Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Obamacare versus Nuns

Posted by hpayne on May 18, 2016

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Cartoon: Faceblock

Posted by hpayne on May 18, 2016

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Cartoon: NY Times Trump Pig

Posted by hpayne on May 17, 2016

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Cartoon: GOP Apprentice

Posted by hpayne on May 13, 2016

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Cartoon: Bud America Drinks

Posted by hpayne on May 12, 2016

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Payne: Honda Ridgeline, the crossover pickup

Posted by hpayne on May 12, 2016

The Ridgeline features acclaimed, Acura-derived, torque-vectoring

San Antonians love their basketball team almost as much as they love their pickups.

After the Spurs defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the NBA Playoffs last week, the streets flooded with F-150s, Tundras, Silverados, Tacomas and Colorados full of fans wearing all-black team colors waving Spurs flags and standing on their horns — as is tradition — in unison. HOOOOOONK HONK BEEP BEEP HOOOOONK. This deafening racket went on for more than an hour.

I’ll wager the sounds of Honda Ridgeline horns will soon join the din (especially its striking Black Edition).

Honda invaded San Antonio with Ridgelines last week like Kawhi Leonard attacks a basketball court: with a superb all-around game. Like the Honda Civic, 2016 North American Car of the Year, Ridgeline racks up all-star numbers. Best-in-class acceleration, V-6 fuel economy, interior room, box width, cabin quiet and safety rating. Unique-to-class bed trunk, bed audio, swinging tailgate, sub-rear seat storage.

But the best-of feature that instantly impresses is Ridgeline’s smooth ride, because this truck aims to change the midsize pickup game with the only car-like unibody chassis in its class.

Like the silky, muscular Kawhi (31 points on Saturday to go with 11 rebounds and stifling defense), the Ridgeline (smooth ride, 5,000-pound towing capacity, automatic all-wheel drive) is as comfortable executing hard cuts as it is banging bodies with the big boys.

This isn’t Ridgeline’s first tryout in the big leagues. Back in ’05, the pickup debutedwith similar unibody ambitions. But after initially selling a respectable 40,000-50,000 units a year, Ridgeline abandoned the segment as sales hit a glass ceiling attributed to its polarizing, flying-buttress C-pillar design … oh, and the Great Recession. Honda was not alone — every manufacturer except Toyota and Nissan fled small pickups.

But while Honda packed its bags, it did not give up on its pickup dreams. Fundamentally, Honda (which, unlike its Detroit Three and Toyota rivals, makes unibody platforms exclusively) thinks autos are moving from cars to crossovers — and it doesn’t think small pickups are immune from the trend. If generation-one Ridgeline was ahead of its time, then Honda thinks body-on-rail small pickups are dinosaurs.

Truck guys scoff at such talk. Drinks with umbrellas ain’t drinks, and trucks with unibodies ain’t trucks.

Well, game on. Four years later, the midsize pickup league is healthier than ever. Like similarly-affordable performance cars, the $30,000-$40,000 pickup market offers enthusiasts multiple brands competing with distinct visions as to what a small pickup should be. Where full-size pickups — like six-figure sports cars — are all about blowing your mind with Olympian stats, small sports cars and pickups are loaded with character.

King of the Ranch is still the Toyota Tacoma. If Texans still herded cattle to market, they would do it in this rugged cowboy toy. Remade last year, the Baja 1000-bred Tacoma is an Outback assault weapon with a 30-degree approach angle and a four-wheel-drive system that can climb Gibraltar’s face or dig out of jungle quicksand. Commute to work over asphalt, however, and its traditional truck platform and rear leaf springs will turn your insides to jelly. GM has swaggered back into small pickups with its sculpted Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon twins boasting mature interiors bolted to Detroit truck know-how.

Against such adversaries, Ridgeline nixed its soft styling — “customers told us a square box and high wheel arches mean pickup performance,” says Ridgeline Performance Chief Jim Loftus — and threw Honda Engineering’s kitchen sink at the segment.

Most notable is Ridgeline’s acclaimed, Acura-derived, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. Like Camaro showing up on big brother Cadillac ATS’s Alpha platform, Ridgeline’s AWD is in another league.

Hey, Kawhi, want to challenge these college kids to a pickup game?

I flogged the front-wheel biased, independent rear-suspension Honda across Texas ranchlands next to its rear-biased, leaf-sprung rivals. Ridgeline was more balanced, more confident — its electronic, rear-diff clutches expertly distributing wheel turn to whichever corner was in need. The difference is most pronounced next to the Tacoma whose four-wheel drive, solid-rear axle system squirms and protests against changing terrain.

Torque-vectoring and beefy suspension aside, however, the Ridgeline is a Honda Pilot with a 4-foot-by-5-foot box.

Not as muscular-looking as its rivals (the Canyon’s gym-toned, sculpted torso will get the girls), Honda’s tasteful, understated styling will woo the crossover crowd Honda expects to cross over to pickups. Inside, the same Pilot interior that has wowed SUV buyers also makes it best-in-class for pickups. Unencumbered by space-stealing rails, the unibody chassis allows excellent rear-seat room — both for passengers and sub-seat cargo (behold a second, golf-bag sized trunk!). Arm rests are soft, the center-sliding console brilliant — only Honda’s ill-advised, buttonless infotainment system mars the ensemble. I was pining for GM’s ergonomically friendly unit.

But there are limits to Ridgeline’s versatility.

Like Lego blocks, rail frames make for interchangeable cab (extended and crew) and box (5-foot or 6-foot) configurations. Unibody’s tooling complexity means Ridgeline comes only in crew cab with 5-foot box, starting at $27,375. Honda says that’s the segment sweet spot where 70 percent of customers shop — but it concedes entry-level conquests where, for example, the Canyon advertises at just $20,975.

Honda’s unibody also shies from deeper dives into extreme terrain — Michigan’s off-road park, The Mounds, comes to mind — where the Baja-tough Tacoma thrives. In the back woods of a San Antonio ranch, Tacoma’s armored underbody taunted rocks, its 30-degree approach angle is fearless over moguls. My Ridgeline hardly cowered over such obstacles, but when I got too aggressive with the throttle the front end would do belly flops — THONK! — on undulating terrain.

Of course, with more front aero, the Honda’s belly won’t need as much feeding as Tacoma either. Like the similarly fuel-conscious GM twins, Ridgeline sells to those who want to tow muddy, all-terrain vehicles — not muddy their pickups in all terrain. Most folks will be content with the Honda’s 5,000-pound trailering capacity — but those robust GM rails can pull another 50 percent more.

On paper, Ridgeline’s all-around play should be a more attractive pickup for the whole family — not just the cowboy in the house. A military vet on my San Antonio drive concedes a Ridgeline makes more sense for his family than his tree-chewing Tacoma. Or will his wife just buy a Pilot?

Are pickups niche lifestyle indulgences like sports cars? Or do they have broader appeal like CUVs? Honda is betting the latter.

Honk if you agree.

2017 Honda Ridgeline

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front or all-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $27,375 base ($42,270 RTL-E trim as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6

Power: 280 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: Zero-60: 6.4-6.7 seconds (Car & Driver est.); 5,000-pound towing

Weight: 4,515 pounds (RTL-E as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway/22 combined (FWD); EPA 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 combined (AWD)

Report card

Highs: Smooth rider; roomy interior

Lows: Won’t win Baja; annoying infotainment touch controls

Overall:★★★

Cartoon: Trump and Clinton Tweets

Posted by hpayne on May 10, 2016

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Cartoon: War on Free Speech

Posted by hpayne on May 10, 2016

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Cartoon: Obama and the Media’s coverage of Trump

Posted by hpayne on May 10, 2016

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Cartoon: Obama Kicks Working Class

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2016

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Cartoon: TSA lines

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2016

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Cartoon: Climate Inquisition

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2016

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Payne: Porsche 911 still king

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2016

Spying a dotted passing line on California's Pacific

I’ve been club-racing mid-engine, vintage Porsches all my adult life: Porsche 904, Porsche 906, Porsche 908.

All are exquisitely-balanced, apex-carving knives. Their engines are in front of the rear axles where God intended them to be. They were the models that made the sports car marque’s reputation in the late 1960s as it amassed a trophy-case full of world championships. The Porsche 917, 956, 962 and 919 — all mid-engine masterpieces — continued the winning tradition into the 21st century.

And yet the brand’s celebrity icon is the aft-powered 911. An automotive artifact that shared ancestry with the original VW Beetle. Yet not even the Bug has a rear-mounted power plant anymore.

Mid-engine heroes have come and gone, but King 911 has carried the flag into battle for generation after generation of Porsche fans. It is the winningest-ever Porsche on Sunday, and the most-sold on Monday. Like its Yankee rival front-engine Chevy Corvette, it has defied convention for over half-a-century by resisting mid-mounted physics. And Porsche has laughed all the way to the bank.

Selling more than 30,000 vehicles apiece year after year, the volume of 911s andCorvettes produced is the envy of every other manufacturer even as we all know —we know! — that they are technical dinosaurs. But just as Coca-Cola’s secret formula has dominated taste buds for a century, so have Porsche and Corvette’s mastery of — respectively — rear-mounted boxer engines and push-rod, small-block V-8s. They have adapted to the ever-changing demands of the brutally competitive sports car market.

“Drive a 911 every once in a while to remember what a great car feels like,” my pal and ex-Detroit News colleague Scott Burgess likes to say. Last week, I drove the new 2017 911 (run, don’t walk, to your local showroom). The first 911 to feature a turbocharged, flat-six as its base mill, it is the most significant engine upgrade since Stuttgart changed its flagship from air-cooled to water-cooled power plants in 1998.

Brother Burgess would be proud. To drive the new 911 is to pilot greatness.

As a mid-engine disciple, I was skeptical. The new 911, known at Porsche as the 991.2 — that is, Version 2.0 of the all-new 991 platform introduced in 2012 — is the first 911 I have spent a full day with since my first racer’s school in 1980 as a fuzzy-faced 18-year-old. I was quick but raw. I successfully negotiated the pylon-choked race course in Ohio to the school’s satisfaction, though I melted the tail-happy car’s clutch in the process.

I’ve gotten better — as has the 911.

In between my 911 dates, I have danced with numerous Porsches — and not just the 1,400-pound, tube-frame track legends of yore. The mid-engine 914-6. The 50-50 weight-balanced, front-engine 944. And the peerless, tossable, mid-motor 2016 Cayman/Boxster, dollar-for-pound the best sports car on the planet. Surely, the 911 — 100 pounds heavier than the Boxster, its engine hanging out its keister like a four-wheeled Kim Kardashian — would be the lesser athlete.

Not. Bigger in every dimension than its mid-mill stablemate, my 911 tester — base model, $90,450, manual, fire engine red — seemed to shrink around me as I settled into its form-hugging, bolstered “Sport Plus” seats. Key on the left as always. The world’s best manual box to my right.

Its Boxster-like, firm chassis-and-suspension a scalpel in my hands, the 911 shredded Northern California’s twisty roads.

Chassis engineering aside, there is method to Porsche’s rear-mounted madness after all. With the engine in the stern, the Porsche has space for (small) rear seats so the kiddies can share in the fun. Rear-end heavy, the car dives deeper into bends with less weight transfer compared to its athletic peers, allowing for beautiful, throttle-induced rotation through corners instead of speed-scrubbing understeer.

“And with the engine’s weight over the rear wheels, the traction out of the corners is unmatched,” says Porsche powertrain engineer Bruno Kistner, who flew in from Stuttgart to take a bow.

Oh, yes, about that turbocharged engine.

I thought Porsche’s controversial switch to turbos — not just its high-price, high-horsepower Turbo — would dominate my review. Green theology obsesses governments today, especially in Europe, and automakers are under pressure to lead carbon-celibate lives even as their customers demand more performance. Porsche’s solution ingeniously satisfies both poles.

Maintaining its core boxer-six, the 911 only shaved piston displacement from 3.4 to 3.0-liters then upped the ’roids with twin, small turbochargers anchoring each cylinder bank. The result is an engine that pulls like an ox — full torque is reached at just, cough, 1,700 revs — all the way to 7,500 rpms, just 300 shy of the previous mill. No lag. No low-rpm hole.

Porsche had to widen the rear tires to 11.5 inches to help plant the prodigious, 331 pound-feet of torque (a 15 percent gain). Were it not for a faint turbo whine (more pronounced in the convertible), you wouldn’t know this was a forced-induction mill

All this plumbing added weight to the engine, but Porsche’s historical obsession with light-weighting — behold the drilled key on my 1,380-pound, 1969-vintage 908 racer — shaved pounds elsewhere so that the drivetrain gains just 44 pounds overall. Typical of the 911’s timeless, teardrop shape, small subtleties differentiate 991 Version 2.0 from 1.0. Most obvious are two vents immediately behind the rear wheels which exit air from the red-hot turbos. The rear grill strakes flip vertical. Rear taillights are more three-dimensional.

I love to man-handle sports cars, so I’d buy manual. But tack on a few grand, and the optional PDK gearbox on a 420-horsepower Carrera 4S (AWD for more grip, natch) is a delight with lightning-quick shifts and available mode selector on the steering wheel with an F1-like “push-to-pass” button.

Spying a dotted passing line on California’s Pacific Coast, I punch the button and the box jumps from seventh gear to third and hurtles the 911 past traffic.

Ninety-five grand has never seen such performance. So which icon to buy? Rear engine 911 or front-mounted ’Vette V8 Z06?

The two are as different as their national stereotypes. The Z06’s explosiveness is unmatched on an asphalt battlefield. The 911 lacks the Corvette’s nuclear firepower but gains in pinpoint accuracy.

Either will do, though I prefer the Porsche’s more controlled aggression. So much for assumptions. Greatness, thy name is the rear-engine 911.

2017 Porsche 911

Specifications

Vehicle type: Rear-engine, rear- or all-wheel drive, 4-passenger sports car

Price: $90,450 base ($97,010 Carrera; $138,550 Carrera 4S PDK as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, “Boxer” 6-cylinder

Power: 370 horsepower, 331 pound-feet of torque (base Carrera); 420 horsepower, 368 pound-feet of torque (Carrera S and Carrera 4S)

Transmission: 7-speed manual; 7-speed, dual-clutch PDK

Performance: Zero-60: 4.3 seconds (base, manual Carrera); 3.6 seconds (4S with PDK): 191 mph top speed (Carrera S) – manufacturer numbers

Weight: 3,153 pounds (base, manual Carrera as tested); 3,285 pounds (Carrera 4S PDK as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway/23 combined (base, manual Carrera); EPA 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway/23 combined (4S PDK)

Report card

Highs: Classic shape; precise handling

Lows: Zero engine access; turbo takes edge off raspy six howl

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Trump, Indy and Cruz

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2016

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Cartoon: Hilary, Indiana and Bernie

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2016

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Payne: Subaru Impreza Jekyll vs. STI Hyde

Posted by hpayne on May 7, 2016

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All cars come with WARNING stickers cautioning front-seat passengers about the dangers of air bags.

I’m thinking four-door sport sedans should have rear-seat WARNING labels, too. Then, when drivers are seized by their inner street-racer, they’d see something like: WARNING: THIS CAR MAY MAKE SUDDEN, VIOLENT, HIGH-G TURNS THAT COULD RESULT IN DIZZINESS, NECK SPRAINS OR KNOCKED NOGGINS.

I had such a moment recently in a 2016 Subaru WRX STI with my teenage nephew riding astern. I took a 90-degree right-hander off Telegraph Road like Turn 6 at Waterford Raceway and my cousin’s head thumped — WHACK! — the door window. He’s a good, hard-headed Payne male, so no harm done, but you get my point: He should have been warned.

After all, if you’re riding shotgun in, say, a $75,000 Corvette, you know violence might ensue at any moment. The thing looks like a Ferrari, sounds like the Kraken, and has two “OH, CRAP!” handles within easy reach. But how’s a compact sedan passenger in the back seat supposed to know?

Such are the risks of today’s most capable, under-$40,000 machines: VW Golf R, Ford Focus RS, and Subaru STI.

Yes, Subaru.

The STI is the unlikely, evil twin of arguably the nicest, most capable auto bargain on the lot, the Subaru Impreza. So adorable is Subaru that its ads talk incessantly about “love.” At an affordable $19,090, the Impreza is the only all-wheel-drive compact on the market. I particularly like the utilitarian, five-door Sport hatchback ( my wife loveshers) which starts at $23,990 — or half the price of a similarly-sized AWD Audi A4 All-Road. Half.

The Subaru ain’t bad looking, either. In 2012 Impreza received an extreme makeover to match its winsome personality. Raked headlights, trapezoidal grille with chrome winglets, swept-back windshield, athletic stance. No more boxy bods with clown noses that stuck out like pimpled nerds in too-short pants in high school.

The interior is a comfortable office as well — class-competitive rear head and legroom in the wagon, a console with cubbies in all the right places, big fat knobs for easy infotainment/climate navigation.

The Impreza is as handsome and as loyal as Lassie. Its AWD will rescue you in the worst stuff that Old Man Detroit Winter can throw at you. And its consistently-high reliability ratings will keep it out of the auto repair pound ( Consumer Reports lovesit).

The all-wheel-drive STI is a whole ’nother breed. It’s the Impreza with rabies. A Rottweiler in a collie suit. A snarling, misbehaving ticket to trouble.

Park the Hyper Blue STI (special ’16 edition) and Quartz Blue Pearl Impreza next to one another and they look as opposite as Schwarzenegger and DeVito in “Twins.” The STI doesn’t hide its aggressive intentions, featuring a big hood scoop and rear wing that looks like it was taken off Baron von Richthofen’s WW I triplane.

Slip into the familiar interior and the instruments’ blazing red graphics — like glowing wolf eyes — alert you that something is different. The bolstered seats grip like go-kart buckets, warning of the capabilities to come.

Driving the Impreza hatchback is like driving your washing machine — the 2.0-liter, 148-horse engine mated to a droning, automatic CVT transmission that methodically takes you on your way: START, WASH, RINSE, ARRIVE. The blown, 2.5-liter STI boxer mill more than doubles the Impreza’s output — to an Audi S4-challenging 305 ponies — and is controlled by a firm, 6-speed manual box that begs to be rowed.

Impreza is hardly a boat, but it’s a ’95 Buick Roadmaster compared with the STI’s washboard-hard suspension. When the STI debuted a couple of years back I rung its neck around Laguna Seca raceway, posting times that would make many sports cars blush. Its power and torque-vectoring AWD make it a sensational weekend track warrior. You might want to check house listings next to Waterford.

On road, though, it’s like a piranha in a goldfish bowl — it never seems happy unless it’s devouring other fish. Stomp the gas, bury the bravo Brembo brakes, throw it through corners (sorry, nephew), and STI pleases. But grunt around town and it’s loud and uncomfortable.

The 2016 Impreza and STI are built for different folks. And they are taking their last bows.

At last fall’s Los Angeles Auto Show Subaru showed Impreza 5.0 due later this year. The exterior was nicely evolved — crisp lines, tidy fascia — but the biggest change is within, where Subaru promises a quieter ride on an all-new, stronger global platform. This will benefit STI as well as it pales in daily drivability next to same-priced peers such as the Focus RS and Golf R. We can’t be boy racers all the time.

But when we are, my nephew would appreciate that WARNING sign in the back seat.

2016 Subaru Impreza

specifications

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger hatchback

Price: $19,090 base ($26,682 Sport Hatchback as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, Boxer 4-cylinder

Power: 148 horsepower, 145 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual, CVT

Performance: Zero-60: 9.0 seconds (CVT, Car & Driver)

Weight: 3,131 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway/31 combined

Report card

Highs: All-wheel-drive; Roomy hatch

Lows: Droning CVT

Overall:★★★★

2016 Subaru WRX STI

specifications

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

Price: $35,290 base ($39,790 HyperBlue Series as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter, Boxer 4-cylinder

Power: 305 horsepower, 290 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: Zero-60: 4.8 seconds (Car & Driver)

Weight: 3,411 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 combined

Report card

Highs: Great seats; Torque-vectoring terror

Lows: Harsh ride; Pricey next to more refined competitors

Overall:★★★

Cartoon: Hastert and Clinton Wanted

Posted by hpayne on April 29, 2016

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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

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Cartoon: 20 dollar Bill with Trump and Jackson

Posted by hpayne on April 26, 2016

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