Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Whitmer Trump Democracy

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 4, 2020

Cartoon: Biden VP Aunt Jemima

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 4, 2020

Cartoon: NBA China Anthem

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 4, 2020

Cartoon: COVID Shutdown

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Cartoon: Media Hydroxy Fibs

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 30, 2020

Odd couple: Audi S5 Sportback vs. Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 30, 2020

My comparison cars this week have much in common. They are muscle models from notable performance brands. They bear fresh, head-swiveling colors: one District Green, the other Sinamon Stick red. Both have elegant “T” shifters, sculpted 20-inch wheels, elevated sticker prices and multiple words in their badges.

Yet the stunning Audi S5 Sportback and Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus will rarely be cross-shopped.

Despite their focus on raw speed, their branding is aimed at entirely different customers. They are monuments to sales savvy, of the ability of marketing geniuses to conjure emotion for sheet metal. If they appeared in the movie “Caddyshack,” the Audi would be driven by Chevy Chase and the Charger by Rodney Dangerfield.

True to those stereotypes, these two hot rods satisfy their customers in dramatically different ways while arriving at 60 mph at the same time: just over 4 seconds.

After flogging them all over Michigan, I found them as divergent as German chocolate and American apple pie with a big scoop of ice cream.

The S5 Sportback is the performance version of the A5 Sportback, one of the most elegant designs in autodom. An offspring of the A7, which combines hatchback utility with fastback sex appeal, the compact-sized A5 is a class smaller while giving away little in the beauty department.

My S5 swan manages to be even more alluring than the standard A5. Credit its color — as irresistible as Jaguar’s British Racing Green — shard-spoked wheels, blacked-out grille and mirror caps, quad pipes. It turned a lot of heads across Oakland County.

But its performance was more understated, matching its buttoned-up clientele. Under the hood was a 349-horse turbocharged V-6 — a nice step up from the standard A5’s 228-horse turbo-4, but shy of the ultimate, 444-horse six-shooter in the RS5 Sportback. Like the Cadillac CT5-V I recently tested, the S5 aims to find that performance sweet spot between boulevard cruiser and track monster.

Its behavior is sweet, too. Not too tart, not too bland. Fire it up and the Audi authoritatively clears its throat like the host of a formal meal. I punched the Drive Mode to Dynamic (Comfort, Auto and Individual are also available), and the driveline subtly firmed with a dab of rev match on downshifts. Bravo, sir.

Not the Charger.

Turn the key — SNORRT! — and it’ll wake the neighbors (“What is that noise you’re driving?” asked mine). Growling at idle it sounds like a T. rex that hasn’t been fed for a week. If the Audi is eye-catching, then the Charger is in-your-face. The standard Charger is menacing enough, but Scat Pack turns the dial to 11. The front end is littered with air intakes, topped off by a big ice cream — er — hood scoop.

The fenders are swollen with Dodge’s Widebody treatment, like biceps from obsessive gym workouts. Charger is tattooed with badges — a Scat Pack Super Bee in the front grille, “392-Hemi” on its flanks.

That 392 means 392 cubic inches — 6.4 liters of V-8 muscle — which is the Scat Pack’s secret sauce. Like the S5 Sportback, the 392 is middle ground between the standard V-6 Charger and the insane 707-horse Charger SRT Hellcat which starts at the same price as the Audi S5 ($69,000) and will turn your hair white with its off-the-charts power and demonic supercharger whine at full throttle.

With 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque, Scat Pack packs plenty of punch.

Prowling the M-32 two-lane west of Gaylord, Michigan, the big V-8’s power was instantly accessible when needed. WAAAUUURRGGH! … and I was past slower traffic in the blink of an eye. The eight-speed transmission clicked off quick shifts while the speedo approached triple digits. The sound was deafening, my goosebumps an inch high.

The Audi’s eight-speed automatic is also silky smooth, but the engine exhibits noticeable turbo lag before its 349 ponies hooked up for quick passes. The American V-8 is an endangered species, long live the American V-8.

Through the twisty bits the mid-size A5 antelope is noticeably lighter, more agile. The Audi is aided by all-wheel drive which helps put down traction on corner exit. It tips the scales at a porky 3,925 pounds — but that’s still 400 pounds lighter than the full-size rear-wheel drive Charger elephant.

Jump in the elephant after the antelope and it’s noticeably more physical. But thanks to modern electronics — and a Scat Pack full of suspension upgrades — Charger is remarkably nimble at speed. The Widebody mod adds 3.5-inches of track width for better stability and fat Pirelli P-Zeros increase confidence with very corner.

With all 485 horses fed through the rear wheels, power application requires more care than the Audi. Charger’s electronic Mode selector tweaks suspension and powertrain dynamics to suit your style. I preferred Individual mode, tuning everything to Track (the steering is magnificent) while leaving the traction-control on to manage torque.

Its remarkable to have these electronic gizmos at your fingertips in a Dodge — same as a German chariot. It’s a big reason the gap between luxury and mainstream has shrunk so dramatically over the last decade.

That and the interior. The Audi cockpit is a lovely place to spend time, but so is the Dodge. Both have consoles wrapped in carbon-fiber trim. Both have Alcantara/leather thrones and useful cubby space. Audi’s premium appeal is in its digital displays which I always geek out over: configurable screens, Google Earth behind the steering wheel … oooooh.

But on trips, I used Android Auto in both cars. The Audi’s nav system isn’t up to speed with smartphones so Google Maps takes over its fancy center screen. Same as Charger.

The Audi’s interior is more serene thanks to its more, um, gentlemanly engine note. But if your passengers don’t mind that, the Charger gives ’em 5 more inches of rear leg space (35 vs. 40 inches). The S5 strikes back with its yuge cargo bay which, thanks to its hatchback design, gains 5 cubic feet of space (21.8 vs. 16.5) over Dodge.

Hatches are one of my favorite things — but they’ll cost ya given their extra engineering. On such little things do these utilitarian muscle cars differ.

But the yawning marketing gap remains. Turbo-6 vs. V-8. Audi vs. Dodge. Violin vs. electric guitar. I think Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield will be very happy with their choices.

2020 Audi S5 Sportback

Vehicle type: Front-engine, five-passenger performance hatchback

Price: $52,895, including $995 destination fee ($69,240 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6

 Power: 349 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.2 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 3,925 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 20 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Sleek bod; excellent hatchback utility

Lows: Gets pricey; nav system still not up to Google Maps standard

Overall: 3 stars

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus

Vehicle type: Front-engine, five-passenger performance sedan

Price: $41,990 including $1,495 destination fee ($54,065 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.4-liter V-8

 Power: 485 horsepower, 475 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 175 mph

Weight: 4,373 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 15 mpg city/24 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Family muscle car; great soundtrack

Lows: Heavy; drinks fuel

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Riot Lane

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 30, 2020

Cartoon: Fauci Hypocrite Award

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 30, 2020

Cartoon: COVID Youth Culture

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 29, 2020

Cartoon: Fauci New York Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2020

Cartoon: Trader Joe’s Name Change

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Cartoon: Mask MAGA Hat

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2020

Payne: Cadillac CT4-V is the best small-luxury driver’s car

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2020

The 2020 Cadillac CT4-V is a new performance variant of the CT4 - which itself replaces the ATS sedan and debuts in the subcompact segment.

The 2020 Cadillac CT4-V is a new performance variant of the CT4 – which itself replaces the ATS sedan and debuts in the subcompact segment. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

The Cadillac ATS was the best-handling luxury sedan in the compact segment. Only the Alfa Romeo Giulia matched it with rear-wheel drive, scalpel-like handling and chiseled looks.

Yet buyers ignored it.

So Cadillac has rebadged ATS as the CT4, added a V-performance version and dropped it into the subcompact sedan segment where its tight rear legroom isn’t a liability.

I took the 2020 CT4-V to Ohio’s racing mecca, Mid-Ohio race track, to see if would get any attention.

“I love it when you drive up in this car. It’s cool-looking,” said a Mid-Ohio gate attendant as I entered the track Saturday morning for qualifying.

I was racing my own 1990 Lola race car at the annual SVRA Vintage Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio, and I had driven the CT4-V the three hours from Detroit to Lexington, Ohio. For four days, the CT4-V and I came and went from the racing paddock and got plenty of comments. Mostly positive.

The CT4-V performance badge is, like everything but the chassis, new for 2021. The V allows Caddy to compete against the likes of the Audi S3 and the BMW M235i — performance upgrades to standard subcompact models — but without breaking the bank like uber-high performance Audi RS3 and BMW M2 models (Don’t worry speed freaks, the CT4 will eventually get a steroid-fed, $70,000, twin-turbocharged V-6 animal, too).

The CT4-V starts at $45,490 — an $11,500 leap above the entry-level $33,990 CT4. My loaded all-wheel drive tester stickered at $52,640, including the key ingredient: a new, 2.7-liter turbocharged inline-4.

That’s a lot of coin. It’s noticeably more than loaded, comparably equipped performance trims like the $48,300 BMW M235i Gran Coupe, $49,500 Audi S3 or $49,490 Tesla Model 3 AWD.

The sticker price caused pause among my pals. Can Cadillac support that kind of brand premium? Well, no. The CT4-V model should be priced below its German competitors in order to give it a fighting chance against stronger brands.

It does, however, more than match them for performance.

With best-in-class 325 horsepower and face-flattening 380 pound-feet of torque married to a lightning-quick 10-speed transmission, the V in CT4-V stands for “very fun to drive.” Especially on Lexington’s roller-coaster roads.

Like the race track that has made Mid-Ohio an international destination for racers from IndyCar to Trans Am to vintage racing, Lexington’s roads are a twisted delight. Exit flat-as-a-board, four-lane Ohio Route 30, take a two-lane south toward the Clear Fork Reservoir and the driving experience is suddenly transformed. Undulating straightaways meet blind crests that suddenly fall away into sharp downhill turns on the other side.

My athletic CT4-V was made for this. It never put a wheel wrong as I gulped country terrain.

Adding to its capabilities is V-mode, a button on the steering wheel — ripped right out of the mid-engine Corvette (which calls the feature Z-mode) — enabling me to pre-program the chassis settings so they could be changed in an instant from Route 30 cruiser to backroads cheetah. Steering: Track. Drivetrain: Track. Brakes: Sport. A sub-menu accessed by turning off traction control allowed even more electronic tweaking of the suspension and engine systems.

My friend and fellow Lola racer Mark was as addicted to V-mode as I was. He punched the button and the steering noticeably firmed, the Magneride shocks firmed, and the engine note dropped a couple octaves. Hard on the throttle out of a 90-degree turn and the transmission cracked off shifts — BRAP BRAP BRAP — while the torque pinned us in our seats.

Want more? Try launch control, another benefit of Corvette electronics: Toggle to Track mode. Hold the brake at a stoplight. Bury the throttle. Release the brake. The CT4-V rockets to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds, nearly a full second better than the last-generation ATS equipped with a 325-horse V-6 (though the CT4-V is still shy of the BMW M235i’s 4.7 seconds).

Not as thrilling, though, is the turbo-four engine note, which suffers compared to the old six. Federal nannies are strangling multi-cylinder engines these days (on their way to mandating we all buy Tesla-like EVs), but six-cylinders are still available at this price point — most notably in the rabid Toyota GR Supra that I recently flogged through northern Michigan. A six will eventually be available in the top-line CT4 but it’ll cost ya.

The four-banger’s growl gets digital enhancement inside the CT4 because the thing is so danged quiet.

The cockpit was a pleasant place to be on my trip down to Mid-Ohio. The CT4 is all grown up from its too geeky ATS predecessor. The console has been remade with a touchscreen tablet infotainment display and multiple friendly control points including dial control-knobs for climate controls and a rotary dial to access the screen for those who find touchscreens distracting. Throw in Caddy’s head-up display and it’s all quite useful.

It will all appeal to my Caddy owner friends who have gone noticeably gray dealing with previous, maddening, too-clever haptic-touch systems.

But compared to its competition, the Cadillac noticeably lags in tech.

The voice-command systems of the BMW and Mercedes CLA are noticeably more refined, as are their crisp digital instrument displays. The Audi wows with is configurable instrument display. And then there’s Tesla with its game-changing, minimalist design. It’s a murderer’s row for the relatively average Cadillac interior to face.

And puts a lot of pressure on the rear-wheel drive CT4-V platform.

It’s the driver’s car of the lot, no doubt. Indeed, I’d be tempted to ditch the V-series AWD option were the winters in Michigan not so brutal. The rear-wheel drive system is 130 pounds lighter, which makes CT4 even more athletic. More tossable.

Now in its proper subcompact segment, the rear seat is no longer annoyingly tight. It’s competitive in its segment, and malleable enough to fit my 6-foot-5 stork legs. The exterior design is elegant — it looked like its belonged next to Mark’s Porsche 911 — and the geeky interior console a distant memory.

But there’s a new American kid on the block, Tesla, that’s turning heads now. And those Germans just won’t go away. Keep working at it CT4. V is for “very nearly there.”

2020 Cadillac CT4-V

Vehicle type: Front-engine, five-passenger performance sedan

Price: $45,490 including $995 destination fee ($52,640 AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 2.7-liter, turbo-4

Power: 325 horsepower, 380 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.9 seconds (AWD CT4-V, mfr.); top speed, 165 mph

Weight: 3,600-3,750 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 20 mpg city/28 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Good looks; best-in-class handling

Lows: Infotainment system lags; cheap rotary controller

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Mask Government Edict

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2020

Cartoon: NFL Woke Updates Teams

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2020

Cartoon: NFL Antisemitic Smears

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 17, 2020

Cartoon: Democrats require Masks

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 17, 2020

Payne: Toyota’s ferocious sports car is Supra cool

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 17, 2020

The Toyota Supra is back after two decades away, and Americans are thankful.

I took Toyota’s hot rod up north for a weekend and I haven’t seen a car swarmed like it since I drove a scissor-door 2016 BMW i8 around Motown. At a traffic light in the middle of Petoskey, everyone stopped in their tracks to ogle the Supra.

Sure, the Skittle-yellow color had something to do with it. But the Supra is also one of the most ferocious-looking cars on the road today. From its long, LeMans prototype-inspired snout to its double-bubble roof to its lion haunches, Supra is a rolling biceps muscle.

“You’ve got to take me for a ride,” said car pal Mary, who had been properly circumspect about drives in new cars during the COVID lockdown. She had resisted the Ram Power Wagon, the Mazda Miata and the Jeep Gladiator Mojave. But she couldn’t resist a go in the Supra rocket.

After a quick lap of north Woodward — the turbocharged, 3.0-liter, inline-6 cylinder howling like a wolf while its 8-speed tranny cracked off quick shifts — she was a giggling puddle in the right seat.

Yes, Supra 3.0 (for the 3.0-liter engine within) backs up its sensational looks with outrageous driving abilities. And affordable pricing to boot.

I almost felt sorry for the $100,000-plus Lexus LC500 convertible I had tested a week prior, which is no slouch in the sex-appeal department. Store the LC500’s hardtop in the boot with a touch of a button and you have a front-row seat to an open-air V-8 concert. But it’s no Supra.

Indeed, for the price of the LC 500 you could buy two of my $57,000 Supras.

Which is actually two BMWs. Because, truth be told, the secret of the Supra’s success is it shares its bones with BMW’s fabulous Z4 Roadster.

Given the high regulatory costs of developing low-volume sports cars these days, Toyota teamed up with its Bavarian counterpart, just as Mazda did with Fiat to build the current-generation Miata. Toyota got a heckuva deal.

Toyota took BMW’s chassis, engine and interior tech, wrapped it in a yowza Supra shell, and tuned the suspension for its natural Fast ’n’ Furious clientele. I first tested the Supra at Summit Point Raceway last year and it’s a car that loves to be thrown around. Its neutral suspension tuning encourages lurid slides through slow corners before exploding down straightaways to that glorious I-6 soundtrack.

At Michigan Beach in Charlevoix, my wife and I could barely see the sunset for all the dudes giving the Supra thumbs up. Huge front intakes set under brooding, wrapped headlights feed 335 horses in the 2020 model — a whopping 382 if you wait for the 2021 model hitting showrooms this summer.

Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda wants his new generation of Toyotas and Lexi to be eye-catching. Some are misses, but the Supra’s a hit.

It’s especially noticeable from the rear with five-spoke wheels wrapped in fat 11-inch-wide tires under bulging fenders. It reminds of the ’70s Porsche 935 race cars I coveted as a teen. Toyota likes the look so much it’s shared with the Highlander SUV.

“You know, the old Supra was a good-looking car,” said a middle-aged gent circling the Supra in a grocery store parking lot. “And this thing looks cool, too.”

Also cool? My Supra 3.0 is five-grand cheaper than the four-cylinder, 255-horsepower BMW Z4 I brought up north last year to explore the same roads. New for 2021 is an even more affordable $47,000 Supra 2.0 equipped with the same BMW turbo-4.

But if you can spare the extra coin, go Supra 3.0.

The inline-6 is one of BMW’s jewels, and it aligns with Supra’s own inline-6 heritage. There was no race track up north to exercise the Supra, but M-32’s writhing curves were a satisfying substitute. I resisted the urge to drift, but the Supra still enjoyed the occasional tail wag under power.

It was a remarkable contrast with the Z4 — the BMW handling tidy as a good German should be. It’s also very different than the LC 500, which felt like a portly boulevard cruiser next to the whip-quick, 1,000-pounds-leaner, 3,397-pound Supra. I can’t believe I’m dissing the Lexus with a Toyota, but the Supra is that good.

Its full name is Toyota GR Supra 3.0 — after Toyota’s racing arm Gazoo Racing — and the little sports car comes with a Sport mode that really turns up the wick. Tap the console button and the exhaust baritone drops an octave. The suspension tightens like a cheetah in tall grass. I put the eight-speed automatic in manual mode. POUNCE!

Shifting at the 7,000-rpm redline, the sound is addictive. Hard on the red Brembo brakes, the engine breathes out, the dual rear pipes farting and popping. It’s obnoxious in town, irresistible on the open road.

But when the road flattens out, the BMW-crafted interior pays dividends. I mean, think about it — it’s a Toyota with a BMW interior.

Driving north for miles on I-75, the Supra’s bolstered sport seats are a pleasant place to be. The instrument display is styled after the LC 500 with its big tachometer, but the console is all BMW. Like Z4, the tablet infotainment screen features crisp menu pages that can be swiped by touch — or operated with the BMW’s best-in-the-biz remote rotary-dial. My carbon-fiber wrapped console also features BMW’s space-efficient monostable shifter.

Supra’s hatchback (like an old, front engine Corvette C7 for motorheads still pining for a front-engine beast) allows surprising space for two passengers and their luggage. This is not an Alfa 4C or Miata. An annoying negative: the hatch causes bad interior buffeting when you want to drive with the windows down.

At a West Branch service station off I-75, a mom leaned out the window of her SUV while her young son snapped Supra pictures from the backseat.

“I loooove the Supra,” she said. “I’ve seen two in white and black, but I really like it in yellow.”

As I exited West Branch onto the interstate, I punched the Sport button and hit (censored to protect my license) mph on the entry ramp before settling down to 80 mph for the rest of the trip north. Like all Toyotas, Supra was generously equipped with high-tech features like blind-spot assist and adaptive cruise-control to make the interstate miles more relaxing.

So that when you hit the M-32 twisties, you’re ready to rumble.

2020-2021 Toyota Supra

Vehicle type: Front-engine sports car

Price: $58,135 2021 Supra 3.0 as tested

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, turbo-4 cylinder; 3.0-liter inline-6 cylinder

Power: 255 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 335 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque (2020 I-6); 382 horsepower, 368 torque (2021 I-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.7 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 162 mph

Weight: 3,397 pounds (I-6)

Fuel economy: EPA, 24 mpg city/31 highway/26 combined (I-6)

Report card

Highs: A hoot to drive fast; BMW innards, Toyota price

Lows: Bad wind buffet with windows down; no stick option

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Whitmer Big Sister Masks

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2020

Cartoon: Defund Ford Police Cars

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 10, 2020