Cute Cars

by The Car Family

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If styling is your game the macho looking 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 is that they make you feel good about your purchase.

As attractive as both are they are polar extremes 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, very difficult to read instruments, and a steering wheel that only tilts making it awkward for some drivers. The blind spots are to the back with the top down and to the sides, but Fiat has made a great side view mirror that offers two angles enabling you to see cars in what used to be the blind spot. Our gas mileage was 32 mpg in mixed driving. 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 premium fuel, but what really separates them is the all wheel drive that the MINI All Four offers. It would be an ideal buy for a skier or mountain resident who wants good 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 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 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. The MINI is more eager to please and attracts a different crowd. The high driving position is reassuring as it affords you the feeling that you are in a much larger vehicle. Thankfully, both aren’t shaped like beans as more vehicles in this category. I think Fiat got this model right.

Fiat Interior

Young working male’s view: The MINI Cooper S Countryman All4 is essentially a MINI on steroids. It has a high stance, potent engine, and feels quite roomy. The MINI is the more quirky of the two when it comes to the interior layout that even includes the placement of the cupholders close to the shifter. There is a MINI connect feature and other electronic upgrades, but the radio reception is limited. Options abound, but the real joy of this vehicle is its playful nature. The turbo and transmission work well together and the forward thrust is impressive for vehicles in this segment and only extreme corners tax its suspension. Interior storage space is limited, but there isn’t anything in the All4 that would be a turn-off for the buyer who enjoys following 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 but cute, but if ordered with the more powerful engine, can be a fun canyon runner. The MINI Countryman is cute in the opposite direction offering a tough guy stance and a fairly potent engine to go along with its eye catching exterior. Both are unique and both are worth seeing.

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