Where MINI is concerned, variety is clearly the spice of life. Since the distinctive Hatch’s introduction over a decade ago, Cabrio, Clubman, Countryman, Coupe and Roadster bodystyles have been added to result in a model range comparable in diversity to Malaysian cuisine.
And that’s before you consider the derivatives – the One, One D, Cooper, Cooper S, Cooper D and Cooper SD – that are offered (some if not all and depending on market) on each model. Even before you add John Cooper Works, electric and special edition versions to the list, it’s clear that it would be understating it to say that MINI buyers are spoilt for choice.
The company’s success in the 21st century can be attributed to this vast range. Sure, there are traditional enthusiasts who swear by the Issigonis original and believe this seemingly never-ending model expansion pushes the brand further away from its core values by calling a car that isn’t a Mini a MINI.
And that’s just it. Can you imagine if the company went down the Model T route and stuck solely with the Hatch, without innovating any further? In this age of instant gratification and five-second attention spans, the youth of the world would quickly get bored. And yes, MINIs are primarily aimed at the youth market, who practically live and breathe ‘new.’
Just when you thought they’d exhausted all possible variations on the MINI theme, the company proves us wrong (again!) with the new MINI Paceman. You saw this one coming – from its introduction as a concept at the 2011 Detroit show and its production go-ahead, to official ‘spy shots‘ and its first public appearance as a production car at this year’s Paris show.
And it’s finally out – recently MINI held the international launch of the Paceman in the beautiful island of Mallorca in Spain, which offered visiting members of the media from many countries a chance to get to know the car, the brand and the men and women behind it better.
Four versions of the MINI Paceman launch in Europe – the 122 hp Cooper, 184 hp Cooper S, 112 hp Cooper D and 143 hp Cooper SD, with ALL4-equipped variants available and a John Cooper Works-tuned version - pictures and details of which recently emerged.
That morning we were welcomed by a fleet of Cooper S Pacemans standing at attention in the Palma Mallorca airport car park, which we were to drive to Puro Beach via a scenic route that took us through long motorways, country roads that swept through sleepy villages and a real spaghetti of curves and corners that snaked up a mountain – and down again. Before we began the drive, I had a good look around the vehicle.
Billed as “the first Sports Activity Coupe in the premium small and compact segment,” the Paceman is, in essence, a three-door version of the Countryman. If both cars were entered for a beauty pageant in which I was the judge, the newcomer would bring home the tiara before we even got to the questions part. I think the Paceman looks altogether more dynamic and purposeful, and certainly less ungainly than the Countryman, which has five doors.
It achieves this dynamism via a tapering roofline and a shoulder line that’s angled rather sharply upwards, so the car appears to be sitting on its haunches, poised to pounce. Roof and shoulder line almost meet at the back, but don’t – thanks to blacked-out B- and C-pillars, the roof appears to be suspended in mid-air – the ‘floating roof’ effect. That rear-three quarter view is particularly pleasing to the eye, too.
The funky, cheeky character associated with MINI is brought out through those bug-eye headlamps, white roof and door mirror caps (these can also be had in body colour or black), and those new rear lamps, which are designed to emulate the shape of the headlamps and are MINI’s first horizontal tail lamps.
The Paceman and Countryman share the same platform and therefore the same 2.6 metre wheelbase. However, the former is very slightly longer overall than the latter – which is unusual given that it has fewer doors – but since every panel aft of its A-pillar is new, the rear may have been extended a bit to give rear occupants more space.
The new car sits 20 mm lower on a suspension tuned more towards sportiness. Also new are those rear lamps; they’re designed to emulate those at the front, and you see the ‘PACEMAN’ nameplate at the back? This is the first MINI to sport a model nameplate.
The interior is recognisably MINI save for a few changes. The window switches, which used to be on the row of toggles below the climate controls, have been moved to the doors, which I find more ergonomic to operate (the latest Countryman gets this update too).
Unlike the Countryman though, the Paceman’s strictly a four-seater – a thin transmission tunnel-like console runs across the length of the cabin, separating the two individual back seats. This console houses an aircraft-style handbrake and a unique sunglass case up front, and cupholders at the back.
The central speedometer on this car had the infotainment system screen integrated within it, and while undoubtedly in the right place for optimal viewing, somewhat takes away the charm that the fully analogue speedo had. But I can’t think of anywhere else to place the screen anyway.
It isn’t a touchscreen; you control the system by means of a tiny knob by the gear lever. I find this iDrive style a little fiddly to operate – it’s all too easy to overshoot your intended selection – but I’m sure it just takes a bit of getting used to. In some cases, the screen disappears off the edge of the circle, presumably because the iDrive system was designed for rectangular screens and the circle isn’t wide enough.
But you would want to know most about how it drives. You can think of the Paceman as a midway point between the Hatch and the Countryman. It rides softer than the Hatch and isn’t quite as agile, but is flatter and more planted through the twisty stuff than the Countryman. The same ‘halfway’ compromise can be applied to the way it gathers speed, which again isn’t surprising when you compare its 1.3 tonne kerb weight to the Hatch’s 1.1 and Countryman’s 1.4.
Still, this Cooper S version is capable of reaching very high speeds with ease. When pedal meets metal, the overboost kicks in to give you 260 Nm of torque between 1,700 and 4,500 rpm – a 20 Nm increase. From rest, the Cooper S Paceman is capable of hitting 100 km/h in a quoted 7.5 seconds, whereupon it will continue towards a 217 km/h top speed.
Factor a quick, communicative steering with good feel and effective brakes into the equation and you have a recipe for unbridled fun, as well as the confidence to have that fun. Yes, the trademark ‘go-kart feel’ is still there, most of it down to that direct steering and a really well-sorted chassis.
The weather that day was perfect for a drive. The sun certainly didn’t hold back its rays, which glistened and reflected off the sea as it ebbed and flowed – much in the same manner with which we tackled the mountain curves, although we were somewhat more urgent than the gentle waves of the Mediterranean.
The Paceman took it all in its stride, the body remaining composed and unflustered as we swung the car left and right. There is a good, solid feel to everything that few small cars can offer. Lift off the throttle with Sport mode activated and a tiny bit of fuel is squirted into the exhaust to create backfire on the overrun, psychologically preparing you for the hairpin ahead. It’s also pretty exciting and sounds great.
The turbocharged 1.6 litre four-cylinder itself is actually pretty muted otherwise; you can hear its rising, sporty note and the accompanying whistle of the blower at higher revs, but quite a lot of the soundtrack is isolated from the cabin. Like in other MINIs, the six-speed manual is notchy in operation – although I tend to prefer a softer, more fluidic shift action, its spring bias is not overly heavy and gear changes can be effected swiftly.
The car we drove was not equipped with ALL4, but the high levels of grip already afforded by those 205/55 R17s made us question if the car even needed four wheel-drive if it wasn’t going to see much off-road action. We know of Range Rovers which never leave the tarmac, let alone a MINI. Whatever it is, you’d have to be carrying quite a significant amount of speed into a corner before you make the front tyres squeal, which of course is then kept in check by the traction control system.
Now, the Countryman was arguably the biggest departure from the MINI ethos among its siblings. What can be said of the Paceman? If anything, I feel it’s a truer MINI as it’s comparatively funkier and more youthful, since it has fewer doors and fewer seats. When all is said and done though, if it’s fun you’re after, the Paceman does deliver, in the way it looks as well as the way it drives.
We can quite confidently expect the Cooper S variant to be introduced in Malaysia, but it remains to be seen if other versions will be added to the line-up. The Cooper S Hatch costs RM240k; the Cooper S Countryman RM286k, so speculatively we’re looking at a price tag of around RM270-280k when the MINI Paceman hits our shores sometime next year.