Writing at length about both cars, Car and Driver have pitted the MINI Cooper against the Fiat 500. What we find refreshing is that C&D hasn’t just assumed that these two cars are true competitors. They point out what we’ve thought all along, that these are two cars created for two very different purposes. So it’s no surprise that they give the edge to the MINI.

The MINI Cooper’s more flexible powertrain, more capable chassis, and greater comfort combine to make a car that is as fun as it looks. No doubt, the 500 has style. But the Mini has style and agility.

It’s refreshing to see someone in the automotive press acknowledge that just because these two cars are small, it doesn’t mean they’re evenly matched. We like the Fiat 500 here at MF, but in our opinion, it’s not really in the same league as the MINI. That’s not going to stop some people from cross-shopping them though. C&D agrees.

The current, second-generation MINI Cooper is sort of the automotive equivalent of  boxer/politician Manny Pacquiao. It can fight a class size up or down. It can thrill as a sport hatch, with numerous go-and-look-faster add ons, or it can serve as a simple transportation vessel. Here we have it punching under its weight as it enters the ring with its Italian opponent.

They go on to point out something that doesn’t actually help the 500 in this market: its size. The MINI is small enough to be off-putting to a lot of US buyers, but the Fiat is even smaller. That makes its interior downright cramped for drivers of any taller stature.

Calling the Fiat cute might be cliché, but the 500 is just so darn little (7.0 inches shorter and 2.2 inches narrower than the MINI). This Sport model’s larger grille opening and y-spoke wheels don’t man things up enough to elicit descriptors like “aggressive” or “poised for attack.” Cute still applies.

From behind the wheel, the Fiat feels taller than the MINI, more so than its 4.4-inch-higher roofline suggests. The over-six-foot set will want to forgo the sunroof, as it reduces headroom by 1.3 inches. Mid-five-footers can feel their hair connecting with the burlap-crossbred-with-mouse-fur headliner. The only touch of interior panache is a body-color plastic dash panel. Without that, the cabin would be a black sea with the occasional piece of chrome debris adrift in it.

Dimensions and head room are one thing, but it’s out on the open road that the two cars really start to show their differences. How do the cars compare in actual feel and performance?

Ohio’s roads revealed how different the MINI and the Fiat are. The Cooper feels substantial and stiff where the Fiat shows some dynamic gaps. The 500’s body roll at turn-in gives the impression it is nearing, or at, its cornering limit. But there is more to be had. We were surprised to find its skidpad grip at 0.85 g. The high-mounted seats are partly to blame, as they exaggerate the sense of roll.

…when you flip to the specs and results charts on these pages, be sure to take in all the bold print populating the Mini’s columns. The Mini lost to the Fiat in only three objective rankings (rear-seat space, cargo space, and as-tested price) and absolutely clobbered it in the performance metrics.

As in any comparison, it ultimately comes down to what’s important. If you’re looking for a stylish little runabout, either car will probably do. But as is usually the case in these comparisons, if you’re looking for a driver’s car, spend the money and drive the MINI. Check out the full review over at the Car and Driver website.