Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Hastert and Clinton Wanted

Posted by hpayne on April 29, 2016

042916_HastertClintonWanted_COLOR

Dude, Kia Sportage got game

Posted by hpayne on April 29, 2016

The all-new 2017 Kia Sportage is not a boring SUV, I’ve always chafed at the name Kia “Sportage.” Sportage sounds like something MTV’s star beach bum Pauly Shore would say. Like “After I do some sportage, I’m gonna get some foodage.” Or “Like, dude, I’m totally spent. That was some serious sportage.” Hip. Funky. Not something you’d associate with a compact crossover appliance in the high-volume, mainstream segment. But after driving Kia’s new 2017 Sportage, maybe I was wrong. This is no appliance. This dude is loaded with personality. In its ambitious climb to social respectability, Kia and Korean-twin Hyundai have slavishly copied German brand wardrobes. Hyundai’s luxury Genesis has aped Audi’s big grille and taut lines, while Kia just hired VW-Audi designer Peter Schreyer himself. Schreyer wasted no time sculpting a sexier Kia. Leaner stance. Signature, “tiger-nose” grille. Personality. For the new Sportage, Schreyer reached for exterior cues from the Alpha male of the VW family: Porsche. Stroll around the outside and Sportage has an unmistakable echo of Stuttgart’s bullet-shaped Macan. Rake, dual-eyed headlights. Rounded corners. A menacing mouth. The Porsche’s egg-crate grille screams mean while the Sportage has ... cute-age? Yes, like an enraged Pokeman. GRRRRRR. Stomp on the Kia’s turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and this box goes. It’s not the tire-squirming torque steer of Korean imports of yesteryear, but the refined pep of a German machine. This isn’t a quirky Kia Soul but a serious automobile with crisp handling and tailored interior to match its styling, right down to the alphabet-soup badge on my top-of-the-line turbo: SX-GDI. The black instrument cluster behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel (sport-age!) is highlighted by white graphics and red dials. The dash is nicely appointed with matte-black row of buttons, air ducts, and horizontal lines. It’s right out of a VW-Audi parts bin. The Sportage follows on the same platform as the handsome, 2016 Hyundai Tucson (big brother always gets the first wardrobe makeover). Last summer I tested the base, wonderfully-affordable, $23,720 Tucson, which goes about its business in a very, um, business-like way. My all-wheel-drive Sportage tester is a different animal. Not just because it was dressed to the nines at $34,895 (its base price just $300 more than the Tucson) — but because it cuts a more athletic stance. The Kia feels less like the Tucson and more like Hyundai’s Sante Fe Sport — a sexier version of Hyundai’s larger, mid-sized Santa Fe aimed squarely at Ford’s Edge. Confusing, I know, but that’s how these Korean twins differentiate themselves. Befitting their badges, Sportage and Santa Fe Sport get steroid-fed engines — 181 horsepower base 2.4-liter or powerful 240-horse turbo-fours. The Tucson is stuck with a 2.0-liter, 164-horse, 2.0-liter four or a 1.6-liter turbo-4 option with 175 ponies. In a 0-60 sprint, Sportage leaves Tucson in the dust. If they were high school classmates, you’d recognize Sportage and Sport as the jocks — Tucson the nerd. That said, Sportage’s safety and reliability numbers are class summa cum laude. The Kia is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety top safety pick and its J.D. Power reliability and dependability numbers shame even Honda and Subaru. Brains and looks. Like Jennifer Grey’s nose job, Sportage’s new face has born a thousand opinions. I like it. The AWD model also gets less chin for more ground clearance — in case you want to take it off-road. The Sportage turbo’s prominent side gills — more Porsche inspiration — are lit up with four, luxurious “ice-cubes” each. Dude, LED-age. The flanks continue the athletic, rounded theme with the rear sporting a tasteful combination of Audi lights (ribbed LED inlays) and a horizontal, Lincoln-esque signature connecting the corners. Kia has done its homework. So how does Sportage stand up to my favorite compact crossover, Ford Escape? Where the Escape and Hyundai Tucson appear separated at birth, the Kia’s dramatically different looks will stand out on Michigan highways choked with Escapes (the second-best selling small crossover). The Kia offers lots of nifty features like lane-keep assist (handy on late interstate drives back from the sticks when your eyes are getting sleepy, sleeeeeepy — BEEEEEPP! — the warning tells you you’ve crossed the line). Unlike some of its peers, the system is calibrated to detect steering wander — not every lane change — so it never feels like a nanny. Thanks, Kia. Kia’s instruments feel more luxurious than the Ford — that Audi influence again — though I craved more personality (like the unique Chrysler Pacifica I just drove). But in certain crucial details the Ford still sets the standard. Like the kick-open rear hatch, which even Audi has copied. Lay-flat rear seats (Kia still has an annoying hump that would impede storage) assist Ford’s superior cargo room. Little things, but this segment is so competitive it comes down to the little things. Still, for just $34K — the price of an Escape Titanium sans trimmings — a loaded Sportage matches Ford’s full moon-roof so you can stargaze while doing spoon-age with your date. Ford’s SYNC system I found more responsive to voice commands — but in truth, no infotainment system these days (shy of Audi’s sensational 12-inch instrument display) is worth the price with superior smart phones at our finger tips. On this point, Hyundai and Kia (and Honda and GM) are a lap ahead of the competition. With Kia’s Android Auto taking over the dash, I can use my Samsung phone’s superior “Ask Google” app to navigate me to some far flung point of interest — say, “The Lingenfelter Car Collection” in Milford. Try that with your car’s nav system. Kia’s nicely-sorted console space even provides a large cubby in front of the gearshift so your essential phone is never far away. But where the Sportage rewards you day-in-and day-out is with its on-road charisma. This is not a boring SUV. Acceleration is rabbit quick — and the SX-GDI even offers a Sport mode for a few more revs in the twisties. In a world where (my favorite 220-horse) hot hatches are in the Sportage price point, this grunt is a welcome addition to the family ute. As is the handling. The AWD system rotates beautifully and I tore up Oakland County esses with the nicely appointed chassis. When the venom seized me Mrs. Payne reached for the door handles — which are right where they are supposed to be. Yeah, the Sportage comes with lane-keep warning. But this little hipster will never make you drowsy. 017 Kia Sportage specifications Vehicle type: Front-engine, front or all-wheel drive, five-passenger sport utility vehicle Price: $23,885 base ($34,895 SX as tested) Powerplant: 2.4-liter, inline-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder Power: 181 horsepower, 175 pound-feet of torque (2.4-liter); 240 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque (turbo) Transmission: 6-speed automatic Performance: Zero-60: 7.5 seconds (AWD turbo, Car & Driver); 2,000-pound towing Weight: 3,305 pounds (base, FWD); 3,997 (AWD turbo as tested) Fuel economy: EPA 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway/26 combined (base FWD); EPA 21 mpg city/26 mpg highway/23 combined (AWD turbo) Report card Highs: Distinctive styling; peppy turbo Lows: Polarizing styling; less cargo room than competitors Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Obama Economy Vroom

Posted by hpayne on April 29, 2016

042816_ObamaconomyVroom_COLOR

Cartoon: 20 dollar Bill with Trump and Jackson

Posted by hpayne on April 26, 2016

042516_20BillTrumpJackson_COLOR

Cartoon: Obamacare Exchanges

Posted by hpayne on April 26, 2016

042416_ObamacareExchanges_COLOR

Cartoon: Hillary Celebration

Posted by hpayne on April 26, 2016

042216_HillaryCelebration_COLOR

Payne: What will race cars look like in 2030?

Posted by hpayne on April 26, 2016

The 2017 Michelin Challenge Design will reward the What will race cars look like in 2030? Will they be remote-control driven drones? Will they drive upside down through super loops? Will they run on hydrogen? The prestigious Michelin Challenge Design wants to know. So at the Detroit Athletic Club this week, award organizers picked auto racing as its 2017 design theme. Not just any form of racing, but the world’s most famous race, the 24 Hours of LeMans in France. For nearly a century LeMans has been at the cutting edge of auto design thanks to its unique demands of speed, durability and efficiency. It’s attracted the world’s top automakers — Audi, Porsche, Ford, Chevrolet, Ferrari — testing the latest materials, power trains and aero tricks that give them a competitive edge, not just on the track but also in the showroom. Challenge Design, now in its 15th year, promises thousands of breathtaking entries, pushing the envelope on everything from fuels to autonomy. But if history is any guide, 2030 race cars will look a lot like they do today. For all its tech savvy, racing is still a commercially-driven, spectator sport. And spectators want to see the best man (or woman) win. That means design will continue to be dictated by rules that 1) promote competition 2) keep costs down and 3) prioritize entertainment. Promote competition: “My favorite LeMans car is still the Porsche 917,” said Acura Creative Director Dave Marek at Michelin’s event — referring to the gorgeous, 12-cylinder missiles that dominated the 1971 race. With top speeds in excess of 220 mph, the 917 set records for distance traveled that would last for decades. Its record stood because the car’s dominance forced rule changes for 1972. The fan’s thirst for competition must be slaked. The 4.9-liter 917 was banned — replaced by 3.0-liter, prototype-class cars that allowed more manufacturers a look in at the winner’s circle. Forty-four years (and more rule changes) later, and a hybrid gas-electric Porsche’s 919 won the 2015 LeMans. Yet despite its advanced drivetrain and carbon-fiber chassis, the 919 and 917 look similar — same narrow greenhouse, same long, aerodynamic shape, same rear wing. The laws of physics don’t change. Keep costs down: Not just physics, but cost must be respected as well. Porsche’s 919 drivetrain is the competitive — and political — engine of choice in endurance racing. Ten years ago, it was diesel as LeMans-winner Audi made the euro tax-favored engines sexy as well as politically correct. But politics is a fickle mistress. “The regulations will define what happens in the race,” said race designer Ben Bowlby at the DAC. Today, governments favor batteries over diesels. But electrics are expensive, which favors big spenders. Which squeezes competition. Witness Mercedes’ dominance (yawn) of hybridized Formula One. Will alternative fuels dominate in 2030? Consider that Lemans’ most competitive class — production-based Grand Touring — forbids hybrids to reduce costs. Which means that when Marek’s hybrid supercar Acura NSX enters endurance racing next year it will do so with a gas engine. Prioritize entertainment: Connectivity and autonomy are the buzzwords of the future. “Warfare today is conducted with no people,” said Doug Fehan, Corvette’s legendary racing chief. “Does safety become such an element that a decision is made that it’s too dangerous to have humans involved?” Will it mean drones? Virtual racing? Not likely. The trend in racing entertainment is toward more — not less — driver involvement. Case in point: Daytona. The world-famous race track — which hosts both the LeMans-like 24 Hours of Daytona and NASCAR’s 500 — debuted a $400 million main grandstand “sports megaplex.” Its design gives fans a better front row seat so they can see, hear and interact with their favorite drivers pounding around the track in deafening V-8s. In a world of multiple sports fan experiences, auto racing offers a unique visceral experience. Like the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball, fans demand sportsmen and women over technology. Baseball still uses a wooden bat to level the playing field between pitcher and batter. Michelin Challenge Design entrants (tune in this fall for winners) will be tempted to gorge on tech, but the truly futuristic entries will dumb-down technology to favor driver parity. LeMans has its own innovation award called Garage 56, which has produced marvels like the Delta Wing. For 2017 its winning technology that will allow quadruple amputee Frederick Sausset to race. But the car he will pilot — a Morgan prototype — will feature a highly regulated, normally-aspirated, gas-powered V-8 to limit costs and encourage competition. Because while we love cars — we really care about the human on the winner’s stand at the end.  

Cartoon: IRS and FLINT GATE

Posted by hpayne on April 25, 2016

042016_FlintIRSGateAGs_COLOR

Payne: GMC Sierra, the hot rod pickup

Posted by hpayne on April 25, 2016

The 2016 GMC Sierra Denali is a freak of nature, says I often hustle down northern Ohio’s rural roads late at night on my way to Columbus, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course or my family home in West Virginia. The traffic is minimal. I can make good time. And the curvy roads — interrupted by long straightaways bordering flat farm fields — are a blast to drive. My motoring solitude is interrupted only by a paranoia of deer leaping in front of my car. But not this night. I’m flying along in a 5,559-pound, Corvette V8-powered GMC Sierra Denali pickup. If I hit a deer it would likely vaporize. The Sierra Denali is a freak of nature. Like 6-foot-3, 250-pound Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller who, despite his bulk, can explode through a line and take down Cam Newton before he has time to scan his receivers. We’re talking a 4.5-second, 40-yard dash. Maybe Miller should change his nickname from “Karate Kid” to “Sierra Denali.” This pickup will go zero-60 mph in just 5.8 ticks. GMC likes to refer to the 6.2-liter, 420-horse Sierra as “the hot rod pickup.” It’s the only pickup available with General Motors’ magnetic-ride shock technology. A quick primer on MagneRide: Developed by GM supplier Delphi, it mixes flecks of metal in the shock liquid. Run current through it and you can stiffen the suspension. It makes for a ride so road-hugging that Ferrari has adopted the technology. (Detroit? Maranello here. Can we, um, borrow your shocks for our 599 GTB?). MagneRide is available in a variety of GM products including the Corvette C7 and all-new Camaro, but it is transformative in big beasts like the Denali. Combine it with the ferocious power of the ’Vette-derived, small-block V-8 and eight-speed tranny, and the pickup feels like a vehicle half its size. Down Ohio’s rural Route 68, I hurtle into tight sweepers, the big truck planting nicely into apexes. The steering feels grounded — like a sport coupe — as the nearly 3-ton beast actually rotates through the corner carrying momentum on exit. At which point I deploy the hammer: 393 cubes of piston jack-hammering the asphalt with 460 pound-feet of torque. The roar is addictive and I mash the pedal to take advantage of the truck’s four-wheel-drive grip. Don’t get me wrong. Three-ton, leaf-sprung trucks still demand respect. With an empty bed, the hindquarters still flutter down the highway. Go too hard into a corner and the heavy front end will plow like a farm implement. But respect the big bull’s physics and it’s actually fun to drive. Launching out of sweepers, I gained confidence to test the big truck’s high-speed limits as I would push a 155-mph Camaro SS. Which is how I discovered that pickups are governed at 100 mph. Dang. Seems GM wants to keep 3-ton rhinos on a short leash. Of course, for $60,765 you get a lot more than an engine on wheels. At more civilized speeds, the hunky Sierra will turn heads. GMC’s sculpted “Body by Jake” exterior is the envy of the truck world. GMC’s signature bold, square, wheel arches look like they were made in the Kronk Gym. This thing should have a weightlifter’s belt tied around the middle. Is that car wax or body oil that made my Sierra glisten? New for 2016, the muscled GMC’s LED headlights glow with menace. The Denali’s unique chrome mouth is Mike Tyson with a gold tooth. The spectacle continues inside where the Denali is more comfortable than Boeing first class — and as well stocked. Heated seats, heated steering wheel, infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay, voice recognition, USB ports, wireless phone charger, 110-volt plug. Materials like stitched leather, aluminum trim and handsome wood inlays abound. The Denali’s stalk shifter opens a console as big as a side table — and as useful, too, if you want to nibble on lunch on the way to an appointment. Store keys and change in the ribbed tray atop the console box — or an iPad inside it. Back home in Detroit, I made the rounds with Pickup Bob, my neighborhood truck expert and construction company boss. Married to an F-150, he was nevertheless impressed with the GMC’s style and muscle — though he wondered how practical an executive’s truck this luxurious would be on a worksite where its club décor would quickly get muddied. Like the rugged, $100K Range Rover I recently reviewed, the Denali’s luxury seems at odds with its utilitarian capabilities. Consider this a pickup hot rod for enjoying the open road and hunting trips Up North rather than a dirt-hauling, throw-the-shovels-in-the-back, pull-stumps-out-of-the-ground backyard bruiser. I’m puzzled why motorhead mags don’t spend more time on pickups’ box capability. I mean, if a truck chooses not to put a roof over half its length, I want some detail on how good it is at carrying stuff. Big Three pickup interiors are similarly roomy, tech-savvy family rooms. But their beds are very different sandboxes. Pickup Bob likes the GMC’s corner step-up (shared with sibling Chevy Silverado) making for class-best accessibility. The standard eight tie-down points are handy, too — especially if you’re strapping down an ATV (and loading ramps). The F-150’s interchangeable box cleats go the Sierra one better for bolting in ramps so they don’t clatter about. And Ram’s fender-mounted “Rambox” storage is ingenious for storing toolboxes, coolers, even shovels. Whatever your favorite pickup box, you can fill in the gaps with aftermarket options galore. There is little gap between the Sierra and the F-150 when it comes to weight. Ford’s new all-aluminum diet may have saved it 600 pounds over the previous generation, but that only means it finally weighs as little as its steel-boned GM rivals. Indeed, the Sierra tips the scales 18 pounds lighter than a comparably priced F-150 Platinum. Which is another reason the Sierra deserves its hot rod reputation. At the end of your Up North family adventure, unload the ATV, tuck the kiddies in bed, then head out on a twisty road for a late-night dance. Rotate the drive mode to 4WD, find yourself an abandoned country road, then let the big, 6.2-liter hot rod roar. The deer will want to be warned you’re coming. 2016 GMC Sierra Denali Specifications Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear or four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup Price: $28,910 Sierra base ($60,765 Denali as tested) Powerplant: 6.2-liter V-8 Power: 420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque Transmission: 8-speed automatic Performance: Zero-60: 5.8 seconds (Motor Trend); 2,010-pound payload capacity; 11,700-pound towing Weight: 5,599 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway/17 combined Report card Highs: Sporty truck ride; bodybuilder good looks Lows: Too pretty to get dirty?; more box capability, please Overall:★★★★  

Cartoon: Prince RIP

Posted by hpayne on April 25, 2016

042116_PrinceRIPVette_COLOR

Cartoon: New York loves Trump

Posted by hpayne on April 20, 2016

041916_NYLovesTrump_COLOR

Cartoon: Bernie Emissions

Posted by hpayne on April 20, 2016

041816_BernieEmissions_COLOR

EPA retreats on racing regulation

Posted by hpayne on April 20, 2016

After a national uproar and months of insisting it had no intention of regulating auto racing, the Environmental Protection Agency has reversed course on plans to prohibit the modification of street cars for competition. The issue came to a head last week after House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthydemanding clarification of the agency’s intentions. Upton’s letter followed a storm of protest from weekend racers, state attorneys general, the Global Automakers Alliance — even former presidential contender Marco Rubio. They said the EPA’s action would have chilled grassroots racing and threatened a $30 billion parts industry. The EPA told Congress late Friday it was withdrawing its language. Critics were quick to celebrate, although they said that congressional legislation to exempt racing from EPA’s emissions rules — first reported by the Detroit News — still was necessary to prevent future EPA meddling. “We want to thank Congress for pushing EPA to withdraw an ill-conceived proposal,” said Chris Kersting, head of the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association, which represents racing parts manufacturers. “However, confusion reigns. Only clarifying legislation ... will confirm that such activity is legal and beyond the reach of future EPA regulations.” The so-called RPM Act (Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports), a bipartisan bill introduced last month, would put in law the decades-old intent of Congress to exclude off-road vehicles from federal emissions regulations. The firestorm erupted early this year after the agency inserted new language in the Clean Air Act’s Heavy-Duty Greenhouse Gas rules. It said “certified motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines and their emission control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition.” EPA claimed the new language was necessary to clarify the act’s regulation of vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. SEMA claimed the agency was rewriting 46 years of law that had exempted competition vehicles. A national petition to rescind the EPA’s rules gathered more than 168,000 signatures. Congressional hearings and grassroots protest ensued. “The wording of the EPA rule would have destroyed the world of racing and the billions of dollars that go with it,” said Speed Sport chief Ralph Sheheen, who testified at the hearing and whose publications cover every form of motorsport. “From Saturday night short-track dirt racing to local drag strips, as far up the line as the Pirelli World Challenge which is based on production vehicles — it would have ripped the heart out of racing for thousands of people.” On April 1, seven state attorneys general — including Michigan’s Bill Schuette — sent a letter to the EPA saying its “language (is) inconsistent with the federal Clean Air Act,” and that “any purported benefit from this change would pale in comparison to the economic damage caused by this regulation.” In removing the language governing competition vehicles, the EPA last week said its attempt to clarify led to confusion. It said it would focus on “reducing pollution from the cars and trucks that travel along America’s roadways and through our neighborhoods.” Michigan has refused to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan targeting coal-fired utilities until the courts have decided on the issue. And rules mandating that automaker fleets average 54.5 mpg by 2025 have come under fire from Congress and the National Auto Dealers Association. “The proposed race car provisions are just one of many attempts at regulatory overreach under the Obama administration, and we will continue to scrutinize all of them in a common-sense way,” said Upton.

Payne Q&Auto: Graham Rahal on NSX, Indy and marriage

Posted by hpayne on April 16, 2016

nsx_rahal-payne Forget Brangelina. Never mind Willkat. The hot celebrity couple in autodom these days is Grahamney. The marriage last fall of IndyCar racer Graham Rahal and drag racing’s Courtney Force united two of the hottest rising stars in auto sport from two of racing’s greatest family dynasties. The talented, dashing Graham, 27, is the son of Indy 500 winner and Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing team owner Bobby Rahal. Courtney, 26, is the daughter of the legendary John Force, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion. America got to see Courtney’s talents outside a driver’s suit when she posed for ESPN’s 2013 Body Issue. Accustomed to the public eye at an early age, Rahal has stepped out of the shadow of his famous father and established a brand all his own. He is a perennial championship contender in IndyCar, a cheerleader for his wife’s own NHRA title dreams – and a prominent corporate spokesman for his engine sponsor, Honda. That relationship allowed him to follow in the footsteps of another open-wheel superstar, Brazil’s Ayrton Senna, who helped develop the 1990 Acura NSX, the flagship of Honda’s Acura luxury brand. Ohio-born Rahal helped bring the second-generation NSX to market this year – appropriate since Acura is no longer an exotic import, but made right in Rahal’s Columbus backyard. The 573-horsepower, 2017 NSX is a mid-engine hybrid-electric cyborg capable of neck-bending performance on the race track, yet comfortable enough to drive home. Credit Graham for some of its bravado. “It’s the first program I’ve been involved with on the development side,” he said at California’s Thermal Raceway, where he emceed the car’s media introduction. “Early on (they’d ask) my sense of the way things needed to be. I can tell driving today vs. even two months ago they continue to tweak the car and get it better.” Does it share anything with his race car? “No GT car reminds me of an Indy car,” he said. “But the performance of the car is tremendous for the ($157,000) price point. The torque in this car is instant – the turbo and electric motors complement teach other. That’s what’s cool about it.” Though a generation apart, we are both sons of racers. I’ve known his dad, now 64, for years on the vintage race circuit where our fathers became fast friends after Bobby’s competitive days were done. Graham racing success was meteoric. He rose from a 10-year-old go-karter through Formula Atlantic to be the youngest-ever winner of an IndyCar race at age age 19 in 2008. “I got myself up to the top level fast,” he reflects. “But in hindsight, the experience of taking more time maybe would have been a better thing.” His father was supportive every step of the way, but when Graham made it to the pro ranks, he wanted to carve his own path. “When I started my career, I drive for Newman-Hass and Ganassi. I did that on purpose to build my own name away from my dad,” he says. “But every time I would go to a sponsor to pitch, the first question was ‘Why don’t you race for your dad?’ It became obvious that using the names together was the most beneficial for us.” Since uniting under the same flag in 2013, Team Rahal has met with success, finishing fourth in the championship last year. Yet, father and son have never raced together, even in the BMW M6 that Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan entered for this year’s Daytona 24 Hour endurance race – and that Graham co-piloted. “I tried to get him to race,” says Graham. “But when my dad stepped away, he stepped away. He never did a Michael Jordan. All you do is risk looking worse than you did.” “My hands are full. I’m always in the drag-racing world with her,” he says of a life split between his home in Indianapolis, her pad in SoCal and the constant race travel. “Between her schedule, my schedule, chasing sponsors – there’s no off time.” Since his marriage to Courtney in Santa Barbara late last year, Graham has gained a new racing family. Has he ever been tempted to jump in a dragster and race her down the strip? “Never. And she has never driven an Indy car. It’s a different world.” Grahamney does share a passion for cars, however. He’s had a variety of steeds including a million-dollar Porsche 918 – and he has an NSX on order. But there is one car that he won’t be selling: a classic 1966 Mustang 289. “That’s Courtney’s baby. She won’t let me sell it,” he laughs.

Cartoon: Bernie Sanders and Sports

Posted by hpayne on April 15, 2016

041516_Bernie_Sports_COLOR

Cartoon: Trump Deport RNC

Posted by hpayne on April 15, 2016

041416_TrumpDeportRNC_COLOR

Cartoon: Obama and Coal Jobs

Posted by hpayne on April 15, 2016

041316_ObamaCoalJobs_COLOR

Range Rover vs. Explorer Platinum

Posted by hpayne on April 14, 2016

rr-exp_fr I “get” supercars. Six-figure, 600-horsepower cyborgs made from unobtanium and loaded with every weapon in the auto arsenal: Torque-vectoring all-wheel drive systems, Brembo brakes, dual-clutch transmissions. These sports cars can do aught-to-60 in the blink of an eye, push 200 mph and turn your neck into a noodle with apex-hugging g-loads. But I’ve never understood $100,000 SUVs — until now. They are the light-truck equivalent of supercars. Call them “super utes.” I’ve been driving one for the last week. Priced at a stratospheric $106,325, the Range Rover HSE Turbo-diesel-V6 (Td6) stuffs everything mankind — or at least Land Rover, the legendary British military vehicle maker — knows about SUVs into one, swaggering, 115-inch wheelbase package. Air suspension, longitudinal four-wheel-drive, two-speed transfer box, aluminum chassis, aluminum skin, hill-descent control, hill-start assist... (Catch breath) ... self-parking, 360-degree park assist, auto windshield-wipers, auto high-beams, heated steering wheel, heated front windshield, Meridian stereo, individual backseat video, Grass/Gravel/Snow/Mud/Sand modes — or just put the big robot on AUTO and it’ll detect the bloody terrain itself. There’s nothing else like it on the planet. Except, um, a $54,760 Ford Explorer Platinum which comes loaded with nearly the same Swiss Army’s knife of features but with half the sticker shock. Half. Heated front and rear seats? Check. All-terrain modes? Check. Self-park, leather interior, moon roof, stereo, massage seats, wood-inlaid heated steering wheel? All check. In upgrading the Explorer for 2016, Ford obviously had the Range Rover HSE in its sights right to down to the same clam-shell hood and egg-crate grille. But this is no Rolex knock-off. The Explorer brings remarkable luxury to mainstream utes while only sacrificing hard-core performance values that customers never use. It’s like a gorgeous, $55,000 200-mph supercar that understeers at the limit through Mid-Ohio Raceway’s Turn One. With its leaner face, the Platinum bears an uncanny resemblance to the HSE. Paint them both dark blue like my testers, and the Explorer could do an excellent Rover impersonation. The stroll around the exterior of these rolling condos flatters both, even as differences emerge. With its longitudinal engine, the Range Rover HSE sports a hood the length of a cricket pitch, pushing the cabin rearward and giving it a hearse-like look. The transverse-engine Explorer, by contrast, looks more compact and is punctuated with its familiar, flying-buttress C-pillar. The interiors could have been on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Range Rover cut down a forest for more wood paneling than your average executive’s corner office. It’s so pretty I wanted to throw a tablecloth across it and order a meal with Mrs. Payne. Vase of flowers, garcon? Rover’s perforated leather seats are more comfortable than the Ford’s cowhide, but no more capable (multi-way, massaging, heated front and rear). Two-tone interior. Stitched dashboards. Consoles? Brits and Americans understand the best infotainment access is via touchscreen and knobs — not rotary dials and mouse pads (ahem, looking at you, BMW and Lexus). Like a tour of a celebrity’s flat overlooking Central Park, Rover’s details separate it from Explorer’s mere executive digs. There are secret compartments under the armrest to hide important things that jewel thieves might miss. Beautifully trimmed, dual glove-boxes show up Explorer’s more pedestrian, hard-plastic model. Turn on the Rover and a rotary shifter rises out of the console like a doomsday button. READY TO NUKE THE LANDSCAPE it seems to say. And this is where the Range Rover puts on its super-ute cape. With its sophisticated four-wheel drive, this thing can climb Rushmore. The Englishman rides noticeably higher in the saddle than the Detroiter because it’s built to conquer nature. Flip our testers like turtles and they are dramatically different: Rover’s underbelly is covered with rock-resistant armor. Enable the air suspension, and super ute will rise another two inches to leap tall boulders in a single bound. To crawl across a rocky landscape, Rover’s Reactive Grounding Response allows air springs to inflate independently to adapt over hostile terrain. But with all that leather and wood inside — not to mention chrome-crusted body panels — would you ever want to go there? My duck-hunting pals laugh at the idea of Rovers in the Outback. Super utes are so beautifully tailored that the only field they’ll ever see is a soccer field. And for such duty, the Explorer is more than capable. Indeed, the Ford makes soccer moms drool. Get past the front thrones, and Platinum has rear details Rover can’t touch. Only the Ford comes with three-row seating — the third easily accessible with Ford’s two-step, middle-seat fold. And with the touch of a button, row three can perform more tricks than a Westminster dog show champ: fold, stow, go. The Rover sports a pickup-like drop-gate for tailgate parties. Clever. But only Explorer offers a kick-open option so you can raise the hatch when your arms are full of game — er, groceries. The HSE’s diesel engine is a beast with 254 horses and 443 pound-feet of torque that could pull Michael Moore out of quicksand. But unlike supercars, engines don’t define super utes. Ford’s twin-turbo, 3.5-liter six, for example — the same workhorse found in the Taurus SHO and F-150 — boasts a very competitive 365 horses and 350 pound-feet of torque. Where the Land Rover diesel excels is in fuel economy, pushing the 5,485-pound ute around for 25 mpg. The Ford turbo will manage just 18 mpg (I got 171/2 with my size 15 lead foot). Once America gets through its collective freak-out over diesels, folks will remember they are the best way to move heavy vehicles. And with diesel prices in line with $2 gas these days, the fuel savings will earn back the engine’s $1,500 premium. Speaking of premiums, the Rover doesn’t have to go all the way to Moab to prove its expensive, all-aluminum chassis engineering. Over dirt roads, Explorer’s bones are noticeably more brittle than the $106,000 Rover. Platinum may have similar sand and snow options, but super ute glides over rough terrain like it was born to it. Thanks to extensive cabin-quieting, Explorer’s rattle disappears on asphalt. Stay away from Rolex knock-offs. But if a super ute is too rich for your blood, a half-price Platinum will do just fine, thank you very much. 2016 Range Rover HSE Td6 Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV $72,445 base ($106,325 as tested) 3.0-liter, turbocharged diesel V-6 254 horsepower, 443 pound-feet of torque 8-speed automatic 0-60 mph, 7.3 seconds (Car & Driver); top speed, 130 mph 5,485 pounds EPA 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 combined Range Rover Report card Highs: King of the Outback; elegant interior Lows: Who goes to the Outback in a $100K SUV?; third-row seat, please Overall:★★★ 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum Front-engine, four-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV $52,970 base ($54,760 as tested) 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 365 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque 6-speed automatic 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Car & Driver); 123 mph (governed) 4,939 pounds EPA 16 mpg city / 22 mpg highway / 18 combined (manual as tested) Ford Report card Highs: Bang for the buck; three-row flexibility Lows: Plastic interior trim; tinny chassis over bumps Overall:★★★★

i-nnovative Toyota i-Road

Posted by hpayne on April 14, 2016

iRoad_payne If buses, cabs and autonomous vehicles aren’t interactive enough for you, Toyota wants you to meet its i-Road three-wheeler. Part Jet Ski, part motorbike, part car, this sci-fi prototype from Toyota aims to explore the ride-share market frontier. Like something out of the movie “Tron,” the two-door, battery-powered pod cuts through traffic like a motorscooter while offering the enclosed protection of a car. Just three feet wide and seven feet long, i-Road can be shoehorned into the tightest of urban parking sports. Toyota gave i-Road demonstration rides at the SAE 2016 World Congress and Exhibition show in Detroit this week. Already on the streets in select Japanese and French cities, the i-Road would turn heads slashing through downtown Detroit traffic — but will likely make its debut in California cities where ride-share programs are common and where the electric i-Road can gain credits against the state’s draconian zero-emission regulations. While other ride-sharing programs such as Zip Car, Car2Go and BMW’s ReachNowuse existing production vehicles like Smart Fortwos and BMW i3s, i-Road is unusual as a vehicle specifically targeted at the ride-share market. Although Bollore, a Paris ride-share company, began its “BlueIndy” service in Indianapolis, Indiana last fall using its own electric Bluecars developed by Italy’s Pininfarina. Toyota’s three-wheeler was developed in Japan by a Toyota “skunk works” team tasked to create engaging vehicles like the Toyota 86 (formerly the Scion FR-S) sports car. “We wanted to make ride-sharing fun to drive,” says California-based engineer Christopher Gregg, 36, who is developing the i-Road for the U.S. market. “It can really take a curve and delivers great maneuverability through city streets.” Built with lightweight, carbon fiber-reinforced plastic on a steel chassis, the 660-pound i-Road (which, with its single locomotive-style headlight, resembles a Smart car smashed in a Panini maker) is propelled by lithium-ion batteries in the floor driving twin electric motors on the front wheels. A gyroscope regulates the vehicle’s lean angle and keeps it upright. The drive-by-wire steering system operates the rear wheel for a tight, 10-foot turning radius. On a closed track in Cobo Convention Center’s main hall, the i-Road drove like a Jet Ski on wheels — leaning up to 26 degrees through slaloms and tight turns. The rear-wheel steering, however, lacks the precision of front-wheel steering at its 35-mph limit. Drive it like Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible” and you might wind up like a gnat in the grille of an oncoming Chevy Suburban. In more measured driving, however, the gyroscope is particularly adept at sensing slip angle. Stop on a dime in a turn, and the i-Road instantly rotates upright — unlike a traditional, wobbly tri-wheeler. Like BMW’s ReachNow, Toyota’s ride-sharing plans are as flexible as the i-Road is in tight spaces. Download the smartphone app and — similar to an Uber app — available i-Roads light up the map. Pick the nearest one, turn it on, drive it by the minute. Then park it at your destination. The i-Road can be charged in three hours with a standard, 110-volt wall socket, and has a range of 30 miles (less in Detroit and other colder climates). The service is in use in Tokyo, Toyota City and Grenoble, France. Toyota’s Gregg says the company still is working on the i-Road’s introduction in the U.S. The primary hurdle, he says, is a thicket of government regulation — for example, whether the car will be classified as a motorcycle (and therefore subject to state helmet laws) or as a so-called “neighborhood electric vehicle” (which would prohibit its use on highways). IHS Automotive auto analyst Stephanie Brinley says the i-Road is an ambitious approach to a market that has been created almost overnight by the smartphone app revolution. Where autonomous cars offer the potential of ride-sharing fleets that can move themselves, vehicles like the i-Road offer customers the thrill of driving — without the overhead of owning a car. “Automakers need to understand how ride-sharing impacts their sales model,” she says. “And they need to understand what the needs of the market will be — and if they can be profitable.”

Cartoon: IRS Rack

Posted by hpayne on April 13, 2016

041116_IRSRack_COLOR