Warren Brown and Lou Ann Hammond chat on www.washingtonpost.com, August 12, 2011

The lazy days of summer. Finally, TEN whole days at home! We got caught up on some work, got the wood split and stacked for winter. And even drove a couple cars.

Last chat someones said they drove a 2001 Jetta TDI and consistently got between 48 and 52 MPG. “I feel like this engine does not get the praise it deserves compared to hybrids. Why is Audi only offering the engine in the A3, it would be sweet in the A4?”

Audi’s answer:

Great question. We are planning to expand our TDI offering in the U.S.  to the A8, A6 and Q5.  Timing is still being finalized, but we should see an A8 TDI sometime during 2012 (calendar year).  The other models will be after 2012. We are also interested in an across-the-board offering of TDI, but that can only be achieved when the other vehicles go through a significant revision, so we would anticipate that the A4 offering could be part of the next generation vehicle program.

Chevy solar canopies – Charge any EV vehicle for free!!

So far 74 Chevy dealers have put, or are putting, solar canopies on the dealer lots. These canopies will have at least four charging unit’s for electric vehicles. The beautiful part, even if you own a Nissan Leaf you can use the EV charging unit, as long as you have the J-connector that fit’s.

I talked with Mom (Cheryl) Balch. She owns a Chevy Volt and has solar panels on her house so most of her energy charging is free. She has used 1/2 a gallon of gasoline since April, so Mom Balch figures she is getting over 4,000 miles per gallon at this point. 1/2 gallon of gasoline cost about $2.00 in Pleasanton, CA. Mom Balch calculates her last vehicle cost her $4,000 a year in gasoline alone.

Chevy is not the only one offering up energy solutions. Ford has struck a deal with Sunpower, a subsidiary of Total (a French company). If you own a Ford Focus, for $10,000 they will put 2.5 kW of solar panels on your roof. The theory is that during the day the solar panels offset the energy it would take to power your car at night. Check with your state to see if they give additional credit’s.

Cars I’ve driven in the last two weeks

2012 Nissan Versa

Love the 5-speed manual at $10,990. I’m not a fan of Nissan or Audi’s CVT. I do like the Versa, but I would only buy the 5-speed. Here’s the conundrum; it doesn’t come with bluetooth. So, if you commute and like the handsfree you might have to upgrade. Cruise Control is not available on the 1.6S M/T Base Model either. Base model is the only way you can get manual. Nissan says only 5% of the people buy a manual, so it’s probably not an issue, it’s just that $10,990 is such a sweet price.

MINI Countryman

I was all set to tell you about how poor the Countryman’s suspension was until I put the car in sport mode. What a difference! I don’t understand why MINI didn’t use the sport mode as the default mode, it is that much better. I still don’t like run flat tires, they make the car noisier.  And the rattle in the dash doesn’t help. And I hate hate hate mesh sunroofs. Don’t know who thought that was a good idea. The JCW is still the best MINI, but I’m looking forward to driving the roadster.

2011 Audi Q7

How can you not love a luxury SUV with a $6,300 sound system from Bang & Olufsen? You do have to pay $500 for heated seats and a heated steering wheel. That doesn’t bother me as much as the mesh sunroof. Do any of you like the mesh sunroof? To me, it still lets sun in when I don’t want it, like on a 105 degree day!

2011 Hyundai Elantra GLS

Try as I might I couldn’t get the 40 miles per gallon that Hyundai/EPA says I’m supposed to get. I reset the mpg trip as soon as I got on the highway and it still only registered in the low 30s. The Elantra is an amazing car for the small figure of $19,510 (including a NAV package).

Click on Warrens picture to go to the washingtonpost.com chat:

warren_brown Warren Brown and Lou Ann Hammond chat on www.washingtonpost.com, August 12, 2011 Alternative Fuels Alternative vehicles Auto industry news Automobiles and Energy electricity Green cars Manufacturers Washingtonpost.com

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.