A look at the Mini's spec sheets shows the drawbacks of all-wheel-drive. According to BMW, the system adds 130 pounds to the weight and 0.3 seconds to the 0-62 mph acceleration time, taking it to 7.9 seconds. And our tester does indeed feel somehow hamstrung by weight, a little lacking in the get-up-and-go the Cooper S badging would lead us to expect. On the Autobahn, punchy acceleration from 80 mph onwards demands shifting down a ratio or two. Turbo torque just isn't enough to overcome the tall-body drag and crossover weight. The engine also sounds a little strained at high revs. This might be a NVH issue with the Countryman bodyshell, or it might be that this new Valvetronic version of the Mini engine is simply more intrinsically raucous.
Nissan's acceleration claims for the Juke are slightly more modest, at 8.4 sec to 62mph (but to do a strictly fair comparison, it's worth noting that the automatic version of the Countryman is 8.3 sec). Whatever, the Juke seldom feels slower than the Mini, and once its torque converter has locked up, the changes via the plus-minus gate of the selector lever are crisp. Worst thing about this new engine is its tinny characterless sound. As with the Mini's motor, lag is never a serious issue. It's worth noting that at high speeds, engine noise isn't a problem either because in both cars it's drowned out by pretty intrusive wind roar.
So if the AWD systems gnaw away at performance and economy (and in the Nissan's case, trunk space), is there a payback in twisty-road handling? The Mini's engineers are keen to emphasize that the Countryman retains the brand's trademark kart-like agility. But we beg to differ. Sure, the Countryman does sport an extremely eager steering ratio, such that the first movement of your hands dials up a rapid response as the front end dives into a turn. But things immediately go awry. With this initial response comes disconcerting body roll, and a slight delay before the rear half of the car seems to follow the front. And then you find the steering becomes lazier and slightly soggy on lock. Oh and if you go into a corner too fast there's understeer that can't be corrected by adding power. Slow-in quick-out is the best way.