Henry Payne Blog

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Posted by Talbot Payne on July 28, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on July 23, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2021

Payne: Honda Accord is a luxe sedan in a mainstream wrapper

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2021

Some cars stick with you. The 10th generation Honda Accord is one of those vehicles.

I remember when it arrived in my driveway in 2017. Coupe-like profile. Tablet infotainment screen astride a clean interior. Smooth 252-horsepower turbo-4. It was a luxury sedan with a mainstream badge. Slap four rings on the mega-grille and most would think it was an Audi A6.

The Accord was perhaps the first vehicle that made me realize the gap between mainstream and luxury vehicles was shrinking. Fast. So when the 2021 Accord arrived in my driveway this summer, I was eager to see if one of my favorite dance partners still had it.

Without a doubt.

The 2021 Honda Accord is made in Marysville, Ohio.

Indeed, like “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” the Accord keeps getting better with each season. For its mid-cycle 2021 model year refresh, Accord gets a few upgrades while my favorite Sport trim (in a lineup that runs from LX to Touring trims, including a hybrid) gained just $640 in price. My Accord Sport tester was dressed in knockout Sonic Gray Pearl wardrobe, 19-inch wheels, black deck spoiler, 8-inch touchscreen tablet, sunroof.

Pardon me, but I couldn’t help noticing you across the room.

All that for just, ahem, $33,500. Which is $23,000 cheaper than, say, a comparably equipped Audi A6. You could buy a brand new 2022 Honda Civic Sport (another Made-in-America all-star from the Japanese brand) with the money you save. Think I’m making this up? Let’s pull the specs.

Both Audi and Honda sport turbo-4 cylinder engines. Accord’s 252-horsepower mill sprints 0-60 in 5.4 seconds vs. the Audi’s 5.8, despite the German’s all-wheel-drive traction. Both have adaptive cruise control, blind spot assist, auto high beams. Both have digital, configurable instrument displays. Sunroof? Check. My wife’s favorite, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Yup.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne could easily sit behind himself in the 2021 Honda Accord - his 6'5" frame had knee room to spare.

Sure, the plush Audi’s all-wheel-drive system will more confidently deliver you home through winter storms. But the Honda has bragging rights, too. For instance, superior ergonomics, console storage and rear leg room. Heck, the Accord’s ridiculous 40.4 inches of rear legroom is not only three inches more than the Audi — it’s just three inches shy of a Ford F-150 Super Crew. At 6’5” tall, I sat behind myself in the Accord without my knobby knees reaching the seatback.

The Accord is more than just specs.

Powered by Honda engines, Red Bull’s Formula 1 team is neck-and-neck with Mercedes right now. This is a company serious about blending driving performance with everyday practicality, and Accord is engaging to drive despite its big dimensions.

Accord Sport and I danced through the twisties on M-32 — Sonic Gray dress flowing behind. Across sun-soaked and dripping-wet asphalt the sedan always felt balanced, its long wheelbase rotating nicely through corners with little push.

Honda is expert at putting torque to the road in front-wheel-drive cars (see the 292-horse Civic Type R hellion), and Accord’s no different. The front hooves would squeal when I put 252 ponies to cold pavement out of stoplights — but never with torque-steer. And, you’ll be happy to know, dear reader, the Accord doesn’t do that annoying engine stop/start thing at stoplights.

The 2021 Honda Accord features a coupe-like roof line and sculpted flanks. Its FWD is stable in wet weather but AWD is not offered.

With the Mazda 6 exiting the midsize sedan segment, Accord may be the new benchmark. The Sport certainly aims to please with a 10-speed transmission that rev-matched on downshifts in Sport mode while delivering crisp, quick shifts when racing through the gears.

I stopped at Summertime Rentals in East Jordan, where the Accord’s new wardrobe turned my friend (and fellow motorhead) Aaron’s head. He, too, appreciates Honda’s double threat of value/performance and had owned a previous-gen Accord. This gen adds a third element: looks.

The 2021 Honda Accord shows off its good looks and sharp handling through M-32's twisty bits.

The Sonic Gray color highlights the Honda’s lively lines — just run your hand along the deep stampings that form Accord’s high shoulders. They’re complemented by subtle scalloping in the quarter panel. A lovely dish, even if I cringe at the Black Hole grille. I know, I know … it’s all the fashion these days.

As attractive as the Honda is, it’s indicative of my fellow Americans’ obsession with high-ridin’ hatchback utes that Accord sales are just 52% of what they were a decade ago before the SUV-nami.

But for those who still covet sedans, Accord is the total package. When my corner carving is over, the Honda is an effortless, state-of-the-art driving experience.

For the long trek up I-75, Accord’s huge trunk swallowed two carry-ons, two tennis bags, a box full of iRacing equipment (pedals, steering wheel, etc.) and other odds and ends. Wireless smartphone-connect is one of the great equalizers between luxury and mainstream cars. My wife slipped into the car and the screen quickly recognized her phone — displaying Google Maps directions for our trip.

The interior of the 2021 Honda Accord Sport includes a tablet infotainment screen, comfy seats, and digital instrument display. All for just $33.5k.

On a return journey, the screen did the same for my Android Auto. That’s just the beginning of Honda tech. The Honda Sensing suite (adaptive cruise control, lane keep, lane departure mitigation) provides excellent self-driving assist. With the speedo set at 80 mph, the Accord stayed centered in its lane — comfortably keeping its distance from other vehicles — giving up only on extended interstate turns. I reckon it’s on par with a 2016-vintage Tesla Autopilot (before recent over-the-air upgrades).

The cabin was quiet, which Mrs. Payne loved — though I frankly yearned for more engine sound penetration so I could hear the 10-speed’s rev-matching downshifts when under the cane. VW/Audi has long been an engineering benchmark for steering wheel buttons allowing easy feature access — a lesson Accord has learned with wheel quadrants that let your fingers do the walking for instrument display-menus, cruise control, voice commands and so on.

The console “trigger shifter” is also an engineering marvel. Long a staple in Acura models (there’s that narrowing of luxe/mainstream again), the shifter made it easy to negotiate gears as I negotiated beach parking lots up and down Lake Michigan.

The console of the 2021 Honda Accord includes excellent storage, easy-to-use buttons and a trigger shifter.

Quick. High-tech. Roomy. And better-looking than the homely CR-V SUV (my Accord Sport even came with a family SUV-like backseat reminder in case you left junior behind). But I do have one hesitation in recommending Accord: little brother Civic Sport just unveiled a quick, high-tech, roomy, good-looking hatchback.

In (yum) Boost Blue Pearl wardrobe. Civic starts at $23,000 when it arrives later this year. Accord Sport or Civic hatch? If you were budgeting for an Audi A6, you could buy them both.

2021 Honda Accord

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

Price: $25,765, including $995 destination fee ($33,500 Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 1.5-liter turbo-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter turbo-4; hybrid with 4-cylinder engine mated to electric motor

Power: 192 horsepower, 192 pound-feet of torque (1.5L); 252 horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque (2.0L);  212 combined horsepower (hybrid)

Transmissions: Automatic, continuously variable transmission (CVT); 10-speed automatic; single-speed auto (hybrid)

Performance: 0-60 mph (5.4 sec., Car and Driver); top speed, 126 mph

Weight: 3,380 pounds  (Sport as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 22 mpg city/32 highway/26 combined (2.0L as tested)

Report card

Highs: Great bod; upscale interior with everything in the right place

Lows: Oh, that face

Overall: 4 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2021

Payne: Taking it to the limit in Porsche’s 911 GT3 supercar

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 15, 2021

Braselton, Georgia — Inside The Driving Club garage, which offers regular track time on the challenging Road Atlanta Raceway here, Porsches proliferate. As they do at M1 Concourse car club in Pontiac. And Autobahn Race Club in Chicago. And anywhere else enthusiasts go to satisfy their need for speed.

The reason is simple: Porsche makes the world’s best sports cars. They may not be the flashiest. Or the most expensive. But they are relentlessly, ruthlessly good at carving up race tracks.

Just as relentlessly, better models keep coming. Say hello to the 2022 911 GT3, the new Porsche standard.

The 2022 Porsche 911 GT3 shows off its athletic skills at Road Atlanta Raceway.

Hustling down Road Atlanta’s pit straight, I stabbed the enormous 16-inch brakes at 140 mph into Turn One and the car slowed as if enveloped with an invisible net, yanking my eyeballs from their sockets. With double-wishbone front suspension right off an IMSA RSR race car and rear-wheel steering, the 3,150-pound beast rotated effortlessly into the fast right-hander — and I was hard on throttle before I reached the apex.

How hard? I caught Patrick Long, Porsche’s ace IMSA driver, in a 911 Turbo S — the fastest car in Porsche’s non-GT stable. As good as it is, the Turbo S doesn’t have the GT3’s huge swan-neck rear wing for added downforce. Or that front suspension. Or Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2R tires that stick like flypaper to asphalt.

Long wasn’t dogging it. At the top of the hill into Turn 2, he vaulted over the inside curb to keep the pace while my GT3 effortlessly carved around the curb, glued to his tail.

“I have to nail the curbs to stay ahead of you guys,” laughed Long afterward to a group of journalist drivers who had come to Road Atlanta. “The GT3 is that good.”

That’s what the Porsche GT3 does. It makes hero drivers out of amateurs. I can rattle off the GT3’s stats for hours: 502 horsepower, 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds, 197 mph top speed.

But those are numbers common in the supercar class. What separates the GT3 — and all Porsches — is how effortless it is to drive fast.

While shredding one of America’s most fearsome race tracks, it was imperturbable. Rock solid. Poker faced. Never once does the car scare me, snap out of line or push menacingly close to the apron. Quite the contrary — it constantly demanded more of me. I came off the track perspiring, not because I was sawing the wheel, but because of the absurd g-loads I was carrying. And in a production vehicle, mind you.

Long demonstrated the full capabilities of the car earlier in the day. He lapped Road Atlanta in 1 minute, 26.46 seconds — just 7 seconds off the pole time set by the fanged, stripped, full-roll cage 2,700-pound IMSA GTD Porsche GT3 at last year’s Petit Le Mans road race. (“I wish race cars had rear-wheel steering,” laughed Long).

Credit the inherent goodness of the Porsche 911 recipe.

Around Road Atlanta's swooping curves the 2022 Porsche 911 GT3 is imperturbable, its rear-wheel-steer and double-wishbone front suspension making for sharp handling.

The $162,450 GT3 is based on the standard $90,000 911. It is a car so good that, as my colleague Eric Tingwall at Car and Driver once wrote, it will challenge rational thought: “Instead of asking, ‘How much does it cost?’ you’ll start thinking, ‘How can I afford it?’ Sell your family’s fourth-generation vacation home. Siphon off your kid’s college fund. Steal from the collection plate. All of these are sane ideas after some quality time in a 911 … ”

For my trip to Road Atlanta an hour northeast of the city, I drove the all-wheel-drive 4S version of the 911. I gave little thought to the infotainment system (which is a good thing, since the 911 lacks only in electronic functionality, with navigation system/voice commands notably inferior to the high bar set by BMW and Tesla). The car was a constant source of amusement.

Luffing along an empty stretch of highway at 75 mph in eighth gear, I pressed the Sports Response button. The dual-clutch transmission instantly downshifted to third, the flat-six engine shrieked like a poked Tyrannosaurus rex and I vaulted down the road at (speeds withheld to preserve my license).

Country roads are even more fun with the 911’s limitless grip and legendary rear traction. Curves are a blur. Stop signs become excuses to do launch-control-assisted 0-60 mph runs. Such taxing behavior will test other, mere mortal, performance cars. The 911 will do launches all day.

The GT3 takes this tasty recipe and bellies up to the buffet bar to add even more meat.

The interior of the 2022 Porsche 911 GT3.

Red meat like the delicious 4.0-liter normally-aspirated flat-six cylinder engine that is one of the jewels of autodom. It’s a reminder in this EV-obsessed age of the visceral appeal of automobiles. I’ve been in love with flat-sixes since I was a teen, and GT3’s 9,000-RPM shriek never ceases to entertain.

It’s the same engine that inhabited the last-gen GT3 RS that I flogged at Road America three years ago (that’s right, the GT3 will ultimately get an even more potent RS variant).

So it’s not the engine that shaved an astonishing 17 seconds off the last-gen GT3’s Nurburgring lap time. It’s the attention to engineering detail that marries chassis, engineering and tire technology into a more perfect union.

You read that right: minus-17 seconds. The 2022 GT3 broke The Green Hell’s magic 7-minute barrier. I’ll pause while you pick your jaw off the floor.

In addition to the aforementioned double-wishbone front suspension, tires, adjustable-rear wing and rear-wheel-steer, the 911 GT3 gains carbon fiber hood, a different front nose for better downforce, air scoops for cooling, 1.9-inch wider track and center-exhaust system.

All told, the Porsche makes 317 pounds of downforce at 125 mph, and 770 pounds at top speed. When you are at full chat through Road Atlanta’s lip-puckering downhill esses, you want all the downforce you can muster. The GT3 will do loads for your self-esteem.

And for flattening your pocket book. But if you want to keep up with the Joneses at Road Atlanta’s Driving Club, you need the best money can buy. The GT3 has raised the bar again.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne turned some hot laps around Road Atlanta in the 2022 Porsche 911 GT3.

2022 Porsche 911 GT3

Vehicle type: Rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-passenger sportscar

Price: $162,450, including $1,350 destination fee

Powerplant: 4.0-liter flat-6 cylinder

Power: 502 horsepower, 346 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic; 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph (3.2 sec., mfr.); top speed, 197 mph (198 mph, manual)

Weight: 3,126 pounds (automatic as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 15 mpg city/20 highway/17 combined

Report card

Highs: Precise, predictable handling; that flat-6 sound

Lows: Hard-sprung daily driver; big sticker

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 July 14, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on July 12, 2021

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Payne: Nissan Pathfinder finds its groove as 3-row family value

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 10, 2021

The three-row SUV space is a Fleming’s steakhouse on wheels with all kinds of delicious red meat on the menu. There’s the regal off-roadin’ Jeep Grand Cherokee L. The rockin’ twin-turbo V-6 Ford Explorer. The gorgeous why-would-you-spend-20-grand-more-for-an Audi-Q7 Mazda CX-9.

But the midsize ute that has wowed everyone is the Kia Telluride. A filet mignon platter with a Big Mac price. With looks, tech and value, it undercuts segment stalwarts by $5,000.

Challenge accepted. Here comes segment stalwart Nissan Pathfinder with its own value steak meal.

6'5" Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne could sit behind himself sitting behind himself in the third row of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder.

Pathfinder has been a segment regular going on five generations now. The original Pathfinder even predates Explorer. But sales have tailed off in recent years as the competition intensified and the Nissan grew long in the tooth. Interestingly, the all-new 2022 Pathfinder eschews Nissan’s usual visual sizzle for meat and potatoes.

Walking up to the big ute in Holly, Michigan, for a test drive, I found Pathfinder surprisingly simple. No floating roof. No plunging full-fascia V-motion grille. No whoop-de-do front fender swoops. No hybrid drivetrain. Like the all-new compact Rogue SUV also introduced this year, Pathfinder’s design is simple. Muscular. Timeless.

Pathfinder saves the sizzle for the stuff that really matters to families shopping in the midsize space: seats, towing capacity and room room room.

The interior of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is both stylish and practical, with sub-console storage for purses and and other items owners might want to hide.

At 6’5” tall, I could sit behind myself in the third row sitting behind myself in the second row. Heck, even Nissan’s 6’10” product planner, Andrew Molnar, could fold himself into the third seat without having to take his head off. Ah, the advantages of not succumbing to the SUV “swept coupe-roof” trend.

Of course, most families don’t have kids the size of Kevin Durant. so the third-row seat space is a delight. Get the volume SV or SL trims and you can option a panoramic sunroof to bathe them in sunlight, too. Most important is third-row seat access — particularly when mom has popped out two more young ’uns (twins?) since their first two children were born.

That’s right rug rats, mom and dad want to put the child seats in the second row for easy access. Which means you’re headed to the third row if you’re age 6-plus. No problem.

Nissan engineers must be consulting 6-year-olds because they have made the second-to-third-row transition a wonder. Let’s pause briefly to give props to Honda here since they were the first to engineer one-button third-row seat access in their own Pilot three-rower.

From the third-row seat of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder, passengers can exit using a single button.

Pathfinder goes further.

First off, the rear doors open wide — almost 90 degrees — for easy access. Then press a single button on the second-row seat, with child seats in place, and — WHUMP! — the entire seat jumps forward, opening an easy path to the third row. This jujitsu maneuver is unworkable on other brands (the clever Grand Cherokee L excepted) since the child seats prevent the seats from collapsing forward.

Exiting the rear coach seats is just as easy, thanks to another single button in the back of the second-row seats. Take a bow, engineers.

Aft of the third row is plenty of cargo space, including a bonus sub-trunk for additional room. The second-row captain’s chair operation also features a removable center console. Get the standard bench seat and you can string three child seats across the middle row (triplets?).

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder offers clever storage solutions like a sub-cargo storage space.

The front seats are similarly spacious with best-in-class room. Console storage is enormous thanks, in part, to Nissan’s compact “chicklet” shifter (also found in Rogue). Like the rear cargo area, there’s a sub-cubby with space for little-used items — or purses that you want to keep out of public view.

There’s even storage above the glove box.

Anchored by a tablet-sized screen, the interior is horizontally laid out with easy-to-use knobs and menus. The screen is a bit slow to respond to commands, but it’s hard to be mad since Nissan makes wireless Apple CarPlay standard. Mrs. Payne adores this — and it’s a feature coming into mainstream vehicles as quickly as luxury barges (why are we paying $20,000 more for luxe again?). I only lament that wireless Android Auto is not also available since, um, that’s my phone.

Driver's eye view of the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder - digital displays, wireless Apple CarPlay, lots of knobs for easy screen/climate control.

True to its badge, the Nissan will competently negotiate off-road paths (AWD gives you plenty of modes to choose from). But for all its girth, the Pathfinder was surprisingly easy to drive over Hell, Michigan’s writhing asphalt roads. Credit engineers again for crafting the Pathfinder’s doors out of aluminum so the big, tech-laden beast gained no weight over the outgoing model.

Credit, too, the good ol’ V-6 engine under the hood (Telluride is similarly powered). Yeah, I know, Wall Street investors go into a swoon whenever auto companies mention batteries these days, but range-limited EVs are impractical for trip-minded families and hybrids present packaging problems.

Meat-and-potatoes Pathfinder is all about space, and the 284-horse V-6 allows excellent towing capability of 6,000 pounds — the weight of your average RV when mom and dad want to haul the family to Yellowstone for a well-deserved camping trip after being cooped up at home with COVID for the last 10 years (really? Just 15 months? Seemed longer).

Ol' reliable. The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder uses the same 284-horse V-6 as the last generation SUV.

The snarl of a V-6 merging onto the highway is also my kind of music.

Music is the universal language, and so is value. My $45,000 SL tester came loaded with auto emergency rear braking (a must with big vessels like this), blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. And it came in at the same price as a comparably equipped Kia Telluride, a rare feat for anyone in this class.

The Nissan won’t turn your head like the lovely Telluride (though it does offer a unique combination of 35 two-tone color combos). But it will give you EZ seats, wireless CarPlay, Wi-Fi hotspot, Type C USB ports, rear-auto braking and other nifty features that Kia won’t.

I’m a sucker for high-horsepower, apex-carving three-row SUVs like the Dodge Durango Hellcat. But in my kid-hauling days, I saved my corner-carving for sports cars. Three-row utes are for practical ease of use, and keeping the kiddies happy on long family trips.

The Sentra compact last year set a new course for Nissan with stylish, tech-tastic vehicles punching well above their sticker price. It carved a path for Pathfinder, which has found its sweet spot: customers packing lots of rug rats, lots of gear — but just 45 grand in their budget.

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is big, handsome and modern. The three-row SUV forgoes the styling flash of other family models to be a model of family practicality.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Vehicle type: Front engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, seven- or eight-passenger SUV

Price: $34,560, including $1,150 destination fee ($45,540 AWD, SL trim as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6

Power: 284 horsepower, 259 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.7 seconds (Car and Driver); Towing, 6,000 lbs.

Weight: 4,506 pounds (SL as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 21 city/26 highway/23 combined

Report card

Highs: Family-friendly three-row seats; storage everywhere

Lows: Not as comely as some competitors; Android Auto requires cable (wireless Apple CarPlay only)

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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Payne: Behind the wheel at the Bronco Off-Roadeo Texas theme park

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 1, 2021

Austin, Texas — The frisky 2021 Bronco has reinvented Ford’s iconic 1960s off-roader as a high-tech, high-powered competitor to the Jeep Wrangler. But that’s just the beginning. As Ford remakes itself as a rugged, SUV brand (think Jeep), it wants to educate customers on the off-road experience.

Say hello to Bronco Off-Roadeos — four sprawling, Disney-like off-road-vehicle parks that Ford has developed across the country.

Available at no cost to buyers of the truck-frame Bronco (and its unibody kid brother Bronco Sport Badlands), these “ORV resorts” offer an immersive experience to teach the vehicles’ versatile tools in the wild. Just a week before its July opening to customers, I got a driver’s eye view of what is in store for Bronco Nation at Ford’s premier Off-Rodeo park 54 miles northwest of Austin.

Welcome to Bronco Off-Roadeo in Texas. The main campus of the 360 acre property 54 miles northwest of Austin.

“We bring customers out here and say: ‘Here is where you start.’ We teach the ABCs of off-roading,” said Bronco Off-Roadeo program manager Greg Nikolas as we looked out over the 360-acre property in the Texas foothills.

The idea of marinating customers in an auto brand is hardly new. Luxury performance automakers have done it for years. Buy a ferocious Cadillac V-series performance sedan and GM’s luxe brand will invite you to Spring Mountain Motorsport Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, where you get schooled on track, then unwind by the pool. Porsche has built U.S. customer playgrounds in Atlanta and Los Angeles so customers can wring the neck of six-figure sportscars.

Ford itself has entertained buyers of its performance products — think F-150 Raptor and Mustang coupe — at locales like Utah Motorsport Campus and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But the four Off-Roadeo theme parks — in Austin; Moab, Utah; Las Vegas, and an east coast location to be named — are ambitious for a mainstream brand. They cater — not just to speed-addled motorheads — but to a new generation of buyers as Ford repositions itself in the market.

On the trail, Bronco Off-Roadeo participants enjoy gorgeous views and rugged terrain.

Just a few years ago new Ford customers were learning to hoon around Utah Motorsports Park in entry-level Ford Focus and Fiesta ST pocket rockets. Those cars are gone — replaced by a full lineup of SUVs led by Bronco and Bronco Sport.

Like taking the family to a Disney theme park, Ford hopes the experience will nurture new Bronco fans for years to come.

Nikolas brought in drift racing legend Vaughn Gittin Jr. and King of the Hammers champ Loren Healy to help craft the park.

“We helped curate the experience,” smiled Gittin, who won the Formula Drift championship in 2020 and competes in Ultra4 off-road racing. “I call it Walt Disney-fying the off-road experience so that owners can learn everything they need to know about their Bronco. We want them to embrace the Bronco lifestyle and join the collective of off-roading.”

Gittin & Co. have designed off-road trails with spicy names like Jalapeno, Habanero and Ghost Pepper that snake through the park’s woods, streams, rocks and 150-foot elevation change.

Ford leases the off-road park from the Horseshoe Bay Resort overlooking the Colorado River. The Vegas venue will be the next to open late this summer. Off-Roadeo attendees can book rooms (flights and hotel are on the customers) at the resort or other local hotels — then take a 20-minute shuttle to the venue. Spouses and children over 12 are welcome.

Off-Roadeo’s ranch-like vibe is anchored by a main building where participants register and share southwest-style meals. Attendees can play games on the wide porch or relax in Adirondack lawn chairs. Broncos outfitted in the rugged “Sasquatch” wardrobe of 35-inch tires and Bilstein shocks are littered around the main campus.

Bronco Off-Roadeo welcomes drivers of all skill levels. The two-day experience begins after lunch with an orientation session at “The Sluice Box,” where customers learn the Bronco’s formidable off-road toolbox. Those tools include a 43-degree approach angle, best-in-class 29-degree breakover angle, front and rear locking differentials, and two-speed 4×4 transfer case.

Free to Bronco and Bronco Sport owners, the Bronco Off-Roadeo experience enables drivers to get closer to nature - and the capabilities of their vehicles.

With Off-Road 101 under their belt, customers make their way to the ORX course (Off-Road Experience), where they apply the tools in various disciplines. A steep hill shows off Bronco’s Trail Control feature. A rock crawl demonstrates the 360-degree camera. Tight turns show off Trail Turn Assist.

“We show them the techniques and the technology,” said Nikolas.

Broncos head out on a trail, next familiarizing drivers with the terrain. Drivers learn which modes to select with the SUV’s GOAT (Go Over Any Terrain) mode selector. Or how to shift to neutral before engaging the 4×4 transfer case.

Dressed in bright colors like Lightning Blue Metallic and Cyber Orange, Bronco impresses as a cute ute. But back on the main campus, Bronco experts demonstrate the Ford’s macho modularity with removable doors, fenders and roof. Some 200 accessories can be snapped on. It’s Legos for adults.

Attendees end Day One with dinner and a campfire.

After breakfast on Day Two, customers apply all they’ve learned in a four-hour drive across the property. A full stable of Broncos are stamped — Jurassic Park-style — with the “Bronco Off-Roadeo” logo. Ford built a gas station on property to keep their steeds fed.

The four-hour drive shows off the SUV’s remarkable range, from fording 34 inches of water to climbing steep rock faces.

A line of Broncos at the Bronco Off-Roadeo rides along a stream. The scenery is ever-changing on the windy trails from water to rock to steep inclines.

At the end, customers get the icing on the cake: a high-speed Bronco roller-coaster ride with a skilled driver at the wheel.

“We call it the Funhammer Five-Smile Loop,” said Gitton before taking me through the course.

Exhausted and exhilarated, attendees return to the main building for lunch and debrief before re-entering civilian life. Now official members of Bronco Nation, they can share their experiences at thebronconation.com — an independent online community for the Bronco brand faithful.

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

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