The largest Mini yet has four doors, roomier rear bucket seats, available all-wheel drive, and the look of an SUV. The cargo area has generous underfloor storage, folding rear seatbacks, and a pass-through. Powertrain choices include the 1.6-liter naturally aspirated or turbocharged four-cylinder engines found in other Minis, matched with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Both engines get a slight horsepower increase for 2011. The Countryman is expected to sell for about $30,000.
With extra room and AWD, the Countryman will be more practical and versatile than other Minis, but it seats only four. We hope it won't lose the agility and sportiness that make Minis fun to drive.
Aimed at young buyers, the Nissan Juke is a sporty crossover based on the Versa hatchback and is meant to combine attributes of a small car and an SUV. The U.S. version has a direct-injection, turbocharged, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that will deliver 180 hp. It is matched with either a continuously variable automatic transmission or six-speed manual. Front- or all-wheel drive will be available. Pricing is expected to start at less than $20,000. Standard features include six air bags, antilock brakes, and ESC. Optional features include leather seats, push-button start, navigation system, and power sunroof.
The Versa did well in our testing, which gives the Juke a good starting point. Although the Juke is big on style, the interior is snug, especially the backseat.
The compact Cruze is headed to the U.S. after making its debut in Europe and Asia. Buyers can choose from three trim lines and two four-cylinder engines, including a new 1.4-liter turbocharged version that Chevrolet says will achieve as much as 40 mpg on the highway with a manual transmission. Either engine is available with a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. Ten standard air bags, electronic stability control with rollover sensing, and OnStar are among the safety features. The Cruze will be priced between $17,000 and $23,000.
We've had a chance to drive early prototypes of the Cruze, and it looks like a great leap over the mediocre Cobalt. The Cruze is much quieter and has a more spacious and refined interior.