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Warren Brown
Friday, December 3, 2010; 11:00 AM

Live online discussion with Real Wheels columnist Warren Brown about car-buying and the auto industry.

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query re area lexus dealers: Dear Mr Brown: I am searching for a car to replace my Passat GLX and am considering the new in 2011 Lexus hybrid hatchback. Not only is this car shorter than my current car (an absolute requirement as my current car just barely fits into my garage), but unlike most of its competition in the under $35K hybrid/diesel market, it may be "dressed up" a bit inside. But the real attraction (to me anyway as I live and work in DC) is that the dealership sends someone to your home with a loaner and drives your car back to the dealership whenever you need service work under the warranty - at least that's what the salesman at Lexus of Rockville told me last year. So my question to you is - do all of the area Lexus dealers offer this service? If so, do you have an opinion about the "best" one to work with (perhaps based on quality of service)? Do any other dealerships in the area offer this service? Not having to schlep out to the suburbs is a huge deal maker as far as I'm concerned. (Oh, yeah - any thoughts on the new lexus?) Thanks for your time.

Warren Brown: Good morning. I assume you are referring to the Lexus CT200h. I haven't driven it, yet. But I assume it is just as good as most Lexus vehicles usually are. It starts at $28,900. You'd be doing yourself a big favor to compare it with the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Seriously. As far as Lexus dealers offering a concierge vehicle service when yours is in the shop, that's not something exclusive to Lexus. You can contract for that kind of service at many dealerships at time of vehicle purchase.

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Hyundai Santa Fe: Hi. I've been looking at a new Honda CR-V for a while, but I just found a used 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe at the dealer, and I'm torn between the two. Thanks for your help!

Warren Brown: The Santa Fe, 2009, offred at a good price is a deal. But there's a reason you've been looking at the Honda CR-V. It is one of the best compact crossover utility vehicles available. You might as well also look at the other current top-sellers in that league--the Toyota Rav-4, Ford Escape, and Chevrolet Equinox (circa 2010 and 2011).

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Washington DC: And, lo, it is very much fun! The dog (Norwegian Elkhound mix, for the record) likes it a lot too.

Warren Brown: You are welcome, I think. "A Volvo mentality." A while ago, that would have hurt my feelings. But Volvo nowadays is rather sexy. Take care.

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Suburu Forester: Mr. Brown,I know you like the Outback, but I cannot afford one. A friend recommended the Forester. I am considering that or maybe a Jetta. What do you think? I value your thoughts. In the alternative, can you advise me on any new affordable diesels that are forthcoming? I can wait a bit for a good one. Thank you.

Warren Brown: At the moment, the most afffordable diesel in the U.S. most probably is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, starting at $22,995. And it's worth the price. As for Subaru, keep in mind that ALL Subaru vehicles are all-wheel-drive. Which means you can save money by looking at something smaller than a Forester, such as the Impreza.

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Nissan CVT Durabililty: I'm seriously considering the 4 or 6 cylinder Nissan Altima sedan but I wonder about the longevity and durability of the CVT constant velocity transmission?

Warren Brown: The C VT transmission, relying on a system of pulleys, automatically (and I use that term deliberately in this instance) adjusts engine speeds. It is viewed as more efficient, more fuel-efficient, than the fixed-gear system. We will see many more CVT trannies in the future, most likely mated to four-cylinder engines, as car companie struggle to meet global demands for better fuel economy and reduced tailpipe pollution.

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Accord Coupe v. Mini Cooper: I know they're wildly different vehicles, but which of these two hold up better over time/have better resale value, etc? I'm looking at two of comparable price, miles, features, etc. Thanks!

Warren Brown: From experience, I can tell you that both cars hold up equally well. I've never been one of those people who put much stock in resale value. To me, that's a marketing come-on. Tomorrow's resale value will be determined by tomorrow's economy, politics, governmental regulations, recall publicity (ask Toyota), fuel prices, fuel availability, et cetera. Go for the best value and reliability today. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Or, it won't.

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Two Enclaves: Warren - I got an Enclave about a year ago after reading your glowing review and loving the seating arrangement for my family (4 kids, all 5 and under). My old sedan broke down (for good) and I was researching something to replace it, realizing that I was likely going to have to get something with 3 rows of seats due to the age of the kids (I had hoped mine would last another 4 years, at which time I would get another sedan). Warren, I ended up buying another Enclave. Could you please just tell me that it's OK?

Warren Brown: I'll do better than that. If you have ANY problem with your Buick Enclave, contact me at warbro70@aol.com or orleanslatete@gmail.com. I know how to get to the right people at Buick. Besides, as you indicate, those folks owe me.

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Honda Fit Hybrid?: Is the Honda Fit hybrid really coming out next year? Will if be a "mild" hybrid like most other Hondas, or more like Prius? What's your take on it for a car for local errand-running? Our son loves his "original" Fit (bought the first day it hit the dealerships, after months on a waiting list).

Warren Brown: "full hybrid," "parallel hybrid" and all of that stuff. It's mostly wonk speak. What matters to you:. Fuel economy.. Overall performance and reliablity.. Ease of use and repair.. Battery type, with lithium ion or lithium polymer most preferred.

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Why no push for Diesel or Diesel Electric hybrids?: Why is there no news about synthetic diesel being made in USA by RenTech? (2 VWs are being used as test beds). Seems a much better solution to be self dependent rather than use batteries made from rare-earth minerals and end up being dependent on another foreign country. What really changes? Why not a push for diesel? Even China is trying to use different methods to make diesel from algae and stuff. What is with the silence on diesel here? Or is it just plain sexy to be in a hybrid?

Warren Brown: It will only make News at 11 if it leaks from a transport ship and ruins a waterway. But there are several other efforts in the United States to make synthetic diesel. That work , at the moment, remains aborning. As for diesel electrics, the problem, at the moment, is cost--prohibitively expensive. In gasoline mode, hybrid technology can add anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000 to the cost of a vehicle. Modern diesel technology without hybrid tech generally runs about $3,000 more than gasoline technology. Diesel+electric hybrid technology, at the moment, equals a price that most automobile manufacturers believe will alienate buyers.

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CVT TRANNY ISSUE: Another CVT transmission problem is the inability to check the fluid level on your own. You need to get it checked by the dealer. It is more expensive than the conventional transmission, that certainly affects the user acceptance in an adverse manner

Warren Brown: Yes...and no. Life is a matter of tradeoffs. That's inescapable. The tradeoff here is better fuel economy and, supposedly, fewer reliability problems overall. That's worth the risk to many buyers.

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Anti-sporty car: We bought a new Mazda 3 hatchback in the summer of 2008, replacing our trusty 1992 Accord (ie, we keep our cars a long time). While I liked the sportiness of the Mazda during the test drive, it was not too long before I realized the "fun" doesn't make up for what are, to me, big drawbacks of that sporty feel. It actually makes me feel vaguely car sick unless driving in a straight line. And more importantly, it feels like it "skitters" when driven over gravel or uneven surfaces, and driving it in rain or especially on snow or ice are very scary to me - it feels like I'm barely in control. So now my husband is driving it, and I'm back with our 99 Infinity G20. The Mazda will be paid off next summer, so we're thinking about what to replace the G20 with. I'm hoping you can suggest something that would be pretty much the opposite of the Mazda as far as it sticking to the road. I like my G20 a lot except the major drawback that it is underpowered for going up ramps, merging into traffic, etc. We do have to get one baby car seat in the back. Thank you!

Warren Brown: Interior appointments are great. Exterior styling is atypically attractive for Subaru. 3.6-liter, 24-valve boxer 6 (flat 6 cylinder), 256 horsepower, 247 foot-pounds of torque. Your husband won't think it's sexy. That's his problem. You can wave at him this winter when he's stuck in the snow somewhere. Besides, the Legacy 3.6 R Premium cxan move!

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BMW lack of quality: I noticed that Consumer Reports did not recommend any BMWs. The repair report on the 2008 Five series was pretty bad in some areas. What happened to BMW build quality?

Warren Brown: BMW's build quality is just as good as it's always been. But BMW cars are made by human beings, too. They make mistakes. We all do. The test is whether or not we bother to correct them. BMW usually passes that test.

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Winter weather and winter tires: What is your opinion of the usefulness of snow or winter tires for our automobiles in the DC and mid-atlantic area?

Warren Brown: Proper snow tires actually make more sense than all-wheel drive with "all-season" tires in our climate. The reason: The term "all-season" is more a marketing gimmick than it is a technically or scientifically meaningful fact. Which is why we commonly see people in all-wheel-drive cars and trucks around here skidding out of control, getting stuck, or crashing into something or someone. Here's the deal: All of the fancy drive technology in your vehicle is mated to the road via four rather small contact points--literally where the rubber meets the road, or, if you're unlucky, where it doesn't. I've been to winter driving clinics all over the Midwest and Northeast. I am convince beyond convincing that it makes more sense to wear snow tires in wintry weather.

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VW vs. others?: How does the VW Tiguan compare to the other options in the mini-SUV class (Hyundai Tucson, Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4 etc.)? I'm a little more attracted to the VW's styling than the others, but despite recent improvements VW still has a reputation for quality-control and dealer problems.

Warren Brown: The Hyundai Tucson is an all-around better value. The Honda CR-V and Chevrolet Equinox are the hot chicks of that crowd. The Toyota Rav-4 and Ford Escape cut a better rug than their German competition.

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Accord Coupe v. Mini Cooper : Cooper requires premium fuel and comes with overly expensive run flat tires. Honda hands down.

Warren Brown: Yes, the Mini Cooper does require premium fuel. But it certainly does not require run-flat tires, unless you're talking about a totally tarted Cooper S. My wife and I have had and loved our Mini Cooper for five years. We're considering buying another one.

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CVT RELIABILITY: The cars with CVT produce some noise when you try to accelerate. The car noise is produced as a result of CVT trying to adjust the engine speed. Though CVT mechanism is such that it facilitates the engine to rev at any speed, but the sound might seem like that of a slipping clutch. Those who are accustomed to driving cars with automatic transmission might find that slightly bothersome.

Warren Brown: True. And we thank you.

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Pittsburgh, Pa: Warren,So, if my CVT tranny burns up from lack of fluid, Nissan will cover it, since I couldn't possibly know it was low?

Warren Brown: Nothing will burn up with routine maintenance. Check your owner's manual.

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Warren Brown: Thank you all for joining us today. Please come back next week. I'll do some more research on CVTs. Great qustions.Thanks for another fine production, Gaurav and Dominique. Eat lunch, Ria. And, oh, Ria, it turns out that we have a big deal with GM bosses tonight. Let's talk.


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