RAC Cars News


Battle Of The Superminis

By raccars Published

Despite a raft of strong and cheap competitors such as the Vauxhall Adam and Citroen DS3, the Mini and the Fiat 500 continue to lead the supermini field, both in performance and style. If you're a stylish lad or lass about town, which one do you go for?

One common denominator is their retro appeal, both trading stylistically and culturally upon their illustrious pasts. This could leave both at risk of accusations of form over function, but the fact that both are great little drives is probably a key to their popularity.

Both have sharp handling and nicely weighted steering, but while the perky Mini shines in a more open environment, such as a twisty coast road, the slightly smaller Fiat 500 is at its best in the city, designed to sail calmly around the most crowded urban jungle or the tightest parking space.

The Mini's engine range opens with a 1.6 litre unit that's willing enough after a little encouragement, but for a proper driving experience, you need to go for the famous Mini Cooper, with a great fun 120bhp petrol engine or even better, the hot hatch Cooper S, with 181bhp. The car has kept up with the times with diesel options added to the range, but it's a more staid drive than the petrol options.

By contrast, the Fiat 500's entry level 1.2 litre engine is left trailing behind in the Mini's dust. The much lauded 0.9 Twinair unit is good but needs to be worked hard and is very noisy. Fortunately, there are hot Abarth editions with 1.4 litre turbos to up the 500's fun quotient and a 1.3 diesel that's a good option for higher mileage drivers.

Both cars keep up the retro theme in their cabins but have made a little too much use of cheap plastics, even though the Mini presents itself as a premium product. Both cars again can seat four, at a push. What the Mini gains over the 500 in rear legroom, it loses in a smaller boot space, but does offer a useful split fold rear seat, to boost its luggage capacity.

Entry level equipment on either car is a little stingy but there are options available to both if you're happy to spend some money and both get five stars from the Euro NCAP crash test gang and good safety equipment.

At the lower end of the budget, overall, the Fiat 500 offers a better buy, but the Mini Cooper is far more desirable if you can afford the price and offers better residual values.

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