Henry Payne Blog

Payne: Aging Maserati Quattroporte grande dame still dazzles

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 17, 2020

Italian stallion. The 2020 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 is a big sedan, but Detroit News auto reviewer Henry Payne had a blast wringing its neck through the twisties of northern Michigan.

The 2020 Maserati Quattroporte is dated, heavy, lagging in infotainment technology and expensive.

But, boy, is it irresistible.

There’s something about Italian luxury brands that make our legs weak, and the Quattroporte is a case in point despite the fact that it’s an aging sedan in a SUV world. Like its Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Lamborghini countrymen, Maserati comes with boatloads of sex appeal. It’s got racing history. Runway style. Brand cache. It’s the Italian bombshell you always dreamed of in travel brochures.

The interior of the 2020 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 shares console tech with Jeep products. The UConnect system is efficient — but lags luxury competitors in glamour.

With its Levante model, the Italian brand has dutifully followed market demand for an SUV. The Levante checks all the signature boxes — trident logo, racy roofline, big grille — but it’s designed to mimic the sedans that have carried the family crest for decades. Those are the vehicles we really covet.

The six-figure, sixth-generation, flagship Quattroporte (Italian for “four doors”) is the most desirable of all. My friend Rob has coveted a Quattroporte for 20 years. When I finally scored a tester, I immediately brought it over to him to see if reality lived up to the dream.

Right on cue, his knees buckled.

Like Monica Bellucci, the Quattroporte has presence. In an era of in-your-face grilles, the long hood is a ski slope, ending in a sports car-low nose that sniffs the ground. The huge trident grille with its uprights bars — as if imprisoning the rabid beast within — is unmistakably Maserati.

The 2020 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 uses cameras for backing up.

The swept headlights start a lovely shoulder line over big 20-inch wheels that doesn’t end until the broad hips. Every line is purposeful, efficient, European. There are hints that this is a dated, 2013 chassis — the headlight units, for example, are not as lean as current LED designs.

But overall, the style is timeless. Its sporty fascia is a welcome departure from the intimidating, upright grilles found on the mug of, say, the BMW 7-series.

Gal pal Missy, an 89-year-old car nut, also turned to jelly when I brought the Maserati by. She could have driven around in the Italian heartthrob all day. The big rear lounge chairs reclined — and she also had command over the front passenger seat when more leg room was needed.

But I didn’t feel the tug of younger generations as I have with, say, the Tesla Model S or the Audi A8. The Maserati has an Old World feel to it.

Big 20-inch wheels are available on the 2020 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4.

Part of that, surely, is that Maserati doesn’t race like other luxury brands — Audi, BMW, Mercedes. Racing wins was once a Maserati hallmark — and maybe that will return now that the 630-horse MC20 supercar is coming for 2021. But more than that is the cabin technology where Quattroporte lags. As Tesla and Audi wow with their splashy Google Map and touchscreen displays, the Maserati is a generation behind.

The instrument display is analog compared to the competition’s lush, digital landscapes. The center console screen is taken right out of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s corporate parts bin — shared with a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Don’t get me wrong, the Jeep’s UConnect system is one of the finest in the business, but it lacks the brio you would expect in a six-figure Italian stallion.

I thought of the new Corvette and how its mid-engine layout and sci-fi digital instrumentation have turned millennial heads. Does today’s youth aspire to a Maserati when they strike it rich?

The interior is otherwise swathed in luxury. Exquisitely stitched seats, acres of wood, and those adjustable rear seats that had Missy purring.

The 2020 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 has a striking presence after sundown.

But what really woke me up was the drivetrain. Push the starter button and my murmurings about technological deficiencies were suddenly drowned out by my elevated heart rate. Italians are masters of styling and engine tech. The twin-turbo V6 under the hood in front of me was developed by Ferrari.

It growled at idle like a starved tiger. Sport driving mode is temptingly placed next to the simple monostable shifter. Shift paddles the size of butcher knives stick out from the steering column.

I toggle to manual shifting. We’re off.

Brap! Brap! Brap! go the upshifts as I lashed the 3.0-liter, two-turbo engine V-6 with an excellent 8-speed transmission. The Quattraporte is a big, all-wheel-drive luxury sedan — but it’s 150 pounds lighter than the equivalent, V6-powered BMW 7-series. Four hundred pounds lighter than the Mercedes S-class.

Not an SUV. The 2020 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 doesn't have a hatchback, but it still has plenty of luggage room in the boot.

As I bounded through the twisties of M-66 up north, the Maserati really came into its own. Where the Germans are ocean liners, the Italian wants to gulp terra firma.

The car’s tight, weighted steering seals the deal, and Quattroporte and I danced from apex to apex. It’s a feeling not unlike another Italian, the Alfa Romeo Giulia, which lags its German peers in interior electronics but puts a smile on your face when you want to play.

Italians make driver’s cars, and that’s how the Quattroporte stands out in the big yacht market. My standard V6’s 424 horsepower is a good 60-100 ponies above its German peers. If that’s not enough, then an earth-pawing, 525-horse V-8 is available in the upper trim Gran Lusso.

I found 424 was plenty.

Quad pipes from the 425-horse V-6 marks the rear end of the 2020 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4.

Luffing along I-75 north of West Branch, I came upon a pickup weaving back and forth across the northbound two lanes. The predicament allowed the Maserati to show off two of its latest assets.

The first was automatic braking. As the truck blocked the left-hand lanes, I moved to the right lane to pass. The truck veered right across my bow. Before I could react, the car did — its automatic braking system (using the same technology that enabled adaptive cruise control on my long ride north) flashing a red alert in my instrument panel and braking automatically. Eccellente!

The second was raw power. Reacting quickly to the pickup’s blocking maneuver, I juked left and dropped the hammer.

The rear seats of the 2020 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 are a nice place to be with climate and seat controls. They can recline, and the front passenger seat can be controlled by the person sitting behind it.

Foom!

The Quattroporte’s twin turbos rocketed the big sedan past the wandering pickup. The menace was a dot in my rear view mirror in seconds.

Of course such amenities are also available on full-sized sedans like, say, a Dodge Charger Scat Pack (485-horse V-8) or Kia Stinger (365 ponies) for half the price of the Maserati.

But they don’t have a trident at the end of a long nose that has mesmerized buyers for decades. Brand matters. But so does tech. Maserati will need to hustle to keep up with a new generation of luxury that decorate college kids’ dorm walls.

2020 Maserati Quattroporte

Vehicle type: Rear- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger, big sedan

Price: $112,985, including $1,995 destination charge ($126,805 S Q4 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6

Power: 424 horsepower, 428 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.6 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 179 mph

Weight: 4,232 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA — 16 mpg city/23 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Maserati moxie; engaging drivetrain

Lows: Dated console tech; big price tag

Overall: 3 stars

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Payne: Encore GX ST brings Buick manners to small SUVs

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2020

If you’ve been on Mars for the last few years, you may be disoriented when you see what’s happened to America. No, I’m not talking about the coronavirus pandemic and urban riots; I’m talking about Buick’s lineup.

America’s once-stodgy sedan brand has been transformed into a stable of hip SUVs.

Buick’s “mistaken identity” ads featuring utes like the Envision and Enclave were the most watched car ads of 2019, and “That’s not a Buick!” has become an American catchphrase. I’m not making this up.

To convince you the world has gone mad, let’s unpack the name of this week’s tester, the 2020 Buick Encore GX ST.

The 2020 Buick Encore GX sells Buick style and comfort. On Detroit's rough roads, the nicely tuned suspension made for a smooth ride.

It’s the bigger brother of the Encore — Buick’s pioneering 2013 subcompact SUV. Yes, I just used Buick and pioneering and subcompact in the same sentence. Polling rock-bottom in brand identity and desperate for attention, GM let Buick’s product team off the leash to create a segment-busting, entry-level, cuddly SUV. Consumers adored the little pup.

Hitting the SUV craze in full stride, Encores flew out of the pet shop, selling 102,000 copies last year. That’s more than the Honda HR-V, for goodness sake. It also brought in new buyers to the brand who could move on to Buick’s other crossover offerings, the Buick Envision and three-row Enclave.

Buick decided to milk the Encore’s success with the Encore GX (for Grand Crossover). In Encore’s pioneering spirit, the Encore GX is one of the first subcompact-plus SUVs, shoehorned between the subcompact and compact spaces. Yeah, I’d like a new name, too, to avoid confusion. But Buick’s marketers figure they have a good thing going.

The 2020 Buick Encore GX is bigger than its sister Encore, with more interior room and AWD optioned.

Other than its surname, Encore GX shares nothing with little-bro Encore. It’s on a longer front-wheel-drive platform, offers all-wheel drive and is more space-comparable to a compact — yet isn’t as doughty-looking as the more expensive Envision.

And just to remind you that it’s a luxury car, the Encore GX comes complete with an alphanumeric alphabet soup designation like the ST (for Sport Touring) tacked onto the end of the name. It’s right up there with the Mercedes GLA 63 GT mouthful.

So successful is Buick’s SUV transformation that it’s quietly killed off its last remaining sedans, the Regal and Regal Tour X Wagon. They were my favorite Buicks with their hatchback utility and sleek lines. Carrying on their sex appeal, my Encore GX ST was smeared with alluring red lipstick in the grille and a peppy 155-horse turbo-3 cylinder.

That’s not a typo. I said three-cylinder in an SUV.

Engineers are doing marvelous things with three-bangers these days, and I have mourned the passing of the Ford Fiesta and its “Godzilla-in-a-box” 1.0-liter turbo-3. It was a joy to drive while returning 35 mpg. The Encore GX’s 3 isn’t so sippy (just 28 mpg), but when mated to GM’s state-of-the-art 9-speed tranny it is plenty zippy.

The cockpit of the 2020 Buick Encore GX ST is a comfortable place to be with big knobs, good ergonomics and lots of technical features.

Trouble is, while Buick was re-inventing itself, so was the competition. Lunging out of the subcompact-plus starting gates with the $25,095 Encore GX are two more SUVs from premium mainstream brands: the $23,110 Kia Seltos and Mazda CX-30.

Both offer even more powerful engines: the 175-horse turbo-4 in the Seltos, the 186-horse 2.5-liter 4-cylinder in the Mazda — while returning comparable 27-mpg fuel economy.

More important, they expose GM’s persistent refusal to standardize technology (a miss most glaring in the $78,000 Chevy Silverado I recently tested that neglected adaptive-cruise control). Adaptive-cruise and blind-spot assist — two essentials on Mrs. Payne’s shopping list — are standard in both the Kia and Mazda for hundreds of dollars less than the Buick.

Some buyers will balk at the Kia’s eccentric styling but not the Mazda, which (despite its lamentable wheel-arch cladding) is one of the most appealing vehicles out there. Then Mazda loads on the value.

An all-wheel-drive CX-30 (with Select trim) equipped with standard adaptive-cruise control, blind-spot assist, automatic windshield wipers and leather seating clocks in at $28,700. My front-wheel-drive Encore GX ST (in comparable Essence trim) started at $29,495 before selecting options that are standard on the CX-30.

Fold down the rear and front passenger seat and the 2020 Buick Encore GX can swallow long items like winter sleds.

Escape to rural roads in the Mazda, finger the paddle shifters in manual mode and it’s a fun box with tight handling and an eager drivetrain. The GX doesn’t even come with paddle shifters.

Reach behind the GX’s steering wheel and you can toggle … not shift paddles, but hidden volume and radio station controls. That’s where Buick makes its play. This is a ute for those who want that old feeling of Buick luxury in a new shell.

Cruise around Metro Detroit and the Buick adroitly soaks up bumps on our oxcart roads. The Mazda wants to squeal the tires; the Buick wants you to hear the sounds of your favorite Sirius XM station.

Cockpit features are familiar to other GM premium products. The infotainment system echoes the Chevy Corvette or Suburban SUV or Cadillac XT4, as did the posh camera mirror in my GX ST tester. There was even self-park assist, particularly useful in an SUV with yuuuge blind spots.

My favorite shared piece is the flat-folding front seat, which I first encountered in the wee Encore back in 2015 when I had knee surgery. If you’ve had leg surgery, you’ll know the difficulty of traveling in anything smaller than a Silverado pickup. But the Encore and Encore GX allow you to fold the front seat flat so I could easily use it as an ottoman from the back seat.

A more common use would be for toboggans that I used to take to Michigan’s snowy hillocks with my kids. GM’s clever engineers have chosen the right side for the 60 percent split in the 60-40 rear seat so it aligns with the front passenger seat — opening a cavernous aisle from rear hatch to front glovebox (with the front and rear seats flattened).

Three long sleds slot in there nicely.

Of course, if you’re heading out in the snow much, you might prefer the all-wheel-drive option of the Encore GX which gets you into even pricier territory, some $5,000 north of the comparably equipped Mazda. That’s the downside. But just the idea of a young family taking the kids to the slopes in a hip Encore GX ST SUV tells you how much this brand has changed in the last few years.

Welcome back from Mars. 2020 is one weird scene, man.

The 2020 Buick Encore GX is the premium brand's latest SUV entry slotted between the smaller Encore and the (slightly) bigger Envision.

2020 Buick Encore GX

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $25,095, including $995 destination fee ($34,115 front-wheel-drive Essence ST as tested)

Powerplant: 1.2-liter turbo-3 cylinder or 1.3-liter turbo-3

Power: 137 horsepower, 162 pound-feet of torque; 155 horsepower, 174 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.3 seconds (Car and Driver)

Weight: 3,094 pounds as tested

Fuel economy: EPA, 26 mpg city/30 highway/28 combined (1.2-liter); EPA, 26 mpg city/29 highway/28 combined (1.3-liter)

Report card

Highs: Smooth ride, peppy engine; versatile cargo storage

Lows: Tight second row; gets pricey relative to competition

Overall: 3 stars

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Payne: Pocket rocket’s progress, 1984 VW Rabbit GTI vs. 2020 Jetta GLI

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 3, 2020

The modern car is a technological wonder. Quiet, connected and smooth, it’s the rolling equivalent of a soothing, electronic pop song.

But sometimes I get nostalgic for a raspy rocker with a string guitar.

I was reminded of that feeling as I flogged a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI around the hills of Oakland County this summer. The Rabbit GTI (and its sedan stablemate Jetta GLI) are the 1980s ancestors of the all-new Golf GTI/Jetta GLI — performance versions of the German brand’s entry-level hatchback/sedan.

I had a chance to compare 36 years of progress when I tested a roomy, high-tech 2020 Jetta GLI recently as well. It’s not a hatchback, but the GLI sedan is otherwise the 2020 Golf GTI’s twin making it suitable for this week’s comparo. It shares the Golf GTI’s 228-horsepower engine, chassis and suspension, giving them serious punch over the base 147-horse Jetta/Golf.

The 2020 VW Jetta GLI sports a 2.0-liter turbo-4 with 228 horsepower and a strong 258 pound-feet of torque.

The ’84 Rabbit GTI, of course, was the original pocket rocket, coming to our shores in 1983. The second generation of the car adopted the Golf name in 1986.

The 1984 GTI was the first car I ever owned. It was a hoot. And a revelation.

Taking a compact car and stuffing it with a performance engine, the Rabbit GTI was the automotive equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It was affordable, seated four — yet could instantly transform into a Tasmanian Devil picking on luxury cars twice its price. The V-dub inspired a revolution of pocket rocket including the Mazda3 Speed, Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Si.

Getting behind the wheel of the ol’ ’84 with its hot red interior (VW keeps it in its Virginia heritage collection, occasionally letting it off its chain to play with journalists) brought the memories rushing back.

The Rabbit GTI was my post-college daily driver. I flogged it for hours from my Charleston, West Virginia, home to court the future Mrs. Payne in St. Louis. On the odd weekend, I would ring its neck at a local autocross. We bonded.

We even shared some hillbilly DNA, as Rabbit (and sibling Jetta) body stampings were made in Charleston before shipment to Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, for assembly. The Pennsylvania factory — which punched out VWs from 1978-87 — was the first modern foreign “transplant” in the USA, to be followed by Honda and others.

The ’84 GTI still felt relevant. It was the second historic VW I’d driven this year — a 1964 Beetle.

America has gone gaga for trucks and SUVs -but compact cars like the 2020 VW Jetta GLI have kept up - providing interior size that nicely fits four.

But the Bug felt like a museum piece, like an old-fashioned typewriter. For sure, the Rabbit GTI lacked the technological wizardry that makes the Jetta so much more livable today. But I didn’t feel like I’d be blown off the road by a passing Chevy Suburban as I did in the (72 mph top speed) Beetle.

Not that the Rabbit GTI was a Brink’s armored truck.

Tipping the scales at just 2,100 pounds, it is remarkably lighter than its 3,200-pound Jetta GLI and Golf GTI successors. Credit that difference not just to more technology, safety systems and sound insulation, but to simple dimensions. The Jetta GLI wheelbase is 105 inches compared to the 95-inch Rabbit.

Today’s compact cars have gotten fatter, just like its drivers.

I had to stuffed into the Rabbit while the Jetta was a Barcalounger by comparison. But that also means the Rabbit felt whip-quick. Its 90-horsepower 1.8-liter four-banger seems puny by today’s standards, but so does its one-ton weight.

With an intuitive 5-speed manual, the GTI was a treat to drive fast. Adding to the fun was a bratty engine note that rewarded hard driving. The GTI is a VW icon, its square shape and red highlights as recognizable as the Beetle’s bulbous profile and round headlights. I got more than a few thumbs-up from motorheads as I sped around town.

Four decades on, the current Jetta GLI has a more establishment feel.

The 1984 VW Rabbit GTI inspired a wave of pocket rockets including the Honda Civic Si (right).

In addition to its size, Jetta is loaded with safety and tech features that would have seemed out of a sci-fi novel in 1984: blind-spot assist, auto rain-sense wipers, anti-lock brakes, automatic windows, rear camera, automatic headlights, push-button start, heated seats and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity are standard for just $26,890. As is a 10-color, LED ambient lighting system that changes depending on which Drive Mode you’re in (Eco, Normal or Sport).

Yes, the 21st-century car is a marvel of electronic advances. But Jetta GLI is hardly a numbing experience. Ford may have dropped out of the pocket-rocket race when it ditched the Focus, but the Honda Civic Si and Hyundai Veloster N are serious segment challengers. Jetta GLI (and brother GTI) are up to the challenge.

GLI’s 228 horsepower is 150% more than my ol’ Rabbit GTI, more than making up for its increased heft. Power-to-weight ratio in the Jetta is 1:12 compared to Rabbit’s 1:23. Combine that with a whopping 258-pound feet of torque, and the turbocharged, 2.0-liter Jetta GLI flat-out goes.

A limited-slip differential up front assures stability, so I could really keep my foot on this beast out of corners.

Fastest toaster in town. The rear view of the 1984 VW Rabbit GTI includes a loud little tailpipe.

Establishment it may be (check out the conservative black interior), but GLI is true to the GTI’s original mission as a driver’s car. In addition to the expected power, Jetta GLI has a manual transmission option. The shifter is one of the best in the business with its notchy throws. It even adds a sixth gear over the ’84 model, enabling 32 mpg highway compared to the Rabbit’s 26 mpg.

Readers of this column know my preference is for the hot-hatch GTI (just as in 1984) over the GLI sedan — but the GLI’s $1,800 cheaper sticker price can’t be ignored.

When I sold my Rabbit GTI in the early ’90s it was starting to rust along the rocker panels. Modern, galvanized steel steeds like the Jetta are better protected, adding to the GLI’s more robust feel. And yet. …

There was no denying the GTI’s personality. Like a favorite raspy rocker’s soundtrack, the loud GTI left me with a lot of memories.

That’s the challenge of selling modern cars in the electronic age. Jetta GLI has its predecessor’s performance appeal, but will you remember it in 30 years?

The front-wheel-drive, 2020 VW Jetta GLI starts at just over $26 grand and brings a stronger engine and suspension than the base Jetta.

1984 VW Rabbit GTI

Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive, five-passenger, compact hatchback

Price: $8,350 ($21,232 in 2020 dollars, adjusted for inflation)

Powerplant: 1.8-liter, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 90 horsepower, 105 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.7 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 104 mph

Weight: 2,100 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/26 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Quick handling; bratty exhaust note

Lows: Tight cabin; loud interior

Overall: 3 stars

The 1984 VW Rabbit GTI likes to party on Oakland County's twisty roads.

2020 VW Jetta GLI

Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive, five-passenger, compact sedan

Price: $26,890, including $895 destination charge

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, inline turbo-4

Power: 228 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.8 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 126 mph

Weight: 3,225 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/32 highway/28 combined

Report card

Highs: Roomy interior; gobs of torque

Lows: Sleepy exterior; lacks personality

Overall: 3 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on August 28, 2020

Payne: Volvo’s Polestar 2 is the conservative Tesla Model 3

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 28, 2020

Coming to a dealership near you: “Spawn of Tesla.”

America’s best-selling luxury electric automaker has inspired a wave of competitors from legacy rivals. The Ford Mustang Mach-E has its sights set on the Tesla Model Y. The Jaguar iPace targets the Model S. The Audi eTron takes on the Model X.

And now, the best-selling Model 3 finally has its first direct competitor, the Polestar 2.

But where Tesla tore up the rulebook on how to make an all-electric car, Polestar parent Volvo hopes to attract customers with more familiar features.

Hatchback utility. The 2021 Polestar 2 has the same platform as the Volvo XC40 — and its hatchback cargo space.

Flogging the Models 2 and 3 across the twisties of Hell, Michigan, I marveled at how Tesla has transformed green-car expectations over early market entries like the Nissan Leaf. Tree huggers? These athletes are road huggers. Like the Model 3, the Polestar 2 has nearly 80 kWh of battery in its belly and loves to attack apexes. Hustling along two-lane North Territorial Road in the Polestar, I encountered a sleepy Audi A7.

Mash throttle. Zot! I was by him on a wave of electric torque.

Polestar may be an electric startup, but it sprung from the bosom of a 93-year-old Swedish car company — not a mad genius entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Legacy breeds conservatism.

The interior of the 2021 Polestar 2 is roomy, spare — but with a familiar layout of instrument display, center console screen and shifter.

The Model 3 shocked us with a spare cockpit anchored by a single 15-inch screen. All controls are in the screen, save two multi-purpose buttons on the steering wheel. Open the glovebox? It’s in the screen. Windshield wipers? In the screen.

Polestar 2, by contrast, modernizes Volvo’s familiar cockpit with a vertical, 12-inch screen. Adaptive cruise-control is controlled via traditional buttons on the steering wheel. An instrument display is behind it. The glove box is opened with a button. The wipers are operated by a stalk.

Given its more conservative nature, I doubt Polestar will sway the Tesla cult. Compared to hyper-growth Tesla, Polestar is suitably modest with its early sales projections. But it foretells a future of Tesla-like luxury vehicles.

Tesla is to cars what Apple was to smartphones. Its big screen revolutionized interiors. Its operating system set a new bar for electronics.

The 2021 Polestar 2 can be charged on common CCS charging systems.

Think of Polestar as Android OS to Tesla’s Apple. Indeed, Android is at the heart of the Polestar experience.

Tesla follows Apple’s vertically integrated business model from battery production to its own operating system. Polestar is horizontal, contracting batteries to LG Chem and operating system to Android.

Polestar is the first to use Android OS in a car. Forget screen-mirroring your phone with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Polestar’s Android system is the real deal — a smartphone on wheels like Tesla.

“Hey, Google,” I barked at the car, just as I would my Android phone. The big screen awoke; familiar, multi-color Google bubbles awaited my command.

“Navigate to Hell, Michigan.”

The screen immediately plotted a course for Hell’s playground (from my Ypsilanti starting point). Android voice-recognition and ease-of-use put parent Volvo’s in-house OS (I recently used in a Volvo S60) to shame.

The Polestar 2 will naturally attract Volvo customers with its familiar Thor’s-hammer headlights, crisp styling and safety systems. They will also appreciate its hatchback – opening more useful cargo space than the Model 3’s standard trunk (the Polestar shares a platform with the Volvo VC40 SUV). And they will be impressed by the Android system – a big leap over Volvo’s fussy system.

The 2021 Polestar 2 uses its big screen for a nifty overhead camera view.

The revelation extends to the digital, configurable instrument display which takes a page from Audi’s playbook by duplicating your map route in the instrument display as well as console screen. Some Tesla buyers will prefer it to glancing sideways at a center screen.

But, to my surprise, the Android system otherwise mimics Tesla. Take AM radio, for example.

Tesla doesn’t have it. Why? I’ve never received a straight answer. “Because AM is so 15 minutes ago. No one uses it in California,” a Teslaphile once told me. Really?

Leave it to Polestar engineers to explain. Electric motors interfere with the AM signal, one told to me, because they have similar frequencies. So Polestar doesn’t offer AM either. Over time (like my Model 3) digital options should become available.

As will Sirius XM, another feature Polestar — and Tesla — don’t offer. Both EVs, however, do offer Spotify, and it’s slick.

“Play U2,” I said to my friendly Google Assistant.

A list of U2 songs populated the screen.

Not as friendly is Polestar 2’s range, where it runs head-on into Tesla’s secret sauce: charging infrastructure.

My Polestar returned 73% of expected battery range (73 miles on the road took 100 miles off the battery) in my spirited outing to Hell and back. My Model 3 has returned similar numbers. But the Tesla’s mighty 80-kWh battery boasts 325 miles of range versus Volvo’s expected 270 (when EPA finalizes numbers next month).

That matters when traveling to, say, Traverse City, 250 miles from Ypsi.

“Navigate to Traverse City,” I barked.

“Out of battery range,” replied Google, noting I had just 100 miles of battery range left. “Add a charging stop.”

The first available stop was, um, a slow, 240-volt ChargePoint station. The map even put the word “Slow” next to it. I’m not making this up.

As with other key components, Polestar relies on third parties for charging. Companies like ChargePoint, EVGo and Electrify America. Which means you’ll need to research on your own whether you can get to Traverse City. Ask Tesla how to navigate there and it’ll map your course, including at which 150-kW fast-chargers to stop.

Polestar depends on Electrify America for fast-charging (like every other EV-maker not named Tesla) — and they haven’t a single supercharger north of Lansing. Tesla has eight.

Translation: Polestar owners will take their Volvo XC90 SUV up north. The Polestar 2 is a city vehicle.

The steering wheel of the 2021 Polestar 2 will be familiar to Volvo drivers — despite that new Polestar logo.

Polestar is also conservative when it comes to self-driving. For an extra $8,000, Tesla offers you the world’s best autonomous capability. Automatic lane changes. Hands-free driving. Stoplight recognition (really, it just arrived in the latest over-the-air update). Polestar is content to give you Volvo’s adaptive cruise-control.

For many drivers that is enough. They don’t want to be a part of Elon Musk’s beta experiments.

Unlike Tesla’s mad rush to world domination (it was America’s best-selling luxury car last year), Polestar is starting as conservative as its styling. The 2 is offered as a top-trim, all-wheel drive model at $61,200 — add $5,000 for the Performance option like my $66,200 tester.

That’s about $5,000 more expensive than an equivalent Model 3 Performance model. The good news: New spawn Polestar still qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

Old meets new. A century after the gas-engine Ford Model T, left, defeated battery-powered cars, the 2021 Polestar 2 hopes to turn the tables and usher in a new EV revolution.

2021 Polestar 2

Vehicle type: All-wheel drive, five-passenger electric hatchback

Price: $61,200, including $1,300 destination fee ($66,200 Performance model as tested)

Powerplant: 78-kWh lithium-ion battery pack mated to dual electric motors

Power: 408 horsepower, 487 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (Performance model as tested); top speed, 125 mph

Weight: 4,680 pounds

Range: EPA number pending. Estimated: 270 miles (as tested: 73 miles traveled took 100 miles off the battery)

Report card

Highs: Familiar Android OS; hatchback

Lows: Conservative styling; lacks Tesla charger network

Overall: 3 stars

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