Henry Payne Blog

10 must-sees at the Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 19, 2019

The Shelby Mustang GT500

Cobo’s main show floor is a different place this year. I’m tempted to tout the delicious, scissor-door McLaren 570 as my favorite car in show.

But it’s part of Envy Auto Group’s display of exotic, pre-owned cars — an exhibit from a car dealer that helps fill space left by the mass exodus of European luxury brands. Thanks to Envy, you still get to ogle Porsches and Ferraris — but they aren’t the newest stuff on the market.

For that, there are still plenty of U.S. and foreign automakers who have brought their A-games. There are the usual mighty muscle cars and trucks we expect at a Motown show. But there is also an extraordinary breadth of vehicles from electric to autonomous to V-8s appealing to the richest auto consumer market on the planet.

Here are the most important vehicles in show.

Toyota Supra

I have never seen a Toyota news conference packed with so many people. Motorheads have thirsted for the next Supra since Toyota teased the stunning FT-1 Concept in 2014. The production car holds nicely to the concept’s design with its low, racer-like hood and roller-coaster hips. A lightweight, 50-50 balanced two-seater, the Supra got an assist from BMW, which makes the 335-horse turbo in-line six-cylinder. It’s the same mill that motivates the BMW Z4. Look for this $50,000 hottie come summer.

Ford Mustang GT500

Lightweight straight-six Supra, meet fire-breathing, supercharged V-8 pony. With more than twice the horsepower of the Toyota, the legendary GT500 track monster is aimed squarely at the Chevy Camaro ZL1 across the Cobo aisle. Where past GT500s were straight-line dragsters, this athlete takes the agile GT350 platform and adds steroids. The huge carbon-fiber rear wing will help keep this 700-plus horse Snake on the ground while it inhales supercars costing twice as much.

Ram Heavy Duty 2500/3500

For a different kind of muscle, check out the Heavy Duty version of the Ram 1500, voted North American Truck of the Year. The 2500/3500 ups the light-duty’s capabilities by stuffing a 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel under the hood that makes 1,000-pound feet of stump-pulling torque. Make that house-pulling. The 3500 can tow over 35,000 pounds while nurturing passengers with leather thrones and a 12-inch Tesla-like screen.

Ford Explorer

Ford also makes SUVs. The best-selling ute of all time, the Explorer is totally remade. It sits on a rear-wheel drive based chassis for better towing and design dynamics. But the high-tech interior is where it really shines: one-button access to the third-row, one-button operated self-park feature. This being Ford, the Explorer gets multiple engine options,  including a hybrid and 400-horse ST performance variant.

Kia Telluride

Kia went after the Audi A7 with its sexy Stinger sedan coupe last year. This year Kia beats the three-row Jeep Wagoneer to market with a more rugged version of the Sorento SUV. The exterior is bold and upright like a Range Rover. The interior is luxurious. Take it on a test spin on Kia’s indoor Cobo track.

Nissan IMs Concept

With the explosion in electric and self-driving technology, show-stopping concepts are back. There are a few of these envelope-pushing concepts on the floor, but my favorite is the Nissan with its spare, Caddy-like styling and suicide doors. What’s the autonomous world look like? Nissan imagines a single, rear-seat armchair where the boss sits, while the front seats swivel for assistants to take notes.

Lincoln Continental

Suicide doors aren’t just for concepts. A special edition of 80 Lincoln Continentals — celebrating Conti’s 80th birthday — is being made with stunning, rear-hinged rear doors. The palatial rear seats can comfortably fit Andre Drummond, while front-row passengers luxuriate in 30-way seats.

Cadillac XT6

The bling-tastic, three-row Escalade has long been the choice of rappers and Wall Street limo services. “XT6 takes the Escalade down to an everyday package,” says Caddy designer Andrew Smith. The handsome ute sits on the same wheelbase as the two-row XT5 for better handling, yet carves out 30 inches of third-row legroom. The CUE infotainment system can be operated by touch or remote rotary dial.

Hyundai Elantra GT N Line

This is muscle for those on a budget. The Elantra gains a hot hatch version to rival the VW Golf GTI. Loaded with standard features for just $25,000, economy buyers get 201-horsepower fun with hatchback utility.

VW Passat

While Detroit brands are emptying Midwest sedan factories, VW is sticking around with the Tennessee-built Passat. Updated inside and out, the upscale V-dub nevertheless hedges its bets by sticking with an old platform rather than the more modern MQB chassis that Europe gets.

Cartoon: Walls Trump and Pelosi

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 17, 2019

Detroit auto show consumer guide: Smaller show, big acts

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 17, 2019

People check out the vehicles and other attractions in the Ford Motor Company exhibit space at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in Detroit on Wednesday, January 16, 2019.

The 2019 Detroit auto show is diminished this year, a victim of the exodus of foreign luxury-makers and the transition to a new June format 18 months from now.

But though this year’s show speaks softly, it carries big sticks.

From the ferocious Ford Mustang GT500 to the stump-pulling Ram Heavy Duty pickup to the long-awaited return of the Toyota Supra sports car, Cobo Center is full of the good ol’ muscle the event has long been known for. It’s also a family-fun destination with utes galore and enough rides, rope courses (yes, rope courses) and high-tech to keep the young ‘uns stimulated the whole afternoon.

Enter Cobo from the Washington Boulevard Garage/Cobo Roof into Hall A and it’s not immediately apparent that anything has changed.

The aisle between the Ford and Chevy exhibits is like a moat between warring armies: Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs and pickups bristle like heavy artillery. But while GM’s stand looks familiar from last year, Ford has a fresh look to go with its new state-of-the-art Mustang and Explorer weapons.

The stand is arranged with “shipping containers” full of product: an F-150 over here, a ‘Stang GT500 over there. In the middle of it all is a huge stage that re-creates — twice-an-hour — Ford’s media reveal of its all-new GT500 and Explorer. The simulated helicopter drop of the GT500 is not to be missed.

The second floor of the old Ford exhibit is gone, replaced by the “Ford Scramble Net” ropes course and virtual-reality Explorer drive. The kids will spend hours crisscrossing the roped net dangled high above the floor. Or you can pack the whole family into the Explorer, strap on virtual-reality goggles, and take an 11-minute ride into America’s national parks.

Behind the Ford exhibit is Fiat Chrysler’s display, once the envy of the show with its floor-to-ceiling, Times Square-like light displays. This year’s exhibit is de-tuned, though the product is not with enough Hellcat, SRT and Ram horsepower to blow the roof off Cobo.

There are plenty of themes to watch for. Here are my favorites.

Muscle Beach

The Dodge display ripples with biceps. Check out the 797-horsepower Challenger Red Eye.

But the new kid on the beach is the Ford Mustang GT500. This isn’t your father’s snake. Past GT500s were Woodward Avenue dragsters that left track-carving to the GT350. The new generation is an all-around athlete aimed squarely at the hyper-speed Camaro ZL1 1LE across the aisle.

If stump-pulling power is more to your taste, the Ram Heavy Duty 3500 generates 1,000 pound-feet of torque. That magic number bests every pickup in the business, and Ram does it with the stylish design and interior that just won its 1500 sibling the North American Truck of the Year prize.

On the other side of Cobo is another tasty morsel. Toyota teased the next-gen of its legendary Supra with the FT-1 concept sports car five years ago. It followed through this year by bringing in Formula One superstar Fernando Alonso and Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda (the funniest CEO in auto today) to introduce the curvaceous, 335-horse, $50,000 Supra hatchback.

“It’s not just fun to drive,” the hip 62-year old CEO said. “It’s totally lit.”

Envy Auto Group is new to the main floor. The exotic-car dealer used to exhibit in the Cobo basement. They were brought upstairs to plug the space left by the exit of BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Porsche, Mini-Cooper, et al.

But what a collection of cars Envy has: McLaren 570S, Ferrari 488, Lamborghini Huracan, Aston Martin Vantage S. It has the exotics usually only seen in the exclusive $500-a-ticket gallery gala at the MGM Grand casino that takes place before the show.

It’s a reminder that whatever the show’s circumstances, show-goers come to see the hardware.

Ute nation

We show-goers love glitz, but sport utilities pay the bills. There are new utes everywhere you turn.

The Chevy Blazer is a knockout with Camaro-like, aviation-style climate vents. The rear-wheel drive based Ford Explorer has technology that will embarrass luxury cars costing twice as much. The Kia Telluride beats the Jeep Wagoneer to market as a rock-chewing, three-row SUV. Even China’s GAC brings two utes aimed at the U.S. market that it says it intends to enter.

My favorite crossroads in Cobo is between the Cadillac, Lincoln and Buick stands where Detroit’s newest three-row luxury-SUV entries can be compared face-to-face-to-face. Each brings seriously competitive vehicles (note the similarities between the new Cadillac XT6 and Buick Enclave). You will be blown away by Lincoln’s resurgence, including the Lincoln Aviator that debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and is being shown in Detroit for the first time.

Tech-tastic 

The merger of technology and autos is moving fast, and the Detroit show abounds with cutting-edge examples.

Toyota is going to flood the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo with autonomous cars and driverless pods. For a glimpse of what’s coming, check out the snow-white, lidar-crowned Lexus LS 500h.

Then there’s Nissan’s cool, autonomous IMs Concept with suicide doors, a retractable steering wheel and single rear throne for maximum comfort when the car is self-driving.

My favorite tech piece isn’t an automobile at all, but a two-seat, eight-rotor, hybrid chopper called the SureFly Octocopter. You’ll find it across from Lexus. Each of its eight rotors is controlled by electric motors, giving it drone-like maneuverability — and backup battery-power should the gas engine fail. Market target: 2022.

The kids will love it. Just as soon as you extract them from the Ford Scramble Net.

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CARtoon: Mustang 500

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Payne: Porsche Cayenne gets brains with its brawn

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 10, 2019

Cayenne Fr3 4

I shouldn’t be able to go this quickly in a big ute.

Through the writhing, undulating valley roads of northern California, I whipped the all-new 2019 Porsche Cayenne five-door steed. The 10-piston brakes pulled the eyeballs out from my head. The laser-like steering placed the beast — there! — at the apex. Ample torque to all four wheels helped power-drift on exit.

Cayenne’s sports car-like handling comes naturally. After all, its father is the Porsche 911, the best-handling supercar on the planet.

Payne, have you gone mad? Flogging a 4,300-pound SUV through the wilderness?

Well, the world has gone crazy for a while now. Blame Stuttgart, which in 2003 went off the sports-car reservation (some thought off its rocker) and invented the Cayenne, a midsize performance SUV. Like driving each new generation of the $100,000 Porsche 911, I make it a point to get in the latest Cayenne cyborg because, for two decades it has been the standard by which all performance SUVs are judged.

The uber-ute was infused with Porsche DNA reaching back to the famous LeMans-winning 906 and 908 prototypes I once piloted on the vintage racing circuit. The Cayenne was big, heavy … but unmistakably the Porsche of its class.

Customers gobbled it up.

The more consumers grinned, the more the executive suite smiled. The Cayenne made Porsche sustainable by expanding its demographic beyond hard-core sports car enthusiasts — and providing a steady stream of income to fuel the brand’s essential, brand-defining motorsports efforts.

Over the last 15 years, nearly every performance brand has followed Porsche’s lead. Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari. Your humble News columnist has urged Corvette to build utes.

But most of the aforementioned brands have built compact SUVs to help craft an automotive oxymoron: nimble SUV. Even Porsche, which in 2012 introduced the compact Macan (the brand’s best-seller in the best-selling luxury segment).

Which makes the Cayenne in my hands all the more remarkable. This is a midsize SUV built on the same platform as Audi’s three-row Q7, for goodness sake.

The first-generation Cayenne was a pig in tennis shoes. At a rotund 4,800 pounds (the same weight as a base Ford F-150) it was a locomotive in a straight line — but also was a heavy locomotive in the corners. Porsche had engineered the Cayenne with the rugged outdoors in mind, a place customers rarely ventured. So for Gen 2 it concentrated on Porsche’s core principle: handling.

Job One became reduced mass and Cayenne 2.0 went on a 300-pound diet. I drove the all-wheel drive, 2015 Cayenne S back-to-back with an all-wheel drive VW Golf R hatchback and came away stupefied at how well it handled twisty mountain roads.

Cayenne 3.0 has further reduced the weight gap between the 3,300-pound Golf R by shedding another 120 pounds while maintaining the same wheelbase so my 6-foot-5-inch frame can slip comfortably into the rear seat. That’s still a lot of mass, but under its typically conservative exterior upgrade (save for the thin, horizontal tail lamp, the SUV is virtually indistinguishable from Cayenne 2.0), Porsche has brought major engineering improvements.

The mostly-tin skin now covers a 47-percent aluminum chassis. The front suspension has evolved to a sophisticated, multi-link setup to assist that precision e-steering, and the V-6 engine has been turbocharged to a healthy 340 horses and 331 pound-feet of torque (up 15 percent).

Speed freaks will get access to even more asphalt-gobbling toys when the Cayenne S and Turbo models come out next year: toys like four-wheel steering and 450- and 550-horsepower turbocharged mills and serious performance rubber.

But some of this sci-fi weaponry is also available on the base $68,000 V-6: Gadgets like the Sport Chrono package found on the Boxster and 911 speed demons.

Embedded in the steering column like Iron Man’s arc reactor, the Sport Chrono button glows red. Push it and the digital instrument panel begins a 20-second countdown. Countdown to do what?

Luffing along behind a semi-truck in sixth gear through the curvy Alexander Valley, a brief, dotted center-line straight stretch opens up. Push the button. Tiptronic tranny instantly shifts from sixth to third gear. Floor the throttle.

Zot!

I am past the semi in a flash — with 15 seconds more boost if I want to ingest other cars ahead. Call it push-to-pass like the Formula One technology. On the 550-horse Turbo I imagine it will take me across Michigan in about 30 minutes.

The arc reactor can also be used for standing-start launch control. Rotate its rim dial to Sport Plus. Floor brake and throttle simultaneously. Revs peg to 3,000. Release brake. Zot!

The Cayenne also has a toy for stopping: the 10-piston brake caliper. Stretching across the brake disc like a partial solar eclipse, the huge caliper provides instant stopping power for the 4,300-pound projectile.

In typical Porsche fashion, these accessories come alone — $1,200 for the Sports Chrono, $3,500 for the brakes. With sales of just 15,000 a year — roughly the same number as Ford F-150 Raptor sales — Porsche’s ethic is not unlike a high-end restaurant. Order fast food and choose your package — I’ll have No. 3 with two sides, drink and dessert, please. Order from Porsche Bistro and it is a la carte. Even adaptive cruise control. Happily, steering wheel is standard.

Porsche brings more innovation inside, though the results are mixed.

The performance brand long coasted on signature interior touches like left-hand key (just like the LeMans-winning racers!) and a console sleeve of performance buttons. But the electronic age has forced Porsche to catch up and it does so with stunning, digital, 10-inch and 12.3-inch color instrument and console displays with endless layers of customizable features.

My favorite is Auto Rest, which will channel the residual heat from your engine into the cabin so you can stay warm for 20 minutes in the parking lot even after the engine’s been turned off.

Ergonomics do not match the engineering. Haptic-screen control buttons are located awkwardly behind the monostable shifter. And 20th-century audio commands control the 21st-century features.

Overall, however, the machine’s pure joy on the road overcomes such minor grievances. For 80-grand, it is the Porsche of performance utes.

And if that’s too rich for your blood, then check out the similarly sized, $40,000 Ford Edge ST funbox. Another spawn of Porsche’s performance SUV revolution. Danke schön, Stuttgart.

2019 Porsche Cayenne

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

Price: $66,750 base including $1,050 destination fee ($84,240 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6

Power: 335 horsepower, 332 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.6 seconds (mfr.); Tow capacity: 7,750

Weight: 4,377 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 19 city/23 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: I-can’t-believe-it’s-a-ute handling; tech-tastic features

Lows: Awkward console ergonomics; poor voice commands

Overall: 4 stars

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Bad guys, beware: Ford Interceptor reporting for duty

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 9, 2019

Police 2

Dearborn — Developing an all-new Ford Explorer SUV not only meant engineers could design a roomier, techier three-row ute for families — it also meant they could make a faster, leaner Police Interceptor to chase down the bad guys.

Ahead of the much anticipated Explorer’s debut next Wednesday at Ford Field, Ford gave media a sneak peak Friday at the tough Interceptor now being purchased by police agencies around the country.

This thing is a tank in gym shoes.

Like American consumers, police departments have moved to SUVs as their mainstay police vehicles given their rugged on-and-off-road abilities and five-door utility. Gone is the old Crown Vic sedan, though Ford still markets Ford Fusion Hybrids to police as well.

But with the addition of Explorer’s first-ever hybrid, the 2020 Police Interceptor now adds fuel economy to its benefits. Ford expects the Interceptor hybrid — equipped with a 3.3-liter V-6 mated to a 10-speed transmission — to get 24 mpg, a 41 percent improvement over the outgoing 3.7-liter V-6 Interceptor.

“We never do a police car on our own, because we get so many benefits from Ford’s production program,” says Interceptor vehicle engineer Allen Magolen, who works in the company’s police vehicle department. Ford currently provides about 65 percent of police vehicles in the US.

Police can buy a cheaper, 3.3-liter V-6-equipped Interceptor, but given the extended idling and long road miles logged by police units, the hybrid will make up its sticker premium in a year — that’s about $3,500 in annual fuel savings, Ford estimates. As a result, most police departments are opting for the hybrid.

The new Interceptor hybrid benefits, not only from the drive-train’s increased fuel economy, but from its added torque for performance.

In bruising track tests conducted by Michigan’s finest performance cops at Grattan Raceway outside Grand Rapids last summer, the 318-horsepower Interceptor hybrid was quicker than its V-8 Chevy and Dodge SUV competitors. Zero-60 blew by in just 7.27 seconds and 100 mph in 17.69 seconds.

Only the Police Interceptor equipped with a third drivetrain option — the same 400-horse, 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 monster found under the hood of the forthcoming Explorer ST — was quicker. The latter clipped the zero-60 tape in a breathtaking 5.7 seconds (100 mph came in just 13.59 seconds).

Ford says the turbo is preferred by western police departments that have to do prolonged, high-speed interstate chases. Crooks are going to have a tough time out-running this ute.

In addition to new drivetrains, the Interceptor achieves its performance numbers by going on a 200-pound diet, the result of the Explorer’s extensive use of aluminum and lightweight steel. With suspension and drivetrain tweaks for immediate pursuit capability, engineer Magolen says the Explorer drives like the performance Explorer ST model.

Inside the back seat, the bad guys won’t find the Interceptor nearly as hospitable as the family Explorer. The third-row seat is removed, as are all cupholders (“to keep anyone from hiding a stash of something,” says Interceptor marketing chief Stephen Tyler). Even the door latches are covered over so no one can escape.

The fold-flat second row is popular for use with K-9 unit dog cages, while cargo space increases by 4 cubic feet for law enforcement equipment.

Doors can be optioned with level-four armor plating. Other options include a giant front push-bar and steel center-cap hubs to augment the Interceptor’s tough shell. The SUV can tow up to 5,000 pounds and is hardened to take a 75-mph rear impact  above and beyond the federal 50 mph standard.

Up front, officers are surrounded by a moat of cutting-edge Ford technology, a hallmark of its production SUVs that have pioneered systems like self-park assist and auto-raise tailgates. The police ute gets Police Perimeter Alert, which uses motion-detection sensors to register a threat 270 degrees around the vehicle — and then automatically lock up the Interceptor.

“Whether patrolling or sitting idle, the all-new Police Interceptor Utility will change the way officers work,” says Bill Gubing, chief engineer for the Explorer. “Everything about it was designed for keeping police officers safe, comfortable and ready for action.”

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Payne: Battle of the super wagons, Mercedes vs. Jaguar

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 3, 2019

Wagons Nose2nose

When I was a kid, my mom would drive me to the race track in an old Ford Fairlane station wagon to watch my dad race sports cars. Last year I drove a Mercedes station wagon to NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky … to track it.

The Ford had a rear-facing, third-row trunk seat for spectating. The Mercedes has a 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 putting out 603 horsepower for gulping straightaways.

How times have changed.

Now come the 2018 Mercedes AMG E63 S and Jaguar XF Sportbrake wagons. You know, family cars.

Americans prefer SUVs over station wagons, so I admire European manufacturers’ persistence in trying to make them attractive as performance vehicles. Detroit automakers gave up long ago after the beefcake Dodge Magnum and Cadillac CTS-V failed to even get a wink from the public despite their V-8 ferocity.

Europeans know sexy. Their wagon designs are so sultry they inspired even GM to try again with the Buick TourX (a rebadged Opel Insignia wagon). The Jag and Mercedes are so alluring that I’m surprised Elastigirl — aka, Mrs. Incredible — isn’t driving one of them around in “Incredibles 2.”

In a Bloomfield Hills service station, a woman parked her giant SUV next to my Jaguar XF Sportbrake tester: “Wow!” she said. ”Now that’s a good-looking red car! What is it?”

Another ute sidled up to me on the interstate and shadowed the Jag for a couple of miles.

At the grocery, a group of young girls stopped in their tracks and stared as the Sportbrake drove away.

A pal did a full lap around the car: “Now that’s the hottest-looking wagon I’ve seen since the Magnum,” he says.

 And so on.

Jaguar’s station wagon is a knockout. Um, sorry. Their shooting brake. That’s Europe’s preferred name for wagon. Thus the Jag’s moniker “Sportbrake.” Anything to get away from the dreaded w-word.

With its short front overhang, long hood and swept greenhouse sitting over the rear wheels like the muscular haunches of a… well, jaguar, the Sportbrake looks like something special even before you gaze into those signature Jag headlights and mesh grille.
 The Mercedes AMG E63 S, in contrast, is a stealth mobile.

Like all Mercedes these days, it’s a stylish sculpture — a long way from the stodgy bankers’ cars of old. But its lines are conservative (no long rear aerofoils or bulging hood scoops). Only the huge, lower front air intakes (which seem to have been stolen off an F-22 fighter jet) and AMG E63 S badge on the rear give it away.

About that badge. The first two letters of AMG stand for Aufrecht and Melcher, the two engineers who founded Mercedes’ performance division before Mercedes brought it on-house in 2005. The G stands for Grossaspach, Aufrecht’s birth town. The E is for E-class, the mid-size Mercedes upon which it’s based. And the 63 S is engineering code for “track monster.”

This thing roars like a T. rex chasing Jeff Goldblum.

Grounded to the earth by the Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive that can throw 100-percent of its torque to the rear wheels, the bi-turbo V-8 eats track at an alarming rate. At 4,697 pounds the Mercedes is no lightweight, but the four-wheel traction and gummy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires mean grip is never a problem. Massive AMG brakes aided by ABS help bring it to a stop.

On numerous occasions my colleagues exited turns at lurid angles as 627 pound-feet of torque threatened to swap ends like Mark Reuss’ Corvette pace car. But all-wheel drive saved them every time.

“The electronics available today make these cars possible,” says Tommy Kendall, the champion Trans Am driver-turned-Mercedes track instructor. He is in awe that today’s wagons have as much horsepower as his Corvette Trans Am track animals of 20 years ago.

I didn’t have the opportunity to track the lighter Jaguar, but Car and Driver records similar g-load numbers for the two, so I expect the XF would be similar. Except for the power. At 603 horsepower, the AMG has a similar power-to-weight ratio to the Hellcat engine-powered Jeep Trackhawk.

Add the wagon’s inherent physical advantage of lower center of gravity. Mix. Bake. And the title of fastest family hauler goes to (drum roll, please) the station wagon.

NCM Motorsports track lap record-holder Andy Pilgrim (the IMSA pro pulverized the record with a 2-minute, 5-second lap in a new Corvette ZR1 last year) confirmed as much by lapping the Mercedes in 2.23. That’s a full six seconds clear of his Trackhawk lap. And I suspect Andy emerged with fewer white hairs after his AMG round.

Just thought you’d like to know in case you want to take the family for a track lap some day. Or if you just want to detour through Hell, Michigan, with your kids on your way to the next soccer match.

Along the way, of course, you’ll want to know more than just what’s under the hood, and here the Mercedes runs rings around the Jag. Indeed, it’s hard to find a nicer interior anywhere with Mercedes’ exquisite digital screen, graphics, aviator-style air vents and gorgeous wood trim.

The Jaguar is second-class by comparison, right down to its slow touchscreen (the Mercedes remote rotary dial is not only precise, it’s assisted by a touch pad) and lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Oh, well, at least the cool, rotary gear selector rises out of the console.

The Mercedes’ steering wheel even has as its own touch-pad for navigating the instrument display. Very posh. And it’ll cost you.

The Merc’s sticker was a shocking $140,730, the Jag $84,815 in comparison.

Kendall said that when he was a kid watching Formula One racing, he noticed all the drivers drove home in Mercedes AMGs. It was his dream car.

But I bet he never dreamed there would be a 603-horse AMG station wagon.

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S wagon

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

Price: $109,845 base including $995 destination fee ($140,730 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6

Power: 603 horsepower, 627 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.0 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 180 mph

Weight: 4,669 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 16 city/22 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Astonishing acceleration; penthouse interior

Lows: Porky; sticker shock

Overall: 4 stars

2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake

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

Price: $71,445 base including $995 destination fee ($84,815 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6

Power: 380 horsepower, 332 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 121 mph

Weight: 4,351 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 18 city/25 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: Head-turning wagon; AWD grip

Lows: Dated interior; slow infotainment screen

Overall: 3 stars

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2018 in autos: 10 best new features

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 2, 2019

Features Sierra Bed Load Step

The pace of change in the auto industry is unrelenting. In addition to advancements in design and mechanical engineering across a multitude of platforms – sports car, SUV, sedan, pickup, minivan – the digital revolution has brought a new dimension to vehicle connectivity and safety.

Herewith, the 10-best features that debuted in the last year.

1. GMC Sierra MultiPro tailgate

Pickups are about beds, and the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twins bring the toughest, cinder-block-catching, rolled-steel beds in class. But the Sierra separated itself with a unique, multipurpose tailgate that can be configured six different ways. MultiPro is, fundamentally, a tailgate within a tailgate so that, for example, the inner gate can be raised to act as a bump-stop for long boards. Or it can be folded downward to create stair steps into the truck. Clever.

More: 2018 in autos: 10 things that drove us batty

2. Subaru Ascent’s 19 cupholders

Horsepower wars? Let’s talk cupholder wars. Pack families into three-row SUVs and they are going to bring drinks to go: coffee cups, thermoses, Big Gulps, Slurpees, soda cans, you name it. Subaru figures you’ll need 19 cupholders. That’s a record… for now.

3. Ford Trail Control

Ford is the geek kid who always comes to class with the latest technology: self-park assist, SYNC, Trailer Assist. The 2015 Ford F-150 was the first pickup with adaptive cruise-control. So it’s no surprise that Ford this year offered up Trail Control, a sort of low-speed, off-road adaptive cruise for the Raptor and Ranger pickups. The driver can concentrate on steering through the scenery while the truck takes care of the throttle.

4. Tesla Summon

Summon is a sure-fire party trick from Silicon Valley’s EV pioneer. First introduced on the pricey Model S, the feature this year became common to tens of thousands of Model 3 buyers. Summon essentially makes your phone (via Tesla app) a remote control for your Model 3 so you can stand outside and pull the car out of tight parking spaces, walk it down the street, whatever.

5) Mazda i-ACTIVSENSE

Like Apple in a Microsoft computer world, Tesla will inevitably spawn copycats. Ram and Prius have adopted big console screens, and Mazda has adopted Tesla’s 360-degree, surround vehicle display. Mazda dubs it i-ACTIVSENSE, which places an avatar of your car in the instrument display so you can see everything around it — cars in your blind spot, cars in front of you, lane-keep assist, and more.

6. Alexa in-car app

Who can forget Infiniti’s “Avengers: Infinity War” ads in which a handsome couple head off to the the movies with a simple: “Alexa, start my Infiniti QX50.” Yes, the home device can now sync to vehicles like the QX50 and Ford Ecosport. Just download the app to your phone and you’re in business.

7. Cadillac Rear Camera Mirror
Manufacturers race, in part, to accelerate track-to-street technologies. But what about the reverse? Cadillac innovated its Rear Camera Mirror in the 2017 Cadillac CT6 sedan, and this year it moved to Cadillac’s hyper-quick IMSA Weathertech race car. In the space pod that is the Cadillac DPi racer’s cockpit, the mirror uses a tiny, rear-mounted video lens so the driver gets an unobstructed view of the field behind.

8. Lincoln suicide doors

How to call attention to a slow-selling luxury sedan? Give it rear-opening suicide doors like a Rolls-Royce. Eighty Continentals will be sold for a Rolls-like six-figure sum. To keep the doors from living up to their nickname if opened at highway speed, the Continental’s doors won’t open if the vehicle is traveling faster than 2 miles per hour.

9. Standard safety-suite

Pioneered a decade ago in luxury Mercedes, digital safety packages of adaptive cruise-control/blind-spot assist, automatic braking/lane-keep assist can be had — standard! — on vehicles like a $25,000 VW Jetta or Honda Civic.

10. Volvo XC40 trash can and purse hanger

The Swedish brand is back in vogue with the usual safety smarts, but now it’s stylish, too. The irresistible compact XC40 ute comes with a mini-trash can in the center console and a secreted glove-box hook for hanging purses and plastic grocery bags.

2018 in autos: 10 things that drove us batty

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 2, 2019

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Automobiles are wonderful, complex companions. We bring them into our homes, depend on them, lavish money on them. Yet, they have flaws – some of which can drive us crazy.

Some things that got under our skin this year…

1. Stop-start systems

Automakers gain EPA emissions credits for automatically turning off their engines at stoplights – only to turn the rest of us off in the process.

2. Showy, non-functional design cues

Think fake engine ports. Fake intake screens. The VW Jetta takes this year’s crown with dual chrome exhaust tips… that have no exhaust pipes behind them.

3. Coupe visibility

Get a cool coupe with a racy C-pillar and you’ll likely pay the price in rear visibility. The Camaro is legendary in this regard, but this year’s prize goes to the Toyota C-HR, which you not only can’t see out of – but sitting in the rear seat feels like an underground bunker.

4. Infotainment touch pads

These maddening devices — on otherwise perfect automobiles like the Lexus LS or Acura RDX — exist despite the proven efficiency of touch screens and remote rotary dials. Trying to operate one while driving is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the dark.

5. Long alphanumeric vehicle names

The best mouthful of 2018: Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe

6. Where’s my pickup’s corner step?

GM pickups come equipped with corner steps that are the easiest, safest way to get into the pickup bed. Why every other truck maker doesn’t follow is a mystery.

7. Where’s my adaptive cruise-control?

On the other hand, only GM pickups lack that most basic of electronic safety features: adaptive cruise control, even on upper-trim, $60,000 High Countrys.

8. EV range-anxiety

Electric vehicles routinely boast 240-mile plus range, except when they don’t. These ranges are generally calibrated in 70-degree Southern California weather at the speed limit. But drive in 30-degree temps and that range can plummet by 30 percent. More degradation occurs when you travel over 75 mph. Which means that, if you’re traveling with traffic at 80 mph to Traverse City, you won’t make it.

9. Drone on

The Insight is Honda’s third shot at a green Prius-fighter. Based on the rock-solid Civic, it is attractive, stylish… and then you press on the gas pedal and the 1.5-liter engine drones on like Ben Stein in “Ferris Bueller.”

10. Genesis G70 Sport hiccup

Cartoon: Vice Rating

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 2, 2019

Cartoon: Warren in 2020

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 2, 2019