Looking for a small, fashionable car? Should you pick something new, or, for the same money, something vintage on the used market?
Fashion may come and go, but retro seems to have served the Mini and Fiat 500 well. You get to drive around in a car that looks like something from the past, yet it has all the luxuries of a modern car. If you’re in the market for something a bit more stylish than a small, mainstream vehicle, then these two could be exactly what you are looking for.
But which of the two is best? Do you go for a new Fiat 500? A car that comes with a full manufacturer’s warranty, new car smell, and no previous owners. Or, do you go for something a little older with some miles under its belt for the same money? You’d be saving money over a new car, but would it be reliable enough, and do those additional miles mean that it’ll need expensive repairs soon? There’s a lot to consider.
Read on as we compare our favourite versions of both to find out which one you should buy.
*** Note : £1 = $1.40 (correct at time of post)
Fiat 500 1.2 Pop Star
- List Price: £12,490
- Target price: £11,736
- Official fuel economy: 60.1mpg
- Emissions: 110g/km CO2
- Power: 69bhp
- 0-62mph: 12.9sec
- Top speed: 99mph
Mini hatchback 1.5 Cooper
- Price new: £15,505
- Price today: £12,500
- Official fuel economy: 62.8mpg
- Emissions: 105g/km CO2
- Power: 134bhp
- 0-62mph: 7.9sec
- Top speed: 130mph
Price today is based on a 2015 model with average mileage and a full service history
New Fiat 500 vs used Mini Cooper – styling
Both of these cars are styled to look like past versions of themselves, but with a modern twist. Think chrome, oversized styling features, and bulbous, curvy shapes.
The Fiat 500 is the smallest car here; it’s a city car, afterall. To maximise interior space, the wheels are pushed out as far as they’ll go into the corners of the car. The roof is higher than the Mini’s, but instead of being chopped off at the rear, it slopes down at a rather steep angle. Up at the front, there’s a short bonnet to match the original 500, with big, round headlights at bonnet line height, framing the large Fiat badge at the front of the car. It’s cute design overall, with barely a straight line on it.
The Mini is anything but these days, having grown in all areas to meet the demands of customers and safety legislation. To disguise some stretching of exterior dimensions, lights, grills, door handles and even the fuel filler cap, have been supersized to match the growth. Despite all this, the silhouette is still recognisable as a Mini, with round headlamps housed in a clamshell bonnet, steeply raked windscreen, a floating roof and flat rear end.
New Fiat 500 vs used Mini Cooper – driving
The Mini Cooper feels like it’s in a completely different performance class compared with the Fiat 500, indeed, the Mini has enough pace to embarrass hot hatches of just a few years ago. Despite having a turbocharged three-cylinder engine, the Mini is the most powerful car of the two with 134bhp, while the 500 must make do with 69bhp. This stark difference is revealed in the 0-62mph time, which is a huge gap of five seconds, and while you won’t be performing standing starts every time you set off in the Mini, you will notice its greater performance reserves, especially around town, because you can stay in a higher gear and let the engine pull effortlessly from low revs. The 1.2 in the 500 needs plenty of revs to make decent progress and therefore limits its out of town abilities.
The same can be said of the ride quality. The 500 certainly isn’t uncomfortable, but it never really settles – no matter what the road or speed. Along uneven backstreets, you’ll often find yourself doing an involuntary impression of a nodding dog, while potholes and larger intrusions tent to send shudders through the cabin. The Mini copes better, particularly if you can find one with the optional adaptive dampers. They do an excellent job of smoothing out bumps when comfort mode is selected. The standard suspension set up is fine too, provided it comes with smaller alloy wheels. Sport suspension improves the body control, but the ride isn’t as compliant as the other two set-ups.
New Fiat 500 vs used Mini Cooper – interior & equipment
Both cars trade heavily on some of the design motifs their forebears used. The face of the dashboard on the Fiat 500 has plastic trim painted in the colour of the car to mimic the spartan, painted metal in the classic 500.
The interior in the Mini, despite its heavy design, is well executed with plenty of soft-touch plastics and switches that feel substantial. There are a couple of areas where the materials aren’t quite so nice, but they’re generally in places you won’t touch very often. The Mini has a huge circular area in the middle of the dash, where the speedo used to be on early Minis, but is now where the infotainment is housed.
The Fiat is left trailing by the Mini in terms for interior quality and comfort. The Pop Star version in this test doesn’t come with seat height adjustment. There are no soft-touch plastics used inside the 500 either. You do get a simple colour screen and menu buttons to control the radio and CD player, with DAB radio being an extra cost option. You do get air-con as standard though, as well as alloy wheels, split-folding rear seats and heated door mirrors.
New Fiat 500 vs used Mini Cooper – space & practicality
The boot is a bit shallow in the Mini, although the squared-off shape means that it makes the most of the available room it has. If the car has the optional variable boot floor – available as part of the Chili or Pepper Pack – then the load area can be set up to be flush with the load lip and the rear seats (when folded). You can also use it to hide items below the boot floor.
You can get a couple of shopping bags into the back of a Fiat 500, but you’ll need to drop the rear seats if you need to fit anything more in there. And, there isn’t the option of a false floor to improve flexibility, so you had to lift heavy items over a load lip.
There’s only seating for two in the back of the Mini, but headroom is good thanks to the squared off roofline. Adults, provided they aren’t too tall, will be fine because the backrest is at a comfortable angle and legroom is decent. However, the front is much better in this regard since the seat has a huge range of adjustment. The windscreen is quite upright which helps give the interior a great feeling of space.
Passengers in a 500 are significantly worse off because there isn’t a great deal of head or legroom. But, it is a smaller car after all. Up front, the pedal area is a bit cramped and there isn’t a footrest for your left leg, a pain on longer journeys. You’ll also bash your left knee on the centre console because it juts out a fair amount.
New Fiat 500 vs used Mini Cooper – costs
A new Fiat 500 could be yours £12,490, or you could save £754 or more on that price by looking at our new car deals pages. This is quite some saving over the Mini but, do remember, new cars depreciate as soon as they’re driven off the dealers’ forecourt, while used cars have already gone through all that. So, that initial saving could be offset by the fact that the Mini might depreciate less over your ownership period.
However, there is reliability to consider. Surely, a used Mini cannot be more dependable than a new car. Well, according to our latest What Car? Reliability Survey the Fiat brand managed a rather low 24th position out of 32 car brands, whereas Mini was 12 places higher.
Then there are running costs to consider. You would think the 500 would have the more powerful Mini beat here; but not so fast. The 500 will cost you £140 per year because it is taxed under the new system, whereas the older Mini will only cost you £20. Fuel economy is also better in the Mini because it has a combined average of 62.8mpg while the 500 can only manage 60.1mpg. The only place where the 500 does better is with insurance costs because it sits in a much lower insurance group than the Mini.
New Fiat 500 vs used Mini Cooper – alternatives
If you’re looking for a cute looking rival to the Fiat 500, you can, in fact, have three. The Volkswagen Up, Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo are all basically the same car under the skin, yet they all have slightly different body styling to suit their audience. The Up is the smartest looking, with plenty of nice finishing touches to justify its additional price tag. It also gets a turbocharged 1.0-litre engine, which is noticeably faster than 500. The Seat Mii has a number of fun special additions in conjunction with fashion brands, which gets you different interior trims. The Citigo is the cheapest and in Greenline form, very cheap to run.
The Mini has rivals like the mighty Ford Fiesta to contend with, a car which offers a more engaging drive than the Mini, yet it costs significantly less to buy. It also has more boot space to offer, making it a more practical alternative. There is also the Citroen DS3 if you want something chic and petit. But it doesn’t drive or ride nearly as well, though.