Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Tesla Profit Subsidies

Posted by hpayne on October 28, 2016


Cartoon: Hillary Coal Gift

Posted by hpayne on October 28, 2016


Payne: Nissan Z exudes old-school fun

Posted by hpayne on October 28, 2016


All hail the letter Z. In an auto world gone made with X — NSX, XT5, QX30, X3, MKX, X-drive — Xperts Xpect every car badge to have an X in it within the neXt decade. But the Z is sacred. A special badge for special cars. The Camaro Z28. Corvette Z06.

And my guest ride this week, the 2017 Nissan Z Roadster.

The Z and I go way back. As a kid who spent the early 1970s at autocrosses racing go-karts — a boy among sports car-driving men — I coveted the first-generation Z. It’s long hood and plastic-covered, scalloped headlights reminded me of a Jaguar E-Type (the Raquel Welch of sports cars). One particularly quick driver had outfitted his red, 1972 Z with fat slicks swelling beyond the fenders. Beauty and the beast. He gave me an on-track ride one day that is still etched in my memory. As I held on for dear life, he’d fling us through a series of pyloned corners, the Z’s rear zigging and zagging behind us, the six-cylinder singing like a bird.

The 370Z doesn’t make my heart race like the ’72.

After the Z’s epic, third-gen, Motor Trend-car-of-the-year, 1990 redesign — hailed as one of sports car world’s greatest bods — the body has grown bulbous, aping the family lines of Nissan’s Murano and Maxima. The coupe’s elegant fastback helps smooth the lumps, but my convertible’s shortened roof accentuates the body’s bulbous proportions.

Honey, does this dress make me look fat? Ummm …

Dropping the top helps. But the process reminds you that the old Z is getting long in the tooth. Unlike competitive soft-tops from Camaro or Audi TT, the Nissan’s roof can’t be operated while moving. Feel rain drops? Pull over, toggle the console switch and the roof folds into place in 20 seconds. The procedure is jerky and loud, the tonneau cover thumping into place like a restaurant waiter piling up chairs at closing time.

Once executed, however, the topless Z is a basket of adorables. Its short, 100-inch wheelbase makes for easy visibility. Its well-engineered climate control system and heated seats make it a cozy cocoon even in Michigan’s cool fall weather. And the twin-exhaust, naturally-aspirated six-cylinder can be heard in full stereo.

In an increasingly-regulated world of turbo-charged four bangers (even my precious Porsche Boxster has gone to four-pot), the Z remains a throwback to the glorious days of naturally-aspirated, big displacement engines.

The 370Z plays second fiddle in Nissan’s lineup to the (also aging) twin-turbo, all-wheel-drive, “Godzilla” GT-R. But the old school Z feels more like a baby Corvette Z06.

Inside the cockpit, it shares the Stingray’s long, carved hood, strange chemical smell (what are Chevy and Nissan using to stick these things together? Airplane glue?), and a narrow slit of a windshield that seems half-filled by the rear-view mirror.

With 270 pound-feet of torque and 3,696-cc of piston hammering on the crankshaft, it’s a blast to take into a parking lot for roaring, smoky burnouts. It won’t spin like a top as the 6,162-cc Z06 does, but it’ll put a grin on your face. Like the ’Vette, pulling on the 7-speed automatic Z’s big, bat-wing, steering-wheel-mounted shifter paddles provokes a guttural burp — like King Kong digesting his lunch — on each downshift.

The chassis on the Z and Z06 feel loose, their frames bending over Metro Detroit’s punishing roads — but get them up to speed and they are eager road carvers.

Throw the Nissan through Hell, Michigan’s Z-shaped country roads and the stocky beast crouches to the pavement, springing from turn to turn, vectoring right where you point it. Only on exit did the Z feel out of its element as the automatic box was lazy to shift — almost giving the Z the feel of a small-displacement turbo. I could have had cup of milk and a doughnut while waiting for the gear to kick in. The lag became so annoying I found myself reaching for the bat paddles regularly to speed up the shifts. Bang bang. Down two shifts, flatten the pedal and the eager six would roar. Even on the highway, I preferred the quick paddle downshifts for passing spurts.

How I yearned for the 6-speed manual — which, thankfully, Nissan still offers.

I should be careful what I wish for, though. When the next-gen Z appears, it will surely have a double-clutch tranny like its close competitor Audi TT (and even small sedans like the Elantra Sport I just tested) but it will also likely get a turbo-4 banger. Gotta appreciate these naturally-aspirated sixes while we can.

My pricy $50,465 convertible-Z most closely compares to the $52K Audi TT Roadster I tested last year, which also is a ready companion through Hell. With 100 less horses, the TT still manages a similar 0-60 sprint than the brawnier Z, so maybe there’s hope for 4-bangers yet.

The TT’s advanced Virtual Cockpit shows how far interiors have advanced beyond the Z’s traditional, slow-infotainment display. Nissan is also slow to the game with Android Auto and Apple Car Play, but beyond these connectivity issues, I don’t think sports car enthusiasts will mind the Z’s unique, motorcycle-like instrument display. The cockpit is driver-focused and easy to use — a blizzard of buttons and gauges at your fingertips. Like Porsche, Nissan can pull this off with a Z heritage that spans generations of track nuts.

Different from the TT, though, a base Z can still be had for a bargain $30,795. In a market stuffed with incredible, $40,000 sports toys (Golf R, Focus RS, Camaro SS), the TT’s $43K entry price is its Achilles heel. True to its ’70s roots, the Nissan remains one of autodom’s best values at half the price of a Porsche Cayman and comparable to muscle car alternatives such as the Mustang and Camaro sixes. Entry-level performance cars are as American as apple pie.

Yet, a quick look at the standard technology in the Z shows how sports cars have evolved. Side-curtain safety bags, tire-pressure monitoring, anti-lock brakes, front-and-rear crush zones, and on and on. It’s a long way from my favorite, but raw, test rider of 50 years ago.

Long live the Z.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Nissan 370Z Roadster




Power plant 3.7-liter V-6
Transmission 6-speed manual; 7-speed automatic
Weight 3,503 pounds (Touring Sport trim as tested)
Price $42,865 base ($50,465 as tested)
Power 332 horsepower, 270 pound-feet torque
Performance Zero-60: 5.5 seconds (Jalopnik);

top speed: 157 mph

Fuel economy EPA 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway

/21 mpg combined (automatic as tested)

report card

Lows Roadster sticker shock; clunky drop-top


Cartoon: Campaign Halloween

Posted by hpayne on October 26, 2016


Cartoon: Cubs World Series

Posted by hpayne on October 26, 2016


Cartoon: Trump’s Gettysburg Address

Posted by hpayne on October 26, 2016


Cartoon: NAACP Charter Schools

Posted by hpayne on October 26, 2016


Cartoon: Trump Gore Accept Election

Posted by hpayne on October 26, 2016


Cartoon: Donald Kong

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2016


Cartoon: Hillary Unstable Trump

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2016


Cartoon: Samsung Fire Kindling

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2016


Cartoon: Vegas Last Debate

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2016


Cartoon: Hillary Catholic Wall

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2016


Cartoon: Johnson Ready

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2016


Cartoon: Debate Lemons

Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2016


Cartoon: Hillary Lincoln

Posted by hpayne on October 12, 2016


Payne: The presidential wheels of choice

Posted by hpayne on October 12, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is chauffeured

Americans are defined by their wheels, whether as motorheads, Prius huggers, minivan moms or pickup cowboys.

In a presidential campaign that has defied tradition and split America, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s different automotive tastes are suitably unusual.

The Democratic public servant for nearly three decades hasn’t owned a car since 2000, while the Republican New York business tycoon has a collection of more than 110 vehicles to match his outsized lifestyle.

Yet when it came time to choose their wheels for glad-handing Middle America, they have reverted to campaign tradition and arrived at a bipartisan consensus: Buy American and drive SUV.

“I like the car I’m in now. It’s a Chevrolet Suburban. Made in the USA,” The Donald said in a campaign email when The Detroit News asked him to name his favorite car in a multimillion-dollar fleet that includes a scissor-door Lamborghini Diablo and a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

The man is a natural-born politician.

Clinton can be found riding around these days in her campaign’s GMC Savana Explorer Limited van. She likes to call it the “Scooby Van” — a reference to the flower-powered machine that Scooby Doo and his teenage sleuths drove in the popular animated series from the 1970s.

But don’t expect to find her behind the wheel. She hasn’t driven a car since she was first lady in 1996 — the Oldsmobile Cutlass she bought in Arkansas in 1986.

“I remember it very well,” she told the National Auto Dealers Association Convention in 2014. “Unfortunately, so does the Secret Service, which is why I haven’t driven since then.”

Clinton sold the Cutlass and has since been chauffeured in big, government vehicles — usually the familiar black General Motors sport-utility vehicles of the Secret Service.

Clinton has had a long history with big Detroit iron even before she bought an Olds in law school. She grew up in Illinois in her father’s Cadillac. If she moves into the White House in 2017, she will get another Caddy — an all-new, truck-based, presidential limo code-named “The Beast.”

Libertarian long shot Gary Johnson drives a 2003 Porsche Targa and 2009 Toyota Tacoma.

The German and Japanese wheels may not be politically correct, but they represent an American dream garage: A sports car for on-track driving and a pickup for off-roading.

Shake Johnson’s hand on the campaign trail and there might be oil under his fingernails. The former New Mexico governor is a garage monkey.

“Favorite car I ever owned is a 1967 Austin Healey Sprite,” he told The News in an email. “Bought it for $350 with a blown head gasket and fixed it myself.”

He would be a kid in a candy store in Trump’s Garage Mahal of collectibles.

The Manhattan billionaire lives large. A gold and diamond-covered door greets visitors to his Trump Tower penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue. He flies aboard his own $100 million Boeing 757 — complete with gold-plated seat belts, according to BusinessInsider.com. And when he hits the road, he has a selection of toys to fit any mood.

Trump can go out in the Big Apple in a selection of luxury European land yachtsincluding a classic, 1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, 2015 Rolls Phantom or a sumptuous Mercedes S600 sedan. When he has the need for speed, earth-pawing stallions await like the 617-horsepower, $450,000-plus 2003 Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren. But he recently put up for sale on eBay the electric-blue 1997 Lamborghini Diablo capable of 202 miles per hour. It got one bid for $460,000.

And if he and wife Melania want to cruise with the hogs, The Donald can wheel out the 24-karat gold, custom-made motorcycle built for him by biker television star Paul Teutal Sr. — former “Apprentice” contestant and proprietor of Orange County Choppers.

Trump also has a taste for American iron — particularly from the General, which may explain in part why Ford Motor Co. has borne the brunt of his attacks about outsourcing production to Mexico (once upon a time, his Chevy Suburban was made south of the border in Silao). He owns a Cadillac Escalade SUV, Cadillac Allante drop-top and a 2011 Chevy Camaro Indianapolis 500 pace car.

Trump was actually supposed to pace the Indy field in the Camaro — but racing legend AJ Foyt took the wheel instead.

If this were a conventional election, Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s 2010 Toyota Prius hybrid usually would be the greenest of them all. After all, Stein chose the made-in-Japan fuel-sipper “because it had the lowest environmental impact of any vehicle offered by the auto dealers near her home” in the Boston suburb of Lexington, a campaign spokesman said.

But spitting in tradition’s eye, it is the Republican who owns the greenest ride. Trump, a global warming critic, has a Tesla Roadster, the first all-electric vehicle made by Silicon Valley’s environmentalist-in-chief Elon Musk. The little green sports car gets an EPA-rated 120 MPGe compared with the 2010 Prius’s mere 50 mpg, and the thirsty Scooby Van’s 12.

Nevertheless, if The Donald wins the election, he too will be ferried by the Secret Service in the gas-guzzling Beast down Pennsylvania Avenue. Who knows, maybe he’ll get it gold-plated.


Cartoon: Donald Clinton for President

Posted by hpayne on October 12, 2016


Cartoon: Debate Bumper Cars

Posted by hpayne on October 10, 2016


Cartoon: Trump as a Democrat

Posted by hpayne on October 10, 2016