Payne: New Ram 1500 powers truck offensive

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 20, 2018


Phoenix — Behind the chromed bow of the new Ram 1500 is a growing truck-based armada as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles goes to battle against fellow Detroit truck titans, Ford and GM.

Test-driven by the automotive press here in early March, the Ram hits dealerships later this month with a strong buzz as one of the most formidable trucks ever made — a smooth-riding, luxurious benchmark for a class that includes the Ford F-series, Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra.

But the Ram, which wowed the Detroit Auto Show in January, is more than just another new pickup. Developed apart from Dodge for the first time with its own design language and architecture, the 1500 is the linchpin of Fiat Chrysler’s strategy that pairs its two powerhouse, high-volume brands — Ram and Jeep — to go head-to-head against Ford and GM in the full-size pickup, mid-size pickup and large-SUV segments.

With an upcoming Wrangler-based Jeep midsize pickup (rumored to be called the Scrambler), Fiat Chrysler for the first time will have a full lineup of trucks.

“Jeep fans have been waiting a long time for a pickup,” says Patrick Rall, staff editor of, a website that tracks Fiat Chrysler news. He said it could also satisfy demand from customers who used to own a Ram Dakota, a midsize pickup that Ram discontinued in 2010.

Ram executives declined to discuss product plans.

But industry insiders say the profitable triad of large SUVs and mid-size and full-size pickups is key to all three automakers as they enter an uncertain future of heavy capital investment in autonomous and government-mandated electric vehicles.

“FCA has a lot of ground to cover on EVs and autonomous vehicles,” says analyst Joe Phillippi of AutoTrends Consulting. “EVs are a 10- to 15-year process and they are going to have to spend a lot of money on other products as well.”

 Fiat Chrysler — which wed Italy’s Fiat and Auburn Hills-based Chrysler in 2009 — is playing catch-up to GM and Ford. Both of those carmakers are sinking capital into autonomous and EV projects from their cash-cow truck operations. The Ram pickup’s fresh high-strength steel platform will be the foundation for Jeep’s Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer large SUVs. Those SUVs will compete head-to-head against the Ford Expedition and Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon siblings.

The biggest potential lies with the Ram 1500 flagship and its heavy-duty variants.

“Ram is similar to (Ford and GM) in that it is filling two assembly plants with high-volume trucks that generate substantial gross profit margins,” says Phillippi. “Now the Ram platform will spawn the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer to go against the Suburban and Yukon.”

With development costs already sunk in body-on-frame pickup chassis, truck-based SUVs are money machines. On top of its 800,000-and-change annual Chevy-GMC pickup sales, for example, GM moves another 100,000-plus Suburbans and Yukons.

“They are selling pure profit,” says Philippi, who estimates GM’s big sport-utilities are generating $25,000-$35,000 per vehicle.

Together with the Jeep brand — which has tripled sales to over 800,000 since 1992 — Ram’s sales growth has been relentless. Since the Great Recession, it has grown its truck market-share by 6 points to more than 21 percent on a vehicle developed a decade ago.

After developing the ’09 1500 pickup, the Dodge and Ram brands separated so the latter could singularly focus on the commercial truck market and its Detroit rivals. The 2019 Ram is the brand’s first one-truck show — and media buzz in Phoenix was four-star worthy.

Gone is the Dodge inspired “cross-hair” grille, replaced by a horizontal grille with “RAM” stamped in the middle.

The pickup’s remake, said exterior designer John Opfer, “allowed us to establish our own design vocabulary. Stern visage, with brow, headlamps and a steely-eyed glint.”

That vocabulary joins the three key ingredients — tech, capability and luxury — to make the 1500 a no-compromise truck, says Ram boss Jim Morrison.

With technical advances like cabin noise-cancellation, smartphone-app connectivity and a 225-pound diet, the Ram matches its Ford and GM rivals. As does its robust 12,700-pound towing capacity, just shy of the F-150’s best-in-class 13,200 pounds.

But it’s luxury where the Ram separates itself, and it shows why pickups are the jewels in Motown automakers’ crowns. Where foreign manufacturers have become highly competitive in U.S market segments including mainstream and luxury crossovers, sedans, sports cars — even mid-size pickups — over the last four decades, none have figured out how to compete in big trucks and SUVs.

The Detroit Three have an inside line on American pickup tastes.

The 1500 offers features seen elsewhere only in luxury vehicles: a class-first 12-inch, split-touchscreen display like Tesla and Volvo; a 48-volt battery mild-hybrid system; exclusive-to-segment coil-over springs and adaptive dampers like premium SUVs; stitched, leather-wrapped interior; and reclining rear heated-cooled seats with class-best 45-inches of legroom that dwarfs even the largest Mercedes S-class land yacht.

“I’m calling it one of the best interiors in all of the segments,” says Ram’s Morrison. “I’d challenge you to compare to anything out there. Real-leather dash and doors, real wood, real metals.”

Such options allow Ram to charge anywhere from $32,000 for a base, two-wheel drive Ram Tradesman to $70,000 for a luxurious, 4X4 Ram Limited — a cost-bandwidth rivaling BMW’s $35,000-base, 3-series sedan which can reach as high as $80,000 for its M3 performance rocket.

“Only luxury cars and full-size pickup trucks can do that,” says auto consultant Phillippi. “Truck customers want all of the personal transport amenities the same as luxury buyers. If mom has a luxury BMW, then dad wants a luxury Ram Limited.”

Payne: The Ford future will be energized

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 20, 2018


In a rare public peek into its crystal ball Thursday, Ford confirmed we are ute nation. The Dearborn automaker predicted that by 2020 a whopping 86 percent of its sales will be driven by SUVs and trucks as Americans continue to flee from cars. That’s up from 70 percent today and 64 percent a decade ago.

But that doesn’t mean the future won’t be fun.

Ford’s SUVs will draw heavily on the automaker’s on- and off-road performance heritage including a battery-powered Mustang-derived ute, a rock-busting Bronco and two ST-badged SUVs including a three-row Explorer.

“We all have passions. You want to enjoy the car you’re driving, and Ford is focused on creating cars you want to drive every day,” says Chattanooga, Tennessee dealer Todd Dwyer, general manager of Marshal Mize Ford. He drives the insane 450-horsepower F-150 Raptor off-road animal to work every day.

The $51,000 Raptor (I terrorized a desert off-road course in a loaded $68,655 model two years ago) not only represents Ford’s performance passion but also the profit-gushing F-series. Truck sales will fuel the Blue Oval’s ambitious plan to replace 75 percent of its product in two years, including four new nameplates. The F-series is the best-selling vehicle in autodom at nearly 900,00 units sold in 2017. It covers an astonishing price-bandwidth from the $30,000 base-model to a diamond-studded $65,000 Limited, which pave the road with the lion’s share of the company’s profit.

Dubbed the “Porsche 911” of trucks, the Raptor alone outsold Porsche’s entire sports car lineup in 2017.

One of the 2020 Ford vehicles will be an all-electric, Tesla-fighting four-door SUV “with the rebel soul of a Mustang” grinned global market boss Jim Farley. That grin means this won’t be a granola-fed moving speed bump.

Channeling the iconic Mustang’s muscled heritage, the EV will be performance-oriented. Ford, echoing other automakers like Volvo and its Polestar EVs, is unsure of the broad market for electrics. But Tesla’s success has proven a thirst for battery-powered performance.

How determined is Ford that the EV be a performance halo for six new EVs by 2022? One of the names in play is the “Mach 1” – resurrecting one of Mustang’s storied performance badges from its ’60s muscle-car heyday.

Watching over these new siblings like Simba on Pride Rock will be the 2020 Mustang GT500. This 700-plus horsepower beast will be the most powerful Mustang ever and will sit alongside the Mustang Shelby GT350 in showrooms – the first time these athletes have been offered together since 1969.

Ford’s new SUV lineup will also get an infusion of ST-eroids.

“We’re planning a massive expansion of ST models,” said a Ford spokesman of the “Sports Technology” badge that has made motorheads’ pulses race on Focus and Fiesta hot hatches.

The Ford Edge is the first SUV to get the ST badge – even before the Fusion sedan, another indication of how radically the market has shifted away from cars. On Thursday, Ford announced that its three-row Explorer SUV will also get the ST badge. Not only that, but it is reportedly built on a rear-wheel drive, unibody longitudinal-engine architecture – just like high-end performance SUVs from the likes of Jaguar.

That’s a long way from the original truck-based body-on-frame Explorer dinosaurs that roamed the earth as recently as 2010.

As the F-150 Raptor indicates, Ford performance doesn’t stop where the asphalt ends. One of the Dearborn maker’s most anticipated vehicles is the rugged Bronco, another iconic name from the past. Bronco will go head-to-head against the Jeep Wrangler, coveted by adventure seekers everywhere.

“Ford helped start the off-road phenomenon and has majored in off-road capability for decades – from the Bronco to the Raptor,” said Ford’s Farley. “Now we’re ready to reclaim our rightful place as the off-road vehicle leader.”

The Bronco will sit on the same bruising truck frame as Ford’s mid-size Ranger pickup. It is one of five skeletons Ford will use going forward: front-drive unibody, commercial van unibody, body-on-frame, rear-wheel drive unibody and battery-electric “skateboard” platform.

Ford promises that the latter platform, the most ambitious in its lineup, will be the foundation for a future of connected, roomy, ride-sharing electric cars plying streets with no steering wheel. But with its inherent low center-of-gravity and the soul of a Mustang, it also suggests drivers will have a seat for the future.

Payne: Alfa Quadrifoglio is family track ute

Posted by hpayne on March 15, 2018


orget soccer moms. The 505-horsepower five-door Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio SUV is designed for track moms.

The muscular all-wheel drive Italian SUV whupped Germany’s legendary Nürburgring race track with a lap time of just under 7 minutes and 52 seconds, burying the previous SUV record held by the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S by eight seconds (not to mention the 2006 Ford GT and 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo). Indeed, the super-ute was just 20 seconds slower than its sister sedan, the 505-horse Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio over the 13-mile lap.

My laps in the twin-turbo V-6 Stelvio Quadrifoglio around the 20-turn, 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas’ Formula One track in Texas were, in turn, about 20 seconds slower than my lap times in a 150-horse Lola SCCA club-sports racer. Which in turn is about 20 seconds slower than a modern, 525-horsepower IMSA Corvette, and …

Payne, have you gone mad? What are you doing comparing an SUV to race cars? Or to the Giulia, the best-handling sports sedan on the planet? Or for that matter, what are you doing on a race track at all with a sport utility vehicle?

Yes, the world has turned upside-down.

Track tests used to be for Porsche sports cars and BMW M3 sports sedans to show their bandwidth as weekday commuters and weekend track-letes. But in ute-crazy America, such niche performance brands — which once sold mere thousands — have figured out how to sell tens of thousands by transferring their performance DNA to Frankenstein SUV-monsters like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 M.

I am convinced that no human being will ever take these tall SUVs out to do track laps. Yet their very existence depends on convincing customers that they share the same personality as the sports cars that made their brands household names.

Mom and Dad can’t justify a two-seat Alfa Romeo — where would they put the kids? — but they can buy an Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV, anchor two child seats in back and still arrive at the country club social with that legendary Trilobo grille up front. The Quadrifoglio is the steroid-fed version of Alfa’s ute which begins as the best handling, most powerful entry in the premium compact class.

Thus, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s SUV lap record around the legendary Nurburgring, which followed siblings Alfa 4C and Giulia Quadrifoglio who set the fastest lap for, respectively, an under-250-horsepower car and a sedan.

Stelvio’s lap eclipsed the record set by Porsche’s Cayenne Frankenstein. Call it Frankenstein Jr.

The 570-horsepower Cayenne Turbo S and 707-horse Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk may have insane power but they are mid-size SUVs weighing 5,000 pounds. They are a serious handful in turns even as their power induces giddy goosebumps on exit. Barreling down Club Motorsports’ main straight — set in Maine’s White Mountains — into Turn 1 at 125 mph in a Jeep Trackhawk last fall, a voice in my head kept nagging:

If the steering fails, we’re going to burn a hole in that mountain yonder.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio, by contrast, is a compact ute at 4,300 pounds — still a big piece of steak but more easily digested through Circuit of the Americas’ serpentine Turns 2-5 esses.

Flying downhill into Turn 2, chassis dynamics turned to Race mode, the 2.9-liter V-6 howling like a poked badger, the Qaudrifoglio is a composed handful. Its tight, 21/4 turns lock-to-lock steering makes for small inputs. Sliding right-to-left into Turn 3, however, I never think of pulling on the huge, curved silver paddle shifters (they look like they were pulled off the Black Panther’s Wakanda throne) for two reasons: 1) Fixed to the steering column, they are hard to grab, and 2) I don’t need them.

The Stelvio’s eight-speed transmission is so intuitive that I don’t feel the need to overrule it. Coming off tight Turn 9 into one of the fastest sections of track, the engine is in the meat of its torque curve, AWD scrabbling for traction, and …

Payne, are you still on a race track with an SUV?

OK, OK. The Alfa is a practical daily driver, too. The ute shares the same magnificent suspension and 505-horse drivetrain with the rear-wheel drive Giulia Quadrifolgio sedan. But Stelvio mates it to a sophisticated, torque-vectoring AWD system that makes it an all-season workhorse.

Where an M1 Concourse track jockey might store the rear-wheel drive Giulia Quadrifoglio for the winter once the snow falls, the Stelvio can be driven in all conditions.

It’s in a rare class of three. Although other compact utes from Audi (SQ5) and BMW (X3 M40i) offer impressive performance numbers, only Porsche’s Macan Turbo S, Mercedes’ AMG GLC63 and the Alfa are muscled in excess of 400 horsepower.

As you would expect from Germans and Italians, the Porsche and Alfa utes (I have yet to sample the V-8 powered Mercedes) have very different personalities despite their similar wheelbases and twin-turbo V-6s.

The Porsche — I took an S model out on the Mid-Ohio race track a couple years back— looks like a Turbo 911 on stilts, its enormous ribbed side air intakes big enough to swallow a flock of geese. Inside, the key (yeah, Porsche still does keys) is on the left (just like the LeMans racers), the tach front and center behind the steering wheel, the console sleeve tattooed with buttons to control everything from heated seats to spring settings.

The Alfa’s push-start button is on the steering wheel, racy-looking dials behind it, a quirky monostable shifter at your right hand.

Both infotainment systems are competent, but you buy these birds of prey for their war cries.

The German is soaring, determined. The Italian is more demented, like a meatball got caught in its esophagus. It snorts on upshift, clears its throat with rev-matching downshifts. Eccellente! Kids and normal-size adults will fit more comfortably in the rear seats than the tight Giulia Quadrifogio. And the five-door hatch opens up headroom — and provides two more seats than you have in the Alfa 4C sports car.

Oh, and did I mention that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio beat the nimble 4C’s Nurburgring lap time? By 12 seconds. That’s what double the horsepower gets you.

Hmm, maybe you really should take this SUV out for track days …

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio




$81,590 base ($97,390 Competizione Red Stelvio with carbon-crmaic brakes/carbon-fiber seats as tested; Trofeo White Stelvio as tested $85,890 Trofeo White Stelvio)

Power plant

2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6


505 horsepower, 443 pound-feet of torque


8-speed automatic


0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (mfr.); towing: 3,000 pounds


4,360 pounds

Fuel economy

EPA fuel economy: 17 city/24 highway/20 combined

Report card

Highs: Stirring engine note; fastest ute yet (until Lambo Urus comes along)

Lows: Big sticker price; if you want to track a Quadrifoglio, buy a Giulia


Payne: Ford Ecosport is sporty — not so eco

Posted by hpayne on March 8, 2018


From the first 2014 Ford Fiesta I drove, I’ve been hooked. Cute, perky, affordable and loaded with options from the affordable, base 1.6-liter manual to the raucous ST, the Fiesta hatchback is a lip-smacking, salsa-soaked appetizer to the automotive world.

But I’m in a minority.

The wee Fiesta has been trampled by the U.S. rush to SUVs. Still popular in Europe where gas costs an arm and a leg, the Fiesta’s 2018 update hasn’t made it across the pond to U.S. shores.

Instead, Ford is importing its entry-level SUV, the Ecosport, all the way from India.

But the cute red Ecosport in my driveway is hardly a replacement for the Fiesta. Indeed, the five-door Fiesta remains Ford’s $15,000 entry-level vehicle complemented by the ST — the five-alarm, jalapeno pepper entree to Ford performance. Entry-level SUV it may be, but the Ecosport shares more with Ford’s Focus sedan than the Fiesta.

Both the Focus and Ecosport sticker well north of Fiestas (about $19,000 for the Focus, $21,000 for the Ecosport). Both are offered with the surprisingly peppy 1.0-liter “Godzilla-in-a-box” three-cylinder. And both appeal not only to new buyers, but also to downsizing empty-nesters coming out of three-row Explorers.

Suddenly I don’t fear for the Fiesta’s future so much as I fear for the Focus. In ute nation, I give the Focus a snowball’s chance in Vegas.

Ironically, Ford is late to the subcompact ute market despite being a brisk seller abroad since way back to 2003. While other mini-SUVs — the Jeep Renegade, Buick Enclave and Honda HR-V — scored hits by tailoring their subcompacts to the U.S. market, Ford has had to update its Ecosquirt — er, Ecosport — to meet Yankeed preferences.

 They did an admirable job. Despite coming to market with one of the shortest wheelbases in the class (99 inches), the Ecosport manages to be competitive in cargo- and leg-room with longer-wheelbase competitors like the Chevy Trax and Jeep Renegade. It even beats the cavernous Honda HR-V in front legroom.

Still, your ex-basketball player’s 6-foot-5 dimensions were cramped in the Ecosport’s back seat, and the accelerator and brake pedals felt close together under my big clown shoes. But its short length is an advantage in cramped city spaces — a trait tried and tested in tight cities abroad.

Other pleasant traits abound — what Ford’s literature calls “fun, capable, and connected.” Begin with fun.

Marrying its small wheelbase to Ford’s natural athleticism (cue the Fiesta), Ecosport is surprisingly good dance-partner. Though limited to front-wheel drive in my 1.0-liter base turbo-3 engine — the 2.0-liter turbo-4 comes with all-wheel drive— the Ecosport followed my lead through Oakland County’s twisty lake country.

The 1.0-liter overachiever — its trophies for engine of the year would probably require a Ford Expedition to carry — continues to impress. The three-holer once-upon-a-time paired nicely with the 2,600-pound Fiesta (alas, it is no longer available with the U.S.-version Fiesta) and proves worthy of the porkier Ecosport SUV.

Like Laurel throwing Hardy on his back, the wee three moves the SUV along out of corners, the effort masked by the Ford’s best-in-segment interior quieting.

That low-end turbo grunt comes at a price, though, as the 1.0-liter’s gas mileage is well off the 34 mpg (40 highway) of the Focus. Blame the SUV’s higher drag co-efficient as well. All told, the 123-horsepower Ecosport’s 28 mpg (29 highway) is no more “eco” than the larger-displacement 141-horsepower Honda HR-V and 138-horse Chevy Trax offerings.

The fun factor is amplified by the Ford’s mighty-mouse design. The hatchback has a raked-forward athletic stance. Its growly three-bar grille gets its DNA from the Mustang/Fiesta side of the family instead of the more conservative Edge/Explorer wing.

Fun and capability intersect in the Ecosport’s rear swing-gate, which is the subcompact’s defining feature. In a segment full of character, it’s almost a must that each bring a unique feature to the potluck party.

Ford Ecosport: Dude, my door swings open.

Jeep Renegade: Yeah, well, I can go topless!

Kia Soul: I look like a toaster.

Chevy Trax: My front seat folds flat so you can put a surfboard inside me.

Buick Encore: Me, too — and I’m also really cute.

Like the Mini Cooper Clubman’s Dutch doors, the Ford defies convention with its swinging cabinet door. Trigger the hidden button under the taillight and the tailgate swings halfway open to a detent — then will continue to full, 90-degree open.

It’s a feature folks with low garage ceilings (me) will appreciate. I recently had a Tesla Model X and was relieved when its falcon-wing doors sensed when to stop opening. Many SUVs are not so — BONK! — sensitive.

The Ecosport’s swinger is a garage-friendly throwback to the good ol’ station wagon days (though the Ford’s gate won’t fold flat like a pickup tailgate). A quick primer on the pros/cons of a swing-gate:

■Con: Only one person can access it at a time from the right.

■Pro: I don’t bang my head on it.

■Con: It doesn’t have a foot-kick-open option like the Ford Escape

■Pro: It offers roof access for wee Mrs. Payne who can stand on the rear cargo lip and help tie down a Christmas tree, luggage, etc.

As for being connected, Ford has put past hiccups behind it. It’s new SYNC 3 system is reliable, provides Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and allows the driver to control the car remotely via a smartphone app.

Not long ago I was ogling luxury cars that I could start remotely. Now I have a crisp, detailed app on my phone for a common, $20,000 Ford that can do everything from start the car, check its maintenance status and pick up my laundry (just kidding about that last part, though it can’t be far away).

As an entry-level SUV, Ecosport sits in an interesting spot. Its high ride and five-door utility will make it a tempting buy for Ford customers who once defaulted to Focus for the compact car. But the Ecosport’s small back seat will cramp 6-footers expecting more from a ute — a cramp that may send them across the showroom (or to the certified pre-owned desk) to Ecosport’s roomier, techier Escape.

Whatever the case, there is still my favorite little Fiesta hatch which is still the only entry-level Ford five-door for under $17,000. It’s still the Ford that’s the most fun to throw about. And it’s still a moderate fuel-drinker despite its party name.

2018 Ford Ecosport




$20,990 base ($25,740 1.0-liter Titanium FWD as tested)

Power plant

1.0-liter turbo-3 cylinder; 2.0-liter inline-4


123 horsepower, 125 pound-feet of torque (1.0-liter); 166 horsepower, 149 pound-feet of torque (2.0-liter)


6-speed automatic


0-60 mph, 10.0-10.5 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing: 1,400-2,000 pounds


3,021 pounds (FWD); 3,300 (AWD)

Fuel economy

EPA fuel economy: 27 city/29 highway/28 combined (1.0-liter FWD); 23 city/29 highway/25 combined (2.0-liter AWD)

Report card

Highs: Interior space belies its small wheelbase; swinging tailgate

Lows: Still small in rear seat; thirsty 1.0-liter


VW unveils electric flagship, the I.D. Vizzion

Posted by hpayne on March 7, 2018


Volkswagen merged with authority into the electric car race this week with the I.D. Vizzion concept.

Introduced at the Geneva auto show, the fully electric all-wheel drive hatchback sedan is more than just a concept. It will be VW’s EV production flagship vehicle that will come to market by 2022. The 400-mile-plus range Vizzion stand atop VW’s new I.D. EV brand that includes the I.D. Crozz SUV, throwback Buzz Microbus and compact vehicle concepts.

While the Vizzion debuted in Geneva sans driver controls — a hint at VW’s plans for the car in its autonomous product planning — the 2022 production model is aimed squarely at Tesla and other EV entries like Volvo’s Polestar 1 and Jaguar’s I-PACE. Indeed, with its big greenhouse and skateboard batteries-in-the-floor architecture, the I.D. Vizzion looks similar to the I-PACE (introduced last week in Graz, Austria) and Tesla Model 3.

“We will be offering this model — by the latest in 2022 as the top sedan in the I.D. family with the innovative I.D. cockpit and a steering wheel,” said Volkswagen CEO, Dr. Herbert Diess, in a statement.

But the Vizzion intends to move beyond its competitors with a 111-kWh battery that is bigger than Tesla’s current offerings in its top-line Model S and X models. The result is a gas-engine like 413-mile range (in the European mpg cycle).

The I.D. Vizzion is part of VW’s aggressive campaign to put its Dieselgate scandal in the rear-view mirror. The I.D. family promises 15 EVs on VW’s new “MEB” skateboard architecture by 2025. VW is building vast battery-charger networks in the US and Europe and promoting EV racing series like electric Global Rallycross (e-GRC) with VWs and Formula E for its luxury Audi brand.

“We are betting the farm on electric,” Greg Lucia, director of experiential marketing at VW America, told The Detroit News last year. “We are making things differently now. Electric suits our product. And e-GRC is a great way to showcase it.”

The corporate shift to electrics is risky given the lack of consumer acceptance for EVs.

Electrics and plug-in vehicles are just over 1 percent of the European market where affordable, fuel-sipping diesels still reign. Sales in the U.S. are just as meager. But VW’s move is a nod to the 180-degree turn that global governments have taken with respect to once-favored diesel-fired powerplants.

Beholden to the Paris Climate Agreement, global governments from France to China are moving to phase out carbon-emitting engines in favor of electrics.

The Geneva show was preceded by buzz about Porsche’s first battery-powered 911 sports car. European automakers are trying to get ahead of government diktats that are far stricter than in the U.S. where the federal government is reportedly moving away from strict mpg mandates.

Automakers like VW and General Motors also hope that the EV transformation will dovetail with their plans for a future of self-driving cars and connected highways.

Volkswagen’s I.D. Vizzion, which showcases a dramatic new design language for the conservative brand, may be a fun-driving, low-slung EV in 2022. But the Geneva concept also foreshadows a pod that is a fully-autonomous, Level 5 (no driver controls at all) vehicle.

“(The I.D. Vizzion) shows that, even in the electric self-driving future, we will be using desirable, expressive and individual automobiles — and not just uniform tin boxes,” said Diess of the 122-inch wheelbase vehicle with the external dimensions of a mid-size Passat sedan but the interior room of a full-size VW Phaeton.

Free of steering wheel and pedals, the Vizzion concept boasts a roomy cabin for four that identifies its owner with a facial scan, then adjust the interior accordingly — seat depth, soundtrack, scents — and responds to voice commands and gesture controls for instructions.

The car’s sleek exterior includes high-definition Matrix lights in the grille that can, for example, project a crosswalk on the sidewalk to signal pedestrians that it is safe to cross in front of the vehicle.

Tesla’s Model 4 3 also hints at this driverless future with its minimalist dashboard. With no instrument panel in front of the steering wheel, the wheel may be recessed into the dash when the drive wants to be ferried autonomously.

Autorama in Detroit celebrates speed freaks

Posted by hpayne on March 7, 2018


Detroit — The automotive future promises a dystopian landscape of connected highways prowled by autonomous, anonymous pods shuttling their human cargo to their destinations risk-free and at a prescribed speed limit.

The 66th annual Meguiar’s Detroit Autorama hot rod show says the heck with all that.

Front and center in Cobo Center this weekend — in front of 800 chopped, channeled, dumped, and decked custom, hot rod hell-raisers — is a special exhibit of six, record-setting Bonneville Salt Flat speedsters. From sleek streamliners to lay-down motorcycles these land rockets push the limits of speed with daredevils like George Poteet and Roosevelt Lackey at the helm.

“There are no Penskes or Ganassis out there on the salt flats,” says longtime Bonneville participant and spokeswoman for, Louise Noeth, in reference to two of the richest teams in IndyCar and NASCAR racing. “Bonneville racers are just everyday folks who have been chasing their dreams on the flats since 1949.”

Like speed-obsessed, real-life versions of “Mad Max” movie road warriors, these dreamers show up in their outlandish contraptions every year between July and November in a series of events to chase the fastest speed records on the planet. The biggest gathering is Speed Week in August.

Their race track is a 46-square mile expanse of encrusted salt near the tiny town of Wendover in northwest Utah where competitors vie for best average mile speed over a straight, five-mile run.

“The Bonneville Salt Flats is basically a dried-up ocean that got landlocked 11,000 years ago by a series of earthquakes that pushed up mountains around it and dried it up,” says Noeth, whose bullet-shaped, Team Vesco Turbinator set the wheel-driven land speed record at 458 mph in 2001.

Challenging the Turbinator for world speed record in recent years has been Poteet’s Chevy-powered, gold, spear-shaped Speed Demon which holds three class records for wheel-driven vehicles. A message on the team’s website chronicling last year’s Speed Week read:

“We blew up and caught fire on Tuesday. Rebuilt the car, switched engine and transmission, and re-wired the car. Today we went 438 (mph) average mile.”

Says Noeth: “That’s the beauty of it, man. These guys come out here with all kinds of bullets in their chamber. One guy went through eight engines in eight days.”

The outright speed record is held by a “thrust power” class vehicle — essentially a jet engine on rollers — at 763 mph. No thrust power vehicles will be on display at Cobo but there will be examples of the other two Bonneville vehicle categories: wheel-driven and motorcycle.

Arrow Racing of Windsor has fielded a motorcycle where the driver must lay on his back in a tube behind the engine, then peer through a periscope to see where he’s going. Bob Williams, who constructed the streamliner from his wheelchair, died last year, but his motorcycle once hit 228 mph on the flats.

Bob Sirna of Rochester Hills converted his classic, 1955 Mercedes 300 SL gull-winginto a land speed car back in 2001 to chase his dream. Fifteen years later, with a highly modified, 430-horse Roush V-6 under the hood, he set a Bonneville GT record at 291 mph.

Three other Bonneville stars will be on display including a Belly Tank Lakester, 1934 three-window coupe, and Roosevelt Lackey’s 1971 Triumph motorcycle.

When showgoers aren’t ogling these decidedly non-autonomous speedsters, they’ll be treated to the winner of the annual Ridler trophy. The bauble is awarded to the most outstanding new custom car. The winner takes home $10,000.

“It’s extremely gratifying that Detroit Autorama is the home of America’s most important hot rod award,” said Peter Toundas, president of Championship Auto Shows, which produces Autorama. “This is the Motor City, and Detroit is where hot rod, custom car shows started so we make every effort to let everyone know about this important heritage.”

Autorama will also play host to ex-NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will sign autographs, and a display of eight of the famous “Fate of the Furious” movie cars.

Autorama runs through Sunday. For all the details, go to


Jaguar I-PACE stalks Tesla Model X

Posted by hpayne on March 7, 2018


Jaguar on Thursday introduced its long-awaited, all-electric I-PACE Tesla fighter. The I-PACE is the first SUV to take on the falcon-winged Tesla Model X which pioneered the premium EV crossover segment in 2015.

Like the Tesla Model X and its sister Model S sedan, the I-PACE is built on a unique “skateboard”-style chassis with a large 90 kWh battery pack in the floor. The low battery-pack position allows for increased interior room as well as a low center of gravity for the higher-riding SUV.

The silent-running, 240-mile range EV will be a stark departure from the British cat brand built on growly sports cars like the V-8 F-Type coupe.

The Jaguar is at the front of a herd of premium EVs due to hit the market in the next few years as automakers try to replicate Tesla’s success – as well as conform to global governments’ push to phase out the gas engine.

Volvo will introduce the coupe flagship of its new Polestar EV brand in Geneva this month. The Audi eTron is expected late this year followed by the Porsche Mission E, Mercedes EQC and Buick EV in 2019. By 2022 luxury and mainstream brands are expected to flood dealers with 100 new EVs with ranges in excess of 200 miles.

The I-PACE was introduced at Jaguar-Land Rover’s manufacturing facility in Graz, Austria in a webcast hosted by British comedian Jack Whitehall. Jaguar is owned by India’s Tata Motors. The I-PACE is expected to be unveiled in the U.S. for the first time at the New York Auto Show later this month. It will make its international public debut in Geneva on March 6.

“We set out with a clean-sheet approach to harness new battery-electric technology with an architecture engineered from the outset to optimize EV performance, aerodynamics and interior space,’ said Jaguar Vehicle Line Director Ian Hoban.

Building on a Jaguar reputation forged in sports car racing, the all-wheel drive I-PACE promises quick 4.5-second acceleration from zero-60 mph. That number would upstage the comparable all-wheel drive Model X 100D which dashes to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. The I-PACE’s electric range is more in line with the base 75 kWh Model X’s 237 miles.

Jaguar will release pricing in Geneva. The 295-mile range Model X 100D starts at $102,000 and the 75 kWh model starts at $85,500.

The Jaguar will boast a 50-50 weight balance, and promises that its big battery can be 80-percent charged in 40 minutes using a public 100kW DC charger. A similar charge on a home-based, 240-volt socket would take just over 10 hours, says Jaguar. There are currently about a dozen public DC charging facilities in Metro Detroit. Tesla has a proprietary network of fast chargers.

To promote its I-PACE’s performance claims, Jaguar will sponsor the world’s first EV racing series based on production vehicles. Dubbed the I-PACE eTrophy, it will feature 20 race-prepared SUVs competing in 10 international races beginning in 2019.

Review: Volvo XC40 speaks with American accent

Posted by hpayne on March 1, 2018


The Volvo XC40 is owned by Chinese automaker Geely, designed in Sweden and built in Belgium.

And it’s made for America.

Volvo’s first subcompact ute ain’t so compact. It’s the biggest subcompact in the luxury aisle with more storage space than a roll-top desk. Americans live large in their cars and the XC40 is a rolling habitat.

Volvos have always been furniture on wheels with their crafted Scandinavian wood surfaces and plush chairs. The XC40 is all that and utilitarian, too. The entry-level Volvo is the unmistakable descendent of the fancy-pants, midsize XC90 and compact XC60 with its “Thor’s hammer” headlights, vertical iPad screen and fortress of safety features.

But this Swede has a personality all its own.

After all, this XC isn’t riding up to the usual cocktail-sipping party-valet counter. It’s mixing with a new crowd of potential Volvo consumers — hip youngsters and old hipsters looking for something that stands out in the crowded Whole Foods parking lot. These are buyers who prefer to spend time behind the wheels of a Mini Cooper Clubman, or funky Nissan Murano or edgy Ford Edge than in the back seat of an $80,000 land yacht.

My funkadelic Amazon Blue XC40 with white roof and Hot Wheels wants to be noticed.

I spent a day with the XC in Austin, which is basically the Texas version of Ann Arbor. Only bigger. The Volvo fit right in among Austin’s music bar-lined streets, University of Texas campus and urban tech vibe.

Exterior designer Anders Gunnarson had Mini Cooper in mind when his Swedish team designed the white-top Volvo.

“It’s different. It gives the car youthful proportion,” he said pacing around the car. “It’s charismatic like a Mini Cooper, and gives it it’s own personality — different from its big brothers.”

Gunnarson has a nickname for his charismatic creation: “Tough little robot.”

A properly elegant XC90 or S90 sedan would be horrified if you called them a “robot.” But it fits the XC40. The car, the first on Volvo’s small-car CMA platform (short for Compact Modular Architecture) carries the Volvo signature design themes of Thor’s hammer headlights, rectangular grille and boomerang taillights.

Everything else is different, quirky.

The front grille has been scalloped, as if Gunnarson carved it out with a giant ice cream scooper. The rocker panels are dimpled. The three-dimensional tailgate is so expressive that Gunnarson moved the license plate to the lower bumper so as not to distract from it.

Oh, and that roof. It’s supported by a flying buttress-style C-pillar so large it looks like it was stolen from Notre-Dame Cathedral. Or Toyota’s own subcompact funk-mobile, the C-HR. I love it, though it creates a driver blind spot bigger than Kansas.

All this drama got the attention of Ato Musa, a Kenya-born clothing designer living the dream in downtown Austin. He drives a Mercedes E-class for its elegance and — naturally — its handsome interior materials.

He couldn’t take his eyes off my loaded $44,000 XC40 T5 Momentum (the T5 gets a 248-horsepower turbo-4, the T4 gets a 187-horse turbo-4). As I watched him shoot pics in his custom three-piece suit, I imagined he would probably forgo the punk white roof for a more conservative black top offered with the R-Design trim. Either way, it was the interior that really moved him.

The appointments are singularly Volvo with standard digital cockpit, huge 8-inch tablet screen (just like its big brother, the $60,000 XC90), soft-touch dash, aluminum dash accents, leather seats, floor carpet lapping all the way up to the console and felt door-liners made from 97 percent recycled water bottles (that’s the ol’ greenie Volvo I know).

Choose the interior in black leather and lava-orange carpet/felt, and you’ll be invited to every party in town.

Then there’s the storage. It. Is. Everywhere. A healthy center-console storage container — designer Gunnarson calls it a “fishbox,” which I think is Swedish for tackle box — included a deep, removable trash bin which I wish every car had for tossing tissues, candy wrappers and all that rubbage (Gunnarson’s term again) that you have to toss into the door side pockets in other cars because there’s no proper place to put it. I once rented a car where someone had stuck their used bubble gum under the dash. Ugh.

In front of the fish box are two cup holders, two USB ports and a trough for phones, change, etc.

Speaking of side pockets, the XC40 has extended them the length of the door by moving the base speakers to the top of the dash. My laptop fit easily in the side pocket. Plus mouse. And a water bottle.

I’m just warming up. A clever hook flips out from the glove box to hang everything from a purse to plastic grocery bags.

The rear seat will easily stow my 6-foot-5-inch frame. The XC40 sports the best rear legroom in a class in which this is usually an afterthought. In fact, the Volvo’s room and cargo space compare favorably to more expensive compact utes like the Alfa Stelvio and similarly priced Buick Envision while besting them in interior finish. The rear passengers not only get center cup storage, but their very own storage trays at each seat corner.

The cargo hold is more versatile than a Swiss Army knife with more flip-out grocery bag hangers, a hinged floor that folds up to keep loose groceries in place, and — voila!— a subfloor where you can store that bulky cargo blind when it’s not in use.

The giant rear c-pillar makes the second row a dark hole, so opt for the panoramic sunroof so the sun can shine in.

So brimming with self-confidence is the XC40 that its 2.0-liter turbo-4 even beats its BMW X1 and Audi Q3 competitors in horsepower with 248 ponies. Only the pricey Jaguar E-PACE R-Dynamic bests it in segment.

Just don’t ask the Volvo to keep up with those athletes in the twisties. The Volvo’s fun factor ends when you flog it hard, as the e-steering goes numb and the big chassis feels like it’s floating above the road. So, if it’s handling you want, buy the x-citing X1 which also rivals the XC40 in roominess.

But if you want a tough little robot with the best living quarters, then Volvo has you covered. With swagger and space, it’s a Swede with an American accent.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Volvo XC40




$34,195 base ($44,315 AWD T5 Momentum; $45,935 T5 R-Design as tested)

Power plant

2.0-liter turbo-4


248 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque (187-horse turbo-4 coming later for base T4)


8-speed automatic


0-60 mph, 6.2 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 140 mph


3,800 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy


Report card

Highs: Versatile interior living space; loaded with standard features

Lows: Numb steering; all that carpeting could get soiled


Review: Tesla Model 3 lives up to hype

Posted by hpayne on March 1, 2018


Correction: This review has been updated to reflect that the Tesla Model 3 keyless entry system responds to a digital key transmitted by Bluetooth from the car owner’s phone or by tapping a thin card on the car’s b-pillar. The system was incorrectly described. Also, the “Autosteer” feature cautions drivers to check mirrors for oncoming traffic before activating a lane change. The level of autonomy was incorrectly characterized. Finally, the characterization of the body panel fit as inconsistent has been restored from an earlier version.

Peering over the instrument-free dashboard, I threw the compact Tesla Model 3 into an M-10 cloverleaf. Its balanced rear-wheel drive chassis rotated easily, then — zot! — I bolted silently onto the freeway with instant electric-motor torque.

The “mini-Model S” is here, and it’s everything its iconic big brother is. And less.

Less, as in half the price. I spent a day around Metro Detroit driving one of the first customer-owned Model 3s delivered to Michigan. At a loaded, $59,000 ($35,000 base), the newest Tesla family sedan is considerably easier on the wallet than the $130,000 ($74,500 base) Model S sedans I have driven in recent years. Yet, in many ways, Model 3 is a more satisfying product.

Unless you’ve been living on Mars, you know the Model 3’s production launch has been a pickle — “production Hell” CEO Elon Musk calls it — as the young Silicon Valley automaker has struggled to get the assembly line moving for its mass-market EV with a range of 200-plus miles.

Musk’s bravado hasn’t helped. He boasted that Tesla would be turning out 5,000 vehicles a week by December 2017 (actual production: about 1,500 for the month). He took shots at legacy automakers, calling the pace of today’s manufacturing slower than“grandma with a walker.” Added Musk: “Why shouldn’t it at least be jogging speed?”

Critics have delighted as the most audacious auto entrepreneur since Henry Ford has struggled to get production up to a jog. But product will ultimately define Tesla — product that spurred an unprecedented 450,000-plus pre-orders from customers like me.

Take the much-ballyhooed issue of Tesla build-quality. Walking around this blue Model 3 tester, body panel fit is inconsistent. Gaps in the lid of the “frunk” — the front trunk — vary from nose to fender. An A-pillar seam is slightly misaligned. That doesn’t happen on, say, the similarly priced Audi RS3 I recently sampled.

I doubt owners will sweat such minutiae because the Model 3 is unlike anything they have driven. It’s the iPhone of autos.

Take that frunk: Luggage storage like that doesn’t exist on other cars except for the Porsche 911. But the 911 has a frunk in front because its engine is in back. With its battery-pack stowed under the floorboards, the Model 3 also has ample trunk-storage in the rear, augmented by bench seats that fold flat so you can pass through big toys like flat-screen TVs or skis.

The front cabin is as striking as the first iPhone you saw in 2007. The austere dash is uninterrupted by an instrument panel or butterfly-vent controls. Most controls are contained in a 15-inch, horizontal tablet that’s positioned high in the center console. Indeed, there’s not a single button in the cabin except for door openers and a federally mandated “emergency flasher” button in the ceiling. Glove box button? In the screen. Temperature controls? Screen. Radio? Screen.

Like a smartphone, the touchscreen uses a Google Maps interface for Tesla’s voice-activated navigation system. More responsive than the last Model S I tested, Google Maps loads quickly and responds to direct voice-commands — there are no multi-step navigation commands like most cars. “Navigate to Vinsetta Garage,” I barked after a sudden urge for mac and cheese. Done.

Only the mirrors and steering-wheel position are not controlled through the screen; they’re adjusted by two thumb-operated orbs on the steering wheel. If the iPhone redefined phone glass, then Tesla expands auto glass with an uncluttered front screen, full sunroof and easy rear-visibility.

I’m an advocate for cockpit-centered displays — Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is the best — but with key data like speed and range located in the tablet’s northwest quarter, the Tesla layout works OK. It would work better if complemented by a reflective heads-up display.

The simplicity of design and lack of console shifter (the right steering-wheel stalk controls the electric drive) means the center console is one big piece of furniture with multiple cubbies for storage. Battery location in the basement also opens more rear seat acreage for 6-foot-5 giraffes like me. I sat comfortably in the back seat with headroom to spare under the tinted glass roof.

The exterior is a sleek sportback-eggshell that — while not as elegant as the longer Model S — is distinctly Tesla.

Instead of keyless entry via a fob like the Model S (and other autos), the Model 3 responds to a digital key transmitted by Bluetooth from the owner’s phone. A thin card also grants entry if tapped on the b-pillar. Sensing the phone, the car unlocked as I approached, and then turned on when I slipped inside. Luke Skywalker would be impressed.

You’ll want to slip inside a lot because this Starfighter is a blast to drive.

My favorite compact sports sedan is the athletic Cadillac ATS. This 3,814-pound, 310-mile-range, 75-kWh Model 3 tester was every bit its match. Multiple Woodward stoplight launches (no Ludicrous mode here) yielded zero-60 times in the 5.2-second range (Motor Trend has recorded 4.8 seconds). The top-line 335-horse V-6 ATS? 5.6 seconds. The fat steering wheel feels rooted to the ground, the 113-inch wheelbase (the ATS has a 109-inch wheelbase, BMW 3-series measures 111) is balanced, the chassis flat as a board.

Flinging the Model 3 through 180-degree cloverleafs, I barely got a squawk from the Continental tires.

My tester came equipped with the latest version of Tesla’s self-driving Autopilot, which worked competently on I-696, though its turn-signal-activated, “Autosteer” lane-switch feature still not-so-autonomously cautions drivers to safely check the mirror for oncoming traffic first (impressively, sci-fi Telsa is constantly improving such features with over-the-air software updates). Most impressive is auto parallel-park: No hands — or feet — are needed.

As has been typical in my lead-footed Tesla Model S test drives, I took 44 miles off the battery for every 30 miles on the odometer. Under more civilized driving across Michigan and Ohio, my tester’s owner says he’s been able to average 305 miles on a full charge — not far off Tesla’s claimed 310 miles for the big-battery EV.

Only long-range Model 3s are currently being delivered — the standard-battery, 240-mile range $35,000 base-entry comes later this year. The wait isn’t getting any shorter — my projected August delivery is jogging four months behind schedule. But the mini-Model S lives up to the hype.

Tesla fighters: Volvo’s Polestar joins EV race

Posted by hpayne on February 23, 2018


Here they come.

Spurred on by the success of American electric-car company Tesla, luxury European carmakers are bringing to market a wave of new battery-powered vehicles beginning this year.

Where other start-up companies like Lucid and Faraday Future have struggled to raise the capital to manufacture their sleek electric-vehicle dreams, established automakers like Jaguar, BMW, Porsche, Jaguar and Audi are pouring billions into new EVs. They will rival Tesla in performance, surpass it in initial build quality, and — perhaps most importantly — try to tempt buyers at a time when global governments are forcing the auto industry to go electric.

One of the boldest new entries is Polestar, an EV brand from Volvo.

Like Tesla wannabes Lucid and Faraday Future, Polestar has wowed the public with a jaw-dropping high-performance prototype. Unlike Lucid and Faraday, Polestar comes with the full backing of Volvo, an established Swedish maker with deep Chinese pockets behind it.

“Tesla is the leader in premium electric, but many other people are catching up to that party and there is going to be a lot of choice within it,” Polestar Communications chief J.B. Canton said in an interview. “We’re confident that what Polestar has in store is going to be right up there with the best of them.”

Next month in Geneva, Polestar, which is owned by Chinese automaker Geely, will introduce the production-ready version of the Polestar 1. It will hit dealerships in 2019 to compete against the Tesla Model S and X; Jaguar I-PACE (due this summer); Audi eTron (expected later this year); and Porsche Mission E, Mercedes EQC and Buick EV (all due in 2019). By 2022, major manufacturers — including luxury and mainstream brands — are expected to flood the market with 100 new EVs with ranges in excess of 200 miles.

“Regulatory pressure is driving everything to electric vehicles,” says Canton. “Legislation is going that way — just look at China — and forcing R&D spending towards electrification that needed to happen anyway. Volvo feels a sense of corporate responsibility, and has made an emotional and moral commitment to push Polestar in that direction.”

Canton says Polestar gives Volvo the chance to expand beyond the tailored safety-conscious sedans and SUVs that have defined it for decades. Toyota created Lexus. Hyundai invented Genesis. Volvo’s Polestar brand will forge a new premium path of performance-oriented EVs.

What’s different, of course, is that Volvo is already a premium brand where Toyota, Hyundai and others invented premium brands to complement mainstream models. But Volvo believes the electric revolution is ripe for a new kind of luxury.

“So many other companies have launched … higher-margin products to appeal to more folks than their core-vehicle business,” says Canton. “With the world going to electric cars, it made sense for us to do it now. There is no premium nameplate already above the Volvo brand. So to go performance-electric and use the Polestar brand name … the timing was just right.”

Polestar’s first production car, the Polestar 1, will be a green beast.

 It will come wrapped in an all-carbon-fiber coupe shell with all-wheel drive channeling 600 horsepower with a stump-pulling, 740 foot-pounds of torque — more than Corvette’s V-8 powered supercar.

All that grunt will come from a combined gas-electric plug-in powertrain, the only Polestar offered as a hybrid. After that, all models will be electric-only. After Polestar 1, a Polestar 2 and 3 will follow over two years, with the 2 offered as an entry-level, $45,000 EV.

Why a hybrid halo? “Outright performance, you can do more with both,” Canton said of a no-holds-barred exotic starting at $150,000.

Performance is key to the Polestar brand just as it defined Tesla — not as a slow granola-mobile, but as a zero-60 dragster that could smoke any muscle car out of a Woodward stoplight. The start-up brand gets its name from a familiar Volvo teammate, Polestar Racing. Long successful on the track (Polestar Volvos won Europe’s prestigious World Touring Car Championship in 2017), Polestar was brought in-house by Volvo in 2015 as a Volvo performance badge much like the Shelby moniker for Ford.

The Polestar 1 design shares Volvo family traits: “Thor’s hammer” LED headlights, C-clamp rear taillights, Scandinavian interior. And like the Toyota-Lexus creation, Polestars will share the same two platforms as Volvo cars and SUVs. The brand will explore new technologies like a continuously-controlled electronic suspension and twin-rear, torque-vectoring electric motors.

Like Tesla, Polestar will also pioneer new sales strategies. It’s looking at a subscription-ownership experience modeled on smartphones with customers turning in their Polestar for an upgraded model after two or three years.

“Ideally, all Polestars will be owned by subscription,” says Canton of a service called “Care by Volvo.”

 Polestar will create a new network of dealer-owned franchises, unlike Tesla which has tried to sell its EVs directly to consumers. But like Tesla, Polestar will not service cars from dealerships as it plans storefronts in more trafficked environments like city centers.

Canton credits Tesla for spreading the EV gospel, but he expects the market to grow slowly. While Tesla’s Model 3 has roared out of the gates with more than 450,000 pre-orders, Volvo anticipates 1,000 sales a year for the exotic Polestar 1, with the cheaper Polestar 2 selling in the “tens-of-thousands globally.”

Echoing Chevrolet when it introduced its 200-mile-range Bolt EV opposite Tesla’s 200-mile r-nge Model 3, Volvo sees Polestar’s competitive advantage in manufacturing.

In a subtle shot at the Silicon Valley maker, Canton says, “Polestar is not redesigning the wheel. Volvo has these amazing platforms, they know how to build factories, they know how to build perfectly good cars with excellent quality control so we go to market with 100 years of developing cars behind us.”

Big and small, all EV brands will face the same challenge: how to capture more buyers. Sales of electrics and hybrids have stalled at less than 3 percent of the U.S. market.

Payne: Buick’s three-row Enclave handsome inside and out

Posted by hpayne on February 23, 2018


Buick’s big car, the LaCrosse, is a stunning vehicle with elegant looks inside and out, acres of interior space and a light, all-wheel-drive chassis that makes it feel a size smaller on the road.

Trouble is, full-size sedans have as much appeal these days as professional ballroom dancing.

So Buick’s tailors fit the LaCrosse wardrobe to a three-row SUV and called it the Enclave. The result is one of the most head-turning SUVs on stage today. The fact that Buick isn’t sweating the cratering of the sedan market is testimony to the remarkable pivot the premium automaker has made from being a clueless sedan brand to a cutting-edge crossover player.

As the ads say: That’s a Buick?

Buick is now a full-line SUV manufacturer in the hottest segments on the planet with the cute-ute subcompact Encore and compact Envision. But it’s the Enclave that saved the brand’s bacon.

“The Enclave resuscitated Buick,” says ex-General Motors product guru Bob Lutz. “It sold to people in their 40s and 50s (as opposed to 60s and up), shared up-market garages with German sedans, and achieved what all the wise specialists said was impossible: It made Buick relevant again.”

Introduced in 2008, the first-generation Enclave was unmistakable. With its signature “boat bow” rear window, pronounced hips and huge kisser, it high-stepped into view like Ashley Graham on heels. This was no ute box. This was a super-size SUV proud of its super-size curves. It was a hit, forcing GM to add a third shift at its Lansing line to meet demand.

The second generation is made even more stunning by following the mantra that less is more. Like the LaCrosse, the Enclave is about simplicity of line. This car just flows. With generous use of chrome highlights, its lines connect as if inked from a draftsman’s silver pen. The signature winged grille bleeds into the headlight’s LED “eyebrows,” which are then picked up by curvaceous shoulders, then finished with a wide chrome stroke connecting the rear taillights.

Did I say the Enclave is as lovely as the LaCrosse? No. It’s better.

There is more daring here, from the way the grille integrates with the headlights to the familiar boat-bow window to the scalloped rocker panels — a touch that got lost on the LaCrosse in the transition from sketch pad to sheet metal.

Making the feat even more impressive is the Enclave’s size. Short of ginormous truck-based utes like the Lincoln Navigator or Cadillac Escalade or Infiniti QX80, the Enclave is the biggest three-row unibody-frame SUV out there. Its 204-inch length dwarfs competitors like the 196-inch Acura MDX or 194-inch Volvo VC90.

The sculpture continues inside with long, chrome bezels and parallel lines that lap across the dash like waves on a Caribbean island: natural, rhythmic, simple.

“That’s really nice,” my neighbor John, a former interior designer, cooed when I drove up.

This smoothness translates to the ride thanks to sharing its lightweight platform with GM’s Chevy Traverse.

Merging with authority onto the Lodge Freeway, the big car’s diet is immediately apparent. Shedding 350 pounds from the previous generation, the car rotates easily, its twin-pack all-wheel-drive system distributing torque and traction. With a butter-smooth nine-speed transmission and 310 horses available from a 3.6-liter V-6 (also shared with Traverse), my confidence grew with each mile as I hustled along behind a V-8 powered Dodge Challenger R/T whose driver must have wondered how the land yacht in his mirrors was keeping up.

Eventually, macho got the best of him — that’s a Buick! — in traffic as he tried to lose me by swerving onto the right shoulder and flooring it past a line of cars. Easy, Bullitt.

The Traverse DNA is both a blessing and curse.

The Buick’s best-in-segment size is reason alone to buy this beauty. But like the Traverse, it forces stop-start engine shut-off on drivers while holding back on standard features found on mainstream models costing $20,000 less.

The stop-start stall at stoplights is annoying to many — yet premium buyers moving up from Chevy coach to Buick first-class will be even more annoyed to find they still don’t have the choice to turn it off.

Speaking of first-class seating, a simple tug on the second-row captain’s chair side handle will cause the seat to tumble forward. The feature is both effortless and practical as it can be accomplished with a car seat intact. But the Traverse-shared feature is only available on the car’s curbside, meaning passengers on the left have to clamber through the middle of the seats to reach the third row.

Versatile seats like these are some of autodom’s most expensive items, so the curbside-only feature in the Chevy may make sense. But the Enclave? Shouldn’t luxury get more? Even Honda’s Pilot offers similarly clever, one-button collapsible seats on both sides.

Climb into the third-row and space abounds — including double cupholders for each passenger to accommodate, say, their Shake Shack milkshake and burger. Spoil your passengers with the $1,400 dual moonroof option to let the sun shine in. Its third row doesn’t make you feel like a third-class passenger.

Yet, starting at $51,290, my Premium trim Enclave did not include adaptive cruise-control — a standard item on competitor Acura MDX. And a $27,000 Mazda CX-5 or a $35,000 Honda Pilot, for that matter. Only the top-trim $55,000 Enclave Avenir offers it.

Happily, other goodies abound, like standard-in-all-trims smartphone connectivity, heated front seats (heated steering wheel on my Premium trim) and power liftgate.

Also standard is an open-sesame rear-kick liftgate. How to know where to waggle your foot to open the trunk when your arms are full of groceries? A Buick logo illuminates the spot on the ground.

Once in the cavernous rear trunk (with 8 more cubic feet than MDX), there is another 3-cubic-foot storage bin beneath the load floor. Which reminds me of another clever, hidden space in this roomy manor.

Made possible by the Enclave’s cable-free monostable electronic-shifter, Buick carves a cave under the shifter for hiding, say, a purse. Mrs. Payne loved it, even if it meant coming to terms with the sometimes-confusing e-shifter.

Buick has come a long way thanks to Enclave. With a little more generosity on standard items, its three-row yacht can be the bargain of the segment. She’s already making me forget why we need big sedans.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Buick Enclave

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

Price: $40,970 base ($56,455 AWD Premium as tested)

Power plant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 310 horsepower, 266 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing capacity: 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,358 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway/20 mpg combined (AWD as tested)

Report card

Highs: A three-row sculpture; as handsome inside as out

Lows: “SmartSlide” rear seat is only smart on the right side; standard adaptive-cruise, please


Camaro ZL1 crashes the sedan party at Daytona 500

Posted by hpayne on February 23, 2018


When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series field rolls to the green flag for the start of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, it will be Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry family sedans versus… the Chevy Camaro ZL1 track beast. Doesn’t seem like a fair fight.

For the first time in NASCAR Cup Series history, Chevy will officially enter its Camaro muscle car in America’s premier racing league.

While the Camaro-Fusion-Camry competitors will still be largely the same under the skin according to NASCAR’s strict vehicle rules, the jarring contrast in car models marks a break from recent manufacturer marketing. And it echoes NASCAR’s 1960s glory days when automakers fielded hot rods like the Plymouth Superbird and Ford Talladega to give superstar drivers like Richard Petty and David Pearson a leg up in the championship fight.

The Camaro ZL1 production car is an earth-pawing athlete

The Camaro ZL1 production car is an earth-pawing athlete following in the tire tracks of this NASCAR prototype. (Photo: Chevrolet)

We are looking forward to bringing the Camaro ZL1 to the race track,” GM Vice President for Motorsports Jim Campbell said at Daytona last month. “We race Camaro in the Xfinity Series, Pirelli World Challenge GTS category, NHRA Stock, Super Stock Sportsman classes and up through Funny Car. This is another logical extension for us with racing.”

On paper, America’s greatest race should be no contest. The Camaro ZL1 production car is an earth-pawing, Nurburgring-tested athlete with the same supercharged 650-horsepower engine that fires the Chevy Corvette Z06. In showroom trim, the Camry and Fusion are 4- or 6-cylinder powered, four-door grocery-haulers with half the Camaro’s horsepower.

 In the 21st century, however, NASCAR has enforced strict aerodynamic and engine rules to make entries from its three marquee manufacturers the same in order to promote tight racing, keep costs down and put a spotlight on individual drivers. Distinct car models have given way to strict body templates with similar V-8 engines under the hood.

“Things had become so homologized in NASCAR that in 2007 Toyota decided to go racing with the least likely race car of them all, the Camry,” wrote Chris Smith at “(It is) the culmination of the trend in removing any sort of ‘stock’ from stock car racing.”

NASCAR Cup racers bear little resemblance to their production avatars, save for glued-on headlights and badge stickers. As a result, manufacturers have fielded family sedans like the Fusion and Camry and Chevy Impala in order to market their brands to NASCAR’s family-friendly viewing demographic — a fan base that has also attracted household names like Tide, Cheerios and FedEx as sponsors.

Toyota’s 850-horsepower, V-8-powered Cup car has been badged as a Camry. The Japanese brand entered NASCAR in 2007.

“NASCAR has been a great platform for Toyota’s brand,” a spokesperson said ahead of Daytona. “It has introduced our company to a loyal and diverse audience that may not have known what our brand represented before we came into the sport.”

The NASCAR Camaro will pack a V-8 under its hood just like the ZL1 on dealer floors. It marks the first time a Camaro has been on a NASCAR Cup grid since 1971 when Tiny Lund fielded a private entry — but the first time that Chevy has entered the muscle car as a factory effort.

“The biggest challenge translating Camaro to the NASCAR Cup design template was maintaining the strong character of the production car while working with our race teams to create a great aero platform for them to build fastest race cars possible,” says Chevy NASCAR program manager Pat Suhy.

 Camaro’s debut has led to speculation that Ford might counter with its own V-8 powered muscle car, the Mustang. Ford confirms it has gotten a lot of interest in that possibility, but is tight-lipped on future plans.

“This is racing, and we are always working on actions to improve performance and that includes engine, body, aero, everything on the car. We will make an announcement on any future body actions when we are ready,” says Ford Motorsports chief Mark Rushbrook.

Toyota teased the return of its new Supra this week, which will give the Japanese brand its own muscle car for NASCAR consideration.

After fielding the Chevy Impala family sedan until 2012, GM bucked the family car trend for NASCAR Cup cars by entering its V-8 powered rear-wheel drive Chevy SS. Trouble was, the SS — a four-door muscle car — sold just 4,000 cars in the U.S. market. The under-performing SS was discontinued for 2018, and the Camaro — with annual sales just under 70,000 vehicles — took its place.

“(The SS) was the most authentic entry in NASCAR from track to showroom,” said GM Motorsports boss Campbell. “We wanted to keep that principle intact as we went forward, and Camaro was the right place for us to do it.”

Payne: Alfa Stelvio sport ute vs. Cadillac ATS sport sedan

Posted by hpayne on February 15, 2018


The age of the performance SUV is upon us. Porsche, Jaguar, Alfa — even Lamborghini! — put the “sport” in sport utility vehicle. They come with heavy-breathing marketing materials claiming these five-door rhinos bring sedan-like moves to the ute class.

Don’t you believe it.

I recently speed-dated a similarly spec’d five-door Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV and a Cadillac ATS sedan. Both had turbo-4 power. Sculpted lines. Eight-speed transmissions. Electronic accessories. The works.

The razor-sharp, toned ATS danced rings around the Alfa. The Cadillac begs to be spun around the rumba studio. The Italian ute? Slow the music down a bit, please.

Yet, when I step back from these two luxury partners, the SUV’s overall benefits are hard to deny. Driving-obsessed motorheads like me aside, we are ute nation. It’s no wonder that Alfa — that legendary crafter of the T33 Stradale Prototipo and V8 Montreal — chose to introduce its second U.S. volume vehicle as an SUV. And it’s no wonder that Cadillac is scrambling to complement its lone crossover entry, the XT-5, with s new XT-4 and XT-6 this year.

I was honestly surprised at how pedestrian the Alfa felt next to the ATS. The Stelvio, after all, is based on the same Giorgio architecture as the Giulia sedan which is neck-and-neck with the ATS for best compact athlete. The Alfa siblings share engines, gearboxes, even independent, multi-link suspensions. And the Stelvio costs 10 grand more than the ATS with similar amenities.

The Stelvio is as good as it gets in compact SUVs. Like the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Sport and BMW X2 (and, while we’re at it, the terrific, premium-wannabe Mazda CX-5) it is fun to drive, balanced on corner turn-in.

But the ATS is an Olympian.

You know this is a different animal as soon as you turn the wheel. The ATS fits like a tennis shoe, changing directions as quickly as Seth Curry. Heading north on Telegraph Road, I take the long way home through Oakland County’s twisty lake country. I push the Sport mode button for a throatier soundtrack to match my mood, stomp the throttle, and enjoy the quick, buttery, eight-speed tranny.

 It reminds me of the first time I drove the Cadillac in rural Connecticut, sprinting over hills and never putting a foot wrong.

Its Alpha chassis (that’s Alpha with a “ph”) was bred to compete against Germany’s finest at the highest levels. Drop in a twin-turbo V-6, slap on some Michelin Super Sports, and the ATS-V performance model can go toe-to-toe against a BMW M3 around any track. It was part of Cadillac’s rebirth as a performance brand as it threw an army at the Teutons: Cadillac CTS-V, CT6 large sedans, CT6 plug-in hybrid.

So good is the Alpha chassis that GM also built the Chevy Camaro on it, which not only gave the Camaro bragging rights over the Ford Mustang — but made the Camaro competitive with BMW’s M4 coupe, for goodness sake.

Trouble is, customers wanted SUVs.

“People want to ride up high for better visibility. And SUVs also give them all-wheel drive and five-door utility,” says IHS senior analyst Steph Brinley.

Cadillac only offered one — the XT5 — and the Germans offered dozens. Alfa watched, learned and introduced Stelvio within a year of the Giulia. Stelvio sales have been slow out of the box, selling two-thirds as many units as the sedan. But give it time. Caddy’s lone XT5 outsells the ATS 5-to-1 — and it’s not even based on the same rear-wheel drive skeleton (it shares its bones with the front-wheel-drive GMC Acadia).

Jump in the Stelvio and it’s not immediately obvious why an SUV would outsell a sedan. Like its compact car counterparts, the backseat is small and its coupe-like styling negates the fundamental hatchback design advantage by squashing my 6-foot-5 frame into the ceiling.

Then it started to snow.

The white stuff negated all of the handling advantages of the ATS. My rear-wheel drive ATS couldn’t make it up my driveway. The Alfa climbed it like Sir Edmund Hillary.

The Stelvio comes standard with all-wheel drive — but four-wheelin’ is an option on the ATS which would bring its price to $52,000 (and make it even quicker to 60 mph with the added traction). That’s still $4,000 shy of the Alfa. But the average consumer has already signed the sedan divorce papers.

The standard all-wheel drive Stelvio rides higher for better visibility. It has nearly double the rear cargo space (18 cubic feet) compared to the Caddy’s 10. And then there’s the Alfa engine.

Most drivers don’t know an apex from a cortex — but they know how to mash a throttle out of a stoplight. Here the Alfa shines. Its 280-horsepower turbo-4 had just five more horsepower and 10 more pound-feet of torque than the Cadillac, but it feels like more. The Stelvio also feels smoother in the high-rev ranges where the Caddy shouts, sounding more like a mainstream four-banger than a luxury chariot.

More telling, fuel efficiency is almost identical despite the Alfa weighing some 500 pounds more than the sedan and lugging around all-wheel drive. That’s impressive — and also indicative of the leap that SUVs have made to become more competitive with cars. These aren’t your grandad’s gas-guzzling light trucks.

“Customers want it all,” says Brinley. “They expect utility and fuel economy.”

The more I drove the ATS and Stelvio back-to-back, the more I wanted to combine their strengths into one vehicle.

From the ATS: lower center of gravity for better handling, lighter weight, touchscreen infotainment. From the Stelvio: hatchback utility, all-wheel drive, beefier turbo-4.

Now that would be the perfect car. Call it the Alfallac ATStelvio.

Or call it the VW Golf R, one of my favorite hot hatches that combines the best of the sedan/ute worlds: hatchback (with 4 more cubic feet of cargo room than the Stelvio), a 2.0-liter turbo-4 (with 12 more horsepower than the Alfa), low center of gravity, monster brakes, lightweight (700 pounds lighter than Stelvio), all-wheel drive for snow and grip (a half-second quicker to 60 mph than the luxe twins), 25 mpg (same as the ATS), plus standard leather and safety systems.

And a loaded Golf R costs just $41,000 — 5,000 grand south of an ATS and $15,000 cheaper than the Stelvio. It’s a bargain.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Cadillac ATS

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

Price: $36, 490 base ($47,255 RWD as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder

Power: 272 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.7 seconds (Motor Trend); top speed, 150 mph

Weight: 3,373 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: Slot-car handling; unique styling

Lows: Cramped backseat; shouty four-banger


2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

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

Price: $43,190 base ($54,090 Sport Ti AWD as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged, 4-cylinder

Power: 280 horsepower, 306 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.4 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 144 mph

Weight: 4,044 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway/24 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: Quick engine-tranny combo; sedan-like mpg despite added girth

Lows: Cramped backseat; high CUV stance compromises handling


Toyota’s Supra-tease act

Posted by hpayne on February 14, 2018

Like the legend of the Yeti, there are few cars more mysterious than the Toyota Supra.

When Toyota wowed Detroit in 2014 with its curvy FT-1 concept, the automaker set off speculationabout the return of the Supra sports car last seen on U.S. shores in 1998. Detroit shows have come and gone for four years with hopes of a new Supra dashed, but gearheads have been atwitter with leaked spy shots of racy-looking sports cars co-developed by Toyota and BMW on the same platform in Graz, Austria. BMW showed its roadster concept, replacing the Z4, in Pebble Beach last fall.

This week, ahead of the Geneva Auto Show in March, Toyota finally gave Supra watchers a sighting when it teased “a modern racing concept (that) signals Toyota’s commitment to bring back to the market its most iconic sports car.”

The accompanying photo released by Toyota is as fleeting a glimpse as any Yeti wilderness shot, but the similarities to the FT-1 concept are unmistakable: dual-bubble roof, duck-tail trunk-lid and big wing.

Headlined “The Legend Returns” on Toyota’s website, all signs point to Supra.

“It will be a Supra,” says Stephanie Brinley, auto analyst with IHS Automotive, which first reported the Toyota-BMW partnership back in December 2013. “Toyota and BMW have been working on this for quite a while.”

The Supra is a reminder that, before it became the world’s best-selling purveyor of vanilla appliances like the Camry sedan and RAV4 ute, Toyota sold swagger, too. Its Supra was the equivalent of a Japanese Mustang or Camaro. Evolved from the Celica coupe, it became its own badge in 1986 as an affordable performance muscle-car with a ferocious, upper-trim fired by a twin-turbo V-6. A big, aerodynamic wing kept it on the ground.

The last Supra appeared in the U.S. in 1998. Sightings of camouflaged Supras have dovetailed with vows by Toyota Chairman (and part-time racer) Akio Toyoda to bring back sex appeal to the brand.

“Toyota wants to be more performance-oriented,” says IHS’s Brinley. “The Supra helps inject more excitement into the brand.”

 The Supra would be the perfect halo for a rejuvenated Toyota that has already brought some of that sex appeal to the Camry sedan with an all-new design for 2018.

After Toyota’s teaser Monday, the speculative furnace was fueled further by leaked photos and specs in Japan’s “Best Car” magazine. The pictures are an evolution of the FT-1 concept seen in Detroit. The specs claim a 3,284-pound car with 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque from a BMW-sourced turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-6 cylinder engine.

The engine would be shared with its BMW roadster sibling reportedly called the Z5. Weight for the Supra is listed at 3,284 pounds, making the car lighter and more powerful than the last turbocharged Supra seen on U.S. shores in the 1990s.

 The Toyota-BMW sports car partnership is typical in age where safety and emissions regulations have made it difficult for manufacturers to justify the development of low-volume sports cars. Other recent sports cars have also been joint ventures like the Mazda Miata and Fiat 124 Spider, and the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ.

“The Supra-Z4 development is along the lines of the Fiat-Mazda partnership,” says Brinley. “Both Toyota and BMW wanted a new sports car with similar performance goals – but neither could justify the development costs to do a new chassis by themselves. We expect global sales of both cars to be about 44,000 units initially, settling into 30,000 annually.”

All eyes will be on Geneva for another Supra sighting in March.

Tesla Model 3 debuts in Midwest

Posted by hpayne on February 14, 2018


Premium electric-car maker Tesla will not have a display at the Chicago Auto Show that begins this week, but it’s still turning heads in the Windy City.

Tesla introduced the first Model 3, its entry-level EV under $40,000, for Midwest public display at its gallery space in north Chicago on Thursday. Tesla says other Midwest stores are sure to follow with their own Model 3 displays, including Troy’s Somerset Collection store, which opened last fall.

The sleek Model 3 is the hottest new vehicle on the planet with customers placing over 450,000 pre-orders for the car in 2016 before a vehicle was even produced. Like the coveted, $70,000-plus Model S sedan that made green vehicles sexy, the $35,000 Model 3 promises over 200 miles of range and explosive, battery-powered acceleration. Upper trims will crest $60,000 and offer all-wheel-drive and 310 miles of range.

Fremont, California, production began in late 2017 but has significantly lagged company production promises of 5,000 vehicles a month. InsideEVs reports that only 1,875 Model 3s were delivered in January — though that still made it the most-sold EV in the market ahead of the all-electric Chevy Bolt and Toyota Prius Prime. Tesla has revised its production schedule to 5,000 a month by the end of June.

The Chicago showcase is an indicator that Model 3s are being delivered to customers across the country after initial deliveries went to Tesla employees and early investors mostly in California near Tesla’s Silicon Valley headquarters and manufacturing facility.

Joel Szirtes of Pleasant Ridge, who already owns a Model S luxury sedan and Model X SUV, says that he will take delivery on his 310-mile range Model 3 in the next week. Szirtes configured his order online less than four weeks ago, suggesting that Tesla is at least meeting its promised delivery window of one month after customers finalize their purchase.

 Chicago, and Tesla locations in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, are important to Detroit customers because Michigan law does not allow Tesla to directly sell to customers as a violation of state dealer franchise laws. Both Illinois and Ohio, by contrast, allow direct sales — which also means that owners get their cars serviced in those states.

Szirtes, for example, ordered his Model S sedan online in 2011. It was serviced by Tesla staff out of Chicago’s West Grand Avenue store which opened in 2009.

As Ohio operations grew, southeast Michigan customers like Szirtes were redirected to the Cleveland store for service beginning in 2013. Vehicle service is one of Tesla’s greatest challenges as its “master plan” to electrify the market transitions to a mass-production vehicles like the Model 3. The company is working to increase service capacity three-fold — including mobile vans that can service owners at their home rather than making long-distance treks to, say, Cleveland.

Tesla’s Gold Coast gallery on North Rush Street opened Thanskgiving week and is the company’s fourth Chicago location. Unlike the other Chicago-area locations, however, Gold Coast showroom employees do not directly sell to customers given Illinois’ limits on sales locations. In addition to its innovative EVs, Tesla has sought to transform the auto showroom experience by adopting an Apple model with stores in heavily trafficked retail locations.

“This will be the first opportunity for Midwest consumers to visit a gallery to see the car, sit inside it and learn about it from Tesla’s knowledgeable staff,” said Tesla.

The Model 3 follows the general architecture of the larger Model S. Its large (up to 75 kWh) battery is located under the floor for a lower center of gravity and more cargo and seating capacity.

The Model 3’s minimalist interior, however, is even more radical than the Model S and X with most controls accessed through a 15-inch center screen. There is no instrument panel behind the steering wheel.

The design has both impressed and confused new owners and media reviewers. Some are uncomfortable having to turn on headlights and adjust climate controls via touchscreen.

“It might be going too far too fast in eliminating tried-and-true ways to control aspects of the car,” said Motor Trend, which has had extensive time with the car.

VW introduces artful Arteon sedan

Posted by hpayne on February 8, 2018

180204 VW Arteon_026

The Volkswagen Arteon debuted at the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday and the all-new 2019 sports sedan lives up to its name as the German brand’s artfully crafted design halo.

Replacing the stylish-but-misbegotten CC sedan that limped to just 1,355 sales last year after peak sales of nearly 30,000 units in 2011, the Arteon hopes to improve on the CC’s record with more of everything: more-dramatic styling, more legroom, more-nimble handling.

The Arteon has a hatchback trunk that has become all the rage in upscale sedans from the Audi A7 to the Kia Stinger and Buick Regal Sportback.

Like the Stinger, VW hopes Arteon will be a mainstream, upscale alternative to pricier premium models from Acura and Audi.

VW CEO of North America Hinrich Woebcken calls the Arteon a “brand shaper.”

From its wide grille and LED headlights to its clamshell hood and long wheelbase – five inches longer than the CC – the athletic Arteon brings visual drama to VW’s conservatively styled lineup of Jetta and Passat sedans.

 The Arteon is based on VW’s versatile, front-wheel drive MQB platform and will offer all-wheel drive in upper trims. Likely starting at a mid-$30,000 price point, the Arteon will come with standard leather; a 268-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo-4; eight-speed transmission; and smartphone app connectivity.

Upper trims will offer goodies like a panoramic sunroof, digital cockpit and massaging driver’s seat.

For all its exterior beauty and backseat comfort, the Arteon has received mixed reviews in Europe.

“If it’s as good as the German-market model when it arrives stateside next summer, the Volkswagen Arteon will hold a lot of appeal for style-conscious buyers on a budget,” writes Autoweek.

“Before you sign on the dotted line you’ve got to think: ‘No, I don’t want a Mercedes CLS or a BMW 4-series or an Audi A5 Sportback. I want that sort of thing but with a VW badge at the front and a boot the size of the Blue John Cavern at the back,’” wrote The Grand Tour’s Jeremy Clarkson in London’s Sunday Times.

The 2019 Arteon will be available in SE, SEL and SEL Premium trim levels and is due to arrive on dealer lots in the third quarter of 2018.

Fiat 500 gets an extra dash of spice

Posted by hpayne on February 8, 2018


The cute Fiat 500 is ditching its 4-cylinder hamster wheel and going turbo.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced at the Chicago Auto Show today that, for 2018, its Italian meatball will be roadkill no more: Its base 101-horsepower, normally aspirated engine is being retired for a turbo-4 shared by the rest of Fiat’s lineup.

Gaining 33 percent more horsepower over the previous leafblower, the 135-horse 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo is a detuned version of the 160-horsepower buzzsaw in the 500’s Abarth performance model.

The 500’s engine is shared by the rest of Fiat’s lineup which includes the Pope’s favorite roomy hatchback, the 500L,; the 500X subcompact crossover; and the Fiat 124 Spider sports car. All Fiat models receive trim and feature updates for the new model year.

A mainstay in tight Italian streets since 1957, the 500 – or “Cinquecento” in Italian – has struggled to gain traction in SUV-obsessed America since its introduction in 2011.

In addition to its small size, the 500 was derided for its mousy mill. The new engine comes standard on Pop and Lounge trims with the six-speed manual transmission an option.

The feisty, top-trim Abarth, meanwhile, maintains its turbocharged 160 horsepower and 183 pound-feet of torque while offering sporty touches like bolstered seats, stiffened suspension, 16-inch black aluminum wheels, red brake calipers and a dual-exhaust with an obnoxious howl.

 Abarth owners also get – free of charge – a one-day high-performance driving tutorial at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Phoenix.

The 500 lineup adds new colors for 2018 – Brillante Red, Mezzanotte Blue Pearl and Vesuvio Black Pearl – for a total of 11 paint choices. The 500 is also available in a topless “Cabrio” body style as well as an all-electric 500e version targeted at West Coast greenies. The latter is only available in California and Oregon.

Also new for 2018, the 500L features a redesigned exterior with new front, rear, and side design updates. The 500X gets FCA’s award-winning Uconnect 4 infotainment system standard – including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity. The 124 Spider – which shares its bones with Mazda’s Miata – introduces a Red Top Edition on upper-trim Lusso models.

Audi TT RS: A sports car for all seasons

Posted by hpayne on February 8, 2018

For 2018 the Audi TT gets an RS badge that upgrades

When I couldn’t make it to the Audi TT RS media test at Lime Rock race track last summer, I was bummed. I read report after report about the nimble TT’s raspy five-banger at full throttle around the challenging Connecticut race track.

“It’s an easy little car to toss and place with precision,” wrote Car and Driver. “Putting the power down on exit is easy with the quattro system deciding where to send torque,” thrilled Autoweek. “The Audi devours straight lines with a manic burble, and grips hard in high-speed turns,” raved

But none of them got to do doughnuts in driving snow.

My TT RS tester arrived in my driveway in January in the teeth of Michigan winter. Day after chilling day of single-digit temps. Icicles longer than hockey sticks hanging off my roof. Even local Sierra Club groupies are burning their copies of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” for warmth. A sports car?

I had put my sports-car fantasies into hibernation two months previous. This time of year I crave all-wheel drive — not for quick zero-60 launches, but to get me through snow drifts. Indeed, local sports-car test fleets usually fly south for the winter with the geese so they can frolic on warm asphalt and wink their headlights at cute beach bunnies.

 Yet here was a ferocious, sporty coupe in my driveway covered in snow.

I’m no stranger to the TT as readers of this column know. I took the base 220-horse, 2.0-liter turbo-4 car — little different from the RS save the insane, 400-horsepower, rally-derived, five-cylinder hornet’s nest under the hood and a wing out back — straight to Hell a couple of years back and had devilish fun on the best roads in Michigan.

But in January Hell freezes over. Ain’t going there. Which is OK, because the closest parking lot is all you need to enjoy a TT in winter.

After clearing the snow from the Audi’s shapely rear hatch and chiseling away the snow packs already encrusted like barnacles around the wing struts, I worked my way down the check list. Heated steering wheel? Check. Traction control turned off? Got it. Dynamic Mode selected? Always. 245/35/19 Continental ContiWinterContact snow tires? Heck, yeah.

 I hit my favorite empty neighborhood lot, spinning like a top. TT’s taut chassis and short wheelbase make it more playful than the odd SUV I usually take out for snow doughnuts.

This has never appealed to me before in other performance rear-wheel drive cars. My old Porsche 944? Tucked away in storage until spring. My favorite BMW M3? Same. The Audi even has me rethinking my rear-wheel drive Tesla Model 3 order.

The Tesla also comes in an all-wheel drive variant, but I checked the box for rear-wheel drive — both because Tesla might not deliver all-wheel drive versions of the Model 3 until my hair’s grown white, and that I like the lightweight, tossable handling of rear-wheel drive.

The TT opens new worlds as an all-season plaything.

Audi, along with spartan Tesla, is the most innovative automaker when it comes to re-imagining the dashboard. The TT has a big, 12.3-inch “Virtual Cockpit” instrument display entirely configurable from the steering wheel: gauge placement, radio channels, navigation, the works.

The driver-oriented display clears out the center console for a clean, aesthetically pleasing dash anchored by huge, aviation-style air vents controlled with a twist of their rotary rims or a tap on their center temp controls. Slick. With the console screen gone, the only thing left of an infotainment system is Audi’s familiar rotary console knob. I never touched it.

It’s there for passengers like my wife to use when she wants to spin the dial to her favorite radio station. So big is the Virtual Cockpit display behind the steering wheel that she can easily see the station lists.

After my daily playground calisthenics, the TT RS and I took Mrs. Payne for a night on the (frigid) town. As beautiful as the Audi’s Nvidia graphics chip-driven navigation display may be, its search function is not as intuitive as Tesla’s smartphone-like Google Maps system. I couldn’t just bark the name of our restaurant at the car — I had to first look it up on my Samsung, then bark the exact address at the car. Smartphones: never leave home without ’em.

Despite its 2+2 seating design, the TT is not a car for double-dating. Like the similarly-priced rear-wheel drive Camaro and Mustang V-8 coupes — or the much pricier Porsche 911 — TT’s back seat is for storage only. Or maybe for misbehaving children. Roald Dahl’s the Trunchbull might have used it.

Matilda! I’m putting you in the Chokey — no, make that the TT back seat!

 That roomy Tesla Model 3 back seat sounds appealing, by contrast, but the 3 does not come with big brother Model S’s hatchback. The TT does. The wee Audi started life with a symmetrical front-to-rear wing shape (an aerodynamic development that also had unforeseen, um, flying consequences, but I digress). But with the second generation, saner heads prevailed and Audi’s hatch grew longer into its current wonderful, utilitarian shape.

This, in my opinion, is the TT snow leopard’s other key ingredient given its sibling competitors, Porsche and VW.

As good as its chassis shared with the Volkswagen Golf may be, the TT can’t hold a candle to the $60,000 Porsche Boxster/Cayman in the handling department. The Porsche is an athlete without peer under $100,000.

 But with the engine amidships, the Porsche lacks the front-engine TT’s hatchback roominess — not to mention its all-wheel drive dexterity. Throw in the RS (for rocket ship) 5-cylinder mill and the TT RS is a compelling alternative for a similar $60,000. For the more aesthetically minded, the hatch also makes the base TT compelling against a similarly priced — if very boxy — all-wheel drive Golf R hatch.

By week’s end the weather gods gave us a brief thaw between deep freezes. The respite let me do a couple of zero-60 launch control runs in the TT RS just like my buddies enjoyed in Lime Rock: the seven-speed tranny barked off shifts, the 5-holer screaming like a possessed buzz-saw to 7,000 rpms.

Happy at zero degrees or zero-60 launches: That’s all-wheel drive bandwidth. When I shut down my salt-caked Audi TT it would make a signature, heartbeat chime: BUM-BUM.

An echo of my racing heartbeat.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Audi TT RS

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, two-passenger (honestly) sports car

Price: $65,875

Power plant: 2.5-liter, turbocharged, 5-cylinder

Power: 250 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (mftr); top speed, 155 mph/optional 174 mph

Weight: 3,306 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway/22 mpg combined

Report card

Highs: All-season athlete; dashboard re-imagined

Lows: Back seat is more storage than seat; frankly, a $20,000-cheaper TT is just fine, thank you


‘Hellcat SUV’ Durango SRT adds racing stripes

Posted by hpayne on February 8, 2018


Dodge’s biggest, baddest three-row SUV just got even badder.

For even more rear-view mirror presence, the fire-breathing, all-wheel drive, 475-horsepower Durango SRT will now be available with dual racing stripes across its air-scooped hood, lower springs for a more crouched stance — and a throatier Mopar exhaust system for when it blows by traffic on the way to a 155 mph top speed.

The stripes and exhaust tweaks are also available on the Durango R/T model, which is only slightly less ferocious than the Hemi V8-powered SRT with its own eight-holer pushing out 360 horsepower — an upgrade of 65 ponies over the base SUV’s 295. Dodge introduced the R/T and SRT upgrades ahead of the Chicago Auto Show on Wednesday morning.

“Think of the Durango SRT as a Charger Hellcat SUV,” says Dodge motorhead-in-chief Tim Kuniskis of the super-ute that was introduced last year.

Think of it as a family trip hauler, too.

The 392-cubic-inch V-8 is not only most powerful three-row SUV from a non-luxury brand, but it will tow up to 8,700 pounds — more than any other three-row ute in segment. Its third-row seats offer best-in-class, third-row legroom.

All that performance comes at a price and the Durango SRT rings the cash register at $64,090 — though that is still $30,000 south of comparable, rear-wheel drive based performance utes like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW M X5. Zero-60 in the SRT? A Cayenne-beating 4.4 seconds.

Offered in five different colors and extending from bumper to bumper across the Durango’s hood and roof, the twin-stripe package will cost $1,195. Colors: Bright Blue, Flame Red, Gunmetal Low Gloss, Low Gloss Black and Sterling Silver. Order yours beginning in March.

Lowering the Durango SRT by over a half inch, the Mopar spring kit upgrades the 5,500-pound SRT beast’s handling with less nose dive under braking and reduced body roll in corners. The kit is $325.

The special, chromium exhaust comes with a unique sound and polished, 4-inch tips and will set you back $1,850 on the SRT model; $1,595 on the R/T.

The SRT’s cabin is already distinguished by a flat-bottom steering wheel and T-shifter. The new interior carbon fiber accents are available on the instrument panel and door bezels — and are complemented by a Dinamica soft-touch headliner and accent paint on the speaker trim rings. Price? $2,495.

“Our Dodge/SRT performance enthusiasts are always looking for ways to make their vehicle their own,” said Dodge passenger car boss Steve Beahm. “The available stripes and carbon fiber throughout the interior really give Durango a custom look from the factory, and they are perfectly complemented by Mopar’s available exhaust systems and performance springs, which make Durango even more fun to drive.”

Station wagons are back – in crossover disguise

Posted by hpayne on February 1, 2018


Phoenix — The station wagon is undergoing a resurgence as a sexy, more nimble alternative to the common five-door SUV.

Just don’t call them station wagons.

Buick’s 2018 Regal TourX is the latest addition to the growing stable of Europe-inspired, all-wheel-drive wagons that have been recast by automakers as lower-riding crossovers. They hope to capitalize on a new generation of millennials tired of their parents’ lookalike SUVs — as well as an older generation of “wagon orphans” who are looking to buy again.

The German-built TourX, its sleek, five-door wagon body disguised with black fender and rocker-panel cladding familiar to SUVs, joins other body-cladded new entries in the market: the Audi Allroad, Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, and Volvo’s V60 and V90 Cross Country.

“We call it a TourX. It’s a crossover vehicle with car-like driving characteristics,” Doug Osterhoff, Buick chief of marketing for cars, said at the vehicle’s media launch here.

Audi, a pioneer in the crossover-wagon space dating back to the 1999 Allroad Quattro, calls its latest Allroad (introduced at the 2016 Detroit auto show) a “luxury wagon” with an “adventurous spirit.” Volvo dubs its Cross Country models, first seen in Detroit last year, “sport wagons.” And VW calls its Golf Alltrack, which debuted on dealer lots in 2017, the “ultimate vehicle for adventure seekers.”

In a consumer marketplace that covets five-door utility, the resurgent wagon hopes to capitalize on its own practical utility. The TourX’s 73.5 cubic feet of cargo space rivals some three-row SUVs, while offering better looks and more dynamic handling.

“SUVs are a generational thing,” says Osterhoff. “If you have three kids, you’re in a mid-size SUV. Kids who grew up in SUVs are looking for something different than they grew up in. Young millennials are open to vehicles like (the TourX) because they are active, and they have no preconceptions about wagons.”

Rebecca Lindland, senior auto analyst for Kelley Blue Book, agrees. “We are SUV Nation because baby boomers rebelled against their parents growing up in station wagons,” she says. “SUVs were an opportunity to express themselves differently. What’s interesting about wagons is we’re coming full circle — millennials’ version of rebelling is to drive a wagon.”

 Family station wagon sales began their nose dive in the 1980s after the federal government doubled the fuel economy mandate on cars. Families gravitated instead to SUVs like the Jeep Cherokee which were subject to less-strict gas-mileage requirements. Mom and Dad aside, says Osterhoff, wagons have always had core lifestyle-buyers.

“A number of manufacturers left this market, like the Acura TSX or Saab wagons,” he says. “We did a lot of research and owners would hold on to these vehicles because they couldn’t find replacements that met their needs. They like the lower roof, the car-like handling — and first and foremost, the utility.”

Not surprisingly, most of the U.S. market’s wagons (the Subaru Outback is an exception) are made in Europe, where crossover-like wagons have proved resistant to the SUV onslaught. The TourX is built on the same bones as the Insignia Country Tourer, which is made by GM’s former German subsidiary, Opel.

“Utility vehicles have taken longer to grab hold in Europe, but SUV sales have been increasing there — from 3.9 percent in 2000 to an estimated 26.5 percent in 2017,” says IHS auto analyst Stephanie Brinley. “So far, the shift toward SUVs has had a worse impact on hatchbacks than wagons. Wagon sales have fluctuated between 9.3 to 10.7 percent share.”

 Brinley does not see similar demand in the U.S. Indeed, she sees sales remaining steady at about 1.3 percent of market to address the needs of consumers “who have become more interested in an SUV, but still prefer the dynamics of a car.”

KBB’s Lindland says that the wagon segment — especially if populated by more vehicles like the $30,000-something TourX, which has received rave reviews — could grow. She also wishes everyone would please call them station wagons.

“I think Buick’s made a bold move,” she said. “I think it’s an opportunity to redefine the wagon class. It’s an SUV alternative. It’s for people who think outside the box.”