Real Wheels

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

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, December 11, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the auto industry. He also gave purchase advice to readers. Brown has covered the cars industry for The Washington Post since 1982.


Columbia, Md.: Have you or will you ever test drive the Porsche Panamera?

Warren Brown: Yes, I drove the rear-wheel-drive version of the Panamera (an all-wheel-drive version is available) last sumer at the Concours de Elegance in Pebble Beach, the perfect venue for playing with that four-door, four-seat sedan. Porsche obviously is expanding its market reach, taking into consideration that there is a limited market for expensive two-seat coupes. Rich people have families, too. My hunch is that the Panamera will have an effect on Porsches fortunes similar to that of the Cayenne SUV -- derided by Porsche purists, but a best-seller nonetheless.


Fairfax, Va.: With SAAB going away, what happens with all the unsold cars? Will they sell these at fire sale prices? And what happens with repairs? Will parts remain available for the foreseeable future?

Warren Brown: Good morning, Fairfax:

Saab's future certainly looks dim. But I'm not 100 percent convinced that some company, including a venture capitalist firm, won't snatch up Sabb at a bargain price. If that happens, all bets are off on Saab's future. If worse comes to worst, yes, there will be a fire sale of Saab products to consumers. Some Saab dealers, near Beverly Hills, for example, appear to be in that mode already. Don't worry about repairs. Most GM dealers can handle those. Many already are stocking up on parts in anticipation of becoming Saab service centers.


State College, Pa: Warren, I just read your account of driving the new larger Subaru Outback with the 3.6L 6-cylinder engine. I take it you like the car? Any other comments are appreciated. How does the drivetrain (H6 with CVT) compare to V6 drivetrains from other manufacturers? Does it have comparable power, smoothness, NVH? 25MPG loaded with five people and luggage certainly seems decent. Finally, have you tested, or at least looked at, the new larger Legacy sedan? I'm assuming it's similar to the Outback wagon in most respects. I want to buy a V6 Sedan soon and think I'll put the Legacy on my list, which currently includes the Accord, Altima or Maxima and Mazda6.

Warren Brown: Hello, State College:

Keep in mind that the transmission in the version I drove, the 3.6R Limited, is a five-speed manumatic, which can be operated as a manual or automatic. The continuosly variable transmission (CVT) you mentioned is available in other 2010 Outback versions. Frankly, I prefer the manumatic over the CVT, which, to me, still maintains a rubbery feel. NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) were minimal, certainly unobtrusive. It's an easy driver, doesen't wear you out. The new Legacy sedan, hoever, feels tighter and thus comes off as being a bit more fun.


Washington, DC: Hi, Mr. Brown. I am infatuated with the Fiat 500. Have you ever seen one in person? Driven one? What do you think of it? And do you think it will really be for sale in this country by the end of next year? Thanks!

Warren Brown: Yes, I've both seen and driven the Fiat Europe. My hunch is that it will be Americanized -- that is, made larger than it's European sibling, which is too bad, I think, and sold here. But here's the kicker:

Fiat DID NOT buy Chrysler to save that company by giving it a fleet of attractive small cars. As I've said here many times, Fiat bought Chrysler for trucks. Yeah, trucks. Fiat is betting that the still-lucrative truck market will become more so as the economy recovers. Fiat does not really care that truck poseurs, people who bought trucks for show, are out of the market. The Italian company is betting that it will make money on trucks in North America, and lots of it, in the commercial sector.


Montreal, Quebec: I live in Montreal and do a lot of skiing on weekends. I've been leaning toward buying a 2010 Subaru Outback, but now wonder if I should wait to get a look at the 2011 Kia Sorento (and its Canadian pricing). Which car would you recommend, and why?

Warren Brown: When it comes to all-wheel-drive, which you'll need in the snow, Subaru rules. That company offers the most reliable all-wheel-drive systems in the world. But,as an alternative, the all-wheel-drive Kia Sorento probably offers the best overall value. It's well-made, loaded with standard safety features and can be had at prices below those charged for a similarly equipped Subaru Outback.


to State College, Pa.: We just took delivery of a '10 Legacy 2.5GT and love love love it. I've driven the others you're considering and in my opinion the Legacy is head and shoulders above them in terms of interior, handling and styling. Although, note that the 2.5 is a 6 speed manual. (And man, is it fun!)

Warren Brown: Yeah, but that's apples and oranges. The 2.5 Legacy GT has performance car pretensions. The others primarily are family cars -- good, but not terribly exciting.


Ashburn, Va.: Any chance we'll see the new Volkswagen pickup truck here in the U.S. (the Amarok)?

Warren Brown: At this time, probably not. But if the non-commercial truck market makes a comeback, VW is poised to take advantage of that, if it chooses to do so.


Watertown, S.D.: Good Day to you and your staff Warren. My wife's 07 Accord lease is up soon, so a local Toyota Dealer wants to sell/lease an I4 FWD with leather Venza to her. I assisted by offering three options: lease, purchase, or trade in my 09 Honda Fit Sport with auto and 11,955 miles. The MSRP on the Venza $31,874.00. The trade allowance is $10,100. The Venza VIN is 1G2WK52J92F211922. I would have to say the dealer does not what the Fit (NEVER, EVER would I sell it for that. So, the question is: How much should we pay for this $31,874 Venza outright?

Warren Brown: Hello, Watertown:

Do this: Before spending money on the Venza, test-drive the 2011 Kia Sorento Limited, or a Nissan Rogue SL, both of which can be had for considerably less than $31K. With that experience, ask yourself why you are spending $31k for the Venza. P.S. Also look at the Hyundai Veracruz...and ask yourself the same question.


Midwest: Warren, please help! I am having buyer's remorse over my 2010 Toyota Sienna, which I got in September. I liked it fine until the winter weather hit, and I discovered it is terrible in the ice and snow. I'm not sure I even want to keep it through the winter. What should I do? Do I go to Carmax or someplace, and try to trade it for something else? What vehicles with third-row seating (I have three kids) do you recommend that are good in inclement weather? I'm panicking! Thank you so much!

Warren Brown: Calm down. Call Tire Rack. Buy genuine snow tires -- not "all-season" radials. You'll be fine.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm looking to upgrade to a newer 3 series BMW. What's your opinion about the 2003-2006 era 330ci?

Warren Brown: It works. It's nice. You might consider snow tires for that one, too, especially if you intend to drive it in the Mid-Atlantic region in the winter. Handling will be compromised somewhat on dry roads. But there's nothing more embarrassing than seeing a BMW stuck in the snow.


Falls Church, Va.: Now that GM has decided to retain Opel, are there any plans to re-introduce the brand in North America? Seems to me that GM has to do something with all those Opel-derived platforms that used to be sold as Saturns and SAABs.

Warren Brown: GM is doing something with all of those Opel-derived platforms here and overseas, which is why GM wisely chose to retain Opel. At this time, it's doubtful that we'll see an actual Opel-badged car stateside. No big deal. For example, we still have the Chevrolet Malibu.


Columbia, SC.: Warren, I am getting ready to buy a BMW 135i Convertible. What do you think of this car? I really love it, but would appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

Warren Brown: The BMW 1-Series hasn't been a big hit in the United States. But it appears to be holding its own in the marketplace. The 135i Convertible, starting at $40,150, is a precious little thing -- well-crafted, gifted with a 3-liter, 300hp inline six, loads of fun to drive. Rear-wheel. Smooth six-speed manual. Holds four people, two of them (up front) comfortably. I like it. But it's your call.


Bristow, Va.: Do you consider the new car warranty as a very important feature when it is over and above the usual coverage? You had a very high review grade on a SUV last week, with no mention of the warranty. I feel that you need to drive every vehicle at least 500 miles like you did that one for a top rating. Love your advice!

Warren Brown: Thanks, Bristow. I should've mentioned the warranty. I think you are referring to the Kia Sorento, which, assuming a recall correctly, has one of the best warranties in the business -- 10 years, 100,000 miles on key systems. I might be off on that. But I think I'm close.


Athens, Ga.: Warren, looking to purchase either a Chevy Equinox or Traverse within the year. My children are 4 and 5, and I am intending to keep it for hopefully 10 years. I like the idea of third row seating, but I'm torn. Any advice?

Warren Brown: Your children will grow, add friends and cousins, engage in extracurricular activities and all that means for hauling people and stuff. Get the larger Traverse.


Centreville, Va.: Ford is going to try to sell the New Tauras "Police Interceptor" to Police to replace the venerable Crown Vic PI. Do you think the police, or jurisdictions paying for the cars, will buy it?

Warren Brown: Considering the positive market response to the performance-oriented Taurus SHO by civilians, yes. The police will go for the aptly named Interceptor. Be warned.


Warren Brown: Thank you for joining us, today. Yes, I'm taking a Facebook tutorial in a bid to keep this going throughout the week. Thanks for another fine production, Delece.

And Ria, that was a darned nice save yesterday at Dulles Airport. Thank you. Eat lunch.


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