Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: McCain Trump Feud

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 22, 2019

Payne: Tough Toyota Tundra tames the suburban frontier

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 22, 2019

The 2019 Toyota Tundra is a great tool for Metro Detroit's rugged frontier roads.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra is a great tool for Metro Detroit’s rugged frontier roads.

The American truck market is where rugged pickups meet refined luxury — pickups like 2019 Toyota Tundra that I tested in Oakland Charter Township.

Which is appropriate because the township north of The Palace in Auburn Hills is where rugged farm country meets the frontier of luxurious development.

Here, successful Michiganians buy acres of farmland and woodland to build dream homes on the edge of Detroit’s metropolis. Huge 10,000-square-foot brick and stone homes spill across deforested yards. Gated communities back up against wooded streams. Modern castles reach for the sky on top of rocky hills.

These cloistered estates are conveniently located just minutes from shopping malls and interstates, yet they can only be reached by diabolical dirt roads that begin where the asphalt ends.

Dirt roads with names like Dutton and Brewster look like they were used in Normandy during the D-Day invasion. In February these arteries have been raked by the elements with bottomless potholes overlapping frozen mud ruts.

These are the byways for which my $46,610 Tundra tester with TRD Off-Road package was built.

I passed some of the most beautiful cribs I’ve seen, their owners struggling to reach them in sporty Cadillac CTS-Vs and lovely Volvo XC60s. A silver CTS-V looked like it would have preferred to be underwater than on this hellscape, its driver crawling along at 5 mph while the potholes beat the unibody chassis to a noodle.

My 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 Tundra drove by at 35 mph like Blake Griffin through a junior high team. Sitting on big-sidewall Michelins wrapped around 18-inch rims, the Tundra’s body-on-frame construction devoured the frozen mud moguls. The four-wheel-drive system churning like a buzz-saw through stale bread. BRRRAAAAWWWGH!

THONK! A rock thrown up by a tire clanged harmlessly off the steel skid-plate under the engine. The front tires skittered across an iced rut, the rear tires churning behind. This is how you commute to your remote domicile.

But arriving at your estate in a pickup doesn’t mean giving up luxury-car style. The Tundra is a handsome athlete.

Mind you, it’s no Ram 1500, which has all the truck boys drooling down at the rodeo. But its bold chrome grille, Midnight Black body armor and bling-tastic TRD off-road wheels demand respect.

The big fella has character, which is what you want filling up your dream home garage. The interior is as comfortable as your den with leather thrones, leather-wrapped steering wheel and an Entune Premium audio system pumping out your favorite tunes. My wife and her friends need a ladder to get into the rear seat, but once there, the short cab offers plenty of legroom (though I’d prefer a Crew Cab with its palatial backseat room).

The Tundra only pales in comparison to its Detroit competition, which is why the Toyota sold a mere 118,425 full-size pickups in 2018 compared to Ford (over 900,000), Chevy/GMC (over 800,000), and Ram (537,000). I know, I know, the Toyota only sells light-duty trucks while the Detroit Three sell Heavy Dutys and Super Dutys and Mega Kong Colossal Duties.

But the Tundra can’t even outsell its midsize little brother. The Tacoma more than doubled Tundra sales last year at 245,659. That’s right, the same brand that gets young buyers hooked on reliable Corollas/Camrys so that they buy five-door RAV4 SUVs when they have children can’t translate 246,000 Tacoma customers to buy full-size Tundras.

Well, it’s tough in the full-size pickup rodeo.

For one, the Tundra is long in the tooth compared to the Detroit megatrons. Its 381-horse V-8 and 6-speed transmission are a generation behind, say, the Chevy Silverado’s 420-horse V-8 or Ford F-150’s state-of-the-art 10-speed tranny.

My Tundra’s TRD package is tough as nails with Bilstein shocks. But the ride is a buckboard when on asphalt, unlike the comparable Ram Rebel’s comfy coil-spring rear setup. Throw the Tundra into a cloverleaf and — hold on, Bessy! — the numb steering and loose chassis make the lightweight Silverado feel like a Camaro by comparison.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra

Inside, the Tundra boasts nice wood and aluminum touches, but its dash, steering wheel and instrument layouts are antiquated next to the F-150’s thoughtful architecture. The Toyota’s clumsy automatic shifter feels stodgy. Even better are the Silverado and Ram with transmission solutions that open the center console to all kinds of mobile office space.

Show me a pickup and I’ll show you a neighbor who wants to borrow it — Please? Just for the weekend so I can get some mulch? — but even here the Toyota can’t innovate like the Detroit Three. It doesn’t have corner steps like the Silverado, MultiPro gate like the GMC Sierra or a best-in-class tow rating like the Ford.

What the Tundra does have is good ol’ Japanese value.

The V-8 may not have the Chevy’s low-end grunt, but the engine comes standard starting at just $35,000. Lots of trucks these days sport fuel-sippy four-bangers and V-6s, but a pickup and a V-8 go together like Thor and hammer.

Electronics are fast blurring the difference between luxury and mainstream, and the Japanese makers are at the forefront of this trend. The $19,000 Toyota Corolla sedan is loaded with standard features like adaptive cruise-control, automatic high-beams and lane-departure alert you can’t get on many luxury cars north of $50,000.

The Tundra comes equipped with this safety package at a price well below comparable Big Three competitors (though somehow Toyota hasn’t figured out Android Auto yet). Even the Tundra’s premium TRD off-road package — which includes Bilstein shocks, front tow hooks and floor mats — adds just $70 to the bottom line. Tesla floor mats cost $140, for goodness sake.

It’s all very impressive, and Toyota throws in its usual bulletproof reliability. It was the only full-size truck to get a 9 (out of 10) mechanical Initial Quality Rating from JD Power last year.

That’s reassuring as you ride your chrome-studded truck down the ox-cart roads of north Oakland on the way to your dream home.

Where Third World roads meet First World mansions, the Tundra pickup is an excellent bridge.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Toyota Tundra

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- or four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $33,015 base, including $1,495 destination fee ($46,610 4×4 Limited Double Cab as tested)

Powerplant: 4.6-liter V-8 (standard engine); 5.7-liter V-8

Power: 310 horsepower, 327 pound-feet of torque (4.6-liter); 381 horsepower, 401 pound-feet of torque (5.7-liter)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.5 sec. (5.7L, Car and Driver); maximum towing, 9,900 pounds

Weight: 5,530 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 15 city/19 highway/16 combined (4.6-liter standard 4×2); 13 city/17 highway/14 combined (5.7-liter 4×4 as tested)

Report card

Highs: Standard features galore; Toyota tough

Lows:Lacks refinement of Detroit Three competitors; V-8 a generation behind

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Ocasio and Gore on Global Warming

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 22, 2019

Cartoon: Democrat Brackets

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 20, 2019

Cadillac’s CTS sedan gets a refresh and new name – the CT5

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 20, 2019

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 gets a new name (it formerly was the CTS) and skin.

Cadillac introduced a renamed and reskinned mid-size sedan Monday as the brand reboots under a new president, a new Warren headquarters and a youthful marketing campaign.

The car formerly known as the CTS now carries the CT5 badge, another step in Cadillac’s new alphanumeric system for cars beginning with the CT6 sedan. A CT4 replacing the ATS small sedan is expected this year.

The bones of the CT5 remain the same, but the sedan gets a major cosmetic refresh inside and out. Exterior panels are all new as the CT5 adopts the design cues of the Escala concept car that has wowed auto show audiences. Inside, the plush CT5 adopts a monostable shifter now common in Cadillacs (and the Chevy Bolt EV), as well as a console-based rotary infotainment controller first seen in the XT6.

The rotary controller allows drivers the ability to access the screen by touch or remote. It’s a significant shift away from the haptic-touch CUE system that alienated some customers in the last-generation car.

The CTS was a historic car for Cadillac in 2003 when it replaced the Catera mid-size sedan and signaled Caddy’s shift away from conventional nameplates and toward a more athletic brand competing head-on with German brands like BMW and Audi.

The striking appearance and ambitious technology of the third-generation CTS earned it the 2013 Detroit News Vehicle of the Year award. The performance V-series trim of the current CTS has the same 640-horse 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 as the Corvette Z06 track monster.

The 2020 CT5 will be available with a 2.0-liter turbo-4 or a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6. A V-series performance variant will likely follow.

The CT5 follows the XT6 in adopting Cadillac’s new nomenclature that highlights the car’s torque. (Torque is the low-end pulling power of a motor).

Determined to familiarize a new generation of customers with the brand’s transition to electric cars — Cadillac is promising 20 EVs by 2023, and electric cars have  prodigious torque under acceleration) — the rear of the CT5 will carry a badge with with the metric newton-meter measurement of torque.

“We have a foot in two worlds,” says Cadillac President Steve Carlisle, referring to the brand’s near-term push to sell more gas-powered SUVs while it develops a new, electrified platform for next decade.

Once a leader in plug-in hybrid technology, GM is abandoning that strategy for an all-electric future paced by its first EV crossover targeted for 2022.

The reveal of the CT5 comes via Cadillac’s YouTube channel, a first for the brand as it seeks to appeal to a younger demographic with technology, music, and electrification. A video series title the “Sensory Symphony” will tease the CT5 leading up to the vehicle’s coming out party at the New York Auto Show on April 17.

The videos use so-called “autonomous sensory meridian response” or ASMR technology  — which causes the skin of some listeners to tingle — to bring the car’s sounds to life. The videos follow a series of Cadillac ads featuring Childish Gambino to introduce its XT6 SUV at the Oscars.

“We’re going back to the musical part of our heritage that we feel resonates with females and youth,” said Carlisle.

The CT5 comes to market as the brand’s sedan halo, the CT6, is apparently heading out to pasture. The CT6 is in production until next January, after which its Hamtramck production facility is scheduled to idle.

The CT5 will be built at GM’s Lansing Grand River facility, which recently received an infusion of $211 million.

Caddy’s new sedan will be offered in a Premium or Sport trim, with the Sport distinguished by a black-out, mesh grille. More refinement can be added through a Platinum package for both models.

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Posted by Talbot Payne on March 15, 2019

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Payne: Jeep Compass earns stripes in icy outback

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 15, 2019

Jeep country: On icy, uphill Route 9 though the Zion Canyon pass, the Jeep Compass Trailhawk never put a foot wrong.

Jeep country: On icy, uphill Route 9 though the Zion Canyon pass, the Jeep Compass Trailhawk never put a foot wrong. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

At Zion National Park in Utah, the day had dawned grisly with howling winds, blowing snow and icy roads. But Mrs. Payne and I had planned a day trip to Bryce Canyon on the other side of Zion canyon’s snowy cliff tops.

“What’s Route 9 like over to Bryce?” I asked a snowplow driver after rolling down my window. The twisted, mountainous two-lane is the only way to get there.

“No problem. You’ve got a Jeep,” came the reply.

On that kind of confidence Jeep has built one of the most recognized brands on the planet. Beginning with the rock-climbing, terrain-shredding Wrangler, Jeep fields a juggernaut of SUVs perfectly timed for the market’s embrace of all things ute. Every Jeep carries the Wrangler’s DNA, right down to the compact Compass Trailhawk I had acquired for a weekend trip from Vegas into the rocky outback of southern Utah.

The Compass, new in 2017, is part of a Jeep strategy to expand its empire beyond the core Wrangler and Grand Cherokee fan base and into entry-level buyers. Much like Honda hooks customers with  the Fit, Civic and HR-V starters, Jeep has flooded the market with its own compact trifecta — the Renegade, Compass and Cherokee.

My trip from the valley of sin to the summit of snow would be a test of whether Compass is a worthy gateway drug.

First impressions are dynamite.

I like the rebellious Jeep Renegade, but at some point you’ll grow out of it. Eventually your tastes lean from your baseball card collection to grown-up things like art galleries and nice cafes and Grand Cherokees. The Compass’ conservative body, thin headlights and seven-slot grille echo the family patriarch Grand Cherokee.

Budget-conscious shoppers will opt for the Latitude trim. It comes with the typically robust Jeep all-wheel drive that throws torque to whichever wheel needs it most and handles all the nasty weather you’ll find. But the heart isn’t always sensible.

I am a sucker for the Trailhawk trim with its blacked-out hood and roof, two-inch suspension lift, front-and-aft tow hooks and knobby Falken tires. Dress it in Spitfire Orange and my knees turn to jelly.

This beast oozes Jeep authenticity and vaults it above mere-mortal brands. Never mind that the Compass is tattooed with non-functional design touches like a fake seven-slot grille (for enhanced aerodynamics, the engine is fed by a lower intake).

This is the Jeep Wrangler that everyone always wanted as their first car — but without the compromises of rough, noisy ride.

The Trailhawk can go just about anywhere with its impressive front departure-angle, four skid plate and four-wheel drive lock and crawl modes. And I rarely resisted the temptation.

I turned off Interstate 15 from Vegas-to-Zion to test the Jeep’s capabilities in deep snow, dirt and rocky terrain until my wife finally told me to stick to the asphalt if we were going to arrive at the hotel before next week.

I relented, but not before discovering that wet sand (the Southwest is essentially a big, red sandbox) is the most diabolical terrain. Stop moving and it would swallow the tires like quicksand.

Back on asphalt, the Compass is at its most mediocre.

Despite its marriage to a modern nine-speed tranny, the 2.4-liter engine is a dog. Mash the pedal to the floor to pass traffic, and the world seems to slow down as the four-banger labors to pick up steam. Snails have better acceleration. I raced a desert tortoise out of a Utah stoplight and the tortoise won.

Once up to speed I longed for adaptive cruise-control that is common now on competitors like Subaru, Honda and Toyota. My wife’s $28,000 Subaru Impreza hatchback, for example, comes standard with adaptive cruise and blind-spot assist. As does a $20,000 Toyota Corolla. Not my $35,000 Compass.

Happily, there are cabin features to forgive these shortcomings. Beginning with the best-in-auto uConnect touchscreen infotainment system which benefits most Fiat Chrysler products including Ram, Dodge, even Maserati.

It’s intuitive, quick, easy to navigate — and works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone apps. In the vast Southwest, navigation is essential, yet the apps mean you get Google Maps navigation that you know and love without having to pay $1,195 for Fiat Chrysler’s inferior navigation system. Within moments of climbing aboard, Mrs. Payne had our route mapped.

Forgiveness abounds. The console is tight on storage, in part because of the unique terrain mode dial with settings for snow, sand, mud, rock and Mars (I made that last one up).

The automatic door locks make a violent sound — WHAP! — when the gearshift moves from park to drive. But inside, accommodations are roomy and your giraffe-sized reviewer could comfortably sit behind himself in the rear seat.

Even the milquetoast engine is forgiven when churning across Route 9 to Bryce in near white-out conditions.

The Compass clawed up Zion’s ice-caked roads without putting a foot wrong. Such competence makes you acutely aware that the danger is not the road but other people on it. States might consider requiring driver’s license tests be conducted in the winter, because I swear many of us have no idea how to drive in snow.

Our path was littered with creative ways to crash at 30 miles per hour and less. In Zion Park, a Cadillac CTS zigged when he should have zagged and T-boned a hapless Toyota Camry that had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In a Route 9 tunnel, a Honda CR-Z pinballed from one wall to the other, breaking its front suspension. In Bryce, a Chevy Cruze pilot miscalculated a 15-mile-per-hour left turn and beached himself in a snowbank.

Common to all these accidents was the drivers’ faith that a car will steer on slick roads as it does on dry. It won’t. It will plow straight ahead. The Compass is no exception. But steer gingerly into a slick bend, then apply throttle on exit and the ute grips like a Rottweiler on a postman’s leg.

Should any of the aforementioned projectiles have come the Compass’ way, I’m confident its traction and brakes would have been up to the task of avoiding them.

Fortunately, about half the vehicles in Utah are capable pickups. And half of the other 50 percent are Jeeps.

A wise choice. Just ask a snowplow driver.

Jeep Compass 

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

Price: $23,340 base, including $1,495 destination fee ($35,160 Trailhawk 4×4 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 180 horsepower, 175 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual (4×2 and 4×4 models); 6-speed automatic (4×2 only); 9-speed automatic (4×4)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.3 seconds (Car and Driver); towing, 2,000 pounds (4×4 recommended)

Weight: 3,633 pounds (Trailhawk 4×4 as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 22 city/30 highway/25 combined (24 mpg observed on Utah trip, Trailhawk 4×4)

Report card

Highs: Go-anywhere ruggedness; mature looks

Lows: Milquetoast engine; lacks standard features of competitors

Overall: 3 stars

 

Cartoon: Omar, Isreal and Goliath

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 9, 2019

Payne: Entry-level Mercedes A220 samples S-class luxury

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 9, 2019

Starting at $33,475, the Mercedes A220 offers an entry-level Merc with the classiness of a $100k-plus S-class.

Starting at $33,475, the Mercedes A220 offers an entry-level Merc with the classiness of a $100k-plus S-class.

Say hello to the entry-level Mercedes A220. Honey, I shrunk the S-class.

I have driven the King of Luxury, the Mercedes S560 (S for Simba) 4MATIC, and it is an exquisite thing. Gorgeous looks, smooth all-wheel drive power, an interior fit for a, well, king. It also costs a king’s ransom to own with a sticker that starts — starts — north of $100,000. And that’s before you add fundamentals like blind-spot assist. I tested a S560 Coupe last year that tipped the scales at $152,195 (cough).

Emerge from a drive with your spouse — drunk on luxury, giggling like schoolchildren — in this divan on wheels and you’ll seriously consider blowing your savings for a summer home to afford it.

You: Comfy cabin up north for weekend getaways with a kitchen and porch looking out on God’s green creation … or a Mercedes?

Spouse: Oh, the Mercedes, hands down.

You’ll come to your senses eventually. But the wonderful thing about the new entry-level compact A220 sedan is you can sample S-class luxury in an affordable package. Like one-third the price of that coupe.

Hooking customers on a delicious appetizer to reel them in for the more expensive entrée later in life is not a new idea for Mercedes. Five years ago, the German brand introduced the CLA sedan, the first Mercedes under $30,000.

It was a knockout. A gorgeous, slinky Barbie doll. And just as empty inside. The CLA’s interior seemed an afterthought. Its fit and finish were sloppy, the infotainment screen tacked on to the dash like someone had nailed an Apple tablet there. Reviews were lukewarm even as it warmed new customers to the brand.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try the A220.

Compact sedan 2.0 is a revelation, a junior S-class. Except for decadent items like seat-belt extenders, quilted seats, night vision and a rear wine-bar (OK, I made that last one up), the A220 cub offers everything Simba has.

Twin configurable instrument and infotainment screens are embedded behind a single 10.3-inch horizontal pane of glass. A row of silver aviator vents line up like champagne glasses. There’s an exquisitely engineered steering wheel with a tiny touchpad on each spoke to control the multipurpose screen in front of you. Panoramic sunroof. Head-up display. Adaptive cruise-control with auto lane-change. Chrome-flecked grille.

(Pause to catch breath)

Nineteen-inch multi-spoke wheels. All-wheel drive. Automatic high-beams. Automatic windshield wipers. Personalized settings including interior lighting. Multi-way seats. And more.

If you want it all, a fully loaded A220 will ring the cash register at $50,660 — a steep bill, but still a third of a loaded S560. And that’s the point. The entry-level buyer gets a real taste of what a five-star luxury menu is like. It’s delicious.

Faced with this smorgasbord of options, customers might naturally separate the caviar from the tenderloin to arrive at their preferred order. Spec a Mercedes A220 with the all-wheel drive AMG package (which gets you that “Diamond Block” grille and multi-spoke wheels), panoramic roof and red-leather interior (well, a little caviar never hurts), and you will walk away with a properly premium Merc for about $43,000.

Regular readers of this column will recognize that price point as VW Golf R territory, my favorite all-around mainstream car. Can the Mercedes justify its three-pointed star snobbery at the same price point as the rockin’ roomy V-dub?

The Golf R exposes the A220’s biggest weakness — powertrain.

Simba 560 boasts a buttery smooth twin-turbo V-8. It’s a velvet hammer, one of the industry’s gems. The A220 literally saws big brother’s mill in half to a 2.0-liter single-turbo four-cylinder.

That’s four cylinders, like the VW.

That’s quite a compromise, and it’s readily apparent when you put the A220’s hammer down. The eight-speed dual-clutch tranny and turbo are buttery smooth under the cane (though oddly balky at low speed, like a young cub still testing its legs). But they can’t hide the dull buzz of four cylinders straining to put out 188 horsepower.

The Golf R, by contrast, pushes out a gob-smacking 288 horses and will run rings around the Mercedes through Michigan hill country.

Still, the new A220 oozes style from that lovely grille to the LED-piped taillights to the first-class cabin inside.

Automakers have been forced to raise their game by Silicon Valley and its revolutionary Teslas. The Model S and Model 3 have thumped German sedans in sales with phone-like operating systems. Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) is up to the task.

A220 comes with multiple infotainment controllers — touchscreen, the aforementioned steering-wheel mini touch-pads and console touch-pad. But the MBUX voice commands are so good — so phone-like — I usually ignored the hardware. I drove around town talking to the car — its “Hi, Mercedes” command like Android’s “Hey, Google” — and rarely took my hand off the wheel.

Hi, Mercedes, set the temperature to 72 degrees.
Navigate to Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
Play Sirius XM Comedy Greats channel.

It understood my hillbilly West Virginia accent like an old friend.

That luxury separates the A220 from the mainstream. Sure, it looks stubby next to Simba (what doesn’t), but the cub has the family DNA, and that’s what counts.

Visuals matter, too. The Golf R is a VW hatchback. The A220 is a gem smoothed by Mercedes craftsmen.

Even the CLA has benefited from the A220’s transformation as it will now be offered as the compact-class “coupe” version with the same interior. So if the A220 is too conservative and underpowered, then let the pricier CLA turn up the heat with its raked roof and 221 ponies.

The beauty of Michigan, of course, is it can test any beauty’s temperament in winter weather. The A220 proved it was no diva, but an all-season athlete. German politicians have spent the last three decades warning of global-warming induced snowless winters. Thank goodness German engineers ignored them.

As Michigan February dumped snow and ice, the A220 and I took to the roads like skiers to Pine Knob. The all-wheel drive system is superb under throttle, allowing me enough juice to power-drift around snowy corners (unlike many nanny systems out here) — and then stopping with superb anti-lock brakes.

At $42,000, that is quite a cub. And you’ll still have money left over for that little cottage up north.

2019 Mercedes A220

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

Price: $33,475 base, including $975 destination fee ($50,660 4MATIC model as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline-4 cylinder

Power: 188 horsepower; 221 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.1 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 130 mph

Weight: 3,285 pounds (3,417 4MATIC as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 25 city/33 highway/28 combined

Report card

Highs: Intimate MBUX connectivity; first-class interior

Lows: Weak turbo-4; price tag may have you looking to upgrade to C-class instead

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Trump Investigations

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 9, 2019

Cartoon: Kim Warhead Trump

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Cartoon: Cohen Testimoney

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 28, 2019

Payne: Ram 3500 Heavy Duty is king of the beasts

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 28, 2019

King of the Beasts. The Ram 3500 Heavy Duty boasts Herculean towing ability — yet is still comfortable to drive with a quiet interior.

There are the horsepower wars and there are the torque wars.

At the horsepower end we have a sports-car arms race to 1,000 horsepower: Dodge 717-horse Hellcats, 755-horse Corvette ZR1s, 759-horse Lamborghini Aventador SVJs, 840-horse Dodge SRT Demons. And at the top of the heap, the 1,500-horsepower Bugatti Chiron, which is more expensive than Buckingham Palace, goes zero-60 mph in 2.3 seconds and will hit 261 mph if you can find an airport runway long enough.

I was born with the need for speed. I drool over these numbers, but I’ll admit they are irrelevant to daily driving. There’s not a public road in Michigan where you can explore these vehicles 200-plus mph magnificence. Boasting more horsepower than a NASCAR, they must be tracked to be appreciated — and even then, they’ll bite your head off if you aren’t careful.

The torque wars, on the other hand, are much more practical, as evidenced by their more sober model nomenclature. Think 250, 350, 3500, 4500.

Consider the new 2019 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty, the first pickup to reach the holy grail of 1,000 pound-feet of torque.

That low-end grunt translates into figures as gob-smacking as the horsepower kings. The Ram can tow 35,100 pounds, which is about the weight of a Class A mobile home.

Or a Case 580C front-loader backhoe and a pallet of bricks on a flat-bed, gooseneck trailer. I know that because I just hauled it up a 5-degree grade for four miles in Nevada. At 40 mph. On a two-lane public road.

 Ram’s designers have supersized to 2500 and 3500 Heavy Dutys without losing the light duty’s DNA. (Housekeeping note: Heavy Dutys come with a smorgasbord of options — six trims and three engines — which would take us all day to discuss. So this missive concentrates on the top-dog 3500 with 1,000-torque oil-burner.)

The grille is taller and wider — 30 percent wider than the last-gen 3500 — but still dripping with chrome and nicely integrated with the headlights. There is a wonderful simplicity of form in the Ram compared to its competitors. The Chevy Silverado’s design, for example, has inspired its own social media memes as people try to figure it out. There is no such confusion with Ram, a result exterior designer Mike Gilliam credits with Ram’s divorce from Dodge a few years back — a split that forced Ram to come up with its own identity.

 The attention to detail is admirable. Sensors were carefully hidden, for example, in plastic fog-light housings so as not to distract from the larger aesthetic.

Speaking of distractions, the interior is a rolling living room isolated from the heavy lifting going on outside. It’s a different animal from my trusty 2003 turbo-diesel Ram 3500 race-car hauler with its unmistakable wokka-wokka-wokka diesel soundtrack.

The new Ram is whisper-quiet by comparison, the diesel only noticeable under heavy throttle. Chief engineer Rod Romain says comprehensive sound deadening — laminated front and side glass, anti-vibration devices, active noise-cancellation, the works — has cut interior noise by 10 decibels, or half that of the previous truck.

Cupped in silence, passengers can admire the interior details like twin glove boxes and branded dash logo on the upper-trim Longhorn model. There are sub-floor rear storage buckets, a 12-inch quick-response, Tesla-like screen is available in the Limited and Longhorn models.

My favorite interior detail is the Mega Cab, which suits this truck’s mega-capabilities. If you’re not content with the already-palatial Crew Cab, the mega-cab will allow your worn-out construction mates to man-sprawl in the backseat, complete with reclining seatbacks.

This interior refinement is in contrast to the raw muscle under Kong’s skin.

Drive around town in an unladen diesel Ram 3500 and it instantly feels different from the light-duty. The shifter is on the steering column, not the console as with the 1500’s rotary version. The stalk is necessary to accommodate the 6-speed Aisin transmission that’s designed to tame the 6.7-liter Cummins gorilla under the hood. The ride is choppier, too, thanks to good ol’ rear-leaf springs (coupled with an air suspension) to deal with the Herculean loads. There is no maddening stop/start system, hooray — but plenty of mpg-friendly tweaks like cylinder deactivation and class-best drag co-efficient.

Put your foot in it and the Cummins responds with low-end diesel grunt before the turbo kicks in above 2,000 rpms. The 8,000-pound truck practically explodes down the road. My old 2003 model peters out over 2-grand, but the new truck is just getting interested.

Hook this locomotive up to a 16,000-pound horse trailer on a long grade and it’ll pull to the moon.

From a full stop on a graded two-lane near Lake Mead, the Ram heavyweight clean-and-jerked the trailer like an Olympic gold medalist. Then it kept going: 30 mph. 40 mph. 50. Good grief, what a specimen.

Riding shotgun with me was Ram boss Jim Morrison, who tows horses with his Ram HD. Romain, Cappa, Morrison … this is a truck developed by people who use them.

Under the full load of 35,100 pounds, Kong pulled at a steady 40 mph up the four-mile grade before finally tailing off to 33 mph at the top.

Tow these kind of numbers with 1,000 pound-feet of torque and businesses become more efficient. More horses can ride in trailers. And auto racers can tow more sport cars to the race track where we can safely push the limits of 700 horsepower.

2019 Ram 3500 Heavy Duty

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $35,090 base, including $1,695 destination fee ($86,300 3500 Laramie Dualie as tested)

Powerplant: 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 (standard engine); turbocharged, 6.7-liter, inline 6-cylinder Cummins diesel

Power: 410 horsepower, 4,429 pound-feet of torque (Hemi V-8); 370 horsepower, 850 pound-feet of torque (standard diesel); 450 horsepower, 1,000 pound-feet of torque (high-output diesel)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic (Hemi V-8); 6-speed Torqueflight automatic (standard diesel); 6-speed Aisin automatic (high-output diesel)

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA; maximum towing, 35,100 pounds

Weight: 5,477-8,396 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: NA (Heavy-duty trucks are outside EPA weight classes)

Report card

Highs: Monster with manners; 35,100-pound towing — need we say more?

Lows:Have to pay for standard safety features found on a $25,000 sedan; towing fuel consumption will suck your wallet dry

Overall: 4 stars

 

 

Cartoon: Colman Oscar Best

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 28, 2019