2012 Mini Cooper Countryman
By Scott Mortara

We Like: Still a Mini at heart; a fun car to drive, now with room for four adults.

We Don't Like: Interior layout, needs a bit more power and a cleaner-shifting gearbox.

The Mini name says it all. Since its 1959 debut, Mini has followed the same formula for building a car: small and nimble, with an almost go-kart-like driving experience. Granted, some things have changed throughout the years, such as materials and technology, but the Mini's specific Mininess has remained steadfast.

The Countryman's wheelbase increases by 5.1 inches; length increases by 15.2; width by 4.1; and height by 6.1, making this the biggest and heaviest Mini ever. Like other S-model Minis, the Cooper S Countryman is powered by a 181-horse, 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4 with an all-wheel-drive system. Ours had the optional six-speed manual.

The Countryman is still an amazingly fun car to drive. "What a hoot! With the traction control turned off, the chassis really comes alive. For a big Mini, it's totally tossable," says Lieberman. The Countryman is still a Mini at heart, with crisp turn-in and predictable rotation.

However, while the driving experience is definitely rewarding, the interior leaves much to be desired. The space is well-used, even if it's not laid out very well. I'm 6 feet 3 and fit in the Countryman easily and comfortably.

Still, most testers felt the interior was an ergonomic mess, with one saying the gauge cluster was akin to a certain animated mouse, and what's the deal with that handbrake? Some of us found the center rail system useful but needing more options, while others thought it came across as just plain gimmicky.

It wasn't a surprise to see Mini jump into the crossover genre. These days, if you don't have a crossover in your fleet, you're missing out on a massive market.

And with that, Mini gives us the Mini Countryman All4, a stretched, lifted Cooper that's still fun to drive, but has lost a bit of its soul with its increase in size.

What a hoot! With the traction control turned off, the chassis really comes alive. For a big Mini, it's totally tossable.

2011 Mini Cooper Countryman
BASE PRICE $22,350
PRICE AS TESTED $35,400 (S All4)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 1.6L/181-hp/177-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3265 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 102.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 161.8 x 70.4 x 61.5 in
0-60 MPH 7.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.8 sec @ 88.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 117 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.88 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.0 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)
MT OBSERVED FUEL ECON 26.8 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 25/31 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 135/109 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.71 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING ***
DESIGN ***
INTERIOR/FUNCTIONALITY **
PERFORMANCE ***
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT ****
OFF-ROAD ABILITY **
VALUE **


2012 Saab 9-4x
By Todd Lassa

We Like: Steering and carlike feel; turbo V-6 feels better tuned than in last year's Cadillac SRX.

We Don't Like: Saab's chances for survival.

Swedish regulators began debt collection against Saab after we tested the 9-4x. Saab's Trollhaettan factory had been closed for at least two months, though this crossover comes from the Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, assembly plant that makes Cadillac's SRX.

While the 2012 SRX benefits from chassis improvements and the 3.6-liter direct-injection gas V-6, the new Saab is stuck with the SRX's rejects: the naturally aspirated direct-injection 3.0-liter and the Australian-sourced, 2.8-liter turbo V-6. To get the turbo, you must order the topline Aero, which includes Haldex AWD and stickers $825 south of a topline AWD Cadillac SRX 3.6. Our tester's 2.8 "feels a bit more linear than that of early SRX turbos, but nowhere nearly as smooth as the new 3.6," per Markus.

Turbo lag reared its breathless head on a lengthy trip along steep uphill sections of Interstate 405 north of Los Angeles, where the 9-4x stumbled and wheezed for power.

Minimalist styling makes it one of the best-looking models to wear the sport/utility descriptor. This Saab's ignition switch is, of course, on the console between the front seats, though it's now a keyless button, but the 9-4x uses the SRX's ignition button location for Saab's other signature feature, the Night Panel, which switches off all but the speedometer's dash lights.

Ride and handling are more '11 SRX than '12 SRX. It's tuned for handling at the expense of ride quality and refinement. "Handles OK, not great," Evans says, with "moderate roll. There's a noticeable improvement in the Sport mode."

"Good steering feel and nice weight," Febbo adds. "Feels much more like a sedan than most other crossover SUVs."

All is moot if Saab is out of business by the time you read this. Tragicomic production timing had Ramos Arizpe build a few hundred 9-4xs by our Sport/Utility of the Year testing, and us going to press before Saab's fate possibly was sealed. The 9-4x might make a good garage-mate for a Pontiac Solstice coupe, and this might as well be Motor Trend Classic.

Feels a bit more linear than that of early SRX turbos, but nowhere nearly as smooth as the new 3.6.

2011 Saab 9-4X
BASE PRICE $34,205
PRICE AS TESTED $50,285 (Aero)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.8L/300-hp/295-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4592 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 110.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 190.1 x 75.0 x 66.1 in
0-60 MPH 7.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.9 sec @ 91.3 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 132 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.81 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.6 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
MT OBSERVED FUEL ECON 18.0 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 15/22 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 225/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.11 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING ***
DESIGN ****
INTERIOR/FUNCTIONALITY ***
PERFORMANCE **
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT **
OFF-ROAD ABILITY ***
VALUE **


2012 Volkswagen Touareg
By Mike Febbo

We Like: Powertrain variety, diesel or electric torque, interior space.

We Don't Like: Unfinished suspension tuning, hybrid improves performance, not efficiency.

Last year, the Touareg's platform-mate, the redesigned 2011 Cayenne, took home Motor Trend's SUV of the Year award. So expectations going into this contest were high for this VW.

With three versions, the Touareg offers a wide product spread. The entry-level VR6 model starts at $45,270. Our mid-level TDI came in at $58,320 while the topline Hybrid was $61,385. Even the base model comes well equipped with navigation, Bluetooth, all-wheel drive, climate control, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The pricey Touareg manages to live up to its detuned Cayenne image.

Testers' complaints centered on chassis tuning. It doesn't feel dialed-in like the previous Touareg, which had adjustable suspension and ride height. The TDI seemed to garner the most praise for handling.

Editors were universally impressed with the power of all three engines, notably the hybrid, but there was some consternation about the hybrid system used in conjunction with the supercharged V-6. Markus: "I am offended by the dichotomy of the blue "HYBRID" badges on a VW that struggles to get 0.1-mpg-better fuel economy than the V-6."

The consensus: Even if it isn't as luxurious as the previous version, the Touareg achieves a high level of refinement. Lassa: "It remains a pretty premium SUV. It's really more of a tall executive sedan." Evans: "Very comfy seat, plus over 600 miles per tank, makes this an awesome road-tripper." Even the outside aesthetics were praised. Harwood: "I love the updated styling; headlight treatment is modern tech -- elegant."

Jurnecka summed it up with, "Nice interior, quality materials and well-laid-out controls." Lieberman called it "hugely competent off-road." While it's good, we still miss some of the premium feel of the last Touareg. It may not live up to the lofty standards set by its overachieving platform-mate, but the Touareg still represents a decent value in the premium SUV class.

The pricey Touareg manages to live up to its detuned Cayenne image.

2011 Volkswagen Toaureg VR6 Sport 2011 Volkswagen Toaureg TDI Executive 2011 Volkswagen Toaureg Hybrid
BASE PRICE $45,270 $48,770 $61,385
PRICE AS TESTED $45,270 $58,320 $61,385
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.6L/280-hp/265-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 3.0L/225-hp/406-lb-ft turbodiesel DOHC 24-valve V-6 3.0L/333-hp/325-lb-ft supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6 plus 46-hp/221-lb-ft electric motor, 380-hp/428-lb-ft comb
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4690 lb (53/47%) 5062 lb (54/46%) 5166 lb (52/48%)
WHEELBASE 113.9 in 113.9 in 113.9 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 188.8 x 76.4 x 68.2 in 188.8 x 76.4 x 68.2 in 188.8 x 76.4 x 68.2 in
0-60 MPH 7.3 sec 7.7 sec 5.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.4 sec @ 90.9 mph 15.9 sec @ 85.3 mph 14.3 sec @ 96.6 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 133 ft 123 ft 125 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.86 g (avg) 0.87 g (avg) 0.83 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.6 sec @ 0.64 g (avg) 27.3 sec @ 0.65 g (avg) 27.2 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)
MT OBSERVED FUEL ECON 18.5 mpg 22.3 mpg 18.6 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 16/23 mpg 19/28 mpg 20/24 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 211/147 kW-hrs/100 miles 195/133 kW-hrs/100 miles 169/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.02 lb/mile 1.00 lb/mile 0.90 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING ***
DESIGN ****
INTERIOR/FUNCTIONALITY ***
PERFORMANCE ****
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT **
OFF-ROAD ABILITY ***
VALUE **