Payne: Lexus LC, zero-sexy in 4.4 seconds

Posted by hpayne on August 9, 2017


“Love the sound of that V-8!”

“Really like the handling!”

“This thing is a beauty!”

It was all high-fives for the Lexus LC 500 from the boys at M1 Concourse, Michigan’s premiere auto-enthusiasts club, after I brought it out for a few track laps. Yes, Lexus.

For 30 years Toyota’s luxury car brand has impressed with its cold efficiency, reliability and affordability. But it has never stirred the loins. Whetted the lips. Tickled the irrational heartstrings of lust like its American, German and English competitors. Until now.

The LC 500 strutted down the catwalk at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show as the ultimate show car. Tri-LED front headlights, curvy hips, 21-inch wheels. Now it’s stepped down to mingle among us. Unlike its 2010, $350,000 LFA predecessor (edition of just 500), the LC 500 is a true, $100,000, showroom-production sports car priced to take on the best rear-wheel drivers in the game: Porsche 911, Jaguar F-Type, Corvette Z06.

Sure, the red leather heated and cooled seats are decadent thrones. And the red alcantara lining of the doors looks like it came out of the Queen of England’s bedroom. And the analog clock seems ripped from a Rolls.

But those twin handles are straight out of the Corvette Z06 track monster. They are a warning that the LC wants to boogie.

Turn the key and the beast awakens. With an annoyed gurgle, the eight-holer growls to life like a hungry lion. It’s not the obnoxious, car-alarm triggering bark of an F-Type, but it means business. Sweeping through M1’s Turn 3 and 4, the Lexus’ Michelin Pilot Super Sports stick. Big Brembo brakes haul it to earth into the hairpin, then the car rotates (with an assist from rear-steering) on a dime and thunders down the back straight as I flick off lightning shifts from the 10-speed automatic.

The car’s girth is noticeable — it weighs as much as the Dodge Hellcats in M1’s track-school fleet — but this is no boulevard cruiser. If you buy it, track it. M1 instructor and pro racer Aaron Bambach smiled the whole way ’round in his stint, the V-8 howling.

As its first entry in the flagship sports-car space, Lexus has brought a lot to the table. Some of it is undercooked.

The 10-speed is the first in the luxury space, and only the second on the market after the jointly developed, GM-Ford cog-swapper that debuted this year in the Chevy Camaro ZL1 and Ford F-150 Raptor. Like the Camaro, the single-clutch Lexus deca-box snaps off upshifts with the speed of a dual-clutch Porsche PDK. Downshifts use smooth rev-matching.

But the in the lower ratios, the LC500 is not as confident as the Chevy. Downshifts will sometimes happen with a clunk. Out of a stoplight, the car hesitates as the CPU seems to ponder which ratio to engage.

I engaged a playful 455-horse, 8-speed automatic Camaro SS on Telegraph, and the two V-8s in stereo were glorious. But out of green lights, the Lexus was a tick slower despite 16 more horsepower and two more gears. Sure enough, a check of Car and Driver’s zero-60 tests finds the Lexus lags the Camaro to 60 mph – 4.4 seconds versus 3.9. And the SS is less than half the price.

The Camaro invites other comparisons. Both cars locate their V-8 boat anchors well back in the front bay for weight balance with the Lexus achieving an impressive 52/48 split. With its shorter, 108-inch wheelbase, the Lexus rear seats, however, make the Camaro seem roomy. As in the Porsche 911, think of the LC 500 rears as more luggage space.

As for interior display panels, the Lexus takes a back seat to the competition. The instrument screen is clever — the analog speedometer movable depending on how much information you want — but digital systems from Audi and Tesla are vastly superior.

The infotainment system in the LC 500’s case is operated by a touch pad — not the mouse as found in, say, a Lexus GS sedan — but it is equally unworkable. Trying to negotiate the screen when parked is difficult; when moving it’s a road-distraction nightmare. Mrs. Payne tried operating it from the passenger seat and threw her hands up in frustration.

I distracted her by burying the throttle through some twisties so she’d grab the “oh,crap” handles. Which nicely summarizes the LC 500 experience. Whatever its shortcomings — weight, gear hiccups, infotainment — the LC is always forgiven given its looks and sound.

Pictures don’t do the LC 500 justice. Lexus’ polarizing spindle grille has been awkward on many vehicles, especially the huge bug-catchers on the RX and NX utes. But on the LC it’s an extension of the car’s flowing lines. The coupe’s sexy hips define this car, not the grille. Only the pinched rocker panels disrupt the car’s flow, but they are complemented by functional inlets for rear brake cooling.

The defining characteristic of this car, however, is the V-8.

In an age when engine displacement is under attack from government nannies, the LC 500 is a reminder of what a V-8 soundtrack adds to the sports-car experience. A turbocharged V-6 with 600-plus horsepower is expected for the LC’s imminent, top-trim F-Sport model. But sometimes numbers aren’t enough when you’re putting down six figures on a performance automobile.

Feel your pulse quicken when an F-Type lights up. Or the ground shake when a Z06 hammers by. With its libidinous form and V-8 purr, the Lexus will be loved, not just admired.

That’s a high-five for the Lexus brand. Now if we can just get it on a diet.

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

2018 Lexus LC 500





5.0-liter V-8


10-speed automatic


4,380 pounds


$86,090 base


471 horsepower, 398 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 4.4 seconds (manufacturer); top speed: 168 mph

Fuel economy

EPA est. 16 mpg city/26 mpg highway/19 mpg combined

Report card




Maddening touch pad infotainment controller;

10-speed tranny slow off the line


Payne review: VW’s Tiguan gets American-ized

Posted by hpayne on August 3, 2017


Has anyone else noticed that fast food isn’t fast anymore? Driving through a McDonald’s for breakfast on the way to work, I sat for 20 minutes waiting for an Egg McMuffin. On an Indianapolis road trip date with this week’s tester, the 2018 VW Tiguan SUV, I waited 23 minutes (I’ve got the stopwatch out by now) for a lunch order at KFC/Taco Bell. By the time I reached the window, I had shaved, finished “War and Peace” and the line behind me was backed up into Ohio.

I’m convinced this inconvenience is the result of fast-food restaurants adding waaaay too many features to their menu beyond their core competence.

Feature-mania has also hit the family SUV which, like fast-food restaurants, are falling all over themselves to be all things to all family. USB ports, 4G Wi-Fi, moonroofs, heated seats, smartphone apps, Sirius XM, fold-flat seats, all-wheel drive, performance drive modes — the SUV interior is a rolling home basement theater except for the minibar. That should be an option soon.

So it is with trepidation that I approach family SUVs expecting the things to go into sensory overload. But I’m happy to report that, by-and-large, they work.

Take the new Tiguan, Volkswagen’s ground-up remake of its entry-level SUV. Like many German makes, previous Tiguans suffered from a superiority complex as VW tried to impose its standard of premium sportiness and minimal interior room on an American buyer who could do without the former and demanded the latter.

Predictably, this sales approach went over like Donald Trump at the Sundance Film Festival. The Tiguan bombed at the box office next to offerings like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape that put the customer first with affordable comfort and gizmos galore.

For 2018 VW has wised up and offered a roomy, Americanized SUV with more offerings than a McDonald’s breakfast. After (finally) getting my KFC, I rolled across the Midwest in a loaded Tiguan SEL tanning under a full sun roof, enjoying my Chicken Little sandwich, thumbing through XM stations with steering wheel controls, while adaptive cruise-control monitored the distance to the semis in front off me lest I be distracted from driving.

So thoroughly Americanized is the McTiguan that it has been supersized.

The 2018 model is a full foot longer and 176 pounds heavier than the outgoing model, gaining a third row of seats usually found in full-size SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe. Readers of these columns know that I am a Golf GTI disciple — the hot hatch that offers everything from five-door utility to apex-carving dance moves.

Where the previous Tiguan seemed separated at birth from its nimble brother, the new model comes from a different birth mother altogether. Never once on my Indy interstate trip was I temped to take the Tiggy off-route to play. Give me a performance ute/car and I’m often tempted to twisty country roads. My route to Mid-Ohio race track this year in a McLaren 570GT looked like a piece of spaghetti.

The Tiguan cedes the sporty SUV high ground to athletes like the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V. This VW is about style, size and sizzle.

There are two kinds of ute styling these days: the coupe wannabes and the Rover groupies. With racy hoods and sloped rumps, the coupe wannabes look sleek at a sacrifice to rear head room and cargo room. That’s not Tiggy’s style. He’s a Rover groupie — a student of the tall, square shape pioneered by the luxury Land Rover brand, and followed by other swank SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Mercedes GLC.

The new look becomes Tiggy. Where the old Tiguan was a hippy, rounded Golf on stilts, the new generation is a luxe toaster. The finely detailed, Rover-esque grille and nicely creased sides (a hint of corporate cousin Audi there) kept my silver V-dub from looking simple, but inside is where this family vehicle really shines.

The dash and console are among the most elegant in the segment — bordering on luxury — with handsome proportions and Audi Q5-like attention to detail with chrome outlines and an optional digital gauge cluster. But Tig speaks with an American accent. Where the Audi’s console space is swamped by a remote rotary button operating infotainment, the V-dub bears an almost-as-good-as Chrysler UConnect touchscreen and multiple compartments for storage.

At Indy’s Mug ’n’ Bun drive-in (instant service with a smile), the Tiguan’s console was as useful as a sectioned high school cafeteria tray. I put my burger in the dashtop cubbie, my fries in the center console, drink and shake in twin cupholders, and smartphone in the fore cubbie. The CR-V still owns best-in-class console but VW is doing its homework.

As for seating, there is none better. Even after a nightmarish, 71/2-hour return trip from Indy stoked by multiple wrong turns due to VW’s helpless nav system and my Android Auto app going AWOL (one of those new menu items that is not working), my backside was no worse for the wear. The roomy back seat also wins raves thanks to that Rover styling.

Your 6-foot-5 scribe could sit bolt-upright even with a full moonroof adding an inch of roof space. And I could recline my seat. And there’s that (viable) third-row option should your rugrats emerge from school with five more rugrats for a sleepover.

Having solved the U.S. family market mystery, the VW only comes up short in one glaring area: price. My loaded SEL priced out at $40,000, well north of the Honda CR-VFord Escape and Mazda CX-5 that I also admire in this class. The more athletic Mazda even comes with more features like dual-mode cruise and a heads-up display — yet weighs in at $6,000 less.

That’s a lot to pay for the Tiguan’s room.

But at least the Tiguan is now a mainstream player in the segment with a menu of offerings that will make any fast-food-eating, smartphone thumbing, plus-size American feel right at home.

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

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan





2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder


8-speed automatic


3,777 pounds (3,858 AWD as tested)


$26,245 base ($39,250 AWD 4-Motion as tested)


184 horsepower, 221 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing capacity:

1,500 lbs.

Fuel economy

EPA mpg: 21 city/27 highway/23 combined (AWD)

Report card





Can get pricey;

Tow capacity down from last-gen: 2,200 to 1,500 lbs.


Payne: Why I’m all in on Tesla’s Model 3

Posted by hpayne on August 1, 2017


Apple’s Steve Jobs made a career of re-innovating familiar products (the music player, the cellphone, the newspaper) for the digital age with sleek models (the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad). Tesla’s Elon Musk is walking in Jobs’ footsteps with the automobile.

Taking a page from the Apple genius and his “Stevenotes,” Musk likes to introduce his creations on stage before thousands of adoring fans. But unlike silver-tongued Jobs, the geeky Musk’s “Elonnotes” are halting, disjointed affairs. The products, however — Model S, Model X, Model 3 — are no less spectacular.

Almost 18 months ago I put down a $1,000 deposit to buy an electric Tesla Model 3. I was intrigued not only by its Model S-on-a-budget performance but by the most audacious auto startup since the Ford Model T. Friday night I watched with anticipation as Musk rolled on stage and introduced the first Model 3s into the wild.

Am I ready to write the balance of the check? You betcha.

Like the iPhone, the roomy Model 3 is a premium (read more expensive than you think) product with sleek, minimalist design, excellent performance and a different user experience. Unlike the iPhone, it enters a highly competitive auto market where it will stand out in some areas and lag in others.

Billed as a sports sedan, the Porsche-lookalike Model 3 lives up to its promise. I have driven the rear-wheel drive Model S in everything from its base trim to its full blown, all-wheel drive P90D “Ludicrous” drag-racer mode. It is a uniquely capable automobile worthy of its reputation.

I will test drive the Model 3 later this fall, but a handful of media peers got some time with the Model 3 last week before Friday’s “Elonnotes,” and have confirmed to me that the 3 is the S Junior.

 You already know that electric means 100-percent torque off the line, and big-battery EVs like the 75- to 100-kWh Model S and 60-kWh Chevy Bolt showcase neck-snapping acceleration. In the case of the Model S P90D that acceleration is so violent as to cause inner ear dizziness. The Model 3? Motor Trend’s Kim Reynolds and CNET’s Tim Stevens both tell me the acceleration to 60 mph is quick — at low-5 seconds, somewhere between the Bolt EV and base 75-kWh Model S.

But the real revelation of electrics is their handling.

With battery mass under the floor of the car, they have a very low center of gravity. Indeed, the Model S has the lowest CG — along with the Subaru BR-Z sports car — in autodom. This means I can drive it around cloverleafs like a mad man on rails.

The 3 goes one better than the S: It weighs a whopping 600 pounds less at 3,814 pounds (or about the same as a similarly sized V-8 Chevy Camaro SS but with a lower CG).

“I was surprised at how nimble it was,” says Motor Trend’s Reynolds, who tested the car hard through mountains of Malibu, California. “It has little body roll. The harder I pushed it, the smaller the car felt.”

That’s what we reviewers say about Camaros and BMWs, too.

I enjoy the hot-rod, hot-hatch Chevy Bolt. But with rear-wheel drive, the Model 3 puts down the power better and is easier to rotate through corners. That’s a key attraction to gearheads like me who has been looking at, say, a BMW M2. Model 3 will carry a similar, $50,000 price tag, too.

The 3 may be Tesla’s first 200-mile-range-for-under-$40,000 car, but the “Long Range” Model 3 I reserved Saturday (just after the news conference) will cost me at least $49,000 after adding $9,000 for the 310-mile-range battery and $5,000 for leather seats and tinted, permanent sun roof. That, and Tesla won’t start delivering base models until the middle of next year.

How many of the 500,000 customers who have put down $1,000 deposits will turn to a Bolt EV in the meantime? After all, at just $43,510 a fully loaded the Bolt has better range than the base 3 (238 miles vs. 220) and more features like Android CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone app connectivity and leather interior.

Car guys will pay the 3’s premium.

And not just for performance; what is really transformative about the Model 3 is its interior. Again taking a page from Apple, Tesla has created a minimalist interior space with no gauges, and a big, 15-inch horizontal (the Model S goes 17-inch vertical) touchscreen. Others have tried this — notably another startup automaker named Saturn (Detroiters may remember) with its Ion model — but Tesla is a brand designed for the iPhone age.

But isn’t Tesla swimming against the trend to head-up, driver-centric displays? Yes, and when I’m eating up twisty roads in Hell, Michigan, that could be a distraction. But both Reynolds and CNET’s Stevens say they didn’t find it an issue since EVs don’t require a tachometer — just a digital readout for speed.

One gauge that will require checking in the screen, however, is battery range. At 310 miles, my $50,000 Model 3 will get to Lansing-and-back with plenty of room for a detour through Hell for some misbehaving. But take it 180 miles to Gingerman Raceway on Lake Michigan with my buddies for a track day and I’ll suffer. Where do I find a Supercharger (or even a fast DC charger) to get back? And will the Model 3 — like the Model S at Car and Driver’s Lightening Lap test last year — go into limp mode?

Those are questions for extreme use, of course. But for now, they are not disqualifiers. Just as BMW laid down the benchmark for entry-luxe performance with its 3-series, so has Model 3 set the bar for EVs.

Mine should arrive first-quarter 2018.

Tesla Model 3 wows with no gauges, 310-mile range

Posted by hpayne on July 28, 2017


The Tesla Model 3 has arrived – like a comet across the California sky.

Just after midnight Eastern Time Saturday morning (9 PM Pacific) Tesla CEO and circus-master Elon Musk delivered the first 30 production models of the all-electric sedan – perhaps the most anticipated new car in a generation.  The customers – reportedly all Tesla associates – received their steeds before thousands of their peers at Tesla’s Fremont, California manufacturing plant and thousands more watching online via live feed.

The Model 3 is the first Tesla under $40,000 to travel more than 200 miles on a charge. The third step in Tesla’s so-called “master plan” after the premium Model S sedan and gull-winged Model X SUV, the Model 3 aims to bring the Tesla brand to the heart of the luxury market. Musk announced two versions of the Model 3 – a “Standard” version beginning at $35,000 with 220 miles of range, a zero-60 time of 5.6 seconds, and 130 mph top speed. A “Long Range” version, which features a larger battery, starts at $44,000 with a range of 310 miles.

Fully loaded, a Premium-trim, Model 3 Long Range will sticker for $59,200. Available features include the Premium’s heated and electronically-controlled leather seats ($5,000), 19-inch wheels, Autopilot self-driving feature ($8,000), and five colors other than standard black ($1,000 each).

Driving a red Model 3 on stage – its Porsche-like face naked of any grille ornamentation – Musk was met by thunderous applause before easing into his trademark, halting, off-the-cuff remarks explaining the car.

“We’re going to be in production Hell for six months or longer,” he laughed, anticipating the enormous demand for a startup automaker that has already been deluged with nearly 400,000 Model 3 orders – or more than five times as many 3-series as BMW sold in the US last year.

Musk gave few details of the car, but a number of journalists got a chance to drive the Model 3 in Fremont for 15 minutes each before the unveiling – including Tim Stevens, editor-in-chief of The Roadshow by CNET.

“It has the same road qualities as the Model S with really brisk acceleration,” Stevens said in an interview. “The handling is really nice. Though some people are going to take time to get used to the lack of instrumentation.”

Stevens reports that there are no gauges behind the steering wheel – unlike the Model 3’s Model S and X predecessors. All the car’s operating information is contained in a single, 15-inch horizontal tablet (not vertical as in the Model S) display that hovers in front of the long wooden dash. Digital speed and mileage readouts occupy the upper 25 percent of the tablet. There was speculation that the car would get a heads-up display – similar to the projected displays found on Audi, Cadillac, and BMW chariots –  but Stevens says there is none.

“There is not much of an instrument panel,” said Musk, “because cars will be increasingly autonomous so you won’t really need to look at an instrument panel. You’ll be able to do anything you want – watch a movie, talk to friends, go to sleep. Every Tesla has all of the hardware for full autonomy: 8 cameras, 12 sonar, 4 radar.”

Model 3 dash.

Stevens says the Model 3 feels like a smaller, cheaper version of the lightning-fast, 200-mile-range $68,000 Model S – the best-selling large luxury sedan in the US. Tesla has become a cult brand not only because of electrification but because of its unique approach to design. All Model 3s will come standard with a full glass roof. Keyless entry is not by a fob in your pocket – but by a Tesla app downloaded to your smart phone.

Two mouse wheels are mounted on the steering wheel that control most car functions including side mirror adjustments. The cars will be regularly upgraded by over-the-air software features. Unlike the more expensive Model S and X models, however, the Model 3 will not have a lifetime powertrain warranty.

While the Model 3 aims to bring a long range, luxury EV to a wider audience, it is not the first EV to market with 200-plus mile range for under $40k. That honor goes to the Chevrolet Bolt EV which debuted in 2016 and went on sale in select states earlier this year. While Chevrolet does not have the brand cache of luxury-maker Tesla, it is banking on its ute-like hatchback packaging being more in tune with today’s sedan-averse, buying public. Tesla’s service capabilities are also lacking compared to Chevy which has an extensive national dealer network.

The Bolt, which starts at $36,620 with a range of 238 miles, boasts a longer range than the Standard Model 3. It also has a few tech gizmos up its sleeve that the Model 3 is lacking such as regenerative paddles on the steering wheel and smart phone app capability.

Tesla says initial sales of the Model 3, however, will only be the 310-mile Long Range model which boasts a bigger battery than the base version which will come this fall. Both versions are rear-wheel-drive only with no word on an all-wheel-drive, dual-electric -motor system as is available in the Model S.

The Model S P100D in “Ludicrous” mode has achieved neck-snapping 2.5 zero-60 times due, not only to a bigger, 100 kWh battery, but also AWD traction.

Anticipation for the Tesla has been through the roof with over 370,000 people putting down a $1,000 deposit for the car (including the author of this article). Tesla promises that it will produce 20,000 Model 3s a month out of its Fremont, California plant by December with production hitting 10,000 a week in 2018.

The Model 3 and Bolt will gain more competition soon from models such as an all-electric BMW 3-series and all-new Nissan Leaf.

Henry Payne is The Detroit News auto critic. He can be reached Find him on Twitter @HenryEPayne

SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Tesla Model 3

Vehicle type: Electric, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger sports sedan

Price: $35,000 base ($59,200 Long Range model fully-loaded) before state and federal government incentives

Power plant: lithium-ion battery

Power: Rear motor, AC induction

Transmission: One-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.6 seconds in Standard model (manufacturer). 5.1 seconds for Long Range model. Top speed: 130 mph (Standard), 140 mph (Long Range)

Weight: 3549 lbs. (Model 3 Standard), 3814 lbs. (Model 3 Long Range). Construction: Steel/aluminum chassis

Range: 220 miles (Standard), 310 miles (Long Range). 130 miles of charge in 30 min. (on Tesla Supercharger). 30 miles of range per hour (on home charger, 240V outlet)

Colors: Solid Black, Midnight Silver Metallic, Deep Blue Metallic, Silver Metallic, Pearl White Multi-Coat, Red Multi-Coat

Carmakers look to race track to market EVs

Posted by hpayne on July 28, 2017


Indianapolis — As governments from Britain to California force the auto market to electrification, Volkswagen and other manufacturers are looking to auto racing to market electric vehicles to a reluctant U.S. public.

Formula E, which features open-wheel cars powered by batteries, held its first race in New York City this July. It will be followed by an all-electric 2018-2019 Global Rallycross series (“e-GRC” for short) — a full-season of production-based EV racing similar to the popular, rowdy Red Bull Global RallyCross.

“We are betting the farm on electric,” says Greg Lucia, Director of Experiential Marketing at VW America. “We are making things differently now. Electric suits our product. And e-GRC is a great way to showcase it.”

For VW, a move to electrification is an opportunity to reinvent itself to a new generation of buyers — and race fans — after the disastrous Dieselgate cheating scandal mired the German company in months of negative publicity.

Manufacturers like VW hope to avoid the mistakes of the last 20 years when they bet the farm on diesel as the politically preferred fuel of the future — only to see governments reverse course.

Michael Andretti, son of the legendary Mario and an IndyCar champion himself, is now CEO of Andretti Autosport, one of the world’s premier racing teams with front-running cars in IndyCar and Global Rallycross. In the midst of this high-powered, gas-fueled racing success, however, Andretti sees the writing on the wall for the internal combustion engine.

“France is banning the combustion engine by 2040, Germany is talking about 2030, and Norway has already announced 2025. It’s not just racing — you won’t be able to sell a car unless its electric, hydrogen or some other alternative to fossil fuel,” he said here in his Indy headquarters. “It’s coming whether you like it or not.”

To that end Andretti is shifting his business toward battery-juiced series like e-GRC and Formula E. “This is the future of racing,” he told Bloomberg in New York.

Other manufacturers like Honda are taking a look at e-GRC for 2018 and most European luxury players are lining up for Formula E. In a major development this week Porsche announced it is leaving LeMans endurance racing to concentrate on the electric series.

“Formula E is turning a corner,” said Andretti. “The manufacturers are getting involved. There is really a ton of interest. BMW is getting involved in a bigger way — Mercedes, Jaguar, and Audi has announced it’s taken over a team.”

Manufacturer interest may help jump-start public interest. TV viewership has been modest and just 15,000 spectators turned out for the New York City ePrix in America’s largest metropolitan area. The Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle typically delivers about 100,000 spectators.

The EV racing push is similar to automaker efforts to promote the last major government-approved technology to phase out the gasoline engine: diesel.

In the mid-1990s, European officials identified diesel as the best fuel to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and wean the world from Mideast oil. “Diesel looked like the perfect solution because it required less refinement than gasoline — and used the same filling station infrastructure,” says Kelley Blue Book Auto Analyst Karl Brauerr.

European governments taxed diesel less to encourage its sale and the policy — along with the engineering breakthrough of turbocharged, “clean diesel” powerplants — met with rapid success as diesel went from just 10 percent of European sales in the ’90s to a majority of 55 percent in 2012. Despite international pressure, the U.S. was an outlier in transitioning to diesel — refusing to give it tax favor. Touting diesel as the future of racing, turbo-diesel Audi and Peugot race cars dominated the 24 Hour of LeMans from 2006-14 as well as U.S. endurance racing.

Then political enthusiasm turned to regret. Over the last few years, governments have condemned diesel particulate emissions while investigating German automakers for cheating on toughened emissions standards. In its announcement this week that it would ban new gas, gas-hybrid and diesel engines in 2040, Britain’s environmental secretary cited a Royal College of Physicians report fingering diesel policies as contributing to 40,000 deaths a year in England alone.

EV advocate John Voelcker, editor of, says governments have it right this time in pushing electrics.

“Zero-emission battery vehicles will draw on grid power that will decarbonize over time,” says Voelcker, pointing to plans in Europe to convert utilities to wind and solar power. France’s gas engine ban depends on EVs charging off carbon-free nuclear power.

KBB’s Brauer however, questions the continued determination by governments to dictate technological change.

“It is possible that governments might not want EVs in 20 years either because of all the side effects,” he says listing the uncertainties of grid power sources, the environmental impact of mining lithium for batteries and the recycling of used batteries. He says the lack of EV charging infrastructure also lags diesel’s initial promise — though Voelcker believes customers will mostly recharge at home.

Whatever Europe’s EV plans, Michael Andretti says that, like diesel, he expects “Americans will be the last on board.”

Industry insiders say they have no knowledge of similar U.S. or California mandates to phase out the gas engine. Green Car’s Voelcker, however, says California has concluded that its mandates forcing manufacturers to sell a growing percentage of zero-emission vehicles (EV or hydrogen) by 2025 puts the state on a path to be virtually gas-free in 20 years.

VW’s Lucia is confident that U.S. consumers will adopt EVs — regulations or not.

“The future of our business is not in oil and filter changes. It’s going to be in computer upgrades. What Tesla is doing now, VW will dwarf by 2025,” he says. “As charging becomes more efficient and as more stations become available, consumers understand access will be solved by 2025. It’s accessibility that the market will drive.”

Racing is expected to play a key role as well.

Our e-Golf will be a great platform for racing,” says Lucia. “Customers will identify it as an e-GRC vehicle. They will be be able to see the e-Golf outperforming other vehicles on the track, and (then) actually purchase that product based on that technology.”

Payne: Honda Type R, Focus RS, Subie STI head-to-head

Posted by hpayne on July 28, 2017

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne takes the Honda


In 2014 I terrorized California’s Monterey Peninsula in a new Subaru WRX STI, the baddest kid on the block for under $40,000.

With muscular fenders, hood scoop and an outrageous rear wing so big you could do chin-ups on it, Subaru’s wild child had the specs to back up its pecs: 305 turbocharged ponies, all-wheel drive and enough cornering grip to pull the lips off your teeth.

Only Volkswagen’s Golf R could hold a candle to its performance, but the German’s conservative wardrobe was for a different customer. The rowdy ’Ru was Dennis Rodman coming at you with a taunt and pierced lip.

That was then, this is now. Subaru got wannabes.

Like Tom Brady followed Joe Montana. Like Justin Verlander after Nolan Ryan. Like LeBron in Michael’s footsteps. Every athlete inspires a new generation. So, too, the STI. In the last two years the 2016 Ford Focus RS and 2018 Honda Civic Type R have traced Subaru’s trail as nice compacts turned into in-your-face, tire-smoking, 300-plus horsepower wild things.

How do they compare to the King of Wing Bling? All three are terrific — the margins small between them. I saddled them up on track, city and rural roads to suss out the differences.

For 2018 my $39,455 Subaru tester has updated its fierce face with a thinner grille, meaner headlights and bigger chin openings to feed more air to the hungry turbo-4 within. If you ogled the blood red, tire-smoking 2007 STI “Baby Driver” co-star, then the more-refined ’18 model will make your heart race.

But Subie looks modest compared to the punked-out, $34,775 2018 Type R. With a rear wing stolen off an F1 racer, more mascara than Gene Simmons of Kiss, and more body vents than a pair of distressed jeans, Type R is a paparazzi magnet. It’s all show and even more go.

In Montreal, Honda took us to the track to test the Type R (in showrooms now) before we ever set tire on road. The R is the offspring of two parents, Honda’s 10th-gen Civic and Formula 1 race program. Take 2016 North America Car of the Year Civic’s wider, lower chassis and inject it with F1 DNA: front spoiler, front-wheel air curtains, stiffer shocks, beefier anti-roll bars … and that outrageous rear aerofoil. It looks like the Civic was rear-ended by the Red Baron.


The Type R is then stuffed with the heart of a lion. Coaxing 306-horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque out of a mere 2.0-liter turbo, the four-pot is the production manifestation of everything Honda has learned in 60 years of motorsport.

Around Montreal’s iCAR race track, the R immediately recalled the Si sibling I tested in Mojave earlier this year — intuitive, planted, balanced. But with 50 percent more power. The Si made headlines last decade with a 2.0-liter, normally-aspirated engine that put out 100 horsepower per liter — a feat only Ferrari and BMW engines could match. In the turbo era, the Type R’s 150-ponies-per-liter eclipses even the mighty Porsche Turbo (143 per liter).

At the legendary Nurburgring, the Type R threw down the gauntlet with a front-wheel-drive car record 7.43-minute lap. Nail the turbo to 7,000 rpms and somehow the front Pirelli Sports stay on despite 295 torques coursing through them.

This muscle-bound physique is only an issue in low speed second-gear corners as torque overwhelms the steering, and the tires fling asphalt like a mutt digging for a bone. Throttle management is required. I pine for the STI’s all-wheel traction.

Next to these two wing nuts, the squat $39,560 Focus RS looks positively working-class. No exotic triple or quad pipes here — just twins. No wing, just a big, hatch-hitched spoiler. The face is inelegant — its bumper stuffed into its enlarged grille like Rocky Balboa’s mouthpiece. But like Rocky, this thing is a champ.


Underneath its hood are 350 horses and the most sophisticated powertrain of the lot: a torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system with twin rear clutch packs that speed up the outside rear wheels for better rotation (the STI’s AWD system uses inside-wheel braking). Fifty horses shy of the Focus RS, the Subaru STI still matches the Focus on zero-60 and quarter-mile times. But despite its cosmetic upgrades, the STI did not get sister Impreza’s all-new architecture — an oversight that also puts it a generation behind the Honda. The old bones of the Focus are no match for Honda, either — but its powertrain compensates.

On track at Waterford Raceway, the Ford rotated nimbly through the long, challenging Carousel — then put down the AWD power on exit.

The hard-backed seats and stiff suspension of the RS will beat you up around town, though, the nose porpoise-ing along Detroit’s choppy roads. Type R’s comfortable thrones are better daily wear. The Subaru’s Recaros? Somewhere between the two.

On the road, the Type R may be a Rottweiler off its chain — bounding around country roads looking for something to chew on — but its Comfort setting is the most livable, dialing back the ride from rock hard to merely stiff.

The four-banger of the RS brings welcome character. It roars furiously with the pedal down, then farts and pops when you let off. It’s wonderfully obnoxious compared to the STI’s flat-4 VW Beetle-like putter, and the Type R’s generic bark.

If you don’t know how to drive a stick, you’re in the wrong aisle. These bad boys come manual only.

The Honda’s silver ball-topped shifter is the standout here, its short throws making for easy box navigation. It’s an entree to the car’s well-thought out ergonomics from seats to center console to easy-pull rear shade. Even with the third pipe exhaust resonator the car is quiet inside.

Infotainment systems? Huh? Are the cars not entertainment enough? Suffice to say all offer Apple CarPlay/Android Auto apps to get you to the local track.

I am also biased to the hot hatches — the RS and Type R’s five-door utility matching their performance. Load ’em with luggage for South Haven, blitz Gingerman Raceway for track day, then hang at the beach afterward. The STI sedan is less space efficient — but at least you can dry your wet towel over the rear wing.

The verdict? Focus RS is the performance champ, but the content-rich Type R lays down a new marker of wing-bling affordability for a cool $5K less than its rivals. The STI, meanwhile, plots in the shadows. When it gets the Impreza’s new chassis, watch out.

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

2018 Honda Civic Type R




2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder


6-speed manual


3,117 pounds




306 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 5.0 seconds (Car and Driver); 170 mph

Fuel economy

EPA est. mpg: 22 city/28 highway/25 combined

Report card




Wing-bling may not be your thing;

tough putting power down with FWD


2017 Ford Focus RS




2.3-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder


6-speed manual


3,459 lbs.


$36,995 base ($39,560 as tested)


350 horsepower, 350 pound-feet torque


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

Fuel economy

EPA 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined

Report card




Stiff seats;

stiff daily driver


2018 Subaru WRX STI




2.5-liter, turbocharged, boxer 4-cylinder


6-speed manual


3,463 pounds


$36,995 base ($39,455 as tested)


305 horsepower, 290 pound-feet torque


0-60 mph, 4.7 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 159 mph

Fuel economy

EPA est. mpg: 17 city/23 highway/19 combined

Report card




Aging chassis; hatchback, please?


The mighty Dodge Demon by the numbers

Posted by hpayne on July 28, 2017


We came. We saw. It conquered.

For 12 tantalizing weeks before the New York Auto Show last April, Dodge teased its Challenger SRT Demon. On the show’s opening night, the 840-horsepower brute was unveiled as the fastest production car ever produced, claiming an unheard of 9.65-second quarter-mile time at 140 mph.

This week the wraps came off media first-drive impressions of the Demon at Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Raceway, where it proved as breathtaking behind the wheel as its gaudy stats had suggested. Face-flattening, 1.8-G launch forces. Demonic shrieking from inner headlight air intakes. Three-foot-long wheelies.

And still we want more. The Demon lives large and has the numbers to prove it.

To help us wrap our heads around the Demon’s world, Dodge’s mad genius engineer Chris Cowland and his merry crew shared a few more numbers.

■Demon has a 200 mph speedometer, but is governed at a top speed of 168-mph lest the street-legal, radial racing tires explode from the heat generated by sub-10-second quarter-mile times.

■Just 800 feet off the line (7.35 seconds down the drag strip), the hungry, supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 will have sucked the equivalent of all of the air out of the Demon’s cabin. That’s 2,973 liters of air (at a record rate of 32,564 liters per minute). When Dodge’s unholy warrior crosses the quarter-mile it will have consumer 4,900 liters.

■To up the ante over the insane, 707-horse Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, the bonkers Demon underwent 25 major component upgrades including a larger supercharger (2.7 liters vs. 2.4 liters) and a higher redline (6,500 rpm vs. 6,200 rpm).

■In order to produce 840 horsepower, Demon was outfitted with high-flow fuel injectors (that’s 101 pounds per square-inch — or 27 percent more than the 707-horse Hellcat’s 80 PSI). At full power, Demon is drinking 1.36 gallons-per-minute of high-octane unleaded gasoline — or nearly the same amount of liquid (two gallons per minute) that comes out of your shower head.

■ So powerful was the Demon’s supercharged V-8 that only a NASCAR-rated dynamometer could hold it for testing.

■Each piston downstroke — which occurs 50 times a second — is delivered with the compressive force of 11.1 tons from the cylinder chamber.

■How do you get 11.1 tons of compressive force? Ram supercharged air and fuel into a combustion chamber and detonate it with a spark plug, of course – an explosion that creates a peak combustion temperature of 4,500 degrees. That’s almost half the temperature of the sun’s surface.

■Isn’t that enough heat to melt the aluminum cylinder head? In theory, yes, since aluminum (depending on alloy) melts at 1,200-1,300 degrees. Fortunately, that heat is quickly dissipated — to crankshaft power, the exhaust, engine structure and heat transfer into surrounding coolant. As a result, the head stays at around 480 degrees.

■Naturally, Cowland’s team painted the V-8 cylinder block “Demon Red.”

Engineer Chris Cowland’s team painted the V-8 cylinder

■Demon is the first-ever production car to lift its front wheels — the result of a 2,576-pound weight transfer at launch to the rear which carries the fronts for a Guinness World Record wheelie of 35 inches long.

■On 91-octane pump gas, the Demon produces 808 horsepower and 717 pound-feet of torque. Add the available engine controller (found in the $1 Demon crate full of drag goodies) — calibrated for 100-plus, unleaded, high-octane fuel — and you get the full 840 horse/770 torque numbers.

■The Demon wears 12.6-inch-wide Nitto drag racing tires on all four corners (for optimum quarter-mile performance, Dodge recommends replacing the fronts with skinny “rollers” — also in the crate — for lower roll-resistance). An IndyCar’s race tires measure 10 inches wide in front and 14 inches in the rear.

■Atop the Demon’s hood is the largest functional hood scoop — with an opening 45.2 square inches — in production today.

■To save 113 pounds of weight, the front and rear passenger seats were removed (they can be optioned back for $1 each).

■To save 4 pounds, Demon uses a manual tilt/telescope steering column.

■For all its steroid-pumped power, the $86,090 Demon still comes with Fiat-Chrysler’s standard five-year/60,000-mile limited powertrain coverage.

■Dodge will make 3,000 Demons for the U.S. and 300 for Canada. Deliveries begin around Halloween.

Payne: The epic Dodge Demon

Posted by hpayne on July 20, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I bury the brake with my left foot.

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

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

Remove (really) my left foot from the brake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon




6.2-liter, supercharged, hemi V-8


8-speed automatic


4,280 pounds


$86,090 base


840 horsepower, 770 pound-feet torque


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

Fuel economy


Report card




Nitto slicks not made for rain;

every cop can hear you coming 5 miles away


Jaguar E-PACE leaps into compact SUV fray

Posted by hpayne on July 13, 2017

Jaguar introduced its new compact SUV, the E-PACE,

Another day, another corner-carving SUV.

Jaguar on Thursday took the wraps off its compact E-PACE, the performance brand’s third SUV in two years. The 2018 E-PACE, which will be available next year, joins the hot-selling midsize Jaguar F-PACE and electric I-PACE in Jaguar’s portfolio. Like Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Maserati, Jaguar is a sports-car brand that is finding success translating its performance DNA to a broader luxury demographic hungry for utility vehicles.

The five-door, two-row E-PACE was to be introduced Thursday in spectacular fashion in London, completing a 270-degree corkscrew barrel-roll at the end of a 50-foot jump. The feat was meant to communicate the cat’s agility in the fast-growing compact SUV niche that includes the BMW X1, Audi Q3, Mercedes GLA and Infiniti QX30.

As ute sales have surpassed sedans, SUVs have become critical to luxury automakers’ bottom lines. Jaguar has made enormous strides on SUVs in a short period – its F-PACE is already the brand’s best-seller. It flies off dealer lots in an average of just 19 days, a faster pace than any model in the U.S. F-PACE sales outsold all Jaguars combined in June, dwarfing its traditional F-Type sports car and XF sedan.

The E-PACE will put added pressure on premium Detroit brands like Cadillac that have lagged in the SUV revolution. It is also a shot across the bow of Porsche and Fiat-Chrysler’s luxury division Alfa Romeo – direct Jaguar competitors who do not yet have compact SUVs in their lineup. Alfa’s first SUV, the midsize Stelvio, hit dealer lots this month. Jaguar expects that the E-PACE – which offers standard all-wheel drive and starts at $38,600 – will bring new buyers to Jaguar at an affordable entry-price point.

Jaguar has been transformed since its sale by Ford in 2008. Under the ownership of India’s Tata Motors, its sales have exploded. “We anticipate (the E-PACE) will see its global sales peak at around 61,500 units during 2019, at which point we see Jaguar’s overall volumes standing at 270,800 units,” said IHS auto analyst Ian Fletcher. “This is a far cry from the lows of under 50,000 units that it sold globally in 2011.”

Like other Jaguars, the E-PACE makes extensive use of aluminum for trimming weight. There’s an aluminum hood, roof and tailgate – and the aluminum block of its new family of 4-cylinder Ingenium engines.

But E-PACE is a departure from traditional Jags as well.

It will be the first Jaguar manufactured outside of England – produced alongside its corporate cousin, Range Rover, in China, Austria and a new plant in Slovakia. The Jaguar is expected to share the transverse-engine mounted architecture of the Rover Evoque – a notable change from the longitudinal-engine, rear-drive based platforms of its sports sedans and F-PACE ute.

The move seems to be a nod to making interior room a priority. Interior touches include extensive connectivity featuring 4G Wi-Fi for up to eight devices and four available USB ports.

No Jaguar comes without lots of power for its four paws, and the E-PACE will be no different. It will purr along on two turbocharged, 2-liter engines ranging from 236 horsepower for the base model, to a 296-horse unit. The latter will be available in the car’s sporty, R-Dynamic trim. Both engines will be mated to a 9-speed transmission. R-Dynamic trimmed vehicles will top out at $53,100.

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

Posted by hpayne on July 13, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, forget 0-60.

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

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

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

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

It’s breathtaking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 McLaren 570GT

Powerplant 3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 with dry-sump lubrication
Transmission 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

with paddle shifters

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

Report card

Lows Light steering;

supercar, super-slow infotainment system


Love Bug lives! Just don’t call it ‘Herbie’

Posted by hpayne on July 11, 2017

Some Global Rallycross fans try on a production VW

Indianapolis – Blockbuster sequels are in this year: “Spider-Man,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “The Fate of the Furious.” And now, coming to a race track near you, the 560-horsepower Love Bug.

But this 2017 Volkswagen is no fictional movie character.

This is a real-life, tire-smoking, all-wheel drive monster designed to win on Sunday and sell on Monday. Andretti Autosport’s VW Beetles dominated last weekend’s Red Bull Global Rallycross at Lucas Oil Raceway, adding to their lead in the U.S. championship. Piloted by American stars Tanner Foust and Scott Speed, and prepared by two-time IndyCar champion Michael Andretti’s race shop, the Bug team is the highest-profile VW competitor since Disney’s Herbie graced the silver screen in six films from 1968 to 2005.

“To take our most iconic car and modernize it has been fantastic,” VW marketing specialist Sean Maynard said at Team Andretti’s Indy headquarters. “Our core millennial audience is transitioning from traditional media to crowd contenting. We get comments on Facebook from fans who would never have considered a Beetle but now say — hey, that’s a bad-ass looking thing.”

In the 21st century, racing is a critical marketing tool for auto brands from Cadillac IMSA prototypes to LeMans-wining Ford GTs to Mazda Miata Cup cars. Add Global Rallycross, which demands more of a car than perhaps any other series.

Based on a production platform, a Global Rallycross chariot must conquer dirt, asphalt and a suspension-crushing jump over the course of a lap — while pushing a four-cylinder engine to unheard-of limits. The Bug’s success couldn’t come at a better time for VW, which has been struggling under a cloud of Dieselgate and disappointing U.S. sales. The Global Rallycross program is not only successful, but helps the brand build relationships with first-time buyers — a relationship it hopes will progress to volume, family Tiguan and Atlas SUV sales.

“We brought Scott and Tanner into the (new) dealership here and over 100 people came out to interact with them,” said Maynard. “Word-of-mouth is the number-one generator of sales. Fans see this amazing Beetle going around the track, then they go to the dealer … and see an Atlas someone in the family might need.”

 While VW has been behind the curve on America’s SUV revolution, it has always had a strong connection with gearheads. Its Golf GTI was the first compact “hot hatch” in the U.S., setting a trend followed by competitors like Ford and Honda. But the iconic Beetle has always set the brand apart. The original, rear-engine “Type 1” is still raced off-road in Baja. And “The Love Bug” inspired generations of buyers from the first 1968 film starring Dean Jones to the 2005 hit featuring Lindsay Lohan.

When Volkswagen decided to enter a car in Global Rallycross in 2014, the Beetle got the nod.

The Bug’s legacy is heavily rooted in ’60s nostalgia. When Disney’s quirky Herbie took down-on-his-luck-racing driver Jim Douglas (played by Jones) to victory over villain Peter Thorndyke and his stable of race cars (including a Ferrari), it made for a feel-good underdog hit. Herbie grossed $51 million as the third-most popular movie of 1968 (that’s $352 million in today’s dollars, or what “Wonder Woman” has earned).

 The Global Rallycross Beetle even has echoes of the original. Imagine team manager John “TZ” Tzouanakis, a veteran strategist on eight IndyCar titles, as Herbie mechanic Buddy Hackett. Or dashing race-car personality and ex-“Top Gear USA” host Foust as movie star Jones. Along with ex-Formula One racer Speed, the team is loaded with marquee names.

But this is no underdog effort. Winner of five Indy 500s and four IndyCar championships, the Andretti Autosport helped take Global Rallycross to another level when they partnered with VW four years ago. Competing alongside factory-supported teams from Ford, Subaru, and Honda, Andretti’s Bug has won the last two championships and is on course for three in a row with three races remaining.

“This is the gnarliest beast I’ve ever driven,” says Foust, who is leading this year’s driver’s points race. “Since I got into Rallycross in 2009, the cars have gone from a backyard mechanic status to full-manufacture, wind-tunnel-tested, ultra-professional grade.”

The Grand Rallycross Beetle has come a long way from Herbie. Built in Mexico on the same, front-engine platform as the Golf, the Bugs were shipped to Germany where they underwent surgery that would make Dr. Frankenstein proud. The race car must share the same turbo-4 cylinder technology, chassis, doors and roof as the production Bug. And little else.

The winged rear deck and front fenders are made of carbon fiber with NASCAR-like stickers for headlights. The 8,000-rpm engine is blown out of its mind, and a six-speed sequential gearbox is mated to an all-wheel drive powertrain. The 3,000-pound varmint is then shipped to Andretti’s shop where it’s fortified with race suspension, roll cage and wrapped in sponsor livery.

Off the starting line, the V-dub hits 60 mph in two seconds flat.

In this guise the Bug is probably better described as a red fire ant or African killer bee. Just don’t call it Herbie.

“We can’t talk about Herbie,” says VW’s Maynard. “Disney owns the rights to the name. So if we did that, we’d have to pay them a significant amount of (licensing) money.”

Foust says the team is determined to build its own legend beyond Herbie. “We took the first GRC race car and did a video (making) skid marks that spelled out: ‘Don’t call me Herbie,’ ” he says and laughs.

At Lucas Oil Raceway, Scott Speed’s red, Circle K-sponsored V-dub and Foust’s black, Rockstar Energy Drink-sponsored twin flew away from the Ford Focus RS, Subaru WRX STI, and Honda Civic Si competition. Between race heats, fans climbed into a production Golf, Beetle and Atlas on display outside the stands.

In a champagne-drenched victory circle afterward, the winning duo accepted trophies while a sea of young race fans waved “Volkswagen” signs in the crowd. “It’s unbelievable how many kids are there,” says Foust. “We are raising a new generation of car fans.”

France, Volvo, and Trump’s timely withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords Read more at:

Posted by hpayne on July 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payne: Toyota C-HR a stormtrooper helmet on wheels

Posted by hpayne on July 7, 2017


Concerned that everything is starting to look the same? Same suburban tract housing? Same workplace cubicles? Same ol’ five-door SUVs?

Good news, friends. The Toyota C-HR offers a little escapism.

It would appear that Toyota has moved its design studio to Hollywood, because this once-dowdy appliance-maker is turning out vehicles that belong in science-fiction films. First came Lexus with a spindle grille so fearsome it might have have been approved by Lord Darth Vader himself. Then Toyota stunned last fall’s LA Auto Show with its new C-HR compact crossover which appeared to have been shipped over from a Lucasfilm stage.

A white and black C-HR arrived in my driveway this summer looking like someone had grafted a “Star Wars” stormtrooper helmet on a “Tron” Light Cycle.

With its slit front headlights, huge wheels and “distinctive diamond” design philosophy, it shames big brother RAV-4’s conservative wardrobe. It deserves a place alongside the BMW i3 and Kia Soul for most funk-a-riffic vehicle. As the auto world splits between SUVs and sedans, these hatchbacks seek a third way: segment busters with a bold mix of ingredients. The i3 breaks out as an electric hatch. The Kia Soul is a peppy toaster. And the rad C-HR (for “Coupe-High Rider”) brings flashy, chase-scene handlin

Climb aboard and the sci-fi scene continues. The exterior’s “RoboCop” mask theme continues across the dash which holds a pop-up navigation screen for easy forward visibility. The instrument display features twin, oval clusters with a leather-wrapped shifter at my hand — a much-improved effort over past, notchy Toyota efforts. Then there’s a back-up camera with the display located — not in the console — but in the rear-view mirror. Viva la difference.

Turn on the C-HR and it’s clear this Happy Meal toy wants to play.

The C-HR was trained on Nurburgring’s epic, 14-mile racetrack and it shares its platform with the new Camry — another appliance that has made the transition to the sporting goods department.

It’s still begging.

When the “Tron”-mobile left the studio for the track, apparently the only thing lying around the locker room was a pair of hiking boots. Driven by Toyota’s uninspiring 144-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-banger mated to a continuously-variable tranny, the C-HR is Luke Skywalker wielding a rolling pin. Captain America with a trash can lid. Optimus Prime with a pop-gun.

Car and Driver’s gearheads clocked the C-HR from zero-60 in Prius-like 10.2 secondsand that seems like modest reading.

The C-HR is full of such contradictions. My base, gym-toned XSE is a mixed bag of features compared to its competitive set where tradeoffs are necessary to come in on budget.

As a crossover it lacks the all-wheel drive of the similarly priced Mazda CX-3. But compared to the front-wheel drive funky hatch competitor Kia Soul Turbo, it’s down 57 horses – 144 versus 201. The CX-3, Soul Turbo, and Golf Wolfsburg all come standard with push-button start, but the futuristic Toyota still requires a 20th-century key and (strangely for a car aimed at Millennials) lacks smartphone app connectivity. But the C-HR steps up with first-in-class collision brake-assist, adaptive cruise-control, fold-flat rear seats – and gee-whiz options like two-tone paint schemes and automatic high beams.

Sci-fi styling requires compromise, too. Suspended above those Tron Light Cycle rocker panels is a floating roof and slit windows that taper to shoulder-height door handles. Cool. But that creates a blind spot the size of Manhattan (time to upgrade to the $25,000 Premium model). Put a passenger in the back seat and they’ll have less sunlight than a Turkish prison.

“It’s dark back here!” my friend Laurie exclaimed as she peered around the C-pillar.

So the C-HR is still a work in progress.

Credit the Toyota with simplicity of price, a leftover from its Scion, one-size-fits-all roots. My base XSE comes in at $23,460. The Premium package is $2,000 north. Simple. No haggle.

And no same ol’, same ol’. In a summer of sequels, the C-HR is a sci-fi original.

Chevy, Honda lead NACTOY picks with 3 vehicles each

Posted by hpayne on July 6, 2017

Nominees for 2018 North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year were announced Thursday morning, with Chevrolet and Honda leading the talented pack with three vehicles each.

Chevy’s mid-size Equinox and full-size Traverse will both vie for the SUV crown, while the brand’s Colorado ZR2 off-road pickup will be a favorite for Truck of the Year. Honda has defied the decline in sedan sales — its 2016 Car of the Year compact Civic continues to rack up record sales — and will field both the mid-size Accord and hydrogen-powered Clarity for car honors.

Among luxury makes, Alfa Romeo, BMW and Audi have two nominees each. Alfa’s nimble Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV are the automaker’s first mass-market entries for the award as the brand seeks to post a win in a premium segment long defined by German excellence. Another startup of note is Silicon Valley-based Tesla, which will put up its Model 3, a sub-$40,000, 200-mile-plus range electric that’s aimed at the heart of the premium market. The Model 3 hopes to follow in the footsteps of Chevy’s 238-mile-range Bolt EV which won 2017 Car of the Year

The GT is the production version of the race car that won the 24 Hours of LeMans’ GTE Pro class last year on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s historic defeat of Ferrari. The iconic sports car was not deemed eligible for the award given its low sales volume, its $450,000 sticker price and lack of availability to the general public. Ford has selected all 750 buyers of the GT through an application process.

Dodge’s 840-horsepower Demon stole the New York Auto Show this year with its eye-popping 9.65-second quarter-mile time, a production car record. Like Ford’s GT, Dodge is building it as the brand’s halo vehicle. However, with the same drivetrain and structure as Dodge’s 707-horse Challenger SRT Hellcat — introduced for the 2015 model year — the Demon is not sufficiently altered to meet NACTOY’s criteria as a separate model.

In the truck category two titanic SUVs – the three-row Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator — are entered with Chevy’s midsize ZR2 pickup. Both utes qualify for the truck category as they sit on pickup-shared, body-on-frame architectures with resulting towing capacity that counts as a significant reason for purchase.

The award is one of the industry’s most prestigious with the jury consisting of independent journalists from a range of media outlets. With sport utilities now accounting for a significant majority of vehicle sales — 47 percent of all vehicles sold in June versus just 37 percent cars — the award for the first time honored utes as a separate category last year. And while auto sales this year are off their record 2016 pace, the thirst for SUVs has not abated, with 20 of the NACTOY entries coming in the utility category versus 12 cars and three trucks.

Come September, the nominees will be winnowed to a list of semifinalists by some 60 automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada, including the author of this article. The semifinalists will be further evaluated in October over a week of extended testing, thrashing and jawboning in the Metro Detroit area.

Three finalists from each category will then be selected and the winners announced at the opening of the 2018 Detroit auto show in January. The award honors excellence in innovation, design, safety, performance, technology, driver satisfaction and value.

NACTOY nominees

Car of the year

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Audi A5 Sportback

BMW 5-series

Honda Clarity

Honda Accord

Hyundai Ioniq

Kia Stinger

Lexus LC500

Porsche Panamera

Subaru Impreza

Tesla Model 3

Toyota Camry

Utility of the year

Audi Q5/S5

Alfa Romeo Stelvio


Buick Enclave

Chevrolet Equinox

Chevrolet Traverse

GMC Terrain

Honda Odyssey

Jeep Compass

Kia Niro

Land Rover Discovery

Range Rover Velar

Mazda CX-5

Mini Countryman

Nissan Rogue Sport

Subaru Crosstrek

Toyota CH-R

Volkswagen Atlas

Volkswagen Tiguan

Volvo XC60


Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

Ford Expedition

Lincoln Navigator

Payne: Alfa Romeo Stelvio, sports sedan in disguise

Posted by hpayne on July 6, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

How times have changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

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

144 mph



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

Report card



Lows Generic interior design; haunted by Italian reliability



Payne: Honda Civic’s hot rod trifecta

Posted by hpayne on June 29, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just try and choose one.

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

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

Powerplant 1.5-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder
Transmission 6-speed manual; continuously variable

transmission (CVT)

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

Report card

Lows Limited options with manual;

lots of non-functional styling


Payne: At speed in (wee) Mazda Miata Cup racer

Posted by hpayne on June 27, 2017


Fielding an IndyCar for the season costs about $6 million. If that sounds too rich, Mazda has a deal for you.

For $58,900 you can go racing in a race-prepared Mazda MX-5 Miata Cup car.

The Cup car is based on Mazda’s adorable little $25,790 MX-5 Miata production sports car, now in its fourth generation. Since its inception in 1989, the Miata has anchored Mazda’s sporty brand, sold more than a million cars and introduced thousands of motorheads young and old to motorsports.

With the more expensive Cup toy, Mazda is most interested in that latter stat as it sucks new recruits into the racing wars. Master the entry-level MX-5 Cup series and Mazda will give you a seat in a Formula F2000 car. Continued success will take you further up the racing ladder to Indy Lights Mazda racer where graduates go on to pro racing jobs like driving Mazdas’a RT24-P Daytona Prototype that carved up Belle Isle this June.

Or you can keep your day job and be a weekend Miata jockey in some of the most entertaining racing on the planet.

Your entree is a stripped MX-5 modified for racing by Long Road Racing. The North Carolina race shop takes a fresh Miata, filets it, strips it of all interior comforts and sound-deadening materials — then bolts in a roll cage and racing seats. Add racing slicks and shocks, bake in 15 more horsepower from engine tuning and — voila! — Cup racer.

The production Miata is already the tightest squeeze of any production car on the market. The Cup model was doubly tight for your 6-foot-5 scribe. Screw me in and before I even turn the key I’m stuffing the easy-stow ragtop in the boot. Otherwise, my head is in the roof.

The Cup car may have jettisoned the soft top, but in its place is a full roll cage that could keep great white sharks at bay. I enter through a small side cage opening that is then immediately sewn up with a window net.

Knees in my teeth, helmet wedged under the cage, elbows in net, I then put on the steering wheel — removable so that I could get my size 15 flippers down the wheel well in the first place. And I thought my wee Porsche 906 was a tight fit.

Mazda could market the MX-5 Cup as a cure for claustrophobia. There’s no better place to be.

At M1 Concourse in Pontiac, the Cup is immediately familiar as a Miata on steroids. Fling the rear-wheel driver through corners, then mash the throttle on exit. Too much throttle? No problem. The short wheelbase car is predictable, easy to correct at full slide. The sport exhaust howls, but the 15 extra ponies are barely noticeable in the small-displacement, 2.0-liter mill.

More noticeable are the BF Goodrich slicks which gives the minnow a much bigger handling envelope that the street car. Rotate the Miata into fast Turn 7 at the end of the back straight and the slicks bite, creating more confidence with each lap as I danced on the limit.

It’s what makes the Miata such a perfect entry-level race car and the most raced sports car on the planet. That confidence also allows Mazda Cup cars to race just inches from one another in Cup racing, where drivers are separated by tenths of a second and drafting is essential.

Cup grad Tristan Nunez, who piloted the Mazda prototype to third place at Belle Isle the following weekend, gave me a taste of this kind of racing (stuffed in the passenger seat, I had even less room than the driver’s side) with three of his peers around M1. Playfully, they tucked behind one another, drafting down the straight, popping out for a pass under braking. Fun, fun, fun.

In real Cup racing, however, the gaps would be narrower, passes made under more duress. The lead pack is often an eight-car train. That means a lot of fender rubbing. So add a couple thousand dollars a weekend for repairs and new rubber to that $60,000 investment. Serious drivers will want to turn their car over to a racing shop — Long Road will do — to make sure you ring every tenth out of your car on race day.

If that sounds like too much coin, then Mazda still has a deal for you: Just go to and buy parts — roll cage, limited-slip, brakes — to transform your own production MX-5. So you can commute to work then terrorize M1 (or Gingerman or Grattan or an autocross parking lot) on weekends.

Racing is a drug. And the Miata is your gateway.

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

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Cup race car

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

Price: $58,900

Power plant: 2-liter, dual overhead-cam 4-cylinder

Power: 170 horsepower

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA

Weight: 2,230 pounds (about 100 lbs. lighter than production MX-5)

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Sticky BF Goodrich slicks; 15 more horses

Lows: Tight fit for six-footers; seriously addictive



Alfa aims Stelvio SUV at luxury market’s sweet spot

Posted by hpayne on June 23, 2017


Nashville — In the ferociously competitive luxury auto market, new entry Alfa Romeo has made all the right moves. Its stunning carbon-fiber 4C sports car whet America’s appetite for Alfa performance when introduced in 2015. Last year, the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio set the table as the fastest sports sedan to ever lap the famous Nurburgring race track. And this month comes the main course, the competitively priced $42,990 Stelvio for the red-hot, midsize crossover segment.

The Italian automaker is open for business with a menu tailored for Americans.

“The Stelvio is absolutely the right vehicle at the right time,” Alfa boss Reid Bigland said here this week at the ute’s media test program. “Midsize SUV is the largest premium segment in the U.S., representing 25 percent of sales. The premium midsize car is second at 22 percent. So with Stelvio and Giulia, almost overnight the Alfa Romeo brand is competing in 47 percent of the premium market.”

Anticipation has been red hot. In the first quarter of 2017, Alfa’s YouTube channel recorded 35 million views and its website 3.5 million visitors. Alfa’s trifecta of Super Bowl ads also turbocharged interest.

“They are hitting the sweet spot. Luxury buyers are looking at Stelvio and Giulia because they want something different than the same ol’ BMW, Mercedes or Audi that their neighbors have,” says Rebecca Lindland, senior auto analyst with Kelley Blue Book. Alfa has been at the top of KBB’s website for visitors considering a new vehicle.

 Though this year’s sales are expected to be slightly off 2016’s record pace, the industry is in the midst of what many insiders describe as the second Golden Age of autos after the 1960s. Buyer demographics are also shifting as the baby boom generation has given way to younger buyers. Boomers are now third (at 26 percent) behind millennials and Gen X — both at 29 percent, according to KBB.

That means fresh eyes for a refreshed Alfa. And it’s not just in the U.S. With China the biggest emerging market for auto sales, luxury manufacturers see historic opportunities.

These market dynamics have helped inspire three all-new luxury automakers in the last five years: Tesla, Genesis and Alfa. The rookies have very different business models.

Tesla is an electric-car maker out of Silicon Valley. Hyundai is following in the footsteps of Toyota (Lexus), Honda (Acura) and Nissan (Infiniti) in creating its Genesis luxury brand. Alfa, on the other hand, is a heritage badge trying to resurrect itself with a 21st-century performance lineup.

“What maybe makes it easier for Alfa is that is has a great heritage,” says Bigland, referencing the Italian’s five Formula One championships over the last century. ‘For those who take the time to understand Alfa history going back to 1910, there is a number of great Alfas with three things in common: state-of-the art-technology, incredible performance and gorgeous Italian design.”

Bearing Alfa’s trademark “Trilobo’ grille, the Giulia and Stelvio show off their sport DNA by featuring the most horsepower in their classes, quickest zero-60 sprint and fastest Nurburgring time (the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is expected to shatter the track’s SUV record this fall).

Separated at birth, the two vehicles are built on the same, rear-wheel drive Giorgio architecture (Stelvio adds all-wheel-drive). They bristle with performance technology including carbon-fiber prop shafts, aluminum suspension components and 50-50 weight balance.

“The thing they have in common is phenomenal driving dynamics,” says Bigland. “The entire world is wired to SUVs, but in building and designing it for a brand like Alfa it needs to be an Alfa first and SUV second.”

 Unlike Hyundai’s Genesis, Alfa does not have a large database of mainstream buyers to draw on for sales. Its sister brand, Fiat, has seen lackluster U.S. sales since its introduction in 2011 while other Fiat Chrysler brands like Jeep and Chrysler have no history with Alfa.

“Every customer is a conquest,” said Bigland. “With FCA we have significant mass-market operations. Alfa is separate. Separate engineering group in (Italy). Separate distribution. Our belief is if you want credibility you cannot co-mingle with mass-market operations.”

Many of the 215 dealerships Alfa will have in place by year’s end will be shared with Fiat, but the brand is focused on pairing more dealerships with its luxury kin, Maserati. Maserati has a similar — if more highly priced — product mix to Alfa while demonstrating the potential of SUV sales to a heritage badge. In less than a year on the market, Maserati’s full-size Levante SUV is already 50 percent of that brand’s sales.

Even before the Stelvio hits lots this month, brand sales have been encouraging despite low volumes. The Giulia has the highest transaction price in its mid-size segment — $47,000 — while its 50 percent residual value tops both Mercedes (41 percent) and BMW (38 percent). Its 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio variant has made up a whopping 12 percent of sales.

KBB’s Lindland says Alfa’s “sweet spot” portfolio is paying early dividends among brand loyalists and buyers seduced by its sexy lines and low $42,990 entry price in a sea of pricey German competitors.

“The challenge is going to be keeping momentum,” she says, “because every sale is going to be a conquest.”

The brand will also have to overcome the stereotype of poor Italian quality — and then there’s that other heritage sport brand, Jaguar. The big cat is undergoing its own product renaissance and has beaten Alfa to market with a similarly priced midsize sedan and SUV — though its sporty 2.0-liter F-Pace crossover comes in a full second shy of the lighter Stelvio’s torrid 5.4-second time.

Alfa plans five more dishes for its menu — two of them utility vehicles — by 2020. All will be made with the Girogio platform’s secret sauce.

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Payne: Acura MDX has the NSX-factor

Posted by hpayne on June 15, 2017


The Woodward stoplight turns green. I floor the brake pedal with my left foot. Then I floor the accelerator pedal with the right and the tachometer needle flicks quickly to 1,500 rpms. I drop the brake and the three-row Acura MDX Sport Hybrid rockets forward. My right hand flicks off quick, dual-clutch shifts on the steering-wheel paddle like an NSX supercar.

A sport ute with launch control? No (the above procedure is a standard, electronic “rev-cutoff” feature on most modern cars). But I understand if you start exploding out of stoplights. The battery-assisted MDX is a three-row dragster.

When Honda’s luxury brand birthed its second-generation NSX supercar at the Detroit auto show two years ago, some NSX purists moaned. Gone was the raw first-generation Ayton Senna-inspired budget supercar; it had been replaced by a complicated, 3,800-pound $160,000 hybrid robot. The peanut gallery complained the NSX was too exotic to inform a brand whose costliest RLX sedan tops out at $66,000.

Peanuts weren’t the only ones who freaked out. Acura North America boss Jon Ikeda concedes the product team was concerned when CEO Takahiro Hachigo demanded the next NSX get with the 21st century by adopting hybrid technology usually found on million-dollar Ferrari LeFerraris and Porsche 919s.

But as the concept sunk in, the engineers saw a method to Hachigo-san’s madness.

Honda was determined to make exotic hybrid technology applicable to its affordable luxury brand. The ferocious 573-horsepower, all-wheel drive mid-engine NSX supercar showed off hybrid performance for one-10th the price of a Porsche 918. Next step was to bottle the formula and feed it to every newborn sedan and SUV in the lineup.

The MDX Sport Hybrid is the first application. And, by gum, it works.

The idea of translating sports-car halos to SUVs is nothing new, of course. Porsche’s racing spirit breathes in every Cayenne and Macan it makes. And inside every Mazda CX-9 SUV is a playful MX-5 Miata busting to get out.

But the big, three-row MDX is probably the most ambitious application of halo-to-family vehicle that I’ve experienced. After all, a two-row Cayenne — for all its capabilities — isn’t stuffed with the 911’s flat-six turbo. And neither is a CX-9 a drop-top roadster. The MDX Sport, however, rips the whole torque-vectoring electric-motor concept out of the rear-wheel-drive NSX platform and adapts it to the MDX’s front-wheel-drive platform. Now that’s gutsy.

Intoxicated with NSX DNA, the MDX rhino thinks it’s a ballerina.

I threw the big ute around Metro Detroit country roads with abandon. The non-hybrid NSX is already a decent athlete with rooted steering and mechanical torque-vectoring AWD adapted from the TLX sedan. The Sport Hybrid takes this to another level by throwing in adaptive dampers and twin electric motors in the rear to spin up the outside wheel for better rotation of the rhino’s 4,484-pound mass.

With the motors doing the work in the rear there is no need for a driveshaft connecting engine to aft axle, so Acura has cleverly stored all the hybrid hardware in the basement. That makes for a center of gravity that’s an inch lower for the Sport Hybrid.

I toggle the Drive mode to Sport Plus (yes, a three-row SUV with Sport Plus mode) — just like in the NSX — so that the 3-liter engine and 1.6 kWh are at maximum effort. Sport Plus also opens a guttural roar from the exhaust pipes so that the kids in the third row (if I still had tykes small enough to fit in the third row) get the full entertainment experience as I bear down on a poor, unsuspecting Mercedes driver in front of me. Rhino Sport Hybrid comin’ through!

This, in my opinion, is how hybrids should be: fuel sippers running on battery one minute, deranged electron-torqued animals the next. Why must e-cars be limited to tree-huggers? Didn’t the NSX show us that hybrid drivers can have it all?

Did I mention that the MDX Sport Hybrid gains not only 31 more horsepower than the non-hybrid MDX but 45 percent better fuel economy? It’s like low-cal chocolate mousse. Or diet Haagen-Dazs.

All this goodness comes for just $1,500 more than the MDX non-hybrid. Acura predicts the Sport Hybrid will only make up 5 percent of sales but for that kind of bargain, why not 95 percent?

Acura’s bet on battery technology puts it in rare air with other stylish three-rows like the (imminent) Audi SQ7 and Volvo XC90 that also offer advanced drivetrains but for much more coin. The Audi, expected to start at over $70,000, sports a supercharged twin-turbo diesel V-8 pushing out 435 horsepower while the Volvo’s supercharged turbo 4-banger can reach an eye-watering $105,000.

But while my loaded, $57,475 MDX will go toe-to-toe with these athletes in the ring, style has never been Acura’s forte. So Acura cooked up another halo car, the Precision Concept — unveiled at the 2016 Detroit Show — to craft a wardrobe fitting for the brand’s new swagger.

The most notable feature of the concept was its so-called “diamond pentagon” grille and the MDX Sport Hybrid is the first Acura to wear it. It’s a welcome change from the family’s previous mug which was variously panned as a parrot’s beak, bucktooth, or bottle-opener. But the real problem with the chrome beak was it looked too much like the chrome nose on sister Honda; it compromised the Acura’s claim to be the family’s luxury looker.

Covered with diamonds and jewels (Acura’s signature 10-LED “jewel-eye” headlamps), the front end is a virtual prom queen. The pentagon grille’s detail resembles Mercedes’ “diamond-block” grille and draws you into the car.

The same can’t be said for the Acura’s infotainment system, alas. The confusing, twin-screen system carries over in the MDX with a touchscreen below and a button-controlled navigation screen above (or is it the reverse?). Otherwise the interior design is pleasant if unremarkable.

What is remarkable — as with the Honda Pilot SUV with which the MDX shares a platform — is the family-friendly storage and seats. The configurable central console can swallow a large purse while the one-touch button second row seats make for easy, third-row access for the kids.

Maybe most remarkable about this state-of-the-art hybrid is that Acura doesn’t trumpet its hybrid-ness. But for a blue badge on the front quarter panel and the wee battery gauge on the instrument panel, the MDX modestly absorbs its high-tech geegaws.

Its performance is anything but modest. There’s an NSX inside waiting to get out … as that sports sedan gasping in my dust at that Woodward stoplight can attest.

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

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Powerplant 3.0-liter V-6 with electric-motor assist
Transmission Seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic
Weight 4,484 pounds
Price $52,935 ($57,475 as tested)
Power 321 horsepower, 289 pound-feet torque
Performance 0-60 mph, 5.7 seconds (Car and Driver); no towing


Fuel economy EPA est. mpg: 26 city/27 highway

/27 combined

Report card



Lows Generation-old dual-info screens; towing not recommended



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Cars of tomorrow: Fiat Chrysler honors student designs

Posted by hpayne on June 15, 2017

For a peek at what Chryslers and Dodges might look like 30 years from now, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles designers went to the high school students who might one day be drawing them.

Paige Webb, a student from Rochester Hills’ Stoney Creek High School, is among the three winners of FCA’s 2017 Drive for Design Contest announced Thursday. Webb finished third behind Richard Chen of Delmar, Delaware, and first-place winner Davis Kunselman from Macon, Georgia.

All three entries share long, aerodynamic shapes with small greenhouses and huge wheels typical of design concept sketches. The designs feature huge air intakes for cooling which hint at a future in which gas engines will still be prominent. The first two prize-winners are sleek, mid-engine designs, while Webb’s gorgeous third-place entry explores a Dodge coupe concept with a long front hood suggesting FCA’s performance brand may be making Son-of-Hellcat three decades from now.

 “I drew the car for speed,” she said of her design, which notably drops Dodge’s signature, horizontal cowl grille for vertical side intakes. “I wanted to imagine what a coupe would look like 30 years in the future, but keep my realist’s cap on. No flying cars or anything like that.”

Webb, 18, graduated from Stoney Creek this summer and is eying a future in automotive design. “I’ve always loved cars,” she says.

 Mark Trostle, FCA’s North American design chief, said in a press release that the Drive for Design contest “helps connect our design team to the extraordinary artistic talent of students across the country and allows us to help guide them for a potential career in automotive design.”
 The FCA design team partnered with EyesOn Design (which benefits the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology) and Lawrence Technological University for this year’s contest, now in its fifth year. The winners will be honored at the EyesOn Design “Vision Honored” auction.

Prizes for the winners include:

■Two-week summer automotive design course at Lawrence Technological University

■Passes to EyesOn Design Vision Honored Black Tie and Silent Auction

■Automotive Design Exhibition in Grosse Pointe Shores

■An Apple MacBook Pro

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