Henry Payne Blog

CARtoon: Jaguar Balance

Posted by hpayne on March 3, 2015

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Cartoon: Netanyahu speech

Posted by hpayne on March 3, 2015

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Cartoon: Bibi for President

Posted by hpayne on March 3, 2015

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Cartoon: Obama and winning Friends

Posted by hpayne on March 2, 2015

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Cartoon: Obamanet

Posted by hpayne on March 2, 2015

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Payne: Q&Auto with the fastest man on earth

Posted by hpayne on February 28, 2015

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Over the next month, Carpenter will work furiously to prepare two team cars (each car requires a budget of at least $6 million). As a driver he trains daily. In between he promotes IndyCar. Like hosting a pre-screening of the movie “Focus” —starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and IndyCars — in Detroit this week. I sat down with the affable, soft-spoken oval-track master to talk speed, Super Bowls, and Suburbans.

Q: What’s it like to be the fastest man on earth?

Carpenter: It’s a lot of fun. Speeds like that are what focused me on motorsports, especially Indy. I’ve been the fastest the last two years and now I’d like to get to the track record (Ed. note: The track qualifying record is 237 mph set back in 1996 by Arie Luyendyk under different car rules).

Q: What’s constant, 230-plus mph like?

Carpenter: The first lap feels really good at that speed. But we take out a lot of down-force (wing angle) to run at that speed and that’s tough on the tires. We wear through a set in four laps — by lap four the tires are really sliding around. We’re right on the limit of adhesion. What has gotten us on pole is the ability to run 230 consistently over four laps.

Q: You’ve joined forces with Sarah Fisher?

Carpenter: We talked about it in the past. We had each been trying to grow (to two car teams), but it’s a challenge — a lot of money to raise. So now we’re Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing, operating as a two-car team. I’ll be driving ovals. And Luca Filippi will be driving the street courses.

Q: Your sponsors?

Carpenter: On the No. 20 car it’s Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka who’s been with me full-time for four years. On No. 67 car Hartman Oil is the primary sponsor. Our engines are Chevy. Sarah hired me in 2011 for her team when she retired. Dollar General was sponsoring that car and didn’t want the confusion of Fuzzy’s on their cars because they weren’t selling any alcohol.

Q: TUDOR and NASCAR do their “Super Bowls” early in the year. You do yours — the Indianapolis 500 — over Memorial Day. Is that a good idea?

Carpenter: I like the way we’re set up. A lot of Indy is about tradition. It’s the focal point of our season and it’s been Memorial Day weekend forever.

Q: Detroit comes right after Indy. How important is it?

Carpenter: Detroit is the only doubleheader (Saturday and Sunday races) on the schedule which makes it important. You can make a lot of points. It’s hard coming (after Indy) because there’s one team that’s really happy and everyone else is licking their wounds. So everyone shows up in Detroit a little hung over in one way or another.

Q: Formula 1 costs have gone into the stratosphere after pressure from manufacturers to go to hybrid power plants. Do you feel pressure from manufacturers?

Carpenter: A bit. Chevy left (in 2004) and came back because IndyCar went to a smaller displacement, twin turbo, direct injection fueling. The formula is more in line with what they are building for production cars. They pull engineers from the production side and get them involved in racing to see our approach to problem solving.

Q:You leave the high speeds at the track. Still driving a Chevy Suburban at home?

Carpenter: Just got my new one a couple weeks ago. I’ve got three kids so I’m always dropping somebody off.

Payne: Honda CR-V vies for No. 1 best-seller

Posted by hpayne on February 26, 2015

Exterior design changes include a restyled front with

We Americans don’t like station wagons or hatchbacks. But jack ‘em up, stick high chairs inside, and change their name to “sport utility vehicles,” and we’ll buy them faster than Garth Brooks concert tickets.

The station wagon is dead, long live the station wagon. Once a popular hatchback version of the common sedan, the wagon has risen from the ashes as a full-blown class of its own: The SUV. So popular have wagons — er, utes — become that sedans are now the endangered species. Go figure.

The compact Honda CR-V sport ute is Exhibit A in this turn of events.

Don’t be surprised if you wake up some morning soon to find that the CR-V has outsold the Toyota Camry sedan as the best-selling non-pickup in America. Surprise! It just did.December 2014 sales: CR-V 32,369, Camry, 31,618. Camry still won for the year, but … when and if the CR-V passes it, it will only confirm a long trend. SUVs — can we call ‘em SWIDs (Station Wagons In Drag)? — outsold sedans for the first time in 2014 and now share the same clothing racks as sedans from SMALL (Honda HR-V vs. Honda Fit) to XL (Ford Explorer vs. Ford Taurus).

I ruminated over this phenomenon with marketing guru Jim Morrison of Jeep, the

company that birthed the car-based SUV. In Europe, theorizes Professor Morrison, the station wagon is still the family choice because the daily, no-speed limit Autobahn commute is done at the average speed of the Daytona 500. Performance is at a premium. In the 70 mpg U.S.? Not so much. Which means Euros want a wagon’s low center of gravity, while Americans want to sit up high so they can see what neighboring drivers are texting on their iPhones.

No doubt. But Europe is also experiencing its own SUV revolution — witness Morrison making the subcompact Jeep Renegade in Italy for European consumption. Yes, the Continent has the ute bug. Sure, the Euros will drive smaller SUVs (the Renegade could fit in the center arm rest of a Chevy Tahoe) given their wallet-flattening $8-a-gallon petrol prices, but they’re human too. And humans like sitting up high.

Why? Sport Ute 101, Chapter 1: The H-Point.

In industry speak, the H-point is the height of your hips off the ground. Humans like to sit with their hips no higher than their knees (look at that armchair you’re in). Sedans are unnatural, people. No one understands this better than Honda, a company once known for quirky fun-mobiles like CR-Xs and S2000s — but that now makes payroll by selling everycars to everyman.

The CR-V was the first compact SUV in the business and is Exhibit A in how Honda creates customers for life.

The 2015 in my driveway is the fourth generation of CR-V, following its segment-busting intro in 1997. The CR-V hit the market G-SPOT: A roomy, all-wheel-drive, family friendly recipe still small enough to maneuver in tight urban canyons. Marinate in legendary Honda reliability and the vehicle was crack for the middle-class.

The CR-V cuts a wide demographic swath: Soccer moms, young urban dwellers, arthritic boomers who can’t get out of a sedan without calling 911. And when the lease was up, why risk another brand when the CR-V is so doggone reliable?

The formula is being tested, however, as competitors have gained in durability and surpassed the shoebox-shaped CR-V in sex appeal. In its ambition to become a sales volume leader (Honda is the retail sales leader in a remarkable four of the six segments in which it competes), Honda forgot the fun factor somewhere back at that rest stop near Sandusky.

It’s as if Kid Rock began playing Brahms. Frisky Honda had gone nerd.

Ford filled the vacuum with ST hot hatches and creative Escape utes. The AWD Escape was a pair of Air Jordan high-tops to the CR-V shoebox. So just three years after its 2012 do-over, CR-V designers got a 5 a.m. reveille. Honda calls it “the most significant mid-model cycle redesign in the CR-V’s 17-year history.”

It shows. The makeover begins with a Kia Optima-like wraparound grille and headlamps. Ol’ four eyes used to look as homely as a pimply teen. Now the chrome, bezel-wrapped specs look like something out of the X-Men’s Cyclops catalogue. The ute’s chin mirrors the bezel line — giving the CR-V an aggressive, bullet-like nose with plenty of curb clearance. In back CR-V takes a page from the cool hatch crowd with tapered C-pillar glass. Damn the rear-quarter visibility. That’s what blind spot assist is for (“Engage the deflector shield, Scotty!” The CR-V is wrapped in high-tech safety systems).

Inside, the exterior cues translate nicely to a flowing dash converging in a narrow, center-shifter exclamation point. Function follows form, and the dash curves opens plenty of space for this tall passenger’s knobby knees.

Unfortunately, the CR-V’s instruments team didn’t get the wake-up call.

Instrumentation feels a generation behind interiors in the Escape, Chevy Equinox (or Camry sedan for that matter). The seat-heater buttons look glued on. You need a magnifying glass to see the telematics-control buttons. And Honda insists on a second dash screen that contains … the time and date?

Typical of Honda there are driver-friendly touches like multi-shelf door storage, console dishes for smartphones, and sliding cup holders. But Escape still feels a step ahead. Its rear seats fold flush for optimum storage — for, say, that 20-something’s first flat-screen TV. CR-V seats stubbornly refuse to flatten. And once you’ve used the Escape’s “foot kick” rear hatch opener there’s no going back.

The Ford is pushing CR-V for best-selling ute in America. That’s a good thing. Look out, Camry, you may have eight sets of tire marks over your hood.

Navigating Metro Detroit in 2 feet of snow, I could count off the CR-V advantages over a Camry or Honda Accord sedan. Sure-footed AWD. Better passenger access. More head room. More hatchback utility. Comparable fuel economy. And perhaps most significantly to this longtime sedan snob: A tight CR-V chassis. Despite its higher center of gravity, body roll wasn’t intrusive until I pushed the envelope. And envelope-pushing benefits the CR-V’s all-wheel drive.

Warning to sedans: The SUV in your mirror is closer than it appears.

2015 Honda CR-V

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

Price: $24,325 base ($33,600 Touring AWD as tested)

Power plant: 2.4-liter, direct-injection, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 185 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.5 seconds (Car & Driver)

Weight: 3,358 pounds, base (3,624 AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 26 mpg city/33 mpg highway/28 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: Stylish new design; AWD winter warrior

Lows: Dated ergonomic switches; rear seats won’t flatten

Overall:★★★

Cartoon Keystone Jobs Veto

Posted by hpayne on February 24, 2015

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Cartoon: Apple Car

Posted by hpayne on February 23, 2015

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Cartoon: Oscar Winners

Posted by hpayne on February 22, 2015

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Payne: Ford F-150, Swiss Army truck

Posted by hpayne on February 21, 2015

 

635600441000974953-CARtoon-SwiisArmyF150I get this pickup truck thing.

As a lad I played with Hot Wheels and built go karts while other kids played with Swiss Army knives and crafted tree forts. We boys never really grow up. So now I play with sports cars. Those other kids? They drive oversize tools called pickups. Call ‘em Swiss Army trucks. They can do anything.

Take the new, 2015 Ford F-150.

In America’s perennial, ferocious Truck Wars, the light duty F is the latest, greatest, best-selling example of the most versatile tool on earth. Like its Chevy Silverado and RAM 1500 competitors, it’ll ply a stream with a load of mulch in the morning, then comfortably chauffeur the family to evening dinner. The F-150′s a big, lovable, aluminum-skinned Labrador retriever. Man’s best friend.

These days Ford is rolling out fun F-150 accessories faster than Kim Kardashian can take selfies. Which is a welcome relief because the introduction of the F-150 a year ago was soooo deadly serious. When the F-150 was announced at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, it promised to “preserve the world for generations to come” in the words of Chairman Bill Ford. Global warming was roasting polar bears and gas prices were headed to $10 a gallon. The Ford pickup was made of aluminum, we were told, to prevent the ocean from lapping at our doorstep. Everyone was so dang grim.

But then gas prices tanked and winter temperatures got so cold that polar bears are wearing long underwear. All of which is good news for Ford because they can go back to selling Swiss Army trucks and their cool tools.

I’ve already told you about the F-150′s side mirrors which can pool light on the ground like a theater usher, illuminate the landscape with spotlights, cover your blind-spot, and tie a bow tie (just kidding about that last one). The backseat will fit a boy’s basketball team — or it can be folded flat for a space bigger than Beyonce’s walk-in closet.

But with Detroit under 2 feet of powder this week, Ford’s happy elves showed off the truck’s snow plowing and snowmobiling capabilities.

“We know our customers better than they know themselves,” smiled Brandt Coultas, F-150 Consumer Marketing Manager. Snow plowing has always been the domain of heavy duty pickups like Ford’s F-450, not light duty. Heavy duties have more brawn, more ground clearance, more stump-pulling, diesel-fired torque. But Coultas’ team heard their customers pining for the same capability in light duties.

 

Ford listened and engineered the F-150 from the ground up to take the rigors of plowing.

The Ford F150 equipped with BOSS Snow Plow clears a parking lot in Dearborn.

We sports car guys are obsessive about this sort of thing, too. When Chevy designed the new Corvette C7, they listened to their customers — from Dream Cruisers to race teams — who said they wanted a no-compromise car. So Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter & Co. engineered the C7 to be stiff and aerodynamic. Want a convertible?Voila! Chop the top — no re-enforcement needed. Want to race at LeMans? Behold! Downforce galore.

For my Swiss Army truck adventure, I brought along my neighbor Bob Gulyas, a construction company owner and certified pickup guy. Ford brought the BOSS plow team. With the plow-ready F-150, BOSS just wired up a 430-pound blade and we were good to go. No extra alternator to run the power steering. No suspension changes. No cab limitations.

We had a ball pushing snow around the Adoba Hotel parking lot at Fairlane Mall in a 4×4 V-8. So much fun that I wanted to call in the F-150 owners’ club. Remember the 100 lucky Mustang clubbers invited to Ford Proving Grounds last Dream Cruise to witness the new pony’s line-lock, burnout feature? They went bonkers like kids at a Stanley Cup final.

Now imagine 100 F-150 owners lined up door-handle-to-door-handle to plow the Fairlane lot. But I digress.

Neighbor Bob marinates in F-150 every day, but was still blown away by the pickup’s new tools: Plow option, 360-degree camera, 170-degree SuperCab doors, rear-camera hitch assist, and so on. “The technology is incredible,” he said.

But what if you prefer to play in powder than plow it? Say, in a 4×4 Can-Am Renegadeall-terrain vehicle? Swiss Army Truck will help, natch.

Lightweight, aluminum loading ramps that store on the truck bed sides are available (just screw them into the removable BoxLink cleats. Genius) so they don’t bang around under the ATV. Slide them into tailgate plate, back down the Can-Am, and you’re pounding powder like a motorized lynx.

Will the F-150 save the planet? Nope. But it’ll help you conquer it. The world is your backyard and Swiss Army truck has the tools to explore every inch. I wonder if that bed will fit my sports car?

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

 

2015 Ford F-150 with “plow prep,” spotlight mirrors, BoxLink ramps, trailer hitch, and lord-knows-what-else

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

Price: $26,615 base ($51,270 as tested, $4,600 BOSS plow (est) not included)

Power plant: 5.0-liter V-8

Power: 385 horsepower, 387 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Performance: Towing capacity (4×4): 11,100 pounds

Weight: 4,871pounds

Fuel economy: EPA mpg: 15 city/22 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Plow prep option just $50; Will do everything but tie your shoes

Lows: Can’t sprout wings and fly

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Obama War Names

Posted by hpayne on February 21, 2015

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Cartoon: Family at the movies

Posted by hpayne on February 20, 2015

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CARtoon Groundhog Jeep

Posted by hpayne on February 20, 2015

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Payne: Is bargain Scion FR-S the Porsche 944 reborn?

Posted by hpayne on February 19, 2015

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Oh, it’s good to be in my 20s again. Auburn hair. Lightning-quick reflexes. Eyes like a hawk.

Or maybe it’s just this Scion FR-S I’m driving. Dude, it’s dope.

Not since my first sports car 25 years ago — Porsche’s legendary 944 — has a thrifty thoroughbred felt so good in my hands. “Affordable sports car,” after all, is usually an oxymoron.

But for the durable, adorable Mazda Miata roadster (25 years old this year), examples of the breed rarely survive the business bean counters.

I grew up at the track, the oil-stained son of a Porsche race jockey. But on the street, Porsches were exotics — megabuck 911 playthings for middle-aged moguls. Until the 944 broke the mold. Long before Mercedes (CLA 250) and Audi (A3) crafted down-market sedans to lure younger demographics, Stuttgart hatched a $20K, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2+2 sports car that set young motorheads’ hair on fire.

At a base price of $22,000 in 1982, the 944 was a bargain. And with sexy styling, torquey four-banger, and balanced handling, it was to die for. “The most seductive combination of economy and performance money can buy,” in the words of motorhead bible Road & Track.

Henry Payne and the Scion FRS

Fresh out of college in 1984, I drove the 944 for the first time. Where my college mates celebrated graduation by traveling to Europe to sip wine and chase French skirts, I rented a 944 (the Euro lot equivalent of a Mustang) with my old man and terrorized Germany. We hit the car’s top speed of 134 mph on the Autobahn. We bought laps at the epic Nurburgring (a must for every gearhead’s bucket list). We chased Mercs.

I was smitten. Six years and a many saved paychecks later, I had my own, used, 1987 Porsche (a 924S, the 944′s streamlined, lightweight option). We did everything together from long trips to track days. As well-behaved as the 944 chassis was on track it was also practical around town with a hatchback and rear seats big enough for little Paynes.

But Porsche would not make the 944 forever.

Margins were small and capital investments high. “When it came time to upgrade, it just wasn’t worth the money,” says Kelly Blue Book managing editor Matt DeLorenzo, former editor of Road & Track. The last 944 rolled off the line in 1991 and the segment withered with it. Its more-powerful 968 sequel exited in 1995. The rotary-powered Mazda RX7 — a 944 copycat — died a decade later. Nissan’s Z got porky and pricey. The Miata’s cuter than quick. Darkness enveloped the Earth.

In 2013, the FR-S rose from the ashes. Courtesy of Toyota’s youthful Scion brand. The budget bullet was back.

Shades of 944, Scion’s skin is aggressive yet timeless. Eschewing boy toy wings or flared fenders, the fastback design is purposeful, not showy. Inside the cockpit, FR-S transports pilot back to the 944′s low-slung, driver-centric layout. With its long snout and rear seats, even beanpoles like yours truly fit comfortably under the squat roof (I need a giant shoe horn to get in the wee Miata).

Scion controls are light years beyond the 944, courtesy of 21st-century strides in digital audio. Scion comes with 6-inch LCD touchscreen, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, nav, apps, Pioneer AM/FM/CD, woofer, and a partridge in a pear tree. It’s a veritable rolling opera house compared to my old Porsche and its radio and tape deck (Look it up, kids. You’ll find one in the Smithsonian).

In truth the only audio I need in the Scion is the exhaust note.

Light the wick with the push-button starter and the FR-S comes to life like a kicked wolverine. HAWRAWRP! It’ll make your tail tingle. You want a quiet car? Buy a Camry. The FR-S is loaded for bear.

At the other end of this deranged growl is a 200-horse, 2.0-liter Boxer engine. The compact power-plant is the perfect complement to the crouched Scion chassis (its center of gravity is lower than a Porsche Cayman).

With cost in mind, Scion co-developed the FR-S with Subaru (thus the twin Subaru BRZ), just as Porsche co-produced its bargain sports car with Volkswagen. But Porsche’s first take, the 924, was a disaster. Porsche delivered the styling goods, but VW delivered, well, a VW drivetrain. Duh. The result was, in order: 1) the little engine that couldn’t, 2) ridicule from Porschephiles, 3) an extreme makeover called the 944.

Toyota made no such mistake. The Scion chassis and Subaru drivetrain connect like Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson. The FR-S Boxer engine is a rarity — a non-turbo that spits 100 horsepower-per-liter.

Even in January on Seven Mile’s Washtenaw County twisties, the Scion thrills.

While modern sports cars have put on weight (haven’t we all?), the 2,770-pound FR-S weighs less than its 2,900-pound, 158-horsepower Porsche forebear (and the same as my 924S version). More remarkably, the FR-S — at $25,670 — is barely more expensive than the 944 three decades ago.

With a quarter century of materials and suspension advancements, the Scion is noticeably stiffer than the Porsche. It cuts through corners like a knife through capellini. I pine only for the optional manual transmission (though the auto tranny’s rev-matching tries hard to make me forget).

Following Payne tradition, I too have a hot-shoe, young college grad. He too lusts for bargain speed. He too is eying the FR-S. But here’s the thing: He has more choices than I did a generation ago.

So when he joined me for a taste of Scion, we took along a Honda Civic SI coupe as well. With its own high-revving, 200-horse, 2.0-liter chainsaw, the nimble, identically-priced SI represents a pocket rocket breed that didn’t exist three decades ago. And while the front-wheel driver can’t match the RWD FR-S’s athleticism, it holds its own while also holding more cargo.

Tough neighborhood. Though he’ll miss the FR-S on track days, my son might find the fun SI — or the VW GTI, or the Subaru WRX, or the Ford Fiesta/Focus ST — delivers more utility 24/7. If the FR-S wore the iconic Porsche badge? That might change the dynamic. The 944 undeniably benefited from the family crest. Scion lacks LeMans trophies on its mantle.

For over a decade Porsche thrilled the entry segment with 4-cylinder variations of the 944 including the 924S, 944S, Turbo, and 968 (I eventually stuffed a 3.0-liter, 240-horse 968 mill into my featherweight 924S for the ultimate 4-banger Porsche). Fingers crossed that the FR-S hangs around.

Because this budget-friendly, asphalt-chewing coupe is, like, the fountain of youth.

2015 Scion FR-S

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger sports car

Price: $25,670 base ($29,742 as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, dual-overhead cam Boxer 4-cylinder

Power: 200 horsepower, 151 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: six-speed automatic or six-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Car & Driver)

Weight: 2,770 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway/28 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: A tossable treat; throaty boxer

Lows: Rugrat-sized rear seats; turbo option, please?

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Homeless Climate Deniers

Posted by hpayne on February 18, 2015

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Cartoon: President’s Day

Posted by hpayne on February 13, 2015

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Cartoon: Valentine’s Chocolates

Posted by hpayne on February 13, 2015

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Cartoon: Valentine’s Card

Posted by hpayne on February 13, 2015

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Cartoon: Obama and Isis

Posted by hpayne on February 12, 2015

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