Which retro-styled EV is better?
These days, the two cars duking it out here are expensive fashion accessories, which is in stark contrast with why they exist in the first place. The original Fiat Cinquecento and BMC Mini were designed to be as small and cheap as possible due to a fuel crisis in the latter half of the 1950s.
The Mini is arguably more famous, thanks to its transverse engine layout, which meant the vast majority of the floor could be used for passengers and luggage. Fiat's original 500 was also an engineering masterpiece, but production eventually stopped in the late 1970s. Mini production never stopped. Rover kept building the classic Mini until October 2000, and that same year BMW started production of the Mini as we now know it.
We love the fact that these two vehicles have been electrified. Born as a result of a fuel crisis, adding an EV motor not only has historical context but also makes sense, given what these cars are built for today. Inner-city living requires brisk acceleration, nimble handling, and a small footprint.
Both are retro-chic and draw inspiration from their forefathers. We love them both dearly, but the Cooper's 2022 facelift left the Mini's face looking a bit trout-like. Over the years, the Mini has also grown up a bit, while the Abarth 500e is as fabulous as a contender in RuPaul's Drag Race. Still, the Mini is not offensive, and its now-traditional styling cues like Union Jack taillights are still present.
Like the Mini, the Abarth doesn't need a traditional grille, so it's blocked off. But instead of leaving that space blank, Abarth put its own name in big letters across it. We dig the confidence. The famous Scorpion badge can be found on the flanks with an all-new lightning bolt running through it.
We like to think of these cars as blank canvases. There are several customization options available that allow a customer to tailor either car to their personality. The limited Scorpionissima version's Acid Green (it looks more yellow in these images) launch hue is a bit much, and Poison Blue isn't much more subtle, so we'd love to see it in a cherry red with a set of black alloys.
The Abarth uses the same mechanical bits as the humble Fiat 500e. The 42-kilowatt-hour battery and single front motor are carried over, but Abarth pushes the power output to a maximum of 152 horsepower and 173 lb-ft of torque. That's the most this package can handle, and Abarth will have to dip into the Stellantis parts bin if it wants to build a faster version.
The Mini also inherits its powertrain. The motor and battery pack are carried over from the now-discontinued BMW i3. Even though the Mini's power source is older, it beats the Abarth's power figures. The Mini packs a mean 181 hp and 199 lb-ft punch. Abarth claims a 0-62 mph time of seven seconds, while Mini claims a 0-62 mph time of 7.3 seconds.
It's worth keeping in mind that the claimed figures don't reveal the whole story. We've driven the electrified Mini, which feels much quicker than the claimed figures suggest. Weight will also play a role, and the Cooper comes in at 3,143 pounds, while the 500e is rated at 3,009 lbs.
Abarth has yet to make range claims for the 500e, but the standard car can do roughly 200 miles. Subtract a few miles, given the performance potential, and you're looking at 180 miles, and that's us being kind.
Thankfully, the Abarth can be charged at 85 kW, which gives the car 80% of its range in 35 minutes. Still, the range is a severe restriction and limits what an owner can do with it.
It's even worse in the Mini. That old i3 setup might be good for power, but the claimed range of 114 miles is terrible. Using a fast charger, you can take it back to 80% in 36 minutes.
Both cars should be fine if you have a home charger and a short commute, but these cars were designed for city living, and that means they're suitable for only a small portion of the populace.
The Mini has that circular theme going on, but behind it, you'll find the old 8.8-inch touchscreen interface that BMW has effectively retired in all of its products. There are some nice Mini-specific touches, however. The chunky steering wheel, the rounded digital instrument cluster, and those lovely toggle switches underneath the HVAC controls are all prime examples.
The Abarth's interior is all-new and quite minimalist. It has a large touchscreen interface, and that's about it. The main controls for the HVAC have been kept separate from the main media interface, and that's always a win. Below that, you'll find the "gear" selector buttons.
The Abarth steering wheel looks sublime, as do the pedals. The yellow Scorpion looks wicked, as does the contrast stitching on the seats. You can tell the Abart is a newer product, while the Mini comes across as old, with newer technology pasted where Mini found space.
The Cooper Electric Hardtop used to be the cheapest EV available in the USA, but a base model now retails for $34,225, not including the $850 destination charge. The Abarth's price is not available yet, but it's expected to cost roughly the same. We'll have to wait for 2024 to find out because Fiat is still finalizing the US-spec 500e and, by association, the Abarth 500e.
Both are too expensive for what they are. The honest answer to this question is the humble Nissan Leaf or even the upcoming Chevrolet Equinox EV. These cars are better in almost every department, yet they lack that "want one" factor.
Logic won't play a significant role come purchase time, and that's fine. If every car out there was bought purely on how much sense it made, we'd all be driving Toyota Corolla hybrids. If you're shopping for one of these, let your heart decide which to go for.