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Real Wheels Live

Warren Brown
Friday, July 23, 2010; 11:00 AM

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Warren Brown: And so Congress once again goes home having done next to nothing to give us a national energy policy. Keep this in mind in the event of a national fuel shortage and rising gasoline prices. This is what we get in a country where reelection is more important than leadership.

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Station wagons: Warren, thanks for sharing your disciplined love of cars. I'm writing to you from a tiny-and-shrinking segment: I want an engaging vehicle with some room for in-laws/dogs/trips to Home Depot. I want a great station wagon! 5-series and A6 wagons are atop my list. Would you nominate another *driver-conscious* wagon for us? Is there anything interesting in the pipeline? What's your opinion of manufacturers' refusal to build/send their station wagons here?

Warren Brown: You seem to have chosen two of the best. I assume that means you have little interest in a Subaru Outback, Toyota Rav-4, or Honda CR-V, all of which would serve you well. And the Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrai. Honestly. you should look at all of those.

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Diesel SUVs/Jeep CRD: Are there any diesel SUVs out there, other than the Audi Q7 TDI? I recall that the Jeep Grand Cherokee was previously available with the CRD diesel motor, but it appears they no longer offer this in the newly redesigned model, is that right?

Warren Brown: No diesel SUVs in the U.S, market as of this writing. But Audi is planning to introduce stateside diesel version of its Q5 and Q7.

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Safety Options: Warren--I'm a safety fanatic and am considering what safety "options" are necessities. Blind spot detection systems are a must for me in a new car, but what others do you think are worth the extra money? Roll stabilization systems, run-flat tires?

Warren Brown: Electronic stability and traction control, antilock brakes, emergency braking assistance (which allocates braking pressure based on wheel load, vehicle direction and speed), side and head air bags, seat belts/shoulder harnesses. Rules of the road: Keep arguments in the house. No discipline (regarding children), no trip. A car is not a restaurant. Park and eat. Obviously: No texting, phoning, drinking and driving.

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2011 Sienna: Warren,In light of recent problems with Toyota's quality issues, what are your feelings regarding the 2011 Sienna? Do I have cause to worry or should I wait or the new Odyssey?(These are the only 2 minivans we are interested in. I know you are a fan of the Kia)

Warren Brown: a matter of lapsed quality. It's a matter of public relations--the ludicrous pretense that in an intensely human endeavor such as automobile manufacturing, there can be something called perfection. The news is that Toyota never was perfect. No car company is.

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Fiesta or Fit?: I see on July 2 that you said Fiesta automatics won't arrive until late summer. I test drove one last week. Now I am debating between a Honda Fit and a Fiesta. I don't put a lot of miles on a car, have a short commute, usually traveling by myself but sometimes with 1-3 other adults. I do like to bring mulch and plants home from the nursery, occasionally move a ladder or a bike. Any advice? Also, one story in Car& Motor said that the Honda Fit hybrid would come in the end of the summer and be under $20k. Any truth to either of those statements?Empty-nester

Warren Brown: The Honda Fit beats the Fiesta on utility, but not by much. I'd wait for the Fiesta's arrival and then shop. That gives you a good alternative in case the Honda dealer tries to stiff you on discounts, et cetera.

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Gasoline differences: Warren,submitting this early since it's an issue that concerns ALL of your readers.having just returned from two consecutive trips ot the Midwest, i noticed that there is a significant price difference between the generic gasoline stations (Sheetz, Flying J, Ameri-Go, Hess, Pilot, etc.) and the branded stations (e.g., Shell, Exxon, BP)the question: when the generics buy gas from the branded refiners, do the refiners include their proprietary detergent and additive packages in their mid-level and premium gasolines that the generics sell? if my car requires premium, is it being harmed by purchasing the generics exclusively?

Warren Brown: (but still respecting vehicle fuel grade requirements) interchangeably. Sheetz is good. Ditto Liberty, et all. No problems.

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A Better Place: Warren -- My family recently visited the Better Place facility in Israel, and test drove their electric car. They will be offering a combined auto and subscription service for access to stations that will quickly change the 100-mile capacity battery. For shorter trips, overnight recharging is provided at home. What do you think of this business model?

Warren Brown: I like the idea. I've spent several hours discussing it with Mr. Agassi's people. It's smart. It can work, especially in a small country where politicians are also on board. It is one of several ideas we can use to help reduce fossil fuel use. It's also being tried in the Netherlands.

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Which car to buy?: Dear Warren -- I'm hoping you can help me with a question. I read your columns religiously and value your opinion and insights on cars. I'm in the market for a fun, sporty car that would fit a family of four, including two smaller children. My goal is to commute to work and also take weekend trips or joyrides. I didn't think convertibles were in the mix, but we test drove one and my wife loved riding with the top down, so I'm definitely leaning toward a convertible. This would be a third car, adding to a sedan and a hatchback, both of which are fine, but a little utilitarian.So far, I've looked primarily at Saabs and BMWs, because these have convertibles that actually have back seats. I was leaning heavily toward a 1994 Saab 900, but had a bad experience with Saab reliability -- it died at the garage where I was doing a pre-buy inspection. I also looked at a 1998 BMW M3 convertible, but this seems a little too high-performance for a car that would be a daily driver with car seats in the back. Finally, I also looked at a 1996 318i, but this did not seem to be much more sporty than my current car, a 2004 Mazda6.Can you suggest a fun, hopefully inexpensive car that is sportier than a Mazda6 and would still fit four people? Many thanks for your advice.

Warren Brown: Thank you for writing. Inasmuch as you already have a sedan and a hatchback, you can flirt with the idea of getting a convertible. Otherwise, I'd shoo you away from it. Convertibles are the world's most impractical cars. But, like most impractical things, they are also the most fun. This sounds like a car for yopur wife. If so, get yourself to VW and get her a pretty VW Eos. Lots of fun to drive. Pretty as heck. And she'll love you on days of beautiful weather.

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VW offers the diesel Touareg: VW offers the diesel Touareg.Diesel is not worth the price premium right now. Also remember diesel fuel rpices will start to climb as refineries divert product for home heating oil

Warren Brown: Thank you. You are right, unfortunately. Diesel is 30-35 percent more efficient than gasoline. But diesel technology is right up there with gas-electric technology, adding about $6,000 to the cost of the car. And our politicians have allowed diesel fuel to be priced substantially higher than gasoline in the United States. Silly. But that's what happens in a country where the consumers are asleep in the voting booths.

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And the Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrai. Honestly. you should look at all of those.: Here we go again with the "nothing but GM " referrals again. There ARE other makers out there ya know.

Warren Brown: VW Eos, or Hyundai Santa Fe, all of which have been recommended in this space. You have a problem. Get over your bias.

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Ford earnings soar 13 percent : Warren any comments on that?

Warren Brown: Yeah, here's hoping that the Ford Family children are smart enough to keep an adult in the house, Alan Mulally, the company's chairman and chief executive officer. He's smart. He's tough. He honors the basics.. Concentrates on Ford Branded products.. Invests heavily in those products, emphasizing quality and innovation. Mercury.. Is determined to make Ford a global leader in automobile manufacturing.With that kind of leadership, Ford's profits are not the least bit surprising.

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'11 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T: Do you know the release date on this?

Warren Brown: Right about now, or most assuredly early fall. My understanding is that the new Sonata will be offered with turbocharging to give a boost to consumers for whom four normally aspirated cylinders are not enough.

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5 Series wagon: BMW is not importing the new 5 series wagon to the US. it would take away sales from their two disaters the X3 and X5.In Europe BMW offers the M5 wagon and has for years.

Warren Brown: Ok, thanks. But who says the X5 and X3 are disasters, or any more disasters than mid-size SUVs in general, nearly all of which have taken a hit in a down economy that is also shifting from SUVs to crossover utility vehicles? Is BMW somehow immune from those changes? Do tell.

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Audi A4 and oil: We bought a used 2007 Audi A4 2.0 last year (not through aa Audi dealer). About every 3,000 miles the oil light comes on, and we need to replace the engine oil. Delear we took it to found no leaks. We've found out online that a lot of owners of that year's 2.0 have this problem. Some have had their engine replaced, some have had the turbo replaced, and others just carry around oil in the vehicle and have had no work done. Seems to all depend on their Audi dealer.Love the car otherwise. Would you hang onto it, insist that the dealer "do something", or just drive around with oil?

Warren Brown: Are you actually losing oil? Or, is the oil light being triggered idiopathically, for no apparent or actual cause? I'd first determine that. If there's no actual oil loss, I'd keep it. If there is an actual oil loss, I'd get it fixed. If the fix requires a new engine, I'd dump it.

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Mulally's good leadership is outweighed by poor Ford dealerships.: I know Ford has good products but I have had such poor experiences at their service departments that I am not even test driving a Fusion Hybrid, but opting for a Prius. I won't be fooled again by Ford.

Warren Brown: And I suppose you've visited every Ford dealership in the area? Or, is it the country? I'm not trying to be flippant. But there are good and bad Ford dealers, as there are good and bad dealers in all automotive franchises. The longer I work in this business, the more convinced I am that you have to look at each case separately.

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Saying Goodbye to the SUV: My 2000 Ford Explorer was pronounced dead this week (not worth the $2,600 needed to pass inspection in VA). We are looking at the Prius and comparing trim levels. There doesn;t seem to be any great difference between them. The only "must have" for us is leather seats. Thoughts or suggestions?

Warren Brown: and others. Check www.edmunds.com/hybrids. Or visit the Greencar Journal for a complete list of gas-electrics. Good luck.

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Little Old Lady Car: Just kidding, that's gonna get me in trouble. Warren, I'm trying to advise my mom on a new car, likely small to mid-size. She's retired but substitute teaches in Montgomery County and her "long" drives are mostly into the city. Also of note is that she is currently looking for a dog, likely small to mid-size. She has expressed interest in the new Ford Fiesta and also asked about the Edge the other day. I've mentioned the Fusion and also the Jetta wagon (gas or TDI). All that said, we'd appreciate your thoughts and any other ideas (Subaru?)....

Warren Brown: I'd put her in a Jetta TDI. Get her a Chocolate Labrador. (Those dogs love older people.) That should work. Have a good weekend. Thanks for visiting. Please come back nexk week. Thanks, Sakina. Eat lunch, Ria.

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