2013 Mini Paceman first drive
Niche enough for you?
Palma de Mallorca, Spain — Mini has a knack for finding niches. Whether you're looking at the original Issigonis creation, which revolutionized family transportation during the 1960s, or the 2001 reincarnation whose retro-cool looks, premium quality, and seriously fun driving dynamics shook up the city-car sector, Mini has always claimed a unique spot in the market. It blazes trails where others follow in its path.
The latest generation car carries on the retro-modern theme, but multiplies it with a diverse range of models. In addition to the standard hatch, the Convertible, the Clubman wagon — and its commercial-oriented Clubvan spin-off — there's also the two-seat Coupé and Roadster, and the Countryman SUV. The new Paceman two-door Sports Activity Coupe (their name, not ours), marks the seventh — yes, seventh! — addition to the not-so-mini Mini family, once again proving the brand's niche-finding knack.
Fetch me that scalpel, stat!
Ahead of the A-pillars, the Paceman is effectively a Countryman, carrying its bluff, rounded front nose and chunky headlamps. It might not be as cute or iconic as the Mini hatchback, but it's still instantly recognizable as a Mini. Turning the Countryman into a "coupe" took more than just welding the rear doors shut; the front doors themselves are longer (though not frameless as with other coupes), and the entire backside is different with a sloping roofline, a rapidly rising beltline, and entirely different fenders and tailgate. You can even spot a bit of the Mini Coupé's "baseball cap" roofline from certain angles. The compromise on interior space from this conversion is less than you'd think: big doors provide easy access to the rear seats, while the Paceman's taller stature will still easily accommodate four six-footers.
We wouldn't go so far as to call this makeover a rolling sculpture — unique is more what comes to mind — but it definitely stands out. Of course there are a few design flourishes that really set it apart, notably the rear fender arches, which provide a wider stance on the road, and the Mini logo on the tailgate, which doubles as a handle. The whole coupe look is further bolstered by a standard sports suspension that drops the car 10 mm closer to terra firma. Park one next to a Countryman and you'll find the Paceman to be ever so slightly longer, but about 40 mm shorter.
Inside, the driver faces the same basic interior as the Countryman, which means plenty of chrome accent trims, and materials a step up from the standard Mini. The centre stack — topped by the trademark dinner-plate-sized speedometer — is better organized here; the window controls have moved from the very bottom of the stack to the door, where they belong.
Mini look, maxi familiarity
As you would expect, the Paceman shares its powertrain lineup with the Countryman — both of which roll off the same assembly line in Austria, not England. The base Cooper Paceman features a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder with 121 horsepower and 114 lb.-ft., and is offered solely with front-wheel drive. But the one you'll really want is the Cooper S model, which adds a turbocharger and some 60 horsepower to the mix. It scarcely uses any additional fuel, but can accelerate to 100 km/h in less than 7.5 seconds instead of the 10-and-a-bit of the standard Cooper. We drove the S around the island of Mallorca in front-drive form, though the brand's part-time ALL4 all-wheel-drive will be fitted as standard in Canada. All variants can be had with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The tarted-up John Cooper Works version has already been confirmed and will be arriving on dealer lots in spring 2013.
Over Mallorca's pristine main roads and wearing the smallest wheels (17 inches) the Paceman rides well; Mini may have firmed up the spring and damper rates compared to the Countryman, but it manages to deal with bumps better — something we reckon is down to the stiffer body structure. Over narrow rural, pock-marked roads that looked and felt more like a WRC Special Stage, it soaked up the bumps without jarring occupants.