Henry Payne Blog

Payne: The Jurassic toy designer who makes Fords

Posted by hpayne on March 31, 2015

Ford car designer Kevin George with the 2015 Ford Edge

If you loved Kenner Products’ remote control “Ricochet” toy car as a kid and covet the new Ford Edge as an adult, meet Kevin George.

He designed both.

George, exterior design manager for the 2015 Edge crossover, came to Ford through an unusual route: the toy business. For a dozen years, he designed some of the most beloved toys on kids’ wish lists — Ricochet, “Jurassic Park” movie figures, “Batman” vehicles, NASCAR models — for Kenner before he realized his life’s dream and crossed over to the auto industry in 2001 to sculpt cars.

Where he once worked closely with Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park vehicle designs, he now pens cars for the legendary Blue Oval.

“The passion that kids had for their toys — I want them to grow up and have that same passion for their cars,” says the 48-year-old, who has just completed a media tour for the Edge as it debuts in dealer showrooms this month.

Growing up in Kettering, Ohio, Kevin George’s passion for autos started young. His father, a General Motors engineer, brought home a steady diet of development vehicles. He learned the language of car design. The lights. The lines. His friends wanted to play baseball or soccer.

“I wanted to draw cars,” he says.

But when it came time to choose a university, the budding designer eschewed the traditional auto design factories of Detroit’s College for Creative Studies or California’sArt Center College of Design. He chose the University of Cincinnati. Once more, he learned from his father.

“He encouraged me to get an industrial design degree because he said I can always get a product design job,” reflects George. “He warned me that the auto business was very cyclical.”

After graduation in 1987, George took his “book” — portfolio — to Cincinnati’s Kenner, a little toy company once known for Play-Doh and Easy Bake Ovens that had struck pay dirt by landing the “Star Wars” contract to produce action figures. The Hollywood connection was a gold mine for Kenner as it became the go-to company for movie merchandise.

Nearly every movie project had vehicles and young George lobbied for the assignment. His first project: “Ghostbusters” in 1989. Then came Jurassic Park.

“We gave away free movie design work,” laughs George, because the lead time on making toys — design, materials, Chinese production, shipment to market — was longer than making a movie. So George and his team became de facto designers for Spielberg props like the park’s tour trucks.

George read Michael Crichton’s original novels. Worked with Hollywood designers. Spielberg came to Cincinnati.

“The trucks were initially based on the Ford Explorer. But I didn’t like the vehicles, so we did a different design,” remembers George, aware of the irony that he’s now a Ford designer. He changed the roofs to clear glass. Added numbers. Spielberg approved.

Other blockbusters followed. Batman. NASCAR. The game-changing, all-wheel drive “Ricochet” design that introduced a remote control car that would always land on its feet — saving kids the trouble of rescuing cars turtled on their roofs.

The Ricochet, as its packaging promised, was “virtually unstoppable.” But George’s toy design career was not.

Kenner was bought by Hasbro. The Cincinnati division was closed and George took a different job in Rhode Island. The “non-cyclical” product design industry had suddenly hit a cycle. George faced a crossroads.

“My wife asked me: ‘What is it that you want?’ ” he recalls. “‘Follow your dream.’”

Ricochet’s designer sent his book of toy vehicle designs to Ford North America Design Director Moray Callum — including a hot rod, ’32 Ford split window. “I think he liked that car,” smiles George.

He was hired. His first assignment: chief interior designer for the 2005 Mustang. Now that’s hitting the ground running.

“It’s great to have designers that come from a different background on our team,” says George’s boss, Chris Svensson, design director of the Americas. “They bring a different perspective to addressing a design challenge. It ensures we are evaluating every possibility.”

George never looked back. He worried that car design might be different, more high-tech. But he’s found that while the tools have evolved — CAD computer design, Oculus Rift virtual reality helmets — craftsmanship remains paramount.

“They do things the same way we did at Kenner,” he says. “With a movie toy you ask yourself: ‘What is the core fantasy of this film?’ With a car it’s the same. ‘What is it that people like about a ’67 Mustang?’ I knew what to do. I knew how to capture the essence of the Mustang.’”

The same principle applied to remaking the Edge, a pioneer of the crossover segment and one of Ford’s most familiar shapes.

“Just because you can change everything doesn’t mean you should,” he says of a design that integrates Ford sedan family cues like a Taurus-like grill and Fusion-like taillights — yet retains Edge’s signature, sculpted stance.

George says he particularly enjoyed working on Edge’s full-size clay model in the design studio, carving out big scoops of clay from the ute’s slab sides to give it a leaner look.

Playing with clay. Drawing cars. Just like when he was a kid. He’s living his dream.

CARtoon: Lincoln Continental

Posted by hpayne on March 31, 2015

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The bold, new face of Lincoln

Posted by hpayne on March 30, 2015

The new face of Lincoln. The flagship, Continental sedan breaks cover. (Lincoln Motor Co. photo)

Lincoln just crashed the swank, 2016 New York Auto Show.

This was supposed to be the Cadillac CT6’s party, meticulously planned since the debutant’s elegant coming out at the Super Bowl. But with the quiet of a Lockheed stealth fighter and the beauty of Cinderella, the Lincoln Continental Concept stormed New York Monday with the new face of Lincoln.

Goodbye elegant bow wave, hello bold center grille. Get use to that term. Bold. Bold, bold. It’s a term that has been sorely missing in Lincoln’s lexicon. Where the wispy, waterfall, winged-grille of recent vintage has struggled to find friends, the bold new face and slab sides of the Continental are a return to American muscle. Or maybe English muscle.

The powerful lines of the big sedan harken back to prez limos – but also echo the powerful face and loins of, say, the Bentley Continental GTS. There are lots of familiar, exterior design cues here from the Acura-like, LED spider eyes to the Kia “tiger-nose” grille to the signature, horizontal, Lincoln tail. But the Continental is more than a new face. Its cutting edge rear seats (Asian executives are high-fiving right now) are 30-way, 11-bladder, reclining thrones fit for a king. Or at least The Donald.

Will this be the new direction that reignites a stale brand?

Lincoln could have totally reinvented itself as a digital-age, cutting edge, electric-maker. But Green Elon Musk beat Green Bill Ford to market with the Tesla Model S, the most exciting American luxe car in memory (it must be galling to Ford’s green scion that Musk even stole his great grandfather’s “Model T” badge language). So Lincoln has chosen to go back to the future instead. Continental resurrected – powered by 3.0-liter Ecoboost.

Ford is getting good at this stealth stuff. Remember the shocking reveal of the LeMans-bound, GT supercar at the Detroit Auto Show?

And don’t be confused by that “concept” label. One look at the finished, signature Lincoln, push-button console and this beast looks ready for the street. Expect it to roll into showrooms next year as Lincoln’s flagship sedan.

(Photo courtesy of Lincoln Motor Co.)

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne. WEB: http://www.detroitnews.com/staff/27083/henry-payne/. EMAIL: hpayne@detroitnews.com

Payne: Chevy Trax tastes better with AWD

Posted by hpayne on March 28, 2015

Packed with connected lifestyle technology – including

“Everything goes better with bacon.” Everyone has their own favorite condiment. Some folks like bacon. Others ketchup. My favorite is guacamole. Sure, it’s popular with chips. But a smear will improve just about anything from burgers to beans.

All-wheel drive is like that on autos.

Racers know that AWD is the supreme advantage — which is why it is banned in most forms of motorsport. For off-roaders, AWD is a must. Jeep swears by it. AWD gives modern supercars better grip off the line. But like guacamole, I find AWD valuable beyond its traditional places.

Everything goes better with AWD. Take the 2015 Chevy Trax I’ve been driving.

It’s one of a herd of subcompact SUVs that has carved out a new segment right before our eyes. It’s hip. It’s growing. It attracts young people to the brand. It’s . . . sooooo boring. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean “boring” as in nothing to offer. The Trax is cute. Loaded with amenities. A very practical entry-level car. But its highest purpose is affordable transportation. It only comes with a 138 horse, 1.4-liter turbo engine, for goodness sake. It has the low-end torque of a gerbil wheel. I’ve seen better 0-60 times from lawn tractors. It moves slower than the last two minutes of an NFL championship game.

And without a sporty, SS version there’s no horsepower savior on the horizon. But opt for the Trax’s affordable, $1,500, AWD option and this unsalted cracker comes to life.

Throw the Trax into a 90-degree right-hander and it rotates like a champ. Like Dumbo on skis, it slides, but stays on course. The more you do it, the more addictive it becomes. At 3,208 pounds (700 pounds lighter than a BMW X1!) the Trax is predictable, throwable — its weight never causing undue body roll despite its upright stance.

The experience heightens your senses and awakens you to the metal egg’s other idiosyncrasies.

Like storage. The Trax has more hiding places than a jewel thief. Two smart phone holders on either side of the center stack — a lidded compartment above it. Two gloveboxes like a VW Bug. Slide your hand under the passenger seat and a drawer pops out. The doors contain more bins.

If my kids were little, we’d do Easter egg hunts in the Trax.

Now play “Find the USB.” For all the storage Trax offers it only provides one USB port to recharge your phone. Where would you put it? Behind the shifter? Above the console? The upper glovebox? Bingo.

The only place the Trax doesn’t have a storage is between the seats because the Trax is so darn narrow. My long knees and tall noggin are comfortable in the front chairs, but put another tall guy next to me and it’s claustrophobic. Like airline seats that share an arm rest, you’ll be fighting for elbow room the whole trip. If you’re overweight, forget it. Mike&Molly couldn’t do their show in this car. Molly would have to sit in the back seat.

At least she wouldn’t create visibility issues. The Trax already has the worst blind sport in any small vehicle I’ve driven. The president’s energy policy doesn’t have blind sports this big. Mind the (standard) rear park-assist camera or you’ll be backing over your mailbox every two weeks.

Technology is a mixed bag. The 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot is brilliant. Infotainment ergonomics not so much. The touch screen is slow, the ON-OFF button is Son of Cadillac Cue. It’s so vague, I nearly broke my finger jabbing at it.

But all is forgiven when I fling the AWD bowling ball through another bend. Subcompacts were never this much fun. Remember them? Cars like the Chevy Sonic get good gas mileage. Front wheel drive. No AWD. Booooring. But add bacon and guacamole and it’s transformed. Here’s the Trax recipe: Take Chevy Sonic chassis. Jack it up. Add AWD. Call it a ute.

Bang! You’re selling 4,000 a month.

Just like the Buick Encore. Buick gets the premium crowd, but the Trax is plenty of subcompact for $4 grand less. It sports a surprising amount of rear room — even for giraffes like me — thanks to its hatchback configuration. Need storage? Flatten the front and rear seats and you can throw in a dining table.

Which we’ll need for that Final Four feast we’re planning. Pot luck style. I’ll bring the guacamole. Can someone bring 50 more horsepower for the Trax?

2015 Chevrolet Trax

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

Price: $20,995 base ($27,405 LZ AWD as tested)

Power plant: 1.4-liter, turbo inline 4-cylinder

Power: 138 horsepower, 148 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.4 seconds (Car & Driver)

Weight: 3,048 pounds base (3,283 AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/27 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: LOL AWD fun; Storage galore

Lows: Vague screen controls; Accleration of a garden snail

Overall:★★★

Cartoon: Media Ben Carson

Posted by hpayne on March 27, 2015

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Cartoon: Arnold Swap

Posted by hpayne on March 27, 2015

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CARtoon: Final 4×4

Posted by hpayne on March 26, 2015

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Payne: Jaguar XF is one cool cat

Posted by hpayne on March 26, 2015

From real-world efficiency to Autobahn-storming performance,

I have a soft spot for pizza, and one of my favorite pie joints is Primo’s, a small Birmingham convenience store just around the corner from the luxe showrooms of Auto Europe and Fred Lavery Porsche-Audi. Primo’s has been in business since the Cretaceous Period, and its loyal, crusty employees have seen a world of exotics drive by their big, front window. I have come to their store in countless vehicles. I pick up my box, exchange pleasantries, head back to my ride. But a recent visit was different. The cashier couldn’t take his eyes off the Polaris White, Jaguar XF I had parked in front.

“Wow, that’s a pretty car,” he ogled. Yes it is.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Ford Fusion copied the Aston Martin’s grille because the Brit-mobile has the best-looking face in the business. Tesla copied the XF sedan’s profile for its Model S sedan because the Jag sets the standard for four-door beauty.

Like its animal namesake, the Jaguar’s blunt nose is the only feature on this cat that isn’t poetry in motion. Narrow headlights sweep around the front corners. Curvy, chrome, lower-air intake accents frame the face like cat whiskers. From this crouched cowl, the vehicle’s body angles upwards across muscular wheel haunches, meeting a tapered roof in one of the auto kingdom’s most admired rumps.

This column’s reader comments are often peppered with comments scolding me for reviewing 60 grand chariots afforded by the fatted few. But rolling sculptures like the XF are the industry’s artistic standard. A young architect studying Frank Lloyd Wright may not re-create Fallingwater, but he can transform neighborhoods with attractive, affordable, Prairie style housing. So too the Jag.

Its first-class taste inspires every segment. There’s the aforementioned Fusion with a fastback that is oh-so-XF-like. Or the forthcoming Chevy Malibu which GM has teased with an XF-like (or is it Audi A7-like?) silhouette. My tennis game pales compared to Pete Sampras, but my serve benefits from mimicking his classic stroke.

Seems the 2015 Jaguar XF I’ve been flying around in has done a little mimicking of its own.

Truth be told, despite Jaguar cars’ Gwyneth Paltrow-good looks, they had always left me cold. Detroit-winter cold. Back when the brand was part of the Ford stable, I felt sorry for Blue Oval execs slip-slopping through Detroit winters in their rear-wheel drive, two-ton Jag sleds. Like Gwyneth in high heels on ice, winter driving in Jaguars seemed an exercise in caution. Where’s the joy in that?

But since the English cat was freed from Ford’s zoo, the beast has thrived in the backyard of India’s Tata. Jaguar is shedding its caricature as a rolling, wood-paneled London business office — with handling to match. Jaguar introduced the snarling, V-8, all-aluminum F-Type coupe. Then the aluminum, BMW 3-series-fighting XE bowed at the Detroit Show this January. And when the 2016 XF takes center stage in New Yorknext week, it too will get an aluminum structure. The gorgeous, Ford-developed XF got the brand back on track in 2008, but it was not until 2013 that Tata green-lighted AWDfor the XF to match its midsize luxe competitors: BMW xDrive, Audi Quattro, and Mercedes 4MATIC.

A Jaguar powered by all four paws. Now that’s more like it.

The XF is a sure-footed cat in snow and dry. February threw everything at it, yet this kitty eagerly attacked the elements every day. Claw-like brakes. Instinctive all-wheel drive. Predictable steering. The big cat was as comfortable in powder as Lindsey Vonn.

The all-wheel drive system flatters the rear-wheel-drive-biased XF in the dry as well. Despite its heft, I could throw the sedan through corners, its rear tail naturally rotating into place. At stoplights, the AWD grip is a perfect mate for the ferocious 340-horse, supercharged V-6 under the hood.

Short of an electric Tesla, there isn’t a sedan on the market that will pin you to the back of your seat like the torquey, 320 pound-feet V-6. Locate the steering-mounted paddle shifters, grip the wheel and hang on for dear life as the buttery, eight-speed tranny launches the carnivore forward like it’s spied a pack of peccaries. If this Jaguar had spots they would fly off under acceleration.

But climb inside this panting predator and you feel 100 miles from its engine’s violence. Indeed, you can barely hear its throaty roar thanks to acres of sound-deadening material.

If the XF’s chassis is a trained athlete, the interior is a high-calorie buffet on a silver platter. My XF came with delicious materials including Barley leather seats, Truffle upper fascia in Soft Grain Leather, accented with Knurled Aluminum with Gloss-figured Ebony. I gained 10 pounds just looking at it.

But I’m just getting started. Look up and the ceiling is swathed in “Canvas Jaguar Suedecloth Premium Headlining.” Including the sun visors. I stroked the A-pillars like a Jaguar’s pelt. If the XF ever rolled over on its roof, I would be tempted to stay in the car, take off my shoes, and walk around on the soft ceiling barefoot.

But wait there’s more. The front windshield is heated with an extraordinary embroidery of microscopic heating wires. Push the starter button and the dash’s flush, aluminum air vents spin open, the navigation screen illuminates, and a gear selector dial rises out of the center console like a game-show button. To the moon, Mr. Bond.

Yet for all this eccentric luxury, the Jaguar’s is surprisingly practical.

Its Human Machine Interface — ergonomics to we laymen — is superb. Most luxury consoles these days require a six-week course to operate. The XF is as user-friendly as a Chrysler 200. Ample center console storage space that will actually hold (shock) a big screen iPhone 6. Intuitive climate buttons. Touch-screen infotainment system. Everything is designed to fall in your field of view from the console-centered, door unlock buttons to the heads-up display hovering over the hood.

Underneath its racy hind quarters is adequate rear passenger room and enough luggage space to store Big Ben.

Next week in the Big Apple, the 2016 XF will catch up to state-of-art electronics and aluminum structure. But its basic wardrobe will remain largely unchanged. It’s already the standard. Just ask Tesla … or your local pizza guy.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

 

2015 Jaguar XF

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear and all-wheel drive, five-passenger luxury sedan

Price: $52,100 base ($61,175 AWD, supercharged V-6 as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, turbo inline-4 cylinder; 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6; 5.0-liter, supercharged V-8

Power: 240 horsepower, 251 pound-feet of torque (4-cyl); 340 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque (V-6); 470-550 horsepower, 424-502 pound-feet of torque (V-8)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission with steering-mounted paddle shifters

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.1 seconds (V-6 AWD, manufacturer)

Weight: 3,660 pounds base (4,145 AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 19 mpg city/30 mpg highway/23 mpg combined (4-cyl); EPA 17 mpg city/27 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (V-6); EPA 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway/18 mpg combined (V-8)

Report card

Highs: Simply gorgeous; intuitive controls

Lows: Small nav screen; um, seat heater buttons buried in console display? (I’m really reaching here)

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Cinderella Ending

Posted by hpayne on March 25, 2015

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Cartoon: Cruz, Obama, Messiah

Posted by hpayne on March 24, 2015

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Cartoon: Bibi Upset

Posted by hpayne on March 21, 2015

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Cartoon: Bibi Demagoguery

Posted by hpayne on March 21, 2015

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Cartoon: Starbucks Race

Posted by hpayne on March 20, 2015

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Payne: Smoothed Ford Edge

Posted by hpayne on March 19, 2015

The 2015 Edge is now based on the same global platform

We’ve all had that fashion hiccup we regret.

The used-car salesman mustache. The Elton John-sized sunglasses. A decade of 1970s leisure suits. I wore a pair of plaid pants in my middle-school years that haunt me to this day. Not just plaid, but too-short plaid.

“Hey, Payne, expecting a flood?” my buddies would ask of pants that showed plenty of ankle. I blushed like Michael Keaton in “Birdman” walking across Broadway in his underwear.

Auto companies have their glitches too. The Ford Motor Co. is finally putting its fashionfaux pas behind it.

You remember the original Ford Fusion. The one that debuted Ford’s “three-bar” grille in 2006? Bold, chromed, and very American, tri-bar fashion looked awesome on big trucks. But just because a shaved pate on Michael Jordan looks cool doesn’t mean it’ll flatter Britney Spears.

Detroit auto critic Payne reviews the new Ford Edge. Henry Payne

The three-bar looked awkward on Ford sedans. It was variously derided as looking like a Gillette razor or braces on a teenager. Its victims included the Ford Focus, which went from one of the market’s sexiest compacts to looking like a refugee from the Island of Misfit Toys.

But most tragically, the stylish Ford Edge got stuck with it.

I’ve always admired the Edge. Birthed in 2006 for the 2007 model year, it followed the Chrysler Pacifica and Nissan Murano as pioneers of a new breed of crossover vehicle. Departing from the traditional, truck-based SUV (of which Edge’s bigger sibling Explorer was itself a pioneer) these mechanical satyrs combined truck-like utility with a car-like chassis (the Fusion/Mazda 6 chassis in the case of the Edge). The formula took America by storm and crossovers have now infiltrated every segment down to subcompacts.

The aptly named, cutting-edge Edge also wowed with an exterior that appeared chiseled from granite. Oh, but that face. Metal mouth distracted from Edge’s other, considerable assets. Mrs. Payne and I took a long look at the Edge in 2006, but we adopted the prettier Pacifica crossover instead.

The good thing about auto facial fads is that, unlike Mike Tyson’s tattoo, they can be easily erased. Mercifully, Ford’s 2010 Taurus and 2013 Fusion introduced elegant, open grilles that recognized car and truck fashion are two different things. The transformation has energized Ford’s lineup.

The ’15 Ford Edge is the last family member to get its Extreme Makeover.

Having endured a mid-cycle, 2010 refresh that actually grew its Gillette grille to Brobdingnagian proportions — you thought Jaws’ chrome teeth in “The Spy Who Loved Me” were scary? — the new Edge finally gets the face it deserves.

Edge adopts Taurus’ hexagon grille then integrates it with angled, LED headlights. How striking is the new look? It shames a similar effort by Audi on its new Q7 — though the upscale Audi’s fashion statement will cost you $20K more. The integration continues around back where Edge fuses Fusion taillights with Dodge-esque LED tube. Nice caboose. This hottie will make heads turn coming and going.

The plastic surgery comes just in time for the Edge’s debut on Europe’s runways where it is leading an invasion of new product including the Mustang. With crossovers sweeping the Continent, the Edge will make an impressive accessory in downtown London, Paris, and Berlin.

Face by Taurus, body by Adonis. The Edge’s bod is brawnier than ever. Credit Kenner-toy-designer-turned-Ford-designer Kevin George who has scalloped the dense sides of the Edge for a sexier, trimmer look.

That athletic stance complements a more toned Edge chassis, which — for all the buzz over the Edge’s exterior — is the real revelation of the new Edge. After all, Edge isn’t the cutting edge anymore.

Sure, the comely crossover continues to dominate the niche it trailblazed. The Pacifica is gone. The Toyota Venza and Honda Crosstour will soon follow. The wild Nissan Murano is JWoww of “Jersey Shore” on wheels — and just as polarizing. And sure, the Edge continues to load on cool, new tech features like kick-open hatch and parallel and perpendicular self-parking.

But self-driving isn’t for everyone. Mrs. Payne tried the self-parking feature and was freaked out when the Edge’s steering wheel started spinning about and beeping at her like it was possessed. I thought she was going to hit it with a blast of pepper spray.

Such features aren’t novel to the Edge anymore. Similarly equipped, more affordable utes now ply the streets competing for customers. Ford Escapes. Mazda CX-5s. Chevy Equinoxes. Looks and tech aren’t enough anymore. The Edge must compete in handling as well.

My wife’s pal, Mary, is right out of the Edge marketing textbook. Female. Fifty-something. An empty-nester who still wants a roomy, all-wheel-drive, mid-sized ute — but with more panache than an Explorer mom-mobile. How about an Edge? Sold.

But her ’13 Edge feels like a tank. Solid, but like a hammer. Throw it at a corner and she needs the arms of Thor. With a recipe of stiffer chassis, aluminum-multi-link suspension, and calibrated e-steering, the ’15 Edge feels lighter on its feet. Still 4,000 pounds. Still cut like the Seattle Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch. But sure-footed like him, too.

I took the two-ton beast through the winding roads of Arizona’s Mazatzal Mountains and — surprise! — had a ball. Mary would be stunned. And could cancel that barbell weightlifting class she’s signed up for. Ford complements the Edge chassis by updating its suite of engines with Ford’s latest Ecoboost powerplants — part of its Quixotic quest to meet Washington pols’ random 54.5 mpg fuel economy mandates (why not 73.333 mpg? Or an even 100?). Good luck with that. By the time Ford figures out how to make 50 mpg Edges, Washington will have mandated that vehicles be powered by wind turbines.

More significantly to buyers, the base, 2.0-liter 4-banger and 2.7-liter V-6 turbo engines offer more performance with better fuel economy. My favorite is the turbo 6 — exclusive to the Sport model — which not only gains 10 ponies over the shelved, 3.7-liter V-6, but boasts a throaty exhaust note that actually penetrates the ute’s hushed interior. Edge’s cathedral-like, engine compartment-sealed, acoustic-glassed quiet is the most significant change in an interior that otherwise largely mimics the old.

With new Edge, it’s all about style. The braces are off. The body is gym-tuned. When this Ford waltzes down the French Riviera, no one will blush.

2015 Ford Edge

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

Price: $29,890 base ($46,180 AWD Sport as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, turbo 4-cylinder; 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder; 2.7-liter, turbo 6-cylinder

Power: 245 horsepower, 275 pound-feet of torque (turbo 4); 280 horsepower, 250 pound-feet of torque (3.5-liter V-6); 315 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque (turbo V-6)

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Performance: Towing capacity: 3,500 lbs, base; 0-60 mph, 6.7 seconds for Edge Sport (Car & Driver)

Weight: 3,912 pounds base (4,060 as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA (all figures AWD): 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway/23 mpg combined (2.0-liter turbo); 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (3.5-liter V-6); 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (2.7-liter turbo)

Report card

Highs: Chiseled good looks; The foot-kick hatch comes to Edge

Lows: Thirsty V-6 turbo; Self-park may freak you out

Overall: 4 stars

CARtoon: Auto Tech

Posted by hpayne on March 18, 2015

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Cartoon: Middle Class Obama

Posted by hpayne on March 18, 2015

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Cartoon: Brackets Election 2016

Posted by hpayne on March 16, 2015

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Payne: Shy Subie Legacy steps up

Posted by hpayne on March 14, 2015

The completely re-designed for 2015 Subaru Legacy delivers

I feel like a TV infomercial pitchman when I tell folks about the Subaru Legacy.

If I told you you could have an all-wheel-drive, midsize sedan with a V-6 engine and the biggest cargo room in class what would pay? $34,000? But wait, that’s not all! This car has all that and more! Heated seats, blind-spot assist, nav screen, torque vectoring! So NOW what would you pay? $36,000? But wait, there’s more! Not just FRONT heated seats, but rear heated seats, too, plus keyless entry and wood trim that you would expect in a luxury German car! So now what would pay? $38,000?

Well, folks you can have all this in the stylish new, 2015 Subaru Legacy for just $32,500! You heard me, just THIRTY-TWO FIVE!

Subarus are autodom’s bargain kings. Their fans are legion – including my Impreza-disciple wife. They make you question brand hierarchy. Why should I pay $30 grand more for an AWD, BMW 5-series when I can get the same package in a $30k Subie Legacy? Including lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert (this nifty innovation saved me a kick in the can when backing out of my claustrophobic, neighborhood service station). Would you pay $40 for filet mignon at Fleming’s if you could get the same steak for $20 across the street at Outback?

What’s that? Of course, presentation matters.

That Fleming’s steak will taste better if it’s drizzled in Merlot sauce in a private booth – rather than dropped on a table next to a flustered family at wit’s end with their rugrat. Like restaurants, like cars. Upscale brands ooze style and substance.

But the latest Legacy – nay, the new generation of mainstream sedans – are punching above their weight.

Consider styling. Led by the sultry Ford Fusion and Chrysler 200, midsize sedans aren’t the vanilla-mobiles of old – even sales leader Toyota Camry has gotten an extreme makeover. In the past Subaru has tried to push the style envelope with frightening results. Remember the 2006 Tribeca? It looked like a refugee from Planet Ork.

Smartly, Subie designers decided to conform the new Legacy to the latest styling trends rather than blaze new trails. The result is quite pleasant (and distinguishes the sleek sedan from its more-popular-but-homelier Outback cousin). Trendy, hexagon grille (see Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe). Coupe-like roofline. Creased flanks. Hooded headlamps like a 5-Series.

Go on. Park it next to the midsize Bimmer. Years ago, you would have perished the thought. In fact you would have hidden the Legacy on the other side of the restaurant lot from Bavaria’s finest. You couldn’t bear the humiliation. Like Billy Joel dating Christie Brinkley, it violated nature’s order.

But my new ‘Ru in Ice Silver Metallic is Pygmalion’s sculpture. She belongs. The eyes are dazzling, the shoulders defined.

On the dance floor, you might notice the difference. If you’re Fred Astaire. But like driving, most people are content with the basic waltz. The Legacy’s 3.6-liter, Boxer 6 packs plenty of oomph – even when mated to a continuously variable tranny. Want to slam through the gears? Paddle shifters are at your fingertips. Unless you’re an adrenaline-guzzling, speed freak like me, you’ll likely never push the limits of a sedan chassis. And even if you do you’ll find the Legacy’s torque-vectoring, all-wheel drive system a marvel in wet or dry.

AWD is Subaru’s DNA, of course. As standard on every Subie as a kidney grille on a BMW. No one else can say that.

The interior is what separates Fleming’s from Outback. Mid-size from lux. Legacy from 5-Series. The Subaru’s instrumentation is practical, not fancy. Though not as innovative as a 200, the Legacy nevertheless learns from the best-in-class Chrysler console with intuitive knobs, large buttons and useful storage space. Most useful is a phone cubby, which, paradoxically, exposes the Legacy’s biggest weakness: Connectivity.

It’s a challenge for any automaker in the smartphone age. With giant phones like the iPhone6 and (my) Samsung Note 3, the small Legacy cubby is outdated. As is the car’s Bluetooth system (which repeatedly failed to understand my voice commands perhaps because the Legacy interior is not as quiet as competitors) and the nav system which pales next to the latest Google app. Which means I wanted to use my phone navigation . . . um, if I could fit my phone in the cubby.

Details, details. She’s still a steal.

What if I told you this stylish sedan has the best interior room in class! Just THIRTY-TWO FIVE! Order now!

2015 Subaru Legacy

Vehicle type: Front-engine, All-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $23,285 base ($32,585 Limited as tested)

Power plant: 3.6-liter, boxer 6-cylinder

Power: 256 horsepower, 247 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.4 seconds (Car & Driver est.)

Weight: 3,662 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway/23 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: 21st century design; AWE-some AWD

Lows: A-pillar wind noise; poor connectivity

Overall:★★★

Cartoon: Instagram

Posted by hpayne on March 14, 2015

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Cartoon: Holder Ferguson Report

Posted by hpayne on March 13, 2015

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