Henry Payne Blog

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2021

Cartoon: Newsom Victory Party French Laundry

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2021

Cartoon: AOC Met Gala Dress

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2021

Payne: Curvaceous Karma makes a sporty plug-in pitch

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2021

Charleston, W.Va. — The Fisker Karma and Tesla Model S exploded into our lives in 2011. With stunning looks, sci-fi technology, dashing CEOs — even $500 million each in investment from the Obama/Biden administration — the four-door exotics promised a wild ride into the EV future.

But while Tesla soared, Fisker flamed out.

Burdened by a drivetrain and interior that did not match its sexy package, the alluring Karma labored around the dance floor while buyers boogied with the Model S’s Ludicrous acceleration and smart tech. A decade and multiple suitors later, Karma is now married to China’s Wanxiang Group Corp. — founder Henrik Fisker having moved on.

And the Karma GS-6 has finally realized the drivetrain potential to match its looks. Even as corporate elites obsess over a trendy, zero-emissions future, my road trip to West Virginia and back with the plug-in, coal-powered Karma promises a much more livable solution.

Not zero emissions. The 2021 Karma GS-6 can run on electric-only power, but that power comes from a carbon-powered electric grid. Example: The John Amos power plant in West Virginia.

To begin with, Mrs. Payne agreed to join me.

After the expected gasp at encountering the Karma for the first time — “Wow, that is a beautiful car!” — she immediately pivoted to: “We’re not taking another electric car on our trip, are we?”

My long-suffering bride is weary of spending road trips sitting in Meijer/Walmart parking lots recharging my Tesla Model 3 (or the occasional Mustang Mach-E or Audi e-tron or EV flavor-of-the-month I get to test). She’d rather be dining with family at the end of our journey than hoofing it to a nearby fast-food joint while the EV sips electrons.

“We’re eating dinner at Arby’s,” she’ll text from a fast charger with a groaning emoji. “Be there soon.”

Rather than try to reinvent the U.S. electric grid, the Karma embraces the inherent benefits of electric and gas power. Let me count the ways:

Electric power. Taking advantage of cheap electricity at home, the GS-6 plug-in charges its 24.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack overnight to 80 miles at 10 cents-per-kWh so you can do daily commutes on battery power alone. Easy, and you don’t have to visit a $3-a-gallon gas station.

Gas power. Want to go road tripping? Karma takes advantage of America’s vast gas station network to fill up on the road and get you to where you’re going without electric range anxiety (or long delays in parking lots). With its energy-dense, 116,090 BTUs per gallon, a gas pump can deliver you 25 miles in 5 seconds. Plug in to a 240-volt charger and it’ll take 2 hours to get 25 miles.

Best of both worlds. The 2021 Karma GS-6 can run off the plug for 80 miles - but on road trips it can take on gas for extended range up to 360 miles.

Karma is not the first luxury car to try this, of course. The Cadillac ELR plug-in (based on the Chevy Volt) debuted at the same time as Fisker and Tesla and bit the dust a few years later. It was overpriced at $80,000 compared with the larger, more luxurious startups.

And, like the Fisker Karma, its performance paled compared to peers.

That was enough to doom ELR, but not Karma. Like a siren in Greek mythology, Karma’s stunning looks continued to attract interest.

Penned by Aston Martin designer Fisker, the Karma is widely considered one of the prettiest cars conceived.

China’s Wanxiang rescued her from financial purgatory. Everyone adored her. Heck, even Bob Lutz and Gilbert Villarreal took some Karma chassis and stuffed them with Corvette V-8s.

The low-slung Fisker looks like a four-door Corvette. The long front hood arrives 10 minutes before the cabin, riding on muscular haunches. Like most super sports cars, it’s a pain-in-the neck (literally, I had to cock my 6-foot-5-inch neck every time I got out) to access, but once seated, you feel like the king of the road.

The 2021 Karma GS-6 hood opens like a front-engine Corvette. Underneath is a tiny 3-cylinder turbocharged engine.

Below decks, Wanxiang has improved the secret sauce.

Massive electric motors propel the rear with 536 horsepower. Zero-60 mph goes by in 4.5 seconds. That’s not bad for a sled that weighs 5,034 pounds — but the real drawback is listening to the 3-cylinder engine bray like an angry mule. At least Karma makes the experience interesting with drag race-style Christmas tree lights in the digital instrument display that count down to launch.

It’s a big step from the former, $96,000 Fisker’s glacial, 5.9 second acceleration (which was slower than a Ford Fusion Sport). That was the result of a 402-horse drivetrain mated to a GM 4-banger (shades of the underpowered Caddy ELR), which Karma has swapped out for the more competent, 1.5-liter BMW turbo. Wainxiang first stuffed this 536-horse upgrade into its 2020 Karma Revero GT.

With instant torque and low center of gravity, Karma enjoyed hustling around a West Virginia test track. But this is a grand tourer, not a track rat. I’m the rare motorhead that will push this diva.

More interesting were the drive modes on my journey to the Mountain State. I mostly cruised in hybrid, SUSTAIN mode — the gas engine acting as a generator for the battery to preserve range. Upon hitting U.S. 35’s twisties, I switched to SPORT mode for maximum system power. Huzzah! Corner exits were a hoot with instant electric torque — the turbo-3 maintaining the torque curve at higher revs.

The retro cockpit of the 2021 Karma GS-6 includes update screens and steering wheel controls.

But maintaining battery reserve takes discipline. After a restroom stop, I forgot to return to SUSTAIN mode and promptly drained the battery to just 12 miles before realizing I was in SPORT mode.

At my West Virginia family’s home, I plugged into the local John Amos coal plant for the night (via 110-volt wall charger) to try and get my 80 miles back. After 12 hours, the battery range indicated 48 miles (from 20% to 65% of charge).

That was enough for a stealthy tour of Charleston in battery-only STEALTH mode — my relatives lounging in the rear bucket seats. They cheered Karma’s instant torque out of stoplight, enjoyed its quiet through city streets.

Tesla’s performance has opened a generation to the possibilities of all-electric powertrains  (Karma, too, will be offering an all-electric version of the GS-6). But EVs are inferior to gas engines when it comes to long hauls. Now that the Karma finally has its act together, it can claim the crown as a plug-in halo.

Its $109,100 sticker may be exclusive, but it might inspire a look at more affordable plug-ins. Check out the $40,000 Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Ioniq plug-ins at your local dealership.

2021 Karma GS-6

Vehicle type: Front-engine, twin-rear electric motor, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger, series hybrid sports sedan

Price: $85,700, including $1,800 destination fee ($109,100 GS-6L as tested)

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph (4.5 sec., Car and Driver); top speed, 125 mph

Weight: 5,043 pounds

Fuel economy: Range, 80 miles battery; 360 miles combined gas-electric

Report card

Highs: Gorgeous figure; three-mode, plug-in diversity

Lows: Tech lags competitors; shouty turbo-3

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 14, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 14, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 14, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 11, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 11, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2021

Payne: Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup … where SUVs leave off

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 10, 2021

Santa Cruz, California — And now for something completely different.

The segment-busting 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup is the first of its kind — a unibody-based, head-turning Swiss Army knife with many tools for many chores. Did I say pickup? Hyundai prefers the term Sport Adventure Vehicle because Santa Cruz is truly a different animal.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz offers pickup utility on top of a nimble SUV that can cut some rug on country roads.

“I think this segment is the new hot hatch,” said Hyundai Test and Development manager Chahe Apelian of a compact SUV segment that will soon include the Ford Maverick and maybe entrants from Ram and VW.

That’s music to my ears as I was an early buyer of the segment-busting 1984 VW Golf GTI, the original hot hatch. An enthusiast’s compact. Since then, hot hatches have become the most versatile vehicle in autodom with utility and performance at an affordable price. Though hardly volume sellers compared to their peers, they attract passionate lifestyle buyers who turn brand missionaries.

In addition to the GTI, today’s hot hatch segment includes all-stars like the Golf R, Mazda 3 Turbo and Hyundai Veloster N (soon to be replaced by the Kona N).

As Americans have pivoted to utes and trucks, the Santa Cruz offers similar benefit to adventure-minded SUV buyers. Think lifestyle enthusiasts like Subaru Outback or Jeep Compass customers.

Start with Santa Cruz’s centerpiece:

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes with sub-bed storage.

The bed. As hatch is to Golf GTI utility, the bed is to Santa Cruz.

Unlike traditional pickups which option multi-length beds, the Cruz tub is fully integrated into the chassis design. Ladder-frame truck beds are clearly tacked onto the cabin so they can be swapped out for a bigger unit during assembly. Cruz’s bed is a natural extension of the vehicle’s lines. Hey, it’s not a Mercedes, but it makes for a leaner, more sinewy profile that is pleasing to the eye.

Then the bed gets down to basics: soft-drop tailgate, sub-bed storage, drainage plug, side-wall storage, LED lights, utility rails. All standard. In a vehicle starting at $24,000 — well under a mid-size pickup class where you’ll be hard-pressed to find standard goodies. Built in ’Bama, Cruz was designed on Cali’s surfer coast with Yanks in mind. It even copies Chevy Silverado’s corner steps to help you lay your surfboard in the bed.

The bed of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz is perfect for surfboards and other quick trips around town.

Like hot hatches, pickups are generally boy toys, but I’m betting these features will make Santa Cruz a chick magnet, too. Wee Mrs. Payne is terrified of free-falling tailgates, but soft-drop reassures. And on a trip to the grocer (or the park to barbecue), it’s a no-brainer to throw your meats ‘n’ drinks into the sub-bed locker with a bag of ice. When you arrive at your destination, pull the plug to drain the water.

The icing on the cake is the tonneau cover. Lockable, water-resistant and easy to slide, it’s the answer to every pickup buyer’s prayers — a retractable cover that instantly turns the bed into a trunk to protect your stuff from the elements.

Not standard, but worth the $3,270 upgrade that includes 115-volt plug in rear, sunroof, sliding rear window, and more.

The sub-bed is also perfect for muddy kids cleats and jerseys — indeed, the whole idea of a bed on the back of an SUV is to keep smells and dirt separated from the cabin.

The 4-foot bed does come with compromises. You won’t be hauling ATVs back there. Indeed, the bed can’t even swallow a bicycle whole, necessitating that you throw the front tire over the tailgate to fit it in. That, naturally, means you have to buy a Hyundai accessory to protect the tailgate (or just throw a thick rug over it).

You can stash bikes on the bed of the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz - just make sure you have something to protect the tailgate from the front tire hanging over the back.

For those who want to drag their ATV to the Outback, you’ll need to buy a trailer. With that in mind, Hyundai ambitiously, obsessively benchmarked to the Honda Ridgeline (a segment bigger and the only other SUV-based unibody pickup) with 5,000-pound towing capability. Nice.

For more typical use cases of loading mulch, cinderblock, furniture … Santa Cruz also has a Ridgeline-like payload of 1,900 pounds.

It’s a compact SUV. Just as GTI shares a skeleton with the VW Golf, so is the Santa Cruz a Tucson with a bed. Tucson, also new this year, has immediately gone to the top of the SUV class in my book with its Lambo looks, clever interior and tight handling.

Male and female alike will find this pleasing for metro errands where even midsize pickups can feel big.

Around the crowded San Francisco Bay Area, Cruz was as easy to park as, well, a Tucson. That compact size shows in back, and my 6-foot-5-inch frame’s legs were jammed into the back of the front seat when I tried to sit behind myself. Normal-size folks will be more comfortable — and there’s sub-seat storage space to boot.

The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz offers clever, sub-rear seat storage.

It’s a looker. The GTI and Mazda 3 Turbo hatches are eye-catching. Cruz, too. When I say the Cruz is a Tucson with a bed, I mean outside and inside. Teased waaaay back at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show as a prototype, Santa Cruz was a long time coming as Hyundai developed an architecture that could meet the pickup’s needs.

Hyundai has bold styling ambitions, and Tucson/Santa Cruz’s triangle-themed design is unique.

The state-of-the-art interior boasts the same pluses and minuses as Tucson. I love its simplicity with two all-digital screens running the show and twin lines wrapping the cabin. The latter is made possible by ditching the instrument display screen’s hood (credit a bright LCD display). Dude, it’s cool.

Like the Tucson SUV with which it shares a platform, the 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz comes with all the latest electronics like adaptive cruise control and smartphone app connect.

Hyundai jumps the shark by continuing that simplicity to a touchscreen without volume dials which occupants will miss. At least the driver can control volume with a steering-wheel button. It’s hard to be mad when Santa Cruz comes standard with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Fun to drive. OK, the high-riding (8.6-inch) Cruz is no hot hatch on road, but it can cut some rug. The 2022 Nissan Frontier is the best-handling ladder-frame truck I’ve driven thanks to clever suspension and cabin mounts — but it can’t hold a candle to the Santa Cruz. With a healthy turbocharged 281 horses under the hood (a 191-horse 4-cylinder is also capable), we danced together through the twists and turns of the Bay Area’s challenging Route 9 and had a ball.

Just, um, don’t try that with the groceries in back. Same goes for hot hatches.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger pickup

Price: $25,175, including $1,185 destination fee ($40,905 Limited model as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder; 2.5-liter turbo-4

Power: 191 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque (2.5L); 281 horsepower, 311 pound-feet of torque (2.5L turbo)

Transmissions: 8-speed automatic (2.5L); 8-speed dual-clutch automatic (2.5L turbo)

Performance: 0-60 mph (7.5 seconds, Car and Driver, 2.5L turbo-4); payload, 1,900 pounds; tow, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 2,835 pounds (manual Limited as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 19 mpg city/26 highway/22 combined (2.5L turbo-4 as tested)

Report card

Highs: Segment-busting pickup for metro drivers; versatile bed

Lows: Won’t fit your bike without taking wheel off; touchscreen needs buttons, please

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 7, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 7, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 4, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 4, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 2, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on September 2, 2021

Payne: Subaru’s BRZ track rat is fun, ‘ffordable, and finally fixed

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 2, 2021

Lime Rock Park, Connecticut — Short but sweet, Lime Rock is one of America’s most formidable race tracks. It features double-apex turns, elevation changes and the Diving Turn — one of the most heart-in-your-throat downhill bends this side of Cedar Point’s Millennium Force.

But my 2022 Subaru BRZ tester likes Lime Rock’s new interior autocross track best.

This is the natural habitat of BRZ, one of the industry’s most entertaining sports cars. Entertaining for its quick reactions, low center of gravity and precise manual shifter. Whether at Lime Rock or your local Michigan parking-lot autocross, the Boxer Rear-wheel-drive Zenith (BRZ) earns its name. You’ll find yourself grinning as you fling it from pylon to pylon.

The 2022 Subaru BRZ is a autocross joy with manual transmission and athletic chassis.

But for the first time, the heavily revised ’Ru is also not a fish out of water on big tracks thanks to its new 2.4-liter Boxer 4-cylinder mill.

A quick story: My son Henry coveted the Subaru BRZ for his first car. He loved the low-slung chassis, fastback and roomy 2+2 seating compared with the cramped two-seat Miata.

When I got a BRZ to test in 2014, I called him in Chicago. He took the next Southwest flight out. When he arrived, I had the manual BRZ with our six-speed 2006 Honda Civic Si in the driveway. The solid Civic was the car my two boys were raised on. They tracked it, traveled in it, bonded with it.

After testing the speedsters back-to-back on Milford’s twisty roads, I could see the verdict in Henry’s face. He was disappointed. BRZ’s handling was expectedly quick (though Si is no slouch), but not enough to overcome the lack of grunt. Despite boasting 200 horsepower on paper — equivalent to the Si — the Subie was no match for the Honda’s punchy, high-revving VTEC engine.

He returned to Chicago with BRZ scratched off his shopping list.

The 2022 model makes up for lost ground. Recognizing the hole in BRZ’s heart, Subaru engineers have thrown out the ol’ 2.0-liter and replaced it with a beefier, 2.4-liter flat-4 cylinder that pushes out 228 ponies and 184 pound-feet of torque — meaningful increases of, respectively, 28 and 33 over the original car.

BRZ’s added oomph was immediately apparent on Connecticut’s back roads. Subaru has raised the engine’s voice to celebrate. The flat-4 pipes engine sound into the cabin via the speakers. WRAUGHRRR! the engine howled as I rowed through the gears.

If my son’s need for speed concerns has been addressed, then so have my misgivings about the BRZ’s style. Co-developed by Subaru and Toyota, the first-gen felt like it had been penned by committee — dulling the design’s character.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the sports car shape. But next to affordable rivals like the MX-5 Miata, Ford Mustang HiPo and Chevrolet Camaro 1LE, BRZ (and Toyota 86) lacked distinction. It had the moves of Roger Federer, but the style of Yevgeny Kafelnikov (who?).

The new BRZ is better. Flared side gills, sculpted rocker panels, duck tail. Fascia features are properly integrated, where before they looked stuck-on Mr. Potato Head-style.

Credit Toyota as the BRZ partnership’s design lead. The big Japanese automaker has become much more aggressive with its styling after years of somnolent design language. There are echoes here of Toyota’s curvaceous Supra sports car co-developed with BMW (I’d buy the racy-looking Supra over the Z4).

The new BRZ and Toyota 86 don’t differ nearly as much, but both have a maturity the previous gen lacked.

Speaking of curves, BRZ rotated through Lime Rock’s corners with confidence, a hallmark of Subaru engineering. Their signature Boxer engine with its horizontally opposed pistons (as opposed to taller V-6 and inline-4s) has been the standard in the industry for low center of gravity. The first-gen car was as low as a Tesla Model S (its batteries slung low) — and the new ’22 model is bettered only among gas-powered cars by the $160,000 Porsche 911 GT3 track monster, which itself benefits from a flat-6 Boxer engine.

The $30,000 ’Ru can hardly compete with Porsche’s leading-edge suspension upgrades like rear-wheel steer — but it does manage sophisticated handling tools like a stabilizer bar bolted directly to the frame for increased stiffness.

Whether on the autocross course or road course, BRZ inspires confidence. The manual is more responsive than the automatic (75% of BR sales are stick, for good reason), and the brakes remarkably resilient. The more I lapped, the more I pushed the envelope.

The red stripe signifies leather seats in the up-trim, Limited model of the 2022 Subaru BRZ.

That push is helped by Subie’s reworked seats, which better hold the pilot. I’m a big boy at 6’5” but fit comfortably in BRZ even with a helmet strapped on. Contrast that to MX-5 Miata, which I don’t so much sit in as wear, so tight are its confines. Miata is just 2,300 pounds, but the 2,835-pound BRZ is plenty trim with lots of usable rear-seat cargo and cabin space.

Subarus have been leaders in affordable tech, but BRZ is less comprehensive, perhaps because of its shared platform. Subaru’s Eyesight Driver Assist suite, for example, offers goodies like adaptive cruise control and automatic braking — but only with the automatic tranny. At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are standard so you can hit the road and find the next autocross (Obetz, Ohio? Oscoda Airport, Michigan?) with ease.

The interior of the 2022 Subaru BRZ is streamlined, roomy, and the manual shifter is the choice of 75% of drivers.

Its dexterity is also a reminder of the thrill of sports cars at the time when the industry is facing a re-run of “That ’70s Show.” Like the killjoy 1970s, automakers are threatened by government rules forcing conformity (mpg mandates in the ’70s, EV mandates today).

Affordable vehicles like the lightweight long-range BRZ are at risk to penalties favoring heavy short-range EVs. The determination of Toyota/Subaru to develop the 2022 BRZ for their customers — not federal bureaucrats — bodes well for the future of automotive choice.

These are golden years, after all. Not since the 1960s have consumers had access to so deep a toy box. My sons can choose from $30,000 hot shoes like the VW GTI and Mazda3 Turbo; pony cars like the Mustang HiPo and Camaro V-6; pocket rockets like Civic Si and Hyundai Elantra N; roller skates like the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ.

They are gateway drugs to cheetahs like the Supra and Chevy Corvette, and ultimately cyborgs like 911 GT3 and McLaren 760.

Drifting through Turn 3 at Lime Rock’s autocross course in third gear, I mashed the brake, downshifted to 2nd with heel-and-toe, then smoked the tires with 184 pound-feet of torque.

It’s a trade handed down by generations of enthusiasts. And BRZ is their tool for the 21st century.

2022 Subaru BRZ

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive four-passenger sports car

Price: $28,955, including $960 destination fee ($31,465 Limited model as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter Boxer 4-cylinder

Power: 228 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque

Transmissions: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.8 seconds (Car and Driver est); top speed, 140 mph

Weight: 2,835 pounds (manual Limited as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 20 mpg city/27 highway/22 combined (manual); 21 mpg city/30 highway/25 combined (auto)

Report card

Highs: Improved, 2.4-liter power; better looks

Lows: Gotta’ remove your legs to get in back; top safety features only available with automatic

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

Cartoon: Afghan Defund US Military

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 2, 2021