Articles

Luxury-car market demands huge risks and capital

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 24, 2019

The new Cadillac CT5 enters a stagnant sedan segment at a time when Cadillac is struggling to catch up in SUVs and EVs.

The new Cadillac CT5 enters a stagnant sedan segment at a time when Cadillac is struggling to catch up in SUVs and EVs. (Photo: Cadillac)

New York — The Big Apple’s annual auto show is a tony affair as the world’s luxury automakers try to wow one of the ritziest ZIP codes in the world. But this year’s premium menu is an expensive hash as automakers try to make all things for all people.

Once purveyors of exclusive sleek sedans and sports cars, luxury-makers now must invest in a buffet of options from sedans to SUVs to electric cars. Trying to satisfy the demands of family buyers, performance enthusiasts and government regulators alike, the challenge is difficult enough for industry leaders like Mercedes and BMW.

But for smaller luxury-makers the challenge holds huge risks that demand dizzying amounts of capital. Take Cadillac and Jaguar, two industry icons that are struggling to make the right choices.

“The landscape has gotten very complicated,” says IHS Automotive principal analyst Stephanie Brinley. “The volumes are in SUVs, but it takes time for automakers to make the transition to those platforms. They are increasingly trying to figure out how to share platforms with other brands.”

This year’s New York show features a patchwork of new models — from the giant three-row Mercedes GLS class, to an electric Genesis coupe concept, to small sedans from Cadillac and Jaguar.

On the heels of splashy Oscars ads introducing its full SUV lineup, Cadillac is shifting gears here to sedans. Its CT5 compact sedan that debuted this week marks a major shakeup in the brand’s sedan lineup as a much longer, roomier and luxurious competitor compared to the outgoing ATS.

Impressive as it is, however, the CT5 enters a stagnant sedan segment at a time when Cadillac is struggling to catch up in SUVs and EVs – markets that the Detroit brand has neglected.

Cadillac product marketing chief Jason Sledziewski says making SUV, sedan and electric platforms is an investment in the future: “In order to be part of the luxury industry in the world overall (we’re) becoming what you need to be. There are sedan customers out there, SUVs are growing and we know there is an EV future.”

The CT5 enters the $40,000 compact sedan market against formidable brands like the BMW with its 3-series and Jaguar with its next-generation XE introduced Wednesday.

Jaguar leveraged its reputation for making the gorgeous E-Type sports car and posh XJ sedan to craft the F-Pace SUV for a utility-mad market. Sports-car maker Porsche pioneered the idea in the early 2000s.

The $45,000 Jaguar F-Pace midsize SUV was the hottest-selling SUV in luxury when it was introduced in 2016. It quickly became the brand’s best-seller, for a time outselling the rest of the Jaguar lineup. A smaller E-Pace ute followed. Meanwhile, the brand’s legendary sedans have fallen off a sales cliff.

Still, the XE sedan remains the Jaguar’s number-two seller despite a nearly 50 percent drop in sales last year to about 4,700. Like Cadillac, Jaguar has been maligned for its lack of interior luxury next to German competitors, so it has amped up the XE’s insides.

To juggle changing tastes from sedans to SUVs (and back again if market tastes change) Cadillac and Jaguar have leaned on sister brands to make sense of the enormous capital investment. No longer can luxury brands rely on unique architectures. They must share.

For athletic Jaguar this means, somewhat paradoxically, building on the same SUV platforms as off-road brother Land Rover. The Jaguar E-Pace cuts costs by sharing the front-wheel drive platform of the popular Range Range Evoque.

“The more volume on the same platform, the lower our costs,” says Jaguar-Land Rover product planning chief Dave Larsen.

When Cadillac needed to play catch-up in the three-row SUV segment with the new XT6, it went to the GM toolbox and pulled out the same front-wheel drive platform that undergirds the GMC Acadia.

IHS analyst Brinley says automakers that make luxury and mainstream cars on the same manufacturing line have an advantage. For example, the Honda CR-V and premium Acura RDX come off the same line in East Liberty, Ohio.

The electric race pitches another curveball at carmakers. But this one is dictated not by consumer demand, but by government edict as countries mandate battery-powered vehicles.

“EVs are so much more complicated because there is the whole issue of customer demand,” says Brinley. “It’s more government regulation that is driving this.”

France and England have targeted the internal-combustion engine for elimination by 2040 and 2050, respectively. China – the world’s largest auto market — is expected to follow suit. While Cadillac has abandoned Europe, it sees China as a key to future sales.

Yet, Jaguar and Cadillac are investing in electrics despite weak demand.

Jaguar introduced its battery-powered $70,000 I-Pace on a new, so-called “skateboard” platform last year to rave media reviews. But sales have been disappointing. Just 212 I-Paces were sold last month compared to some 15,000 by Tesla, which dominates the EV market.

Until consumer demand warms, Jaguar is seeking opportunities with autonomous carmakers to build volume and meet stringent government emissions requirements.

Jaguar-Land Rover’s Larsen points out that Google’s autonomous arm, Waymo, has purchased 20,000 I-Paces for the 2021 model year for its self-driving platform. “We’ll be able to meet our federal regulatory requirement with that in the States,” he says.

Cadillac is making its own new electric platform, part of GM’s plans to roll out 20 zero-emission vehicles by 2023.

“Regardless of the automaker, selling electric cars is a loss-making proposition,” says auto analyst and investor Anton Wahlman of Seeking Alpha, “and with over 200 new models coming in the next 3 to 4 years, the competition for a limited number of buyers will become increasingly difficult.”

At least Cadillac doesn’t have to worry about the European market where emissions standards are tightening fast. While Cadillac has thrown its hybrid powertrains overboard to concentrate on battery-electric, Jaguar-Land Rover is promising a hybrid/plug-in or electric version for every model by 2020 to help with European requirements.

“Time is going to tell which electric car strategies will work,” says Brinley. “On paper right now they don’t make sense.”

Adds Wahlman: “Margins are likely to compress even further. For the time being it’s looking like a horrible time for automotive industry profits.”

Payne: Despite Musk’s claims, my Tesla unlikely to drive itself soon

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 24, 2019

On Tesla's latest, "Navigate on Autopilot" upgrade, the Tesla Model 3 will automatically change lanes on the way to its destination. That includes changing lanes when it is balked by a slower car. In this situation on the Lodge freeway, the car informed the driver of the lane change, waited for a faster car to come by, then made the pass.

On Tesla’s latest, “Navigate on Autopilot” upgrade, the Tesla Model 3 will automatically change lanes on the way to its destination. That includes changing lanes when it is balked by a slower car. In this situation on the Lodge freeway, the car informed the driver of the lane change, waited for a faster car to come by, then made the pass. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Tesla laid out its road map for an autonomous future Monday, and I’m a beta tester.

In a live-streamed conference with investors, the Silicon Valley-based automaker says that cars going into production now will be equipped with the computer chip necessary to be fully self-driving. By sometime next year, predicted showman-and-chief Elon Musk, the company will also roll out a self-driving “robo taxi” service similar to Waymo and Uber that will hustle customers to their destinations — but with no one at the wheel.

Musk also boldly claimed that, after just three years of development, Tesla had developed “the best chip in the world,” which he said was seven times faster than industry’s competitors. What’s more, he was dismissive of the lidar navigation hardware that has been a cornerstone of the rest of the self-driving industry. Lidar uses pulsed lasers to allow a car to “see” what’s around it.

“Lidar is a fool’s errand,” he laughed. “Anyone relying on lidar is doomed.”

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne took delivery on his Tesla Model 3 in October, 2018 for $57,500. To upgrade to Tesla's latest computer chip, he would need to pay an additional $5000.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne took delivery on his Tesla Model 3 in October, 2018 for $57,500. To upgrade to Tesla’s latest computer chip, he would need to pay an additional $5000. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

Tesla’s announcement came at the same time Tesla Model 3 owners like me have been receiving over-the-air updates to their autonomous “Autopilot” systems that increase the car’s ability to drive itself.

Called Navigate on Autopilot, the upgrade is a long way from self-driving, but gives owners a glimpse of the future. And it gives Tesla valuable, real-world data to test their technology.

Fun as it is, it seems generations away from full self-driving.

My state-of-the-art, Level 2 system requires constant attention from the pilot and makes for some nervy moments at the envelope’s edge. But with tens of thousands of beta testers on the road like me logging millions of miles, Musk touted Tesla’s leadership role in the race to autonomy and insisted full autonomy is right around the corner.

“The powerful sustainable force for us is the fleet,” said Musk. “We have 100 times the number of cars on the road (compared to competitors). It’s a massive data advantage.”

That plan has attracted skeptics — and billions in capital from investors such as Transpire Ventures’ John Meyer.

“Tesla’s autonomous vehicle training data clobbers anyone else aside from Waymo,” says Meyer. “This is due to the hundreds of thousands of cars that have been on the road for years, all of which have been collecting data on real-time driving … and sending it back up to Tesla.”

 
Tesla's Navigate on Autopilot software is voluntary. The driver can choose the settings they prefer from DISABLED to MAD MAX.
Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot software is voluntary. The driver can choose the settings they prefer from DISABLED to MAD MAX. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

My Navigate on Autopilot came over the air (along with a 5% power boost to my already capable 271-horse system) on April 9 at midnight, just like an update to my smartphone.

The following morning, the Model 3’s giant console screen told me the car was now capable of changing lanes on its own once I had set a navigation point. Tesla allows me to set the test parameters —  from Disable to Mild to Average to Mad Max (Tesla-speak for the most aggressive setting).

Naturally, I went for Mad Max.

Like Cadillac’s SuperCruise, Navigate on Autopilot is geo-fenced — that is, it only works on limited-access highways and freeways like the Lodge and Interstate 75. As I navigated M-10 to downtown Detroit from Oakland County, the car took over from me, following the 70 mph speed limit in the slow lane. When I encountered a slower car the screen informed me it was “Changing lanes into faster lane.”

The car paused. Waited for faster cars to pass. Then turned into the left lane, accelerated around the passed car, and pulled back into the right lane. Impressive.

But my eyes never left the road. There are infinite variables that a robot car can still not see — like potholes, which are ubiquitous in Detroit this time of year. Or the odd ladder that’s fallen off a truck.

Were any of these objects in the road, I would have had to seize the wheel to avoid them — an action that the car would initially resist with a tug (hey, I’m driving!).

A fellow Tesla owner friend has no interest in wrestling with such ambiguities and tells me he’s passing on being a beta tester, thank you very much.

“That scares me,” he says.

It hasn’t scared some people enough, and there have been some terrible accidents as Tesla drivers took Autopilot at its word.

Nevertheless, Tesla insists it can overcome such obstacles with the new computer chip, part of Tesla’s so-called HW3 package that includes a radar, cameras and 12 sonar devices to navigate its landscape.

“The core problem of neural networks (the brain of a self-driving car) is recognizing objects,” said Tesla director of artificial intelligence, Andrej Karpathy. “Neural networks work better with more data.”

So when my car encounters, say, another car moving into its lane — what Tesla calls a “cut-in” — the neural network takes that experience, coupled with thousands of others, to teach cars how to drive.

“We ask the fleet to automatically send us car cut-ins,” says Karpathy. “Then we train the network. Why is Tesla unique? Because we have the fleet.”

Tesla is unique in not adding lidar to help with the task of identifying objects. That move defies rivals like Waymo, Uber and General Motors’ Cruise Automation autonomous programs.

I have driven in Waymo and Uber self-driving cars, and they are heavily reliant on lidar. Those companies, too, have promised fully self-driving cars on the road by the end of this year.

For all my car’s contributions to Tesla’s learning, I would need to upgrade its computer chip to the HW3 standard — at a cost of $7,000 on top of the $57,500 I have already spent — to be eligible for Musk’s robo-taxi service.

“People will be able to add (their own cars) to the Tesla network with Tesla taking 25-30% of the revenue,” says Musk.

My car is currently equipped with HW2 hardware which will not be able to run the software the company says will be necessary to negotiate everything that Michigan roads will throw at me: potholes, ice, blowing snow.

Call me skeptical. I doubt full self-driving is a year away, much less 10 years away.

But in the meantime I’ll be beta-testing Tesla’s software upgrades and setting them on Mad Max.

Last year in San Francisco, I took a Tesla Model S in self-driving mode onto a highway cloverleaf. The car couldn’t make it.

At the end of my trip this month when I (automatically) exited the Lodge in my Model 3, it slowed down to 35 mph and gingerly made its way around the cloverleaf.

Mission accomplished. And I was hovering nervously over the steering wheel the whole way.

Payne: Top 10 premieres at New York auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

New York — The Detroit auto show this year was a shadow of itself as foreign luxury automakers fled in droves. Except for BMW, the luxury crowd is well-represented at the New York auto show.

Despite that, Detroit automakers steal Gotham’s show. There’s the Jeep Gladiator pickup, and its off-road experience outside Javits Convention Center that will have the public lining up from Hell’s Kitchen to Brooklyn. And an electric pickup from Plymouth-based Rivian. And the ferocious Ford Mustang GT500.

A variety of vehicles also make their debuts in New York. Here are my favorites.

Koenigsegg Jesko – New York features high-end toys like no other North American show. This year the show attracted such curiosities as the BAC Mono (a single-seat rocketship) and the $2 million Karlmann King (Batmobile meets SUV), but my favorite came from Sweden’s hypercar maker. With a claimed top speed of 300 mph, the Jesko eclipses its 278-mph Agera predecessor as the fastest car in the world. The Jesko manages this feat with (cough) 1,579 horsepower, all-wheel drive and a carbon-fiber tub.

Koenigsegg Jesko, on display at the 2019 New York Auto Show.

Cadillac CT5 – Cadillac takes the mid-size CTS platform downmarket with a thoroughly remade, compact BMW 3-series fighter. Interior room may be best-in-class, but the CT5 still has plenty of hustle from your option of two turbocharged engines. Gone is the fussy, haptic CUE system replaced by your choice of infotainment controls: touchscreen, remote rotary-dial or voice control.

Ford Escape – After a Henry Ford Museum coming-out party this spring, the compact ute makes its first appearance on a show floor. And boy, does thing look good. Located just down the hall from the Porsche Macan from which it takes design cues, it’s sleek and sporty. That magic continues inside with electronic tricks like one-button-activated self-park assist. The Lincoln Corsair — based on the same roomy platform — also debuted at this show, but I’m not sure it’s worth $15,000 over the sophisticated Escape.

Hyundai Sonata, on display at the 2019 New York Auto Show.
Hyundai Sonata – Welcome back, Sonata. After a detour to Vanilla Town with its last-generation sedan, the Sonata is back with a head-turner. The design features such innovations as LED running lights along the hood – and a seamless hood over a rimless grille, usually associated with Aston Martin. Inside, rear-seat passengers get more room than Delta first class.

Ford Mustang Ecoboost High Performance – Despite its awkward name (they couldn’t have called it a Mustang ST?), this pony car is an affordable track toy. Rescuing the throaty 330-horse, 2.3 liter turbo-4 from the Focus RS hot hatch, the Mustang saves 150 pounds up front compared to a V-8 ’Stang. That’ll make it a treat at weekend autocrosses and Waterford Hills track days.

The 2020 Porsche 911 Speedster Heritage Edition is shown at the New York Auto Show.

Porsche 911 Speedster – The special-edition Speedster says auf wiedersehen to the current-generation 911. It doesn’t come cheap at $275,750, but in return you own one of 1,948 copies (Porsche’s founding year) and unique deck “streamers” behind the front seats like the 1950s classics. In the boot is a loud, naturally aspirated flat-6 that also sounds like the good ol’ days.

Subaru Outback at the 2019 New York Auto Show.Subaru Outback – To introduce the latest version of its iconic crossover, Subaru built a spectacular floor display that transports visitors to an outdoor national park. A mainstay of the Subie lineup with station-wagon utility and all-wheel drive, the Outback sits on a new platform which brings new goodies like a big Tesla-like console screen and a torquey turbo-4 that replaces the reliable flat-6.

Mercedes GLS at the 2019 New York Auto Show.

Mercedes GLS – Mercedes showed its first electric vehicle, the EQC, in New York. But it was overshadowed — literally —  by the hulking GLS three-row SUV, which is where the money is made. The GLS has all the expected Mercedes touches: heated rear seats, voice-recognition controls. But my favorite feature is Carwash mode which closes the big ute tight as a turtle, then raises it up high for maximum fender-well cleaning.

Payne: Kia’s Niro electric SUV shrugs off the cold

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

The 2019 Kia Niro EV has a range of 239 miles and can be recharged on a 100 kWh fast-charger 9though they are rare in the Midwest).

The 2019 Kia Niro EV has a range of 239 miles and can be recharged on a 100 kWh fast-charger 9though they are rare in the Midwest). (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

And now for something completely different. The battery-powered Kia Niro that suffers no range loss in cold weather.

This has been the winter of my battery discontent. I enjoy electric vehicles, from the Chevy Volt to the Hyundai Kona to my Tesla Model 3. They are all mass-market targeted with attractive designs, good cabin room and — in the case of the Kona and Niro (and the Volt’s sister Bolt EV) — utilitarian hatchbacks. They push the class envelope on acceleration, interior design and technology.

But they also push my patience with serious battery degradation when the weather gets frosty outside. Which is often in Michigan.

When the mercury drops below 40 degrees, battery range drops with it. At 30 degrees, range suffers by 25 percent. Under 20 degrees (including the sub-zero polar vortex this winter), range drops a dramatic 50 percent.

Not the Niro EV.

The little Kia arrived in my driveway this March in 31-degree weather with 163 miles of range left (fully charged the Niro promises a Chevy Bolt-like 239 miles). I jumped in for an afternoon’s adventure … but not too much of an adventure, mindful that I likely had just 115 miles of actual range.

The game was on. I logged 77 miles that day while losing just 70 miles off the battery, an unprecedented feat. And I wasn’t babying the Niro, either.

My journey took me across 70 mph interstates (hitting 80 mph at times, and a steady state of 75) as well as Detroit city traffic. Oakland County twisties. Meijer parking lots. I flogged the Kia in Eco, Normal and Sport modes just like every other EV I’ve driven.

Luxury-car market demands huge risks and capital

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

The new Cadillac CT5 enters a stagnant sedan segment at a time when Cadillac is struggling to catch up in SUVs and EVs.

The new Cadillac CT5 enters a stagnant sedan segment at a time when Cadillac is struggling to catch up in SUVs and EVs. (Photo: Cadillac)

New York — The Big Apple’s annual auto show is a tony affair as the world’s luxury automakers try to wow one of the ritziest ZIP codes in the world. But this year’s premium menu is an expensive hash as automakers try to make all things for all people.

Once purveyors of exclusive sleek sedans and sports cars, luxury-makers now must invest in a buffet of options from sedans to SUVs to electric cars. Trying to satisfy the demands of family buyers, performance enthusiasts and government regulators alike, the challenge is difficult enough for industry leaders like Mercedes and BMW.

But for smaller luxury-makers the challenge holds huge risks that demand dizzying amounts of capital. Take Cadillac and Jaguar, two industry icons that are struggling to make the right choices.

“The landscape has gotten very complicated,” says IHS Automotive principal analyst Stephanie Brinley. “The volumes are in SUVs, but it takes time for automakers to make the transition to those platforms. They are increasingly trying to figure out how to share platforms with other brands.”

This year’s New York show features a patchwork of new models — from the giant three-row Mercedes GLS class, to an electric Genesis coupe concept, to small sedans from Cadillac and Jaguar.

On the heels of splashy Oscars ads introducing its full SUV lineup, Cadillac is shifting gears here to sedans. Its CT5 compact sedan that debuted this week marks a major shakeup in the brand’s sedan lineup as a much longer, roomier and luxurious competitor compared to the outgoing ATS.

Impressive as it is, however, the CT5 enters a stagnant sedan segment at a time when Cadillac is struggling to catch up in SUVs and EVs – markets that the Detroit brand has neglected.

Cadillac marketing chief Jason Sledziewski says making SUV, sedan and electric platforms is an investment in the future: “In order to be part of the luxury industry in the world overall (we’re) becoming what you need to be. There are sedan customers out there, SUVs are growing and we know there is an EV future.”

The CT5 enters the $40,000 compact sedan market against formidable brands like the BMW with its 3-series and Jaguar with its next-generation XE introduced Wednesday.

Jaguar leveraged its reputation for making the gorgeous E-Type sports car and posh XJ sedan to craft the F-Pace SUV for a utility-mad market. Sports-car maker Porsche pioneered the idea in the early 2000s.

The $45,000 Jaguar F-Pace midsize SUV was the hottest-selling SUV in luxury when it was introduced in 2016. It quickly became the brand’s best-seller, for a time outselling the rest of the Jaguar lineup. A smaller E-Pace ute followed. Meanwhile, the brand’s legendary sedans have fallen off a sales cliff.

Still, the XE sedan remains the Jaguar’s number-two seller despite a nearly 50 percent drop in sales last year to about 4,700. Like Cadillac, Jaguar has been maligned for its lack of interior luxury next to German competitors, so it has amped up the XE’s insides.

To juggle changing tastes from sedans to SUVs (and back again if market tastes change) Cadillac and Jaguar have leaned on sister brands to make sense of the enormous capital investment. No longer can luxury brands rely on unique architectures. They must share.

For athletic Jaguar this means, somewhat paradoxically, building on the same SUV platforms as off-road brother Land Rover. The Jaguar E-Pace cuts costs by sharing the front-wheel drive platform of the popular Range Range Evoque.

“The more volume on the same platform, the lower our costs,” says Jaguar-Land Rover product planning chief Dave Larsen.

When Cadillac needed to play catch-up in the three-row SUV segment with the new XT6, it went to the GM toolbox and pulled out the same front-wheel drive platform that undergirds the GMC Acadia.

IHS analyst Brinley says automakers that make luxury and mainstream cars on the same manufacturing line have an advantage. For example, the Honda CR-V and premium Acura RDX come off the same line in East Liberty, Ohio.

The electric race pitches another curveball at carmakers. But this one is dictated not by consumer demand, but by government edict as countries mandate battery-powered vehicles.

“EVs are so much more complicated because there is the whole issue of customer demand,” says Brinley. “It’s more government regulation that is driving this.”

France and England have targeted the internal-combustion engine for elimination by 2040 and 2050, respectively. China – the world’s largest auto market — is expected to follow suit. While Cadillac has abandoned Europe, it sees China as a key to future sales.

Yet, Jaguar and Cadillac are investing in electrics despite weak demand.

Jaguar introduced its battery-powered $70,000 I-Pace on a new, so-called “skateboard” platform last year to rave media reviews. But sales have been disappointing. Just 212 I-Paces were sold last month compared to some 15,000 by Tesla, which dominates the EV market.

Until consumer demand warms, Jaguar is seeking opportunities with autonomous carmakers to build volume and meet stringent government emissions requirements.

Jaguar-Land Rover’s Larsen points out that Google’s autonomous arm, Waymo, has purchased 20,000 I-Paces for the 2021 model year for its self-driving platform. “We’ll be able to meet our federal regulatory requirement with that in the States,” he says.

Cadillac is making its own new electric platform, part of GM’s plans to roll out 20 zero-emission vehicles by 2023.

“Regardless of the automaker, selling electric cars is a loss-making proposition,” says auto analyst and investor Anton Wahlman of Seeking Alpha, “and with over 200 new models coming in the next 3 to 4 years, the competition for a limited number of buyers will become increasingly difficult.”

At least Cadillac doesn’t have to worry about the European market where emissions standards are tightening fast. While Cadillac has thrown its hybrid powertrains overboard to concentrate on battery-electric, Jaguar-Land Rover is promising a hybrid/plug-in or electric version for every model by 2020 to help with European requirements.

“Time is going to tell which electric car strategies will work,” says Brinley. “On paper right now they don’t make sense.”

Adds Wahlman: “Margins are likely to compress even further. For the time being it’s looking like a horrible time for automotive industry profits.”

 

VW tests the waters with a midsize pickup concept

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

The Tarok, Volkswagen's midsize pickup concept, was unveiled Wednesday at the New York auto show.

The Tarok, Volkswagen’s midsize pickup concept, was unveiled Wednesday at the New York auto show. (Photo: Volkswagen)

New York – To atone for its Dieselgate sins, Volkswagen has been touting its electric future, from its ID line of EVs to its Electrify America charging network.

But VW has to make money to fund its electric dream. To that end, it has used the 2018 and 2019 New York auto show to introduce gas-powered pickup truck concepts.

The Tarok midsize pickup concept made its debut on the New York show floor Wednesday, following the larger Tanoak pickup that took a bow last year.

The Tarok shared billing with the ID Buggy, an electric reinterpretation of the classic American dune buggy. The Buggy joins ID concepts like the Roomzz SUV, Vizzion car, Crozz SUV and Buzz microbus.

The Tarok is aimed at the mid-size U.S. pickup space, which has been one of the fastest growing segments in auto. The Tarok has a 117-inch wheelbase, which is small for the segment. It is 11 inches shy of the larger Tanoak which is based on VW’s biggest SUV, the Atlas.

A VW spokesperson said the company was testing the waters with the Tarok, adding that the smaller pickup could lower the cost of entry into the market.

The Tarok is based on the same versatile MQB platform that under-girds the Golf hatchback, Jetta sedan, Arteon SUV and other models that sell in the hundreds of thousands world-wide. But the platform is a unibody construction that has proved a difficult sell in a U.S. pickup market dominated by rugged, so-called “ladder frame” architectures use by everything from the Ford Ranger to the Toyota Tacoma.

The only unibody midsize pickup made for the U.S., the Honda Ridgeline, has won media raves for its roomy interior and smooth ride. But it has struggled to get traction in the market.

VW has entered a partnership with Ford to sell vehicles globally, but there are no plans to partner on Ford’s ladder-frame pickup chassis in the U.S. The unibody construction for either the Tarok or Tanaok concepts is attractive to the brand because it could be constructed at VW’s North American plants in Tennessee or Mexico. That would avoiding the steep “chicken tax” tariff on pickups  that make it cost-prohibitive to import pickups from outside North America.

VW currently makes a ladder-frame Amarok pickup in Argentina for international markets, but importing it here would be subject to the tariff.

With its smaller size and possible cheaper price, VW says there is an opportunity for Tarok to attract young buyers looking for a hip, fuel-efficient wood-hauler.

With that in mind, the all-wheel drive Tarok is powered by a sippy 147-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbo-4.

To make up for its shorter length (a foot shorter than Detroit competitors) the Tarok invents the neat party trick of dropping the wall behind the rear seats. With the seats flattened, owners could use the added space for more cargo and long objects.

The Tarok is attractively designed with signature VW touches like a horizontal grille and taillights. The interior is upscale like other VW models. And to demonstrate the little truck’s off-road chops, the Tarok has an approach angle of 23.8 degrees, a departure angle of over 26 degrees and ground clearance of almost 10 inches.

And with a claimed payload capacity of 2,271 pounds, it could carry a lot more mulch than an electric dune buggy.

Chinese Qiantu electric supercar targets U.S. market

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

China's Qiantu K50 electric supercar.

China’s Qiantu K50 electric supercar. (Photo: Qiantu Motors)

New York – Make it three Chinese cars coming to the U.S. market in 2020.

Qiantu Motors unveiled the Qiantu K50 electric supercar at the New York auto show on Wednesday, throwing its hat in the U.S. ring along with GAC and Byton as Chinese automakers bringing models to the U.S. next year.

Their products will be a diverse lot. GAC has a gas-powered family SUV introduced at this year’s Detroit auto show, while Byton’s M-Byte is an electric SUV with a giant dash-screen that’s aimed at Tesla. Introduced at last year’s Los Angeles auto show, the M-Byte has a sister in the wings, the K-Byte sedan.

The Qiantu K50 is all about green speed.

Developed in China with a U.S. distribution network by Mullen, Qiantu (pronounced “Shan-too”) will assemble the K50 in North America. It is already under production in China. The EV bears the proportions of a mid-engine sports car like the Audi R8. Behind the cockpit, however, resides a T-shaped battery, not an engine. That battery powers an all-wheel drive, 430-horsepower powertrain with electric motors in the front and rear.

“We are thrilled to bring the Qiantu K50 to the North American epicenter of luxury, design and entrepreneurial spirit — New York City,” said David Michery, Mullen founder and CEO. “These are three of our brand’s core values, which are embodied in our first flagship vehicle with zero CO2 emissions.”

To help its need for speed, the K50 is built on a a lightweight aluminum chassis with body panels crafted from carbon fiber. Add the massive lithium-ion battery, though, and the car tips the scales at a heavy 4,300 pounds. The battery is liquid-cooled and heated for seasonal climates, unlike many EVs on the market today.

In addition to its mid-engine layout, the K50 shares design cues with other supercars. Its rear lights remind of McLaren while its dark black “sideburns” echo the first-generation Audi R8.

The low, swoopy nose bears the Qiantu dragonfly logo, but no grille.

The sports car is said to have a range of 230 miles on a single charge. Targeting a supercar market home to some of the world’s most prestigious brands, the Chinese rookie will come equipped with premium touches like a 15.6-inch digital instrument display, leather and Alcantara sports seats, solar-powered air circulation, and three drive modes: Adaptive, Sport and Boost.

Mullen has a used-car sales infrastructure in the U.S. and is building retail stores specially for the K50. The supercar is scheduled to be on lots in late 2020 with a sticker price between $100,000-$150,000, putting it in the same space as the BMW i8 plug-in and Audi R8.

The Qiantu K50 is trying to succeed where other electric supercar start-ups have failed. Both Faraday Future and Lucid have teased EVs for the U.S. market but haven’t been able to follow through on production.

GAC, which first showed its Trumpchi SUV at the 2018 Detroit show, has a production-ready version of an SUV.  But its entry has been delayed by the U.S.-China tariff spat. It’s due to make landfall here in early 2020.

GAC sold more than 500,000 vehicles in 16 countries last year, but most of its sales have been in China. It plans to expand to Africa, South America and other Asian markets this year.

Start-up Byton is on ambitious schedule to get its SUV to market next year. It wowed the LA show with it’s a big-screen interior that hints at an autonomous future. It has pulled some of its engineering talent from BMW and has offices in Germany, the U.S. and China.

Green and gas-guzzler Mercedes SUVs debut

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

Mercedes debuted its giant three-row, gas-guzzling GLS SUV  on Wednesday in New York.

Mercedes debuted its giant three-row, gas-guzzling GLS SUV on Wednesday in New York. (Photo: Daimler AG)

New York – In the age of $2.80 gas, giant fuel-guzzling SUVs are funding automakers’ investments in money-losing electric vehicles. For example, Chevy funds its Bolt EV with profits from its three-row Suburban SUV.

Same goes for Mercedes-Benz.

The German automaker on Wednesday revealed an all-new three-row Mercedes GLS SUV. It’s quite a contrast with the Mercedes EQC, a compact electric SUV that debuted at the CES technology show in January and gave Americans their first look at the brand’s new EQ electric line.

The two SUVs share little except standard all-wheel drive, a state-of-the-art MBUX infotainment system and a curb weight in excess of 5,300 pounds.

Though the three-row GLS is two vehicle sizes bigger than the EQC (which is based on the same chassis as Mercedes’ gas-powered GLC compact SUV), the EV’s 80-kWh batteries are a boat anchor bringing its weight on par with its big brother.

The EQC is the first entry in a new brand of Mercedes SUVs, just as BMW has introduced an i-line of electric cars and Volvo has started a Polestar EV line. For New York, Mercedes is showing a special edition EQC 1886 – a reference to Karl Benz’s first three-wheel vehicle in 1886. The special edition is loaded with luxury details.

Unlike competing SUV EVs like the Audi e-Tron or Tesla Model X, Mercedes has not made a new “skateboard” chassis for the EQC, but adapted an existing SUV chassis. As a result, the Mercedes is quick to 60 in under 5 seconds but lacks its competitors’ lower center of gravity for nimbler handling.

The giant GLS, which originally debuted in 2006 and is made in Alabama for the American market, makes a nod toward electrification by introducing a 48-volt system for both its turbo V-6 and V-8 engines. The system helps with fuel efficiency, smooths the drivetrain and allows for a power boost of up to 21 horsepower when desired.

Even at an estimated 20 mpg fuel economy, however, the GLS will go much farther than the EQC on a tank of fuel thanks to its mammoth 26-gallon fuel tank. The GLS will drive 500 miles on a tank while the EQC will get an estimated 200 miles on a charge. Final EPA numbers will be disclosed as the GLS comes to market later this year and the EQC debuts in 2020.

The big GLS is based on a unibody chassis unlike truck-based three-row competitors like the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator. Its third row is no less roomy, though. The rear seats are also heated and are equipped with USB ports (the SUV has nine in all).

MBUX enables speech recognition command by simply introducing yourself to the system — “Hey, Mercedes” and then telling it what you want. The system first appeared on the entry-level A-class sedan and has migrated upward to its expensive SUVs.

Such amenities are common in the imposing SUV which will likely start in the mid-$60,000 range but top out north of $100,000 if you want to option the V-8 engine and other amenities.

Those amenities include optional second-row captains chairs over the standard bench seat. The second-row thrones get their own tablet for controlling cabin features.

The standard all-wheel drive system is mated to the 362-horse, 3.0-liter turbo V-6 or turbo-V8 putting out 483. The GLS is equipped with safety technology like automatic braking and blind-spot assist to help it avoid trouble – or avoid causing trouble.

The big German introduces a standard Carwash mode that preps the vehicle — with the push of a button — to enter a car wash. The program sets the car in the highest riding position for maximum cleaning of wheel wells. It folds the mirrors, closes the sunroof and any open windows, and  turns off features like automatic windshield wipers when water hits the car.

At the end of the wash, the GLS will automatically deactivate these settings and drive autonomously away at 12 mph.

The GLS bears Mercedes’ familiar, imposing grille highlighted by a giant, three-pointed star logo.

As an electric vehicle that doesn’t need air for a radiator, the EQC’s grille is put to a different use: styling.

The logo lights up – complementing a wide LED light that connects the two headlights and fames the deep, black grille. The grille shield looks more Honda than Mercedes and is the signature for Mercedes’ new EQ line.

Times are a-changing.

Jaguar returns to its roots with 2020 XE performance sedan

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

The Jaguar XE is refreshed, luxurious and eager to remind you that the Brit brand still makes fast rear-wheel drive cars.

The Jaguar XE is refreshed, luxurious and eager to remind you that the Brit brand still makes fast rear-wheel drive cars. (Photo: James Lipman, jameslipman.com)

New York – The Jaguar XE is refreshed, luxurious and eager to remind you that the Brit brand still makes fast rear-wheel drive cars.

Remember Jaguar sedans? The sleek cats have, along with its growling sports cars, defined the brand for nearly a century. All that changed in 2016 when Jaguar – following Porsche’s lead with the Cayenne and Macan SUVs – translated its sporty DNA into the F-Pace ute which instantly became the hottest-selling Jaguar. By a lot.

Its 18,000-a-year sales dwarfed those of its XE, XF and XJ sedan stablemates. It led to the launch of another small ute, the E-Pace, that was based on a front-wheel-drive Range Rover Evoque, for goodness sake. When it came time for Jag to introduce an electric car, it even crafted that as a higher-riding SUV.

The athletic XE takes Jaguar back to its roots while adding significant interior and engine upgrades.

The entry-level compact sedan maintains its light, mostly aluminum platform which has won raves as one of the nimblest in the luxury jungle. The Jag is available in rear-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations driven by one of two Ingenium 2.0-liter turbo-4 engines, one making 247 horsepower and the other 297. The latter can spring from zero-60 in 5.4 seconds.

Gone from the menu are the diesel and 340-horse V-6 options.

The most notable change comes inside where the previous model was dinged for failing to match luxury-class expectation.

“The last car, frankly, we left a bit short,” says Jaguar design chief Ian Callum. “The whole interior has been retouched.”

Surrounding the monostable shifter is an optional 10-inch console screen that mimics the design found in the upscale I-Pace EV as well as SUVs from Jaguar’s sister Land Rover brand. Below the main screen is a second 5.5-inch touchscreen controlled by two fat knobs that separate climate control from the upper infotainment screen. Twin-screen systems are back in vogue these days with Audi adopting a similar layout, ditching its long-time rotary controller.

To keep the driver’s attention through the twisties, the instrument panel behind the steering wheel is 12.3 inches wide and stoked with digital information. A head-up display is also available, as are clever features like self-park-assist and a rear-view camera mirror like that innovated on the Cadillac CT6. With the flip of a switch, the mirror can toggle between reflective and camera views.

At the driver’s fingertips, a rotary shifter has been replaced by monostable device familiar to the F-Type sports car. Like the F-Type, the XE will only be available with an 8-speed automatic transmission.

All this tech is wrapped in more luxurious materials than before including new door handles and standard leather seats.

Befitting the Jaguar’s sleek, purposeful exterior design, wardrobe changes are small. The grille has been widened up front and the headlamps and air intakes leaned to give the car a more athletic stance.

“The new Jaguar XE is all about building on the undeniable sporting proportions of the original car,” says designer Callum. “We’ve given the car much bolder graphics and more visual width, planting it in a way which really illustrates its dynamic intent.”

The XE will go on sale this summer. Right next to the brand’s SUVs.

Payne: Ford offers affordable, high-performance 2020 Mustang

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

Ford debuted the Ford Mustang Ecoboost High Performance to media at the Cork &  Gabel restaurant in Corktown across from Ford's new train station tech building.

Ford debuted the Ford Mustang Ecoboost High Performance to media at the Cork & Gabel restaurant in Corktown across from Ford’s new train station tech building.  (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

The passionate heart of the Ford Focus RS is still beating. It’s under the hood of a Mustang.

Ford Motor Co. unveiled its first, turbo-4 cylinder-powered performance Mustang Monday to complement its lineup of V8-powered beasts like the GT Performance Pack, GT350 and GT500. Called the Ford Mustang EcoBoost High Performance, the entry-level pony resurrects the ferocious, 2.3-liter mill from the discontinued RS — a victim of Ford’s exit from sedan segments.

Armored with aerodynamic tools like a front splitter and rear aerofoil, gummy tires from Pirelli, and bigger brakes, the EcoBoost High Performance will be priced well below the retired, $41,000 Focus RS (not to mention the GT Performance Pack which can easily run north of $45,000) when it hits dealers this fall.

“At the heart of this Mustang is the engine,” smiles Mustang Vehicle Product Manager Tom Barnes. “This is really a fun car to drive. It’s for the guys who like to so the same thing that RS customers do.”

Mustang sales left its crosstown, Chevy Camaro rival in the dust last year, 75,842 units to 50,963. Mustang sees a chance to pick off even more buyers with its new performance model.

The new pony is aimed squarely at the Chevy Camaro 1LE, a similarly-styled muscle car powered by a 275-horse, turbo-4. Since their recent upgrades to more athletic chassis, Mustang and Camaro have been in an expensive arms race to produce the fastest track weapon with Mustang’s 700-plus horse, $70,000 GT500 due later this year to battle the $70,000, 650-horse ZL1.

The Camaro 1LE and EcoBoost High Performance take the war to a more affordable battlefield.

Ford engineers say the new model came together quickly in the last year in order to make Mustang’s 55th birthday this week (the car debuted on April 17, 1964 at the World’s Fair). Reminiscent of the gen-one Mustang’s development six decades ago, the car began as a five-person skunkworks project in the Ford Performance garage.

You’ll know it by its unique grille, black “hood whisker” stripes, 2.3-liter side badge, and wicked black wheels.

Mated to either a 10-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission, the RS engine is not only more powerful than the Camaro, but offers entry-level Mustang buyers a second engine choice above the standard, 310-horse 4-banger. Built in Valencia, Spain, it has been spun around from the front-wheel-drive, Focus application to fit the Mustang’s longitudinal, rear-wheel-drive demands.

Where the AWD RS put down 350 horsepower/350 pound-feet of torque the Mustang version will pump out 330 horses and the same torque through the rears. Expect the new model to be 300 pounds lighter than a V-8-powered ‘Stang — but about 100 pounds more than an RS.

“The lighter weight up front really makes this car turn in quickly,” says Mustang and Ford Performance Chief Engineer Carl Widmann, who says the EcoBoost High Performance straps on an engine brace for added stiffening.

Sticky, 19-inch Pirelli rubber will aid that turn-in. Mustang contracts with the Italian tiremaker for its turbo-4 cars and Michelin for its V-8s. A sprint to 60 mph will blow by in about 4.5 seconds — arriving a half-second quicker than the standard ‘Stang. Top speed? 155 — 34 mph quicker than the base car.

For those who want more, options abound. The EcoBoost High Performance will come in coupe and convertible trims. Coupe buyers can also opt for an EcoBoost Handling Package which adds wider tires, MagneRide shocks, limited-slip rear differential and stiffer sway bars.

Interior options include a digital tachometer, leather seats, and bigger infotainment screen that will run the latest version of SYNC 3 as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Four new colors are available including Grabber Lime, Iconic Silver, Red Hot Metallic, and Twister Orange.

Mustang sales have been split 50-50 between V-8 and turbo-4 engines, but the quieter 4 hasn’t gained the sex appeal of the V-8 with its baritone exhaust and storied racing history. The EcoBoost High Performance may change that with its more aggressive engine note and gurgling backwash.

Look for the new pony in Ford’s New York autos show corral this week. It will be dressed in Velocity Blue.

NYC show: Goodbye mid-size Cadillac CTS, hello compact CT5

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 - shown here in Sport trim - will compete against the BMW 3-series in the compact car class.

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 – shown here in Sport trim – will compete against the BMW 3-series in the compact car class. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

New York — Cadillac is shaking up its luxury sedan lineup by taking its mid-size car down market.

General Motors Co.’s luxury brand is replacing its CTS sedan with a similarly sized compact car aimed squarely at the German trio of BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4. Badged the CT5, the new Caddy was unveiled Tuesday ahead of its appearance at this week’s New York auto show.

Pricing will likely be thousands of dollars less than the current CTS while retaining its mid-sized proportions and adding exotic technologies like the Super Cruise limited hands-free driving system also found on Cadillac’s large CT6 sedan. With all-new skin, interior and engines, the 2020 Cadillac CT5 marks a bold re-positioning of GM’s luxury maker to take on its compact German competition with a bigger, more luxurious car than the current ATS.

The ATS replacement expected later this year — the CT4 — also will likely go down-market against subcompact luxury cars like the BMW M2 and Mercedes A-class. Its small-for-compacts rear seat should be more competitive in that class.

“The first-ever Cadillac CT5 showcases Cadillac’s unique expertise in crafting American luxury sedans,” said Cadillac President Steve Carlisle, who has re-established the brand’s headquarters in Metro Detroit from New York City. “Its details elevate every drive and reward the senses.”

The CTS badge is retiring after nearly two decades as Cadillac’s premier sedan — a model that set a new, 21st-century course for the tired brand by introducing the angular Art & Science design language.

The CT5 will contrast most notably from the CTS in its console and grille designs. The console sheds the CTS’ controversial, haptic-touch Cadillac User Experience for an all-new system introduced earlier this year on the XT6 mid-size SUV. The new CUE system enables users to choose from multiple controllers.

“We want to be a class-leading user interface,” said Cadillac Chief Designer Andrew Smith. “We made the most logical system so that customers get to choose how to use it: by voice, rotary dial, or touch.”

The sophisticated console complements a cabin lush with natural materials and optional tech features pioneered by Cadillac like a head-up display and Super Cruise — technology that allows hands-free highway driving while the car monitors the driver via steering-wheel-mounted sensors.

Outside, the CT5’s front fascia and racy fastback distinguish it as a CTS successor. The narrow, LED headlights are integrated with the big pentagon grille while the brand’s signature, vertical running lights frame the fascia. The grille can be had in chrome for the Premium Luxury models or black for the Sport model — the two trims available above the base Luxury model on Cadillac’s new “Y-trim” strategy. A Platinum package available on both.

The CT5 is four inches shorter than the CTS, which gives it a more coupe-like appearance in the rear. But the 116-inch wheelbase actually expands by two inches, bringing mid-size rear legroom to the compact class.

“This is a vehicle I’ve really been wanting to show you,” smiled Smith. “We wanted to make a car that looks like it drives.”

To that end the CT5 still will be based on the athletic, rear-wheel-drive-based Alpha platform that has undergirded the CTS and ATS. But in addition to its new wardrobe, it will also get a remade suspension and engine lineup to compete against its nimble class rivals. Cadillac engineers took the CT5 to race tracks including Virginia International Raceway, Colorado’s high Plains Raceway, and GM’s epic Milford facility.

The multi-link front and five-link rear suspension get new bushings, springs and dampers. The Sport model gets performance Brembo brakes. The CT5 features four drive modes standard on both RWD and all-wheel-drive models.

The compact Caddy debuts an all-turbo engine lineup with a standard, 2.0-liter turbo-4 making 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, while a bigger, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 will crank out 335 ponies and 400 pound-feet of torque. The torque numbers — when translated to Newton meters of torque (a nod to Cadillac’s coming wave of electric vehicles) — will distinguish the two cars with a trunk badge.

Befitting the CT5’s downsizing to the compact class, both engines get less power than current CTS offerings — and will likely gain in fuel economy when EPA figures are finalized as the car approaches its fourth quarter sale date. No electrified powertrain has been announced — nor is there evidence yet of a V-sport performance variant to replace the Corvette-powered, supercharged CTS-V.

Both engines will be married to GM’s 10-speed automatic transmission. The CT5 will be built in Lansing. It will be on public display here at the New York show April 19-28 and will be available to order this fall.

Despite an overall industry decline in luxury compact sales of 15 percent in 2018, Cadillac Marketing Chief Jason Sledjewski says sedans like the CT5 remain important: “Sedans are a part of our DNA. They move consumers into our brand.”

Mid-engine, camou Corvette takes Times Square by storm, debuts July 18

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 12, 2019

Chevrolet Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra drive in a camouflaged next generation Corvette down 7th Avenue near Times Square Thursday, April 11, 2019 in New York City.

The worst-kept secret in autodom is out.

The veil was lifted Thursday night when General Motors Co. confirmed the existence of its long-rumored mid-engine Corvette by driving it through the most public place on the planet — Times Square, New York.

With Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter behind the wheel and GM CEO Mary Barra riding shotgun, the thinly-camouflaged C8 stopped traffic at 7th Avenue & Broadway on the way to the Marriott Marquis Hotel where Barra publicly confirmed the next-generation Corvette.

The mid-engine supercar will officially break cover, sans camou, on July 18 at a yet-to-be-disclosed event.

The first production Corvette to sport an engine mounted behind the driver, the new, so-called C8  ‘Vette (for eighth generation) will debut with the legendary Stingray badge and around 500-horsepower from a push-rod V-8 engine. More engine variations are expected including a twin-turbo V-8 and even a hybrid version with an electric motor up front producing over 1,000 horsepower.

The C8’s Times Square debut was carefully choreographed to take place in the middle of New York rush hour — from 5.50-6.05 PM — and deliver Barra to the annual Footsteps to the Future Gala put on by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The foundation honors New York fireman Siller, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Juechter and Barra piloted the supercar (its 07.18.19 launch date emblazoned on the side) out of a Barclays Bank garage where it had been secreted Thursday. Accompanied by four giant, black Chevy Suburbans — and one of New York’s finest on a police bicycle — the Corvette motorcade then made its way down 7th Avenue south of 47th Street and the giant Times Square grandstand where TV stations broadcast the New Year’s ball drop.

GM had video and still cameras in place — including high in a Times Square building — to record the C8’s quick jaunt.

A bystander says Juechter behaved himself, resisting the temptation to rev the C8’s big engine for the throngs of people cramming the curbs to get a peak of the camouflaged creature.

After cruising past the Disney Store, Broadway, and a forest of neon billboards, Juechter hung a right at 45th Street (past the Minnskoff Theater where the Lion King is playing) and delivered Barra and the C8 to the Marriott’s front entrance.

A blizzard of Internet media followed.

While Barra addressed the gala, GM posted a not-so-cryptic notice on GM’s website. The company posted to customers: “Don’t get left behind. The Next Generation Corvette is the most anticipated Corvette ever. . . . Sign up to receive updates straight from the source and be the first to know about the Next Gen Corvette. “

The post was followed by GM social media posts and video of the mid-engine Corvette taking the city by storm. The icing on the cake came from GM motorhead and President Mark Reuss — long a champion of the Corvette program — who posted pictures of the C8 on his Facebook page.

Rumors of a mid-engine Corvette have been around for years as the current car pushed the boundaries of front-engine performance — and competitors like Ford and Acura moved to mid-engine platforms. The Detroit News first confirmed the existence of the mid-engine car in August of 2016, and spy photographers have taken multiple shots of the car testing on race tracks and roadways around the U.S.

When the car missed its expected debut at the Detroit Auto Show this January, reports surfaced of program delays caused by electrical gremlins as well as chassis-twisting issues. When Reuss was photographed riding in a thinly-disguised, mid-engine Corvette in Arizona this winter, speculation as to when the car would debut reached fever pitch.

The program is under deadline pressures beyond a rabid fan base waiting to buy it. The C8 brings significant advantages on the race track — the current front-engine race car is getting long in the tooth against mid-engine competitors from Ford and Ferrari —  and Chevy is expected to debut the car for the 2020 IMSA Weathertech racing season at next January’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. The racing version of the C8 must be licensed for competition by the end of this year.

Sales of the front-engine C7 have also fallen off a cliff as customers anticipate the arrival of the next-gen car. Sources expect the C8 will be priced a few thousand dollars more than the current gen.

Along with breaking GM’s silence on the C8, Barra announced at the Marriott charity gala that the final front-engine C7 (a black, 650-horse Z06 model) will be auctioned at Barrett-Jackson in Connecticut on June 28 — and all proceeds would go to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

“GM, GMC and Chevrolet support the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and its commitment to injured and fallen military members, first responders and their families,” said Barra. “The sale of this iconic Corvette will help the foundation continue its good work, and pave the way for the next-generation Corvette that we will introduce on July 18.”

Jeep mega-brand transforms Fiat Chrysler’s future

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 12, 2019

2019 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon2019 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon (Photo: FCA US LLC, © 2018 FCA US LLC)

The Detroit auto industry is undergoing historic change as General Motors and Ford place big bets on the future of mobility with bold investments in autonomous and electric vehicles.

But perhaps the most fundamental change in Detroit is coming from the smallest of the Big Three, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, where a new Jeep mega-brand has emerged to put the company on its firmest footing in decades.

Traditionally the most fragile of the home automakers, the now Italian-owned company has needed transfusion from the U.S. government twice in the last 40 years as its volume Chrysler and Dodge brands struggled to stay afloat in a market besieged by cheaper, more reliable Japanese imports.

That has changed dramatically this decade as Jeep has emerged as the company’s volume brand and Chrysler and Dodge have faded to niche status. Indeed, Jeep was the badge that kick-started the SUV revolution three decades ago. Today, it is not only considered the pre-eminent utility brand with the highest transaction prices in segment, it is one of the most recognized brands in the world.

“The foresight that the leadership team had five or six years ago was genius,” says Jeep North America chief Scott Tallon. “It was the right time to make those decisions and let them develop, and we have been very fortunate and we will stay hungry in the marketplace.”

Significantly, this brand-build has been the focus of Fiat Chrysler’s expansion efforts – not autonomy or electrification, like its Detroit peers.

FCA CEO Mike Manley says Jeep is committed to offering autonomous and electric features in its vehicles by 2021, but it is not on the expensive, technological frontier with new brands and platforms like GM (GM Cruise/new EV platform). It appears content, instead, to partner with other companies (Waymo) on autonomy while offering hybrids on existing gas-powered platforms.

Jeep sales numbers tell the story.

As Chevy and Ford retrench — eliminating sedans and closing factories — Jeep is actually expanding into two new high-volume segments and building a new Detroit factory. This spring, Jeep enters the midsize pickup market with the Gladiator, a formidable truck based on the iconic Wrangler SUV — but with significant bed and towing capability. And Jeep will also soon go head-to-head against its Detroit rivals in the super-sized, three-row SUV market with the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

This continues Jeep’s rapid transformation into Fiat Chrysler’s volume brand with sales of nearly 1 million units in 2018, up from just 441,000 15 years ago.

Internationally, Jeep sales have soared to over 1.5 million. FCA CEO – and former Jeep boss – Mike Manley is bullish about Jeep’s position.

“We believe (IHS Markit’s) global industry forecast for 2022 of 37 million,” he told investors last year. “By 2022 we are targeting one Jeep sale for every 12 UVs sold in the world with a future vision of one in five. That compares to 1 in 23 in 2009.”

So rapid is Jeep growth in Europe that it announced a deal with Tesla this week to offset the emissions from its red-hot SUV sales.

Compare apples-to-apples sales of the Chevy and Jeep brands in 2018, and the numbers were very close. Remove pickup trucks (Jeep didn’t sell any) and the three sedans that Chevy is discontinuing (Cruze, Impala and Volt), and Chevy sold a total 974,105 sedans and SUVs in 2018. Jeep sold 973,227 SUVs.

“Our clear mission is to be a full-line SUV brand and expand into segments where it makes sense for Jeep,” says Tallon. “And pickups are a natural extension.”

Veteran Wall Street analyst Joe Philippi of Auto Trends Consulting says that the sky is the limit for Jeep, given its rare status as a brand that appeals to mainstream and premium buyers alike.

“FCA is just starting to leverage the Jeep brand,” he says. “(Ex-CEO Sergio Marchionne) and Manley worked behind the curtain to push the organization to broaden Jeep’s portfolio. Sergio always had a soft spot in his heart for Jeep. He understood what the brand meant.”

Given the brand’s strength, Phillippi also believes that Jeep and Fiat Chrysler don’t need to invest in EVs the way GM and Ford are doing. He says that EVs will become viable when batteries become a  reliable propulsion source.

“When that opportunity comes, then Jeep has the brand strength to develop an EV platform,” the analyst says. “They can let the other guys spend the money on developing battery tech.”

With Jeep still an SUV brand, Fiat Chrysler is vulnerable should the market shift back to sedans as it did in the 2009 Great Recession. But most auto analysts — as well as companies’ internal predictions — see a permanent shift to SUVs as well as long-term, stable, cheap energy prices.

If that’s the case, says Phillippi, then Fiat Chrysler has another ace up its sleeve with Ram, which has been expanding its truck market share as well as its brand cred.

“With Jeep and Ram as their volume vehicles, FCA is more valuable than ever,” he says. “And they are in apposition to expand Ram as and SUV brand just as GM has done with its GMC truck brand.”

Payne: Mazda 3 hatch has the looks and moves

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 12, 2019

Modern meets classic. The 2019 Mazda 3 shows off its sleek, 21st-century lines in front of a classic from the last century. Photo taken in front of the Sacramento Auto Museum.

Modern meets classic. The 2019 Mazda 3 shows off its sleek, 21st-century lines in front of a classic from the last century. Photo taken in front of the Sacramento Auto Museum. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

In the middle of the New York auto show floor each year sits the exotic car stand featuring the latest from storied makes like Lamborghini, Bentley, Bugatti and Koenigsegg. It’s hard to notice anything else nearby.

Yet Mazda, with its stunning Kai Concept, managed to compete

This luscious, candy-red hatchback was a show-stopper. I didn’t know whether to stare at it or lick it. Like the Cadillac Escala or Buick Avista concepts, the Kai Concept design study signaled the Mazda’s future. But it was hard to believe this work of art could become a $25,000 production car.

Believe it.

The 2019 Mazda 3 is now on dealer lots and is the Kai Concept incarnate save for larger mirrors and smaller wheels. Wrapped in Soul Red, it’s the most stunning hatch the segment has seen. From its long hood to curvaceous rump, it looks like a Mazda compact and a Mercedes GT Coupe had a love child.

With a driver-focused interior, all-wheel drive and manual-box option, the Mazda 3 hatch is just an engine away from enthusiast nirvana.

Not that the 186-horsepower four-banger is a deal-breaker. Smooth and quiet, it lacks the 200-plus horsepower turbo option of some segment competitors. But passing up the Mazda 3 over a turbo is like complaining that Carrie Underwood can’t play a Wurlitzer organ.

It arrives at a time when the sedan segment has fallen out of favor in SUV nation. Ford, Chevy and Chrysler have all pulled out of the compact segment.

Mazda is all-in with the new 3. It’s about the joy of driving. It’s a bright-yellow detour sign off the road to autonomy.

With this fourth-generation compact, Mazda continues like fellow performance brand Volkswagen to split its compact offerings between sedan and hatch. V-dub badges its sedan (Jetta) and hatchback (Golf) separately. Not Mazda. But the four-door and five-door invite different customers.

So different are their exteriors that they only share a hood. The sedan’s nice, but — as readers know — I’m a hatchaholic.

Jumping into the 3 hatch (3 stands for the number of laps you’ll make around this lovely creature before getting in) in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, I enjoyed the car as much inside as outside. The steering wheel is planted, the body controlled, the six-speed tranny like butter.

It begs to be pushed. Pushed to the point that you ask if there’s more under the hood. It’s a question Mazda won’t answer for now.

My favorite car in the segment, the turbocharged 220-horse VW Golf GTI, is not threatened here. Yet.

Though its minimalist good looks, alluring interior and athletic handling appeal to the same customer as the GTI, Mazda stops short of offering a GTI challenger even though it has the tool in the toolbox to do it: Mazda’s 2.5-liter turbo-four that produces 310 pound-feet of torque and 250-horsepower.

But the 3 still has plenty to tempt buyers.

For example, the 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder that does come standard produces 186 horses and 185 pound-feet of torque. And it blows away every other standard engine in the segment, including Golf — all the while getting good fuel economy (34.7 mpg under my lead foot). Its stylish looks are for all Ford Fiesta and Focus refugees who are aching for an aesthetically pleasing hatch.

There’s not just hatchback utility, but an all-wheel drive system that expands Mazda’s demographic into all-season Middle America. The system is good. Very good. I flogged it around a mountain snow course like a Finnish rally driver, the 3 never putting a foot wrong.

The AWD play is a bold challenge to Subaru’s exclusivity in segment. But the Mazda is a more premium animal than the Impreza while offering similar standard features.

The minimalist, sculpted interior is luxury-class. There is a strong whiff of Alfa Romeo Giulia here, from sweeping horizontal dash lines to analog gauges to remote-rotary-operated info screen. There’s even a delicious Alfa-red interior option.

The ergonomic detail is obsessive. It comes from a development team that studied Princeton psychologist George Miller’s cognitive learning theories about short-term memory in order to assist the 3’s ergonomics.

The 3 hatch is easy to build. Starting at $24,495 (the sedan begins at $21,895) the car comes standard with 8.8-inch screen, push-button start, 18-inch wheels, leatherette seats, adaptive cruise-control and blind-spot assist.

You’ll appreciate that last feature because the hatch’s racy C-pillar could hide New Hampshire. It’s huge.

Like its Mazda 6 and CX-5 siblings about which I’ve raved, 3 comes with i-Activsense, an instrument-display-based graphic that constantly informs you of other vehicles around your car. Innovated by Tesla, Mazda has made this tech its own.

Still, this is where 3 customers might depart from the hatch. Stunning outside, it might not be comfortable for drivers who have to spend a lot of time in traffic — and rear-seat passengers might pine for more sunlight.

Add AWD to your hatch for more grip and Soul Red paint for curb appeal and you’ll be the envy of the block for just $26,490 — competitive with an Impreza but with more everything. Heck, you’ll wonder why people bother to buy a similarly equipped $40,000 AWD Audi A3.

Forget adding a navigation system — phone apps are better. Mazda’s generous center console allows plenty of room to stow your phone and hook in to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto — and the standard 8.8-inch display offers good graphics.

That knee in your back is your rear passengers again — 6-footers cramped relative to, say, a roomy Golf or Civic. But they’ll be reassured by the 3’s well-engineered ride dynamics and quieted cabin.

Credit more attention to detail as the 3’s engineering team calked all the gaps from the previous gen car. The four isn’t buzzy at high revs, but makes a nice warm growl under acceleration.

Dude, you ask, every Mazda is spawn of the Miata sports car — so where’s the manual shifter?

Smartly, Mazda has packaged it with the 3’s premium trim, recognizing manuals are no longer a value play but a feature craved by enthusiasts. Thus equipped, a premium manual (available with FWD only) will set you back $28,395 — competitive with a manual GTI.

And if Mazda sells enough of them — and picks up sales from those suffering Cruze and Focus hatchback customers — the business case for an AWD manual with 250-horsepower would be irresistible.

That would be a sight next to the exotics at the New York show.

2019 Mazda 3

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

Price: $21,895 base sedan, $24,495 for hatchback, including $895 destination fee ($30,390 Premium, AWD hatchback as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter, inline-4 cylinder

Power: 186 horsepower; 185 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic, 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.9 seconds (Car and Driver est., AWD); top speed: 130 mph

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

Fuel economy: EPA 26 city/35 highway/30 combined (FWD auto); 25 city/35 highway/29 combined (FWD manual); 24 city/32 highway/27 combined (AWD auto, as tested)

Report card

Highs: The cure for the common compact; premium interior

Lows: Blind spot the size of New Hampshire; 250-horse turbo-4, please?

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Jeep Gladiator jacked to the Maximus

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 10, 2019

With locking front and rear differentials and detachable swaybars, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon can go just about anywhere.

With locking front and rear differentials and detachable swaybars, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon can go just about anywhere. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

The fully armored Jeep Gladiator pickup truck has stepped into the Colosseum, and it’s ready to rumble.

If you Google “Gladiator,” the Jeep pickup and the Russell Crowe movie from 2000  dominate the results. That’s appropriate.

Both were wildly anticipated blockbusters from charismatic directors (Ridley Scott and Sergio Marchionne). Both feature buff, rugged stars (Crowe, Rubicon Jeep trim). And both lead characters are real softies inside.

Before we ogle the Gladiator’s impressive biceps, pecs and glutes, behold the interior of this off-road general. Jeep’s pickup is based on another legendary warrior, the Jeep Wrangler. Tough enough to plow through walls, the World War II forged Wrangler has always had swagger, but owners had to suffer its spartan interior. This was a vehicle that was born to carry a rear-seat machine gun after all.

That all changed last year with the fourth-gen Wrangler.

Credit interior designer Chris Benjamin. He arrived at Jeep after years building European luxury suites for BMW, Mercedes and Volvo. His team understands that Jeep is the rare brand that hangs out at the intersection of Rodeo Drive and Main Street with appeal to luxury and mainstream buyers alike.

Jumping into the 21st century with all four tires, the Wrangler gained interior quiet, rear-seat heating and air-conditioning controls, and state-of-the-art electronics while maintaining signature touches like dashboard “oh-crap-we’re-going-over-a-20-degree-rocky-incline!” handle and door nets.

The Gladiator inherits all that and more. This is the Wrangler with a truck bed that enthusiasts have been pining for.

It touts the best interior in a segment where interiors have been an afterthought.

“It’s a truck, it gets dirty,” has been the stock line for midsize pickup interiors. Sure, class leaders like Toyota, Chevy and Ford have introduced modern trucks with high-fidelity infotainment systems and digital dials, but they’ve been surrounded by acres of uninspired plastic (the exception to the rule is Honda’s unibody-based Ridgeline).

The Jeep makes budget with plastic materials, too, but they blend in with careful details like aviator vents, metal-plated bezels and meaty dials. This is an interior you’ll enjoy riding in every day.

Behind the captain’s quarters the ship gets really interesting. Gladiator remakes the Wrangler aft of the B-pillar. The wheelbase gets stretched to a nearly Ram 1500-like 137 inches to accommodate the biggest back seat in segment. The 60-inch steel bed sports easy access and a two-step tailgate drop. The rear axles are pushed back to allow a 25-inch departure angle so I didn’t drag the tailgate down off-road inclines. Which is where Jeeps are happiest.

My 6-foot-5 basketball player’s frame had more room in the back seat than in Delta first class. That seat is a skybox for the Gladiator’s off-road games like my foray into the wilds east of Sacramento. Normal-size humans will appreciate the assist from door-mounted grab handles, since the Gladiator rises nearly a foot off the ground.

Despite its size, the pickup loses none of the Wrangler’s capability or open-air attributes — which women dig as much as guys.

A female friend recently bought a Grand Cherokee SUV and was instantly the star of the playground set.

“My mom got a Jeep!” her kids sang as they piled out of the four-door ute at school. If Mom buys a Gladiator, she’ll be over-run by playground paparazzi. And she won’t lose any utility, as the pickup’s back seat is as big as the Grand Cherokee.

“Want it,” was all an outdoorsy pal responded when I posted Instagram pictures of the Gladiator devouring a mud-choked California off-road trail in the pouring rain.

Jeep has more brand equity than anything this side of Nike, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles milks it for all it’s worth. Loaded with mud-caked swagger, the Gladiator is pricey compared to comparable midsize competitors.

The base Gladiator Sport begins at a lofty $35,040.

Armed with a big seven-slot grille (for heavier breathing during towing and payload duties), the pickup comes with signature plastic fenders, removable roof and doors, double cab, 32-inch tires and a 4×4 system that can climb Mount Rushmore (which should make the family vacation interesting).

 

Throw in useful tech packages for blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise-control and infotainment, and you’ll have a $43,000 Sport pickup that can go anywhere, any season. And it has a best-in-class 1,600-pound bed capacity and and can tow 6,000 pounds (equipped with trailer package, the Sport can tow up to 7,650 pounds).

That’s a couple-grand more expensive than competitive Ford Rangers, Chevy Colorados and Toyota Tacomas. Jeep figures you’ll pay the premium for capability – and because you yearn for the kids’ playground approval.

Roaring into the Colosseum priced just shy of the Gladiator Sport is a Ranger with FX4 off-road package. Unsheathe your swords, warriors!

The $41,000 Ford has similar tow and payload numbers while swinging state-of-the-art technology like auto-crawl mode and self-park (useful when you have a long bed out back). Lower than Gladiator, it’s more athletic on road — and its FX4 bash plates make it a credible off-roader, too.

King of the outback, the Gladiator makes a surprisingly good showing on asphalt thanks to its brother, the Ram 1500. The best-handling light-duty pickup, the Ram shares its coil-over, multi-link suspension tricks with the Gladiator. How’s that for sibling hand-me-downs?

Climb the price ladder and Jeep has no peer.

I tested a loaded $50,000 Overland tester ($40,000 base) with blacked-out wheels, body-colored aluminum fenders and roof, and two-tone interior that belongs on stage if it didn’t work so well in mud. It’s a knockout. Unlike the Ranger and its nifty rotary-shifter, Jeep insists on its signature stick mode-selector that sometimes requires the muscle of a — well, Gladiator — to yank into four-wheel-low.

Turn off the traction control, and the little truck slices through gravelly mud ruts like a Roman sword through butter.

Then there’s the peerless Rubicon starting at $43,545. With its extreme 43-degree departure angle and detachable sway-bars and ability to wade through 30 inches of water, the Gladiator Rubicon can go anywhere a Wrangler can. But if you want to throw a couple dirt bikes in the back for off-roading, only the pickup will get you there. The Gladiator Rubicon starts at two-grand north of the Wrangler.

With a spare tire under the bed, throaty 285-horse V-6 and 200 available Mopar mod options, Gladiator should do very well at the box office. One more thing it has in common with its Hollywood namesake.

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.

 

2020 Jeep Gladiator

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

Price: Base price $35,040 including $1,495 destination charge ($43,685 Sport S model, $53,380 Overland, and $57,615 Rubicon as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 285 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic; 6-speed manual

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

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

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

Report card

Highs: Hits all the rugged Jeep benchmarks; friendly interior

Lows:No rear-wheel-drive option; $1,495 destination adds to already pricey truck

Overall: 4 stars

All-new, sporty 2020 Ford Escape debuts

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 10, 2019

The is the new 2020 Ford Escape.

Ford took the wraps off an all-new 2020 Escape compact crossover today as the brand ditches sedans and looks to a lineup anchored by SUVs and trucks.

The sporty, lean Escape — the second-best selling Ford after the Ford F-150 — has a lot riding on its sleek back.

It will do battle in the auto industry’s biggest segment against the best-selling Japanese trio of the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Honda CR-V – while also trying to attract customers orphaned by the retirement of Ford’s Fusion, Focus and Taurus sedans.

To accomplish these tasks, Ford brings the most versatile Escape yet. The 2020 model features a long list of technology and engine options — including a hybrid and plug-in option -— that has been the Escape’s calling card over four generations. But this Escape also expands its envelope with fetching good looks and interior volume.

The new model has a lower belt-line than the outgoing ute with a sloping, shark-like nose that evokes the premium Porsche Macan SUV. The headlights are level with the hood-line (water-line in Ford parlance), and the Mustang-inspired trapezoidal grille is slung low. Longer, wider, lower, and 200-pounds lighter, the new Escape has a noticeably more athletic presence.

“Like a cat ready to pounce,” designer George Bucca says of an SUV that will boast best-in-class drag coefficient.

The Escape’s more athletic look will share the compact SUV space with a boxier, more off road-capable Ford SUV due in the 2021 model year. The as-yet unnamed model will be built on the same front-wheel drive platform as Escape but be more geared for true off-road capability.

With a lower center of gravity than the outgoing Escape, the new ute should have more sedan-like handling.

“This new vehicle performs like no other Escape before,” says Escape chief engineer Jim Hughes. “It’s quick and a lot of fun to drive.”

Yet, despite its lower-by-a-half-inch-stance, the Ford has more room inside. The new architecture allowed engineers to scallop out more headroom, and rear seats can slide like the front buckets – opening up a whopping 6 more inches of legroom nearly on par with a full-size Expedition SUV. The back seat will be roomiest in class.

Cargo room expands to 37.5 cubic feet. Four passengers can stuff four golf bags in the back for a day at the links. Up front, the Ford’s rotary shifter and SYNC 3 infotainment system will be familiar to Ford customers – but the console space is more generous than before, offering cubby space for phones and French fries alike.

Since it debuted over two decades ago as a 1995 model, the Escape has watched its competitive set grow from six to 22 vehicles, with Japanese and Korean offerings coming loaded with standard features. Ford rises to the task with standard CoPilot 360 (which debuted on the Ford Edge last fall) that includes blind-spot assist, automatic braking and automatic high-beams. Wi-Fi connectivity for up to 10 devices is also standard (which is five more than the number of people that can fit in the Escape).

An available park-assist feature is a reminder of the Escape’s pioneering history that included the first kick-open tailgate and first small SUV hybrid option. Active Park Assist 2.0 allows drivers to automatically parallel or perpendicular park with the simple touch of a button — without having to engage the steering wheel or brake.

For 2020, the hybrid returns (after disappearing since 2012) along with a buffet of turbocharged (Ecoboost) and electric options. The battery-gas engine setup will include a 2.5-liter mill with up to 40 mpg, 550 miles of range and 3,500 pounds of towing capability.

Engine firsts include a standard three-cylinder engine, a 1.5-liter turbo-4 with 180 horsepower, and a plug-in hybrid that can travel more than 30 miles on battery alone – over 50 percent better than the retiring Fusion Energi plug-in sedan.

A fourth powertrain option, available in top-trim models, will be a peppy 250-horse, 2.0-liter turbo-4 capable of accelerating from zero-60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. A carryover from the last generation, it gains 5 horsepower and is tow-rated for 3,500 pounds. All engines are mated to an 8-speed tranny and are available in front-or-all wheel drive.

The new front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive platform is one of five platforms that will gird Ford going forward. The other four are rear-wheel drive (Mustang), van, body-on-frame (trucks) and battery-electric. The platforms, according to Ford, will share 70 percent of their parts for cost efficiency.

The 2020 Escape (and its future off-road segment mate) slots between the entry-level EcoSport and midsize three-row Explorer in Ford’s SUV lineup. It will make its auto show debut in New York City later this month and will be available for media reviews shortly thereafter.

The Escape is assembled in Louisville and arrives at dealerships this fall.

Payne: Jeep Gladiator pickup lives up to its hype

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 2, 2019

King of the Hill. The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is the most capable off-road pickup. Starting at about $35k, it has best-in-class 4x4 towing and payload.

King of the Hill. The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is the most capable off-road pickup. Starting at about $35k, it has best-in-class 4×4 towing and payload. (Photo: FCA US LLC)

One of the year’s most anticipated vehicles, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, opened to media reviews this week, and the midsize pickup lives up to its hype.

The Detroit News spent a day at the helm of the mighty pickup and will have a full review in Thursday’s Drive section. But with the embargo for drive impressions and pricing lifted this weekend, we couldn’t help but spill some of our initial thoughts on the vehicle, which arrives on dealer lots in May or June.

In our 100-mile-plus adventure from the chilly streets of Sacramento to the rocky, rain-soaked foothills of California’s Sierra Nevadas this week, the Gladiator made a strong case for the best all-around vehicle in its segment. Combining Jeep’s unique off-road capabilities with a longer wheelbase than brother Wrangler, the Gladiator proved nimble when rock-crawling, and comfortable when asphalt-cruising.

Those with $60,815 to invest in a fully-tricked-out Rubicon Launch Edition are rare, to be sure, but the base, $35,000 Gladiator comes loaded for bear with standard four-wheel drive, 285-horsepower V-6, and 6,000-pound-plus towing capability at a price a bit north of segment competitors like the Toyota Tacoma and Chevy Colorado.

More on that pricing. Jeep’s unique off-road tools and stylish interior – not to mention that World War II-forged seven-slot grille that has made it one of the most coveted brands this side of Apple – means buyers will pay a couple-thousand-dollar premium over competitors.

The Gladiator is based on the Wrangler’s body-on-frame platform and carries its familiar 285-horsepower V-6  (a diesel option will arrive in 2020). The pickup benefits from its iconic SUV sibling’s major update for the 2018 model year – an update that brought the Wrangler into the 21st century with modern technology, a quiet interior and properly cooled rear seats.

Cruising the byways of Sacramento in a hard-top Gladiator, it was easy to forget we were driving a pickup. A modern cabin and rear multi-link suspension inspired by the smooth-riding Ram 1500 pickup made for easy conversation and comfort. The same could be said for rear passengers.

Gladiator offers the best rear legroom in class (this 6-foot-5 reviewer lounged comfortably). That’s part of a thorough remake aft of the B-pillar that converts the Wrangler platform into a long-wheelbase, midsize pickup with a 60-inch steel box and 1,600-pound payload capability. Like class competitors, the Gladiator gets sub-rear seat storage capability – then adds locking storage for when owners strip the doors and roof for off-roading.

That open-air vibe has been a signature Wrangler attribute, and the Gladiator exports it to pickups. It’s a reminder of the huge off-road bandwidth this pickup possesses, especially when dressed in Rubicon trim with full swaybar-disconnecting suspension and bash-plated armor.

Gladiator Rubicon owners will generally use their new tool for daily commutes – or leverage its best-in-class towing and payload capacity to haul mulch or motorbikes to weekend escapes.

But to explore the Rubicon’s sizable envelope, it needs to be taken to the far corners of the United States – Nevada’s Rubicon Trail in Nevada, the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, and the twisted trails of Moab, Utah.

Before the first $35,040 entry-level Sport model is sold, Jeep is offering the exclusive Launch Edition model to order for 24 hours on Tuesday.

Buyers can then enter a contest to win a full year’s salary of $100,000. Entrants will be culled from the 4,190 buyers of the Launch Edition, which is a fully loaded Rubicon trim.

Why 4,190? To honor the (419) Toledo area-code where the rugged rig is manufactured. The special truck will only be available to order on the fourth day of this year’s fourth month (April 4) – a play on Jeep’s 4×4 capabilities.

Entrants for the $100,000 prize will be judged on their submission of a video featuring their Gladiator.

The Gladiator Launch Edition comes with an exclusive stamped tailgate, 17-inch wheels and red-stitched black-leather seats. Buyers get a choice of five colors, including Firecracker Red. Standard features include an 8.4-inch touchscreen, a nine-speaker Alpine sound system and a blizzard of safety systems.

Buyers can go online to build their Launch edition at 12:01 a.m., Jeep 4×4 day at: www.jeep.com/gladiator/launch-edition.html. Then join us at the Drive section Thursday for more impressions.

Payne: Which SUV is more Italian? Maserati Levante vs. Alfa Stelvio

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 28, 2019

Italian stallions: The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio (left) and Maserati Levante have become their brand's best-selling vehicles. But the Levante's big V-8 makes it feel more like an American muscle car than the fine-tuned Alfa.

Italian stallions: The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio (left) and Maserati Levante have become their brand’s best-selling vehicles. But the Levante’s big V-8 makes it feel more like an American muscle car than the fine-tuned Alfa.

The marriage of Italy and Detroit is producing some interesting DNA. All you have to do is look at the dashing Maserati Levante and Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUVs I’m hanging out with this week.

That’s right, Detroit, I said Maserati and Alfa SUVs.

Since the Italians bought Chrysler, the Auburn Hills family dinner table has gotten a lot bigger. Christmas dinner would be worthy of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch with Fiat Chrysler papa Mike Manley presiding.

There’s huuuuge Ram 3500 sitting next to a tiny Fiat 500: Yo, tiny, pass the cornbread.

The Chrysler minivan compares notes with the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio: OK, OK, so you can fit 505 horses under your hood, but can you fit six kids in your back seats?

Alfa and Jeep swap war stories: Mama mia, was I happy to see your great-grandfather Willys liberating Italy in ’43!

There would be ham and meatballs and potatoes and pasta and beer and wine. There would be Italian mixing with English and arguments about which cultural traditions were richer as the spirits flowed.

But for all the differences, everyone loves a five-door ute. Take the Maserati brand: The house of the Trident. The chariot raced by Fangio. The sultan of style. Its storied racing and luxury past put it in the same league as Italian brands Gucci, Prada and Versace.

Of course, saner heads prevailed. The late company chief Sergio Marchionne intervened. Engineers tore up the Jeep Levante plans and developed it off the Ghibli large sedan’s rear-wheel drive platform. Costs be damned, it must be a Maserati!

But after spending a week with the Doge of Modena, I’m struck with how American the Maserati Levante feels. Interesting, because the Alfa Stelvio feels more Italian.

Yes, this Italian-American marriage is making some interesting siblings.

While Maserati flirted with Jeep-platform cost-saving, the Alfa purposely ignored its American family from the get-go. Without Maserati’s premium brand cache in the U.S. market, the Alfa had to make a splash for its first-ever U.S. luxe-mobiles. There was no talk of chassis sharing, no parts-bin mixing. The Alfa even eschews Chrysler’s best-in-autodom touch screen for an inferior, remote-operated Italian rotary dial.

Taking the stage after Alfa’s opening act — the brilliant, rambunctious, exhaust-farting 4C sports car — the Giulia compact sedan and Stelvio SUV were introduced off the same stiff Giorgio platform and were instantly hailed as the best-handling cars in class.

I first tested the 505-horsepower Stelvio Quadrifoglio at Circuit of the America’s Formula One track in Austin, Texas — proof the world has gone completely mad for SUVs.

There I was in the Stelvio — an Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio on stilts (the two vehicles are nearly identical under the skin) — doing banzai laps on the continent’s most epic race track. Madness, I tell you. But if you’re a performance brand selling SUVs, you have to have performance versions like the Quadrifoglio. The Stelvio is no Giulia (which I first tested on California’s Sonoma Raceway), but with its nimble, quick-ratio steering it’s the best-handling premium compact ute.

The Alfa’s engine speaks with a husky Italian accent. Basically a Ferrari V-12 sawed in half, the twin-turbo V-6 barks and farts with a personality all its own. The acceleration is insane, its 3.4 seconds zero-60 quicker than a Corvette Grand Sport.

“Whoa! That’s too fast” said my motorhead friend Caroline as she mashed the Stelvio’s throttle out of a Southfield stoplight. The red whale gulped traffic like it was plankton.

You think that’s madness? Behold the bigger, mid-size Levante GTS with 550 horsepower, 538-pound feet of torque, and V-8 accent. BRAAGHAGHAGH!

I would walk out of my house and remote-start the Levante in my driveway just to hear the V-8 clear its throat like King Kong. Even muffled by twin-turbos, the V-8 baritone is so irresistible. So naughty. So … American.

Though half-a-second slower to 60 mph than the Alfa at 4.0 seconds, the Maserati felt faster. Perhaps because of its heavier 4,738-pound girth. This time Caroline deferred to me, taking the passenger seat like a soldier bracing for a cannon round.

“Do a zero-60 run!” she said.

Simulating launch-control (only the top-line Trofeo edition, not my GTS, has true electronic launch-control), I floored the brake and accelerator at the same time. Revs bounced to 3,000 rpms, then I released the Kraken. The beast exploded forward like a bullet from a Beretta. BRAGGHHHHHHHH!

The satisfying twin-turbo V-8 is actually made by Ferrari. It’s mated to a silky eight-speed transmission that fires off shifts as effortlessly as Klay Thompson fires three-balls.

Merging with authority onto interstates around town, I found it nearly impossible to keep the car at legal speeds. It’s an Italian with a Hellcat heart.

Which begs the question, why drop $121,475 for a Maserati Levante when a Hellcat-engine 707-horsepower, 3.5-second zero-60 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk (which I first tested at New Hampshire’s Club Motorsports race track, natch) costs $36,000 less?

The Maserati’s interior pales compared to, say, the corner-office-crisp, $100,000 Audi A8 I recently drove. The Levante’s cabin is more Jeep-like, sharing the Grand Cherokee’s windshield-wiper control stalk and Uconnect screen.

Buy the smoldering Italian because trident-badged grilles are irresistible. But that begs another question: If it’s an Italian-American SUV you want, what about Signore Quadrifoglio?

As a compact SUV, the $81,590 Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio is smaller than the mid-sized Levante (and Grand Cherokee for that matter), but not uncomfortable. I could still sit easily behind myself in the back seat. And it gives up only one cubic foot in cargo space.

The rotary controller is more continental. The handling tighter. The accent more Italian.

Pass the Quadrifoglio pasta, please.

Side hood vents and big rear haunches define the side view of the Maserati Levante GTS ute, Maserati's first entry in the SUV market.

Side hood vents and big rear haunches define the side view of the Maserati Levante GTS ute, Maserati’s first entry in the SUV market.

2019 Maserati Levante GTS

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

Price: $77,475 base price for V-6 Levante, including $1,495 destination fee ($138,285 V-8 GTS as tested)

Powerplant: Twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8

Power: 542 horsepower, 548 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.1 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 181 mph

Weight: 4,738 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 14 city/18 highway/15 combined (GTS as tested)

Report card

Highs: Maserati face; V-8 fury

Lows: Feels like a Jeep inside; megabuck price tag

Overall: 3 stars

 
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is the Italian brand's first five-door SUV.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is the Italian brand’s first five-door SUV.

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

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

Price: $41,590 base Stelvio turbo-4, including $1,595 destination fee ($84,390 Quadrifoglio as tested)

Powerplant: Twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V-6

Power: 505 horsepower; 443 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.4 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 176 mph

Weight: 4,360 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA: 17 city/23 highway/19 combined

Report card

Highs: Giulia handling on stilts, Italian vibe inside and out

Lows: Jeep has a better infotainment system; awkward paddle shifters

Overall: 4 stars

Elusive Chevy Corvette C8 starts to come into the open

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 22, 2019

The debut of the mid-engine Corvette C8  has been postponed several times, due primarily to electrical problems, sources say.

The mid-engine Chevy Corvette C8 is the auto industry’s Bigfoot: lots of sightings in the wild, but no confirmation as to when it will be officially revealed.

The 2019 Detroit auto show? Came and went. A springtime reveal at an exotic location? Not looking likely.

But we know the elusive Corvette exists because, well, we just saw video of General Motors President Mark Reuss riding in a caravan of camouflaged C8s in Arizona. And because a group of journalists stumbled across five similar C8s north of San Diego. And then there was the barely disguised mid-engine Corvette that broke down last week at a Speedway gas station near GM’s Milford Proving Grounds and had to be towed.

It’s driving would-be Corvette buyers to distraction.

“It’s a great-looking car, and everybody’s eagerly waiting to be the first to own one on the block. But information about it is just diddling out, and it’s making us all crazy,” says Mike Figueroa of Galena, Illinois, a former Corvette owner.

Figueroa, and many more like him, want to buy the next-generation Corvette — if they just knew when it will arrive.

General Motors won’t comment and officially doesn’t acknowledge that the car even exists. “We do not comment on future product,” Chevrolet spokesman Kevin Kelly said.

But here’s what we know and what’s being reported.

Originally targeted for a coming-out-party at the Detroit show in January, the C8 was reportedly delayed until late spring — and now later in the year, according to several industry sources. The chief culprit? Electrical gremlins, they say.

Observers have speculated that the Corvette C8’s debut could be coordinated with the 25th anniversary of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in late August. The Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green has undergone an overhaul in the last three years, including a massive paint-plant investment, to prepare for the mid-engine car.

A debut of the C8 in late August would also allow Chevy to showcase the car at Corvettes at Carlisle, a huge annual gathering of Corvette owners in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in late August.

Whatever the venue, the intense speculation speaks to how important this eighth-generation Corvette is to GM — and to the external pressures building on Chevy to produce the car.

Sales of C7 Corvettes have fallen dramatically this year — off 20 percent from a year ago — as buyers anticipate the mid-engine supercar. About 10,000 C7s reportedly languish unsold on dealer lots, sitting for an average of 232 days, unprecedented for the iconic sports car. Potential buyers like Figueroa say dealers are bending over backward to offer deals, which get sweeter the longer the C8 is delayed.

The good news for Chevy is the C7’s stale sales indicate huge pent-up demand for the C8.

The clock is also ticking on Corvette’s race program, which is expected to debut the car for the 2020 IMSA Weathertech racing season at next January’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. The current front-engine race car is getting long in the tooth against formidable competition like the mid-engine Ford GT. The race-car version of the C8 has been seen testing at tracks in Florida, Wisconsin and Germany.

While endurance-racing rules are famously opaque when it comes to official recognition of production cars, the Corvette race car effectively has to be licensed for competition by the end of 2019 in order to qualify for Daytona and LeMans next year. GM has traditionally introduced its production car before racing it. The front-engine C7, for example, went into production in September 2013 ahead of the C7-R’s 2014 Daytona debut.

The multitude of sightings of camouflaged cars — from Reuss’ ride in Arizona, to California, Colorado and Florida — suggest a mature exterior design ready for prime time.

The idea of a mid-engine Corvette actually dates back to legendary designer Zora Arkus-Duntov, who considered the layout in the early 1960s. But the program really picked up speed in 2007 when it was green-lighted by GM, only to be shelved by the Great Recession. Post-recession, it was full speed ahead.

But for all its groundwork, the C8 has been a development headache.

“The mid-engine car is the most protracted Corvette ever,” says ex-Car and Driver writer Don Sherman of Hagerty, the automotive publication. Sherman has made a career out of chasing the elusive ‘Vette.

Sherman speculates the C8’s growing pains have their roots in the car’s revolutionary nature: It is not just the first mid-engine Corvette, the C8 is a clean-sheet program.

“Shuffling the engine location isn’t that big a deal,” says Sherman. “But the Corvette team is using the C8 to re-invent the entire car.”

While Sherman’s latest reporting at Hagerty indicates some chassis-twisting issues with the high-horsepower mill, a multitude of sources indicate the biggest source of the C8’s delays involve the electrical system. The issue seems to be GM’s effort to move to a new, common electrical-architecture using a so-called CAN (computer area network). The Corvette has proved difficult to adapt.

Despite its exotic nature, Chevy is still expected to fall back on some familiar tools to keep the base car’s costs in line — a signature attribute of Corvette that has gained it a reputation as “the affordable supercar.” The standard engine is reportedly a good old push-rod 6.2-liter V-8 code-named the LT2, putting the power to wheels through a dual-clutch automatic transmission. The current LT1-base engine’s horsepower is expected to be pushed past the current 460 horses.

So endowed, industry observers expect the C8 to cost $4,000-$5,000 more than the current front-engine model. That would put its starting price in the neighborhood of $60,000 — still well below, say, a $92,000 Porsche 911.

The mid-engine beast may disappoint manual-gearbox customers, but it will still satisfy Corvette traditionalists by fitting two golf bags in the front truck, or “frunk.”

Unless, of course, you get the rumored hybrid model with an electric motor crowding out frunk space. Seems 1,000 horsepower comes with its sacrifices.

Payne: Tough Toyota Tundra tames the suburban frontier

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 22, 2019

The 2019 Toyota Tundra is a great tool for Metro Detroit's rugged frontier roads.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra is a great tool for Metro Detroit’s rugged frontier roads.

The American truck market is where rugged pickups meet refined luxury — pickups like 2019 Toyota Tundra that I tested in Oakland Charter Township.

Which is appropriate because the township north of The Palace in Auburn Hills is where rugged farm country meets the frontier of luxurious development.

Here, successful Michiganians buy acres of farmland and woodland to build dream homes on the edge of Detroit’s metropolis. Huge 10,000-square-foot brick and stone homes spill across deforested yards. Gated communities back up against wooded streams. Modern castles reach for the sky on top of rocky hills.

These cloistered estates are conveniently located just minutes from shopping malls and interstates, yet they can only be reached by diabolical dirt roads that begin where the asphalt ends.

Dirt roads with names like Dutton and Brewster look like they were used in Normandy during the D-Day invasion. In February these arteries have been raked by the elements with bottomless potholes overlapping frozen mud ruts.

These are the byways for which my $46,610 Tundra tester with TRD Off-Road package was built.

I passed some of the most beautiful cribs I’ve seen, their owners struggling to reach them in sporty Cadillac CTS-Vs and lovely Volvo XC60s. A silver CTS-V looked like it would have preferred to be underwater than on this hellscape, its driver crawling along at 5 mph while the potholes beat the unibody chassis to a noodle.

My 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 Tundra drove by at 35 mph like Blake Griffin through a junior high team. Sitting on big-sidewall Michelins wrapped around 18-inch rims, the Tundra’s body-on-frame construction devoured the frozen mud moguls. The four-wheel-drive system churning like a buzz-saw through stale bread. BRRRAAAAWWWGH!

THONK! A rock thrown up by a tire clanged harmlessly off the steel skid-plate under the engine. The front tires skittered across an iced rut, the rear tires churning behind. This is how you commute to your remote domicile.

But arriving at your estate in a pickup doesn’t mean giving up luxury-car style. The Tundra is a handsome athlete.

Mind you, it’s no Ram 1500, which has all the truck boys drooling down at the rodeo. But its bold chrome grille, Midnight Black body armor and bling-tastic TRD off-road wheels demand respect.

The big fella has character, which is what you want filling up your dream home garage. The interior is as comfortable as your den with leather thrones, leather-wrapped steering wheel and an Entune Premium audio system pumping out your favorite tunes. My wife and her friends need a ladder to get into the rear seat, but once there, the short cab offers plenty of legroom (though I’d prefer a Crew Cab with its palatial backseat room).

The Tundra only pales in comparison to its Detroit competition, which is why the Toyota sold a mere 118,425 full-size pickups in 2018 compared to Ford (over 900,000), Chevy/GMC (over 800,000), and Ram (537,000). I know, I know, the Toyota only sells light-duty trucks while the Detroit Three sell Heavy Dutys and Super Dutys and Mega Kong Colossal Duties.

But the Tundra can’t even outsell its midsize little brother. The Tacoma more than doubled Tundra sales last year at 245,659. That’s right, the same brand that gets young buyers hooked on reliable Corollas/Camrys so that they buy five-door RAV4 SUVs when they have children can’t translate 246,000 Tacoma customers to buy full-size Tundras.

Well, it’s tough in the full-size pickup rodeo.

For one, the Tundra is long in the tooth compared to the Detroit megatrons. Its 381-horse V-8 and 6-speed transmission are a generation behind, say, the Chevy Silverado’s 420-horse V-8 or Ford F-150’s state-of-the-art 10-speed tranny.

My Tundra’s TRD package is tough as nails with Bilstein shocks. But the ride is a buckboard when on asphalt, unlike the comparable Ram Rebel’s comfy coil-spring rear setup. Throw the Tundra into a cloverleaf and — hold on, Bessy! — the numb steering and loose chassis make the lightweight Silverado feel like a Camaro by comparison.

The 2019 Toyota Tundra

Inside, the Tundra boasts nice wood and aluminum touches, but its dash, steering wheel and instrument layouts are antiquated next to the F-150’s thoughtful architecture. The Toyota’s clumsy automatic shifter feels stodgy. Even better are the Silverado and Ram with transmission solutions that open the center console to all kinds of mobile office space.

Show me a pickup and I’ll show you a neighbor who wants to borrow it — Please? Just for the weekend so I can get some mulch? — but even here the Toyota can’t innovate like the Detroit Three. It doesn’t have corner steps like the Silverado, MultiPro gate like the GMC Sierra or a best-in-class tow rating like the Ford.

What the Tundra does have is good ol’ Japanese value.

The V-8 may not have the Chevy’s low-end grunt, but the engine comes standard starting at just $35,000. Lots of trucks these days sport fuel-sippy four-bangers and V-6s, but a pickup and a V-8 go together like Thor and hammer.

Electronics are fast blurring the difference between luxury and mainstream, and the Japanese makers are at the forefront of this trend. The $19,000 Toyota Corolla sedan is loaded with standard features like adaptive cruise-control, automatic high-beams and lane-departure alert you can’t get on many luxury cars north of $50,000.

The Tundra comes equipped with this safety package at a price well below comparable Big Three competitors (though somehow Toyota hasn’t figured out Android Auto yet). Even the Tundra’s premium TRD off-road package — which includes Bilstein shocks, front tow hooks and floor mats — adds just $70 to the bottom line. Tesla floor mats cost $140, for goodness sake.

It’s all very impressive, and Toyota throws in its usual bulletproof reliability. It was the only full-size truck to get a 9 (out of 10) mechanical Initial Quality Rating from JD Power last year.

That’s reassuring as you ride your chrome-studded truck down the ox-cart roads of north Oakland on the way to your dream home.

Where Third World roads meet First World mansions, the Tundra pickup is an excellent bridge.

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 Tundra

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

Price: $33,015 base, including $1,495 destination fee ($46,610 4×4 Limited Double Cab as tested)

Powerplant: 4.6-liter V-8 (standard engine); 5.7-liter V-8

Power: 310 horsepower, 327 pound-feet of torque (4.6-liter); 381 horsepower, 401 pound-feet of torque (5.7-liter)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.5 sec. (5.7L, Car and Driver); maximum towing, 9,900 pounds

Weight: 5,530 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 15 city/19 highway/16 combined (4.6-liter standard 4×2); 13 city/17 highway/14 combined (5.7-liter 4×4 as tested)

Report card

Highs: Standard features galore; Toyota tough

Lows:Lacks refinement of Detroit Three competitors; V-8 a generation behind

Overall: 3 stars