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Warren Brown
Friday, January 7, 2011; 11:00 AM

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

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Car reliability: Our 11 yo Mazda MPV and 15 yo Saturn SW are starting to fall apart, and we are not sure how to evaluate what we should buy next. Thanks!

Warren Brown: longterm reliability, or life beyond 150,000 miles. Yet, tens of thousands of them have proved quite reliable and, still, thousands of others have surpassed 150,000 miles on the road. Why? 1. Build quality was better than consumer perception. 2. Owners of those longterm runners fully understood that attentive care enhances longevity. 3. Drivers of those cars somehow managed to avoid crashes for the life of the vehicles in their possession. Thus, you can be reasonably certain that most cars nowadays are built well; and that if you give them attentive care and drive carefully, they are likely to last as long as you will. If that does not convince you, I can only suggest that you read the local obituary notices. All of those wonderfully people, presumably all loved and seen as equals by their maker. Yet, some die at 30, while others live past 95. Nuance. It rules.

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Ford Explorer: Warren--in your review of the new Explorer you state, "Traditionally heavy truck-based, fuel-consumptive body-on-ladder-frame construction has been replaced by a lighter, more carlike, unitized-body build process" Yet, the new Explorer is only about 100 pounds lighter than the model it replaces and still weighs close to 5000 pounds. It seems like a lot of the gains by switching from body-on-ladder frame to a unibody have been offset by the increases in size of the vehicle and weight of all the new gadgetry. This doesn't make sense.

Warren Brown: All of that extra safety eqipment comes with weight. Increased roof-crush protection, which you have in the new Explorer, utilizes "lightweight" super-strong boron steel. But it nonetheless comes with weight. Room for seven versus the old room for five comes with weight. The surprise isn't that the new Explorer weighs only 100 pounds less than its predecessor. The surprise is that it does not weigh a ton more and use considerably more fuel than the old model. The 2011 SUV uses 25 percent less. Makes perfect sense.

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Pontiac G8 reincarnated as a Chevy?: Any truth to this rumor? And would it include a new version of the G8 GXP with the base Corvette small-block V8 that both Consumer Reports and the car magazines loved?

Warren Brown: I'll find out next week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. If true, it wouldn't surprise me. The Pontiac G8 GXP was a good car. Parts and platforms in this business are nameplate fungible. If false, no surprise there, either. There is a tendency to move on after funerals. Pontiac has been dead for more than a year.

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C-Max: What details can you share with us about Ford's new C-Max?

Warren Brown: It is a compact wagon/utility vehicle that, depending on equipment and seating configuration chosen, can be a good urban family runner or an ideal urban delivery vehicle. Equipped with Ford's "My Touch" technology, the C-Max also could be one of the best mobile offices ever. I've seen them in Europe, liked them. I look forward to their arrival here. However, I doubt that Ford will introduce them Stateside with one of the company's excellent small diesel engines. My hunch is that we're looking Ford EcoBoost 4's and V-6 models. Probably also a turbo in there somewhere...and six-speed auto/manual transmission.

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VW Jetta Wagon TDi: Warren, I'm interested in the Jetta TDi, but have heard complaints about a quirky clutch and starting in first gear. Do you have experience with this? Is it a deal-killer? Or is it something that VW has already rectified? Thanks from Crystal City.

Warren Brown: Yes, I do. And I apologize for seeming snarky here. But I tend to think that those complaints have more to do with the driver and less to do with the car. I've driven TDI models all over Europe and the U.S. No problems. No problems at all. And my sincere apologies if I've stepped on anyone's feelings.

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replacing the Tahoe you recommended 9 years ago :): I still want to sit up high, and am scared enough by last year's snow to want 4wd. I am open to any suggestions as your last recommendation was perfect! Best. Mary Johnston

Warren Brown: roads and life. Should you mate with one of the newer models, there is no more need to worry about what your friends will think. The new models are quite, well, loveable. hauling...stuff. The new Durango has rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, or dedicated four-wheel drive. Smaller, but still attractive SUV/crossovers, include the Honda CR-V, GMC Terrain, Mazda CX7, Toyota Rav4, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Nissan Juke.And here's the bonus. Cars and trucks are not like men. You don't have to change one thing about yourself to please a car or a truck. They are obliged to do everything to please you, if they stand a chance in hell of you taking one home and parking it in your driveway.

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Ford C-Max: I'm not sure about the Ford C-Max as a delivery vehicle, but I can definiately see the Ford Transit Connect as a compact family van/utility vehicle. To me it's a sized-right vehicle for what most most city dwellers, as well an non-rolling hills people would ever need, depending on configuration. But then I also think the SMART car is, and the Hummer was, perfect vehicles for their niche market.

Warren Brown: No argument. But I have seen the C-Max used as a delivery vehicle in Europe. Hmmm. maybe, I was looking at something quite illegal.

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Carmax cars buy/sell: I really enjoy these chats and hearing your opinions! I am considering both selling and buying from Carmax, but not necessarily at the same time. In your opinion, does Carmax offer fair prices when buying cars? By "fair" I really mean higher than a traditional dealer offers in trade-in, but less than you could sell on your own (and thus, avoiding that hassle). As for buying from them, I have the impression that they have a slightly higher standard for the quality of the used cars they sell than other use car lots. (I am not affiliated with Carmax or any car dealers.) Thank you!

Warren Brown: I cannot honestly tell you that Carmax offers "fair" prices in the way that you define "fair." All I can say is that I've personally dealt with Carmax before and that, on each occasion, I drove away from Carmax feeling substantially less screwed than if I had dealt with someone else. Take that for what it's worth.

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VW diesel clutch: Sorry warren, but I've driven plenty of manual transmission vehicles, from muscle cars with heavy clutches to my track car, as well as every current vehicle on sale (I'm in "the industry," like you) and the VW diesels have a VERY tricky engagement at startup (say from a traffic light). The throttle is VERY touchy. It's too easy to either stall or spin the tires. This is a problem with '09 and '10 golf and jetta diesels.

Warren Brown: Fair enough. But, again, I never had that problem with a TDI. But this is how we learn things on this end. I'll look into it. Thanks for writing.

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Mid-size SUVs: What is your opinion of the Acura RDX? It is an attractive model, made by a dependable manufacturer, and I like the fact that it comes with so many options in the standard options.

Warren Brown: along with comparable things Hyunda/Kia.

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SUBARU REVIEW: Warren,Subaru may be a nice car, but it's not for everyone. I can't sit in it without hitting my head on the roof. It's nice if you're Smurf size, but it's got its limits. Gimme a full size vehicle anytime.

Warren Brown: just so you'll know, we Smurfs have feelings, too. And we don't like it when one of you tall and elegant people refer to something as being "Smurf-size." We prefer something like "petite," or "diminutive."So, for all of my fellow and sister Smurfs, you know the cheer: "Say it loud! We're Smurfs and we're proud!"

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Outback vs Forester: I want a '10 Forester or Outback. Have reviewed chats and they just say "get the one you like best." Are there better criteria? I haul gardening stuff and also adult family members about 3 times a year. Snow & ice in winter is getting more common here (western NC). Mpg, other maintenance costs, are important for this retiree. Advice, please.

Warren Brown: Look, the Forester has one of the best all-wheel-drive systems sold in the U.S. market, or anywhere else. That is why people buy it. And that is why the people who buy it tend to love it. It's not the prettiest vehicle on the road. Nor is it exactly avant garde in the way that, say, a Ford Escape equipped with My Touch technology is technically hip. But the Forester does what it does, hauls and crawls, incrdibly well.

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Warren Brown: Thank you all for joining us today. We hope 2011 will be a good year for all of you. Please join us next week. Thanks for another good production, Dominique Vu.Thank you, Ria. Eat lunch.


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