Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: July 4th Happiness

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

Payne: High-speed Jeep Gladiator Mojave conquers the Mounds

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave is like its rugged Rubicon brother — except that its built for speed, with Fox shocks and a higher ride height.

There are two kinds of auto enthusiasts: those who get their thrills on-road, and those who get them off-road.

A sports car racer for decades, I’m an on-roader. But the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave pickup could convert me.

The Mojave is the latest variation of the tree-chewing, midsize Gladiator pickup designed for folks who want to explore the far corners of the earth. In this case, especially those with a need for speed. Unlike the Gladiator Rubicon which is built for rock-crawling, the Mojave wants to run. For a track rat like me, that sounds awfully appealing.

I’ve been hustling performance cars to Hell, Michigan, and back in the COVID-19 lockdown to test their limits. But for the Gladiator Mojave, I headed north from my coronavirus hideout to the Mounds off-road vehicle park near Flint. The Mounds has everything an off-road rebel needs: rock piles, swamp trails, sandy hills, high-speed dirt flats.

The Mounds is thick with Jeep Wranglers exploring every inch of its 118-acre playground. They mingle with giant, jacked pickups and swarms of ATVs and dirt bikes crawling over its hills and gullies. With its detachable front sway bars and front-and-rear locking axles, the Gladiator Rubicon — like the Wrangler Rubicon — loves the tight, uneven stuff.

The Gladiator Mojave, on the other hand, dreams of being a Ford Raptor. Ford’s high-speed, Baja-desert-friendly F-150 is a singular warhorse. In the saddle with 450 horsepower under the hood and sophisticated Fox shocks under the fenders, I conquered the Borrego desert in Southern California a few years back, hitting triple-digit speeds on the sandy flats.

It was extraordinary. But like a killer whale, the Raptor needs a lot of ocean to feed, and southern California — or the Baja peninsula — is a long way to go to stretch the big Ford’s legs. Gladiator Mojave aims to bring those pleasures closer to home. Like Flint.

Unlike the Raptor, the new Gladiator doesn’t have a new engine or get-outta-the-way bodywork. But it did feature Jeep’s throaty 285-horse V-6 and a unique hood scoop that sets it apart from brother Rubicon pickup. More important, it is raised an inch above Rubicon with trusty Fox performance shocks.

I shifted the Mojave’s transfer case to four-wheel drive, turned traction-control off and nailed the V-6 across the Mounds’ open, northwest trails. This is terrain where the dirt bikers like to open it up, and I picked up speed quickly, the Fox shocks absorbing the trail’s imperfections.

This might be hairy stuff in the ginormous Raptor, but the Mojave was in its element. A 75-degree left-hander loomed, and I slowed — then slewed it sideways across a water-filled dip. Gladiator’s dimensions allowed me to rotate the pickup beautifully, then I was back on the throttle as the big, 33-inch knobby tires sprayed the cabin with water.

Good thing I kept the doors on.

When you’re not splashing through Mother Nature at high speed, you can remove the doors and roof of the Mojave just like the Rubicon to get closer to nature. Just don’t wear your dinner clothes.

With the pickup bed out back, the panels are easy to stow. Of course, the dirt bikers I was riding with were eyeballing that bed as potential bike transport. They had arrived in regular, light-duty pickups, but the Mojave adds the tantalizing twin possibility: When you’re tired of running the hills in isolation on your bikes, you can pile into the Mojave for some communal dirt-kicking on the trails.

“Hey, can we come with you?” said one of the bikers who had already figured this out.

The Mojave is happy at low speeds, too. The Mounds has a number of tight scramble areas that favor Jeeps over big trucks. With the transfer case in four-wheel low, I flipped a console switch to lock the rear axle and gain better traction. The Gladiator Rubicon takes this capability one step further with twin locking axles and decoupling sway-bars for serious rock-crawling, if that’s your thing.

Naturally, all of this scene-chewing hardware doesn’t come cheap. The base Gladiator starts at $35,000 and the base Mojave at $45,000. My tester was an eye-watering $60,945, just $7,500 cheaper than the Ford Raptor I tested a couple of years ago.

What you get for that coin is a unique vehicle that is good at addition as well as subtraction. Subtract the doors and hood for that unique outdoors experience. Then ogle the additions that Jeep has brought to its console.

The Uconnect infotainment system is one of the industry’s best, with easy-to-use menus so you can blast your favorite Sirius XM station while pulverizing trails in the middle of nowhere. Where Uconnect is shy of the industry’s best is in the navigation department, Jeep has thoughtfully made Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard on the Mojave.

Leaving the house for my off-road adventure, I plugged my Samsung phone into a USB port in a dash festooned with connectivity. The infotainment screen now duplicated my phone screen. A long hold on the steering wheel awakened Google Assistant. I asked her to chart a course to the Mounds. We were off.

Like my performance car trips to Hell, the hour drive to the Mounds gave me a chance to assess the Mojave’s livability on a long trip. I hope you like loud.

With all those removable panels, roll bar and cloth roof, the Jeep is hardly equipped for sound insulation like some of its mid-size truck peers. A Ford Ranger is a sealed tomb by comparison. Go topless on your ride and good luck hearing Google Assistant’s directions (fortunately the instrument display graphics are fine). The big, knobby tire howl adds its own soundtrack.

But the advantage of those high-tech, multi-valve Fox shocks is the Gladiator Mojave rides more smoothly on the road than the Rubicon. Smooth as in mattress smooth. The Mojave does tend to wander in lane thanks to its high ride height, but the overall experience is good for your backside when you arrive at your destination.

If that destination is a metropolitan area, you’ll find the Gladiator easier to maneuver than a huge, full-size truck. Then, like a sports car, it can transform into a weekend off-road thrill ride. Which this on-road racer finds very appealing.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, 5-passenger pickup

Price: $45,370, including $1,495 destination charge ($60,945 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.6-liter V-6

Power: 285 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.3 seconds (Car and Driver est.);

Weight: 4,974 pounds (automatic as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA: 17 mpg city/22 highway/19 combined

Report card

Highs: Comfortable ride on road; carries dirt bikes or hits the dirt itself

Lows: Noisy on-road; gets pricey with add-ons

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: King George Statue

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

Cartoon: July 4 Facebook

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

Cartoon: Nascar Media Quiz

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2020

Cartoon: BLM Grant Statue

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2020

Cartoon: Twitter Trump Tweets

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2020

Cartoon: Google NBC Stasi

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 19, 2020

Cartoon: BLM on Trump Rally

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 19, 2020

Cartoon: Washington Monument Nixed

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 18, 2020

Cartoon: Obama Church Walk

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 18, 2020

Payne: Hyundai Sonata Hybrid has OMG mpg and looks, ho-hum performance

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 18, 2020

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid comes in three trims: Blue, SEL and Limited. The Limited, pictured here, gets 47 mpg, while the sippy Blue version tops out at 52 mpg.

They should have named the Hyundai Sonata the “Hyundai OMG.” The mid-size sedan is a non-stop wow emoji.

There was the February Super Bowl ad featuring Boston celebrity jaws dropping in unison as actor John Krasinski demonstrated the Sonata’s self-parking feature. “Smaht pahk!” We couldn’t get it out of our heads. OMG.

I couldn’t get the Sonata’s good looks out of my head the first time I saw it. It still turns my head — like the other day when an all-black Sonata rolled my way in Oakland County, its signature LED running lights giving it a sinister look. The black Audi A4 behind it looked … almost as good. OMG.

Now comes the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid boasting the best fuel economy in class: 52 mpg. OMG.

At least on paper. In practice the hybrid is the least OMG feature of the Sonatas I’ve tested. And it still leaves me thirsting for the Sonata N performance version that will couple the car’s tight handling with an alleged 295 horsepower. I tasted the N earlier this year on windy roads through Arizona and it was a treat.

Until its arrival, drivetrains aren’t the Sonata’s strong suit. And that’s not just because I’ve got a lead foot instead of a green thumb. Indeed, I’ve been impressed by the industry’s latest hybrids, particularly new value entries from compact SUVs like the Ford Escape, Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4, which have exhibited feisty character even as they sipped gas from the pump.

But the Sonata Hybrid was surprisingly tepid. Especially since it gains 12 more horsepower than the regular Sonata’s turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder. The regular Sonata’s 1.6-liter made me yearn for the Sonata N — and the Sonata Hybrid made me yearn for the 1.6-liter.

Where the Escape and CR-V hybrids use their electric motor for an electrifying kick off the line, the Sonata seems to maximize the battery for that OMG mpg. The Hybrid’s acceleration is sleepy. The hand-off from electric to gas is as smooth as a middle-school track relay, with the 2.0-liter engine shouting as if someone stepped on its foot.

But Payne, you say, no one buying a green car is going to drive it hard. And sure enough, the Sonata cruises effortlessly at speed, its electronics maximizing the drivetrain for 30% fewer shifts. Green fans will also geek out on the car’s active grill flaps, underbody cover and unique rear spoiler to achieve a remarkable 0.24 drag coefficient so the sedan cuts through the air like a knife.

But I’ve been spoiled, dear reader, by the Ford and Honda hybrids’ dexterity, and the Sonata is not in their league. What’s more, my week in the premium Hyundai Hybrid Limited returned just 35 mpg — a far cry from the advertised 47 mpg.

That 52 mpg I spoke of belongs to the starter Hyundai Hybrid Blue model, which retails for $28,725 — with a $30,875 SEL and Limited model clocking in at $36,275. The latter pair achieve 47 mpg.

Those prices are in contrast to, say, the Honda CRV Hybrid, which is a ridiculous bargain at just $27,000 with lots of pep, 38 mpg and all the inherent advantages of SUVs like hatchback storage, all-wheel-drive and rear-seat headroom.

So the Sonata Hybrid will have to sell itself on sex appeal. And in that area it is loaded.

Every time I got annoyed with the Hybrid’s awkward drivetrain, I would stand back and ogle its curves.

The heavily sculpted sides (with this much stamped sheet metal how does the standard Sonata start at just $23,000?) sweep rearward to a gorgeous tail-section, a Lincoln-like horizontal taillight graphic providing the perfect punctuation. There is exquisite detail — like the delicate winglets on the taillight to aid aerodynamic flow and the signature LED running lights that parallel the hood.

The standard Sonata grille is distinctive like the mouth of a carp. Too big. The hybrid tones it down with some elegant chrome piping and a sweeping lower chrome piece that echoes the rear taillight. But the Hybrid Limited exterior’s OMG feature is the solar roof. Yes, a solar roof.

Embedded in the black sweep of the coupe-like greenhouse you can make out subtle traces etched to and fro to catch the sun. Dramatic looking, though less dramatic in operation. Hyundai says the solar roof will gain the driver 2 miles on a tank of gas. Like the drivetrain, it’s not worth the premium price in my book … but it’s a talker.

The interior on my Limited model was even more stunning, the seats swathed in tanned leather, the instruments fully digital.

The dash reminds of a Mercedes, which indicates just how high this mainstream sedan has aimed. A fully digital cockpit and infotainment display flows across the horizontal dash. The Hyundai can’t match the Mercedes’ exquisite detail — what can? — but the graphics are engaging and Sonata Hybrid does it all for tens of thousands of dollars less. No other sedan in class can match it.

The console offers more luxury touches, including a so-called “trigger shifter” that I first encountered on the Acura NSX supercar, of all things. I fell in love with it on the Acura and find Hyundai’s version just as useful. It’s different without being annoying — while also saving console space for knick-knack and smartphone storage.

The infotainment system features are useful, particularly Apple CarPlay and Android Auto navigation that allow the sedan luxe-like navigation skills. Drill deeper and you’ll find — yes, another OMG moment.

While most drivers will be content to play their own music, streaming services or Sirius XM’s multiple channels, Hyundai offers another escape: Sounds of Nature.

There are the soothing sounds of Snowy Village and Warm Fireplace. And Open Air Cafe, Calm Sea Waves and Lively Forest. Mrs. Payne balked at Rainy Day because she found it dreary. But the sounds are a reminder of Hyundai’s determination to make the Sonata a unique experience.

Available with the nav package, the feature’s also available on other Sonatas — not just the hybrid. Which brings me back to the question of the hybrid’s value. Indeed, the hybrid is oddly missing the “Smaht pahk” feature that got everyone all worked up about the Sonata in the first place.

Sonata says it’s coming, which is good thing because when you’re paying 36 grand for a sedan you want all the OMG you can get.

2020 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan

Price: $28,725, including $975 destination charge ($36,275 Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder mated to AC motor and lithium-ion battery

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Power: 192 horsepower (combined system output)

Weight: 3,530 pounds as tested

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.0 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 120 mph

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg: 50 city/54 highway/52 combined (Hybrid Blue); 45 city/51 highway/47 combined (Hybrid SEL and Limited)

Report card

Highs: 47-52 mpg; luxury-class interior

Lows: Granola performance; pricey compared to competitive SUV hybrids

Overall: ★★★

Cartoon: Defund the Police

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 17, 2020

Cartoon: Lego Woke

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 16, 2020

Cartoon: Woke NFL

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 16, 2020

Payne: The mighty Ram 2500 Power Wagon is a beast, on-road and off

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 11, 2020

Positioned above light duty variants like the Ram Rebel and Ford Raptor, the 2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon is a heavy-duty beast.

Positioned above light duty variants like the Ram Rebel and Ford Raptor, the 2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon is a heavy-duty beast. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

You want a monster Hemi V-8-powered, stump-pulling Ram 1500 pickup truck? You wimp.

Real men and women drive Ram 2500 Power Wagons.

The heavy-duty version of Ram’s light-duty truck that arrived in my driveway could pull my house off its foundation — assuming I can get in it. I walked out into my driveway and looked up.

Dressed entirely in black and an alleged 6-foot-7 tall (it seemed taller than that next to my mere 6-foot-5 frame), the Power Wagon loomed over me with a face that would make Thanos flinch. It’s a beast. I think the designers took their inspiration from a humpback whale swallowing an ocean of krill.

I stepped up on the rocker rail, then hoisted myself into the passenger seat with the A-pillar handle. On the passenger side, the 5-foot-5 Mrs. Payne needed our roof ladder to get in.

The 2500 reminded me of an older off-road Ram pickup — mega-modified with five-inch suspension lift and 38-inch tires — that dragged our Jeep Wrangler out of a ditch at the Mounds off-road park a few years back. But this beast doesn’t need after-market mods.

The Power Wagon comes from the manufacturer fully equipped to take on the outback. That’s the badge’s calling card, having carved out a new heavy-duty segment above and beyond famed light-duty performance trucks like the Ford Raptor, Chevy Silverado Z71 and sibling Ram Rebel. When a hammer isn’t enough, the Power Wagon offers a sledgehammer.

Ram’s crosstown rivals have followed suit with their own truncheons, the GMC Sierra AT4 and the Ford Super Duty Tremor.

The Power Wagon stands tall with massive 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires inside swollen fender wells. They add additional ground clearance over the usual 30-inchers for a total of 14.2 inches. Armed with armadillo-like skid plates, the Power Wagon has a ridiculous front approach angle of 29 degrees (the iconic Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is 33) and is rated for wading through 30 inches of water.

Power Wagon is a truck nerd’s dream. Behold the twin locking-differentials, like a Jeep Rubicon’s. There’s a separate floor-mounted four-wheel-drive transfer case for low-speed rock crawling. And for when the going really gets tough, the 2500 adds an extra link to its upper axle mount — call it Articulink — which combines with electronically disconnecting front anti-roll bars to give the monster 26 inches of front-wheel articulation for crawling over rocks. Dude!

But all my wife and I needed to do was get some mulch, a basic pickup task.

That’s the quandary of the auto enthusiast. How much is enough? A sportscar-holic myself, I find a $30,000 Mazda MX-5 Miata plenty of enjoyment for a two-seat sports car. But if I had the coin to buy an $80,000, 495-horse Corvette C8? I’d buy even if I never took the thing to a track. I’d buy it because it exists.

When I drove up to English Gardens in the Power Wagon, a staffer’s jaw dropped.

“That’s a killer truck,” he said.

We motorheads live or an invitation to talk power, which we did while loading 10 bags of mulch into the 6-foot-4 box. That’s right, this beast is taller than its bed is long.

Power Wagon shrugged off the added weight as we hustled back home. It can shoulder a payload of 1,510 pounds and tow 10,580 pounds. That tow number, however, isn’t anywhere close to the 2500 Heavy Duty’s 19,780-pound capability since Power Wagon has softer springs for playing off-road.

If you want mega-towing, get the Ram diesel. The Power Wagon’s more playful character means a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 under the hood and a tailpipe the size of Alaskan pipeline. The big V-8 loves to run, and I was more than happy to give it the gas — WAUUUUUGHHH! — through Oakland County while drinking half the oil reserves of Texas. There’s a glut of crude during the coronavirus crisis so I did my part to draw it down.

Back at the ranch — well, cul-de-sac — we unloaded the mulch into a wheelbarrow that exposed one of the Power Wagon’s rare flaws: How to climb into the bed easily?

Chevy and GMC offer the best solution — a corner bumper-step. But this being the truck wars, it would be sacrilege to follow GM’s lead. Nossir. Ford has invented a sort of Noah’s staff that sprouts from the bumper to help owners into the bed. Cool, but wouldn’t a bumper step be easier? The Tesla Cybertruck will allegedly kneel in back to allow access.

Ram just ignores the idea altogether. Which means you’ll have to clamber up into this thing like your childhood bunk bed. The good news is the side-bed toolboxes remind you how clever Ram can be. They provide a place for tools so they don’t bounce around.

But the real show is inside, where Ram sports the best interior in truckdom. Like Tesla, the cabin is oriented around a huge 12-inch vertical screen that communicated the cabin’s larger refinement. Gears are accessed not by a steering-mounted stalk, but by a space-saving rotary dial. Back seats are massive — Lew Alcindor and Walt Chamberlain could play a comfortable game of cards back there — and there is more storage beneath the floor if needed.

The Ram is festooned with the latest electronics, from adaptive cruise-control to blind-spot assist to 360-degree surround camera.

The latter two are helpful since the Power Wagon is to urban areas what Moby Dick is to a pond. Too big.

I wandered over to Auto Europe to drop off wheels from one of my sports cars and treaded carefully lest I accidentally crush the odd Lotus Esprit or Mercedes Coupe in the parking lot. I picked up fast food from the Clarkston Culver’s and the person at the window looked up at me.

But Clarkston felt more comfortable than Birmingham: No gridded streets. No tight parking lots. Just miles of country road for opening up the big V-8, and farms and woods that need stuff loaded into the back.

When the urge hits and you want to go exploring, off-road parks like the Mounds aren’t too far away. Because you never know when some city slicker in a Jeep Wrangler might need a tow out of the mud with the Power Wagon’s 12,000-pound winch.

2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, 5-passenger, crew-cab pickup

Price: $55,045, including $1,695 destination charge ($69,890 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.4-liter Hemi V-8

Power: 410 horsepower, 429 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.4 seconds (Car and Driver); towing, 10,580 pounds

Weight: 6,996 pounds

Fuel economy: NA

Report card

Highs: Rules the road; best interior in truckdom

Lows: Too big for urban America; drinks petrol

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Trump and Mattis Insults

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 11, 2020

Cartoon: Whitmer Protest Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 11, 2020

Chicago Murders May 31

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 11, 2020

Cartoon: LeBron protests

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 8, 2020