Do I need premium gas? Al Haas answers readers' questions

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Jeep Wrangler Unlimited handily outsells the standard Wrangler, thanks to its more practical configuration for family use.

Let's see what questions some of my readers have on their minds:

Question: Do you have to use premium gas just because they suggest it? I am leasing a car, a Lexus ES 350. Could I use regular?

- Barbara Zimmerman

Answer: Some engine designs require premium fuel to obtain optimum power and economy, but they will run on regular because modern engine electronics simply dial back the spark to a point where damaging pre-ignition is prevented. The price you pay for dropping back to regular is reduced power and mileage.

Personally, I put premium in the car I own that calls for it. I do not put it in my other vehicle, which does not require it. It is a rather commonplace waste of money to put premium in a vehicle whose engine was designed to run on regular fuel. It doesn't improve performance.

Q. I'm thinking of buying a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. What is your take on them?

- Marshall Reynolds

A. The Unlimited is a stretched, four-door version of the traditional Jeep Wrangler, whose lineage goes back to the Second World War. It handily outsells the regular Wrangler because it teams that smaller, iconic vehicle's wonderfully macho aesthetic and true off-road prowess with family car utility.

My most recent encounter with the Unlimited was a 2016 Sahara model, which is virtually the same as the 2017. Fitted with an optional removable three-piece hardtop, it was relatively quiet and rode surprisingly well for a serious off-roader with solid axles fore and aft.

The tester was not inexpensive. It had a base price of $33,795. When you tacked on the options and shipping, it finished up at $44,495 - about twice the base price of a traditional Wrangler. For those bucks, they might have tossed in a power driver's seat and a rear camera.

Q. Why are turbocharged engines becoming so popular? Certainly, they must add cost to the car.

- Roger Weymouth

A. Well, they do add cost. But they also add power and shave weight. The turbocharger increases horsepower and really boosts torque. This means you can get the same oomph you would obtain from a significantly larger and heavier normally aspirated engine. The weight reduction translates into fuel savings. The size reduction can increase cabin space and make engine bay packaging easier.

Q. I'm planning to buy a new car soon. I know that one with a manual transmission is cheaper and I like to shift, but is the manual a good idea?

- Isaac Menges

A. It is if the manual gearbox adds to your driving enjoyment, as it does for me. But there is some downside here.

Yes, the manual will save you money up front, typically around $1,200. The flip side is that it could cost you at the pump. Automatic gearboxes have been improved to the point where they frequently get better mileage than a manual. The car I'm considering buying gets EPA city and highway mileage ratings 1 mpg better when equipped with an automatic than it does with the manual.

It's also true that the automatic-equipped car will be worth more at trade-in time because it is easier to sell.

Q. I really like my Chevy Equinox. Given some of the remarks you've made about crossovers, I suspect you aren't a fan. Why is that?

- Cynthia Benson

A. I don't dislike these very popular automobiles. I have simply, on occasion, called them what they are: slightly jacked-up hatchbacks with SUV styling cues and, in some cases, all-wheel-drive. They serve as this generation's station wagons.

alhaasauto@aol.com