Articles

GM, Hyundai top 2017 Car of Year semifinalists

Posted by hpayne on September 25, 2016

The NCAA has its Final Four, the NACTOY has its Final Three.

The process of picking three nominees for North American Car and Truck/Utility of the Year began this week as the NACTOY jury winnowed the list of 44 eligible 2017 models to 29 “semifinalists” in three categories: car, truck and utility vehicle. For the first time in the 23-year history of the awards, utility vehicles get their own category in recognition of the dominant place that car-based crossovers and SUVs now hold in the marketplace.

General Motors Co. leads the list of nominees with seven vehicles, including the Chevrolet Bolt – the first electric vehicle under $40,000 to get over 200 miles in range. Hyundai/Kia Motor Group has the second most nominees (four), notably the Genesis G90, the badge’s first entry in the luxury market.

NACTOY is the only major automotive award judged by an independent jury of automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada. Dozens of journalists (including the author of this article) will drive the vehicles and winnow the field to the Final Three candidates in early December.

The winners will be announced in January during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Taking top honors in 2016 were the Honda Civic as Car of the Year and Volvo XC90 for truck.

2017 NACTOY semifinalists

Cars

Acura NSX

Audi A4

Buick LaCrosse

Cadillac CT6

Chevrolet Cruze

Chevrolet Bolt

Genesis G90

Hyundai Elantra

Jaguar XE

Kia Cadenza

Lincoln Continental

Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan

Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman

Toyota Prius Prime

Volvo S90

Utility vehicles

Audi Q7

Buick Envision

Cadillac XT5

Chrysler Pacifica

GMC Acadia

Infiniti QX30

Kia Sportage

Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Jaguar F-Pace

Mazda CX-9

Nissan Armada

Trucks

Ford F-series Super Duty pickup

Ford F-150 Raptor

Honda Ridgeline

Nissan Titan half-ton

Payne: Genesis G90, affordable land yacht

Posted by hpayne on September 21, 2016

g90_lake_fr3-4_close

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning Hyundai created a luxury sedan. And Hyundai saw that it was good. So they made more.

One of the most unforgettable cars I’ve tested in recent years is the Hyundai Genesis midsize luxury sedan. Easy on the eyes — Hyundai designers borrowed heavily from Audi and BMW styling — the tech-stuffed Genesis offered BMW 5-series size at a 3-series price. Genesis was stuffed with everything but the kitchen sink (though, honestly, I might just have overlooked it) including clever features like lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise-control that can bring the car to a full stop — features that I had only previously experienced on uber-luxury chariots.

So eager was Genesis to please, it even offered two ways to control the center console screen: American-like touchscreen or German-like rotary dial. More modern than the made-for-Korea Equus limousine, the Genesis was Hyundai’s first real offering cooked to U.S. tastes.

Customers gobbled it up.

Hyundai’s midsize luxury offering has sold like a 12-ounce filet mignon, topping the charts for customer loyalty in a segment that includes Lexus’s ES350. It built its success on customers like my buddy Joe, a Lexus ex-patriot. Joe loves his Genesis. Priced from just $39,700, his sleek 311-horsepower steed has the good looks of an Audi A6 combined with the reliability of a Lexus.

Expect to see a lot more of that winged Genesis logo.

Encouraged by the Genesis’ success and Americans embrace of all things Hyundai, the Korean automaker is launching a separate luxury line of Genesis models. In the book of Genesis, God created earth in seven days. Hyundai modestly expects its plans for global dominance will take a bit longer. But with six models planned for the next six years, it won’t be lying about.

The Hyundai Genesis has been renamed the “Genesis G80.” It will be followed in short order by a G70 compact sedan, midsize SUV, sport coupe and small ute. But every brand needs a flagship, and so to kick off the 2017 model year, Genesis is rolling out the all-new, full-size sedan christened the G90.

Following the G80 formula, the supersize G90 is derivative of German styling that has defined luxury beauty for decades. The Genesis looks like an Audi, BMW and Mercedes were all thrown into a blender. Then Hyundai stuffs this pretty confection with every amenity it can think of.

First seen in Detroit this year, the G90 announces itself with a giant, Audi-like mouth flanked by LED headlights with hockey-stick shaped running lights. Aft of the giant bow are endless, Audi-like slab sides ending in Mercedes-like tail lenses.

From design to budget-pricing, Genesis follows in the successful tire tracks of Lexus. Toyota’s luxury brand built its foundation on upwardly mobile Toyota customers with the Mercedes-knock-off LS model in 1992; then it developed its own look as its brand strengthened. Ditto Genesis.

For now the conservative G90 wears its wardrobe like hand-me-downs from the last-generation Audi A8. Where the new A8’s fascia is beautifully sculpted fascia with lower air-scoop detailing — a toned athlete chiseled from hours in the gym — the G90 shows baby fat, its form still maturing. That maturity should accelerate with the addition of brand manager Manfred Fitzgerald and designer Luc Donckerwolke, the Euro-geniuses behind Lamborghini’s renaissance. The pair are too late to Genesis to affect the G90, but their influence is already being felt in the spectacular Genesis Concept that debuted at April’s New York Auto Show. Expect to see a lot of the Concept in the 2018 G70 sedan and future G90 refreshes.

Perhaps of more interest to luxury yacht buyers is the G90’s palatial interior which is remarkably mature and rivals Audi and Jaguar.

Credit the Hyundai Equus, Hyundai’s first foray into the luxury market in 2010. Grown from an Asian chauffeur culture, the Equus never lacked in interior amenities, including massaging rear seats and home-theater seat units.

Begin with a 22-way driver’s seat, the most versatile in class (at last until the Lincoln Continental rolls into town with its 30-way wonder). Settle into this rolling throne, and you get it all: heating and cooling, thigh support-adjustment, upper-back adjustment, lumbar support, headrest adjustment, back massage and tea service at 4 p.m. (kidding about that last one).

The cabin is beautifully appointed, from the fine-leather stitched dash to 360-degree camera to heads-up display to exquisite Lexicon stereo speakers — their detailing worthy of their own art gallery show. For the G90, Genesis has settled on a Euro-like rotary knob to control the giant 12-inch touchscreen. I prefer touch controls like Chrysler’s supreme UConnect, but G90’s redundant buttons make the meaty knob tolerable.

Rear seat details have been similarly fussed over. At 37.8 inches, the G90 rivals the stretched Audi A8 and Jag XK for legroom. At 6-foot-5, I had room to spare, yet Genesis still gave me buttons on the front passenger seat to kick it even farther forward if desired. Speaking of front controls, your teen will appreciate the rear radio channel controls (the driver can deny access if it becomes too annoying).

On a 300-mile drive across British Columbia, I found the center console intuitive, the seats comfortable, the cabin whisper-quiet. At full squawk under my left foot, even the 365-horse twin-turbo V6 sounded a football field away thanks to the cabin’s double-laminated glass, triple-sealed doors and underbody cladding. The G90 is no nimble Cadillac CT6 — the Genesis tips the scales a full 500 pounds porkier — but it’s no boat either.

“Why would anyone buy want to buy a luxury car made by Hyundai?” asked a bemused Canadian as I emerged from my journey as fresh as when I started.

Good question. Super-size luxury chariots are the kingdom of icons like BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar, after all. Genesis’s answer? The same value that made the G80 a hit.

For just $69,050 everything above is standard on the G90. Everything. Your options are all-wheel drive and a choice of two engines: the 3.3-liter V-6 or 5-liter V-8. Fully loaded, you could drive away in an all-wheel drive 420-horse 8-holer loaded to the gills for just $73,150. A comparable Audi A8 would crest $95,000. That’s enough dough left over to buy a new Hyundai Elantra. Add a best-in-class drivetrain warranty of 10 years/100,000 miles. And Genesis will pick up your car for service so you’ll never have to set foot in a dealership. Nice.

Genesis? Could be the start of something big.

2017 Genesis G90

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT OR ALL-WHEEL

DRIVE FIVE-PASSENGER SEDAN

Power plant 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V-6;

5-liter V-8

Transmission 8-speed automatic
Weight 4,784 pounds (V-6 AWD as tested)
Price $69,050 base ($71,550 V-6 AWD

as tested)

Power 365 horsepower, 376 pound-feet

torque (V-6); 420 horsepower,

383 pound-feet torque (V-8)

Performance 0-60 mph, 5.1-5.8 seconds (V-6-

V-8 Car and Driver est.);

top speed: 150 mph

Fuel economy EPA 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway

/20 mpg combined (V-6 AWD);

15/23/18 mpg combined (V-8 AWD);

report card

HIGHS PASSENGER-FRIENDLY REAR SEATS;

BEST BANG-FOR-BUCK IN LUX

Lows Derivative styling; that radar

brick in the grille

Overall:★★★★

2017 Chevy Bolt EV debuts at $37,495

Posted by hpayne on September 21, 2016

636099735494666570-2017-Chevrolet-BoltEV-030.jpg

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV will debut at showrooms later this year for $37,495 including destination charge, true to its promise to be the first electric vehicle under $40,000 to go more than 200 miles on a charge.

Including a federal $7,500 tax credit, the Bolt will cost as little as $29,995 – though the tax credit is capped to the first 200,000 EVs General Motors Co. sells.

Chevy’s pricing announcement Tuesday comes on the heels of news this month that the Bolt will get an Environmental Protection Agency estimated range of 238 miles on a single charge of its 60-kWh battery. The figures are competitive with Tesla’s Model 3, which boasts similar predicted performance — but is not expected to be on sale for at least another year. The Model 3 claims a 215-mile range for about $35,000.

“Value is a hallmark for Chevrolet and the pricing of the Bolt EV proves we’re serious about delivering the first affordable EV with plenty of range,” Alan Batey, president of GM North America, said in a statement. “We have kept our promise yet again, first on range and now on price.”

The Bolt, built at Orion Assembly north of Detroit, will be available in two trims at launch: base LT and more upscale Premier. Standard LT features include a steering wheel paddle that regenerates the battery, rearview camera, 10.2-inch dashboard touch screen and self-sealing Michelin tires. The Premier, which begins at $40,905 including destination, piles on amenities like heated leather front and rear seats.

DC Fast Charging is a $750 option for both trims.

The peppy, five-seat Bolt crossover is not to be confused with its sister Chevrolet Volt plug-in sedan, which has a 53-mile electric range before a 1.5-liter gasoline engine kicks in. The Bolt’s big battery – the same size as a base, $66,000 Tesla Model S – makes for zippy, sub-7 second 0-60 mph performance while doubling the range of other “affordable” EVs like BMW’s $43,395, 117-mile-range i3 and Nissan’s $29,010, 107-mile Leaf.

The Bolt will be available at select Chevy dealers in late 2016.

VW tries to hit ‘reset’ in U.S.

Posted by hpayne on September 15, 2016

alltrack_seattle

Seattle – One year after Dieselgate buried Volkswagen under costly litigation and consumer distrust, the company is reintroducing itself to U.S. buyers with new vehicles, new management, a new philosophy – and an abandonment of diesel.

The German automaker’s strategy took form this week with the launch of its first new vehicle, the 2017 Golf Alltrack wagon, since the cheating scandal broke last September.

“The Alltrack is the beginning of the journey making the brand more family-oriented, more fun-to-drive, and also more smart-to-own. It is the beginning of a positive journey for this brand,” said Hinrich Woebcken, 55, who began in April as CEO for VW Group North America. “Me and my team are intending to take this negative perception which is in the market because of (diesel) right into a positive momentum.”

Notably, diesel is no longer on the menu.

“We are transitioning away from diesel to electric vehicles,” said Woebcken, an outsider who comes to VW after 10 years at BMW. “Regulations have made diesel harder to do in the U.S. market anyway.”

The Golf Alltrack, a “ruggedized” version of VW’s SportWagen, is powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter gas engine. Woebcken says the all-wheel drive Alltrack, which rides nearly an inch higher than the SportWagen, is representative of the brand’s shift from “a compact car company to a bigger car company” featuring more all-wheel drive models. As part of the brand’s realignment, the SportWagen, too, will get an AWD option.

The most important product in VW’s relaunch, however, will come in the second quarter of next year when VW unveils a midsize three-row SUV.

“It is in the middle of ramp-up in Chattanooga,” said Woecken, referring to VW’s Tennessee assembly plant which makes the Passat sedan. “This product is going to be a splash. It is a great seven-seater – the biggest Volkswagen SUV ever. This product is designed into the heart of the U.S. market.”

VW will follow the as-yet-to-be-named sport ute – which debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in 2013 as the CrossBlue concept – two months later with a long-wheelbase version of its compact crossover Tiguan. A redesigned Jetta sedan will follow.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said, “Last year’s VW emissions issue has damaged diesel’s image and all but eliminated that customer base. It will be a long road, but the new Alltrack – and strong focus on SUVs and EVs to meet customer and government demands – is a glimpse of where Volkswagen needs to go as an automaker.”

The shift in product emphasis will parallel a shift in responsibility to U.S. operations which gives it more independence from its corporate parents in Wolfsburg, Germany.

“With my arrival (in the U.S.) we decided to govern all activates in North America under one governance, so to speak,” said Woebcken. “We have factories, engineering centers, procurement, sales and marketing in the region – all these activities are under one umbrella now. And this is new.”

“In the past there was a direct reporting line of each function back to HQ where things were put together,” he continued. “The company feels that it is very important to get closer the customers, closer to the dealers.”

The strategy echoes the successful efforts of Volkswagen Group’s luxury brand Audi to build U.S. brand independence in 2005. That was done under the leadership of Johan de Nysschen, now Cadillac’s president. Audi has since set U.S. sales records for 68 straight months as a full-line seller of all-wheel drive luxury SUVs and sedans.

Volkswagen’s relaunch in Seattle was no accident. The brand covets the active, outdoorsy customers here who have made all-wheel drive niche brands like Subaru, a popular lifestyle choice. The Alltrack will be aimed squarely at Subaru’s Outback and Crosstrek AWD wagons. Once popular in the U.S. market, VW – the No. 2 brand in sales globally behind Toyota – saw U.S. sales plummet to less than 350,000 last year, well below smaller Subaru’s 582,675. Sales have continued to take a hit this year with only 29,384 units sold in August – a decline of 9 percent over 2015.

Answering criticism that VW models have been overpriced, the Alltrack will debut at $26,670 – comparable to the Outback but with more standard features like heated seats and leatherette seats.

VW’s product and organizational news comes in addition to big financial commitments to rebuild trust here. VW has agreed to pay $16.5 billion in fines and settlements, including $10 billion to buy back or modify diesel products owned by U.S. customers who may feel betrayed by the brand’s claim to clean diesels. VW has been banned from selling diesels since last September.

Also included are $2.7 billion into an environmental trust fund, and $2 billion for the next decade into electric vehicle infrastructure. “Electrifying America for more electric mobility is a huge commitment which is going to be beneficial for the whole country, for all consumers, for the whole nation,” said Woebcken.

Determined to use Dieselgate as a teachable moment, VW says it will invest $7 billion in U.S. operations by 2019. Part of that investment has gone to Puebla, Mexico, where the Alltrack – due on dealer lots in October – is built.

“A global brand like Volkswagen cannot rely on success in Europe, Germany or China,” said Woebcken. “We need this strong market in the U.S. We employ 6,000 people in North America, and that will grow.”

2 Payne: Fiesta vs. Mirage 3-cylinder face-off

Posted by hpayne on September 15, 2016

mirage-fiesta_rr3-4

Threesomes aren’t always as fun as they sound. Sure, there was the sexy BMW i8 I tested last year with its turbocharged three-cylinder electric hybrid making instant, all-wheel drive power. And the 2015 1-liter Ford Fiesta with its overachieving 123-horsepower three-banger was Usain Bolt in a bottle.

But there was also Fiesta’s classmate, the 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage … three cylinders of disappointment.

If the Fiesta was the subcompact class valedictorian, Mirage was the kid who showed up for class in his pajamas carrying last year’s textbook. He obviously didn’t care if he got a failing grade. Mirage was a dud. So the wee Mitsu did the sensible thing: He took a year off to get his act together.

For 2017 Mirage is back in school, redesigned as a sportier GT model and prepped for the exam. Groomed and fit? You bet. Where the old model looked like a toaster with headlights and a rear spoiler glued on, the ’17 Mirage has spent some time in front of the mirror.

Swept headlights and a coiffed, chrome-lined grille give the Mirage presence. The spoiler is properly integrated into the rear hatch and the wheels — wow, Mirage is that really you? — are sculpted, multi-spoke jobbies that would make more expensive Honda Civics proud.

Let’s bring out the subcompact class stud for comparison: the 2016 Fiesta 3-cylinder. Bolt in a bottle. The holy trinity.

Before you judge me for leading a Mirage to slaughter, let me reassure you that this is a fair contest. It wasn’t easy. In fact, finding a three-cylinder Fiesta in Southeast Michigan is harder than finding a four-leaf clover. In these days of under-$3 a gallon gas, 3-cylinders aren’t in favor. I found —appropriately — only three on Metro Detroit dealer lots. Thanks to Bill Brown Ford of Livonia for letting me take their tike out with Mirage for a play date.

Both my testers go for under $18 grand. The Mirage for $17,330. The Fiesta: $17,670. For the price, the Mirage is well-equipped, indeed.

There are those Mirage wheels I mentioned. Very classy. And the GT gets pushbutton start. The key-operated Fiesta, meanwhile, is stuck with base wheels that look out of place on a car with a face modeled after Aston Martin. It’s like Cinderella showing up at the ball in army boots.

Fiesta has a choice of better wheels. But they will cost you. As will Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the fashionable smartphone app twins. Mirage has ’em, base Fiesta does not. Ford offers the combo in its excellent SYNC 3 console unit — a $995 upcharge.

Though both subcompacts offer similar interior dimensions, cloth interiors and hard-plastic dashes, Fiesta’s attention to detail makes it the more livable space. The Ford is 400 pounds heavier for a reason: better interior quieting and engineering. And it has soft-material elbow rests and center console storage that the Mitsu lacks. Only on console knee-room did the Mirage feel more comfortable, which I discovered while taking both three-bangers to the limit.

I flogged them across interstate and rural real estate, because what you really want to know is whether three is enough. Can you really live with just half a six-pack?

Both cars deliver on the three-cylinder’s core premise: fuel economy. Mirage gets 39 mpg combined, Fiesta 36. But Mirage lags badly in other metrics.

That’s because Mitsubishi stubbornly sticks to its old, normally-aspirated 1.2-liter three with just 78 horsepower. That’s four more than the last go-round, but I think my leaf-blower has more horsepower. And sounds better.

Mated to a CVT transmission, the Mirage’s triad sounds like a bloodhound howling at the moon. HAWROOOOOOOOOOO! No stepped upshifts like Nissan or Honda CTs. Just one, continuous drone when you stomp the pedal. HAWROOOOOOOOO!

That said, the Mitsu’s fun factor has improved considerably thanks to GT suspension tweaks. I took the Mirage to my favorite roads outside Hell, Michigan, expecting it to topple over like a fridge on rollers. But its short wheelbase was a hoot to throw through corners. Coming out was a different matter. With just 74 pound-feet of torque and a CVT, I had to bury the throttle just to keep from going backwards. Which destroys that vaunted fuel economy — I recorded just 30 mpg.

The trip back to Detroit on the I-96 race track — the closest thing this metropolis has to high-speed Autobahn — reminded me of a trip to Germany years ago. I rented a Porsche 944 to fully enjoy the Autobahn (and a side trip to do Nurburgring laps, of course) — and found myself being drafted in rural areas by Fiats, Renaults and other tiny tin cans. With their foot to the floor, they were determined to use my Porsche to help them maintain 90-plus mph speeds over the rolling countryside.

With traffic on I-96 moving along at over 90 mph, I tried the same trick here. Drive any other car with your foot screwed to the floor in top gear and you’ll get arrested. Do it in a 3-cylinder Mirage and you’ll just be keeping up with Detroit traffic.

The Fiesta, by contrast, needs no help in the power department. Unlike the Mirage, this 3-banger isn’t the subcompact’s base engine (a mere, 1.6-liter I-4 is). I rowed this 1-liter, turbocharged delight with a manual. You can get an auto, but it’ll cost you ($1,095). With 8.3-second 0-60 time and 148 pound-feet of torque, you’ll want to take it out just to beat up on bigger fish. Merging onto I-96 near Brown Ford, I apologize to the three sedans I laid tire tracks over.

For all its pep, the 1-liter Fiesta won’t wow you in the handling department. If cornering is your game, then take a stroll over to Fiesta’s own GT — the so-called ST, a hot-hatch carnival ride. But once again, it’ll cost you. The Fiesta ST starts at $22 grand.

So applause to Mitsubishi for saving the Mirage from ignominy with its affordable, drivable ’17 makeover. At under $18 grand, the Mirage finally belongs in the U.S. market. Just be sure and speak up when you have a passenger — so they can hear you over the leaf blower.

2016 Ford Fiesta 1-liter

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE,

FIVE-PASSENGER SEDAN OR HATCHBACK

Power plant 1-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed manual or automatic
Weight 2,537 pounds (manual as tested)
Price $17,670 base (as tested)
Power 123 horsepower, 148 pound-feet torque
Performance 0-60 mph, 8.3 seconds (Car

and Driver); top speed: 120 mph

uel economy EPA 31 mpg city/48 mpg highway/36 mpg

combined

report card

HIGHS THE 3-CYLINDER MOUSE THAT ROARED; EASY ON THE GAS
Lows Base wheels don’t match upscale styling

Overall:★★★★

 

2017 Mitsubishi Mirage

GT 3-cylinder

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE,

FIVE-PASSENGER HATCHBACK

Power plant 1.2-liter 3-cylinder
Transmission Continuously variable automatic
Weight 2,117 pounds
Price $17,330 base (as tested)
Power 78 horsepower, 74 pound-feet torque
Performance 0-60 mph, 12.8 seconds (Car and Driver

estimate); top speed: 100 mph (estimate)

Fuel economy EPA 37 mpg city/43 mpg highway/39 mpg

combined

report card

HIGHS MUCH-IMPROVED STYLING; SMARTPHONE CONNECTIVITY

Lows Underpowered; droning CVT

Overall:★★★

Payne: Chevy Bolt has 238-mile range, lots of muscle

Posted by hpayne on September 13, 2016

Bolt-Drive-05

The much-anticipated battery-powered 2017 Chevrolet Bolt isn’t just a green machine: This all-electric compact crossover can lay some serious black rubber, too.

Chevy claims a zero-60 time of 6.9 seconds. That’s comparable to Ford’s rabid Fiesta ST, but it feels quicker. Tesla calls its Model S P90D’s acceleration “Ludicrous” mode. Let’s just call the Bolt “Bananas” — and you might lose a few from the grocery bag by throwing around the nimble crossover on the way home.

Test-driving a Bolt outside its birthplace in GM’s Orion Assembly, I stomped the accelerator out of a stoplight and it, well … bolted. With 266 pound-feet of instant torque coursing through its front wheels, the Chevy’s Michelin tires left yards of scorched asphalt in my wake.

The five-door Bolt will have an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles on a full charge and beat the Tesla Model 3 to market as the first car under $40,000 to eclipse the 200-mile mark. The mileage figure is a significant 20 percent jump over the car’s anticipated 200-mile figure — and it beats the $66,000 base Tesla Model S luxury sedan by 20 miles.

From the Fiat 500e to the Nissan Leaf, there are more than a half-dozen “affordable” EVs in production. But none approach the potential of the Bolt and Model 3.

Promising similar range (the Model 3 is estimated at 215 miles on a full charge) and acceleration as the Bolt, the Silicon Valley-bred Tesla electrified the auto community with its plans to bring Model S-like range and performance to the masses. Pricing is even similar — the Bolt will start at around $37,500, minus a $7,500 federal tax rebate; the Model 3 should start at $35,000.

But the Bolt will hit showrooms by the end of the year, while the Tesla won’t be available for a year after that. And with such a huge jump in the marketplace, Bolt might steal some of Tesla’s thunder. Heck, tech god Steve Wozniak says he’s ready to trade in his Model S for the Chevy.

Riding shotgun with me with me on public roads north of The Palace of Auburn Hills was Bolt chief engineer Josh Tavel, a testament to the fact that Chevy’s Bolt ambitions go way beyond high mileage numbers.

An amateur race-driver who worked on GM’s Alpha platform — the athletic bones on which the Cadillac ATS and Camaro sit — the 37-year old knows a thing or two about performance. And he has brought it to the Bolt.

“This car is a noodle without the battery in the floor,” says Tavel, motioning to the car’s floor where a 60 kWh lithium-ion battery is fully integrated into the car’s steel chassis. For perspective, that’s the same size battery as in the much more expensive, base Tesla Model S luxury sedan.

Like Tesla, Tavel and his team want the high-tech Bolt to redefine the car experience. This isn’t a green vehicle. This is a high-tech vehicle that happens to be green. Tavel says 40 miles of the Bolt’s range is achieved through brake regeneration. It’s a concept is familiar to legions of Model S addicts.

Removing my lead foot from the accelerator acts like a brake, recharging the battery. Then Bolt takes the trick a step further: Move the mono-stable shifter from Drive to Low and the Chevy will coast to a complete stop without any brake at all. The Bolt also has a “regen paddle” on the steering wheel that allows the driver to slow the vehicle with a fingertip. It makes for an interesting game along your daily commute — a game with better range numbers as a reward.

“I always drive my Bolt home in Low mode,” Tavel says.

The battery in the basement does more than just give the Bolt a low 20.7-inch center of gravity on par with production sports cars: it transforms the interior space. With only an AC motor and control units like the AC/DC power-converter controller under the hood, there’s plenty of room to move the cabin forward, opening up acres of space in back. A leggy 6-foot-5 ex-basketball player, I could easily sit behind myself in the rear seat. The 102.4-inch wheelbase is midway between a Chevy Sonic and the Cruze, the B-segment subcompact. But its 94 square feet of interior room is decidedly C-segment.

Unlike its plug-in hybrid sister Chevy Volt, which has a battery splitting the cabin in two, the Bolt has plenty of interior elbow and legroom. Unencumbered by a drivetrain, the console opens for ample storage and a huge 10.2-inch screen on the dash.

Continuing Chevy’s embrace of digital devices, the Bolt won’t offer an in-car navigation system. It’s a nod to consumer preference for using their own Android or Apple smartphones’ navigation systems: With Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standard, drivers simply plug in their phones and ask Google (or Siri) to lead the way.

Even the Bolt’s tires are transformative. Run over a nail and Michelin’s compound will absorb the intruding shrapnel without going flat. “We are taking away every excuse not to buy this car,” says engineer Tavel.

Perhaps the biggest excuse Bolt overcomes is it’s not a sedan. The Chevy Volt suffered in a market that was rejecting sedans (it was ridiculed as a $40,000 Chevy Cruze). The Bolt’s elevated seating position, unique platform and compact-utility interior hit the sweet spot of the automotive market.

That sweet spot includes players like the 2015 North American Car of the Year VW Golf GTI which sports similar space and grunt — 210 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque — for $10,000 less. It’s a reminder of the steep hill the Bolt will face to grow its market beyond green customers.

The Chevy’s unique, raked crossover profile will stand out on the street despite its conservative Chevy styling cues. While the Bolt likely won’t beat the rear-wheel drive Tesla Model 3 sedan off the line in performance (the Bolt’s front-wheel drive architecture suggests its platform will be used for future GM vehicles — the next Sonic, perhaps?), its utility should be an advantage.

But can mainstream Chevy match Tesla luxury brand cache? After all, Tesla has hooked 373,000 customers (including your humble scribe) into committing $1,000 down payments on a product that doesn’t yet exist.

Chevy marketing chief Steve Majoros is unfazed by the Tesla’s head start in generating buzz. He prefers being first to market.

“We have a great, national dealer network,” he says. “And they already have customers lining up for this car. Having at least a year head start on the competition is fundamentally a great proposition.”

Tesla may be an EV rock star, but Majoros points out that Chevy has cred, too, given the Volt’s household name and record of bullet-proof reliability.

“Customers look at Chevy as a great people-hauling company,” says Majoros. “The Bolt fulfills that need and builds on the credibility that we have in the EV space. We may not be as publicly visible as Tesla, but we are going to come to market very aggressively with the Bolt.”

Behind the wheel in Rochester Hills, my aggressive driving gets plenty of encouragement from Tavel. I throw the road-hugging Bolt into a 90-degree right-hander, tires screaming, then flatten the throttle on exit. Try this in a 250-horse Ford Focus ST and the torque-steer will rip the steering wheel from your hands. Not the Bolt. Tavel’s team has dialed out torque-steer with careful programming.

The level of detail in the Bolt impresses: roomy enough for a soccer mom, yet enough pop to keep demon dad happy.

“To quote the Michigan Fab Five: We’re gonna shock the world,” says Majoros. Pun intended.

Payne review: Ford Fusion bulks up

Posted by hpayne on September 8, 2016

dr08-fusionsportmain-0916n

In 1989, basketball icon Michael Jordan shaved his thinning pate clean and males with receding hairlines wanted to Be Like Mike. They may have had potbellies out to there, but their HeadBlade domes looked as cool as the coolest athlete on earth.

Auto fashion is like that.

A pouty-mouth grille and fastback shape has made Aston Martin the coolest cat in autodom. So in 2013, Ford’s frumpy Fusion mid-size sedan modeled Aston’s grille and shape and — dude! — it was cool.

Four years later and Fusion is due for its mid-cycle refresh. There may be a million of ’em on the road, but the sleek sedan still turns my head, its upscale looks rivaled only by the Mazda 6. Meanwhile, Aston style has continued to define auto fashion.

Would Fusion evolve with the sexy Brit? Would it get rounder hips like the Rapide sedan? Or copy its full frontal grille? Or get a wrap-around fascia like the stunning DB11 and Bond-inspired DB10?

Um, well: No, no, no and no. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, so Fusion Part Two has played it safe. Rather than rocking out as a full Rapide wannabe, Fusion has just tweaked its Aston cues — headlights more angled here, lips more pointed there, corners edgier over there. A little bling goes a long way, so Fusion’s tookus gets a nice, horizontal chrome strip connecting the rear taillights. And “eyeliner” front LED running lights. Like the theme song that accompanies Broadway musical characters, cars these days must have their own light signature.

But if the Fusion Part One’s exterior wowed, the headliner for Fusion Part Two is what’s under the skin. Like the Michael Jordan wannabe who shaved his head and then adopted a basketball fitness regimen, the new Fusion has put some serious firepower behind that lovely Aston face.

For 2017 Fusion has added a “Sport” badge to its lineup.

But this is no Honda Accord Sport model tarted up with big wheels and a decklid spoiler. Fusion Sport is packed with the same blown, 325-horsepower V-6 found in the F150 and Ford Edge Sport. That would be the first mid-size sedan to pack more than 300 horses.

Whip the Sport out of a Woodward stoplight and it will hit 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds — two seconds quicker than Fusion’s peppy, turbocharged 2.0-liter and just a half-second off Aston’s Rapide sedan. Now we’re talkin’.

Ford is a decidedly bipolar brand these days — a fuel-sipping Ecoboost greenie one minute, a hungry twin-turbo drag racer the next. Nowhere is this split personality more evident than the Fusion lineup, which made headlines in 2013 by offering a hybrid version that went farther on a gallon of fuel (42 miles vs. 41) than King Camry. There’s a plug-in too.

That was then, this is now. For Act Two, the 20 mpg Sport is the least efficient Fusion — part of a Blue Oval performance offensive that has includes the Le Mans-wining Ford GT, asphalt-melting Shelby Mustang GT350, and musclebound Ford Focus ST and RS hot hatches.

“We decided not to do an ST version of the Fusion. This customer is not quite as hardcore,” says Todd Soderquist, chief program engineer for Fusion. But Soderquist didn’t hold back much. This is a motorhead who spends his leisure time wringing the neck of a GT350 at a two-mile racetrack he built in Nebraska.

The Fusion Sport would sound great on a racetrack, too. WAAUUUUUGHHHHHH!! I nail the throttle coming out of the twisties near Hell, Michigan, and for a moment wonder if it isn’t a masculine Ford V-8 under the hood. Put Sport in SPORT mode and the sound sharpens, the steering tightens and the tranny holds a higher gear to take full advantage of 380 pound-feet of torque.

That’s useful because the Fusion Sport is no lightweight. Exiting a Glenn Brook Road hairpin, the V-6 grunts with exertion to keep the sedan’s porky 3,982 pounds (551 more than the base Fusion) moving. Continuously variable dampers — a cousin of the magnetic dampers that make GM’s performance cars such a joy to drive these days — help keep the big fella nimble.

Some of those added calories come from the Sport’s extra two cylinders and all-wheel drive. Other poundage comes from hood insulation and double-laminated glass that contribute to the 2017 Fusion’s biggest advance: a quiet, sophisticated interior.

Beginning at the Fusion’s SE trim (standard on Sport), the much-improved SYNC 3 system is available. SYNC’s console screen is quick to the touch, connects to my smartphone via Android Auto (CarPlay for you Appleheads), and displays its info in the instrument panel for safer, heads-up driving.

Transforming Fusion’s center console is an electronic rotary shifter. Its beauty is in what it adds — the aggressive, aforementioned SPORT button — and subtracts.

Eliminating hydraulic cables, the e-shifter also opens up the once-cramped console. The console storage bin is so deep it reaches to China, and a cave of space has opened under the dash screen big enough for spelunking. Add two cupholders and a roomy slot for my monster smartphone and you can have everything and the kitchen sink at your disposal.

Otherwise, Fusion’s dimensions are unchanged. I could sit behind myself in a backseat that is no Honda Accord-sized living room but comfortably average for the class. The Sport (you’ll know it by its unique mesh grille) is also joined in 2017 by an upscale Platinum trim, meaning the Fusion model line now runs from $22,610 to north of $42,000 — a $20,000 trim spread that is typical of lux models like Audi’s A4, for example.

With a growly voice, AWD and similar horsepower to Audi’s S4 sport trim model, think of Fusion as a roomier version of Audi’s S4 sports sedan. Sport even sports a unique LED light signature (Audi started this trend), ditching the standard Fusion “eyeliner” for an eyebrow LED. I would even go so far as to cross-shop against the Audi — especially as you can have the athletic Fusion for (cough) $18,000 less.

Take a good look in your rearview mirror the next time you hear a growly engine. That grille could be an Aston Martin. That menacing headlamp? An Audi. But when it roars past, you’ll note the Ford badge and think: I can afford that.

2017 Ford Fusion

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT OR ALL-WHEEL DRIVE,

FIVE-PASSENGER SEDAN

Power plant 2.7-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 (Sport model

as tested). Also available: 2.5-liter inline-4; 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-4; 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4; hybrid with 2.0-liter inline-4/battery assist; plug-in hybrid with 2.0-liter inline-4/7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery

Transmission Six-speed automatic
Weight 3,982 pounds (Sport model)
Price $23,485 base Fusion ($41,350 Sport as tested)
Power 325 horsepower, 380 pound-feet torque

(turbo V-6, Sport). Also available: 175 hp, 170 pound-feet torque (2.4L 4-cyl);

181 hp, 185 pound-feet torque (1.5L turbo-4); 240 hp, 770 pound-feet torque (2.0L turbo-4); 188 hp (hybrid); 188 (plug-in)

Performance 0-60 mph, 5.3 seconds (Sport model, Car

and Driver); top speed: 125 mph

Fuel economy EPA 17 mpg city/26 mpg highway/20 mpg

combined (Sport model). Also available: 22/34/26 mpg combined (2.4L 4-cyl);

23/36/28 mpg combined (1.5L turbo-4); 22/31/25

report card

HIGHS MACHO ENGINE GROWL; ROOMY CONSOLE WITH E-SHIFTER
Lows Porky at nearly two tons

Overall:★★★★

Payne: Audi’s R8 is uncompromising in speed and comfort

Posted by hpayne on September 1, 2016

news-2017-audi-r8-v10-drive-42

Car names are so homogeneous these days. Shopping for luxury sports sedans sounds like a trip down the microwave appliance aisle. Quick — what brands make the AMG CLA45, 3-Series M3, ATS-V and WM009? Answer: Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac, and that last one is a Westinghouse microwave.

Even sports cars aren’t spared. Audi’s expensive goods department, for example, offers a choice of A7, S7, RS7, A8, S8 or R8. Which one’s the mid-engine coupe?

You: I just bought an R8.

Neighbor: Oh, yeah, I love the big back seat.

You: No, that’s the A8. I have the two-seat sports car.

Yeah, that one. The one that shares a chassis and engine with the Lamborghini Huracan. The one with 610 horsepower and dual-clutch S-tronic tranny that shifts in under 100 milliseconds. The one that goes 0-60 mph in 2.6 seconds, faster than any naturally aspirated car on the planet. At least Lamborghini names its rocketship after a bull. I mean, c’mon, Audi! If you had to go alphanumeric, you couldn’t have named it the XXX? Or PDQ? Or OMG?

I particularly like that last one, because that’s what people kept shouting when I prowled the Dream Cruise last month. Even at 3 mph, the R8 looks like it’s doing a million. Heads snapped around like Beyonce had appeared in the middle of Woodward.

Oh, my god, Dad! It’s an R8!

Oh, my god! What is that?

Oh, my god! Is that the new R8?

OMG, this thing is intense. The Audi’s badge may be antiseptic, but it purposely echoes the brand’s legendary R8 race car that dominated LeMans at the turn of the century, proving Audi could compete on the world sports stage with Porsche and Mercedes. Like the racing prototype, R8 is the distillation of Audi’s best technology.

Now in its second generation, the R8 is uncompromising in speed and comfort. Audi nixed the previous gen’s lower-priced V8 option, meaning your choice is a 540- or 610-horsepower V10. As such, the $164,000-$200,000 Audi occupies a competitive market space with other powerful cyborgs like the Porsche 911 Turbo, McLaren 570S, Acura NSX and Mercedes AMG GT S.

With their conventional drivetrains (the battery-assisted NSX excepted) and sub-$200K stickers, these greyhounds put up similar performance numbers to gold-plated exotics like the $1.4 million Ferrari LaFerrari, $450,000 Ford GT, and aforementioned, $260,000 Huracan. Rare but hardly unicorns (by contrast, there are only three LaFerraris in all of Michigan) they are the face of GT racing, slugging it out in IMSA’s Weathertech series at venues like Detroit’s Belle Isle Grand Prix weekend where R8 won the GTD class ahead of a Huracan. They are the cars that the $100,000 Corvette Z06 use as a performance baseline (thus its rightful place as the “budget supercar”).

Call them the Junior League of Supercars (taking a page from Marvel’s young superheroes). At $199,925, my Audi R8 V10 Plus may be the best of the breed.

I say that having tested the class’s best athlete, the 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo, at California’s Thunderhill Raceway just days before delivery of my R8 (“Plus” designates the 610-horsepower option). Stuttgart’s superhero outduels the Audi in virtually every spec (according to comparisons by our friends at Car and Driver and Motor Trend).

Zero-60 mph: Porsche, 2.5 seconds; Audi, 2.6.

Braking, 70-0 mph: Porsche 139 feet; Audi, 153.

Skid-pad cornering Gs: Porsche, 1.06, Audi, 1.00. And so on …

Flogging the R8 around M1 Concourse’s 1.5-mile track in Pontiac, I found the stats backed up the user experience. Like the all-wheel-drive 3,527-pound 911 Turbo, the AWD 3,627-pound Audi was a blast to drive with neutral handling, maniacal acceleration and earth-clawing, ceramic-rotor braking. Compared to a first-gen R8 I drove at Autobahn Raceway outside Chicago a couple of years back, the 2017’s chassis is noticeably more rigid, its aluminum skeleton strengthened by a carbon-fiber bulkhead and undertray.

Yet the Porsche’s more sophisticated AWD — dual-clutch torque vectoring assisted by rear-wheel steering — made for much better rotation through corners than the Audi and its more common Haldex system. Both cars were shod with Pirelli P-Zero summer tires, but the Turbo was more predictable on turn-in with less slip under high g-loads. Like the Acura NSX, the Audi’s inherent understeer impedes momentum through the tight stuff.

Under stress, the R8’s brakes showed a tendency to fade (surprising for ceramics) and emitted a noticeable odor when I returned to the paddock. Porsche’s ceramic and steel rotors never blinked under more extreme flogging. Despite their transmission similarities, the R8 displayed eccentricities compared to the rock-solid Porsche — like a violent, surging downshift when floored at cruise speed.

Audi makes up for these small track margins with big street pluses. Like design.

Porsche’s familiar coupe lines won’t send Dream Cruisers running for their smartphone cameras like the slinky R8. Its fascia is no Lambo (Audi’s halo car conforms to brand design themes), but intimidating nevertheless. Eschewing the first gen’s awkward “sideburn” intake for a more conventional scoop, the Audi’s long, V-10-engorged rear deck is reminiscent of the dramatic Bugatti Veyron.

In an age of whispery turbos, the howling, high-revving 10-pot is an aural masterpiece. Zero-60 stoplight launches are epic. My petrolhead pals were laughing as they put the throttle to the mat, the lightning-quick tranny and AWD grip propelling the car forward like Cedar Point’s Top Thrill Dragster roller coaster.

On Woodward after hours, the R8 simply sucked the doors off all challengers like Maserati’s alpha dog GT MC. I could have set up a stand at the Dream Cruise and charged for rides.

Before waking up the throaty V-10, the Audi’s interior, all-digital “Virtual Cockpit” wows. The 12.3-inch display integrates infotainment functions in the instrument panel. The 911’s classic gauge controls look soooo 15 minutes ago by comparison. And by eliminating the traditional dash screen and putting all controls including the START-STOP button on the steering wheel (shades of the racing R8 prototype), the Virtual Cockpit opens up the console for useful storage and cupholder space — a rarity in sports cars.

The experience makes the R8 feel like I am driving a video game. Instant power. Ear-rattling audio. Digital special effects.

With the R8, Audi has married raw Lamborghini performance with 21st-century drivability. Now if they could just come up with a more descriptive alphanumeric badge.

How about “2.6 0-60”?

2017 Audi R8 V10 Plus

specifications

VEHICLE TYPE MID-ENGINE, ALL-WHEEL DRIVE,

TWO-PASSENGER SPORTS CAR

Power plant 5.2-liter V-10
Transmission Seven-speed, dual-clutch “S-tronic” automatic
Weight 3,627 pounds
Price $164,150 base ($199,925 V10 Plus as tested)
  Power 540 horsepower, 398 pound-feet torque

(V10); 610 horsepower, 413 pound-feet

torque (V10 Plus)

Performance 0-60 mph, 2.6 seconds (Motor Trend);

top speed: 205 mph

Fuel economy EPA 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway/17 mpg combined

report card

HIGHS VIRTUAL COCKPIT DISPLAY; VIDEO GAME-LIKE ACCELERATION
Lows Odd, sudden tranny downshifts; cop magnet

Overall:★★★★

Payne: Cruise convertible or coupe?

Posted by hpayne on August 29, 2016

fiat_woodward

Ginger or Mary Ann? Paper or plastic? Hillary or Trump?

Life is full of vexing, self-defining choices. Here at The Detroit News, we take on the hard auto choices every year at the Woodward Dream Cruise, America’s greatest rolling car show. We schedule the coolest cars in the press fleet and put them through the ringer: Hours of grueling Woodward cruising, rubber-smoking stoplight burnouts, and constant Sirius/XM radio tuning. It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.

In years past we have addressed great existential questions like: Stingray or Hellcat? Mustang or Camaro? V-8 or inline-4? This year your intrepid auto critic took on the burning issue: Convertible or coupe?

I was well equipped with cutting edge examples of both breeds: The soft-top 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and the fastback, 50th anniversary 2017 Chevy Camaro SS.

The Fiat is everyone’s favorite Italian roadster. Nicknamed the Fiata because it is the dizygotic twin of the Mazda Miata, the 124 comes in convertible trim only. The Camaro SS, by contrast, is a coupe fortress, its windows narrower than a Normandy pillbox (and with more firepower under the hood, too).

I last rowed the delightful Fiata over California mountain roads. Despite sharing everything but its skin and engine with the Mazda, Fiat has done a good job of separating the two brands. With retro-styling that updates the 124’s ’60s look for a new century, the Spider fits right into a Cruise culture that treasures nostalgic designs like Mustang, Challenger, and Camaro.

The 124’s turbo four-banger is not as lively as the Miata’s 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated mill, but Woodward party accentuates the Fiat’s greatest virtues: Italian styling and topless cabin. Fiat is the tightest fit for my 6’5” frame of any auto. With ragtop in place, my head is stuffed into the roof, my knees one with the dashboard, and I have to dislocate my shoulder to operate the rotary screen-controller knob.

But with the top down, the tiny Fiat is a delightful fishbowl with a 360-degree view of Woodward. Inching along in the Friday evening Cruise jam, I chatted with cars on the right and left of me while routinely taking smartphone “selfie” shots of cars streaming for miles behind me. Best of all, the Fiata soft top is a cinch to take up or down without ever leaving the driver’s seat. When a pattering of rain drops came Saturday afternoon, I simply popped the latch, reached back and pulled the cloth top over me as simply as I would yank on a blanket on a cold summer’s night.

In the Camaro, you’re lucky to see in front of you.

From the outside, the 2017 car is a knockout. Sculpted with muscular flanks and squashed greenhouse, Camaro might pass for a front-engine Lamborghini but for the bowtie Chevy logo on the grille. But inside, the angled windshield is so shallow that I had to lean forward just to watch stoplights change. The surrounding view? Fuhgettaboutit. The only way you know the guy in the tiny Fiat is at your elbow is the blind-spot monitor flashing in your rear-view mirror.

The Fiata is for extroverts. If you want to show off your hot girl-/boyfriend, get the 124 — no one will see ’em in Camaro Cave.

Chevy’s coupe is for a different kind of display: horsepower. With 455 horsepower on tap from the same small-block V-8 found under the hood of cousin Corvette, the SS is a master at the Woodward burnout. I tried a burnout with the 124 Spider’s 160 horsepower turbo-four and the tire squeak was louder than the engine. Spectators thought someone had stepped on a mouse.

Cruising up Woodward on Thursday morning in Camaro’s 50th Anniversary Parade, I was followed by Kansan Logan Lawson — owner of the first Camaro ever made — attending his first Dream Cruise.

Got to roll out the burnt-rubber welcome mat for these Kansans.

Each stop signal on Woodward became a routine. Green light. Spike the revs to three-grand. Pop the clutch. Fill Logan’s cabin with tire smoke. With its 455-pound feet of torque and a limited-slip differential, the Camaro makes burnouts easy — and safe.

Which reminds me of another advantage of coupes — when the air gets too thick with tire smoke and carbon monoxide, you can always roll up the windows and marinate in cool air conditioning. With 4G LTE WiFi and Android Auto connectivity, the Camaro is an easy refuge.

Of course, readers looking for the perfect mix of topless roadster sociability and tire-smoking coupe macho may have already figured out the solution: The Camaro SS convertible. Happy cruisin’.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Specifications

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE,

TWO-PASSENGER SPORTS CAR

Power plant 1.4-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed manual (as tested)
Weight 2,428 pounds
Price $25,990 ($27,285 as tested)
Power 160 horsepower, 184 pound-feet torque
Performance 0-60 mph, 6.8 seconds (manufacturer);

top speed: 136 mph

Fuel economy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Chevy Camaro SS Coupe

Specifications

EPA 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway/30 mpg combined (manual)

report card

HIGHS HASSLE-FREE DROP TOP; CLASSIC RETRO LOOKS FOR DREAM CRUISE
Lows Tight interior quarters for six-footers; Turbo lag

Overall:★★★★

 

 

VEHICLE TYPE REAR-ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE,

FOUR-PASSENGER SPORTS COUPE

Power plant 6.2-liter push-rod V-8
Transmission Six-speed manual (as tested)
Weight 3,685 pounds (SS as tested)
Price $44,695 (50th anniversary editon base price, as tested)
Power 455 horsepower, 455 pound-feet torque

(6.2-liter V-8 as tested)

Performance 0-60 mph, 3.9 seconds (Car and Driver);

top speed: 155 mph

Fuel economy

report card

HIGHS COOL CONSOLE ERGONOMICS; WOODWARD BURNOUT ADDICT
Lows The visibility of a Normandy pillbox; gotta take your legs off to fit in backseat

Overall:★★★★

EPA 16 mpg city/25 mpg highway/19 mpg combined

 

Payne review: Porsche dials up the 911 Turbo

Posted by hpayne on August 25, 2016

turbo_above

When Jeep does a media test program they take us to places like Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area south of San Francisco, a sort of boot camp for cars. We tortured a Renegade there last year off sandy cliffs, over rocks and through a cement mixer of water and mud. The subcompact crossover is that tough, even if Joe Suburbia never takes it off asphalt.

When Porsche wants to introduce a new 911 Turbo, they take us to remote locations like Thunderhill Raceway Park north of Sacramento. In August. In 103-degree heat. It’s the “Willows” ramp off Interstate 5, the exit right before “The Fires of Hades.”

Over four hours, we flogged Stuttgart’s latest through four 20-minute sessions over one of the longest (4.6 miles), most punishing closed race courses in North America. This is production car abuse (by comparison, I do three, 20-minute sessions over seven hours in my purpose-built Porsche 906 race car on a typical race day).

Why? So Joe Suburbia knows that his $200,000 Porsche is as fast and reliable as they say it is. Even if the only course it ever comes near is a golf course.

As if 18 LeMans endurance victories weren’t enough proof, Porsche engineers the fastest, most durable sports cars on the planet. And everything they have ever learned is wrapped in a rocketship labeled internally as version 991.2.

The world will know it as the 2017 911 Turbo and Turbo S.

Since its debut in 1973, the Turbo has had the mostest: the most horsepower, most technology, most drivability of any 911. On Thunderhill it didn’t disappoint. Like the 911 Carrera on which it is based, Turbo feels smaller than its 3,527 pounds. Credit German engineering that brews this masterpiece with a tried-and-true recipe: fast-back shape, rear-mounted boxer 6-cylinder, and a rear track wider than a 747.

Then add the latest spices, like a standard all-wheel drive system that rotates the car’s mass through corners with rear-wheel steering. The payoff comes at exit, when you floor — yes, floor — the 3.8-liter engine and all four paws channel its 540-horsepower (580 in the Turbo S) for launch to the next corner. At Thunderhill, I hit 140 mph on the short front straight.

This AWD grip is surely part of what’s driving the mid-engine Corvette’s developmentbecause the horsepower arms race shows no sign of letting up. With 650 ponies at its disposal, Chevy needs to move its engine rearward so the front wheels can help manage all that grunt. In the rear-wheel-drive ’Vette, power application can be a hairy enterprise.

In the Turbo it’s pure joy.

Of course, bringing nearly two tons of fury to heel isn’t easy. The Turbo S options massive, 16-inch front carbon-ceramic rotors to do the job. You’ll know them by their yellow six-pot Brembo calipers. And $9,210 price tag. The Turbo’s standard steel rotors are just fine, thank you very much, showing no sign of fade under my 20-minute whippings.

Frankly, if you’re going to put a Porsche through regular track torture, you’ll want a 911 GT-3 RS or the mid-engine Cayman GT4. These nimbler track rats weigh 400-500 pounds less than the Turbo.

But even if the Turbo never sees a track, it packs plenty of thrills for the street.

Begin with “SPORT Response,” an unassuming little button within the Driving Mode dial on the steering wheel. Pushing it unleashes the Hounds of Hell.

Its purpose is akin to IndyCar Racing’s “push-to-pass” mode which boosts horsepower for 10-second passing bursts. In the 911 Turbo, SPORT Response primes the drivetrain for 20 seconds of maximum performance.

Luffing along on the road to Thunderhill, I encountered a conga line of slow traffic. Pressed the button. The automatic tranny instantly dropped from seventh to third gear. Revs spiked to 5,000 rpm. I stomped the throttle and the car shot forward like a greased torpedo. FOOOOMP! I was past the line doing a million miles an hour — and well before my 20 seconds was used up.

Try this in normal driving mode and you’ll feel a moment’s hesitation as the tranny downshifts. In SPORT Response there is no delay, no drivetrain interruption at all. A Porsche engineer explained how this is possible. I didn’t understand a word. Let’s just say it’s Black Magic. And very addictive.

Did I mention the Turbo no longer offers a manual gearshift option? You won’t miss it.

Computer-driven tech like SPORT Response is only possible with modern, lightning-quick, dual-clutch PDK (PDQ would be more appropriate) trannies like that in the Turbo. Sub-100 millisecond gear changes propel the lag-less Turbo from 0-60 mph in a breathtaking 2.6 seconds.

That’s Tesla Ludicrous Mode-like acceleration — but with 430-mile range.

On track I love to row a manual box. But Porsche’s computer is smarter — never missing a shift, never selecting a wrong gear. PDK allows you to concentrate on your line. Off-track, the Turbo is a pussycat — a whisper-quiet, roomy, all-wheel daily driver that will even cut through Michigan snow drifts.

No wonder Porsche race star Hurley Haywood, who led us around Thunderhill at a smart clip, says the 2017 Turbo is the best 911 he’s ever driven.

“And I thought the last generation, 991.1, couldn’t get any better,” the Daytona- and LeMans-winning driver says. “But on the last gen you could feel the rear-drive steering jerk you into a corner, while in the new car it’s seamless.”

You sense some relief in the 68-year old’s voice after driving — and surviving — Porsche race cars for the last 50 years. Including the legendary, 1,100-horsepower, 1973 Porsche 917. “That car was scary,” he concedes.

With all this engineering bravado in the 911 Turbo, I scratch my head at what’s missing in this $200,000 jewel: No voice recognition, no proper cup holders (they still flop out from the dash). Manual transmission aside, these are Porsche’s stubborn nods to tradition. No buttons on the steering column (SPORT Response button is at the end of a stalk). No storage on the console (performance buttons only). No starter button (left key required).

In the $200,000 supercar toy department — McLaren 570, Audi R8 V10, Acura NSX — 911’s tradition is its reputation. The others may look and sound more exotic, but Porsche is betting that after 20 minutes the old lion will still be King of Thunderhill.

VEHICLE TYPE REAR-ENGINE, ALL-WHEEL DRIVE,

FOUR-PASSENGER SPORTS CAR

Power plant 3.8-liter, twin-turbo flat 6-cylinder
Transmission Seven-speed, dual-clutch PDK automatic
Weight 3,527 pounds (Turbo S as tested)
Price $160,250 ($192,310 Turbo S as tested)
Power 540 horsepower, 486 pound-feet torque

(Turbo); 580 horsepower, 516 pound-feet

torque (Turbo S)

Performance 0-60 mph, 2.6 seconds (Car and Driver);

top speed: 205 mph

Fuel economy EPA 19 mpg city/21 mpg highway/24 mpg combined

report card

HIGHS  

RIDICULOUS ACCELERATION; PUSH-TO-PASS SPORT

RESPONSE MODE

Lows  

No place to put your phone; I wouldn’t trust those

flimsy cupholders at 1-plus G-loads

Overall:★★★★

Fulfilling dreams of less-fortunate cruisers

Posted by hpayne on August 20, 2016

Charity-Cruise-35

The Woodward Dream Cruise may be the most populist major car show in America. Everyone is welcome – from One Percenters in supercars to Joe Lunchbucket in his antique carbureted geezer.

So when D-MAN Foundation – which supports kids and adults with significant disabilities – was looking for an event where its clients could share the joys of motoring, it found a welcoming home at the Cruise.

For the fifth year, D-MAN’s “Dreams Come True on Woodward” brought dozens of its clients to the Kingsley Inn in Bloomfield Hills where they were treated to games, music – and most significantly, open-air rides in some of Motor City’s favorite convertibles.

D-MAN is the brainchild of Ziad Kassab, 32, whose younger brother, Danny, was tragically paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 5. When his brother succumbed to his disability at 23, Kassab dedicated his life to helping similarly disable individuals enjoy a fuller life through music and social events. Thus his organization’s name: Danny’s Miracle Angels Network (D-MAN).

“Dreams Come True” depends on volunteers – like your Fiat 124 Spider-driving scribe – to give rides to their clients. My passenger was Randy Newton, 31, a cerebral palsy victim from Mt. Morris. Randy cannot speak and has only limited mobility, but his dedicated, loving parents – Mary and Ralph – helped him into the Fiat’s passenger seat from his wheel chair.

We took a quick spin up Woodward – the topless 124 Spider surrounded by loud V-8s, gorgeous sports cars, and the odd ice cream truck. Randy took it all in, particularly thrilled by the roars from the big block engines. His parents told me he is a huge Kid Rock fan – and judging by the ear-to-ear grin on his face when we got back to the Kingsley, he’s now a Fiat fanatic as well.

Other D-MAN participants could not ride along in my two-seater convertible. Charlie Starlight, for example. A 29-year old quadriplegic, Charlie took a ride in a Camaro convertible after being lowered into the front seat from his wheel chair with a harness that D-MAN brought for the occasion. Then a family member rode in the Chevy’s rear seat in order to monitor his ventilator.

“I like the noise the Camaro makes,” said Charlie when asked the best part of GM’s iconic pony car – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary at this year’s Cruise.

Starlight makes some beautiful music of his won, having just cut his first album, “The Beginning of Charlie Starlight” with D-MAN’s Music Therapy Productions. D-MAN uses music as therapy for its patients – including developing software that compliments their musical abilities.

“It’s vocational therapy. It’s breathing therapy. It makes me use my musical skills to their full ability,” says quadriplegic Al Floyd, 46, who can activate virtual keyboards and percussion with head and eye movements in order to create accompaniment with his vocals. He recently recorded a single, “My Home Detroit.”

With more than articipants, D-MAN Foundation enjoyed another successful Dream Cruise this year. For more information, go to www.mydman.org on the web or look for #BeTheMiracle on Twitter.

And bring a convertible cruiser to the Kingsley Inn in August, 2017.

 

Camaros light the torch to open Woodward Dream Cruise

Posted by hpayne on August 19, 2016

Timothy Winters, 39, of Northville sets up a GoPro

Move over, Corvette. This year Camaro is Chevy’s King of the Cruise. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the iconic pony car lit up its tires and lit the torch to open the 22nd Annual Woodward Dream Cruise on Friday morning.

“Camaro owners, start your engines!” roared General Motors product development chief Mark Reuss. His call unleashed bedlam on Detroit’s waterfront as 250 Camaros roared to life in the Joe Louis Arena parking lot.

Reuss then jumped into a 455-horsepower 2016 Camaro SS — the same car Roger Penske used to pace the field at this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 — and led the noisy parade up Interstate 75, through mid-morning traffic, and onto Woodward. Final destination: the Iroquois Club north of Square Lake Road. While Penske hit 140 mph on Indy’s back straight, Reuss was much more civilized, following a police escort at a tame 50 mph.

“This is the Camaro’s cruise. You only turn 50 once,” grinned Reuss, whose first car was an original red 1967 Camaro that he found for $1,500 in Missouri.

GM’s motorhead-in-chief was followed by Camaro faithful who answered the call for this year’s parade from 16 states, Ontario — and one guy from Norway. All six generations of the car were represented.

Among the field was Mark Stielow of Milford, Michigan. GM engineer by day, Camaro hobbyist by night, Stielow has updated 15 original Camaros to modern spec — including the stunning yellow ’69 SS he stuffed with a 6-liter V-8 from the current ZL1 Camaro, six-speed manual transmission (replacing the old “three-on-a-tree”) and coil-over shocks. You could hear him fire it up from Pontiac.

Walt Stiles, 73, came all the way from Syracuse, New York, for the morning “Camaros and coffee” rally in his pristine red 2016 Camaro SS. This is Stiles’ fourth Camaro — the first was a 1994 Z28 — and it is his favorite. No wonder — the sixth-generation cars are light-years advanced from that fourth-generation. Today’s car is not only built on a stiff platform shared with the nimble Cadillac ATS, but it has 4G LTE WiFi, Apple CarPlay and state-of-the-art suspension. The original car rode on leaf springs still found in pickup trucks today.

Polished to perfection, Stiles’ coupe won “Best 2016 Camaro” at Lansing’s Assembly plant Thursday where the Camaro faithful took a plant tour. Then the whole Camaro development team — Reuss, chief engineer Al Oppenheiser and designer Tom Peters among them — signed its engine bay.

I followed Peters up Woodward in his own classic red 1969 Camaro. I was behind the wheel of a brand-new 2017 50th anniversary-edition SS festooned with Detroit News decals. Chevy is offering the 50th anniversary edition with all three powertrains — turbocharged 4-cylinder, V-6 and V-8. You’ll know it by its “Nightfall Gray metallic” color, orange accents — Brembo brake calipers, hood stripes, leather seat-stitching — and unique 20-inch wheels. With “FIFTY” tattooed on the front fenders, Chevy expects to sell 5,000 of them.

I tried to provoke Peters into some burnouts up Woodward with the modern 560-horsepower, 427-cubic inch V-8 that he stuffed into his car. But he behaved himself.

As did Reuss who was clearly tickled to be in the same car Penske had driven at Indy. It was Reuss who asked the 79-year-old Indy legend to pace the field at Indy in his 50th year racing at the brickyard. “He was over the moon about it,” recalls Reuss, “No one had ever approached him about doing it before.”

The parade even included a classic 1991 Camaro cop car the Michigan State Police still owns. Underneath its blue exterior is an IROC-Z — the performance version of the ’91 Camaro Z28.

“We used them for traffic enforcement only,” said officer and driver Mike Shaw, 52, referring to the muscle car’s specialty of running down high-speed scofflaws. “We could chase down anything.”

At Friday’s parade, everyone stayed in line.

 

Looking back at 50 years of Camaro

Posted by hpayne on August 18, 2016

Forged in the hot oven of Big Three competition, Camaro was Chevy’s response to Ford’s wildly popular sports coupe, the Mustang. Affordably priced but bearing the sexy lines of a more expensive European sports car, Ford’s rear-wheel-drive “pony car” took the world by storm in 1965, selling a staggering 680,995 copies in its first model year.

Reports of a long-hooded, two-door Chevy competitor to the Mustang surfaced in April 1965. Codename: Panther. Legend has it that the name Camaro was loosely based on the French word “camarade” from which the English term “comrade” is derived. The Camaro was unveiled in September 1966 for the 1967 model year. Its base price, $2,466, undercut the cheapest Mustang, which cost $2,510.

An epic, five-decade, cross-town rivalry with Ford was on.

Here’s a drive down memory lane, looking back at the notable years of Camaro for its 50th anniversary.

1967: The Camaro was unveiled in September 1966 for

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forged in the hot oven of Big Three competition, the Camaro was Chevy’s response to Ford’s wildly popular sports coupe, the Mustang, which took the world by storm in 1965. Legend has it that the name Camaro was loosely based on the French word “camarade,” from which the English term “comrade” is derived. Fifty years ago, in 1967, an epic, cross-town rivalry with Ford was on. Here’s a look at how the Camaro has evolved.

1970: The base engine was upgraded to a 4.1-liter while

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1970: The base engine was upgraded to a 4.1-liter while the SS was stuffed with a fire-breathing, 350-horse, 6.5-liter enginel. Produced for over a decade, the second-generation Camaro would not feature a convertible (what were they thinking?).

 

1971: A move to unleaded gasoline brought lower compression

1971: A move to unleaded gasoline brought lower compression ratios and less horsepower. The 6.5-liter SS engine, for example, saw power decline from 350 horses to 300. The Camaro’s mug changed with a full, chrome bumper — compliments of government regulation.

1972: Due to a strike, Camaro would only produce 68,651

1972: Due to a strike, Camaro would only produce 68,651 units in 1972 — half of 1970 totals. For the first time, GM thought of discontinuing the Camaro as a flood of emissions and safety regulations made pony cars difficult to produce. Horsepower ratings continued to drop — to 240 horsepower for the SS’s big block, 6.5-liter V-8 in what would be its last production year.

1973: Camaro sales rebounded somewhat to nearly 100,000

1973: Camaro sales rebounded somewhat to nearly 100,000 units even as Camaro dropped its SS trim. A more posh LT model was offered in addition to the RS and Z28. The LT boasted a lush interior, hidden windshield wipers, full instrumentation, and sport mirrors.

1974: Camaro grew by seven inches -- and so did sales.

1974: Camaro grew by seven inches — and so did sales. The former was due to more stringent federal bumper mandates, the latter courtesy of Mustang, which downsized to the Pinto platform with a base, 4-cylinder engine), and Dodge Challenger, Plymouth Barracuda, and AMC Javelin all exiting the pony car market. As a consequence, Camaro –and related Pontiac Firebird — were the only true muscle cars in the market. Despite the oil crisis, Camaro sales soared to over 150,000.

1975: Tightening emissions regs doomed the Z28 and

1975: Tightening emissions regs doomed the Z28 and its 5.7-liter V-8. Sales remained stable, however, thanks to the Camaro/Firebird pony-car market monopoly. Mild cosmetic changes distinguished the new model, including a wrap-around rear window for better visibility, new Camaro badge, and the migration of the logo from grille to hood.

1976: Sales for the Camaro climbed over 182,000 --

1976: Sales for the Camaro climbed over 182,000 — a trend that would continue to the car’s 282,571 record in 1979. Under the hood, Camaro’s base V-6 stayed the same. Two V-8s were available – a new, 5.0-liter and the old, 5.7-liter, its output down to just 165 ponies.

1977: The Z28 was back as Camaro (and Firebird) sales

1977: The Z28 was back as Camaro (and Firebird) sales soared. The 5.7-liter V-8 gained 20 horsepower and its quarter-mile performance nearly replicated the heyday of the big block, 1960s Camaros. Other notable changes? Intermittent windshield wipers debuted.

1978: Camaro designers embraced new bumper aesthetics,

1978: Camaro designers embraced new bumper aesthetics, covering the aluminum eyesores with a more attractive, body-colored, polyurethane coating. A T-Top also appeared on the Camaro for the first time.

1979: The posh LT trim was replaced by the even more

1979: The posh LT trim was replaced by the even more luxurious “Berlinetta” option. Camaro also gained modern conveniences like an electrically-heated rear windshield defroster. The Z28 (pictured) rocked on with a fresh front-air dam and side badging.

1980: Sales fell off a cliff as the economy and engines

1980: Sales fell off a cliff as the economy and engines downsized. The base V-6 shrank from 4.1 liters to 3.8. Yet another federal rule mandated that speedometers could only read up to 85 mph — which didn’t deter Z28 owners from exploring the limits of their 185 horses. In 1981 Computer Command Control modules were introduced, bringing with them more federal emissions controls — but also the ability to aid engine diagnostics.

1982: A major chassis redesign put the next, third-gen

1982: A major chassis redesign put the next, third-gen Camaro on a diet. It lost 500 pounds while gaining a sippier four-cylinder engine option. A V-6 and V-8 were available as well. Scalloped front headlights dominated the front fascia and the rear got a hatchback. Camaro was named Motor Trend’s 1982 Car of the Year.

1984: Transmissions were upgraded to a 5-speed manual

1984: Transmissions were upgraded to a 5-speed manual and 4-speed auto. Digital Age controls transformed the 1984 car’s interior, including an instrument cluster with electronic readouts like a bar-graph tachometer and digital speedometer.

1987: Inspired by the International Race of Champions

1987: Inspired by the International Race of Champions series with Camaros driven by pro drivers from every corner of motorsports, Camaro introduced an IROC-Z version from 1985-1990. The Z got performance tweaks like lowered ride height, special shocks, and more horsepower. In 1986 Camaro said goodbye to its 4-banger, restoring the V-6 as Camaro’s base engine. And in 1987 a convertible returned to the lineup for the first time since 1970.

1992: As sales waned, Camaro celebrated its 25th anniversary

1992: As sales waned, Camaro celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1992 with a heritage badge on all cars.

1994: Resisting the industry trend toward front-wheel

1994: Resisting the industry trend toward front-wheel drive models, the fourth generation Camaro debuted on the familiar, solid-rear axle F-body platform. The push-rod V-8 was now shared with Corvette Ð the 5.7-liter, 275-horse LT1 Ð propelling the Z28 model from 0-60 mph in just 5.7 seconds. Visual cues carried over from Gen 3 with the Camaro getting a more streamlined body shape. Production moved out of the U.S. to Quebec.

1995: The base V-6 engine made 200 horsepower for

1995: The base V-6 engine made 200 horsepower for the 1996 model year while the SS badge returned after a long hiatus. Two manual trannies were available — 5- and 6-speed — as well as a 4-gear auto. Options included 16-inch tires.

1997: A 30th anniversary model with orange stripes

1997: A 30th anniversary model with orange stripes on a white body was offered in SS and Z28 trims. The LT4 V-8 pumped out 330 horses. A loaded SS with 17-inch wheels cost $38 grand — or $57,068 in today’s dollars.

1998: A new front fascia with flush, rounded headlights replaced the inset, square headlights of previous Gen-4 models. Sales had tailed off to just 54,032 a year.

2010: After teasing Camaro coupe and convertible concepts

2010: After teasing Camaro coupe and convertible concepts at the 2006 and 2007 Detroit auto shows, Chevy brought back its iconic muscle car as a 2010 production model. Once again Mustang was the catalyst, Ford having jump-started pony car interest with its gorgeous, retro-styled Gen-5 model in 2005.

2010: The fifth-generation Camaro was a stunner with

2010: The fifth-generation Camaro was a stunner with a Gen 1-inspired design from menacing front cowl to “coke bottle” hips. Built on the all-new Zeta platform, the Camaro featured a modern, independent rear suspension to counter the Mustang’s antiquated, solid rear axle. Camaro outsold Mustang with a buffet of trims from LS to LT to SS.

2011: Camaro's star turn in "Transformers" made it

2011: Camaro’s star turn in “Transformers” made it an international movie star. Chevy built on the car’s popularity by rolling out a convertible version (seen here as the Indy 500 pace car). A V-6 engine pumped out 312 horsepower while the SS’s 6.2-liter V-8 monster generated 425.

2012: The arms race for pony-car hegemony was on against

2012: The arms race for pony-car hegemony was on against Mustang and Dodge’s Challenger. Camaro introduced a 3.6-liter V-6 producing 323 horsepower. The SS coupe got a new suspension package, 20-inch wheels, and revised instruments. And for the first time, Camaro launched the ZL1 — a Mustang GT500 fighter with a 580-horsepower, 6.2 liter engine. It was the most powerful Camaro ever.

2013: This model would showcase Chevy's new MyLink

2013: This model would showcase Chevy’s new MyLink console navigation system, leather seats, and electric power steering, making the Camaro a comfortable cruiser as well as a Woodward drag racer.

2014: Camaro received significant cosmetic changes,

2014: Camaro received significant cosmetic changes, including a slit cowl, bigger lower air intake, narrower greenhouse, and a wider stance. The Z28 nameplate retuned with a serious, track-focused car boasting a 427-cubic inch motor, Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, and stiffened suspension tuning. A rocket for the race-minded, the Z28 eschewed AC and could explode from 0-60 in just 4 ticks.

2015: With the much-anticipated, sixth-generation Camaro

2015: With the much-anticipated, sixth-generation Camaro looming for 2016, the ’15 car got nary an update. Blue Velvet Metallic was added to the color palette.

2016: With its 2015 Extreme Makeover, Ford's Mustang

2016: With its 2015 Extreme Makeover, Ford’s Mustang had set a high bar with its first independent rear suspension, stunning styling, and three engine options — including a 305-horse, turbo four. Camaro rose to the challenge, matching the three engine choices — and much more. Chevy based the new Camaro on GM’s Alpha platform — a sophisticated, lightweight luxury platform developed for the Cadillac ATS.

2016: Powered by a Corvette-shared, 455-horse V-8,

2016: Powered by a Corvette-shared, 455-horse V-8, the SS shredded the Mustang GT in a Car & Driver performance compassion test. Interior design was efficient while still packing in Chevy’s digital toolbox of 4G WiFi and Apple Car Play. Critics were less enthused by interior visibility – the greenhouse even narrower than Gen 5.

2017: Chevy will roll out the 50th Anniversary Special

2017: Chevy will roll out the 50th Anniversary Special Edition Camaro, above, on Aug. 19, 2016, at the Woodward Dream Cruise. For the 2017 model year, every Camaro built will feature a special 50th Anniversary badge on the steering wheel.

2017: Camaro also will introduce two performance

2017: Camaro also will introduce two performance trims: 1LE and ZL1. The 1LE, available with both V-6 and V-8 engines, comes with signature black hood and upgraded suspension and bodywork. The fearsome-but-luxurious ZR1, above, will get the same, redonculous 650-horse engine as the supercar Corvette Z06 — plus an all-new, 10-speed transmission. That’s one fit 50-year old.

New classics for the Woodward Dream Cruise

Posted by hpayne on August 17, 2016

 

It’s time to head back to Woodward for our annual Dream Cruise reunion. This year’s featured class is 1990 which, after 26 years, is eligible for historic plate status under Michigan law. Most states celebrate the quarter-century mark, but we Michiganians are different (or just can’t count).

When I celebrated my 30th college reunion a couple of years back, time had taken its toll: Some classmates were notable for their loss of hair. Still others hadn’t changed a bit, their youthful figures still turning heads.

Some names I didn’t recognize. (We went to school together?) Some had kids who already had graduated from college.

So it is with our 26th-reunion class.

Some names we’ve forgotten. Geo? Who made you again? The Miata family is in its fourth generation. And Corvette ZR-1, dude, you’re as hot as ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Class of 1990.

Cars built in 1990 are now eligible for historic plate

Chevy Corvette ZR-1

This was the class’ star athlete. It made the girls swoon. If cars were barred for performance-enhancing drugs, the ZR-1 never would have made it. With bigger glutes to accommodate huge rear rubber, a performance suspension and a 375-horsepower engine supplied by Lotus, the ZR-1 was all-everything. And at $58,995 is cost double a base ‘Vette.

Redesigned for 1990, the 18½-foot long, V-8-powered

Lincoln Town Car

The Academy Award-nominated “Driving Miss Daisy” was a cultural phenomenon in 1990, so it’s only appropriate that Lincoln’s best-selling chauffeur-mobile got a major redesign. With sleeker styling, the 181/2-foot-long, V-8 powered land yacht was Motor Trend’s 1990 Car of the Year. Two bench seats! Six-passenger seating! Four-speaker AM/FM stereo with cassette player! Ah, the days when full-size sedans were king. Town Car sold a staggering 120,000 units in 1990 — five times more than today’s lux class-leading Mercedes S-Class.

 

The 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata was a throwback to the British

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Here we jump from 221-inch ocean liner to 155-inch skiff. The Miata was made in Japan but made for America. The pet project of American journalist-turned-product-planner Bob Hall, the MX-5 was a throwback to the British roadsters of the 1960s. Nimble and topless, the Miata was an instant hit. Unlike the rest of us oldsters, the Miata hasn’t gained weight over two-and-a-half decades. The fourth-gen car — just 2,332 pounds — weighs nearly the same as the original.

A year after the slinky Reatta was introduced, Buick

Buick Reatta convertible

A year after the slinky Reatta was introduced, Buick dropped its top. The limited-edition, V-6 powered Reatta was always destined to be a Dream Cruiser classic. The convertible was even rarer with just 2,437 copies sold (65 of them were “Select Sixty” models with white skin and flaming red interiors). It would be the last Buick convertible until this year’s striking, Opel-based Buick Cascada.

Toyota's luxury brand Lexus debuted in 1990 with the

Lexus LS400

Toyota’s luxury brand debuted in 1990 with the full-sized LS. This big, juicy, premium steak was prepared just as luxury customers wanted — lush interior, big-cube V-8, air suspension — but for a fraction of the cost of comparable European dishes. It looked a Mercedes, but its customer service was second to none. Attentive service spawned urban legends of dealer agents walking 500 miles over hot coals for their customers. The flagship sedan has since lost its mojo, as the Lexus RX SUV has become the brand’s dominant seller – and signature vehicle.

Like Toyota, Nissan dove into the luxury pool with

nfiniti Q45

Like Toyota, Nissan dove into the luxury pool with its own brand. But unlike Lexus’s swan dive, Infiniti did a belly flop. The Q45 was much more daring than Lexus, less derivative in design. Infiniti chose to debut the car with ads never showing the actual automobile. Its antiseptic interior was clean of coveted design elements like wood trim. It’s a pity, because the car was a technical tour de force: It came with a class-leading, 278-horse, 4.5-liter V-6 and innovative details like rear-wheel steering and an active suspension that read the contours of the road for a smoother ride.

Updating the 300ZX for the 1990 model year, Nissan

Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon

Remember those 1990 class lovebirds, Chrysler and Mitsubishi? Well, the pair got hitched and birthed a Diamond-Star family of identical triplets: Eagle Talon, Mitsubishi Eclipse and Plymouth Laser. Only the Mitsubishi would survive the decade, but the Eagle was the athlete of the litter, winning the SCCA Touring Car championship in 1990 and 1991. Priced affordably (the equivalent of $25K-$35K today), the top-trim, turbocharged Talon/Laser/Eclipse was a rocketship with 195 ponies and all-wheel drive handling.

In 1990 Chrysler and Mitsubishi collaborated on a Diamond-Star

Nissan 300 ZX

Nissan designers penned one of the sexiest, most revered shapes in the market when they updated the 300ZX for the 1990 model year. The arched rocker panels alone caused grown men’s knees to buckle with desire. Sporting two engine options — 220-horse V-6 or 300-horse twin-turbo — the low-slung coupe was as quick as it was good-looking. Car and Driver gave it high honors with a place on the annual Top 10 list.

The successor to the sporty Sirocco, the wedge-shaped

VW Corrado

The successor to the sporty Scirocco, the wedge-shaped Corrado coupe was a stunner. Its muscular physique, unique rear spoiler (which deployed at speeds over 50 mph) and peppy, 138-horse supercharged engine made it one spicy heisse wurst. But customers balked at the V-dub’s high price. For the 1992 model year, it was stuffed with a 187-horse V-6, causing Car magazine to call the Corrado of “25 Cars You Must Drive Before You Die.”

 

Under pressure to sell small cars profitably in the

Geo Prizm

This wee sardine can is hardly a classic cruiser, but there’s a neat twist if you’ll bear with me. Under pressure to sell small cars profitably in the U.S. market, GM teamed with Toyota in 1990 to produce the Prizm in their joint-venture NUMMI plant in Fremont, California. A quarter-century later, the fuel-sipping Geo badge is gone as Americans still resist small cars. And the NUMMI plant? It’s been converted by Tesla to produce its future-classic Model S electric car.

The TVR Griffith -- now eligible for U.S. import after

TVR Griffith

While American cars become eligible for historic plates after 26 years, U.S. law also grants status to American-illegal cars when they turn 25. Cars like the TVR Griffith — which never satisfied America’s onerous federal regulations — are now legal to be driven on U.S. roads. A classic English badge, the lightweight, fiberglass-bodied, 240-horse TVR was a rocket in a straight line, and a handful in the twisties. Look for this outsider crashing the Woodward class party.

 

Payne: Best college car

Posted by hpayne on August 13, 2016

A new car will depreciate 60 percent after four years.

Cars mark milestones in our lives: The car you got your license in as a teen. Your first family carrier when you had kids. Your mid-life crisis Camaro ZL1 that got you a fat ticket on Woodward (remember that one?).

For many, August means finding the right car to go back to college.

After the emotional family trip your freshman year — the tears, the hugs, the goodbyes — sophomore year begins an annual routine. You’re on your own. Time to have your own car and make the trip back yourself. The car represents freedom, but also expense.

You imagine rolling up to campus in a brand new, yellow Mustang convertible — V-6 purring, shades on. But will all your stuff fit in the trunk? Will your three pals fit in the back seat? And what was that sticker price again? Thirty-three grand?

(Cough.) Not on top of what the parents are paying in tuition, you’re not.

Welcome to Econ 101. College wheels are a lesson in cost management and utility. Shopping starts in the USED section. Save the new car for later. The truth is new vehicles on average depreciate by 20 percent their first year off the lot according to Carfax.com — and 60 percent over four years.

Talk about a lousy investment. So buy used. But be reasonable about it.

My college roommate bought his first car in August 1985 with $100 he had saved from his summer job. It was an old Fiat with more miles on it that the Space Shuttle. He drove it 200 miles to Princeton University from Virginia that August, unloaded his stuff in our room, then coaxed it — wheezing and wobbling — to a nearby garage to get it serviced.

The grizzled mechanic took one look at the Italian lemon, turned to my 19-year old roomie and said: “Son, you’re lucky to be alive.”

Happily, 200,000 miles is the new 100,000. So if you can find a 5-year-old-plus car with less than 100,000 miles on the odometer, chances are you’ll get a good buy for under $10,000.

There’s a school of thought among parents that their kids should drive around in tanks for safety in the case of an accident (likely with another kid in a tank). But I come from a different school: If you’re a competent, defensive driver, a smaller car allows you to avoid contact in the first place. Case in point — at the busy Tel-Twelve interchange on the Lodge Freeway a few years back, a hulking SUV cut across three lanes (seized by a sudden Big Mac attack, perhaps?) to exit onto Telegraph Road — and right across my bow. Driving a nimble Ford Focus ZX3 hatch (ultimately the college car for both my boys), I took violent avoidance action and emerged unscathed.

If I had been in a large SUV, I would have been on my roof. Or worse.

Compact hatches are also affordable. A Ford Focus or Mazda 3 hatchback, Honda Fit, Toyota Prius or VW Golf all meet my under-100,000 miles/$10,000 ticker criteria. They are also thrifty daily drivers for tight student budgets — and will sound attractive to tuition-shocked parents when you go to them on bended knees for one more college expense.

A 2011 Honda Fit, for example, will get over 30 mpg and require minimal maintenance. Look for a used, mid-sized, 30-mpg-sipping Honda Pilot SUV for under $10K and you’d have a better chance finding a unicorn.

Yeah, I know, millennials dig SUVs just like everyone else. And, says Chevy marketing guru Steve Majoros, crossovers are no longer just for soccer moms now that a new generation of subcompact utes is peppering vehicles lots: Chevy Trax, Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade. But good luck finding those newbies for less than $10K.

Five-door compacts offer the same utility at less cost. All you give up is a few inches off the ground. That’s right, the days of the underpowered compact are over.

I didn’t have a car in college (a West Virginia native, I was lucky to have shoes), but the future Mrs. Payne did. Her used, loaded-with-college-stuff BMW 318 sedan and its paltry 98 horses barely made it over Pennsylvania’s mountains on her way to school.

That five-door, four-year-old Honda Fit/Focus/Golf beats the Bimmer by 20-60 horsepower and will climb interstate mountains like a billy goat. It’ll also fit your belongings. And your three college pals. And go from Ann Arbor to home and back on a couple of gallons of gas.

Payne: Sedan sirens, Buick LaCrosse and Jaguar XJL

Posted by hpayne on August 11, 2016

Two rejuvenated brands are turning heads this year

The heck with big sport utilities.

Those breadboxes on wheels have taken over our automotive kingdom. Boxy and brawny, they have become Americans’ vehicle of choice. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Their utility is undeniable. They efficiently swallow families and their stuff. They give soccer moms visual command of the landscape. They assist senior citizens with an easy step up rather than a back-breaking stoop down. And they provide NBA-friendly room for sharp elbows and tall knees.

Utility? You bet. But sport? I mean, even Porsche can’t make a car jacked a foot in the air feel like a Porsche. There’s no denying physics. And stick a fifth door on anything and it’s going to look like a box. There are some lovely beaks out there, from the Maserati Lavante’s trident grill to the Mazda CX’9’s sunny smile. But you’ll never hear anyone talk about a ute’s gorgeous glutes. Or curvy hips.

SUVs are from Mars, sedans are from Venus.

For those who want beauty and athleticism in a large vehicle, there will always be sedans. Sedans may be down and out on dealer lots, but their inherent grace and feminine lines are still the benchmark for automotive style. Speaking of down and out, two rejuvenated old brands are turning heads this year with stunning full-size sedans that bookend the luxury segment: The entry-lux 2017 Buick LaCrosse and top-of-the-line 2016 Jaguar XJL.

With its stunning, much-copied lines, the XJL has helped re-establish Jaguar as luxury’s premier beauty. At the cheaper end of the lux menu, the LaCrosse manages to rekindle the spirit of the era when Buick wowed the world with designs like the 1954 Wildcat.

Few will lament the passing of the old LaCrosse. Heavy, arthritic and bulbous, it did little to shake the brand’s reputation as a purveyor of land yachts. Happily, however, Buick caught the SUV wave at just the right time, riding the fresh Enclave and Encore to sales glory. Buick has dominated the small-ute class with the perky and innovative Encore. That’s right — I just used innovative, dominated and perky in the same sentence as Buick.

SUV success has given the sedans a chance to get their act together and the all-new LaCrosse doesn’t disappoint.

It’s the first GM product built on the Epsilon II platform — E2 for short — and like other new GM platforms from Chevy and Caddy, it’s been hitting the gym. E2 lost 150 pounds from its predecessor, part of a 300-pound diet that has made LaCrosse a fit 3,650 pounds. Leaner and meaner, the lower-by-1.3 inches, more athletic-looking LaCrosse gained 2.7 inches in wheelbase, 1.3 inches in width.

Combined with a new five-link rear suspension (usually found in more upscale lux athletes like BMW) and a torque-vectoring, GKN-developed, dual-clutch all-wheel drive system (usually found in track-tuners like the Ford Focus RS), the LaCrosse delivers superb handling for a big car.

It’s startling, really. Like those Snickers commercials starring Betty White, it’s as if your granny’s Buick ate a candy bar and transformed into a 200-pound football player. Or, more appropriately in this case, a 200-pound lacrosse middie. Compared to class competitors like Lexus ES350 or Nissan Maxima, the Buick is more aligned with Maxima’s athletic DNA.

Over curvy Route 47 northwest of Portland, Oregon, I found the Buick fun through the twisties (fun and Buick — in the same sentence!), rotating with minimal body roll before putting the 305-horse, 3.6-liter V6’s hammer down. Try that in the boaty Lexus and you’ll get seasick.

But the real achievement of the LaCrosse is that’s it’s turned the clock back and made Buick pretty again. Buick actually rented out space in Portland’s artsy Pearl District to show off her curves.

Dash lines are sleek — check out the chrome bezel under the console that runs uninterrupted from instrument panel to passenger door. Out front, Buick’s winged grill — first seen at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show on the Avenir concept — accentuates the car’s lower, more horizontal lines. Those signature, old-school, boat-worthy Buick portholes? They have mercifully been demoted from the hood to aft of the front fender wells. The new Buick is all about wings.

The Buick even has Jaguar-esque lines. The LaCrosse’s coupe-like roof line, cat-eye headlights and full-mouthed grille echo the English cat. Initial design sketches even contained similar rocker panel chrome to the XJL (scrubbed in the final version, perhaps for cost).

To get the full Jaguar effect, it’ll cost you. About double the LaCrosse, actually.

The elegant $89,820 (as tested) XJL is the biggest, sleekest cat in the Jaguar litter. It’s the stretched version of the lovely, full-size XJ sedan introduced in 2012. Like Margot Robbie in heels, the XJL’s long proportions make it looked even sexier, tapered roof flowing into sleek haunches.

The Jaguar gets the expected royal-lux touches for 2016 — “double-J” daytime running lights, doors that suck close, rotary dial rising out of the dash at ignition. In practice, the Jaguar’s simpler dial blows away the LaCrosse’s finicky monostable doo-hickey. Yet Buick holds its own, even providing clever sub-console space that the Jag lacks, though to be honest I was so transfixed by the Jaguar’s front and rear camera system (giving you a bumper’s eye view of the road fore and aft while driving) that I didn’t mind its lack of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. That popular feature comes standard (ahem) not only in the LaCrosse, but in entry-level compacts like the Chevy Cruze.

Beauty has its drawbacks, and the Jaguar’s rear visibility is dreadful compared to the Buick. Interestingly, in China, where big sedans routinely come with a driver, LaCrosse’s rear seats get Jag-like touches with heating, cooling and a shoe shine (and I’m making that last one up).

Stateside, though, the Jaguar XJL’s back seats are a world unto themselves. Lounging in diamond-quilted soft leather, passengers get their own window-blind controls and their own moon-roof controls.

Dah-ling — let me know when we have arrived at the club. I’ll be sunbathing on the back deck.

Yet the driver’s seat, like the LaCrosse, is a place to get your heart racing. The Jag is a 340-horse-drawn AWD locomotive.

Jaguar has lately gotten into the SUV game with the F-Pace, a fat cat that will ring up profits like a cash register on wheels. But no matter how successful Jag and Buick SUVs, their flagship cars will turn your head. Long live the sedan.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Specifications

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

Price: $32,990 ($48,575 AWD Premium as tested)

Power plant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 305 horsepower, 268 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 145 mph

Weight: 3,840 pounds (AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway/23 mpg combined (AWD as tested)

Report card

Highs: Sleek Buicks are back; road-hugging, AWD handling (that’s not a misprint)

Lows: Clunky monostable shifter; how about a sport version?

Overall:★★★

2016 Jaguar XJL

Specifications

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- or all-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $74,400 base XJ ($89,820 XJL as tested)

Power plant: 3.0-liter, supercharged, dual-overhead cam V-6

Power: 340 horsepower, 332 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 124 mph (governed)

Weight: 4,397 pounds (AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 combined

Report card

Highs: Timeless beauty; posh rear seat

Lows: Infotainment average; blind spots the size of Wyoming

Overall:★★★

Sources: Mid-engine Corvette due in 2019

Posted by hpayne on August 4, 2016

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General Motors Co. intends to start selling a mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette in early 2019, according to multiple sources familiar with the company’s planning.

While America’s iconic sports car has gone through seven generations of upgrades since it debuted in 1953, a mid-engine architecture would be the most radical change in Corvette history. The sources, who asked not to be identified because company plans have not been made public, said production of the mid-engine rocket would eventually be the only Corvette produced. One of those people said the current, front-engine C7’s Z06 and Grand Sport models would continue through 2021.

The eighth-generation Corvette C8 – codenamed “Emperor” — is targeted for an unveiling in early 2018, sources said.

“We do not comment on future product plans,” a Chevy spokesperson said.

One former GM employee with knowledge of the project said, “It’s happening. Mark Reuss wants it,” referring to the automaker’s global product development chief. “It’s the worst-kept secret in town.”

Chevy has long been concerned by Corvette’s aging demographic, and a mid-engine performance car could appeal to younger buyers.

“The median age of the Corvette buyer got three years older while I was there, which scared the hell out of us,” says Tom Wallace, who was Corvette’s chief engineer from 2006 until 2008.

Some sources say a mid-engine Corvette could be the basis for a Cadillac sports car.

When Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen was asked by Motor Trend last fall if a Cadillac “halo” car based on a mid-engine Corvette might be in the cards, he replied: “It has to be one of the options that we consider. In the future there are going to be some architectures inside the corporation that will remain purely Cadillac, but then there are others where it just isn’t economically feasible to enter segments by trying to do a unique Cadillac. Then you look at what’s available in terms of corporate assets. And I’m sure you’d agree that a new, very advanced Corvette platform wouldn’t be a bad place to start.”

C8 characteristics

With the engine located behind the driver and in front of the rear wheels, mid-engine sports cars are prized by performance-car fans for their balanced handling characteristics. The mid-engine format would make it more current with Corvette race-program competitors like the much-pricier Ferrari 488 and Ford GT.

The C8 is expected to be equipped with performance innovations like an active-aerodynamic system to enhance downforce, according to Car & Driver’s Don Sherman, who has been following the car’s development since 2014. The magazine says the next-generation Corvette will be powered by the tried-and-true small-block pushrod V-8 to keep costs down.

The mid-engine format would allow GM more flexibility to make performance variants — perhaps an all-wheel drive, plug-in hybrid model with electric motors driving the front wheels. That would put it head-to-head — at a more modest price — with cutting-edge, mid-engine hybrid supercars such as the Acura NSX and Porsche 918.

GM and Chevrolet last year trademarked the names Corvette E-Ray and Manta Ray. The names, some analysts believe, indicate the company is considering multiple vehicle variants.

Bob Lutz, GM’s former head of product development, speculates that the program’s long lead time — the C8 wouldn’t go into production until late 2018 — foreshadows an electric version “with 10- to 15-mile plug-in electric capability.”

“That would only require a 5-kWh battery, or $1,300 at today’s lithium-ion prices (plus motors and control hardware),” he said in an email. “It would be enough to give it a 50 mpg city label, and the electric motors at the front would enable limited AWD capability.”

The company recently announced investments totaling nearly $800 million in its Bowling Green Assembly Plant in Kentucky, where Corvettes are built. That includes $153 million for improving vehicle assembly line processes, on top of $137 million in previously committed capital. Last year, GM said it would invest $439 million for a new paint shop and $44 million to expand its Performance Build Center.

The plant is expected to be shut down for three months in mid- to late-2017 for retooling.

Lutz and Wallace say that they and then-Corvette Assistant Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter got the mid-engine Corvette approved in 2007, only to see the project shelved while GM went through bankruptcy reorganization in 2009.

Lutz says the $800 million Bowling Green investment figure is in line with what was asked for nine years ago.

“The program I got approved in ’07 was $900 million,” Lutz says, “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.”

From ‘what-if’ to project

Corvette faithful have already begun putting down deposits on the car. Les Stanford Chevrolet in Dearborn, one of the top three Corvette sellers in the United States, confirms about two dozen customers have put down $2,000 on the C8 to be first in line.

“The potential for a mid-engine Corvette is in the future,” says General Sales Manager Scott Montgomery. “We have a lot of attention from members of the enthusiast community who have never been wrong.”

In addition to publishing spy shots of a camouflaged, mid-engine car undergoing testing, Car & Driver created computer renderings of the C8 featuring a muscular stance and low, menacing nose. The renderings are based on descriptions of the production prototype by people who have seen the car’s design.

Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst with forecasting firm IHS Markit, said there have been rumors of a mid-engine Corvette for a decade. “It seems to be maturing from a ‘what-if’ to a project,” she said.

Pricing a new Corvette in line with Chevrolet and its value-brand philosophy will be important, Brinley said. It can’t have a $450,000 sticker price like the Ford GT. But Brinley said there is some space for a price increase over today’s $55,445 base C7.

GM has flirted with mid-engine Corvettes in the past, particularly in the 1960s when Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov argued it was a superior architecture. Arkus-Duntov produced four mid-engine concepts from 1960-70, including the 1968 “Astro II.”

The Astro was a reaction to the mid-engine 1966 Ford GT-40 and its stunning success at the 24 Hours of LeMans. Fifty years later, another Ford GT has won LeMans — and this time GM’s response appears to be a full-blown, mid-engine production C8.

138 5 Payne: Focus RS is Ford’s Golf R-killer

Posted by hpayne on August 4, 2016

With its sophisticated, dual-rear-clutch AWD system,

Conveniently located off Old Telegraph Road in Clarkston, Waterford Hills Raceway is one of Metro Detroit’s hidden gems.

Bordered by woods, its 11 turns spilling over grassy knolls offer some of the best road racing in Michigan. For 58 years Detroiters have enjoyed this great American racetrack next door.

Buyers of the ferocious, 2017 Ford Focus RS will want to get to know it.

And Grattan Raceway in Grand Rapids. And South Haven’s Gingerman Raceway. And M1 Concourse’s Champion Motor Speedway in Pontiac. Because the RS is as track-focused a production car you’ll find this side of a Camaro Z28 or Porsche 911 GT3. Yet for just $36,775 it’s within reach of the average motorhead.

In this Second Golden Age of motoring the RS joins the formidable Volkswagen Golf R and Subaru STI as all-wheel-drive, $35K-something hot rods with back seats. The STI is a legend with its Sopwith Camel rear-wing and nice-Subie-gone-bad swagger, while the classy V-dub boasts divine German engineering and hatchback utility.

Previous performance versions of the Focus haven’t been in the class of the Golf, the undisputed hatch benchmark for four decades. Compared to VW’s 210-horse Golf GTI, for example, the front-wheel drive, 250-horsepower 2016 Focus ST that I recently drove is a dinosaur, its torque steer so violent when under the whip it wants to rip the wheel out of my hands.

Like ST, the RS’s power dwarfs the Golf R on paper — but this time Ford harnesses it with appropriate engineering.

Engineered in Germany and assembled in Spain alongside other Focuses on Ford’s global C-platform, the RS (Rally Sport) initials are revered in Europe. The badge has graced off-road rally contenders — from Escort to Sierra to Focus — for years. Its appearance on these shores is a long-overdue first.

Golf R is the ultimate stealth hatch, its conservative lines not betraying my predatory intentions until I’m on top of you. Focus RS, on the other hand, looks like I bought it from Darth Vader Automotive.

Check out those gaping, shark-like jaws. RS alters three body panels from its brother Focus: front fascia, roof winglet and rear diffuser. The facial Extreme Makeover satisfies the little beasty’s ravenous appetite for air. Engines, a wag once said, are simply air machines. Apropos the RS with every front crevice devoted to ramming more oxygen down its 2.3-liter turbo’s neck. It bumper is thinned for more air through the grille. An enlarged lower opening feeds a turbo intercooler the size of Manhattan. What, no hood scoop?

We’ve seen this turbo 4-banger before in the current Mustang. Despite making a healthy 310 ponies, the four seems out of place in the muscle car but not the hot hatch. Not only does the RS mill produce a staggering 40 more horsepower than the Mustang, but it gains 58 horses on the Golf R. Mercy.

The wing adds downforce — and a big “ticket me” billboard — on top of the car. It’s not as outrageous as the STI’s aerofoil, which looks like it came off a World War I fighter plane. But it will make anyone over 30 wince.

The Golf R laughs at such bling, preferring more modest duds. That civility translates to the ride as well.

Take RS on the Michigan roads and you’ll want a mouth guard. Toggle the shock-stiffener button on the left stalk and the thing becomes positively violent. Roaring across Michigan’s concrete roads, the RS bobbed and pitched like a rodeo bull.

And if a bull needs a ring, the RS needs a track.

On Waterford’s smooth asphalt, I eased down the pit lane, selected Track mode (which automatically stiffens the shocks 40 percent), turned off traction control and the washboard-stiff RS was in its element. Like any small-displacement turbo, the meat of the rev band is over 3,000 rpms — but then it keeps pulling to its 6,500 redline. Acceleration (0-60 mph in a retina-flattening 4.7 seconds) is so quick I repeatedly hit the rev-limiter in second gear. Grabbing fourth gear on the short back straight, I briefly touched 100 mph before stomping the big Brembo brakes.

If the Focus body mods look aggressive, the chassis upgrades lash the car to the ground. RS gets a front sub-frame cross brace, rear cross brace, sway-bar bushing braces, “lion’s foot” suspension-tower braces, rear toe-link reinforcement, rocker foam and anabolic steroids injected into the hydraulics (just kidding about that last one). Then Ford really got serious.

Where Subie and VW use traditional all-wheel drive torque-vectoring systems that brake the inside wheels to help the rear rotate through corners, RS is equipped with twin rear-clutches that can accelerate the outside tires.

As a result the RS is a rocket through the twisties, its chassis rotating on a dime. I threw the hatch around like a rag doll, its Michelin Super Sports sticking like taffy. To show off its bonkers AWD, engineers gave the RS “drift mode” so you can easily induce four-wheel oversteer. This was especially fun in Michigan turns on Woodward — spinning the car like a top with a quick dab of gas — but on track the quick way around is Track mode.

Only in the fast, Turn 5 “Big Bend” did I feel the RS’s porky 3,459 pounds — 120 more than Golf R. For all of the stiffening and bigger turbos, the RS gets no body panel light-weighting over the base, steel Focus.

That base Focus design is apparent inside as well, contrasting with the Golf’s more-premium Audi-like look. But I’m a sucker for Ford’s’ clever console buttons and dials. RS temperature gauges and bear-hugging, blue-stitched Recaro seats give it character. Stash your phone in the shallow console cubby and it’ll fly out on the floor in hard turns. Those bolstered seats are there so you don’t get chucked on the floor too.

If you want a daily driver, buy the Golf R. Buy the RS if you want junior version of the Nissan GT-R, a race car in production clothing. After my Waterford Hills jaunt, I trolled Woodward for victims. I drag-raced two 420-horsepower M3s from a stoplight, the RS’s superior AWD traction hanging tough despite giving up 70 horses. Our thirst for blood slaked, RS and I headed home. On the way, I came up on a GT-R.

The driver recognized the beast in his mirrors and threw me an enthusiastic thumbs up as if to say: “Welcome stateside, RS. See you at the track!”

2016 Ford Focus RS

Specifications

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

Price: $36,775 base ($39,560 as tested)

Power plant: 2.3-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 350 horsepower, 350 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.7 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 165 mph

Weight: 3,459 lbs.

Fuel economy: EPA 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: Hatchback utility; AWD OMG

Lows: Boy-toy styling; bucking bronco daily-driver

Overall:★★★★

Payne Q&Auto: Pilgrim’s progress

Posted by hpayne on July 30, 2016

andypilgrim_grandsport

Andy Pilgrim is the American Dream. Right down to his surname.

Pilgrim crossed the Atlantic in 1981 to seek a better life. Arriving in New York City as an IT contractor under the watchful gaze of Lady Liberty with just $100 in his pocket, the 25-year old computer programmer was placed in Pontiac with General Motors. An avid motorbike racer in his native England, he also hoped to race a bit.

Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … and do some hot laps.

Now 59, Pilgrim has realized his dreams. He has his own tech business. And by the way, he is one of the most highly regarded sports car drivers in the business after a career racing everything from Corvettes to NASCAR. Today he pilots Porsches for Black Swan Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“I came to the U.S. for opportunity,” said Pilgrim in Atlanta last week where he was testing Chevy’s new Corvette Grand Sport for Automobile magazine. “Racing was a dream. Car racing in England takes huge money.”

Pilgrim’s rags-to-riches rise in racing is a rare journey in an expensive sport dominated by wealthy families with names like Andretti, Earnhardt and Rosberg where money and sponsorship often talk louder than talent. Humbled by his success, Pilgrim is determined to give back to his adopted homeland. Alarmed by the lax driving standards in the U.S. (compared to say, England and Germany), Pilgrim is a missionary for safer driving habits through his non-profit Traffic Safety Education Foundation.

After spending his first year in Pontiac, Pilgrim’s next contractor gig took him to El Paso, Texas.

“Pontiac at the time had 68 percent unemployment, I was told. The room I got was $100 a month,” he says. “It was a rough neighborhood. (My complex’s) guard dog got beaten up.”

In Texas he bought his first ride, a used Renault Alliance Cup Car. “I called it a Renault ‘Appliance’ – and that’s how I got into serious racing,” says Pilgrim. “I funded myself. I never went to a racing school – I couldn’t afford it.”

It was a big step up from his motorbike in England.

“I didn’t have car,” he remembers of that first bike. “I would pay a buddy (gas money) to drop me at the track. And if I wasn’t dead, he’d pick me up in the evening to take me home.”

He started his own company, Electronic Computer Services, in Dallas in 1989. The successful small business kept the revenue stream coming to feed his racing habit. Pilgrim’s talents were getting noticed. His habit would soon become all-consuming.

In 1999 his career took off as Corvette Racing tapped him to race their first C5 race car. Co-driving the car with the father-son duo of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2002, he finished second-in-class. In 2004 he moved over to GM’s Cadillac race team where he would win the 2005 World Challenge GT Series championship. He has driven for numerous teams since, including a bid in NASCAR.

What’s a race driver’s life like?

On the Thursday I spent with Pilgrim at Atlanta Motorsports Park testing the Grand Sport, the race jockey had opened the week in Portland to talk at an auto conference, then flown to Pontiac to school a Corvette driver’s club on the M1 Concourse’s new Championship Motor Speedway.

“Fantastic,” he says. It is just blocks from his first Pontiac apartment.

From Atlanta he flew to Lime Rock, Connecticut, where he would qualify his Porsche for Saturday’s Weathertech race.

That’s a lot of frequent-flier miles.

“I’m getting paid to race cars in my late 50s,” says Pilgrim. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be doing it. It’s been phenomenal.”

When he’s not in airports, at race tracks or overseeing his tech company (“My insurance policy if the racing dries up”), he is passionate about teaching driver safety.

“We’re killing 20,000 more people on our roads than we should be,” laments Pilgrim, who is now a U.S. citizen. “Relative to other industrialized countries, we should be killing about 12,000 people if we were doing things as well as Germany and U.K. But we’re killing 32,000 to 40,000.”

“The driving test is a joke. They might as well hand it out with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes package tops,” he says. “We’ve got to change the culture. It starts with parents and with helping … kids understand what distracted driving is. Legislation isn’t going to fix it. They’re not going to make the driving test as hard as it should be because kids won’t pass the driving test until they’re 20 – and that is unacceptable to voters.”

So he travels the country handing out DVDs and instruction manuals, and giving speeches. “You gotta give back,” says Pilgrim who now resides in Boca Raton, Florida. “My mother taught me that.”

And how did he like the Corvette Grand Sport? “This car will not disappoint,” he grins. No, it won’t. Pilgrim set an unofficial production car track record at Atlanta Motorsports Park at a blistering 1:23.6.

 

Payne: Corvette Grand Sport grand slam

Posted by hpayne on July 28, 2016

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne says "the Corvette

Imagine if Superman and Wonder Woman had a love child. The offspring would be beautiful, powerful, regal. Come to think of it, he would probably be Chris Hemsworth. Superkid would knock the Trumps, Kardashians, and Jenners right off the tabloid front pages.

But in lieu of this comic book fantasy, let me introduce you to the very-real spawn of a torrid Corvette Stingray and Z06 fling. His name is the 2017 Corvette Grand Sport.

The young Grand Sport is an impressive supercar to behold. You’ll know it by its birthmarks: twin “hashmark” stripes on either bicep — er, front fender — just aft of the ginormous, 19-inch tires. Actually, this sci-fi child from Planet Bowling Green should come with a cape.

Grand Sport has all the best attributes of its famous parents. From Momma Stingray it gets thrifty sensibility and a growly, normally aspirated, push-rod 460-horsepower V-8. From Papa Z06 comes the wicked athletic prowess: ground-hugging aero package, mega-brakes, wider track and massive, gummy tires. The result is a $65,445 C7 Corvette that won’t break the bank, yet offers the 1.2-G cornering performance that helped the Z06 vanquish six-figure cyborgs like the McLaren 650S at Car & Driver’s epic Lightning Lap face-off.

I am familiar with the Corvette family, having spent weeks with both around Metro Detroit since the Stingray was introduced in 2013. I have driven the Stingray in anger at Illinois’ Autobahn Raceway and the Z06 at full flight around the Mid-Ohio and Spring Mountain tracks.

So I was thrilled to hook up with Junior for a day around Atlanta’s glorious neck-bending 3-D Atlanta Motorsport Park last week. The kid didn’t disappoint.

With the Z06’s wide body, he looks like dad, save the hood blister for the supercharger. Stingray’s popular Z51 package is standard including rear-differential cooler and dry-sump oil system essential for hot laps. And since GS is all about track days, go on and option the Z07 package (what’s $8K?) to get the Herculean, 151/2-inch ceramic brakes so you’ll never have to worry about stopping. Merging on the track out of AMP’s pits and putting the throttle to the mat in third gear, I thought I was going to the moon – only to have the giant Brembos haul me back to earth like I had thrown Titanic’s anchor out the back window.

Under the Grand Sport’s composite skin is Corvette’s familiar, 3,400-pound, aluminum chassis. There’s no ultra-light carbon fiber tub like a McLaren. No magic, rear-steer-active-suspension engineering like the $90,000 Porsche 911. Over AMP’s non-stop roller coaster of blind turns, the ’Vette’s chassis twists and turns like a mechanical bull. Bellowing out of AMP’s high-g ESS turns onto the Nurburgring-inspired pit straight at 130 mph, I feel the beast’s weight moving underneath me.

No matter.

The Z07 downforce package of rear wickers and side-and-front spoilers sucks GS to the asphalt (and makes it look awesome, too). Standard magnetic shocks constantly balance the beast’s four paws. And on those paws are fitted the Z06’s massive 10-inch front and 12-inch rear Michelin Super Cup 2 tires — the rear glutes stretched 3.5-inches to cover their width. They grip. Like. Glue.

The beast roars past the start-finish line rattling every window in the timing tower.

The GS is a tantalizing mix of raw and digital, a wild beast civilized by modern tech. Happily, GM doesn’t let the tech tame the monster, allowing drivers to dance as close to the edge as desired. I dialed the Drive Mode selector to TRACK SPORT 1, which gave me control while never completely turning off the electronic nannies.

There is no substitute for horsepower, and the Grand Sport will never rival the speed of Superdad Z06. But 460 horsepower is plenty for the weekend racer, thank you very much (and doesn’t have the Z06’s, um, annoying heat-soaking issues). Note pro Andy Pilgrim shattering AMP’s production car lap record the day I was there.

The Grand Sport is actually the raciest of Corvette’s three trims; its specs are closest to the normally-aspirated 491-horse, LeMans-legal C7-R race car. That was the intent of the original Grand Sport — raced by Roger Penske, among others — way back in 1963.

But where only five original Grand Sports were made, the 2017 GS will come from a big litter of convertibles and coupes. As with the last-gen C6 Grand Sport, Chevy expects sales to be on par with the Stingray (40 percent Stingray, 40 percent GS, 20 percent Z06).

But the Grand Sport is much more than a track car. Like its bunkmates, it transitions easily to the street.

Outside AMP, I drove an automatic Grand Sport for miles through the rolling hills and small burgs of suburban Atlanta. The Grand Sport comes in a dizzying array of colors and interior choices, but my favorite is the (new for ’17) Watkins Glen Gray Metallic paint, accented with red Grand Sport hashmarks. It’s subtle – unlike, say, the Admiral Blue Metallic with white hood stripes and red hashmarks that will set off every police radar detector within 50 miles. Save the “wow” factor for the black and lipstick-red leather-trimmed interior.

The automatic solves one of my two gripes about the Corvette: the mushy manual transmission. With its quick, barking upshifts, the eight-speed auto is both fun and quicker to drive. The manual seven-speed, by contrast, has one too many gates and is prone to mis-shifts.

My other gripe is the oily interior smell. You’ll get used to it.

Your speed-addled scribe kept the TRACK mode setting on the street; I like the heavier steering and wake-the-dead exhaust yowl. But the Corvette always aims to please and you can dive into the console settings and adjust ENGINE SOUND MANAGEMENT to anything you want — including STEALTH mode for gliding around town like you were in a 460-horsepower Prius.

Those console settings are part of Chevy’s MyLink touchscreen that includes passenger-friendly features like Apple Car Play and Android Auto so that your smartphone can take over the screen. Creature comforts abound, making it the most passenger-friendly sports car on the market. Riding shotgun means getting your own cocoon — plenty of legroom, a cubby behind the headrest that will fit a small camera bag or purse, and separate climate controls at your right knee.

There are also two enormous “Oh, crap!” handles for when your driver asks if you’d like to take a hot lap around the local race track. Like Lois Lane rocketing into the clouds on Superman’s back, you’ll want to hold on tight.

2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport

Specifications

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

Price: $66,445 coupe, $70,445 for convertible

Power plant: 6.2-liter, aluminum V-8 with direct injection and dry sump

Power: 460 horsepower, 460 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 175 mph

Weight: 3,428 lbs. (coupe as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/29 mpg highway/21 mpg combined (manual); EPA 16 mpg city/29 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (automatic)

Report card

Highs: Glue-like stick; awesome power

Lows: Mushy manual box; oily interior smell

Overall:★★★★