AND so Mini’s mission to leave no niche unfilled brings us to the Paceman. Launched this week, this chunky coupe is the seventh model in the Mini stable, following on from – let’s see if I can remember them all – the Hatch, Clubman, Convertible, Roadster, Countryman, Coupe, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb.
Only time will tell if it’s the final piece in the Mini jigsaw, or if parent company BMW will find a further half dozen bits down the back of the sofa. You rather suspect the latter.
So, what do we have? Essentially, it’s a Mini Countryman with two doors lopped off, fewer seats and a snazzier-looking derriere. It’s also more expensive than the bigger, more practical Countryman. Model for model, it’s the most expensive car in the range. BMW marketeers seem like a nice bunch. I’m sure they know what they’re doing.
“Mini’s answer to the Evoque,” someone remarked when I showed him a picture, and he has a point. A waistline that slopes up towards the back and a roof that slopes down are very reminiscent of Range Rover’s baby. You can even have a four-wheel drive version.
Aimed at the sort of men you see in adverts for Gillette razors, the Paceman has room for four on seats that wouldn’t look out of place on a private jet. The ones in front are comfortable and do a reasonable job of holding driver and passenger in place once you start chucking the car into tight bends, which you will, because it’s a Mini and that’s what Minis do best. That tapering roof means headroom in the back is tight if you’re a six-footer and, although there’s more legroom than a standard Mini hatch, it’s still a squeeze back there.
Access to the back seats is good, thanks to large doors and front seats which slide forward as they tilt. The boot offers a handy 330 litres of space, which can be extended to 1,080 by folding the back seats down.
We tested a couple of Pacemans (Pacemen?): a Cooper S, with a 182bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine powering the front wheels, and a Cooper SD, with a 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel and the ability to send power to all four wheels. Both had sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearboxes, although paddle-shift automatics are available as an option. A 120bhp Cooper petrol and a 110bhp Cooper D diesel round off the range for now. All models bar the 120bhp Cooper petrol can be specced with four-wheel drive. A sizzling 216bhp John Cooper Works Paceman will join the ranks soon.
Familiar to anyone who has spent time behind the wheel of any Mini, the dash is dominated by a centre-mounted speedo the size of a saucer, in the centre of which lives the multimedia and satnav screen. It’s a bit of a faff to keep glancing across to see how fast you’re going so, fortunately, there’s a digital read-out mounted on the dash in front of the steering wheel.
As with the Countryman, the switches for the electric windows have been moved from the centre console to the doors. Because the driver and passengers sit a bit higher than in a Mini hatchback, forward visibility is good, although a titchy rear window means you’ll come to rely heavily on the reversing sensors.
The Paceman’s roof is 4cm lower than that of the Countryman and, on the cars we tested, it rides a centimetre closer to the ground, thanks to sports suspension. You can specify standard suspension as a no-cost option, but the sports set-up isn’t overly firm – not on 17-inch wheels and medium-profile tyres, at least – so we say leave it as is and revel in the Paceman’s taut body control and lower centre of gravity.
Keep the revs above 2,000rpm in the Cooper S and the petrol-engined Paceman makes an excellent tool for a cross-country jaunt. Come to a corner and you’ll enjoy the precise steering and minimal body roll. I managed to make the inside wheel spin while exiting a couple of particularly vicious hairpin bends, before the traction control calmed everything down again. If you find the steering too light for your liking, press the Sport button to firm it up a bit. This has the added bonus of making the twin exhausts burble and pop when you lift off the throttle.
If you’re happy to sacrifice some performance for the sake of economy, the Cooper SD Paceman fits the bill. The diesel engine is willing, although it sounds a bit like a Transit van the higher up the rev band you go, so stick with its low-end torque instead. Mini’s ALL4 four-wheel-drive system sends power to the back wheels if it senses the fronts are losing grip.
Standard kit on the Cooper S and SD includes dynamic traction control, manual air-conditioning, a leather steering wheel, engine start-stop and parking sensors. The options list runs to five A4 pages and covers everything from wheels to side scuttles.
So, the Paceman. Almost all of the Hatchback’s nimble handling, and almost all of the Countryman’s practicality, without ever hitting either nail on the head. And it costs more than the rest of the range. Like I said, I’m sure Mini’s marketeers know what they’re doing.
CAR: Mini Paceman range
PERFORMANCE: Max speed 113-135mph; 0-62mph 7.5-11.5secs
MPG (combined): 46.3-64.2
CO2 EMISSIONS: 115-143g/km