Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, May 1, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online on Friday, May 1 at 11 a.m. ET. to answer your questions about every aspect of the automotive industry.

The transcript follows.


Rockville, Md.: Safety tests- Hi Warren, some cars seem to have different crash test results in the NHTSA vs. Insurance Institute. Which one is a better indicator of the vehicles' safety?


Warren Brown: Good morning, Rockville.

The results differ because the tests differ. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does full frontal tests into fixed barriers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety does offset cash tests, crashing cars at a 30-percent to 40-percent offset angle. IIHS says its tests are more realistic. Truth is, reality is something else--a subcompact into a Hummer, or a Hummer into a wall. Safety tests results are mere suggestions. Best safety? Buckle up.


Rockville, Md.: If the hedge fund managers- who drove Chrysler to bankruptcy -- are such good decent American patriots doing the right thing, why won't they identify themselves?

Warren Brown: The hedge fund managers did not drive Chrysler to bankruptcy. A collapsed financial system and frozen credit did that, as it has done to numerous other businesses.

Hedge fund managers?

Patriotism? They couldn't care less. Jobs? Only if it's their jobs. Greed? To them, there is no such thing. Which pretty much explains why so many of those craven souls crave secrecy.


Rockville, Md.: I'm seriously considering purchasing a new Hyundai Elantra Touring within the next month or so. It looks to have a ton of features, loads of space, and a great warranty (all for not a lot of money, relatively speaking). Now, I don't want to feel like I'm biasing myself towards any particular model, but as far as reasonably-priced hatchbacks go (which is what I'm looking at), this looks to be the frontrunner. For someone who's not too concerned about a car as a status symbol, is there any other make/model that you could recommend that seems to be as good a deal, if not better?

Warren Brown: You might cross-shop with the Honda Element and Kia Soul. But I think the Elantra Touring has the value lead here.


Alexandria: What are your impressions on the new Acura TSX? My wife and I are having a "discussion" about this car and we both value your opinion.

Warren Brown: I'd save roughly $9,000, get arguably better front-end styling, sacrifice 9 hp (280 hp TSX versus 271 hp Accord EX V-6) and buy the Honda Accord EX V-6--and be perfectly happy.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Warren, what are your thoughts on the rebirth of the Chevy Camaro?

Warren Brown: I just got a ticket in one. But I absolutely love the car. Drove it to Virginia all the way from Detroit. Sweet ride. 305 horsepower V-6. Easy, quick throttle, which I'll try to explain to the judge in Arlington County, Va.


Bowie, Md.: Any general thoughts on Fiat cars? Any particular models that you'd recommend? Are they even sold in the U.S. now?

Warren Brown: I love the little Fiat 500. I suspect that it will be offered here in one guise or another. And then there's Alfa Romeo, sponsored by Fiat, which probably will make a reappearance here, this time, with something approaching quality. No authorized Fiat sales stateside at the moment, which bespeaks Fiat's interest in taking over Chrysler--the effective result of Chrysler's bankruptcy announcement. Funny thing is, everybody's focusing on Fiat's small-car expertise while Fiat has its eyes set on an eventually resurgent and profitable truck market in the United States.


Portsmouth, Va.: Warren, I'm a GM guy and looking closely at the G8 GXP. Do you see specifically Pontiac prices going down with the announcement that they'll be history after 2010? Closing dealers, overstock, etc.


Warren Brown: Yes, Portsmouth. If you are going to buy that one, do it now. But don't be surprised if you run into a bidding war. Lots of people have your idea, which, ironically has created demand for that hot Pontiac model AFTER Pontiac's announced demise.


Washington, D.C.: Are you going to post a review on the Camaro? And were you driving the SS?

Warren Brown: Yes. Got a ticket and wasn't even driving the SS. Just the regular 'ole, 305 hp, kick-butt V-6. I think the officer was jealous.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Warren, I am in the market for a new car and I am trying to decide between the BMW 3 series, Mercedes C 300, and Infiniti G 35. Which one would you pick? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Wow! Tough one, because all three are good.

More male/female driver-centric--BMW 3-Series.

More mistress-centric--Mercedes-Benz C-300.

More married dude with kids, but still wanna have fun--Infiniti G35.


Arlington, Va.: My son is getting older, the GM minivan is getting long in the tooth, and my wife is ready for a "fun" car. I'm thinking of getting a convertible (still have the CUV for family hauling). Any recommendations? She likes the Saturn Sky or Pontiac Vibe twin -- however, neither brand is likely going to be around long. Do you have any other suggestions?

Warren Brown: Put the kid on the bus.

Go for the best deal on the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. Their brands might be going away. But there will still be a GM to take care of the products, which could wind up wearing Chevrolet and Buick badges.


Floris, Va.: What is the status of the "Cars for Clunkers" act? Does my 2000 Maxima qualify?

Warren Brown: It's still in negotiation, Floris, Va. Will give you the complete skinny on it here as soon as Congress acts.


Boston, Mass.: If you needed to buy would you recommend used or new? We're an older couple (50's), like jeeps but hate the gas mileage -- suggestions?

Warren Brown: Now is a good time to shop Chrysler and, thus, Jeep. There's not much I can do to help you on the mileage with that one. A Jeep's a Jeep and all that means in terms of fuel consumption. I'd buy new, especially now that Chrysler dealers are hurting and willing to deal. Their pain is your gain. It's the Rahm Emanuel principle: "Never let a good crisis go to waste."


Wilmington, N.C.: If Chrysler's niche is the larger, stylish, power cars, then why didn't they market to Russia and other oil rich countries (i.e. cheap fuel countries prior to the recession/2007)?

Warren Brown: They did.


McLean, Va.: I own a SAAB 9-2 and have been happy with it. What is going to happen to that former GM division? Also curious about Saturn.

Warren Brown: As you know, Saab currently is in bankruptcy reorganization from which it probably will emerge under different ownership. Meanwhile, the company is still producing, selling and making parts for its cars. Saturn also will be sold, after which it will maintain a supplier relationship--the supplier being GM--with General Motors.


Mini: Warren, I'd like to replace my old SUV with a Mini. I'm European, so I don't mind driving a manual. Do you recommend a manual over an automatic on the Mini? And, since I know you have one, would you have any feedback as far as how expensive maintenance/repairs are? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Yes, I'd take the manual and forego the glass roof, which rattles like crazy. Otherwise, I love the little car. No major problems, except that rattle!


Gaithersburg, Md.: Warren, look at a BMW 5 series, I would value your opinion. Would also value your opinion on BMW xdrive system.

Warren Brown: Hello, Gaithersburg: By X drive, I assume you mean all-wheel-drive, which works perfectly well on both the 528i and 535i. Both very sweet cars.


Washington, D.C.: Are there any diesels on the U.S. market that can accommodate seven passengers?

Warren Brown: The Audi Q5, I think.


Washington, D.C.: My husband and I are moving to Colorado and planning to get a second (used) car. We'd like it to be an all-wheel-drive, but still a sedan or wagon. So far, as I can tell, this narrows us to Subarus, Volvos and the VW Passat. Am I missing any? Any best options? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Get a used Subaru Outback and be happy.


Alexandria, Va.: Warren -- I'm thinking about the Dodge Charger -- except that it's rear-wheel drive. I haven't driven a RWD vehicle in 20 years. We don't have that much snow here in the DC area. Is today's RWD any better or any different that the mid-70s RWD vehicle that I last drove?

Warren Brown: Rear-wheel drive is okay, Alexandria. Worried about snow? You will lose dry-road traction in snow anyway. So, you might as well shoe all four wheels with proper snow tires in winter.


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Warren, are there any significant disadvantages for going with the diesel model instead of the gas model of a car -- aside from the initial purchase price? I like the idea of better fuel economy, both in terms of how often I'd have to fill up and for the environment, but didn't know if there are any down sides I should take into account.

Warren Brown: Hello, Fairfax:

Modern diesels are about 35 percent more fuel-efficient than their gasoline counterparts. Modern diesel exhaust treatment, in combination with federally mandated low-sulfur diesel fuel, has greatly reduced diesel tailpipe pollution. No smoke. Very little grit.


Baltimore, Md.: Re: "I'd save roughly $9,000, get arguably better front-end styling, sacrifice 9 hp (280 hp TSX versus 271 hp Accord EX V-6) and buy the Honda Accord EX V-6 -- and be perfectly happy."

Hi Warren, I think you're mixing the TSX with the TL. The TSX has a 210hp 4-cylinder, and is the equivalent of the European Accord, not the US. More driver-centric, smaller, more powerful than the US Accord 4cly but less so than the V6, and I think the price point is between the two as well. Very different cars for different tastes -- but yes, you do pay more for the Acura name.

Warren Brown: Thanks, Baltimore:

But I'm referring to the 2010 TSX with 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6, 280 hp @ 6,200 revs per minute, 254 pound-feet of torque.


Alexandria, Va.: I am looking to replace my 2001 Ford Taurus Station Wagon. I'd like the same size cargo area, similar gas mileage, and similar height off the ground (I don't like vehicles higher than cars). Any suggestions?

Warren Brown: Look at the Ford Flex.


Clifton, Va.: Lets not forget the IIHS is funded entirely by the insurance companies. Sorry the insurance companies may or may not care if you survive an accident or your injuries are minimal. Their concern is reducing their costs and increasing your premiums.

The safest car or truck would be one with a NASCAR style roll cage and a race seat with a 6 pt harness with an ignition interlock which cannot be defeated. Welded doors optional. A secondary benefit to this would be, it would cut down on adult obesity. If your torso is too big it will not fit in a race seat. I miss my Recaro race seats in my BMWs when I am driving something else.

Then we can cut weight and costs by eliminating airbags and their sensors.

Warren Brown: Clifton, Clifton. Still a cynical 60s revolutionary after all these years. By now, I thought you'd be voting Republican.


Car shopping: I've been car shopping to replace my beloved 318ti. While I was expecting to walk away with a steal, I certainly wasn't expecting the same hardball sells and shady dealings that I've encountered. I was ready to buy a brand new Mazda 3 last weekend and walked in with the prices and financing quoted to me and had my car ready to trade in. Low and behold, the prices quoted to me were "wrong," the special financing only stood if I paid more for the car, and they couldn't take in my car. I was floored as the car ended up being $5,000 more than what I was told over the phone. I was furious that I was lied to but even more furious that it was made out to be "my" fault. When I asked for the new numbers, they refused to give them to me on anything with their company name and only on a blank post it note.

I was ready to buy and now I am not. I would also think that in an economy where cars aren't selling, they'd treat me with some sort of respect then the stereotypical "single girl cooties." Especially as I know more about cars and car repairs then most men.

Warren Brown: Unfortunately, you picked one of the few cars selling well in this dismal market. The Mazda3 is hot. That means some Mazda dealers are behaving accordingly.


Washington, D.C.: Warren, what convertibles would you recommend for tall people? I am 6'3" and have a hard time with some of the models I've tried.

Warren Brown: The Ford Mustang--built for those long of leg and neck.


Leesburg, Va.: Warren - GM incentives have been very strong during April for new car purchases. Do you see strong incentives continuing in the coming months as GM fights off bankruptcy?

Warren Brown: Yes. Also, be prepared for GM to file. They have their problems with hedge fund people, too.


Kensington, Md.: I read a discussion of pickup trucks in which the writer said his ideal pickup would be a Ford with a Cummins Diesel and an Allison transmission. This was very thought provoking, build the best American pickup possible by taking the best offering of each of the then big three. Any thoughts on this or the future of full size pickups after the bankruptcies?

Warren Brown: Pickups will be around. The person involved in that discussion must have been an over-the-road trucker, because most long-haul rigs are built that way--with key components from different suppliers.


Detroit, Mich.: When do you get a new car? After five years of $1,250 repair bills for my '93 Camry, the car is performing like a star: Miles per gallon has been thirty-nine. On the other hand, it is a sixteen year old car with 220,000 miles on it. The ride isn't as smooth. There will be something that will need to be rebuilt. There is rust. I'd love to buy a hybrid but how can I spend $$$ for something that is marginally better?

Warren Brown: Buy when that one dies.


Raleigh, N.C.: Warren, I just purchased a 2008 Dodge Magnum SXT with 8K on the clock, (It makes for one cool mulch-hauler!) The car is under the factory warranty for 2 more years and I've done my research and I'm interested in purchasing an extended warranty from Chrysler. My concern is what happens if Chrysler either merges with Fiat or just plain disappears? How will the original and extended warranties be honored or will I (and a whole lot of other MOPAR owners) be out of luck? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Check the federally backed warranty (the Obama Warranty). I think there's a fixed date on it. Talk to aftermarket insurers, other than Chrysler, about an extended warranty.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm concerned by the choice of Fiat to ally with or take over Chrysler. Remember, the Yugo was a Fiat design, and got a well-deserved reputation as a piece of junk. Why let a company with such a bad reputation for unreliability do this to Chrysler, which already has problems in this regard (undeserved, I believe?)

Warren Brown: That Fiat is long dead and buried, Alexandria. The new Fiat, under Sergio Marchione, is a quality company.


San Antonio, Texas.: As an owner of two Saabs, I'm naturally concerned about the future of the brand. What are the most recent developments, and can you suggest good web sources to use in keeping track of Saab's prospects for survival?

Warren Brown: Try Automotive News for best updates. Saab is in bankruptcy reorganization, but is likely to emerge okay.


Anonymous: Your choice between the Honda CRV and Hyundai Tucson?

Warren Brown: Honda CRV.


Fairfax, Va.: I want to buy a used Saturn Vue and I want to know if I should continue with the Vue or should look elsewhere? Thanks.

Warren Brown: The Vue's fine. With or without Saturn, you'll still be able to get it fixed at any Chevy or Buick dealer.


Leipzig, Germany: Did you ever review the new A4 station wagon?

Warren Brown: Not yet, Leipzig. Coming.


Akron, Ohio.: Warren, at what point should a car owner stop paying to repair a paid off vehicle and purchase a new vehicle? I recently put a nice chunk of money into servicing normal wear and tear (new brakes and rotors) on my 2000 Honda Civic. Other than that, my car is in excellent shape. However, is there a general rule of thumb that I should keep in mind about throwing good money after bad?

Warren Brown: Buy when it dies and there is no remaining chance of affordable resurrection.


Warren Brown: Okay. good folks. the producers are pulling the plug. Please come back next week. Eat lunch, Ria.


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