Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Comey Book and Trump

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 22, 2018

Cartoon: Buy EVs, Global Warming

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 22, 2018

Cartoon: Starbucks Closed for Training

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 22, 2018

Cartoon: Barbara Bush RIP

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 19, 2018

Cartoon: Syria Chemical Police

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 15, 2018

Cartoon: Trump Tweets Syria

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 13, 2018

Cartoon: Redneck Kimmel

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 13, 2018

Cartoon: Stormy Mueller Club

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 12, 2018

Cartoon: Facebook Congress Hearing

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 12, 2018

Payne: Nissan turns over a new Leaf

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 12, 2018

leaf_ferndale-charger

I vaguely remember my high school chemistry and biology labs: dissected frogs, Bunsen burners, glass tubes and petri dishes. It was all good fun with mysterious tools to determine I can’t remember what exactly.

The second-generation 2018 Nissan Leaf is a rolling science experiment.

With 40-kWh of batteries in the floor, CHAdeMO fast-charging capability and semi-autonomous ProPilot-assist, it bristles with the latest tools to try to prove affordable EVs can survive outside the lab in the cold, Darwinian consumer marketplace.

Indeed, the original, 2011 Leaf looked like a strange specimen that started life swimming in a petri dish. It was oddly amphibian with its smooth snout and big hood-mounted eyes. With a blunt hatchback, the five-door tadpole looked like it was yanked from the incubator too soon.

It was a nerdmobile that only a tree hugger could love (the name gives its target audience away), making the goofy Toyota Prius look like Leo DiCaprio by comparison. Leo is one of those celebrities who tells us electric vehicles are the future while tooling around in a six-figure Fisker Karmas.

Celebrities don’t arrive at Oscar parties driving Nissan nerdmobiles. No, the generation-one Leaf was meant for the rest of us: a relatively affordable hatchback that could go nearly 100 miles on a charge. At 300,000 units sold, it was the best-selling EV ever — asterisk, please, since electrics are a measly 1 percent of the U.S. market. Ford sells as many F-150s in four months as the Leaf sold in six years. I never drove it.

But with the excellent Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 EVs now on sale — the first cars under $40,000 with over 200 miles of range — Leaf’s niche is under assault.

 Thus, my Leaf 2.0 keeps its granola name but otherwise makes a studied effort to broaden its base with a better price point and good looks.

Gone is the tadpole silhouette. It’s replaced by familiar Nissan DNA including the V-motion grille, floating roof and boomerang taillights. It looks like a proper car, though the overall shape still reminds me of a giant computer mouse.

The interior maintains Leaf’s signature electronic-toggle shifter, but has otherwise been de-geeked. The screen, happily, comes with smartphone-app connectivity because the navigation on my loaded $37,865 tester was in the Stone Age compared to Google Maps.

The front-wheel drive Leaf is no greyhound, but it’s no garden slug either. On Michigan’s race tracks — er, freeways — its electric torque is useful for power-merging, and it cruises easily at 80 mph.

The bigger-battery 60-kWh Chevy Bolt starts at $37,495 and balloons to over $40,000 to get comparable features to the Nissan. The new Leaf’s 150-mile battery range trounces Leaf 1.0, but falls nearly 90 miles short of the Bolt — a shortcoming that is significant in real-world driving.

The lab test says it has a 150-mile range, but in the wild EV range is another matter.

I drove the Leaf like any other car, which took 40 miles off the range for every 25 miles traveled. That means it got only 60 percent of advertised range. This despite its nifty e-Pedal, a regenerative-braking feature that I used for one-pedal driving.

Detroit’s 30-degree March weather (more global warming, please!) surely didn’t help.

The same is true of the 240-mile-range Bolt and Model 3, but their real-world 150-mile range leaves plenty of cushion in a metro area where a round trip from Oakland County-to-Ann Arbor is 80 miles. Such trips in the Leaf mean pesky Dr. Range Anxiety is always in your head whispering, Are you sure you have enough juice to get back home?

Unless you travel fixed routes every day, your life will revolve around the Leaf: Where are the charging stations if you need them? Is there a Starbucks nearby while you charge?

And heaven forbid you forget to plug in when you come home, which I did one Saturday night. Blame it on the Final Four. I was eager to get inside for the game and didn’t plug in for the night. Four-miles-per-hour charging capacity on a 110-volt wall plug is measly, but it would have returned a useful 40 miles.

Instead, I woke up Sunday morning with half a battery and no 240-volt chargers nearby. Worse, Metro Detroit is still a supercharger desert, with Ferndale and Ann Arbor the only oases in sight. So on Sunday night, Mrs. Payne and I traveled to Ferndale to top up at Dunkin’ Donuts with 44 miles (26 miles in real-world driving) left on the battery.

I imagine there are plenty of Ferns in Leafdale — er, Leafs in Ferndale — but, thankfully, there was no wait for the lone charger. In 45 minutes (the maximum time allowed) the Nissan was 80 percent full — and so were Mrs. Payne and I after a sumptuous meal at nearby Pop’s Italian restaurant.

Time for lab experiment No. 2 on the ride home: ProPilot drive-assist.

If the future is self-driving EVs, then I was determined to try Leaf’s sci-fi feature. My apologies to my wife whose blonde hair is now white. Not that the ProPilot doesn’t work. It just drives like a robot.

I activated ProPilot on the steering wheel on I-696 and the system calibrated itself, centering the car in its lane (just like Nissan’s “Star Wars” ad). The universal symbol for self-driving, a green steering-wheel icon, showed the system was activated.

Though such Tesla-like autonomous systems require a hand on the wheel, the computer effectively ghost-drives, keeping it centered even through fast I-696 curves. For Mrs. Payne in the right seat, however, staying lane-centered next to looming 18-wheelers got a bit claustrophobic (a human driver intuitively moves left for cushion) — while I nervously kept an eye on the green wheel icon which cuts out as soon as the camera can’t read white lines.

Worse, however, was coming off the freeway onto Telegraph Road. Even as I backed adaptive cruise-control down to 50 miles per hour, the Nissan’s tendency was to rush up on stopped traffic, then slam on the brakes to slow down. At which point, my wife’s fingernails were embedded two inches into the dash.

So Nissan (and other automakers) has work to do. A pricier, 200-plus-mile-range Leaf will soon debut. Yet even with the federal $7,500 tax subsidy, its price will dwarf a similarly sized, 400-mile-range Nissan Versa.

Like my high school science labs, I’m still not sure what question the Leaf is meant to answer. But it’s no longer painful to look at, comfortably seats four and makes for a fun experiment.

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-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Nissan Leaf

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-MOTOR, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER HATCHBACK

Price

$30,875 base ($37,865 SL as tested before $7,500 federal EV tax subsidy)

Power plant

40-kWh lithium-ion battery pack mated to 110-kW AC electric motor

Power

147 horsepower, 236 pound-feet of torque

Transmission

Single speed

Performance

0-60 mph, 7.4 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 92 mph

Weight

3,508 pounds as tested

Fuel economy

EPA fuel economy MPGe: 124 city/101 highway/112 combined

Report card

Highs: Welcome face-lift; ePedal

Lows: Lack of charging infrastructure; 60 percent of advertised range in winter driving

Overall:★★

Cartoon: EPA Moral Scolds

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 12, 2018

Cartoon: JFK Trump and the Media

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 6, 2018

Payne: Stress-free, thrill-free Toyota RAV4

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 5, 2018

2018_Toyota_RAV4_Adventure_1

The best-selling book on Amazon for much of the year has been “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos,” by Jordan Peterson. The title is self-explanatory. It’s a 12-step guide to stress-free living.

Chapter titles include: “Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best from you” and “Rule 8: Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie” and “Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.”

Psychologist Peterson might have added Rule 13: Buy a Toyota.

Toyota has kept auto buyers off the shrink couch for decades. The brand has been synonymous with chaos-free reliability as it scooped up award after dependability award.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Toyota RAV4 in my driveway is the best-selling non-pickup in the United States. A staggering 407,594 were sold last year.

As Americans have crossed over to crossovers, compact SUVs have become the equivalent of the midsize family sedan. True to its brand, RAV4 has a trophy case full of reliability awards including a 9.3 (out of 10) reliability rating from Kelley Blue Book, IHS Automotive longest-lasting vehicle plaudits, and so on.

The RAV4 is the nanny of autos. It’s always there to pick you up after school, always there to carry your stuff, always nag-nag-nagging you when you want to have fun.

OK, so I am not your typical automotive appliance buyer. I’m a little rebellious when it comes to driving.

Give me a hot hatch or a sports car. Or the all-wheel drive hatchback Audi TT S sports car that I recently raved about, because I can take it to the track in the summer and do four-wheel drifting on snowy county roads in winter. I tried that last maneuver and the RAV4 looked at me with arms crossed, shaking its head.

I tried anyway. I turned off the traction control and … well, I eventually turned off the traction control after looking everywhere in the cabin for the button. It’s a tiiiiiny little button northeast of the radio screen next to three other tiny buttons indicating whether all passengers are belted in.

Who puts it there? An SUV determined to get Insurance Institute for Highway Safety top safety ratings, I guess.

But one push of the button didn’t do it. Unlike every other car I’ve ever driven, the “traction-control off” light on the dash changed little in the car’s performance. Under throttle through some Oakland County twisties the power was suddenly cut back as if the nanny systems were still engaged.

Indeed, the nannies are so intrusive in the RAV4 that the car nearly stalls in a straight line — much less under g-loads — if the electronics detect tire slip. On Detroit’s snowbound roads, this often made for tortoise-like stoplight getaways as RAV4 refused to allocate power to the wheels while two lanes of traffic streamed by on either side of me.

To turn off traction control altogether, the “traction-control” button must be held down for five seconds.

Mrs. Payne would approve. She has no taste for my all-wheel-drive drifting shenanigans. And she is no doubt joined by the 100 percent of the appliance buyers who have made RAV4 their top sales pick. If you want to drift a best-seller, then buy the Nissan Rogue — No. 2 in sales to RAV4 by a mere 3,000 units — which sports a nimbler chassis than the Toyota and requires one push of its (easily located) traction-control button.

Conservatism is the RAV4’s default mode.

The Toyota doesn’t offer the electronic gee-gaws that other competitors do like self-park assist (Ford Escape); or automatic high-beams (Mazda CX5); or fold-flat front seat (Chevy Equinox); or kick-open rear hatch (Ford and Honda CR-V); or Apple CarPlay and Android Auto app connectivity like just about everybody.

Perhaps most glaring was a lack of heated seats in my $32,714 model. Nearby in my driveway were a $27,000 VW Passat (leather seats) and all-wheel drive Subaru Impreza wagon (cloth seats like the RAV4) which were both equipped to warm up a cold tush on a cold day. Heated seats are one of my wife’s No. 1 priorities.

The interior is roomy with workable ergonomics, though the old-fashioned gated shifter seems oh-so 15 years ago.

The staid interior contradicts first impressions, as I find the RAV5 one of the more interesting mainstream utes to look at — especially the new-for-2018 Adventure model that I drove. When you’ve got 400,000-plus units flooding American roads every year, it’s nice to have a little variety and the Adventure delivers.

It features a flat-black hood a la Camaro 1LE, more aggressive wheel-well cladding and blacked-out headlights that make the RAV4’s signature, thin, wraparound grille look even more like the X-Men’s Cyclops.

The Adventure model is supposed to appeal to Toyota appliance buyers with a little Jeep ruggedness in their blood (hey, now my off-road antics don’t seem so crazy after all, hon!). The inside is festooned with thick, rubber mats with an “Adventure” logo on them. The chassis gets big 18-inch blacked-out wheels, more ride-height, and engine radiator and transmission upgrades to more than double RAV4’s towing capacity to 3,500 pounds.

Nice, though in keeping with Toyota’s conservative nature, it’s still well off a Jeep Cherokee V-6’s 4,500-pound rating.

When I wasn’t begging for less nanny and more power on slushy roads, the RAV4’s ride was surprisingly quiet given its non-turbo, 176-horse four-banger engine. A similar mill in a Mazda CX-5, for example, can get shouty — credit the Toyota’s very smooth, six-speed tranny which also helps return a respectable 25 mpg.

Last week in New York, Toyota unveiled an all-new fifth-generation RAV4 with a remake that will address many of the shortcomings mentioned above, from standard features to clunky shift-gate to more horsepower (though its awkward new face made me nostalgic for Cyclops). Based on the same wider, lower, stiffer platform that rejuvenated the Camry sedan in 2017, the new RAV4 goes on sale next winter.

In the meantime, I have to sit back and applaud a five-year-old car that continues to soar to new sales heights. Who needs a redesign when you’re an antidote for chaos?

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-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Toyota RAV4

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT AND ALL-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER SUV

Price

$25,505 base ($32,714 RAV4 Adventure as tested)

Power plant

2.5-liter inline-4

Power

176 horsepower, 172 pound-feet of torque

Transmission

6-speed automatic

Performance

0-60 mph, 8.5 seconds (Car and Driver); towing: 3,500 pounds

Weight

3,605 pounds as tested

Fuel economy

EPA fuel economy: 22 city/28 highway/25 combined (AWD Adventure as tested)

Report card

Highs: Rugged Adventure trim; quiet interior

Lows: Nagging nanny safety systems; missing features

Overall:★★★

Cartoon: EPA Average MPG

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 5, 2018

Cartoon: Bezos Trump Sandbox

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 3, 2018

CARtoon: VW Pickup Concept

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 3, 2018

Cartoon: Roseanne Subtitles

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 2, 2018

Cartoon: Easter Eggs

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 30, 2018

Payne: 10 must-see vehicles at NY auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 30, 2018

New York – The Big Apple’s Auto Show is a different animal than its Detroit counterpart. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere – and a lot of people have. Almost a quarter of Gotham vehicle registrations are for luxury models. That’s nearly double the national average. As a result, luxury-automakers target New York for product reveals.

Yet, this year New York showed surprising bandwidth with introductions of volume mainstream vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 compact SUV and the Nissan Altima midsize sedan. Detroit will always host Big Three truck intros, but Motown’s lux-makers are eager to make it here (so much so that Cadillac has made the Empire City its home), so Cadillac and Lincoln brought their A games. The variety extended to robot cars and battery-powered rocket ships.

Herewith, in no particular order, the 10 must-see vehicles in New York:

A throwback to fanciful show concepts of old, the Essentia imagines an electric 2+2 coupe for the semi-autonomous future. A Formula One-style keel nose sits under a transparent hood, revealing inboard springs and aerodynamic tunnels for increased down-force. The digital cockpit straddles a center-line battery pack so that passengers sit low to the ground. Naturally, the concept gets butterfly doors, but my favorite details are the thin LED front running lights. There are no projector lamps to be found, because self-driving cars won’t need headlamps to see.

 Rimac C_Two

Displayed in the show’s exotica bullpen next to $2 million Lamborghinis and Bugattis, the Croation start-up’s second model manages to stand out. Determined to be the fastest EV ever, the hypercar with four electric motors generates jaw-dropping numbers from its 120-kWh powerpack: 1,914 horsepower, 1,696 pound-feet of torque, 230 mph top speed and a zero-60 spirit in just 1.85 seconds. That’s faster than the new Tesla Roadster. Determined to be the EV benchmark, the C_Two will soon take a shot at the Nurburgring lap record.

 Subaru Forester

Across the aisle from Rimac’s expensive nest is the $25,000 Forester, Subaru’s second-best selling vehicle and marvel of affordability. Based on Subaru’s all-new global platform, the all-wheel drive Forester has more room and more standard features. My highlight is the rear tailgate opening which grows 5 inches wider – enough to swallow a golf bag sideways. All this goodness is wrapped is a more handsome wardrobe than the last-gen cardboard box.

 Lincoln Aviator

Think of it as the baby Navigator. The three-row Aviator concept replaces the unloved MKT with dramatic looks, sumptuous interior and signature 30-way Lincoln seats. But the big ute is more than a pretty face. It’s is built on a rear-drive platform which Lincoln says allows a longer hood design as well as better grip for towing.

 Jaguar I-Pace

Forget your growly V-8 Jags of old with hoods longer than your driveway. The I-Pace SUV takes aim at the Tesla Model X with a meaty 90 kWh battery that boasts 240 miles of range and lots of torque. With batteries in the basement, the Brit EV features nimble handling and room for five adults. But will customers want a Jaguar without the growl?

 Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak pickup

You read that right – a Volkswagen pickup. The German automaker is determined to connect with us Yanks and what better way than an all-American truck? The Tanoak concept would be built off the same unibody bones as the three-row Atlas SUV, making it the third ute-based midsize pickup after the Honda Ridgeline and coming Hyundai Santa Cruz. The Tanoak’s rugged design looks nearly production-ready and its large dimensions are competitive with the GMC Canyon. The bed should be big enough to fit your old VW Rabbit, too.

 Cadillac XT4

This subcompact ute begins Cadillac’s comeback in the SUV segment. Aimed at the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, XT4 follows sister XT5’s strategy of offering large dimensions for the segment. Like big brother Escalade, the XT4 sports dramatic, vertical tail-lamps taller than the Fox Theater marquee. Unlike its siblings, the new ute adds buttons to the CUE infotainment system’s unloved touchscreen.

 Nissan Altima

The next-generation Altima is the latest Japanese sedan to try to keep cars relevant in ute nation. The Altima follows the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry with dramatic styling that SUVs like – well, the Nissan Rogue – can’t touch. Roomy Altima also offers all-wheel drive for the first time for better ute-like utility as well as a pioneering variable-compression turbo-4.

 Maserati Levante

The SUV performance arms race continues. Maserati’s family SUV gets a 590-horsepower Ferrari-assembled twin-turbo V-8 to best the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s (say that 10 times fast) 505 horsepower and the Jaguar F-Pace SVR’s 550. So you can go zero-60 in just 3.7 seconds while coddled by red leather seats with Wagner playing over the 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system. Be warned, though. The 707-horse Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is quicker.

 Toyota RAV4

It’s hard to ignore a remake of the best-selling non-pickup in America. The RAV4 gains capability on the Toyota’s new TNGA platform, but that doesn’t make it any prettier. The ute is homelier than ever. Happily, an interior decorator was hired for upgrades inside, bringing the RAV4 into the 21st century. Determined to give its loyal customers more model differentiation, a new Adventure trim brings the rugged (better) looks of the Tacoma pickup.

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Payne: VW wakes up sleepy Passat with GT model

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 30, 2018

passat-GT_roadFADE

The sleepy Volkswagen Passat made a New Year’s resolution at January’s Detroit auto show: I’m going to live a little.

So the German sedan raided hip brother Golf GTI’s closet, took an armful of hot-hatch clothes, and — Heiliger strohsack! — showed up in Detroit as a Passat GT.

Outfitted in white with lots of black mascara around the headlights and a grille outlined in red, the GT just popped. I can’t remember the last time I used “Passat” and “popped” in the same sentence. Three months later and Passat is keeping its resolution.

I just drove the GT to Hell (Michigan) and back, and it’s not only got the GTI’s zeitgeist, it does it with 50 percent more rear legroom and 60 more ponies from a growly V-6. Gott in himmel!

The GT is a welcome tonic for a sedan that has been a wallflower in a wallflower segment. Buyers walk right past sedans these days to dance with high-riding SUVs. Ute sales were up 24 percent in 2017. Car sales? Down 17 percent. So midsize mainstays like the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion have sexed-up their wardrobes with flashy new sheet metal and pricey V-6 sport models.

The special-edition Passat GT comes from good (if understated) stock. Take the Passat SE recently in my driveway. “S” for somnolent.

The V-dub all but disappeared next to the hot-hatchback Kia Stinger (the time machine from the memorable Super Bowl ad with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler) that I tested at the same time. Thin upper grille, slab sides, plain rockers … zzzzzz. If it weren’t for the VW logo the size of Flavor Flav’s clock dangling from its grille, it could be anything.

But climb into the mid-size V-dub and it blossoms into one oversize value. There, I did it again: VW and value in the same sentence! That’s new.

 Volkswagen has been a bit haughty in the U.S. market, figuring Yanks would pay a hefty premium for German engineering. But after swallowing some Dieselgate humble pie (and choking on mediocre sales), VW is suddenly the blue-light special brand.

Start with the six-year/75,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that covers everything including drivetrain. Transferable if you buy a used Passat.

The SE is loaded for just $27,145: Heated seats, keyless entry, adaptive cruise-control, smartphone-app connectivity, all wrapped in a cocoon of air bags and autonomous braking should you ever do anything naughty. Sure, I would have liked a couple more things like a heated steering wheel and a phone cubby, but that’s like complaining that your 10,000-square-foot beach rental doesn’t have a toaster oven.

The $29,995 Passat GT is a bargain, too. Compare that to the similar, front-wheel-drive, 302-horse Camry SXE V-6 which starts at $35,845. The GT gets big, 19-inch tornado wheels, sunroof, two-tone leather seats and a growlin’ V-6 that you used to have to shell out $35,450 for in the top-trim SEL. Mated to a paddle shift-equipped, dual-clutch transmission that shames many luxury models, the V-6/6-speed tandem is the best team since the Bryan brothers.

The V-6 even belts out rev-matching downshifts I nearly missed because the interior is so quiet. And roomy. I swear it’s 10,000 square feet inside. The back seat swallowed my 6-foot-5 frame with ease. The trunk is deeper than Bear’s Cave with fold-flat rear seats that extend its utility.

Speaking of length, Passat’s 181/2-gallon tank will carry you nearly 700 miles on a fill-up in the base model’s turbo-4. That helps make up for its slight mpg deficiency (29 mpg) next to others in its class. With 106 more ponies, the V-6 will still travel over 500 miles.

Overshadowed by the GT’s mill, the SE’s 2.0-liter 4 got more power for the new year and was plenty peppy on Oakland County’s curvy lake roads. Which is promising, because Passat’s Chattanooga plant will soon get VW’s light-weighted MQB chassis that is the foundation for the nimble Golf.

Still, the big Passat’s older platform makes this chariot feel a size smaller on the road. Like 6-foot-9 Blake Griffin making a spin move for the basket from the top of the key, drivers can feel confident the sedan will go where it’s placed.

This is in contrast to VW’s big cool-for-school Tiguan and Atlas SUVs which depart from the sporty car formula for a more carpeted ride. While other manufacturers — BMW, Mazda — draw a straight line between their sporty sedans and SUVs, VW’s model lines offer different personalities.

The GT is also a welcome addition to Passat because the badge must justify itself against King Accord.

Honda’s 10th-generation, mid-size sedan set a new standard as 2018 North American Car of the Year. Toe-to-toe with the likewise all-new Camry, it beats its Japanese rival in nearly every measure.

That’s a tough crowd. Compared against Accord’s comparable, EX trim, Passat SE punches strong with its laundry list of standard features. VW has caught up with the focus group-obsessed Japanese in the ergonomic category where Germans once sniffed at Americans’ obsession with living in their cars. Was is das? Cupholders? Drinking is for das Bierhaus, not for sie car!

The Passat provides decent storage — despite the, ahem, microscopic forward cubby — and most impressively, a user-friendly infotainment touchscreen with radio favorites easily thumbed with a toggle on the steering wheel for less-distracted driving.

As noted, the gas tank gives outsize range. And like the Accord, the VW’s superb chassis engineering allows it cavernous interior and cargo on a sprightly, 3,200-pound chassis.

On styling and drivetrain, the Accord is superior to the Passat SE. Once a disciple of V-6 engines, the Honda now makes an astonishing 1.5-liter turbo-4 that not only bests the German’s blown 2.0-liter by 20 horsepower, but does it with better fuel economy.

The Accord’s lovely swept sportback doesn’t compromise headroom. Its huge front bug-catcher isn’t my cup of tea, but at least it has personality. All this and a Honda bottom line that is $500 below the budget-friendly Passat.

Which is where we came in. Into the vanilla Passat menu comes the Chunky Monkey Almond Fudge V-6 GT.

It’s in limited production as Chattanooga assesses its value to a Passat line updating to MQB. If GT proves as popular with Passaters as the iconic GTI is with Golfers, VW will keep it cooking.

I’ll take that as another New Year’s resolution.

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-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Volkswagen Passat and Passat GT

VEHICLE TYPE

FRONT-ENGINE, FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, FIVE-PASSENGER SEDAN

Price

$23,845 base ($27,145 Passat SE as tested); $29,995 Passat GT

Power plant

2.0-liter inline-4 (base Passat); 3.6-liter V-6 (GT)

Power

174 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 280 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque (V-6)

Transmission

6-speed automatic

Performance

0-60 mph, 5.7 seconds (Passat V-6, Car and Driver)

Weight

3,274-3,571 pounds

Fuel economy

EPA fuel economy: 25 city/36 highway/29 combined (turbo-4); EPA fuel economy: 19 city/28 highway/22 combined (V-6)

Report card

Highs: Roomy interior; GT brings GTI-like pizzazz to Passat

Lows: Dated instrument display; GT can be thirsty under the whip

Overall:★★★

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