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Wings and Wheels and Willow Run: historic car and plane show is back

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2021

From Belle Isle to Woodward Avenue, summer car enthusiast venues are abuzz again after the pandemic pause.

Add Willow Run Airport to the mix. And it has hot airplanes to go with the cool cars.

The third annual Detroit’s Invitational Wings and Wheels at Historic Willow Run is back this Sunday with historic cars and planes from the 1930-1969 era.

The third annual Detroit’s Invitational Wings and Wheels at Historic Willow Run is back this Sunday with historic cars and planes from the 1930-1969 era. Willow Run itself made history during the same period as Ford Motor Company used its hangars to crank out over 8,000 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers from 1942-45 as part of US industry’s “Arsenal of Democracy” effort to help win World War II.

“Everyone will enjoy this show,” said Yankee Air Museum President Kevin Walsh. “There are cars and planes here that are simply legendary, like an immaculate North American F-86 Sabre jet fighter and — imagine seeing this — a General Motors Futurliner, one of only nine in existence.”

Arranged on the ramp of the Yankee Air Museum, the exhibit includes the event’s “poster car” Darrin Packard — a well as rare planes like the single-seat Douglas AD-1 Skyraider and a Grumman C-1 Trader cargo plane.

Arranged on the ramp of the Yankee Air Museum, the exhibit includes the event’s “poster car” Darrin Packard — a well as rare birds like the single-seat Douglas AD-1 Skyraider and a Grumman C-1 Trader cargo plane.

The Wings and Wheels committee, which includes ex-GM product guru Bob Lutz and Wings and Wheels chairman Peter Deloof, scooped up cars from private owners as well as the GM Heritage Center, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, Stellantis/Chrysler, Nicola Bulgari Car Collection, and Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum.

“The vehicles must be totally original, no ‘resto-mods,’ no lowering kits, no late model alloy wheels,” said Lutz. “We want cars that were actually common and owned by normal people, so no Pierce Arrows, Marmon 16s or Duesenbergs. We even have a 1932 Ford Model A fuel truck in Standard Oil livery.”

Owners will be on hand to chat about their toys. Gates open to the public at 10:00 a.m. Sunday, June 13 on the west side of Willow Run. Tickets are available here

Gates open to the public at 10:00 a.m. Sunday, June 13 on the west side of Willow Run for Detroit's Invitational Wings and Wheels Show.

Penske upbeat on auto industry, racing. An all-electric future? Not so much

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2021

Belle Isle — After a turbulent, COVID-cursed year that saw the Detroit auto industry shuttered, fan-free auto racing, and the cancellation of the Detroit Grand Prix, Roger Penske is bullish on the future of the auto industry.

All-electric vehicles? Not so much.

“If I had to do it again, we would still make the investment” in IndyCar, said The Captain (as his troops fondly call him) in a wide-raging media interview Friday in the Team Penske trailer in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix paddock. Penske Entertainment Corporation bought IndyCar and its crown jewel, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in November 2019, just months before the coronavirus struck.

Roger Penske answers media questions in his Team Penske trailer at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

Motor racing is the intersection of the Penske auto empire that includes dealerships, Team Penske race teams, truck rentals, Indy, and the relentless technology transfer from racing to production vehicles. But as governments from Washington state to England try to eliminate the gas engine by 2030, Penske does not see the market following suit.

“I don’t think you’re going to see the world go all-electric,” said the soft-spoken 84-year-old, whose corporate headquarters are just up the road in Bloomfield Hills. “I think you’ll see hybrid solutions in all kinds of transportation sectors. There will be mandates in some cities. (But) I don’t see the market making a pivot and moving to 10-15% of market overnight.”

IndyCar, for example, will not follow the lead of Formula E — featuring battery-powered open-wheel racers — which has attracted European manufacturers like Porsche and Jaguar as that continent’s governments mandate battery-only transport. Instead, IndyCar engine makers Chevrolet and Honda — which have both pledged the elimination of gas engines in the next two decades — are developing a new generation of gas engines with hybrid-electric assist.

NASCAR and IMSA — racing series where Team Penske competes (IMSA is on the show card this weekend with IndyCar) — are also moving to hybrid engines, not all-electric.

“Formula E hasn’t gotten any money out of their investment,” said Penske. “The manufacturers are focused on what motorsports they want to to be in. You need to have something in your brand that shows you can win.”

Penske says IndyCar is in talks with two other automakers to provide hybrid powertrains for IndyCar. He says that manufacturer prospects for IMSA’s 2023 sportscar prototype LMDh class are even brighter with seven to eight automakers (including Team Penske’s Porsche team) interested in developing hybrid gas-electric racers.

He added: “It will be quite a while before the ICE (internal combustion engine) is out.”

Today’s buffet of car options seems to suit the market just fine, said Penske, as buyers — flush with cash after months in quarantine — are in a buying mood.

“After COVID, and looking at supply right now, we can sell most anything,” said Penske who owns dealerships across the country through his Penske Automotive Group and Penske Motor Group subsidiaries.

That health in turn drives auto racing. Belle Isle is a testament to the healthy intersection of racing and the industry.

After falling silent to race engines in 2020, the Detroit Grand Prix weekend is back this year without losing its primary sponsors. The series as a whole has maintained its top sponsors as well.

For Penske, the Detroit GP is personal as well as business-related.

“This is where I live,” he says. “We’re focused on autos. We have so many different relationships with the auto companies. In Detroit, you gotta give back. It started back in 2006 with the Super Bowl.”

With COVID receding in the rear-view mirror, Penske’s Detroit GP brought the venue back to life in just four weeks. Admission has been capped at one-third of normal attendance, but the GP is also the first major U.S. race to go maskless. Unlike other sports series, IndyCar and IMSA were not embroiled in political controversies over the last year.

 “The die-hard fan is here,” said Chairman Bud Denker.

He and Penske see a bright road ahead after months of uncertainty. “IndyCar is in a better position as a baseline than it’s ever been,” says The Captain.

Still, even Penske said he had butterflies Memorial Day weekend as he — and a crowd of 135,000 — awaited the green flag at the Indianapolis 500.

“When they said ‘gentlemen, start your engines,’ I was shaking like a leaf,” he smiled. “It was exciting to see the response of the crowd.”

Payne: Walking the Belle Isle race track with Cadillac’s ace drivers

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2021

Belle Isle — You have to walk before you can run.

Before an engine was started at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, drivers took to the track Thursday afternoon by foot for their ritual “track walk “ahead of the June 11-13 race weekend. Accompanied by team engineers, strategists, managers and crew, they walked the 2.35-mile circuit on foot, in golf carts, on bicycles — scouring the surface for imperfections, changes, and generally re-familiarizing themselves with one of the most demanding circuits in auto racing.

But first, a little fun. Driving onto the track in golf carts for the first time in two years (the Grand Prix weekend was canceled in 2020 due to COVID concerns), Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R team drivers Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Felipe Nasr floor their carts in a mock drag race. “My cart’s slow,” laughs Derani as Nasr opens a gap. Boys will be boys.

Track walk. Pipo Derani "left) and Felipe Nasr point to the best line around Belle Isle.

Team manager Chris Mitchum, 44, calls after his hot shoes, noting the “blend line” at Turn 2’s exit where race cars leaving the pits rejoin the hot track. “Remember to keep to the right of the line,” he says, lest the team be disastrously penalized in Saturday’s short, 100-minute race.

Derani, 27, and fellow Brazilian Nasr, 28, pilot the #31 Cadillac and are strong contenders to win the IMSA Weathertech sportscar race. IMSA Weathertech is one of two support races — the other is Indy Lights — to the main feature Dual in Detroit IndyCar doubleheader.

The Brazilians just missed out on a win in 2019, falling 0.8 seconds short to Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya in an Acura DPi prototype.

The Whelen Enginering-sponsored team, managed by Action Express Racing out of North Carolina, has been a fixture at the front of the sportscar series, winning four championships since 2014 — including in 2018 with their current weapon, the wicked-looking, 580-horsepower, V-8-powered Cadillac.

With a carbon-fiber chassis, slick tires, and high-downforce, the state-of-the-art, 2,050-pound Cadillac sports similar technology to open-wheel, 1,700-pound IndyCars. In 2019, Derani qualified the DPi-V.R at 1 minute, 19.9 seconds — just five seconds slower than Josef Newgarden’s IndyCar pole that weekend.

Derani (rt) and Nasr and their Cadillac DPi racer. Belle Isle paddock

Turn 3’s 90-degree right-hander at the end of a long straight is the circuit’s first passing opportunity. It’s also the likeliest place racers will go down an escape road if they leave their braking maneuver too late.

“Check out the escape road to make sure you can get turned around,” says Whelen team strategist Tim Keene as Derani and Nasr explored the run-off area. Back on the main track, IndyCar racer James Hinchcliffe and his crew race by in a golf cart on their own track tour.

Keene, Mitchum and Chief Engineer Iain Watt from Scotland are racing veterans with years of top-shelf racing experience. Watt has been stateside for 25 years applying his engineering expertise in IndyCar, NASCAR and other series. The 56-year old Keene has collected five Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona wins in his storied career.

Keene will be the voice in the ear of Derani and Nasr as they negotiate this very physical race track. The race is the shortest on the IMSA calendar and will require quick-thinking by strategist Keene to keep his charges in position to tin. The race requires only two pit stops — perhaps only one if there is a long yellow flag period — so timing is crucial. Any delay could be disastrous, since opportunities to make up lost time are few compared to longer, 24-hour races like Daytona.

The pace will be relentless — a 100-minute sprint to the finish — and the drivers say there’s an urgency to be perfect every lap that is different from other races.

“You don’t want to touch this curb,” says Nasr, walking around the steep, candy-striped blue curb on the inside of Turn 5. “It can unsettle the car.”

The Turn 4-6 complex are Derani’s favorite turns on Belle Isle. The highly-technical, 100-mph section is crucial to carrying speed out on to the back straight (which parallels the Detroit River) where the Cadillac will hit top speeds of 170 mph before braking hard into Turn 7 — another key passing opportunity before the track narrows into the spectator-friendly “Carousel” complex behind Scott Fountain.

derani turn 1

Narrow is a relative term because the entire course is encased in concrete walls that anchor safety fencing. There is no room for error. The crowned, concrete public road (normal peed limit: 35) makes for tricky traction as the cars wash out in some turns, coming perilously close to the barriers at 100 mph.

On higher-speed turns — think, ahem, 130 mph through Turns 1-2 — the walls have been “softened” with tire barriers wrapped by conveyer belts.

The Whelen team is satisfied that much of the track has remained unchanged since 2019. There are new patches here and there — a concrete strip to cover new timing cables on the back straight, for example — but there is only so much you can do to an undulating public road.

“The track is very green because this is the only race on it all year,” says Derani, pointing to the clean asphalt surface. “It will change a lot over the race weekend as it gets sticky with black rubber. Lap times could come down as much as 2-3 seconds.”

He and Nasr planned to spend a lot of time together during Friday practice and qualifying discussing how they want to set the car’s handling so it’s to both of their liking.

The team has war-gamed much of the Belle Isle race on simulators. Derani and Nasr spent a day on a simulator in Indianapolis this month — racing laps in dry and wet conditions, passing GT-class backmarkers, executing pit stops.

But there is nothing like being back at Belle Isle. In June. In Cadillac’s home city.

“I won this race in 2018,” says Nasr, whose co-pilot then was Eric Curran. “If we win again, maybe we’ll all jump in the fountain.”

Payne: BMW M4 has big grille, big power — and big identity crisis

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2021

Say hello to the 2021 BMW M4 coupe. B stands for “big”: big kidney grille, big proportions, big power, big sticker price.

Big ambition.

Most of it works, but the big news is that M4 is no longer the brand’s premier track rat. That title belongs to the smaller, apex-slicing M2 coupe — a rocket with the same proportions as the 2000 E46 M3 that established M as the handling standard for performance coupes. Twenty years later, M badge proliferates throughout the BMW lineup, from the M2, M5 and M8 to even M versions of its X3 and X5 SUVs.

Even the 2021 BMW M4 graphics for low tire pressure are cool.

And as the M4 (now the coupe’s badge, M3 is a sedan) has grown, it has shed some of its athletic identity to the nimbler M2. If today’s M2 is a scalpel, then the M4 is, well … having a bit of an identity crisis.

It’s a tweener between the M2 and the 600-horsepower M5 hammer. Like a 6’8” NBA player who wants to play guard. Or an electric guitar player who prefers Beethoven concertos. In M4’s case it wants … Ford Focus RS-like drift mode.

That’s right, drift mode.

On M1 Concourse’s Champion Speedway track, the M4 felt confused. Exploding out of the Turn 6 hairpin onto the back straight, the 473-horsepower, twin-turbo, 3.0-liter mill soared. I ripped off quick manual shifts — long live the manual! — as BMW’s inline-6 cylinder’s endless torque curve lit up the digital RPM instrument display. Thanks to M-mode, that display can be projected on the windscreen in my direct line of sight so I could upshift before the torque wave slammed into the 7,200-RPM redline.

Good seats, Intuitive controls. The 2021 BMW M4 has one of the best cockpits in autodom.

But as I entered Champion’s long Turn 7, M4 suddenly wanted to be a Fast and Furious drifter — its rear stepping out — rather than firmly planted like Ms of old. The rubbery manual shifter doesn’t help, making it hard to find gears under heavy g-loads. The smooth engine and ragged handling clash.

Blame M’s confusion on three traction modes — Stability control ON, Stability Control OFF and the M Drift Analyzer (aka, drift mode) with its 10 settings. On M1’s skid pad afterward, I rotated around pylons like I was a steel horse negotiating rodeo barrels. The Drift Analyzer is a fun challenge to harness — though by the time you figure it out, your expensive Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires may be reduced to dust.

It all felt like too much. How do you say “Jump the shark” in German?

I pined for the simplicity of my ol’ 3,480-pound 2001 E46 M3 — its raspy, 330-horse inline-6 singing at 8,000 RPM while the taut 107-inch chassis intuitively found apexes. Today, that simplicity is found in the M2 with its comparable weight, 16-inch wheelbase and 405 horsepower. If you frequent track days, M2 is the E46’s true heir.

M4 has stretched five inches beyond those athletes, tipping the sales at a porky 3,709 pounds.

The new Bimmer was more in its element on a day trip to Mid-Ohio race track, where I was competing with my SCCA Lola sports racer.

Unlike 2-seat sports cars, the 2021 BMW M4 has a working back seat.

On the Buckeye State’s country roads (traction control on), the turbo-6’s siren song was addictive. Like Corvette Z-mode or Porsche’s Sport Response button, the M4 makes it easy to program the car to your liking. I prefer Sport Plus mode and the enhanced wail of the 6-cylinder.

There is no lag at low revs and gobs of power at redline. I opted for electronic rev-matching to make manual downshifts smooth and satisfying. Just keep your eye on the tachometer as triple-digit speeds arrive quickly.

On longer interstate stretches, the BMW’s superb interior shines.

Ergonomics are some of the best in the industry. The fat steering wheel felt rooted to the road. Instrument and infotainment displays are well placed, and the M4 adds (at a fee, of course) a head-up display that contains relevant speed/navigation/radio details so your eyes never have to leave the road.

Under the graphically rich dash screen is useful console phone storage despite the presence of the huge signature iDrive rotary screen controller. Redundancy is everywhere, including touchscreen controls if the iDrive doesn’t suit you. Oh, and there’s a row of radio preset buttons under the screen.

BMW is on the cutting edge of electronic technology, and M4 automatically detected my Samsung smartphone with wireless Android Auto each time I entered the car. This effortless synchronization of phone and car is the future of car-phone integration, and BMW even mirrored my phone’s Google Maps in the head-up display.

My $93,000 tester came with all the bells and whistles, including $3,400 carbon fiber seats and blue-and-yellow stitched interior that would make Gucci jealous. For those who don’t need such razzle-dazzle, the standard seats are luxury enough.

The 2021 BMW M4 gets a complete makeover, including elegant rear tail lamps and nice lines.

Interiors have been an M strength dating to my BMW ownership days. I chose the M3 over a Porsche Boxster/Cayman because I had a family and needed the coupe’s backseat to seat four. That same practicality holds today as buyers look at competitively priced coupes from Porsche and Corvette.

Speaking of competitive, I tested an M2 at the same time as the M4. It also seats four but for thousands of dollars less. Indeed, the rear seat room of the M2 matches M4 despite the latter’s stretched wheelbase. What’s more, M2 also brings electronic tricks like wireless phone connectivity (if not quite matching the M4’s poshness).

With a healthy 405 horsepower from the same, slightly detuned turbo I-6, the 3,415-pound M2 actually has a better power-to-weight ratio than the 473-horse, 3,700-pound M4. Bimmer seems determined to push M4 into grand tourer territory and crown the M2 its new track halo.

One big M4 ambition I took a shine to, however, was the full-fascia kidney grille.

The polarizing kidneys were a source of constant comment in the Mid-Ohio paddock. They are aggressive. They are grille-zilla, and I liked them. They match M4’s masculinity and power.

Grille-zilla is also available on the cheaper M450i, AWD version of the 4-series that I drove to Hell and back earlier this year. Endowed with the same interior tricks as M4, this may be — pound-for-pound — the best 4-series. Big grille, big power, but without the big sticker.

For those who want the legendary M thrill on the track, let me suggest M2 Jr.

The 2021 BMW M4 is the halo model of the M-brand that now includes other models like the M2 and M8 - and M X3 and M X5 SUVs. All are as fun on track as they are on road.

2021 BMW M4

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

Price: $72,795, including $995 destination fee ($93,795 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6 cylinder

Power: 473 horsepower, 406 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.8 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 180 mph

Weight: 3,709 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 16 mpg city/23 highway/19 combined

Report card

Highs: Inline-6 cylinder from the gods; that big grille actually looks pretty good

Lows: Identity crisis; cheaper M2 a better buy

Overall: 3 stars

Segment-buster: Ford unleashes compact Maverick pickup

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2021

Putting an exclamation point on its aggressive transition to all-SUV/truck brand, Ford Motor Co. debuted its Maverick compact pickup Tuesday — based on the unibody chassis shared with the Escape and Bronco Sport SUVs.

Slotted below the midsize, ladder-frame, $26,015 Ranger pickup, the entry-level Maverick starts at just over $21,000 including destination fee, $19,995 without. Its compact size and bed-full of tech features are aimed at urban buyers who want a “ute with a bed.”

Along with the Hyundai Santa Cruz pickup introduced earlier this year, the segment-busting Maverick further expands sub-$25,000 SUV offerings.

“Since 2009, the car market share in the U.S. has decreased 56% while at the same time, truck/SUV has increased 73%,” said Ford Global Chief Marketing Officer Suzy Deering. “Three years ago, Ford made the decision to stop producing sedans. It opened up an incredible whitespace opportunity for us (that) combined the best attributes of cars and utilities.”

2022 Ford Maverick Lariat and Ford Maverick XLT hybrid .

Ironically, Ford first used the Maverick nameplate on a Japanese compact-fighting car in the early 1970s, but the badge now fits the brand’s off-road adventure vibe. It’s “the truck you didn’t see coming,” crows Ford’s YouTube ad.

While taking its conservative, bold design cues from Ford’s flagship F-series pickup, Maverick’s nimble unibody chassis, youthful interior, and clever tech will be more familiar to buyers of the Ford Escape and red-hot Bronco Sport, The Detroit News’ 2020 Vehicle of the Year.

“The unibody design gives the truck better ride and handling from an overall maneuverability perspective,” Maverick/Ranger marketing manager Trevor Scott said in a vehicle walkaround. “And it gives the truck more of the characteristics this customer is looking for. Five passengers. Tons of cargo space.”

2022 Ford Maverick Lariat, left, and Ford Maverick XLT hybrid have a door design that pays homage to the company's signature drop-down side windows and a front end that stretches edge to edge, connecting the standard LED headlamps and grille for a more prominent, planted appearance.

Contrary to traditional, rear-wheel-drive trucks, the unibody Maverick will be front-wheel-drive-based with an all-wheel-drive option. It will be made alongside the Bronco Sport at Ford’s plant in Hermosillo, Mexico. Maverick power-train options are shared with the Escape. A gas-electric hybrid, 2.5-liter four-cylinder comes standard. A more powerful 2.0-liter turbo-4 is optional.

Indeed, Maverick will be the first pickup on the market with a standard hybrid powertrain.

Ford has aggressively priced the Escape Hybrid for volume sales to meet fuel economy regulations, and the Maverick appears determined to make hybrids mainstream with pickup buyers as well.

They will be rewarded with a significant mpg boost as the hybrid Maverick boasts 40 mpg city and 500 miles of range compared to the Ranger’s 21 mpg/414 miles.

“It’s actually stronger fuel economy than a Honda Civic,” said Scott.

Though priced on top of Ford’s cheapest SUV — the India-made Ecosport (and well below the $28,710 Bronco Sport) — Maverick is much more robust. It eschews Ecosport’s somnolent, 123-horse, three-cylinder and 166-horse 4-cylinder egg beaters for four-cylinder mills making 191 and 255 horsepower. Maverick engines can also tow a healthy 2,000 pounds (think two jet skis) and 4,000 pounds (think camper), respectively.

“It’s definitely intended to serve the entry-level price point for the Ford showroom — but also for the Built Ford Tough lineup,” said Scott. “We’re going to be looking at a lot of first-time truck contenders.”

Similar to Ranger, Maverick will start with Ford’s core XL, XLT, and Lariat trims with the loaded models topping out at $35k. Ford’s rugged FX4 package will be available on top trims.  “We anticipate that a lot of the volume will be in the XLT series, which is closer to that $23,000-$24,000 price point,” said Scott.

2022 Ford Maverick Lariat Ecoboost interior design is stylish and spacious, with thoughtful features and the versatility for city driving or escaping the urban life. Surprisingly roomy, there’s excellent leg and headroom, shoulder and hip width, and a comfortable seating position for both rows.

The interior is a departure from the critically-panned, cheap plastic designs of Ecosport and Ranger. Adopting a youthful, blocky look — think IKEA meets LEGO — Maverick bristles with storage cubbies and clever details.

“Cut-out” front armrests allow more vertical space for tall Thermoses. In the rear, speakers have been moved to the c-pillars, opening room for, say, a computer tablet.

To keep costs down, the base XL model will offer basic tech amenities like auto high beams and emergency braking. Popular safety features like blind-spot assist and adaptive cruise control are available. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, however, as does Smart Pass app connectivity so owners can start the pickup remotely in frigid Michigan winters and check details like tire pressure.

Like Bronco Sport, the interior is decorated with bright orange trim while the console mimics a desk organizer with ample storage bins. More storage is under the rear bench seat — courtesy of moving the gas tank aft of the cabin.

All-new 2022 Ford Maverick XLT  showcases an electronic shifter 
 and compact size makes it easy to maneuver and park, theres room for five adults and plenty of storage space

Also aft of the cabin is the heart of the Maverick, a 4.5’ long x 4’ wide bed. “Flexbed,” Ford calls it.

Like Bronco Sport’s creative hatchback, the bed can swallow two bicycles with front tires removed. Maverick embraces the Do It Yourself trend with a bed-based 12-volt outlet, 10 tie-downs, and optional rails with cleats and 110-volt outlet. A QR code is even stamped on the bed wall to offers suggestions on how owners might configure the bed for more utility (DIY slots can be found inside for customer add-ons, too). Useful 8” x 8” side bed cubbies can store, say, two-liter soda bottles or bike pumps.

“You can go to your local lumber store, purchase a couple of two by fours, and create bed dividers,” noted Scott. “We’ll give (customers) instructions on how they can create their own bike rack.”

2022 Maverick sports iconic Ford pickup truck style with a door design that pays homage to the company’s signature drop-down side windows and a front end that stretches edge to edge, connecting the standard LED headlamps and grille for a more prominent, planted appearance.

Maverick is not as radically designed as Santa Cruz (which channels Tesla’s Cybertruck with a sliding bed cover), but the Ford pickup’s flanks are notably clean like the Hyundai’s, thanks to a single-option bed. Ladder frame trucks like Ranger and F-series, by contrast, have a clean break between cab and bed in order to offer different bed sizes.

The wee Ford pickup’s front fascia bear signature F-series elements like a power-dome hood and C-clamp headlights. Out back, C-clamp taillights and Maverick-stamped tailgate are familiar as well. Maverick distinguishes itself with an off-center license plate holder — in order to make way for the tow hook.

Expect Maverick to ride into dealerships this fall.

Makeover gives 2022 Buick Enclave a bold face and tech galore

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 13, 2021

In 2008, Buick introduced the elegant, three-row Enclave and heralded a new SUV era for the ailing sedan brand. Fourteen years later, Buick is healthy and it’s the Enclave’s turn to catch up with its siblings.

The 2022 Enclave gains a major refresh with all-new front and rear fascias as well as state-of-the-art interior tech.

Buick has freshened its flagship SUV inside and out for 2022.

The makeover comes as the four-strong, SUV-only Buick SUV lineup is focused on the meat of a ute-crazed U.S. market that is blooming a year after state coronavirus shutdowns flattened industry sales. With fresh faces across the lineup, General Motors’ premium brand — positioned between mainstream Chevy and luxe Cadillac — is poised to continue its growth spurt in a market facing historically tight supply and pent-up customer demand. Buick sales were up 75% this May over last.

With its big proportions, three-rows, and trusty V-6 engine, Enclave has been Buick’s North American halo for over a decade. Outside of North America it is sold only in China. While high-gas prices and costly emissions regulations force consumers into smaller sedans and wagons overseas, Buick’s SUV lineup has made the brand relevant again in its home market.

2022 Buick Enclave gets a new face.

“We were pioneering really in making those tough choices to (go all SUV),” said brand chief Duncan Aldred. “(In) the space of two or three years, we’ve gone from seven or eight nameplates to four, yet we’re delivering better volume (and) better market share. That brings us to the major refresh of the new Buick Enclave (with) a new design that really gives it a very contemporary feel.”

Like the smaller Envision SUV aimed at America’s biggest-volume compact SUV segment, Enclave’s dramatic face features thin headlights that blend into a more pronounced grille. Dramatic gills bracket the grille and lights. The SUV’s signature big shoulders arch rearwards to a thin, horizontal tail-light graphic.

Buick has followed sister premium brand GMC in outfitting its vehicles with a top-shelf, profit-churning, luxury trim. For GMC, that nameplate is Denali and for Buick it’s Avenir. The trim has gained over 20% of sales for nameplates like Envision — and the 2022 Enclave model will feature a unique Avenir grille and 20-inch wheels.

2022 Buick Enclave precision shifter

The interior is all about space. The dash maintains Buick’s unique, swept horizontal lines, anchored by a digital screen. A button shifter replaces the 2021 model’s upright, monostable shifter to free up more console room. Enclave’s huge cargo area and second-and-third-row seats are unchanged.

Following the industry as a whole, the biggest interior changes are focused on tech. Electronics goodies once prized in luxury cars are trickling down through segments. Enclave now boasts nine standard, active safety features including blind-spot assist, auto high beams, forward collision alert, rear coss-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and more.

Optional features include a head-up display and camera mirror — fancy-pants features that debuted just a few years ago on Cadillac and are now utilized across GM’s lineup, including in the Chevy Corvette and GMC products. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also available so customers can simply set their destination on their phones — and the Enclave will automatically import it to its infotainment screen.

The 2022 Buick Enclave can be equipped with a heads-up display.

Powering the ship below decks is Buick’s trusty 310-horse, 3.6-liter V-6 engine that — when equipped with a tow package — can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

Available in front or all-wheel-drive, the Buick arrives on dealer lots in the third quarter of this year. It will do battle against other premium land yachts that have made significant changes in recent years, including the Acura MDX and Lincoln Aviator.

Payne: Meet the Volkswagen Taos, successor of Golf, son of Atlas

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 3, 2021

Certain milestones crystalize new realities. When we Skyped my kids in college. When Amazon Prime promised it could deliver my gifts Christmas week. When my phone became my camera.

And when the Volkswagen Taos SUV replaced the Golf hatchback.

The 2022 VW Taos is a subcompact SUV with size. Starting at $24,190, it replaces the VW Golf in the brand's lineup to compete against SUVs like the Jeep Compass and Subaru Crosstrek.

So dominant are SUVs in the U.S. marketplace that VW has ditched its iconic Golf. Sure, the Golf GTI and R performance variants will live on, but as small-volume halo cars. That’s right, the Golf is now the VW brand equivalent of a Mazda Miata. How the world has changed.

In the Golf’s place now as VW’s entry-level compact vehicle is the Taos. Same MQB platform. Same four door-hatchback layout. Same 1.5-liter turbo-4. Same premium price over the Jetta sedan (which survives as VW’s entry-level vehicle … for now). Same $24,190 starting price. But, boy, has the brand focus changed.

And that’s important in a U.S. market where giant SUVs stalk the earth and a new generation of Americans demand that their transportation rides high like a Conestoga wagon. Still, it’s jarring for us VW vets who grew up ducking into low-slung Golfs and taking the back roads to our destination.

I didn’t so much duck into the Taos as slide in. Like jumping on a bar stool instead of stooping into a diner booth. SUV hip points are about half-a-foot higher than a car but it feels like much more. Barreling into a sweeper on Hadley Road north of Chelsea, I stabbed the Taos’ brake pedal to stabilize the Conestoga wagon on turn-in.

Detroit News critic Henry Payne took the 2022 VW Taos through Hell, Michigan's twisty roads - but no one will confuse the big subcompact SUV with a nimble Golf.

I’d never do that in a nimble Golf. That’s when it hits you. This isn’t a big Golf — it’s a mini-Atlas.

Atlas, of course, is the brand’s humongous three-row SUV. Made in Tennessee. All-wheel drive. Bold truck-like grille. Oh, yes, VW understands us Yankees now. It wasn’t always so.

VW resisted the SUV trend in early days with its first too-small Tiguan compact ute sampling the U.S. market like a Bratwurst maker forced into making — Gott on Himmel! — hot dogs!

But with the second-generation long-wheel-base three-row Tiggy, VW got it. Then came the Atlas, which (true to its namesake) put the brand on its back and carried it to new heights. Together with its sister, the two-row Atlas Cross Sport, it has outsold Tiguan to start 2021. Speaking of sisters, my own sis bought one and declared it the best V-dub she’s ever had (she’s owned several). She even gave it a nickname: Lassie. Remember when folks use to do that with Golfs? Gott in Himmel.

My nickname for Taos is Son of Atlas.

The rear seat is yuuuge. I sat behind myself with ease. Not only did my 6’5” knees have room behind the backseat, I had inches to spare. The Golf used to be roomy among its class peers (think Corolla and Mazda hatches) thanks to its squared-off styling. Taos benefits from the same design.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne and his 6'5" frame could easily sit behind himself in the 2022 VW Taos.

My expectations were that Taos would be a Hyundai Venue or Nissan Kicks-fighter. Small, cheap. I was wrong. VW leaves the $19K space to Jetta. The Taos starts a class higher, with my front-wheel-drive SE and all-wheel-drive SEL testers soaring as high as $34K. Want a VW hatchback that costs south of $20,000? Buy a used Golf.

The Taos niche on the menu has grown quickly in recently years to slake Americans’ insatiable appetite for all things ute. It’s aimed squarely at the Jeep Compass, Subaru Crosstrek, Chevy Trailblazer, Mazda CX-30 and Kia Seltos.

Think of it as the pasta serving at an upscale Italian Bistro between appetizer and entrée. These dishes are spicy meatballs. Much of that spice is communicated via outdoor ruggedness, like the all-new Crosstrek I cooed over last year with its tough mug and running-shoe-like cladding.

Interestingly, VW went after the Crosstrek five years ago with the Golf Alltrack — a raised (by 0.6 inches) Golf. Like the Crosstrek (essentially a raised Impreza hatchback), it seemed an easy solution. I loved it. Consumers didn’t. They passed over it as an SUV pretender. Tough crowd.

Golf Alltrack died quietly after the 2019 model year, clearing the way for Taos.

Upright Taos dresses up nicely in hiking garb. Further proof that Atlas’ size — not Golf athleticism — sets the tone for V-dub these days, the Taos offers only a 1.5-liter, 148-horse engine compared to the Alltrack’s 170-horse, 1.8-liter turbo-4. And Taos doesn’t even offer an engine upgrade like, say, the 250-horse Mazda CX-30 Turbo, which stands out as class athlete.

Indeed, I was particularly taken by the Taos SE with black trim and 18-inch black wheels. Like its targeted millennial demographic, Taos is also determined to accessorize outdoors chic with digital tech. Think an Apple Watch to go with your hiking boots.

A digital cockpit and infotainment screen come standard on Taos, with larger displays available. Tech such as rear camera, smartphone connectivity and auto headlights are standard as expected in this class — but then VW steps out of the rigid trim walk and offers the content-rich $995 IQ.Drive on even its base SE model: blindspot assist, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, rear traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, the works.

The 2022 VW Taos offers digital displays standard. They can be controlled from the steering wheel as well as by touch (console screen).

Winter-weary Michiganians will also appreciate that AWD is offered at entry trim (for $2,045) — another dramatic departure from the Golf class that only offered AWD as a performance accessory on the rambunctious, track-tastic $40K-something Golf R.

Ergonomics are quite good — with the caveat that V-dub continues to resist an audio mute button. Want to turn off your radio without shutting down the entire infotainment display? Ya’ gotta’ turn the knob aaaaaall. The. Way. Down. Gaaaargh!

Ahem. Otherwise, there are big knobs everywhere and information-rich digital screens so your eyes won’t be long diverted from the road.

Or off-road. Taos’ sheer interior size (its rear seat and cargo dimensions are only slightly smaller than Tiguan) will encourage families to pile in for long adventures. As such, Taos is another gas-powered threat to VW’s claimed electric future. With 410 miles of get-away-from-it-all range from its sippy, torquey 1.5-liter engine versus 250 miles for a much pricier ID.4, the Taos begs the question: Why EV?

Grunting along Unadilla Township’s back roads in the AWD Taos, my eyes began to wander looking for dirt roads to play on. A decidedly un-Golf-like thought.

What’s next VW? A pickup?

2022 Volkswagen Taos

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

Price: $24,190, including $1,095 destination fee ($32,685 FWD SE and $35,440 AWD SEL models as tested)

Powerplant: 1.5-liter turbo-4 cylinder

Power: 158 horsepower, 184 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (AWD) or 8-speed automatic (FWD)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.8 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 120 mph

Weight: 3,430 pounds (AWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 28 city/36 highway/31 combined (FWD); 25 city/33 highway/28 combined (AWD)

Report card

Highs: Roomy interior; digital displays

Lows: Lacks Golf nimbleness; mute button, please

Overall: 3 stars

Payne: Starter Nissan Versa is roomy, techy (just beware the gerbils)

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 3, 2021

If I were shopping for my first car today? My Neanderthal tastes haven’t progressed much since I was a 22 year old exiting college in 1984. Back then, I wanted speed, speed, speed. And some hatchback utility.

I bought a used VW Rabbit GTI. I’d do the same today. Cost? About $18,000 with 75,000 miles as I surf the used car ads (the Rabbit is now a Golf).

That said, it’s comforting to see that there are new cars available for that price that don’t stink. In fact, they are quite pleasant. Take the all-new 2021 Nissan Versa I flogged across the Arizona desert recently.

Sporting the snazzy, V-motion grille found on bigger siblings like Altima and sculpted body stampings across its hood and flanks, the Versa was a nice weekend date out of the Enterprise subcompact sedan rental pool.

The pool has become a lot shallower of late.

Stylin'. The 2021 Nissan Versa shows off its pleasant curves in the artsy town of Tucson, Arizona.

Detroit automakers have abandoned the segment save the Chevy Spark (a cutie that, alas, was given a coat of vanilla for its 2021 refresh. C’mon, GM, these wee products need to stand out on the shelf!). Want Detroit iron? Hit the used lot. That leaves the new sedan menu to Asian morsels like the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio appetizers.

To attract first-time American buyers, Nissan goes big. We Yanks take up a lotta room, after all.

I’m a 6’5” giraffe and was shocked that I could sit behind myself in an entry-level sedan. That size continues in the boot, where Mrs. Payne and I stuffed in two carry-ons, a tennis bag and another large bag. That’s more than a Kia Optima can swallow.

Entry-level prices can be a little deceiving for subcompacts as the standard, $15,930 Versa comes equipped with a manual and no Apple CarPlay. The former suits me just fine (my first GTI was a manual), but the lack of smartphone capability in the early 21st century is unworkable. Gotta have your smartphone running navigation when wanderlust calls.

So think of my SV-trim tester as the starter price at $18,130 — still well below what you can find in the SUV class. For that, you get the essential smartphone apps, blind-spot assist, cruise control (adaptive is available on the upper SR trim) and auto high beams. That’s a sweet suite of stuff — and on par with a used 2016 Golf GTI.

What you don’t get for your 18 grand is horsepower. The Versa is gerbil powered — 122 of them.

My interstate merges were done full throttle lest I be trampled by a herd of SUVs and semi-trucks. With a continuously variable rubber band — er, transmission — running the show, the Versa’s four cylinders make quite a racket.

The soapbar-shaped 2021 Nissan Versa is a smart buy in the subcompact segment starting at $15k. The Detroit Three have largely abandoned the class.

Leave Tucson to the north and the table-flat desert gives way to the rolling foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Twisties abound and the versatile Versa is fun to throw around — as long as you remember to get on the throttle early out of turns lest the gerbil wheel stalls mid-stroke.

Despite my heavy right foot, I managed an impressive 38 miles to the gallon — better than the advertised 35 mpg EPA — over some 300 miles of driving. That’s good news for the tight budgets of 20-somethings.

While you won’t confuse Versa’s interior for its fancy Sentra big brother (a contender for last year’s North American Car of the Year), it never discomfited my big frame.

The cloth seats fit nicely, and the instrument display is split between an analog speedometer and digital display. I thumbed through digital pages that featured mpg, mph and tire pressure data.

The interior of the 2021 Nissan Versa features comfortable seats for long trips, and (on the SV model and above) smartphone app connectivity and CVT tranny.

Typical of Nissan, engineers have included thoughtful details throughout. Door-mounted mirrors, for example, make for better outward visibility. Unscrewing a Snapple bottle at a stoplight, I yearned for a little door handle-mounted cubby to store the cap. There it was, right at my elbow.

Still, having spent the week before my Versa date in $30K-plus compact SUVs, I was quickly reminded of how spoiled modern electronics have made me. In the sub-$20K subcompact class, passive key entry is a luxury. I had to unlock the doors manually with the fob (“Thurston, is that a bead of sweat on your brow?”) as well as the trunk. Safety features like auto-shift-into-park-when-the-door-opens and adaptive cruise control have expanded the safety cocoon around more expensive vehicles.

That used 2016 Golf GTI will come similarly equipped, though it will be 75,000 miles worse for the wear. It will also have 220 horses under the hood, tempting Neanderthals like me.

If you prefer zero miles on the odometer — and don’t mind fuel-efficient gerbils — then the Nissan Versa is a fine choice.

With floating roof and rear diffuser treatment, the comfortable seats for long trips ain't bad lookin' for an entry-lvel vehicle.

2021 Nissan Versa

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

Price: $15,930, including $950 destination fee ($18,130 as tested)

Powerplant: 1.6-liter 4 cylinder

Power: 122 horsepower, 114 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 5-speed or continuously variable transmission

Performance: 0-60 mph, 9.0 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 115 mph

Weight: 2,657 pounds (SV as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 32 city/40 highway/35 combined (CVT)

Report card

Highs: Roomy interior; pleasant to look at outside

Lows: No standard smartphone connectivity; gerbil power

Overall: 3 stars

Payne: Used 2015 Tesla Model S P90D is a Ludicrous bargain

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 27, 2021

The OG has still got it.

It’s been over three years since I’ve been behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S. The Original Gangster. The breakthrough electric vehicle that redefined what a battery-powered vehicles could be. Since that time, I’ve owned two Model 3s — the more affordable junior version of S that made the Silicon Valley brand a luxe best-seller when it was introduced in 2017.

But here’s the thing. The Model S is not only still state-of-the-art, it’s now affordable too.

What are you waiting for? This used, 2015 Tesla Model S P90D with 60,000 miles can be had for under $50,000 - a far cry from the car's new price of $140k - yet the S is as modern as ever.

The used market is awash in Model S cars going back to its original 2012 model year. Good cars. Like the 2015 Model S P90D with 60,000 miles I drove for two days while my Model 3 Performance was in the shop (to clean out a mouse that tried to escape from Michigan’s winter by nesting in the floorboards).

Ludicrous mode. Zero-to-60 in 2.8 seconds. All-wheel drive. Leather and Alcantara interior. Panoramic sunroof.

Tesla’s Clarkston dealership was using this P90D as a loaner for customers like me, but I’m sure they’d sell it to you. Offer 45 grand. That’s right, $45,000, a few grand more than the average $38,900 new car price paid in 2020. If they won’t sell it to you, there’s one in Glendale, Arizona, for $46.4K with 55,000 miles. Or Chattanooga for $49.9K with 50K miles, or …

You get the idea. They’re out there at accessible prices for a sedan that sold new for $140 grand. A new, 2021 Model S starts at $79,990. The performance version (now called Plaid instead of P90D)? $120k.

Despite its six-year age, a used Model S still feels like the most modern car in the midsize market. Other manufacturers have pedaled hard to catch up — most notably Mercedes, which now sports most of the tech features found in the Model S. But S remains as fresh as the first time I saw it on the Detroit auto show floor in 2012.

The 2015 Tesla Model S P90D wows with its 17-inch console screen and all-digital displays. The rest of the industry is still catching up to S tech.

Crowds were three deep to get into it. They ogled its big screen. Its simple interior. My Model 3 took that simplicity to its logical extreme — an iPhone-simple interior with everything located in a 12-inch center screen. It was the Model 3’s radical design that enticed me to put $1,000 down after Elon Musk unveiled it in April 2016. I put a deposit on a $50,000 car without even sitting in it. Before a single model had even rolled off the line.

Because I knew its potential after driving multiple Model S’s.

Turning right onto Interstate 75 after leaving the Clarkson dealership, I matted the throttle and … curses! The Tesla mother ship in Silicon Valley had restricted the loaner car’s drive mode to “Chill.” No Ludicrous mode for loaner drivers. Insurance reasons, I get it.

But the 4,800-pound sedan still surged forward nicely — an appetizer for the dizzying, face-flattening torque that Ludicrous mode offers. Yet for all its heft (equal to a base Ford F-150), the Model S felt planted, its battery underneath me creating a center of gravity lower than a Porsche Boxster Cayman, for goodness sake. I hustled around the clover leaf.

I barked a restaurant destination — “Zao Jun in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan” — and the system didn’t miss a thing, perfectly interpreting my southern West Virginia command for an Asian restaurant. I set sail using the beautiful Google Earth-rendered display that still wows nearly a decade after I first saw it on the showroom floor.

In Ludicrous mode, the 2015 Tesla Model S P90D will hit 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds.

Significantly, the S felt current — its software updated through 2020 by over-the-air updates to contain the latest infotainment and toybox features (like Fireplace) that Tesla offers. That is, despite being six years old, the Model S has gotten better, its graphics and features updating all the while.

What the used Model S did not have, however, was Autopilot.

Though all cars Tesla manufactured from September 2014-October 2016 contained the hardware necessary for driver-assist, my car likely didn’t have the updated software for the same reason it was denied Ludicrous mode: so loaner customers didn’t play with it. It can be, um, intense for the uninitiated.

That will be fine with most folks (a friend of mine has a Model S with Autopilot and never uses it) since the vehicle’s standard adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and emergency braking are excellent. I cruised happily around town barking navigation instructions, deferring to the auto windshield wipers to clear muck from my screen, and watching the auto high beams switch on/off when they sensed another car.

The 2015 model still has the “nose cap” (as Tesla-philes call it) — that awkward faux plastic grille that S sedans had until designers removed it for a simpler “falcon beak” in 2016. My Model 3 looks awkward with no grille at all — its nose as featureless as bad guy Voldemort in a Harry Potter movie.

Best of both worlds. The 2015 Tesla Model S P90D features low-center-of-gravity sedan handling with the hatchback practicality of an SUV.

For $1,750, you can buy an updated front clip for the Model S from TSportline.

Unlike Model 3, Model S is equipped with a hatchback, opening massive rear cargo space just like an SUV. Or an A7, my favorite Audi sedan. It’s the best of both worlds: SUV utility meets sedan’s low center of gravity.

The Model S is also solid as a rock at high speed. Mrs. Payne remarked on how hushed the interior felt compared to the Model 3 — which has had numerous build issues as Tesla rushed them out the door to fill demand. Pals who own Model S’s have remarked to me how reliable theirs have been — a testament to the simplicity of the Tesla’s build. Electric motors and batteries don’t require much maintenance.

So for your $45,000 luxury yacht, you also get low maintenance costs. And — finally! — a dealership nearby.

The Clarkson dealership is the first in the state for Tesla after the incoming Whitmer administration lifted restrictions on manufacturers (i.e., Tesla) selling directly to customers. The state legislature tried to reverse the order, but the effort died in the Senate.

The interior of the 2015 Tesla Model S P90D. In addition to its tablet-like, 17-inch screen, the Tesla has received regular updates over the air that have made the car better on six years. Updates like Autopilot self-driving and audio features.

Just a half hour up I-75 from my Oakland County home, I returned the S and picked up my repaired Model 3. The 3 remains my preferred Tesla for its compact size and more track-worthy nature (we motorheads like track days).

But a low-mileage, sub-$50,000 P90D is a tempting dish indeed. Especially as it tastes as fresh as when it came out of the oven.

2015 Used Tesla Model S P90D 

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger luxury sedan

Price: est. $45,000-$50,000 ($139,700 when new in 2015)

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

Power: 532 horsepower, 713 pound-feet torque

Transmission: One-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.8 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 4,842 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA MPGe 89 city/98 highway; range, 270 miles

Report card

Highs: Exotic EV at an affordable price; Ludicrous mode

Lows: Charging on long trips tedious; “nose cap”

Overall: 4 stars

 

Indianapolis 500 contender Rinus VeeKay’s rise powered by Ford dealership, Chevrolet

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 25, 2021

After his family sold their Ford dealership to finance his racing career, a 20-year-old Dutchman will try and win the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday for Chevrolet from the outside of the front row.

Rinus VeeKay is one of many great acts as the IndyCar circus races under its biggest tent.

Twenty-year old Dutchamn Rinus Veekay is all smiles after qualifying his #21 Bitcoin Chevrolet third for the Indy 500.

As VeeKay’s meteoric rise to the top of America’s fastest motorsport indicates, Indy is a global intersection of speed, legends, corporate giants, and young dreams. IndyCar spends the month of May in Indianapolis for practice, qualifying, and two races, and 2020 Rookie of the Year VeeKay already had established himself as one to watch May 15 when he ran away away from the field to his first IndyCar victory on Indy’s counter-clockwise road circuit.

One week later, and he was back for Indy 500 qualifying — run clockwise around the 2.5-mile oval at speeds in excess of 230 mph. VeeKay ran a breathtaking, 231.511 mph lap that stood as pole until the last minutes of qualifying when he was leapfrogged by fellow-Gen Z racer Colton Herta and pole-sitting veteran Kiwi Scott Dixon.

“I really drove on the limits and almost lost it in the last lap,” VeeKay said in an interview after his four-lap session. “Yeah, didn’t lift. I had a very big moment there of oversteer. But if I had lifted, I probably would not be on the front row. The goal is always not to lift in qualifying.”

Rinus VeeKay put the #21 Bitcoin Chevrolet IndyCar on the outside of the front row.

This prodigious, fearless talent was noticed early on in the young Dutchman’s racing career. After winning multiple European karting championships, he came to America as a 17-year-old, finishing second in the USF200 open-wheel series. By age 19 he was runner-up in the Indy Lights championship, IndyCar’s Triple-A farm league.

Like many American immigrants before him, Rinus American-ized his surname to “VeeKay” from the Dutch van Kalmthout.

“My parents call me VK. It was hard over here to spell my last name all the time. (It’s) super long. It’s way easier as VeeKay,” he said.

Though born in the Netherlands, VeeKay was raised in a Ford family. His father, Marijn van Kalmthout, was the country’s biggest Ford dealer.

“My dad sold his business when . . . I broke through with go-karts,” said VeeKay, who turned 20 last September. “He did that to make time for me and my, my racing and invest all his time and money managing me and making sure I made the right decisions.”

Ironically, VeeKay’s big IndyCar breakthrough came from a Chevrolet-powered team, Ed Carpenter Racing. Chevy and Honda are the series’ major corporate sponsors and engine providers.

Rinus VeeKay was the IndyCar circuit's rookie of the year in 2020.

VeeKay enjoys additional backing from Arie Luyendyk, heretofore Holland’s most famous racing driver, and the winner of the Indy 500 in 1990 and 1997. Luyendyk (whose son is also a U.S. racer and “Bachelor” contestant) helps mentor VeeKay.

More: Scott McLaughlin, working to be IndyCar force, as first Indianapolis 500 looms

Forty-year-old team owner Carpenter, one of the sport’s best oval-track racers, is not just VeeKay’s boss — he is also a teammate who will be making his 18th attempt at winning the 500 (he has finished as high as second). He’ll start in the fourth position, right behind his young protégé.

Carpenter is part of a generation of IndyCar graybeards who are hungry to win this weekend, including 40-year-old pole-sitter Dixon, 46-year-old Tony Kanaan (starting fifth), 40-year-old Ryan Hunter-Reay (starting seventh), 46-year-old Helio Castroneves (eighth), 44-year-old Takuma Sato (15th), 45-year-old Juan Pablo Montoya (24th), and 42-year-old Sébastien Bourdais (27th).

They’ll be fighting it out with rising young guns half their age like VeeKay, Herta, Alex Palou (starting 6th), and Pato O’Ward (12th).

VeeKay has made the move to the United States for his IndyCar career (he lives right across the street from the famed track), and makes regular treks to the Pratt & Miller simulator in Charlotte, North Carolina, for hours of practice on Indy and other upcoming race courses.

“We’ll get a full day” on the simulator, he said, sharing the time with Carpenter or his third teammate, Conor Daly. “The engineers like to fly there early in the morning, but I always feel like I need my sleep so I go the evening before. It’s like office days for drivers.”

Rinus Veekay qualified at over 231 mph in his #21 Bitcoin Chevrolet.

After Indy, VeeKay & Co. will travel to the Detroit Grand Prix, June 11-13, for a very different challenge on the raw streets of Belle Isle.

“In 2019, I got asked to drive the pace car laps in the (Chevy) Camaro” for the Detroit Grand Prix, VeeKay said. “So I got some experience there with the Camaro, but that’s about it.”

First impressions: Ford’s electric F-150 Lightning offers speed, grunt and a big frunk

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 25, 2021

Romeo — Eighteen months ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk threw down the electric pickup gauntlet, introducing the sci-fi Cybertruck at a Los Angeles news conference as a vision of the future. In so doing, he mocked Detroit Three pickup designs, saying “they all look pretty much the same.” Promising “something different,” his stainless-steel exoskeleton EV opened a new battlefront in the pickup wars.

This week, Ford responded.

The 2022 F-150 Lightning enters the EV market using the same tried-and-true three-box, ladder-frame formula that has made the gas-powered F-150 the King of Trucks for the last 44 years. Then it spices the recipe with signature features only electrics can offer.

The Lightning sits an all-new, ladder-frame skateboard architecture built around a massive battery. Up front, it boasts the industry’s biggest “frunk” (front trunk) where an engine traditionally resides. With a jaw-dropping 775 pound-feet of torque and 563 horsepower, the Ford can dash from zero-60 faster than the Ford Raptor super truck. The Ford even uses its massive battery to double as a home generator should the lights go out.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning and signature, full LED front running light.

More:Ford’s F-150 Lightning starts under $40K, has up to 300 miles of range

For subscribers:Here’s how Ford used its HQ to flash ‘a moment of history’ with electric F-150 reveal

“Our customers told us they wanted distinct, but not different,” said F-150 Lightning marketing manager Jason Turnbull, who threw some shade at Cybertruck’s radical design. “They did not want it to look like a doorstop or a spaceship.”

Like Ford’s first EV, the Mustang Mach-E, Lightning is aimed directly at Tesla, even matching its entry-level price — $39,974 before destination fees and government tax breaks. Yet unlike Mach-E, Lightning is determined to win over customers with an evolutionary — not revolutionary — design.

The Lightning name is even a throwback to the wicked-fast 1992 F-150 Lightning pickup. “Like the original, this is a truck that reinvents the way we look at trucks,” Ford North America president Kumar Galhotra said.

With this 6-foot-5 reporter riding shotgun, the Lightning’s development team recently demonstrated the e-truck’s prodigious capabilities at Ford’s sprawling 3,880-acre Proving Grounds in Romeo, with media riding shotgun in upper Lariat and Platinum-trimmed prototypes.

You’ll know the Lightning by its bold horizontal LED running light running across the plastic, non-functional grille like a unibrow. And a driver’s side charging port.

The Ford vaults from 0-60 in the mid-four second range despite its 6,500-pound curb weight. To achieve this freak of nature, Lightning operates in constant all-wheel-drive mode to maximize traction while putting its instant torque to asphalt. The mid-4 second figure is shy of the Cybertruck’s claimed sub-3 second shot (not to mention the reigning gas champ, Ram 1500 TRX’s 3.7 seconds) but beats the 5.3-second time of Ford’s fastest gas beast, the F-150 Raptor.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning console is familiar to F-150 users.

Mega-torque also pays towing dividends.

The F-150 effortlessly clean-and-jerked a 6,000-pound trailer up and down steep Proving Ground grades (maximum tow rating is 10,000 pounds, shy of the 13,200-pound figure claimed by the F-150’s 3.5-liter turbo-6 cylinder). With a single-speed transmission, Lightning pulled smoothly up a steep grade where its gas-engine counterpart would have to shift down to low gear to make the climb.

More:SK supplies batteries for Ford’s F-150 Lightning. Is a joint venture next?

All-wheel-drive, independent rear suspension and a low center of gravity also pay dividends off-road. The big truck sped through a serpentine dirt trail like an oversized rally car — the weight in its belly minimizing head toss. Thanks to state-of-the-art electronics, Lightning integrates all extra-terrain modes into a single “Off-Road” mode (Normal, Sport and Tow-Haul are also available). The pickup also features a lockable rear axle for when the going gets really tough.

Ladder-frame trucks are typically rugged, and Lightning showed off its macho chops by harmlessly slapping its belly over uneven moguls. Thanks to the flat battery drivetrain, however, Lightning appeared better protected by full under-body skid plates that didn’t have to protect a low-hanging muffler or rear “pig” (differential).

Passengers survey this capability from a familiar F-150 interior with options first introduced last fall on the 2021 gas model, including a stowable gear shift and work table.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning chassis

The interior departs from its gas sibling with an available, vertical 15.5-inch console touchscreen. It echoes the Mustang Mach-E’s tablet with swipeable pages and a giant volume knob. The touchscreen is paired with a fully digital instrument display behind the steering wheel.

Cybertruck debuted a clean, integrated box design — but that limits the ability to screw on different-length beds. Lightning sticks to the familiar pickup box design with no Cybertruck tricks like a rolling bed cover or kneeling rear.

Sold separately from its vehicles, Tesla offers battery-powered “power walls” to light your home. Ford one-ups Tesla by offering Lightning as a home generator. The estimated $10,000 option is targeted at the gas generator industry that installs “engines-on-a-slab” for homes — and telegraphs Lightning’s ambitions to go after higher-income truck buyers.

With an industry-best power output of 19.2 kWh on board, the pickup’s power can be routed through a wall-mounted inverter to run a home during a power outage for up to three days.

Even without the generator option, Lightning offers 9.6 kW of onboard power (first seen on the F-150 Hybrid introduced last fall) that can be used to charge tools at a worksite or a TV at a football tailgate. The bed bristles with three 110-volt outlets and a 240. The frunk? Three 110s and three USBs.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning can be hand with a wall inverter (about $10k) to power your house. The feature targets the home generator market.

The yawning frunk is Lightning’s killer app. Pickups alienate many due to the lack of covered cargo space. Not this pickup. Its frunk can swallow two golf bags or three pieces of luggage.

Lightning also comes with batteries’ inherent drawbacks. Chief among them is range.

The standard battery offers 230 miles, with an optional extended-range unit rated at 300 miles. That’s on par with the Mach-E — but well shy of, say, the F-150 diesel’s 850 miles.

Towing with any engine sucks juice — whether gas or electrons. TFLTruck.com reports that towing degrades mpg in a gas or hybrid-powered F-150 by 70%. Ford estimates Lightning will see similar degradation. But when the diesel runs out, there is ample fueling infrastructure. Not so the nation’s fast-charging grid. And when the Ford does stop for charging, it will take longer than a gas pump fill-up — think 10 minutes for 50 miles of range.

With the F-150’s six engine options, pickup owners have a lot of choice. Naturally, Lightning is targeted at the higher-income urban toy truck customer. Construction or landscaping pros seem a natural audience as well.

At the end of the day, the big EV can be recharged in about eight hours and be back on the job in the a.m.

The race is on for the first EV pickup, and the Lightning will compete with the GMC Hummer, Lordstown Endurance, Bollinger B2 and Rivian R1T due next year. In addition to its conventional styling, Ford thinks customers will appreciate the conventional dealer network. Some 2,300 Ford dealers are already certified for service.

Expect it to arrive on dealer lots in the middle of next year. Your move, Tesla.

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning

Payne: Acura TLX Type S unveiled. While riding shotgun. With Helio Castroneves at the wheel.

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 25, 2021

Lexington, Ohio — “Yahooooo!” yelled Helio Castroneves as we hit 117 mph in the new Acura TLX Type S on the back straight of the Mid-Ohio race course. Hard on the Brembo brakes, he crested blind Turn 9, then flattened the throttle. “Love the grip!” he said of Acura’s signature, sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.

Say hello to the ferocious, 355-horsepower Type S, the first performance sedan from Acura in over a decade. And say hello to the post-auto show world of car debuts.

Rather than unveil the long-awaited, 2021 TLX Type S at a static car show display, media members like me got to experience the beast from the right-hand seat. Under the lash of the one of the world’s premier race jockeys. In front of thousands of racing fans at IMSA Weathertech’s annual Mid-Ohio speed-fest.

IndyCar superstar Helio Castroneves introduced the 2021 Acura TLX Type S by giving hot laps to journalists.

The Type S debut was more than a coming-out party. It was the intersection of three 21st century auto trends: the shift to experiential car premieres, the marriage of racing and production cars, and the integration of foreign automakers in America’s heartland.

Acura last debuted a performance car in 2015 at the Detroit Auto How. There were videos. A light display. The NSX supercar on a turntable. Celebrity exotic car collector Jerry Seinfeld was in attendance.

This time, the celerity was at the wheel on a race track.

Adding to the excitement, Castroneves — the winner of four Indy 500s, not to mention “Dancing with the Stars” — had never driven the car.

Castroneves gunned the turbo V-6, and we were off, the Brazilian ringing its neck like the Acura ARX-05 dPi prototype race car he won with at Mid-Ohio here a year ago. “Awright, here we go into Turn 1,” cheered the veteran, who will enter his 21st Indy 500 at the end of this month.

Type S was appropriately unveiled here at a track that Acura race has dominated. The dPi racer was part of a full-court press by Acura to return the brand to its performance roots after losing its way at the dawn of the 21st century.

Helio at the wheel of the 2021 Acura TLX Type S

Not only did Acura develop a halo, $160k, mid-engine NSX supercar sequel to the 1990 legend that wowed the world, it also developed a GT race version for the IMSA series. Not content with that, Acura also entered the ARX-05 at the pinnacle of U.S. motorsport — a 600-horsepower, winged weapon that won the last two IMSA championships under Team Penske’s management.

Type S, aimed at European athletes like the Audi S4 and BMW M340i in the heart of the luxury market, is the production beneficiary of that performance investment.

“I’m excited to try it,” said Castroneves ahead of our Type S test. “A lot that we have learned in sports car racing has been applied to this car.”

Based on the $38,525 TLX sedan, the 4,221-pound Type S is stiffer and wider — its fenders engorged with 20-inch wheels rapped in Pirelli P Zero summer tires. Behind the menacing, black Diamond Pentagon grille beats a 3.0-liter turbo V-6 unique to the Type S — and a major upgrade over the base TLX’s 272 -horse turbo 4. The V-6 is a close cousin to the 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6 that makes 600-horsepower in the Acura dPi.

Interestingly, Type S does not follow the NSX supercar with hybrid drivetrain. The next-gen Acura prototype racer, due in 2023, is expected to utilize hybrid technology

Detroit News auto critic (right) got a ride along in the 2021 Acura TLX Type S with Helio Castroneves

“I love how the car handles,” said Castroneves later as we weaved through the Acura race team’s garage — mechanics feverishly preparing the race car for battle later that day. Following my ride, he had given other journalists hot laps. “With each lap, I was giving it more. It handled very flat, very stable. Acura does everything so simple — the car was easy to learn.”

Having seen the Type S on the track, race fans in attendance could see it up close — along with the rest of Acura’s lineup — at a pop-up “showroom” at Mid-Ohio. There, visitors could get in the cars, do laps on a simulator, and fill out an Acura customer survey.

Like at an auto show.

Auto shows have been laid low by the coronavirus pandemic — but were already struggling as social media and experiential opportunities have allowed brands like Acura to do more customer-targeted events. Auto shows are coming back to life — see Chicago July 15-19 — but they are no longer the exclusive domain of auto debuts.

The Midwest is also no longer exclusively Detroit Three manufacturing. Indeed, Ohio is Honda/Acura country — the track is just an hour northeast of Marysville, where Type S is built alongside the TLX, ILX sedan and Honda Accord. A stone’s throw away from Marysville is the Performance Manufacturing Center, where NSX is hand-built. Drive further west to East Liberty, and the Japanese transplant churns out Acura’s RDX compact SUV, MDX three-row SUV and Honda’s mega-selling CR-V SUV.

All in, Honda’s Ohio empire employs over 8,000 people over 8,000 acres, pumping out nearly 700,000 vehicles a year.

2021 Acura TLX Type S

Rounding Mid-Ohio’s famous Carousel turn onto the pit straight in the Type S, the guardrail is plastered with Acura signs — the scoreboard sponsored by Honda. “The weight distribution is really good,” Castroneves muses over the V-6 roar. “I was not expecting it to be this quick — wow.”

Mid-Ohio has become a training ground for tomorrow’s enthusiast. Acura ILX and Honda Civic are official track school cars in which budding motorheads can hone their skills.

While most Acura buyers gravitate to RDX and MDX SUVs these days, the Type S is targeted at motoring enthusiasts who won’t consider an SUV. Interest, said a local dealer rep, has been intense ahead of the thoroughbred’s arrival in showrooms next month.

Right on cue to celebrate Type S’s big debut, the Acurs dPi prototype — piloted by American ace Ricky Taylor — won Sunday’s race for the fourth year in a row.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

2021 Acura TLX Type S debuted at Mid-Ohio

2021 Acura TLX Type S

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

Price: est. $50,000-$60,000

Powerplant: 3.0-liter turbo V-6

Power: 355 horsepower, 354 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, about 5 seconds (mnftr.); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 4,221 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 19 city/25 highway/21 combined

Payne: With V-8 power, Wrangler Rubicon 392 is King of the Jeeps

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 25, 2021

Holly — Well, you just knew the mad scientists in Auburn Hills had this up their sleeve. First came the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Then the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat family sedan. Followed by the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk family SUV.

Now doff your cap to the earth-shaking 470-horsepower Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 off-road vehicle stuffed with the same 392-cubic-inch V-8 found in the Dodge Challenger Scat Pack, for goodness sake. The forest will never be the same.

I took the juiced Wrangler to Holly Oaks ORV Park (now open with your ORV sticker!) and made the trees shake. The ground quake. The rocks crumble. After I hurtled around the dirt track at obtuse angles, Joey Logano approached me and asked if he could enter the Wrangler in next year’s NASCAR Bristol dirt race.

Jeep’s compact SUV is insane. My only question is: was the alphanumeric 392 badge the best marketing could come up with?

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 has all the off-road goodies - plus 470 horsepower.

How about Beast? Hulk? Was Hellboy taken?

After all, Jeep executives have made clear they don’t have room to fit the supercharged 700-plus horsepower Hellcat engine in the Wrangler without compromising crumple safety zones — so this is the highest-flying V-8-powered Wrangler we’re going to get. Heck, at $74,995 it actually costs more than a Challenger Hellcat. If an alphanumeric badge it must be, how about 666?

The Wrangler Rubicon 392 is a treat from the moment you push the Start button on the dash.

BRAAAPP! The 6.4-liter V-8 roars to life like someone stuck the Kraken with a hot poker (was Kraken taken?). Unlike its sedan and SUV peers, the Wrangler is wonderfully uninsulated due to its removable doors and roof, so the sounds wash over you like a wave.

Naturally, Jeep dressed the 392 in full Rubicon off-road battle dress so that you could enjoy all the amenities the King of Off-road has to offer. The Jeep faithful will strip off the doors and peel back the roof to get even closer to the V-8 roar. If we had done that on this sun-soaked Saturday morning — a day after heavy rains in southeast Michigan — we would have been caked with mud from head to toe. We left the doors on.

A red Wrangler Rubicon is a beautiful canvas to paint with mud. Now that’s landscape art.

When not destroying sports cars out of stoplights, the 392 loses none of its abilities off-road. Indeed, the 392 is raised another inch to encourage you to take it where the asphalt ends.

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 gets signature spare tire and impressive departure angle.

That extra inch is functional — a testament to the extensive re-engineering Jeep’s surgeons did to make this Frankenjeep monster a reality. The engine bay has been extensively reworked to fit the taller, longer, hungrier V-8. The hood scoop is real, and more airways are available should it get blocked or overwhelmed by a wave of muck while treading up to 32 inches of water.

Years ago, a mod shop stuffed a Porsche 968 motor into my Porsche 944 (more power! Uh uh uh!) engine bay, requiring extensive plumbing. And that was just swapping a 2.5-liter 4-banger for a 3.0-liter four. Ask an aftermarket shop to upgrade your Jeep Rubicon to a V-8 and you’re likely looking at a bill north of $40,000. Jeep does it for $24,000 over the standard Rubicon.

The Frankenstein transformation doesn’t stop at the engine bay. In addition to the aforementioned lift, the ladder frame gets stiffening, and the suspension gains Fox performance shocks and muscular Dana axles off the Gladiator pickup.

Bottom line: this is the most capable Jeep Wrangler ever, with 10.3 inches of ground clearance and an absurd 4.5-second 0-60 dash. Even the Rubicon’s legendary approach/breakover/departure angles increase up 44.5/22.6/37.5 degrees. Boowah-haw-haw!

Scaling the South Face of the parks’ Sandbox area is a formidable task as you have to accelerate up a sandy hill that steepens to 31 degrees (think Daytona’s high banking) at the top.

With 470 pound-feet of torque, my 392 fearlessly attacked the obstacle, flinging sand plumes from its knobby tires. At the top of the ridge Wrangler surveyed its Jeep kingdom below like Simba on Pride Rock. Ah, when the Ford Bronco arrives this summer, the fur will fly at Holly Oaks.

Soft ground after overnight rains demands extra safety vigilance over Holly Oaks’ steep, 200-foot drops. I man-handled the transfer case shifter into 4-low, locked front and rear axles, disconnected the swaybar and grunted across muddy Darlene’s Ridge — the huge 33-inch tires slipping and sliding but clawing for grip.

The interior of the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392. UCOnnect screen, automatic tranny. Mud optional.

Grip was an issue on the steep rocks of the park’s signature Mashed Potato hill on Mt. Magna for some V-6-powered Rubicons. For the V-8, it was a piece of cake, the suspension lift adding extra clearance for the rugged frame.

On Holly Oaks’ challenging five-turn Glen short course, I turned off traction control to allow the rear end to really hang loose. I’ve overcooked the course’s moguls before — separating a Ford Ranger Tremor’s tire from its rim — but the Wrangler 392 comes standard with bead locks to protect against separation anxiety.

As I’m 6’ 5”, my biggest concern was hitting my noggin on the roll bar as we flew over hillocks.

For its ultimate workhorse, Jeep has spared nothing. The 392 gets signature bronze tow hooks, leather 392 seat badging, a Sky One Touch roof, front-facing crawl camera, paddle shifters — even a quiet mode button on the dash should you want to hear the person in the backseat over the wail of the V-8.

That second shifter in the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 is for the low-speed transfer case to engage the driveline in serious off-roading.

But if it’s quiet you’re looking for on your off-road wanderings, get the plug-in hybrid 4xe that I recently tested in Texas. You can stealthily sneak around Holly Oaks and listen to every twig snap under your 33s.

The 392, on the other hand, is all about teeth-baring, chest-thumping dominance.

I know, let’s call it Kong.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392

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

Price: $74,995, including $1,495 destination fee ($78,545 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.4-liter V-8

Power: 470 horsepower, 470 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds (mfr.); towing capacity, 3,500 pounds

Weight: 5,100 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 13 city/17 highway/14 combined

Report card

Highs: Off-road cred; a Hemi V-8 in a Wrangler, need I say more?

Lows: Drinks gas; gotta shout to be heard in the cabin

Overall: 4 stars

Payne: Audi RS6 Avant, station wagon from the gods

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2021

I grew up in the back of a blue 1960s Buick station wagon. Bench rear seats. Steering column-mounted shifter. Rear-wheel drive. Turned like a cruise ship.

The 2021 Audi RS6 Avant is not that wagon.

On Hankerd Road south of Hell, Michigan, I initiated launch control. Then I released the 591-hp, 590-torque twin-turbo V-8 Kraken. With its 8-speed transmission firing off rifle-quick shifts and the all-wheel-drive system electronically managing torque to all four corners, the wagon gulped asphalt at an astonishing rate. The speedo blew by (censored to preserve my license) mph, yet the car felt stable as a rock — its 4.0-liter mill begging for more throttle.

Cul-de-sacs were the natural habitat of my mom’s Buick. My scarlet RS6 tester was at home on Hell’s twisted roads. Devil in a red suit. Swollen fenders like a muscle shirt over huge 22-inch wheels. Brooding headlight signature. Push the Avant’s start button and it awakens like a tiger that hasn’t eaten in a week. RRRROWR.

The 2021 Audi RS6 Avant is the Avant wagon's top shelf performance version with a twin-turbo V-8, eight-speed tranny, rear-wheel steer and other goodies.

Avant’s gotta’ eat, and Hell’s rural roads are the best feeding ground in state.

RS is German for Rennsport — which translates to English as Racing Sport. I think Rocket Ship is more appropriate. With radical modifications to the suspension and drivetrain, the RS is Audi’s pinnacle badge — transforming luxury vehicles like the Allroad into snarling performance deviants that itch to get on track (not just drive the family to it).

Case in point, my Avant (more German: Avant means “wagon”) is based on the  $66,895 A6 Allroad wagon I tested last summer. On my I-96 trip west to Hell, RS6 exhibited all the civilized qualities of that housebroken tourer: roomy interior, panoramic roof, twin console screens for infotainment/climate, driver-assist and Google Earth-enhanced navigation. A word about the latter two features.

Audi has made great strides since the first A8L I drove back in 2015 with erratic drive assist that would have smacked into the Lodge M-10’s concrete walls were it not for driver intervention. The RS6, by contrast, navigated westbound 96 beautifully. I took curves hands free, the wagon staying centered in the lane rather than pinballing from one side to the other.

With twin touch screens for infotainment and climate, the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant gets tight for console space.

Smartphone-based Google apps are the best nav systems on the planet, but I’m a sucker for the Audi’s gorgeous Google Earth displays — even if it often takes multiple attempts for the voice recognition system to understand me.

Me: Navigate to Hell, Michigan.

Audi: Hale?

Me: No, Hell.

Audi: Hell Ranch?

Me: Close enough.

Stunning, richly colored vistas of the countryside then splash across the instrument and infotainment displays with turn-by-turn overlays. It’s worth the voice-recog hassle. I cruised comfortably to the U.S. 23 South/Brighton exit, U2 X-Radio filling the cabin.

My luxurious ride was interrupted by a cloverleaf that the RS6 attacked like Lewis Hamilton entering the Parabolica sweeper at the Monza Grand Prix. That is to say, very fast.

Behold the furnace. The 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 under the hood of the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant puts out 591 horsepower.

With its V-8 boat anchor up front, the RS6 should push like, well, a wagon around a 360-degree turn — but this is no ordinary car. Audi has blessed the RS6 not only with torque-vectoring AWD, but with Porsche Turbo-like all-wheel steer. The 5,000-pound beast rotated into the cloverleaf on a dime, then begged for more right foot.

Sticking like hot wax on a 32-degree day, the Avant tenaciously hugged the long cloverleaf apex — g-loads straining my neck. By the exit, I finally got some squall from the huge 11-inch-wide tires, and even a wee bit of controlled oversteer as rear-wheel steer did its thing.

I exploded onto Route 23, V-8 drowning out U2.

So exhilarating is this experience that I instantly sought out the opposite cloverleaf going north on 23. Let’s do that again! I was alone this day, but I can understand how the Avant’s Jekyll and Hyde nature might drive a family nuts. Be sure to warn the backseat passengers: cloverleaf ahead.

Arriving in Hell, I stopped for a few photographs and noted how much I prefer the design of the RS6 over sister Allroad. Part of that is attributed to stunning wheels, power-dome hood, red brake calipers, bazooka-sized rear tailpipes and widened stance (2.5 inches wider than standard A6).

The 2021 Audi RS6 Avant

But the fascia is the charm. The Allroad grille is overdone, a vain actor that spent too much time in the makeup chair. The all-black Avant mug, by contrast, is not only tidier but also provides the right amount of menace as you loom in someone’s rear mirrors. You won’t be in their mirrors for long.

In this Age of Ute, the RS badge has been added to Audi SUVs just as BMW M-badge and AMG-badged Mercs have proliferated in their sport utility lineups. But with inherently flawed high-centered bods, the SUVs struggle to be pure performance machines.

With their more intuitive physics — yet similar hatchback cargo utility — European wagons are king of family performance. A couple of months back, I brought a 350-horse Audi SQ5 SUV to Hell. It can’t hold a candle to the Avant.

Alas, the RS6’s insane capabilities make me think of what might have been for Detroit brands. In particular the Cadillac CT5 Wagon, one of the most wicked wagons ever conceived. If Caddy hadn’t abandoned it seven years ago, CT5 Wagon (with the current CT5-V Blackwing’s supercharged 650-horse V-8 under the hood) could have been a match for the RS6. Woulda coulda shoulda.

Only a few will able to afford the RS6 Avant’s prodigious talent. The beast starts at $110,045, and my tester rung the cash register at over 119 grand.

If one likes, the driver can monitor the status of the nuclear power plant under the hood of the 2021 Audi RS6 Avant.

For all that dough, Audi could make a better console. The shifter is too close to the driver, meaning my 6’5” frame’s right leg consistently knocked it over into “Manual” position. The twin screens rob the console of needed storage space.

More pleasing is the head-up display — a must-have on the Avant. Similar to Caddy’s V-mode, the Avant locates an “RS” button on the steering wheel so that — with a single press — the driver can instantly transform Jekyll into Hyde with pre-configured performance modes when twisty roads loom.

Corresponding to the RS button, the head-up display turns into a digital RPM and mph indicator so you never have to take your eyes off the road as you devour traffic.

All hail the performance family wagon. You’ve come a long way, baby.

2021 Audi RS6 Avant

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger station wagon

Price: $110,045, including $995 destination fee ($119,840 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8

Power: 591 horsepower, 590 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed, dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 156 mph

Weight: 4,960 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 15 mpg city/22 highway/17 combined

Report card

Highs: Ferocious acceleration; all-wheel-steer handling

Lows: Poorly organized console; six-figure price tag

Overall: 4 stars

Pato O’Ward headlines generation clash coming to Detroit GP

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2021

Detroit —  IndyCar racing returns to Belle Isle this June after a COVID-19 gap year, and fans will be treated to an intergenerational war.

Like tennis in the twilight of the Federer-Nadal era, a new group of young guns is hungry to take their place atop a podium that has been dominated by 40-somethings Scott Dixon and Will Power. Eager to spoil the crowning of a new prince are three drivers from NASCAR, Formula One and Australian Supercar who want to put their own mark on their new sport.

IndyCar racer Pato O'Ward is one of a new generation of racers who is taking the fight to veterans Scott Dixon and Will Power while broadening the sport's reach.

Hollywood couldn’t write a better script.

One of the series’ young standouts, 22-year-old Mexican Patricio “Pato” O’Ward, was in town Tuesday previewing the Detroit Grand Prix and the sport’s future.

O’Ward is the total package. Blindingly fast on track, he is a telegenic, bilingual bridge to a broader Hispanic demographic the racing industry covets – both in the U.S. and south of the border where IndyCar could expand its U.S. and Canadian base.

More: Detroit Grand Prix to allow limited attendance in Belle Isle race’s return

Last weekend in Texas he became the first Mexican driver to win an IndyCar race since Adrian Fernandez in 2003. O’Ward’s appearance in Detroit on Tuesday created a buzz across the Hispanic community as the Monterrey, Mexico native held a news conference sponsored by the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and hosted by Taqueria El Nacimiento restaurant in Detroit’s southeast Springwells neighborhood.

IndyCar’s engaging new star then held a Zoom call with students from three area high schools: Casar Chavez Academy, Detroit Cristo Ray and Western International. In the wake of the Detroit GP’s announcement last month of partnership with NXG Youth Motorsports to bring young, minority, urban racers into the sport, O’Ward is an instant role model for a new generation.

He idolized Dixon and Power growing up – the 40 year-olds have amassed 87 wins and six titles (five of them by Dixon) between them over the last two decades. But while O’Ward was thrilled to be racing against his idols, he is not intimidated by them.

“It’s great giving them the headaches they don’t want,” he said.

Along with fellow Gen X phenoms, 21-year old Colton Herta and 24-year old Alex Palou, O’Ward is causing plenty of pain.

Each has a win in the first four races of the season with O’Ward winning at Texas Motor Speedway in his family’s adopted home state. The Arrow McLaren team driver is second in points only to Dixon as the series enters the crucial month of May with two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including the sport’s crown jewel: the Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend.

But as the upstarts chase Dixon and Power they are also aware of hungry veterans in their mirrors. NASCAR champ Jimmy Johnson is a rookie in IndyCar this year. As is 35-year old Formula One veteran Roman Grosjean and 27 year-old Australian Super Car champ Scott McLaughlin. All want to add an IndyCar championship to their trophy cases.

IndyCar racer Pato O'Ward speaks at a Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce news conference.

“We have a great mix of young, old, and in-between drivers and it’s as competitive as IndyCar has ever been,” O’Ward said. “The qualifying sessions are so competitive – 26 guys covered by just one second.”

He then adds a third name to the veteran list, Juan Pablo Montoya. The 1999 IndyCar champ (then called the CART series) and Indy 500 winner will join O’Ward’s Arrows McLaren team at the 500 this year (though not in Detroit).

“Montoya is someone who I looked up to. I look forward to learning from him as much as I can,” O’Ward said. “But the goal is still to beat him even though he is a teammate.”

The 22-year old has been racing since he was 6 and has seen a career of ups and downs while driving on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. He has the business outlook of a seasoned entrepreneur.

“If your career didn’t end four or five times on the way up, then it wasn’t hard enough,” he said.

He is bullish on the future of IndyCar, including urging a race in Mexico City where he thinks the series could see its biggest audiences.

“(IndyCar) has got so much potential. We’re nowhere near it,” he said. “So I’m doing my best to speed that process up. Its such a great category, people just have to watch one race and they are hooked.”

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear is June 11-13. Tickets go on sale May 20.

VW’s new Tiguan shows the steep climb ahead for EVs like the ID.4

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2021

Farmington Hills — General Motors and Volkswagen say their future is electric. The two manufacturing behemoths have set ambitious goals to produce only battery-powered vehicles by 2035.

But the latest model of VW’s best-selling vehicle introduced here — the 2022, gas-powered Tiguan compact SUV — shows how steep the road is ahead.

The new Tiguan, with an estimated base price of $26,000, will go on sale this fall alongside VW’s first global EV, the similarly-sized $41,000 ID.4. Even with the temporary federal $7,500 tax break for buying an electric vehicle, that’s a yawning $7,500 price difference in America’s most competitive SUV segment. With 398 miles of EPA-estimated range, the Tiguan dwarfs ID.4’s 250 miles of battery range.

“We do know it’s going to take awhile for most U.S. customers to say, OK, cool,” they will buy an electric vehicle, VW North American product marketing chief Hein Schafer said in an interview at the Tiguan’s media reveal.

“Price point is a challenge. (The) cellphone industry was no different. As they started up, battery efficiency was not where it should be, it was very expensive. Batteries got more efficient, they got more affordable. And so you got more range and the price point of cellphones came down. I think EVs are going to be no different.”

VW’s challenge to convince customers to go electric is compounded by governments that, for the first time, are forcing automakers to produce a specific powertrain. Both Washington state and Great Britain, for example, say they will forbid gas-engine car sales by the end of this decade.

The 2022 VW ID.4 is the German brand's first EV in the USA. It starts at $41k and benefits from a $7500 federal tax credit.

It will be the second time in two decades that VW has had to reinvent itself. Just over 10 years ago, VW was a sedan brand, with the majority of its sales in Jetta, Golf and Passat cars. But as the American consumer flocked to SUVs, VW had to switch gears to adapt.

The Tiguan was introduced in 2008 and struggled to gain traction against popular badges like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Nissan Rogue. It wasn’t until the Tiguan’s second generation, 2017 long-wheelbase model that VW posted sales above 100,000 units in a segment where its Japanese competitors move over 400,000 vehicles annually.

“The Generation One Tiguan was very much Euro-centric — didn’t have second-row comfort, didn’t have the trunk. But we were working feverishly to find a Tiguan that met all the U.S. customers’ needs and wants,” said Schafer. “When we launched Tiguan in 2017, we saw immediate success. We more than doubled our volumes, Clear lesson: if you listen to U.S. customers, you . . . can have success in the U.S. market.”

The ID.4 enters a U.S. market where customers have shown little interest in EVs not named Tesla.

After Tesla’s big three EVs — Model 3 (89,976 units sold), Model Y (79,072) and Model X (22,255) — the best-selling electric chariot in 2020 was the Chevy Bolt at 20,754 units. In its fourth year of sales, the $36,000 Bolt hatchback — hyped as a Model 3 killer in 2017 — sold about 1/5th as many vehicles as the comparably-sized, gas-powered Chevy Trax crossover. The $33,000 Nissan Leaf EV — now in its tenth year on the market — sold just 9,564 units.

“Consumer consideration to buy an EV for the last 10 years has been stuck at about 3-4%,” said Ed Kim, vice president for Industry Analysis at Auto Pacific, while noting that actual EV sales are under 2% of the market. “With new vehicles in the market like the Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach-E, our recent data shows that doubling to about 6%.”

Plug and play. The 2022 VW ID.4 recharging at Novi Electrify America charger.

While the German-built ID.4 shows off a new, minimalist interior design, the Mexican-made Tiguan is hardly standing still as it gains new technologies like a digital instrument display, digital climate controls and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto to match its own bold styling update.

Load an all-wheel-drive ID.4 with all the features and it tops out at $49,675 before tax incentives — a price more in line with Tesla’s luxury Model Y. A similarly-equipped Tiguan will run about $37,000 (pricing will be announced closer to fall release).

“There is a fair amount of apprehension (with EVs) when it comes to charging, range. Is it going to inconvenience me?” said Schafer. “So I think the (ID.4 and Tiguan) complement each other. We have the Tiguan that is extremely spacious, has all the creature comforts. Then ID.4 teases this prospect that EVs are not what you think they are. (It’s) fun to drive . . . and also doesn’t have servicing costs that a gasoline engine vehicle has.”

Auto Pacific’s Kim points out that — unlike the cellphone revolution that freed Americans from wall-tethered phones — EVs actually limit mobility by tethering consumers to a charge cord.

“With the internal combustion engine, you have the freedom to drive anywhere,” said Kim. “EVs don’t have as much infrastructure and they take longer to charge. We’re still at a point in time when it doesn’t make sense for everybody.”

The ID.4/Tiguan siblings are in the middle of a full lineup of utes (including the bigger Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport) that will soon be joined by the 2022 Taos, VW’s first subcompact SUV.

Tellingly, Taos is not an EV. The costs of batteries are simply too steep.

“(The Taos) is going to come out with a very peppy, 1.5-liter turbo engine, which is going to have phenomenal fuel economy because we know customers buying in that segment are extremely cost-conscious,” said Schafer.

Key to VW’s EV plans — as well as other manufacturers — is government partnerships for massive subsidies.

In addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit, VW touts state incentives for EV buyers like California’s $1,500 rebate and access to carpool lanes. VW also anticipates federal manufacturing subsidies for the ID.4 when it begins production at the company’s Tennessee plant in 2022.

The interior of the 2022 VW ID.4 is simple and modern. All digital displays and good storage space.

“If USA is serious about reducing CO2 emissions, I feel like it makes sense to extend (the $7,500 tax credit) until you get to a point where these cars are affordable,” said Schafer, citing the Biden Administration’s push to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. “That’s a critical point — because if you look at the average transaction price of a car in the U.S., almost 70% of volume is below 40 grand. So if you really want to transform the market . . .  you’ve got to stimulate that for a period of time.”

Other manufacturers face similar challenges as they bring EVs to market. Ford’s first electric SUV — the $44,000 Mustang Mach-E — enters the same compact SUV segment as Tiguan. Ford’s segment mainstay, the gas-powered Escape (2020 sales: 178,496 units) now sports a hybrid-electric version that stickers for under $30,000.

This year, Ford introduced a new gas-powered, $28,000 Bronco Sport to the segment that hit dealers about the same time as Mach-E. The electric Mustang came out of the blocks quickly with 3,739 sales in February, then trailed off to 1,951 sales in April. Bronco Sport, meanwhile, posted 5,525 February sales and accelerated to 13,856 units in April.

For now, VW touts the daily usability of the ID.4 — which can charge overnight at home for routine metro commutes. The build-out of national electric infrastructure is a longer-term play — also dependent on government’s help.

“We’ve made it clear that, post-2035, we’re not going to be developing any more gasoline-powered engines,” said Schafer. “How fast can we pull that off? We need to earn money, too. We make money with gasoline-powered cars, so it’s very clear we need to time that transition with the market.”

Payne: 2021 Cost to Own auto winners may save you big

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 10, 2021

Kelley Blue Book has announced its 10th annual 5-Year Cost to Own Awards, and the winners may surprise you.

Mixed among the usual, bulletproof Toyota, Lexus and Ford products in the five-year study are three Stellantis stallions (Dodge Charger, Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler Voyager minivan) from brands that generally rank at the bottom of reliability surveys.

The 2020 Jeep Wrangler Ecodiesel joins a gas-powred V-6 and hybrid turbo-4 in the Wrangler's lineup.

Indeed, Volvo and Subaru — which also perpetually rank below average on J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Survey — also placed multiple vehicles on a sprawling podium culled from 22 vehicle categories projecting the lowest ownership costs over the initial five-year ownership period.

What’s going on?

Turns out that cost of ownership is about more than the cost of maintenance, repairs, fuel, and insurance (all factors in KBB’s evaluation). Depreciation — that is, the resale value of your asset after five years — is also a big part of your car’s cost.

Who needs Hellcat? The 2020 Dodge Charger Widebody Scat Pack packs 395 horsepower - and is quicker through corners than its fabled Hellcat mate.

“Depreciation tends to be a strong component for total cost to own, so cars that win typically have strong residual values,” said Eric Ibarra, KBB’s director of residual consulting, in an interview. “The Charger has very strong performance in the full-size car segment and carries strong residual values. Performance is a strong attribute when you’re looking at how it will retain value. Wrangler is an iconic vehicle and wins years after year in the off-road segment.”

So, too, the Volvo XC90 SUV and S90 sedan are hardly volume sellers but have a rabid fan base for the vehicles’ Scandinavian styling and tank-like safety reputation. Subaru, another below-average performer on J.D. Power’s quality ratings, tied Stellantis and Lexus for the most vehicles on the list (three) thanks to strong residuals. As the ads say, customers “love” their Subies.

The Lexus RX, NX and UX won in their respective SUV categories as Toyota’s luxe brand has been a perennial favorite in sales and reliability scores. Ford, which typically gets good grades in reliability class, also gained cost-of-ownership gold medals for its two red-hot picks: the F-150 and Ranger.

There were upsets on the list as well.

Proving good things come in small packages, the wee Mazda MX-5 Miata won the sports car category over supercars like the Porsche 911 that is not only super-fast but also super-reliable. Porsche routinely vies with Lexus for durability crowns.

“The overall price of vehicle is a factor,” said Ibarra noting the that the Porsche 911 stickers north of $100k while the Miata starts at $27,825. “Porsche produces vehicles that hold value well, (but) overall depreciation on a 911 will be greater than a Miata.”

Topless. The 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a roadster with a soft top that can be easily stuffed behind the rear seats without stepping out of the car.

There were surprises at the other, mega-tron end of the vehicle scale too. The Nissan Armada beat out the Chevy Tahoe/Silverado and Ford Expedition for best full-size SUV despite inferior sales volumes and an older design compared with its Detroit peers. Its sister Infiniti QX80 full-size luxury SUV also beat out the iconic Cadillac Escalade.

The list of winners was a smorgasbord of brands, an indication of how competitive the U.S. market is today.

Other notable winners include the Subaru Forester compact SUV in the market’s best-selling, non-pickup category and the VW Passat in the best-selling, midsize sedan category. The Nissan Leaf topped Tesla in the electric vehicle niche, while the Hyundai Venue won in the subcompact SUV segment — one of the industry’s fastest growing segments as first-time buyers switch from entry-level sedans to utes.

Car shoppers understandably tend to focus on the purchase price when buying. But, in truth, you could score a great price deal — and still end up paying more over five years just because you didn’t factor maintenance, insurance costs, and resale value.

“Choosing a car with low ownership costs can help shoppers save a significant amount of money over time — often several hundred and sometimes even thousands of dollars — so it’s worthwhile to research the cost to own details of any new car you’re considering,” said Ibarra.

2021 Kelley Blue Book Cost to Own Award winners:

Compact car: Hyundai Elantra

Midsize SUV-3-row: Subaru Ascent

Midsize car: Volkswagen Passat

Full-size SUV: Nissan Armada

Full-size car: Dodge Charger

Luxury subcompact SUV: Lexus UX

Entry-level luxury car: Acura ILX

Luxury compact SUV: Lexus NX

Luxury car: Volvo S90

Luxury mid-size SUV-2-row: Lexus RX

Sports car: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Luxury mid-size SUV-3-row: Volvo XC90

Hybrid/alternative energy car: Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Luxury full-size SUV: Infiniti QX80

Electric vehicle: Nissan Leaf

Off-road SUV: Jeep Wrangler

Subcompact SUV: Hyundai Venue

Midsize pickup truck: Ford Ranger

Compact SUV: Subaru Forester

Full-size pickup truck: Ford F-150

Midsize SUV-2-row: Subaru Outback

Minivan: Chrysler Voyager

Revealed: NASCAR Next Gen racer accelerates into new era

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 6, 2021

America’s most popular form of motorsport, the NASCAR Cup Series, introduced its Next Gen race car Wednesday. The seventh-generation racer is a major evolution that embraces 21st-century technologies to improve handling, reduce costs, increase safety, and eventually transition the series to hybrid power.

Next Gen_Ford Mustang NASCAR

While NASCAR’s roots lie in Detroit Three stock car battles, “stock” production chassis were replaced in the early 1990s by a bespoke racing architecture. Today, all three official NASCAR partners — Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota — marry a common, tube-frame platform to a body design intended to reflect their current Camaro, Mustang, and Camry showroom offerings.

Each manufacturer — represented by NASCAR drivers and performance chiefs — showed off their new Next Gen designs at a joint press conference Thursday in North Carolina where most teams are based.

“We’re very excited about the Next Gen car. It’s really a big step forward for the sport …  and to be more relevant underneath with the chassis, steering, and engine systems,” Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance global director, said in an interview. The exterior “proportions (are) much closer to what we have in today’s street Mustang.”

Chevrolet touted the improved, more athletic appearance of the race cars to better reflect their siblings on the showroom floor.

The Next Gen Camaro ZL1 race car will make its points-paying debut at next season’s Daytona 500.

“The Next Gen Camaro has a much stronger link to the production Camaro ZL1 in terms of styling integration, improved proportions and relevant technologies,” said Chevy NASCAR director Eric Warren. “From an engineering standpoint, this is a seismic shift.”

Desperate to continue growing the sport into the 21st century and expand its partners beyond the Chevy-Ford-Toyota trio, NASCAR hopes the Next Gen car will generate more affordable — and more competitive — racing.

“The economic model for the sport is not sustainable,” said David Wilson, Toyota Racing Development president. “The Next Gen model represents revolutionary change akin to what IndyCar is doing today. It’s a game-changer.”

Next Gen_Ford Mustang NASCAR takes styling cues from the production Mustang GT500 (left).

Central to that revolution is sourcing the Generation 7, tube-frame NASCAR chassis from a single supplier: Jackson-based Technique. A model for cost control, the open-wheel IndyCar series also has moved in recent years to a single-source chassis supplier (Italy’s Dallara). Currently, NASCAR’s Gen 6 car is built from the ground up by race teams, requiring big investments in fabrication technologies and Computerized Numerically Controlled (CNC) machines.

Delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic, the Next Gen racer will make its track debut at next February’s Daytona 500. Its more efficient production already has attracted new teams to the Cup Series, including Trackhouse Racing, Live Fast Motorsports, and 23XI Racing — the latter co-owned by NASCAR racer Denny Hamlin and ex-NBA superstar Michael Jordan.

The Next Gen NASCAR also promises future powertrain changes that could attract more automakers.

Next Gen_Ford Mustang NASCAR shows off a rear defuser. Note the fake rear tailpipes (the real exhaust exits ahead of the rear wheels).

While the 2022 car will continue to use NASCAR’s ol’ reliable, pushrod V-8 engine, the new chassis has been designed to accommodate electrification updates for a hybrid powertrain — or even all-electric. Ford’s Rushbrook — echoing Ford’s corporate ambitions — is bullish on electrification in racing.

“We wanted to have the new car with carry-over engines. But then flexibility in the future to go to hybrid — and potentially full electric,” said Rushbrook, who has unveiled prototype electric Mustang Mach E and dragster racers in the last year. “As we go hybrid and electric that will be an opportunity for manufacturers to get in because they will start from Ground Zero.”

TRD’s Wilson agreed, and said the new engine/chassis package could open up NASCAR to six or seven manufacturers — similar to the IMSA GTD field where Toyota’s luxury Lexus sports car competes against Porsche, Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and Mercedes.

Chevrolet’s new look on the racetrack will more closely connect to its cars in the showroom when Chevy campaigns its Next Gen Camaro ZL1 race car starting next season in the NASCAR Cup Series.

For now, however, 550-670 horsepower V-8s (depending on the track) will power the Next Gen NASCAR. Wilson said he doesn’t expect a transition to hybrid until at least 2023.

For all the talk of electrified race cars that dovetail with government trends, Wilson acknowledges fans still like their engines loud and fast.

“The Next Gen hybrid engine is inevitable, but the hard thing is holding hands and jumping off the cliff at the same time,” he laughed. “Our fans want a big, powerful engine.”

Next Gen still boasts plenty of technological leaps coveted by drivers and teams.

The NASCAR model gains an independent rear suspension — common on production cars like Mustang, Camaro, and Camry — instead of a solid rear axle. The change will make cars more nimble — as will better downforce created by a flat underbody and rear diffuser.

The 2022 NASCAR Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD will debut in February at Daytona 500.

Drivers also gain a five-speed sequential transmission which will enable more gear changes. A new rear transaxle design moves the transmission rearward, which — coupled with new side-pipe exhaust design — will better position the driver toward the center of the car, adding safety in the inevitable, high-speed wrecks where a car’s flanks are compromised.

Pit stops should look a lot different with the Next Gen NASCAR.

Wheels will be fastened with a single, center lug nut rather than five nuts. Fuel will delivered by a clamp-on hose familiar to IndyCar racers, rather than a more unwieldy gas cylinder. The changes will reduce crew sizes and speed up pit stops.

Wheels also will grow from 15 inches to 18 — mirroring the production world where low-profile tires proliferate and housing bigger brakes.

“The bigger wheels are more representative of what we sell,” Toyota lead engineer Todd Holbert said.

Damaged bodywork should be easier to repair thanks to carbon composite tech that replaces the current steel panels. NASCAR’s junior Xfinity series already has been using composite bodies to good effect.

The all-new, 2022 NASCAR Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD gains a rear diffuser for better downforce.

Don’t expect real headlights or taillights, though. The new cars will continue to slap on sticker graphics to represent details like lights, logos — even upper grilles.

Manufacturers are thrilled with the new, more sculpted exteriors that better mimic their street cars. Wheelbase remains the same at 110 inches, but gone are ungainly tails and big greenhouses that robbed aesthetic beauty.

“It’s hard to understate the significance of this Next Gen. There is more change in this car than in the last 50 years,” Wilson said. “This is the best-looking Toyota we have ever raced.”

NASCAR is in the entertainment industry, after all, and fans want to see athletic bodies in close competition. Rushbrook said the Next Gen NASCAR should deliver, as all teams start from a clean sheet. This will put new teams like Live Fast and 23XI on more equal footing with legacy champs like Gibbs, Hendrick, and Penske.

“Settings from the Gen 6 car aren’t going to apply,” Rushbrook said. “Everybody starts from ground zero.”

Teams will begin getting new cars in July, with heavy testing expected this fall leading into the 2022 Daytona 500.

Payne: That’s a Hyundai? Tucson ute is hi-tech head-turner

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 6, 2021

The 2022 Hyundai Tucson might have been designed after the jagged edges of the Santa Catalina Mountains that surround the compact SUV’s Arizona namesake. Or the chiseled stones that flood the street markets of Tucson’s annual Gem and Mineral Show. Or maybe the Lamborghini Aventador’s dramatic lines, since Hyundai’s design chief Luc Donckerwolke once penned the Italian sports cars.

Whatever its inspiration, the Tucson is one of the most striking compact utes in the U.S.’s biggest volume, non-pickup segment.

The 2022 Hyundai Tucson comes in standard FWD with AWD optioned. A hybrid and plugin-hybrid model are also available.

From its big front grille to its sculpted flanks to the crazy quilt of shapes out back, the Hyundai looks like it was pieced together with shards of glass. Linger over the triangular shards in the big grille. Or the pie-piece taillights. Or the triangle-choked mesh below the rear bumper. The tri-theme reminds me of Ford’s oval obsession with the 1996 Taurus, one of my favorite wagons from last century.

 “You have to take a risk to get noticed,” said Hyundai chief designer Chris Chapman, a Yankee whose Los Angeles studio was tasked with designing the brand’s biggest U.S. seller.

Hyundai’s U.S. team also knows the segment’s formidable competition and American customers’ habit of living in their cars for long commutes and trips. Segment leaders like the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape not only offer unique exteriors but roomy, livable interiors.

Now that Tucson’s gemstone exterior had my attention, the interior is a study in Home & Garden practicality. Unlike the aforementioned Taurus, which carried its oval exterior theme inside, the Hyundai’s exterior and interior designs are apples and oranges.

The 2022 Hyundai Tucson can be optioned with a full moonroof.

Make that triangles and rectangles.

The interior is built from simple, practical right angles. A pair of chromed lines border the cabin like a picket fence around an Arizona horse ranch. It’s lovely, and — but for the console — uninterrupted.

Look closely, and that’s because there isn’t a hood over the instrument cluster. Like a Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Tucson’s standard liquid crystal display screen (LCD) goes hood-free since it doesn’t reflect the sun’s glare. It makes for crisp digital graphics as well as a less-cluttered cabin. Slick.

Hyundai’s obsession with simplicity continues into the console with twin, stacked rectangular touchscreens. The upper (expandable to 10.25 inches on upper trims) handles infotainment functions, the lower takes care of climate. Engineers and designers are always at war over ergonomics, and the designers won this battle with a clean, touch-only interface. Honda tried this in its last-gen CR-V and ultimately caved to consumer preferences for a volume knob.

The 2022 Hyundai Tucson features an LCD instrument display that does not require a hood to shield it from the sun's glare. The design makes for a simplified cockpit.

Hyundai buyers may ultimately demand the same, but the Tucson’s design is more elegant than the Honda, so we’ll see. For now, the driver can easily adjust volume using thumb tabs on the steering wheel while the passenger can poke at the screen’s up-and-down volume arrows.

The design theme continues through the lower console with the transmission function actuated through a (rectangular, natch) push-button shifter. The space-saving device opens acres of room for console storage and cupholders.

Room is the priority beyond the front seats. Every compact SUV wants best-in-class claims, and Tucson drops the mic with class-leading leg and cargo room. Rear seats are pickup-roomy. I easily sat behind my big 6’5” self with inches to spare before my knees met the front seat.

Continuing the Tucson’s appeal to giant Yankees, the cargo area is also best in class. Flatten the rear seats and you can transport a jumbo LCD television screen back there to go with the tiny LCD instrument display up front. If you have a family that spends a lot of time in the back, Hyundai offers option like heated rear seats, multiple USB ports and a panoramic roof.

Once an attractive, conservative family hauler, the Hyundais have been dressing to the nines for the roaring ’20s. Tucson follows the Hyundai Elantra, Veloster and Sonata with extreme wardrobe makeovers. The racy styling has been complemented with more pep under the hood, too. The Sonata, Elantra and Veloster have all received N-badged performance versions with taut suspensions and more ponies under the hood.

The expressive, sci-fi exterior of the 2022 Hyundai Tucson.

Tucson is content to leave the fast footwork to its siblings.

The compact SUV options an N-line trim, but it’s a showpiece only with blacked-out trim and bigger wheels. Crack open the hood and you won’t find a 295-horse (Sonata N) or 275-horse (Veloster N) furnace within — just a pair of reliable, sippy four-bangers. That’s in keeping with the Tucson’s determination to get you to your destination unruffled.

I tested both the 187-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-banger and 227-horse 1.6-liter turbo 4 hybrid, and they are almost indistinguishable (save the hybrid’s better low-end torque) under the cane given the cabin’s boardroom quiet. Credit slavish attention to detail as engineers have applied triple-layer lamination to the front windshield, a beefy firewall, and extensive sound-deadening throughout the cabin.

The compact yacht doesn’t encourage heavy left foots anyway. This is no Mazda CX-5 or Chevy Equinox with corner-carving ambitions. The Tucson wants you to admire its wardrobe as it saunters by.

Tucson competitors Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape have big hybrid ambitions in the compact SUV space, with both targeting 30% hybrid sales. Hyundai won’t give any sales goals, but don’t expect the usual Hyundai price bargain. The 37-mpg Tucson hybrid — Hyundai’s first effort in this segment — is priced right on top of ($32,835) the 41-mpg Ford Escape hybrid ($32,990) when equipped with my essential features (AWD, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control).

It’s just a $1,250 premium over the standard 2.5-liter, meaning you’ll get your money back in under four years at $3 a gallon of gas courtesy of the hybrid’s 30% better fuel efficiency.

Given the cabin quiet, I’d be content with the 2.5-liter. In keeping with its smartphone-like LCD screens, the Tucson boasts wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Climb into the comfy front thrones and the Tucson recognizes your phone. Simply bark your destination to Google Maps and you’re on your way to the next destination.

The influence of former Lamborghini designer Luc Donckerwolke might be found in the angular sheet metal of the 2022 Hyundai Tucson.

In Tucson, my destination was Arizona Zipline Adventures in the middle of the desert. Like Michigan winters and sandy coastlines, its slippery terrain rewards a good all-wheel-drive system, and Tucson comes equipped with an electronic transfer case that is lockable for maximum traction below 20 mph.

Like a Jeep, the Tucson’s four wheels churned happily away in unison in order to maintain traction. And like a Lambo, I couldn’t stop looking at its angles.

2022 Hyundai Tucson 

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

Price: $26,135, including $1,185 destination fee ($37,454 2.5-liter Limited AWD and $38,704 Hybrid Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 2.5-liter 4 cylinder; 1.6-liter turbo-4 mated to an electric motor and 13.8 kWh lithium ion battery

Power: 187 horsepower, 178 pound-feet torque (2.5-liter); 226 horsepower, 195 pound-feet torque (hybrid)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic (2.5-liter); 6-speed automatic (hybrid)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.5 seconds (2.5-liter, Car and Driver est.); towing capacity, 2,000 pounds

Weight: 3,651 pounds (2.5-liter Limited)

Fuel economy: EPA mpg 24 city/29 highway/26 combined (2.5-liter); 37 city/36 highway/37 combined (hybrid)

Report card

Highs: Daring exterior; spare, high-tech interior

Lows: No volume knob; no FWD option for hybrid

Overall: 4 stars

Dream Team: Porsche and Penske reunite to go sportscar racing

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 6, 2021

Two powerhouses of motorsport, Porsche and Penske, are teaming up to go sports car racing.

The Dream Team will develop a so-called LMDh prototype car for entry in international sports car racing from France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans to the Rolex Daytona 24 Hours. Due for the 2023 season, the LMDh will usher in a hybrid era for sportscar racing while reviving a Porsche-Penske partnership that won Can-Am titles in the 1970s and in sportscar racing from 2006-08.

Early drawings of the Porsche LMDh race car that the Penske team will field in 2023.

The Porsche LMDh racer will headline the much-anticipated merging of global motorsport under one regulatory discipline, allowing — for the first time in years — manufacturers to enter the same car in FIA’s international World Endurance Championship and the North American IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. International prototype racing has been splintered with cars eligible for Daytona, for example, unable to compete in other countries.

“This is a proud day for our entire Penske organization. We have represented Porsche on the track or in our businesses for more than six decades. The heritage and success we have enjoyed together is unparalleled throughout our history,” said Roger Penske, chairman of Penske Corp., based in Bloomfield Hills. “I can’t wait to get started as we build a global racing program with Porsche that will compete for wins and championships well into the future.”

Under Penske team management, Porsche will enter two factory cars in the in LMDh class. LMDh will compete next to an even more powerful LMH — dubbed “hypercar” — class.

In structure, the twin prototype classes echo the North American 2006-08 seasons when the Dream Team collaborated on the legendary Porsche RS Spyder. The RS Spyder dominated the LMP2 class for three years running, even beating faster LMP1 prototypes on occasion.

The new international sportscar rules for LMH and LMDh set up a similar competitive tension beginning in 2023 across the globe. And it puts Porsche back in position to claim overall wins at Le Mans and Daytona — tracks where the brand made its marque in the 1960s as one of the globe’s premier performance brands.

“We are delighted that we were able to get Team Penske to form this partnership,” said Porsche chairman Oliver Blume. “For the first time in the history of Porsche Motorsport, our company will have a global team competing in the world’s two largest endurance series. To this end, we will be setting up team bases on both sides of the Atlantic. This will enable us to create the optimal structures we will need to take overall victories at Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring.”

The Dream Team announcement had been expected since Penske dropped its collaboration with Acura in the IMSA Weathertech series last year. With Penske Motorsport also fielding top teams in NASCAR and IndyCar it puts “The Captain” — as the 84-year-old Penske is fondly known — in a position to with the Triple Crown of Motorsport (Le Mans, Indy 500 and Daytona 500) in a single year.

“Team Penske has made a name for itself with an almost unparalleled success story in motorsport. In the long list of victories to date, however, the name Le Mans has been missing,” said Porsche Motorsport chief Fritz Enzinger. “I hope that we will finally be able to chalk up this success as of 2023 with Porsche Penske Motorsport. This would then mark Porsche’s 20th overall victory at (Le Mans) — a dream come true.”

For all the success of the RS Spyder, the Dream Team is probably best known for its  Can Am collaboration racing in the early 1970s.

Porsche-Penske dominated Can Am in the early 1970s with the Porsche 917-30 (blue car).

Featuring the most powerful sportscars on the planet, Can Am had made reputations for brands like McLaren and Chaparral in the U.S. Porsche and Penske ended McLaren’s dominance in 1972-73 with epic, 1,000-horsepower-plus Porsche 917s that put Penske — then primarily known for his stateside Trans Am success — on the map as one of the world’s premier teams.

Ironically, the Porsche 917’s success wrote the Epilogue to the so-called Golden Era of motorsport as the 1970s oil crisis forced auto racing to downsize engines. Motorsport is on the precipice of a similar catharsis today as global governments force automakers into electric powertrains.

Along with hybrid powertrains coming from NASCAR and IndyCar, the LMDh prototypes are an attempt by international sportscar racing to get ahead of the regulatory curve and help market electrified technologies to customers via motorsports.

“As of 2023 … our intention is to support and shape the new era with our LMDh prototypes,” said Porsche R&D board member Dr. Michael Steiner.

The Porsche LMDd cars will weigh about 2,200 pounds and put out 670 horsepower. In addition to two Penske entries, Porsche intends to make the cars available to private teams with full factory support.

The Dream Team will set up its U.S. base camp in Mooresville, North Carolina.