The Miniís front and rear axles interact coherently to get the car pointed with an encouraging zeal

Look past the frills and these two present as a neat match; style-focused, upmarket and right-sized for Euro city life. But which of these design exercises most convincingly marries form and function for the techsavvy, urban-dwelling singles and couples of Australia?

The Q2ís sweet 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes a solid case early on, edging the Mini out both on paper and the road. Its 110kW and 250Nm outputs shade the 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo Countrymanís 100kW and 220Nm by 10kW and 30Nm.

As well as its extra twist, the Q2, at 1280kg, is 110kg lighter than the Mini. It feels brawnier under hard acceleration, a sensation thatís backed up by brisker performance figures everywhere above 50km/h Ė particularly in the 80-120km/h zone where the Q2 bests the Mini by almost two seconds (5.6sec versus 7.4sec).

The Audiís effortlessly elastic engine is a highlight; velvety smooth, and strong enough to give the Q2 the sportier disposition its coupe styling suggests. Paddle shifters, which you donít get in the Mini, amplify the Q2ís focus on the driver. The steady stream of energy across the rev range defies the 1.4ís small capacity.

The engine pairs seamlessly with a rapid, seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that shifts snappily on the move, but canít quite deliver the step-off smoothness or refinement of a good torque converter.

The Miniís front and rear axles interact coherently to get the car pointed with an encouraging zeal

Not that the Miniís lively 1.5-litre turbo is without its own charm and enthusiasm. Give it a prod and it winds up willingly with a gratifying three-pot warble.

The thrum grows as the tacho needle passes through a broader band of peak torque than the Audi, from 1400 to 4300rpm, and on to a higher 6400rpm rev cut.

The Cooper makes do with one less ratio than the Q2.

Its conventional torque converter automatic gives it the upper-hand for initial smoothness, but it suffers from languid transitions as the Mini gathers speed, even when slipped into Sport mode. Yet around town itís difficult to fault, and is easier to live with in traffic.

In terms of drivetrain appeal, then, the rivals are difficult to split, right down to remarkably similar fuel consumption over the course of our test, which saw the Mini (at 10.7L/100km) drink just 0.1L/100km more than the Audi. However from here, the Q2 and Countryman take divergent paths.

The Miniís pragmatic quest for grown-up appeal sees it adopt a more mature ride and handling trade-off.

Softer suspension results in greater body movement and a loping gait, with enough compliance to carry more speed than the Audi over poor roads. Itís not always settled or supple, and its steering lacks the responsiveness of the Audiís. But the Mini is easily the more comfortable car, even on standard 18-inch runflats, and especially for rear seat occupants.

Much of the Countrymanís newfound sophistication lies in the revised UKL platform on which it now rides Ė shared with the BMW X1, but with a more compliant tune here. The Mini pivots fluidly, the front and rear axles interacting coherently to get the car pointed with an encouraging zeal that more powerful Countryman variants should fully exploit.

Only more expensive all-wheel-drive Q2s shake off Audiís cost-cutting measures to incorporate a Countryman-equalling independent rear suspension. A front-driver, as tested here, gets the decontented MQBlite platform with a less sophisticated torsion beam rear-end.

That said, the Q2 does a fine job dynamically with the set-up at its disposal. Its relatively simple rear axle