What is it?
For the time being, at least, try not to be too perturbed by the new Mini Paceman John Cooper Works’ bizarre styling or its eye-wateringly high price.
Because, beneath its monster-truck-like bodywork and £29,535 price tag, it’s a decent enough car to drive, one whose four-wheel-drive system and clever electric clutch endow it with more on-road dexterity than the Mini has had at any time in its 54-year history.
It’s quick(ish), too, thanks to the fitment of the now familiar 1.6-litre, 215bhp turbocharged engine that powers the front wheels in the Mini JCW hatchback, and all four wheels in the Mini Countryman, the car with which the Paceman shares just about all its basic underpinnings.
Mini claims a 0-60mph time of 6.9sec and a top speed of 140mph, with close to 40mpg economy in the real world. But what truly distinguishes the Paceman above and beyond its myriad brethren, says Mini, is its go-anywhere ability. This is the direct result of its new four-wheel-drive system, which can aim anything up to 100 per cent of drive at either axle, front or rear, thanks to that brainy electronic clutch.
What's it like?
In the flesh the Paceman looks big, going on huge for a car that wears a Mini badge on its nose. Yet on the road it feels far nimbler than you’d expect given its thick-set styling stance. A Sport button down on the centre console allows you to dial up a touch more bite from the throttle pedal, which is welcome, while the steering weight shifts (slightly) to provide more feel on the move. The exhaust also develops a nice little parp on over-run once you’ve thumbed the magic button.
Even so, at no time, not with its Sport button pressed or its throttle pedal welded to the floorboards, does the Paceman ever feel genuinely rapid. In the final two gears, in fact, it feels like a big car with a small engine that’s struggling to deliver the goods, despite a torque overboost to an impressive 221lb ft for short bursts.
Considering how much it costs and what it’s called, the Paceman’s straight line performance does seem somewhat disappointing, especially when compared with the likes of the VW Scirocco R or, worse, the rocket-sled BMW M135i, which costs only a few hundred pounds more.
Inside, the décor is familiar but still fairly fresh in feel. There’s a huge round dial in the centre of the dash that houses the sat nav (which is brilliantly intuitive) as well as the speedo and numerous other on-board functions.
Despite the over-sized proportions of the Paceman’s exterior, however, space is still quite limited inside, especially in the two specially sculpted rear seats. Which is again disappointing but perhaps not surprising, given the need to accommodate the all-wheel-drive hardware.
Should I buy one?
Leaving aside its price for a second, there’s a fair bit to recommend about the new Paceman. It’s a perky kind of car on the move, even if its performance is wanting besides more powerful, harder hitting rivals. The best bits are the way it steers, the traction and security it generates on all surfaces, and in all weathers, plus its go-kart like handling agility along a winding road.