Articles Blog

Meet the Dream Cruise Class of ’92

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 16, 2018

Paynecars

The Woodward Dream Cruise is an automotive class reunion. It’s that time of year when owners get together on Michigan’s most fabled avenue to share memories about their favorite old jalopy and to catch up on the latest trends and models. My goodness, have you noticed how big Mini Cooper has gotten?

This year we celebrate the Class of 1992. It turns 26, meaning cars are eligible for antique status from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.

Most things turn antique after 25 years but, well, close enough for government work. The designation allows owners to slap on historic license plates and qualify for more affordable collector car insurance (assuming you only drive to historic car events like the Cruise).

Ah, 1992. When Bill Clinton was elected president, a Cyrus — Billy Ray, not daughter Miley — had the top-selling music album in the land, and my daily driver was a red cop-magnet: a 1987 Porsche 924S.

The average cost of a car was $16,334 (less than half today’s $36,270), the Detroit Three were demanding trade protection, BMW announced it would manufacture in South Carolina, and General Motors made cars named after the planet Saturn. “Little Al” Unser won the Indy 500, NASCAR still was sponsored by cigarettes, Richard Petty retired from racing, and some kid named Jeff Gordon got his rookie start.

That’s a lot of nostalgia for the reunion to chew on. Want more? Let’s talk the year’s most notable new vehicles.

Hummer H1
The military Humvee was to the 1991 Gulf War what the Jeep was to World War II. The troop carrier inspired a civilian version that debuted with a ringing endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gun turret not included.

Just 316 were sold in ’92 by AM General off the same Indiana assembly line as the military brute. They shared components, including an impressive 72-degree front departure angle, which meant you could take the River Rouge as a shortcut to work. Other features were less impressive, like zero-80 mph acceleration in a glacial 47 seconds and brakes that didn’t stop the three-tonner until the middle of next week.

Cadillac Eldorado/Seville
Cadillac’s early-21st century product resurgence may have had its roots in the 1992 Cadillac Eldorado and Seville. The pair’s shrinking dimensions had matched their shrinking market share, but the bigger, bolder ’92 was a return to form.

“It’s the brightest ray of sunshine that we’ve seen from the Motor City in years,” wrote Car and Driver. Motor Trend awarded it Car of the Year. The Caddys were powered by a 200-horse, 4.9-liter V-8 and an ad campaign that promised “it could change the way you think about American automobiles.”

BMW 3-Series (E36)
So fanatical are BMW 3-Series customers that many can name their favorite Bimmer by alphanumeric generation: E36, E46, E90 and so on. Mine is the E46 M3, FYI. But for many the E36 model — introduced in the United States for model year 1992 — is the one.

E46 marked the first 3-Series to move away from a cowl grille to encased headlights separated from the signature kidney grille. The new look gave the Bimmer better aerodynamics to complement its athletic handling and healthy 189-horse, straight-6 engine. A driver’s car, rear-seat passengers were shortchanged with little leg room.

Mazda 929
An elegant sedan to rival the Eldorado, the 929 was a study in minimalist beauty with its thin grille and sweeping lines.

The 929 also offered techy features like a “solar moon roof” (pardon the oxymoron) which cooled the interior. Exotic, but impractical. It lacked a glove box (due to air bag placement) and boasted a price tag that was $2,500 higher than Lexus’ ES300, the fast-rising Japanese luxury juggernaut. The ES would endure, the 929 would not.

McLaren F1
The F1 is legend, but wasn’t allowed here until last year under America’s “25-year rule” that permits imports not previously approved for U.S. regulations. The scissor-door F1 was the successful English race team’s first venture into production cars. Today’s P1, 720S, and 570GT cyborgs are its spawn.

Specs are epic. The first supercar with a carbon-fiber monocoque weighed just 2,500 pounds, hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and set a (then) record top speed of 231 mph — numbers still competitive today. But here’s the thing: only 106 were built, so expect to pay north of $10 million for one.

Honda Prelude
If McLaren F1 was the class’ unobtainable hottie, then Prelude was the fun party gal. The coupe entered its fourth-generation in 1992 with significant changes, including an end to pop-up headlights that had been the industry rage in the ’80s.

Car and Driver voted the remake to its 10 Best list, raving that “Honda changed the Prelude’s personality from plain-vanilla to cayenne pepper.” Prelude came loaded with options including a sliding sunroof, innovative all-wheel steering (really) and three engine options.

The performance Si version pumped out 160 horsepower from a 2.3-liter mill shared with the Accord. Prelude has since been crowded out of the Honda lineup with the racy, 205-horse Civic Si waving Honda’s coupe flag.

Subaru SVX
The nimble Subaru BRZ (the only Subie without all-wheel drive) is one of my favorite sports cars. But it’s hardly Subaru’s first foray into the segment. In ’92 the Japanese brand turned heads with the SVX. Starting a trend of one, SVX innovated the “window-within-the-window,” which allowed passengers to roll down an embedded pane and not get wet in a rain storm.

Subaru contracted Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro — father of the BMW M1 and Maserati Ghibli — to pen their new halo coupe. Other notable features included a powerful, flat-6 putting 230 horses to the ground via all-wheel drive. The hefty price tag ($45,000 in today’s dollars), however, was outside Subie customers’ comfort zone and the SVX met an early death.

Ford Taurus SHO
The last of the purist SHO (Super High Output). This classic, manual-only Woodward Q-ship was nearly indistinguishable from the standard, best-selling Taurus family sedan (hmmm, those dual-exhaust pipes look different!). But Ford stuffed the engine bay with a stonkin’ 220-horse, Yamaha-developed V-6 that hit 60 mph in less than seven seconds.

Sales suffered for the lack of an automatic option, so a year later, Ford added a 3.2-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed auto.

Congratulations to the Class of ’92, 26 years young. Slap on your historic plate and burn rubber. You’re only as old as you feel.

Online’s most popular cruiser: ’69 Dodge Charger

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

1969 Dodge Charger

As Dream Cruisers celebrate the automobile on Woodward this week, everyone will have their favorite: maybe it’s a Stingray Corvette, a 1932 Ford hot rod or even a gull-wing DeLorean.

But if you’re looking for hard data on the most popular collector car and muscle car in Michigan, one stands alone: the 1969 Dodge Charger.

Collector-car research and sales site ClassicCar.com has crunched the numbers, and the Charger coupe is not only the most-searched classic and muscle car in the Mitten State but also across the country. Thirteen states count the ’69 Dodge as the most popular. It ties the Ford Mustang for most-searched muscle car nationwide.

Classiccar.com sifted 45,781,804 searches in the one-year period through June 21 to make its determination.

“Nothing truly personifies American car collector’s pride, passion and freedom like a muscle car,” says Roger Falcione, the website’s president and CEO. “They are powerful, beautiful, designed for maximum performance. It makes sense that these cars are searched for so often.

“Tastes evolve regionally, but the staples of the performance car market have remained constant, and that is why we believe values continue to be so strong for cars like the Charger and Mustang.”

The Charger coupe debuted in 1966 and has been a Hollywood favorite in car-chase movies like “Bullitt” (a 1968 Charger is the mob hit-man car that chases Steve McQueen’s Mustang) and the “Fast and Furious” franchise (Vin Diesel’s black 1970-vintage steed).

But the ’69 Charger became an American icon as the “General Lee” in the “Dukes of Hazzard” series that debuted on CBS in 1979. The show — and its star car — has been recreated on the silver screen and music videos, most famously in 2005 when a bikini-clad Jessica Simpson gave it a suds wash.

“A lot of people consider the ’69 the most beautiful muscle-car built from that era,” said Marc Rozman, 64, of Royal Oak, who will cruise Woodward this week in his red ’69 Charger R/T. “The 440-cubic inch Magnum engine has a lot of power. But I’m not a drag racer, I just like to cruise around with the windows down.”

The Dukes built the Charger as a race car wearing No. 01 on the side. They used it to run moonshine. Powered by a 375-horsepower engine that could push the car to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds, the General was known as the fastest car in Hazzard County, Georgia. An estimated 300 Chargers were used across the TV show’s 147 episodes, with 17 known to have survived the brutal, physical stunt scenes.

The original car is now owned by golfer Bubba Watson, who purchased it for $110,000 in 2012 (he has since painted over the Confederate flag on its roof). Ex-U-M basketball star Jalen Rose has also owned a General Lee replicar.

The 1969 Charger also won fame in NASCAR as the high-wing Charger Daytona. With Buddy Baker behind the wheel at Talladega Speedway in Alabama, it became the first NASCAR to run a lap in excess of 200 mph.

After the Charger and Mustang (the original 1968 “Bullitt” car will be on display at this year’s Cruise), the Chevy Corvette comes in as the third most-searched car, leading in five states. The Chevy Camaro is fourth, followed by its cousin, the Pontiac Firebird.

America may be divided politically into red and blue states, but the popularity of Detroit muscle cars is uniform, with the Charger ranking No. 1 in states from New York to Michigan to Texas.

The sole foreign make ranking No. 1 anywhere was the British-born MGB, which was the classic of choice for Nebraskans.

Last year, the Mercedes-Benz 250SE was the only foreign favorite, leading classic searches in Connecticut. The Nutmeg State has another eclectic choice for most-searched this year — the 1949 Ford Custom.

Other notable detours from the Charger-Mustang-‘Vette Big Three were in Maryland, which likes the 1954 Chevy Bel Air — and Utah, which is wild for the ‘23 Ford T-Bucket.

The 2018 report upends last year’s findings, with top-searched classics repeating in just seven states. In 2017, Mustang led the way in 13 states followed by the Chevrolet Impala (seven) and Charger coming in fifth.

‘Fast N’ Loud’ star Rawlings crashes Hellcat at Roadkill Nights

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Rawlings

Pontiac — Roadkill Nights drag racing competition was full of thrills Saturday, but it was TV personality Richard Rawlings’ spill that will be most remembered.

The Gas Monkey Garage owner and star of Discovery’s “Fast N’ Loud” reality show peeled a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat into the Jersey barrier on Woodward here as he battled NHRA Top Fuel superstar Leah Pritchett in a celebrity shootout. Woodward was closed off and turned into a legal, 1/8-mile drag strip next to M1 Concourse Car Club north of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.

Rawlings, an experienced drag racer, thrilled the packed grandstands on Woodward with a long, tire-burning display out of the box, only to have his 707-horse steed snap left and into the wall. Pritchett continued without incident to win the heat.

Rawlings took it in stride, flashing a smile, as he limped back to the paddock in his bruised Dodge.

Roadkill Nights is full of experienced, invitation-only racers and this year’s event had been incident-free until the Gas Monkey’s run.

Rawlings posted a statement later on social media: “Y’all asked for it, here’s me going into the wall at Roadkill Nights against Leah Pritchett. What a day! Looks like I’m gonna need some more practice, sorry Dodge.”

Saturday marked the third year that Dodge, Motor Trend, and M1 have teamed up for the Roadkill spectacle, which kicks off Dream  Cruise week.

Rawlings is a Dodge Performance spokesman and he was trailed by fans at the Roadkill event all day. He happily took interviews and posed for selfies and photos.

On this writer’s 910 AM “Car Radio” show from M1 Concourse earlier in the day, he said he was looking forward to the celebrity shootout. “I wish they did this in Dallas,” said the 49-year old of his home town. “But the weather up here is so much better this time of year. This is where you want to be.”

Rawlings says he owns every devilish model of Dodge’s SRT performance portfolio including the Hellcat, 797-horse Hellcat Redeye, and 840-horsepower Demon.

The car he crashed, however, was one of four Hellcats – bearing #SaveYourSlips stickers on their front bumpers – that Dodge brought to Roadkill Nights for the late afternoon celebrity shootout. Celebrities included Pritchett, “Roadkill” hosts Mike Finnegan and David Freiburger – and the ultimate winner, pro wrestler Goldberg.

Roadkill Nights brings thunder to Woodward

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Roadkill Pritchett

Pontiac — Thunderstorms washed out much of last year’s Roadkill Nights, but the sun shone brightly this year. That didn’t mean there wasn’t thunder.

Dragsters rumbled down Woodward Avenue towards South Boulevard all day as street legal racing took over Metro Detroit’s main street. Leah Pritchett’s earth-shaking, ear-splitting, eye-watering display in her 11,000-horsepower slingshot racer was the highlight as she showed off the world’s ultimate dragster to the roaring approval of packed grandstands.

From Pritchett to a Hellcat V8-powered Toyota Prius to super-fast paraplegic drag racer Marc Henretta to “Gas Monkey Garage” star Richard Rawlings hitting the concrete barrier (oops), the 2018 Roadkill Nights at M1 Concourse had it all.

This year marked the fourth annual Roadkill Nights — and the second year in which the event kicked off Dream Cruise week.

“I have a question,” shouted an excited Pritchett before her senses-assaulting run down Woodward. “Is there anyone but Dodge who can put on a show like this?”

Her nitro-powered Mopar Dodge 1320 Top Fuel dragster led a parade of Hellcats and Demon gas burners down Woodward’s 1/8-mile public drag strip Saturday. Nearby, Challenger and Charger Hellcats took thrill-seekers on sideways, tire-burning laps around M1 Concourse’s Champion Motor Speedway. Saturday even marked the Detroit debut of the first Hellcat Funny Car dragster – a 10,000-horsepower beast driven by pro Matt Hagan that rocketed down Woodward in Pritchett’s wake.

But there were cars for every enthusiast on Roadkill’s 660-foot drag srip.

The Hellcat-powered Prius first debuted at SEMA in Las Vegas last year, and it wowed fans with its decidedly non-hybrid run.

“There are only two good uses for a Prius,” joked David Freiburger, who co-hosted the races with his “Roadkill” YouTube partner Mike Finnegan. “As a Hellcat dragster or under a tank driven by Feiburfer and Finnegan.”

There wasn’t a lot of tree-hugging at Roadkill. There was Gary Box of Cleveland, last year’s fastest drag racer, who was in his epic, black, 1,300-horsepower Corvette Stingray.

Box was the only car under 6 seconds last year, but this year he had company with two other competitors breaking the six-second mark. As day turned to night, Cox still was top dog, however, with a 5.72 second run.

That’s not easy on a crowned, cracked public road. Top Fuel pro Pritchette acknowledged it’s a challenge in her slingshot dragster. Still, she was pleased to hit 157-mph in a mere 660 feet. Give her 1,000 feet on a proper race strip and she’ll eclipse 320 mph.

But you don’t have to be a top dog to have fun at Roadkill. You don’t even have to have use of your legs. Paraplegic Marc Henretta of Clarkston wowed with a run down the strip in just 7.4 seconds in his 2016 Charger Hellcat.

“I had a setback but life’s still good,” said Henretta, 47, at trackside, while he worked on his car from his wheelchair. “I still race cars and I still have fun.”

Henretta lost the use of his legs when motocrossing in his 20s. Unfazed, he has equipped his car with hand controls attached to the gas and brake pedals. Made of high-strength aluminum, the rods require the use of both Henretta’s hands as he held the car on the line with launch control.

A quick release of the brake pedal and his 707-horsepower steed rockets down the strip as his right hand jumps to the steering wheel for control.

Drag racers must apply to race Roadkill Nights and the event is full of experienced racers. Incidents are rare, but the most spectacular this year occurred in the Celebrity Shootout competition.

Squaring off against Pritchett, “Gas Money” host — and experienced racer — Rawlings put on a tire-burning display out of the box, only the have his Challenger Hellcat snap left and into the Jersey barrier.

Rawlings took it in stride, flashing a smile, while Pritchett advanced to the next round.

As sun set on Woodward, thousands of fans crammed the M1 Concourse gorunds – cheering the racers, ogling car displays, waitng in long lines for thrill rides, and lining up at food trucks for dinner.

The night was young as a full evening of heat racing lay ahead.

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.

Roadkill Nights drag racing lights off Cruise week

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Road Kill

Pontiac — Dragsters, muscle cars, and rib-rattling speed take over Woodward Avenue Saturday as “Roadkill Nights powered by Dodge” drag racing kicks off Dream Cruise week.

Woodward will be closed off and turned into a legal, 1/8-mile drag strip next to M1 Concourse Car Club in Pontiac. This marks the third annual Roadkill spectacle, and the second year that the event has been scheduled a week before the official Dream Cruise, Saturday, Aug. 18.

The event, sponsored by Dodge and Motor Trend, is a car fan’s delight as some of the best drag racers — joined by a couple of notable celebrity professionals — burn so much rubber that Woodward turns a sticky black by the end of the day.

The event hearkens back to Detroit legend when motorheads tried to stay one step ahead of the law by using Woodward stoplights as dragster “Christmas trees” to show off their latest hot rods. Thanks to Roadkill, they can now do it legally in front of stands packed with speed-addled fans.

Entrants will be vying for a $40,000 purse — Roadkill’s largest yet — as they race for glory in two classes, Big Tire and Small Tire. The pot also includes $10,000 awarded to the winner’s charity of choice. Last year, Gary Box of Cleveland was the only racer to break the six-second mark down the 660-foot strip in his ferocious, 1,300-horse Corvette Stingray.

Celebrity showdown races will be hosted by David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan, co-hosts of Motor Trend’s YouTube hit series “Roadkill.”

Roadkill Nights will mark the Detroit debut of the insane, nitro-burning, 10,000-horsepower (that’s not a misprint) Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car dragster as pro driver Matt Hagan will do a demonstration run on Woodward. He’ll be joined by NHRA Top Fuel superstar Leah Pritchett in her Dodge/Mopar slingshot dragster.

Pritchett hit 322 mph in winning her first race of the National Hot Rod Association season earlier this year at Atlanta Raceway’s 1/5-mile strip.

Roadkill Nights attracted more than 40,000 fans last year. When they aren’t protecting their eardrums as hot rods rocket down Woodward, attendees can get thrill rides drifting around M1’s race course.

Dodge offers up 707-horsepower Challenger SRT Hellcats and Charger sedans piloted by pro drivers that put on a roller-coaster ride of burning rubber and corner drifts. Lines can extend to over an hour to ride, so get there early.

Other fan favorites include show ‘n’ shine, dyno testing, a kids zone, flamethrower and wheel-stander exhibitions, “Roadkill” stunts and more. Dodge also will have Challenger SRT Demon simulators so fans can virtually experience 840 horsepower in the world’s fastest production car through the 1/4-mile.

Speed addicts also can participate in the “Drag Strip Showdown,” a head-to-head simulator contest.

Food trucks will be on hand to satiate appetites and thirsts. Those who can’t make it out to Woodward can still have a front-row seat by tuning via livestream on dodgegarage.com.

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

WHAT: Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge

WHERE: M1 Concourse Car Club, 164 South Blvd. West, Pontiac, MI 48341

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 11

10 AM: Gates open

– Muscle, vintage and classic cars enter the event to set up for the show ‘n’ shine

– Dodge thrill rides and drift rides on the M1 track and skid pad

– Dodge Challenger SRT Demon race simulator competition

– Family-friendly activities

11 AM: Drag racing begins (also available via livestream at dodgegarage.com)

10 PM: Event concludes

ADMISSION:

$10 per person; $5 per person for Pontiac residents (at event only). Children 12 and under are free.

SPECTATOR PARKING:

Spectator parking is available at the United Shore lot – enter from 561 Martin Luther King Boulevard South, Pontiac 48341. There also will be spectator parking available at 2001 Centerpoint Parkway Pontiac 48341. Shuttle buses will be available at both lots and they will run from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. (drop-off/pickup by the main spectator entrance). Parking in these two locations is FREE and available on a first come, first served basis. Handicap parking is on South Boulevard, next to the main spectator entrance. Additional handicap parking is available at the United Shore lot. An ADA shuttle bus will run to and from the United Shore lot and will drop you off at the main entrance of the venue at M1 Concourse.

For more information, go to: http://www.roadkill.com/events.

Sedans are gateway to luxury brands for some carmakers

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2

Whistler, British Columbia — In the Age of Ute, the future of mainstream sedans is in flux: Detroit automakers Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are largely exiting the passenger-car market to concentrate on profit-rich SUVs.

But for foreign automakers, sedans are not only profitable, they’re seen as an opportunity. Sedans as well as SUVs are important foundation stones for their luxury brands — and introductory gateways to higher-priced models. As domestic automakers leave sedans, some auto insiders wonder if they are ceding a competitive advantage to full-line foreign automakers.

Take Honda Motor Co., which depends on less-expensive Honda-branded offerings to feed new customers to luxury-brand Acura.

“That’s one of the reasons why Acura exists, in order to have a home for people looking for something more than a Honda,” Gary Robinson, Acura’s senior manager for product planning, said at the launch of the all-new RDX crossover in Canada this summer.

The RDX begins the reboot of an Acura brand that lost its way in the last decade. Yet, even as Acura struggled with its identity in a hotly contested luxury market, its Honda brand continued to bring hundreds of thousands of new customers a year to the Honda-Acura product portfolio.

“One of the advantages that a mainstream brand has is the full lineup of vehicles, and the ability to grow with their customer,” says IHS senior auto analyst Stephanie Brinly. “That’s the best way to start brand loyalty.”

Complementing strong SUV sales (HR-V, CR-V) with a staggering 750,000 sales between its three entry-level sedans (Fit, Civic and Accord) last year, Honda buoyed Acura despite the latter’s identity crisis. The aging RDX, for example, was the second-best selling luxury compact SUV.

“Our customers understand quite well what’s similar between Acura and Honda,” says Robinson. “They understand the good resale value, and that there is a similar corporate approach between vehicles.”

While the RDX is aimed at the red-hot SUV market, Honda executives don’t see its customers as coming exclusively from Honda SUVs, which are booming. They say that the affordability of an entry-level Honda Fit subcompact sedan may bring a new customer to the Honda portfolio — but when their life circumstances change, they might be interested in a luxury crossover.

“The inflow from Honda is critical to us,” continues Robinson. “I’ve never thought of the inflow in terms of sedan vs. SUV. With both Civic and Accord, it has to do with finances, with age, with lifestyle considerations, so it’s not just customers going from Civic (sedan) to ILX (compact Acura sedan), or Accord to TLX (mid-size Acura sedan). It’s very much people changing segments depending on what they are interested in at the time.”

Korea’s Hyundai has followed the Honda model by introducing its Genesis premium brand to the U.S. market with the G70/G80/G90 sedans after building customer loyalty for its mainstream Hyundai brand with its popular Accent/Elantra/Sonata sedan lineup and SUVs.

“Genesis will offer at least six models including SUVs by 2021,” says Genesis’ U.S. chief Erwin Raphael. “Sedan customers are very important to Genesis at this stage of our existence, as we currently offer sedans in three luxury segments.”

Like Acura and Genesis, the premium Lincoln brand is looking for a fresh start in the U.S. market — but does so at a time when the mainstream Ford brand is abandoning sedans.

However, auto analyst Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says that’s not a bad thing.

“Import luxury brands have benefited because their sedans are still popular. It makes sense for them,” she says. “But Ford isn’t making profit on small cars. There is an opportunity here for both Ford and Lincoln to turn things around. With a new lineup of crossovers, Ford can attract younger buyers — because they are not doing it now.”

Ford sedan sales are half those of Honda, so with the market shift to crossovers comes a chance to start over.

“I think domestic Ford buyers will welcome the body style that Ford is talking about,” she says. “There is an opportunity here if they get the right product on the showrooms – and the Lincoln is not going to lose out.”

Industry insiders agree that Ford risks alienating enthusiast buyers if it moves away from its Focus and Fiesta ST performance models. Such buyers are missionaries for the brand and likely would migrate to competitive alternatives like Honda’s Civic Si or Volkswagen’s GTI.

IHS auto analyst Stephanie Brinley sees Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ premium brands like Alfa Romeo as vulnerable in the U.S. market because Fiat Chrysler’s entry-level brands are so weak.

Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep is a powerhouse. Not only is one of the fastest-growing brands in the industry, but it’s the rare mainstream brand that is cross-shopped against premium makes. Still, Jeep does not play in sedan markets. Dodge and Chrysler have no entry-level offerings — either sedan or SUV.

And Alfa’s natural source of customers, Fiat, barely registers in the U.S. market in sales. Fiat sold a mere 26,492 cars in the U.S. in 2017 — less than the Honda Civic sells in an average month.

“It’s interesting about FCA. It’s a full-line manufacturer — and it’s not,” says Brinley. “They have something in every segment, but it’s all under different brands with different personalities. FCA does does not have as much ability to grow with their customer (into the premium space) because it’s hard to see customers going from a Fiat 500 to a Dodge Challenger to an Alfa Romeo.”

Electric-car makers amped on Formula E racing

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Fe Jag Speed

New York — Like the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, the New York City E-Prix’s circuit is laid out on the public streets of Brooklyn, with Manhattan skyscrapers forming a majestic backdrop across the river. The world’s top drivers come here to race state-the-of-art, open-wheel cars at the limit just inches from makeshift barriers and adoring fans.

The difference is the cars barely make a sound.

Formula E is the world’s premier battery-powered auto racing series with 11 stops around the globe, including the streets of Hong Kong, Paris, Rome and New York.

As some governments consider outlawing the internal combustion engine, manufacturers from Audi to Jaguar to Nissan are rushing to the new race series to accelerate battery development and excite potential buyers about electric vehicles. Like other race series that have tried to capitalize on government trends — like ethanol in America (IndyCar) or diesel in Europe (LeMans) — Formula E is the new epicenter of alternative powertrain technology transfer.

“We, like a lot of other brands think that electrification is the key to the future,” said Jaguar racing manager James Barclay. Jaguar is using Formula E to promote its $70,000 I-Pace crossover EV. “Yes, regulation changes are driving it – in many city centers in the future you won’t be able to bring in internal-combustion engine cars. But also, there is a consumer that wants a car that is sustainable.”

The Formula E series — despite no major TV contract and relatively small spectator interest compared to louder, faster cars in NASCAR and Formula One — is attracting major corporate investment.

That investment comes not just from the usual suspects of European and U.S. auto racing, but from emerging economies like India and China, the latter having displaced the U.S. as the biggest global auto market and which is soon expected to severely restrict gas-powered automobiles.

Mahindra, a pioneer in Indian electric cars in the world’s fastest-growing car market, brought its Formula E team to New York.

“We are reaching a perfect storm as … both regulation and technology see EVs as a viable option,” says Dilbagh Gill, Mahindra’s Formula E team manager. “Mahindra is headquartered in India, and India is looking at stopping the registration of gas-engine vehicles by 2030. That’s just 12 years from now, so we need to get on with development now.”

The 10-team series —  each with two entries — is a who’s-who of manufacturers including Audi, Jaguar, Mahindra and Renault. BMW, Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche will join over the next two years. If they are not managing their own programs, then they are supported by some of the world’s top race teams including Andretti (Mario’s son Michael) and Penske (Roger’s son Jay).

“France is banning the combustion engine by 2040, Germany is talking about 2030, and Norway has already announced 2025. It’s not just racing — you won’t be able to sell a car unless it’s electric, hydrogen or some other alternative to fossil fuel,” Andretti told The News last year. “It’s coming whether you like it or not.”

Conspicuously missing from Formula E is an American manufacturer. Only Ford has expressed an interest. A Ford spokesperson said the company has been watching the series closely, but has no plans to join.

With EVs a small, expensive U.S. market niche —  and no federal mandate to eliminate gas power — Detroit makers are avoiding the e-racing trend, just as they bypassed diesel development once pushed by global governments. Detroit racing dollars continue to go where the buyers are — to gas-burning NASCAR, IndyCar and drag racing.

Quiet riot: With only the whine of electric motors, Formula E racers negotiate the Brooklyn street course. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

The brainchild of Paris-based motorsports governing body Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA for short), Formula E began four years ago as a way to bring emerging EV technology to consumers and as a competitive platform for manufacturer development.

Where IndyCar and Formula run some of their events on street circuits, all Formula E races take place in cities. The commitment is part of the series’ ethic to be greener by bringing racing to population centers (rather than fans burning gas to drive to remote road courses). No parking is offered, encouraging fans to take public transportation and walk.

“Formula E really throws out the racing rulebook,” says Jaguar’s Barclay. “We are racing in city centers like New York. It brings motorsports a new audience – it’s the most accessible motorsport in the world and brings EV technology to the masses.”

He is undeterred by the minuscule market for electric cars in the U.S.

“The U.S. has the potential to be the largest EV market in the world,” he says. “It was in many ways the first to adopt electric tech — they are ahead of the rest of the world with Tesla and other electric vehicles.”

The Fornula E ethic dovetails with city plans to ban gas-powered cars. Paris, which has hosted Formula E for four years on streets just east of the Eiffel Tower, occasionally bans vehicles on Sundays – with a total ban on gas-powered cars by 2030. Host Mexico City will ban diesel cars – which governments have encouraged with low taxes – by 2025.

On Brooklyn’s circuit along the East River, the pack of 20 cars whooshed by, with only the whine of their electric motors. Unlike the Detroit Grand Prix, fans converse easily in the grandstands without the 12,000-rpm wail of a V-6.

Though packing 200-kWh lithium-ion batteries — twice the capacity of a Tesla Model S P100D —  FE cars are noticeably slower than IndyCars.

Around the New York City E-Prix’s narrow 1.4-mile course, the average lap speed for pole position-winner Jean-Eric Vergne was 68 mph compared to the 114-mph pole by Alexander Rossi at 2.4-mile Belle Isle. While some of that is attributed to the tight track layout, the Formula E cars also have significant handicaps. Chief among these is a requirement to use one set of hard, grooved Michelin tires — rain or shine.

The tire restriction conforms with the series’ race culture to be sustainable compared to IndyCar, which uses sticky, slick tires and goes through multiple sets in a weekend (up to 13 at Belle Isle). The Michelins limit Formula E corner speeds to 1.5 g-loads compared to IndyCar’s 3.0-plus.

When the Formula E cars locked up in hairpins they made loud skidding sounds like a street car before a crash – not the brief “scrunch” of a soft-compound slick.

“You can’t look at Formula E as a replacement for (all) racing – but it exists in addition to it. It is very different.,” says Bobby Rahal, IndyCar racing legend-turned Jaguar dealer. He is race team manager of a Formula E support series that will feature the Jaguar I-Pace EVs next year.

“As a dealer,” continues Rahal, “we see more and more people thinking about electrified vehicles. The more they understand the benefits, the more interest there is. There is no doubt that hybrid-electric will take a bigger and bigger place in the marketplace.”

Energy-guzzling Formula E suffers from the same battery drawbacks as production EVs. Managing battery life over the NYC E-Prix’s 43-lap race is crucial (the Detroit GP is 70 laps). So inefficient were this year’s batteries that each driver had to change to a second car after about 20 laps.

But next season, when the series debuts its second-gen, 250-kWh battery, a single car will be able to go the distance.

It’s this kind of compressed, performance-driven technology advance that has attracted manufacturers.

“The relevance of Formula One is not really there anymore,” says Jaguar’s Barclay explaining why Jaguar ignored F1 for Formula E.  “The technology transfer of Formula E is why you see so many manufacturers now. If you’re a manufacturer, you have to be here.”

Payne: Lamborghini supercar meets Lamborghini tractor

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Lambo Adell Payne

The exotic Lamborghini’s engine roared in my ears as I crested a hill on a remote farm road and shifted into fifth gear. The great beast lurched forward. My foot to the floor, the speedometer hit … 31 miles per hour.

Didn’t know Lamborghini made tractors, did you?

Long before it crafted greyhounds like the Countach, Huracan and Aventador, the Italian marque began as a post-World War II tractor-maker. Today, Lamborghini’s sports car and tractor operations are under different ownership, but the bull logo still, improbably, graces the hoods of diesel-powered tractors and V-12 supercars in Europe.

But the only place in the U.S. you can find them both under the same roof is in Metamora, Michigan. Detroit media entrepreneur Kevin Adell has one of the most eclectic auto collections in the country with a stable that includes everything from a 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350 to one of the made-for-TV “Batman” cars to a 2017 Rolls-Royce Dawn.

The 2017 Lamborghini Aventador SV supercar and 2017 Lambo Nitro 130 T4i farm tractor fit right in.

“I love Lamborghinis and I knew they were originally a tractor-maker and still manufacturing overseas,” says Adell, who ordered his Nitro through an Italian dealer. “I wrote them a letter in Italian and it took a year to get it over here.”

Among Adell’s properties is Detroit 910 AM talk radio station where I broadcast my weekly “Car Radio” program. We car guys get along, and this summer I had the opportunity to test his raging-bull bookends.

They have almost nothing in common except purpose: a commitment to get you from one place to another as quickly as possible.

The Lamborghini Aventador is simply the most coveted sports car on the street today. No matter where I go, no matter who I meet, when someone learns that I review cars, the question is always the same.

Neighborhood kid: Have you driven a Lamborghini Aventador?
Media colleague: Have you driven a Lamborghini Aventador?
Fellow racer: Have you driven a Lamborghini Aventador?

With its wicked, F-22 Raptor-like angular styling, scissor doors and 740-horsepower V-12 furnace, the Aventador puts the “exotic” into exotic car.

While walking busy downtown Vancouver last year, I observed a black Aventador growl up to a stoplight. Everyone in the four-way intersection stopped to admire it. It’s a sci-fi movie celebrity.

Adell’s yellow and black-trimmed SV dials up the wow factor. The SV — short for Superveloce (translation: Super Fast) — is the track-focused, performance variant of the Aventador. Light-weighted by 110 pounds with 50 more horses then the base bull’s already insane 691, it bristles with exposed carbon fiber and a tall rear wing. Only 600 were built.

Driving it through Metro Detroit is like Jennifer Lawrence walking through Times Square. In her form-fitting Mystique Marvel suit.

Pedestrians gawk. Rubberneckers pull alongside for long glimpses. Muscle cars crowd its rear bumper to see if they can keep up. Then I push the throttle to the floor, the V-12’s afterburners light, and the SV disappears like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon into hyperspace.

No less satisfying is testing the Aventador’s grip around interstate cloverleafs. With its stiff-carbon tub and all-wheel drive claws, the car sticks like painted lines to asphalt. Its chassis stays flat as a board even as g-forces claw at my ribs under increasing throttle.

As you might expect from an Italian supermodel, the Aventador is defiantly eccentric. Climbing in between the high-sill carbon tub, scissor doors and squashed roof requires a giant shoehorn. Once inside you can’t see outside. The windshield is as shallow as a Corvette with zero rear visibility save mirrors and a (helpful) backup dash cam.

There are no cup holders, of course. With cornering loads over 1-G,  who can sip coffee? The cockpit is optimized for track and driver. Like a Porsche 911, every button (even windows) is on the loooong console for easy access. I lift a hatch cover to access the red starter button — you know, like the president’s nuclear launch button.

The Lambo’s thrust is ballistic.

Using launch control in manual-only Corsa (“race” mode), the Adventador explodes forward. The V-12 mounted amidships — no turbos or superchargers here — howls to a manic 8,500-rpm redline. My right fingers twitch off lightning-quick transmission shifts, each one belting me in the back. But with all this violence channeled through all-wheel-drive (unlike rear-wheel drive 700-Horsepower Club members like the McLaren 720S and Corvette ZR1) the traction is eerily stable. It’s like Cedar Point’s Top Thrill roller coaster on rails.

Sixty miles an hour blows by in 2.7 seconds. The quarter-mile takes just 10.7. In addition to Corsa and Sport (automatic), the stiff, raucous Lambo has a rarely used Strada (street) mode for daily driving. Aventador’s natural habitat is the track.

Nitro’s natural habitat is the farm.

It, too, is driver-focused. Make that farmer-focused. The manual five-speed tractor’s high cabin is even more complex than the Aventador with two gear-shifters, two throttles (foot and hand), three instruments screens and a crowded console.

With controls needed to maneuver the tractor and attached accessories like front-end loaders and grass cutters, the cockpit bristles with buttons and joysticks that makes the Aventador look elementary. And a John Deere seem common.

Nitro’s console is sculpted, the seats contoured, the cabin lined with auto-climate controlled, AC vents. No Aventador suede or leather her, but still a premium interior worthy of the bull logo.

It’s performance also screams Lamborghini.

While not the fastest tractor in the world (that honor goes to England’s JCB Fastrac which can reach 40 mph), the fuel-efficient, 480-torque, diesel Nitro 130 is plenty quick. The 28-inch-tall by 14-inch-wide Aventador rears are huge, but they’re dwarfed by the tractor’s 40-inch by 17.3-inch rears that anchor a sophisticated four-wheel drive air suspension.

In this mechanized jackrabbit, I was able to maintain a fast clip around Metamora’s ox-kart roads.

“This tractor is built for speed and longevity on big farms,” says Alvin Fergson, who farms across four southeast Michigan counties. “If I had one of these, I’d put front-loaders on it and really make time moving rocks, soil, you name it.”

At the Detroit auto show this year, I attended the unveiling of the wicked, high-riding, all-wheel drive, 650-horsepower Lamborghini Urus — the brand’s first SUV.

It might be the Metamora love-child of Aventador and Nitro.

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.

2017 Lamborghini Aventador

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger supercar

Price: $493,095 base

Powerplant: 6.5-liter V-12

Power: 740 horsepower, 509 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.7 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 217 mph

Weight: 4,010 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 11 city/18 highway/13 combined

Report card

Highs: Jaw-dropping looks; nuclear V-12

Lows: Can’t see out of it; cop magnet

Overall: 4 stars

2017 Lamborghini Nitro

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, two-passenger farm tractor

Price: $94,600 base ($146,000 Nitro 130 T-4i as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel

Power: 127 horsepower, 480 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual or 3 stage Powershift

Performance: 0-31 mph (NA); top speed: 31 mph

Weight: 11,023 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy (NA); 43-gallon tank

Report card

Highs: Comfortable cabin environment; very maneuverable

Lows: No scissor doors

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Jaguar I-Pace prowls quietly

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 3, 2018

The Jaguar I-Pace bears familiar brand touches like angled headlights and open grille. A low roof line and deeply-scalloped rocker panels also give the exterior a unique character.

For seven years, Tesla has been king of the electric jungle. Now comes a challenger on silent paws.

The athletic Jaguar I-Pace crossover debuts in U.S. showrooms in September, the first of a wave of premium battery-powered challengers coming to knock the Silicon Valley lion off Simba’s Rock. The I-Pace is cat-quick, head-turning and comfortable.

But the I-Pace will also be fighting for pre-eminence within its own brand against a legacy of roaring, long-nose cats. In short, if you have $85,000 to spend on a Jag, do you want a stealthy EV, or a growling V-8 that sounds like, well … a Jaguar?

I grew up at race tracks lusting after long-nose 1970s-era, inline-6 and V-12 powered E-type sports cars howling around vintage Trans-Am club events with Camaros and Mustangs. The English cat stood out among the American ponies, its long-nose arriving three corners before its fastback hindquarters.

After years in the Ford zoo, Jaguar was re-energized when Tata bought it in 2008. The new owner gave Jag room to roam, and designers re-introduced the big cat to the world with the gorgeous, V-8 powered F-Type sports car in 2013. Grown men’s knees buckled.

Gone was the long hood (a victim of safety nannies), but the rest of the DNA was there: big haunches, fastback cockpit and eight-purring cylinders. It was a classic Jag for the second Golden Era of muscle cars.

The I-Pace is a new Jaguar halo car for a new century.

Throw out the rulebook, re-write the script: The electric cat not only doesn’t have a gas guzzler under its short front hood, it isn’t even a sports car. This is a “Pace”-edition Jaguar, as in E-Pace and F-Pace, the other SUVs that make up the Brit badge’s stable.

Jaguar SUVs? Crikey, what?

It’s a Jaguar aimed at a new generation of car buyers, not 20th-century dinosaurs like me. Not only is Jag hip to the new century trend of (cash-cow) premium SUVs, it sees a new generation of buyer raised to ogle at electric iPhones and Teslas.

Cruising the Palisades State Highway along the banks of the Hudson River – New York’s skyline quickly disappearing in my rear-view mirror – the electric cat pounced like a Tesla, its 90-kWh battery offering instant torque in any gear. Check that. There are no gears here, just a single-speed transmission driving an electric motor with lakes of torque.

The Jag EV provokes immediate comparisons to King Tesla’s lineup of Model X ute, Model S sedan and Model 3 sedan. Shrewdly, the I-Pace plays tweener.

It declares itself a crossover in this SUV-crazed age, but it looks and feels more like the Tesla sedans. Its $70,495 entry price splits the base $75,000 Model S 75D (that’s 75 kWh of battery) and the $64,000 top-of-the-line, all-wheel drive Model 3 Performance model.

 With its cab-forward design, its stance is more Model 3 than long-nosed Model S, but its rear hatch mimics that of the latter. The Jag is prettier than its Model X ute-mate with a streamlined roof, angular lines and scalloped rocker panels.

Curiously, however, it’s the Tesla (remember when Tesla was aping Jaguar XF styling?) that pulls off the sexier rear haunches.

Jaguar spent a great deal of time trimming the I-Pace for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, including nifty touches like using aerofoil fluid dynamics to wipe the back window clean (dude, that is soooo cool).

But to keep its drag-coefficient below 0.3 – 2.9 to be exact – the Jaguar gets skinny hips. The hippy Model S manages an impressive 0.24. Hmmm.

No doubt this is because the Model S is a sedan – but then how to explain the Model X’s 0.24 drag-coefficient?

I first tested the I-Pace in March at Jaguar’s North American headquarters in Jersey where it deftly sliced up a low-speed autocross course courtesy of that big brick of a battery stored in the floorboards for low center of gravity. At speed through New York’s rural twisties, the I-Pace isn’t as nimble as the lower Model S – and out of the league of the similarly sized (96 vs. 97 cubic feet of passenger volume) Model 3 which may be the best athlete in the compact sedan class.

With the Model 3 Performance model’s extra oomph, it will also beat the Jag to 60 mph with a healthy 3.5 seconds vs. 4.5.

Too much stoplight fun and the Jag eats battery. My Hudson trip took 140 miles on the odometer, but erased 195 miles of range from the battery. After zigging when I shoulda zagged, I found myself further from New York City than planned. Dreaded range anxiety crept in. The Jaguar became a docile kitten as I preserved electrons home.

Range anxiety? An hour out of America’s biggest metropolis? A reminder that infrastructure – the EV’s Kryptonite – is weak.

The Model S and Model 3 go sci-fi inside with their trademark interiors. The iPad-like screens still wow 10 years after their introduction.

Despite a clever “flying-buttress” console design (Jaguar’s signature, recessed rotary transmission-controller isn’t necessary in an EV), the Brit’s dash instruments are more conservative than Tesla’s. Similar to brother F-Pace, they are digital, configurable and (regrettably) slow.

The familiarity is meant in part to re-assure EV customers who are wary of Tesla’s nagging quality issues.

The Brit may not have a sci-fi cockpit, but it offers good ol’ reliable services like 5-year/60,000-mile free maintenance and roadside assistance (Tesla does not), a longer warranty (5 years/60,000 miles compared to Tesla’s 4 years/50,000 miles) and eight-year battery warranty.

And then there are track bragging-rights.

With its racing history, the I-Pace has been flogged mercilessly around tracks. It’s what all cats must do. The I-Pace recently was witnessed doing four hard laps around Portugal’s’ Portimau Circuit without breathing hard (the Model 3 Performance claims similar performance); the I-Pace will get its own “e-Trophy” race series next year.

But the Jag is also aware that four laps in a roaring, $90,000 F-Type – its angry growls scattering prey for miles – would be more emotionally rewarding. So it has introduced an artificial “GRRR” into its Dynamic mode (the GRRR can even be programmed to stay in Normal mode should the driver desire).

Millennial fans might find it alluring, like a “Star Wars” jet fighter. Others might find it strange. Artificial Jaguar growls? Crikey!

Therein lies Jaguar’s challenge. It has produced a credible Tesla fighter for affluent EV fans. But does Jaguar have the same electric status as Tesla?

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 Jaguar I-Pace

Vehicle type: Electric, four-passenger luxury SUV

Price: $70,495 base ($80,500 HSE as tested)

Powerplant: 90-kWh lithium-ion battery with twin electric-motor drive

Power: 394 horsepower, 512 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Automatic, single-speed

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 124 mph

Weight: 4,784 pounds

Fuel economy: 240-mile range (189 miles on battery to cover 140 miles, observed)

Report card

Highs: Handsome exterior, interior; electric performance

Lows: Slow infotainment screen; lack of charging infrastructure

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Polaris Slingshot, a 173-horsepower trike

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

Slingshot Wet

When I was a tot, I was a serious tricycle rider. I’d tear around the cul-de-sac, pedaling furiously, making growling engine sounds.

Not much has changed in 50 years. Except now I have the good sense to wear a helmet.

This summer I tested the Polaris Slingshot three-wheeler — a 1,750-pound trike with the wheels in front that’s powered by a 2.4-liter, 173-horse General Motors Ecotec engine (last seen in the 2012 Chevy Malibu) up front. It drives a carbon-fiber-belt-driven single rear wheel in back.

It’s wicked looking — like the Dark Knight got bored one night and decided to burn the midnight oil by bolting the Bat-Pod onto the Tumbler.

Paint it gray and lime-green (Lime Squeeze Polaris calls it), screw in two seats, and it’s a neighborhood kid-magnet. They lined up like it was a Cedar Point ‘coaster. But everyone had to put on a helmet first. I’ve never driven a two-wheeler but the Slingshot is close.

The 7.5-inch “wind deflector” is an option on the base $19,999 Slingshot S (my tester was the loaded, $31,000 SLR LE), but the low screen is little protection from eating bugs on the freeway — much less any larger, errant objects that might come along (while in a sedan on Interstate 75 this spring, I narrowly avoided a ladder flying off a utility truck).

But the thrill of riding in the open air — your knuckles dragging just feet off the ground, an engine roaring in front of you —  is undeniable.

The kids strapped into the seat, secured their helmet and had a blast while holding on for dear life to the “oh crap” handle on Slingshot’s exposed aluminum frame. It’s like a stick-shift, rear-wheel drive Mazda Miata with a single rear wheel.

Wider than a Corvette ZR1 up front with a fat, 12-inch Kendra tire out back, the Polaris turns on a dime, the rear wheel slewing sideways under power. And with a power-to-weight ratio of 1:10 — same as a Ford Focus RS hot hatch — the car comes off a corner like, well, a slingshot.

Pop the clutch and tricycle burnouts are a blast — especially without having to worry about pulling a wheelie with the single tire out back.

“That was awesome!” screamed the kids.

Music to my ears. As makers of snowmobiles and ATVs, Polaris has been tickling adult’s inner 10-year-old for years. My top-trim model even came equipped with adjustable Bilstein shocks to tempt me out on the track.

But Polaris intends the Slingshot to be more than just a thrill ride — it’s an affordable, serious summer commuter not unlike the similarly priced Miata fun-box.

After laying some rubber up Woodward one morning, I stopped for lunch with a pal at one of my favorite eateries, Motorcity Burgers & Company (try the Z28 Burger with zip sauce, portabella mushrooms and mozzarella) across the street from the M1 Concourse car club. I tucked the helmet under my arm and strolled through the restaurant like a biker dude.

While inside, the skies opened for a good summer soaking. Polaris doesn’t sweat the rain — exposed surfaces are waterproof — and I wiped off my drenched seats when I returned. But what if it was still raining?

My biker friends tell me they’ve invested in waterproof jackets and pants, gloves, balaclava, the works. So after you put down $30,000 for your Slingshot, prepare to invest in a new wardrobe. Keep an extra set of dry clothes tucked in the glove compartment, too.

For $29,999, Polaris offers a Grand Touring LE model with a “Slingshade” — a sort of canopy with gull-wing roof over the passenger compartment (as if the standard Slingshot isn’t extroverted enough) that includes an enlarged, 9.5-inch windscreen. But without windows or doors, you’ll still get wet in a rainstorm.

I met my first Slingshot a few years back at an I-75 rest stop somewhere north of the Zilwaukee Bridge. Husband and wife were piloting their Sunset Red three-wheeler to a weekend Up North.

“It’s awesome!” they said, channeling their inner 10-year-old.

I can vouch for the travel experience. Mrs. Payne and I took an extended trip around the metro area one weekend and enjoyed the attention. Muscle-car guys would pull up next to us with a thumbs-up. Gals strolling on the sidewalk shouted “cool car!” and everyone was real nice about giving us space.

Which was nice because space is an issue when the only thing between you and a 5,500-pound Chevy Suburban is a steel-tube frame.

I’ve never been so paranoid lest a texting, left-lane-lollygagging SUV pilot fails to see me beneath their 8-foot-tall bow and punts me clean across the interstate median. I grew eyes in the back of my head.

Encased in our helmets, the engine roaring at the top of its lungs, Mrs. Payne and I nary exchanged a word save her occasional gesticulation which I interpreted as: “Look out for that Suburban turning into our lane!”

Beyond the bare-bones Slingshot S, the upper-trim options beginning with the $25,499 SL trim come standard with a 7.5-inch infotainment touchscreen and backup camera. The screen is optimized for operation with gloves on, but hearing the radio over 173 horses required turning the volume up so high that we became a mobile boom box.

Yet, when my wife and I stopped for groceries, we took our helmets off and beamed at each other. Like getting soaked on a whitewater raft trip, there is something exhilarating about being on a trike again instead of the usual grown-up quiet luxury of a modern sedan.

Yes, I said groceries. Two storage compartments — about the size of a hotel drawer turned on its end — are accessible by key behind the seats and under the forged-aluminum roll bars. It’s enough space for a small grocery run, though I would warn against eggs if you enjoy three-wheel drifting through corners as I am tempted to do.

Since its launch in 2014, the Polaris has sold more than 25,000 Slingshots worldwide. Happily for Michiganians, our state is one of 44 to classify the Slingshot as an “autocycle” — meaning you can drive it with a standard driver’s license (the other states require a motorcycle license).

Order it online at https://slingshot.polaris.com/en-us or at eight Michigan retail storesthat also carry Sea-Doos, ATVs and other adult toys for those of us who never grew up.

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.

2018 Polaris Slingshot

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger three-wheeler

Price: $19,999 base ($30,999 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder

Power: 173 horsepower, 166 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 130 mph

Weight: 1,750 pounds

Fuel economy: Observed under Payne’s whip: 23 mpg

Report card

Highs: Your personal Batmobile; nimble handling

Lows: Exposed to the elements, semis, texting SUV drivers; slippery when wet

Overall: 4 stars

Sergio Marchionne, former Fiat Chrysler CEO, has died

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

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Sergio Marchionne, 1952-2018    

Sergio Marchionne, the founding CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV who died Wednesday at age 66, will be remembered as one of the auto industry’s transformational figures.

An automotive outsider groomed as an accountant and financial officer, Marchionne engineered the merger of Fiat and Chrysler in 2009. By the time he was replaced as CEO by Jeep chief Mike Manley at a hastily called board meeting Saturday, Marchionne had revived the fortunes of both companies as a growing, international conglomerate encompassing 10 brands under the corporate umbrella of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

“His unbelievable turnaround left Fiat so much healthier than when he found it,” said Jeremy Acevedo, manager of industry analysis for Edmunds. “He’ll be remembered as one of the early 21st-century’s great auto leaders along with Alan Mulally and Elon Musk.”

Exor SpA, the holding company of Fiat’s founding Agnelli family, confirmed Marchionne’s death in a statement. It attributed his passing in Zurich, where he kept a home, to complications from surgery.

“Unfortunately what we feared has come to pass,” said John Elkann, a Fiat heir. “Sergio Marchionne, man and friend, is gone. I believe that the best way to honor his memory is to build on the legacy he left us, continuing to develop the human values of responsibility and openness of which he was the most ardent champion.”

Industry leaders and politicians offered condolences. Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., said Marchionne was an admired industry leader.

“Sergio Marchionne was one of the most respected leaders in the industry whose creativity and bold determination helped to restore Chrysler to financial health and grow Fiat Chrysler into a profitable global automaker,” he said in a statement. “His extraordinary leadership, candor and passion for the industry will be missed by everyone who knew him.”

 Noted for a minimalist wardrobe that seemed limited to a closet full of black sweaters, Marchionne was as colorful as his sartorial taste was monochromatic.

“He was well-known for his business prowess as well as his disdain for suits and neckties,” says Rebecca Lindland, senior auto analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

Never shy with a quip, the profane, funny, driven CEO bucked industry trends and questioned industry traditions. He famously said of the Fiat 500e, a poor-selling electric vehicle sold in California to meet the state’s zero-emission mandates: “I hope you don’t buy it, because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000. I’m honest enough to tell you that.”

He was reticent to invest in electric vehicles at a time when competitors like General Motors Co. were rushing them to market. “Better late than sorry,” he said in 2016. Yet, Fiat Chrysler was the first major automaker to announce a partnership with Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo subsidiary to put hybrid, self-driving minivans on the road.

Critical of the industry business model to build lookalike, compact four-cylinder sedans, he publicly courted other automakers — most notably GM — to merge and build common automobiles to save costs. No competitor took him up on the offer.

A quick study

Marchionne’s family crossed the Atlantic from Italy to Toronto in 1965 when Sergio was 13 years old.  After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in philosophy, the ambitious Italian-Canadian citizen added a bachelor of commerce degree and MBA from the University of Windsor, and a law degree from York University in Toronto.

He spent the 1990s working in financial positions with a series of international corporations, culminating in his first chief executive appointment at Swiss aluminum company Algroup in 1997. In 2002 he became CEO of Geneva’s SGS, a Forbes Fortune 2000 company that works with companies to assure products meet regulatory standards.

Two years later, the Agnelli family, which holds a controlling interest in Fiat and its successor company, plucked him from Switzerland to become CEO despite Marchionne’s lack of auto industry experience. He would prove a quick study and a shrewd judge of talent.

Ironically, given his obsession with a GM-Fiat Chrysler merger 10 years later, one of Marchionne’s first acts at the Italian automaker was to quit a troubled partnership with GM in Europe. The divorce won Fiat $2 billion in needed cash from Detroit’s No. 1 automaker.

But Marchionne’s signature move was acquiring crippled Chrysler Group LLC out of bankruptcy in 2009 for no cash down and commitments to the U.S. government to meet a series of sales, engineering and technology goals in return for a controlling interest in the Auburn Hills company.

Key to that promise was bringing Fiat’s know-how to develop a 40-mpg vehicle for Chrysler. Marchionne accomplished the feat with the fuel-efficient 2013 Dodge Dart. But Marchionne had his eyes on a bigger prize: unlocking the international potential of Chrysler’s Jeep brand at a time when consumers were moving toward SUVs.

“He saw the pendulum swinging away from cars and towards SUVs,” says Edmunds’ Acevedo, who notes that Maserati and Alfa Romeo also expanded their SUV offerings under Sergio’s watch. “He had the grit to make the hard decisions.”

By 2014 Jeep’s international sales crested 1 million for the first time under the leadership of Mike Manley, who Marchionne had brought in to run the off-road brand and who ultimately succeeded an ailing Sergio as CEO on July 21. By 2016, Jeep sales were 1.4 million globally, increasing four-fold in the U.S. alone over 2009.

Also upon assuming control of Chrysler, Marchionne spun off Ram from Dodge as a stand-alone truck brand, remade Dodge as a performance icon and re-introduced Alfa Romeo to the U.S. as a luxury automaker.

“He understood the legacy of a brand like Jeep, but at the same time he could bring back an old brand like Alfa,” says KBB’s Lindland. “He had the discipline of an accountant and the creativity of an entrepreneur.”

In this 2012 video, FCA’s Sergio Marchionne talks about the American character, while other CEOs name the traits they see and admire in him. Ankur Dholakia, The Detroit News

Legal trouble

Marchionne’s tenure was not, however, untouched by trouble.

Seven people have pleaded guilty in a widening corruption scandal involving Fiat Chrysler, the United Auto Workers and their joint-training center, funded by the automaker. Federal prosecutors describe a pattern of company officials funneling illegal payments to UAW leaders through training center accounts. The case already has ensnared former Fiat Chrysler executive Alphons Iacobelli and Monica-Morgan Holiefield, widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield.

Federal prosecutors say the automaker conspired with the UAW from before 2009 through 2015 to violate the Labor Management Relations Act. The law prohibits employers or those working for them from paying, lending or delivering money or other valuables to officers or employees of labor organizations — and from labor leaders from accepting such items. Prosecutors allege that Iacobelli and at least four other unnamed Fiat Chrysler officials were funneling more than $1.5 million worth of illegal payments to UAW officials.

Marchionne was questioned during a private meeting in July 2016 with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit, sources familiar with the investigation said. He was escorted to the meeting by his white-collar criminal-defense lawyer. Marchionne had not been charged with a crime during the ongoing federal grand jury investigation.

The automaker also faced allegations it cheated on pollution testing for diesel engines.

In May 2017, Fiat Chrysler said it would modify around 104,000 diesel vehicles after the Justice Department sued the the automaker, accusing it of illegally using software in diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 pickups sold since 2014 to mask true pollution levels during testing. Court filings in May 2018 cited emails that diesel engine subsidiary VM Motori knew as early as 2010 that an auxiliary emissions control device would be illegal if concealed from regulators.

Bold vision, detailed

Marchionne’s bold plans were laid out in public five-year plans beginning in 2010 with the CEO and his team telegraphing their product moves in the normally secretive auto industry. The ambitious plans sometimes fell short, yet Marchionne would reboot five years later with another five-year salvo.

“He was a very plain-spoken person,” says Lindland. “He was a risk-taker but also able to motivate his team to take those risks with him.”

Fiat Chrysler got an infusion of cash by spinning off Ferrari in 2015 in an initial public offering valued at over $12 billion. With its 9-percent stake in the prancing horse, Chrysler made off with nearly $1 billion. By the end of 2017, Fiat Chrysler’s net profit had doubled over the previous year with the company predicting its profits would outrun Ford by the end of 2018.

Under new chief, Fiat Chrysler future still more Jeeps, Ram trucks

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

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The British executive who supercharged Jeep and made the most American of brands a worldwide sales leader will rely on that experience to lead all of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

Mike Manley was appointed Saturday as the Italian-American automaker’s next CEO.  Analysts — and the company’s board — say the 54-year-old is the right man at the right time to continue longtime CEO Sergio Marchionne’s push toward with driving profits in an increasingly saturated and competitive SUV and truck market, and a rapidly changing global automotive industry.

In an emergency meeting in Italy, the automaker’s board of directors replaced the 66-year-old Marchionne, who led the company for 14 years but is said to be in serious condition in a Swiss hospital with complications following surgery a few weeks ago.

Manley’s value is evidenced in the five-year plan Marchionne laid out in June: The Jeep and Ram brands are the backbone of Fiat Chrysler’s latest road map. The plan relies heavily on leveraging the Jeep and Ram brands in the U.S. and around the globe by launching more high-margin SUVs and trucks. Those products are expected to fund investment in electrification and autonomous-vehicle technology.

The company said Manley was being asked to follow the plan set forth by Marchionne that guides the company to 2022, when it aims to be the most profitable carmaker in the United States. It will not be without challenges.

“Mike Manley is a worthy replacement at FCA, but it’s a huge job to not only fill Sergio’s shoes, but to run many brands that are facing capricious fortunes in a variety of markets,” said Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “Manley’s masterful management of Jeep and Ram will serve him well as he moves into this huge, global role.”

Jeep is promising 14 electrified vehicles in the next five years, including four battery-electric options. By 2021, every Jeep nameplate will have an electrification option. The off-road brand is also going to add mobility options starting next year, with a planned car-borrowing experiment in the Northeast.

Ram planners hope a new performance pickup called the TRX – and a yet-unnamed  midsize pickup to compete against the Chevrolet Colorado and Ford Ranger – will boost annual global sales for Ram to 1 million by 2022.In the U.S., Ram’s largest market, ​​​the automaker sold 556,790 Ram vehicles last year.

While Marchionne’s plan incorporates the entire Fiat Chrysler lineup, Jeep and Ram are foundation of the strategy. Analysts said it’s fitting that Manley would assume the helm, even under unfortunate circumstances that have Marchionne exiting the company months ahead of his planned retirement.

“The success of the Jeep brand under Mike Manley and his global background make him the smart choice to be the new head of FCA,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. “His international experience in growing that brand will play a key role as he applies those techniques to all of the Fiat Chrysler divisions.”

Manley’s imprint

Manley’s sense of humor and often-grizzled appearance were a good fit for Fiat Chrysler during a casual era in which the CEO was known for wearing a rumpled black sweater no matter the occasion.

But beneath the informal exterior, insiders say Manley is a brilliant executive focused on achieving the company’s goal of making Jeep a super-brand. While guarded about his personal life, the laconic British-born Manley has been the public face of Jeep at auto shows and product debuts as the brand climbed the sales charts.

Manley took charge of Jeep in 2009 and Ram in 2015. Under his leadership, sales of both brands surged, contrary to the anemic sales of Fiat and Chrysler. That’s led some insiders to joke that Fiat Chrysler should be renamed Jeep Ram.

From just 231,701 Jeeps sold in the U.S. in 2009 when Fiat took over assets of the failing Chrysler Group LLC, Jeep sales have increased four-fold as Manley transformed the off-road brand into a full-line SUV-maker just as the market was turning to sport utilities.

Manley relentlessly focused his staff on Jeep’s core values to make sure the brand’s personality stands out in a crowded marketplace.

Under Manley’s watch, Jeep re-asserted the rugged Wrangler as its iconic vehicle, and added three new models: the (reborn) Cherokee, compact Compass and subcompact Renegade. Riding the sport-utility wave, U.S. sales exploded to 926,376 by 2016 before leveling off at 828,522 last year. While not yet in the league of megabrands like Ford and Chevrolet which sell over 2 million vehicles a year, Jeep has big ambitions.

He pushed Jeep into international markets. Worldwide Jeep sales now crest 1.4 million, and the brand has grown from four plants in the U.S. in 2009 to 10 plants in six countries this year. The compact Jeep Compass alone is made in four countries, the subcompact Renegade in three. Along with global titans like McDonald’s and Disney, the brand is widely known as one America’s most iconic, with roots reaching back to World War II.

Manley, who was born in Edenbridge, Great Britain, is expected to make his first public remarks as CEO during the company’s second-quarter financial results call on Wednesday.

Marchionne’s health

Company representatives have declined to go into detail about Marchionne’s medical condition but said he’s not returning to work.

 An Italian newspaper reported Sunday that Marchionne is in extremely serious condition in a Zurich hospital. Il Messaggero, a newspaper based in Rome, said his condition had worsened and that two sons were with him, along with his partner Manuela Battezzato, who works in communications for the automaker.

Marchionne, a native of Italy whose family moved to Canada when he was a teenager, had been on medical leave for several weeks. His last public appearance was June 26, when he spoke at an event in Rome. The company said July 5 that he was expected to require “a short period of convalescence” after shoulder surgery.

But Fiat Chrysler Chairman John Elkann, heir to the Agnelli family that founded Fiat, sounded a somber tone Saturday, saying in a statement he was “profoundly saddened to learn of Sergio’s state of health. It is a situation that was unthinkable until a few hours ago, and one that leaves us all with a real sense of injustice.”

Marchionne was one of the longest-serving CEOs in the auto industry, appointed in 2004 as the fifth Fiat chief in a two-year period. He managed to return the carmaker to profit in 2005 by cutting costs, laying off workers and then looking for a partner. The company had lost more than 6 billion euros ($7.04 billion) in 2003.

In 2009, Marchionne managed to take ownership of Chrysler Group LLC assets without putting up cash as it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy under the guidance of the federal government. He pledged to reopen factories and share technology with the struggling U.S. carmaker.

By acquiring Chrysler, Marchionne gave Fiat the global scale it needed to survive. Still, as the world’s seventh-largest automaker, the company may lack the size it needs to compete in an industry being reinvented by the emergence of autonomous driving and electrification.

In leading a 14-year turnaround, Marchionne returned the U.S. carmaker to health, revived Alfa Romeo in the United States and pushed the company toward slashing net industrial debt to zero.

He said in early June while laying out his road map for the future that his mission there was complete, and his successor would inherit a plan already in motion to make Fiat Chrysler the most profitable automaker in the U.S. by 2022.

FCA plans to deploy some $52.5 billion (45 billion euros) in capital expenditure over the next five years to achieve its 2022 goals of leveraging the highly profitable Jeep and Ram brands in the U.S. and abroad with higher-margin products that fill holes in their respective portfolios.

In recent months, Marchionne was preparing to slow down but wanted first to complete the five-year plan to rid the carmaker of industrial debt, making it financially stronger and able to survive the next downturn. “I am a fixer,” he said. “Until something is definitively fixed, I can’t stop.”

New FCA CEO Manley a ‘brilliant’ exec

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

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As the man who guided Jeep and Ram to meteoric success, Mike Manley’s sense of humor and often-grizzled appearance were a good fit for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles during a casual era in which former CEO Sergio Marchionne was known for wearing a black crewneck sweater no matter the occasion.

But beneath the informal exterior of the new Fiat Chrysler chief chosen Saturday, insiders say Manley is the smartest man in the room, a brilliant executive focused on achieving the company’s goal of making Jeep a super-brand.

Michael Manley, 54, assumed the helm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Saturday after eight years heading the company’s Jeep brand and nearly three leading Ram. He was named CEO in an emergency board of directors meeting in Italy, as the company disclosed that Marchionne’s health had taken a serious turn due to complications after surgery.

Under Manley’s leadership, sales at Jeep and Ram have surged, contrary to the anemic sales of Fiat and Chrysler. That’s led some insiders to joke that Fiat Chrysler should be renamed Jeep Ram.

While guarded about his personal life, the laconic British-born Manley has been the public face of Jeep at auto shows and product debuts as the brand climbed the sales charts.

From just 231,701 Jeeps sold in the U.S. in 2009 when Fiat took over assets of the bankrupt Chrysler Group LLC, Jeep sales have increased four-fold as Manley transformed the off-road brand into a full-line SUV-maker just as the market was turning to sport utilities.

Manley has relentlessly focused his staff on Jeep’s core values to make sure the brand’s personality stands out in a crowded marketplace.

Under his watch, Jeep re-asserted the rugged Wrangler as its iconic vehicle, and added three new models: the (reborn) Cherokee, compact Compass and subcompact Renegade. Riding the sport-utility wave, U.S. sales exploded to 926,376 by 2016 before leveling off at 828,522 last year. While not yet in the league of megabrands like Ford and Chevrolet which sell over 2 million vehicles a year, Jeep has big ambitions.

Along with U.S. sales, Manley led Jeep’s sales push internationally.  Along with other global titans like McDonald’s and Disney, it is widely known as one America’s most iconic brands, going back to its World War II roots.

Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said Manley is “a very worthy replacement” for Marchionne. She cited Manley’s global expertise and experience running Jeep, especially the highly successful launch of the Jeep Wrangler this year.

“While running FCA is a wider, broader job than running Jeep and Ram, Manley has been a loyal and worthy lieutenant to Marchionne for years,” Lindland said.

Worldwide Jeep sales now crest 1.4 million, and the brand has grown from four plants in the U.S. in 2009 to 10 plants in six countries this year. The compact Jeep Compass alone is made in four countries, the subcompact Renegade in three.

Manley is expected to make his first public remarks as CEO during the company’s second-quarter financial results call on Wednesday.

Lindland said Manley has been “well in the running” to replace Marchionne since the ailing FCA leader announced his initial plan to retire next year.

Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, added: “The success of the Jeep brand under Mike Manley and his global background make him the smart choice to be the new head of FCA. His international experience in growing that brand will play a key role as he applies those techniques to all of the Fiat Chrysler division.

The United Auto Workers union also praised the appointment.

“UAW FCA members look forward to working and bargaining with Mike Manley and his team as we head into the 2019 negotiations,” UAW President Gary Jones said. “Mr. Manley inherits a proud workforce that is known for its quality work and is committed to building the best products in the industry.”

Manley joined the former DaimlerChrysler in 2000 as director of network development for DaimlerChrysler United Kingdom Ltd. He worked a stint as chief operating officer for the Asian region and was executive for the international activities of Chrysler outside of the North American Free Trade Agreement, where he was responsible for implementing agreements for distribution of Chrysler products through Fiat’s international network.

Manley, a native of Edenbridge, Great Britain, holds a master of business administration from Ashridge Management College.

Charger Hellcat births 10,000-hp Funny Car dragster

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

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All Hellcat is about to break loose at the drag strip.

The first family sedan to boast 707 horsepower and a demonic 204 mph top speed, it only seemed a matter of time before the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat would inspire an NHRA Funny Car dragster. Emphasis on “inspire.”

The 2019 Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car that will make its debut at the Dodge Mile-High NHRA Nationals outside Denver this weekend shares nothing with its production parent except wicked looks and raw speed.

True to the production Hellcat’s outrageous horsepower specs, the Funny Car — the drag-racing world’s second-fastest class after Top Fuel — will pump out more than 10,000 horses (that’s not a misprint). Where the showroom four-door Charger Hellcat will hit 60 mph in a sports car-like 3.4 seconds, its Funny Car offspring will cross the finish line of a 1,000-foot drag race (less than two-tenths of a mile) in under 4 seconds at about 330 mph.

The production Hellcat’s gas-guzzling 16-mpg V-8 is a fuel sipper next to the nitromethane-sucking dragster. In a single, rib cage-rattling, drag-strip run down Colorado’s Bandimere Speedway, the Hellcat Funny Car will consume some 15 gallons of fuel.

The Funny Car is the product of race development between Dodge, Fiat-Chrysler parts shop Mopar, and Don Schumacher Racing. Indianapolis-based Schumacher, the premier Funny Car race team along with John Force Racing, has previously managed Dodge’s Charger R/T dragster. Two-time Funny Car champion Matt Hagan will be the first to pilot the Hellcat at the Mile-High NHRA Nationals. He’ll be gunning for the Funny Car record of 3.8 seconds at  339 mph.

“The Dodge/SRT brand is all about performance, and the introduction of the Mopar Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat NHRA Funny Car body showcases our commitment to performance and excellence at the dragstrip,” said Fiat Chrysler passenger car brands chief Steve Beahm.

You won’t find any doors on the dragster — drivers get in and out after the whole body is raised from the skeletal chassis. Unlike the rear-engine, Top Fuel “slingshot dragsters,” front-engine Funny Cars must have full body work to resemble a current production car.

But Charger design cues abound.

Like a NASCAR that mimics the front of, say, a Ford Fusion, the dragster’s stick-on grille graphic echoes the production car’s fascia, including an embedded Hellcat logo. Other Charger-inspired details include scalloped side-bodywork and a front splitter.

All is not decoration, however, as the body scallops help to avoid “body burn” from the four, flame-spitting exhaust pipes that emerge behind each front wheel.The dragster is crafted from carbon-fiber and Kevlar which is significantly lighter than the production ‘Cat’s steel wardrobe.

“This new Funny Car body is something that Mopar and Dodge//SRT have put a lot of work and support behind, from R&D to wind tunnel testing,” said driver Hagan, who has spent all 10 years of his drag-racing career behind the wheel of a Mopar-powered Dodge Charger. “We’re going to have a little more downforce, a little more traction on these racetracks and it will be a huge performance advantage.”

The new Hellcat Funny Car body replaces Schumacher Racing’s current-generation Charger R/T racer which has claimed 50 wins since its introduction in 2015. Driver Ron Capps won the 2016 NHRA Funny Car World Championship in the Charger R/T.

Muscle-car fans fans might wonder why Dodge does not field the iconic Challenger SRT Demon badge on its Funny Car. The Demon debuted last year as the fastest production car in the quarter-mile ever, clipping the tape in 9.65 seconds at 140 mph. So fast is the Demon that it is banned at NHRA events unless equipped with a roll bar.

But the limited-edition Demon is out of production. And, for nearly a decade, the family sedan Charger has waved the brand flag in the NHRA. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

Payne: Who needs luxury? GMC Acadia vs. Mazda CX-9

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 19, 2018

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I’m as weak as the next guy. Set me up with a shapely Audi A7 sedan. Or a cheetah-quick Porsche Boxster GTS. Or an explosively powerful, 707-horse Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Ooooooh, I would rob a bank to get them in my garage.

But try to sell me a  three-row family luxury SUV and I’m more rational. Five-door utility and fundamental physics have made some mainstream vehicles as desirable as their premium peers.

Take the upwardly mobile $43,445 Mazda CX-9 and $43,145 GMC Acadia sport utilities I’ve been hanging out in.

These two mainstream brands have translated their (respectively) sports car and truck DNA into family haulers that are easy on the eyes, tech savvy and fun to drive. In so doing they have largely closed the gap with luxury brands costing $15,000 more (the price of a nice, used Mazda 3 for your 16-year-old).

I revisited the GMC and Mazda two years after they first wowed me in 2016. This time around, I found the all-wheel drive family haulers were a blast over the country roads of Michigan and Virginia. Not only did these 4,000-pounders carry my family in style, but they were fun to drive with taut chassis and peppy turbo-4s. You know, the stuff for which luxury vehicles are known.

I rented the Acadia out of Dulles Airport which returned me to the roads where I tested the GMC in May 2016. If you think GMC is just about trucks, this ute will surprise you.

Based on the same bones that support the nimble Cadillac XT5, the Acadia went on a 700-pound diet from the previous generation. It shows. In 2016, I chased an Audi A7 cheetah through Virginia’s twisted hills, the Acadia showing remarkable poise for a big rhino.

This time, country roads took me across the West Virginia line near the famed Summit Point racetrack. The Acadia possesses an excellent all-wheel drive system that includes a mode selector with 4×2, 4×4, Snow and Sport. Yes, Sport. Dial in, hold on to the door handles, dearies, and let’s go Audi hunting.

Mated to GM’s excellent 9-speed transmission, the 193-horse 4-cylinder is up to the task. The Mazda, even more so.

True to its ZOOM ZOOM lineage, inside every Mazda ute beats the heart of a Miata. The CX-9 takes ute athleticism to the next level.

Not that GMC should hang its head. Car and Driver measured identical G-load numbers for both SUVs in its skid-pad test. That’s a remarkable stat for a ute with pickups as parents.

The Mazda simply manages its heft with more aplomb than the GMC. It also wins on style points. Indeed, CX-9 shames most premium vehicles with its fastback styling and runway-model fascia.

Though less butch than previous generations, the GMC could still use another appointment with the plastic surgeon. Look at younger brother GMC Terrain, one of the lookers of the compact class. A Terrain-like wardrobe for Acadia would match the SUV’s upscale, ballroom dance moves.

Inside, the GMC steps up its game.

While the Mazda struts its handsome European wardrobe of rotary dial, tablet screen and expansive dash, design alone won’t get you very far if you get lost in the West Virginia Outback.

Mazda continues to be tardy to the smartphone connectivity dance though it promises the popular feature … um, soon. Just how useful this feature can be was demonstrated by my Acadia.

 Like its GM brethren, Acadia was one of the first in segment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. They both work superbly in the GMC’s head unit. My experience is that only some luxury models — BMWs, Mercedes S-class, Acura RDX — have navigation systems that can compete with smartphones. And who wants to pay big bucks for the privilege?

My Acadia came with no nav. No problem.

Plug in your iPhone, and bingo! — the GMC’s infotainment system’s Google Maps routed us across the wildest of Wild, Wonderful West Virginia. This is every smartphone-user’s dream — no need to upgrade to an (inferior) auto nav feature. No need to learn a new system. Just enter the destination on your phone before leaving the hotel/home/work. Plug. And play.

The GMC and the Mazda won’t win any awards for interior space, but these are big three-row utes. Space comes standard.

My six-foot-plus sons fit comfortably in the rear of the Acadia where they read books, played computer games, even rested thanks to the GMC’s thoughtful recliner (Mazda has a similar feature). The third row is accessible in both the Acadia and Mazda with easy, one step pull-and-slide second row seats (though the Acadia, for budget reasons, only accesses the third row on the curb side). I was cramped, but I’m a 6-foot-5 circus freak, for goodness sake.

Where the CX-9 shows off details like auto high beams and a head-up display, the Acadia responds with thoughtful items like a rear passenger safety check: Exit the car and the GMC reminds you if you have left something like your computer in the back seat. Or, heaven forbid, a child. Clever.

But then GMC takes clever too far. Determined to gain EPA’s favor, the GMC refuses owners the option of turning off its Stop/Start engine feature. Stop/Start is this decade’s equivalent of the 1970s’ automatic seat belt. Annoying.

This is the second Acadia rental I’ve had with the feature and it grates like fingernails on a chalkboard. It drives my wife crazy. The constant stall at stoplights. BRRRUMP. The constant shudder back to life. BRRUPUP. Sure, GM’s Stop-Start is smoother than most, but it’s not smooth enough.

Mercifully, CX-9 does not come equipped with Stop/Start. The minor fuel savings are not worth the expense. Like GMC’s decision to only equip the curbside second row with third-row access.

On such small details can buyers’ purchase decisions hang. Maybe the GMC’s smartphone capability seals the deal for Acadia. Maybe the Mazda’s sexy styling flips your switch.

Either way, the details pale in comparison to that $15,000 it’ll cost you to buy a comparable luxury ute. Maybe that premium badge buys status — but as Acadia and CX-9 prove, it doesn’t buy you a better chariot.

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.

2018 GMC Acadia

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

Price: $29,995 base ($43,145 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline-4-cylinder

Power: 193 horsepower, 188 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA; towing: 1,000 pounds

Weight: 3,956 pounds (FWD)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 21 city/25 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Lightweight, nimble chassis; Smartphone app connectivity

Lows: Can’t turn off Stop-Start; anemic 1,000-pound towing

Overall: 3 stars

2018 Mazda CX-9

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-and rear-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

Price: $33,125 base ($43,445 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter, turbocharged inline-4

Power: 227-250 horsepower (87 or 93 octane gas), 310 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: Zero-60: 7.5 seconds (Car & Driver est.); 3,500-pound towing

Weight: 4,361 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 20 city/26 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: One good-lookin’ ute; athletic ride

Lows: No full moon roof; smartphone app connectivity, please

Overall: 3 stars

Acura debuts an updated MDX crossover

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 17, 2018

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Acura introduced the 2019 model of its three-row 2019 MDX crossover on Tuesday, but the vehicle’s minor updates don’t tell the full story of big changes in both Acura’s brand and the American manufacturing market.

Introduced in 2001, the Ohio-built MDX is the third-best-selling three-row ute in the U.S. behind the Lexus RX and Cadillac XT5. Now in its third generation, the MDX received a stem-to-stern redesign in 2014 to be lighter and more powerful. But, unusual for mid-cycle refreshes, MDX development has accelerated over the last two years as the Acura brand has remade itself to be a more performance-oriented brand.

In 2017 the MDX was the first Acura to get the “diamond pentagon” grille – reflecting a major design change previewed by the Acura Precision Concept at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. The grille is now spreading to all vehicles in the Acura lineup including the TLX sedan and the hot-selling, compact RDX crossover.

The ’17 MDX line also imported radical new technology from another Acura halo car – the NSX hybrid supercar. The MDX Sport Hybrid debuted with a similar twin-electric motor with all-wheel-drive system as the NSX. That made for better fuel economy as well as improved handling.

The 2019 MDX continues the performance push as the family SUV for the first time gets the brand’s sporty A-Spec package which offers torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, 20-inch alloy wheels, a blacked-out grille, paddle shifters and red leather seats. While the 2019 A-Spec gets the same 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 as the rest of the MDX family, the sporty package hints that even the three-row ute may ultimately receive Acura’s hot rod Type S badge, complete with a snarling, turbocharged V-6 producing a reported 400 ponies.

The A-Spec package debuts at $55,795. That’s $10,500 more than the base, front-wheel-drive MDX.

Upgrades to the 2019 MDX include a more responsive 9-speed transmission and optional adaptive dampers. The MDX comes standard with techy features like automatic braking, forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise-control. The base 2019 MDX starts $100 higher than the 2018 model.

All MDX production is in East Liberty, Ohio. In fact, all Acura vehicles are now made at the plant outside Columbus except for the slow-selling, Japanese-assembled RLX large sedan, a victim of its sibling SUV’s popularity.

Acura’s U.S production marks a remarkable transformation of the manufacturing landscape as the nation goes whole-hog for premium SUVs.

At the turn of the 21st century, not a single foreign, mid-size SUV was built within U.S.  borders. Now, as three-row sport utilities dominate America’s school yards, four of the five best-selling premium crossovers are built here: the BMW X5 (South Carolina), Mercedes GLE (Alabama), Cadillac XT5 (Tennessee) and the MDX.

Ford F-series, Mercedes dominate with same playbook

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 17, 2018

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Nashville – Mercedes-Benz and Ford Motor Co. would seem an unlikely couple.

But in the American auto market they have used similar strategies to carve out dominant, cash-gushing positions in the industry’s two most lucrative segments: luxury vehicles and large pickup trucks. Both automakers, industry insiders say, have sliced the market so finely with so many different models that few will dare challenge their supremacy.

Mercedes leads an elite Big Three in luxury – BMW and Lexus are the other two – that sells more than 300,000 vehicles a year. Only one other automaker – Audi, with a growing 226,000-plus in sales – threatens their dominance.

A Big Three also rules pickups: Ford, Chevrolet and Ram. Their domination is even more dramatic with each cresting 500,000 sales in 2017 (Ford almost topped the 900,000 mark). Chevy’s premium cousin, GMC, sold another 250,000 in 2017.

But it’s Ford that has ruled the pickup roost for the past 41 years, and it does so in part by giving pickup buyers more than 200 choices in all their configurations.

“Ford and Mercedes have extraordinary engineering capability. They can slice the cheese so thin,” says veteran auto analyst Joe Phillippi of Auto Trends Consulting. “The Germans can offer you an incredible portfolio of transmissions, styles and drivetrains. For the Detroit Three, pickups are their luxury product — the variable gross-profit numbers are mind-bending.”

The financial rewards for Mercedes’ and Ford’s slice-and-dice strategies are huge.

The 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon

Though it only makes luxury vehicles, Mercedes is second only to full-line automaker Toyota in the Forbes brand-value index. Its $34.4 billion in value rivals mass-market consumer behemoths like McDonald’s and Intel. The profits from its luxury stable are key to funding its forays into capital-intensive segments like autonomous vehicles as well government-mandated, money-losing electric cars like its EQ line.

Ford’s future autonomous and electric investments are dependent on its pickup profit-gusher. The F-series numbers are even more eye-popping than Mercedes’.

North American consumers reportedly spent $41.25 billion on F-Series trucks alone last year. Ford says that’s more revenue than Coca-Cola, Facebook or Nike. It’s also more money than the gross domestic product of Bolivia.

Ford Truck Group Marketing Chief Todd Eckert says Ford sells two F-Series pickups every minute — 896,764 in 2017 — by offering “an F-Series for every need.”

Over at Mercedes, Bernie Glaser, director of product management for North America, Bernie Glaser sounds a similar note: “We are delivering what the customer wants. We work here and manufacture here in the U.S. market.”

The Ford F-series has been the best-selling truck in the U.S. for 41 straight years. Eckert attributes some of that success to an expansion into premium grades two decades ago.

“Go back into the ’70s and ’80s, and you had a work truck,” he says. “Now there have been improvements in terms of ride and comfort — as well as cab sizes when we brought out the SuperCrew in F-150 in 2001 and introduced King Ranch in 2001.”

To appreciate the expanse of the F-Series lineup, take the standard light-duty F-150 model. The XL work truck starts at about $28,000. Then the Ford engineers and marketers get busy offering five different engines across six different grades — XL, XLT, Lariat, King Ranch, Limited and Raptor — available in three cab sizes and two drivetrains (rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive).

The number of combinations available to the customers including bed-length options is almost incalculable. But sticking to the core configurations above, Ford says the F-150 and three heavy-duty truck models — F250, F350, and F450 — combined give buyers upward of 230 choices.

Toyota’s F-150 competitor, the Tundra, offers just two engine choices across three different grades, as well as two drivetrains. It doesn’t even try to compete in the heavy-duty segments. It sold just 116,000 pickups last year.

“It’s difficult (for foreign manufacturers) to compete against such a breadth of offering,” says TFLTruck.com’s Andre Smirnoff, a longtime observer of the pickup industry.

While Ford was discovering luxury pickups in the early 2000s, Mercedes was exploiting the market’s need for speed. The Stuttgart-based company purchased AMG, a performance engineering firm, to expand its lineup of sporty vehicles. Decades of racing success back up Mercedes’ investment in track-focused models.

“(We) have a really true and believable racing history which we bring to the table. I think it plays into the authenticity of our brand,” says Glaser of Merc triumphs dating back to the 1954 Formula One championship.

Today, nearly every Mercedes model has at least one fire-breathing, high-speed variant pushing AMG badged-vehicles to nearly 10 percent of Mercedes sales.

AMG variants have helped increase Mercedes offerings to some 70 different models. The mid-size E-Class sedan, for example, now offers everything from the base rear-wheel drive E300 sedan that costs $52,950, to the $127,000 AMG E63 S station wagon introduced here in Nashville to media in June.

That $75,000 product spread mirrors the price range of Ford’s F-series.

“Detroit can configure a truck for whatever application you need,” says auto analyst Phillippi. “German automakers like Mercedes are doing the same thing in luxury markets in this country.”

Yet, while Phillippi thinks that the brand-loyal, high-volume Big Three-dominated pickup market is out of reach of foreign competitors, he is critical of domestic manufacturers for not taking a run at the Mercedes-BMW-Lexus juggernaut.

In particular, he and other analysts see opportunity for Cadillac which has targeted the German makers with an aggressive product strategy that includes investments in performance cars (the V-series) and racing.

Cadillac’s E-class competitor, the CTS, comes with a competitive eight trims including AMG-fighters V-Sport and CTS-V. Yet, Cadillac has badly lagged in developing SUVs that Americans covet — and that Mercedes offers in waves.

“GM is happy harvesting profit from pickup trucks but not re-investing it into the other side of the portfolio,” says analyst Phillippi. “Cadillac is 20 years into remaking itself for the 21st century, and what do we have? They are leaving so much money on the table.”

Phillippi is especially critical of GM’s premium brand falling behind in SUVs, offering only three models: the XT5, aging Escalade, and new-for-2019 XT4. Meanwhile, Mercedes not only offers five SUVs plus two SUV coupe variants — but it also leads the class in performance SUV variants.

How has a German automaker so cannily read the U.S. customer?

“We do future trends scouting about what’s going on in the U.S., watching generational shifts, and we try and stay ahead of the curve and be prepared,” says Glaser, sitting inside a $91,150 AMG GLC 63 crossover. It’s based on a standard $40,000 GLC ut

Payne: It’s been a wild two years waiting for my Tesla Model 3

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 17, 2018

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More than two years ago, I put down $1,000 to reserve my place in line with 450,000 others to order the most anticipated car of the 21st century. On June 26, I finally configured my Tesla Model 3 for delivery.

No greenie, I’m a speed-addled motorhead who ordered the Model 3 out of lust for its design and electric performance. And because, as a journalist, I wanted to be a part of the most audacious auto startup in memory.

The wild ride hasn’t disappointed.

The Model 3 has proved to be slow to market, hell to manufacture, banned from sale in Michigan, and a stage for the brilliant, maddening, tweeting, disruptive Donald — er, Elon Musk. Yet the car itself has not lost its allure.

Billed as Tesla Inc.’s entry-segment, $35,000 electric car to the Silicon Valley automakers’ premium Model S and Model X chariots, the most-affordable Model 3 trim won’t be available until next year. My rear-wheel drive, big-battery, 310-mile-range sedan will cost $20,000 north of the base 220-mile-range model. It also demands substantial upgrades to my house to meet its charging demands — more than $2,000 worth — a lesson in the challenges for electric-vehicle adoption.

Like all communication from Tesla, my notice came in a simple email: “Your Model 3 is Ready to Order,” followed by a link to tesla.com.

The email came in the middle of my June-August order window for a $49,000 rear-wheel drive, long-range car. That’s a delay of four months from my original February-April window (true to Musk’s promise of “production hell” at the Model 3’s July 2017 unveiling).  Want the standard-range $35,000 car? I’d have to wait another 6-9 months. Want the $53,000 all-wheel driver? Cool my heels until late 2018.

The website added a new trim: a $64,000 all-wheel drive performance model to rival gas-powered rockets like BMW’s M3 and Cadillac’s ATS-V. Tempting, but its sticker would push the price into nosebleed Model S territory.

I stuck to my budget.

Compared to the dizzying array of options available in most cars these days, my 3 was configured in five easy steps.

Step 1: Car. All-wheel drive for Michigan winters? I like rear-wheel drive handling for twisty country roads. The 310-mile range model I chose has a 140 mph top speed and does 0-60 in 5.1 seconds — among the quickest in its class.

Step 2: Exterior. Any color other than plain black costs $1,000. I chose Obsidian Black Metallic with $1,500 19-inch Sport wheels. Gotta have 19s.

Step 3: Interior. To paraphrase Henry Ford on the Model T (which also suffered production pressures due to high demand), you can have any Model 3 interior you like … as long as it’s black leather. Wood trim and that big, beautiful Tesla tablet screen are standard.

Step 4: Autopilot. “Enhanced Autopilot” adds $5,000 for self-driving features like auto-lane change, adaptive cruise-control, self-park assist and a “summon” feature that allows the car to back itself out of a tight parking space without a driver at the wheel. Another $3,000 and the car would be armed for full autonomy (when the software matures) — no thanks, we motorheads want autonomous cars like fish need bicycles.

Step 5: Payment. Bottom line, my Model 3 cost $56,000, comparable to the BMW M2 coupe I also lust for. Subtract the $7,500 federal EV tax credit and I’m under $50,000.

The cost doesn’t end there.

Recharging on a standard, 110-volt wall charger would take longer than the wait for my Model 3 (well, 52 hours). The best bid from two electricians to upgrade my garage to 240-volt was $1,675. Add $500 for a 60-amp Tesla wall charger and I can recharge to 300 miles in seven hours overnight.

Before paying the electrician and my required $2,500 Tesla deposit (the rest due on delivery), I took a long pause. Fifty grand is a lot of money, and the headlines out of Tesla had become increasingly chaotic.

Some of that chaos was to be expected. Musk and Donald Trump may vehemently disagree on the fate of the polar bear, but they are both classic disruptors on a collision course with the establishment. Musk also takes inspiration from digital disruptors like Steve Jobs to upend the status quo on dealerships (Tesla stores) and manufacturing (more automation).

Never shy with a tweet, he’s unloaded on journalists, investors and industry leaders. As I ordered, he even attacked his role model, Ford Motor Co., to deflect criticism about a makeshift tent he had erected outside his California factory to meet production goals.

“Go to Ford, it looks like a morgue.”

Good theater, but worrisome for a luxury-car buyer who fears the consequences of his $50,000 car being built in a tent. By sleep-deprived workers. By a company with a history of defects — and that, by law, cannot have company dealerships in Michigan.

I’m not the only customer with concerns, but I’m philosophical. Tesla is a startup automaker trying to achieve the unprecedented: fill 450,000 standing orders for a single model. To put that in perspective, Mercedes only sells 375,000 units a year in the U.S. across 15 models.

Which brought me back to product.

Despite similar build issues, the Model X SUV and Model S sedan are two of the best vehicles I’ve driven. While chatting with one of Michigan’s first Model 3 owners in Birmingham this spring, I pointed out a sunken hood gap on her sleek red machine.

She and her husband hadn’t noticed. She went on to rave about the car.

I, too, raved about the first 3 I tested. Its spare, iPhone-like design and nimble handling drowned out voices in Model 3 forums complaining of inconsistent paint jobs and electronic hiccups.

Two years on, and the Model 3 is still unique. Which probably explains why — despite the chaos and delays — Tesla sales still dwarf other EVs. There are very good alternatives, after all — like the tidy, reliable, 238-mile-range Chevy Bolt EV. The Model 3 is outselling it 5:1.

Mine is ordered, but delivery is a uncertain. Tesla says it will arrive at its Cleveland dealership for pickup (Ohio allows Teslas to be sold there) between September-November. Based on the experiences of other owners, it could arrive in a month.

And to throw in one more blind turn on the wild ride, Tesla announced this week it is opening up orders to non-reservation holders. The company assures me that my place in line is secure.

The adventure continues. I’ll let you know when it comes.

Payne: 700 Club — 710-hp McLaren meets 755-hp ‘Vette

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 17, 2018

The 2019 Corvette ZR1 features an outrageous 755 horsepower

The gorgeous McLaren 720S is one of a fleet of supercars

Requirement for membership: 700 horsepower. It’s an elite group of production vehicles including supercars, Bentleys and Hellcats. I’ve flogged a few. For 2018 the directory gets two new members: the McLaren 720S and Corvette ZR1, and they reflect the club’s diversity.

Not straight-line drag racers like the 707-horse Dodge Challenger Hellcat or 840-horse Demon, these remarkable athletes can harness their power for any discipline from the race track to Woodward stoplights, yet they are very different species raised in different worlds to achieve the same purpose: delivering face-flattening speed in tush-flattering comfort.

The 720S is the road-going manifestation of McLaren’s racing success.

With multiple Formula One titles under its belt, McLaren began distilling race technology into production cars with the MP4 super car in 1984. It now churns out models for three supercar “segments” that it calls Sport, Super and Ultimate. All are built on essentially the same mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, carbon-fiber platform.

My $331,335 tester fills the mid-level Super segment — slotting between the $210,000 570GT that I tested in this space last summer, and the insane, $1 million-plus P1 and Senna Ultimate-class track hellions. They’re all insane, really: carbon-fiber race cars made street legal.

The Corvette ZR1, by contrast is, well, a Chevy — though any relationship to mainstream Chevrolets is a stretch. Yes, it uses the same 6.2-liter pushrod V-8 technology found in a Silverado. Its 4G WiFi-capable touchscreen infotainment system is yanked right out of a Malibu sedan. And its supercar price tag is a Chevy-like bargain at $137,000, meaning you could buy two ZR1s for the price of one 720S and have money left over for a Camaro SS.

But like its predecessors, the seventh-generation C7 Corvette is built on a bespoke rear-wheel drive aluminum chassis with otherworldly capabilities. Then Corvette’s team of mad scientists took a page from McLaren’s book. The C7 was co-developed with GM’s Pratt and Miller race team to prep it for race use.

As the most capable Corvette in the stable, the ZR1 builds on the already-ferocious 650-horse Z06 by adding a bigger supercharger and even more downforce punctuated by a high-wing nailed to the frame out back.

The result is a ‘Vette on ‘roids, like Hulk bursting from Bannerman’s too-small clothes. The supercharger bulges from the hood, carbon-fiber dive-planes sprout from the nose, the bat wing looms like something out of DC Comics.

The McLaren looks like it came from the future.

Squeeze the door sill and scissor-doors glide upward. “Eye socket” headlight ducts suck air into twin radiators. A wing emerges on hydraulic struts when an Active aero button is engaged.

The sinewy bod is even more beautiful than the 570GT. Gone are the side air-intakes, replaced by more subtle channels along the greenhouse. The alien-like insectoid taillights remain, but toasty dual-exhaust pipes split them at hip height (watch those hands, kids!).

Get this thing a starring role in the next “Blade Runner” movie.

Bury the throttle out of M1 Concourse’s hairpin and the sci-fi experience goes into hyper-drive. The engine momentarily hesitates as the turbos spool up inside the 4.0-liter V-8. Then, Alice, it’s to the moon.

The same engine with 562 ponies in the 570S was the best mill I have ever driven.

Add another 148 horses for the 720S, and it’s OMG. Around town the acceleration is electric. With a turbo hiss, traffic vanishes in the rear-view mirror. On track the punch is relentless and linear, the torque curve never leveling off.

I hit 130 mph on M1’s back straight before carbon-ceramic brakes brought the rocket back to earth. Veteran M1 instructor Aaron Bambach says that’s faster than anything he’s seen on track shy of the $900,000, 887-horsepower (800 Club anyone?) Porsche 918 hybrid.

The seven-speed tranny fires off quick shifts, the turbos hiss, the engine howls. And then the twisties rush into view. Coping with the mad rush of a 700-plus horsepower — more than an IndyCar — in a 3,100-pound car is an intense experience. But throw it into a corner and the McLaren shrinks to an oversized go-kart.

The electro-hydraulic steering is intuitive, the chassis balanced, the carbon frame flat as a board. I could place the car on a dime around M1.

The McLaren is digital, the Corvette analog.

Of course, electronics is key to the 700 Club. Weapons like these would have been unthinkable 20 years ago without today’s electronic-stability controls, brainiac on-board computers and quick-shifting transmissions.

But as Belle Isle pace-car driver Mark Reuss will be the first to tell you, the ‘Vette can get away from you in a hurry. Pounding downhill through Road Atlanta’s fast esses, the throttle must be treated with care lest 378 cubic inches of piston thrust — 750 pound-feet of torque! — overwhelm the 12-inch rear tires.

Where the McLaren’s rocket builds momentum, the ZR1 comes off the launch pad like the Space Shuttle. The ground shakes. Birds scatter. Car alarms explode. The ZR1 will hit 170 mph on Road Atlanta’s back straight before 15.5-inch-saucers the size of Captain America’s shield haul it into a tight chicane. Unlike the carbon-fiber 720S, you can feel the aluminum ‘Vette flexing, the car moving under you like King Kong unleashed.

But you can feel the 1,000 pounds of downforce — much of it generated by the high wing — pushing down on Kong all the time like a net, keeping him from rampaging off into the forest.

The McLaren computer game is reinforced inside with a digital display that flips over into a narrow, race car-like rpm/mph readout when you choose Track from the console mode selector. A separate knob controls the suspension with Comfort-Sport-Track settings. It’s unique and works instantly to match your needs. The slow infotainment system takes a back seat to the drive dynamics.

The Corvette, by contrast, benefits from its corporate lineage by sporting the brand’s tried-and-true mass-market infotainment system with gadgets like Apple Car Play, head-up display and performance data recorder. Being a Chevy has its benefits.

Both steeds deserve their 700 Club supercar status. The McLaren is simply the best athlete I have driven. The Corvette, dollar-per-pound, is the fastest car ever conceived. What could possibly rival this pair?

I hear the 1,479-horsepower Koenigsegg Regera and 1,479-horse Bugatti Veyreon are starting a 1,000 Club …

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.

2018 McLaren 720S Coupe

Vehicle type: Rear-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger supercar

Price: $288,845 base ($331,355 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8

Power: 710 horsepower, 568 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.8 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 212 mph

Weight: 3,128 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/22 highway/18 combined (Car and Driver)

Report card

Highs: Supermodel looks; turbo V-8 from the gods

Lows: Slow infotainment system

Overall: 4 stars

2019 Chevy Corvette ZR1

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger supercar

Price: $119,995 base ($136,815 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8

Power: 755 horsepower, 715 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 7-speed manual; 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.85 seconds (mfr); top speed: 212 mph

Weight: 3,524 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 13 city/19 highway/15 combined (manual); 12 city/20 highway/15 combined (automatic)

Report card

Highs: Comfy daily driver; Herculean torque

Lows: Oily interior odor; poor visibility

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Think sedans are sunk? Try a snazzy Mazda 6

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 5, 2018

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Here’s the thing about extinction — it concentrates the mind. America has gone ute crazy and sedans are in a fight for their life. It’s survival of the fittest. Evolve or die.

And so we are getting the best sedans I’ve ever seen.

I was ZOOM ZOOM ZOOMing the new Mazda 6 all over Metro Detroit this June and I think I’m in love. It’s the same feeling I had when I got out of the 2018 Honda Accordlast fall. A Rolex watch with a Timex price tag.

Like Honda, Mazda has a lot of mileage under its belt on race tracks and its quick handling is no surprise. What surprises are the luxury amenities.

Fast and luxurious, the Mazda improves on the one gripe I had about the Honda: great bod, but put a bag over its face, please. Not the Mazda. This beauty turns heads from head to tail. My Audi-owning friend Dicran lingered over the elegant, chrome-jeweled front end, the grille smiling seductively.

That is a good looking car!

Yes it is. Better looking than many luxury models. Automakers are taking a hard look at sedan viability in the Age of Ute, but the 6 begs the question: Do we need so many luxury brands?

Regular readers know I’ve been writing about the shrinking gap between mainstream and luxury ’til my fingers turned blue, but you could always count on the premium boys flexing more power.

Take the Mazda CX-5, for example. It’s a heckuva compact ute, right there with a BMW X3 in handling and accessories. But put your foot on the gas and … oh. Just 187 normally aspirated gerbils compared to the Bimmer’s 248 galloping, turbocharged horses — and the sound! Oh, my. Like Maria Sharapova hitting a forehand — HUUGGGH! — you can hear the effort. A silky turbo and the BMW badge will get help you cough up the extra 10 grand for the German.

But now here comes my $36,140 Mazda 6 with a 250-horsepower (on premium gas, 227 on regular) 2.5-liter turbo that goes toe-to-toe with, say, a comparably equipped $56,000, 252-horse Audi A6 out of a stoplight.

Zot! The Mazda 6 hit 60 mph in 6.4 seconds — just shy of the Audi’s 6.1.

Mazda is a stickler for detail and they zeroed in on their noise issues for the sixth-gen 6. Padded panels, recrafted-pillars, the works. Like Noah preparing for the storm, they plugged every leak in the cabin to make it more livable.

The result is a quiet, buttery smooth drivetrain under the cane. But no how matter how many pillows Mazda has stuffed in the cracks, the real story here is the new-for-2018, 2.5-liter turbo-4.

The same powerplant found in the lovely CX-9, three-row ute, the new engine puts out a whopping, best-in-class, 310 pound feet of torque with 63 more horses than the old 2.5-liter, normally-aspirated mill. The new engine is programmed (this is the electronic transmission era) for nearly the same 60 mph run, but then it runs away from the competition where you really want it — in 30-50 and 50-70 acceleration. True to its ZOOM ZOOM roots, the turbo-4 still makes a satisfying thrum at hard throttle — not unlike a turbo-4 Golf GTI, one of my favorite 4-bangers.

The old powerplant is still offered in the 6 as a base-engine $22,845 bargain. But the real bargain here is in the loaded, upper-trim models.

And I do mean loaded. My Signature tester undercuts the Audi A6 price by $20,000 despite boasting a two-tone leather interior, wrapped console, seat memory, head-up display, tablet screen, auto high-beams, and so on. Dicran and went back and forth between an Audi A6 and Mazda 6 interior to see the fine differences.

That’s no accident. Mazda benchmarks its interior to the Audi right down to the remote rotary infotainment controller and piano-key dash buttons. The Audi fits more chrome and wood decoration, but the Mazda gains points with more storage space compared to the Audi’s over-engineered console.

Where the Mazda really wows (did I mention it’s just $36,000) is in the premium details. Allow me to point out three:

1. Blind-spot information system. This is my list of must-have digital innovations. I’ve come to depend on a glance at mirror-based blind-spot system rather than twisting my neck into a pretzel every time I want to change lanes. It’s a technology that, like adaptive cruise control (another must), has rapidly migrated into mainstream cars from luxury.

The Mazda takes it up a notch. Adapting a graphic-based blind-spot system innovated by premium automakers like Tesla, the 6 keeps a digital image of your car in the instrument panel — right in front of you — at all times. Is there a vehicle in your quarter panel? The graphic displays “wavy lines” off your starboard stern so you know another car is there. Cars to your right and left? Twin waves off each quarter.

2. Head-up display. In another steal from cars costing thousands more, the Mazda nixes last generation’s el cheapo, dash-mounted head-up display for a state-of-the-art, windshield-projected system. The configuration includes useful info like mph, speed limit and navigation instructions.

Speaking of nav, the Mazda’s ethic of keeping info in front of the driver extends to the high-mounted infotainment screen — which displays the name of the road you are approaching. On dark nights when street signs are hard to read — or placed on black backgrounds (looking at you, Bloomfield Township) — you won’t miss a turn thanks to Mazda engineers.

3. Air vents. Yes, air vents. Most ventilation system require two controls — one for air direction, the other to close it off. The Mazda 6 cleverly combines them into one, making vent operation a cinch.

It’s details like these that give you confidence that the whole vehicle was endlessly fussed over. Which gets you luxury for $36,000. Speaking of details, Mrs. Payne says the only reason not to buy the peppy, roomy, sexy 6 over the CX-5 ute is all-wheel drive.

And if the CX-5 eventually gets the 6’s 250-horse engine, it’ll be one more challenge sedans will have to overcome. In the meantime, Mazda’s 6 is a 10.

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.

2018 Mazda 6

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

Price: $22,840 Sport base ($36,140 Signature as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder; 2.5-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder

Power: 187 horsepower, 186 pound-feet torque (non-turbo 2.5-liter), 250 horsepower (93 octane fuel, 227 with 87 octane), 310 pound-feet torque (turbo-4)

Transmission: 6-speed manual (base Sport model only), 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.4 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 149 mph (mnftr.)

Weight: 3,560 pounds as tested

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 26 city/35 highway/29 combined (non-turbo 2.5-liter); 23 city/31 highway/26 combined (turbo-4)

Report card

Highs: Easy on the eyes; tech-tastic interior features

Lows: AWD please?

Overall: 4 stars