Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: ToysRus CH11

Posted by hpayne on September 21, 2017

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Payne: Cadillac CT6 Plug-In vs. Tesla Model S

Posted by hpayne on September 21, 2017

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At a single-price, $76,090, the Cadillac CT6 Plug-in

Cadillac established itself as the luxury-car standard at the dawn of the 20th century for innovations like electric self-starting, closed-body styling and powerful V-8 engines.

Spin forward 100 years and upstart Tesla has become the 21st-century innovator.

By reinventing the electric vehicle as a sleek performance machine, Tesla’s Model S has captured the imagination of America’s premium buyer to become one of the best-selling luxury sedans in the States. It has forced its chief rivals — BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Cadillac — to develop their own electron-charged chariots to keep up. Indeed, Cadillac is not only a shadow of its former self, it is in danger of being rendered an anachronism. Tesla has transformed the auto into a smartphone on wheels complete with supercar acceleration, iPad-like touchscreen and spacious interior.

Where young Americans once aspired to Cadillacs, today they covet Tesla.

The brand is omnipresent in big, premium-car coastal markets. Mention to my locker-room pals that I have a Tesla tester and they’ll line up like kids at Cedar Point’s Top Thrill Dragster roller coaster. Aware that its future is at stake — from German and Yankee alike — Cadillac has moved its headquarters to New York City, hired Audi-meister Johan de Nysschen and introduced its best luxury sedan ever.

Its Tesla fighter is the $76,090 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In and I took it had-to-head with the formidable Model S in back-to-back, long-distance tests this summer.

With its lightweight construction, gorgeous styling and battery-assist, the plug-in hybrid version of the CT6 is a thoroughly modern Caddy. It’s also a bargain next to similar Mercedes S-class and BMW 7-series hybrids. But next to the state-of the-art Tesla, it feels sooo 15 minutes ago.

To be clear, my Tesla tester was the top-of-the-line, $152,700 P100D. This legend-in-its-own-time speedster can spring from 0-60 mph in just 2.4 seconds in “Ludicrous” mode. That’s the same time as Ferrari’s $1.2 million LaFerrari supercar. But strip away the P100D’s bigger battery, all-wheel drive, carbon-fiber trim and expensive add-ons like “Bioweapons Defense Mode” (ahem, cabin air-filter) and you get a Model S 75 for the same price as the Caddy.

Nothing else is the same. The Model S crushes the Caddy in every metric — performance, interior space, cool factor — save one: range anxiety, the EV’s kryptonite. The CT-6 Plug-In’s 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder gasoline engine will get you home even if the battery gets low.

The Tesla lets you know immediately it’s not the usual blind-date. Seductive, wide hips taper to a long front hood anchored by almond-shaped LED headlights. Gone is the original ill-considered, plastic faux-grille (EVs need grilles like animals need gills), replaced by a simple, Tesla graphic. The Tesla’s beak is like a falcon trolling for prey.

Step toward the Model S and its flush, silver door handles step out to meet you. Slip inside and it starts itself (assuming you haven’t already prepped the cockpit with a remote app — a feature the Cadillac shares). The design is Apple-like — elegant and spartan. It’s Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s vision of the iPhone on wheels.

The CT6 is the prettiest Cadillac I’ve laid eyes on, the mature realization of the brand’s edgy Art & Science design language. Its pentagon-shaped grille dominates the front canvas, the headlights artfully pushed to the edges. The theme is repeated inside with an 8-inch pentagon screen, crafted dash, and yacht-like T-shifter. But it looks conventional compared to Tesla’s rendering.

With its simple driveline in the floor, the Model S’s luggage space is yuuuge. Where the Cadillac’s front hood is stuffed with an engine block, the Tesla offers a suitcase-swallowing “frunk.” The CT6’s battery eats up half the trunk and freezes the rear seats in place. The Tesla’s hatchback configuration can seat three or fold flat for acres of space for luggage or on-your-back star-gazing.

Six years after its introduction, the Tesla’s giant 17-inch console screen still gets gasps from the neighbors. There’s nothing like it on the market. Also unique is Tesla’s Google maps navigation, just like a smartphone. It’s the best navigation system on the planet. Why every automaker doesn’t contract with Google is beyond me. Instead, they (including Cadillac) insist on inferior, homemade navigation systems complemented by apps that mimic your phone’s nav. Awkward.

I bark my destination to the Tesla and we’re off like lightning. Talk about merging with authority. Floor the pedal and — ZOT! — instant torque shoots the S into traffic like a harpoon from a gun.

The Caddy is more laborious. Even when fully charged to 31-mile EV range, the battery defers to the turbo-four gas engine for hard acceleration causing a momentary balk as the transmission downshifts (the buzz of a four-cylinder doesn’t become a $75,000 chariot, either).

Through the hills, both vehicles feel a size smaller. Like 6-foot-10 Kevin Durant knifing through the lane, these are athletes. Despite topping the lightweight CT6 by 400 pounds, the battery-powered Tesla feels more grounded thanks to its Porsche-like, low center-of-gravity.

But the Tesla’s playpen is only as big as the nearest supercharger. The gas-assisted Caddy’s range is limitless.

After electrifying the Pacific Coast with its handling and acceleration, my P100D drank 157 miles of range while covering 90 miles. Arriving at a Mountain View supercharger at 9:30 p.m., all 12 chargers were used with a waiting line four-deep. I shuddered at the thought of tens of thousands of cheaper Model 3s flooding the market next year — even as Tesla doubles its network. I retreated to my son’s apartment complex where a 240-volt Chargepoint station refueled the S for $21 over 101/2 hours.

The CT6’s charge lasted just past Clarkston up Interstate 75, but then I hoofed it the rest of the way to Charlevoix on gasoline.

A Tesla friend from Chicago met me there, sans Tesla. Up North would be a dead end for his Model S (not to mention the hassle of an hour-long, supercharger delay along the way). Charging the Tesla on the 120-volt socket in our weekend cabin would have taken a lifetime (heck, it took 19 hours to fully charge the 30-mile Caddy!), while recharging it on the local utility’s 240-volt teat would render the car nearly useless for the weekend.

So the Caddy wins the long-distance prize. And everyone else learns the limitations of mass-market EVs.

But for those who can afford a $76,000 Tesla or Caddy, they can also spare change for a second, multi-purpose vehicle. For daily use, Tesla is the 21st-century standard.

Once the teacher, the handsome Cadillac is now the student. It has some learning to do.

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

2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE,

FIVE-PASSENGER LUXURY SEDAN

Powerplant

18.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack with

AC motor; 2.0-liter, turbocharged,

inline-4 cylinder

Transmission

Continuously variable automatic

Weight

4,530 pounds

Price

$76,090

Power

335 horsepower, 432 pound-feet

torque (total system power)

Performance

0-60 mph, 5.2 seconds (mftr.);

78 mph top speed in EV mode

Fuel economy

31 miles on full charge; EPA est.

62 MPe (34.7 total mpg as tested on

383 mile-trip)

Report card

HIGHS

COMPETITIVE PRICE; GAS ENGINE FOR

LONG-RANGE TRIPS

Lows

Disappointing acceleration;

battery robs trunk space

Overall:★★★

Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★

Tesla Model S

VEHICLE TYPE

ELECTRIC, FRONT AND ALL-WHEEL DRIVE,

FIVE-PASSENGER LUXURY SEDAN

Powerplant

75-100 kWh lithium-ion battery with

electric motor drive

Transmission

Single-speed transmission

Weight

4,469 pounds (4,941 P100D as tested)

Price

$74,500 Model S 75 base ($152,700

P100D as tested

Power

382 horsepower, 325 pound-feet

torque (605 hp, 687 torque P100D

as tested)

Performance

0-60 mph, 4.3 seconds base model

(mnftr.); 2.4 sec., P100D

Fuel economy

Range: 249 miles, base (315

mi. P100D. 157 miles of range to cover

90 miles as tested)

Report card

HIGHS

LUXURY REINVENTED; MASSIVE CARGO

SPACE FROM FRUNK TO REAR

Lows

Less range when driven to capability;

charging infrastructure limitations

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Hurricane Sins

Posted by hpayne on September 21, 2017

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Cartoon: Trump names Rocket Man

Posted by hpayne on September 20, 2017

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Cartoon: Hillary Sour Grapes Tour

Posted by hpayne on September 19, 2017

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Cartoon: Alligators return after Irma

Posted by hpayne on September 13, 2017

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Cartoon: Miss America and Trump

Posted by hpayne on September 13, 2017

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Cartoon: Bipartisan Trump Schumer

Posted by hpayne on September 9, 2017

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Cartoon: Media Ignore Antifa

Posted by hpayne on September 8, 2017

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Payne: Jeep Trackhawk, the Hellcat SUV

Posted by hpayne on September 7, 2017

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Last winter I was axle-deep in the muddy bogs of the Mounds Off Road Park in Flint. I was in a rugged Jeep Wrangler Sahara. This summer I’ve been dive-bombing apexes on the hills of New Hampshire’s Club Motorsports race track. This time I was in a supercharged Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.

Is there any other auto brand with this kind of bandwidth? Jeep is the only brand I know where I have to pack both hiking boots and racing shoes when I go for a test drive.

The Wrangler, of course, is Jeep’s icon — the tough, Rubicon Trail-conquering, off-road warrior with roots in World War II. Its tough DNA is at the core of a brand that pioneered the SUV and is just now reaching its zenith as the whole planet goes ute. But improbably, incredibly, Jeep is translating its off-road performance cred to the track.

Jeep aims to give you capability whenever and wherever you want it. Thus the insane Trackhawk. It’s sleeper Jeep (only the fat tires and quad pipes give it away) stuffed with Dodge SRT’s legendary, 707-horsepower, supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8.

Call it the Jeep Hellcat.

“Jeep is built on capability,” says Jeep brand manager Scott Tallon. “It’s always been the cornerstone of all Jeeps. Every Jeep must be the most capable within our segment. Trackhawk is taking capability to a while new dimension.”

Some folks get their kicks off-road. Others on-track. I’m a track rat who races ground-hugging race cars. I have buddies who go mud-hunting in jacked-up rad trucks. The cultures don’t speak the same language. I don’t go to Moab, the off-road Mecca in Utah. Mudders don’t do Indy. They are as different as boaters and airline pilots.

Yet Jeep not only does off-road and on-road in the same brand — it does them in the same model with the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk and Trackhawk. With the same chassis, same all-wheel drive system, same handsome interiors.

But no, not the same engine.

Borrowing the 707-horse, 645-torque, supercharged engine from Dodge’s SRT performance parts bin and mating it to an SUV may seem like Dr. Frankenstein lunacy. But in many ways it actually works better than in the Challenger and Charger Hellcat.

Like the Dodge brothers, the V-8 fits longitudinally into the Jeep — a rare, rear-wheel drive biased SUV like its three-row Dodge Durango cousin. Add a beefed-up transfer case and driveshafts and the Trackhawk can deliver up to 70 percent of the V-8’s twist to the rear wheels — ideal for a track car — while also gaining all-wheel-drive traction.

That means on Club Motorsports’ roller-coaster track, the Trackhawk is more manageable under power. It puts torque to the road out of apexes with aplomb, where the rear-drive Hellcats are like riding a tiger by the tail.

It also means the Trackhawk launches from zero-60 in 3.5 seconds — a tenth quicker than the Challenger Hellcat coupe according to Car and Driver’s test equipment — though they clocked a Charger Hellcat sedan at 3.4. I got the Trackhawk down to 3.3 at Club Motorsports.

Yes, an SUV quicker than its Hellcat brothers.

That’s not say that the 5,360-pound Trackhawk isn’t a challenge to drive fast. Eight hundred pounds heavier than a Charger Hellcat sedan and with a higher center of gravity courtesy of that big boat anchor in the bow, the hawk plows into corners and does not take sudden movements kindly. But it is shockingly comfortable at speed. After all, this isn’t Jeep’s first rodeo.

Grand Cherokee first tasted the track in 1998 with the 5.9 Limited. It went all-in with the SRT8 in 2006 and SRT in 2012. The latter’s athletic bones are the foundation for the 2018 Trackhawk. The Grand Cherokee SRT has done thousands of tracks laps while selling 2,500 to 3,000 copies a year. With minor tweaks (the aforementioned driveline, stiffer shocks, more heat exchangers), Trackhawk is screwed to the ground with mighty 11.5-inch Pirelli P-Zero tires that offer 30 percent more tread with than a standard Grand Cherokee.

So good is the SRT already, in fact, that it corners at a higher G-force — .90 vs. .88 — than the Trackhawk because its 392-cube, 475-horse mill is lighter up front. With smaller footprints than the bigger three-row Durango SRT that I wheel-hopped at Indy last month, the SRT and Trackhawk are more confident on their feet.

But there is no substitute for horsepower, and the Trackhawk sets a new standard for utes. All that grunt comes at a cost: $94,970 for the track animal I tested at Club Motorsports. But before your eyes water at a six-figure Jeep, consider that Jeepzilla stomps a $158,000 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S from zero-60 and beats it to the quarter-mile by over a half-second (11.7 vs. 12.3).

Simply put, the Trackhawk is the Corvette Z06 of SUVs — a Porsche slayer for a whopping $70,000 less.

I wrote earlier this year that Corvette should follow Porsche’s example and translate its “lunchbox” supercar brand to SUVs. A V-8 ’Vette ute would be a big hit. Well, you snooze, you lose. Jeep has filled the vacuum with the bonkers Trackhawk.

Trackhawk earns its investment inside as well as out. Chrysler does great interiors and the Grand Cherokee is no exception. Fans like to say you can take a Jeep from the outback to the opera. Make that from the race track to the opera. The interior is whisper-quiet until you put your boot in it and awaken the supercharger.

Best-in-the-business Uconnect also gains Apple CarPlay and trounces Porsche’s interior ergonomics with attention to detail. Think steering wheel-mounted controls that allow you to choose adaptive or regular cruise. It has paddle-shifters for manual shifting, but revert to automatic with a simple right paddle hold. There are drive modes for every mood: auto, sport, track, tow and snow.

Yes, snow. This is not just a Hellcat SUV — it’s an all-season ute you can use in winter long after rear-drive Hellcats have gone into hibernation.

With the Trackhawk, Jeep has made the ultimate SUV — a vehicle that can tow your race car to the track and set faster lap times than the car it towed. Expect more to come.

Like the off-road Trailhawk package found on all Jeeps, the Trackhawk should trickle down to its cheaper siblings. May I suggest a Jeep Wrangler Trackhawk? It would be an exclamation point on the most versatile brand in the land.

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

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-ENGINE, ALL-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER

SUV

Powerplant

Supercharged 6.2-liter V-8

Transmission

8-speed automatic

Weight

5,363 pounds

Price

$86,995 base ($94,970

as tested)

Power

707 horsepower, 645 pound-feet torque

Performance

0-60 mph, 3.5 seconds (manufacturer, though Payne

clocked it at 3.3); top speed: 180 mph (mftr); tow capacity:

7,200 pounds

Fuel economy

EPA est. 11 mpg city/17 mpg highway

Report card

HIGHS

PORSCHE SUV-STOMPING JEEP; BUTTERY-SMOOTH 8-SPEED TRANNY

Lows

Thirsty; 100K for a Jeep?

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Hurricane Pundits

Posted by hpayne on September 7, 2017

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Cartoon: King Obama Dreamers

Posted by hpayne on September 6, 2017

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Cartoon: Back to School

Posted by hpayne on September 1, 2017

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Cartoon: Columbus Wall

Posted by hpayne on September 1, 2017

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Cartoon: Houston Survival

Posted by hpayne on August 31, 2017

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Cartoon: Houston Ark

Posted by hpayne on August 31, 2017

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Payne: Honda Fit punches above its weight

Posted by hpayne on August 31, 2017

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‘Let Reagan be Reagan,” Sen. Paul Laxalt famously said in 1984 after his friend and incumbent President Ronald Reagan got stomped by challenger Walter Mondale in their first presidential debate. Over-schooled by his debate handlers, Reagan had looked hesitant and out of sorts. Laxalt’s prescription? The president should be his “aw, shucks” amiable self, not some pre-programmed autobot. He won debate No. 2, and a second term was no longer in doubt.

Honda might be taking that lesson to heart as it tries to make its small cars relevant at a time when buyers have gone ga-ga for crossovers. Honda’s answer? Let compacts be compacts.

The all-new 2016 Honda Civic compact doubled down on what separates cars from SUVs by lowering its center of gravity, increasing fuel economy and penning a wicked design. The result was Civic’s best sales ever as customers lined up for the showy athlete and its apex-carving variations: Sport, Si and Type-R. Honda’s CR-V crossover may be leading the ute revolution, but the Civic was a reminder that Honda knew what moved car-lovers, too.

Now it’s the 2018 Fit subcompact’s turn for a makeover and Honda is applying the same formula.

The Fit is only up for a mid-cycle refresh — the third-generation hatch debuted in 2014 — but it’s a racy redo. The wee Honda’s specs are unchanged — same 1.5-liter engine, same multi-purpose comfortable interior, same sippy fuel economy — but this is not the same adorable hatch. Fit gets a new outfit.

It’s called Honda Factory Performance, HFP for short. The racy package can be applied to any trim except the base $17,065 LX. New springs and shocks lower the hatch 10 millimeters, reinforcing a crouched stance signaled by a wider fascia and added rocker skirts. Borrowing the Civic’s mascara stick, the Fit takes its black eyeliner makeup tips from the Joker.

HFP Fit tops off its bad-boy look with black 16-inch wheels and a big, rear aerofoil that could shade my back porch. The package takes its inspiration from Fit’s successful history in motorsports where it’s competed for years.

The racing-obsessed brand has tracked everything from the supercar Acura NSX to the Civic in Pirelli World Challenge. If Honda announced it was entering its Honda Odyssey minivan in the 24 Hours of LeMans, I don’t think anyone would be surprised. As Honda founder and chief motorhead Soichiro Honda put it: “If Honda does not race, there is no Honda.”

I threw the eager, HFP-equipped Fit Sport — painted in its new “Orange Fury” war paint — into the twisty canyon roads northeast of Los Angeles.

The car was shockingly, pleasantly stiff thanks to its suspension upgrades. Its road-hugging qualities reminded of the Civic Type-R track fiend that I tested only weeks before, its front end porpoising purposely as the short-wheelbase subcompact tracked each undulation in road surface. True to Honda’s class-leading ergonomics, the steering was responsive, seats comfortable, and console roomy. Despite its subcompact size, your decidedly uncompact 6-foot-5 reviewer got generous knee-room.

The Sport version comes equipped with an excellent six-speed manual (the shifter topped off with a Civic Si-like silver ball). That’s important because the Fit needs constant rowing to maintain pace.

The meek, 130-horsepower (with manual, 128 with automatic), 1.5-liter, normally-aspirated gerbil wheel is Fit’s familiar engine, but it seems especially wanting now that the Civic’s 1.5-liter mill has received a dynamic, turbocharged upgrade.

The engine doesn’t do the Fit’s athletic new vibe justice. Readers of this column know I prefer manuals, but so wanting was the Fit for revs that I came to prefer the car’s CVT-with-paddles option. Stuff the shifter into manual mode, finger the steering wheel paddles, and the car will stay in manual. That allows for quick upshifts and downshifts as the CVT keeps the engine in the meat of the rev band. Nobody makes CVTs better than Honda.

The little fella badly needs a turbo like its bigger Civic sibling, and it is surely in the works when Fit gets its fourth-generation makeover in 2019. A turbo three-cylinder turbo is rumored to be on deck.

As the Fit turtled from zero-60 in an eternity, its four screaming gerbils nicely muffled by the cabin’s increased noise insulation, my mind wandered to the Civic Sport hatch. At just $2,000 north of the HFP-laden Fit, the Civic Sport would be the better buy for budget-minded motorheads. Or Ford’s turbo-3-powered Fiesta — Godzilla in a box — for just $18,000.

The Fit’s sporty trimmings are a nicely separate it from popular, subcompact sibling HR. But the best reason to buy a Fit remains its spacious, uniquely configurable interior.

Thanks to a clever packaging that moves the gas tank from under the rear to below the front seats, the Fit’s “magic” rear seats can flattened or flipped up in order to make room for, say, a bicycle behind the front seats. The deep cavity also benefits backseat occupants who will find substantial legroom despite the Fit’s short wheelbase dimensions.

And, of course, there is the equally magical front seat which can be flattened backward, creating a sort of BarcaLounger for the right-rear passenger. Readers will remember the Fit won my Best Post-Surgery Getaway Vehicle award a couple of years back. Unable to bend my heavily-sedated new knee, the Fit’s Magic Seat configuration was the perfect way for Mrs. Payne to get me around town.

The Fit’s interior versatility can also swallow a surfboard, grandfather clock or other long objects. You won’t pine for an SUV. What you might pine for is an Apple smartphone, because my Android Auto app connection proved unworkable. Honda was one of the first automakers to dangle the prospect of smartphone-connected Google maps in its infotainment systems, but the apps have proved glitchy. The Apple product pairs better with the Honda console.

Otherwise, the Fit is a fitting member of Honda’s all-star console lineup with a center console that easily accommodates phones, cups and more in its center-console box — a rarity in a subcompact ute or car. The Fit even throws in a flip-out cup holder at the driver’s left hand, a useful feature when you are trying to both sip and keep your eyes on the road.

Cute, maneuverable and cavernous, the Fit is a reminder of why we still love subcompact hatches. Turbocharge the gerbils and it has a bright future.

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

2018 Honda Fit

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, 5-PASSENGER

SUBCOMPACT HATCHBACK

Powerplant

1.5-liter inline-4 cylinder

Transmission

6-speed manual;

continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT)

Weight

2,604 pounds

Price

$17,065 base ($20,175 Sport as tested)

Power

128 horsepower, 113 pound-feet torque (CVT)

Performance

0-60 mph, 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver est.);

top speed: 120 mph

Fuel economy

EPA est. 31 mpg city/36 mpg highway/33 mpg combined

Report card

HIGHS

INTERIOR ROOM AND DEXTERITY;

EAGER HANDLING WITH HFP PACKAGE

Lows

Needs a turbo; just 10.6 gallons of fuel capacity

reduces range

Cartoon: Trump Pardons Sheriff

Posted by hpayne on August 29, 2017

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Cartoon: Trump And NYT

Posted by hpayne on August 29, 2017

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Cartoon: Mount Dividemore Trump and Obama

Posted by hpayne on August 23, 2017

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