Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: California Airport Bans

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 20, 2019

Cartoon: Tlaib Isreal

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 20, 2019

Corvette mid-engine supercar starts at $59,995

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2019

Chevrolet announced pricing for its first mid-engine Corvette Stingray today and as promised, it will — like the outgoing, front-engine Stingray — start at less than $60,000.

Just barely.

Including a destination charge of $1,095, the 2020 C8 Stingray starts at $59,995 for the 1LT base trim, making it by far the most affordable mid-engine supercar on the planet. Competitors include the Acura NSX at $159,300 and the McLaren at $195,000.

Equip the rear-wheel drive ‘Vette with the $5,000 Z51 performance package and it will run sub-3 second zero-60 times alongside an all-wheel drive $204,000 Lamborghini Huracan. Top speed for the Stingray? 194 mph.

“Most people thought when we moved the Corvette to mid-engine it would no longer be attainable, but we knew we couldn’t mess with a winning formula and the 2020 Stingray proves it,” said Brian Sweeney, Chevrolet U.S. vice president.

The out-going front-engine C7 Corvette starts at $56,945.

Two more trims are offered above the base model: the 2LT starts at $67,295 and the top-level 3LT begins at $71,945. All are available with the Z51 package.

“We’ve packed a lot of performance into the Corvette Stingray at this price when you consider an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, small-block V-8 and engine-mounted dry-sump oil system are all standard,” said Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter.

Interested Chevrolet Corvette Stingray shoppers can view a pricing guide with available options to pre-order their car by visiting the 2020 Corvette reveal page at Chevrolet.com.

The 2020 Corvette Stingray goes into production at GM’s revamped Bowling Green Assembly plant late this year.

Cartoon: Trump Hong Kong Protests

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 14, 2019

Payne: Mid-engine Corvette is cool, but where’s the ‘Vette SUV?

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 14, 2019

Car and Driver's design sketch of a Corvette SUV.

The launch of the first-ever, mid-engine Corvette is the car event of the year. With similar specs as supercars costing three times more, the $60,000 C8 promises less expensive performance for a new generation of buyers.

But the eighth-generation Corvette’s debut has also turned up the volume on whether Chevrolet should also be expanding its performance icon to other segments.

In short, when will there be a Corvette SUV like nearly every other sports car make?

Beneath the V-8 roar of the C8’s introduction in California last month was a buzz among industry titans, car-magazine writers and analysts about the prospects of a ute ‘Vette.

The speculation had been rekindled in June when Bob Lutz, ex-General Motors vice chairman for product development, told Automotive News: “If I were there, what I would do is develop a dedicated architecture, super-lightweight, super-powerful, Porsche Cayenne-like, only much better and a little bigger, medium-volume Corvette SUV.”

Lutz’s interview expanded on his comments to The Detroit News two years ago in a story looking at whether Corvette should follow sports car makers like Porsche that have made millions by expanding their brands into popular SUVs.

The story went viral.

Porsche started the sport-ute revolution with the 2003 Cayenne. It’s been followed over the last decade by Maserati, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo — even Lamborghini. Porsche added a second ute, the Macan, in 2014. In every case, the SUV quickly became a hot seller, outselling the brands’ core sports cars and expanding their buyer demographic.

“Like the Cayenne, the appeal of the ’Vette SUV would be (rear-wheel drive) proportions. It should, in fact, have a silhouette not too different from a Cayenne,” Lutz told the News in 2017 as we consulted experts on what a Corvette SUV should look like.

Our rendering imagined a longitudinally mounted V-8 powered Corvette SUV on a rear-wheel drive/all-wheel drive platform. (The engine would be up front, because mid-engine placement would put it in an SUV’s back seat.)  It would have similar capabilities to $100,000-plus mega-utes from Lamborghini and Porsche, but, in typical Corvette fashion, for much less coin.

“More than the $40,000 Cadillac XT5, but about 10 grand below” a $60,000 base V-6 Cayenne, suggested Lutz.

His Automotive News interview inspired more renderings from other publications, most significantly from Car and Driver.

Car and Driver backed up its muscular sketch — complete with signature Corvette touches like a hood scoop and coupe-like roof — with specs like a standard twin-turbo-6, optional V-8, luxurious interior, generous cargo room and a starting price point of around $70,000.

“We also think it’s a no-brainer for Chevy to expand the Corvette brand beyond just the titular model,” concluded the influential publication.

When asked whether GM is considering the idea of a Corvette model expansion, a Chevy spokesperson told The News the automaker could “not comment on potential future product.”

Yet, retired GM engineer Tom Wallace — who ran Chevrolet’s Corvette program from 2006-08 — confirms the company has tracked the huge success of other sport SUV models.

“When I was Corvette chief, we often studied the Porsche business model and product line-up, and were generally impressed,” he told The Detroit News. “The fact that they have done the Cayenne and stuck with it is a vote of confidence that such a vehicle can be a success.”

The roadblocks, however, are formidable.

Two stand out, say experts: 1) Corvette is a Chevrolet badge, not a separate brand like Porsche or Jaguar. And 2) GM would have to develop a longitudinal-based rear-wheel drive/all-wheel drive platform for a performance ute.

“Producing a Corvette SUV assumes that GM would also have to split off Corvette as its own brand,” says veteran Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer. “You have to first decide if Corvette is powerful enough to sustain its own brand.”

Lutz told the News in 2017 that the Corvette brand business case would be tough because it could damage GM’s other premium brands like GMC and Cadillac. But in light of Cadillac’s struggles to compete as a luxury brand, his opinion evolved in the Automotive News interview.

“Let’s not try and take Cadillac upmarket. It has a price band of about $450 a month. That’s what it’s worth. Corvette brand has unlimited daylight on the upside,” he said. “Target worldwide 20,000 to 30,000 units, and price it starting at $100,000. It has to be the stellar premium sport-utility made in the United States, and the Corvette brand could pull that off.”

Even at 30,000 vehicles per year, though, a Corvette SUV would be a low-volume vehicle. Lutz and Wallace acknowledge that committing the millions needed for such an investment would be a high hurdle unless another GM vehicle could share the platform. The Porsche Cayenne, for example, shares its architecture with its VW Group sibling, the Audi Q7.

“The Corvette ute probably would be a stand-alone architecture (or a major modification of an existing architecture), so volume would be critical to call it a business success,” Wallace says.

The upside is that sport utes print money. The Lamborghini Urus outsells all other Lambos combined. The Jaguar F-Pace is easily the brand’s best-seller. MotleyFool.com estimates that while generating just over 2% of VW Group sales, the SUV-rich Porsche brand makes up an eye-popping one-third of profits.

With the mid-engine ‘Vette poised for glory, the attraction of an SUV line is undeniable. The key is in execution.

“It would be a fine line to walk,” says KBB analyst Brauer. “Performance capability is critical. If done correctly, you could sell a lot of them, no doubt.”

Cartoon: Cuomo CNN Tirade

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 14, 2019

Roadkill Nights rocks Woodward with dragsters, burnouts

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 14, 2019

Two classic muscle cars drag race against each other.

Pontiac – The run-up to the 25th annual Dream Cruise opened with a roar Friday as MotorTrend Group’s Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge took over the M1 Concourse.

Muscle-car fans poured into the motorsports track to ogle 700-plus-horsepower Challenger and Charger Hellcats, take thrill rides and witness dyno and smokey-burnout contests.

For the fifth year, the Dodge-sponsored event officially kicks off two weekends of Woodward Dream Cruise mania that culminates Aug.17 in America’s longest traffic jam as auto enthusiasts cruise from Pontiac to Ferndale.

The festivities ramp up Saturday, Aug. 10, as Roadkill Nights extends the fun to Woodward Avenue. The street north of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac is shut down at 11 a.m. for a day of street-legal,one-eighth-mile drag racing.

Thousands of attendees will cheer on 140 licensed drag racers into the twilight Saturday as they vie for a $30,000 purse. They will get an earth-shaking exhibition from NHRA superstars Leah Pritchett and Carl Hagan when they do slingshot runs in their 10,000-horsepower dragsters.

Even local law enforcement will join the fun as Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and Macomb Sheriff Anthony Wickersham face off for a drag-racing duel in 797-horse, Dodge Challenger SRT Red Eye Widebody monsters.

“It’s nice to be part of kicking off the Dream Cruise,” said Dodge Challenger brand manager Kevin Hellman (yes, he drives a Hellcat). “We get to show what our cars are capable of up here. And after some rain the last two years, we’ve got a really good weather report for the weekend.”

Saturday’s drag racing will be hosted by TV car guys David Freiburger and Mike Finnegan of the popular Motor Trend Channel show “Roadkill Nights.” The pair will record an episode of their show at 6:15 p.m. Saturday on the Woodward drag strip.

“This event is one of the highlights of our year,” Freiburger said in the Roadkill paddock Friday surrounded by Dodge muscle. “The top moment is when Leah and Carl pull out (their) dragsters and explode down the strip.”

Pritchett and Hagan return this year in, respectively, their Dodge Top Fuel and Funny Car dragsters that rattled eardrums and watered eyes last year. Burning nitromethane fuel in specially built Hemi V-8 engines, the two dragsters are a visceral sensation down the 660-foot Woodward strip.

Hagan’s car will debut the Hellcat Widebody on his Funny Car dragster (Funny Cars have full bodies, unlike Top Fuel dragsters). That Widebody look was ubiquitous around the M1 Concourse grounds as both of Dodge’s iconic Challenger coupe and Charger sedans are now available with the muscular wheel-well additions.

Fans lined up to get tire-shredding thrill rides in high-horsepower Hellcats – the 717-horse Challenger and 707-horsepower Charger – with pro drivers like Jason Quinn, who steered his beast effortlessly around pylons in M1’s skid pad Friday.

“These cars are just so capable,” he said after a growling, tire-screeching lap. “We go through a set of rear tires every two hours, but the fronts will last all day.”

From the Woodward grandstand Saturday, fans will get to watch drivers compete for $30,000 in prize money split between two classes, Big Tire and Small Tire. Another $10,000 purse will be donated to the United Way as part of a Celebrity Showdown Drag Race that will include Freiburger, Finnegan and other top drivers.

Behind the fun, of course, is a business plan as Dodge hopes the thrills will lead to sales in the showroom. Roadkill Nights has been a hit since it moved to M1 four years ago from the Pontiac Silverdome. Last year, 44,000 people walked through the gates and another 4.1 million tuned in via Dodge’s social media channels.

Roadkill’s popularity inspired Dodge to expand the event to Friday this year as a two-day affair.

Families who experience the Hellcats will be pleased to know that there are Challengers and Chargers with less, um, hellish capabilities. While the Dodge siblings are available in three different  Dream Cruise-friendly V-8s, they can also be had in a more-civilized, 300-horse all-wheel drive V-6 package for all-season driving.

Dodge Charger Brand Manager Ashton Munoz says the all-wheel drive muscle cars have proved popular with all-wheel Charger sales hitting 18% of sales volume last year.

But there is no doubt the bad-boy Hellcat has remade the brand, vaulting sales to No. 2 in the segment behind only the Ford Mustang.

“I see more and more moms with kids driving around in Hellcats,” Munoz says.

They’ve no doubt been infected by Roadkill’s need for speed. When they aren’t watching drag racers launching down Woodward, drifting in a Hellcat, watching freestyle motocross stunt shows — or bellying up to food trucks across the grounds — fans can climb into a simulator and test their skill behind the wheel of an 840-horsepower Challenger DSRT Demon, the most powerful Dodge on the road.

MotorTrend Group’s Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge

Events take place on Woodward Avenue near St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, and at the nearby M1 Concourse motorsports track.

Friday

Through 9 p.m.: Events at M1 Concourse

Saturday

10 a.m.: Gates to M1 Concourse open, with muscle, vintage and classic cars; Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat thrill and drift rides; and dyno testing

11 a.m.: Drag racing begins on Woodward with open qualifying sessions

11:30 a.m.: Freestyle motocross show (behind bleachers)

4 p.m.: Open drag racing qualifying concludes

4:15 p.m.: Leah Pritchett and Matt Hagan top fuel exhibition burnouts on Woodward

4:45 p.m.: Celebrity shootout begins on Woodward Avenue

5:45 p.m.: Top 8 shootout driver announcements

6 p.m.: Sheriff Showdown: Macomb County’ Sheriff Wickersham and Oakland County’ Sheriff Bouchard will compete in a drag-racing grudge match

6:30 p.m.: Flamethrower and wheelstander exhibition run

8 p.m.: Freestyle motocross show

8:30 p.m.: Top 8 shootouts begin (small tire and big tire)

9 p.m.: Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat thrill and drift rides conclude; top 8 winners awards ceremony

CARtoon: Auto Zoo

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 14, 2019

Cartoon: Biden Exploits Shootings

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 9, 2019

Cartoon: Warming and Shootings

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 9, 2019

Payne review: Subaru’s Outback spiffs up

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 9, 2019

The 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx is a new, $35k trim that comes in a variety of colors - the all-black look is particularly appealing.

The 2020 Subaru Outback Onyx is a new, $35k trim that comes in a variety of colors – the all-black look is particularly appealing. (Photo: Subaru, Subaru)

What iconic mid-size SUV is made in the Midwest, appeals to luxury and mainstream buyers alike, and can climb trees?

If you answered the Jeep Grand Cherokee, you’d be right. If you said Subaru Outback, you’d also be right.

Assembled in Lafayette, Indiana, with the American market in mind, the roomy ‘Ru is comfortable in driveways from middle-class Ferndale to upscale Grosse Pointe. For 2020, the Outback blurs the luxury-mainstream line even further with a finely crafted interior and 11.6-inch Tesla-like console screen that will knock your boots off.

Warning to traditional Subaru mud-kickers who have left their Outbacks dirty because, well, they weren’t much to look at to begin with: Invest in rubber mats front to back so you don’t soil the handsome interior. Get the Outback’s snazzy new Onyx exterior trim and you’ll want to start washing the exterior regularly, too. It’s that nice.

Unlike Jeep, which traces its legacy to 1941, the Outback’s meteoric rise to icon started more recently with … well, the Legacy.

If Jeep saved America in World War II, the Outback saved Subaru in the ’90s. The Japanese brand’s Legacy was struggling in the sedan market against mega-sellers like Camry, Accord and Taurus when a group of Subaru engineers threw some rugged cladding on a Legacy’s rocker panels, lifted the chassis and called it an Outback.

Aussie Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan swaggered in with his endorsement, and Subaru was reborn.

Soon the made-for-America Japanese ute with the Australian badge was selling like granola. The unibody ute pioneered a crossover boom that would eventually sweep the nation.

Subaru is now synonymous with Outback’s ethic: an all-wheel drive brand for people who love the outdoors. The demographic cuts across class lines. Up North skiers head to the slopes in Outbacks. Ann Arbor college kids pack Impreza hatches for the holidays. Motorheads like me buy Subaru WRX STIs to terrorize the twisties.

For the Outback, this translates into a broad income demographic pushing into the six-figures. Want badge bandwidth? My Outback-owning friends range from young, bark-chewing writers who value the SUV’s height off-road — to a retired ex-BMW banker who values its height for ease-of-access.

In 2010 the Outback grew up, becoming more irresistible as a mid-size ute priced at $35,000 in the sweet spot of the U.S. market. Sales climbed to 182,000 last year.

But the sixth-generation 2020 Outback may be the most significant upgrade yet.

Adopting Subaru’s new Global Platform, stylish Onyx trim and gob-smacking interior, Outback moves beyond its one-dimensional, off-road utility reputation to an attractive cruiser that looks as good in the city as in the country.

I am already familiar with the Global Platform from regular use of my wife’s Impreza hatch, the first GP-equipped Subaru, circa 2017. With more chassis rigidity and structural reinforcement, Impreza’s stiffness is noticeable, making it competitive with class-leading athletes like the VW Golf and Mazda 3.

Its benefits are magnified on the bigger, taller Outback which sits 8.7 inches off the ground to navigate the rocks and gulleys of the great outdoors (and Michigan potholes).

On northern California’s twisted Route 1 with more switchbacks than Joe Biden’s political campaign, the Outback grew in confidence under my lead foot after I got used to its too-light steering. Tree-huggers will be anxious to get to the outback, and the sturdy SUV encourages quick commutes.

Some will be disappointed that the Subie has buried its torquey 256-horse boxer-6 for the zippier 260-horse, 2.4-liter turbo-boxer 4 shared with the three-row Ascent SUV. The turbo mill has more lag but delivers 20 percent better fuel economy. A 182-horse, 2.5-liter flat 4-banger is plenty competent.

The good news is Subaru has also buried its droning CVT transmission for a state-of-the-art CVT that is remarkably quiet with smooth, electronically stepped shifts to mimic a cog-swapper. Subie throws in paddle shifters to up the sporty vibe.

But personality will only get you so far if you’ve got the body of a roll-top desk.

The Outback has always looked ungainly to me — a thickly clad station wagon teetering nearly a foot off the ground with a front overhang the size of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. So I was surprised to find my eyes lingering on Outback’s new Onyx package. Subaru vets will know it as the Sport package on other vehicles.

With lots of mascara and 18-inch black boots, my silver Onyx tester was a looker. The more-sculpted body stampings complement the bulky, lower cladding giving the Outback the appearance of a running shoe on wheels. Onyx may sound exotic, but it’s a middle trim starting at $35,905, meaning you don’t have to pay a premium for the best-looking Outback.

Slip inside and the Outback wows.

Gone is the conservative, blocky decorating. Dash lines curve, door lines slash and the huge vertical tablet anchors the center console. Unlike big screens from other automakers (looking at you, Volvo), the screen is complemented by knobs and the graphics are big as a children’s book for easy viewing.

The Global Platform’s EyeSight system is armed with a ridiculous suite of standard features including 4G WiFi, smartphone connectivity apps, adaptive cruise-control and Level Two autonomous driving that was more advanced than the $165,000 Mercedes G-wagen I recently drove.

The Onyx trim gets a leather-like urethane that shames the mono-black interiors common in luxury cars these days. The seats are a subtle mix of gray and black highlighted by green stitching. Yum.

Still think you want to spend $15,000 more on a comparable premium ute?

The rear seats swallowed my 6-foot-5 knees. A panoramic roof is missing, perhaps to make room for the biggest roof racks you’ve ever seen with tie-down points and concealed cross arms that can hold down an Everest base camp. Rear cargo area matches that of a Grand Cherokee.

With so much ground clearance, I explored the far reaches of north California’s ATV trails, the signature Subie all-wheel drive system digging through dirt like a giant groundhog.

Despite its crossover appeal to luxury buyers, Outback has resisted the premium-price temptation. The fashionable Onyx comes in a whopping $10,000 cheaper than a comparably sized/equipped Chevy Blazer, and $20,000 under its outdoorsy Scandinavian peer, the Volvo XC60.

All that and it boasts the best five-year, cost-to-own numbers recorded by Kelley Blue Book. The icon just got more iconic.

2020 Subaru Outback

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

Price: Base price $27,655 including $1,010 destination charge ($34,455 Limited and $36,905 Onyx as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter direct-injection boxer 4-cylinder; 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder)

Power: 182 horsepower, 176 pound-feet of torque (2.5-liter); 260 horsepower, 277 pound-feet torque (2.4-liter turbo-4)

Transmission: CVT with 8-speed manual-shift mode

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.5 sec. (est.); maximum towing, 3,500 pounds

Weight: 3,634 pounds base (3,884 Onyx as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 26 city/33 highway/29 combined (2.5-liter); 23 city/30 highway/26 combined (2.4-liter turbo-4)

Report card

Highs: Premium interior; stylish Onyx trim value

Lows: A lotta black plastic cladding; miss the flat-6 grunt

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Mass Shooters Online

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 6, 2019

Cartoon: Trade War Economy

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 6, 2019

Cartoon: Media Politics Rules

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 5, 2019

Cartoon: Democrats and Detroit Autos

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 5, 2019

Payne: Three-row Cadillac XT6 is the anti-Escalade

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 5, 2019

Based on the C1 small platform shared with the XT5, the 2020 Cadillac XT6 SUV is nimble on the road for a beast with three rows of seats.

For all you Cadillac fans who yearn for a three-row SUV but couldn’t afford the tugboat to dock the Escalade tanker in your driveway, there is good news.

The Cadillac XT6 is here.

Built on a stretched version of the compact unibody chassis that undergirds the two-row XT5, the XT6 feels as you’d expect it would — like an athletic, upsized version of the popular XT5. That will be especially good news to parents who always wanted a three-row Cadillac but thought the truck-based, blingtastic Escalade was more suited for Gronk to take his New England Patriots mates to practice than their kids’ soccer team to a game.

Where the Escalade intimidates, the XT6 invites.

Say hello to the handsome face, a direct descendant of Cadillac’s Escala concept car. With thin headlights complementing a taut grille, XT6 is a nice cut of filet mignon next to the Escalade’s Flintstones rack of brontosaurus.

It’s inside where you will really get comfortable. Last-generation Cadillacs intimidated with their maddening button-free, haptic-touch Cadillac User Experience (CUE) infotainment system. My friend Dicran ran screaming from his XTS, never to return until the brand reformed CUE.

The XT6 is reformed. Indeed, it has one of the best systems in luxedom. Drivers choose how to interact with the console screen: by touch, console buttons, voice commands or a remote rotary controller located at the driver’s elbow.

It’s the same system found in the wee Cadillac XT4 introduced last year (enticing Dicran back into the Caddy fold), but better: the rotary knob now toggles like a BMW (long the rotary innovator). The screen is buried in a generous helping of carbon fiber or real wood depending on your trim, with a big side of stitched leather. Simple and elegant — just like outside — it’s Caddy’s best interior yet.

Women will cheer the console basement storage for their purses — a hidden space made possible by the electronic monostable shifter.

Determined to separate the XT6 from the Escalade but still offer the latter’s living space, veteran Caddy engineer John Plonka and his team chose the smaller XT5 platform over the long-wheelbase C1XX platform that the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia share.

Then they apparently used huge scallop knives to carve out interior space. The second and third row seats are remarkably spacious for 6-foot-5 giraffes like me. And with a lower rear seat floor than Escalade thanks to the unibody, I’m not gnawing on my knees.

On par with the industry’s best, the XT6’s second-row captain chairs (bench seats are standard) can be collapsed with the simple pull of a button. The seats can be adjusted forward-and-back, too. On a cool Washington, D.C., evening, I lounged comfortably under the standard, panoramic moonroof while adjusting my second-row seat heat and climate controls.

But the three-row segment is not a comfortable place for luxury manufacturers these days. While families will welcome the more affordable XT6 positioned under the Escalade, the new ute is squeezed by mainstream makers below.

The Kia Telluride, Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-9 are elegant, three-row SUVs priced $10,000-$20,000 below the XT6 while sporting standard electronic features once exclusive to luxury.

Like the Audi Q7, the XT6 stands out in segment for its bold styling next to curvier BMWs and Merc. With its chiseled edges and rich, vertical LED-taillight piping, the Cadillac deserves a spot in Cranbrook’s sculpture garden.

But mainstreamers are cracking the style code.

At $49,000 the Mazda CX-9 Signature may be the best-looking three-row ute, period. And the Kia Telluride has gone and lifted Cadillac’s design cues — LED-infused vertical lights, sculpted face, headlights pushed to the corners. Then Kia really gets cheeky.

With a leather interior right out of Ethan Allen, the all-wheel drive Kia Sport trim options the same standard sunroof and safety-assist systems as my favorite XT6 Sport trim for $20,000 less. Ouch.

What’s more, the Kia also standardizes adaptive cruise-control, a must-have safety-assist feature (just ask Mrs. Payne, who won’t go near a car without adaptive cruise-control and all-wheel drive) for which the Caddy curiously charges extra.

This from a brand that boasts autodom’s best autonomous drive system, Super Cruise. Adaptive cruise-control is the stepping stone to Level 2 autonomy with its ability to gap traffic on tiring highways trips — a welcome buffer for distracted family drivers.

Elsewhere, the XT6 polishes details you expect from luxury models — like a hydrophobic coating that keeps the rear camera free of mud and spotting. Or a single-button-push self-park system that enables the big ute to squeeze itself into tight downtown, parallel spots. Though once again, Ford’s Explorer turns similar tricks. It’s not easy justifying three-row luxe.

What is easy is going fast in the XT6 Sport, my favorite trim.

Echoing its exterior and interior simplicity (there’s a pattern here), Cadillac also makes it easy to shop using its so-called “Y strategy.” Take the fork in the road and you get chromed front-wheel drive Premium Luxury (all-wheel drive is optional) starting at $53,000 or an all-wheel drive black-mascara Sport for $57,000. Add tech packs for adaptive cruise-control and self-park.

The Sport option oozes talent to go with its looks. While the workhorse 310-horsepower V-6 is standard, the Sport gets adaptive dampers and rear twin-clutch pack for handling. Cadillac is keenly aware that — without a rear-drive platform in its lineup like BMW, Audi, Lincoln — it needs to up its athletic game.

With the ability to throw 100% of torque from one rear wheel to the other, the Cadillac rotates nicely through corners. Quick linebackers like the Dodge Durango SRT and Ford Explorer Sport have sold me on the idea of sporty utes. The XT6 is worthy.

When roads turn icy, the twin-clutch feature will continue to reward. Drop a wheel into a snow rut? The XT6 throws torque electronically to the other wheel and pulls the big ute out.

With a nod to its electric-car investments, Cadillac advertises its engine torque with a 400 alphanumeric (roughly the Newton-meter number) on the rear quarters — but you won’t find any battery-hybrids in the XT6 lineup. Cadillac leaves that to Lexus and Lincoln.

For all its fine-art sculpting, the XT6 is an uncomplicated vehicle. Let Escalade do bling. The new three-row is humbly aimed at families who want reliable, roomy transportation.

There’s one engine choice. Two trim choices (OK, if you want some bling you can splurge on a Platinum package), one nine-speed transmission, 11 standard features.

Cadillac’s brand challenge is whether its original artwork justifies its price tag over the mainstream SUV bargain prints at the frame shop next door.

2020 Cadillac XT6

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, 7- or 8-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $53,690 including $995 destination charge ($65,940 Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 310 horsepower, 271 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph (NA); maximum towing, 4,000 pounds

Weight: 4,441 pounds base (4,690 Sport as tested)

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

Report card

Highs: Sculpted exterior; user-friendly infotainment

Lows: Lacks standard features of vehicles $20,000 cheaper; gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

Payne: Three-row Cadillac XT6 is the anti-Escalade

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2019

The handsome 2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport starts at $58K and comes standard with all-wheel-drive, blind-spot-assist and fetching looks.

The handsome 2020 Cadillac XT6 Sport starts at $58K and comes standard with all-wheel-drive, blind-spot-assist and fetching looks. (Photo: Cadillac)

For all you Cadillac fans who yearn for a three-row SUV but couldn’t afford the tugboat to dock the Escalade tanker in your driveway, there is good news.

The Cadillac XT6 is here.

Built on a stretched version of the compact unibody chassis that undergirds the two-row XT5, the XT6 feels as you’d expect it would — like an athletic, upsized version of the popular XT5. That will be especially good news to parents who always wanted a three-row Cadillac but thought the truck-based, blingtastic Escalade was more suited for Gronk to take his New England Patriots mates to practice than their kids’ soccer team to a game.

Where the Escalade intimidates, the XT6 invites.

Say hello to the handsome face, a direct descendant of Cadillac’s Escala concept car. With thin headlights complementing a taut grille, XT6 is a nice cut of filet mignon next to the Escalade’s Flintstones rack of brontosaurus.

It’s inside where you will really get comfortable. Last-generation Cadillacs intimidated with their maddening button-free, haptic-touch Cadillac User Experience (CUE) infotainment system. My friend Dicran ran screaming from his XTS, never to return until the brand reformed CUE.

The XT6 is reformed. Indeed, it has one of the best systems in luxedom. Drivers choose how to interact with the console screen: by touch, console buttons, voice commands or a remote rotary controller located at the driver’s elbow.

It’s the same system found in the wee Cadillac XT4 introduced last year (enticing Dicran back into the Caddy fold), but better: the rotary knob now toggles like a BMW (long the rotary innovator). The screen is buried in a generous helping of carbon fiber or real wood depending on your trim, with a big side of stitched leather. Simple and elegant — just like outside — it’s Caddy’s best interior yet.

Women will cheer the console basement storage for their purses — a hidden space made possible by the electronic monostable shifter.

Determined to separate the XT6 from the Escalade but still offer the latter’s living space, veteran Caddy engineer John Plonka and his team chose the smaller XT5 platform over the long-wheelbase C1XX platform that the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia share.

Then they apparently used huge scallop knives to carve out interior space. The second and third row seats are remarkably spacious for 6-foot-5 giraffes like me. And with a lower rear seat floor than Escalade thanks to the unibody, I’m not gnawing on my knees.

On par with the industry’s best, the XT6’s second-row captain chairs (bench seats are standard) can be collapsed with the simple pull of a button. The seats can be adjusted forward-and-back, too. On a cool Washington, D.C., evening, I lounged comfortably under the standard, panoramic moonroof while adjusting my second-row seat heat and climate controls.

But the three-row segment is not a comfortable place for luxury manufacturers these days. While families will welcome the more affordable XT6 positioned under the Escalade, the new ute is squeezed by mainstream makers below.

The Kia Telluride, Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-9 are elegant, three-row SUVs priced $10,000-$20,000 below the XT6 while sporting standard electronic features once exclusive to luxury.

Like the Audi Q7, the XT6 stands out in segment for its bold styling next to curvier BMWs and Merc. With its chiseled edges and rich, vertical LED-taillight piping, the Cadillac deserves a spot in Cranbrook’s sculpture garden.

But mainstreamers are cracking the style code.

At $49,000 the Mazda CX-9 Signature may be the best-looking three-row ute, period. And the Kia Telluride has gone and lifted Cadillac’s design cues — LED-infused vertical lights, sculpted face, headlights pushed to the corners. Then Kia really gets cheeky.

With a leather interior right out of Ethan Allen, the all-wheel drive Kia Sport trim options the same standard sunroof and safety-assist systems as my favorite XT6 Sport trim for $20,000 less. Ouch.

What’s more, the Kia also standardizes adaptive cruise-control, a must-have safety-assist feature (just ask Mrs. Payne, who won’t go near a car without adaptive cruise-control and all-wheel drive) for which the Caddy curiously charges extra.

This from a brand that boasts autodom’s best autonomous drive system, Super Cruise. Adaptive cruise-control is the stepping stone to Level 2 autonomy with its ability to gap traffic on tiring highways trips — a welcome buffer for distracted family drivers.

Elsewhere, the XT6 polishes details you expect from luxury models — like a hydrophobic coating that keeps the rear camera free of mud and spotting. Or a single-button-push self-park system that enables the big ute to squeeze itself into tight downtown, parallel spots. Though once again, Ford’s Explorer turns similar tricks. It’s not easy justifying three-row luxe.

What is easy is going fast in the XT6 Sport, my favorite trim.

Echoing its exterior and interior simplicity (there’s a pattern here), Cadillac also makes it easy to shop using its so-called “Y strategy.” Take the fork in the road and you get chromed front-wheel drive Premium Luxury (all-wheel drive is optional) starting at $53,000 or an all-wheel drive black-mascara Sport for $57,000. Add tech packs for adaptive cruise-control and self-park.

The Sport option oozes talent to go with its looks. While the workhorse 310-horsepower V-6 is standard, the Sport gets adaptive dampers and rear twin-clutch pack for handling. Cadillac is keenly aware that — without a rear-drive platform in its lineup like BMW, Audi, Lincoln — it needs to up its athletic game.

With the ability to throw 100% of torque from one rear wheel to the other, the Cadillac rotates nicely through corners. Quick linebackers like the Dodge Durango SRT and Ford Explorer Sport have sold me on the idea of sporty utes. The XT6 is worthy.

When roads turn icy, the twin-clutch feature will continue to reward. Drop a wheel into a snow rut? The XT6 throws torque electronically to the other wheel and pulls the big ute out.

With a nod to its electric-car investments, Cadillac advertises its engine torque with a 400 alphanumeric (roughly the Newton-meter number) on the rear quarters — but you won’t find any battery-hybrids in the XT6 lineup. Cadillac leaves that to Lexus and Lincoln.

For all its fine-art sculpting, the XT6 is an uncomplicated vehicle. Let Escalade do bling. The new three-row is humbly aimed at families who want reliable, roomy transportation.

There’s one engine choice. Two trim choices (OK, if you want some bling you can splurge on a Platinum package), one nine-speed transmission, 11 standard features.

Cadillac’s brand challenge is whether its original artwork justifies its price tag over the mainstream SUV bargain prints at the frame shop next door.

2020 Cadillac XT6

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, 7- or 8-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $53,690 including $995 destination charge ($65,940 Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 310 horsepower, 271 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph (NA); maximum towing, 4,000 pounds

Weight: 4,441 pounds base (4,690 Sport as tested)

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

Report card

Highs: Sculpted exterior; user-friendly infotainment

Lows: Lacks standard features of vehicles $20,000 cheaper; gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

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