Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Defund Ford Police Cars

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 10, 2020

Cartoon: Cancel Hamilton Kaepernick

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 10, 2020

Payne: Up north puts the versatile GMC Sierra AT4 to the test

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 10, 2020

The 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 is made in America. In Fort Wayne, Indiana to be exact.

The 2020 GMC Sierra AT4 is made in America. In Fort Wayne, Indiana to be exact. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, goes the old saying. But when all you have is nails, well — it sure is good to have a hammer.

That’s the way I feel about pickups.

As a speed-addled sports car guy, hulking pickups are low on my list of performance vehicles. But when you need a tool to get things done, there is no substitute for a truck, as I found out when I escaped to northern Michigan recently in a 2020 GMC Sierra AT4.

As regular readers of this column know, performance cars have been my refuge during the shutdown: Cadillac CT5 V-Sport, Mazda Miata, Tesla Model 3, Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, BMW M8. These stallions took me away to Hell, Michigan and Woodward Avenue and the Huron River where I could social-distance at speed.

Heading north, I thought it would be great to exercise a sports car as well. I wanted to flog it over the roller-coaster hills of Antrim County on M-32. Or up the Lake Michigan coast through the Tunnel of Trees on twisty Route 119.

But when it came time to leave, the only thing in my driveway was … a truck. It would turn out to be an inspired choice. There would be lots of nails that needed a hammer.

While southeast Michigan remained on lockdown, our benevolent Tsar Whitmer decided to open up north for business May 19. Apparently her husband wanted to go boating at their second home. We set course for our family’s summer domicile as well.

Like a kind of mechanical centaur, pickups are half wheelbarrow, half auto. Travel with a family and the wheelbarrow half is useless — where does the luggage go? My recommendation: Buy a tonneau cover so you can use the bed for cargo when needed. Only Mrs. Payne and I would make this journey, so the Sierra crew cab’s enormous rear seat was enough for our bags — and coolers, blankets, athletic bags, beverages and everything else you want on the lakes.

Recognizing the wheelbarrow’s shortcomings, pickups have become ingenious about creating internal cargo space (my favorite is Ram trucks’ “basement” compartments under the second-row floor). But the Sierra (and cousin Chevy Silverado) have their own hidden compartment — behind the backseat. What’s next? A spinning door to a secret room?

This cleverness continues up front where the Sierra boasts twin glove compartments, center console storage deeper than the Mariana Trench — there’s even a storage bin on top of the dash.

GM has been shamed for its uninspired interior design compared to, say, the Ram 1500. For example, where Ram uses a compact rotary gear-selector, Sierra sticks to an old-fashioned, steering-column shifter. Nice for space-saving — but, compare Sierra’s stalk to modern variants found in a Tesla or Mercedes GLE, and the pickup seems oh-so-15-years-ago.

The interior blah is especially notable because the GMC’s exterior is typically awesome. Sculpted bod. Strong shoulders. Chrome grille. The AT4 got a lot of looks.

“Nice truck.”

“Handsome truck.”

The accolades just fell out of people’s mouths. Sierra is also the sports car of trucks. With its best-in-class chassis light-weighting, I’ve enjoyed pushing GMCs through the twisties since the first 2016 Sierra Denali I drove with a Corvette-shared 6.2-liter V-8 under the hood.

My 2020 Sierra was outfitted with a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel inline-6, but it provided plenty of giddyap — particularly its low end, 460-pound feet of torque. I had some fun through the Route 32 curves before my wife got tired of swinging from the A-pillar grab handle.

“Slow down!”

We arrived at our Charlevoix family cottage and there were plenty of nails needing a hammer after a long winter away. Like bicycles.

We share the cottage with family and eight bicycles were strewn about the garage, six in various stages of disrepair: flat tires, seized wheels, rotted seats.

We called the local Revolution Bike Shop who told us to bring them over. No problem, we had a pickup. Bike capacity: six.

I know it’s six because we stacked every last one into the GMC’s rear bed. Side-by-side. Try that in a sports sedan.

The loading was made easier by GMC’s six-function Multi-Pro tailgate. You know it from its jaw-dropping TV ads. Sports car motorheads like to wow friends by lifting the hood. I wowed neighbors with the Sierra tailgate. Push the button and …

1. The full tailgate drops.

2. A loadstop bar keeps boards from falling out the back.

3. An inner gate enabled a second-tier loadstop.

4. Drop the loadstop and you have a work surface — or bar.

5. Drop the inner gate to “walk in” to the tailgate and create a standing desk.

6. Drop a step that makes stairs into the bed

I used that last feature to walk the bikes into the bed — a task that would otherwise require two people.

It wasn’t just bike shops opening up north. Swiss Hideaway Canoe Rental was open for trips down the Jordan River — but with a catch. Due to social-distancing regulations, they couldn’t pick us (and canoes) up in their vans at the end of the journey.

“We’ll rent you the canoes at a discount if you can bring them back yourself,” they said.

No problem. We had a pickup.

We dropped the Sierra at the East Jordan pick-up point — then piled into my son’s rental car (he and his gal pal had flown in from Seattle) to drive to the put-in spot. After our two-hour canoe trip, we loaded the canoes into the pickup for the ride back to Swiss Hideaway.

The Multi-Pro tailgate proved its worth here, too, as the “walk-in” feature allowed me to better tie down the canoes. Meanwhile, my son used the GMC’s corner bumper steps (why aren’t all truck equipped with these?) to jump in and out of the bed around the canoes.

Up north is pickup country. Far from urban Detroit where vehicles are used for commuting to tight parking garages, big trucks have more room to maneuver. The Sierra AT4 is also lifted two inches to explore irregular terrain.

At a lifted $83,565, the Sierra costs the same as a, cough, a Mercedes GLE SUV. That’s one fancy hammer.

2020 GMC Sierra AT4

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, 5-passenger pickup

Price: $54,995, including $1,595 destination charge ($83,565 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter inline-6 cylinder diesel

Power: 277 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.3 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing, 9,000 lbs.

Weight: 5,270 pounds (base)

Fuel economy: EPA: 23 mpg city/30 highway/26 combined (in 2WD)

Report card

Highs: Best tailgate in class; sculpted good looks

Lows: Uninspired interior; gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon Nuns and Obamacare Court

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 10, 2020

Cartoon: Rushmore Rename

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 7, 2020

Cartoon: BLM Chicago Murders

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 7, 2020

Cartoon: Facebook Free Speech

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 7, 2020

Cartoon: Whitmer Bar Edict

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 7, 2020

Payne: Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid Tesla-fighter is different shade of green

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 7, 2020

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid offers a dual personality of green, all-electric driving — and massive AWD, 455-horsepower when the driver has a need for speed.

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid offers a dual personality of green, all-electric driving — and massive AWD, 455-horsepower when the driver has a need for speed. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Tesla Inc. has set the luxury world on fire, challenging establishment automakers with compelling, all-electric products with Apple-like design simplicity. No one has been able to match them — not the Jaguar i-PACE, not the Audi e-Tron, not the Cadillac ELR.

But maybe the solution isn’t beating Tesla at its game. Maybe it’s providing different answers for a different customer. The 2020 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid SUV is the antithesis of Tesla.

Playing in the same price ballpark as the $86,190 Tesla Model X SUV, the $81,150 Cayenne plug-in boasts similar performance and range but in a more practical, more conservatively styled package.

This vehicle that doesn’t wow with gull-wing doors — but with high IQ scores in industry dependability rankings. Tesla is a brash newcomer that wants to throw out the rule book, while Porsche has built respect over decades of racing success. Their games are as different as Federer and Nadal. Old school vs. new age.

I spent some time with Cayenne to see what it’s got.

The E-Hybrid is Porsche’s third generation hybrid — a commitment on par with Honda’s Insight (the first hybrid on our shores in 1999), and nearly equal to the fourth-gen Toyota Prius. These guys know hybrids, and, like the Japanese, Porsche has priced the E-Hybrid competitively with its regular Cayenne lineup (unlike the premium hybrid pricing of some other brands).

Cayenne E-Hybrid comes with old school, de rigueur virtue signaling — phosphorescent Acid Green “E-Hybrid” badging on the its flanks and tukus, as well as radiant green brake calipers. Less flashy customers can choose white or yellow calipers as part of Porsche’s typically dizzying array of options to personalize your car. But I like the Acid Green as a way to bring flavor to Cayenne’s vanilla design.

Cayenne has come a long way since its first ungainly attempt to translate Porsche 911-like, sports-car styling to a five-door ute. The new gen exudes masculinity even as it’s still one of the most conservatively styled SUVs out there.

That’s in stark relief with the Tesla Model X with its unmistakable egg shape, big hips and signature gull-wing doors. Interestingly, E-Hybrid comes at a time when the sleek, all-electric Porsche Taycan sedan has debuted as a direct competitor to the Tesla Model S sedan.

Cayenne’s conservative approach is in keeping with its appeal to luxury shoppers who want a quick green machine, but without the sacrifices of the full-electric lifestyle.

Own a Tesla and you’ll only visit service stations to buy newspapers. So, too, the Cayenne E-Hybrid. Plug it in overnight and Porsche claims 20 miles of electric juice for local commutes. Make that, plug into a 240-volt, Level 2 outlet and you’ll get 20 miles. Invest $2,000 for Level 2 installation, because a 110 volt-wall is terribly inconsistent.

On my 110-volt garage outlet I got seven miles in nine hours of charging. Ugh. Welcome to the uncertainties of the electric frontier. Fortunately, the gas engine will recharge the battery while driving for more, pure EV opportunities.

Turn the Porsche’s old-school dash key — on the left just like Porsche race cars of old — and the E-Hybrid defaulted to E-Power mode, allowing fully electric driving around town. Porsche achieves this with a bifurcated throttle. Let me explain.

Maintaining moderate throttle, I could drive on an electric charge over 70 mph on local interstates. A digital instrument gauge flanked the Porsche’s center tac, allowing me to monitor the range on E-Power. Bury the throttle for a quick maneuver and you’ll feel a noticeable detent in the throttle as it grabs the gas engine for help.

Stay on the shy side of the detent and the V-6 never engages. EPA says that 20-mile charge actually only translates to real-world 13 miles traveled. I can vouch for that. Such eggshell driving, of course, denied me the instant torque thrill of electric cars. Mash the throttle in a Model X and you’re suddenly Han Solo in a Millennium-Falcon, light-speed blur to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds.

The downside of that thrill is massive range suck. Drive Up North and Tesla drivers will get their own eggshell time as the charging network thins out. Model X promises 353 miles of electric range at perfect, 55 mph driving — but access your inner Han Solo (or travel at over 70 mph) and range plummets.

That’s where plug-in hybrids like Porsche shine. Combined gas-electric range is an impressive 430 miles. And with gas stations everywhere, there’s no range anxiety even when you want to have fun — which is often in this rhino in tennis shoes.

The E-Hybrid is built for speed.

The 5,000-pound beast (400 shy of the Model X) matches the Tesla from 0-60. Thank the standard Sports Chrono package and its cool, steering-wheel-mounted Sport Response button (just like a 911), which allowed me to instantly switch from egg-shell E-Power mode to face-flattening Sport Plus mode. Hold on, honey!

Sport Plus accesses the full, combined gas engine/electric motor output of 455 horsepower, 516 pound feet of torque, which ignores the throttle detent and launches you straight to the moon.

With its instant torque, the electric motor effectively acts like a supercharger on top of the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, eliminating turbo lag. The car rockets off the line as the 8-speed auto tranny fires off quick shifts, and Sport Mode adds appropriately louder exhaust note theme music.

Around 180-degree cloverleafs the rhino remained remarkably flat, its all-wheel-drive digging in as I fed more throttle. This confident handling translates to twisty roads Up North as well. The Model X, its battery creating a low center of gravity, is no slouch in the cornering department either.

Old-school Porsche is the rare brand that can match new age Tesla for engineering curiosity. Ogle the Model X’s graphics and big console tablet. Cayenne E-Hybrid is an airline cockpit by comparison, with a button for everything from volume to shock damping to radio source. Or you can use the touch screen to explore the ute’s myriad setups.

On basic tech items, however, Porsche noticeably lags. Voice commands are a Stone Age behind Tesla, and my $90,000 E-Hybrid mule was naked of driver-assist items like blind spot-assist and adaptive cruise control that are standard on $25,000 Nissan Sentras. Adaptive cruise is (cough) $6,250 extra.

Such shortcomings will be deal-breakers for new age EV buyers. But for luxe shoppers who just want a taste of EV with their Porsche DNA, Cayenne E-Hybrid is your answer.

2020 Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 5-passenger SUV

Price: $81,150, including $1,250 destination charge ($91,220 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter turbo V-6 combined with AC motor and 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery

Power: 455 horsepower, 516 pound-feet of torque combined

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.4 seconds (Car and Driver); towing capacity, 7,716 pounds

Weight: 4,950 pounds est.

Fuel economy: EPA 24 city/ 26 highway/ 25 combined

Report card

Highs: Hybrid long range; Sports Response button take me to the moon

Lows: Lack of standard safety assist features; infotainment tech lags competitors

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: July 4th Happiness

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

Payne: High-speed Jeep Gladiator Mojave conquers the Mounds

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave is like its rugged Rubicon brother — except that its built for speed, with Fox shocks and a higher ride height.

There are two kinds of auto enthusiasts: those who get their thrills on-road, and those who get them off-road.

A sports car racer for decades, I’m an on-roader. But the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave pickup could convert me.

The Mojave is the latest variation of the tree-chewing, midsize Gladiator pickup designed for folks who want to explore the far corners of the earth. In this case, especially those with a need for speed. Unlike the Gladiator Rubicon which is built for rock-crawling, the Mojave wants to run. For a track rat like me, that sounds awfully appealing.

I’ve been hustling performance cars to Hell, Michigan, and back in the COVID-19 lockdown to test their limits. But for the Gladiator Mojave, I headed north from my coronavirus hideout to the Mounds off-road vehicle park near Flint. The Mounds has everything an off-road rebel needs: rock piles, swamp trails, sandy hills, high-speed dirt flats.

The Mounds is thick with Jeep Wranglers exploring every inch of its 118-acre playground. They mingle with giant, jacked pickups and swarms of ATVs and dirt bikes crawling over its hills and gullies. With its detachable front sway bars and front-and-rear locking axles, the Gladiator Rubicon — like the Wrangler Rubicon — loves the tight, uneven stuff.

The Gladiator Mojave, on the other hand, dreams of being a Ford Raptor. Ford’s high-speed, Baja-desert-friendly F-150 is a singular warhorse. In the saddle with 450 horsepower under the hood and sophisticated Fox shocks under the fenders, I conquered the Borrego desert in Southern California a few years back, hitting triple-digit speeds on the sandy flats.

It was extraordinary. But like a killer whale, the Raptor needs a lot of ocean to feed, and southern California — or the Baja peninsula — is a long way to go to stretch the big Ford’s legs. Gladiator Mojave aims to bring those pleasures closer to home. Like Flint.

Unlike the Raptor, the new Gladiator doesn’t have a new engine or get-outta-the-way bodywork. But it did feature Jeep’s throaty 285-horse V-6 and a unique hood scoop that sets it apart from brother Rubicon pickup. More important, it is raised an inch above Rubicon with trusty Fox performance shocks.

I shifted the Mojave’s transfer case to four-wheel drive, turned traction-control off and nailed the V-6 across the Mounds’ open, northwest trails. This is terrain where the dirt bikers like to open it up, and I picked up speed quickly, the Fox shocks absorbing the trail’s imperfections.

This might be hairy stuff in the ginormous Raptor, but the Mojave was in its element. A 75-degree left-hander loomed, and I slowed — then slewed it sideways across a water-filled dip. Gladiator’s dimensions allowed me to rotate the pickup beautifully, then I was back on the throttle as the big, 33-inch knobby tires sprayed the cabin with water.

Good thing I kept the doors on.

When you’re not splashing through Mother Nature at high speed, you can remove the doors and roof of the Mojave just like the Rubicon to get closer to nature. Just don’t wear your dinner clothes.

With the pickup bed out back, the panels are easy to stow. Of course, the dirt bikers I was riding with were eyeballing that bed as potential bike transport. They had arrived in regular, light-duty pickups, but the Mojave adds the tantalizing twin possibility: When you’re tired of running the hills in isolation on your bikes, you can pile into the Mojave for some communal dirt-kicking on the trails.

“Hey, can we come with you?” said one of the bikers who had already figured this out.

The Mojave is happy at low speeds, too. The Mounds has a number of tight scramble areas that favor Jeeps over big trucks. With the transfer case in four-wheel low, I flipped a console switch to lock the rear axle and gain better traction. The Gladiator Rubicon takes this capability one step further with twin locking axles and decoupling sway-bars for serious rock-crawling, if that’s your thing.

Naturally, all of this scene-chewing hardware doesn’t come cheap. The base Gladiator starts at $35,000 and the base Mojave at $45,000. My tester was an eye-watering $60,945, just $7,500 cheaper than the Ford Raptor I tested a couple of years ago.

What you get for that coin is a unique vehicle that is good at addition as well as subtraction. Subtract the doors and hood for that unique outdoors experience. Then ogle the additions that Jeep has brought to its console.

The Uconnect infotainment system is one of the industry’s best, with easy-to-use menus so you can blast your favorite Sirius XM station while pulverizing trails in the middle of nowhere. Where Uconnect is shy of the industry’s best is in the navigation department, Jeep has thoughtfully made Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard on the Mojave.

Leaving the house for my off-road adventure, I plugged my Samsung phone into a USB port in a dash festooned with connectivity. The infotainment screen now duplicated my phone screen. A long hold on the steering wheel awakened Google Assistant. I asked her to chart a course to the Mounds. We were off.

Like my performance car trips to Hell, the hour drive to the Mounds gave me a chance to assess the Mojave’s livability on a long trip. I hope you like loud.

With all those removable panels, roll bar and cloth roof, the Jeep is hardly equipped for sound insulation like some of its mid-size truck peers. A Ford Ranger is a sealed tomb by comparison. Go topless on your ride and good luck hearing Google Assistant’s directions (fortunately the instrument display graphics are fine). The big, knobby tire howl adds its own soundtrack.

But the advantage of those high-tech, multi-valve Fox shocks is the Gladiator Mojave rides more smoothly on the road than the Rubicon. Smooth as in mattress smooth. The Mojave does tend to wander in lane thanks to its high ride height, but the overall experience is good for your backside when you arrive at your destination.

If that destination is a metropolitan area, you’ll find the Gladiator easier to maneuver than a huge, full-size truck. Then, like a sports car, it can transform into a weekend off-road thrill ride. Which this on-road racer finds very appealing.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, 5-passenger pickup

Price: $45,370, including $1,495 destination charge ($60,945 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 285 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.3 seconds (Car and Driver est.);

Weight: 4,974 pounds (automatic as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 17 mpg city/22 highway/19 combined

Report card

Highs: Comfortable ride on road; carries dirt bikes or hits the dirt itself

Lows: Noisy on-road; gets pricey with add-ons

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: King George Statue

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

Cartoon: July 4 Facebook

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

Cartoon: Nascar Media Quiz

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

Cartoon: Seattle CHOP Anarchy

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 26, 2020

Cartoon: Trump Immigration Halt

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 25, 2020

Cartoon: BLM Grant Statue

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2020

Cartoon: Twitter Trump Tweets

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2020

Cartoon: Google NBC Stasi

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 19, 2020

Cartoon: BLM on Trump Rally

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 19, 2020