Home » The Last Of The Two-Door Hatchbacks: 2007 Mini Cooper vs 2012 Fiat 500

The Last Of The Two-Door Hatchbacks: 2007 Mini Cooper vs 2012 Fiat 500

Sbsd 5 30 2024
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Welcome back! Today we’re taking a look at two examples of a nearly extinct breed of automobile, at least here in the US: the two-door (or three-door, if you prefer) hatchback. But did this body style go out with a bang or a whimper? We’ll take a close look at these two and decide.

But first, let’s check out the results from yesterday’s open-air classics. The Scout garnered a lot of attention and ultimately won the vote. More than one of you expressed an interest in actually buying it, and to them I say: Do it. Then, write about it. I have zero say on what gets published here, but I bet the story of a car found on Shitbox Showdown would make the cut.

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And I have to agree with the vote, for what it’s worth. I’m a diehard little British car lover, but I already have one. And I’ve always liked the style of the early Scout 80 and 800. Plus, it’s yellow! And the top comes off! How can you resist?

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There was a time when the default small-car body style was a hatchback, and if you didn’t specify, it came with two passenger doors. From the Ford Fiesta and VW Rabbit all the way up through the Metro and Accent days, two-door hatchbacks ruled the small car market. And things were good: the cars were economical, easy to park, and carried a shocking amount of cargo. But something happened to small cars in America about twenty years ago: They grew rear doors. And, worse, trunk lids. Suddenly they were harder to get in and out of because the doors were shorter, and harder to park because they were needlessly a foot longer. And that used recliner off Craigslist? Forget it; call your buddy with the Explorer, because it’s not going to fit in your Aveo sedan.

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The exception seemed to be in the “premium” small car market, where the revived Mini and Fiat 500 lived. Here, two doors meant sporty, and hatchback body styles meant European sophistication. I mean, they were still just little economy cars, but with bigger price tags. Now, however, the depreciation monster has brought them down to our level, so let’s take a look and see which one carries on the proud little hatchback tradition better.

2007 Mini Cooper – $3,700

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6-liter dual overhead cam inline 4, six-speed manual, FWD

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Odometer reading: 195,000 miles

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Operational status: Runs and drives well

I have to hand it to BMW. When it revived the Mini marque, I never expected the ride to last this long. Right now, today, you can still walk into a Mini dealership and drive out in a brand new two-door Mini – with a manual transmission. That makes more than twenty years of retro-styled hatchbacks zooming around, a remarkable feat in this era of dull crossovers. It’s the last of its kind, as far as I know.

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This is the second generation R56-platform Mini, though you’d be forgiven if you couldn’t tell. It’s the same dilemma faced by Volkswagen with the New Beetle: How do you update a retro design? Subtly, it turns out. The R56 Mini has a 1.6-liter engine like its predecessor, but it’s a totally different engine altogether. (“It’s a totally different engine.“) The base Cooper model also gained a forward gear; this car has a six-speed gearbox.

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It has a pile of miles on it, but the seller says it runs well and has been reliable. It has had a lot of recent work, and the seller has records for it all. It sure looks like they’ve taken care of it; this does not look like a seventeen-year-old car with almost two hundred thousand miles.

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It’s nice and clean inside, too. A lot of these Minis seem to have led hard lives, so finding one this clean is a treat. I like the dual sunroofs in these, too; it brings a lot of light into the interior.

2012 Fiat 500 Pop – $3,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.4-liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

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Location: Palmdale, CA

Odometer reading: 118,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

After the successes of Volkswagen and Mini’s retro models, Fiat entered the fray with a new version of its fabled 500 model. This car also marked Fiat’s return to the US market in 2010. Like the Mini and the New Beetle, it’s significantly bigger than the car that inspired it – but “significantly bigger” than the old 500 is still a pretty tiny car. The original 500 was rear-engined and rear-wheel-drive; the new one moved the drivetrain to the front, using the same basic platform as Fiat’s celebrated Panda.

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In the US, the 500 came with only two engine choices: a 1.4 liter twin-cam four, or a turbocharged version of the same. This basic Pop model makes do without the turbocharger, but it does boast a five-speed manual gearbox, as befitting a small Fiat. Fiat engines love to rev, and saddling them with an automatic transmission is cruel and unusual punishment. Oh sure, you could order a slushbox, because this is America, but no one who understood these cars did so.

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Normally, I’d complain about the appliance-white paint, but one look at this interior and the lack of hue outside is forgiven. Small cars should have fun interiors, and this little Fiat doesn’t disappoint. It’s in nice condition, too. We don’t get much detail in this ad, but the seller does say it runs and drives well. Terse ads like this make me wonder if the seller is old enough to have paid by the word for classified ads, and is still in that mindset.

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It’s a well-traveled little thing, though; it has Kansas plates on it. And even if it’s plain white, it sure is shiny. It occurs to me, however, that white is the base color for Alitalia livery – nah.

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I get why two-door cars fell out of favor, I guess; they’re fine if you never need to use the back seat, but crawling over a flipped-forward seat back is a pain in the ass. But a lot of us almost never have more than two people in the car. The only time we open the rear doors is to put groceries in the back seat. And two doors just look better than four, especially on a small car. For less than four grand, one of these two can be yours. Which one will it be?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
18 days ago

I have a neighbor who has got an Fiat 500 with a little diesel burner in it,neat little car.

Autojunkie
Autojunkie
20 days ago

Speaking from experience, I would 100% go for the 500 with the manual. My wife’s 2012 Sport 5-speed car is still running strong with zero issues over 12 years. The only thing that ever broke on the car was the exterior driver door handle. Otherwise, it’s been a flawless and reliable commuter that’s also fun to drive for a slow-ass car.

I’ve tried to get her to sell it and get something slightly larger (a small sedan with a usable back seat) and newer, but she refuses. So, I purchased another slightly larger sedan for us to drive and we’re keeping the Fiat too.

As for the Mini Cooper, I have friends and acquaintances who’ve owned/still own them (first gen) and all have had major catastrophic failures with the engine or transmission. One friend still has one that he completely rebuilt after his previous one randomly caught fire on the freeway.

Comet_65cali
Comet_65cali
21 days ago

Had to go with the Mini for one reason: there are K20 Swap kits out there for the platform. I’d snag that car waiting for something to go wrong so I could put a VTEC in there.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
21 days ago

2 cars I don’t like but just can’t pick the Mini (as a tribute to Mr. Bean’s awesome classic Mini!) since it just looks terrible all around, in my opinion. The Fiat looks better so gimmee that one- Fix It Again Tony!
I just watched Cars again today…what a great movie

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
21 days ago

Red seats for the win.

Greensoul
Greensoul
21 days ago

It only cost the Mini owner around 40k in repairs to reach that mileage mark. The Fiat owner got by only spending about 20k in repairs to get over 100k miles. I jest of course (maybe?) Hard pass on both. Sad as they are both so flipping cute

Mike TowpathTraveler
Mike TowpathTraveler
21 days ago

I like Retro. Bought from new, a 2000 New Beetle TDI. That was a fun car, especially during gas crises. Getting a solid 52 miles per gallon will create that kind of Pump Smugness….

But after 16 years of ownership, it was time for something newer and a 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth took the place of the NB TDI. Can’t speak for the naturally aspirated Pop here, but the Abarth has about the greatest 4 cylinder exhaust note ever made by man. And, being a driveway mechanic, the car is easy to work on. Some 8 plus years of ownership, avergaing about 37 mpg on a turbocharged and intercooled Mini HellCat, I’d recommend the Abarth to anyone. That Pop interior is a beauty, so my choice is Pop over Mini.

Jason Masters
Jason Masters
21 days ago

the 500 for sure. the non-turbo multiair is surprisingly reliable. theres a few gotchas on a 2012, like the clutch slave and the tailgate harness. but otherwise they are super solid. the fiat is pretty easy to work on, and parts are cheap. and its far from “appliance white” in person the tri-coat pearl white is downright pretty.

Myk El
Myk El
21 days ago

I’ve had a Mini, but I haven’t had a a Fiat, so I tend to go for the new experience.

The Mark
The Mark
21 days ago

That’s a 17 year old BMW, no thanks. Plus the Fiat interior is more fun.

JDE
JDE
21 days ago
Reply to  The Mark

Eh, a 10 year old orphan Chrysler based Italian car is equally scary

The Mark
The Mark
20 days ago
Reply to  JDE

You make a valid point! I have a friend with a Mini though, nothing but trouble for her. So I have based my vote on one single anecdotal piece of evidence.

Autojunkie
Autojunkie
20 days ago
Reply to  JDE

Only if you know nothing about them.

BeemerBob
BeemerBob
21 days ago

The fact that the Fiat has a dent that is missing paint on under the left taillight and the rear hatch gaps aren’t even on right side vs left side, makes me think this car was rear ended. What else are they hiding? I’ll go with the Mini

Isis
Isis
21 days ago

Tough call; I wouldn’t want either of these with those miles, but Fiats are absolute dog shit. Mini by default.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
21 days ago

I thought this would’ve been an easier vote but as it stands the Mini is a bit more fun to drive and livable due to having a bit more room than the 500.
The 5 yr difference and 80K fewer miles can’t be ignored but ultimately neither are the epitome of reliability and the Mini has service records so if it has made it that far it means some important stuff might have already been replaced

Last edited 21 days ago by Baja_Engineer
Deadsphere
Deadsphere
21 days ago

Always remember that between the two when it comes to maintenance costs, the Fiat is likely to be cheaper because Minis use only BMW parts.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
21 days ago

Already own a Mini and love it. Voted Fiat because of that.

Erik Hancock
Erik Hancock
21 days ago

It’s a qualified yes for the Fiat. 2012 is considered one of the worst years for the 500 – lots of complaints and recalls, however many of those issues were related to the automatic transmission so the manual is a plus. Other than that, there were a number of electrical issues that took a few years for Fiat to work out. A 2014 or later would be a better bet, but that $4K price in the current market is a good deal.

S13 Sedan
S13 Sedan
21 days ago

I’ve driven 500s both in the U.S. and Europe and I don’t like the 500. The Abarth might be fun but I’ve never driven one of those so I can’t say for sure and this one isn’t that. Give me the Mini, I’ve always been a fan of how the first two generations looked, especially in yellow.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
21 days ago

I am emotionally scarred every day by Minis, but Fiats make my soul sing. I’ll take the Pop

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
21 days ago

My son turned me on to the Fiats and we drove an Abarth that he wants to buy. I have never had so much fun as a passenger on a used car test drive as we did in that little thing! If I was looking for a weekend car I would have bought it myself. Minis are a little more common around here, so if I wanted one I’d probably look for a classic one from the 20th century.

Sign me up for the Fiat 500!

Last edited 21 days ago by Balloondoggle
ES
ES
21 days ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

will say, completely different feel between driving the two (did so consecutively, with a month of overlap where i drove both). fiat feels tippy coming straight from mini, but it’s fun in its own right.

despite feeling like a real step down in a lot of ways, my only complaint about the 500 was that i chose a convertible: no hatch meant so much wasted cargo space. carrying snow tires to the shop for seasonal mounting meant dropping them over the roof rails. On the plus side, i was a less aggressive driver.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
21 days ago

If Italian, it’s got to be red. Rosso Red! Not white ever. So today I’ll go Mini and it’s definitely been taken care of ell. Someone has loved that car and having all the records seals the deal!

Cyko9
Cyko9
21 days ago

I’ve warmed up to the oddball cuteness of the 500. This example wouldn’t be my first choice, but in a world where only 2 cars are up for sale and I need a ride, it gets my vote. Fiat really won me over with the espresso maker add-on, even if it’s only available in European models. I would forego a stereo if I could fit an espresso maker in the dash!

Reitwagen
Reitwagen
21 days ago

If you’re going to buy the 500, this is required listening on your way:
https://youtu.be/456mifbpIMU?si=gEV3i8JU4D8ve0Tn

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
21 days ago

I’l take the Fiat today because I like red interiors, despise yellow and about half the mileage as the Mini.
Otherwise – all other things being equal – I’d go for the Mini.

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