Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Whitmer Stay Home Husband

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2020

Cartoon: Barber Shop Whitmer Husband

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2020

Payne: To Hell and back in Honda Civic Type R hellion

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 28, 2020

The 2020 Honda Civic Type R has 306 horsepower, four doors, a hatchback, red seats, insane handling, the latest electronics and a rear wing the size of the Sopwith Camel. Sounds like heaven to me.

So I took it to Hell.

I’ve spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to Michigan’s devilish burg during the coronavirus clampdown. With the state’s best roads and unlikely name, Hell has always been a fun diversion. The North American Car of the Year jury used to hold our annual test there before we outgrew local facilities. Lunch meeting in Ann Arbor? I’ll detour on the way back to test a car’s limits.

But with national vehicle test programs grounded by COVID-19, Hell has become my test loop to push a performance vehicle’s envelope. Is it comfortable on the two-hour round trip? Does it get good gas mileage? Have modern safety features like adaptive cruise-control? Does it inspire confidence on roller-coaster roads?

Hell’s a fabulous all-around test. And a showcase for the $37,950 Civic Type R’s impressive all-around game of affordable speed, comfort and utility.

At the end of a good workout this spring, I found but one weakness: With a healthy $3,175 price jump since it was introduced as a 2018 model, Type R has ceded ground to the $37,884 Subaru WRX STI and $30,675 Hyundai Veloster N for pocket-rocket affordability.

Nail the imperturbable R over Hankerd Road’s heaving high-speed blind turns and you’ll swear it’s Velcroed to the pavement, so flat is its chassis. The only limit to the sports car’s speed was my fear of cresting a brow to find one of Michigan’s finest in a squad car (their presence ubiquitous in these COVID times).

But before I get too deep into Hell’s twisties, a quick primer on the Type R.

When Honda took the 10th-generation $20,806 2015 Civic to Germany’s Nurburgring race track to benchmark against the Audi A3, the Type R was the ultimate goal. King Civic offers top-of-class room, features and handling across a vast lineup that includes sedan, Sport hatchback, Si performance coupe — and then peaks at the Type R. It’s like watching the evolution of Michael Jordan from high school star to six-time NBA champion.

New for 2020, the Type R brings significant upgrades like standard Honda Sensing (adaptive cruise-control, lane-keep assist, emergency braking), which helps explain the price hike. And it adds minor tweaks like a new front spoiler, suede steering wheel and body-colored fascia gills.

They were minor tweaks because the Type R is hardly modest. The body is smeared with goth makeup: black grille, black wheels, black window trim.

My black ’n’ Championship White menace looked like it had been assembled from a drawer-full of knives. Sharp angles were everywhere from its front splitter fangs to its rocker panels to the twin shark-fin endplates that held the rear wing. Type R telegraphs its road-carving abilities.

Open the door and the red bolstered seats warn this thing is devil’s spawn. Yet as I set out on my journey to Hell, the Type R felt more Civic than R-rated. Despite a hungry bark at startup that exhales through a trio of center-mounted exhaust pipes, the Type R is quite civilized to drive in Comfort mode. (I’ll get to other, more aggressive modes in a bit). Adaptive cruise is standard, even with a manual transmission.

At stoplights I had to blip the engine a couple of times to make sure the engine hadn’t stalled, so quiet is the idle. And while the ride is expectedly firm, Mrs. Payne found the R’s roomy, thoughtful interior a laudable travel companion (even as she feared how quickly it could turn, Hyde-like, into a highway heathen).

Civic’s infotainment commands trail recent segment entries like the Nissan Sentra and Subaru Impreza, but standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto neutralize that advantage in a jiffy. I plugged in my phone and told Google Assistant to take me to Hell. Who needs a fancy-pants premium navigation system?

The hatchback’s utility is self-explanatory (a big reason SUVs are so popular today), but Civic goes a step further. It adds sub-cargo storage and a pull-across shade to conceal items in the cargo bay that makes the common snap-on shade seem needlessly complicated. That thoughtfulness is matched up front by a configurable console of sliding cupholders and cubbies.

My first hot-hatch was a cramped two-door VW GTI. But the Type R rocket ship has 1.5 inches more rear legroom than a midsize Acura TLX luxury sedan, for goodness sake, while weighing 500 pounds less with 16 more horsepower.

The Type R’s lightweight 3,121 pounds was evident as I assaulted the Exit 148A clover leaf upon exiting I-96 for U.S. 23 South.

Despite roads slicked by spring rain, Type R danced around the 180-degree downhill turn, its chassis flat as a pancake. As I dialed in more throttle, the front-wheel drive system predictably pushed. But when the road surface unexpectedly changed from concrete to greasy asphalt — briefly causing the R to skitter laterally — there was no nervous tail wag like a rear-wheel drive car.

Flattening the throttle onto Route 23, the heretofore quiet cabin erupted. I had dialed the mode-select switch to Race (what did you think R stood for?) and the 2.0-liter turbo-4 roared with hunger. Its 295-pound feet of torque might have ripped the front tires out of their fenders were it not for modern electronics and clever suspension engineering.

Exiting slippery turns in second gear, I could easily get wheelspin, but R never felt out of sorts. The notchy, manual box is the best thing this side of a Porsche, and the tranny automatically rev-matched on downshifts so I didn’t fuss with heel-and-toe.

All this capability in a $38,000 package. Sure you want a smaller 306-horse Audi S3 for $10,000 more? Subaru STI, however, will match Type R’s price, while also packing impressive standard features. With all-wheel drive (a $2,000 value), the Subie puts the power down better in slick conditions while offering similar horsepower and interior room. As the ’Ru moves toward a 2022 model with an estimated 400 horsepower, the Type R will be challenged.

For now, though, there’s no beating a hot hatch for convenience. It makes a trip to Hell heavenly.

2020 Honda Civic Type R

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger hatchback

Price: $37,950, including $955 destination charge

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Weight: 3,121 pounds

Price: $37,950

Power: 306 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.0 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 170 mph

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg: 22 city/28 highway/25 combined

Report card

Highs: Insane grip for a FWD car; modern amenities for daily driving

Lows: Boy-racer styling not for everyone; price up from $34,800 in 2018

Overall: ★★★★

Cartoon: Lincoln Media Mask

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 28, 2020

Cartoon: Whitmer Dam Safety

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Cartoon: Memorial Day 2020

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 25, 2020

Cartoon: Hydroxychloroquine Trump Hulk

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 20, 2020

Cartoon: Barber Harass Whitmer

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 19, 2020

Cartoon: Obama Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 19, 2020

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 15, 2020

Cartoon: Protest Cars Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 15, 2020

Cartoon: NBC Edits Lincoln

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2020

Payne: That’s a Camry? Wicked TRD trim transforms Toyota’s family sedan

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2020

The 2020 Toyota Camry TRD adds aggressive looks, chassis tuning, and 301 ponies to the sedan lineup.

The 2020 Toyota Camry TRD is so wicked looking you’ll be tempted to get in over your head.

I sauntered on to Woodward Avenue one recent Sunday at the wheel of the hottest Camry ever. Growly V-6. Massive black trunk wing. Torch red paint. Black roof, side skirts, front splitter and rear diffuser. Lowered 0.6 inches. Black locomotive cow catcher grille. Wheel wells engorged with huge, 19-inch rims — black, of course.

A hearse-black, 396-horsepower, all-wheel-drive Mercedes-AMG E 43 rolled up next to me at a stoplight. I looked at him. He looked at me. The light turned green.

The German rocket ship was gone before my front tires had stopped chirping from wheel spin. The global auto hierarchy is still intact.

But the point is that the Mercedes King of Beasts felt the need to assert its authority over … a Camry. Take a bow, Toyota. Next time, maybe the engineers will give you an engine upgrade to fight back with.

The Camry TRD is the latest in a wave of Toyota and Lexis products drawn to make the somnolent Japanese brands more compelling — by order of the chairman of the board himself, Akio Toyoda. Think Toyota Supra, Lexus RX, Lexus 500. And now a wave of TRD badges — which once designated off-road performance for the Tacoma TRD pickup — now applied to everything from the ginormous Sequoia SUV to our Camry tester.

The mid-size Camry TRD is a sexy beast, but, to be honest, I would have preferred a pocket rocket.

Something to compete against the compact Honda Civic Type R hot hatch, VW Golf GTI and Subaru WRX. Toyota had that chance with the wee Corolla XSE that I tested last year. Painted in eye-searing Blue Flame with hot wheels and a boomerang grille, the hatchback had all the elements to be a contender — except a driveline.

Toyota was content to make the XSE a head-turning trim version of the volume-selling compact with the same 168-horse hamster wheel underneath. A manual made it fun to drive, but it’s hardly in the league of a Golf GTI.

Like XSE, Camry TRD also uses standard Camry equipment rather than stepping up to a unique driveline the way the Civic Type R does with its 306-horse turbocharged-4 or GTI’s wonderful 220-horse turbo-4. At least Toyota stuffed Camry with the model’s more powerful option — the 3.5-liter V-6 and not the standard 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder sewing machine.

The TRD may not belch flames — but with 301 ponies under the hood and an exterior that rivals the Subaru WRX STI for outrageousness, it’ll have to do.

After picking up my pride — and restoring the Camry’s doors that had been blown off by the Merc-AMG — I continued down Woodward, but with more humility. A 550-horsepower, 2011 Mustang GT500 sauntered by. I didn’t even try to provoke him. Then a 365-horse BMW M2. No mas.

But then a 300-horse, 2007 Subaru WRX STI blew by me. I took the bait.

This was more in the TRD’s wheelhouse. Sure, the third-generation, compact-class Subie had all-wheel drive and was lighter by 200 pounds, but the mid-size Camry is 13 years newer with a modern, 8-speed automatic transmission and more tire. Oh, it was on.

The rowdy ’Ru properly led me into a Michigan turn. We rolled northbound on Woodward. He slowed so I could tuck under his rear bumper. Then we floored it.

The rolling start helped me put the power down through the front wheels in order to keep up with the instant grip of his AWD. As he rowed his stick shift, I kept my foot buried as the smooth-shifting, auto 8-speed did its thing. Nearly a dead heat with the Subaru pulling away at 60. A later check of car specs confirmed the STI does 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds versus my TRD’s 5.6.

The Camry is vanilla no more. Make mine cherry red with hot fudge sauce on top.

That sweetness carried into the twisties of northern Oakland County which I explored later that day. When the current-gen Camry debuted in 2018 it was noticeably tighter than its predecessor. TRD turns that inherent goodness up a notch. While there were no Subies to harass, the sporty Camry was surprisingly good through the curves.

Seems that Dr. Akio Frankenstein dragged the Camry into his basement lab and swapped in stiffer springs, updated shocks and larger-diameter anti-roll bars for an increase in TRD’s resistance to body roll by 44% in front, 67% in back. The gym-training didn’t stop there.

The TRD adds stiffer underbody braces and a V-brace behind the rear seats to keep that butt firm. Heck, even the custom-to-TRD, matte-black, 19-inch hoofs are three pounds lighter than the standard 19-inchers.

That’s a lot of engineering effort not to add a more capable engine — though I’m not sure there are more capable V-6s in Toyota’s stable. The twin-turbo, 354-horse, twin-motor hybrid unit out of the Lexus LS would be pricey and the wonderful, 335-horse inline-6 in the Supra is, well, a BMW product.

So Toyota makes the Camry TRD attractive the old-fashioned way: affordability.

My tester was $32,950. That’s right, just $33K.

That’s the same price as a much smaller 220-horse GTI, for example. Honey, I grew the pocket rocket. Which comes with certain advantages like more rear seat room. Typical of Asian automakers these days, Camry TRD also comes stuffed with standard features to complement its bodacious exterior: auto high beams, auto pre-collision braking, auto lane assist, adaptive cruise control.

The real thing — not the cheap adaptive cruise I had in a recent $67,000 Sequoia that turned off under 30 mph. Whoa, bessy! Toyota is learning fast, and that includes standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto navigation which you’d have to pay extra for on an Alfa Guilia Quadrifoglio costing twice a much.

Speaking of twice as much, I parked the Camry next to a $60,000 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat in Birmingham and the owner came out of his store to check it out. “What is that?” he said. If Camry is getting the attention of Hellcat owners, it’s doing something right. Naturally, he wanted to know what was under the hood.

I fired up the Camry with a rumble and he gave a thumbs up. But I didn’t challenge him to a drag race.

2020 Toyota Camry TRD

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan

Price: $31,995, including $955 destination charge ($32,950 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6

Power: 301 horsepower, 267 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.8 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 135 mph

Weight: 3,572 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 22 city/ 31 highway/ 25 combined

Report card

Highs: Cool black trim; pocket rocket specs with mid-size roominess

Lows: Polarizing front grille; more power, please

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Pious Masks

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 11, 2020

Cartoon: Covid Whitmer Drones

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 11, 2020

Cartoon: Covid Whitmer Drones

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 11, 2020

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 9, 2020

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 9, 2020

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 8, 2020

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 7, 2020