Cooper SD vs Nissan Juke dCi

Which is the more fashion-conscious choice: latest version of retro-inspired Brit or chunky crossover?

Buy any MINI, and you’re making a style statement – but few cars in this sector turn heads like the Nissan Juke. The baby Qashqai mixes off-road proportions with supermini dimensions, and its quirky lights, sloping tailgate and high-riding stance provide a genuinely unique appearance. 
One of the key attractions of MINI ownership is the endless array of customisation options, but the Nissan is more straight-laced. Accessories comprise a rear spoiler, various decals and some chrome add-ons – nothing like the breadth of choice available to MINI customers. Mind you, the 4x4-like styling means the Juke needs no help standing out from the crowd.
Inside, top-of-the-range Tekna trim includes so much kit that you won’t have to add anything else. Leather upholstery, heated front seats, sat-nav and a colour reversing camera all come as standard. The Nissan Connect stereo also offers full iPod integration. Fitting this lot to the MINI would add £2,475 to its list price. 
But looking beyond the kit count, the rest of the cabin is less enticing. Material quality is no match for the Cooper SD’s, and the more traditional design doesn’t provide the feelgood factor of its retro rival. 
The Brit is an acquired taste, however, so if its quirky speedo and toggle switches don’t appeal, the Juke does at least provide something different. It isn’t without is own quirky touches, and the large centre console – styled like a motorcycle fuel tank – and gimmicky Intelligent Control Display won’t be universally popular, either. 
The latter operates the air-con system and allows the driver to choose between three driving modes; Normal, Sports and Eco. One thing you can’t deny is that the Nissan is a more practical choice. Its extra pair of rear doors make carrying passengers less of a chore, and there’s more legroom in the back. In normal circumstances, a crossover model with a 251-litre boot would be nothing to write home about, but the Juke’s load area outclasses the Cooper SD’s.
If you’re considering a MINI, the chances are you don’t need to carry more than one passenger on a regular basis. Yet the Nissan stands out with its much greater versatility. That’s not to say it’s perfect: the lack of steering reach adjustment is sure to irritate tall drivers, who will find themselves sitting too far from the rim. The SD isn’t faultless, either, as its stepped seatback adjustment doesn’t allow you to fine-tune the driving position to perfection.
From behind the wheel, our duo couldn’t be more different. You sit low to the ground behind an upright windscreen in the MINI, while the tall-riding Juke provides better visibility and a more conventional outlook. The two driving experiences are very distinctive, too.
The lively Cooper SD serves up the engaging dynamics for which the brand is famous. Its new 2.0-litre diesel beats Nissan’s 1.5 for capacity, and the figures underline its superiority. The Brit enjoys a 33bhp power advantage and delivers 65Nm more torque than its opponent here. 
At the test track, it proved to be much quicker, dispatching the benchmark sprint from 0-60mph in 7.7 seconds – a full 3.1 seconds faster than the Juke. You don’t need a stopwatch to measure the difference through the gears, as you can feel the MINI’s impressive mid-range punch. 
It’s so flexible that overtaking manoeuvres are refreshingly stress-free; in the Juke, they need to be carefully timed.
In corners, the MINI’s agile responses provide razor-sharp turn-in. Feather the throttle mid-bend and the nose tucks in tightly, allowing you to steer the car using the accelerator. This adjustability simply isn’t on offer in the Nissan. Attack a series of corners in the Juke, and it’s all too easy to trigger the stability control system, as the front wheels lose grip and the nose begins to wash wide of your intended line. 
The crossover’s controls lack the feel and precision of the MINI’s, and it’s less composed under heavy braking. As you would expect, there’s more body roll, but the longer-travel suspension copes with bumps and crests more calmly than the firmly sprung Cooper SD. This is where the Nissan really scores. 
While it’s never going to rival the MINI for fun, the Juke provides more long-distance comfort and refinement. But it’s not as accomplished at lower speeds, where it fails to cope with coarse surfaces as effectively.
Up the pace, and the busy Cooper SD is a restless motorway companion, especially with our model’s bigger wheels. Tyre roar, wind noise and the firm ride take the edge off its long-haul appeal. 
The bad news for Nissan is that it doesn’t back up its advantage here with winning fuel returns, as the MINI beat the Juke’s 40.4mpg return by a highly impressive 1.7mpg. 
The Cooper SD also has lower emissions and more engaging dynamics – so only the limited standard kit counts against it.

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