I have to give it to Mini: they've become quite fearless when it comes to trying something new.
For the past couple of years, Mini has been working on expanding their line-up from the standard 3-door hatch and the convertible. It's quite a challenge, to say the least, as the brand does find itself in a tight spot to break out of; coming up with new and different models and form factors could alienate loyalists of the original Mini yet attract new customers to the brand, but refuse to innovate and Mini could find itself with no more than two base products to sell.
Mini went ahead and did it anyway. Their engineers and designers stretched the platform to come up with the Clubman (estate/wagon version), expanded the same platform to produce the Countryman (crossover 'SUV'), and lowered and streamlined the car to make the Coupe and the Roadster versions. They've also gone beyond the usual naturally aspirated and turbocharged versions of the 1.6-liter engine, coming up with a diesel version (available abroad), and also made a new all-wheel drive system called the ALL4 available in the Countryman.
This is their latest creation: the Paceman Cooper S, and we're about to take it for a spin and see what it can do and more importantly, what it's really all about.
If you take one look at the Paceman, it's okay to mistake it for the Countryman (like the Countryman S we drove 2 years ago) as they are drawn from the same sheet metal. There are some minor differences in terms of dimensions, but what's apparent is the side profile, as the Paceman has a 3-door form factor compared to the Countryman's 5-door configuration. Think of it as an upsized 3-door Cooper S, especially with the longer driver and passenger doors (to facilitate ingress and egress to the rear seats), the slimmer rear windows and the sloped rear glass. Mini calls the Paceman a 'Sport Activity Coupe' or SAC but, in my opinion, that's another three letter acronym from the BMW group. Essentially it's essentially a shooting brake.
Personally, I like the design and the color scheme with that shade of blue, the blacked out A-, B- and C-pillars that make the white tub roof truly stand out. The rear end also looks quite cool, and is nicely finished off with the PACEMAN name under the larger Mini (contradicting, isn't it?) wing logo that also serves as the latch to open the tailgate. For me its quite striking to look at, a sentiment that a Mini purist I encountered didn't share; "It's sacrilege", if I remember his words correctly.
Pop those rather heavy doors and you've got the signature Mini interior, making full use of the curved and rounded motif all -uh- around. The dash and door panels showcase the interior theme best with the three spoke steering wheel (a common feature of 'S' variants), the tachometer, the round air conditioning vents, curved surfaces, oval door pockets, dials and that huge analog speedometer with the Mini multimedia screen in the middle. Call me crazy, but there are also a few Hidden Mickeys here somewhere... leave us a comment below if you spot 'em.
The Paceman is strictly a 4-seater affair as the center rail runs from front to rear, creating an aisle for various attachments that Mini offer as an options such as cupholders. It has, however, been reported that the center rail system has been deleted in some countries altogether. Nevertheless, there's a significantly better amount of leg, hip and elbow room in this three-door crossover.
The Paceman also has a slightly higher and more upright seating position for the driver and passenger. While I like the lower and sportier seating position of the Hatch/Cabrio/Clubman/Coupe/Roadster variants of the Cooper, the Paceman's (and the Countryman's) seats are far better for everyday driving, especially if you have a date wearing heels. It's just more practical.
After settling in, I tried to plug in my iPhone into the USB port, but it still needed an Aux cable to play music; strange connectivity, in my opinion. Once I got used to it (again), the Mini's audio system was rather easy to use, though they could have done better than that rather slim joystick and rotating cap that is basically BMW's iDrive system in a different appearance. You can also download a MINI Connected app from the App Store so you can log your driving habits, fuel consumption, and other information. For those who prefer to go wireless, the Bluetooth system works just fine.
I fire up the engine and the Paceman S springs to life. Like the S variants, the Paceman S gets a direct injection 1.6 liter, twin cam, full variable valve control (based on BMW's Valvetronic system) 16-valve Inline-4 engine with a twin scroll turbocharger for reduced lag. The result is a potent 184 metric horsepower (PS) at 5500 rpm and a decent 240 Newton meters of torque at 1600 to 5000 rpm, all of which are pumped through a 6-speed automatic transmission that can be set to normal driving for standard shifting, sport automatic to hold the gears a bit longer or select shift automatic for full driver control of the gears.
Mini claims 0-100 km/h acceleration in the region of 7.8 seconds, so we thought best to put it to the test. From a standstill and with a simple stopwatch in my passenger's hand, I floor the throttle and let the front wheels look for the grip. Being that this isn't the ALL4 version, there's a bit of torque steer at first, but once it gets going the Paceman S settles down. The final time? 8.4 seconds to pass 100. Not bad. Mini also claims a top speed of 212 km/h, but that's something we really don't need to test unless we were on a runway.
The best part about the Paceman S is how it preserved the driving dynamics that the brand is very well known for. The wheels are pushed out to the corners of the body, giving the Paceman (as well as any other Mini) some of the shortest front and rear overhangs in the market. Granted, the Paceman S will not be as peppy as the 3-door Hatch Cooper S as the suspension gives a slightly more comfortable ride, yet the Paceman S has that authentic Mini drive, gripping and turning with as much confidence as some sports cars... and this is still a front-wheeler.
Sticky as it may be through the corners, the Mini Paceman S has another sticking point: the price. At PhP 2,988,000, the cost of being unique and (in Mini Philippines-speak) 'not normal' is quite high.
Is the price really important? Perhaps not, as the Paceman S isn't what many here would call a purchase for practicality's sake. Actually, that applies to many of Mini's models sold by British United Automobiles (BUA – the official Mini distributor in the country), as these cars are really playthings. It's an emotional purchase.
Also, one thing to also keep in mind is that all Paceman variants as well as all Countryman variants are not actually made in England like the other Mini models; they're assembled in Austria by Magna Steyr. A truly German(ic) Mini? Interesting, isn't it?
I still like the Mini Cooper S hatch more than any other model in the line up, much like what the Mini purist I met earlier at the carwash was trying to convince me as he had his red 2002 Cooper S Hatch cleaned up. However, much like the Cayenne for Porsche or even the upcoming Kubang for Maserati, SUV or crossover models from the very traditional marques are opening up the brands to be introduced to new clients and perhaps even old (in more ways than one) customers alike, particularly those whose priorities and preferences in automobiles have changed a bit.
The Mini Paceman S may have grown and put on a few more pounds along the way, but much like some of us who have gotten a little bit older, it still represents the authentic fun -and hooliganism- of youth that Mini has always been known for and that can't be bad... regardless of what the purists may think.