Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, April 17, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online on Friday, April 17 at 11 a.m. ET. to answer your questions about every aspect of the automotive industry.


Manassas, Va.: I'm searching for an SUV because my kids and I are tall. I first thought of the Tahoe, although I heard good things about the Acadia. What are your thoughts of these two vehicles? I believe both are GM. Should I fear about warranty and/or parts from GM products? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Good morning, Manassas. I'd go with the GMC Acadia--or with the structurally and mechanically identical Chevrolet Traverse, if you want to save money. Those GM crossover utility vehicles, which can seat eight, have good interior room.


College Park, Md.: I honestly don't want to spend any money right now, but our minivan might be fading fast. Awhile back you spoke glowingly of the KIA option. Would you still support that vehicle? We have a Honda Odyssey. I have honestly grown to trust their reliability. Are Honda's talking good deals in this market? I still notice most manufacturers are still offering three years and 36K warranties, when are they going to step it up?

Warren Brown: Good morning, College Park:

The Kia Sedona, starting at about $21K, is one of the best values available in a minivan. It has top safety ratings and is very reliable. But the Odyssey has best reputation for quality and reliability, which means it has the best resale value.


Clifton, Va.: Warren, nice video from the insurance company lackies at IIHS of the Smart car in an accident. Anyone want to tell me firefighters don't know what they are talking about? Instead of apologies make a donation to Collie Rescue of the Carolinas. I don't like the IIHS and believe their goal is to make the insurance companies richer, but the Smart video tells you a lot. And just think if they had used a full size pick-up or Tahoe.

Warren Brown: Clifton, and I both know that crash safety ratings, whether by the insurance folks or the feds, largely are based on colliding vehicles of similar size and geometry. All bets are off when either of those variables change.


Detroit, Mi.: Warren, what would you pick, and why? A Saab 9-3 turbo I4, VW Jetta turbo I4, or a VW GTI (rabbit, essentially a hatchback version of the Jetta)?

Warren Brown: Hello, Detroit:

I'd take the Saab, because Saab has had a long and storied history with turbos. But, frankly--and I know you didn't have this one on your list--I'd take the VW Jetta Tdi diesel over any of those you mentioned.


Richmond, Va.: Good morning, Warren. What are your feelings regarding the new entry-level luxury hybrid sedan Lexus has unveiled, the HS250? I'm deciding whether to buy the hybrid, versus the Lexus IS250.

Warren Brown: You do realize, Richmond, that you are looking at two different approaches to driving in looking at the HS250 and the IS250? The HS250 is more utilitarian, more interested in fuel economy than it is in speed and handling. The IS250 is substantially more driver-centric, more given to speed and handling. What do you want?


Cheverly, Md.: I am looking to buy an American made hatchback. I was looking at the Vibe or Caliber. Any input?

Warren Brown: The Vibe, Cheverly. There is a reason why Toyota also makes and markets that one as the Matrix. My problem with the Caliber might be based on an unfair, one-time assessment--a test version with lousy, lousy interior quality. I have to look at that one again.


Annapolis, Md.: Hi Warren. What are your thoughts on the 2009 Ford Edge? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Hello, Annapolis:

It's an excellent crossover for seven (I think) starting at about $30K for the preferred SEL package. You don't really need all-wheel-drive in the mid-Atlantic region. So, go with the less expensive, more fuel-efficient front-wheel-drive model. The Limited gives you more than you'll ever need or actually use at a price you don't want and an unsatisfactory (from the point of the seller) resale price.


Alexandria, Va.: Just saying thanks for responding to my Fusion vs. Malibu question on 10 April. I appreciated the help.

Warren Brown: My pleasure. Glad to help.


Staunton, Va.: What preparation can one do prior to driving in Scotland? My son and I are flying there from Philly (overnight) and then renting a car to access several different golf courses. I've never driven in the UK (been there several times). We are both very familiar with stick shift cars, but not from the right side. Do you have any tips to help with this abrupt baptism of fire? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Hello, Staunton:


Initially, drive in daylight whenever possible. Driving on the right isn't the real problem. The real problem is topography--especially in the countryside, where there are numerous shoulder less roads and roads that drop off into ditches--deep, deep ditches. I found it useful to drive in daylight and get the lay of the land before attempting night driving in Scotland.


Mount Vernon, Oh.: I have a SAAB 95 with 112,000 miles on it. It still drives well but things are starting to go. I fear the clutch will be next. Should I replace it with a new car, a Chevy Malibu, or a Honda Accord? Or should I buy a nearly new car, given the state of the auto market?

Warren Brown: I'd first consider repair effectiveness and cost. If you can get a reasonably safe fix at a reasonable cost, I'd do that. Both the the Chevy Malibu and Honda Accord are excellent mid-size cars. But both are substantially more expensive than fixing that clutch.


Seal Beach, Ca.: I want to purchase a hybrid sports car from Toyota or Honda when available. Do you have any idea if and when this new type of vehicle will be available for purchase? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Hello, Seal beach:

Toyota's luxury division, Lexus, has the HS250 coming on line, soon. But that is more family sedan than it is "sports." And the redone Honda Insight has "sports" pretensions, but isn't what most people think of when they think "sports car." I know of no true hybrid sports cars planned at this point. Clifton, how say ye?


re: Driving in Scotland: I would add that you need to watch yourself in towns and cities too. My girlfriend and I popped a tire because, when you are sitting on the right and driving on the left, it can be very difficult at first to tell how close your left tires are to any curbing. If you aren't dealing with the Highlands, country roads can sometimes be easier, because there are only two lanes and there are usually well placed "laybys" you can pull into to let faster traffic pass.

Warren Brown: Also, and be careful in the small towns with narrow streets. I actually took off a fellow's side view mirror in one of those towns, Glen Merangie, I think. The car was parked outside of a pub. Imagine the surprise of the clientele when I entered to announce that I had sideswiped someone's car.

"Happens all the time, Yank" said the car's owner. "But no one ever stops in to confess it." He bought me a beer, gave me his address, and told me to send the repair remittance from the States by mail. Gotta love those Scots.


New York: Warren, I'm thinking of getting a minivan. It seems I can get a new Dodge Caravan for the same price as a two year old Sienna (roughly 25 or 30k miles). Any thoughts? FWI, I don't drive much, maybe 7,000 miles a year. Thanks.

Warren Brown: Go for it, New York. And you're right. Chrysler does make good minivans. And in the current economic doldrums, the company is selling them for a song. Really good deals there.


Arlington, Va.: It will be interesting to see which area GM and Chevy dealers survive 24 months from now. The best capitalized dealers in the area are not always the ones offering best customer service in both sales and service. I have had great dealer service from Hendricks Honda in Woodbridge and maybe Mr. Hendrick will acquire some area Chevy dealerships. My siblings who own Chevy have not had good experiences at Koons, Ourisman or Criswell.

Warren Brown: It will be interesting to see which dealers survive, period. Last year, 1,008 dealerships in the United States closed, according to the latest tabulations by the Automotive News Data Center. A similar number are expected to close this year. At the venerable National Automobile Dealers Association in McLean, there's been a 12-percent staff cut. Although domestic dealers are taking the brunt of those closures, import brands are heavily hit, too. It's not so much the brand as it is whether banks are providing loans for dealer floor planning consumer loans. Most of the dealerships that have closed have done so because they lost their financing.


McLean, Va.: Warren, have you had a chance to drive the Hyundai Genesis coupe? If so, what are your impressions.

Warren Brown: Yes. Simply brilliant. Rivals BMW at a substantially lower price.


Hybrid Sports Car: How about the Tesla? A pure electric car, not a hybrid, but definitely a sports car.

Warren Brown: Yeah. For about $90,000. And in as much financial trouble as GM and Chrysler. Should we be betting on Fisker, instead?


Alexandria, Va.: Warren, with gas prices inching back up and apt to continue up as the stimulus kicks in, who will be the first company in this country selling a non-hybrid gasoline 6-7 passenger vehicle that gets 30+ highway mpg? Will it be Chevy's Orlando, Ford's C-Max, Kia's Rondo with a better transmission, or something else? And how soon?

Warren Brown: Well, Alexandria, lots of companies already have those--and have had them for the last decade or so, or more. But in America, the land of cheap gas and cowardly politicians, those models mostly went begging for buyers.

GM has 20 cars that get 30 mpg or better. Toyota and Honda have a slew of them. Ditto Mazda. And the Germans are all revving to go with their high-mileage diesels. The problem? $2 gasoline.


Independence, Mo.: Warren, I need clarification of an earlier comment. The 2009 Ford Edge is a 5-seater. If the person is looking for a 7-seater from Ford, they'd need to consider the Flex. The GM products -- Chevy Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave -- all seat at least 7 and have good fuel economy for the size and performance.

Warren Brown: Thank you. You're right.


Warren Brown: Geez. Gotta go. New rules around here. Thanks for joining us today. Please come back next week. Eat lunch, Ria.


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