Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Syria Anti War Obama

Posted by hpayne on September 29, 2014

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Cartoon: Holder Press

Posted by hpayne on September 26, 2014

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Cartoon: Holder Mitchell

Posted by hpayne on September 26, 2014

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Cartoon:UN Climate Ark

Posted by hpayne on September 25, 2014

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Cartoon: Obama Emissions UN

Posted by hpayne on September 25, 2014

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Nimble 2015 Mustang reinvents the pony car

Posted by hpayne on September 25, 2014

The all-new 2015 Mustang is the next chapter in the life of one of the world's most iconic cars. We all make mistakes. The 1970s had an epidemic of them. Watergate. Stagflation. Leisure suits. And the 1974 Ford Mustang II. You remember, the pony car built on a Pinto platform. Mustang's Edsel. In a decade of bitter war, national division and White House scandal, Americans were unsteady. Untrusting of their leaders. Unsure of their institutions. The '74 'Stang was the last straw. The sickly, four-cylinder stallion was a harbinger of decades of Detroit auto decline as the industry suffered from quality issues and a regulatory assault from Washington. The 'Stang was built to satisfy onerous federal regulations, not customer demands. Not until 2005 did the proud pony get its mojo back. It's 2014 and history is repeating itself. Iraq. IRSgate. Stagnant growth. Men's skinny slacks. And, oh lord, Ford is remaking the Mustang to, in part, satisfy federal mpg diktats. The proverbial Casey steps to the plate. Will the Blue Oval strike out again? You can exhale, dear friends. Ford has hit it out of the park. The 2015 Mustang is a thoroughly modern, affordable sports coupe that doesn't sacrifice its muscle car heritage. It's sleek yet muscular. Affordable yet loaded with gadgetry. Powerful yet fuel efficient. Where the 1974 car rebelled against its past, the '15 updates it. Consider ... In 1974 the Mustang II introduced Mustang's first 4-cylinder engine in response to rising gas prices. But it also ditched its V-8 and downsized the car to pint-sized, Pinto proportions. I mean, the thing practically needed training wheels. Sure, the little pony still sold, but it had lost its enthusiast base. And as any pol will tell you, when you lose your base, you're toast. By contrast the 2015 model trumpets the 4-cylinder required to meet mpg regs as a performance advance. This is no entry-level four, but a swaggering turbo with higher output than the base six and enough torque to pull up Chris Christie on water skis. Ford doesn't even call it a four. It calls it Ecoboost. High tech. 21st century. But Mustang doesn't shy from its meal ticket, the V-8.
 Detroit News auto critic reviews the newest version of the pony car.
Indeed, while the Ecoboost is California avocado, the V-8 is Midwest sirloin for the regular customers. Fuel economy takes a dip — from 18/25 to 16/25 for the automatic — as Ford turns up the stove from 412 horsepower to a boiling 435. How's that for a menu? While U.S. foreign policy has pulled back from the world, Ford foreign policy is expansive. Invasive. Genghis Khan on four wheels. The Ford Visigoths aim to conquer Europe and China with an army of Mustangs. No Mustang deuces here. This brute is all stallion. Its exterior maintains T-bone-sized sides and a gun-turret-narrow greenhouse while delivering a sports car's swept fascia and fast back. That fascia has proved controversial among purists as Ford translates muscle car with more international design language. While the Challenger Hellcat doubles down on the U.S. youth market, the movie-star Mustang wants big international box office. "It's a gorgeous car," says Hal Sperlich, product manager of the original '65 pony — a car that overnight changed Ford's stodgy image. "It fits Ford's strategy as brand headliner around the world. People will like it overseas." As the international face of the Ford family it gets family design cues. A more Fusion-like grille. Swept headlights (goodbye brooding cowl) and elegantly sculpted, Mercedes-like nostrils at the front corners. Me? I'm a hips guy. And the Mustang's lower, wider rear proportions make the car much more athletic — hinting at the transformation within. But for the die-hards who still resist, I invite them behind the wheel. The 2005 retro-design restored 'Stang's iconic status after 30 years in the wilderness. But an icon need not be an anachronism. The Mustang's solid rear axle was a relic of the Stone Age. It belonged in the Smithsonian, not on a Flat Rock production line. To compete against the Camaro — much less European performance sedans — the Mustang had to evolve. The result is an independent rear suspension and reworked, dual-link front McPherson struts that transforms Clark Kent into a caped sports car. Owning a Mustang used to mean suffering though corners to get to V-8-devouring straightaways. No more. The new car is a revelation. Toggle the car into sports-plus mode — one of five available modes that come standard — and the beautifully-weighted steering rotates the car into corners with aplomb. On California's State Route 2 I chased a Porsche 911 for miles, shadowing his every move through esses, switchbacks, straightaways. This is a muscle car? With its high center of gravity and porky curb weight of 3,725 ponds, the big V-8 won't be mistaken for a Porsche or Bimmer M4 — but at half the price, it'll make them sweat. Inside, the Mustang retains its familiar portions while dialing up the technology. Sure, the backseat feels like a Barcalounger compared to Delta coach class, but it is still tight by modern auto standards. You want headroom for four or a fast back for your date? I thought so. In the cockpit the seats are comfortable and heavily bolstered — for all those increased G-loads you'll be pulling. The dash bears familiar touches like twin gauges while the console gets a glorious slab of aluminum from port to starboard. The instrument interface is intuitive — even though the interior boys undercooked the aluminum accents with tin foil-like material. Oh, and did I mention "line lock"? Dive deep into the instrument panel menu and you will find it in the track apps. It will change the Dream Cruise forever. It's Burnouts for Dummies. Disable traction control. Prep the system with brake. Then stomp the accelerator and thrill as the rear tires spin like turbines — churning more gases than a Mount St. Helens eruption. It's a blast — and a reminder that, for all the change, Mustang has not forgotten what it stands for: affordable, coed-toting, All-American fun. That's why Bill Clinton bought a '65 'Stang. That's why Europeans are lining up for their first ponies. That's why 2014 is not 1974. Have no fear, America. Mustang is here. Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. 2015 Ford Mustang Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports coupe Price: $24,425 base ($46,075 V-8 as tested) Power plant: 5.0-liter 8-cylinder; 2.3-liter Ecoboost turbocharged 4-cylinder; 3.7-liter V-6 Power: 435 horsepower, 400 pound-feet of torque (V-8); 310 horsepower, 320 pound-feet of torque (4-cyl); 300 horsepower, 280 pound-feet of torque (V-6) Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds (Motor Trend). Top speed: 155 mph Weight: 3,729 pounds (V-8); 3,524 (4-cyl) Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/25 mpg highway (V-8); 21 mpg city/32 mpg highway (4-cyl) Report card Highs: Sports car handling; seats fit like a glove Lows: Cheap control dials; cramped rear seat Overall: ★★★

Cartoon: Secret Service Watchdog

Posted by hpayne on September 24, 2014

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Cartoon: Obama Nobel War

Posted by hpayne on September 24, 2014

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Payne: 200 days with the Chrysler 200

Posted by hpayne on September 20, 2014

With the choice of two world-class engines, an innovative all-wheel-drive system, available sport mode and paddle shifters for an engaged driving experience, and estimated highway fuel economy of 36 miles per gallon (mpg), the all-new Chrysler 200 makes the commute something drivers will look forward to. My wife's best friend has never been quite satisfied with the car market's offerings. Like many hockey moms, she lives behind the steering wheel. "I'm tired of having to reach into the right seat to keep my purse from flying onto the floor. Why don't cars have a place to store your purse in the center console?" sighed the 5'4", reach-challenged Midwesterner on a recent visit. Seen the new Chrysler 200? I said. "The what?" "The 200 has an e-shifter which opens up room below the center console," I said in my best car salesman imitation. "Plenty of room for your purse under the shifter. Secure. Reachable." I had her attention. I gave her a brief engineering seminar on e-shifters and their negation of shift linkages. "Cool. But what would be even better is if I could put my purse right beside me so I can reach right into it. I know where everything is without looking," she said. No problem, I say, figuring my commission owed by Chrysler if I close the sale. The e-shifter also opens up the space behind the shifter. Thank sliding cup holders. Slide 'em back and – voila – a purse drawer at hand's length. "Whoooooooa." I've been getting that a lot lately. Since I last regaled you in March about my thoroughly satisfying test drive of the clever 200 in Louisville, I've had a few more dates with Chrysler's flagship closer to home. Call it 200 days with the 200. We're growing fonder with each visit. Of course, the car market is never easy. Our hockey mom friend hasn't rushed out to get the 200 since we spoke because she's an SUV buyer. And the 200's cargo dimensions don't meet her needs. And Chrysler doesn't make a comparable SUV. And that's a whole 'nother issue. But the Chrysler ute is coming. And when it does, it'll have the same ingenious, best-in-class center console that hockey moms covet. And brand loyalty is born. Chryslers did its homework with the 200. Having your back against the wall will inspire folks like that. Flirting with midsize irrelevance, the 200 is Chrysler's moonshot. It can't afford to fall short. But the 200 is more than a car for interior nerds. This midsize has looks to match. Like a Lake Michigan wave, its body flows from stern to stem. In an age when big, masculine grilles have even taken over the compact classes, the 200 is pleasing to the eye. It's more feminine than the Ford Fusion's gorgeous grille (if Aston Martin has a bastard midsize sedan child, it would look like the handsome Fusion) and that's not a bad thing. The Fusion is the best of the hot hexagon grille fashion trend. Subaru and Hyundai fancy the look as well. Lined up against their midsize pageant competitors, the 200, Fusion, and Mazda 6 cuties are the three finalists. The Sonata and VW Passat make a nice showing. Cars like the Camry and Accord look dated. Chevy Malibu, get thee to a beauty parlor and ask for the Impala facelift. Part of the Chrysler's secret is its flowing greenhouse that defies the traditional sedan "three box form." Alas, the sleek look also defies ceiling room. Duck your head before you get – clonk - too late. If you want head room, buy a Jeep. The 200 is for DINKs and stylish empty nesters. On the road, the Chrysler won't be confused for a Mazda in handling, but — packed with all-wheel drive and a zesty 3.6 power plant — a 200S will give the Subaru Legacy a ride as an affordable AWD V6 for $32k. Indeed, the S is proving to be a hit in early sales returns – making up 31 percent of sales versus an anticipated 25 percent. And – ssssshhhhh — the 200 is quiet. Credit its class-leading .27 drag coefficient and laminated windows. In truth hush is now expected in a class where you can hear a pin drop in most cabins. So when you have to talk over the Legacy's wind noise, you notice. When it comes to quality. . um, can we go back to talking about how lovely the 200 is? "The 200, Avenger, Compass, Journey, and Patriot scored too low to be Recommended," wrote Consumer Reports back in 2011 of the 200's predecessor. The new 200 — still under testing by the CR lads — will have to build its reputation from the tire valves up. The Subies and Accords of the world may not be much to look at, but they are bone reliable with 80-plus CR ratings. Hockey Moms will embrace the 200's innovative purse storage — as long as they aren't emptying it at the dealership for nagging repairs. Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne 2015 Chrysler 200S Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan Price: $22,695 base with 4-cylinder ($32,775 AWD V-6 as tested) Power plant: 3.6-liter, 24-valve V-6 Power: 295 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Nine-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph: 7.0 seconds (manufacturer) Weight: 3,784 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 18 mpg city/29 mpg highway/22 combined Report card Highs: Best-in-class console; Easy on the eyes Lows: Jerky tranny; Low (bonk!) rear ceiling access Overall: ★★★

Cartoon: Scotland UK Marriage

Posted by hpayne on September 19, 2014

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Roarin’ RC-F coupe wakes up staid Lexus

Posted by hpayne on September 19, 2014

0905140735262015_Lexus_RC_F_015.jpg Lexus is perennially near the top of JD Power's quality ratings. It led a torrid luxury market with the summer's hottest sales gains. Its Lexus EX350 crossover is so prevalent in upscale Naples retirement communities, locals call it "the official vehicle of Florida." Satisfying. Durable. Predictable. Yet Toyota's luxe brand isn't satisfied. Now it wants to be exciting. Mom, hide Dad's retirement savings because Lexus wants to fill the other garage spot with a ground-thumping, ear-shredding, two-door, $70,000 temptress. It makes Homer's Sirens sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Lexus dubs it the RC-F. But they want you to think Sex-us. Inspired by Toyota President Akio Toyoda himself — the motor-head grandson of the company's founder — the racy-looking, racy-sounding RC-F wants to wipe your memory banks of boring ol' Lexus design. Akio wants performance. Akio wants style.Akio wants to take on the vaunted BMW M4. What Akio wants, Akio gets. And the Lexus team has have never had more fun. The immediate descendant of the LF-A supercar, the RC-F is the wildest looking luxury coupe this side of the Jetsons' ride. Based on the RC350 coupe version of the IS350 sedan, the RC-F is another in the maddening alphanumeric alphabet soup that has overrun luxury brands. But if you must, I would have named it OMG-F. Japanese luxe makers have struggled with their design language for decades. Acurahad it, lost it, and is now trying the 10-spider eyes approach. The Infiniti Q50's pinched grille looks like Baby Herman's cheeks. Lexus opened as a Mercedes clone in 1989 then settled on boredom. Determined to recast itself as a performance brand, Lexus' new design goes for shock value. In so doing they have thrown the kitchen sink at the RC. The huge, black, hour-glass front spindle grille comes at you like a locomotive cowcatcher. Six LED spider eyes light up the corners. We homo sapiens look for our reflection in our cars. We expect their fascias to be anthropomorphic. Human-like. But the RC-F resists. If anything, that spindly maw looks like a villain's mask. Like the Winter Soldier's dark veil in "Captain America" or Batman nemesis Bane's breathing device. If BMW and Mercedes are the handsome superheroes, then the RC-F is the mad samurai determined to create chaos in our orderly, German-dominated, performance luxury world. Heck, even Lexus coupe ads feature Wes Bentley, the actor who chillingly played Blackheart, the son of Mephistopheles, alongside Nick Cage in "Ghost Rider." In truth, however, the genius of Lexus design is it that it looks like a sculpted weapon. It drips with sci-fi menace. Its bug-zapper grille is shaped by two arrowheads that punctuate the car's heavily creased sides. The headlights echo the Lexus "L" logo. Two trim lights immediately underneath the headlights are also L-shaped. Out back, the coupe is curiously derivative of Scion's (Toyota's youth brand) affordable FR-S sports car. Separated at birth, you might say. A reminder that the RC coupe is aimed at a younger, 40-49 demographic. You a 20-something with an FR-S? You might aspire to the Lexus one day. Double the cylinders, double the fun. These Toyota planners are shrewd. But even Lexus has to learn. As good as the RC-F is, it has has some learnin' to do. Take the base RC350. Please. On the outside, this sleigh is a looker. Where the F's face is a spindled web of terror, its less expensive sister ($42,950 base) is chrome heaven. So bejeweled is the RC that it recalls the 1950s Caddys right down to the little fog lights on its skirt (where the Caddy's chrome bumper would have been). All that's missing is a — AWOOOGAHHHH! — horn on the front fender. Like Cinderella on her way to the ball, the dazzle isn't confined to the face. The RC'sfigure is full of swoops and folds. Its taillights extend beyond the bodywork like the tail-fin lights of yore. You'll want to drive this one to the valet and leave it at the curb for everyone to ogle. You have arrived. Alas, the RC350's beauty is skin deep. The ballroom floor is full of svelte coupes: The BMW 4-series, Audi A5, the athletic new Cadillac ATS coupe. All are taut, quick, athletic dancers. The 3,750-pound RC, by contrast, is less sure-footed. One wrong turn and she'll step on your toes. The steering is light compared to the best-in-class ATS and BMW coupes. Its body roll (watch that diet) more noticeable. The interior is a beautiful landscape of materials — leather, wood — but the Lexus skimps on details that will stand out like CyndiLauper at a Junior League meeting. Where e-brakes have become standard in this high-tech club, the Lexus prefers an old-fashioned, foot brake. Pickup chic? Like the European luxe makers, the coupe eschews the American-car touchscreen (my preference, but then I have freakishly long arms). But rather than a dial, Lexus introduces a cool, mouse-like touch pad. Cool in theory, buggy in practice. I found it almost unworkable over New York roads (my finger dancing across the haptic surface with every road bump), and merely maddening when parked. Buick-like, Lexus decorates the skin with glued-on, non-functional strakes. Details, details. Lexus RC350 2.0 (how's that for an alphanumeric badge?) will be better. But where Lexus has the details right is on the RC-F. Make that eight details. Challenged by stringent international fuel emission rules, the coupe class has gone turbo. Glorious Caddy 4-bangers with kick-in-seat low-end torque. Blown BMW sixes with more power than Zeus. But where are the trumpets? Thank you, RC-F for putting the soundtrack back in luxury. The 5.0-liter, 467-horsepower V-8 is the best music this side of a Jaguar F-Type — but for 30 grand less. Heck, it deserves consideration with my favorite Corvette C7. Same price. Same horsepower. Two more seats. So you can bring your pals along for the ride. On Monticello Raceway's spectacular, 4.1-mile roller-coaster track east of New York, the big, 4,000-pound (psst, Lexus that's the same weight as a Dodge Challenger R/T) even has the personality of a C7 and F-Type — all throaty roars and dazzling power slides. The terrific, rev-matching, eight-speed auto tranny almost made me forget the absence of a stick (a relic of the 20th century). Jerry Seinfeld keeps his Porsche collection at Monticello. I don't think he'll be interested in the Lexus. But arrive behind him at the same restaurant in your RC-F, rev the V8, and I guarantee heads will swivel. What the F? That's a Lexus? 2015 Lexus RC Coupe Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear or all-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports coupe Price: $43,715 base RC350 ($76,565 RC-F V-8 as tested) Power plant: 3.5-liter direct-injection 6-cylinder; or 5.0-liter direct injection 8-cylinder Power: 306 horsepower, 277 pound-feet of torque (V-6); 467 horsepower, 389 pound-feet of torque (V-8) Transmission: Eight-speed automatic (RWD); Six-speed automatic (AWD) Performance: 0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds (RC-F). Top speed: 170 mph (electronically limited) Weight: RC350: 3,748 pounds; RC-F: 3,958 (AWD add 143 lbs.) Fuel economy: EPA 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22 combined (RWD V-6); 16 mpg city/25mpg highway/19 combined (RWD V-8) Report card Highs: Howling V8; Wicked styling Lows: Emergency foot brake; porky

Cartoon: Space Taxi

Posted by hpayne on September 17, 2014

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Cartoon: Go Pro Slide

Posted by hpayne on September 17, 2014

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Cartoon: ISIS Obamacare

Posted by hpayne on September 17, 2014

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Cartoon: Apple Watch Car

Posted by hpayne on September 15, 2014

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Cartoon: Iraq U-Turn Obama

Posted by hpayne on September 15, 2014

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Q&Auto: Ohio basketball star-turned-Acura TLX czar

Posted by hpayne on September 13, 2014

'It goes back to Mr. Honda's philosophy that we have to manufacture cars in the countries where they are sold,' says Mat Hargett.
It goes back to Mr. Honda's philosophy that we have to manufacture cars in the countries where they are sold,' says Mat Hargett. )
You know LeBron James. But the Cleveland Cavaliers’ prodigal son isn’t the only 6’8” sensation to come out of northern Ohio. Mat Hargett played his high school basketball in Cleveland before anchoring Ohio Northern University’s defense for four years as a shot-swatting center. LeBron was drafted by native Cleveland. Hergett hung up his uniform and took an electrical engineering degree to home team Acura.

Home-team Acura?

That a corn-fed, All-American boy from Ohio is development chief for Honda’s luxury division tells you a lot about the sprawling global auto market. Like GM’s German-based Opel division, Acura is an exclusive North American nameplate not sold in its parent company’s home country. Acura headquarters are in California, while Ohio is home to Acura production.

Call it the United States of Acura. Long before Chrysler was “imported from Detroit,” Acura was “imported from Ohio.” It is a Japanese brand made in America, sold to Americans, run by Americans.

Like Hargett. The imposing, ex-hardwood star is the luxury maker’s vice president for development in Raymond, Ohio. He works under another Midwest prodigy, Indiana-born, Purdue-trained, Acura chief Erik Berkman. The 23-year Honda veteran Hargett is the first electrical engineer to lead a product development team, guiding the superb 2015 Acura TLX to market this summer.

At the TLX’s introduction in Bay Harbor, Michigan, I spoke at length with Hargett about Acura-merica.

“It goes back to Mr. Honda’s philosophy that we have to manufacture cars in the countries where they are sold,” says Hargett.

Upon graduation, Hargett was intrigued by the Japanese automaker. “I was told that if you worked in Honda and had an idea for a new position that you could go straight to the president. I couldn’t believe it,” he remembers. “(It) was true. If you want to make a proposal it doesn’t matter if you are Japanese or American. One journalist referred to it as ‘controlled chaos’ which I’m not sure is the correct term. But there’s not a lot of rank here.”

Hargett’s development of the Acura TLX began in 2009 as soon as his team finished the last generation TL.

“We knew right away we were going to replace the car,” says Hargett who began the TLX development process like a startup venture. It was just him and a sheet of paper. From his Ohio office outside Columbus, he began assembling a core team of designers, engineers, and technicians.

It made for long hours and travel to Acura’s Los Angeles-area HQ. “(It) was tough on my wife,” he laments of the time away from family. But he was no stranger to long days after a collegiate career spent juggling an electrical engineering degree with a full basketball schedule.

“I got made fun of a little bit on road trips because I’d be studying on the bus until 1 AM,” he recounts. “After a three-hour practice every day ... I’d do a 7-to-midnight study kill in the library. Sometimes I’d fall asleep and I wouldn’t wake up until 2 or 3 in the morning.”

As the TLX project gained steam it also gained international scope. Auto production is an extraordinarily complex web of suppliers and assembly lines that spans continents and languages. The Acura was designed in L.A., its base 2.4-liter engine developed in Japan, its 3.5-liter powerplant made in Ohio, its 9-speed transmission developed by ZF in Germany, then ... well, let Hargett explain:

“The transmission was then produced in South Carolina, assembled at our engine plant in Anna, Ohio, then transferred to final assembly in Marysville, Ohio.”

“There is so much technology in the car that we can’t do it all ourselves,” he continues. “But I’d say 95 percent of the work is done here. The TLX was developed in the U.S. by our team.”

The sedan is an enormously important product for Acura as it tries to restore lost U.S. market mojo. In typical fashion, Honda has trusted the heavy lifting to its state-side crew. Hargett marvels at being the first EE to lead such a colossal management enterprise.

“A lot of the car is electrified today from the console to the drivetrain,” he says. “Electronics have changed cars dramatically.”

Emerging from the front seat of the TLX, the slim Hargett is all knees and elbows. We swap stories of our college-playing days (all us 6’5”-plus freaks play ball, you know). Does he still play?

“I don’t play much anymore due to herniated discs in my back,” says the 44 year old. “But we do have a fitness center that opened on our R&D campus just a year or so ago with a full basketball court.”

Who knows? Maybe LeBron will shoot an Acura commercial there some day.

 

Cartoon: Obama Election Hold

Posted by hpayne on September 12, 2014

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SRT wannabe: Dodge Dart GT

Posted by hpayne on September 11, 2014

After hours in a local Dodge dealership, I imagine the conversation goes like this:

Challenger SRT Hellcat: Okay, kid, ya gotta get the guys’ attention tomorrow. The boy racers. You know, stir their testosterone. I want you to let out a primal roar. VHHRRROOOOOOOOM! Got it? You try.

Dart GT: Grrrr.

Hellcat: Oh, dear.

The Dodge Dart GT may not be ready to run with the hot hatch crowd — much less its rowdy siblings — but give it time. Chrysler’s first foray into the compact car performance segment — indeed, the first GT since the 1960s Dart — carries enormous potential for both Chrysler and Dodge as they sort out their new family identities.

When Dart first hit dealer lots in 2012, Dodge was a mainstream brand and Chrysler had upscale aspirations. All that changed with Fiat-Chrysler’s May 5-year plan which returns Chrysler to its rightful place as the company’s family brand and gives Dodge free license to explore its wild side.

Dodge dumped its minivan and Avenger models, married SRT, and began spawning ferocious demons like the Challenger SRT Hellcat and Charger SRT Hellcat. From its corner bed, the compact Dart was wide-eyed.

Back in the troubles of 2009 — after the White House auto task force identified Fiat as the best match for an ill Chrysler’s blood transfusion — the Dart got the nod as the first state-side model based on an Italian platform. Dodge meet Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Dart’s target was as much Washington bureaucrats as consumers. Dodge had dusted off the popular Dart name — dormant since 1976 — to erase memories of its woeful predecessor, the Caliber, and resurrect the brand’s compact car sales. But Fiat first had to satisfy President Obama’s resurrection demands. That is, Fiat had to guarantee a 40 mpg Dart with a U.S-made engine before it could take majority share of the Auburn Hills-based company.

Forget horsepower. Dodge engineers poured their talents into a 41 mpg, Michigan-made, 1.4-liter turbo to go with Dart’s standard 2.0 and 2.4-liter engines. Its press release boasted of “fuel efficiency” no less than 11 times.

In Dart’s second year of production GT came to market as an afterthought. In a female-heavy segment, it was a nod to the guys — a sportily-outfitted upgrade to the SXT-trimmed 2.4 liter. Original plans for a raucous R/T had been shelved. The targeted demographic was small, they said. Better to concentrate on the base model, they said. The conservative GT was born.

That was then, this is now. There’s no room for “conservative” in the new Dodge. Not with motorhead CEO Tim Kuniskis in the driver’s seat.

No sooner had the burnout smoke cleared from Kunikis’s introduction of the supercharged Challenger SRT Hellcat this summer than he unveiled a Hellcat version of Dodge’s four-door “family” sedan, the Charger. I’m not making this up. True to Dodge’s reborn performance mission, you can now smoke BMWs out of Woodward stoplights while taking the kids to school. Indeed, the family sedan beats the Challenger Hellcat to a quarter mile (11.0 seconds vs. 11.2).

“No kid ever grew up with a poster of a Passat on his wall,” Kuniskis likes to say.

If Dodge is making SRT family sedans, it must have plans for the Dart. Sure enough, buried in General Kuniskis five-year plan for world domination is a 2017 Dodge SRT Dart.

Due in late 2016, Dodge promises a tattooed, all-wheel drive Dart with a blown 4-cylinder engine and more steroids than Barry Bonds’ bathroom cabinet. Subaru WRX and VW Golf R, check your mirrors.

Challenger SRT Hellcat: Good lord, what happened to you?

Dart SRT (gnawing on a VW GTI wishbone): ’Sup, brother? Wanna go pick on some Mustangs?

Okay, I’m getting waaaay ahead of ourselves. That’s 2017. What to make of the 2014 Dart GT?

The nimble, roomy compact portends good things not just for Dodge but for the compact Chrysler 100 — due in 2016 — that will also carry the Dart’s DNA.

In sharing Dart’s 2.4-liter four-banger with the high-volume SXT model, the GT surrendered its claim to the pocket rocket class where compact sharks like the $30K VW GTI and Focus ST get their own high-output drivetrains. Instead, the GT swims in the same pool as the cheaper Hyundai Elantra GT or Toyota Corolla S. That is, they get sexy hard bodies but without the speed.

The upside is the down-market price. For customers who don’t want to pay a 30 grand pocket rocket premium, the $23,000 Dart GT offers beauty without the beast.

Still, the Dart’s Tigershark engine, also found in the Chrysler 200, is no slouch. Its 184 ponies offer a much punchier ride than Elantra and Corolla peers — and is on par with the excellent Mazda 3’s 2.5-liter mill. Promisingly for future generations, the chassis rivals the renowned Mazda in handling. Oh, yeah. A perfectly-weighted electronic, rack-mounted steering and taut chassis make the front-wheel driver a joy to throw around Michigan’s twisty roads.

Inside, the Dart GT really struts it stuff. The compact’s simple, intuitive dials-and-touch screen controls pioneered the best-in-class interior found in the new, midsize 200. Digital, configurable instrument cluster, 8.4-inch touchscreen, soft dash materials, graceful design. Now imagine the next-gen Dart with a Chrysler 100 badge and you have a dynamic duo in the showroom.

One of the roomiest, most affordable cars in class, Dart has seen climbing sales (a record August), glowing reviews, and (crucially) improved J.D. Power ratings — if not yet in the class of Toyota and Hyundai.

To complete its graduation in two years to SRT hellion, the GT needs a styling upgrade from punk to prince. The genes are there. The car’s current snub-nosed, big-butt stance is so 15 minutes ago. Look to its sibling Alfa Giulietta hot hatch for makeover tips. Think swept-back fascia (heck, even the Charger SRT’s elegant nose will do), raked windscreen, and sporty hot hatch.

The Dart GT is the perfect platform for Chrysler family success. I can hear voices in the dealer showroom now. . .

Challenger SRT Hellcat: Ummmm, thanks, by the way, for showing us all how to do classy interiors. How do you like my cool new dashboard bezel?

Dart GT: Not bad. You got my style. Now, would you mind if I borrowed your drivetrain for tonight?

2014 Dodge Dart GT

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, four-door sedan Price: $20,995 base ($23,735 as tested) Power plant: 2.4-liter, 16-valve, inline 4-cylinder Power: 184 horsepower, 174 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.7 seconds (Motor Trend) Weight: 3,215 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined Highs: Nimble handling; Award-winning interior Lows: Jerky six-speed; Hot hatch, please Overall:★★★

Cartoon: Self Drive Caddy

Posted by hpayne on September 9, 2014

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