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Payne: All right for Nissan Altima all-wheel drive

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 6, 2018

Altima Awd

I vaguely remember a time when I noticed the homely Nissan Altima. It was sometime in 2006 and the midsize sedan introduced cool, wrap-around rear taillights. The lamps inside the casing were colorful, staggered, alive. But save for that delicious chunk of chocolate-covered almond, the Nissan sedan has been pure vanilla.

Until now.

“That’s a beautiful car,” said Mrs. Payne as I pulled the all-new, made-in-Tennessee, 2019 Nissan Altima into the driveway this fall. Stop the presses. Unlike her car-mad husband, my wife is an auto appliance shopper. Give her a sedan with reliability, room, attractive looks and all-wheel-drive for winter and she’ll drive it. Brand be damned.

Nissan has always tested well on the three Rs — reliability, ergonomics and room — and the Altima’s rear seat easily accommodates my sprawling, basketball-player frame. Heck, the subcompact Sentra I recently rented has more back seat room than many mid-sizers. That simple formula has made it an appliance mainstay in the midsize aisle. But it’s the looks and all-wheel drive that are game-changers for the new offering.

No longer an appliance, this Altima stirs emotion.

Good thing, too, because sedans aren’t packing them into the dealership like they used to. SUVs are the new, new thing — but they are also the new vanilla. Five-door box, tall stance, snooze. Nissan knows this and has been on the cutting edge of crossover design with spicy confections like the Murano (introduced in 2015) and its floating roof, sculpted flanks, and V-motion grille.

The V-motion design really takes hold with Altima. The Murano’s funky grille stands out like someone hung a Georgia O’Keefe painting on the front of the two-row ute. Its multiple surfaces are attention grabbing for sure, but not everyone’s cup of tea.

The Altima’s grille, by contrast, is simpler, more elegant — a natural pool into which the sedan’s long, flowing lines flow. Unlike the bulbous, monotonous Altimas of old, the ‘19 is a symphony of lines playing in harmony. The wraparound lights and floating roof waterfall across snazzy, tire-wrapped pin-wheels to a low, clamshell hood. Los Angeles design studio, take a bow.

From ugly duckling to swan in a generation, the Altima — like competitors Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, and my segment favorite Mazda 6 — offers sleek designs to compete against upright utes.

It’s the all-wheel drive system, however, that really expands the Altima sedan’s bandwidth.

Only Subaru’s Legacy and the (retiring) Ford Fusion offer AWD in the midsize sedan market. Want AWD for Michigan’s brutal winters? We have a Nissan Rogue box over here — or you can have the Altima.

Interestingly, the all-wheel drive system only comes paired to the base 188-horsepower, 2.5-liter engine. Nissan explains the decision as a way to make AWD available in all trims of the car right down to the base model — which is good news to Mrs. Payne, who could price the sporty AWD SR model competitively against her smaller, AWD Impreza Sport hatch (alas, the Altima does not come in a hatch/wagon). The AWD Altima is also attractively priced next to its stablemate, the Rogue SUV — coming in $1,000 cheaper at $25,995 (consistent with the FWD base model, too).

As Nissan studies AWD take rates in the sedan segment, the pricing allows exposure of AWD to as broad a demographic as possible.

What it doesn’t do, however, is pair AWD with the most appealing engine option — Nissan’s new, variable compression, 2.0-liter, 248-horse turbo-4 which replaces the outgoing, normally aspirated V-6. Variable compression (or VC-T) engines are engineering marvels. Without scrambling your brain with the tech details, it allows the turbo-4 to stretch its performance legs while also maximizing efficiency. The payoff? A 3 mpg gain over the Altima’s ol’ V-6.

The Rogue doesn’t get the engine either, which means sedan customers get exclusivity to go with their designer wardrobe. Want the VC-T with AWD? You’ll have to cough up another 10 grand for the premium Infiniti QX50.

The VC-T turbo-4 is a treat to drive around Metro Detroit, its torque surging over 3,000 rpms. For all its fancy engineering degrees, the biggest revelation might be its CVT (continuously variable transmission) partner, which manages the feat of feeling like an 8-speed auto tranny while retaining the fuel economy of a CVT.

This was music to my ears after driving a classic CVT in a Lexus NX hybrid which droned on and on like a Bob Woodward interview. The Altima’s electronically stepped shifts not only sound good, but they are smooth when you stomp on the pedal for added low-end torque.

YUNK! Went the Volvo S60 automatic I recently tested as it downshifted under duress. Not the Altima.

Happily, the CVT was also paired to the 2.5-liter four in my $30,175 blue tester. The Altima is no Mazda 6 or Accord (the class athletes), but it’s perfectly content being pushed through the twisties. Push too hard and it will, well, push — no fancy torque-vectoring tricks here — but it’s in Michigan winters that the AWD hoofs will pay their dividend.

Nissan has foregone fancy, torque-shifting twin clutch packs like GM has outfitted to its Buick and Chevy Equinox AWD models — the better to shift torque away from a rogue wheel spinning in the snow. But the Japanese maker still claims that it can electronically use anti-lock brakes to sedate that wheel and get your car moving again.

Inside, the Altima closes the gap to luxury-class vehicles with a tidy, horizontal dash resting on a “gliding wing” of wood. With the 8-inch tablet screen suspended above the console, I could not only keep my eyes on the road while operating the touchscreen, but also throw my phone, fries, loose change in the ample storage bin beneath. Standard tech abounds from USB ports front and rear to smartphone app connectivity.

A new Nissan wouldn’t be complete without available Pro-Pilot Assist which has become synonymous with Star Wars ads showing Nissans avoiding various sci-fi creatures. Appropriately, drivers should treat it as a sci-fi toy — a peek at the autonomous future, but a consistent road guide no more reliable than Jar-Jar Binks.

Keep your eyes on the road — and on an all-wheel drive Nissan Altima, homely no more.

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 Nissan Altima

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

Price: $24,645 base including $895 destination fee ($30.015 SR AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5 liter inline-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter, turbo-4

Power: 188 horsepower, 180 pound-feet torque (2.5L); 248 horsepower, 280 pound-feet torque (2.0L)

Transmission: CVT (continuously variable automatic)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0-8.1 seconds (Car and Driver est.)

Weight: 3,418 pounds (2.5L SR AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 26 city/36 highway/30 combined (2.5-liter with AWD); 25 city/34 highway/29 combined (2.0L turbo-4)

Report card

Highs: Altima is a looker; rare sedan with all-wheel-drive

Lows: Pro-pilot assist still a toy; AWD comes only with base, 2.5-liter engine

Overall: 4 stars

Heavy Chevy: Giant Silverado HD debuts

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 6, 2018

Silverado

Here come the trucks. General Motors Co. may be scaling back its sedan offerings, but pickups are booming and its Chevrolet brand is slicing and dicing the market to keep the customers coming.

Chevy gave a sneak peak Tuesday of its latest monster, the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado Heavy Duty — the biggest, baddest truck the General has ever made.

Forged at Flint Assembly and built on the same bones as the steel Silverado 1500 Light Duty truck introduced at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the HD brings a new face, more interior room, and a stump-pulling diesel engine with 910 pound feet of torque when it goes on sale in mid-2019.

Where the 1500 populates corporate fleets and the driveways of daily drivers, the HD delivers the brawn for heavy payloads, long-distance hauling, and, well, stump-pulling.

 “We know the needs and priorities of heavy-duty customers are different than those of either light-duty or medium-duty customers,” said HD Chief Engineer Jaclyn McQuaid. “We built a heavy-duty, truck tailor-made for them that has more differentiation than ever before from light-duty models.”

Chevy says the HD will benefit from the Silverado’s new, high-strength steel architecture — bucking the aluminum trend of its chief competitor, Ford which introduced its F-series Super Duty for the 2017 model year. The new chassis allows three more inches of rear legroom.

But where the lean-looking light-duty takes its grille design cues from the Camaro, the Heavy Duty’s front fascia is bolder, more upright with big, lower headlights topped off by LED “eyebrows” where the 1500’s thin lights are located. Already a leader in pickup bed access with its corner step innovation, the HD introduces a new, side bed step for easier, forward-box access.

From stem to stern the HD battleship shares only a roof with the light duty 1500.

 “We set out to make a statement with the 2020 Silverado HD and wanted to visually capture the power and capability of the truck,” said designer Brian Izard. “The result is a truck that looks like a piece of heavy machinery with modern, chiseled finishes and customer-focused details.”

Chevy is coy about engine offerings, promising a new gas engine “with direct injection,” as well as its ol’ reliable Duramax, turbo-diesel V-8 — now mated to a 10-speed transmission.

The big Silverado is the latest salvo in a GM truck onslaught. Since re-entering the mid-size truck market in 2015, GM has brought all-new versions of the middie Colorado and GMC Canyon trucks and full-size Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. The Silverado light-duty now spans eight different models from the fleet Work Truck trim to the luxurious High Country, while the Sierra has been moved upscale with an emphasis on the premium Denali and all-new, rambunctious AT4 off-roader.

The Silverado HD comes on the heels of Chevy’s introduction of a more-extreme, off-road Colorado Bison to compliment its veteran ZR2 dirt-kicker.

All told, GM’s holy trinity of midsize, light-duty, and heavy-duty trucks has made the General the best-selling truckmaker in the United States — outpacing Ford Motor Co. (which boasts the best-selling light heavy duty Ford F-series) by some 600,000 units from 2014-2018.

Look for more details of the 2020 Silverado HD in February.

Ford and Logano bring home NASCAR trophies to Dearborn

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 5, 2018

Ford Logano Car

Dearborn — At Ford they’re partying like it’s 1999.

For the first time in 19 years Ford has won the NASCAR driver’s and manufacturer’s title in the same year. On Wednesday, Ford employees celebrated the occasion with NASCAR superstar and 2018 champion Joey Logano and his team at Ford headquarters.

Logano was joined by his crew chief Todd Gordon of Penske Racing, Edsel Ford Jr., Ford Performance Motorsports chief Mark Rushbrook, Roush engine guru Doug Yates —and Joey’s four-wheeled, earth-pawing, thoroughbred No. 22 Fusion NASCAR.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Logano to a packed Ford World Headquarters auditorium of 500 employees. “This is the top level of American motorsport. This is all I ever wanted to do when I was 6 years old and asked for a go-kart for Christmas.”

Edsel Ford, too, waxed nostalgic. “I started all this in June of 1966 at LeMans with my father. It’s been 50 years of work,”  he remembered, referring to Ford’s historic win over Ferrari in the world’s greatest 24-hour endurance race and putting the Blue Oval on the map as one of the world’s most formidable racing manufacturers.

Dozens of championships have followed —five of them this year, including the IMSA Weathertech GTLM (Ford GT) and Continental Tire Sportscar (Mustang) championships, Australian Supercar (Ford Falcon) and World Rally Champioship (Fiesta).

But none was as sweet as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup two-fer.

Ford has weathered a difficult year in which it announced eliminated of its sedan models while fending off criticism that it’s not moving fast enough to outline a vision for the future. Its performance unit has had no problems with speed.

Logano, one of the most touted oval-racing talents since he was barely a teen, seemingly came out of nowhere in 2018 to defeat “The Big Three” who had dominated the season — Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick — in the last playoff race at Miami’s Homestead Raceway.

“What an amazing season… last year, we didn’t even make the playoffs,” the 28-year old Logano said of the season-ending races structured like the NFL or NBA post-season. “If it wasn’t for each and every person in this company, there’s not the support to go out an win these races.”

Edsel was effusive in his praise for Logano, who is the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR Cup race at 19. “Joey is one of the hardest-charging race drivers in NASCAR. Period,” said the Ford scion. “He’s a good man. A good husband… and new father to his little boy Hudson. The night before won the championship, Joey and (his wife) Brittany was at a local grocery store giving out Thanksgiving dinners to the needy of the Homestead community.”

Ford presented No. 22 with a check for $22,000 to the Joey Logano Foundation, which in the last five years has invested more than $2 million in organizations offering a second chances to kids in crisis.

Racing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup prize is a massive multi-million-dollar team effort encompassing drivers, engineers, engine builders and sponsors across a 36-race calendar. Since founder Henry Ford attracted investors’ attention to his inventions on the track, Ford has aggressively pursued racing as important tech transfer from the track to the showroom. Or, as Ford brass pithily put it: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

Edsel Ford was lavish in is praise for engine supplier Yates: “He puts the middle name back in Ford Motor Company.”

Notably absent from the team celebration was Roger Penske, whose NASCAR championship capped off a big year for his Bloomfield Township-based race organization. Penske completed a 2018 trifecta in winning the Monster Energy Cup, Indy 500 and Australian Supercar series. Penske was traveling to one of the many outposts in his empire.

“This was my 10th season… and a chance to drive for the greatest car manufacturer and greatest car owner I could ever ask for,” said Logano. “I can’t tell you what it means to drive for the best.”

Logano and Penske will next turn their sights to winter development as Ford introduces an all-new Mustang body and NASCAR regulates V-8 engines to 550 horsepower for long tracks (think Daytona) and 750 for short tracks (Martinsville, for example).

But this day was all about taking a victory lap at headquarters.

“I was scared to death going into Homestead” for the final race, said Edsel. “You don’t know what’s going to happen. There were over 100 dealers there. The victory was very sweet.”

Jaguar, Honda beat Tesla, Toyota for LA’s ‘green car’ awards

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 3, 2018

Green Car

Los Angeles — The envelope, please. . . .

The Jaguar I-Pace took away the first ever Luxury Green Car of the Year Award as the prestigious, 14th annual Green Car Awards announced their annual winners at the LA Auto Show. Other winners include the Mitsubishi Outlander GT plug-in and the Honda Insight sedan.

Presented by the Green Car Journal, the awards “honor the vehicle that raises the bar in environmental performance while remaining within reach of most consumers.” With governments across the globe forcing an industry transition to zero-emissions electric cars, the awards have become important headliners for automakers.

The I-Pace, Jaguar’s first-ever electric car, scored an upset by beating out the Tesla Model 3, the most popular electric vehicle ever with more than 80,000 in sales this year and some 400,000 more on order. The I-Pace brings the British cat’s stylish lines to the EV segment as well as 240-mile range and the performance brand’s signature, taught performance.

“We are committed to an emissions-free, accident-free future,” said Jaguar North America President Joe Eberhardt in accepting the award on stage. “By 2020 all models in our lineup will be electrified. We are truly committed to an electric future.”

Other luxury finalists included the Audi e-tron, Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid, and Range Rover P400e.

Green Car of the Year went to the 52 mpg Honda Insight hybrid, defeating the Lexus ES 300h, Nissan Altima, Toyota Avalon hybrid, and Volkswagen Jetta.

The win over Toyota was sweet for Honda as the Insight — now in its third generation — has always played in the shadow of hybrid superstar Prius. The 2019 Insight gets 52 mpg.

“This was our first hybrid back in 1999,” said Ray Mikiciuk, Honda VP of sales for North America. “We’ve come along way. Electrification is a big part of our future, but it’s got to come with no compromise. Every one of our cars comes with great mpg and is fun to drive.”

The awards also expanded into SUVs this year with the Mitsubishi Outlander GT plug-in climbing the rostrum ahead of the Cadillac XT4, Hyundai Kona, Lexus UX, and Volvo XC40. The Outlander can go 22 miles on battery alone before a 2.0-liter gas engine kicks in.

Award emcee and Green Car Journal Editor Ron Cogan emphasized the importance of including SUVs — the most popular vehicles with U.S. consumers — in the awards mix:

“SUVs have for too long consumed too much fuel, but they now feature more advanced drivetrains. The future of the auto industry is tied to fuel efficiency. It is the only contest that matters.”

California, where the Air Resources Board regulatory body is considering a ban on gas engines by 2030, is trying to influence national environmental policy. The state has targeted 1.5 million EVs on the road in just seven years with over 10 percent of vehicle sales currently being a hybrid, plug-in, or pure EV.

Jeep Gladiator pickup elbows into the truck wars

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 3, 2018

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator

Los Angeles — Jeep unveiled its rock-crawling Gladiator pickup here Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show, sending another serious contender to the midsize pickup wars.

Packing all the off-road weaponry of its iconic Wrangler sibling, the steel-frame 2020 Gladiator goes on sale in the second quarter of 2019, following closely the Ford Ranger midsize truck expected early in 2019. It re-enters one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative vehicle segments in the U.S.

But the Gladiator is much more than a Wrangler with a bed.

The frame has been beefed up and the vehicle’s length extended to 212 inches long to accommodate a 60-inch bed. The result is a truck that Jeep says beats the Ford with best-in-class towing and payload — 7,650 and 1,600 pounds, respectively.

“They were key metrics for the why-buys,” said Jeep boss Tim Kuniskis, who established the Hellcat as a performance beast in his previous Fiat Chrysler job as Dodge commander. “The people we talked to who are owners in this segment were very clear they wanted a real truck with serious hardware that would do what they wanted to do. They didn’t want some styling statement with a bed on the back.”

Indeed, Jeep once sold such a truck: the Scrambler, which was a version of the Wrangler with a bed attached. Kuniskis and his team were adamant that a midsize Jeep truck get the Gladiator name — a throwback to Jeep’s serious 1960s truck — in order to separate it from Wrangler.

“It was important that we called it a Gladiator so it competes in its own segment,” continued Kuniskis. “Customers are looking for real trucks. They’re looking for serious hardware.”

That serious hardware includes a 3.0-liter Ecodiesel engine with a stump-pulling 442 pound-feet of torque. Though, says Kuniskis, it’s the base 3.6-liter V-6 that puts up the best-in-class tow number.

The big bed has the ability to carry an ATV or two dirt bikes. An available Rubicon option comes with front/rear locking differentials, disconnecting front sway bar, Fox shocks, 33-inch tires, vented hood, and removable doors and roof to get close to the outdoors.

The Gladiator and Ranger will round out a Detroit Three battle in the midsize pickup truck market, which GM has occupied with its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon for the past four years. With the segment up 14 percent this year and roaring toward a 500,000 sales volume, Jeep sees an opportunity to expand its brand.

“The segment is growing because SUVs are so hot – and they are enabling a lifestyle,” said Kuniskis. “Jeep is (already) playing in SUV segments with 4 million in volume. (Gladiator) brings another half-million segment on top of that with 14 percent growth.”

Toyota’s Tacoma is the midsize pickup leader with nearly 52 percent market share through mid-November, compared to GM’s nearly 32 percent of the market, according to data provided by GM.

But as with Jeep in the midsize SUV market, the new Gladiator stands to carve out a niche of its own in the midsize truck segment.

“The Gladiator might not be on an island like Wrangler is, but it’s going to stand out,” said Jeff Schuster, president of global vehicle forecasting for LMC Automotive. “This is going to appeal to the Jeep enthusiast as well as wealthy buyers looking to buy a toy for their garage.”

Schuster added that the Gladiator debut might make the Ranger launch a bit bumpy, as the Gladiator appeals more to off-roading with its Wrangler bloodline than Ranger will. 

GM officials weren’t fazed by the new competition.

“Frankly, we are mystified that it has taken competitors so long to follow GM’s lead,” GM spokesman Jim Cain said Wednesday. “The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon helped our company sell more pickups than any other competitor for four consecutive years through 2017, and we’re ahead of the pack this year, too.  At least Jeep is trying something new. Ford’s Ranger has been running around Asia since 2011, so they’re more than a little late to the party.”

The Gladiator will come in four trims: Sport, Sport S, Overland and Rubicon.

The four-door truck has a slew of Wrangler design cues, including the seven-slot grille and the boxy four-door cab with removable doors. Its interior will share the all-new Wrangler’s improved comfort with rear-seat H-Vac and improved door storage. A 7- or 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system is available (a 5-inch touchscreen comes standard on the Sport trim). Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are standard.

The Gladiator will one-up the Wrangler with an exclusive off-road feature that will make the Jeep faithful salivate. To enable high speed driving off-road, the Rubicon can reconfigure its locking differentials with the flip of switch to enable an easy transition from rock-climbing to high-speed dune-running.

The truck will launch with one engine option, a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 delivering 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. The automaker will offer a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine in 2020. The engines will be mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission. An eight-speed automatic is optional.

The Gladiator will be available will be available with two 4×4 systems. The Overland and Rubicon trims will have upgraded systems. The Sport, Overland and Rubicon will all have a Trail Rated badge.

Pricing has not been announced.

The pickup will be built in Toledo at Fiat Chrysler’s Toledo North Plant, where the automaker has built Jeeps since 1941.

“By birthright, Jeep has a right to compete in this segment,” Kuniskis said. “It’s going to compete in that segment. It’s going to set the new benchmark.”

And the nominees for Car of the Year are. . .

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 3, 2018

Nactoy

Los Angeles — Nominees for the auto industry’s “Oscars” — the 2019 North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards — were appropriately announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show near Hollywood this morning.

Asian automakers dominated the car and SUV nominees as Detroit automakers failed to make the finalist lists for either category. However, Chevy, GMC and Ram swept the nominees for best truck. The nominations held plenty of surprises as neither the iconic Jeep Wrangler nor the Toyota RAV4 — America’s best-selling vehicle — made the final cut.

NACTOY, now in their 25th year, is one of the industry’s most prestigious as it is selected by an independent jury of 55 journalists (including the author of this story) from across North America. The winners will be announced to kick off the Detroit Auto Show in January.

Car of the year finalists are the Genesis G70, Honda Insight and Volvo S60. Detroit automakers are abandoning most sedan segments, and only the lovely Buick Regal Tour X wagon was on the 2019 entry list.

Hyundai’s Genesis nameplate is building its brand with sedans, and the athletic G70 his impressed media reviewers with its nimble handling and features-laden value. China-owned Swedish-carmaker Volvo is on the comeback trail with its popular XC90 and XC60 utes, and the S60 brings slinky power to the sedan segment.

The Honda Insight was perhaps the biggest surprise of the nominees as a niche hybrid vehicle. The Insight has come a long way from the geeky Insight that got blown off the road by the Toyota Prius hybrid in the early 2000s. But Honda has rebooted the nameplate with a stylish, upscale-looking model based on Honda’s compact Civic.

“This year brought us some impressive sedan options. Car sales remain an important part of the available choices to consumers even as sales in the segment continue to fall,” said NACTOY President Lauren Fix. “We are always looking for a game-changer, something that stands out in a crowd, and strikes a positive chord with buyers.”

Utility sales, meanwhile, are red hot and the category was stuffed with viable contenders. Finalists are the Acura RDX, Hyundai Kona, and Jaguar I-Pace. Detroit automakers are shifting production to SUVs from sedans, and they sported two strong contenders this year, the stylish Cadillac XT4 and the Jeep Wrangler.

Acura is rebooting Honda’s vanilla luxury brand, and the quick, roomy, high-tech RDX has wowed with its quickness and standard options that include a full moonroof. Hyundai’s Kona is also a stylish, value entry in the growing subcompact SUV segment – and its EV version is an affordable, battery-driven option.

Speaking of electrics, the $80,000 I-Pace is a giant leap for Jaguar as the brand’s first electric vehicle. A Tesla-fighter, it brings designer Ian Callum’s typically lovely lines to the EV fight.

Only three entries were eligible for truck of the year, but all three are important entries for their Detroit brands. The Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra and Ram 1500 will vie for the crown.

The Silverado has defied chief competitor Ford’s move to aluminum by bringing an even lighter, more nimble steel truck to the truck wars. The GMC is based on the same bones as the Silverado but separates itself with an innovative, multi-way tailgate. The Ram, like the Sierra, brings impressive luxury to the pickup segment with an available, Tesla-like center infotainment screen. Combined with its smooth-riding, segment-exclusive, rear coil springs, it rivals European sedans in opulence.

Car of the Year:
Genesis G70
Honda Insight
Volvo S60

Utility of the Year:
Acura RDX
Hyundai Kona and Kona EV
Jaguar I-Pace

Truck of the Year:
Chevy Silverado
GMC Sierra
RAM 1500

NACTOY finalists announced at LA Auto Show

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 3, 2018

636348744806386241-tdndc5-6fvxtivff9taj7gt9kk-original.jpg

Los Angeles — The finalists for the 2018 North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year pits new and old faces against one another, while Detroit automakers have a lock on Truck of the Year.

The nominees were announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday.

Battling for Car of the Year will be the mid-size sedan titans Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Seeking to knock these perennial best-sellers off their perch will be the upstart Kia Stinger, the Korean brand’s new performance halo sedan. For the first time in the award’s history, no Detroit cars were eligible.

American is over the moon for utes, and three strong entrants will vie for the crown: the Alfa Stelvio, the first luxury SUV from the Italian brand, resurgent Volvo’s XC60 and the Honda Odyssey minivan.

Detroit iron dominates the Truck of the Year category. Finalists are the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. The latter plus-size SUVs are eligible because they are based on truck platforms.

The NACTOY winners will be announced at the Detroit auto show in January.

Audi takes aim at Tesla with Electrify America charging network

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 3, 2018

Etron

Los Angeles – Actor Robert Downey Jr. introduced the battery-powered Audi e-tron GT concept car at the Los Angeles Auto Show here this week, confiding to assembled media, “I’ve been having an affair for over a decade with … the brand.”

But exclusive introductions by Tony Stark aren’t the only thing that sets Audi apart at this year’s show.

The company’s e-tron models will be the first EVs to take advantage of Electrify America’s national DC supercharging network, putting Audi on par with Tesla for quick charging.

Funded by Audi parent Volkswagen as part of a $2 billion settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency that punished the German automaker for the Dieselgate emissions-cheating scandal, Electrify America promises the first supercharging network outside Tesla’s proprietary DC infrastructure. And it will be open to all electric vehicles, not just Audis and Volkswagens.

In addition to its electric vehicles’ innovative design and high performance, industry experts credit Tesla’s foresight in building its own charging network — in a country starved of charging options — with giving the brand staying power.

Where most interstate EV travelers require an overnight stay on a 240-volt AC charger (twice the capability of a typical, 110-volt wall plug) to refuel (30 miles of range gained per hour of charging), Tesla customers can stop for lunch while supercharging — and then drive another 200 miles to their destinations.

In Los Angeles on Tuesday, Electrify America CEO Giovanni Palazzo gave details of the company’s progress, promising that 500 charging locations – 160 of them in California – will be built by June of next year. EA’s goal is 2,000 stations nationwide by the end of 2019.

Palazzo did not say how many stalls would be at each station nor whether all will get 150 kW fast-chargers. Some of Tesla’s superchargers, for example, offer less than 100 kW.

“Our goal is to move America from traditional cars to pure EVs,” he said, lamenting that 80 percent of EV charging currently takes place in the home. “Most EVs are a secondary vehicle. We would like to make it the first car.”

The largest spend of the VW-EPA settlement — $800 billion — will be allocated to California, which is the U.S. leader in EV sales. While Electrify America has already entered into agreements with Audi and start-up EV-maker Lucid, Giovanni stressed that Electrify America is “brand neutral” and will welcome all cars to its chargers. He predicted 1.5 million EV on the road by 2025, with sales coming from an expected 70 different models.

Audi’s e-tron rollout begins with an SUV that goes on sale early next year. That will be followed by an e-tron Sportback and then the 2020 production version of the GT unveiled by Downey. The e-tron GT in particular promises formidable performance specs with 590 horsepower and 0-60 time of just 3.5 seconds.

Audi says that the e-tron’s 150-kW DC charging capability – faster than Tesla models’ 120 kW – will allow it to charge its estimated 250-mile range battery to 80 percent in a half-hour. That’s slightly quicker than, say, a Tesla Model S P85 (with 265 miles of range) which claims 80 percent of charge in 40 minutes.

Following closely on the heels of Audi is Byton, a Chinese-funded startup that plans to bring its 150 kW-capable EVs to market by late 2019. The Byton K-Byte, introduced here along with the M-Byte crossover, promises similar range to the Audi — but with a promised 325-mile range upgrade.

Electrify America and Tesla face an uphill task in creating their own infrastructures without corresponding public demand for EVs. They are bucking historical trends – gas stations and cellphone tower networks, for example, where infrastructure typically follows product adoption.

Payne: American muscle, German metal, electrics highlight LA auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 2, 2018

Challenger Sleigh

Los Angeles — If I were Santa Claus browsing the L.A. Auto Show, I would covet the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye sleigh on display at the front of the FCA booth. Yes, a 797-horsepower sleigh.

Introduced for a Black Friday TV promotion, the huge luge is door-less — its roof chopped and rear trunk lid removed to fit a giant canvas toy bag. The V-8 under the red hood exhales through four dragster-inspired exhaust pipes emerging from each side — its wheel wells engorged with silver snow runners instead of tires. My favorite detail? The iconic Hellcat logo has sprouted antlers. On Comet!

But since you, dear reader, simply want a new toy for Christmas, I will focus on the vehicles unveiled this week at the LA Convention Center. The LA Show has it all from the all-new Porsche 911 sports car to a Jeep pickup to three-row utes. Herewith my best in show. . . .

Jeep Gladiator

The wildly-anticipated Jeep pickup is a Wrangler with a bed. Not. That formula failed as the “Scrambler” back in the early-’80s CJ Jeep era. The Gladiator, based on the TJ Wrangler four-door currently ripping up the sales charts, is a midsize bruiser with best tow capacity in class, a 31 inch-longer steel frame supporting a 60-inch box. Equipped with all the Wrangler’s off-road hardware, this beast can scale Mount Rushmore, then off-load two dirt bikes for more grins.

Porsche 911

The sports car that birthed a luxury brand. The family scion has grown wider with age (haven’t we all?) while packing interior luxury amenities to rival its Panamera sedan and Cayenne SUV offspring. Nevertheless, the muscled 911 has lost none of its athleticism, maintaining its status as the performance car upon which all others are judged. The eighth generation (you’ll know it by the thin, horizontal taillight) gains 23 ponies, a half-second from zero-60, and a manual tranny for the hard-core faithful.

VW Beetle Final Edition

One German icon prospers, another wilts. The Bug predates the 911 and is as instantly recognizable. But it is a victim of the tide washing over small cars. For its final 2019 model year, V-dub will produce a limited edition with nostalgic details like chrome accents, available 18-inch chrome wheels, rhombus cloth seats, and unique beige and light blue paint. Ride the $23,000 Bug into the sunset as coupe or convertible.

Mazda 3

Can a compact be the sexiest car in show? Mazda promised its 3 hatchback would look like the stunning Kai concept that wowed a year ago — and it delivered. Dressed in Soul Red, the 5-door hatch (a sedan is also available) is a triumph from its muscled haunches to its arrow-head headlights to its upscale cabin. And all-wheel-drive is available for those long Michigan winters.

BMW 3-series

With the cheaper Mazda 3 sexpot nipping at its heels and the Tesla Model 3 stomping it in sales, BMW has competition as the best 3 sedan. So Bimmer recrafted a lighter, state-of-the art chariot with angular surfacing and a fetching face. Inside, the BMW’s techtastic digital displays catch up with Mercedes and Audi. The LA stand showcases the AWD, M230i trim with a whopping 382 horses. Yum.

Rivian R1T electric pickup truck

While the Chinese-made Byton M-Byte EV shown here is closer to market, the Made-in-America R1T is what turned heads here. Rivian is headquartered in Plymouth with manufacturing in Normal, Illinois, (ex-Mitsubishi plant) and its stylish truck doubles Tesla’s battery size to 180 kWh (the base, $69,000 model gets 105) to carry this dirt-kicker to the Outback and back. To make sure you don’t get stuck out there (um, while doing 3-second 0-60 burnouts in the mud) Rivian is building a park-based supercharging network.

Lincoln Aviator

Call it Navigator Jr. The three-row Aviator brings the big truck’s stitched leather and tablet interior on a more refined, rear-wheel drive unibody architecture. The hybrid version boasts a whopping, 600-torque hybrid model — but the Aviator is all about creature comforts, not stoplight burnouts. A Detroit Symphony Orchestra chime greets you, and the thing will even park itself.

Hyundai Palisade

While U.S. automakers are leaving sedans, Asian automakers aren’t quitting Detroit’s bread-and-butter SUV segments. The elegant, three-row Palisade is light years from your father’s tinny Hyundai compact. Palisade joins the Subaru Ascent in targeting the three-row Ford Explorer and Chevy Traverse.

Genovation GXE

They took a ZR1 and stuck a battery in it? Remarkable what you can do for $750,000. The GXE is an electric ‘Vette — complete with 7-speed manual that will beat the ZR1 to 60 mph (2.5 seconds) and won’t stop until it hits 220. Add a higher rear wing for even more downforce, and you can tear up M1 Concourse without waking the neighbors.

Hmmm, maybe Santa would prefer a stealthy, 800-horse, electric Corvette sleigh. . . .

Porsche 911 blockbuster sequel premieres in LA

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 28, 2018

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Los Angeles — Porsche premiered an all-new sequel to its 911 coupe — one of the world’s true, four-wheeled celebrities — in the heart of Tinseltown Tuesday night.

The auto superstar drove the red carpet accompanied by other celebrities like actor Armie Hammer, international racing star Mark Webber, and tennis great Maria Sharapova.

The stunning, 2020 model 911 gains more power, width, and electronic capability.

The teardrop-shaped 911, first introduced in 1964, has maintained its iconic silhouette over six decades with a rear-mounted engine, 2+2 seating arrangement, long tapered hood, and frog-eyed headlights. It is the performance standard by which all other sports cars are judged, and the eighth-generation car pushes the technological envelope in materials, handling, and digitization.

The 2019 model was unveiled, not as a base model, but in Carrera S and all-wheel-drive RS performance trims. Their shared, turbocharged, flat-six engine gains 23 horsepower over the last generation. To manage those 443 horses, the 911 has increased in width by nearly 2 inches front and rear.

The added oomph will rocket the RWD Carrera S from 0-60 in just 3.5 seconds — nearly a half second quicker than its predecessor. Equip it with AWD — and the nifty Sports Chrono transmission-assist package — and that number improves to a neck-straining 3.3 seconds.

Wardrobe updates are typically conservative, and the new 911 will be most distinguishable from the rear which has adopted a narrow, horizontal tail lamp that also accentuates the car’s broad stance. Save for the front and rear facias, the 911’s skin is all aluminum.

Like Boris Becker and Pilsner beer, the 911 is one of Germany’s premier symbols. Significantly, however, the Stuttgart-built sports car was introduced here in the United States, which is key to the luxury brand’s global strategy.

The U.S. is the 911’s top market with nearly a third of global sales last year — and California responsible for 25 percent of that. The Golden State boasts the biggest Porsche club in the world with some 30,000 members.

The 911 was rolled out at Porsche’s Los Angeles Experience Center here, a sprawling, 53-acre automotive theme park in the middle of the city where customers can play with their toys on track. In addition to its celebrity friends, the new Porsche was accompanied by representatives of all seven generations of the 911 dating back to 1964 — fitting nostalgia for a car that has stood the test of time.

The 911’s famous shape has inspired a lineup of family SUVs and sedans — Cayenne, Macan, Panamera — that have far outstripped Porsche’s traditional sports car lineup (that includes 911 little brother Boxster/Cayman). The best-selling Macan bests 911 sales by 300 percent.

Like SUV buyers, Porsche customers laying down $114,250 (up from gen 7’s $106,050, including destination fee) for a sports car expect five-star interior comfort. As conservative as the design upgrades are outside, the inside changes are dramatic.

But for the traditional, center-focused tachometer, the instrument display is now entirely digital. The center console too has been digitally transformed with a 10.7-inch infotainment display replacing the old, cramped, 7-inch glass. A remote rotary button controls infotainment options. The driver’s seat can now be adjusted 18 ways. The center console even gets its first cupholder.

An array of electronic features also provide driver assistance including a Wet Mode that senses — and corrects handling for — wet roads, adaptive cruise control, automatic brake assist, and more.

With Porsche developing an electric lineup to compete with Tesla (and meet Draconian European carbon dioxide emissions mandates), the 911 is being closely watched for a first-ever hybrid option. But the LA reveal shed no light on that possibility.

Nor does the 911 move its engine amidships — as the IMSA Weathertech GTLM model has done. That feature remains exclusive to the race car.

The 2020 911 is available for orders now and will reach U.S. showrooms next summer.

Mini-me Navigator: Lincoln Aviator debuts

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 28, 2018

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Los Angeles — Say hello to Navigator Jr.

Ford’s Lincoln luxury division unveiled the sumptuous, three-row Aviator SUV at the LA Auto Show with more horsepower than a Audi Q7 plugin and a long, Range Rover-like, rear-wheel-drive greenhouse.

But most of all, the 2020 Aviator looks like a more affordable, unibody-chassis Navigator — the big, Ford F-150-based land yacht. The first-ever Lincoln with a six-figure price tag, the Navigator can’t be built fast enough to satisfy jet set demand. The big Aviator will be slotted between the two-row, $40,000 Lincoln Nautilus and the gigantic, $73K Navigator.

While Lincoln will announce pricing closer to launch next year, expect it to be competitive with the Infiniti QX60 and Audi Q7 three-row competitors starting in the $45-$50K range. For all intents and purposes, the Aviator displaces the poor-selling, similarly-priced Continental sedan as the brand’s flagship vehicle.

“We will go right at Audi and Infiniti because with a vehicle with this much content we have a great value story to tell,” said Lincoln boss Joy Falotico at the media unveiling Tuesday.

Touting its mantra of “Quiet Luxury” — redefined for the Aviator as “Quiet Flight” — Lincoln touts a luxury experience different from the usual industry metric of size and power. The Aviator is a rolling condo of detailed appointments.

Approach the Aviator and the mirrors pool the Lincoln logo on the ground at six-feet away. At three-feet the vehicle unlocks. That assumes that you haven’t already activated the Aviator via Lincoln’s “Phone As A Key” system where the ute can be remotely monitored and started via a phone app.

With optional air suspension it will kneel to help you inside like a pet elephant.

Open the door and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra welcomes passengers with subtle violin music — augmented by more chimes that remind you, for example, to fasten your seatbelt. The spacious surroundings are reminiscent of the opulent Navigator — 12.3-inch, fully digital instrument display, 10.5-inch console touchscreen, optional, signature 30-way seats, and individual rotary knobs for audio, climate control, and drive modes.

The long, horizontal console is wrapped in leather sewn by six stitches per inch. A forward-mounted camera constantly scans for road irregularities like potholes to electronically smooth out the ride and — if you cross into Canada — the vehicle will ask if you’d like to change the gauges to kilometers.

“The Aviator is always thinking of the next step,” says chief engineer John Davis.

Backseat passengers get their own, five-inch control touchscreen and the roomy third-row is accessed with a simple push of a button atop the seat.

Beneath this rolling divan is, in fact, a sophisticated piece of chassis and drivetrain engineering. The Aviator is built on a rear-wheel-rive architecture — like the Navigator but without the land yacht’s harsher, body-on-frame truck architecture. The architecture allowed designers to design a long-hood, long-greenhouse design reminiscent of Range Rovers that are the design envy of SUVs.

The 200-inch long (compared to the Navigator’s 210 inches) SUV will come standard with rear-wheel-drive with all-wheel-drive optional. A 400-horse, 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 mated to a liquid-smooth 10-speed transmission propels the big ship.

All-wheel-drive is standard on the battery-assist version — Lincoln’s first-ever plugin option. The Aviator showcased the plugin here in Los Angeles, carrying the “Grand Touring” badge. It’s distinguished by its blue logo and “reverse grille” in front. The plugin also gives the Aviator — the most powerful Lincoln ever with 450 horsepower and 600 pound feet of torque — bragging rights as the most powerful hybrid in the high-volume, midsize luxury segment.

Like other Lincolns, the Aviator will come with a laundry list of available Black Label luxury options like 22-inch turbine wheels and a 28-speaker Revel audio system – for when passengers want to play a full Detroit Symphony Orchestra piece.

Payne: As Detroit dumps cars, Asian rivals go all in

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 28, 2018

The all-new Mazda 3 hatchback hews closely to the concept that wowed LA Show audiences in 2017.

Los Angeles – Detroit automakers are abandoning sedans, but their Asian competitors are all in.

The fetching new Mazda 3 that debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show here Tuesday joins the Mazda 6, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and more as all-new cars introduced in the last two years — as Japanese and Korean automakers double down on entry-level cars they see as crucial to attracting new customers into their automotive family.

“We want owning a Mazda to enrich our customers’ lives so they see us as a partner in their journey through life and stick with the brand for the long haul,” Mazda says in its press materials announcing its Mazda 3 in sedan and five-door hatchback form. The 3 is “a model aimed at first-time car buyers, shows our determination to earn customers’ trust and become an essential part of their lives.”

With a powerful, yet fuel-efficient new engine and premium good looks, the 3 hopes to win over millennial buyers with a $20K-something car with the sex appeal of a $40k European chariot.

The onslaught of new Asian cars comes as General Motors Co. joined Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV this week in gutting its sedan lineup. In shuttering four plants that produced the Chevy Impala, Cruze, Volt, and Cadillac CT6 models, GM eliminated all but its midsize Chevy Malibu and subcompact Sonic and Spark cars.

Ford has announced plans to end all car production but for its iconic Mustang coupe. In the FCA stable, only the Fiat 500, Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars remain — with the Chrysler 300 reportedly on the chopping block.

Detroit companies are investing in new trucks and utility vehicles here like the Jeep Gladiator and Lincoln Aviator — yet Honda and Hyundai intros of new SUVs mean Detroit gets no respite from Asian automakers on the SUV front. The Passport, Honda’s fourth SUV, is aimed right at the new Ford Edge and Chevy Trailblazer.

The contrast highlights competing corporate visions as automakers adapt to a changing U.S. auto market and make investments in future autonomous technologies. Asian automakers have long seen small cars as their franchise vehicles — they got a toehold in the U.S. market decades ago with reliable, fuel-sipping vehicles. And while that market has shrunk in recent years, automakers like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan still see the 2.6 million vehicle compact sedan market as an entrée into more profitable SUVs.

“The (compact) market serves as a foundation for growing people through the brand,” John Morel, Honda’s senior manager for business intelligence and strategy, told The Detroit News this summer. “Civic buyers are tremendously loyal; more than 60 percent return to the Honda brand, which is among the best in the industry, and that feeds future volume to future Civic sales, CR-V sales and eventually across the line.”

Indeed, the Big Three Japanese automakers all claim the three best-selling SUVs in the market in 2017: Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Honda CR-V.

“You need product across all economic status,” Toyota spokesman Curt McCallister told The News last year. “Small cars get our buyers hooked from cradle to grave. If you get them into the family early, then you can keep them on up the family tree.”

The Big Three Detroit automakers, on the other hand, see trucks as their franchise vehicles. With profit margins in excess of $8,000 per vehicle on sales totaling over 2 million trucks combined, the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, and RAM 1500 dominate the pickup market, while Japanese makers like Honda with its best-selling Tacoma have only penetrated the mid-size pickup market.

Pickup profits in turn fuel capital-intensive Big Three investments in autonomous cars, mobility services and electric vehicles, the purported foundations of a next-generation auto industry.

The end of production for the battery-powered Volt is a particularly bitter pill for GM. The plug-in Volt was GM’s answer to Toyota’s battery-powered green hit in 2011, but never gained market traction. While the Prius is the best-selling battery-powered vehicle ever, the Volt never sold more than 1/3 of Prius sales.

Here in LA, Toyota will showcase an all-new Prius with all-wheel-drive aimed at northern states. With 50 mpg, it boasts the best fuel economy for any gas-electric AWD car.

The demise of GM sedan production in Ohio and Michigan also leaves Japanese makers as the dominant producers of cars in the U.S. The new Accord (Ohio), Camry (Kentucky), Altima (Tennessee), Impreza (Indiana), and Civic (Indiana), for example, collectively employ thousands of workers across America’s industrial heartland.

In a stark illustration of the contrast in Japanese and Detroit business models, the North American Car and Truck of the Year finalists will be announced Wednesday morning in LA. Of the 14 semifinalists for Car of the Year, 9 are from Asian automakers. Only one, the German-made Buick Regal, comes from a U.S. maker.

Of the three truck semifinalists, all three are Detroit brands.

LA Auto show preview: Big SUVs, Jeep Gladiator pickup

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 28, 2018

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Los Angeles — The Los Angeles Auto Show has traditionally favored introductions of environmentally conscious electric cars and luxury chariots, given the Golden State’s reputation for green regulation and greenback-spending high-rollers.

But with America’s obsession with SUVs unabated, this year’s extravaganza looks to be one of the premier mainstream exhibits of the North American season. It is brimming with meat-and-potatoes reveals to suit every American taste.

The meatiest debut of all Wednesday is the Jeep Gladiator pickup.

This wildly anticipated truck will do battle in the reinvigorated midsize pickup segment. The segment includes SUV-based entries like the unibody Honda Ridgeline, as well as body-on-frame Detroit iron like the Chevy Colorado and Ford Ranger. The Jeep is definitely of the latter variety.

Pictures leaked ahead of Gladiator’s LA debut show a vehicle that closely hews to the legendary Wrangler rock-kicker’s DNA: Familiar upright face with round headlights and seven-slot grille. Sahara and Rubicon trims. Folding front windshield and removable roof A choice of 3.6-liter V-6 or 3.0-liter diesel powerplants. Locking differential for climbing Mt. Rushmore. The works.

LA’s playbill is expected to be dominated by other sport-utility debuts: the production version of the three-row Lincoln Aviator, Honda’s new Passport, Hyundai’s first-ever three-row SUV, BMW’s X7 three-row mega-crossover, as well as new versions of the Fiat 500X and Kia Soul.

Staying true to LA’s past, Audi is expected to show a speedy, new e-tron electric concept during media reveals, and hometown favorite Tesla will make a rare show appearance. Premium carmaker Volvo boasts “it will show nothing,” choosing instead to promote its subscription service for upscale customers.

At a time when traditional auto shows are under pressure as carmakers find independent venues to introduce new vehicles (Detroit, Paris and Geneva have all lost exhibitors), Los Angeles has emerged as a must-attend show.

“Auto shows aren’t going away, there are just fewer of them,” said LA-based auto analyst Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book. “With the decline of Chicago and automaker pullouts in Detroit, we are down to two major (North American) shows. Every brand wants to sell in LA and New York.”

With California and New York state combining for 40 percent of luxury U.S. auto sales, LA and its New York City counterpart in March have always been the go-to forums for premium auto debuts. With BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati and Ferrari all having departed Motown, LA is essential to foreign automakers to market their latest wares.

Hollywood celebs gotta spend their millions, so the show will feature exotic new toys — from Mercedes AMG track-weapons to a topless BMW 8-series.

Significantly, Porsche is expected to make the world debut of its latest, iconic 911 sports car — not in Germany, but here in LA. The Porsche may be the best-selling sports car in Germany, but California accounts for a quarter of its U.S. sales.

Volvo’s novel “This is not a car” display is a statement about automakers transitioning to subscription and autonomous service. “Volvo Cars will show a number of interactive demonstrations of connectivity services, such as in-car delivery, car sharing, its vision for autonomous driving … and the car subscription service Care by Volvo,” the company said.

Still, the number of mainstream vehicle debuts are eye-opening. Consumers have a voracious appetite for SUVs and manufacturers are trying to keep up.

“Automakers are still working in reaction to the shift to SUVs from sedans,” said IHS auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. “That process is still ongoing.”

A parade of three-row SUVs will bow in LA including first-ever big ute offerings from Hyundai (the Palisade), BMW (the X7, which makes its production debut) and Lincoln, whose Aviator SUV will spread its three rows over a crossover unibody instead of its stylish big brother’s Ford F-150 truck frame.

Speaking of three-row utes, Honda is adding fourth SUV in its lineup — the Passport, a shortened, two-row version of its popular three-row Pilot. If the name Passport sounds familiar, that’s because Honda sold a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo under that name from 1993 through 2002.

“The Passport is really cool and it speaks to the idea that you can’t have enough crossovers,” says KBB’s Brauer. “It’s more proof that SUVs are critical to automakers. A lack of success in the SUV market will make or break an automaker. The Palisade, for example, is critical to Hyundai because they have been too sedan-dependent.”

The granola crowd will still get plenty to munch on, including Audi’s sleek GT concept, a battery-powered Kia Soul and a rumored Mitsubishi EV concept. But electrics are no longer just a Left Coast thing. Governments across the globe are mandating them, and Tesla’s Model 3 EV is the best-selling luxury vehicle in America.

“EVs are just part of the world now,” said Brinley. “They are part of the automotive landscape — not just for the California market anymore.”

Despite the flood of SUVs in LA and 60 vehicle debuts, she is not convinced that the show is stealing from Detroit. She says the Motor City will still be the site of important global reveals, given the presence of major automakers like General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen, Toyota and Honda. Indeed, she said that many of of LA’s luxury offerings first debuted in non-show venues.

“The Audi e-tron crossover debuted to media in San Francisco,” she said. “And the BMW Z4 M40i Roadster we first saw at the Pebble Beach Concours.”

The sexy Roadster will be welcome eye-candy to those looking for something other than a five-door SUV. Mazda is expected to show its remade Mazda 3 compact, based on a stunning Kai concept at last year’s show that made onlookers weak in the knees.

Toyota will update its funky-looking Prius. And LA will be the VW Beetle’s swan song. With production ending for the world’s most famous bug, look for the “Final Edition” trim.

LA Show schedule

Where: Los Angeles Convention Center
When:
Today through Thursday: “Automobility LA” technology conference
Wednesday and Thursday: New-car reveals to media
Wednesday: North American Car of the Year finalists announced
Thursday: Green Car Awards
Friday through Dec. 9: Show open to the public
Schedule and ticket information: https://automobilityla.com/schedule/

Payne: Life with my Tesla Model 3

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 26, 2018

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne put in his order for a Tesla Model 3 on April, 2016. His long-range, RWD toy arrived in fall, 2018.

As a young newspaper cartoonist and graphic artist, I wanted an Apple computer. So perhaps it’s logical I would own a Tesla Model 3. On the track, on the road, in the garage, the Model 3 is just different.

Like Apple, Tesla boasts a unique operating system.

Innovated by the visionary, controversial, mercurial Steve Jobs (Tesla’s version is the equally outsized figure, Elon Musk), Apple’s graphical interface was a sea change from the MS-DOS standard developed by Microsoft (which ultimately introduced its own Apple-inspired graphic interface).

Apple changed the computer industry, and then music players and then cellphones by fundamentally re-imagining products. Even as its innovations have been adopted by other makers, Apple stands alone.

Will Tesla have the same effect on autos? I don’t know. But I do know there is nothing like it today.

Tesla has been wowing Detroiters since it debuted the sleek Model S sedan on the auto show floor in 2010. Its 17-inch vertical console screen was a revelation. I had to stand in line to get inside the thing, for goodness sake. I drove it, coveted it, and ultimately put $1,000 down on the more affordable Model 3 to be part of Apple’s — er, Tesla’s — journey.

The Model S (and its Model X SUV sibling) was a leap, but the Model 3 takes the operating system to another level. My friends enter the cockpit for the first time and gasp.

Oh, my lord!
That’s amazing! Everything is in the screen?
Wow! It’s so simple.

The Model 3 is an iPhone on wheels. The 15-inch tablet screen is its core. It dominates an elegant, spare interior consisting of screen, wood trim and steering wheel. It’s complemented by just three buttons — an emergency flasher button on the ceiling and two scroll buttons on the steering wheel.

Tap the steering wheel box in the screen and adjust steering column position. Repeat for the mirrors. Otherwise, the button is for radio volume. It’s brilliant.

It also overshadowed a $90,000 Jaguar I-Pace that recently showed up in my driveway. The quiet Jag is a lovely thing (Ian Callum could design a sexy toaster oven), but without a sexy V-8 or V-6 note, its drive experience is Tesla-like. With familiar cockpit switchgear — shared with other Jags like the F-Pace SUV — the Brit seems sooooo bloody conventional next to the $30,000 cheaper Model 3.

“I gotta say, I prefer the Tesla,” said an impressed auto engineer pal after back-to-back spins in the cars.

Unconventional the Tesla may be. But like Apple, it also works.

I frankly expected to be disappointed. After all, I like to drive fast. Which means I prefer my car controls front and center. I’m an advocate of head-up displays and steering wheel controls. Like the cockpit of my Lola race car, the more gauges in my line of sight the better.

The Model 3 gives me none of those. No instrument display. No gauges. Just a screen-based, 3-D graphic monitoring everything around me (who needs blind-spot assist in the mirror?) and a speedometer. Because it’s an electric motor, there’s no RPM gauge. Just floor it and hang on.

Hammering the Model 3 around M1 Concourse’s challenging test track, I quickly grew accustomed to the lack of instrumentation. I didn’t need it. The simple electric-drive means I can concentrate on driving.

The Tesla’s battery-powered drivetrain is both a blessing a curse.

In the car’s basement, the 80.5-kWh battery is structurally integrated into the chassis for increased crash strength — and increased handling stiffness. Despite weighing 400 pounds more than a BMW M2, for example, the Model3 is impressively planted in turns with little body roll. Push to the limit in a corner and the car understeers.

I was on the limit longer than I thought, flogging it for six laps without any protest from the battery (big brother Model S notoriously overheats into limp-mode after a couple of laps).

It was the brakes that cried uncle after four laps of hard exercise. Paired with electric-motor regeneration for optimal range efficiency, the brakes aren’t made for the track. I felt a pang of longing for my favorite, similarly priced, track-focused BMW M2 which can pound around M1 all day. Next time I’ll have race pads installed.

Nine miles (six laps) on the track sucked 50 miles in battery range. Don’t go tracking EVs unless you have lots of charge.

The same can be said for long-distance travel. Driving 202 miles back home to Oakland County after picking up my 310-mile range car in Cleveland (Why Cleveland? Keep reading.), I kept within the factory-advertised range as long as I ran the 70 mph speed limit. Going with the traffic flow at 80 mph, however, meant getting just 60 percent of predicted range — that’s just 186 miles of range.

So, every outing must be calculated within the limits of Tesla’s Supercharger network. It means feeding my filly every night at the home stable so she’s ready the next day. A rolling iPhone it may be, but charging the Model 3 is not as easy as plugging in a cellphone. I’ve become an expert on battery capacity, maintenance — even charging the car remotely (via phone app) while on a Caribbean vacation.

Within the confines of normal commuting, however, the Model 3 is the cure for the common car. Screen response and voice commands are phone-like, eclipsing other automakers. “Take me to Kroger.” Instantly the nearest grocery pops up. Want to play a song? Ask the Slacker streaming service.

Autopilot is the best I’ve experienced outside Caddy’s geo-fenced Supercruise. Want to drive with one pedal? Dial up brake-regeneration. Need more storage? Put a suitcase in the “frunk.” Got the need for speed? Attack a clover leaf.

But like Apple, the Model 3 has its flaws.

Trying to reinvent the audio experience, Tesla ditched AM radio (seriously?). Reinventing the dealer experience with retail stores (like guess who?), Tesla has been stiffed by Michigan and other states. That forces me to service my car through Cleveland. Trying to fill 450,000 orders, manufacturing quality has suffered with body panel gaps wider than David Letterman’s front teeth.

And like Apple, I can’t find any owners who care about all those shortcomings. The operating system is that good.

I don’t know if Tesla will dominate autos any more than Apple dominates PCs (12.7 percent market share). But customers have something special.

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 Tesla Model 3

Vehicle type: Electric, rear-wheel drive five-passenger luxury sedan

Powerplant: 80.5-kWh lithium-ion battery with electric motor drive

Transmission: Single-speed transmission

Weight: 3,814 pounds, long-range battery; 3,549 pounds for base-battery model

Price: $57,500 as tested, including $1,000 order deposit and $2,500 configuration downpayment ($49,000 base with long-range battery)

Power: 271 horsepower, 307 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 seconds (mfr.)

Fuel economy: Range, 310 miles (186 if driving 80 mph)

Report card

Highs: Sweet operating system; nimble handling

Lows: Trips governed by charging infrastructure; poor panel fits

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Toyota’s new Avalon is a Lexus-beater

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 16, 2018

Avalon Fr3 4

Toyota and its luxury-brand Lexus dominated Consumer Reports’ reliability rankings again this year, and it’s easy to see why. While brands like Tesla (third to last) and Volvo (last) innovate with new but glitchy technology, the Japanese brands beaver along with proven, dependable hardware.

Take the big Toyota Avalon that I’ve been driving with its dependable gated shifter, dependable infotainment display and dependable V-6 engine. They should call it the Toyota Dependable.

But for all their metronomic reliability, the Tokyo titans are hardly vanilla. Bucking design tradition, they’ve reached into the Hollywood wardrobe and assembled some of the most radical designs in autodom.

Lexus in particular has walked off the deep end, wearing costumes with more angles than Dr. Strange’s cape and a face that only Darth Vader could love.

It’s even more bonkers inside. I was recently in a Lexus LX 570 ute with the infotainment system from hell. The remote dash screen is operated by a sort of mouse on the console that is impossible to operate standing still, much less when the car is moving. One wonders how reliable it would be if Consumer Reports tested it after frustrated owners have beaten it silly with a tire iron.

All of which is why I recommend Toyota over Lexus these days.

As regular readers of this column know, the electronic revolution has brought a conversion of mainstream and luxury-car features. Features like adaptive cruise-control — a gee-whiz luxury item just 15 years ago that’s now commonplace on even compact cars like the $20,000 Toyota Corolla hatchback.

Speaking of which, the Corolla has gone from one of the most disappointing cars in the market (tell me again why this numb wallflower was a best-selling compact?) to my favorite Toyota product. And it’s not just that the rousing Corolla hatch is loaded with features and has all the utility of a Toyota RAV4 without the compromised handling.

The hatch is a looker. From its aggressive haunches to its good c-pillar visibility to its coherent grille, the Corolla is evidence that not all Toyota designers are crayon-wielding teens that believe every grille should be made to resemble comic-book supervillains.

I was fond of the last-generation Avalon with its long lines and pleasing face. Indeed, the cute Corolla hatch is the last-gen Avalon’s Mini Me. Then papa went to a plastic surgeon and got a face-lift. Oh, that mouth!

The Avalon looks like a humpback whale ingesting a school of krill. The Tasmanian Devil’s kisser isn’t this big. It rivals Lexus for most outrageous face. Which is how CEO Akio Toyoda wants it. Like the best-selling Camry sedan, Akio wanted his new generation of cars to inspire buzz, not ZZZZs.

Look up “polarizing” in the dictionary and it reads “1. Lexus 2. Toyota.” Happily for those of us not named Vader, the rest of the Avalon is more tasteful.

The horizontal tail lights are conventionally fashionable — following Dodge, Lincoln, Audi, et al — and help tie together the big sedan’s rump. Speaking of big, Avalon is typically roomy for a Toyota, expanding its wheelbase two inches over the previous model. You don’t get to be a best-selling brand in the USA without listening to your triple-extra-large clientele.

The front door was apparently taken off a Delta Airlines hangar. I have arms like an orangutan, but I needed an umbrella handle to reach the handle to shut the door once inside. The interior is tomb-quiet, my Touring model’s leather and suede appointments swallowing my big frame. I could easily sit behind myself in back.

The interior dials back the exterior’s craziness. Whereas the Camry gives the console an (admittedly inspired) S-curve design, the Avalon falls back on a conventional, upright look — replacing the previous floating console shaped like a artist’s palette. An artist myself, I rather liked the old look — but the new design is businesslike and easy to use.

And it’s why I’d recommend this up-market-targeted sedan over its Lexus peer.

The interface is easy to use, while providing standard “Safety Sense” and infotainment features — backup camera, digital radio, blind-spot assist, even Apple CarPlay (finally) — that customers have come to expect from a premium car. Heck, these items are standard on a $23,000 Corolla.

But perhaps the most critical piece of my upsell of the Avalon to you, dear Lexus customer, is its handling. Previous-generation Avalons were boats. But on the company’s new Toyota New Global Architecture — which undergirds the excellent Camry as well as the Avalon and Corolla — the Avalon is surprisingly athletic.

Carving through my favorite Metro Detroit ess-curves, Avalon is planted, allowing me to get into the 3.5-liter’s growly V-6 throttle early off the turn. Mated to a quick-shifting eight-speed tranny, the big sled is a worthy dance partner.

Love that six-holer. While automakers have fled to turbo-4s to meet both emissions controls and customers’ need for speed, Toyota has stuck with its loyal six. It’s dependable as a collie.

Dependability also rhymes with affordability in Toyota’s case. My Touring tester came in at $44,913 — $8,000 cheaper than a comparable Lexus GS with the same V-6, but without that maddening mouse controller. My only reservation is Toyota starves the Avalon of an all-wheel drive option for Michigan winters, a feature that the GS (and every SUV) options.

The Avalon is not deprived of a Toyota-Lexus signature hybrid model, however, and here again value is impressive. With its electric-assisted, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the 3,718-pound sedan gets a remarkable 43 mpg for just a grand more than the V-6 model. That’s not much of a hybrid premium — and in just a year’s driving you’ll make it all back in gas savings. Helpless motorhead that I am, I would still opt for the visceral satisfaction of the V-6.

It’s a tough slog these days for sedans, especially big sedans like the Avalon. Without all-wheel drive, they are easily passed over for large utes. But for traditionalists who still value a sleek, punchy sedan with fuss-free ergonomics, the old-school Avalon’s new-school architecture is a contender.

Just be sure and park it nose-first into the garage so its humpback whale mug doesn’t scare the neighborhood kids.

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

2019 Toyota Avalon

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

Price: $32,000 base including $920 destination fee ($44,913 Touring as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6; 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder with nickel-metal hydride battery assist

Power: 310 horsepower, 267 pound-feet torque (V-6); 215 horsepower (hybrid)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic (V-6) or continuously variable automatic (hybrid)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Motor Trend)

Weight: 3,704 pounds (V-6)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 22 city/31 highway/25 combined (V-6); 43 city/43 highway/43 combined (hybrid)

Report card

Highs: Roomy, athletic sedan; screen controls with nice knobs

Lows: Oh, that face; AWD, please

Overall: 3 stars

Payne: Genesis G-pulling G70 is a bargain athlete

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

G70 Fr3 4 Bushes

At the same time Audi announced this summer it was ditching the manual transmission for its A4 sports sedan, Genesis said its G70 competitor would not only have a manual variant — but that it would be offered as an upscale Sport version unto itself.

That tells you a lot about Hyundai’s aggressive new luxury brand. This Seoul-produced entry-level sedan has soul.

The G70 is rightly baselined to the compact segment icon, the BMW 3-series. Stealing away BMW M-class engineering guru Albert Biermann and Lamborghini design director Luc Donckerwolke, Genesis put the G70 on its own rear-wheel drive platform and trained it in the German makers’ Nürburgring racetrack backyard.

But BMW, Audi and Mercedes are no longer the segment performance leaders. That honor now goes to the terrific Cadillac ATS, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Tesla Model 3 sedans.

Indeed, the irony of the market’s shift away to lookalike SUVs today is that entry-level sedans are incredibly, head-turningly good.

Not only are the establishment players at the top of their game, but there are three 21st-century upstarts: Genesis, Alfa and Tesla. EV-maker Tesla and Italian diva Alfa are niche brands. Genesis aspires to be the traditional volume player of the group, following the Toyota model of accessorizing a popular mainstream brand (Hyundai) with a premium marque.

Genesis’ challenge is establishing an identity in a cramped athletic-shoe aisle that includes such high-tops as the aforementioned German, American and Italian makes — and near-luxury sneakers like the Mazda 6 and Kia Stinger.

Most G70 buyers will approach the $32,000 base Genesis as a value-play over costlier alternatives, but my sophisticated 2.0-liter Sport manual demands to be measured against the best performers in luxury.. That said, how can they ignore Korean cousin Kia — which produces the bigger, five-door Stinger hatchback based on the same architecture and offering the same turbo-4 and twin-turbo V-6 powerplants?

A compelling aisle for sure. I took the very different 2.0-liter manual and 3.3-liter automatic for a run.

Automakers have traditionally offered manuals as entry-level fuel sippers or high-end enthusiast toys. Both are getting squeezed — by the inferiority of manual fuel economy relative to automatics at the low end, and by the performance of quick-shifting, multi-ratio boxes at the upper range.

The $38,895 Sport is targeted at enthusiasts somewhere in between who want an attractive pocket-rocket they can afford. At its core, the 2.0-liter Sport is a runner. With the four-banger driving the rear wheels only, it’s the lightest Q70 configuration.

It reminded me immediately of the ATS, Giulia and Model 3. And since the Tesla EV is a unique animal, I’ll concentrate on the gas-engine Caddy and Alfa: turbo-4 athletes, both more fun than the Midnight Screamer at Six Flags.

Attacking area interstate cloverleafs, the 252-horse Genesis is right there with the Caddy’s nimble handling — telepathic steering, tossable chassis — but shy of Alfa’s sexy looks and best-in-class 280 horsepower.

G70 is carving its own design path — away from the slavish, Audi-like styling of big brothers G90 and G80 — but it doesn’t have the personality of the Italian dish or sculpted Caddy. It’s muscular, no doubt — its wide rear stance ready to pounce — but hard to distinguish from a 3-series or Infiniti Q50.

Hard acceleration exposes the 2.0-liter’s biggest flaw — an initial dead spot on throttle that feels like turbo lag. Or something. “What is that?!” asked my motorhead friend Rick as he rowed through the gears.

Once on throttle, the 2.0-liter is plenty feisty, the engine pulling hard over 3,000 rpms. Upshifts are crisp, the car beautifully balanced on corner entry.

The Genesis makes its mark in true Hyundai fashion — value.

The G70 starts with standard comfort amenities like a 12-way driver’s seat, then adds a best-in-class standard suite of automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise-control, automatic high-beams, blind-spot assist, lane-keep-assist and automatic emergency braking. This is important stuff at a time when mainstream cars from the $25,000 VW Jetta and $32,000 Mazda 6 have similar goodies.

The days when luxe cars (and luxe trucks) can upcharge for such features is coming to an end, and it’s good to see G70 at the head of the game. That said, Mazda’s sensory system is better with its Tesla-like, 360-degree instrument graphics.

Upgrade to the G70’s honkin’ twin-turbo V-6 pushing out an impressive 365 ponies, and the value equation multiplies versus competitor brands. Save one: fellow Korean, Kia Stinger.

Stinger is another superb vehicle brought to life by Mr. Biermann. And that’s not the only thing it shares with G70. They are built on the same platform, have the same engines, boast quad-exhaust, are Nürburgring-tested, get smartphone connectivity and 5 year/100,000 drivetrain warranties and …

And then the Stinger goes further.

At the same entry price as the 3.3-liter G70, the Kia offers five doors instead of three. Its fastback hatchback was one of the revelations of 2017 — offering the utility of an SUV with the handling of a sedan. It’s an Audi A7 — for $25,000 less. An Audi A7 for the same price as a G70. Is that what Hyundai-Kia intended?

The styling and interior of the Stinger are world class, and when you get in back, it exposes the other glaring flaw of the G70 — its tiny rear seat.

Though stretched across the same architecture, the Kias get a longer wheelbase than its Seoul cousin. At a leggy 6-foot-5, I can sit behind myself in the Kia. The G70? Not so much. Which is another reason I lump the 2.0-liter with the equally backseat-challenged Caddy ATS and Alfa.

Genesis North America chief Irwin Raphael says that Genesis and Kia are separate entities (sharing Mr. Biermann) within the Hyundai-Kia empire. And maybe they are appealing to different customers.

I’m struck by the difference in Genesis and Kia Stinger branding, for example. Genesis introduced itself with the lovely voice of blues singer Audra Day. The Stinger, by contrast, was debuted at the 2017 Super Bowl by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler burning rubber backward to make himself 30 years younger.

Which soundtrack fits you, performance sedan enthusiast?

Stinger has the formidable task of selling folks a $40,000 Kia. But Genesis’ task is no less formidable. Both will appeal to customers looking for a bargain car that looks different than the Audi A4s and BMW 3s in the cul-de-sac.

The biggest difference between G70 and Stinger may be that the Stinger is Kia’s halo car — while Genesis’ halo is the forthcoming Essentia supercar. These are good times, indeed.

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 Genesis G70

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

Price: $32,000 base including $995 destination fee ($38,895 RWD manual Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged-4 cylinder; 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V-6

Power: 252 horsepower, 260 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 365 horsepower, 376 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3/6.0 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 130/155 mph

Weight: 3,550-4,050 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA: 22 city/30 highway/25 combined (Turbo-4); 18 city/25 highway/20 combined (V-6)

Report card

Highs: Nurburgring-tested athlete; bargain luxury

Lows: Cramped rear seat; cousin Kia Stinger hatchback an even better bargain

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Volvos defined safety, the S60 adds sexy

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2018

Volvo Red Fr3 4

Flashing down the canyon roads north of Los Angeles in a red, all-new 2019 Volvo S60 sedan, I nearly ran over a red 1980s-vintage Volvo 240. Instantly recognizable from the rear with its skeleton rear headrests, the ol’ Swede lumbered along. Built like a tank with the aerodynamics of a cardboard box.

Ugly duckling, meet swan.

The new, South Carolina-manufactured S60 is a fashion plate: Thor’s hammer headlights. Body of Chris Hemsworth. Powerful turbocharged engines. Alternately fun to drive on mountain roads and quiet as a sofa-bed on the freeway, the athletic Volvo is no longer a role player, but a well-rounded all-star in the mold of Audi or BMW.

Volvo has come a long way from its roots as the safety-obsessed Swede. Introduced to Americans in the 1950s, the brand was a pioneer in passenger protection. It was first with the standard three-point safety belt, rear-facing child seats, childproof locks and collapsible steering column. Volvo was Ralph Nader in the back seat on your family trip.

Ralph has been replaced by Mario Andretti. Volvo has an engine lineup that encourages bad behavior: Take your choice of a 250-horsepower, turbo-4; 315-horse supercharged turbo-4; or 415-horse, supercharged turbo-4 hybrid powertrains.

Farther along the L.A. canyons, I crowd a Porsche Boxster through the twisties. Thor’s hammers looming in his mirrors, drive mode dialed to Dynamic for maximum torque, chassis taut through the switchbacks. What’s next? A Volvo race team?

The S60 is fine not boring you with a safety lecture, though sometimes I wish it would.

In this era of galloping digital advances, Volvo is not the cutting edge of safety anymore. Acura class competitor TLX offers the same standard suite of adaptive cruise-control, lane-keep assist and collision-mitigation braking as the Volvo. Heck, even the smaller, 2019 ILX offers it — for $10,000 less.

I recently tested a loaded Mazda 6 for the same price as the base Volvo with the same horsepower, same safety systems — plus. Plus blind-spot assist, plus head-up display, plus driver-display mounted 360-degree monitoring system.

The old Volvo would have made these features standard and reminded you on billboards. But the new, more well-rounded Volvo has other talents it wants to share.

Like a standard panoramic moonroof. Ooooooh. Get the wagon version of the S60 — called the V60 — and it’s the biggest moonroof I’ve ever seen, stretching beyond the rear seats into next week.

While we’re on the subject of wagons, let me note that the gorgeous V60 is prettier, faster and cheaper than the Volvo XC60 SUV with more hatchback space and better roof access. Just in case you want to climb down from the taller XC60 and take a look.

Back to the S60. Volvo no doubt wants its pano-roofs to shed light on other standard features in the cabin like digital instrument display, elegant, 10-way seats and two-zone climate control. And, of course, a signature 9-inch, Tesla-like touchscreen.

The touchscreen is another vote for sexy over nanny Volvo.

Uncluttered by buttons, the screen is integrated into Volvo’s spare, Scandinavian cabin design: rich landscapes of wood, matte black, and aluminum accents.

It’s beautiful. And like Sweden’s Alicia Vikander, it’s distracting. The screen is low in the console, not high like tablets in the Audi or Acura RDX. While its logic is quick to master, it requires diverting your eyes from the road. Screens are accessed by swipes of the hand. Features controlled by buttons on other cars — lane-keep assist, head-up display, temperature controls — are located in the screen.

Volvo is aware of the distraction and has constructed helpful commands you can bark at the voice command. “Set the temperature to 70 degrees!” for example. I suggest setting your preferences at the house, then using voice commands to tweak settings on the road.

More in Volvo’s safety character is its Pro Pilot Assist, an adaptive cruise sidekick (for $2,500) that works as a semi-autonomous system in rush-hour traffic. Descending from LA’s canyon roads into its interstate-traffic hell, I toggled the Pilot Assist button. Below 30 mph in stop-and-go traffic, the system left me alone (like Cadillac’s SuperCruise, and unlike other nanny systems) so that I could check email and texts on my phone — or, um, fiddle with the touchscreen settings and navigation.

Speaking of navigation, the Volvo nicely integrates smartphone apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into its big screen so you don’t have to pay the $2,500 navigation upcharge for Volvo’s glitchy nav system.

It’s one of a few, rare glitches in this all-around athlete’s debut. Despite its German-stomping horsepower, the S60’s drivetrain still lacks the Teuton’s refinement. Downshifts can be lazy or abrupt.

Opt for the S60’s all-wheel drive T8 plugin-hybrid model, and the rear electric motor smooths out the drivetrain kinks like a comb through a blond Swedish mane. With healthy total system power of 400 ponies, the hybrid is a joy to drive fast.

Upgrade to the wicked-looking black Polestar T8 and you get 15 more horses, gold brake calipers and gold seat belts that look like they came right out of Q’s lab. Mr. Bond, your Polestar is ready.

Like safety, Volvo is synonymous with green, but the plugin-hybrid model contradicts that simple stereotype just like the safety boilerplate. Goosed with turbo and supercharging steroids, my hybrid, four-cylinder S60 averaged less than 20 mpg over a day of fairly civilized Metro L.A. driving.

As tempting as the pricey plugin may be, Detroit buyers will be perfectly content with a T5, AWD R-Design S60. Allow me to translate the Swedish alphanumerics:

AWD means all-wheel drive for Detroit snow
T5 means the 250-horse engine option
R-Design means the sporty trim package with 19-inch wheels

And S60 means the best Volvo sedan you have ever seen for about $46,000.

Divorced from Ford and now owned by China’s Geely, Volvo produces the sedan out of its first U.S. plant for export to countries around the globe. No longer a Naderite, Swedish curiosity, Volvo has matured to a global automaker with the S60, V60, XC60, S90, V90 and XC90 all built on the same, so-called SPA global platform.

As the brand’s entry-level product, the S60 retains its Swedish personality while speaking the universal language of style and power. Just like the BMW 3-series. Just like the Audi A4.

Just ask the ol’ Volvo 240 receding in my mirror.

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 Volvo S60 sedan and V60 wagon

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

Price: $36,795 base including $995 destination fee ($41,995 R-Design as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged-4 cylinder, plug-in hybrid

Power: 250 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 316 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque (turbo, supercharged 4); 400 horsepower (415 in Polestar edition), 494 pound-feet torque (turbo, supercharged 4 plug-in with electric-motor assist)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds for turbo-4 (mfr); top speed, 145 mph

Weight: 3,657-3,907 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 21 city/32 highway/25 combined (Turbo-4 AWD R-Design as tested)

Report card

Highs: Swedish beauty; standard panoramic moon-roof

Lows: Touchscreen can distract from safety; power sucks gas

Overall: 4 stars

Revology makes classic Mustangs for the 21st century

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2018

Rev Fr3 4

Slicing through the streets of Ann Arbor, the classic, fastback Mustang silhouette turns heads with its 1960s-style, blue-striped Shelby livery and menacing V-8 growl. But behind the wheel, the legendary pony feels taut like a modern ‘Stang — chassis planted, suspension absorbing the V-8 engine’s massive torque.

Say hello to the Revology Shelby GT350.

Like a mad movie scientist, ex-Ford marketing guru Tom Scarpello is bringing classic Mustangs back to life with a modern technology transplant. Taking exact-replica 1966-68 Mustang bodies and girding them with state-of-the-art suspension engineering and instrumentation, Scarpello’s Revology Mustangs are road-worthy recreations for the pony-car enthusiast.

“The Mustang that everyone covets is the original 1960s car, but no one wants the hassle of owning one. Revology makes the cars relevant again,” says Scarpello, who worked for Ford and other automakers before opening his own manufacturing facility in Orlando, Florida.

From GT350s to Steve McQueen’s Highland Green Bullitt, Ford’s sixth-generation Mustang still draws on its 50-year heritage even as its current models are light years beyond ’60s tech. But Revology is the first company to license Ford and Shelby heritage models and update them with modern engineering.

Credit Scarpello who is living his dream by applying a lifetime of manufacturing know-how with Ford and Nissan to one of the most creative auto startups of the 21st century.

His Revology lineup includes six model Mustangs ranging from a 460-horse 1966 GT convertible to an earth-pawing 1967 Shelby GT500 with a 600-horsepower supercharged Roush V-8.

Scarpello knows muscle. Working for Ford’s SVT performance division from 1998-2004, he was product manager for Ford’s first GT supercar — based on the iconic 1966 Le Mans winner. In his spare time he raced SCCA’s Formula Mazda series. After a short run as (then Ford-owned) Jaguar’s marketing manager in Irvine, California, he left Ford on a quixotic journey to establish his own auto business. He hopscotched the globe — California, Mexico, Hong Kong, Japan — learning the auto sales craft with dealers, Nissan and Infiniti before finally establishing Revology in Orlando in 2015.

His timing couldn’t have been better.

Ford was celebrating Mustang’s 50th anniversary in 2015 and throwing a global party. For the first time, America’s pony car would be sold around the world. Heritage toys like the 50th-anniversary Bullitt Mustang followed. The new Mustang was a hit — eclipsing Camaro sales for the first time in years — but its modern styling had a mixed reaction among pony faithful yearning for a more retro ‘60s look.

“Those trends came together at a good time for us,” smiles Scarpello, who says orders for his cars have come from seven countries.

He was also working with SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) and Washington to make sure his business model conformed with U.S. safety and environmental regulations, which can be daunting costs for small manufacturers.

Whereas states have typically regulated the so-called “kit car” market, a draft federal law for low-volume vehicle production would allow companies like Revology to manufacture up to 325 vehicles a year without having to go through full U.S. crash and emissions testing. Just as long as companies use approved engines and chassis equipment.

For Revology, Mustang’s state-of-the-art driveline is the soul of the machine. The original, 289-cubic inch, 1966 Mustang V-8 pumped out 271 horses. The current, 305-cube, Coyote engine makes a howling 460.

Scarpello brought a Revology 1966 Shelby GT350 to Ann Arbor for media testing. The  beast flat-out goes.

While the 2018 Mustang GT350 — larded with sound-proofing material that muffles the V-8’s roar in the cabin — tips the scales at 3,705 pounds, the Revology GT350 weighs just 3,225. The Coyote’s roar — WAAUUUGGGGH!! — rattles the cabin just like the good ol’ days.

This integration of new and old, classic and contemporary, is repeated throughout the Revology ‘Stang.

Revology buys its chassis from Dynacorn, which re-creates classic steel shells to the same dimension as the ’60s original. Then Scarpello’s team of mad scientists goes to work. The chassis is strapped down with extensive bracing, modern double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear. It’s bolted to period wheels wrapped in wider rubber.

Add a modern V-8 and six-speed manual transmission to the recipe and the GT350 tester is a no-compromise classic with 52/48 weight distribution. Cornering is flat. Acceleration ferocious.

Revology has added minimal sound-deadening material to keep the classic’s raw emotion. The same is true for the interior, which appears to be of period-spec with its long shifter handle and round, analog gauges. Even the high beams are still activated via a button on the floor with your left foot.

But on closer inspection, the instruments have gained LED lighting and an infotainment screen (complete with modern goo-gaws like smartphone connectivity) anchors the dash. It has automatic windows, AC, power steering, a push-button starter and seats wrapped in leather.

All this integration doesn’t come cheap. Revology Mustangs sticker for between $174,000 and $227,000 — or about the price of an original car at auction. Difference is, you can comfortably drive the Revology car to work.

Scarpello’s team has sold 18 cars this year, with the intent of ramping up to the federal ceiling. You can configure yours beginning at RevologyCars.com.

Ford wows Vegas with Carbon Series GT supercar, mod trucks

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

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Take the week off, Celine Dion. Las Vegas is home to the dazzling Specialty Equipment Market Association show through Friday, and Ford opens the extravaganza Tuesday with the latest version of its Ford GT supercar.

The show-stopping, 2019 Ford GT Carbon Series is the lightest version of Ford’s performance halo car – and punctuates the point with acres of exposed carbon fiber including dual exposed stripes, A-pillars and lower body panels. Ford will also show its range with truck acts including eight custom F-150 and seven modified Ranger pickups.

The GT Carbon Series hits the market at the same time that Ford is re-opening the application process for its 647-horse, twin-turbo V6-powered, Le Mans-winning legend on Nov. 8. Ford had previously capped GT production at 1,000 but has added 350 units to be produced through 2022.

“The Ford GT Carbon Series stands out on the road with its striking carbon fiber-rich design and on the track with its athleticism,” said Hermann Salenbauch, chief of Ford’s Performance Division, which oversees the GT and other earth-pawing models.

Where the Ford GT’s previous lightweight track star, the Competition series, stripped the GT of daily amenities like radio and air conditioning, the Carbon Series maintains both (while still dropping 39 pounds) so that owners can run hot laps on track – then cool off with AC on the ride home.

“While the Ford GT Competition model appeals to hardcore racing enthusiasts, we found more customers asking for more exposed carbon fiber with the air conditioning and radio still intact,” said Lance Mosley, marketing ringmaster for Ford Performance. “So we developed the Carbon Series to satisfy that need, while providing a distinct look.”

It’s not the first time that Ford has used SEMA — a sprawling trade show featuring aftermarket, performance-enhancing steroids like supercharged engines and off-road truck lift kits — to showcase its state-of-the-art muscle. At the 2008 show, Ford debuted the F-150 Raptor, the fastest off-road pickup on the planet.

The $500,000-base Ford GT, the production version of the IMSA race car that took home the IMSA Weathertech GTLM manufacturer’s trophy this year, headlines the Performance division.

Featuring state-of-the-art aerodynamics technology like a Formula One-style keel-nose and retractile rear wing, the GT is motivated by twin-turbos spinning a 3.5-liter V-6 to 647 horsepower and a top speed of 216 mph.

To hit its dietary goal, the Carbon Series boasts light-weighting innovations like carbon fiber wheels, titanium exhaust and lug nuts, and a polycarbonate rear hatch. That, and Ford tossed the cupholders.

If all that carbon fiber isn’t enough to stand out from the exclusive GT crowd, the new edition can be accented with mirror caps, center stripes, and calipers in four colors: silver, orange, red, or blue.

For all the GT’s drama, however, the Performance division’s sales have been turbocharged by Mustangs and trucks. Sales were up a whopping 70 percent in 2017 to over 205,000 units globally. And that’s before Ford invaded two new segments this year with its Edge ST SUV and Ranger Raptor small truck — the latter available only in overseas markets. An upgraded F-150 Raptor will also bow later this year.

The model flood continues in 2019 with the expected debut of a 700-horsepower-plus Mustang GT500, the most powerful ‘Stang ever, and an Explorer ST ute. To keep buyers salivating, Ford is bringing eight customer F-150 builds to Vegas as well as seven modified Rangers.

As for GT buyers, your application can be found at www.FordGT.com beginning Nov. 8.

Payne: To Hell (and Ohio) and back to pick up my Tesla Model 3

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

Henry Payne deposited $1,000, along with 450,000 other customers, to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in a lifetime.

Henry Payne deposited $1,000, along with 450,000 other customers, to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in a lifetime.

Each step in my 31-month journey to buy a Tesla Model 3 has been an adventure. Delivery was no different.

Since configuring my car June 26 online, I waited through four months, multiple delivery date changes, an extra 30-day delay, and CEO Elon Musk smoking weed in a radio interview. Then I saddled up a 3-ton Nissan Armada rental mule to travel 200 miles to Cleveland to pick up a car Lansing bans from sale in Michigan.

“Delivery logistics hell,” Musk calls it. Yet, waiting on the other side of the River Styx (well, Lake Erie) was a stunning, athletic Model 3 electric vehicle that is still the most fascinating car on sale today.

In April, 2016, I put down my $1,000 deposit along with 450,000 other customers to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in my lifetime. Detroit News readers have been with meevery step of the way.

I’m no eco-geek, but a race car-driving, gas-guzzling motorhead with multiple cars in his garage and a need for speed. When Musk introduced the 3, I coveted it as I have desired BMWs, Fords, and Porsches. And as a journalist, I was also intrigued by an entrepreneur that is the early 21st century’s Henry Ford: driven, visionary, controversial.

Musk is also like other West Coast tech geniuses — Amazon’s Bezos, Uber’s Kalanick, Facebook’s Zuckerberg — in redefining industries. But he is most like Apple’s Steve Jobs in taking a fresh design approach to product. In this case, the car.

Deluged with more orders for the 3 than BMW sells across 14 model lines in a year, Tesla was not only promising a competitive luxury player in 18 months — but assembling it for delivery through its own, nascent dealer network. Dude, that’s a tall order.

The fires of Tesla “production hell” — missed deadlines, problematic build quality, manufacturing tents — have been well documented. Delivery hell, where customers like me interact with Tesla, is a more variable climate.

After configuring my rear-wheel-drive, Obsidian Black-with-19-inch-wheels Model 3 in June, Tesla predicted the car would arrive between September and November. I was optimistic, however — based on deliveries to Michigan friends — that it could arrive in less than a month.

Six weeks crawled by.

I called Las Vegas — Tesla dispatch central — on Aug. 8 for an update. Dispatch told me they had been deluged by orders at the end of July as Tesla ended free, LTE cell service. The new cost? $100 a year. Proof that even folks paying $50K for a car smell a deal.

But other smells were sowing concern. On Aug. 7, Musk tweeted in apparent violation of SEC rules that he was taking the company private. Tesla forums brimmed with customer tales of delivery dates gone awry. Tesla HQ was a revolving door of executive departures. Then Musk stunk up the joint (pun intended) in September with a pot-fueled interview.

Not the kind of news that inspires confidence in customers holding $50,000 luxury car orders. On Sept. 17, the call (well, text) finally came from Vegas:

Hey, Henry, this is Jackie from Tesla. I am reaching out about your Model 3 order. I am able to offer you delivery as soon as this month. Can I schedule you for September 27th?

That proved optimistic, too. After some delivery date ping-pong, my pick-up was pushed back to Oct. 26. A Tesla contractor told me the company’s rush to meet third-quarter (Sept. 30) profit deadlines had jammed the pipelines.

In Jersey Oct. 18 for my son’s wedding, I got a call from Robert at Tesla Cleveland. Can you pick up your car Monday the 22nd? I would be there, with insurance and the $57,450 balance in hand.

What happened to the promised, $35,000, affordable Model 3? It won’t be delivered until early next year — assuming customers still want it after the federal $7,500 tax credit runs out this winter.

As chaotic as delivery hell was, the Tesla dealer process is a model of efficiency.

Tesla handed me the keys to a gratis Enterprise rental to make the one-way trek to Lyndhurst (outside Cleveland) to pick up the future of sustainable transportation. My ride? An ironic, ginormous Nissan Armada SUV. Half-a-tank of gas. Range: 200-something. Gas infrastructure everywhere. I made it in three hours flat.

Since Tesla dealers are factory stores, the dealer process is a formality. All cars on the lot are spoken for — delivered to customer spec. No haggling. Indeed, to help with the flood of September deliveries, the Cleveland store brought in existing Tesla owners to help with vehicle check out.

My salesman spent his time explaining the spaceship’s tech-tastic features to me — automatic lane change, streaming audio services, regenerative braking, voice commands. We went over every inch of the car including build defects (Tesla quality still lags).

Before I rocketed home on 307 pound feet of electric torque, Tesla topped up the battery with 300 miles of range. Unlike the Armada, charging infrastructure for the 3 is spare.

Cooling my heels in the waiting room, I talked with another Tesla owner. He had first approached a Chevy dealer about buying a Bolt EV. The lot was littered with Bolts, but he said the salespeople were light on details and wouldn’t negotiate price.

Frustrated, he sought out Tesla online and placed his order. “It’s been a fantastic journey,” he said.