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The MINI One and Fiat 500 rank highest among hatches with style and personality - but our writers can't agree on which does it best. Let the bickering begin...

14 Sep 2022

It's the Italians against the English (or Germans?) - and no, these aren't the semis or finals of the 2022 FIA World Cup that we're predicting.

Instead, we're speaking about a very different, but nonetheless thrilling (figurative) ballgame here. With COE premiums being as high as they are, most new car shoppers will fall into two categories: Those that can justify their motoring costs by purchasing premium rides that speak about their personalities, and those that will have to shop for something sensible and pragmatic to weather out the hike.

Charming design means the MINI is instantly recognisable and universally loved
But there are cars that can do both. And this, is Mattheus' choice:

Let's talk style...

Mattheus: If personality is your key consideration, few brands can match the style icon that is the MINI Hatch.

Manufacturing regulations may mean that the car of today is no longer as scrappy a little kid as Sir Alec Issigonis' 1959 pioneer, but there's no mistaking it for any other on the road. If there ever was an automotive interpretation of a 'smize', the One has gotten it entirely nailed with its bright head lights, cheeky grille-grin, and rounded door mirrors. 

There's more than sufficent grunt in the MINI One to zip through traffic, and plant smiles on faces
MINI's commitment to the customisability-cause means you can spec your special One in just about any configuration you want - not just the body paint itself, but the door mirror caps, rims, and - how could we forget? - the roof.

Want to let the designers do the work? Something is sure to satisfy you from the steady outflow of special editions too (like the Frozen Brass Edition example we have here).

And it doesn't stop there. You'll spend most of your time in the cabin after all, so step in to experience the One's whimsy (and its addiction to circles) fleshed out in full. While the original Mini may not have started life as a premium brand, MINI (yes - in full capital letters) as we know it now is positioned unmistakably upmarket, and everything you can touch feels well-built.

This Fiat has stayed mostly true to the design of its namesake
But hold on... I think I hear a scooter coming.  

Clarence: I'm sorry - could I just chime in for a moment - because I think I could have the better option here. 

This, is the Fiat 500. And yes, the MINI may be instantly recognisable, but I think that just means there are already too many of them on our roads. This Fiat, however, is different. It's exclusive, it's unique, and aren't we here to find something that will set you apart on the road?

And this Fiat 500 comes with plenty of history as well. I mean, just look at it! Where the MINI is now all grown up, this modern 500 is, design-wise, hardly different from the original: There's still those doe-eyed head lights up front, and adorable ones at the rear as well. Then there's the fact that this Fiat is a physically smaller car as well, and I happen to have done enough research to know this: Smaller equals cuter.

Punchy two-cylinder in the Fiat delivers its own brand of driving thrills and character
Mattheus: Small just like that 0.9-litre engine perhaps?

Let's go for a drive...

Mattheus: Mind - the modern MINI, as a child of mixed lineage, also has strength from its German mothership to draw from.

That turbocharged, three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine gives more than sufficient grunt to zip about the city, yet does its duty in a surprisingly frugal and clean manner (say hello to rebates in the A2 band of our Vehicular Emissions Scheme). The updated One has a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission too. Clarence won't even have switched into second gear by the time I've hit the speed limit.

Surely a sunroof should be essential for those casual weekend drives?
You can grumble all you want about how the MINI no longer makes the cut for the featherweight category, but sink low into the driver's seat and show the hatch a few set of bends. Go-kart feels, or sheer driving thrills? Whatever it's called, it's still unmistakeable. 

Also - fine - the Fiat may be cuter, but that's because this MINI has been constantly updated to keep it within modern sensibilities. Look! I do love the original recipe, but I'm also ultimately glad there are actual doors for my parents and siblings.

Clarence: But surely you wouldn't get either car for their practicality?

This MINI One has rear doors so everyone can easily join in on the fun!
And while we are on the subject of an engaging drive: I'm sorry, but this right here is where the 500 truly excels.

This Fiat 500 comes with a sunroof as standard (where's yours?) for when you're out on more casual drives, and the way the car steers and bounces about once you're up to speed both ensure that the fun never ends, no matter where you're headed.

And that charming two-cylinder engine? I think you'll find it a godsend these days, where petrol prices are making sure everyone feels the pinch, regardless of whether your money folds or jiggles. More cash in hand also means you'll be able to spend on those cafe-hopping weekends!

A celebration of two different icons 

Which will you pick? The MINI (left) or Fiat?
We could argue about which is the better car for another 60 odd years. In other words, how far these nameplates (or number plates, for the 500) as we know them reach back in time - and still not have an objective, solid conclusion as to which delivers on the promise of personality best. 

So we'll lay our weapons down and meet in the middle. It doesn't matter which team - Italian or British/German - one wants to play for; we can't deny that both of these heritage-steeped cars have remained faithful to their roots in their own unique ways, and are still bursting with character, despite taking different routes.

Above all, amidst the changing trends and pressures that have rocked the automotive industry, it's thrilling (and refreshing) to know that the spirit of some old icons carries on strong even today. Not everyone can or will drive the One or 500, but if you get to - lucky you.

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