Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Trump Eclipse

Posted by hpayne on August 21, 2017


Cartoon: Coal is Alive

Posted by hpayne on August 18, 2017


Cartoon: General Trump

Posted by hpayne on August 17, 2017


Cartoon: Trump and Obama sides

Posted by hpayne on August 15, 2017


Cartoon: Gore’s Science Fiction Movie

Posted by hpayne on August 14, 2017


Cartoon: North Korea and Trump Wrestling

Posted by hpayne on August 13, 2017


Cartoon: Trump and the Media

Posted by hpayne on August 8, 2017


Cartoon: UAW and Nissan

Posted by hpayne on August 8, 2017


Payne review: VW’s Tiguan gets American-ized

Posted by hpayne on August 3, 2017


Has anyone else noticed that fast food isn’t fast anymore? Driving through a McDonald’s for breakfast on the way to work, I sat for 20 minutes waiting for an Egg McMuffin. On an Indianapolis road trip date with this week’s tester, the 2018 VW Tiguan SUV, I waited 23 minutes (I’ve got the stopwatch out by now) for a lunch order at KFC/Taco Bell. By the time I reached the window, I had shaved, finished “War and Peace” and the line behind me was backed up into Ohio.

I’m convinced this inconvenience is the result of fast-food restaurants adding waaaay too many features to their menu beyond their core competence.

Feature-mania has also hit the family SUV which, like fast-food restaurants, are falling all over themselves to be all things to all family. USB ports, 4G Wi-Fi, moonroofs, heated seats, smartphone apps, Sirius XM, fold-flat seats, all-wheel drive, performance drive modes — the SUV interior is a rolling home basement theater except for the minibar. That should be an option soon.

So it is with trepidation that I approach family SUVs expecting the things to go into sensory overload. But I’m happy to report that, by-and-large, they work.

Take the new Tiguan, Volkswagen’s ground-up remake of its entry-level SUV. Like many German makes, previous Tiguans suffered from a superiority complex as VW tried to impose its standard of premium sportiness and minimal interior room on an American buyer who could do without the former and demanded the latter.

Predictably, this sales approach went over like Donald Trump at the Sundance Film Festival. The Tiguan bombed at the box office next to offerings like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape that put the customer first with affordable comfort and gizmos galore.

For 2018 VW has wised up and offered a roomy, Americanized SUV with more offerings than a McDonald’s breakfast. After (finally) getting my KFC, I rolled across the Midwest in a loaded Tiguan SEL tanning under a full sun roof, enjoying my Chicken Little sandwich, thumbing through XM stations with steering wheel controls, while adaptive cruise-control monitored the distance to the semis in front off me lest I be distracted from driving.

So thoroughly Americanized is the McTiguan that it has been supersized.

The 2018 model is a full foot longer and 176 pounds heavier than the outgoing model, gaining a third row of seats usually found in full-size SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe. Readers of these columns know that I am a Golf GTI disciple — the hot hatch that offers everything from five-door utility to apex-carving dance moves.

Where the previous Tiguan seemed separated at birth from its nimble brother, the new model comes from a different birth mother altogether. Never once on my Indy interstate trip was I temped to take the Tiggy off-route to play. Give me a performance ute/car and I’m often tempted to twisty country roads. My route to Mid-Ohio race track this year in a McLaren 570GT looked like a piece of spaghetti.

The Tiguan cedes the sporty SUV high ground to athletes like the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V. This VW is about style, size and sizzle.

There are two kinds of ute styling these days: the coupe wannabes and the Rover groupies. With racy hoods and sloped rumps, the coupe wannabes look sleek at a sacrifice to rear head room and cargo room. That’s not Tiggy’s style. He’s a Rover groupie — a student of the tall, square shape pioneered by the luxury Land Rover brand, and followed by other swank SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Mercedes GLC.

The new look becomes Tiggy. Where the old Tiguan was a hippy, rounded Golf on stilts, the new generation is a luxe toaster. The finely detailed, Rover-esque grille and nicely creased sides (a hint of corporate cousin Audi there) kept my silver V-dub from looking simple, but inside is where this family vehicle really shines.

The dash and console are among the most elegant in the segment — bordering on luxury — with handsome proportions and Audi Q5-like attention to detail with chrome outlines and an optional digital gauge cluster. But Tig speaks with an American accent. Where the Audi’s console space is swamped by a remote rotary button operating infotainment, the V-dub bears an almost-as-good-as Chrysler UConnect touchscreen and multiple compartments for storage.

At Indy’s Mug ’n’ Bun drive-in (instant service with a smile), the Tiguan’s console was as useful as a sectioned high school cafeteria tray. I put my burger in the dashtop cubbie, my fries in the center console, drink and shake in twin cupholders, and smartphone in the fore cubbie. The CR-V still owns best-in-class console but VW is doing its homework.

As for seating, there is none better. Even after a nightmarish, 71/2-hour return trip from Indy stoked by multiple wrong turns due to VW’s helpless nav system and my Android Auto app going AWOL (one of those new menu items that is not working), my backside was no worse for the wear. The roomy back seat also wins raves thanks to that Rover styling.

Your 6-foot-5 scribe could sit bolt-upright even with a full moonroof adding an inch of roof space. And I could recline my seat. And there’s that (viable) third-row option should your rugrats emerge from school with five more rugrats for a sleepover.

Having solved the U.S. family market mystery, the VW only comes up short in one glaring area: price. My loaded SEL priced out at $40,000, well north of the Honda CR-VFord Escape and Mazda CX-5 that I also admire in this class. The more athletic Mazda even comes with more features like dual-mode cruise and a heads-up display — yet weighs in at $6,000 less.

That’s a lot to pay for the Tiguan’s room.

But at least the Tiguan is now a mainstream player in the segment with a menu of offerings that will make any fast-food-eating, smartphone thumbing, plus-size American feel right at home.

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

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan





2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder


8-speed automatic


3,777 pounds (3,858 AWD as tested)


$26,245 base ($39,250 AWD 4-Motion as tested)


184 horsepower, 221 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing capacity:

1,500 lbs.

Fuel economy

EPA mpg: 21 city/27 highway/23 combined (AWD)

Report card





Can get pricey;

Tow capacity down from last-gen: 2,200 to 1,500 lbs.


Cartoon: McCain Kills Trump Health Reform

Posted by hpayne on August 2, 2017


Cartoon: Kelly Fires Mooch

Posted by hpayne on August 1, 2017


Payne: Why I’m all in on Tesla’s Model 3

Posted by hpayne on August 1, 2017


Apple’s Steve Jobs made a career of re-innovating familiar products (the music player, the cellphone, the newspaper) for the digital age with sleek models (the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad). Tesla’s Elon Musk is walking in Jobs’ footsteps with the automobile.

Taking a page from the Apple genius and his “Stevenotes,” Musk likes to introduce his creations on stage before thousands of adoring fans. But unlike silver-tongued Jobs, the geeky Musk’s “Elonnotes” are halting, disjointed affairs. The products, however — Model S, Model X, Model 3 — are no less spectacular.

Almost 18 months ago I put down a $1,000 deposit to buy an electric Tesla Model 3. I was intrigued not only by its Model S-on-a-budget performance but by the most audacious auto startup since the Ford Model T. Friday night I watched with anticipation as Musk rolled on stage and introduced the first Model 3s into the wild.

Am I ready to write the balance of the check? You betcha.

Like the iPhone, the roomy Model 3 is a premium (read more expensive than you think) product with sleek, minimalist design, excellent performance and a different user experience. Unlike the iPhone, it enters a highly competitive auto market where it will stand out in some areas and lag in others.

Billed as a sports sedan, the Porsche-lookalike Model 3 lives up to its promise. I have driven the rear-wheel drive Model S in everything from its base trim to its full blown, all-wheel drive P90D “Ludicrous” drag-racer mode. It is a uniquely capable automobile worthy of its reputation.

I will test drive the Model 3 later this fall, but a handful of media peers got some time with the Model 3 last week before Friday’s “Elonnotes,” and have confirmed to me that the 3 is the S Junior.

 You already know that electric means 100-percent torque off the line, and big-battery EVs like the 75- to 100-kWh Model S and 60-kWh Chevy Bolt showcase neck-snapping acceleration. In the case of the Model S P90D that acceleration is so violent as to cause inner ear dizziness. The Model 3? Motor Trend’s Kim Reynolds and CNET’s Tim Stevens both tell me the acceleration to 60 mph is quick — at low-5 seconds, somewhere between the Bolt EV and base 75-kWh Model S.

But the real revelation of electrics is their handling.

With battery mass under the floor of the car, they have a very low center of gravity. Indeed, the Model S has the lowest CG — along with the Subaru BR-Z sports car — in autodom. This means I can drive it around cloverleafs like a mad man on rails.

The 3 goes one better than the S: It weighs a whopping 600 pounds less at 3,814 pounds (or about the same as a similarly sized V-8 Chevy Camaro SS but with a lower CG).

“I was surprised at how nimble it was,” says Motor Trend’s Reynolds, who tested the car hard through mountains of Malibu, California. “It has little body roll. The harder I pushed it, the smaller the car felt.”

That’s what we reviewers say about Camaros and BMWs, too.

I enjoy the hot-rod, hot-hatch Chevy Bolt. But with rear-wheel drive, the Model 3 puts down the power better and is easier to rotate through corners. That’s a key attraction to gearheads like me who has been looking at, say, a BMW M2. Model 3 will carry a similar, $50,000 price tag, too.

The 3 may be Tesla’s first 200-mile-range-for-under-$40,000 car, but the “Long Range” Model 3 I reserved Saturday (just after the news conference) will cost me at least $49,000 after adding $9,000 for the 310-mile-range battery and $5,000 for leather seats and tinted, permanent sun roof. That, and Tesla won’t start delivering base models until the middle of next year.

How many of the 500,000 customers who have put down $1,000 deposits will turn to a Bolt EV in the meantime? After all, at just $43,510 a fully loaded the Bolt has better range than the base 3 (238 miles vs. 220) and more features like Android CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone app connectivity and leather interior.

Car guys will pay the 3’s premium.

And not just for performance; what is really transformative about the Model 3 is its interior. Again taking a page from Apple, Tesla has created a minimalist interior space with no gauges, and a big, 15-inch horizontal (the Model S goes 17-inch vertical) touchscreen. Others have tried this — notably another startup automaker named Saturn (Detroiters may remember) with its Ion model — but Tesla is a brand designed for the iPhone age.

But isn’t Tesla swimming against the trend to head-up, driver-centric displays? Yes, and when I’m eating up twisty roads in Hell, Michigan, that could be a distraction. But both Reynolds and CNET’s Stevens say they didn’t find it an issue since EVs don’t require a tachometer — just a digital readout for speed.

One gauge that will require checking in the screen, however, is battery range. At 310 miles, my $50,000 Model 3 will get to Lansing-and-back with plenty of room for a detour through Hell for some misbehaving. But take it 180 miles to Gingerman Raceway on Lake Michigan with my buddies for a track day and I’ll suffer. Where do I find a Supercharger (or even a fast DC charger) to get back? And will the Model 3 — like the Model S at Car and Driver’s Lightening Lap test last year — go into limp mode?

Those are questions for extreme use, of course. But for now, they are not disqualifiers. Just as BMW laid down the benchmark for entry-luxe performance with its 3-series, so has Model 3 set the bar for EVs.

Mine should arrive first-quarter 2018.

Cartoon: Repeal and Replace Senate

Posted by hpayne on July 28, 2017


Cartoon: Trump Transgender Military

Posted by hpayne on July 28, 2017


Payne: Honda Type R, Focus RS, Subie STI head-to-head

Posted by hpayne on July 28, 2017

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne takes the Honda


In 2014 I terrorized California’s Monterey Peninsula in a new Subaru WRX STI, the baddest kid on the block for under $40,000.

With muscular fenders, hood scoop and an outrageous rear wing so big you could do chin-ups on it, Subaru’s wild child had the specs to back up its pecs: 305 turbocharged ponies, all-wheel drive and enough cornering grip to pull the lips off your teeth.

Only Volkswagen’s Golf R could hold a candle to its performance, but the German’s conservative wardrobe was for a different customer. The rowdy ’Ru was Dennis Rodman coming at you with a taunt and pierced lip.

That was then, this is now. Subaru got wannabes.

Like Tom Brady followed Joe Montana. Like Justin Verlander after Nolan Ryan. Like LeBron in Michael’s footsteps. Every athlete inspires a new generation. So, too, the STI. In the last two years the 2016 Ford Focus RS and 2018 Honda Civic Type R have traced Subaru’s trail as nice compacts turned into in-your-face, tire-smoking, 300-plus horsepower wild things.

How do they compare to the King of Wing Bling? All three are terrific — the margins small between them. I saddled them up on track, city and rural roads to suss out the differences.

For 2018 my $39,455 Subaru tester has updated its fierce face with a thinner grille, meaner headlights and bigger chin openings to feed more air to the hungry turbo-4 within. If you ogled the blood red, tire-smoking 2007 STI “Baby Driver” co-star, then the more-refined ’18 model will make your heart race.

But Subie looks modest compared to the punked-out, $34,775 2018 Type R. With a rear wing stolen off an F1 racer, more mascara than Gene Simmons of Kiss, and more body vents than a pair of distressed jeans, Type R is a paparazzi magnet. It’s all show and even more go.

In Montreal, Honda took us to the track to test the Type R (in showrooms now) before we ever set tire on road. The R is the offspring of two parents, Honda’s 10th-gen Civic and Formula 1 race program. Take 2016 North America Car of the Year Civic’s wider, lower chassis and inject it with F1 DNA: front spoiler, front-wheel air curtains, stiffer shocks, beefier anti-roll bars … and that outrageous rear aerofoil. It looks like the Civic was rear-ended by the Red Baron.


The Type R is then stuffed with the heart of a lion. Coaxing 306-horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque out of a mere 2.0-liter turbo, the four-pot is the production manifestation of everything Honda has learned in 60 years of motorsport.

Around Montreal’s iCAR race track, the R immediately recalled the Si sibling I tested in Mojave earlier this year — intuitive, planted, balanced. But with 50 percent more power. The Si made headlines last decade with a 2.0-liter, normally-aspirated engine that put out 100 horsepower per liter — a feat only Ferrari and BMW engines could match. In the turbo era, the Type R’s 150-ponies-per-liter eclipses even the mighty Porsche Turbo (143 per liter).

At the legendary Nurburgring, the Type R threw down the gauntlet with a front-wheel-drive car record 7.43-minute lap. Nail the turbo to 7,000 rpms and somehow the front Pirelli Sports stay on despite 295 torques coursing through them.

This muscle-bound physique is only an issue in low speed second-gear corners as torque overwhelms the steering, and the tires fling asphalt like a mutt digging for a bone. Throttle management is required. I pine for the STI’s all-wheel traction.

Next to these two wing nuts, the squat $39,560 Focus RS looks positively working-class. No exotic triple or quad pipes here — just twins. No wing, just a big, hatch-hitched spoiler. The face is inelegant — its bumper stuffed into its enlarged grille like Rocky Balboa’s mouthpiece. But like Rocky, this thing is a champ.


Underneath its hood are 350 horses and the most sophisticated powertrain of the lot: a torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system with twin rear clutch packs that speed up the outside rear wheels for better rotation (the STI’s AWD system uses inside-wheel braking). Fifty horses shy of the Focus RS, the Subaru STI still matches the Focus on zero-60 and quarter-mile times. But despite its cosmetic upgrades, the STI did not get sister Impreza’s all-new architecture — an oversight that also puts it a generation behind the Honda. The old bones of the Focus are no match for Honda, either — but its powertrain compensates.

On track at Waterford Raceway, the Ford rotated nimbly through the long, challenging Carousel — then put down the AWD power on exit.

The hard-backed seats and stiff suspension of the RS will beat you up around town, though, the nose porpoise-ing along Detroit’s choppy roads. Type R’s comfortable thrones are better daily wear. The Subaru’s Recaros? Somewhere between the two.

On the road, the Type R may be a Rottweiler off its chain — bounding around country roads looking for something to chew on — but its Comfort setting is the most livable, dialing back the ride from rock hard to merely stiff.

The four-banger of the RS brings welcome character. It roars furiously with the pedal down, then farts and pops when you let off. It’s wonderfully obnoxious compared to the STI’s flat-4 VW Beetle-like putter, and the Type R’s generic bark.

If you don’t know how to drive a stick, you’re in the wrong aisle. These bad boys come manual only.

The Honda’s silver ball-topped shifter is the standout here, its short throws making for easy box navigation. It’s an entree to the car’s well-thought out ergonomics from seats to center console to easy-pull rear shade. Even with the third pipe exhaust resonator the car is quiet inside.

Infotainment systems? Huh? Are the cars not entertainment enough? Suffice to say all offer Apple CarPlay/Android Auto apps to get you to the local track.

I am also biased to the hot hatches — the RS and Type R’s five-door utility matching their performance. Load ’em with luggage for South Haven, blitz Gingerman Raceway for track day, then hang at the beach afterward. The STI sedan is less space efficient — but at least you can dry your wet towel over the rear wing.

The verdict? Focus RS is the performance champ, but the content-rich Type R lays down a new marker of wing-bling affordability for a cool $5K less than its rivals. The STI, meanwhile, plots in the shadows. When it gets the Impreza’s new chassis, watch out.

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

2018 Honda Civic Type R




2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder


6-speed manual


3,117 pounds




306 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 5.0 seconds (Car and Driver); 170 mph

Fuel economy

EPA est. mpg: 22 city/28 highway/25 combined

Report card




Wing-bling may not be your thing;

tough putting power down with FWD


2017 Ford Focus RS




2.3-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder


6-speed manual


3,459 lbs.


$36,995 base ($39,560 as tested)


350 horsepower, 350 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 4.7 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 165 mph

Fuel economy

EPA 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined

Report card




Stiff seats;

stiff daily driver


2018 Subaru WRX STI




2.5-liter, turbocharged, boxer 4-cylinder


6-speed manual


3,463 pounds


$36,995 base ($39,455 as tested)


305 horsepower, 290 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 4.7 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 159 mph

Fuel economy

EPA est. mpg: 17 city/23 highway/19 combined

Report card




Aging chassis; hatchback, please?


CARtoon: Sedan Dinosaur

Posted by hpayne on July 26, 2017


Cartoon: Sessions versus Shark Trump

Posted by hpayne on July 26, 2017


Cartoon: Spicer Out

Posted by hpayne on July 26, 2017


Cartoon: OJ Parole

Posted by hpayne on July 21, 2017


Cartoon: Trump Apprentice and healthcare

Posted by hpayne on July 21, 2017