So, I went up to the local Jeep dealer and finally got my ass behind the wheel of a Renegade. This Renegade, to be exact.

Interesting. First off the Altitude trim is quite loaded, dual zone climate, heated seats and steering wheel, the big screen (which is very responsive) and most noticeably and awesomely; that huge-ass panoramic sunroof. That thing is sweet.

Seriously, very nice.

Lets talk about my impressions:

1) interior- Not bad.

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it doesn’t have leather, which is fine, but there’s plenty of soft touch in all the right places. The switchgear feels OK, though the turn-signal stalk is oddly notchy... it feels like the mechanism is definitely PLASTIC, you know what I mean? The front seats are pretty comfortable, driving position is decent, lots of movement in the steering wheel. For the life of me I could not figure out how to adjust the seat height, despite the info indicating it is adjustable... The place was busy so I did not get a full tour before they left me to the test drive. The side mirrors suck. Ford has spoiled me. Did I mention the awesome, humongous sunroof? That thing rocks!

2) engine- not bad. It’s the 1.4 multi-air turbo, which is a surprisingly stout little power plant.

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It doesn’t sound as riotous as it does in the Abarth, but it has a little growl to it when you get into it... too bad it’s a MUCH heavier car than the Abarth. There’s a surprising amount of low-end torque, I mean I shouldn’t be surprised, the FieSTa is the same way, but its a smaller, less powerful engine in a heavier car, so it really is... well... surprising. Flogging it hard gets about the the sort of acceleration I expect from the FieSTa when I’m “being polite, but in a hurry”.

3) transmission- OMG, that shift knob is... I don’t know, wrong. It’s too big, and too spherical, and too... wrong. it’s just wrong damnit. The clutch is feather-light, but you can just tell what’s going on well enough to drive it well. The shift feel is fine, not as nice as the FieSTa, and a little rubbery in the three-four shift, as if the center gates are less well defined than the side gates.

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It’s a fine stick, it feels fine.

4) handling/ride- This is most surprising and interesting and schizophrenic bit. Driving along in a straight line it feels wobbly side to side, with undamped motion, like an old Wrangler...

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is this just the tall sidewalls? The F150 has tall sidewalls and doesn’t feel like that... what’s going on here? This is especially at odds with the very direct, and quick steering. It has almost the same “zero dead-spot” feel the FieSTa does, but with less loading of the feedback in the corners... And speaking of corners, once you commit and bend it into an on-ramp it changes character in the wierdest way... the weight almost seems to move lower, the side-to-side motion goes away, it takes a flat set and... it handles. I mean it’s no FieSTa, but it feels well planted, neutral (at the speeds I was going) and sure-footed. I mean, how does that jive with the floppy side to side thing? You fling it around, and it responds! Even jerking it side to side or transitioning in s curves that side-to-side wobble disappears. I was not expecting that. but then...

Holy mother of road-noise batman! I mean, damn, it’s loud under there. Not dealbreaker loud, just not what I was expecting.

On rough stuff the ride is quite firm, I think there’s less suspension travel than you might expect given the big tires and tons of fender clearance. It does handle wash-boardy dirt with much more friendliness to the kidneys and ass than the FieSTa. The AWD allows the slightest hint of front wheel slip on loose surfaces before kicking in the rear under a hard launch, not like a real full-time AWD system (ala Audi or Subaru), but quicker and more seamless than a Rav-4 or Element (the only similar-ish vehicles I have any experience in).

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The brakes?

They are good.

I give it a solid obamanotbad.gif. I just wonder what’s up with that side-to-side flop? In any case, tomorrow I drive the longer distance to the less-local VW dealer that has a manual Golf Sportwagon 4motion and give that a spin.

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