Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Memorial Day 2015

Posted by hpayne on May 23, 2015

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Payne: Mad Max, your Z28 is here

Posted by hpayne on May 23, 2015

The 2015 Camaro Z/28 is the most track-capable model

If Mad Max drove a Camaro Z28, he would dominate Fury Road.

With its massive front cowcatcher – er, splitter — it would punt bad guys from its path like a 19th century locomotive scything through a herd of steer. Its jackhammer-like, 427-cube pistons would crack the earth. Its narrow, windows would deflect explosives. Charlize Theron and her fetching crew would be home free.

When Chevy introduced its new, sixth-generation, 2016 Camaro at Belle Isle last weekend, Camaro faithful from around the country came to witness it. But they also lined up to experience hot laps in the already legendary Z28.

Harking back to the original, 1967 Z28 that homologated Camaro for SCCA racing, the 2015 is a purpose-built track weapon. It really has no peer. Though its 580-horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter ZL1 stablemate is more powerful, it can’t stay with Z in the zig-zags. So too Mustang’s muscular Boss 302 Laguna Seca. The Z28 has its sights set on other prey.

“We actually want to be in conversations with the 911 GT3 Porsche and Nissan GT-R,”says Chief Engineer Al Oppenheimer. Mission accomplished. In Car & Driver’slegendary Lightning Lap competition around Virginia International Raceway, the Z28 is – wait for it — five seconds faster than the Porsche and just a second shy of the GT-R.

This 505-horsepower monster goes. Like. Stink. Zero-60 in 4.4 seconds. G-loads of 1.06. It is the fastest thing Chevy makes outside of the 650-horse Corvette Z06, but it’s meaner than its gentleman cousin.

Like the death machines that roam Mad Max’s movie landscape, the $72,705 Z28 is a Frankenstein hybrid. Beautiful black trim package, but no trunk lining. Blue-tooth phone connectivity, but manual seats. Alacantra and leather-stitched thrones, but no air conditioning. A heater it has – though with its slick, track-ready Pirelli P-Zero tires (more on these gumballs later), the grizzly hibernates in winter. Its part bin includes the elegant, rimless, rear-view mirror found in ‘Vettes and Caddies. Not that it’s any use. I needed a spotter to back up.

I drove Chevy’s weaponized Camaro for a week. It’s like living with a pet tiger. You learn to respect it because it could kill you. Its raw power must be learned. I fed it raw meat for breakfast.

The beast under the hood is so ravenous, Chevy even carves out the middle of the grille-mounted, bowtie logo to give it more air. Or maybe I was supposed to feed it small rodents through there. I don’t know.

I do know it’s hungry. Driving hard around Metro Detroit I got 14 mpg. It has a 19-gallon fuel tank, and requires 10 quarts of oil for its dry-sump engine.

It struggles outside its natural track habitat. Turn the key and it wakes up like a tiger from a bad dream. The earth shakes. Trees bend. Neighborhood car alarms go off. Loping around town, I had to remember to keep the big front splitter away from curbs.

But given a little room the Z28 handles like a big cat in tall grass.

Through aggressive light-weighting, Oppenheimer’s team has reduced the Z28′s weight 300 pounds from the 4,100-pound ZL1. Diving into a 90-degrees right-hander (my computer bag flying around the unlined trunk like a sneakers in a clothes dryer), I felt the old Zeta chassis flex beneath me. But Chevy has screwed it down with stiff springs and Formula One-inspired, valved shocks.

Banging down through the gears, the clutch is too sensitive. But the Alcantara-wrapped shifter is a delight with its positive, short throws. The real stars here are the massive brakes and tires.

The drilled, 15.5-inch front/15 rear carbon ceramic rotors are the size of manhole covers. Paired with Brembo calipers they stop the hurtling beast like a brick wall. With the 427 boat anchor up front, the Camaro’s bias is to understeer, so Chevy equipped it with 12-inch front P-Zeros – the widest front production tires in existence.

The gummies briefly protest, then bite. G-loads are massive, yet passengers have nothing to hold onto in the spartan interior. No “oh, crap!” handles like a “Vette. During Belle Isle hot laps – OH, CRAAAAAP! – Chief Driving Instructor Rick Malone had to warn passengers against grabbing the passenger-side-located emergency brake for stability.

Exit the corner and it’s all engine. Armed with titanium connecting rods and intake valves, the liquid-fuel rocket revs freely to 7000 RPM. Houston, we have liftoff.

Now imagine the next generation Z28 on the Gen 6 Alpha platform. Stiffer. Another 200 pounds lighter. Holy Mother of Pearl. Alas, the 427 V-8 will likely not survive. But it’ll make the ’15 Z28 a collector’s item.

So get one now. Before Mad Max buys up the whole fleet.

2015 Chevy Camaro Z28

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger two-door sedan/coupe

Price: $72,750

Power plant: 7.0-liter V-8

Power: 505 horsepower, 480 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.4 seconds; 172 mph top speed (Car & Driver)

Weight: 3,8200 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway/15 combined

Report card

Highs: Athletic looks; Neck-snapping handling

Lows: No AC; The visibility of a tank

Overall: ★★★★

Cartoon: Hillary Foundation Bonnie

Posted by hpayne on May 23, 2015

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Cartoon: Letterman

Posted by hpayne on May 21, 2015

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Payne: Porsche Boxster is chip off the ol’ GTS

Posted by hpayne on May 21, 2015

The 2015 Boxster GTS is a strong legacy for the original

Porsche’s mid-engine, 2015 Cayman/Boxster GTS twins (Boxster is the convertible one) are the best pure sports cars under $100K. Razor-sharp handling. Howling 6-cylinder power. Quick tranny.

How to test a car that has no peer?

I jumped into a time machine and went back 50 years to grab Stuttgart’s original mid-engine GTS: The 1964 Porsche 904. Despite being separated by a half-century, the two GTS models share an uncanny family resemblance.

I grew up in the right hand seat of my father’s 904 GTS.

The 904 was conceived as Stuttgart’s entry into world racing’s GT category, which required that manufacturers produce a production model — thus the term Gran Turismo Sport — for public sale. A street-legal race car in other words.

While the 904 dominated GT racing from LeMans to Watkins Glen, my father used his GTS just as Porsche intended. He drove it to work during the week and tracked it on weekends. Boy, did he track it. We were constantly on the road from our domicile in Charleston, West Virginia to SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) events in North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio … I especially remember Ohio.

Imagine driving a mid-engine, lightweight race car through the notorious police state. Ohio is synonymous with radar trap. Cops in the trees waiting to pounce on you. Half of Ohio’s state budget must be funded by speeding tickets.

My childhood was one long “Smokey and the Bandit” movie.

After a Sunday afternoon autocross in Columbus or Bellefontaine or Dayton, we would have to haul the mail to get home for school and work on Monday morning. My father and his racing buddies had a system. He would drive point with a radar detector in the 904 while his pals would follow at a distance keeping an eye on the backdoor.

I vividly remember one night in Eastern Ohio in the early ’70s. I was maybe 9 years old. After a successful day of racing, it was late and we were trying to get home. Flying low. Suddenly an officer’s siren exploded behind us. Our backdoor buddy had been napping. We had been nabbed. For doing 80 in a 50 zone. Eighty is loafing in a 904, but all the cop saw was that we were 30 over. He was furious and hauled us to the nearest station in Middle-of-Nowhere, Ohio.

My father eventually emerged from the station and came around to my door. “Unless we have exact change to pay the ticket, they’re keeping us in jail overnight,” Dad the Bandit said. “I have enough large bills to pay the fine, but I need $1.73 to make it exact. Do you have it?”

I dug in my pockets. I had just enough. Whew.

As the years went by I graduated to the left seat of the 904. We made a lot of memories. So when the new, 330-horsepower, flat-6 Boxster GTS arrived in my driveway this month I took it across Ohio for a weekend. Just like the old days (without the trip to the sheriff’s station, of course).

The reborn GTS — the first mid-engine Porsche to boast the badge since the 904— is a weapon that pays admirable homage to the original. While Porsche did not design the Boxster/Cayman as all-out GT racers, it does make ferocious, track-ready GT versions (the Cayman GT4 and forthcoming Boxster Spyder) equipped with 385-horsepower, 3.8-liter engines and spring rates that will shake loose your dental filings. The GTS versions, then, are a bridge between the street S model and the GT.

The 904 is one of Porsche’s legendary designs. Like its elder, the Boxster is simple, purposeful, timeless (though the convertible lines aren’t as crisp as the Cayman coupe). Its bullet shape is interrupted only by scalloped air scoops aft of the driver door to feed the beast within. The 904 bears two intakes — nicknamed “elephant ears” for their placement on the B-pillar — for the 317-horsepower IROC flat-6 my father had stuffed aboard (the original, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder was universally panned as a dog). Both cars sport minimal rear storage (the 904 fits a briefcase and the bigger Boxster doesn’t offer much better) and a roomier “frunk” in front. A massive, 30-gallon fuel tank occupies the entire space in the endurance race-spec’d 904, but the Boxster’s frunk is surprisingly roomy, easily fitting my small suitcase, computer bag, and camera case.

Inside, the cars are dramatically different. The 904 is analog, the Boxster digital.

On cold spring nights, I would often cuddle under a blanket in the 904 which lacks heating or cooling — much less a radio. The 21st century Boxster is a limo by comparison with everything from plush leather and Alcantara seats (exclusive to the GTS) to Bluetooth connectivity. Heck, it even has cup holders — though of the flimsy, fold-from-the-dash variety. Still, the Boxster manages to echo its racing heritage. Like the 904 its steering wheel is devoid of buttons. The seat is manually adjustable. It starts with a turn key.

The new car’s refinement comes with a price. My Boxster tester stickers for $79,855 (though still cheaper than a base 911). The ’64 904 in today’s dollars? $54,856.

The Boxsters’ comfy quarters were welcome on my Ohio adventure because the entire state is under construction. I saw more orange barrels than homes. The slow slog gave me little opportunity to provoke the plentiful police despite my ticket-me-red livery. Ohio hasn’t changed a bit. But neither has West Virginia.

Once across the border, the horizon opened — free of barrels and police. On long, lonely stretches I was easily able to hit 100-plus mph just like dad’s quick bursts years ago.

On a private test track, the two machines clinically carved up turns. Rejoice, 50-year-olds. The pair turned remarkably similar times. Porsche’s first fiberglass-bodied car, the 904 weighs a mere 1,600 pounds, making it a rocket ship out of corners. The aluminum-skinned, 2,965-pound Boxster is significantly heavier. Throw it into the twisties, however, and its modern suspension, giant brakes and wider rubber make it more nimble than the 904.

As a kid I loved the roar 904 engine behind my head. The Boxster GTS is no different.

Despite the cabin’s significant sound-padding over the thin 904, Porsche has equipped the Boxster with a SPORT exhaust option activating baffles in the system. Toggle SPORT PLUS Mode and the feature is augmented by rev match.

Stomp the Boxster and all flat-6 hell breaks loose with a wail over 6000 RPM that will wake the dead. And every Ohio cop in the county. Just like the old days.

2015 Porsche Boxster GTS

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger sports car

Price: $74,495 base ($79,855 as tested)

Power plant: 3.4-liter, water-cooled, flat 6-cylinder

Power: 330 horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual (7-speed auto PDK optional)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.7 seconds (manufacturer)

Weight: 2,964 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 19 city/26 highway/22 combined (PDK)

Report card

Highs: Razor-sharp handling; Tight gearbox

Lows: No easy access to engine; Don’t pull Gs with these cupholders

Overall: ★★★★

 

Cartoon: Airbag Obama

Posted by hpayne on May 21, 2015

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Cartoon: Nye Science Fiction

Posted by hpayne on May 20, 2015

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Cartoon: Self-Drive Crash

Posted by hpayne on May 17, 2015

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Payne: Honda’s clever HR-V appliance

Posted by hpayne on May 14, 2015

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Last week I reviewed the Cadillac ATS-V. This week I’m reviewing the Honda HR-V. These two “V” variants are proof of the confusion the auto industry’s obsession with alphanumeric badges has wrought. Despite their similar nomenclature, ATS-V and HR-V occupy opposite ends of the vehicle spectrum.

If they had proper names, they’d be called the Cadillac Velociraptor and the Honda Beagle. The former will eat live Priuses for breakfast, the latter will cuddle with your children. One is a ferocious performance coupe. The other a precocious mini-ute.

Got it? Good. But even if it doesn’t have a performance bone in its body, Honda’s V is a fascinating device in its own right.

Like an accountant who plays in a rock band at night, Honda has been living a double life. The company makes its living crafting best-selling appliances by day — the reliable, functional CR-V ute, Accord sedan, and Civic compact. But in the subcompactsegments, the Japanese maker explores its creative side with the niche-ey, stylish CR-Z sport hybrid and versatile Honda Fit.

The HR-V crossover debuts as a welcome fusion of both personalities.

Outside, HR-V is CR-V Junior: A pleasant toaster with a lovely, ski-slope crease in the side panels that gives it a car-like stance. But hold on — have you seen the face on that appliance? The V gets all CR-Z-stylish with wrap-around headlights, a plunging grille line, black chin cladding, and pedestrian-protection fangs running along the skirt. Add a slit under the hood and it’s the busiest face since Snoop Dogg donned a backward baseball cap with sunglasses, mustache, and a goatee with a braid at the bottom.

Hip-hop look, but hardly hip-hop performance. This V is a droner.

Stomp on the accelerator pedal and the standard, continuously-variable-tranny mates with a 141-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-banger (the only engine offered) for a truly snail-like experience. Starting a garden tractor stirs more emotion. Fortunately, the snail is as quiet as, well, a snail — thanks to adequate sound deadening. Note: Wind noise is noticeable at highways speeds over 70 mph — assuming you ever get there.

Other mechanicals check the appliance boxes. Excellent fuel economy (I managed 29.1 mpg despite flogging the foal like a Derby contender). Fine, all-wheel disc brakes. Electronic steering. Push-button start. An all-wheel-drive system essential for Midwest blizzards but that nicely rotates this tiddler around corners when you’re feeling frisky in spring-time. It’s not as playful as the Fiat 500X micro-ute (a decidedly non-appliance personality) — but neither is it as unwieldy as the segment’s macho dude, the Jeep Renegade. Despite its recent, sporty forays back into Formula 1 and IndyCar racing, Honda seems willing to concede the class-handling award to the forthcoming Mazda CX-3.

After all, who throws an appliance around corners? Most of the ute drivers I follow these days drive with all the aggression of a baby stroller.

Settle into the front seats of my $26,720 EX-L-trimmed tester and the generic interior appears straight from Honda’s appliance department. The driver’s side is a bit uncomfortable, with little bolster support. Only a pump control is offered for moving the seat up and down.

Even the console looks like a microwave — devoid of rotary buttons, its instruments operated entirely by illuminated buttons on the black plastic interface. Still, it’s a happy advance from recent, confusing Honda split screens that surely had focus groups screaming expletives. Both the HR-V and the forthcoming, mid-sized Pilot ute have returned to a single console screen. Climate controls are nestled below with available heated seats, you are getting sleeeeepy, you …

… should check this out, dear!

Honda has an inspired pouch — mimicking the clever Chrysler 200 and Volvo XC60 — below the shifter which offers excellent storage for e-devices, two USBs, a power outlet, an HDMI cable, and partridge in a pear tree. Indeed, the larger center console is more functional than anything in class — including two adjustable (up and down for smaller/larger drinks) cup holders and a center storage compartment rare for a class where cars are narrow (see the cramped Chevy Trax).

Thank the wide Fit platform on which the HR-V sits.

More Fit DNA resides in the backseat. Magic backseats to be exact — which open acres of room by folding and tumbling just like in the Fit. Preferably not with me in them, of course. I can easily sit behind my 6’5″ self in the second row. Thank the V’s 169.1 inches in length — a good 2 inches longer than its competitors.

You won’t get much sunburn back there — Honda doesn’t offer a full sun roof like Fiat — but the headroom is excellent. That Fit influence again. The 60-40 rear seats offer extended cargo space that can reach all the way to the dash if you flatten the front passenger seat.

The dashboard itself is as sexless as a bread crisper — though thoughtfully functional. An adjustable air vent runs the length of the dash for those steamy summer trips, and there is an analog push button — hooray! — to zero-out the odometer.

The HR-V doesn’t offer a mirror-born blind spot assist package like the Fiat and Renegade — but something more creative. Flick the turn signal and the entire center console screen illuminates with the image from a camera hidden under the passenger mirror. The view complements the mirror itself — offering a more expansive field of vision behind you. Mrs. Payne, frustrated by the inherent, C-pillar blind spot in most crossovers, wanted to hug the engineer who thought of this.

But perhaps the sub-$20K, base HR-V’s most ingenious feature is that, like the CR-V years ago, it is one of the first mainstream micro-ute offerings in a segment long populated by misfits like the Kia Soul and Nissan Cube. Customers who buy Hondas rarely stray to anything else given their appliance-like reliability.

And by allowing itself some Fit-like cleverness and CR-Z-like fashion, the HR-V may offer buyers enough personality to resist the sexier — if reliability-cursed — products from Detroit automakers.

Too bad that personality doesn’t extend to another powertrain. Like, ahem, a 200-horsepower SI option. I mean, I know no one is going to confuse the HR-V with an ATS-V. But if you’re using a “V” in your name shouldn’t you offer just a little “VROOM”?

2016 Honda HR-V

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

Price: $20,875 base ($26,720 AWD as tested)

Power plant: 1.8-liter, single-overhead cam inline-4 cylinder

Power: 141 horsepower, 127 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual (FWD only); Continuously variable transmission (CVT)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.4 seconds – manual; 9.5 seconds – CVT (Car & Driver)

Weight: 2,888 pounds (base); 3,109 AWD as tested

Fuel economy: EPA 25 city/34 highway/28 combined (manual); 27 city/32 highway/29 combined (CVT AWD)

Report card

Highs: Versatile interior; Clever blindspot assist

Lows: Pep-challenged tranny; Another engine option, please?

Overall:★★★

 

 

Cartoon: Obama Team

Posted by hpayne on May 13, 2015

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Cartoon: Fiat Chrysler Bachelor

Posted by hpayne on May 13, 2015

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Cartoon: NFL – IRS Cheating

Posted by hpayne on May 12, 2015

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Cartoon: Mother’s Day 2015

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2015

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Cartoon: Carson Surgeon

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2015

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Payne: Caddy ATS-V rivals BMW M3

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2015

The V-Series adds impressive track capability to what

Tiger Woods is more than a great golfer. He’s a legend who redefined his sport, raising the bar for power, fitness and all-around performance.

In his first Masters tourney in 1997 he blew the doors off the field, romping to an unheard of 18-under-par, 12-stroke victory. He dominated the sport for years after. A man among boys.

Twenty years later, Tiger is no longer the hunter but the hunted. The benchmark for a new generation: Spieth, Johnson, McElroy. As powerful as Tiger (everyone hits it 320 off the tee now). As fit as Tiger. As rounded as Tiger. Sure enough, two decades after 21-year old Tiger’s Masters Blitzkrieg, 21-year old Jordan Spieth shot a record -18, equaling the legend. The field has caught up.

The BMW M3 is the Tiger Woods of performance sedans, and the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V is Jordan Spieth.

Since its intimidating, track-torching, 240-horsepower E36 BMW M3 launched here in 1995, the BMW has stood astride the performance luxury market. Its power, comfortable interior, and all-around performance set a new bar for a sedan you could drive to work weekdays — and flog at the track on weekends. Its success forced rivals to raise their game. A new generation of Tigers — Mercedes AMG, Audi S4 — are better than ever.

But now, the M3 has a true contender: The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V.

Like the Tiger wannabes, V engineers admit that the M3 (its four-door option is an M4) was their benchmark. They even bought one to dissect like a lab frog. And if Spieth proved he belonged by tying Tiger’s Masters’ course record, then Cadillac would prove its claim by inviting the motorhead press to test the new Caddy on one of the plant’s premier race courses: Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas.

This monster is not for the timid. Designed for Formula One, it is 3.4 miles in length with neck-wrenching ess turns, brake-boiling hairpins, 145-mph straightaways, and a Turn One as iconic as the Masters’ 12th hole.

“You want to be King of the Hill? You’ll have to climb me first!”

At the end of the front straight, the road rises three stories into a left-hand hairpin like an asphalt version of Cedar Point’s Top Thrill rollercoaster. Insane. I row the V’s gears — third, fourth, fifth. A sprinting, 3,750-pound pole vaulter. Four-hundred-forty-four foot-pounds of twin-turbocharged, V-6 torque pins me to the seat.

As the road rises, the beast compresses on magnetorheological shocks at 120 mph before I stomp six-piston, front Brembo brakes that pull the eyeballs out of my sockets. Bang. Bang. Bang. My lightning manual downshifts are assisted by electronic rev-matching. Forget heel-and-toe, the machine does it better. I rotate the rear-engine missile hard left. No squall from the meaty, sticky-soft Michelin tires.

And then as suddenly as the road rose, it drops away. For a moment, the ATS-V feels suspended in space. On top of the world, its V logo stretched skyward like Sylvester Stallone’s arms as he dances on the top step of Philly’s Museum of Art — the Rocky theme song blaring.

Powerful. Fit. All-around athlete. An M3 fighter.

Car & Driver track testing found the V (.97 g) the M’s peer in cornering grip (.98 g). Try that in the ATS-V’s predecessor, the CTS-V. The big car was Thor’s hammer. Powerful but heavy. To continue our golf analogy: John Daly on wheels.

The V comes by its athleticism naturally. It sits on the base ATS chassis — the so-called Alpha platform that I whipped hard on Connecticut back roads last year — and which I (and more than a few of my colleagues) attest to be the best chassis in luxe-dom. Caddy’s engineers take this choice DNA and team it with the twin-turbo cyborg from Hell: the 3.6-liter, 464-horsepower LF4 V-6, the most powerful engine in its class.

And this is where Tiger-like, M3-inspired fitness really shows.

American muscle cars like the Ford Focus are laugh-out-loud fun until its hand-wrenching torque-steer reminds you it’s not as well-engineered as, say, Germany’s VW GTI.

Not the ATS-V. The car is weaponized to the teeth with the same tricks that make the M3 so deadly: Extensive bracing in the front end. Huge front cooling ducts (“Ichey vents” for Inter-cooler Heat Exchangers the engineers call them. Cute). And titanium-aluminide turbochargers that even the M3 can’t match, resulting in a turbo that spools more smoothly even as it delivers jaw-clenching power.

But perhaps the ATS-V’s greatest attribute is that it’s easier on the backside than Bavaria’s finest.

Unlike the stiff, growly M3, the V is a better daily driver — a hybrid between the Bimmer and Audi’s less-track focused, 333-horsepower (that’s it?) S4. That’s a good thing because the V won’t leave you much padding in the wallet. A track-ready V stickers for $74 grand, just shy of the M3′s eye-watering $81k. Benchmarking to top talent doesn’t come cheap.

Still, it’s worth noting the difference is BMW’s $8,150 ceramic, brake fade-fighting rotors, while the V gets away with steel Brembos that never dimmed in our day-long test. Credit a Cadillac development team of track jocks — led by two-time SCCA national champ John Buttermore.

So Caddy’s Spieth can match BMW’s Tiger in performance. Can he match him in personality?

The crucial brand question. And this is where the V comes up short. The M3 exudes emotion, its iconic kidney nostrils giving way to sexy, fluted eyes and sculpted lower air intakes. The V by contrast is more brutish, less elegant. Hulk next to Ironman. Its armored, chain-mail grille fronts a blunt face compared to the M3′s handsome curves.

Style matters and the ATS-V won’t make the girls coo like the M3. Until they get inside, perhaps. The V’s interior is elegant, its micro-fiber seats marvelously micro-adjustable. Even the Caddy’s oft-derided CUE system beats Bimmer’s difficult rotary dial. Better to jab at CUE’s touch screen than to fumble for a knob.

Clever touches abound like a phone charger behind the console screen and multiple drive modes that make the ATS-V easier to drive on the limit. But all this digital wizardy adds heft and both the V and M3 are big cars. Indeed, many customers will prefer the Bimmer’s bigger back seat even as it chases away the purist.

For those customers there is the new BMW M235i which your loyal scribe reviewed last fall. Smaller, simpler, cheaper — still blindingly quick. Alas, another benchmark for Cadillac to meet.

As good as the V is, it’s a reminder that Caddy is always chasing BMW. When will Cadillac set the benchmark? Maybe someday. Maybe when Jordan Spieth beats Tiger’s 14 major titles.

2016 Cadillac ATS-V

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger two-door sedan/coupe

Price: $61,460 base ($74,325 sedan and $$74,355 coupe as tested)

Power plant: 3.6-liter, twin-turbo V-6

Power: 464 horsepower, 444 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual (optional eight-speed automatic)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.8 seconds; 189 mph top speed (manufacturer)

Weight: 3,750 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway (auto transmission); 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway (manual)

Report card

Highs: Track-worthy handling; street-worthy ride

Lows: Blunt styling; claustrophobic back seat

Overall: ★★★★

Cartoon: Back to 1968

Posted by hpayne on May 8, 2015

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Cartoon: Clinton and Brady

Posted by hpayne on May 7, 2015

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Cartoon: Brady Deflategate

Posted by hpayne on May 7, 2015

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Payne: Ford gets Focused

Posted by hpayne on May 6, 2015

Ford Focus models adopt the new face of Ford for 2015

The Ford Focus must feel like Luke, the third Hemsworth brother,at a New York night club. Attractive, but not as visible as his taller, sexier, mega-celebrity brothers, Chris (“Thor”) and Liam (“Hunger Games”).

The compact Focus, you may have heard, is having trouble landing dates.

A small sedan in a sport ute world, it has seen sales slump leading to 700 layoffs at its Wayne Assembly plant. Meanwhile big brothers Escape and Fusion are to die for. Escape is the best compact SUV in autodom’s hottest segment, with torrid box office sales that even have the blockbuster Honda CR-V looking over its shoulder. The Fusion, meanwhile, is the sultriest midsize sedan on the planet. With its pouty mouth, muscular torso, and fastback it is the family hauler Aston Martin might have built.

But size doesn’t always matter. If your taste is for a smaller, cuter, more maneuverable companion, let me introduce you to the new, refreshed 2015 Focus. You’ll know it by the facelift.

Already possessing signature “boomerang” taillights and an athletic stance, the base Focus gets the family’s “Aston” grille, making it as good looking coming as it is going. I emphasize “base” because Focus’s performance hatch, the ST, possessed a fearsome maw that made this pint-sized predator look like a Mako shark feeding on a school of tuna.

Indeed, considering the relentless advance of functional/affordable/attractive utes, I’ve been of the opinion that hot hatches are the best reason to buy compacts these days. Utes are that good. Small crossovers have the C-segment sedan cornered. Interior room? Check. Cargo flexibility? Check. All-wheel drive? Checkmate.

Only on performance could vehicles like the ST and VW’s Golf GTI survive. The ST misses out on my 2015 Car-of-the-Year GTI for one reason: Ferocious torque steer that wants to rip the steering wheel out of your hands on hard acceleration.

Keep a firm grip, however, and the ST’s 252 horsepower – 32 more than the GTI – is a trip. Despite the V-dub’s more refined FWD engineering, Ford’s Tasmanian Devil out-dueled the German Schnauzer at Car & Driver’s famed Lightning Lap of VIR raceway.

But with the refreshed, 2015 Focus, the ST is no longer the most interesting Foci variant.

The lineup now possesses some serious engineering that rivals the VW – and should make buyers reconsider the C-sedan segment. Take the extraordinary, turbocharged, 1-liter engine now available in the Focus. King Kong in a can.

I first wrote about this overachieving three-banger in the Ford Fiesta – a briefcase-sized power plant with the fuel economy of a Geo Metro and the kick of Ronaldo. But how would it work in the bigger Focus? Surprisingly well.

The three-holer barely squeaks off the line (the poor thing has less than 1/6th the piston heft of the 6.4-liter dodge Challenger I just reviewed!), but as soon as the turbo kicks in near 3,000 RPM this mouse wants to roar. Freeway merging? No problem. Cruising at 90? Easy. Pick on BMWs out of a stoplight? Whoa, fella, don’t get your hopes up.

As in the Fiesta, Ford treats the turbo 1L like an intern (“bring sales, maybe we’ll keep ya’”) that gets the desk by the coffee machine. It only gets a manual tranny, not the more-coveted 6-speed auto. But with its class-leading 35 mpg (I got 33 mpg around town driving it like a madman), this worker bee should get noticed.

But, Payne, isn’t a three-banger as buzzy as a cloud of Lake Michigan mosquitos?

More engineering braggadocio: The Focus is whisper quiet with all three engines. So quiet, in fact, that I wished the snarly ST had its own audio app to pump in more exhaust sound when I really got into the throttle.

The premium, tech-savvy Titanium model that I drove for $26,710 could be mistaken for a luxury car. Its silent interior makes blue-toothed phone conversation a cinch on Ford’s SYNC system. Its crisp console gauges are Audi-like, its steering wheel heated, its interior loaded with detail (note the ATM card-slot next to the leather-stitched shifter).

Mrs. Payne marveled at the Titanium’s auto high-beam feature which dims when it senses oncoming traffic. Got that on your $45k luxe sedan? Heck, Focus will even park itself.

Handling, fuel economy, cargo utility, build quality. The Focus is in the Golf’s league while looking sexier than its more conservative Euro competitor. But is it enough to attract attention from bigger brothers that also boast the family’s good looks and high-tech? The Foci small backseat, for example, just can’t compete with the taller Escape.

It’s tough being a short Hemsworth sibling. But he’ll turn a few heads in a Tangerine Scream-painted Focus ST.

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

 

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

Price: $17,995 base (As tested: $21,035 1.0L Ecobbost SE; $26,710 2.0L Titanium; $29,475 2.0L Ecoboost ST)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, inline 4-cylinder; 1.0-liter, turbocharged 3-cylinder; 2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 160 horsepower, 146 pound-feet of torque (2.0L 4-cyl); 123 horsepower, 148 pound-feet of torque (1.0L turbo 3-cyl); 252 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque (2.0L turbo 4-cyl)

Transmission: Five-speed manual with optional six-speed automatic (2.0L 4-cyl): Six-speed manual (1.0L turbo 3-cyl and 2.0L turbo 4-cyl)

Performance: 0-60 and top speed numbers not yet available

Weight: 2,907 pounds (1.0L turbo 3-cyl); 2,920 pounds (2.0L 4-cyl); 3,223 pounds (ST)

Fuel economy: EPA 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway/35 mpg combined (est. 1.0L turbo 3-cyl)

Report card

Highs: Best-in-class styling; Turbo-riffic

Lows: Tight rear quarters; ST torque-steer

Overall: ★★★★

Cartoon: Sharpton Burn

Posted by hpayne on May 6, 2015

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