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Truck Wars: Chevy Silverado tops diesel fuel economy

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 26, 2019

The Chevrolet Silverado's all-new 3.0L Duramax inline-six turbo-diesel engine offers segment-leading torque and horsepower, in addition to a focus on fuel economy and capability.

The Truck Wars have opened a new diesel front.

When the 3.0-liter Duramax turbo-diesel Silverado goes on sale in September, the Detroit Three will all offer diesel options for their 2019 light-duty pickups. On Thursday, Chevy planted its flag at the top of fuel efficiency hill by posting a best-in-class 23 miles per gallon city/33 highway/27 combined fuel-efficiency rating.

The 33 mpg highway figure for a rear-wheel-drive pickup tops the Ford F-150 Power Stroke diesel V-6’s previous-best 30 mpg highway, a big margin for fuel-conscious truckers on long-distance tows. The Ram 1500 diesel is rated at 20 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined.

The Silverado bests some compact diesel-crossovers in the U.S. market like the 2019 Mazda CX-5’s 31 mpg, and even outperforms the 2.0-liter gas engine in the Chevy Malibu sedan by 1 mpg.

“This is a significant achievement,” said Andre Smirnov of The Fast Lane Truck, an online truck publication. “It’s a big win for Chevy, and the fuel economy figures are also impressive for the four-wheel drive truck.”

In four-wheel drive configuration, the Silverado racks up best-in-class numbers of 23 city/29 highway/26 combined.

“Credit really smart engineering,” said Silverado chief engineer Tim Herrick. “The diesel is a totally integrated package of aerodynamics, braking, a 10-speed transmission and engine technology that is inherently more balanced than other options.”

The veteran GM engineer said the diesel battle is a watershed as the Detroit Three see an opportunity to put diesel’s dirty reputation in the rear-view mirror with modern, clean and budget-friendly technology.

“Diesel technology has really progressed to be more quiet and responsive. We are looking to change expectations,” Herrick added. “For our small-business and fleet customers, fuel economy is the No. 2 expense after people, and when they do the math, diesel makes a lot of sense.”

The diesel landmark is needed good news for Chevrolet, which has fallen behind the Ram 1500 in pickup sales through the first half of this year: 256,777 Silverados compared to the Ram’s 299,480. The Ford F-150, meanwhile, continues its 40-year segment dominance with 448,398 units sold through June.

While industry observers expect the new Silverado to turn the sales tables on Ram as it ramps up production this year, the Chevy has opened to mixed reviews. While Ford continues to wow with high-tech features — and the smooth-riding Ram with its posh interior walked away with North American Truck of the Year honors — Silverado was panned by some media critics for a polarizing grille and uninspired cabin.

The diesel figures may help put the spotlight on Chevy’s engineering with the class’s biggest rolled-steel pickup bed and chassis light-weighting that saved 400 pounds over the previous generation.

Don’t count the competition out, however.

Despite trailing in gas mileage and horsepower/torque (the Silverado diesel bests the Ford 277 horses/450 pound-feet of torque to 250/440), the F-150 Power Stroke has the class’s best towing capacity with 11,400 pounds compared to the Silverado’s 9,300.

As for Ram, it has the oldest diesel in the segment, having led the trend towards fuel-efficient oil-burners back in 2014. The 1500 pickup is expected to show off its new, 3.0-liter EcoDiesel later this summer, which could better the current engine.

The Duramax diesel is made at GM’s Flint Assembly plant and is the fourth powertrain in the Silverado lineup after a base 2.7-liter turbo-4, 5.3-liter V-8 and a 6.2-liter V-8 with the same displacement as the new mid-engine Corvette.

Mated to a 10-speed transmission, the Chevy diesel can be optioned over the turbo-4 for a $3,890 premium. It is available in higher LTZ and High Country trims over the 5.3-liter V-8 for an additional $2,495.

Payne: Jaguar F-Pace SVR out-growls the Jaguar EV

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 26, 2019

The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace EV bears familiar brand touches like angled headlights and open grille.

The 2019 Jaguar I-Pace EV bears familiar brand touches like angled headlights and open grille.  (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Conventional wisdom these days is that the next generation wants electric cars. Someone forgot to tell my neighbors.

When I arrived at their house with the 2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR, the supercharged V-8 shook the foundation like a California earthquake. Kids poured out the front door, practically dragging their father behind them.

The Jag super-ute is the latest twisted performance SUV to hit the market along with other five-door track monsters like the Porsche Macan Turbo S and Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The SVR is the most powerful missile this side of the insane, 707-horse Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. The Jaguar’s 550 horsepower feed all four wheels for quick dashes to the, um, grocery store.

You know, a family car.

The kids piled three abreast into the F-Pace’s spacious back seat. Their dad turned the key and the Jaguar exploded to life like a hungry zoo animal that had just been thrown a sirloin steak. GROOOOWWWRRRR!

Cheers from the rugrat gallery!

Dad rolled down the street, the big cat gurgling with menace.

When we hit Telegraph Road, father floored it and all hell broke loose. The SVR leapt forward on all four paws, the 5.0-liter V-8 howled in our ears while the eight-speed transmission snapped off millisecond-quick shifts. As the speedo rushed toward triple digits, my neighbor backed off the throttle and the quad tailpipes let out a Snap! Crackle! Pop! like firecrackers on the Fourth of July.

Bedlam in the backseat!

At the helm, their father let out a demented, Tim Allen-like cackle, too.

Nothing growls like a Jaguar.

Which begs the question, why would anyone want an electric Jag? Don’t get me wrong, the I-Pace is a marvelous piece of work. A low-slung crossover, it’s nicely proportioned with big wheels, and a distinctive hatchback profile. Inside, it shares the same switchgear with its Jaguar brethren: digital instrument display, touchscreen, big dials.

Punch the accelerator pedal, and the electric cat pounces with instant torque. Silent. Stealthy.

“Just like a Tesla!” the neighbors said when I brought it by a few months back.

But if your ship has finally come in and you have $80,000 in the bank, do you want a Jaguar that sounds like a Tesla — or a Jaguar that growls like a Jaguar?

Conventional wisdom these days holds that, as more electric SUVs from Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, etc., flood the market, Tesla sales will fade. I have my doubts. As do customers apparently.

Despite rave media reviews and a trophy case full of Best Car of Year honors, the 2019 Jaguar I-Pace electric car sells just over 200 cars a month.

Brand matters and Tesla has established itself as a pioneering EV brand. Jaguar’s brand is also very strong but for other reasons. For decades the nouveau riche have gravitated to Jaguar for its slinky designs, racing success and … growl.

There’s also the fact that the F-Pace SVR is not just emotionally more satisfying to the I-Pace (my neighbors are still grinning from their ride), but is superior in most other ways including cargo room, head room, and — crucially — range.

Open up the F-Pace SVR on I-75 and you’ll drink gas so fast I swear I saw the gas gauge needle moving. But there are filling stations everywhere on your way to the glorious beaches of northern Michigan.

Lead-foot the I-Pace and you won’t get to your destination easily.

Unlike Tesla and its exclusive network of Level 3, 150-kilowatt DC superchargers, the Jaguar is dependent on independent charging networks like Electrify America. And EA has no superchargers north of Lansing (and none on the I-75 corridor). Even where 240-volt Level 2 chargers exist, I have found service to be spotty.

On a recent trip to Charlevoix in a Tesla Model 3, I juiced up in Gaylord with plans to top up Charlevoix’s Level 2 charger during my week stay there. Alas, that  charger was out of order, limiting my range around town.

Such limitations could throw a wet blanket on the family vacation.

The gas-powered F-Pace, on the other hand, will not only get you to the far corners of Lake Michigan — it’ll do so with gusto.

Nothing sours the next generation on electric cars like limiting their vacation options. And from my own experience, nothing makes my wife more nervous than the idea that an electric car will strand us on a Lake Michigan peninsula.

The F-Pace also comes with more affordable options than the electric I-Pace.

Halo cars like the F-Pace SVR are designed in part to bring folks into the dealership to whet their appetite. But if my $89,900 side of beef tester is too much for the bank account, customers can choose more affordable fare like the base, $44,900 F-Pace turbo-4 or the $60,000 turbo-6.

As a result, Americans are gobbling up about 1,200 F-Paces a month. If the electric I-Pace is your cup of tea, then it’s a pricey cup of tea. Lithium-ion batteries are expensive to make and the EV SUV starts at $70,000.

For most families, the $45,000 F-Pace’s handsome Jaguar grille and interior will do just fine, thank you very much. Like the TV ads with tennis star Kei Nishikori tooling around in an F-Pace shadowed by his alter-ego self in the original SVR, the F-Type two-door sports car, they will be content with the Jaguar image.

For the truly deranged (like yours truly) there is the 550-horse F-Pace SVR. So on your way to dropping the kids off at soccer practice you can head over to Woodward and prowl the stoplights for unsuspecting V-8-powered Dodge Challenger R/Ts.

Set launch control by depressing the brake pedal with your left foot. Then bury the accelerator pedal. Then release the brake.

WORRRAAAUAAGGH! Goes the V-8.

AWESOOOOOME! go the kids.

Sit back and watch the Challenger disappear in your mirrors as you hit 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds. The Challenger will arrive after 5.1. I should note here that the I-Pace EV will clock the same zero-60 time as cousin F-Pace. But it’ll use up a lot more range in doing so, and without a convenient charging station nearby.

And without that Jaguar growl.

2019 Jaguar F-Pace SVR

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

Price: Base price $81,015, including $1,025 destination charge ($89,900 as tested)

Powerplant: 5.0-liter supercharged V-8

Power: 550 horsepower, 502 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3 sec. (Car and Driver); top speed: 176 mph

Weight: 4,395 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 16 city/22 highway/18 combined; range: 489 miles

Report card

Highs: V-8 thrills for the family; long range

Lows: Pricey; infotainment system can be slow

Overall: 4 stars

2019 Jaguar I-Pace

Vehicle type: Electric, four-passenger luxury SUV

Price: $70,495 base including $995 destination fee ($86,895 First Edition as tested)

Powerplant: 90-kWh lithium-ion battery with twin electric-motor drive

Power: 394 horsepower, 512 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Automatic, single-speed

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 124 mph

Weight: 4,784 pounds

Fuel economy: 240-mile range (189 miles on battery to cover 140 miles, observed)

Report card

Highs: Handsome looks; electric torque

Lows: Slow infotainment screen; lack of charging infrastructure

Overall: 3 stars

8 things that make the 8th-generation Corvette special

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

Orange County, California – So now you’ve finally seen it. It’s not a Bigfoot or Sasquatch. The mid-engine 2020 Chevy Corvette C8 is real.

And it’s a rocket. You’ve seen the headliners: Sub-3-second zero-60 time, dual-clutch transmission, 495 horsepower. All for under $60,000. But beyond the swashbuckling performance are dozens of details that remake the car from the ground up.

We interviewed the Corvette’s development team to highlight eight unique aspects of this ambitious eighth-generation car.

1. What, no manual transmission?

The demise of the stick is industry wide, but purists will really feel its loss in Corvette, a powerful sports car that is fun to manhandle with a manual.

“Originally we wanted a manual,” says Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter. “But there’s a bunch of negatives. First, there is affording it because that would be another bespoke transmission. We see our own manual volume dwindling to near zero. We would have to make some pretty serious architectural compromises to do that.”

Like punching a hole in the aluminum spine for the cable, for example, thus compromising the car’s structural rigidity. And for what? The new dual-clutch 8-speed automatic promises to be stupid quick. So quick the car rockets to 60 mph in under 3 seconds with just 495 horsepower.

2. How can they make it so cheap?

The Corvette C8 claims the same performance numbers as the $270,000 all-wheel-drive Lamborghini Huracan EVO for a quarter of the price. Indeed, it equals the Huracan’s sub-3 second time despite having 145 less horsepower and only rear-wheel drive.

“It’s magic,” laughs Juechter. Well, that and GM’s ample resources. Bespoke premium makes like Lambo have to make every car by hand.

“There’s advantage with GM in a lot of ways. We can leverage GM economies of scale,” says Juechter. “This (V-8) engine will be built on a high-volume production line along with truck engines. We put the cost in the content because our manufacturing costs are way down.”

3. First-class luxury

“We had the opportunity to experience the LaFerrari when it came out, and the Porsche 918 and the Bugattis. We talked about what made those cars special,” says interior designer Mike Murphy.

The ‘Vette boasts standard premium features at under $60,000 that wouldn’t be out of place in those $1 million chariots. Like a 1.5-inch front suspension lift for steep driveways or speed bumps, and it’s GPS programmable to remember up to 1,000 locations no less. You also get stitched leather interior, fully digital displays, even Tesla-like over-the-air updates.

That’s a Chevy?

4. The Bedford Six

While its mid-engine layout draws comparison to exotic Europeans like Ferrari and McLaren, the Stingray’s character is all-American right down to its home-brewed, six-piece aluminum structure made at GM Powertrain in Bedford, Indiana. Ford outsourced its mid-engine GT to a Canadian race shop. The V-8 powered C8 is assembled in Kentucky. That Porsche-like, dual-clutch gearbox? Made in Wixom by Tremec.

Juechter again: “We wanted to combine German instantaneous shifting with American big-bore responsiveness, low-end torque, sound quality.”

5. Why is the steering wheel square?

The current-generation Corvette’s steering wheel already a flat-bottom for better legroom. As Corvette developed its huge, 12-inch instrument display, engineers found it easier to see the upper corners with the top flattened as well.

The wheel is also akin to the C7.R’s racing yoke which drivers find easier to use because their hands are always in the optimal 3-and-9 o’clock position.

6. Rear window

The original Corvette Stingray was a 1963 split-window. Chevy fans like Ken Lingenfelter remember that as the car that made them fall in love with Corvette. Designers have made the rear window a focus of the 2020 Stingray as well — except this time it’s showing off the 6.2-liter V-8 instead of the ’63 car’s cargo space.

The split window ultimately gave way to a single pane after complaints about rear visibility. The new Corvette offers a visibility solution: the camera mirror. The camera itself is mounted on the roof for unobstructed views out back.

7. Hidden access panels

The C8 is one sleek beast, from its sculpted nose to its deeply scalloped rocker panels. Determined not to interrupt the flow, designers hid all panel access. Forget door handles — a button under the side intake blade opens the door.

8. Cargo space in a sports car?

Locating the engine amidships usually means compromising cargo space. Want to pack luggage in an Alfa Romeo 4C? Fuhgeddaboudit.

The C8 is an exception. Sure, cargo space shrinks from the C7’s 15 cubic feet to 12.6. But you can still fit two golf bags (or the removable roof) in the trunk, and a carry-on and laptop bag in the front “frunk.”

So proud is Corvette of its luggage space that you can actually purchase a five-piece set of designer Corvette luggage.

Load ‘em in, it’s gonna be a quick trip.

Revealed: Chevrolet takes the wraps off mid-engine Corvette C8

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

The 2020 Chevy Corvette Stingray will go into production in late 2019 for the 2020 model year.

Orange County, California — Chevrolet officially introduced the first-ever mid-engine Corvette supercar late Thursday night, and there is nothing middling about it.

After a patriotic homage to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, General Motors President Mark Reuss drove the 2020 Corvette C8 onto the stage of a World War II-era blimp hangar outside Los Angeles. The radically new car, he said, “represents one giant leap for Corvette.”

Then he rattled off numbers that made the 1,400 Corvette fans, dealers and journalists in attendance gasp: zero-60 mph in less than 3 seconds at a cost of less than $60,000.

Those acceleration numbers are on par with the front-engine, supercharged, 650-horsepower Corvette Z06’s 2.95-second time. They are comparable to the $270,000, 640-horse, mid-engine Lamborghini Huracan costing more than four times as much.

The most anticipated car of the year, the long-rumored Corvette C8 (for eighth-generation) carries the legendary “Stingray” badge. It looks to be a tour de force of sculpted styling with state-of-the-art electronics.

Even as the C8 relocates the engine amidships like an Italian sports car in a move to give it more nimble handling, the car does not lose its signature V-8. Like ‘Vettes of old, the engine will deliver 495 horsepower to the rear wheels.

Nor does the Corvette lose its signature value-play: supercar performance for an affordable price. Alleviating concerns that the exotic mid-engine technology would balloon the sticker price, the new C8 is priced only a few thousand dollars above the current C7’s $56,000 price tag.

This is as good a value as any performance car ever,” raved Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer.

Added Reeves Callaway, founder of the renowned Callaway Cars that modifies and races muscle cars: “Corvette has cracked the code. No other automaker does better a great auto at a low price.”

The mid-engine design will serve to give better rear-weight distribution over the C8’s rear Michelins. The car adds launch control, and there’s a standard dual-clutch eight-speed automatic transmission (brace yourselves, purists: there is no manual option).

“The traditional front-engine vehicle reached its limits of performance, necessitating the new layout,” said Reuss, a race-licensed motorhead who was key to pushing the revamped car. “In terms of comfort and fun, it still looks and feels like a Corvette, but drives better than any vehicle in Corvette history.”

The C8’s design avoids the awkward proportions that often plague mid-engine cars (the rear-heavy 1990 Acura NSX and sideburn-clad Audi R8 come to mind). It bears comparison to mid-engine lookers like the Lotus Evora and Ferrari 488.

“We felt this had to be something new — beyond — and still look Corvette,” exterior designer Kirk Bennion said. “The new proportion is key … with the cockpit forward 16 inches, a whole new centerline and a faster windshield. That really sets up the car.”

Design cues are carried over from the current-generation C7 with sharp edges, horizontal tail lamps and creased flanks. Designers found inspiration in the F-22 fighter jet — as do Lamborghini architects — and supercar fans will note similarities like the huge outboard front air-intakes. This is a muscular supercar compared to exotic shapes like the McLaren 720 or Ford GT.

The interior maintains the C7 generation’s dimensions while advancing its interior and materials appointments. Wrapped in a cockpit of stitched leather, the driver grips a squared-off steering wheel to better view the 12-inch, digital instrument display. A console touchscreen is rotated toward the pilot with a Porsche-like sleeve of control buttons down the raised center spine.

The C8 will be offered with right-hand drive for international markets. Another first.

Perhaps most controversial will be the Acura-like automatic “trigger” transmission. Drive, reverse and park are operated along a line of toggled buttons.

The manual transmission has been sacrificed to speed and cost, due to the complexities of adding a different gearbox to the already-complicated transaxle that mates the V-8 to the rear wheels.

Purists will miss the stick, but the C7 had proved clumsy with its tri-gate seven-speed box. A new dual-clutch Tremec transmission should help reach that claimed sub-3-second time (when paired with the performance Z51 package).

The eight-speed is mated to an old friend: Chevy’s small-block V-8 used in everything from Camaros to pickups. But this so-called LT2 mill has a few new tricks up its sleeve. One is a standard race-car-like dry oil-sump required to deal with the higher g-loads generated by the mid-engine layout.

Though GM is only talking about the entry-level Stingray for now, reports suggest future engines will include high-revving twin-turbo V-8s and even a hybrid version with an electric motor up front.

For now, the front is occupied by a “frunk” (short for front trunk) — new cargo space opened up by the migration of the engine. Like a Porsche Boxster/Cayman, it will swallow a small suitcase. More cargo space is found behind the engine, which will be under hatchback glass for viewing like the crown jewels at the Tower of London.

True to Corvette tradition, the boot will fit two golf bags. Together, frunk and trunk offer 12.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, down from 15 cubic feet in the C7 hatch. Should the occupants want to go topless, the roof can be stored in the trunk. Door, hood and hatch releases are hidden so as not to interrupt the car’s lines.

The package is wrapped around an all-new aluminum architecture. Six high-strength beams (Juechter calls them the “Bedford Six” because they are produced at GM’s Bedford, Indiana powertrain plant) anchor the car. A carbon-fiber bumper helps reduce weight, but overall the mid-engine car appears heavier than the outgoing C7 with a dry weight of a porky 3,366 pounds.

The infamous composite “leaf springs” are scrapped, with all four corners getting coil-over springs and short-long arm suspension.

With the engine amidships, the driver is pushed 16 inches forward. The steering ratio quickens from 16.2 to 15.7. Engineer Juechter promises the most intuitive-handling ‘Vette yet.

“Our mission was to develop a new type of sports car, combining the successful attributes of Corvette with the performance and driving experience of mid-engine supercars,” he says.

Secreted inside is GM’s new electronic architecture (allegedly the culprit in C8’s delayed arrival). The electronics promise Tesla-like over-the-air updates.

Other electronics at drivers’ fingertips include a 1.5-inch ride lift — triggered in 2.8 seconds at speeds up to 24 mph — to better navigate bumpy Detroit streets. Next to the trigger transmision are the traditional Weather, Tour, Sport and Track drive-modes, plus configurable MyMode and Z modes.

Chevy says there are 12 exterior hues like Torch Red, Arctic White and Sebring Orange — plus three newbies: Rapid Blue, Zeus Bronze and Accelerate Yellow.

Seats come in three styles: GT1, GT2, and heavily bolstered Competition. They can be optioned in color themes from Jet Black to Morello Red. Seatbelt colors and carbon-fiber accents offer more choice.

The new Corvettes will start to roll of their Bowling Green, Kentucky, line later this year.

2020 Chevy Corvette provisional specs

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, 2-passenger supercar

Price: Under $60,000

Powerplant: 6.2-liter, pushrod V-8

Power: 495 horsepower at 6,450 rpms, 470 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Dual-clutch, 8-speed automatic

Performance: Under 3 seconds (mfr.)

Weight: 3,366 pounds (dry weight, no fluids)

Fuel economy: NA

Chevrolet premieres mid-engine 2020 Corvette

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

The mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette is one of the most anticipated cars of the year — make that century.

It was shadowed for years by spy photographers. It rolled through New York’s Times Square this spring in camouflage. It’s been teased in a video.

Now, it’s finally here.

It will be revealed by GM President Mark Reuss and the ‘Vette team in a WWII blimp hangar in Orange County, California at 10:30 p.m. EST today.

Follow coverage of the event at detroitnews.com, as The Detroit News will be on-site, bringing you the latest information.

Why now? How the 2020 mid-engine Corvette came to be

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

The men behind the machine: The 2020 Chevy Corvette Stingray was developed by, from left, Mike Simcoe, exterior designer; Mike Murphy, interior designer; Tadge Juechter, chief engineer; with Harlan Charles, marketing boss.

The mid-engine Chevy Corvette C8 arrived in California’s Orange County on Thursday night like a cyborg from the future. It is the iconic supercar’s first production model with the engine bolted behind the driver’s ear.

Incredibly, it’s an idea that has been germinating inside General Motors’ tech center for more than 60 years.

Since the late 1950s, GM engineers have debated the advantages of a mid-engine layout. They produced multiple prototypes, and GM even green-lighted a mid-engine car for production in 2007 before the financial crisis put an end to that.

The decision to finally produce the eighth-generation 2020 Corvette with a mid-engine was the result of a perfect alignment of engineering, marketing and financial wherewithal.

“We seriously started thinking to do it with the sixth generation,” said Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter at an interview in GM’s Warren design dome with fellow team members ahead of the C8’s Thursday reveal.

“The 2009 ZR1 had 638 horsepower. Even (the generation) before that … we knew that we were stretching the limits of what we could do from a performance standpoint with a front-engine car.”

He continued, walking around a Sebring Orange C-8: “It’s the same reason that race cars in elite categories migrated from front to rear engines in the 1960s. Zora knew that. He was a huge advocate for it.”

“Zora” is Zora Arkus-Duntov, the so-called “father of the Corvette” who took over the sports car program in the 1950s and molded it into an icon.

“He knew already that if you want to push the performance envelope of the ‘Vette, you had to push in that direction,” Juechter said.

It wasn’t just a handling issue in the early days. It was also a question of driver comfort. Writer Don Sherman has covered Arkus-Duntov and the mid-engine car’s development for decades.

“It came to him after Corvette had dropped out of the Sebring 12-hour race in 1957 … because driver John Fitch’s feet were being cooked by exhaust pipes” from the engine mounted in front of him, said Sherman. “Pondering that, Zora told me … that he had concluded that the heat source had to be behind the driver.”

Multiple prototypes followed.

In 1960, Arkus-Duntov built the single-seat, mid-engine Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle — the CERV I — with a powerful V-8 driving the rear wheels. The prototype hit 206 mph at GM’s Milford Proving Ground and would ultimately inspire the second-generation, production Corvette C2’s independent rear suspension.

The CERV II, a mid-engine, all-wheel-drive roadster followed in 1964. In 1968, GM dropped jaws at the New York Auto Show with the sleek Astro II, which was a response to Ford’s Le Mans-winning GT40 mid-engine racer. More GM prototypes were born including an aluminum-body XP-895 in 1972, the 1973 “Aerovette” and the 1986 “Indy,” which was also known as the CERV III. There was even a V-12 Cadillac Cien concept car in 2002.

“When Zora tried to do it, GM would say: ‘But the (front-engine) car is doing great as it is,’” said Corvette marketing guru Harlan Charles. “The horsepower levels weren’t where they are today, and they had all these packaging challenges that they didn’t know how to solve, but we know how to solve now.

“That’s why now is the time.”

Finally, in 2007, the passionate Juechter and team got the green light to produce a seventh-generation, mid-engine ‘Vette.

The Great Recession and GM’s resulting financial emergency squashed it.

“In retrospect, it was probably a blessing because there were a lot of things we had to learn with the aluminum body in addition to learning production the mid-engine car,”  Charles said.

Instead of producing a mid-engine C7 post-bankruptcy, the team stuck with the front-engine architecture. But for the first time, they crafted it from aluminum. That meant GM brought aluminum construction in-house for the first time, a huge investment in know-how that would ultimately benefit the C8.

“It’s glued and screwed, as we say,” said Juechter. “You build the running chassis, then you put the exterior panels on last like a race car. We learned those construction techniques from the C7.”

Perhaps most significantly, the bankruptcy — for all its stress — honed the team’s mid-engine pitch to go back to leadership for a second bite at the mid-engine apple.

The Corvette team knew its demographic was aging. New generations of car buyers aspire to mid-engine cars: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche. But the typical Corvette buyer also worried about losing the practicality the ‘Vette offered: affordability, interior room, cargo space.

“We took a step back. What if we could make this a unique, mid-engine car?” said Charles. “Keep the things that people like about the Corvette: the small-block V-8, the power-to-weight ratio, the ability to take it cross-country. Add the exotic experience of a mid-engine car … with the road in your lap, quick steering, no weight on the front.

“If we can put those attributes together, and make it attainable …  you really have a car that no one else can match.”

Mid-engine supercars are cool. But cool isn’t a business case. Management liked the team’s business pitch.

“We had no ‘cool’ description in any of our presentations. It was tactical, business, functional, physics-driven,” remembers Juechter. “Here’s why it makes sense for us.”

The C8 was on.

The engineers and designers rave about the car’s state-of-the-art attributes: dual-clutch automatic transmission, aluminum spine, upscale interior and that mid-engine athleticism.

“The whole car rotates better — it’s just pinned in the back,” marvels Juechter. “It’s surprisingly stable, it feels super nimble. It’s actually better than we anticipated.”

For all its modernity, there is also a nod to the middiecar’s GM history.

“We kept (the old prototypes) in the studio for inspiration. The Astro II is one of our favorites,” exterior designer Kirk Bennion said. “We had the Aerovette out, the Indy, we had them all out.”

Payne: Mini Cooper JCW Knights Edition is a killer rabbit

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2019

The 2019 Mini Cooper JCW Knights Edition is a hoot to drive with 228 horsepower and nimble, FWD handling.

Count on the Brits for a bit of fun.

The comedy troupe Monty Python infected my family years ago with its humor. Call out a scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and we are suddenly diverted from the moment. Our accents transform, our faces contort into character, and we recite the lines from memory: The French Taunter. The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. The Knights Who Say “Ni!”

The 2019 Mini Cooper JCW Knights Edition is like that. It’s a hilarious diversion from the everyday five-door sea of utes on our byways.

Mini, of course, is not so mini anymore. Now a member of the BMW family, the hatchback is based on the similar front-wheel drive platform used for small Bimmers, giving it a 98-inch wheelbase that is big stretch from the wee 80-inch shoeboxes that made the Oxford-built Mini a ’60s legend.

But next to your average Ford Explorer, the Brit is a midget, and its signature bits haven’t changed: square shape, mirrors the size of bowling balls, goggle-eyed headlamps.

Add on the special JCW Knights trim and it’s like throwing the Killer Rabbit into the middle of King Arthur’s army. JCW stands for John Cooper Works, the hot-hatch edition of the Mini named after its English co-founder. He’d be proud. The JCW is stuffed with performance in the tradition of a car that has slayed many a larger competitor on track: 228 horsepower, taut suspension, Sport performance mode.

The Knights edition turns up the volume.

Its armor is as black as the suits of the Knights Who Say “Ni!”, giving it a comically sinister look. Its front bumper is smeared with red paint. It’s as if a goggle-eyed minion from the “Despicable Me” movies (another Payne favorite) threw on a black Ninja suit and tied a red bandana.

Add to the comic fierceness a body tattooed with faux performance accents like racing stripes, fake hood scoop, fake front gills, fake rear diffuser. Start it up and the Mini snorts to life through twin tailpipes.

“None shall pass!” growls the Black Knight.

Flick the drive-mode switch to Sport and the JCW swaggers down the street barking and farting obnoxiously like the French Taunter (uninitiated Pythonites can look it up on YouTube). Like the signature big peepers outside, the Mini sports a unique, Broadway kick-line of switches on the lower console. Off/on anchors the middle.

Like an airline pilot, I habitually flicked On, Sport and Stop/Start switches in sequence when jumping into the cockpit. It’s here that BMW’s stern German demeanor interrupts British levity.

Like its diesel-shamed countryman Volkswagen, BMW literature these days is full of sober sermons about a dying planet and endangered polar bears. That piety translates to the wee Brit in the form of the annoying Start/Stop button (making Mini cough at stoplights) and Green driving mode.

Yes, a Green driving mode in a JCW Knights edition. It makes as much sense as a pink bow on a Rottweiler and I suspect it will be the Cooper’s most ignored feature.

Happily, the BMW influence is felt in other, more meaningful areas. Like the drivetrain.

As an upscale front-engine hot-hatch, the JCW faces formidable competition from the VW Golf GTI, Mazda 3, Hyundai Veloster N and Honda Civic Type R. Its BMW-derived technology is worthy of the challenge.

BMW’s trusty 2.0-liter turbo-4 pumps out 228 horses and a healthy 236 pound-feet of torque. The driveline puts the power down beautifully without torque-steer. Outfitted with sturdy, six-speed manual shifter (auto optional) with the stalk rising out of the console like Excalibur from the lake (“You can’t expect to wield supreme power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!”), the Mini is a hoot to row through the gears.

German engineering also aids in the front-wheel driver’s rotation. Where most front-wheel drive cars struggle on turn-in, the autocross-focused Mini is outfitted with front torque-vectoring in which rotation into corners is aided by braking the inside front wheel. The result is sharp no-plow turn-in. I was tempted by vacant parking lots to do full-throttle tire-burning loops, normally something I would only try in, say, a rear-wheel drive Camaro.

But brake-induced torque-vectoring is not the same as the more sophisticated limited-slip differential found on the Golf GTI and Type-R (which will also carve a mean apex), and it begs my cloth-seat, $41,050 JCW’s value compared to these much more affordable five-door hot-hatches.

With just three doors (including the hatch), the Mini is space-challenged compared to its segment peers. Rear-seat room for giant knights like me (after I contorted myself behind the front seat) isn’t bad, but hatch cargo-space is virtually nonexistent. If you pick up four at the airport, expect to carry baggage in your lap.

Perhaps the short-wheelbase Mini doesn’t need limited-slip, but my Knight was shy on other technology as well. Like blind-spot assist. I count it as a safety essential and it’s standard on compacts costing thousands of dollars below the JCW. Then again, the JCW has irresistible touches like the British flag formed by criss-crossing LEDs in the taillights. Dude, cool.

In keeping with its quirky nature, the Brit offers the best navigation system this side of a smartphone — better than the $58,000 BMW 3-series I recently tested. Where the German couldn’t understand my American accent, the Mini and I conversed like old friends.

“Navigate to Kart-2-Kart in Sterling Heights,” I barked. No problem. The directions popped up instantly — complete with quickest route in rush hour traffic. Hmmm, maybe the wee Brit wanted to take some kart laps itself.

The screen was easy to negotiate on the Mini’s dinner-plate-sized center touch screen. Don’t like touchscreens? There’s a BMW-derived remote rotary-dial just like a 3-series. This Brit-German marriage shares some interesting DNA.

For the most part, the German bits are a plus. BMW doesn’t cut corners on the interior. From round console to round dial to round speakers, this is Mini funhouse all the way. Change drive-modes and the console screen changes colors — Red! Orange! Green! — like a carnival ride.

The Mini JCW Knight is an expensive ticket to fun. But for the initiated, it’s got a cute, maniacal character all its own.

“Run away! That rabbit’s dynamite!”,as King Arthur might yell.

2019 Mini Cooper JCW Knights Edition

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

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 2,860 pounds

Price: $32,750 base JCW including $850 destination fee ($41,065 Knights Edition as tested)

Power: 228 horsepower, 236 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.1 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 153 mph

Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/32 highway/28 combined

Report card

Highs: Mini fierce; nimble handling

Lows: Lacks standard safety-assist features; pricey

Overall: ★★★

Long-awaited mid-engine Corvette C8 debuts Thursday

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2019

After denying the existence of the mid-engine Corvette C8 for years, the automaker drove a camouflaged one through Times Square in April.

The mid-engine Corvette tease is almost over.

Next Thursday, all will be revealed about the new Corvette C8, the first Corvette to place the engine behind the driver.

The premiere in Orange County, Calif., follows years of speculation as to when Chevrolet’s iconic sports car would finally go mid-engine. Prototypes of the mid-mounted ‘Vette date all the way back to the early 1960s. General Motors insiders say the program was green-lighted for production as early as 2007, but was shelved by the Great Recession.

The Detroit News confirmed plans for the mid-engine model as the eighth-generation Corvette (thus the C8 badge) in August 2016. GM finally admitted to the model’s existence in April when Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and GM CEO Mary Barra dropped jaws by driving a camouflaged C8 through New York’s Times Square in the middle of rush hour.

Next week’s reveal of the C8 will take place in the historic Tustin Hangar No. 2 about 40 miles south of Los Angeles. At 17 stories tall and 1,000 feet long, the twin blimp hangars built in 1942 are among the largest wood structures ever made. The hangars were completed just over a decade before the first-generation, front-engine Chevy Corvette.

Not much — and a lot — has changed since the first Corvette was introduced in 1953.

The two-seater sold slowly in its early years until the program was handed over to Zora Arkus-Duntov, the “Father of the Corvette,” who turned the car into an American icon starting with the introduction of a V-8 engine in 1955.

The front-engine car would endure, but Arkus-Duntov was convinced that a mid-engine platform was preferable even in the early years.

“It came to him after Corvette had dropped out of the Sebring 12-hour race in 1957 … because driver John Fitch’s feet were being cooked by exhaust pipes” from the engine mounted in front of him, says writer Don Sherman who has reported on the Corvette for decades. “Pondering that, Zora told me … that he had concluded that the heat source had to be behind the driver.”

Dozens of prototypes were produced over the years, but none made it to the production line. Until now.

Heavily camouflaged C8’s were first caught by the lens of spy photographers at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds test facility in mid-2016. Sources told The Detroit News that GM was pouring some $800 million into Corvette’s Bowling Green assembly plant and paint facility to produce the new car.

“The program I got approved in ’07 was $900 million,” former GM product chief Bob Lutz told The Detroit News in 2016, “and included a Cadillac XLR with a supercharged Northstar engine. If the current program is $800 million, I’d bet it includes a different-bodied Cadillac again as well.”

Cadillac’s priorities have shifted to SUV production, but the mid-engine Corvette stayed on track.

As the C8’s development matured, pictures of it in the wild began to proliferate in the last year like grainy shots of Sasquatch. There was video of the car testing at the Nürburgring and Sebring race tracks, and on mountain roads outside San Diego. There was even footage of GM President Mark Reuss riding shotgun in a C8 on an Arizona highway.

Yet GM continued to deny the supercar’s existence.

Rumors ran rampant that the car would debut at this year’s Detroit auto show. The show came and went without a sighting. Sources said the car was suffering from issues ranging from chassis twist to, most convincingly, complications with a new electronics system to be introduced across GM’s lineup.

Then suddenly, the thinly camouflaged C8 appeared in Times Square this spring. Emblazoned on its side was the not so-cryptic 07.18.19, telegraphing the car’s official debut July 18.

Expect Chevy to reveal only the base model next Thursday, though the C8 should get multiple model options in coming years including a high-revving, flat-plane crank V-8 engine. There could even be a hybrid model with an electric motor up front that complements a ferocious twin-turbo V-8 in back. And then there’s the racing version set to debut at the Daytona 24-Hour race in January against other mid-engine weapons like the Ferrari 488.

Radical as its mid-engine layout is, the base C8 should still get the 6.2-liter, small-block pushrod V-8 that has reliably powered front-engine Corvettes for generations. Purists will surely grumble, however, at the lack of a manual transmission option; the C8 will be offered only with a dual-clutch 8-speed automatic.

In today’s supercar world, lighting-quick automatics are vastly superior to manuals, and Chevy didn’t need the added complication of designing a mid-engine transaxle with a manual option.

Pricing for the C8 has not been released, but the Corvette made its mark over the years by offering the same capabilities as Lamborghini and Porsche Turbos stickering for two to three times as much. Don’t expect that to change, although without a manual option, the base Corvette is expected to cost $4,000-$5,000 more than the current $57,000 front-engine model.

Payne: Honda Civic mutates into TCR track monster

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2019

Based on the Honda Civic Type R, right, the Honda Civic TCR race car weighs just over 2,700 pounds (including driver) and  sports 340 horsepower and a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox.

Based on the Honda Civic Type R, right, the Honda Civic TCR race car weighs just over 2,700 pounds (including driver) and sports 340 horsepower and a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox. (Photo: The Detroit News)

You’ve heard of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But what if Mr. Hyde also had a crazed alter ego? Call them Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyper-Hyde.

Honda calls ’em Dr. Civic, Mr. Type-R and Mr. TCR.

The Honda Civic Type-R is the ultimate deranged Civic. With 306 horsepower and wings and air intakes sprouting from every body panel, Mr. Type-R is the 158-horse Honda Civic hatchback on steroids. But then Honda went out and made a 340-horse racer version called the TCR to compete in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race series.

I had a chance to flog the TCR around Pontiac’s Champion Speedway at M1 Concourse, and it has about as much in common with a Type R as I do with Michael Jordan. Sure, the TCR and Civic are both front-wheel drive and turbo-4 powered — just like Michael and I are both 6-foot-5 and shoot right-handed.

But what the TCR does show is that, when blessed with the right automotive DNA, a front-wheel drive race car can be remarkably athletic. It is also a window into entry-level professional motorsport and its steep entry costs.

When the latest 10th-generation Civic was introduced in 2016, it had the Type-R and TCR in mind.

The Japanese brand has been marinated in racing since its birth. Its logo has graced every level of motorsport from Formula One to IndyCar to sports car prototype. But it has been the compact Civic that has carried the production performance flag.

Like Mazda and its affordable Miata sports car, Honda’s performance halo is the small Civic. Ford has the $700,000 GT, Nissan the $100,000 GT-R and Chevy the $57,000 Corvette. But Honda asks that you merely put down $36,620 smackeroos on a Civic Type-R.

That’s R as in GRRRRRRRR.

The powerful Type R hot-hatch is the ultimate production expression of the $20,000 Civic. For another 16 grand it undergoes a Hyde-like transformation that sprouts a wing, Brembo brakes, air intakes and beefed-up suspension to become a fire-breathing, front-wheel track rat aimed squarely at more expensive weapons like the all-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf R and rear-wheel drive Chevy Camaro V-6.

With its garish aerofoil and scoops it looks like it was designed by a crayon-wielding 12-year-old, but it has the track instincts of a seasoned vet.

I took it out on Champion Raceway and immediately began to wring its neck, so intuitive are its handling and controls.

Concerned that Civic had grown domesticated, Honda baselines its sixth-generation car to the Audi A3, for goodness sake. This benefits every model in the Civic’s sprawling range, from Sport hatchback to Si Coupe to the insane Type R.

The R has been tweaked with suspension geometry wizardry like limited-slip front differential and bigger knuckles. Not only can I fling it around the track, but it looks wicked doing so, its rear wing poised like the tail of a scorpion (now, there’s a good name for a sports car). The manual gearbox is the tightest thing this side of a Porsche — no missed shifts here — but under the cane the front-wheel drive R will push.

Throw out all assumptions with the race-prepared, track-only Civic TCR race car

This is a weapon that competes against rockets like the Audi RS3 (so that explains the Audi baseline thing) and Alfa Giulietta in the Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR race class as well as compact competitors like the Hyundai Veloster entered by no less than IndyCar’s Bryan Herta race team.

Built to highly regulated racing specs, Honda takes Type Rs off its Swinden, England, assembly line and ships them to Italy where the R is hollowed out like a baked potato then stuffed with racy spices like a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox, big front brake rotor and an even bigger rear wing.

It’s a beast. Squeezed into its bolstered NASCAR-like seat like a hot dog in a bun, my frame barely fit behind the button-infested race wheel.

I felt right at home. This is my happy place, where I have raced cars for 30 years like the Porsche 908 and Lola 90. But those are 1,300-pound rear-wheel drive sports racers. This was my first front-wheel race sedan.

I would have to rewire my brain to master it.

Todd Lamb — who owns and co-pilots the TCR out of his Atlanta Speedwerks race shop and has an impressive pro racing resume — warned me that the cold rear slicks would take some getting used to. Got that right.

Throwing the car into Turn 2 at M1 Concourse, the rear end kicked out like the boom on a sailboat. Whoa! Instinctively, I lifted off the throttle to prevent a spin as in a rear-wheel drive car. Wrong reaction.

The answer to a slippy rear end in the Civic is more throttle so that the front wheels can drag the rear along like a bulldog scrabbling for traction on a slippery kitchen floor. Anticipating the Type R’s inherent push on corner exit, Lamb has tweaked it with a neutral setup (not unlike the drifting rear-drive Toyota Supra I tested a few weeks back) to help rotate the car. The result? The little bulldog has traction to spare as I put the power down through the front wheels.

After learning the Civic’s cornering eccentricities, the rest was gravy. The sequential, paddle-shift operated box means no shift gate. No heel and toe. No clutch at all. Just bang-bang-bang through the gears on acceleration. Bang-bang-bang on downshifts.

Easy-peasy. Every gearbox should be this simple, allowing the driver to concentrate fully on cornering. I dialed in more speed with every turn, the tires heating up and the TCR sticking like glue.

Screwed to the ground and highlighted with blue and yellow paint scheme, Speedwerks’ Mr. TCR is even more insane looking than Mr. Type R production car. Its transformation will cost you.

I thought an upgraded, $68,000 Mazda MX-5 Cup racer — double that of a production Miata — was expensive. The Civic TCR is another ballgame.

A new, out-of-the-box TCR will set you back $172,000 before spares and options (like ABS). That’s six times the cost of a production R. Ouch.

But what you get in return is full immersion in the real world of motorsport. A real race car, racing against top drawer talent, with one of the world’s most respected performance brands behind you.

They know how to turn Dr. Jekyll into something special.

2019 Honda Civic

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

Price: $20,370 including $920 destination charge

Power plant: 2.0-liter, inline-4 cylinder; 1.5-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 158 horsepower, 138 pound-feet of torque (2.0-liter); 174 horsepower, 162 pound-feet of torque (1.5-liter)

Transmission: 6-speed manual; continuously variable automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.4 seconds (manufacturer)

Weight: 2,742 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 25 city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg (manual, 2.0-liter gas); 30 city/38 mpg highway/33 mpg (CVT, 2.0-liter gas); 32 city/42 mpg highway/36 mpg (CVT, 1.5-liter turbo)

Report card

Highs: Diverse model lineup; roomy

Lows: Polarizing styling; AWD option, please

Overall:★★★★

2019 Honda Civic Type R

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

Price: $36,620 including $920 destination fee

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Power: 306 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

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

Weight: 3,117 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Easy to drive fast; the bargain hot-hatch

Lows: Wing-bling may not be your thing; front end pushes at limit

Overall:★★★★

2019 Honda Civic TCR race car

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, one-passenger race car

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed sequential with paddle shifters

Weight: 2,789 pounds including driver (minimum, race-regulated spec)

Price: $172,238

Power: 340 horsepower, 420 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Neutral handling; sequential box

Lows: Oversteer until tires up to temp; pricey

Overall:★★★★

Before Trump, There Was Iacocca

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 9, 2019

After Chrysler, he pioneered the protectionist-plutocrat electoral lane.

Before Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca wanted to make America great again.

The ex-CEO of Chrysler died last week at the age of 94 after a career that transcended his industry and made him a pop-culture icon. Iacocca advocated the restoration of American manufacturing, championed punitive tariffs on Asian imports, and flirted with running for president in 1988.

After a successful Detroit career that spanned the launch of the 1960s Ford Mustang and the 1980s Chrysler minivan, Iacocca became a national figure when he persuaded a Democratic Congress in 1979 to help bail out Chrysler.

His turnaround of the automaker (paying back federally guaranteed loans ahead of schedule) vaulted him to a 1980s symbol of America on the rebound. Chrysler turned a $1.7 billion loss in 1980 into a $2.4 billion profit by 1984.

The first-generation Italian immigrant’s subsequent autobiography, Iacocca (1984), cemented his brand — reigning on the New York Times best-seller list for 88 weeks, 37 more than Trump’s own The Art of the Deal, published three years later.

“Unless we act soon, we’re going to lose both steel and autos to Japan by the year 2000,” wrote Iacocca. “And worst of all, we will have given them up without a fight.”

Colorful, profane, with an ego bigger than Lake Michigan, Iacocca captured the American imagination with his plainspoken style.

Doron Levin, a long-time Detroit columnist and currently host of Sirius XM’s “In the Driver’s Seat,” says that Iacocca, like Trump and Ross Perot, was a brand that cut across political parties.

“They’re populists,” says Levin. “They could run in either political party depending on the election year. Trump saw an opportunity as a Republican in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. Iacocca seriously considered running as a Democrat in 1988 against George H. W. Bush.”

In his book Behind the Wheel at Chrysler, Levin wrote:

The loan guarantee debate, Chrysler’s subsequent return to health, and the publication of [Iacocca’s] best-selling autobiography conferred mythic status on him as the nation’s economic Winston Churchill. At the peak of his popularity, many Americans believed not only that Iacocca held the answers to the nation’s economic ills but also that he should lead the country as president.

Iacocca’s Trumpian call for a national industrial policy in 1988 fit perfectly with that generation’s Democratic party — its power base rooted in the Midwest, with union mouthpieces such as House Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D., Mich.) and caucus chair and future majority leader Dick Gephardt (D., Mo.) wielding power.

TV newscasts and newspaper headlines in the early 1980s were filled with painful pictures of American steel mills and auto factories shuttering across the Midwest. Iacocca’s partnership with Washington to rescue Chrysler offered Democrats a white knight in the fight against Reagan Republicans’ policy of free-market economics.

Democrats and their media partisans embraced Iacocca’s call for a Beltway-led industrial policy.

If Trump’s bogeyman is China, Iacocca’s was Japan. He warned of the Asian nation’s threat to America’s industrial base and stumped for import quotas.

“I am called a protectionist, I am really a free trader,” Iacocca said at the Detroit Economic Club speech some years later. “The thing that I want to protect is free trade. And the way you do that is you retaliate against those who don’t believe in it.”

Despite favorable polling numbers, Iacocca never threw his hat in the presidential ring.

“For myself, I concluded long ago that to run for president you’ve got to be overambitious or just plain crazy,” he would write years later.

After retiring from Chrysler in the 1990s, he helped start an electric-vehicle company, EV Global Motors, that pioneered the electric bicycles and scooters that are commonplace today and hailed by Democrats for their low emissions. Yet Iacocca would probably have cringed at the takeover of the Democratic party by Californians such as Nancy Pelosi and recent Commerce Committee chair Henry Waxman and their Silicon Valley sponsors.

Today’s planet-saving Green New Deal industrial policy is a long way from Iacocca’s vision of saving the Rust Belt.

The lure of the celebrity executive endures, however. Trump is now president. And a recent Zogby 2020 campaign poll found Oprah Winfrey leading Trump by 53 to 47.

Ford GT Mk II unleashed: The ultimate $1.2-million track weapon

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 6, 2019

Beginning at a cool $1.2 million, the track-only Ford GT Mk II makes its public debut Thursday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. Only 45 will be built.

Beginning at a cool $1.2 million, the track-only Ford GT Mk II makes its public debut Thursday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. Only 45 will be built. (Photo: Ford)

The Ford GT started as a race car, so it’s only reasonable that it would include a track-exclusive production version.

Beginning at a cool $1.2 million, the Ford GT Mk II makes its public debut Thursday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. Only 45 will be built.

Essentially a Ford GTPro Le Mans race car with a passenger seat, the Mk II joins a rare breed of track-only hypercars like the McLaren P1 GTR and Ferrari FXX. The Mk II enables customers to explore the envelope of performance technology at their local raceway — a track day at Mid-Ohio race track, perhaps — without having to pay hundreds of thousands more to hire a team and enter a race series.

Named after the historic GT40 Mk II that beat Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966, the GT Mk II was developed free of the infamous, so-called “balance of performance” (BOP) racing regulations that cage the full capability of animals like the Ford GTPro race car to encourage even competition across a diverse field of cars.

For example, the GT Mk II will unleash the full 700-horsepower capability of the GT’s 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6; the GTPro LeMans car is limited to 495 horsepower.

“What could you do without BOP? This is the answer,” Multimatic chief technical officer Larry Holt said at the car’s unveiling to media at Ford’s Dearborn Performance Center last month. Multimatic is the Toronto race shop that birthed the sensational carbon-fiber, keel-chassis Ford GT back in 2016.

Designed to conquer Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of the original Mk II, the GT debuted as a race car. The first production version would not make an appearance for another year.

Priced at an eye-watering $500,000 (but in truth only available for about $700,000 after checking all the boxes), the production GT’s value was cemented by the race car’s historic, GTPro-class win at the 2016 Le Mans race.

Jaws dropped when the race car was introduced in 2016 with a sophisticated high-downforce keel chassis almost unheard of outside of the upper echelons of Formula One and LeMans prototype racing. Combined with its gorgeous “flying buttress” rear air ducts and signature GT nose (an homage to the 1966 original), the mid-engine supercar was an instant classic. After its LeMans success, 1,350 copies of the street-legal production GT followed.

Jaws will drop again when owners show up at the track with the GT Mk II.

Developed by mad-genius Holt (who, with his wild mane of white hair, looks like Doc Brown from “Back to the Future”) and his Multimatic team, the GT II is a hair away from full-blown LeMans racer.

“It is shockingly similar to the race car. There’s only about a 2-second a lap difference,” said Multimatic test driver Scott Maxwell who has helped develop each evolution of the modern GT.

Maxwell gave a brief demonstration of the GT Mk II at FPC for the news media. Dressed in Multimatic livery, it looked and sounded every bit like the GTPro race car that had just lapped the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 16.

Whereas the street-legal production versions of the Ford GT sit 120 mm off the ground to properly negotiate public roads (a 70-mm track-mode height is available), the GT Mk II sits 59 mm off the ground for maximum downforce (the race car is just 56 mm).

Unbound from public laws like noise and safety restraints, the GT Mk II’s comes stripped of mufflers and air bags. Also gone is the tiny rear trunk, in lieu of a rear hatch scoop for better cooling of the 7-speed gearbox.

The goal here is max power, max downforce, max performance.

Toward that end, the GT Mk II comes equipped with a bigger front splitter and two-tier rear wing than the race car, as well as carbon-ceramic brakes for supreme stopping power. The race car is regulation-limited to steel rotors. Even the Mk II’s springs are a teeth-jarring 1,150 pounds, similar to the GT race car.

While not as spartan as the interior of the GTPro LeMans car (passenger comfort is encouraged when pulling upward of 2 G-loads), the cockpit is race-ready with a full roll-cage and detachable steering wheel like the race car.

A six-point, race-licensed belt harness makes the absent air bag redundant.

Stripped of unnecessary weight, the GT Mk II weights in at 3,084 pounds. That’s more than the 2,844 pounds of the GTPro race car, but 300 pounds lighter than the production model. Options above the $1.2 million starting price include paint colors and air jacks for quick tire changes at the track.

Ford says Multimatic’s Markham, Ontario, shop has capacity to produce about 15 of the Mk II supermodels a year.

“The Mk II embodies everything that we have learned at the track,” said Ford product chief Hau Thai-Tang at FPC. But he wouldn’t say if the track weapon is the GT’s last hurrah despite the car having run its Le Mans race this year.

“Never say never,” he smiled.

Payne: Living the Lamborghini Huracan dream

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 5, 2019

The Detroit News’ regular “Michigan Dream Home” feature showcases sprawling, multi-million-dollar estates with pools, walk-in closets, fountains and epic kitchens. We ogle from a distance, but without the means to live the dream.

Kind of like Lamborghinis.

The 2020 Lamborghini Huracan EVO derives some aero tricks from the Performance model. The EVO costs $270,969.

The achingly beautiful Italian supercars have been our dream cars since we dreamed about cars. My teen dorm wall had a poster of the unattainable Lamborghini Countach, right alongside the unattainable Charlie’s Angels pin-up. Today’s generation of Lambo Aventadors and Huracans are regulars on my kids’ computer screensavers.

What’s it like to have one? I got a taste recently when I spent some quality time with a 2020 Huracan EVO at Willow Springs Raceway outside Los Angeles. Like a gorgeous, 20,000-square-foot home, it’s complicated.

Approaching a Lamborghini — those sultry headlamps, jet-engine air intakes, perfect shape — is no less intimidating than asking an Angel out for a date. But familiarity helps the conversation.

As the Italian brand’s entry-level sports coupe, the $261,274 Huracan is not alone in the market. Indeed, despite its nose-bleed price, it occupies a fiercely competitive segment along with the ageless Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari 488 and McLaren 570. I’ve driven all these cars (except the Ferrari, though I’ve driven its predecessor) at the limit, so the Huracan’s learning curve wasn’t steep.

But the Lambo is a puzzle of contradictions. It’s externally gorgeous yet internally uncomfortable. It’s V-10 engine soars like Lebron James, but its paddle shifters are as clumsy as Gerald Ford. Its all-wheel drive system is high-tech, but its handling sloppy.

Lamborghini North America CEO Alessandro Farmechi — an accomplished Italian cook in his spare time — likes to compare cars to food. Scaloppine di Huracan is certainly a unique Italian recipe.

Which is interesting because, at its core, the Huracan is German.

Owned by Audi, Lamborghini builds the Huracan on the same mid-engine architecture as the Audi R8, which benefits the smaller Italian brand in this age of high regulatory and R&D costs. But in truth, Audi bought Lamborghini in the late ‘90s because it wanted to learn the dark magic of mid-engine all-wheel drive cars and apply them to their halo R8.

Driving the Huracan is different than the more affordable Audi — and very different than its direct Porsche competitor. With 580 horsepower and all-wheel drive, the rear-engine 911 Turbo seems similar on paper. But not in character.

Did I mention the Huracan is gorgeous? You’d walk by the Porsche without giving it a second glance, its conservative lines familiar after 60 years of evolving the same soap-bar shape. In contrast, the Huracan stops traffic wherever it goes.

On track the Porsche has no peer. It’s a German symphony with every part moving in perfect coordination with the other to produce an exquisite, controlled experience. The Lambo is nervous from the get-go. As I got up to speed around Willow Springs’ undulating, high-speed circuit, the cutting-edge, four-wheel steering that makes the all-wheel drive sports car so easy to maneuver (a turning radius as tight as a scooter!) in urban areas became a liability.

The steering read every bump and turn as an opportunity to correct the car’s trajectory, resulting in a car that searched all over the place as I pointed it at a corner apex. Where the Porsche sticks like glue, the Lambo waggles. Complicated.

But like Chuck Yeager busting through the sound barrier, the Huracan gets more stable the faster you go. The rear-wheel steer evens out, the substantial aero tricks on the EVO performance model (front splitter, rear spoiler, outer front air ducts creating an air curtain through the front wheels) suck the car to the ground, and the Huracan tidies up.

Which allows me to enjoy the music behind my right ear.

The 630-horse V-10 is one of the world’s last normally aspirated engines as manufacturers employ turbos to balance efficiency with more power. At full wail — each upshift of the silky, dual-clutch transmission sending goosebumps up my spine — the Huracan is a rocket to complement the jet fighters with which it shares design cues (right down to the red, flip-up latch over the cockpit starter button).

Pity the shifter paddles are fixed to the steering column.

Seems to be an Italian thing — Alfa also does it, while Porsche and McLaren fix their paddles to the wheel so that they turn in synch. My long fingers grasped for the next gear as I stormed out of turns, banging the 8,000-rpm redline — GUH-GUH-GUH — and distracting me from the road (and glorious V-10 aria).

It makes for an unnecessarily busy cockpit already compromised by the Lambo’s famously difficult sightlines. To achieve that breathtaking exterior with raked windshield and squashed greenhouse, the interior is a pillbox of visibility.

At 6-foot 5 I need a shoehorn to get in and out of the car — and that was before I put a helmet on. Happily, Huracan has made big strides in modernizing its cabin technology. A sea of buttons has been replaced by a big, responsive touchscreen right out of Audi’s shop (see the new, haptic A-series touchscreens). It pairs nicely with Lambo’s signature digital instrument display which gives the car a video-game feel as you toggle through its mode settings — Normal, Sport, Corsa (track) and Mama Mia (kidding about that last one).

Trouble is, the McLaren 570/720 twins (depending in whether you want 570 or 620 ponies) do this better.

With show-stopping designs of their own, the McLarens sport a rear-wheel drive carbon-fiber chassis that is stiffer and lighter than the Huracan. With modern drivetrain electronics, the $288,000 McLaren 720 doesn’t miss the heavy, all-wheel drive system and rockets to 60 mph side-by-side with the Huracan.

And with more in reserve. With twin-turbos strapped to its 4.0-liter V-8, the McLaren’s linear acceleration is epic. With its unique, jaw-dropping face and innovative bod, the 720 takes on the Lambo at its own game. Let traditionalists buy Ferrari and Porsche heritage — McLaren and Lamborghini are cyborgs from the future.

McLaren does the fundamentals better — handling, turbo, acceleration — even sporting scissor doors like Huracan’s big-brother $400,000 Aventador. It’s the superior beast. But Lamborghini knows the game has changed. Not content to sit on its throne, it has descended to the track — winning back-to-back Daytona 24-Hour races — to hone its craft.

Take your pick — McLaren or Lambo? Either will look good in your dream home’s six-car garage.

2020 Lamborghini Huracan EVO

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, all-wheel drive, 2-passenger supercar

Price: $270,969, including $9,695 destination fee

Powerplant: 640 horsepower at 8,000 rpms, 442 pound-feet of torque, 5.2-liter V-10

Transmission: Dual-clutch, 8-speed automatic

Performance: 2.9 second zero-60 (mfr.); 202 mph top speed

Weight: 3,424 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: NA

Highs: Movie-star looks; V-10 soundtrack

Lows: Cramped interior, sight-lines; column-based paddle shifters

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: New Ford Explorer reaches further — at a price

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 27, 2019

The 2020 Ford Explorer ST is distinguished by its quad tailpipes in the rear.

Ford Explorer, you had me at ST.

I’m a big believer in “halo” cars, those goosebump-inducing, chart-topping performance variants that speak volumes about a car model’s aspirations and engineering, and bring people into showrooms. Think Dodge Hellcat, Jeep Rubicon, BMW M3, GMC Denali, Volkswagen GTI.

For the first time ever, the familiar ol’ Explorer three-row SUV has adopted Ford’s hellion ST badge — and it’s like tossing Roger Federer an oversize graphite racket. It gives Explorer a better all-around game. It’s got 400 horsepower, more black makeup than Alice Cooper, and will land dad in jail if he takes it to a back road.

Henry Payne goes Zero-60 in the 2020 Ford Explorer, a vehicle that can park itself. The Detroit News

And that’s a good thing in the ferociously competitive three-row SUV rugby scrum, where you either stand out or get ground into the turf.

The Explorer, of course, is — along with the Jeep Grand Cherokee — one of the pioneers of the midsize SUV segment. They dominated the class for years, selling zillions and printing more money than Daddy Warbucks thanks to building on an existing pickup chassis.

Then Ford woke up a decade ago and realized that every other automaker had jumped into the segment.

There were unibody-based Toyota Highlanders and stonkin’ Dodge Durango R/Ts and spacious Chevy Traverses. Heck, even Jeep had sprouted a Trackhawk variant with something like 15,000 horsepower and a V-8 mating call that made every grown male howl at the moon.

So Dearborn got busy and the all-new 2020 Explorer is the result. It advances on Ford’s first 2011 unibody SUV in every conceivable way. It would take five columns to cover the highlights of this car, but let me sum the Explorer up this way: It’s a handsome, rear- and all-wheel drive, nice-handling 4,700-pound school bus. It’s off-road capable, roomy, high-tech, detail-rich and ergonomically smart.

(Pause to catch breath)

It’s a powerful, quiet, connected crossover with a one-touch autonomous self-parking feature that will have your neighbor who just bought an Audi for $20,000 more running over for a demo.

Even with all that, sales champ Explorer was going to be under pressure to hold off value plays like the Kia Telluride and Toyota Highlander.

So, like Federer watching tape between matches, Explorer went out and augmented its core design and technology strengths by adopting the competition’s best features.

For years Explorer has been the fashion plate of SUVs. Like the lovely Fusion sedan copying Aston’s face, Ford knows a beaut when it sees it one. Explorer cribbed SUV heartthrob Range Rover’s wardrobe, right down to the Brit’s stylish bonnet lettering, E-X-P-L-O-R-E-R.

Taking Rover’s lesson one step further, the 2020 Explorer adopts a luxury-class longitudinal engine architecture that pushes the wheels out to the front corners. That creates a dramatic silhouette with long snout, scalloped shoulders and big haunches.

Nice, but then the designers took the rest of the day off.

Where Range Rover’s design (check out the Velar, and bring a drool bucket) is lean and Apple-spare, the Ford is over-designed in the front, giving its face a jowly, heavy appearance compared to the last generation. Liposuction, please.

Explorer takes a back seat to the crisp Kia Telluride as class prom queen.

Kia then adds insult to injury by making its front wheel drive-based beauty a cheap date. Endowed with a long list of standard features like adaptive cruise-control and blind-spot assist, a $41,845 all-wheel drive Telluride EX with 20-inch wheels and moonroof undercuts Explorer’s similarly equipped, $47,405 Explorer XLT by a whopping $5,500.

Happily, Ford has put that rear-wheel drive based platform to other good uses.

Like Detroit rival Dodge Durango — another SUV in class with a rear wheel drive-based bod — the Explorer is engineered to be an athlete from the ground up.

Despite those jowls, the 2020 model is 200 pounds lighter than the 2019. Mated to Ford’s base 2.3-liter workhorse turbo-4 (also found in the speedy Mustang and European Focus RS), the volume XLT Explorer can cut some rug on the dance floor and does a pretty good imitation of a Jeep off-road.

Stomp the pedal and the Explorer thinks it’s a Focus ST in an SUV body. The secretary of state should require a racing license to operate this Frankenstein’s monster. Taut and responsive with the Explorer’s standard 10-speed tranny throwing off quick upshifts, the three-row ST gulped pavement at an alarming rate in the hills of Portland’s Columbia River valley.

What are you doing, Payne, this is a three-row ute!

And it’s a usable three rows. Yes, Grand Cherokee’s Hellcat-fueled, 707-horse Trackhawk has no peer. But you can only make three other adults sick in its two-row configuration. Thanks to that RWD-based architecture, Explorer has gained a healthy 4 inches of legroom behind the front seat, meaning you can put two 6-footers in the third row.

The Explorer isn’t all looks and muscle. It’s taken Ergonomics 101 from the Honda Pilot.

The three-row Pilot is homely compared to its glamorous classmates, but it geeks out on interior detail with its space-saving trigger shifter, console storage and one-button third-row access. Veteran Explorer chief engineer Bill Gubing and his team watched and learned.

The Explorer will win over the family with its attention to detail: Rotary shifter. Horizontal-or-vertical touchscreens. Single-button access to third row seats. Sub-cargo storage for muddy cleats. Rocker-panel foot-steps for Christmas tree-tying roof access …

(Pause to catch breath)

… standard automatic rear-hatch. Sports-car-like, 2X hood release to save you from fishing for the release under the bonnet.

Only with its first hybrid does Explorer shy from the competition. Despite years of hybrid development, Ford prices it way out of reach — at a nose-bleed $53,000 — from the excellent,$38,000 Highlander Hybrid.

Seems Ford would rather show off its pioneering electronics.

Like a luxury car, you’ll be showing it off to your friends. There’s the FordPass app that can remotely start your car, look in on tire pressures and vacuum Cheerios from under the seats (just kidding about that last part). And then there’s self-park assist, part of Ford’s must-have Co-Pilot360 driver-assist package. I spent an evening effortlessly parallel parking a giant, three-row SUV all over town by touching nothing but a button.

Which was relaxing after a day of wringing the Explorer ST’s neck all over Oregon.

2020 Ford Explorer

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- and all-wheel drive, seven- or eight-passenger, three-row SUV

Price: Base price $37,770 for XLT including $1,095 destination charge ($46,130 AWD XLT and $54,740 AWD ST as tested)

Powerplant: 2.3-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder; hybrid 3.3-liter V-6 mated to AC electric motor (hybrid only); 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 (ST and Platinum only)

Power: 300 horsepower, 310 pound-feet of torque; 318 horsepower, 322 torque combined (hybrid); 400 horsepower, 415 torque (ST); 365 horsepower, 380 torque (Platinum)

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.5 sec. (ST, mfr.); maximum towing, 5,600 pounds

Weight: 4,345 pounds base RWD (4,701 AWD ST)

Fuel economy (all numbers with AWD): EPA: 20 city/27 highway/23 combined (2.3-L turbo-4); 18 city/24 highway/20 combined (3.0-L turbo-V6): N/A for hybrid model

Report card

Highs: ST hottie; one-button self-parking

Lows: Jowly face; gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

Ultra-high-performance Ford GT will set off fireworks July 4

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2019

The Ford GT will debut a new ultra-performance model July 4 at Goodwood in England.

Ford’s performance division will try to leave behind a difficult month at Le Mans by setting off some fireworks July 4 at England’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The automaker will unveil an “ultra-high-performance” version of the Ford GT production car alongside the Mustang Shelby GT500, the most powerful Ford ever produced. The annual Goodwood show is one of Europe’s premier automotive events.

The mid-engine GT’s sister race car was off the pace at the June 15-16 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race. It was the last factory-backed appearance at the famous track that made Ford GT an international household name. To add insult to injury, the best-placing GT in the GTE Pro class was disqualified for violating fuel tank regulations. Worse, the winning Ford in the GTE Am category – a private entry – was stripped of its crown for the same fuel breach.

No use crying over spilled fuel. So Ford is bringing out its big guns next Thursday to blow bad memories away.

Ford is teasing the new GT with a single photograph, but expect the latest evolution of the $700,000-plus halo car Ford has limited to a 1,350 production run. All GTs are hand-built by Multimatic in Canada.

Ending months of suspense after the GT500’s debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January, Ford announced this week that the mega-Mustang’s supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 will make a ground-shaking 760 horsepower – the most of any Detroit muscle car this side of the 840-horsepower Dodge Demon.

Both Fords are expected to make quick runs up Goodwood’s narrow, haybale-lined, 1.16-mile hill-climb course for the assembled multitudes.

The 760-horse Mustang GT500 eclipses by far the Snake’s last model in 2014. That generation boasted 662 horsepower. The 2020 car will mate all that power to a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Ford promises customers won’t miss the traditional manual.

Significantly, the GT500’s power figure exceeds the 650-horse Chevy Camaro ZL1 1LE – the track-focused, winged GT500’s chief rival.

The supercar halos will preside over a packed Goodwood paddock of Ford muscle. Other toys will include:

  • The all-new Focus ST – alas, for European eyes only, because the pocket rocket has been discontinued on this side of the pond.
  • Joey Logano’s 2018, championship-winning Team Penske Fusion NASCAR
  • Gymkhana TEN star Ken Block’s Hoonitruck and Escort RS Cosworth
  • A Euro-spec Ranger Raptor pickup which will show off its moves on an off-road course.

The No. 66 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT racer will also be on hand fresh from its sixth-place Le Mans finish. The car was one of four factory entries making one more bid to win the endurance race after taking the trophy in its maiden voyage in 2016. That win came 50 years after Ford  famously beat Ferrari in 1966, stunning the European racing world.

Ford was stunned at this year’s race when its No. 68 car was disqualified from fourth place.

Officially, Le Mans stewards found the race car’s total fuel volume was “in excess of the permitted limit.” The maximum allowed is 97 liters, while post-race scrutiny found the GT a hair over the limit at 97.83 liters.

Payne: Can the rugged Jeep Gladiator pickup adapt to domestic life?

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 20, 2019

I first drove the 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup on a bruising off-road course in rural California: Mud-caked trails. Rocky landscapes. You know, Jeep stuff. Marketers love to show this capability off to journalists. How about that, eh? Unbelievable, yes? Yes, yes. But rugged as the ladder-frame Gladiator (and brother Wrangler) may be, how many owners will ever take it to those extremes?

So I was eager to get a Gladiator in my driveway this spring to test it as a common commuter sled where I would have to live with the Jeep’s more, ahem, truck-like attributes.

Silly me. I forgot that driving Michigan roads is an off-road test in itself.

Michigan has some of the worst byways I’ve ever driven (and this is coming from a West Virginia boy, no stranger to bad roads). Especially during the spring thaw when potholes the size of the Mariana Trench open up. Close your eyes crossing from Ohio to Michigan and you’ll feel it. KUH-THUNK, KUH-THUNK, KUH-THUNK. Welcome to Pure Michigan.

Pure Michigan.

The rugged Jeep came as a relief. I’ve been testing the autonomous-driving capabilities of a few luxury cars this spring — Mercedes, BMW, Tesla — and it’s murder on the concentration. The vehicles are competent enough at seeing lanes and traffic, but they can’t see imperfections in the road, so I’m always poised to intervene for fear of — KUH-THUNK — losing a tire.

The Jeep, by contrast, has no self-driving pretensions, and its rugged tires and frame shrugged off potholes like Avengers bouncing off Thanos. Take I-75 north of Madison Heights, for example. Ruts have opened up between the concrete lanes like moats around medieval castles. Negotiating these in a sports sedan is nerve-wracking. The Gladiator thumps over them with ease.

“Kid stuff. Payne, take me to a real off-road park like the Mounds!”

The Jeep was begging me. But I resisted. I was determined to write about the Gladiator as a daily commuter.

It gave me peace of mind every day I left the house. No worries about rough roads shaking the car to dust. In fact, my Gladiator Overland tester almost floated over the road on its big Bridgestones. This truck is no sport truck like the stiff Chevy Silverado Trail Boss.

Road handling is not its forte. But personality it has in waves. I covet the spare aesthetic brilliance of a Porsche or a Mazda, but after a week with the Gladiator I get its brand magnetism: Iconic face. Raw, outdoorsy design with exposed hinges and lock-down hood. Tattooed graphics everywhere, including a Jeep crawling up the windshield and “♥419” carved in the bed to honor its Toledo-built area code. Signature interior touches like straps that adjust the seat backs and door nets that hold cargo.

I find mid-size truck interiors to be cold and uninspiring, but the Gladiator has an appealing wardrobe with luxury-like flair. You know when you are in a Mercedes — and when you’re in a Jeep. It is this personality that makes the Jeep coveted across mainstream and luxury buyers.

I took Mrs. Payne out for an evening on the town and she chose the Jeep pickup in the driveway over the BMW 3-series. She wanted the Jeep’s status: outdoorsy, unique, authentic. She had coveted the Jeep Wrangler at a young age.

Is there any other truck with that kind of cross-gender appeal?

Jeep knows it’s got game, and you pay for it. The Jeep is priced to be exclusive, eschewing the low-end, rear-wheel drive market occupied by Chevy and Ford to start at $35,000 with 4-wheel-drive only. My tester was pricey — Gladiators are generally $2,000-$3,000 more than comparable competitors — yet lacks handy tech like the Ford Ranger’s self-parking feature. At $53,000, my Overland still had cloth seats!

My wife pulled herself into the cab with the A-pillar handle and remarked about the cloth and the noisy cab (all the panels, including doors, are designed to come off). But the Jeep turned heads, dressed in silver with gray 18-inch wheels, when we pulled into an upscale parking lot full of BMWs and Lexuses.

Payne, I’m getting impatient here. When can I get dirty?!

The Jeep’s voice continued to nag at me. All that off-road capability — skid plates, plastic bumpers, signature second shift-knob for 4-wheel-low — and I was just going to drive it back and forth to work? Even my pickup bed forays to haul mulch and winter debris from the yard seemed soooo mundane.

I finally gave in. Like driving a Porsche for a week and never going to the track, it just wasn’t right to deny the Gladiator a trip to its natural habitat. We set course for the Mound ORV Park near Flint over the Memorial Day weekend.

Just an hour north of Metro Detroit in Mount Morris, the Mounds is a haven for off-roaders. Its swampy, hilly, mogul-infested terrain is choked with dirt bikers, ATVs and mega-tire trucks. And Jeeps.

Jeep Wranglers are everywhere. The new Gladiator was an instant rock star.

I floored the 285-horse V-6 across moguls and splashed through narrow bike trails, the Gladiator’s compact proportions allowing it to go where a full-size truck could never roam. That floaty, on-road handling is perfect for terrain like this as the chassis requires flexibility over undulating terrain.

A helmeted dirt biker sidled up to me. “Dude, that Gladiator is beautiful. How’s it feel out here?” Like a Wrangler with a bed, I replied, and he gave me the “hook ’em horns” sign.

I slopped through a series of muddy ruts, caking the Gladiator in mud. A female ATV-writer sidled up to my door. “How’s it doin’? My daughter wants one sooooo bad!”

Locked in four-wheel low, I fishtailed across a muddy trail. A herd of dirt bikers rode by — all pumping their arms and giving me “hook ’em horns” signs.

Does the Jeep Gladiator pass muster as a metro commuter vehicle? Yup. Its mid-size dimensions, easy Uconnect infotainment and signature interior make it an all-season ride. But don’t forget to heed the call of the off-road every once in a while.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

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

Price: Base price $35,040 including $1,495 destination charge ($53,045 Overland as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 285 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic; 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.2 sec. (Car and Driver); maximum towing, 7,650 pounds; payload, 1,600 pounds

Weight: 4,450 pounds (5,072 Overland as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 17 city/22 highway/19 combined (automatic); 16 city/23 highway/19 combined (manual)

Report card

Highs: Jeep cred; off-road warrior

Lows: Pricey; numb handling on-road

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: BMW 3-series wants its crown back

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2019

The 2019 BMW 330i sedan's sport coupe roof, long hood, and short overhangs telegraph its rear-wheel-drive, longitudinal engine. The 330i adds AWD for Michigan winters.

Socialism is all the rage these days among Washington elites, but lucky for them their new BMW 3-series was born in the boiling shark tank of capitalism.

Long the alpha shark in the compact-luxury segment, the last-generation 3 got a little, um, fat. And boy, did the product managers in Munich get an earful from the market.

New Coke never had it this hard.

Media outlets ripped BMW for going soft. Car and Driver dropped the 3-series from its Top 10 list for the first time in memory. Sales dropped. Enthusiasts started to talk openly of the Alfa Giulia and Cadillac ATS as the new standards for class-handling. The competitive pressures weren’t just athletic complaints, either.

Mercedes’ luscious interiors were turning heads away from BMW. Tesla’s sci-fi Model 3 was shaming the class with Silicon Valley technology. Mainstream upstarts like the Mazda 6 were offering athletic value for $20,000 cheaper. And then there’s the market flip to premium sport-utes.

Well. Market reaction duly noted.

The seventh-generation 2019 BMW 3-series bears a familiar silhouette and kidney grille but is otherwise a comprehensive remake to re-establish its iconic self as King of the Hill. It mostly succeeds.

Payne: BMW-Jaguar want to make EV babies

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 8, 2019

The Jaguar I-Pace charges on a 240-volt charger .

BMW and Jaguar Land Rover have announced they are tying the knot on power-train technology — but their offspring won’t have a growl.

The luxury auto icons will be developing the next generation of drive units for their electric cars, the latest collaboration between rival automakers as they move to Autos 2.0 — or ACES as the joint venture puts it, shorthand for Automated, Connected, Electric and Shared Vehicles.

“The transition to ACES represents the greatest technological shift in the automotive industry in a generation,” said Jaguar Land Rover engineering chief Nick Rogers. “The pace of change and consumer interest in electrified vehicles is gathering real momentum and it’s essential we work across industry to advance the technologies required.”

Automakers have a long history of collaborating on everything from gas engines (Toyota Supra and BMW Z4 share a 6-cylinder) to chassis (Ford and VW share commercial-truck platforms in global markets). On the ACES front, Honda and General Motors have joined forces on autonomous vehicles, and the recent merger talks between Renault SA and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV were in part driven by electric vehicle collaboration.

Hook-ups on ACES have become especially important given the uncertain development timeline of autonomous vehicles and the uncertain market for EVs. With hard government mandates looming, EV development is especially pressing.

For the first time governments are forcing automakers to make a particular drive-train — namely,  battery-electric — even though customers have shown little desire for the technology. Automakers have no choice but to follow an expensive path of making vehicles desired by markets — and by governments.

BMW and Jaguar have made their mark as manufacturers of roaring, gas-powered hellions like the M3 sports sedan and F-Type sports car. But both companies have been bullish on EV tech.

Given EVs range and charging issues, luxury buyers have been targeted as early adopters with multiple cars in their garages. BMW has launched a separate, battery-powered, “i-line” of cars led by the i3 hatchback and i8 sports car. Jaguar, too, has been a pioneer with its i-Pace SUV.

But sales of these products have been tepid in a U.S. market where EV owners have been reluctant to buy anything not named Tesla. The Silicon Valley-based electric car-maker has dominated EV sales — for example, its $40,000 Model 3’s unit sales dwarfed the $45,000 i3 in May, 13,950 to 439. And Tesla’s $75,000 Model X SUV outsold the $70,000 Jaguar i-Pace SUV by 1,375 to 228.

Worse for the European duo, Tesla sales have dropped this year as the company has maxed out on selling cars with a $7,500 tax credit. Buyers of BMW and Jaguar EVs still get the full $7,500 credit — the eventual loss of which could be even more devastating as the automakers struggle to meet U.S. regulations. In Europe, a key market for BMW and Jaguar, demand is weak while government mandates are even more onerous.

Faced with these realities, BMW and Jaguar are pooling resources on a new electric-drive unit.

“We’ve proven we can build world-beating electric cars, but now we need to scale the technology to support the next generation of Jaguar and Land Rover products,” said Jaguar’s Rogers. “It was clear from discussions with BMW Group that both companies’ requirements for next-generation EDUs to support this transition have significant overlap making for a mutually beneficial collaboration.”

The agreement allows for efficiencies created from shared R&D — as well as from joint procurement across the industry supply chain.

BMW and Jaguar Land Rover engineers will then jointly develop the EDUs — then manufacture them in separate facilities to meet the needs of their product lines. The British brand says production will take place at two facilities in England: Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

Payne: Despite autonomous potential, automakers still hone their brands by racing

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 8, 2019

Driver Scott Dixon celebrates after winning the Dual II IndyCar Series Race at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 2.

Driver Scott Dixon celebrates after winning the Dual II IndyCar Series Race at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 2. (Photo: Robin Buckson, The Detroit News)

Pontiac — Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

That mantra guides nearly every major automaker today as brands from Chevrolet to Acura to Porsche pour extraordinary sums of money into the top echelons of motorsports to burnish their performance images and bring customers into showrooms. Despite the billions being invested in autonomous and electric vehicles today, motorsports is still a cornerstone of brand ID.

Where each automaker focuses that performance energy tells you a lot about where their brands are headed.

Honda Motor Co. wasted no time Monday after its win in Sunday’s Detroit Grand Prix as the engine supplier for Scott Dixon’s winning IndyCar. The Japanese manufacturer immediately pivoted to promoting … the Honda Civic compact car.

Honda hosted dozens of journalists here at M1 Concourse’s Champion Motor Speedway to sample the $34K, 307-horsepower Civic Type-R hatchback — the most ferocious, most expensive model in Civic’s broad lineup — and its TCR racing offspring. The Type-R TCR is entered in the IMSA sports car series Michelin Pilot Challenge racing series.

“In recent years we’ve really tried to push these production-based cars as an affordable entry point to get new (buyers) into the brand,” said Honda Performance Development engineer Justin Chiodo here. HPD manages Honda’s racing effort. “By … showing the performance of our cars it makes it a more desirable vehicle for people to purchase.”

The investment in the TCR racing program shows the importance that Honda places on the compact Civic as a brand halo and as an entry-point for first-time car buyers. Significantly, it is a segment that Detroit has abandoned completely in order to concentrate on compact SUVs.

Chevrolet, too, won at the Detroit Grand Prix last weekend as Penske’s Joseph Newgarden brought his Chevy-powered IndyCar into victory lane in the first of the weekend’s two open-wheel car races.

Chevy tries to translate such success into production cars. Its racing efforts include fielding racing versions of the Corvette and Camaro muscle cars to compete in IMSA just like Honda’s Civic — but in more powerful classes.

The Camaro, for example, competes in the Michelin Pilot Challenge GS class which includes other performance cars like the Ford Mustang, BMW M4, Mercedes AMG GT4, and Porsche Cayman GT4.R.

This effort dovetails with Chevrolet’s determination to make the Camaro the design halo for a new generation of SUVs, including the recently introduced Chevy Trailblazer and Blazer which share Camaro design cues. Chevy hopes the racy design — and Camaro/Corvette’s success at the track — will help elevate its SUVs over other, lookalike utes.

Honda’s TCR class, meanwhile, is dominated by foreign makes which still see the large (if shrinking) compact car class as key to conquering entry-level buyers. Other brands scrapping for attention in the class include the Hyundai Elantra, VW Golf GTI, and Audi RS3 race cars — all based on compact cars.

In addition to the wave of publicity that manufacturers receive from media coverage and trips to victory lane, they also value the tech transfer from racing. Racing cars at their track limits helps inform the next generation of production technology.

“There is a lot of feedback to Honda from all the teams about things we can improve on for the next race — or for the next generation of the car,” says Todd Lamb, owner of Atlanta Speedwerks, a racing team that fields two Civic TCR race cars in the IMSA series. “Everything we do adds up. Some of what we do on the track ends up back in the street car. It’s neat to see.”

Racing also fuels the aspirations of young people long before they get their driver’s license.

“Racing attracted me at an early age,” says Honda engineer Chiodo. “I’ve always had a strong respect for Honda. I grew up racing dirt bikes and I saw the quality and the products that this company builds. I always wanted to work for them.”

Honda and GM are partners in investing in the future of autonomous cars — a ride-sharing area that is uncharted new territory for these personal transportation brands. Until markets emerge for those products, however, both companies will continue to define themselves by racing.

After Detroit, Chevy and Honda will be watched by millions powering IndyCars at Road America in Wisconsin June 23. One week later, the IMSA sports car circus will travel to Watkins Glen, N.Y., where entries will include the Chevy Corvette in GT-LeMans class, Camaro and Civic Type-R TCR in Michelin Pilot Challenge, and Cadillac/Acura/Nissan/Mazda porotype racers in the IMSA Weathertech series.

Says Chiodo: “People see these cars racing on the track and maybe … that makes them interested in buying a Type-R, or a (Civic) Si, and even a Civic and enjoy our great engineering on the street.”

Payne: Hot-hatch Lexus UX F Sport vs. VW GTI, Mazda 3, Kia Soul GT

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 6, 2019

Henry Payne compares hot hatchbacks 2019 Mazda 3, clockwise from top-left, 2019 Lexus UX 250h F Sport, 2019 Kia Soul GT and the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The Age of Ute is upon us, so it was inevitable that we would start to see SUV hot-hatches. Consider the Lexus UX 250h F Sport that just swaggered into my driveway.

Is it worthy? I put it to the test with some iconic hot-hatchback cars: Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mazda 3 and Kia Soul GT.

Compact hot-hatches, as readers of this space know, are my favorite class of car. They’re fun, utilitarian and affordable. Pound per dollar, they are the best all-around cars on the market. But this sport-ute craze has me worried.

Sedans are falling under the SUV tidal wave, their high-performance variants getting swept away with them. With the Ford Focus sedan has gone the Focus ST and Focus RS. So long Ford Fiesta means adios to the 197-horse Fiesta ST, a mainstay on my Top 10 list of best cars.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Mazda deep-sixed its Mazdaspeed 3 a few years ago to concentrate on sport utilities. The only silver lining in the Chevy Cruze’s burial is it didn’t take a hot hatch with it. Because there never was one. Happily, foreign makes are bullish on five-door performance hatchbacks.

Now Lexus throws its all-new, alphanumeric-nightmare UX 250h F Sport SUV into the fray. Is it worthy? I put it to the test with its car peers.

First, some rules.

A hot hatch has five-doors. Jetta GLI, I love ya, but you’re a sedan. The Golf GTI meets the criteria. Qualifying as a pocket rocket isn’t just a wardrobe change, it’s a performance upgrade with a steroid boost that gets your right foot tingling and your eyes sweeping the landscape for twisty roads beyond the metro grid.

Hell, Michigan, here I come!

And it’s gotta be affordable. That means $40,000 or less. Sorry, Mercedes AMG GLA 45 with four-zillion horsepower and a $50,000-plus price tag to match. You’re out.

No worries. That leaves a lot of stuff like the Hyundai Veloster N, Hyundai Elantra GT N, Mini Cooper S, Fiat 500 Abarth, Honda Civic Type-R (oooooh, somebody open a window it’s getting hot in here) … and our competitive test set: Golf GTI, Mazda 3 and Soul GT ute.

The $40,910 Lexus — injected with hybrid torque — certainly makes a first impression: Darth Vader grille. Scalloped bodywork. Ultrasonic Blue. Pocket rocket-fans crave look-at-me styling. It’s also an all-wheel driver like the retired Ford RS — um, to a point.

Adopting the same philosophy as the Toyota Prius AWD-e, the rear wheels get their drive from an electric motor which only works up to 45 mph. Why 45? To maximize fuel efficiency, and … wait, what? This is where you begin to realize the F Sport may not have its heart in this hot-hatch thing.

Combined with a 1.4-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery, the 2.0-liter four-banger makes just 181 horsepower — which is well off the $36,890 (as tested) Golf GTI’s ferocious 228 ponies.

The 2019 GTI is a joy to drive hard. The turbo’s 258-pound-feet-of-torque is sensational at low revs but never overwhelms the front paws. On a long trip to Road America race track in Wisconsin the GTI was both a comfy cargo-hauler and an attack dog for lunchtime track laps.

The Lexus is based on Toyota’s sporty TNGA platform, which is the most athletic Toyota-Lexus platform yet. With suspension bits upgraded from the standard UX, the F Sport is marvelously tossable through turns. But step on the gas and its kinship with its big-brother RC F Sport coupe suffers.

The UX 250h smothers its ambitions with a continuously variable transmission. Lexus tries to spice up the ol’ noodle with simulated gear steps and the (oddly inconsistent) rev match on upshifts and downshifts. The battery-tranny combo doesn’t provide the one-two punch of the GTI’s turbo-manual (6-speed auto optional).

The compact VW is the premium car here with more performance and room over the pricier-but-smaller subcompact UX. The GTI even shines in the style department where its timeless lines are complemented by signature, low-profile wheels.

Like the Lexus UX’s all-wheel drive for winter? Bring in the 2019 Mazda 3 hatch which features all-wheel drive for the first time. I bend the rules for the Mazda a bit since it no longer offers the MazdaSpeed performance upgrade. But the 3’s 186 horses make it one of the most powerful standard engines in segment and beats the Lexus to 60 by a whopping 1.7 seconds.

That, and the 3’s handling and looks are top shelf. Its aesthetics have no peer. Dress it in Soul Red and it will melt snow.

But the real revelation of our test is the 2019 Kia Soul GT, the original hot-hatch SUV.

This funk-mobile has outlasted its boxy brethren — the Nissan Cube and Scion xB — with smart marketing and a fun-to-drive vibe. A subcompact ute, it mirrors Lexus in available features (save AWD) — blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise-control, smartphone-app compatibility, lane-keep assist — but for just $28,965.

I escaped with the Soul through the rural roads of east Virginia’s Northern Neck and had a ball.

The box is driven by a smooth dual-clutch transmission that the Lexus would die for. Nail the throttle and the 201-horse turbo 1.6-liter practically rips the front wheels out of their fenders. It’s a live one, this animal.

The last-generation Soul marketed itself with rapping hamsters, but this generation feels higher up the food chain. Soul’s more sophisticated wardrobe includes boomerang taillights and thin Camaro-like LED headlights. Gone are the goggle-eyed hamster peepers.

I found the Soul’s sci-fi look more premium than the Lexus but still with plenty of, well, soul. The feeling continues inside. Both the Soul (circles everywhere) and the Lexus (slashing lines like its exterior) are funkadelic. But the Soul’s console touchscreen outclasses the F Sport. Like other Lexi, the UX screen is controlled by a touchpad that will have you cursing like Yosemite Sam.

Consarn rassa-frassin’ racka-frackin’ varmint!

My biggest complaint about the Soul is its uncomfortable front seats — but in the roomy rear, your giraffe-legged reviewer could sit behind himself.

We in Club Hot Hatch are pleased to have new members, and the Lexus UX 250h F Sport is a welcome addition. But it has work to do to catch its mainstream brothers.

2019 Lexus UX 250h F Sport

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

Price: $37,025 base including $1,025 destination fee ($40,910 as tested)

Powerplant: 181 horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder hybrid with electric-motor assist

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

Performance: 8.6 second zero-60 (Car and Driver); 110 mph top speed

Weight: 3,605 pounds

Fuel economy: 41 mpg city/38 mpg highway/39 mpg combined

Highs: Dramatic style; good fuel economy

Lows: fussy infotainment controller; more muscle, please

Overall: 2 stars

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5 passenger, compact hot-hatch car

Price: $28,490 base including $895 destination fee ($36,890 Autobahn trim as tested)

Powerplant: 228 horsepower, 258 pound feet of torque, 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed manual; 7-speed automatic

Performance: 6.0 second zero-60 (Car and Driver); 125 top speed

Weight: 3,186 pounds (manual); 3,256 (automatic)

Fuel economy: 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway/27 mpg combined (manual); 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway/27 mpg combined (automatic)

Highs: Roomy hatch; torque-tastic

Lows: Stop/start system ruffles otherwise smooth drivetrain (happily, it’s not on the manual)

Overall: 4 stars

2019 Mazda 3 hatchback

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 5-passenger, compact hot-hatch car

Price: $24,495 including $895 destination fee ($31,930 as tested)

Powerplant: 186 horsepower, 185 pound feet of torque, 2.6-liter inline-4 cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed automatic, 6-speed manual

Performance: 6.9 second zero-60 (Car and Driver, est.); 130 top speed

Weight: 3,255 pounds (AWD hatchback as tested)

Fuel economy: 25 city/35 highway/29 combined (FWD manual); 24 city/32 highway/27 combined (AWD auto, as tested)

Highs: Easy on the eyes; luxury-class interior design

Lows: Blind spot the size of New Hampshire; bring back high-horse MazdaSpeed, please?

Overall: 3 stars

2019 Kia Soul GT

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger, compact hot-hatch SUV

Price: $28,495 base including $895 destination fee ($28,495 as tested)

Powerplant: 201 horsepower, 195 pound feet of torque, 1.6-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 6.3 second zero-60 (Car and Driver); 130 top speed

Weight: 3,036 pounds

Fuel economy: 27 mpg city/32 mpg highway/29 mpg combined

Highs: A step up in sophistication from previous hamster-mobile; sci-fi look

Lows: Not as athletic as its peer group; hard front seats

Overall: 3 stars

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‘Ford v Ferrari’ roars into theaters Nov. 15

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 6, 2019

Christian Bale in "Ford v. Ferrari," in theaters Nov. 15.

Hollywood loves epic battles: “Clash of the Titans.” “Batman vs. Superman.” Godzilla vs. anything.

Now here comes the heavyweight movie that Detroit has long been waiting for: “Ford v Ferrari.”

The story of Ford’s historic 1966 defeat of the famous Italian racing marque at the world’s most famous endurance race, LeMans, will be told on Nov. 15 when the movie is released to theaters. A trailer was dropped this week, and it promises scenes filled with speed, crashes and sexy cars.

But learning from the checkered history of racing movies, director James Mangold (“Logan,” “3:10 to Yuma”) has taken care to make this movie about more than two car companies. This is a movie about big personalities (Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles, Henry Ford II) played by big movie stars (respectively, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Tracy Letts).

“Ford v Ferrari” tells the tale of Henry the Deuce’s quest – after being spurned by Enzo Ferrari in a cross-Atlantic merger – to embarrass the Italian in his own sandbox: LeMans, the 24-hour race that Ferrari had won 6 years running.

The stakes were big and so were the egos. The film goes behind the scenes as Ford hires Shelby to build one of Ford’s iconic cars – the GT40 – to pull off one of racing’s greatest upsets. Spoiler alert: Ford sweeps the podium.

“You’re gonna build a car to beat Ferrari… with a Ford,” says British race-driver Miles in the clip. “And how long did you tell them you needed? Two-three hundred years?”

“Ninety days,” snaps Shelby.

The focus on auto personalities follows Ron Howard’s successful formula in 2013’s “Rush,” which relived a Formula One title duel by casting Hollywood heart-throb Chris Hemsworth in the leading role. That movie seemed to give a second breath to racing movies (after disasters like Steve McQueen’s 1971 flop “LeMans”), “Ford v Ferrari” roars into theaters this year along with another highly anticipated car film, “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

“Ford v Ferrari,” its source material derived from A.J. Baime’s critically acclaimed book, “Go Like Hell,” was ultimately based on an original screenplay. Initially cast with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in the leading roles, the movie has taken a circuitous course to the big screen.

Damon and Bale are already promoting the movie, appearing as honorary starters and waving the green flag for the Indy 500 Memorial Day weekend.

Despite Ford’s favorable outcome, the movie was made without the Blue Oval’s help. Indeed, the preview does not seem to cast Henry Ford II in a favorable light as he whimpers in the passenger seat after being taken by Shelby for a wild test ride in the GT40.

“Based on this trailer, I think I might miss opening night! I knew Henry Ford II and Tracy Letts is no Henry Ford II,” the Deuce’s son, Edsel Ford II, tweeted this week after seeing the trailer.

Hollywood hopes for more positive reviews this winter.

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