Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Kavanaugh, Bert and Ernie

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 21, 2018

Payne: Cadillac XT4 finds the sweet spot

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 20, 2018

Xt4 White

Small utes are all the rage. Since Buick innovated the segment with its Encore cutie in 2013, everyone jumped into the pool: BMW X1, Infiniti QX30, Mercedes GLA, Mazda CX-3, Jaguar E-Pace, Audi Q3. Everyone, it seemed, but that icon of American luxury, Cadillac. While the Encore reinvented Buick — That’s a Buick? — as an SUV brand, Cadillac focused on building an image of style and performance from a sedan foundation.

Now at last comes the 2019 Cadillac XT4 subcompact crossover, and it was worth the wait. Right out of the nest, it’s a serious contender.

Flogging the XT4 all over Seattle I found the wee ute has learned from its class peers to deliver the sweet spot in size, handling and ergonomics. To my friends who embraced Caddy’s edgy style, but then ran screaming from its knobless, slider-controlled CUE (Cadillac User Experience) infotainment system — you can come back now. The new rotary remote-and-knob controlled touchscreen is a thing of beauty.

On its slim shoulders the entry-level XT4 carries not only the expectations of the brand’s first new SUV segment entry in 14(!) years, it also introduces buyers to a new “Y” pricing strategy.

When I first shook hands with the little ute at the New York auto show earlier this year, I wasn’t sure the XT4 was up to the task. In the shadow of celebrity debuts like the mighty turbo-V8 CT6 V-Sport, bling-tastic Ford Aviator and luscious Maserati Levante, the XT4 seemed overwhelmed.

But in its natural, road-going habitat, Cadillac’s pup has presence.

“Where can I get one of those?” a passerby asked as I emerged from the XT4 near Seattle’s downtown farmers market. The XT4 is a mature expression of Cadillac’s distinctive Art & Science design — handsome, but with a dose of Motown swagger.

Cadillac has learned from the inauspicious debut of its ATS sedan — an athlete with the slashing moves of Barry Sanders but with the personality of vanilla. Despite its best-in-class handling, the ATS was a wallflower in a room of premium preeners.

The XT4 wants to be noticed. Its face features a big, grinning grille framed by LED-studded, vertical peepers that would make Elton John proud. The XT4 went into big-brother Escalade’s huge walk-in closet and pulled out the neon “tornado lights” that are the three-row SUV’s signature.

My favorite trim is the wicked Sport model in all-black with big 20-inch wheels, black grille, black suit, black rocker panels — and those white, vertical LEDs in front and white verticals in the rear. Hello, X-Man, shall we go fight some bad guys?

The Sport’s brooding intensity contrasts nicely with the other “Y” spoke in the Cadillac trim-tree — the Premium Luxury with its chrome accents, shimmering grille and red taillights.

Branching, Y-like, from the competitively priced $35,790 front-wheel drive base model, the contrasting PreLux and Sport trims both gain all-wheel drive for the same $40,290 price. Look for the Sport “branch” to sprout a V-series twig to take on BMW’s M performance badge.

The XT4’s gym-toned bod is a good foundation for such future aspirations.

Mind you, this is no rear-wheel drive based, longitudinal-engine Baryshnikov. Such SUV athletes (Jaguar F-Pace or BMW X3) are found only in the bigger, compact segment. Space is at a premium in subcompacts, so even Jaguar and BMW have succumbed to front-wheel drive platforms with transverse engines.

For all-out athleticism, the X1 leads the subcompact pack, but the XT4 is at its heels.

Over the undulating rural hills and valleys of Seattle’s Bainbridge Island, my X-tester was sure-footed and fun to drive even as the Pacific Northwest’s persistent cloud-cover slickened the roads. When the rain turns to ice and snow, Cadillac has fortified the all-wheel drive DNA of the ATS with dual rear clutch-packs.

The clutches can throw 100 percent of rear torque to either side to prevent one wheel from spinning helplessly — in a ditch, on ice or on snowpack — and get you moving again.

Acceleration from the 2.0-liter turbo four-banger is brisk as the XT4 puts down a class-competitive 258 pound-feet of torque eclipsed only by the Jaguar. That also means impressive 3,500-pound towing capacity for a segment in which some wee competitors don’t encourage towing. Go ahead, hook up a couple of ATVs for a weekend up north. Or throw two golf bags into the raked, tornado light-equipped hatch if that’s your sport of choice.

But it’s the interior’s attention to detail forward of the cargo bay that really wows.

The entry-level ATS sedan was small in the back seat. Cadillac learned from its mistake. The XT4 is roomiest in class and your basketball-playing 6-foot-5 reviewer could easily sit behind himself — and sit up straight under a full-length, optional moonroof that brings welcome light to the rear cabin.

Speaking of which, engineers nixed the rear-quarter glass to improve driver visibility with one seamless window aft of the b-pillar. More clever details? The front doors are designed to store umbrellas (shades of Rolls-Royce) for the Seattle rains. Only in standard features does the XT4 (like its Chevy and GMC kin) come up short as it fails to offer standard adaptive cruise-control or blindspot-assist that can be found on mainstream cars under $30,000.

If buyers shop up to the compact ute class and the sensational new, larger but just-as-sporty Acura RDX, they’ll notice it offers standard all-wheel drive, full moonroof and adaptive-cruise for just $38,325.

Cadillac has turned its Achilles heel, CUE, into an advantage here. Rather than reinvent the wheel (Acura chose a complicated, mouse-pad solution), Caddy’s infotainment system brings the best from the touchscreen and remote rotary-dial camps. Like Jeep’s Connect system, the screen is fast and easy to navigate when stopped — then easy to control by rotary dial when moving.

Throw in a space-saving monostable shifter and the console offers a storage cubby for your phone or fries. This slavish attention to detail reminded me of another stylish subcompact, the Volvo XC40. But ride the Swede hard and its uneven transmission and pedestrian chassis can’t keep up.

The XT4 is the total package. It offers first-class amenities for long drives with smooth power and handling for when the road gets twisty.

The roomy, user-friendly, nimble BMW X1 took two generations to become the class standard. The XT4 finally offers a no-compromise competitor — and Cadillac got it right on the first try.

2019 Cadillac XT4

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

Price: $35,790 base ($52,285 Premium Luxury AWD and $56,835 Sport AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder

Power: 237 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (mfr.)

Weight: 3,660 pounds (FWD, mfr. estimate)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 25 city/30 highway/27 combined

Report card

Highs: Sculpted good looks; CUE goes to head of class

Lows: Big back seat squeezes cargo room; more standard features, please

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Kavanaugh Witch Trial

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 20, 2018

Cartoon: Hurricane Religion

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 19, 2018

CARtoon: WV Bug Extinct

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 19, 2018

GMC Sierra pickup moves uptown

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2018

Gmc Bed Drop Wide

St. John’s, Newfoundland – With the all-new, 2019 Sierra pickup, GMC is moving uptown, putting significant room between itself and working-class sibling Chevrolet Silverado.

Boasting unique features, a flashy wardrobe and transaction prices that would make Mercedes green with envy, GMC is effectively establishing itself as America’s only premium truck brand. At a time when fat truck profits are crucial to Detroit Three investments in autonomous and electric vehicles, GMC is complementing its deluxe Denali and SLT menu with an expensive, off-road offering called the AT4.

“We’re finding customers stepping out of Mercedes and BMW sedans and wanting to get into this beautiful, premium, high-powered truck,” said GMC design chief Matt Noone in Newfoundland’s port of St. John’s where the Sierra was introduced to media. “The success for Denali has outstripped all our expectations. The (market) appetite for premium trucks is something we’re focusing on.”

General Motors’ success in promoting GMC and its Denali badge, say analysts, is a shrewd reading of a market where truck customers demand luxury – but still value the ruggedness of trucks.

GMC is succeeding where Cadillac and Lincoln failed in the early 21st century by providing a pickup truck that rivals German luxury automakers in profit margin.

Named after the largest mountain peak in the United States (also known as Mt. McKinley), the Denali trim was introduced on the GMC Yukon SUV in 1999 to compliment the palatial Cadillac Escalade SUV launched a year prior. The badge was added to the Sierra lineup in 2001.

As the market has moved to SUVs after the Great Recession, the General positioned GMC — and Denali — to catch the wave with its midsize Acadia and compact Terrain utes.

Denali growth has been meteoric.

Since 2013, sales have nearly doubled from 74,795 units to 140,403 last year. The average Denali transaction price in 2017 was a stratospheric $55,656 — higher than Mercedes, BMW and Audi.

 “Coming out of the recession, people have been willing to pay for technology,” says Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for IHS Market, after a drive in the new Sierra. “They have opened up their checkbooks to buy content and that’s benefited GMC and Denali.”

Ford and Ram compete against the Sierra with successful, premium trims like the F-150 Platinum and Ram 1500 Limited.

So coveted is GMC’s premium image that it has transformed the brand. Where the standard, $40,000 SLE retail trim was once 40 percent of sales, it has shrunk to just 9 percent of Sierra volume. Meanwhile, the posh SLT and Denali trims now account for 75 percent of sales, says marketing boss Phil Brook. Denali alone – which starts at an eye-watering $59,495 – accounts for 20 percent of Sierra sales.

Noone says the clean-sheet, 2019 Sierra gave the truckmaker the chance to push the envelope over its Chevy kin.

“Customers told us – you have this great brand, you need to do more with it. We would like the truck to look different, feel different. It has features you can’t get on a Chevy – or any other truck.”

GMC is following a path familiar to luxury carmakers like Lincoln, Acura, and Lexus: It shares a base architecture with the mainstream Chevy Silverado pickup – then enhances its with styling and unique features.

“This is the biggest separation between GMC and Chevy we’ve seen,” says analyst Brinley. “The only sheet metal they share is a rear door, roof and rear bumper — and GMC is getting technology ahead of Chevrolet.”

The Sierra’s exclusive MultiPro tailgate is an engineering marvel – essentially two tailgates in one that can be configured into a stand-up desk, lumber load stop, or entry staircase into the pickup bed.

The new AT4 off-road trim gains a 6.2-liter V-8 over its 5.3-liter V-8 Chevy Trail Boss cousin. It will also be optioned with a carbon-fiber bed, a light, durable material usually found on exotic performance cars.

“With Denali, we have focused on premium, on luxury,” said Noone. “But we also have 100 years of delivering ruggedness, so we’re bringing an AT4 that focuses on capability. The carbon-fiber bed is the strongest box we’ve ever done. “

While Cadillac has struggled to gain traction against German lux-makers, GMC is racking up luxury-like sales. Denali sales alone were just 14,000 units shy of the entire Caddy division. According to Bloomberg News figures, the average GMC vehicle sells for about $44,000, almost 40 percent higher than the average US transaction.

The Sierra Denali pickup will top out at over $67,000. But while the Cadillac Escalade SUV can push $100,000, don’t expect luxury makers to move into the pickup space anytime soon.

Both Cadillac (the Escalade-based  EXT) and Lincoln (the Blackwood and Mark LT) introduced pickups in 2002. They were discontinued earlier this decade after poor sales.

“When it’s been a luxury brand trying to deliver on a pickup truck, it hasn’t been successful,” said IHS Market’s Brinley. “Pickup buyers want to have faith in their capabilities, but they don’t want a Cadillac truck. They want their truck brand, and then they want to reward themselves.”

Even Mercedes, which sells its mid-size X-Class pickup truck in Europe and Latin America, has no plans to compete against Detroit’s premium titans in the US market.

“I think Mercedes would struggle here,” says Brinley.

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.

Cartoon: Trump Hurricanes

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 13, 2018

Payne: Hyundai Kona is nutty outside, meaty inside

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 13, 2018

Kona Fr3 4


For those of us who mourned the passing from the American market this year of the defiantly funky Nissan Juke, there is good news — the Hyundai Kona is here.

The frog-eyed, multi-colored, fun-to-drive Juke was an early entrant in the subcompact ute-stakes along with other quirkboxes like the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and Scion xB. The Juke thrilled us with its taut chassis, 188 horses, and  — um — unique wardrobe. Remember the mustard interior?

But as we Yanks have gone whole-hog for SUVs, the subcompact class is no longer an outlier but a full-blown, entry-level mainstream class.

It’s now populated by respectable five-doors like the Ford Ecosport, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek and Chevy Trax. These latest cute-utes carry familiar family DNA. Even Nissan has gotten the mainstream fever by ditching the alternative R&B Juke box for the more mainstream classical Kicks.

I get it. Mass audiences require a broader taste. No mainstream station survives on a steady diet of Devo. Ya gotta play the Beatles and Springsteen and Swift. Is there still room in subcompact utes for outrageous?

Well, slip into a Lime Twist Hyundai Kona, crank up “Whip It” on Apple CarPlay, dial in all-wheel drive, and let’s play in the twisties.

Whip it! Whip it good!

To be honest the sub-ute class is hardly devoid of character despite the dropouts. The class has a bit of everything from the aforementioned mainstreamers to the athletic Mazda CX-3 to the funkadelic Toyota CH-R.

“It’s a wild, wild west segment,” says Hyundai chief engineer Mike O’Brien. “It’s all over the place in size and capability. What is the ideal set of attributes?”

For Hyundai, the ideal – to squeeze my music metaphor one more time – is to borrow from different genres to create a pleasing whole. The Kona is classic Hyundai set to a hip-hop dance beat.

Yes, Hyundai. The conservative Korean brand took a backseat to brother Kia over the last year as the latter redefined itself as a sexy, upscale brand with the introduction of the sensational performance Kia Stinger sedan.

But where Kia’s halo car trickles down to smaller fish like the Forte and Sportage, Hyundai’s halos bubble upwars like a ground spring. Like Mazda and its MX-5 Miata.

Credit elves like O’Brien, a serious motorhead restoring his own open-wheel race car, who has a passion for performance and has used every tool in Hyundai’s box to make Kona worthy. Kona joins the three-door Veloster quirkster I reviewed in June as entry-level, $20,000-somethings that introduce customers to the brand with funk ‘n’ spunk. They share drivetrains, value and attitude. Lots of attitude.

My Kona tester looked like a supersized Hot Wheels tester with its lime paint job and show, five-spoke wheels. The front end isn’t shy either, adopting a three-shelf headlight stack – last seen on the 2014 Jeep Cherokee – that glues on the running lights where the headlights usually sit.

The rear is no less radical with two stacks of taillights framing the license-plate stamped rear hatch.

With the white, front running lights ablaze next to a gaping, Veloster-like grille, the Kona looks like the demonic Chernabog from Disney’s “Fantasia” (look it up). Which would fit with O’Brien’s anthropomorphic description of the styling as “urban smart armor that shows the bones — the exoskeleton of the vehicle.”

Makes ol’ froggy Juke seem downright cute by comparison.

The Hyundai’s slashing lines and heaping dose of cladding does indeed give the appearance of skin stretched over a carcass. There is no mistaking this car on the road – if you can keep up with it.

The Kona may have spent a lot of time dressing up in front of a mirror, but it put in the hours at the gym, too. Although its sits higher off the ground than cousin Veloster, Kona is eager to tackle curvy roads. It is quite comfortable chasing other athletes in the class like CX-3 and CH-R, but Hyundai has gone them one better – it’s has provided the driveline to match its chassis ambitions.

Where Toyota and Mazda stop with 2.5-liter 145-horse four-bangers, Hyundai offers the same pair of engines offered with the sporty Veloster – a 143-horse, 2.0-liter 4-banger and a stonkin’ 175-horse, 193-torque, 1.6-liter turbo.

My tester came equipped with the latter, turning the lime into a red hot chili pepper out of corners, the smooth, seven-speed automatic downshifting in sync with my lead foot. This turbo is mated to a standard all-wheel drive system — standard, because that’s what you want out of an SUV, after all.

What I wanted was maximum traction with the four’s pony-power, so I kept the system set to “full-time all-wheel drive.”

This lovely drivetrain is controlled from a startlingly mature cockpit. The transition from the fan boy exterior to the cabin is abrupt. Green accents are tastefully distributed around the push-button starter and console, but otherwise the inside is all grown up with iPad-like touch-screen and silver-ringed instrument dials. Console space is ample, the seats comfortable, the value impressive.

Like fellow mainstream brands, Hyundai loaded my $29,775 tester with electronic features that would challenge some luxury marques costing twice as much.

Automatic windshield wipers and high beams, smartphone connectivity (who needs a nav system?), head-up display, auto braking, blind-spot assist…

(Pause to catch breath)

… dual-climate control, heated seats, sun roof, Amazon Echo remote start/commands, and best-in-class 10-year/100,000 mile drivetrain warranty. Options aside, buyers at the starting price of just $20,480, get good fundamentals like best-in-class cargo room.

The Kona – which at first appears a green-hair Dennis Rodman shock jock – turns out to be a well-rounded, Grant Hill all-star.

While Mrs. Payne wouldn’t be caught deal in Lime Twist, she did concede that the loaded Kona reminded her of her equally value-rich Subaru Impreza hatchback. All-wheel-drive, Apple CarPlay, heated seats — all the stuff she counts on day-to-day.

And she wasn’t bothered by the higher seating position, perhaps because – like her lower Subaru – the Kona is so well screwed together.

The Kona is reminiscent of the Subaru Crosstrek, the Impreza hatch’s body double – just raised a couple inches and layered with fender-cladding to give off that coveted crossover vide. Paint the Kona  more conventional Surf Blue or Thunder Gray and it might almost seem conventional compared to the more conservative Subaru.

But for those of you in Juke withdrawal, you’ll want the Lime Twist.

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 Hyundai Kona

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

Price: $20,480 base ($29,775 Ultimate AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder; 1.6-liter Turbo-4

Power: 147 horsepower, 132 pound-feet torque (2.0-liter); 175 horsepower, 195 pound-feet torque (1.6-liter Turbo-4)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic (2.0-liter); 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic (1.6-liter)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.67 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 135 mph

Weight: 3,344 pounds (Ultimate AWD Turbo-4 as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 25 city/30 highway/27 combined (4WD 2.0-liter); 26 city/29 highway/27 combined (4WD 1.6-liter)

Report card

Highs: Versatile cargo space; fun to flog

Lows: Quirky styling; more console cubbies, please

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Obama Trump Economy

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 13, 2018

Cartoon: Woodwardgate

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 11, 2018

Cartoon: Serena Brand

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 11, 2018

Cartoon: Burt Reynolds RIP

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2018

Cartoon: Kavanaugh Circus

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2018

Payne: GMC Sierra wows with Swiss Army tailgate

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 6, 2018

Sierra At4 Fr3 4

ravel to Newfoundland, and the friendly locals will adopt you as a “Newfie” after a “screech-in” ritual that includes the kissing of a cod.

“Are ye a screecher?” demanded the chief of ceremonies as I wiped my lips of the fish.

“Indeed I is, and long may your big jib draw,” I responded, reciting the required vows. “Big jib” is a large boat sail. Translation: May the wind always be at your back.

GMC brought members of the automotive press to this rocky North Atlantic isle this summer for the launch of its totally re-imagined Sierra. The big pickup has long been an honorable Newfie with its handsome looks, rugged capability and smooth ride. It’s going to be adopted by a lot of customers around the rest of North America, too.

This is the Year of the Truck and each of the Detroit Three is bringing new pickups. Ford has it first diesel F-150. From Ram comes a stylish 1500. And from GM, the brawny Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra identical twins.

Except, the twins aren’t so identical anymore.

As the years have gone by, Silverado and Sierra have diverged to the point where they are fishing for different customers. Chevy is the populist choice, populating worksites with work trucks for working stiffs. GMC is the managers’ brand, delivering architects, construction foremen and company owners to the site — its big, chromed bow announcing its business-class passenger.

Sierra may start around $30,000 like its Chevy twin, but a mere 9 percent of GMC sales are the affordable SLE trim. Its upscale Denali and SLT wardrobes account for a whopping 75 percent of sales, says GMC marketing guru Phil Brook. So synonymous is Denali with GMC that customers simply ask for Denali. Like BMW speed-freaks say they want an M. Or Mercedes motorheads want an AMG.

The GMC customer wants something different and, boy, do they get it with the 2019 pickup. For the Year of the Truck, GMC brings the Year of the Box.

The General has already made news with Silverado’s expanded, Brobdingnagian, rolled-steel bed. The bed is the working end of the pickup, the head of the hammer. “I don’t think we’d get much work done with an aluminum hammer,” GM product captain Mark Reuss said at this year’s Detroit auto show, hammering away at the F-150.

Sierra, too, gets Silverado’s steel, defying pundit claims that truck makers would have to follow Ford and go lightweight with aluminum to save the polar bears. Tow that to the same 21st-century scrap yard as predictions that we’d all be driving hybrid compact sedans by now.

Sierra caps the steel box with the innovative MultiPro tailgate. Exclusive to Sierra and standard on upper trim Denali and SLT, the MultiPro is a gate within a gate.

It’s a six-way Swiss Army knife of versatility:

1. The inner gate drops, forming a shallow, chest-high shelf. Not as expansive as the full “tailgate party” drop, it can act as a rear workspace — or mini-bar.

2. With the inner gate open the shelf will rotate vertically, creating a load-stop for boards or plywood that otherwise hang awkwardly over the tailgate.

3. The full gate drops slowly on cables like a standard pickup (a new auto-close trick is exclusive to Silverado).

4. With the full gate open, the inner-gate shelf can again be propped open to create a lower load-stop. For large loads with the truck, I preferred the taller load-stop so I could put the heavy stuff in the bed of the truck — then long, load-stopped boards on top of them.

5. With the full gate down, drop the inner gate to create a sort of “walk-in desk.”

6. With the full gate and inner gate down, the load-stop shelf now acts as a step creating a two-step staircase into the bed. GMC/Chevy were already innovators in this space with their corner step — but the staircase makes easy bed entry when carrying big items. Say goodbye to hiking your knee up onto the tailgate to get in the bed.

The MultiPro gate is as cool as it sounds. Not since Audi’s slick, multi-functional Virtual Cockpit display and Tesla’s 17-inch screen have I so enjoyed playing with an accessory.

But where the Audi/Tesla function is ultimately an aesthetic luxury, the Sierra’s premium tailgate is must-have, truck utility.

Other accessories push beyond premium to luxury. The Sierra reaches into Cadillac’s toolbox for a giant head-up display and rear camera mirror — the latter giving drivers an unobstructed view of bed and trailer. A swiveling side step (also available on Silverado’s High Country trim) allows better access to the front bed quarter. And the bed will also be available in carbon fiber — an exotic, lightweight material typically found on sports cars. For Sierra, carbon means a material even more durable than steel.

Speaking of sports cars, my Denali had a similar 6.2-liter V-8 to the Corvette. Paired with a 10-speed and spitting out 460 pound-feet of torque, it was as silky as the Sierra’s wardrobe. Dress a Chevy Silverado in a tuxedo and it’s good-looking. If it can do a six-way tailgate, wade streams with 1,600 pounds on your back and go zero-60 in less than six seconds, it’s a celebrity.

Heck, if James Bond ever needs a gorgeous, versatile pickup, Q might deliver him a Sierra Denali.

Or a Sierra AT4. The latter is Sierra’s latest premium trim — a skid-plated, off-road version packing two extra inches of lift, that big honkin’ V-8 and knobby off-road tires. If Newfies don’t need their Sierra to load fish, then they can take this brute inland to chop Christmas trees.

My MultiPro-accessorized Sierra starts just $1,700 north of a $57,795 High Country Silverado. The looks alone are worth it. The remade, high-strength steel chassis is not just 380 pounds lighter than the last generation, it’s allowed designers a bigger canvas to differentiate it from the humble Chevy. Behold the sculpted flanks and C-shaped headlights, and an upright hood that rivals the Ram 1500 for best-looking truck on the road.

Sierra customers may be surprised to find the interior is little changed from the Silverado. Still, that also means it gets the same three-inch boost in rear legroom over last generation, rear-seat storage compartments and connected console.

Sierra beats kissing a cod. It’s a whale of a truck.

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 GMC Sierra 1500

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

Price: $31,095 base ($67,200 Denali, 6.2-liter V-8, 4WD Crew Cab as tested)

Powerplant: 4.3-liter V-6; 2.7-liter Turbo-4; 5.3-liter V-8; 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 285 horsepower, 305 pound-feet torque (4.3-liter V-6); 310 horsepower, 328 pound-feet torque (2.7-liter Turbo-4); 355 horsepower, 385 pound-feet torque (5.3-liter V-8); 420 horsepower, 460 pound-feet torque (6.2-liter V-8)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic (V-6, 5.3L V-8); 8-speed automatic (Turbo-4, 5.3L V-8); 10-speed automatic (6.2L V-8)

Performance: 0-60 mph, est. 5.7 seconds; Towing: 12,100 lbs. (4WD 6.2-liter V-8 Crew Cab, mftr); Payload: 2,070 lbs. (4WD 6.2-liter V-8 Crew Cab, mftr)

Weight: 4,797 pounds, base, 2WD Crew Cab (5,015 pounds (4WD, Crew Cab as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/21 highway/17 combined (4WD 5.3L V-8); 15 city/20 highway/17 combined (4WD 6.2L V-8)

Report card

Highs: Head-turning looks; Swiss Army knife meets tailgate

Lows: Interior still too Chevy-like; how come the interior wood trim is buried in the dash?

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Hearty Chevy Silverado serves meat and potatoes

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 6, 2018

Chevy Ltz Fr3 4

I love the pickup wars for the same reason I love muscle car bouts. Both are uniquely American segments boasting big engines, big capability, and Big Three automakers clawing at each other to be King of the Hill.

The Battle of Muscle has been white hot in recent years as General Motors, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler introduced their latest weapons — Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger — boasting state-of-the-art performance. The three brands bring unique talents and flag-waving partisans scream themselves hoarse urging them on. Crossing sides is a traitorous act — the partisan divide makes D.C. politics look like tiddlywinks.

Camaro partisans cheer their warrior’s handling, Mustang fans adore their gorgeous-styling, and Challenger faithful recite Herculean horsepower figures. When the armies clash and the V-8s roar, you can hear them for miles. They are light infantry compared to pickup battles.

The Truck Wars are far more consequential because, with millions of sales at stake, they are the core moneymakers of Detroit’s Three. Tens of thousands of standard pickups are sold every year to company fleets, flooding the landscape with worker ants doing the daily essentials of American commerce: building, landscaping, towing.

With this summer’s introduction of the long-awaited 2019 Chevy Silverado pickup, the truckmakers — like their muscle car cousins — have finally lined up their state-of-the-art steeds.

Cartoon: Nike Contract Kaepernick

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 5, 2018

Cartoon: Funeral Trump Syndrome

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 4, 2018

Cartoon: Labor Day 2018

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Happy birthday, Cadillac Escalade

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 31, 2018

Escalade 2018 City

The Cadillac Escalade debuted 20 years ago with all the subtlety of Shaq O’Neal jumping out of a birthday cake.

Introduced at the prim-and-proper Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance in California, the pickup-based, three-row land yacht shocked polite society as the most outrageous SUV the world had ever seen. It was a throwback to the tail-finned behemoths of Cadillac’s 1950s glory days, yet became an icon for a new, 21st-century generation of wealthy rappers, actors, and athletes — including Shaq himself.

Cadillac is celebrating the Escalade’s 20th birthday this summer with a series of prints and a video commemorating four generations of Escalade.

Bigger than a New York apartment and bejeweled with enough chrome to be seen from outer space, the Escalade has been a segment champion for a brand that has struggled to establish itself as an athletic maker of smaller sedans and crossovers like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.

The best-seller in its segment for 15 of its 20 years, the bling-tastic Escalade delivers about $3 billion a year to Caddy’s bottom line. Sales have topped more than three-quarters of a million in the United States and over 800,000 world-wide. Since 1999, its customers have been the Cadillac’s richest and youngest (average age 52) — bringing new generations to an 116-year-old brand.

The Caddy that put the OMG into SUV debuted in 1998 as little more than a GMC Yukon in a tuxedo. Based on a pickup truck chassis, it was rushed to market to counter the similarly super-sized Lincoln Navigator.

The Caddy’s stature and palatial interior room wowed a world warming to SUVs.

“That combination immediately struck a chord,” says Cadillac president Steve Carlisle. “It introduced Cadillac to an entirely new generation of luxury customers via popular culture and changed perceptions of what the brand could offer.”

By 2003 musicians from Kanye West to Ludacris to Jennifer Lopez were writing about the Escalade. Sang Lopez in her hit “Love Don’t Cost a Thing”:

“When you rolled up in the Escalade
Saw that truck you gave to the valet
Knew that it was game when you looked at me”

Escalade became synonymous with Hollywood celebrity, helping to grow sales by 90 percent with the second-generation model in 2003. By its fifth birthday Escalade sales had ballooned 230 percent. Though it pioneered the mega-ute, Lincoln’s Navigator couldn’t match the Caddy’s celebrity status.

Blinged-out Escalades from urban-ride trend-setter DUB magazine became a staple at auto shows. The ute starred in The Sopranos and Entourage TV shows. Even Tiger Woods was attacked by his golf club-wielding wife in an Escalade.

Not everyone wanted the big Caddy.

It was scorned by media who labeled Escalade a threat to safety and the planet. New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher skewered the beast in his 2002 book “High and Mighty SUVs: The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way,” writing that “it looked like a very large shark traveling down the road with its jaws gaping.”

As Escalade sales approached 40,000 a year in North America, not every model was a success as attempts to expand the badge with pickup and hybrid versions were met with yawns.

The Escalade hybrid might have been single-handedly slain by Paris Hilton’s 2008 “Paris for President” campaign song which included the lyrics:

“Incentivize nuclear nonproliferation and ratify Kyoto today
You can ride in the motorcade in my hybrid pink Escalade
Paris for President!”

Even as sales leveled off at 20k a year, the big Caddy has survived gasoline price spikes and proved that the full-size SUV segment is here to stay. Last year it inspired an all-new, widely-acclaimed Navigator — the first Lincoln to go to-to-toe against the legend in years.

Mainstream models based on the same architecture — the Yukon and Chevy Suburban — have also become profit-rich mainstays unrivaled by foreign makers.

Celebrity fads come and go. As Tinseltown has moved on to other status symbols like the Tesla Model S and Bugatti Veyron, the Escalade has touted technological and stylistic advances.

Escalade introduced an adaptive shock system, Magnetic Ride Control, to full-size utes in 2009, and was the standard bearer for Cadillac’s Art & Science design philosophy in 2014. The majestic ute has been featured prominently in brand advertising and has a large female buying demographic.

At 17-feet long and 6-feet tall, the $75,990 Escalade’s (loaded models can approach six figures) outsized proportions have changed little in 20 years. But the King of Bling, winner of 16 JD Power reliability awards, gets 65 percent more horsepower from its 6.2-liter V-8 and 52 percent better fuel economy (15 mpg vs. 23 mpg) than the ’99 model.

Some things just get fitter with age.