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Having resurrected the Mini Cooper S Paceman 12 years ago, BMW is gradually morphing it into an entire range. In part, this mimics the variety of the original but BMW has gone further and faster.
The German luxury leader set out to make Mini bigger, so to speak; it's now on the brink of realising that goal.
So a measure of its success is this: it's difficult to imagine the revived Volkswagen Beetle or Fiat 500 being able to stretch as far, despite, in the 500's case, of following the Mini example into SUVs.
It's there in the numbers; the Beetle has been around longer but Mini has outstripped it in sales -- 2.3 million against about 1 million -- and now reaches 100 markets. Last year was a record 301,000 sales.
There was a danger that each additional Mini variant would add only marginal extra volume, while the Hatch remained the main game. But the Countryman shows signs of being able to stand on its own four wheels, with 250,000 buyers in just three years.
It has meant Mini expanding beyond its manufacturing base in Britain, with the Countryman and Paceman built under contract in Austria. The latest move is to make Minis in Chennai, India, alongside BMWs.
The eventual line-up will probably reach 10 or more, with concepts such as the Rocketman (a sort of city runabout), Beachcomber (a Moke-style buggy) and even an electric Mini scooter a window on its inventive thinking.
There are signs the next generation -- the third -- is well advanced and this time BMW will reap economies of scale by sharing the underpinnings with its first front-wheel drive cars.
Once drivelines and trims are factored in, there are about 40 Mini variants in the price list. The latest addition is a racy variant of the Countryman called Paceman -- a sort of SUV-coupe cross. It takes the model count to seven -- more if the battery-powered Mini E or track-focused GP version are counted.
Parts commonality within the Mini line-up is already extensive, with Paceman sharing its cabin architecture and layout with the rest of the range. One exception is the (welcome) relocation of the window switches to the door from their usual spot low in the centre console.
The Paceman starts from $44,100 and the ergonomics remain imperfect and there are familiar negatives: hard plastics, cheap ratchet-style seat adjusters, pointless push-in-key-and press-button start, gimmicky pizza-sized central speedo.
Each additional Mini moves further away from the retro starting point. They encompass the Hatch, the new Mini with the complete suite of winning aesthetics, to the Countryman and Coupe which take Mini-ness a long way from Carnaby Street.
The Coupe, for example, has an odd cap-shaped roof while the Countryman moves the badge into the booming premium small SUV segment. For the first time in a Mini, you get four doors and four-wheel drive.
The ability to personalise your Mini has been vital to its appeal and it makes a habit of producing themed specials, from a budget version called Ray to an Inspired by Goodwood edition decked out in the Rolls-Royce manner.
There's also a Monopoly Board of trim specials called Baker Street, Hyde Park, Bayswater and more. From the outset it had a companion go-fast sub-brand called John Cooper Works.
Reportedly, the interior moves up a grade for the next wave and not before time. From the exterior, the Paceman is a sheet metal twist on the Countryman. Butch and bulky looking, it's a high-riding (and substantially heavier) version of the Hatch in effect, with raised ride height. It's one of the more appealing variants visually, with the darkened B and C pillars giving a wraparound look to the glass.
Design has to win because it brings little in the way of extra practicality. Getting into the rear isn't the easiest despite long doors and the two seats are suitable only for short adults. The boot is deep and rear seats split-fold, but it's not all that capacious and cheaply lined.
The engine and transmission line-up is familiar too. Petrol Minis employ a 1.6-litre four-cylinder in various states of tune, shared with Peugeot. It's naturally aspirated in the budget Ray and Cooper models and turbocharged in the Cooper S tested.
This unit develops as much as 160kW in its highly tuned forms. Two turbocharged diesels offered elsewhere in the Mini range, of 1.6 or 2.0-litre, are not available in Paceman here.
In the manual I drove it can reach 100km/h in 7.5 seconds, with the automatic adding 0.3s.
The 135kW engine is feisty enough though, sounds good for a turbo and revs to 6500rpm, pulling with conviction. A notchy but likeable gearshift complements good pedals and the steering is also a strongpoint.
It's a driveable thing with a terrific chassis. You feel its added height, but it handles sweetly nonetheless. Just like a Mini, in fact. In other words, the Paceman successfully translates the recipe into yet another shape.
It has stepped out of the retro vision that spawned it and looks prepared for a long future.
|Cooper||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$14,888 – 18,800||2013 Mini Paceman 2013 Cooper Pricing and Specs|
|Cooper JCW All4||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$30,250 – 36,410||2013 Mini Paceman 2013 Cooper JCW All4 Pricing and Specs|
|Cooper S||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$19,880 – 20,990||2013 Mini Paceman 2013 Cooper S Pricing and Specs|
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