Real Wheels

Warren Brown
Washington Post columnist
Friday, December 18, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown was online Friday, December 18, 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.


Eastern Market, D.C.: Warren, when is the Toyota iQ going on sale, either as a Toyota or a Scion, in the U.S.? I need a city car, and the iQ concept appeals to me more than a Smart. How long am I going to have to wait?

Warren Brown: Good morning. The iQ probably will be introduced in the fall of 2010 as a 2011 model. Companies planning small-car intros are getting a little skittish with regular gasoline prices predicted to be around $2.60 a gallon in 2010.


Gainesville, Fla.: Any thoughts on the death of Saab? I'm surprised no one wanted to buy them very much.

Warren Brown: Apparently, someone wants to buy them. GM currently is in negotiation with a venture capital company for the takeover of Saab.


Buyer's Remorseville: Help! I bought a 2010 Chevy Traverse a month ago. I took the $500 instead of the Moneyback Guarantee, and now I am REALLY regretting that decision. I HATE my car. It is difficult to park, it is too wide for my garage so it barely fits in the door, the engine feels funny to me (like it is up-shifting well before it should), I don't like the way it looks, I could go on and on. My husband loved it when we looked at it, and though I wasn't too keen on it, I figured I would warm up to it, but instead I now dread driving it and want to cry every time I think about being stuck with it! Is there anything I can do? I think I need car therapy or something...

Warren Brown: No, M'lady. What you need to do is pull a Mary Anne -- that is, stand up to your husband the next time he's planning to do something with family money that you don't want him to do. Another Mary Anne (my wife) trick goes like this: She'll let you keep the thing she hates, just so she can remind you how much she hates it everytime the opportunity arises. I get rid of the thing as soon as possible.


Saab owner: So I've never had my car's company go out of business before, and I'm concerned that my 2004 Saab is suddenly worthless. What happens? Will it keep any resale or trade-in value? How about service?

Warren Brown: Hello, Saabie:

You don't have to worry about service. Lots of GM dealers can handle that. Resale value? That's another story. I'd drive it as long as possible and amortize value through use.


Rockville, Md.: As always, we appreciate your insights. I hope you have a great holiday season. Between the Nissan Altima, Mazda-6 and Chevy Malibu, which one is the best value and the most reliable one you would buy?

Warren Brown: Hello, Rockville: Assuming you're talking four-cylinder models, the Chevrolet Malibu with top trim is the overall best value. After that, everything's a wash. Both the Altima and Mazda-6 are excellent mid-size cars.


Virginia Beach, Va.: Hi, Warren. I have a 2000 Avalon which I love but want to replace in the next year or so. Do you have any idea what plans Toyota has for this model? I'm wondering why they didn't change the body style this year as they usually do every five years. Thanks so much for your help.

Warren Brown: Hello,Virginia Beach: I'm sure Toyota is going to come up with something special for the Avalon, probably 2010 for 2011. What the heck? It has no choice.

Hyundai's new Sonata (intro 2010 for 2011) offers everything available in an Avalon at a lower price.

Buick's LaCrosse currently is best in class for mid-size/large family cars.

Volkswagen's CC is so beautiful, it's in a class by itself.


Arlington, Va.: Why does VW refuse to sell one of the best looking cars they have ever built, the new Scirroco, in the USA? Protecting the sales of the butt ugly GTI seems non-sensical to me. Why not dump the GTI instead? Guess I will have to hang onto my MINI instead.

Warren Brown: Ah, Arlington. Do you remember the first Scirocco sold stateside nearly two decades ago? Do you remember the mechanical problems, the rust, the leaks, the all-around bad publicity for that car? Even if VW did bring it back to the states, here's betting the company would not introduce it with the Scirocco name.


Fairfax, Va.: Following up on Rockville's question about the Malibu, Altima and Mazda-6: Where would you place the Ford Fusion in that group?

Warren Brown: Right alongside the Malibu. But I'd place the Fusion Hybrid ahead of the Malibu and everything else. Ford knocked that one out of the park.


Lansing, Mich.: There may be no way to gauge this, but is there evidence that GM will try to make the Volt as reliable as possible? We would like to buy such a car, and would like to buy an American built car, but longevity/reliability is important. Also, when do you think it will actually go on sale?

Warren Brown: Have you been watching what's going on at GM? Old Ed Whitacre, the new chairman, is pulling an Allan Mulally.

Mulally came to Ford in 2006, kicked out a lot of people, moved quickly to get rid of underperforming brands and products, and invested heavily in brands that could best carry Ford's banner. It seems that Whitacre is doing something similar at GM. And the Volt is one of those products he thinks could best carry GM's banner into a "green economy." The Volt will come out. The Volt will be reliable. It will work. Whitacre is shaping up as a ceo who doesn't mess around.


Washington, D.C.: What's your opinion of the Scion xD? I plan to test drive it soon, along with the Hyundai Elantra and Honda Fit. I'm looking for a small but versatile commuter car. It's my first car, too!

Warren Brown: The xD is a nice little car, Washington. But you are wise to do comparison drives. And while you're at it, don't forget to compare prices. Good luck.


Rockville, Md.: Warren, what are the top three choices for a midsized Sedan in the $30k-35k range?

Warren Brown: Looking at your price range, $30k-$35k:

. Buick LaCrosse, you have to drive it to believe it. And here's recommending that you drive it.

. Volkswagen CC, simply beautiful.

. Infiniti G-Class


McLean, Va.: I've owned an Element for five years now. Love it. Only two problems with it: One, as you mentioned in your review, is the blind spots where the doors join. The other is that it is hard for people in the back seat to get out in a parking lot. If you've got a car on either side, then when you have both doors on the same side open you're effectively boxed in. So you open the front door, get out, open the rear door, close the front, guy in back gets out, then you open the front (so you can close the rear), close the rear and close the front.

But it's a great car for helping move stuff. A twin mattress (aero bed makes a twin inflatable with a 12 volt motor) will fit in the back when the rear seats are up. And I can (with difficulty) strap eight surfboards on the roof. Four are easy. But an Element with that many boards on the roof , in a crosswind, is an interesting experience.

Warren Brown: Thanks, McLean. Maybe this is in the Element owner's manual. If it isn't, it should be: Strapping bulky items on top of that boxy vehicle is an invitation to danger, particularly in strong highway crosswinds. But I also agree that the Element is one of the best, most efficient utility vehicles conceived.


Fairfax: As GM nears the end of it brad-shedding phase, when will it realign the remaining brands? Chevrolet seems to be the one division that is all over the map, trying to be everything to everybody. GM should have learned by now that this approach does not work. Brands should be differentiated. If GM wants to keep GMC -- which they apparently do --make GMC the only division that sells trucks. If not, GM's truck strategy remains mired in the era of Roger Smith's branding by badging approach.

And the Corvette, with its price, no longer has any business in the Chevy line-up. Cadillac is now being repositioned as GM's performance division. The Corvette should go there. Of course the dealers will resist any such move, just as they resisted the elimination of non-performing brands until GM went bankrupt. Just proves that some organizations, like some people, never learn.

Warren Brown: Well, Fairfax:

The GM brands are being aligned and redefined now.

Chevrolet is now a global brand offering "affordable" (entry-level, mid-level) vehicles of all sorts. You can find them all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Western Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Buick is entry-level luxury with a growing following in the US and sales leadership in China, which is becoming the world's largest auto market.

Cadillac is now a global luxury contender with a growing overseas following.

GMC? In my younger, more self-important days, I advocated getting rid of GMC. After all, Chevrolet has many similar trucks. But an older, wiser me now gets it that GMC has a specific brand signature with a specific consumer base. Getting rid of GMC would be a big mistake. Here's hoping Whitacre doesn't do that.


20009: Hi, there. I am an adult, but I have never purchased my own car. I will finally do so in January. Is it better to go to a dealership or to one of those no-haggle CarBarn places? Are the prices about the same? Any suggestions for making the transaction? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Hello,20009:

Real adults do their homework before spending big money. Here are some tips:

. Define your personal transportation needs. How much money would it take to meet those needs? Do you have that money?

. What is the best, most affordable vehicle available to meet your needs.

. With needs taken care of, what do you want? Wants can cost big bucks. Lots of power? Sleek styling? Every conceivable plug-and-play electronic option? Fine, if you can afford them.

. Take your wants and needs to the Internet, either to, or, an affiliate of The Washington Post. All of those sites will give you price comparisons for your chosen vehicle. They also will give you competing dealers.

. Enter the dealership as an intelligent, informed, adult consumer.


Charles Town, W. Va.: Warren, why do you often recommend the Mazda CX-7 or CX-9 but never the Tribute? You recommended a CX-7 for us a couple of years ago, and we opted for the Tribute instead. We love it! Just wondering why you don't seem to feel any love for the Tribute. Thanks!

Warren Brown: Hello, Charles Town:

The Tribute is a Ford Escape, which I think is a much better Escape than the Tribute is a Tribute.


Brunswick, Ga.: Hello, Warren. You would think someone at a Ford or Lincoln dealer would know the answer to this simple question, but alas, all I get is "Yeah, I think so?" Ford Fusion, Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid. Do they have the same suspension or is the Mercury "softer," as they were in the old days as between their comparable models?

Warren Brown: Hello, Brunswick:

They are the same cars with the same running gear with different trim treatments and styling. The dealers know what this is. It's called "badge engineering."


Rotonda Fla.: I love my 2009 Hybrid Hylander's ride and performance as of the first 16000 miles on it. My question is what is in the future for a conversion kit to allow more miles on the battery along with the garage plug-in for night-time charging. If such a conversion is affordable some day, I see myself driving this beautiful car forever!

Warren Brown: I'd be very careful about fooling around with a conversion kit for that one. Check with your dealer. Yes, I know. But check with your dealer, anyway. This is one time a dealer consultation could save you LOTS of grief.


Rotonda West, Fla.: P.S. Just asked question about future hybrids, and wanted you to know I've enjoyed the articles in the WP since the early 1980s (and the Post since the early 70s) as a Springfield, Va. resident before moving down here. Keep up the good work!

Warren Brown: And Ria and I thank you, and wish you the best in the coming New Year.


Warren Brown: Thank you all for joining us today. Keep in mind that state and local police nationwide have beefed up drunk driving patrols for the Holidays. You cruise with booze, you're sure to lose. It's not worth it. Get a cab or a designated driver. Both are thousands of dollars cheaper than getting a lawyer to get you out of a drunk-driving charge.

Thanks for another fine production, Delece Barrow.

Eat lunch, Ria.

Merry Christmas to you both.


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