Henry Payne Blog

Ford’s new battery-powered Mustang Mach-E challenges Tesla

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 19, 2019

Ford's first fully electric SUV, the Mustang Mach-E, premiered Sunday night.

Los Angeles — Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long patterned his company after the Ford Motor Co. If the Model T introduced the 20th century to affordable personal transportation, then Tesla’s similarly named Model 3 is bringing electrification to the 21st.

So it’s only fitting that Ford is introducing a competitor against the Silicon Valley upstart.

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV is Detroit’s most direct answer to Tesla’s pioneering Model 3 electric compact sedan and forthcoming 2021 Model Y crossover twin. By challenging the Model Y from footprint, to performance specs, to online ordering strategy, Ford is daring buyers to compare the two — and then assess whether the Tesla is a match for the Blue Oval’s superior dealer network and manufacturing quality.

The Mustang Mach-E is a testament to how Tesla has disrupted the auto industry. Once regarded as rolling roadblocks piloted by tree-huggers, EVs were reinvented by Tesla as the cool car on the block. With seatback-flattening acceleration, sleek looks and sci-fi technology, Tesla’s $70,000 Model S became one of the world’s most coveted performance sedans. The $40,000 Model 3 expanded the appeal.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford wants a piece of that action.

►MOREFord takes the wraps off the $45,000 Mustang Mach-E electric SUV

►MORE: 10 cool things about the Ford Mustang Mach-E

It’s fair to say this is personal – not just because Bill Ford wants his great-grandfather’s brand to remain relevant in a new century, but because he shares Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s vision: that the planet is in crisis and EVs can help save it.

Approved by Chairman Ford himself, Ford’s new EV is adorned with the company’s most valuable performance badge, Mustang. Spending that name-equity on a battery-powered EV is an acknowledgement that it must have sex appeal.

The Mustang Mach-E closely follows the Tesla game plan.

Cartoon: Whistleblower Hillary

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 16, 2019

The real story behind ‘Ford v Ferrari’

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 15, 2019

The start of the 1966 24 Hour of Le Mans. Having waved the starting flag, Henry Ford II (first suit on the left) hustles across the track while the drivers spring to their cars.

The start of the 1966 24 Hour of Le Mans. Having waved the starting flag, Henry Ford II (first suit on the left) hustles across the track while the drivers spring to their cars. (Photo: Ford)

Track-side at Road Atlanta where Ford’s blindingly quick 2019 GT race car was competing in October, I asked Ford performance chief Mark Rushbrook if his company had contributed to the “Ford v Ferrari” movie that’s opening this weekend.

“We had nothing to do with it,” replied the man who oversees Ford racing. “I hope the Ford still wins.”

I’ve seen the movie and Rushbrook can rest assured that the 1966 GT40 still crosses the line first at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. The movie is not always so historically accurate. Produced by Disney/Fox, it takes broad artistic liberties with the story of Ford’s epic battle with Ferrari in order to create an action-packed, fist-flying, testosterone-fueled Hollywood buddy movie. Good ol’ boy racers Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles (played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale, respectively) win the world’s greatest endurance race in spite of the stuffed suits in Dearborn.

It makes for an entertaining 2½ hours at the theater.

But the real story of Ford’s historic win is just as compelling, even if it can’t be condensed into a 153-minute blockbuster. Ford’s dominance of the 1966 Le Mans under the management of the wise-cracking Shelby not only made racing history — it remade Ford as the performance-car company it is today.

Today the Blue Oval competes across the globe in endurance supercars, NASCAR stock cars, Focus rally cars, even NHRA dragsters. The latest Ford GT is a state-of-the-art carbon-fiber rocket. And Joey Logano took his Team Penske Mustang to last year’s NASCAR title.

So it’s hard to imagine that 60 years ago, Ford didn’t even race.

The company was founded in the early 1900s on Henry Ford’s driving skills — winning races to attract investors. But in the post-World War II era, that racing spirit had been snuffed out. In one of Washington’s regulatory spasms, Congress pressured the Big Three to agree to a “Safety Resolution” swearing off racing as morally irresponsible. The fragile truce unraveled as General Motors secretly poured money into NASCAR racing.

As Pontiac and Chevy dominated NASCAR, sales followed. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Feeding a post-war Boomer generation’s need for speed, GM captured 61% of the market share by March 1962.

Ford CEO Henry “The Deuce” Ford II – at the urging of his ambitious marketing guru Lee Iacocca – exited the Safety Resolution in June 1962. Eight months later, Ford dominated the Daytona 500 and sales soared.

Then Enzo Ferrari came knocking.

Competing not on ovals but on tree-lined road courses, European racing was fast and often fatal. Ferrari drivers dominated the winner circles – and the obituaries – leading to a public outcry. Governments opened investigations into Mr. Ferrari’s enterprise. Once hailed for his automotive genius, Ferrari was scorned as the “Monster of Maranello” (home of Ferrari).

Suddenly Italians awoke to prospect of their national jewel being sold to Americans. The public rallied behind Ferrari and its founder yanked the rug out from under Ford. The unsigned contract that would have created the FeFo Corporation (short for Ferrrari-Ford) sits in Ford’s archives today.

Livid, The Deuce swore to beat Ferrari no matter the cost. In its backyard. At the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans 24, where Ferrari had dominated for a decade.

“It’s a great story because it works on so many levels,” says AJ Baime, author of “Go Like Hell,” the definitive book on the Ford-Ferrari clash. “It’s a great sports rivalry, a great business story about Ford trying to relaunch its brand in Europe, about two huge auto companies facing off.”

“Ford v Ferrari” screenwriters translated this epic battle into a fictional culture clash between the free-spirited Shelby and Miles, and corporate overlord Henry II (played by Tracy Letts).

But the reality was different.

Ford struggled to make its GT40 race car reliable in long races. So the company turned to Shelby and his competition director Miles to lead the team’s assault on Le Mans. The 1960s marked the birth of modern racing where corporate money seeded fledgling racing icons like Shelby, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Mario Andretti and a young competitor named Roger Penske.

“(The movie) does a good job of selling the story,” Shelby’s grandson, Aaron, said at the Shelby Museum in Las Vegas while standing next to the Ford GT40 that Miles drove in ’66. “It will open people’s eyes who have never heard of Shelby.”

Contrary to the movie’s portrayal of Ford as untrusting of the California mod shop, Iacocca had built a healthy relationship with Shelby, providing his Cobra team with Ford engines.

Indeed, Shelby disliked Ferrari as much as The Deuce did. A former Le Mans winner himself in 1959 for Aston Martin, Shelby had seen how Enzo Ferrari pushed his drivers to the ragged limit.

When Ford-powered Shelby Cobras beat Ferrari in the GT-class at Le Mans in 1964 – while Ford’s GT40s struggled against Ferrari in the premiere prototype class – Ford handed the reins to Shelby and his brilliant competition director.

“It’s a remarkable piece of history that a company with unlimited funds wound up relying on these World War II-veteran hot-rodders,” says author Baime.

The pairing thrust Miles – a skilled-but-unknown driver played to the hilt by Bale as a quirky, ornery Brit – into the international limelight where he thrived.

Contrary to the film, Ford did not conspire to keep Miles from driving at Le Mans. Nor did Shelby shame The Deuce by reducing him to a shaking puddle of tears after a tire-smoking test drive. In truth, Ford’s technical resources meshed with Shelby-Miles’ racing instincts. Ford II communicated only one message, hand-scrawled on small cards: “You’d better win.”

Miles piloted the 1966 GT40, stuffed with Ford’s brutish 427-cubic inch NASCAR V-8, at speeds over 220 mph against the sleeker 12-cylinder red Ferraris. He barely missed out as endurance racing’s first triple-crown winner of the Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24-hour due to a late race technical error.

Miles would perish in a crash – like many of his peers – just two months later. But Fords would win Le Mans three more years running, taking Dearborn to the racing summit it still occupies today.

On the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 win in 2016, Rushbrook’s team led Ford to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans’ GT class after an epic duel with a Ferrari 488. The win has helped sell Fords like the Mustang globally, making it the best-selling sports car in the world.

One of the Mustang’s trims is called the Shelby GT350 in honor of the race shop that built Ford’s reputation.

Cartoon: Gore Record Cold

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 15, 2019

Payne: The racy Honda Civic Si just wants to have fun

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 15, 2019

The 2020 Honda Civic Si lacks the high-revving, screaming i-VTEC engine of previous generation Sis — but its taut chassis makes it the best handling Si ever.

The 2020 Honda Civic Si lacks the high-revving, screaming i-VTEC engine of previous generation Sis — but its taut chassis makes it the best handling Si ever. (Photo: Wes Allison, Honda)

They say the transportation future is autonomous. That’s hard to believe as long as there are cars like the 2020 Honda Civic Si.

At just $25,000 the athletic, tech-tastic Si is a gateway drug for young auto enthusiasts.

One fling through Hell, Michigan’s twisty roads and you’ll be intrigued. A day at a parking lot autocross and you’ll be in love. A race-circuit track day and you’ll become a soapbox evangelist for the joys of the stick shift.

I’ve been in the bag for the Civic Si since I bought a 2006 coupe with an i-VTEC engine that revved to 8,250 rpms. The four-banger let out a full-throated wail over 5,600 rpms that would wake the dead. My two 20-something sons learned to drive on a track in that car and they, too, are hopeless auto addicts.

The glorious 2.0-liter, 197-horse VTEC is no more, a victim of the nanny state and its emissions agenda. But the 2020 Civic Si is a worthy successor to my 2006 hellion.

Only Honda engineers know what an evolution of my screaming i-VTEC would be capable of today (210 horses? 220?) But the smaller 1.5-liter turbo hamster wheel that debuted two years ago is a remarkable machine that puts out 205 horsepower.

Henry Payne tests the 2020 Honda Civic Si at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Where the VTEC had to be rowed hard above 6-grand to find its torque band, the turbo has grunt aplenty at 3,000 rpms. Turbo lag is minimal off corners, and by the time the hamsters get to 6,000 they are out of breath. Gone is the glorious music of that 8,000-rpm i-VTEC — but, hey, U2’s days of writing epic Irish anthems like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are behind it as well.

Yet they’re still writing hits. So is the Civic Si.

The joy of this car is the Nürburgring-tested chassis, a remarkable tool in a $25,000 car. I marvel at the sophistication of mainstream vehicles compared to their luxury betters — the $35,000 Ford Mustang HiPo that imitates a BMW 3-series, the $40,000 Kia Telluride that looks like a $70,000 Audi Q7. So, too, the Civic Si.

Underneath the racy boy-toy styling of the Si — I swear the initial design drawings were rendered in crayon — is a remarkably mature front-wheel drive package with limited-slip differential, magnetic shocks, electronic steering and the best manual shifter this side of a Porsche.

I flung the Si through the writhing esses of Circuit of the Americas race track in Texas, expecting the front-drive car to push like an offensive tackle on a corner sweep. But my red athlete rotated with remarkable ease and encouraged more throttle. Though not nearly as athletic as the asphalt-sucking $90,000 Mustang GT500 I tested two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Si was no less fun to drive through the twisties. Its chassis stayed glued to apexes, brakes biting hard lap after lap.

Brakes have been the bane of my existence in my $57,000, rear-wheel-drive Tesla Model 3. They overheat after just two hard laps on track, smoking and smelling like a bonfire. Yet, with only a performance pad upgrade (same as my Tesla), the brakes on my $25,000 Civic never flinched around the demanding 3.5-mile COTA course.

Honda Performance Development president (and accomplished driver) Ted Klaus tried to explain this to me. Let’s just say it’s magic.

Even as I wrung its neck, the Si treated me with hospitality. The bolstered cloth seats (red-accented for the updated 2020 model) are so good I never gave them a thought until now, and the notchy six-speed is intuitively positioned for quick shifts. I flogged both sedan and coupe versions (giraffes like me will prefer the sedan, as it’s easier on the neck, but the rear seat is easy on long legs.

What makes the Si so worthwhile is how — when you’re done dancing with it — it is quite willing to be a progressive daily driver.

Standard on the Si is Honda Sensing (even standard on the entry-level, $20,680 Civic), the brand’s radar-enhanced safety suite that includes self-driving features like adaptive cruise-control and automatic emergency-braking. Civic’s adaptive cruise-control allows easy highway cruising or an extra security blanket in stop-and-go traffic. I can even attest the emergency braking works, thanks to some rapid closing maneuvers under braking at COTA.

The competition in the compact segment is relentless, however, and the Civic’s interior feels dated compared to spiffy new entries like the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda 3. Despite a nifty digital tach, Honda’s graphics are small and steering controls plasticky. With a major Civic update looming in 2021, expect upgrades.

What is not lacking is Honda’s signature passenger-friendly interior. No one does consoles like Honda. Big-brother Pilot SUV has the best center console in ute-dom and the Civic makes a case for best compact car console.

An infotainment tablet sits high on the dash for easy viewing, which in turn opens up storage below for keys, French fry boxes and Apple CarPlay connectivity. A deep, versatile center console features sliding cupholders.

As regular readers know, I’m a hatchback fan, and the Si comes only in coupe and sedan flavors. The trunk space is ample, but I prefer Civic Sport and Type-R hatchback variants for better cargo access. With sporty hatch competitors out there like Mazda 3 and Golf GTI, the Si will lose some customers willing to pay for their convenience.

But with its racy styling, glued handling and standard features, the Si is a peerless $25,000 performance value.

While Detroit makers have abandoned small cars, Si and company offer new buyers an entrée to driving fun. To lure shoppers, the 2020 model is distinguished by its body-colored eyeliners under the new LED headlights — and wicked, black wheels that contrast with a Skittle bag full of flavors from Rallye Red to Crystal Black Pearl to my favorite, Tonic Yellow Pearl.

Speaking of value, Si can also be had as a $52,000, slick-tire shod, roll-caged SCCA racer when you want to taste even more g-loads on track. That’s what gateway drugs lead to.

Autonomous car future? I think it just got pushed back another generation.

2020 Honda Civic Si

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

Price: Base $25,930, including $930 destination charge

Powerplant: Turbocharged, 1.5-liter inline-4 cylinder

Power: 205 horsepower, 192 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 137 mph

Weight: 2,889 pounds (coupe); 2,906 (sedan)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 26 city/36 highway/30 combined

Report card

Highs: A blast to drive on track or off; versatile console

Lows: Interior style lags competitors; lacks hatchback utility

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Schiff Rules Impeachment

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 11, 2019

Cartoon: 30th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 11, 2019

Cartoon: Bloomberg for President

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

Cartoon: Trump and Suburban Women

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

Payne: Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride twins battle for best 3-row SUV

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade cuts a noble figure at Stratford Hall in Virginia.

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade cuts a noble figure at Stratford Hall in Virginia. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

The year’s most anticipated bargain is the 2020 Corvette C8, a $60,000 mid-engine supercar offering the same performance thrills of European sports cars costing four times as much.

But on a more utilitarian front, the three-row Korean twins — the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride — are just as remarkable.

Introduced, respectively, at the 2018 Los Angeles and 2019 Detroit auto shows, the Palisade and Telluride wowed with good looks and high-tech interiors. But as these vehicles have come to market, the automotive world is realizing they offer game-changing value.

Both feature luxury styling, that — when paired with their standard content — should make anyone question why they are paying tens of thousands more for a three-row luxury sport-utility.

“What’s the most impressive three-row SUV you have driven this year?” a group of successful female entrepreneurs asked me at a social gathering this summer.

“The Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride,” I responded.

They were horrified, having expected the answer to be a Range Rover or Volvo XC90 or Audi Q7 — vehicles they aspired to as successful business people.

“Not a Kia. And how dare they use the name ‘Telluride’?” scoffed one.

I get it. Brand matters.

But even judged by their mainstream peers, the Telluride and Palisade are extraordinary luxury bargains. Compared to class-leading, comparably equipped Toyota Highlander, a feature-rich $43,000 Hyundai Palisade SEL is $4,000 cheaper. And compared to a comparably equipped Ford Explorer? The Hyundai is $8,000 cheaper.

I tested a Kia Telluride earlier this year, so let me catch you up on the Hyundai Palisade first. I’ve put a lot of miles on it in Metro Detroit and on a long-distance trip through Virginia.

I parked it at an Oakland County shopping center next to a Cadillac XT5 SUV. Both Koreans have cribbed heavily from Cadillac’s vertical design style. Except for its badge, the Palisade looks like a luxury ride. It has gorgeous LED headlight piping. More taillight LED piping out back. Chrome-lined grille. Big, beautiful, 20-inch wheels. P-A-L-I-S-A-D-E spelled out across the tailgate.

The content list included everything under the sun: all-wheel drive, leather, drive modes including 4×4 lock for off-roading, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise-control, automatic headlights, back-up assist, rear-view camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sun roof.

How much would you pay for this? In a Toyota Highlander, the Limited Platinum trim will cost you $47,000. The Ford Explorer Limited costs $50,000. The loaded Hyundai Palisade SEL only asks $43,155 of your wallet.

This is no Dollar Store special like the Hyundai sedans I saw at the Detroit auto show in 2000. The interior is not only luxurious but meticulously rendered with fine materials and clever details like USB ports for second-row passengers embedded in the front seat-backs.

Out of the instrument panel a pane of glass extends across the Palisade’s dash, enveloping the infotainment touchscreen like — well, a Mercedes. On the touchscreen, I tap Talk Mode. A speaker allows conversation with third-row urchins back there. Clever.

The huge center console under the touchscreen houses redundant control buttons and a fancy, electronic button-shifter fashionable these days on everything from Corvettes to Hondas. You get used to it — and it opens acres of space (more on that later).

A student of ergonomics, the Palisade borrows a sliding center-console door from the the Honda Pilot. Hyundai’s solution is not as big (a purse won’t fit in there) but it will hold your fast-food meal — and your purse can go in the big cubby underneath the console. Slide the door over the console and (Pilot-like) its raised ridges will keep your cellphone — or anything else you place there — from sliding off.

That’s right. For $43,000.

In back of the front leather thrones of the Hyundai Palisade are two more rows of leather-wrapped luxury. Access to the third row is as simple as pressing a button on top of the second-row seat, and — VROOOOMP! — the seat slides forward (another page from the Pilot’s book).

Stash the kiddies in the third row and they’ll be snug as a bug in a rug. They get USB ports, cupholders and reclining capability just like they were in Dad’s living room chair. They’ll miss only the Highlander’s two-pane panoramic sunroof versus the Hyundai’s mere sunroof.

The best buys in class, the Korean twins’ closest competition is one another.

The Kia Telluride’s tidy Cadillac-meets-Range Rover exterior design gives it a leg up on its Hyundai sibling. It consistently turns my head on road — a tribute to a Kia design team that has been hitting home runs from the wee Sportage ute to the sexy Stinger muscle car.

To compare the two, I stepped up to the fully tricked-out $47,605 Hyundai Palisade Limited and $48,100 Kia Telluride SX (comparable competitors were well over $50,000) and drove them for a week.

The Palisade Limited gains a luxe-like 12.3-inch digital instrument display (the Telluride SX sticks to analog gauges). Both Koreans get neat tricks like head-up displays and cameras under the mirrors to give drivers one more look at their blind spots (in addition to mirror-based blind-spot monitoring) before changing lanes. The Palisade’s bigger digital panel allows for even better viewing with this feature.

Interior technology like voice commands are premium-class good. The Palisade’s console is beautifully thought out, rivaling a Ram 1500 pickup for space and convenience. The Telluride’s upright shifter matches Kia’s sporty image, but the Palisade’s button-shifter opens up lots more storage space like that sliding console drawer.

Waiting in a three-hour Virginia traffic delay (caused by an 18-wheeler accident on a two-lane bridge), I made the Palisade my office. I plugged my laptop into the 12-volt rear console plug and charged my phone in a USB port. I munched on a box of Chick-fil-A nuggets in the console drawer next to two cups.

The Koreans both use a 3.8-liter, 291-horse V-6, which is just right for this three-row class: excellent low-end torque mated to a smooth shifting, 8-speed box.

If you have a need for speed in this class, then the raucous 400-horse, $59,000 Ford Explorer ST is unique. But the bargain Palisade or Telluride look like premium utes from a class above — for $30,000 less.

That’s $30,000 can put toward your bargain Corvette C8.

2020 Hyundai Palisade

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

Price: Base price $32,595, including $1,045 destination charge ($43,155 SEL and $47,505 Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,387 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 19 city/24 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: Luxurious interior, versatile console

Lows: Polarizing face; trigger shifter has learning curve

Overall: 4 stars

2020 Kia Telluride

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

Price: Base price $32,735, including $1,045 destination charge ($48,100 SX as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,255 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 19 city/24 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: Knockout exterior, three-row ease of use

Lows: Less versatile console and a few dollars more than the Palisade

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: First drive, mid-engine Corvette lives up to hype

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2019

The 2020 Chevy Corvette C8 is the iconic badge's first mid-engine layout. Handling and traction benefit mightily from the new architecture.

Ann Arbor – The book on the Chevy Corvette has long been that it’s the poor man’s supercar. Accept compromises in handling and interior comfort and you can afford a Ferrari-like performance machine for under $100,000.

Throw out the book.

I have driven the all-new, 2020, mid-engine Corvette C8 for the first time, and it is a supercar without compromise. These are early days as the C8 comes to market, but the C8 holds the promise of a supercar paradigm shift: affordable, Porsche Cayman-like handling with the raw power of exotics costing four times as much.

The world’s elite auto car makers should be very afraid.

I will be able to give more detailed critique early next year after a more extensive on- road/on-track test, but on first impression at the North American Car of the Year jury test over twisty Ann Arbor roads and Interstate 94, the car is fundamentally sound from the inside out.

“This is a Cayman with cargo room,” I told chief engineer Ed Piatek a couple of days later in Road Atlanta where Chevy introduced the C8.R race car model.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” smiled Piatek. Please do. The Cayman is the best-handling production sports car I’ve driven.

Since we first learned of a mid-engine Corvette in the works, expectations soared. Could it marry the brute force of a small-block Chevy V-8 with the nimbleness of a Cayman? Could Chevy render a pleasing, mid-engine design? Would there be any money left for a livable interior? Yes, yes, and yes.

Start with the handling. I have raced mid-engine, Porsche and Lola sports cars all my adult life. From Le Mans prototypes to Indy Car, the world’s fastest cars are mid-engine. It’s why Corvette’s Pratt & Miller race team has craved a mid-engine vessel to go up against the likes of Ferrari and Porsche that also locate the engine aft of driver.

Let Corvette race driver Tommy Milner explain. “The driver is more centrally located in the car, so we get immediate feedback from understeer or oversteer,” he said in introducing the race car version in Road Atlanta last weekend. “The car rotates around the driver.”

I felt it on the first tight, 90-degree corner on Washtenaw County’s Huron River Road. With the engine behind me, the lighter front end instantly rotated to the corner apex — the rear following like the tail of a dart.

Walking around a naked, cutaway chassis of the C8 at Road Atlanta, chassis engineer Ed Moss explained that the precise handling is much more than just putting the 6.2-liter V-8 behind the driver. Like the C7, the C8 is built around a stiff central spine to allow for easier driver egress (carbon-fiber tub cars like Lambos use tall, wide side sills for stiffness, but are a nightmare to crawl over). But unlike C7, C8 uses 20 — count ‘em, 20 — aluminum castings to complement that spine where C7 had but 4.

For the first time, the mid-engine car uses coil-over springs and shocks for state-of-the-art suspension like European supercars (previous-gen Corvettes used cost-saving, composite “leaf” springs).

Supercar tech, Corvette price. The 3,600-pound Corvette will never be as maneuverable as the lighter, 3,100-pound Cayman. But, then, the C8 has Lambo-like power that the wee Porsche can only dream of.

And it puts it down effortlessly. I experienced auto launch control in a Cayman three years ago. Bury the left brake foot. Bury the right throttle foot. Let revs stabilize at 3500 RPM. Release brake.

FOOM! Cayman shot forward like a rocket. Just like a McLaren 720S. Just like a Lamborghini Huracán. Just like the Corvette C8.

I did multiple launch control starts in the new ‘Vette (starts at $64,995 with Z51 performance package) on unpopulated Michigan country roads. Stable. Blindingly fast. Motor Trend clocked the C8 at a staggering 2.8 seconds — the same as the $288,000, 710-horse McLaren 720S I tested last year .

Credit the engine weight over the rear wheels providing inherently better traction. And a Porsche-like, dual-clutch auto transmission.

Try that in a front engine C7 and hold on for dear life. With the engine in front, the rear tires hunt for traction, squirming nervously.

“It’s having less weight on the front axle, sitting closer to the front axle and having all the weight on the rear. It helps you with standing starts, helps you coming out of a corner,” said Corvette program chief Tadge Juechter when I first saw the car at the Warren design dome in July.

Motorheads like me can babble on about C8 handling dynamics until sundown, but the interior is the real revelation. The Corvette is nicer inside than a $300k Lambo or a McLaren. The standard car is roomy, techy, and coated in leather.

I’m a big fella’ at 6’5” and was sedan comfortable. Curiously, for a big sports car meant for long-distance driving as well as track days, the C8 lacks adaptive cruise control.

Otherwise, the driver-centric cockpit is state-of the-art — an amalgam of the best supercars in the world. The digital dash reminds of McLaren with its configurable drive modes (I like Track Mode and its racing tachometer). A Formula One-like square steering wheel allows unobstructed instrument visibility. The console — “beach-front real estate” as engineer Piatek likes to call it —  is a masterpiece of space management. Chevy’s excellent touchscreen infotainment is within easy reach.

Then Corvette pairs an efficient, Acura-like “trigger” shifter with the Drive Mode dial for easy operation. Corvette faithful may struggle to learn the trigger at first (I use a three-finger approach), but once mastered it’s intuitive.

Only a central sleeve of buttons interrupts this digital vibe. The concept is taken straight out of the last-gen Porsche 911 and allows for easy climate control.

Corvette designer Kirk Bennion and his team have wrapped this technical tour de force in a mid-engine shell that is nicely portioned  — and looks wicked on the road.

Even some of my most jaded Car of the Year jury peers allowed how it looked better than the Audi R8 or Acura NSX —  cars costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

Details have been sweated over right down to the, er, smell. Climb into the ol’ C7 and you got a nostril-full of the polymers used to make the dash and interior inserts. It smelled like a poor man’s supercar. For the C8, the engineers “pre-baked” the materials to eliminate odors.

I got an hour in the C8 this time. Stay tuned for much more. Corvette is just getting started.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger sports car

Price: Base price $59,995 including $1095 destination charge ($88,895 with Z51 package as tested)

Powerplant: 6.2-liter V-8

Power: 495 horsepower, 470 pound-feet of torque (with $5000 Z51 performance package)

Transmission: 8-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.8 seconds (Motor Trend); top speed, 194 mph

Weight: 3,600 (est.)

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Good interior ergonomics; intuitive handling

Lows: No adaptive cruise control; Trigger transmission takes getting used to

Overall: 4 stars (out of 4)

 

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Payne: Mustang GT500 is the baddest, best pony car ever

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 31, 2019

Since it hit the showrooms, the sixth-generation Mustang has topped the Camaro everywhere but on the track. Media comparisons have consistently given the Chevy the handling nod. Ford got so sick of hearing about its rival’s track superiority that it went and made a Corvette-inspired Terminator.

The 2020 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 is a front-engine Corvette in drag.

It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen from the Blue Oval’s pony car stable. Forget the GT500s of old — they were crude, solid rear-axle, straight-line hammers. This Mustang is more supercar than muscle car. Nostalgic for the front-engine Corvette now that the mid-engine weapon has dawned? Take a look at the GT500. Like the supreme 755-horse Stingray ZR1, the GT500 supercharges its V-8 to a mind-blowing 760 horsepower.

For road-sucking downforce, it’s available with a ZR1-like track package that includes a huge carbon-fiber rear wing and front splitter and wicker. It has Recaro seats, magnetic shocks, launch control, electronic rear-differential and a quiet mode for long road trips. Tires? Fat Michelin Pilot Sport 4S or near-slick Pilot Cup 2 that stick like glue. Heck, the GT500 even reached into the mid-engine C8’s toolbox and mated its supercharged tornado to a lightning-fast, dual-clutch seven-speed transmission from Tremec.

The 650-horse Camaro ZL1 and winged ZL1 1LE is Camaro’s top-of-the-line. The GT500 is its match, plus 100 horsepower.

The Mustang is a relentless, apex-carving cyborg on track. Despite its heavy V-8 up front, it defied the law of physics (or more precisely, mastered them) around Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 2.4-mile Outfield Road Course. Thundering through the tricky high-speed “bus-stop chicane,” I overcooked the entry and braced to bounce over the next apex curb. Nope.

A quick flick of the steering wheel, and the GT500 stayed on course. It’s a 4,000-pound rhino in tennis shoes.

“That’s the 550 pound-feet of downforce working,” Ford racing driver Billy Johnson told me later. Johnson — who knows a thing or two about supercars, having piloted the mid-engine GT at Le Mans the last four years — was deeply involved with GT500 development long before it debuted at this year’s Detroit auto show.

This is a muscle car with degrees in aerodynamics, materials and mechanical engineering. If Tony Stark hadn’t invented Iron Man, he would have flown around in a GT500.

Drive the Shelby hard on public roads and it’s a T. rex on wheels. Put your boot in it and the familiar overhead-cam, 5.2-liter Mustang V-8 gurgle turns into a bellow. Add a touch of supercharger whine and it’ll send goosebumps up your spine.

Thundering around corners through Red Rock Canyon Park in my Twister Orange tester, I could see the necks of road-side tourists already turned in my direction — What in Moses is THAT? I didn’t keep my foot in it for long for fear of attracting every cop in the southwest.

If you want to have fun on public roads, ignore the GT500 and buy the nimble, turbo-4-powered Mustang High Performance Pack I reviewed last month. Its 332 horses are plenty for the street. Affordably aimed at the Camaro V-6, it’s entry-level performance for the enthusiast.

Not that anyone with $71,395 in the bank account will listen to me.

The GT500 will be coveted by the Woodward cruiser crowd. It has serious road presence. Its huge front jaws can swallow Toyota Priuses whole. The fascia is a sci-fi work of art; even the headlights remind  one of Hollywood’s Terminator. Heat exchangers stuff every crevice to feed the nuclear reactor inside. The GT500 eschews adaptive cruise-control because there’s simply no room in the grille for radar.

Option the GT500 with signature Shelby stripes (white or black) for added effect. The standard version comes with eight-way leather seats, digital instrument display with configurable drive modes, lap timer, lowered stance and multiple exhaust modes.

But so does the GT500’s little brother Shelby GT350. Indeed, the 526-horse GT350 was designed by Ford Performance chief troublemaker Carl Widmann and his merry band of engineers as the driver’s car of the pair. The GT350 is more raw, more viscerally engaging.

Available in manual only, you can row the GT350’s normally aspirated, flat-plane crank (just like a Ferrari!) V-8 to a goosebump-inducing 8,250 rpms. Downshift into turns and it’ll produce more tailpipe flatulence than Shrek. If you want to swagger around town and shred the occasional rural road, buy the GT350 for $10,000 less.

But if you want to know what a front-engine muscle car is capable of on track, the GT500 is your weapon.

Howling down Las Vegas Speedway’s front straightaway — the dual-clutch tranny firing off millisecond shifts — I thought the Shelby might join the F-16s taking off from nearby Nellis Air Force Base in flight.

But stomp on the Brobdingnagian Brembo brakes — with red calipers the size of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet gripping massive 16.5-inch rotors — and the striped rocket is brought immediately back to Earth. Brake fade was non-existent.

Then this otherworldly cyborg really showed off its skills.

The Tremec downshifted rapidly — WHAP! WHAP! — as I rotated into the corner with trail-brake oversteer. A manual GT350 can’t pull this off with nearly the precision.

Suddenly on top of the apex, the GT500 was surprisingly neutral despite all that extra plumbing up front. Then another surprise: the GT500 wanted me to use all 760 horses on exit. With every successive lap I fed the beast more throttle without any alarm from the Michelins. Try this in a Dodge Hellcat and it’ll turn your hair white.

Unleashed again, the V-8 roared, the landscape rushing by at warp speed. It doesn’t make the same high-rev music as the GT350, but it’s still a glorious sound. I never turned on the radio in a day of driving. We spent the afternoon doing 11-second quarter-mile launch-control hole shots down Vegas’ dragstrip.

It doesn’t come cheap. Equipped with the $18,500 track package, racing stripes and bolstered Recaros to keep you upright under high G-loads, my tester cost an eye-watering $94,385.

The Ford Mustang shoulders a lot of responsibility these days. It must not only beat the Camaro and Challenger in the muscle car race, it must also carry the Blue Oval’s electric car aspirations with a Tesla-fighting Mach E performance ute coming next year.

Being top dog in the former assists with the latter. Thus the 2020 GT500, the best Mustang ever.

20202 Ford Mustang GT500

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger sports coupe

Price: Base price $71,395, including $1,095 destination charge ($94,385 as tested)

Powerplant: 5.2-liter, supercharged V-8

Power: 760 horsepower, 625 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.3 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 180 mph (governed)

Weight: 4,171 pounds (about 4,080 with carbon-fiber track package)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 12 city/18 highway/14 combined

Report card

Highs: Intimidating styling; track hero

Lows: Will land you in jail if driven hard on public roads; gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

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Payne: Toyota Corolla Hatchback is wallflower no more

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 31, 2019

The 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is a sporty beast with a new chassis, independent rear suspension and tidy handling. You might be tempted to take it on the Pittsburgh International Raceway, seen in background.

Waiting at the Pittsburgh airport arrivals curb to pick up my son for a race weekend at Pittsburgh International Raceway, I was approached by one of the fiercest cops I have ever seen. Built like Mt. Rushmore and just as tall, he bristled with more weaponry than an Army battalion. Double-barrel shotgun, twin hip holsters, a billy stick.

Good lord, what had I done?

“Is that the new Corolla?” he thrilled like a kid on Christmas morning, ogling the 2019 Toyota hatchback tester I had driven from Detroit. Phew, he just wanted to talk cars.

Yes, yes. I know what you’re thinking. He wanted to talk about Corollas? But Toyota’s seventh generation is not your typical Corolla appliance.

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda has let it be known that he wants his Toyota and Lexus brands to have more curb appeal, and nothing is immune — not even his entry-level egg beater. For decades Corolla has been a perennial best-seller in the class thanks to its bulletproof value equation. Pick up a Corolla in the appliance aisle and it will run forever — as reliable as a collie and never asking anything in return save the occasional fill-up at the pump. Corolla’s reliability has won over generations of buyers.

But it has never made anyone’s heart beat faster. Until now.

I remember one of my first comparison tests as a Detroit News reviewer featuring Chevy’s now-defunct Cruze. GM was eager to show it off against the class competition — the sexy Mazda 3, sporty Ford Focus, nimble VW Golf. And, oh yes, Corolla.

The Corolla was the dog of the stable. Homely, with uninspired styling inside and out, it was the acknowledged value leader — but that didn’t mean you wanted to drive it.

“It’s a comparison test, so I guess we have to include the class best-seller,” groaned the assembled media. Zipping around GM’s Milford test track, the Corolla leaned this way and that, its torsion beam rear suspension catapulting my head into the roof over bumps like a trampoline.

With the new Corolla, Toyota is rewarding its generations of loyal subjects with a snazzy hatchback XSE they can finally enjoy for driving as much as it’ll save them in the wallet. My new cop friend was not the only admirer on my Pennsylvania round trip. More than a couple cars shadowed me on the Ohio Turnpike.

At the race track, a longtime Corolla owner strolled by. “Can I sit in it?” he asked.

There’s a lot to drink in for generations of starved Corolla owners.

Begin with the racy grille anchored by the Toyota logo. The lights sweep toward the fenders like winglets, while the whale-like grille below could swallow an ocean of krill. The lines roll backward across a raked windshield to an aggressively sloped rear window that gives Corolla the appearance of speed even when it is standing still. The look is capped off by a dramatic roof aerofoil.

My test package was wrapped in a dramatic “Blue Flame” wardrobe that reminded me of the BMW Z4 toy I recently tested — or the Skittle row of bright blue, green, yellow and red Dodge Challengers you’ll see lined up at the Dream Cruise. Yes, this new Corolla wants to be noticed.

Inside, Corolla’s once bland furniture has been transformed into an electronic wonderland, with a fully digital tachometer and table console screen. Sure, the electronics often over-nanny you (a Toyota family trait), but tech is a good thing and Corolla is even updated with Apple CarPlay, which Toyota has long resisted.

Riding shotgun, Mrs. Payne instantly configured Apple CarPlay for crisp directions on our multi-state journey. The rest of the console is less clever — storage space, for example, is awkwardly shoved deep under the console buttons — but this is also the result of dramatic lines that envelope the stick shift.

Stick shift, Payne?

Yes, the new Corolla hatch even courts the few, the proud motorheads who want to row the box — my speed-addled, 20-something sons included — the target demo of this $25K value pack. The six-speed tranny even offers adaptive cruise control — rare in a stick.

Under the cane, the manual is nicely calibrated for precise shifts — and it is mated to a chassis that wants to play.

Throw the Corolla into a cloverleaf and its stiff, new Global Architecture (which also undergirds the much-improved Camry) begs for more throttle. You want more, and that is where the 168-horse Corolla comes up short.

For while the 2019 Corolla is the best ever, it must compete in a ferociously competitive class that has not stood still while Toyota baked its tasty new muffin.

There are hatchbacks galore in this segment, and they are all nice bargains with a little more character than the Corolla. There’s Corolla’s chief rival, the Honda Civic, which loads the segment with more model flavors than Baskin-Robbins. There’s the Sport hatch (in manual, natch), and the Si coupe, and for the really ambitious, the brawling Type R.

With more rear-seat room and a peppier 1.5-liter turbo mill, the Civic is Corolla’s value mach. As is the Subaru Impreza hatchback. While its all-wheel-drive is available at the same price as Corolla and standard features galore, the ‘Ru is affordable utility that can climb Everest in winter.

And then there are my class favorites, the athletic Mazda 3 hatchback and VW Golf.

Their neat, conservative stylings are attractive and timeless. And they will run circles around the Corolla. The Mazda boasts 18 more horsepower from its 2.5-liter four, while the Golf’s turbo 1.4-liter pumps out a stump-pulling 184 pound-feet of torque.

Eschewing Corolla’s sculpted rear window for squared-off utility, the Golf’s rear hatch will swallow three more cubic feet of cargo — a difference my family noticed in our back-and-forth forays to the airport/hotel and track where the Corolla’s angled rear window made multiple bag storage a challenge.

With a used market full of 228 horsepower Golf GTIs, my sons figured they would go that route for a new Corolla price, but with much more room and raciness to show for it.

That said, it’s good to see Corolla in the game. For the first time in memory, Corolla is a car that turns heads. Makes the heart beat faster. Begs to be driven.

Just ask the smiling cop approaching you at the airport.

2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

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

Price: Base price $21,220, including $930 destination charge ($25,686 XSE as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0nlin-liter ie-4 cylinder

Power: 168 horsepower, 151 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.2 seconds (Motor Trend); top speed, 114 mph

Weight: 3,000 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 32 city/42 highway/36 combined

Report card

Highs: Modern interior; fun to drive

Lows: Engine lacks kick; cramped rear cargo

Overall: 3 stars

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