There are a few which meet all my critical requirements (as I listed in a previous entry). There are even fewer which have two doors. What I have found so far;
- Jeep JK Wrangler. Serious 4x4, 6-speed manual available at all trim levels and it can be had with only two doors. The problem with the new Jeep though, is that it's rather plastic. Even the highest trim level, the Rubicon, other than the leather trimmed seats is a little like a plastic food storage container. It is an amazingly capable 4x4 though, which is positive. Of course, I also already have a TJ Wrangler now.
- Jeep Compass Limited. Well, at least in 2010 Jeep still had a manual transmission available in what would be classed as a crossover type vehicle. The interior is a little stark, but not too bad (leather trimmed seats, but from what I can tell from the web site, I would have to have heaters put in after market). The only complaint I really have about this vehicle is that it's just another one of the cookie-cutter vehicles Chrysler has been putting out lately. That, and the Compass concept that Chrysler showed us in 2002 was SO much better looking that what they actually ended up producing. This is a viable option, however, especially looking at the potential 28 MPG on the highway.
- Jeep Patriot Latitude X. Oddly, this vehicle seems a little bigger (it's not) than the Compass, and a little nicer, but when spec'd all the way out turns out to be less expensive (and that's for the 2011 model). All the same options as the Compass and this will still have an available manual at the top trim level in 2011. It also gets 28 MPG on the highway.
- Ford Escape. All wheel drive, 5-speed manual only available on lowest trim level. I might not _need_ heated leather power seats ... but they are rather nice to have. The only version of the Escape which has a manual transmission available is rather stark on interior features.
- MINI Cooper S Clubman All4. All wheel drive, 6-speed manual and one thing I really like is that it has four bucket seats and the rear seats recline. Unlike the typical SUV configuration with the solid bench rear seats, which limits the sitting position of the rear seat passengers. I think this is an excellent feature. The only downside to the vehicle is that it has four doors (not a deal killer) and it's a car, not a Crossover/SUV, so I'm not sure the ground clearance will be high enough driving home in one of the unexpected blizzards we sometimes get up here in the northeast. Massive positive ... 35 MPG! Better than any of the rest of the vehicles listed here.
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. All wheel drive and a 5-speed manual. I prefer the look of the Sportback, but the Evo is all wheel drive, and has a decent setup. Same downside to this as most Crossover/SUVs, a fixed rear bench seat, but without the ground clearance. This is a four door sedan that happens to perform well. Frankly, I am not a big fan of sedans (even if I have one currently). I prefer three-door hatchbacks or coupes, given anything resembling a choice.
- Toyota FJ Cruiser. All wheel drive, but with locking diffs and a 5-speed manual transmission. This also has two doors (sort of, since it has short rear suicide doors, but at least they don't ruin the proportions) and is a reasonable 4x4 once you lock the diffs. From initial investigation, it seems to suffer from some of the same problems as the Wrangler, in that it's all a bit plasticy (not a word, I know, but it seems to fit).
Trouble is ... none of them are what I want. I really want either a 3-door hatchback or a crossover. Just a bit more comfort than a basic vehicle (no, I don't need a BMW 750xi as a daily driver) and it would be nice if it made for a decent family car as well as commuter car. I would still really like a Crossover/SUV, but with a manual transmission. The Dodge Journey is available in the UK with a 6-speed manual transmission and a diesel engine. It can't even be special ordered here in the US with that kind of configuration. Ford has a number of Crossover/SUVs available in Europe with similar setups which are also not available here.
There's one more problem; all those vehicles are in the mid thirty thousand range on price (except the Jeep Patriot and Compass, which come in under $30K). There are of course some more ridiculous options, such as the Porsche Cayenne, which is more like sixty thousand. I've also heard rumors that the BMW X3 is available with a manual transmission, though the website doesn't list it as an option. While the idea of driving a Porsche every day might be amusing, I just can't see myself even wanting to pay $60K for a daily driver. I also have to keep in mind tire availability. The Jeep has rather wide range of very good aggressive tires available, while most of the others are limited in option due to tire size.
Here's my challenge; What I really want isn't made any more. I loved the old AMC Eagle SX/4 or the BMW E30 325iX Coupe. Either of these were available with two doors, a manual transmission, all wheel drive, and a reasonably tall stance. Not an SUV and not a car ... two of the original Crossovers, though neither the term SUV nor Crossover were in use at the time. Sure, neither of those would make for a good family car, but they would be great for the commute (at least as regards form factor).
I have determined that there's nothing made today (and available in the USA) that I really like. Nothing at all. So I have to decide what my compromise will be (probably the door count, since it won't be the transmission) in order to move forward with this search. Either that, or I'll be stuck buying another old car and just swapping back and forth between them during repairs.
It's all really quite frustrating.