Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Macron and the Warming Revolution

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 7, 2018

Payne: All right for Nissan Altima all-wheel drive

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 6, 2018

Altima Awd

I vaguely remember a time when I noticed the homely Nissan Altima. It was sometime in 2006 and the midsize sedan introduced cool, wrap-around rear taillights. The lamps inside the casing were colorful, staggered, alive. But save for that delicious chunk of chocolate-covered almond, the Nissan sedan has been pure vanilla.

Until now.

“That’s a beautiful car,” said Mrs. Payne as I pulled the all-new, made-in-Tennessee, 2019 Nissan Altima into the driveway this fall. Stop the presses. Unlike her car-mad husband, my wife is an auto appliance shopper. Give her a sedan with reliability, room, attractive looks and all-wheel-drive for winter and she’ll drive it. Brand be damned.

Nissan has always tested well on the three Rs — reliability, ergonomics and room — and the Altima’s rear seat easily accommodates my sprawling, basketball-player frame. Heck, the subcompact Sentra I recently rented has more back seat room than many mid-sizers. That simple formula has made it an appliance mainstay in the midsize aisle. But it’s the looks and all-wheel drive that are game-changers for the new offering.

No longer an appliance, this Altima stirs emotion.

Good thing, too, because sedans aren’t packing them into the dealership like they used to. SUVs are the new, new thing — but they are also the new vanilla. Five-door box, tall stance, snooze. Nissan knows this and has been on the cutting edge of crossover design with spicy confections like the Murano (introduced in 2015) and its floating roof, sculpted flanks, and V-motion grille.

The V-motion design really takes hold with Altima. The Murano’s funky grille stands out like someone hung a Georgia O’Keefe painting on the front of the two-row ute. Its multiple surfaces are attention grabbing for sure, but not everyone’s cup of tea.

The Altima’s grille, by contrast, is simpler, more elegant — a natural pool into which the sedan’s long, flowing lines flow. Unlike the bulbous, monotonous Altimas of old, the ‘19 is a symphony of lines playing in harmony. The wraparound lights and floating roof waterfall across snazzy, tire-wrapped pin-wheels to a low, clamshell hood. Los Angeles design studio, take a bow.

From ugly duckling to swan in a generation, the Altima — like competitors Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, and my segment favorite Mazda 6 — offers sleek designs to compete against upright utes.

It’s the all-wheel drive system, however, that really expands the Altima sedan’s bandwidth.

Only Subaru’s Legacy and the (retiring) Ford Fusion offer AWD in the midsize sedan market. Want AWD for Michigan’s brutal winters? We have a Nissan Rogue box over here — or you can have the Altima.

Interestingly, the all-wheel drive system only comes paired to the base 188-horsepower, 2.5-liter engine. Nissan explains the decision as a way to make AWD available in all trims of the car right down to the base model — which is good news to Mrs. Payne, who could price the sporty AWD SR model competitively against her smaller, AWD Impreza Sport hatch (alas, the Altima does not come in a hatch/wagon). The AWD Altima is also attractively priced next to its stablemate, the Rogue SUV — coming in $1,000 cheaper at $25,995 (consistent with the FWD base model, too).

As Nissan studies AWD take rates in the sedan segment, the pricing allows exposure of AWD to as broad a demographic as possible.

What it doesn’t do, however, is pair AWD with the most appealing engine option — Nissan’s new, variable compression, 2.0-liter, 248-horse turbo-4 which replaces the outgoing, normally aspirated V-6. Variable compression (or VC-T) engines are engineering marvels. Without scrambling your brain with the tech details, it allows the turbo-4 to stretch its performance legs while also maximizing efficiency. The payoff? A 3 mpg gain over the Altima’s ol’ V-6.

The Rogue doesn’t get the engine either, which means sedan customers get exclusivity to go with their designer wardrobe. Want the VC-T with AWD? You’ll have to cough up another 10 grand for the premium Infiniti QX50.

The VC-T turbo-4 is a treat to drive around Metro Detroit, its torque surging over 3,000 rpms. For all its fancy engineering degrees, the biggest revelation might be its CVT (continuously variable transmission) partner, which manages the feat of feeling like an 8-speed auto tranny while retaining the fuel economy of a CVT.

This was music to my ears after driving a classic CVT in a Lexus NX hybrid which droned on and on like a Bob Woodward interview. The Altima’s electronically stepped shifts not only sound good, but they are smooth when you stomp on the pedal for added low-end torque.

YUNK! Went the Volvo S60 automatic I recently tested as it downshifted under duress. Not the Altima.

Happily, the CVT was also paired to the 2.5-liter four in my $30,175 blue tester. The Altima is no Mazda 6 or Accord (the class athletes), but it’s perfectly content being pushed through the twisties. Push too hard and it will, well, push — no fancy torque-vectoring tricks here — but it’s in Michigan winters that the AWD hoofs will pay their dividend.

Nissan has foregone fancy, torque-shifting twin clutch packs like GM has outfitted to its Buick and Chevy Equinox AWD models — the better to shift torque away from a rogue wheel spinning in the snow. But the Japanese maker still claims that it can electronically use anti-lock brakes to sedate that wheel and get your car moving again.

Inside, the Altima closes the gap to luxury-class vehicles with a tidy, horizontal dash resting on a “gliding wing” of wood. With the 8-inch tablet screen suspended above the console, I could not only keep my eyes on the road while operating the touchscreen, but also throw my phone, fries, loose change in the ample storage bin beneath. Standard tech abounds from USB ports front and rear to smartphone app connectivity.

A new Nissan wouldn’t be complete without available Pro-Pilot Assist which has become synonymous with Star Wars ads showing Nissans avoiding various sci-fi creatures. Appropriately, drivers should treat it as a sci-fi toy — a peek at the autonomous future, but a consistent road guide no more reliable than Jar-Jar Binks.

Keep your eyes on the road — and on an all-wheel drive Nissan Altima, homely no more.

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

2019 Nissan Altima

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

Price: $24,645 base including $895 destination fee ($30.015 SR AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5 liter inline-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter, turbo-4

Power: 188 horsepower, 180 pound-feet torque (2.5L); 248 horsepower, 280 pound-feet torque (2.0L)

Transmission: CVT (continuously variable automatic)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0-8.1 seconds (Car and Driver est.)

Weight: 3,418 pounds (2.5L SR AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 26 city/36 highway/30 combined (2.5-liter with AWD); 25 city/34 highway/29 combined (2.0L turbo-4)

Report card

Highs: Altima is a looker; rare sedan with all-wheel-drive

Lows: Pro-pilot assist still a toy; AWD comes only with base, 2.5-liter engine

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: LA Auto Show

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 4, 2018

Cartoon: Bush 41 RIP

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 3, 2018

Cartoon: Bush Gentler Time

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 3, 2018

Payne: American muscle, German metal, electrics highlight LA auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 2, 2018

Challenger Sleigh

Los Angeles — If I were Santa Claus browsing the L.A. Auto Show, I would covet the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye sleigh on display at the front of the FCA booth. Yes, a 797-horsepower sleigh.

Introduced for a Black Friday TV promotion, the huge luge is door-less — its roof chopped and rear trunk lid removed to fit a giant canvas toy bag. The V-8 under the red hood exhales through four dragster-inspired exhaust pipes emerging from each side — its wheel wells engorged with silver snow runners instead of tires. My favorite detail? The iconic Hellcat logo has sprouted antlers. On Comet!

But since you, dear reader, simply want a new toy for Christmas, I will focus on the vehicles unveiled this week at the LA Convention Center. The LA Show has it all from the all-new Porsche 911 sports car to a Jeep pickup to three-row utes. Herewith my best in show. . . .

Jeep Gladiator

The wildly-anticipated Jeep pickup is a Wrangler with a bed. Not. That formula failed as the “Scrambler” back in the early-’80s CJ Jeep era. The Gladiator, based on the TJ Wrangler four-door currently ripping up the sales charts, is a midsize bruiser with best tow capacity in class, a 31 inch-longer steel frame supporting a 60-inch box. Equipped with all the Wrangler’s off-road hardware, this beast can scale Mount Rushmore, then off-load two dirt bikes for more grins.

Porsche 911

The sports car that birthed a luxury brand. The family scion has grown wider with age (haven’t we all?) while packing interior luxury amenities to rival its Panamera sedan and Cayenne SUV offspring. Nevertheless, the muscled 911 has lost none of its athleticism, maintaining its status as the performance car upon which all others are judged. The eighth generation (you’ll know it by the thin, horizontal taillight) gains 23 ponies, a half-second from zero-60, and a manual tranny for the hard-core faithful.

VW Beetle Final Edition

One German icon prospers, another wilts. The Bug predates the 911 and is as instantly recognizable. But it is a victim of the tide washing over small cars. For its final 2019 model year, V-dub will produce a limited edition with nostalgic details like chrome accents, available 18-inch chrome wheels, rhombus cloth seats, and unique beige and light blue paint. Ride the $23,000 Bug into the sunset as coupe or convertible.

Mazda 3

Can a compact be the sexiest car in show? Mazda promised its 3 hatchback would look like the stunning Kai concept that wowed a year ago — and it delivered. Dressed in Soul Red, the 5-door hatch (a sedan is also available) is a triumph from its muscled haunches to its arrow-head headlights to its upscale cabin. And all-wheel-drive is available for those long Michigan winters.

BMW 3-series

With the cheaper Mazda 3 sexpot nipping at its heels and the Tesla Model 3 stomping it in sales, BMW has competition as the best 3 sedan. So Bimmer recrafted a lighter, state-of-the art chariot with angular surfacing and a fetching face. Inside, the BMW’s techtastic digital displays catch up with Mercedes and Audi. The LA stand showcases the AWD, M230i trim with a whopping 382 horses. Yum.

Rivian R1T electric pickup truck

While the Chinese-made Byton M-Byte EV shown here is closer to market, the Made-in-America R1T is what turned heads here. Rivian is headquartered in Plymouth with manufacturing in Normal, Illinois, (ex-Mitsubishi plant) and its stylish truck doubles Tesla’s battery size to 180 kWh (the base, $69,000 model gets 105) to carry this dirt-kicker to the Outback and back. To make sure you don’t get stuck out there (um, while doing 3-second 0-60 burnouts in the mud) Rivian is building a park-based supercharging network.

Lincoln Aviator

Call it Navigator Jr. The three-row Aviator brings the big truck’s stitched leather and tablet interior on a more refined, rear-wheel drive unibody architecture. The hybrid version boasts a whopping, 600-torque hybrid model — but the Aviator is all about creature comforts, not stoplight burnouts. A Detroit Symphony Orchestra chime greets you, and the thing will even park itself.

Hyundai Palisade

While U.S. automakers are leaving sedans, Asian automakers aren’t quitting Detroit’s bread-and-butter SUV segments. The elegant, three-row Palisade is light years from your father’s tinny Hyundai compact. Palisade joins the Subaru Ascent in targeting the three-row Ford Explorer and Chevy Traverse.

Genovation GXE

They took a ZR1 and stuck a battery in it? Remarkable what you can do for $750,000. The GXE is an electric ‘Vette — complete with 7-speed manual that will beat the ZR1 to 60 mph (2.5 seconds) and won’t stop until it hits 220. Add a higher rear wing for even more downforce, and you can tear up M1 Concourse without waking the neighbors.

Hmmm, maybe Santa would prefer a stealthy, 800-horse, electric Corvette sleigh. . . .

Cartoon: Trump and GM

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 28, 2018

Cartoon: Saudi Trump Camel

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 26, 2018

Payne: Life with my Tesla Model 3

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 26, 2018

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne put in his order for a Tesla Model 3 on April, 2016. His long-range, RWD toy arrived in fall, 2018.

As a young newspaper cartoonist and graphic artist, I wanted an Apple computer. So perhaps it’s logical I would own a Tesla Model 3. On the track, on the road, in the garage, the Model 3 is just different.

Like Apple, Tesla boasts a unique operating system.

Innovated by the visionary, controversial, mercurial Steve Jobs (Tesla’s version is the equally outsized figure, Elon Musk), Apple’s graphical interface was a sea change from the MS-DOS standard developed by Microsoft (which ultimately introduced its own Apple-inspired graphic interface).

Apple changed the computer industry, and then music players and then cellphones by fundamentally re-imagining products. Even as its innovations have been adopted by other makers, Apple stands alone.

Will Tesla have the same effect on autos? I don’t know. But I do know there is nothing like it today.

Tesla has been wowing Detroiters since it debuted the sleek Model S sedan on the auto show floor in 2010. Its 17-inch vertical console screen was a revelation. I had to stand in line to get inside the thing, for goodness sake. I drove it, coveted it, and ultimately put $1,000 down on the more affordable Model 3 to be part of Apple’s — er, Tesla’s — journey.

The Model S (and its Model X SUV sibling) was a leap, but the Model 3 takes the operating system to another level. My friends enter the cockpit for the first time and gasp.

Oh, my lord!
That’s amazing! Everything is in the screen?
Wow! It’s so simple.

The Model 3 is an iPhone on wheels. The 15-inch tablet screen is its core. It dominates an elegant, spare interior consisting of screen, wood trim and steering wheel. It’s complemented by just three buttons — an emergency flasher button on the ceiling and two scroll buttons on the steering wheel.

Tap the steering wheel box in the screen and adjust steering column position. Repeat for the mirrors. Otherwise, the button is for radio volume. It’s brilliant.

It also overshadowed a $90,000 Jaguar I-Pace that recently showed up in my driveway. The quiet Jag is a lovely thing (Ian Callum could design a sexy toaster oven), but without a sexy V-8 or V-6 note, its drive experience is Tesla-like. With familiar cockpit switchgear — shared with other Jags like the F-Pace SUV — the Brit seems sooooo bloody conventional next to the $30,000 cheaper Model 3.

“I gotta say, I prefer the Tesla,” said an impressed auto engineer pal after back-to-back spins in the cars.

Unconventional the Tesla may be. But like Apple, it also works.

I frankly expected to be disappointed. After all, I like to drive fast. Which means I prefer my car controls front and center. I’m an advocate of head-up displays and steering wheel controls. Like the cockpit of my Lola race car, the more gauges in my line of sight the better.

The Model 3 gives me none of those. No instrument display. No gauges. Just a screen-based, 3-D graphic monitoring everything around me (who needs blind-spot assist in the mirror?) and a speedometer. Because it’s an electric motor, there’s no RPM gauge. Just floor it and hang on.

Hammering the Model 3 around M1 Concourse’s challenging test track, I quickly grew accustomed to the lack of instrumentation. I didn’t need it. The simple electric-drive means I can concentrate on driving.

The Tesla’s battery-powered drivetrain is both a blessing a curse.

In the car’s basement, the 80.5-kWh battery is structurally integrated into the chassis for increased crash strength — and increased handling stiffness. Despite weighing 400 pounds more than a BMW M2, for example, the Model3 is impressively planted in turns with little body roll. Push to the limit in a corner and the car understeers.

I was on the limit longer than I thought, flogging it for six laps without any protest from the battery (big brother Model S notoriously overheats into limp-mode after a couple of laps).

It was the brakes that cried uncle after four laps of hard exercise. Paired with electric-motor regeneration for optimal range efficiency, the brakes aren’t made for the track. I felt a pang of longing for my favorite, similarly priced, track-focused BMW M2 which can pound around M1 all day. Next time I’ll have race pads installed.

Nine miles (six laps) on the track sucked 50 miles in battery range. Don’t go tracking EVs unless you have lots of charge.

The same can be said for long-distance travel. Driving 202 miles back home to Oakland County after picking up my 310-mile range car in Cleveland (Why Cleveland? Keep reading.), I kept within the factory-advertised range as long as I ran the 70 mph speed limit. Going with the traffic flow at 80 mph, however, meant getting just 60 percent of predicted range — that’s just 186 miles of range.

So, every outing must be calculated within the limits of Tesla’s Supercharger network. It means feeding my filly every night at the home stable so she’s ready the next day. A rolling iPhone it may be, but charging the Model 3 is not as easy as plugging in a cellphone. I’ve become an expert on battery capacity, maintenance — even charging the car remotely (via phone app) while on a Caribbean vacation.

Within the confines of normal commuting, however, the Model 3 is the cure for the common car. Screen response and voice commands are phone-like, eclipsing other automakers. “Take me to Kroger.” Instantly the nearest grocery pops up. Want to play a song? Ask the Slacker streaming service.

Autopilot is the best I’ve experienced outside Caddy’s geo-fenced Supercruise. Want to drive with one pedal? Dial up brake-regeneration. Need more storage? Put a suitcase in the “frunk.” Got the need for speed? Attack a clover leaf.

But like Apple, the Model 3 has its flaws.

Trying to reinvent the audio experience, Tesla ditched AM radio (seriously?). Reinventing the dealer experience with retail stores (like guess who?), Tesla has been stiffed by Michigan and other states. That forces me to service my car through Cleveland. Trying to fill 450,000 orders, manufacturing quality has suffered with body panel gaps wider than David Letterman’s front teeth.

And like Apple, I can’t find any owners who care about all those shortcomings. The operating system is that good.

I don’t know if Tesla will dominate autos any more than Apple dominates PCs (12.7 percent market share). But customers have something special.

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

2018 Tesla Model 3

Vehicle type: Electric, rear-wheel drive five-passenger luxury sedan

Powerplant: 80.5-kWh lithium-ion battery with electric motor drive

Transmission: Single-speed transmission

Weight: 3,814 pounds, long-range battery; 3,549 pounds for base-battery model

Price: $57,500 as tested, including $1,000 order deposit and $2,500 configuration downpayment ($49,000 base with long-range battery)

Power: 271 horsepower, 307 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 seconds (mfr.)

Fuel economy: Range, 310 miles (186 if driving 80 mph)

Report card

Highs: Sweet operating system; nimble handling

Lows: Trips governed by charging infrastructure; poor panel fits

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Turkeys and Lemons

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 20, 2018

Cartoon: Florida Recounts Senate Ballots

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 20, 2018

Cartoon: California Fires and Trump

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 20, 2018

Cartoon: Thanksgiving TV

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2018

Cartoon: Global Warming and Snow

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 16, 2018

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

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 16, 2018

Avalon Fr3 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Toyota Avalon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weight: 3,704 pounds (V-6)

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

Report card

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

Lows: Oh, that face; AWD, please

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Stan Lee RIP

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

Cartoon: CNN Clown

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

Cartoon: Trump Nudist in Paris

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

Payne: Genesis G-pulling G70 is a bargain athlete

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

G70 Fr3 4 Bushes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the Stinger goes further.

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

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

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

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

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

Which soundtrack fits you, performance sedan enthusiast?

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

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

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

2019 Genesis G70

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

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

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

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

Transmission: 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual

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

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

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

Report card

Highs: Nurburgring-tested athlete; bargain luxury

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

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Pirate Democrats and the Election

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 12, 2018