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Payne: Toyota’s new Avalon is a Lexus-beater

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 16, 2018

Avalon Fr3 4

Toyota and its luxury-brand Lexus dominated Consumer Reports’ reliability rankings again this year, and it’s easy to see why. While brands like Tesla (third to last) and Volvo (last) innovate with new but glitchy technology, the Japanese brands beaver along with proven, dependable hardware.

Take the big Toyota Avalon that I’ve been driving with its dependable gated shifter, dependable infotainment display and dependable V-6 engine. They should call it the Toyota Dependable.

But for all their metronomic reliability, the Tokyo titans are hardly vanilla. Bucking design tradition, they’ve reached into the Hollywood wardrobe and assembled some of the most radical designs in autodom.

Lexus in particular has walked off the deep end, wearing costumes with more angles than Dr. Strange’s cape and a face that only Darth Vader could love.

It’s even more bonkers inside. I was recently in a Lexus LX 570 ute with the infotainment system from hell. The remote dash screen is operated by a sort of mouse on the console that is impossible to operate standing still, much less when the car is moving. One wonders how reliable it would be if Consumer Reports tested it after frustrated owners have beaten it silly with a tire iron.

All of which is why I recommend Toyota over Lexus these days.

As regular readers of this column know, the electronic revolution has brought a conversion of mainstream and luxury-car features. Features like adaptive cruise-control — a gee-whiz luxury item just 15 years ago that’s now commonplace on even compact cars like the $20,000 Toyota Corolla hatchback.

Speaking of which, the Corolla has gone from one of the most disappointing cars in the market (tell me again why this numb wallflower was a best-selling compact?) to my favorite Toyota product. And it’s not just that the rousing Corolla hatch is loaded with features and has all the utility of a Toyota RAV4 without the compromised handling.

The hatch is a looker. From its aggressive haunches to its good c-pillar visibility to its coherent grille, the Corolla is evidence that not all Toyota designers are crayon-wielding teens that believe every grille should be made to resemble comic-book supervillains.

I was fond of the last-generation Avalon with its long lines and pleasing face. Indeed, the cute Corolla hatch is the last-gen Avalon’s Mini Me. Then papa went to a plastic surgeon and got a face-lift. Oh, that mouth!

The Avalon looks like a humpback whale ingesting a school of krill. The Tasmanian Devil’s kisser isn’t this big. It rivals Lexus for most outrageous face. Which is how CEO Akio Toyoda wants it. Like the best-selling Camry sedan, Akio wanted his new generation of cars to inspire buzz, not ZZZZs.

Look up “polarizing” in the dictionary and it reads “1. Lexus 2. Toyota.” Happily for those of us not named Vader, the rest of the Avalon is more tasteful.

The horizontal tail lights are conventionally fashionable — following Dodge, Lincoln, Audi, et al — and help tie together the big sedan’s rump. Speaking of big, Avalon is typically roomy for a Toyota, expanding its wheelbase two inches over the previous model. You don’t get to be a best-selling brand in the USA without listening to your triple-extra-large clientele.

The front door was apparently taken off a Delta Airlines hangar. I have arms like an orangutan, but I needed an umbrella handle to reach the handle to shut the door once inside. The interior is tomb-quiet, my Touring model’s leather and suede appointments swallowing my big frame. I could easily sit behind myself in back.

The interior dials back the exterior’s craziness. Whereas the Camry gives the console an (admittedly inspired) S-curve design, the Avalon falls back on a conventional, upright look — replacing the previous floating console shaped like a artist’s palette. An artist myself, I rather liked the old look — but the new design is businesslike and easy to use.

And it’s why I’d recommend this up-market-targeted sedan over its Lexus peer.

The interface is easy to use, while providing standard “Safety Sense” and infotainment features — backup camera, digital radio, blind-spot assist, even Apple CarPlay (finally) — that customers have come to expect from a premium car. Heck, these items are standard on a $23,000 Corolla.

But perhaps the most critical piece of my upsell of the Avalon to you, dear Lexus customer, is its handling. Previous-generation Avalons were boats. But on the company’s new Toyota New Global Architecture — which undergirds the excellent Camry as well as the Avalon and Corolla — the Avalon is surprisingly athletic.

Carving through my favorite Metro Detroit ess-curves, Avalon is planted, allowing me to get into the 3.5-liter’s growly V-6 throttle early off the turn. Mated to a quick-shifting eight-speed tranny, the big sled is a worthy dance partner.

Love that six-holer. While automakers have fled to turbo-4s to meet both emissions controls and customers’ need for speed, Toyota has stuck with its loyal six. It’s dependable as a collie.

Dependability also rhymes with affordability in Toyota’s case. My Touring tester came in at $44,913 — $8,000 cheaper than a comparable Lexus GS with the same V-6, but without that maddening mouse controller. My only reservation is Toyota starves the Avalon of an all-wheel drive option for Michigan winters, a feature that the GS (and every SUV) options.

The Avalon is not deprived of a Toyota-Lexus signature hybrid model, however, and here again value is impressive. With its electric-assisted, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the 3,718-pound sedan gets a remarkable 43 mpg for just a grand more than the V-6 model. That’s not much of a hybrid premium — and in just a year’s driving you’ll make it all back in gas savings. Helpless motorhead that I am, I would still opt for the visceral satisfaction of the V-6.

It’s a tough slog these days for sedans, especially big sedans like the Avalon. Without all-wheel drive, they are easily passed over for large utes. But for traditionalists who still value a sleek, punchy sedan with fuss-free ergonomics, the old-school Avalon’s new-school architecture is a contender.

Just be sure and park it nose-first into the garage so its humpback whale mug doesn’t scare the neighborhood kids.

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 Toyota Avalon

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

Price: $32,000 base including $920 destination fee ($44,913 Touring as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6; 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder with nickel-metal hydride battery assist

Power: 310 horsepower, 267 pound-feet torque (V-6); 215 horsepower (hybrid)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic (V-6) or continuously variable automatic (hybrid)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (Motor Trend)

Weight: 3,704 pounds (V-6)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 22 city/31 highway/25 combined (V-6); 43 city/43 highway/43 combined (hybrid)

Report card

Highs: Roomy, athletic sedan; screen controls with nice knobs

Lows: Oh, that face; AWD, please

Overall: 3 stars

Payne: Genesis G-pulling G70 is a bargain athlete

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

G70 Fr3 4 Bushes

At the same time Audi announced this summer it was ditching the manual transmission for its A4 sports sedan, Genesis said its G70 competitor would not only have a manual variant — but that it would be offered as an upscale Sport version unto itself.

That tells you a lot about Hyundai’s aggressive new luxury brand. This Seoul-produced entry-level sedan has soul.

The G70 is rightly baselined to the compact segment icon, the BMW 3-series. Stealing away BMW M-class engineering guru Albert Biermann and Lamborghini design director Luc Donckerwolke, Genesis put the G70 on its own rear-wheel drive platform and trained it in the German makers’ Nürburgring racetrack backyard.

But BMW, Audi and Mercedes are no longer the segment performance leaders. That honor now goes to the terrific Cadillac ATS, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Tesla Model 3 sedans.

Indeed, the irony of the market’s shift away to lookalike SUVs today is that entry-level sedans are incredibly, head-turningly good.

Not only are the establishment players at the top of their game, but there are three 21st-century upstarts: Genesis, Alfa and Tesla. EV-maker Tesla and Italian diva Alfa are niche brands. Genesis aspires to be the traditional volume player of the group, following the Toyota model of accessorizing a popular mainstream brand (Hyundai) with a premium marque.

Genesis’ challenge is establishing an identity in a cramped athletic-shoe aisle that includes such high-tops as the aforementioned German, American and Italian makes — and near-luxury sneakers like the Mazda 6 and Kia Stinger.

Most G70 buyers will approach the $32,000 base Genesis as a value-play over costlier alternatives, but my sophisticated 2.0-liter Sport manual demands to be measured against the best performers in luxury.. That said, how can they ignore Korean cousin Kia — which produces the bigger, five-door Stinger hatchback based on the same architecture and offering the same turbo-4 and twin-turbo V-6 powerplants?

A compelling aisle for sure. I took the very different 2.0-liter manual and 3.3-liter automatic for a run.

Automakers have traditionally offered manuals as entry-level fuel sippers or high-end enthusiast toys. Both are getting squeezed — by the inferiority of manual fuel economy relative to automatics at the low end, and by the performance of quick-shifting, multi-ratio boxes at the upper range.

The $38,895 Sport is targeted at enthusiasts somewhere in between who want an attractive pocket-rocket they can afford. At its core, the 2.0-liter Sport is a runner. With the four-banger driving the rear wheels only, it’s the lightest Q70 configuration.

It reminded me immediately of the ATS, Giulia and Model 3. And since the Tesla EV is a unique animal, I’ll concentrate on the gas-engine Caddy and Alfa: turbo-4 athletes, both more fun than the Midnight Screamer at Six Flags.

Attacking area interstate cloverleafs, the 252-horse Genesis is right there with the Caddy’s nimble handling — telepathic steering, tossable chassis — but shy of Alfa’s sexy looks and best-in-class 280 horsepower.

G70 is carving its own design path — away from the slavish, Audi-like styling of big brothers G90 and G80 — but it doesn’t have the personality of the Italian dish or sculpted Caddy. It’s muscular, no doubt — its wide rear stance ready to pounce — but hard to distinguish from a 3-series or Infiniti Q50.

Hard acceleration exposes the 2.0-liter’s biggest flaw — an initial dead spot on throttle that feels like turbo lag. Or something. “What is that?!” asked my motorhead friend Rick as he rowed through the gears.

Once on throttle, the 2.0-liter is plenty feisty, the engine pulling hard over 3,000 rpms. Upshifts are crisp, the car beautifully balanced on corner entry.

The Genesis makes its mark in true Hyundai fashion — value.

The G70 starts with standard comfort amenities like a 12-way driver’s seat, then adds a best-in-class standard suite of automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise-control, automatic high-beams, blind-spot assist, lane-keep-assist and automatic emergency braking. This is important stuff at a time when mainstream cars from the $25,000 VW Jetta and $32,000 Mazda 6 have similar goodies.

The days when luxe cars (and luxe trucks) can upcharge for such features is coming to an end, and it’s good to see G70 at the head of the game. That said, Mazda’s sensory system is better with its Tesla-like, 360-degree instrument graphics.

Upgrade to the G70’s honkin’ twin-turbo V-6 pushing out an impressive 365 ponies, and the value equation multiplies versus competitor brands. Save one: fellow Korean, Kia Stinger.

Stinger is another superb vehicle brought to life by Mr. Biermann. And that’s not the only thing it shares with G70. They are built on the same platform, have the same engines, boast quad-exhaust, are Nürburgring-tested, get smartphone connectivity and 5 year/100,000 drivetrain warranties and …

And then the Stinger goes further.

At the same entry price as the 3.3-liter G70, the Kia offers five doors instead of three. Its fastback hatchback was one of the revelations of 2017 — offering the utility of an SUV with the handling of a sedan. It’s an Audi A7 — for $25,000 less. An Audi A7 for the same price as a G70. Is that what Hyundai-Kia intended?

The styling and interior of the Stinger are world class, and when you get in back, it exposes the other glaring flaw of the G70 — its tiny rear seat.

Though stretched across the same architecture, the Kias get a longer wheelbase than its Seoul cousin. At a leggy 6-foot-5, I can sit behind myself in the Kia. The G70? Not so much. Which is another reason I lump the 2.0-liter with the equally backseat-challenged Caddy ATS and Alfa.

Genesis North America chief Irwin Raphael says that Genesis and Kia are separate entities (sharing Mr. Biermann) within the Hyundai-Kia empire. And maybe they are appealing to different customers.

I’m struck by the difference in Genesis and Kia Stinger branding, for example. Genesis introduced itself with the lovely voice of blues singer Audra Day. The Stinger, by contrast, was debuted at the 2017 Super Bowl by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler burning rubber backward to make himself 30 years younger.

Which soundtrack fits you, performance sedan enthusiast?

Stinger has the formidable task of selling folks a $40,000 Kia. But Genesis’ task is no less formidable. Both will appeal to customers looking for a bargain car that looks different than the Audi A4s and BMW 3s in the cul-de-sac.

The biggest difference between G70 and Stinger may be that the Stinger is Kia’s halo car — while Genesis’ halo is the forthcoming Essentia supercar. These are good times, indeed.

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 Genesis G70

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

Price: $32,000 base including $995 destination fee ($38,895 RWD manual Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged-4 cylinder; 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V-6

Power: 252 horsepower, 260 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 365 horsepower, 376 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3/6.0 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 130/155 mph

Weight: 3,550-4,050 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA: 22 city/30 highway/25 combined (Turbo-4); 18 city/25 highway/20 combined (V-6)

Report card

Highs: Nurburgring-tested athlete; bargain luxury

Lows: Cramped rear seat; cousin Kia Stinger hatchback an even better bargain

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Volvos defined safety, the S60 adds sexy

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2018

Volvo Red Fr3 4

Flashing down the canyon roads north of Los Angeles in a red, all-new 2019 Volvo S60 sedan, I nearly ran over a red 1980s-vintage Volvo 240. Instantly recognizable from the rear with its skeleton rear headrests, the ol’ Swede lumbered along. Built like a tank with the aerodynamics of a cardboard box.

Ugly duckling, meet swan.

The new, South Carolina-manufactured S60 is a fashion plate: Thor’s hammer headlights. Body of Chris Hemsworth. Powerful turbocharged engines. Alternately fun to drive on mountain roads and quiet as a sofa-bed on the freeway, the athletic Volvo is no longer a role player, but a well-rounded all-star in the mold of Audi or BMW.

Volvo has come a long way from its roots as the safety-obsessed Swede. Introduced to Americans in the 1950s, the brand was a pioneer in passenger protection. It was first with the standard three-point safety belt, rear-facing child seats, childproof locks and collapsible steering column. Volvo was Ralph Nader in the back seat on your family trip.

Ralph has been replaced by Mario Andretti. Volvo has an engine lineup that encourages bad behavior: Take your choice of a 250-horsepower, turbo-4; 315-horse supercharged turbo-4; or 415-horse, supercharged turbo-4 hybrid powertrains.

Farther along the L.A. canyons, I crowd a Porsche Boxster through the twisties. Thor’s hammers looming in his mirrors, drive mode dialed to Dynamic for maximum torque, chassis taut through the switchbacks. What’s next? A Volvo race team?

The S60 is fine not boring you with a safety lecture, though sometimes I wish it would.

In this era of galloping digital advances, Volvo is not the cutting edge of safety anymore. Acura class competitor TLX offers the same standard suite of adaptive cruise-control, lane-keep assist and collision-mitigation braking as the Volvo. Heck, even the smaller, 2019 ILX offers it — for $10,000 less.

I recently tested a loaded Mazda 6 for the same price as the base Volvo with the same horsepower, same safety systems — plus. Plus blind-spot assist, plus head-up display, plus driver-display mounted 360-degree monitoring system.

The old Volvo would have made these features standard and reminded you on billboards. But the new, more well-rounded Volvo has other talents it wants to share.

Like a standard panoramic moonroof. Ooooooh. Get the wagon version of the S60 — called the V60 — and it’s the biggest moonroof I’ve ever seen, stretching beyond the rear seats into next week.

While we’re on the subject of wagons, let me note that the gorgeous V60 is prettier, faster and cheaper than the Volvo XC60 SUV with more hatchback space and better roof access. Just in case you want to climb down from the taller XC60 and take a look.

Back to the S60. Volvo no doubt wants its pano-roofs to shed light on other standard features in the cabin like digital instrument display, elegant, 10-way seats and two-zone climate control. And, of course, a signature 9-inch, Tesla-like touchscreen.

The touchscreen is another vote for sexy over nanny Volvo.

Uncluttered by buttons, the screen is integrated into Volvo’s spare, Scandinavian cabin design: rich landscapes of wood, matte black, and aluminum accents.

It’s beautiful. And like Sweden’s Alicia Vikander, it’s distracting. The screen is low in the console, not high like tablets in the Audi or Acura RDX. While its logic is quick to master, it requires diverting your eyes from the road. Screens are accessed by swipes of the hand. Features controlled by buttons on other cars — lane-keep assist, head-up display, temperature controls — are located in the screen.

Volvo is aware of the distraction and has constructed helpful commands you can bark at the voice command. “Set the temperature to 70 degrees!” for example. I suggest setting your preferences at the house, then using voice commands to tweak settings on the road.

More in Volvo’s safety character is its Pro Pilot Assist, an adaptive cruise sidekick (for $2,500) that works as a semi-autonomous system in rush-hour traffic. Descending from LA’s canyon roads into its interstate-traffic hell, I toggled the Pilot Assist button. Below 30 mph in stop-and-go traffic, the system left me alone (like Cadillac’s SuperCruise, and unlike other nanny systems) so that I could check email and texts on my phone — or, um, fiddle with the touchscreen settings and navigation.

Speaking of navigation, the Volvo nicely integrates smartphone apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into its big screen so you don’t have to pay the $2,500 navigation upcharge for Volvo’s glitchy nav system.

It’s one of a few, rare glitches in this all-around athlete’s debut. Despite its German-stomping horsepower, the S60’s drivetrain still lacks the Teuton’s refinement. Downshifts can be lazy or abrupt.

Opt for the S60’s all-wheel drive T8 plugin-hybrid model, and the rear electric motor smooths out the drivetrain kinks like a comb through a blond Swedish mane. With healthy total system power of 400 ponies, the hybrid is a joy to drive fast.

Upgrade to the wicked-looking black Polestar T8 and you get 15 more horses, gold brake calipers and gold seat belts that look like they came right out of Q’s lab. Mr. Bond, your Polestar is ready.

Like safety, Volvo is synonymous with green, but the plugin-hybrid model contradicts that simple stereotype just like the safety boilerplate. Goosed with turbo and supercharging steroids, my hybrid, four-cylinder S60 averaged less than 20 mpg over a day of fairly civilized Metro L.A. driving.

As tempting as the pricey plugin may be, Detroit buyers will be perfectly content with a T5, AWD R-Design S60. Allow me to translate the Swedish alphanumerics:

AWD means all-wheel drive for Detroit snow
T5 means the 250-horse engine option
R-Design means the sporty trim package with 19-inch wheels

And S60 means the best Volvo sedan you have ever seen for about $46,000.

Divorced from Ford and now owned by China’s Geely, Volvo produces the sedan out of its first U.S. plant for export to countries around the globe. No longer a Naderite, Swedish curiosity, Volvo has matured to a global automaker with the S60, V60, XC60, S90, V90 and XC90 all built on the same, so-called SPA global platform.

As the brand’s entry-level product, the S60 retains its Swedish personality while speaking the universal language of style and power. Just like the BMW 3-series. Just like the Audi A4.

Just ask the ol’ Volvo 240 receding in my mirror.

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 Volvo S60 sedan and V60 wagon

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front and all-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan/wagon

Price: $36,795 base including $995 destination fee ($41,995 R-Design as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged-4 cylinder, plug-in hybrid

Power: 250 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 316 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque (turbo, supercharged 4); 400 horsepower (415 in Polestar edition), 494 pound-feet torque (turbo, supercharged 4 plug-in with electric-motor assist)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds for turbo-4 (mfr); top speed, 145 mph

Weight: 3,657-3,907 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 21 city/32 highway/25 combined (Turbo-4 AWD R-Design as tested)

Report card

Highs: Swedish beauty; standard panoramic moon-roof

Lows: Touchscreen can distract from safety; power sucks gas

Overall: 4 stars

Revology makes classic Mustangs for the 21st century

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2018

Rev Fr3 4

Slicing through the streets of Ann Arbor, the classic, fastback Mustang silhouette turns heads with its 1960s-style, blue-striped Shelby livery and menacing V-8 growl. But behind the wheel, the legendary pony feels taut like a modern ‘Stang — chassis planted, suspension absorbing the V-8 engine’s massive torque.

Say hello to the Revology Shelby GT350.

Like a mad movie scientist, ex-Ford marketing guru Tom Scarpello is bringing classic Mustangs back to life with a modern technology transplant. Taking exact-replica 1966-68 Mustang bodies and girding them with state-of-the-art suspension engineering and instrumentation, Scarpello’s Revology Mustangs are road-worthy recreations for the pony-car enthusiast.

“The Mustang that everyone covets is the original 1960s car, but no one wants the hassle of owning one. Revology makes the cars relevant again,” says Scarpello, who worked for Ford and other automakers before opening his own manufacturing facility in Orlando, Florida.

From GT350s to Steve McQueen’s Highland Green Bullitt, Ford’s sixth-generation Mustang still draws on its 50-year heritage even as its current models are light years beyond ’60s tech. But Revology is the first company to license Ford and Shelby heritage models and update them with modern engineering.

Credit Scarpello who is living his dream by applying a lifetime of manufacturing know-how with Ford and Nissan to one of the most creative auto startups of the 21st century.

His Revology lineup includes six model Mustangs ranging from a 460-horse 1966 GT convertible to an earth-pawing 1967 Shelby GT500 with a 600-horsepower supercharged Roush V-8.

Scarpello knows muscle. Working for Ford’s SVT performance division from 1998-2004, he was product manager for Ford’s first GT supercar — based on the iconic 1966 Le Mans winner. In his spare time he raced SCCA’s Formula Mazda series. After a short run as (then Ford-owned) Jaguar’s marketing manager in Irvine, California, he left Ford on a quixotic journey to establish his own auto business. He hopscotched the globe — California, Mexico, Hong Kong, Japan — learning the auto sales craft with dealers, Nissan and Infiniti before finally establishing Revology in Orlando in 2015.

His timing couldn’t have been better.

Ford was celebrating Mustang’s 50th anniversary in 2015 and throwing a global party. For the first time, America’s pony car would be sold around the world. Heritage toys like the 50th-anniversary Bullitt Mustang followed. The new Mustang was a hit — eclipsing Camaro sales for the first time in years — but its modern styling had a mixed reaction among pony faithful yearning for a more retro ‘60s look.

“Those trends came together at a good time for us,” smiles Scarpello, who says orders for his cars have come from seven countries.

He was also working with SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) and Washington to make sure his business model conformed with U.S. safety and environmental regulations, which can be daunting costs for small manufacturers.

Whereas states have typically regulated the so-called “kit car” market, a draft federal law for low-volume vehicle production would allow companies like Revology to manufacture up to 325 vehicles a year without having to go through full U.S. crash and emissions testing. Just as long as companies use approved engines and chassis equipment.

For Revology, Mustang’s state-of-the-art driveline is the soul of the machine. The original, 289-cubic inch, 1966 Mustang V-8 pumped out 271 horses. The current, 305-cube, Coyote engine makes a howling 460.

Scarpello brought a Revology 1966 Shelby GT350 to Ann Arbor for media testing. The  beast flat-out goes.

While the 2018 Mustang GT350 — larded with sound-proofing material that muffles the V-8’s roar in the cabin — tips the scales at 3,705 pounds, the Revology GT350 weighs just 3,225. The Coyote’s roar — WAAUUUGGGGH!! — rattles the cabin just like the good ol’ days.

This integration of new and old, classic and contemporary, is repeated throughout the Revology ‘Stang.

Revology buys its chassis from Dynacorn, which re-creates classic steel shells to the same dimension as the ’60s original. Then Scarpello’s team of mad scientists goes to work. The chassis is strapped down with extensive bracing, modern double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear. It’s bolted to period wheels wrapped in wider rubber.

Add a modern V-8 and six-speed manual transmission to the recipe and the GT350 tester is a no-compromise classic with 52/48 weight distribution. Cornering is flat. Acceleration ferocious.

Revology has added minimal sound-deadening material to keep the classic’s raw emotion. The same is true for the interior, which appears to be of period-spec with its long shifter handle and round, analog gauges. Even the high beams are still activated via a button on the floor with your left foot.

But on closer inspection, the instruments have gained LED lighting and an infotainment screen (complete with modern goo-gaws like smartphone connectivity) anchors the dash. It has automatic windows, AC, power steering, a push-button starter and seats wrapped in leather.

All this integration doesn’t come cheap. Revology Mustangs sticker for between $174,000 and $227,000 — or about the price of an original car at auction. Difference is, you can comfortably drive the Revology car to work.

Scarpello’s team has sold 18 cars this year, with the intent of ramping up to the federal ceiling. You can configure yours beginning at RevologyCars.com.

Ford wows Vegas with Carbon Series GT supercar, mod trucks

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

Dhf18043 C1

Take the week off, Celine Dion. Las Vegas is home to the dazzling Specialty Equipment Market Association show through Friday, and Ford opens the extravaganza Tuesday with the latest version of its Ford GT supercar.

The show-stopping, 2019 Ford GT Carbon Series is the lightest version of Ford’s performance halo car – and punctuates the point with acres of exposed carbon fiber including dual exposed stripes, A-pillars and lower body panels. Ford will also show its range with truck acts including eight custom F-150 and seven modified Ranger pickups.

The GT Carbon Series hits the market at the same time that Ford is re-opening the application process for its 647-horse, twin-turbo V6-powered, Le Mans-winning legend on Nov. 8. Ford had previously capped GT production at 1,000 but has added 350 units to be produced through 2022.

“The Ford GT Carbon Series stands out on the road with its striking carbon fiber-rich design and on the track with its athleticism,” said Hermann Salenbauch, chief of Ford’s Performance Division, which oversees the GT and other earth-pawing models.

Where the Ford GT’s previous lightweight track star, the Competition series, stripped the GT of daily amenities like radio and air conditioning, the Carbon Series maintains both (while still dropping 39 pounds) so that owners can run hot laps on track – then cool off with AC on the ride home.

“While the Ford GT Competition model appeals to hardcore racing enthusiasts, we found more customers asking for more exposed carbon fiber with the air conditioning and radio still intact,” said Lance Mosley, marketing ringmaster for Ford Performance. “So we developed the Carbon Series to satisfy that need, while providing a distinct look.”

It’s not the first time that Ford has used SEMA — a sprawling trade show featuring aftermarket, performance-enhancing steroids like supercharged engines and off-road truck lift kits — to showcase its state-of-the-art muscle. At the 2008 show, Ford debuted the F-150 Raptor, the fastest off-road pickup on the planet.

The $500,000-base Ford GT, the production version of the IMSA race car that took home the IMSA Weathertech GTLM manufacturer’s trophy this year, headlines the Performance division.

Featuring state-of-the-art aerodynamics technology like a Formula One-style keel-nose and retractile rear wing, the GT is motivated by twin-turbos spinning a 3.5-liter V-6 to 647 horsepower and a top speed of 216 mph.

To hit its dietary goal, the Carbon Series boasts light-weighting innovations like carbon fiber wheels, titanium exhaust and lug nuts, and a polycarbonate rear hatch. That, and Ford tossed the cupholders.

If all that carbon fiber isn’t enough to stand out from the exclusive GT crowd, the new edition can be accented with mirror caps, center stripes, and calipers in four colors: silver, orange, red, or blue.

For all the GT’s drama, however, the Performance division’s sales have been turbocharged by Mustangs and trucks. Sales were up a whopping 70 percent in 2017 to over 205,000 units globally. And that’s before Ford invaded two new segments this year with its Edge ST SUV and Ranger Raptor small truck — the latter available only in overseas markets. An upgraded F-150 Raptor will also bow later this year.

The model flood continues in 2019 with the expected debut of a 700-horsepower-plus Mustang GT500, the most powerful ‘Stang ever, and an Explorer ST ute. To keep buyers salivating, Ford is bringing eight customer F-150 builds to Vegas as well as seven modified Rangers.

As for GT buyers, your application can be found at www.FordGT.com beginning Nov. 8.

Payne: To Hell (and Ohio) and back to pick up my Tesla Model 3

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

Henry Payne deposited $1,000, along with 450,000 other customers, to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in a lifetime.

Henry Payne deposited $1,000, along with 450,000 other customers, to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in a lifetime.

Each step in my 31-month journey to buy a Tesla Model 3 has been an adventure. Delivery was no different.

Since configuring my car June 26 online, I waited through four months, multiple delivery date changes, an extra 30-day delay, and CEO Elon Musk smoking weed in a radio interview. Then I saddled up a 3-ton Nissan Armada rental mule to travel 200 miles to Cleveland to pick up a car Lansing bans from sale in Michigan.

“Delivery logistics hell,” Musk calls it. Yet, waiting on the other side of the River Styx (well, Lake Erie) was a stunning, athletic Model 3 electric vehicle that is still the most fascinating car on sale today.

In April, 2016, I put down my $1,000 deposit along with 450,000 other customers to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in my lifetime. Detroit News readers have been with meevery step of the way.

I’m no eco-geek, but a race car-driving, gas-guzzling motorhead with multiple cars in his garage and a need for speed. When Musk introduced the 3, I coveted it as I have desired BMWs, Fords, and Porsches. And as a journalist, I was also intrigued by an entrepreneur that is the early 21st century’s Henry Ford: driven, visionary, controversial.

Musk is also like other West Coast tech geniuses — Amazon’s Bezos, Uber’s Kalanick, Facebook’s Zuckerberg — in redefining industries. But he is most like Apple’s Steve Jobs in taking a fresh design approach to product. In this case, the car.

Deluged with more orders for the 3 than BMW sells across 14 model lines in a year, Tesla was not only promising a competitive luxury player in 18 months — but assembling it for delivery through its own, nascent dealer network. Dude, that’s a tall order.

The fires of Tesla “production hell” — missed deadlines, problematic build quality, manufacturing tents — have been well documented. Delivery hell, where customers like me interact with Tesla, is a more variable climate.

After configuring my rear-wheel-drive, Obsidian Black-with-19-inch-wheels Model 3 in June, Tesla predicted the car would arrive between September and November. I was optimistic, however — based on deliveries to Michigan friends — that it could arrive in less than a month.

Six weeks crawled by.

I called Las Vegas — Tesla dispatch central — on Aug. 8 for an update. Dispatch told me they had been deluged by orders at the end of July as Tesla ended free, LTE cell service. The new cost? $100 a year. Proof that even folks paying $50K for a car smell a deal.

But other smells were sowing concern. On Aug. 7, Musk tweeted in apparent violation of SEC rules that he was taking the company private. Tesla forums brimmed with customer tales of delivery dates gone awry. Tesla HQ was a revolving door of executive departures. Then Musk stunk up the joint (pun intended) in September with a pot-fueled interview.

Not the kind of news that inspires confidence in customers holding $50,000 luxury car orders. On Sept. 17, the call (well, text) finally came from Vegas:

Hey, Henry, this is Jackie from Tesla. I am reaching out about your Model 3 order. I am able to offer you delivery as soon as this month. Can I schedule you for September 27th?

That proved optimistic, too. After some delivery date ping-pong, my pick-up was pushed back to Oct. 26. A Tesla contractor told me the company’s rush to meet third-quarter (Sept. 30) profit deadlines had jammed the pipelines.

In Jersey Oct. 18 for my son’s wedding, I got a call from Robert at Tesla Cleveland. Can you pick up your car Monday the 22nd? I would be there, with insurance and the $57,450 balance in hand.

What happened to the promised, $35,000, affordable Model 3? It won’t be delivered until early next year — assuming customers still want it after the federal $7,500 tax credit runs out this winter.

As chaotic as delivery hell was, the Tesla dealer process is a model of efficiency.

Tesla handed me the keys to a gratis Enterprise rental to make the one-way trek to Lyndhurst (outside Cleveland) to pick up the future of sustainable transportation. My ride? An ironic, ginormous Nissan Armada SUV. Half-a-tank of gas. Range: 200-something. Gas infrastructure everywhere. I made it in three hours flat.

Since Tesla dealers are factory stores, the dealer process is a formality. All cars on the lot are spoken for — delivered to customer spec. No haggling. Indeed, to help with the flood of September deliveries, the Cleveland store brought in existing Tesla owners to help with vehicle check out.

My salesman spent his time explaining the spaceship’s tech-tastic features to me — automatic lane change, streaming audio services, regenerative braking, voice commands. We went over every inch of the car including build defects (Tesla quality still lags).

Before I rocketed home on 307 pound feet of electric torque, Tesla topped up the battery with 300 miles of range. Unlike the Armada, charging infrastructure for the 3 is spare.

Cooling my heels in the waiting room, I talked with another Tesla owner. He had first approached a Chevy dealer about buying a Bolt EV. The lot was littered with Bolts, but he said the salespeople were light on details and wouldn’t negotiate price.

Frustrated, he sought out Tesla online and placed his order. “It’s been a fantastic journey,” he said.

Payne: Big Subaru Ascent wants your family — and cups

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 25, 2018

Ascent Fr3 4

The last time Subaru tried a family SUV it was going through an awkward phase with the three-row Tribeca wallflower and its geeky triangular grille, pricey sticker, and … Mrs. Payne and I walked right past it on the way to the handsome, 2006 Pacifica crossover on the Chrysler lot.

Well, two’s the charm.

A lot has changed for a new generation of ‘Ru families. For one, Subaru went out and got a proper stylist, and its family of handsome Imprezas and Crosstreks aren’t turning away customers with their homely looks. Take my wife — who is on her second Impreza hatchback after downsizing from her three-row Pacifica.

Young Subie owners who bought into the brand with a tidy Impreza or Crosstrek, on the other hand, finally have a proper, full-size family ute to, well, ascend into. Of course, they may have to swallow their tree-hugging ideals over the breakfast newspaper. “The World Is Embracing S.U.V.s. That’s Bad News for the Climate,” lectured a New York Times headline this year. Well, there’s always Fox News.

The faithful might be reassured that Subaru keeps the continuously-variable transmission and flat four-cylinder engine tech for which its famous in its smaller, granola crunchers. But in truth that requires real-world compromise, too, as the four-banger gets turbocharged to motivate its porky-for-the-class 4,583 pounds. That means the ‘Ru gets an EPA fuel rating of 22 mpg — no better than comparably-priced V-6s like the Kia Sorento looker I recently tested.

Indeed, in Car and Driver’s real-world test against another turbo-4, the alluring Mazda CX-9, the Ascent’s fuel economy descended to 17 mpg, 2 mpg shy of the Mazda hottie.

The new Ascent won’t win any beauty pageants over the CX-9 but it’s not unpleasant — it’s even charming with its signature long front end and thick, rugged roof rails. But just to make sure no one walks away before taking a closer look, the Ascent has …

NINETEEN CUP HOLDERS! NINETEEN!

That oughta get your attention. And after counting every single one, you realize that they’ve stuffed a lot of other stuff in there, too, for a very affordable price.

What Ascent lacks in curb appeal to the Sorento and CX-9 it makes up for in size, features and affordability.

Parked next to the Sorento in my driveway, the Ascent looks a class larger. Part of that is a face with a lantern jaw bigger than Schwarzenegger, but open the doors and the interior is roomier. Check out that boot. With 18 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row, the Subie beats the Kia by 50 percent and the Mazda by almost 30.

Only the Chevy Traverse beats it in size with a palatial 23 cubic feet (GM’s ute also is a class leader in third-row seat room, making life comfortable even for your giraffe-legged reviewer). For the same $45K price, however, the Ascent is a Shoney’s buffet of features.

Standard all-wheel-drive, adaptive cruise control, auto brake assist, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto — then panoramic sunroof, blind-spot assist, auto high beams, auto windshield wipers, power front seats, rear climate control, rear bucket seats, and a washer and dryer (just kidding about the last two).

Japanese companies like Subaru, Honda, Toyota and Mazda increasingly emphasize the electronic gizmos which drivers are increasingly coming to expect. Like a camera on your phone. The Chevy does not have adaptive cruise and auto high beams at $45K, and they are sorely missed.

Speaking of essentials, blind-spot assist is a must on big barges like Ascent, and Subaru obliged by putting the indicator — not waaaaay out on the starboard mirror edge where it’s often lost in sun glare — but on the inside mirror stem where you can see it all the time.

Subie may have supersized but it hasn’t forgotten its adventurous roots. Ascent gets ox-like, 5,000-pound towing ability. And the forward camera that (Tesla -like) allows you to see out the front of the vehicle. And the nearly nine-inch ground clearance, and hill descent control.

Touches like that endear folks to Subaru who will still be tempted to camp off-road in their three-row ute.

Subaru is not immune from cost-saving annoyances. The adaptive cruise control only goes up in 5-mph increments (what?!), which was awkward when I was trying to stay under 80 mph on speed-limited, 70 mph interstates. To set the cruise control, I would have to accelerate to exactly 77 mph, then deploy adaptive cruise.

My wife has to do the same on her Impreza. You get used to it.

Happily, unlike the Traverse and Sorento with their cost-cutting, access-the-third-row-only-on-the-curbside-of-the-vehicle, the Ascent allows you to get into the back on either side of the car with a simple, one-pull seat lever. The Honda Pilot is still the master of this with its single-push button magic.

It makes for a good, overall second-and-third row vibe. It seems Subaru cares about its coach-class passengers as much as first-class drivers.

There’s climate control for the second row, heated seats, that yuuuuge sunroof providing sunlight — and, of course, enough cupholders for the kids to have both a pop and milkshake with their fast-food burgers.

Still, when I pressed the starter button and pulled the shift lever into DRIVE, I feared the worst.

Despite the major improvement to my wife’s CVT tranny in the latest-gen Impreza, the ghost of droning CVTs past — attached-to-four cylinders — still haunts me. How could the combo possibly work in a two-ton ute?

Make that two tons and a half, and you feel every pound given the Subie’s higher, off-road ride height. After a week of driving a Corvette ZR1 at the Dream Cruise this summer — sweating every parking lot entrance with its low, carbon-fiber splitter (scraaape) — I admit the Ascent’s ride height was blessedly stress free.

But it also means it has no athletic pretensions like a Mazda. The turbo-4 and CVT, on the other hand, are surprisingly spry. The CVT is no droner — but shifts smoothly under duress thanks to electronic programming that makes it feel like a high-ratio automatic.

The 260-horsepower turbo-4 is a bull.

Subaru has left its awkward, geeky, Tribeca phase behind and produced a big, competitive, roomy three-row ute. Just in time for your growing family — awkward, geeky teens and all.

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 Subaru Ascent

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

Price: $32,970 base, includes $975 destination fee ($45,670 Ascent Touring as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter turbo, “Boxer” inline 4-cylinder

Power: 260 horsepower, 277 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.9 seconds (Car and Driver); towing: 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,583 pounds

EPA fuel economy: 20 city/26 highway/22 combined

Report card

Highs: Turbo-4 rows the big ship; lotsa standard features

Lows: Turbo-4 gets thirsty; better cruise control, please

Overall: 3 stars

Detroit area’s EV charging stations test planning and patience

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 25, 2018

Jag Nissan Charger

Bloomfield Hills — The electric-car future is here — if you have time to spare, a second gas-powered car and good math skills.

The Jaguar I-Pace is the first direct challenger to the Tesla Model S and X, and the first in a wave of luxury EVs. Yet, for all their high-priced, technical prowess, vehicles like the Jag are entering a charging-station infrastructure in Michigan that is ill-equipped to keep them running.

I spent an anxious weekend in the I-Pace testing the limits of Metro Detroit’s charging stations — and the patience of my family. Jaguar and other EV-makers strongly advise wiring your house for a 240-volt fast-charger. Without it, plan on scheduling your life around your car.

With a Tesla Model 3 on order, my house is already wired with a 240-volt Tesla charger. But Tesla chargers are incompatible with other brands. Previous I-Pace, Chevy Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf EV tests have all involved a degree of range anxiety, but my packed Friday and Saturday would be a true test.

My I-Pace was delivered with a half-charge. Refilling a gasoline-powered vehicle to a 400-mile range is as simple as going to the nearest gas station for five minutes. EVs take more planning. The I-Pace display estimated 95 miles of range remained.

With a busy day of appointments, I had no time for my home’s standard 110-volt socket. EV-makers recommend it only as a last resort. A 110-volt charger returns a pathetic 4 miles per hour of charging at best (it took 19 hours to get back 30 miles of range on a Cadillac CT6 plug-in last summer).

So I plotted a strategy to charge on-the-go.

Metro Detroit charging options — like most states outside ultra-green California — are spotty. According to PlugShare, a smartphone app for locating charging stations, there are about 42,000 locations nationwide, one-third of them in the Golden State. They range from charging networks run by companies like EVGo, to obscure, individual outlets in parking garages.

 Compare that to about 115,000 gas stations around the country — 4,500 in Michigan — with multiple pumps.

Crucially, only 15 percent of EV stations are so-called fast-chargers — and about half of those are Tesla-exclusive. Fast-chargers can, in my experience, potentially deliver four times the juice of a common 240-volt Level 2 home-charger: A fast-charger can deliver about 80 miles of range in an hour.

In all of Metro Detroit, I counted 12 fast-chargers in locations as varied as parking lots and auto dealerships.

With an afternoon appointment at a radio station in Southfield —15 miles away — the Jaguar’s navigation system told me the closest charger was a 240-volt unit at a BMW dealership on Telegraph Road. I would have called the dealership to ask permission to charge a Jaguar, a potentially awkward conversation. But it moved to Pontiac months ago.

No matter. After taking care of radio business, I set course for Nissan’s Technical Center in Farmington Hills — 15 miles west — assuming they would have a bank of chargers for employees who drive Leaf EVs.

This is how many experienced EV owners charge — on fixed daily routes. Plug in at work. Plug in at home. I figured I could have the I-Pace charge while I conducted a Nissan interview.

Trouble is, all 14 Nissan chargers — including two fast-chargers — were occupied. My Jaguar sat. Range left: 65 miles.

Rapid-fire afternoon appointments followed. Back to the radio station: 15 miles. Back home: 15 miles. Range left: 35 miles. And I had a 7 p.m. movie date with my wife.

Lacking trust in the nav system for station status, I relied on the PlugShare phone app. Sadly, the Maple Theater (and surrounding shopping center) offer no charging ports. The closest 240-volt charger: West Bloomfield Library, seven miles away.

My wife and I hatched a plan. She would follow me to West Bloomfield at 6 p.m. in her gas-powered Subaru Impreza, and I would plug in the Jaguar for four hours (good for 20 miles per charging-hour — or 80 total) while we were at the theater and had dinner.

But the West Bloomfield charger didn’t work. I called station-operator ChargePoint, which tried a system reboot. No luck. Range left: 27 miles.

We left the Jaguar and arrived in the Subaru just in time for the 7 p.m. show. Afterward, we fetched the Jaguar, returning home with just 20 miles of charge.

Saturday dawned and I canceled my usual sports-club workout to preserve charge for my noon-2 p.m. radio show. Still, I wouldn’t have enough charge to get back from the station. I stopped at the Nissan Tech Center on the way and bellied up to the fast-charger only to realize it was a ChadMo station, a technology that supports the Nissan Leaf, not a Jaguar.

Plan B was right across the parking lot, where I plugged into a less-powerful 240-volt charger for nearly three hours while getting work done on my laptop. With 53 miles of range, I made it to the radio station, then back home with just 20 miles of range left. Back at Square One despite a morning of charging.

Next appointment: Meet friends for dinner and a play in Detroit.

We plotted the evening around the car. The only fast-charger in south Oakland County is at Woodward and Nine Mile in Ferndale, in a Dunkin’ Donuts lot. It was on the Fisher Theatre glide-path and three blocks from Pop’s for Italian, a family favorite.

But when we got in the car at 5 p.m. to head for dinner and the theater, the range had bled to 16 miles from 20. We had suffered the dreaded “vampire” energy loss when a cars sits. And Dunkin’ Donuts was 13 miles away.

My long-suffering wife followed the Jaguar to make sure I made it. To maximize range, I turned off the air-conditioning, selected Eco mode and crawled down Woodward using as little throttle as possible. A $90,000 Jaguar EV had been reduced to a mere appliance accompanied by a gas-powered tugboat. I made it to the Dunkin’ Donuts and plugged in.

When we emerged from dinner, I found the charger had cut off after a half-hour. But I had 60 miles of range — enough to get to the Fisher and back home.

When my Model 3 arrives later this October, the 240-volt charger in my garage will ease most of my range anxieties. Until I plan a long trip up north to EV-infrastructure challenged Lake Michigan.

My wife might kill me first.

Ford will build more $500K GT supercars

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 25, 2018

Gt Dearborn Fr3 4

Dearborn – The super-exclusive mid-engine Ford GT supercar just a got a little less exclusive.

To meet global demand, Ford announced Thursday it is increasing total production of the coveted $500,000, 647-horsepower beauty from 1,000 to 1,350 – extending to the 2022 model year from the previously announced 2020.

“The Ford GT is one of the world’s most desirable supercars. We were blown away when we launched it in 2016 and received 6,500 applications – outstripping supply by more than 6-to-1,” said Hermann Salenbauch, head of Ford Performance, at Ford’s Dearborn Proving Grounds. “The excitement for this car continues to amaze us, which is why we love doing more.”

Built as a production homologation car so that Ford could return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 2016 – 50 years after it first won the event with the legendary GT40 race car – anticipation for the scissor-door 2017-2020 GT production rocket soared after the race version won the 2016 French race.

Despite its then-$450,000 base price, demand was fierce. Unlike the first GT supercar which saw limited U.S. production from 2005-2006, the state-of-the-art twin-turbo V-6 2017 car is available in the U.S., Europe and Mideast-Africa, and has brought interest from around the world.

“Because of its heritage as the Ford that beat Ferrari at Le Mans, the GT may be even more recognized internationally,” said Jim Owens, North American Ford Performance manager. The GT is the halo car of the Performance division which includes capable toys like the Mustang GT500, Raptor pickup truck, and Focus RS.

GT orders will open Nov. 8 at FordGT.com for the 350 additional cars; the ordering window stays open for 30 days. The extensive application process requires applicants to prove themselves worthy as owners. Approved buyers have included such notables as NASCAR superstar Kurt Busch, actor John Cena and electronic music producer and DJ  Deadmau5.

The announcement brought mixed reaction from existing owners.

 “I’m disappointed that they are building more than the 1,000 initially promised. It will depreciate the value of the cars,” said Lauren Fix of Buffalo, who bought a 2017 GT with special Heritage livery and titanium exhaust. Only 14 such cars were built of the 138 produced for that model year.

GT owner Karl Brauer, an auto analyst with Kelley Blue Book, was less concerned. “I don’t think the increased numbers will have much of an impact on value. Unlike the 2005 GT, this is a global car with global demand.”

Ford’s Saltenbauch sought to relieve owner concerns that the production extension will hurt existing cars’ investment value. “The car is desirable. Even with a slight production increase, it won’t reduce exclusivity, and we think it will build excitement even more.”

While pricing starts at $500,000, owners say that options quickly put the car’s cost at north of $600,000 even before trims like the Heritage model are added on.

Under contract, GT owners cannot sell their GTs for two years – so few GTs have been resold into the market. Ford sued Cena late last year for contract breach after the actor flipped his GT to another buyer. Cena’s car has since sold to a couple of different owners for $1.32 million and $1.54 million.

While Ford ups production, the race car continues to compete in the international FIA World Endurance Championship (the sanctioning body for Le Mans) and the U.S.-based IMSA Weathertech series where the GT first captured the 2018 manufacturer’s championship.

The carbon-fiber GT, which has a 216 mph top speed and Formula One-style, “keel-wing” chassis, is hand-built by specialty manufacturer Multimatic in Canada. Multimatic makes one GT per day.

Payne: Jaguar’s E-Pace cub is cute ‘n’ porky

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 25, 2018

Epace Fr Farm

Open the compact Jaguar E-Pace at night, and a bright light pools on the ground below the mirrors. A graphic spells out J-A-G-U-A-R, and … what’s this? A silhouette of a Jaguar followed by its cub.

How appropriate.

Fifty years after Jaguar introduced the achingly gorgeous E-Type sports car and XJ sedan, the Brit brand is birthing a litter of profitable SUVs. The big cat’s DNA is evident in its I-Pace, F-Pace and E-Pace children: the brooding eyes, the soft nose, the muscled haunches.

Driving my Cesium Blue cub through northern Michigan, I got plenty of looks. The landscape is awash in lookalike five-door utes these days, but the little Jag has presence with its slanted eyes, pouncing logo and 20-inch wheels.

Like its cub siblings, the E-Pace only gets some of the Jaguar DNA. It’s an SUV, after all. Don’t expect a thoroughbred race-horse from Secretariat cross-breeding with an ox.

The E-Pace is the first of the SUV litter with a longitudinal front engine. That means it’s not rear-wheel drive like the bigger F-Pace (and the electric I-Pace has no engine at all, but is driven by dual, front-rear electric motors) and therefore shares its architecture with the Range Rover Evoque.

That’s Range Rover as in the off-road truck brand. Like I say, Secretariat flirting with an ox.

In short, you buy the E-Pace for its looks, not for its athleticism. Jaguar engineers seem confused on this point as they assist E-Pace passengers with a console “oh, crap!” handle — but only equip the R-Line performance model with the paddle shifters you would expect on a model descended from F-Type.

Despite 246 ponies under the hood and a smooth-shifting nine-speed auto tranny, the porky 4,280-pound E-Pace strolls from zero-60 in just 7.2 seconds. That’s slower than the 236-horse Cadillac XT4 and just half-a-second quicker than the nimble Mazda CX-5. Class-performance leader BMW X1 stomps it by a full second.

The added ponies don’t get you any better audio, either. This is no signature V-8 or V-6 Jaguar mill, but a familiar turbo 4-banger that motivates every small SUV from Chevy Equinox to Audi Q3.

Speaking of Mazda, the Jaguar felt less nimble than the CX-5 and BMW X1 — the best compact utes I’ve driven — through Michigan’s Route 32 twisties. Blame the E’s girth again, as it tips the scales at 600 pounds more than the Japanese model. Heck, it weighs 200 pounds more than the V-6 340-horsepower, aluminum-chassis F-Pace!

When the CX-5 gets its expected upgrade to a 250-plus horsepower turbo-4 next year it will run rings round the Jag. ZOOM ZOOM!

The Jaguar also sits more than 1.5 inches higher than its racy brethren — 8.8-inches versus the BMW’s 7.2, for example — which further penalizes its center of gravity.

At the end of my weekend in Charlevoix County, the E-Pace felt like every other five-door ute out there. Where was the growl? The athleticism? Like a zookeeper feeling sorry for his caged animal, I looked to take the E-Pace off-road into the unpaved wild.

The Jag’s high-riding Range Rover attributes, in fact, made it more fun off-road than on. Unafraid of rocky terrain, I grunted around farm landscapes. Turning the traction-control off, I attacked winding gravel roads, drifting across apexes with the all-wheel drive churning and throttle buried.

My female friends loved the Jag’s high stance for better visibility. Add its blue wardrobe and comfortable interior, and I suspect this cub will be adopted by a lot of women.

It’s also worth noting that the E-Pace — my tester cost $54,565 — is more practical than the other new cat, the all-electric $85,000 I-Pace.

With a 382-mile range on a tank of gas vs. the I-Pace’s 240-mile battery range, the E-Pace can easily make it the 260 miles to Charlevoix. When you get there, the I-Pace will be stuck for hours recharging, whereas the E-Pace can fill up in five minutes anywhere.

When it debuted for the 2017 model year, I pooh-poohed the bigger F-Pace for its subpar interior compared to German competitors. The E-Pace’s quiet cabin is a delightful place to be with stitched leather, wrapped console and options like a digital instrument panel and full moonroof.

Just as the chassis doesn’t live up to the sexy interior, however, so do the interior electronics lag the leather-wrapped luxury.

Engine stop/start — better known as that annoying engine stall at stoplights to satisfy federal mpg nannies — is relatively unobtrusive, but I still found myself turning it off every time I got in the car.

Lane-keep assist comes with a promising, digital instrument display to let you know what the windshield-based camera is seeing. But the camera’s eyesight isn’t 20/20, and the Jaguar winds up bouncing from one side of the lane (when it can see the lane) to the other like a bowling ball. The infotainment screen is often slow, too, and the voice-command navigation system is a chore.

Thankfully, Jaguar has equipped the E-Pace with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you can fill that big, beautiful 10-inch screen with Google Maps and get wherever you need to go easily. Blind-spot assist helps overcome rear blind spots bigger than Rhode Island.

The cub’s back seats won’t win any class awards for space, but they fit this 6-foot-5 giraffe more comfortably than rear seats of a Jaguar XE sedan — a big reason hatchback utes dominate sales today.

The bigger — or perhaps smaller — issue with the cub’s tidy, aerodynamic rear design is limited cargo space. E-Pace’s 24.2 cubic feet of storage lags the BMW X1 and Mazda CX-5 by three and six cubic feet, respectively. The better comparison is to the Cadillac XT-4 (pricier) or Audi Q5 SUVs, which offer comparable turbo-4 power and cargo room.

The Audi has sold well in the Age of Ute with its conservative styling and German engineering. The Jaguar is the anti-Audi — a cuddly cub with a sexy British racing lineage that stands out in a crowd.

Never mind that its turbo-4 all-wheel drive innards are unremarkable. What matters is that, 50 years ago, a British cat roamed the highways and byways purring seductively.

The seduction continues today in the unlikeliest of packages, an SUV.

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.

2018 Jaguar E-Pace

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

Price: $39,595 base, includes $995 destination fee ($54,190 E-Pace SE as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo inline 4-cylinder

Power: 246 horsepower, 269 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.2 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed: 135 mph

Weight: 4,223 pounds

EPA fuel economy: 21 city/28 highway/24 combined

Report card

Highs: Cute cub; sure-pawed off-roader

Lows: Lacks Jaguar fun-DNA ; tech quibbles

Overall: 3 stars

From Honda to Volvo: New U.S. auto transplant transcends tariffs

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 17, 2018

Production of the Volvo S60 sedan started at the Swedish company's new South Carolina plant this month. The  S60 will be exported as well as sold in the US.

Sweden’s Volvo is the latest foreign manufacturer to open a “transplant” in the United States. Production of the 2019 S60 sedan northwest of Charleston, South Carolina, ramped up this month just as America goes through another spasm of protectionism. President Donald Trump’s nationalist crusade for tariffs mirrors Michigan Congressman John Dingell’s call for import quotas that inspired Honda’s first U.S. plant in 1982.

But Volvo’s choice has little to do with trade politics.

Learning from successful Japanese and European manufacturers over four decades of expansion, Volvo’s Charleston plant is the 17th non-union transplant to embrace American-made production advantages: lower costs, expanded global capacity, massive supplier infrastructure and proximity to the richest auto consumers in the world.

“Absolutely not trade because the tariffs did not exist on the radar,” says Volvo North America boss Anders Gustafsson, explaining Volvo’s May 2015 announcement — well before the 2016 election — to locate in the South after years of planning. “It’s a long process to decide and there are a lot of countries around the U.S. that you could go for a plant that would be cheaper. The company took a decision for Charleston and it was really a strategy to build where we sell.”

Even as retaliatory 25-percent Chinese tariffs have stymied plans to export S60s there from South Carolina, Volvo’s plant is running full steam ahead.

“We are in full ramp-up now,” says Volvo North America spokeswoman Stephanie Mangini, citing Volvo’s hiring of 1,000 employees with another 2,900 planned in five years. “By 2021 we will also be building the XC90 SUV, our most popular vehicle, here.”

Trade was key in 1982 when Honda began producing Accord sedans in Marysville, Ohio, a year after Washington imposed quotas on surging Japanese imports that were taking chunks of market share from Big Three Detroit automakers. Toyota followed with its Georgetown, Kentucky, plant in 1988 producing Camry sedans.

“The transplants started with the 1980s trade war,” says Auto Trends consultant Joe Phillippi, a Wall Street auto analyst at the time. “It was a way — a chess play — for the Japanese to get around our import quotas.”

The Trump administration’s rhetoric today mirrors that of Michigan’s influential Rep. John Dingell, who in 1981 successfully lobbied the Reagan administration to impose foreign import quotas – the so-called Voluntary Restraint Agreement – on Japanese imports.

“I felt it was absolutely necessary, in view of the grotesquely unfair trade practices of our trading partners — especially the Japanese — that real quotas, and domestic content requirements equal to those of other nations should be laid in place by the United States,” Dingell said at the time, “while the United Auto Workers union estimated tens of thousands of jobs a year were being lost to imports.

 Dingell was backed in the 1980s and ’90s by fierce protectionists at Ford and Chrysler.

“Of our $173-billion trade deficit in 1986, Japan alone accounted for more than one-third,” Ford CEO Harold Poling wroite in The New York Times in 1987. “Of that, more than half was due to automobiles. The arithmetic is compelling. You cannot lower the trade deficit unless you address the automotive component.”

Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca raged against imports, even as US transplants grew to eight by 1992: “They say all of our problems are our fault. That’s like blaming our army and our navy for Pearl Harbor because they weren’t ready. I mean Japan . . . targets this market.”

But with the Japanese transplants came hundreds of auto supplier firms and tens of thousands of new American jobs and auto dealerships down the I-75 corridor. Foreign automakers were not only popular with American consumers, they became integral to American communities and the revival of U.S. manufacturing.

“By establishing a viable new model of production organization in the U.S., (transplants) are contributing to the re-industrialization of American manufacturing,” wrote University of California professor Martin Kenney and Carnegie-Mellon’s Richard Florida in 1992.

Auto analyst Phillippi says the transplants’ huge Midwest steel, rubber and manufacturing spine grew a key Southern spur with the opening of BMW’s Spartanburg, South Carolina transplant in 1994. BMW’s goal: be closer to its rich U.S. customer base and farther from expensive European unions.

“By now, trade was well down on the list for automakers’ reasons to locate here,” says Phillippi. “Just look at the costs of building in Europe. The facilities here are non-union.”

Today, BMW Spartanburg is one of the largest plants in the U.S. with 9,000 employees producing 1,900 SUVs a day. It supports 235 local suppliers; 70 percent of production is exported via Charleston’s port to 140 countries.

BMW’s success attracted other luxury makers like Mercedes and Volvo (the latter also manufactures in Sweden, Belgium, India and China) to the region with its infrastructure, trained non-union workforce and major port. Hyundai and Kia transplants have also located nearby in Alabama and Georgia.

“The most important thing is the harbor, the logistics and of course, the suppliers,” says Gustafsson, who acknowledges BMW’s pioneering role. “There is the competence in the area and that is the most precious thing in this industry. We need to hire extremely competent colleagues.”

Still, Volvo has protested government tariffs and says it’s been thrown “a curveball” with China’s import duties (ironically, the Swedish company is Chinese-owned). Volvo had planned to export 50 percent of S60 production to China and Europe (which has a 10 percent tariff).

Gustafsson shrugs off the trouble as a near-term glitch.

“We have learned there are things that we cannot do anything about, we don’t spend time on,” he says. “When we took a decision to go for a plant in the U.S., there is always plus and minus. I think we will find a good solution.”

Phillippi agrees: “China tariffs are a temporary hiccup. If you design from day one to build three or four models in a plant, then they can move capacity where they need it.”

Big Three automakers have become less protectionist as they, too, have built flexible, global capacity.

With Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, Gustafsson says South Carolina can build everything from utes to sedans. “Eighty percent of our sales volume here is XC90, XC60, and XC40 (SUVs). So we have the right ice cream in our box. But consumer behavior changes now much faster … so you need to stand on your toes and have ice cream for everyone.”

Payne review: Ford Edge ST, the family hot-hatch

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 11, 2018

Edge St Fr3 4 Lake

Performance SUVs aren’t as crazy as I thought. I caught up with some of my pocket-rocket brethren at the Ford Edge ST’s media debut in Utah last week. Like me, they love Ford’s compact ST (short for Sport Technologies) hatchbacks. Like me, they think hot hatches are the best combo of fun and utility. And like me, they are stoked about the Ford Edge ST sport utility vehicle.

Think of it as a giant hot-hatch for motorheads with kids.

“The cornering on the autocross course was phenomenal. I would never have expected a big vehicle to handle so well,” said Karl Weber, 30, father of two and owner of a Ford Focus SVT (ST’s predecessor badge). He wants an Edge ST. Now.

“I’ve got two boys and I’ve got an Escape, and this would make a good jump for more space,” said Ben Richter, 32, father of two boys from Nebraska who owns a Ford Focus ST and recognizes its DNA in the Edge ST.

Every ST generation has to grow up. Young leadfoots whose first hot hatch was a VW Golf GTI (me) or Honda Civic Si (my sons) or Hyundai Veloster R-Spec or Nissan Juke NISMO.

With kids and disposable income, they have graduated to the diaper-changing, soccer-game-shuttling, upstate-vacation phase of life. But they haven’t been neutered of their auto enthusiasm: The growl of dual pipes. The Woodward stoplight drag. The call of a country road.

Ford has found the right horse for the job.

While the Ford Escape compact ute would seem the logical SUV for the job — starting at $25,000, it is the next hatch in the lineup after the Focus – but the upright ute is more Barbie than Ken. And hot-hatch demographics are decidedly male.

The mid-size Edge is, well, edgier. Its sculpted looks are more butch than the Escape. Edge sales skew male. And then there’s the chassis: Where the Escape is an SUV platform, the Edge shares its toned bod with Fusion and Taurus cars.

The Edge is a big athlete, an advantage Ford has previously recognized with a Sport version. The last-gen Sport got a substantial engine-upgrade from the base Edge, putting out a healthy 315 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque.

The Edge ST takes the Sport and pumps it with steroids.

At speed over the undulations of Utah country roads outside Salt Lake City, my ST gulped the landscape, setting fire to the fall leaves. WAAAAUGHHH! wailed the V-6, while the two-ton chassis stayed remarkably true to my direction. Make no mistake, this is a rhino compared to the Focus/Fiesta pitbulls. But it’s a rhino in tennis shoes.

Ford achieves this feat the old-fashioned ST way: more power from the twin-turbo V-6 (335 horses and a whopping 380 pound-feet of torque), bigger sway bars, and stiffer shocks and springs. The Frankenstein surgery of ST and ute (Ford performance engineer: “Let my creation live!”) is aided by some fundamental changes to the base Edge for the 2019 model year.

Credit upgrades like a smooth, eight-speed automatic transmission that delivers silkier shifts and 2 mpg better fuel economy on the highway. Also an all-wheel drive system with better traction that can throw torque front-to-rear as well as side-to-side in order to avoid getting stuck in snow ruts.

I drove an Edge Titanium back-to-back with the ST (like other ST models, the Edge ST pricing starts close to where the upper-trim Edge Titanium tops out — $45,000 vs. $42,000 for the ST). I appreciated the hatch utility that makes ST such a versatile vehicle. Signature Ford tech is everywhere. The brand that first brought you the kick-open trunk, panoramic sunroof and self-park assist offers all those features here and more.

Standard on the $29,999 base Edge are camera and connected systems that offer essentials like blind-spot assist, collision-mitigation braking and remote start (“Alexa, start my car”). There’s more on offer from adaptive cruise-control to smartphone apps to a nifty rotary dial.

“With the technology and space and everything you’re getting, it’s a good bargain,” hot-hatch brother and Fiesta ST owner Lou Rivera, 29, raved.

And once you go ST, you’ll never want to go back.

It’s not just the power and rock-solid handling, the ST brings presence to an SUV segment that sorely needs it. Handsome as the Edge is, it has melted into the SUV field. Hyundai’s utes have copied its pentagon grill and LED rear-lighting.

If an Edge ST looms in your mirrors, you’ll know it. Like Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski smeared with black face-paint, the Edge comes ready for battle. The front clip has been swapped for a new, blacked-out grille and lower intakes. Wheel wells are engorged with black 20-inch wheels (21-inch optional). And all the trimmings – from window sills to rear diffuser have been wrapped black.

Paint it in ST-exclusive Metallic Blue and the big ute reminds of my other favorite blue-devil performance car, the BMW M2.

Living with the Edge ST, like its brother Focus, will require putting up with flaws (but not the Fiesta ST, which is a consistent member of my Top 10 cars list). Despite the added torque and twin turbos, the Edge ST exhibits noticeable turbo lag under the cane. That sluggishness isn’t helped by the eight-speed tranny’s odd lack of urgency when called upon to shift. At full flog, I was constantly tempted to use the shift paddles.

These negatives would be more annoying if they were in track-day cars like the Focus or Fiesta. But a track-focused vehicle this is not, which Ford telegraphs by not offering heavily bolstered Recaro seats or a manual shifter. Still got the need for track days? Keep your old Fiesta ST around.

Especially since the Fiesta and Focus are exiting the U.S. market after 2019 – along with other Ford cars. Which begs the question, is the Edge ST about to lose its buyer base? We’ll see.

For now, hot-hatch graybeards rejoice – the Ford Edge ST means you don’t have to leave ST performance behind when you graduate to a family ute. Performance SUVs are no longer just for the $100,000 Jeep Trackhawk or BMW X5 M jet set.

A new segment is born. What are you waiting for, VW and Nissan? Will we see a Tiguan GTI or Murano NISMO soon?

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 Edge and Edge ST

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

Price: $30,990 base Edge, $43,330 base ST include $995 destination fee ($44,890 FWD turbo-4 Edge Titanium and $46,540 AWD Edge ST as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo inline 4-cylinder, 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6

Power: 250 horsepower, 275 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 335 horsepower, 380 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.5 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed: 130 mph; tow capacity: 3,500 pounds (V-6 ST)

Weight: 3,959 pounds base FWD (4,477 AWD ST as tested)

EPA fuel economy: 22 city/29 highway/25 combined (FWD turbo-4); 19 city/26 highway/21 combined (Edge ST)

Report card

Highs: Aggressive look; sure-footed power

Lows: Turbo lag; upshifts too casual

Overall: 4 stars

Robbie Buhl’s free teen-driving course goes way beyond driver’s ed

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 5, 2018

Buhl Encourage

With its purchase of the Michigan Central Station, Ford Motor Co. put Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood on the map as an epicenter of the autonomous car revolution. Futurists have sci-fi visions of driverless cars zipping down Michigan Avenue, their sensors negotiating obstacles while smart-city infrastructure helps them communicate with one another.

That’s the future. But until then, Robbie Buhl wants to make Corktown the epicenter of hands-on driving.

The 55-year-old Detroit native and ex-IndyCar driver has located his Teen Street Skills program and rally race-team right next to the train station. Driving doesn’t get much more hands-on than racing – and until autonomous cars deliver on their promise to save lives, Buhl wants to make sure young drivers are saving themselves.

“Look at stats for 16- to 17-year-olds, the number one killer in the country is car accidents,” says Buhl, who has 78 IndyCar races under his belt – nine of them at the Indy 500. “That number is creeping up even though number of young drivers in the market place is going down.”

Buhl’s program is similar to other programs around the country – ex-Corvette driver Andy Pilgrim’s Traffic Safety Education Foundation at Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Honda Teen Defensive Driving School at Mid-Ohio, for example – in its efforts to teach teens safe driving skills.

But where these programs are generally run at race tracks in rural areas, Buhl is locating his school in the heart of Detroit on a 2.5-acre parking lot next to Ford’s train depot. He’s recruiting young people from around Metro Detroit to show off Detroit’s revitalization and brand his Corktown headquarters as “Detroit’s race team.”

“Three years ago we bought the Factory,” said Buhl referring to two red brick buildings across the street from the old Tiger stadium on Michigan Avenue that date back to 1907 and once housed the Chicago Hosiery and Detroit-Alaska Knitting Mills.

“People thought we were crazy, (but it’s) amazing what’s happened to Detroit and Corktown in the last three years. It’s fun to bring people down here – we have kids coming down from Utica schools, Troy schools, Grosse Pointe schools.”

Except for the instructor sitting in the right seat, Teen Street Skills has nothing in common with the average driver’s education program.

Rather than nerve-wracking drives at the speed limit followed by sweaty-palm parallel parking drills, the Buhl program encourages teens to push cars to the limit to simulate panic driving situations they’ll encounter in the real world.

At one station, teens floor a Ford Focus toward a wall of pylons, then slam on the brakes – the anti-lock pedal pulsing — and turn the wheel to simulate an avoidance maneuver. The resulting g-loads and squalling tires are essential to helping new drivers understand vehicle dynamics.

“They come away with more confidence and more awareness,” says Buhl. “When they have that panic situation on the road, it’s going to help them. We’re putting them in awkward situations.”

At another driving station, the kids jump behind the wheel of Ford Fusions equipped with “drift lifts” that lighten the rear suspension, inducing instant oversteer in a turn. The young drivers learn to slide the car through corners, modulating steering and throttle to keep the car straight. It’s fun – and instructive.

Like most attendees, Sam Russell, 16, of Grosse Pointe Farms, came to Buhl’s program with the encouragement of his parents.

“I’m really having fun learning about how the car reacts,” he said between sessions on a Saturday morning. “This will help make me a better driver in the long run. I drive every day to school and this school will help me analyze situations.”

One of those situations includes time with a police officer who explains to them how to handle getting pulled over: What to say. What not to say.

Above all, Buhl wants his students to understand the importance of keeping their eyes on the road to deal with sudden situations.

“This is all about the eyes – if you’re looking down at a text or looking to play Spotify, the average text is 5 seconds — five sedans at 60 mph is over the length of a football field. A lot can happen,” says Buhl. “We don’t want to scare kids. At driver’s ed they use the crashed car videos and all that. But that’s not working.”

Buhl puts on his program for free; he credits donors and sponsors who finance his program. One of those sponsors is Ford, which provides the Focus compact, Fusion sedans and Escape SUVs for the program.

There’s not a self-driver among them. For now, in the shadow of Ford’s future autonomous headquarters, Robbie Buhl wants to make sure drivers have both hands on the wheel.

Details are at www.teenstreetskills.org.

Payne: Lincoln Nautilus vs. Mercedes-AMG GLC, SUV opposites

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 5, 2018

Merc Glen Fr3 4

The difference between the new Lincoln Nautilus and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe SUVs is as vast as the American cities where I tested them: Santa Barbara, California and Watkins Glen, New York, home of Watkins Glen International Raceway.

If you just got back from an extended stay on Mars, the sport ute has taken over autodom in the 21st century. Nautilus and AMG represent bookends of a luxury class that has rapidly expanded to offer Americans a choice of everything from all-wheel drive family utility to high-horsepower performance weapons. Just as the sedan segment has done for decades.

Every fall I take my wee Lola sports racer to the Glen’s SCCA Regional event in western New York. At lunch-hour, the track offers car clubs and spectators pace car-led laps around the epic 3.4-mile road course for $30. I usually participate — not just to take a carload of my teammates around the track to discuss the line, shift points and so on, but also to feel the driving dynamics of the production tester I’ve scheduled that week.

This year I met my racing crew at Watkins Glen in the 503-horsepower 2018 Mercedes. That’s right, a 500-horse sport utility coupe.

The track lap line in front of us contained an assortment of vehicles: Mazda Miata, Subaru Crosstrek, Ferrari Portofino. “We’re just a couple of slow ladies in our Ferrari,” said the kindly gray-haired owner, walking up to me. “Why don’t you boys go on ahead of us. I don’t think we can keep up.”

Yes, the auto world has gone mad.

Over the last year I’ve track-tested a 505-horse Alfa Stelvio SUV at Austin’s Formula One track and a 707-horse Jeep SUV at Club Motorsports in Maine. And here I was at the Glen with the driver of one of the most coveted sports cars on the planet deferring to me in a 4,500-pound ute as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

The luxury SUV has come a long way from its humble Lincoln Navigator roots of 20 years ago. I was impressed that our new Ferrari friends had so much respect for an SUV, but the AMG is not your average grocery hauler.

Carrying a racy front grille right off the beastly Mercedes-AMG GT coupe and lower air intakes so big they could ingest a flock of geese, the compact GLC enters the room with authority. Aft of the facia, things get weird.

The AMG (or is that OMG?) GLA 63 S is based on the standard GLC compact ute. Just add steroids. Merc drops a twin-turbo V-8 behind in the engine bay — the same 4.0-liter mill that motivates the two-door S560 coupe I recently tested. Determined to continue the family resemblance, the AMG coupe tapers the roofline, complete with carbon-fiber tail spoiler.

With its high stance and turtle shape, the Merc effectively looks like an atom bomb — with about the same explosive power. It can hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, more than a half-second faster than a BMW M3. Near Cleveland on my way back home from the Glen, an M3 sidled up to me spoiling for a fight. I stomped the pedal. See ya.

The Lincoln, too, is based on another vehicle: its cousin, the Ford Edge.

Rather than take on formidable German performance brands like Mercedes and their endless waves of alphanumeric infantry — GLC, AMG GLC 45, AMG GLC 63, AMG GLC 63 S Coupe and so on — Lincoln has focused on a more-affordable pampered experience. From its signature Jaguar-like grille to its sleek flanks to its elegant wrap-around tail lights, this is a transcontinental train.

No performance mutants here. No GTs. Heck, Lincoln doesn’t even have an alphanumeric equivalent to Ford’s GT or ST performance badges. Nautilus fits the brand’s lineup of travel names: Navigator, Aviator, Continental and the forthcoming Corsair.

The names are serene, not sporty. It’s like a Mozart concerto versus Merc’s rumbling AC/DC.

Turn on the Mercedes and you’ll scatter wildlife like a shotgun blast. BRAAAP. The center console looks like a Porsche with a sleeve of buttons wearing graphics that illustrate exhaust tips or shock absorbers to encourage you to explore the vehicle’s capabilities.

At Watkins Glen, I toggled the exhaust button for maximum sonic experience — then selected Race mode. Yes, Race mode (in addition to Sport and Sport-Plus). I disappeared from the Ferrari, clicking off lightning-quick shifts with steering-wheel mounted paddles that control the 9-speed dual-clutch tranny. BAP BAP BAP.

In the New York Finger Lakes region around the Glen, the AMG Coupe didn’t carve rural roads so much as obliterate them. Traffic kneeled to its power. Cornfields burned in its wake. The V-8’s low end torque is ferocious, propelling the all-wheel drive, 4,500-pound bomb forward with claw-like 20-inch tires.

My Nautilus tester also featured 20-inch rims, but they are sculpted dishes meant to be admired as the Lincoln saunters through the tight streets of Santa Barbara. Or Detroit. Or Chicago.

The top-of-the-line Black Label trim offers a signature pinwheel-style wheel. Plying the roads and streets of north LA I was never tempted to blow anyone’s doors off. The Nautilus is a magic carpet. Push-button shifter. Front, 22-way, massaging thrones.

It features a more livable interior than the German beast with best-in-segment rear seat room, deep console cubby space and a crafted, button-controlled console that may not match Merc’s black, high-gloss finish — but better integrates its touchscreen in the long dash.

Extensive sound-proofing makes it difficult to tell the difference between the 245-horse, 2.0-liter turbo-4 and 335-horsepower, 2.7-liter turbo-6 under the hood.

The turbo-4 will do just fine, its quiet torque effortlessly pushing the train along. That will keep your cost to about $45,000 for an all-new Nautilus, nearly half the price of the Mercedes OMG. And if you don’t feel like driving, Lincoln offers a chauffeur service. For your own car. So you and your mate can cuddle in the back seat on the way to dinner listening to Mozart on the 19-speaker Revel stereo system.

It’s a different audio experience than a V-8, no doubt.

The Lincoln may not have the cachet of a Mercedes-AMG. Or a Ferrari Portofino. But it will effortlessly get you where you want to go in the same time … unless you plan on buying a lot of lunch laps at Watkins Glen.

2019 Lincoln Nautilus

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

Price: $41,335 base includes $995 destination fee ($58,865 AWD turbo-4 and $64,400 AWD Reserve V-6 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo inline 4-cylinder, 2.7-liter turbo V-6

Power: 250 horsepower, 280 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 335 horsepower, 380 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.9 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity: 3,500 pounds (with tow package on V-6)

Weight: 4,305 pounds (AWD as tested)

EPA fuel economy: 20 city/25 highway/22 combined (AWD turbo-4); 19 city/26 highway/21 combined (AWD V-6)

Report card

Highs: Improved British styling; comfortable interior

Lows: Can get pricey with options; head-up display, please?

Overall: 3 stars

2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe

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

Price: $81,745 base includes $995 destination fee ($96,895 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter twin-turbo 8-cylinder

Power: 503 horsepower, 516 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 174 mph

Weight: 4,511 pounds (mfr. est.)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/22 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Atomic speed; intimidating grille

Lows: Atomic price; bulbous shape

Overall: 3 stars

Goodbye MK, hello Nautilus: Lincoln names its children by proper names

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 5, 2018

19lincoln Nautilus345

Santa Barbara, California – Premium autos these days are an alphabet soup of confusing vehicles names. There’s the QX60, XC90, RX450 and RDX from Infiniti, Volvo, Lexus and Acura respectively. Cadillac is changing its alphanumeric lineup from ATS, CTS and XTS to CT4, CT5 and CT6. BMW’s compact lineup alone offers a 320i, 330i X-Drive, 440i, M3 and M4. And Mercedes now offers a performance SUV called the AMG GLC63 S Coupe.

It’s enough to make your brain hurt. So Lincoln has shelved its MK-based soup and moved back to good ol’ proper names. Say hello to the Nautilus, a brand new name for the former MKX midsize SUV on sale later this month.

The Nautilus is the latest entry in a four-ute, two-sedan lineup for the legendary Ford luxury brand. Rookie Nautilus joins some familiar, trusty names that Lincoln has dusted off to represent its top-of-the-line sedan (Continental) and large, three-row SUV (the Aviator). The entry-level MKC SUV will reportedly be replaced by the all-new Corsair, while the brand’s top-of-the-line Navigator never went away.

“Vehicle names made more sense for us to distinguish ourselves,” said Lincoln Global Director of Sales and Service Robert Parker. “Because at the end of the day, we get data back, and the data was signaling to us that people were confused.”

Save for ultra-luxury brands like Rolls Royce and Lamborghini, the only full-line premium brands to name their vehicles are Lincoln, Alfa Romeo (Giulia, Stelvio, for example), Range Rover (Discovery, Evoque), and Maserati (Ghibili, Levante). The newest brands in luxury — Tesla (Model 3, Model X) and Genesis (G70, G80) — have both chosen alphanumerics.

Alphanumeric naming convention has been driven by German automakers. And as their models dominated international markets, other automakers followed, seeking the same clean, technical brand identity that alphanumerics convey.

Concise badges with letters and numbers also translate well across different languages and cultures, industry insiders say.

“One of the primary rationales in going alphanumeric is sometimes when you have an organic name you have to figure out what it means in other languages,” says auto analyst Sam Abuelsamid of Navigant Research. “There have been instances when it had an unsavory meaning in another language. Like Buick Lacrosse which was a slang term in Canadian/French.”

Among mainstream brands, the Chevy Nova, Mazda LaPuta, and Kia Stinger also ran into translation issues. Nova means “it doesn’t go” in Spanish. Laputa translated as “whore.” And in Britain, “stinger” can refer to — well, ahem, look it up.

Lincoln began using the alphanumeric MK badges — short for “Mark” — on its vehicles beginning in 2007. But the nomenclature failed to resonate.

“Lincoln was one of the most confusing (nomenclatures) of all the brands. Everything started with MK and then some random third letter that had no rhyme or reason to it,” said Abuelsamid. “People didn’t know the difference between and MKC and MKX and MKT. So going back to names will be more memorable to people.”

Lincoln says the journey-themed names also represent the brand’s journey to a new place in luxury — away from apex-carving, Nürburgring-tested, German-benchmarked athletes and toward an effortless driving experience that pampers passengers.

Lincoln calls it “quiet luxury.” The Nautilus takes its cues from the iconic, three-row Navigator, a majestic land yacht with optional 30-way massaging seats, sumptuous digital displays, and cavernous interior that has everything but third-row Jacuzzi.

The Navigator — like Cadillac’s Escalade — never succumbed to the brand’s alphanumeric naming strategy. Now remade for 2018 to rave reviews in the automotive press (and hot sales for its upscale Black Label trim), the Navigator is the perfect patron for a family of cars with fresh names.

“There is a lot of continuity with Navigator,” smiles Parker. “That was a big opportunity for us in 2012 when we really put together a 10-year strategy. The details (of how you interact with the Navigator and Nautilus) bring continuity in appearance and functionality that it important to people.”

The Nautlius comes new standard with a 245-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and an optional, 335-horse 2.7-liter V-6 mill. But such specs seem as unimportant to the Lincoln as technical, alphanumeric badges.

Instead, Lincoln wants the Nautilus judged on different standards like 22-way, massaging front thrones or a vehicle “handshake” that welcomes the driver with a lit, Lincoln logo welcome mat projected on the ground.

“We pay attention to details. The knobs, the leather, the detente into the switches is all about creating an environment that you look forward to after a hard day’s work,” says Parker. “That encapsulates what the Lincoln brand stands for. And then the names drill down on it.”

Picking new names was an extensive process, but at least translation challenges were limited.

“Lincoln is not a brand generally available globally — it’s sold in North American and China,” said Abuelsamid. “With just those two it will be easier to find names that don’t have problematic meanings.”

Once his team settled on a unifying principle of journey and travel, Parker and his team drew inspiration for its naming strategy both internally and from an outside company with success in non-automotive naming strategies.

“You could a write a book about choosing names,” he said. There are names that are important to us — that are important to our history. Continental was one of those names that started back in the late ‘30s. We retained it as part of our portfolio. Our theme inspired some of the contrived names like Nautilus.”

Then Lincoln tried the names out on focus groups. Audiences were told what age range a particular vehicle was meant to appeal to, then given a list of names, and a picture of the vehicle.

Which names best applied to the vehicle?

“For some of us it was that way with our kids,” chuckles Lincoln’s Parker. “You had a short list of names but you wanted to see the kid before you picked the name. Cars are the same way — you really have to see the car before you land on the name.”

Payne: Hail Goliath, the Silverado-based, 6×6 pickup

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 1, 2018

Goliath Fr

For those who don’t think the all-new, 2019 Chevy Silverado pickup’s earth-chewing, four-wheel-drive, high-strength steel, off-road-trimmed Trail Boss Z71 is tough enough, say hello to Goliath.

David’s sling may have met its match.

Texas-based, performance automaker Hennessey unleashed the six-wheel-drive mega-truck this week with 37-inch off-road tires, an eight-inch suspension lift, and enough firepower to scale the Grand Canyon. The six wheels are driven by a Hellcat-like 705 horses from a blown, 6.2-liter Chevy V-8. Mercy.

Only 24 copies of this biblical beast will be built at a price of $375,000.

“We are very excited to offer our new Goliath 6X6,” said company boss John Hennessey, adding that the vehicle “makes a huge statement anywhere our clients go — whether its Rodeo Drive or the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.”

It’s not Hennessey’s first six-wheel rodeo. The Goliath follows the mod shop’s 6X6 version of Ford’s ferocious F-150 Raptor pickup — Hennessey calls it the VelociRaptor, naturally — which packs 605 horsepower and a sticker price of (just) $349,000. Mercedes also offers a 6×6 pickup — but it’s not available on U.S. shores.

Like the latest evolution of the gigantic robots out of the movie “Pacific Rim,” Goliath ups the VelociRaptor’s pony count with a supercharged 705 making 675 pound-feet-of torque. With all six wheels churning, Goliath will sprint to 60 mph in just over 4 seconds — quicker than David can load a single rock. And about the same time as a V-8-powered Dodge Challenger coupe.

It’s not as quick, however, as Hennessey’s upgrade to Chevy’s Alpha male Corvette ZR1, which makes 1,200 horsepower and sprints to 60 in an eyeball-flattening 2.2 seconds.

The Goliath is based on Chevy’s lightweighted (by 450 pounds), 420-horsepower, V-8 Silverado with all the tech trimmings: hydraulic engine mounts, smartphone app connectivity, rear seatback storage. The Hennessey version is distinguished by the “Hennessey” logo stamped across the front fascia and rear tailgate, by quad tailpipes, and by — well, its six wheels.

To accommodate the third axle in the rear, Goliath gets a special 6-foot bed with a roll bar. But wait there’s more: Goliath can be upgraded to a bonkers 808 horsepower with Brembo brakes to make sure you can stop the thing after breaking the sound barrier.

The Silverado hit dealerships this fall as Chevy’s full-size pickup goes head-to-head against new entries from archrival Ford and RAM’s 1500. The 6×6 Hennessey Goliath can be ordered through select Chevrolet dealers — or directly from Hennessey Performance Engineering.

Payne: Fab 4-cylinder face-off, Mustang vs. BRZ vs. Miata

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 30, 2018

Fab4 Mazda Payne

This summer, Detroit flexed its muscles: $70,000 Corvette V-8s rattled Ferndale windows; $60,000 Hellcats turned Woodward’s asphalt black with Roadkill Night burnouts; $60,000 Mustang GT350s pounded down Waterford Hills’ back straight.

But for half the price and half the cylinders, you can have just as much fun. Maybe more.

For under $40,000 there is a buffet of treats for the casual motorhead — tiny sports cars, hot hatches and four-banger pony cars that are not only easy on the wallet, but can be rowed hard on local byways without waking every cop in town.

I sampled three of these feisty fours this summer: the $38,970 turbo-4 Ford Mustang convertible, $38,335 Mazda Miata MX-5 RS and $34,455 winged Subaru BRZ tS.

As regular readers of this column know, my favorite budget performers are hot hatches with pep, utility and grins: VW Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N, Ford Focus ST and Fiesta ST. But these rowdy pocket rockets lack one thing — rear-wheel drive.

Our contestants for this test are all rear-wheel drive manuals, so they can be drifted, tossed and smoked out of stoplights just like their more expensive V-8 brethren. Beyond RWD their DNA is all over the map from the original pony-car ‘Stang to the iconic Miata to the new-kid-on-the-block, flat-four Subie.

I flogged them all over Metro Detroit to determine the best of the Fab Fours.

Ford Mustang EcoBoost

Mustang and EcoBoost don’t seem to belong in the same sentence, but Ford is determined to make its EcoBoost engines an international brand. It won the 2016 LeMans 24-Hour with the EcoBoost twin-turbo, V6-powered Ford GT supercar and began exporting 2015 Mustang fours to foreign continents choking on strict government emissions regulations.

For 2018, Mustang shelved its 6-cylinder engine to rely entirely on the inline-4 and V-8.

My red 2018 convertible is easy on the eyes. Ford’s designers got it right with an updated design that maintains signature touches like athletic haunches and a modern Focus-style nose.

Alas, the EcoBoost Mustang also sounds like a Focus. Which is say, it feels like it’s lost its voice. Like Mike Tyson, the Ford’s vocals don’t match its muscled bod. REV IT UP!bystanders urged at the Woodward Dream Cruise, expecting a V-8 roar. I would sheepishly rev it to disappointed looks.

“It just doesn’t sound like a Mustang,” colleagues said after handing back the keys.

I’ve driven the turbo-4 in anger on country roads, and without the big V-8 boat anchor up front it rotates more easily into corners, its independent-rear suspension proving more nimble than previous generations. Nailing the four-holer out of a corner, I think of the $41,000 Focus RS hot hatch with which the Mustang shares its 310 horse 2.3-liter mill. But the bad-boy RS engine is tuned for more emotion than the stealthy ‘Stang.

Worse, the RS and its ST stablemates are being axed in the U.S. market as Ford abandons small cars, meaning the only 300-plus-horsepower four you’ll find will be buried under the hood of a Mustang. These are dark days for Ford motorheads. At least you can still get a Mustang V-8.

Subaru BRZ tS

Since I first drove them in 2015, the BRZ and its Toyota 89 twin brother have been on my short list of sports-car favorites. With its low profile and flat-4 boxer engine, it has the lowest center-of-gravity of any production vehicle, along with the battery-powered Tesla Model S.

Combine that with a taut chassis and precise shifter, and the BRZ is Porsche-like (the Stuttgart legend also uses boxer engines) in its handling. Predictable, neutral, maneuverable on the limit.

For 2018, Subaru engineers pushed the envelope even further with the limited-edition tS, the ultimate, track-tuned BRZ. The tS gets a high rear wing for added downforce, stiffer suspension, and most significantly, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires for added grip — an improvement over the standard skinnies which may be fun for drifting, but take time away at a Waterford track day.

But better handling is not what the athletic ‘Ru needs.

The 205-horsepower 2.0-liter four is the most anemic 200-horse engine I’ve driven. A 201-horse Honda Civic Si feels much more engaged. Floor the BRZ out of corners, and it has all the urgency of Heinz ketchup.

Full torque doesn’t come on until 6,200 rpms, meaning you’re rowing the box all the time to stay in the torque band. Maybe the peppy 260-horse Ascent SUV will lend its turbo-4 someday.

Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

Though its 2.0-liter four pumped out just 155 ponies, the 2018 Mazda beat the Subaru by nearly half a second: 5.9 seconds compared to 6.3 (courtesy of our friends at Car and Driver). Credit MX-5’s weight. At 2,453 pounds, it is by far the lightest in this test.

Yet, Mazda isn’t resting on its laurels. For 2019 it has increased horsepower by 17 percent to 181 by extending the rev range to 7,500 rpms. Mazda maniacs have pined for the carmaker’s torquey 260-horse turbo-4 (stuffed into the Mazda 6 and CX-9). But corporate is insistent that its halo remain a purists’ sports car — no forced induction allowed.

My 2019 RF will satisfy the purists, and the aesthetes as well. Its Targa roof and racy rear pillars make for the sexiest Miata ever. Looks will cost you: the RF starts $2,600 north of a regular, soft-top MX-5 roadster at $33,675. My RF manual was loaded with carbon-fiber trimmings and leather thrones to the tune of $38,335.

As with Mustang, I’m a fan of the Miata’s new, next-gen styling and the RF brings a touch of luxury as well. The hard top folds up automatically with the touch of a button — where the Mustang is only partially automatic.

Whether on an interstate cloverleaf, parking-lot autocross course or Waterford Hills track day, drivers can really explore the limits of the MX-5.

At 6-foot-5, I explore the limits — head in roof, knees in dash — of the Miata’s tiny cockpit compared to the more comfortable ‘Stang and BRZ. But Mazda’s recipe of styling, playfulness and power-to-weight ratio make it the best pure, under $40,000 4-banger on the market today.

All hail the Fab Four-banger MX-5. It’ll put a smile on your face as wide as its smiley front grille.

2019 Ford Mustang Ecoboost

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four(ish)-passenger convertible/coupe

Price: $26,580 base ($38,970 convertible as tested)

Powerplant: 2.3-liter turbo-4 cylinder

Power: 310 horsepower, 350 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 123 mph

Weight: 3,676 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 20 city/29 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Most powerful car in comparo; more nimble handling than the V-8

Lows: Going topless still requires manual labor; 4-banger doesn’t fit muscle car looks

Overall: 3 stars

2018 Subaru BRZ tS 

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four(ish)-passenger coupe

Price: $26,455 base ($34,355 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter “Boxer” flat-4 cylinder

Power: 205 horsepower, 156 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 135 mph

Weight: 2,850 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 20 city/27 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Best-handling car in comparo; roomier than the Miata

Lows: Lack of punch; smartphone apps, please

Overall: 3 stars

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF 

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

Price: $26,190 base ($38,335 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder

Power: 181 horsepower, 151 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.7 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 140 mph (est.)

Weight: 2,453 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 26 city/34 highway/29 combined

Report card

Highs: Most fun of the bunch; auto drop top

Lows: Six-footers need a shoehorn to get in; RF gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

‘Brighton Bandit’ leaves an auto auction treasure chest

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 26, 2018

Conely Sisters Indycar

Whitmore Lake – Metro Detroit is America’s capital of auto entrepreneurs, tinkerers, and motorheads. For every legendary engine shop like Roush or Lingenfelter there are dozens of small shops with men and women obsessed by the horseless carriage. And when they pass to that great garage in the sky, these enthusiasts leave behind automotive treasure chests to remember them by.

Jack “The Brighton Bandit” Conely’s chest is a bit bigger than most.

This Saturday Conely’s massive automotive belongings will be auctioned off here in Whitmore Lake. Conely died in 2017 at the age of 87. He left behind a trio of open-wheel racers, a Supermodified oval beast, dozens of production vehicles, Dream Cruisers, trucks, jalopies, as well as hundreds of engine blocks, heads, and exhaust manifolds (even an engine dynamometer) that he collected over a lifetime.

If metal could talk, they’d tell the colorful story of a self-made, Michigan Hall-of-Fame driver and engineer whose automotive passion built a career, raised a family, lifted him from the Great Depression to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and introduced him to automotive royalty like Petty and Parsons.

It was a wonderful life. It was a classic Detroit life.

“If you’re into automotive, it’s neat. There are rare things that we’re not even sure what they are,” said Conely’s daughter, Jeri, sitting in front of two warehouse rooms packed with cars and parts. “There was no will, there was no trust, there was no list. We just don’t know what it’s worth. My dad was working right up until he died.”

Jeri and her three siblings have been assembling their father’s estate for months — all of it going up for bid Saturday in an auction supervised by Tim Nahri and Associates. The auction will be simulcast on the worldwide web.

“There are estate auctions like this all over the country every year,” says Ken Lingenfelter, owner of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, a successful Chevy mod shop that, like Conely, has its roots in racing. “There are small treasures in these collections for someone who is looking for a car and has the passion to restore it.”

Dusting off their father’s collection has given the Conely family a comprehensive look at a man who was both well-known and intensely private.

Abandoned by his father in Michigan, young Jack Conely was found on the streets of Chicago and sent to Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in Nebraska during the Great Depression. It was at the orphanage for boys that Jack’s love for autos grew.

Conely’s children say he never spoke of his difficult youth. In his 20s, Jack flew planes in the Korean War, returning to his home state to raise four kids on his own.

All his children knew growing up was the race track. One of the race cars on auction is Conley’s 1962 Supermodified Roadster, a ferocious-looking monster with slick tires as wide as steamrollers.

“We were at the track as soon as we were born,” chuckles Jeri. “We lived in the pickup. We left Thursday night and got home Monday. We all grew up working in the shop. My sister Jackie sorted (connecting) rods, I sorted pistons, and Kimberly was the parts washer.”

That was the racing life of the 1960s, long before the posh, infield motorhomes and big TV contracts of today. A talented driver, Conely raced wheel-to-wheel on oval tracks with future NASCAR legends while the kids slept pickup-to-pickup at night with their families.

“He was good friend with Benny Parsons, and (Richard) Petty was in the same series — they also slept in their pickups and brought the whole family,” recalls Jeri.

Back home in Brighton, the kids worked at Dad’s race shop when they weren’t in school. “The shop was our baby-sitting service,” says Jeri.

One of the auction warehouses is knee-deep in Chevy small blocks — next to rows of heads and intake manifolds. With a dozen employees at its height, the Conely Speed Shop on East Grand River pumped out hundreds of race engines.

“When I was a little girl, (the police) would just shut down Grand River in Brighton and my Dad would test the cars,” remembers Jeri.

Popular in the pits for sharing his engine expertise, the straggly-haired Conely was known as the “Brighton Bandit” for stealing the show wherever he went. He set track records and won races across the eastern U.S. from Jackson to Sandusky to Toledo to Oswego, New York.

He took a shot at the Indy 500 twice but failed to make the 33-car field with an engine he built himself. That #89 car will be on auction Saturday — sans engine. Next to it in the warehouse is one of Gordon Johncock’s (another Michigan original) Indy cars, and perhaps the most valuable car in the collection — an Eagle Mk 5, made by legendary American driver/engineer Dan Gurney for the 1970 F5000 series.

Nahri and Associates says bidding will start at $50,000-$100,000 for the open-wheel racers. The Eagle needs a lot of work, but rare finds pop up in the strangest places. Renowned collector Miles Collier found an abandoned, 1968 Porsche 907 family heirloom in Europe in 2014, and — after three years and 3,000 hours of labor — restored it to original form. Estimated value? North of $3 million.

There are hidden gems here for Dream Cruisers, too: a 1963 Corvette Stingray, a ’67 Camaro, and a ‘34 International pickup truck.

“I’d like them to see (Dad’s cars) restored. I’d like to hear them again,” smiles Conely’s daughter Jeri.

Her father’s exploits took him to African desert rallies for Ford — and to Daytona where he drove for the Mercury Comet Durability run, a grueling test covering 100,000 miles around the steeply-banked oval for 40 straight days.

He always returned to Brighton. After his race career ended in 1974 — his right arm pained from a somersault crash down Jackson’s back stretch — he continued to build engines for IMSA, McLaren, and his son’s NASCAR truck team. In 1987 he was inducted in the Michigan Racing Hall of Fame.

“He gave a great speech,” recalls Jeri who attended the ceremony. “They gave him the microphone and they couldn’t get it back. He had no fear of public speaking.”

 

Payne: Cadillac XT4 finds the sweet spot

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 20, 2018

Xt4 White

Small utes are all the rage. Since Buick innovated the segment with its Encore cutie in 2013, everyone jumped into the pool: BMW X1, Infiniti QX30, Mercedes GLA, Mazda CX-3, Jaguar E-Pace, Audi Q3. Everyone, it seemed, but that icon of American luxury, Cadillac. While the Encore reinvented Buick — That’s a Buick? — as an SUV brand, Cadillac focused on building an image of style and performance from a sedan foundation.

Now at last comes the 2019 Cadillac XT4 subcompact crossover, and it was worth the wait. Right out of the nest, it’s a serious contender.

Flogging the XT4 all over Seattle I found the wee ute has learned from its class peers to deliver the sweet spot in size, handling and ergonomics. To my friends who embraced Caddy’s edgy style, but then ran screaming from its knobless, slider-controlled CUE (Cadillac User Experience) infotainment system — you can come back now. The new rotary remote-and-knob controlled touchscreen is a thing of beauty.

On its slim shoulders the entry-level XT4 carries not only the expectations of the brand’s first new SUV segment entry in 14(!) years, it also introduces buyers to a new “Y” pricing strategy.

When I first shook hands with the little ute at the New York auto show earlier this year, I wasn’t sure the XT4 was up to the task. In the shadow of celebrity debuts like the mighty turbo-V8 CT6 V-Sport, bling-tastic Ford Aviator and luscious Maserati Levante, the XT4 seemed overwhelmed.

But in its natural, road-going habitat, Cadillac’s pup has presence.

“Where can I get one of those?” a passerby asked as I emerged from the XT4 near Seattle’s downtown farmers market. The XT4 is a mature expression of Cadillac’s distinctive Art & Science design — handsome, but with a dose of Motown swagger.

Cadillac has learned from the inauspicious debut of its ATS sedan — an athlete with the slashing moves of Barry Sanders but with the personality of vanilla. Despite its best-in-class handling, the ATS was a wallflower in a room of premium preeners.

The XT4 wants to be noticed. Its face features a big, grinning grille framed by LED-studded, vertical peepers that would make Elton John proud. The XT4 went into big-brother Escalade’s huge walk-in closet and pulled out the neon “tornado lights” that are the three-row SUV’s signature.

My favorite trim is the wicked Sport model in all-black with big 20-inch wheels, black grille, black suit, black rocker panels — and those white, vertical LEDs in front and white verticals in the rear. Hello, X-Man, shall we go fight some bad guys?

The Sport’s brooding intensity contrasts nicely with the other “Y” spoke in the Cadillac trim-tree — the Premium Luxury with its chrome accents, shimmering grille and red taillights.

Branching, Y-like, from the competitively priced $35,790 front-wheel drive base model, the contrasting PreLux and Sport trims both gain all-wheel drive for the same $40,290 price. Look for the Sport “branch” to sprout a V-series twig to take on BMW’s M performance badge.

The XT4’s gym-toned bod is a good foundation for such future aspirations.

Mind you, this is no rear-wheel drive based, longitudinal-engine Baryshnikov. Such SUV athletes (Jaguar F-Pace or BMW X3) are found only in the bigger, compact segment. Space is at a premium in subcompacts, so even Jaguar and BMW have succumbed to front-wheel drive platforms with transverse engines.

For all-out athleticism, the X1 leads the subcompact pack, but the XT4 is at its heels.

Over the undulating rural hills and valleys of Seattle’s Bainbridge Island, my X-tester was sure-footed and fun to drive even as the Pacific Northwest’s persistent cloud-cover slickened the roads. When the rain turns to ice and snow, Cadillac has fortified the all-wheel drive DNA of the ATS with dual rear clutch-packs.

The clutches can throw 100 percent of rear torque to either side to prevent one wheel from spinning helplessly — in a ditch, on ice or on snowpack — and get you moving again.

Acceleration from the 2.0-liter turbo four-banger is brisk as the XT4 puts down a class-competitive 258 pound-feet of torque eclipsed only by the Jaguar. That also means impressive 3,500-pound towing capacity for a segment in which some wee competitors don’t encourage towing. Go ahead, hook up a couple of ATVs for a weekend up north. Or throw two golf bags into the raked, tornado light-equipped hatch if that’s your sport of choice.

But it’s the interior’s attention to detail forward of the cargo bay that really wows.

The entry-level ATS sedan was small in the back seat. Cadillac learned from its mistake. The XT4 is roomiest in class and your basketball-playing 6-foot-5 reviewer could easily sit behind himself — and sit up straight under a full-length, optional moonroof that brings welcome light to the rear cabin.

Speaking of which, engineers nixed the rear-quarter glass to improve driver visibility with one seamless window aft of the b-pillar. More clever details? The front doors are designed to store umbrellas (shades of Rolls-Royce) for the Seattle rains. Only in standard features does the XT4 (like its Chevy and GMC kin) come up short as it fails to offer standard adaptive cruise-control or blindspot-assist that can be found on mainstream cars under $30,000.

If buyers shop up to the compact ute class and the sensational new, larger but just-as-sporty Acura RDX, they’ll notice it offers standard all-wheel drive, full moonroof and adaptive-cruise for just $38,325.

Cadillac has turned its Achilles heel, CUE, into an advantage here. Rather than reinvent the wheel (Acura chose a complicated, mouse-pad solution), Caddy’s infotainment system brings the best from the touchscreen and remote rotary-dial camps. Like Jeep’s Connect system, the screen is fast and easy to navigate when stopped — then easy to control by rotary dial when moving.

Throw in a space-saving monostable shifter and the console offers a storage cubby for your phone or fries. This slavish attention to detail reminded me of another stylish subcompact, the Volvo XC40. But ride the Swede hard and its uneven transmission and pedestrian chassis can’t keep up.

The XT4 is the total package. It offers first-class amenities for long drives with smooth power and handling for when the road gets twisty.

The roomy, user-friendly, nimble BMW X1 took two generations to become the class standard. The XT4 finally offers a no-compromise competitor — and Cadillac got it right on the first try.

2019 Cadillac XT4

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

Price: $35,790 base ($52,285 Premium Luxury AWD and $56,835 Sport AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder

Power: 237 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (mfr.)

Weight: 3,660 pounds (FWD, mfr. estimate)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 25 city/30 highway/27 combined

Report card

Highs: Sculpted good looks; CUE goes to head of class

Lows: Big back seat squeezes cargo room; more standard features, please

Overall: 4 stars

GMC Sierra pickup moves uptown

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2018

Gmc Bed Drop Wide

St. John’s, Newfoundland – With the all-new, 2019 Sierra pickup, GMC is moving uptown, putting significant room between itself and working-class sibling Chevrolet Silverado.

Boasting unique features, a flashy wardrobe and transaction prices that would make Mercedes green with envy, GMC is effectively establishing itself as America’s only premium truck brand. At a time when fat truck profits are crucial to Detroit Three investments in autonomous and electric vehicles, GMC is complementing its deluxe Denali and SLT menu with an expensive, off-road offering called the AT4.

“We’re finding customers stepping out of Mercedes and BMW sedans and wanting to get into this beautiful, premium, high-powered truck,” said GMC design chief Matt Noone in Newfoundland’s port of St. John’s where the Sierra was introduced to media. “The success for Denali has outstripped all our expectations. The (market) appetite for premium trucks is something we’re focusing on.”

General Motors’ success in promoting GMC and its Denali badge, say analysts, is a shrewd reading of a market where truck customers demand luxury – but still value the ruggedness of trucks.

GMC is succeeding where Cadillac and Lincoln failed in the early 21st century by providing a pickup truck that rivals German luxury automakers in profit margin.

Named after the largest mountain peak in the United States (also known as Mt. McKinley), the Denali trim was introduced on the GMC Yukon SUV in 1999 to compliment the palatial Cadillac Escalade SUV launched a year prior. The badge was added to the Sierra lineup in 2001.

As the market has moved to SUVs after the Great Recession, the General positioned GMC — and Denali — to catch the wave with its midsize Acadia and compact Terrain utes.

Denali growth has been meteoric.

Since 2013, sales have nearly doubled from 74,795 units to 140,403 last year. The average Denali transaction price in 2017 was a stratospheric $55,656 — higher than Mercedes, BMW and Audi.

 “Coming out of the recession, people have been willing to pay for technology,” says Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for IHS Market, after a drive in the new Sierra. “They have opened up their checkbooks to buy content and that’s benefited GMC and Denali.”

Ford and Ram compete against the Sierra with successful, premium trims like the F-150 Platinum and Ram 1500 Limited.

So coveted is GMC’s premium image that it has transformed the brand. Where the standard, $40,000 SLE retail trim was once 40 percent of sales, it has shrunk to just 9 percent of Sierra volume. Meanwhile, the posh SLT and Denali trims now account for 75 percent of sales, says marketing boss Phil Brook. Denali alone – which starts at an eye-watering $59,495 – accounts for 20 percent of Sierra sales.

Noone says the clean-sheet, 2019 Sierra gave the truckmaker the chance to push the envelope over its Chevy kin.

“Customers told us – you have this great brand, you need to do more with it. We would like the truck to look different, feel different. It has features you can’t get on a Chevy – or any other truck.”

GMC is following a path familiar to luxury carmakers like Lincoln, Acura, and Lexus: It shares a base architecture with the mainstream Chevy Silverado pickup – then enhances its with styling and unique features.

“This is the biggest separation between GMC and Chevy we’ve seen,” says analyst Brinley. “The only sheet metal they share is a rear door, roof and rear bumper — and GMC is getting technology ahead of Chevrolet.”

The Sierra’s exclusive MultiPro tailgate is an engineering marvel – essentially two tailgates in one that can be configured into a stand-up desk, lumber load stop, or entry staircase into the pickup bed.

The new AT4 off-road trim gains a 6.2-liter V-8 over its 5.3-liter V-8 Chevy Trail Boss cousin. It will also be optioned with a carbon-fiber bed, a light, durable material usually found on exotic performance cars.

“With Denali, we have focused on premium, on luxury,” said Noone. “But we also have 100 years of delivering ruggedness, so we’re bringing an AT4 that focuses on capability. The carbon-fiber bed is the strongest box we’ve ever done. “

While Cadillac has struggled to gain traction against German lux-makers, GMC is racking up luxury-like sales. Denali sales alone were just 14,000 units shy of the entire Caddy division. According to Bloomberg News figures, the average GMC vehicle sells for about $44,000, almost 40 percent higher than the average US transaction.

The Sierra Denali pickup will top out at over $67,000. But while the Cadillac Escalade SUV can push $100,000, don’t expect luxury makers to move into the pickup space anytime soon.

Both Cadillac (the Escalade-based  EXT) and Lincoln (the Blackwood and Mark LT) introduced pickups in 2002. They were discontinued earlier this decade after poor sales.

“When it’s been a luxury brand trying to deliver on a pickup truck, it hasn’t been successful,” said IHS Market’s Brinley. “Pickup buyers want to have faith in their capabilities, but they don’t want a Cadillac truck. They want their truck brand, and then they want to reward themselves.”

Even Mercedes, which sells its mid-size X-Class pickup truck in Europe and Latin America, has no plans to compete against Detroit’s premium titans in the US market.

“I think Mercedes would struggle here,” says Brinley.

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.