Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, November 13, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, November 13, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the auto industry. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers. Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.


Warren Brown: First, my apologies. I erred in my Chevy Silverado pickup truck report on November 8. I cited the wrong flexible-fuel engine. It should have been the 5.3-liter V-8 at 315 horsepower. So sorry.


Boston: Warren, I've been "Awaiting friend confirmation" with you on Facebook for at least a month. Time to approve some of your fans. How does the Mazda 6 compare to the "heavyweights" of the midsize Sedan field, the Accord and Camry?

Warren Brown: I'll get back to Facebook this weekend and do all of the approvals that need approving.

As for the Mazda 6, it's competitive with everything in the category for midsize family sedans. You have nine styles to choose from with prices starting at around $18,500. Four-cylinder and six-cylinderf engines available. Build quality and performance comensurate with best in class.


Queens, NY: Mornin' Warren! I wrote in a couple of weeks ago asking your advice on which choice to make among three slightly used vehicles (a VW Jetta, a Mitsubishi Galant or a Mazda 6. Well this week my fiancee and I have taken ownership of a 2007 Mazda 6S Grand Touring and we LOVE IT!

Best regards and thanks for the recommendation, Warren, and keep up the good work.

Warren Brown: Enjoy. What scared you away from the Jetta?


low cars: Warren, two questions please: 1. why are so many vehicles low to the ground (the chassis)? 2. I am trying to find a small to mid-size wagon or near wagon and the only one I see so far that is "off the ground" is the Subaru. Another? There are so many dips that are well below the street and store pavement, for example, that lots of cars "drag" when entering or leaving the place. Thanks.

Warren Brown: I don't know about the "low" cars, unless you are shopping in a tuner market. Most mainstream automobiles have in the neighborhood of five inches of ground clearance between the ground and underparts such as differential housing. You should be able to find something.


Apalachicola, Fla.: Can you tell me when the 2010 Chevrolet pickups will be available at dealers?

Warren Brown: Right now. The 2010 Silverado, for example, is moving into showrooms as we speak. But You might save money by buying a 2009 model. Not many changes between 2010 and 2009.


Washington, DC: I'm interested in buying the Jetta TDI SportWagen but am put off by VW's reputation for poor quality and lousy service. Have things changed enough at VW that the SportWagen is worth buying? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Yes, Washington. It's not the VW of old, particularly not in the Mid-Atlantic region where VW has been hard at work fixing back-shop problems. VW quality matches that of any rival. And VW, in my humble estimation, has the best interiors of any mainstream automobile manufacturer.


Washington, DC: Warren, we recently purchased a 2010 Mazda 5, partially based on your advice (you may recall the "should we buy the 2009 for cheap or wait for the 2010 with ESC?"). We are very happy so far -- this is truly the perfect "urban minivan". If anyone is considering this vehicle we feel we got a heck of a deal. Grand Touring model for below invoice.

Warren Brown: Thank you, Washington. Glad things are working out. Please let us know about any problems. Doing so helps us to stay honest.


Athens, Ga.: My husband and I are considering a minivan purchase. We have had, and loved, Hondas and Toyotas. We've looked at their vans, but they seem too big for what we need (two kids now, maybe a third in a few years), urban driving. We've tentatively settled on the Mazda5 -- it's relatively small, more fuel efficient than the others, and best of all, it comes with a manual transmission. Yes, I have resisted getting a van or SUV because I will not drive an automatic. I hate them.

So, what are your thoughts on the Mazda 5? Reliability, cost of repairs, etc. (our current Accord is 15 years old, pushing 200K miles, has needed regular maintenance only, and is still going strong.)

Warren Brown: I like the Mazda 5, Athens. But before you settle on that one, you might want to check out the very worthy 2010 Kia Sorento. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.


Raleigh NC: What is the practical difference between 87 octane, 89 octane and 93 octane? I bought a car about a year ago, and tried the different grades, and found that 89 octane gives me about 5 percent better gas mileage than 87, so I buy either 87 or 89 depending on the price. Is there more to it than that?

Warren Brown: Good morning, Raleigh:

Higher octane fuels generally are prescribed for higher compression engines, such as turbocharged and supercharged models. Octane is a measure of fuel-burn quality. Most "regular" gasoline engines are designed to burn 87-octane fuel efficiently -- free of knocks and pings. Higher compression engines generally require higher grade fuel to support a more even, thorough burn.


Fairfax, Va.: Warren, so when are we gonna see the American makers next feeble attempt at diesel cars?

Warren Brown: I don't know if the next American diesel attempt will be feeble, Fairfax. Keep in mind that GM and Ford compete quite well in Europe, which is a new-vehicle market with a 50-percent diesel take.

The problem here, both for the domestics and their foreign rivals, is that state and federal regulatory climates affecting diesel engines remain ucertain -- affecting everything from the pricing of diesel fuel to what diesel vehicles are accepted in what states. The Germans, at the moment, are offering a few 50-state diesel models. Asian and American companies, for the time being, largely are staying away from the diesel market here.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Warren, what about the Taurus SHO? You drive it yet?

Warren Brown: No, Pittsburgfh. I haven't driven that one, yet. But I've been impressed by the regular V-6 models. Several of my peers have driven the SHO (Special High Output) version and are all ga-ga over the thing. I'll drive it, soon. We'll see.


McLean, Va.: Hiya, Warren. In testing various Sedan-type car interiors, which cars seem to have the most comfortable driver seats? Does one make or model seem to have better quality leather seats than the others? My last few leather seats (Toyota Avalon and Saab 95) have split, and I am trying to avoid that when considering the next pool of possible cars. I really like the Ford Fusion hybrid. How does that compare?

Warren Brown: Best automotive interiors:







General Motors, specifically Buick and Cadillac and increasingly Chevrolet


low cars again: 5 inches of clearance is not enough!!! That is my point. Oh well.

Warren Brown: Then, you want a truck.


Bowie, Md.: Hi, Warren. Having a heck of a time finding a half decent car for my 22-year-old daughter whose '91 Mazda 626 simply cannot be driven safely anymore. Her target is sub $5000 because that's what she has and she does not want to borrow, becasue she may be moving out of state relatively soon and because she has a temp job. No Honda or Toyota with less than 100k miles comes in under $7000-$8000, and other cars such as Kias or Hyundais, while maybe OK now, in her price range are early 2000s that aren't solid. Carmax has nothing below $8000 or so. Am using KBB, CR, NAA, Edmunds, etc. for pricing tips. What do do? Give her $$ to spend up on a car, or continue the search for that needle in a haystack driven by a little old lady to church on Sundays? Thanks!

Warren Brown: Five-thousand dollars is a difficult price point for almost any car worth driving. I'd add several thousand dollars more to the pot and carry it to Hyundai. A used Elantra in that sweetened price range should offer good, reliable service.


Laurel,Md.: Hi, Warren. You mentioned the 2010 Kia Sorento in the Mazda 5 question. Did you mean the Sedona mini-van? Actually, I've been waiting for the all-new 2011 Sorento to be available. Should I worry about buying a vehicle in it's first year of production?

Warren Brown: No, I mean the 2010 Kia Sorento crossover utility vehicle -- aka minivan/station wagon/SUV. Particularly, I'm referring to the 2010 Sorento EX, which is quite nice.


Washington, DC: Warren, what are you hearing about the model changes that Hyundai is going to introduce for its Elantra (and other models?) in 2012? Yes, I know that's some time in the future, but an anticipated model remake affects my decision on when to trade in my current Elantra. Thanks for any help you can offer.

Warren Brown: Hyundai is in an odd place. It's beating everybody by offering great value at a relatively low price. But it wants to move upscale, as evidenced by its new Genesis and redesigned Sonata. My hunch? Hyundai will continue moving upscale, maintaining as much of the "value" edge as possible, but conceding the bulk of that market to its Korean sibling, Kia. Bottom line: If you want to get an Elantra at a good price, buy it now. I don't know how long Hyundai can maintain its upscale/value balancing act.


For Bowie whose daughter needs a car: Warren, I'd look at a 7 series Volvo. Four cylinder motor, easy to work on, safe and reliable. And there's plenty of them out there.

Warren Brown: 7-Series Volvo? Huh? Are you referring to something like a V-70? If so, I don't think so. Too pricey. Maybe, something like a Volvo C30 with an inline five-cylinder engine.


Madison, Wisc.: I am considering purchase of a hybrid sedan and narrowed my list to the Ford Fusion hybrid and Toyoya Prius. I have not bought an American-made car in over 20 years. I am leaning toward the Fusion to help support a US carmaker, and it has gotten good reviews. What are your thoughts on the choice between the two models? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Here's the deal, Madison:

Drive the Toyota Prius. Then, drive the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

My hunch is that you'll wind up buying the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

Not because it's American.

But because it's all around better.

And please come back to let us know what you've done.


Anonymous: We recently rented a Buick Lucerne while traveling and were pleasantly surprised at the comfort and performance (of course, having a car for just a few days is not a thorough test). How is it doing in terms of sales?

Warren Brown: A quick look at sales figures says the Lucerne isn't doing all that well. But the Buick LaCrosse seems to be making a good sales impression.

Bottom line is that Buick, ingeneral, now has overall quality that competes with best in class.


Best diesel I ever owned: Warren, remember when International Harvester made 4WD trucks? That was a great diesel in that one.

Warren Brown: Ha!


Andover, Minn.: We will be turning in a leased vehicle (2007 Silverado) next July and want to get a late model used car in the Accord/Camry/Altima/S60 size range. Any thoughts on the longevity, reliability and value of those particular models or others of that size that might be better? Available warranties are also a consideration. Thanks!

Warren Brown: Every single one of your alternative sedans will offer good quality, reliability, safety. The Volvo S60, being redone for model-year 2011, boasts more safety. But it comes at a higher price, starting at about $31,000.


Warren Brown: Thanks for joining us today. Please come back next week. Thanks, Delece, for another fine production. Thanks, Ria. Eat lunch, lady.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company