Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: OJ Parole

Posted by hpayne on July 21, 2017

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Cartoon: Trump Apprentice and healthcare

Posted by hpayne on July 21, 2017

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Cartoon: McCain Cancer

Posted by hpayne on July 21, 2017

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Cartoon: Obamacare GOP

Posted by hpayne on July 20, 2017

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Payne: The epic Dodge Demon

Posted by hpayne on July 20, 2017

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Imagine it’s dawn on Dream Cruise Saturday. We are sitting in lawn chairs at 16 Mile. A Dodge Demon, Tesla Model S P100D and McLaren 570GT roll up to the stoplight with nothing but clear pavement ahead of them. The light turns green and they explode down the quarter-mile.

The curvaceous, $198,950 McLaren screams past in 10.7 seconds like something out of video game, its 7-speed, dual-clutch transmission clicking off instant shifts. The electric $140,000 Tesla sails by at the same time but without a sound, initially surging ahead of its gas rivals with instant torque, its launch so concussive the driver experiences momentary, inner-ear dizziness.

But at a fraction of the cost of its competitors, the $86,090 Demon puts on the best show.

Its 4,280-pound body recoils off its rear haunches as the pilot releases the launch control, briefly chucking the front wheels into the air. A wheelie! It surges past the quarter over a second ahead of the others, its supercharger sucking in air through small, inner headlight holes that make the most unholy shriek this side of the River Styx.

You’ll have goosebumps the size of cantaloupes. Just as I did the first time I launched the Demon down Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis.

The Demon’s full name, of course, is Dodge Challenger SRT Demon — the latest monster from Dr. Tim Kuniskis Frankenstein’s SRT lab. The Demon emerged from Manhattan’s Pier 94 in April like some sort of sci-fi monster left over from Stephen Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.” The deafening beast obliterated every other entry at the New York Auto Show with its alien capabilities: An unheard of zero-60 time of 2.3 seconds and a production car record 9.65-second quarter-mile time.

The quarter was so stunning that the National Hot Rod Association banned the Demon from racing because it’s illegal to drag-race without a roll cage if you break the 10-second barrier.

On paper, the Demon is a member of Dodge’s swaggering Challenger gang that includes the R/T and wicked-looking, 485-horse Scat Pack that I have reviewed on these pages. It’s tempting to say that the Demon is the 707-horsepower Hellcat’s big brother, but it’s much, much more.

With Dodge putting the Viper sports car out to pasture this year, the Demon takes over its mantle as family scion. The Dodge halo car comes with a sticker about $10,000 north of a Hellcat — and $30,000 south of the Viper. It’s the most powerful muscle car ever made.

“We wanted to design a big middle finger to our competition,” says Demon designer Mark Trostle. But the defiant digit is also a message to pointy-headed pundits who predict a dystopian future of homogenous, self-driving pods governed by interstates bristling with sensors to monitor speeds and keep vehicles in line.

The Demon is a challenge to the system. A big honking hunk of individuality.

Rampaging through suburban Indianapolis, my Demon turned heads at every corner. With its huuuuge, 12.4-inch, grooved-slick race tires, the Demon is an inch wider than the Hellcat on paper but feels six feet wider on road. Its bigger shoes turn into corners more sharply, inducing more confidence that the Demon’s outrageous 840 ponies can be unleashed on public roads without taking out every neighborhood mailbox.

 With every stomp on the accelerator comes the dual-headlight shriek, as if I was Lt. Col. Kilgore blaring “Flight of the Valkyries” in “Apocalypse Now” to warn of imminent attack. It’s addictive.

Since the 1960s, the Mustang and Camaro have defined themselves on road-racing courses. So it is today with the Mustang GT350 and Camaro ZL1, which are the most capable track pony-cars I have ever driven. The Demon’s territory is on a different track — the drag strip. Woodward with staging lights.

With its muscle-bound physique and sense of humor — Dodge will sell you a front seat, rear seat, and a crate of drag racer trick parts for $1 each — it has the personality of a celebrity wrestler. If it were a movie character it would be played by Dwayne Johnson. But look more closely and Demon is an engineering marvel underneath. “We’ve created a machine that can perform with the world’s most exotic cars out of the Challenger toolkit,” says Demon engineer Erich Heuschele.

This is refined dragster that brings all the tricks of the quarter-mile trade to a production, street-legal package.

Let me take you inside that launch down the quarter-mile.

Easing into the “water box” at Lucas Oil Raceway for a pre-stage burnout warming up the tires, I set “Line Lock” in the console. This electronic feature — controlled by my left thumb on the steering wheel — locks the front brakes while I spin the rear tires. I lift by thumb and the beast eases forward into the staging area.

For decades, drag racers have constructed trans-brakes in order to keep their earth-pawing creations poised before explosive launches down the strip. My comfortable, leather-stitched Demon pairs this tricky concept with Dodge’s excellent, eight-speed production transmission and double, electronically adaptive shocks at every corner.

I bury the brake with my left foot.

Pull back on twin paddles behind the steering wheel, arming the launch procedure.

With my right foot, I modulate throttle at 1,700 rpms.

Remove (really) my left foot from the brake.

The engine continues to gurgle ominously at 1,700 rpms under my right.

Release the left paddle, leaving only the right paddle transbrake holding this land missile stationary.

I let go the right paddle and unleash the hounds of hell.

The Demon erupts off the line like mighty St. Helens herself. In an instant my right foot goes from feathering 1,700 rpms to full WOT (wide-open throttle in drag parlance), creating a neck-snapping, 1.8 g-loads of acceleration. The red-hot combustion chamber loads the piston and connecting rod with 11 tons of force, 50 times a second. As if on rails, Demon surges down the strip with so much velocity that I don’t even register the 140-millisecond, automatic gear shifts. I cross the quarter-mile at 138 miles per hour, big Brembo brakes putting an end to the violent speed spasm.

I exhale. My eyes slowly reform in their sockets. The Demon gurgles happily as if it’s finished a good meal.

And then I do it again. And again. And again …

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

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE, FOUR-PASSENGER COUPE

Powerplant

6.2-liter, supercharged, hemi V-8

Transmission

8-speed automatic

Weight

4,280 pounds

Price

$86,090 base

Power

840 horsepower, 770 pound-feet torque

Performance

0-60 mph, 2.3 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 168 mph

Fuel economy

NA

Report card

HIGHS

SUPERCAR ACCELERATION FOR $86,000; I MEAN, JUST LOOK AT IT

Lows

Nitto slicks not made for rain;

every cop can hear you coming 5 miles away

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Medicaid, Obamacare and the GOP

Posted by hpayne on July 14, 2017

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Cartoon: Clubs

Posted by hpayne on July 13, 2017

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Payne: McLaren 570GT is a carbon-fiber rocket ship

Posted by hpayne on July 13, 2017

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There are entry-level cars, and there are entry-level supercars.

The most affordable entry-level car on the market today is the $12,855 Nissan Versa which introduces 16-year-olds to the world of four-wheel mobility. The most accessible supercar, on the other hand, will run you $200,000 and introduce earthlings to cyborgs made from unobtanium that can transport you into hyperspace in 10 seconds.

I’ve been to that future in the 2017 McLaren 570GT. It. Is. Dazzling.

The Versa appetizer is intended to tingle your taste buds for pricier fare like, say, the $32,000 Nissan Maxima sedan or $30,000 Nissan 370Z sports car. So, too, the 570GT. This six-figure supercar, developed by one of Formula One’s premier teams, gives you a taste of what the company’s top-of-the-line $1.5-million P1 hypercar is like.

It also gives you a hint at what it’s like to date a supermodel. On my 500-mile round trip to Mid-Ohio race course (where I would be racing my own Lola sports car), the McLaren was mobbed everywhere I went. On the Ohio Turnpike, other drivers attached themselves like sucker fish to a shark, trailing me for miles. At gas stops, entire service station populations came over to have their picture taken with her — er, it.

No wonder. The mid-engine beauty is a stunner in Pacific Blue — its long curves poured over silver, 20-inch wheels like Alexandra Daddario on a divan. It’s also a dead-ringer for the legendary 903-horsepower, zero-to-60-in-a-blink P1 — of which only 375 have been made. The 570 doesn’t have big brother’s hybrid powertrain, hydraulic suspension and active aerodynamics, but the fundamentals are there. Same Formula One-derived racing tech, carbon-fiber chassis, same twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-8 engine — same scissor doors and low, velociraptor front end sniffing the ground.

These grand additions made for a thoroughly pleasant driving experience as I trundled along the Ohio Turnpike at 80 mph with paparazzi in tow. But underneath its calm Pacific Blue surface lurks the same weaponized drivetrain as the S: twin turbos revving eight pistons to 9,000 rpms with 443 pound-feet of torque and 570 horsepower (at last a logical alphanumeric badge — 570 means 570 ponies).

 I defy anyone to drive the McLaren for more than 15 minutes at the speed limit. Dip your toe into its ocean of torque and you’ll want to swim all day. Every rest stop was an opportunity to erupt up the on-ramp like a Saturn 3 rocket. Every straight-as-an-arrow farm road was a chance to trigger launch control for 0-60 rushes.

Actually, forget 0-60.

Push the Launch button. Floor the brake and accelerator pedals with both feet. Revs modulate at 3,000 rpms. Release brake pedal. The McLaren explodes past 60 mph in about three seconds, the dual-clutch, race-derived, 7-speed tranny (no manual could keep up) flicking off 300-millisecond shifts. Only a Tesla P90D launch compares with its dizzying, 100 percent torque launch off the line. But past 60 mph the Tesla starts to wane, whereas the McLaren is just getting interested.

The 570’s speedo goes by 100 mph without hesitation. Relentlessly, linearly, it continues. Only pilots who launch F-18s off aircraft carriers for a living won’t find this astonishing.

One of my racing pals at Mid-Ohio likened the McLaren’s acceleration to turning on a faucet with more water flooding out with each turn. I blow past 130 mph (on a closed test track) in 10 seconds with no sign of exhaustion. The bloody thing wants to go to the moon. And what is just as remarkable is how tranquil the experience is.

Buffered by a sound-proofed cabin and twin-turbos, the V-8’s muffled wail sounds like an angry vacuum cleaner. The car’s carbon tub is as rock solid as when I left the line, the ECU channeling 500 pound-feet of torque through the rear Pirellis without a slip. I might as well be driving a video game in my home.

It’s breathtaking.

And reassuring. McLaren’s carbon tub is not only stiffer and lighter than the aluminum tubs used by its $200,000 competitive set — Porsche 911 Turbo, Acura NSX, Audi R8 V10 — but safer. Just YouTube one of those horrific F1 crashes in which drivers walk away unscathed.

I applaud Alfa Romeo for bringing carbon tubs to the masses for under $60,000 in its mid-engine 4C in order to demonstrate its extraordinary stable handling ability. McLaren simply takes the next (dollar) step in mating its carbon tub to a V-8 and dual-clutch tranny to bring the whole race-car package to the street.

At M1 Concourse’s test track, the 570’s rear-wheel drive makes it more tossable compared to the all-wheel drive cyborgs in its class — its telepathic chassis following my every steering input. Like the Porsche Turbo I flogged at Thunderhill Raceway last year, the McLaren’s dual-clutch tranny is so smart I don’t even bother with manual mode. Eventually the car’s capabilities overwhelm the mere, street-legal Pirelli P-Zeros (first accessory purchase: four track slicks).

Confident the 570S already had its competitors beat in visual drama — note the “floating tendon” door handles on the scissor doors — McLaren baselined its ergonomics to the Porsche with a very usable “frunk” (my Mid-Ohio luggage fit nicely, thank you) and rear shelf.

Other ergonomics fall short — most notably the car’s handling and powertrain mode buttons which are low on the console, requiring me to divert my eyes from the road. McLaren might dip into its F1 tech bin for steering-wheel mounted controls next time?

And the 570’s electronics and infotainment system proved buggy — the sort of questions you ponder on long drives to Lexington, Ohio (also, how come Detroit doesn’t have a McLaren dealer?). But only momentarily. Then you’re muting the radio, activating Track mode and listening to that V-8 soundtrack rocket you into the future.

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

2017 McLaren 570GT

VEHICLE TYPE MID-ENGINE, REAR-WHEEL DRIVE, TWO-PASSENGER SPORTS CAR
Powerplant 3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 with dry-sump lubrication
Transmission 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

with paddle shifters

Weight 3,296 pounds
Price $198,950 base ($210,400 as tested)
Power 570 horsepower, 443 pound-feet torque (manual)
Performance 0-60 mph, 3.4 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 204 mph
Fuel economy EPA est. mpg (manual): 16 city/23 highway/19 combined

Report card

HIGHS RELENTLESS ACCELERATION; TELEPATHIC HANDLING
Lows Light steering;

supercar, super-slow infotainment system

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Russian OPPO Research

Posted by hpayne on July 13, 2017

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France, Volvo, and Trump’s timely withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449322/france-volvo-paris-climate-accords-electric-vehicles-hurt-automakers-bottom-lines

Posted by hpayne on July 8, 2017

One of the Trump Administration’s most crucial economic decisions was its withdrawal in June from the Paris Climate Accords. Politically, the decision upheld a campaign promise. Practically, it avoided saddling the country with the deal’s arbitrary, restrictive CO2-emissions caps.

Just how suffocating those strictures could have been was illustrated this week when the French government upended its automotive sector by mandating the elimination of gas and diesel engines by 2040 in order to meet the climate accord’s targets. The decision will give French consumers — and manufacturers — no choice but to transition to expensive, unproven battery-powered vehicles. It comes on the 25th anniversary of the publication of Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance, in which the then-senator called for eliminating the internal combustion engine by 2017. Needless to say, none of the environmental calamities Gore predicted a quarter century ago have come to pass.

But that hasn’t slowed the march of wrongheaded policies meant to combat climate change. Just 24 hours before the French government’s decision, Volvo announced that it would electrify every vehicle in its lineup beginning in 2019. The move may be intended to place Volvo at the forefront of the electric-vehicle revolution — but in fact it shows how deeply government global-warming diktats threaten the future of global automakers.

Volvo’s announcement was met with universal praise from left-wing U.S. media; it was also universally mis-reported. “Volvo Vaults to Volts, Planning to Pull Plug on Gasoline Engines” Bloomberg’s headline blared. “Volvo going electric, phasing out gas and diesel engines,” read the Seattle Times’. “Volvo Moves to Phase Out Conventional Engines,” declared the New York Times.

Not quite. In truth Volvo’s decision will help perpetuate the internal combustion engine, which still makes up the overwhelming majority of vehicle sales. While the automaker will add a plugin-hybrid option to every model line and build five all-electric cars beginning in 2019, its core, best-selling gas- and diesel-engine variants will simply add a small, 48-volt battery to compliment existing twelve-volt batteries.

Where traditional twelve-volt batteries turn on a car’s lights and infotainment systems, the 48-volt unit will help power the influx of electric features — steering racks, brake pumps, etc. — into modern cars, while increasing fuel economy by 10–20 percent in order to satisfy looming Chinese and European CO2 mandates. (Europe will force automakers to reduce the CO2 emissions of their vehicles to 95 grams per kilometer by 2021.) In short, contrary to news reports that Volvo is ending gas engines, the company is merely making such engines compliant with the coming rules.

“Sensationalist headlines today suggest Volvo is going 100 percent electric and ending gasoline and diesel engines,” wrote auto-industry analyst Anton Wahlman. “The Volvo announcement was not (about) going to 100 percent EVs. It wasn’t even about setting an end-date for gasoline or diesel cars. It was about making 48 volt systems standard in all cars.”

If more countries follow France’s lead in banning the gasoline engine, other automakers will similarly struggle to turn a profit. Volvo’s compliance strategy is understandable, because few customers are buying electrified vehicles. In France, just 1.1 percent of new cars sold are fully electric. In the U.S., despite over 50 new battery-powered vehicles introduced since 2009, fully electric models have just a 2.4 percent share of the automotive market.

Volvo itself currently sells only one battery-powered vehicle, a plugin version of its best-selling Volvo XC90 SUV that costs $18,000 more than its $50,000 gasoline model. This year, Volvo has sold just 807 XC90 plugins, accounting for a mere 7 percent of the XC90’s overall sales. Yet, in adding more electric and plugin hybrids to its lineup this week, Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson claimed that “people are increasingly asking for electrified cars and we want to meet our customers’ current and future needs.”

To be sure, many auto executives count themselves members of the global elite that shares Gore’s belief in the “mortal threat” posed to society by the gasoline engine. The green religion is strongest among upper-middle-class buyers who purchase premium cars from the likes of BMW and Audi, which are also pursuing 48-volt strategies. But despite $7,500 tax breaks offered to American consumers who purchase fully electric models, even the wealthy have been shy to take the plunge. Tesla’s miniscule pool of customers is the exception, but Elon Musk’s company has yet to turn a profit, despite average prices in excess of $100,000 for its Model S and Model X vehicles.

If more countries follow France’s lead in banning the gasoline engine, other automakers will similarly struggle to turn a profit. In condemning the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Accords, media darling and former Obama EPA official Marge Oge told the New York Times that “the rest of the world is moving forward with electric cars. If the Trump administration goes backward, the U.S. won’t be able to compete globally.”

In reality, the opposite is true. Thanks to less-stringent emissions rules and low gas prices, the U.S. is essential to most automakers’ profits, driving as it does the high-margin sales of popular pickup trucks and SUVs that can’t be sold elsewhere in the world. GM, for example, withdrew from the European market this year because its small cars are unprofitable there.

Ford joined the corporate chorus in condemning Trump’s Paris withdrawal saying that “we believe climate change is real, and remain deeply committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our vehicles and our facilities.” Yet the politically correct statement would seem a financial death wish. Some 80 percent of Ford’s profit reportedly comes from U.S. pickup sales. A France-like gas-engine ban to satisfy CO2 targets would destroy the company’s bottom line.

Chinese-owned Volvo’s 48-volt strategy will, say experts, increase its cars’ prices by $1,000-$1,500. Though that’s not insignificant, it likely won’t prove prohibitive for those who would otherwise purchase the premium XC90. But mainstream automakers such as Ford and Chevrolet have not committed to installing 48-volt systems as a baseline in their cars, precisely because their profit margins are slimmer than Volvo’s already.

“A 48-volt system is an expensive add-on for a $16,000 basic car,” Wahlman writes. “For a $38,000 Volvo, not as much.”

Force compact cars — currently popular in France — to go all-electric at an additional cost of $5,000–$10,000 each and they will simply become unaffordable.

Cartoon: France Gas Engine Guillotine

Posted by hpayne on July 7, 2017

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Cartoon: Electric Vehicles and gas prices

Posted by hpayne on July 6, 2017

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Cartoon: Trump’s Energy Boom

Posted by hpayne on July 6, 2017

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Payne: Alfa Romeo Stelvio, sports sedan in disguise

Posted by hpayne on July 6, 2017

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How do you make an Alfa Romeo SUV? Take a road-carving Alfa Giulia sedan, jack it up 21/2 inches, bolt in all-wheel drive, and the next thing you know you’re hounding sports cars through Hell, Michigan’s twisted back roads.

Say hello to Stelvio, the latest performance car in crossover clothing.

With the SUV trend here to stay, performance brands like Alfa need to adapt to market demand. But that doesn’t mean they need sacrifice who they are. Indeed, sports car manufacturers like Alfa, Jaguar, Porsche and Mazda are leading an SUV revolution that is blurring the line between sedan and ute.

Porsche saw the opening first with its Cayenne and Macan crossovers channeling the brand’s racing DNA to make the best-handling small trucks ever built. Alfa and Jaguar have taken the formula a step further by building their midsize Stelvio and F-Pace SUVs on the same bones as their performance sedans (Giulia and XE, respectively). For their next act may I suggest building Alfa’s compact crossover on the 4C sports car’s carbon-fiber tub? Or Jaguar’s compact E-PACE on the F-Type’s aluminum spine?

With the Stelvio, Alfa has not only crafted a performance vehicle with five-door utility (in the old days we would have called it a sporty station wagon), but it has made it affordable. In the sweet spot of the mid-size luxury sport utility market, the Stelvio brings $50,000 Macan handling for just $43,000 — with more horsepower, more features and more utility. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it, too?

Your fearless critic tested Stelvio through gnarled mountain roads southeast of Nashville — a southern extension of my native Appalachia. A few decades ago, these trails wouldn’t have seemed welcoming to an Italian performance brand, much less an SUV. But the Stelvio was right at home.

How times have changed.

A vintage, orange-and-Confederate-flagged “General Lee” Dodge Challenger sat by the road in rural Leiper’s Fork. It was a relic of a different age. Today, Leiper’s Fork is a hip suburb on the southeast edge of country-music capital Nashville, home to sprawling ranches owned by singer celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton.

Manicured horse fences border estates with long, gated driveways leading to imposing mansions with oak front doors answered by beautiful people. As I galloped along in the sexy Stelvio — Boy, this filly is fun to ride! — it turned a lot of heads. As it will in other multicultural metropolises like Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Washington. Their driveways are chock-full of BMW after Audi after Mercedes. All of them silver. All of them familiar. All of them with sterile, alphanumeric badges like X3 and Q5 and GLC. All of them soooo … German.

Detroiters might even feel a pang of kinship since Alfa is Fiat-Chrysler’s luxury brand. Surely, the Italian shares some Yankee ingenuity underneath? Well, no.

“Alfa is separate. Separate engineering group in Modena (Italy). Separate distribution,” says Alfa boss Reid Bigland. “Our belief is if you want credibility, you cannot co-mingle with mass market operations.”

Alfa carries this principle to a fault. It doesn’t even share Chrysler’s acclaimed UConnect infotainment system, which would be an improvement over the Stelvio’s middling, rotary-controlled entry. This signorina oozes the Italian authenticity of a vehicle that was raised along Italy’s formidable Stelvio pass. There’s the Giulia’s signature Alfa snout. And the three-piece Trilobo grille.

But above all there’s the same Giorgio platform that underlies the Giulia sedan.

The first thing you notice is the sports car-like steering. It’s not hydraulic like the halo 4C sports car, but the point of 4C was to set a tone. Stelvio and Giulia share a crisp, 2.3-turns lock-to-lock steering that required minimal input as I dashed through Tennessee countryside. Paired with the same sophisticated suspension, 280-horsepower (class best), fuel-efficient (24 mpg — just 2 mpg less than Giulia), turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and eight-speed transmission, Stelvio deserves comparison to its sedan sister — even though Giulia’s lower roofline (by almost 9 inches) and center of gravity are reminders that SUVs aren’t quite cars.

But while the Stelvio is a bargain athlete compared to the reigning Teutons, it must also be compared to the new crop of ambitious, mainstream SUVs nipping at luxury’s heels. Consider the Mazda CX-5, which is my reigning Utility Bargain of the Century at $34,000.

At a whopping $22,000 below my loaded, red Stelvio Ti Sport edition, the Soul Red Mazda is also an easy-on-the-eyes, all-wheel drive athlete. The Mazda’s list of features (including two-way cruise control and driver-safety assists) are the equal of the Italian. Most eye-opening is the similarity in their Euro-styled interiors.

The interior is a sore spot with Stelvio (though its roomy back seat is a welcome improvement over the Giulia’s Delta coach-class quarters). For all the Alpha’s drama outside, its interior is undistinguished in the premium class. It’s pleasant. But where is the personality? Think of Volvo’s Scandinavian wood or the Audi A5’s virtual cockpit as transformative interiors.

Alfa might have done this too with a dash that echoed the Stelvio’s nose. Or a digital, motorbike dash that echoed the 4C. Even where Alfa tries to be unique — think the Ti Sport’s awkward, steering-column-mounted shift paddles — the result is lacking. My advice would be to accept the interior and play to Stelvio’s strengths: standard features, raw athleticism and sex appeal.

Take a well-endowed base, leather Stelvio. Option the safety-assist, Sirius XM, heated seats/steering wheel and Alfa’s signature, smoky black, five-hole wheels, and you have a spicy Italian dish for just $45,685. That’s $10,000 north of the Mazda, but well south of the Germans.

For those with money to burn (looking at you, Timberlake), save it for the coming special dessert: the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. As you might have guessed, it’s a crossover version of Giulia’s earth-pawing, BMW M3-blitzing, Nurburgring-lap record-holding, 505-horsepower sedan.

It promises to destroy the Nurburgring lap record for SUVs. Heck, has any SUV even dared tackle the legendary German course’s 73-turn roller-coaster? Consider the line between SUV and sedan permanently blurred.

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

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, ALL-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER SUV
Powerplant 2.0-liter, longitudinal, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
Transmission Eight-speed automatic
Weight 4,044 pounds
Price $42,990 ($55,240 Ti Sport as tested)
Power 280 horsepower, 306 pound-feet torque
Performance 0-60 mph, 5.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed:

144 mph

Fuel

economy

EPA est. mpg: 22 city/24 highway/28 combined

Report card

HIGHS BEST-IN-CLASS, 4-POT ENGINE;

SEXY ITALIAN ACCENT

Lows Generic interior design; haunted by Italian reliability

questions

Overall:★★★

Cartoon: Despicable Me Trump

Posted by hpayne on July 6, 2017

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Cartoon: July 4th Signing

Posted by hpayne on July 5, 2017

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Cartoon: Trump Tweets Agenda

Posted by hpayne on July 5, 2017

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Payne: Honda Civic’s hot rod trifecta

Posted by hpayne on June 29, 2017

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Turn One at Honda’s Mojave Desert proving grounds is a fast, left-hand 150-degree sweeper taken in fourth gear. With no obvious reference points in the featureless desert, I reel the Civic Si tester into the apex somewhere beyond my A-pillar, my right foot squeezing the gas as I dance on the edge of adhesion so I can slingshot off exit and into Turn 2 — a fast right-hander. Downshift to third. Search for another distant apex, then hard on the throttle over a blind crest. Fourth gear. Stand on the binders into a downhill, third-gear left-hander.

This high-speed roller coaster goes on for two miles, and as I learn it I never question the car. It’s an extension of my hands, a predictable tool carving unknown terrain.

The Honda Civic Si is back on my shopping list. But do I want it more than the Civic Hatchback Sport or Type R?

Truth be known, I covet them all. It’s a fine quandary Tokyo’s automaker has put us motorheads in. To which of the hot Civic triplets do we propose?

We knew this was coming. Two years ago, Honda debuted an all-new 2016 Civic compact — a wider, lower, Nurburgring-tested, Audi A3-baselined statement that screamed at the top of its lungs: CIVIC IS BACK! The passionate cry was heard by Honda-philes like yours truly who had drifted from the brand over the last decade as it pursued sales volumes and the growing SUV market.

My 2006 Civic Si is one of the best vehicles I’ve ever owned. My sons learned to race in it at Waterford Hills. An all-around all-star, my front-wheel-drive coupe was a snowmobile through Michigan winters, and an apex-carving pocket rocket when the temperatures warmed.

It’s the last Civic that interested me. Until now.

The base car’s athletic new bones were a clear statement that there was much more sinew to come. The standard Civic was statement enough, taking back the compact segment’s crown with best interior volume, biggest back seat, best base horsepower, best fuel economy, first-to-market smartphone apps, and a partridge in a pear tree. It won 2016 North American Car of the Year by a landslide.

Honda was just getting warmed up. Its performance lineup of Sport, Si and Type R is unprecedented in the segment. Ford’s terrific trio — meet sexy Fiesta ST, Focus ST and Focus RS — play across two model lines. As does VW’s Teutonic triad of the Jetta GLI sedan, Golf GTI and Golf R sisters. But only Honda brings three cars of the same model. They’re a triple threat aimed to satisfy gearheads on a budget.

The threesome’s heart and soul is the Si, Honda’s longtime fun badge.

My 2006 car was the howl heard round the world. One of only four cars at the time to milk 100 horsepower-per-liter, the 201-horsepower, 2.0-liter, V-Tec four-banger was a bullet-shaped, cab-forward Rottweiler. At 6,000 rpms, the meat of the peaky torque band, the dual exhaust would release an unholy howl. It was addictive.

Huge Lambo-like front corner air scoops dominate a face smeared with a menacing, black grille. But the air scoops are fake — an ornament since the mere 1.5-liter turbocharged engine under the hood doesn’t need to inhale like a Huracan.

But it sure tries. This miniature gem acts like a motor with twice its displacement boasting remarkable low-end torque that pulls all through the rev band to a 6,500-rpm redline. There’s none of the drama of my old four — but then you probably wouldn’t hear it anyway — so hushed is the Civic interior (even above 100 mph).

The Si comes loaded with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, sunroof, limited-slip differential, 18-inch wheels — everything but leather and safety-assist systems — at a very tempting $24,600. That’s $1,500 cheaper than a stripped, base GTI. And ALG.com reports the last-generation Si residual value is 15 percent better residual value than the Golf. That’s real money to compact cars’ youthful demographic.

For 2017, Honda even gives the traditional coupe Si a sedan option. Same price. A mere 17 pounds heavier. What Si doesn’t offer, however, is a hatchback. But don’t fret, my hot-hatch brothers, Civic has two new models for you.

At just $23,100, the five-door, 2017 Sport offers a surprisingly roomy hatch (don’t be fooled by the coupe roofline) including a clever luggage-hider that pulls across the rear like a blanket (you’ll never want to go back to the old rail style). The cheaper Coupe lacks only the Si’s infotainment system, limited-slip differential and 25 horsepower — but so good is the blown 1.5-liter that you may not notice.

What you will notice is the 2018 Type R’s 306 horse, 2.0-liter furnace.

The triplet’s official bad seed, the R is a no-holds-barred, tattooed, winged bat out of hell. Limited to Europe for the last three generations, Honda is finally introducing it to polite company in the USA. It, um, makes an impression.

I took it to road and track and held onto its leash for dear life. The baddest-looking beast this side of a Subaru WRX STI, the Type R is remarkably well-trained under stress. Strapped down with more tire, more suspension, more torque-vectoring and 40 percent more chassis-stiffening than the Si, engineers have put 306 horses through two front wheels with minimal torque steer.

Competitors like Ford’s RS and Golf’s R use all-wheel drive to manage that kind of juice. Not R. Without the extra equipment, Honda’s Hellboy comes in at 3,117 pounds — more than 350 pounds lighter than the RS. And a whopping $6,000 less to boot.

That’s a lot to process, I know. A day with the Civic triplets will exhaust you. But the great thing is that each is such a cheap date.

Just try and choose one.

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

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

VEHICLE TYPE FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER HATCHBACK
Powerplant 1.5-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
Transmission 6-speed manual; continuously variable

transmission (CVT)

Weight 2,871 pounds (manual)
Price $22,175
Power 180 horsepower, 177 pound-feet torque (manual)
Performance 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver)
Fuel economy EPA est. mpg (manual): 30 city/39 highway/33 combined

Report card

HIGHS ENGINE ONE OF HONDA’S JEWELS; BUDGET BARGAIN
Lows Limited options with manual;

lots of non-functional styling

Overall:★★★★

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