JCW tuning turns up the wick on the sportiest version of the biggest Mini.
The Mini Paceman, the seventh full-production model to come from the British brand, is the latest to get the treatment from associated performance stable John Cooper Works. The JCW badge is also a natural fit for the sportiest version of the biggest Mini and Australia's first model to combine four-wheel drive with two doors.
Starting at $58,600 the Mini Paceman John Cooper Works sits at the top of the Paceman tree – $11,445 over the penultimate 135kW/240Nm Paceman Cooper S automatic. Select the JCW in automatic guise and this jumps $3055 to $61,655.
On price, the Paceman model holds top spot on the JCW ladder, as expected. It’s ahead of both the Roadster and Cabrio and $1800 more than its five-door, 9mm longer sibling – the Countryman JCW – on which it’s based. It’s also $1700 dearer than the limited edition track-ready JCW GP.
Though a high-riding, four-wheel-drive coupe seems niche, the segment is not exclusive to the four-seat Paceman JCW. Starting $3705 less than the Mini, the three-door, 4WD Range Rover Evoque offers equal coffee strip cachet and seating capacity.
The Mini Paceman JCW is, as with all John Cooper Works models, powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder. Here it produces 160kW at 6000rpm and 280Nm between 1900-5000rpm. Torque can, however, be boosted to 300Nm between 2100-4500rpm via an overboost function. Sourced from the Hams Hall engine plant in England, the engine has been tweaked with reinforced pistons, a balanced crankshaft, an aluminium cylinder block and sodium-filled exhaust valves.
The petrol unit helps the 1400kg (1420kg auto) Paceman JCW claim 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds, whether teamed with the standard six-speed manual transmission or the six-speed paddle-shiftable automatic. That’s 0.6sec quicker than the 1305kg Paceman Cooper S manual.
Transmissions do impact official fuel and CO2 figures, however, with the manual returning 8.0 litres per 100km and 186 grams per kilometre to the auto’s 8.3L/100km and 193g/km.
Faced with Tasmania’s famed rally roads for its belated local launch, the Mini Paceman John Cooper Works’ characterful engine is sluggish below 2000rpm but remains adequate for conserving fuel or coasting on flats. By 3000rpm things are far more responsive (with or without Sport mode) and from 4000rpm to its 6500rpm redline, the Paceman pulls strongly. When pushed, smooth and linear power delivery is accompanied by a tough little turbo whoosh, but it never feels particularly quick in a straight line.
A light clutch gives adequate feel of the take up point and partners well with the Paceman’s notchy six-speed gearbox to engage drivers in all situations. Mini’s automatic gearbox with aggravating push/pull paddle shifters was not available to test.
Cruising through Hobart’s city centre the Paceman JCW rides well, providing a far more relaxing and forgiving experience compared with the likes of the firmly sprung Mini Cooper hatch, Coupe and Roadster. This is maintained on less populated, more curvaceous roads with the car handling most road joins and manhole covers without fuss when travelling at or below 80km/h. At this pace, small bumps aren’t felt through the steering wheel or the cabin, and the earlier levels of interior comfort and calm are retained.
Once more challenging roads are met, Sport mode can be selected to sharpen throttle response and allow unburnt fuel to exit the exhaust like superheated corn kernels.
As the pace increases north of 80km/h, the Paceman struggles to keep its previous composure over consistent ruts, big bumps and larger undulations and crests. The ALL4 system unique to the John Cooper Works model, however, does an exceptional job on the tight, wet – and sometimes icy – roads.
Working with the car’s stability and traction control, along with an electronic differential lock control for the electromagnetic centre diff, the permanent all-wheel-drive system juggles power constructively between front and rear axles. Combined with consistent and reliable brakes and 225mm-wide Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport tyres, the result is confident turn-in with enthusiastic corner exits.
Despite its 330kg weight penalty over the standard Mini hatch – a model that started out its life weighing 600kg – the Paceman changes direction happily enough when sequential corners are set up with some forethought. But it’s far from having the same pinpoint accuracy and sharpness its go-kart-like sibling is famous for and can’t match the agility of genuine performance models like the rear-drive BMW M135i and front-drive Renault Megane RS265.
Steering remains reasonably light whether on-centre or being loaded up through twisty Targa Tasmania roads. This consistency follows on once Sport mode is engaged but comes with greater weight rather than any improvement in precision.
JCW reminders are stuck all over the Paceman’s swooping body, and join unique features including a JCW aero kit, 10mm-lower sports suspension, firmer springs and dampers, strengthened anti-roll bars and 18-inch light-alloy wheels.
Inside, the flagship Paceman gains piano black interior trim strips, an anthracite-coloured headliner and a dark-coloured rev counter and 260km/h speedometer. A three-spoke multi-function leather JCW sports steering wheel is also present and gets red stitching mirrored on the comfortable sports seats, floor mats and manual gear lever.
Sharing its basic layout and black egg carton-like dash with the lower-specced Cooper and Cooper S models, the Paceman JCW cabin falls short of feeling luxurious or premium despite lashings of chrome and Chilli Red (a $195 option).
Space inside the two-door is remarkably good, both up front and when tucked behind the front seats. Six-footers are accommodated comfortably with sufficient rear leg and headroom despite the Paceman’s sloping roofline – a big win over the hatch’s cramped rear. The two foldable rear seats also allow luggage capacity to expand from 330 litres to 1080L – 90L shy of the Countryman’s maximum and 365L short of the Range Rover Evoque’s.
Common across the Mini Paceman range are an engine start button, rear parking sensors, cruise control, electric mirrors, rain sensing wipers with automatic headlights, front and rear fog lights and a rear spoiler.
All local Paceman JCW’s also benefit from a standard fit Chilli Package that includes bi-xenon headlights with headlight washers, climate control air conditioning and an anti-dazzle rear-view mirror. Cloth/leather upholstery and a 10-speaker Harmon/Kardon audio system with Bluetooth and USB/AUX connectivity is also included. Our white test car had been fitted with the radio Mini visual boost ($975) option as well as satellite navigation ($1495) and leather seats ($1430).
With personalisation long synonymous with Mini, the options list for the Paceman JCW also includes 19-inch wheels ($2340), heated front seats ($637), adaptive headlights ($520) and an electric glass sunroof ($2587).
At first glance combining four-wheel drive traction with JCW tuning in a unique four-seater two-door body holds a lot of potential. But priced nearer $60k than $50k (before options), the Paceman JCW can match neither the practicality of rival compact SUVs nor the performance of genuine sports cars. You do get a lot of style and plenty of kit with the JCW, but for $15,960 more than a Megane RS265 and not quite $10,000 less than a BMW M135i, both of which also seat five, the Paceman JCW is too fine a proposition.