Cute Cars: MINI vs. Fiat

By The Car Family

If styling is your game the macho All Four MINI Cooper S Countryman and the doll house exterior of the Fiat 500 Cabrio have the genre pretty much wrapped up despite appearing polar opposite in looks. One thing they do have in common is that they are fun to drive, get reasonable gas mileage, and interiors that are as unique as the exteriors. More importantly, they make you feel good about your purchase.

As attractive as both are they are polar opposites when it comes to utility. The MINI has all wheel drive, room for four adults, quirky ergonomics, a turbocharged engine, and a fairly potent engine. The Fiat is a convertible with a retro interior look, a simple to operate top, limited backseat room, and quirky ergonomics. Both models have limited handling, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to drive. The more powerful MINI has a seamless transmission that keeps the power flowing while the automatic equipped Fiat uses a more traditional six-speed automatic transmission or five-speed manual to handle the 1.4 liter engine’s output. The Fiat comes in three trims, the Pop, Sport, and Lounge and we tested the latter. If you can wait a bit there are more powerful Fiats planned, including some that could make them one of the fastest small cars around. The MINI likewise comes in a variety of models of which the All Four is the newest version and the most distinctive.

Mom’s view: There are some downsides to the Fiat such as road noise, difficult to read instruments, and a steering wheel that only tilts making it awkward for some drivers. Our gas mileage was 32 mpg in mixed driving for the Fiat and 27 mpg for the MINI. Safety is always important in small cars and the Fiat has plenty with anti-lock disc brakes, seven airbags, and stability control. Standard features are abundant including everything from keyless entry to cruise control to tire-pressure monitoring. More upscale models have automatic temperature control, and a removable TomTom navigation system. Both vehicles were a breathe of fresh air, but the MINI won my heart for its better ergonomics and eye appeal. My friends loved it as well. The Fiat doesn’t try to say, “I’m rich” as some cars do. It says, “Let’s have some fun.” Enough said.

Dad’s view: Small fuel tanks on both these cars make it difficult to squeeze over 300 miles from a tank of fuel, but what really separates them is the all wheel drive that the MINI All 4 offers. It would be an ideal buy for a skier or mountain resident who wants fuel mileage in a handy package. The suspension is quite good considering the height of the car, and the brakes are world class. This car begs to challenge inclement weather. I loved it. The seats may be tight for the girthy and controls need to be studied, but this is a fun family vehicle. Cute, maybe not so much, but definitely eye candy for those who like the utility of this Swiss Army knife of the small car segment.

Working woman’s view: The seats in the Fiat felt better, but the MINI had the more upscale interior. The placement of the window controls on the center panel is an acquired taste and the overly large speedometer in the center of the All Four’s dash is redundant as there is a digital readout in front of the driver. I liked both cars, but clearly the Fiat is more fun to own for me. The convertible is perfect for those days when you need a pick-me-up, and it makes your happy just to look at it. It even has a “sport” button that makes it more eager to romp. The MINI is more enthusiastic and attracts a different crowd. The high driving position is reassuring as it affords the feeling that you are in a much larger vehicle. Thankfully, both cars aren’t shaped like beans as are most vehicles in this category. I think Fiat got this model right.

Young working male’s view: The MINI Cooper S Countryman All4 is essentially a MINI on steroids. It has a high stance, turbocharged engine, and feels quite roomy. The MINI is also the more quirky of the two when it comes to the interior layout including cupholders that are way too close to the shifter. There is a MINI Connect feature and other electronic upgrades that add to its character. Options abound, but the real joy of this vehicle is its just do it nature. The engine and transmission work well together and the forward thrust is impressive, especially for vehicles in this segment. Only extreme corners tax its suspension. Interior storage space is limited with the rear seats up, but there isn’t really anything in the All4 that would be a turn-off for the buyer who enjoys tackling the road less traveled.

Family conference: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this is clearly the case with these two vehicles. The Fiat is not just cute, but if ordered with the more powerful engine, could be a fun canyon runner. The MINI Countryman, with its tough guy stance and eye catching exterior, loves to show its muscles. For those waiting for that different drummer, your rides are here.

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