There’s also much to like about the Mini’s driving position. Last week, in our UK first drive, I criticised it for being too recumbent and not convenient enough for the crossover hatchback crowd. But assuming your agenda is a sporting one, the layout of the seat and controls, and the adjustability of both, may be exactly what you want.
With the driver’s seat at its lowest, you lower yourself into the Mini as you might in a normal hatchback – the steering wheel upright in front of you, your legs pretty straight out. Alternatively, with the seat ratcheted up – and the Countryman’s plentiful head room allows even drivers my size (6ft 3in) to sit higher if they choose – you feel more like you’re upright at the controls, with a good view in all directions, sitting in typical crossover style. Best of both worlds, then.
The Audi gives you no option to sit as low, although its driving position is otherwise adjustable and very sound. The Nissan has a promising bucket seat, but the good news ends there. There’s no telescopic adjustment for the Juke’s steering column at all, and limited leg room for taller drivers. So you end up bentlegged and a bit hunched over the Juke’s controls, wondering exactly how the position you’re adopting is really any more comfortable than you might be in a late-1980s supermini.
The Juke’s hit of nostalgia doesn’t end there. The Nismo RS rides with the oily, cradled sense of purpose that can be conjured by only an expensive set of dampers. It steers with twice as much contact patch feedback as the Countryman Cooper S. In both respects, it feels like a much more serious performance machine than the Countryman or Q2. At times, you can really enjoy the way the Juke’s suspension settles down to work on a B-road, over undulations that the Audi seems to bound across and the Mini acknowledges only begrudgingly.
But at other times, around faster bends and away from junctions particularly, the Juke seems totally, hopelessly at war with itself. The car’s front tyres generate about half of the lateral grip and traction needed to put down its power and then carry it smoothly through a quickish, longish, averagely adhesive third-gear bend. But somehow that’s enough grip to make the steering wheel dart and squirm in your hands with every off-centre dab of power you apply and over every mid-corner bump.
The Juke is given to cornering with understeer in a steady state. Add throttle into the mix and it can often dive for the weeds quite precariously. Net result? You drive with necessary patience and inevitable frustration when all the electronic aids are on, locked in a continual balancing act between trying to smooth out the boost and trying not to activate the ESP. With the nannies deactivated, meanwhile, you embrace the Juke like a criminal might a suspended sentence – warts, wheelspin, understeer, torque steer and all.