Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is new light-duty diesel towing champ

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 20, 2019

The 2020 Ram 1500 Ecodiesel leads the class in towing with 12,560 - a major upgrade over the previous Ram diesel's 9,300 pounds. The diesel truck will start at $38,585.

The light-duty pickup wars have a new diesel towing champ.

Ram says its all-new 2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel will pull 12,560 pounds thanks to class-leading 480 foot-pounds of torque. That’s a big leap from the previous-generation truck’s 9,300 pounds and clears the Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel’s previous best 11,400 pounds.

Introduced in 2014, Ram’s Ecodiesel was a pioneer in the light-duty truck segment but has since been joined by products from Ford and Chevy.

Ram also announced that pricing for its diesel truck will start at $38,585 – a $4,995 option, or $3,000 premium over the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 eTorque engine in Ram’s lineup.

The EcoDiesel is available across all models of the Ram 1500, including for the first-time in its rambunctious, off-road Rebel.

The Chevy Silverado Duramax diesel pulls 9,300 pounds but is the class leader in fuel economy — another closely-watched diesel metric — with 27 mpg average. Ram says it will publish the Ecodiesel’s mpg numbers closer to its on sale date in the 4th quarter.

Corvette mid-engine supercar starts at $59,995

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2019

Chevrolet announced pricing for its first mid-engine Corvette Stingray today and as promised, it will — like the outgoing, front-engine Stingray — start at less than $60,000.

Just barely.

Including a destination charge of $1,095, the 2020 C8 Stingray starts at $59,995 for the 1LT base trim, making it by far the most affordable mid-engine supercar on the planet. Competitors include the Acura NSX at $159,300 and the McLaren at $195,000.

Equip the rear-wheel drive ‘Vette with the $5,000 Z51 performance package and it will run sub-3 second zero-60 times alongside an all-wheel drive $204,000 Lamborghini Huracan. Top speed for the Stingray? 194 mph.

“Most people thought when we moved the Corvette to mid-engine it would no longer be attainable, but we knew we couldn’t mess with a winning formula and the 2020 Stingray proves it,” said Brian Sweeney, Chevrolet U.S. vice president.

The out-going front-engine C7 Corvette starts at $56,945.

Two more trims are offered above the base model: the 2LT starts at $67,295 and the top-level 3LT begins at $71,945. All are available with the Z51 package.

“We’ve packed a lot of performance into the Corvette Stingray at this price when you consider an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, small-block V-8 and engine-mounted dry-sump oil system are all standard,” said Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter.

Interested Chevrolet Corvette Stingray shoppers can view a pricing guide with available options to pre-order their car by visiting the 2020 Corvette reveal page at

The 2020 Corvette Stingray goes into production at GM’s revamped Bowling Green Assembly plant late this year.

Payne: The new Dream Cruise classics, Class of ’93

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2019

It’s Dream Cruise reunion time, and that means we welcome the great Class of ’93 as the new antiques.

When your classic turns 26 years young, Michigan’s Secretary of State office extends historic license privileges and eligibility for more-affordable car collector insurance. In exchange, the state frowns on using your collectible as a daily driver — except in August when antiques take over Woodward.

So slip Meat Loaf’s ’93 hit “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” in the ol’ CD player, slip on your “Myst” computer game shirt, and watch out for these ’93 notables.

Pontiac Firebird

Emerging from the horsepower-strangling government mandates of previous decades, early ’90s muscle cars got sexy again. The fourth-generation rear-wheel drive Firebird and kissing cousin Camaro were outfitted with V-6s, snarling V-8s and anti-lock brakes. The Pontiac, taking design cues from the outrageous Banshee XII concept car, was particularly striking with its anteater nose and recessed headlights.

With sleek aerodynamics and lightweight, composite body panels, the Firebird was optimized for speed.  A 160-horse V-6 came standard. Upscale Formula and Trans Am models were stuffed with a 275-horsepower V-8 shared with big brother Corvette.

Ford SVT Mustang Cobra

What’s a Dream Cruise without a new Mustang antique? The iconic Ford badge has been in production since 1964, but the ’93 model introduced a new performance badge from Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) positioned above the GT.

Using the same 5.0-liter V-8 as the GT, the SVT turned up the wick to 235 horsepower, which was good for 5.9 seconds zero-60. (In a sign of how far engineering has come, a modern Focus RS cranks out 350 horsepower from a turbo-4 and hits 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds). Ford sold nearly 5,000 in 1993. For more exclusivity, a SVT Cobra R was offered stripped of niceties like radio and power windows, and strapped down with chassis-stiffening braces to take on the race track. Just 107 were sold.

Mazda RX-7

In the 1990s, Mazda’s wee Miata had a big brother, the RX-7. Featuring Mazda’s signature rotary engine — boosted with twin turbos to 255 horsepower — the third-generation RX-7 was the last, and most sophisticated, of its breed (an RX-8 would follow in 2002).

A mid-level sports car similar in price to the Porsche Cayman/Boxster today, the RX-7 was a tempting package of speed and style. Outfitted in base, touring or track-ready R1 trims, the ’93 RX-7 ditched the previous generation’s wedge shape for a jellybean body and modern trunk-width mono taillight.

Ford Probe

Speaking of jellybeans, the Probe was Ford’s entry-level front-wheel drive coupe. Cheaper than the revered, RWD Mustang, the second-gen Probe started at just $13,000 (about $4,000 under the pony car). Other than its awkward name — which made its way into Jay Leno’s stand-up act — the Probe was notable for its GT version, which upgraded to a 2.5-liter V-6 pumping out 164 horses.

The GT earned Motor Trend’s 1993 Car of the Year award and also landed on Car and Driver’s 10 Best list. A joint collaboration between Mazda and Ford, the Probe was axed in 1997.

Chrysler Concorde/Dodge Intrepid/Eagle Vision

Ah, the days when Chrysler made sedans! The creative LH platform created a sensation with its cab-forward styling, sleek aerodynamics and roomy interiors. Coming on the heels of the aging K-car platform, the LH sent departing chief Lee Iacocca off in glory.

The cars immediately landed on Car and Driver’s 10 Best List. The magazine called them “the all-round best execution of the classic American sedan that we’ve yet seen.” The cars still turn heads today, even as Eagle is no more — and Chrysler and Dodge (Charger hellion excepted) have largely abandoned sedans.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Chrysler president Bob Lutz memorably debuted the Grand Cherokee at the 1992 Detroit auto show by driving it through Cobo Center’s front window with Mayor Coleman Young riding shotgun. The rest is history. An upsized version of the Cherokee, the unibody-based Grand Cherokee went head-to-head with the popular truck-based Ford Explorer to ignite an SUV revolution.

Available with a 190-horse straight-6 engine and two four-wheel drive systems, the Grand Cherokee was an instant hit, selling 84,600 copies in its first calendar year. By 1994, it had sold more than 212,000. In a portent of things to come, the Grand dropped its manual tranny after just two years.

Lincoln Mark VIII

The luscious Mark VIII coupe was the last of the brand’s halo-badge Mark cars. Draped across a 113-inch wheelbase, the luxury diva was longer than today’s Mercedes S-class coupe. The distinctive, wraparound front end mirrored the innovative interior with a wraparound dash stuffed with modern electronics including keyless entry.

Powered by a smooth 4.6-liter V-8, the rear-wheel drive coupe received critical raves at its New York debut as a European luxury-fighter. Alas, the Mark VIII would not live past 1998.

Mercedes C-class

Speaking of Mercedes, the C-class made its debut as the successor to the brand’s successful BMW 3-series fighter, the 190. The C-class would be the Stuttgart marque’s entry-level U.S. sedan until the CLA 4-door coupe debuted in 2014.

The ’93 C-class was powered by a 148-horse four-banger — about the same ponies as a Subaru Impreza today. The original C was stodgy, but it had softer lines than the boxy 190 and started the evolution to the sexy, swoopy Mercedes of today.


Here’s a neat little secret. In addition to Michigan’s antique license law, the federal government will allow you to import 25-year-old cars that were previously ineligible. For the Class of ‘93, that means you can now bring in an MG RV8 (among other things).

Built by the Rover Group as a successor to the famous MGB, the RV8 hottie was stuffed with a throaty 190-horse V-8 and rocketed to 60 mph as fast as the Mustang SVT Cobra. Rear leaf-springs and drum brakes made its handling diabolical. But, hey, it’s British.

Payne: Mid-engine Corvette is cool, but where’s the ‘Vette SUV?

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 14, 2019

Car and Driver's design sketch of a Corvette SUV.

The launch of the first-ever, mid-engine Corvette is the car event of the year. With similar specs as supercars costing three times more, the $60,000 C8 promises less expensive performance for a new generation of buyers.

But the eighth-generation Corvette’s debut has also turned up the volume on whether Chevrolet should also be expanding its performance icon to other segments.

In short, when will there be a Corvette SUV like nearly every other sports car make?

Beneath the V-8 roar of the C8’s introduction in California last month was a buzz among industry titans, car-magazine writers and analysts about the prospects of a ute ‘Vette.

The speculation had been rekindled in June when Bob Lutz, ex-General Motors vice chairman for product development, told Automotive News: “If I were there, what I would do is develop a dedicated architecture, super-lightweight, super-powerful, Porsche Cayenne-like, only much better and a little bigger, medium-volume Corvette SUV.”

Lutz’s interview expanded on his comments to The Detroit News two years ago in a story looking at whether Corvette should follow sports car makers like Porsche that have made millions by expanding their brands into popular SUVs.

The story went viral.

Porsche started the sport-ute revolution with the 2003 Cayenne. It’s been followed over the last decade by Maserati, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo — even Lamborghini. Porsche added a second ute, the Macan, in 2014. In every case, the SUV quickly became a hot seller, outselling the brands’ core sports cars and expanding their buyer demographic.

“Like the Cayenne, the appeal of the ’Vette SUV would be (rear-wheel drive) proportions. It should, in fact, have a silhouette not too different from a Cayenne,” Lutz told the News in 2017 as we consulted experts on what a Corvette SUV should look like.

Our rendering imagined a longitudinally mounted V-8 powered Corvette SUV on a rear-wheel drive/all-wheel drive platform. (The engine would be up front, because mid-engine placement would put it in an SUV’s back seat.)  It would have similar capabilities to $100,000-plus mega-utes from Lamborghini and Porsche, but, in typical Corvette fashion, for much less coin.

“More than the $40,000 Cadillac XT5, but about 10 grand below” a $60,000 base V-6 Cayenne, suggested Lutz.

His Automotive News interview inspired more renderings from other publications, most significantly from Car and Driver.

Car and Driver backed up its muscular sketch — complete with signature Corvette touches like a hood scoop and coupe-like roof — with specs like a standard twin-turbo-6, optional V-8, luxurious interior, generous cargo room and a starting price point of around $70,000.

“We also think it’s a no-brainer for Chevy to expand the Corvette brand beyond just the titular model,” concluded the influential publication.

When asked whether GM is considering the idea of a Corvette model expansion, a Chevy spokesperson told The News the automaker could “not comment on potential future product.”

Yet, retired GM engineer Tom Wallace — who ran Chevrolet’s Corvette program from 2006-08 — confirms the company has tracked the huge success of other sport SUV models.

“When I was Corvette chief, we often studied the Porsche business model and product line-up, and were generally impressed,” he told The Detroit News. “The fact that they have done the Cayenne and stuck with it is a vote of confidence that such a vehicle can be a success.”

The roadblocks, however, are formidable.

Two stand out, say experts: 1) Corvette is a Chevrolet badge, not a separate brand like Porsche or Jaguar. And 2) GM would have to develop a longitudinal-based rear-wheel drive/all-wheel drive platform for a performance ute.

“Producing a Corvette SUV assumes that GM would also have to split off Corvette as its own brand,” says veteran Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer. “You have to first decide if Corvette is powerful enough to sustain its own brand.”

Lutz told the News in 2017 that the Corvette brand business case would be tough because it could damage GM’s other premium brands like GMC and Cadillac. But in light of Cadillac’s struggles to compete as a luxury brand, his opinion evolved in the Automotive News interview.

“Let’s not try and take Cadillac upmarket. It has a price band of about $450 a month. That’s what it’s worth. Corvette brand has unlimited daylight on the upside,” he said. “Target worldwide 20,000 to 30,000 units, and price it starting at $100,000. It has to be the stellar premium sport-utility made in the United States, and the Corvette brand could pull that off.”

Even at 30,000 vehicles per year, though, a Corvette SUV would be a low-volume vehicle. Lutz and Wallace acknowledge that committing the millions needed for such an investment would be a high hurdle unless another GM vehicle could share the platform. The Porsche Cayenne, for example, shares its architecture with its VW Group sibling, the Audi Q7.

“The Corvette ute probably would be a stand-alone architecture (or a major modification of an existing architecture), so volume would be critical to call it a business success,” Wallace says.

The upside is that sport utes print money. The Lamborghini Urus outsells all other Lambos combined. The Jaguar F-Pace is easily the brand’s best-seller. estimates that while generating just over 2% of VW Group sales, the SUV-rich Porsche brand makes up an eye-popping one-third of profits.

With the mid-engine ‘Vette poised for glory, the attraction of an SUV line is undeniable. The key is in execution.

“It would be a fine line to walk,” says KBB analyst Brauer. “Performance capability is critical. If done correctly, you could sell a lot of them, no doubt.”

Roadkill Nights rocks Woodward with dragsters, burnouts

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 14, 2019

Two classic muscle cars drag race against each other.

Pontiac – The run-up to the 25th annual Dream Cruise opened with a roar Friday as MotorTrend Group’s Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge took over the M1 Concourse.

Muscle-car fans poured into the motorsports track to ogle 700-plus-horsepower Challenger and Charger Hellcats, take thrill rides and witness dyno and smokey-burnout contests.

For the fifth year, the Dodge-sponsored event officially kicks off two weekends of Woodward Dream Cruise mania that culminates Aug.17 in America’s longest traffic jam as auto enthusiasts cruise from Pontiac to Ferndale.

The festivities ramp up Saturday, Aug. 10, as Roadkill Nights extends the fun to Woodward Avenue. The street north of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac is shut down at 11 a.m. for a day of street-legal,one-eighth-mile drag racing.

Thousands of attendees will cheer on 140 licensed drag racers into the twilight Saturday as they vie for a $30,000 purse. They will get an earth-shaking exhibition from NHRA superstars Leah Pritchett and Carl Hagan when they do slingshot runs in their 10,000-horsepower dragsters.

Even local law enforcement will join the fun as Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and Macomb Sheriff Anthony Wickersham face off for a drag-racing duel in 797-horse, Dodge Challenger SRT Red Eye Widebody monsters.

“It’s nice to be part of kicking off the Dream Cruise,” said Dodge Challenger brand manager Kevin Hellman (yes, he drives a Hellcat). “We get to show what our cars are capable of up here. And after some rain the last two years, we’ve got a really good weather report for the weekend.”

Saturday’s drag racing will be hosted by TV car guys David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan of the popular Motor Trend Channel show “Roadkill Nights.” The pair will record an episode of their show at 6:15 p.m. Saturday on the Woodward drag strip.

“This event is one of the highlights of our year,” Freiburger said in the Roadkill paddock Friday surrounded by Dodge muscle. “The top moment is when Leah and Carl pull out (their) dragsters and explode down the strip.”

Pritchett and Hagan return this year in, respectively, their Dodge Top Fuel and Funny Car dragsters that rattled eardrums and watered eyes last year. Burning nitromethane fuel in specially built Hemi V-8 engines, the two dragsters are a visceral sensation down the 660-foot Woodward strip.

Hagan’s car will debut the Hellcat Widebody on his Funny Car dragster (Funny Cars have full bodies, unlike Top Fuel dragsters). That Widebody look was ubiquitous around the M1 Concourse grounds as both of Dodge’s iconic Challenger coupe and Charger sedans are now available with the muscular wheel-well additions.

Fans lined up to get tire-shredding thrill rides in high-horsepower Hellcats – the 717-horse Challenger and 707-horsepower Charger – with pro drivers like Jason Quinn, who steered his beast effortlessly around pylons in M1’s skid pad Friday.

“These cars are just so capable,” he said after a growling, tire-screeching lap. “We go through a set of rear tires every two hours, but the fronts will last all day.”

From the Woodward grandstand Saturday, fans will get to watch drivers compete for $30,000 in prize money split between two classes, Big Tire and Small Tire. Another $10,000 purse will be donated to the United Way as part of a Celebrity Showdown Drag Race that will include Freiburger, Finnegan and other top drivers.

Behind the fun, of course, is a business plan as Dodge hopes the thrills will lead to sales in the showroom. Roadkill Nights has been a hit since it moved to M1 four years ago from the Pontiac Silverdome. Last year, 44,000 people walked through the gates and another 4.1 million tuned in via Dodge’s social media channels.

Roadkill’s popularity inspired Dodge to expand the event to Friday this year as a two-day affair.

Families who experience the Hellcats will be pleased to know that there are Challengers and Chargers with less, um, hellish capabilities. While the Dodge siblings are available in three different  Dream Cruise-friendly V-8s, they can also be had in a more-civilized, 300-horse all-wheel drive V-6 package for all-season driving.

Dodge Charger Brand Manager Ashton Munoz says the all-wheel drive muscle cars have proved popular with all-wheel Charger sales hitting 18% of sales volume last year.

But there is no doubt the bad-boy Hellcat has remade the brand, vaulting sales to No. 2 in the segment behind only the Ford Mustang.

“I see more and more moms with kids driving around in Hellcats,” Munoz says.

They’ve no doubt been infected by Roadkill’s need for speed. When they aren’t watching drag racers launching down Woodward, drifting in a Hellcat, watching freestyle motocross stunt shows — or bellying up to food trucks across the grounds — fans can climb into a simulator and test their skill behind the wheel of an 840-horsepower Challenger DSRT Demon, the most powerful Dodge on the road.

MotorTrend Group’s Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge

Events take place on Woodward Avenue near St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, and at the nearby M1 Concourse motorsports track.


Through 9 p.m.: Events at M1 Concourse


10 a.m.: Gates to M1 Concourse open, with muscle, vintage and classic cars; Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat thrill and drift rides; and dyno testing

11 a.m.: Drag racing begins on Woodward with open qualifying sessions

11:30 a.m.: Freestyle motocross show (behind bleachers)

4 p.m.: Open drag racing qualifying concludes

4:15 p.m.: Leah Pritchett and Matt Hagan top fuel exhibition burnouts on Woodward

4:45 p.m.: Celebrity shootout begins on Woodward Avenue

5:45 p.m.: Top 8 shootout driver announcements

6 p.m.: Sheriff Showdown: Macomb County’ Sheriff Wickersham and Oakland County’ Sheriff Bouchard will compete in a drag-racing grudge match

6:30 p.m.: Flamethrower and wheelstander exhibition run

8 p.m.: Freestyle motocross show

8:30 p.m.: Top 8 shootouts begin (small tire and big tire)

9 p.m.: Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat thrill and drift rides conclude; top 8 winners awards ceremony

Payne review: Subaru’s Outback spiffs up

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 9, 2019

The 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx is a new, $35k trim that comes in a variety of colors - the all-black look is particularly appealing.

The 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx is a new, $35k trim that comes in a variety of colors – the all-black look is particularly appealing. (Photo: Subaru, Subaru)

What iconic mid-size SUV is made in the Midwest, appeals to luxury and mainstream buyers alike, and can climb trees?

If you answered the Jeep Grand Cherokee, you’d be right. If you said Subaru Outback, you’d also be right.

Assembled in Lafayette, Indiana, with the American market in mind, the roomy ‘Ru is comfortable in driveways from middle-class Ferndale to upscale Grosse Pointe. For 2020, the Outback blurs the luxury-mainstream line even further with a finely crafted interior and 11.6-inch Tesla-like console screen that will knock your boots off.

Warning to traditional Subaru mud-kickers who have left their Outbacks dirty because, well, they weren’t much to look at to begin with: Invest in rubber mats front to back so you don’t soil the handsome interior. Get the Outback’s snazzy new Onyx exterior trim and you’ll want to start washing the exterior regularly, too. It’s that nice.

Unlike Jeep, which traces its legacy to 1941, the Outback’s meteoric rise to icon started more recently with … well, the Legacy.

If Jeep saved America in World War II, the Outback saved Subaru in the ’90s. The Japanese brand’s Legacy was struggling in the sedan market against mega-sellers like Camry, Accord and Taurus when a group of Subaru engineers threw some rugged cladding on a Legacy’s rocker panels, lifted the chassis and called it an Outback.

Aussie Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan swaggered in with his endorsement, and Subaru was reborn.

Soon the made-for-America Japanese ute with the Australian badge was selling like granola. The unibody ute pioneered a crossover boom that would eventually sweep the nation.

Subaru is now synonymous with Outback’s ethic: an all-wheel drive brand for people who love the outdoors. The demographic cuts across class lines. Up North skiers head to the slopes in Outbacks. Ann Arbor college kids pack Impreza hatches for the holidays. Motorheads like me buy Subaru WRX STIs to terrorize the twisties.

For the Outback, this translates into a broad income demographic pushing into the six-figures. Want badge bandwidth? My Outback-owning friends range from young, bark-chewing writers who value the SUV’s height off-road — to a retired ex-BMW banker who values its height for ease-of-access.

In 2010 the Outback grew up, becoming more irresistible as a mid-size ute priced at $35,000 in the sweet spot of the U.S. market. Sales climbed to 182,000 last year.

But the sixth-generation 2020 Outback may be the most significant upgrade yet.

Adopting Subaru’s new Global Platform, stylish Onyx trim and gob-smacking interior, Outback moves beyond its one-dimensional, off-road utility reputation to an attractive cruiser that looks as good in the city as in the country.

I am already familiar with the Global Platform from regular use of my wife’s Impreza hatch, the first GP-equipped Subaru, circa 2017. With more chassis rigidity and structural reinforcement, Impreza’s stiffness is noticeable, making it competitive with class-leading athletes like the VW Golf and Mazda 3.

Its benefits are magnified on the bigger, taller Outback which sits 8.7 inches off the ground to navigate the rocks and gulleys of the great outdoors (and Michigan potholes).

On northern California’s twisted Route 1 with more switchbacks than Joe Biden’s political campaign, the Outback grew in confidence under my lead foot after I got used to its too-light steering. Tree-huggers will be anxious to get to the outback, and the sturdy SUV encourages quick commutes.

Some will be disappointed that the Subie has buried its torquey 256-horse boxer-6 for the zippier 260-horse, 2.4-liter turbo-boxer 4 shared with the three-row Ascent SUV. The turbo mill has more lag but delivers 20 percent better fuel economy. A 182-horse, 2.5-liter flat 4-banger is plenty competent.

The good news is Subaru has also buried its droning CVT transmission for a state-of-the-art CVT that is remarkably quiet with smooth, electronically stepped shifts to mimic a cog-swapper. Subie throws in paddle shifters to up the sporty vibe.

But personality will only get you so far if you’ve got the body of a roll-top desk.

The Outback has always looked ungainly to me — a thickly clad station wagon teetering nearly a foot off the ground with a front overhang the size of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. So I was surprised to find my eyes lingering on Outback’s new Onyx package. Subaru vets will know it as the Sport package on other vehicles.

With lots of mascara and 18-inch black boots, my silver Onyx tester was a looker. The more-sculpted body stampings complement the bulky, lower cladding giving the Outback the appearance of a running shoe on wheels. Onyx may sound exotic, but it’s a middle trim starting at $35,905, meaning you don’t have to pay a premium for the best-looking Outback.

Slip inside and the Outback wows.

Gone is the conservative, blocky decorating. Dash lines curve, door lines slash and the huge vertical tablet anchors the center console. Unlike big screens from other automakers (looking at you, Volvo), the screen is complemented by knobs and the graphics are big as a children’s book for easy viewing.

The Global Platform’s EyeSight system is armed with a ridiculous suite of standard features including 4G WiFi, smartphone connectivity apps, adaptive cruise-control and Level Two autonomous driving that was more advanced than the $165,000 Mercedes G-wagen I recently drove.

The Onyx trim gets a leather-like urethane that shames the mono-black interiors common in luxury cars these days. The seats are a subtle mix of gray and black highlighted by green stitching. Yum.

Still think you want to spend $15,000 more on a comparable premium ute?

The rear seats swallowed my 6-foot-5 knees. A panoramic roof is missing, perhaps to make room for the biggest roof racks you’ve ever seen with tie-down points and concealed cross arms that can hold down an Everest base camp. Rear cargo area matches that of a Grand Cherokee.

With so much ground clearance, I explored the far reaches of north California’s ATV trails, the signature Subie all-wheel drive system digging through dirt like a giant groundhog.

Despite its crossover appeal to luxury buyers, Outback has resisted the premium-price temptation. The fashionable Onyx comes in a whopping $10,000 cheaper than a comparably sized/equipped Chevy Blazer, and $20,000 under its outdoorsy Scandinavian peer, the Volvo XC60.

All that and it boasts the best five-year, cost-to-own numbers recorded by Kelley Blue Book. The icon just got more iconic.

2020 Subaru Outback

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

Price: Base price $27,655 including $1,010 destination charge ($34,455 Limited and $36,905 Onyx as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter direct-injection boxer 4-cylinder; 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder)

Power: 182 horsepower, 176 pound-feet of torque (2.5-liter); 260 horsepower, 277 pound-feet torque (2.4-liter turbo-4)

Transmission: CVT with 8-speed manual-shift mode

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.5 sec. (est.); maximum towing, 3,500 pounds

Weight: 3,634 pounds base (3,884 Onyx as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 26 city/33 highway/29 combined (2.5-liter); 23 city/30 highway/26 combined (2.4-liter turbo-4)

Report card

Highs: Premium interior; stylish Onyx trim value

Lows: A lotta black plastic cladding; miss the flat-6 grunt

Overall: 4 stars

Cadillac’s best-selling XT5 x-pands its capability

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 6, 2019

The 2020 Cadillac XT5 Sport gets upgrades over the standard Luxury model with a 3.6-liter V-6, dual-clutch-pack all-wheel drive system and 20-inch wheels. You'll know the Sport by its blacked-out grille.

The 2020 Cadillac XT5 Sport gets upgrades over the standard Luxury model with a 3.6-liter V-6, dual-clutch-pack all-wheel drive system and 20-inch wheels. You’ll know the Sport by its blacked-out grille. (Photo: Cadillac)

The Cadillac XT5 is the luxury brand’s best-selling model, but the compact-class SUV is not sitting on its laurels.

Three years after its introduction as a 2017 model, XT5 gets a major refresh for 2020 as Cadillac continues to re-position itself as an SUV brand. The new XT5 receives 40 upgrades – most significantly engine, technology and trim upgrades first seen on its subcompact XT4 and midsize XT6 siblings introduced in the last two years.

Throw in an all-new, full-size 2021 Cadillac Escalade coming to market next year and Cadillac’s SUV lineup is poised to be one of the freshest in the industry even as it lags BMW, Audi and Mercedes in sheer numbers of models offered.

The expansion of Cadillac’s ute line comes as GM’s luxury badge appears to be winnowing its three-sedan lineup to two — the forthcoming CT4 and CT5 — with the demise of the CT6 sedan expected this January.

At the center of the XT5’s upgrades is a revised console featuring a new user-experience infotainment interface. Past versions of the interface — the so-called CUE — were innovative but panned by customers for its buttonless, clumsy-to-operate interface. The new system aims to please with three different ways to access the console screen: touch, voice or rotary controller.

First introduced on the XT4, the rotary controller was refined on this year’s XT6 and is as dexterous as BMW’s industry-pioneering system.

Also imported from the XT4 is Cadillac’s 2.0-liter turbo-4 engine, which will complement the workhorse 3.6-liter V-6 that has been a mainstay of the XT5 (and the SRX ute before it). By offering two engine options, the XT5 catches up to the BMW 3-Series, which offers 4- and 6-cylinder options. Both Cadillac engines will be mated to a nine-speed, automatic transmission.

The turbo-4, boasting 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, is offered as the standard mill in the front-wheel drive Luxury trim starting at $45,090 including destination. That’s a hefty $2,400 increase over the outgoing 2019 model. But Cadillac now positions the standard XT5 with a boatload of standard features for that price, including LED headlamps, heated front seats, auto high-beam, lane-keep assist, safety-alert driver’s seat and more.

After the base Luxury model, the XT5’s offerings split into two personalities, following a “Y-trim” strategy shared with other Cadillacs.

A Luxury Premium trim offers a more luxurious ride complemented by brightwork like a chrome grille, while an aggressive Sport model comes with standard all-wheel drive, 20-inch wheels and 310-horse V-6.

The Sport trim is distinguished by blacked-out window trim and grille, and a more-athletic suspension and steering settings. A fancy Platinum trim can be optioned on both the Luxury Premium and Sport trims.

But for the distinct trims, the XT5 externally appears little different from the last generation with minor front and rear fascia upgrades. Consumers may notice new alphanumerics on the trunk-lid depending on their engine choice — “350T” for turbo-4 and “400” for the V-6. The figures represent an approximation of the engines’ torque in Newton-meters, an indicator of Cadillac’s ambitions for an all-electric future in which torque is valued over engine displacement.

As SUVs continue to displace sedan sales, the XT5 now anchors Cadillac’s first full-sport ute lineup.

In so doing it catches up with GM stablemate Buick which has been a pioneer in SUVs with its tiny Encore and hulking, three-row Enclave. Cadillac’s SUV strategy differs from Buick in offering more-athletic vehicles while also boasting some of the best interior elbow-room in the segment.

The last-generation XT5 sought to straddle the subcompact and compact segments. But now with the entry-level XT4 — already the best-selling subcompact SUV in its class — the refined XT5 is intended to target the compact class. It will face formidable competition against established vehicles like the BMW X3 and its array of choices including a coupe-like sister, the X4.

Assembled in Spring Hill, Tennessee, the 2020 XT5 goes on sale later this summer.

Payne: Three-row Cadillac XT6 is the anti-Escalade

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2019

The handsome 2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport starts at $58K and comes standard with all-wheel-drive, blind-spot-assist and fetching looks.

The handsome 2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport starts at $58K and comes standard with all-wheel-drive, blind-spot-assist and fetching looks. (Photo: Cadillac)

For all you Cadillac fans who yearn for a three-row SUV but couldn’t afford the tugboat to dock the Escalade tanker in your driveway, there is good news.

The Cadillac XT6 is here.

Built on a stretched version of the compact unibody chassis that undergirds the two-row XT5, the XT6 feels as you’d expect it would — like an athletic, upsized version of the popular XT5. That will be especially good news to parents who always wanted a three-row Cadillac but thought the truck-based, blingtastic Escalade was more suited for Gronk to take his New England Patriots mates to practice than their kids’ soccer team to a game.

Where the Escalade intimidates, the XT6 invites.

Say hello to the handsome face, a direct descendant of Cadillac’s Escala concept car. With thin headlights complementing a taut grille, XT6 is a nice cut of filet mignon next to the Escalade’s Flintstones rack of brontosaurus.

It’s inside where you will really get comfortable. Last-generation Cadillacs intimidated with their maddening button-free, haptic-touch Cadillac User Experience (CUE) infotainment system. My friend Dicran ran screaming from his XTS, never to return until the brand reformed CUE.

The XT6 is reformed. Indeed, it has one of the best systems in luxedom. Drivers choose how to interact with the console screen: by touch, console buttons, voice commands or a remote rotary controller located at the driver’s elbow.

It’s the same system found in the wee Cadillac XT4 introduced last year (enticing Dicran back into the Caddy fold), but better: the rotary knob now toggles like a BMW (long the rotary innovator). The screen is buried in a generous helping of carbon fiber or real wood depending on your trim, with a big side of stitched leather. Simple and elegant — just like outside — it’s Caddy’s best interior yet.

Women will cheer the console basement storage for their purses — a hidden space made possible by the electronic monostable shifter.

Determined to separate the XT6 from the Escalade but still offer the latter’s living space, veteran Caddy engineer John Plonka and his team chose the smaller XT5 platform over the long-wheelbase C1XX platform that the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia share.

Then they apparently used huge scallop knives to carve out interior space. The second and third row seats are remarkably spacious for 6-foot-5 giraffes like me. And with a lower rear seat floor than Escalade thanks to the unibody, I’m not gnawing on my knees.

On par with the industry’s best, the XT6’s second-row captain chairs (bench seats are standard) can be collapsed with the simple pull of a button. The seats can be adjusted forward-and-back, too. On a cool Washington, D.C., evening, I lounged comfortably under the standard, panoramic moonroof while adjusting my second-row seat heat and climate controls.

But the three-row segment is not a comfortable place for luxury manufacturers these days. While families will welcome the more affordable XT6 positioned under the Escalade, the new ute is squeezed by mainstream makers below.

The Kia Telluride, Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-9 are elegant, three-row SUVs priced $10,000-$20,000 below the XT6 while sporting standard electronic features once exclusive to luxury.

Like the Audi Q7, the XT6 stands out in segment for its bold styling next to curvier BMWs and Merc. With its chiseled edges and rich, vertical LED-taillight piping, the Cadillac deserves a spot in Cranbrook’s sculpture garden.

But mainstreamers are cracking the style code.

At $49,000 the Mazda CX-9 Signature may be the best-looking three-row ute, period. And the Kia Telluride has gone and lifted Cadillac’s design cues — LED-infused vertical lights, sculpted face, headlights pushed to the corners. Then Kia really gets cheeky.

With a leather interior right out of Ethan Allen, the all-wheel drive Kia Sport trim options the same standard sunroof and safety-assist systems as my favorite XT6 Sport trim for $20,000 less. Ouch.

What’s more, the Kia also standardizes adaptive cruise-control, a must-have safety-assist feature (just ask Mrs. Payne, who won’t go near a car without adaptive cruise-control and all-wheel drive) for which the Caddy curiously charges extra.

This from a brand that boasts autodom’s best autonomous drive system, Super Cruise. Adaptive cruise-control is the stepping stone to Level 2 autonomy with its ability to gap traffic on tiring highways trips — a welcome buffer for distracted family drivers.

Elsewhere, the XT6 polishes details you expect from luxury models — like a hydrophobic coating that keeps the rear camera free of mud and spotting. Or a single-button-push self-park system that enables the big ute to squeeze itself into tight downtown, parallel spots. Though once again, Ford’s Explorer turns similar tricks. It’s not easy justifying three-row luxe.

What is easy is going fast in the XT6 Sport, my favorite trim.

Echoing its exterior and interior simplicity (there’s a pattern here), Cadillac also makes it easy to shop using its so-called “Y strategy.” Take the fork in the road and you get chromed front-wheel drive Premium Luxury (all-wheel drive is optional) starting at $53,000 or an all-wheel drive black-mascara Sport for $57,000. Add tech packs for adaptive cruise-control and self-park.

The Sport option oozes talent to go with its looks. While the workhorse 310-horsepower V-6 is standard, the Sport gets adaptive dampers and rear twin-clutch pack for handling. Cadillac is keenly aware that — without a rear-drive platform in its lineup like BMW, Audi, Lincoln — it needs to up its athletic game.

With the ability to throw 100% of torque from one rear wheel to the other, the Cadillac rotates nicely through corners. Quick linebackers like the Dodge Durango SRT and Ford Explorer Sport have sold me on the idea of sporty utes. The XT6 is worthy.

When roads turn icy, the twin-clutch feature will continue to reward. Drop a wheel into a snow rut? The XT6 throws torque electronically to the other wheel and pulls the big ute out.

With a nod to its electric-car investments, Cadillac advertises its engine torque with a 400 alphanumeric (roughly the Newton-meter number) on the rear quarters — but you won’t find any battery-hybrids in the XT6 lineup. Cadillac leaves that to Lexus and Lincoln.

For all its fine-art sculpting, the XT6 is an uncomplicated vehicle. Let Escalade do bling. The new three-row is humbly aimed at families who want reliable, roomy transportation.

There’s one engine choice. Two trim choices (OK, if you want some bling you can splurge on a Platinum package), one nine-speed transmission, 11 standard features.

Cadillac’s brand challenge is whether its original artwork justifies its price tag over the mainstream SUV bargain prints at the frame shop next door.

2020 Cadillac XT6

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, 7- or 8-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $53,690 including $995 destination charge ($65,940 Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 310 horsepower, 271 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph (NA); maximum towing, 4,000 pounds

Weight: 4,441 pounds base (4,690 Sport as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 17 city/24 highway/20 combined

Report card

Highs: Sculpted exterior; user-friendly infotainment

Lows: Lacks standard features of vehicles $20,000 cheaper; gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

Jaguar charges into future with first-ever electric-SUV race

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 26, 2019

The Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy races took place in Brooklyn in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline. The quiet race cars are a good fit for the inner city.

The Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy races took place in Brooklyn in the shadow of the Manhattan skyline. The quiet race cars are a good fit for the inner city. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

New York — The times they are a-changin’.

Earlier this month, the first-ever electric-SUV race — the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy Challenge — took place on American soil, bringing together the two hottest trends in autodom: sport utility vehicles and electrification.

At the same time that car shoppers’ thirst for gas-guzzling SUVs appears unquenchable, governments are also forcing automakers to make battery-powered vehicles. Manufacturers like Jaguar are determined to show the public that the two disparate trends can co-exist. So the eTrophy series was born.

Jaguar eTrophy follows a rich tradition of single-make series (Porsche IROC, BMW ProCar) meant to market a brand. But this international series comes with a significant technology investment as well.

Manufacturers are using e-racing to push the limits of battery tech performance that is far behind its gasoline counterpart.

Featuring 10 4,400-pound crossovers speeding quietly around a fence-lined Brooklyn street course, the eTrophy crowned its first champion on July 14. Brazil’s Andres Jimenez beat out American Bryan Sellars and Team RLL. Team RLL is owned by Indy 500 star Bobby Rahal, comedian David Letterman and businessman Michael Lanigan.

For Jaguar, the season has proved a victory showing that a two-ton-plus bowling ball on wheels can be flogged around a track for 25 minutes in 90-degree heat and survive. That’s a long way from the 24-hour Le Mans marathons that made famous Jaguar’s gas-powered cars over the years, but it’s a start.

“For Jaguar this is a setting you would not normally ascribe to electrified cars especially of the (SUV) variety,” Rahal said trackside. “This highlights the performance of the I-Pace as compared to a Tesla that clearly doesn’t have the performance the I-Pace does. Jaguar is a sport brand. Tesla is about getting you from point A to point B.”

Jaguar hopes racing will help it catch up to Tesla’s dominant e-brand. But eTrophy is also indicative of how far electric cars have to go to catch up with their gas-powered peers.

The eTrophy parallels the open-wheel Formula E race series that showcases the world’s cutting edge of battery technology. For the first time, Formula E in 2019 raced wire-to-wire with a single car after years of switching horses mid-race because the battery could not last 50 minutes.

“In a championship that is trying to promote electric technology, that’s a very difficult message to give when range anxiety is one of the biggest concerns of any electric-car user,” said Jaguar Formula E chief engineer Gary Ekerold. “So there was a real big rush to try and make sure battery technology allowed us to use just one car.”

McLaren Racing developed a new 52-kW battery that more than doubled the capacity of the last-generation car. But the upgrade came at significant cost and exposed the Achilles’ heel of battery power: It nearly doubled the price of a Formula E racer from $500,000 to $900,000.

“The cost of the car has gone up partly due to the battery,” said Ekerold. “Because of the extra weight of the battery, they needed to find other ways of saving weight.”

He said chassis supplier Dallara saved weight with advanced Formula One-spec’d composite materials.

Jaguar hopes the Formula E technology will trickle down to production cars like the I-Pace. Tech transfer is a key reason manufacturers go racing, whether it’s a Honda Civic in IMSA’s Michelin Pilot series or Corvette at the 24 Hours of Daytona.

“The challenge in any tech transfer from the racing environment to production is cost,” says Ekerold. “The cost of the battery in our Formula E cars in a production environment is not realistic. Therefore any hardware tech has to be re-engineered to get cost out of it. So most significant learnings they transfer between racing and is concept and know-how on how to achieve something.”

That reengineering is formidable in the case of a Jaguar I-Pace. Where gasoline counterparts can run like trains for hours with quick fill-ups, the I-Pace targets a 25-minute race.

Like other production-car-turned-race-cars, the I-Pace has been modified for the brutal stresses of racing: Interior stripped and replaced with a roll cage. Brakes upgraded. Removable, racing steering wheel. Lightweight, carbon-fiber body panels. Rear wing.

Of biggest concern is thermal management of the battery. Rather than one cooling system as on the production car, the racing I-Pace has been outfitted with separate chill systems for the battery and electric motor.

Driver Sellars says that the team only runs the battery down to 25-30% of capacity in order to preserve its life over a full season. The more expensive Formula E battery, in contrast, is run to the limit every race.

Then there is the issue of racing an SUV.

NASCAR race cars are notoriously heavy at 3,500 pounds, but they are bespoke race cars engineered from the ground up to do nothing but. A 4-cylinder front-wheel-drive Toyota Camry, for example, shares nothing with a V-8 powered rear-wheel drive Camry NASCAR.

Even when lowered 40mm and outfitted with carbon-fiber panels, the I-Pace is a high-riding 4,409-pound stagecoach. Around the tight Brooklyn circuit, it’s a handful for drivers.

“The weight of the car creates issues,” says Team RLL driver Sellars, who crashed in practice. “It’s hard to do a good lap in the confines of the walls.”

Before 12,000 spectators in Brooklyn, the Formula E and I-Pace racers put on a silent, competitive show. Racing on street tires with top speeds of just 135 mph, the electric cars aren’t nearly as quick as the IndyCars and sport GTs that defy physics around Detroit’s Belle Isle Grand Prix each year.

But IndyCar veteran Rahal loves the spectacle. After all, he’s a Jaguar dealer as well as a race team owner.

He says the race series increases the profile of the I-Pace and brings new people into his showroom. He sells every I-Pace the factory sends him.

“I have no doubt that there are lessons that are coming over the course of the year about the challenges that electrically-powered cars offer,” he says. “You’re driving the car hard in a pretty confined area, so I would to think the Jaguar engineers are getting insight into how the systems are performing and how they can be better.”

Porsche and Mercedes will join the Formula E show next year, while the Jaguar eTrophy series appears destined for a sophomore run. Manufacturer interest has so far come from Europe and China, where governments are mandating EVs. In England, gas-powered company cars are taxed at 30% of value while EVs are tax-exempt.

“Everyone is massively intrigued by it because it is new and exciting,” says Jaguar eTrophy driver Katherine Legge. “It’s the future of automobiles whether buses or cars. I don’t think we’re going to get rid of internal combustion engines, but battery-powered vehicles will be more prominent. It’s cool to be at the forefront.”

Truck Wars: Chevy Silverado tops diesel fuel economy

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 26, 2019

The Chevrolet Silverado's all-new 3.0L Duramax inline-six turbo-diesel engine offers segment-leading torque and horsepower, in addition to a focus on fuel economy and capability.

The Truck Wars have opened a new diesel front.

When the 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel Silverado goes on sale in September, the Detroit Three will all offer diesel options for their 2019 light-duty pickups. On Thursday, Chevy planted its flag at the top of fuel efficiency hill by posting a best-in-class 23 miles per gallon city/33 highway/27 combined fuel-efficiency rating.

The 33 mpg highway figure for a rear-wheel-drive pickup tops the Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel V-6’s previous-best 30 mpg highway, a big margin for fuel-conscious truckers on long-distance tows. The Ram 1500 diesel is rated at 20 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined.

The Silverado bests some compact diesel-crossovers in the U.S. market like the 2019 Mazda CX-5’s 31 mpg, and even outperforms the 2.0-liter gas engine in the Chevy Malibu sedan by 1 mpg.

“This is a significant achievement,” said Andre Smirnov of The Fast Lane Truck, an online truck publication. “It’s a big win for Chevy, and the fuel economy figures are also impressive for the four-wheel drive truck.”

In four-wheel drive configuration, the Silverado racks up best-in-class numbers of 23 city/29 highway/26 combined.

“Credit really smart engineering,” said Silverado chief engineer Tim Herrick. “The diesel is a totally integrated package of aerodynamics, braking, a 10-speed transmission and engine technology that is inherently more balanced than other options.”

The veteran GM engineer said the diesel battle is a watershed as the Detroit Three see an opportunity to put diesel’s dirty reputation in the rear-view mirror with modern, clean and budget-friendly technology.

“Diesel technology has really progressed to be more quiet and responsive. We are looking to change expectations,” Herrick added. “For our small-business and fleet customers, fuel economy is the No. 2 expense after people, and when they do the math, diesel makes a lot of sense.”

The diesel landmark is needed good news for Chevrolet, which has fallen behind the Ram 1500 in pickup sales through the first half of this year: 256,777 Silverados compared to the Ram’s 299,480. The Ford F-150, meanwhile, continues its 40-year segment dominance with 448,398 units sold through June.

While industry observers expect the new Silverado to turn the sales tables on Ram as it ramps up production this year, the Chevy has opened to mixed reviews. While Ford continues to wow with high-tech features — and the smooth-riding Ram with its posh interior walked away with North American Truck of the Year honors — Silverado was panned by some media critics for a polarizing grille and uninspired cabin.

The diesel figures may help put the spotlight on Chevy’s engineering with the class’s biggest rolled-steel pickup bed and chassis light-weighting that saved 400 pounds over the previous generation.

Don’t count the competition out, however.

Despite trailing in gas mileage and horsepower/torque (the Silverado diesel bests the Ford 277 horses/450 pound-feet of torque to 250/440), the F-150 Power Stroke has the class’s best towing capacity with 11,400 pounds compared to the Silverado’s 9,300.

As for Ram, it has the oldest diesel in the segment, having led the trend towards fuel-efficient oil-burners back in 2014. The 1500 pickup is expected to show off its new, 3.0-liter EcoDiesel later this summer, which could better the current engine.

The Duramax diesel is made at GM’s Flint Assembly plant and is the fourth powertrain in the Silverado lineup after a base 2.7-liter turbo-4, 5.3-liter V-8 and a 6.2-liter V-8 with the same displacement as the new mid-engine Corvette.

Mated to a 10-speed transmission, the Chevy diesel can be optioned over the turbo-4 for a $3,890 premium. It is available in higher LTZ and High Country trims over the 5.3-liter V-8 for an additional $2,495.

Payne: Jaguar F-Pace SVR out-growls the Jaguar EV

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 26, 2019

The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace EV bears familiar brand touches like angled headlights and open grille.

The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace EV bears familiar brand touches like angled headlights and open grille.  (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Conventional wisdom these days is that the next generation wants electric cars. Someone forgot to tell my neighbors.

When I arrived at their house with the 2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR, the supercharged V-8 shook the foundation like a California earthquake. Kids poured out the front door, practically dragging their father behind them.

The Jag super-ute is the latest twisted performance SUV to hit the market along with other five-door track monsters like the Porsche Macan Turbo S and Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The SVR is the most powerful missile this side of the insane, 707-horse Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. The Jaguar’s 550 horsepower feed all four wheels for quick dashes to the, um, grocery store.

You know, a family car.

The kids piled three abreast into the F-Pace’s spacious back seat. Their dad turned the key and the Jaguar exploded to life like a hungry zoo animal that had just been thrown a sirloin steak. GROOOOWWWRRRR!

Cheers from the rugrat gallery!

Dad rolled down the street, the big cat gurgling with menace.

When we hit Telegraph Road, father floored it and all hell broke loose. The SVR leapt forward on all four paws, the 5.0-liter V-8 howled in our ears while the eight-speed transmission snapped off millisecond-quick shifts. As the speedo rushed toward triple digits, my neighbor backed off the throttle and the quad tailpipes let out a Snap! Crackle! Pop! like firecrackers on the Fourth of July.

Bedlam in the backseat!

At the helm, their father let out a demented, Tim Allen-like cackle, too.

Nothing growls like a Jaguar.

Which begs the question, why would anyone want an electric Jag? Don’t get me wrong, the I-Pace is a marvelous piece of work. A low-slung crossover, it’s nicely proportioned with big wheels, and a distinctive hatchback profile. Inside, it shares the same switchgear with its Jaguar brethren: digital instrument display, touchscreen, big dials.

Punch the accelerator pedal, and the electric cat pounces with instant torque. Silent. Stealthy.

“Just like a Tesla!” the neighbors said when I brought it by a few months back.

But if your ship has finally come in and you have $80,000 in the bank, do you want a Jaguar that sounds like a Tesla — or a Jaguar that growls like a Jaguar?

Conventional wisdom these days holds that, as more electric SUVs from Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, etc., flood the market, Tesla sales will fade. I have my doubts. As do customers apparently.

Despite rave media reviews and a trophy case full of Best Car of Year honors, the 2019 Jaguar I-Pace electric car sells just over 200 cars a month.

Brand matters and Tesla has established itself as a pioneering EV brand. Jaguar’s brand is also very strong but for other reasons. For decades the nouveau riche have gravitated to Jaguar for its slinky designs, racing success and … growl.

There’s also the fact that the F-Pace SVR is not just emotionally more satisfying to the I-Pace (my neighbors are still grinning from their ride), but is superior in most other ways including cargo room, head room, and — crucially — range.

Open up the F-Pace SVR on I-75 and you’ll drink gas so fast I swear I saw the gas gauge needle moving. But there are filling stations everywhere on your way to the glorious beaches of northern Michigan.

Lead-foot the I-Pace and you won’t get to your destination easily.

Unlike Tesla and its exclusive network of Level 3, 150-kilowatt DC superchargers, the Jaguar is dependent on independent charging networks like Electrify America. And EA has no superchargers north of Lansing (and none on the I-75 corridor). Even where 240-volt Level 2 chargers exist, I have found service to be spotty.

On a recent trip to Charlevoix in a Tesla Model 3, I juiced up in Gaylord with plans to top up Charlevoix’s Level 2 charger during my week stay there. Alas, that  charger was out of order, limiting my range around town.

Such limitations could throw a wet blanket on the family vacation.

The gas-powered F-Pace, on the other hand, will not only get you to the far corners of Lake Michigan — it’ll do so with gusto.

Nothing sours the next generation on electric cars like limiting their vacation options. And from my own experience, nothing makes my wife more nervous than the idea that an electric car will strand us on a Lake Michigan peninsula.

The F-Pace also comes with more affordable options than the electric I-Pace.

Halo cars like the F-Pace SVR are designed in part to bring folks into the dealership to whet their appetite. But if my $89,900 side of beef tester is too much for the bank account, customers can choose more affordable fare like the base, $44,900 F-Pace turbo-4 or the $60,000 turbo-6.

As a result, Americans are gobbling up about 1,200 F-Paces a month. If the electric I-Pace is your cup of tea, then it’s a pricey cup of tea. Lithium-ion batteries are expensive to make and the EV SUV starts at $70,000.

For most families, the $45,000 F-Pace’s handsome Jaguar grille and interior will do just fine, thank you very much. Like the TV ads with tennis star Kei Nishikori tooling around in an F-Pace shadowed by his alter-ego self in the original SVR, the F-Type two-door sports car, they will be content with the Jaguar image.

For the truly deranged (like yours truly) there is the 550-horse F-Pace SVR. So on your way to dropping the kids off at soccer practice you can head over to Woodward and prowl the stoplights for unsuspecting V-8-powered Dodge Challenger R/Ts.

Set launch control by depressing the brake pedal with your left foot. Then bury the accelerator pedal. Then release the brake.


AWESOOOOOME! go the kids.

Sit back and watch the Challenger disappear in your mirrors as you hit 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds. The Challenger will arrive after 5.1. I should note here that the I-Pace EV will clock the same zero-60 time as cousin F-Pace. But it’ll use up a lot more range in doing so, and without a convenient charging station nearby.

And without that Jaguar growl.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR

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

Price: Base price $81,015, including $1,025 destination charge ($89,900 as tested)

Powerplant: 5.0-liter supercharged V-8

Power: 550 horsepower, 502 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3 sec. (Car and Driver); top speed: 176 mph

Weight: 4,395 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 16 city/22 highway/18 combined; range: 489 miles

Report card

Highs: V-8 thrills for the family; long range

Lows: Pricey; infotainment system can be slow

Overall: 4 stars

2019 Jaguar I-Pace

Vehicle type: Electric, four-passenger luxury SUV

Price: $70,495 base including $995 destination fee ($86,895 First Edition as tested)

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

Power: 394 horsepower, 512 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Automatic, single-speed

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

Weight: 4,784 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Handsome looks; electric torque

Lows: Slow infotainment screen; lack of charging infrastructure

Overall: 3 stars

8 things that make the 8th-generation Corvette special

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

Orange County, California – So now you’ve finally seen it. It’s not a Bigfoot or Sasquatch. The mid-engine 2020 Chevy Corvette C8 is real.

And it’s a rocket. You’ve seen the headliners: Sub-3-second zero-60 time, dual-clutch transmission, 495 horsepower. All for under $60,000. But beyond the swashbuckling performance are dozens of details that remake the car from the ground up.

We interviewed the Corvette’s development team to highlight eight unique aspects of this ambitious eighth-generation car.

1. What, no manual transmission?

The demise of the stick is industry wide, but purists will really feel its loss in Corvette, a powerful sports car that is fun to manhandle with a manual.

“Originally we wanted a manual,” says Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter. “But there’s a bunch of negatives. First, there is affording it because that would be another bespoke transmission. We see our own manual volume dwindling to near zero. We would have to make some pretty serious architectural compromises to do that.”

Like punching a hole in the aluminum spine for the cable, for example, thus compromising the car’s structural rigidity. And for what? The new dual-clutch 8-speed automatic promises to be stupid quick. So quick the car rockets to 60 mph in under 3 seconds with just 495 horsepower.

2. How can they make it so cheap?

The Corvette C8 claims the same performance numbers as the $270,000 all-wheel-drive Lamborghini Huracan EVO for a quarter of the price. Indeed, it equals the Huracan’s sub-3 second time despite having 145 less horsepower and only rear-wheel drive.

“It’s magic,” laughs Juechter. Well, that and GM’s ample resources. Bespoke premium makes like Lambo have to make every car by hand.

“There’s advantage with GM in a lot of ways. We can leverage GM economies of scale,” says Juechter. “This (V-8) engine will be built on a high-volume production line along with truck engines. We put the cost in the content because our manufacturing costs are way down.”

3. First-class luxury

“We had the opportunity to experience the LaFerrari when it came out, and the Porsche 918 and the Bugattis. We talked about what made those cars special,” says interior designer Mike Murphy.

The ‘Vette boasts standard premium features at under $60,000 that wouldn’t be out of place in those $1 million chariots. Like a 1.5-inch front suspension lift for steep driveways or speed bumps, and it’s GPS programmable to remember up to 1,000 locations no less. You also get stitched leather interior, fully digital displays, even Tesla-like over-the-air updates.

That’s a Chevy?

4. The Bedford Six

While its mid-engine layout draws comparison to exotic Europeans like Ferrari and McLaren, the Stingray’s character is all-American right down to its home-brewed, six-piece aluminum structure made at GM Powertrain in Bedford, Indiana. Ford outsourced its mid-engine GT to a Canadian race shop. The V-8 powered C8 is assembled in Kentucky. That Porsche-like, dual-clutch gearbox? Made in Wixom by Tremec.

Juechter again: “We wanted to combine German instantaneous shifting with American big-bore responsiveness, low-end torque, sound quality.”

5. Why is the steering wheel square?

The current-generation Corvette’s steering wheel already a flat-bottom for better legroom. As Corvette developed its huge, 12-inch instrument display, engineers found it easier to see the upper corners with the top flattened as well.

The wheel is also akin to the C7.R’s racing yoke which drivers find easier to use because their hands are always in the optimal 3-and-9 o’clock position.

6. Rear window

The original Corvette Stingray was a 1963 split-window. Chevy fans like Ken Lingenfelter remember that as the car that made them fall in love with Corvette. Designers have made the rear window a focus of the 2020 Stingray as well — except this time it’s showing off the 6.2-liter V-8 instead of the ’63 car’s cargo space.

The split window ultimately gave way to a single pane after complaints about rear visibility. The new Corvette offers a visibility solution: the camera mirror. The camera itself is mounted on the roof for unobstructed views out back.

7. Hidden access panels

The C8 is one sleek beast, from its sculpted nose to its deeply scalloped rocker panels. Determined not to interrupt the flow, designers hid all panel access. Forget door handles — a button under the side intake blade opens the door.

8. Cargo space in a sports car?

Locating the engine amidships usually means compromising cargo space. Want to pack luggage in an Alfa Romeo 4C? Fuhgeddaboudit.

The C8 is an exception. Sure, cargo space shrinks from the C7’s 15 cubic feet to 12.6. But you can still fit two golf bags (or the removable roof) in the trunk, and a carry-on and laptop bag in the front “frunk.”

So proud is Corvette of its luggage space that you can actually purchase a five-piece set of designer Corvette luggage.

Load ‘em in, it’s gonna be a quick trip.

Revealed: Chevrolet takes the wraps off mid-engine Corvette C8

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

The 2020 Chevy Corvette Stingray will go into production in late 2019 for the 2020 model year.

Orange County, California — Chevrolet officially introduced the first-ever mid-engine Corvette supercar late Thursday night, and there is nothing middling about it.

After a patriotic homage to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, General Motors President Mark Reuss drove the 2020 Corvette C8 onto the stage of a World War II-era blimp hangar outside Los Angeles. The radically new car, he said, “represents one giant leap for Corvette.”

Then he rattled off numbers that made the 1,400 Corvette fans, dealers and journalists in attendance gasp: zero-60 mph in less than 3 seconds at a cost of less than $60,000.

Those acceleration numbers are on par with the front-engine, supercharged, 650-horsepower Corvette Z06’s 2.95-second time. They are comparable to the $270,000, 640-horse, mid-engine Lamborghini Huracan costing more than four times as much.

The most anticipated car of the year, the long-rumored Corvette C8 (for eighth-generation) carries the legendary “Stingray” badge. It looks to be a tour de force of sculpted styling with state-of-the-art electronics.

Even as the C8 relocates the engine amidships like an Italian sports car in a move to give it more nimble handling, the car does not lose its signature V-8. Like ‘Vettes of old, the engine will deliver 495 horsepower to the rear wheels.

Nor does the Corvette lose its signature value-play: supercar performance for an affordable price. Alleviating concerns that the exotic mid-engine technology would balloon the sticker price, the new C8 is priced only a few thousand dollars above the current C7’s $56,000 price tag.

This is as good a value as any performance car ever,” raved Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer.

Added Reeves Callaway, founder of the renowned Callaway Cars that modifies and races muscle cars: “Corvette has cracked the code. No other automaker does better a great auto at a low price.”

The mid-engine design will serve to give better rear-weight distribution over the C8’s rear Michelins. The car adds launch control, and there’s a standard dual-clutch eight-speed automatic transmission (brace yourselves, purists: there is no manual option).

“The traditional front-engine vehicle reached its limits of performance, necessitating the new layout,” said Reuss, a race-licensed motorhead who was key to pushing the revamped car. “In terms of comfort and fun, it still looks and feels like a Corvette, but drives better than any vehicle in Corvette history.”

The C8’s design avoids the awkward proportions that often plague mid-engine cars (the rear-heavy 1990 Acura NSX and sideburn-clad Audi R8 come to mind). It bears comparison to mid-engine lookers like the Lotus Evora and Ferrari 488.

“We felt this had to be something new — beyond — and still look Corvette,” exterior designer Kirk Bennion said. “The new proportion is key … with the cockpit forward 16 inches, a whole new centerline and a faster windshield. That really sets up the car.”

Design cues are carried over from the current-generation C7 with sharp edges, horizontal tail lamps and creased flanks. Designers found inspiration in the F-22 fighter jet — as do Lamborghini architects — and supercar fans will note similarities like the huge outboard front air-intakes. This is a muscular supercar compared to exotic shapes like the McLaren 720 or Ford GT.

The interior maintains the C7 generation’s dimensions while advancing its interior and materials appointments. Wrapped in a cockpit of stitched leather, the driver grips a squared-off steering wheel to better view the 12-inch, digital instrument display. A console touchscreen is rotated toward the pilot with a Porsche-like sleeve of control buttons down the raised center spine.

The C8 will be offered with right-hand drive for international markets. Another first.

Perhaps most controversial will be the Acura-like automatic “trigger” transmission. Drive, reverse and park are operated along a line of toggled buttons.

The manual transmission has been sacrificed to speed and cost, due to the complexities of adding a different gearbox to the already-complicated transaxle that mates the V-8 to the rear wheels.

Purists will miss the stick, but the C7 had proved clumsy with its tri-gate seven-speed box. A new dual-clutch Tremec transmission should help reach that claimed sub-3-second time (when paired with the performance Z51 package).

The eight-speed is mated to an old friend: Chevy’s small-block V-8 used in everything from Camaros to pickups. But this so-called LT2 mill has a few new tricks up its sleeve. One is a standard race-car-like dry oil-sump required to deal with the higher g-loads generated by the mid-engine layout.

Though GM is only talking about the entry-level Stingray for now, reports suggest future engines will include high-revving twin-turbo V-8s and even a hybrid version with an electric motor up front.

For now, the front is occupied by a “frunk” (short for front trunk) — new cargo space opened up by the migration of the engine. Like a Porsche Boxster/Cayman, it will swallow a small suitcase. More cargo space is found behind the engine, which will be under hatchback glass for viewing like the crown jewels at the Tower of London.

True to Corvette tradition, the boot will fit two golf bags. Together, frunk and trunk offer 12.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, down from 15 cubic feet in the C7 hatch. Should the occupants want to go topless, the roof can be stored in the trunk. Door, hood and hatch releases are hidden so as not to interrupt the car’s lines.

The package is wrapped around an all-new aluminum architecture. Six high-strength beams (Juechter calls them the “Bedford Six” because they are produced at GM’s Bedford, Indiana powertrain plant) anchor the car. A carbon-fiber bumper helps reduce weight, but overall the mid-engine car appears heavier than the outgoing C7 with a dry weight of a porky 3,366 pounds.

The infamous composite “leaf springs” are scrapped, with all four corners getting coil-over springs and short-long arm suspension.

With the engine amidships, the driver is pushed 16 inches forward. The steering ratio quickens from 16.2 to 15.7. Engineer Juechter promises the most intuitive-handling ‘Vette yet.

“Our mission was to develop a new type of sports car, combining the successful attributes of Corvette with the performance and driving experience of mid-engine supercars,” he says.

Secreted inside is GM’s new electronic architecture (allegedly the culprit in C8’s delayed arrival). The electronics promise Tesla-like over-the-air updates.

Other electronics at drivers’ fingertips include a 1.5-inch ride lift — triggered in 2.8 seconds at speeds up to 24 mph — to better navigate bumpy Detroit streets. Next to the trigger transmision are the traditional Weather, Tour, Sport and Track drive-modes, plus configurable MyMode and Z modes.

Chevy says there are 12 exterior hues like Torch Red, Arctic White and Sebring Orange — plus three newbies: Rapid Blue, Zeus Bronze and Accelerate Yellow.

Seats come in three styles: GT1, GT2, and heavily bolstered Competition. They can be optioned in color themes from Jet Black to Morello Red. Seatbelt colors and carbon-fiber accents offer more choice.

The new Corvettes will start to roll of their Bowling Green, Kentucky, line later this year.

2020 Chevy Corvette provisional specs

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, 2-passenger supercar

Price: Under $60,000

Powerplant: 6.2-liter, pushrod V-8

Power: 495 horsepower at 6,450 rpms, 470 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Dual-clutch, 8-speed automatic

Performance: Under 3 seconds (mfr.)

Weight: 3,366 pounds (dry weight, no fluids)

Fuel economy: NA

Chevrolet premieres mid-engine 2020 Corvette

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

The mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette is one of the most anticipated cars of the year — make that century.

It was shadowed for years by spy photographers. It rolled through New York’s Times Square this spring in camouflage. It’s been teased in a video.

Now, it’s finally here.

It will be revealed by GM President Mark Reuss and the ‘Vette team in a WWII blimp hangar in Orange County, California at 10:30 p.m. EST today.

Follow coverage of the event at, as The Detroit News will be on-site, bringing you the latest information.

Why now? How the 2020 mid-engine Corvette came to be

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

The men behind the machine: The 2020 Chevy Corvette Stingray was developed by, from left, Mike Simcoe, exterior designer; Mike Murphy, interior designer; Tadge Juechter, chief engineer; with Harlan Charles, marketing boss.

The mid-engine Chevy Corvette C8 arrived in California’s Orange County on Thursday night like a cyborg from the future. It is the iconic supercar’s first production model with the engine bolted behind the driver’s ear.

Incredibly, it’s an idea that has been germinating inside General Motors’ tech center for more than 60 years.

Since the late 1950s, GM engineers have debated the advantages of a mid-engine layout. They produced multiple prototypes, and GM even green-lighted a mid-engine car for production in 2007 before the financial crisis put an end to that.

The decision to finally produce the eighth-generation 2020 Corvette with a mid-engine was the result of a perfect alignment of engineering, marketing and financial wherewithal.

“We seriously started thinking to do it with the sixth generation,” said Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter at an interview in GM’s Warren design dome with fellow team members ahead of the C8’s Thursday reveal.

“The 2009 ZR1 had 638 horsepower. Even (the generation) before that … we knew that we were stretching the limits of what we could do from a performance standpoint with a front-engine car.”

He continued, walking around a Sebring Orange C-8: “It’s the same reason that race cars in elite categories migrated from front to rear engines in the 1960s. Zora knew that. He was a huge advocate for it.”

“Zora” is Zora Arkus-Duntov, the so-called “father of the Corvette” who took over the sports car program in the 1950s and molded it into an icon.

“He knew already that if you want to push the performance envelope of the ‘Vette, you had to push in that direction,” Juechter said.

It wasn’t just a handling issue in the early days. It was also a question of driver comfort. Writer Don Sherman has covered Arkus-Duntov and the mid-engine car’s development for decades.

“It came to him after Corvette had dropped out of the Sebring 12-hour race in 1957 … because driver John Fitch’s feet were being cooked by exhaust pipes” from the engine mounted in front of him, said Sherman. “Pondering that, Zora told me … that he had concluded that the heat source had to be behind the driver.”

Multiple prototypes followed.

In 1960, Arkus-Duntov built the single-seat, mid-engine Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle — the CERV I — with a powerful V-8 driving the rear wheels. The prototype hit 206 mph at GM’s Milford Proving Ground and would ultimately inspire the second-generation, production Corvette C2’s independent rear suspension.

The CERV II, a mid-engine, all-wheel-drive roadster followed in 1964. In 1968, GM dropped jaws at the New York Auto Show with the sleek Astro II, which was a response to Ford’s Le Mans-winning GT40 mid-engine racer. More GM prototypes were born including an aluminum-body XP-895 in 1972, the 1973 “Aerovette” and the 1986 “Indy,” which was also known as the CERV III. There was even a V-12 Cadillac Cien concept car in 2002.

“When Zora tried to do it, GM would say: ‘But the (front-engine) car is doing great as it is,’” said Corvette marketing guru Harlan Charles. “The horsepower levels weren’t where they are today, and they had all these packaging challenges that they didn’t know how to solve, but we know how to solve now.

“That’s why now is the time.”

Finally, in 2007, the passionate Juechter and team got the green light to produce a seventh-generation, mid-engine ‘Vette.

The Great Recession and GM’s resulting financial emergency squashed it.

“In retrospect, it was probably a blessing because there were a lot of things we had to learn with the aluminum body in addition to learning production the mid-engine car,”  Charles said.

Instead of producing a mid-engine C7 post-bankruptcy, the team stuck with the front-engine architecture. But for the first time, they crafted it from aluminum. That meant GM brought aluminum construction in-house for the first time, a huge investment in know-how that would ultimately benefit the C8.

“It’s glued and screwed, as we say,” said Juechter. “You build the running chassis, then you put the exterior panels on last like a race car. We learned those construction techniques from the C7.”

Perhaps most significantly, the bankruptcy — for all its stress — honed the team’s mid-engine pitch to go back to leadership for a second bite at the mid-engine apple.

The Corvette team knew its demographic was aging. New generations of car buyers aspire to mid-engine cars: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche. But the typical Corvette buyer also worried about losing the practicality the ‘Vette offered: affordability, interior room, cargo space.

“We took a step back. What if we could make this a unique, mid-engine car?” said Charles. “Keep the things that people like about the Corvette: the small-block V-8, the power-to-weight ratio, the ability to take it cross-country. Add the exotic experience of a mid-engine car … with the road in your lap, quick steering, no weight on the front.

“If we can put those attributes together, and make it attainable …  you really have a car that no one else can match.”

Mid-engine supercars are cool. But cool isn’t a business case. Management liked the team’s business pitch.

“We had no ‘cool’ description in any of our presentations. It was tactical, business, functional, physics-driven,” remembers Juechter. “Here’s why it makes sense for us.”

The C8 was on.

The engineers and designers rave about the car’s state-of-the-art attributes: dual-clutch automatic transmission, aluminum spine, upscale interior and that mid-engine athleticism.

“The whole car rotates better — it’s just pinned in the back,” marvels Juechter. “It’s surprisingly stable, it feels super nimble. It’s actually better than we anticipated.”

For all its modernity, there is also a nod to the middiecar’s GM history.

“We kept (the old prototypes) in the studio for inspiration. The Astro II is one of our favorites,” exterior designer Kirk Bennion said. “We had the Aerovette out, the Indy, we had them all out.”

Payne: Mini Cooper JCW Knights Edition is a killer rabbit

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

The 2019 Mini Cooper JCW Knights Edition is a hoot to drive with 228 horsepower and nimble, FWD handling.

Count on the Brits for a bit of fun.

The comedy troupe Monty Python infected my family years ago with its humor. Call out a scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and we are suddenly diverted from the moment. Our accents transform, our faces contort into character, and we recite the lines from memory: The French Taunter. The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. The Knights Who Say “Ni!”

The 2019 Mini Cooper JCW Knights Edition is like that. It’s a hilarious diversion from the everyday five-door sea of utes on our byways.

Mini, of course, is not so mini anymore. Now a member of the BMW family, the hatchback is based on the similar front-wheel drive platform used for small Bimmers, giving it a 98-inch wheelbase that is big stretch from the wee 80-inch shoeboxes that made the Oxford-built Mini a ’60s legend.

But next to your average Ford Explorer, the Brit is a midget, and its signature bits haven’t changed: square shape, mirrors the size of bowling balls, goggle-eyed headlamps.

Add on the special JCW Knights trim and it’s like throwing the Killer Rabbit into the middle of King Arthur’s army. JCW stands for John Cooper Works, the hot-hatch edition of the Mini named after its English co-founder. He’d be proud. The JCW is stuffed with performance in the tradition of a car that has slayed many a larger competitor on track: 228 horsepower, taut suspension, Sport performance mode.

The Knights edition turns up the volume.

Its armor is as black as the suits of the Knights Who Say “Ni!”, giving it a comically sinister look. Its front bumper is smeared with red paint. It’s as if a goggle-eyed minion from the “Despicable Me” movies (another Payne favorite) threw on a black Ninja suit and tied a red bandana.

Add to the comic fierceness a body tattooed with faux performance accents like racing stripes, fake hood scoop, fake front gills, fake rear diffuser. Start it up and the Mini snorts to life through twin tailpipes.

“None shall pass!” growls the Black Knight.

Flick the drive-mode switch to Sport and the JCW swaggers down the street barking and farting obnoxiously like the French Taunter (uninitiated Pythonites can look it up on YouTube). Like the signature big peepers outside, the Mini sports a unique, Broadway kick-line of switches on the lower console. Off/on anchors the middle.

Like an airline pilot, I habitually flicked On, Sport and Stop/Start switches in sequence when jumping into the cockpit. It’s here that BMW’s stern German demeanor interrupts British levity.

Like its diesel-shamed countryman Volkswagen, BMW literature these days is full of sober sermons about a dying planet and endangered polar bears. That piety translates to the wee Brit in the form of the annoying Start/Stop button (making Mini cough at stoplights) and Green driving mode.

Yes, a Green driving mode in a JCW Knights edition. It makes as much sense as a pink bow on a Rottweiler and I suspect it will be the Cooper’s most ignored feature.

Happily, the BMW influence is felt in other, more meaningful areas. Like the drivetrain.

As an upscale front-engine hot-hatch, the JCW faces formidable competition from the VW Golf GTI, Mazda 3, Hyundai Veloster N and Honda Civic Type R. Its BMW-derived technology is worthy of the challenge.

BMW’s trusty 2.0-liter turbo-4 pumps out 228 horses and a healthy 236 pound-feet of torque. The driveline puts the power down beautifully without torque-steer. Outfitted with sturdy, six-speed manual shifter (auto optional) with the stalk rising out of the console like Excalibur from the lake (“You can’t expect to wield supreme power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!”), the Mini is a hoot to row through the gears.

German engineering also aids in the front-wheel driver’s rotation. Where most front-wheel drive cars struggle on turn-in, the autocross-focused Mini is outfitted with front torque-vectoring in which rotation into corners is aided by braking the inside front wheel. The result is sharp no-plow turn-in. I was tempted by vacant parking lots to do full-throttle tire-burning loops, normally something I would only try in, say, a rear-wheel drive Camaro.

But brake-induced torque-vectoring is not the same as the more sophisticated limited-slip differential found on the Golf GTI and Type-R (which will also carve a mean apex), and it begs my cloth-seat, $41,050 JCW’s value compared to these much more affordable five-door hot-hatches.

With just three doors (including the hatch), the Mini is space-challenged compared to its segment peers. Rear-seat room for giant knights like me (after I contorted myself behind the front seat) isn’t bad, but hatch cargo-space is virtually nonexistent. If you pick up four at the airport, expect to carry baggage in your lap.

Perhaps the short-wheelbase Mini doesn’t need limited-slip, but my Knight was shy on other technology as well. Like blind-spot assist. I count it as a safety essential and it’s standard on compacts costing thousands of dollars below the JCW. Then again, the JCW has irresistible touches like the British flag formed by criss-crossing LEDs in the taillights. Dude, cool.

In keeping with its quirky nature, the Brit offers the best navigation system this side of a smartphone — better than the $58,000 BMW 3-series I recently tested. Where the German couldn’t understand my American accent, the Mini and I conversed like old friends.

“Navigate to Kart-2-Kart in Sterling Heights,” I barked. No problem. The directions popped up instantly — complete with quickest route in rush hour traffic. Hmmm, maybe the wee Brit wanted to take some kart laps itself.

The screen was easy to negotiate on the Mini’s dinner-plate-sized center touch screen. Don’t like touchscreens? There’s a BMW-derived remote rotary-dial just like a 3-series. This Brit-German marriage shares some interesting DNA.

For the most part, the German bits are a plus. BMW doesn’t cut corners on the interior. From round console to round dial to round speakers, this is Mini funhouse all the way. Change drive-modes and the console screen changes colors — Red! Orange! Green! — like a carnival ride.

The Mini JCW Knight is an expensive ticket to fun. But for the initiated, it’s got a cute, maniacal character all its own.

“Run away! That rabbit’s dynamite!”,as King Arthur might yell.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW Knights Edition

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

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 2,860 pounds

Price: $32,750 base JCW including $850 destination fee ($41,065 Knights Edition as tested)

Power: 228 horsepower, 236 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.1 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 153 mph

Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/32 highway/28 combined

Report card

Highs: Mini fierce; nimble handling

Lows: Lacks standard safety-assist features; pricey

Overall: ★★★

Long-awaited mid-engine Corvette C8 debuts Thursday

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2019

After denying the existence of the mid-engine Corvette C8 for years, the automaker drove a camouflaged one through Times Square in April.

The mid-engine Corvette tease is almost over.

Next Thursday, all will be revealed about the new Corvette C8, the first Corvette to place the engine behind the driver.

The premiere in Orange County, Calif., follows years of speculation as to when Chevrolet’s iconic sports car would finally go mid-engine. Prototypes of the mid-mounted ‘Vette date all the way back to the early 1960s. General Motors insiders say the program was green-lighted for production as early as 2007, but was shelved by the Great Recession.

The Detroit News confirmed plans for the mid-engine model as the eighth-generation Corvette (thus the C8 badge) in August 2016. GM finally admitted to the model’s existence in April when Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and GM CEO Mary Barra dropped jaws by driving a camouflaged C8 through New York’s Times Square in the middle of rush hour.

Next week’s reveal of the C8 will take place in the historic Tustin Hangar No. 2 about 40 miles south of Los Angeles. At 17 stories tall and 1,000 feet long, the twin blimp hangars built in 1942 are among the largest wood structures ever made. The hangars were completed just over a decade before the first-generation, front-engine Chevy Corvette.

Not much — and a lot — has changed since the first Corvette was introduced in 1953.

The two-seater sold slowly in its early years until the program was handed over to Zora Arkus-Duntov, the “Father of the Corvette,” who turned the car into an American icon starting with the introduction of a V-8 engine in 1955.

The front-engine car would endure, but Arkus-Duntov was convinced that a mid-engine platform was preferable even in the early years.

“It came to him after Corvette had dropped out of the Sebring 12-hour race in 1957 … because driver John Fitch’s feet were being cooked by exhaust pipes” from the engine mounted in front of him, says writer Don Sherman who has reported on the Corvette for decades. “Pondering that, Zora told me … that he had concluded that the heat source had to be behind the driver.”

Dozens of prototypes were produced over the years, but none made it to the production line. Until now.

Heavily camouflaged C8’s were first caught by the lens of spy photographers at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds test facility in mid-2016. Sources told The Detroit News that GM was pouring some $800 million into Corvette’s Bowling Green assembly plant and paint facility to produce the new car.

“The program I got approved in ’07 was $900 million,” former GM product chief Bob Lutz told The Detroit News in 2016, “and included a Cadillac XLR with a supercharged Northstar engine. If the current program is $800 million, I’d bet it includes a different-bodied Cadillac again as well.”

Cadillac’s priorities have shifted to SUV production, but the mid-engine Corvette stayed on track.

As the C8’s development matured, pictures of it in the wild began to proliferate in the last year like grainy shots of Sasquatch. There was video of the car testing at the Nürburgring and Sebring race tracks, and on mountain roads outside San Diego. There was even footage of GM President Mark Reuss riding shotgun in a C8 on an Arizona highway.

Yet GM continued to deny the supercar’s existence.

Rumors ran rampant that the car would debut at this year’s Detroit auto show. The show came and went without a sighting. Sources said the car was suffering from issues ranging from chassis twist to, most convincingly, complications with a new electronics system to be introduced across GM’s lineup.

Then suddenly, the thinly camouflaged C8 appeared in Times Square this spring. Emblazoned on its side was the not so-cryptic 07.18.19, telegraphing the car’s official debut July 18.

Expect Chevy to reveal only the base model next Thursday, though the C8 should get multiple model options in coming years including a high-revving, flat-plane crank V-8 engine. There could even be a hybrid model with an electric motor up front that complements a ferocious twin-turbo V-8 in back. And then there’s the racing version set to debut at the Daytona 24-Hour race in January against other mid-engine weapons like the Ferrari 488.

Radical as its mid-engine layout is, the base C8 should still get the 6.2-liter, small-block pushrod V-8 that has reliably powered front-engine Corvettes for generations. Purists will surely grumble, however, at the lack of a manual transmission option; the C8 will be offered only with a dual-clutch 8-speed automatic.

In today’s supercar world, lighting-quick automatics are vastly superior to manuals, and Chevy didn’t need the added complication of designing a mid-engine transaxle with a manual option.

Pricing for the C8 has not been released, but the Corvette made its mark over the years by offering the same capabilities as Lamborghini and Porsche Turbos stickering for two to three times as much. Don’t expect that to change, although without a manual option, the base Corvette is expected to cost $4,000-$5,000 more than the current $57,000 front-engine model.

Payne: Honda Civic mutates into TCR track monster

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2019

Based on the Honda Civic Type R, right, the Honda Civic TCR race car weighs just over 2,700 pounds (including driver) and  sports 340 horsepower and a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox.

Based on the Honda Civic Type R, right, the Honda Civic TCR race car weighs just over 2,700 pounds (including driver) and sports 340 horsepower and a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox. (Photo: The Detroit News)

You’ve heard of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But what if Mr. Hyde also had a crazed alter ego? Call them Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyper-Hyde.

Honda calls ’em Dr. Civic, Mr. Type-R and Mr. TCR.

The Honda Civic Type-R is the ultimate deranged Civic. With 306 horsepower and wings and air intakes sprouting from every body panel, Mr. Type-R is the 158-horse Honda Civic hatchback on steroids. But then Honda went out and made a 340-horse racer version called the TCR to compete in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race series.

I had a chance to flog the TCR around Pontiac’s Champion Speedway at M1 Concourse, and it has about as much in common with a Type R as I do with Michael Jordan. Sure, the TCR and Civic are both front-wheel drive and turbo-4 powered — just like Michael and I are both 6-foot-5 and shoot right-handed.

But what the TCR does show is that, when blessed with the right automotive DNA, a front-wheel drive race car can be remarkably athletic. It is also a window into entry-level professional motorsport and its steep entry costs.

When the latest 10th-generation Civic was introduced in 2016, it had the Type-R and TCR in mind.

The Japanese brand has been marinated in racing since its birth. Its logo has graced every level of motorsport from Formula One to IndyCar to sports car prototype. But it has been the compact Civic that has carried the production performance flag.

Like Mazda and its affordable Miata sports car, Honda’s performance halo is the small Civic. Ford has the $700,000 GT, Nissan the $100,000 GT-R and Chevy the $57,000 Corvette. But Honda asks that you merely put down $36,620 smackeroos on a Civic Type-R.

That’s R as in GRRRRRRRR.

The powerful Type R hot-hatch is the ultimate production expression of the $20,000 Civic. For another 16 grand it undergoes a Hyde-like transformation that sprouts a wing, Brembo brakes, air intakes and beefed-up suspension to become a fire-breathing, front-wheel track rat aimed squarely at more expensive weapons like the all-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf R and rear-wheel drive Chevy Camaro V-6.

With its garish aerofoil and scoops it looks like it was designed by a crayon-wielding 12-year-old, but it has the track instincts of a seasoned vet.

I took it out on Champion Raceway and immediately began to wring its neck, so intuitive are its handling and controls.

Concerned that Civic had grown domesticated, Honda baselines its sixth-generation car to the Audi A3, for goodness sake. This benefits every model in the Civic’s sprawling range, from Sport hatchback to Si Coupe to the insane Type R.

The R has been tweaked with suspension geometry wizardry like limited-slip front differential and bigger knuckles. Not only can I fling it around the track, but it looks wicked doing so, its rear wing poised like the tail of a scorpion (now, there’s a good name for a sports car). The manual gearbox is the tightest thing this side of a Porsche — no missed shifts here — but under the cane the front-wheel drive R will push.

Throw out all assumptions with the race-prepared, track-only Civic TCR race car

This is a weapon that competes against rockets like the Audi RS3 (so that explains the Audi baseline thing) and Alfa Giulietta in the Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR race class as well as compact competitors like the Hyundai Veloster entered by no less than IndyCar’s Bryan Herta race team.

Built to highly regulated racing specs, Honda takes Type Rs off its Swinden, England, assembly line and ships them to Italy where the R is hollowed out like a baked potato then stuffed with racy spices like a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox, big front brake rotor and an even bigger rear wing.

It’s a beast. Squeezed into its bolstered NASCAR-like seat like a hot dog in a bun, my frame barely fit behind the button-infested race wheel.

I felt right at home. This is my happy place, where I have raced cars for 30 years like the Porsche 908 and Lola 90. But those are 1,300-pound rear-wheel drive sports racers. This was my first front-wheel race sedan.

I would have to rewire my brain to master it.

Todd Lamb — who owns and co-pilots the TCR out of his Atlanta Speedwerks race shop and has an impressive pro racing resume — warned me that the cold rear slicks would take some getting used to. Got that right.

Throwing the car into Turn 2 at M1 Concourse, the rear end kicked out like the boom on a sailboat. Whoa! Instinctively, I lifted off the throttle to prevent a spin as in a rear-wheel drive car. Wrong reaction.

The answer to a slippy rear end in the Civic is more throttle so that the front wheels can drag the rear along like a bulldog scrabbling for traction on a slippery kitchen floor. Anticipating the Type R’s inherent push on corner exit, Lamb has tweaked it with a neutral setup (not unlike the drifting rear-drive Toyota Supra I tested a few weeks back) to help rotate the car. The result? The little bulldog has traction to spare as I put the power down through the front wheels.

After learning the Civic’s cornering eccentricities, the rest was gravy. The sequential, paddle-shift operated box means no shift gate. No heel and toe. No clutch at all. Just bang-bang-bang through the gears on acceleration. Bang-bang-bang on downshifts.

Easy-peasy. Every gearbox should be this simple, allowing the driver to concentrate fully on cornering. I dialed in more speed with every turn, the tires heating up and the TCR sticking like glue.

Screwed to the ground and highlighted with blue and yellow paint scheme, Speedwerks’ Mr. TCR is even more insane looking than Mr. Type R production car. Its transformation will cost you.

I thought an upgraded, $68,000 Mazda MX-5 Cup racer — double that of a production Miata — was expensive. The Civic TCR is another ballgame.

A new, out-of-the-box TCR will set you back $172,000 before spares and options (like ABS). That’s six times the cost of a production R. Ouch.

But what you get in return is full immersion in the real world of motorsport. A real race car, racing against top drawer talent, with one of the world’s most respected performance brands behind you.

They know how to turn Dr. Jekyll into something special.

2019 Honda Civic

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

Price: $20,370 including $920 destination charge

Power plant: 2.0-liter, inline-4 cylinder; 1.5-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 158 horsepower, 138 pound-feet of torque (2.0-liter); 174 horsepower, 162 pound-feet of torque (1.5-liter)

Transmission: 6-speed manual; continuously variable automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.4 seconds (manufacturer)

Weight: 2,742 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 25 city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg (manual, 2.0-liter gas); 30 city/38 mpg highway/33 mpg (CVT, 2.0-liter gas); 32 city/42 mpg highway/36 mpg (CVT, 1.5-liter turbo)

Report card

Highs: Diverse model lineup; roomy

Lows: Polarizing styling; AWD option, please


2019 Honda Civic Type R

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

Price: $36,620 including $920 destination fee

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Power: 306 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

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

Weight: 3,117 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Easy to drive fast; the bargain hot-hatch

Lows: Wing-bling may not be your thing; front end pushes at limit


2019 Honda Civic TCR race car

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, one-passenger race car

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed sequential with paddle shifters

Weight: 2,789 pounds including driver (minimum, race-regulated spec)

Price: $172,238

Power: 340 horsepower, 420 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Neutral handling; sequential box

Lows: Oversteer until tires up to temp; pricey


Before Trump, There Was Iacocca

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 9, 2019

After Chrysler, he pioneered the protectionist-plutocrat electoral lane.

Before Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca wanted to make America great again.

The ex-CEO of Chrysler died last week at the age of 94 after a career that transcended his industry and made him a pop-culture icon. Iacocca advocated the restoration of American manufacturing, championed punitive tariffs on Asian imports, and flirted with running for president in 1988.

After a successful Detroit career that spanned the launch of the 1960s Ford Mustang and the 1980s Chrysler minivan, Iacocca became a national figure when he persuaded a Democratic Congress in 1979 to help bail out Chrysler.

His turnaround of the automaker (paying back federally guaranteed loans ahead of schedule) vaulted him to a 1980s symbol of America on the rebound. Chrysler turned a $1.7 billion loss in 1980 into a $2.4 billion profit by 1984.

The first-generation Italian immigrant’s subsequent autobiography, Iacocca (1984), cemented his brand — reigning on the New York Times best-seller list for 88 weeks, 37 more than Trump’s own The Art of the Deal, published three years later.

“Unless we act soon, we’re going to lose both steel and autos to Japan by the year 2000,” wrote Iacocca. “And worst of all, we will have given them up without a fight.”

Colorful, profane, with an ego bigger than Lake Michigan, Iacocca captured the American imagination with his plainspoken style.

Doron Levin, a long-time Detroit columnist and currently host of Sirius XM’s “In the Driver’s Seat,” says that Iacocca, like Trump and Ross Perot, was a brand that cut across political parties.

“They’re populists,” says Levin. “They could run in either political party depending on the election year. Trump saw an opportunity as a Republican in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. Iacocca seriously considered running as a Democrat in 1988 against George H. W. Bush.”

In his book Behind the Wheel at Chrysler, Levin wrote:

The loan guarantee debate, Chrysler’s subsequent return to health, and the publication of [Iacocca’s] best-selling autobiography conferred mythic status on him as the nation’s economic Winston Churchill. At the peak of his popularity, many Americans believed not only that Iacocca held the answers to the nation’s economic ills but also that he should lead the country as president.

Iacocca’s Trumpian call for a national industrial policy in 1988 fit perfectly with that generation’s Democratic party — its power base rooted in the Midwest, with union mouthpieces such as House Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D., Mich.) and caucus chair and future majority leader Dick Gephardt (D., Mo.) wielding power.

TV newscasts and newspaper headlines in the early 1980s were filled with painful pictures of American steel mills and auto factories shuttering across the Midwest. Iacocca’s partnership with Washington to rescue Chrysler offered Democrats a white knight in the fight against Reagan Republicans’ policy of free-market economics.

Democrats and their media partisans embraced Iacocca’s call for a Beltway-led industrial policy.

If Trump’s bogeyman is China, Iacocca’s was Japan. He warned of the Asian nation’s threat to America’s industrial base and stumped for import quotas.

“I am called a protectionist, I am really a free trader,” Iacocca said at the Detroit Economic Club speech some years later. “The thing that I want to protect is free trade. And the way you do that is you retaliate against those who don’t believe in it.”

Despite favorable polling numbers, Iacocca never threw his hat in the presidential ring.

“For myself, I concluded long ago that to run for president you’ve got to be overambitious or just plain crazy,” he would write years later.

After retiring from Chrysler in the 1990s, he helped start an electric-vehicle company, EV Global Motors, that pioneered the electric bicycles and scooters that are commonplace today and hailed by Democrats for their low emissions. Yet Iacocca would probably have cringed at the takeover of the Democratic party by Californians such as Nancy Pelosi and recent Commerce Committee chair Henry Waxman and their Silicon Valley sponsors.

Today’s planet-saving Green New Deal industrial policy is a long way from Iacocca’s vision of saving the Rust Belt.

The lure of the celebrity executive endures, however. Trump is now president. And a recent Zogby 2020 campaign poll found Oprah Winfrey leading Trump by 53 to 47.

Ford GT Mk II unleashed: The ultimate $1.2-million track weapon

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 6, 2019

Beginning at a cool $1.2 million, the track-only Ford GT Mk II makes its public debut Thursday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. Only 45 will be built.

Beginning at a cool $1.2 million, the track-only Ford GT Mk II makes its public debut Thursday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. Only 45 will be built. (Photo: Ford)

The Ford GT started as a race car, so it’s only reasonable that it would include a track-exclusive production version.

Beginning at a cool $1.2 million, the Ford GT Mk II makes its public debut Thursday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. Only 45 will be built.

Essentially a Ford GTPro Le Mans race car with a passenger seat, the Mk II joins a rare breed of track-only hypercars like the McLaren P1 GTR and Ferrari FXX. The Mk II enables customers to explore the envelope of performance technology at their local raceway — a track day at Mid-Ohio race track, perhaps — without having to pay hundreds of thousands more to hire a team and enter a race series.

Named after the historic GT40 Mk II that beat Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966, the GT Mk II was developed free of the infamous, so-called “balance of performance” (BOP) racing regulations that cage the full capability of animals like the Ford GTPro race car to encourage even competition across a diverse field of cars.

For example, the GT Mk II will unleash the full 700-horsepower capability of the GT’s 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6; the GTPro LeMans car is limited to 495 horsepower.

“What could you do without BOP? This is the answer,” Multimatic chief technical officer Larry Holt said at the car’s unveiling to media at Ford’s Dearborn Performance Center last month. Multimatic is the Toronto race shop that birthed the sensational carbon-fiber, keel-chassis Ford GT back in 2016.

Designed to conquer Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of the original Mk II, the GT debuted as a race car. The first production version would not make an appearance for another year.

Priced at an eye-watering $500,000 (but in truth only available for about $700,000 after checking all the boxes), the production GT’s value was cemented by the race car’s historic, GTPro-class win at the 2016 Le Mans race.

Jaws dropped when the race car was introduced in 2016 with a sophisticated high-downforce keel chassis almost unheard of outside of the upper echelons of Formula One and LeMans prototype racing. Combined with its gorgeous “flying buttress” rear air ducts and signature GT nose (an homage to the 1966 original), the mid-engine supercar was an instant classic. After its LeMans success, 1,350 copies of the street-legal production GT followed.

Jaws will drop again when owners show up at the track with the GT Mk II.

Developed by mad-genius Holt (who, with his wild mane of white hair, looks like Doc Brown from “Back to the Future”) and his Multimatic team, the GT II is a hair away from full-blown LeMans racer.

“It is shockingly similar to the race car. There’s only about a 2-second a lap difference,” said Multimatic test driver Scott Maxwell who has helped develop each evolution of the modern GT.

Maxwell gave a brief demonstration of the GT Mk II at FPC for the news media. Dressed in Multimatic livery, it looked and sounded every bit like the GTPro race car that had just lapped the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16.

Whereas the street-legal production versions of the Ford GT sit 120 mm off the ground to properly negotiate public roads (a 70-mm track-mode height is available), the GT Mk II sits 59 mm off the ground for maximum downforce (the race car is just 56 mm).

Unbound from public laws like noise and safety restraints, the GT Mk II’s comes stripped of mufflers and air bags. Also gone is the tiny rear trunk, in lieu of a rear hatch scoop for better cooling of the 7-speed gearbox.

The goal here is max power, max downforce, max performance.

Toward that end, the GT Mk II comes equipped with a bigger front splitter and two-tier rear wing than the race car, as well as carbon-ceramic brakes for supreme stopping power. The race car is regulation-limited to steel rotors. Even the Mk II’s springs are a teeth-jarring 1,150 pounds, similar to the GT race car.

While not as spartan as the interior of the GTPro LeMans car (passenger comfort is encouraged when pulling upward of 2 G-loads), the cockpit is race-ready with a full roll-cage and detachable steering wheel like the race car.

A six-point, race-licensed belt harness makes the absent air bag redundant.

Stripped of unnecessary weight, the GT Mk II weights in at 3,084 pounds. That’s more than the 2,844 pounds of the GTPro race car, but 300 pounds lighter than the production model. Options above the $1.2 million starting price include paint colors and air jacks for quick tire changes at the track.

Ford says Multimatic’s Markham, Ontario, shop has capacity to produce about 15 of the Mk II supermodels a year.

“The Mk II embodies everything that we have learned at the track,” said Ford product chief Hau Thai-Tang at FPC. But he wouldn’t say if the track weapon is the GT’s last hurrah despite the car having run its Le Mans race this year.

“Never say never,” he smiled.