Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Burger King Canada

Posted by hpayne on August 29, 2014

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Battle of the Three-bangers: ’14 Ford Fiesta vs. ’95 Geo Metro

Posted by hpayne on August 29, 2014

2014 Ford Fiesta 1.0-liter Ecoboost

Good things come in threes. Three-point basket buzzer beaters. The Three Stooges. Charlie’s Angels.

And Ford’s turbocharged, 1-liter, three-cylinder engine.

Three-holers have been as rare as four-leaf clovers in recent years as their poor power and inherent lack of balance have won them few buyers. The Mitsibishi Mirage and Smart, to name two, have underwhelmed with their buzzy leaf blowers. But with the relentless advance of fuel economy regulations and engine technology, automakers like Ford are re-introducing the three to a new generation of buyers.

The 2014 Ford Fiesta SFE is lightning in a bottle. Make that lightning in a 1-liter bottle. With its surprising power, hybrid-like fuel efficiency, and Fusion-like good looks, this overachiever is sure to become a micro-car icon. Indeed, the Ecoboost Fiesta brings to mind another three-banger idol from last century, the Geo Metro.

 GM’s Metro wowed us with 47 mpg numbers long before Toyota gave birth to the Prius – or the 3-cylinder Fiesta took Europe by storm. Though discontinued before the Millennium, the Metro maintains a cult following that worships its small sticker price and big fuel savings.

Sure, the little Ecoboost just won International Engine of the Year for an unprecedented third straight year. OK, Germany honored its tech innovation with the prestigious Paul Pietsch Award. Ford wants three-cylinder bragging rights stateside? It’s gotta go through the Metro first. Eager to gauge the three’s evolution, I went hunting in my Race Red SFE for a late ‘90s Metro.

Geo Metro owners are a proud lot. Like the Dwarves in Tolkein’s Hobbit, they are a close tribe fiercely protective of their cars and three-cylinder artisanship. They are dismissive of pretenders — ahem, like the Mirage and Smart — that fail to live up to the three’s fuel efficiency potential. The 1.0-liter Smart gets only 36 mpg? Amateur.

They give the new Fiesta more respect.

I contacted the Michigan clan through the online Geo Metro Forum. My offer to reciprocate driving a Geo Metro for the Fiesta was met with much enthusiasm. The Metroids are intrigued by a 1-liter that aspires to the Holy Grail of 50 mpg while also promising performance — a strange concept in the remote, Middle Earth realm of three-bangers.

The Geo Metro itself was hatched as an economy car in every sense of the word. At $8,085 in 1995 ($12,639 in today’s dollars) it was the cheapest chariot on the lot – and would still be today. So obsessed was GM with Metro’s price tag that it offered the passenger side mirror as an option.

The pride of the litter, the Geo Metro XFi (manufactured from 1990-1994), got an EPA estimated 43 mpg city/53 highway. That’s 47 mpg combined. It was the penny-pincher’s best friend. But the Metro made no pretense of performance. Zero-60? Use an hour glass. Side Gs? Side what?

Lansing-based Geo Metro owner Matt Spiess answered my call for a three-for-all. We had a blast.

Spiess’s 49-horsepower, 1995 Metro is officially EPA rated at 40 mpg combined (37 city/44 highway) a year after GM discontinued the XFi. But in his quest for better fuel economy, Spiess has upgraded his matchbox (complete with “Got 50 mpg?” sticker on the bumper) with XFi guts and a rear spoiler not unlike my Fiesta. As a result Spiess is averaging an astounding 52 mpg around Lansing. On my 80-mile trip from Detroit, I drove “green” – 5th gear, at the speed limit (you don’t know how hard that is for me) – and still managed “only” 47 mpg.

Point to Mr. Geo. Yet, while returning hybrid-like fuel economy numbers, the affordable Fiesta is one zesty salsa to drive. Game, set, and match, Mr. Ford.

To the auto engineers of the last 20 years, we salute you. Start with the Fiesta’s briefcase-sized engine. Its 123 Ecoboost-ed horses are not just 74 more than the Metro. Not just more than the standard 1.6-liter Fiesta. It’s more ponies-per-liter than a Lamborghini Aventado (106) or Corvette ZR-1 (103).

This three is King Kong in a can.

The turbo’s peak torque arrives at just 2,500 RPM. Merging onto US-127 north of Lansing at full throttle, the subcompact Fiesta disappeared from the Metro. Its 8.3-second, 0-60 sprint is a half-second quicker than a 1.8-liter Honda Civic. The Fiesta’s power comes smoothly, predictably, quietly.

The quiet is a testament to the fact that subcompact advances aren’t just under the hood.

Thanks to extensive sound-deadening and chassis work, the interior is noticeably quieter than the buzzy Metro. The instrumentation is more refined, the cup holders abundant, the cargo room plentiful. The three-banger only comes in Ford SE trim with a list of standard features as long as your arm. Seven air bags, leather steering wheel, a passenger side mirror . . .

“I can't believe how smooth, quick, quiet, and powerful it was,” wrote Spiess at GeoMetroForum.com afterwards. “It did not feel like a little 3-cylinder at all.”

Our comparison was not without its old school nods, however. Throwing the threes into tight turns, I found the Metro’s hydraulic steering more responsive than the Fiesta’s numb electronic rack. And in a nod to cost, the Ford only comes with a five-speed manual gearbox.

The cost-cutting is a reminder that the Fiesta’s leap in engine technology is not cheap. Where the Metro tri-hammer was a base engine, the Fiesta mill is a $995 option over the base $14,925 sedan. Add the SE trim, heated seats, and destination charge, and my triple stickered at $18,190. That may be south of similar mpg hybrids — and Mini Cooper’s stylish three-holer ($21,300 base) — but it’s well north of what an inflation-adjusted Metro would be today. Heck, you could buy a used Metro for the Ecoboost premium, Spiess noted.

But the wee Metro also came with a price: Dealers couldn’t give them away. The XFi died in 1994 due to poor sales — the Metro brand followed in 1997. Squeezed by Washington mpg edicts even as Americans shy from small cars, the Fiesta 3-cylinder is an attempt to make fuel efficiency fun.

From the Fiesta 3-banger to one of my 2013 Best Vehicle finalists, the Fiesta ST hot hatch, Ford has brought spice to the common shoebox. The Fiesta has studied the Metro’s efficiency. But it is also learning the three Rs of sales: Revvy, racy, and roomy.

On my way back from Lansing, I flogged the Fiesta harder. I pulled Gs, rowed the box, returned 42 mpg . . . and still would have had enough room for Charlie’s Angels.

2014 Ford Fiesta 1.0-liter Ecoboost

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-door hatchback Price: $14,925 base ($18,190 as tested) Power plant: 1.0-liter turbocharged, dual-overhead-cam 3-cylinder Power: 123 horsepower, 125 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Five-speed manual Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.3 seconds (Car & Driver); 120 mph top speed Weight: 2,537 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 32 mpg city/45 mpg highway/37 mpg combined Highs: Pretty face; Hybrid-like fuel economy Lows: Numb steering; Six-speed box, please Overall:★★★★

1995 Geo Metro

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, three-door hatchback Price: $8,085 (base, 1995) Power plant: 1.0-liter single overhead cam 3-cylinder Power: 55 horsepower, 58 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Five-speed manual Performance: 0-60 mph, 12.6 seconds (ZeroTo60Times.com); 90 mph top speed (est.) Weight: 1,808 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 37 mpg city/44 mpg highway/40 mpg combined (base Metro); 43 mpg city/53 mpg highway/47 mpg combined (Metro XFi) Highs: Sub-$10k sticker; Got 50 mpg? Lows: Spartan interior; Slow as molasses Overall:★★★

Cartoon: Earthquake Warming

Posted by hpayne on August 25, 2014

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Carton: Obama Rich Vacation

Posted by hpayne on August 24, 2014

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Cartoon: Obama Coin

Posted by hpayne on August 22, 2014

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King of the Cruise: Challenger Hellcat or Corvette Stingray?

Posted by hpayne on August 22, 2014

Detroit News cruisers Tom Greenwood (left) and Henry Payne get ready to patrol the strip in their Corvette and Challenger Hellcat steeds. (Henry Payne / The Detroit News)

Ginger or Mary Ann? Steak or lobster? Hellcat or Stingray?

Vexing choices. Because there is no wrong answer. Because they say so much about you. I’ll take Mary Anne to a steakhouse on Woodward in a. . . um. Er. Uhhhhhh. Which car would make the best Dream Cruiser?

The 707-horsepower, most-powerful-muscle-car-ever, $59,995, 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat? Or the 455-horsepower, best-pound-for-dollar-sports car-on-the-planet, $76,465, 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray convertible?

Every year, thanks to the generosity of Detroit automakers, The Detroit News auto writers land two state-of-the-art chariots so we can cruise the Cruise in style. It’ll be hard to top this year’s duo. They are future Hall-of-Famers. So gratifying, yet so different. A muscle-bound odd couple.

When the Hellcat curled up on our doorstep, my Cruise colleague, Tom Greenwood, was speechless. So he tapped these classic words on his laptop:

“Dripping with testosterone, the exhaust produces a growly vibration that could churn milk into butter. Honestly, the only thing that would make it better would be if the tailpipes smelled like bacon.”

Amen, brother.

Yet, given the choice, would I take the Hellcat over the C7? A week on Woodward tells the tale.

Begin with the visuals. The Stingray will be recognized for decades as the seventh generation ’Vette that took the brand from attractive to sexy. Curvy and taut, the C7 is Beyonce on wheels. Our Z51 “bumble bee” package is especially striking. Draped in ticket-me-yellow paint, the wheels and trim are black, meaning the black soft top — traditionally an eyesore on convertibles — fits right in.

Speaking of clam shells, this top will open or close while rolling. Feel rain drops? Under 35 mph, the roof will shut with the touch of a button. No stopping. No fiddling. It’s a cruiser’s dream.

As menacing as our gray and black-trimmed Hellcat looked, it’s only subtly different than its brooding forebears. You’ll know it by the SRT badge and “Slingshot,” black-matte wheels.

But turn the key and the Hellcat comes into its own. The Corvette sports 455 horsepower. The Hellcat sees that and raises it by 252. Two-fifty-two. It’s like adding a Ford Focus ST turbo to the drivetrain. It’s so much power that SRT provides two keys — one red, one black — to caution drivers. Red flings open Pandora’s box. Black limits you to “just” 500 Furies.

Stomp the pedal at a stoplight and all Hellcat breaks loose. The rear tires spin like belt sanders. The air fills with an acrid odor (bacon?). The supercharger drains oxygen from the surrounding ecosystem. A headlight-sized intake — where the inner left lamp should be — makes a shrieking sound like Dracula’s mistress. Mothers hide their children. Car alarms erupt. The Hellcat explodes down the road.

It. Is. Epic.

Next to this tornado, the Corvette (3.8 second 0-60 versus the Hellcat’s 3.5) seems downright civilized. But keep your foot planted over 4000 RPM and valve flaps open in the four big exhaust pipes. An addictive, thunderous roar echoes off the asphalt.

You want to hear it again and again. It’s like the last stanza of the national anthem. Sung at the Super Bowl. By Whitney Houston.

So V-8s go great in a straight line, you say. So tell me something I don’t know. How do they handle? Pardon my snicker. We’re dream cruisers. Stoplight stompers. Ever seen an ess curve on Woodward? Still, man cannot live on burnouts alone. The open road is a symphony and you want an instrument that can play all the notes.

No surprise, the ’Vette walks away from the Hellcat in the twisties. Where the C7 can feel big and sloppy compared to say, a Porsche Boxster, it’s Fred Astaire compared to Hellcat the Dancing Bear. Through the swells and dips of north Oakland County the 3,362-pound C7 is planted, predictable — while the Hellcat’s 4,439 pounds must be carefully managed.

For all the violence outside, these beasts are remarkably comfy inside. The engineers didn’t blow the whole budget on artillery. The Stingray’s plush leather and suede-wrapped steering wheel are living room-comfortable. Your passenger is pampered as well with separate climate controls and two “oh, sh**!” handles for when 4,000 revs come.

The Hellcat can’t match the ’Vette’s country club interior, but it boasts its own suede seats and superb 8.4-inch touchscreen. And it comes with two roomy rear seats so that a family of four can enjoy the fun.

My Cruise-loving wife — my real-life Mary Ann — loves convertibles. So I choose Stingray. How about you?

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger sports sedan Price: $59,995 Power plant: 6.2-liter supercharged DOHC 8-cylinder Hemi Power: 707 hp, 650 lb.-ft. torque Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.5 seconds (est.); 199 mph top speed Weight: 4,439 pounds Fuel economy: TBD Highs: Earth-shaking power; Intuitive controls Lows: Might get you thrown in jail Overall:★★★★

2014 Corvette Stingray Convertible

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-door, sport convertible with electronic, retractable top Price: $76,465 Power plant: 6.2-liter, aluminum V-8 with direct injection and dry sump Power: 455 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Seven-speed manual Performance: 0-60 mpg, 3.8 seconds; 190 mph top speed Weight: 3,362 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/29 mpg highway Highs: Glorious V8 note; Luxury interior Lows: Might get you pulled over by a cop on a bicycle Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Mars Sand Trap

Posted by hpayne on August 22, 2014

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A coupe coup: The Cadillac ATS Coupe dazzles

Posted by hpayne on August 21, 2014

I love economy of line.

A few strokes from caricaturist Al Hirshfeld’s pen could magically capture a Broadway celebrity’s face.

The bold curves of architect Eero Saarinen’s Dulles Airport transform a massive flight terminal into a soaring sculpture.

And the shrewd lines of the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe mark it as a future classic.

The luxury maker’s long-awaited coupe comes with high expectations. After Caddy’s BMW 3 series-fighting ATS sedan debuted to rave reviews in 2012, could the two-door match the high style bar set by the German marque’s 4-series? Could the coupe smooth out the sedan’s rough edges? Or would it stumble as the CTS coupe — an ambitious but flawed sculpture — did before it?

The ATS coupe scores on all fronts — starting with an elegant chrome line that runs the length of the car’s front lip. At times I’ve found it difficult to look at the ATS sedan head on. With its raked hood and sculpted body, the four-door was a lovely interpretation of Caddy’s Art & Science design architecture.

But oh, that face.

The sedan’s large pentagon grille was split in two by a front bumper line. It looked like a mouth stifled by a giant strip of masking tape. The headlamps bulged. The chin strained. Mmmahmmmahmmm. Please, someone, the ATS seemed to be saying, can you remove the #@!!** adhesive?

Ahhhhhh. Thank you, Cadillac designer Bob Boniface. The veteran artisan has worked the same magic on the coupe that he brought to the CTS sedan, The Detroit News’ 2013 Car of the Year. In extending the lower lip line and giving the mouth a chance to breathe, the coupe’s face (coming to the sedan, too) has been transformed. The grille dominates the front, its full, chrome lips smile, the headlamps twinkle. Hello, gorgeous.

Oh, but Boniface’s pen is just getting warmed up. Walk around the coupe’s flanks and a single, arching sill line connects hood to windows to tail. Immediately below it, the ATS sedan’s elegant shoulder line has been dropped, bisecting the car’s big rear quarters and knitting everything into proportion. It’s the trickiest space in auto design. The Audi A5 has it right. The creaseless CTS coupe, not so much. Its hindquarters look as naked as Homer Simpson’s forehead.

Not the ATS. Like its sister CTS, you want to take something this beautiful onto the dance floor. Then the ATS really shows its moves.

Like the sedan, the coupe is equal — dare I say superior? — to its German competitors. The steering is perfectly weighted, the chassis taut (aided by a 38 percent stiffening in high strength steel and extensive adhesive bonding), the balance — nearly 50-50 front to rear — is exquisite. Mindful that its nemeses have porked up, the Caddy has slimmed down. Its dimensions match those of the superb BMW E46 chassis of a generation ago, tipping the scales 53 pounds lighter (267 pounds less than an AWD Audi A5).

Bounding like a retriever after a fox over the equestrian hills and valleys of northern Connecticut, the ATS coupe felt small in my hands. With a multi-link front suspension and independent rear, this Labrador is relentlessly sure-footed. Strap on magnetic shocks and it gets even better.

Like the wings of Hermes on all four heels, magnetic shocks make this hound fly. Caddy’s magnetic shocks are suspension steroids. And they’re legal. Heck, put them on a Cadillac Escalade (they do) and the lumbering offensive lineman thinks it’s Adrian Peterson.

Recognizing the coupe’s natural beauty and athleticism, Caddy’s product planners have appropriately fed it plenty of drivetrain meat. Skipping right over the sedan’s 2.4 liter, four-cylinder starter salad, the base coupe goes straight for the sirloin — a turbocharged 2.0-liter four with 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Bigger chops? GM’s trusty 3.6-liter V-6 is protein-fed with 321 horsepower and roars like a bull when poked.

But as satisfying as the V-6 pipes are, the quieter turbo packs plenty of punch. Consider the numbers. While the V-6 sprints from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds, the turbo 4 is right on its hip at 5.6 seconds. And it drinks 3 mpg less to get there. Tucked up under the four’s exhaust manifold, the dual scroll turbo is a compact dynamo, giving the little engine a wicked kick in the glutes from 2,000 revs all the way to the 6,500 redline. Mated to a silky smooth, 6-speed automatic or manual box, the turbo shifts effortlessly, even in fast downshifts as the car’s six-pot Brembo anchors haul it back to earth.

Inside, the Caddy’s interior strives to match the drama outside.

The ATS is the first Caddy to offer GM’s 4G connectivity for the Internet starved (um, like your trusty scribe lost on Connecticut back roads). Paddle shifters the size of boat cleats anchor either sides of the steering wheel, allowing for ease of use even as the coupe explores its .93-g envelope. Comfortable, bolstered seats tempt you to stay in the saddle for hours.

The rest of the quiet interior is familiar Caddy territory. The haptic-touch, smartphone-like center screen requires a tutorial, but at least it’s all right in front of you. BMW, Audi and now Lexus consoles are stacked shelves of high-placed screens and low-mounted dials. If Europeans had designed the etch-a-sketch, the nobs would have come with a separate console.

Befitting a coupe, the rear seats are not for the claustrophobic. Still, the designers have thoughtfully located redundant fore and aft switches at the top and bottom of the seats so the rear passenger can move the seat to get out. Very clever.

The ATS coupe is Caddy’s sixth product in three years as the veteran tries to reestablish itself as a premier luxury brand. And ATS will bring a V-series coupe performance droid to the fight next year to take on the mighty BMW M4. But as good as the ATS products are, its competition isn’t standing still. While the ATS is Caddy’s gateway to the under-35 set, BMW — to use just one example — has added a 2-series as well as small utes to its lineup.

Will Caddy ever catch up? Maybe not. But the ATS sedan and coupe are proof that Cadillac is capable of making some of the finest small lux cars in the world. The cars grip like glue. The engines pull like Clydesdales. The interior warms like a ski cabin.

And like a Hirschfeld drawing, the ATS coupe just needs a few simple lines to make you recognize true beauty.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports coupe Price: $38,990 base ($49,685 turbo-4 as tested) Power plant: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder; 3.6-liter direct injection V-6 Power: 272 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 321 horsepower, 275 pound-feet of torque (V-6) Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.6 seconds (turbo-4); 5.5 seconds (V-6). Source: Cadillac Weight: 3,418 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway (turbo-4); 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway (V-6) Highs: Sleek styling; nimble handling Lows: Claustrophobic rear seats Overall:★★★★

 

Cartoon: Holder Abuse

Posted by hpayne on August 21, 2014

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Cartoon: Uber Taxi

Posted by hpayne on August 19, 2014

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Cartoon: Sharpton and Ferguson

Posted by hpayne on August 19, 2014

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Cartoon: Maliki Obama

Posted by hpayne on August 15, 2014

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Class of ’88: The new Cruise classics

Posted by hpayne on August 14, 2014

Woodward Dream Cruises are like high school reunions. We go back to the alma mater every year to meet old friends, retell tall tales, and see if Mary Jo Meriweather is still as hot as she was three decades ago.

On Woodward this year, we honor the Class of 1988.

Now old enough to qualify for historic Michigan plates, the 26th anniversary class featured an assortment of nerds, athletes and timeless beauties. Which models will show up? Which ones should show up? Does that certain curvy creature still turn heads like she did then?

Your humble class auto critic has gone back through my tattered yearbook to sort the losers and leaders. Has anyone become a celebrity like Dodge Challenger (Class of ’71)? Will there be dorks-turned-cool like the Ford Model B street rod (Class of ’32)?

In 1988 Ronald Reagan was president, “Die Hard” was the No. 1 movie, and the Ford Escort was America’s best-selling car. The Ford what?

The auto landscape was almost completely unrecognizable compared to today. AMC was a car, not a TV channel; GM owned Lotus; and sedans still dominated auto sales. The Ford Taurus was the best-selling midsize car in America while the Ford Escape crossover hadn’t even been conceived. Heck, crossovers hadn’t been conceived. Today’s perennial sales king, the Toyota Camry, didn’t even make the Top Ten. Then, only three of the Top Ten sellers were Japanese. Now, only three American cars break the top tier.

So what endures? What I love about the Cruise is its democratic celebration of the good, the bad and the ugly. There are no white-glove, toffee-nosed judges handing out blue ribbons at the end. No wax-sealed invitation letters. No gatekeepers. Every vehicle is welcome.

We come. We see. We appreciate. But we do, um, appreciate some 1988 classmates more than others ...

Corvette, 35th anniversary edition

No Cruise class is complete without a Vette, and 1988 is no different. The C4 was the Big Man on Campus. Though an underpowered 250-horsepower by today’s standards, we coveted its sleek physique. It was Corvette’s 35th birthday — so GM blessed us with a limited, commemorative edition. Known as the “Triple White Corvette,” it’s painted white with white wheels and white interior (including seats & steering wheel). If only Elvis could have driven one in Vegas.

The Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme

The ’88 coupe was Olds’ first front-wheel drive car. Awkwaaaard. But this car was still special. The Cutlass was the first vehicle to feature a heads up display (HUD) — the hologram-like gauge that hovers in a driver’s line of sight. The nifty feature has since spread to Cadillac, Chevy, Hyundai, Lexus, etc.

Ford Mustang 5.0

Nearly shipped off to the glue factory in the early ’80s, the third generation pony car had evolved into a menacing, Top Ten Car & Driver pick by 1988. Shaped like the head on Thor’s hammer, it had a kick to match. While this bruiser won’t win any beauty prizes, its thumping 5-liter heart thrills enthusiasts.

Camaro IROC-Z

While the Z28 took a hiatus, Camaro produced its performance car under the IROC-Z badge from 1988-90. Short for International Race of Champions, the IROC package attempted to capitalize on the popular SCCA showroom stock series to boost flagging sales. “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” as the saying goes. The result was a weapon packing 350 cubic inches of heat. With IROC-Z emblazoned across its skirt, a snarling ’88 Camaro still awakens goose bumps.

Porsche 924S

The Porsche 924 was a rare Stuttgart belly-flop — an underpowered, affordable sports car that eventually yielded in 1983 to the brawnier Porsche 944. But ... for two years in 1987 and 1988, Porsche dressed the 944 platform in the slipperier, lighter 924 body. Pair a better drag coefficient with 160 horsepower and what do you get? A heckuva sleeper. The resulting 924S was not only cheaper than the 944 (at under $20K), but quicker. Considered one of the best handling sports cars of its generation, the balanced 924S is instantly distinguished from its weak sister 924 by its phone dial wheels. Only 17,000 S’s were made. I sense collector’s item.

Mazda RX7 convertible

Mazda’s rotary-powered Porsche 944 fighter got a facelift in 1986 to look sexier. In 1988, the RX-7 went topless as well. Anything for sales, I guess. For all of its imitation, the RX-7 was a wonderful actor in its own right with superb 50-50 weight balance and that unique Wankel power plant. Mazda racers of that era sounded like a chainsaw cutting through your head. Fortunately, production cars were muffled.

Pontiac Fiero GT

GM’s late performance division’s small sports car finally got its mojo with the Fiero GT, produced from 1986-88. While endowing the Fiero with dramatic mid-engine looks, Pontiac had starved the standard model with under 100 horsepower. The GT fixed that with a peppy, 140-horse V6. Distinguished by its deep front spoiler and rear wing, the peppy GT — alas — came too late to save the Fiero. It passed in 1988.

Audi 5000

While GM shoulders responsibility for its deadly ignition failures, the Audi 5000’s “sudden acceleration” scandal is a reminder that many safety recalls are the result of media and safety advocate sensationalism. The 5000 was framed by a rigged “60 Minutes” broadcast, resulting in a cratering of Audi sales in the U.S. The 5000 was subsequently discontinued in 1988 as the company embarked on the long road back to public acceptance. Absolved by federal regulators and feted by Car & Driver as a 10 Best pick, the 5000 endures as one of ’88’s best sedans.

Buick Reatta

While GM refashioned Buick as a family brand (the once-powerful Regal, for example, had been neutered of its V8 and recast with front-wheel drive), the powerful Reatta coupe paradoxically debuted as a halo performance car in 1988. A fish out of water in a conservative brand, the bland Reatta became a symbol of GM brand chaos. If not a classic, a classic tale of GM’s woes.

Honda CRX Si

This mighty mouse was part of a Honda juggernaut that took the U.S. by storm in the ’80s. From the Accord to the CRX, Honda established a reputation for affordable fun. Redesigned for 1988, the 2,000-pound Si was the terror of the autocross — the era’s favorite pocket rocket after the VW GTI. Equipped with a multi-link suspension, you could ring its neck at a weekend track event — then enjoy 50 mpg on weekday commutes.

There you have it. My short list.

I welcome your own favorites in the Comments section online. Looking back at the ’88ers it’s remarkable how much 1970s federal fuel economy regulations had reorganized the Big Three’s portfolio. We are in the midst of a second federal fuel economy crusade today that could equally transform the landscape a quarter century hence. A turbocharged, 6-cylinder Corvette anyone?

 

Cartoon: Hillary and Obama

Posted by hpayne on August 14, 2014

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Cartoon: Hillary and Obama

Posted by hpayne on August 14, 2014

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Just in time for Cruise: Dodge releases hell-raising Charger SRT Hellcat

Posted by hpayne on August 14, 2014

Driving Woodward Avenue this week after the flood you might consider an outboard motorboat or an ark to gather all the Detroit zoo animals. But come Saturday’s Dream Cruise, the sun will be out, and so will the cars. You’ll want something appropriate for cruising with the family.

How about a roomy, 707-horsepower four-door sedan that seats five and does the quarter mile as fast as a Ferrari Enzo?

Dodge has your car. Chrysler’s performance brand rolled out a fire-breathing, 205 mph, V-8 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat at Vinsetta Garage on Woodward on Wednesday morning to a mob of media. The car will be mobbed by the public as well since Dodge plans to show this bad boy at its 13 Mile and Woodward display at this weekend’s Cruise.

The Charger is the second Hellcat badge for the Dodge SRT after the Challenger SRT Hellcat was introduced earlier this year. Both share the same menacing looks, the same red-tinged leather interior, and the same supercharger which boosts horsepower by a bone-rattling 215 horsepower over the already ferocious V-8 found in the Charger and Challenger R/T models.

Yet the “family sedan” Charger is not only roomier than its coupe cousin — it’s faster. The Charger Hellcat will giddyap down a quarter mile drag strip in just 11 seconds, two-tenths quicker than the Challenger Hellcat. Zero-60? A hell-raising 3.6 seconds, also two-tenths quicker than the Challenger version.

“This car goes where most brands wouldn’t go in this market,” said Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis whose hot brand is the most searched on the Internet. “Sometimes you need to stop listening to the focus groups. The Charger Hellcat redefines practicality.”

Cartoon: Robin Williams

Posted by hpayne on August 12, 2014

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Cartoon: Iraq Strike

Posted by hpayne on August 11, 2014

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Cartoon: Un-American companies

Posted by hpayne on August 1, 2014

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Cartoon: Hellcat Fiat

Posted by hpayne on August 1, 2014

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