Compared with our friends in Europe, where hot-hatches are as plentiful as 500-year-old cathedrals and socialized medicine, we in the United States and the rest of North America have been fairly limited in our hot-hatch options. That’s changing. The Volkswagen Golf GTI has always been the constant — not always great, but excellent in recent years. It had the market all to itself until the first Ford Focus ST and Mini Cooper S were introduced in the early 2000s. Three generations later, the Focus got bigger, but the Mini stayed more-or-less the same size. So, to cover its bases in the junior hot-hatch segment, Ford launched the Fiesta ST for the first time in the U.S.

That pretty much brings us up to date. On paper, the current Mini Cooper S and Fiesta ST couldn’t be more evenly matched. Both have torque-happy turbocharged engines producing between 190 and 200 horsepower. Both are roughly the same size to within a few inches. Performance figures and fuel mileage are so similar that you would need a data logger to detect the difference. But despite having similar mission briefs, these are two very different cars with different personalities, tailored to appeal to different end users. Lets take a closer look at both to see which you should put in your driveway.

Continue reading to find out which of the two cars we find better.

Exterior

Ford Fiesta ST Vs. Mini Cooper S High Resolution Exterior
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Ford Fiesta ST Vs. Mini Cooper S High Resolution Exterior
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Styling and attitude are one of the things that separate these cars the most. The 2015 Mini Cooper S is a completely new car for its third generation, but casual observers would be hard pressed to notice. Since being reintroduced in 2001, The Cooper’s shape and retro-futuristic styling has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It’s cute, extroverted and probably won’t appeal to everyone, but the familiar shape doesn’t feel like it’s overstayed its welcome. The longer front overhangs make it a bit more awkward than previous generations, but to my eyes, it hasn’t lost its charisma.

Styling and attitude are one of the things that separate these cars the most.

The Cooper S gets a sportier body kit with a (non-functioning) hood scoop and center-exit exhaust. A huge range of wheel and other exterior options allow an almost infinite range of customization, but costs can mount quickly. If you need the extra space, another $1,000 puts you in a Cooper S Hardtop 4-Door, which adds 6.3 inches in length and an extra dose of practicality.

Despite having a name that literally means “party,” the Fiesta is the more business-like of the two and probably has broader appeal. It wears the same aggressive glare as the rest of the Ford lineup, and, overall, is a conservatively styled, yet handsome car. Unlike the Mini, the Fiesta is only available in five-door configuration (the two-door is Europe-only), but at 160.1 inches long, if falls about midway between the 2-Door and 4-Door Minis.

It separates itself from lesser Fiestas with a subtly aggressive body kit, with the biggest giveaway being the larger mesh grille and lower front fascia. The side-skirts are a bit more sculpted and a sporty rear wing protrudes over the rear glass. The body-colored rear diffuser, which incorporates a dual-tip exhaust exit, is a nice touch. The ST can be had with some pretty shouty color options, if you’re into that sort of thing, and 17-inch wheels come standard.

Exterior Dimensions

Mini Cooper S Ford Fiesta ST
Length 157.4 Inches 160.1 Inches
Height 56.1 Inches 58.1 Inches
Width 68 Inches 67.8 Inches
Weight 2,605 LBS 2,742 LBS

Interior

Ford Fiesta ST Vs. Mini Cooper S Interior
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Ford Fiesta ST Vs. Mini Cooper S Interior
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Like the outside, the Mini’s interior carries over several design cues from its predecessors. The biggest change is that the speedometer and other gauges have been moved from their traditional central-dash location to the steering column. In its place are stereo controls and a multi-function screen in a circular cluster. Like previous Minis, circles are still a big theme throughout. The nifty toggle switches are still there too, including a big red one in the middle that fires the engine.

The Fiesta offers more at no additional cost, but, if you’re willing to throw enough money at it, you can fit your Mini with near-BMW 7 Series levels of technology and luxury.

Remember the part about how the cost of options can mount quickly when speccing a Mini? That’s doubly true for the interior. Mini offers various luxury, sport and media packages and trim options that can add several thousand dollars to the final cost. Part of the fun of buying a Mini is the level of personalization on offer, but things can spiral out of control. I was able to add over $15,000 in options using Mini’s configurator.

The Fiesta doesn’t offer the same level of customization as the Mini, but the interior still offers a high level of fit and finish, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, push-button start and Ford Sync coming standard. Like the outside, it’s also less playful and more straightforward. Options are primarily limited to sportier Recaro front seats, power moon-roof and Sync navigation, and unlike with the Mini, a fully loaded Fiesta ST won’t add a 60 percent premium to the final cost.

Both cars have plenty to offer in base trim. The Fiesta offers more at no additional cost, but, if you’re willing to throw enough money at it, you can fit your Mini with near-BMW 7 Series levels of technology and luxury.

Drivetrain

Both cars have turbocharged four-cylinder engines powering the front wheels, but the larger-displacement Mini Cooper S engine offers a bit more low-end grunt compared to the relatively peaky (for a turbo engine) Fiesta ST.

The larger-displacement Mini Cooper S engine offers a bit more low-end grunt compared to the relatively peaky (for a turbo engine) Fiesta ST.

The Mini’s 2.0-liter produces 192 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, which is good enough to hit 60 mph in 6.6 seconds (6.5 for the automatic).

The smaller 1.6-liter in the Ford makes 197 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque, but does so much higher in the rev range. At 2,742 pounds, the Fiesta weighs nearly 140 pounds more than the 2,605-pound Mini, but at 6.8 seconds, is still just hair off its 0-60 time.

The Mini crushes the Fiesta in terms of top speed: 145 plays 130 mph, but these are hot-hatches, so, honestly, who cares?

Fuel mileage is pretty much a draw. The Mini offers 26 road, 33 highway and 29 combined compared to the Fiesta’s slightly better 26 road, 35 highway and 29 combined.

Drivetrain Specifications

Mini Cooper S Ford Fiesta ST
Type 2.0-Liter 4-cylinder 1.6-liter Turbocharged 16-valve I-4 With DOHC, Direct Injection And TI-VCT
Output 192 HP 197 HP @ 6,000 RPM
Torque 207 LB-FT @ 1,250 RPM 202 LB-FT @ 5,000 RPM
0 to 60 mph 6.6 seconds (automatic: 6.5 seconds) 6.8 seconds
Top speed 145 MPH 130 MPH
EPA Fuel Economy MPG (City/Highway/Combined) 26/33/29 26/35/29

Ownership

Since the third-generation Mini is still so new, there’s not exactly a huge sample size to draw from. So far, only one recall has been issued having to do with a faulty transmission software update, but Mini doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to reliability, and has a reputation for pushing back against recalls. NHTSA complaints for previous Minis have traditionally been much higher than average and cover a variety of problems, including power steering failure and engine fires.

The Fiesta has had more recalls than the Mini, but it’s also been around for much longer and they’ve been mostly minor.

Oil leaks were also common too, but the new BMW-sourced engines will hopefully rectify this. Repair costs are through the roof and are more inline with a BMW 5 Series rather than a typical compact car.

That said, it’s comprehensive four-year, 50,000-mile warranty covers maintenance costs right down to the brake pads, but you’re on your own after that. In short, if you really want a Mini, you might consider leasing or buying an extended warranty.

The Fiesta is probably a much better long-term ownership proposition. The 1.6-liter EcoBoost has proven to be very reliable. The Fiesta has had more recalls than the Mini, but it’s also been around for much longer and they’ve been mostly minor. Its warranty — three-years, 36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and five-years, 50,000 miles powertrain, safety restraint system, corrosion and roadside assistance — isn’t quite as comprehensive as the Mini’s but it should be much cheaper to maintain in its post-warranty years.

Price

Starting at $24,100, Cooper S is a bit expensive for a sub-compact, but the extra cost is reflected in its high-quality fit and finish. As previously mentioned, options can quickly add to the cost. If you want a Cooper S with no options, you’ll likely have to special order it, as they’re virtually nonexistent on dealer lots. The Fiesta ST, meanwhile, starts at a much more reasonable $20,945 and offers much more standard equipment, and even with most of the more desirable options fitted, it still comes in cheaper than a base Cooper S.

Conclusion

If you’re in the market for a fun, affordable hot-hatch, then you really can’t go wrong with either of these cars. Both the Cooper S and Fiesta ST offer a sporty driving experience for relatively low cost, and both beg to be driven fast at any given moment. Admittedly, that last part can get old during evening commutes when you want something a bit more cosseting.

As I said at the start, despite their on-paper similarities, these two cars will likely appeal to two kinds of people.

While the hard suspensions setups in both cars allow nimble handling and flat cornering, they can also be fairly jarring when you don’t always want them to be. The Mini offers adaptive dampers as a $500 option, which might be worth looking into. Either way, it’s the type of thing you sign up for when you buy a car of this nature.

As I said at the start, despite their on-paper similarities, these two cars will likely appeal to two kinds of people. And because performance and usability is virtually a dead heat, we’ll have to use personality and reliability as metrics to decide a winner. The Cooper S is the more shouty of the two, while the Fiesta ST requires a double-take to tell apart from a base Fiesta, but neither are necessarily bad things.

Deciding between the two in that regard pretty much depends on what kind of person you are. We give props to the Mini Cooper S for its up-for-it attitude, high-quality interior and timeless looks, but the Ford Fiesta offers most of what the Mini offers as standard at a lower cost, and is the better long-term ownership proposition.
Which would you choose?

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