Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Kanye and Trump

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 12, 2018

Cartoon: Democrats believe Clinton and Ford

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 12, 2018

Payne review: Ford Edge ST, the family hot-hatch

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 11, 2018

Edge St Fr3 4 Lake

Performance SUVs aren’t as crazy as I thought. I caught up with some of my pocket-rocket brethren at the Ford Edge ST’s media debut in Utah last week. Like me, they love Ford’s compact ST (short for Sport Technologies) hatchbacks. Like me, they think hot hatches are the best combo of fun and utility. And like me, they are stoked about the Ford Edge ST sport utility vehicle.

Think of it as a giant hot-hatch for motorheads with kids.

“The cornering on the autocross course was phenomenal. I would never have expected a big vehicle to handle so well,” said Karl Weber, 30, father of two and owner of a Ford Focus SVT (ST’s predecessor badge). He wants an Edge ST. Now.

“I’ve got two boys and I’ve got an Escape, and this would make a good jump for more space,” said Ben Richter, 32, father of two boys from Nebraska who owns a Ford Focus ST and recognizes its DNA in the Edge ST.

Every ST generation has to grow up. Young leadfoots whose first hot hatch was a VW Golf GTI (me) or Honda Civic Si (my sons) or Hyundai Veloster R-Spec or Nissan Juke NISMO.

With kids and disposable income, they have graduated to the diaper-changing, soccer-game-shuttling, upstate-vacation phase of life. But they haven’t been neutered of their auto enthusiasm: The growl of dual pipes. The Woodward stoplight drag. The call of a country road.

Ford has found the right horse for the job.

While the Ford Escape compact ute would seem the logical SUV for the job — starting at $25,000, it is the next hatch in the lineup after the Focus – but the upright ute is more Barbie than Ken. And hot-hatch demographics are decidedly male.

The mid-size Edge is, well, edgier. Its sculpted looks are more butch than the Escape. Edge sales skew male. And then there’s the chassis: Where the Escape is an SUV platform, the Edge shares its toned bod with Fusion and Taurus cars.

The Edge is a big athlete, an advantage Ford has previously recognized with a Sport version. The last-gen Sport got a substantial engine-upgrade from the base Edge, putting out a healthy 315 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque.

The Edge ST takes the Sport and pumps it with steroids.

At speed over the undulations of Utah country roads outside Salt Lake City, my ST gulped the landscape, setting fire to the fall leaves. WAAAAUGHHH! wailed the V-6, while the two-ton chassis stayed remarkably true to my direction. Make no mistake, this is a rhino compared to the Focus/Fiesta pitbulls. But it’s a rhino in tennis shoes.

Ford achieves this feat the old-fashioned ST way: more power from the twin-turbo V-6 (335 horses and a whopping 380 pound-feet of torque), bigger sway bars, and stiffer shocks and springs. The Frankenstein surgery of ST and ute (Ford performance engineer: “Let my creation live!”) is aided by some fundamental changes to the base Edge for the 2019 model year.

Credit upgrades like a smooth, eight-speed automatic transmission that delivers silkier shifts and 2 mpg better fuel economy on the highway. Also an all-wheel drive system with better traction that can throw torque front-to-rear as well as side-to-side in order to avoid getting stuck in snow ruts.

I drove an Edge Titanium back-to-back with the ST (like other ST models, the Edge ST pricing starts close to where the upper-trim Edge Titanium tops out — $45,000 vs. $42,000 for the ST). I appreciated the hatch utility that makes ST such a versatile vehicle. Signature Ford tech is everywhere. The brand that first brought you the kick-open trunk, panoramic sunroof and self-park assist offers all those features here and more.

Standard on the $29,999 base Edge are camera and connected systems that offer essentials like blind-spot assist, collision-mitigation braking and remote start (“Alexa, start my car”). There’s more on offer from adaptive cruise-control to smartphone apps to a nifty rotary dial.

“With the technology and space and everything you’re getting, it’s a good bargain,” hot-hatch brother and Fiesta ST owner Lou Rivera, 29, raved.

And once you go ST, you’ll never want to go back.

It’s not just the power and rock-solid handling, the ST brings presence to an SUV segment that sorely needs it. Handsome as the Edge is, it has melted into the SUV field. Hyundai’s utes have copied its pentagon grill and LED rear-lighting.

If an Edge ST looms in your mirrors, you’ll know it. Like Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski smeared with black face-paint, the Edge comes ready for battle. The front clip has been swapped for a new, blacked-out grille and lower intakes. Wheel wells are engorged with black 20-inch wheels (21-inch optional). And all the trimmings – from window sills to rear diffuser have been wrapped black.

Paint it in ST-exclusive Metallic Blue and the big ute reminds of my other favorite blue-devil performance car, the BMW M2.

Living with the Edge ST, like its brother Focus, will require putting up with flaws (but not the Fiesta ST, which is a consistent member of my Top 10 cars list). Despite the added torque and twin turbos, the Edge ST exhibits noticeable turbo lag under the cane. That sluggishness isn’t helped by the eight-speed tranny’s odd lack of urgency when called upon to shift. At full flog, I was constantly tempted to use the shift paddles.

These negatives would be more annoying if they were in track-day cars like the Focus or Fiesta. But a track-focused vehicle this is not, which Ford telegraphs by not offering heavily bolstered Recaro seats or a manual shifter. Still got the need for track days? Keep your old Fiesta ST around.

Especially since the Fiesta and Focus are exiting the U.S. market after 2019 – along with other Ford cars. Which begs the question, is the Edge ST about to lose its buyer base? We’ll see.

For now, hot-hatch graybeards rejoice – the Ford Edge ST means you don’t have to leave ST performance behind when you graduate to a family ute. Performance SUVs are no longer just for the $100,000 Jeep Trackhawk or BMW X5 M jet set.

A new segment is born. What are you waiting for, VW and Nissan? Will we see a Tiguan GTI or Murano NISMO soon?

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 Ford Edge and Edge ST

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

Price: $30,990 base Edge, $43,330 base ST include $995 destination fee ($44,890 FWD turbo-4 Edge Titanium and $46,540 AWD Edge ST as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo inline 4-cylinder, 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6

Power: 250 horsepower, 275 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 335 horsepower, 380 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.5 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed: 130 mph; tow capacity: 3,500 pounds (V-6 ST)

Weight: 3,959 pounds base FWD (4,477 AWD ST as tested)

EPA fuel economy: 22 city/29 highway/25 combined (FWD turbo-4); 19 city/26 highway/21 combined (Edge ST)

Report card

Highs: Aggressive look; sure-footed power

Lows: Turbo lag; upshifts too casual

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Fall Leaves

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 11, 2018

Cartoon: Colbert Comedy Writers

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 11, 2018

Cartoon: Russians, FBI and Kavanaugh

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 6, 2018

Payne: Lincoln Nautilus vs. Mercedes-AMG GLC, SUV opposites

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 5, 2018

Merc Glen Fr3 4

The difference between the new Lincoln Nautilus and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe SUVs is as vast as the American cities where I tested them: Santa Barbara, California and Watkins Glen, New York, home of Watkins Glen International Raceway.

If you just got back from an extended stay on Mars, the sport ute has taken over autodom in the 21st century. Nautilus and AMG represent bookends of a luxury class that has rapidly expanded to offer Americans a choice of everything from all-wheel drive family utility to high-horsepower performance weapons. Just as the sedan segment has done for decades.

Every fall I take my wee Lola sports racer to the Glen’s SCCA Regional event in western New York. At lunch-hour, the track offers car clubs and spectators pace car-led laps around the epic 3.4-mile road course for $30. I usually participate — not just to take a carload of my teammates around the track to discuss the line, shift points and so on, but also to feel the driving dynamics of the production tester I’ve scheduled that week.

This year I met my racing crew at Watkins Glen in the 503-horsepower 2018 Mercedes. That’s right, a 500-horse sport utility coupe.

The track lap line in front of us contained an assortment of vehicles: Mazda Miata, Subaru Crosstrek, Ferrari Portofino. “We’re just a couple of slow ladies in our Ferrari,” said the kindly gray-haired owner, walking up to me. “Why don’t you boys go on ahead of us. I don’t think we can keep up.”

Yes, the auto world has gone mad.

Over the last year I’ve track-tested a 505-horse Alfa Stelvio SUV at Austin’s Formula One track and a 707-horse Jeep SUV at Club Motorsports in Maine. And here I was at the Glen with the driver of one of the most coveted sports cars on the planet deferring to me in a 4,500-pound ute as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

The luxury SUV has come a long way from its humble Lincoln Navigator roots of 20 years ago. I was impressed that our new Ferrari friends had so much respect for an SUV, but the AMG is not your average grocery hauler.

Carrying a racy front grille right off the beastly Mercedes-AMG GT coupe and lower air intakes so big they could ingest a flock of geese, the compact GLC enters the room with authority. Aft of the facia, things get weird.

The AMG (or is that OMG?) GLA 63 S is based on the standard GLC compact ute. Just add steroids. Merc drops a twin-turbo V-8 behind in the engine bay — the same 4.0-liter mill that motivates the two-door S560 coupe I recently tested. Determined to continue the family resemblance, the AMG coupe tapers the roofline, complete with carbon-fiber tail spoiler.

With its high stance and turtle shape, the Merc effectively looks like an atom bomb — with about the same explosive power. It can hit 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, more than a half-second faster than a BMW M3. Near Cleveland on my way back home from the Glen, an M3 sidled up to me spoiling for a fight. I stomped the pedal. See ya.

The Lincoln, too, is based on another vehicle: its cousin, the Ford Edge.

Rather than take on formidable German performance brands like Mercedes and their endless waves of alphanumeric infantry — GLC, AMG GLC 45, AMG GLC 63, AMG GLC 63 S Coupe and so on — Lincoln has focused on a more-affordable pampered experience. From its signature Jaguar-like grille to its sleek flanks to its elegant wrap-around tail lights, this is a transcontinental train.

No performance mutants here. No GTs. Heck, Lincoln doesn’t even have an alphanumeric equivalent to Ford’s GT or ST performance badges. Nautilus fits the brand’s lineup of travel names: Navigator, Aviator, Continental and the forthcoming Corsair.

The names are serene, not sporty. It’s like a Mozart concerto versus Merc’s rumbling AC/DC.

Turn on the Mercedes and you’ll scatter wildlife like a shotgun blast. BRAAAP. The center console looks like a Porsche with a sleeve of buttons wearing graphics that illustrate exhaust tips or shock absorbers to encourage you to explore the vehicle’s capabilities.

At Watkins Glen, I toggled the exhaust button for maximum sonic experience — then selected Race mode. Yes, Race mode (in addition to Sport and Sport-Plus). I disappeared from the Ferrari, clicking off lightning-quick shifts with steering-wheel mounted paddles that control the 9-speed dual-clutch tranny. BAP BAP BAP.

In the New York Finger Lakes region around the Glen, the AMG Coupe didn’t carve rural roads so much as obliterate them. Traffic kneeled to its power. Cornfields burned in its wake. The V-8’s low end torque is ferocious, propelling the all-wheel drive, 4,500-pound bomb forward with claw-like 20-inch tires.

My Nautilus tester also featured 20-inch rims, but they are sculpted dishes meant to be admired as the Lincoln saunters through the tight streets of Santa Barbara. Or Detroit. Or Chicago.

The top-of-the-line Black Label trim offers a signature pinwheel-style wheel. Plying the roads and streets of north LA I was never tempted to blow anyone’s doors off. The Nautilus is a magic carpet. Push-button shifter. Front, 22-way, massaging thrones.

It features a more livable interior than the German beast with best-in-segment rear seat room, deep console cubby space and a crafted, button-controlled console that may not match Merc’s black, high-gloss finish — but better integrates its touchscreen in the long dash.

Extensive sound-proofing makes it difficult to tell the difference between the 245-horse, 2.0-liter turbo-4 and 335-horsepower, 2.7-liter turbo-6 under the hood.

The turbo-4 will do just fine, its quiet torque effortlessly pushing the train along. That will keep your cost to about $45,000 for an all-new Nautilus, nearly half the price of the Mercedes OMG. And if you don’t feel like driving, Lincoln offers a chauffeur service. For your own car. So you and your mate can cuddle in the back seat on the way to dinner listening to Mozart on the 19-speaker Revel stereo system.

It’s a different audio experience than a V-8, no doubt.

The Lincoln may not have the cachet of a Mercedes-AMG. Or a Ferrari Portofino. But it will effortlessly get you where you want to go in the same time … unless you plan on buying a lot of lunch laps at Watkins Glen.

2019 Lincoln Nautilus

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

Price: $41,335 base includes $995 destination fee ($58,865 AWD turbo-4 and $64,400 AWD Reserve V-6 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo inline 4-cylinder, 2.7-liter turbo V-6

Power: 250 horsepower, 280 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 335 horsepower, 380 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.9 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity: 3,500 pounds (with tow package on V-6)

Weight: 4,305 pounds (AWD as tested)

EPA fuel economy: 20 city/25 highway/22 combined (AWD turbo-4); 19 city/26 highway/21 combined (AWD V-6)

Report card

Highs: Improved British styling; comfortable interior

Lows: Can get pricey with options; head-up display, please?

Overall: 3 stars

2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe

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

Price: $81,745 base includes $995 destination fee ($96,895 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter twin-turbo 8-cylinder

Power: 503 horsepower, 516 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 174 mph

Weight: 4,511 pounds (mfr. est.)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 15 city/22 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Atomic speed; intimidating grille

Lows: Atomic price; bulbous shape

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Kavanaugh MeCarthyism

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 5, 2018

Cartoon: Trump NAFTA Deal

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 3, 2018

Cartoon: Kavanaugh’s Calendar

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 3, 2018

Cartoon: McCarthy and Kavanaugh

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 1, 2018

Cartoon: Kavanaugh Crucible

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Payne: Fab 4-cylinder face-off, Mustang vs. BRZ vs. Miata

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 30, 2018

Fab4 Mazda Payne

This summer, Detroit flexed its muscles: $70,000 Corvette V-8s rattled Ferndale windows; $60,000 Hellcats turned Woodward’s asphalt black with Roadkill Night burnouts; $60,000 Mustang GT350s pounded down Waterford Hills’ back straight.

But for half the price and half the cylinders, you can have just as much fun. Maybe more.

For under $40,000 there is a buffet of treats for the casual motorhead — tiny sports cars, hot hatches and four-banger pony cars that are not only easy on the wallet, but can be rowed hard on local byways without waking every cop in town.

I sampled three of these feisty fours this summer: the $38,970 turbo-4 Ford Mustang convertible, $38,335 Mazda Miata MX-5 RS and $34,455 winged Subaru BRZ tS.

As regular readers of this column know, my favorite budget performers are hot hatches with pep, utility and grins: VW Golf GTI, Honda Civic Type R, Hyundai Veloster N, Ford Focus ST and Fiesta ST. But these rowdy pocket rockets lack one thing — rear-wheel drive.

Our contestants for this test are all rear-wheel drive manuals, so they can be drifted, tossed and smoked out of stoplights just like their more expensive V-8 brethren. Beyond RWD their DNA is all over the map from the original pony-car ‘Stang to the iconic Miata to the new-kid-on-the-block, flat-four Subie.

I flogged them all over Metro Detroit to determine the best of the Fab Fours.

Ford Mustang EcoBoost

Mustang and EcoBoost don’t seem to belong in the same sentence, but Ford is determined to make its EcoBoost engines an international brand. It won the 2016 LeMans 24-Hour with the EcoBoost twin-turbo, V6-powered Ford GT supercar and began exporting 2015 Mustang fours to foreign continents choking on strict government emissions regulations.

For 2018, Mustang shelved its 6-cylinder engine to rely entirely on the inline-4 and V-8.

My red 2018 convertible is easy on the eyes. Ford’s designers got it right with an updated design that maintains signature touches like athletic haunches and a modern Focus-style nose.

Alas, the EcoBoost Mustang also sounds like a Focus. Which is say, it feels like it’s lost its voice. Like Mike Tyson, the Ford’s vocals don’t match its muscled bod. REV IT UP!bystanders urged at the Woodward Dream Cruise, expecting a V-8 roar. I would sheepishly rev it to disappointed looks.

“It just doesn’t sound like a Mustang,” colleagues said after handing back the keys.

I’ve driven the turbo-4 in anger on country roads, and without the big V-8 boat anchor up front it rotates more easily into corners, its independent-rear suspension proving more nimble than previous generations. Nailing the four-holer out of a corner, I think of the $41,000 Focus RS hot hatch with which the Mustang shares its 310 horse 2.3-liter mill. But the bad-boy RS engine is tuned for more emotion than the stealthy ‘Stang.

Worse, the RS and its ST stablemates are being axed in the U.S. market as Ford abandons small cars, meaning the only 300-plus-horsepower four you’ll find will be buried under the hood of a Mustang. These are dark days for Ford motorheads. At least you can still get a Mustang V-8.

Subaru BRZ tS

Since I first drove them in 2015, the BRZ and its Toyota 89 twin brother have been on my short list of sports-car favorites. With its low profile and flat-4 boxer engine, it has the lowest center-of-gravity of any production vehicle, along with the battery-powered Tesla Model S.

Combine that with a taut chassis and precise shifter, and the BRZ is Porsche-like (the Stuttgart legend also uses boxer engines) in its handling. Predictable, neutral, maneuverable on the limit.

For 2018, Subaru engineers pushed the envelope even further with the limited-edition tS, the ultimate, track-tuned BRZ. The tS gets a high rear wing for added downforce, stiffer suspension, and most significantly, sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires for added grip — an improvement over the standard skinnies which may be fun for drifting, but take time away at a Waterford track day.

But better handling is not what the athletic ‘Ru needs.

The 205-horsepower 2.0-liter four is the most anemic 200-horse engine I’ve driven. A 201-horse Honda Civic Si feels much more engaged. Floor the BRZ out of corners, and it has all the urgency of Heinz ketchup.

Full torque doesn’t come on until 6,200 rpms, meaning you’re rowing the box all the time to stay in the torque band. Maybe the peppy 260-horse Ascent SUV will lend its turbo-4 someday.

Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

Though its 2.0-liter four pumped out just 155 ponies, the 2018 Mazda beat the Subaru by nearly half a second: 5.9 seconds compared to 6.3 (courtesy of our friends at Car and Driver). Credit MX-5’s weight. At 2,453 pounds, it is by far the lightest in this test.

Yet, Mazda isn’t resting on its laurels. For 2019 it has increased horsepower by 17 percent to 181 by extending the rev range to 7,500 rpms. Mazda maniacs have pined for the carmaker’s torquey 260-horse turbo-4 (stuffed into the Mazda 6 and CX-9). But corporate is insistent that its halo remain a purists’ sports car — no forced induction allowed.

My 2019 RF will satisfy the purists, and the aesthetes as well. Its Targa roof and racy rear pillars make for the sexiest Miata ever. Looks will cost you: the RF starts $2,600 north of a regular, soft-top MX-5 roadster at $33,675. My RF manual was loaded with carbon-fiber trimmings and leather thrones to the tune of $38,335.

As with Mustang, I’m a fan of the Miata’s new, next-gen styling and the RF brings a touch of luxury as well. The hard top folds up automatically with the touch of a button — where the Mustang is only partially automatic.

Whether on an interstate cloverleaf, parking-lot autocross course or Waterford Hills track day, drivers can really explore the limits of the MX-5.

At 6-foot-5, I explore the limits — head in roof, knees in dash — of the Miata’s tiny cockpit compared to the more comfortable ‘Stang and BRZ. But Mazda’s recipe of styling, playfulness and power-to-weight ratio make it the best pure, under $40,000 4-banger on the market today.

All hail the Fab Four-banger MX-5. It’ll put a smile on your face as wide as its smiley front grille.

2019 Ford Mustang Ecoboost

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four(ish)-passenger convertible/coupe

Price: $26,580 base ($38,970 convertible as tested)

Powerplant: 2.3-liter turbo-4 cylinder

Power: 310 horsepower, 350 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 123 mph

Weight: 3,676 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 20 city/29 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Most powerful car in comparo; more nimble handling than the V-8

Lows: Going topless still requires manual labor; 4-banger doesn’t fit muscle car looks

Overall: 3 stars

2018 Subaru BRZ tS 

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four(ish)-passenger coupe

Price: $26,455 base ($34,355 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter “Boxer” flat-4 cylinder

Power: 205 horsepower, 156 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 135 mph

Weight: 2,850 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 20 city/27 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Best-handling car in comparo; roomier than the Miata

Lows: Lack of punch; smartphone apps, please

Overall: 3 stars

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF 

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger roadster/coupe

Price: $26,190 base ($38,335 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder

Power: 181 horsepower, 151 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.7 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 140 mph (est.)

Weight: 2,453 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 26 city/34 highway/29 combined

Report card

Highs: Most fun of the bunch; auto drop top

Lows: Six-footers need a shoehorn to get in; RF gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Tiger Comeback

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 26, 2018

Cartoon: Kavanaugh Season

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 25, 2018

Cartoon: Kavanaugh, Bert and Ernie

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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

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