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Small Cars, Big Retro Style: 2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible vs. Fiat 500c Abarth

With turbocharged engines, performance-tuned suspensions, retro-inspired styling and old-school manual transmissions, the 2016 Mini Cooper S and Fiat 500 Abarth reimagine the fun-loving city cars of yesteryear. Both cars embody the personality and charm of the classic models that inspired them.

2016 Mini Cooper S Convertible

Mini Cooper S Convertible
(CARFAX, Inc.)

New for the 2016 model year, the latest version of Mini’s iconic ragtop is based on a BMW platform and features BMW-developed turbocharged engines. The Cooper and Cooper S retain much of the Mini’s immediately recognizable styling, but design changes allow for better rear visibility for the driver. Mini has also ditched the roll bars previously situated behind the rear headrests in favor of invisible pyrotechnic rollover bars that literally explode into place to protect occupants during an accident.

In recent years, the Mini Cooper has become synonymous with excellent driving dynamics. Becoming a part of “the ultimate driving machine” family has helped solidify the tiny Cooper’s reputation. The latest iteration of the Cooper, even in drop top form, does not disappoint. Steering is precise, and the sport-tuned suspension keeps body roll at a minimum.

Mini Cooper S Convertible
(CARFAX, Inc.)

Those expecting a luxurious BMW-style ride quality will find the Cooper, even with the optional dynamic damper control, a bit harsh. However, enthusiasts will likely find its aggressive road manners to be the little car’s biggest asset. With horsepower numbers hovering around 200 in the top performance trim levels, the Cooper will never be a straight-line performance champ. That doesn’t mean it crawls to 60 mph, but the numbers are more in line with the latest Honda Civic than many boy racers would like to admit.

Performance isn’t the only area in which the BMW-Mini relationship has helped mature the little Cooper’s lifestyle. Inside, the Mini features a polished interior that is simple and refined, but with a high level of technology and standard features. Front seats are comfortable and spacious, with greater adjustability than seen in previous Cooper models. Unfortunately, the Cooper’s two rear seats are almost unusable to anyone other than very small children. While they are technically large enough for adults, the oddly raked too-steep angle of the seatbacks makes them immediately uncomfortable. If the Cooper has a glaring misstep, it is the rear seats.

Mini Cooper S Convertible
(CARFAX, Inc.)

The gauge layout also grows up a bit. The speedometer is now in front of the driver, the standard 6.5-inch infotainment system is easy to control and the audio system sounds good.

An upgraded 8.8-inch display includes navigation. There’s also a tech feature that warns you if it is going to rain, just in case you were too busy listening to the satellite radio to notice the heavy clouds and foreboding winds. The Cooper also includes other neat gadgets like an “Always Open Timer” that keeps track of the hours you’ve driven with the top down, a feature I’m sure would please my dermatologist.

Fuel economy is strong at 27/36 mpg city/highway in the base model and up to 25/33 mpg city/highway in the S model.

The 2016 Mini Cooper Convertible starts at $26,800 including destination fees. The Cooper S starts at $30,450. The John Cooper Works model’s base price is $36,450.

2016 Fiat 500c Abarth

Fiat 500c Abarth
(CARFAX, Inc.)

If the Mini Cooper S beeps the horn to let people know it has arrived, the 2016 Fiat 500c Abarth leans an elbow on the center of the steering wheel as it comes into view. Sure, the Fiat is smaller, but the bold color schemes, oversized badges and raucous exhaust make a big statement.

The little Italian subcompact also shares the Mini’s over-the-top nostalgia fun factor. The tiny four-seat cabrio is certainly larger than the iconic Fiat 500 of 1957 Europe; the original was only about 9 feet 9 inches long and less than 4 1/2 feet wide. However, the latest 500 is still miniscule when compared with just about anything else on the road that doesn’t require a motorcycle license to drive. The 500 is, dare I say it, cute.

Case in point: The Fiat 500 is adorable enough to inspire a Disney character named “Luigi.”

Fiat 500 Abarth
(CARFAX, Inc.)

Fiat’s convertible – “convertible light” might be more appropriate based on the rollback soft top – is priced to match the vehicle’s small stature. Very few convertible vehicles that offer the 500’s high level of curb appeal can be found anywhere near the base model’s price of $21,390 (including a $995 destination charge). The base 500c Pop also achieves impressive mileage of up to 31/38 mpg city/highway, which equates to long-term savings.

The Fiat 500c, especially the top-trim Abarth model, is also fun to drive. While it doesn’t have the Mini’s refinement, the 500 loves to be tossed around. When equipped with the standard five-speed manual and the Abarth exhaust, this 160-horsepower Fiat 500 provides more smiles per dollar than just about anything else you can buy new at a dealer today.

Fiat 500 Abarth
(CARFAX, Inc.)

The Mini Cooper brags about “go-kart-inspired” handling and performance, and I don’t disagree, but top-down in the 2016 500c may be even more go-kart-like. You sit low to the ground, reach up to engage the shift lever and are rewarded with each shift by the muffler-less exhaust that snorts, pops and gurgles frenetically.
The 500c’s interior is simple, even by smallish retro-car standards. Fiat has done a nice job with the design, and the instrument gauges are straightforward and easy to read. The smallish 5-inch touch-screen infotainment system uses Fiat Chrysler’s excellent Uconnect software. The base model includes integrated voice command, as well as USB and Bluetooth connectivity. Navigation is available as an option.

Front seating is comfortable, and finding the perfect driving position was fairly easy. Much like the Cooper, the rear seats are somewhat compromised. Fortunately, the more appropriate seatback angle actually makes them somewhat useable for short trips, even if the two folks in the back are old enough to have driver’s licenses.
The top-trim 500c Abarth gets fuel economy of up to 28/33 mpg city/highway. The 500c Abarth starts at $27,690 including destination charges.

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