2012 Fiat 500 vs. 2011 Mini Cooper Comparison Test and Video

2011 Mini Cooper

(1.6L 4-cyl. 6-speed Manual)
  • 2012 Fiat 500 vs 2011 Mini Cooper Comparison Test Video

    Mini Cooper vs.Cinquecento: Battle of the Teacup Hatchbacks | October 07, 2011

1 Video , 64 Photos

Battle of the Teacup Hatchbacks

  • Comparison Test
  • 2011 Mini Cooper Specs and Performance
  • 2012 Fiat 500 Specs and Performance

We're not sure how we ended up on Mulholland Highway with the 2012 Fiat 500, but the little red hatchback is taking the abuse well. We chuck it into corner after corner, and it always takes a set (eventually) and then gathers itself up for the next challenge. As economy cars go, this Rosso Cinquecento is a gamer.

So is the 2011 Mini Cooper. There's no turbocharger or optional sport suspension on this base Cooper hardtop, but it doesn't matter. The Mini reacts to steering inputs like a good hitter who gets a fastball down the middle of the plate: It turns on them immediately and delivers us to the apex quicker than we expected.

2012 Fiat 500 vs. 2011 Mini Cooper

Maybe we're missing the point of the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper, hammering on them like this. These are already hip cars. They don't get more hip when you put a sweaty Inside Line editor in the cockpit.

Eventually, though, the puppy-dog cuteness will wear off, and you'll want to be left with a hatchback you actually like driving — rather than a tiresome pet car you wish you'd never brought home.

Apple vs. Smaller, Cheaper Apple
The Mini Cooper's 15 minutes of fame ended years ago. But this car has lasting appeal. It's as big a cultural icon as the Snuggles fabric softener bear, and every time we get behind the wheel of one, the car's sharp responses suck us right back in like it's 2002.

Of course, buying a Mini isn't as cheap as it used to be. Our Cooper hatchback starts at $20,100, and optioning it with essentials like the Value package (which provides Bluetooth and an iPod adapter), Sport package (16-inch wheels and sport seats), xenon headlights and a center armrest pushes it past $23K.

Additionally, this 2011 Cooper was built during a promotional period when Mini threw in the Cold Weather group (ordinarily $675) for free if you bought the Value package. Tack on our test car's Mini Yours tats/bathtub appliqués ($250) and you land at $23,600 — just shy of the Cooper S hardtop's $23,700 base price. Prices increase $100 for the 2012 model year, but otherwise the Mini is unchanged.

Meanwhile, the 2012 Fiat 500 is the hatchback of the hour in the United States. Nobody who stops to talk about the car asks us how fast it is or how it handles. They just want to sit in the little Italian car with the vintage design.

It certainly doesn't hurt that the base price on our long-term 500 Sport model is just $18,000, and it comes standard with 16-inch wheels, Bluetooth and a USB input to boot. With the addition of a sunroof, satellite radio and an alarm that makes a loud noise if anyone tries to appropriate your Fiat, the total is $19,200.

Mind you, you're buying considerably less car. The Fiat is 7 inches shorter than the Mini nose to tail and more than 2 inches slimmer across the shoulders. It rides on a 6.5-inch shorter wheelbase and a 2-inch narrower track (2.8 inches narrower in back). Fiat's kid has a pointed head, though — it's 4.4 inches taller than the flat-top Cooper.

Slow Is All in Your Head
A good day in the 2012 Fiat 500 involves picking up our dry-cleaning, stopping off for a siphon-brewed coffee and treating ourselves to overpriced organic berries — you know, living it up without leaving the city limits. The 500's 101-horsepower, 1.4-liter iron-block inline four-cylinder engine moves it along nicely at a 30-mph pace, and we enjoy working through the five-speed manual transmission's long but precise throws from the barstool seating position.

Start making bigger demands on the Fiat and it quickly turns into a slow car. Low-end grunt is nonexistent, as the car's 98 pound-feet of torque doesn't come together until 4,000 rpm. However, this is easily the smoothest 1.4-liter engine you've ever met, and if you rev it a little (OK, a lot) and stir the gears frequently, commuting is a piece of cake. That is, until a cake delivery truck cuts you off and kills your momentum.

2012 Fiat 500 vs. 2011 Mini Cooper

Meanwhile, the 2011 Mini Cooper almost never feels slow. Its 121-hp, 1.6-liter all-aluminum engine is a touch noisy putting along at low rpm, but its snappy responses to throttle input make that easy to ignore. The 1.6-liter is only rated at 114 lb-ft at 4,250 rpm, but it feels like more than that. Of course we'd rather be in the turbocharged and direct-injected Cooper S when climbing grades, but we sure don't miss that car's torque steer.

Except at the Track
Shifting the six-speed manual gearbox driving the Mini Cooper's front wheels is more fun, too, because the throws are shorter and the lower, more natural driving position sets you up well for heel-and-toe downshifting. Mind you, we're not downshifting that much in the Fiat 500, because on Mulholland, its wide gear spacing gives you a choice of running in 2nd gear at a manic 5,500 rpm or 3rd at a gutless 3,000 rpm.

Said gearing, combined with a rev limiter that's different for every gear, plus a general lack of power, contribute to the 500's sluggish performance at our test track. It's not that much slower than a Mazda 2, but the Cooper is 1.5 seconds quicker to 60 mph at 8.9 seconds and maintains a 0.9-second advantage by the quarter-mile — 16.6 seconds at 82.8 mph versus 17.5 seconds at 76.6 mph.

Matters of Size and Class
On its own, the 2012 Fiat 500 provides a decent ride quality, with more composure than you'd expect from a car with such a short wheelbase. But then you take a spin in the 2011 Mini Cooper and realize that the Fiat hopped over stretches of freeway that don't phase the Mini (although, even with a lid, your latte will splash when the Mini's run-flat tires hit rain grooves). You notice, too, that weight and cost considerations haven't allowed Fiat to seal the 500's cabin as tightly, so wind and road noise are more prominent.

2012 Fiat 500 vs. 2011 Mini Cooper

Mini also put bigger brakes on the Cooper, which weighs 113 pounds more, and it stops shorter — 116 feet versus 125 (although we tested a 2012 500 that stopped in 115. Both cars have pleasantly firm middle pedals, but the 500's nose dips quite a bit when you're on the brakes hard. Fade isn't a problem on back roads, but with so little horsepower on tap, we're probably not going as fast as we think.

It turns out the Mini Cooper can carry an awful lot of speed through turns, though. Our test car doesn't have the optional sport suspension, but the standard suspension calibration and 195/55R16 Goodyear Excellence summer tires are good enough to get it through the slalom at 70.4 mph. That's Mitsubishi Evo territory — quite a feat for a humble front-drive hatchback. The Mini's steering is quick and, unusual for an electric-assisted rack, it's loaded with feedback.

Small Fry
The Fiat's narrow build works to its advantage through the slalom and on narrow back roads. But in spite of its crisp turn-in response, the 500 can't react as quickly because its softer setup results in a lot of body roll. It's a calculated compromise made in the name of ride comfort, and we expect Fiat to go with a more aggressive state of tune on the 500 Abarth model. Steering feel is good for this class, but it's not as lively on-center as the Mini's.

Still, the 2012 Fiat 500's 66.7-mph slalom speed commands respect, particularly on a car with nondefeat stability control (and an earlier 500 hit 68.4 mph). Among subcompacts, this car is second only to the Mini through the cones. Ability levels are more evenly matched on the skid pad, as the Fiat manages 0.83g to the Mini's 0.87g — not bad considering its 195/45R16 ContiProContact tires are all-seasons.

I *Might* Have Overstyled the Cabin
Just like you wouldn't see The Smurfs if you were in a deadly serious mood, you shouldn't consider buying a 2012 Fiat 500 or 2011 Mini Cooper unless you're willing to indulge their designers' enthusiasm for adorable retro styling motifs.

The 500 Sport model has the most sedate interior of the Cinquecento family, as its body-matched Rosso color inlays are matched with a black dash and steering wheel (whereas in Pop and Lounge models, the wheel can be a sassy ivory, Avorio). Meanwhile, this non-accessorized Mini Cooper is a gray and black ensemble cheered by whimsical shapes and color-changeable ambient lighting.

The Fiat's digital trip computer is nested inside an analog tachometer, which is nested inside an analog speedometer. It's an overwhelming clump of numbers, but unlike the Mini's real-estate-intensive pie-plate speedometer, it's all mounted in front of the driver's face. So take your pick.

2012 Fiat 500 vs. 2011 Mini Cooper

Neither of these cars is an example of how to lay out controls in ergonomic fashion, but the Fiat wins this category by default, because we're tired of Mini's tiny audio head unit with buttons the size of a No. 2 pencil eraser. Also, we're sick of hearing Mini newbies complain about the toggle-style window switches.

However, all the Cooper's infuriating buttons and switches feel solid, whereas many of the items in the Fiat feel like they might break (and in our experience, have broken). Both cars have nice cloth upholstery, but the Mini's hard plastic panels (inevitable in this price range) are better quality than the Fiat's and they're fitted with more care.

Rear-seat accommodations are oddly a wash. The optional sunroof creates a severe headroom shortage in the Fiat 500, but it actually has more usable rear legroom than the Mini Cooper, both on paper (there's an additional 1.8 inches) and in the real world. Similarly, Fiat managed to carve out more room for groceries behind the rear seat. And despite its narrower body, the 500 actually has more published capacity when you fold down the rear seats — 30 cubic feet to the Cooper's 24. When it's time to actually use that space, though, the Mini's wider cavity gives you more options for loading ungainly items.

Mini Wins Because We're Heartless
It's easy to look at 2012 Fiat 500 and 2011 Mini Cooper and think the Fiat never had a chance in this comparison test.

2012 Fiat 500 vs. 2011 Mini Cooper

But if you're living in the real world where monthly payments matter, the Fiat could make sense. For one, it's more than $4,000 cheaper when comparably equipped. For another, it has slightly higher fuel economy ratings (30 city/38 highway mpg versus 29/37), and it returned slightly better mileage during our testing (29 vs. 27). Finally, driven in the right conditions (the city), it can be a fun car, particularly if you're using it as a support vehicle for something faster and less practical.

If you can only afford to own one car, though, it has to be the Mini Cooper. This is the only semi-budget-priced subcompact that offers remotely adequate acceleration. And did we mention it goes through the slalom at 70.4 mph, which is as fast as an M3 sedan?

Up until this test, we weren't interested in anything below a Cooper S. Now we realize the base Mini Cooper is indeed a hot hatch — less the hot engine.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

Vehicle
Model year2011
MakeMini
ModelCooper
Year Make Model2011 Mini Cooper 2dr Hatchback (1.6L 4cyl 6M)
Vehicle TypeFWD 2dr 4-passenger 2dr Hatchback
Base MSRP$20,100
Options on test vehiclePepper White Paint; Value Package ($1,500, offered only until March 2011 -- includes rear spoiler, Bluetooth phone pre-wiring, iPod adapter with USB cable and aerodynamic kit); Cold Weather Package ($0 when purchased with Value Package -- includes power-folding mirrors, heated mirrors and washer jets and heated front seats); Sport Package ($1,250 -- includes 16-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, sport seats, front foglights, Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) with Electronic Differential Lock Control); Xenon Headlights ($500); Mini Yours Tattoo, Funky ($250 -- includes factory-installed asymmetrically designed vinyl graphics applied to various parts of the bodywork); Center Armrest ($250)
As-tested MSRP$23,600
Assembly locationOxford, United Kingdom
North American parts content (%)5
Drivetrain
ConfigurationTransverse, front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine typeNaturally aspirated, port-injected inline-4, gasoline
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1,598/98
Block/head materialAluminum/aluminum
ValvetrainDOHC, four valves per cylinder, variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing, variable intake-valve lift
Compression ratio (x:1)11.0
Redline, indicated (rpm)6,500
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)121 @ 6,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)114 @ 4,250
Fuel typePremium unleaded (required)
Transmission typeSix-speed manual
Transmission ratios (x:1)I = 3.214, II = 1.792, III = 1.194, IV = 0.914, V = 0.784, VII = 0.683, R = 3.143
Final-drive ratio (x:1)4.353
Chassis
Suspension, frontIndependent MacPherson struts, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearIndependent multilink, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, trailing links, stabilizer bar
Steering typeElectric-assist, speed-proportional, rack-and-pinion power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)14.1
Tire make and modelGoodyear Excellence
Tire typeAsymmetrical, summer, run-flat
Tire size195/55R16 87H (treadwear rating: 240, 33 psi cold front/33 psi cold rear)
Wheel size16-by-6.5-inches front and rear
Wheel materialCast aluminum alloy
Brakes, front11-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding caliper
Brakes, rear10.2-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper
Track Test Results
Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.)3.0
0-45 mph (sec.)5.6
0-60 mph (sec.)8.9
0-75 mph (sec.)13.7
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)16.6 @ 82.8
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)8.6
0-30 mph, trac ON (sec.)3.3
0-45 mph, trac ON (sec.)6.0
0-60 mph, trac ON (sec.)9.4
0-75 mph, trac ON (sec.)14.2
1/4-mile, trac ON (sec. @ mph)16.9 @ 82.4
0-60, trac ON with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)9.0
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)29
60-0 mph (ft.)116
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)70.4
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) ESC ON69.0
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.87
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) ESC ON0.84
Sound level @ idle (dB)45.7
@ Full throttle (dB)79.0
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)67.4
Engine speed @ 70 mph (rpm)2,800
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsWith traction control off, it was fairly difficult to maintain revs/wheelspin but not impossible. Throttle response is quick enough, so as the tires hooked up, I could go to WOT and it would maintain momentum. Shifter has long throws, but distinct, smooth gates (top of 2nd gear = 59.5 mph).
Braking commentsAbsolutely consistent from run to run (brake fade compensation like BMW?). Near zero dive. Never felt light or wiggly in the rear. No ABS drama.
Handling commentsSkid pad: With ESC off, it's remarkable that the steering behaves like hydraulic-assist in that the weight and resistance go light as front-tire grip wanes and understeer begins. Rear grip never diminishes even if I try to coax rotation with lift-throttle. With ESC on, the throttle closes before (slightly before) understeer begins, so the feedback through the steering isn't as apparent. Slalom: In Sport mode with ESC off, turn-in is lightning-quick, transitions between cones are immediate and there's very little roll. The steering is precise but a little heavy for my taste. I could use on/off throttle to rotate between cones without losing momentum. Quite a sharp "tool" in the slalom. Turning the ESC back on reveals a very intelligent system that makes quick/precise corrections and returns control to the driver immediately.
Testing Conditions
Test date7/19/2011
Test locationCalifornia Speedway
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (F)87.2
Relative humidity (%)26.5
Barometric pressure (in. Hg)28.8
Wind (mph, direction)3.2, headwind
Odometer (mi.)4,617
Fuel used for test91 octane gasoline
As-tested tire pressures, f/r (psi)33/33
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)29 city/37 highway/32 combined
Edmunds observed (mpg)26.8
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)13.2
Driving range (mi.)488.4
Audio and Advanced Technology
iPod/digital media compatibilityAM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers
Satellite radioStandard Sirius (1-year subscription)
Hard-drive music storage capacity (Gb)Not available
Rear seat video and entertainmentNot available
Bluetooth phone connectivityOptional
Navigation systemOptional, hard-drive-based system (map updates via glovebox-mounted USB port)
Telematics (OnStar, etc.)Optional Mini Connected cloud-based audio, navigation and convenience features via compatible smartphone (currently only iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4)
Smart entry/StartOptional
Parking aidsOptional rear sonar
Blind-spot detectionNot available
Adaptive cruise controlNot available
Lane-departure monitoringNot available
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,535
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)2,542
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)61.2/38.8
Length (in.)146.6
Width (in.)66.3
Height (in.)55.4
Wheelbase (in.)97.1
Track, front (in.)57.4
Track, rear (in.)57.8
Turning circle (ft.)35.1
Legroom, front (in.)41.4
Legroom, rear (in.)29.9
Headroom, front (in.)38.8
Headroom, rear (in.)37.6
Shoulder room, front (in.)50.3
Shoulder room, rear (in.)44.7
Seating capacity4
Max cargo volume behind 1st row (cu-ft)24.0
behind 2nd row (cu-ft)5.7
Payload, mfr. max claim (lbs.)816
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/50,000 miles
Corrosion12 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance4 years/Unlimited miles
Free scheduled maintenance3 years/36,000 miles
Vehicle
Model year2012
MakeFiat
Model500
Year Make Model2012 Fiat 500 Sport 2dr Hatchback (1.4L 4cyl 5M)
Vehicle TypeFWD 2dr 4-passenger hatchback
Base MSRP$18,000
Options on test vehicleRosso Exterior Paint; Power Sunroof ($850); Safety and Sound Package ($350 -- includes Sirius Satellite Radio with 1 year of service and remote anti-theft alarm system)
As-tested MSRP$19,200
Assembly locationToluca, Mexico
North American parts content (%)70
Drivetrain
ConfigurationTransverse, front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine typeNaturally aspirated, port-injected inline-4, gasoline
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1,368/83
Block/head materialCast iron/aluminum
ValvetrainSOHC, four valves per cylinder, variable intake-valve timing
Compression ratio (x:1)10.8
Redline, indicated (rpm)6,750
Fuel cutoff/rev limiter (rpm)6,900
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)101 @ 6,500
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)98 @ 4,000
Fuel type87 octane acceptable, 91 octane for best performance
Transmission typeFive-speed manual
Transmission ratios (x:1)I = 3.91; II = 2.16; III = 1.35; IV = 0.97; V = 0.77; R = 3.82
Final-drive ratio (x:1)3.73
Chassis
Suspension, frontIndependent MacPherson struts, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearSemi-independent twist beam-axle, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, integrated stabilizer bar
Steering typeElectric-assist, speed-proportional, rack-and-pinion power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)16.3
Tire make and modelContinental ContiProContact
Tire typeAll-season (treadwear rating: 500, 35 psi cold front, 30 psi cold rear)
Tire size195/45R16 84H
Wheel size16-by-6.5 inches front and rear
Wheel materialCast aluminum alloy
Brakes, front10.1-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding caliper
Brakes, rear9.4-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper
Track Test Results
Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.)3.2
0-45 mph (sec.)6.2
0-60 mph (sec.)10.4
0-75 mph (sec.)16.8
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.5 @ 76.6
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)10.1
0-30 mph, trac ON (sec.)3.6
0-45 mph, trac ON (sec.)7.0
0-60 mph, trac ON (sec.)11.2
0-75 mph, trac ON (sec.)17.5
1/4-mile, trac ON (sec. @ mph)18.0 @ 76.0
0-60, trac ON with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)10.9
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)32
60-0 mph (ft.)125
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)66.7
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) ESC ON66.5
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.83
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) ESC ON0.79
Sound level @ idle (dB)47.3
@ Full throttle (dB)76.3
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)67.6
Engine speed @ 70 mph (rpm)2,900
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsWith traction control off, it's difficult to maintain wheelspin, because there's not that much torque even at 4,000 rpm. The tires hook up and I lose momentum. Shifter feels fragile and notchy. Rev limiter in 1st gear is about 500 rpm lower than redline -- probably a slow tachometer. In 2nd gear, rev limiter is about 200 rpm lower than redline. Seems to have a cam phase at about 6,000 rpm. (Top of 2nd gear = 57 mph)
Braking commentsPretty dramatic dive and light rear end despite firm pedal that grew more sensitive (steeper jump-in) with additional runs. Always straight but some bobbing. Some tire noise but no ABS buzz.
Handling commentsSkid pad: Throttle closes noticeably with ESC on so understeer never began. With ESC "off," I believe it's actually just the traction control that turns off, so it allowed a bit more speed before slowly closing throttle. Steering feel doesn't change with state of grip or pending understeer. Slalom: Used Sport mode. Could not detect any measurable difference between ESC on versus ESC off. It behaved the same at entry speed. Quick turn-in with slow roll between cones and reasonably intelligent stability control intervention. Difficult to maintain momentum with all the slow response from chassis and throttle. Good, but not great. Needs to be sharper.
Testing Conditions
Test date7/19/2011
Test locationCalifornia Speedway
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (F)88.4
Relative humidity (%)26.3
Barometric pressure (in. Hg)28.7
Wind (mph, direction)5.1, headwind
Odometer (mi.)5,878
Fuel used for test91-octane gasoline
As-tested tire pressures, f/r (psi)35/30
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)30 city/38 highway/33 combined
Edmunds observed (mpg)28.6
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)10.5
Driving range (mi.)399
Audio and Advanced Technology
Stereo descriptionAM/FM/CD Bose Energy Efficiency Series audio system with six speakers
iPod/digital media compatibilityStandard USB jack
Satellite radioOptional Sirius, 1-year subscription
Hard-drive music storage capacity (Gb)Not available
Rear seat video and entertainmentNot available
Bluetooth phone connectivityStandard
Navigation systemOptional; portable hard-drive-based TomTom system with 4.3-inch screen
Telematics (OnStar, etc.)Not available
Smart entry/StartNot available
Parking aidsOptional rear sonar
Blind-spot detectionNot available
Adaptive cruise controlNot available
Lane-departure monitoringNot available
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,363
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)2,429
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)63.2/36.8
Length (in.)139.6
Width (in.)64.1
Height (in.)59.8
Wheelbase (in.)90.6
Track, front (in.)55.4
Track, rear (in.)55.0
Turning circle (ft.)30.6
Legroom, front (in.)40.7
Legroom, rear (in.)31.7
Headroom, front (in.)38.9
Headroom, rear (in.)35.6
Shoulder room, front (in.)49.4
Shoulder room, rear (in.)46.4
Seating capacity4
Step-in height, measured (in.)14.9
Max cargo volume behind 1st row (cu-ft)30.1
behind 2nd row (cu-ft)9.5
Cargo loading height, measured (in.)28.0
GVWR (lbs.)3,300
Ground clearance (in.)4.1
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/50,000 miles
Corrosion4 years/50,000 miles
Roadside assistance4 years/Unlimited mileage
Free scheduled maintenance3 years/36,000 miles
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The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 MINI Cooper in VA is:

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