The Smart Fortwo becomes available in the U.S. in early 2008. This quintessentially urban car uses a rear-mounted, one-liter, three-cylinder engine that puts out 84 horsepower. The transmission is a five-speed automated manual, using a computer-controlled clutch to shift gears. The Smart averages 40mpg and can be parked perpendicular to the curb on most streets.
To combat small-car-phobia in the U.S., Smart displays the safety cage of the Fortwo. The Fortwo meets the safety requirements for both European and U.S. distribution, although no NHTSA crash ratings have been published yet. A six-CD changer is available with the Fortwo's stereo.
Mini shows off a new trim level for the Cooper S, with the Mini Convertible Sidewalk. Technically the same as the 2008 Mini Cooper S, the Sidewalk trim includes malt-brown, stitched leather seats and a choice of four, metallic body colors.
Mazda's Tribute small SUV gets the hybrid treatment for the 2008 model year. The Tribute Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) uses the same hybrid system as the Ford Escape and the Mercury Mariner and will be available in two- or four-wheel-drive configurations.
We like the cabin materials and the electronics in the Mazda CX-7, and we expect the Tribute HEV to offer similar quality. Gadgets should include navigation and a six-CD changer that can play MP3 discs. The Tribute HEV will be available in mid-2007.
Chrysler invented the minivan and obviously expects it to remain a significant source of income with this rejuvenated model launch for 2008. The Chrysler Town & Country and its sibling Dodge Grand Caravan get new standard safety equipment such as side-curtain air bags.
Both Chrysler and Dodge minivans get Swivel 'n' Go seating, second-row seats that can turn to face fore or aft. When facing aft, the seats form a conversational area with the third-row seats and the pedestal table.
Similar engine choices are available in these Chrysler and Dodge minivans: a 4-liter V-6, a 3.8-liter V-6, and a 3.3-liter V-6. The first two come with a six-speed automatic, while the last one is mated with a four-speed.
Interior amenities for both the Dodge and Chrysler minivans include LED reading lights and a dual DVD player. A rear-view camera and parking sensors are also available.
Ford heavily redesigned the Focus to give it a more sporty and conventional look. Chrome vent inserts at the front fenders suggest performance, while the tail of the car has been toned down from previous models. The Focus comes with a two-liter, four-cylinder engine delivering 136 horsepower, mated with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission.
The redesigned cabin moves the display to an eye-level pod in the center of the dashboard, which shows audio and car information. Ford's implementation of Microsoft's automotive platform, Sync, is available in the Focus. Sync plays music from MP3 players and offers Bluetooth phone connectivity.
Nissan launched the Rogue at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, making a car specifically for the newly hyped crossover market. This little brother to the Murano is powered by a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 170 horsepower and mated with Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission.
The steering wheel uses standard Nissan-style audio controls, but sports new, rounded button mounts around the hub. Intelligent key and Bluetooth phone integration will be available on the Rogue, as will a Bose audio system.
We were duly impressed with the Subaru Legacy spec.B when we reviewed it last year. Subaru ups the ante with this new Legacy version, using a three-liter, six-cylinder engine over the spec.B's 2.5-liter, four-cylinder block. The bigger engine puts out 245 horsepower, which will make the all-wheel-drive Legacy a very fun car to drive.
Hyundai sets its sights high with its new crossover Veracruz, comparing it to the Mercedes-Benz GL and Lexus RX 350 in its press release. The Veracruz uses a 260-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. A lockable all-wheel-drive system and electronic stability ensure traction and safety.
The Veracruz is available in three trim levels: the base GLS, the SE, and the Limited. The last two trims get a 315-watt Infinity audio system with a CD changer. A 605-watt audio system with Logic 7 surround sound is available.
For 2008, the Lancer gets a completely redesigned platform, lengthening the wheelbase but shortening overall length. The car's 2.0-liter, variable valve-timed, four-cylinder engine puts out 152 horsepower, although that's reduced to 143 horsepower in California in exchange for a PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle) rating. The car can be optioned with a continuously variable transmission instead of an automatic.
The Lancer's highest trim level, the GS, gets standard voice-commanded Bluetooth phone integration and has an optional technology pack which includes navigation and an in-dash hard drive for music storage. As with other Mitsubishis, the Lancer gets a rowdy, Rockford Fosgate stereo system.