Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Mars Water

Posted by hpayne on October 6, 2015


Cartoon: UAW Rejects contract

Posted by hpayne on October 6, 2015


Cartoon: EPA and VW

Posted by hpayne on October 5, 2015


CARtoon: Tesla P90D

Posted by hpayne on October 5, 2015


Payne Q&Auto: EV-pioneer Farah talks Volt 2.0

Posted by hpayne on October 5, 2015

Andrew-Farah If the classic, 1970s Chevrolet TV ad were recast for the 21st century, it might go like this: “Baseball, berries, crunchy granola, and Chevrolet Volt.” So pervasive is the stereotype of Chevy’s green plug-in that the “Father of the Volt” himself, Bob Lutz, once joked to Stephen Colbert that it would attract “a lot of very nice, no-makeup, environmentalist women.'' “A little crunchier,” joined in Colbert. Yet, the “Government Motors” car once derided by Republican candidate Herman Cainas “Obama’s baby” is hardly the product of sandal-wearing, anti-car hippies. Indeed, Lutz and Chief Engineer Andrew Farah are unabashed motor heads who cut their teeth on fast cars and fossil fuels. As its founding fathers suggest, the peppy, high-tech Volt is more than meets the eye. Four years after the electric vehicle’s launch, the tire-smoking, MIG-flying Lutz has moved on, but the formidable Farah remains. Their off-spring has evolved from apolitically-charged “moon shot” to a second-generation Chevy mainstay. If Corvette is a supercar for the masses, then the 2016 Volt is an EV for the average buyer. It is the pinnacle of the 55-year-old Farah’s career as one of the nation’s foremost EV innovators — a logical marriage of his U-of-M-honed computer engineering degree and his childhood passion for tinkering with go-karts. I sat down with the 30-year GM veteran at Volt 2.0’s launch in Sausalito, California, to talk electrics, EV-1, and farms. Q: What was your first car? Farah: 1976 Chevrolet Blazer K5, four-wheel-drive with a 400-cubic inch small block and a 400 Turbo-Hydromatic 3-speed transmission and a two-speed gear case. Q: Spoken like a true motor-head. Farah: Well, I took it apart a number of times to fix ... my own damage. I really enjoy cars. As a kid I had a number of go-karts, snowmobiles, motorcycles. I had the greatest advantage: My grandmother had a farm (Ed. note: in Davidson, Michigan). And on a farm you have a lot of space and everything needs fixing. Q: Did you want to be an engineer when you went to University of Michigan? Farah: When I first got to college I was a physics major. Then I figured out that getting a job might be a little difficult so I went to my next favorite thing which was ... computer programming. So I’m actually a computer engineer by training, and my masters is in electrical science for the application of computers — specifically embedded systems like microcontrollers and engines, transmissions, batteries. I used to hate the question: “Hey, I want a computer — which one should I buy?” And I’d say: “What are you going to do with it?” “I don’t know.” I’d say: “Don’t buy one.” This was all before networking. What has really cracked that market open is the getting and sharing of data — specially embedded systems like the ability to network in the car which has opened up great, new possibilities. So I am really doing what I set out to do. Q: The first-generation Volt introduced an advanced computer-driven powertrain, but now you are the intersection for other digital applications like 4G WiFi and Apple CarPlay. Farah: A pipeline to the car. It’s like I said, PCs were nothing until you had connectivity to other PCs. Now that the car can share data with X, it’s going to open up some additional things I’m sure. Q: Before Volt you worked on the ill-fated EV1? Farah: EV-1 was a great car for what it was. It was a two-seater, had limited range, was a bit eclectic looking, and people either loved it or hated it. The first generation Volt had a sort of moon shot mentality: We’re going to take everything we know about electrification and move it to the next step, The Gen 2 refines all that . . . and expands it into a mainstream vehicle. Q: Will the plug-in move beyond the Volt just as Toyota has put hybrid in all its vehicles? Or will Volt always be a singular GM model? Farah: I definitely see the technology moving into other parts of the GM/Chevy family, specifically the Malibu hybrid. That only makes sense. Q: What’s next? Farah: Electrification still has a long way to go. But there are other areas important in the industry (as we) move to a more urban society. The concepts of car-sharing, automated driving, others sources of energy. . . . I want to continue to be on that cutting edge.

Cartoon: Obama Exploits Shooting

Posted by hpayne on October 2, 2015


Cartoon: Shooting and the first amendment

Posted by hpayne on October 2, 2015


Payne: An MKX as elegant as Lincoln

Posted by hpayne on October 2, 2015

The all-new Lincoln MKX further strengthens Lincoln's Imagine if Abe Lincoln had had the opportunity to drive in his namesake, the Lincoln MKX sport ute. At 6-foot-4, our 16th president would have slipped easily into the passenger seat of the two-row SUV as a Secret Service agent drove him down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day. With the “Panoramic Vista Roof” open, Abe’s stove-pipe hat would have stuck out like, well, a stove pipe. On occasion, he might have stood on the seat and emerged from the roof waving a long arm to the madding crowds. Far from the awkward-looking Lincoln MKT large SUV or the last-generation, prison-bar-grille MKX, the ’16 mid-size MKX is the most elegant ute in its class. Dead last in U.S. luxury market sales, Lincoln is showing signs of life. Following in the tire-treads of its smaller MKC stablemate, the X’s design is noble. With the bars turned pleasingly horizontal, its signature, double-grille spreads like the wings of a bald eagle. I lived for 13 years in the nation’s capital, and the stately Lincoln would have been at home on its grand boulevards, the picture of class. No doubt, if 19th-century Abe had encountered an MKX he would have reacted like he had seen a UFO. Returning from a trip to Chicago on a Saturday night, I descended on an I-94 interchange service center outside Kalamazoo like an alien spaceship in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” An MKX SUV UFO, if you please. The X’s 12 LED headlights and distinctive, tubular LED running lights — front and rear — are so sci-fi a group of locals hanging out on the curb might have expected aliens to emerge from inside. They got Mrs. Payne and me instead. “What did you do just then?” one local exclaimed pointing at the front of our spaceship. He had seen the Lincoln star logo rise up and a small camera emerge as I inched forward into the parking space. I had actuated the front camera (which has its own washer, natch) with a console button so I could dock closely to the curb without hitting it. Gather ’round, my earthly pals, there’s more. They crowded around the driver’s door like kids who had just been invited into an airliner cockpit for the first time. The button-festooned MKX interior was a century-removed from the old Ford F150 pickups and compact cars in the parking lot. I demonstrated how the forward lens — combined with two under the mirrors and one aft — give the driver a bird’s eye view of the vehicle in order to place it exactly in a parking space. If the Lincoln had gull-wing doors like inventor “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean in “Back to the Future” (or the Tesla Model X introduced this week) the scene would have been perfect. But the MKX doesn’t have gull-wings. Nor does it have 5,000 horsepower like an SRT Jeep Grand Cherokee. Or 11-inch rear tires like the BMW X5 M. Or an F-Sport badge like the Lexus RX. Now that SUVs ride on car chassis, manufacturers are keen to load them with testosterone to grab headlines and quicken the pulses of auto show crowds. The MKX doesn’t care about any of that stuff. “Quiet luxury” is its mantra. Indeed, the latest Matthew McConaughey ads are notable for the hunky Hollywood star never uttering a sound — much less the vehicle. For all of the MKX’s gadgetry, though, its Kalamazoo fans — or President Abe — would have quickly been at ease behind the wheel. Its 22-way adjustable leather seats fit like thrones — including a massage if one so desires. Dial in a 20-minute back rub, turn on the optional Revel audio system and some soothing music and you might be carried away into a sauna-like coma. Until the beeping begins. MKX may be a rolling Barcalounger, but it’s also obsessively concerned about your safety. Stray toward your lane lines and the steering wheel vibrates. Approach a curb and the car beeps hysterically. Rush the car in front too quickly and lights flash like you’re in a disco. What a nag. But then I spoke with a nurse friend in Chicago whose No. 1 concern was vehicle safety. When I told her she’d be more secure inside an MKX than the Crown Jewels, she was sold. If I paid 50 grand for something this elegant, I’d want a Brinks security system too. Smart shoppers will note that the Lincoln is built on the same bones as the all-new, 2015 Ford Edge that I reviewed in March, which can be had for 10 grand less and is itself no slouch in the gizmo department. Similar 3.5-liter V-6 and 2.7 twin-turbo V-6 (though the MKX gets more horses). Same moon roof, same driver assist systems, same liftgate-kick feature, same self-parking assist. Oh, was that handy around Chicago where cars are stuffed into parallel parking spaces like grocery-shelf soup cans. But the Edge-in-a-tuxedo Lincoln is a bargain itself compared to the luxury competition. Only the Volvo XC90 — 10-large more expensive than the MKX — can compete with the Lincoln’s thoughtful, graceful interior design. While Lincoln has long used buttons for its transmissions, the arrangement — coupled with a touchscreen infotainment system — seems suited to the 21st century digital age. The center console sweeps between the seats unbroken by shelves or gear knobs that clutter. Need to store an iPad or handbag? Ample storage lies underneath where hydraulic cables once ran. Lincoln has been in the wilderness so long, I’d forgotten what it stood for. “Quiet luxury” is a good place to start alongside price-competitive, sales-leading Lexus RX, which has gone Ted Nugent-loud with its radical, Darth Vader grille. Acura’s MDX will remain the SUV of choice for those who need three rows. And Audi will gain the sporty crowd. Let Tesla’s Model X and Audi’s Q7 fight for the $80,000 eclectic electric buyer. Lincoln needs a practical SUV in the meat of the market that can build a solid base. Lincoln the pol would get that. And in my week-long drive from Chicago to Kalamazoo to Detroit, the $40-60K MKX spaceship earned plenty of supporters. 2016 Lincoln MKX Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sport ute Price: $38,995 ($61,760 as tested) Power plant: 3.7-liter, 24-valve V-6; 2.7-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 Power: 303 horsepower, 278 pound-feet of torque (3.7-liter); 335 horsepower, 380 pound-feet of torque (turbo) Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0-6.7 seconds (Car & Driver estimate) Weight: 4,447 pounds (AWD turbo as tested) Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 mpg combined (3.7-liter AWD); EPA 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway/19 mpg combined (turbo AWD) Report card Highs: Best console in class; hi-tech gizmos Lows: Similar Ford Edge is 10 grand cheaper; third row, please? Overall:★★★★  

Cartoon: Yogi Berra RIP

Posted by hpayne on October 2, 2015


Payne: Driving in the Google Marshmallow Bumper Bot

Posted by hpayne on October 2, 2015

Google_Payneinside   Mountain View, California — Driving in the autonomous Google electric car is a very different experience than its predecessor, the Lexus RX350 Hybrid equipped with Google self-driving equipment that I tested here over a year ago. For one thing, there’s what to call it. Google has yet name it so the public has been filling the void. It’s been variously referred to as a “marshmallow,” “nerf car,” and “koala ball.” My favorite? The “Skynet Marshmallow Bumper Bot” (courtesy of The Oatmeal.com). But the other difference is the car doesn’t feel like a car at all. It feels more like a Disneyland ride. The interior is devoid of traditional car tools. No pedals. No instrument panel. No steering wheel. The absence of the latter is transforming, actually. Rather than making me feel less safe, it is comforting not to see the pilot-less steering wheel spinning around like car is possessed. My wife won’t get in a self-parking, steering wheel-spinning Ford Focus, much less a possessed, self-driving Google Lexus. I felt like I was in a Disney monorail, or the front of a New York subway rail-car. But without the rails. Government regulations still demand that autonomous vehicles have a safety engineer sitting by in the driver’s seat if they are let loose on public roads. Which is why I was driving in the Google Lexus on public roads last year — and on the parking-lot roof of Google’s X-lab in the Marshmallow Bumper Bot. But Google did everything to make the roof seems like a public road. They threw pedestrians across our path. Bicyclists. A merging Ford Fusion. Not to mention the fixed rooms, light poles, and walls that make the X-lab roof look like a maze. The Google car navigated them all — braking, stopping, steering. By my second ride, I was comfortably glancing at my phone and checking email. There’s another big difference with the Lexus. The Marshmallow Bot is Made in Detroit. Google has partnered with Roush which manufactured my tester in Livonia. There the car is hand-built with the same roof-mounted “LIDAR” dome (a package of lasers, radars, and cameras), sensors, and software as the Google Lexus — but packaged about the size and shape of a VW Beetle. Then it’s shipped to Mountain View for final software updating by Google engineers. The engineers say the Google car looks so cute because it was designed from the ground up with round corners so the LIDAR can see 360 degrees around the car. “We wanted to re-imagine the car without the steering wheel,” says Lead Systems Engineer Jaime Waydo. “When we do that we want to build a car that can see 360 degrees.” But Google also admits its cuteness has the effect of helping the self-driving car gain public acceptance. It’s reassuring that the autonomous car heading down the street looks like a friendly kid’s play toy and not Darth Vader (like, ahem, the new Lexus RX’s grille). Significantly, the LIDAR dome — which looks like a spinning bubble gum machine with legs on top of the Google Lexus — has been greatly modified to resemble the blue dome on Andy Griffith’s Mayberry police car. Indeed, from a distance, the Google car can look like a VW meter maid. This attention to detail means Google car is serious about coming to the market. Soon. While Google founder Sergey Brin won’t put a date to the Google car’s ambitions, he says Google is working closely with regulators. The Marshmallow Bot is also a regular fixture on public roads — approved for testing by the government of Mountain View and Austin, Texas. Google is testing the cars furiously, having already logged 1.2 million miles. Safety is a first priority, and the Google car has been limited to 25 mph on local streets. The few accidents it has been involved in have been almost entirely caused by human drivers running into it. “We were surprised by the frequency of times we’ve been rear-ended,” says Brin. It’s much higher than we first thought. Human drivers are not paying attention. It speaks to the challenge of people driving with cell phones and other distractions. And that’s the safety issue that a self-driving car solves.” Brin says the Google car will make driving safer, but will never replace the fun of driving. “There is a future for both worlds,” he says. “There’ll always be the pleasure of the open road.” But for the daily drudgery of metro commuting — Brin says the average work commute is 50 minutes — the Google car’s technology will be a revolution. Driving in the Google car, its immediate future is evident: It will be a boon to taxi services like Uber and commercial fleets like airport shuttles. My tester was roomy with heated seats, a tasteful stitched vinyl interior, and luggage room where the dashboard and console used to be. “Driverless vehicles will change the game,” says Rattan Joea, CEO of California-based, airport-focused Prime Time Shuttle, who sees a future of Uber-like ride shares. “It will streamline our service by taking the operator out of the equation. It will save on insurance by removing human limitations. Computers don’t get tired. They don’t get sleepy.” Such commercial services might initially be able to afford the huge up-front costs of the Google technology given its long-term labor savings. But ultimately, Goggle’s Brin sees the rolling marshmallow — or whatever its name will be — as affordable transportation so that the elderly (like his Parkinson’s afflicted mom) can get around even after they are no longer fit to drive.

Cartoon: Armstrong Edition

Posted by hpayne on October 2, 2015


Payne: House-broken Caddy ATS-V

Posted by hpayne on September 27, 2015

Detroit News Auto Critic Henry Payne reviews the 2016 I’ve played tennis for over 40 years and have used a version of the Wilson Pro Staff for the last 25. No matter how long I’m away from the game (as now after getting a new knee), when I return the Wilson feels just right in my hands. The right balance. The right power. The right weight. The 2016 Cadillac ATS is a Wilson on wheels. Since I first drove Caddy’s compact performance coupe at its maiden test launch a year ago, we’ve played together a number of times. And each time it feels like we never parted. The right balance. The right power. The right weight. It’s the best-handling tool in the segment when the testosterone rises (eclipsing even you, my old flame BMW 3), yet is a comfortable commuter as well. When the ATS-V performance version debuted in May, GM invited media to Austin’s epic Formula One track, Circuit of the Americas, to test Caddy’s BMW M3 fighter in the most demanding environment. The twin-turbo, 464-horse, carbon-fiber-trimmed V passed with flying colors, gobbling the curves like it was possessed by Teutonic engineering itself. But back on Planet Earth, the average ATS-V shopper will never lap their V on COTA. Will never take it to a racetrack, period. Poor V will never feel the wind across its back at 150 mph. Never get to feel .97 Gs through the esses. Never get to use its Performance Data Recorder to snap off fast laps. Alas, it will mostly sit in a garage for hours on end, just as my Phantom Grey Metallic tester did for a week this September. A $74,635 weapon without a war. And that’s what makes the ATS-V so good. It doesn’t have to go nuclear to be appreciated. It’s a perfectly civilized, date-night-with-Mrs. Payne mobile. Like my Wilson racquet, it always feels comfortable in my hand. The leather-scented, Alcantara-lush interior fits just right. The instrument display is intuitive. The engine purrs like a leopard, the magnetic shocks absorb road bumps with grace. I could drive for hours without thinking about the performance-enhancing, aluminum chassis brace hidden underneath. Or the titanium-aluminide turbochargers that can stuff the cylinder heads with 444 foot pounds of tire-smoking torque. By contrast, two competitive vehicles in the ATS-V’s price range that I’ve tested recently– the $81,425 BMW M3 and $76,465 Corvette C7 with Z51 trim package – don’t have as polite daily table manners. The M3 and C7 want red meat all the time. Turn the key on the washboard-stiff Bimmer and it growls like an empty stomach. Its gaping front air intakes are King Kong’s nostrils. The car itches like a case of poison ivy to be floored. The C7 is worse. The interior has a chemical smell. Like a boxer oiled for a fight. Its shark-like visage attracts police radar guns up to 10 miles away. Nail the throttle over 3000 RPM and unleash the Kraken’s roar. The ATS-V is more subtle, yet every bit as lethal when force is required. Approaching Telegraph Road on Lone Pine, a modified Mustang with a hood bulge the size of Mount Everest spied the V-badge on the back of my Caddy and glued himself to my rear end spoiling for a fight. Just before the 90-degree turn onto Telegraph I downshifted into second – like butter with the V’s digital rev-matching – then danced the beautifully-balanced Alpha chassis across the apex under power. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I saw the ’Stang strain to keep up, its tail slewing right to left like it was swatting horse-flies. My eyes got back to the tac in time to see the needle rocketing to the 6,500 redline. Third gear. Fourth. I was gone. Living with V isn’t all wine and roses, though. Optimized for dry-weather performance, its low-ground clearance and rear-wheel-drive won’t be much fun come winter. For those who covet an all-season performance ATS, the AWD, 321-horse V-6 Caddy is a tasty alternative for $20K less. The V’s chiseled body is pleasingly athletic, but the fearsome, chain-link grille is too severe to look at every day. Inside, the haptic-touch, CUE infotainment system quickly wears out its novelty. Especially when GM’s coach-class brand, Chevy, has upgraded its infotainment system with First Class Cadillac systems like 4G WiFi and Apple Car Play — not to mention a much more intuitive touchscreen with redundant dials. Anyone do console transplants? But every marriage has its compromises. If those details don’t bother you, then Cadillac has built the best all-around, small luxury performance sedan on the market today. It’s a car you can live with. And play with. 2016 Cadillac ATS-V Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger coupe/sedan Price: $61,460 base ($74,635 as tested) Power plant: 6-liter, twin-turbo V-6 Power: 464 horsepower, 444 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed manual (optional eight-speed automatic) Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.8 seconds; 189 mph top speed (manufacturer) Weight: 3,750 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway (auto transmission); 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway (manual) Report card Highs: Nimble handling; Comfortable daily driver Lows: Metal-mouth smile; No fun in the snow Overall:★★★★

Cartoon: Pope, Little Sisters of the Poor and Obamacare

Posted by hpayne on September 27, 2015


Cartoon: Hillary Anti-Keystone Pipeline

Posted by hpayne on September 27, 2015


Payne: iDrive the Scion iM and iA

Posted by hpayne on September 24, 2015

The all-new 2016 Scion iM hatchback and 2016 Scion I’m a 25-year-old hiding out in a 53-year-old body. Which is why I just got a knee replacement so I can keep playing tournament tennis. Which is why “Minions” is my favorite movie of 2015 (OK, maybe I’m a 12-year old). Which explains why I’ve been a fan of Toyota’s youth brand, Scion. I like their bookshelf-style auto show display. Their Apple-like, lower-case-upper-case alphanumeric badges like tC and xB. Saturn-like, mono-spec, no-haggle pricing. And don’t even get me started on the sensational, tossable, pure-sports car FR-S. So am I a fan of the new iM and iA? iThink. iShouldbe. iDunno. Scion is in transition. Gone for 2016 is the square xB (boxy is soooo 15 minutes ago). Gone is the iQ (another mini-car ignored by Americans). Replaced by the more mainstream iM and iA sedans with a third player to be named later (I’ll get to that). I understand. Because not only did Toyota create the brand to bring new customers to its doors, it’s also an incubator. A test tube for ideas, misfits, mutants. Call it Frankenscion. The sporty, Toyota-conceived FR-S is a rebadged Subaru BRZ. And now the iM and iA twins are Scion’s first entry in the small sedan and hatch market. Except, in typical Scion fashion, they aren’t a pair at all — but two very different bots assembled from different parts bins. Start with the five-door iM. The hatch. Readers of these columns know I’m hip to hatches. To the point of irrationality. As a juror I voted the Volkswagen GTI the 2015 North American Car of the Year over the all-new, all-cool Mustang GT. Even though the V-dub hasn’t changed much in three generations. Oh, yes, some of you gave it to me good and loud. No matter, hatches are the best combination of utility and fun and the GTI is the standard. But I’m preaching into a prairie wind. What most Americans want are hatches on stilts. Crossovers. So iM puzzles: Why a Scion hatch and not a crossover to compete in the hot-as-Hades subcompact ute segment against the Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, et al? Trendy, youthful. Heck, another struggling youth brand, Fiat, has figured it out with its massively cute Fiat 500X — a 500 on stilts that is finally connecting the brand to what Yanks want. No doubt, the Scion crossover is on the way (that player to come) along with Toyota’s own late-to-the-party offering. But driving the iM I can’t help but think Scion missed its moment. Enough. As they say back home in Appalachia: Ya’ dance with who brung ya’. The Frankenscion iM is a U.S. variant of the Japanese Auris which is built on the Corolla chassis. The front and rear ends sport jaunty angles, aggressive intake gills, topped off with a boomerang grille (side-skirt cladding optional). Sure, the Toyota Yaris and Corolla S have received recent upgrades after Akio Toyoda’s demand that his cars get more stylish or there were gonna be some whoopin’s. But the iM is even sleeker, more European. When I ask patient Toyota reps why the brand doesn’t make a pocket rocket like the Ford Focus ST or VW GTI, the answer is: “We have Scions.” But despite its come-hither wardrobe, the iM is hardly a hot hatch. Reach for the leather-webbed gear knob (nice), stomp on the accelerator pedal and ... a little 1.8 liter 4-banger howls with all the conviction of 137 rodents in a gerbil wheel. Sigh. In “Young Frankenstein” Marty Feldman’s Igor (iGor?) mistakenly fetches an “Abby Normal” brain to power the good doctor’s creation. The iM is like that. The drivetrain doesn’t fit the iM’s ambitions. The underpowered 4-holer will buzz like a bee’s nest under power, but once up to highway speeds it’s easy on the ears and gas. Despite my lead foot, gas mileage was excellent at 31 mpg around town. Inside, Scion is a Toyota. For better or worse. The interior is nicely appointed with soft touch materials and intuitive, matte-black console buttons. And the voice recognition system on my tester was superb — and had no problem with my hillbilly drawl. Other details annoy. The hard console edges that cut into my knees. The cruise control stalk that takes me two days to figure out. For anyone who wishes for a Corolla hatch, the iM is it. For those who wished Mazda would bring its ZOOM ZOOM to the U.S subcompact market, say hello to the iA. Scion went to Mazda’s Mexico plant, skinned a Mazda 2 and brought it across the border disguised as a Scion. Same pop-up infotainment screen. Same console-mounted rotary dial. Same horizontal dash vents. The drivetrain is all Mazda too — a 1.5-liter Skyactiv engine that is both peppy and a sippy 42 mpg. So why does the iA look so grumpy? Ditching the Mazda’s pleasant facade, the iA gets a polarizing, Lexus-like maw. Frankenscion with Frankenstein’s face. The gaping mouth doesn’t fit the shapely Mazda behind it. If only Scion offered a Mazda-like smiley grille with its healthy list of standard features. Features like backup camera, push-button start, and 7-inch touch screen. Those features — and Scion’s unique mono-spec pricing strategy — are Scion’s biggest strength. In a brand with a complicated quilt of body styles, Scion’s defining trait is its simple “Pure Process” sales experience. It’s like putting together a Dell computer online. I went to Scion.com late on a Sunday night to simulate buying an iM. “Possibly the Easiest Car Buying Process in Three Simple Steps” boasts the website — and iWas impressed. I watched a quick video then picked the color, tranny, and a la carte accessories I wanted. Just like adding a printer, monitor, warranty, etc. to your Dell order. When I had questions about anything, I just asked for an online expert (Adrian was mine) who helpfully guided me around. When done, I picked the dealer closest to me — and a salesman called me Monday morning. No kidding. Like the Saturn experience of yore, Scion buyers might actually enjoy the buying process. What a concept. Still ... to feed my inner 25-year-old, I FR-Sure want the Scion sports car. Would I pick a Scion hatch over a 170-horsepower VW Golf? iM not sold. Can Scion compete with a 37-mpg, turbo 3-banger Focus? iAin’t convinced. 2016 Scion iM Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger hatchback Price: $19,255 base price ($20,603 manual as tested) Power plant: 1.8-liter, dual overhead cam 4-cylinder Power: 137 horsepower, 126 pound-feet of torque Transmission: Six-speed manual; Continuously Variable Transmission Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.8-9.5 seconds (Car and Driver) Weight: 2,943 pounds (manual); 3,031 (CVT) Fuel economy: EPA 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway/32 mpg combined Report card Highs: No-haggle buying experience; standard options Lows: iMeh styling; iMeh performance Overall:★★

Cartoon: Pope Carbon Plane

Posted by hpayne on September 23, 2015


Cartoon: Walker and Vader

Posted by hpayne on September 22, 2015


Payne Q&Auto: Lexus’s guru of Extreme Makeovers

Posted by hpayne on September 20, 2015

Toyota executive portraits-Brian Bolain When I tell Brian Bolain, marketing manager for Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand, that the new, radically-styled Lexus NX and Lexus RX utes are the most polarizing vehicles I have driven, he beams. “Lexus is no longer just a rational brand,” he likes to say of its emotional “L-Finesse” styling. Irrational? Emotional? Lexus? Those words once never appeared in the same sentence together, much less the same page. Introduced to the U.S. market in 1989, Lexus had its share of innovation – “with the RX we created an entire segment,” notes Bolain – but its reputation was built on appliance-like customer service and reliability. The result has been a fanatically loyal owner base that has made Lexus one of the Big Three in luxury sales along with the German titans, Mercedes and BMW. But in the trendy, mercurial luxury market image is everything. Brands can’t rest on their laurels, and Bolain’s team sensed a shift in the wind. “It’s not uncommon for owners to have had four or five RXs,” he says of the ute that debuted in 1998. “And they say (they) wouldn’t mind if there was a bit of the change. It’s kind of like eating the same meal every day. I’d really like the chicken instead of the fish today. I think that’s where we are with RX. It’s time to give them something more.” I sat down with Bolain, 55, at RX’s Portland, Oregon media launch this month to talk spindle grilles, shoveled driveways and three-row seating. Q: The NX was the first Lexus ute to get the spindle grille last year. How’s that working out? Bolain: The NX is going great. We do about 4,000-4,5000 (sales) a month and that’s pretty much all we can get from the factory (Ed. note: NX built in Japan) because that segment is on fire. First time in my career I can remember one segment being in such high demand virtually everywhere in the world. Consumer acceptance is quite high — and we’ve got more feedback that owners of some of the German competitors would now consider NX because of F-Sport. Q: My Lexus-owner friends rave about the owner experience. What’s different? Bolain: From the beginning our tagline has been “The Pursuit of Perfection.” And our dealers adopted that as a personal mantra. It’s just going that extra mile. We could talk about . . . stories we hear about a sales person who - when somebody’s car had a flat tire - goes to get them. Or the sales person who shoveled someone’s driveway. Sales people who go far beyond “here’s my check and here’s your keys” to have a personal relationship with their buyers. That’s why we have the loyalty, because you get used to that and hate to give that up. Q: Why not a turbo 2.0-liter for the U.S. market RX as in Japan and Europe? Bolain: It could. Right now we’re just dipping our toe in the turbo waters. We just introduced it in NX. First turbo in our history. We’re just putting it in IS . . . and RC and we’re also putting it in GS. So we’re learning how acceptance goes. This market still desires to have a V6 engine - our gas prices are certainly lower than Europe and parts of Asia. Q: What’s Lexus doing to advance beyond styling? Bolain: We’re rounding out our lineup nicely not only in terms of product, but now in terms of engine choices. So that “personalizability” – I’m going to make up a word – means your Lexus isn’t the same as your neighbor’s. Q: The two-row RX’s Toyota platform mate, the Highlander, has three row seating. Mainstream, mid-size ute buyers demand three rows, yet it’s rare in luxury mid-size. Why? Bolain: As Baby Boomers became empty nesters, RX became a fantastic alternative for them. We now have a whole new generation of buyers coming into luxury at a fast rate – but they’re young families. So we’ve moved from Baby Boomer, empty-nesters buying this vehicle to the young family. We know there is a need for third row. Our dealers have made it very clear that if there was one wish they could have it would be a third row in the RX. So we took our truck-based, three-row, midsize, GX SUV (and repriced it) at $49,995 to test the waters. It used to sell 700-800 a month – we now sell 2,000-2,200 a month. So we’ve proven to ourselves that what we’ve heard is true. So next move for Lexus is to have a car-based SUV with three rows.  

Cartoon: UAW Jobs to Mexico

Posted by hpayne on September 20, 2015


Payne: Nerdy Hyundai Tucson dresses up

Posted by hpayne on September 20, 2015

Hyundai's all-new 2016 Tucson compact crossover boasts Hell must be freezing over. I’m recommending SUVs. I worship at the altar of physics. A car with a low center of gravity is optimum. If not the road-hugging-if-space-limited sports coupes I own, then a four-door sedan. The lower the center of gravity, the better the car’s handling and reactions when you find yourself in extreme conditions: A sudden swerve, a wet mountain descent. Lower center of gravity also benefits aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. Need cargo space? Buy a hatchback. Sport utes defy my physics textbook. They totter in the air, half-a-foot higher than sedans. They are the auto kingdom’s water buffalo: Heavier, less nimble, and requiring more grassland to feed. Take the Subaru XV Crosstrek I reviewed last week compared to the Subaru Impreza hatch. They are the exact same vehicle except the Crosstrek sits 4 inches higher, gulps more fuel, and makes the Impreza feel like you’re driving a Porsche. And yet I’ve been recommending utes like Slow’s Bar BQ to foodies. I’d consult my racing buddies about my apparent insanity, but half of them are driving SUVs to the track. What gives? There is method to my madness. Begin with the fact that sport utes have rendered station wagons all but extinct. In the wagons’ absence, ute hatchbacks are the most versatile cargo haulers on the lot. What’s more most SUVs now sit on unibody car chassis, making them more nimble than their body-on-rail, truck-based ancestors. And as ute chassis have followed cars, so have their body styles. Today’s Ford Escape looks like Maria Sharapova next to its boxy, 2012 predecessor. Which is why the Escape’s mid-size ute segment is the hottest thing this side of the iPhone 6 Plus. Which is why I’m recommending the Jeep Cherokee to my neighbor on the physical therapy table. He likes Jeeps. He doesn’t need three-rows. He’s got bad knees (been there) and balks at bending down into sedans. Which is why I just gave my friend, Judy, a walk around this week’s review: The handsome, all-new Hyundai Tucson. I admit that when she first asked what car she should get I said a Mazda Miata. Judy’s sporty after all. But when she looked at me like I had just recommended she try cliff diving, I also realized she’s a sixty-something and prioritizes practical things like cargo versatility and visibility. Physics has to live with convenience. Judy loves the higher seating position of the Tucson — and not just because she’s 5-foot-2. The ute is infinitely easier to slide into compared to her Honda Accord sedan. Last weekend I ate with middle-aged friends at a Japanese restaurant — it took us all five minutes to get up off the Tatami mats. The 2016 Tucson’s looks have also bloomed. While no Miata, the Tucson’s raked windshield, streamlined stance, and sculpted dash make it a class hotty. Like the Genesis luxury sedan, the Tucson continues Hyundai’s run of pleasing designs including the Sonata and Tucson’s midsize SUV sibling, the Santa Fe. Sure, Hyundai is derivative. The Genesis is an Audi knock-off and the Tucson borrows its face from the Ford Edge. But, hey – like Ford’s Fusion taking its grill inspiration from Aston Martin, at least the Korean maker has the good sense to ape the best. The brand once known only for class-leading affordability and a 10-year/100,000 drivetrain warranty (yes, wow) has grown into so much more. Yet Hyundai hasn’t forgotten its roots. The handsome, $23,595 base, front-wheel-drive Tucson SE is still one of the cheapest in class (along with precocious cousin Kia Sportage), yet doesn’t look the part. Throw on essential all-wheel-drive for our brutal winters, and only the homelier, standard-all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester is a better bargain. Even where the SE comes up short — its 2.0-liter engine can’t keep up with competitors’ 2.5-liter mills — refinement comes to its rescue. Extensive upgrades of body mounts, bushings, adhesives, and other engineering tricks throw a blanket over the buzzy four-banger. The hushed interior punches several classes above its weight. I’ve taken to showing folks photos of Audi and Tucson dashes and asking them which is which. So tasteful is Hyundai’s use of simple lines, matte-black buttons, and aluminum-trim that you have to squint to confirm it’s not wrapped in luxury leather. The insides are festooned with smartly-located cubbies for that plus-sized phone — a trend the Lexus RX350 (double the Tucson’s price) is apparently unaware of. The Tucson complements the cubbies with a USB charger and twin driver-passenger 12V ports — even the gearshift looks hip with a leather sleeve hiding the shift gate. Around back, the Hyundai is crisp and stylish. Indeed, I defy you to distinguish the arse of many of the SUVs in this class — Escape, Cherokee, Audi — from the other. Helping our son move, Mrs. Payne and I stuffed the Tucson to the rafters. Boxes, books, clothes, shoes, the kitchen sink. Despite its redesign, the Hyundai still falls well short of class leaders like the Forester and Toyota RAV-4 in interior cargo room — yet the Tucson loads easily courtesy of its fold-flat seats while stowing a full spare tire under the floor. The SE’s a competent, utilitarian base model. But can it be upgraded to do tricks? The Mazda CX-5 offers a nifty button so you can flatten second-row seats from the rear. The Escape allows you to raise the back hatch by kicking the rear bumper if your arms are loaded with groceries, small children, and ... well, so does the Tucson. Hover behind an upper trim Hyundai with an armful of groceries and the “Smart Power Liftgate” reads the key fob in your pocket and opens. The trick is a prelude to the boatload of features (including a more powerful turbo-4) that can dress a Tucson Limited in an all-leather, all-LED wardrobe costing $32,195. Hyundai calls its little ute “Tucson” because it wants me to daydream of the rugged outdoors of Arizona where utes climb sheer rock faces and hurdle rocks on the way back down. Nonsense. Judy’ll sooner go cliff-diving than I’ll explore the Outback in this thing. That marketing machismo used to turn me off of utes, too. Not anymore. Hell has frozen over. Save your knees. Load your arms with groceries. And stuff a cute trucklet to the rafters. Vehicle specs Vehicle type: Front-engine, front or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sport ute Price: $23,595 ($23,720 as tested) Power plant: 2.0-liter, inline-4; 1.6-liter, turbocharged inline-4 Power: 164 horsepower, 151 pound-feet of torque (2.0-liter); 175 horsepower, 195 pound-feet of torque (turbo) Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.1 seconds (Car & Driver estimate) Weight: 3,186 pounds Fuel economy: EPA 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined (2.0-liter FWD); EPA 24 mpg city/28 mpg highway/26 mpg combined (turbo AWD) Report card Highs: Ugly duckling no more ... yet still a cheap date Lows: 2.0-liter underwhelms next to competitors ... as does cargo room Overall:★★★