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Mini Cooper vs Ford Fiesta EcoBoost

Cars with a deliberately driver-oriented bent that also do more than 60mpg? Can’t be done, can it?

  • You never get something for nothing. That's a generally accepted maxim of the universe, the first law of thermodynamics and probably as immutable as these things get. Intellectual concrete. Fast cars require more power. You want more power from an engine? Then it requires more fuel. Simple. But there are cars out there that promise an elegant compromise. Cars like the Mini Cooper and Fiesta 1.0T 140 EcoBoost Black. Cars that attempt to provide smiles-per-mile and miles-per-gallon.

    Pictures: Rowan Horncastle

    This feature was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Top Gear magazine

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  • Let's get this straight: both these cars have a definite bent towards being amusing to drive. Their marketing points towards it, and both have various cues that hint at the ephemera of sportiness, with the Fiesta looking more obviously athletic and the Mini having a drive-mode selector that includes a Sport setting. And it being a Mini Cooper, obviously. Yet they both promise 62.8mpg on the nerdily specific EU fuel cycle. Two things that cannot, surely, exist in the same place at the same time. The dense matter of fun versus the antimatter of frugality.

  • So, obviously, we need to find out if these two really are changing the essential nature of the universe and making liars out of long-dead and wantonly beardy physicists. First, the basics, because they really are very similar, so pay attention. Both have three-cylinder motors with forced induction in the form of small turbos, though the Fiesta's engine is just under a litre in capacity while the Mini offers a gargantuan 1.5. They produce similar power, with the Ford making ever-so-slightly more (138bhp vs 136), though the Mini stumps up more torque (170lb ft vs the Fiesta's 155lb ft). The differences in mpg and CO2 are negligible: both manage 62.8mpg, with 105g/km for the Cooper and 104g/km for the EcoBoost.

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  • Both are front-wheel-drive, manual hatches, though the Fiesta makes do with a budget five-speed 'box while the Mini has six, and the Fiesta is slightly slower, only reaching the benchmark 62mph from rest in 9.0 seconds with a 125mph top speed, while the Mini manages 7.9 and 130mph despite weighing more - 1,160kg versus the Fiesta's flyweight 1,091kg. I know. None of these intensely interesting statistics is likely to make you terribly excited. But don't worry - there's more to these two than dry paper stats.

  • The Ford, for instance, is basically a Fiesta ST-lite. The suspension is pretty much identical to the Zetec S's, lowered by just under half an inch, with firmer springs and dampers. The twist-beam rear axle is stiffened to match the beefed up front and the steering has been rewired for a bit of extra feel and heft. Wheels are standard 17-inch alloys shod with decent 205/40 tyres, and there's a purposeful stance to the whole package that prods all the usual hot-hatch buttons. It's a good thing, especially when you discover that not only does it do 20mpg more than the full-fat 180bhp ST, it sits in insurance group 18 rather than 30 and only costs £20 a year to tax. Proper warm-hatch heartland, then.

  • The Mini is the latest generation of the perennial favourite, properly new, and featuring multi-link rear suspension that's more expensive than the Fiesta's beam axle, coupled with wider tracks all round. It, too, sits on (optional) 17-inch alloys and 205-section tyres, though it does look a little more sedate/grown-up next to the Fiesta. We've got the electronically controlled damping on this one, that offers a choice between sport, normal and green modes, though a quick dig through the options reveals that while you can theoretically get a Cooper for £15,300, our car lists at a scarcely believable £24,830, making the Fiesta Black's Zetec S-plus-a-bit trim for £16,795 look like decent value. Be careful with the options, is all I'm saying. Also, if there's a Mini Cooper on the road that actually cost £15,300, I'll eat my own shoes.

  • Specs be damned, though - these two need to drive well to deliver and, to spoil the conclusion of the story somewhat, they're both brilliant. They fire up with that weird, off-beat thrum that signifies the odd number of cylinders, and both sound really rather lovely. Most of us come from a place where capacity is at least partially relevant to desirability, but these two burr away sounding vaguely like boxer engines heard through noise-cancelling headphones. The Fiesta's seating position feels too upright and tall next to the low-slung Mini and, to be fair, the Ford's black and button-frenzied interior struggles next to the Mini's slightly self-consciously stylish cabin, but once you get going, you don't tend to notice.

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  • The Ford, bluntly, just feels up for whatever you want to throw at it, like the more powerful ST. It's not particularly fast, but the little three-cylinder picks up cleanly from far below where you think it might, urging the Black down the road with a charming dose of enthusiasm. The brakes are strong, and although there's a cheerily wayward feel to the back end if you really stand on them into a corner, there's not very much lean and it has exceptional chassis poise. Bumps don't upset it (unless you clip one with a back wheel mid-corner), the steering is accurate and easy, and you find yourself pouring the Fiesta into corners with ever more speed trying to catch it out. No, there isn't a surfeit of turbo torque to heave you out of a corner (both cars suffer after third gear) but, equally, it means that you never overwhelm the tyres in tighter turns, no matter how hard you get on the gas. So you go faster by thinking a bit more. The clutch is light, the gearbox good enough and, if you tip it in and lift sharply, you can even get an incipient-oversteer tailwag just like the ST. You'll be going 15mph slower, but I'm not sure you're actually having any less fun.

  • The Mini is a similar proposition, though it feels more considered. The Fiesta has a thoroughly decent chassis tweaked for a little more feel, but the Mini's feels more expensive. It's probably got a lot to do with the gearbox, which feels more robust and slick - especially with the rev-matching function, though it is largely redundant - and the rear suspension, which smothers bumps more completely than the Fiesta. That's not to say it's not playful - lob the Cooper at a corner, and it still slips about - and the engine is just as energetic as the Ford's, spinning cleanly right through the rev-range and feeling entirely happy about it. It does feel a bit faster in a drag race, but through a series of bends, there really is very little between them: they're both cars that put a massive grin on your face without engaging fear of death. On balance, I'd probably take the Mini, for no other reason than I find the seating position more agreeable and prefer the interior - it's as close as that.

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  • But there is a problem with both of these cars, and it's a big one. In town and "making progress" driving, neither managed more than about 35mpg, dipping as low as 24.3 for the Mini and 25.6 for the Ford. On a longer, consistent 70mph haul, the Mini managed 49.8mpg and the Fiesta 47.4, largely thanks to the Cooper's ability to cruise in sixth gear, some 800rpm lower than the Black. Which leads me to believe that the fabric of the universe remains unchanged: you have to drive in some sort of mystical Zen manner to get the claimed figures. But saying that, even if these two don't change the world, they do make it a slightly happier place. You might not be getting something for nothing, but you can get quite a lot for a little.

  • The Mini and the Fiesta aren't the only places you can find 60mpg+ allied to an ability to keep you entertained on a back lane...

    BMW 420d Sport: 60.1mpg

    It's a rear-drive BMW coupe and feels as naturally flowing as you might hope. It also has 184bhp, hits 62mph in 7.5 seconds and continues to a top speed of nigh-on 150mph.

  • Seat Leon FR TDI: 64.2mpg

    Rapid, slightly sporty diesel Leon with 150bhp that offers 62mph in around eight-and-a-half and more than 130mph. A (nice) torquey surprise on a twisty lane.

  • Renault Twingo Dynamique TCe 90: 65.7mpg

    Yep, so 89bhp from a turbo 898cc petrol triple isn't exactly a tarmac terrorist, but the Twingo is rear-wheel drive, nicely balanced and handily nippy. Hire-car heaven.

  • Audi TT 2.0 TDI: 67.3mpg

    All the benefits of the sharp-looking, sharp-driving, latest-generation TT in a front-wheel-drive format and 180bhp of 2.0-litre diesel power. Pretty and practical.

  • Volkswagen Golf GTD: 67.3mpg

    Consummate hatch with strong performance (0-62mph in 7.5, 145mph top end) that looks almost identical to a GTI. Diesel-noisy, but compelling.

  • Porsche 918 Spyder: 94mpg

    The 4.6-litre, race-derived V8 in the 918 can't possibly manage 94mpg - until that is, you pair it with batteries, electric motors and plug-in capability: 79g/km CO2 is not to be sniffed at. Good luck having the restraint to achieve the figures though...

  • BMW i8: 134.5mpg

    The same 1.5-litre three-cylinder ICE as in the Mini, except rather more so, this time with 230bhp. Coupled with electric motors worth 132bhp, a fully charged i8 can theoretically see supermini-shaming mpg, while providing similar performance to a Porsche 911.

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