A Mini for men is the pitch behind the launch of the Paceman. To date, especially in Australia, the buyer base for the Brit-built cars has skewed in favour of the femmes.
The Paceman - essentially a two-door, four-seat Countryman with a lower ride height and sportier suspension - is designed to change that with more aggressive bodywork. But there’s another agenda at work here and it’s dragging the romanticism of the Mini brand down to the bottom line.
This, the seventh body style for the brand, embodies the beancounters’ formula for building cars: take a proven product and wring every last derivative from it. That competence-driven approach makes economic sense ... but Mini is supposed to be about emotion and the Paceman leaves me feeling jaded.
An estimated starting price of $36,000 for the base Cooper model will lift to around $45K for the turbocharged Cooper S Carsguide tested in the hills of Mallorca. A John Cooper Works version is in the works, but I’d save the cash and stick with the S - it already has enough urge to hit 100km/h in 7.5 seconds.
Standard gear runs from a typically sound audio system to satnav and switchgear that feels as solid as it looks. There’s a pair of diesels in the form of a 1.6-litre D and 2.0-litre SD, but they weren’t available for the international launch on the backroads of Mallorca.
There’s nothing radical here in the mechanicals or the software. Been there, driven that. So it’s good, just not new. The turbo four-cylinder is as punchy as you can ask it to be and still runs on very little petrol. The diesel will be better still in terms of fuel use.
The taillights are a dead giveaway you are following a Mini Paceman, rather than anything else in the family. The horizontal design is a first for Mini and helps differentiate this car from the Countryman.
That tapering roofline means rear-seat headroom is marginal and those of 180cm-plus stature may find themselves in need of a neck massage if ensconced in the back for too long. Leg room is good, though, so it may fulfil Mini’s aim of getting people to move up from a regular hatch as the little one’s get bigger.
They’ll need to be big enough to do up their own seatbelts, though, or mum/dad are going to do their back in trying to stretch that far. The more masculine look works well, with the front and back having a more unshaven edge than most Minis.
The Countryman’s a five-star proposition, so there’s every reason to expect the Paceman to follow the same route.
Competent without being poised, the Paceman faithfully reflects its parentage. It doesn’t go as hard or corner as well as the smaller, more Mini-esque hatch but it dumps on the more upright Countryman. That’s what comes with lowering the ride height by 40mm and stiffening up the springs.
Push hard and the Paceman wants to push through the corner rather than go around it but it’s testament to the chassis that a slight lift in accelerator pressure has the car back on track with very little fuss. The S version is no slouch, with a 7.5-second time to 100km/h and there’s very little evidence of the body roll that can be found on the edge in the Countryman.
Rear seat access isn’t ideal, with a big step needed to clear the door sill on exit. The front seats don’t look that well bolstered but still manage to keep occupants in place even at silly speeds.
The Paceman is not the pacesetter Mini is hoping for. Dynamically, it’s not as good a drive as the hatch, which admittedly sets a high benchmark. That leaves practicality … and the Countryman’s extra doors give it the edge there. So it’s a niche model in a growing family of nice niches. As such, it’s not going to dramatically grow the brand.
Mini Cooper S Paceman
Price: from $45,000 (est)
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Service interval: 12 months/25,000km
Crash rating: not tested
Safety: six airbags, ABS with TC, ESC, EBD and hill assist
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder, 135kW/240Nm
Transmission: six-speed manual, FWD
Dimensions: 4.12m (L), 1.79m (W), 1.52m (H)
Spare: Run-flat tyres
Thirst: 6.1L/100km, 143g/km CO2