Henry Payne Blog

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Posted by Talbot Payne on December 1, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on November 30, 2021

Payne: Porsche Cayman GTS sings sweet music for the sports car purist

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 29, 2021

Hell — In this age of rapid technological change, we crave analog experiences. We enjoy unplugged instrumental music. Or cozying up with a page-turning novel rather than a digital Kindle. In the auto world, the normally aspirated, rear-wheel-drive manual sports car is the purist’s choice. MX-5 Miata, Mustang GT, Subaru BRZ.

The timeless profile of the 2021 Porsche Cayman GTS: mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-seat sports car.

The summit of the art form is the Porsche Cayman GTS.

With its howling 394-horsepower flat-6 engine amidships, six-speed manual shifter and tight chassis, it is the Stradivarius of pure automotive instruments. On the writhing roads of Livingston County west of Hell, the Cayman proved why you have to take this thoroughbred out of the city to fully realize its potential.

Hadley Road swells and dips like a roller-coaster with blind turns and long straightaways. The Cayman GTS stuck to every undulation like a fly to flypaper. Its steering is telepathic, hitting my marks — the front and rear ends a symphony of balance. Speaking of symphonies, the six-cylinder chambers breathe in natural air like God intended — no turbos or superchargers here — then exhale through twin pipes with a passionate wail.

Like listening to Springsteen belt the chorus of “Born to Run,” I kept the volume on high — habitually driving a gear lower so I could maintain revs over 3,000 RPM.

Yet even as the Cayman GTS has achieved iconic status, it is under assault on multiple fronts.

The greatest threat are government killjoys who aim to strangle the flat-6’s vocal chords. In order to meet increasingly restrictive global emissions rules, Cayman (and sister Boxster convertible) had to downsize to four pistons in 2017 — resorting to the turbocharger to maintain power.

Robbed of the six’s siren call, customers went elsewhere and U.S. Cayman sales dropped by half in 2019. Under Communist China’s strict mandates, the 4-banger is all that’s available, but in the USA, Porsche heard customer demand and rallied to offer the flat-6 where possible (matched with a manual to sweeten the deal).

The result is the GTS and Cayman GT4 models, which represent the mid-engine terror’s rebel soul.

The 2021 Porsche Cayman GTS is a performance model of the brand's entry-level Cayman/Boxster line. While the base Cayman features a turbo-4 cylinder engine, the GTS features a screaming, 394-horse flat-6 engine.

At M1 Concourse’s Champion Motor Speedway in Pontiac, I paused at pit exit to engage launch control. WAAUUUUGGHHH! The engine spiked at 5500 RPM before I dumped the clutch and leapt into Turn One, clicking off upshifts with short, precise throws.

The lap is an enthralling carnival ride with multiple thrills: neck-straining G-loads, lurid power slides, heart-stopping brakes. The aural highlight comes on the back straight where I exit the hairpin in first gear, then open the throttle to 8,000 RPM as I row the box — BAM, BAM, BAM — to fourth gear. Some people like Carmen, I’ll take the Cayman’s operatic notes.

But as European nannies further turn the screws, Car and Driver reports that the next-gen Cayman-Boxer will be electric — a radical move that could fundamentally change this storied athlete. Battery weight (the Cayman GTS weighs a mere 3,042 pounds) is the enemy of sports cars — not to mention the lack of audio thrills.

Porsche has made known it will not mess with its iconic 911, which will remain gas-fired. Perhaps they learned the lesson of Mustang, which compromised its own sports car halo with a four-cylinder weakling in response to federal nannies in the 1970s. It was reviled by purists.

But if reports are true, Porsche seems willing to experiment with its mid-engine icon. It’s “That ’70s Show” again, and automakers are in a tight spot. Who do you anger, bureaucrats or customers?

Cayman is no longer alone in the sub-$100K mid-engine supercar space.

Chevy’s Corvette has gone mid-engine, too, putting its own heavenly, naturally aspirated V-8 soundtrack just behind your right ear. The V-8 is no-less addicting than the Cayman’s flat-6, and designers nailed the car’s proportions on their first try — bringing the ’Vette’s signature sharp design cues in contrast to the Cayman’s spare, bullet shape.

The 2021 Porsche Cayman GTS competes with the Chevy Corvette C8, the first mid-engine Corvette. Both cars boast emotional, normally-aspirated engines.

The ’Vette dropped a rung on purists’ wish list when it sacrificed its manual transmission for its eighth-gen car. But it’s no great loss, as the last-gen Corvette C7 manual was a mushy, three-gated 7-speed that often left drivers with a bag of neutrals. The Porsche is crisp, notchy — gear changes require nothing more than a flick of the wrist.

It’s pure sports car.

But interior technology matters, and Cayman lags the ’Vette. The Porsche is tidy, ergonomically friendly — especially with regards to performance, where the brand has pioneered a steering wheel-based mode selector so you can rotate into SPORT PLUS without taking your eyes off the road. Corvette has learned the lesson with tools like Z mode.

The interior of the 2021 Porsche Cayman GTS is all-business: bucket seats, seat two, stick shift, chassis controls at the ready.

Yet the Cayman interior relies on flimsy cupholders that retract from the dash (hang on to your drink before zipping through Hell!). The ’Vette has access to the full GM toolbox, and brings Apple Carplay/Android Auto and an array of digital instrument displays — even an optional head-up display — that wear well on long trips.

Cayman is more accommodating in the luggage compartment. There is ample space in the frunk for a carry-on bag (or helmet if you’re headed for a track), and the rear hatchback can swallow lots of stuff, including a golf bag. As I’m a proponent of Golf GTIs and Mazda 3s, the Porsche’s hot hatch warms my heart.

As does the styling.

Given the 1970s-like regulatory upheaval going on today, many customers will be holding on to their flat-6 Caymans/Boxsters for years to come. Cayman helps with its timeless looks. It’s a German thing (my son’s 2012 Golf GTI still looks relevant even as the V-dub has evolved two generations since), and the Cayman should wear well just as 911s and 928s before it.

For Cayman fans with even more need for speed, Porsche offers a winged GT4 with sticky Sport Cup 2 tires. The Cayman GTS — in the tradition of performance “tweeners” like the Corvette Grand Sport or Cadillac V-series — is a happy medium between full-on track rat and base car.

Base is a relevant term and the Cayman starts at a Corvette-like $61,850. Stuff it with the GTS’s glorious flat-6 and the price jumps to $88,750. Don’t expect that number to decline much in the years ahead.

Porsche has crafted an icon, a classic that will be more appreciated over time as a benchmark for handling and gas-powered performance.

Dancing on the edge of adhesion around Turn 10A at M1 Concourse, I flicked the Cayman’s stick into third gear and the Cayman sang. Simple, repeatable, thrilling. What purists crave.

2021 Porsche Cayman GTS

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-passenger sports car

Price: $88,150, including $1,350 destination fee ($100,990 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter Boxer flat-6 cylinder

Power: 394 horsepower, 309 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3 seconds (mfr); Top speed, 182 mph

Weight: 3,042 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 17 mpg city/24 highway/19 combined

Report card

Highs: Flat-6 music; precision handling

Lows: Infotainment tech lags; gets pricey with options

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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Payne: If only Clark Griswold had driven a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 18, 2021

Moab, Utah — Poor Clark Griswold. He famously took his family out west in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie in an overmatched Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

He should have bought a 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The fifth generation of Jeep’s best-selling family vehicle will now not only confidently carry you over America’s highways — but beyond where the asphalt ends. Griswold and family’s final destination was Wally World, California, but allow me to suggest a detour to Moab, Utah, in the Grand Cherokee.

Mountain goat. The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk brings capable off-road tools to the family SUV like detachable front swaybars, two-speed transfer case, AWD, and skid plates.

Moab is Jeep’s home away from home. For decades, Wrangler pilots have come here to put their 4x4s to the ultimate test across Hell’s Revenge, one of the most daunting off-road terrains in the United States. Drive down Main Street and Wrangler rentals are everywhere. Now the family Grand Cherokee can join off-road fun with its Trailhawk package armored with steel skid plates, a detachable swaybar, air suspension with 11.3 inches of clearance and all-terrain tires.

Those tools came in handy as I followed a Wrangler Rubicon up a steep trail into Moab’s vast slippery-rock wilderness. It’s territory the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk knows well, having been tested extensively here. I’m betting Griswold would want to impress his family with the SUV’s capability.

Off-roading is not unlike on-road track racing. You want a belt-full of tools at your disposal. Tracking a production car means stiffening everything from shocks to steering response. Off-road is the opposite. You want as much vehicle flexibility as possible.

Dipping into Trailhawk’s toolbox, I shifted into NEUTRAL, selected 4-LOW and engaged ROCK mode. The beast loosened right up: swaybar disconnected to allow the front wheels Gumby-like articulation; ride-height jacked to protect the belly. Throttle eased to prevent sudden lurches.

The Jeep crawled around the broken landscape like a two-ton mountain goat.

If that sounds too nuts, then Griswold might haul the family over to Schafer’s Trail Road in Canyonlands National Park east of Moab. Be sure to option the Family Truckster — er, Grand Cherokee Trailhawk — with the panoramic sunroof. The Colorado and Green rivers have carved Canyonlands as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

The kiddies will gawk at the sheer cliffs above while Dad white-knuckle steers past sheer drop-offs unprotected by guardrails. Happily, the sure-footed mountain goat is your friend. Sitting on 18-inch rims, Trailhawk’s 30.5-inch-tall sidewalls will ride smoothly over Shafer Trail’s pocked rocky road — just like the thousands of Wranglers that have gone before it.

Gotta have the panoramic roof. The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee offers great views of the Moab countryside.

Better to take the Grand Cherokee to Arches National Park 28 miles north, where the only off-roading is by foot. Along the park’s winding asphalt road, the panoramic roof is a glorious window to a natural red skyline that includes iconic structures like the Three Penguins, Park Avenue, Balanced Rock and other achingly beautiful natural wonders.

That is, if your teens can pull themselves away from the 10-inch screens available in the rear. Fire TV transforms the backseats into a rolling family room where you can watch your favorite series, movies and so on. I took a break in the back seat myself to watch some auto racing highlights on YouTube after a long day of driving the Colorado River basin to the LaSalle Mountains. The Grand’s back seat is the biggest in class and easy on my 6’5” frame.

The rear seats of the 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee are roomy for six-footers - and offer Fire TV entertainment on 10-inch screens.

Wait, spirited drive? In a mid-size SUV?

“Slow down!” Griswold’s wife barked as Clark’s right foot got too heavy on the highway. Grand Cherokee tempts the right foot in the twisties, too.

The Jeep is not only built for the off-road, but engineer Dave Partlow and his team have cast a spell on the suspension to make it truly enjoyable at speed. My Trailhawk tester was nicely equipped with the Grand’s standard 292-horse V-6 workhorse. But for Jeep lovers with a lead foot — and there are plenty of them — the 5.7-liter, 470-horse V-8 is also available. Yes, the same eight-holer as in the insane Wrangler 392 that I destroyed Holy Oaks ORV park with last summer.

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk has been tested in the extreme environment of Hell's Revenge in Moab, Utah.

For my money (and the Grand demands deep pockets; more on that later), the Trailhawk is plenty bad-ass with six cylinders. Its black hood, tow hooks and eye-catching wheels look plenty cool (and the black hood is also useful for reducing sun glare when the Moab sun is baking you and the slippery rocks at 115 degrees in August).

In those conditions, the Griswold clan may be happy to close the roof, turn up the AC and keep cruisin’ to Wally World. Because the interior of the Jeep is a grand place to be.

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee is covered in Easter Eggs paying homage to its Jeep heritage. See the WW2 Jeep in the grille?

For all its exterior muscle, the lines of the 2022 Grand Cherokee have changed little from Gen 4. The signature seven-slot grille is more upright, the LED headlights narrowed from squinting into the sunset, the body more sculpted, as if it has spent more time in the gym to take advantage of the advanced hardware underneath.

The interior, meanwhile, has undergone a major face-lift.

No wonder Jeep has raised the Grand’s base price by a stiff $3,705 — the brand team knows the Grand is the rare mainstream badge cross-shopped against luxury makes Audi, BMW and Land Rover.

An elegant center console spills like a waterfall between the seats, splitting the wing-shaped dash spread between the A-pillars. The digital screens are packed with tech befitting a smartphone. Indeed, Jeep designers modeled the Uconnect 5 system — already an industry benchmark — after an Android with a “dots” avatar that allows intuitive navigation between pages.

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee has an array of 10-inch digital screens - including an available passenger-side display (right).

Pages can be configured with the content you want. My favorite layout put Android Auto (wirelessly mated to my phone) at my fingertips next to my wife’s telephone number, Spotify app, map and SiriusXM radio.

Mrs. Griswold can have a screen of her own thanks to the Grand’s class-exclusive passenger screen (she can use it to monitor what the kids are watching).

Like Tesla, Jeep is obsessive about putting climate controls in the center screen, which will turn off some shoopers yearning for more console knobs. Jeep’s excellent Level 2 adaptive cruise system helps keep the Grand centered in-lane to mitigate distraction.

Imagine that, Clark Griswold. Level 2 self-driving for those long cross-country miles. So when Christie Brinkley pulls up in her Ferrari, you can give her a nice wave. But you’ll keep the Grand Cherokee, thank you very much.

After all, you can’t fit a family of four and their luggage in a Ferrari. Or take it off-roading in Moab.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee

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

Price: $39,185, including $1,795 destination fee ($60,645 Trailhawk and $73,085 Summit Reserve as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6, 5.7-liter V-8

Power: 293 horsepower, 260 pound-feet torque (V-6); 354 horsepower, 390 pound-feet torque (V-8)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver est. V-8); towing, 7,200 lbs (V-8)

Weight: 4,747 pounds (V-6 Trailhawk)

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 18 city/25 highway/21 combined (V-6 AWD); 14 city/22 highway/17 combined (V-8 AWD)

Report card

Highs: Luxury, roomy interior; tech-tastic

Lows: Gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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