Real Wheels Live

Dec 16, 2011

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

Looking for something a little larger than CR-V, RAV4, etc, but not so large as Traverse and Acadia. Don't want a luxury brand. I care more about safety features, smooth ride for long trips and cargo room than performance. Seems like there are a lot of options in this space. Have started looking at Toyota Highlander, Kia Sorrento, and Ford Explorer. Do any of these stand out, or are there others I should consider?

The Kia Sorento, starting a tad below $20K, easily maxed out at about $25.5, excellent safety (five-star NCAP frontal crash rating, I think), comfortably seats five people, great utility; upgraded appearance for 2012, but still a long way from ostentatious, gets about 20 mpg city and 28-30mpg highway, depending on load.

My immaculate 2007 John Works Mini Cooper S has completely died with only 31,000 garaged miles, and serviced only by the mini dealership. My choices are at best, a new valve job, at worst a new engine. I'm going to dump it and am looking at the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2011. It has a 100,000 mile warranty. What are your thoughts on this vehicle? Help, I gotta buy one this week. And if you have any other 100,000 mile warranty 0%interest and AWD choices, I'm all ears. Thanks very much.

The Mitsubishi Outlander is one of the best, yet most underrated vehicles on the market. It is reliable, generally well-built. Mitsubishi needs to spend more money on improving the quality of its cabin materials--inasmuch as the materials in the Outlander and many of its Mitsubishi siblings, such as the AWD Lancer sedan now in my possession, feels and looks cheap. But overall Mitsu engineering is solid. You will not blow a Mitsu engine at a mere 31 k miles. Speaking of which, I'd investigate that Mini failure--for consumer service bulletin, or second opinion--a bit more before I'd buy anything. You might be due a big price break on repairs. Rent a car for immediate travel needs until the Mini Cooper breakdown is resolved.

Love my '07 Honda Fit Sport - sips gas, hauls lots of stuff, flexible seating/hauling options, fun to drive, great colour options. But in the next year or two, I'd like to upgrade my ride while retaining some of the features I love about my Fit. Ideally, my replacement car will haul a decent amount of stuff (two dogs, occasional *light* camping equipment), be relatively economical gas-wise yet fun to drive like my Fit, but have nicer amenities and slightly more luxe appointments. Tall order, I know, but what should I drive next? Higher price tag is fine - I expect to pay more when I get more.

Funny, how life works. I just finished (this edition) chatting about the Kia Sorento and Mitsubishi Outlander. Either one of those will take cars of you, your two dogs, and camping equipment affordably and in style.

I hear that smart, the maker of the tiny smart fortwo is planning to make a mini truck. Do you know anything about it or the plans to offer it in the US. The smart fortwo is a fun car to own, but I have found that there are still times when a little more storage space would come in handy. Another 6 inches in width or length would go a long way.

I've been hearing those rumors, but haven't bothered to check them out--which I will do today. My knee-jerk assessment is that the good folks at "smart" need to do more to make their little car more U.S-acceptable before they start trying to sell us a little truck.

Good morning, Warren: Looking back on 2011, what impact do you think the Big Three U.S. automakers (Chrysler, Ford, GM) had on consumer-buying habits? Looking ahead to 2012, which of the Big Three do you think is best positioned to make the biggest impact?

Good question, but it should be reversed. To wit: What impact have the buying habits of American consumers had on Detroit? My answer in brief:

. Detroit and the UAW have learned that Americans don't "buy American," don't "look for the union label," or anything like that.  American consumers, when shopping for big-ticket items such as automobiles, are purely mercenary, rational economists. They buy Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Volkswagen--all of them without union representation in the United States--because they are looking for what they perceive to be the best cars for the best price.

. You might have noticed that the UAW (wisely, in my opinion) chose not to extract a justifiable pound of flesh (considering all of the UAW's past concessions to Detroit) in the 2011 round of Detroit-UAW labor talks. That largely is because the American taxpayer helped to save GM and Chrysler and, although Ford sought no emergency tax bailout, helped to save Ford Motor Co., too.

. The high-quality, globally competitive, very desirable cars and trucks now coming out of Detroit were in development and planning long before the global bank scams and economic disaster of 2008. Better Detroit quality started in at least 2004 or 2003. But perception lags reality, and Detroit's managers in 2008 were trapped and eventually slaughtered by perception. True story: I told several GM and Chrysler officials not to allow their bosses to fly to Washington in corporate jets looking for a bailout. Just plain bad karma, I said. They didn't listen.

Do you ever do a double take between the experience you have first hand with a car and the kind of reviews given by such reputable publications as Consumer Reports? The reason I ask is because I never would have considered the Jeep Grand Cherokee as a possible contender for my next car based on Consumer Reports recommendations, but your article from December 9th gave me pause to give it more serious consideration.

My life is a double-take. I was Romney before Romney was cool, which he still isn't, at least not to the vocal majority of the Republican party.

I defend my double-takism the way I suggest that Mitt start defending his. Faith in anything--people, products, religion--REQUIRES constant questioning and reexamination. Questioning does not mean rejecting fundamental truths.

Example: Were I leaving for an off-road trip tomorrow, I'd do whatever I had to do to get a Jeep. I've driven practically every off-road vehicle there is to drive. Some are better and more expensive than Jeep. I know that. But I've been in so many bad situations in so many Jeeps, I inherently trust them to bring me there and take me back.

I don't agree with everything Consumer Reports says or does. I don't agree with everything I read in the Bible, Koran, or the First Five Books of the Jewish Faith. But they all speak to something that I hold fundamentally true: We are all commanded to love, forgive, assist one another. It beats the hell out of hate.


Hi Warren, I would like to hear thoughts regarding the Ford Eco Boost engine? Thanks, Mike

Take a high-swirl, fast-burn, gasoline-direct injection  four-cylinder engine. Add turbocharging to increase air intake for better air-fuel mix. Add electronically controlled variable-valve timing. Put it all together and you get six-cylinder to possibly eight-cylinder power with a four-cylinder engine and near four-cylinder fuel consumption. A lot of this is going on, even in something like a Cadillac ATS sports car. Reliablity is expected to be great. Time will tell. The trend exists because we're runing out of places where we can find more oil.

I am writing this on Wednesday, and while I realize your role here is as "car guy" not 'policy guy", I am wondering about your take on the NTSB and cell phones. My take is that the problem is much larger than only Cell phones, texting, etc. People have not been taught driving like I was, which is that while driving, you'd best NOT be doing anything else. You are piloting a large, heavy, powered vehicled on roads populated with other large, heavy vehicles, farm vehicles, big trucks, animals, pedestrians, and who know what else might wander along. Today's vehicles drive so smoothly that we have little sensation of what's on the road (bumps, rocks, ice), how fast we are travelling or awareness of other condtions so we forget that there are other things going on! The lure of technology has brought DVD players, fancy satellite radios, phones, etcetc to interest us, which leads to distractions and crashes. Adding in phones that do everything but the dishes, and problems will be impossible to miss. BUT, banning will not be enforcable, if laws could even be passed! Even minimal restrictions took years to pass! So, after my rant, what's your view??

First, I am not a "car guy," have never wanted to be a "car guy," have no desire to ever become a "car guy." So, let's get that straight. I am just a guy who happens to like cars, am fascinated by their technical, design, dvelopment, manufacturing and retail history; by what they say (or don't) about individual freedom, and their position and influence in a world where they occupy space and affect how we breathe, what we breathe, where and how we live--and how everything and anything having anything to do with cars and trucks is sustained, and at what price.

Thus, I am a motorized wonk who quite literally uses cars as the collective vehicle to get into everyone else's business. To wit: A nosy SOB who likes to drive...especially other peoples' cars and trucks, and get paid for it.

As for the NTSB's proposed cell-phone rule, you are right.

The problem is bigger than cell phones. The problem is the Horrible Reign of Individual Selfishness Facilitated by Technology...or something like that.

My time is more important than your time, even if it means  talking on the phone while driving and endangering your life.

What I have to sy--here and now--is more important than where you have to go safely.

It's my phone, my conversation, which I am using in my car, talking to my friend, my family member, or my business partner... before you interrupted me with your crash. Damn it! Didn't you see me talking!?

I wish the NTSB well in this ban-the-phone-while-driving endeavor.




Warren, can you recommend a car buying service. One where I can tell them a make and model and then sit back and wait to sign the papers? Basically I don't want to deal with negotiating or any of that. Thanks

Contact The Center for the Study of Services, publisher of the Washington Consumer's Checkbook, in Washington, D.C. It's the best  CARS (Consumer Anxiety Relief Service) I've found in three decades of writing and talking about cars. They are non-profit, I think. I've never seen people who seem to derive so much delight for getting the "best deal" for their clients.

Hi, Warren: A couple weeks back, as a Mercedes-Benz passed me, I noticed its blind-spot detector blinking. It's a great invention, one of many safety improvements in recent years. What top 3 innovations do you think should be mandatory within the next, say, 5 years? Thanks! Garey in Ottawa

1. That blind-spot detction blinker, invaluable on long drives, especially in dismal weather.

2. Various forms of electronic distance monitoring, used to keep cars and trucks at safe driving distances.

3. OnStar and several similar emergency communications services--which literally can save your life by pinpointing your exact location if lost in a storm; or if you are involved in a crash and in urgent need of help.

4. A public-education campaign aimed at dissolving the notion that driving is a God-given right. It isn't. It is and always has been a socially conferred privilege, given as long as we abide by the laws instituted to enforce the notion that we are responsible for one another behind the wheel, on the road.

Don't know if you're the one for this question but will ask anyway. I travel the ICC daily X2 and have seen many of the tow trucks marked "Vehicle Recovery." Are they only for ICC traffic? If I break down and need a tow do I have to use them? Are they under a special contract? What gives with these very well marked but, I'm guessing, not highly used trucks?

I don't know. But why don't we both contact the Inter-County Connector people and ask them? Let's get back here later and exchange answers.

Why, oh why can't car manufacturers make interactive websites, so that you can "build" what you want and get a rough estimate? **cough**Scion**cough**!!

Automakers can, indeed, do that. But too many of their Web sites are put together by dealer-oriented designers to "drive" sales. That is why I prefer Oops.  My employer-connected Web site,, is also good. Ahem! But I much prefer those web sites that seem more concerned about what I need and want when vehicle shopping--more so than they are concerned about "driving" me to a dealership.

The older ones, early 2000s, were pretty bad, both for general build and for reliability. The new ones get praise from Consumer Reports because they are now using the new M-series Mercedes platform.

Nope. The new models get praise from Consumer Reports because they are just darned good, incorporating anti-roll-over technology that Detroit once resisted. Not all M-B platforms get top marks from CR or anyone else. Check your history. M-B did precious little to help Chrysler when it held that company chattel.

Hi Warren! My daughter is pregnant with her third child. She and her hubby have a six year old and a toddler. She has her heart set on a station wagon but I keep telling her that I think she could find a better deal with a minivan. Your thoughts? Money is definitely pretty tight, so pre-owned is absolutely required. Please suggest some vehicles that can handle two infant car seats and a booster for the first-grader. Would be nice to be a car that is shade-tree mechanic friendly; my son in law is pretty good with cars and could easily handle lots of maintenance/repair work. Thanks bunches!

Station-wagon, minivan, schlimivan.  Bottom line is that your lovely daughter and her growing family need a people hauler, regardless of what our marketers of the moment choose to call it.

She and her husband will find lots of safe, usable, enjoyable space in a Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Town & Country, Kia Sorento. Shop and compare. And remember to establish a college fund. It is absolutey mind boggling how quickly juggling diapered bottoms leads to filing freshman college applications. Best wishes.

Thank you all for joining us today. Please  come back next week. Thank you, Dominique Vu, for another fine production. Thank you, Ria, for rescuing me from the airport post-Austin. Holiday Season driving rules are in force nationwide. Designated drivers can help you get to the New Year in One Piece. You also can help out. Resolve to use your phones only when safely parked.

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

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