As is normal when the Germans launch a car that doesn't obviously slot into one of the decades-old market segments, the manufacturer will tell us it has invented a whole new kind of car. So it is with the Mini Countryman -- a 'compact sports activity vehicle', apparently. Like, duh. How exactly is this a new category? Toyota RAV4? Kia Soul? Mitsubishi Outlander Sport? In the real world, the Countryman can't succeed by being a new invention. It has to succeed by being better than the opposition.
Well being a Mini, at least it has performance on its side, with an uprated version of the familiar Cooper S engine (Valvetronic throttle-less induction is added to the existing direct-injection and turbo), an electronically controlled center diff for its optional AWD system, and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension.
But even those things don't make it unique. Nissan's new Juke has its own DI 1.6-liter turbo four, multi-link chassis, and tops the Mini with side-to-side torque vectoring for its AWD system.
So we got the Juke and Mini together. It took place off the Mini's German launch event, which meant no Motor Trend verified test-track performance numbers were possible, but we made sure to run them back to back on a good mix of delimited autobahn, fast country roads, twistier hill route and suburban schmoozing. The Mini came with the AWD system (called All4) and a six-speed manual, while the Juke had a CVT (with six virtual ratios) because that's standard with the AWD system. In fact the front-drive Jukes have a simpler torsion-beam rear suspension. The Mini is always multi-link, whether or not it has All4.
Comparison: 2011 Mini Countryman vs 2011 Nissan Juke
Which tiny crossover would you pick?