Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Iran Amok Tanker

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 18, 2019

Cartoon: Amash and Trump Derangement

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2019

Payne: BMW 3-series wants its crown back

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2019

The 2019 BMW 330i sedan's sport coupe roof, long hood, and short overhangs telegraph its rear-wheel-drive, longitudinal engine. The 330i adds AWD for Michigan winters.

Socialism is all the rage these days among Washington elites, but lucky for them their new BMW 3-series was born in the boiling shark tank of capitalism.

Long the alpha shark in the compact-luxury segment, the last-generation 3 got a little, um, fat. And boy, did the product managers in Munich get an earful from the market.

New Coke never had it this hard.

Media outlets ripped BMW for going soft. Car and Driver dropped the 3-series from its Top 10 list for the first time in memory. Sales dropped. Enthusiasts started to talk openly of the Alfa Giulia and Cadillac ATS as the new standards for class-handling. The competitive pressures weren’t just athletic complaints, either.

Mercedes’ luscious interiors were turning heads away from BMW. Tesla’s sci-fi Model 3 was shaming the class with Silicon Valley technology. Mainstream upstarts like the Mazda 6 were offering athletic value for $20,000 cheaper. And then there’s the market flip to premium sport-utes.

Well. Market reaction duly noted.

The seventh-generation 2019 BMW 3-series bears a familiar silhouette and kidney grille but is otherwise a comprehensive remake to re-establish its iconic self as King of the Hill. It mostly succeeds.

Cartoon: Biden Moderate Socialist

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2019

Cartoon: Biden’s Green Deal

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 10, 2019

Cartoon: Choice Schools and Abortion

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 10, 2019

Cartoon: Renault Jeep Merger Off

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 10, 2019

Cartoon: Biden Flip Flop Toy

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 8, 2019

Cartoon: Space Station Goes Commercial

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 7, 2019

Payne: Hot-hatch Lexus UX F Sport vs. VW GTI, Mazda 3, Kia Soul GT

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 6, 2019

Henry Payne compares hot hatchbacks 2019 Mazda 3, clockwise from top-left, 2019 Lexus UX 250h F Sport, 2019 Kia Soul GT and the 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The Age of Ute is upon us, so it was inevitable that we would start to see SUV hot-hatches. Consider the Lexus UX 250h F Sport that just swaggered into my driveway.

Is it worthy? I put it to the test with some iconic hot-hatchback cars: Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mazda 3 and Kia Soul GT.

Compact hot-hatches, as readers of this space know, are my favorite class of car. They’re fun, utilitarian and affordable. Pound per dollar, they are the best all-around cars on the market. But this sport-ute craze has me worried.

Sedans are falling under the SUV tidal wave, their high-performance variants getting swept away with them. With the Ford Focus sedan has gone the Focus ST and Focus RS. So long Ford Fiesta means adios to the 197-horse Fiesta ST, a mainstay on my Top 10 list of best cars.

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Mazda deep-sixed its Mazdaspeed 3 a few years ago to concentrate on sport utilities. The only silver lining in the Chevy Cruze’s burial is it didn’t take a hot hatch with it. Because there never was one. Happily, foreign makes are bullish on five-door performance hatchbacks.

Now Lexus throws its all-new, alphanumeric-nightmare UX 250h F Sport SUV into the fray. Is it worthy? I put it to the test with its car peers.

First, some rules.

A hot hatch has five-doors. Jetta GLI, I love ya, but you’re a sedan. The Golf GTI meets the criteria. Qualifying as a pocket rocket isn’t just a wardrobe change, it’s a performance upgrade with a steroid boost that gets your right foot tingling and your eyes sweeping the landscape for twisty roads beyond the metro grid.

Hell, Michigan, here I come!

And it’s gotta be affordable. That means $40,000 or less. Sorry, Mercedes AMG GLA 45 with four-zillion horsepower and a $50,000-plus price tag to match. You’re out.

No worries. That leaves a lot of stuff like the Hyundai Veloster N, Hyundai Elantra GT N, Mini Cooper S, Fiat 500 Abarth, Honda Civic Type-R (oooooh, somebody open a window it’s getting hot in here) … and our competitive test set: Golf GTI, Mazda 3 and Soul GT ute.

The $40,910 Lexus — injected with hybrid torque — certainly makes a first impression: Darth Vader grille. Scalloped bodywork. Ultrasonic Blue. Pocket rocket-fans crave look-at-me styling. It’s also an all-wheel driver like the retired Ford RS — um, to a point.

Adopting the same philosophy as the Toyota Prius AWD-e, the rear wheels get their drive from an electric motor which only works up to 45 mph. Why 45? To maximize fuel efficiency, and … wait, what? This is where you begin to realize the F Sport may not have its heart in this hot-hatch thing.

Combined with a 1.4-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery, the 2.0-liter four-banger makes just 181 horsepower — which is well off the $36,890 (as tested) Golf GTI’s ferocious 228 ponies.

The 2019 GTI is a joy to drive hard. The turbo’s 258-pound-feet-of-torque is sensational at low revs but never overwhelms the front paws. On a long trip to Road America race track in Wisconsin the GTI was both a comfy cargo-hauler and an attack dog for lunchtime track laps.

The Lexus is based on Toyota’s sporty TNGA platform, which is the most athletic Toyota-Lexus platform yet. With suspension bits upgraded from the standard UX, the F Sport is marvelously tossable through turns. But step on the gas and its kinship with its big-brother RC F Sport coupe suffers.

The UX 250h smothers its ambitions with a continuously variable transmission. Lexus tries to spice up the ol’ noodle with simulated gear steps and the (oddly inconsistent) rev match on upshifts and downshifts. The battery-tranny combo doesn’t provide the one-two punch of the GTI’s turbo-manual (6-speed auto optional).

The compact VW is the premium car here with more performance and room over the pricier-but-smaller subcompact UX. The GTI even shines in the style department where its timeless lines are complemented by signature, low-profile wheels.

Like the Lexus UX’s all-wheel drive for winter? Bring in the 2019 Mazda 3 hatch which features all-wheel drive for the first time. I bend the rules for the Mazda a bit since it no longer offers the MazdaSpeed performance upgrade. But the 3’s 186 horses make it one of the most powerful standard engines in segment and beats the Lexus to 60 by a whopping 1.7 seconds.

That, and the 3’s handling and looks are top shelf. Its aesthetics have no peer. Dress it in Soul Red and it will melt snow.

But the real revelation of our test is the 2019 Kia Soul GT, the original hot-hatch SUV.

This funk-mobile has outlasted its boxy brethren — the Nissan Cube and Scion xB — with smart marketing and a fun-to-drive vibe. A subcompact ute, it mirrors Lexus in available features (save AWD) — blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise-control, smartphone-app compatibility, lane-keep assist — but for just $28,965.

I escaped with the Soul through the rural roads of east Virginia’s Northern Neck and had a ball.

The box is driven by a smooth dual-clutch transmission that the Lexus would die for. Nail the throttle and the 201-horse turbo 1.6-liter practically rips the front wheels out of their fenders. It’s a live one, this animal.

The last-generation Soul marketed itself with rapping hamsters, but this generation feels higher up the food chain. Soul’s more sophisticated wardrobe includes boomerang taillights and thin Camaro-like LED headlights. Gone are the goggle-eyed hamster peepers.

I found the Soul’s sci-fi look more premium than the Lexus but still with plenty of, well, soul. The feeling continues inside. Both the Soul (circles everywhere) and the Lexus (slashing lines like its exterior) are funkadelic. But the Soul’s console touchscreen outclasses the F Sport. Like other Lexi, the UX screen is controlled by a touchpad that will have you cursing like Yosemite Sam.

Consarn rassa-frassin’ racka-frackin’ varmint!

My biggest complaint about the Soul is its uncomfortable front seats — but in the roomy rear, your giraffe-legged reviewer could sit behind himself.

We in Club Hot Hatch are pleased to have new members, and the Lexus UX 250h F Sport is a welcome addition. But it has work to do to catch its mainstream brothers.

2019 Lexus UX 250h F Sport

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 5-passenger, subcompact hot-hatch SUV

Price: $37,025 base including $1,025 destination fee ($40,910 as tested)

Powerplant: 181 horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder hybrid with electric-motor assist

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

Performance: 8.6 second zero-60 (Car and Driver); 110 mph top speed

Weight: 3,605 pounds

Fuel economy: 41 mpg city/38 mpg highway/39 mpg combined

Highs: Dramatic style; good fuel economy

Lows: fussy infotainment controller; more muscle, please

Overall: 2 stars

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5 passenger, compact hot-hatch car

Price: $28,490 base including $895 destination fee ($36,890 Autobahn trim as tested)

Powerplant: 228 horsepower, 258 pound feet of torque, 2.0-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed manual; 7-speed automatic

Performance: 6.0 second zero-60 (Car and Driver); 125 top speed

Weight: 3,186 pounds (manual); 3,256 (automatic)

Fuel economy: 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway/27 mpg combined (manual); 25 mpg city/31 mpg highway/27 mpg combined (automatic)

Highs: Roomy hatch; torque-tastic

Lows: Stop/start system ruffles otherwise smooth drivetrain (happily, it’s not on the manual)

Overall: 4 stars

2019 Mazda 3 hatchback

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 5-passenger, compact hot-hatch car

Price: $24,495 including $895 destination fee ($31,930 as tested)

Powerplant: 186 horsepower, 185 pound feet of torque, 2.6-liter inline-4 cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed automatic, 6-speed manual

Performance: 6.9 second zero-60 (Car and Driver, est.); 130 top speed

Weight: 3,255 pounds (AWD hatchback as tested)

Fuel economy: 25 city/35 highway/29 combined (FWD manual); 24 city/32 highway/27 combined (AWD auto, as tested)

Highs: Easy on the eyes; luxury-class interior design

Lows: Blind spot the size of New Hampshire; bring back high-horse MazdaSpeed, please?

Overall: 3 stars

2019 Kia Soul GT

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger, compact hot-hatch SUV

Price: $28,495 base including $895 destination fee ($28,495 as tested)

Powerplant: 201 horsepower, 195 pound feet of torque, 1.6-liter, turbocharged inline-4 cylinder Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 6.3 second zero-60 (Car and Driver); 130 top speed

Weight: 3,036 pounds

Fuel economy: 27 mpg city/32 mpg highway/29 mpg combined

Highs: A step up in sophistication from previous hamster-mobile; sci-fi look

Lows: Not as athletic as its peer group; hard front seats

Overall: 3 stars

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Cartoon: Trump Hair Style

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 6, 2019

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Cartoon: Jeep Renault Merger

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 3, 2019

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Cartoon: Swamp Creature Mueller

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2019

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Cartoon: Mueller Terminator Impeach

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2019

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Cartoon: Impeachment Articles Trump

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2019

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Cartoon: Memorial Day Super Heroes

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2019

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Payne: Old world Mercedes C300 vs. new age Tesla Model 3

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2019

The front of the 2019 Mercedes C300, right, is an ornate sculpture of three-star grille and diamond-studded grille. The electric Tesla Model 3 doesn't even have a grille.

The front of the 2019 Mercedes C300, right, is an ornate sculpture of three-star grille and diamond-studded grille. The electric Tesla Model 3 doesn’t even have a grille. (Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

There are different luxury tastes. Some shoppers like ornate things, others prefer it simple.

Think of a diamond-encrusted necklace compared to a simple stone. A Rolex or an Apple watch. A Tudor home or the horizontal elegance of a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-style.

Add Mercedes C-class vs. Tesla Model 3 to the list.

These two rear-wheel-drive based icons offer styling that is as dramatically different as their gas-powered turbo-4 and electric powertrains. My $63,000 Mercedes-Benz C300 tester is the old-money classic. The $57,500 Tesla is the new-money rebel. Tuxedo or jacket casual. Grosse Pointe meets Ann Arbor.

Credit Tesla with not just pushing the envelope, but establishing new class aspirations. But look a little closer and both cars want to take you to the same digital future.

After some stodgy years at the turn of the century, Mercedes’ exterior design has emerged as the segment’s fashion plate. From its flowing lines to its diamond-studded grille, it’s palace sculpture.

The Model 3 is a different aesthetic. It’s iPhone simple from sleek shoulder lines to — well, it doesn’t even have a grille, much less one with diamond studs. It eschews badging. The Tesla announces itself from the front with a simple “T” logo. The Mercedes? An “M” would never do. This ship’s bow carries a giant three-pointed star.

Out back, the Mercedes provides more information with C300 and 4MATIC badging on the trunk announcing its unique class and drivetrain. The Tesla is naked. Not even a “3.”

Climb inside under their panoramic skylights and the differences are even more dramatic.

The Mercedes comes with a handsome, weighty doorknocker of a key. The Tesla’s key is a Visa-shaped card that fits in your wallet.

Push the start button and the dapper German’s turbo-4 shudders to life. Slide into the battery-powered Tesla and it’s already on, having recognized your key card (assuming you didn’t summon it from its parking space via Tesla’s phone app). Oh, these Silicon Valley engineers are clever.

The cabin of the Mercedes is like something out of Neuschwanstein Castle. The decoration is exquisite. Lush console wood, chromed oval vents, tanned leather. The steering wheel has more buttons than a Wurlitzer organ. The doors are laid out with so much silverware — seat controls, Burmester speakers — that it could be an ambassador’s dinner table. All that’s missing is a chandelier.

The Tesla is remarkably minimal. A polished plank of wood spans the dash with a giant 15-inch tablet hanging in the middle. The cabin is monochrome black. There are just two buttons on the steering wheel. No vent ornaments. No door-mounted controls. No ornate speakers.

It’s as if Rubens and Mondrian painted a car in the same year.

Behind the divergent designs, however, both automakers have labored to make high-tech, driver-centric products.

Those buttons on the Mercedes steering wheel mean you can thumb through multiple menus without taking your hands off the wheel. More information — navigation, speed limit — is available in a head-up display floating above the hood. Other commands are voice-operated — “Set the cabin temperature to 72 degrees.” Navigating to a destination requires only a direct command — “Navigate to Detroit Metro Airport” — rather than having to enter a full address.

The Mercedes’ commands can be hit-or-miss (this is not the latest MBUX system I recently experienced in the A220 sedan) and will get better with the next generation.

The Tesla is state of the art. Voice commands are as good as your phone. The big screen seems a distraction until you realize that almost everything is automatic — headlights, wipers, even music requests: “Play the Rolling Stones.”

Speaking of automatic, the C300 and Model 3 are desperate to drive themselves.

Don’t let them. These are Level 2 systems far removed from fully autonomous Level 4. But they are competent within limits.

The Mercedes is controlled via cockpit buttons in plain sight. Tesla settings are automatically configured in the screen. Engage the systems (C300 via the cruise-control button, Model 3 via a double pull on the shift stalk) and instrument icons light up letting you know the cars are in charge.

Both systems are true to the road with no ping-ponging between lines. Both can automatically change lanes with the pull of a turn signal (and both are smart enough not to if another car is present). Both will come to a stop behind another car — then start up again. Over time the Tesla’s system proves superior, in part because of over-the-air updates like the new Navigate on Autopilot.

Design is a powerful statement of self. But what will ultimately force your choice between these cars is their power source.

My friend Rick, an experienced luxury-car connoisseur, jumped into both cars and was instantly enamored with the 3’s performance. It’s a tiger. The steering is rooted to the ground, the 307 pound-feet of torque as instant as a lightning bolt. The hills of Oakland County were our playground.

“The Tesla is just so much fun to drive,” he said.

The Mercedes is tight enough, but handling has never been the brand’s forte. The steering is numb, the turbo-4 engine — smooth as it is with a dual-clutch, 9-speed automatic — seems coarse after the Tesla’s liquid torque.

But the Mercedes will go 574 miles (highway) on a fill-up. And when it runs out, it will fill up again at the nearest filling station in just five minutes.

The 325-mile range Tesla, by contrast, is a car for defined commutes. Install a 240-volt charger in your home and draw a driving radius as to where you need to drive. Lansing? OK. Pittsburgh? You’ll need to plan. Sure, the Tesla’s navigation is superb, telling you exactly where Tesla’s network of superchargers are along the way. But each stop requires at least half-hour to top up on electrons.

Speaking of planning, repairs to the Tesla will take a month via mobile service units, since Michigan bans Tesla dealers. There is no such ban on the German’s service centers.

Given the Tesla’s range and service limitations, its strong sales numbers are testament to how different its design is. After last year’s flood of orders (to curious folks like me), sales have steadied at about 6,000 a month — similar to the beautifully decorated Mercedes.

One last detail about these very different masters. The C300 and Model 3 use the same transmission stalk. Just like Rubens and Mondrian used the same sable paint brush.

2019 Mercedes-Benz C300

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear- and all-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan

Price: $42,395 base, including $995 destination fee ($63,325 AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 255 horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque, 2.0-liter turbocharged, inline-4 cylinder

Transmission: 9-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 5.5 second zero-60 (Car and Driver); 131 mph top speed

Weight: 3,500-4,150 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 22 city/33 highway/26 combined (AWD)

Highs: Supermodel looks; interior by the gods

Lows: Not a toned athlete; MBUX infotainment not in this model yet

Overall: 4 stars

2019 Tesla Model 3

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, rear- and all-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan

Price: $36,200 base, including $1,200 destination fee ($57,500 RWD as tested)

Powerplant: 271 horsepower, 307 pound-feet of torque, 80.5-kWh lithium-ion battery with electric motor drive

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 5.1 second zero-60 (Car and Driver); 141 mph top speed

Weight: 3,549-3,814 pounds (RWD, depending on battery size), 4,072 (AWD)

Fuel economy: 325-mile range (big battery as tested)

Highs: Unique driving experience; planted handling

Lows: Battery range; lack of Michigan service centers

Overall: 4 stars

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Cartoon: Trump Farm Welfare

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2019

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Cartoon: Apple CEO Global Warming

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 30, 2019

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Payne: Flagship Arteon is the sexy VW hatchback

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 29, 2019

The gorgeous 2019 VW Arteon is the cure for the common SUV: great looks, hartchback utility, good price. It's only missing a high-horsepower sport version as found on other V-dubs.

Let’s hear it for art.

Some of the country’s most recognizable art is in its downtowns: The elegant “Spirit of Detroit” in Motown. Calder’s “Flamingo” in Chicago. The sculpture that spells “Love” in New York. They break up monotonous landscapes of right angles.

The VW Arteon is like that in the boxy world of SUVs. This stunning sedan sculpture is the cure for the common five-door.

From its finely drawn face to its meticulously stamped clamshell hood (go on, feel the surfacing with your fingers) to its coupe-like roof, the Arteon lives up to its name. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of art in automotive today.

Even amidst the New York Auto Show’s exotic supermodels, the Arteon and Mazda 3 hatchback stopped me in my tracks. Both cars make a statement in classes that have seen sales eroded by ute-mania. Both offer flowing, feline lines to counter the masculine SUV bulk. Both accomplish this while embracing the SUV’s most utilitarian feature — the hatchback.

And both do not fully follow through on their dramatic aspirations. Where the Mazda 3 stops short of optioning a high-horsepower hot hatch, so does Arteon shy from offering a second, more-powerful engine to complement its athletic bod. No doubt their low production volumes test the business case for a second engine.

But as halo designs for the respective brands, they deserve halo performance.

After I picked up my jaw from the ground upon seeing the Arteon again in Solvang, California (“The Danish Capital of the USA”), I slid inside. Defying its coupe-like roofline, its interior is palatial. Credit a wheelbase stretched five inches over its predecessor, the attractive VW CC. That translates into leg room that is six inches longer than a Nissan Maxima and four inches more than a Kia Stinger and Buick Regal — all competitors in the sporty sedan segment.

My 6-foot-5 frame easily sat behind myself in the rear seat. So pick up your friends for a day out — but be sure to tell them to hang on.

Because even though Arteon has the biggest back seat in the VW family (beating even the giant Atlas SUV), it has the personality of hot-hatch siblings Golf GTI and Golf R — my favorite compact toys. Credit a shared platform — VW’s genius, scalable MQB architecture.

Indeed, Arteon is a natural walk for V-dub fans looking to supersize their hatchback Golf into a hatchback sedan. It has the same driving controls, same infotainment system, same driving dynamics.

If you haven’t tested a sportback — the Arteon, Kia Stinger, Buick Regal and Audi A5 — do yourself a favor. Their versatility is the best-kept secret in autodom.

Los Pedros National Forest in southern California is Hell, Michigan on steroids. Its writhing, rural roads stretch for miles. Sporting the same torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system as the Golf R, the Arteon eagerly attacked Los Pedros. Dial the mode selector to Sport and the steering and sophisticated adaptive-damping suspension tighten.

The big car’s dimensions seemed to contract as it rotated effortlessly through corners. Hmmm, you might want to put barf bags in the rear seats for your passengers.

Pushing the Arteon’s limits, I pined for more from its 268-horse turbo-4. VW offers the 220-horsepower GLI over the standard Jetta. And the 228-horse GTI and 292-horse R as Golf upgrades. But halo Arteon gets … nichts?

Pity. After all, VW group has gems in its toolbox like the 394-horsepower turbo-5 holer (found in the Audi TT RS) or the 349-pony turbo-4 in the Audi S4. Heck, the Golf R’s growly 288-horse turbo-4 would do.

Perhaps Volkswagen corporate wants the Arteon to respect the family hierarchy. Give the gorgeous Arteon a sultry mill and I’d never covet an Audi A7 again. At much less than a $70,000, 335-horse Audi A7, the Arteon would be irresistible

Know your place, Arteon!

But that place has already been taken by the aforementioned turbo-4 powered Kia Stinger hatchback, which goes head-to-head against the Arteon until $40,000 at which point it sprouts a 365-horse, twin-turbo V-6 and lays rubber up the road in pursuit of luxe Germans.

Arteon? It is content to stay in its lane and trade blows with the Maxima, Buick Regal and Acura TLX. With their giant, elephant-packing hatchbacks, the Arteon and Regal are my picks here. The Buick steals the value play by adding an all-wheel drive 310-horse V-6 for just $40,000 — less than the comparable all-wheel drive Arteon SEL trim.

The va-voom VW makes its pitch with upscale touches like athletic handling, panoramic sunroof, three-zone climate control and Kurkuma Yellow Metallic paint (yum).

 But VW is taking a risk by pricing with luxe brands like Buick and Acura, and making customers pay al a carte for tech features. Other upscale mainstream brands like Mazda and Kia load their cars with standard features like adaptive cruise-control. Heck, even the Arteon’s younger brother, the $25,000 Jetta SEL, is a catch with standard items like adaptive cruise-control and high-beam assist.

With my preferred Arteon SEL trim, you’ll have to reach to $43,000 to get the (excellent) adaptive cruise-control system and all-wheel drive. I’m a sucker for 19-inch wheels, so tack on $1,250 for those. Then pick from Arteon’s color palette, including the stunning Kurkuma yellow (necks are still spinning in Cali after I drove it past).

Priced in the meat of the U.S. market, Arteon has competition aplenty, even from its own family. The smaller Golf GTI and Golf R come loaded from $35,000 to $40,000. The Atlas SUV will debut a sporty two-row “Cross” version this year that’s aimed at ute heart-throbs Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Edge. And there are entry-luxe lookers like Mercedes A-class.

Arteon takes the best from all of them. It beats the Golfs with size while keeping their intuitive, well-engineered interiors and instrument controls. It has more dazzle and more rear seat room (I’m not making this up) than the boxy Atlas. And its looks rival any luxe-mobile.

On my way back from Los Padres National Forest, my mirrors filled with another Arteon and we danced through the twisties.

It was hard to keep my eyes on the road. I kept glancing back in the mirror at that plunging clamshell hood. The hockey-stick LED running lights. Chrome grille lines dragged across the front as if by the hairs of an oil brush.

It’s the art of Arteon, a masterpiece in SUV Nation.

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger hatchback sedan
Price: $36,840 base including $995 destination fee ($45,940 SEL Premium AWD as tested)
Powerplant: 268 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque, 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder (premium gas recommended)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Performance: 5.8-second 0-60 (Car and Driver est., AWD); 155 top speed
Weight: 3,854 pounds ((AWD as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA 22 city/31 highway/25 combined (FWD); 20 city/27 highway/23 combined (AWD)
Highs: Luxury good looks; nimble AWD handling
Lows: Gets pricey; performance engine option, please?

Overall: 3 stars

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