Car reviews - Mini - Paceman - range
Entertaining Mini handling, twin-scroll turbo in the Cooper S, quirky interior design, coupe styling, sports suspension, six-speed manual gearbox
Room for improvement
Rear vision, rear seat leg and head room, expensive options list, lack of sat-nav as standard
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6 Mar 2013
EVER since its rebirth in 2002, Mini has had an air of cool about it that other car-makers would kill for.
It may not sell at the same levels as other prestige small cars like the BMW 1 Series or Mercedes-Benz B-Class, but the brand attracts a passionate and loyal customer base that want to drive something that stands out.
But Mini was never going to survive with just one retro-focussed model, so a steady expansion in the decade since its launch has seen a number of body styles join the reborn original.
The German-owned company added its take on a compact SUV in 2011 with the Countryman crossover, and now comes an oddball coupe version of the same car, the Paceman.
Called the Countryman Coupe during development, Mini decided that it was too unique and had too much potential to be just another variant, so elected to separate it from the Countryman and give it its own model designation.
And so the Paceman was born.
Looking at the Paceman from the front, you would be mistaken for thinking that it was a Countryman.
But checking out the vehicle’s side profile highlights the differences between the Paceman and its donor car.
The Paceman is noticeably lower as it has had 43mm being shaved off the overall height and the ride height is also 14mm less than the Countryman.
From the B-pillar back the Paceman is all coupe, with a sloping roof line, shrinking side windows, tiny rear window and, for the first time on a Mini, horizontal tail-lights, giving it a far more sporting presence than its SUV sibling.
Step into the cabin of the Paceman and you couldn't be anywhere else but in a Mini.
The giant speedo in the centre of the dash and the circular themes throughout are giveaways, but if that wasn't enough, the cute air conditioning control that is in the shape of the iconic Mini logo drives the branding message home.
But if you have three kids or enjoy ferrying around a bunch of your closest mates, the Paceman is probably not the car for you.
Designed as a four-seat only coupe, what would normally be the centre rear seat has been replaced by a centre rail that is home to two drink holders as standard, with a number of other accessories such as an iPad holder, available for an extra cost.
After spending a brief amount of time in the rear seat, we wouldn’t recommend spending a lengthy road trip there. Despite Mini's efforts to increase rear seat and head room through cut outs in the back of the front seats and in the roof, it is for short trips and short legs only.
The front of the cabin is a different story. Ample leg room and what felt like acres of headroom means that taller occupants will have no problems feeling comfortable even though the Paceman's roofline looks so low.
We tested both variants in the Paceman range and kicked off the drive through the rain-soaked mountains near Brisbane in the entry-level Paceman Cooper which retails for $35,900.
The cloth sports seats in the base Paceman Cooper were very supportive and felt a little bit like wetsuit material neoprene, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The sports steering wheel had a soft plastic feel despite the fact that it was leather.
Visibility in the Paceman was more than adequate, although taller drivers may find the position of the rear-view mirror distracting at first and visibility through the rear window was average given the size of the glass.
A non-turbo 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual is standard in the base model, but the vehicle we drove first was fitted with the optional six-speed automatic transmission.
Taking off in city traffic, you immediately get the feeling that this car is built for urban life.
Performance from a standing start is fine without setting your soul on fire, it brakes well and the transmission had fairly fluid changes.
Until we drove up a few hills, which there are a lot of in Brisbane, and the 90kW engine started to struggle and rev loudly while the transmission shows signs of indecisiveness.
Once we got out to the twisty mountain roads, the little Mini started to hit its stride. It still struggled to find a gear on the odd steep incline, in which case we swapped to manual mode for a bit more control.
Directing the coupe around tight and winding corners was a joy, eliciting the sharp turn-in typical of Mini’s products.
The roads were not only very wet but had a fair amount of debris due to recent bad weather, but the Paceman felt assured at every turn, not sliding or skidding even when taking a corner at a speed that was higher than the yellow road sign recommended.
Mini marketing gurus have been pushing the “go-kart like handling” line since the release of the 21st century model 10 years ago and it is good to see that it rings true.
The chassis of the Mini consists of a MacPherson spring strut front axle and a multi-link rear axle and this combined with the Paceman’s standard sports suspension meant that the feisty coupe soaked up bumps and deep potholes remarkably well.
Mini offers regular suspension as a no-cost option, but we would be more than happy with the sports set up.
The Paceman Cooper S is over $8000 more than the base model, which is a big leap for some, but we reckon it would be money well spent and not just because of the more premium interior.
While the base model had that wonderful Mini handling but lacked solid straight-line performance, the Cooper S with a 1.6-litre twin-scroll turbocharged engine has both in spades.
It is obvious that the Cooper S at 135kW has 45kW more power than the regular Paceman and it outguns the base model in a straight line, 7.5 seconds to 10.4 seconds.
The steering felt well-weighted and the taut body control of the base model carried over to the Cooper S while Mini’s six-speed manual was a great match, with smooth yet direct shifts.
If you weren’t having enough fun, Mini has included a sport button for extra acceleration, which was not as thrilling as we were expecting, but was nevertheless amusing.
Mini’s combined fuel consumption for the Paceman Cooper automatic is 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres and 6.6L/100kms for the manual Cooper S.
The Paceman has a lot of expensive options and may not suit everyone’s needs, especially if you are looking for a traditional sports car or a more conventional SUV, but we think that the Paceman straddles the two segments in style.
If the Paceman Cooper is for people who value looks over everything else, then the Paceman Cooper S is for buyers who demand a spirited drive to go with the sexy appearance.
Until the super hot John Cooper Works edition arrives in Australia in May, we think spending that extra $8000 for the S would be well worth the money.
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