Real Wheels: Warren at the New York Auto Show

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Warren Brown
Friday, April 2, 2010; 11:00 AM

Washington Post cars columnist Warren Brown will discuss the auto industry. He'll be at the New York Auto Show and will be previewing the show. Plus, he'll give purchase advice to readers.

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€™s 2009 financial results last week, CEO Norbert Reithofer revealed that 80 percent of 1-series owners believe they are driving a front-wheel drive car." 2009BMW.COMI have to say that drivers not knowing whether they have front wheel drive tends to explain the Toyota problems too. People -- READ THE OWNERS' MANUAL.

Warren Brown: What makes me think that is tha I've spoken to dozens of 1-series owners, all of whomm new they were driving a rear-wheel drive car. How many did the analysts talk to. And I haven't found any one here at the NY Auto show who didn't know that.

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Good/bad time to buy a volvo: Dear Mr. Brown,I've had my eye on a Volvo c30 for a while -- something about that car that I really like. What do you think of buying a Volvo now, so soon after the sale to Geely?

Warren Brown: like it, too--small enough to make sense in the city, large enough to be comfortable on the highway, but not popular in the market place. I suspect the low take rate is styling and consumer discomfort with the idea of a small, inline 5-cylinder engine.

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New Saab 9-5: Hi Warren, am curious if you got a peek at the new 9-5? Reports seem very favorable, the NYT's writer called it the "thinking person's sport sedan." Your impressions?

Warren Brown: Meets or beets comparably priced rivals in safety, performance, comfort. Beats most in utility.

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Small to Midsize SUVs: Warren, We are looking to move from an aging Ford Windstar to a small or midsize SUV that gets descent mileage and has a comfy ride and good interior. The usual suspects are definitely in play (RAV4, CR-V, Lexus RX) but we also want to look at the offerings from German and American automakers (Tiguan, Q5, Escape Hybrid). Are there any hidden gems in this segment or is it better to go with a proven choice?

Warren Brown: Actually, you are looking at all of the alternatives I'd recommend, especially the upcoming (2011 version) of the Rav-4, which should be in showrooms Fall 2010. And, again, you'd be cheating yourself not to look at the 2010 Equinox.

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Manny tranny: Warren,what's the best manual transmission you've driven?

Warren Brown: Th Spore Honda Fit Sport--like driving an excellently designed go-cart.

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New York?: Any surprises?

Warren Brown: the all-electric car (Nissan Leaf) or gas-electric hybrid.

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Kia, Hyundai or Honda?: So do I, but another source said the Hyundai was the only small car with electronic stability control. That should make it a winner. Or is it? Right now I still favor the Honda, but would really look at a Kia after your recommendation. My current ride is a 91 Protege and I want it to last three or four more years. Right now it is just fine.

Warren Brown: it handles wonderfully well. It zips along and has surprisingly good utility. I still trust Honda more in the build category.

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Audi Q5: Wondering what your opinion of this midsize SUV is? Have you driven Audi sedans for years with much happiness.

Warren Brown: Give it to me with an optional diesel engine and I'd be quite happy. The standard (in the United States) is a 3.2-liter premium gasoline, 270-hp engine that is not at all cheap to run. But I figure that the people who can afford a starting price of $37,350 should not be too stressed by that.

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Arlington, Va.: Have loved your chats for a long time, and I ended up heeding some advice you gave about a year ago and test driving the Buick Enclave (which we would have never considered otherwise). We got it a few weeks ago and already many other families (we have several young children) are considering getting one as well. It's really a great car, and easily competes with the luxury SUV's we looked at. Just wanted to say "Thanks"

Warren Brown: the Enclave crossover among them. on rough roads. Beautiful overall design.And the new Buick Regal arguably beats the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Don't believe me? Think I'm schlepping for GM? Get off your biases and drive a Buick.

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I suspect the low take rate is styling and consumer discomfort with the idea of a small, inline 5-cylinder engine.: Warren, one thing the C30 is not, is underpowered. 220 HP with 5 cylinders and a turbo. http://www.volvocars.com/us/all-cars/volvo-c30/which/pages/engines.aspx

Warren Brown: I agree? But what is it about and I-5 configuration that seems to scare so many.American consumers away.

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Long time shopper..: Warren I just want relay my story. Last summer my wife and I started shopping for a car to replace her VW Golf since we have two small, and growing kids. After so much back and forth and research it was down to three cars. Used Passat, used Passat Wagon, New Mazda6, New Subaru Forester. This put us in the 20-25K region. We ended up with the Forester because 1) As safe as the other cars are (and they are extremely safe), the Forester comes out on top, using NHTSA, IIHS, NHTSA's complaint database, and general 1-for-1 feature comparisons. 2) The easier ingress/egress of the Forester. 3) The Subaru's stellar reliability.The only downside so far is that the Subaru's interior and general heft is really 1 or 2 grades below the VW. (It's funny to take a step backward and it makes you appreciate some small but significant features, most notably we miss how the doors lock when you hit 10 MPH in the VW. The Subaru only locks when you consciously flip the switch.)Finally, I encourage everyone to conduct all price negotiations online via email while you are completely removed from 1-on-1 pressure. One of the cars we test drove (the '11 Sonata was on a lark). When the salesmen sat down with us to negotiate the deal it felt completely dirty. You could tell that he was uncomfortable, and we were uncomfortable, so what's the point of that?

Warren Brown:

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Ford Fiesta: Warren, what's your take on the new Ford Fiesta? It really caught my eye while in Spain last summer, and I am itching to drive one.

Warren Brown: I've seen these little cars all over Europe and spoken to some of their European owners, who love the little thing. Will we love the new version in America. We'll see?

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nitrogen in tires: I am glad you are on today. I just bought a VW GTI after driving a Volvo C30, A mini Cooper S, a Mazda Speed3, and the Golf Diesel. I really did like the diesel, but I was moving from a BMW Z3 M Coupe and found the GTI less of a step down in terms of performance. In any case, when I stopped at my dealer I noticed a liquid nitrogen tank and inquired as toits purpose. I was told that for $39.95 I could get my tire filled with it. I knew that this was a practice in jets landing gear, but wonder at its application to passanger cars.

Warren Brown: It lightens tire weight without increasing tire friction, or rolling resistance. That saves fuel.

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New CAFE Rules: It's as if they reduced the price of gas. Historically, all of the gains in fuel economy over the years we have had CAFE rules have not caused fuel consumption to go down. Instead, people simply drive more, since they can. These rules have simply fueled more and more suburban sprawl, as with more efficient cars people are enabled to live further from where they work and are less likely to use public transportation. Instead, gasoline should be heavily taxed. Then, there would be no need for CAFE rules, as the marketplace would demand more efficient cars. It's simple economics - if you want people to use less of something, make it more expensive. Don't do the opposite - requiring more fuel-efficient cars, which only encourages people to drive more by reducing the operating cost of the cars. If we still had the 10-15 mpg cars of the 1970s there is no way places like Loudoun County would have ever been destroyed by sprawl. People would be forced to live closer to their work centers, and higher density housing closer in would have occurred, not sprawling subdivisions of McMansions. From an environmental standpoint, CAFE rules are one of the worst policy regulations ever created. In Europe, where gasoline is heavily taxed, there are no CAFE rules, and their cars already get much better mileage than ours, and have for years. Now, Obama has just taken a very bad idea and made it worse. Back in the 1970s, before CAFE, the average car was driven about 7500 miles per year. Now, the average car uses about half the gas but is driven about twice as far per year. What have we gained? Just a lot more traffic, congestion, and paving over more and more of the earth's surface. This is lunacy.

Warren Brown: at the New York show. People stop and look at the electric car displays. They ask serious questions. Indeed, there appears to be a real, growing interest over the alternative propulsion cars. stingy-smart Ford CEO Alan Mullaly wouldn't build it if he couldn't sell every one built. industry to build more expensive cars while allowing the U.S. petroleum industry to continue selling the cheapest gasoline in the developed world isn't going to do that--at least not for fuel economy.

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Clifton, VA: Warren sent you the link from AW 80% of 1series owners according the BMW's own survey believe the car is FWD.This what happens when technology rules in cars.

Warren Brown: Thank you. I know about BMW's statement. It just hasn't been the experience in my conversation with 1-series buyers. That car STARTS at $29 K. To pay that much money without knowing the basics of what you're buying strikes me as being unbelievable. I suspect that BMW is making that statement as a form of boastful marketing:"Our brand is so strong, people buy it without knowing what they're getting!"Yeah, right.

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Lightens tire wieght?: Normal air is composed of N(80%) + O(20%). The difference in mass between N and O is 12%. So, pumping in N vs normal air reduces weight by less than 3%. Right?

Warren Brown: I hbope so. And I thank you and all of the other correspondents for joining us today. We're operating under a new chatline system at The Washington Post that makes more sense. I thank the wonderful Sakina Rangwala for patiently walking me through it.I thank Ria for ably handling all of the car-shuttling chores in my absence. Eat lunch, Ria.


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