Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: War Casualties

Posted by hpayne on September 4, 2015

090515_WarCasualties_COLOR

Cartoon: Hillary Takes the Fifth

Posted by hpayne on September 4, 2015

090415_HillaryPrezFifth_COLOR

Cartoon: Brady Blocker

Posted by hpayne on September 4, 2015

090315_BradyBlocker_COLOR

Payne: Muscular Mustang GT350 can dance

Posted by hpayne on September 3, 2015

ShelbyGT350_06_HR I’ve wrestled the twin-striped snake before. The 662-horsepower, Cobra-badged, 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang — distinguished by its supercharged, 5.8-liter V-8 — could strike quickly at a stoplight, hitting 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. It could also bite you back. Based on the solid-rear axle, sixth-gen chassis, the Shelby was a reptile-by-the-tail in the twisties. In the rain it was downright diabolical. Give the big V-8 too much boot and you could take out a whole block of mailboxes. The all-new, razor-sharp, curve-carving 2016 Shelby GT350 Mustang is not that car. Indeed, I should check the wedding registry at The Henry Ford. I swear the GT350 married a Ferrari California and spawned a child. Despite the Hatfield and McCoy history of the two companies (cue the Ford GT supercar’s war on Ferrari at LeMans next year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their last assault), Ford engineers went to Ferrari school. Pay attention, class. There will be a quiz at the end. Under the football-field-long hoods of the Mustang and Ferrari beat flat plane-crank, V-8 engines. Until now the exclusive territory of Ferraris and race cars, the flat crank is a Ford first. It was worth the wait. The GT350 team chose the lightweight design for its inherent, high-revving character while engineering out its less desirable tendency to shake like a wet dog. The result is a smooth eight-holer that revs to (no kidding) 8,250 RPM with an endless torque band over 3,500 RPM that will have you begging for more. But the Shelby’s handling is the revelation here — allowing this snake to transcend muscle car stereotype and compete with more expensive exotics. I admit some trepidation before taking the big pony out on Laguna Seca, California’s legendary Mazda Raceway last week. The 2.3-mile rollercoaster is appropriately brought to you by the makers of the sprightly MX-5 Miata. This is a track that demands nimble handling. Even its lone straightaway has a blind kink in the middle that requires a deep breath in the smallest of cars. I’ve flung 1,400-pound Barber School formula cars, 2,400-pound Alfa 4Cs, and 3,400-pound, AWD Subaru STIs around Mazda Raceway, but never a 3,800-pound muscle car. Forget Oakland County in the rain. A GT500 would be a challenge around Laguna in the most-experienced of hands in the dry. The GT350 is a revelation from the first turn of its Cobra-tattooed steering wheel. My striped steed crouches with astoundingly good corner manners for a big palooka. The clutch pedal is too long, but ceases to be an issue as I launch up the hill toward the famous Corkscrew turn, all 526 ponies straining at 8,000 RPM in third gear. I snatch fourth near the summit and imagine Pegasus sprouting wings and flying across San Francisco Bay — but as I slam on the huge, 15.5-inch front brakes, the Mustang crouches again, nailed to the pavement. No drama. No search for the eject button. Over the heart-in-your-mouth, straight-drop Corkscrew with throttle — with throttle! — my confidence soars. By the time I’ve reached final Turn 11, I am Hiccup in “How to Train Your Dragon.” We are one. I slide the rear end under throttle onto the pit straight and fearlessly attack the kink. Get thee behind me, trepidation. Credit additions like “MagneRide shocks” and sticky, bespoke Michelin rubber. But more importantly, the stem-to-stern, comprehensive remake of the sixth-gen Mustang. With its independent rear suspension, revised double-knuckle MacPherson front, and lighter skeleton the ’15 expanded the playing field for Ford’s formidable performance team. “We did the usual tricks to make the GT350 more suited to the track,” says Adam Wirth, the car’s chassis dynamics engineer. “But the new chassis gave us so much to work with.” How much? “Frankly, we didn’t see the need for a chassis brace,” he continues when pressed on why the Shelby doesn’t bear a bat-winged support like Cadillac ATS-V or BMW M4. “The basic chassis is that good.” Perhaps. Or maybe Mustang is watching costs and holding something in reserve pending Camaro’s response to the GT350. Because respond it will. Talking Mustang vs. Camaro is like rehashing Balkan territorial disputes: after a few minutes you’re arguing about wars that happened centuries ago. In the case of Detroit’s muscle car rivals, the Battle of the Sixties. This is the first GT350 since Carroll Shelby’s modified 1965-68 models started a Detroit arms race that by decade’s end had Roger Penske Camaros and Ford Boss Mustangs exchanging body blows in the Trans Am ring. Ford has dusted off the Texas gunslinger’s badge for good reason: Chevy’s Camaro Z28. The 505-horsepower track weapon combines formidable power with track savvy and set a new benchmark for performance. Mustang’s new chassis gives the Shelby added versatility, from producing a base, $48K GT350 that is comfortable both on and off the track to the bonkers, $66K GT350 R which can not only arm-wrestle the Z28 but challenge Porsche GT3s too. Speaking of GM’s finest, the R completes a murderer’s row of Detroit muscle. Got $70K? You have a choice between the ’Stang, Camaro Z28, Dodge Hellcat, or Corvette with Z51 track package. Indeed, with its quicker, more cobra-like reflexes, the GT350 signals an evolution of the muscle car. This new generation deserves consideration as a discount competitor to the Cadillac ATS-V and M4 — if not on interior appointments (essentially unchanged from the Mustang GT), then in looks and good road manners. The GT350 is confirmation that Ford hit the bulls-eye with its controversial, sixth-gen design. The Mustang is burning up the sales charts because its styling is both retro and refreshingly modern. While some of my most partisan Mustang pals complain the pony’s snout had been Fusion-ized, it has a distinct presence on the road. The new Shelby (available in Competition Orange, Avalanche Gray, Shadow Black, Triple Yellow Tri-coat, Deep Impact Blue, Magnetic, Race Red and Oxford White) distinguishes itself from the base pony with all-new body panels from the doors forward. The lower, shark-like snout gets carbon fiber for stiffening, and the corner fog lamps have been replaced by air-sucking nostrils to cool the massive brake shoes. Thus the Shelby’s most distinguishing feature: The vertical shark’s gills behind the front wheel which suck air from the brakes. It’s a subtle but effective touch — like gills exhausting the Corvette Z06’s similar, 15.5-inch front rotors. But don’t think the GT350 is the last word. There’s an arms race on. Can a 700-horsepower, GT500 Hellcat-fighter be far behind? 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang and GT350 R Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports coupe Price: $47,795 base ($57,970 GT350 as tested) Power plant: Flat-plane crank, 5.2-liter V-8 Power: 526 horsepower, 429 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.7 seconds (Car & Driver estimate) Weight: 3,791 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 14 mpg city/21 mpg highway/16 mpg combined Report card Highs: Athletic handling; revs to the moon Lows: You call those rear seats?; touchy clutch Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Wall Street and China

Posted by hpayne on September 2, 2015

090115_WallSt_China_COLOR

Cartoon: Obama Discontent

Posted by hpayne on September 2, 2015

090215_ObamaDisconnect_COLOR

Cartoon: Rich Green Consumer Reports

Posted by hpayne on August 31, 2015

083015_RichConsumerReports_COLOR

Payne: The legendary Shelby GT350 Mustang returns

Posted by hpayne on August 31, 2015

VTVL2164 In the beginning there was the 1965 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang. The first performance mule based on the wildly popular Dearborn coupe. The first Mustang developed between Ford and racing genius Carroll Shelby. The first, track-focused pony car. Rejoice Mustang faithful. The legend has returned. Just in time for its 50th birthday, the Shelby GT350 is here — the first Ford-engineered GT350 since the first generation went out of production in 1968. On Wednesday, I had a chance to put it the test on one of America’s most challenging race tracks, Mazda Raceway in Laguna Seca, California. Lookout Camaro Z28. The muscle car wars are going nuclear. In that great racetrack in the sky Carroll Shelby is smiling. The GT350 not only lives up to his name, it promises a car as comfortable on the street as it is fearsome on the track. But let’s begin on the track, where the GT350 made its name collecting Sports Car Club of America trophies by the bag-full. As part of its new performance division, Ford has developed a coven of assault vehicles from the Ford GT supercar to the Ford Focus RS. The GT350 is Mustang’s contribution, featuring the highest horsepower, normally-aspirated V-8, Ford has ever made. The 5.2-liter mill develops a stunning 526 horsepower, a number that dwarfs performance coupes like the BMW M4 and Cadillac ATS-V and approaches the lofty numbers of supercars like the Porsche Turbo S and Nissan GT-R. Ford achieves this feat using lightweight, flat-crank engine, a technology rarely used except by Ferrari and purpose-built race cars — that allows the 317-cube V-8 to spin to stratospheric 8,250 RPM. Not even Ferrari’s flat-crank, $240,000 458 (which makes 570 horsepower if you’re wondering) tips the scales as light as the ‘Stang. Yet the GT350 begins at just $49,995 — pocket change for a Ferrari owner. Even a loaded GT350 R will set you back just $66,495, well south of an air conditioning-less Camaro Z28. With my foot buried at 8,000 RPM and 125 mpg over the crest into Laguna Seca’s blind Turn One, the sound is glorious. This is not the ground-shaking V-8 rumble I’m familiar with from classic 600-RPM V-8s, like the Shelby GT500 drag-racer that Ford has made since 2007. No, this is more like the high-pitched bellow I hear from NASCAR V-8s that belt out 850 horses at 9,000 RPM. But the Mustang is more than a pony with an engine. Strapped to Mustang’s new, sixth-generation chassis featuring the badge’s first independent rear suspension and fitted with gummy, specially-made Michelin sport shoes the GT350 is remarkably nimble for a 3,700-pound beast. As a result, the pony combines the finest attributes of the old, musclebound GT500 and the corner-carving Boss 302. This combination of high-revving power and handling inspired Ford to not only benchmark the car to Camaro’s ferocious Z28 track start, but to look beyond to Porsche’s 911 GT3. A stretch, you say? Early testing shows the GT350 R — which saves another 100 pounds from the standard GT350 with tricks like carbon-fiber wheels and no backseats — lapping in the low 1.30s at Laguna alongside the Porsche. Yet this track-focused thing is surprisingly docile on the street. The V-8 makes a pleasing rumble at ignition but quietly strode the boulevards of Southern California in under 3000 rpm. The interior is blessed with Recaro seats, but otherwise GT350 buyers can opt for all the amenities of a Mustang GT with the “tech” package — including the latest version of Ford’s communication system, SYNC 3. Even owners of the wicked GT350 R — distinguished by its high rear spoiler and first-ever carbon-fiber wheels — can upgrade from the AC-less base to a “electronics” package with all the creature comforts. Mustang has thrown down the gauntlet to Camaro with the GT350. And with its lightweight, Cadillac ATS-based chassis, the sixth-gen Camaro is sure to respond. Put in your ear plugs folks, the muscle car wars are just beginning.  

Cartoon: Wall Street Obamaconomy

Posted by hpayne on August 31, 2015

082515_WallSt_Obamaconomy_COLOR

Payne: Terrorizing Detroit in Nissan’s GT-R

Posted by hpayne on August 31, 2015

For 2016, the Nissan GT-R gets a recalibrated suspension Godzilla. We motorhead media types drool at the mention of the Nissan GT-R’s nickname. Yet few of us get a chance to experience it. The $101,000 machine is rarely found in press fleets. My chance to ride Godzilla came this summer. I was expecting tail-wagging aggression, window-rattling roars — a menace with fiery upshifts and a disturbed disposition. I got none of that. Godzilla? Sure, Japan’s most powerful sports car deserves comparison to Japan’s most fearsome B-movie reptile. But in truth the Nissan GT-R is more cyborg than monster. Call it the Terminator. Like the original Terminator Model T-800 from 1984 (which is how long it seems the aging GT-R has been around) — not the sleek, advanced, liquid metal, “Mimetic polyalloy” Terminator T-1000 of later sequels. This beast is Schwarzenegger. Big, heavy, awkward at slow speeds. You can hear the gears meshing. Its feels analog, not digital. As the auto tranny downshifts from 3rd to 2nd into a red light, the car lurches to a stop. But then, oh, what a launch. With an electronic, torque-managing, all-wheel-drive system and twin-turbo power, the GT-R is a rocket off the line. The sensation resembles Cedar Point’s Top Thrill Dragster roller-coaster. No slip. No wheel spin. Just nail it and you’re pulled on invisible rails. The engine is a muted roar — an angry vacuum cleaner. No tail-wagging drama like a Dodge SRT Hellcat. No thunderclap like a Z06 Corvette. No barking upshifts like a BMW M3. Just relentless, robotic power from the 3.8-liter V-6 mill. Godzilla meet Terminator. The GT-R’s layout is more sports coupe than sports car. The lip doesn’t drag out of my driveway like a Corvette or Porsche Cayman. Indeed, the GT-R feels like an Audi RS 5and Corvette Z06 had a love child. At almost 4,000 pounds its chassis is Audi-solid, AWD, well-engineered. Face-to-face the GT-R appears a big athlete with nice jewelry. Mike Tyson wearing earrings. My 2016 45th Anniversary Edition GT-R celebrates its first, early-’70s ancestor. The color is a gold-like hew called “Silica Brass” (for the 50th anniversary edition maybe GT-R will get actual gold). A big, Mitsubishi Evo-like goatee fills the face. Horizontal LED lights adorn the cheeks below elegant, LED-tubed headlights. Flush door handles flip outward, opening the car at your fingers’ command. The GT-R is 10 years old now, but the fashion details keep it hip. Like an RS 5, the 2+2 interior will technically seat four. If the rear passengers are five-year-olds. Sitting on their knees. In the posh suede and leather driver’s bucket, my seat back hit the rear seat (at least rear passengers get the best concert seat in the house between two giant Bose speakers). Tidy rectangular modules organize the dash holding circular instruments and vents — all trimmed with carbon and stitched leather. The console-mounted starter button is even Audi-like, except for one detail. It’s red. Like the button to launch a nuclear warhead. WARNING: TOUCH THIS BUTTON AT YOUR PERIL. Let’s talk about that because I know what you’ve been thinking since the first paragraph: Why would I pay $101,000 for a Nissan??!!! One hundred grand for a car with the same badge as the Sentra? Seriously? Heck, a nicely-equipped, 450-horse V-8, AWD RS 5 costs $70K and when I roll up to the country club, the valet will say: “Can I park your Audi for you, sir?” I understand. And that’s why that red button matters. Because the GT-R is not an overpriced Nissan — it’s an underpriced supercar. Like the aforementioned, 650-horsepower Z06, the Nissan is that rare mainstream breed that can do things supercars can — for half the price. Want a lively AWD coupe to cruise to work? Save $30K and buy the silky RS 5 or a base 450-horse Corvette Stingray. Want to terrorize Porsche Turbos and Ferraris at Waterford track days? Buy a GT-R. Consider the numbers. The GT-R packs 545 ponies. Like the Z06, it beats the Ferrari 458 Italia and Porsche 911 Turbo S and Lamborghini Gallardo to 60 MPH in 2.9 seconds. It laps with the supercars at even the epic, 4.1-mile Virginia International Raceway. Yet the Ferrari costs $240,000. The Porsche $183,000. The Gallardo $182,000. Oh. Walk around the GT-R and it’s apparent this is a race car in drag. Inside the gorgeous, 20-inch, 20-spoke rims loom massive, drilled 15.35-inch front and 15-inch rear rotors anchored with Brembo calipers that will pull out your fillings under hard braking. The gummy, Dunlop tires — 10-inch front and 11 in the rear — mimic the Z06’s sticky, Michelin 10 x 12s. Throw it into a corner and it rotates with ease. Credit Nissan’s location — ditto the Chevy — of the transmission in the rear (along with the GT-R’s AWD transfer case) giving it remarkably neutral handling despite its girth. The car’s most distinctive angle is the spoiler-equipped rear end, which makes sense since it’s the view most folks will have of this 193-mph weapon. When’s the last time you saw a car with exhaust pipes as big around as its taillights? The Detroit Tigers could store baseball bats inside these things. Like the ’Vette, the GT-R betrays its discount supercar price with little shortcomings. The ’Vette smells like an oil refinery inside. The GT-R props its hood with a stick. The Z06’s chassis twists and rattles. The GT-R’s drive-train whirrs and clunks. Put your foot down and all is forgiven. The traction is surreal. Stomp on the pedal with or without traction control and the car — 545 horses distributed to all four wheels — stays true as an arrow. The GT-R’s tight, balanced chassis responded to little inputs as I barreled through tight Oakland County corners, tires chirping. Predictable. Predatory. On the street, the GT-R is a head-turner, but is otherwise docile in daily commuting. Yet, unlike Z-OMG-6, it won’t wake the police departments in three counties when you put your foot down. The angry vacuum cleaner stays stealthy. Should you buy it? I thought the $81K BMW M3 was expensive until I met the GT-R. Now I’m not so sure. The twin-turbo V-6 M has more attractive lines. More seat room. More badge cache. But then the Terminator GT-R will pound it into the asphalt at a stoplight. Or, if you prefer, call it Godzilla. ’16 Nissan GT-R Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports car Price: $101,770 base ($104,660 as tested) Power plant: Twin-turbocharged, 3.8-liter V-6 Power: 545 horsepower, 463 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Dual-clutch, six-speed automatic transmission Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.9 seconds (Motor Trend) Weight: 3,922 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway/19 mpg combined Report card Highs: Race-car performance; rail-like traction Lows: Clunky drive-train; those are backseats? Overall:★★★  

Cartoon: EPA Destruction

Posted by hpayne on August 31, 2015

082315_EPADestruction_COLOR

Cartoon: Hillary Robs Bank

Posted by hpayne on August 23, 2015

082415_Hillary_RobsBank_COLOR

Payne: Cruisin’with the top down . . . in a 4-banger?

Posted by hpayne on August 23, 2015

Detroit News Auto Critic Henry Payne tried out a four-cylinder Courtesy of the fine folks at Chevy, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler, the official Detroit News Dream Cruisers this year were a 2015 Corvette Z06 convertible and a pair of topless turbo-4s: The Ford Mustang and Alfa Romeo Spider. Which begged the question: Can a 4-banger find love at the Dream Cruise? After all, the Cruise is V-8 country. Hellacious supercharged Hellcats. Earth-shaking ’67, 389-cube GTOs. And of course, ’Vettes, ’Vettes, ’Vettes. But in the early 21st Century, the Green Church rules and in our zeal to save the polar bear the V-8 is an endangered species. With 54.5 mpg-by-2025, the new fuel mileage standard automakers are turning to fewer cylinders and more turbochargers to both conserve gas and quench our thirst for speed. Turbo-4 Mustangs, turbo-4 Camaros, twin-turbo BMW M3s ... Rumors even swirl that a mid-engine, turbo-6 Corvette is in the works. Clearly, we’re going to have to get used to fewer V-8s. Six-bangers aren’t much of a stretch. But can a pony car be a classic with a 4? Can a $70,000 sports car? My fellow News writer, Tom Greenwood, and I put the Alfa and Mustang to the test in a week of top-down driving along with the undisputed King of the Cruise, the Z-OMG-6. That the ’Vette is king is not in dispute. The new C7 Stingray is an instant classic. A muscled Michelangelo sculpture. Its base 450-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 makes grown men weep. Supercharge it to 650 horses and they bow before it. Porsches inspire. The Z06 you’d follow into battle. Even at 5 mph (the Official Average Speed of the Dream Cruise) the V-8 is authoritative. Between 11 and 12 Mile Saturday a kid holds up a sign: “REV IT UP!” I pop the eight-speed auto tranny in neutral, stomp the gas, and the 389- cubes of pistons jackhammer the pavement. BRAAAAPPA! BRAAAPPA! Car alarms go off for blocks. All hail the king! The Alfa pales by comparison. At 13 Mile I pass another kid. Another “REV IT” sign. Surprisingly, the turbo-four – which has a wonderful, obnoxious growl at speed – sounds bashful. The kid and I look at each other in mutual disappointment. How can such a wicked-looking schnauzer have such a weak bark? The rev test aside, however, the Alfa is a Cruise star. Begin with its supermodel looks. They don’t call it the “baby Ferrari” for nothing. Curved flanks, mid-engine layout. Our matching yellow Alfa and Z06 cruised Woodward together and the Italian got more attention. Maybe because only 500 4Cs have been sold in the U.S. But good looks are just the beginning. The Alfa is simply the most fun car on the road today. Put your foot in it and the turbo-4 barks on upshifts, snorts under power, and generally sounds like a Rottweiler with indigestion. But handling is what sets it apart. Driving the ferocious Z06 around Metro Detroit feels like having a nuclear war in your living room, while the nimble Alfa is a much more precise weapon. Its stiff carbon fiber tub gives it an over-sized, go-kart feel as you fling it through Oakland County’s lake hills. But the real payoff is the bottom line. The 4C is not just half the price of our $113,835 Z06, it is the only carbon sports car under $135,000. At a remarkably affordable $53,000, both the base Alfa and base C7 offer totally different performance experiences. At $43,290, the Mustang was our bargain cruiser, but its 310-horsepower turbo-4 was the big question. After all, muscle cars have been defined by its throaty V8s back to the 1960s. Greenwood cruised happily in our bright, “Competition Orange” pony all week. It’s striking, comfortable and powerful. Ford has worked wonders with its Ecoboost turbos which offer greater power than similar fours from BMW and Audi. It’s no slouch against V-8s either. In Royal Oak Sunday night, I drag a recent vintage, 370-horse Dodge Charger R/T V-8out of a stoplight to a draw. Impressive. But does the 4 feel out of place in the herd? North of Maple, I hook up with Andrew Fallon, 23, of Warren cruising in a gorgeous, red, fourth-gen Mustang GT. Hood scoop. Black center wheels. Rear spoiler. The works. He revs his 4.6-liter V-8 and the earth shakes. My turbo-4 responds with . . . was that a loud hum? Like I just plugged a vacuum cleaner into a 220-volt socket. Ummmm. “You need a 4 cylinder in the age of emission controls,” Fallon smiles. “But a muscle car’s gotta have a V-8.” Yes it does. Long love the eight-holer. Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne. See all his work at HenryPayne.com 2015 Ford Mustang Turbo-4 Convertible Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger coupe Price: $34,800 base ($43,290 as tested) Power plant: 2.3-liter, twin-turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder Power: 310 horsepower, 320 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.2 seconds (Car & Driver) Weight: 3,524 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/32 mpg highway/25 mpg combined Report card Highs: A dream cruiser; Torquey turbo power Lows: Little room for backseat cruisers; Where’s the growl? Overall:★★★ 2015 Alfa Romeo Spider Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car Price: $63,900 base ($76,495 as tested) Power plant: 1.7-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder Power: 237 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed, dual-clutch, automatic transmission Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.1 seconds (manufacturer) Weight: 2,487 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 24 mpg city/34 mpg highway/28 mpg combined Report card Highs: Body of Aphrodite; Go-kart-quick handling Lows: Cramp-inducing passenger seat; No room for luggage Overall:★★★★ 2015 Corvette Z06 Convertible Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car Price: $83,000 base ($113,835 as tested) Power plant: 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8 Power: 650 horsepower, 650 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Eight-speed automatic transmission Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.9 seconds (manufacturer) Weight: 3,524 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 13 mpg city/23 mpg highway/16 mpg combined Report card Highs: Awesome power; Thrones fit for king and queen Lows: Chemical-like interior smell; Tire-squirm in tight turning radius Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Obama Choice

Posted by hpayne on August 23, 2015

082215_Obama_Choice_COLOR

Cartoon: Trump Wall

Posted by hpayne on August 20, 2015

082015_TrumpWall_COLOR

Payne: The Toyota Tacoma off-road assault vehicle

Posted by hpayne on August 20, 2015

Rebuilt inside and out with an all-new powertrain and I’m confused. I just spent a day flogging a Toyota Tacoma pickup and I can’t wipe the grin off my face. Yes, Toyota. That manufacturer of the best auto appliances — and cures for insomnia — in the business. Camry, Corolla, RAV4, Avalon. Reliable, competent, dependable. And as exciting as vanilla. There are exceptions to be sure — like the Scion FR-S sports car which I’d take over a lifetime free pass to Cedar Point. But then the FR-S is a Scion because Toyota self-consciously created a youth brand to try to pep up its somnolent reputation. Toyota is very aware of its, um, personality deficiency. Like Al Gore cracking a joke, its efforts to appear fun can come across as strained. Take current ads suggesting that the new Camry is so spontaneous it’ll drive you to crash weddings and elope with the bride. Please. So how to explain the Tacoma? A rock ’em, sock ’em, youthful, off-road toy that is to pickups what the Jeep is to sport utes. When Baja 1000-veteran Chief Engineer Mike Sweers calls the Tacoma a “bad ass” truck no one snickers. Tacoma comes by its reputation the old-fashioned way: It earned it. Turn the clock back to the ’80s when off-road racing legend Ivan Stewart joined Toyota on his way to winning a record 17 Baja 500s and 3 Baja 1000s in the roughest, readiest tests of trucks. It continues today with Toyota segment innovations like crawl control and a 32-degree front attack angle. If Jeep did a pickup it would be the Tacoma. Indeed, when Sweers & Co. invited the media to check out its newest creation they did it the Jeep way: They took us to a terrifying off-road course (near Tacoma, Washington, natch). Black Diamond is an old mining town surrounded by steep hills and deep hollows. Like black diamond ski slopes, they’re not for the amateur truck. Forty-degree inclines, jagged rock quarries, snake-like gravel roads. I started Toyota’s obstacle course on a 41-degree incline called Double-Drop Hill. If I had my druthers, your road-racing scribe would rather be racing at 170 mph across a 30-plus degree incline — say, Daytona’s 31-degree bankings — than off-roading straight up it at 5 mph. But it’s no less harrowing. So steep is Daytona’s banking that all you see out the front windshield is a wall of asphalt. To actually see where you’re going, you actually have to look out the side window. Ascending at 41 degrees is a learning experience, too. Any truck with hill descent will help you brake down a slope, but going up is another matter. All you can see at that angle is the sky (and flags that you/your spotter have planted along the path). Leave the rest to Tacoma’s crawl control system which takes over the brakes and accelerator to get you to the top. I felt like Spiderman scaling the Empire State Building. Tacoma is that solid. And that unique. No other mid-size pickup can accomplish such feats. Which is a good thing for Toyota because its hold on midsize trucks is under assault from Detroit’s biggest truck armies. While the full-size segment has been a raging war between Ford, Chevy, GMC, Toyota, and Nissan, the midsize front has been strangely peaceful. Chevy’s Colorado and GMC’s Canyon got out in 2011 — as did Ford’s Ranger — leaving the spoils to Tacoma and a few scraps for Nissan’s Frontier. But as you may have noticed from the glassware tinkling in your cupboards, the GM makes have unleashed a full-scale artillery assault to retake the pickup segment. Call it P-Day. The Colorado and Canyon are formidable players with tomb-quiet interiors, Olympic strength, and competitive pricing. The Yanks have turned the tables on their Japanese competitor by offering the most cost-competitive vehicles at a $20,995 (for Colorado, $21,880 for Canyon) — significantly undercutting the Tacoma’s $24,200 base price — itself a $2,335 jump over the 2015 model. What’s more, the Detroit boys come at the homely Toyota with dazzling facias and best-in-class fuel economy and towing numbers. This two-front war goes to the heart of the segment’s traditional demographics: Budget-conscious, 20-something male adventurers and comfort-minded 50-somethings who want to downsize from full-size pickups the size of Rhode Island. Game on. GM’s challenge forced the aging, decade-old Tacoma back to the lab to produce its best truck ever. To counter the GM twins’ superior looks and performance numbers, Tacoma offers go-anywhere, run-forever endurance. At the bottom of Double-Drop Hill, I toggled off crawl control which hands me back full control of the vehicle. I floor the 278-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 — a smooth, gem of an engine — creating rooster tails of dust as I bomb along the gravel trials. The fun doesn’t diminish on public roads where the TRD Sport’s suspension checks body roll. Gone is the old Tacoma’s noisy cabin. Responding to the Detroiters’ hushed interiors, Tacoma upped its game too, surrounding me in a cocoon of acoustic glass and sealed joints to record a claimed best noise/vibration/harshness spec (NVH) in class. The build quality is superb. No squeaks, no rattles despite the off-road punishment. I bark at the navigation system and she understands every word. Nice. A truck that assaults the trails, then finds the quickest road home for dinner. Cabin amenities are familiar to Toyota owners — though again Tacoma dances to its own tune with bright, Jeep-like trim molds in the Sport model. When you have the tools for the job, it breeds confidence. And confidence breeds personality. I like this Toyota. Like Jeep, that personality brings swagger. At Black Diamond Toyota names its final obstacle the Devil’s Boneyard — a sinister rock quarry that the pickup’s 32-degree attack angle and extensive skid-plating tackles with ease. Try that in the handsome, 17-degree-attack-angle Canyon and it won’t be handsome for long. Tacoma’s off-road obsession sacrifices looks. The 2016 is an improvement over its homely predecessor. But its blunt front end will win no beauty contests. It’s a bulldog compared to the GM’s golden retrievers. The Detroiters’ are on-road work trucks. The Tacoma begs to go to oblivion and back. Throw your dirt bikes into the rugged, composite sheet-lined bed. Tie them down with sliding cleats. Bury the rear axles in mud and sand, the drum brakes won’t mind. Which makes for a dilemma. Buy the GMC Canyon to tow your Scion FR-S to the race track? Or claim a Tacoma to have as much fun off-road as the FR-S gives you on-road? 2016 Toyota Tacoma Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear and four-wheel-drive, five-passenger pickup Price: $24,200 base (TRD Sport AWD model tested starts at base $33,850; Limited model starts at $38,720) Power plant: 2.7-liter in-line 4-cylinder; 3.5-liter V-6 Power: 159 horsepower, 180 pound-feet of torque (4-cyl); 275 horsepower, 268 pound-feet of torque (V-6) Transmission: Five-speed manual or six-speed automatic Performance: Payload: 1,120 pounds; Towing capacity: 6,400 (with prep package) Weight: 4,445 pounds (4WD double cab as tested) Fuel economy: EPA 19 mpg city/22 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (4-cyl 4WD); EPA 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (V-6 4WD) Report card Highs: Go anywhere attitude; hushed interior Lows: Base price sticker shock; gas mileage barely better than full-size truck Overall:★★★    

Automakers: Desperation in Detroit

Posted by hpayne on August 20, 2015

The Obama administration gave with one hand but took away with the other. Detroit — Just six years after the Obama administration bailed out Chrysler with $12.5 billion in federal loans and handed it to the Italian automaker Fiat, the company — now called Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) — is nervous about its future. CEO Sergio Marchionne has been knocking on doors this summer seeking a marriage with General Motors or another major automaker. How did this happen? The reasons are many. The Chrysler division’s sales are strong, but mother ship Fiat is bleeding cash in Europe. The auto industry’s return on investment is notoriously poor these days compared with those of other industries. But, perversely, perhaps the biggest threat to FCA is the same government that saved the company in 2009. While the Obama administration was throwing a life preserver to Chrysler, it was also tying an anchor around its legs in the form of new standards to combat global warming that require automakers to more than double their average fuel-economy rating, from 25.5 mpg in 2010 to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Yet in the last two decades, fuel economy gained by just 4 percent. According to Professor Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, average vehicle fuel economy is down to 25.4 mpg this year, “consistent with the increased market share” of sport utility vehicles (SUVs). With 2025 less than two product cycles away, the government’s 54.5 number is a pipe dream. But as Marge Oge, the former director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, discloses in her insider’s account of the 2009 mpg negotiations, Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change with Cleaner, Smarter Cars, the Obama administration wants to use the mandate to force a fundamental change in engine technology, in the same way that federal lighting standards were aimed at eliminating the incandescent bulb. If automakers build alternative-fuel vehicles, the EPA will award credits to soften the mpg diktat. As a result, automakers are spending billions on electric-vehicle (EV) technologies to game the government rules — even though EVs have been met with a collective shrug by consumers. Marchionne and his executive team are outspoken about the unsustainability of such spending. “The entire industry is going more towards electrification,” says Reid Bigland, FCA’s North American vice president of sales. “It’s really the primary way to be compliant with the 2025 standards. That is consuming a significant amount of capital in this industry.” The global-warming rules have created a two-tier market. Automakers are churning out money-making sport utility vehicles at a record pace to keep up with popular demand. SUVs (“utes,” as they’re known in the trade) now account for 54 percent of market share — a 15 percent increase in the last five years. Yet production of money-losing battery-powered vehicles has also soared — even as their market share has remained flat at 2.2 percent. The numbers tell a perverse tale of government incentives. Manufacturers have introduced 31 all-new ute models to meet demand since 2009. Meanwhile, despite stalled sales of EVs, automakers have flooded the market with 50 new hybrid and electric models. “The automakers are beholden to two masters,” says long-time auto investment analyst Joe Phillippi of Auto Trends Consulting. “The companies are responsible to their customers and shareholders, yet the government wants its own way but with responsibility to no one.” The rules are particularly punishing for U.S. brands like FCA’s Jeep, GM’s Chevrolet, and Ford, which dominate the truck market and depend heavily on utes for their profits. “FCA’s problem is compounded by the fact that their gas-guzzling Wranglers and Grand Cherokees are hugely successful,” says Bob Lutz, former product-development chief for both Chrysler and General Motors. “Normally a situation you like, but problematic in a market distorted by [mpg] regs.” Since Chrysler sells few small cars, it makes little sense for it to invest billions in battery technology, which is most useful in those cars. “Chrysler did not have the funds” to invest in EVs before bankruptcy, continues Lutz. “And even now they can’t divert‎ scarce capital and engineering money for these money-losing ‘compliance vehicles.’” “What’s really driving the portfolio of American automakers is carbon-dioxide regulation,” Marchionne told the Detroit News earlier this year. “It’s the CO2 stuff that’s wagging the dog.” The Detroit bailouts were a key part of President Obama’s 2012 election strategy, because they kept United Auto Worker funds flowing into Democratic-party coffers. Yet the president’s global-warming rules are hurting UAW workers. Ford, for example, would be better off investing in profitable truck plants. Yet it must build “compliance” EVs like the C-Max Energi and Focus Electric, which aren’t selling. Last month Ford announced it is moving production of those vehicles to Mexico in order to save on costs — even though it received a $5.9 billion Energy Department loan in 2009 to build them in Michigan. Democrats decry the outsourcing of manufacturing south of the border, yet their green policies only accelerate the trend. Worse, as automakers divert resources to unprofitable EVs, they will be ever more dependent on trucks for profits. But trucks too — which account for an estimated 80 percent of Ford’s profits — are under pressure from the EPA. Ford is light-weighting its trucks with aluminum skin to meet mpg standards — a move that has added $1,000 in variable costs to its popular F-150 pickup. President Obama touts his love for America’s automakers, yet his lead mpg negotiator, Oge, lays bare her agency’s contempt for Detroit carmakers in Driving the Future. “The weakened bargaining position of the now crippled automakers” in 2009, Oge writes, gave the administration the opportunity to impose the mpg mandates. Oblivious to consumer tastes, much less manufacturer profitability, the agency went for the jugular in demanding 5 percent a year increases in fuel economy to force, as Oge puts it, “game-changing full electric vehicles or fuel cells.” She mocks automaker complaints that the regulations are unworkable. “They will always estimate that any regulation will cost far more than it actually does,” she writes. Six years later, we can all see that the costs are real. Marchionne’s desperate search for a partner foreshadows the long-term threat that EPA mandates pose to the industry.

Cartoon: Cows and Methane Emissions

Posted by hpayne on August 20, 2015

081815_MethaneCutsCattle_COLOR

Cartoon: Obama Isreal Lobby

Posted by hpayne on August 18, 2015

081615_ObamaIsraelLobby_COLOR

Caged ‘Cats still thrill with safe, smoky burnouts

Posted by hpayne on August 18, 2015

635752542901238811-Caged-cats I’m a little disappointed in our 2015 cruisers. This is the first year that Ford’s “line-lock” burnout function – which allows drivers to smoke their tires without ever moving -- is available in the 2015 Ford Mustang GT. The stunning ‘15s are everywhere. Yet in cruising the strip all week, I have yet to see a GT light up its tires in place. Maybe folks aren’t sure of the parameters of the Cruise’s “no burnout” clause. Maybe they aren’t familiar with the line-lock feature. But the Dodge boys have come to the rescue. Dodge loaded a Charger Hellcat and a vintage Challenger onto a semi-trailer and are towing it up and down Woodward today to do spontaneous burnouts. On the trailer. Behind a cage. Safe and smoky. “We’re pretty sure it’s legal,” says Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis. “And we think it’ll give the fans a thrill.” Count me thrilled. Since line-lock is production tech exclusive to Ford, I figure that the Dodges have been specially equipped for their Cruise stunt. The Hellcat-mania semi pulled onto Woodward this morning with its two caged, stationary animals smoking their wheels like mad. I followed the rig for a mile this afternoon on Woodward in my Alfa and didn’t witness a burnout. But if I were stuck in traffic this evening at 2 miles an hour, that’s where I would want to be.