The latest MINI hatchback is amongst the highest-rated superminis.
It offers a breadth of talents that few rivals can match individually, much less grouped. However there are a few competitors that draw the eye of the potential MINI buyer.
Perhaps the stiffest rival is the FIAT 500, which flirts with the same kind of appeal that the MINI hatch carries.
First impressions will be relatively similar between the two cars, as they both strike at that retro styling harking back to their predecessors. The MINI may carry the look a little better – it is after all the same front-engine, front-wheel drive layout as its 1960s relative, whereas the FIAT was rear-engine and rear-wheel drive originally, adopting the more conventional layout with this reimagined car. The MINI then carries its shape more effectively.
On the inside, the MINI feels anything but mini. It's a well thought out space, with plenty of room for front seat passengers and a surprising amount of space in the back considering the exterior dimensions. The FIAT feels a lot more narrow - you'll be rubbing shoulders with your front-seat passenger - and rear accommodation is certainly more of an occasional affair.
There's a certain chintzy appeal to the bright, pastelly interior of the 500, but the MINI manages to pull off a modern interior with a little look back to its predecessors, reminding you of where it came from without necessarily shoving it in your face every day. The huge centre dial, formerly the speedometer, is now the home of the infotainment system and sat-nav.
Equipment levels are good all round on the MINI too. Even the starter MINI gets DAB radio, air-conditioning and alloy wheels, alongside safety kit like anti-collision braking for low-speed city incidents. Both cars depreciate very slowly though, reflecting high demand.
It's the drive of the MINI that really sells it. Whereas the FIAT is more of a characterful town car, the MINI excels everywhere - at home on city streets just as much as it is on the motorway. There's far less wind noise at speed, and on back roads it's firmer and more responsive than the 500. There's a joy to driving the FIAT quickly, keeping momentum up by judiciously rolling it into corners, but the MINI is sharper and more planted.In name at least the MINI and FIAT 500 look like rivals, but whereas the 500 is a car that relies on retro appeal and city car manners, the MINI is a modern car that fits into just about any role with ease.