Henry Payne Blog

The best of the best auto features

Posted by hpayne on July 22, 2014

Best ottoman: Honda Fit. Seriously. Get in the backseat, fold the front passenger seatback flat. Put your legs up and stay awhile. (Henry Payne / The Detroit News)

From compacts to muscle cars to crossovers to land yachts, Americans have never had such a broad vehicle menu and I have the pleasure of sampling it for you 365 days a year. It’s not a bad gig. We auto pundits spill gallons of ink picking the Best Sedan, Best SUV, Best Sports Car, and so on.

But what of the myriad features stuffed into the fastest, sexiest, most complex consumer products on earth?

Even before the acceleration of digital wizardry into cars, auto features were worth their own best list. Teams of engineers are assigned to every corner of a vehicle in order to tease out that last styling or ergonomic detail that will make a customer choose, say, a Jeep Grand Cherokee over a Hyundai Santa Fe.

Herewith my 2014 list of the best of the best features in autos today – mechanical, digital, aesthetic, and otherwise. This is hardly a comprehensive list – and I will humbly admit to C pillar-sized blind spots. I have not driven all 290-plus models out there. What did I miss? What is your favorite feature? Please add your “Best of” choice in the Comments field below. First, let’s turn on the lights. . . .

Best headlights: Cadillac Escalade. Bordered by an LED tube waterfall, a ladder of five LED bulbs - each separated by heat-dispersing fins - light the big ute's path. The Fox Theater’s marquee doesn’t have this much bling.

Best fog lights: VW Golf. Lux vehicles swivel their headlights to follow your path, but only the common Golf (and its Beetle bro’) use their inside fog lamps to illuminate a corner’s apex. High curb? Pothole? You’ll see it.

Best grille: Mercedes CLA250. Put Merc’s star in the middle of a pentagon grille. Then place jewel-like droplets on a thin mesh that radiate out from the logo like ripples on a pond. Eat your heart out Tiffany’s.

Best launch control: Corvette C7. Other supercars – Alfa Romeo 4C, Nissan GTR — offer automatic tranny launch controls so idiot-proof you feel like a passenger on board Cedar Point’s Top Thrill Dragster ‘coaster. The 455-horsepower Stingray gives it to you with a manual. It’s life-altering. Not for the feint-of-heart, it offers a test of your shifter reflexes as you rocket from zero-60 (popping the clutch with your right foot on the floor at a rib cage-rattling 4000 RPM) in 3.8 seconds.

Best alternative drive system: Chevy Volt/Cadillac ELR. Yeah, yeah, I love the electric Tesla Model S, too. Staggering acceleration. Innovative electronics. Acres of interior space. But what if you’ve gotta drive to Marquette? Until electric cars are as cheap as Civics, the charging infrastructure won’t happen. The GM batteries will get you to work. The gas engine will get you Up North.

Best blind spot warning: Acura MDX. I like blind-spot assist. Especially in large SUVs with blind spots the size of Oklahoma. But can I always see the little, blinking car icon? On the outside of my passenger mirror? In the sun? MDX blind-spot indicators are inside the vehicle on the A pillars. Smart.

Best smart key: Hyundai Equus. Approach the Equus and the big sedan senses the key in your pocket, instantly unlocking the doors and opening the side mirrors like hands to greet you. (Okay, it’s a little eerie.)

Best paddle shifters: Mazda MX-5. With all the mighty supercars out there with steering wheel-mounted shifters, who woulda thunk the mini MX-5 would pioneer paired, up-and-down shifters on both sides of the wheel? No longer are both hands a slave to the wheel when shifting.

Best ottoman: Honda Fit. Seriously. Get in the backseat, fold the front passenger seat back flat. Put your legs up and stay a while.

Best touch screen: Chrysler UConnect. I prefer dials whenever possible, but given the amount of stuff you can pack into touch screen systems (not to mention the feds mandating backup cameras), they are to stay. UConnect - in Jeeps, Chryslers, et al - is one useful guide dog.

Best center console: Tesla Model S. A 17-inch tablet. No surprise, it’s from the Silicon Valley-based automaker.

Best backseat: Chrysler/Dodge Stow n’ Go. These ridiculously versatile thrones fold up for easy access to the third row, or fold into the floor, or offer floor storage when upright, or eject you before a crash - safely deploying parachutes for a soft landing (okay, I made that last one up).

Best liftgate: Ford Escape. No contest. Swing your foot under the bumper and the hatch opens.


Cartoon: Russian Missile

Posted by hpayne on July 22, 2014


Happy Birthday, sport: The 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Posted by hpayne on July 17, 2014

Our thirst for 1960s’ nostalgia is bottomless, so automakers keep remaking the classics. Ford will birth a brand new Mustang this fall as it chases GM’s own retro-rod, the Camaro. Alfa Romeo’s 4C is a dead ringer for the ’67 Alfa 33 Sradale, and Jaguar has followed the elegant E-Type with the ferocious F-Type.

Meanwhile, Mazda has cornered the market on wee English sports car nostalgia with the Miata.

Mazda has been so successful in preserving the golden era of Lotus Elans, MG Midgets and Bugeye Sprites that the Miata has become an icon unto itself, now celebrating its 25th year of production. Along the way, the Miata picked up the MX-5 badge to recognize it as a permanent member of the Mazda family, not just a passing salute to ’60s sports cars (and to make it sound more, ahem, macho). Indeed, the mass-produced cutie has far outlasted and outsold its Elan inspiration as the Lotus badge expired after nine years.

Yet Mazda’s little roller-skate has stayed true to its roots: affordable, fuel efficient, and more fun than Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Tight fit

Compact and cramped, the MX-5 is even sized like a British crumpet. It is the tightest fit of any car that I’ve driven. A Fiat 500’s headroom is like the Sistine Chapel compared to this pillbox. Next to an MX-5, the compact Chevy Spark’s driver seat feels like a Vegas pool chair.

The third generation MX-5 remains an homage to the playful Elan’s looks with its smiling, gaping grille which seems to shout — “Aha, I caught ya!” — in your rearview mirror. Early sketches of the all-new, fourth-gen MX-5 (due next year) suggest that the car will conform to the Mazda family’s Kodo-design architecture, cementing its position of permanence in the Mazda lineup.

Wipe a sentimental tear because Mazda does Lotus so well. Indeed, with its open headlights, the MX-5 now echoes the original, legendary 26R, which launched the Elan legend by terrorizing the European GT circuit in the early ’60s. The MX-5’s haunches have also grown, giving the car the more fearsome, feline look of the 26R as opposed to the mousier production Elan (that the original Miata slavishly resembled). Our scrawny cutie has been working out.

Modest in power

Yet, under the bulging hood, the MX-5 remains modest in power.

Its 158 horsepower (with the automatic transmission, 167 ponies with stick) is not a far cry from the Elan original’s 126. The MX-5’s biceps may awaken the corner cop (my MX-5 got appreciative looks wherever I drove), but its 6.9-second 0-60 mph time won’t. Turbocharged pocket rockets like the VW GTI and Ford Focus ST — even the MX-5’s aging brother Mazdaspeed 3 — will eat the MX-5 for breakfast at a Woodward stoplight.

But the MX-5 doesn’t mind. This sports car wants you to have fun, without tempting you to the limits. Maybe that’s why it’s a favorite of drivers’ schools like Barber at Laguna Seca, Calif.

The MX-5 makes an interesting contrast to the howling, Tasmanian Devil-on-wheels Alfa 4C that I recently tested. Both share a short wheelbase. Both tip the scales at about 2,500 pounds. Both are halos for their respective performance brands. But where the 4C wants to set a benchmark for $65,000 luxury greyhounds, the MX-5 offers inspiration for more modest bank accounts.

At your fingertips

Slip into the MX-5’s nicely contoured seats and the whole car feels like it’s at your fingertips. Stretch out your arm and you ... can ... almost ... reach ... the rear wheels. The little, three-spoke steering wheel fits compact surrounds. The gearshift is at your elbow. If they remake the Wizard of Oz, the Mayor of Munchkin City will drive up in an MX-5.

WARNING TO BEANSTALKS: THE MX-5 WILL CRAMP YOUR STYLE. Where mid-engine firecrackers like the Alfa 4C offer plenty of leg room, the MX-5’s two-seat layout means the driver is wedged between a fore-mounted engine and a rear-stowed, removable top. The result is little room for maneuver compared to, say, a rear-seated, 2+2 Subaru BRZ. My knees straddled the steering wheel, my back slumped into the seat, my noggin crowded the hardtop ceiling.

Good thing the MX-5 is such a joy to drive topless.

Release the ceiling latch, press the dashboard button and the MX-5’s metal helmet effortlessly retracts into the trunk in just 12 seconds, leaving an airplane luggage-sized trunk space roomy enough for a small suitcase and two Munchkins. At speed, the cabin is remarkably livable, accommodating easy conversation even as you gallop through the Michigan landscape at 70 mph-plus.

The Mazda doesn’t fear the whip. Rollicking over the knobs and nooks of northern Michigan’s Route 66, the MX-5 begs you to slip into manual shift mode.

Ingenious shift paddles

A word here about Mazda’s ingenious shift paddle design. Where most paddle shifters require two hands on the wheel — downshifts with the left hand, upshifts with the right — the MX-5 locates two pairs of up and down paddles on either side of the wheel depending on your hand preference. Shifting with one hand — upshift with the fingertips, downshift with the thumb — frees the offhand to rotate the wheel. Or just cruise one-handed.

Throw this fun-box into a corner and its 51/49 weight balance rotates easily under rear-drive power. The lightweight chassis rarely makes the tires scream, though the steering could use some firming. At full chat, the hydraulic rack feels floaty, rootless. At the end of a good squawk, you don’t feel beat up by an over-stiff chassis, your knuckles aren’t white, and your passenger isn’t searching the glove compartment for a barf bag. Sure, that Alfa 4C you were chasing is in the next county, but you still have an appetite for dinner.

If anything, the sophisticated auto-manual tranny feels out of place in such a back-to-basics car. In an age where electronically-stuffed consoles make autos seem like airliner cockpits, the MX-5 is simple, spartan. The radio is operated by dials, the mileage is reset by a button.

Old school. Old pleasures. Old country. We love our British throwbacks. Happy anniversary, Miata-san. You do a bloody good interpretation of an English classic.

Report card

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car Price: $24,515 base ($32,735 as tested) Power plant: 2.0-liter, dual overhead-cam 4-cylinder Power: 158 horsepower, 140 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.9 seconds (Car & Driver) Weight: 2,542 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway/23 mpg combined Highs: Handy paddle shifters; no-fuss hardtop convertible Lows: Abrupt downshifts; numb steering Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Hamas

Posted by hpayne on July 16, 2014


Cartoon: X-Apes Sequel

Posted by hpayne on July 14, 2014


Cartoon: Obama Fundraiser

Posted by hpayne on July 14, 2014


Can the 2015 Buick Enclave still turn heads?

Posted by hpayne on July 14, 2014

It was 2006. The Detroit Auto Show. Buick was pulling the wraps off a large SUV. Granny gets a truck. I’ll take a truck-full of NoDoz, please. What happened next was entirely unexpected.

Buick hit it out of the park.

The sexy Buick Enclave – yes, I just used sexy and Buick in the same sentence — was proof that the struggling brand had a pulse. Retiring the Rendezvous and Rainier dinosaurs, Buick took the opportunity of GM’s new, unibody Lambda platform to redefine the SUV. The result was a head-turning crossover as the Enclave lit up the Detroit stage like a Baroque beauty out of a Paul Rubens painting: Big-boned, athletic, drop-dead gorgeous.

This was not your grandma’s SUV, but a sensual chassis that inspired future Buicks like the cop-magnet Regal RS and the sassy Buick Encore crossover. Buick’s daring was rewarded (isn’t it always?) as Enclaves flew off the showroom floor faster than a Rubens painting at Sotheby’s. But it’s one thing to wow the world with a new bod — and another to stay fit year after year. Just ask Kirstie Alley.

I recently drove a 2015 Enclave wrapped in $54,185, premium trim. Does it have what it takes to compete over time? The big SUV is still gorgeous, but a closer look reveals cause for concern.

Let the record show that Enclave had its best sales year ever in 2013 with 60,534 units sold. After a 2013 update, the Enclave’s looks are still fresh. Despite its size, the 4,700-pound SUV is beautifully proportioned with firm shoulders fore and slinky hips aft. Standing tall on 20-inch heels — er, wheels — the Enclave beckons you to follow it down the road.

The evening gown competition doesn’t end there. The waterfall grille is flanked by big, almond-shaped headlights. The grille carries a little too much chrome jewelry for my taste. Forget the lights, this bauble is blinding. Around back, the Enclave’s plunging v-shaped window line is exquisite (it is a design shared by the lovely Chevy Traverse, which can be confusing).

Yes, the old dame still has it. But why do I have to say “old”?

Now in its seventh model year, a second generation Enclave redesign is not soon on the horizon. The 2013 refresh is nicely done, but in a competitive mid-to-full-size SUV herd, it’s not enough for the Enclave to rest on its laurels. The Acura MDX, for example, just unveiled its stunning, third generation model after six years.

The Buick’s age is starting to show. It’s rich, much-ballyhooed interior still impresses, but has been equaled by the MDX and up-and-comers like the dashing Hyundai Santa Fe. The Enclave’s swooping dash and ambient lighting accents echo the exterior, but the vehicle is missing basic segment refinements like push-button start — while its haptic-touch console buttons can be quirky. More worrisome are antiquated exterior tics like fake hood intake ports. Once a proud birthmark of the Buick family, that DNA is now a drag on a vehicle that is a symbol of a new generation.

Like Botox on a super model, the addition subtracts from the car’s true beauty.

The Enclave offers but a single power plant — a 3.6-liter, 288 horsepower V6 — to pull its heft. At a time when the Lexus RX offers a hybrid option and fuel-efficient turbos are boosting power in Caddys and Regals to over 100 horsepower per liter, the Enclave is due for an upgrade.

That power would be welcome in a big car that feels so much smaller to drive. Inside, the Enclave sports a palatial, roomiest-in-class third-row seat — accessed with ease by Buick’s “Smart Slide” second-row captain’s chairs. Take the wheel of the big yacht, however, and my all-wheel drive version cut through wavy roads with ease, exhibiting minimal body roll and tight steering. Tip o’ the admiral’s cap to hydraulic power steering and an independent rear suspension.

The Enclave deserves its place as a franchise vehicle. It’s profitable, lists as a Consumer Reports 2014 Top 10 Most Reliable American Car, and attracts younger buyers. Yet by filling a premium niche between Chevy and Cadillac in the GM lineup, Buick’s future seems precarious. Its Regal sits on an Opel platform, the Enclave on a Chevy platform. Will the Enclave remain relevant, or will GM slowly starve it of future investment?

The Enclave’s Rubenesque figure wowed the world in 2006. When Tiger Woods advertised a Buick Rainier we snickered. But when supermodel Marisa Miller pedals an Enclave, we nod. Buick’s challenge is to keep her behind the wheel.

2015 Buick Enclave

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front or all-wheel-drive, seven-passenger sport utility vehicle Price: $40,775 base ($54,185 as tested) Power plant: 3.6-liter, direct-injection 6-cylinder Power: 288 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.5 seconds (Motor Trend); 112 mph top speed Weight: 4,922 pounds (AWD) Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway/18 mpg combined (AWD) Report card Highs: Elegant inside and out; Cathedral quiet interior Lows: Oh, those fake intake ports; More grunt, please Overall:★★★★


Cartoon: LeBron Cleveland

Posted by hpayne on July 14, 2014


Cartoon: Statue of Go Away

Posted by hpayne on July 9, 2014


Cartoon: Elian 2000 and Illegals 2014

Posted by hpayne on July 9, 2014


Q&Auto: What did the F-150 learn from the F-Type?

Posted by hpayne on July 5, 2014

Kevan Richardson, Jaguar's program manager for sports cars, explains the aluminum construction of the Jaguar F-Type at a media test drive in Los Angeles.
Kevan Richardson, Jaguar's program manager for sports cars, explains the aluminum construction of the Jaguar F-Type at a media test drive in Los Angeles. (Jaguar)

This weekend we Yankees celebrate our divorce from Mother England. But the families are closer than ever. England’s our trustiest ally, we worship Kate Middleton, and we fancy aluminum in our signature vehicles.

Driven by draconian federal mpg regulations, the best-selling Ford F-150 is Detroit’s first mass production vehicle with aluminum skin. The lightweight pickup can trace its heritage back to Ford’s ownership of England’s lightweight Jaguar sports cars, which helped pioneer aluminum design over a decade ago. The two companies are no longer married, but they share bonds, explains Kevan Richardson, Jaguar’s program manager for sports cars.

“When Ford came in we got a lot of help with quality, processes, and financial discipline,” says Richardson, a wiry, straight-shooting Brit. “And they have transferred (our aluminum skills) back to their homeland.”

As the 2015 F-150 shows off its radical aluminum panels, Richardson is touring the U.S. with an aluminum F of his own. A taut, aluminum chassis is the backbone for Coventry’s sleekest, fastest cat yet — the snarling, 550 horsepower, 2015 Jaguar F-Type (read my review here). Will we someday see an aluminum-chassis Ford? I sat down with Richardson to talk materials, the nanny state, and the F-Type/F-150 odd couple.

Q: Is the F-Type the first, all-aluminum Jag?

Richardson: No. We started with aluminum in 2001 when we delivered the XJ. Then XK . . . was delivered in 2006, so that was effectively generation two. With F-Type we are on to the next generation.

Q: Was Jaguar the first production brand to use aluminum?

Richardson: No. Audi has had aluminum for a while. But without being disrespectful to them, their techniques are maybe a little backward compares to ours. We are fortunate (because) Coventry has always had a very good heritage in motor manufacturing — in building high speed cars and airplanes that were aluminum.

Q: Was your conversion to all-aluminum cars driven by performance or regulations?

Richardson: It’s kind of chicken and egg. In the 1990s Ford started to buy a lot of Bauxite mines. They were quite visionary about their material choice for the future. We were their premium brand. They decided that we were going to be the proving ground. We learned an awful lot about aluminum’s structural properties: Fuel economy is better, handling is better, the car is more balanced

Q: Was cost a factor?

Richardson: Aluminum is more expensive than steel. Fact. Carbon fiber — much lighter again — is not practical for high volume production. If you want a one-off performance race car, then carbon fiber is your game. But if you want to make high volume then aluminum is probably the best material. We reckon that if the F-Type were steel, that would be (220 more pounds) which is .3 seconds in zero-60. That’s a big deal when everyone wants to be at four seconds.

Q: How does aluminum challenge you?

Richardson: Aluminum is very difficult to work — especially in a shapely car like the F-Type. A truck (is) a good vehicle to make with aluminum, because it’s got big flat surfaces. Working with the F-Type, we’ve had to create a lot of new techniques to create the shape that we need, But with a truck there isn’t a lot of form.

Q: Regulations increasingly pinch what you can do — you can no longer have a leaping Jaguar hood ornament, for example. Could you make an E-Type today with a long nose?

Richardson: No. If you are in the driver’s seat, there’s something called a “vision angle” that says you have to see a certain distance in front of the car from the driver’s seat. In Europe, if you are unfortunate enough to have a collision with a pedestrian, then they have to meet a certain level of head injury criteria. So . . . in our car the bonnet deploys with a couple of actuators which fire the bonnet which creates survival space between the bonnet and the engine so that if (someone’s) head hits the bonnet you have space. The bonnet rolls them away.

Q: You now have aluminum in Jaguars, Corvettes, F-150s. What’s next?

Richardson: The industry is moving to aluminum. In 20 years, I think aluminum will be the choice for every car. It’ll have to be.


Escape and Equinox bring serious pistols to the fight

Posted by hpayne on July 3, 2014

This is the Year of the Compact Crossover. With Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 racking up unit sales rivaling the compact sedan market, even the lux makers want a piece of the action. Everybody’s downsizing from the Lexus NX to the Lincoln MKC to the Porsche Macan. Heck, even, Peterbilt is probably working on one.

Given homo sapiens preference for riding up high — Americans conquered the West on horseback and Conestoga wagon after all — I’m wagering it won’t be long before crossover utility vehicles take over the sedan segment entirely. For sure, before the Lions win a Super Bowl. Heck, even Europeans have adopted this most American of trends, with CUV sales doubling over the last six years. Just this year, Jeep announced it will make its Renegade crossover in Italy and Ford will export the Edge. What’s next? Soccer-crazed Brits turning to baseball?

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and CUVs. And no one understands the Yankee mind better than Honda.

While Detroit led the switch from big cars to big utes, Honda translated its small car success to small crossovers. Debuting an early example of the species back in 1997, the bulletproof, CR-V has led the way — and won class rodeo again in 2013 with more than 300,000 sold. Saddle up, Detroit. Motown is hot on the CR-V’s trail with its own superb crossovers, the Escape and Equinox. Which is better positioned to conquer the West?

Duel at high noon. We put these two pistols back-to-back. Twenty paces, gents.

Thinking outside the box

The CUV separated itself from truck-based SUVs by building on car-inspired, unibody chassis. Now their exterior skins are mimicking sedans as well.

Think outside the box.

Compacts like the Escape, Mazda CX-5, and Kia Sportage lead this wave with raked styling, attractive grilles and curvy hips. Where the Honda CR-V brought Civic-like dependability to the class, the Escape has leap-frogged the Honda in styling. A generation ago, the Escape looked like it was carved from a block of cheese. Now it looks like a Ford Focus on steroids.

From its angular front and rear lights to its full fascia grille (sure to be Aston Martin-ized soon like the rest of Ford’s lineup) to its swept greenhouse, the Escape shows a lot of leg to the passing sedan crowd. Dads who bought the Escape for their soccer moms will find themselves sneaking out to the garage at first light to take it to work instead of their aging (big, boxy ute name here).

The squared-off Equinox is a tidy, attractive interpretation of Chevy’s split-grille, two-box architecture. But next to the Escape it looks a generation behind. Only the muscular wheel wells stir any passion. In the salon chair next to the Equinox is the larger Traverse which has received the full Camaro-inspired, Impala-like extreme makeover. What the Equinox wouldn’t do to get the same stylist.

Surprisingly, the Escape’s sloped greenhouse does not compromise interior room and visibility. Indeed, the Ford’s angular glass carves out room in the D-pillar to improve driver’s rear-corner visibility. The Equinox’s more traditional D-pillar combines with the second-row headrest to make rear visibility difficult. All SUVs, however, suffer from D-pillar blindness. The solution? Blind spot assist on the mirrors. Don’t leave home without it.

Inside, only Sequoias like your 6-foot-5-inch author will notice the slight reduction in rear headroom from the Escape roof while still beating the Equinox in interior room.

Devil in interior details

My neighbor Betsy Walbridge is a stickler for detail. She’s a master chef with a shrewd taste for the right ingredients. She can spot an overcooked entree at 500 paces. And she loves her Escape interior.

Buyers lured by the Escape’s exterior detail will be won over by the high-IQ interior. Ford’s interior design engineers must have hammock-sized circles under their eyes because they sweated every detail. As in the exterior comparison, the Equinox is well-groomed, but just hasn’t spent as much time in front of the mirror as its Dearborn competitor.

May I call your attention to the Escape’s upright center console which is more accessible than the Equinox’s sloped approach. Both screens are high on the dash, necessitating sun shielding. The Escape’s canopy is wonderfully integrated into the interior’s swept design whereas the Chevy visor looks like an aftermarket job.

Ford’s infamous, glitchy SYNC system has been the single best advertisement for the CR-V. The new Escape shows off a much-improved system which, like Chevy’s ubiquitous MyLink system, gives you the world at your fingertips. Nav, radio, blue-tooth phone ...

What’s that, Mrs. Walbridge? Oh, yes, the devil is in the details.

To answer the phone, Ford provides a fingertip-accessed tab aft of the wheel. The Equinox sports a standard thumb button by the steering wheel hub. But if you have my neighbor’s small thumbs it’s a stretch.

More details. Foot-activated rear lift gate, three USB jacks, innovative two-shelf glove box, directional fog lights, fold-flat rear seats. ... Sure the Equinox comes with sliding rear seats, but when the other dude shows up at the front door with flowers — and a box of candy, and tickets to the Tigers game, and a babysitter for your kid sister, which one are you gonna go with?

Performance options

Both CUVs option with all-wheel-drive, which is not only useful for winter’s wrath but for getting out of the post-thaw potholes. For all the Escape’s interior and exterior eye-candy, however, the real difference-maker is hidden under the hood.

Class-leader Honda offers one engine — a 2.4 liter four banger. The Escape offers three: A standard 2.5 liter, a 1.6 liter turbo, and the terrific, 240-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo in the Titanium model that I drove. The Equinox is pro-choice as well — offering a base 2.4 and a 3.6-liter V6. Like Jeep’s racy Cherokee, Chevy is betting the V6 still has premium cachet.

But the Escape turbo is cutting edge: Quiet, no turbo lag, lots of low end grunt. It’s like a V6 but without the appetite. 24 mpg vs. 19 mpg.

They say the smart phone industry is about convergence. Users want a phone with the screen size of a tablet. The automobile has been around for a century, but it seems to be on the same course: Ute-size with car styling. The Ford Escape is that future.

2014 Ford Escape

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger small sport utility vehicle Price: $23,505 base ($35,741 as tested) Power plant: 2.0-liter, dual overhead cam, turbocharged 4-cylinder Power: 240 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed automatic Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car & Driver); 118 mph top speed Weight: 3,769 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway/24 mpg combined Report card Highs: Car-like good looks; high-IQ interior Lows: Rear visibility; Aston Martin grille, please? Overall:★★★★

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140703/AUTO03/307030029#ixzz36RcbPUsS

Cartoon: July 4th Fireworks

Posted by hpayne on July 3, 2014


Cartoon: July 4th Founders

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Cartoon: Supreme Obama

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Cartoon: Obamacare Religion

Posted by hpayne on June 30, 2014


2014 Aston Martin Vantage a supermodel on wheels

Posted by hpayne on June 30, 2014

It’s London weather outside. Driving rain. Puddles the size of Loch Ness. Naturally, the British-made Aston Martin Vantage S is in its element.

On a pylon-choked autocross course in a Troy parking lot, I rapidly toggle the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles — first, second, third — launching 430 unruly horses into the gloom. The 3,500-pound, V8-powered sports coupe romps about like Andre Drummond on a nerf basketball court. The Vantage combines blustery power with cat-quick reflexes to obliterate the tight turns even as its Electronic Stability Control keeps the car’s 11.2 inch-wide rear tires from hydroplaning into the shrubbery.

Moments later, the car’s huge, 15-inch rotors bring it back to earth without drama. Soaked to the bone, the big stallion rests. Even in these torrential conditions, the Vantage is achingly gorgeous. You almost feel like putting the umbrella over the car instead of yourself. The 2014 Vantage may be the runt of the litter — yes, a $117,000 “entry-level” Aston — but it’s every bit as breathtaking as its DB9, Vanquish, and Rapide siblings.

Aston Martin makes the most beautiful cars on the road today. Period.

 A walk through Aston’s Troy showroom is like walking through a Sports Illustrated supermodel shoot. Miss DB9, Miss Vanquish, Miss Rapide. Pardon me for staring. The Vantage is lust on wheels. The sentiment transcends gender. I ask a female News colleague the one car she would kill for. “An Aston Martin,” she replies without hesitation.

Seven deadly sins? They’ve probably all been committed for an Aston. Emotion drives the Aston purchase, because goodness knows there are more capable rides out there.

The forthcoming, musclebound, 650 horsepower Corvette Z06 will kick sand on the Vantage for under $100 grand. Load a nimble Porsche 911 with $100 grand in goodies and it will stomp the Vantage from zero-60 while dancing a minuet on its hood (both the Detroit and Stuttgart products have gone through two full redesign cycles since the Vantage debuted in 2006).

“We won’t always be the quickest,” says Aston Martin of Troy Sales Manager Brian Bucholtz, “but the lines and the beauty and the soul are what make this car.”

That’s not to say this English knight in aluminum armor (and fiber-composite skin) doesn’t swing a mean axe in battle. The Vantage is Aston’s sportiest model — complimented by a massive company investment in road racing. The effort was rewarded with a LeMans 24-Hour GT-class victory this year as the Vantage outlasted competitors from Ferrari and Porsche. On the street, the Vantage’s light, stiff aluminum chassis cradles a mid-ships front engine that gives the car a near perfect 51-49 weight balance. The almost two-ton athlete moves around on a compliant, not-too-harsh suspension, but never feels unstable. Not surprisingly, the Vantage feels a lot like its 550-Horsepower English cousin, the 2015 Jaguar F-Type that I reviewed this week. The Aston’s Gaydon, England home is just over the moor from the Jaguar’s Coventry lair. Both cars share aluminum chassis. Both are powered by throaty V8s. Both offer driver’s seats with the comfort of the English throne — and lots more power at your disposal.

Indeed, the $99,000 F-Type Coupe’s popular debut on the red carpet this year has put some pressure on Aston’s pricing. Where the awesome Vantage Coupe S I drove in Troy begins at $136,700, a new GT offering this fall will start at $102, 725 — a nod to an increasingly crowded field at $100k. (If budget is no object, then the $186,000, 565-horsepower, 205-mph V-12 Vantage is also available.)

Fierce as the engine compartment may be, the driver’s cabin is serene. Stitched black leather wraps the interior. Piano black keys make for a classy console, even if the Aston’s features are sparse compared to competitors. A navigation screen rises form the dash like Excalibur from the proverbial rock.

The Vantage also comes in a Roadster.

Sans roof, the car adds 350 pounds in body stiffening — but the cabin loses none of its serenity. Knifing through the wet autocross course pylons, I gain increasing confidence in the vehicle’s stability control, actually flooring it in third gear while the electronics tidy up the tail. Electronics also help huge, 6-piston front brake calipers bring the leaping lion to a dead stop on four, 19-inch paws. Puddles? What puddles?

Back at rest again, you can’t walk away from a Vantage. I backpedal savoring the sculpted, sleek lines. Some say that when Ford stole the look of Aston’s grille for its Fusion, it cheapened the English brand. Nope. With just 4,200 Astons sold across the globe last year, the allure of its rare beauty is intact.

2014 Aston Martin Vantage

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car Price: $138,700 base (Roadster $155,000 as tested) Power plant: 4.7-liter, dual-overhead cam V-8 Power: 420 horsepower, 346 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Seven-speed SportShift II automatic Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (manufacturer); 180 mph top speed Weight: 3,850 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 14 mpg city/21 mpg highway/16 mpg combined Highs: Lust on wheels; Husky exhaust note Lows: Price tag; Minimal console features Overall:★★★★


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Jaguar roars once more with F-Type Coupe

Posted by hpayne on June 26, 2014

I know, you covet the iconic, ’60s Jaguar E-Type with a majestic hood that starts here and stretches into the next zip code. You fell in love with it when you were a kid and wish that they would make it again.

Well, you can’t have it. Government nannies these days prohibit taffy-stretched hoods under driver vision regulations. Write your congressman.

Meanwhile, you’ll just have to settle for the 2015 F-Type Coupe. Oh, you lucky dog.

This vicious, road-eating, ear-splitting cat is the first true sports car Jaguar has made since the E-Type died in 1974. It is glorious. Its bloodline runs straight back to the C- and D-Types that crossed the English Channel and conquered French LeMans. You thought that the Jaguar had gone the way of the British Empire? A once irrepressible power that you can only read about in history books?

Well, the empire is back — and the pride of England has one of its former colonies to thank. Credit Indian industrial giant Tata with giving Jaguar the means to rule the world stage once more with an armada of high-powered vessels. The irony is delicious, yes, m’lord?

When Ford cast off Jaguar and Land Rover in 2008 (part of its own empire downsizing to return to its core brands), the fading giants were gobbled up by Tata. We snickered at the time. Tata? The maker of tiny Indian econoboxes was going to save Jaguar? Would it run on curry?

We’re not snickering anymore. The colossus of India has poured capital into the English make and given legendary Jaguar designer Ian Cullum and his engineers the freedom to create magic again. The results are the sleek XF and XJ sedans and now the athletic F-Type.

Thank you, India. Just don’t call it a Tata F-Type. This beast roars with an English accent.

“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,” intones English bad boy actor Tom Hiddleston (Loki in “Thor”), quoting Shakespeare in Jaguar’s “It’s good to be bad” ad campaign. The Jaguar lineup is unabashedly nationalistic — waving an English flag that has produced some of the greatest motorcars of all time. This is a proud beast that has recaptured its swagger (though not its leaping Jaguar on the hood — another casualty of the regulatory state. Something about European pedestrian crash rules).

The F-Type replaces the elegant but decidedly domesticated XK cat. The wild F is obsessed with style and power. Especially power. “We have an insatiable appetite for power,” says Hiddleston in Jaguar’s super Super Bowl ad. And where the E-Type was a smooth V12 wrapped in satin, the F-Type is a blunt V8 with all the subtlety of a ship cannon.

Sure, the base F-type starts at $65,000 with a dandy, 340 horsepower, supercharged V6. But the lead ship in this fleet is the 550-horsepower, V8-powered R-Coupe. You’ll know it by the four, cannon-like exhausts at the aft of the ship. Light the F off and you’ll trigger car alarms. For a minute you wonder if the Brits sneaked a Camaro SS engine under the bonnet. Rev it once at idle and you can’t stop. VROOM! VROOM! VROOM! And it gets better once you toggle the eight-speed tranny to “D.”

For maximum effect, select “Sportshift.” See ya’.

Stomp on the gas pedal — WAAAUUUGGGGH! — and the great cat bellows with delight. Under braking the pipes crackle like a July 4 fireworks show. What the F? Is this legal? Don’t you need a permit to make this much bedlam?

This heavy artillery comes courtesy of a direct-injected, Eaton-supercharged power plant that delivers 502 pound-feet of torque at 2500 RPM and just keeps hauling right to its 6500 RPM redline. The big cat is rated at 18 mpg fuel economy — unless you’re a speed maniac like yours truly who locks it in Sportshift mode using the helm-mounted paddles to maintain maximum spinal tap. Then you’ll consume half the North Sea’s oil reserves in an hour.

But that’s the beauty of the F. You don’t need to flog it to enjoy it.

This elegant animal purrs as sweetly as it roars. Toggle the “Eco” switch and the big cat will even go to sleep at stoplights, saving fuel. The interior is as comfortable as the royal box with leather stitching and heaping handfuls of carbon fiber accents. With its growling V8 and plush interior, the Jag seems to own its own niche in a world of 6-cylinder Porsches and expensive Audi R8s and Aston Martins.

Indeed, the F-Type reminded me most of the Corvette C7 with which it shares many attributes despite vastly different bloodlines. The Duke of Coventry, meet the dude from Detroit.

Maybe their customers don’t cross-shop, but they should. Eliza Doolittle has learned a thing or two from Henry Higgins. Consider: Both LED-lamped silhouettes are stunning in the moonlight. Both sport rigid, light-weight aluminum chassis. Both harbor throaty, big block V8s. And both feature comfortable, roomy interiors right down to dual climate controls and dual hand grips for the passenger (when their drivers want to explore the car’s .94 side-g limits). Even the tapered, fighter-jet greenhouses look similar.

But ’Vette will provide you all this for $10 grand less with 95 more horses and better fuel economy.

The two differ dramatically in design, however. The Stingray is knife sharp, the F-Type wave-smooth. The R-Coupe sits catlike on big haunches stuffed with 20-inch, multi-spoke, “Cyclone” wheels. Its sleek, pillar-less roofline is gorgeous — if tough on driver visibility due to massive fore and aft beams. A single, stunning piece of cold-formed, stamped aluminum makes the car’s side-panel. The shark-gilled grille will inevitably be found wanting compared to its E-Type forbear. But it commands respect in the rear-view mirror.

Unleash the beast on track and give thanks for big brakes.

Four-pot front calipers and massive, 15-inch rotors (eyeball-sucking, chest-caving, carbon ceramic discs are ahem, a $12 grand option) are essential to hauling this 186-mph freight train back to earth. Rotate the F into a corner and mind the mass — the R Coupe’s 3,671 pounds will move around. Nevertheless, the aluminum, Boron-riveted chassis is 80 percent more rigid than the breathtaking F-Type convertible that caused a jaw-dropping epidemic when it debuted a year ago.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” wrote Shakespeare. Yes, few will be able to afford the F-Type. But the rest of us can fall in love with a Jag again.

2015 Jaguar F-Type

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car Price: $65,000 base ($103,225 as tested) Power plant: 5.0-liter, direct-injected, supercharged 8-cylinder Power: 550 horsepower, 502 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Eight-speed, “Quickshift” automatic Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.0 seconds (manufacturer); 186 mph top speed Weight: 3,671 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway/18 mpg combined Highs: Cat quick; Comfortable interior with intuitive controls Lows: Impaired driver visibility Overall:★★★★

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140626/AUTO03/306260033#ixzz35rtSxSM6