost-effective Hondas and Toyotas, but now that he's retired, he'd like at least one fun car in his life. He told me his budget is $50,000. He's more concerned about the car itself, less concerned about the expensive options packages. Do you have any recommendations on where I should start my search?

First, let's make sure it's your Father's decision. What's more important to him in addition to "fun?" Comfort? Overall road performance? Safety?

I'm thinking the honorable fello deserves something such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan, starting  at $34,800. Looks sharp. Excellent safety and comfort.

Or try the Lexus GS 350 sedan, starting at $46,900. Nice car. But I'mm afraid more loaded with the costs of a rapidly rising yen and the remaining supply problems caused by the March 11 tsunami/earthquake than it is by any thing that truly beats the C- Class sedan.

Better stiil, check out the Volkswagen C--truly fine, beautiful, stunning in black.

I hope readers understand the battery issue occurred well after the crash test, in some cases weeks. Probably because something wasn't disconnected after the crash test. The Volt is not going to spontaneously burst into flames while you're driving down the road. Sadly, some reports in the press (not you) gave that impression. Robert in Gaithersburg

Thank you for the clarification, and for exonerating me from all of that erroneous pack journalism. You are right, of course. My point is that this is not the Old GM, which would have wasted lots of time, money and prestige trying to bamboozle the public.

The New GM jumped on the problem right away and is putting the interest of its customers first and foremost. To the rest of you, check it out, if you don't believe me. Track down a few Volt owners. You'll see what I mean. Nobody spends $40k+ to enthusiastically defend a lemon.

Honda's stopped making the excellent Civic 2 door hatchback, but the VW Golf is a bit spendy for me. What's your "cheap but will last 10 years" recommendation for a two-door hatchback?

Try the Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Hundai Accent, or Chevrolet Sonic, all of which are relatively inexpensive and will last 10 years with proper care. Of, if you can find one, also look for a Honda Fit.

Can you tell any difference between the 2011 and 2012 Camry? I mean, without having a press release cheat-cheat, would you notice any improvement?

Define "Improvement." It's still a darned good family sedan with inoffensive--neither inspiring nor off-putting--mainstream looks. One of the best "peace of mind" vehicles available, which is why it continues to sell well, despite Toyota's recent problems.

If you had to buy a cheap used car, what would your choice be from the late-1990's?  Given our price constraints, the vehicle will probably have high miles on it. BMW, Honda, Toyota, or other?  Hope to get a manual transmission if that plays into your answer.

The Toyota Echo. Truly. My assistant, Ria Manglapus, has been using one (from my diminishing, personally owned fleet) for the last two years or so with few problems (other than my procratstination in finally filing for new Va. State tags on that one). Youngest daughter drove the Echo  a couple of years in NYC before it was returned to VA in disdain ("because I can use company cars," snif, sniff). It sat in our VA driveway for two years after that through summer heat, rain and winter snow. It started right up when I was planning to turn it over to Ria. But in the interest of her safety, we made sure it was thoroughly road-worthy before she took it over. I love that funky little ugly car.

Our 1999 VW Cabrio was totaled this week in a high impact rear-end collision. Luckily everyone is fine. We had that car new and were hoping to get several more years out of it. Very depressing, that car was worth a lot more to us than its book value! Can you recommend a replacement commuter in the $3K range? I know-- good luck, right? Manual tranny & fun to drive preferred, great MPG a plus. Does NOT need to go well in snow. Thanks for any input! :-)

Good luck on the $3,000. But, I would check out recently used Honda Fit, Ford Focus, Fiesta, Subaru Impreza (not the WRX version), all of which hsould give you good service and all of which (especially the all-wheel-drive Impreza) should do well in moderately snowy climates. Check, (connected to The Washington Post);, and other online car-buying sites to get other ideas. Good luck on that $3,00 target, though.

I need an econobox, and I'm thinking about buying an ex-rental Nissan Versa or a Toyota Yaris. Do you have any thoughts about buying a used car from a rental company? On the one hand, they are generally late-model lower mileage cars being sold below blue-book value, and theoretically they have been professionally maintained. On the other hand, they have been driven by hundreds of drivers with varying skills. So do I want a rental or not? And are there special problems for rentals that a standard mechanic's inspection wouldn't reveal? And between those two models, which has the edge? Or should I keep looking?

It's my personal bias. But it's a bias based on favorable experience: I'd head to Enterprise Rental.

Focus, Mazda3, Elantra, Impreza. Which do I choose? I'm coming from a VW that I liked to drive, but abhorred it's reliability. I keep my cars for 10+ years (like the VW), so this should last into the early 20202s. I like an absolute mix of MPGs, Style, Safety, Fun, Reliability, Practicality. If forced I'd give Safety the deciding factor. I'm going to test drive them all, but I'd love to know your opinions?

I'd go with the Mazda3 (first), Focus (tied first with Mazda3, largely based on same platform), or Kia Forte (second). Also, take a look at the Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic. Seriously. You will find many pleasant surprises in that bunch.

You are not kidding: best car ever! The only reason I'm getting rid of mine is that my left foot has bone spurs and I'm not supposed to do the clutch any more. Otherwise I'd still be zipping around in my no-maintenance 1998!

Health, first. Take care of that foot. You can zip around in an automatic Civic. Just as good as your dismissed manual.

My wife, who currently drives an Infinity G35 wants to get a new ride. She is really set on a G37, maybe even the convertible, but is willing to consider something else if I come up with something that is as fun, looks as good, and meets my requirements to be a good handling, reliable car (hey I get it once she moves up to a new car.) What would you recommend that I tell her to consider in that class that might please her as much as she has loved her G35?

Get her the G37. Great car, especially if she loved the G35 predecessor. Great car. Happy wife. Peaceful life.

My dealership's service department opens at 7am but the technicians don't start until 8am. Is that common? It means that even a simple 90 minute issue doesn't get me out of there until 9:30 and leaving it for the day is a pain for a quick appointment.

Seriously, find a dealership or service center that will better accommodate your needs. They're out there. Check with Washington's Consumer Checkbook, the Center for Services in D.C.

Have you driven the new Lexus GS models? What do you think of the BMW z4 ys Boxter or MB SLK? Thank you

Not yet. Coming. Trying to get the auto shows out of the way, first.

Hi Warren, I have a 03 Mazda protege that is going to cost about $1,300 to fix up. It has 96,000 miles on it and lots of dents. But it's fun to drive and has a hatchback. I have the opportunity to buy a 1998 Ford escort for $3,000 with only 45,000 miles on it. It's not as much fun to drive, but it's in great condition. Also since it's older, it doesn't have standard luxuries like a CD player. I'd like to have a car that will get me through 2014 or later without great expenses so I can better save up for a new car. What do you recommend I do? Fix up my Mazda or buy the Ford?

No-brainer. Buy the used Ford Focus for $3k. You might wind up keeping it longer than 2014. Think of the money you'll save.

Thank you all for joining us this week. Please come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. Thank you, Ria, for all you do. I'm calling VA DMV to get that receipt. Thanks for your patience. Eat lunch.

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

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