Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Movie Violence Wick

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 22, 2019

Payne: Toyota’s new Supra is fast, furious and ’fordable

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 21, 2019

The 2020 Toyota Supra is a blast to drive fast. The neutral handling means the car changes directions quickly - and can be drifted at will.

The 2020 Toyota Supra is a blast to drive fast. The neutral handling means the car changes directions quickly – and can be drifted at will. (Photo: Toyota, Toyota)

The 2020 Toyota Supra may never have happened without Hollywood.

Three years after the last-generation Supra had been discontinued, the 2001 action film “The Fast and the Furious” cast the car as Paul Walker’s tire-burning co-star. The Japanese sports car became a mega-hit, more coveted in retirement than when new.

“Supra, Supra, Supra. It’s all we heard from dealers and fans, especially on social media,” says 2020 Supra chief engineer Tetsuya Tada. So in 2014 Toyota rolled out a jaw-dropping concept car at the Detroit auto show called the FT-1. Everyone knew it was a Supra tease. Social media went loco.

Five years later the new-generation Supra is finally here. It was worth the wait.

The sexy Supra has its father’s silver screen appeal. It’s a rockin’, sockin’ looker complete with its own glorious turbocharged six-cylinder soundtrack.

At full tilt on the back roads of Virginia and Summit Point Motorsports Park, Supra is addictive. Its quick, tail-happy handling has been tuned with the next “Fast and the Furious” sequel in mind. Its tail-kicking 365 pound-feet of torque comes on like a light switch at just 1,600 rpms. And its adjustable, bolstered seats will keep you comfy for hours of backroads fun.

But the new Supra has also learned from papa’s high-living ways with a smaller price tag and smaller, more-athletic chassis that should make it more accessible to more drivers. Call it fast, furious and ‘fordable.

From the green flag, Supra’s development team made no bones about its target: the Porsche Cayman/Boxster, the best-handling sports car on the planet for under $100,000.

Tag-teaming with the BMW Z4 Roadster — with which Supra shares its chassis and drivetrain — the pair double-team the Stuttgart star. The Bimmer takes on the drop-top Boxster, the Supra takes on the Cayman coupe.

High-five Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda. Overnight, we sports-car junkies have seen our choices double. And at a more affordable price. When the Supra bowed out in ’98, it carried a Cayman-like price tag (adjusted for inflation). While the comparable, inline-6 powered BMW will be priced closer to the Boxster at $63,000, the Supra will cost 10 grand below Cayman (with an even cheaper turbo-4 version possible, too) with more standard features and two more cylinders.

Those two pistons are crucial.

The Cayman once boasted one of the best soundtracks in the sports car genre. Its normally-aspirated, flat-6 mill was heaven at high revs. But Porsche has succumbed to Europe’s green nannies and stuffed the current, so-called 718 generation Cayman with a flat turbo-4. It hits all the performance targets but sounds like, well, an angry VW bug. Fast and … not so furious.

Enter the Supra and its BMW-sourced inline-6.

It’s muffled a bit by its (torque-tastic) turbo, yes, but Toyota has tuned it to the nines with an aggressive note on start-up, piped in cabin sound, and — BRAAAP! — a gargling, farting backfire when you let off the gas.

“Not so fuel-efficient,” says Tada-san, “but it sounds great.” Now that’s a sports car. Let Toyota’s hybrid sedans appease the nannies. Its halo sports car is box-office beefcake.

So how does the Supra measure up to the Cayman on track?

They are surprisingly different, even though the Supra was baselined to the Cayman S and boasts a lower center-of-gravity. It’s even lower than its cheaper sibling, the Toyota 86 with a boxer-4 engine, heretofore autodom’s low-CG standard.

The Cayman feels like it’s on rails around fast turns. Its mid-engine chassis is resistant to the driver’s efforts to hang the tail out. Its dual-clutch transmission is ultra precise, with rapid-fire up/down shifts. Porsche carves apexes like a scalpel.

The Supra, on the other hand, encourages drifting. Tada-san and team tuned the chassis with amateur racers in mind. Miss your turn-in? The Supra’s neutral handling responds aggressively to steering input to rotate the car quickly. The result is a car that — with huge, sticky 10-inch front and 11-inch rear Michelin Supersports — is a joy to drive sideways.

It’s not the fastest way around the track — but it will put a grin on your face. I had to discipline myself around Summit’s tight, Shenandoah Race Track not to hang it out everywhere.

Physics also plays a role. At nearly 3,400 pounds the Toyota is closer to a V-6 Camaro than the 2,888-pound Cayman. As a result, the Supra has more mass to control through corners and is jouncier over severe road undulations. Indeed, the Supra’s speed (117 mph at the end of Summit’s back straight compared to 98 for the Toyota 86) and whippy handling mean some drivers will prefer Toyota’s tidier, 201-horse brother.

Give the handling medal to Porsche — but give the passion prize to Supra.

That passion is underlined by the inline-6. The single-clutch eight-speed transmission doesn’t match Cayman’s sophisticated dual-clutch tranny, but it’s so good you won’t miss the lack of manual option. It keeps you in the meat of the 6’s torrid torque band all the time.

The emotion continues in the styling, which shames Paul Walker’s ol’ high-wing Supra.

I swooned over the FT-1’s nose, which appeared to have been taken right off a Ferrari F1 car. The snout has been modified a bit to accommodate engine air-intake needs, but the finished product is uniquely Toyota and very racy (see if you can tell where the bumper structure runs).

That aggressive look continues across the twin-bubble roof, rocker panels and muscular rear shoulders — my favorite view of the car. It’s a panther ready to pounce. And that big hatchback easily swallowed my luggage, plus a golf bag if that’s your game.

Inside, BMW prevails — which ain’t a bad thing. The remote rotary infotainment dial is very good, as is Bimmer’s monostable shifter. Toyota’s own digital display is properly racy.

Typical of Japanese exterior design these days, the Supra is bristling with fake air ports. But Toyota says they are properly located should tuners want to modify them to get more downforce/engine capability from the car.

Racing, by the way, is integral to Supra. Its “GR” trunk badge references Toyota’s Gazoo Racing team, with plans to enter the car in GT series across the globe. But with its combination of long torque band and short wheelbase, Michigan enthusiasts will find they can push the envelope of the production car on rural roads as well as on track.

Toyota now joins Chevy with a pair of accessible sports cars ranging from the $27,000 86 to the rockin’ Supra.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in “The Fast and the Furious 9.”

2020 Toyota Supra

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 2-passenger sports car

Price: $50,920 base, including $930 destination fee ($56,115 3.0 Premium trim and rare $57,375 Launch Edition as tested)

Powerplant: 335 horsepower, 365 pound-feet of torque, turbocharged inline 6-cylinder

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 4.1-second zero-60 (mfr.); 155 mph top speed

Weight: 3,397 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 24 city/31 highway/24 combined

Highs: Hot bod; obnoxious, snarling inline-6

Lows: Porky; tight fit for a big dude with helmet

Overall: 4 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 15, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 13, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 13, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 13, 2019

Payne: In ‘Vette vs. Porsche War, 911 GT2 sets the standard

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 12, 2019

The Porsche 911 GT2 RS, left, and GT3 RS are the fastest, most expensive models of the 911 breed.

The Porsche 911 GT2 RS, left, and GT3 RS are the fastest, most expensive models of the 911 breed.

The Carousel/Kink complex at Wisconsin’s Road America is one of the most demanding sections of race track in the country. The 700-horsepower Porsche 911 GT2 RS rips through it like a locomotive on rails.

With sticky, 13.5-inch Michelin rear tires clawing the pavement, I carry a neck-straining 1.5-g through the 180-degree Carousel turn and then explode into the left-right Kink as if shot from a cannon. A tap of the 16-inch brake rotors through the Kink at 115 mph and the Porsche goes straight to the head of the 700 Club.

You know the 700 Club. It’s inhabited by rare machines that push the envelope of what’s possible: 700-plus-horsepower cyborgs that define brands and make car enthusiasts’ knees weak. They are cars few can afford, yet all covet. They dominate our screen savers and lure us to showrooms.

They’re an intimidating lot, from the muscle-bound Dodge Hellcat to the winged Corvette ZR1 to the futuristic McLaren 720S. But the best of them is so, well, familiar looking.

The Porsche 911 has been around since 1963. Same conservative soap bar shape. Same blunt nose. Same rear-engine-dragging-out-back. You’ve seen a million of ‘em. They just get faster.

The ‘Vette has been around for even longer, and this rival odd-couple — one from Stuttgart the other Detroit, one white-collar the other blue-collar, one flat-6 the other V-8 — have pushed each other. Think Borg vs. McEnroe. Lakers vs. Celtics. Each from different worlds, yet always peers.

But with a bigger wallet, Porsche is the supercar standard.

Just ask the pro racers sitting around the table between Road America test sessions. Talents like David Donahue and Robb Holland and Randy Pobst. Champions all. They have traveled the globe and driven the 700 Club’s mightiest — Astons, Lamborghinis, McLarens, ‘Vettes, Vipers, Astons.

And yet they agree that the 911 is the benchmark. It’s predictable. Easy to drive. Puts down the power without turning your hair white.

“This car should be diabolical,” says Pobst surveying the rear-engine German. “But it’s not. I get high on these cars because they do exactly what you want.”

It was not ever thus. Hurley Haywood, Porsche legend with three LeMans wins to his credit and now a factory test driver, rolls his eyes at the thought of the first turbocharged Porsches. “You put your foot into it and then waited for the turbo to kick in,” he remembers.

The GT2 has no discernible turbo lag. None. Armed with the same twin-turbo, 3.8-liter flat-6 as the 580-horsepower Turbo S, the GT2 RS cranks up the power to an insane 700.

Drive it back-to-back with its stablemate the GT3 RS — armed with a normally-aspirated, 520-horse flat-6 — and the latter feels slow. I drove the Turbo S at Thunderhill Raceway three years ago and marveled at its athleticism for a 3,600-pound car.

At the wheel of a lightweighted, 3,241-pound GT2 I could easily keep up with pro Donahue in a Turbo S at Road America. The GT2 adds a cape to mortal drivers.

Credit years of engineering — and lots of steroids. Like the current Mustang GT350 and GT500, the 911 GT3 and GT2 are essentially the same car, but the GT2 gets the turbo (just as the 700-horse-plus GT500 gets the supercharger). They are an amazing weave of modern technology — rear-drive with rear-steer, gummy Michelin Sport Cup 2 R tires, multi-link suspensions, high rear wing, aluminum chassis, 7-speed, dual-clutch gearbox — that work together to make the perfect athlete.

The GT2 RS obliterated Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap record at Virginia International Raceway held by the mid-engine, carbon-fiber, $700K Ford GT supercar. By four seconds.

Donahue lapped Road America in the same time — 2 minutes, 15 seconds — as the lap record for my sports racer class (which weigh a mere 1,000 pounds). You could buy two $290,000 GT2s for the price of one Ford GT and have change left over. And you could buy two Corvette ZR1s for the price of a single GT2 RS and still afford a Chevy Equinox for the family.

The front-engine Corvette is an incredible bargain, but it is a handful compared to the 911.

Exiting the uphill Canada Corner at the end of the 140-mph back straight at Road America, I put 700 ponies to the ground and the rear end barely moves. The GT2 rushes corners so quickly that I pray for brakes — prayers are answered with massive, 16-inch rotors as big as Captain America’s shield.

The GT2 wears the crown, but I prefer the normally-aspirated GT3.

There is no better soundtrack on the planet. With similar-size flat-6 sans turbos, the GT3 gets its power by howling to 9,000 RPM (the forced-induction GT2’s redline is 7,200 RPM). That’s similar to my ol’ 1969 Porsche 908 flat-8 race car — the most glorious engine I’ve driven.

Wide open at throttle, the GT3 is a visceral thrill ride. Exiting Turn 3 onto a long straightaway, the car fires off 100/millisecond upshifts like a semi-automatic rifle — 2nd gear at 9000 RPM — BWAAAUUGGH! — 3rd gear — BWAAAUUGGH! — 4th …

It lacks the punch of the turbo GT2, but 346 pound-feet of torque will do. And the sound puts my reflexes on knife edge for better driving. Pummeled by the noise and stiff ride, I’m wearier after a GT3 session.

That doesn’t translate so well to daily commuting. A St. Louis pal leased a GT3 and brought it back, his teeth and ear drums rattling. He traded for a 911 Targa. Halo mission accomplished — the GT3 got him to the dealership, and into another car.

Corvette follows a similar model, but at a lower price. On paper the ZR1 — ancient push-rod front engine, leaf rear springs — shouldn’t be able to come within a country mile of the German rocket, but it’s right there. Pobst lapped Road Atlanta in the ZR1 and GT3 at identical times — the GT2 was up the road another 1.5 seconds.

Paying an extra $150K is a lot for 1.5 seconds.

Buyers walk out of the showroom in a standard $70K  ‘Vette every bit as posh inside as the $100K 911. Still, Corvette is chasing the GT2 with a mid-engine Corvette later this year.

The ‘Vette will be upgraded to a full coil-over suspension, and a rumored hybrid pairing a twin-turbo, overhead-cam V-8 with an electric motor up front. 700 Club? We might have to talk about a special, 1,000-horse wing.

Right on cue, we get a new 911 this year, too. The standard is an ever-moving target.

2019 Porsche 911 GT2 RS

Vehicle type: Rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger sports car

Price: $294,250 base, including $1,050 destination fee ($325,250 as tested)

Powerplant: 700 horsepower, 553 pound feet of torque, 3.8-liter twin-turbo flat-6 cylinder

Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 2.7 second zero-60 (mfr.); 211 mph top speed

Weight: 3,241 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 15 city/21 highway/17 combined

Highs: Stable manners at the limit; fistfuls of power
Lows: Looks don’t wow like a mid-engine supercar; costs 2x Corvette ZR1

Overall: 3 stars

2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Vehicle type: Rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger sports car

Price: $187,500 base, including $1,250 destination fee ($219,750 as tested)

Powerplant: 520 horsepower, 346 pound feet of torque, 4.0-liter flat-6 cylinder

Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 3.0 second zero-60 (mfr.); 193 top speed

Weight: 3,153 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 15 city/19 highway/16 combined

Highs: Glorious flat-6 sound at 9,000 RPM; Grip, grip and more grip
Lows: Beats you up as a daily driver; pricier than ‘Vette ZR1

Overall: 4 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 7, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 3, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 2, 2019

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 2, 2019

Payne: Kia Telluride is luxe and loaded

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 2, 2019

The 2020 Kia Telluride may come from a Korean brand — but its character is all-American. Designed in LA and manufactured in Georgia, it carries Cadillac styling cues and plenty of room for a big Yankee family.

Telluride. Posh ski resort. Beautiful people. Rugged western landscape.

You know what the Kia Telluride is trying to evoke even before you see this handsome, chiseled SUV.

That’s right — Kia. Like Volkswagen and Mazda, the Korean brand is separating itself from its mainstream competitors with premium-looking vehicles that are $20,000 less than similarly equipped luxury chariots. But where VW names its cars after winds (Golf, Passat) and Mazda goes with technical alphanumerics (CX-9, MX-5), Kia aims for the American heart.

There’s the Sedona (cowboy!) and the Soul (man!) and the Sportage (dude!).

But Kia really hit the bullseye last year with the $39,000 all-wheel drive Stinger. The slinky, hatchback sport sedan is an Audi A7 without the price tag — but the name is all-American muscle car like Super Bee or Hornet before it. As is its Ford Mustang-like color palette of yellow, red and blue.

With athletic handling, a sleek bod, mod interior and 365-horsepower twin-turbo V-6, the Stinger halo car sets Kia up as a desirable brand. Stinger makes your heart go thump.

Now comes the Telluride, and it is an affordable Cadillac XT6: vertical design cues, body chiseled from stone.

This first-gen Kia is aimed right at that most American of segments — the three-row SUV — and Detroit icons like the Ford Explorer and Chevy Traverse. The Telluride was designed in Kia’s Los Angeles design studio and is built in Georgia.

I first saw it at the Detroit auto show where Kia built an indoor off-road track (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and offered bruising rides in Tellurides specially equipped to take on the Baja peninsula.

It was a four-wheeled stallion in a rodeo corral and had the features to prove it: all-wheel drive with multiple terrain modes; a chassis that adapts its ride height depending on the terrain; two “oh-crap” handles on the center console like dual horns on a saddle. It was cowboy tough on the outside, hospitable as a Telluride ranch house inside.

Like Japanese transplant Honda, Kia has done its homework. The interior is made for long, comfortable American road trips. The center console sports a deep trough, perfect for holding phones, keys or French fry boxes. The seats are comfortable, the control knobs right where they should be. I turned to Mrs. Payne to ask if she had found her favorite things — seat heaters, easy-touch overhead lights, USB charger — but she was way ahead of me and ready to ride.

The back two rows are just as accommodating even for ex-basketball centers like me. Detroit competitor Chevy Traverse is made in Middle America and knows how to accommodate big, middle-American families with a third row that’s a livable place to be with cup holders, food holders, good legroom and panoramic roof for sunlight.

The made-in-Georgia Telluride doesn’t forget third-row passengers, either. Back-seaters get their own USB ports. And like the Traverse and another one of my class favorites, the Honda Pilot, the Kia allows third-row access with the simple push of a button. There are no multiple-step heaves to get into the back seat. Even little kids can do it.

Once back there, the second-row captains chairs (to keep peace between the kiddies) don’t just flop on your feet — they are slidable. The result is you can adjust first- and second-row seats to make everyone comfortable. In fact, I could not only sit behind myself in the second row — I could sit behind myself sitting behind myself in the third row!

This attention to detail is followed in every corner of the cabin — including thoughtful ideas like a front chime that alerts you if you left a child or pet in the back seat, and a microphone so you can talk to kids in the third row ZIP code.

Then there are standard features no $30,000 vehicle these days should do without.

Tops on my list is adaptive cruise-control, an important assistant for oft-distracted families on long road trips. Set adaptive-cruise and the big ute will keep its distance from vehicles ahead of you if you get distracted by — ahem — those second-row, fighting siblings. Kia matches segment pioneers like Honda and Toyota by making adaptive cruise-control standard and shames others — looking at you, Traverse — that don’t make it available until you’ve shelled out more than $45,000.

Telluride is one of the best values in the segment. For example, an all-wheel-drive S trim with 20-inch wheels and leather can be had for under $40,000.

And then the Kia goes a step further by wrapping value in a premium wrapper.

Its Asian competitors Honda and Toyota and Hyundai look like mainstream competitors (perhaps, in part, because they have luxury brands above them). But the Telluride looks like it belongs in the luxury class with Acura, Lexus and Genesis.

It’s been to Cadillac charm school, one of the most distinctive designs in the industry. Check out those vertical headlights pushed to the corners and highlighted by an orange LED signature. The inverted L-shaped taillights use bold red LED bulbs and might as well be taken right off the XT6.

Cadillac is worth dwelling on to hammer home one of my hobbyhorses: the narrowing gap between mainstream and luxury. My Kia tester looks like the XT6 and Range Rover had a baby. Its front-wheel drive-based, all-wheel drive system is similar to Caddy, as is its 291-horse, 3.8-liter engine (the Caddy’s 3.6-liter V-6 makes 310 horses).

All glammed up, the Telluride rides out the door at $45,000. The XT6 starts at $53,000.

Badge matters, no doubt. But with the $20,000 you save by going Kia, you could buy a terrific, used Cadillac ATS.

Telluride is not the only mainstream manufacturer to push upscale in the three-row space. The Mazda CX-9 is the best-looking three-row ute in autodom — mainstream or luxe — and has the dance moves of a 4,200-pound Miata. If handling is your thing, get the Mazda. The Telluride’s V-6 is plenty powerful, but the tranny is lackluster and it won’t inspire you in the twisties.

The upcoming rear-wheel drive-based (just like a Bimmer!) Ford Explorer will shame many luxury models with its tech-smarts — think of the one-button, self-park feature. But for best all-around game, the Telluride is Blake Griffin on wheels — big, smooth and multi-talented.

Come to think of it, Griffin was once a Kia spokesman. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was picking one up this spring.

 2020 Kia Telluride

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front and all-wheel drive, seven- or eight-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $32,735, including $1,045 destination charge ($48,100 AWD SX model as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.1 sec. (Car and Driver); maximum towing, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,482 pounds as tested

Fuel economy: EPA: 19 city/24 highway/21 combined (AWD as tested)

Report card

Highs: Caddy-like good looks; three rows of comfort

Lows: No athlete; transmission can be balky when pushed hard

Overall: 4 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 2, 2019

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Payne: Chevy’s new Blazer, a sport-ute in Camaro clothing

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 2, 2019

The 2019 Chevy Blazer SUV starts just under $30,000 with FWD. Load it it up with options and the sporty RS trim (pictured) and it can run over $50,000.

The 2019 Chevy Blazer SUV starts just under $30,000 with FWD. Load it it up with options and the sporty RS trim (pictured) and it can run over $50,000. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

The mid-engine Corvette isn’t the only Chevy that’s been getting looks lately.

The same week GM confirmed the fabled C8 ‘Vette by driving it through the middle of New York’s Times Square, I was piloting the all-new Chevy Blazer SUV through Detroit and turning heads, too. Dressed in RS trim with red paint, blacked-out grille and 21-inch wheels the size of flying saucers, Blazer is a looker.

“That’s it, isn’t it!” said an onlooker emerging from a doughnut shop.

“Whoa, is that the new Blazer? I knew it!” ogled an office security guard.

Say a thank you for halo cars. Not the Corvette (which has always been in a league of its own), but the Chevy Camaro which had a heavy influence on the look of this new ute. It’s about time.

The Chevrolet brand has for too long been a wallflower, its signature split grille vexing to designers. The Malibu’s front end is a dog’s breakfast of too many shapes, the Chevy Equinox and Chevy Traverse bland vanilla cones.

I first saw the Blazer RS at GM’s design center where its bold, black-and-red suit stood out like Ironman at high noon. Sitting in my driveway next to an orange Audi Q8 costing (choke) $35,000 more, the Blazer holds its own.

Like all huge locomotive grilles — think Audi, Lexus, Toyota — the Blazer is polarizing to be sure, but the Camaro cues give it a sinister look. Credit the innovative placement of headlights. The Blazer gets its mean ‘Maro visage with thin upper LED running lights — and moving the actual headlights lower on the fascia where you’d find the muscle car’s running lights.

Like a Pontiac Aztec, only good looking! Chevy designers say this amalgam works because the taller grille of an SUV demands lower placement of the peepers to reduce glare in the rear-view mirror of, say, a sedan.

The design, befitting the class, is dramatic from head to toe. This is not your grandpa’s Blazer.

The Blazer of old was truck-based, boxy and rugged. When Chevy resurrected the badge for 2019, it came back as a unibody crossover wedged between the compact Equinox and the family-hauling Chevy Traverse.

It’s a space that attracts adults whose chicks have flown the nest. It’s for couples who still want the space of a big ute, but with more stylish looks and sportier ride than the three-row bus. Big as my 4,246-pound tester is, the Blazer sits on the same C1 platform that I have raved about in siblings Cadillac XT5 and GMC Acadia.

Dial in Sport mode and the beast is remarkably fun to throw around on the road. A front-wheel drive biased architecture it may be (sorry, hot rodders, engine mod-shops like Lingenfelter are unlikely to touch the RS for that reason), but the Blazer features nifty engineering like dual rear clutch all-wheel drive and rotates beautifully through corners.

With a healthy 308 horses from a reliable 3.6-liter V-6 under the hood (shared with Caddys) it ultimately earned me a reprimand from Mrs. Payne who was trying (unsuccessfully) to dial a  number on her phone: Slow down!

The mid-size sport-ute segment is dominated by the Jeep Grand Cherokee (what better way to signal you are free of the three-row ute and ready for adventure?). So everyone else is trying to get attention with locomotive-size grilles or sporty tuning. The Blazer is definitely on the wild side of the segment, showing up more conservative offerings from Hyundai (Santa Fe) and Ford (Edge).

With its three-story grille and floating roof, it’s a felt suit and open-collar silk shirt next to the buttoned-up Edge. Though the Edge goes further in the sporting department with an ST trim that is a hot hatch on wheels.

Only the bling-tastic Nissan Murano and its rock-star wardrobe out-blazes the Blazer.

But where the Chevy really excels — and adopts the best of the Camaro — is inside.

No, not the Camaro’s tomb-like visibility — but its tablet screen, sport gauges and unique console with big aviator vents that can be rotated to control cabin temps. The Blazer improves on its muscle-car sibling by placing these controls higher on the console for good visibility and air flow.

GM has been tech-savvy with 4G WiFi and smartphone apps, and the infotainment system reflects that work. Ergonomics are great with clever tools like volume controls on the back of the steering wheel. The attention to detail extends beyond the console with A-pillar aviator vents, sliding rear seats and rear-seat alert.

Again, I compare it to the expensive Audi Q8 — which boasts one of the best interiors in luxury — and the Chevy exudes personality without the premium price tag.

Not all tech is useful, however.

Chevy continues to insist that its products have start/stop engine systems with no driver option to turn them off. Stop/start is fingernails on the blackboard for a lot of drivers (including this one), and not giving them the option to turn it off just makes them more irritable.

I should mention Blazer comes in multiple trims, including a turbo-4 powered, front-wheel drive, $29,995 base model. But if you’re looking to simply downsize from a Chevy Traverse, then I’d recommend the compact but roomy Equinox which is plenty sporty for less coin.

The Blazer continues Chevy’s habit of expensive pricing compared to comparably equipped Japanese competitors. A $38,000 V-6 powered Blazer will offer fewer standard options than a $33,000 V-6 powered Honda Passport, for example. A coveted brand like Jeep might get away with this, but not Chevy.

What the Blazer has that Equinox/Passport/Jeep don’t is that RS badge. It’s Camaro inspired with Camaro swagger.

It’s the fashionistas’ choice. And like designer clothing, it’ll cost you. My RS tester cashed out at the nose-bleed price of $50,000, which is $3,500 more than the comparably equipped Ford Edge ST I test drove last fall. The Ford’s interior feels dated next to the Chevy’s digs and the Blazer is leaner by 200 pounds, but my motorhead heart beats for the ST badge and its timeless styling, tight handling and 335-horse twin-turbo V-6 (which will leave the Chevy’s normally aspirated V-6 gasping).

Blazer is a work in progress with annoying ticks like stop/start that distract from its nimble handling. And that sticker may make you second-guess how much you want that snazzy interior.

But a red-and-black RS will look really nice next to your mid-engine Corvette.

2019 Chevrolet Blazer

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

Price: Base price $35,040 including $1,195 destination charge ($50,765 AWD RS model as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 193 horsepower, 198 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 308 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque (V-6)

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 sec. (Car and Driver); maximum towing, 4,500 pounds

Weight: 3,810 pounds (4,246 RS as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 22 city/27 highway/24 combined (automatic); 18 city/25 highway/21 combined (V-6)

Report card

Highs: Camaro interior done right; wicked RS styling

Lows: No option to turn off start/stop; pricey compared to competition

Overall: 3 stars

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Payne: Top 10 premieres at New York auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 21, 2019

New York — The Detroit auto show this year was a shadow of itself as foreign luxury automakers fled in droves. Except for BMW, the luxury crowd is well-represented at the New York auto show.

Despite that, Detroit automakers steal Gotham’s show. There’s the Jeep Gladiator pickup, and its off-road experience outside Javits Convention Center that will have the public lining up from Hell’s Kitchen to Brooklyn. And an electric pickup from Plymouth-based Rivian. And the ferocious Ford Mustang GT500.

A variety of vehicles also make their debuts in New York. Here are my favorites.

Koenigsegg Jesko – New York features high-end toys like no other North American show. This year the show attracted such curiosities as the BAC Mono (a single-seat rocketship) and the $2 million Karlmann King (Batmobile meets SUV), but my favorite came from Sweden’s hypercar maker. With a claimed top speed of 300 mph, the Jesko eclipses its 278-mph Agera predecessor as the fastest car in the world. The Jesko manages this feat with (cough) 1,579 horsepower, all-wheel drive and a carbon-fiber tub.

Koenigsegg Jesko, on display at the 2019 New York Auto Show.

Cadillac CT5 – Cadillac takes the mid-size CTS platform downmarket with a thoroughly remade, compact BMW 3-series fighter. Interior room may be best-in-class, but the CT5 still has plenty of hustle from your option of two turbocharged engines. Gone is the fussy, haptic CUE system replaced by your choice of infotainment controls: touchscreen, remote rotary-dial or voice control.

Ford Escape – After a Henry Ford Museum coming-out party this spring, the compact ute makes its first appearance on a show floor. And boy, does thing look good. Located just down the hall from the Porsche Macan from which it takes design cues, it’s sleek and sporty. That magic continues inside with electronic tricks like one-button-activated self-park assist. The Lincoln Corsair — based on the same roomy platform — also debuted at this show, but I’m not sure it’s worth $15,000 over the sophisticated Escape.

Hyundai Sonata, on display at the 2019 New York Auto Show.
Hyundai Sonata – Welcome back, Sonata. After a detour to Vanilla Town with its last-generation sedan, the Sonata is back with a head-turner. The design features such innovations as LED running lights along the hood – and a seamless hood over a rimless grille, usually associated with Aston Martin. Inside, rear-seat passengers get more room than Delta first class.

Ford Mustang Ecoboost High Performance – Despite its awkward name (they couldn’t have called it a Mustang ST?), this pony car is an affordable track toy. Rescuing the throaty 330-horse, 2.3 liter turbo-4 from the Focus RS hot hatch, the Mustang saves 150 pounds up front compared to a V-8 ’Stang. That’ll make it a treat at weekend autocrosses and Waterford Hills track days.

The 2020 Porsche 911 Speedster Heritage Edition is shown at the New York Auto Show.

Porsche 911 Speedster – The special-edition Speedster says auf wiedersehen to the current-generation 911. It doesn’t come cheap at $275,750, but in return you own one of 1,948 copies (Porsche’s founding year) and unique deck “streamers” behind the front seats like the 1950s classics. In the boot is a loud, naturally aspirated flat-6 that also sounds like the good ol’ days.

Subaru Outback at the 2019 New York Auto Show.Subaru Outback – To introduce the latest version of its iconic crossover, Subaru built a spectacular floor display that transports visitors to an outdoor national park. A mainstay of the Subie lineup with station-wagon utility and all-wheel drive, the Outback sits on a new platform which brings new goodies like a big Tesla-like console screen and a torquey turbo-4 that replaces the reliable flat-6.

Mercedes GLS at the 2019 New York Auto Show.

Mercedes GLS – Mercedes showed its first electric vehicle, the EQC, in New York. But it was overshadowed — literally —  by the hulking GLS three-row SUV, which is where the money is made. The GLS has all the expected Mercedes touches: heated rear seats, voice-recognition controls. But my favorite feature is Carwash mode which closes the big ute tight as a turtle, then raises it up high for maximum fender-well cleaning.

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