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Warren Brown
Warren Brown
(The Post)
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Real Wheels
Hosted by Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 23, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

Warren Brown is back to talk about all your automobile issues! He has been covering the automobile industry for The Washington Post since 1982. Brown, who joined the newspaper in 1976, has what many people think is a particularly cool job: He gets to test drive all manner of cars, from top-of-the-line Mercedes sedans and the newest sports cars to Volkswagen Beetles and SUVs. His auto reviews are lively, detailed accounts of a car's good and bad points, addressing everything from a car's highway performance to its "head-turning" factor and sound system.

He regularly comes online Wednesdays at 11 a.m. ET to answer your questions on every aspect of the automotive industry -- from buying your dream car to the future of the internal combustion engine.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Warren Brown: Good morning, folks.
I'm back from the New York Auto Show, which continues for the public through April 27. It's at the Javits Convention Center, should you decide to worm your way into the Big Apple sometime this week or weekend.
Lots of good stuff to see. note that the 2004 Toyota Prius is bigger, sexier, and more powerful than its rather staid predecessor. Toyota says the new gas-electric gets more than 50 mpg.
Other notables:
.New 350Z convertible
. Chrysler 300C sedan
. Cute, highly saleable Mazda Sportiff

Fairfax, Va.: Is the Volvo reputation for safety well founded, or more of a successful marketing strategy? More importantly, are there any good sources for comparing automobiles on safety? The one government site I looked at used a very vague 4 or 5 star system, that seemed to rank cars in exceptionally broad categories.

Warren Brown: Volvo's reputation for safety is well-founded, as its many safety patents readily show. But, of course, if you don't crow, folks don't know. So, yes, that well-founded reputation is enhanced by some smart advertising, as evidenced by promos for the XC90 SUV, "the SUV with a conscience." Very catchy.
There are many sources for safety info, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Consumer Reports, Center for Auto Safety, et cetera.
Here's why:
NHTSA and IIHS tests aren't exactly real world. Most people can't determine the type and pattern of the accident they are going to have. Real-world crashes, as evidenced by police reports, can be exceptionally weird.
Consumer Reports' rollover resistance tests are too subjective, too dependent on human inputs into steering, et cetera. That greatly erodes repeatability, which is necessary to give most experiments any validity.
NHTSA is limited by budget and politics. The agency simply can't afford to crash every single vehicle multiple times. What's affordable in government stems from the government's willingness to pay. That willingness, or lack thereof, is embedded in politics.
Best advice:
Wear your seat belts and use common sense. Prayers also help...for some people.

Annapolis, Md.: Any news on a Mazda 6 station wagon?

Warren Brown: Not ye, Annapolis. But here's betting that it might very well appear as a Ford, inasmuch as Ford plans to use the Mazda 6 platform to launch 10 new vehicles over the next few years.

College Park, Md.: Warren,

My wife is from a GM family, with the GM employee discount. Our lease on a Saturn SC2 is up at the end of July. We're looking for a more family friendly car. We liked a Taurus we had as a company car, but also like the GM-Family Saab 9-3 (maybe even the convertible). Any thoughts?

Thanks, love the chats


Warren Brown: Hello, College Park. Use your discount and get the 9-3. It's turning out to be quite a winner for GM. Cheers.

Bethesda: Mr. Brown:
My husband and I own a '91 Saab 900S with 77,000 miles. We love it but fear it may not last. So we might need a replacement. What can you recommend?
We have no kids and do mostly city driving (with the occasional road trip). We would like a hatchback to transport garden supplies and stuff. Seat warmers or dual temp. controls would be great. Please don't suggest an SUV. I'm not opposed to them but I just don't want anything that big. Does anyone make a hatchback or will Saab be bringing them back? We would prefer not to spend a fortune on a car but want something that will last as our '91 has.
Thanks. I don't know much about cars but enjoy reading your columns and chats because of the range of issues that you cover.

Warren Brown: Hello, Bethesda. Stretch out on the couch. We have some analysis to do.
First, you indicate that there is nothing really wrong with your '91 900S, other than the laudable fact that it has accumulated 77,000 relatively trouble-free miles.
Yet, you say you "fear it may not last."
Therefore, you "might need a replacement."
First, reality. It won't last. Nothing physical lasts. So, there is no need to worry about its eventual demise. It will occur.
Second, you really don't need to replace something that its performing well at the moment.
Third, the replacement won't last, either.
Fourth, you don't need a replacement; you WANT one, and that's another matter.
Ah, fifth: It's perfectly okay for you to be opposed to SUVS as long as you don't oppose the right of others to buy them.
Now, having settled those matters, allow me to suggest that you get a Subaru Outback wagon, Saab 9-5 wagon, Ford Taurus wagon, or something like that.
In the interim, it's a gorgeous, albeit windy day. Go outside and enjoy. In an emergency, or even if you just want to chat, you can reach me at warbro69@msn.com.

Washington, D.C.: Did you see the new Tourareg -- the Volkswagon SUV? Any thoughts?

Warren Brown: Dear Washington:
I've seen the Touareg, but can't pronounce it.
I've driven the quite similar Porsche Cayenne Turbo S and loved it. There is something about excess done well that's quite appealing.

Somewhere, USA: Warren, I was the one who asked about truck auctions. FYI, Mannheim is for "in-house" people only, used truck dealers and Carmax. It's not open to the public. Got it straight from the horses mouth.

Warren Brown: Sorry about that. Let's try the folks at the National Automobile Dealers Association in McLean, Va. I think they're at www.NADA.com. Talk to the folks who handle the NADA Used Car Guide.
In the interim, go back to Manheim at www,manheimauctions.com, and ask them to send you their very usable "Auction Handbook: A Guide you Wholesale Vehicle Auctions," which gives you an excellent idea of what professional buyers look for at vehicle auctions.

Alexandria, Va.: Ooohhh, a 350Z convertible?! Do you think Infinity will follow suit with a G35 convertible? That would be fabulous.

Warren Brown: I hope not, on the Infiniti G35 convertible proposal. That would compromise the 350Z convertible. The same platform, you know.

Falls Church, Va.: My mom recently traded her 1991 Mercedes 500SL in for a Honda Civic Hybrid. She commutes from Sterling to Georgetown every day and except on the recently gorgeous afternoons does she long for the convertible. I'm preparing for a move to Leesburg, and I'll be commuting to Falls Church. Even though I love my 2000 Jetta, I'm thinking that the Hybrid might be the way to go (HOV on the Greenway would be great), but I can't bring myself to drive a "Civic." The Honda CRV's new styling has caught my eye and I was wondering if there were any plans to create a hybrid version in the next two years. Thanks!

Warren Brown: Hello, Falls Church. Please give my condolences to your beloved Mom. Trading in a 500SL for a Civic Hybrid is akin to radical religious conversion, a casting off of the world, a painful embrace of asceticism. Frankly, I enjoy the mirth of sinners.

Anyway, yes, Honda will come up with a hybrid crossover utility vehicle. Most major car companies will have one on sale or ready to go by 2005. But, as one, I think, GM speaker put it at the New York Auto Show: Hybrids without sex appeal won't sell.
I agree.
So, apparently, does Toyota, which is why the 2004 Prius is a visual knockout with a lot more power.

Chinatown, Washington, D.C.: Warren:

I want to buy a new, and am debating between a Cooper mini and a PT Cruiser. Your thoughts on their costs, merits, style?

Warren Brown: Dear Chinatown:
As you might know, I bought a Mini Cooper (CVT tyranny) for my wife and I'm ordering a Mini Cooper S--with checker-flag top, red body, black sideview mirror caps, black wheels, white racing stripes on hood and dual-chrome pipes--for myself.
How to put it?
The Mini Cooper is a lover who knocks your socks off, but enjoys good conversation, a night at the theater and a good day at the track.
The PT Cruiser, by comparison, is a teenager who sings about a love he or she never had, never will have. Pretty soon, the lyrics get old.

Germantown, Md.: On the previous chat, your answer to my following question:
Q: What is your pick and why: Pilot, Murano, Highlander, or Pathfinder? Thanks.
A: Murano, because...:
1. Pilot - cheaper version of MDX
2. Highlander - cheaper version of RX300
3. Pathfinder - a real SUV, not CUV

Is Murano just a cheaper version of Infiniti FX35? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Hello, Germantown.
Though the styling is similar, the FX35 and more powerful FX45 are quite different from the Murano.
The FX duo is based on a rear-drive platform. The Murano is based on a front-drive/all-wheel-drive platform.
The Murano really is a minivan.
The FX machines essentially are sports cars with SUV pretensions.

For the Bethesda Saab 900 owner: Your '91 900 is barely broken in at 77,000 miles. If it's working well you should think again about getting rid of it.

We owned several "Classic" 900s (such as yours) and the last one went 144,000+ trouble free miles over 12+ years before it was totalled after a not that severe accident. I know of many similar 900s with well over 150k miles, still running fine.

Classic 900s will need some maintenance & repairs but they are far more solid than current Saabs IMO; we drove a newer Saab when shopping in 2000 and were very disappointed compared to the older 900s.

Just something to consider.

Warren Brown: Thank you.

Arlington, Va: Warren - Please help me out. I only drive on the weekends and want a true sports car. Where fun-to-drive is the only equipment required. I don't want to spend more than $30k. What do you recommend?

Warren Brown: Dear Arlington:
If you only drive on weekends and you want a fun-to-drive sports car, RENT!!!!
That way, you can rent a DIFFERENT sports car EVERY WEEKEND for a lot less than $30,000. And you don't have to worry about maintenance.
Check with Enterprise and other car rental agencies.

Charlotte, N.C.: Per your previous comments on Porsche Cayenne --- Did you also drive the "S" model or just the Cayenne Turbo? If the Turbo model was out of your price range would you consider the "S" model or wait for the VW Touareg?

Warren Brown: Dear Charlotte:
I drove the Turbo and the S, both of which are way out of my price range. If you are similarly fiscally constrained, I'd wait for the Touareg, which also is out of my price range.

Brookeville, Md.: Warren,

Any news on how Nissan Murano owners like them cars after a few months.


Warren Brown: One complaint about a transmission failure, which Nissan readily took care of.
Most people seem happy with the Murano.
But, clearly, that beautiful beast is not everybody's cup of tea. The styling is quite edgy, which makes it a bit unpopular in the Washington-Baltimore area, where many people are conformists who are constantly on edge about rocking the boat.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Warren,

My husband is in love with the Infiniti G35. I have to confess, its pretty nice! What do you think about it? Is it really in limited production?

Warren Brown: Hello, Washington:
The G35 really is a very nice car powered by a refined edition of Nissan's 3.5 V-6. It's another entry-level luxury niche mobile, which means it had no mass-market intentions such as, say, the Nissan Maxima.

If you give your husband permission to buy it, you will own him for life.

Montgomery Village, Md. mom: Hi Warren, I just wanted to thank you. After reading your columns and reading these chats for the last few months, and test driving a bunch of cars, I bought a 2001 Ford Taurus SEL. I love the 200 hp v6 and the car has a big enough interior that my 6'6" husband can fit in the front seats and I have ample space for two car seats in the back (with a great LATCH system). It also was great for my budget. I am loving my new to me car! I bought the car at carmax (a great experience). Thanks for all your help!

Warren Brown: You are quite welcome. Enjoy. Be safe.

Germantown, Md.: I'd like to buy the 2003 Honda CR-V. However, I have not been able to find information about how safe the rear passengers are in rear end crashes.

My 1999 Honda Accord was stopped at the red traffic light, and hit by a Ford Econoline van in the rear at about 25 mph. How serious is it, if that accident happens to a 2003 Honda CR-V?

I am very concern about the rear end impact because I have a 2 years old child, who is always in the car seat and on the rear bench of the car.

Thank you.

Warren Brown: Dear Germantown:
I understand and share your concern.
So, don't get the CR-V. It's nice, good, and all of that. But you need more crumple-zone room for your two-year-old and your piece of mind.
So, here's what I suggest. Protect the child and your sanity. Jettison the image thing.
Buy a minivan, instead.
Here are my top minivan choices, based on overall safety and utility and value.
1. 2004 Toyota Sienna, hands-down the best minivan currently available.
2. 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan or Chrysler Town & Country.
3. Honda Odyssey. Excellent. But overpriced, considering the competition.
4. Mazda MPV. Compact. Well-done. Limited cargo space with rear seats up.
5. Chevrolet Venture, a good value for the dollar. Excellent 3.8 V6 engine.
Note: Make sure that anything you buy comes with LATCH--lower anchors and tethers for childrens' safety seats. Have the dealer or a police official show you how to use the system and properly install the seats. Put that beautiful two-year-old in the middle seat, not the rear, certainly NOT THE FRONT.
Hope this helps.

Raleigh, NC: Hi Warren, any talk in NYC of a replacement for the Lincoln Continental or Mark? It would be cool to see Lincoln with a "statement" kind of car like Caddy's XLR.


Warren Brown: Dear Raleigh:
The latest word from the people at Lincoln is that they will not--repeat, will not--join Cadillac in the upscale race.
Ford, Lincoln's parent, can afford to take this position. Here's why:
Ford has something called PAG--Premium Automotive Group. That group includes Ford-owned Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.
You'll note that it does not include Lincoln.

Falls Church, Va.: Warren:
Amen to the rental sports car idea. I'm renting a Triumph Spitfire in a few weeks from a place near Charlottesville for under $100. That way I can control my desire to go out and buy a rolling British Racing Green money pit. They also have an MGB, MGA, TR-3, TR-7, Austin-Healy 100-6, and even an automatic Fiat.

Warren Brown: Thanks for that note, Falls Church.

Chicago, Ill.: Hi, Warren. I am big fan. Anyway, I am considering an FX35, Lincoln Aviator, MDX Nissan Murano. I am married man(34 y.o.)with two young children(ages 1 and 5) and I cannot make up my mind. I am leaning toward the FX, perhaps with the tech package. What do you think? (what about the value question.) Thanks.

Warren Brown: Dear Chicago:
Me being me, I'd lean toward the FX35, too. But I've been married to The Woman from Texas for 34 years. Learned a few things. To wit: You'd better ask her what she thinks, and be prepared to agree.

Springfield, Va.: Tell the sportscar seeker in Arlington to get a Miata. A true-er sportscar can't be had, especially for the price!

I bought my '97 for >11k a year and a half ago, and still can't get the smile off of my face! Great aftermarket toys for it, and a HUGH community of owners willing and able to help out at www.Miata.net.

Just a thought from a very happy owner.

Warren Brown: Hello, Springfield:
I like the Miata. Always have. In fact, just finished a nice run in the 2004 Miata MX-5 Special Edition. Very nice. But our friend hints at a case of automotive jigoloism. Renting seems appropriate. That way, our friend can change sports cars every weekend.

Baltimore, Md: About hybrids. I heard Lexus was discussing a hybrid in the future, but currently, I think it is just the Honda and Toyotas. Are there other hybrids in the works for the near future? particularly out side of the compact/economy class?

thank you very much

Warren Brown: Everybody's going hybrid, sooner or later. Stay tuned.

Annandale, Va.: Good morning, Warren. I'm posting early since I will be away from my computer during your chat. My mom, in her late 70s, is looking to purchase a new vehicle, and is thinking about a late model Oldsmobile Alero. She knows that the Olds nameplate will be retired next year, but I've assured her that the Alero is a GM car using GM parts, so getting it maintained and repaired shouldn't be an issue. What do you think of the Alero? Is there anything we should look out for or compare it to? Thanks for your response.

Warren Brown: Dear Annandale:
Your Mom seems to have an excellent sense of cars and money. The Alero is a very solid car. Doesn't matter that Olds is closing. The car is all GM and can be serviced at anything GM.
Besides, she won't get a better buy on a compact sedan.
Kindly give the Lady my warmest regards.

Arlington, Va.:
Warren, do you think that those super bright HID headlights should be banned? I've heard a lot of people complain about being blinded one time or another by an oncoming car with HID's. But it seems like those types of headlights are becoming increasingly more popular.

Warren Brown: Hello, Arlington:
No, I don't think that REAL high-intensity discharge lights should be banned. They actually do increase the forward vision of aging drivers, people like me. Yes, they can offend the vision of oncoming drivers, as did halogen lamps when those replaced common filaments. But car companies are finding ways to angled those HIDs to reduce sight obstruction for oncoming motorists.

What should be banned, or altered, are those fake, blue glare "HID" light that do no good for anyone.

Woodbridge, Va.: A funny thing happened.

I bought a Subaru Outback Sport in 2001 because I needed a wagon with AWD and Subaru's prices are basically unbeatable for the types of cars they sell.

Last year my wife said "Hey now that we have the Outback, we can take up skiing!" And so now we have a ski rack and a new hobby.

This year I said "Hey with this Outback we could take up mountain biking!" So now we have a hitch-mounted bike rack and a new hobby.

WARNING: Subarus are addictive! Once you have one and realize all the things you can do with it, it may just change your life!

Warren Brown: I totally agree, Woodbridge. The Outback is among my favorite long-drive vehicles. I just feel safe in the thing going from climate to climate. The automatic AWD works. Also, there's ample cargo space; and the seats are comfortable.
There's a hidden plus:
Thieves tend to leave Subaru models alone. They are blessedly below the "cool" radar.

S.E. Washington, D.C.: Hi Warren -
I'm in the market for a not-too-large SUV or a CUV. Primary needs include hauling building supplies (I'm a do-it-yourself-er), garden supplies, taking two 75 lb. dogs to the park twice a day, and weekend trips to the beach with all the paraphernalia that entails. I've narrowed it down to the Subaru Forrester and the Saturn Vue. I like the Forrester because it's not as big as the Vue, which I think is an advantage for city driving, parking, etc. But I like the Vue because I can get a V-6 engine. I have this idea in my head, right or wrong, that it makes no sense to get a utility vehicle with a lesser engine. Your thoughts/recommendations, please? Thanks.

Warren Brown: Hello, S>E. D.C.:
You don't need a V-6 for commuter-style hauling of people and cargo. The Forrester moves well enough. The Vue's single biggest advantage is the Saturn organization, which still works harder than any other group to keep its customers happy.

Arlington, Va.: Hi Warren,

Someone asked you about the Mazda6 wagon - what about the hatchback version? We're thinking about getting a 6, specifically because the dealer we've dealt with has been good to us (no hard sell tactics when we bought our Tribute from them 2.5 yrs ago, plus good service), but if the hatchback version is going to be better than the sedan, I'd rather hold out for the hatchback. Do you know if it's a 2-door hatch or 4-door hatch? Thanks!

Warren Brown: I don't know, Arlington. I will check. contact me at warbro69@msn.com.

Falls Church, Va.: Mom has just about killed her Saab convertible, and I think she wants another ragtop. But she also wants to take the ladies to lunch on Thursdays.

I was surprised to see that there are no 4-door convertibles on the market. Am I mistaken?


Warren Brown: Dear Falls Church:
Four-door convertibles? I haven't driven any lately, which means nothing. I'll check that.
It's okay if your Mom kills the car, as long as she and everyone else gets out alive.
Get her another Saab.

Honda Element: What's the word on the street regarding the new Honda Element. It seems like an SUV I would actually buy: interior is not flashy, seats are stain proof, floor is meant to be hosed down....mileage seems OK. Maybe a bit pricey, but it's actually not too bad.

Can you offer any other pros/cons?


Warren Brown: Curious thing about the Element.
It's not hitting the intended "youthful", 30-minus target group.
It's getting a buyers at average age 41. I suppose that's because they have the money' or, maybe there are parents buying it for their kids, who don't have the money.
Functionally, it's the best crossover utility vehicle on the market--very wide side doors, easy-wash interior, not much power, but enough horses to move you around the highway without begging for permission to enter.

Dayton, Ohio: Any opinion on the Toyota MR2 Spyder?

Warren Brown: Toy. Cute toy. But, very much a toy. It's a gnat on the highway.

Springfield, Va.: Hello Warren,

Hope you enjoyed the show in NYC.

Re. MINI Coopers: Are they only serviced at MINI dealers? Can a BMW dealership do factory-authorized service? With the only local dealerships being far from DC and the close-in 'burbs, it would be crazy to limit their servicing, right?

Warren Brown: That's a good question. Will check. But we're getting TWT's MINI serviced at the MINI dealership.

Washington, D.C.: Did you see the British Honda Accord commercial? It's a clever Rube Goldberg design that uses parts of the car put things in motion! Very clever.

Warren Brown: Will check it out.

Farragut Square Park, Washington, D.C.: Hi, Warren! Hope you're well on this beautiful spring day (remember spring, people?).

I'm currently driving a 14-year-old Chevy Celebrity with just under 46K miles on it. I'm hoping that it will provide durable service for the next 3-5 years, at which time I will be in a much better financial situation. At that point, I'll be looking to purchase a low-years, low-miles used vehicle (which -- ta-da! -- would be new right now). I miss the legroom/headroom and storage capacity of my old '86 Trooper (I play three sports and haul bikes by use of a towing hitch), but don't really want to be all that high off the ground (not to mention that I would prefer greater fuel efficiency). Other than the Subarus, the Hyundai Santa Fe, and the Taurus wagon (each of which I will consider in due course), what vehicles are being offered now that will "fit the bill" in the next few years?

Warren Brown: A used Subaru Forrester.

Washington, D.C.: Is it just me, or does the new Saturn Ion look exactly like the 2004 Nissan Maxima?

Warren Brown: Nope. It's not just you. Do you hear all of that crying and screaming over at Nissan? It's them, too.

Warren Brown: Okay, good folks. It was nice being with you today. Who knows? Strong rumor has it that we might even take this chat on air (and keep the chat, of course.)
Rumor has it that, hmmm, maybe it will be a WMAL Radio-Washington Post Warren & Friends show? Whattaya think? It'll be YOUR SHOW, too. So, your opinion is important. We intend to be informative, no-holds-barred, lots and lots of fun.
You can reach me at warbro69@msn.com. Cheers, dears!


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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