In contemporary Mini tradition, the Countryman is a stylish, ergonomic train wreck inside. We're happy to see the volume knob is finally located amidst the cluster of audio controls, but the toggle switches and small buttons are difficult to locate and irritating to use. In place of a traditional center console, the Countryman uses a narrow central rail that stretches to the rear seats and allows for accessories like a glasses case, cupholders, and an iPod cradle to be clicked into place, slid fore and aft, swapped between front and rear, or removed completely. It's a fun concept, but the center rail is more whimsy and fashion than function, as is the unnecessarily large emergency brake handle. A more conventional console would provide more storage with better accessibility for the cell phones, iPods, sunglasses, and key fobs that we tote.
The stuff that really matters -- comfort and driving position -- are far less polarizing. The small-diameter steering wheel is nicely sculpted and slightly meatier than the Juke's, encouraging two perfectly placed hands at 9 and 3 o'clock. The standard leatherette seats are soft and well bolstered, the optional $250 armrest is perfectly placed, and the small cabin feels impressively airy thanks to the low and slender center rail, telescoping steering wheel, and upright glass. Despite the fact that there's room for a rear bench, Mini has limited Countryman seating to four, placing buckets in back that are just as comfortable as those up front.
It may not be as distinct as the Countryman's, but the Juke's interior features smart packaging and still packs style with trim pieces and the center console inspired by a motorcycle fuel tank and painted in a metallic red. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is just as good to grip as the Mini's, and we were never bothered by the absence of an armrest. Having experienced the Juke's vinyl-like optional leather, we appreciated the supportive sport buckets wrapped in black cloth with red trim. We were disappointed, however, to discover that the Juke's steering wheel doesn't telescope out for taller drivers. The cabin also feels more cramped with less headroom and rear-seat legroom.