Real Wheels: Subarus, SUVs and More Car Advice

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, September 25, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, September 25, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the auto industry and offer purchase advice to readers. Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.

The transcript follows.


CIA: Did you notice that Mercedes Benz's feature that alerts you when you are dozing off uses a picture of a cup of coffee when it warns you?

Sounds kind of stupid to suggest that you should take a stimulant if you're too tired to continue driving.

Warren Brown: The icon is meant to suggest that you stop, rest and refresh yourself. Many people on long drives choose coffee for their refreshment. Stupid me. So do I.


Arlington, Va.: Warren -- recognizing the limitations of a column format, there is one relevant piece of information on the cars you test which you do not publish: weight. I suggest this would be a useful one to include in the future.

Thank you.

Warren Brown: Thank you, I will consider your suggestion. I occasionally publish weight.


Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Warren: I'm in the market for a new vehicle. I drive a 1993 Subaru Legacy Wagon. I would have taken advantage of the Cash for Clunkers program; but my car gets a whopping 21 MPG average. I'd like to stay with a wagon or CUV. Something dependable and fuel efficient. What are some of your favorites?

Warren Brown: Go with the new Legacy wagon, which is selling quite well, which speaks well for its potential resale value.


Arkansas: Re the Chevy 2010 Equinox -- I was within inches of buying one the day Cash for Clunkers started. Had the paperwork ready and everything. LOVED it--until my husband drove it and I rode in the passenger seat. Thirty minutes later I was at home, on a heating pad and pain meds due to back pain. Thought maybe I was crazy -- but everyone that rode in the passenger seat complained. Even my 17-year-old son who really wanted me to buy. Worst passenger seat I've ever ridden in -- and it nixed the deal.

Warren Brown: Thank you. We had a completely different experience. Different versions?


Facebook: I'm not the first to ask, but I hope I'm the last (because maybe this time you'll give a helpful answer).

We want to follow you on Facebook (speaking for the other chatters, too), but yours is a common name. Please, please, please provide the URL for your Facebook page OR the email address associated with your Facebook account, so we can find and "friend" you.

Many thanks!

Warren Brown: I'm a nubie to Facebook. I probably did not set up the page correctly. I'm reachable at


Bethesda: Warren-

I've been looking at getting a small-ute or a wagon, something with better mileage than the 21 mpg I'm currently getting. Reading through your reviews, I saw both a positive and negative review for the Hyundai Elantra Touring.

If I'm looking to haul teens and dogs around, would you recommend the Elantra, the new Outback, the RAV4 or something else?

Warren Brown: I'd go with the Subaru Outback--stronger engine, all-wheel-drive, better utility than the Hyundai Elantra Touring. Price against the Rav4.


Anonymous: Hi Warren, have you driven the 2010 Subaru Legacy with its cvt tyranny? I would like to know your thoughts on this car, also do you see auto retail prices falling, stabilizing or increasing in the near future?

Warren Brown: The continuously variable transmission in the new Legacy is much improved over previous iterations--that rubber-band transmission feel is gone. Bottom line is that Subaru nowadays is hitting on all cylinders, including welcome, needed improvements in styling.


Dupont Circle: Warren, hello! Can't begin to tell you how much I love your chats and columns.

I've fallen in love with the Volvo C30, but I just don't think I can justify buying one with how little driving I do - I walk to work and would really only use it on weekends.

Now I'm torn about what to do for a more practical alternative for, say, around $15,000 - should I buy a new Hyundai Accent or the like, or a used VW Rabbit or other... or should I just keep renting/Zipcarring when I need one?

Many thanks.

Warren Brown: Hello, Dupont Circle. If you're doing okay with Zip Car weekends, stay with that. Makes no sense to spend money on a car that will sit around idle all week.


Boston, Mass: Warren, as a long time reader, I heartily give you credit for identifying tall wagons, which are marketed as crossovers. Help me to understand this phenomena: Midsized sedans, with a vertical bias, and short hatchback- like trunks: For example: Kia Rondo, Honda Edix (which I heard is coming stateside), Mazda CX7, Nissan Rogue, VW Tiguan. When I look at these vehicles, I get the sense that they are a sedan with a really roomy cabin (I'm a short, slight guy) and proportionally very meager trunk space. Are these vehicles the replacement/evolution of small, unibody, SUVs?

Warren Brown: Good morning, Boston.

They essentially are station wagons. But automotive marketers believe that today's couples, young families, single adults with children and/or pets, find the idea of station wagons or minivans anathema. It's a stylistic thing having little to do with actual increased utility, safety, or road performance. It's like jeans. Designer versus good 'ole Levis.


Baltimore, Md.: I've seen you recommending the VW Jetta TDI for the past several weeks now, and after taking one on a test drive, I'm now really interested in buying one. However, many people have emphatically told me to steer clear of VWs, citing numerous reliability and maintenance problems they've had over the years. Has VW taken any steps to address these problems for the '09/'10 models?

Warren Brown: Reputations. Good ones are easily lost. Bad ones tend to hang around long after things have changed. At VW, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region in the matter of maintenance and repairs, things have changed for the better. The Jetta TDI is a darned good car now backed by a company that acts on the notion that "total quality" includes repair service.


Clifton, Va.: The ultimate dog and teen holder is the Honda Element. Spills and dog hair aren't a problem. Seats clean up easy in the EX version. Great reliability 25mpg and lots of room.

Minuses Only seats 4 and crosswinds do blow the little box around.

Warren Brown: I generally agree, especially on Honda Element behavior in crosswinds. Not good handling under the circumstance.


Warren Brown: To Silver Spring on when to replace a car:

A $1,000 repair job that works and is reliable is a lot less costly than $26,000 (average cost of a new car) plus taxes, fees and insurance. Does the repaired car work? Is it safe? Does it still provide good transportation value? Answer those questions and act accordingly.


Warren Brown: To those who've asked:

Yes, the off-and-on proposed deal with GM, Magna International and Russia's Sberbank is on again in the matter of GM's sale of 65 percent of its share of Germany's Opel to Magna/Sberbank.

GM needs cash. But it also needs Opel to maintain a credible presence in Europe. And even a downsized, new GM needs to have a credible European presence.


Lexus hybrid: Have you tested the GS or HS hybrids? Can't afford the 100k LS, but these two luxury hybrids have some appeal. Any thoughts?

Warren Brown: I will drive both, soon. But I'm a bit confused by the design intent of powerful, luxurious hybrids. Are they meant to save fuel, or just make their buyers feel better about purchasing powerful, luxurious vehicles?


Washington, D.C.: Hiya Warren, thanks for doing these chats. One more (at least) Subaru question. What is the biggest difference between the Subaru Outback wagon and the Subaru Forester? Is it the ride, the creature comforts, or something else. The Forester is built as more of an SUV than the Outback wagon, but it seems like the Outback has a larger capacity for cargo (length-wise that is). Please enlighten me.

Warren Brown: Hello, Washington:

The wagon is, well, a wagon. The Forester essentially is a wagon with SUV pretensions. We've carted kit and kin in both--along with a big chocolate Labrador--in both. We prefer the handling and parking ease of the wagon.


Golf TDI?: Any news on when the new Golf TDI will be out, and what price range it will be?

Warren Brown: Should be late fall with base prices in the high teens, low $20k.


Atlanta, Ga.: 2010 Volvo C30 or the 2010 Audi A3? I'm really torn. I love the interior of the Audi, but love the styling of the C30 R-Design.

Warren Brown: You've just answered your question, Atlanta. Where will you spend most of your time, inside or outside of the car? Inside, right? So, go with the A3, which has a reasonably attractive exterior as well.


VW Reliability: My '02 Golf was reliable; same my spouse's '99 Cabrio. The 2 dealers I went to in Northern Va. gave fine service.

Warren Brown: Thank you.


Columbia, S.C.: Hi Warren, what do you think of the Audi A5? Would it be a suitable replacement for my 2001 TT Coupe? Thanks for all of your helpful advice each week.

Warren Brown: The A5 is a beautiful sedan, starting at, I think, $36,000 for the 2010 model. It's a far different car from your VW Beetle-based TT Coupe. But you might want to check out the equally fine and, I think, less expensive VW CC sedan. Hint: VW is Audi's parent.


RE: VW: The company's reputation has indeed improved... but you should know in advance that if you do need repairs on your TDI, they're going to be fairly spendy.

On the other hand, you'll love driving the car, and you'll have a hard time driving anything lesser.

Warren Brown: True.


Reston, Va.: Hi Warren, my husband and I are planning to purchase either a Cadillac CTS or the new Buick Lacrosse - which we read about in your good review with interest this last Sun.

Your thoughts, please on pros and cons of each, etc.

Warren Brown: I love both of those cars. But I'd go with the LaCrosse CXS. A frightened GM is a darned good GM. Clearly, a GM fighting for its life, putting everything on the line, designed the new LaCrosse. It is, at the moment, the car that well defines the new GM and that speaks well to the company's long-term survival. GM has a winner here!


Rockville: "Inside, right?"

Got that right. The first thing I noticed when I owned a Corvette was that I could not watch myself drive. Inside it was much like any other car - just a lot faster.

Am I lucky I left the country and sold the car before I started getting tickets.

But all this was many years ago.

Warren Brown: Ha! You've got that right. I've lost track of the cars I've driven with pretty bodies and not-so-pretty, but truly uncomfortable cabins. (The new Buick LaCrosse, by the way, looks good--and feels good--inside and out.)


Cleveland, Ohio.: Thanks for doing this each week, it's always a nice lunch-break read. We're in the market for a new CUV/Wagon, but a requirement is a manual transmission. The Outback is the only one we've found that still offers a stick in anything above the base model (Tiguan/Santa Fe available only in base; CRV/EDGE not available at all). Just seems that more companies aren't making them.

As people that probably won't ever own performance cars (and generally keep them 6-8 years), will this be the last manual transmission we buy new? And would you recommend anything other than the Outback?

Warren Brown: I'd go with the Outback. For one thing, it will last six years with relatively few problems.

As for manuals: Currently, manual gearboxes account for 11.5 percent of new vehicles sold in this country. With the continued emergence of manumatics--transmissions that can be used automatically or manually--their number is likely to dwindle. But wishful thinking makes me believe that traditional manuals will maintain some sort of long-term presence in the marketplace.


Silver Spring: You also might consider whether you feel safe in the car and trust it. When my beloved PT Cruiser had a series of problems, each $1000 was cheaper than a new car. BUT I no longer trusted the car not to need another $1000 every month.

Sure it's instinctive and emotional. But sometimes you have to trust your gut.

Warren Brown: Trust is everything.

With the absence of trust, everything goes--your PT Cruiser, your bank and investment accounts, your employment, your friends and family.


Alexandria, Va.: Have you test-driven the Venza yet? How would you rate it against a Subaru Legacy or other cross-over vehicle?

Warren Brown: No, Alexandria. But coming soon.


Springfield, Va.: Warren -- In response to Boston's query about Crossovers, I think their market includes folks who want the cargo capacity of SUVs and many minivans, but without their antiquated low gas mileage. The arrival of the Chevy Orlando and the stretched Ford C-Max should help to solidify this category.

Warren Brown: Um, hmm. And they can get all of that in a traditional wagon.


Rockville, Md.: Warren, I think it would be prudent if you disclosed (here or in some other forum) your financial stake in the companies you tout. For instance, you regularly recommend VWs and, especially lately, GM vehicles. I'm curious if you own stock (and, to be even more nosy, how much) in those companies? Seems to me like it would weigh in your recommendations.

Warren Brown: Good question, Rockville. Typical Washington question. But it speaks to trust, so little of which is to be found in these parts:

I own NO automotive stocks.

I have no investments in any original equipment manufacturer or supplier.

My radio show, "On Wheels With Warren Brown," WMET World Radio, 1160 on the dial, Sundays from 12 noon to 1 PM, is supported by the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers' Association and some smaller outfits.

But I'd happily take paid advertisements from you, yours, your company or nonprofit organization. The show costs $500 an hour, funded from 26 to 52 weeks. I'm trying to expand it to two hours. You do the math. If you are interested, kindly contact my station manager, Bob Appel, at 202-969-9083, We'll gladly take your money, just as any media outlet anywhere in the world would gladly take your money.

It's a good show, too. You want me to stay honest? Support the show. Thank you.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Warren. Thanks for chatting. Since crossovers are the theme today, what do you think of the Acura RDX? I've owned an Acura before and really enjoyed it, and I like the size/price/performance blend of the RDX. Thanks!

Warren Brown: I think its a good mid-size crossover that, nonetheless, is inferior in value to the Mazda CX-9 and the Hyundai Veracruz. And for larger families, those requiring seating for eight, it does not hold a candle to the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave. That's what I think.


Volvo sold to Geely of China: Warren,

What do you know about these people? Will they do better with Volvo than Ford did?

Warren Brown: Geely, I believe that is. A good company, ambitious company. Success with Volvo? It's sufficient to say that I've learned not to underestimate the Chinese. Period.


For Ohio: While some vehicles may only have manual in the base model, you may consider adding whatever "goodies" you would want... Mazda5 base model was the only manual minivan; my husband added leather & sun roof, and it is now exactly the car he wanted.

Warren Brown: We thank you.


Chantilly, Va.: My wife and I purchased a VW in 2001; the tranny literally broke as we drove the brand-new vehicle off the lot. Local service and dealership (Stohlman -- free free to cut the name out if you post) lied to us and made life difficult for my wife and I until we caught them in a lie and documented it, at which point VW corporate essentially purchased the car back from us. Will never look at a VW again, and will never buy another car of any type from Stohlman. I'm sure other folks have had other experiences, but there are many dealerships and we have to make decisions about where to spend our money somehow ...

Warren Brown: I understand, Chantilly. But I note the year, 2001. VW was having problems back then, as noted many times in this space. Perception has a hard time bridging history. I truly understand your lingering angst.


Suburbs, Va.: Hi Warren, looking for a wagon/hatchback style vehicle good for toting baby + preschooler on errands, commuting to work (mixed highway and stop-n-go travel), that gets decent gas mileage, takes regular unleaded (or diesel), and takes safety seriously. New or recent used (30k or less miles), needs to cost under $18k. And, the Rabbit's seat is a little too contoured/narrow for comfort. Your recommendations?

Warren Brown: So many.

I'll start with a much-discussed favorite, the Subaru Outback.

And there are the usual suspects:

Honda CR-V

Toyota Rav-4

Nissan Rogue

Mazda CX-7 and CX-9

And I'd be curious to have YOUR opinion on the 2010--that's 2010, not 2009--Chevrolet Equinox.


Warren Brown: Okay, good folks. Thanks for joining us today. And remember, for those of you who want to keep me on the air, Sundays, currently 12 to 1, but trying to expand 11 AM to 1, that requires money. We'll happily accept your money and list your names. Contact Bob Appel at 202-969-9083, We thank you.

And I thank you, Sakina.

Eat lunch, Ria.


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