Taking a look at the 2010-2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata and the 2010-2011 MINI Cooper, there are vast differences. One is very sporty, the other not so much. One is built to be economical, the other is built for fun. Comparing them may seem

futile. However, there are various similarities that may make them each a very interesting choice for someone looking for a small convertible that’s just plain fun to drive. Knowing that, we’ve taken info from all the usual, reliable sources (Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Edmunds, and Motor Trend) and weighed these two miniatures against one another to see who provides the best overall value.

Powertrain: In standard four-cylinder engines, the Mazda has the definite edge as the 1.6L of the Cooper just can’t keep up. However, that may be the reason that MINI has optioned for a turbocharged version of the base engine which

actually bests the Miata in horsepower and torque. In acceleration testing it jumped to 60 mph in just 6.7 seconds. That’s just a hair quicker than the 6.9 ticks put up by the MX-5. The Cooper also boasts a much better fuel efficiency at 25/33 mpg (city/highway) compared to Mazda’s estimated 22/28 mpg. Both vehicles come with available manual and automatic transmissions, but the MINI’s standard tranny comes with hill-start assist.

Winner: MINI Cooper

Braking/Safety/Handling: Neither car was superb in crash testing, mostly due to their miniscule size. However, in braking tests the MINI stopped from 60 mph in just 112 feet, an excellent number and very difficult to beat. Antilock brakes, stability control, and side airbags are standard on both models. The Cooper convertible does have one safety feature lacking in the Mazda – a pop-up rollover bar. Handling goes to the Miata as it was made more as a sport vehicle and the Cooper more for economy, but the Cooper doesn’t perform poorly enough to give this category away.

Winner: MINI Cooper

Cargo/Hauling: Cargo space on these models is actually negligible as neither were built for hauling. That shows in the lack of trunk space as the Miata boasts a very tiny 5.3 cubic feet and the MINI goes barely above that at 6 cubes. However, the Cooper’s rear seats are a 50/50 split, and do fold down to expand cargo capacity into the vehicle. The addition of a rear seat at all gives this one to MINI.

Winner: MINI Cooper

Comfort/Interior: Neither of these animals is on the extravagant side when it comes to interior comfort. The Miata is a very snug fit for larger drivers. Taller drivers may find that the seat runs out of rearward travel before a comfortable position can be found. Still, the gauges and buttons are well placed and user-friendly. The Cooper is styled more for efficiency than for comfort. Controls are awkward and the steering wheel is the size of a dinner plate. The front seat features a fair amount of head- and legroom, but the rear seat is considerably cramped.

Winner: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Amenities/Options: The options list for either of these vehicles is anything but small. Many of the features are amenities you’d expect to find on luxury automobiles instead of sardine-can-like vehicles. The Touring and Grand Touring options for the Mazda feature a Bose stereo system, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, satellite radio, Xenon headlights, and a sport-tuned suspension. The Cooper has many of the same features but the package is called the John Cooper Works. Parking sensors are unique to the Cooper but hardly seem necessary on a vehicle this size.

Winner: Tie

Value for the $: The Mazda starts with a base MSRP of $22,960 and goes as high as $29,500 fully loaded. Not much of a climb considering the ten different style choices. The Cooper starts at $18,800 but can climb as high as $34,000 for the decked-out convertible.

Winner: In overall value, you’re probably better off going with the MINI. However, comparing convertible to convertible, the Miata does offer a sleek feel, performance-wise, that the Cooper can’t seem to match. But unless you truly have a desire to feel like you’re driving a race car, the MINI is your best option, despite the higher price.

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