“Coastal Range Rally LiteⓇ”: Impressions of my first hooning in the California hills

A Mazda6, an Abarth 500, and a life-changing experience driving the California canyon roads

High in the hills east of Los Angeles is a near-mecca of hidden driving roads that deserve every bit of attention and even higher amounts of appreciation than they garner. To the locals these may be ordinary, but to me they were anything but. On a particular Sunday in March of this year, one specific road stuck out above all the others: one designed as if the task was done entirely with automotive enthusiasts in mind, the snaking pavement serving as miles of driving enjoyment, an open expanse allowing man and machine to come together in symphony of gas-propelled indulgence. As a New Englander I can only dream about roads like those in the California hills, fantasizing from afar as podcasters and YouTubers alike swoon over the paved creations they so regularly enjoy. Finally, it was my turn to see if the hype was justified.

With some mapping and a primitive planning an adventure was born: a much-anticipated half-day up in the mountains taking full advantage of a Mazda6 press car and the breathtaking geology that the government’s paving machines afford road-car access to. It would be a prove to be a transformative, eye-opening and mind-blowing day in my enthusiast life, and is one that I have to tell the tale of so as to preserve the memory, to hopefully pass on the magnificence of the roads we traveled, and, as I try to do on a semi-regular basis, to urge people to “get out there and drive.”

Hot on the tail of Coastal Range Rally, jealous I hadn’t been able to attend, and with only so much time to work with on my west-coast vacation, podcast host Adam and I (with my fiancé riding shotgun) spent a gorgeous morning-into-afternoon hooning our respective cars, gaping over the views, and basking in the glory of all that is the hobby of automotive enthusiasm and specifically that of driving. Jump with me, if you will, to hear the full tale of “Coastal Range Rally Lite” in all its wanna-be, mountain road glory.

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In pictures: A day at the 2018 New York International Auto Show

[We’re a little late on this, but such is life. -KK]

Wednesday March 28th kicked off the 2018 New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), one that would reveal a wide spread of everything from the most mundane people-movers to race-track-ready adrenaline-spikers and a massive variety of everything in-between. We saw debuts the likes of the all-new Toyota Rav4, all-new Subaru Forester, and the all-new Nissan Altima, and our eyes were treated to unveilings like that of the Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak, the Maserati Levante Trofeo, and (who am I that I’m even going to write this…) even the Lincoln Aviator. And I have to mention the Bullitt Mustang which was present, and as you’ll probably gather from what follows after the jump, it was the sole car that had me weak in the knees.

As great as it was to see others like the Porsche GT3RS, Genesis G70 Sport, and JL Wrangler, it wandering aimlessly around the floor of the Javits Center also presented the first chance to plop my ass into the seats of the much-revered Kia Stinger GT and to see, oogle, and crawl all over many other all-new vehicles, like the upcoming Ford Ranger, for the first time.

This was a very good NYIAS in my opinion, if for no reason other than the wide breadth of things to be seen; it felt like the variety was of an even greater range this year than in the past, giving us an eye into how broad and incredible today’s automotive market is. If you notice that much of what follows the jump mimics the photos and words that I blabbered onto , that’s because much of it is in fact the same (and if you don’t follow , you *definitely* should). Hit the jump to see some of my wonderful iPhone photos and read some of my random musings from a day at the 2018 North American International Auto Show.

Warning: extremely picture-heavy

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California road-trip review: 6 days and 656 miles with a 2017.5 Mazda6 Grand Touring

From Los Angeles to Angeles National Forest, my fiancé and I learn what Mazda’s midsize sedan is like to live with, road trip, and hoon. 

The weather forecast for New York’s JFK airport was ominous to say the least. Heavy snow, high winds, the usual of what we’d come to expect from a particularly brutal March; the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks was due to hit just as Jet Blue Flight #23 was scheduled to depart. But after a thorough de-icing and some help from the vacation gods the Airbus A321 bounced its way up through the storm-ridden sky, my fiancé and I repeating lines of surprise that we had actually made it out without cancellation. Soon after, nearby LaGuardia would cancel all flights, and thousands of others in the area would be called off just the same. Plane aimed westward, even the unusually cool and rainy California outlook couldn’t put us down as we headed away from Winter Storm Toby.

The trip that had just begun was a long time in the making, and in many ways felt somewhat like a consolation prize. In the winter of 2016-2017 my then-girlfriend and I were planning a getaway to the sunny expanse of California, an adventure sidelined by the ill-timed surgical repairing of my lower spine. A year later we found ourselves desperate to escape the cold, our hearts and souls still set on the SoCal coast. Tickets and hotels booked, ground transportation was the final piece to the puzzle. With another year’s worth of writing under my belt, the extra time afforded me the chance to jump into my first press car. Hoon-In-Chief Jeff Glucker stepped in and bridged the gap between myself and Mazda, lining up a 2017.5 Mazda6 Grand Touring loaner to serve as the chariot for our much-awaited Californian extravaganza.

After reading nonstop favorable reviews, I held high expectations from the Mazda6 we would have in regards to its ability to dance the line of fun and practical. Not only would living with one for a week allow me to examine the highly-revered car up-close-and-personal, but it would put to the test and allow me the chance to re-examine my own aversion to the front-wheel-drive, automatic-transmission sedan.

Our vacation would see us driving the car hundreds of miles, from ocean to mountains and everywhere in-between, using the Mazda6 as our home base out of which to operate for the duration of our trip. After six days, 656 miles, and innumerable Californian experiences, the verdict was in. How did the Mazda6 fare? Is there an enthusiast’s car hidden beneath the generic drive layout? Did Mazda’s midsizer live up to the hype? You’ll have to read on to find out.

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Some madman is building a coupe-ified, AWD, LM4-powered 1st-gen CTS-V

Image courtesy of

The world of project cars is comprised of such a wide variety of vehicles and wide range of intensiveness required that the vastness never ceases to amaze me. While my own primary project is sometimes mentally all-consuming, it never crosses into the world of being described as “one-off” or “batshit crazy.” And it certainly requires nowhere near the financial, labor, or creative inputs that does the build I recently stumbled upon, of which both aforementioned descriptors can certainly be used.

In short, the goal is the following: chop a first-generation Cadillac CTS so as to turn the sedan into a coupe, then add AWD and 5.3-liter V8. As you may know, zero of three of these attributes can be used to describe the original base-level CTS on which the project is based….which only makes it that much more amazing.

The build list includes, among other things, the following:

Base model v6 CTS (going to use everything off V)
Widebody 3-4″ all around
2 door conversion (6″ extended front door, and whole body shorten for shorter wheelbase ~ 104-108″ wheelbase)
1″ chop top and maybe windshield slanted down 1/2″ for sleeker coupe look
Front windshield will be glass, all other windows will be lexan

Drivetrain: (already got)
Lm4 5.3 aluminum block
T56 transmission
Trailblazer ss transfer case np120
Trailblazer ss front differential
8.8 cobra aluminum irs differential

Some may not approve but I’m going with airbags just because they’ve been track proven and better for driveability, and of course because everything looks sick! Laying on the ground.

Plans are (hopefully) 1000awhp at ~ 2800-3000lbs

Should it eventually see completion, this build will certainly be one for the record books. Take a look at the progress for yourself .

C5 Corvette Z06 – The holy grail of analog Corvettes

The used market is a funny thing to watch and an even funnier one to shop. Amidst the “for the price of X, you could have a used version of Y!” articles and endless discussion of where money is better spent, it truly is remarkable to watch depreciation curves and play the much more important game of “What should I buy next with ~$25k?”

While some vehicles hold value well enough to justify buying new, prices of others plummet enough to rationalize the purchase of a high-performance vehicle at new economy-car cost. Few cars are better examples of this than the C5 Corvette, and especially its beefed-up, track-focused Z06 variant. With prices for a clean, well-maintained example dipping under the magical $20k-mark (and even dropping below $15k in some cases), the C5Z is a massive amount of car for very little money especially considering it’s one equally capable of handling the daily grind as it is a weekend of track time.

In an attempt to heed my own advice of “drive everything you’re considering before actually deciding on your next car,” one fall day I found myself in the driver seat of a bright red fifth-generation Corvette Z06, wringing out the LS6 and playing with the supposed race-car-for-the-street handling in order to find out if driving the widely-respected C5Z would be enough to convince my money out of me. I found good things in my brief test-drive, and for enthusiasts looking for a performance bargain it’s simply impossible to ignore this car. Jump with me to see how it fares on the street.

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Redusernab Asks: Does Jeep need to keep calling it “Wrangler”?

Ross Ballot February 28, 2018 Redusernab Asks

Would dropping the “Wrangler” name dilute the reputation of Jeep’s halo vehicle?

Despite pushback from enthusiasts clamoring for real, fun, actual names, we’re living in an age of ever-increasing reliance on numbers and letters to stand as a vehicle’s name. And yet, the Wrangler name holds strong. Jeep has always been upfront about its internal codes though, from CJ all the way up through JL, and even including it’s non-Wrangler vehicles.

Even Porsche has gone retro-alphanumeric with the addition of 718 attached to the front of its Boxster/Cayman’s nomenclature, and the reliance on short, letter/number-indicating nameplates becomes ever-stronger as each year passes. And, just to drive the point home, enthusiasts regularly refer to models by their internal engine/chassis codes with increasing frequency, and many Jeep fans do so when talking about the Wrangler models they love so dearly. But, as even Jeep has begun referring to its newest Wrangler, it seems that they have even begun to acknowledge the helpfulness of internal/external codes being what buyers and enthusiasts alike recognize the model by.

Would Jeep calling the JL just “JL” and not “Wrangler” harm it in the eyes of the enthusiasts, and consumers alike? Does Jeep even need the “Wrangler” name going forward? Is it time for the company to embrace alphanumerics?

(Let the record show that I am no way in favor of automakers moving to alphanumerics; I’d rather see real names, even bad ones, before number/letter combos)

Redusernab Asks: What car would you launch into space?

Ross Ballot February 7, 2018 All Things Hoon

Yesterday, Elon Musk and the team at SpaceX made history not only for their rocket launch but also for sending the first road-legal production automobile into Earth’s orbit. A monumental achievement, and one that us car nerds watched in awe. It was one small step for *ahem* another display of both Musk’s and SpaceX’s enthusiasm for and intensity towards making space exploration a more practical, feasible, and prioritized reality. Thus far, it seems to be a massive success.

The vehicular choice of a Tesla Roadster was perfect as well. Being that Musk is the visionary behind both Tesla and SpaceX, it serves as much a promotion of the forward thinking attitude behind both companies.

Let’s pretend you have a rocket of your own and any vehicle you desire at your disposal. What would you launch into the abyss? There’s no pressure or anything. Just the possibility that whatever you choose will be the first thing extraterrestrials see of humankind.

Me? The question answers itself: It has to be a DeLorean. Or maybe something weirder, like a Plymouth Prowler or a VehiCROSS. But what about you? What’s the one vehicle you want circling Earth?

Bonus rounds:

What would you display on the infotainment screen?

What audio would you have playing?

What would you name your vehicle’s inanimate occupant?

2014 Challenger R/T: Proof that modern cars still cause headaches

A comfortable, brutish display of nonstop problems: Looking back on what went wrong with my 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T 5.7/6MT 100th Anniversary Edition

In June of 2014 I purchased my dream car: a Dodge Challenger R/T 100th Anniversary Edition. With eight cylinders up front, power sent to the rear and a six-speed manual, it was everything I had fantasized over since the Challenger concept car announced the nameplate’s reincarnation. Eight years later I finally had my own, but reality hit me hard: modern cars, contrary to my expectations, can still be riddled with issues. I won’t venture so far as to say it was plagued, but my Challenger was certainly troublesome. In July of 2016, after passing my breaking point in fighting these problems and during circumstances exaggerated by and coinciding with life changes, I sold it.

Which is extremely unfortunate, seeing as it was a truly gorgeous car that did much of what was asked of it quite well. Nearly ten years after the Challenger’s reintroduction I barely need mention that the LX-platform car, at least in stock R/T guise, is incapable of dancing with its supposed Ford and Chevy competitors, but it shines in other disciplines. A comfortable, competent, road-trip-craving Grand Tourer, a supremely controllable drift machine that sang beautiful V8 songs, and, still in my eyes, a magnificent looking piece of machinery that sold itself on its macho character. But, as I found through my two years and fifty-five-thousand miles with the car, it was far from flawless. On the contrary, it was quite fucked.

What could go wrong with a 2014 model year Challenger? Was it enough to ruin my perception of the model and corresponding relationship with this specific car? How many headaches can one car– and one dealer– cause? Read on for the full story.

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Jeep touts the JL Wrangler’s off-road prowess as company’s “manifesto” in new ad

Ross Ballot February 6, 2018 All Things Hoon

Much like they’ve done with removing the company name from the front end because “the seven-slot grille is the logo,” Jeep has concocted an advertisement for its all-new JL Wrangler that says it all by not really saying much. Take one brand-new two-door Rubicon, show it splashing through deep water and climbing the correspondingly wet ledges, and voila – advertising simplicity at its finest. No music, no visible people, no distractions; just a Jeep doing its thing, and showing off in the process.

As much a commentary on the JL Rubicon as a vehicle as it is on broad, sweeping statements made by car commercials as a whole, the Super Bowl spot takes aim at other automakers’ “all talk, no show” advertisements and in the process does so in its own way. The brand instead uses the Wrangler’s ability to tackle a decently difficult off-road obstacle to remind viewers of the company’s own so-called “manifesto,” which is accurate to an extent being that the company’s reputation is built on the mantra of unparalleled off-road capability. This is somewhat interesting (or is it ironic?) in that many of the JL’s changes over the JK it replaces are direct improvements to its street-friendliness; attention to NVH, creature comforts, and live-ability, as Kamil found out recently.

Still, it’s readily apparent that Jeep wants buyers to know that the Wrangler remains the company’s halo car, and that they still pride themselves on four-wheel-drive prowess above all else. It’s a good spot, and there’s no questioning that the Wrangler, especially in Rubicon guise, is an immensely competent wheeler with its locking diffs and electronically-disconnecting swaybars (among other slew of toys). That said, the driver definitely had some excess speed going into the water and in climbing the upper tier of the ledge, more so than I’d hit any of the aforementioned obstacles with, but it certainly looks good on camera. Take a look for yourself in the video above.

Fiat 124 Hardtop possibly in the works – Could it be the best ND Miata?

Ross Ballot January 25, 2018 All Things Hoon

Image courtesy of motor.es via 

As of the last year, Fiat has been selling its own version of the current-generation Mazda ND Miata, albeit with some touches and changes to make it their own. The 124, name in homage to its long-deceased predecessor, is marked by a turbocharged MultiAir powerplant, as opposed to the MX-5’s naturally-aspirated Skyactiv engine, a slightly more upscale interior, more intensive use of insulation and sound deadening, and aggressively classic roadster styling. But the 124’s driving dynamics, as a result of different chassis tuning and the engine that peaks early but dies equally so, are very different from the Mazda on which it is based.

There is one other major difference, though, and it’s one explained by two simple letters: RF. As its nomenclature dictates, this represents Retractable Fastback, or a targa-top version that Fiat does not offer on the 124. So, should you want a turbocharged ND Miata or a 124 with a hard-top straight from the factory, you can’t have one. But a  on the Fiat 124 sub-forum within NDMiata.net caught my attention with its headline: “124 Coupe Spotted?”

It appears from spy photos that Fiat may be working on either a removable hard-top version of its little sports car, or a top that mimics that of the NC Miata’s power retractable hard-top (PHRT). Could Fiat be possibly building the best Miata yet? 

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