Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: El Chapo Sentence

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 13, 2019

Cartoon: Federal Flatulence Police

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 11, 2019

Cartoon: Green New Deal and Agrarian Economy

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 11, 2019

Cartoon: Dingell RIP

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 9, 2019

Cartoon: # I Believe Her

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 7, 2019

Payne: Hybrid Toyota RAV4 will git ‘er done

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 7, 2019

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is solid in the snow with AWD, and a chassis and independent suspension more refined from the previous gen.

Michigan winters concentrate the mind on transportation fundamentals.

Mother Nature cursed the first public day of the Detroit auto show this year with six inches of snow, and I waded through it in my 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid tester — along with thousands of other job-bound Detroiters — to get downtown from Oakland County.

Snow has a way of de-romanticizing everything on the road.

I passed a muck-covered white Jaguar F-Pace that looked like a Victoria’s Secret angel splashed by a mud puddle. I churned past a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk crawling along the Lodge’s left-hand lane at 20 mph, its white-knuckled driver oblivious to the steed’s enormous four-wheel drive capabilities. I rolled by a black Mercedes C-class, its sculpted body lines obliterated by salt wash.

My snow-covered RAV4 didn’t look much different than these design icons. But the Toyota is hardly a wallflower.

Spurred by its colorful CEO, Akio Toyoda, the brand has gone on a creative design binge that is sometimes wonderful, sometimes wacky. File the new Supra sports car (just unveiled at the Detroit auto show) as wonderful with is racy, LeMans prototype styling. For wacky, shield your eyes from the new Camry which looks like it was dressed by Marvel Comics with its racy lines and Ant-Man mask.

The RAV4 is changed dramatically since the last-generation car, which I liked very much. The new RAV4 is much more masculine, trading the previous generation’s round fenders and sleek roofline for a more muscular look. Fenders are squared off, the stance more upright, the rear lights chunky — finished off by a grille that comes straight from the best-selling Tacoma pickup.

In a female-friendly family segment, I’m not sure the pickup look is the way to go, but the RAV4’s truck-like capabilities were certainly appropriate for my snowy Saturday commute.

Sitting high off the ground, I toggled Trail mode in my Hybrid Limited model and plunged into the elements.

The 2019 RAV4 offers three different all-wheel drive systems — two for gas-engine models and one that is unique to the Hybrid. The Hybrid’s system uses the gas engine to drive the front wheels, and an electric motor to drive the rear. A Trail mode features brake-torque vectoring that can throw more power to the wheel that has the most traction (think limited slip-differential on a sports car). I can’t quibble with the engineering, but I couldn’t tell the difference in Trail or Normal mode.

I effortlessly drove the 3,800-pound beast around snowy  corners. The Toyota’s nanny systems intervened. But unlike the last generation which would nearly stall the car by cutting fuel, the systems of the new truck ultimately gave up as I applied more throttle for more fun fish-tailing.

Once on the Lodge, however, I was all business, and the Toyota negotiated the clotted byway with cheery confidence. It showed off good traction, predictable handling … and, um, none of its ballyhooed standard features.

The RAV4 may be a bargain with standard radar- and camera-based adaptive cruise-control and lane-keep assist — but the car was as blind as a bat in the snowy conditions.

I toggled adaptive cruise-control. Nothing.

I applied the lane-keep assist. Nothing.

The only safety-assist system that worked on the Toyota was blind-spot assist, which was useful for checking for wayward cars (on snowy roads, folks just make up lanes).

Autonomous cars may be testing in sunny San Francisco and La La Land, but the real test is here in the Midwest where inclement weather plays havoc with the car’s eyeballs. My car’s RAV4’s assist system were AWOL, reducing the Toyota to basic transport.

Which is what Toyotas do very well.

Folks who have to get to work on time — or get the kids to school on time, or get to the airport on time — need reliable transportation no matter the weather. And they have for years now consistently turned to good ol’ Toyota appliances.

For the sixth straight year, the RAV4 scored a 5 (out of 5) reliability rating in Consumer Reports testing.

Which means when Detroit’s a 15-degree snow globe, the RAV4 will start, drive, fit the family and get you to your destination on time without breaking the budget.

About that last thought. “Hybrid” and “budget” don’t usually share the same sentence, yet Toyota’s hybrid is a better vehicle than the standard, 2.5-liter model in every way. For just $800 more, the hybrid is quicker zero-60 and returns a whopping 11 mpg better fuel economy (39 mpg vs. 28). Which means the fuel-savings will earn back back the difference in three years. On paper, anyway.

In 400 miles of wintry travel under my lead foot, my RAV4 returned just 30.1 mpg. Michigan winters have a thing or two to teach La La Land on real-world hybrid mpg, too.

But while monitoring roads, blind-spots and left-lane lollygaggers loping along at 20 mph, it’s comforting to have a car with intuitive ergonomics. It is here that RAV4 has made its biggest step over the previous gen.

The interior is not only more handsome with a digital instrument cluster and raised tablet touchscreen, but the console is much improved.

The annoying, notchy shifter has been replaced by a smoother model. Under the raised touchscreen is a big cubby for throwing French fries and wallets. And phones, which remain essential for navigation in the RAV4 since its own navi system is subpar and Android Auto for my phone isn’t offered (happily, for you iPhoners, Apple CarPlay is available).

The terrain modes are efficiently packaged next to the shifter. Only Toyota’s habit for stuffing too many buttons on the left-of-steering-wheel dash panel is distracting. Searching for the heated steering wheel button somewhere around my left knee is not where I want my eyes to be when I have a snoot-full of snow coming at me.

Add it all up and the $37,000 RAV4 is a worthy vehicle — if still shy of the Mazda CX-5 for best all-around all-star in class. The 2019 RAV4 will likely retain its top-dog sales status — and the hybrid model should replace the iconic-but-fading Prius as the brand’s best-selling green vehicle.

As I churned past an awesome, $70,000 Ford Raptor on the Lodge, I smiled. For half the price, the RAV4 would deliver me to my destination just as safely but more efficiently.

That, in a nutshell, is what Toyota delivers. Fundamentals.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

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

Price: $28,795 base, including $1,095 destination fee ($36,795 Limited model as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder mated to electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery

Power: 219 horsepower (total hybrid system output)

Transmission: Electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.6 seconds (Motor Trend); towing capacity, 1,750 pounds (mfr.)

Weight: 3,800 pounds (Limited as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 41 city/38 highway/39 combined

Report card

Highs: Hybrid affordability, Toyota reliability; much-improved interior ergonomics

Lows: Butch design not for everyone; no-thrills driving experience

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Trump Groundhog Day

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 7, 2019

Cartoon: Cortez Groundhog Day

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 7, 2019

Cartoon: State of the Union Democrats

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 6, 2019

Cartoon: Polar Vortex and the Michigan Governor

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 6, 2019

Cartoon: Super Bowl Breasts

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 6, 2019

Cartoon: Super Bowl Future Brady

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 4, 2019

Cartoon: Chicken Little Polar Vortex

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 3, 2019

Cartoon: Kamala Medicare Plan

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 3, 2019

Review: Honda Insight 3.0 is a chic geek hybrid

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 31, 2019

Under the cane around the hills of Oakland County, the 2019 Honda Insight's e-CVT transmission droned, dulling the fun factor normally associated with compact Hondas.

Honda’s Insight and Toyota’s Prius led the hybrid motorcade into the U.S. two decades ago, proudly parading their unparalleled fuel economy and geeky wardrobes.

Nerds were cool!

The egg-shaped Toyota became the rage of the Hollywood jet set, an essential accessory for those claiming the Age of Oil was over. Harrison Ford and Cameron Diaz arrived at the Oscars in the “Pious” (as it was nicknamed), and the hybrid became the first battery-powered car to soar past 100,000 in sales.

But while the Toyota rubbed its thick-rimmed-glasses-wearing nose with the rich and famous, the rest of the nerd frat house got stood up. Including the Insight.

The Camry hybrid, Ford Fusion hybrid, Ford C-Max, Chevy Tahoe hybrid all sat idly by the dance floor.  But the Insight was so … out there! Like the sci-pod Prius, the 70-mpg fuel-sipper dared to be a geek fashion plate.

Its spat-covered rear wheels, aero bod, Jetsons dash and split-window rear deck all screamed 21st-century green-mobile. Except like pocket protectors and plaid pants, it didn’t catch on. A second stab at geek-chic failed to turn heads in 2008. By 2014 Insight 2.0 was put out to pasture.

For 2019, Insight 3.0 has been totally remade. Nerd is out, tech is in, and I’m not sure even fuel economy matters that much anymore judging by the subpar (for hybrids) 37 mpg I got around wintry Metro Detroit.

In a remarkable transformation that would impress Professor Henry Higgins, the Insight has evolved from class geek to prom queen. That’s not to say green fashion has gone away — global warming has replaced oil scarcity as the bogeyman of the elites — but in a United States where gas looks to be affordable for some time (against all predictions to the contrary), the Insight has to sell itself with more than moral appeal.

This geek is downright attractive. It wouldn’t be out of place rolling up to Capital Grille for a night out. Gone are the rear wheel covers, Mork dash and goofy tuckus. Taking a cue from the Honda brand’s handsome Accord midsize sedan, the Insight is nicely understated with flowing lines, a coupe-like roof and conventional, tablet infotainment display.

The Insight feels more Acura than Honda with its flying buttress lower-front air intake, rectangular tail lights and electronic “trigger” gear-selector. Though based on the same platform as the quick, roomy Civic, the Insight shares none of the compact’s boy-toy accents like boomerang rear taillights and garish, faux, rear air-intakes (which the 20-year-old in me still find irresistible).

But the Indiana-made Insight makes its fashion statement without an Acura premium. The sedan is loaded with standard technology including a lovely, configurable digital-dash (was it really just five years ago that this technology wowed me on a $50,000 Cadillac CTS?), the aforementioned trigger gear-selector, adaptive cruise-control, rear traffic-alert camera (Honda’s version of blind-spot assist), auto-emergency braking and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Jumping into the car this winter after a week in Volvos and Teslas, my Insight in Touring trim felt decidedly premium. The handling is sharp, the chassis rock-solid. The elegant cockpit display is full of info, the heated leather seats as comfortable as a lounge chair. The console space is typically, brilliantly configured by Honda with room for my big phone, bottle of ice tea and more.

All this for just $28,000 — or about the same price as a Civic Touring sedan with 25 more horsepower from a 1.5-liter turbo engine.

What we have is an attractive, sippy four-door hybrid with no apparent sacrifice over the gas-powered equivalent. That’s a long way from 1999. And a seemingly short way toward Honda’s goal to make 80 percent of vehicles electrified in just over a decade.

But then I stabbed the accelerator pedal. Oh …

I’ve driven the Civic in multiple forms — sedan, Si coupe, manual Sport hatchback, track-shredding Type R — and I don’t call it King Civic for nothing. It dominates the compact class because it offers its class-leading room and fuel economy in a variety of fun-to-drive flavors.

The Insight, on the other hand, is pure vanilla. Blame a driveline obsessed with a goal of 55 miles per gallon that mates a 1.5-liter normally aspirated engine and electric motor directly to the wheels. Honda calls it an e-CVT (electronic continuously variable transmission).

The result is a sluggish driveline with all the urgency of an old-fashioned gas-engine driven CVT. HNUUUUUUUUUUUGGGHHH went the Insight as I tried to whip it through the twisty lake roads of Oakland County.

The sensation was particularly off-putting because Honda has been on the cutting edge of engineering the dreaded CVT to be more palatable. The standard gas-powered Civic, for example, comes with a CVT with stepped shifts that give it the feel of a multi-ratio box.

I like how single-speed trannies work in quiet electric cars, but in the Insight I felt like I was stuck on a trip with Eeyore. The droning got under my skin and got louder when under the cane. Clearly, this is a driveline optimized for fuel-conscious right-lane drivers, not lead-foots like yours truly.

Accept that premise and the Insight is the gold-star student in Green 101.

Compared to its old nemesis Prius, it is more attractive, more affordable, more fun. The Toyota is still instantly recognizable. But since green is a more upscale demographic (see the flood of luxury EVs hitting the market), buyers may find its premium looks a better fit. Interior amenities are no contest, with the Insight packing a luxurious vibe — and roomy back seats with 4 more inches of legroom than the Prius.

While Eeyore may get on my nerves, the Insight will easily out-drag the Prius out of a stoplight: It hits 60 mph in 8.8 seconds compared with the Toyota’s glacial 10.5.

Two decades after its debut, the Insight finally seems to have the hybrid formula right. But the times have changed. The Age of Oil is ascendant, hybrid sales are slow (Prius purchases are half what they were in 2014), and SUVs have replaced sedans.

But if you’re looking for a sippy — as opposed to zippy — sedan, the Insight is competitively priced with its sibling 1.5-liter turbo Civic while gaining 40 percent better fuel economy and giving up just 20 percent of acceleration.

That’s a chic geek.

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 Honda Insight

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

Price: $23,725 base including $895 destination fee ($28,985 Touring as tested)

Powerplant: 1.5-liter inline 4-cylinder mated to electric motor and 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery

Power: 151 horsepower (total hybrid system output)

Transmission: 1-speed, direct-drive, electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.8 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 110 mph

Weight: 3,078 pounds (Touring as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 51 city/45 highway/48 combined (Touring as tested)

Report card

Highs: Affordable hybrid; upscale interior

Lows: No 70 mpg figure like the old days; droning e-CVT negates usual Honda fun-to-drive factor

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Warming Vortex and Gore

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 30, 2019

Cadillac Racing soars as the brand reboots

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 30, 2019

The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi.V-R driven Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi, Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Alonso became only the third F1 driver to win the Formula car crown and the 24.

For the Cadillac brand, 2019 promises a year of transition as the luxury automaker returns its headquarters from New York City to Metro Detroit and plays catch-up to competitors in the race to satisfy demand for SUVs and electric cars.

But when it comes to sports car racing, everyone is chasing Caddy.

Cadillac’s IMSA prototype program began 2019 where it left off in 2018 — in dominating fashion. Cadillac swept the top two positions at the grueling Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race last weekend, eclipsing a who’s-who field of manufacturer-led teams including Acura, Nissan, Mazda, BMW, Porsche and Ferrari.

GM’s luxury brand also shared international headlines with one of its first-place team drivers, Fernando Alfonso of Spain, who became only the third Formula One driver in history to win both the F1 championship and the Rolex 24.

The win established the Cadillac DPi-V.R as the car to beat again in 2019 after it swept the 2018 driver’s and manufacturer’s crowns in an IMSA Weathertech Series that spans a dozen races from Daytona to Long Beach, including a June stop at the Belle Grand Prix. IMSA is currently the world’s premier stage for manufacturer-sponsored racing, featuring head-to-head duels between the most storied names in motorsport.

“This is the third year in a row that Cadillac has been one-two at Daytona,” said Mark Kent, the director of General Motors Racing. “The attraction to drivers like Alonso is they want to be in a product know they can win in. If you’re on the outside looking in, the Cadillac prototype is the natural choice as the car that can win.”

Alonso’s feat generated headlines across the globe for Cadillac which is growing in markets like China and posted a global sales record last year with over 380,000 cars sold.

Cadillac’s wins parallel GM’s success in GT racing, where Chevy’s Corvette racing program also took home the 2018 drivers crown (the Corvette team struggled at Daytona). Caddy’s fortunes are the culmination of two decades of investment in motor racing beginning with its production-based, V-series racers in 2004.

Cadillac has built its racing cred even as its production lineup has struggled to compete in U.S. showrooms. Sales in 2018 were down by 1 percent to 154,702 units.

The brand shuffled its captain chairs last year, replacing ex-Audi North America chief Johan de Nysschen with Steve Carlisle and closing down the brand’s headquarters overlooking the Hudson River in the Big Apple.

Carlisle opened the Detroit Auto Show this January with a promise that Cadillac is back in Detroit — and back in the luxury game.

“Let me say with no offense whatsoever to the good people of the city of New York,” said Carlisle as he unveiled the all-new, three-row Cadillac XT6 SUV. “Cadillac is back in Detroit, and more determined than ever to reclaim the mantle as catalyst.”

With the XT6 and the smaller XT4 released in 2018, Cadillac hope to make up lost ground in SUV sales where Cadillac has lagged German manufacturers like BMW that have flooded the U.S. market with multiple models.

Cadillac even finds itself behind in battery-powered cars, a segment it helped pioneer in 2013 with the handsome plug-in ELR coupe. Cadillac ditched the ELR — and its cousin Chevy Volt — and has re-trenched with a new “BEV-3” electric vehicle platform designed to compete with BMW’s i-series and Jaguar I-PACE EV models.

“We are working to elevate Cadillac to a position at the pinnacle of mobility,” said Carlisle.

The racing team is already at the pinnacle. So admired is Cadillac’s racing program that it attracted four teams racing six cars at Daytona this year. That’s double the number when Cadillac debuted its 600-horsepower bat-mobile in 2017.

The program’s success in prototype racing came after a decade of five Pirelli World Challenge championships with the CTS-V coupe.

“Racing gives us the opportunity to show people through motorsport what Cadillac stands for,” says racing boss Kent. “It gives us an opportunity to demonstrate technology, reliability, and also… bring our production vehicles to the race track for people to look at some of our amazing products.”

Cartoon: Latte Schultz for President

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 30, 2019

Cartoon: Humpty Trump Shutdown

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 28, 2019

Cartoon: Dreamers and the Shutdown

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 28, 2019