The Mini Paceman is the eighth (count ‘em) model to join the Mini range, and it’s easily the hardest to pigeonhole. As a three-door version of the Countryman SUV, it’s a sort-of, retro-styled, cut-price Range Rover Evoque coupe. Does it make any more sense from behind the wheel? We drove the 184bhp Cooper S model to discover if the Paceman is on the pace, man.
So the Mini Paceman is just a three-door Countryman then?
Up to a point. They share the same platform, the same engines, and the same styling inside and out, all the way up to the A-pillar. However, Mini hasn’t just binned the Countryman’s rear doors to create the Paceman. There’s also a reduction in roof height (39mm) and ride height (10mm), one less seat inside (bringing the count down to four) and a smaller boot (cut 20 litres to 330). And of course, you’re expected to pay… er, more. £830 more than the equivalent Countryman, to be exact.
Clearly Mini is taking lessons from Porsche’s ‘pay more, get less’ success…
Fair point, but since when have less practical, pricey niche vehicles been any barrier to sales? We’re looking at you, BMW X6, Range Rover Evoque, Mercedes CLS. The Paceman seats four, with both rear passengers hemmed in more by pinched legroom than the sloping roof. At least the view out is less reminiscent of a sniper’s pillbox than the similarly rakish Rangie.
The individual rear chairs are split down the centre by Mini’s ‘centre rail’, which encourages owners to buy clip-in phone and sunglass cases, or cupholders to accessorise the interior. Up front meanwhile, you’re perched on an unsupportive seat behind familiar Mini controls, but sat literally head and shoulders above a regular Mini’s cockpit.
Does the Paceman Cooper S go like a hot hatch?
Oh yes. Under the bluff bonnet, we find the familiar 1.6-litre turbocharged engine from all Cooper S models, developing the same old 184bhp and 177lb ft right from 1600-5000rpm. Despite the Paceman’s heft (it weighs 75kg more than a Mini Cooper S hatchback) this is still a punchy car, scrabbling forward from low revs on that swell of torque to 62mph in 7.5sec. Chase the redline and you’ll get a rorty induction roar, but in truth you can change up halfway through the rev range and still make quick progress.
Mini’s official economy claim is 46.3mpg, but our spirited driving achieved a more realistic 32.5mpg, even with the stop-start system cutting the four-pot at every red light. Cooper Diesel and Cooper S Diesel Pacemans are on sale if you need to twin torque with touring range. The gearchange is one of the best in the business – a slick, incisive six-speed change actioned by your hand throwing a satsuma-sized gearknob across a short-throw gate. The pedals too are perfectly weighted, though most potential Paceman owners are a bit more high-heels that heel-and-toe.
But don’t tell me the Paceman has retained the classic Mini ‘go-kart’ handling?
We won’t – this is a high-riding, chunky car, and though Mini’s chassis engineers have done their level best to engineer out its compromises, the Paceman isn’t as chuckable as the brand’s best efforts. However, thumbs up most go to the Paceman for being the first Mini you could tolerate driving in Sport mode all the time. Usually, toggling the Sport settling adds an unpleasant dollop of dead weight to the steering in Minis, but the Paceman gets it just right, turning up the resistance without requiring Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit to operate it. Plus, leaving the Paceman in its more driver-focused mode means you can enjoy the pops and phuts burped out of the exhaust on the overrun while in Sport more often.
What the Paceman isn’t, in Cooper S guise on 18in wheels, is a comfortable car. Body control is reasonable, but the car crashes over large imperfections and hobbles over small ones, eventually becoming pretty unsettled on back roads. You can delete the sports suspension as a no-cost option – we’d say do just that if your local roads are the usual British abomination.
Holding down the chromed traction control toggle switch for five seconds disengages the traction nanny and stability control, and the Paceman will play the tail-out game without violent provocation, but unlike a regular Mini Cooper S, it’s something you’ll try once in the Paceman and then leave well alone, rather than seeking it out every time you take the long way home.
Tell me about the Paceman’s interior
Mini’s general cabin architecture has been around for since 2007, though in being recycled again for the Paceman, Mini has had an outbreak of common sense. The electric window switches are at last on the doors rather than tucked into the dashboard, and there was neither neigh a rattle nor squeak from our hard-riding test car. The centre infotainment screen is still an incongruous square in a round hole, but at least the enormous centre speedo isn’t an issue – there’s a digital speed readout in the rev-counter, along with the odometer and a well-judged gearshift indicator.
Let’s talk money. The Paceman starts at £18,970 for a 1.6-litre Cooper model. The turbocharged Cooper S is £22,355, but Mini as ever makes its money when you start accessorising. Our test car had the £2445 Chili Pack (18in rims, xenon lights, ambient lighting, rain sensor and more) and the £1630 Media Pack, which adds sat-nav, Bluetooth, and voice control. Add in a few other choice extras, including chrome body trim, the powerful Harmon Kardon hi-fi, heated leather seats and (ahem) red paint with a white roof, and you’ve got yourself a £28,865 Mini. It’s a very tidy spec, sure, but at £1330 behind a Range Rover Evoque – and £2000 more than a three-door VW Golf GTI Performance) it’s a very pricey Mini. Even if it is a maxi-sized one.
Make your mind up on the Paceman on account of its compromised packaging and you’ll never see why such a car exists, but for those who crave that Mini style with the extra space and attitude of a crossover, the Paceman Cooper S fits the bill. If you really like the looks, you’ll be glad to know the pricey Paceman handles with aplomb too – but that’s a feature you can enjoy without going crazy with the options list – and without choosing such an overgrown, overweight Mini in the first place.