Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: January 6th Witness and Secret Service

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 30, 2022

Cartoon: $6 Gas versus January 6th

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 30, 2022

Payne: Ford Bronco Everglades conquers Drummond Island

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 30, 2022

Drummond Island — So this week I’m chewing up Drummond Island’s labyrinth of soggy off-road trails in a Ford Bronco Everglades. It’s the latest in a stream of Bronco trims aimed at conquering every corner of God’s green earth.

First there was the base Bronco optioned with ginormous 35-inch Sasquatch trim tires and dual-locking diffs so you could commute via the Rouge River bed to work.

Then came Bronco Badlands with detachable front sway bar and rock-resistant armored plating so you could climb Mount Rushmore.

Next up: the Bronco Raptor with ridiculous live-valve Fox shocks so you can avoid L.A. traffic and take a shortcut through the desert at 75 mph.

What’s next? Maybe Bronco Sleeping Bear Dunes so you run a shuttle up and down the world’s most formidable sand dunes?

Or the Bronco Moon so astronauts have something to drive through the Sea of Tranquility?

My latest, $54,595 Everglades tester fills a nice off-roader’s niche between the Black Diamond trim and the purist’s Badlands.

Narrower than the 86-inch-wide Bronco Raptor, the 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades crawls through Drummond Island's narrow tree trails.

Built on the same bones as Black Diamond — five skid plates, rock rails, seven GOAT (Go Over Any Terrain) modes, standard 35-inch tires — Everglades then adds more standard features for customers who want an extreme off-roader without having to dig deep into the Badlands toolbox and assemble accessories themselves.

Significant Everglades upgrades include WARN winch, engine intake snorkel, plastic bumpers and roof rails. Dude, you’re ready to chase Star Wars’ speeder bikes through the forests of Endor.

But let me recommend Drummond Island. It’s closer.

The 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades heads to Drummond Island via quick ferry ride.

Just five hours up I-75 from Detroit, cross the mighty Mackinac Bridge, then hook a right and go to the east end of the U.P. Hop the ferry and five minutes later you’re on Drummond, the seventh largest lake isle in the world — and the only island in the Manitoulin island chain that belongs to the USA (the rest of the archipelago is Canadian).

Once aboard Drummond, I joined a convoy of Everglades and headed to the island’s eastern forests. Drummond’s 134 square miles is covered by 100 miles of off-road trails — one of the largest closed-loop ORV parks in the United States. And for some reason, the trails are wet all the time, which is perfect for a vehicles named Everglades sporting a snorkel.

Bronco engineers Seth Goslawski and Jamie Groves played Lewis and Clark and guided us through the labyrinth. Let me recommend downloading the GAIA GPS app if you come here with your own groups of trailblazers — it provides good trail guidance. Here’s another tip: bring waders.

Take the 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades to wet Drummond Island and you might want waders. Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne did.

Swampy Mounds ORV park in Flint is the only park I’ve found comparable to Drummond, but the latter is much bigger and combines swamp with spectacular views of Lake Huron.

I shifted Everglades to Neutral. Spun the GOAT mode selector to Mud/Ruts putting me in 4WD High. Shifted back to DRIVE. Punched it.

With the 35-inch Goodyear Territory tires aired down to 33 PSI (from 40) the beast romped happily thought the woods. Splashed through puddles. Danced over rocks. Sliced between trees.

This ain’t the 75-mph desert running I did in the Bronco Raptor earlier this month.

Stuck? Get out the 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades' winch.

Everglades doesn’t have Raptors’ 418 horse, twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 beast under the hood. Heck, the 87.5-inch wide Raptor wouldn’t have fit through some of the tight Drummond trails, which were apparently cut by years of Jeep Wrangler and side-by-side owners. Nor is Everglades optioned with the 2.7-liter, 330-horse V-6 available on the Badlands buffet. For the Everglades’ simplified menu of options, the standard 300 horse, 2.3-liter turbo-4 is enough.

Ford’s logic? With that 100-pound winch hanging off the front bumper, the 2.3 saves 100 pounds from the V-6 for good weight balance. Which makes sense when you’re front end starts sinking in Drummond mud and needs to power out. This is the same peppy engine found in the Mustang High Performance model.

To guard against water damage while fording nearly 40 inches of water, the 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades' 300-horse, 2.3-liter turbo-4 engine is fed by an air intake snorkel.

A spirited run through the forest suddenly opened into a beautiful beach, Lake Huron’s crystal-clear water lapping at the stones. Sprayed with mud, our Everglades Broncos were equipped with washable vinyl seats and drain plugs so you can hose down the interior.

They are also equipped with Rock Crawl, which would come in handy for our next trail: Drummond’s famed Marblehead Steps.

The 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades comes with a 35-inch Goodyear Territory spare. Just in case.

Shift to Neutral. Spin GOAT to Rock Crawl mode, enabling 4-LOW for extreme rock crawling. Engage both front and rear lockers for max traction. Time to climb.

This is where the Badlands and Raptor editions excel, thanks to detachable front sway bars allowing their craft to walk up steps like a horse. Without the detachable sway bar option, Everglades is less deft, but that’s where its truck-like rock rails prove their worth.

GRONK! The rails landed on a marble step. ROWWWRRRR! Deft use of the accelerator pedal spun the rear end around, allowing for better grip. RROOOMP! The beast was on to the next step. We gathered around to help each other up the steps. Coaching. Directing. Congratulating.

The steps reward their visitors with a spectacular cliff view of the lake. Freighters dotted the horizon, and beyond that, Cockburn Island, the next step in the archipelago.

At the Marble Steps on Drummond Island, the 2022 Ford Bronco Everglades gets a cliff view of Lake Huron.

At this point, I felt like Superman. Is there nothing this Bronc can’t do? I started playing with other electronic toys on Everglades. Trail-turn assist, which brakes the inside wheel to enable quicker rotation on tight trails. One pedal-drive, which allowed me to drive Everglades like the electric Mustang Mach-E.

And my favorite: Trail Control to manage the car’s speed feet-free. Traversing an 800-foot stream bed — 30-inches deep in water — I used only my left hand on the steering wheel’s cruise button.

Then we were on back on our way. The beauty of Bronco and its independent front suspension, of course, is that it makes a good commuter as well as off-road driver. And so we headed back to the ferry at the end of our day. But does the Bronco really need to take a ferry back to the mainland?

How about an amphibious trim so the Bronco can swim across Huron? Maybe they’ll call it the Bronco Mackinac.

2022 Ford Bronco Everglades

Vehicle type: Four-wheel-drive, five-passenger SUV

Price: $54,595, including $1,595 destination fee

Powerplant: 2.3-liter turbo-4 cylinder

Power: 300 horsepower (with premium gas), 325 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver); towing capacity, 3,500 pounds

Weight: 5,220 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 17 city/18 highway/18 combined

Report card

Highs: Well-equipped for off-roading; washable interior

Lows: Plan on doing a lot of washing; pricey

Overall: 4 stars

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

Payne: Cadillac brings bling to the EV race with the Lyriq, the anti-Tesla

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 28, 2022

Park City, Utah — Inevitably, every Dream Cruise season, someone sidles up to me, points at a passing, bling-plated 1950s Eldorado shouldering aside Woodward traffic and says:

“Why doesn’t Cadillac make cars like that anymore?”

Say hello to my bling-tastic 2023 Lyriq tester, the first all-electric Caddy. I mean, just look at it. Chiseled bod right off a designer’s sketchbook draped over huge 22-inch pinwheels. Under the single-panel panoramic roof, a 33-inch screen arches across the front cabin. Below the screen, a royal blue-lined sunglasses drawer rolls out of the dash like a palace carpet … greeting a floating center console as long as the Queen Mary’s bow. The console comes equipped with a silver-crusted rotary dial and knurled cupholders that should hold wine glasses, not cups.

I adjusted my front throne with chromed, door-mounted seat avatars protruding from real ash wood, then stomped the accelerator pedal with my size 15s. The 5,610-pound sled surged forward with liquid-smooth power.

Yes, Cadillac is making cars like that again.

Actually, it never stopped, as owners of the magnificent Escalade land yacht know. But Escalade was an outlier, a properly-named land yacht out of place in an alphanumeric soup of CTs, XTs and Vs. Though flawed (more on that later), Lyriq signals that ol’ Cadillac swagger will be standard across the lineup as General Motors Co.’s iconic luxury brand transitions to electric vehicles.

Startup ingenuity led by Silicon Valley electric automakers Tesla, Lucid and Rivian has stirred interest in a new generation of luxury automobiles powered by batteries and giant screens, and it turns out Cadillac is perfectly suited for the new electric wave.

This is a brand, after all, that made its mark innovating technical advances like the electric starter and automatic transmission while introducing the world to jet-age design. That’s not to discount the athletic advances Caddy made in the last two decades chasing German rivals with weapons like the ATS-V and CT5 Blackwing. But the EV lets Cadillac be Cadillac.

If the austere Tesla Model 3 is an Apple smartphone on wheels, then the exotic Cadillac Lyriq is a rolling jewelry box. The anti-Tesla.

To make sure I noticed that Escalade style now rules The House of Caddy, my Lyriq was wrapped in more lights than a Trans Siberian Orchestra show. Spot a Lyriq in your rear-view at night and it looks like you’re being followed by the Fox Theatre marquee. Vertical headlights frame a faux Cadillac shield of white light. When the Lyriq slips past, the rear vertically-lit marquee recedes into the distance.

Cadillac is understandably targeting the Lyriq at young, techy Gen X and Yers, but I think Lyriq will naturally draw boomers, too. The older we are, the more sensitive we get to noise — even my Porsche-racing, flat-6-obsessed father wanted a break from the world’s cacophony when he reached his 60s — and Lyriq is a silent sanctuary.

Yes, Cadillac makes cars like that again. Driving along Utah Route 138 south of Salt Lake, wind noise was nonexistent (in contrast to the noisy Hummer EV’s A-pillar) a testimony to extensive sound-deadening, four wheel-well-mounted accelerometers, noise-canceling speakers and, of course, that electric drivetrain.

Even the sunglasses drawer is lined with blue cloth.

Rolling jewelry boxes exact a cost in weight. Lyriq’s nearly three tons of mass is 1,200 pounds more than a Model Y and just 500 pounds shy of an Escalade.

Where Eldorado once growled like the king of beasts, the Lyriq’s stealthy power was welcome on Park City roads. I performed repeated 0-60 launches to test the 325 pound-feet of torque from Lyriq’s Tesla Model S-sized, 102-kWh battery — which would have awakened every officer in the surrounding county if it had been a V-8.

Complementing stealth with tech, the Caddy struts its technical know-how with innovations like one-pedal driving, steering-paddle regenerative braking and rear aerofoil that channels air over the rear window — enabling a wiper-less design that clears rain and snow. Years of know-how gained from going toe-to-toe with the German Trinity are apparent. Despite its girth, the Lyriq’s low center of gravity and sophisticated shocks made for neutral handling in Utah’s mountain twisties. Surely there’s a Lyriq V-series Backwing in the wings?

With a gem so polished, imperfections stand out.

The 2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV sits on an 800-volt Ultium battery platform with 102 kWh battery.

Cadillac’s signature cut-and-sew dashboard has been replaced by — imposter! — a vellum material right out of a Ford Explorer. And Lyriq lacks a front trunk like Tesla or Mustang Mach-E. Indeed, despite its skateboard construction and a wheelbase nearly 10 inches longer than the comparably priced gas-powered XT5 SUV, the Lyriq’s cargo and seating capacities are similar. A head-up display — technology pioneered by General Motors — is not available on 2023 models. Blame a rush program to get Lyriq to market nine months ahead of schedule.

Cadillac’s 800-volt Ultium battery platform promises quick charge rates on 350 kW fast chargers, but its capability’s been dialed back to 190 kilowatts (unlike, say, Porsche’s 800-volt system. which charges to 270 kW) so you only get 187 miles of charge in 40 minutes as opposed to a Taycan’s 169 in 22 minutes. For quick stops around town, the Caddy will gain 76 miles in 10 minutes.

I plotted a trip from Park City to Denver, and charging would have added 4.5 hours to the eight-hour trip. Better to stay close to home, as I figure most Lyriq owners will do with 312 miles of battery range (versus an XT5’s road trip-friendly 462 miles of gas range).

The Lyriq does not have a frunk cavity like the Tesla Model Y or the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

Lyriq’s range will also get you the 250 miles from Ann Arbor to, say, your Glen Arbor summer cottage Up North. A suggestion: take advantage of Cadillac’s $1,500 offer for home charger installation and put it in your second home.

That trip will be made easier later this year when Lyriq gets an over-the-air update to Super Cruise update, the semi-autonomous system competitive with Tesla’s Autopilot. That’s right, my $62,990 rear-wheel-drive tester ($64,990 with all-wheel-drive) comes standard with Super Cruise as well as Google Maps, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, 19-speaker AKG stereo system, blind-spot assist and a Windows-like configurable screen start bar.

That’s a lot of bling on a luxury SUV priced just $7K north of the $55,725 Hyundai Ioniq 5 — and well below the $75,440 you’d pay for a comparable Model Y with its $6,000 Autopilot system.

The interior of the 2023 Cadillac Lyriq EV sits under a single-pane, panoramic glass roof with 33-inch screen and floating console wrapped in leather. Oddly, the dash is not cut-and-sewn leather but is a soft vinyl material.

That leaves behind other midsize lux contenders like the Audi e-Tron and BMW i-4, which lack the technical ambition of Lyriq/Tesla.

The question mark is Cadillac’s ambition. A decade ago, Caddy beat the Model 3 to market with the gorgeous, compact ELR plug-in. But it was overpriced and under-sold. Then GM followed up with the electric Bolt — but badged it a Chevy, not a Caddy.

Lyriq is just a start, but it’s got Papa Eldorado’s DNA.

2023 Cadillac Lyriq

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

Price: $62,990 including $1,195 destination fee for RWD model; $64,990 for AWD

Powerplant: 102 kWh lithium-ion battery with rear electric-motor drive

Power: 340 horsepower, 325 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Single-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5-6 seconds (mfr., AWD-RWD); top speed, 118 mph

Weight: 5,610 pounds (RWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA MPGe NA; range, 312 miles

Report card

Highs: Lovely cabin; road presence

Lows: Cheap dash material; no frunk or head-up display

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 June 28, 2022

Cartoon: Supremes Versus Democrats Liberties

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 25, 2022

Cartoon: Fauci Gets Covid

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2022

Cartoon: Broadway Mandates lift

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2022

Payne: Kia Sportage Hybrid is a fancy family widget

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 23, 2022

Charlevoix — The new 2023 Kia Sportage isn’t so much a car as it is a Universal Studios theme park attraction: an affordable look at the latest auto technology that you can do with the whole family: huge screens, semi-autonomous driving, red leather, hybrid-electric power.

My Matte Gray (yes, Matte Gray in a $38,000, non-luxe car) tester looks like it was sketched by a Hollywood designer.

The front is all grille, chrome accents and LED light bars — the headlights pushed to the very edges of the fascia. It’s a stark contrast with the previous-generation Sportage and its anthropomorphic features. The ‘22 Sportage was a cutie, its big eyes and happy mouth — er, grille — seemingly inspired by Pikachu from the Pokemon family. The new Sportage looks like something from the Tron movies.

The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid is a compact SUV that grows in size and tech for its latest-gen model.

“Is that from the future?” my neighbor John commented as I rolled past his driveway on my way Up North for a long Memorial Day road trip to enjoy the Kia’s featured attractions.

While it must conform to the traditional layout of four-door SUV, Sportage challenges styling convention. Sister Hyundai has done the same with its angular Tucson ute, which is built on the same platform as Sportage. The Kia’s rear is nearly as intriguing as the front with a wedding cake construction that separates rear window, taillights, license plate panel and diffuser into four planes. The whole sculpture sits under a fashionable floating-roof design.

For all its design ambition, however, my Sportage tester was quite practical. It sat on high-profile, 18-inch wheels with a useful, Wrangler-like 8.3 inches of ground clearance should I encounter a typical Up North dirt road.

The long drive up I-75, however, was anything but typical.

The Sportage has the best semi-autonomous system this side of Caddy’s Super Cruise and Tesla’s Autopilot. I’m not making this up. Like Super Cruise (and unlike Autopilot) the system has no interest in nannying me all the time.

Using the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid's excellent drive-assist system, Detroit News Auto Critic Henry Payne drove hands-free most of the trip up I-75 to Charlevoix.

Unlike those sophisticated systems, Kia doesn’t give its adaptive cruise feature a fancy name and it won’t self-navigate to your destination (so it won’t automatically switch lanes in the process). Otherwise, it allowed me to relax, assume a chair-like seating position (hands on my knees) — only reaching for the steering column when another car got in the way.

The radar brick in the front grille read cars in front of me, slowing down from my set speed of 79 mph as I approached. Assuming the controls, I turned on the blinker, drove around them, then settled back into hands-free driving. The cameras kept the car centered, even in long interstate curves. While Tesla’s Autopilot nannies me every 30 seconds to apply torque to the wheel (making sure I’m paying attention), the Kia system left me alone, rarely asking me to affirm my presence.

A brief rainstorm through Flint didn’t faze the system. Over the Zilwaukee Bridge, Sportage was a rock, following the lane beautifully. A pair of full-size pickups — in a hurry to get up I-75 — roared into view behind me, swerving across lanes and passing traffic. Suddenly alongside, they cut in front of me and into the left lane. The Kia braked quickly as the Ram cut across its bow — testing the emergency braking system — then continued on its way as the pickups disappeared into the distance. Impressive.

As the Sportage drove itself, I had the chance to make phone calls, save my favorite radio stations, marvel at the interior. The modern cabin is on par with the Sportage’s sci-fi exterior and cutting-edge adaptive cruise control.

The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you can best navigate to your destination. It's not wireless, though.

A huge, hoodless curved screen stretches across the dash like — well, a Mercedes. It houses two digital 12.5-inch screens — one for instrumentation, the other for infotainment — that are graphically impressive and configurable. Amid all this electronic wizardry, Sportage is still curiously a generation behind its peers in not offering wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Happily, there was ample console space to plug in my phone for navigating my journey. The Kia native system was no match for the smartphone’s voice and navigation abilities.

The handsome gloss-black center console is full of clever ideas. To minimize buttons, the infotainment and climate controls alternately access the same middle console screen for adjusting, say, volume or heat. Kudos to the first member of your family who figures out this little Easter egg without first consulting the glovebox manual.

Love that curved screen. The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid also features a clever console with rotary dials, adjustable cupholders/storage, and a phone charger.

Speaking of buttons, the starter, rotary shifter and rotary mode controller are all neatly aligned like the sun, moon and earth in a solar eclipse.

Console cupholders are multi-functional. Taking a page from Honda — whose Civic and Pilot consoles are engineering gems — the Kia’s cupholder rims can be hidden at the touch of a button, turning the space into bigger storage for a box of fries or a small purse. I made good use of the space while downing a fast-food meal on my trip.

All of this was wrapped in red leather under a panoramic sunroof that I usually see in, well, a Mercedes (or Mazda CX-50, another mainstream vehicles with upscale ambitions like Kia).

Who needs an $80k Merc? At $38k, the  Kia Sportage Hybrid gets lux amenities like a red leather interior and curved digital screen.

Again, this in a $38,000 automobile.

Speaking of family, there is lots of room for second-row passengers. Sportage boasts excellent rear legroom, courtesy of a wheelbase stretched by 3.4 inches over that last-gen, and I could tilt the seatback farther to allow myself more headroom.

How does it drive, you ask?

So high-tech is Sportage that I almost forgot the hybrid drivetrain, which went about its duties in workman-like way. The hybrid marries a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-banger with a single electric motor for a healthy 226 horses. It made good acceleration out of stoplights, but when it came to tackling the twisties on my favorite M-32 west of Gaylord, the Kia wasn’t interested. It’s no Mazda CX-5.

The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid offers good fuel mileage to counter rising gas prices.

The hybrid drivetrain is new to Sportage (there is also a plug-in model available with 32 miles of battery-only range) and claims a combined 38 mpg with all-wheel drive — a big jump over the non-hybrid’s 28 mpg. That’s welcome news as I passed by gas price signs of $4.51 (soon to rise above $5).

But in my week of driving, the Sportage hybrid returned a much more modest figure of 29 mpg. Oh well. That’s a rare miss in a vehicle that otherwise exceeds all expectations for the average family ute.

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid

Price: $28,585, including $1,215 destination fee ($38,000 Hybrid SX-Prestige AWD as tested)

Powerplant: 1.6-liter turbocharged inline four mated to twin electric motors and 1.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack

Power: 227 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

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

Weight: 3,896 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: 38 city/38 highway/38 combined; range, 521 miles

Report card

Highs: High-tech features; comfortable interior

Lows: Polarizing looks; fuel economy came up well short of 38 mpg

Overall: 4 stars

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

Cartoon: Canceled Flights, Buttigieg

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 20, 2022

Payne: The fearless, peerless Ford Bronco Raptor is an off-road beast

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 20, 2022

Johnson Valley, California — Sixty miles north of Palm Springs, Johnson Valley is synonymous with Ultra4 racing — America’s most demanding off-road competition. Every February, 75,000 people descend on this 96,000-acre desert pasture to watch insane, all-wheel-drive 1,000-horsepower dune buggies on ‘roids vie for the King of the Hammers crown over high-speed flats, mountain passes and extreme rock-choked trails.

Incredibly, this alien landscape is also the natural habitat of the Ford Bronco Raptor.

Like tackling Road Atlanta — one of America’s greatest race tracks — last July in a production Porsche 911 GT3, I assaulted the Hammers course with a production Bronco Raptor. In extreme 116-degree temperatures, Raptor not only survived — it thrived.

Ford’s latest performance beast is part of an emerging breed of super-trucks — SUVs and pickups built on ladder frames — that can take on the most challenging off-road adventures just as supercars have taken on asphalt race tracks for years.

And like the Porsche GT3 supercar, Bronco Raptor is the new standard for super-trucks. Not the most powerful, not the most expensive, but the most versatile. Taking the Bronco’s basic goodness and then weaponizing it with premium shocks, tires and turbo-V6, there are few places where Raptor won’t go — just like the Ultra4 racers that inspired it.

With my lead foot planted on the floor, I tore across the desert floor at 75 mph. Wearing ginormous 37-inch BFGoodrich tires aired down to 24 PSI and live-valve Fox shocks, the Raptor absorbed ruts, whoops and moguls. Tearing into a left-hand sweeper, I stabbed the brake — the Scandinavian flick on sand! — like a rally-racer, swinging the rear end out so I could power thorough the turn, sending up plumes in my wake.

I’ve done this before in the F-150 Raptor, the first super-truck that redefined off-road performance. With a nearly identical suspension, width and big tires, I reached speeds beyond 100 mph in the Borrego Springs desert in 2016. Some Hammer hot shoes in Johnson Valley told me the Bronco Raptor can run in triple-digits too, but F-150 Raptor does it more confidently thanks to its longer wheelbase.

Important to Raptor’s athleticism is an independent front suspension, a major departure from the off-road model pioneered by the Jeep Wrangler, Bronco’s arch-rival. Like F1’s Hamilton and Verstappen, it’s almost impossible to have a conversation about Bronco without talking Wrangler too.

Learning from F-150, Bronc’s independent front suspension allows pilots to assault punishing terrain without having their limbs shake off. What elevates Bronco Raptor over Big Brother, however, is that it can transition from high-speed flats to rock crawling in an instant. Like a Bronco Badlands. Or Wrangler Rubicon.

I’m a speed freak, but the Raptor’s rock-crawling prowess is truly extraordinary. As I contemplated the rocky inclines of the Hammers course, my jaw dropped. We’re going up that?

The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor shows off its underbody armor for rock crawling.

“Yeah, we raced this at Hammers,” said Ultra4 racer Brian, who works for Driven Experience, a firm that specializes in off-road insanity. “The Ultra4 trucks will do this at about three times the speed of the Bronco Raptor — 7-10 mph — and we need to make sure there are multiple routes for when Ultra4s break down. You know, from broken driveshafts, flat tires, flipping upside down.”

My steed suffered no maladies. It simply crawled up the boulders like some sort of mechanical spider. The same Foxes and Goodriches who had launched me across the Means Dry Lake bed carried me over boulders.

But what about that independent front? Off-road purists will note that Jeep’s solid front axle allows greater suspension travel across uneven ground. But Raptor — mindful not to throw the Bronco out with the bathwater — makes up the difference with the 37s and ridiculous 13-inch front (14-inch rear) suspension travel (for comparison, an Ultra-4 racer sports 20 inches).

The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor comes only in a four-door, hard-top configuration.

GRONCH! Rock-crawling is a social sport, and a spotter motioned for me to back up when I got stranded on a frame rail. Shift back into Drive. Change a tool. Change your line.

Love those tools … Raptor comes equipped with every trick in the Outback book: front-locker, rear-locker, detachable front swaybar, multiple camera views, Trail-turn assist, One-pedal drive, AWD low, AWD high. All are accessed with a simple push of an electronic button, different from the more analog Wrangler.

Where Bronco lags Jeep is in the engine compartment. I pined for the Wrangler’s 392-cube V-8 whenever I punched the Ford across the desert. Now that’s the sound of a predator. The Raptor’s turbo-6? More a bark than a roar.

Bronco’s’ state-of-the-art tech transfers to daily commutes as well since, naturally, few need commute over the San Bernardino Mountains to work. Despite its enormous tires (not to mention doors ‘n’ roof that come off for when you want to get closer to nature) Bronco Raptor was surprisingly compliant around town with little cabin noise and a smooth ride.

The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor's twin-turbo V-6 engine spits out 418 horsepower.

That daily comfort is also a big benefit over F-150 Raptor, which is like owning a pet whale — and the inconveniences that come with it. Despite its smaller size, the Bronco Raptor still has F-150 Raptor-like presence with its bulging fenders, F-O-R-D grille stamp, wide stance and cartoonish 37-inch spare out back (so big that engineers had to change the rear architecture to accommodate it).

Raptor is roomy inside — which us tall guys particularly appreciate. I could fit under the rollbar with a helmet on (unlike, say, in a Porsche 911), and I never bounced off the roof even when bouncing along the desert at 75 mph.

Love those 37s. The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor shows off its BFGoodrich off-road tires.

Naturally, Ford knows that many who can afford this comprehensive $70K off-road weapon want premium trim. My tester included swish blue leather seats with felt inserts. La-di-dah. Let me recommend the standard washable vinyl seats with rubberized flooring for when you get this thing dirty — which should be often.

As I tell my supercar friends: if you don’t track it, you have no idea of its capabilities. Ditto Raptor owners.

Michigan offers plenty of opportunity to push the off-road envelope — whether at Silver Lake in west Michigan or Holly Oaks and Flint ORV parks up I-75. Like skiing, however, the big hills are out west.

The 2023 Ford Bronco Raptor comes in a washable, vinyl interior (recommended for off-road use) or this posh leather and suede option.

So when you get your Bronco Raptor, put Johnson Valley on your bucket list. It’s the ute’s home away from home.

2022 Ford Bronco Raptor

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

Price: $70,095, including $1,595 destination fee ($72,700 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6

Power: 418 horsepower, 440 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, (mfr.); towing capacity, 4,500 pounds

Weight: 5,731 pounds

Fuel economy: 15 city/16 highway/15 combined; range, 312 miles

Report card

Highs: Insane off-road bandwidth; easy-to-use tools

Lows: No V-8; width could be tight fit in garage

Overall: 4 stars

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

Cartoon: Buck Stops Putin

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 20, 2022

Payne: Super-charged, Super Cruise, super-ute Cadillac Escalade-V is Hulk on wheels

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 16, 2022

Scottsdale, Arizona — The Cadillac Escalade-V’s specs seem like something out of a Marvel comics creative session: Big as Hulk, seats seven, built on a steel truck frame, cruises on autopilot — yet accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, dances on Corvette-inspired magnetic shocks, and stops on a dime with Brembo brakes the size of Captain America’s shield. Superhero stuff.

Oh, but it’s very real.

Like Hulk in that desert tank scene, I bounded across Arizona’s Tonto Basin northeast of Phoenix gulping miles of Route 188 real estate. ROARRRRRR! went the 682-horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 as I took high-speed corners like a locomotive on rails. HUUUUHHH? went my brain wondering how this was possible in a 6,407-pound, three-row SUV that could comfortably transport the Phoenix Suns’ starting five plus standout sixth-man Cam Johnson.

The Escalade has been Cadillac’s halo vehicle for 23 years, setting the brand’s tone in style, design and notoriety. But adopting the V-series performance badge for 2023, Escalade-V takes its ambitions to another level: a halo vehicle for all SUVs. Forget your Merc G-wagons and Bimmer X7s. This super-ute represents the industry’s pinnacle in performance, design, comfort, driving-assist tech and just plain ol’ visceral fun.

Let me count the ways.

Power. At the heart of the Escalade-V is the same nuclear power plant that motivates the 662-horsepower Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing that I hammered around Pittsburgh International Racing Complex last fall. Only the Escalade-V, ahem, increases the Blackwing’s output by another 20 ponies, thanks to the 2.65-liter supercharger ripped off the Corvette ZR-1 (the CT5-V’s supercharger merely gulps 1.7 liters of air).

My Marvel comic imagination thought that kind of power (and heat management) would require a hood scoop the size of my front door to manage, but no. The sheet metal changes are subtle, with larger “grillettes” on the fascia’s flanks and chin feeding air to the beast within.

Not so subtle are the four quad exhausts out back that burp at start-up like Hulk digesting an ox and a side of grenades. WAAWWRHGHH! Chief engineer Mike Symons and his devious minions were determined that the V have an assertive voice. The voice grows more pronounced in V-mode (the same selectable mode as the Blackwing, and a close cousin to Corvette’s Z-mode), complete with popping exhaust backwash when you let off the throttle.

The heart of the beast. The AWD 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V features a longitudinally-mounted, supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 engine under the hood that makes 683 horsepower. It's similar to the powerplant found in the CT5-V Blackwing.

At a rural intersection, I engaged Launch Control. Yes, Launch Control in a three-row SUV. Flatten the brake with my left foot, flatten the accelerator with my right. Release the brake, release the Kraken.

The monster erupted off the line, slinging rapid upshifts on its way past 60 mph in 4.5 seconds (the shorter wheelbase model will get you there a tenth quicker, says Symons).

Driver assist. After breaking every window in Gila County with a few more launches, I settled into a long, comfortable drive on Arizona-87, a divided four-lane perfect for Super Cruise, GM’s state-of-the-art driver-assist system. I recently self-drove an Escalade Diesel home largely hands-free on I-75.

Route 87 was similarly effortless, while its climbing hills and downhill switchbacks added a degree of complexity not present on pancake-flat I-75. Super Cruise kept an eye on me to make sure I was paying attention (the green light on the steering wheel turns red if it thinks I’m inattentive for too long) but otherwise let me relax in the driver’s seat — hands in my lap like it was a Barcalounger.

The 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V comes with Super Cruise, the industry's best-performing hands-free drive assist system.

Super Cruise smoothly passed slower truck traffic — automatically engaging the turn signal — without breaking stride (unlike the Mercedes EQS I recently drove that runs up on a slower car’s rear bumper before passing), then respectfully moved back in the right lane.

Encountering sharp curves along the route, Escalade-V slowed to 65 before resuming my set speed of 75. Only on curves would the big ute balk at passing, preferring that I give the OK by tugging the left turn signal for an automatic pass.

Tech ‘n’ utility. Confidence in Super Cruise’s abilities allowed me to interface with the cutting-edge interior. Big screens are all the rage these days, and Caddy puts up a big number — 36 inches (to match the 36-speaker AKG sound system) — of curved display. With three screens in one, it manages multiple functions, including head-up display, wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, Sirius XM, massaging seats, and the rear jacuzzi (kidding about that last one).

An independent rear suspension (IRS) means more footwell for third-row passengers to enjoy the ride under a cabin-length panoramic sunroof. And since those seats are in another ZIP code, a microphone (accessed via a button on the steering wheel) allows the front row to communicate with the third. Hey, kids, where do you want to stop for dinner?

The Escalade’s sinister looks (get it in black) and 7,000-pound towing capability make it an excellent race-car hauler, and V comes in an extended wheelbase version (for an extra three grand) so you have more storage room behind the third row for helmets and gear.

The ride is buttery smooth, and IRS means no crow hop when you have to maneuver through tight parking lots.

The instrument cluster in the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V offers multiple views -- including a full camera for Augmented Reality Mode when navigating. The screen shows you where to turn on the road.

Naturally, 682 horses means you can break up long Super Cruise stretches by putting on Superman’s cape. As a particularly long, curvy stretch of AZ-87 loomed, I tapped the V-mode button behind the monostable shifter. Oh, joy.

The shocks stiffened, the steering tightened and the 10-speed tranny shifted down a gear to access all 653 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 RPM. BOOOM! Hulk was off again, its massive body crouched another half-inch for a lower center of gravity.

Cadillac may be experimenting with a new age of battery power, but it was the Escalade that dominated the brand’s fan activation zone at the Detroit Grand Prix.

For quick family trips with a glorious V-8 soundtrack, the Escalade-V will tow up to 7,000 pounds.

Like race cars on track, Escalade-V is a technology showcase that allows even a mega-ute to defy physics like a Marvel superhero, while providing 380 miles of range in a cabin as comfortable as the passengers’ living room. That basket-full of goodies will ring the cash register at a $152,990 — about the price of a tank of gas — when V goes on sale later this summer. That’s on par with the Mercedes G-Wagen and three-row Range Rover Autobiography.

Yet the Caddy is bigger, faster, more high-tech. The V in Escalade-V is for Valhalla.

2023 Cadillac Escalade-V

Vehicle type: All-wheel-drive, seven-passenger performance SUV

Price: $149,990, including $1,795 destination charge ($152,990 long wheelbase model as tested)

Powerplant: Supercharged 6.2-liter pushrod V-8

Power: 682 horsepower, 653 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 10-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.4 seconds (mfr. short wheelbase, 4.5-seconds long wheelbase as tested); towing capacity, 7,000 pounds

Weight: 6,407 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 12 mpg city/17 highway/14 combined

Report card

Highs: Glorious V-8 soundtrack, serene, high-tech interior

Lows: drinks fuel; pricey

Overall: 4 stars

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

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Posted by Talbot Payne on June 15, 2022

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Payne: Encore! Encore! After a decade in the market, Buick’s segment-busting mini-SUV still shines

Posted by Talbot Payne on June 11, 2022

Stratford, Virginia — I’m a fan of minnows. Affordable, fun entry-level subcompacts. The versatile Honda Fit hatchback. The Mazda Miata sportscar. I still weep for the loss of the Ford Fiesta ST funbox.

Allow me to add another unsung candidate, the $25,795 Buick Encore.

On a recent road trip to Stratford, Virginia — marinated in U.S. history, from George Washington’s birthplace to the Lee family home — Mrs. Payne and I rented a compact vehicle from Hertz. “Anything in Aisle Two” said the attendant. And there amongst the usual Corollas and Sentra sedans was Buick’s premium entry-level SUV.

I was quickly reminded just how good this wee ute is.

With its fold-flat front seat — a cool, rare feature shared by the Fit and GM sibling Chevy Trax — the Encore and I bonded years ago. With a stiff leg after knee surgery, I sat in back and flattened the front seat for use as an ottoman. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. On my weekend trip to Stratford, I also used the feature from the back seat, stretching out my stork legs, writing on a laptop. Or just stretching out when I needed a break on the road.

A unique feature, but this SUV is best known for pioneering the small SUV category. In 2012, Encore led the way and Ute Nation followed in breaking the sport utility mold of mid-size family carrier. The Buick introduced the idea that crossovers could populate every segment, including subcompacts.

Every automaker now offers something in the space, from the Hyundai Kona to the Honda HR-V to the Mazda CX-30.

But Encore’s move was unheard of for a sleepy, geriatric brand that was limping along on sedan sales. Overnight, Encore reset the Buick brand and paved the way for a “That’s a Buick?” lineup that now includes delightful SUVs like the Encore GX, Enclave and Envision.

At just 25 grand, my base Encore rental was not only ergonomically efficient — it was fun.

Its cute face and trim bod is irresistible. Like every subcompact I’ve every driven, the short wheelbase is a hoot to drive — instantly provoking rebuke from my long-suffering wife to “SLOW DOWN!” on our trip from Reagan National Airport down Routes 301 and 205 through Virginia’s Northern Neck.

Mrs. Payne and Encore had bonded quickly at the airport when she hooked up her iPhone to Apple CarPlay and navigated to our rural destination. Like the blob, the federal government grows bigger by the day, and D.C. is a nightmare to exit with its Beltway traffic and gridlocked suburbs.

Apple CarPlay artfully guided us to the best route — and a Chick-Fil-A lunch along the way.

So successful is Encore that it has already inspired a bigger sibling — the aforementioned Encore GX. With push-button start, a sippy 155-horse 4-banger and leatherette-and-cloth seats, my standard Encore is an affordable chariot. So relentless is technology, however, that this premium ute is already aging next to comparably priced mainstream vehicles.

Essential goo-gaws like blind-spot assist and adaptive cruise control are now standard on utes like the Mazda CX-30 or Kia Seltos. My Encore sported neither. To remain an icon in the segment it pioneered, Encore needs to get crackin’.

We headed to dinner — a 20-minute drive — with a friend who volunteered her minivan. But I was determined to show off Encore’s comfy rear seats and headroom. Heck, I’m a tall ex-basketball player and can sit behind myself in the Encore. Try that in any other subcompact. Or an Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

Virginia’s Northern Neck isn’t London streets — but its historic places are full of tight confines. The Encore — thanks to its rear-view camera-assist and short proportions — navigated tight spots and driveways easily. The undulating roads are a similar challenge, and I volunteered more than once to fetch groceries over the weekend just so I could explore them. The Encore is fun to flog and I would inevitably hook up with a local — in a Ford Mustang or Fusion — who knew the roads well and would enjoy a game of cat and mouse.

After my Northern Virginia adventures, I returned my four-wheeled companion to Reagan National and took a wrong turn into the rental lot. The only way out was a series of tight 180-degree turns. Piece of cake.

The rare negative I’ve heard about Encore is from my son’s fiancée. She rented one recently and complained of a lack of power. Understandable. Her daily driver? A VW Beetle Turbo stuffed with the Golf GTI’s 200-horse turbo engine.

Now there’s another great minnow.

2022 Buick Encore

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

Price: $25,795, including $1,195 destination fee for base model as tested

Powerplant: 1.4-liter turbocharged, inline-4 cylinder

Power: 155 horsepower, 177 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph 8.4 sec. (Car and Driver); range, 378 miles

Weight: 3,237 pounds (FWD as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. 24 mpg city/32 highway/27 combined (FWD as tested)

Report card

Highs: Easy on the eyes; easy on the legroom

Lows: More standard features, please

Overall: 3 stars

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