It's weird, this Paceman. It slots in between the Hardtop and the Countryman (on which its based) in terms of size and functionality, and Mini says that it will appeal to a more style-conscious shopper. Key competitors range anywhere from the Nissan Juke on the low end to the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque on the high end.
After spending lots of time with the Countryman, we're convinced that maxi can still be Mini. And the same is true with this Paceman, too.
- The Paceman rides on the same platform as the Countryman, and from the A pillar forward, it's identical. That includes all versions of the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which range from the 121-horsepower Cooper spec up to the 208-hp John Cooper Works that was introduced in Detroit last month. Our Cooper S model with 181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque falls right in the middle, and just like in the Countryman, it's a good pairing.
- What we don't love is the six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. In the hills of Puerto Rico, the trans often struggled to keep us in the right gear, and the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters don't provide much in the way of engagement. Opting for the six-speed manual transmission will solve all of these problems, but we wish a proper dual-clutch setup were offered here for people who don't want to row their own.
- Unsurprisingly, the Paceman drives exactly like the Countryman. That is, the steering is, for the most part, direct, though putting the car in Sport mode adds a false sense of involvement to the rack. Basically, it just feels heavier, not more engaging. But we're happy to report that the usual go-kart driving aspects have not been lost on this portly hatchback. The Paceman performed exactly how we expected. (That's a good thing.)
- She's a heavy girl, though – 3,260 pounds here in Cooper S All4 spec. That weight is indeed noticed when you're hustling it through turns, though the excellent suspension setup and good steering feedback do a lot to convince you that the car's a lot smaller than it is.
- We like the implementation of All4 in the Mini, and we could really feel it working as we wound the car around the twists and turns of Puerto Rico. Give the car a boost of throttle in a turn and you can actually feel the rear wheels working to propel the car forward with poise.
- Inside, the front cabin hasn't changed from the larger Countryman, though new for the 2013 model year are the addition of window toggle switches on the doors. We're happy to have them in the correct place, though we'll admit to occasionally reaching toward the center stack to roll the windows up and down. Creatures of habit, we are.
- The rear seats are perfectly spacious, though the more rakish roofline of the Paceman does cut into passenger headroom a bit. What's more, the bench seat option from the Countryman has not carried over to the Paceman, meaning you get two chairs and a center rail back there.
- Pricing for the All4 starts at $29,200, excluding $700 for destination. But like all Minis, things escalate quickly, and you can very easily wind up with a nearly $45,000 example.
- We'll be interested to see who actually buys the Paceman when it goes on sale next month. It seems like a weird niche to fill, but as we reported earlier this week, if there's a gap in the market, no matter how small, Mini will fill it. But as long as the products don't ruin everything we like about the brand, we don't suppose that's a bad thing.