Articles

Mid-engine Corvette wins MotorTrend Car of Year honors

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 21, 2019

Los Angeles – The mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette C8 has won its first major award, grabbing the coveted 2020 MotorTrend Car of the Year honor for best car.

Other winners include the three-row Kia Telluride as best SUV and the Ram Heavy Duty as best truck.

Presented annually ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, MotorTrend’s Gold Caliper trophy is often displayed prominently at automaker’s show stands and in advertising campaigns. MotorTrend offers video and magazine content for auto enthusiasts.

One of the year’s most anticipated vehicles, the C8 is the first Corvette to put the engine behind the driver like European supercars costing four times as much. At just over $60,000 the Corvette can sprint from 0-60 in just 2.9 seconds without sacrificing interior comfort. Its combination of speed and value wowed Motor Trend jurors.

“The C8 represents the biggest step-change since the original Acura NSX in terms of being a usable everyday mid-engine supercar,” said MotorTrend International Bureau Chief Angus MacKenzie. “It brings the Corvette closer to the Porsche 911 in terms of being an attainable and credible 24/7 supercar than any time since the ’60s.”

The diesel-powered Ram Heavy Duty has followed in the footsteps of its light-duty Ram 1500 brother in winning media and market raves for its posh interior, smooth ride and beastly capabilities.

“This is how luxury should feel,” said MotorTrend en Español Managing Editor Miguel Cortina. “No other truck on the market can beat it.”

Like the Corvette C8, value was key to the Kia Telluride taking home the SUV prize. The stylish family ute offers luxury looks and amenities while costing thousands of dollars less than segment leaders like the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander.

Jurors called the 2020 Kia Telluride “one of the most compelling family SUVs, loaded with standard equipment, spacious seating, and refined driving manners, all at an astonishingly reasonable price to fit the family’s budget.”

MotorTrend also honors a Person of the Year and, fittingly, the award went to Hyundai Motor Group Design Chief Peter Schreyer whose tenure has transformed the styling of Korean brands like Kia.

A former Audi designer, Schreyer has attracted some of the industry’s top talent to the Hyundai group to create acclaimed chariots like the new Kia Telluride and Stinger sports sedan, Hyundai Palisade and Sonata, while also penning new design language for the Genesis premium brand.

First drives: Ford and Porsche challenge Tesla with new EVs

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Los Angeles – Navigate California’s clotted highways and there is no doubt which electric brand reigns supreme. Teslas — particularly the compact Model 3 sedan — are ubiquitous.

But as the Los Angeles Auto Show opens this week, the Silicon Valley electric-vehicle maker is under assault as never before. Mustang and Porsche, two of the industry’s most formidable performance names, are debuting battery-powered cars that are Tesla’s equal in speed and brand appeal.

First drives in both vehicles reveal that the hounds have caught up with the fox.

Beginning at $44,995, the 2021 Mustang Mach-E SUV takes on the heart of Tesla’s lineup: the $39,490 Model 3 and its forthcoming crossover clone, the $40,020 Model Y. At the luxury end of the electric market, the 2020 Porsche Taycan performance sedan, starting at about $106,000, wants to poach buyers who might have gone for a $79,990 Tesla Model S.

The squeeze at both segments of the market is hardly coordinated, but the threat to Tesla’s manufacturing and capital infrastructure is real. Porsche and Ford are backed with deep resources that will allow them to keep improving and expand their offerings.

In a cheeky move, Ford gave journalists rides in the Mustang Mach-E on Friday at Los Angeles County’s Hawthorne Airport, home of Tesla’s design studio.

Riding along in the back seat of a pre-production Mach E driven by race driver Kai Goddard (journalists will drive the Mustang in 2020), the all-wheel drive, big-battery version of the Mach-E launched from stoplights like a Model 3. Zot! Zero-60 comes in the mid 5-second range.

With the power unit over the rear wheels like the Teslas, the Mach-E puts down its 417 pound-feet of torque seamlessly compared to lesser front-wheel drive competitors from Nissan and Chevy. Around a slalom course, the Mach-E is not as nimble as the low-slung Model 3 sedan, but exhibits little body roll for an upright SUV.

The Mustang replicates the Tesla’s interior cool-factor with a big center-touchscreen and easy-to-use icons to negotiate EV staples like regenerative braking and Mach-E’s Unbridled driving mode – a close cousin of Tesla’s Insane and Ludicrous modes.

The creators of the the Mach-E are also acutely aware of what customers have found wanting in the Model 3.

Some Tesla drivers have pined for a head-up display. Voila! The Mach-E places a small instrument display behind the steering wheel with driving essentials like a speedometer.

Tesla has lagged in the infotainment game as it has tried to develop its own proprietary services. In contrast,  the Ford brings familiar industry options – AM/FM, Sirius XM – as well as consumer favorites like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

In short, the Mach-E matches Model 3 and Model Y innovation while maintaining popular traditions.

For Porsche, what is lacking in a Tesla is what’s lacking in anything that is not a Porsche: more horsepower, more torque, more athleticism.

Despite a truck-like curb weight of 5,200 pounds (some 45% more than a Porsche Cayman coupe) the all-wheel drive $185,000 Taycan Turbo S sedan handled like a sports car on a 175-mile test drive through California’s challenging Angeles Crest curves.

Where other European premium brands have focused on Tesla’s interior and design amenities, Porsche girded for raw speed. The Taycan has accomplished the improbable by making an electric car handle like a Porsche.

The Taycan nearly matches the Tesla Model S P100D’s blistering acceleration with neck-straining, sub 3-second launch control starts. Through mountainous roller-coaster curves, Porsche uses all the tools in its toolbox — all-wheel steering, electronic limited-slip differentials, 12-inch-wide tires — to keep the electric beast planted.

So quick is the Porsche that it set an electric-car lap record around the famous 12.8-mile Nürburgring race track of 7 minutes, 42 seconds – a feat that got Elon Musk’s attention. Tesla has been testing at Nürburgring to take the record back.

Interestingly, both Ford and Porsche feel the need to pipe artificial sound into the cockpit to mimic a gas engine. The low growl is meant to satisfy customers who expect a roar from their legacy automakers, unlike electric-only Tesla.

The challenge of prying Californians away from their native Teslas will be greatest when it comes to charging. Tesla is a synonymous with its own supercharging network, whereas Ford and Porsche (and other automakers) are dependent on a patchwork of third-party charging stations – most prominently Electrify America, which aims to rival Tesla’s network over time.

Tesla’s visionary CEO Elon Musk is a cult-like figure that rival automakers can’t match. Like Steve Jobs, the late Apple founder, Musk’s product reveals are like rock concerts attended by the Tesla faithful.

Ford’s Mustang Mach-E launch here Sunday was a glitzy but familiar automaker product intro complete with an Idris Elba celebrity endorsement.

Even Musk weighed in with kudos, tweeting: “Congratulations on the Mach E! Sustainable/electric cars are the future!! Excited to see this announcement from Ford, as it will encourage other carmakers to go electric too.”

It’s not the first time a Detroit automaker has had high hopes of dethroning Tesla. The Chevrolet Bolt debuted to much fanfare in 2016, armed with a fresh battery architecture and innovative interior. Like the Mach-E, the Bolt’s five-door hatchback style targeted the sweet spot of the U.S. market.

The Bolt’s low center of gravity and instant torque make for thrilling bursts out of stoplights. Invading Tesla’s California backyard, the Bolt even won plaudits from West Coast celebrities like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who traded his Model S for a Bolt.

The Bolt beat the Model 3 to market by a full year … but has made barely a dent in the EV market, selling some 1,500 units a month compared to the Model 3’s 12,500.

The Mustang – like the Porsche – brings rear-wheel-drive performance moxie to the fight that other automakers have lacked. But can brands developed on growling gas engines translate in an electric space?

As more competitors from Audi to Volvo enter the premium EV space, the question will be whether they can become volume-sellers like Tesla – or just low-volume alternatives.

California sales will be the test of whether the tide turns.

Mid-engine Corvette wins MotorTrend Car of Year honors

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Los Angeles – The mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette C8 has won its first major award, grabbing the coveted 2020 MotorTrend Car of the Year honor for best car.

Other winners include the three-row Kia Telluride as best SUV and the Ram Heavy Duty as best truck.

Presented annually ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, MotorTrend’s Gold Caliper trophy is often displayed prominently at automaker’s show stands and in advertising campaigns. MotorTrend offers video and magazine content for auto enthusiasts.

One of the year’s most anticipated vehicles, the C8 is the first Corvette to put the engine behind the driver like European supercars costing four times as much. At just over $60,000 the Corvette can sprint from 0-60 in just 2.9 seconds without sacrificing interior comfort. Its combination of speed and value wowed Motor Trend jurors.

“The C8 represents the biggest step-change since the original Acura NSX in terms of being a usable everyday mid-engine supercar,” said MotorTrend International Bureau Chief Angus MacKenzie. “It brings the Corvette closer to the Porsche 911 in terms of being an attainable and credible 24/7 supercar than any time since the ’60s.”

The diesel-powered Ram Heavy Duty has followed in the footsteps of its light-duty Ram 1500 brother in winning media and market raves for its posh interior, smooth ride and beastly capabilities.

“This is how luxury should feel,” said MotorTrend en Español Managing Editor Miguel Cortina. “No other truck on the market can beat it.”

Like the Corvette C8, value was key to the Kia Telluride taking home the SUV prize. The stylish family ute offers luxury looks and amenities while costing thousands of dollars less than segment leaders like the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander.

Jurors called the 2020 Kia Telluride “one of the most compelling family SUVs, loaded with standard equipment, spacious seating, and refined driving manners, all at an astonishingly reasonable price to fit the family’s budget.”

MotorTrend also honors a Person of the Year and, fittingly, the award went to Hyundai Motor Group Design Chief Peter Schreyer whose tenure has transformed the styling of Korean brands like Kia.

A former Audi designer, Schreyer has attracted some of the industry’s top talent to the Hyundai group to create acclaimed chariots like the new Kia Telluride and Stinger sports sedan, Hyundai Palisade and Sonata, while also penning new design language for the Genesis premium brand.

10 cool things about the Ford Mustang Mach-E

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Los Angeles —The Mustang Mach-E carries the familiar styling cues of Ford’s famous pony car. But the new battery-powered SUV introduces a new user-experience that Ford customers have never seen.

First-adopters will relish its little details:

1. Where are the door handles? Round buttons are embedded in B- and C-pillars to open the doors. The buttons are both practical (for drag reduction) and high-tech: Push the disk and the door pops open by 1.5 inches. Then you grab the door and pull it the rest of the way; front doors have a small hook as a grab-assist.

2. It’ll drive itself. All Mach-Es are equipped with the hardware necessary for eventual autonomous driving. Ford will surely charge a fee, like Tesla, to unlock the software necessary to activate it. Engineers say the hardware resembles that of Cadillac’s sophisticated Super Cruise system which not only uses radar, cameras and GPS to orient itself, but also monitors the driver with a camera and laser atop the steering column.

3. New logo. Mustang’s familiar pony emblem adorns the front facia, tailgate and steering wheel of the SUV (Ford logos are nowhere to be found). It’s has been tweaked for the EV age: It is stretched horizontally and detailed — not with a horse’s sinewy contours, but with a ribbed, techie surface. The logo on the GT performance model will be lighted in white.

4. Get to know the acronym “CG.” Although it’s a tall crossover, the Mach-E has the third-lowest center of gravity in Ford’s lineup after the Mustang sports coupe and GT supercar. Credit the EV’s inherent physics resulting from storing its giant battery in the basement. At 98.8-kWh – bigger than the mighty Porsche Taycan EV – the Mustang battery weighs 1,300 pounds.

5. One-pedal driving. All electric cars use electric motors for regenerative braking to recharge the battery. Regeneration enables one-pedal driving – that is, lifting your foot off the accelerator slows the car. Want more aggressive regeneration? You can dial in more resistance in the Mach-E by pushing the a button in the middle of the rotary console shifter.

6. Talk to it. The Mach-E debuts Sync 4, the latest generation of Ford’s infotainment system. The 15.5-inch screen wows, but the biggest advance is that you can talk to the vehicle like a phone. Say “OK, Ford” and the system is at your service. Unlike other auto systems that require a slavish adherence to keywords, Sync 4 will respond to multiple demands: “Take me to Campus Martius” of “Drive me to Campus Martius.”

7. “Power My Trip.” A Ford smartphone app called “Power My Trip” is aligned with Sync 4. Use it to plot your trip (complete with charging stops if needed). Then, says Ford, when you jump in the car the app will seamlessly hand off to the Sync screen. Unlike Tesla, the Mach E also recognizes the popular Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps if that’s your preference.

8. We got the frunk. With the battery in the floor and the main power unit powering the rear wheels, the Mach-E offers extra cargo space under the front hood: a front trunk, or “frunk.” Ford adds two cupholders and a drain plug to the plastic liner so you can ice it down and use it for tailgating before games. Or as Ford designers call it: “frunk-gating.”

9. Unbridled. You’ve heard of Tesla’s Insane and Ludicrous acceleration modes? The Mach-E is hip to eccentric modes, too. In a refreshing change from the usual Normal and Sport modes, drivers can select Whisper mode for quiet driving, Engage for sportier driving, and Unbridled – which also pipes a dull roar into the cabin for folks who miss the ol’ Mustang V-8.

10. OTA is OK. The Mach-E promises over-the-air software upgrades (also pioneered by Tesla) so the car should get better over time. But this being a Mustang, OTA will also benefit handling. Engineers will be able to tweak the electromagnetic shocks, electric motors and e-steering. More Drive modes could be added in the future. Think Giddyup Or Stampede.

Ford’s new battery-powered Mustang Mach-E challenges Tesla

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Ford's first fully electric SUV, the Mustang Mach-E, premiered Sunday night.

Los Angeles — Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long patterned his company after the Ford Motor Co. If the Model T introduced the 20th century to affordable personal transportation, then Tesla’s similarly named Model 3 is bringing electrification to the 21st.

So it’s only fitting that Ford is introducing a competitor against the Silicon Valley upstart.

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV is Detroit’s most direct answer to Tesla’s pioneering Model 3 electric compact sedan and forthcoming 2021 Model Y crossover twin. By challenging the Model Y from footprint, to performance specs, to online ordering strategy, Ford is daring buyers to compare the two — and then assess whether the Tesla is a match for the Blue Oval’s superior dealer network and manufacturing quality.

The Mustang Mach-E is a testament to how Tesla has disrupted the auto industry. Once regarded as rolling roadblocks piloted by tree-huggers, EVs were reinvented by Tesla as the cool car on the block. With seatback-flattening acceleration, sleek looks and sci-fi technology, Tesla’s $70,000 Model S became one of the world’s most coveted performance sedans. The $40,000 Model 3 expanded the appeal.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford wants a piece of that action.

►MOREFord takes the wraps off the $45,000 Mustang Mach-E electric SUV

►MORE: 10 cool things about the Ford Mustang Mach-E

It’s fair to say this is personal – not just because Bill Ford wants his great-grandfather’s brand to remain relevant in a new century, but because he shares Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s vision: that the planet is in crisis and EVs can help save it.

Approved by Chairman Ford himself, Ford’s new EV is adorned with the company’s most valuable performance badge, Mustang. Spending that name-equity on a battery-powered EV is an acknowledgement that it must have sex appeal.

The Mustang Mach-E closely follows the Tesla game plan.

The real story behind ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 15, 2019

The start of the 1966 24 Hour of Le Mans. Having waved the starting flag, Henry Ford II (first suit on the left) hustles across the track while the drivers spring to their cars.

The start of the 1966 24 Hour of Le Mans. Having waved the starting flag, Henry Ford II (first suit on the left) hustles across the track while the drivers spring to their cars. (Photo: Ford)

Track-side at Road Atlanta where Ford’s blindingly quick 2019 GT race car was competing in October, I asked Ford performance chief Mark Rushbrook if his company had contributed to the “Ford v Ferrari” movie that’s opening this weekend.

“We had nothing to do with it,” replied the man who oversees Ford racing. “I hope the Ford still wins.”

I’ve seen the movie and Rushbrook can rest assured that the 1966 GT40 still crosses the line first at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. The movie is not always so historically accurate. Produced by Disney/Fox, it takes broad artistic liberties with the story of Ford’s epic battle with Ferrari in order to create an action-packed, fist-flying, testosterone-fueled Hollywood buddy movie. Good ol’ boy racers Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles (played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale, respectively) win the world’s greatest endurance race in spite of the stuffed suits in Dearborn.

It makes for an entertaining 2½ hours at the theater.

But the real story of Ford’s historic win is just as compelling, even if it can’t be condensed into a 153-minute blockbuster. Ford’s dominance of the 1966 Le Mans under the management of the wise-cracking Shelby not only made racing history — it remade Ford as the performance-car company it is today.

Today the Blue Oval competes across the globe in endurance supercars, NASCAR stock cars, Focus rally cars, even NHRA dragsters. The latest Ford GT is a state-of-the-art carbon-fiber rocket. And Joey Logano took his Team Penske Mustang to last year’s NASCAR title.

So it’s hard to imagine that 60 years ago, Ford didn’t even race.

The company was founded in the early 1900s on Henry Ford’s driving skills — winning races to attract investors. But in the post-World War II era, that racing spirit had been snuffed out. In one of Washington’s regulatory spasms, Congress pressured the Big Three to agree to a “Safety Resolution” swearing off racing as morally irresponsible. The fragile truce unraveled as General Motors secretly poured money into NASCAR racing.

As Pontiac and Chevy dominated NASCAR, sales followed. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Feeding a post-war Boomer generation’s need for speed, GM captured 61% of the market share by March 1962.

Ford CEO Henry “The Deuce” Ford II – at the urging of his ambitious marketing guru Lee Iacocca – exited the Safety Resolution in June 1962. Eight months later, Ford dominated the Daytona 500 and sales soared.

Then Enzo Ferrari came knocking.

Competing not on ovals but on tree-lined road courses, European racing was fast and often fatal. Ferrari drivers dominated the winner circles – and the obituaries – leading to a public outcry. Governments opened investigations into Mr. Ferrari’s enterprise. Once hailed for his automotive genius, Ferrari was scorned as the “Monster of Maranello” (home of Ferrari).

Suddenly Italians awoke to prospect of their national jewel being sold to Americans. The public rallied behind Ferrari and its founder yanked the rug out from under Ford. The unsigned contract that would have created the FeFo Corporation (short for Ferrrari-Ford) sits in Ford’s archives today.

Livid, The Deuce swore to beat Ferrari no matter the cost. In its backyard. At the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans 24, where Ferrari had dominated for a decade.

“It’s a great story because it works on so many levels,” says AJ Baime, author of “Go Like Hell,” the definitive book on the Ford-Ferrari clash. “It’s a great sports rivalry, a great business story about Ford trying to relaunch its brand in Europe, about two huge auto companies facing off.”

“Ford v Ferrari” screenwriters translated this epic battle into a fictional culture clash between the free-spirited Shelby and Miles, and corporate overlord Henry II (played by Tracy Letts).

But the reality was different.

Ford struggled to make its GT40 race car reliable in long races. So the company turned to Shelby and his competition director Miles to lead the team’s assault on Le Mans. The 1960s marked the birth of modern racing where corporate money seeded fledgling racing icons like Shelby, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Mario Andretti and a young competitor named Roger Penske.

“(The movie) does a good job of selling the story,” Shelby’s grandson, Aaron, said at the Shelby Museum in Las Vegas while standing next to the Ford GT40 that Miles drove in ’66. “It will open people’s eyes who have never heard of Shelby.”

Contrary to the movie’s portrayal of Ford as untrusting of the California mod shop, Iacocca had built a healthy relationship with Shelby, providing his Cobra team with Ford engines.

Indeed, Shelby disliked Ferrari as much as The Deuce did. A former Le Mans winner himself in 1959 for Aston Martin, Shelby had seen how Enzo Ferrari pushed his drivers to the ragged limit.

When Ford-powered Shelby Cobras beat Ferrari in the GT-class at Le Mans in 1964 – while Ford’s GT40s struggled against Ferrari in the premiere prototype class – Ford handed the reins to Shelby and his brilliant competition director.

“It’s a remarkable piece of history that a company with unlimited funds wound up relying on these World War II-veteran hot-rodders,” says author Baime.

The pairing thrust Miles – a skilled-but-unknown driver played to the hilt by Bale as a quirky, ornery Brit – into the international limelight where he thrived.

Contrary to the film, Ford did not conspire to keep Miles from driving at Le Mans. Nor did Shelby shame The Deuce by reducing him to a shaking puddle of tears after a tire-smoking test drive. In truth, Ford’s technical resources meshed with Shelby-Miles’ racing instincts. Ford II communicated only one message, hand-scrawled on small cards: “You’d better win.”

Miles piloted the 1966 GT40, stuffed with Ford’s brutish 427-cubic inch NASCAR V-8, at speeds over 220 mph against the sleeker 12-cylinder red Ferraris. He barely missed out as endurance racing’s first triple-crown winner of the Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24-hour due to a late race technical error.

Miles would perish in a crash – like many of his peers – just two months later. But Fords would win Le Mans three more years running, taking Dearborn to the racing summit it still occupies today.

On the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 win in 2016, Rushbrook’s team led Ford to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans’ GT class after an epic duel with a Ferrari 488. The win has helped sell Fords like the Mustang globally, making it the best-selling sports car in the world.

One of the Mustang’s trims is called the Shelby GT350 in honor of the race shop that built Ford’s reputation.

Payne: The racy Honda Civic Si just wants to have fun

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 15, 2019

The 2020 Honda Civic Si lacks the high-revving, screaming i-VTEC engine of previous generation Sis — but its taut chassis makes it the best handling Si ever.

The 2020 Honda Civic Si lacks the high-revving, screaming i-VTEC engine of previous generation Sis — but its taut chassis makes it the best handling Si ever. (Photo: Wes Allison, Honda)

They say the transportation future is autonomous. That’s hard to believe as long as there are cars like the 2020 Honda Civic Si.

At just $25,000 the athletic, tech-tastic Si is a gateway drug for young auto enthusiasts.

One fling through Hell, Michigan’s twisty roads and you’ll be intrigued. A day at a parking lot autocross and you’ll be in love. A race-circuit track day and you’ll become a soapbox evangelist for the joys of the stick shift.

I’ve been in the bag for the Civic Si since I bought a 2006 coupe with an i-VTEC engine that revved to 8,250 rpms. The four-banger let out a full-throated wail over 5,600 rpms that would wake the dead. My two 20-something sons learned to drive on a track in that car and they, too, are hopeless auto addicts.

The glorious 2.0-liter, 197-horse VTEC is no more, a victim of the nanny state and its emissions agenda. But the 2020 Civic Si is a worthy successor to my 2006 hellion.

Only Honda engineers know what an evolution of my screaming i-VTEC would be capable of today (210 horses? 220?) But the smaller 1.5-liter turbo hamster wheel that debuted two years ago is a remarkable machine that puts out 205 horsepower.

Henry Payne tests the 2020 Honda Civic Si at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Where the VTEC had to be rowed hard above 6-grand to find its torque band, the turbo has grunt aplenty at 3,000 rpms. Turbo lag is minimal off corners, and by the time the hamsters get to 6,000 they are out of breath. Gone is the glorious music of that 8,000-rpm i-VTEC — but, hey, U2’s days of writing epic Irish anthems like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are behind it as well.

Yet they’re still writing hits. So is the Civic Si.

The joy of this car is the Nürburgring-tested chassis, a remarkable tool in a $25,000 car. I marvel at the sophistication of mainstream vehicles compared to their luxury betters — the $35,000 Ford Mustang HiPo that imitates a BMW 3-series, the $40,000 Kia Telluride that looks like a $70,000 Audi Q7. So, too, the Civic Si.

Underneath the racy boy-toy styling of the Si — I swear the initial design drawings were rendered in crayon — is a remarkably mature front-wheel drive package with limited-slip differential, magnetic shocks, electronic steering and the best manual shifter this side of a Porsche.

I flung the Si through the writhing esses of Circuit of the Americas race track in Texas, expecting the front-drive car to push like an offensive tackle on a corner sweep. But my red athlete rotated with remarkable ease and encouraged more throttle. Though not nearly as athletic as the asphalt-sucking $90,000 Mustang GT500 I tested two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Si was no less fun to drive through the twisties. Its chassis stayed glued to apexes, brakes biting hard lap after lap.

Brakes have been the bane of my existence in my $57,000, rear-wheel-drive Tesla Model 3. They overheat after just two hard laps on track, smoking and smelling like a bonfire. Yet, with only a performance pad upgrade (same as my Tesla), the brakes on my $25,000 Civic never flinched around the demanding 3.5-mile COTA course.

Honda Performance Development president (and accomplished driver) Ted Klaus tried to explain this to me. Let’s just say it’s magic.

Even as I wrung its neck, the Si treated me with hospitality. The bolstered cloth seats (red-accented for the updated 2020 model) are so good I never gave them a thought until now, and the notchy six-speed is intuitively positioned for quick shifts. I flogged both sedan and coupe versions (giraffes like me will prefer the sedan, as it’s easier on the neck, but the rear seat is easy on long legs.

What makes the Si so worthwhile is how — when you’re done dancing with it — it is quite willing to be a progressive daily driver.

Standard on the Si is Honda Sensing (even standard on the entry-level, $20,680 Civic), the brand’s radar-enhanced safety suite that includes self-driving features like adaptive cruise-control and automatic emergency-braking. Civic’s adaptive cruise-control allows easy highway cruising or an extra security blanket in stop-and-go traffic. I can even attest the emergency braking works, thanks to some rapid closing maneuvers under braking at COTA.

The competition in the compact segment is relentless, however, and the Civic’s interior feels dated compared to spiffy new entries like the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3. Despite a nifty digital tach, Honda’s graphics are small and steering controls plasticky. With a major Civic update looming in 2021, expect upgrades.

What is not lacking is Honda’s signature passenger-friendly interior. No one does consoles like Honda. Big-brother Pilot SUV has the best center console in ute-dom and the Civic makes a case for best compact car console.

An infotainment tablet sits high on the dash for easy viewing, which in turn opens up storage below for keys, French fry boxes and Apple CarPlay connectivity. A deep, versatile center console features sliding cupholders.

As regular readers know, I’m a hatchback fan, and the Si comes only in coupe and sedan flavors. The trunk space is ample, but I prefer Civic Sport and Type-R hatchback variants for better cargo access. With sporty hatch competitors out there like Mazda 3 and Golf GTI, the Si will lose some customers willing to pay for their convenience.

But with its racy styling, glued handling and standard features, the Si is a peerless $25,000 performance value.

While Detroit makers have abandoned small cars, Si and company offer new buyers an entrée to driving fun. To lure shoppers, the 2020 model is distinguished by its body-colored eyeliners under the new LED headlights — and wicked, black wheels that contrast with a Skittle bag full of flavors from Rallye Red to Crystal Black Pearl to my favorite, Tonic Yellow Pearl.

Speaking of value, Si can also be had as a $52,000, slick-tire shod, roll-caged SCCA racer when you want to taste even more g-loads on track. That’s what gateway drugs lead to.

Autonomous car future? I think it just got pushed back another generation.

2020 Honda Civic Si

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

Price: Base $25,930, including $930 destination charge

Powerplant: Turbocharged, 1.5-liter inline-4 cylinder

Power: 205 horsepower, 192 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 137 mph

Weight: 2,889 pounds (coupe); 2,906 (sedan)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 26 city/36 highway/30 combined

Report card

Highs: A blast to drive on track or off; versatile console

Lows: Interior style lags competitors; lacks hatchback utility

Overall: 4 stars

New Corvette hits 60 in 2.9 seconds … but won’t arrive until March

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

Passersby will get an eyeful of the Corvette C8's all-new 6.2-liter V-8 LT2 engine through the rear glass.

Pontiac – Due to the 40-day UAW strike, production of the much-anticipated mid-engine Corvette C8 will be delayed from December until late February, General Motors confirmed Wednesday. That means customer deliveries likely will start in early March.

Patient buyers will get the most capable Corvette ever, with a long list of firsts.

Chevrolet says the made-in-the-USA $59,999 supercar will rocket from 0-60 mph in just 2.9 seconds when equipped with the $5,000 Z51 performance package. That makes it the first sub-3-second entry-level Corvette in history.

That number is quicker than the last-generation front-engine, $80,000 Z06 performance model that boasted 650 horsepower, even though the C8 Z51 is rated at only 495 horses. (The base 490-horse C8 with no Z51 trimmings will hit 60 in 3 seconds flat.) Chevy says both C8 versions will trip the quarter-mile in just 11.2 seconds.

Passersby will get an eyeful of the all-new 6.2-liter V-8 LT2 engine responsible for these jaw-dropping numbers: It will be the first Corvette to ever show its engine under glass. Corvette’s design team was deeply involved in designing the engine cover, valve covers and exhaust heat shields because — like a mid-engine, $250,000 Ferrari — the top of the engine will be on full display amidships.

“The engine is a showpiece,” said assistant LT2 chief engineer Mike Kociba at a deep dive into the Corvette’s oily bits at GM Performance and Racing Center. “It’s the jewel in the ring setting. When the design team came to us, we were flattered that they wanted to show it off.”

The mid-engine layout gives the Corvette fundamental handling and package advantages over the traditional front-engine layout, leading to numerous Corvette firsts.

The LT2 powerplant, which succeeds the LT1 used in the front-engine ‘Vette, is the first base Corvette mill to use a so-called dry sump lubrication system. That system is common on race cars to avoid oil starvation when the car is at high side G-loads. The technology was driven by the mid-engine car’s handling capabilities that can exceed 1 G. Kociba says the engine is capable of 1.25-G loads in every direction.

“We designed this engine so that you could do full loops with it without losing oil pressure,” said LT2 chief engineer Jordan Lee.

With the engine behind the driver – unencumbered by demands that the driver be able to see over it – engineers designed taller intake manifolds for better air flow. The added height also allowed Tom Peters’ exterior design team to dress up the engine with a Stingray logo, ribbed engine cover and bright-red valve covers that can be admired from outside the car.

The engine cover — black on the entry model — can be optioned in red and silver as well. Look for after-market companies to show off variations for enthusiasts.

Powering the rear-wheel drive C8 to 0-60 mph times commonly associated with all-wheel drive 700-horse Lamborghinis required another Corvette first: a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission common to European exotics.

The dual-clutch transmission is the first mid-engine transaxle effort from veteran Chevy transmission supplier Tremec, and is built in Wixom.

The versatile gearbox includes useful features like launch control and double-paddle declutch, which allows the driver to mimic a manual clutch pedal by holding down both steering-mounted shift paddles at once (useful for revving the engine for spectators while coasting down the Woodward Dream Cruise, for example).

Unlike the previous LT1, the LT2 has proved near bulletproof in GM’s development. The team blew only one engine as it pushed to meet the car’s performance benchmarks. To honor the engine’s achievements, GM President Mark Reuss asked that every engine feature a “pride badge” sticker on the valve cover to honor its production facility in Tonawanda, New York.

The sticker, too, can be seen through the rear deck glass.

Payne: Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride twins battle for best 3-row SUV

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade cuts a noble figure at Stratford Hall in Virginia.

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade cuts a noble figure at Stratford Hall in Virginia. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

The year’s most anticipated bargain is the 2020 Corvette C8, a $60,000 mid-engine supercar offering the same performance thrills of European sports cars costing four times as much.

But on a more utilitarian front, the three-row Korean twins — the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride — are just as remarkable.

Introduced, respectively, at the 2018 Los Angeles and 2019 Detroit auto shows, the Palisade and Telluride wowed with good looks and high-tech interiors. But as these vehicles have come to market, the automotive world is realizing they offer game-changing value.

Both feature luxury styling, that — when paired with their standard content — should make anyone question why they are paying tens of thousands more for a three-row luxury sport-utility.

“What’s the most impressive three-row SUV you have driven this year?” a group of successful female entrepreneurs asked me at a social gathering this summer.

“The Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride,” I responded.

They were horrified, having expected the answer to be a Range Rover or Volvo XC90 or Audi Q7 — vehicles they aspired to as successful business people.

“Not a Kia. And how dare they use the name ‘Telluride’?” scoffed one.

I get it. Brand matters.

But even judged by their mainstream peers, the Telluride and Palisade are extraordinary luxury bargains. Compared to class-leading, comparably equipped Toyota Highlander, a feature-rich $43,000 Hyundai Palisade SEL is $4,000 cheaper. And compared to a comparably equipped Ford Explorer? The Hyundai is $8,000 cheaper.

I tested a Kia Telluride earlier this year, so let me catch you up on the Hyundai Palisade first. I’ve put a lot of miles on it in Metro Detroit and on a long-distance trip through Virginia.

I parked it at an Oakland County shopping center next to a Cadillac XT5 SUV. Both Koreans have cribbed heavily from Cadillac’s vertical design style. Except for its badge, the Palisade looks like a luxury ride. It has gorgeous LED headlight piping. More taillight LED piping out back. Chrome-lined grille. Big, beautiful, 20-inch wheels. P-A-L-I-S-A-D-E spelled out across the tailgate.

The content list included everything under the sun: all-wheel drive, leather, drive modes including 4×4 lock for off-roading, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise-control, automatic headlights, back-up assist, rear-view camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sun roof.

How much would you pay for this? In a Toyota Highlander, the Limited Platinum trim will cost you $47,000. The Ford Explorer Limited costs $50,000. The loaded Hyundai Palisade SEL only asks $43,155 of your wallet.

This is no Dollar Store special like the Hyundai sedans I saw at the Detroit auto show in 2000. The interior is not only luxurious but meticulously rendered with fine materials and clever details like USB ports for second-row passengers embedded in the front seat-backs.

Out of the instrument panel a pane of glass extends across the Palisade’s dash, enveloping the infotainment touchscreen like — well, a Mercedes. On the touchscreen, I tap Talk Mode. A speaker allows conversation with third-row urchins back there. Clever.

The huge center console under the touchscreen houses redundant control buttons and a fancy, electronic button-shifter fashionable these days on everything from Corvettes to Hondas. You get used to it — and it opens acres of space (more on that later).

A student of ergonomics, the Palisade borrows a sliding center-console door from the the Honda Pilot. Hyundai’s solution is not as big (a purse won’t fit in there) but it will hold your fast-food meal — and your purse can go in the big cubby underneath the console. Slide the door over the console and (Pilot-like) its raised ridges will keep your cellphone — or anything else you place there — from sliding off.

That’s right. For $43,000.

In back of the front leather thrones of the Hyundai Palisade are two more rows of leather-wrapped luxury. Access to the third row is as simple as pressing a button on top of the second-row seat, and — VROOOOMP! — the seat slides forward (another page from the Pilot’s book).

Stash the kiddies in the third row and they’ll be snug as a bug in a rug. They get USB ports, cupholders and reclining capability just like they were in Dad’s living room chair. They’ll miss only the Highlander’s two-pane panoramic sunroof versus the Hyundai’s mere sunroof.

The best buys in class, the Korean twins’ closest competition is one another.

The Kia Telluride’s tidy Cadillac-meets-Range Rover exterior design gives it a leg up on its Hyundai sibling. It consistently turns my head on road — a tribute to a Kia design team that has been hitting home runs from the wee Sportage ute to the sexy Stinger muscle car.

To compare the two, I stepped up to the fully tricked-out $47,605 Hyundai Palisade Limited and $48,100 Kia Telluride SX (comparable competitors were well over $50,000) and drove them for a week.

The Palisade Limited gains a luxe-like 12.3-inch digital instrument display (the Telluride SX sticks to analog gauges). Both Koreans get neat tricks like head-up displays and cameras under the mirrors to give drivers one more look at their blind spots (in addition to mirror-based blind-spot monitoring) before changing lanes. The Palisade’s bigger digital panel allows for even better viewing with this feature.

Interior technology like voice commands are premium-class good. The Palisade’s console is beautifully thought out, rivaling a Ram 1500 pickup for space and convenience. The Telluride’s upright shifter matches Kia’s sporty image, but the Palisade’s button-shifter opens up lots more storage space like that sliding console drawer.

Waiting in a three-hour Virginia traffic delay (caused by an 18-wheeler accident on a two-lane bridge), I made the Palisade my office. I plugged my laptop into the 12-volt rear console plug and charged my phone in a USB port. I munched on a box of Chick-fil-A nuggets in the console drawer next to two cups.

The Koreans both use a 3.8-liter, 291-horse V-6, which is just right for this three-row class: excellent low-end torque mated to a smooth shifting, 8-speed box.

If you have a need for speed in this class, then the raucous 400-horse, $59,000 Ford Explorer ST is unique. But the bargain Palisade or Telluride look like premium utes from a class above — for $30,000 less.

That’s $30,000 can put toward your bargain Corvette C8.

2020 Hyundai Palisade

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $32,595, including $1,045 destination charge ($43,155 SEL and $47,505 Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,387 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Luxurious interior, versatile console

Lows: Polarizing face; trigger shifter has learning curve

Overall: 4 stars

2020 Kia Telluride

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $32,735, including $1,045 destination charge ($48,100 SX as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,255 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Knockout exterior, three-row ease of use

Lows: Less versatile console and a few dollars more than the Palisade

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: First drive, mid-engine Corvette lives up to hype

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

The 2020 Chevy Corvette C8 is the iconic badge's first mid-engine layout. Handling and traction benefit mightily from the new architecture.

Ann Arbor – The book on the Chevy Corvette has long been that it’s the poor man’s supercar. Accept compromises in handling and interior comfort and you can afford a Ferrari-like performance machine for under $100,000.

Throw out the book.

I have driven the all-new, 2020, mid-engine Corvette C8 for the first time, and it is a supercar without compromise. These are early days as the C8 comes to market, but the C8 holds the promise of a supercar paradigm shift: affordable, Porsche Cayman-like handling with the raw power of exotics costing four times as much.

The world’s elite auto car makers should be very afraid.

I will be able to give more detailed critique early next year after a more extensive on- road/on-track test, but on first impression at the North American Car of the Year jury test over twisty Ann Arbor roads and Interstate 94, the car is fundamentally sound from the inside out.

“This is a Cayman with cargo room,” I told chief engineer Ed Piatek a couple of days later in Road Atlanta where Chevy introduced the C8.R race car model.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” smiled Piatek. Please do. The Cayman is the best-handling production sports car I’ve driven.

Since we first learned of a mid-engine Corvette in the works, expectations soared. Could it marry the brute force of a small-block Chevy V-8 with the nimbleness of a Cayman? Could Chevy render a pleasing, mid-engine design? Would there be any money left for a livable interior? Yes, yes, and yes.

Start with the handling. I have raced mid-engine, Porsche and Lola sports cars all my adult life. From Le Mans prototypes to Indy Car, the world’s fastest cars are mid-engine. It’s why Corvette’s Pratt & Miller race team has craved a mid-engine vessel to go up against the likes of Ferrari and Porsche that also locate the engine aft of driver.

Let Corvette race driver Tommy Milner explain. “The driver is more centrally located in the car, so we get immediate feedback from understeer or oversteer,” he said in introducing the race car version in Road Atlanta last weekend. “The car rotates around the driver.”

I felt it on the first tight, 90-degree corner on Washtenaw County’s Huron River Road. With the engine behind me, the lighter front end instantly rotated to the corner apex — the rear following like the tail of a dart.

Walking around a naked, cutaway chassis of the C8 at Road Atlanta, chassis engineer Ed Moss explained that the precise handling is much more than just putting the 6.2-liter V-8 behind the driver. Like the C7, the C8 is built around a stiff central spine to allow for easier driver egress (carbon-fiber tub cars like Lambos use tall, wide side sills for stiffness, but are a nightmare to crawl over). But unlike C7, C8 uses 20 — count ‘em, 20 — aluminum castings to complement that spine where C7 had but 4.

For the first time, the mid-engine car uses coil-over springs and shocks for state-of-the-art suspension like European supercars (previous-gen Corvettes used cost-saving, composite “leaf” springs).

Supercar tech, Corvette price. The 3,600-pound Corvette will never be as maneuverable as the lighter, 3,100-pound Cayman. But, then, the C8 has Lambo-like power that the wee Porsche can only dream of.

And it puts it down effortlessly. I experienced auto launch control in a Cayman three years ago. Bury the left brake foot. Bury the right throttle foot. Let revs stabilize at 3500 RPM. Release brake.

FOOM! Cayman shot forward like a rocket. Just like a McLaren 720S. Just like a Lamborghini Huracán. Just like the Corvette C8.

I did multiple launch control starts in the new ‘Vette (starts at $64,995 with Z51 performance package) on unpopulated Michigan country roads. Stable. Blindingly fast. Motor Trend clocked the C8 at a staggering 2.8 seconds — the same as the $288,000, 710-horse McLaren 720S I tested last year .

Credit the engine weight over the rear wheels providing inherently better traction. And a Porsche-like, dual-clutch auto transmission.

Try that in a front engine C7 and hold on for dear life. With the engine in front, the rear tires hunt for traction, squirming nervously.

“It’s having less weight on the front axle, sitting closer to the front axle and having all the weight on the rear. It helps you with standing starts, helps you coming out of a corner,” said Corvette program chief Tadge Juechter when I first saw the car at the Warren design dome in July.

Motorheads like me can babble on about C8 handling dynamics until sundown, but the interior is the real revelation. The Corvette is nicer inside than a $300k Lambo or a McLaren. The standard car is roomy, techy, and coated in leather.

I’m a big fella’ at 6’5” and was sedan comfortable. Curiously, for a big sports car meant for long-distance driving as well as track days, the C8 lacks adaptive cruise control.

Otherwise, the driver-centric cockpit is state-of the-art — an amalgam of the best supercars in the world. The digital dash reminds of McLaren with its configurable drive modes (I like Track Mode and its racing tachometer). A Formula One-like square steering wheel allows unobstructed instrument visibility. The console — “beach-front real estate” as engineer Piatek likes to call it —  is a masterpiece of space management. Chevy’s excellent touchscreen infotainment is within easy reach.

Then Corvette pairs an efficient, Acura-like “trigger” shifter with the Drive Mode dial for easy operation. Corvette faithful may struggle to learn the trigger at first (I use a three-finger approach), but once mastered it’s intuitive.

Only a central sleeve of buttons interrupts this digital vibe. The concept is taken straight out of the last-gen Porsche 911 and allows for easy climate control.

Corvette designer Kirk Bennion and his team have wrapped this technical tour de force in a mid-engine shell that is nicely portioned  — and looks wicked on the road.

Even some of my most jaded Car of the Year jury peers allowed how it looked better than the Audi R8 or Acura NSX —  cars costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

Details have been sweated over right down to the, er, smell. Climb into the ol’ C7 and you got a nostril-full of the polymers used to make the dash and interior inserts. It smelled like a poor man’s supercar. For the C8, the engineers “pre-baked” the materials to eliminate odors.

I got an hour in the C8 this time. Stay tuned for much more. Corvette is just getting started.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8

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

Price: Base price $59,995 including $1095 destination charge ($88,895 with Z51 package as tested)

Powerplant: 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 495 horsepower, 470 pound-feet of torque (with $5000 Z51 performance package)

Transmission: 8-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.8 seconds (Motor Trend); top speed, 194 mph

Weight: 3,600 (est.)

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Good interior ergonomics; intuitive handling

Lows: No adaptive cruise control; Trigger transmission takes getting used to

Overall: 4 stars (out of 4)

 

Attitude drives Dodge Charger to top of big sedan market

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

The big-sedan market is cratering … with one exception.

Defying the market’s stampede to SUVs and the demise of storied nameplates like the Impala and Taurus, the Dodge Charger is recording strong sales.

Riding the sex appeal of rear-wheel drive performance nameplates like the Hellcat and Scat Pack, the Charger has revved sales to over 71,000 this year through September. That’s a 20% increase over 2018. The Charger is on track for its third year atop the large-sedan market segment.

“What separates us from everyone else in that segment is I don’t think anyone looks at Charger and says that’s a boring, bland car,” says Jeff Strauss, Dodge sales chief. “We take a lot of pride in that fact that our cars have a lot of attitude.”

That attitude has been key to the Charger’s sales growth in a segment traditionally ruled by front-wheel drive boulevard cruisers like the Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon. Avalon sales have cratered by 50% since 2014, while the Impala has been axed from Chevy’s lineup due to poor sales. Once a segment leader, Impala sales have fallen 60% in the last five years.

In contrast, Dodge’s full-size four-door amped up its performance brand with a marketing blitz starting in 2015. The introduction of a 707-horsepower Hellcat model — followed by a steady stream of performance upgrades continuing with 2020’s limited-edition Daytona and muscular Widebody variants — took the market by storm and gave customers a reason to stick with sedans over boxier SUVs.

With sinister fascias, fat tires and colors like Sinamon Stick and Hellraisin, the Chargers are some of the most recognizable cars on the road.

“I just want to make bad ass-looking cars,” Charger chief designer Mark Trostle said at a media test-drive of the Charger’s latest Hellcat and Scat Pack wide bodies.

Cox Automotive analyst Karl Brauer says that the current generation of unibody SUVs have lapped sedan sales because they offer so much upside — hatchback utility, interior room, high seating position — with little downside in handling or fuel efficiency.

“Sedan’s advantages are in a lighter weight, lower center of gravity and sleek looks,” says Brauer. “People don’t want just a large sedan that an SUV does better. But give them a V-8 with personality and they will find that interesting.

“What’s impressive about Dodge is that they emphasized these attributes with V-8 powered Hellcats and Scat Packs and leveraged the brand’s performance heritage to create cars that really stand out.”

That Charger heritage reaches all back to 1966 at the height of the ’60s muscle car era when the first rear-wheel drive Charger debuted with a powerful V-8 and fastback body style. After some lean years in the front-wheel drive wilderness in the 1980s, Dodge brought the Charger back in 2006 as a rear-wheel drive sedan.

“Not everyone wants an SUV,” said Strauss. “We realize that Dodge is 3% of a huge industry, but we also realize that 3% can be a big deal if you have a car that has really solid DNA. (Charger) stands for something and that’s why people buy our cars.”

Analyst Brauer says that other full-size sedans in the segment used to stand for something, too, but companies didn’t invest in brand equity like Dodge.

“The Ford Taurus and Nissan Maxima have been marketed as performance cars,” said Brauer. “But they are front-wheel drive sedans and Ford and Nissan have not put as much energy into selling them as Dodge has the Charger.”

As rivals have fallen away, the Charger has emerged as the segment sales leader. Brauer says that the Charger has also benefited from the timing of GM’s bankruptcy. “Charger absolutely cashed in on the loss of Pontiac,” he says of the GM’s former performance brand.

Still, the market remains challenging for large cars, and Charger sales had dipped 17% from 97,110 in 2016 before this year’s rebound. As with its Ram trucks that have eclipsed Silverado sales this year, Dodge is typically aggressive with rental fleet Charger sales.

In addition to bringing customers into showrooms, the Charger has fattened Dodge profits. A Charger Hellcat Widebody can fetch prices north of $80,000, producing BMW-like luxury price spreads from the entry-level $30,000 Charger.

“You can get an awesome V-6 for just $30,000 — then we go all the way up the line to an R/T, Scat Pack and ultimate Hellcat,” said sales boss Strauss. “If we can get (consumers) into the brand with that awesome performance look, that customer ultimately might buy the Hellcat. We are growing customers through the brand.”

And growing sedan sales against the SUV tide.

Payne: Mustang GT500 is the baddest, best pony car ever

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 31, 2019

Since it hit the showrooms, the sixth-generation Mustang has topped the Camaro everywhere but on the track. Media comparisons have consistently given the Chevy the handling nod. Ford got so sick of hearing about its rival’s track superiority that it went and made a Corvette-inspired Terminator.

The 2020 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 is a front-engine Corvette in drag.

It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen from the Blue Oval’s pony car stable. Forget the GT500s of old — they were crude, solid rear-axle, straight-line hammers. This Mustang is more supercar than muscle car. Nostalgic for the front-engine Corvette now that the mid-engine weapon has dawned? Take a look at the GT500. Like the supreme 755-horse Stingray ZR1, the GT500 supercharges its V-8 to a mind-blowing 760 horsepower.

For road-sucking downforce, it’s available with a ZR1-like track package that includes a huge carbon-fiber rear wing and front splitter and wicker. It has Recaro seats, magnetic shocks, launch control, electronic rear-differential and a quiet mode for long road trips. Tires? Fat Michelin Pilot Sport 4S or near-slick Pilot Cup 2 that stick like glue. Heck, the GT500 even reached into the mid-engine C8’s toolbox and mated its supercharged tornado to a lightning-fast, dual-clutch seven-speed transmission from Tremec.

The 650-horse Camaro ZL1 and winged ZL1 1LE is Camaro’s top-of-the-line. The GT500 is its match, plus 100 horsepower.

The Mustang is a relentless, apex-carving cyborg on track. Despite its heavy V-8 up front, it defied the law of physics (or more precisely, mastered them) around Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 2.4-mile Outfield Road Course. Thundering through the tricky high-speed “bus-stop chicane,” I overcooked the entry and braced to bounce over the next apex curb. Nope.

A quick flick of the steering wheel, and the GT500 stayed on course. It’s a 4,000-pound rhino in tennis shoes.

“That’s the 550 pound-feet of downforce working,” Ford racing driver Billy Johnson told me later. Johnson — who knows a thing or two about supercars, having piloted the mid-engine GT at Le Mans the last four years — was deeply involved with GT500 development long before it debuted at this year’s Detroit auto show.

This is a muscle car with degrees in aerodynamics, materials and mechanical engineering. If Tony Stark hadn’t invented Iron Man, he would have flown around in a GT500.

Drive the Shelby hard on public roads and it’s a T. rex on wheels. Put your boot in it and the familiar overhead-cam, 5.2-liter Mustang V-8 gurgle turns into a bellow. Add a touch of supercharger whine and it’ll send goosebumps up your spine.

Thundering around corners through Red Rock Canyon Park in my Twister Orange tester, I could see the necks of road-side tourists already turned in my direction — What in Moses is THAT? I didn’t keep my foot in it for long for fear of attracting every cop in the southwest.

If you want to have fun on public roads, ignore the GT500 and buy the nimble, turbo-4-powered Mustang High Performance Pack I reviewed last month. Its 332 horses are plenty for the street. Affordably aimed at the Camaro V-6, it’s entry-level performance for the enthusiast.

Not that anyone with $71,395 in the bank account will listen to me.

The GT500 will be coveted by the Woodward cruiser crowd. It has serious road presence. Its huge front jaws can swallow Toyota Priuses whole. The fascia is a sci-fi work of art; even the headlights remind  one of Hollywood’s Terminator. Heat exchangers stuff every crevice to feed the nuclear reactor inside. The GT500 eschews adaptive cruise-control because there’s simply no room in the grille for radar.

Option the GT500 with signature Shelby stripes (white or black) for added effect. The standard version comes with eight-way leather seats, digital instrument display with configurable drive modes, lap timer, lowered stance and multiple exhaust modes.

But so does the GT500’s little brother Shelby GT350. Indeed, the 526-horse GT350 was designed by Ford Performance chief troublemaker Carl Widmann and his merry band of engineers as the driver’s car of the pair. The GT350 is more raw, more viscerally engaging.

Available in manual only, you can row the GT350’s normally aspirated, flat-plane crank (just like a Ferrari!) V-8 to a goosebump-inducing 8,250 rpms. Downshift into turns and it’ll produce more tailpipe flatulence than Shrek. If you want to swagger around town and shred the occasional rural road, buy the GT350 for $10,000 less.

But if you want to know what a front-engine muscle car is capable of on track, the GT500 is your weapon.

Howling down Las Vegas Speedway’s front straightaway — the dual-clutch tranny firing off millisecond shifts — I thought the Shelby might join the F-16s taking off from nearby Nellis Air Force Base in flight.

But stomp on the Brobdingnagian Brembo brakes — with red calipers the size of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet gripping massive 16.5-inch rotors — and the striped rocket is brought immediately back to Earth. Brake fade was non-existent.

Then this otherworldly cyborg really showed off its skills.

The Tremec downshifted rapidly — WHAP! WHAP! — as I rotated into the corner with trail-brake oversteer. A manual GT350 can’t pull this off with nearly the precision.

Suddenly on top of the apex, the GT500 was surprisingly neutral despite all that extra plumbing up front. Then another surprise: the GT500 wanted me to use all 760 horses on exit. With every successive lap I fed the beast more throttle without any alarm from the Michelins. Try this in a Dodge Hellcat and it’ll turn your hair white.

Unleashed again, the V-8 roared, the landscape rushing by at warp speed. It doesn’t make the same high-rev music as the GT350, but it’s still a glorious sound. I never turned on the radio in a day of driving. We spent the afternoon doing 11-second quarter-mile launch-control hole shots down Vegas’ dragstrip.

It doesn’t come cheap. Equipped with the $18,500 track package, racing stripes and bolstered Recaros to keep you upright under high G-loads, my tester cost an eye-watering $94,385.

The Ford Mustang shoulders a lot of responsibility these days. It must not only beat the Camaro and Challenger in the muscle car race, it must also carry the Blue Oval’s electric car aspirations with a Tesla-fighting Mach E performance ute coming next year.

Being top dog in the former assists with the latter. Thus the 2020 GT500, the best Mustang ever.

20202 Ford Mustang GT500

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger sports coupe

Price: Base price $71,395, including $1,095 destination charge ($94,385 as tested)

Powerplant: 5.2-liter, supercharged V-8

Power: 760 horsepower, 625 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.3 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 180 mph (governed)

Weight: 4,171 pounds (about 4,080 with carbon-fiber track package)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 12 city/18 highway/14 combined

Report card

Highs: Intimidating styling; track hero

Lows: Will land you in jail if driven hard on public roads; gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: UAW-GM fight exposes fears of an EV future

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 31, 2019

The General Motors Co. strike has united the United Auto Workers and their Democratic political allies over demands for more pay and job security. But the walkout also has opened a rift between the union and Democrats focused on a Green New Deal’s electric vehicle future.

Long supporters of government mpg mandates to force a transition to EVs, the UAW has gotten cold feet as studies — including one from its own research department — show battery-powered vehicle production takes less labor to manufacture.

“The shift to EVs … involves a fundamental change in the key components that power the vehicle,” says a UAW research paper, “Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future,” published this spring. “Such a change will have disruptive implications for the auto industry (including) changes in where and under what condition vehicles and key components are made, employment declines in powertrain manufacturing, and the entrance of new corporate actors without a U.S. manufacturing base.”

With only a battery and electric motor driving the wheels, EVs require fewer workers to assemble than internal combustion engines with dozens of components like transmissions, valves and connecting rods. And EVs are expected to last longer because they have fewer moving parts to wear out.

Furthermore, the union worries that new players in the EV space will not be union shops like the decades-old supply chains that feed the Detroit Three automakers. EV innovator Tesla Inc., for example, makes electric motors and batteries, yet is non-union.

“The studies have the UAW leadership nervous,” says consultant and ex-GM general director for labor Art Schwartz. “They are figuring out that fewer people will be employed making EVs.”

That nervousness is recent. For the last decade, the UAW has supported the Environmental Protection Agency’s aggressive push to force battery-powered vehicles, beginning with the Obama administration’s doubling of fuel economy standards in 2009.

Recognizing that the Detroit Three were “on federal life support,” then-EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality chief Margot Oge recounts in her book, “Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change with Cleaner, Smarter Cars,” how the EPA used its “power dynamics” to push for significant mileage standards under the federal government’s new-found authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

For Oge and the EPA, the standards were accelerated because the gas-powered car “needs to be largely replaced” by zero-emission vehicles. Oge claimed the push toward EVs would create a job boom, estimating “that by 2020, the greenhouse-gas standards will help add 150,000 manufacturing jobs” — that is, as many UAW workers as are employed by the Detroit Three today.

The UAW consistently voiced its support. When the Obama administration controversially tried to lock in the mpg standards under a mid-term review ahead of the Trump administration’s taking office, the UAW sent a letter to EPA supporting the move.

“UAW members know firsthand that … greenhouse gas (GHG) standards have spurred investments in new products that employ tens of thousands of our members,” the paper said. The UAW has also worked with billionaire Democratic candidate Tom Steyer who advocates the elimination of all fossil fuels.

As recently as last May, then-UAW President Dennis Williams held a news conference supporting the Obama-era emissions standards: “We had an agreement during the Obama administration. All the companies agreed to it. We agreed to it. The enviros agreed to it. I don’t think we should be rolling back those standards.”

The UAW’s report sounding the EV alarm this spring, however, cited a Ford Motor Co. investor presentation predicting a “30-percent reduction in labor hours per unit compared to (gas engine) production.”

UAW advocacy for drivetrain regulation has taken a turn. The just-negotiated UAW-GM proposal pledges creation of a National Committee on Advanced Technology to address coming change and devotes a section to assuring its members it will fight any job cutbacks related to a new generation of transportation:

“Your bargaining committee raised many concerns regarding the company’s plans to increase its electric and autonomous vehicle lineup. They outlined how advanced manufacturing had already impacted the membership. As a result, the union won a commitment from the company to not only reaffirm that the introduction of new technology will not move work out of the bargaining unit, but also ensure UAW members will be able to retain the higher-skilled work associated with new technology.”

Schwartz, the former GM labor director, says the union’s about face on government-mandated EVs is likely due to the organization’s reactive nature: “They probably looked at it from an environmental, not a labor perspective. They wanted to be a progressive organization that looks out for the environment.”

As the UAW puts the brakes on electrics, however, its Democratic allies are shifting into high gear. The Green New Deal would eliminate the internal combustion engine, with Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders — who joined the picket line at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in September — vowing a national trade-in program for EVs as well as a mandate for electric buses.

Front-runner Joe Biden told a CNN climate change townhall that EVs are “going to create so many new jobs for us. We have to … take combustion engine vehicles off the road as rapidly as we can.”

The UAW and the candidates agree that a comprehensive, government-led industrial policy is needed to manage the government’s forcing of electrics — including job training, protectionist trade policy, consumer incentives, and infrastructure investment.

For automakers, the train — or EV — has already left the station. Ford is investing $11 billion to make 40 EVs next decade, while Volkswagen AG says it will phase out gas-powered cars by 2026.

An industry insider familiar with the situation says that regulation alone is behind the industry’s move to electrification. Without consumer demand, the UAW is nervous an electric future is more tenuous than the gas-powered present.

Payne: Toyota Corolla Hatchback is wallflower no more

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 31, 2019

The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is a sporty beast with a new chassis, independent rear suspension and tidy handling. You might be tempted to take it on the Pittsburgh International Raceway, seen in background.

Waiting at the Pittsburgh airport arrivals curb to pick up my son for a race weekend at Pittsburgh International Raceway, I was approached by one of the fiercest cops I have ever seen. Built like Mt. Rushmore and just as tall, he bristled with more weaponry than an Army battalion. Double-barrel shotgun, twin hip holsters, a billy stick.

Good lord, what had I done?

“Is that the new Corolla?” he thrilled like a kid on Christmas morning, ogling the 2019 Toyota hatchback tester I had driven from Detroit. Phew, he just wanted to talk cars.

Yes, yes. I know what you’re thinking. He wanted to talk about Corollas? But Toyota’s seventh generation is not your typical Corolla appliance.

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda has let it be known that he wants his Toyota and Lexus brands to have more curb appeal, and nothing is immune — not even his entry-level egg beater. For decades Corolla has been a perennial best-seller in the class thanks to its bulletproof value equation. Pick up a Corolla in the appliance aisle and it will run forever — as reliable as a collie and never asking anything in return save the occasional fill-up at the pump. Corolla’s reliability has won over generations of buyers.

But it has never made anyone’s heart beat faster. Until now.

I remember one of my first comparison tests as a Detroit News reviewer featuring Chevy’s now-defunct Cruze. GM was eager to show it off against the class competition — the sexy Mazda 3, sporty Ford Focus, nimble VW Golf. And, oh yes, Corolla.

The Corolla was the dog of the stable. Homely, with uninspired styling inside and out, it was the acknowledged value leader — but that didn’t mean you wanted to drive it.

“It’s a comparison test, so I guess we have to include the class best-seller,” groaned the assembled media. Zipping around GM’s Milford test track, the Corolla leaned this way and that, its torsion beam rear suspension catapulting my head into the roof over bumps like a trampoline.

With the new Corolla, Toyota is rewarding its generations of loyal subjects with a snazzy hatchback XSE they can finally enjoy for driving as much as it’ll save them in the wallet. My new cop friend was not the only admirer on my Pennsylvania round trip. More than a couple cars shadowed me on the Ohio Turnpike.

At the race track, a longtime Corolla owner strolled by. “Can I sit in it?” he asked.

There’s a lot to drink in for generations of starved Corolla owners.

Begin with the racy grille anchored by the Toyota logo. The lights sweep toward the fenders like winglets, while the whale-like grille below could swallow an ocean of krill. The lines roll backward across a raked windshield to an aggressively sloped rear window that gives Corolla the appearance of speed even when it is standing still. The look is capped off by a dramatic roof aerofoil.

My test package was wrapped in a dramatic “Blue Flame” wardrobe that reminded me of the BMW Z4 toy I recently tested — or the Skittle row of bright blue, green, yellow and red Dodge Challengers you’ll see lined up at the Dream Cruise. Yes, this new Corolla wants to be noticed.

Inside, Corolla’s once bland furniture has been transformed into an electronic wonderland, with a fully digital tachometer and table console screen. Sure, the electronics often over-nanny you (a Toyota family trait), but tech is a good thing and Corolla is even updated with Apple CarPlay, which Toyota has long resisted.

Riding shotgun, Mrs. Payne instantly configured Apple CarPlay for crisp directions on our multi-state journey. The rest of the console is less clever — storage space, for example, is awkwardly shoved deep under the console buttons — but this is also the result of dramatic lines that envelope the stick shift.

Stick shift, Payne?

Yes, the new Corolla hatch even courts the few, the proud motorheads who want to row the box — my speed-addled, 20-something sons included — the target demo of this $25K value pack. The six-speed tranny even offers adaptive cruise control — rare in a stick.

Under the cane, the manual is nicely calibrated for precise shifts — and it is mated to a chassis that wants to play.

Throw the Corolla into a cloverleaf and its stiff, new Global Architecture (which also undergirds the much-improved Camry) begs for more throttle. You want more, and that is where the 168-horse Corolla comes up short.

For while the 2019 Corolla is the best ever, it must compete in a ferociously competitive class that has not stood still while Toyota baked its tasty new muffin.

There are hatchbacks galore in this segment, and they are all nice bargains with a little more character than the Corolla. There’s Corolla’s chief rival, the Honda Civic, which loads the segment with more model flavors than Baskin-Robbins. There’s the Sport hatch (in manual, natch), and the Si coupe, and for the really ambitious, the brawling Type R.

With more rear-seat room and a peppier 1.5-liter turbo mill, the Civic is Corolla’s value mach. As is the Subaru Impreza hatchback. While its all-wheel-drive is available at the same price as Corolla and standard features galore, the ‘Ru is affordable utility that can climb Everest in winter.

And then there are my class favorites, the athletic Mazda 3 hatchback and VW Golf.

Their neat, conservative stylings are attractive and timeless. And they will run circles around the Corolla. The Mazda boasts 18 more horsepower from its 2.5-liter four, while the Golf’s turbo 1.4-liter pumps out a stump-pulling 184 pound-feet of torque.

Eschewing Corolla’s sculpted rear window for squared-off utility, the Golf’s rear hatch will swallow three more cubic feet of cargo — a difference my family noticed in our back-and-forth forays to the airport/hotel and track where the Corolla’s angled rear window made multiple bag storage a challenge.

With a used market full of 228 horsepower Golf GTIs, my sons figured they would go that route for a new Corolla price, but with much more room and raciness to show for it.

That said, it’s good to see Corolla in the game. For the first time in memory, Corolla is a car that turns heads. Makes the heart beat faster. Begs to be driven.

Just ask the smiling cop approaching you at the airport.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

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

Price: Base price $21,220, including $930 destination charge ($25,686 XSE as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0nlin-liter ie-4 cylinder

Power: 168 horsepower, 151 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.2 seconds (Motor Trend); top speed, 114 mph

Weight: 3,000 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 32 city/42 highway/36 combined

Report card

Highs: Modern interior; fun to drive

Lows: Engine lacks kick; cramped rear cargo

Overall: 3 stars

Payne: Tesla road trips and the challenge of EV ownership

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 23, 2019

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne made a long stop at the Gaylord supercharger on the way to Charlevoix in his Tesla Model 3.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne made a long stop at the Gaylord supercharger on the way to Charlevoix in his Tesla Model 3. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

In just a decade, Tesla has established itself as America’s premier luxury electric vehicle brand with sleek chariots that accelerate like lightning, wow with ginormous touchscreens, and upgrade over-the-air like smartphones.

But the key to the Silicon Valley company’s success may be that it boasts the most robust EV charging network in the country.

Yet, a summer of traveling in a Model 3 around the Midwest provides a cautionary tale on the challenges facing EVs as more Tesla competitors come to market. Extensive as Tesla Inc.’s network is, it still has major blind spots. Combined with battery-powered vehicles’ sensitivity to weather swings and higher speeds makes them a risky purchase to most people looking to buy a car today.

I bought a Tesla Model 3 a year ago both because of the Silicon Valley company’s daring re-imagining of the automobile — but also because I wanted to report on an electric car that is the first serious alternative to gas power in my lifetime.

I have given dozens of drives to friends interested in the car. All of them have been blown away by its speed and innovation, from its intuitive voice commands to its self-driving capabilities. Yet nearly all of them have also balked at the idea of owning an EV because of the limitations on long distance driving.

For good reason. EVs today are for first adopters — not folks who take America’s gasoline infrastructure for granted. As Ford, Audi, Volvo, and other manufacturers come into the EV space — brands that do not have the EV brand strength of Tesla — they face a difficult market where busy Americans demand immediate re-charging infrastructure whether for their phones — or cars.

I set out in August on a 310-mile charge to visit family in Charleston, West Virginia.

With cutting-edge electronics, my Model 3 is deeply integrated into Tesla’s proprietary charging network. “Navigate to Charleston, West Virginia,” I said to the car. Moments later the Tesla had mapped my route around Tesla’s Midwest charging network.

The big, 15-inch screen indicated a detailed itinerary where I would only need to recharge south of Columbus in Grove City (for 25 minutes) to make it to Charleston with 16% of charge left. The stations have multiple stalls, are conveniently located in shopping centers, offer fast, 150kw charging, and are maintained by the company.

It’s like going to a Chick-fil-A chain to eat: The service is always uniform, the product always good.

Try that in  any other car and you’re at the mercy of a hodge-podge network of chargers operated by a variety of providers from auto dealers to EVGo. My experience with these networks in a Jaguar I-Pace, Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt has been inconsistent.

Electrify America — funded by Volkswagen AG as penance for its Dieselgate sins — promises an extensive, nation-wide network to compete with Tesla. But for now it lags. For example, it only has one charging center in the Columbus area, while Tesla has four.

To make its destination charge, the Tesla Model 3 will manage car speed.

To make its destination charge, the Tesla Model 3 will manage car speed.  (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Turns out that would be crucial to my journey. As I traveled south down I-75, the temperature rose from 75 degrees to 95 in Buckeye country. Nothing degrades a battery like temperature.

In winter, sub-30 degree temps have reduced my range by 25%. When the temps go over 90 degrees, range degrades by about 15. On I-75 south in Ohio, the Model 3 told me (talk about a smart car) I would have to slow down to 65 mph (from 70) if I was to make it to the the South Columbus charger. OK. I watched the battery continue to hemorrhage range. Below 8%. Then 5%, Then 3, then …

The car told me I would have to slow down to 55 mph to make it. The heck with that. To quote Sammy Hagar, I can’t drive 55 (and traffic would run over top of me).

Happily, I knew (from my own checking) there was a closer, north Columbus (Dublin) charger so I stopped there instead. I ate a pizza while I waited, and was back on the road in 40 minutes. Of course, I also knew that Charleston had a single Tesla supercharger that I could use for my weekend there.

Not so Charlevoix, Michigan.

I made an Up North trip (one of a few) in September for a getaway weekend to meet my wife (who had gone ahead early with friends). Once again, the car mapped my trip and told me I could make it to the charming Lake Michigan burg without recharging. Well, no.

Charlevoix doesn’t have a Tesla Supercharger. Indeed, it doesn’t have any chargers at all. Not even a 240-volt charger. Try to charge on a 110-volt wall socket and I would be lucky to get 30 miles of range in 10 hours (a previous journey in a plug-in Caddy netted me 30 miles in 24 hours).

So I stopped in Gaylord — the last Tesla Supercharger in north Michigan — to top up for the weekend. It would have to last me for three days in Charlevoix. Good thing my wife and I didn’t plan to drive much. Keeping enough range on the Model 3 to get back to Gaylord for the trip home meant no long adventures to say, Sleeping Bear Dunes (160 mile round trip).

Mother Nature would throw us another curve ball on the way home.

After topping up to 312 miles in Gaylord for an easy trip home in 65-degree weather, the Model 3 mapped the 214 miles home to Oakland County with arrival by 11.12 PM. Driving in downpour south on I-75, the Tesla began to drink electrons.

After 44 miles, the battery had lost 72 miles of charge, a staggering 40% degradation of range. More range degradation than I had experienced even in sub-30 degree weather. Because the electric motor was working hard to push rain out from the tires? Because of energy loss from windshield wipers and climate defrost? Engineers I’ve talked to have been mystified (Tesla couldn’t be reached for comment).

“CHARGING NEEDED TO REACH DESTINATION,” the car screen warned.

Again, I knew there was a Supercharger in Bay City. We stopped an recharged. And ultimately arrived home at 12.45 a.m., much later than planned.

Fortunately, we did have the luxury of not being on time. And fortunately, a reliable Tesla charger was within reach. My friends roll their eyes at such tales. For them, the idea of planning trips around their car’s refueling uncertainties is an inconvenience they’re not willing to take.

Payne: The end of an era for Ford GT

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 23, 2019

The Ford GT piloted by Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook at speed at Road Atlanta.

The Ford GT piloted by Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, and Richard Westbrook at speed at Road Atlanta. (Photo: Wes Duenkel)

Atlanta — The Ford GT marked the end of an era here last weekend for Ford Performance Motorsports when it crossed the finish line for the last time.

The flag-bearer for Ford’s international racing efforts the last four years, the GT earned its place in the history books in 2016 when it won France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans GT-class in its maiden effort — 50 years after its legendary GT40 forefather shocked the world by beating Ferrari for the overall win at the 1966 race.

 Since then, the mid-engine, carbon-fiber GT — the most advanced sports car to ever wear the Blue Oval — has raced across the globe in the IMSA Weathertech and World Endurance Championship winning 19 races and taking home the prestigious IMSA Manufacturer’s Championship in 2018. It has also helped sell 1,350 production model GTs for princely sums starting at $500,000 to buyers eager to own a piece of history.

“The emotions are starting to come through in terms of everything this great team of partners and people have done together to make this program so special these four years,” said Ford Motorsports Chief Mark Rushbrook in the Ford paddock on the eve of GT’s last hurrah.

The driving team of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and IndyCar superstar Scott Dixon brought the #67 Ford GT home in second place Sunday at Road Atlanta’s 10 Hour Petit Le Mans behind a Ferrari 488 — ironically, the same make of car that Ford bested in 2016 to win the coveted 24 Hours of Le Mans trophy.

“It’s a bit emotional, I had a lot of thoughts going through my head the last few laps, but I’m really proud of the job that everyone’s done – today and for the past four years,” said driver Briscoe after the race.

A second, #66 car piloted by 2016 Le Mans winners Joey Hand, Dirk Muller, and Sébastien Bourdais finished a distant eighth in class.

But the end of the GT’s factory-backed racing efforts only closes a chapter in Ford’s continued assault on racing’s record books. Racing is integral to the company since its founding over 100 years ago when Henry Ford attracted investors by winning on track.

If the Ford GT was a celebration of a 50-year-old golden era, Rushbrook says the next chapter will explore the future of Ford’s ambitious electrification plans. With global governments forcing battery-powered cars, Ford says the future is electric.

“We are excited that many of (the race series we participate in) are transitioning to hybrids like our road cars,” said Rushbrook. “NASCAR is going hybrid (in 2022) and the World Rally Championship is going hybrid as well. With fully electric cars coming down the road, we are looking at where we can race. That is very important for us — it’s the opportunity to innovate and use the tech transfer that is relevant to our road cars.”

In addition to its NASCAR Mustangs and WRC Focus hatchbacks, Ford will also enter Mustangs in the Australia Supercars Championship as well as fire-breathing dragsters in NHRA. And Rushbrook says that Ford plans to sell the GT racers as customer cars so that they can continue to compete in the IMSA and WEC sports car series.

“We don’t plan to build any more cars, but we do plan to keep the factory race cars on the track through customers,” said Rushbrook. Indeed, a private, purple-livery, Wynn-sponsored Ford GT — which nearly won its Le Mans class in 2018 — was on display in the Road Atlanta paddock.

But while Ford retools for a new racing future, the Road Atlanta weekend was all about remembering an epic last four years. The program debuted in early 2016 at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona — after a breakneck two years of development — under intense pressure to bring home a 50th anniversary Le Mans title by June.

“The GT40 and everything that team accomplished from 1966-69 — that was a very special time in the company’s history. We set out to build upon it and honor that,” said Rushbrook in reference to the GT40’s four years of Le Mans dominance.

But the GT stumbled out of the blocks. While fast at the Rolex 24 in January ’16, the two cars managed by Chip Ganassi Racing ran into immediate gearbox issues. The cars fell hopelessly behind in the pits, eventually finishing 31st and 40th overall.

“We came out of the gates fast, but we had durability issues. That 24-hour event defined this program,” remembers Rushbrook. “We had adversity and we looked at each other and said this is going to be a 24-hour test for us and let’s fix these problems and see what others we have. We came out of that race a much stronger team.”

A win at Laguna Seca followed and then the Big One in Le Mans, France, in June 2016. The monkey was off the team’s back.

“That Le Mans will always stand as the marquee win — that was what the program was about. Its made our history even stronger,” said Rushbrook.

It also strengthened Ford’s production programs by putting its Ecoboost turbo engines — the same mills used in the Ford F-150, for example — through high-stress endurance environments and in developing engineering tools.

“One of the things that really helped us in development was the use of a 360-degree simulator — we could effectively drive (the GT) on a simulator in North Carolina,” said Rushbrook of Ford’s southern development center. “That simulator is now being used for all of our mainstream programs. The Mustang GT500 which is launching soon used that simulator. Our future electric vehicle have all been developed on that simulator as well. Racing engineering tools make our road cars better.”

Rushbrook wryly adds that the GT production car was so capable that the race car had to be severely penalized by IMSA and WEC in order to keep front-engine competitors like BMW and Corvette close. With its lightweight, carbon-fiber chassis, Formula One-like aerodynamics, and sleek profile, the GT was international racing’s most advanced car.

“If you let these cars run unbridled with its low frontal area and weight distribution, it would have run away,” smiled Rushbrook. So the series enforced parity with weight and horsepower restrictions.

“We are the heaviest car on the race track even though we are lightest car on the road.”

The end of the Ford GT race program also dovetails with the end of the production car program. Manufactured by racing specialty shop Multimatic outside Toronto, all 1,350 Ford GTs have been spoken for.

The last one will roll off the line in 2022 — and into the history books.

Forget ‘Stangs and pickups, Ford SUV hotties crash SEMA mod show

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 17, 2019

The SUV revolution is sweeping America — even the tuner crowd.

In addition to its usual barn-full of smoking hot Mustangs and pickups, Ford Motor Co. also will introduce a herd of SUV hotties at this year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas.

Every year, manufacturers like Ford (which will boast SEMA’s largest display) team up with SEMA members to present the cutting edge of aftermarket vehicle upgrades. Specialty shops submit their proposals and Ford picks their favorites to promote. SEMA’s floor is changing with the market.

Leading the way at this year’s November 5-8 show in the Las Vegas Convention Center will be Ford’s all-new Escape compact SUV. The Blue Oval is leaning heavily on its fourth-gen cute ute as it exits the sedan market — traditionally a hotbed of enthusiasts’ sales. Buyers nostalgic for slammed Focus STs or drag-strip-ready Focus RSs will get an eyeful of Escapes tarted up with black hoods, 21-inch wheels, and rugged fender flares.

“As we move away from sedans, SUVs are picking up the pace,” said a Ford spokesman. “SEMA SUVs are definitely a trend for us.”

The ute lookers are the first compact Escapes to grace the SEMA floor in years — and they highlight the 2020 vehicle’s transformation from boxy ute to coupe-like crossover.

“The old boxy Escape would get a more off-roady look at SEMA with lift kits,” said the Ford spokesman. “This generation is more of a sexy, street cruiser.”

The Escape is not alone on the Vegas stage. The all-new Ford Explorer — for the first time carrying the brand’s performance ST badge — also gets a complete makeover. Even the truck-based Expedition SUV gets in on the fun.

Here are the highlights.

Air Design USA Ford Escape Sport Hybrid

Who says hybrids can’t be sexy? With swollen fenders and a black hood, the Air Design Escape takes a page from Detroit muscle cars. The two-tone paint job is provided by Sherwin-Williams and the black fender flares are engorged with 20-inch wheels donning Pirelli Scorpion Verde tires. Inside, the Escape gets a portable refrigerator for long road trips.

LGE-CTS Motorsports Urban Ford Escape

Lowered with Eibach performance springs, the LGE-CTS Motorsports entry rolls with urban swagger and off-road capability. A custom cat-back exhaust gives the 2.0-liter turbo a menacing growl. For adventures to the outback, the hot hatch comes equipped with ski-friendly roof rack crossbars and comfy leather thrones.

MAD Industries Ford Escape  

This MAD entry also lowers the sport utility with a more Focus-like stance while offering huge, 21-inch wheels carrying performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. The interior is plush with ultra-suede headliner and ear-rattling Rockford Fosgate audio system.

CGS Performance Products Ford Explorer ST

Ford Explorers used to tow SEMA mods, now the red-and-gray CGS Performance ST is a SEMA car by itself. Complimenting the 400-horsepower, twin-turbo V-6 mill are carbon-fiber tipped exhausts and massive, 24-inch wheels shod in track-ready Pirelli P-Zero tires.

Prefix Ford Explorer ST

The Prefix is a family ute with track ambitions. Lowered for better center of gravity, its meant to give track support at 2020 Trans Am muscle car races such as exhibition and pace laps. To help the driver withstand cornering sideloads, the Explorer ST comes with bolstered Recaro race seats.

Blood Type Racing Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid

More hybrid mischief. The Blood Type Explorer is caked with black mascara, lowers the suspension half-an-inch, slaps on off-road skid plates, and gives the 3.3-liter hybrid V-6 engine a snarly soundtrack.

Good Boy Daisy LifeStyle Ford Expedition Limited MAX

A rolling sound stage aimed at music bands, the Good Boy Expedition pumps up the volume with the ability to livestream in-vehicle musical performances from anywhere. Occupants can lounge in Nappa leather interior while using cameras, mics, and a digital mixer to capture their road trips.

MAD Industries Ford Expedition Stealth

This machine is a more traditional, dirt-kicking SUV  maxed out with a Whipple turbocharger, off-road tires, and performance brakes . A 50-inch lightbar helps lead the way to campsites where occupants can deploy a rooftop tent.

The SEMA Show attracts over 70,000 domestic and international buyers. Find more at https://www.semashow.com/the-sema-show.

Payne: BMW Z4 is drop-top fun

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 17, 2019

The 2020 BMW Z4 is the third evolution of BMW's fun Roadster - though for this generation, BMW shared costs with the Toyota Supra to justify its low-volume production.

You had me at Roadster.

From the nimble Mazda Miata to the Porsche Boxster, convertible coupes are some of the most enjoyable toys on the road today. Drop the top, stomp the gas, and drink in the visceral thrill of sound, wind, and landscape rushing by.

The ground-hugging Boxster is the undisputed athlete of the segment, but the BMW Z4 Roadster has shadowed it for a decade, bringing Bimmer’s uniquely sculpted bod and high-tech interior to the playground.

Most importantly, BMW has retained its signature, inline six-cylinder engine even as Porsche has abandoned its signature flat-six (but for the hard-core, $100,000 Spyder variant). A Boxster without flat-six wail is like a tiger without a roar, and the compromised Porsche — no matter the impressive performance numbers of its turbocharged flat-four — has undoubtedly lost some of its appeal.

Boxster-owning pals with flat-sixes have delayed purchase of the new car (just as some Ford F-150 Raptor customers have held on to their V-8-powered pickups rather than upgrade to the newer-but-less-satisfying twin-turbo V-6). Could this be an opening for Bimmer as well with its all-new, $64,000, 382-horse, inline 6-powered Z4? Surely.

But first BMW has introduced a base, 255-horse, turbo-4 cylinder to go head-to-head against the 265-horse Boxster. Apples to apples. Fours to fours. The Z4, like the Boxster, suffers mightily without its six-holer, but for Roadster fans with deeper pockets, my sky-blue, loaded Z4 M30i tester is a welcome Miata MX5 on steroids — more tech, more room, more zoom zoom.

On a trip up north this summer, the Z4 was a rolling tourist attraction. Longer, wider, and bluer than its predecessor, it was a magnet.

Cool! How fast does it go? Is that a BMW?

This third-gen roadster is a worthy successor to the first-gen, 2005 Z4 that still turns my head. Its ad campaign cutline was “land shark” — and it looked the part. Long nose. Wicked body stampings. Headlights slit like a predator’s eyes. The swept windshield a fin cutting through traffic.

The new car has more conservative styling, but the shark DNA remains. Angular headlights, wide, toothy kidneys — even big gills on either side of the front fenders. And it ruthlessly prowls country roads.

Exiting Interstate 75 for Michigan-31 north of Gaylord, I slowly rolled into a stoplight while easing back the black canvas top with the push of a button. The operation pauses only if I exceed 31 mph.

Through the wooded countryside, the rear-wheel-driver rotated effortlessly through esses and switchbacks. This is no mid-engine Porsche, but you have to really push hard to notice the difference. The suspension is tight, the body-roll minimal and understeer imperceptible despite that long bow. Credit the M Sport package on my tester that added electronic rear differential and adaptive dampers.

Momentary turbo lag gave way to satisfying, 295 pound-feet of torque over 3,000 RPM, but the music is more Miata than luxury sports car. Even Porsche is aware of its visceral shortcomings and tries to lend some menace to its four-cylinder, VW Bug-like drone. At least downshifts in Bimmer’s SPORT and SPORT PLUS modes are accompanied by racy rev-matching.

While the Porsche reigns supreme on handling, the BMW makes its mark when you’ve tired of apex carving.

Hats off to the interior designers (ahem, except for the cup holder which is curiously located in the armrest console, forcing the console lid vertical when the holder is occupied).

A sculpted sheet of glass dominates the center console, pulling the 10-inch infotainment screen high above the dash for maximum driver attention — and opening up tray storage below — an ergonomic nicety conspicuously missing from Porsches and Audis.

Cruising up I-75 (top up, natch), the big, fat console knob makes for easy screen navigations, as does the voice command. But Apple CarPlay-based Google Maps is still the nav program of choice (though BMW will charge $80 a year for it and not offer Android Auto. Yeesh, these persnickety luxe makers).

A drop-top two-seater this may be, but BMW has carved out helpful closet space behind the front seats for an umbrella — or bottle, purse, small briefcase storage in rear panel-mounted fish net. The trunk space is also surprisingly generous — a 50% increase over the prior gen — and a welcome convenience for long trips compared to a much smaller Miata.

BMW has learned fast from Tesla, and the Z4 is a digital tour de force — including recognizing my presence without my having to remove the key from my pocket. Z4 unlocked when I approached and locked when I walked away, mirrors folding tight. Alas, unlike Tesla, this is not a standard feature, but part of the $13,000 of add-ons (the $2,950 M package) on my $63,545 tester.

Like Miata, the fourth-generation Z4 would not be possible were it not for a partner.

Development costs have soared in these regulation-heavy days, forcing small-volume products into partnerships. Mazda found a mate in Fiat which makes its 124 on the same platform as the MX-5 Miata. And BMW paired with Toyota, which makes the Supra coupe off the same architecture.

I couldn’t stop thinking of the Supra as I caned the Z4’s four across Michigan.

I’ve driven the Supra’s BMW-made inline-6, pumping out a generous 350 horsepower, complete with crackling soundtrack. The Z4’s digital sophistication is apparent over the Supra, and Toyota and BMW shoppers will rarely cross paths. But put a Supra and a Z4 next to each other at a Woodward stoplight and the Japanese sports car will smoke it — 4.1 vs. 5.1 seconds, zero-60 —- even with BMW’s easy-to-use launch control.

Happily, the 382-horse Z4 inline-6 is available — with, er, a 14 grand premium over the base 4.

Here, it’s worth noting that the stunning, convertible, mid-engine Corvette V-8 — with nearly 500 ponies — coming next year at a similar sticker.

Add in convertible Camaro and Mustang V-8s and the American customer has a nice menu of choice for drop-top fun. With its sophisticated looks and digital tech, the Z4 remains a sophisticated choice that will offer hours of open-air fun without sacrificing roomy comfort.

That comfort may give the Z4 the biggest bandwidth in the luxury Roadster segment. And a competitive claim as long as the Porsche Boxster cuts back on audio thrills.

2020 BMW Z4

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

Price: Base price sDrive30i $50,695 including $995 destination charge; M40i $64,695 including $995 destination charge ($63,545 sDrive30i as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline-4 cylinder, 3.0-liter, turbocharged, inline-6 cylinder

Power: 255 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 382 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque (turbo-6)

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.2 seconds (turbo-4, mfr.); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 3,400 pounds(est.)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 24 city/32 highway/28 combined (turbo-4); 24 city/31 highway/26 combined (turbo-6)

Report card

Highs: Modern tech; sticks like glue

Lows: Meh, turbo-4; Toyota Supra thrills with BMW turbo-6 under hood for less coin

Overall: 3 stars

Payne: First drive, mid-engine Corvette lives up to hype

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 17, 2019

The 2020 Chevy Corvette C8 is the iconic badge's first mid-engine layout. Handling and traction benefit mightily from the new architecture.

Ann Arbor – The book on the Chevy Corvette has long been that it’s the poor man’s supercar. Accept compromises in handling and interior comfort and you can afford a Ferrari-like performance machine for under $100,000.

Throw out the book.

I have driven the all-new, 2020, mid-engine Corvette C8 for the first time, and it is a supercar without compromise. These are early days as the C8 comes to market, but the C8 holds the promise of a supercar paradigm shift: affordable, Porsche Cayman-like handling with the raw power of exotics costing four times as much.

The world’s elite auto car makers should be very afraid.

I will be able to give more detailed critique early next year after a more extensive on- road/on-track test, but on first impression at the North American Car of the Year jury test over twisty Ann Arbor roads and I-94 interstate, the car is fundamentally sound from the inside out.

“This is a Cayman with cargo room,” I told chief engineer Ed Piatek a couple of days later in Road Atlanta where Chevy introduced the C8.R race car model.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” smiled Piatek. Please do. The Cayman is the best-handling production sports car I’ve driven.

Since we first learned of a mid-engine Corvette in the works, expectations soared. Could it marry the brute force of a small-block Chevy V-8 with the nimbleness of a Cayman? Could Chevy render a pleasing, mid-engine design? Would there be any money left for a livable interior? Yes, yes, and yes.

Start with the handling. I have raced mid-engine, Porsche and Lola sports cars all my adult life. From Le Mans prototypes to Indy Car, the world’s fastest cars are mid-engine. It’s why Corvette’s Pratt & Miller race team has craved a mid-engine vessel to go up against the likes of Ferrari and Porsche that also locate the engine aft of driver.

Let Corvette race driver Tommy Milner explain. “The driver is more centrally located in the car, so we get immediate feedback from understeer or oversteer,” he said in introducing the race car version in Road Atlanta last weekend. “The car rotates around the driver.”

I felt it on the first tight, 90-degree corner on Washtenaw County’s Huron River Road. With the engine behind me, the lighter front end instantly rotated to the corner apex — the rear following like the tail of a dart.

Walking around a naked, cutaway chassis of the C8 at Road Atlanta, chassis engineer Ed Moss explained that the precise handling is much more than just putting the 6.2-liter V-8 behind the driver. Like the C7, the C8 is built around a stiff central spine to allow for easier driver egress (carbon-fiber tub cars like Lambos use tall, wide side sills for stiffness, but are a nightmare to crawl over). But unlike C7, C8 uses 20 — count ‘em, 20 — aluminum castings to complement that spine where C7 had but 4.

For the first time, the mid-engine car uses coil-over springs and shocks for state-of-the-art suspension like European supercars (previous-gen Corvettes used cost-saving, composite “leaf” springs).

Supercar tech, Corvette price. The 3,600-pound Corvette will never be as maneuverable as the lighter, 3,100-pound Cayman. But, then, the C8 has Lambo-like power that the wee Porsche can only dream of.

And it puts it down effortlessly. I experienced auto launch control in a Cayman three years ago. Bury the left brake foot. Bury the right throttle foot. Let revs stabilize at 3500 RPM. Release brake.

FOOM! Cayman shot forward like a rocket. Just like a McLaren 720S. Just like a Lamborghini Huracán. Just like the Corvette C8.

I did multiple launch control starts in the new ‘Vette (starts at $64,995 with Z51 performance package) on unpopulated Michigan country roads. Stable. Blindingly fast. Motor Trend clocked the C8 at a staggering 2.8 seconds — the same as the $288,000, 710-horse McLaren 720S I tested last year .

Credit the engine weight over the rear wheels providing inherently better traction. And a Porsche-like, dual-clutch auto transmission.

Try that in a front engine C7 and hold on for dear life. With the engine in front, the rear tires hunt for traction, squirming nervously.

“It’s having less weight on the front axle, sitting closer to the front axle and having all the weight on the rear. It helps you with standing starts, helps you coming out of a corner,” said Corvette program chief Tadge Juechter when I first saw the car at the Warren design dome in July.

Motorheads like me can babble on about C8 handling dynamics until sundown, but the interior is the real revelation. The Corvette is nicer inside than a $300k Lambo or a McLaren. The standard car is roomy, techy, and coated in leather.

I’m a big fella’ at 6’5” and was sedan comfortable. Curiously, for a big sports car meant for long-distance driving as well as track days, the C8 lacks adaptive cruise control.

Otherwise, the driver-centric cockpit is state-of the-art — an amalgam of the best supercars in the world. The digital dash reminds of McLaren with its configurable drive modes (I like Track Mode and its racing tachometer). A Formula One-like square steering wheel allows unobstructed instrument visibility. The console — “beach-front real estate” as engineer Piatek likes to call it —  is a masterpiece of space management. Chevy’s excellent touchscreen infotainment is within easy reach.

Then Corvette pairs an efficient, Acura-like “trigger” shifter with the Drive Mode dial for easy operation. Corvette faithful may struggle to learn the trigger at first (I use a three-finger approach), but once mastered it’s intuitive.

Only a central sleeve of buttons interrupts this digital vibe. The concept is taken straight out of the last-gen Porsche 911 and allows for easy climate control.

Corvette designer Kirk Bennion and his team have wrapped this technical tour de force in a mid-engine shell that is nicely portioned  — and looks wicked on the road.

Even some of my most jaded Car of the Year jury peers allowed how it looked better than the Audi R8 or Acura NSX —  cars costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

Details have been sweated over right down to the, er, smell. Climb into the ol’ C7 and you got a nostril-full of the polymers used to make the dash and interior inserts. It smelled like a poor man’s supercar. For the C8, the engineers “pre-baked” the materials to eliminate odors.

I got an hour in the C8 this time. Stay tuned for much more. Corvette is just getting started.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8

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

Price: Base price $59,995 including $1095 destination charge ($88,895 with Z51 package as tested)

Powerplant: 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 495 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque (with $5000 Z51 performance package)

Transmission: 8-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.8 seconds (Motor Trend); top speed, 194 mph

Weight: 3,600 (est.)

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Good interior ergonomics; intuitive handling

Lows: No adaptive cruise control; Trigger transmission takes getting used to

Overall: 4 stars (out of 4)

Mid-engine Corvette racer debuts new engine, livery

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 12, 2019

With its V-8 engine mass over the rear wheels for the first time, the Corvette C8.R promises the ability to put the power to the pavement faster out of corners.

With its V-8 engine mass over the rear wheels for the first time, the Corvette C8.R promises the ability to put the power to the pavement faster out of corners. (Photo: Chevrolet)

Atlanta – The all-new Corvette C8.R race car that debuted Thursday at Road Atlanta marks an onslaught on international racing with Chevrolet’s first-ever mid-engine production sports car.

Sporting a large wing, lightened chassis and a different V-8 than the production car, the C8.R will debut at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in January, just as production cars begin arriving in showrooms.

As with the current front-engine C7.R race car (which wraps up its racing career here the IMSA Weathertech 10 Hour Petit LeMans), development of the C8.R racer was integral to development of the production model. Chevrolet’s racing partner, New Hudson-based Pratt & Miller, shared and tested technology with the production program.

“It was important for us to develop the new race car alongside the production car, so that each product could properly take advantage of the new architecture,” said Corvette Chief Engineer Ed Piatek. “We share more parts — about 100 — between the race car and production car than ever before.”

One part that won’t be shared is an all-new 5.5-liter, overhead-cam, flat-plane crank engine. (The production cars is a traditional 6.2-liter push-rod engine.)

Though GM won’t confirm the engine for future production cars, it is a radical departure from Corvette’s previous small-block V-8s. Detroit News sources have said the production car will get two more drivetrain in addition to the base V-8.

The C8.R’s naturally aspirated engine will produce 500 horsepower — not much more than the production car’s 495 horses — but with faster-revving capabilities. Flat-plane cranks have been used by Ferrari in some of its engines.

“The flat-plane crank engine breathes better, has lower inertia and is more responsive than the push-rod engine,” said Corvette Chief Engineer Ed Piatek. The new engine will likely be restrained to 6,500 rpms by IMSA engine rules, he said.

The race engine is mated to a compact, six-speed sequential gearbox instead of the production 8-speed.

Though it is based on the same platform as the production car, new technology allowed the race team to design the C8.R long before production parts availability. State-of-the art 3-D printed prototype parts, wind tunnels and hydraulic simulators were used to evaluate subsequent chassis and aerodynamic designs.

The C8.R will compete in North America’s IMSA Weathertech series – including stops at Mid-Ohio Raceway near Columbus and Mosport Raceway outside Toronto – as well as the LeMans 24-Hour race in France next June. The C8.R looks to continue the C7.R’s run of success which includes championships in 2016-18, two first-place finishes at Daytona, and a LeMans win.

Road Atlanta also marks the exit from racing of the mid-engine Ford GT. The Corvette will compete against other mid-engine cars in IMSA’s GTLM class, including the Ferrari 488 and Porsche 911.

“There are a variety of reasons to do a mid-engine car,” said driver Tommy Milner, who will race the car next year. “The driver is more centrally located, and the car rotates around us. It will also put power down better which has been a huge advantage for Porsche.”

The design of the C8.R is familiar to the production model with its angled lines, short nose and big rear hips. This being a race car built to meet the high-stress of endurance racing, however, some details (engine aside) have changed.

Gone is the front trunk – “frunk” – replaced by a central radiator. For better driver visibility at 200 mph on Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight in the middle of the night, extra headlamps have been fitted where the production car’s small, side radiators reside.

The race car’s will maintain the No. 3 and No. 4 from the outgoing C7.R, with the No. 3 car in traditional Corvette racing-yellow. But, in a nod to Corvette’s long history of design concepts that ultimately bore fruit in the C8, the No. 4 car will get a fresh, silver livery inspired by the 1973 Chevrolet Aerovette and the 1959 Corvette Stingray Racer.

“Since the mid-engine race car is such a revolutionary vehicle,” said Chevy creative designer Vlad Kapitonov, “we felt it would be fitting to honor Corvette racing’s legacy with both a redesigned, modern livery.”