So, today Mrs. BoostAddict and I drove into the Big City and bothered some dealerships.

We hit VW, Hyundai, Jeep (only for fitting) and Mazda.

Lets start with a refresher: I kinda liked the Renegade when I test drove it. Possibly because I had low expectations, and they were exceeded...

Conversely, I had high expectations for the Golf Alltrack S (no Sportwagen 4Motions in the state right now), and they were not met.

I’m not saying the Alltrack sucked, just that when all was said and done my feelings about it were closer to the Renegade than I would have expected.

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On paper, its the most powerful thing we drove today, it also felt the heaviest, least lively and most isolated. The clutch pedal effort was higher than the Renegade, but also somewhat less communicative. The shifter was precise, and nicely weighted, but also felt somewhat dampened, like it was actively discouraging rapid shifting. The long contact point, long clutch pedal travel, and higher effort (though making it very friendly in traffic) also seemed to conspire against rapid shifting. .. That and the very high gear ratios make what should be a powerful car FEEL slower than the Renegade... I mean, I’m pretty sure, even without looking at the specs that its 0-60 is actually faster than the Renegade, but it FEELS slower. The steering feels artificially heavy, and without a level of feedback that justifies the weight. The ride quality is very good, with good body control and good smoothing of high frequency input, and though I’m again quite sure its actuall handling limits are higher than the Jeep’s, it feels heavy and reluctant to change directions. I feel like the tires are also a bit lame, as I was able to get a little side slip on a mild, wet dirt corner that should not have resulted in a traction loss by my calculations, again contributing to the sense of mass and heft. The Alltrack just felt more Mid-sized.

The interior materials and design are very nice, best seats of the day I think, but the fake-leather wheel wrap felt not quite enough like real leather to sustain the illusion and I almost wish they had just stuck with textured soft plastic, like the Hyundai and Mazda. Mrs. BoostAddict was unable to find a driving position that allowed her to press the clutch fully without banging her knees on the steering column. (This finding was what sent us to the Jeep dealer where it was confirmed that of the manual equipped options the Renegade offered a seating position much friendlier to short people) Also, It’s not cheap. On top of all that, it had just as much road noise as the Jeep, which was even more noticeable given the lack of wind and engine noise. Based on this drive, and the price, it moves to the back of the que.

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Next stop: Hyundai. The dealer had no Konas with the 1.6t in stock, but we figured we’d give an SE 2.0 a shot as long as we were there. The Kona feels like a small car. It feels light, nimble, and sure-footed. It has a well compromised suspension with a little firmer ride than the VW or Jeep, but excellent absorption of high-frequency input and jarring hits. Unfortunately the 2.0 is gutless. Really slow. We were impressed enough with the Kona’s other features and performance to ask the dealership to call us back when they have a Limited with the 1.6t and the 7-speed DSG in stock. It’s a promising chassis and suspension, has good use of interior space, and a playful road manner... The base engine and trans combo is a dog though.

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Last stop: Mazda. The salesman who talked to us about the CX3 was obviously the most automotive-enthusiastic dealership employee we had interacted with yet, and he set us up with an AWD CX3 Sport and advised us to have fun. And fun we did have.

The CX3 wants to be driven, not just “around” but “in anger”. The 2.0 skyactive four sounds a little odd, and the transmission wants to shift for economy if you leave it to its own devices, but the chassis and steering and brakes are heavily weighted to the fun side, and when you prod it, it wakes up. It felt like it wanted more in the corners, not just that it had more to give, but that it wanted you to be having a good time extracting that extra speed. I got it under-steery on a wet decreasing-radius on ramp, punched the throttle and it pulled itself neutral and powered through in an entertaining and confidence inspiring way. The traction and stability control made no noticeable intrusions during this event. The ride was firmest of the batch, and there was the most slam and vibration transferred into the cabin, but its still far more forgiving on washboard than the FieSTa. It was by far the quietest and happiest at extra-legal speeds of all the day’s drives. It has the best mirrors, even the Kona’s Ford-style blind-spot mirrors didn’t beat the large, well positioned mirrors of the CX3.

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The interior is lovely and well assembled, however, by the end of the test drive I had fallen out of love with the seats. :/ Why, Mazda? Why can’t we have an AWD CX3 with a manual? (and maybe better seats)

Damnit.

I’m going to drive another Renegade and see if does the same sway thing the one I drove yesterday exhibbited, and to refresh my oppions... We’re also going to try a 1.6t Kona before we make any money decisions, but it has been enlightening. One thing that has become clear, which I may have been insufficiently appreciative of, is just HOW refined, quiet, comfortable and capable the 2018 F150 is.