Published on Saturday 6 February 2016 18:31
Ten Second Review
The MINI Paceman. A niche too far? MINI says not. It's a coupe version of the five-door Countryman model, which means sportiness with a bit of extra space all packaged up very fashionably indeed. Now it gets a few minor trim embellishments inside and out, extra refinement, more efficient Euro6 engines and a little extra power in Cooper S guise.
Owning a MINI has always been fun but it's rarely been very practical. Lovely to have the go kart handling and dinky little shape of course, but over the years, many have quickly tired of the cramped cabin and rock hard ride. The only way the brand could keep these people would be to bring them a sporty MINI that was also comfortable and spacious. This car - the MINI Paceman.
At launch in the Spring of 2013, it was the eighth member of the MINI family and probably the hardest to pigeonhole. But that all depends on how you look at it. Let me try and simplify it like this. Essentially, there are three categories of 'new' MINI, with the first two of these covering the British-built models. First off, there's the third generation Hatch launched early in 2014. This sells alongside variants from the second category, the spin-off bodystyles still based on the old second generation Hatch floorplan, namely the Clubman, Convertible, Coupe, Roadster and Clubvan models.
But I said there were three categories of MINI. The third isn't actually very British at all - or very typically MINI. It's a rather different, much larger five-door design with styling cues to give it a MINI look, built for the brand by Magna Steyr in Austria: the model we know as the Countryman. Take that car's greater comfort and practicality, then blend it with a coupe bodystyle and a bit of traditional MINI fun and you'd satisfy quite a few potential buyers. That at least is the thinking behind this Paceman, now subtly tweaked for the latest model year. Time to put it to the test.
Is it sporty? Well right up front, I'm going to need to manage your expectations here. This is a high-riding chunky car. It's never going to handle like a much smaller, lighter, lower-set conventional MINI Hatch or Coupe, so come rather unrealistically expecting that and you're going to go away disappointed. To try and help things, the engineers have specified firm Sports suspension as standard but a more comfort-orientated set-up is a no-cost option.
Under the bonnet, Paceman customers get slightly more efficient Euro6 engines these days but otherwise, the range is pretty much as we saw at this car's original launch, buyers selecting between the same 1.6-litre petrol and diesel powerplants that all other MINI models must have, though they do enjoy a slightly wider choice than they would do from the units on offer with the MINI Coupe. Specifically, that means an extra lower-powered 112bhp diesel option at the foot of the range if you can't stretch to the 143bhp Paceman SD diesel that probably offers the best balance between power and parsimony.
Petrol people meanwhile get a Paceman Cooper model with a 1.6-litre 122bhp unit offering a sprint to 62mph of 10.4 seconds, while the Paceman Cooper S uses the same engine, now tuned to deliver a bit more grunt in this revised Paceman model, power output up from 184 to 190bhp. If you're quick with the slick, incisive 6-speed manual gearstick, it'll get to 62mph in 7.5 seconds en route to 135mph but if that's not fast enough, the flagship John Cooper Works Paceman uses a 218bhp version of this unit allied to ALL 4 all-wheel-drive, taking this variant to 62mph in just 6.9s on the way to 140mph.The ALL4 set-up's optional elsewhere across the line-up, something unavailable to MINI Hatch or Coupe customers. Another reason for preferring a Paceman. Refinement is said to be better with this improved Paceman range thanks to what MINI calls 'acoustic optimisation': you'd have to be very familiar with the original version to notice any difference though.
Design and Build
Everyone seems to have an opinion about this car and I suppose for any fashionable little trinket, that's a good start. Dismissing it as merely a three-door version of the chunky Countryman is a bit cruel. MINI, after all, is at pains to point out that though the two cars are identical up to the A-pillar, behind that this Paceman has a 39mm reduction in roof height and a 10mm reduction in ride height to give a sportier, more purposeful demeanour. It certainly looks less wilfully odd than the smaller MINI Coupe. Certain models now have a revised front grille with a specific contour and grid structure and smarter alloy wheel designs and LED fog lights are now standard.
It's inside though, where things get a little more interesting - particularly at the back. The highlight here is the unusual rear seat, which has been styled around a 'lounge concept'. That might be over-stating things it a bit but you do get two - and only two - individual chairs with armrests integrated into the rear trim. You couldn't exactly say that there's room to stretch out here but the couple of adults who'd never fit in the back of a MINI Hatch (and can't be accommodated at all in a MINI Coupe) should be fine on shorter journeys. Plus there's a 330-litre boot.
Up-front, apart from a few minor details (redesigned air vent surrounds and different instrument binnacle trim), it's pretty much exactly as per that Countryman model, which is either welcome or a bit disappointing, depending upon your point of view.
Market and Model
Most Paceman models will sell in the £20,000 to £30,000 bracket courtesy of the fact that this car requires a premium of around £850 model-for-model over its more conservatively styled five-door Countryman counterpart. Perhaps a more relevant stat is that most versions of this car demand a premium of around £2,500 over a conventional MINI Coupe with the same engine. That gets you a proper set of rear seats, more sensible bootspace, a higher-set more comfortable driving position and running costs that are very little different. I can see a number of MINI buyers being tempted by that.
Standard kit across the range runs to alloy wheels, power windows front and rear, power mirrors, a chrome-plated exhaust, a Thatcham Category 1 alarm/immobiliser, rear parking sensors, height-adjustable sports seats, air conditioning, a decent quality stereo with USB connectivity and a DAB digital radio, plus Bluetooth 'phone compatibility and a two-part interior Centre Rail System to which can be attached all manner of optional attachments for cups, sunglasses - even phones. And you get Sports suspension, though there's a no-cost option to delete that in favour of the kind of softer set-up that I think many potential owners would probably prefer.
Cost of Ownership
MINI has worked at improving this car's efficiency with a comprehensive raft of measures dubbed MINIMALISM. These include Brake Energy Regeneration, a Shift Point Display to help you time your gearchanges, Electric Power Steering, demand-based use of ancillaries such as the alternator and, most importantly, an Auto Start/Stop system to cut the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights.
Along with efficiency changes that have brought the engines up to Euro6 standard, the result is a set of some very good fuel economy and emissions figures that are only around 10-15% worse than those of MINI Hatch and Coupe models, despite this Paceman's extra size and weight (it's around 75kgs heavier than a MINI Hatch). The 1.6-litre 122bhp unit returns combined cycle fuel economy of 47.9mpg with CO2 emissions of 137g/km. The Cooper S Paceman doesn't fare much worse at 47.1mpg and 139g/km, figures that'll fall to 39.8mpg and 165g/km in the rare John Cooper Works flagship variant. Go diesel in a Cooper D and you'll be looking at 67.3mpg fuel economy and 111g/km emissions, while the punchy Cooper SD still gets a respectable 62.8mpg with an emissions figure of 119g/km. Bear in mind that if you opt for either the Steptronic auto gearbox or the ALL4 4WD system, you'll hit these returns by between 10-15%.
One journalist I read of described this Paceman as 'the perfect car for someone else' - and I kind of understand what he means. It wouldn't necessarily suit me, but I know a lot of other people who'd simply love it. MINI calls this a 'Sports Activity Vehicle', whatever that means: I'd simply call it a 'cute-ute', a crossover with a bit of sporting attitude. A larger MINI that can also let its hair down a bit.
According to its marketeers, this isn't a car defined by age or gender - which is probably right. It's as likely to be driven by an upwardly mobile thirty-something man as it is by a retiree or a lady who lunches. Yet another reason why this car is so difficult to pigeonhole. But then, that's probably part of its charm.
What we do know is that the MINI Countryman's younger, sportier coupe cousin offers something refreshingly different, part Crossover, part hot hatch. And it's perfectly pitched to satisfy those who want a sporty MINI with extra space and style. Just as it was intended to.