Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Manchurian Trump and McCabe

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 21, 2019

Payne: Best bargains, Mazda CX-5 vs. Subaru Forester

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 21, 2019

Henry Payne compares the 2019 Subaru Forester Sport, left, with the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature.

The $30,000 price point is the meat of the U.S. market. It’s where America lives. The average cost of a new vehicle is just over $35,000 and the average vehicle is a compact crossover, the biggest segment in all of autodom.

So it figures that two of the best bargains to be found are at opposite ends of the $30,000-$40,000 aisle: the near-premium Mazda CX-5 and the blue-light special Subaru Forester.

If neither of these vehicles flips your switch, then you need to get your switch fixed.

Pound-for-buck, the Mazda CX-5 is the best SUV on the planet. With premium looks to rival any luxury entry, consider how my CX-5’s top grade, new-for-2019 Signature trim stacks up against luxury’s best-selling compact ute, the Audi Q5.

The $39,155 CX-5 offers the same high-tech standard features — all-wheel drive and leather interior — as a comparable $54,795 Q5, but has more interior room, more cargo room, more horsepower and more torque. That’s right, more horsepower and torque.

At a time when electronics have quickly narrowed the gap between first class and coach, there are many mainstream cars that exude a luxury vibe with premium accessories like adaptive cruise-control, digital instrument displays and sculpted bods. But power has always been the separator.

Until now.

In addition to its trusty 2.5-liter four-banger, the CX-5 is now optioned with the same terrific 2.5 liter turbo-four with 250 horses and 310 pound-feet of torque that’s found in big-brother CX-9. That means two more ponies than Audi, 22 more pound-feet of torque, and .02 seconds quicker to 60 mph. For $15,000 less. Mazda drops the mike.

Through the twisties of Oakland County, the CX-5 is a joy. I flatten the throttle and the 6-speed — despite being a smaller-ratio box than the 8-9 speeds increasingly common today — effortlessly downshifts to the necessary gear, before popping off buttery-smooth shifts as I increase throttle.

The response is aided by that gob-smacking torque number — more than a $50,000 Porsche Macan — and a nimble, 3,825-pound chassis that is 300 pounds lighter than a BMW X3.

But I know what you are thinking, dear reader. That $39,000 is still a lot to pay for an SUV. Especially if exiting apexes under full throttle is not high on your list of ute priorities. You’re just looking for an attractive, daily commuter that can deliver you to your destination sun, sleet, or snow.

If the CX-5 is a bargain Audi Q5, then the Subaru Forester is a bargain CX-5.

Start with looks: The Sport model in my driveway has come a long way from the rough Subaru Tribeca that used to be the face of Subaru. The Forester isn’t in the Mazda’s league — long nose, athletic shoulders, narrow greenhouse — but the Forester is nice to look at.

Carrying Subaru’s standard, signature all-wheel drive, the Forester has the upgraded brand look that attracted Mrs. Payne to the Subaru Impreza back in 2014. An ugly duckling no more, Subaru finally settled on a wardrobe that wouldn’t scare customers. It gets them inside to experience the brand’s wholesome goodness.

My Sport model was aggressively outfitted with a blacked-out grille and red rocker-panel highlights. That sporty look doesn’t translate to the drivetrain, which is a familiar 182-horse four-banger mated to a continuously variable transmission. Though 250 pounds lighter than the Mazda, the Forester won’t inspire you to consume asphalt — but it might encourage you to leave the road entirely.

With multiple off-road modes, the Forester gives off a rugged vibe that will instill confidence in Subaru’s core audience of weekend hikers.

I grunted around a sprawling construction site with the Forester — the Mazda’s pretty chrome kisser and Audi’s expensive price tag discourage such activity — dialing its mode selector to Mud.

The cloth-seat Forester comes standard with the same safety-assist goodies as its more expensive competitors — adaptive cruise-control, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, blind-spot assist — though the leather-wrapped Mazda’s refinement is a step above with its Audi-like dash. The QX-5 copies the Audi’s tablet-like infotainment screen controlled by a remote rotary knob — but offers better ergonomics versus the German’s overengineered console.

The Mazda’s i-Activsense driver-assist system is terrific. Located in the center of the instrument cluster, it creates an electronic cocoon that keeps you informed as to where other vehicles are lurking (in your blind-spot, for example). Premium looks, premium tech.

The Subaru’s dash is chunkier, its touchscreen within reach for those who prefer jabbing with their fingers. What the Forester lacks in design sophistication it makes up for in customer-friendly ergonomics.

Subaru adds a second console screen above the dash with car-related details of your choice. That thoughtfulness abounds through the cabin as the Subaru bests the Audi and Mazda in nearly every interior metric (Mazda just nips the Subaru in rear leg-room) — most importantly, cargo room.

Where the Audi and Mazda opt for more athletic looks, the Subaru adds a fat caboose for more storage. It’s a reasonable priority, given the five-door-hatch SUV advantage. Even with the shortest wheelbase of the three cars, the Forester’s roomier interior packaging is optimized for the SUV customer.

Brand matters, and the four-ring Audi Q5 has ridden its good looks, athleticism and German engineering to 69,750 in 2018 sales — second only to the iconic Lexus RX as best-selling luxury SUV.

But $55,000 is a lot of dough, and the Mazda and Subaru bring their own brand credibility at a much lower price. Mazda has invested heavily in motor racing over the years to polish a reputation for fun and sex appeal. The influence of the Miata sports car is everywhere, even in this SUV. The only thing missing on my Machine Gray CX-5 Signature tester was Mazda’s sexy Soul Red paint scheme. For another $595, it’s worth it.

The Subaru looks better in mud than in red, and that’s a compliment. As the best compact SUV value money can buy, it sacrifices nothing in utility while still offering a distinctive personality.

Thanks to vehicles like the CX-5 and Forester, customers can shop for the average car without feeling average.

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 Mazda CX-5 Signature

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

Price: $37,885 base, including $995 destination fee ($39,155 as tested)

Powerplant: Turbocharged, 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder

Power: 250 horsepower (227 on regular gas), 310 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.2 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 130 mph

Weight: 3,825 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 22 city/27 highway/24 combined

Report card

Highs: Luxury ute at mainstream price; terrific i-Activsense surround safety-assist

Lows: Less cargo room; could use a bigger console screen, but I’m reaching here

Overall: 4 stars

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

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

Price: $29,770 base, including $975 destination fee ($31,815 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder

Power: 182 horsepower; 176 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 127 mph

Weight: 3,531 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 26 city/33 highway/29 combined

Report card

Highs: Standard features galore, tough off-road and on

Lows: Acceleration requires patience; chunky interior design

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Amazon leaves New York

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 20, 2019

Cartoon: Coup Justice Department

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 20, 2019

Payne: Hawaii-inspired Hyundai Kona EV meets Detroit winter

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 20, 2019

The $37,000 2019 Hyundai Kona EV is expensive for a small ute, but is a good Metro Detroit commuter car for those who like EV torque, operation, and have a 240-volt charger in their garage.

I have been to Kona, the beautiful western region of Hawaii’s big island from which the Hyundai Kona electric SUV got its name.

Kona’s sandy beaches, palm trees and temperate climate contrast with the frigid Detroit January snow globe in which I first tested the cute new ute.

The Hyundai EV’s 258-mile battery range might have been calculated in the 80-degree paradise where cars cruise the sun-kissed coast, popping into the Kona Commons Shopping Center charging station to top off on electrons while browsing the local Target. If it had been calculated on my snow-caked commutes around Metro Detroit’s winter tundra desperately seeking a charging station, the figures would have been more modest.

Like half.

Which is a shame because I really, really like EVs like the Kona. The Hyundai is a direct competitor to the Chevy Bolt, the hatchback that beat the Tesla Model 3 to market as the first electric to boast 200-plus miles of range. Like the Tesla and Bolt, the Hyundai’s inherent physics make for a fun, different daily driver.

With its batteries under the floor (Hyundai’s clever architecture can accommodate gas or electric drivetrains without altering interior space), the Kona’s low center of gravity offers excellent handling despite its taller sport-utility stature. And the Kona copies the Bolt’s clever regenerative paddle feature — steering-wheel-mounted paddles that use the electric motor to brake and recharge the battery.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s no Model 3 — the Tesla sedan’s rear-wheel-drive layout puts it on par with the best German luxe athletes. But the Bolt and Kona front-wheel-drive platforms offer better all-weather potential.

Which is why EV’s battery Achilles heel is so maddening.

With temps in the low teens on the last Saturday of the Detroit auto show, I aimed my $44,650 Kona Ultimate model downtown. The robust 64-kWh battery pack stores about 75 percent of the energy of my $57,500 Model 3. But it still packs an impressive 290 pound-feet of torque so I could nail the throttle for quick passes on the Lodge.

Stoplight acceleration is similarly instantaneous. The front tires chirping on the cold pavement for a healthy 6.4-second zero-60 dash (a 10th of a second quicker than the Bolt).

Toggling the regen paddle as well as using the Eco drive-mode setting for maximum regeneration, I never touched the brake pedal on the trip downtown. I told you EVs are different.

But the fun stops at the parking garage. My go-to garage near Cobo has only a few spots for EV charging and they usually aren’t available when I arrive for work. My Saturday luck was better — but as I plugged in to the Chargepoint-managed meter, the clock began to tick. EV courtesy demands you plug in for a limit of three hours before vacating the space for another electron-starved soul.

I returned after two hours having gained 45 miles of range on the 240-volt Level 2 charger. That’s a lot of time for so little range. Especially in Detroit’s cold.

My 28-mile trip home in 20-degree weather sucked 56 miles of range out of the Kona’s battery. That translates to a total battery range of just 129 miles, not the 258 in Hawaii’s climate (Car and Driver got 160 miles in their December test). And it’s a long way from the 360-mile range of the gas-powered, all-wheel drive, 1.6-liter turbo-4 Kona.

Which is why most folks will buy the more affordable, $29,775 gas Kona Ultimate ($15,000 cheaper than the Kona EV Ultimate) I tested last year. And it’s why the Kona EV is only on sale in nine states that mandate zero-emission vehicles (the closest ZEV state to Michigan is New York). If you want it here, you’ll have to special-order.

But, if …

1. you have a second gasoline-powered car for out-of-town trips to grandma’s house, and
2. you just need an EV for Metro Detroit commuting, and
3. you are willing to invest in a 240-volt charger for your garage

… then the Kona EV might just be the car for you. At a base price of $37,495 (without the leather and safety-assist frills of the Ultimate trim) it fills the space promised by the mythical $35,000 Tesla Model 3.

And, like the Model 3, it looks cool — cooler than its geeky, gas-powered sibling. The EV sheds much of the excessive ornamentation (not to mention unnecessary grille to feed the gas-engine air) of the standard Kona for a simpler wardrobe. The grille is replaced by barely noticeable chicken feet that help disguise the front charging plug door. And the cladding has been removed from the mid-face headlights.

The result is the upper running lights — connected by a thin chrome strip — dominate the face like a Tesla Model X SUV.

Add aero wheels and the Kona EV is a looker, even when buried under six inches of snow. I grunted into the blizzard, toggling on the Kona EV’s welcome heated steering wheel and heated seats. Like the Bolt, the Kona is well-appointed inside, including the latest electronic goo-gaws like Apple CarPlay and an e-shifter that opens up a nice sub-console storage pocket.

The EV is limited to front-wheel drive, which puts it at a disadvantage to much cheaper subcompact utes (the gas Kona, Chevy Trax, Ford Ecosport, etc.) as well as bigger, comparably priced compact luxury utes like the Acura MDX or Cadillac XT4.

Managing 290-pound feet of torque through the front wheels on a zero-60 run is fun. But in snow, it’s diabolical as the Kona EV’s traction-control system struggled to manage grip.

On hills, traction-control would starve power, forcing me to flick off traction-control altogether and claw my way to speed, the front tires flinging snow like a dog digging for a bone. Ah, my kingdom for all-wheel drive.

All this churning about in snowy, 21-degree conditions continued to burn nearly two miles of battery range for every mile traveled (not to mention about 10 miles in vampire losses overnight in the cold).

Like other EVs, Kona is a niche product for enthusiasts looking for something different — one-pedal-driving, drive-by-paddle, spartan design — that never has to visit a gas station.

But its optimal performance would be realized by someone living in Kona, Hawaii. Which is where all us freezing Detroiters would like to live about now.

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 Hyundai Kona EV

Vehicle type: Front-motor, front-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $37,495 base, including $1,045 destination fee ($45,695 Ultimate model as tested)

Powerplant: AC motor with 64-kWh lithium-ion battery pack

Power: 201 horsepower; 290 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: One-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.4 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 110 mph

Weight: 3,767 pounds

Fuel economy: 258-mile range (129 miles observed in polar vortex)

Report card

Highs: Snazzy looks; all-season utility

Lows: Pricey for a subcompact ute; range plummets in cold temps

Overall: 3 stars

CARtoon: Lego Silverado

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 20, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on February 13, 2019

Cartoon: Federal Flatulence Police

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 11, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on February 11, 2019

Cartoon: Dingell RIP

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 9, 2019

Cartoon: # I Believe Her

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 7, 2019

Payne: Hybrid Toyota RAV4 will git ‘er done

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 7, 2019

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is solid in the snow with AWD, and a chassis and independent suspension more refined from the previous gen.

Michigan winters concentrate the mind on transportation fundamentals.

Mother Nature cursed the first public day of the Detroit auto show this year with six inches of snow, and I waded through it in my 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid tester — along with thousands of other job-bound Detroiters — to get downtown from Oakland County.

Snow has a way of de-romanticizing everything on the road.

I passed a muck-covered white Jaguar F-Pace that looked like a Victoria’s Secret angel splashed by a mud puddle. I churned past a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk crawling along the Lodge’s left-hand lane at 20 mph, its white-knuckled driver oblivious to the steed’s enormous four-wheel drive capabilities. I rolled by a black Mercedes C-class, its sculpted body lines obliterated by salt wash.

My snow-covered RAV4 didn’t look much different than these design icons. But the Toyota is hardly a wallflower.

Spurred by its colorful CEO, Akio Toyoda, the brand has gone on a creative design binge that is sometimes wonderful, sometimes wacky. File the new Supra sports car (just unveiled at the Detroit auto show) as wonderful with is racy, LeMans prototype styling. For wacky, shield your eyes from the new Camry which looks like it was dressed by Marvel Comics with its racy lines and Ant-Man mask.

The RAV4 is changed dramatically since the last-generation car, which I liked very much. The new RAV4 is much more masculine, trading the previous generation’s round fenders and sleek roofline for a more muscular look. Fenders are squared off, the stance more upright, the rear lights chunky — finished off by a grille that comes straight from the best-selling Tacoma pickup.

In a female-friendly family segment, I’m not sure the pickup look is the way to go, but the RAV4’s truck-like capabilities were certainly appropriate for my snowy Saturday commute.

Sitting high off the ground, I toggled Trail mode in my Hybrid Limited model and plunged into the elements.

The 2019 RAV4 offers three different all-wheel drive systems — two for gas-engine models and one that is unique to the Hybrid. The Hybrid’s system uses the gas engine to drive the front wheels, and an electric motor to drive the rear. A Trail mode features brake-torque vectoring that can throw more power to the wheel that has the most traction (think limited slip-differential on a sports car). I can’t quibble with the engineering, but I couldn’t tell the difference in Trail or Normal mode.

I effortlessly drove the 3,800-pound beast around snowy  corners. The Toyota’s nanny systems intervened. But unlike the last generation which would nearly stall the car by cutting fuel, the systems of the new truck ultimately gave up as I applied more throttle for more fun fish-tailing.

Once on the Lodge, however, I was all business, and the Toyota negotiated the clotted byway with cheery confidence. It showed off good traction, predictable handling … and, um, none of its ballyhooed standard features.

The RAV4 may be a bargain with standard radar- and camera-based adaptive cruise-control and lane-keep assist — but the car was as blind as a bat in the snowy conditions.

I toggled adaptive cruise-control. Nothing.

I applied the lane-keep assist. Nothing.

The only safety-assist system that worked on the Toyota was blind-spot assist, which was useful for checking for wayward cars (on snowy roads, folks just make up lanes).

Autonomous cars may be testing in sunny San Francisco and La La Land, but the real test is here in the Midwest where inclement weather plays havoc with the car’s eyeballs. My car’s RAV4’s assist system were AWOL, reducing the Toyota to basic transport.

Which is what Toyotas do very well.

Folks who have to get to work on time — or get the kids to school on time, or get to the airport on time — need reliable transportation no matter the weather. And they have for years now consistently turned to good ol’ Toyota appliances.

For the sixth straight year, the RAV4 scored a 5 (out of 5) reliability rating in Consumer Reports testing.

Which means when Detroit’s a 15-degree snow globe, the RAV4 will start, drive, fit the family and get you to your destination on time without breaking the budget.

About that last thought. “Hybrid” and “budget” don’t usually share the same sentence, yet Toyota’s hybrid is a better vehicle than the standard, 2.5-liter model in every way. For just $800 more, the hybrid is quicker zero-60 and returns a whopping 11 mpg better fuel economy (39 mpg vs. 28). Which means the fuel-savings will earn back back the difference in three years. On paper, anyway.

In 400 miles of wintry travel under my lead foot, my RAV4 returned just 30.1 mpg. Michigan winters have a thing or two to teach La La Land on real-world hybrid mpg, too.

But while monitoring roads, blind-spots and left-lane lollygaggers loping along at 20 mph, it’s comforting to have a car with intuitive ergonomics. It is here that RAV4 has made its biggest step over the previous gen.

The interior is not only more handsome with a digital instrument cluster and raised tablet touchscreen, but the console is much improved.

The annoying, notchy shifter has been replaced by a smoother model. Under the raised touchscreen is a big cubby for throwing French fries and wallets. And phones, which remain essential for navigation in the RAV4 since its own navi system is subpar and Android Auto for my phone isn’t offered (happily, for you iPhoners, Apple CarPlay is available).

The terrain modes are efficiently packaged next to the shifter. Only Toyota’s habit for stuffing too many buttons on the left-of-steering-wheel dash panel is distracting. Searching for the heated steering wheel button somewhere around my left knee is not where I want my eyes to be when I have a snoot-full of snow coming at me.

Add it all up and the $37,000 RAV4 is a worthy vehicle — if still shy of the Mazda CX-5 for best all-around all-star in class. The 2019 RAV4 will likely retain its top-dog sales status — and the hybrid model should replace the iconic-but-fading Prius as the brand’s best-selling green vehicle.

As I churned past an awesome, $70,000 Ford Raptor on the Lodge, I smiled. For half the price, the RAV4 would deliver me to my destination just as safely but more efficiently.

That, in a nutshell, is what Toyota delivers. Fundamentals.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

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

Price: $28,795 base, including $1,095 destination fee ($36,795 Limited model as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder mated to electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery

Power: 219 horsepower (total hybrid system output)

Transmission: Electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.6 seconds (Motor Trend); towing capacity, 1,750 pounds (mfr.)

Weight: 3,800 pounds (Limited as tested)

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

Report card

Highs: Hybrid affordability, Toyota reliability; much-improved interior ergonomics

Lows: Butch design not for everyone; no-thrills driving experience

Overall: 3 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on February 3, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on February 3, 2019