Project Car SOTU: Stormtrooper 4Runner


There must be some unwritten rule, something of a taboo, about not thinking positively about a project vehicle while in its presence. It’s almost like the car, or truck, knows when your brain inwardly speaks well of it and, as if it has a special sense, proceeds on its own accord to kick you in the shin just as you feel good about the progress you’ve made on your pride-and-joy. And so it was that just as I was thinking positive, upbeat, proud thoughts about my 4Runner, a tray of coffees dislodged itself and spilled their caffeinated goodness all over the rear passenger-area carpets. Lesson learned.

Aside from a trio of Dunkin Donuts’ finest beverages finding their way out of their holder and onto the back-seat footwell, all has been well in the land of Stormtrooper 4Runner. Mostly, at least. There are certainly some bugs to iron out, many of which will hopefully be dealt with in the not-too-distant future, but as a whole the Canadian ‘Toy has been performing admirably and has already proven itself invaluable in its time under my care.

Nothing major has been done to the truck since the last update, but certainly enough so to be deemed progress. Hit the jump to read what’s been happening in the world of Stormtrooper 4Runner.

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2017 Volkswagen GTI DSG & 6MT Test Drives
A Tale of Two Transmissions

Comfortable, reserved, and still dynamically enjoyable, the 7th-gen GTI is a dual-natured car that’s properly satisfying…so long as you pick the right gearbox

Having spent the majority of my automotive life around rear and all-wheel-drive platforms, my bias has always been somewhat inherently against front-drive even in spite of how well-developed the layout has become in recent years. But I’m not here to tell you, not in this article at least, to which axle I prefer my power sent, but rather to talk about one of, if not the, best FWD cars out there: the GTI. We’ve talked about it recently more than once, and now it was my turn to see if it lives up the hype.

Few cars have as storied, affectionately-remembered pasts as do Volkswagen’s beefed-up Golf. Aside from the iconic Beetle and Microbus, the GTI just might be the brand’s most loved model…and perhaps the most loved front-drive hatch of all time. Now in its Mk. VII generation, the GTI continues to be praised as a fantastic do-it-all, well-rounded car. If you need something to do everything well, but not to do any specific task perfectly, the GTI just might be the car for you. And that’s exactly what it’s the best at: not at any individual task, but at being a complete package, or being a little of everything to everyone.

But, in a package that offers a relatively narrow spread of available options, therein lies a question that deeply affects the GTI’s character: which transmission is the right pick? The six-speed manual is the traditional choice, but is DSG dual-clutch-auto better suited to the car’s mantra? Read on to find out.

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2017 Subaru WRX Limited 6MT Long-Term Update: Year Gone By

Ross Ballot July 14, 2017 Project Cars

A riot when driven hard, but nearly unpolished for it’s own good…or simply for mine? Evaluating my Subaru WRX after one year of ownership

A quick Google search, the pinnacle of in-depth and fact-backed research, reveals that the average American drives around 13,500 miles per year, or about fifteen-thousand if one considers Geico to be the accurate resource on the subject. This puts me well outside the realm of normal, being that I’ve driven my now one-year-old Subaru WRX ~28,500 miles as of this posting.

Having spent so much time in and around the car has revealed the absolute best and the worst traits said vehicle has to offer, with emphasis on those one can’t experience in a test-drive. In three hundred and sixty five days of having the sporting-focused Subaru as my primary means of transportation it has proven to be a fun, capable car that’s efficient, easy to live with, and makes me want to go for a drive for the sake of going for a drive. It’s been to the beach, to the mountains, on road trips, and on business trips. I’ve autocrossed it a bunch of times and have spent countless hours in it commuting. My WRX has never let me down, but has it made me fall long-term in love with it?

A year ago I was head-over-heels infatuated with my then-new, bright-blue Subaru. A year later, that’s not entirely the case. It’s a great car, but is it the right car for me? How has it held up after a year of non-stop use? Is the WRX all it’s cracked up to be, not just after a few test-drives but after living with it for a year? You’ll have to read on to find out.

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Leap of Faith: The Stormtrooper 4Runner Canadian Retrieval Mission

Sometimes you do crazy things when the juice looks like it will be worth the squeeze. Six months ago my best friend and I drove to the Great White North to buy a twelve-year-old Toyota. It was one of our best adventures yet. This is the story.

Off-roading has been a constant in my life. Memories of days on the trail in my father’s YJ Wrangler, days spent deep in the woods, are the foundation of my automotive enthusiasm. Visions from early childhood of watching the rocky and muddy miles pass by in conjunction with having spent the last twelve years riding an ATV in countless places all over the Northeast have led me on a path that has basically made it mandatory to buy a proper road-worthy 4×4 of my own.

A 2005 Toyota 4Runner might be a bloated, four-wheel-drive snoozefest to those who love pavement more than dirt, but off-roaders look at it as a big box of potential. With a solid platform, an expansive aftermarket, and a lot of built-in capability, the full-size SUV is a vehicle that can do just about everything with aplomb, and even more so when modified. It might not be a great track toy, but it can be a great escape pod.

This is the story of how my best friend and I drove up to Canada to buy a 4Runner to serve as an adventure rig. To me, the Stormtrooper 4Runner represents just that: adventure. It represents exploration, represents being able to and having the desire to seek out new experiences and new sights and new places, represents moving forward and making the most of life while building on past memories. From the previous owner’s use of the ‘Runner to my thousand-mile round-trip Canadian weekend to bring it home, everything about the truck screams “let’s go on an adventure.” The story of how the Stormtrooper 4Runner came into my life starts with an utterly insane idea, climaxes with importing a vehicle into the States entirely on my own, and ends with a life-long goal having come to fruition. What follows after the jump is the story I’ve been referring to, for obvious reasons, as the Stormtrooper 4Runner Canadian Retrieval Mission. Spoiler alert: the juice was worth the squeeze.

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S197 vs S550: How well does the prior-gen Mustang GT hold up, and how much better is the current model?

Driving subsequent generations of any particular vehicle is always an interesting experience. You get to experience and feel for yourself the work an automaker did to improve upon the prior model, and at the same time you have a chance to evaluate the more modern example to see if their efforts were successful. I’ve had the lucky first-hand opportunity to drive quite a few of these sequential generations, among them the Chevrolet Camaro SS, Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Mustang GT, Subaru WRX and Outback and Legacy, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lexus RX, Lexus LS, and so on.

Of them all, aside from the Wrangler, the Mustang has made the biggest forward leap in its changeover from one generation to the next. Ford’s ponycar made massive progress in in going from later year 5.0L-powered S197 chassis to the S550 that followed, and in some ways still managed to keep them extremely similar.

That said, the 2011-2014 ‘Stang has a good arsenal of merits: rear-drive, six-speed stick, classic good looks, and more power than most people would know what to do with. But now that it’s out of production we can examine the S197 from afar, and ask the critical reflective question: was the S197 any good towards the end of its run? And when compared to its newer counterpart, how does it stack up? Eager to find out for myself, and equally curious to see if the S197 is a car worth pursuing to replace my WRX, I found a local 2012 example to find out.

Read on to see how it fares, and how it compares.

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War, revisited: Camaro SS vs Mustang GT test-drive comparo

It’s been referred to as war, a heated half-century long battle with roots deeper than those of just about any automotive fight out there. It’s Mustang vs Camaro once again and here it’s not about numbers, but rather a non-professional opinion, the impressions and take-aways of a normal enthusiast after driving the prominent pony-turned-sports cars that roam the dealer lots and streets of 2017. The Camaro SS, in its sixth generation, is a shockingly great sports car comfortable enough to daily. The Mustang takes aim as a fantastic grand tourer with the muscle to back its macho looks.

Read as many reviews as you want, watch as many videos as you can muster, and it’s still a shock to experience for yourself just how far the Mustang and Camaro have come.

This is an astonishingly good pair of rear-wheel-drive, V8, row-it-yourself coupes. They’re similar in general description, yet different enough to have appeals all their own. Which is better where? Which would you want to attack a track with? Which would you want to Cannonball across the country? Which might I be pursuing to replace my WRX? You’ll have to read on to find out, but know this: the current generations of Mustang and Camaro are both pretty damn fantastic.

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Friday Fun: Four-by-four, by four

Source: InsuranceTipsAndRates

In last week’s Friday Fun we explored the Forbidden Fruits that taunt our wildest automotive dreams, exploring the parts of our imagination where the cars unavailable to us become accessible at the touch of our fingertips. And since all of my choices were street-oriented, this week we’re going to look at the exact opposite end of the spectrum: off-roaders.

To keep it short and sweet, this Friday Fun is effectively a free-for-all. No budget limits, no border laws, nothing to stop you from putting the truck, SUV, or open-top wheeling toy of your dreams in your imaginary garage. And to make deciding easy, let’s say there’s four bays in that garage. They all do need to be street legal though. This week’s Friday Fun is the four-by-four by four, so have at it and let us know your picks in the comments.

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Quick Spin: 2014 Nissan 370Z – long in the tooth but surprisingly great

Ross Ballot May 19, 2017 Quick Spin

People talk a lot of shit about the Nissan 370Z. It relies on an antiquated powertrain, doesn’t boast any of the tech that do the current crop of offerings, and it sits on a platform that’s going on a decade old. Not that it ever lit the world on fire when it was new, the current Z-car never seemed to live up to the hype and excitement that did its predecessor, the 350Z. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. The 370 has some chops to it on paper, and should in the real world to.

For some reason or another, the 370 has been on my mind recently. In an ever-shrinking world of true, dedicated, legitimate sports cars, Nissan’s Z remains one of the few naturally aspirated, true-to-its-heritage coupes. But is the Z any good today, an under-appreciated two-seat analog dinosaur that’s dying to be loved? Or does it feel overly long-in-the-tooth, too unsorted and out of place to wear the Z badge, desperate for an update? Curious to see for myself, I swung by a local Nissan dealer to find out.

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Friday Fun: Forbidden Fruit edition

Source: CarAdvice

It’s been a while since we’ve done a Friday Fun. Let’s make it a good one, shall we?

Ah, the forbidden fruit. It lingers and teases the mind of every car enthusiast who knows well enough that not all of the best cars in the world make it to their own homeland. But that’s not the case for us ‘Mericans alone; many people drool over vehicles that weren’t, and never will be, sold in their country. Whether you’re into off-road trucks, Autobahn slayers, lightweight Japanese runabouts, or anything else your worldy mind can wrap itself around, there’s a seemingly infinite list of cars that everyone wishes they had access to and yet, don’t.

So let’s throw that away and pretend there’s no anti-import laws. No automakers keeping “the good stuff” to their home country. No nonsense of cars you can’t buy if you have the money. Your house has a three-car garage, your bank account has a cool $150k to spend on three vehicles to fill those voids in your life, your choice of vehicles is only limited to what your imagination is capable of. So have at it; let’s see what forbidden fruit everyone is salivating over.

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Dear automakers: bring back the sports trucks!

Source: BestRide

SVT Lightning. Syclone. 454SS. Ram SRT-10. X-Runner. Xtreme.

The street-oriented “sports truck,” a factory-modified pickup that could simultaneously pull off practicality and pleasure, is a sorely missed niche vehicle that would be a fun territory for automakers to explore today. Sports trucks were the antithesis to the supercar: they could put a big ‘ol smile on your face while still hauling a load of lumber, get around a corner better than their normal counterparts while packed with a bed full of mulch, and rip endless burnouts while carrying the furniture you’re moving. There’s a reason Utes are so popular in Australia and why people still talk about the Ranchero and El Camino, and that’s because the sports truck remains a great combination for those who want something with utility but don’t want to give up sportiness in the process.

2017 is severely lacking when it comes to sporty street-focused pickups, and now is the perfect time for the manufacturers to bring back them back. Hit the jump and prepare to wish the auto manufacturers were selling these outlandishly desirable vehicles today.

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