Fiat 500 vs Mini Cooper

Remember that whole ‘retro’ movement from a decade ago? The one that gave us the ‘New’ Beetle (not to be confused with the New New Beetle), the PT Cruiser, and the Mustang. Well, it also sparked BMW to recreate its Mini division in 2001, and more recently, Fiat decided to drag its 500 badge from the back of the closet.

When it comes to a city car, small is a good thing. It makes parking easier. You can whip around those pesky trash trucks. And you won’t be sucking down a $5 gallon of gas every 9 feet. But these two cars also bring more than just a tiny footprint to the table.

Style dahling. These two cars are just dripping with it. The Mini was designed to embody modern Britain, and you can even option a giant Union Jack roof applique. Fiat’s Cinquecento looks like it could double as a Victoria Beckham handbag, and there’s even a Gucci edition for customers in Beverly Hills. But are these two cars more than just fashion statements? Fiat 500 vs Mini Cooper, let’s find out…!

2012 Mini Cooper

2012 Mini Cooper

When BMW bought Rover in the mid-90’s, the Mini brand was ‘Free’ part of that multi-million dollar BOGO sale. The company was still building an advanced version of the original Mini, and the British were still buying them. Not wanting to shutter the still-popular brand, Mini discontinued the original car in 2000, and launched an all-new version in 2001.

The new Mini was still a FWD, 4-pot runabout. But BMW injected the car with some of their special Ultimate Driving Serum. Then they piled on the chiquery. A hubcap-sized speedometer set in the center of the dash. Switchgear from the Millenium Falcon. And a ‘personalization’ menu that had more pages than the U.S. Tax Code. The BMW Mini had moved upmarket faster than a lottery winner from Alabama.

The 2012 Mini Cooper continues the hedonistic theme with the addition of ‘Mini Yours’, a collection of expensive features that include such frivol-ties as a leather covered dash, and fancy seats with contrasting stitch work. But that’s just garnish, the real story lies underneath.

Since the Mini Cooper was designed by BMW, one would expect the car to have a certain amount of driving acumen. And it does. 4-wheel independent suspension, hydraulic steering, and a conveniently located E-Brake handle mean that you can flog this thing like a redheaded stepchild. Point-and-shoot is the best way to describe the handling, and you can even increase the fun quotient with one of their optional performance suspension kits. Opt for the pricey 208-hp turbocharged 2012 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works, and all of the performance goodies come standard.

On the livability front, the 2012 Mini Cooper rides decently (without the sport suspension), the seats are firm but supportive, and the gas mileage is quite impressive (up to 37 mpg with the non-turbo engine). The backseats however, are completely uninhabitable by humans. So keep them folded and you’ll have a cavernous 24 cu-ft of ‘stuff room’.

2012 Fiat 500

2012 Fiat 500

The 2012 Mini Cooper was designed by BMW, and it carries a $20k base sticker. The 2012 Fiat 500 on the other hand, wasn’t designed by a famous sportscar company, so it has a more reasonable $15k starting price. But it’s not as fun to drive either.

The biggest shortcoming of the 2012 Fiat 500 is in the steering system. Instead of employing a communicative hydraulic steering setup, like the Mini does, the Fiat Cinquecento gets electric power steering, which supplants a steering shaft for some angle sensors from Radio Shack. The result is numb steering, with some artificial steering weight thrown in for good measure. You can’t feel what the front wheels are up to, but most of the fashionistas that buy this thing won’t care. That said, the 2012 Fiat 500 does handle quite competently. Although it lacks the ‘rabid mosquito’ feeling that you get in the Mini.

The 2012 Fiat 500 is 7-inches shorter, and 4-inches taller than the 2012 Mini Cooper. This gives you an elevated seating position, and better visibility. The backseat is also (slightly) roomier, and the total cargo capacity is an impressive 30 cu-ft.

Part of the reason that it has more interior room than the larger Mini, has to do with the rear suspension. The 2012 Mini Cooper uses a multi-link independent rear suspension, which cuts into the rear floor space. The 2012 Fiat 500 employs a less intrusive torsion beam setup, however, that was more of an economic decision. You see, the 2012 Fiat 500 is basically an economy car, in other parts of the world. The interior materials aren’t as nice as the Mini’s. It doesn’t drive as well, and the sport-minded 160-hp 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth isn’t as poised as the 2012 Mini Cooper JCW. Basically, it costs 5-grand less than a Mini, because it’s a cheaper car.

So to wrap up the Fiat 500 vs Mini Cooper comparison: The 2012 Mini Cooper is expensive, but it drives like a mad mosquito. The 2012 Fiat 500 doesn’t drive as sharply, but it’s cheaper, and it’s a chic alternative to an economy car.