1 2 3
Jerry
Jerry Reader
4/22/13 7:15 a.m.

The fiancee's sister had a Smart for a loaner/rental a few days, and the fiancee rode with her to find a new car. Both agree it rode like a E36 M3 on wheels.

I have Scion friends with iQ's, mixed reviews. Myself I've been curious about Mini and 500s.

Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar Associate Editor
4/22/13 7:19 a.m.

I've driven all of these.

Fiat 500 is my vote by a wide margin—the Sport, not the Turbo or Abarth. The Sport has the stiffer suspension setup vs. the Pop or Lounge models. It's shorter than the Mini by quite a bit, and has great visibility. You can confidently slice traffic and park swiftly in it, and it's at least as fun as the Mini. Solid on the freeway, too. Car & Driver's long-term test in their latest issue had no unscheduled stops, which bodes well for reliability (and ease of service is why I'd skip the turbo. that packaging is super tight). I love the looks, and the interior too. Skip the nav system, it's clunky and weird. It'll be great fun at autocross—might be a good contender in the new Street class. And it's the second-cheapest in your lineup.

The only fun thing about an iQ is that, if you overcook it with understeer and mat the pedal, the traction control kicks in, cuts power and gives you about a half-second of four-wheel drift before the stability control kicks in. Otherwise, the transmission is garbage, it's expensive, the packaging is terrible, and there's no way you could even fit two small teenagers in the back. To fold down the rear seats, you have to remove the headrests. And there's no good place to put them, so you just kinda throw 'em on the floor. It also gets crappy highway gas mileage. For the money, anything is a better car. Literally anything.

I think the Smart wins on purchase price and supreme parkability. Staggered wheel fitment! Hell, you could lease one for $99/month. But that's about all it does well.

Mini loses on price, but wins at the autocross. Depends on your term of ownership, you might not have to worry about the cost of repairs, and resale value is high. But if you're keeping it a long time, repairs will be pricey. Loses on parkability in this matchup.

I absolutely do not recommend a Miata for a city runabout. I've done it. Squeezing through traffic is good, but visibility with the top up is crap and it's longer than but has a shorter wheelbase than the Mini, which makes it harder to park. And it's low, which means other drivers—SUVs, primarily—can't see you and like to change lanes quickly. It's also disconcerting being eyeball-level with the lug nuts on delivery trucks.

B-segment cars like the Fiesta, Yaris, Versa, et. al. are practically Suburbans against these. Huge.

But hey, have you thought about the Chevy Spark? (It's not electric.) Skip the vinyl "leatherette" upholstery. It's as cheap as the Smart, but pretty fun to toss around, and has four doors. Super practical. A competent driver. A little weird looking, but I think it works well in green and blue. Seriously, add it to your list.

GameboyRMH
GameboyRMH UltimaDork
4/22/13 7:20 a.m.

First I'd rule out the iQ and Smart for being fairly expensive cars with miserable transmissions and not-so-great MPG considering their size and lack of power.

Now Mini vs. 500...I'd say test drive them and see. The Mini's more of a comfy DD and the Fiat's more sporty, the Mini's costlier to repair.

Klayfish
Klayfish Dork
4/22/13 8:24 a.m.
Alan Cesar wrote: I think the Smart wins on purchase price and supreme parkability. Staggered wheel fitment! Hell, you could lease one for $99/month.

First of all, awesome post.

Man, every time I see that $99/month lease it really makes me want to go test drive one. $99/month, without the $4000 down that other cheap leases require, is damn tempting.

Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar Associate Editor
4/22/13 8:34 a.m.
Klayfish wrote:
Alan Cesar wrote: I think the Smart wins on purchase price and supreme parkability. Staggered wheel fitment! Hell, you could lease one for $99/month.
First of all, awesome post. Man, every time I see that $99/month lease it really makes me want to go test drive one. $99/month, without the $4000 down that other cheap leases require, is damn tempting.

Thanks. And, by the way, as the iQ is doing its little four-wheel drift, the electronics are SCREAMING at you with lots of loud beeps. It's hilarious. And you can't fit a milk jug in the trunk without folding down the rear seats. A loaf of bread is a squeeze. I really don't understand why that car exists. The Smart at least has trunk space.

forzav12
forzav12 HalfDork
4/22/13 9:17 a.m.

iQ and Smart=low and not.

Mini is fun to borrow, not so much to own. That leaves the Fiat. As someone else mentioned, the Spark isn't a bad choice at the bottom of the market(there is a reason it outsells all the others in its segment)

ProDarwin
ProDarwin SuperDork
4/22/13 12:33 p.m.
Alan Cesar wrote: And you can't fit a milk jug in the trunk without folding down the rear seats. A loaf of bread is a squeeze. I really don't understand why that car exists. The Smart at least has trunk space.

The iQ is a 4 seater though. The Smart is not. Seems like storage space comparisons should be done with the rear seats down in the iQ.

I like that all of the cars are small. I don't like how tall they are. I vote CRX.

bravenrace
bravenrace PowerDork
4/22/13 12:55 p.m.

My carpool buddy gets a solid 38 mpg out of his '07 Civic LX in 60/40 mixed driving with two occupants for about 70% of that driving. These are very real numbers taken over 86k miles of commuting. Mileage goes down a little in the winter and then right back up in the summer. Four door, nice ride, meh seats, and dead nuts reliability. Bought for $16k out the door in '07. If a reliable, efficient commuter with good utility is what is desired, I don't know why anyone would pick any of those cars over this one.

SVreX
SVreX MegaDork
4/22/13 12:59 p.m.

I'm a BIG fan of my '03 MINI S, but not sure it meets your parameters. If autoX was more than 10%, you'd have to have one.

The Smart and the IQ are out, but I would drive and compare the 500 and the MINI if for no other reason than pure fun factor.

I like Alan Cesar's above summary- I think he nailed it. (Including the part about rejecting the Miata for city driving).

Flight Service
Flight Service UltimaDork
4/22/13 1:04 p.m.
Alan Cesar wrote: I've driven all of these. Fiat 500 is my vote by a wide margin—the Sport, not the Turbo or Abarth. The Sport has the stiffer suspension setup vs. the Pop or Lounge models. It's shorter than the Mini by quite a bit, and has great visibility. You can confidently slice traffic and park swiftly in it, and it's at least as fun as the Mini. Solid on the freeway, too. Car & Driver's long-term test in their latest issue had no unscheduled stops, which bodes well for reliability (and ease of service is why I'd skip the turbo. that packaging is super tight). I love the looks, and the interior too. Skip the nav system, it's clunky and weird. It'll be great fun at autocross—might be a good contender in the new Street class. And it's the second-cheapest in your lineup. The only fun thing about an iQ is that, if you overcook it with understeer and mat the pedal, the traction control kicks in, cuts power and gives you about a half-second of four-wheel drift before the stability control kicks in. Otherwise, the transmission is garbage, it's expensive, the packaging is terrible, and there's no way you could even fit two small teenagers in the back. To fold down the rear seats, you have to *remove* the headrests. And there's no good place to put them, so you just kinda throw 'em on the floor. It also gets crappy highway gas mileage. For the money, anything is a better car. Literally anything. I think the Smart wins on purchase price and supreme parkability. Staggered wheel fitment! Hell, you could lease one for $99/month. But that's about all it does well. Mini loses on price, but wins at the autocross. Depends on your term of ownership, you might not have to worry about the cost of repairs, and resale value is high. But if you're keeping it a long time, repairs will be pricey. Loses on parkability in this matchup. I absolutely do not recommend a Miata for a city runabout. I've done it. Squeezing through traffic is good, but visibility with the top up is crap and it's longer than but has a shorter wheelbase than the Mini, which makes it harder to park. And it's low, which means other drivers—SUVs, primarily—can't see you and like to change lanes quickly. It's also disconcerting being eyeball-level with the lug nuts on delivery trucks. B-segment cars like the Fiesta, Yaris, Versa, et. al. are practically Suburbans against these. Huge. But hey, have you thought about the Chevy Spark? (It's not electric.) Skip the vinyl "leatherette" upholstery. It's as cheap as the Smart, but pretty fun to toss around, and has four doors. Super practical. A competent driver. A little weird looking, but I think it works well in green and blue. Seriously, add it to your list.

That is an awesome post.

great info guys

Flight Service
Flight Service UltimaDork
4/22/13 1:08 p.m.
bravenrace wrote: My carpool buddy gets a solid 38 mpg out of his '07 Civic LX in 60/40 mixed driving with two occupants for about 70% of that driving. These are very real numbers taken over 86k miles of commuting. Mileage goes down a little in the winter and then right back up in the summer. Four door, nice ride, meh seats, and dead nuts reliability. Bought for $16k out the door in '07. If a reliable, efficient commuter with good utility is what is desired, I don't know why anyone would pick any of those cars over this one.

size, the Civic is a Suburban compared to the others listed here.

I would do a GEM if it had the range and could sustain 65 for 25 miles. I want something that is great in tight spaces for a local commuter and parking in NOLA

92dxman
92dxman HalfDork
4/22/13 2:01 p.m.

I would recommend looking into a Fit. I have driven it many times in the city and parking has been a breeze. Cargo space out the wazoo and a back seat that real people can sit in. Also, dead nuts reliable and I have never gotten below 30 mpg. I usually average between 30-35 in the winter and 35-37 in the summer.

Chris_V
Chris_V UltraDork
4/22/13 3:37 p.m.

Love my '11 MINI Cooper non-S. Relaible so far, cheap to run, and much improved interior over teh earlier ones (I don't mind the center speedo, especially with the tach and digital speedo directly in font of me anyhow). Easy to park, sporty handling (especially in Sport mode), and actually didnt' do TOO badly for carrying peopel and stuff on a longer trip, though it's not great at it (one of the reasons the Volt gets chosen for family outings now)

ArthurDent
ArthurDent HalfDork
4/22/13 4:02 p.m.

A little bigger but what about a Mazda 2? Runs on the cheap gas, very tossable. Unlike most of those above list it is simple, simple, simple to work on - very much like a 90s car - DIY friendly. Too bad we never got the two door.

Flight Service
Flight Service UltimaDork
4/22/13 4:08 p.m.
ArthurDent wrote: A little bigger but what about a Mazda 2? Runs on the cheap gas, very tossable. Unlike most of those above list it is simple, simple, simple to work on - very much like a 90s car - DIY friendly. Too bad we never got the two door.

Mazda2 and Fiesta have been nixed. Something about them I don't like, that I can't actually articulate.

Vigo
Vigo UltraDork
4/22/13 4:22 p.m.

This thread is interesting and all, unless you already own a 1g Insight like i do.

accordionfolder
accordionfolder Reader
4/22/13 4:35 p.m.

What about the Chevy Sonic w/ the 1.4T?

Honestly none of those sound appealing, I would assume you are going for the cheap side of the cars, but then you have the cooper up there, isn't it 20k? I love my Chevy Cruze Eco and it does nearly everything better than the mentioned cars (40+mpg, 6spd manual, 10airbags, fun to drive, etc) and was 21 out the door. Seems like at that price point you have a much larger scope?

Aspen
Aspen New Reader
4/23/13 9:48 a.m.

I bought a MINI about a year ago after testing a Fiat 500. The MINI is a real car while the Fiat is not. The MINI is much more substantial and I am certain I would rather be hit in it vs. the others. The 500 interior is way cheap. If you can get a 05 or 06 MINI with a manual, then it will be decently reliable as many of the earlier problems were dealt with. Oil leaks will cost you. There are a few other problem areas. Avoid the auto tranny in a MINI both the CVT in the Justa and the auto in the S are not good past 60k miles unless you are lucky. If you can spend the $$ get a JCW with the LSD from somebody who took care of it. Sunroof delete would be a good idea. The Chrono package gets rid of the centre speedo and replaces it with useful oil temp and pressure guages. I like the interior of the gen 1 vs. the newer ones.

Vigo
Vigo UltraDork
4/23/13 10:38 a.m.

I agree with all the comments about the Fiat interior feeling very cheap.

Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar Associate Editor
4/23/13 2:25 p.m.
Vigo wrote: I agree with all the comments about the Fiat interior feeling very cheap.

You guys do realize that these, Mini aside, are very cheap cars? These interiors feel cheap because they ARE cheap. Even the Mini's is mostly plastic, it's just styled better. And its cost reflects that.

93EXCivic
93EXCivic MegaDork
4/23/13 2:49 p.m.
Alan Cesar wrote:
Vigo wrote: I agree with all the comments about the Fiat interior feeling very cheap.
You guys do realize that these, Mini aside, are very cheap cars? These interiors feel cheap because they ARE cheap. Even the Mini's is mostly plastic, it's just styled better. And its cost reflects that.

Truth the base MINI starts at $20k. The Fiat is $16k.

Flight Service
Flight Service UltimaDork
4/23/13 3:58 p.m.
93EXCivic wrote:
Alan Cesar wrote:
Vigo wrote: I agree with all the comments about the Fiat interior feeling very cheap.
You guys do realize that these, Mini aside, are very cheap cars? These interiors feel cheap because they ARE cheap. Even the Mini's is mostly plastic, it's just styled better. And its cost reflects that.
Truth the base MINI starts at $20k. The Fiat is $16k.

and you both are assuming new.

Vigo
Vigo UltraDork
4/23/13 5:19 p.m.

Well, here's how it is to me...

The Smart should be a $7k car but starts at double that. It is a E36 M3 deal. E36 M3 E36 M3 E36 M3

The Fiat should be a $10k car and starts 50% over that. E36 M3 deal.

The mini should be a $20k car and you CAN get them for that, but its also easy to shoot that price WAY up. So while SOME of the mini lineup is ridiculously overpriced to me relative to what i think it is worth, you COULD actually get one at pretty close to what i think is a fair price. You cant do that on the other ones unless you convince a car dealer to eat a big loss (good luck).

Zomby Woof
Zomby Woof UberDork
4/23/13 5:24 p.m.

Why is a MINI worth 100% (or $10k) more than a 500?

Flight Service
Flight Service UltimaDork
4/24/13 1:39 p.m.
Zomby Woof wrote: Why is a MINI worth 100% (or $10k) more than a 500?

Yes Virgo, why is the mini worth double?

1 2 3
Our Preferred Partners
27kFVX298LvXkO6aYL01pdHMg2iRVeZ68AbuY2c8f5E2EbXrgLInmqO8o44QHuvN