What is it?
This is the coupé version of the popular Mini Countryman, and there’s a bit more to it than the simple deletion of a pair of doors. The need to retool most of the side panels of the Countryman to produce two fewer openings has provided the opportunity to create a car of slightly different character to the more practical Countryman, as no more than a glance at the finished thing — the car you see in these images is obviously disguised — reveals.
This is a much sportier-looking bigger Mini. Its tailgate is more raked, its rear quarter panels have swollen to lend its rear half some muscle, its new rear wraparound lamps are decidedly more shapely and its roof dips decisively rearwards. Imagine a shrunken three-door Evoque and you’ve captured much of the visual character of this car, although the bluff nose of the Countryman is retained at the front end. The result is pretty appealing, just as it is inside, where you’ll find stylishly individual bucket rear seats providing usefully more room than the smaller Mini hatch manages.
The Paceman sits on the same structure as the Countryman, of course, and shares the five-door’s wheelbase and track. Its roof, however, stands 4cm lower while losing occupants only 1cm of headroom, in part because it rides 1cm closer to terra firma. That’s consistent with this XL-scale three-door Mini’s mission, which is to deliver a sportier drive than the Countryman while providing more space than the standard hatch. Incidentally, it’s also 20kg lighter than the Countryman.
The dynamic recipe is predictable. Apart from the reduced centre of gravity stemming from its lower stance, the springs and shock absorbers have been retuned to suit its racier mission. Otherwise, this car will be familiar to a Countryman driver, save for the relocation of the electric window and central locking switches to the doors, where they’re more accessible (the same change is also destined for the five-door). BMW says it will be charging a premium of around £1200 over the Countryman for this more dashing bigger Mini, which seems a bit steep given the reduced door count, even if you do get more style.
What is it like?
We got to try a prototype 182bhp Paceman Cooper S, as the pictures of this camouflaged car reveal. You’ll also be able to choose from Cooper, Cooper D and Cooper SD varieties, but there won’t be a One or First. Four-wheel drive is optional, and a new six-speed auto option replaces the CVT transmission. In terms of the driving, this development car is pretty close to the finished thing, not least because it isn’t all that different from a Countryman. However, it is different, and in ways that for the most part will please the keen driver, as we discovered in back-to-back comparisons with a Cooper S Countryman.
It feels better tied down, as you’d expect of a car that runs closer to the road, and it’s more firmly sprung and feels more agile with it. The revisions also lessen the appearance of one of the Countryman’s less endearing dynamic quirks, which is steering effort that can suddenly diminish mid-corner when a bump is struck, occasionally prompting you to suddenly steer deeper into a bend than intended. The flaw is still there, but surfaces less often. The Countryman’s faintly wayward progress along roads of varying camber — and there are plenty of those in Britain — is undiminished in the Paceman. The ca's need for an occasional direction-correcting nudge is a flaw that has you feeling slightly less confident.
The Paceman also presents a firmer ride than the Countryman, and given how unyielding the five-door can feel in Cooper S form with larger wheels, we’d resist ordering this three-door with big rims. There’s more chop in its advance along heaving roads, and that could well turn to crash and clatter on scarred Tarmac.
Steering? As mentioned, its resistance is less prone to sudden fade-outs but this isn’t the most feelsome guidance device. You’ll also sense the tightening writhe of torque steer under hard acceleration, although there’s less of this than in the Countryman. That rim-squirm can be a while coming if you floor the throttle at 1500rpm or less, the turbo’s initial indolence forcing you to drop down a gear more often than you’d like.
On a more practical front, it’s reasonably easy to get to the Paceman’s rear seats, a little less so to escape, which the taller may want to do after a while because headroom is a little tight. So is the boot compared with a Golf’s, as it is in a Countryman, although there’s a biggish well beneath the false floor. And other Countryman failings persist, such as excess wind noise, the odd dash rattle and the general sense that this car is not as refined as it should be.
Should I buy one?
There will be plenty who find this more decisively more stylish bigger Mini hard to resist, especially as its enlarged packaging is undoubtedly more practical than the smaller hatch’s.
There's no question about it, the Paceman presents a style all its own unless it’s the front end that you’re staring at. But if it’s the driving that’s your priority, then it’s the regular Cooper S that you need. The smaller package simply gels at a more accomplished dynamic level. The potential £1200 mark-up apart, which seems too hefty, there seems little doubt that this stylish new Mini variant will sell.
However, as with both the Countryman and the classic original, it proves that bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Mini Paceman Cooper S
Price £21,960 set; 0-62mph 7.5sec; Top speed 135mph; Economy 47.1mpg; CO2 140g/km; Kerbweight 1290kg; Engine layout in-line, four, 1598cc, turbocharged petrol; Installation transverse, front; Power 182bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 177lb ft at 1600-5000rpm; Power-to-weight 141bhp per tonne; Gearbox 6-spd manual; On sale March 2013