Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: Gas Stove Police

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 25, 2023

Cartoon: All Purpose Corvette

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 24, 2023

Cartoon: NHL Discrimination

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 20, 2023

Cartoon: New York No Gas

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 20, 2023

Payne: Nissan Ariya EV turns over a new Leaf with silky style

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 20, 2023

Farmington Hills — Like the Kardashians on a budget, Nissan is a value brand with a taste for high fashion. Go to a Nissan dealership to buy a $25K Sentra loaded with standard goodies — auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto — but be sure to wander over to the $45K Murano Platinum SUV and ogle its sculpted grille and quilted albino leather seats.

The brand’s new electric vehicle, the Ariya, is of the latter stylish persuasion.

Draped in bronze, my $45K tester should be strutting down a posh Paris runway, not an uneven Detroit street. Its lines are toned, sculpted. A blackened roof floats above its copper physique. Chic. Check out the shard-like spokes on the 19-inch wheels, also dipped in bronze. Like Mrs. Payne negotiating grated city streets in high heels, I’m careful I don’t stumble into a Michigan pothole.

Step inside and Nissan wants to whisk you away to a club lounge. The unique cabin evokes a five-piece furniture set: four leather seats around a table. The console moves with the touch of a button so that different body types (I’m tall, my wife a foot shorter) can adjust the furniture to best operate the automatic shifter. There’s even a drawer in the dash for storage.

Haptic-controlled, colored climate controls are set into the lush wood of the tabletop — er, dash. The landscape is interrupted by a single knob — for volume.

It took me back to my 2014 Detroit News Vehicle of the Year, the Cadillac CTS, that tried similar bleeding-edge e-controls. They were controversial and ultimately abandoned — but the Ariya advances the art with a light touch to activate. Not so the console buttons.

Located aft of the shifter, Drive Mode, Self-Park and e-Step selectors all require a deliberate push to engage. Nissan assumes you won’t be accessing them often — and it wants you to look at them, not casually punch at them as you might climate control.

The stylish console of the 2023 Nissan Ariya with cube-sized shifter and haptic button controls.

As for the blocky shifter, it’s the only raised item on the console face. Like a TV controller sitting on a side table, it makes the device go. This simple elegance sits under the most conventional feature in Ariya’s cockpit — a single screen that contains twin 12.3-inch instrument and infotainment displays familiar to other EVs like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 or BMW iX.

Ariya’s flowing architecture is distinctive. In the age of EVs, drivetrains are all similar. Same lithium ion battery, same electric motors, same instant torque. Smooth? Yes. Quiet? Yes, but how do you create brand separation?

That’s a challenge for BMW, whose silky-smooth inline-6 cylinder engines separated it from the proles. But with an e-motor making a Nissan as smooth as a Bimmer (uh-oh), the Bavarian brand has resorted to piping into the cabin wild electronic sounds to set it apart. Think hard rock guitar versus a Japanese flute.

The copper, shard-like wheels of the 2023 Nissan Ariya complement the car's copper skin.

For Nissan, the serene EV experience is the whole point. As is the exterior — a much more pleasing symphony of lines compared to Bimmer’s in-your-face kidney grille. Ariya’s serenity dovetails with the exterior’s smooth, soaring lines and the interior’s comfortable furniture.

I put my foot into the Ariya through Oakland County’s lake country, but this isn’t a vehicle that wants to be flogged. It’s a warmblood horse aimed at the dressage competition, not a thoroughbred vying for the Kentucky Derby crown.

To this end, Ariya is technically proficient, performing its duties with poise. Cruising a crowded parking lot for a space, I pressed the SELF-PARK button for perpendicular parking. An arrow pointed at an open space as I passed. I stopped the car, put it in reverse and Ariya did the rest. Unlike competitors, however, Ariya won’t extract itself from the space — either perpendicular or parallel.

The instrument indicator shows the charge times required of the 2023 Nissan Ariya.

More comprehensive is Ariya’s self-driving ambition.

So nerdy is Nissan about this sci-fi stuff that it debuted an ad campaign touting its semi-autonomous moves along with the launch of Rogue One, the Star Wars prequel. But Rogue’s adaptive cruise system was a novice compared to Ariya’s semi-autonomous Skywalker.

Cruising along I-696, I toggled adaptive cruise and a green wheel appeared. After a few miles that changed to a blue wheel — the symbol of hands-free driving as I’ve grown used to with my Tesla Model 3’s Autopilot. While Tesla requires torque on the wheel so the system knows you’re present, the Nissan only needs a touch. As a result, the car is easy to self-drive for miles.

My brief time in the Ariya around Metro Detroit didn’t offer me the chance to see how routinely I can access the Blue Wheel mode — but I’ll do a more comprehensive road trip in the future.

A longer road trip will also allow me the chance to explore Nissan’s trip navigation software. Presently, Tesla is miles ahead of the industry with its dedicated charger network and parallel navigation system. Other automakers — Ford, for example — have been making strides in integrating their navigation systems with third-party networks from Electrify America, EVgo and Shell

I asked Ariya to navigate to, say, Charlevoix, Michigan (a common Payne family destination), and the system only responded with a direct route devoid of chargers. Ariya apparently assumes you’ll plan a route using a phone app. That won’t impress cross-shoppers with the Ford Mustang Mach-E or Tesla Model Y.

Speaking of cross-shoppers, Nissan realistically assumes that Ariya’s competitive set is other EVs like Mach-E and VW ID.4 and Kia EV-6 and so on. My $51K Engage AWD tester comes in 10 grand north of a loaded Nissan Roque Platinum. A comparable AWD Ariya Platinum will sticker for $20K north of its Rogue peer.

The stylish $44K 2023 Ariya is a big step up from Nissan's first EV, the $29K Leaf, at right.

This is quite a change from Nissan’s initial strategy when it pioneered the EV market 13 years ago with the nerdy-looking Leaf. Even with healthy government incentives, Leaf hasn’t caught on with budget-minded customers. With Ariya, Nissan seems determined to erase memories of Leaf with its more dashing Ariya sibling.

These are two vehicles that shop at different clothing stores — Leaf at Walmart and Ariiya at Nordstrom. Ariya has even rejected Leaf’s signature center-hood charging port for a right-side charger door.

For all the noise about governments mandating EV-only sales in just seven years, Ariya and its EV peers are aimed at premium niche buyers who appreciate its grace — and excellent taste in furniture. And those buyers will also have a Pathfinder or Murano in the garage for long-distance family adventures.

Next week: 2023 Honda Pilot

 2023 Nissan Ariya

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

Price: $44,485, including $1,295 destination fee ($45,180 Engage FWD as tested)

Powerplant: 63-87 kWh lithium-ion battery with single or dual electric motors

Power: 214-238 horsepower, 221 pound-feet torque (FWD); 389 horsepower, 442 pound-feet torque (AWD)

Transmission: Single-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.9-7.2 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 115 mph

Weight: 4,700 pounds est. (FWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 98-103 MPGe; range, 214-304 miles (214 miles as tested)

Report card

Highs: Easy on the eyes; high-tech, fashionable interior

Lows: Navigate-to-chargers a work in progress; haptic touch controls not for everyone

Overall: 3 stars

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

Cartoon: Got MLK

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2023

Cartoon: Biden Garage Classified

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 16, 2023

Cartoon: Buttigieg FAA Chaos

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 13, 2023

Payne: Muddin’ in the Ford F-150 Lightning EV

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 12, 2023

Holly Oaks — It’s only fitting that the last vehicle I tested in 2022 was a Ford F-150 Lightning at Holly Oaks ORV Park on New Year’s Eve.

Lightning was the talk of the pickup world in 2022 as the first volume electric vehicle — beating to market its Detroit Three competitors and the Tesla Cybertruck. Like the love child of a Tesla and F-series, Lightning strikes with instant, stealthy torque while offering a frunk the size of a Manhattan apartment. It comes with all the shortcomings of range anxiety, too. From pricing to towing to charging, Lightning helped us evolve our understanding of electric vehicles’ place in the world.

Pickups are Swiss Army knives, and I had the opportunity to test the Lightning’s tools throughout the year. I drove the base $45,284 Pro model in Texas ranch country in May, then its top-drawer $94,004 Platinum edition on a road trip up north in October. The last challenge? Off-roading. So I headed to Holly Oaks in a mid-range, Avalanche White $86,199 XLT on the last day of the year.

My road-trip experience taught me that Lightning is best-suited for metropolitan truck duty.

Charging is a chore on third-party charging networks. More significantly, Lightning drinks electrons when towing — getting just 30% of range when hauling 5,000 pounds, according to TFLTruck.com tests. That means the long-range 320-mile model may not make it the 120 miles between, say, Electrify America fast chargers on I-75. And even if you get to a charger, a truck ‘n’ trailer may not fit the space.

The handsome interior of the 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV.

Holly Oaks is an off-road park gem for many reasons — including that it’s just 50 miles north of Detroit, making for easy access to the state’s biggest urban population.

In May, I described Lightning as “fast, affordable and frunk-adelic.” Scratch affordable. Ford’s base Pro went from $39,974 to $55,974 by year’s end — a 40% price hike and about $22,000 north of its gas counterpart. Like most EVs, Lightning is aimed at luxury buyers. I still think it’s the coolest EV this side of Tesla.

My XLT tester starts at $65,269, but the long-range 320-mile battery adds a whopping $17,500 for a starting sticker of $82,769. When I headed north to Holly on a cold, wet 40-degree Dec. 31, I thought I might need every bit of it. EV battery range is a moving target.

The night before a trip to Holly Oaks for some off-roading, the F-150 Lightning XLT is charged to its full range of more than 300 miles.

Using my home 240-volt charger, I filled the Lightning XLT to 316 miles overnight, then headed out for morning exercise at my local athletic club. A seven-mile round-trip later and my range indicated 290 miles. What?

The range suck would continue on my 34-mile trip to Holly Oaks. At 75 mph in the rain, I took 67 miles off the battery. Still, this variability isn’t much concern within Metro Detroit’s 300-mile radius. Fast-charging stations abound and the Ford’s navigation system is quite good at locating them. It filters chargers by type, and I located an EVgo charger on my route (Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills) should it be needed.

Range in an EV can be tricky as vehicles try to predict range based on use case. Driving up I-75 at 75 mph the 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning got just 50% of predicted range.

Of course, gas trucks have no such worries given their superior energy efficiency, but once you’ve figured out an EV’s radius, the driving experience is superb.

The Lightning has a ridiculous standard 775 pound-feet of torque (horsepower increases to 580 from 452 with the extended battery), and driving is effortless. The Ford overtook on the highway like, well, Lightning — ZOT! — with a jab of my right foot.

The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV puts out a whopping 775 pound-feet of torque, which is good for flinging mud off-road.

The rest of the time I sailed along on adaptive cruise control (which centers the truck in lane while maintaining a gap from cars ahead) in luxury — listening to Sirius XM while cloth seats cradled my big frame. Luxury is a relevant term in Ford trucks, and a similarly-priced Limited gas model would land me in posh blue-leather seats with Blue Cruise self-driving capability.

I met a couple of Jeep Wrangler 392 Rubicon buddies at Holly Oaks. Rain had turned Holly’s 176 acres into a pigpen and they were licking their chops at the challenge. Their steeds were armed for off-road battle with 37-inch all-terrain tires, skid plates and 13-inch ground clearance. I would have to be more circumspect with the Lightning’s more casual wardrobe: 33-inch all-season tires, no skid plates, 8.4-inch ground clearance.

The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV plays with a Jeep Gladiator with 37-inch Recon package for off-roading.

Expect more from the Lightning Tremor that is surely coming, but I still had fun without chasing my mates up 40-degree inclines or through rock-barbed trenches. Using a modified version of F-150’s tough ladder frame (batteries snugged between between the rails), Lightning was plenty competent over Holly’s heaving terrain. I selected OFF-ROAD mode, which locked the rear differential for better traction.

Lightning clawed up Mt. Magna’s Potato Salad Hill — the 8.4-inch ground clearance (the same as a Bronco Sport) proving useful. It navigated tight Darlene’s Ridge with easy torque. And on sandy flats, it made for a willing four-wheel-drift partner (though I couldn’t turn all the nanny systems off).

Got mud? The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV after a day at Holy Oaks ORV Park.

Like tracking my Tesla Model 3, off-roading is hell on range. Nine miles around M1 Concourse’s test track (six laps on the 1.5-mile course) in the Tesla sucks 50 miles of range. My seven-mile, two-hour Holly adventure took 70 miles off the Ford’s battery. That’s some serious electron-guzzling.

With 151 miles of range, a mud-caked pickup and a smile as wide as Lightning’s signature front LED light, I headed home. Along the way, I topped up on electrons at that EVgo station. My experience with third-party fast chargers has been, um, spotty, and EVgo would be no different.

Located in the front of Great Lakes’ mammoth parking lot, the stalls were cramped (no room for trailers here). Two of the four chargers were 350-volt capable and I plugged in. It didn’t work.

The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning EV charges at EVgo Great Lakes Crossing next to a GMC Hummer EV.

The second 350-volt charger was more welcoming, and I gained 75 miles in 20 minutes (a long way from a gas F-150’s 400 mile fill-up in 3 minutes) while I made a DQ run inside the mall. When I returned, a Hummer EV was alongside and successfully sipping from the other 350-volt charger.

The last leg of my journey brought one more surprise. At 70 mph, Lightning took just 27 miles off the battery over 36 miles as the onboard Intelligent Range software tried to predict range according to the day’s wide variety of driving styles.

The 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning comes with a 5.5-foot bed.

EVs are complicated. But if you drive locally and have deep pockets, Lightning is a treat.

2023 Ford F-150 Lightning

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

Price: $57,669, including $1,695 destination fee ($86,199 XLT big battery as tested)

Powerplant: 98 kWh or 131 kWh lithium-ion battery with twin electric-motor drive

Power: 452 horsepower (standard battery) or 580 horsepower (extended-range battery); 775 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Single-speed drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.5 seconds for extended battery (mfr. as tested); payload, 2,235 pounds; towing, 10,000 pounds

Weight: 6,015-6,813 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA MPGe 68 MPGe standard range battery, 70 MPGe long range; range, 230 miles (standard), 320 miles (extended)

Report card

Highs: Looks sharp, go-anywhere toughness

Lows: Range limited, gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

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

Cartoon: Biden Glass House Classified Documents

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 12, 2023

Cartoon: House Handover Pelosi to McCarthy

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 10, 2023

Cartoon: Public School Remask

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 10, 2023

Cartoon: Senator Stabenow Retires

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 6, 2023

Cartoon: QB McCarthy Huddle

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 6, 2023

Payne: Mercedes’ personality split, electric EQE and gas C300

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 6, 2023

Detroit — The luxury segment is in the midst of a massive identity crisis. Startup automakers Tesla and Rivian have done giant cannonballs into the country club pool, turning over the lawn chairs and turning the heads of swells from their establishment dates. Oh my, who are those handsome young hardbodies?

The establishment has responded with a rush to the wardrobe department. BMW has emerged with kidneys the size of the Fox Theatre marquee. Cadillac is going all-electric behind grilles with more lights than a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. GMC bench-pressed a 9,000-pound Hummer pickup. And Volvo birthed a whole new EV brand called Polestar. Phew.

The grand dame of them all, Mercedes, however, just doubled down on making more of its outrageously elegant jewelry.

For 2023 Mercedes has rolled out the electric EQE and the mild-hybrid, internal combustion engine-powered C300. They flaunt similar interiors that are best in luxe — lovely layouts updated for the electronics revolution sweeping the industry. But while the interiors remind that the German maker is autodom’s best tailor, the exoskeletons indicate the different drivetrains behind the signature three-star logo on each grille.

Mercedes envisions different customers for my EV and ICE testers. The EQE is a smartphone on wheels; the C300 bristles with animal aggression to match its engine’s growl.

The 2022 Mercedes C300 4MATIC competes in the compact sedan segment.

Following the Mercedes brand’s six-figure halo EQS, the EQE debuts Mercedes’ electric look in the mid-size sedan class for the eye-watering standard price of $75,950. That’s $20K north of the gas-fired E-class, and Merc doesn’t even pretend that the pair are competitors.

On its website, Mercedes separates EVs into a separate “Electrics” category, indicating the EQE’s desire to compete against vehicles like the Tesla Model 3 and BMW i4.

“I think this is the most compelling competitor to Tesla,” said my 30-year-old son Sam after negotiating a tight turning radius with the Merc’s four-wheel-steer feature.

Sure, Tesla wows with its “Summon” feature — but is it as practical as Merc’s steering function?

The infotainment screen in the 2023 Mercedes EQE 350 4MATIC is housed in a bezeled tablet that sweeps up toward the dash.

From 4WS to auto-lane-changing, EQE goes head-on against Tesla’s signature sci-fi tech while maintaining its reputation for elegance. The interior’s centerpiece is a gorgeous 12.3-inch console screen housed in a silver-framed tablet that rolls up the dash like a wave. A 17.7-inch-wide Hyperscreen — which dominates the dash with a separate 12.3-inch screen for the passenger — is also available, but the standard screen is plenty. The screen runs on Merc’s latest MBUX software and the graphics are mesmerizing, the response instant, its ergonomics superb (flipping through radio channels, for example).

“Hey, Mercedes” I barked and the vehicle intently took down directions. It’s good, if not on par with Tesla/Google Maps. Happily for customers who prefer their phone, Android or Apple phones can take over the screen via wireless, smartphone apps.

The benefit of Merc’s native navigation system is its use of EQE’s head-up display (a feature not available on Teslas) to full effect. The massive display projects detailed directions in the driver’s line of sight. Though Mercedes’ driver-assistance system is shy of Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise in capability, it will entertain you on your journey with features like auto lane change. The interior is the anti-Tesla with lush materials, ambient lighting and beautifully detailed instruments throughout.

The interior of the 2023 Mercedes EQE 350 4MATIC is simpler than its gas counterparts (like the exterior), but features similar screens and MBUX operating system.

Heading downtown to the Fisher Theatre, I pulled the console stalk into DRIVE, then set adaptive cruise control on the steering wheel. EQE glided along like a magic carpet with whisper-quiet, buttery-smooth acceleration. My phone charged in the center console on a wireless pad.

I barely drove the car — just keeping my hand on the wheel to assure the system that I was awake.  Occasionally, I flicked the turn signals for automatic passes when balked by slower traffic. Mercedes complements this laptop-on-wheels experience with an exterior design that looks like a giant computer mouse.

Though punctuated by a big three-star logo in front, the design feels generic — a contrast to the unique bling-tastic interior.

You'll know the 2022 Mercedes C300 4MATIC is gas-powered by its big rear exhaust pipes.

For those who ache for exterior drama, the C300 delivers.

The compact Merc sat on its rear-wheel-drive haunches in my driveway. Long snout sniffing the turf. Big grille, meaty jowls. A predator waiting to pounce.  It’s a dramatically different statement than the Giant Mouse.

Enthusiasts will blanche at the turbo-4 drivetrain (a $60K jewel with a similar engine to a Volkswagen GTI? Really?) but at least Merc massages it with the latest goodies. A mild-hybrid, 48-volt battery provides low-end torque until the turbos kick in. Speaking of kicking in, I punched the Mode selector to SPORT + and the C300 did a credible launch control, complete with engine growl that warmed my heart. For all its instant electric torque, the EQE can’t inspire that emotion.

As with the EQE, allow me to recommend the C300’s all-wheel drive for Michigan winters.

The posh interior of the 2022 Mercedes C300 4MATIC includes leather seats and panoramic roof.

The C300’s real revelation is an interior on par with the sci-fi EQE. Even the rear seats are reasonably roomy despite that long hood and gas-powered engine in front. The same MBUX infotainment system is here, and it’s just as impressive in a compact cabin as in a mid-sizer.

The Mercs suffer from that old German habit of over-engineering. Rather than put simple, efficient scroll wheels on the steering wheel for adaptive cruise (see the intuitive GMC Yukon Denali I was testing at the same time) and volume controls, Merc insists on smartphone-like swipe technology that is hit or miss — especially when you’re at speed.

The high-tech head-up display in the 2022 Mercedes C300 4MATIC even shows a detailed navigation map.

You could spend weeks in the Mercedes exploring their electronic goo-gaws. But the bottom line of this review of siblings is the bottom line.

The E300 delivers a similar buttery-smooth drivetrain (including identical 5.3-second, 0-60 mph acceleration) and interior experience to the buttery-smooth EQE EV for $30,000 less. Not to mention all the inherent travel advantages of a gas car versus an EV. In sync with its impressive navigation software, EQE can identify charging stations on the way to your long-distance destination. But the E300 will get you there more quickly with America’s ubiquitous gasoline infrastructure.

Impressively, Mercedes doesn’t break stride in offering these two electrified gems. Compare them to, say, BMW electric-vehicle creations like the i3 hybrid and iX EV — polarizing vehicles that challenge customer loyalty. Whether you’re a new or longtime customer, Merc’s 2023 models display a brand very comfortable with its identity.

Next week: Taking the Ford F-150 Lightning off-road

2022 Mercedes C300 4MATIC

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

Price: $46,600, including $1,050 destination fee ($63,440 AMG Line as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo-4 cylinder with 48-volt mild-hybrid assist

Power:  255 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.3 seconds (Car and Driver). Top speed, 130 mph

Weight: 3,957 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 23 mpg city/33 highway/27 combined

Report card

Highs: Modern, lovely interior; sexy exterior

Lows: Over-engineered controls; 4-banger doesn’t match luxury wardrobe

Overall: 3 stars

2023 Mercedes EQE 350 4MATIC

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

Price: $78,950, including $1,150 destination fee ($93,840 as tested)

Powerplant: 90.6 kWh lithium-ion battery with dual-electric motors

Power: 288 horsepower, 564 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Single-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 130 mph

Weight: 5,488 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA MPGe 97 (est.); range, 300 miles (est.)

Report card

Highs: Modern, lovely interior; all-wheel-steer maneuverability

Lows: Generic exterior; gets pricey

Overall: 3 stars

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

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Posted by Talbot Payne on January 4, 2023

Cartoon: US Press Suppress

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 4, 2023

Cartoon: New Years 2023

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 30, 2022

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Posted by Talbot Payne on December 30, 2022

Cartoon: FBI Freezes Free Speech

Posted by Talbot Payne on December 29, 2022