Henry Payne Blog

Cartoon: CDC Vaccine Masks

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2021

Cartoon: Tlaib Defund Israel

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2021

Payne: Audi RS6 Avant, station wagon from the gods

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 14, 2021

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

The 2021 Audi RS6 Avant is not that wagon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Navigate to Hell, Michigan.

Audi: Hale?

Me: No, Hell.

Audi: Hell Ranch?

Me: Close enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2021 Audi RS6 Avant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 Audi RS6 Avant

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

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

Powerplant: 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8

Power: 591 horsepower, 590 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed, dual-clutch automatic

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

Weight: 4,960 pounds

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

Report card

Highs: Ferocious acceleration; all-wheel-steer handling

Lows: Poorly organized console; six-figure price tag

Overall: 4 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 10, 2021

Cartoon: Biden Vaccine Mask

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 10, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 7, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 7, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 6, 2021

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Posted by Talbot Payne on May 6, 2021

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

Posted by Talbot Payne on May 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make that triangles and rectangles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2022 Hyundai Tucson 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report card

Highs: Daring exterior; spare, high-tech interior

Lows: No volume knob; no FWD option for hybrid

Overall: 4 stars

Cartoon: Biden Congress Vaccines

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 29, 2021

Payne: Put yer feet up in the bold, cavernous Kia Carnival minivan

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 29, 2021

The new Kia Carnival minivan wants you to know that it’s good looking. It’s a minivan thing, I get it. Minivans are insecure next to their high-riding, muscular SUV peers. So Carnival has raided its hot Telluride and Sorento siblings’ closets to outfit itself with a big grille, boxy stance and bold wheel arches. Nice.

The 2022 Kia Carnival gets dynamic styling to contrast with rounder, less-bold designs from other Asian competitors.

But I want to talk about the awesome Barcaloungers inside.

Because, like pickups and their beds, cavernous interiors make minivans unique. Carnival, embrace your minivan-ness! Your roomy interior blows away SUVs. Reputations are made in the minivan circus with second-row seat tricks (Chrysler’s Stow ‘n’ Go, Honda’s magic sliding seat), and Kia has something to say.

Behold the “VIP Lounge chair” — two of them — available on the top, SX Prestige trim. Prestige will set you back $47,00 but will trump the back seat of a $100,000 Audi A8L. Check out these thrones.

I pressed the rear door handle button and the sliding door — open sesame! — receded automatically. Try that in your Audi. Then I slipped my 6’5” frame into an ocean of caramel leather, my elbows resting on twin armrests. With the push of a button, the chair began to flatten like my grandfather’s living room chair. An ottoman popped up under my legs. The seat back went … All. The. Way. Back.

The 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige trim offers fancy Barcaloungers for the second row.

If there were kids in the third row, they would have been flattened.

OK, so that may be a problem in families with four kids. I can hear the rear seat wars now (I still remember my backseat battles with my sister, and we didn’t have Barcaloungers to fight over). No wonder Kia options Carnival with a rear-seat camera so Mom and Dad can keep an eye on things. As a helpful distraction for the kiddies, Netflix can be streamed in the rear seat screens.

Standard on Carnival is a second-row bench seat that is clever in its own right. The middle section will slide forward so front passengers can attend to, say, a car-seated child. Or the middle seat can be converted into a table. That’s minivan cool right there.

The 2022 Kia Carnival SX Prestige features second-row recliners with arms and foot rest. Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne kicks back.

Cool seats. Roomy interior. Bold exterior (Ford Flex fans in withdrawal, this is your vehicle.). So how does it stack up to King Pacifica, the reigning master of the minivan segment?

Carnival is handsome, and it’s got to be, in a segment Pacifica redefined. The Chrysler is one of my Top Ten vehicles, a comprehensive piece of automotive genius from its sculpted exterior (recently updated to look more SUV-like) to its innovative interior.

The Carnival may have VIP lounge seats, but the Pacifica’s interior tour de force includes a vacuum cleaner, kick-open sliding doors, sliding console drawer, and the ability to bury both rear rows under the floor (Carnival manages only the third row) or remove the second row entirely.

After spending time in the back of a Pacifica a few years ago, the first-grade child of a Tesla owner said to me: “Mr. Payne, this car is better than my dad’s Model S!”

Pacifica just keeps piling on the goodies, and for 2021 now options all-wheel drive and a plug-in hybrid with 30 miles of range for local commutes. For all this bling, the Pacifica is still a remarkable value. Where Kia traditionally dominates Detroit manufacturers in value (price a Telluride next to a Ford Explorer sometime), Pacifica is neck-and-neck with Carnival pricing.

The posh interior of the 2022 Kia Carnival includes an option for caramel leather seats.

Indeed, it’s Chrysler that brings the segment’s value player with the under-$30,000 Voyager minivan — essentially a last-gen-styled Pacifica that undercuts Carnival by two grand. Rock on, Motown.

Features aside, however, Carnival will turn heads for the brand’s bulletproof reputation. Think #1 on JD Power’s 2021 three-year U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. That, and the eye-grabbing 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty. That reliability is gold for families whose western road trips (guilty as charged) are built around their vehicles. And I’ve been asked more than once about Chrysler’s basement-level quality ratings.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne reclines in the 2022 Kia Carnival's econd-row recliners. A console camera keeps an eye on him.

Pleasing looks aside, the Carnival also takes a page from the V-6-powered Pacifica’s playbook in tech and drivetrain. The infotainment system is superb, with lots of clever touches. The turn signal triggers a camera that shows your blind spot in the instrument display. A microphone enables communication to the distant third row. And the display is upgradable to a sweeping all-digital screen that brings to mind a Merc.

Under the hood is a good ol’ reliable V-6 that puts out a healthy 290 horses and can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Ultimately, the Carnival will be compared against its Telluride sibling, which is the pride of the Kia litter. A loaded Telluride SX with Prestige package — Nappa leather seats, head-up display, sultry headlights — costs about the same as my Carnival Prestige tester.

The 2022 Kia Carnival's V6 tows 3,500 pounds while boasting 290 horsepower.

But the Telluride won’t let you recline in Barcalounger comfort. Minivan, take a bow.

2022 Kia Carnival

Vehicle type: Front engine, front-wheel-drive, seven-passenger minivan

Price: $33,275, including $1,175 destination fee ($42,770 SX and $47,770 SX Prestige models as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter V-6

Power: 290 horsepower, 262 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver); towing capacity, 3.500 pounds

Weight: 4,727 pounds (SX Prestige as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 19 city/26 highway/22 combined

Report card

Highs: Interior dexterity; one word — Barcaloungers

Lows: No all-wheel-drive option; awesome Barcaloungers may cause backseat kid wars

Overall: 3 stars

Cartoon: Biden CDC Guidelines

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 29, 2021

Payne: Jeep Wrangler 4xe a mean Green machine

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 29, 2021

Green cars are a snore. Electrified cars are, well, electrifying.

That’s the difference Tesla figured out with Ludicrous mode Model S sedans that could blow away Hellcats at Woodward stoplights. Sports cars like the Acura NSX and Ferrari SF90 Stradale have figured it out, too. And now it’s the plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler 4xe’s turn to show off how electrification can make better toys.

The Wrangler is just a big kid’s Tonka toy. I mean, just look at it.

Goggle eyes, oversized tires, plastic fenders, roll bar and removable doors, for goodness’ sake. Built on a rock-hard ladder frame, the Wrangler’s most capable model — Rubicon — can climb over just about anything, thanks to a suite of goodies: a low-speed 4×4 transfer case, locking differentials, decoupled sway bar. And when they get bored with that toybox, Wrangler owners go buy more accessories like snorkels, lights, skeleton doors, monster tires.

The 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon adds the thrills of electrification - regen braking, quick acceleration - while not sacrificing its rugged off-road capabilities.

No surprise, then, Jeep’s elves are offering an electric motor for more giggles. In my experience, there are few more passionate owners than the Jeep and Tesla nations. Gather members of either tribe and they’ll talk in their own language for hours.

Electrifying the Wrangler will open Jeep owners’ eyes to what Tesla geeks have been wowing about. Let me count the ways.

After an overnight charge in downtown Austin, Texas, my 2022 Jeep 4xe woke up and thought it was a Model S. I poked Electric mode (Hybrid and E-Save also available, more on that later) on the left dash, then Regen on the center console and plied the Lone Star state’s capital city Tesla-style.

The interior of the 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Sahara gets leather seats to go with rugged 4x4 transfer case.

Fully charged, the 17.3-kWh lithium ion battery under the rear seat will get you 21 miles, while Regen enables one pedal driving. The regeneration toy is something pure-EV owners (this author included) have come to love, but the Jeep 4xe brings it to the hybrid realm as well.

I one-pedaled around Austin, easing into lights by taking my foot off the accelerator and letting electric motor resistance do the braking. It’s fun. It saves on brake pad wear. Jeep Nation will love it.

Or save your 21 electric miles for the Outback. Select E-Save mode and Wrangler 4xe will bank your battery charge for when you want it — say, at Holly Oaks north of Clarkston, or Ink’s Ranch outside Austin.

With five miles of battery left on the Jeep 4xe, I toggled E-Save mode as I crossed Austin’s Colorado River and headed south for Ink’s. As I learned, however, you have to be REALLY diligent about banking electrons because the Wrangler 4xe’s ample torque encourages bad behavior.

After a rest stop, I merged with authority into traffic, the Wrangler throwing its mane back like Secretariat down the home stretch. FOOM! I left traffic behind. The combination of 2.0-liter turbo-4 and electric motor means 375 horsepower and relentless low-end torque — 470 pound-feet total. That’s the biggest number in the Wrangler family, including the stump-pulling diesel.

Zero-60 flies by in just six seconds, better than anything this side of the Wrangler 392 (which is stuffed, ahem, with the same 6.4-liter V-8 as a Dodge Challenger).

The acceleration is addictive — especially in 4×4 High with all four hooves clawing the pavement — and I torched Texas stoplights and passing lanes all morning. But all that aggression is also not possible without accessing the battery — so I also burned off the five miles of banked charge. Dang it.

With extreme front and rear departure angles, the 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon can go just about anywhere.

In the wide-open spaces of Texas, this would be cause for concern in a Tesla — or any other all-electric vehicle. Wide open throttle sucks precious electrons and reduces range, a concern when charging infrastructure thins beyond metro areas.

That’s an advantage of Wrangler’s plug-in drivetrain. With the gas engine, fuel infrastructure is always nearby so I could exercise my lead foot free of range anxiety.

That’s a lesson for the Green Church, now running Washington, D.C., which insists on an absolutist, zero-sin — er, emissions — future. Plug-ins are much more convenient. Let consumers decide.

The downside is that carrying two drivetrains around ain’t cheap.

My Wrangler 4xe Sahara-trimmed tester cost a hefty $56,380 ($49,490 standard) — a cool 10 grand north of a comparable gas-powered model. Add another $1,000 to equip your garage with a 240-volt charger, and going green requires a lot of green.

To blunt the premium, D.C. pols are handing out $7,500 tax credits to the swells that can afford these expensive toys. Seriously? Another benefit that Tesla Nation has enjoyed.

The electrified fun continues off-road.

Entering Ink’s Ranch 63 miles south of Austin with no range anxiety worries and 300 miles of range still on the gas tank, I tackled some of the Southwest’s best rock-crawling landscapes.

The 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe can get about 21 miles on a charge (if you keep acceleration steady) before the gas engine kicks in.

Electric-only off-roading is a hoot. I jumped from the 4xe Sahara into a $62,415 4xe Rubicon (about the price of a Tesla Model 3 Performance) that had been juiced up on a DC fast charger. It’s part of the “Jeep 4xe Charging Network” of 240-volt chargers at off-road trails around the U.S. A full charge will take 2.5 hours — much less for just a few miles.

Jeep plans two charging stalls at each location (not the eight Tesla Nation is used to), so you might have to wait a bit if Jeep sells a lot of 4xes.

Rubicon’s rock-crawling ability is legendary (Jeep Nation: Dude, have you followed a Pink Jeep Tour around Sedona, Arizona’s red rocks? Awesome!) and electrification adds to the experience.

Like a stealthy predator, I crawled silently through Ink’s brush, streams and rocks. Off-road parks are Jeep Nation social time, and the quiet powertrain will help you hear fellow Jeepsters as they call out navigation instructions for insane cracks, cliffs and quarries.

“Keep right! OK, straight ahead! Go back! More throttle!”

Whether you are in full-electric mode or hybrid mode, the electric motor’s torque is instant. And the battery is unfazed by the elements. Not only did I navigate streams and flooded gulches in 4xe, but I did it under black skies that rained buckets.

Like a bathtub toy, Wrangler’s electronics are good in up to 30 inches of water. Not sure I’d try that in my Tesla. Off-road durability? Something Tesla Nation could learn from Jeep Nation.

2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe 

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

Price: $49,490, including 1,495 destination fee ($56,380 Sahara model and $62,415 Rubicon as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbo-4 cylinder mated to an electric motor and 17.3 kWh lithium ion battery

Power: 375 horsepower, 470 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.0 seconds (mfr.); towing capacity, 3,500 pounds

Weight: 5,222 pounds (Rubicon as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 20 mpg combined (18.7 mpg as tested); range: 370 miles

Report card

Highs: Cool EV features like regen, battery-only mode; insane off-road capability

Lows: Gets pricey; EV learning curve

Overall: 4 stars

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Posted by Talbot Payne on April 28, 2021

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