Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Trump Tweets Democrats

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2019

Payne: Honda Civic mutates into TCR track monster

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2019

Based on the Honda Civic Type R, right, the Honda Civic TCR race car weighs just over 2,700 pounds (including driver) and  sports 340 horsepower and a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox.

Based on the Honda Civic Type R, right, the Honda Civic TCR race car weighs just over 2,700 pounds (including driver) and sports 340 horsepower and a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox. (Photo: The Detroit News)

You’ve heard of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But what if Mr. Hyde also had a crazed alter ego? Call them Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyper-Hyde.

Honda calls ’em Dr. Civic, Mr. Type-R and Mr. TCR.

The Honda Civic Type-R is the ultimate deranged Civic. With 306 horsepower and wings and air intakes sprouting from every body panel, Mr. Type-R is the 158-horse Honda Civic hatchback on steroids. But then Honda went out and made a 340-horse racer version called the TCR to compete in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race series.

I had a chance to flog the TCR around Pontiac’s Champion Speedway at M1 Concourse, and it has about as much in common with a Type R as I do with Michael Jordan. Sure, the TCR and Civic are both front-wheel drive and turbo-4 powered — just like Michael and I are both 6-foot-5 and shoot right-handed.

But what the TCR does show is that, when blessed with the right automotive DNA, a front-wheel drive race car can be remarkably athletic. It is also a window into entry-level professional motorsport and its steep entry costs.

When the latest 10th-generation Civic was introduced in 2016, it had the Type-R and TCR in mind.

The Japanese brand has been marinated in racing since its birth. Its logo has graced every level of motorsport from Formula One to IndyCar to sports car prototype. But it has been the compact Civic that has carried the production performance flag.

Like Mazda and its affordable Miata sports car, Honda’s performance halo is the small Civic. Ford has the $700,000 GT, Nissan the $100,000 GT-R and Chevy the $57,000 Corvette. But Honda asks that you merely put down $36,620 smackeroos on a Civic Type-R.

That’s R as in GRRRRRRRR.

The powerful Type R hot-hatch is the ultimate production expression of the $20,000 Civic. For another 16 grand it undergoes a Hyde-like transformation that sprouts a wing, Brembo brakes, air intakes and beefed-up suspension to become a fire-breathing, front-wheel track rat aimed squarely at more expensive weapons like the all-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf R and rear-wheel drive Chevy Camaro V-6.

With its garish aerofoil and scoops it looks like it was designed by a crayon-wielding 12-year-old, but it has the track instincts of a seasoned vet.

I took it out on Champion Raceway and immediately began to wring its neck, so intuitive are its handling and controls.

Concerned that Civic had grown domesticated, Honda baselines its sixth-generation car to the Audi A3, for goodness sake. This benefits every model in the Civic’s sprawling range, from Sport hatchback to Si Coupe to the insane Type R.

The R has been tweaked with suspension geometry wizardry like limited-slip front differential and bigger knuckles. Not only can I fling it around the track, but it looks wicked doing so, its rear wing poised like the tail of a scorpion (now, there’s a good name for a sports car). The manual gearbox is the tightest thing this side of a Porsche — no missed shifts here — but under the cane the front-wheel drive R will push.

Throw out all assumptions with the race-prepared, track-only Civic TCR race car

This is a weapon that competes against rockets like the Audi RS3 (so that explains the Audi baseline thing) and Alfa Giulietta in the Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR race class as well as compact competitors like the Hyundai Veloster entered by no less than IndyCar’s Bryan Herta race team.

Built to highly regulated racing specs, Honda takes Type Rs off its Swinden, England, assembly line and ships them to Italy where the R is hollowed out like a baked potato then stuffed with racy spices like a quick-shifting, 6-speed sequential gearbox, big front brake rotor and an even bigger rear wing.

It’s a beast. Squeezed into its bolstered NASCAR-like seat like a hot dog in a bun, my frame barely fit behind the button-infested race wheel.

I felt right at home. This is my happy place, where I have raced cars for 30 years like the Porsche 908 and Lola 90. But those are 1,300-pound rear-wheel drive sports racers. This was my first front-wheel race sedan.

I would have to rewire my brain to master it.

Todd Lamb — who owns and co-pilots the TCR out of his Atlanta Speedwerks race shop and has an impressive pro racing resume — warned me that the cold rear slicks would take some getting used to. Got that right.

Throwing the car into Turn 2 at M1 Concourse, the rear end kicked out like the boom on a sailboat. Whoa! Instinctively, I lifted off the throttle to prevent a spin as in a rear-wheel drive car. Wrong reaction.

The answer to a slippy rear end in the Civic is more throttle so that the front wheels can drag the rear along like a bulldog scrabbling for traction on a slippery kitchen floor. Anticipating the Type R’s inherent push on corner exit, Lamb has tweaked it with a neutral setup (not unlike the drifting rear-drive Toyota Supra I tested a few weeks back) to help rotate the car. The result? The little bulldog has traction to spare as I put the power down through the front wheels.

After learning the Civic’s cornering eccentricities, the rest was gravy. The sequential, paddle-shift operated box means no shift gate. No heel and toe. No clutch at all. Just bang-bang-bang through the gears on acceleration. Bang-bang-bang on downshifts.

Easy-peasy. Every gearbox should be this simple, allowing the driver to concentrate fully on cornering. I dialed in more speed with every turn, the tires heating up and the TCR sticking like glue.

Screwed to the ground and highlighted with blue and yellow paint scheme, Speedwerks’ Mr. TCR is even more insane looking than Mr. Type R production car. Its transformation will cost you.

I thought an upgraded, $68,000 Mazda MX-5 Cup racer — double that of a production Miata — was expensive. The Civic TCR is another ballgame.

A new, out-of-the-box TCR will set you back $172,000 before spares and options (like ABS). That’s six times the cost of a production R. Ouch.

But what you get in return is full immersion in the real world of motorsport. A real race car, racing against top drawer talent, with one of the world’s most respected performance brands behind you.

They know how to turn Dr. Jekyll into something special.

2019 Honda Civic

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

Price: $20,370 including $920 destination charge

Power plant: 2.0-liter, inline-4 cylinder; 1.5-liter, turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 158 horsepower, 138 pound-feet of torque (2.0-liter); 174 horsepower, 162 pound-feet of torque (1.5-liter)

Transmission: 6-speed manual; continuously variable automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.4 seconds (manufacturer)

Weight: 2,742 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 25 city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg (manual, 2.0-liter gas); 30 city/38 mpg highway/33 mpg (CVT, 2.0-liter gas); 32 city/42 mpg highway/36 mpg (CVT, 1.5-liter turbo)

Report card

Highs: Diverse model lineup; roomy

Lows: Polarizing styling; AWD option, please

Overall:★★★★

2019 Honda Civic Type R

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

Price: $36,620 including $920 destination fee

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Power: 306 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

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

Weight: 3,117 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Easy to drive fast; the bargain hot-hatch

Lows: Wing-bling may not be your thing; front end pushes at limit

Overall:★★★★

2019 Honda Civic TCR race car

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, one-passenger race car

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed sequential with paddle shifters

Weight: 2,789 pounds including driver (minimum, race-regulated spec)

Price: $172,238

Power: 340 horsepower, 420 pound-feet torque

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Neutral handling; sequential box

Lows: Oversteer until tires up to temp; pricey

Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Soccer AOC Rapinoe

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 11, 2019

Cartoon: Juiced Baseballs

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 11, 2019

Cartoon: Earthquake and Climate Change

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 10, 2019

Cartoon: Perot, Iacocca, Trump

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 9, 2019

Before Trump, There Was Iacocca

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 9, 2019

After Chrysler, he pioneered the protectionist-plutocrat electoral lane.

Before Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca wanted to make America great again.

The ex-CEO of Chrysler died last week at the age of 94 after a career that transcended his industry and made him a pop-culture icon. Iacocca advocated the restoration of American manufacturing, championed punitive tariffs on Asian imports, and flirted with running for president in 1988.

After a successful Detroit career that spanned the launch of the 1960s Ford Mustang and the 1980s Chrysler minivan, Iacocca became a national figure when he persuaded a Democratic Congress in 1979 to help bail out Chrysler.

His turnaround of the automaker (paying back federally guaranteed loans ahead of schedule) vaulted him to a 1980s symbol of America on the rebound. Chrysler turned a $1.7 billion loss in 1980 into a $2.4 billion profit by 1984.

The first-generation Italian immigrant’s subsequent autobiography, Iacocca (1984), cemented his brand — reigning on the New York Times best-seller list for 88 weeks, 37 more than Trump’s own The Art of the Deal, published three years later.

“Unless we act soon, we’re going to lose both steel and autos to Japan by the year 2000,” wrote Iacocca. “And worst of all, we will have given them up without a fight.”

Colorful, profane, with an ego bigger than Lake Michigan, Iacocca captured the American imagination with his plainspoken style.

Doron Levin, a long-time Detroit columnist and currently host of Sirius XM’s “In the Driver’s Seat,” says that Iacocca, like Trump and Ross Perot, was a brand that cut across political parties.

“They’re populists,” says Levin. “They could run in either political party depending on the election year. Trump saw an opportunity as a Republican in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. Iacocca seriously considered running as a Democrat in 1988 against George H. W. Bush.”

In his book Behind the Wheel at Chrysler, Levin wrote:

The loan guarantee debate, Chrysler’s subsequent return to health, and the publication of [Iacocca’s] best-selling autobiography conferred mythic status on him as the nation’s economic Winston Churchill. At the peak of his popularity, many Americans believed not only that Iacocca held the answers to the nation’s economic ills but also that he should lead the country as president.

Iacocca’s Trumpian call for a national industrial policy in 1988 fit perfectly with that generation’s Democratic party — its power base rooted in the Midwest, with union mouthpieces such as House Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D., Mich.) and caucus chair and future majority leader Dick Gephardt (D., Mo.) wielding power.

TV newscasts and newspaper headlines in the early 1980s were filled with painful pictures of American steel mills and auto factories shuttering across the Midwest. Iacocca’s partnership with Washington to rescue Chrysler offered Democrats a white knight in the fight against Reagan Republicans’ policy of free-market economics.

Democrats and their media partisans embraced Iacocca’s call for a Beltway-led industrial policy.

If Trump’s bogeyman is China, Iacocca’s was Japan. He warned of the Asian nation’s threat to America’s industrial base and stumped for import quotas.

“I am called a protectionist, I am really a free trader,” Iacocca said at the Detroit Economic Club speech some years later. “The thing that I want to protect is free trade. And the way you do that is you retaliate against those who don’t believe in it.”

Despite favorable polling numbers, Iacocca never threw his hat in the presidential ring.

“For myself, I concluded long ago that to run for president you’ve got to be overambitious or just plain crazy,” he would write years later.

After retiring from Chrysler in the 1990s, he helped start an electric-vehicle company, EV Global Motors, that pioneered the electric bicycles and scooters that are commonplace today and hailed by Democrats for their low emissions. Yet Iacocca would probably have cringed at the takeover of the Democratic party by Californians such as Nancy Pelosi and recent Commerce Committee chair Henry Waxman and their Silicon Valley sponsors.

Today’s planet-saving Green New Deal industrial policy is a long way from Iacocca’s vision of saving the Rust Belt.

The lure of the celebrity executive endures, however. Trump is now president. And a recent Zogby 2020 campaign poll found Oprah Winfrey leading Trump by 53 to 47.

Cartoon: Chicken Little and the Great Lakes

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 7, 2019

Payne: Living the Lamborghini Huracan dream

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 5, 2019

The Detroit News’ regular “Michigan Dream Home” feature showcases sprawling, multi-million-dollar estates with pools, walk-in closets, fountains and epic kitchens. We ogle from a distance, but without the means to live the dream.

Kind of like Lamborghinis.

The 2020 Lamborghini Huracan EVO derives some aero tricks from the Performance model. The EVO costs $270,969.

The achingly beautiful Italian supercars have been our dream cars since we dreamed about cars. My teen dorm wall had a poster of the unattainable Lamborghini Countach, right alongside the unattainable Charlie’s Angels pin-up. Today’s generation of Lambo Aventadors and Huracans are regulars on my kids’ computer screensavers.

What’s it like to have one? I got a taste recently when I spent some quality time with a 2020 Huracan EVO at Willow Springs Raceway outside Los Angeles. Like a gorgeous, 20,000-square-foot home, it’s complicated.

Approaching a Lamborghini — those sultry headlamps, jet-engine air intakes, perfect shape — is no less intimidating than asking an Angel out for a date. But familiarity helps the conversation.

As the Italian brand’s entry-level sports coupe, the $261,274 Huracan is not alone in the market. Indeed, despite its nose-bleed price, it occupies a fiercely competitive segment along with the ageless Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari 488 and McLaren 570. I’ve driven all these cars (except the Ferrari, though I’ve driven its predecessor) at the limit, so the Huracan’s learning curve wasn’t steep.

But the Lambo is a puzzle of contradictions. It’s externally gorgeous yet internally uncomfortable. It’s V-10 engine soars like Lebron James, but its paddle shifters are as clumsy as Gerald Ford. Its all-wheel drive system is high-tech, but its handling sloppy.

Lamborghini North America CEO Alessandro Farmechi — an accomplished Italian cook in his spare time — likes to compare cars to food. Scaloppine di Huracan is certainly a unique Italian recipe.

Which is interesting because, at its core, the Huracan is German.

Owned by Audi, Lamborghini builds the Huracan on the same mid-engine architecture as the Audi R8, which benefits the smaller Italian brand in this age of high regulatory and R&D costs. But in truth, Audi bought Lamborghini in the late ‘90s because it wanted to learn the dark magic of mid-engine all-wheel drive cars and apply them to their halo R8.

Driving the Huracan is different than the more affordable Audi — and very different than its direct Porsche competitor. With 580 horsepower and all-wheel drive, the rear-engine 911 Turbo seems similar on paper. But not in character.

Did I mention the Huracan is gorgeous? You’d walk by the Porsche without giving it a second glance, its conservative lines familiar after 60 years of evolving the same soap-bar shape. In contrast, the Huracan stops traffic wherever it goes.

On track the Porsche has no peer. It’s a German symphony with every part moving in perfect coordination with the other to produce an exquisite, controlled experience. The Lambo is nervous from the get-go. As I got up to speed around Willow Springs’ undulating, high-speed circuit, the cutting-edge, four-wheel steering that makes the all-wheel drive sports car so easy to maneuver (a turning radius as tight as a scooter!) in urban areas became a liability.

The steering read every bump and turn as an opportunity to correct the car’s trajectory, resulting in a car that searched all over the place as I pointed it at a corner apex. Where the Porsche sticks like glue, the Lambo waggles. Complicated.

But like Chuck Yeager busting through the sound barrier, the Huracan gets more stable the faster you go. The rear-wheel steer evens out, the substantial aero tricks on the EVO performance model (front splitter, rear spoiler, outer front air ducts creating an air curtain through the front wheels) suck the car to the ground, and the Huracan tidies up.

Which allows me to enjoy the music behind my right ear.

The 630-horse V-10 is one of the world’s last normally aspirated engines as manufacturers employ turbos to balance efficiency with more power. At full wail — each upshift of the silky, dual-clutch transmission sending goosebumps up my spine — the Huracan is a rocket to complement the jet fighters with which it shares design cues (right down to the red, flip-up latch over the cockpit starter button).

Pity the shifter paddles are fixed to the steering column.

Seems to be an Italian thing — Alfa also does it, while Porsche and McLaren fix their paddles to the wheel so that they turn in synch. My long fingers grasped for the next gear as I stormed out of turns, banging the 8,000-rpm redline — GUH-GUH-GUH — and distracting me from the road (and glorious V-10 aria).

It makes for an unnecessarily busy cockpit already compromised by the Lambo’s famously difficult sightlines. To achieve that breathtaking exterior with raked windshield and squashed greenhouse, the interior is a pillbox of visibility.

At 6-foot 5 I need a shoehorn to get in and out of the car — and that was before I put a helmet on. Happily, Huracan has made big strides in modernizing its cabin technology. A sea of buttons has been replaced by a big, responsive touchscreen right out of Audi’s shop (see the new, haptic A-series touchscreens). It pairs nicely with Lambo’s signature digital instrument display which gives the car a video-game feel as you toggle through its mode settings — Normal, Sport, Corsa (track) and Mama Mia (kidding about that last one).

Trouble is, the McLaren 570/720 twins (depending in whether you want 570 or 620 ponies) do this better.

With show-stopping designs of their own, the McLarens sport a rear-wheel drive carbon-fiber chassis that is stiffer and lighter than the Huracan. With modern drivetrain electronics, the $288,000 McLaren 720 doesn’t miss the heavy, all-wheel drive system and rockets to 60 mph side-by-side with the Huracan.

And with more in reserve. With twin-turbos strapped to its 4.0-liter V-8, the McLaren’s linear acceleration is epic. With its unique, jaw-dropping face and innovative bod, the 720 takes on the Lambo at its own game. Let traditionalists buy Ferrari and Porsche heritage — McLaren and Lamborghini are cyborgs from the future.

McLaren does the fundamentals better — handling, turbo, acceleration — even sporting scissor doors like Huracan’s big-brother $400,000 Aventador. It’s the superior beast. But Lamborghini knows the game has changed. Not content to sit on its throne, it has descended to the track — winning back-to-back Daytona 24-Hour races — to hone its craft.

Take your pick — McLaren or Lambo? Either will look good in your dream home’s six-car garage.

2020 Lamborghini Huracan EVO

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, all-wheel drive, 2-passenger supercar

Price: $270,969, including $9,695 destination fee

Powerplant: 640 horsepower at 8,000 rpms, 442 pound-feet of torque, 5.2-liter V-10

Transmission: Dual-clutch, 8-speed automatic

Performance: 2.9 second zero-60 (mfr.); 202 mph top speed

Weight: 3,424 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: NA

Highs: Movie-star looks; V-10 soundtrack

Lows: Cramped interior, sight-lines; column-based paddle shifters

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: July 4th Twitter

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 3, 2019

Cartoon: Nike Kaepernick Shoes

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 3, 2019

Cartoon: Kamala Forced Busing

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 30, 2019

Cartoon: Democrats Climate Change Ark

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 28, 2019

Cartoon: Democratic Debate Free Stuff

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 27, 2019

Cartoon: Edgar J. Comey

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 26, 2019

Cartoon: Women Advance

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 26, 2019

Cartoon: Iran Aladdin Wishes

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2019

Cartoon: Trump Campaign 2020

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 20, 2019

Payne: Can the rugged Jeep Gladiator pickup adapt to domestic life?

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 20, 2019

I first drove the 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup on a bruising off-road course in rural California: Mud-caked trails. Rocky landscapes. You know, Jeep stuff. Marketers love to show this capability off to journalists. How about that, eh? Unbelievable, yes? Yes, yes. But rugged as the ladder-frame Gladiator (and brother Wrangler) may be, how many owners will ever take it to those extremes?

So I was eager to get a Gladiator in my driveway this spring to test it as a common commuter sled where I would have to live with the Jeep’s more, ahem, truck-like attributes.

Silly me. I forgot that driving Michigan roads is an off-road test in itself.

Michigan has some of the worst byways I’ve ever driven (and this is coming from a West Virginia boy, no stranger to bad roads). Especially during the spring thaw when potholes the size of the Mariana Trench open up. Close your eyes crossing from Ohio to Michigan and you’ll feel it. KUH-THUNK, KUH-THUNK, KUH-THUNK. Welcome to Pure Michigan.

Pure Michigan.

The rugged Jeep came as a relief. I’ve been testing the autonomous-driving capabilities of a few luxury cars this spring — Mercedes, BMW, Tesla — and it’s murder on the concentration. The vehicles are competent enough at seeing lanes and traffic, but they can’t see imperfections in the road, so I’m always poised to intervene for fear of — KUH-THUNK — losing a tire.

The Jeep, by contrast, has no self-driving pretensions, and its rugged tires and frame shrugged off potholes like Avengers bouncing off Thanos. Take I-75 north of Madison Heights, for example. Ruts have opened up between the concrete lanes like moats around medieval castles. Negotiating these in a sports sedan is nerve-wracking. The Gladiator thumps over them with ease.

“Kid stuff. Payne, take me to a real off-road park like the Mounds!”

The Jeep was begging me. But I resisted. I was determined to write about the Gladiator as a daily commuter.

It gave me peace of mind every day I left the house. No worries about rough roads shaking the car to dust. In fact, my Gladiator Overland tester almost floated over the road on its big Bridgestones. This truck is no sport truck like the stiff Chevy Silverado Trail Boss.

Road handling is not its forte. But personality it has in waves. I covet the spare aesthetic brilliance of a Porsche or a Mazda, but after a week with the Gladiator I get its brand magnetism: Iconic face. Raw, outdoorsy design with exposed hinges and lock-down hood. Tattooed graphics everywhere, including a Jeep crawling up the windshield and “♥419” carved in the bed to honor its Toledo-built area code. Signature interior touches like straps that adjust the seat backs and door nets that hold cargo.

I find mid-size truck interiors to be cold and uninspiring, but the Gladiator has an appealing wardrobe with luxury-like flair. You know when you are in a Mercedes — and when you’re in a Jeep. It is this personality that makes the Jeep coveted across mainstream and luxury buyers.

I took Mrs. Payne out for an evening on the town and she chose the Jeep pickup in the driveway over the BMW 3-series. She wanted the Jeep’s status: outdoorsy, unique, authentic. She had coveted the Jeep Wrangler at a young age.

Is there any other truck with that kind of cross-gender appeal?

Jeep knows it’s got game, and you pay for it. The Jeep is priced to be exclusive, eschewing the low-end, rear-wheel drive market occupied by Chevy and Ford to start at $35,000 with 4-wheel-drive only. My tester was pricey — Gladiators are generally $2,000-$3,000 more than comparable competitors — yet lacks handy tech like the Ford Ranger’s self-parking feature. At $53,000, my Overland still had cloth seats!

My wife pulled herself into the cab with the A-pillar handle and remarked about the cloth and the noisy cab (all the panels, including doors, are designed to come off). But the Jeep turned heads, dressed in silver with gray 18-inch wheels, when we pulled into an upscale parking lot full of BMWs and Lexuses.

Payne, I’m getting impatient here. When can I get dirty?!

The Jeep’s voice continued to nag at me. All that off-road capability — skid plates, plastic bumpers, signature second shift-knob for 4-wheel-low — and I was just going to drive it back and forth to work? Even my pickup bed forays to haul mulch and winter debris from the yard seemed soooo mundane.

I finally gave in. Like driving a Porsche for a week and never going to the track, it just wasn’t right to deny the Gladiator a trip to its natural habitat. We set course for the Mound ORV Park near Flint over the Memorial Day weekend.

Just an hour north of Metro Detroit in Mount Morris, the Mounds is a haven for off-roaders. Its swampy, hilly, mogul-infested terrain is choked with dirt bikers, ATVs and mega-tire trucks. And Jeeps.

Jeep Wranglers are everywhere. The new Gladiator was an instant rock star.

I floored the 285-horse V-6 across moguls and splashed through narrow bike trails, the Gladiator’s compact proportions allowing it to go where a full-size truck could never roam. That floaty, on-road handling is perfect for terrain like this as the chassis requires flexibility over undulating terrain.

A helmeted dirt biker sidled up to me. “Dude, that Gladiator is beautiful. How’s it feel out here?” Like a Wrangler with a bed, I replied, and he gave me the “hook ’em horns” sign.

I slopped through a series of muddy ruts, caking the Gladiator in mud. A female ATV-writer sidled up to my door. “How’s it doin’? My daughter wants one sooooo bad!”

Locked in four-wheel low, I fishtailed across a muddy trail. A herd of dirt bikers rode by — all pumping their arms and giving me “hook ’em horns” signs.

Does the Jeep Gladiator pass muster as a metro commuter vehicle? Yup. Its mid-size dimensions, easy Uconnect infotainment and signature interior make it an all-season ride. But don’t forget to heed the call of the off-road every once in a while.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

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

Price: Base price $35,040 including $1,495 destination charge ($53,045 Overland as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 285 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic; 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.2 sec. (Car and Driver); maximum towing, 7,650 pounds; payload, 1,600 pounds

Weight: 4,450 pounds (5,072 Overland as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 17 city/22 highway/19 combined (automatic); 16 city/23 highway/19 combined (manual)

Report card

Highs: Jeep cred; off-road warrior

Lows: Pricey; numb handling on-road

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Iran Amok Tanker

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 18, 2019