Monday, April 9, 2012

Mini Cooper Vs. Fiat 500

By: Skylar Bennett and Gregan Pace

Mini cooper has long been the reigning king of the “small and fun to drive” car market in the U.S. Having the DNA of a BMW without the gut busting price tag has made the Mini the perfect car for the driving enthusiast who enjoys small cars but lacks the “mula” for something more extreme. But wait….what’s this? A competitor? That’s right, the Mini Cooper may finally have something to be afraid of. The Fiat 500. Fiat recently dropped a dealership in our little home town of Salt Lake City so we decided it was time to see what the fuss is all about. We decided we’d go test drive a Mini Cooper and a Fiat 500 to see if the car that took over Europe really has what it takes to knock the Mini off of its very high, and thus far very stable, pedestal. Check out the jump for the results.

Let’s start with the newcomer.  This car has been a top seller in Europe since its debut in 2005. It is hailed by Top Gear as possibly the best car on the market, combining drivability and value.  But will it survive in the land of trucks and SUV’s? Then again with the current gas price crisis this could be the perfect time. With an estimated 30/38 mpg, they are definitely going to attract those tree-huggin’ city folk that refuse to drive a Powerstroke. But gas mileage isn’t the reason we decided to do these test drives. We have very high hopes for this little car that’s been hailed by car enthusiasts alike for its excitement and ability to give James May that little tickling feeling in his privates that few cars have. Let’s start with looks. With seemingly endless options, you can get an extremely personalized car. There are 4 (Soon to be 5 with the Abarth) different models with subtle identifying trim pieces, 14 different colors, and numerous badges, striping, and wheels, all factory options.
When they asked us what we wanted to drive, we went for the Sport model, manual, with a sunroof. It looked pretty sharp. But immediately as I sat in the car, there seemed to be something wrong with the seat. If Richard Hammond can pack over 10 people in this car, surely my 6’3” frame should fit. It didn’t. I had to crouch a little to avoid my head rubbing on the ceiling. Strike number one. We were told the non-sunroof cars did have more headroom and we were able to confirm it later, but I still felt that I was at least 6 inches too tall for the car.

The interior was nicely done with leather, electronic climate control, standard Bluetooth, and a Bose sound system. And right above the climate control, there is a nifty little Sport button. This stiffens the suspension, tightens the steering, and adds a little zip to the acceleration. You only need to remember this button once though, and that's to turn it on. And not for the James May Privates meter to go off, but out of sheer necessity. We had heard that the 1.4L engine had a good balance of power and felt fairly quick, but without the Sport mode engaged we were crawling on our way to freeway speed. Everything else performance related was also awful without sport mode engaged. Strike number 2. But in its defense, pushing that button seemed to take us from a Prius to an M3. Well… on second thought, let’s just change that to a moderately priced 6-cylinder. But the steering was tight, the suspension properly stiff, and I guess there was a little zip. So while there was no strike 3 against the Fiat we didn’t stick around at the dealership very long after the drive. We took a couple pictures and were on our way, hopefully to something better.

We arrived at the mini dealership excited to see why these little british matchbox cars had become so popular. As tempted as we were to test a Cooper S we had to bridle our desires and ask for a base model. The one we ended up driving was a 6-speed manual with burnt orange paint and black 16 inch wheels. It looked good, very good. The interior wasn’t too shabby either. The seats may have not been leather but they felt tighter and more supportive than the Fiat’s. In fact the entire interior felt more sporty than the Fiat’s. The only peculiar part was the large speedo in the center of the dash but then I was comforted by the digital readout directly in front of me. From the second we pulled out of the dealership I realized there was no need for a “sport mode” in the Mini.

This thing was designed to perform well and you could instantly tell. The steering was tight and responsive, the suspension was stiff but not back breaking. The Mini has a few pounds on the Fiat but with a 1.6 liter and an additional 20 hp (120 hp vs. 100 hp) you’d expect them to have about the same acceleration. But they don’t. The mini had way more “pep” to it and I didn’t have to mash the pedal to the floor to get up to speed.  The best part of the whole drive happened as we were approaching a right turn. The road merged with the one perpendicular to it so while most people slowed for the turn there was no need to stop. Then I heard some very magical words flow from the salesman’s mouth; “go ahead and floor it around this corner” he said. Without further ado I shifted down into 2nd and put the pedal down. I took the sharp bend at about 50 mph and the car clung to the corner like a 2 year old clings to his mother’s leg when he’s scared. Literally the car felt like it had found its natural environment as I took that corner. I felt as though I had found mine too and I began to experience that tingly feeling that James May had felt in the Fiat. But this wasn’t the Fiat. It was the Mini. And neither of us had felt anything near that tingly feeling in the Fiat. It was then and there that we both came to the conclusion that the Mini was the much better car. The Fiat 500 may be somewhat cheaper, and it may be all the craze in Europe, but as a “small and fun to drive car” it just doesn’t work. It’s too small and it’s not very fun to drive. So if you’re looking for a small car that will give you that nice tingly feeling when you take a corner, spend the extra $3k and get a Mini. You won’t be disappointed.


  1. nice idea.. thanks for sharing.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Thank you so much. I love this car. This car has been a top seller in Europe. if you want purchase used car. you should to go carwale valuation for compare car value.