Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Aretha RIP Freeway

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 20, 2018

Meet the Dream Cruise Class of ’92

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 16, 2018


The Woodward Dream Cruise is an automotive class reunion. It’s that time of year when owners get together on Michigan’s most fabled avenue to share memories about their favorite old jalopy and to catch up on the latest trends and models. My goodness, have you noticed how big Mini Cooper has gotten?

This year we celebrate the Class of 1992. It turns 26, meaning cars are eligible for antique status from the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.

Most things turn antique after 25 years but, well, close enough for government work. The designation allows owners to slap on historic license plates and qualify for more affordable collector car insurance (assuming you only drive to historic car events like the Cruise).

Ah, 1992. When Bill Clinton was elected president, a Cyrus — Billy Ray, not daughter Miley — had the top-selling music album in the land, and my daily driver was a red cop-magnet: a 1987 Porsche 924S.

The average cost of a car was $16,334 (less than half today’s $36,270), the Detroit Three were demanding trade protection, BMW announced it would manufacture in South Carolina, and General Motors made cars named after the planet Saturn. “Little Al” Unser won the Indy 500, NASCAR still was sponsored by cigarettes, Richard Petty retired from racing, and some kid named Jeff Gordon got his rookie start.

That’s a lot of nostalgia for the reunion to chew on. Want more? Let’s talk the year’s most notable new vehicles.

Hummer H1
The military Humvee was to the 1991 Gulf War what the Jeep was to World War II. The troop carrier inspired a civilian version that debuted with a ringing endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gun turret not included.

Just 316 were sold in ’92 by AM General off the same Indiana assembly line as the military brute. They shared components, including an impressive 72-degree front departure angle, which meant you could take the River Rouge as a shortcut to work. Other features were less impressive, like zero-80 mph acceleration in a glacial 47 seconds and brakes that didn’t stop the three-tonner until the middle of next week.

Cadillac Eldorado/Seville
Cadillac’s early-21st century product resurgence may have had its roots in the 1992 Cadillac Eldorado and Seville. The pair’s shrinking dimensions had matched their shrinking market share, but the bigger, bolder ’92 was a return to form.

“It’s the brightest ray of sunshine that we’ve seen from the Motor City in years,” wrote Car and Driver. Motor Trend awarded it Car of the Year. The Caddys were powered by a 200-horse, 4.9-liter V-8 and an ad campaign that promised “it could change the way you think about American automobiles.”

BMW 3-Series (E36)
So fanatical are BMW 3-Series customers that many can name their favorite Bimmer by alphanumeric generation: E36, E46, E90 and so on. Mine is the E46 M3, FYI. But for many the E36 model — introduced in the United States for model year 1992 — is the one.

E46 marked the first 3-Series to move away from a cowl grille to encased headlights separated from the signature kidney grille. The new look gave the Bimmer better aerodynamics to complement its athletic handling and healthy 189-horse, straight-6 engine. A driver’s car, rear-seat passengers were shortchanged with little leg room.

Mazda 929
An elegant sedan to rival the Eldorado, the 929 was a study in minimalist beauty with its thin grille and sweeping lines.

The 929 also offered techy features like a “solar moon roof” (pardon the oxymoron) which cooled the interior. Exotic, but impractical. It lacked a glove box (due to air bag placement) and boasted a price tag that was $2,500 higher than Lexus’ ES300, the fast-rising Japanese luxury juggernaut. The ES would endure, the 929 would not.

McLaren F1
The F1 is legend, but wasn’t allowed here until last year under America’s “25-year rule” that permits imports not previously approved for U.S. regulations. The scissor-door F1 was the successful English race team’s first venture into production cars. Today’s P1, 720S, and 570GT cyborgs are its spawn.

Specs are epic. The first supercar with a carbon-fiber monocoque weighed just 2,500 pounds, hit 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and set a (then) record top speed of 231 mph — numbers still competitive today. But here’s the thing: only 106 were built, so expect to pay north of $10 million for one.

Honda Prelude
If McLaren F1 was the class’ unobtainable hottie, then Prelude was the fun party gal. The coupe entered its fourth-generation in 1992 with significant changes, including an end to pop-up headlights that had been the industry rage in the ’80s.

Car and Driver voted the remake to its 10 Best list, raving that “Honda changed the Prelude’s personality from plain-vanilla to cayenne pepper.” Prelude came loaded with options including a sliding sunroof, innovative all-wheel steering (really) and three engine options.

The performance Si version pumped out 160 horsepower from a 2.3-liter mill shared with the Accord. Prelude has since been crowded out of the Honda lineup with the racy, 205-horse Civic Si waving Honda’s coupe flag.

Subaru SVX
The nimble Subaru BRZ (the only Subie without all-wheel drive) is one of my favorite sports cars. But it’s hardly Subaru’s first foray into the segment. In ’92 the Japanese brand turned heads with the SVX. Starting a trend of one, SVX innovated the “window-within-the-window,” which allowed passengers to roll down an embedded pane and not get wet in a rain storm.

Subaru contracted Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro — father of the BMW M1 and Maserati Ghibli — to pen their new halo coupe. Other notable features included a powerful, flat-6 putting 230 horses to the ground via all-wheel drive. The hefty price tag ($45,000 in today’s dollars), however, was outside Subie customers’ comfort zone and the SVX met an early death.

Ford Taurus SHO
The last of the purist SHO (Super High Output). This classic, manual-only Woodward Q-ship was nearly indistinguishable from the standard, best-selling Taurus family sedan (hmmm, those dual-exhaust pipes look different!). But Ford stuffed the engine bay with a stonkin’ 220-horse, Yamaha-developed V-6 that hit 60 mph in less than seven seconds.

Sales suffered for the lack of an automatic option, so a year later, Ford added a 3.2-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed auto.

Congratulations to the Class of ’92, 26 years young. Slap on your historic plate and burn rubber. You’re only as old as you feel.

Cartoon Trump and Omarosa

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 16, 2018

Cartoon: Tiger Woods

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 15, 2018

Cartoon: Chicago and Climate Change

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 10, 2018

Cartoon: Blue Wave and Republican House

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 10, 2018

Cartoon: Uber and politicians

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 10, 2018

Cartoon: LeBron Trump Tatoos

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 7, 2018

Cartoon: CNN Hair on Fire

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 3, 2018

Cartoon: EPA versus California Mandates

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 3, 2018

Payne: Jaguar I-Pace prowls quietly

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 3, 2018

The Jaguar I-Pace bears familiar brand touches like angled headlights and open grille. A low roof line and deeply-scalloped rocker panels also give the exterior a unique character.

For seven years, Tesla has been king of the electric jungle. Now comes a challenger on silent paws.

The athletic Jaguar I-Pace crossover debuts in U.S. showrooms in September, the first of a wave of premium battery-powered challengers coming to knock the Silicon Valley lion off Simba’s Rock. The I-Pace is cat-quick, head-turning and comfortable.

But the I-Pace will also be fighting for pre-eminence within its own brand against a legacy of roaring, long-nose cats. In short, if you have $85,000 to spend on a Jag, do you want a stealthy EV, or a growling V-8 that sounds like, well … a Jaguar?

I grew up at race tracks lusting after long-nose 1970s-era, inline-6 and V-12 powered E-type sports cars howling around vintage Trans-Am club events with Camaros and Mustangs. The English cat stood out among the American ponies, its long-nose arriving three corners before its fastback hindquarters.

After years in the Ford zoo, Jaguar was re-energized when Tata bought it in 2008. The new owner gave Jag room to roam, and designers re-introduced the big cat to the world with the gorgeous, V-8 powered F-Type sports car in 2013. Grown men’s knees buckled.

Gone was the long hood (a victim of safety nannies), but the rest of the DNA was there: big haunches, fastback cockpit and eight-purring cylinders. It was a classic Jag for the second Golden Era of muscle cars.

The I-Pace is a new Jaguar halo car for a new century.

Throw out the rulebook, re-write the script: The electric cat not only doesn’t have a gas guzzler under its short front hood, it isn’t even a sports car. This is a “Pace”-edition Jaguar, as in E-Pace and F-Pace, the other SUVs that make up the Brit badge’s stable.

Jaguar SUVs? Crikey, what?

It’s a Jaguar aimed at a new generation of car buyers, not 20th-century dinosaurs like me. Not only is Jag hip to the new century trend of (cash-cow) premium SUVs, it sees a new generation of buyer raised to ogle at electric iPhones and Teslas.

Cruising the Palisades State Highway along the banks of the Hudson River – New York’s skyline quickly disappearing in my rear-view mirror – the electric cat pounced like a Tesla, its 90-kWh battery offering instant torque in any gear. Check that. There are no gears here, just a single-speed transmission driving an electric motor with lakes of torque.

The Jag EV provokes immediate comparisons to King Tesla’s lineup of Model X ute, Model S sedan and Model 3 sedan. Shrewdly, the I-Pace plays tweener.

It declares itself a crossover in this SUV-crazed age, but it looks and feels more like the Tesla sedans. Its $70,495 entry price splits the base $75,000 Model S 75D (that’s 75 kWh of battery) and the $64,000 top-of-the-line, all-wheel drive Model 3 Performance model.

 With its cab-forward design, its stance is more Model 3 than long-nosed Model S, but its rear hatch mimics that of the latter. The Jag is prettier than its Model X ute-mate with a streamlined roof, angular lines and scalloped rocker panels.

Curiously, however, it’s the Tesla (remember when Tesla was aping Jaguar XF styling?) that pulls off the sexier rear haunches.

Jaguar spent a great deal of time trimming the I-Pace for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, including nifty touches like using aerofoil fluid dynamics to wipe the back window clean (dude, that is soooo cool).

But to keep its drag-coefficient below 0.3 – 2.9 to be exact – the Jaguar gets skinny hips. The hippy Model S manages an impressive 0.24. Hmmm.

No doubt this is because the Model S is a sedan – but then how to explain the Model X’s 0.24 drag-coefficient?

I first tested the I-Pace in March at Jaguar’s North American headquarters in Jersey where it deftly sliced up a low-speed autocross course courtesy of that big brick of a battery stored in the floorboards for low center of gravity. At speed through New York’s rural twisties, the I-Pace isn’t as nimble as the lower Model S – and out of the league of the similarly sized (96 vs. 97 cubic feet of passenger volume) Model 3 which may be the best athlete in the compact sedan class.

With the Model 3 Performance model’s extra oomph, it will also beat the Jag to 60 mph with a healthy 3.5 seconds vs. 4.5.

Too much stoplight fun and the Jag eats battery. My Hudson trip took 140 miles on the odometer, but erased 195 miles of range from the battery. After zigging when I shoulda zagged, I found myself further from New York City than planned. Dreaded range anxiety crept in. The Jaguar became a docile kitten as I preserved electrons home.

Range anxiety? An hour out of America’s biggest metropolis? A reminder that infrastructure – the EV’s Kryptonite – is weak.

The Model S and Model 3 go sci-fi inside with their trademark interiors. The iPad-like screens still wow 10 years after their introduction.

Despite a clever “flying-buttress” console design (Jaguar’s signature, recessed rotary transmission-controller isn’t necessary in an EV), the Brit’s dash instruments are more conservative than Tesla’s. Similar to brother F-Pace, they are digital, configurable and (regrettably) slow.

The familiarity is meant in part to re-assure EV customers who are wary of Tesla’s nagging quality issues.

The Brit may not have a sci-fi cockpit, but it offers good ol’ reliable services like 5-year/60,000-mile free maintenance and roadside assistance (Tesla does not), a longer warranty (5 years/60,000 miles compared to Tesla’s 4 years/50,000 miles) and eight-year battery warranty.

And then there are track bragging-rights.

With its racing history, the I-Pace has been flogged mercilessly around tracks. It’s what all cats must do. The I-Pace recently was witnessed doing four hard laps around Portugal’s’ Portimau Circuit without breathing hard (the Model 3 Performance claims similar performance); the I-Pace will get its own “e-Trophy” race series next year.

But the Jag is also aware that four laps in a roaring, $90,000 F-Type – its angry growls scattering prey for miles – would be more emotionally rewarding. So it has introduced an artificial “GRRR” into its Dynamic mode (the GRRR can even be programmed to stay in Normal mode should the driver desire).

Millennial fans might find it alluring, like a “Star Wars” jet fighter. Others might find it strange. Artificial Jaguar growls? Crikey!

Therein lies Jaguar’s challenge. It has produced a credible Tesla fighter for affluent EV fans. But does Jaguar have the same electric status as Tesla?

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Jaguar I-Pace

Vehicle type: Electric, four-passenger luxury SUV

Price: $70,495 base ($80,500 HSE as tested)

Powerplant: 90-kWh lithium-ion battery with twin electric-motor drive

Power: 394 horsepower, 512 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Automatic, single-speed

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (mfr.); top speed: 124 mph

Weight: 4,784 pounds

Fuel economy: 240-mile range (189 miles on battery to cover 140 miles, observed)

Report card

Highs: Handsome exterior, interior; electric performance

Lows: Slow infotainment screen; lack of charging infrastructure

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Apple Trillion dollar value

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 3, 2018

Cartoon: Hulk Economy

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

Payne: Polaris Slingshot, a 173-horsepower trike

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

Slingshot Wet

When I was a tot, I was a serious tricycle rider. I’d tear around the cul-de-sac, pedaling furiously, making growling engine sounds.

Not much has changed in 50 years. Except now I have the good sense to wear a helmet.

This summer I tested the Polaris Slingshot three-wheeler — a 1,750-pound trike with the wheels in front that’s powered by a 2.4-liter, 173-horse General Motors Ecotec engine (last seen in the 2012 Chevy Malibu) up front. It drives a carbon-fiber-belt-driven single rear wheel in back.

It’s wicked looking — like the Dark Knight got bored one night and decided to burn the midnight oil by bolting the Bat-Pod onto the Tumbler.

Paint it gray and lime-green (Lime Squeeze Polaris calls it), screw in two seats, and it’s a neighborhood kid-magnet. They lined up like it was a Cedar Point ‘coaster. But everyone had to put on a helmet first. I’ve never driven a two-wheeler but the Slingshot is close.

The 7.5-inch “wind deflector” is an option on the base $19,999 Slingshot S (my tester was the loaded, $31,000 SLR LE), but the low screen is little protection from eating bugs on the freeway — much less any larger, errant objects that might come along (while in a sedan on Interstate 75 this spring, I narrowly avoided a ladder flying off a utility truck).

But the thrill of riding in the open air — your knuckles dragging just feet off the ground, an engine roaring in front of you —  is undeniable.

The kids strapped into the seat, secured their helmet and had a blast while holding on for dear life to the “oh crap” handle on Slingshot’s exposed aluminum frame. It’s like a stick-shift, rear-wheel drive Mazda Miata with a single rear wheel.

Wider than a Corvette ZR1 up front with a fat, 12-inch Kendra tire out back, the Polaris turns on a dime, the rear wheel slewing sideways under power. And with a power-to-weight ratio of 1:10 — same as a Ford Focus RS hot hatch — the car comes off a corner like, well, a slingshot.

Pop the clutch and tricycle burnouts are a blast — especially without having to worry about pulling a wheelie with the single tire out back.

“That was awesome!” screamed the kids.

Music to my ears. As makers of snowmobiles and ATVs, Polaris has been tickling adult’s inner 10-year-old for years. My top-trim model even came equipped with adjustable Bilstein shocks to tempt me out on the track.

But Polaris intends the Slingshot to be more than just a thrill ride — it’s an affordable, serious summer commuter not unlike the similarly priced Miata fun-box.

After laying some rubber up Woodward one morning, I stopped for lunch with a pal at one of my favorite eateries, Motorcity Burgers & Company (try the Z28 Burger with zip sauce, portabella mushrooms and mozzarella) across the street from the M1 Concourse car club. I tucked the helmet under my arm and strolled through the restaurant like a biker dude.

While inside, the skies opened for a good summer soaking. Polaris doesn’t sweat the rain — exposed surfaces are waterproof — and I wiped off my drenched seats when I returned. But what if it was still raining?

My biker friends tell me they’ve invested in waterproof jackets and pants, gloves, balaclava, the works. So after you put down $30,000 for your Slingshot, prepare to invest in a new wardrobe. Keep an extra set of dry clothes tucked in the glove compartment, too.

For $29,999, Polaris offers a Grand Touring LE model with a “Slingshade” — a sort of canopy with gull-wing roof over the passenger compartment (as if the standard Slingshot isn’t extroverted enough) that includes an enlarged, 9.5-inch windscreen. But without windows or doors, you’ll still get wet in a rainstorm.

I met my first Slingshot a few years back at an I-75 rest stop somewhere north of the Zilwaukee Bridge. Husband and wife were piloting their Sunset Red three-wheeler to a weekend Up North.

“It’s awesome!” they said, channeling their inner 10-year-old.

I can vouch for the travel experience. Mrs. Payne and I took an extended trip around the metro area one weekend and enjoyed the attention. Muscle-car guys would pull up next to us with a thumbs-up. Gals strolling on the sidewalk shouted “cool car!” and everyone was real nice about giving us space.

Which was nice because space is an issue when the only thing between you and a 5,500-pound Chevy Suburban is a steel-tube frame.

I’ve never been so paranoid lest a texting, left-lane-lollygagging SUV pilot fails to see me beneath their 8-foot-tall bow and punts me clean across the interstate median. I grew eyes in the back of my head.

Encased in our helmets, the engine roaring at the top of its lungs, Mrs. Payne and I nary exchanged a word save her occasional gesticulation which I interpreted as: “Look out for that Suburban turning into our lane!”

Beyond the bare-bones Slingshot S, the upper-trim options beginning with the $25,499 SL trim come standard with a 7.5-inch infotainment touchscreen and backup camera. The screen is optimized for operation with gloves on, but hearing the radio over 173 horses required turning the volume up so high that we became a mobile boom box.

Yet, when my wife and I stopped for groceries, we took our helmets off and beamed at each other. Like getting soaked on a whitewater raft trip, there is something exhilarating about being on a trike again instead of the usual grown-up quiet luxury of a modern sedan.

Yes, I said groceries. Two storage compartments — about the size of a hotel drawer turned on its end — are accessible by key behind the seats and under the forged-aluminum roll bars. It’s enough space for a small grocery run, though I would warn against eggs if you enjoy three-wheel drifting through corners as I am tempted to do.

Since its launch in 2014, the Polaris has sold more than 25,000 Slingshots worldwide. Happily for Michiganians, our state is one of 44 to classify the Slingshot as an “autocycle” — meaning you can drive it with a standard driver’s license (the other states require a motorcycle license).

Order it online at https://slingshot.polaris.com/en-us or at eight Michigan retail storesthat also carry Sea-Doos, ATVs and other adult toys for those of us who never grew up.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Polaris Slingshot

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger three-wheeler

Price: $19,999 base ($30,999 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter inline-4 cylinder

Power: 173 horsepower, 166 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 130 mph

Weight: 1,750 pounds

Fuel economy: Observed under Payne’s whip: 23 mpg

Report card

Highs: Your personal Batmobile; nimble handling

Lows: Exposed to the elements, semis, texting SUV drivers; slippery when wet

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Four Percent Growth Books

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 1, 2018

Cartoon: Marchionne

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2018

Cartoon: Marchionne RIP

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2018

Cartoon: Farm Trade War

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2018

Cartoon: FBI

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2018

Cartoon: Musk Tweets Tesla

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 25, 2018