Henry Payne Blog

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Posted by Talbot Payne on August 13, 2022

Cartoon: EPA better Weather EVs

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 13, 2022

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Cartoon: FBI Raid Fund Police

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 12, 2022

Payne: A Nissan Z worthy of the letter

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 11, 2022

Elmira — One of the first sports cars I rode shotgun in as a kid was the 1970 Datsun 240Z. On a race track. Red. Fat tires. Manual shifter. Inline 6-cylinder engine. Bubble headlights. Two-door fastback. Hood that went on forever. Ooooh, I loved that car. No generation of Z has measured up since.

Until now.

The redesigned seventh-generation Z sitting in my driveway is a stunner. Perhaps because it’s inspired by the original ’70. Red. Fat tires. Manual shifter. V-6 engine. Bubble headlights. Two-door fastback. Long hood. Like Mustang returning to its design roots with the fifth-gen 2005 pony car, the Z updates the original 240Z design for the 21st century. Since photos of the sleek “Z Proto” concept car first appeared in 2020, anticipation has run high, and the production car doesn’t disappoint. When I drove it north to Lake Charlevoix for a weekend, it turned heads wherever it went.

“Oh, I would definitely take that over the Supra,” said one male admirer, referring to Z’s Toyota arch-enemy and its polarizing nose.

“THAT is a gorgeous car,” said a female pal.

“Cool, looks like the original 240Z,” said a racing buddy.

Walk around the sleek coupe and it’s apparent why Nissan decided to call it simply Z. This is a car in search of its roots. “The original 240Z was built to bring the joy and excitement of sports car ownership,” says Nissan’s media materials. “That spirit and heritage continue today.”

Though it sits on the same ol’ chassis as the last-gen, Z reaches back to the lean looks of its famous ancestor. The design is simple, purposeful. The bubble headlight theme is repeated in the door handles and fuel door.

Nissan Z is more than a pretty dress.

Below decks is a modern interior strapped to a rocket of an engine. The old nail 3.7-liter V-6 has been tossed for a glorious twin-turbo, 3.0-liter mill putting out 400 horses and 350 pound feet of torque. That’s a gain of 20% and 30% respectively. Mmmm, Z-esty.

All new for 2023, the Nissan Z's engine bay gets a 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 engine making an impressive 400 horsepower.

Pulling onto M-32 east of Elmira — my favorite northern, twisty road — I downshifted Z into third, then blitzed a series of S turns, emerging onto a short straightway with the six howling.

The twin turbos (assisted by a lightweight, carbon-fiber driveshaft) do their job, providing the engine with good low-end torque — but it doesn’t stop there. WHAP! The tach hits the 7,000 RPM redline before I can shift into fourth, pulling strong across the rev range. The V-6 roar encourages high revs even if it’s not as distinctive as other songbirds in its class: Camaro-Mustang-Corvette V8s, Supra inline-6, Porsche Cayman GTS flat-6.

Pushing hard along M-32, I’m aware this is a 3,536-pound sled. It lacks the knife-edge precision of the class standard, 3,200-pound Cayman GTS — but it also costs, ahem, $45K less. Handling is predictable with welcome push at the limit.

Returning home along M-32, a downpour swept in from Lake Michigan. Wet roads are tricky for rear-wheel-drive sports cars, but Z was unruffled. The electronics provided welcome stability even when I tried to fluster the car with excess throttle.

The 2023 Nissan Z shows off its neutral handling in the rain thanks to excellent electronics and chassis balance.

In dry conditions at M1 Concourse’s Champion Motor Speedway in Pontiac, Z’s neutral handling was an unexpected delight. It was poised through Turn 10’s difficult off-camber sweeper. But its Bridgestone Potenza S007 tires and brakes hold it back. Coming out of the Turn 5 hairpin onto the back straight, traction was limited, and after a few laps the brakes got squishy under hard braking.

Seems Nissan is holding something back for the rumored track-focused NISMO edition. Add Michigan Pilot Sport Cup 2s, Brembo brakes and stiffer shocks, and Z would make a fine track rat. For now, playful arch-rival Supra and Mustang Mach 1 (complete with adaptive dampers) have better track tools.

The 2023 Nissan Z is limited on track by its tires and brakes. For track rats, wait for the NISMO track version which is sure to come with upgraded tools.

More problematic is my Performance model’s six-speed stick. In a coupe that loves to be rowed, the shifter felt rubbery, especially in crucial 3-to-4 shifts. Once again, Porsche sets the bar on manual shifters, but Z also pales next to an Acura Integra.

I’m a member of the #SaveTheManuals club, but in the case of the Z, the automatic with steering column-based paddle shifters is worth a look. On the plus side, the stick’s “S-Shift” button enabled rev-matching for flawless manual downshifts.

Not only does it sound bold, but S-Shift saves heel-and-toe shifting on busy tracks like M1. S-Shift is part of a unique set of carry-over controls from the last-gen Z like FORWARD/AFT buttons on the console side of the seat.

The 2023 Nissan Z comes with a 6-speed manual (shown) or a 9-speed automatic.

Clearing the squashed greenhouse on entry ain’t easy for us six-footers. That coupe looks cool on the outside, but inside it’s a pillbox with limited windshield space. Thank the mirror and front-facing camera behind it. C-pillar visibility? Fuhgeddaboudit. Happily, blind-spot assist is standard — in line with Nissan’s typically generous safety packages.

My reward, once folded inside, was a reworked interior with three dash-mounted classic analog pod gauges mixed with the latest digital display tech. I preferred the customizable SPORT setting that rotates the tachometer so the 7,000 RPM redline is in the 12 o’clock position.

The standard tech upgrades are good news for Z drivers who want to hit the road. On my long trip up I-75 to Charlevoix, Z’s standard adaptive cruise control (a rare feature for manuals) made for easy highway cruising. As did the seats — not a given in a class of sports car where heavily bolstered seats can eat your kidneys. My Performance model’s red leather and Alcantara seats (also available in blue) fit like a glove.

The 2023 Nissan Z features comfortable, sport seats with red leather and suede inserts.

Some shoppers will regret the lack of a rear seat (which, even in cramped ’Stangs and Camaros welcome small passenger or luggage). But the rear hatchback is roomy and easily swallowed the baggage I needed for my trip north.

The rear of the car is as pleasing as the retro front with its twin pipes and blacked-out light bar punctuated by horizontal corner lights. That latter is another nod to the OG Datsun — and welcome improvement from the sixth-gen car’s awkward boomerang lights. Check out my lights, do they make me look fat? Coming and going, the Z-exy Nissan gets noticed. And at a price that puts it at the affordable end of the mid-level sports car segment.

That’s what attracted me to Z 50 years ago. Welcome back, Z.

2023 Nissan Z

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

Price: $41,015, including $1,025 destination fee ($53,610 Performance model as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6

Power: 400 horsepower, 350 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual (as tested), 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 3,536 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 18 mpg city/24 highway/20 combined

Report card

Highs: Striking looks; balanced handling

Lows: Lacks tires, brakes for track duty; porky chassis

Overall: 4 stars

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

EV vs. ICE: Road trip showdown in the electric Kia EV6 and best-selling Kia Sportage Hybrid

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 9, 2022

Bay City — Electric vehicles are the future, if they can break Americans’ love affair with gas cars.

Case in point is mainstream automaker Kia, which has one of the most aggressive plans to bring EVs to market. The Korean manufacturer plans 14 electric vehicles by 2027 to parallel its internal-combustion engine lineup. Their first vehicle in this strategy is the silky-smooth EV6 SUV, which shows the challenges ahead for EV adoption.

In Gaylord, Payne tops up the Kia EV6 for the last run to Charlevoix where fast chargers are scarce.

The Detroit News tested a $57,410 EV6 GT-Line against a comparable $38,000 Sportage Hybrid SX-Prestige, Kia’s best-selling ICE SUV. The pair are two of the most acclaimed new SUVs for 2022, with both in contention for North American Utility of the Year.

Featuring the brand’s cutting-edge tech ‘n’ style, the siblings share a lot — market segment, length, interior room, all-wheel-drive, South Korean assembly — except their drivetrains. The EV6 is driven by twin electric motors on an 800-volt battery platform, while the Sportage is powered by a 1.6-liter gas engine mated to a front electric motor.

The Detroit News took them on parallel, 500-mile road trips from Oakland County to Charlevoix and back. True to its electric promise, the EV6 proved smooth and more exhilarating to drive. But in addition to the $20k cost premium over the Sportage, buyers need to adjust their driving expectations depending on infrastructure and weather conditions.

The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid is a compact SUV with similar dimensions to the Kia EV6.

The 520-mile gas range Sportage Hybrid required one fuel stop, whereas the 276-mile-range EV6 made six stops, including an emergency stop when warming temperatures started to degrade battery range. Used locally (and after a $2,000 investment in home charging hardware), the EV cost significantly less than the ICE to charge at home. But on the road trip, the Kias’ fueling costs were similar even with gas hovering near $5 a gallon — challenging EV advocates’ claims that high gas prices mark a turning point for EV adoption.

Trip planning

A common knock on EVs is that they lack infrastructure, but electricity access is actually easier than gasoline. What is difficult is figuring how long it takes to charge.

The Kia EV6 GT-Line can be refueled from your home (unlike a gas car), but will take 68 hours on a 110-volt wall socket to fill, according to Kia. Better to equip your garage with a 240-volt charger to speed full charge in 7 hours, 10 minutes. That increased speed comes at a premium. I purchased a $700 Juice Box charger, then paid an electrician another $1,600 to safely connect it to my house via copper wire.

The KIa Sportage Hybrid fills up in Charlevoix for its one stop on the 500 mile round trip.

Thus equipped, the EV6 was at 100% charge when it left my Oakland County abode for the trip north. By contrast, the Sportage filled at a local gas station for its full gas range. Given gasoline’s 125,000 BTUs per gallon of energy, it only took three minutes to fill the Sportage.

Are we there yet?

Given the ICE’s superior range, Sportage didn’t need to stop on the 260-mile trip north, making the trip in four hours. This despite the fact that Sportage fell short of its claimed, EPA-estimated 38 mpg. Traveling at a consistent 80 mph on I-75, the Kia registered 29 mpg.

The EV6, on the other hand, required planning given the uncertainties of battery range in heat and at speed. The good news is Kia has one of the most advanced systems in the industry with an 800-volt platform (similar to six-figure sleds like GMC Hummer EV and Porsche Taycan) capable of faster charging times than 400-volt platforms found on, say, the Cadillac Lyriq or Tesla Model 3. I consulted the popular ABRP app (A Batter Route Planner) for the best roads. ABRP suggested that I make two stops — at an Electrify America charger in Bay City for 6 minutes to charge from 42% to 63% and then again in West Branch at a Green Lots charger for 15 minutes to charge from 27% to 74%.

Electrify American chargers are often out of order. Fortunately, there is more than one of them at a station to fill the Kia EV6.

I arrived at the Bay City charger to find the 350 kWh charger was out of order. After a few minutes of dithering, I moved to a 150 kWh charger, which got me to 80% charge in 17 minutes all told.

The Electrify America outage was a concern, but at least I was assured EA (the country’s largest, non-Tesla fast charging network) had other chargers available. Not so my next, Greenlots stop in West Branch — run by a subsidiary of Shell oil company. The ABRP app showed only one charger available. Would it be out of service? Would there be a line?

I gave the Greenlots charger a go, though finding it was difficult. I eventually located it in the back lot of a Ford dealership. Ten minutes later and I was on my way. However, if I drove straight to Charlevoix, ABRP told me I would have just 10% of charge left in a town without a fast charger.

I made one last stop in Gaylord — at another EA  charger — to ensure I had enough juice when I got to Charlevoix to do daily errands. All told, my trip north in the EV6 took six hours compared to the Sportage’s four. Of course, if EV trips to my family’s Charlevoix house became a habit, a garage charger there would be the best solution — but at a cost of another $2,000-plus.

How they drive

The EV6 wows with its smooth operation. No gear swaps, no buzzy four-banger engine. Just instant, smooth toque when you nail the accelerator pedal. EV6 also boasts cool features like single-pedal driving thanks to its twin electric motors. The electric’s 4,661 pounds is noticeable compare to the Sportage’s 3,896 pounds — a consequence of the big, 77.4 kWh battery that also inflates the EV’s sticker price.

Powertrain aside, the Kia siblings are very similar. They are instantly recognizable: the EV6 with its slanted, Porsche-like nose and the Sportage with boomerang-shaped LED running lights. Their sci-fi styling is complemented by cutting-edge interior electronics.

Both SUVs sport curved, 24-inch digital displays you would expect to find in a Mercedes, not a mainstream brand. EV6 carries the lux theme further with a floating island console like a Caddy Lyriq. Both Kias showcase configurable screens, rotary shifters and state-of-the-art driver assist programs.

I drove the EV6 and Sportage hands-free for significant portions of my I-75 trip. And when I arrived, I stepped out and self-parked both using buttons on the key fob. Remarkable.

The return home

Ahead of my trip back in the Sportage after an active weekend, I quickly topped up in Charlevoix. The 432 miles (the computer adjusted its range estimate for the lower mpg number) would get me back with room to spare.

As for my EV6 weekend journey, I recharged at the most convenient 240-volt charger overnight so that I would have enough charge for side trips to Petoskey and other coastal attractions. Located at a Ford dealer two miles out of town, the charger necessitated that I load a bicycle in the EV6’s roomy hatchback so I could return to the car the next morning and pick it up, fully-charged.

At the end of the weekend, I decided on a one-stop strategy back to Oakland County — recharging at Gaylord’s 350-volt Electrify America charger. It’s worth noting that the cost of filling the Sportage – even at $4.59 a gallon for regular gas — was roughly the same as the EV6 at 43 cents per kW. The Sportage cost 14 cents per mile, the EV6, 15 cents.

I arrived at Gaylord with 61% of battery and charged to 100% in 33 minutes. That was enough for 254 miles of range (like the Sportage, the car adjusted to real-life range) — with 40 miles of cushion for the 214-mile trip home.

Or so I thought.

Running low on battery range, Payne ditched his one-stop charge strategy and made a second stop to top up on electrons in Bay City in the Kia EV6.

As I drove south on I-75, the outside temperature warmed from 76 to 85 degrees and the battery began to guzzle electrons. Speed and weather are the biggest variables in battery range, and — even as I slowed from 80 to 70 mph — it became apparent I would not make it home.

I pulled off the interstate for a quick, 10-minute top-up of electrons to 203 miles (80% of battery capacity). I arrived home after five hours, compared to four in the Sportage.

Conclusions

The twin Kia experiment indicates the superiority of gas cars over the EV counterparts on road trips. Sportage is not just quicker to its destination than its EV6 peer, but more affordable. Even with the federal $7,500 EV tax credit, my EV6 tester would cost about $10,500 more than the Sportage.

Many folks who can afford $57k SUVs, will have a second car (a Sportage Hybrid?) in their garage for long trips — using the EV locally. In that case, the cost of EV6 fueling is considerably less — $1.64 per gallon (at Michigan’s average 17 cents per kWh hour electricity cost) compared to this summer’s $4.59 a gallon. Or 5 cents per mile versus 15.

Though it would take awhile to make up the EV6’s sticker premium plus installation cost of a 240-volt home charger.

Model specs:

2022 Kia EV6

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, rear and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $57,410, AWD, GT-Line as tested

Powerplant: 77.4 kWh lithium-ion battery with dual electric-motors

Power: 320 horsepower, 446 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Single-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 seconds (mftr, AWD); towing, 2,300 pounds

Weight: 4,661 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 117 MPGe; range, 274 miles

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid

Vehicle type: Front engine, all-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger, compact SUV

Price: $38,000 Hybrid SX-Prestige AWD as tested

Powerplant: 1.6-liter turbocharged, inline four mated to single front electric motor and 1.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack

Power: 227 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, (8.0 sec., Car and Driver est.); towing, 2,000 pounds

Weight: 3,896 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA est. 38 city/38 highway/38 combined; range, 521 miles (29 mpg and 432 mile range as tested)

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

Cartoon: Inflation Reduction Increase

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 8, 2022

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Payne: Kia EV6 spins heads with high style, tech — and price

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 4, 2022

Charlevoix — My friend Jamie wants an electric car — in particular, one with a hatchback so he can stow his bicycle for ride excursions. There are plenty of roomy EV hatches available, including the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Tesla Model Y and Cadillac Lyriq. And the Kia EV6 that I just used to haul a bike here.

Electric chargers are scarce in Charlevoix, where my wife and I often visit family. The most convenient is a 240-volt charger at the LaFontaine Ford dealership on U.S. 31 south of town, which kindly allows me to charge overnight. Running low on juice in my $57,410, 2022 EV6 tester one summer weekend, I plugged into the charger for a six-hour feeding.

But how to get back and forth from our cottage 2.3 miles away? A bicycle, of course.

As with Hyundai’s similar Ioniq 5, the Kia EV6 has used its skateboard chassis to maximize interior room. That means expansive rear legroom of 39 inches — just 2.5 inches shy of a three-row Ford Expedition mega-ute, for goodness’ sake — and a cargo hatch that swallowed my bike easily with the second-row seats down.

The following morning, I pedaled 15 minutes to the dealership, unplugged the Kia, loaded in the bike and returned home for breakfast.

The 2022 Kia EV6 GT-Line AWD costs $57,410 and is loaded with goodies like driving assist, leather seats and head-up display.

So the EV6 has the hatchback Jamie requires, but with the usual EV charging challenges. Which is why most EVs remain a niche product aimed at customers with multi-car garages and $50K-$80K burning a hole in their pockets.

Which begs another question from another friend, Ron: If I have $57K in my pocket, why would I spend it on a Kia and not on, say, a comparably equipped $64,990 Cadillac Lyriq or $60,090 XC40 Recharge Twin Ultimate? Or even the segment’s volume king, the $67K Tesla Model Y?

Based on folks I talked with, the Kia brand name is a big challenge. But this is an ambitious brand determined to wow … one vehicle at a time.

Take the Kia Stinger GT sportback, which offers style, power and handling for $55K — a whopping 20 grand below a comparable Audi S7. Or behold the Kia Telluride, a three-row SUV with the looks of a Caddy but a sticker price $5,000 below a comparable Ford Explorer. The sheer audacity of these handsome mainstream vehicles means they can’t be ignored.

So, too, the Kia EV6. I mean, just look at it.

“Oooooh, what kind of car is THAT?”

“Fancy, fancy.”

“Wow, look at these people in the swish car.”

Those comments came from passersby as I pulled up in front of a Charlevoix restaurant for a family night out. The EV6 looks like Porsche and Lexus had a baby with its sloped front end, sculpted rocker panels and a hippy, mono-light rear. You can fuss that the car looks overweight — but it turned heads wherever I went.

The 2022 Kia EV6 GT-Line AWD has a distinctive hatchback style with dramatic rear taillights and big wheels.

EV6 also likes to put on a show.

Like the Tesla Model Y, the Kia is loaded with tech tricks. On a narrow street, I held down the console camera button to engage the self-parallel-park feature. The SUV pulled past an open space, identified it, then stopped … waiting.

Well, Payne, do you want me to parallel park with you in the car or out of it?

Out of it. I put the shifter in PARK, exited the car, then held down the REVERSE button on the key fob and watched EV6 park itself. It also works in perpendicular parking garage spots. Oh, the kids will go wild over this stuff.

The Kia won’t come to you across a parking lot like Tesla’s Summon — but frankly, I’m not courageous enough to try that in my own Model 3. Speaking of Tesla, EV6 offers five regenerative modes (one-pedal driving, for you EV experts) via two paddles on the steering wheel (Tesla offers only two). I used them constantly.

The 2022 Kia EV6 GT-Line AWD will self-park into a space with the driver inside -- or outside -- the car.

Kia also offers the best driving-assist feature this side of the Silicon Valley automaker and Cadillac’s Super Cruise.

The EV6 self-drove for long portions of my I-75 trip north, the system allowing me to relax and eat lunch hands-free without constant nannying like other systems. Opt for this $6,000 feature on the $67K Tesla Model and it balloons the sticker to more than $73K. The system came standard on my $57K GT-line Kia.

EV6 also goes big with an 800-volt battery system (like the $100K Porsche Taycan and Hummer EV) that advertises faster charging than Tesla’s 400-volt system. My experience was a wash. If you can find an Electrify America 350 kW unit that is, ahem, working, the actual charging speed is only 230 kW, the same as Tesla.

Charging is quickest to 80% of range, after which it slows to a crawl like other batteries. On my way back to Detroit, I refueled in Gaylord for 33 minutes to 100% of charge (254 miles) to make it 215 miles to home. But as temps warmed to 85 degrees on my journey south, the car drank electrons and I had to make a second 10-minute stop in Bay City.

The 2022 Kia EV6 GT-Line AWD will fully charge on a 240-volt home outlet in just over seven hours.

Kia-philes may not be as wowed by all this tech given that a loaded $38K Kia Sportage hybrid offers similar parking and driving assist (see my June review of the Sportage up I-75).

The EV separates itself from the Sportage with a gorgeous premium interior. Indeed, it was remarkably similar to the bling-tastic Caddy Lyriq I tested recently in Utah: floating island console with rotary shift knob. Storage tray on the floor below. Curved 24-inch display atop the dash (33 inches for Lyriq). It even outdid Caddy with a big head-up display. Was there a Kia mole in the Cadillac design studio?

All this tech distracts from the fact that the EV6 can’t handle with the Caddy — much less the sharper Model Y and Mach-E. The EV6 is a boulevard cruiser. But with a SPORT mode that armors the 4,600-pound EV for 4.5-second 0-60 mph dashes, the Kia takes full advantage of its instant 446 pound-feet of torque. That’s, ahem, 80 more than the gas-powered $55K hatchback Stinger’s powerful twin-turbo V-6.

Think of my EV6 GT-line as a silent Stinger GT for the EV set that will sell few copies in rural Charlevoix County. LaFontaine Ford has only sold a few Mach-Es here. Expect pickups to be the volume EV sellers Up North.

As I unplugged from the Ford charger, the dealership’s first F-150 Lightnings were rolling in. Huge frunk, 230-miles of range, 0-60 in 4.5 seconds.

Dealer orders are backed up for them.

2022 Kia EV6

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, rear- and all-wheel-drive five-passenger SUV

Price: $42,695, including $1,215 destination fee ($57,410, AWD, GT-Line as tested)

Powerplant: 55-77.4 kWh lithium-ion battery with rear or dual electric-motors (77.4 kWh as tested)

Power: 320 horsepower, 446 pound-feet torque (as tested)

Transmission: Single-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.1 seconds (mfr., AWD); towing, 2,300 pounds

Weight: 4,661 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 117 MPGe; range, 232-310 miles (274 miles as tested for AWD GT-Line)

Report card

Highs: Striking, cool tech

Lows: Gets pricey; lacks useful frunk

Overall: 3 stars

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

Cartoon: Pelosi, Taiwan, XI, California

Posted by Talbot Payne on August 3, 2022

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Posted by Talbot Payne on August 2, 2022

Cartoon: Defund Police and Fund EVs

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Payne: Dancin’ in the rain with the nimble Subaru BRZ

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 30, 2022

Oakland County — The last time I drove the Subaru BRZ was at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, one of America’s great race tracks. I flogged the rear-wheel-drive skateboard mercilessly around the 1.5-mile circuit (and accompanying infield autocross track), rowing the gears to 100-plus mph on the front straight, pushing the envelope around the Turn 2-3 Carousel.

You’ll be happy to know the $30,555 sports car is entertaining around Metro Detroit at 55 mph, too.

The affordable ’Ru is an outlier in today’s premium performance environment. These are the days of super-performance with track-focused, six-figure cyborgs like the Porsche 911 GT3 and Corvette C8 and Ford Mustang GT500. Ooooh, my knees are getting weak. These monsters are a joy to drive on track with operatic exhaust notes, sophisticated electronics and race-car-inspired suspensions. But how many track days can you manage in a year? Driving them around town is like walking King Kong on a leash.

The sleek 2022 Subaru BRZ has much improved, more mature looks than the first-gen model.

For sports car lovers on a smaller performance envelope — and smaller budget — there are affordable treats like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and BRZ and its sister Toyota GR86.

For just $30K, my Ice Silver tester was nearly as playful on public roads as on track. On a rainy weekend morning, I took the Subie out on north Oakland County’s deserted public roads for some fun. Turn on TRACK mode, turn off traction control. Taking a Michigan U-turn, I goosed the throttle and the rear end stepped out — my right foot managing the slide easily with the BRZ’s 184 pound-feet of torque. Try this on slick roads with the 470-torque Corvette and you might swap ends.

I repeated the fun as I headed north through low-speed, 90-degree turns and out into lake country on S-turns and switchbacks. Subaru and Toyota co-developed the BRZ and GR86 twins, and this second generation’s biggest improvement comes from the upgraded 2.5-liter flat-four engine pulled from Subie’s toolbox. Where the first generation car was underpowered, the new 228-horse mill allows drivers to take advantage of the chassis’ sublime handling.

The 2022 Subaru BRZ is available with a $1500 auto shifter - but the base 6-speed manual is more fun.

I powered merrily out of turns using the paddle shifters to maintain revs since the non-turbo engine’s rev band is fattest over 3,000 RPM. For such reasons, the 6-speed manual is preferred over the automatic (75% of BRZ sales are stick) — and it’ll save you the $1,500 upgrade to the automatic.

Styling is also a major improvement for this second-gen BRZ — maturing nicely so that it looks like it belongs next to the Porsche Boxsters and BMW Z4s that inevitably populate the tennis club parking lots where I spend my leisure time.

I admit, however, that I have had a couple hot affairs with the BRZ’s GR86 twin in the year since my first date with the BRZ in Lime Rock. And, ahem, I must admit I prefer the Toyota’s looks. It’s leaner, meaner, more timeless.

The interior of the 2022 Subaru BRZ.

The interiors are identical, with cupholders awkwardly placed in the center console, which makes it difficult to keep a drink and a smartphone connected by wire to the console. I quickly made a habit of storing my bottled Snapple in the door cupholders because, when you have a sports car, you are constantly navigating to the countryside to find twisty roads.

The BRZ has a small competitive set, as previously noted, but Michigan Subaru fans eyes may also wander across the showroom to the excellent Subaru WRX. Ooooooh.

The 2022 Subaru BRZ makes a big engine upgrade with 2.4-liter, 228-horse, 184-torque Boxer engine.

With all-wheel drive for all-seasons, a whopping 271 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque from the same 2.4-liter boxer-4 and roomy rear seats, the WRX pocket rocket is the better all-around car. And since its platform was developed by Subaru, not Toyota, it has all the latest ’Ru tech features like a big center screen. It’s why there are few small sports cars offered these days — electronics and suspension advancements have made compact cars nearly as compelling to drive as smaller, less utilitarian sports cars.

But like a junior 911, BRZ is determined to offer its own form of utility. No, its rear seats can’t swallow six-footers (I had to take my legs off to fit back there), but at least they exist. Unlike, say, the Mazda MX-5, the ’Ru’s second row complements its rear boot so you can load it with extras on a trip north. It offers daily utility to complement its daily drivability.

So BRZ has more bandwidth than you first realize. In the end, though, you buy the Subaru for what it unabashedly is: a lightweight, 2,864-pound sports car that — in its second generation — truly justifies its place in the auto world.

Sleek lines that no pocket rocket can match. A low center of gravity to make even an electric car jealous. Stick shift so you can row it through the twisties. Rear-wheel drive so you fling it around an autocross course.

Or dance in the rain on an overcast day.

2022 Subaru BRZ

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

Price: $29,615, including $960 destination fee ($30,555 Premium, automatic 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, 5.4 seconds (Car and Driver, automatic); top speed, 140 mph

Weight: 2,864 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Fun, affordable daily driver; 2.4-liter power

Lows: Quirky console; not as attractive as cousin Toyota GR86

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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