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.