Review: 2017 VW Alltrack SE 6MT – Dog-hauler deluxe, enthusiast’s fantasy, not so much

When my brother’s Chevy Avalanche looked like it was on its way to the great Car Lot in the Sky, therein lain a decision: what to take its place? His list of wants and needs yielded something seemingly impossible to find. Among those many qualities were: all-wheel-drive, a manual transmission, an interior of good quality, low-to-mid-$20k price point, more speed than the Avalanche didn’t have, and, crucially, space for Macey, the then one-year-old Rottweiler that claims everything located in her peripherals as next in line on the ever-growing list of her friends who will her human food when dad isn’t looking. The Avalanche, despite its high entry height and that it was not exactly engaging to drive, proved a solid dog carrier during Macey’s puppyhood. And as the truck exited his life, my brother was desperate for something more entertaining for him but still capable of doing doggy-duty.

As you can imagine, finding a car that would fit his wants/needs list was no easy task. Ultimately it came down to two: the Subaru Crosstrek and the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack. And, as is the case when you care about real-life more than on-paper or on-internet marketing tools, the real life test-drive became the deciding factor, and the Crosstrek’s smaller trunk and utter lack of power gave it disadvantages that were easy for the Alltrack to overcome. Done deal, decision made: VeeDub it was. Make it an SE (the only trim available with the manual), and it was his.

An all-wheel-drive, stick-shift, turbocharged, lifted wagon is a bit of an anomaly, an oddity in the world of electric cars, crossovers and full-size pickups that dominate the streets, the advertisements, and the focus of today’s automakers as a whole. But the car’s purpose was executed well enough on a fundamental level: the Alltrack is tough, capable, comfortable, and a traditional VW in every sense of the Audi-like interior. But while it might be the perfect match for my brother and for Macey, what do I, someone hyper-critical of cars, think of the oddball Alltrack? How does it work for somebody more concerned with inputs and back and driving sensations? Is it the unicorn every car enthusiast (and car site commenter) dreamed of and begs for? Read on to find out.

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San Francisco, Day Two: Exploring more Bay Area wonders

Ross Ballot June 29, 2018 Featured, Road Trip

No set plans: Two days exploring the San Francisco Bay Area in a rented Mustang GT

Some things are hard to explain. Take, for example, an intangible like the connection between car and driver. But break it down and you can begin to build a picture of what goes into “the feeling”: things like the road being transmitted through the steering wheel to your fingertips, the engine’s willingness and responsiveness to your foot’s commands, the engagement of the clutch and the directness of the shifter, and how the chassis communicates the road to your body. Move to more of a grander scale, and you begin to try to describe a driving experience in a way similar to how you would a car.

Luckily, I had the perfect instance in which to do so: Mustang GT, California roads, stir and serve as desired. It’s not so much the car and the roads as it is the experience: the way in which weather, road, machine, and vibes all come together can bring about something that toes closely to all-consuming zen. It lifts up your soul, restores faith in the ability to enjoy things for the sake of enjoying them, and provokes the enthusiast part of your brain that basks in the glory of adrenaline.

Throw the San Francisco roads, a rented Mustang GT, and two free days into the same pot, and, short of some kind of catastrophic failure, it’s a recipe for certain enjoyment.

The prior day was pure excellence. The burger at Alice’s, the Mustang’s ever-present eight-cylinder symphony, the views afforded by driving in areas that would otherwise go unexplored; it was truly a magnificent thing for my East Coast eyes– yes, and soul– to behold. But it wasn’t over yet: I had another day of adventure ahead of me, and the Mustang was still eager to do its best to convince me of its sports car inclinations and its Grand Tourer backbone. What did Day Two entail, and what were my final impressions of the 2018 Mustang GT Premium after two days of driving it in every manner from standstill traffic to full-fledged canyon carving? Read on to find out.

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San Francisco, Day One: “Slower traffic use turnouts”

Ross Ballot June 28, 2018 Featured, Road Trip

No set plans: Two days exploring the San Francisco Bay Area in a rented Mustang GT

The sign stood there, motionless except for the small movements of the wind’s work, as does any sign. A reflection of the suggested all-important driving etiquette, it stands strong in the name of the enthusiast, always there, always a reminder of the roads’ potential. “Slower traffic use turnouts,” it, and they, read, the signs that indicate the consistent, subtle prodding of local, slower travelers to yield to faster, more determined drivers. Inanimate as it may be, it allows the contrary in its indirect encouragement and support of driving. And not just “driving,” but driving. The act of operating a vehicle not just for practical purposes, but for fuck-it-all fun. The sign, as overlooked as it may be, means everything.

I thought my drive in the hills east of Los Angeles was great. Well, yes; of course it was. But just a short month later I found myself in the fun seat of a V8-powered sports coupe hammering through the San Francisco mountains and, contrary to my expectations, it was better than Los Angeles. Much better. Partially due to the car, partially due to the roads, partially due to…well, everything associated with those two all-important factors. From the canyons to the coast, the roads in the greater SF locale spoke to me, and I connected with them in a way that simply wasn’t so downstate in the LA region.

Two days alone with a rented Mustang GT and an expanse of roadways that I had yet to explore at my disposal. What would you do? Probably exactly that same thing that I did: drive.

The roads, the Mustang, the experience, the SF region, and everything that comes along with it all. Read on for Part One of the story.

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“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?