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Monster Mustang Shelby GT500 revealed at Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

The Mustang GT500 is revealed Monday at the North American International Auto Show media preview at Cobo Center.

Detroit — Fear the Snake. Ford Motor Co. unveiled the most-powerful Mustang ever, the 700-plus horsepower Shelby GT500, at the Detroit auto show Monday morning.

The muscle car will take its place atop a Mustang lineup that includes a turbo-4 powered base Mustang, V-8 powered GT and high-revving GT350. For the first time in 50 years, the legendary GT350 and GT500 badges will be on sale together in Ford showrooms.

But where previous generations of the GT500 were drag-strip brutes compared to the more nimble, track-focused GT350, Ford says the third-generation GT500 will be an all-around athlete.

“Historically, the GT500 was about straight-line speed. Now this thing does everything — it’s a no-compromise muscle car,” said Ford Performance marketing chief Jim Owens. “Somewhere in heaven, Carroll Shelby is smiling. The GT500 was his favorite car.”

Shelby was the legendary performance guru who took Ford racing to another level in the 1960s with the LeMans-winning Ford GTs and steroid-pumped Mustangs. After the first GT500 was produced from 1967-1970, the badge was shelved until a 2007-13 production run.

The third-generation car takes aim squarely at the current king of muscle, the Chevy Camaro ZL1 and winged ZL1 1LE.

Like the 650-horsepower Camaro, the Mustang will get its 700-plus horses (the final number is still to be determined by Ford’s engineering team) from a massive supercharger atop of its V-8 engine. Engineers say the final torque number will be close to the Camaro’s 650.

The GT500 uses the same 5.2-liter block as the GT350’s 526-horsepower “Voodoo” V-8 (Ford engines get menacing nicknames). But its unique “Predator” engine will forgo Voodoo’s exotic flat-plane crankshaft, opting for a more familiar cross-plane crank instead.

Hyundai scores auto show double award, Ram is king of trucks

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

Reid Bigland, head of Ram brand, accepts the award for the 2019 North American Truck of the Year for the Ram 1500 on Monday in Detroit.Ram won the Detroit truck wars to take the North American Truck of the Year Monday, but Korea’s Hyundai dominated the car and SUV awards.

Genesis, Hyundai’s young luxury arm, won for car with its compact G70 sedan. Then its parent brand followed with SUV of the Year for the Hyundai Kona. It’s the first time an automaker has won two awards since Chevrolet won the car and truck awards in 2014.

It also establishes Hyundai as a multi-threat Asian automaker on par with Honda, Toyota, and Nissan which also have award-winning mainstream and luxury divisions. Honda and its Acura brand were also finalists in this year’s competition.

The prestigious North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards — celebrating its 30th anniversary — kicked off the Detroit auto show at Cobo Hall.

The Ram 1500 held off the General Motors siblings, the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, to take truck honors.

“Consumers are seeing the same thing this jury saw in the Ram truck,” said RAM chief Reid Bigland. “In the last three months sales were up 20 percent and in the last month sales were up a whopping 47 percent.”

The Ram truck wowed jurors with its sculpted styling, tablet-like infotainment screen, and tech-tastic standard features. The truckmaker hopes to ride its NACTOY success into the launch of its heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 models which RAM is touting with a staggering 1000 pound-feet of torque at this year’s show. The GMC Sierra also impressed the jury with its six-way, MultiPro tailgate.

The Genesis G70 beat out the Honda Insight and Volvo S90, an impressive accomplishment for a young brand competing against giants like BMW and Audi. The Nurburgring-tested G70 impressed jurors with its nimble handling, manual-exclusive Sport model, and affordable price.

“This is very meaningful for us. This is only our third year as a brand and this really means a lot,” said Genesis North America brand chief Manfred Fitzgerald as he accepted the award on stage.

The Hyundai Kona compact SUV, which starts at just $20,000, bested the more premium Jaguar I-Pace electric car and Acura RDX. Loaded with standard features, solid handling and a long-range EV model, the volume-selling Kona proved irresistible to buyers over the lux brands.

“This is very unexpected,” said William Lee, Hyundai North American boss. “We developed the Kona to be stylish and comfortable with an electric version that has over 250 miles of range.”

NACTOY President Lauren Fix was also surprised by the Hyundai’s win.

“We knew the G70 and Ram would be tough to beat,” said the popular author of The Car Coach website, “but I was really shocked by the Hyundai. It packs great utility as a great price.”

The NACTOY awards, called the Oscars of the auto industry, are the only U.S. prizes judged by an independent panel of TV, Internet, and print journalists from across North America. The jury, including the author of this article, convenes every fall to drive the best new model year cars — then winnows the list down to three finalists from each category.

Finalists are announced at the LA Auto Show in November before the Detroit show.

FCA debuts new Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty pickups

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

People check out the 2019 Ram Power Wagon after its introduction Monday.

Detroit — The Ram 1500 pickup picked up the 2019 North American Truck of the Year trophy to open the 2019 Detroit auto show, and the brand will look to build on that success with its redesigned heavy-duty pickups.

Boasting a stunning, best-in-segment, 1,000 pound-feet of torque from its turbo-diesel engine, the Ram 2500 and 3500 debuted Monday in Cobo Hall.

“Manufacturers like to come to the Detroit auto show and go big,” said Ram chief Reid Bigland on Ram’s big stage. “Well, you don’t get much bigger than the Ram 2500 and 3500.”

Ram also rolled out a brooding, luxurious 2500 Laramie Black edition as well as a turf-pounding Power Wagon model. The Power Wagon features front and rear locking axles, and front detachable sway-bar for serious off-roading.

Long the third-place finisher in the truck wars, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV has said it is looking to unseat at least one of its hometown competitors. After the success of the high-tech, luxurious light-duty Ram 1500, the 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty are engineered and designed to steal market share from FCA rivals Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co.

Ram came out swinging last year at the North American International Auto Show with a completely redesigned 1500, which gave GM and Ford a run in 2018.

The big Rams are the first heavy-duty trucks to cross the 1,000 torque threshold with a new 400-horsepower 6.7-liter Cummins High Output Turbo Diesel engine available on five of the six trims

“We are looking to raise the bar across the board,” Bigland said. “It starts by taking the performance barrier and shattering it. This is the most powerful heavy-duty trick. Ever. We are announcing power that some thought was not even possible a few years ago.”

Standard on the Ram heavy-duty trucks is a 6.4-liter, 410-horsepower Hemi V-8, which delivers 429 pounds-feet of torque. The highest-performing trucks can tow up to 35,100 pounds and haul 7,680 pounds of payload.

The Ram 2500 and 3500 carry over the big-rig styling on the outside, with a 30-percent larger grille that’s more aerodynamic.

Active noise cancellation, anti-vibration devices and acoustic glass make for a quieter cabin, the company says, so the truck doesn’t sacrifice comfort for capability. Interior noise has been reduced by 10 decibels. The standard, gas-powered, 6.4-liter V-8 delivers power through a new class-exclusive TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic. Ram says a new suspension with frequency-response damping shocks improves ride quality.

“No longer do you have to drive a heavy-duty and beat yourself to hell,” Bigland said.

The 12-inch touchscreen that debuted on the light-duty trucks will be featured on all six of the heavy-duty trims — starting with the Tradesman work truck and working up to the more luxurious Laramie Longhorn and Limited models. The screen is now leveraged for utility in the heavy-duty trucks, clustering more of the controls in one place.

“All of the controls that are customary to somebody hauling a large trailer will be right there at the driver’s fingertips,” Bigland said.

A redesigned center console has 12 storage configurations. Leather and wood-grain come with the higher-end heavy models. The Laramie Longhorn trim, for instance, will have barn-wood accents, metal buckles on seatback pockets, and wrapped and stitched leather throughout the interior.

Ram pickup sales, including light- and heavy-duty models, increased 7 percent in 2018 to 536,980 to capture 18 percent of the pickup market. In the last month alone, sales were up 47 percent. That’s on the heels of Chevrolet’s Silverado that sold 585,581 units, while the Ford sold 909,330 F-Series trucks.

Fiat Chrysler will build the new heavy-duty pickups at its plant in Saltillo, Mexico, where the previous-generation heavy-duty trucks will be immediately phased out. A manufacturing spokeswoman for the automaker says it still plans to bring heavy-duty production to Warren in 2020, but CEO Mike Manley has said he is rethinking that strategy.

The Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty go on sale in the second quarter.

Cadillac XT6 makes live debut ahead of Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

From left, Tennessee Gov.-Elect Bill Lee, Cadillac President Steve Carlisle, current Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Commissioner for the Dept. of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe, and Cadillac Design Executive Director Andrew Smith gather around the newly unveiled 2020 Cadillac XT6 Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019 at the Garden Theater in Detroit.

Detroit — The Escalade’s stylish little brother, the Cadillac XT6, made its live debut Sunday at the Garden Theater ahead of the Detroit auto show.

Cadillac’s first unibody three-row SUV, based on the same architecture as the two-row XT5, will play an important role in the Detroit luxury brand’s growing SUV lineup.

Through clever packaging the XT6 manages to add third-row of seating to the 112.5-inch wheelbase of the XT5 with more legroom than the base, 116-inch wheelbase Escalade.

The 2020 XT6, however, is smaller in cargo and legroom than its three-row GM siblings, Buick Enclave and Chevy Traverse. It sets itself apart from those offerings with Cadillac style and technology. The big crossover will feature the latest application of Caddy’s CUE infotainment system with touchscreen-and-remote-rotary dial operation, electronic dampers and a standard panoramic sunroof.

“The XT6 takes the Escalade’s scale down to an everyday package,” says Andrew Smith, Cadillac’s global design chief. The family-hauler will compete in a dog-eat-poodle segment that includes the the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and crosstown rival Lincoln Aviator.

Built on the same bones as the Chevy Silverado pickup, the hulking bling-tastic Escalade has long been GM’s SUV icon — a favorite of well-heeled suburbanites and rappers alike. With the XT6, Cadillac fills out its soccer mom-oriented crossover lineup with the XT5 and compact XT4 below it.

“The XT6 is exactly what Cadillac needs at exactly the right time,” said Brian Moody, an automotive analyst for Cox Automotive. “Expected to be more affordable than the Escalade, the XT6 fits perfectly between that full-size SUV and the smaller XT5.”

Like its retiring sedan compatriot CT6 (Caddy sedans use the CT moniker, while XT applies to SUVs), the XT6 offers the biggest canvas to apply its Escala concept-inspired design. The XT6’s fascia plants the Escala’s large grille/thin LED headlight sculpture to an upright SUV fascia. Vertical LED running lights on the front corners maintain Cadillac’s signature vertical design cues and will make it instantly recognizable at night.

RELATED REPORT: Cadillac shows new EV as brand looks to electric future

Spanning the XT6’s 16-foot-5-inch length, bold shoulder lines extend over standard 20-inch wheels. Out back, the XT6 eschews the Escalade’s vertical taillights for more modest T-shaped lamps.

“The taillights are more like the CT6,” says designer Smith. “All our SUVs have their own unique appearance.”

Unlike the CT6, which pioneered an all-new, rear-wheel drive, mixed-material chassis, the XT6 will be built on the familiar bones of other GM SUVs. Its horizontally mounted, 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine — the only offering for now — is also common to the smaller XT5. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive as an option.

In contrast, Lincoln’s all-new three-row Aviator — which will show in Detroit for the first time this week — boasts a RWD platform shared with the Ford Explorer.

The XT6 adopts Cadillac’s new, simplified trim offerings of Sport and Premium models. The Premium model will feature a crest-crusted grille and prominent chrome trim, while the Sport model will carry a more macho, blacked-out theme with black-mesh grille, black window trim and black-rimmed tail lights.

Sport is the pricier of the two trims as it gets standard upgrades like all-wheel drive, electronic shocks and quicker steering to aid its athletic aspirations. The AWD system packs sophisticated, twin clutches in the rear that electronically direct 100 percent of torque to either rear wheel in order to prevent tire slippage in, say, icy conditions.

Inside accents will differ depending on trim, with the Premium available with four species of exotic woods and the Sport outfitted with black leather and carbon-fiber inserts.

The XT6 console will show off the latest in Cadillac User Experience, aka CUE. The system was maligned for its maddening haptic-touch interface when it debuted on the 2014 CTS sedan. The new system offers the choice of operating the infotainment screen by touch or rotary dial. The new CUE debuted on the XT4 this year, and the XT6 upgrades the dial with BMW-like jog functionality for better menu navigation.

The Cadillac’s electronic, 9-speed shifter ditches cable operation and opens up purse-friendly storage underneath the console.

The third rows is easily accessed via a one-pull tab that tips and slides the middle seats. A standard, two-pane, panoramic roof stretches across the cabin.

As is common now on luxury as well as mainstream vehicles, the Caddy comes with a basket of standard safety features including blind-spot assist, automatic emergency-braking, automatic windshield wipers and lane-keep-assist. Optioning a radar and a driver-assist package brings gizmos like adaptive cruise-control. An available visibility Tech Package adds features like heads-up-display, rear-view camera mirror and park-assist into parallel parking spots.

Pricing will be available closer to when XT6 hits showroom floors this summer. The XT6 is assembled in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

Steph Curry’s Infiniti concept slam dunk ahead of Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

NBA basketball superstar Stephen Curry got the Detroit auto show reveals rolling from California on Friday with a sneak peak of the Infiniti QX Inspiration concept that will debut in Cobo Center Monday.

NBA basketball superstar Stephen Curry got the Detroit auto show reveals rolling from California on Friday with a sneak peek of the Infiniti QX Inspiration concept that will debut in Cobo Center Monday.

The viral selfie — which the Golden State Warrior guard posted to his Facebook and Twitter pages — is an indication of how social media is changing auto shows. Automakers are increasingly debuting products way beyond the traditional show floor in order to get exclusive attention.

Like Infiniti’s assist to Curry and his 8.2 million Facebook followers and 13 million Twitter followers.

“I got a nice little sneak peek of the QX Inspiration — they brought it in my driveway. This is absolutely insane,” said Curry. He’s an Infiniti spokesman who has done a TV ad with a QX50 crossover.

The QX is an electric concept that follows the sexy Q Inspiration sedan that Infiniti brought to the Detroit show a year ago. Infiniti says the models represent a new era of electrification for the brand.

With its batteries in the floor, the QX Inspiration showcases a palatial, lounge-like interior. Curry was impressed.

“An amazing futuristic approach that looks like you’re in first class in a nice airline,” Curry said.

An Infiniti rep couldn’t have said it better on a Cobo stage.

Lexus tests a sexy LC Convertible Concept coupe

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

The Lexus LC Convertible Concept will make its debut at the 2019 North American International Auto Show.

Just days ahead of the Detroit auto show, Lexus released photos and specs on a Convertible Concept version of its gorgeous LC coupe.

Dressed in 22-inch wheels and white leather seats with yellow stitching, the topless LC brings even more drama to Lexus’ sexiest vehicle. Judging from photographs, the roadster looks close to production, although Lexus was skimpy on product details like which drivetrain it will house.

The rear-wheel drive LC 500 coupe currently employs a throaty 471-horse V-8 and also offers a 354-horse hybrid option powered by a V-6 engine and two electric motors. With a 2+2 configuration like the coupe, the convertible’s rear seats look to be cramped by the foldaway top, making them more appropriate for storage than passengers.

The convertible sports Lexus’ huge signature spindle grille, which is nicely integrated with the car’s flowing lines and broad hips.

“This concept takes the unmistakable design of the LC coupe and re-imagines it as a future convertible,” said chief designer Tadao Mori.

Expect the drop-top to be heavier than the 4,380-pound LC coupe, but nicely mannered given its state-of-the-art suspension and chassis engineering. The coupe starts north of $93,000 so the roadster will surely eclipse six-figures.

The car will have its live debut Monday afternoon at the North American International Auto Show, alongside an updated RC F coupe.

Once Cadillac’s show-horse, CT6 limps to its last Detroit show

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2019

The 2016 Cadillac CT6 at the 2015 New York International Auto Show.

For four years, the Cadillac CT6 has been the brand’s show-horse. From New York to Detroit to Los Angeles, the flagship has introduced the latest in Cadillac technology, electronics, engines, even nomenclature. Yet, in a sign of how quickly sedans have fallen from grace in the U.S. – and how Cadillac has struggled to gain market traction — the CT6 will take its final bow at this year’s auto show.

When the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant idles indefinitely this summer, the CT6 will cease production and relinquish its halo.

While Cadillac continues to try to reinvent itself as a cutting-edge luxury maker worthy of  taking on the Teutonic trinity of Mercedes, BMW and Audi, the loss of the CT6 leaves a void. Its passing not only buries the brand’s most ambitious automobile, but also, ironically, passes the flag to its oldest ship — the Chevy pickup-based Escalade SUV.

Cadillac will take the first step to fill the void in Detroit on Sunday with the introduction of another three-row sport utility, the XT6 — the first three-row ute based on a unibody  from the brand. But the front-wheel drive based XT6 reportedly will be built on the same bones as the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave, a far cry from the CT6’s sophistication.

It’s not clear yet what kind of technology the XT6 will include when it reveals at the Winter Garden Theater in Detroit on Sunday, but Cadillac has said it will start expanding the hands-free driving technology across the lineup in 2020.

It is hard to underestimate the role the CT6 played in Cadillac’s reinvention.

The sleek sedan was unveiled ahead of the 2015 New York Auto Show just six months after Cadillac moved its headquarters to the Big Apple. The CT6 was introduced at Cadillac House in the city’s Soho neighborhood.

At the time, its highly-touted president Johan de Nysschen, ex-captain of Audi’s U.S. success story, proclaimed: “The CT6 is nothing less than an entirely new approach to premium luxury — and an approach only Cadillac can offer. It is a bold endeavor that reignites a passion for driving in large luxury vehicles. In short, it is prestige luxury re-imagined.”

It was also Cadillac re-imagined.

The lightweight, rear-wheel drive based Caddy was an engineering tour de force. Its aluminum-intensive “Omega” architecture was a study in materials engineering as it combined high-strength steel and aluminum. It used laser welding and jet fighter-like steel adhesives. Despite being a size segment above Cadillac’s mid-size CTS, it tipped the scales at the same 3,700 pounds. Its tear-drop LED headlights were a new look. As were its all-new V-6 engines.

“The CT6 is the finest car we have ever made,” says Cadillac of Novi General Manager Ed Pobur matter-of-factly. Cadillac of Novi is the country’s largest Cadillac dealer.

Body shops had to be Cadillac-certified to handle the space-age materials repairs. The list of new gadgets pioneered by the CT6 was exhausting. Among them:

  • The first rear-view inside camera-mirror offering the driver an unobstructed view behind the car
  • A console touchpad that could recognize handwriting
  • A heat-sensing Enhanced Night Vision system

The flagship sedan also reset Cadillac’s three-letter nomenclature, replacing it with the alphanumeric CT6, which would be followed by smaller CT5, CT4, etc., sedans. (Along the same lines, SUVs would be designated XT6, XT5, and so on.)

The innovation kept coming.

For the 2017 New York show, CT6 introduced SuperCruise, a bold leap into semi-autonomous driving that allowed extended, hands-free driving on divided highways and interstates using a cocktail of infrared, radar, GPS and mapping technologies.

Cadillac promised the technology would trickle down through its lineup. GM said in June it plans to expand SuperCruise across the Cadillac lineup starting in 2020, and later to other GM brands.

Then, just last year, de Nysschen used New York’s stage to spotlight a fresh 550-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 mill in the CT6 called the Blackwing. Naturally, the super-CT6 used the occasion to unwrap a new performance badge called V-Sport.

Then suddenly, the CT6 was sunk, swept away by GM’s November announcement shuttering the Hamtramck plant and four others to restructure costs. GM is abandoning its New York headquarters and retreating back to Michigan. De Nysschen is gone.

“The issue is that sedan sales just keep falling,” IHS Market auto analyst Stephanie Brinley said of the Hamtramck plant that also makes the slow-selling Chevy Volt, Chevy Impala and Buick Lacrosse. “You can’t justify keeping a plant open to do just one vehicle.”

The CT6 is also made in China. Brinley believes the already-unlikely possibility of importing it is made more remote by the U.S.-China tariff spat.

Cadillac says Hamtramck will have enough inventory after it shutters CT6 production in the second quarter to supply dealers for the rest of the model year. GM will continue to service vehicles with new parts.

Cadillac of Novi’s Pobur laments the CT6’s passing, but says his dealership moved just five to 10 a month. Despite being competitive with its German rivals in sales, it was outsold in 2018 by the Escalade SUV nearly 4-to-1.

Brinley says that when the 2020 Escalade debuts later this year (built on the same all-new lightened pickup chassis as the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra), it will inherit the CT6 tech halo. Speculation centers on possible upgrades like a 48-volt battery system or perhaps plug-in hybrid model.

A Cadillac spokesperson says that despite the demise of the CT6, Cadillac is still committed to four-door cars. “We’re not abandoning sedans, but retooling our Lansing plant to make replacements for the CTS and ATS cars.”

Those midsize and compact cars are expected to be called, respectively, the CT5 and CT4. They are part of Cadillac’s commitment to refresh its lineup with a new vehicle every six months through 2020.

Just don’t expect a CT6 to be among them.

Payne: Porsche Cayenne gets brains with its brawn

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 10, 2019

Cayenne Fr3 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customers gobbled it up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Porsche Cayenne

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

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

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6

Power: 335 horsepower, 332 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters

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

Weight: 4,377 pounds

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

Report card

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

Lows: Awkward console ergonomics; poor voice commands

Overall: 4 stars

No Detroit stand, no problem: Mercedes CLA debuts in Vegas

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 9, 2019

18c0973 028

Mercedes won’t be at the Detroit auto show this year, part of a mass exodus by European luxury brands. Detroit’s loss is Las Vegas’ gain.

The German brand is using the Consumer Electronics Show in Sin City this week to roll out the second generation of its redesigned entry-level CLA four-door coupe.

Six years ago, Mercedes pulled the wraps off the front-wheel drive CLA in Detroit. At $29,900 before destination fee, it was the cheapest Mercedes sedan then offered in the U.S.

In a rapidly changing landscape, automakers have more options today to introduce autos. The explosion of internet media and video streaming has allowed brands to showcase a new car to media outside the clutter of auto show floors.

The high profile of CES and favorable demographics of shows like New York and Los Angeles bring luxury automakers closer to their customers. Other foreign automakers expected to make news at CES this week include Nissan (the extended-range Nissan Leaf), Hyundai (Nexo hydrogen car) and Audi (infotainment system).

Mercedes says CES is ideal for the CLA’s debut because members of the news media are in Vegas to see the latest electronic innovations from chipmakers to automakers. Vehicle interiors have become digital devices on wheels. Mercedes wants to show off the evolved version of its MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system, which made its debut on the CLA’s compact sibling, the A220, at the New York show last year.

With its emphasis on consumer tech toys, CES also offers a youthful customer demographic that Mercedes is trying to attract to its brand with the relatively affordable CLA.

“The new generation of compacts has made a key contribution to the rejuvenation and image change of the Mercedes-Benz brand,” said Mercedes in a statement. “At peak times, more than two-thirds of CLA buyers in the U.S. came from competitors. On average, CLA customers in the U.S.A. are around 10 years younger than the typical Mercedes-Benz customer.”

The German automaker has flooded our shores with an expanded SUV, sedan and sports car lineup this decade — often with a sedan and coupe offered in the same segment. Thus, the similarly sized A220 and CLA250 offer customers both a sedan and sexier coupe model for about the same price. Other examples include the GLC and GLC Coupe SUVs, and the GLE and GLE Coupe utes.

The Mercedes CLA is dramatically updated inside and out.

The CLA250 and A220 tout MBUX, which includes an “Interior Assistant” that responds to gesture controls to operate different interior features such as turning on a light when the driver reaches to open a purse in the passenger seat.

Interior Assistant also allows passengers to communicate to the vehicle with voice commands like Apple’s Siri or Samsung’s “Hey, Google.” Say “Hey, Mercedes” and the driver can ask specific navigation instructions like: “Find child-friendly Asian restaurants nearby with a 4-star rating which are neither Chinese nor Japanese.” Or Assistant will answer questions like: “What is the fat content of an avocado?”

Interior design has been upgraded after criticism that the first-gen car looked cheap with ill-fitting gaps and a tacked-on dash tablet. The new CLA features an electronic  instrument and infotainment display housed in a broad glass screen, just like upscale Mercedes.

The CLA Coupe’s exterior is still its calling card. Its long, fluid shape and star-logo grille echo signature features of the brand’s flagship S-class.

“As a four-door coupe, the new CLA intrigues with its puristic, seductive design,” says design boss Gorden Wagener. “The CLA Coupe has the potential to become a modern design icon.”

Significantly, Mercedes has upgraded CLA’s backside which appeared to sag. The 2020 CLA  tightens up the rear lines with bold haunches and higher, straighter tail-lamps.

Mercedes is light on engine details, but expect the CLA — which will also be offered with all-wheel drive — to share the same 188-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 as found in the A220. A fire-breathing, AMG CLA45 performance variant will likely push 400 horses.

When it goes on sale in late 2019, expect the price of the CLA to creep up from its current $34,095, a jump from the entry-level CLA of six years ago.

Bad guys, beware: Ford Interceptor reporting for duty

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 9, 2019

Police 2

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

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

This thing is a tank in gym shoes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit auto show: Infiniti previews electric future with SUV concept

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 9, 2019

Infiniti Qx Inspiration 2k Embargoed Jan 4 8 01 Am Est1

Taking another step toward an electric future, Infiniti on Friday revealed the QX Inspiration electric concept ahead of its of its introduction at the Detroit auto show on Jan. 14.

The QX Inspiration SUV is Infiniti’s second design concept in as many North American International Auto Shows, following the sleek Q Inspiration sedan that debuted in January 2018.

With the U.S. auto market hog-wild for utes, the QX Inspiration positions the automaker to go into production with its first electrified vehicle for the 2021 model year.

With its Q-ship, Infiniti hopes to catch up to luxury competitors in hot pursuit of EV pioneer Tesla. Jaguar brought its first crossover EV, the I-Pace, to market in late 2018 and Audi is following it with the e-tron SUV this year. Other manufacturers including Porsche and China’s Byton have products in the pipeline for 2020.

“QX Inspiration is the beginning of a new era for Infiniti and an illustration of where we want to go with the brand,” said design chief Karim Habib, “New technology has given us the opportunity to evolve our design philosophy – and the new vehicle communicates the serene strength at our core.”

The grille-less, narrow-headlight face of the QX Inspiration mirrors that of the Q concept, but the body rides higher than the more athletic-looking, four-door coupe concept.

Where the 2018 Q Inspiration debuted the company’s compact, fuel-efficient, variable-compression turbo gas-engine technology, the QX concept showcases an all-electric drive-train. Infiniti has said battery power will come in two forms — all-electric or with battery-power assisted by a small gas engine.

By 2025, Nissan’s luxury automaker expects that half of its sales will be battery-powered.

Without a gas engine under the hood, Infiniti also says the QX Inspiration foreshadows production vehicles with “spacious, lounge-like interiors.” Infiniti only released a photograph of the QX concept’s exterior, but expect the interior to contain elements of the Q sedan concept’s roomy interior, including a wrap-around dash screen and hand-crafted design touches.

In production trim, the QX Inspiration will parallel the brand’s successful gas-powered SUVs. The mid-size, two-and-three-row Infiniti QX60 SUV was the brand’s best-seller in 2018.

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

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 3, 2019

Wagons Nose2nose

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

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

How times have changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S wagon

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

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

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

Power: 603 horsepower, 627 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic with paddle shifters

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

Weight: 4,669 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Astonishing acceleration; penthouse interior

Lows: Porky; sticker shock

Overall: 4 stars

2018 Jaguar XF Sportbrake

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

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

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6

Power: 380 horsepower, 332 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters

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

Weight: 4,351 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Head-turning wagon; AWD grip

Lows: Dated interior; slow infotainment screen

Overall: 3 stars

2018 in autos: 10 best new features

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 2, 2019

Features Sierra Bed Load Step

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

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

1. GMC Sierra MultiPro tailgate

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

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

2. Subaru Ascent’s 19 cupholders

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

3. Ford Trail Control

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

4. Tesla Summon

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

5) Mazda i-ACTIVSENSE

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

6. Alexa in-car app

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

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

8. Lincoln suicide doors

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

9. Standard safety-suite

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

10. Volvo XC40 trash can and purse hanger

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

2018 in autos: 10 things that drove us batty

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 2, 2019

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

Some things that got under our skin this year…

1. Stop-start systems

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

2. Showy, non-functional design cues

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

3. Coupe visibility

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

4. Infotainment touch pads

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

5. Long alphanumeric vehicle names

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

6. Where’s my pickup’s corner step?

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

7. Where’s my adaptive cruise-control?

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

8. EV range-anxiety

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

9. Drone on

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

10. Genesis G70 Sport hiccup

Payne: Think sedans are sunk? Try a snazzy Mazda 6

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 1, 2019

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Here’s the thing about extinction — it concentrates the mind. America has gone ute crazy and sedans are in a fight for their life. It’s survival of the fittest. Evolve or die.

And so we are getting the best sedans I’ve ever seen.

I was ZOOM ZOOM ZOOMing the new Mazda 6 all over Metro Detroit this June and I think I’m in love. It’s the same feeling I had when I got out of the 2018 Honda Accordlast fall. A Rolex watch with a Timex price tag.

Like Honda, Mazda has a lot of mileage under its belt on race tracks and its quick handling is no surprise. What surprises are the luxury amenities.

Fast and luxurious, the Mazda improves on the one gripe I had about the Honda: great bod, but put a bag over its face, please. Not the Mazda. This beauty turns heads from head to tail. My Audi-owning friend Dicran lingered over the elegant, chrome-jeweled front end, the grille smiling seductively.

That is a good looking car!

Yes it is. Better looking than many luxury models. Automakers are taking a hard look at sedan viability in the Age of Ute, but the Mazda 6 begs the question: Do we need so many luxury brands?

Regular readers know I’ve been writing about the shrinking gap between mainstream and luxury ’til my fingers turned blue, but you could always count on the premium boys flexing more power.

Take the Mazda CX-5, for example. It’s a heckuva compact ute, right there with a BMW X3 in handling and accessories. But put your foot on the gas and … oh. Just 187 normally aspirated gerbils compared to the Bimmer’s 248 galloping, turbocharged horses.  And the sound! Oh, my. Like Maria Sharapova hitting a forehand — HUUGGGH! — you can hear the effort. A silky turbo and the BMW badge will help you cough up the extra 10 grand for the German.

But now here comes my $36,140 Mazda 6 with a 250-horsepower (on premium gas, 227 on regular) 2.5-liter turbo that goes toe-to-toe with, say, a comparably equipped $56,000, 252-horse Audi A6 out of a stoplight.

Zot! The Mazda 6 hit 60 mph in 6.4 seconds — just shy of the Audi’s 6.1.

Mazda is a stickler for detail and they zeroed in on their noise issues for the sixth-generation 6. Padded panels, recrafted-pillars, the works. Like Noah preparing for the storm, they plugged every leak in the cabin to make it more livable.

The result is a quiet, buttery smooth drivetrain under the cane. But no how matter how many pillows Mazda has stuffed in the cracks, the real story here is the new-for-2018, 2.5-liter turbo-4.

The old power plant is still offered in the 6 as a base-engine $22,845 bargain. But the real bargain here is in the loaded, upper-trim models.

And I do mean loaded. My Signature tester undercuts the Audi A6 price by $20,000 despite boasting a two-tone leather interior, wrapped console, seat memory, head-up display, tablet screen, auto high-beams, and so on. Dicran and went back and forth between an Audi A6 and Mazda 6 interior to see the fine differences.

That’s no accident. Mazda benchmarks its interior to the Audi right down to the remote rotary infotainment controller and piano-key dash buttons. The Audi fits more chrome and wood decoration, but the Mazda gains points with more storage space compared to the Audi’s over-engineered console.

Where the Mazda really wows (did I mention it’s just $36,000?) is in the premium details. Allow me to point out three:

1. Blind-spot information system. This is my list of must-have digital innovations. I’ve come to depend on a glance at mirror-based blind-spot system rather than twisting my neck into a pretzel every time I want to change lanes. It’s a technology that, like adaptive cruise control (another must), has rapidly migrated into mainstream cars from luxury.

The Mazda takes it up a notch. Adapting a graphic-based blind-spot system innovated by premium automakers like Tesla, the 6 keeps a digital image of your car in the instrument panel — right in front of you — at all times. Is there a vehicle in your quarter panel? The graphic displays “wavy lines” off your starboard stern so you know another car is there. Cars to your right and left? Twin waves off each quarter.

2. Head-up display. In another steal from cars costing thousands more, the Mazda nixes last generation’s el cheapo, dash-mounted head-up display for a state-of-the-art, windshield-projected system. The configuration includes useful info like mph, speed limit and navigation instructions.

Speaking of nav, the Mazda’s ethic of keeping info in front of the driver extends to the high-mounted infotainment screen — which displays the name of the road you are approaching. On dark nights when street signs are hard to read — or placed on black backgrounds (looking at you, Bloomfield Township) — you won’t miss a turn thanks to Mazda engineers.

3. Air vents. Yes, air vents. Most ventilation system require two controls — one for air direction, the other to close it off. The Mazda 6 cleverly combines them into one, making vent operation a cinch.

It’s details like these that give you confidence that the whole vehicle was endlessly fussed over. Which gets you luxury for $36,000. Speaking of details, Mrs. Payne says the only reason not to buy the peppy, roomy, sexy 6 over the CX-5 ute is all-wheel drive.

And if the CX-5 eventually gets the 6’s 250-horse engine, it’ll be one more challenge sedans will have to overcome. In the meantime, Mazda’s 6 is a 10.

2018 Mazda 6

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

Price: $22,840 Sport base ($36,140 Signature as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder; 2.5-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder

Power: 187 horsepower, 186 pound-feet torque (non-turbo 2.5-liter), 250 horsepower (93 octane fuel, 227 with 87 octane), 310 pound-feet torque (turbo-4)

Transmission: 6-speed manual (base Sport model only), 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.4 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 149 mph (mnftr.)

Weight: 3,560 pounds as tested

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 26 city/35 highway/29 combined (non-turbo 2.5-liter); 23 city/31 highway/26 combined (turbo-4)

Report card

Highs: Easy on the eyes; tech-tastic interior features

Lows: AWD please?

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: A Tesla is Detroit News Vehicle of the Year

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 28, 2018

Model 3 Red

Hollywood is determined to expand its Oscars list to offer more diversity. But if it’s diversity you want, check out the field for Detroit News Vehicle of the Year.

I tested more than 60 new vehicles this year. There’s never been such a range of options for every consumer stripe. Let me count the ways.

There are pickups that range from midsizers to mega heavy-duties taller than my 6-foot-5 frame.

Then there are all the sport utilities: So crackers are customers for SUVs that luxury makers like BMW and Mercedes are making SUV “coupes” to mimic sports sedans.

The best SUVs are athletic, all-around value plays like the Acura RDX. Its doppelganger in the sedan segment is the $35,000 Mazda 6, which will make you think twice about spending $20,000 more for an equivalent luxury brand.

In a sea of practicality there is still plenty of eccentricity. This year brought sequels to the Audi A7, Mustang Bullitt and three-door Hyundai Veloster. Speaking of threes, there’s even a Polaris trike out there for enthusiasts.

You want power? Dodge unveiled another Hellcat, the 797-horse Redeye. It does 0-60 in 3.4 seconds, which is still a second slower than the Tesla Model S P100, putting us on notice that batteries aren’t just for tree-huggers.

EVs abound from affordable Hyundai Konas to bonkers Porsche hybrids. The new, new thing — 48-volt battery systems — is found in everything from Audi A6s to Ram trucks for smoother operation.

Like the Oscar judges, I’ve seen a lot of stuff this year. Some new, some small, some epic.

Here are my top new vehicles of the year. The envelopes, please.

Second runner-up: Ford Ranger

This was the Year of the Truck. Detroit’s Big Three brought their best with the all-new Ram 1500, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and upgraded Ford F-150 Raptor.

The smooth-riding coil-sprung Ram is in a style class of its own with a sculpted grille and Tesla-like 12-inch console touchscreen. The Silverado is an ugly duckling to the Ram’s swan, but its shrewd use of high-strength steel make it the lightest, best-handling truck in class — and I never tire of its push-rod V-8 bellow.

The Raptor is the most addictive truck made, and the addition of Recaro saddles and Fox Live Valve shocks make it even more irresistible. I rode this 450-horsepower stallion all over Utah and never got close to the edge of its considerable envelope.

But my biggest favorite was the smallest new entry, the $35K Ford Ranger. Think of the F-150’s little brother as a compact pickup. In the Age of Ute, the Ranger gives ute families — say, someone with a Ford Escape — the viable option of a compact SUV with a bed, 7,500-pound towing and daily manners. The on-road ride of the Ranger is that good.

Now, if only Ford would give junior a Raptor option.

 First runner-up: Chevy Corvette ZR1

The front-engine Corvette ZR1 is the last of the breed.

It’s been stretched to the limits to compete against the pinnacle of mid-engine cyborgs: the V-12 Lamborghini Aventador, turbo-V8 McLaren 720S and hybrid Acura NSX. I tested them all this year, and they are sci-fi supercars from the future.

Chevrolet will soon follow these beauties — by May, I reckon — with its own mid-engine Corvette rocket. And no wonder. The front-engine design is pushed as far as it can go, with the engine literally bursting through the ZR1’s skin. To squeeze 755 horsepower from the 6.2-liter V-8, the supercharger sticks out of the hood. An enormous rear wing anchors the beast to the ground.

For raw, unbridled pleasure, there is nothing to rival the $135K ZR1. At Road Atlanta Raceway it consumed asphalt at an awesome rate, the V-8 roaring in my ears like a T. rex.

It’s the perfect automotive bookend to our winner …

Payne: Compact Ford Ranger has out-size capabilities

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 26, 2018

Ranger Fr3 4 Red

I get the big truck thing. Big Ford F-series trucks that drive small business to construction sites every day. Big Ram trucks that haul race cars to the track. Big Chevy Silverado profits that fuel GM’s big autonomous dreams. Big, big, big. “Ungh, ungh, ungh,” as Tim Allen might grunt.

But I’m a compact vehicle guy.

I like spicy Ford Fiesta ST meatballs with nimble handling and hatchbacks you can stuff IKEA stuff into. Mazda CX-5 crossovers that will carry the kids to school, then dance through the twisties on the way home. Buick Encores that have single-handedly put POP POP into a FIZZLE FIZZLE brand.

So I’ve been watching this compact truck thing. Once a sleepy segment monopolized by the Baja-shredding Toyota Tacoma, it has come back to life as the Detroit Three have invaded with their unique truck features: Handsome GMC Canyons, Chevy Colorados with corner-step beds, Rubicon-forged Jeep Gladiators.

Now comes the Ford Ranger pickup, and I like it a lot.

It’s a truck with all that compact stuff I crave: utility, interior room and fun, fun, fun. If I were a construction boss like my neighbor, Pickup Bob, I’d have an F-series with acres of interior room for long days on the job. But we can barely fit the things in our garages. It needs a tugboat to get down my driveway.

Add three things and my pulse quickens: FX4 off-road package, Sport package… and getting behind the wheel.

Compact sedans like the Volkswagen Jetta are value leaders with standard safety features like adaptive cruise-control, blind-spot assist, etc. Compact trucks, not so much.

The Ranger doesn’t get interesting until you opt up to the $35,210 XLT SuperCrew with standard Co-Pilot360 safety package (adaptive cruise-control, Blind Spot Information System, etc.) plus FX4 off-road goodies like a bash plate. It makes the Ford a better deal than a comparable Toyota TRD Off-Road.

Add the Sport package’s blacked-out grille and 17-inch wheels, and now you got attitude. Attitude to match the Ford’s handling.

I’m a big Tacoma fan, but its talents lie off-road, not on.

The Ranger is a mid-sized truck that truly feels compact on the road with tight handling and minimal bed flutter. Where I had to saw at the Tacoma’s wheel through fast corners, the Ranger is steady. It’s got the feel of the pricier, Multimatic-shocked Chevy Colorado ZR2.

Under the skin is one of Ford’s finest mills – the versatile 2.3-liter turbo-four found in the riveting Focus RS and base Mustang. But while the four-banger seems inadequate in the pony car, Chief Engineer Rick Bolt and his merry band of elves have blessed Ranger with a gravelly voice. Ungh, ungh, ungh.

Married to Ford’s 10-speed tranny, the engine’s 310 pound-feet of torque does everything well from cruising to hauling motorbikes.

Excellence extends off-road.

While Ranger left the U.S. market, it never ceased international production. But to meet U.S. customer standards — and the expectations that come with being Son of F-series — engineers went through the Ranger head to tow (pun intended).

The head gets a class-exclusive steel bumper for when, well, you hit things off-road. Towing gets the aforementioned muscle thanks to liberal use of high-strength steel in the frame. On a challenging California off-road course, the Ranger rollicked like a Raptor, eagerly attacking moguls with its steel chin and underbelly skid plates (get the FX4 off-road package), then sprinting across open spaces under full throttle.

Ford trucks are expected to have brains to go with their brawn. The Ranger brings to the game Trail Control, the clever low-speed adaptive-cruise option I also tested on the F-150 Raptor in Utah last month. The feature takes care of low-speed crawling over rocky terrain so you can enjoy the scenery while steering.

This Jeep-like feature is a reminder that the Ranger’s size is more suited to the craggy Outback than big brother Raptor. (Ahem, when is that Ranger Raptor coming to the U.S., Ford?)

Thus equipped, my lightning-blue, tech-tastic, 4WD, SXT (middle trim) Ranger with Sport package comes in at a very class-competitive $40,000.

The bad news for the Ranger is that, at $40,000, pickup lovers might just trade up for a bigger F-150 XLT.

The good news is that a well-equipped Ranger SuperCrew can be had for about the price of a Ford Escape Titanium for the family that needs access to a bed for weekend adventures, but without sacrificing good road manners and most interior amenities.

The Escape customer might frown on the Ranger’s hard plastic surfaces like door sills and lower dash. Ford counters they’re necessary for the truck customer who expects a truck to be rough, muddy — and even washed down internally. Fair enough. But a truck for this price should also come with the same standard amenities as a compact car.

Pay the premium, however, and Ranger’s tech offerings are plentiful: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB ports in the rear seat, digital instrument display. It’s a thoroughly modern truck that’s light years from the ol’ 2009 nail.

“In some ways it’s a good thing it took us a decade to get back to market,” says engineer Keith Erickson, “because the truck has changed so much.”

Welcome back, Ranger. Because big matters — but so does compact.

2019 Ford Ranger

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

Price: $25,395 base including $1,095 destination fee ($42,085 SuperCrew 4×4 as configured)

Powerplant: 2.3-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder

Power: 270 horsepower, 310 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph6.3-6.7 seconds (Car and Driver est.); 1,860-pound payload (SuperCab 4×2); 7,500-pound towing

Weight: 4,145 pounds base (4,441 pounds SuperCrew 4×4 as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 20 city/24 highway/22 combined (4×4)

Report card

Highs: Capable on and off-road; tech-tastic

Lows: Vanilla looks in base truck; tech will cost ya.

Overall: 3 stars

Payne: Mightier Ford Raptor in a class of its own

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 13, 2018

Raptor Fr3 4

Where do you exercise your pet Orca whale? Big, ravenous, and capable of speeds in excess of 30 mph, it needs an ocean to play.

A similar riddle plagues the Ford F-150 Raptor pickup.

Though the name suggests a bird of prey or velociraptor of “Jurassic Park” fame (Ford intentionally won’t signal either), the 5,500-pound pickup is more of a land shark — an animal of outsized capabilities that needs a sea of sand to really show its stuff.

Based on the formidable best-selling Ford F-150, the Raptor is America’s only supertruck. No one else makes a pickup capable of Baja-like, 100-plus mph off-road speeds. Its fortified steel skeleton, sinewy 450-horsepower twin-turbo V-6 and robust Fox-shocks cartilage enable terrain-shredding capabilities that are awesome to experience.

When I first experienced them in southern California’s Borrego Springs desert in 2016, I was in awe — and sorrow. The vast Borrego desert is a Raptor playground. Miles of high-speed dirt flats where the big truck hit 100 mph. Sandy expanses where its Fox shocks leaped from mogul to mogul. And dry-wash beds where its 35-inch tires dance in dust.

Trouble is, it’s rare earth — far from where the Kraken lives in suburban garages. Mere off-road parks like Michigan’s Mounds or Silver Lake can’t contain it.

Buy a Corvette ZR1 supercar and you can track it at M1 Concourse at speeds approaching 130 mph. Its full limits can be explored at track days at myriad facilities like Mid-Ohio or Road America or Autobahn Auto Club.

Happily, Ford is trying to solve that.

Buy a Raptor — about 15,000 are sold a year — and Ford gives you a free day at Utah Motorsports Park to explore its considerable capabilities.

For 2019 those capabilities have, incredibly, expanded.

Add to its holster electronically controlled Fox Live Valve shocks which adapt to the terrain so the beast conforms to the changing landscape. They reduce roll, pitch and skittishness to make the Raptor even faster off-road. Think of the shocks as the off-road equivalent to magnetic shocks that allow track-focused cyborgs to turn faster laps.

Of course, faster speeds demand better seats. Ford has invited the legendary Recaro into its cabin to design bolstered seats so you can better ride Orca without falling off.

And since long trails ultimately lead into the mountains, Raptor has gained Trail Assist, a sort of low-speed cruise control — pioneered by Land Rover — that automatically pilots the truck at speeds from 0-20 mph up/down steep grades so you can concentrate on steering and navigating.

Ford packs these goodies into a $54,000-$74,000 truck that is cheaper than a supercar, but affords unique off-road thrills.

I experienced the new Raptor at the Ford Performance Racing School outside Salt Lake City like a customer would. With over 100 sold-out dates a year hosting 20 owners each, the Raptor experience won’t disappoint.

Compared to my 2016 Raptor outing, the shocks felt immediately better on-road as we turned out of Utah Motorsports Park for the Wasatch Mountains. Where the previous-generation Raptor felt stiff with a constant empty-bed flutter in the background, the 2019 model was smoother, to the point that I forgot it was a pickup.

Not that anyone else would. Though its innards have been upgraded, the Raptor’s ferocious visage remains unchanged for the new model year. Its ribbed hood looks like a prehistoric predator’s back; its fearsome, black maw looms in the mirrors of cars half its size.

Turning off the asphalt onto twisted trails through Jacob’s City and Sunshine Canyon, the Raptor was in its element. Toggling the steering-wheel mounted mode selector to Baja, I bounded across the landscape inhaling gravel, rock and moguls like they weren’t there. With 510 pound-feet of torque, the beast cries for more. More throttle. More landscape.

And more noise.

I understand the complaints of pals who have held onto their first-generation V-8 Raptors. Though the twin-turbo V-6 offers more power, the exhaust note needs more bass. Tip into the throttle and hear the V-6’s (muffled) roar. I wish I had a V-8.

Back at the school, Ford Performance set up a dirt jump. I floor the beast to 60 mph over the jump and Orca went airborne like it breached the ocean’s surface — WHUMP! It landed down the slope like an Olympic skier nailing a long jump. More!

“With the new shocks, everything performs at new levels of performance,” says John Williams, a school instructor. “It has more ability to handle the terrain and take performance to new limits.”

But even Williams acknowledges he doesn’t know its limits. He hasn’t found sustained trails here where he can hit the Raptor’s 100 mph potential. Even the Utah desert, it seems, is too small for Orca.

So Ford has made sure that the beast can excel at more mundane duties, like crawling up the face of the Wasatch. This is Jeep Wrangler Rubicon territory with craggy slopes, narrow ravines and rocky steps. But the Raptor now comes equipped with something even the Rubicon doesn’t have: Crawl control.

I engaged 4-Low to lock the rear differential and then pushed the Crawl-control button. The darn thing drove itself up the hill at 2.5 miles per hour (yes, digital speedos now do fractional speeds). No fighting the throttle, no lurches, no limits.

All this happens in a leather-stitched cabin as comfortable as your corner office. Playing passenger in the huge backseat of the Supercrew cab, I folded my legs and took in the scenery. The 7,000-foot Wasatch mountains offer breathtaking views of the surrounding valley. With more space than the average New York apartment, the Raptor’s bed will easily hold a family picnic.

Walking around the pickup is like walking around a supercar. Admire the wide track, the power-dome hood, the angry grille. But there are aesthetic touches, too. The tailgate graphic now subtly offsets the dark gray “Ford” from its black frame. The Recaro seat inserts are the same blue as Ford’s GT supercar.

I rowed the GT around Utah Motorsports Park’s demanding race track last year, sliding its carbon-fiber chassis to the limits of adhesion, then letting loose 647 ponies down the front straight.

The off-road limits of the Raptor are still out of reach here. That’s not to say the Performance School isn’t worthwhile. It’s a must for any Raptor owner. Because after you have conquered the Wasatch, you’ll be hungry for more.

Hey, Ford, how about a performance racing school in Baja?

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Ford F-150 Raptor

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

Price: $54,350 base including $1,495 destination fee ($68,845 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6

Power: 450 horsepower, 510 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 seconds (Car and Driver); 1,200-pound payload; 8,000-pound towing

Weight: 5,518 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/18 highway/16 combined

Report card

Highs: Upgraded Fox shocks improve on- and off-road performance; new Crawl control

Lows: Need a big playground to realize its outsized capabilities; wish it had a V-8

Overall: 4 stars

No mid-engine Corvette at Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 12, 2018

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It is the auto industry’s white whale: the elusive, powerful, long-rumored mid-engine Corvette C8. Chevrolet refuses to acknowledge its existence despite numerous sightings at General Motors’ Milford Proving Grounds and race tracks like Wisconsin’s Elkhart Lake and Germany’s legendary Nürburgring.

Whale-trackers were sure it would breach the surface at this year’s Detroit auto show where previous Corvettes have debuted.

But they will have to wait a little longer. A Chevy spokesman confirmed the brand will not be revealing any new vehicles at the January show. The current-generation Corvette C7 was introduced at the Detroit show in 2013, with the C7.R race car breaking cover a year later.

The new Corvette is not expected to be seen until sometime in the spring.

Though hope of a Detroit sighting dimmed months ago, speculation stirred again last week with the posting of an internet video showing a race mule — barely disguised in zebra camouflage — night-testing at Sebring Raceway in Florida.

With the 24 Hours of Daytona kicking off the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Challenge season at the end of January, don’t expect to see the new Corvette there.  A spokesman for Wixom race shop Pratt & Miller, which prepares Chevy’s Corvette racers, confirmed it will enter the same current-generation C7.R race car in this year’s Daytona endurance race.

International GT racing homologation rules require that 100 production cars be built in order to enter a race car. While the rules have been bent in the past for low-production models (the Ford GT, for example), the mass-produced Chevy traditionally has conformed to the standards: race car follows production car.

“I don’t think we’ll see (the race car) this year due to the timing of the homologation rules,” says Ford Performance Engineer Mark Rushbrook, whose race arm fields one of Corvette’s chief competitors, the mid-engine Ford GT. “But we know they are working on it and we are looking forward to seeing them on track.”

The News reported in August 2016 that Chevy was developing the eighth-generation Corvette as a mid-engine car.

In addition to spy shots of the mid-engine car testing in Milford, the project was consistent with GM’s investment of nearly $800 million in upgrades to its Bowling Green facility where Corvettes are built. Production is expected to begin there in fall 2019.

The iconic Chevy – dubbed America’s “affordable supercar” for performance rivaling $200,000 Porsches and Ferraris at half the price – has traditionally been a front-engine car. In order to make the next performance leap, however, program managers determined a mid-engine layout was necessary.

Mid-engine cars have better balance and handling than their front-bay cousins. That handling is not only important on road, but is key to keeping Corvette competitive at the summit of international motorsport where it faces stiff competition from mid-engine Ford GT and Ferrari 488 supercars. Even Porsche’s 911, Stuttgart’s rear-engine racing icon, has moved it engine amidships to keep pace.

A mid-engine layout also opens options for Chevy to take advantage of new technology like locating an electric motor up front for all-wheel drive.

Bob Lutz, GM’s former product chief — who received approval for a mid-engine Corvette in 2007 before it was sidelined by the Great Recession — speculated to The News in 2016 that the C8’s long lead time foreshadowed “electric motors at the front (that) would enable limited AWD capability.”

Car and Driver magazine has reported that a hybrid, twin-turbo V-8 version of the Corvette C8 is planned that could generate 1,000 horsepower with all-wheel drive.

The drivetrain changes are reported to include — in addition to a reliable, entry-level pushrod V-8 – a high-revving, Ferrari-like, flat-plane crankshaft V-8. The higher pitch of the camouflaged Corvette lighting up the Sebring night seems consistent with this option.

The mid-engine car’s absence from this January’s show has led to speculation that the project base been delayed.

Hagerty magazine’s Don Sherman, a veteran tracker of the mid-engine car’s development, said, “There may have been some issue that had to be resolved.”

Like finding Moby Dick, it’s hard to know all the details. Bringing an all-new sports car to market together with new engines and global race programs requires a lot of coordination.

The white whale is getting closer.

Auto shows adapt in a changing landscape

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 12, 2018

Los Angeles — Auto shows are dead, long live auto shows.

Buffeted by the winds of change — the electronic revolution, social media, growing global markets — vehicle showcases like the Detroit auto show are losing influence and manufacturers. Industry insiders say traditional auto shows remain an essential part of vehicle marketing even as they are viewed as just one of many tools to amplify a vehicle’s premiere.

Consider Audi, a premium automaker in Germany’s Volkswagen group, and its introduction of key products two weeks ago at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Audi was one of a wave of European premium-makers that pulled out of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year — a list that included BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover and Mini Cooper.

“Our product cadence simply did not fit Detroit,” says Audi Product Communications Director Mark Dahncke. “Auto shows have become so expensive and less relevant with the advent of the internet.”

So Audi decided to show its first-ever all-electric model in September at an independent media event. The product: the e-tron SUV. The venue: the San Francisco Bay area.

Audi even gave the event a theatrical name: “The Charge.” It was broadcast live worldwide via satellite, Audi MediaTV and other Internet sites.

Ten weeks later, the e-tron made its auto show debut on a full Audi stand at the Los Angeles show – just a day after Audi took advantage of hundreds of media attendees to give a sneak peek of the e-tron’s sexy sibling, the e-tron GT. Adding to the sex appeal, the GT was introduced by Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr.

“If we had introduced the e-tron at an auto show, it would have been drowned out where media reveals are so tightly clustered together,” says Dahncke. “We need the ability to have an exclusive venue so we could take people and media through this very important in detail.”

Still, the Los Angeles show, which ended Sunday, boasted a healthy 65 new-vehicle unveils this year across a crowded floor that included new players like Rivian, an electric-truck maker. By contrast, the Detroit show, which saw 69 new reveals last year, will drop to about 30 this year, according to show organizers.

“Big reveals will always happen at auto shows,” said Chris Paukert, a veteran Detroit-based auto journalist who is executive editor of Roadshow by CNET, a California-based website. “But automakers have many more, different ways to approach things now. Honda introduced its CR-V ute at a farmers market in Detroit last winter. That was unheard of a few years ago.”

Says IHS senior auto analyst Stephanie Brinley: “Auto shows still have the advantage of being the only place that automakers can get both lots of media and a lot customers. There is still an element of maintaining relationships with the customers that you have.”

 Take the Chicago Auto Show. It’s always played fourth-fiddle to the Detroit, Los Angeles and New York shows in product reveals. Yet nearly every automaker has a floor presence in the sprawling McCormick Place every February, because it’s the No. 1 show for public attendance in the United States.

Shows also are benefiting as automakers drastically increase the pace of new-vehicle reveals. According to a Bank of America Global Research report, reveals of new models have grown, on average, from 38 per year in recent decades, to 58 per year.

But carmakers’ budgets are being stretched thin: Brinley says that in addition to the high cost of having displays on show floors, carmakers have to manage more shows such as those in emerging markets like Beijing and Shanghai. And tf the Las Vegas show takes place the week before the Detroit auto show.

That has worked to the disadvantage of the North American International Auto Show, which carmakers see as the backyard of the Detroit Three. It’s a market stacked with incentives to buy hometown products.

“It’s nothing personal,” says Audi’s Dahncke. “Detroit is Big Three country, and we may go back there. But right now we have luxury electric products, and our customers are in California.”

Other regional shows like Paris and Geneva have also seen automaker erosion.

Like Detroit, Los Angeles is a car town in a car-crazy state. But the different nature of the Southern California market has helped the Los Angeles show weather the storms that are shaking other events.

“Automakers know that we are a top market for most brands,” says Lefty Tsironis, the Los Angeles show’s director of experiential marketing. “This is a top sales market for every segment of car.”

Adds IHS’s Brinley: “LA and New York used to be smaller shows than Detroit. Now luxury automakers see them as important to selling their cars in those regions, and so Detroit has more to lose.”

With a majority of luxury vehicles sold on the West and East coasts, Audi is simply going where its customers are.

Two years ago, the Los Angeles show fused technology and automotive together with “Automobility LA,” bringing tech geeks and gearheads together under one tent.

The Detroit auto show is evolving as well.

The North American International Auto Show also has added forums for new technology. More fundamentally, the Detroit show will move from January to June in 2020, which will give carmakers a chance to move outside in more hospitable temperatures and give a resurgent Detroit a chance to showcase its restaurant and social scene. Attendees will be able to take test rides in vehicles —including self-driving cars — while sampling local entertainment and food along the waterfront.

“It gets us away from just static displays,” says Detroit Show chief Rod Alberts.

Says Audi’s Dahncke of Detroit’s new date: “I think it’s a positive move. It’s better timing for us to show our products, and it’s a better time to be in Detroit. It’s hard to go there right after the holidays, especially when there might be a snowstorm.”