But it's not the driving dynamics that would make us shy away from the SX4, at least not entirely. Much as we discovered with our similarly equipped Four-Seasons Honda Fit, there's a point at which the gadgets and accessories can push a subcompact too far beyond its natural price. All the equipment, useful though it may be, fails to make the SX4 Sport feel like more than what it is: a very good cheap car.
And that's the big advantage of the Mini Cooper. Even though a base Mini lacks most of the Suzuki's frills, it feels every bit like an expensive car. There are quantifiable advantages, including a more attractive interior and features not available for any price on the SX4, including Xenon headlights and hill-start assist for the manual transmission. Compared to the bland Suzuki, the Mini's style also qualifies as a substance. Some may find the hatchback's irrepressible cuteness cloying, but it can never be accused of being dull or dreary, which are the usual adjectives for this class. Ten minutes in the Mini, and the SX4's keyless ignition and navigation just don't feel that tempting for a similar price. Add in the fact that the Mini returns significantly better fuel economy, and the choice becomes even clearer.
There are, no doubt, some folks who are scoffing as they read this, indignant that we'd pick a less practical, less-equipped car simply because it has a pretty face and makes us say, "whee!" in corners. To those people, we can recommend the loaded SX4 without reservation. It drives well, has tons of space, and, thanks to its simple yet effective nav system, will never be seen circling aimlessly around a city late at night. But if you're like us and want to squeeze every last bit of fun out of your driving, be it on a curvy road or even when zipping through traffic, the Mini excels where the SX4 is merely competent. That edge makes the Mini the better pick at this price point.