Similar in specs, different in character
Despite their small footprints, these two are definitely not fuel misers. The EPA estimates the Juke's fuel economy at 25 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, while the Countryman is rated at 23 and 30 mpg, respectively. But in our test of hard and fast driving with a decent bit of idling thrown in the Countryman burned gas at an average of 19 mpg and the Juke coughed up just 18 mpg. Extreme circumstances, yes, but we weren't expecting the cars to underdeliver so spectacularly. We tried the Juke's Eco mode, but that simply detunes the gas pedal to make the car feel lifeless and laggy for the first twenty feet at every stoplight until you give up and mash the throttle. It had no bearing on highway economy and, with its 11.8-gallon tank, the Juke struggled to hit 200 miles between fillups. Both crossovers also feast on premium fuel.
That's the penalty of the potent, small-displacement engines moving these 3200-pound crossovers. Acceleration is swift, though not fast, but the real advantage here is the turbocharger providing a flat torque band that makes for confident passing. The Juke holds a 7-hp advantage at 188 hp to the Countryman's 181 hp and both engines are rated at 177 lb-ft, though the Countryman delivers temporary bursts at 192 lb-ft with overboost capability.
Thanks to the turbocharged torque, the all-wheel-drive Juke's mandated CVT elicits none of the underpowered, overtaxed feel given off by a Versa, Cube, or Sentra. The gearless gearbox makes for smooth and pleasant around-town cruising and in sport mode the CVT does a nice job mimicking downshifts by jumping to set ratios rather than the usual slow wind up. But ultimately, the CVT undermines the Juke's sporting pretensions by muting the turbocharged character and slowing how quickly the engine revs. From a stop, it hardly feels quick. By comparison, the manual-transmission Juke is a fizzy-bang ball of piss and vinegar energy, with more pronounced turbo lag and a penchant for spinning the front tires. It may not be a more efficient means of moving forward, but it's our flavor of fun, eagerly generating obscene demonstrations of power and requiring a touch of finesse to drive it fast.