Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Tlaib Defund Israel David

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 24, 2021

Cartoon: Auto Chips Desert

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 23, 2021

Cartoon: Warren Burn Bookstore

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 23, 2021

Cartoon: Biden Drone Attack

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 23, 2021

Payne: Here are the 10 best features at Motor Bella

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 23, 2021

Pontiac — A 1961 Amphicar 770, the amphibious convertible that could drive in water as well as on land, would have been the perfect show car Wednesday when torrential rains shut down Motor Bella at M1 Concourse.

The Amphicar would also fit right in with the show’s experiential theme.

This is a different experience for Detroit Auto Show goers. Static car displays play second fiddle around M1’s 85-acre property containing on- and-off-road tracks. Like M1’s Roadkill Nights before the Woodward Dream Cruise, if you aren’t in a long line waiting for a ride then you’re missing the full experience.

Ram 1500 TRX ride. Hold on for a 702-horsepower, over-the-jump, rip-roaring adrenaline ride.

With that in mind, this column recommends — not just the best cars in show — but the best Motor Bella features. Here’s my Top Ten:

Ride the ‘Rex: What do you get when your cross a Hellcat with a Ram pickup? TRX — pronounced T-rex. With a 702-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 in its belly, the Ram 1500 TRX joins the Ford Raptor as segment-busting supertrucks. Ram wants you to experience TRX at full tilt. Jump in line at the 120-square-foot off-road experience and hang on: with a pro driver at the reins, you’ll accelerate from 0-60, hurtle moguls, claw ’round a dirt banking and hit 50 mph before flying — yes, flying — over a jump. TRX sticks the landing every time.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning and signature, full LED front running light.

F-150 Lightning bolt: At the opposite, northwest end of the M1 property from the TRX test is an on-track opportunity with the electric Ford F-150 Lightning. It’s the stealth pickup. Armed with an absurd 775 pound-feet of torque from twin motors, Lightning will quietly rocket to 60 mph as fast as TRX.

“This sucker’s quick!” exclaimed President Joe Biden when he drove it on a recent Dearborn visit. Check out the pickup’s gigantic frunk (front trunk) where the gas engine used to be. Lightning’s batteries are stored low between the pickup’s frame rails.

The Toyota Tundra is all-new and more competitive with the Detroit Three truckmakers. Upgrades include coil rear springs, a 14-inch screen, and LEGO Technic-like styling.

Toyota Tundra: The all-new Tundra, big and aggressive, anchors Toyota’s exhibit overlooking Motor Bella’s infield. Remade from the inside out, the Texas-made pickup learns lessons from its Detroit peers and should be the most competitive full-size Toyota yet. The once conservative skin is replaced by a chiseled bod that looks like it drove out of a LEGO Technic box. Under the new sheet meal, innovations include coil springs in the rear (like Ram), a big 14-inch screen (like the Detroit Three) and composite bed (Toyota’s answer to more corrosive steel and aluminum boxes).

Jump in the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon ride and you'll see the world from a new perspective.

Get dirty in a Wrangler: Jeep Wranglers are everywhere, but have you experienced their off-road capability? Saddle up a Wrangler Rubicon, 392, or 4xe, and you’ll get a treat over Jeep’s diabolical dirt course (next to Ram’s course). Tilt 20 degrees through The Spine, charge up an extreme dirt hill, scamper over logs, chew rocks. The course has it all.

The popular Ford Bronco can be ridden through a pond, up a hill and through sand. Your typical Bronco commute.

Bronco rodeo: Ford has its sights set on Wrangler and its dirt-kicker has brought a course of its own to M1’s infield. There, a fleet of Broncos take you through water, sand, and up and over a 21-foot-tall roller-coaster hill (the best view in Motor Bella). The obstacles show off the ute’s capabilities and tools, including water-fording, articulated wheel crawling and hill descent control. After the ride, immerse yourself in static displays that demonstrate Bronco’s removable doors, top and fenders.

The 2021 Mustang Mach 1 has inspired the electric Mach E (foreground). They appeared together at Ford's Dream Cruise display in Royal Oak.

Mustang Mach-E e-Xperience: Next to the Bronco rodeo is a ride of a different sort. The Mustang Mach-E is Ford’s first EV. Like Bronco vs. Wrangler, Mach-E wants to go toe-to-battery with class stud Tesla Model Y. Big center screen, tight handling, instant torque. Say hello to your driver before he stomps on the throttle — behind those masks are some interesting folks. Mine was a National Hot Rod Association nitro-fuel drag racer.

The McLaren Senna is the fastest production car in existence. A race car with a license plate, only at The Gallery.

McLaren Senna: For the first time, the exclusive Gallery exotic car show (usually invitation-only) is open to the masses. Located behind the infield toward the road course, it contains some rare birds. My favorite is the Senna — named, appropriately, after the late Brazilian Formula 1 superstar. The McLaren is a race car with a license plate. It owns Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap record around epic Virginia International Raceway in 2 minutes, 34.9 seconds. That’s, ahem, three seconds faster than a Porsche 911 GT2 RS.

The Bolinger B2 pickup has drop gates in the front -- and rear -- so you can pass through longboards.

Bollinger B2: Metro Detroit is home to two new pickup brands: Rivian and Bollinger. Bollinger makes its auto show debut at Motor Bella. The imposing, black B1 SUV and  B2 pickup siblings loom just off the infield. They’re off-road ready with dual locking-differentials, gnarly tires, 15-inch ground-clearance, and 10-inch suspension travel. My favorite feature is the bumper-to-bumper pass-through channel so you can load longboards.

The mid-engine Corvette C8 greets you at the GM display -- its forebears can be seen at the Lost Corvettes display, also on the M1 campus.

‘Vettes galore: Lots of eye candy here for fans of America’s favorite supercar. A pair of delicious mid-engine C8 Stingrays — in IMSA GTLM Championship Edition trim — welcome you to GM’s infield tent. But wait, there’s more. The so-called “Lost Corvettes” from artist Peter Max’s historic car collection are on the Woodward Avenue side of the infield. Restored to perfection, six will be given to military veterans Friday as part of a charity auction. Call them ‘Vettes for Vets.

NASCAR star Austin DIllon shows off the next-gen NASCAR Camaro with modern upgrades like an independent rear suspension, sequential gearbox, and single-nut wheel.

Camaro NASCAR: In addition to the race-inspired Corvettes, GM is showcasing the intersection between racing and production. Hot shoe Austin Dillon dropped in to introduce the next-gen NASCAR Camaro Cup car. It features significant updates with an independent rear suspension, sequential shifter, and wicked stance. It debuts at next year’s Daytona 500.

Not a bad debut for Motor Bella either. Hopefully the first of more great shows.

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

Cartoon: Chevy Bolt Cookout

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2021

Cartoon: Newsom Victory Party French Laundry

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2021

Cartoon: AOC Met Gala Dress

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2021

Payne: Curvaceous Karma makes a sporty plug-in pitch

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2021

Charleston, W.Va. — The Fisker Karma and Tesla Model S exploded into our lives in 2011. With stunning looks, sci-fi technology, dashing CEOs — even $500 million each in investment from the Obama/Biden administration — the four-door exotics promised a wild ride into the EV future.

But while Tesla soared, Fisker flamed out.

Burdened by a drivetrain and interior that did not match its sexy package, the alluring Karma labored around the dance floor while buyers boogied with the Model S’s Ludicrous acceleration and smart tech. A decade and multiple suitors later, Karma is now married to China’s Wanxiang Group Corp. — founder Henrik Fisker having moved on.

And the Karma GS-6 has finally realized the drivetrain potential to match its looks. Even as corporate elites obsess over a trendy, zero-emissions future, my road trip to West Virginia and back with the plug-in, coal-powered Karma promises a much more livable solution.

Not zero emissions. The 2021 Karma GS-6 can run on electric-only power, but that power comes from a carbon-powered electric grid. Example: The John Amos power plant in West Virginia.

To begin with, Mrs. Payne agreed to join me.

After the expected gasp at encountering the Karma for the first time — “Wow, that is a beautiful car!” — she immediately pivoted to: “We’re not taking another electric car on our trip, are we?”

My long-suffering bride is weary of spending road trips sitting in Meijer/Walmart parking lots recharging my Tesla Model 3 (or the occasional Mustang Mach-E or Audi e-tron or EV flavor-of-the-month I get to test). She’d rather be dining with family at the end of our journey than hoofing it to a nearby fast-food joint while the EV sips electrons.

“We’re eating dinner at Arby’s,” she’ll text from a fast charger with a groaning emoji. “Be there soon.”

Rather than try to reinvent the U.S. electric grid, the Karma embraces the inherent benefits of electric and gas power. Let me count the ways:

Electric power. Taking advantage of cheap electricity at home, the GS-6 plug-in charges its 24.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack overnight to 80 miles at 10 cents-per-kWh so you can do daily commutes on battery power alone. Easy, and you don’t have to visit a $3-a-gallon gas station.

Gas power. Want to go road tripping? Karma takes advantage of America’s vast gas station network to fill up on the road and get you to where you’re going without electric range anxiety (or long delays in parking lots). With its energy-dense, 116,090 BTUs per gallon, a gas pump can deliver you 25 miles in 5 seconds. Plug in to a 240-volt charger and it’ll take 2 hours to get 25 miles.

Best of both worlds. The 2021 Karma GS-6 can run off the plug for 80 miles - but on road trips it can take on gas for extended range up to 360 miles.

Karma is not the first luxury car to try this, of course. The Cadillac ELR plug-in (based on the Chevy Volt) debuted at the same time as Fisker and Tesla and bit the dust a few years later. It was overpriced at $80,000 compared with the larger, more luxurious startups.

And, like the Fisker Karma, its performance paled compared to peers.

That was enough to doom ELR, but not Karma. Like a siren in Greek mythology, Karma’s stunning looks continued to attract interest.

Penned by Aston Martin designer Fisker, the Karma is widely considered one of the prettiest cars conceived.

China’s Wanxiang rescued her from financial purgatory. Everyone adored her. Heck, even Bob Lutz and Gilbert Villarreal took some Karma chassis and stuffed them with Corvette V-8s.

The low-slung Fisker looks like a four-door Corvette. The long front hood arrives 10 minutes before the cabin, riding on muscular haunches. Like most super sports cars, it’s a pain-in-the neck (literally, I had to cock my 6-foot-5-inch neck every time I got out) to access, but once seated, you feel like the king of the road.

The 2021 Karma GS-6 hood opens like a front-engine Corvette. Underneath is a tiny 3-cylinder turbocharged engine.

Below decks, Wanxiang has improved the secret sauce.

Massive electric motors propel the rear with 536 horsepower. Zero-60 mph goes by in 4.5 seconds. That’s not bad for a sled that weighs 5,034 pounds — but the real drawback is listening to the 3-cylinder engine bray like an angry mule. At least Karma makes the experience interesting with drag race-style Christmas tree lights in the digital instrument display that count down to launch.

It’s a big step from the former, $96,000 Fisker’s glacial, 5.9 second acceleration (which was slower than a Ford Fusion Sport). That was the result of a 402-horse drivetrain mated to a GM 4-banger (shades of the underpowered Caddy ELR), which Karma has swapped out for the more competent, 1.5-liter BMW turbo. Wainxiang first stuffed this 536-horse upgrade into its 2020 Karma Revero GT.

With instant torque and low center of gravity, Karma enjoyed hustling around a West Virginia test track. But this is a grand tourer, not a track rat. I’m the rare motorhead that will push this diva.

More interesting were the drive modes on my journey to the Mountain State. I mostly cruised in hybrid, SUSTAIN mode — the gas engine acting as a generator for the battery to preserve range. Upon hitting U.S. 35’s twisties, I switched to SPORT mode for maximum system power. Huzzah! Corner exits were a hoot with instant electric torque — the turbo-3 maintaining the torque curve at higher revs.

The retro cockpit of the 2021 Karma GS-6 includes update screens and steering wheel controls.

But maintaining battery reserve takes discipline. After a restroom stop, I forgot to return to SUSTAIN mode and promptly drained the battery to just 12 miles before realizing I was in SPORT mode.

At my West Virginia family’s home, I plugged into the local John Amos coal plant for the night (via 110-volt wall charger) to try and get my 80 miles back. After 12 hours, the battery range indicated 48 miles (from 20% to 65% of charge).

That was enough for a stealthy tour of Charleston in battery-only STEALTH mode — my relatives lounging in the rear bucket seats. They cheered Karma’s instant torque out of stoplight, enjoyed its quiet through city streets.

Tesla’s performance has opened a generation to the possibilities of all-electric powertrains  (Karma, too, will be offering an all-electric version of the GS-6). But EVs are inferior to gas engines when it comes to long hauls. Now that the Karma finally has its act together, it can claim the crown as a plug-in halo.

Its $109,100 sticker may be exclusive, but it might inspire a look at more affordable plug-ins. Check out the $40,000 Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Ioniq plug-ins at your local dealership.

2021 Karma GS-6

Vehicle type: Front-engine, twin-rear electric motor, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger, series hybrid sports sedan

Price: $85,700, including $1,800 destination fee ($109,100 GS-6L as tested)

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph (4.5 sec., Car and Driver); top speed, 125 mph

Weight: 5,043 pounds

Fuel economy: Range, 80 miles battery; 360 miles combined gas-electric

Report card

Highs: Gorgeous figure; three-mode, plug-in diversity

Lows: Tech lags competitors; shouty turbo-3

Overall: 3 stars

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

Cartoon: Auto EV Tax credit

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 14, 2021

Cartoon: Talk to the Back

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 14, 2021

Cartoon: Fauci Football Arrest

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 14, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 11, 2021

Cartoon: Unvaccinated Scarlet Letter

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 11, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2021

Payne: Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup … where SUVs leave off

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2021

Santa Cruz, California — And now for something completely different.

The segment-busting 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup is the first of its kind — a unibody-based, head-turning Swiss Army knife with many tools for many chores. Did I say pickup? Hyundai prefers the term Sport Adventure Vehicle because Santa Cruz is truly a different animal.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz offers pickup utility on top of a nimble SUV that can cut some rug on country roads.

“I think this segment is the new hot hatch,” said Hyundai Test and Development manager Chahe Apelian of a compact SUV segment that will soon include the Ford Maverick and maybe entrants from Ram and VW.

That’s music to my ears as I was an early buyer of the segment-busting 1984 VW Golf GTI, the original hot hatch. An enthusiast’s compact. Since then, hot hatches have become the most versatile vehicle in autodom with utility and performance at an affordable price. Though hardly volume sellers compared to their peers, they attract passionate lifestyle buyers who turn brand missionaries.

In addition to the GTI, today’s hot hatch segment includes all-stars like the Golf R, Mazda 3 Turbo and Hyundai Veloster N (soon to be replaced by the Kona N).

As Americans have pivoted to utes and trucks, the Santa Cruz offers similar benefit to adventure-minded SUV buyers. Think lifestyle enthusiasts like Subaru Outback or Jeep Compass customers.

Start with Santa Cruz’s centerpiece:

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes with sub-bed storage.

The bed. As hatch is to Golf GTI utility, the bed is to Santa Cruz.

Unlike traditional pickups which option multi-length beds, the Cruz tub is fully integrated into the chassis design. Ladder-frame truck beds are clearly tacked onto the cabin so they can be swapped out for a bigger unit during assembly. Cruz’s bed is a natural extension of the vehicle’s lines. Hey, it’s not a Mercedes, but it makes for a leaner, more sinewy profile that is pleasing to the eye.

Then the bed gets down to basics: soft-drop tailgate, sub-bed storage, drainage plug, side-wall storage, LED lights, utility rails. All standard. In a vehicle starting at $24,000 — well under a mid-size pickup class where you’ll be hard-pressed to find standard goodies. Built in ’Bama, Cruz was designed on Cali’s surfer coast with Yanks in mind. It even copies Chevy Silverado’s corner steps to help you lay your surfboard in the bed.

The bed of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is perfect for surfboards and other quick trips around town.

Like hot hatches, pickups are generally boy toys, but I’m betting these features will make Santa Cruz a chick magnet, too. Wee Mrs. Payne is terrified of free-falling tailgates, but soft-drop reassures. And on a trip to the grocer (or the park to barbecue), it’s a no-brainer to throw your meats ‘n’ drinks into the sub-bed locker with a bag of ice. When you arrive at your destination, pull the plug to drain the water.

The icing on the cake is the tonneau cover. Lockable, water-resistant and easy to slide, it’s the answer to every pickup buyer’s prayers — a retractable cover that instantly turns the bed into a trunk to protect your stuff from the elements.

Not standard, but worth the $3,270 upgrade that includes 115-volt plug in rear, sunroof, sliding rear window, and more.

The sub-bed is also perfect for muddy kids cleats and jerseys — indeed, the whole idea of a bed on the back of an SUV is to keep smells and dirt separated from the cabin.

The 4-foot bed does come with compromises. You won’t be hauling ATVs back there. Indeed, the bed can’t even swallow a bicycle whole, necessitating that you throw the front tire over the tailgate to fit it in. That, naturally, means you have to buy a Hyundai accessory to protect the tailgate (or just throw a thick rug over it).

You can stash bikes on the bed of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz - just make sure you have something to protect the tailgate from the front tire hanging over the back.

For those who want to drag their ATV to the Outback, you’ll need to buy a trailer. With that in mind, Hyundai ambitiously, obsessively benchmarked to the Honda Ridgeline (a segment bigger and the only other SUV-based unibody pickup) with 5,000-pound towing capability. Nice.

For more typical use cases of loading mulch, cinderblock, furniture … Santa Cruz also has a Ridgeline-like payload of 1,900 pounds.

It’s a compact SUV. Just as GTI shares a skeleton with the VW Golf, so is the Santa Cruz a Tucson with a bed. Tucson, also new this year, has immediately gone to the top of the SUV class in my book with its Lambo looks, clever interior and tight handling.

Male and female alike will find this pleasing for metro errands where even midsize pickups can feel big.

Around the crowded San Francisco Bay Area, Cruz was as easy to park as, well, a Tucson. That compact size shows in back, and my 6-foot-5-inch frame’s legs were jammed into the back of the front seat when I tried to sit behind myself. Normal-size folks will be more comfortable — and there’s sub-seat storage space to boot.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz offers clever, sub-rear seat storage.

It’s a looker. The GTI and Mazda 3 Turbo hatches are eye-catching. Cruz, too. When I say the Cruz is a Tucson with a bed, I mean outside and inside. Teased waaaay back at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show as a prototype, Santa Cruz was a long time coming as Hyundai developed an architecture that could meet the pickup’s needs.

Hyundai has bold styling ambitions, and Tucson/Santa Cruz’s triangle-themed design is unique.

The state-of-the-art interior boasts the same pluses and minuses as Tucson. I love its simplicity with two all-digital screens running the show and twin lines wrapping the cabin. The latter is made possible by ditching the instrument display screen’s hood (credit a bright LCD display). Dude, it’s cool.

Like the Tucson SUV with which it shares a platform, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes with all the latest electronics like adaptive cruise control and smartphone app connect.

Hyundai jumps the shark by continuing that simplicity to a touchscreen without volume dials which occupants will miss. At least the driver can control volume with a steering-wheel button. It’s hard to be mad when Santa Cruz comes standard with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Fun to drive. OK, the high-riding (8.6-inch) Cruz is no hot hatch on road, but it can cut some rug. The 2022 Nissan Frontier is the best-handling ladder-frame truck I’ve driven thanks to clever suspension and cabin mounts — but it can’t hold a candle to the Santa Cruz. With a healthy turbocharged 281 horses under the hood (a 191-horse 4-cylinder is also capable), we danced together through the twists and turns of the Bay Area’s challenging Route 9 and had a ball.

Just, um, don’t try that with the groceries in back. Same goes for hot hatches.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

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

Price: $25,175, including $1,185 destination fee ($40,905 Limited model as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; 2.5-liter turbo-4

Power: 191 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque (2.5L); 281 horsepower, 311 pound-feet of torque (2.5L turbo)

Transmissions: 8-speed automatic (2.5L); 8-speed dual-clutch automatic (2.5L turbo)

Performance: 0-60 mph (7.5 seconds, Car and Driver, 2.5L turbo-4); payload, 1,900 pounds; tow, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 2,835 pounds (manual Limited as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 19 mpg city/26 highway/22 combined (2.5L turbo-4 as tested)

Report card

Highs: Segment-busting pickup for metro drivers; versatile bed

Lows: Won’t fit your bike without taking wheel off; touchscreen needs buttons, please

Overall: 4 stars

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

Cartoon: Hurricanes and Religion

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 7, 2021

Cartoon: Biden Taliban Rules

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 7, 2021

Cartoon: Labor Day

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 4, 2021