Stormtrooper 4Runner trip report: Return to AOAA

Ross Ballot September 28, 2017 All Things Hoon, Featured

To enthusiasts of the off-roading sub-culture, myself included, there truly is nothing quite as psychologically refreshing as a day in the woods. A day separated from the burdens of reality, a day free from the stresses of the work-fueled monotony, a day isolated from basically everything except you, your truck, your buddies, and the trails on which you’re wheeling. It’s an absorbing experience, one that allows the brain a a much needed break to refresh itself. Off-roading is, to me at least, the absolute best kind of mind cleanser.

And that’s exactly where the Stromtrooper 4Runner comes into play. In its off-road shakedown run the ‘ol ‘Toy performed admirably and, though some bugs still need to be worked out, by the time September rolled around I was due for a much needed early-autumn return trip to Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area to see how the truck did on some tougher trails. It was a day of crawling over rocks, dragging vehicles out of the mud, and pushing the limits of our trucks and ourselves alike.

As wheeling always is, it was a great time; and, as is always the case post-trip, I’m already looking forward to going back. Hit the jump to read the Trip Report from my mind-cleansing day of off-roading out at AOAA a couple weeks back.

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Power, performance, and the used market

Ross Ballot September 21, 2017 All Things Hoon, Featured

Source: AutoEvolution

The facts are the facts: the amount of car you can buy on the cheap today is simply outstanding.

And it’s not just amount of power you can get for very little money, but it’s the caliber of car you can acquire for so little. The cars available on the used market for a fraction of their original price is unlike it ever has been before. Most of us are intimately familiar with this, but it’s still perpetually shocking to see high-power, high-performance cars plummeting to the bottom of their depreciation curve.

I’m not the first one to say this, but it very well may be true that we’re living in the Golden Age. Power and performance are at a premium and used prices are, thankfully, comfortably palatable. Jump with me as I explore some of the cars out there that strike gold in the value-for-dollar quotient.

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H.O.T. Damn, Round One: ZL1 1LE vs Hellcat vs GT350R

Ross Ballot September 6, 2017 Featured, HOT Damn

Round One: American’s top-tier muscle/pony/sports-car trio 

Welcome to H.O.T. Damn, a new and terribly-titled segment in which your Hooniverse contributors shamelessly show their true vehicular preferences in picking which of three automotive options we would choose to Hoon, Own, and Total. Many of us are familiar with the extremely juvenile but equally amusing game of look-it-up-on-Urban-Dictionary F/M/K and more likely than not all of us have played a similar version, a much less creepy and murder-y version, in which cars take the place of people. This is that game, right before your very eyes.

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Jeep pickup “officially” named Scrambler; images revealed and details confirmed

Ross Ballot August 23, 2017 All Things Hoon

Expect the Scrambler to be proportionally similar to this, AEV’s JK Wrangler-based Brute

This will come as a surprise to almost nobody, but new reports are confirming that Jeep has decided to give the upcoming Wrangler-based pickup a nostalgic name from the company’s past: Scrambler.

Details of Jeep’s decision to use the heritage-embodying name have been leaked to JLWranglerForums, and deliver on the goods not just in nameplate but also in both engine and the future vehicle’s open-roof design. It appears that Jeep wholeheartedly plans to deliver on the idea of a bed-bearing JL Wrangler, and will introduce the model either alongside its off-road SUV counterpart or shortly after, in what will finally, after a long leave of absence, bring the Jeep brand into a market they haven’t truly occupied since the Comanche went out of production in the early ’90s. This will be a much welcomed addition to the lineup as well as to the field of small/midsize pickups available today, and is an exciting move for Jeep that fans have been clamoring for since the Scrambler concept graced our presence back in 2005.

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Project Car SOTU: Toyota MR2 “Someday” Race Car

It’s a situation that us car lovers fantasize over: a car somehow falls into your lap and you feel not only morally obligated, but genuinely excited, to accept it as your own. You welcome it with open arms, tell your friends of the new addition to your fleet, spend hours on the internet researching the model, and, for weeks on end, fail to think of much else aside from that new-to-you car that’s waiting for attention. But, alas, that’s not necessarily the way the cookie crumbles, so to speak.

A few years back my friend Dan and I were fortunate enough to take on joint ownership of a beaten-and-battered but still too free to pass up 1991 MR2 and we had big, broad plans for the racing series (yes, serieS in the plural) that we were going to enter with it. Texts and Facebook messages were exchanged at a record pace upon bringing the car home. Our hopes were high.

That initial Intro post was one of my first here at Hooniverse, and it went live well over a year ago. We drove the little sports car home from Jersey over two years ago. I’d love to report that a lot has been done on the MR2 front since then, so read on to find out (though the above image may serve as a hint).

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Project Car SOTU: Subaru WRX

I’ve been posting a lot test-drive reviews lately, and not without weight to them. It’s probably been easy to pick up on, but it’s time to spell it out: I’m shopping for a possible replacement for my WRX. Not yet entirely sold on getting rid of it, I’m simply driving cars that are on my short list and deciding if they would work for me or not.

Not that the WRX is much of a project car, and thus doesn’t totally fit the PCSOTU bill, but should it stay in my possession there will be some tinkering done to make it better suit my wants and needs. A great car it might be, but it is not without shortcomings.

Even though we checked in on the WRX just a few weeks ago, let’s take a quick look at where I’m at with the car and if that happens to be any closer to making a decision. Hit the jump to read more.

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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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