This is the part where every Mini owner blows a gasket because we're neglecting to mention that Mini itself offers a higher-horsepower alternative. This is true. But slot a Cooper S in for the GTI, and the thought process remains the same - more power or more goodies?
Take heart, Mini mavens. Even though the GTI more than asserted its superiority in back to back driving, several editors decided they might just prefer a well-optioned Cooper. For the most part, we weren't convinced - as we certainly were with the SX4 - that the more expensive car translated to more fun on the road. Whether zipping through back roads or dodging through city traffic, the Mini doesn't lack for smile inducement, and, again, has a clear fuel economy edge. And then there are the nearly endless possibilities for customization. Surely, we don't recommend these options, but that's just it - Mini offers something for everyone. Given a car that punches above its weight to start with, and then another $4500 to make it ours, and we might be tempted to take it over a more mature and more powerful GTI. Just make sure ours has the Union Jack on the roof and no voices in the dash.
More than anything, our findings stress the importance of test-driving as broad a range of vehicles as possible, and carefully considering what features are necessary. In other words, figure out exactly what you want from your car. If you've sampled everything and decide a built-in navigation system is a top priority or desperately want that cute paint-job, then by all means, don't let us stop you (we reserve the right to mock your choice after the fact). But walk into a dealership uninformed, and Mr. Salesman could send you away with lots of gadgets you'll never use at a price that could have bought you a better car.