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Car, Truck, SUV of the Year: EVs dominate finalist nominations

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 17, 2022

Los Angeles — There’s electricity in the air.

Electric vehicles dominated the nine nominees for the North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year announced Thursday. The finalists were announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show, which is showcasing EVs as the state’s government vows to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. Winners will be announced n January in Detroit.

All three nominees for SUV of the year are battery-powered: the Cadillac Lyriq, Genesis GV60 and Kia EV6. Two of three trucks nominees, the Ford F-150 Lightning and Lordstown Endurance, are electric, while in the car category, the electric Genesis G80 EV will try to beat out two gas-powered performance icons: the Nissan Z and Acura Integra.

“Our finalists represent a diverse cross-section of the model year’s best new vehicles, ranging from sports cars to powerful pickups to three electric utility vehicles — the first time all three finalists in a category are battery-electric,” said NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg.

Lacking in that diverse rainbow is affordability. In keeping with skyrocketing auto prices, there is not a single nominee under $30,000 — and only one under $40,000, the Acura Integra — unlike years past that saw entry-level nominees like the $22k Nissan Sentra and Ford Maverick.

The signature front end of the 2023 Nissan Z hearkens back to the 190 Z - but without the 1970s' ugly bumpers.

At $41,015, the Z will be the favorite for Car of the Year as it brings a blend of style and fun not seen since the fast-back coupe first turned heads as the Datsun 240Z in the early 1970s. The Acura has received muted reviews from enthusiasts with high expectations for the Integra’s return after the badge was shelved in 2006. But with a stylish interior to match its aggressive exterior and utilitarian hatchback design, the $31,895 Integra is the affordable choice. Notably, the Integra beat out the well-reviewed, $36,995 Toyota GR Corolla, a bandy-legged pit bull that squeezes 300 horsepower out of just three cylinders.

The 2023 Acura Integra revives a nameplate last seen in the early 2000s.

The lovely, $81k GV80 EV also scored an upset by not only beating out its gas-powered, $50k G80 twin — but also the stylish Mercedes EQE, the first electric E-Class.

The awards will be handed out by 50 journalists (including the author of this article) from print, online, radio and broadcast media across the U.S. and Canada, making NACTOY the industry’s most coveted independent award not judged by a single publication. Jurors test cars all year — 40% of the 47 eligible 2023 models were electric — then narrowed the field to 26 semifinalists before convening in October in Ann Arbor for a week’s test.

Stiff stickers are a theme this year as the average sales price hovers near $50,000. The three nominees for best SUV are above that, reflecting the $58k average price of EVs in the market today.

2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV front

The $62,990 Cadillac Lyriq is the frontrunner as a well-executed first volley in the vaunted Detroit brand’s move to an all-electric future by decade’s end. Lyriq’s tailored interior and blingtastic grille are a return to the brand’s showy roots. It will get a stiff challenge from the Korean pair, which are built on the same skateboard battery platform.

Though a mainstream brand, the $50k Kia dresses above its social class, showing off similar luxury features to the Caddy, including a floating-island console and broad dash screen. The $60k Genesis one-ups its sibling with an array of electronic party tricks, including self-park and a Tesla-like summon feature. All three EVs will wow out of a stoplight.

Members of the news media look at the Kia EV6 (left) and the Genesis GV60 at North American International Auto Show on Wednesday September 14, 2022.

Interestingly, the pricey EVs beat out more affordable mainstream options: the Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage and Mazda CX-50. These internal combustion vehicles are popular with a public that has been skeptical of EVs with only 5% of buyers this year going electric — most of them Tesla buyers. The three ICE cars, like the EV nominees, are also showpieces for the electronics revolution that has swept the industry.

The Sportage, for example, features a stylish dash screen and Level 2 drive-assist capabilities to rival Lyriq in hands-free lane-entering and vehicle follow.

But jurors this year — tasked with evaluating vehicles based on automotive innovation, design, safety, performance, technology, driver satisfaction, user experience and value — appeared to put an emphasis on automotive innovation and user experience as EVs mature in the marketplace.

A juror poll at the October test predicted EVs will make up 10% of new vehicle sales by 2027, 25% of new vehicle sales by 2030, and 50% of new vehicle sales by 2035 as charging infrastructure grows and battery costs decline.

Made in America. The 2022 F-150 Lightning, Ford's first EV truck, is made in the Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

For Truck of the Year, the F150 Lightning appears a shoo-in, given its relative affordability ($54,000) next to other EV pickups like the $110k GMC Hummer and $70k Rivian R1T (a finalist in 2022). Like Rivian, Lordstown is a startup truck maker, but its Endurance is only offered in the commercial market. Nominee Chevy Silverado ZR2 is the best all-around vehicle of the three, with long-range towing ability and impressive off-road abilities thanks to state-of-the-art Multimatic shocks.

The selection of nine finalists is the next-to-last step in the year-long, NACTOY evaluation process. Final voting will take place in early January and 2023 NACTOY Car, Truck and Utility of the Year winners will be announced at a special event in Detroit on January 11, 2023.

For more information about NACTOY and its history: http://northamericancaroftheyear.org.

2023 NACTOY finalists

Car of the Year

– Acura Integra- Genesis G80 EV- Nissan Z

Truck of the Year

– Chevrolet Silverado ZR2- Ford F-150 Lightning- Lordstown Endurance

Utility Vehicle of the Year

– Cadillac Lyriq- Genesis GV60- Kia EV6

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

Final assembly: On the Ohio line with the last Acura NSX Type S supercar

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 17, 2022

Marysville, Ohio — There are two supercars made in the United States: the Chevrolet Corvette in Bowling Green, Kentucky and the Acura NSX in Marysville. The latter comes to an end this week.

An engineering marvel, NSX packages state-of-the-art hybrid, all-wheel-drive and mixed-materials technologies into a gorgeous, $170K mid-engine supercar that can vault from 0-60 mph in just 2.9 seconds before popping neck vertebrae through high-speed corners.

Just as magnificent is the manufacturing process that put the NSX’s jigsaw puzzle together.

In a country full of sprawling mega-volume auto plants stuffed with endless cages of robots and a mouse maze of overhead assembly tracks, the NSX’s Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio, is a rare, intimate facility featuring modern assembly techniques on a human scale.

More: Payne: Wicked 600-hp Acura NSX Type S saves the best for last

After five years, the second-generation NSX’s production is coming to an end. As the last 350 special-edition $171,495 NSX Type-S cyborgs rolled through PMC just three hours south of Detroit in the cornfields of Ohio, The Detroit News got an up-close look at how a modern masterpiece is assembled.

Robots put finishing spot welds on an Acura NSX Type S chassis.

Type S chassis #350, the last of the breed, was birthed like every other NSX before it: as a collection of aluminum pieces welded together by a robot in the southwest quadrant of PMC’s single-floor, 206,000 square-foot building just off U.S. 33.

The robot spun the aluminum space frame this way and that, securing a joint here — another joint there — in a shower of sparks.

Each piece was stamped with a part number and QR code so that employees could track chassis as they move in a clockwise direction around the facility. After the robot spit out a finished subframe, it was loaded on a cart and rolled to another robot welding station.

A technician inspects the welds on an Acura NSX Type S chassis.

Jon Ikeda, Acura marketing chief, took snapshots of the process just like the media pool. A car enthusiast from a young age, he was wowed by the first generation mid-engine NSX as a designer. Acura brought him to Japan’s epic Suzuka race track in 1989 to watch McLaren-Honda teammates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost do battle for the Formula One world championship. Ikeda was sold.

“Coming out of design school in Pasadena, seeing the NSX was really something. That vehicle caught my eye and was very special. That’s what NSX does for company — it’s the showcase for what we can do,” said Ikeda near PMC’s lobby where an original 1984 NSX is displayed alongside the frame of a current model.

Since its inception, NSX has been track-focused with the original car racing at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans. The second-gen model has raced in GT3 series all over the world — recently winning the GTD class at Road Atlanta’s grueling Petit Le Mans 10-hour in October.

Every racing chassis was built at PMC right alongside the production mules.

An Acura NSX Type S chassis gets a zirconium bath at the Performance Manufacturing Center.

By the end of the welding process, all the aluminum pieces — chassis, doors, hatchback — migrated together for inspection. The frame was then sent to the rear of the plant, where it was immersed in a succession of baths to chemically protect it from corrosion against harsh climates — whether salty Midwest roads or salty coastlines.

In large plants like nearby East Liberty, which cranks out 950 CR-V SUVs a day, the baths are enormous football-field long assembly lines, with chassis submerging continuously through baths.

In intimate, low-volume PMC, each chassis was carried individually along an overhead trellis, then dipped in sequential baths beginning with zirconium treatment and finishing with a black e-coat. The e-coated weld joints were then swabbed with a flesh-colored sealant in each joint for added protection.

At PMC, Acura NSX Type S get a black e-coat before moving into component assembly.

Raw body parts emerged from welding on a parallel track to the chassis baths where they’d been painted. The paint booth was a glass house so that audiences (like ours) could watch giant robots perform their twin-coat painting dance.

Across the aisle — the plant’s northeast quadrant — the black chassis was met by employees like Scott Ernest, 52. He locked the chassis upright on a trellis like a painter addressing his canvas — then installed brake lines, water lines and a steering rack arranged on a rolling cart.

Scott Ernest, 52, locks the Acura NSX Type S chassis upright on a trellis like a painter addressing his canvas – then installs brake lines, water lines, and steering rack.

A pair of Acura team members took it from there. They crawled all over the cabin installing brake and accelerator pedals — then the hybrid power train’s small 1.7 kW battery in the firewall directly behind the driver.

At the next station, Gene Bowshier, 52, and Jon Osler, 52, lifted the NSX’s formidable, 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 — which had arrived fully assembled from Honda’s Anna, Ohio, plant — into the engine bay. They each secured 17 engine mounts (34 total) to keep the 600-horsepower beast in place.

PMC was designed to showcase NSX, Acura’s first hybrid supercar. Like the first-gen NSX, which offered supercar thrills at half the price of a comparable mid-engine Ferrari, NSX was a production study in how to create a hybrid supercar like the $1 million Porsche 918 — but for less than $200,000.

The Acura wowed with its technology, but — facing stiff competition from Porsche 911 GT3, Audi R8 and McLarens 650 in the same segment — it was a sales disappointment, selling just 2,548 cars globally to 18,000 by its predecessor.

Separated since the weld department, the chassis and painted doors were reunited as the NSX snaked onto the hand-assembly line.

“We put the lipstick on it here,” smiled Jenny Purtee, 52, as she applied yellow doors and fenders to an Acura NSX Type S at PMC.

“We put the lipstick on it here,” smiled Jenny Purtee, 52, (was everyone in the plant born in 1970?), as she applied yellow doors and fenders. A 25-year Honda veteran, she was chosen as one of the company’s finest for the PMC line.

With each body panel, the skeleton of the Acura started to look like its sleek, runway-model self. The 350 Type S models have a different front end than other NSXs giving it a more-menacing, shark-like appearance.

Acura hasn’t said what vehicle will occupy PMC after the NSX, but the supercar hasn’t been the only vehicle to pass through the hands of Purtee & colleagues. The line has produced special performance variants of other Acuras.

The TLX sedan PMC Edition (360 units) and RDX SUV PMC Edition (330 units) have also passed through here. And any NSX or NSX GT3 race car that has suffered extreme damage returns here as well.

PMC was surprisingly laid back. Without the pressure to spit out 100 vehicles a day like its neighboring East Liberty and Marysville mega-plants, the facility is spacious with small hives of human and robot activity. The last hive on the assembly line jacked NSX into the air so that a Acura team member could make final suspension tweaks.

The Acura NSX Type S goes through its final engine test. Note the blast shield behind the tailpipes.

From the first weld to when the NSX rolled out of PMC’s womb, an NSX was built every 25 days. The last stop in NSX’s U-shaped journey through PMC was the Validation Department, where the thoroughbred was fueled and run through a series of tests.

A yellow NSX Type S drove onto a pair of rollers in PMC’s southeast corner — directly opposite the welding department. A blast shield rose behind it like a Navy F-14 fighter jet preparing to launch off the end of an aircraft carrier.

NSX’s twin-turbo V-6 roared as a test driver accelerated through the gears — the Pirelli summer tires spinning on the rollers, the car never moving. Satisfied, the driver rolled his steed into another stall were it was shaken relentlessly to check for loose fittings.

The first, final-edition, Gotham Gray Matte Type S was auctioned to Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports chief, for $1 million.

It will be an instant collector’s item.

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

Payne: Wicked 600-hp Acura NSX Type S saves the best for last

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 17, 2022

Southfield — The Acura NSX is galloping off into the sunset in style. For its last model year, the NSX gets a Type S performance model with 600 horsepower, carbon-fiber roof, sticky Pirelli P Zero PZ4 tires and quicker shifting.

Awesome. But can we talk styling?

As one of world’s rare mid-engine supercars — and one of only two Made in the USA (the other is the Corvette C8 in Kentucky) — the NSX’s conservative wardrobe always appeared a mismatch for the sinewy, all-wheel-drive hybrid turbo-V6 sci-fi beast underneath.

Walk up to a C8 and its shard-like headlights stare at you hungrily. Come across a Lamborghini Huracan and it looks like Smaug the Dragon on the verge of burning down Middle Earth. The NSX? It has the face of a Honda Accord.

Not the Type S. This thing looks wicked. For its last hurrah, Acura has remade the front and rear clips of its supercar for proper menace. The headlights — 12 LED projectors glowing inside — are now visually separated from the gaping grille and underlined by gaping gills. A huge diffuser hangs out back.

More:Final assembly: On the Ohio line with the last Acura NSX Type S supercar

Now that’s a proper supercar. Like an alien insectoid come to earth to consume all our asphalt roads.

Type S and I did a lot of consuming.

Over northern Oakland County’s twisty lake roads, I nailed the throttle and the V-6 howled with pleasure. Slinging NSX around a 180-degree Telegraph Road turn, I stomped the gas. More howling. Out of a stoplight on a vacant rural two-lane, I initiated launch control for a 2.9-second 0-60 mph sprint. Hooowwwwl!

The 2022 Acura NSX Type S features a 600-horse, 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 mated to a 9-speed auto transmission.

With 492 pound-feet of thrust, the hybrid all-wheel-drive drivetrain is a joy. Despite the resulting 3,900 pounds of girth, the supercar’s low center of gravity makes it feel sucked to the road. It’s learned at the feet of the NSX GT3 race car (still competitive on the IMSA circuit). Given that it was introduced in 2017, the NSX’s interior design is dated given the relentless industry electronics race — but also since NSX’s signature cyclops driver mode button and trigger shifter are being phased out in other Acura/Honda products. But it’s still unusual, a reminder of the NSX’s ambitions when it was rolled out as a $160,000 hybrid supercar with tech previously found on the $1 million Porsche 918.

Despite its technological prowess, NSX was a sales disappointment, moving just 2,548 copies globally over its five-year run. Though cheap for the hybrid supercar class, it had to compete against comparably priced cyborgs like the flat-6-fired $160K Porsche 911 GT3. Ohhhh, knees. Getting. Weak.

But while the stiff, wailing 911 GT3 feels like it wants to race all day long, the NSX Type S is a lovely daily driver, starting with its Toyota Prius-like preference to sneak out my driveway on battery power in Quiet mode.

The interior of the 2022 Acura NSX Type S features a rotary knob for drive modes and a trigger shifter.

Dial up cyclops to Sport, Sport Plus and Track modes, and the engine tone gets sharper, the magnetic dampers firmer. Two personalities, one supercar. A St. Louis pal had to trade in his 911 GT3 after a year for a 911 Targa because he wanted more comfort.

Just don’t plan on going too far in the Type S. Its tiny 4.4 cubic feet of trunk space won’t hold much more than toiletries for a date weekend. Frunk-equipped peers like the McLaren GT and 911 are more accommodating.

My friend Kevin has owned everything from Lambo Aventadors to Ferrari F8s, and he fell in love with the Type S.

“I like this better than the Ferrari,” he said while driving over the oxcart-rough roads of Southfield. In Track mode, the Type S porpoised over the bumps. Then we dialed it back to Sport, and the car was more domesticated — the ferocious, battery-assisted torque always at the ready when needed.

The Acura NSX Type S options carbon ceramic brakes for just, ahem, $13,000 as part of the carbon package.

Just weeks after my jaunt in a loaded $185,000 Gotham Gray Matte Type S, Chevrolet introduced the performance version of its Made in America supercar — the Corvette Z06.

The 670-horse, V8-powered Z06 has an 8,000-RPM exhaust note from the gods, 2.6-second 0-60 mph time, Stealth mode and 12.6 cubic feet of cargo room. For $166K loaded ($127K base). Oh.

The rear of the 2022 Acura NSX Type S gets a carbon aerofoil and diffuser.

The ‘Vette will probably sell as many copies in a year as NSX sold in its lifetime. Which speaks to why Acura couldn’t translate its supercar into super sales. Still, the halo-car NSX has transformed Acura back into a performance brand. Everything from the RDX SUV to the entry-level Integra now carries its DNA.

And with its final, 2022 run of 350 copies, NSX has finally found its halo. The Type S is the best-looking NSX ever.

2022 Acura NSX Type S

Vehicle type: Mid-engine, all-wheel drive two-passenger sports car

Price: $171,495 base ($192,495 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-6 with three electric-motor hybrid assist

Power: 600 combined horsepower, 492 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Nine-speed dual-clutch

Performance: 0-60 mph, 2.9 seconds (Car & Driver); top speed, 191 mph (mfr.)

Weight: 3,898 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 21 mpg city / 22 mpg highway / 21 combined

Report card

Highs: Best-looking NSX made; supercar performance for under $200K

Lows: Small cargo space; less performance than cheaper Corvette Z06

Overall: 3 stars

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

LA Auto Show: Lifted, 473-hp Porsche 911 Dakar joins the off-road craze

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 17, 2022

Los Angeles — Off-roading is all the rage. Led by the Jeep Wrangler vs. Ford Bronco cage match, brands are introducing ever-more capable weapons to feed our thirst for the Outback. There’s the V8-powered Wrangler 392 with detachable sway bars and 470 horsepower. Or the Bronco Raptor with size 37-inch tires and Fox shocks. The 702-horse Ram TRX (pronounced T-rex) or V8-powered, 700-horse Ford Raptor R or 1,000 horsepower, all-wheel-steer GMC Hummer EV.

How bonkers is America for lifted, mud-slinging hellions? Porsche just got into the act.

The world’s premier sports car maker introduced the first off-road version of its flagship 911 on Wednesday. It’s called the Dakar. Named after the Paris-to-Dakar rally that Porsche’s racing team famously won in 1984 and 1986 in the first all-wheel-drive application of the 911, the  Dakar represents the first lifted, off-the-grid production sports car in the brand’s history.

Like the 2024 Ford Mustang in Hart Plaza before the September Detroit auto show, the 911 Dakar has dropped the mike on the LA Auto Show before it even got started.

“Today is the rebirth of this Porsche icon,” said Porsche chairman Oliver Blume as the wraps came off the sports car in the LA Convention Center. “We are happy to premiere it here in the United States, our second home.”

The 911 Dakar looks familiar at first, with its signature coupe shape, round headlamps, and shrieking, 473-horsepower, 420-torque, twin-turbo flat-6 GTS engine. But look more closely and this track weapon has been heavily modified for the dirt.

The 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar was revealed Wednesday night at the LA Auto Show.

Porsche takes a page right out of the Motown marauders’ book, putting its all-wheel-drive system to good use off-road, then lifting the car 3.14 inches over the standard 911 for a ride height of 7.4 inches — comparable to a Porsche Cayenne SUV in its highest, Off-Road Mode setting. Porsche then wraps the 19-inch front/20-inch rear wheels with big, 28-inch front/29-inch rear Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tires. The tires feature reinforced sidewalls and dual-carcass treads.

The car is also distinguished by front and rear tow hooks and black fender guards to ward off rocks. Dakar, meet Rubicon.

You'll know the 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar by its fender cladding (to protect from rocks) and tow hooks.

The Porsche is accessorized to the gunwales with available roof rack, night lights, spare gas and water canisters, folding shovels and roof tent (what, no snorkel?). The sports car will be offered with an optional Rallye Design Package inspired by the Dakar winning car of 1984 — complete with your choice of number from 1 to 999 (the winning 1984 car was #176). It even betters its Detroit peers by putting a 12-volt plug for accessories (think roof lights) on the roof where a shark-fin antennae normally resides.

With a limited edition of 2,500 cars, the Porsche 911 Dakar won’t come cheap, even by the standards of the $110,295 Hummer EV. When it arrives at dealers next spring, the rally supercar will carry a sticker price of $223,450.

The 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar can use a 12-volt port in the roof (under the roof rack here) to plug in accessories like roof lights.

The 911 Dakar underwent more than 6,000 miles of off-road testing, beginning with the off-road proving grounds in Weissach, Germany. Then it hit the trails. Like the 1984 rally-winning 911 before it, the 911 Dakar went to the Château de Lastours test track in southern France to help fine-tune the suspension for off-road rallying.

“All Dakar teams go there to test their cars in Europe before the rally,” said Porsche race driver Romain Dumas, who is the veteran of seven Dakar rallies in various off-road beasts. “I knew what a 911 could do on the road, but I was stunned by how well the car performed on loose surfaces.”

The eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic-equipped 911 Dakar accelerates from 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds in true breakneck Porsche fashion using a special “Rallye Launch Control” mode to enable better grip on loose surfaces. Top speed? Limited to 150 mph due to the all-terrain tires.

The 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar tests off-road

But the key to its off-road performance is its rugged Scorpion rubber, remade suspension, rear-axle steering, and Rallye and Off-Road drive modes. In particular, Dumas likes Rallye Mode, which enables the 911 to tackle sand and loose gravel with abandon.

Only two bucket seats are available inside for passengers — the rear seats have been deleted for light weight. Dakar’s curb weight — 3,552 pounds — is just 16 pounds more than its sibling Carrera 4 GTS.

No rear seat for you. To save weight, the rear seat in the 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar is deleted.

Two-time world rally champion Walter Röhrl put the car through additional testing on the ice in Sweden, then the team went to the 160-foot dunes and extreme, 113-degree heat of the Dubai and Moroccan deserts. It should be right at home alongside Jeeps and Broncos at Holly Oaks ORV park in Michigan. For all its off-road chops, however, the Dakar is still meant to be a daily driver even on its standard all-terrain tires.

“I wouldn’t have thought that a vehicle with such ground clearance and all-terrain tires would still feel like a Porsche 911 on asphalt,” said racing ace Jörg Bergmeister.

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

LA Auto Show preview: EVs, startups, mandates and off-road Porsches

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 16, 2022

Los Angeles — In an age of diminished auto shows, this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show may be the most prominent. And not just because of the city’s perfect, 70-degree November weather.

Automotive media once flocked to Detroit every January as automakers debuted the first vehicles of a new model year. But as the industry shifts to electric vehicle production, this year’s November 18-27 Los Angeles Auto Show — opening with media previews Thursday — is the place to be as the wealthy California market boasts the nation’s biggest EV share, most EV startups and toughest EV mandates as governments force a transition to battery power.

Show reveals here will be a shadow of years’ past as automakers prefer exclusive settings to maximize social media engagement. But media week will boast nine new car reveals – about double that of September’s Detroit Auto Show.

“With the shift towards electrification by 2025 and 2030, the amount of debuts that will have to come out to meet these mandates is really exciting,” said LA show marketing chief David Fortin in an interview. “California legislation (is) leading the nation toward a greener future. Add to that the largest car market in the U.S. — you have to add up Texas and Florida to equal California.”

Subaru will reveal a new version of its compact Impreza at the LA Auto Show.

On Thursday, the wraps will come off new vehicles including the Hyundai Ioniq 6 EV, Fiat 500e, EV Genesis GV70 EV, Subaru Impreza and new models from Kia and VinFast. They will be joined on the show floor by a new Toyota Prius hybrid, a Volkswagen to-be-named and the Porsche 911 Dakar — each revealed off-site on Wednesday.

Despite the focus on electrics, the gas-fueled Porsche 911 Dakar will create buzz just as the 2024 Ford Mustang stole the show in Detroit this year.

With a nod to North America’s thirst for off-road vehicles — think Ford Bronco, GMC Hummer and all things Jeep — the 911 Dakar is an off-road-focused model of Porsche’s iconic supercar. Tested extensively in the remote sands of Dubai and Morocco, the all-wheel-drive 911 carries a name in homage to Stuttgart’s rally racing team that won the Paris-to-Dakar Rally in 1984 and 1986.

To be sure, brands will be missing in Los Angeles, just as they have been at the Chicago, New York and Detroit shows earlier in the year. Audi, BMW and Mercedes are absent, as is Acura.

2022 Los Angeles Auto Show: the Mustang Mach-E will be available to ride.

In their place will be startups like Vietnam’s VinFast, hydrogen sportscar-maker Hyperion, Polestar, Canada’s ElectraMeccanica and England’s Charge Cars — automakers determined to make their mark in a market that has accounted for 42% of EV sales in the U.S. over the past 10 years.

“If you think about Silicon Valley and California making mobile devices that have been so transformative to our lives . . . it’s natural that a lot of that technology would align with startup manufacturers,” said Fortin. “We see so many innovative and forward-looking companies coming out of California.”

In an indication of the waning influence of auto shows, however, most West Coast startups will avoid the show in their backyard.

The bulk of the Golden State’s EV sales have been made by California-founded Tesla, which will shun the show. So will Lucid and Rivian, two other Cali-based EV startups that have rocked the EV world. Even LA startup Fisker won’t exhibit here, just a year after it was the talk of the show with its new Ocean SUV EV.

2022 Los Angeles Auto Show: California has bought 42% of EVs sold in US in last 10 years.

As these premium brands attest, California is a prize market for luxury manufacturers. Lux chariots make up 25.2% of new car sales in California, according to an ISeeCars study — second only to New Jersey with 27.9% (the national average is 17.7%).

With their high cost and range limitations, EVs tend to be marketed at high-income, multi-car households in places like Tinseltown. The average transaction price of an EV nationwide in October was a pricey $58,362 (well above the average vehicle price of $46,991), according to Edmunds, up 6.8% from $54,669 a year ago.

Dovetailing with upscale taste, California EV sales rose to a market share of 15.8% in the first nine months of 2022 from 9.5% in 2021. That compares to just 4.9% nationally (2.4% in 2021).

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at auto information website Edmunds.com Inc. , said last week’s election results further illustrate the Golden State’s importance in the EV transition.

“LA Auto Show might not be jam-packed with headline-stealing new vehicle unveils this year, but the show’s electrified focus has arguably grown in relevance for SoCal consumers given that Governor (Gavin) Newsom’s win last Tuesday will likely keep California’s (2035 ban on new gas cars) alive for now,” she said.

The Volkswagen ID.4 will be among the electric vehicles visitors to the LA show can ride in on an outdoor track.

The LA Convention Center will be littered with opportunities for customers to experience new EVs when the gates open to the public Friday.

Ford, Hyundai and Nissan will have indoor tracks at their displays showing off, respectively, the battery-powered F-150 Lightning, Ioniq 5, and Ariya. There will be an EV track outside so customers can jump into vehicles from multiple brands, including Chevrolet, Genesis, Kia, Volkswagen, Porsche and Vietnam’s VinFast.

The latter points to another LA advantage: Asian startups.

“The Pacific Rim is another one of our pillars as to why LA Auto Show is a good global platform to come to,” said Fortin.

Ford is bringing its Bronco Built Wild ride to the LA Auto Show.

As the 911 Dakar, Impreza and Prius reveals attest, there is still plenty of interest in internal combustion engines, and LA will have activations for customers to get into them. Inside, Detroit brands will offer rides at Camp Jeep, Ford Bronco Built Wild and RAM Truck Territory — just as at the NAIAS.

Outside, showgoers can get behind the wheel of vehicles from Subaru, Alfa Romeo, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Ram, Toyota and VW.

The Detroit show moved to September this year to introduce LA-like outdoor activations. That’s not the only thing the two cities have in common. Their auto shows are integral to the rebirth of downtowns that have seen hard times.

“Every week there’s a new restraurant opening and new crane in the sky in LA,” said Fortin. “We highlight that for our out-of-town visitors.”

Tinseltown and Motown are also share a passion for autos.

“Car culture in SoCal is beloved, so we have partnerships with Bridgestone to produce a cars-and-coffee event on the first weekend. Then we’ve partnered with Formula Drift the second weekend to do drift demos with professional drivers,” said Fortin. The Galpin Hall of Customs inside the convention feature will display hot rods and other exotics.

The LA Show celebrates its 115th anniversary this year. The first show in 1907 was held in a skating rink with 99 cars. Two of them were electric.

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

Payne: Hailing a driverless Cruise robotaxi in the streets of San Francisco

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 14, 2022

San Francisco — Like nocturnal animals, autonomous Cruise Chevy Bolt EVs start turning up on San Francisco’s streets late at night. They even look like racoons with their masked headlights and ear-like LIDAR arrays sticking out the roof. But these raccoons aren’t foraging for food, they are looking for riders.

Like me.

I summoned one using Cruise’s smartphone app and it scurried up to me curbside at Hotel Kabuki in the Japantown neighborhood. The Bolt is a cute creature, painted white and black with a red sash of paint around its hips. It even had a name: Firefly. Others in Cruise’s 80-car fleet have names like Willow, Fern, Rigatoni, Scampi, Crepe, Samosa, Tostada and Pride. The app unlocked the door, and my San Francisco friend, Elan, and I slid into the roomy back seat.

The robotaxi’s front seat was off limits, a plastic shield separating us from the driver’s seat. But no one was at the wheel. After confirming our seatbelts were fastened on the seat-back screen, we tapped START — and Firefly was off into the night.

The steering wheel spun this way and that as we negotiated the Golden City’s dark, hilly streets on the way to our destination: scenic Twin Peaks in the Noe Valley neighborhood near Elan’s home.

General Motors bought the Cruise ride-share service in 2016, and this June it became the first service licensed to charge fares to the public in driverless cars in a major American city. It follows Waymo’s entry into Tempe — the first driverless service in a metropolitan area — with headless Chrysler Pacifica robotaxis, which I have hailed as well.

In fact, I’ve ridden in just about every type of self-driving car in the last eight years, from so-called Level 2 (driver attention required) systems like Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise to Level 3 (driver in car) Uber Volvo robotaxis to Level 4 (no driver) autonomous vehicles like the Skynet Marshmallow Bumper Bot — as The Oatmeal memorably coined Google’s first Level 4 prototype.

The Cruise service has about 80 Chevy Bolt EVs on the road in San Francisco.

It is an industry still in its infancy, as I would find this night when the Cruise suddenly aborted its mission due to rain. But robot cars have made big strides in recent years.

In fact, it feels like I have come full circle from my first autonomous ride in 2014 in a Lexus RX on Google’s campus — the autonomous pioneer — south of here. At that time, Google’s Lexus was limited to campus roads and required the attention of two engineers in the front seats. The Bumper Bot was driverless — but limited to a rooftop parking lot. In Pittsburgh in 2017, Uber’s autonomous Volvo required two drivers in front. Then in suburban Phoenix in 2018, the industry went into the ditch when an autonomous Uber Volvo killed a pedestrian despite having a driver behind the wheel.

After a reset, Waymo successfully deployed headless taxis in Tempe last year, and here I was back in the Bay Area realizing the industry’s vision: a routine, driverless ride in a big city. We weren’t alone. We saw vehicles from other autonomous services — Zoox and Waymo are testing Jaguar iPaces here — in addition to other Cruise Bolts.

Cruise is still walking before it can run, though.

Ghost. The driverless front cabin of the Cruise Chevy Bolt EV as the car follows another driverless Cruise car. Crusie is San Francisco's first driverless service open to the public.

Cruise’s service is limited to city neighborhoods from 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. It avoids central city streets and takes advantage of autonomous vehicles’ superior vision at night, when sun glare won’t blind sensors. Still, the Bolt is hardly dependent on cameras alone, with an array of 40 sensors — including LIDAR and radar. The hardware augments Cruise software (the trunk is inaccessible and filled with computer hardware) that has extensively mapped the streets it services.

The wee hours also serve a need: reducing accidents delivering customers home at night.

“Getting around at night is quantifiably more dangerous than during the day — 50% of road fatalities occur at night. Whether it’s finding it hard to see at night, falling asleep at the wheel, having that glass of wine or two at dinner, or concerns about personal safety,” says Cruise’s website. “All of this makes nighttime transportation an ideal fit for vehicles with driving capabilities that avoid common human fallibility.”

Elan prefers to call a Cruise after a few drinks or when he’s tired.

His female pals also feel safer (many will give Uber/Lyft drivers a nearby address — not their actual address — when they are taken home) without the risk of riding with strangers. Cruise gets them home safely, at the speed limit, without texting and driving, in a cabin that is always clean and quiet.

Riders can choose from a selection of music/news stations in the driverless Cruise Chevy Bolt EV.

That quiet, said Elan, can be off-putting. He says the biggest advance since Cruise debuted in June is an audio option so you can play everything from pop music to jazz to news. We selected the “’90s, 2000s & Today” channel (Taylor Swift cooing “Anti-Hero”) and drifted into conversation — ignoring the car, which confidently went about its task.

Indeed, the Bolt only hiccupped once on our 27-minute ride to Twin Peaks — applying the brakes for no apparent reason before pressing on. While following the speed limit and good-driving habits, it did tend to run in the left-hand lane on four-lane streets — perhaps because right-lanes tend to be slow (think parallel parking, drop-offs) along the city’s townhouse-lined streets.

Elan pointed out landmarks in his neighborhood — the “Grateful Dead house” where Jerry Garcia lived early in his career, the home used for “Mrs. Doubtfire” — and we played Cruise’s Trivia game. Sample question:

While taking a trip in the driverless Cruise Chevy Bolt EV, passengers can play a San Francisco Trivia game.

Which of these SF beaches is clothing optional? Ocean Beach, Crissy Field East Beach, Baker Beah, China Beach

Answer: Baker Beach

In short, we forgot about the car, so unremarkable was its behavior. No high-G turns. No honking. That reliability is key as the Bolt is the gateway to Cruise’s ultimate goal: deploying the Cruise Origin pod next year. Made at GM’s Hamtramck facility, Origin will be a modern trolley on four wheels — gathering customers who hop in and out with not even a steering wheel to distract them.

At Twin Peaks, we decided to head back to my hotel rather than get out, see the city lights, then wait for another Cruise. With its small fleet, waits can be long for Cruises in this beta phase.

The return trip would be different.

After a few minutes, rain began to fall. The Bolt’s wipers came on automatically, but eventually a message popped up on the Cruise screen:

Pulling over to a safe stop. Something happened on your trip. A support specialist will explain what to do next.

Rain falls, and the driverless Cruise Chevy Bolt EV pulls over.

The ride ended at a street corner next to a line of parked cars. A Cruise staffer’s voice came over the car’s speaker system to explain that rain had terminated the ride. We could wait for a specialist to arrive who would take us to our destination — or we could get out and hail an Uber. Unsure of how long it would take for a specialist to arrive (we imagined dozens of Cruises pulling over around the city), we chose Uber.

Cruise confirmed to me the next day that Cruise service stops when rain or fog is detected. “Out of an abundance of caution,” said communications chief Anna Haase. “Safety is our first priority.”

Baby steps. Expect such precautions to disappear in coming months as Cruise rides — and operating hours — expand. The Bolts return to a nest on California street to get recharged and serviced, and the company is building a massive recharging/service facility in the city’s South of Market neighborhood.

Customers like Elan — this was his first canceled ride due to weather — are accepting of inconveniences. They are beta testers who’ve signed up for the experience. Besides, the price is right: Elan said Cruise fares are generally 20% less than Uber and Lyft. There are tens of thousands more on Cruise’s waitlist eager to join.

“Our approach has been to start small and price competitively so we can offer the best experience possible. We’ve been gradually expanding our service and rider community,” said Haase.

Expect the service to really hit its stride when Cruise Origin is introduced. In the meantime, Cruise will introduce revenue-generating, driverless car service to Austin, Texas, and to Phoenix by year’s end.

Keep an eye peeled for nocturnal animals with four wheels.

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

Revealed: All-new, 2023 Honda Accord goes big on room, tech, hybrid power

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 10, 2022

One of America’s best-selling sedans for the past four decades, the Honda Accord is getting a major makeover for its 11th generation model.

Following the example of Honda’s best-selling CR-V SUV now on sale, the 2023 Accord gets roomier, techier and offers two powertrains: a turbocharged 4-cylinder and a hybrid with a goal of 50% hybrid sales. While the 10th generation Accord knocked our eyes out with its graceful styling and interior that evoked luxury cars costing 50% more, the 2023 model conforms to Honda’s current, conservative exterior design theme as seen on the CR-V and Honda Civic.

The 2023 Honda Accord wil come with two engine options, a turbo and hybrid.

Inside, the Ohio-built Accord adopts its siblings’ upscale, high-tech displays and signature Honda honeycomb dash. The Accord will be the first in family to debut Google built-in (though only in the top-trim Touring model). Following GM which is also bringing Google’s operating system to its lineup, Google built-in allows customers to operate the infotainment system like their smartphone with familiar Google Maps navigation and Google Play apps.

The 2023 Honda Accord boasts best-in-class interior space thanks, in part, to a longer body.

While Detroit automakers (and even foreign manufactures like VW with the Passat and Mazda with the 6) have abandoned sedan segments, Honda sees the sedan as key to offering customers a body-style choice as well as a cheaper alternative to more expensive SUVs. It came to U.S. prominence in 1989 — beating out the Ford Taurus as the best-selling car in America that year — and has been an icon ever since. The Accord will likely start some $3,000 cheaper than its SUV stablemate, the CR-V, when it goes on sale next year.

“The all-new Accord is essential to our lineup as a critical driver of brand loyalty, and with hybrid models representing 50% of sales, a key part of Honda’s electrification strategy.” said Honda vice president of sales Mamadou Diallo.

The 2023 Honda Accord.

Like other generations before it, the ‘23 Accord grows longer, this time by 2.8 inches. You’ll know it by its trendy, horizontal taillight on the trunk, which replaces the car’s distinctive boomerang taillights. Gone, too is the big, full-fascia grille, replaced by a more modest mouth that echoes the CR-V. Modesty is the theme as the flanks lose the sculpted drama of the previous generation for a simpler appearance.

Hondas like to target best-in-class specs and the Accord is no different. It boasts class-leading passenger volume (105.7 cubic feet), rear-seat legroom (40.8-inches) and cargo room (16.7 cubic feet).

Accord will be available in six trim levels, starting with the LX and EX models powered by the workhorse, 1.5-liter turbo-4 also found in Civic and CR-V. Hybrid trims will occupy higher trims: Sport, EX-L, Sport-L and Touring. Similar to the CR-V’s hybrid, the Accord hybrid will make a peppy 247 pound-feet of torque for good passing on two-lane roads.

The interior of the 2023 Honda Accord is similar to other Honda products with its honeycomb style.

The Accord will come standard with a laundry list of Honda Sensing safety and driver-assistive features, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist and automatic emergency braking. All displays are digital with top trims getting a 12.3-inch touchscreen (7-inch is standard) with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility.

The car is festooned with air bags, including next-gen front balloons designed to reduce traumatic head injuries and new, standard knee and rear passenger side-impact airbags.

The LX, EX and EX-L trims feature body-color side mirrors and standard 17-inch wheels. The electrified Sport and Sport-L models get sportier black side mirrors, rear spoiler and black 19-inch wheels. Top-trim Touring features gloss-black 19-inch wheels with silver and black exterior trim for a sharp, high-contrast look. The sedan will be available from a palette of eight colors, including three new tones: Meteorite Gray Metallic, Urban Gray Pearl and Canyon River Blue Metallic.

The 2023 Honda Accord comes in FWD.

Building on the LX entry model, the EX options an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated seats and moonroof, with the Sport model debuting the hybrid drivetrain. EX-L and Sport-L trims come standard with leather seats. Other standard goodies include Rear Seatbelt Reminder and Rear Seat Reminder, the latter alerting drivers who, say, left a child behind.

The 2023 Accord will mark the 40th year the sedan has been built in Ohio. About two-thirds of Hondas sold in the U.S. are built here.

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

Payne: Turn up the volume — Sci-fi BMW iX is loud, lavish and ‘lectric

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 10, 2022

Pontiac — The new 2023 BMW iX is here. Call it BMW Tron.

For its first electric vehicle, BMW has created a dramatically different user experience. Where BMW has built its brand on sleek design and tight handling, iX takes its cues from Hollywood sci-fi movies. This is a vehicle out of Disney’s acclaimed, futuristic “Tron” flick.

Turn on a gas-powered BMW X5 40i and it growls like a hungry beast. BRAPPA! Turn on the iX M60 and you’re met with silence from the electric drivetrain. But that doesn’t mean it’s quiet. Instead, BMW contracted with Hollywood movie composer Hans Zimmer to create a unique interior soundtrack for iX.

The 2023 BMW iX M60 starts an electric EV line that parallels gas models (see X4 at right).

A two-time Oscar winner, Zimmer’s credits include the soundtracks for such sci-fi blockbusters as “Dune” (Academy Award winner in March), “Inception” and “Interstellar.” So he seems particularly well-suited for the iX assignment.

See my iX M60 zip by on the road, and it’s whisper quiet. But inside, it’s a symphony of noise.

I activated EXPRESSIVE mode and the cabin exploded in a musical cacophony as if the string section of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has just occupied the rear seat. ZZPPHVEVEVEVHHHH!!!

I lifted my right foot and the symphony went silent. Back on the throttle: ZZPPHVEVEVEVHHHH!!!

Who said EVs are quiet? The 2023 BMW iX M60 offers loud Drive modes. This one, EXPRESSIVE, has sound to match its wild graphics.

Enough. I poked EFFICIENT mode on the console screen and the car went deathly quiet. I squeezed the accelerator hard and heard nothing. Not even motor whine. “That’s eerie,” said my friend Tom.

I activated SPORT mode. WAURRRRGGHH!! went the speakers when I buried my right foot, launching the nearly three-ton beast to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds.

It’s crazy.

“This car is fun to drive,” smiled pal Caroline, who has owned Audi Qs and Bimmer Xs.

“Too gimmicky,” said Tom, who owns a Porsche Panamera.

Back in 2001, Bimmer did a similar radical makeover for the dawning electronics era, introducing a rotary dial-controlled infotainment screen and mold-breaking 7-series sedan courtesy of designer Chris Bangle. At the Detroit auto show, my father-in-law shook his head at iDrive’s complexity — and the exterior design was so polarizing it was nicknamed the “Bangle butt.”

But BMW’s boldness stood the test of time, capturing a new generation of buyers.

Not a looker. The 2023 BMW iX M60 is innovative - but its blunt styling is off-putting.

The iX is even more polarizing. The interior is a stark, austere departure from recent BMWs. Aside from the signature iDrive and volume control roller on the console (crafted from crystal along with the door-mounted seat controls), there are no control dials. Everything is haptic touch controls.

I found the Drive Mode controls — accessed via raised lettering on the floating-island console — particularly frustrating.

At dusk at a Woodward stoplight, a menacing Audi S5 rolled up next to me. Devil in a red dress. I was in EFFICIENT mode. I reached for the raised lettering in the darkness to access SPORT mode/launch control but couldn’t locate it. Dang. I poked at the screen trying to find the Modes. Dang.

The light turned green. EFFICIENT mode would have to do. I still blew the Audi A5’s doors off.

Putting a gob-smacking 811-pound feet of torque (260 more than a comparable X5 M50i, 100 more than a supercharged, V8-powered Dodge Challenger Demon) to asphalt via all four paws, the iX erupts off the line despite its 5,800-pound girth (450 more than the X5). It’s addictive.

The 2023 BMW iX M60 comes standard with AWD and will hit 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds.

With its big 105.2 kWh battery pack under the floorboards, adaptive air suspension and a sophisticated carbon fiber-reinforced, mixed-metal frame, this rhino in tennis shoes is surprisingly nimble for a mid-size ute that can seat four six-footers with ease. Through the S-turns of Oakland County lake country, iX bounded about happily — its instant torque always at the ready.

The innovative, hexagonal steering wheel — firm in SPORT mode — adds more security at speed, its squared-off construction allowing excellent instrument visibility like the Corvette C8’s square wheel.

The 2023 BMW iX M60 has a hexagonal steering wheel to better view the big instrument display.

But in this EV utility space, smooth electric torque is not exclusive to BMW. The Mustang Mach-E GT matches it. And the Rivian R1T. So too the Tesla Model Y Performance.

Where the Bimmer really wants to make its mark is as a tech showcase. This is an all-wheel-drive smartphone.

As with a smartphone, I only scratched the surface of what was available in a week behind the wheel. Years ago, after a month with my first Samsung smartphone, my son (who owned the same series) came home and unlocked features I had no idea existed. Each day in the iX was like that.

The 2023 BMW iX M60 encourages multiple voice commands.

After my frustrations with accessing Drive modes, I discovered I could just talk to iX.

Hello, BMW. Set Drive Mode.

BMW’s Personal Assistant then switched the curved 14.9-inch infotainment display to beautifully crafted Drive mode pages. I tapped the one I wanted. With its ergonomically inferior touch controls, I increasingly used voice commands. Like a lot of luxe vehicles, the Bimmer wants to self-drive — but unlike other systems, iX is also aware of its surrounding environment even when driver-assist turns off.

Coasting toward another car, my iX M60 broke lightly — not harshly — just as a human would. Other gee-whiz functions included an electromagnetic, panoramic glass roof that could switch between opaque and non-opaque. You can take pictures of passengers inside the car. The iX has its own security camera, a polyurethane covering on the front grille that self-heals scratches … and so on.

Still, all this tech will not make up for EVs’ Achilles heel: range anxiety.

My M60 boasted 220 miles at (recommended) 80% charge, not enough to get to Charlevoix without stopping for electrons. An Electrify America charge stop adds half an hour — and when you arrive with just 11% of battery range? You better hope there’s a 240-volt charger to juice up overnight. Charging adds another hour to my 7-hour trip to hometown Charleston, W.Va.

The good news? The Bimmer’s nav system is on par with segment-standard Tesla. It plans your route complete with fast chargers — even locating restaurants/retail nearby. The bad news? Unlike Tesla’s multi-stall stables, third-party chargers from, say, EVGo, often are single units, meaning you’ll face delays if others are in line.

Like a sci-fi vehicle, iX is a big-budget blockbuster ($110K for my tester, $20K more than the X5 M50i) and wants to explore the frontier of electronics and EVs. Like a sci-fi flick, it’s more interested in entertainment than utility.

So have a seat in the iX theater. Turn up the volume and enjoy the show.

Next week: Who needs a truck? Towing a boat with a 2022 Ford Explorer SUV

2023 BMW iX

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

Price: $85,095, including $995 destination fee ($109,895 iX M60 as tested)

Powerplant: 105.2 kWh lithium-ion battery driving two, electric motors

Power: 516 horsepower, 564 pound-feet of torque (xDrive50); 610 horsepower, 811 pound-feet of torque (M60)

Transmission: Single-speed drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (mfr.)

Weight: 5,800 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 78 MPGe; range, 324 miles (xDrive50); 280 miles (M60)

Report card

Highs: Hi-tech interior; explosive power

Lows: Polarizing exterior design, short battery range

Overall: 3 stars

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

Orange barrels: Detroit GP fixes the damn roads for 2023 race

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2022

Detroit — The Detroit Grand Prix is making a promise to the state of Michigan: it’s going to fix the damn roads.

At least the roads around the Detroit Renaissance Center, where the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear is moving for June 2-4, 2023. The 1.7-mile track — its main, east-west corridors of Jefferson Avenue and Atwater Street choked with construction barrels — has begun to take shape and event organizers gave sponsors and media a fall preview of the track this week. It’s going to be quick.

“It’s a minor inconvenience rights now, but I can guarantee the citizens of Detroit these will be the smoothest roads in our city in about 2-3 weeks,” said Detroit GP President Bud Denker at a sponsor reception on the 72nd floor of the RenCen. “The Belle Isle track was 2.4 miles, the new track is just 1.7 miles. Belle Isle races were 70 laps. In downtown Detroit, cars will come around 100-plus times. That means more action, more things going on for the fans. It’s a nine-turn track with a straightaway as long as Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s main straight and you know how fast they go there.”

Don’t expect Indy’s 240-mph speeds, but expect IndyCars to hit 180 mph after taking a 90-degree left onto Jefferson from Rivard Street (Turn 2) and screaming westwards, past the RenCen, and into a 180-degree hairpin at Griswold. From there, IndyCars will plunge down to the waterfront, emerging on Atwater Street via an uphill S-turn that Denker calls “Monte Carlo” after the famed European street race.

The "Monte Carlo" S-turn leading on to the Atwater riverfront for the 2023 Detroit Grand Prix track.

“Just being on Jefferson is going to be a highlight. Going past the Joe Louis fist with a hairpin around it . . . is going to be a big talking point,” said two-time IndyCar champ and Penske team driver Josef Newgarden, who got a tour of the track Thursday. “It will be a quick street circuit, probably comparable to St. Petersburg where we start the season with 60-second laps.”

Jefferson is being paved because it must be billiard-table smooth to handle cars at that velocity carrying spine-crunching, 4,000-pounds of downforce. With 50% of ticket sales free, the straight should be packed with fans as the cars stream into the slow, 40 mph, 180-degree Griswold hairpin.

The view of the 2023 Detroit GP dual pit lane from high in the RenCen.

“Jefferson is going to be 5-6 lanes wide (for) 0.7 miles, which is quite a distance to get a tow on somebody into a 40-mph hairpin,” smiled Newgarden. “That provides an interesting opportunity for overtaking and defending.”

Moving from Belle Isle back downtown for the first time since 1991, the track is an ambitious re-imagining of one of IndyCar’s iconic races. Make that events.

Detroit GP President Bud Denker (left) and Team Penske star Josef Newgarden (right) talk about the 2023 Detroit GP track.

“This is an event, not a race,” said Denker, who sees the GP as the centerpiece of a weekend where fans can enjoy racing (including support races from IMSA sportscar and Trans Am), attend concerts at Hart Plaza, drink in Detroit River views, dine at Campus Martius restaurants, shop along Woodward, even bring their boats to slips along the waterfront behind the Port Authority building (already booked for the weekend by a Canadian firm). A Chevrolet bridge will allow fans to cross the main straight to get back and forth from Hart Plaza to downtown businesses.

“My favorite thing about street circuits is it’s like going to a downtown music concert,” said Newgarden, who hails from Nashville, which has one of the series’ most successful street events. “There’s nothing better than going to a live race.”

Rendering: 2023 Detroit GP track, dual pit lanes.

While much of the track will be free to fans, there is money to be made selling suites to the east of the RenCen overlooking an IndyCar first: dual, parallel pit lanes.

“We couldn’t find a 1,000-feet stretch anywhere to put a pit lane. Those are the things you have to consider to build a track,” said Denker. “Instead, we’ve got a pit lane that’s 500 feet long — and on each side the drivers will pit. Some cars will pit to the left, some cars to the right, and at the end of pit lane they will come back together to go back on the race track. Never been done before. It’s an engineering marvel.”

Looking down from the RenCen’s southeast tower, the two concrete pads just laid by construction crews look like miniature, parallel landing strips at Detroit Metro Airport.

But when completed for racing next June, they will be a hive of activity. “Races are won or lost in the pit lane,” said Newgarden. “When I come in off the button, I’m going to have to remember which side of pit lane I’m on?”

Pity the driver who forgets.

Behind the pit lane will be 70 suites — 57 of them already spoken for — which dwarfs the 23 at the old Belle Isle venue. The suites are housed in a huge structure, imported from the PGA’s Phoenix Open golf tourney, which offers fans a front row seat on the furious pit activity — as well as a view of Franklin Street, where the checkered flag will be thrown.

IndyCars will exit the dual pit lanes at the 2023 Detroit GP and on to the Franklin street straight into Turn One.

One of those suites will be occupied by Huntington Bank, which recently located its Detroit headquarters downtown on Woodward. “We’ve been sponsoring this event for 10 years,” said Huntington regional president Eric Dietz, “and we’re really excited to see the race come back downtown, where our employees will be able to walk to the track.”

Huntington Bank is also sponsoring two Detroit neighborhoods with millions of dollars to be put into infrastructure and assisting the transport of families to the event. Each of Detroit’s nine districts will display a colorful pop-up IndyCar sculpture.

The sculptures are part of an artistic push by the GP that includes decorating the track with large murals from local artists.

“There is a community focus on how we designed the race circuit,” said Michael Montri, Penske Entertainment vice president. “The focus is to help revitalize the downtown as well as the neighborhoods.”

Under Penske Corporation ownership, IndyCar has transcended auto racing in the last two years as a cultural symbol. The Memorial Day weekend 2021 Indy 500 was America’s first mega-sporting event as a vaccinated population emerged from the pandemic — the race attracting more than 100,000 fans — to celebrate Helio Castroneves’ historic fourth 500 win. That was immediately followed by the Detroit GP — the first major race to go maskless, representing a return to normal after months of controversial government restrictions.

Rendering: Jefferson/Griswold Turn 3 hairpin for 2023 Detroit GP track.

Denker hopes the 2023 Detroit Grand Prix will bring similar revival to a Detroit downtown that has suffered through the pandemic. Corporations went to remote workplaces with the resulting dirth of people downtown affecting restaurants and retail establishments.

“We are going to bring a lot of people down here from both sides of the border,” said Denker. “We have so much support from Windsor. Fans can come through (the) Windsor tunnel, turn right and park less than a half-mile away in the middle of the race track.”

Newgarden said he would love to be the first to win on the downtown track, though if he does he’ll miss getting dunked in the Belle Isle Fountain. Instead, Victory Circle will be right in front of the RenCen’s Wintergarden on the Detroit river.

“I don’t recommend jumping in the Detroit River,” laughed Denker to Newgarden. “We might never see you again with the river current.”

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

Payne: Road trippin’ in a Hertz Rent-a-Tesla

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 8, 2022

The Northern Neck, Virginia — Car rentals demand a lot of an automobile. We customers are jet-lagged and likely in a rush. We have an armful of luggage that needs to be stowed. We have no idea how to get to our destination, but need to get there on time no matter the distance. In short, the car must be as loyal a travel companion as a Sherpa up the face of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

So when Hertz announced late last year an order of 100,000 Tesla Model 3s on its way to making its fleet 20% electric, I was eager to put an EV rental through the paces. Sure, EVs boost Hertz’s image (it has also inked deals with GM and Polestar) coming out of COVID-induced bankruptcy, reduce fleet maintenance costs by 50%, and provide a ready destination for automaker EV production.

But are EVs ready for prime time as rental mules?

With a week’s notice that I would be traveling to remote, historic Stratford, Virginia, to meet my wife on a business trip, I rented a Model 3 from Reagan National Airport outside the nation’s capital.

Rentals aren’t cheap these days and my premium-class Model 3 was $161 a day, about $30 more than a comparably-sized Hyundai Elantra mainstream compact, but well below, say, a luxury gas-powered Cadillac XT5 SUV at $330. The Model 3’s twin Model Y SUV? About $100 a day more. Total Tesla bill after taxes and airport fees: $611 for three days.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne took a Hertz Tesla Model 3 on a 190-mile road trip from Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., to the rural Northern Neck of Virginia.

Upon arrival in D.C. — landing into Reagan National from the north for a spectacular view of the Lincoln and Washington monuments — I accessed Hertz’s app so I could bypass the counter and go directly to the car. But the app wasn’t working, which was OK because I had questions for the agent.

Namely, would I need to return the Tesla fully fueled — er, fully charged?

Nope. I would just have to return it with at least 10% of charge. Otherwise, the cost of any Supercharger stops (at 31 cents per kWh, about double what Detroiters pay for home charging) was on Hertz.

Easy peasy. Meanwhile, my poor wife — renting separately for her longer stay in Virginia — waited for an hour in the Dollar Rental line for her Hyundai.

The Hertz Tesla Model 3 has plenty of cargo space in the boot - and the frunk - for a weekend road trip.

I stowed my bags in the trunk (with “frunk” room to spare) and awoke the sedan via a two-step process: 1) tap the B-pillar with a Tesla card to open the door, 2) once seated with foot on brake, tap the card on the console. I’ve owned a Model 3 for four years — and driven every other Tesla model — but for the Tesla uninitiated, there is a learning curve to adapt to the operating system. This is not your average vehicle with console gear shifter, rotary climate knobs and steering wheel-mounted cruise controls. Jump into a Hertz Elantra rental (or premium Cadillac or Infiniti) and it’ll be familiar in minutes.

With Tesla, everything is operated through the screen — or via shortcuts using twin rotary balls on the steering wheel. Even for the initiated, Model 3 requires some set-up. The process took me back to my first Tesla in 2018 and the excitement of learning a new system. But for the harried traveler, well, patience is required.

For the uninitiated, setting up, say, the Hertz Tesla Model 3 mirrors can be a new experience.

After synching my phone, I worked my way down Tesla’s menu of screen settings:Set mirrorsSet auto windshield wipersSet windows to close automatically on lock when you walk awaySet auto high beamsSet destination via voice activation (“Navigate to Stratford, Virginia”)Set Autopilot to Autosteer.

That’s right, Hertz features Tesla’s ambitious Autopilot self-driving system.

With instant torque from the rear-wheel-drive Tesla’s electric motor, I exited the airport and merged onto George Washington Parkway south with authority. Zot! Then I pulled down twice on the column shifter and the EV took over the driving, asking only that I keep a hand on the wheel for reassurance that I hadn’t nodded off.

Significantly, the rental was not equipped with Navigate on Autopilot — that is, no auto lane changes or auto exits when you reach your exit. Otherwise, my rental self-drove anywhere — on secondary roads or divided highways.

On Metro D.C.’s crowded roads, Autopilot was a welcome driving assistant as I navigated stop ‘n’ go traffic while checking on messages/email down Indian Head Highway.

My 190-mile round trip to Stratford Hall, home of Virginia’s famed Lee family (78 miles each way plus side trips), shouldn’t have required a charging station visit given the Model 3’s estimated 283 miles of range. But that doesn’t mean charging isn’t always at the back of your mind.

After all, I only got 68% of battery range for my trip — meaning my expected 283 miles of range was actually just 192. I was keen to know where the closest Tesla Superchargers were should I need a quick charge.

Reassuringly, there were two Superchargers in the rural Northern Neck (the closest just 15 miles from Stratford). This is Tesla’s secret sauce — a reliable, robust network. By contrast, the nation’s other large fast-charger networks — Electrify America and EV Go — had nothing in the Northern Neck, with their closest charger 40 miles away.

The Hertz Tesla Model 3 is an entertaining ride on Virginia country roads with instant torque and low center of gravity.

I used the Model 3 as a proper rental vehicle (not parking it for fear of range anxiety) over the weekend: running errands, visiting GW’s nearby birthplace, even letting a fellow Stratford Hall visitor take it for a test drive. He was impressed — thrilled by the car’s instant acceleration and self-driving capability on twisty backroads.

On my way back to the airport I detoured to a Northern Neck Supercharger station — located at a Sheetz gas station — for a 10-minute, peace-of-mind top-up gaining 75 miles of charge. A gas-powered car will take on 400 miles of range in three minutes — an indication of how far EVs have to go as road-trip mules.

The rented Tesla gets an electron top-off.

The Tesla cost more to fuel than my wife’s gas-fired Hyundai, too. At 31 cents per kWh at the Supercharger, my EV was billed $20. The Hyundai’s fuel bill at $3.49 cent regular gas over a comparable 190 miles: about $18.

Tesla’s navi — Autopilot self-driving me through dense Sunday night traffic — led me back to Reagan National’s Hertz lot with time to spare before my flight. An attendant greeted me and I double-checked on the refueling cost.

“I charged at 31 cents per kWh at a Supercharger. Does that go on my bill?” I asked.

“No, you’re all set,” he smiled.

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

Payne: The Lordstown Endurance marches to the beat of a different hub motor

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 3, 2022

Ann Arbor — Electric trucks these days are supercar wannabes. Go zero-60 mph in the GMC Hummer EV in three seconds! The Rivian R1T has neck-snapping torque! The Ford Lightning is quicker to 60 mph than a Ford Raptor! And so on.

The Lordstown Endurance pickup truck is different.

“How fast does the Endurance do 0-60 mph?” I asked chief engineer Darren Post who was riding riding shotgun as I stomped the Endurance’s accelerator on to West Huron River Drive northwest of Ann Arbor.

“About 6.3 seconds, but our clients want us to slow that down,” smiled Post. “They worry their drivers will drag-race.”

Unlike Hummer, Rivian, Lightning, and Tesla Cybertruck (0-60 mph in 3.0 seconds!), the Lordstown Endurance is singularly focused on commercial truck fleets — not wealthy motorheads at M1 Concourse race track. That means Endurance is obsessed with efficiency. Woodward drag racing? Not so much.

It also means Lordstown is synonymous with yet another novel electrified term for our auto lexicon. If Lightning pioneered the mega-frunk, Rivian the gear tunnel, and Hummer crab-walking, then Endurance wants you to know about hub motors.

“Fleet customers are interested in cost of ownership,” said Post. “If they can adopt technologies that will bring down significant operating and maintenance cost of a vehicle, then that becomes a significant advantage. They are aware of the complexity of a traditional EV powertrain that requires gear reduction (transmission), lubrication, various shafts and u-joints that need to be kept up.

The 2023 Lordstown Endurance boasts a unique, in-wheel hub motor system on all four wheels.

“So, as we talked about hub motors at the corners without that extra hardware, it became very attractive to them.”

Peer underneath the Endurance and it doesn’t look like any other vehicle on the market.

Tesla simplified the auto interior; Lordstown has simplified the drivetrain. Gone are the gearbox and driveshafts and u-joints found on other automobiles, including EVs.

The Endurance is motivated by electric motors on each hub, the driveshaft space replaced by huge cables carrying current to each corner.

The arrangement is key to Lordstown’s pitch to commercial clients. Less parts, less maintenance. Indeed, even as I tested the Endurance, a semifinalist for Truck of the Year in my duties as a North American Car, Truck, and Utility of the Year juror, the Endurance is the only vehicle nominated that will not be sold to retail customers.

As its customers’ 0-60 mph concerns reflect, Endurance is not a vehicle gym-toned for performance — unlike EV pickup peers such as Rivian R1T and Ford F-150 Lightning. Endurance is a vehicle to be driven efficiently, within the lines — not pushing the boundaries of speed (the Lightning will do an insane 4.0 second 0-60 run) or off-road performance (dude, Rivian can go deep into America’s national parks with 34-inch Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain Plus off-road tires).

When asked if Rivian had looked at hub motors, Rivian engineer Kenneth Tsang replied matter-of-factly: “I can see where that fits Lordstown’s commercial model, but we are a brand focused on off-road enthusiasts.”

The 2023 Lordstown Endurance comes with all-wheel-drive, crew cab, and 200 miles of range for $65k.

My time in the Endurance was spent in its natural habitat — urban Ann Arbor, navigating city streets and secondary roads. The same routes that say, a utility service truck, would take on daily rounds of less than 200 miles — which happens to be the $65K Endurance’s range, well shy of a $75K Rivian’s claimed 314 miles.

The Endurance was not unpleasant to drive, however. Far from it. With its smooth, instant torque, it felt like other EVs I’ve driven from Tesla to Hummer.

I flogged it harder, I’m sure, than any utility employee will be allowed. Lordstown stuffs its trucks with data monitors so owners can track their trucks — and it’s equipped with all-season tires to discourage off-road forays. This is not the Tesla Cybertruck.

Nor is it the F-150 Lightning.

The Lordstown and Ford products are the first mass-production pickups available in the commercial market. The startup vs. the legacy king of trucks. David vs. Goliath.

Lordstown is one of a rash of EV startups in the U.S. market that has taken hope from Tesla’s own David vs. Goliath success story. The Silicon Valley automaker reinvented the automobile with electrification and — just a decade after the introduction of its first mainstream product, the Model S — is the luxury sales leader in the U.S., beating out giants BMW, Mercedes and Lexus.

“As a startup, we can make decisions more quickly,” said Post, who came to Lordstown in 2019 after a 30-year career with GM as well as stints with two other startups. “We can take on new technologies without being hampered by standardized processes. And being a startup offers the chance to take a fresh look at what the customer’s need is and adopt technologies that could do things differently than the rest of the industry.”

Chief engineer for the 2023 Lordstown Endurance, Darren Post, was previously an engineer with GM for 30 years.

Lordstown’s path will be formidable given the Detroit Three’s dominance of the commercial pickup market (F-series, Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra, Ram) — and because all three automakers have EV trucks of their own in the pipeline.

Ford’s offering, the Lightning Pro, isn’t cheap at $55K as EV material costs have inflated its sticker from $40,000 just four months ago. But the Endurance’s sticker is even higher at $65,000.

For that cost, customers get not only extensive tracking data and hub motors, but a deep “frunk” (front trunk) so workers can carry gear without fear of its getting waterlogged in the 5’8” bed. The 4-wheel-drive truck will tow 8,000-pounds.

Post’s team has not yet published a range figure for towing, a task that has proven a challenge for EVs. A recent TFL Truck report, for example, found that Lightning went just 93 miles on a charge when towing 6,000 pounds.

“There will be degradation in towing,” said Post, but he says customers will typically use the vehicle on low-mileage routes. “They essentially leave a depot, do work at multiple sites, then return to the depot. We’ve done study of data and found the average route is under 100 miles, but may extend upwards to 150.”

The interior of the 2023 Lordstown Endurance is simple with a big dash screen encompassing twin digital displays and a lot of plastic materials for durability as a work truck.

Inside, Endurance boasts modern, digital instrument and infotainment displays. Interior materials are simple — cloth seats, plastic dash — as the pickup assumes interiors won’t be driven by country club valets like retail-oriented brands, but used as daily workplaced for service and construction workers.

At 6’5” and 235 pounds, my large frame fit easily in the interior, and access to the 5’8″ composite bed was excellent with Chevy Silverado-like corner bumper steps.

The 2023 Lordstown Endurance offers lots of room for rear passengers.

Lordstown’s access to the market has not been as easy. The pickup maker purchased GM’s former Lordstown manufacturing facility but ran into financial problems that led to the resignation of its CEO, Steve Burns, then a sale of the plant to Foxconn — the Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer that is itself a rookie at vehicle manufacturing.

The Endurance is Foxconn’s first vehicle project. Indeed, it will be the first contract assembly plant in North America — seeking to replicate the success of Magna Steyr in Austria that assembles European models like the Mercedes G-Class and Jaguar iPace.

“We work closely with (Foxconn) as would any company launching a new vehicle,” said Post. “We have targets to meet in terms of quality, and on a daily basis we are involved in the plant as we are work through launch issues. We have very good working relationship with the Foxconn team.”

The 2023 Lordstown Endurance features a 5'8" composite bed for durability and light weight.

In keeping with its creative engineering and manufacturing, Endurance’s design is also unique. You can’t miss it on the road with its bold, horizontal lines tracing the bodywork like etchings on a circuit board. Also unique to any EV (save the Nissan Leaf sedan), Endurance’s charge port is found smack in the middle of the front fascia.

The Endurance launches off the assembly line — at less than 6.5 seconds 0-60 mph — in late 2022.

2023 Lordstown Endurance

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger pickup truck

Price: $65,000

Powerplant: 109 kWh lithium-ion battery driving four, in-wheel hub motors

Power: 440 horsepower

Transmission: NA

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.3 seconds (mftr.); payload, 1,050 pounds; towing, 8,000 pounds; top speed, 74 mph

Weight: 6,450 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 65 MPGe; range, 200 miles

Report card

Highs: Hub-motor simplicity; unique design

Lows: Higher sticker, lower range than Ford F-150 Lightning Pro

Overall: 3 stars

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

Payne: Multi-state trek shows off Mazda CX-50’s multi-talents

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 3, 2022

Watkins Glen, New York — The original Watkins Glen race track was 6.6 miles of raw, open country road. After racers took the green flag downtown, they would climb steeply into the hills overlooking the stunning Seneca Lake valley — then madly plunge downhill to begin another lap through town. Man, those drivers had guts. While today’s Watkins Glen races are held on a smooth, enclosed 3.7-mile track nearby, the original course is marked as a historic public road.

It’s available for any visitor to drive. Which I did (repeatedly) in my 2023 Mazda CX-50.

The 256-horsepower, all-wheel-drive CX-50 is that rare SUV that can get you to your destination in comfort, then offer performance to enjoy the local landscape when you arrive. Heck, the CX-50 is a sci-fi cyborg compared to the ‘50s Allard J2 Cadillacs that used to conquer the Glen’s hills.

It’s this kind of versatility that has the Mazda and Kia Sportage at the top of my list for North American SUV of the Year.

As a juror for North American Car, Truck, and Utility of the Year, I’m weighing a semifinal list of 13 vehicles for best ute (along with 13 sedans for best car and three pickups for best truck). It’s a competitive group that includes a record eight electric vehicles: Audi Q4 e-tron, BMW iX xDrive M50i, Cadillac Lyriq, Genesis GV60, Kia EV6, Nissan Ariya, Rivian R1S and Volvo C40 Recharge.

But as much as I enjoy EVs (I’ve purchased two Tesla Model 3s in the last four years, and they’re the coolest toys I’ve owned), they aren’t ready for prime time as family wagons. Utes are about, well, utility. Utility infielder utility. Allow me to quote from Webster’s: “capable of serving as a substitute in various roles or positions.”

That is, vehicles that can do anything. And EVs just don’t do road trips well.

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 offers utlity to go with its fun-to-drive nature on long trips to, say, Watkins Glen Raceway in New York state.

My mid-September trek to meet my race team at Watkins Glen’s SCCA Regionals is a good example. Leaving Thursday afternoon, I would need to arrive in time for dinner with my sons (arriving from Seattle and Newark) to discuss the weekend ahead. I mapped the 389-mile trip and Google suggested I take the northern, Canadian route around Lake Erie, arriving at the Glen after seven hours versus the 7.45-hour southern route via the Ohio Turnpike.

The 458-mile range CX-50 tester in my driveway would need to stop once for a five-minute fill-up. On the other hand, my Tesla’s nav system mapped an eight hour, 10 minute drive with two stops across Canada. When I reached Watkins Glen I would have 9% of battery charge left.

Did my hotel have a 240-volt charger? No. Was there a Tesla Supercharger in town? No. Would I dare take laps of Watkins Glen’s historic track without charging my battery? No.

Aw, the heck with it.

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 combines style with all-wheel-drive versatility and 460 miles of highway range.

I just didn’t want to deal with EV inconveniences. Electrics are inferior road-trippers. A friend says we should all make the sacrifice of longer EV road trips in order to save the planet. But what about lost time with my kids? Or losing prep time for a race? Or losing sleep?

I took the gas-powered, 25 mpg, 2.5-liter turbo-4 Mazda. We had a ball together and I never had to worry about where — and for how long — my next fill-up would be.

The CX-50 is the more butch-looking twin of the CX-5 — long my benchmark as best compact SUV. Not only because of its BMW X3-like handling, but for its value. Starting at $28.8K, the base ute comes with all-wheel drive, emergency braking, blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, auto high beams, auto wipers and a college counselor for your child (kidding about the last one).

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 options a panoramic roof, leather seats, and strong engine for 10 grand less than a comparable BMW.

Add the rockin’ 256-horse, 2.5-liter turbo-4 and standard features grow to leather heated seats, panoramic sunroof, head-up display and 20-inch wheels. Price? $43K. The comparable BMW x30i will set you back $52K while delivering 245 horses and 2 mpg less. Pinch me.

Charging up I-94 to the Bluewater Bridge, the CX-50 exhibits the same obsession with detail as the (much smaller inside) Mazda3 hot hatch. The six-speed tranny is buttery smooth, the turbo-4 torquey, the steering flawless.

That obsession with detail extends to the electronics.

Crossing into Canada, the speed limit sign in my head-up display didn’t change from mph to km/h like the Volvo XC90 I recently drove to the Great White North. No, it did something better.

It told me my speed in mph. So when the Canadian speed limit went from 100 km/h to 110 km/h, the sign changed from 62 mph to 68 mph. Brilliant, especially for metric-illiterate Yanks who just want to know how to keep their speed not more than, say, 5 mph over the legal limit.

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 features a clever head-up display that translates km/h (when in Canada) to mph - as well as showing directions from Google Maps.

The head-up display also showed the wireless Android Auto directions and indicated whether a car was in my blind spot. After the experience, I was pining for a head-up display in my Tesla.

I mentioned the Kia Sportage earlier as one of my Top 2 SUVs due to its own impressive interior appointments and standard features. Sportage can’t hold a candle to the Mazda’s handling, but it makes its case with a self-drive system nearly on par with Tesla and Cadillac.

On recent trips to northern Michigan, Sportage drove itself for long distances, allowing me to relax and even monitor messages on my phone. The CX-50 isn’t that good, maybe because Mazda thinks that you bought a Mazda because you enjoy driving (not being driven around).

That driver focus also informs Mazda’s rejection of a touchscreen infotainment system. Even Audi and BMW — which pioneered the remote, rotary dial controller — have succumbed to the touchscreen in this smartphone-obsessed world.

The 2023 Mazda CX-50's driver-oriented interior with hgh infotainment screen, remote controller, and sporty gauges.

Mazda has stubbornly stuck with its remote controller, and it works beautifully for those willing to learn its methods. Its ergonomics are logical, and — once mastered — allow for less-distracted driving.

Over the country roads leading into Watkins Glen from the Niagara border crossing, the Mazda’s 320 pound-feet of torque came in handy — Whoosh! — in passing traffic on two-lane country roads. Once at Watkins Glen, however, the Mazda’s duties turned more utilitarian.

While some Mazdas are tight in the rear seat, the 2023 Mazda CX-50 offers plenty of legroom for six-footers.

CX-50 comfortably fit me and my two boys — all six-plus footers — as well as bags of ice, groceries and other necessities. Another NACTOY SUV finalist, the Lexus RX, has two inches less rear legroom than the CX-50 while sporting a $52K sticker similar to the BMW X3.

After Sunday’s race, I contemplated the seven-hour drive back home by way of Canada. Scheduled arrival time: 1 a.m. thanks to a single gas stop. The compact SUV space is awash in flashy EVs this year. But they have some work to do to catch up with the fleet CX-50.

Next week: BMW iX

2023 Mazda CX-50

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

Price: $28,825 base, including $1,225 destination fee ($43,170 Premium Plus as tested)

Power plant: 2.5-liter inline-4 cylinder; turbocharged, 2.5-liter inline-4

Power: 187 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque (2.5L); 256 horsepower (227 on regular gas), 310 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.6 seconds (Car and Driver est.); towing capacity: 2,000 pounds (2.5L), 3,500 pounds (turbo-4)

Weight: 3,907 pounds as tested

Fuel economy: EPA 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway/27 mpg combined (2.5L); 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined (turbo-4)

Report card

Highs: Obsessive attention to detail; utility with performance capability

Lows: If you like sleek Mazda styling, opt for the CX-5; remote controller requires patience to learn

Overall: 4 stars

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

Payne: Truck or treat — the Ford Raptor R is a howling, V8-powered hellion

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2022

Silver Lake State Park — In the Peanuts holiday classic “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” Linus prepares for the appearance of the unseen title character. “On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for all the children,” explains Lucy’s blanket-bearing brother to a skeptical Charlie Brown.

It’s Halloween, and Linus’s dream is real.

But you’ll find the Great Pumpkin, not at a pumpkin patch, but at Off-Road Vehicle Parks like the 450-acre Silver Lake sandbox here on Lake Michigan. It’s ruled by the Code Orange-colored Ford Raptor R super-truck. With 700 horsepower, 37-inch tires, and 13-inch suspension travel, this is a 6,200-pound jack-o’-lantern full of off-road treats.

The Great Pumpkin will rise from his pumpkin patch and fly through the air, bringing treats to truck lovers everywhere: The Code Orange 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R.

It can even fly. Truck or treat!

Nailing the throttle, I crested a sand dune at 50 mph and the Great Pumpkin flew 40 feet through the air, sticking the landing with the poise of Norwegian ski jump gold medalist Marius Lindvik. Credit the sophisticated live-valve Fox shocks in Raptor’s bag that allow this hellion to tackle Silver Lake’s challenging landscape.

R’s prize toy is the howling, supercharged V-8 under the hood. Yes, the eight is back. Raptor invented the super-truck segment in 2010 with its snarling, 6.2-liter V-8. Under attack from Washington’s Fun Police, the V-8 has become something of an endangered species. Before EPA prudes robbed Dodge enthusiasts of the Hellcat engine, the second-generation, 2017 Raptor pickup sacrificed its V-8 for a twin-turbo V-6.

The 450-horse six-holer is a treat, but you could still hear the Raptor faithful grumbling over its turbo-muffled exhaust. Ford didn’t forget about them — especially after Ram debuted its own supercharged, 702-horse V-8 supertruck, the 2021 TRX (pronounced T-rex). Thanks to shrewd EV ‘n’ hybrid product planning to satisfy regulators, Ford has saved the Mustang V-8 — and now the Raptor as well.

Ford expects 25% of Raptor sales to be R-rated.

Appropriately, the Blue Oval’s $100,00 supercar and supertruck share the same supercharged, 5.2-liter block forged by the mad scientists at Ford Performance. In the wicked Mustang GT500, it makes 760 horsepower and 625 pound-feet of torque; in the Raptor R, 700 horses/640 torque. One optimized for the track, one for off-road.

GURGURGURUGUR! went the Raptor R’s V-8 as it strained against my left foot holding the brake in launch control. That’s right, launch control in the sand — just as GT500 uses launch control on a drag stirp. Release the brake, release the Kraken — er, Pumpkin.

BWWWAAAAGGGHHH! The R exploded forward, slinging sand from here to Muskegon. Since R is meant to dig out of sand, its mill is focused on low-end torque, thus the tweaked engine specs compared to the Mustang (R dwarfs the 2010 Raptor V-8’s 411 horse and 434 torque numbers).

The 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R roars to the top of Silver Lake's huge dunes with 700 horses from its supercharged V-8.

In Baja mode, the rapid-fire, 10-speed transmission fed that twist to four, aired-down, bead-locked 37s that disappeared over steep dunes in a cloud of sound and speed.

This is what V-8s are made for and the supercharged 5.2 is addictive. I bounded from one dune to another, my right foot feeding the V-8 to hear that glorious sound. Armored with skid plates and 13-inch ground clearance, Raptor R is a sledgehammer looking for nails. Silver Lake can’t compete with California’s epic, 85,000-acre Borrego Desert State Park, where you can sustain Raptor’s 112 mph top speed for long stretches.

But Silver Lake’s harrowing hills offer plenty of Halloween thrills, from Sunset Hill’s punishing whoops to the scary-fast flats section where we hit 70 mph. I got goosebumps. I got 5.5 mpg.

That mileage doubles on road for 430-mile gas range to get you to Silver Lake.

Buy a GT500 and join, say, the Shelby American Auto Club so you can track it at Grattan Raceway outside Grand Rapids to learn its extraordinary bandwidth. Raptor owners have similar outlets like the Raptor Junkies group, which organizes weekend getaways to Silver Lake and southern California’s Borrego Springs and Baja Peninsula. Or just find friends with Broncos, Wranglers, side-by-sides and other off-road toys, and head to the park.

Like a line of armored tanks heading into battle, our media group of 10 Raptor Rs departed a Muskegon hotel at the crack of dawn for the Dunes in appalling October weather. I say dawn because the clock said 7:15. But I’m pretty sure the sun slept in, so black was the sky, so torrential the rain.

Even when colored gray, the 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R sports menacing Code Orange marker lights and LED running lights so you can see it coming in your mirrors.

Rather than complain, Raptor R took the opportunity to show off its enormous bandwidth. Aside from its menacing, Code Orange running lights and three marker lamps (because this truck is 87-inches wide, for goodness’ sake), black hood dome and V-8 mill, the R sits on the same bones as the V-6 Raptor. Ginormous 37-inch tires, Baja-tested Fox shocks, luxurious cabin, multiple drive modes, 12-inch touchscreen and five-link rear suspension.

That suspension is a game-changer for the Generation 3 truck, offering on-road manners as impressive as the truck’s ferocious off-road, sand-eating appetite. We negotiated the 30-mile stretch of U.S. 31 from Muskegon to Silver Lake with ease, the Raptor R riding like a Navigator family SUV. Even the V-8’s roar could be muted in Quiet mode so we didn’t wake up every neighborhood along the way at 80 mph. You can also, ahem, select the loudest Baja mode, which comes with a warning from the lawyers to only be used off-road because it’s illegal otherwise — but the devils at Ford Performance let you access it anyway, haw.

The interior is state-of-the-art, with wireless smartphone connectivity, phone charger and adaptive cruse control that kept me spaced from the Raptor in front of me while I got familiar with the vehicle’s multiple drive modes and screen layouts. With more interior space than my living room, this is an easy vehicle to drive to work — or to remote ORV parks.

Image: Fordraptorr Gray Dune Town
Silver Lake State ORV Park is a playground for off-roaders like the 2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R complete with retail, go-karts, restaurants and hotel for the enthusiasts who flock here every spring-to-fall.
(Photo: Henry Payne, The Detroit News)

That long-distance talent is further enhanced by 8,700-pound towing capability so you can bring along an Airstream and stay the night on the shores of Lake Michigan. Though not as breathtaking as Sleeping Bear Dunes further up the coast, Silver Lake’s sandbox is a wonder to behold. And unlike Sleeping Bear, its 2,000 acres of sand is divided into pedestrian and ORV parks — supported (in season) by stores, restaurants, go-kart rides and WaveRunner/side-by-side rentals for the whole family.

As for this Dad, I’d be content to sit with Linus in the dunes waiting for the Great Pumpkin to fly by showing off its treats.

2023 Ford F-150 Raptor R

Vehicle type: Front engine, four-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger supertruck

Price: $109,145 including $1,695 destination fee

Powerplant: 5.2-liter supercharged V-8

Power: 700 horsepower, 640 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, (3.7 seconds, Car and Driver estimate); towing capacity, 8,700 pounds

Weight: 5,950 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA est. TBA, 10.7 mpg as tested (5.5 mpg on dunes); range, 430 miles as tested

Report card

Highs: Broad on-road/off-road bandwidth; oh, that V-8 roar

Lows: Need a ladder to get into; affordable to a few

Overall: 4 stars

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

Payne: RIP for ’23 — These vehicles are headed for the automotive graveyard

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 1, 2022

‘Tis the season for Halloween, ghouls, full moons — and burying the corpses of unpopular vehicles in the automotive graveyard.

While the 2023 model year birthed a modern record 47 new vehicles thanks to historic trends in electric vehicle development, start-up automakers and a thirst for trucks, segments like sedans and econoboxes were spooked by low demand. Wee cars like the Chevrolet Spark and Hyundai Accent breathed their last, while greyhounds like the Acura NSX, Ford GT and Lamborghini Aventador couldn’t outrun the hounds of hell.

The midnight hour is close at hand for these ’22 nameplates. May they Rest in Peace.

For 2023, it's farewell Acura ILX, welcome Acura Integra.

Acura ILX

Farewell ILX, hello Acura Integra.

Acura’s entry-level vehicle for the last 10 years, ILX was built on the ninth-generation Honda Civic’s bones. Though it received a significant exterior makeover in 2019, its tired drivetrain and lack of manual shifter failed to excite. The introduction of the 11th-gen Civic marked the rise from the grave of Acura’s famed Integra badge — and the final nail in the coffin for ILX.

The Acura NSX bows out for a second time after the 2022 model year.

Acura NSX

The original NSX wowed from 1991-2005 with its mid-engine thrills and endorsement from F1 legend Ayrton Senna. For its second-gen model, Acura crafted a hybrid supercar in the mold of the $825,000 Porsche 918 Hybrid, but for 1/5th the price.

Still, $160,000 was a pricey ticket for an Acura flagship and sales have been a disappointing 2,548 units over five years compared to 18,000 for the OG. For one last howl at the moon, the NSX is making 350 face-lifted Type S models with 600 horsepower.

The Buick Encore helped launch the small SUV craze, but there's no encore for this automotive trailblazer in 2023.

Buick Encore

The wee Encore busted open the subcompact SUV segment way a decade ago. And yes, it came from Buick, the walking-dead octogenarian sedan brand of the ‘90s.

Encore (and big brother Enclave) led a brand SUV re-invention that made for one of the freshest lineups in the premium segment. Encore sales in 2019 boomed to more than 100,000 units (30% of brand sales). Naturally, autos keep getting bigger and Encore sales have been poached by its larger Encore GX sibling. A generation of cute utes (Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-30) owe their careers to Encore.

The Spark, Chevy's cheapest and smallest vehicle, ends with the 2022 model.

Chevrolet Spark

Another GM cute ute meets its maker. Introduced in 2013 as Americans emerged from the Great Recession, the spunky Spark sported a starting price of just $14,595. It was instantly recognizable with its big peepers and clever interior. Alas, with just 98 horsepower, it could be run over by semi-trucks when merging onto I-696.

The Chevy Trax goes into hibernation for a year, then emerges in a bigger, updated version for 2024.

Chevrolet Trax

Another wee GM SUV with a foot in the grave? Reports of the Trax’s death are premature.

The cute ute takes a one-year hiatus for the 2023 model year before returning to the bowtie brand’s lineup in ’24. Expect a new three-banger engine — and no all-wheel-drive as an option.

The Ford GT supercar speeds into the sunset after 2022.

Ford GT

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its historic 1966 Le Mans win, Ford went back to the world’s most famous 24-hour race with a new GT racer. No pressure.

To qualify, Ford had to “homologate” a production version of the car, and the GT was born, perhaps the most beautiful mid-engined supercar ever conceived. Its state-of-the-art carbon-fiber tub, F1-style aerodynamics, and 660-horse, twin-turbo V-6 meant a price tag starting at $500,000. Oh, yeah, and the race car won Le Mans.

The subcompact Ford EcoSport failed to gain traction with buyers in the entry-level segment.

Ford EcoSport

Brought in from India in 2018 to fill the entry-SUV void, EcoSport never gained traction as it lagged the segment in curb appeal. Meanwhile, the Blue Oval introduced the similarly-priced, 50-mpg hybrid Ford Maverick trucklet, which has been a wild success.

The Honda Insight hybrid sedan has been a slow seller in the U.S.

Honda Insight

The geeky Insight was the first hybrid in the market in 1999, but was quickly overshadowed by Miss Popularity, the Toyota Prius. The third-gen Insight was launched in 2019 but was overshadowed by its own CR-V Hybrid sibling in the more popular SUV segment.

The Civic-based Insight offered an impressive 48 mpg, but cold not outrun the Grim Reaper, who has it in for sedans.

The Hyundai Accent is yet another casualty of buyers' shift away from sedans toward SUVs and pickups.

Hyundai Accent

Another sedan victim. Despite its stylish looks, $17.7k asking price, and fun-to-drive attitude, the Accent will go the way of the dodo bird for ‘23.

The Hyundai Ioniq gives way in 2023 for a new line of all-electric Hyundais.

Hyundai Ioniq

The Ioniq is a testimony to how quickly the industry is changing. The sub-brand — offering a trio of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and EV models — was introduced in 2017 to battle King Prius. But not only did the Ioniq lineup fail to gain traction, Prius sales tanked as well as hybrid SUVs took over.

EVs are all the rage now and the Ioniq badge has been resurrected for an EV lineup, beginning with the stylish Ioniq 5 (and Ioniq 6 to to follow).

The three-door Hyundai Veloster is being shown the door after 2022.

Hyundai Veloster

The funky three-door hatchback has been shown the door. But don’t despair too much. Veloster was a treat — especially in asphalt-eating N performance trim — but its replacement, the four-door Elantra, is more stylish, more spacious and gets a fire-breathing N model, too.

The Infiniti Q60 is a victim of consumer sentiment moving away from cars, especially those of the two-door variety.

Infiniti Q60

If sedans are under the gun, then their two-door siblings are even more endangered. The Q60 coupe was wicked looking with 400 horsepower in Red Sport 400 dress, but it failed to turn enough heads.

With 740 horsepower and outrageous, F-22 fighter jet-styling, the Lamborghini Aventador SV supercar is perhaps the most coveted sports car in the world.

Lamborghini Aventador

When an Aventador swaggers down the road, everyone stops to stare.

The Kate Upton of the mid-engine supercar set, the Aventador has stunning looks and even more stunning audio from its screaming, 769-horse V-12 engine. Expect a successor with a hybrid drivetrain soon.

The Lexus RX L and its three-row seating go away for 2023.

Lexus RX L

The brand’s perennial best-seller, the RX, gets a facelift and new interior for the 2023 model year. But the three-row RX L gets left behind.

Sharing the same wheelbase as RX, the RX L offered a third-row seat that was cramped compared to Kia Telluride and Ford Explorer competitors. Expect Lexus to offer a more thoughtful three-row SUV with a TX badge.

The A-Class sedan, which offered affordable luxury, is no more after 2022.

Mercedes-Benz A-class

Mercedes offered two sedans as appetizers for its sumptuous lineup, the A-Class and CLA250. Though the A220’s sticker of $35,000 undercut CLA, the latter was more stylish and more powerful. CLA lives on.

The Nissan Rogue Sport is a tweener that never really caught on.

Nissan Rogue Sport

In SUV-crazed America, “tweener” compact SUVs like the Jeep Compass and Buick Ecnore GX have done well. But somehow Rogue Sport — a tweener between the subcompact Kicks and best-selling Rogue SUV — never stood out. Hit the showers, Sport.

The Toyota Avalon bows out after a three-decade run.

Toyota Avalon

The only vehicles less popular than small sedans are big sedans. While Toyota’s RAV4 and Outlander SUVs sell like hotcakes, Avalon bows out after a 30-year run. Toyota is stubborn, though, and the hybrid, more luxurious Crown sedan will replace it. Good luck.

Volkswagen's midsize Passat ends production after 2022, but the German automaker will still offer the smaller Jetta and larger Arteon sedans.

Volkswagen Passat

Another sedan victim, Passat has played second fiddle to Honda Accord and Toyota Camry in the midsize segment. V-dub isn’t giving up on sedans though, as the compact Jetta and gorgeous, full-size Arteon are still whistling past the automotive graveyard.

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

Payne: The mighty Ford F-150 Lightning’s kryptonite? A road trip

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 27, 2022

Gaylord — Sitting at my third fast-charger of the day in my 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning EV tester, I watched a gas-powered F-150 pull in front of me in Gaylord’s Meijer parking lot.

“Is that the new electric Ford truck?” the driver asked. “How far does it go?”

“I’m getting about 170 miles of range on this trip up I-75,” I answered. “How about you?”

“I’ve got the turbo-6 cylinder. I’m getting 600 miles and 22 mpg,” he responded. “I don’t think I’ll ever get one of those electrics.”

Made in America. The 2022 F-150 Lightning, Ford's first EV truck, is made in the Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

My Lightning is a great tool. But as my weekend road trip to Charlevoix indicates, it lacks the Swiss Army knife dexterity of its gas-powered peers.

The F-150 Lightning, of course, is the Blue Oval’s first electric pickup. With its neck-snapping 4.0-second 0-60 acceleration, palatial interior room, stump-pulling towing ability and bottomless front trunk storage, it may be the best EV value on the market starting at $53,769. Add panoramic roof, 22-inch aero wheels, leather, big screen, big battery, and my bling-tastic Platinum model cost an eye-rolling 94 grand.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning offers a panoramic roof, leather seats and a big tablet screen.

And outside of the metropolitan eco-system where EVs thrive, Lightning’s wattage starts to dim — starting with its hauling ability.

I considered a tow trip to Charlevoix, where we have family and friends in regular need of furniture, boats, equipment. But a test by the boys at TFLTrucks.com found my 300 mile-range truck would only go (ahem) 95 miles with a 6,000-pound trailer out back. That’s not enough to go the 120 miles from the Electrify America fast charger in Bay City to the next EA station in Gaylord, for goodness’ sake. A comparable V8-powered pickup gets about 210 miles on a tow, according to TFL, with gas infrastructure everywhere. On to Plan B.

The frunk of the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning is useful for extra (dry) cargo storage.

Mrs. Payne and I loaded the EV’s bed with two bed frames needed Up North. My favorite Lightning feature is its “frunk” — front trunk — a tool that petrol-powered Swiss Army knives lack due to the piston engine under the hood. After loading the bed out back, I loaded luggage for the trip — a suitcase and tennis bag — in the frunk. Lightning answers the age-old pickup question: How do I pack luggage and use the bed without compromising interior passenger space?

I charged to 100%, 320-mile range overnight on my 240-volt home charger, ran a coupla’ errands Friday morning, then hit the road for Charlevoix with 281 miles on tap.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning's navi system allows the driver to check on how many stalls are available at a fast charger.

The Lightning’s trip planner is quite good. “Navigate to Charlevoix, Michigan” I barked. Voice recognition correctly translated my West Virginia drawl, and the navi plotted my course — including a single, 25-minute stop at Gaylord’s fast charger 181 miles away. That plan would soon change.

Driving a 7’ wide x 6’ tall brick into the wind at 75 mph on a 45-degree October day is a recipe for electron guzzling. By Saginaw, the Lightning was getting just 60% of estimated range and it was becoming clear to the trip computer that we would not make it to Gaylord. My 281-mile range looked more like 168 miles.

The system rerouted me to the West Branch fast changer. Really? From prior EV trip experience, I knew that charger and it only had two stalls.

Like General Motors and Nissan systems, Ford’s Blue Cruise driver assist system allows hands-free driving on divided interstates. While Blue Cruise took the wheel, I went deep into the navigation screen to consider my options.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning uses Blue Cruise to self-drive up I-75.

I tapped on the West Branch charging icon and combed through the charger specs. As I suspected, both chargers were occupied.  If I fueled there, I could be waiting awhile. I decided to go to Electrify America’s Bay City charger instead — just on the other side of the Zilwaukee Bridge. I knew it well. Four charging stalls. In a Meijer parking lot off I-75. Convenient.

But when I arrived, technicians were working on two faulty chargers and the other pair were occupied by a Mustang Mach-E and Rivian R1T. I waited. After a few minutes, the Rivian pilot approached to let me know his charger wasn’t working either. He would be next in line for the remaining charger after the Mach-E finished.

Well, looked like I would be heading to the West Branch charger after all.

The 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning is at home on or off road.

The station is squeezed into the back of a Ford dealer (no room for a trailer if I were towing). By the time I arrived, one charger had freed up while the other was occupied by a Nissan Leaf EV.

Though instructions indicated the charger was run by Greenlots, the Greenlots app was nowhere to be found on Google Play. Then I remembered reading that Shell Energy had purchased Greenlots. I found the Shell Energy app, which was buggy. After about 10 minutes, Lightning and charger finally communicated with one another.

In West Branch, Payne charged the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning alongside a Nissan Leaf. The Shell charger, located in the back of a Ford dealer, has two stalls.

Mrs. Payne and I took the opportunity to eat lunch in the cab — storing the shifter and folding down the console table (these Ford engineers are clever) — during the half hour the pickup charged from 29% to 80%. Then we were off again, encountering a pair of construction delays on I-75 that would set us back 45 minutes.

Which brought me to the Gaylord charger and the inquisitive driver in the gas-powered F-150.

Though I had traveled just 70 miles since Bay City, chargers are scarce in Charlevoix and so I wanted to top up. That’s something that in-car navi systems don’t tell you. Arrive at your destination with low battery and there may be no infrastructure to get you around town.

At his second charging stop in Gaylord, Payne's $94K 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning shares the chargers with a $110K Hummer, $80K Rivian and $57K Mustang Mach-E.

As I topped up for 15 minutes in Gaylord, I surveyed the EVs at the four EA charging stalls: my $93,000 Lightning, a $110K Hummer EV, $80,000 Rivian (the same R1T I’d seen in Bay City), a $57K Mustang Mach-E. EVs ain’t cheap.

With a full tank of electrons, it was time to have some fun through M-32’s twisties — the hills ablaze in fall colors. With its low center of gravity, all-wheel drive and 775-pound feet of torque, Lightning is surprisingly playful. I activated Sport mode and “Propulsion Sound” as a soundtrack for the fun ahead.

Coming onto a straightaway, two slugs loomed. ZOT! I buried the throttle and was by them with … well, Lightning speed.

I arrived in Charlevoix after 6 hours, 40 minutes for what’s normally a stop-free, 4-hour trip by gas-fired pickup. I had been delayed by 45 minutes of construction and nearly two hours of charging detours across three stations. Cost? About the same as filling with $3.50 gas.

I recalled my conversation with the Rivian driver in Gaylord. He said he hadn’t anticipated so many delays on his family trip to Mackinac Island. “Next time,” he said, “I’m bringing a different vehicle.”

Next week: 2022 Mazda CX-50

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Platinum

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

Price: $53,769, including $1,695 destination fee ($93,509 as tested)

Powerplant: 131 kWh lithium-ion battery with twin electric-motor drive

Power: 580 horsepower, 775 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Single-speed drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.0 seconds (Car and Driver); payload, 2,235; towing, 10,000 pounds

Weight: 6,813 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 70 MPGe range; 320 miles

Report card

Highs: Liquid-smooth acceleration; frunk and bed cargo storage

Lows: Range challenged; hands-free Blue Cruise system can be spotty

Overall: 3 stars

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

Revealed: 2023 Ford Escape updated with new face, more tech, ST-Line

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 27, 2022

Detroit — Introduced in 2020, the fourth-generation Ford Escape gets a refresh for the 2023 model year. But in the auto market’s most popular non-truck class, no refresh is minor.

Ford’s fourth best-selling vehicle — after the iconic F-150 pickup, F-series heavy duty pickups, and Explorer SUV — Ford’s compact SUV receives new model badging, new interior screens ‘n’ tech, and a revised exterior wardrobe.

You’ll know it by the reworked front end that pulls back from its predecessor’s low, Ford Focus-like grille for a broader mouth with the Blue Oval logo moved from hood to the mid-grille. The smiling, meshed grille is still in contrast with the design of the Bronco Sport, with which Escape has shared the segment since 2021.

“Escape is the perfect city vehicle with its flexible, modern architecture,” said Ford SUV marketing guru Craig Patterson.

To that end, Ford charged its European design studio to pen the Escape. With narrow streets and dense city centers, Europeans know a thing or two about urban vehicles (the Escape is badged as Kuga on the other side of the pond).

The rear of the 2023 Ford Escape is new.

With Escape aimed at urban customers and Bronco Sport targeted at adventure types, Ford’s two-compact SUV strategy has paid off, expanding segment sales by nearly 70%. As a result, the Ford twins now sell upwards of 253,000 vehicles a year, good enough for fourth in segment in 2021 behind the Japanese Big Three of Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue.

The Escape/Bronco Sport tag team isn’t the only Ford lineup change that has affected Escape. With the demise of EcoSport for the ‘23 model year, Escape will now be Ford’s entry-level SUV at $28,995. Ford’s Maverick, built on the same platform as Escape/Bronco Sport, is the brand’s cheapest vehicle at $23,670.

While one of Escape’s chief competitors, the Honda CR-V, is ditching its base model for a $32,355 starting point, Escape will continue to offer a nicely-equipped standard model for under $30K. Powered by a 1.5-liter, 190-horse engine — one of four engine options for the SUV — the Base will feature standard blind-spot assist, an 8-or-13.2-inch center screen, and state-of-the-art SYNC 4 infotainment system featuring wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (the CR-V only offers wireless CarPlay with its larger, 8-inch screen).

More tech. The 2023 Ford Escape gets an 8 or 13.2-inch screen (shown) with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Then the Escape lineup really gets interesting.

Taking an off-ramp from alphanumeric naming convention, Escape is the first Blue Oval model to shelve its SE and SEL models for proper names. Say hello to the new Base, Escape Active, Plug-in, ST-Line and Platinum lineup.

Significantly, each trim (except hybrid models) offers the option of all-wheel-drive (a $1,500 upgrade) and the 13.2-inch screen, in addition to two tech packages. Most noteworthy is the all-new, sporty ST-Line trim.

A descendant of the brand’s iconic ST performance models, Ford expects ST-Line (starting at $33,835) to make up 50% of sales with its trendy, black-trimmed wardrobe, rocker-panel cladding, 18-inch wheels, flat-bottom steering wheel, rear skidplate, and rear spoiler. It will also option three drivetrains: 1.5-liter turbo-4, 2.0-liter turbo-4 and hybrid. An ST-Line Elite package stand out with an LED front mono-brow and 19-inch ebony wheels.

The new face of the 2023 Ford Escape.

ST-Line replaces Escape’s similar, blacked-out SE Sport Hybrid trim which — at under $30,000 — aimed at selling electrified tech to the mainstream, meat ‘n’ potatoes Escape buyer. How times have changed. Though the hybrid made up about 15-20% of Escape sales, it is no longer the focus of Ford’s electrified strategy. Not with the F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E EVs on the lot.

Those popular vehicles brought in lots of government emission credits — enough to let Escape off the hook as a compliance vehicle. For those who crave short-haul electric-only transportation and long range gas reliability, a fully-charged Plug-in Escape will offer 37 miles of battery-only range.

In hybrid mode, Escape will go a whopping 550 miles — 30 more than the longest range EV, the $170,000 Lucid Air Dream Range.

The 2023 Ford Escape has one of the roomiest rear seats in class, thanks to its ability to slide back six inches.

While the Escape mixes and matches its trims and powertrains, its signature features will remain — mostly.

Rear seat legroom is biggest in segment (and nearly as roomy as a Ford Expedition mega-ute) thanks to the seat’s talent at sliding backwards 6 inches on rails. It will also recline. Escape’s pioneering self-park feature (now found in other Fords, including the hulking F-150) is available — but Ford chose to ditch its kick-open rear hatch function. Customers just weren’t asking for it.

The hatchback of the 2023 Ford Escape no longer opens when you kick the rear bumper. Customers weren't interested.

Ford is a segment tech leader and for 2023 it also offers standard 4G connectivity, digital in-screen owner’s manual, auto high-beams, and lane-keep assist. The Ford Co-Pilot360 tech package debuts Intersection Assist, which uses the front camera and radar sensors to help alert drivers to oncoming traffic while turning left.

Built at Louisville Assembly in Kentucky, the new Escape will be in showrooms early next year.

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

EV flagship: $300k-plus Celestiq seeks to redefine Cadillac as world luxury standard

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 22, 2022

Putting an exclamation point on its extreme makeover as an electric-vehicle brand, Cadillac unveiled on Monday its new flagship, the 2024 Celestiq sedan.

Slated for production in late 2023 with a $300,000-plus price tag in the same nose-bleed section as ultra-luxury coach-builds like the Rolls Royce Ghost, Celestiq seeks to re-establish Cadillac as the “standard of the world” for the 21st century with state-of-the-art, battery-powered tech.

First shown as a prototype in March 2020 alongside Cadillac’s first EV, the Lyriq crossover, Celestiq is a Lyriq on steroids. Sporting the brand’s new upright, disco-grille (Celestiq has 1,600 LEDs total), the sleek, all-wheel-drive chariot is draped over an Ultium battery platform and engorged with electronic wonders like a 55-inch touchscreen and quad-zone panoramic glass roof.

The distinctive, sport-back rear of the 2024 Cadillac Celestiq EV. The big car claims 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds.

Hand-built in Warren’s Tech Center, the 2024 Celestiq will have a limited edition run — each model personalized to its premium buyer’s taste. Celestiq follows other Caddy flagships like the 1933 V16 Aerodynamic Coupe that defined pre-war style, the 1957 Eldorado Brougham that became a tail-fin period icon, and the athletic 2016 CT6 sedan that headlined the brand’s brief Blackwing-engine performance era.

Like CT6, Celestiq shows off Cadillac’s future on a car platform at a time when 7 of 10 new vehicles sold are SUVs. Cadillac’s best-known sport utility, the Escalade, would seem a natural canvas for the brand’s new direction — but with sci-fi tech and a price tag triple that of Escalade, Celestiq is a significant break from current Cadillac convention.

Despite massive investments since the turn of the century to bring the brand on par with Nurburgring-shredding athletes from BMW, Mercedes and Audi, Cadillac sales have lagged. Indeed, it has been another American luxury brand, Tesla, that successfully leap-frogged the German triumvirate with all-electric technology.

Cadillac's 2024 Celestiq EV sedan will come with a $300,000-plus price tag.

Cadillac, too, sees advances in electronics and battery power as an opportunity to remake itself as an electric brand.

“Celestiq is the purest expression of Cadillac, acknowledging our incredible history and driving us to a bolder and brighter future,” said Global Vice President Rory Harvey. “It is a completely bespoke work of automotive art, built around the most advanced and innovative technology that we have ever engineered.”

Just over a century from its founding in 1909, GM’s luxury division seeks to redefine a new century by drawing from Cadillac’s origins making high-style, high-tech, hand-built machines.

The 2024 Cadillac Celestiq EV will add 78 miles of charge in 10 minutes on a fast charger.

Courting comparison to the brand’s storied history, Celestiq’s long-hooded fastback is an unmistakable echo of the ‘33 Aerodynamic Coupe while its estimated charging time — 78 miles in 10 minutes — lags Escalade’s 450 miles in three minutes at a gas pump.

Like England’s Rolls and Bentley land yachts, each Celestiq will be individually commissioned so no two builds are alike. Via dealers, clients will create a vision tailored to their personal tastes.

“With an extremely low volume of hand-built vehicles to be offered globally each year, Celestiq will truly be a custom-commissioned one-of-one,” said Harvey. “Each client will experience a personalized journey to make their vehicle exactly the way they desire.”

Each 2024 Cadillac Celestiq EV will be hand-built for the customer.

Built on the Ultium battery platform and riding on a smooth air suspension, Celestiq will be powered by a 111-kWh battery pack and twin motors to achieve immediate, 640-pound feet of torque and 600 horsepower. Significantly, that is half the battery size of the 212.7 kWh GMC Hummer EV — the first GM vehicle built on Ultium and weighing nearly five tons.

Expect Celestiq to be lighter on its feet, though its estimated 3.8-second spring to 60 mph is shy of Hummer’s claimed 3.0 seconds. Celestiq range will be a Hummer-like 300 miles. That range will come slowly at super charger networks being built across the country with federal help. Ultium Charge 360 will help customers plan a trip by coordinating stops with 110,000 chargers across North America.

The sedan is stuffed with innovation including 115 3D printed parts, a technology that has seen accelerated use in low-volume cars. Following in the footsteps of CT6, Celestiq makes innovative use of die castings for structural rigidity and simplicity — the EV’s underbody is constructed from six large aluminum components.

For added maneuverability in charger parking lots as well as on road, Celestiq will feature rear-drive steering. Consistent with Lyriq and other EVs, Celestiq will be capable of one-pedal driving, using the electric motors as brakes to restore battery energy.

Or passengers can choose not to drive at all. Celestiq will be equipped with GM’s Ultra Cruise self-driving system. Building on the current Super Cruise system (that debuted in CT6) that allows hands-free driving on more than 200,000 miles of divided highways, Ultra Cruise will expand that capability to 2 million miles of highway and secondary roads.

“Celestiq continues the 120-year Cadillac history of leveraging the most advanced automotive technology in the service of luxury,” said development engineer Ken Althouse.

Inside Celestiq’s quiet blue interior, passengers will sit beneath a four-zone smart glass roof that utilizes “suspended particle device technology” so each passenger can control the amount of outside light they receive. If the quiet gets too eerie, then the pilot can dial up Cadillac-curated propulsion sounds while driving.

The bejeweled rotary screen controller on the 2024 Cadillac Celestiq EV.

The interior will be bathed in ambient light (18 different lighting animations are on offer) complementing the car’s rich materials, jewel-like rotary screen controller, 41-speaker sound system, and enormous 55-inch screen that stretches from A-pillar to A-pillar.

The screen houses two separate displays under a single pane of glass — the passenger-side display enabling media-play, Internet capability, smartphone connectivity and more. Screens are governed by a Google Built-In operating system. Rear passengers get their own 12.6-inch, seatback-mounted displays.

Celestiqs will roll out of GM’s Warren Global Technical Center beginning in December of next year — the first production vehicle made there — thanks to an $81 million investment.

“Cadillac’s brand legacy was forged with hand-building the most advanced vehicles of their era,” said Roma. “We are returning to that tradition with Celestiq, creating a piece of automotive art.”

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

Heavy-duty trucks are fueling the EV transition. When will they get electrified?

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 20, 2022

The Detroit Three automakers are pushing toward an electrified future, but they’re not yet putting their gas and diesel-powered heavy-duty trucks on the back burner.

After all, the profitable sales of these fuel-guzzling vehicles are funding the expensive transition to electric vehicles, which promise zero emissions and freedom from high gas prices.  General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV over the last several weeks have revealed HD truck updates for next year, but don’t expect electrified versions of these beefy pickups anytime soon.

Ross Thomas of East Jordan, Michigan, with his 2015 Ford F-250. The V8-powered truck weighs 10,000 pounds and has a range of about 280 miles when towing his camper, more than a comparable electric truck would offer.

“This will be the dead last segment that it’s going to happen to because they are the most demanding and it would be the most taxing on the electrical system,” said Ivan Drury, director of insights for Edmunds.com Inc., a vehicle information website. The batteries needed to tow the thousands of pounds HD customers demand might be available, but they cost more and offer less range than gas and diesel powertrains.

Automakers “would probably like to be able to say that ‘we can offer 300 miles of range when you’re towing,’ and also there’s the cost,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst leading Guidehouse Insights. “You can go buy a 50/60/$70,000 HD truck that’ll tow 15/20,000 pounds for 5-600 miles. Those trucks with those 200 kilowatt-hour batteries, one consistent aspect of those, they all cost $100,000.”

Trucks like the Chevrolet Silverado HD produce big profits that are helping to fund the Detroit Three automakers' shift to electric vehicles.

EV trucks versus HD trucks

The $110,595 Edition 1 Hummer EV pickup, for example, has a large 200-plus kilowatt-hour battery with a range of 329 miles, according to documents filed with the Environmental Protection Agency as previously reported by Car and Driver. The Hummer can tow up to 7,500 pounds.

On the Chevrolet side, the Silverado EV RST can tow 10,000 pounds and will cost $105,000. Chevy hasn’t released the kilowatt-hour capacity of the Silverado EV. By comparison, the recently revealed 2024 Silverado 2500 can tow up to 22,500 pounds when packaged with a 6.6-liter turbo-diesel V-8 engine. Chevrolet hasn’t released prices for the new Silverado HD.

During the January 2022 reveal of the electric Silverado, GM CEO Mary Barra said the automaker will electrify heavy-duty vehicles like light-duty vehicles by 2035: “These all-electric HD trucks will be engineered to deliver effortless heavy-duty hauling and towing, while offering customers amazing new features and range needed to get the toughest jobs done.”

Ford just upped the price of its 2023 electric F-150 Lightning Pro, geared toward commercial customers, by $5,000 to $51,974. A Lightning with a standard battery pack gets 98 kWh of capacity to go 240 miles on a charge. The Lightning with an extended-range pack with 131 kWh of capacity gets 320 miles on a charge. With an optional max trailer tow package, the Lightning can tow 10,000 pounds with the larger battery and 7,700 pounds with the standard size.

Ford hasn’t yet revealed pricing or towing capabilities on its recently revealed gas and diesel-powered 2023 Super Duty lineup, but the automaker is shooting for “unparalleled capability” on gooseneck towing, fifth-wheel towing, conventional towing, pintle hitch towing and payload capacity. The 2022 Super Duty can tow 21,000 pounds for conventional and 37,000 pounds for gooseneck.

At an event revealing the Super Duty earlier this month, Ford CEO Jim Farley told media as reported by the Automotive News: “If you’re pulling 10,000 pounds, an electric truck is not the right solution. And 95% of our customers tow more than 10,000 pounds. This is a really important segment for our country and it will probably go hydrogen fuel cell before it goes pure electric.”

Hydrogen fuel cells could be used to convert larger products like heavy-duty trucks to zero-emissions products since fuel cells offer longer range and the fuel-cell system is lighter than a battery, but the use of fuel cells would also require an infrastructure network of charging stations.

“For customers that want to tow, you could have fuel cell, but again, that is going to depend on the fueling infrastructure being there,” Abuelsamid said. “If the fueling infrastructure isn’t there, customers aren’t going to buy ’em, even if they can tow them long distances.”

Ram has teased an electrified version of its light-duty truck and said it will have a full portfolio of electrified vehicles in most segments by 2025 and all segments by 2030. The Stellantis NV truck brand in September announced it was adding a Rebel trim option to the 2023 Ram 2500 HD lineup.  The truck’s maximum tow limit is 16,870 pounds.

What customers think

HD drivers will be tough to turn into EV buyers, Edmunds’ Drury says, because they are taking a risk on capability, which is a tough gamble for the commercial customers relying on their fleets to get the job done.

“With these consumers,” Drury said, “it’s still go with what you know.”

Fleet managers also look at the overall cost of ownership, so they will want to know that transitioning “is actually going to get the job done and save money,” he said. “And right now, I think that would be kind of a hard thing for a lot of them to even make pencil out.”

Ross and Bonnie Thomas of East Jordan, Michigan, use their V8-powered, 2015 Ford F-250 to tow their camper.

Ross Thomas, 80, and his wife Bonnie of East Jordan, Michigan, tow their camper with a V-8-powered, 2015 Ford F-250 that weighs 10,000 pounds. They live in the East Jordan City Tourist Park during the summer, then commute to warmer climates in Texas and Florida during the winter.

They make their estimated 20-hour, 1,300-mile journey getting 8 mpg with a 35-gallon gas tank — or a range of 280 miles between five-minute fill-ups.

Heavy-duty EV trucks are in their infancy with manufacturers like Bollinger making Class 3-6 chassis and GM not planning electrified HD versions of its pickups until the next decade.

“This is not an EV,” said GMC President Duncan Aldred when he introduced the all-new Sierra 2500 HD this month with its tried-and-true, 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel V-8. “The Sierra Heavy Duty will become an EV in time, but it will be toward the end of the 2035 transition.”

Real-world experience with EV pickups is limited with new entries like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Rivian R1T first to market. But the towing capabilities of the Lightning are not encouraging to HD owners.

A recent tow test by truck test site TFLTrucks.com with a 6,000-pound trailer behind the Lightning found range degradation of 70% to just 95 miles — a problem for long-distance hauls. While diesel and gas engines also suffer range degradation when towing, they offer more reliable range and refueling infrastructure.

Ross Thomas typically gets about 280 miles of range with his V-8-powered F250 — and quick refueling. Drain a Lightning’s battery after 95 miles and it will take an hour to fill it full of electrons at a DC fast charger.

EV range limitations are an issue for Randy Hartman of Columbus, Ohio, too.

Hartman’s company, Winning Edge Series, offers trackside support for sportscar racers. For example, he used his 2011 Ram 3500 Dually HD Class 3 pickup to tow a pair of race cars 1,110 miles from Columbus to Road Atlanta Raceway in Braselton, Georgia, this October.

“It would have taken me forever to tow my 28-foot trailer over the mountains with an electric truck,” said Hartman, 63. His Ram is stuffed with a 7.2-liter diesel and gets 300 miles between fill-ups at 11 mpg.

Jeremy Ingram knows electric vehicles — his 386 Powersports in Rochester Hills is the exclusive Michigan dealer for Volcon EV motorbikes — but he prefers gas trucks to haul them to customers and sporting events.

“For the loads we carry we need gas,” said Ingram who owns a fleet of Ford, Ram, and Chevy HDs. “You know Michigan. You put a load on batteries — and then add the cold weather — and they will die in half the time.”

His brawny Ram 5500, Ford F-550, Chevy 4500 dually pickups, for example, do heavy lifting, including 15,000-pound flat beds that take multiple bikes to customers around the Midwest. They also do double duty — along with a GMC Sierra, Ford F-250, and Ford F-350 cube truck — in servicing customers with Ingram’s contracting firm, Ingram Roofing.

Ingram worries the short life of battery packs would also change his business model. “I don’t want to buy a fleet of electric trucks not knowing their lifespan,” he said, citing a 1996 diesel Ford F-350 he uses that’s still going strong. “I’d have to go to a lease fleet.”

At Michigan Asphalt Paving, foreman Tim Davidson's fleet includes is a 1995 Ford F800 Class 6 truck that is 27 years young and still hauling up to 45,000 pounds of aggregate daily. To Davidson, electric vehicles are "a big waste of time and money."

For Michigan Asphalt Paving foreman Tim Davidson in Birmingham, it’s not the range — it’s the expense and logistics that are insurmountable obstacles to going electric.

His company serves a variety of paving needs in the Metro Detroit area with a herd of diesel-powered vehicles from dump trucks to Caterpillar track loaders to the semis that transport them. One of the vehicles in his fleet is a 1995 Ford F800 Class 6 truck (GVWR: 26,000 pounds) that is 27 years young and still hauling up to 45,000 pounds of aggregate daily.

“Electrics are a big waste of time and money,” said Davidson as he dug up a driveway with his Cat, then dumped it into the back of the hulking Ford. “Reliability is a real issue for me. What if I get stuck on the way to a job?”

His fleet is looked after by a diesel service company and his fuel is delivered to tanks on his property where he fills up every night. Building on-site electric capacity to power his trucks would be costly.

Bollinger Motors in Oak Park is the only manufacturer making a Class 4 electric truck (GVWR: 14,001-16,000 pounds). While assembling battery-powered trucks with 100-mile range to suit contractors like Michigan Asphalt, Bollinger is counting on the billions of dollars in the federal Inflation Reduction Act to help reduce the costs. Under the IRA, a Bollinger buyer would be eligible for a 30% tax credit up to $40,000.

“Commercial fleets need a cost-competitive alternative to traditional ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles, and these credits, along with Bollinger’s aggressive efforts to deliver a quality product with a lower total cost of ownership, make EVs a more affordable and viable option than their ICE counterparts,” commercial sales director Ed Burke told Highways Today.

But for HD customers who need the dexterity of trucks for long and short hauls, EVs are a non-starter.

Payne: 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid gets leaner, dials up the fun

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 20, 2022

Sisquoc, California — Amidst the rolling fields of wineries, bean and corn is Martin Marietta’s massive Sisquoc Asphalt plant on a lonely stretch of Foxen Canyon Road here. Lonely except for a steady stream of semis pulling dual-trailer trucks. Like oversized ants, they scurry to-and-from the plant every day filling up on asphalt mined and processed from an estimated 11 billion tons of deposits hidden across 38,000 acres of Santa Barbara County. The asphalt has paved the ribbons of road that allow vehicles access to the region’s bucolic wineries and scenic views.

Vehicles like my 2023 Honda CR-V tester.

With its instant 247 pound-feet of torque, my CR-V made quick work of the occasional 75-foot double-semi — the length of a tennis court — as I hustled to lunch at the nearby Zaca Mesa Winery. Leave it to Honda to make hybrids fun.

The 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid is no Mazda CX-50 in the twisties - but it is fun to drive with 247 torque and solid steering.

In fact, Honda doesn’t even call its hybrids “hybrids” anymore. The CR-V debuted a gas-electric powertrain in 2019 in the EX-L Hybrid and Hybrid Touring trims. Taking a page from Ford (another pretty good performance brand) for 2023, the CR-V hybrids get macho black trims and wheels — and Sport and Sport Touring badges.

Sure, the hybrid claims typically sippy 37 mpg, but I didn’t come anywhere close to that on my 130-mile lunch commute from Santa Barbara, passing double-semis, carving canyon roads and merging into highway traffic with authority. My Sport Touring model registered a real-world 28.8 mpg.

The 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid engine offers 247 pound-feet of torque for easy passing on two-lane roads.

With all of its 247 foot-pounds of twin-electric-motor torque on tap at 2,000 RPM, the hybrid with its 2.5-liter powerplant is quick out of the chute for merging and for passing zones. Credit, too, goes to a so-called e-CVT transmission, which responded to my Size 15 lead foot with smooth power — complete with electronically-programmed “steps” to mimic the shifts of a traditional, multi-speed cog transmission.

The CR-V was no Mazda CX-5/CX-50. Mazda’s terrific-handling SUV is my benchmark for the class with its massive 310-torque turbo-4 and milky-smooth 6-speed tranny, but the sixth-gen CR-V is a nice step up from the last-gen ute.

Whether the bigger engine its a step up from the CR-V’s standard 1.5-liter turbo-4 is another question.

The turbo-4, of course, is the same engine found in Honda’s halo King Civic — slayer of the compact car segment — and benefits from similar CVT magic as the hybrid. Over Route 101 toward twisted Aliso Canyon Road, I repeatedly stomped the accelerator, and was always met by a silky response — no jerks, no lags — of electronically programmed “shifts” propelling CR-V just like Civic.

The brooding, dark Sport design style of the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid meets the brooding Pacific Ocean.

With governments threatening massive fines if automakers don’t go all in on EVs over the next decade, Honda decorates the CR-V with EV toys like regenerative paddles to get you in the mood for the transition to full battery power. With sales volume of 400,000 a year, the CR-V certainly has room for EV models, but don’t expect mass adoption anytime soon.

The turbo-4 starts at $32,355, with the hybrid Sport model upping the ante by $1,300. Higher EX-L and Sport Touring models add goodies like leather seats, heated steering wheel and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Weigh the Honda against a competitive set of CX-5/CX-50, Ford Escape Hybrid Sport and Kia Sportage, and you’ll find sub-$40K automobiles loaded with tech — adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist, auto braking — found on luxe vehicles costing 15 grand more.

If you’re not willing to cough up $40K, then take a look at Honda’s HR-V and Mazda’s CX-30. They are similarly equipped for 10 grand less — but with less compelling drivetrains.

The handsome 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid has a bold, full-length shoulder crease like the Civic.

Crucially, CR-V earns its keep in this elite group with a major styling upgrade for 2023 both inside and out. Once again, credit King Civic for inspiration.

CR-V’s busy, blingy styling was eye-catching a decade ago, but it’s grown jowly with age. Gen 6 takes the stage with a leaner, more timeless appearance, while keeping signature touches like the batwing rear taillights. The powerful shoulders are right off the Civic. The bold grille? Think Accord.

Inside, CR-V adopts Honda’s modern, horizontal design language with digital screens, honeycomb dash accent — before tending to much-needed housekeeping.

The console of the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid is redesigned for Gen 6 with an upright shifter.

That where-the-heck-is-the-steering-column adjuster that seemed halfway inside the engine compartment on the 5th gen? It’s now a proper switch on the left side of the column. The space-efficient-but-hand-cramping trigger shifter? Gone, replaced by a proper shifter stalk.

Other welcome details remain.

CR-V set the bar for second-row seating last generation with doors that opened 90 degrees to the body. That gave easy ingress to roomy rear seats that would swallow six-footers with ease. The 90-degree doors are back, and the rear seat room is expanded to boot.

The 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid offers excellent rear legroom for six-footers, and is expanded a half-inch beyond the last gen.

After lunch, I folded my big frame into the backseat to catch up on email. If only Delta coach were this comfortable. The rear seat even reclined.

CR-V’s goal is to be competent in everything without pushing the envelope on one thing. The Mazda is a sports car in ute clothing. Kia’s Sportage is on the cutting edge of tech with a hoodless, curved screen and Level 2 self-driving nearly on par with Cadillac Super Cruise.

The Honda won’t let you self-drive with your hands on your knees for long spells like Kia, but it maintained the lane so that I could, say, manage Sirius XM stations and read text messages when they came in over the wireless Android auto system.

The interior of the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid borrows from the Honda Civic with a stylish horizontal, honeycomb design and wireless smartphone app connectivity on the large 9-inch screen.

Honda still offers an in-house navigation system (perhaps because an EV version will need it to navigate to chargers), but its smartphone connectivity makes it easy to hook up your phone by wire with the standard 7-inch screen — or wirelessly via the 9-inch upgrade. Worried about your phone running out of juice when navigating wirelessly? The Sport Touring model offers a big charging pad to maintain charge that worked even with my massive Samsung Galaxy S20 (which didn’t fit in the last-gen CR-V).

A lot of Hondas have driven over Sisquoc Asphalt’s product in Santa Barbara County over the years. Civic is an American icon, Accord stole Ford Taurus’s crown as best-selling sedan in 1989, and now the CR-V has become Honda’s best-selling U.S. model — one of the three top-selling non-pickups in the land along with the Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4.

With similar Hybrid ambitions, RAV4 is CR-V’s closest competitor. But the chunky RAV-4 takes its design cues from the off-roady Tacoma pickup. With its sleek styling and stylish interior, CR-V is a Civic on stilts.

When another asphalt truck looms, its accelerator pedal is eager to please.

Next week: Road trip! Ford F-150 Lightning EV

2023 Honda CR-VVehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger compact SUV

Price: $32,355, including $1,245 destination fee ($39,845 Sport Touring model as tested)

Powerplant: 1.5-liter turbocharged, inline 4-cylinder; Hybrid 2.5-liter inline-4 mated to twin electric motors

Power: 190 horsepower, 179 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 204 horsepower, 247 pound-feet of torque (hybrid)

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT) in turbo-4; electronic CVT in hybrid

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.9 seconds (Car and Driver). Towing: 1,500 pounds (turbo-4), 1,000 pounds (hybrid)

Weight: 3,926 pounds (AWD hybrid as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 27 mpg city/32 highway/29 combined (AWD turbo-4); 40 mpg city/34 highway/37 combined (hybrid)

Report card

Highs: Crisp styling; roomy interior

Lows: Real-world hybrid fuel economy shy of specs; no more sub-$30K entry model

Overall: 4 stars

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

EV flagship: $300k-plus Celestiq seeks to redefine Cadillac as world luxury standard

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 18, 2022

Putting an exclamation point on its extreme makeover as an electric-vehicle brand, Cadillac unveiled on Monday its new flagship, the 2024 Celestiq sedan.

Slated for production in late 2023 with a $300,000-plus price tag in the same nose-bleed section as ultra-luxury coach-builds like the Rolls Royce Ghost, Celestiq seeks to re-establish Cadillac as the “standard of the world” for the 21st century with state-of-the-art, battery-powered tech.

First shown as a prototype in March 2020 alongside Cadillac’s first EV, the Lyriq crossover, Celestiq is a Lyriq on steroids. Sporting the brand’s new upright, disco-grille (Celestiq has 1,600 LEDs total), the sleek, all-wheel-drive chariot is draped over an Ultium battery platform and engorged with electronic wonders like a 55-inch touchscreen and quad-zone panoramic glass roof.

The distinctive, sport-back rear of the 2024 Cadillac Celestiq EV. The big car claims 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds.

Hand-built in Warren’s Tech Center, the 2024 Celestiq will have a limited edition run — each model personalized to its premium buyer’s taste. Celestiq follows other Caddy flagships like the 1933 V16 Aerodynamic Coupe that defined pre-war style, the 1957 Eldorado Brougham that became a tail-fin period icon, and the athletic 2016 CT6 sedan that headlined the brand’s brief Blackwing-engine performance era.

Like CT6, Celestiq shows off Cadillac’s future on a car platform at a time when 7 of 10 new vehicles sold are SUVs. Cadillac’s best-known sport utility, the Escalade, would seem a natural canvas for the brand’s new direction — but with sci-fi tech and a price tag triple that of Escalade, Celestiq is a significant break from current Cadillac convention.

Despite massive investments since the turn of the century to bring the brand on par with Nurburgring-shredding athletes from BMW, Mercedes and Audi, Cadillac sales have lagged. Indeed, it has been another American luxury brand, Tesla, that successfully leap-frogged the German triumvirate with all-electric technology.

Cadillac, too, sees advances in electronics and battery power as an opportunity to remake itself as an electric brand.

“Celestiq is the purest expression of Cadillac, acknowledging our incredible history and driving us to a bolder and brighter future,” said Global Vice President Rory Harvey. “It is a completely bespoke work of automotive art, built around the most advanced and innovative technology that we have ever engineered.”

Just over a century from its founding in 1909, GM’s luxury division seeks to redefine a new century by drawing from Cadillac’s origins making high-style, high-tech, hand-built machines.

The 2024 Cadillac Celestiq EV will add 78 miles of charge in 10 minutes on a fast charger.

Courting comparison to the brand’s storied history, Celestiq’s long-hooded fastback is an unmistakable echo of the ‘33 Aerodynamic Coupe while its estimated charging time — 78 miles in 10 minutes — lags Escalade’s 450 miles in three minutes at a gas pump.

Like England’s Rolls and Bentley land yachts, each Celestiq will be individually commissioned so no two builds are alike. Via dealers, clients will create a vision tailored to their personal tastes.

“With an extremely low volume of hand-built vehicles to be offered globally each year, Celestiq will truly be a custom-commissioned one-of-one,” said Harvey. “Each client will experience a personalized journey to make their vehicle exactly the way they desire.”

Each 2024 Cadillac Celestiq EV will be hand-built for the customer.

Built on the Ultium battery platform and riding on a smooth air suspension, Celestiq will be powered by a 111-kWh battery pack and twin motors to achieve immediate, 640-pound feet of torque and 600 horsepower. Significantly, that is half the battery size of the 212.7 kWh GMC Hummer EV — the first GM vehicle built on Ultium and weighing nearly five tons.

Expect Celestiq to be lighter on its feet, though its estimated 3.8-second spring to 60 mph is shy of Hummer’s claimed 3.0 seconds. Celestiq range will be a Hummer-like 300 miles. That range will come slowly at super charger networks being built across the country with federal help. Ultium Charge 360 will help customers plan a trip by coordinating stops with 110,000 chargers across North America.

For added maneuverability in charger parking lots as well as on road, Celestiq will feature rear-drive steering. Consistent with Lyriq and other EVs, Celestiq will be capable of one-pedal driving, using the electric motors as brakes to restore battery energy.

Or passengers can choose not to drive at all. Celestiq will be equipped with GM’s Ultra Cruise self-driving system. Building on the current Super Cruise system (that debuted in CT6) that allows hands-free driving on more than 200,000 miles of divided highways, Ultra Cruise will expand that capability to 2 million miles of highway and secondary roads.

“Celestiq continues the 120-year Cadillac history of leveraging the most advanced automotive technology in the service of luxury,” said development engineer Ken Althouse.

Inside Celestiq’s quiet blue interior, passengers will sit beneath a four-zone smart glass roof that utilizes “suspended particle device technology” so each passenger can control the amount of outside light they receive. If the quiet gets too eerie, then the pilot can dial up Cadillac-curated propulsion sounds while driving.

The bejeweled rotary screen controller on the 2024 Cadillac Celestiq EV.

The interior will be bathed in ambient light (18 different lighting animations are on offer) complementing the car’s rich materials, jewel-like rotary screen controller, 41-speaker sound system, and enormous 55-inch screen that stretches from A-pillar to A-pillar.

The screen houses two separate displays under a single pane of glass — the passenger-side display enabling media-play, Internet capability, smartphone connectivity and more. Screens are governed by a Google Built-In operating system. Rear passengers get their own 12.6-inch, seatback-mounted displays.

Celestiqs will roll out of GM’s Warren Global Technical Center beginning in December of next year — the first production vehicle made there — thanks to an $81 million investment.

“Cadillac’s brand legacy was forged with hand-building the most advanced vehicles of their era,” said Roma. “We are returning to that tradition with Celestiq, creating a piece of automotive art.”

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