Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Stan Lee RIP

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

Cartoon: CNN Clown

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

Cartoon: Trump Nudist in Paris

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

Payne: Genesis G-pulling G70 is a bargain athlete

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

G70 Fr3 4 Bushes

At the same time Audi announced this summer it was ditching the manual transmission for its A4 sports sedan, Genesis said its G70 competitor would not only have a manual variant — but that it would be offered as an upscale Sport version unto itself.

That tells you a lot about Hyundai’s aggressive new luxury brand. This Seoul-produced entry-level sedan has soul.

The G70 is rightly baselined to the compact segment icon, the BMW 3-series. Stealing away BMW M-class engineering guru Albert Biermann and Lamborghini design director Luc Donckerwolke, Genesis put the G70 on its own rear-wheel drive platform and trained it in the German makers’ Nürburgring racetrack backyard.

But BMW, Audi and Mercedes are no longer the segment performance leaders. That honor now goes to the terrific Cadillac ATS, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Tesla Model 3 sedans.

Indeed, the irony of the market’s shift away to lookalike SUVs today is that entry-level sedans are incredibly, head-turningly good.

Not only are the establishment players at the top of their game, but there are three 21st-century upstarts: Genesis, Alfa and Tesla. EV-maker Tesla and Italian diva Alfa are niche brands. Genesis aspires to be the traditional volume player of the group, following the Toyota model of accessorizing a popular mainstream brand (Hyundai) with a premium marque.

Genesis’ challenge is establishing an identity in a cramped athletic-shoe aisle that includes such high-tops as the aforementioned German, American and Italian makes — and near-luxury sneakers like the Mazda 6 and Kia Stinger.

Most G70 buyers will approach the $32,000 base Genesis as a value-play over costlier alternatives, but my sophisticated 2.0-liter Sport manual demands to be measured against the best performers in luxury.. That said, how can they ignore Korean cousin Kia — which produces the bigger, five-door Stinger hatchback based on the same architecture and offering the same turbo-4 and twin-turbo V-6 powerplants?

A compelling aisle for sure. I took the very different 2.0-liter manual and 3.3-liter automatic for a run.

Automakers have traditionally offered manuals as entry-level fuel sippers or high-end enthusiast toys. Both are getting squeezed — by the inferiority of manual fuel economy relative to automatics at the low end, and by the performance of quick-shifting, multi-ratio boxes at the upper range.

The $38,895 Sport is targeted at enthusiasts somewhere in between who want an attractive pocket-rocket they can afford. At its core, the 2.0-liter Sport is a runner. With the four-banger driving the rear wheels only, it’s the lightest Q70 configuration.

It reminded me immediately of the ATS, Giulia and Model 3. And since the Tesla EV is a unique animal, I’ll concentrate on the gas-engine Caddy and Alfa: turbo-4 athletes, both more fun than the Midnight Screamer at Six Flags.

Attacking area interstate cloverleafs, the 252-horse Genesis is right there with the Caddy’s nimble handling — telepathic steering, tossable chassis — but shy of Alfa’s sexy looks and best-in-class 280 horsepower.

G70 is carving its own design path — away from the slavish, Audi-like styling of big brothers G90 and G80 — but it doesn’t have the personality of the Italian dish or sculpted Caddy. It’s muscular, no doubt — its wide rear stance ready to pounce — but hard to distinguish from a 3-series or Infiniti Q50.

Hard acceleration exposes the 2.0-liter’s biggest flaw — an initial dead spot on throttle that feels like turbo lag. Or something. “What is that?!” asked my motorhead friend Rick as he rowed through the gears.

Once on throttle, the 2.0-liter is plenty feisty, the engine pulling hard over 3,000 rpms. Upshifts are crisp, the car beautifully balanced on corner entry.

The Genesis makes its mark in true Hyundai fashion — value.

The G70 starts with standard comfort amenities like a 12-way driver’s seat, then adds a best-in-class standard suite of automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise-control, automatic high-beams, blind-spot assist, lane-keep-assist and automatic emergency braking. This is important stuff at a time when mainstream cars from the $25,000 VW Jetta and $32,000 Mazda 6 have similar goodies.

The days when luxe cars (and luxe trucks) can upcharge for such features is coming to an end, and it’s good to see G70 at the head of the game. That said, Mazda’s sensory system is better with its Tesla-like, 360-degree instrument graphics.

Upgrade to the G70’s honkin’ twin-turbo V-6 pushing out an impressive 365 ponies, and the value equation multiplies versus competitor brands. Save one: fellow Korean, Kia Stinger.

Stinger is another superb vehicle brought to life by Mr. Biermann. And that’s not the only thing it shares with G70. They are built on the same platform, have the same engines, boast quad-exhaust, are Nürburgring-tested, get smartphone connectivity and 5 year/100,000 drivetrain warranties and …

And then the Stinger goes further.

At the same entry price as the 3.3-liter G70, the Kia offers five doors instead of three. Its fastback hatchback was one of the revelations of 2017 — offering the utility of an SUV with the handling of a sedan. It’s an Audi A7 — for $25,000 less. An Audi A7 for the same price as a G70. Is that what Hyundai-Kia intended?

The styling and interior of the Stinger are world class, and when you get in back, it exposes the other glaring flaw of the G70 — its tiny rear seat.

Though stretched across the same architecture, the Kias get a longer wheelbase than its Seoul cousin. At a leggy 6-foot-5, I can sit behind myself in the Kia. The G70? Not so much. Which is another reason I lump the 2.0-liter with the equally backseat-challenged Caddy ATS and Alfa.

Genesis North America chief Irwin Raphael says that Genesis and Kia are separate entities (sharing Mr. Biermann) within the Hyundai-Kia empire. And maybe they are appealing to different customers.

I’m struck by the difference in Genesis and Kia Stinger branding, for example. Genesis introduced itself with the lovely voice of blues singer Audra Day. The Stinger, by contrast, was debuted at the 2017 Super Bowl by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler burning rubber backward to make himself 30 years younger.

Which soundtrack fits you, performance sedan enthusiast?

Stinger has the formidable task of selling folks a $40,000 Kia. But Genesis’ task is no less formidable. Both will appeal to customers looking for a bargain car that looks different than the Audi A4s and BMW 3s in the cul-de-sac.

The biggest difference between G70 and Stinger may be that the Stinger is Kia’s halo car — while Genesis’ halo is the forthcoming Essentia supercar. These are good times, indeed.

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 Genesis G70

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

Price: $32,000 base including $995 destination fee ($38,895 RWD manual Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged-4 cylinder; 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V-6

Power: 252 horsepower, 260 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 365 horsepower, 376 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3/6.0 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 130/155 mph

Weight: 3,550-4,050 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA: 22 city/30 highway/25 combined (Turbo-4); 18 city/25 highway/20 combined (V-6)

Report card

Highs: Nurburgring-tested athlete; bargain luxury

Lows: Cramped rear seat; cousin Kia Stinger hatchback an even better bargain

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Pirate Democrats and the Election

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 12, 2018

Cartoon: Media and Trump Derangemant

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 12, 2018

Cartoon: Suburbs Turn on Trump

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 12, 2018

Cartoon: Election Midterm Pit stop

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 12, 2018

Cartoon: Economy Dragster

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 5, 2018

Payne: Volvos defined safety, the S60 adds sexy

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2018

Volvo Red Fr3 4

Flashing down the canyon roads north of Los Angeles in a red, all-new 2019 Volvo S60 sedan, I nearly ran over a red 1980s-vintage Volvo 240. Instantly recognizable from the rear with its skeleton rear headrests, the ol’ Swede lumbered along. Built like a tank with the aerodynamics of a cardboard box.

Ugly duckling, meet swan.

The new, South Carolina-manufactured S60 is a fashion plate: Thor’s hammer headlights. Body of Chris Hemsworth. Powerful turbocharged engines. Alternately fun to drive on mountain roads and quiet as a sofa-bed on the freeway, the athletic Volvo is no longer a role player, but a well-rounded all-star in the mold of Audi or BMW.

Volvo has come a long way from its roots as the safety-obsessed Swede. Introduced to Americans in the 1950s, the brand was a pioneer in passenger protection. It was first with the standard three-point safety belt, rear-facing child seats, childproof locks and collapsible steering column. Volvo was Ralph Nader in the back seat on your family trip.

Ralph has been replaced by Mario Andretti. Volvo has an engine lineup that encourages bad behavior: Take your choice of a 250-horsepower, turbo-4; 315-horse supercharged turbo-4; or 415-horse, supercharged turbo-4 hybrid powertrains.

Farther along the L.A. canyons, I crowd a Porsche Boxster through the twisties. Thor’s hammers looming in his mirrors, drive mode dialed to Dynamic for maximum torque, chassis taut through the switchbacks. What’s next? A Volvo race team?

The S60 is fine not boring you with a safety lecture, though sometimes I wish it would.

In this era of galloping digital advances, Volvo is not the cutting edge of safety anymore. Acura class competitor TLX offers the same standard suite of adaptive cruise-control, lane-keep assist and collision-mitigation braking as the Volvo. Heck, even the smaller, 2019 ILX offers it — for $10,000 less.

I recently tested a loaded Mazda 6 for the same price as the base Volvo with the same horsepower, same safety systems — plus. Plus blind-spot assist, plus head-up display, plus driver-display mounted 360-degree monitoring system.

The old Volvo would have made these features standard and reminded you on billboards. But the new, more well-rounded Volvo has other talents it wants to share.

Like a standard panoramic moonroof. Ooooooh. Get the wagon version of the S60 — called the V60 — and it’s the biggest moonroof I’ve ever seen, stretching beyond the rear seats into next week.

While we’re on the subject of wagons, let me note that the gorgeous V60 is prettier, faster and cheaper than the Volvo XC60 SUV with more hatchback space and better roof access. Just in case you want to climb down from the taller XC60 and take a look.

Back to the S60. Volvo no doubt wants its pano-roofs to shed light on other standard features in the cabin like digital instrument display, elegant, 10-way seats and two-zone climate control. And, of course, a signature 9-inch, Tesla-like touchscreen.

The touchscreen is another vote for sexy over nanny Volvo.

Uncluttered by buttons, the screen is integrated into Volvo’s spare, Scandinavian cabin design: rich landscapes of wood, matte black, and aluminum accents.

It’s beautiful. And like Sweden’s Alicia Vikander, it’s distracting. The screen is low in the console, not high like tablets in the Audi or Acura RDX. While its logic is quick to master, it requires diverting your eyes from the road. Screens are accessed by swipes of the hand. Features controlled by buttons on other cars — lane-keep assist, head-up display, temperature controls — are located in the screen.

Volvo is aware of the distraction and has constructed helpful commands you can bark at the voice command. “Set the temperature to 70 degrees!” for example. I suggest setting your preferences at the house, then using voice commands to tweak settings on the road.

More in Volvo’s safety character is its Pro Pilot Assist, an adaptive cruise sidekick (for $2,500) that works as a semi-autonomous system in rush-hour traffic. Descending from LA’s canyon roads into its interstate-traffic hell, I toggled the Pilot Assist button. Below 30 mph in stop-and-go traffic, the system left me alone (like Cadillac’s SuperCruise, and unlike other nanny systems) so that I could check email and texts on my phone — or, um, fiddle with the touchscreen settings and navigation.

Speaking of navigation, the Volvo nicely integrates smartphone apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into its big screen so you don’t have to pay the $2,500 navigation upcharge for Volvo’s glitchy nav system.

It’s one of a few, rare glitches in this all-around athlete’s debut. Despite its German-stomping horsepower, the S60’s drivetrain still lacks the Teuton’s refinement. Downshifts can be lazy or abrupt.

Opt for the S60’s all-wheel drive T8 plugin-hybrid model, and the rear electric motor smooths out the drivetrain kinks like a comb through a blond Swedish mane. With healthy total system power of 400 ponies, the hybrid is a joy to drive fast.

Upgrade to the wicked-looking black Polestar T8 and you get 15 more horses, gold brake calipers and gold seat belts that look like they came right out of Q’s lab. Mr. Bond, your Polestar is ready.

Like safety, Volvo is synonymous with green, but the plugin-hybrid model contradicts that simple stereotype just like the safety boilerplate. Goosed with turbo and supercharging steroids, my hybrid, four-cylinder S60 averaged less than 20 mpg over a day of fairly civilized Metro L.A. driving.

As tempting as the pricey plugin may be, Detroit buyers will be perfectly content with a T5, AWD R-Design S60. Allow me to translate the Swedish alphanumerics:

AWD means all-wheel drive for Detroit snow
T5 means the 250-horse engine option
R-Design means the sporty trim package with 19-inch wheels

And S60 means the best Volvo sedan you have ever seen for about $46,000.

Divorced from Ford and now owned by China’s Geely, Volvo produces the sedan out of its first U.S. plant for export to countries around the globe. No longer a Naderite, Swedish curiosity, Volvo has matured to a global automaker with the S60, V60, XC60, S90, V90 and XC90 all built on the same, so-called SPA global platform.

As the brand’s entry-level product, the S60 retains its Swedish personality while speaking the universal language of style and power. Just like the BMW 3-series. Just like the Audi A4.

Just ask the ol’ Volvo 240 receding in my mirror.

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 Volvo S60 sedan and V60 wagon

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front and all-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan/wagon

Price: $36,795 base including $995 destination fee ($41,995 R-Design as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged-4 cylinder, plug-in hybrid

Power: 250 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 316 horsepower, 295 pound-feet torque (turbo, supercharged 4); 400 horsepower (415 in Polestar edition), 494 pound-feet torque (turbo, supercharged 4 plug-in with electric-motor assist)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds for turbo-4 (mfr); top speed, 145 mph

Weight: 3,657-3,907 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 21 city/32 highway/25 combined (Turbo-4 AWD R-Design as tested)

Report card

Highs: Swedish beauty; standard panoramic moon-roof

Lows: Touchscreen can distract from safety; power sucks gas

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Violent Rhetoric Left

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2018

Cartoon: Birthright Citizenship and Trump

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2018

Cartoon: World Series Versus NFL

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

Ford wows Vegas with Carbon Series GT supercar, mod trucks

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

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Take the week off, Celine Dion. Las Vegas is home to the dazzling Specialty Equipment Market Association show through Friday, and Ford opens the extravaganza Tuesday with the latest version of its Ford GT supercar.

The show-stopping, 2019 Ford GT Carbon Series is the lightest version of Ford’s performance halo car – and punctuates the point with acres of exposed carbon fiber including dual exposed stripes, A-pillars and lower body panels. Ford will also show its range with truck acts including eight custom F-150 and seven modified Ranger pickups.

The GT Carbon Series hits the market at the same time that Ford is re-opening the application process for its 647-horse, twin-turbo V6-powered, Le Mans-winning legend on Nov. 8. Ford had previously capped GT production at 1,000 but has added 350 units to be produced through 2022.

“The Ford GT Carbon Series stands out on the road with its striking carbon fiber-rich design and on the track with its athleticism,” said Hermann Salenbauch, chief of Ford’s Performance Division, which oversees the GT and other earth-pawing models.

Where the Ford GT’s previous lightweight track star, the Competition series, stripped the GT of daily amenities like radio and air conditioning, the Carbon Series maintains both (while still dropping 39 pounds) so that owners can run hot laps on track – then cool off with AC on the ride home.

“While the Ford GT Competition model appeals to hardcore racing enthusiasts, we found more customers asking for more exposed carbon fiber with the air conditioning and radio still intact,” said Lance Mosley, marketing ringmaster for Ford Performance. “So we developed the Carbon Series to satisfy that need, while providing a distinct look.”

It’s not the first time that Ford has used SEMA — a sprawling trade show featuring aftermarket, performance-enhancing steroids like supercharged engines and off-road truck lift kits — to showcase its state-of-the-art muscle. At the 2008 show, Ford debuted the F-150 Raptor, the fastest off-road pickup on the planet.

The $500,000-base Ford GT, the production version of the IMSA race car that took home the IMSA Weathertech GTLM manufacturer’s trophy this year, headlines the Performance division.

Featuring state-of-the-art aerodynamics technology like a Formula One-style keel-nose and retractile rear wing, the GT is motivated by twin-turbos spinning a 3.5-liter V-6 to 647 horsepower and a top speed of 216 mph.

To hit its dietary goal, the Carbon Series boasts light-weighting innovations like carbon fiber wheels, titanium exhaust and lug nuts, and a polycarbonate rear hatch. That, and Ford tossed the cupholders.

If all that carbon fiber isn’t enough to stand out from the exclusive GT crowd, the new edition can be accented with mirror caps, center stripes, and calipers in four colors: silver, orange, red, or blue.

For all the GT’s drama, however, the Performance division’s sales have been turbocharged by Mustangs and trucks. Sales were up a whopping 70 percent in 2017 to over 205,000 units globally. And that’s before Ford invaded two new segments this year with its Edge ST SUV and Ranger Raptor small truck — the latter available only in overseas markets. An upgraded F-150 Raptor will also bow later this year.

The model flood continues in 2019 with the expected debut of a 700-horsepower-plus Mustang GT500, the most powerful ‘Stang ever, and an Explorer ST ute. To keep buyers salivating, Ford is bringing eight customer F-150 builds to Vegas as well as seven modified Rangers.

As for GT buyers, your application can be found at www.FordGT.com beginning Nov. 8.

Cartoon: Halloween “Blame Trump”

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

Payne: To Hell (and Ohio) and back to pick up my Tesla Model 3

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

Henry Payne deposited $1,000, along with 450,000 other customers, to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in a lifetime.

Henry Payne deposited $1,000, along with 450,000 other customers, to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in a lifetime.

Each step in my 31-month journey to buy a Tesla Model 3 has been an adventure. Delivery was no different.

Since configuring my car June 26 online, I waited through four months, multiple delivery date changes, an extra 30-day delay, and CEO Elon Musk smoking weed in a radio interview. Then I saddled up a 3-ton Nissan Armada rental mule to travel 200 miles to Cleveland to pick up a car Lansing bans from sale in Michigan.

“Delivery logistics hell,” Musk calls it. Yet, waiting on the other side of the River Styx (well, Lake Erie) was a stunning, athletic Model 3 electric vehicle that is still the most fascinating car on sale today.

In April, 2016, I put down my $1,000 deposit along with 450,000 other customers to get a first-row seat to the production of the first volume vehicle in the first viable auto startup in my lifetime. Detroit News readers have been with meevery step of the way.

I’m no eco-geek, but a race car-driving, gas-guzzling motorhead with multiple cars in his garage and a need for speed. When Musk introduced the 3, I coveted it as I have desired BMWs, Fords, and Porsches. And as a journalist, I was also intrigued by an entrepreneur that is the early 21st century’s Henry Ford: driven, visionary, controversial.

Musk is also like other West Coast tech geniuses — Amazon’s Bezos, Uber’s Kalanick, Facebook’s Zuckerberg — in redefining industries. But he is most like Apple’s Steve Jobs in taking a fresh design approach to product. In this case, the car.

Deluged with more orders for the 3 than BMW sells across 14 model lines in a year, Tesla was not only promising a competitive luxury player in 18 months — but assembling it for delivery through its own, nascent dealer network. Dude, that’s a tall order.

The fires of Tesla “production hell” — missed deadlines, problematic build quality, manufacturing tents — have been well documented. Delivery hell, where customers like me interact with Tesla, is a more variable climate.

After configuring my rear-wheel-drive, Obsidian Black-with-19-inch-wheels Model 3 in June, Tesla predicted the car would arrive between September and November. I was optimistic, however — based on deliveries to Michigan friends — that it could arrive in less than a month.

Six weeks crawled by.

I called Las Vegas — Tesla dispatch central — on Aug. 8 for an update. Dispatch told me they had been deluged by orders at the end of July as Tesla ended free, LTE cell service. The new cost? $100 a year. Proof that even folks paying $50K for a car smell a deal.

But other smells were sowing concern. On Aug. 7, Musk tweeted in apparent violation of SEC rules that he was taking the company private. Tesla forums brimmed with customer tales of delivery dates gone awry. Tesla HQ was a revolving door of executive departures. Then Musk stunk up the joint (pun intended) in September with a pot-fueled interview.

Not the kind of news that inspires confidence in customers holding $50,000 luxury car orders. On Sept. 17, the call (well, text) finally came from Vegas:

Hey, Henry, this is Jackie from Tesla. I am reaching out about your Model 3 order. I am able to offer you delivery as soon as this month. Can I schedule you for September 27th?

That proved optimistic, too. After some delivery date ping-pong, my pick-up was pushed back to Oct. 26. A Tesla contractor told me the company’s rush to meet third-quarter (Sept. 30) profit deadlines had jammed the pipelines.

In Jersey Oct. 18 for my son’s wedding, I got a call from Robert at Tesla Cleveland. Can you pick up your car Monday the 22nd? I would be there, with insurance and the $57,450 balance in hand.

What happened to the promised, $35,000, affordable Model 3? It won’t be delivered until early next year — assuming customers still want it after the federal $7,500 tax credit runs out this winter.

As chaotic as delivery hell was, the Tesla dealer process is a model of efficiency.

Tesla handed me the keys to a gratis Enterprise rental to make the one-way trek to Lyndhurst (outside Cleveland) to pick up the future of sustainable transportation. My ride? An ironic, ginormous Nissan Armada SUV. Half-a-tank of gas. Range: 200-something. Gas infrastructure everywhere. I made it in three hours flat.

Since Tesla dealers are factory stores, the dealer process is a formality. All cars on the lot are spoken for — delivered to customer spec. No haggling. Indeed, to help with the flood of September deliveries, the Cleveland store brought in existing Tesla owners to help with vehicle check out.

My salesman spent his time explaining the spaceship’s tech-tastic features to me — automatic lane change, streaming audio services, regenerative braking, voice commands. We went over every inch of the car including build defects (Tesla quality still lags).

Before I rocketed home on 307 pound feet of electric torque, Tesla topped up the battery with 300 miles of range. Unlike the Armada, charging infrastructure for the 3 is spare.

Cooling my heels in the waiting room, I talked with another Tesla owner. He had first approached a Chevy dealer about buying a Bolt EV. The lot was littered with Bolts, but he said the salespeople were light on details and wouldn’t negotiate price.

Frustrated, he sought out Tesla online and placed his order. “It’s been a fantastic journey,” he said.

Cartoon: Candidate Treats

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 30, 2018

Cartoon: Khashoggi Saudi Cover Up

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 25, 2018

Payne: Big Subaru Ascent wants your family — and cups

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 25, 2018

Ascent Fr3 4

The last time Subaru tried a family SUV it was going through an awkward phase with the three-row Tribeca wallflower and its geeky triangular grille, pricey sticker, and … Mrs. Payne and I walked right past it on the way to the handsome, 2006 Pacifica crossover on the Chrysler lot.

Well, two’s the charm.

A lot has changed for a new generation of ‘Ru families. For one, Subaru went out and got a proper stylist, and its family of handsome Imprezas and Crosstreks aren’t turning away customers with their homely looks. Take my wife — who is on her second Impreza hatchback after downsizing from her three-row Pacifica.

Young Subie owners who bought into the brand with a tidy Impreza or Crosstrek, on the other hand, finally have a proper, full-size family ute to, well, ascend into. Of course, they may have to swallow their tree-hugging ideals over the breakfast newspaper. “The World Is Embracing S.U.V.s. That’s Bad News for the Climate,” lectured a New York Times headline this year. Well, there’s always Fox News.

The faithful might be reassured that Subaru keeps the continuously-variable transmission and flat four-cylinder engine tech for which its famous in its smaller, granola crunchers. But in truth that requires real-world compromise, too, as the four-banger gets turbocharged to motivate its porky-for-the-class 4,583 pounds. That means the ‘Ru gets an EPA fuel rating of 22 mpg — no better than comparably-priced V-6s like the Kia Sorento looker I recently tested.

Indeed, in Car and Driver’s real-world test against another turbo-4, the alluring Mazda CX-9, the Ascent’s fuel economy descended to 17 mpg, 2 mpg shy of the Mazda hottie.

The new Ascent won’t win any beauty pageants over the CX-9 but it’s not unpleasant — it’s even charming with its signature long front end and thick, rugged roof rails. But just to make sure no one walks away before taking a closer look, the Ascent has …


That oughta get your attention. And after counting every single one, you realize that they’ve stuffed a lot of other stuff in there, too, for a very affordable price.

What Ascent lacks in curb appeal to the Sorento and CX-9 it makes up for in size, features and affordability.

Parked next to the Sorento in my driveway, the Ascent looks a class larger. Part of that is a face with a lantern jaw bigger than Schwarzenegger, but open the doors and the interior is roomier. Check out that boot. With 18 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row, the Subie beats the Kia by 50 percent and the Mazda by almost 30.

Only the Chevy Traverse beats it in size with a palatial 23 cubic feet (GM’s ute also is a class leader in third-row seat room, making life comfortable even for your giraffe-legged reviewer). For the same $45K price, however, the Ascent is a Shoney’s buffet of features.

Standard all-wheel-drive, adaptive cruise control, auto brake assist, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto — then panoramic sunroof, blind-spot assist, auto high beams, auto windshield wipers, power front seats, rear climate control, rear bucket seats, and a washer and dryer (just kidding about the last two).

Japanese companies like Subaru, Honda, Toyota and Mazda increasingly emphasize the electronic gizmos which drivers are increasingly coming to expect. Like a camera on your phone. The Chevy does not have adaptive cruise and auto high beams at $45K, and they are sorely missed.

Speaking of essentials, blind-spot assist is a must on big barges like Ascent, and Subaru obliged by putting the indicator — not waaaaay out on the starboard mirror edge where it’s often lost in sun glare — but on the inside mirror stem where you can see it all the time.

Subie may have supersized but it hasn’t forgotten its adventurous roots. Ascent gets ox-like, 5,000-pound towing ability. And the forward camera that (Tesla -like) allows you to see out the front of the vehicle. And the nearly nine-inch ground clearance, and hill descent control.

Touches like that endear folks to Subaru who will still be tempted to camp off-road in their three-row ute.

Subaru is not immune from cost-saving annoyances. The adaptive cruise control only goes up in 5-mph increments (what?!), which was awkward when I was trying to stay under 80 mph on speed-limited, 70 mph interstates. To set the cruise control, I would have to accelerate to exactly 77 mph, then deploy adaptive cruise.

My wife has to do the same on her Impreza. You get used to it.

Happily, unlike the Traverse and Sorento with their cost-cutting, access-the-third-row-only-on-the-curbside-of-the-vehicle, the Ascent allows you to get into the back on either side of the car with a simple, one-pull seat lever. The Honda Pilot is still the master of this with its single-push button magic.

It makes for a good, overall second-and-third row vibe. It seems Subaru cares about its coach-class passengers as much as first-class drivers.

There’s climate control for the second row, heated seats, that yuuuuge sunroof providing sunlight — and, of course, enough cupholders for the kids to have both a pop and milkshake with their fast-food burgers.

Still, when I pressed the starter button and pulled the shift lever into DRIVE, I feared the worst.

Despite the major improvement to my wife’s CVT tranny in the latest-gen Impreza, the ghost of droning CVTs past — attached-to-four cylinders — still haunts me. How could the combo possibly work in a two-ton ute?

Make that two tons and a half, and you feel every pound given the Subie’s higher, off-road ride height. After a week of driving a Corvette ZR1 at the Dream Cruise this summer — sweating every parking lot entrance with its low, carbon-fiber splitter (scraaape) — I admit the Ascent’s ride height was blessedly stress free.

But it also means it has no athletic pretensions like a Mazda. The turbo-4 and CVT, on the other hand, are surprisingly spry. The CVT is no droner — but shifts smoothly under duress thanks to electronic programming that makes it feel like a high-ratio automatic.

The 260-horsepower turbo-4 is a bull.

Subaru has left its awkward, geeky, Tribeca phase behind and produced a big, competitive, roomy three-row ute. Just in time for your growing family — awkward, geeky teens and all.

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 Subaru Ascent

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

Price: $32,970 base, includes $975 destination fee ($45,670 Ascent Touring as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter turbo, “Boxer” inline 4-cylinder

Power: 260 horsepower, 277 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.9 seconds (Car and Driver); towing: 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,583 pounds

EPA fuel economy: 20 city/26 highway/22 combined

Report card

Highs: Turbo-4 rows the big ship; lotsa standard features

Lows: Turbo-4 gets thirsty; better cruise control, please

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Restaurant Etiquette

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 25, 2018