Henry Payne Blog
Posted by hpayne on October 31, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 30, 2014
I was born and raised in the South. We southerners like to say Midwesterners are the nicest Americans without a drawl. Take the Lincoln MKC.
This is one friendly vehicle. Walk toward it and the rear LED lights glow, the mirrors open like sunflowers to the sun, the doors unlock as your fingers slip inside the handle. Is it the key in my pocket or you just happy to see me?
What’s next? A hug?
That warmth is an asset in a hot compact luxury segment headlined by the ruthlessly efficient Acura RDX and the Teutonic twins BMW X3 and Audi Q3. As early entrants in the segment, the RDX and X3 set the standard for reliability and power.
Ford’s luxury lineup has failed to impress in the sedan and large SUV segments. The MKC is a fresh look in a fresh segment. It succeeds where its siblings have failed. Unlike the MKZ sedan, the C looks athletic. Unlike the MKX midsize SUV, it’s a pretty face.
The Escape had already established Ford’s Global C platform as a fit chassis. The MKC makes it alluring. Its adaption of Lincoln’s winged grille-design language soars. Maybe it’s the Halloween holiday, but the MKC’s face reminds me of Catwoman’s mask. Sexy. Mysterious. A high, nicely-sculpted belt line keeps your stare. Curvy hips — imagine Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman — swell over the rear wheels before tapering into the feline superhero’s — ahem, Lincoln’s — signature, LED-lit tail.
Beauty with sacrifices
Like the Audi A3, the MKC’s narrower greenhouse suggests sedan-like elegance. This modification is most striking compared to the BMW X3′s bigger, boxier greenhouse. Dare I suggest a BMW looks homely? Only compared to the sleek Lincoln and Audi.
I’ve been smitten with the Audi line’s lines for years, but the Lincoln gives Q3 a run in the swimsuit competition. So pretty is the MKC that it has attracted that hunky, drawling, mumbling Matthew McConaughey as a spokesman for the brand.
Beauty comes with sacrifice, however, as the higher sill line in the MKC and Q3 reduces visibility. The X3 lets the sunlight in. Its C-pillar visibility is superb compared to the Lincoln’s tapered, blind rear quarter window.
The Lincoln’s beauty is more than skin deep. This lass brings lots of personality.
Come inside the Lincoln’s lush, intuitive interior. Detroit’s automakers know intuitively that Americans live in their cars. You’ve heard me applaud the Chrysler 200 as the most driver-friendly midsize sedan. The MKC is the class of small lux. Its interior engineers must eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with customers because they anticipate their needs like a mirror.
But the elegant Lincoln and Audi — both new this year — aim for something higher. In fact, they typify why compact SUV is the market to watch. Like the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5 in the mainstream compact crossover segment, they promise sexy styling and nimble handling that make sedans chew their fingernails. Utes with hot bods? Muscle beach is getting crowded.
That a Lincoln would even turn heads is newsworthy.
Tired of shifter stalks that grow like weeds in the middle of your console? The Lincoln simplifies automatic shifting to five buttons on the dash. This not only conforms to the push-button nature of the console — touchscreen, climate controls — but also frees up the center aisle for more storage space and climbing between seats (how many times have you been hemmed in by a parking garage wall on your left and had to climb over the gear shifter to get out of the passenger side?)
Worried about distracted driving? Like an oversized game console, the MKC locates all of the car’s essential functions on four, tidy quadrants of the steering wheel.
Miss the visibility of boxier SUVs? The C offers driver assist features like blind spot assist, park assist, rear camera, even a front collision alert when you approach, say, Cyrus the bull in the middle of the road in that McConaughey ad (he’s weirding me out).
This customer care follows you ’round back. Arms full of suitcases? Golf bags? McConaughey DVDs? You can open the rear lift gate with a swing of your foot under the bumper. Once open, a cavernous, vertical space awaits so that you can pile it all in — and still load four pals.
The Audi matches the Lincoln in interior comfort but falls short in usability. It must be a cultural thing. Germans, after all, spend less time in their cars and more time on the throttle. Trying to navigate an address on the Q3′s rotary dial-controlled, non-touch screen will drive you to the looney bin. Fortunately, the Q3 will get you there in a hurry.
Comfort over athleticism
The AWD Audi dances like a sports car. Flogging the taut crossover over Hell, Michigan’s heavenly roads, I had a ball. This is German personality. Is it what ute-users are looking for? Lincoln thinks not. It extends soft luxury interior to soft exterior ride. Indeed, sister Escape is more athletic than the MKC.
Which takes us to the bottom line.
So confident is Lincoln that you’ll love the MKC, it has given it a BMW-esque sticker price. I’m not so confident. Brand in this greyhound-eat-greyhound segment must be earned.
My AWD, 2.3-liter, full-loaded, ruby red, ebony premium-leather MKC came in at a pricey $49,265. Sure, the 2.3-liter Ecoboost’s 285 horses will blow you away. But it won’t blow away a 2.0-liter Q3′s 2.0-liter turbo. Though the Q3′s mill possesses just 210 hp, Top Speed.com rates their 0-60 times equal. Yet the loaded Audi stickers for about $40,000.
Lincoln should also worry about the Ford Escape in its rear-view mirror. My Escape-smitten neighbor, the lovely Mrs. Walbridge, was captured by my MKC. She fell in love with its looks. With its center console. With Matthew McConaughey. Then she read the sticker.
Her loaded, comely (if not Hollywood handsome) Titanium Escape matches its lux mate nav-system-for-nav-system, liftgate-kick-for-liftgate-kick, but it set her back just 38 grand. Is the Lincoln lawyer really worth it?
More tempting is the base 2.0-liter, 240-horse MKC which only lightens the wallet to the tune of $44,931. That might be worth that lovely face. And that Midwest-friendly welcome. And the fact that Lincoln is producing world-class luxe again.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2015 Lincoln MKC
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger compact SUV
Price: $34,890 base ($49,265 as tested)
Power plant: 2.0-liter inline-4 turbo; 2.3-liter inline-4 turbo
Power: 240 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque (2.0L); 285 horsepower, 305 pound-feet of torque (2.3L)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph: 6.6 seconds (Car & Driver)
Weight: 3,963 pounds (AWD as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA 19 city/26 highway/22 combined (2.0L AWD); EPA 18 city/26 highway/21 combined (2.3L AWD)
Highs: Looks like Catwoman; best-in-class console
Lows: Heavy; demands a heavy wallet
Posted by hpayne on October 28, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 27, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 26, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 25, 2014
Twenty-five years ago, carmakers decorated their auto exteriors with eye-catching wood trim. Today, the wood is on the inside, complementing flashy center consoles with seven-inch, digital touch screens.
The car dashboard is being transformed and it’s taking AM-FM radio with it.
Just as it did newspapers and broadcast television, the Internet revolution is roiling the local broadcast landscape that has long held a monopoly on the car radio.
With center console infotainment systems, the in-car landscape has undergone a seismic shift started by satellite radio two decades ago and accelerated by Internet players like Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartRadio.
Now, AM-FM stations face a tipping point as Apple CarPlay, Google’s Android Auto, and in-car Wi-Fi hot spots fundamentally change the user interface in vehicles from radio to Internet.
“The center stack has changed from two dials and three buttons to very complex systems that contain so many different options,” says Paul Jacobs, vice president of Jacobs Media, a radio consulting firm in Bingham Farms. “The radio industry needs to work very hard to make sure radio remains vital in the car of the future.”
Jacobs Media hosted the Second Annual DASH conference in Detroit last week, bringing together radio executives, automakers, and auto suppliers from all over the country.
“It’s a much more competitive landscape,” says Steve Chessare, who manages three Detroit stations — WRIF-101.1 FM, WCSX-94.7 FM, and Sports Radio 105.1 — for Greater Media. “It’s more important than ever to create content that people want to engage in.”
It’s a new landscape. Beginning with this year’s Chevy Malibu, every new generation GM vehicle will come with a Wi-Fi hot spot that will allow up to seven devices to connect directly to the Internet.
In December, the Hyundai Sonata promises to be the first car compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Audio so that drivers can plug in their iPhones and mimic their interface on a vehicle’s screen.
That means customers can more easily bypass the AM-FM dial and go straight to their favorite Internet radio service. By allowing consumers greater control over their music choices, services like Spotify have proven popular with users — especially young listeners.
“It’s like the introduction of central door lock mechanisms,” says radio consultant Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research in New Jersey. “Once you don’t have to reach across the car to lock the doors, you never want to go back. It’s the same with the choice Internet radio offers.”
Advertisers are following the users.
While local media ad revenue in the U.S. is expected to increase 2.8 percent (to $151 billion) by 2017, that growth is expected to come almost entirely online. According to BIA/Kelsey, online advertising will rise 13.8 percent per year, while traditional advertising — TV, print, radio and yellow pages — is expected to remain flat (at $107 billion).
According to an estimate by Statista, there are some 160 million digital radio listeners — a number expected to hit 183 million by 2018.
That trend is driving once-big radio players like Walt Disney Co., which has radio stations that cover 42 percent of the country, out of the industry. Disney is selling 23 stations and going digital with Radio Disney kids programming.
Unlike newspapers which have seen customers move away from home delivery, the Internet radio revolution is not driving listeners out of the car. Just the opposite.
According to Jacobs Media, half of radio listening is in the car, with that percentage increasing with each new generation. For example, 45 percent of baby boomers get their radio fix in the car compared to nearly 60 percent of Generation Y. One-fifth of cars on the road are “connected” via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. With 90 percent of Gen Y drivers carrying a smartphone — versus 65 percent of baby boomers — in-car connectivity for new cars is a must.
While AM-FM radio remains the leading infotainment priority of new car buyers in Jacobs’ survey (89 percent), 66 percent of respondents say an iPod connector is important, 51 percent say Bluetooth, and 25 percent satellite radio.
“The mainstay of local broadcast radio is news and traffic,” says John Wordock, executive editor of the Wall Street Journal Radio Networks. “But I think apps may eventually cut into radio’s monopoly on traffic reports in the car.”
Edison’s Rosin points to growing Internet traffic sites like Waze, which calculates real-time traffic based on driver inputs to determine the fastest way to reach your destination.
“No one cares about traffic reports but their own,” says Rosin, who told the DASH conference that radio traffic reports may go the way of the dinosaurs.
How will local radio compete? Rosin and Jacobs agree that stations must stay current with digital apps. They also agree that content is king and AM — long second sister to FM — may have the secret sauce given the strength of talk radio.
“The way to compete is to continue to invest in local talent and great local content,” says Jacobs. “People don’t listen to stations, they listen to personalities.”
Greater Media’s Chessare says his stations are pushing online apps as well as their own Internet sites. Their online advertising is up 43 percent this year.
Jacobs was encouraged by what he saw at the DASH conference as radio owners and car dealers agreed to collaborate on making radio operation — programming presets, finding radio bands — part of the car-owning regimen.
“I just bought a brand new Jeep Wrangler and the salesman had me in the car for 45 minutes showing me all the different things the car could do,” says Greater Media’s Chessare. “Cars are so complex these days. We need to be pushing dealers — and incentivizing dealers — to walk customers through the cars’ features in their showrooms.”
“The car is the No. 1 listening location,” adds Jacobs. “It is also the No. 1 revenue category. So it is imperative that the radio industry get to know the auto industry better. Radio needs to get a seat at the table making sure they are delivering their content in a way automakers want in order to ensure they have a place in the center stack of the future.”
Posted by hpayne on October 24, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 24, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 23, 2014
The 2015 Toyota Camry gets a dash of sex appeal to keep up with the hotties in its mid-size sedan class.
Upon testing the new, 2015 Toyota Camry XSE (S for “sport”), I was not overcome with the urge to crash a wedding, steal the bride, and outrun the groomsmen in their classic, sky-blue convertible. Mrs. Payne would have greeted me at the front door with a rolling pin.
But the latest Toyota ad campaign suggests that Camry-buying, single men might find such ideas irresistible. Acting on impulse? Feeding primal urges?
This is the message of a Toyota Camry ad?
If you’re shocked, you haven’t visited the mid-size sedan aisle in a while. This once quiet, predictable quarter of the auto department store was as sexy as the washing machine display at Sears. The appliances were functional. Efficient. Boxy. King Camry ruled. Japanese quality was the coin of the realm. Everyone dressed the same. Public displays of
emotion were frowned upon. Muzak played over the sound system.
Then that rebel, the Hyundai Sonata, showed some leg and the whole place turned into a Studio 54 disco party.
The 2010 Sonata’s racy body turned heads. The Ford Fusion followed with a pouty grille and come-hither headlights so convincing you thought Aston Martin had made a grocery hauler. Then came Chrysler 200 with its lusty lights and feminine lines. Want to mambo with your midsize? The athletic Mazda 6 not only turned heads on the showroom floor, it could cut some serious rug, too.
After years of jelly-bean shaped look-alikes, these cars made hearts beat faster. They stirred . . . emotions.
The Camry appliance watched warily. Sure, its reputation for quality continued to draw customers, but it could see eyes wandering. Ooooh, that Fusion is pretty. Loooove those Hyundai lines. And their JD Power quality ratings were improving all the time.
If quality was becoming a universal ingredient, then how would Camry stand out? Toyota’s 2012 redesign created more concern. Dealers reportedly murmured that the new car was too bland. It reinforced Camry’s reputation as a vanilla brand. Hadn’t Jeremy Clarkson of “Top Gear” written a column titled, “Can’t sleep? Look at a Camry?”
“(It is) by far the dullest shaped body I have ever seen in my whole life,” wrote the renowned auto personality. “All I need to do now is think about the shape and I come over all drowsy.”
Ouch. Even Chevy’s own cure for insomnia, the Malibu, was reading the reviews. Faced with its own dealer revolt, GM had completely remade the ‘Bu in 2014 to address its somnolescent qualities. Wasn’t the Camry just a better-engineered Malibu? And didn’t Malibu just win JD Power’s Initial Quality Survey for best mid-sized sedan?
So just three years after the reborn ’12 Camry, we have the reborn ’15 Camry: More style, more handling, more … emotion.
It largely works. The Camry is no Fusion, but it is distinctive. Clarkson will have to find another cure for insomnia.
Toyota spent a reported $200 million in upgrading the sheet metal, chassis, and interior of the car. That’s a lotta dimes for a cost-conscious manufacturer that prides itself on getting it right the first time.
Behold the new car’s slimmer, less slab-like torso thanks to a lower beltline. But most striking is the plastic surgery around front. The Camry’s new kisser borrows heavily from Toyota’s Lexus lux brand, which has itself undergone an expensive face-lift. The Lexus is the best example of Akio Toyoda’s directive (when the CEO speaks, people listen) that Toyota products stir passion. Beginning with Akio himself, no doubt. A certified car guy. Ooooh, that Fusion is pretty!
The Camry’s hour-glass grille design reminds you of just how radical the Lexus looks. Indeed, some Lexus buyers may admire the Camry’s more measured interpretation. The new face comes in two guises — L and the racier S.
My preference is for the L style. Its thin, horizontal accents complete an elegant sculpture. The black, honeycomb S-maw echoes the Lexus F-Sport’s spindle grille. In the rearview mirrors it looks like the cow-catcher of an approaching locomotive. But it doesn’t intimidate like the Lexus. It’s cheap, plastic construction smacks of a pretender. An oversized Corolla S.
Were I that single dude, I would steal the bride in the LE hybrid.
Not only will the beauty warm to its less beastly face, but the sedan’s excellent, electric-assisted acceleration and chassis balance (thanks to 150 pounds of battery in the trunk balancing the four-banger up front) will put distance on your pursuers. On a hard flog through northern Florida, your intrepid writer found the hybrid well-balanced — rotating into corners with a tire-squalling vigor not normally associated with tree-hugging transport. And I had a ready alibi if pulled over: “There must be some mistake, officer. This is a hybrid.”
Not that you can’t appreciate the electric powertrain. My test mule boasted an impressive 572-mile range — meaning you could outrun the groomsmen before looking for a hotel for the night. Back the Camry down to 40 mph and it’ll run on battery alone for long stretches — stretching that range even further.
As you get to know your passenger in the Camry’s roomy, hushed cabin, she’ll marvel at the stylish, chrome-lined console. The standard, 4.3″ touch screen is outstanding, complemented by bigger, piano black touch keys. The screen’s usability will distract her while you fiddle with the Camry’s less driver-friendly details which smack, like the plastic grille on the S models, of cheapness. The holdover, notchy, shifter is clunky. And beware the (optional) adaptive cruise control, which will cease working below 20 mph, giving you a nasty surprise as you approach a stopped car ahead.
Full adaptive next time, please.
Indeed, next time will come quickly in this ruthless segment. One gets the sense that Toyota is especially concerned about Hyundai’s Sonata, which has also picked up makeup tips from its luxury superior, the Genesis. What’s more, the Hyundai’s handsome appliance starts at $21,960 – nearly $2k under the $23,795 Camry. Hyundai quality? Four JD Power stars, just like its revered Japanese competitor. And the Korean model weighs in with a hybrid and two superb 4-cylinder turbo engines which provide V-6 power while opening more room for Sonata’s segment-leading cargo space.
The Camry, meanwhile, stubbornly sticks to a V6 that make up just 6 percent of sales — even less than the 10 percent hybrid. Interior room matters. After the wedding-crashing theatrics, the talk will surely turn to kiddies.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2015 Toyota Camry
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan
Price: $23,795 base ($32,987 Camry Hybrid LE as tested)
Power plant: 2.5-liter DOHC 4-cylinder; 3.5-liter DOHC V-6; Hybrid engine: 2.5-Liter DOHC 4-cylinder with Nickel-Metal Hydride AC-motor assist
Power: 178 horsepower, 170 pound-feet of torque (4-cyl.); 268 horsepower, 248 pound-feet of torque (V-6); 200 horsepower (hybrid)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic or continuously-variable transmission (Hybrid only)
Performance: 0-60 mph: 6.6 seconds (V-6 — manufacturer)
Weight: 3,240 pounds (3,485 hybrid as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA 25 city/35 highway/28 combined (2.5L 4-cyl); 25 city/35 highway/28 combined (2.7L 4-cyl); 21 city/31 highway/25 combined (V-6); 43 city/39 highway/41 combined (Hybrid)
Highs: Runs like a Swiss watch; Hushed cabin
Lows: Plasticy S-trim fascia; Only partial adaptive cruise control
Posted by hpayne on October 23, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 20, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 18, 2014
Who has the edge in this historic rivalry? I took them on Autobahn race track to find out.
Red Sox vs. Yankees. Coke vs. Pepsi. Corvette vs. Porsche.
The Detroit vs. Stuttgart sports car faceoff ranks as one of our great rivalries.
Growing up the son of a Porsche owner in West Virginia, I knew which side I was on. Now as a proud Detroiter and a Porsche owner, I’m on the fence. I admire both. As a pup, I watched the local Corvette and Porsche clubs face off in weekend autocrosses. USA vs. Germany. Domestic vs. import. Horsepower vs. handling. It has always been so.
If a Ford vs. Ferrari racing rivalry briefly blossomed in the 1960s, the Vette-Porsche rivalry has endured. Each generation gets better. The competition today has never been more intense. The 2014 Porsche Cayman is the best handling Porsche under $100k. Ever. The 2014 Corvette is the best handling ‘Vette. Ever.
Which reigns supreme? I took them on the track to settle it.
I tell pals who consider buying these thoroughbreds to track them. They are that good. You simply cannot explore their enormous potential at 80 mph – or 90, or 120 – on I-75. Their sophisticated chassis and multilink suspensions can achieve a neck-knotting 1-plus G on track.
Autobahn race track, for example. Located south of Chicago, it is fast, technical, and a favorite testing ground for amateur racers like myself. It also hosts a fleet of exotic sports cars courtesy of local dealers. Like fighters on a runway, they are lined up on the tarmac each weekend for pilots who want to explore the envelope: Maserati GranTurismo, BMW M4, Audi R8, Camaro ZL1. . .
I took out the 2014, 3.4-liter, mid-engine Porsche Cayman S and the 2014, 6.2-liter, front-engine Corvette C7 Stingray convertible for a fling.
The Cayman’s coupe construction increases chassis rigidity by 40 percent over its sister Boxster convertible. By contrast, the Stingray’s aluminum chassis does not depend on its B-pillar for stiffness, according to Chevy engineers – meaning the drop top gives away little to its coupe mate other than a roof.
Both Yank and Kraut are fabulous. Both represent their national stereotypes.
Taught and sleek, Porsche’s best handling sports car (take a backseat, 911) is tidy as a German manor. Trained on the demanding twists and turns of the legendary Nurburgring, the Cayman is wonderfully predictable. It’s the most drivable sports car on the road today.
Like a Hollywood celebrity, the C7 is gorgeous, loud, and loaded with personality. More stable than its C6 predecessor, the nearly 3,400-pound beast still moves around on Autobahn’s signature switchbacks. In turns 9 and 10, steering input is required as the chassis whiplashes from side to side. While the Porsche skips through with minimal fuss, the Vette is all knees and elbows, clawing its way across the asphalt to finally . . . pounce on to the back straight.
Unleash the Kraken. Where the 325-horsepower, 273-pound feet of torque Porsche gives a determined bark, the 455-horse, 460-pound feet Corvette roars like a lion. Freed from the thicket of twisties – Cayman territory – the lion hits the open savanna with authority.
The Vette gulps asphalt, its front maw gaping as if to devour the Cayman up ahead. As it reaches its prey . . .
. . . another thicket of turns. The Cayman slips away again through the Turn 11-12 chicane. And so it goes lap after lap. The Porsche darts. The Stingray surges. Yin and yang.
It’s why this rivalry rivets us. Two athletes getting the job done in different ways.
My track sessions were crowded with cars, so I didn’t bother with lap times. But around another great American course — the high speed, 4.1-mileVirginia International Raceway — Car & Driver clocked the C7 nearly 9 seconds faster. All hail horsepower.
And affordability. The C7 may be comparatively ragged, but Porsche’s handling refinement comes at a price: $83,000 compared to the Vette’s $75 grand. And Motown’s finest doesn’t sacrifice refinement inside. It’s gorgeous, leather dash and bolstered seats are the match of German royalty.
Porsche has exploited its performance brand to expand into SUVs (Cayenne and Macan) and sports sedans (the Panamera). With their sports car DNA, these sleds have become the best-selling Porsches ever, raking in profits undreamed of in the sports car-only days.
Were it not part of the GM empire, one wonders if Corvette, too, might have multiplied as utes and sedans. Howja’ like a Corvette CUV-7 next to your C7? Alas, Corvette soldiers on as a single car.
Rumor has it, however, that the 2017 C8 will be mid-engine. A ruthless V-8 located, Cayman-like, behind the driver’s ear. Be afraid Porsche. Be very afraid.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2014 Corvette Stingray
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car
Price: $53,995 base (about $75,000 convertible as tested)
Power plant: 6.2-liter V-8
Power: 455 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60: 3.9 seconds (Car & Driver)
Weight: 3,362 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/28 mpg highway/ 20 mpg combined
2014 Porsche Cayman S
Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger sports car
Price: $63,800 base (about $83,000 as tested)
Power plant: 3.4L horizontally opposed 6-cyl
Power: 325 horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60: 4.2 seconds (Motor Trend)
Weight: 3,152 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway/ 24 mpg combined
Posted by hpayne on October 17, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 15, 2014
Shed a tear for the Roadmaster. The Chevy Traverse advances the wagon concept by maintaining everything we loved about 20th-century wagons while stuffing it with 21st-century technology.
If Rip Van Winkle awoke today from an afternoon nap in 1995, the first thing he would do is get a shave. The second thing he would do is get gas for his big family station wagon.
At that point, ol’ Rip might wonder what planet he was on.
Has there been any greater physical change in our world in the last 20 years than the disappearance of the station wagon from our landscape? (Okay, that and folks aren’t holding brick-sized cellphones to their heads anymore.) It’s how you know you’re watching a movie from last century. Today, sport utes dominate the family driveway.
Auto historians will tell you that 1970s mpg mandates killed the wagon. But I’m convinced it was Clark Griswold.
Griswold, as played by Chevy Chase in the 1983 classic “National Lampoon’s “Vacation,” drove his long-suffering family cross country in a Wagon Queen Family Truckster — a pea green, wood-paneled, fun-eating caricature of the American wagon.
The resulting fiasco was the cultural death-knell for the once-popular family vehicle.
By the mid-nineties, wagons were as hip as eight-track tape players. Minivans were the new family transport, and they in turn were being replaced by large SUVs. The rear-wheel-drive Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon was the last hurrah. Manufactured from 1991-96, the final Roadmasters (along with sister ships the Chevy Caprice and Cadillac Fleetwood) rolled off the Arlington, Texas assembly line that was being retooled for front-wheel drive utes.
Fast forward 20 years and what should Rip buy? Say hello to the 2014 Chevy Traverse. The Roadmaster has been reincarnated as an SUV.
But unlike Clark Griswold, Rip won’t need to be conned by car salesman Eugene Levy to get into the Chevy. Thanks to vehicles like the gorgeous, sleek Traverse, we hardly miss the wagon. From its wrap-around, Impala-style grille to its high-tech console to its signature Pentagon-rear window, the Traverse can haul eight passengers like the Roadmaster while turning heads, entertaining the kiddies, and still flexing some good ol’ American muscle.
Still, Rip and I wipe a tear from our cheeks. There are some nostalgia pieces that wagon diehards will miss. So let’s get to know our family haulers.
Why compare a Buick and Chevy, you ask? Why not apples to apples? Why not the 1995 Chevy Caprice wagon and the Chevy Traverse? Fair question. Convenience, for
one. My pal (and Rip Van Winkle stand-in), The Detroit News personal finance guru Brian O’Connor, owns a ’95 Roadmaster wagon. It has 194,000 miles. He’s ready for a new ride.
But there are practical, market considerations as well. The all-wheel drive Traverse stickers at $47,355 which is about the same price — adjusted for inflation — as a Roadmaster would sell for today. The Traverse’s Buick Enclave twin, by contrast, would lighten the wallet another $8,000. And, since the Roadmaster was the Brontosaurus of the Wagon Era, perhaps it would make sense to compare it to the equivalent SUV-saurus, the Chevy Suburban. But the Suburban — 130-inch wheelbase vs. the Buick’s 116 — is in another class of big. Manhattanites are buying Suburbans as luxury apartments.
Apples to apples? The Traverse’s 119-inch wheelbase is more Roadmaster like.
If the Chevy is the 21st-century station wagon, its seating position is decidedly 19th-century. Federal mpg laws inspired truck-based sport utes, but Americans’ preference to ride horse-like — high in the saddle — accelerated their popularity. The lower Roadmaster feels like you’re sitting on a Shetland pony. On its knees.
I’m no physicist, but the laws of nature dictate that the Traverse should feel less stable compared to the wagon’s lower-center of gravity. But utes have evolved with better chassis engineering. Built on GM’s sedan-like, unibody Lambda platform, the Traverse is a long way from the truck-based SUVs of 20 years ago. Add GM’s Stabilitrak electronic stability control system and the Traverse is remarkably stable for a 2 ½-ton vehicle.
The 4,700-pound Roadmaster, by contrast, is as nimble as an ocean liner.
Navigating high-speed turns requires considerable concentration. It pitches like it’s in choppy seas. The Buick could use a tug boat.
This ICBM may not turn, but it’s a rocket in a straight line. Stomp on the gas and the small-block, 5.7-liter, 260-horse V-8 in the beast’s belly — yes, the same small black as in a 1990-vintage ‘Vette — roars with authority. So this is why they called it “master.” Glorious. But the V-6 Traverse matches it. The six-holer pumps out 28 more horses (288 total) — while trailing the surly V-8′s 335 pound-feet of torque with “only” 270 pound-feet. Naturally, that kind of power works up an appetite and the V-6 only gains 1 mpg (19 vs. 18) on the old nail — but if you want fuel economy, buy a Spark.
The Traverse and Roadmaster take strikingly different approaches to wood. The Buick wears a full coat of the stuff. Lucky it’s vintage vinyl or the Roadmaster would have been plagued by woodpeckers. The Chevy is more modest, saving its wood grain paneling for the dash which is beautifully appointed. Indeed, the Traverse advances
the wagon concept by maintaining everything we loved about 20th-century wagons while stuffing it with 21st-century technology.
The Traverse’s center console is a candy box of goodies from a 6.5-inch MyLink, color infotainment touchscreen to controls for collision alert, blind-spot assist, hands-free calling, heated steering wheel, dual-climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and a direct line to the Oval Office (just kidding about that last one). The Roadmaster? It has a radio.
Mimicking the wagon, you can flatten the second and third seats in the Traverse if you need to move a grandfather clock — or just need a place to sleep for the night. The Traverse also offers the option of a second-row, digital entertainment center and “smart-sliding” captain’s chairs that bow like Queen Elizabeth’s subjects when you want to get into the third row.
A moment of silence for the rear-facing, third-row bench, please. I spent much of my childhood facing backwards in third-row wagon seats. Our own private space capsule. This led to innovations like the Roadmaster’s rear door which was built to open like a door, lay flat like a pickup tailgate, and re-enter the earth’s atmosphere at 17,000 mph (OK, made that up, too). The modern Traverse’s rear hatch is automatic (more digital wizardry), but it only knows how to go up. Score one for Roadmaster.
Wipe away that tear, Rip, and get a new Traverse. Then join us again in another 20 years. By then steering wheels should have disappeared in favor of self-diving Google cars.
2014 Chevrolet Traverse
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front and all-wheel-drive, seven-or-eight-passenger sport utility vehicle
Price: $31,670 base ($47,355)
Power plant: 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6
Power: 288 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Performance: Towing capacity: 5,200 pounds
Weight: 4,956 pounds (test vehicle)
Fuel economy: EPA 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 mpg combined
Highs: Attractive styling; cavernous cargo space
Lows: 5,000 pound porker; Big blind spots
Posted by hpayne on October 14, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 13, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 12, 2014
Posted by hpayne on October 11, 2014
Unlike a stereotypical truck guy, Scott is a lean drink of water. Fittingly, his lean F150 breaks the truck stereotype, too.
7,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating, that’s a lotta room for equipment (or more 6-foot truck guys) in back.
“Aluminum has given us a great opportunity to improve the truck: More capability, more durability, better performance, better efficiency, better handling dynamics, and at an affordable price,” says the 36-year Ford veteran, rattling off bullet points like a 6-speed tranny rifles gears. The F-150 has been the best–selling truck every year that Scott has been at Ford and he thinks the aluminum revolution is a good reason it’ll be on top for 36 more.
“Eighty percent of our customers know aluminum works,” he says of the lightweight metal that has girded battle ships and race cars alike. “My job is to convince the other 20 percent.”
I rode with Scott on a F-150 test drive outside San Antonio, Texas where we talked tin, toughness, and the 1000 miles of Baja.
Q: What did you drive to the Dream Cruise?
Scott: A new F-150.
Q: As a pickup truck guy would you rather be at the Cruise or another event?
Scott: I’d probably like it more at the Baja 1000 (Ed. note: the brutal, 1000-mile, off-road race on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula). It’s really about toughness and durability.
Q: How long have you been with Ford?
Scott: Thirty-six years. The last 13 years as truck marketing manager. The first 20 years of my career I was in sales in different locations around the country. In 1997 I was Explorer brand manager. Then I had all the SUVs for three years. Then in 2002 I took the truck marketing job.
Q: Is the F-150 a game changer?
Scott: Absolutely. It’s the new standard for full-sized pickups.
Q: Aluminum’s benefits are well known. Why not an aluminum truck until now?
Scott: A combination of factors. We had to be prepared to manufacture a vehicle with aluminum. To master different joining techniques with aluminum. The materials supply was an issue. So a whole host of issues combined to say that now was the right time. Having it all coincide with the needs of the buyer in terms of being a better performing, more capable, more efficient truck.
Q: Ford has done aluminum before with Jaguar. It produced an aluminum-bodied Ford Taurus prototype in the early ’90s. So why not do aluminum first in a sports car like Mustang? Why bet big on your franchise vehicle, the F-150?
Scott: Light-weighting makes the most sense in a truck. Because you can take weight out of the truck and reinvest that weight reduction in more capability like towing and hauling that a customer values so highly.
Q: Does this make it easier for Ford to transition to aluminum in other vehicles?
Scott: Certainly we will have learned a lot about making that conversion. So the next vehicle will be easier, yes.
Q: There is huge brand loyalty in this segment. How do you convince a RAM or Chevy buyer that this is a game changer?
Scott: Our success at launch is going to be determined by maintaining the high loyalty we have with our current customers. We’ll be successful if we can maintain . . . that owner base which is the largest in the market. As for conquests, that is a bonus.
Q: This truck is loaded. How did you keep price down with aluminum and all that tech?
Scott: You have to have mentality that price is governed by the market environment — and where your competition is. Affordability has to be in the forefront. That means we have to be efficient as we build it.
Posted by hpayne on October 9, 2014