Vehicle Type: Premium compact crossover
Fuel economy listed: 6.6 l/100km (manual), 7.5 l/100km (automatic)
Models driven: MINI Paceman Cooper S automatic
What’s hot: Heads will turn, handling is super-sharp
What’s not: Interior ergonomics aren’t great, weight impacts performance
X-factor: The simple fact of being different; that, and the other simple fact of being fun to drive
Yes, we know the very mention of the Paceman is bound to rub certain people the wrong way.
Tweed-clad MINIphiles will surely pop a blood vessel when they eyeball a Paceman for the first time, and cynics will no doubt dismiss MINI’s latest genre-defying product as yet another attempt to prise wads of cash from the designer handbags of “style conscious” motorists.
And can you blame them? Here we have a crossover that doesn’t have AWD (not in Australia, at least), is not terribly off-roadable nor very practical, and with styling that is bound to polarise opinion.
But then again, MINI makes no pretence about practicality or off-roadability. It may be based on the Countryman SUV, but MINI insists that the Paceman is, in fact, a SAC - a Sports Activity Coupe.
But even that three-letter acronym is a bit useless.
Even after a day at the wheel we’re still trying to figure out exactly which pigeonhole the Paceman belongs in. But this we do know: it is a lot of fun to drive.
It’s much like the Countryman inside, but one that has had the two rear doors lopped off and boasts even less room in the rear.
The dash is virtually identical, and the Countryman’s silly aircraft-throttle-with-an-identity-crisis handbrake lever has also been grafted into the Paceman.
The Countryman’s central rail system can also be found inside the Paceman, although to ease rear passenger access it doesn’t run the full length of the passenger cabin as standard (although you can option a one-piece rail at no extra cost if you wish).
What is surprising, though, is rear seat comfort. Despite the Paceman’s low roofline, rear headroom is actually more than acceptable and so is knee and foot-room for passengers of average height.
Having two individual rear seats also promotes passenger comfort, although the Paceman’s narrow hips means shoulder-room isn’t exactly generous.
Also worth considering (if measuring one up for the family) is that the high beltline means younger kids will barely be able to see out the rear windows.
Up front you get manually-adjusted cloth sports-seats as standard, with three kinds of leather upholstery being optional.
There’s plenty of room at the wheel and the driving position is a comfortable one. Unfortunately the centrally-mounted analogue speedometer still makes it a challenge to keep tabs on your speed - the small digital speedo in the steering column mounted tachometer just doesn’t cut it.
Happily though, the window switches have finally migrated from the centre stack onto the door trims. It’s a massive step forward for sensible ergonomics.
Boot space is nothing special. Though the Paceman is fractionally longer than the Countryman upon which it is based, the Paceman’s 330 litre boot space is 20 litres shy of its five-door brother.
The rear seats fold down to create a 1080L cargo area, but don’t mistake the Paceman for a load-lugger.
ON THE ROAD
While we were lukewarm about the interior, we were more than impressed with the way the Paceman drives. We sampled the turbocharged Paceman Cooper S automatic, and it is a sharp tool indeed.
The steering is as authoritative and responsive as it is in the MINI Cooper S hatch, and the extra steering weight that’s added when the Sport button is provides a proper meaty feel when tipping it into corners.
It’s not as ‘feelsome’ (we made that up) as some FWD hot hatches, but nevertheless provides good information about what’s happening at the road through the wheel and into your fingertips .
The suspension is also more resistant to body-roll than the Countryman. The Paceman Cooper S stays flat through corners, and although it’s quite firmly damped, we found that there’s enough compliance to smooth out most mid-corner bumps.
However at 1405 kilos unladen, it’s a bit on the porky side for a FWD hatch. You feel it when pushing hard; it will understeer (and push wide) should you break through the threshold of grip.
Rough and corrugated roads also reveal a slightly brittle ride; perhaps more a product of the optional 18-inch run-flat Goodyears on our tester.
On an extended downhill run we also found the brakes a bit prone to fade. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a fast MINI we’d recommend sticking to the much lighter Cooper S variants instead of the Paceman.
The engine is the same sweet turbocharged 1.6 litre petrol four as used by all other “Cooper S” MINI variants. It develops 135kW and 240Nm (260Nm when overboost is activated), and provides enough muscle to get up to 100km/h in 7.5 seconds (7.8 for the auto).
Again, the Paceman’s weight blunts performance a little, but it’s hardly what you’d call slow.
Paired with the optional six-speed automatic ($2350), it’s also a very driveable package - smooth and fuss-free around down, but in manual mode capable of firing you along at a very rapid pace... man.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Does the Paceman make sense as a car? It’s debatable. You get better performance from every other Cooper S variant bar the Countryman, and the Paceman lacks the everyday usability of its five-door stablemate.
It’s an image thing of course: a car for people who not only look for something a little different for their wardrobe, but what’s in the garage too.
A competitor for the three-door Range Rover Evoque then? No. Both might be statements of fashion but the Evoque costs substantially more than MINI’s three-door SUV... I mean SAC.
That’s not to say we don’t like the Paceman, we do.
It’s a cracking drive, but we suspect most Paceman buyers will never tap into even a tenth of their car’s performance potential.
And that’s where the greater part of the Paceman’s appeal lies - its performance.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- MINI Cooper Paceman 1.6 litre manual - $35,900
- MINI Cooper Paceman 1.6 litre auto - $38,250
- MINI Cooper S Paceman 1.6 litre turbo manual - $44,100
- MINI Cooper S Paceman 1.6 litre turbo auto - $46,450