So Juke buyers are left with a monumental conundrum: traction or enthusiasm. Adding to the frustration is that Nissan stubbornly continues its CVT crusade despite the fact that it has failed to deliver any meaningful fuel economy advantage over the modern torque-converter automatics and dual-clutch transmissions used by other manufacturers. If we were going to live with a Juke, we'd be buying a front-wheel-drive model along with the stickiest summer tires we could afford.
The Mini's six-speed automatic, on the other hand, is perfectly suited to the engine's frisky, punchy character. Much more eager to rev than the Juke, the Countryman feels substantially quicker and turbocharger cues like the audible wastegate add to a more visceral experience. Shifts are quick and crisp, whether the transmission is left to its own devices or directed via the wheel-mounted paddles. In its entirety, the Countryman's powertrain package is just as entertaining as it is in the Cooper S cars.
A matter of money
Without a doubt, the Mini Countryman is the better car to drive. It is more natural in corners, boasts a more energetic powertrain, and feels more connected through its transmission. Is the Mini worth an extra $11,300? No, especially since raising the price with extras does little to enhance the driving experience. But a Countryman free of frivolous options is a well-equipped car that can justify the $4500 premium.
While the Countryman is the winner of this test, we're declaring the Juke a winner, too. Nissan's mainstream products are bland and uninspiring vehicles despite the fact that the company can build great niche cars like the Leaf and the GT-R. The Juke trends more toward those specialty vehicles in its execution -- fun to drive, exciting to look at, loaded with technology, and an incredible value -- but is practical and affordable enough to draw mass appeal. We hope it's a harbinger of things to come, as an ounce of the passion that went into the Juke could do wonders to make the Sentra, Altima, and Murano more compelling.