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Payne: L-yeah. Family-friendly Jeep Wagoneer L explores America’s frontier

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 13, 2022

Bridger, Montana — Out here in big sky country, the only things larger than the bison are pickup trucks and three-row SUVs. I pulled my 6,326-pound, 6-foot-6-inch Jeep Wagoner L off Route 86 next to a herd of bison grazing on the golden landscape behind a wire fence.

American bison, meet American SUV icon. The bison didn’t flinch. A rancher drove up next to my 2023 Jeep Wagoneer in his pickup.

“Howdy.”

“Howdy,” I replied. “I stopped to take some pictures. We don’t see many bison in Detroit.”

“No problem. Just stay this side of the fence . . . and the middle wire is hot.”

The 2023 Jeep Wagoneer L carries 6 comfortably for family road trips out west or Up North, or. . . .

Good to know. I’ve been to the corner of Montana/Wyoming many times, but my family visit to this stunning landscape in 2001 will always be the most memorable. We saw bison, elk, grizzlies, bald eagles, you name it. But we didn’t see any Wagoneers.

Jeep’s famed SUV brand had been extinct since 1991, only to return last year — remade and ready for battle against the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition. For its encore in 2023, Jeep has introduced the long-wheelbase version to compete against the Chevy Suburban and Expedition L.

As with bison and cattle, America’s vast interior are mega-SUVs’ natural habitat — the breed’s roomy seats, cargo space, high-tech interior and high seating perfect for long family road trips. At a whopping $87,000, my Wagoneer L is a lot more expensive than our ‘01 Hertz sedan family rental. But like a cruise ship to Alaska, it’s a first-class way to see Montana.

The letter M is for University of Montana, not Michigan. The 2023 Jeep Wagoneer L.

Since the original Wagoneer went away, the class has been dominated by GM’s quadfecta of Chevy Tahoe/Chevy Suburban/GMC Yukon/GMC Yukon XL. Both GM and Ford have evolved their mega-utes with mega-tech features. Crucially, both automakers have evolved these family vehicles beyond their pickup siblings with third-row seating plus independent rear suspensions to enhance ride quality.

A formidable class to break into, no? Wagoneer was born for this.

Along with its rich heritage (the Jeep brand is a global icon, which Wagoneer embraces with American flags tattooed on its flanks), Wagoneer is based on the Ram 1500, already acclaimed as the best-riding pickup in class, courtesy of its independent rear suspension.

6'5" Henry Payne could easily sit behind himself in the third row of the 2023 Jeep Wagoneer L.

The Wagoneer embraces this advantage by carving out a substantial third-row bench seat. I’m a 6-foot-5-inch ex-college basketball player and could sit behind myself in the second row. Easy headroom, easy legroom.

Pack up your family of four rugrats for a cross-country drive to Yellowstone and they’ll have plenty of real estate in back. You’ll have to set some rules so the kids can rotate seats. The second-row thrones offer Amazon Fire TV screens with all their favorite shows, for goodness’ sake.

The third row lacks screens but it’s hardly the basement. Each seat get its own USB port, a cubby that can hold small computer devices and (I love this) its own sunroof. So when the parents decide to close the panoramic roof, third-row coach-class passengers can still sun-worship if they choose.

Third-row occupants in the 2023 Jeep Wagoneer L get their own sunroof.

With this airline cabin of space, the cargo space in the standard Wagoneer could get tight. Thus the 2023 Wagoneer L. L for loooooong.

My tester added 7 inches of wheelbase and a foot of length to claim best-in-class, 44-cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row (up 16 cubic feet from the standard SUV). Like Suburban and Expedition MAX, Wagoneer L provides plenty of room for a family of six (and the rear two rows flatten, offering generous space when you need to move, say, a big-screen TV).

The blacked-out 2023 Jeep Wagoneer L Carbide trim is new for the brand.

Wagoneer L is supersized — but with its coveted seven-slot grille, sculpted bod and new, black-trimmed Carbide model, it has instant cred.

That cred attracts both mainstream and luxury buyers alike. For the lux buyer, Jeep offers the Grand Wagoneer (which I reviewed separately last year) wearing more bling than Beyoncé at the Grammys.

Wagoneer swaggers into the mainstream class with standard leather seats. With up to three all-digital dash screens, head-up display, best-in-class Uconnect 5 infotainment, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, handsome switchgear (including jewel-like rotary shifter and push-button starter) and optional air suspension, the Jeep is a joy to captain.

The palatial interior of the 2023 Jeep Wagoneer L can hold up to five screens.

For all its upscale tech, however, the Wagoneer Loooong can come up short.

Automakers like GM (Super Cruise) and Ford (Blue Cruise) these days are making long-distance driving easier with semi-autonomous systems. Once the domain of lux chariots like the Cadillac Escalade, they are now available in Suburban and Expedition models. Heck, I even drove a Kia Sportage — at $38K, half the cost of these mega-ute behemoths — hands-free from Gaylord to Detroit recently.

My $87K Wagoneer sported no such tech, its average, adaptive-cruise system offering only forward detection for a long highway journey.

The 2023 Jeep Wagoneer L can self-park - just be sure to use the brake. The system only steers automatically.

Though when you get to your hotel, Wagoneer offers parallel-and perpendicular self-park — one of my favorite features for big utes where the rear C-pillar is in another ZIP code. Modern applications — such as the system in say, the Ford Explorer I recently drove — are fully autonomous, meticulously braking and steering backwards into your designated parking space.

Wagoneer bought the bargain system off the shelf. Parallel parking in Bozeman, the steering wheel spun around in front of me, but I had to closely monitor the rear-view camera while braking into the parking spot lest I run over the VW Jetta behind me like a buffalo flattening a squirrel.

Wagoneer L makes a bigger investment in its all-new, twin-turbo, 3.0-liter, inline-6 Hurricane engine that boasts 420 horses and swallowed slower two-lane traffic on rural roads like a whale ingesting krill. Hurricane complements off-road capability that is the brand’s signature. Determined to play with its Wrangler and Trailhawk kin, L comes with multiple drive modes like ROCK and a transfer case so you can shift into four-low, hike the floor to 10 inches off the ground, and keep going when the asphalt ends.

The 2023 Jeep Wagoneer L's new 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 Hurricane engine makes 420 horsepower.

In the Rockies’ Crazy Mountain range, my crazy Wagoneer dodged cattle on dusty trials. Tell the kids to take a break from “Sonic the Hedgehog” on Fire TV and enjoy it.

They’ll also enjoy the ATVs you bring along — courtesy of the L’s 10,000 pound towing capacity — when you bring them back to Montana as teenagers. Just outside Yellowstone in Big Sky, you’ll find the formidable Buck Ridge trail that winds 15 miles to 9,000 feet for a breathtaking view of the mountains.

Park the Wagoneer, then charge up Buck Ridge’s scenic trails. And there’s no need to worry about crossing fences — or hot middle wires.

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

2023 Jeep Wagoneer L

Vehicle type: Front engine, rear and all-wheel-drive, six-or-seven-passenger SUV

Price: $67,495, including $2,000 destination fee ($81,455 Series II and $87,000 Carbide AWD models as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, twin-turbo, inline-6 cylinder

Power: 420 horsepower, 468 pound-feet torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, NA; towing, 9,850 lbs.

Weight: 6,326 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA est. mpg 17 city/24 highway/20 combined (RWD); 16 city/23 highway/19 combined (AWD)

Report card

Highs: Living room on wheels; healthy towing and AWD capability

Lows: Average self-park feature; no self-drive feature

Overall: 4 stars

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

Revealed: 2024 Chevy Trax gains style and features, drops price and a cylinder

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 12, 2022

Buying a new car is a difficult experience these days with inventory scarce and average sticker prices pushing $50,000. It’s tough to find a bargain. Chevrolet hopes to buck the trend with its all-new, 2024, entry-level Trax SUV.

The new model debuts at $21,4951 — nearly a grand less than the current model — while offering more room, more tech, more safety, more style.

Taking styling cues from bigger brothers Blazer and Trailblazer, Trax gets an extreme makeover on the exterior while also adding a Trailblazer-like ACTIV trim. A perennial segment cost leader, the new Trax addresses criticism that it has lacked room and technology features compared to competitors like Honda and Nissan.

The 2024 Chevrolet Trax is lower, wider and adds 6 inches to the vehicle's wheelbase for better interior room.

“The bold exterior and tech-forward interior design of the all-new Trax redefines what an entry-level vehicle can be,” said design chief Phil Zak. “It demonstrates that design doesn’t have to come at a premium.”

Reports of the Trax’s death after the 2022 model year proved premature. Trax continues as the brand’s entry vehicle in the preferred SUV segment, but Chevy also offers a starter Spark sedan at $14,595, one of the most affordable vehicles in autodom.

Along with the Buick Encore, Trax was a pioneer in the subcompact SUV segment in 2013, including a unique, flat-folding front seat that allowed passengers to use the entire length of the vehicle to carry oversize items like surfboards or lumber.

With its wheelbase stretched six inches longer than the outgoing model, the 2024 Trax gains significant interior room. Rear legroom grows by three inches — eclipsing the 37.7-inch rear legroom of the Honda HR-V, one of the segment’s roomiest rides. Cargo space increases by 12%, though it is still shy of the Honda.

The interior of the 2024 Chevrolet Trax is new with digital screens placed higher in the driver's view above a floating console. The look mirrors that of other Chevy vehicles like the Silverado and Blazer EV.

You get what you pay for, and Trax has traditionally undercut its rivals by skimping on standard equipment. The 2024 Trax won’t make adaptive cruise control standard, for example, while it is standard on the pricier HR-V and Mazda CX-30. But for the first time, the feature is available on Trax while the base LS model gains significant content.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for Google Maps navigation is now standard, as is push-button start and cruise control. Wireless smartphone apps have reduced the gap between mainstream and luxury cars, allowing riders to instantly transfer their phone’s navigation, contacts and text-messaging to their cars.

Other standard electronic advances in the Trax include an 8-inch touchscreen, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian braking, lane-keep assist, forward-collision alert and auto high beams.

The 2024 Chevrolet Trax ACTIV is a new, adventure-ready trim with skid plate and lots of tech.

Work your way through the model lineup — 1RS, LT, 2RS — and Trax makes available more content like the aforementioned adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist, sunroof, 11-inch touchscreen, 18-or-19 inch wheels. Step up to the loaded, adventure-styled ACTIV trim with heated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated outside mirrors, remote start, rear-seat USB ports and power-adjustable seats, and you’re paying the same $24,995 price as the stock HR-V.

Both interior and exterior designs follow upstream models. The infotainment screen is now higher in the driver’s view, forming a continuous dash sweep from the instrument display. The arrangement adds to an interior already praised by critics for its good visibility.

The 2024 Chevrolet Trax RS is the sportiest model with blacked-out trim and red badging. All Trax get the same, 1.2-liter turbo-3 cylinder engine.

Reducing the price to compete with cost-leader Nissan Kicks also means reducing the number of cylinders and the Trax drops from a 155-horse, 1.3-liter turbo-4 cylinder engine to a mousey 138-horse, 1.2-liter turbo-3 powered by a six-speed automatic. Torque also drops from 177 to 163 pound feet, though the latter still trumps the HR-V’s 138 driven by a continuously-variable transmission.

The Trax’s new interior digs are wrapped in an upgraded exterior that drops 4 inches in height for a leaner, more athletic stance.

Each trim of the 2024 Chevrolet Trax gets its own grille.

Gone is the blocky split grille, replaced by a more integrated shape anchored by thin, Blazer-like headlights. Each trim has unique grille and wheel design. The sporty-looking RS trims (1RS and 2RS) are particularly distinctive with black grilles and red RS badging.

Assembled in South Korea and Mexico, the 2024 Chevrolet Trax goes on sale in the spring of 2023.

2024 Chevy Trax pricing

LS — $21,4951RS — $23,195LT — $23,395  2RS — $24,995ACTIV — $24,995

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

Truck wars: GMC Sierra HD family gets beefier, techier, sexier

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 6, 2022

In the heavy duty pickup truck arms race, GMC has rolled out its latest weapon: the 2024 Sierra HD.

Surfing trends in these high-tech, high-performance times, the Sierra HD not only offers a raft of best-in-class claims but also sets a new bar for luxury. The mega-truck throws down the gauntlet on best-in-class towing, screen size, and trailering tech with 14 camera views and a slick feature that renders a gooseneck trailer invisible so the driver can monitor objects behind it.

For top-line luxury, the 2024 GMC Sierra HD adds a Denali Ulitmate trim.

Heavy duty capability commands big sticker prices and GMC’s premium brand claims 31% share of the over-$75,000 market. To sweeten the pot, Sierra is introducing two more premium models: the Denali Ultimate and AT4X.

The twin titans headline a lineup of that includes 2500HD and 3500HD models in Regular Cab, Extended Cab and Crew Cab configurations with dual-rear-wheel models — so-called duallys — available on the 3500HD. The trucks aim to satisfy customer demand for more diesel power, more interior technology, more stump-pulling capability across an expanded family of seven models.

“This truck elevates the HD segment with the introductions of the Denali Ultimate trim and will soon add the seriously off-road capable AT4X trim, further strengthening the dominance of the GMC truck portfolio,” said GMC vice president Duncan Aldred.

While GMC’s corporate parent, General Motors, is touting the transition of its brands to the Ultium battery platform in the next decade, Aldred said Sierra HD will be powered by diesel and gas technologies.

“This is not an EV,” said Aldred. “The Sierra Heavy Duty will become an EV in time, but it will be toward the end of the 2035 transition.”

The 2024 GMC Sierra HD 2500 can tow a class best 21,900 pounds.

Towing tests from TFL Trucks with 6,000-pound trailers have shown range degradation of EV pickup trucks like the Ford Lightning of about 70% to less than 100 miles of range — a problem for long-distance hauls. While diesel and gas engines also suffer some range degradation, they offer better range and refueling infrastructure.

The Sierra will be powered by its tried-and-true, 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel V-8 fed with more steroids to achieve an eye-popping 975 pound-feet- of torque — a 25% gain over the current model. Coupled with a 10-speed Allison transmission the Sierra HD makes 470 horsepower.

That added oomph will allow Sierra HD to clean-and-jerk a class best 21,900 pounds in 2500 HD Crew Cab trim. Spice the 3500HD, dually-rear-wheel pickup with a Duramax and it will tow 36,000 pounds. A 6.6-liter V-8 engine comes standard with 401 horsepower and 464 torque — and is now also paired with the Allision 10-speed for better power management.

While the Sierra HD flexes its muscle outside, passengers can travel in luxury inside.

The interior of the 2024 GMC Sierra HD boasts 40 inches of screens.

The 2024 model — due on dealer lots early next year – gets major interior upgrades including 40 inches of digital dash screens. That expanse includes a best-in-class, 13.4-inch infotainment touchscreen.

Available touchscreen features include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and 14 camera views to better tow the 20,000-plus pounds out back.

The infotainmnt screen of the 2024 GMC Sierra HD is run by Google tech.

While Sierra has long won raves for its premium styling and jaw-dropping rear MultiPro taigates, the towing ‘n’ tech upgrades are designed to close the gap to competitors from Ford and Ram.

“As good as they are, the (2022) Sierra 2500HD and 3500HD are outclassed by the Ford Super Duty and Ram HD,” writes Car and Driver of the current lineup. “The Sierra 2500 HD can tow up to 18,500 pounds and the 3500HD can haul up to 35,500 pounds, but those max ratings are eclipsed by rivals. What’s more, those competitors offer nicer interiors or more driver assists — or both.”

To address the latter concerns, Sierra HD also debuts new stitching and six new exterior colors (Titanium Rush Metallic, Sterling Metallic, Volcanic Red Tintcoat, Redwood Metallic, Meteorite Metallic and Downpour Metallic) while offering unique interior designs for the posh AT4X, Denali, and Denali Ultimate trims.

Denali is synonymous with GMC lux — accounting for 45% of HD sales — and the first-ever Denali Ultimate takes its refinement to the next level.

Standard with the Duramax under the hood, you’ll know the Denali Ultimate by its unique grille, Mount Denali fender badging, six-way, MultiPro tailgate, Alpine Umber interior, 16-way power seats, open-pore Paldao wood, power moonroof, 15-inch head-up display, and 12-speaker Bose audio system rolling along on 20-inch aluminum wheels with black accents.

“This truck could hold its own in the luxury sedan space,” smiled Aldred.

HD competitors have long headlined best-in-class tow ability, but — with the explosion in electronic gizmos over the last decade — best-in-class tech is also prized.

GMC Sierra HD Denali Ultimate comes standard with MultiPro tailgate.

Sierra HD boasts the most trailer-assistance tech in class with a suite of available features designed to streamline the hitching-and-towing process. The headliner is an industry-first transparent trailer view for gooseneck trailoring so the driver can virtually “see through” the trailer.

Other features include blind-spot assist extended around the trailer, a warning if vehicle/trailer weight exceed its Gross Combined Weight Rating, and adaptive cruise control. Interestingly, the Sierra HD is not yet available with GM’s Super Cruise, hands-free drive assist.

For off-road enthusiasts who want to unhitch Sierra HD at the end of a long day of towing, there is the AT4X coming later in 2023. Armed with skid plates, meaty tires, and increased ground clearance, AT4X wants to play.

Assembled in Flint, Sierra HD’s pricing will be announced closer to the start of production.

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

Payne: S-class smackdown — Mercedes EQS EV vs. GLS SUV

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 6, 2022

Joliet, Illinois — Mercedes is the pinnacle of European luxury, and the S-class is the summit of Mercedes.

Big screens, big tech, big interior space — the S-class spares no expense to coddle its customers. For 2022, S-class offers a pair of models, the EQS 450 sedan and GLS 450, that try to capitalize on the latest trends in the U.S. luxury marketplace: electric cars and SUVs.

The Mercedes EQS sedan is the brand's flagship EV.

The EQS is a sleek showpiece of Mercedes technology with a screen the size of The Henry Ford’s IMAX theater and power delivery as smooth as water. But with limited range and two rows of seats, the $116,300 EQS indicates why EVs are a niche market compared to the market domination of three-row, gas-powered SUVs like the mighty, $94,230 GLS450.

With a big family weekend of racing, dining and sightseeing ahead in Chicago, Mrs. Payne and I loaded up the GLS 450. Stretched across a 123-inch wheelbase and measuring 17 feet long, the GLS is about the same size as its EQS EV sibling. But if I had an EQS in the garage, I would still want a GLS for road trips.

With three rows of seats, the Mercedes GLS SUV can comfortably seat six.

It’s not just that the Merc SUV offers a roomy third row essential for our six-person Payne family of three guys and their best gals. The GLS boasts 571 miles of highway range compared to the EQS’s 350 — and when your weekend itinerary includes a tight schedule, meeting four people at O’Hare airport and more than 800 miles of travel from Detroit to Joliet to downtown Chicago, you don’t want to be spending 30 minutes at chargers in Walmart parking lots to add 245 miles of electrons to the EQS (the EV’s 400-volt architecture can gain 70% of charge — about 245 miles — in a half hour).

Charging the Mercedes EQS sedan on home 240-volt charger.

The GLS? I barely gave fuel a thought — filling it only once for five minutes on the way back to Detroit on I-94.

It’s popular these days to say: “Just wait until the federal government builds out a charging infrastructure.” Regardless of your confidence that the feds can efficiently build anything, the problem with EVs is more uncertainty than charger unavailability.

Weather and speed are big variables that make long trips in EVs a nervy affair. I traveled at 80 mph to O’Hare in the GLS — a speed that would have degraded EQS’s range by 20% (if experience in Tesla, Porsche and Hyundai EVs is any guide). There was also the threat of heavy downpours — Lake Michigan’s ecosystem is always unpredictable — which can cause 40% range loss in EVs.

Anticipating such challenges, my EQS tester is designed for efficiency with one of the cleanest skins in the industry. This thing is a bar of soap.

The Mercedes EQS sedan is an over-$100k vehicle but its slippery shape makes for a plain design.

Its 0.20 drag coefficient bests the Tesla Model S and Lucid Air, but results in diminishing the design detail of its flamboyant, gas-powered predecessors. So determined was Merc to hit its drag coefficient target that it sacrificed its frunk — robbing the Merc of a feature prized by EV buyers.

GLS is no looker either with its big, boxy three-row SUV proportions. Yeah, there’s the signature muscular rear hips and the big star logo up front. But painted black, it melted into the schools of big SUVs on the road. My wife would consistently confuse it in the hotel parking lot for a BMW or big Infiniti SUV. Ouch.

Rear view of the Mercedes GLS SUV.

So despite carrying stiff price tags, my EQS and GLA testers were unassuming from the outside. The interiors are a different matter.

EQS sports a stunning 56-inch screen that is really three screens in one — 12.3-inch instrument display, 17.7-inch console display, and another 12.3-inch display for the passenger. The latter is a treat for occupants who want to control their own space. My son’s mother-in-law settled into a relaxing Metro Detroit journey by finding her favorite seat massage in the screen.

The interior of the EQS is highlighted by a 56-inch screen that offers instrument, console and passenger displays.

The GLS’s more familiar twin-dash screen can’t compete with the EQS in size and speed, but it is plenty useful as Merc has perfected a system of integrated graphics, swipe screens and steering-wheel mouse pads (yes, you read that right) so you can find just what you want in the system. The EQS also dazzled with Merc’s latest self-driving software — its lane-centering and auto-lane changing more Tesla-like than the GLS, which gave me some white hairs as I self-drove through Chicago on I-90.

Aft of the front thrones, however, the GLS was much more desirable than the EQS. The big ute not only fit my family of six comfortably for our trip into Chicago for dinner — but its second-row captain’s chairs were first-class seating, with the ability to adjust forward/back to accommodate the third-row behind.

The digital instrument display in the Mercedes GLS SUV.

The EQS has rear-seat options, but they weren’t on my $116K tester, which featured utilitarian bench seats with standard-issue armrest and cupholders that folded down from the seatback.

Both EQS and GLS boast more than 300 horsepower, but the EQS comes on liquid smooth as we’ve come to expect from big EVs. But like its rear seat, the EQS complicates its claim to magic carpet smoothness with a rough ride over bumps. Crossing a Telegraph Road intersection, for example, EQS would bounce along — hitting the shock bump stops. Oof.

The GLS actually adopts an EQS gauge on its instrument display — to claim the green moral high ground with a 48-volt battery on board that smooths shifts from its 9-speed transmission. And its air suspension did yeoman’s work in smoothing the two-story-tall vehicle’s ride.

Autobahn Raceway, where my sons and I were competing in Lola sports racers, doubles as an auto country club (think a golf club but with a track in the middle) and allows members and guests to take their vehicles on the track at lunch hour.

I took the GLS on track to show the extended family around the course — in line behind a pace car and a who’s who of performance cars, including a Porsche 911, CT4-V Blackwing, BMW M3 and Corvette C8.

With SPORT mode engaged and air suspension managing the elephant’s girth, I had a blast squealing the tires and stomping the accelerator pedal out of turns. It’s an elephant in tennis shoes.

It’s also an elephant that doesn’t mind burning up fuel on such spontaneous activities — because gas infrastructure is always nearby. A similar track diversion in the EQS would have sucked valuable range, which would have made for another headache as we contemplated getting home on Sunday.

Buy the EQS to show off at the country club, buy the GLS if you need an all-around workhorse.

2022 Mercedes GLS450 4Matic

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

Price: $78,900, including $1,050 destination charge ($94,230 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 cylinder

Power: 362 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.9 seconds (mfr.); towing capacity, 7,700 pounds

Weight: 5,412 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 19 mpg city/23 highway/21 combined; Highway range, 570 miles

Report card

Highs: Seating for six, long-range utility

Lows: A gen behind EQS in some tech; boxy design

Overall: 4 stars

2022 Mercedes EQS 450+

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

Price: $105,450 including $1,050 destination fee ($116,304 450+ Premium as tested)

Powerplant: 107.8 kWh lithium-ion battery with rear electric-motor

Power: 329 horsepower, 417 pound-feet torque

Transmission: Single-speed direct drive

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.8 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 130 mph

Weight: 5,597 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 97 MPGe; range, 350 miles

Report card

Highs: Smooth ride; interior from the gods

Lows: Uninspired looks, jouncy suspension over bumps

Overall: 3 stars

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

For new-car buyers in a tight market, the waiting is the hardest part

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 4, 2022

Detroit — Bruce Gorman of Livonia wanted a new 2022 Chevy Equinox. But when he took his aging, 2010 Chrysler Sebring into Serra Chevrolet on Telegraph for a trade-in last December, he was met by a surprise.“There was nothing on the lot,” the 66-year-old said. “They thought that Chevy might be building more by mid-February, so they said to check in the first of March.”

A couple of weeks later, his salesperson called to say that his car had arrived — and the $28,000 Equinox LT was blue after all.

Bruce Gorman of Livonia is happy with his 2022 Chevy Equinox but had to wait three months to get it because of production delays resulting from the global semiconductor shortage.

“I love it. It has push-button start, auto-lock, auto-high beams, adaptive-cruise-control, and blind spot-assist,” said Gorman, ticking off some of the electronic advancements that have revolutionized autos in the decade since he bought his Sebring. “(The Chevy) is lacking heated front seats, though. They never got the chips for that.”

On the plus side, Gorman said Serra kept him informed every step of the way — honoring the Equinox’s sticker price, minus a discount for those missing seat-heating chips.

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, Gorman’s story may sound all too familiar as inventory shortages have frustrated would-be buyers. In a post-COVID market with high demand, supply is constrained by the continuing semiconductor shortage and disruptions in countries like China and Malaysia, which are key component suppliers. Manufacturing states like Michigan are awash in new vehicles sitting on lots waiting for chips.

A modern vehicle may have 900 to 1,200 different semiconductor chips — distributed across 100 electronics modules — to run everything from heated seats to an engine’s fuel injection system. They vary in cost and functionality and are produced across a multi-national supply chain that can include Taiwan, Korea, the United States, China and Malaysia — the latter pair creating significant uncertainty with COVID shutdowns in the last two years. The rush to electronics-heavy EVs will likely only increase the demand for chips.

“Not all vehicles are treated equally. Manufacturers are prioritizing high-margin vehicles and EVs at a time that they are making big investments in battery plants,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principle auto analyst for Guidehouse Insights. “Automakers need the cash flow to do build these plants, so they are building the high-margin vehicles they need to get cash now to fund future EV investments.”

To complicate matters, the shortage comes as the federal government is forcing automakers to transition to costly electric vehicles. To pay for the transition, automakers are shrinking the number of affordable, sub-$30,000 cars they sell and emphasizing new, more expensive models of, for example, high-margin pickups. This perfect storm of factors ballooned the average sticker price in July to an all-time high of $48,000, according to Kelley Blue Book — up from an average of $38,000 just two years ago.

For example, CEO Jim Farley indicated in April that Ford Motor Co. is prioritizing its chip supply for Ford F-150 Lightning EV pickups, which can sell for more than $90,000.

Abuelsamid said chip supplies should start to return to normal in the middle of next year. But Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger told CNBC’s TechCheck in May not to expect an end to shortages until 2024.

Either way, that means more long waits for customers like Mary Schelske of Bloomfield Hills. Her three-year lease ran out on her 2019 Ford Edge in December, but her dealer, North Brothers Ford, had no ‘22 Edges to replace it with.

“They said they couldn’t get me a car until April,” she said. April turned into June. “I kept calling and they kept trying to find me a car. I thought about buying out the lease because the market value of cars has been rising, but Ford waived the lease mileage limit so I could keep driving my Edge until they found a new one.”

Her Edge arrived in June and North Brothers not only waived the extra miles on the old car but gave her the same lease price — $420 a month — on the new one.

Ford’s best-selling SUV, the Escape, is also in short supply. Like Schelske, Lucian Bela of West Bloomfield Township got an extension on his lease after it ended in March — extra mileage waived — until a new one arrived in July. But Anne Ryan, 71, of Grosse Pointe, took advantage of a buyout on her 2019 Escape lease.

With the market desperate for Escapes, Ryan began shopping used car sites like Carvana to see if she could get a sweet price if she bought out the lease on her Escape. Her Ford dealer went one step better, saving her the paperwork headaches by offering $6,000 toward her Escape trade-in. She took the deal, then used it to step up to Ford’s luxury division — leasing a Lincoln Corsair for about the same , three-year, $400-a-month price as her old Escape.

“I deserved it,” she said with a smile.

None of the customers The News talked with considered an EV for their new car, even as the industry is prioritizing those vehicles.

“An EV makes no sense for me,” Ryan said. “I have a business I travel to Up North. … The charging takes too long and there’s no infrastructure up there. My Corsair has 470 miles of range. I can nearly make the round trip on one tank.”

Though Ryan took immediate delivery on her Lincoln, luxury brands are not immune from the inventory crisis.

Carla and John Libbe’s Audi Q5 was hit by a deer on M-115 near Cadillac, totaling the car. Carla suffered a fractured sternum, caused by the air bag deployment. While she healed, they went to her dealer for a replacement.

But Audi Birmingham had nothing on the lot. The wait for a new Q5? Six months.

The Libbes decided to shop for a Range Rover Velar, one of the SUVs on the market that had caught Carla’s eye. But Range Rover supply was no better than Audi. “We would have to wait 6-8 months for new Velar due to the chip shortage,” John said.

They cast a wider Midwest net and found a Velar at Land Rover of Westside in Cleveland that had been abandoned by its would-be buyer. It was the exact trim Carla wanted for a price of $69,285; they picked it up in mid-February.

“We just got lucky,” said John.

Paul Waatti, industry analysis manager for AutoPacific, notes that nearly all automakers have scaled back production estimates, even the Volkswagen Group (which makes Carla’s former Audi Q5) and Toyota, the large global automakers.

“VW has called the dismal supply chain and chip shortage the ‘new normal,’” Waatti said. “Automakers continue to prioritize more profitable models like trucks and other high-volume segments at the upper end of the market but inventory will remain at historically low levels even for those vehicles.”

Steve Light of Sterling Heights bought his 2019 Ram 1500 Bighorn pickup truck after leasing it for three years.

Take Steve Light of Sterling Heights, who recently shopped for a Ram pickup.

Light has leased four Ram 1500 Big Horns since 2013 without a hiccup, but when his current 36-month lease was up this year, he faced a wait of four to six weeks for a new one and a lease payment jumping from $340 a month to $450.

Concerned that the wait for a new truck would exceed six weeks — and aware his Big Horn model was trading in the used market for $38,000 — Light paid the $30,000 buyout on offer from the dealer when he signed the lease in 2019.

“The consumer suffers two-fold as not only is there limited inventory, but also many of the vehicles that are available are being marked up as dealers are trying to squeeze profit wherever they can to make up for fewer sales than normal,” analyst Waatti said. “That is affecting the used car market, as even those are flying off the shelf in record time with inflated prices.”

Cynasure Ross of Pontiac knows that first-hand. She purchased a used 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited this summer. But it wasn’t easy.

Under a strict budget of $12,000, she had a hard time finding anything in Michigan that matched her desired trim. “Some listings had taken deposits the day after they were posted and before I could get to them,” she said.

She continued to cast a wide net beyond the state. After about 30 days of shopping, she located the Sonata she wanted — for the price she wanted — from Team Automotive in Ohio. She sent in her deposit, had the car inspected and delivered.

As chip delays continue, Giudehouse’s Abuelsamid recommends that buyers adapt: “If you need a new car to buy or lease, start planning ahead as early as you can so you are guaranteed to get it when you need it.”

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

Payne: Hot hatch Hyundai Kona N-line is more show than go

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 4, 2022

BMW makes an M-azing, M-asterful M3 sports sedan with gobs of horsepower, tires made from Superglue and a taut suspension. It’ll also cost you an M-azing 80 grand. For those who don’t need the full magilla, there’s the BMW M-line which offers M3-like style but without the nuclear power plant under the hood. M style without the M-egaprice.

The Hyundai Kona has decided to get in on the act.

Right next door in the alphabet, the Kona N offers a fire-spitting hot hatch with a loud 286 horsepower, stiff springs, $35K sticker price and N-grin launch control that’ll crush your spine into the seat on its way to 4.9-second zero-60 launches. Sound like fun? No?

The 2022 Hyundai Kona N-line replaces the Hyundai Veloster with a more practical, roomier four-door hatchback design.

Then the Kona N-line might be your cup of Kia with all the N’s styling cues and just enough horsepower — 195 —  to make it interesting. Heck, it almost fooled me when I picked my tester up at the airport on a cold April evening.

Lots of black mascara like the Kona N. Signature three-slot hood like the N. Rear diffuser, hot wheels, cladded rocker panels, red-trim and N-embossed sport seats. Just like the N. N-ice.

The N comparisons stop when you put your boot in it.

VROOOOM-NAHHHH, I don’t think so. Despite an upscale, dual-clutch transmission hooked up to the four-banger under the hood, the engine lacks urgency. I confined my enthusiastic driving to 90-degree turns where the N-line rotated nicely before setting off for … the autocross course? No, the grocery. There the Kona showed off its hatchback utility.

The 195-horse turbo-4 in the 2022 Hyundai Kona N-line lacks pep despite a 7-speed dual-clutch tranny.

However, for a stiff $31K, the N-line made my mind wander to the $20,995 Elantra in the Hyundai aisle. You want affordable style?

At a whopping $10K south of Kona, the Elantra is a much more head-turning vehicle and is loaded with more modern amenities. I’m talkin’ standard wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, blind-spot assist, and auto tranny. And Elantra has its own N-line for 2022 that uses the same turbo-4 as Kona N, and is $1,400 less than the Kona. Uh-oh.

The 2022 Hyundai Kona N-line is a tighter fit in back compared to its Elantra sedan stablemate.

They say Americans don’t like sedans, but the Elantra has significantly more rear legroom for basketball players like me, and that trunk — well, it’s not a hatchback but it will swallow plenty of groceries.

And don’t get me started on hot hatches like the VW Golf GTI, which starts at a similar price to the N-line and will run rings around it in the fun department while delivering better utility.

The 2022 Hyundai Kona N-line sports a modern interior with tablet display and useful dials.

If SUV it must be, however, then Kona N-line is easy to learn with its tablet screen, useful knobs and digital displays. SPORT mode turns the instrument display red to match your blood temperature. All-wheel drive is a useful feature in the winter months, and the Elantra is just a front-wheel driver. And then there’s that 100,000-mile Hyundai drivetrain warranty, always comforting to buyers on a budget.

Hyundai has hardly been shy with designs. The Elantra and Tucson are unlike anything else on the market and the three-door Veloster has been a joyful addition to my favorite segment, the hot hatch.

Expect the Kona N-line to take over the lovable-if-quirky three-door Veloster’s mantle, given its more accessible four-door setup. That accessibility should mean better sales numbers for the Kona N as well, which in turn will lead more folks to the more accessible N-line. You can see where product planners are going with all this.

The 2022 Hyundai Kona N-line bears a typically unique Hyundai design.

With its funky wardrobe, the N-line is worth a walkaround in the parking lot. The menacing slit running lights draw you in, then you notice the headlights at mid-fascia. The bulging fenders look like biceps honed in the gym. The twin tailpipes look like a double barrel shotgun out back. N-teresting.

And with the money you save getting 29 mpg in the 1.6-liter turbo-4 … well, one of these days you might be tempted by a full-blown N so you can go harass those smug BMW Ms.

2022 Hyundai Kona N-line

Vehicle type: All-wheel-drive five-passenger SUV

Price: $28,425, including $1,245 destination charge

Powerplant: 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4 cylinder

Power: 195 horsepower, 195 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.3 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 130 mph

Weight: 3,287 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 27 mpg city/32 highway/29 combined (AWD as tested)

Report card

Highs: Stylish looks, upscale interior

Lows: Engine lacks pep; lacks value compared to competitors

Overall: 3 stars

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

Payne: Preview from the driver’s seat at American Speed Festival

Posted by Talbot Payne on October 4, 2022

Pontiac — Coming hard out of Champion Motor Speedway’s Turn 9 in third gear, I dance my 1966 Porsche 906E around the long Turn 10 sweeper. It’s test day for the Second Annual American Speed Festival at M1 Concourse, and come Saturday, hundreds of spectators will be lining the guardrails here when I will be on track again with other historic sports cars.

The fall auto shows just keep coming. On the heels of the Detroit auto show, Detroit 4fest and Concours d’ Elegance, the American Speed Festival comes to town Thursday through Sunday.

Henry Payne drives his 1966 Porsche 906E through the M1 Concourse paddock on American Speed Festival test day.

What makes ASF special is not just the opportunity to see some of the most historic race cars ever made — but the opportunity to see them at speed in their natural habitat: a race track. M1 is Metro Detroit’s premier enthusiast auto club with a 1.5-mile race track sharing 87 acres with private garages.

My 906E has been invited to the show along with dozens of other significant racers from NASCAR, IndyCar and sportscar racing — including Carroll Shelby’s legendary Cobras, which will be the featured marque this year celebrating Shelby America’s 60th anniversary. About two-dozen Cobras will be on display, including gems like the 1965 Cobra Daytona Coupe, 1964 Shelby Cobra 289 Hard Top Coupe, 1990 Shelby Aurora Can Am and the Cobra 289 used in the 2019 box office hit “Ford v Ferrari.” Shelby Club Parade Laps will take place from 11:55 a.m.-12:45 p.m. Saturday.

1964 Shelby Hardtop Coupe readies for American Speed Festival.

Other notables include Al Unser Jr.’s 1986 Lola T8600, his uncle Bobby Unser’s 1972 Olsonite Eagle, the turbine-engine 1968 STP Lotus, Alberto Ascori’s 1952 Ferrari 375, a 2004 Ferrari Enzo and a 2021 Ferrari Monza SP1. The Ferrari entries celebrate of 75 years of the Italian brand with Ferrari Club Parade Laps from 12:25–1:30 p.m. Friday.

There will also be a contingent of vintage go-kart racers and the V8-powered 1988 Fabcar IMSA prototype owned by David Nikolas, racer and owner of Pontiac’s Nikolas Motorsport.

On test day, I found myself sharing track time with the go-karts and the lightning-quick Fabcar. The latter was based on a Porsche 962 — then updated with a more modern rocker suspension and small-block Chevy V-8.

When Nikolas fired up his V-8 next to my mid-engine Porsche, the earth shook — and I couldn’t hear my 2.0-liter flat-6 engine even though it was directly behind my ears. A racing V-8 is a sight to see — and hear.

From left, Henry Payne with his 1966 Porsche 906E and Dave Nikolas with his 1988 Fabcar V-8 at M-1 Concourse for the speed festival test day.

Each year, ASF awards a Master of Motorsports and this year’s headliner is legendary designer Peter Brock, who made his mark as a young Shelby America designer. A racing fanatic, Brock left General Motors in 1959 at the tender age of 21 to return to his native California. He was Shelby America’s first employee, and there he would design a stable of cars including the Shelby Daytona Cobra coupes that won the world sports car championship in 1965.

Brock will hold forth on his Shelby career Thursday and again Saturday at noon with driving ace David Hobbs. At noon Sunday, he’ll discuss his work on the Chevy Corvette and Brock Racing Enterprises — a racing design firm he started in 1965. Hobbs will also talk to Vintage Indy’s Mike Lashmett for Insiders’ Garage from noon-1 p.m. Friday.

Brock will receive his award at Saturday’s Checkered Flag Ball presented by McLaren Oakland. The event benefits M1’s philanthropic arm, the Checkered Flag Challenge, to address transportation challenges in Pontiac.

ASF kicks off Thursday with Drive & Dine, an intimate tour of Stahl’s private car collection followed by a sumptuous M1 dinner.

I get to take unleash my steed around M1’s track in the Endurance Sports Car class beginning Friday, when seven groups will be on display: Shelby/Cobra, Vintage Indy, Ferrari, Feature Race Cars, SuperCars, Endurance Sports Cars and Historic Go Karts. Track activities are from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and 8:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday.

On Friday evening, fans can hang around for the M1 Garage Reveal and enjoy rare tours of M1 garages from 6-9:30 p.m. — complete with hors d’ oeuvres.On Sunday, the track goes quiet (though guests can also take a ride in the right-hand seat of a hot car with a professional instructor) and a juried car show, Speed & Style Expo, takes the fore. Awards will be given in each car class plus an overall Best in Show honoree. The Art Expo showcases top automotive artists, including Nico Rousselet, Dave Chappel, Charles Maher, Alex Buchan, Steve Macy, John Baker, Robert Matthews, Garen Nicoghosian and Francois Bruere.

The weekend also includes live music by Vavoom, pedal/RC/slot cars for kids, food trucks and Carroll Shelby official licensed apparel.If you go

Tickets: $75 Friday/Saturday for 18 and older. Friday, 17 and under are free. Saturday ages 13-17 are $25 and 12 and under are free. Sunday is $50 for 18 and over and free for 17 and under. Tickets for the Drive & Dine Tour on Thursday are $200. Free parking is included with every ticket. Parking and shuttle buses are available at 2000 S. Opdyke Road.For more schedule details, go to: www.m1concourse.com/asf-overview.

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

Payne: Ogling Detroit auto show’s EVs and V-8s with Penske Indycar star Scott McLaughlin

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 23, 2022

Detroit – Even professional race car drivers get weak in the knees around the Corvette Z06.“That’s going to be mine when I win the Indy 500 next year,” smiled IndyCar star Scott McLaughlin, driver of the #3 Chevrolet for Team Penske, as he eyeballed Chevy’s mid-engine hellion. With a production-car record 670-horspower from its normally-aspirated V-8, the sports car is one of the highlights of this year’s show.

Gotta get a selfie. Chevy Penske IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin and the 2023 Corvette Z06.

A week after the Detroit auto show opened with a presidential visit and media previews, the public portion of the show is abuzz with customers, musical entertainment and the occasional celebrity visitor. A native of Hamilton, New Zealand, McLaughlin’s visit put the “international” in North American International Auto Show in a year in which foreign automaker displays are scaled back from years past.

McLaughlin’s appearance also showcases the intersection between the Detroit automakers, global markets and motorsports. Chevy, for example, brought McLaughlin to the show floor to not only highlight the Detroit Grand Prix but also to understand the larger Chevy product lineup the brand promotes when its race cars win in front of millions of TV viewers.

Chevy Penske IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin gets schooled on the Silverado EV.

The Kiwi is a natural ambassador for American muscle.

Unlike European drivers who grew up negotiating narrow city streets in wee, four-cylinder shoeboxes, Australia is a country with miles of open roads like America – and V8-powered American sedans to match. McLaughlin is a veteran of Australia’s biggest auto show in Melbourne.

Chevy Penske IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin with Equinox EV.

“I craved V-8s as a kid. It’s hard not to. The national sport is the V-8 Supercars,” said the 29-year-old of the Ford Mustangs and Holden Commodores (similar to the late Chevy SS in this market) that are similar to NASCARs Down Under.  In Australian Supercar, Team Penske waves the Ford Mustang flag, different from the Chevy IndyCar colors he flies here.

“That’s what I raced, and I grew up idolizing V-8 Supercars,” McLaughlin continued. “My Dad had a V-8, my mom had a V-8.”

McLaughlin’s dominance of the Supercar series in Australia – winning three titles from 2018-2020 – convinced Penske to bring the personable New Zealander stateside.

Chevy Penske IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin checks out the new Blazer EV.

“This is the big leagues. I grew up idolizing America,” said McLaughlin. “Roger asks a lot of (his drivers). We promote the sport, we promote his brands, we promote his town. I wouldn’t want to drive for anyone else.”

Where Chevy made its reputation on American muscle, it is now joining the international market to go all-electric by 2035. For McLaughlin, that means getting familiar with the brand’s new EVs, which surround the Corvette display in Detroit. McLaughlin – just like other showgoers on the floor Wednesday – got an in-depth tour of the Silverado, Equinox and Blazer EVs and the Ultium battery chassis they ride on.

Chevy Penske IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin and GMC Hummer EV.

“Coming here as a Chevy driver, it’s been an awesome introduction into the GM family,” said McLaughlin. “To see the resources they put into their race cars and into their production cars is great.”

The push to electrification is not as pronounced in motor racing. McLaughlin’s Chevy-powered IndyCar will get battery assist in 2024 as a V6-powered hybrid. And the Corvette Z06 is based on the V8-powered C8.R race car that Chevrolet is, for the first time, selling to international race teams.

McLaughlin’s primary task here is selling tickets for the Detroit Grand Prix, which will return to downtown streets for the first time in more than 30 years next June. NAIAS planned to offer showgoers a tour of the new 1.7-mile track in Chevy Bolt EVs and Volkswagen ID.4s – but that hasn’t come to pass. Instead, visitors can get a brief ride in the vehicles on Atwater Street on Huntington Place’s riverfront.

McLaughlin did manage to take some laps of his own on the new circuit while in Detroit.

Chevy Penske IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin and his Corvette Z06 dream car.

“On paper it doesn’t look very interesting, but then you get on track and see how wide it is and the monuments you pass like the Renaissance Center. It’s gonna’ be a really cool and unique race,” McLaughlin said of the circuit where IndyCars will approach 180 mph on Jefferson Avenue into the Griswold hairpin. “Chevy being a part of it and promoting it in the Motor City is really a big deal.”

After leaving downtown Wednesday afternoon, McLaughlin’s day continued with laps on a second track: GM’s Milford Proving Grounds out I-96. In a Corvette Z06.

“To get to drive a Z06 will be awesome,” he laughed. “I’ll get a taste of what I might own one day.”

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

Payne: New Honda HR-V is stylish, roomy and fun. Until you put your foot into it

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 23, 2022

Summit Point, W.Va. — Powered by a 1.5-liter Honda Fit engine, the F1600 class is one of my favorite open-wheel, so-called “Formula” racing classes. It’s a showcase for relentless wheel-to-wheel driving, some of the country’s best up-and-coming teenage drivers on the Road to Indy — and for Honda’s reliable engine technology.

Honda also makes a stylish small SUV that will get you to the track.

The 2023 Honda HR-V is all-new with improved looks and an eager Civic-based chassis.

I picked up the Japanese brand’s newest entry-level, Mexican-built HR-V sport ute at Dulles Airport this summer to take my family to an F1600 race at Summit Point Raceway, one of the country’s most challenging regional racing circuits. I would also be racing my own Lola sports racer (powered by a Ford, not Honda, engine) in the Sports2000 series, which shared box office billing with the F1600s.

Ford was once synonymous with entry-level racing with its iconic Formula Ford series. But Honda recently replaced Ford engines in the F1600 series. The Dearborn maker is more focused on off-road and electrified vehicles these days with its dirt-kicking Bronco and a full pickup lineup that includes the entry-level, hybrid-powered Maverick.

Needless to say, pickups and open-wheel racing are opposite ends of auto culture — but not for Honda, whose entry-level Civic sedan and CR-V ute are whip-quick compacts that appeal to the young folks hanging around F1600 races and Summit Point.

So my family was surprised to find the 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine in my HR-V was the least interesting part of the vehicle. RRRRRRRRRR! Mated to a droning CVT transmission, the HR-V huffed and puffed up the hills of winding West Virginia roads leading to Summit Point.

The 2023 Honda HR-V's weak link is a weak 158-horse 4-banger mated to a droning CVT transmission.

The F1600’s 1.5-liter Honda engine only makes 130 horses. But since the cars weigh just 1,110 pounds, that’s enough ponies for the job. The 2.0-liter, 158-horse unit in my HR-V, on the other hand, has to push around 3,350 pounds. Oof.

No doubt, the HR-V is as bulletproof as the F1600 mills, which have to endure constant punishment from their drivers. Still, the HR-V’s engine puts it at a comparative disadvantage in its ferociously competitive segment that includes the 186-horse Mazda CX-30 (my favorite driver’s SUV in the subcompact class) or the 184-torque (compared to the HR-V’s 138) turbocharged, 4-cylinder-powered Volkswagen Taos.

At least the HR-V upgraded its engine from the 141-horse hamster wheel in the first-generation model — part of an overhaul for the entry-level ute. As readers of this column know, I’ve got the need for speed, but for most customers in this class, it’s the HR-V’s other upgrades that will really turn heads.

Begin with the fact that the new HR-V is built on the same bones as the excellent Civic sedan.

The 2023 Honda HR-V adopts the Civic's acclaimed horizontal, honeycomb grille with tablet screen on top of the dash.

That means one of the best interiors in class surrounded me as I jumped into the HR-V’s driver’s seat. A cool honeycomb dash stretched from A-pillar to A-pillar, featuring a high-mounted touchscreen for good driver visibility complemented by meaty climate-control dials. The interior fit like a glove. That utility extended throughout the roomy cabin.

I loaded three suitcases, a computer bag and a backpack into the rear hatch with ease, then climbed into the roomy backseat with leg and headroom to spare. My 6’3” son Sam sat comfortably in front of me. The current owner of a 2012 VW Golf GTI, he is the HR-V’s target audience should he and his wife, say, want to buy a second car.

Go on, stuff the 2023 Honda HR-V with cargo.

After a weekend in the Honda, he said it would be on his shopping list along with the Taos, since Volkswagen has impressed him with the GTI. The Honda and V-dub are very similar, with bold, roomy interiors and distinctive looks — another big improvement for this HR-V over last year’s appliance.

I mean, it actually looked more like a kitchen appliance than a car. For this gen, the HR-V has adopted a more anthropomorphic face with bright eyes (headlights) and a cute mouth. Think the 2020 Kia Sportage or Ford Focus.

My other son, Henry, was a tougher sell. The owner of a 250-horse, all-wheel-drive hatchback Mazda3, he has understandably high expectations for modern subcompact SUVs.

On a long journey, the 2023 Honda HR-V's seats were comfy - and the sunroof a welcome option. As is the 9-inch screen offering wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

Charging along between corn fields on Route 632 south of Summit, he gripped the fat leather steering wheel and seemed to enjoy the HR-Vs’s nimble Civic chassis. The engine, not so much. He reached for the DRIVE mode selector and got only ECO, SNOW and NORMAL. No SPORT mode. “Pretty boring,” he said. How about the interior? “Compared to the red interior in my Mazda3? Pretty boring.”

Like I said, tough class.

Mazda CX-30 has set a ridiculously high bar in this class in features, too, with standard adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist, automatic braking, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and coffee machine (kidding about the latter). Honda keeps up with standard adaptive cruise and auto braking, but load the two vehicles to the teeth and the Mazda wins on price.

Honda’s strengths are in its boxy utility and ergonomic excellence. The Mazda has its quirks — like a cramped, coupe-like roof and remote-dial controlled information screen. Typically, Honda has obsessively tested its SUV to make sure everything is easy. For example:—Tab on top of the rear seats to help them collapse? Check.—Console storage? Check.—Sub-rear cargo storage for small items? Check.—Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto? Check (on models like my tester with 9-inch screens).—Front warning lights to let me know that I’m within inches of a stack of race tires in the crowded Summit paddock? Check.

Still, there are reminders this is an entry-level vehicle, even in my loaded $31K EX-L model. There are no ceiling grab handles (for passengers to seize when we motorheads choose to throw the Civic chassis around a bit) or climate controls in the rear (honey, could you please turn up the AC in front?).

But on the whole, this is a stylish, roomy vehicle that punches above its price point. Sitting in Summit’s paddock next to the Honda, a friend pointed at the HR-V’s clay-blue wardrobe.

“I like that color,” he said. “Very fashionable.”

In the middle of a sea of race cars sporting all kinds of entertaining paint jobs, it’s no small feat for a small SUV to get noticed. Just a few yards away, a trio of red, yellow and blue F1600s flashed by — nose to tail — down the pit straight.

If a little more of that sportiness rubs off on the HR-V’s engine bay, the Honda will be complete.

2023 Honda HR-V

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

Price: $24,895, including $1,245 destination fee ($30,590 as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, inline 4-cylinder

Power: 158 horsepower, 138 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver). Top speed, 135 mph

Weight: 3,350 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 25 mpg city/30 highway/27 combined

Report card

Highs: Excellent, roomy interior; fun Civic platform

Lows: Engine lacks punch; oh, that CVT

Overall: 3 stars

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

Detroit News Readers’ Choice awards: Z06, V-8s and EVs take prizes

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 21, 2022

Detroit — The Detroit auto show floor is awash in whispery-quiet new electric vehicles, but show-goers still covet American heavy metal.

Muscle cars dominated the annual Detroit News Readers’ Choice awards at Huntington Place this year. The high-revving, 670-horsepower, V8-powered Chevy Corvette Z06 took home Best in Show, while the rowdy Ford Bronco Raptor — inspired by King of the Hammers racing trucks — won best Off-Road Warrior.

Ford’s focus on its iconic vehicles — Mustang, Bronco, F-150 — has received a lot of buzz, and that was reflected in jurors’ selections as the Blue Oval took home the most prizes, winning four of the nine categories. Ford’s luxury division, Lincoln, also took home Top Concept for good measure.

The Readers’ Choice Awards are prized by automakers for their status as the Detroit show’s only awards judged by car buyers themselves. Nearly 100 jurors were let loose on the show floor during the Sept. 14 media day to make their selections.

The 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 was President Joe Biden's favorite vehicle at the Detroit auto show and also found favor among judges of The Detroit News Readers' Choice awards.

The 2023 Corvette Z06 had already caught the eye of President Joe Biden when he toured the show, and News’ readers found the orange supercar irresistible as well. The eighth-generation, $65,895 Corvette C8 is the iconic nameplate’s first mid-engine model — and much more affordable than comparable mid-engine exotics from Ferrari and McLaren. The Z06 is the C8’s first performance version featuring the most-powerful normally-aspirated V-8 production engine ever made.

That performance will cost customers another 40 grand over the base car — and for that, The News’ jurors awarded the Z06 the prize for If Money Were No Object.

The Lincoln L100 was the Readers' Choice winner as Top Concept.

The North American International Auto Show has traditionally showcased head-turning concepts, and 2022 was no different. In perhaps the biggest surprise of the Readers’ Choice Awards, the Lincoln L100 Concept edged out the much-hyped Dodge Charger Daytona Banshee — a peek at the brand’s first EVs — and Buick Wildcat as best concept.

The sci-fi L100 is Lincoln’s vision of an autonomous vehicle future with no steering wheel or pedals (a “chess piece” is provided on an electronic pad to override the car’s self-driving if needed) and front seats that can swivel to face rear passengers. The chariot boasts other exotic features like a glass canopy roof, glass “frunk” and hub-mounted electric motors.

Mustang’s most powerful model — the Shelby GT500 — took home the trophy for Muscle Machine. The track-focused, 760-horse hellion can hit 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. You can’t miss its giant cow-catcher front grille.

Best Electric Vehicle awards went to the Ford Mustang Mach-E — inspired by the Mustang coupe — and Cadillac Lyriq. While Mach-E replicates the sports-car’s looks and speed in an updated EV package, Lyriq shows the way to an entirely electric Cadillac future with new fascia and bling-tastic interior.

In addition to winning best Off-Road Warrior, the ballistic Bronco Raptor also inspired the more affordable Bronco Sport, which jurors judged best Bargain Buggy. Based on the Ford Escape’s unibody chassis, the all-wheel-drive Bronco Sport Badlands trim offers surprising off-road capability for half the price of the ladder-frame-based Raptor.

The Detroit News Readers' Choice winner for best Family Hauler is the 2023 Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

If you want to bring the entire family to Huntington Place for the show, jurors recommend the Jeep Grand Wagoneer as best Family Hauler with its spacious three-row interior. The Grand is a step above the Wagoneer (which competes against the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition) and sets its sights on truck-based luxury models like the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator.

Riding on a smooth air suspension, the Grand Wagoneer boasts an interior studded with luxury touches including four screens up front — even one for the passenger. Second-row passengers get their own infotainment screens, and third-row passengers their own sunroof.

Under the hood? A 471-horspower, 6.4-liter V-8, of course. Even family haulers are best served with American muscle.

The winners

HOTTEST TECH: Ford Mustang Mach-E

MOST ELECTRIFYING: Cadillac Lyric

BARGAIN BUGGY: Ford Bronco Sport

OFF-ROAD WARRIOR: Ford Bronco Raptor

FAMILY HAULER: Jeep Grand Wagoneer

MUSCLE MACHINE: Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

TOP CONCEPT: Lincoln L100

IF MONEY WERE NO OBJECT: Chevrolet Corvette Z06

BEST IN SHOW: Chevrolet Corvette Z06

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

Payne: Overlanding across the UP to Michigan’s other auto-palooza, Detroit 4fest

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

High Rock Bay, Upper Peninsula — The Back Yard Overland Tour kicked off Detroit 4fest this week with an epic adventure that included a visit into a 350-foot-deep mineshaft, a front hub blowout, and a mad Jeep dash to the northernmost point in Michigan.

And that was just the first day.

A Jeep Gladiator and Jeep Wrangler 4xe reach the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula on the 2022 Back Yard Overland Tour.

BYOT is the first in a packed calendar of events this weekend for the fourth annual 4fest, one of three auto circuses in town. The Detroit auto show at Huntington Place celebrates the latest vehicles in the industry. The Detroit Concours d’Elegance at the Detroit Institute for Art celebrates the industry’s classics. And 4fest celebrates utes ‘n’ trucks — the hottest segments in the industry, from Jeep Wranglers to Ford Broncos to Toyota Tacomas.

In many ways, 4fest is the most relevant of the three shows. It’s the intersection of some of the biggest trends in the industry as automakers ramp up production of off-road capable SUVs aimed at families in a post-COVID world who discovered how to work remotely and how to vacation at America’s network of national parks. It’s a culture struggling to accommodate government trends forcing the industry to produce overland-challenged electric cars, but 4fest will also have a global auto reveal of its own: the first battery-powered, King of the Hammers Ultra4 off-road racer.

This year, 4fest is taking it up a notch with the introduction of an all-new electric off-road racer and the Overland Tour — a five-day, 750-mile celebration of the state that introduced America to automobiles, the copper industry, the Great Lakes, and more. I joined the train of five Jeeps — and their motley crews — with a plug-in hybrid 2023 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe for the first day of the journey in the far reaches of the Upper Peninsula.

Their ultimate destination? Detroit 4fest’s auto-palooza Sept. 17-18 at Holly Oaks ORV Park, where owners take the 4x4s they ogled at the Detroit auto show and turn them loose on the most challenging off-road environment in southeast Michigan.

Some of the off-road Jeep warriors on the 2022 Back Yard Overland Tour: two Wranglers and Commando.

“Off-roading is about more than just light bars and big tires,” said Liam Lafferty, 27, owner of a 1972 Jeep Commando and contributor to GoneGPN.com (Gone Jeepin’, get it?) that helped organize BYOT. “It’s about getting out into nature. Back Yard shows owners how they can experience the off-road lifestyle, but in a less intense environment in some of the most beautiful places in America.”

The UP certainly fits the bill.

With stunning lake vistas, sprawling state parks and geological and mineral history to match, Michigan’s northern “back yard” is a treasure — and today’s off-road vehicles are the perfect tools to explore  it.

BYOT’s trip covers 750 miles starting at Keweenaw Peninsula, skirting the southern banks of Lake Superior east through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Whitefish Point before plunging due south across the Mackinac Bridge, cruising along the Lake Huron coast, and arriving Saturday in Holly Oaks for the kick-off of 4fest’s weekend activities.

Overlanding requires improvisation, and our adapting skills were put to an immediate test. After 10 hours on the road from Metro Detroit to Keweenaw, one of our train — a classic Kaiser Jeep M715 (complete with gear tunnel that would make a Rivian R1T envious) — blew a left front hub.

Repair time.

Dead in the water in the little town of L’Anse at the base of the Keweenaw, we sent out an SOS to the local off-road community and were met by immediate support. A local mechanic, Big Off-Road Repair, arrived along with others to fix the issue. It was a preview of the congregation of off-roaders we found along the way — whether in need on the road or at a campsite — who converse easily with one another. Even if they own a Wrangler or Bronco.

Overlanding take many forms. BYOT’s videographer, Mike Harrington, 67, who has a laundry list of Hollywood and auto industry ads to his credit — covered the Ultimate Adventure, perhaps the most extreme overland tour that pitted some of the country’s finest builders of dirt-kickers in a multi-state competition.

But more typical is the nine-day Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, every Easter when families and enthusiasts gather in the country’s most famous off-road playground to camp, trail-ride, and generally ogle the latest Jeeps.

For their inaugural overland tour, Detroit 4fest wanted to showcase Michigan’s history and scenery as well as its extensive trail network. The Keweenaw is a reminder that Michigan is about more than just making automobiles.

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4xe meets Quincy Mine's #2 mine shaft, which closed in 1945.

Crossing the Keweenaw Waterway, we took steep, San Francisco-like roads to Houghton’s Quincy Mines. Towering above the Torch Lake valley, Quincy’s last remaining #2 mine shaft is  a reminder that the UP was once America’s epicenter of copper mining, churning out the metal for everything from wire to plates.

We visited the Quincy #2 Hoist House — home to the world’s largest steam-driven mine hoist — that was built in 1918 with 2,500 horsepower to pull copper-laden, 10-ton cars at 35 mph up a 9,250-foot (nearly two miles) shaft to the surface.

Jeep dominates the off-road space, but Yoopers drive everything 4×4, including Broncos, Subarus, F-150 Raptors, Toyota Tacomas and more.

My plug-in hybrid Wrangler Rubicon 4xe was an excellent overland companion — though not nearly as fearsome-looking as the Maximus-3 Gladiator pickup truck with 40-inch tires that I followed up Route 41 to High Rock Bay, the northern-most point in Michigan with a staggering view of Lake Superior.

The 4xe’s signature trick is that it could preserve its 26-mile battery range until I got to the top of Route 41 — the end of the line for a road that winds 1,990 miles from Miami. I then went to full electric mode, stealthily crawling through the forest on dirt trails until we reached Superior’s sandy shores.

Camping at Twin Lakes campground in the UP with the 2022 Back Yard Overland Tour.

We were hardly alone, however as the campsite was full of other overlanders even though it was a Monday afternoon. They were on vacation in RVs, on lunch break, or just working remotely.

On the 16-mile round trip to High Rock, I ate all 26 miles of my electric range and needed gas power to get me the last two miles. Four-wheeling on trails — even at 5-30 mph — sucks electrons.

I didn’t see a single electric vehicle in my two days across the UP. Even at $4 gasoline, drivers I talked to resisted the government’s call to buy electric. Gasoline is more than a quick-fill convenience — it also provides range security in the long stretches between scarce service stations, where trailering an RV can eat up to 50% of a vehicle’s gas range. Tow behind an EV — or just go four-wheelin’ in a hybrid as I did — and batteries can lose a lot of range, stranding vehicles far from the energy grid.

Social hour on the UP's trails. 2022 Back Yard Overland Tour

Riding the EV wave, 4fest will have the global reveal on Friday of the King of Hammers Ultra4 race vehicle, marking battery power’s entry into the U.S.’s most demanding off-road sport. Whether on the road at BYOT or pounding around Holly Oaks, 4fest wants to teach the culture of off-roading to the thousands of new buyers coming into the ute ‘n’ truck segments today. The event is not only sponsored by Jeep and aftermarket parts companies like TYRI Lights (the Overland tour’s chief sponsor), but also Tread Lightly, a nonprofit that encourages trail and campsite maintenance.

“We want to get more people involved in this adventure lifestyle. It’s great for the soul,” said Tom Zielinski, CEO of 4fest. “At fest we also give folks Off-Road 101 lessons — how do I put this in AWD? How do I air own my tires? — that are important and give them the confidence to go back here to Holly Oaks, or go the the UP, or perhaps out west.”

Payne at the 2022 Back Yard Overland Tour.

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

Mustangs, dinosaurs and ducks: The Top 10 attractions at the Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

Detroit — The Detroit auto show is finally back after a long hiatus. But it’s now more Detroit Fair than auto show.

Walk over to the totally revamped Huntington Place exhibition center Sept. 17-25 and you’ll find animals (Rams, Mustangs, Broncos), games (VR, simulators, raffles), food (elephant ears, corn dogs, pizza), thrill rides (Bronco Mountain, Camp Jeep, Lightning launches) and flying machines.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: A different show floor with dinosaurs, cars, and rides.

Even the weather has changed, with pleasant, carnival-like, 80-degree temps so attendees can walk outside and enjoy the day. Or the giant duck (another animal).

Of course, automobiles are still the centerpiece of the fair — er, auto show. But they are presented on acres of carpet like an oversized dealer lobby — not surrounded by the multimillion-dollar mega-stages of yore that looked right out of a Broadway theater. The Detroit Three automakers dominate the show floor with Ford sandwiched between the General Motors’ brands in the South Hall and Stellantis brands to the north. Gone are sprawling stages from BMW, Volkswagen, even Mercedes that once rocked the South Hall with bold autonomous cars and $100,000 AMG SUVs.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: Rams, Mustangs, and ducks

A more compact show is in their place so that mom and dad can easily shop for their next family car. But when the kids get antsy — Dad, can we see something other than cars?! — the parents can follow the neon green footsteps across the hall to the Dinosaur Expedition and time-travel back to the Late Jurassic.

I used to write about the Top 10 cars at the Detroit auto show. But in recognition of a show transformed, here are the Top 10 attractions.

1) The Concepts. Detroit auto shows have seen some wild concepts over the years, and ’22 is no different. Electric vehicle platforms and the electronics revolution have given designers new tools to play with. Check out the sleek Buick Wildcat. Or the wicked Dodge Charger Daytona Banshee, which will shriek as loud as a V-8 Hellcat thanks to its Fratzonic Chambered Exhaust.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: inside the Lincoln concept

Or check out the bling-tastic Lincoln Star Concept. It features a see-through frunk that turns opaque when you load it with cargo. It has a slide-out work desk in the front seat — a drink chiller in back. And it one-ups Rolls Royce — replacing the umbrella in each rear door with a “digital briefcase” compartment so can charge your laptop while accessing its files on the Star’s multiple screens.

2) Camp Jeep. Jump in a Gladiator pickup or Wrangler Rubicon on the show floor and a driver will demonstrate the dirt kickers’ diverse off-road skills. The highlight (pun intended) is a climb to the top of a rollercoaster-like hill where you get Huntington Place’s best views.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: Camp Jeep ride, best view in the house

3) Ram pull. Next to Jeep is the Ram ride where you can luxuriate in the pickup’s palatial interior while the truck clean-and-jerks a 7,000-pound cement wall off the show floor. Dad will be pulled kickin’ and screamin’ out of this ride. The Ram 2500 Limited, for example, has a 850-torque diesel, camera mirror, multiple camera angles, and a console screen the size of the Henry Ford IMAX theater.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: Ram pulls up a 7,000-pound wall

4) Corvette Z06. The Biden Administration wants the industry to go electric, but someone forgot to tell Joe Biden. The president is the owner of a ’67 ’Vette and his favorite car when he toured the show floor Sept. 14 was the new, V8-powered, 670-horsepower Corvette Z06 that’ll sing like an F-15 on afterburners when you put your foot into it. It made all the evening newscasts. It’s painted orange so you don’t miss it.

President Joe Biden takes a look at the 2023 Corvette at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022.

5) Rubber duckie. Painted yellow and unmissable is a 61-foot inflatable duck in front of the convention center. You can see it from space. It honors the Jeepster tradition of getting “ducked.” If  a Jeep owner likes another Jeep, they put a duck on it. Sign up for Jeep’s $100,000 raffle and you’ll get a tiny rubber duck, too.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: Duckin' at Jeep site outside Huntington Place

6) Dinosaur Expedition. Rivaling the duck in size are the Brontosauruses in Matt Flynn’s Dinosaur Expedition. Just follow the green footprints in the lobby and they will lead you to the Ballroom, which has been transformed into a dino playground. Take a dinosaur ride, listen to dino stories, buy dinosaur toys. It’s dino-mite.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: Dinosaur Expedition in Ballroom with Matt Flynn

7) The Mustang. The ’Vette isn’t the only car resisting the electric trend. The new, 2024 Mustang is in the house. It’s muscular, it’s menacing, it’s got a V-8 . . . but the surprise is a 21st-century interior with huge digital screens run by Unreal Engine 3D. That’s right, the same gaming company that designs your kids’ Fortnite video game.

8) Chrysler 300C. The 300C is heading for the exits after 17 years, but not before 2,200 copies of this final edition model are made (they’ve already sold out). With its slab sides, big grille and Hemi V-8, this is the ultimate gangster getaway car.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: the last Chrysler 300C

9) Aircraft. Since you’re no longer freezing in January, the Detroit show wants to invite you outside and scan the skies. There you’ll find the Drone Show with 300-400 drones celebrating Opening Day of the show’s public run at 9 p.m. Saturday. Inside you’ll find the biggest commercial drone you’ve ever seen: the six-engine ASX that will deliver people — or packages.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: ASX drone

10) Lap the Detroit GP. Also outside, get in line for a lap around the Detroit Grand Prix’s new 10-turn, 1.7-mile course as the race returns to city streets next June for the first time in 30 years. The track winds north ’round the RenCen, skirts the waterfront, then shoots back west along Jefferson Avenue. At press time, a show spokesman said that VW and Chevy would be giving rides.

We hope the Chevys are Corvette Z06s.

Detroit Auto Show 2022: Griswold & Jefferson Ave, the Detroit Grand Prix course hairpin

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

Payne: Seven generations of the Mustang family and what made them special

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

Few auto badges have lasted 60 years, but the Ford Mustang isn’t your average auto.

The two-door sports coupe created the affordable muscle car class in the U.S. in 1965 and has been an icon ever since. As the Porsche 911 has defined luxury performance across the decades, so has Mustang endured through seven generations, the latest unveiled this week at the 2022 Detroit auto show.

Its essential, rear-wheel-drive, long-hood, coupe spec has remained the same since its inception. But the pony car has also changed with the times — evolving with technology, surviving strong regulatory headwinds, and spawning Shelby performance versions with eye-watering performance.

Here’s a look at each generation of Mustang and what made it special.

Gen One, 1965-73: The OG was born as a 1965 model in April 1964 and was an instant hit. Ford predicted first-year sales of 100,000 vehicles, but dealers sold 22,000 on the first day alone. By year’s end, Ford had sold over 400,000. By March 1966, the 1 millionth Mustang rolled off the line.

1965 Ford Mustang

Today it is a collector’s car found in the garages of Dream Cruisers, former President Bill Clinton and Ford Chairman Bill Ford. Everyone has their favorite ‘Stang engine, and the ’65 debuted with 2.8-liter straight-six, 4.3-liter V-8 and 271-horse 4.7-liter V-8. For reference, that’s shy of the 310 ponies made by today’s entry-level, 2.3-liter turbo-4 engine.

It didn’t take long to spawn a performance version from Ford partner Carroll Shelby’s shop beginning in 1965, further polishing Mustang’s reputation. The white Shelby Cobra GT350 would become synonymous with Mustang with its twin stripes and 4.7-liter engine, and the light-weighted GT350R would dominate SCCA B-Production racing. A 7.0-liter Shelby GT500 was added to the lineup in 1967.

1969 FOrd Mustang Boss 302

Looks and footprint evolved over the decade — the 1969 Mustang Boss 302 being one of the most iconic models with a second set of headlights integrated into the grille. By 1970, sales had come back to earth with less than 200,000 sold.

Gen Two, 1974-78: With the 1970s oil crisis came federal CAFE regulations and everything was downsized, including the Mustang.

1974 Ford Mustang II

The pony car shared a chassis with the common Ford Pinto and sprouted a hatchback option. It featured small pony engines: a 2.3-liter four-cylinder and 2.8-liter V-6. Today, the Gen Two car is dismissed by Mustang enthusiasts, and few are seen at classic Dream Cruises. But in oil-embargoed 1974, the Mustang was embraced, with sales soaring to 386,000.

1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra

Eventually, Ford managed to stuff the coupe with a 5.0-liter V-8 (making just 140 horsepower), offered in Cobra II and King Cobra models.

Gen Three, 1979-93: Ford closed out the Malaise Decade with a new car based on the bigger Fox platform shared with the Fairmont sedan. Gerbil wheels continued under the hood with a 88-horse starter four, 132-horse turbo-4 inline-6 and V-8.

1987 Ford Mustang

The roaring ’80s brought back some of the Mustang’s roar as well with a HiPo 225-horsepower V-8, quick turbo-four SVO, and the first convertible in a decade. For ’87, Mustang got a more muscular bod, though the car’s style had now evolved completely away from the original with a grille-less face and big horizontal headlights.

Gen Four, 1994-2004: Along with more curvaceous sheet metal and a return to the OG’s twin-cowl dash, the fourth-generation pony was powered by a stout, base 3.8-liter V-6 to go with the optional V-8.

1994 Ford Mustang

There were plenty of toys for enthusiasts, like the 320-horse, V8-powered 1999 SVT Cobra, complete with front skirt and rear wing. The Bullitt model paid tribute to Steve McQueen’s movie car, the Mach 1 introduced a shaker hood, and the wonderfully named Terminator Cobra boasted 390 supercharged horsepower.

Gen Five, 2005-14: Rebirth. To many Mustang enthusiasts, the 2005 ’Stang rediscovered its roots. The coupe brought back round headlights and muscled, fastback looks. The retro-car rekindled the segment, sparking the re-emergence of archrivals Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger.

 2005 Ford Mustang

For the ’11 model year, there was muscle under the hood to match its looks with a 3.7-liter V-6 and 412-horse 5.0-liter V-8 on offer. Hot performance models followed, including the torrid, 444-horse track-focused Boss 302 and multiple high-powered Shelby GT500s — celebrating the return of the Shelby badge for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Gen Six, 2015-23: Mustang celebrated its 50th anniversary with an all-new car and big international ambitions. The new coupe would be exported to 140-plus countries. To encourage a wider demographic both abroad and at home, Mustang also got a radical redesign with styling cues more in line with brand siblings like the Focus and Fusion sedans. The round headlights disappeared into a modern headlight casing.

Some enthusiasts would deride the new style as the “Mustang Fusion,” but Ford backed its new car with a remade chassis and ’Stang’s first standard independent rear-suspension — key to the track ambitions of the V8-powered Shelby GT50 and GT500, back in the showroom together for the first time since the ’60s.

The 2015 Mustang  is the first car to offer four-, six- and eight-cylinder engines that each produce at least 300 horsepower. The 3.7-liter V6 and upgraded 5.0-liter V8 are joined by an all-new 2.3-liter EcoBoost® engine.

Harking back to the 1960s’ GT350, the Shelby was a ferocious driver’s car with stick shift and a unique, flat-plane crank V-8 engine that howled to 8,000 RPM like a Ferrari V-8. The supercharged GT500 boasted more horsepower than any Mustang before it — 760 — and a lightning-quick eight-speed automatic transmission.

Even the entry-level Mustang got a so-called High Performance variant with a 330-horse turbo-4 ripped from the Focus RS.

Gen Seven, 2024-: With killjoy government closing in again on muscle cars with draconian emissions regulations, Mustang defied elimination (the V-8 Camaro and Challenger expire in 2024) with the introduction of its 2024 coupe. Not only does the new ’Stang keep its V-8, it enhances it with twin throttle bodies promising more ponies when the car debuts in the summer of 2023.

But the big advance is in interior upgrades unheard of in the car’s six-decade existence. Gone is the famous double-bubble cockpit replaced by … twin digital screens sporting state-of-the-art graphics courtesy of the Unreal game engine.

Some six drive modes will be offered, including a configurable Custom mode. In a nod to enthusiasts, the styling harkens back to the muscled 2005 model with chunkier cues seen in everything from the hips to the steering wheel hub.

In honor of its heritage, a graphic on the back window features a silhouette of every generation reaching back to 1965.

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

Payne: Five things about the 2024 Ford Mustang

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

The Ford Mustang created the US muscle car segment in 1965, and it looks to be the last V8-powered muscle car standing after the 2024 model year. Both the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger are packing it in.

Credit Ford with shrewd product planning to keep the regulatory vultures at bay. Though some Mustang fans have pooh-poohed the Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle as “not a real Mustang,” Where the V8-powered Challenger and Charger are racking up significant government fines, Ford insiders say the Mustang EV’s credits helped save its V8-powered sibling sports car’s from regulatory jail.

“Investing in another generation of Mustang is a big statement at a time when many of our competitors are exiting the business of internal combustion vehicles,” said chief motorhead and Ford CEO Jim Farley, an accomplished racer.

Product planning innovation aside, the seventh-gen Mustang continues the successful formula of the sixth-gen car with convertible, manual, and turbo-4/V8 cylinder power. But the new car is hardly mailing it in.

The ‘24 promises significant upgrades in technology and styling that should please long-time fans and a new generation of buyers alike. Here are five notable things about the new pony:

The 2024 Ford Mustang GT, in Vapor Blue, September 8, 2022. This is the seventh generation of the Mustang.

1) Style. For the sixth-gen car, Mustang went international, selling in over 140 markets. To appeal to its new audiences, the Ford got a more international style – less American muscle, more Ford sedan model line with softer edges and a cowl-less grille. The car was a huge hit – but the muscle-car faithful at home derided the car as the “Mustang Fusion.”

While maintaining the last gen’s modern design cues, the 2024 model leans into its muscular American design heritage. Take the steering wheel, for example. The sixth gen’s hub was round – the seventh gen’s is rectangular, like the Hulk’s pecs. The theme is repeated throughout the vehicle.

The grille is more squared-off, less ovoid. The headlights (the three rectangular beams) are set back in the bodywork like the 1969 Boss 302 – a horizontal line running across the grille’s brow, emphasizing the cars low stance. Indeed, the whole front clip is different for the GT and standard Ecoboost cars, a Mustang first. Other signature pieces are strong rear hip lines, and a functional GT hood sccop that pulls air through the front grille for downforce and to cool the radiator.

The front dash of the 2024 Ford Mustang GT has two digital displays that can be customized, September 8, 2022. This is the seventh generation of the Mustang.

2) Interior. Welcome to the 21st century. While not as radical as the Mustang Mach-E’s screen-focused, Tesla-like interior, the 2024 has a modern interior like no Mustang before it.

Rather than the Mustang’s classic double-bubble dash, the new car gets twin, hoodless 12.4-inch instrument and 13.3-inch console screens running across the dash. A single button on the console operates volume.

The Mustang comes with six Drive Modes: Normal, Sport, Track, Drag, Slippery, and Custom. Thanks to state-of-the-art graphics from Unreal Engine 3D – the same gaming engine found in the hit video game, Fortnight, and the GMC Hummer EV – the screen display changes with each mode. Select the track mode and a map for Grattan Raceway in Grand Rapids – where Mustang underwent extensive testing – appears

The infotainment system is run by Ford’s latest SYNC 4 which allows wireless Apple CarPlay/Andriod Auto.

The front grill of the 2024 Ford Mustang GT, September 8, 2022. This is the seventh generation of the Mustang.

3) V8 power. The dual-overhead cam Coyote engine makes one of the auto kingdom’s most distinctive sounds and it is back in the GT model. Expect more capability thanks to dual throttle bodies which driver’s will want to show off at the Woodward Dream Cruise with the hood up.

The engine breathes through twin snorkels attached to the twin nostrils on either side of the front grille. The standard, turbocharged, 2.3-liter 4-banger is no slouch either making more than 300 horsepower.

4) Tricks. This being a muscle car, it has some cool tricks up it’s sleeve. The sixth-gen model debuted line lock – so that, dude, you could smoke your rear tires while stationary at stoplight. The 2024 model introduces Electronic Drift Brake for drifting.

The Mustang comes standard with a handbrake, then the e-Brake option (when actuated via the screen) encourages drivers to slew the rear end out and wow your friends – and melt your rear rubber to the cords. Ford developed the feature with professional drift racer, Vaughan Gittin, Jr.

Remote key fob tricks have become hip – think Tesla’s remote park feature. Mustang owner’s can use their key fob Remote Rev feature to rev their steed remotely. Vroom vroom!

The front dash of the 2024 Ford Mustang GT has two digital displays that can be customized, September 8, 2022. This is the seventh generation of the Mustang.

5) Customization. Owners have always had a lot of choices to make the Mustang their own. The 2024 is no different. The car options 11 colors including new Yellow Splash and Vapor Blue. Brembo brakes – optioned on the Performance Pack – will also be available in three different colors. And there is even a Bronze trim option – part of the Mustang Design Series – with Sinister Bronze alloy wheels and a bronze pony logo on the grille.

In the screen display’s Custom driving mode, the ‘Stang’s current setup is displayed on the center stack as real-time graphical renderings. Settings can then be adjusted – gaming style – by simply swiping the graphic to rotate the car virtually.

The Mustang begins production at Flat Rock assembly in the summer of 2023.

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

Cadillac Celestiq turns heads at EyesOn Design Awards

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

Detroit — The Cadillac Celestiq, the dramatic sedan concept pointing the way to the luxury brand’s electric future, dominated the 2022 EyesOn Design Awards, taking home two trophies.

The Celestiq won for Best Use of Color, Graphics, or Materials and for Best Concept Vehicle. In the latter category, the Celestiq nosed out two other Motown nominees, the Buick Wildcat and Lincoln Model L100.

The new Cadillac Celestiq show car was inspired by the luxury brand's past while integrating the technology of the future.

The 2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV and DeLorean Alpha5 lost out to the sleek Ferrari Daytona SP3 for Best Production Vehicle. Other winners included the Audi Grandsphere as Best Design Interior.

The EyesOn Design honors are the official design awards of the Detroit auto show and are judged by some of the most respected designers in the industry. They honor the best production and concept vehicles in the world and have attracted added interest this year as designers work with new architectures presented by electric vehicle development. Without a gas engine up front breathing through giant grilles, designers have new freedom to create “frunks” — front trunks — elongated cabins, and new fascias.

Buick Wildcat EV at the 2022 North American International Auto Show.

Though the Buick Wildcat failed to win a category, it received the most nominations with three. Wildcat was also nominated in the Color and Interior Design categories.

Now in their 35th year, the awards have honored some of the industry’s most iconic designs.

2022 winners:

Best Concept Vehicle: Cadillac Celestiq

Other nominees: Buick Wildcat, Lincoln L100

Best Production Vehicle: Ferrari Daytona SP3

Other nominees: Chevrolet Blazer EV, DeLorean Alpha5, Range Rover

Best Designed Interior: Audi Grandsphere Concept

Other nominees: Audi Urbansphere, Buick Wildcat

Innovative Use of Color, Graphics or Materials: Cadillac Celestiq

Other nominees: Audi Grandsphere, Buick Wildcat

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

Car, Truck and SUV of the Year semifinalists announced at Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

Detroit — Let the games begin.

The North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year opened the 2022 Detroit auto show by announcing the semifinalists for the 2023 model year in three categories. The contenders were whittled from a record eligibility list of 48 entrants — 20 of them electric, 31 of them SUVs, and five startups, reflecting trends in the industry.

The Ford F-150 Lightning EV will be an early favorite for Truck of the Year, but otherwise domestic nameplates are few in the car and SUV categories.

The Detroit auto show opened Wednesday morning for media.

The Lightning is one of the flood of EVs coming to market as governments are forcing electrification (California, America’s biggest market, has announced a ban on gas car sales by 2035) and manufacturers are rushing to test the market for customer acceptance. The opportunity has also encouraged a bushel of startups to market — and two startup models, Rivian R1S and Lordstown Endurance, made the semifinalists’ list.

But traditional badges also populate the list as consumer favorites like the Honda CR-V and Lexus RX come to market with major upgrades thanks to the electronics revolution sweeping the industry.

“The semifinalist list indicates the enormous diversity available to consumers today,” said NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg, who announced the contenders from the Detroit Auto Show floor Wednesday. “There are a surprising number of sedans to choose from despite the trend to SUVs, while EVs have their work cut out for them given the challenges of charging and the rising cost of electricity. As for early favorites, I wouldn’t bet against the Lightning.”

Judged by 50 independent journalists (including the author of this article), NACTOY is one of the industry’s most prestigious awards.

SUVs now make up over 7 of every 10 new cars sold in the US, and automakers are focusing on the largest segment — compact utes — with EV offerings.

Two of those new models — the Rivian and Cadillac Lyriq — will be early favorites for SUV of the year. Rivian is an all-electric brand and Cadillac promises to be all-EVs by 2030, with bling-tastic Lyriq as its first battery-powered offering. Other EV favorites include the peppy, radically-styled Genesis GV60 and Kia EV6 — both built on the Hyundai Group’s first electric skateboard platform.

Popular gas models like the Honda CR-V, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-50 are sure to give them a run. Surprisingly absent from the list are the first EVs from Subaru and Toyota — the Solterra and bZ4X. Startup EV automaker Fisker’s Ocean also notably did not make the final cut.

The Lightning — Ford’s first EV from its best-selling F-series pickup line — likely has the truck trophy in the bag thanks to its impressive torque and huge frunk. Competitors include the Chevy Silverado ZR2 and Lordstown Endurance — the latter an EV pickup from an Ohio-based startup that has struggled to bring its product to market.

Wth its sure-footed, rear-locker on, the 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning scrambles up a rocky trail.

Domestic automakers have all but abandoned the car market, but the category promises a close run for best 2023 model.

EVs also are plentiful here, including the BMW i4 eDrive 40i and Mercedes EQE. But a couple of sporty, nostalgic nameplates — the Acura Integra and Nissan Z — have early buzz as their fan bases have embraced the models’ updated looks and modern engines.

If Toyota (America’s No. 2 best-selling brand) was shut out in the SUV category, it looks strong in the sedan pool with two all-new gas-powered models: the luxurious Crown and wee hellion GR Corolla.

To be eligible for the prize, vehicles must be all or substantially new and available for purchase before the end of the 2023 calendar year. NACTOY jurors will gather in October for a comprehensive test of the semifinalists. A final trio are then announced in each category at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, with the winners unveiled Jan. 11 at a special ceremony in Detroit.

The winners for the 2022 model year were Honda Civic as Car of the Year, Ford Maverick as Truck of the Year and Ford Bronco for Utility of the Year.

2023 semifinalists

Car of the Year

Acura Integra

BMW i4 eDrive 40i

Genesis G80

Genesis G90

Mercedes C Class

Mercedes EQE

Nissan Z

Subaru WRX

Toyota Crown

Toyota GR Corolla

Truck of the Year

Chevrolet Silverado ZR2

Ford F-150 Lightning

Lordstown Endurance

Utility Vehicle of the Year

Audi Q4 e-tron

BMW iX xDrive M50i

Cadillac Lyriq

Genesis GV60

Honda CR-V

Honda HR-V

Kia EV6

Kia Sportage

Lexus RX

Mazda CX-50

Nissan Ariya

Rivian R1S

Volvo C40 Recharge

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

The legendary ‘Rain Man’ Buick Roadmaster resides in Detroit and is still raising autism awareness

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

Southfield — One of Hollywood’s most famous cars, the 1949 Buick Roadmaster that Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman drove in the movie “Rain Man,” has found a home in Detroit.

And, true to its movie heritage, it’s making a difference for autistic children.

This 1949 Buick Roadmaster was a key character in the movie "Rain Man."

Hoffman played Raymond Babbitt in the move — the autistic brother of Cruise’s Charlie Babbitt character — and the car shared equal billing as the pair bonded on a cross-country trip from Ohio to Las Vegas. Hoffman adopted the car as his own after the movie, keeping it for 34 years before putting it up for auction earlier this year. It was bought by Detroit collector-and-entrepreneur Kevin Adell.

This Thursday, the car will be in a starring role again, this time in the fourth annual Stahls Automotive Foundation’s Autos for Autism event in New Baltimore.

“I got a call from Wayne Carini — he has a show called ‘Chasing Classic Cars’ on the Motor Trend Channel,” said Adell as he cruised Southfield in the legendary Buick. “I didn’t know until he called that one of his family members has autism. He asked if he could use the car to show awareness for autism. He’ll be at the Stahls Museum this Thursday from 4-8 p.m. . . .  and this car will be used to raise money.”

Kevin Adell at the wheel of the 1949 Buick Roadmaster featured in the film "Rain Man."

The event on Sept. 15 will benefit the Ted Lindsay Foundation, which supports autism research and education. The Stahls Museum restores and exhibits vintage vehicles, music machines and memorabilia of the 20th century.

Along with Carini, Detroit Red Wings alumni Eddie Mio and Butch Patrick, who played Eddie on the “The Munsters” TV show, will be on hand.

The big, curvaceous, eight-cylinder Roadmaster convertible stands out on Metro Detroit roads surrounded by modern, jelly bean-shaped models. Buick’s signature quad port holes are prominent, as are whitewall tires and chrome grille. Open the door and the interior is a striking mix of cream and burgundy.

Adell says two Buicks were used for the movie — a primary mule car that was covered in plates and drill holes to carry cameras while filming the actors, and his car, which was used for running footage. The former went to director Barry Levinson, the latter to Hoffman.

“The car should have got an Oscar with those guys,” said a smiling Adell of the movie that took home four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Hoffman. “Hoffman kept his Roadmaster in a garage for 34 years. Now he’s 85 years old, and he put it up for auction at Scottdale. I’ve got the original title with Hoffman’s home address in Beverly Hills.”

In the movie, Raymond famously tells Charlie that “I’m an excellent driver.” Cruise’s character turns over the wheel to his movie brother and Raymond bumps a couple of curbs outside a Las Vegas motel.

Adell’s car looks no worse for the wear, having been impeccably restored since it came into his collection — right down to the Ohio plates.

That’s how he met Carini, who had done restoration work on Levinson’s Buick in Connecticut. “We were stumped on the transmission,” said Adell, who owns media properties including the The Word Network, 910AM Superstation, and WADL-TV. “It’s a 1949 automatic Dynaflow — he helped with a number of things.”

Tickets for Autos for Autism are $20 for ages 16 and older — ages 15 and younger are free. A VIP ticket costs $40 includes a a photo op with the 1949 Buick Roadmaster, meet-and-greet with the three celebrities, and access to a special car exhibit that includes a 1951 Hudson Hornet and 1970 Dodge Challenger. Tickets can be purchased online at www.eventbrite.com/e/autos-for-autism-2022-tickets-400159757607, or by calling the museum. Stahls Automotive Foundation is at 56516 North Bay Drive in Chesterfield Township.

“I definitely know this car. It’s a 1949 Buick Roadmaster, straight-8 — Fireball 8 — only 8,095 production models,” says Raymond Babbitt in the movie. The most famous copy is in Detroit raising autism awareness.

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

Penske and Porsche united: Two motorsports superpowers, one Le Mans goal

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

aytona Beach, Fla. — Roger Penske’s race cars have been in the winner’s circle of the world’s most storied tracks — including the Indianapolis 500 18 times, NASCAR’s Daytona 500 three times, the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, even Australia’s legendary Bathurst 1000.

But there is one title that has eluded Metro Detroit’s most famous car guy: the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, the world’s premiere sports car endurance race. So Penske has teamed with Le Mans’ winningest sports car brand, Porsche, to realize his ambition at the age of 85.

“It’s like having a new baby. I don’t want to miss it taking its first steps,” said Penske, who came here Sept. 2 to watch the sleek, red-and-white Porsche cyborg take its first test laps around Daytona Motor Speedway’s high bankings.

Bucket list: at 85, Roger Penske has teamed with Porsche to win both the Daytona and Le Mans endurance races.
Bucket list: at 85, Roger Penske has teamed with Porsche to win both the Daytona and Le Mans endurance races.HENRY PAYNE, THE DETROIT NEWS

On the road to Le Mans next June, the 24 Hours of Daytona will be the first test of the Porsche 963. For “The Captain” — as his loyal troops at Team Penske call him — capping his illustrious career with a Le Mans win would be just desserts given that his racing days began behind the wheel of a Porsche RSK in 1958.

Penske long ago stepped out of the driver’s seat to run not only one of the world’s most successful racing programs. He sits atop a business empire that includes Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IndyCar series, Penske Truck Leasing, and auto dealerships that employs 64,000 people across nine countries and four continents.

And yet, his passion for winning races — and for Porsches — is still at the heart of it all.

Roger Penske talks about his racing team’s relationship with Porsche at Daytona
Racing legend and team owner Roger Penske talks about his team’s racing and business relationship with Porsche during test runs at Daytona.
THE DETROIT NEWS

Under the banner Porsche Penske Motorsport, the formidable pair are teaming up again for an assault on the record books (Porsche is going for its 17th overall Le Mans win) at a time when the automotive world is in turmoil as government climate policy increasingly forces the industry to go all-electric.

Racing is not unaffected by the electrification push: the so-called LMDh (Le Mans Daytona hybrid) class that the Porsche 963 prototype has entered bows to the trend with a hybrid, 680-horsepower, twin-turbo V-8 that includes electric-motor assist.

But it’s the 4.6-liter V-8 that will do the heavy lifting in brutal 24-hour endurance races where cars crest 200 mph, and thrill crowds with their thunderous internal combustion-engine sounds.

Roger Penske, in Daytona to personally watch the Porsche 963 take its first test laps on the high banks
It’s like having a new baby. I don’t want to miss it taking its first steps.

The Porsche 963 is the third collaboration between Team Penske and Porsche Motorsports after the 917 Can Am and RS Spyder racers.
The Porsche 963 is the third collaboration between Team Penske and Porsche Motorsports after the 917 Can Am and RS Spyder racers.HENRY PAYNE, THE DETROIT NEWS

“We didn’t buy the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to run around there with electric cars,” smiled Penske who packed nearly 300,000 fans into IMS last June to see 33 V-6-powered IndyCars take the green flag at full squawk. By contrast, the electric Formula E race series has struggled to gain fans. Penske says that electric racing is a long way off even as production luxury vehicles like the electric, $100K-plus Porsche Taycan EV in his showrooms have flown off the shelves.

Of more immediate interest is adding to his trophy case, a passion that creates a standard for the rest of his companies.

“This is the first (racing program) that is destined for the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Porsche 963 team director Jonathan Diuguid, 39, who has been with Penske since he graduated from the University of North Carolina as an engineer in 2005. “As you can see here, Mr. Penske is at the test, which doesn’t happen very frequently. It’s definitely something he is focused on, and it carries extra weight for that reason.”

Porsche first teamed with Penske in 1972 on the ferocious 917 Can-Am car that dominated North America’s fastest sports car series. With drivers George Follmer and Mark Donahue, Penske dominated the 1972-73 seasons before a similar era of government intervention forced performance changes on auto racing.

Porsche-Penske dominated Can Am in the early 1970s with the Porsche 917-30.
Porsche-Penske dominated Can Am in the early 1970s with the Porsche 917-30.JUERGEN TAP, PENSKE

The two titans teamed up again in 2006-08 with the Porsche RS Spyder, a nimble, efficient racer that was a giant killer — challenging more powerful competition with better reliability and tactics. The bond the two teams share is rooted in decades of success — but also in the larger-than-life personalities behind the racing brands: the Porsche family and The Captain.

Respect for Penske in the Daytona pit was palpable.

He walked among his charges, talking to each individually. He is low-key but extremely well-briefed, says Urs Kuratle, Porsche Motorsports chief. Kuratle worked with Penske at Le Mans this year when the team entered a special, non-Porsche prototype entry to learn the Le Mans ropes.

“He was up for 36 hours at Le Mans, on the radio, asking questions,” said the Porsche team boss. “He knows the open points list as well as our engineers. To me, the man is from another planet.”

Patrick Long was the only North American driver on that team, a stint that launched him on a career as one of the world’s best race drivers.

“Growing up racing in the United States, I watched Roger Penske. He was the guy,” said Long, 41, who retired from racing last year and was on hand for the 963 test. “He called my races in 2008 (meaning each driver has a tactician in his ear during a race). Team Penske provided all the resources you could hope for, and in return was the expectation that you would win.”

Californian Dane Cameron is one of the hot shoes who tested the 963 in Daytona. Like Long, he is family — having won an IMSA title previously for Penske in 2019 when the team ran Acura’s program.

“It’s quite an honor to drive for Roger,” Cameron said. “And it’s quite an honor to join Porsche with their motorsport heritage. For me, that marriage is perfect and really something I wanted to be involved in.”

The car he will co-drive is at the summit of current automotive technology.

Roger Penske, right, sits on the pit wall as the Porsche 963 comes into the Daytona pits after an extended test session.
Roger Penske, right, sits on the pit wall as the Porsche 963 comes into the Daytona pits after an extended test session.HENRY PAYNE, THE DETROIT NEWS

Taking its engine from Porsche’s legendary 918 hybrid supercar, the 680-horsepower 963 then adds an electric motor between the mid-mounted engine and seven-speed gearbox. A sophisticated aerodynamic chassis incorporating a Formula One-like front keel wing sucks the car to the ground enabling neck-straining cornering speeds.

As part of an 800-volt electric platform (similar to the Taycan electric road car), the electric current brings new challenges to drivers and tracks. If an incident occurs, the driver is trained to exit the cockpit by standing on the sill — then jumping as far from the car as possible to guard against electric shock.

Prior to the test, corner workers and fire safety teams are brought by the garage and debriefed on how to handle the car if it is involved in a crash. Key is a light in the front windshield that indicates if the electrical system is OK (green) or compromised (red, or no light at all). If the latter, then responders are not to touch the car until a special team from Porsche arrives.

Front and rear wings provide tremendous downforce on the Porsche 963.
Front and rear wings provide tremendous downforce on the Porsche 963.HENRY PAYNE, THE DETROIT NEWS

While hybrids advertise efficiency in their road cars, they promise parity in auto racing, making for close competition that manufacturers covet.

“The LMDH regulations allow for all kinds of engine architectures: Cadillac normally-aspirated V-8, Porsche-and-BMW turbo V-8s, Acura twin-turbo V-6,” Diuguid said. “All engines have a different power curve shape (but) the hybrid system fills in holes and dips in the power curve so everyone is making the same power.”

This promise of parity, cutting-edge tech — and the tantalizing prospect of winning Daytona and Le Mans in the same calendar year — has attracted a who’s who of performance brands to the prototype class.

Porsche Penske Motorsport will compete in the years ahead against teams from Cadillac, Acura (both of which were at the Daytona test), BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Toyota.

With the track record of Penske and Porsche combined, there is no doubt who is the favorite.

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

Life under the Big Top: Highlights of 30 years of the Detroit auto show

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 18, 2022

The Detroit auto show’s history dates to 1907, when it became an annual event. But organizers took it to another level in 1989 when the Detroit Auto Dealers Association renamed it the North American International Auto Show and moved it to chilly January.

The goal: to compete against the world’s biggest shows in Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Shanghai and burnish Detroit’s global automotive cred. NAIAS became an instant sensation, attracting each year’s first model reveals and the attention of thousands of international journalists.

“It got so big, it was the best show in the world,” said Jason Vines, who attended his first show with Chrysler in the early ’90s. “I’m sorry, Germany and Japan. The Detroit show was the place to go.”

Cobo Center (now named Huntington Place) was transformed into a massive exhibition space showcasing the world’s latest wheels, hottest Hollywood celebrities, and the biggest annual charity event in the world. At its height, NAIAS played host to 79 vehicle introductions (in 2004) and welcomed 5,500 media (2008) — followed by two public weeks attended by nearly 1 million visitors annually.

“All the auto manufacturers were there,” continued Vines, who ultimately became Chrysler communications boss and the ringmaster behind some of the show’s most memorable debuts. “The Detroit show was the international show. When they changed the name, I thought, come on, give me a break — the North American International Auto Show? But it really was the international show, period.”

As NAIAS reboots this year with new September dates following a COVID-induced hiatus of more than three years, the auto show format is in transition with manufacturers favoring remote backdrops and internet buzz to glitzy new model displays. The new show aims to fill that void with activations, outsized attractions, ride ‘n’ drives, and electric monster trucks. Here’s a look in the rearview mirror at some of the Detroit auto show-palooza’s greatest hits.

1992: Jeep shatters expectations

It was the stunt heard ‘round the world. With “Maximum Bob” Lutz, Chrysler’s vice chairman, at the wheel and Mayor Coleman Young riding shotgun, the Jeep Grand Cherokee drove down Jefferson under police escort and up Cobo’s north steps before smashing through the convention center’s glass windows.

Well, it was a little more sophisticated than that.

A 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Chrysler's Bob Lutz with Detroit Mayor Coleman Young as a passenger smashes through a plate glass window and into Cobo Hall for its debut at the 1992 North American International Auto Show.

“The plate glass was fake, it was actually tempered glass that they had put in with explosive charges all around the perimeter,” recalled Lutz, now retired after a legendary career that also included executive stints at BMW AG, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., in an interview.

“There was a guy with a remote — and the moment he saw the front bumper of the Jeep Grand Cherokee an inch from the glass, he triggered the explosives so you had a shower of glass granules.”

Chrysler had concluded that shattering actual glass would have been too dangerous, with shards threatening not only bystanders but Jeep’s precious human cargo.

“It was designed to be safe, and it was a brilliant demonstration of how you can use a low-cost PR stunt to far more effect at a product introduction than you could ever get from conventional advertising,” Lutz said with a smile. “That stunt was on every TV station, every major news media in the U.S. — and around the world.”

There would actually be a sequel in 2006 when Jeep drove another new product — the ’07 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon — off its stand and through Cobo’s glass into the street.

1995: Minivan meets Kermit the Frog

Chrysler was determined to create buzz for its new minivans, the Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan and Plymouth Grand Voyager, which featured segment-first sliding doors on both sides and a two-zone climate-control system.

Bob Lutz with Chairman Bob Eaton read giant story books in Mr. Rogers-style sweaters, are interrupted by Kermit the Frog piloting a red Caravan over their heads and onto a fake pond’s lily pads, dousing onlookers with water.

Enter Lutz again, this time hamming it up with Chairman Bob Eaton reading giant storybooks in Mr. Rogers-style sweaters — who were then interrupted by Kermit the Frog piloting a red Caravan over their heads and onto a fake pond’s lily pads, dousing onlookers with water.

“Our stunt matched our message,” recalled Vines. “Our new minivan was going to leapfrog the competition.”

2008: Ram ‘n’ cattle drive

If Jeep’s glass-shattering stunt put the Detroit show on the map, then the Ram cattle drive may be the most ambitious.

Some 120 longhorn steers were trailered in from Oklahoma to accompany the all-new Ram truck (and upstage the new Ford F-150, also introduced at the show that year). They were kept in a parking lot overnight, then escorted down Washington Boulevard by cowboys with a trio of pickups in the middle.

In one of the most memorable Detroit Auto Show stunts, the 2009 Dodge Ram 'breaks from the herd' on Washington Boulevard in Detroit on Jan. 14, 2008. Dodge used a herd of 120 longhorn cattle driven by 10 cowboys to unveil the all-new 2009 Dodge Ram.
Courtesy of FCA

“This could be the greatest thing — or the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life,” recalled Vines, who helped orchestrate the stunt. Sure enough, the spectacle included unscripted activity.

“Some of the longhorns start humping each other,” Vines said, laughing. “And now Chrysler’s CEO was petrified. But event emcee Jim Press (then Chrysler’s marketing chief) was quick on his feet. He said: ‘Look at those big cows trying to get a good look at the new Ram pickup truck!’ The video went viral around the world.”

The celebs

As the event grew in prominence — supercharged by media coverage and a ritzy charity ball — it naturally attracted Hollywood and musical celebrities to Detroit.

The ’06 show featured comedian David Spade, who memorably introduced the new Dodge Caliber with a dig at another Dodge product: “anything is better than Neon.” Eva Longoria, star of TV’s “Desperate Housewives,” unveiled the Chrysler Imperial concept while Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker touted a Cadillac Escalade special edition.

In 2003, the Charity Preview was headlined by superstar (and DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman) Celine Dion, who belted her single “I Drove All Night.”

Grammy award-winning music artist Mary J Blige performs "Just Fine" with a 1953 Chevrolet Corvette at GM Style - General Motors' car studded music and fashion gala that kicks-off the 2008 North American International Auto Show Saturday, January 12, 2007 in Detroit, Michigan. The event features musical guests Kid Rock, Mary J Blige and Maroon 5; as well as GM's most stylish cars, and fashions from some of the world's leading designers.

Country music star Toby Keith introduced the 2009 Ford F-150. GM brought in a who’s who of musical talent in 2008 — Mary J. Blige, Maroon 5 and Detroit’s own Kid Rock — to show off a stage-full of concept cars. Infiniti unveiled its Q50 sedan in 2013 with the help of acrobatic Cirque du Soleil performers. Other notables over the years included Hall & Oates and actor/singer Kevin Bacon.

PR guru Vines was particularly fond of the celebrities who lingered over the sheet metal: “I remember Pixar’s John Lasseter — the creator of the ‘Cars’ movie — he had a ball just walking around the floor with us. And Jay Leno, of course — he really loves cars.”

2006: Aspen blizzard

Chrysler’s first SUV, the Aspen, was introduced by a blizzard of artificial snow from the off-Broadway act Slava’s SnowShow. Paper flakes exploded from the stage, showering the hall in what Autoline’s John McElroy called “the greatest press conference of all time.”

Auto reveals

Glitter aside, sometimes the cars have been the stars at the auto show.

The design team with the Ford GT and their award for Best Production Vehicle at the Eyes on Design Awards at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, January 13, 2015.

Dozens of memorable vehicles have  sauntered across Cobo’s stage, including the Ford GT40 concept supercar (in 2002 and again in 2015), the stunning Cadillac ELR hybrid in 2013, revived Toyota Supra in 2019, New Beetle in 1999, and the outrageous Tomahawk concept motorcycle powered by the Dodge Viper’s V-10 engine (piloted by no less than then-Chrysler Group COO Wolfgang Bernhard in ‘03).

A file picture taken on 06 January 2003 shows former DaimlerChrysler Chrysler Groups COO Wolfgang Bernhard riding their concept Dodge Tomahawk motorcycle during the media preview for the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker, is pinning its hopes on the former star Chrysler manager to steer its flagship VW brand back to profit.

And then there was the bright yellow Corvette Z06 that GM President Mark Reuss unveiled at the 2014 show, its 625-horse, 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 shaking the Cobo rafters of any remaining Slava’s SnowShow flakes.

General Motors President Mark Reuss, then head of product development for GM, talks about the new Corvette Z06 at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit, January 13, 2014.

Reuss gave it a nickname on the spot: “The Big Nasty.”

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

The 2024 Ford Mustang cometh: What we think we know

Posted by Talbot Payne on September 8, 2022

A new Mustang is coming. Long live the V-8.

The seventh generation of Ford Motor Co.’s iconic muscle-car figures to be a headliner for the 2022 Detroit Auto Show when it debuts Sept. 14. And unlike its Dodge and Chevrolet segment competitors, expect the 2024 pony car to continue to feed gas-powered red meat to its legion of fans — including a howling, 5.0-liter V-8 option under the hood.

While the Chevrolet Camaro is due to sunset in 2024 (complete with Heritage Edition farewell package, according to press reports) and Dodge is waving goodbye to its gas-powered Challenger and Charger beasts (even the legendary V8-fired Hellcat) the same model year due to crippling government fines, Mustang will continue to fly the flag for the affordable pony car segment it created in 1964.

Ford announced at the 2022 Woodward Dream Cruise that it will welcome Ford Mustang owners, fans, media and its employees to The Stampede – the global debut of the all-new, seventh-generation Ford Mustang taking place at the Detroit Auto Show on Sept. 14 at 8 p.m. EDT. A camouflaged version of the vehicle was on display.

Mustang, one of Ford’s iconic vehicles along with the F-150 pickup and Bronco SUV, is the Blue Oval’s performance halo.

That performance has inspired a quiet, electric, Mustang Mach-E SUV, but the sports car will continue on its rib-rattling, piston-pounding ways. We know that not only from spy shots with quad tailpipes sprouting out the rear of the ‘Stang, but from Ford’s motorhead CEO himself.

“Mustang is the world’s best-selling sports car because there’s one for everyone — from an EcoBoost convertible to 5-liter V-8 GT fastback coupe,” said Jim Farley as he rallied the Mustang faithful ahead of the new coupe’s evening reveal Sept. 14. “Now it’s time to. . .welcome the next chapter in Mustang’s legacy.”

Farley’s remarks were accompanied by an audio clip of the V-8 mill.

That powerplant is likely to be based on the same 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 found in the current GT. That engine already felt the pinch of federal regulators for the 2022 model year when its output was reduced 10 horsepower to 450 ponies.

But without Camaro and Challenger coupes in the market, Mustang stands to pick up sales above the 52,414 units it sold in 2021. Challenger outsold Mustang in 2021 with 54,314 units on the strength of its iconic V-8 mating call, while Camaro sold 21,893 cars. Some Mustang customers may also gain from the Charger sedan’s (the only four-door in the segment) demise, which leaves 78,389 in sales on the table.

The so-called “Ecoboost,” turbocharged, 2.3-liter inline-four cylinder engine is also expected to carry over in entry-level Mustang models. Shared with Ford’s ferocious, European Focus RS, the 310 horsepower/350 torque engine also has been popular in the Mustang’s High Performance model. Both engines should be mated to a six-speed manual and 10-speed, automatic transmission.

Beyond the oily bits, expect the exterior to get an evolutionary update from the radical, sixth-generation car that remade the face of Mustang in 2015. Look to the interior for the biggest change in the new coupe.

Electronics are reshaping vehicle interiors, and the new Mustang is no different. It will likely get a bigger, more exotic instrument display and console touchscreen. Expect them to be run by Ford’s SYNC 4 system (which debuted in the Ford F-Series trucks) which brings more computing power and nifty features like wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and split screen usability.

The new, 2024 Mustang likely will debut in just the Ecoboost and GT trims, with the former expected to start just below $30,000 in keeping with the brand’s affordable reputation that has made it the world’s best-selling sportscar across 144 countries. Past generations have primed enthusiasts to expect high-powered, higher-priced variants like the Shelby GT350 and GT500 (which can crest $80,000), not to mention stylish trims like the Bullitt and Mach 1. The first Mustang hybrid may be one of those special models.

Look for them at future Detroit Auto Shows.

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