For obvious reasons, Automobile Magazine comparisons typically round up cars with similar base prices. If the scientific method works for scientists, surely it's good enough for us. Consistent as these apples-to-apples tests are, though, they don't always reveal the complexities that go into buying a car in the real world, where varying levels of equipment and add-ons can quickly muddy our neat and simple categorizations. Take for instance, three small sporty hatchbacks currently in our fleet - the Suzuki SX4 Sportback, the Mini Cooper, and the Volkswagen GTI. On paper, they're three completely different cars in three different price segments. But look a little closer The SX4, loaded with navigation, Bluetooth, bigger wheels and other extras, carried an as tested price of $18,513, which is within a grand of a base Mini Cooper. The Mini, for its part, came with a slew of options that shot its sticker to $25,000 - about a thousand dollars more than the base price of a two-door GTI. Each of these vehicles fares very well when compared strictly to competitors in its traditional segment, but we couldn't help but wonder how they'd match up in a clearly unfair fight, the sort that breaks out all the time when real people go shopping for real cars.
To be perfectly clear, this is not a conventional comparison. We knew before we even left our parking garage that the Mini Cooper would be more refined and better driving than the Suzuki and that the GTI, likewise, would have a clear edge over the non-turbocharged Mini. The question then, was whether these advantages could be mitigated, perhaps even eliminated by the appeal of some very useful extras. Would the niceties on the SX4 make us forget about the more appealing Mini? And do the custom bits on the Mini really add up to a car we'd pick over a GTI? Read on for our thoughts.