Mini goes boldy where it hasn’t before with the Mini Paceman, a three-door, four-seat hatch dubbed a ‘Sports Activity Vehicle’ that continues to stretch the brand’s offerings.
Finding a direct rival is difficult; the only other style-led three-door SUV on sale is the Range Rover Evoque, which is nearly twice the price.
The Paceman shares the Countryman’s wheelbase and is more than four metres long, it’s wider than the Mini hatch but, as it’s designed with a focus on driving dynamics, sits lower than Countryman on its standard sports suspension.
So what is it? Is it an off-roader as its plastic cladding around its wheel arches and sills suggests, or is it a sporty hatch? Mini hopes it will be both.
Mini uses the BMW X5 and X6 twins as an example of how the Paceman fits into the Mini family. This, like the BMWs, makes the Paceman the flagship SUV with a sporty image – while still being relatively practical.
So, the Mini Paceman has much more room than a Mini hatch, with 1080 litres of luggage space, which is just shy of the Countryman’s 1170 litres. There’s the Countryman’s semi-command raised driving position, but with sports seats up front and a lowered pair of rear seats. Got the picture?
The Paceman is the bridge between the hatch and the Countryman – with a skill set somewhere in between.
Five models will debut in Europe next year, with two diesels and two petrol engines offered, as well as a flagship John Cooper Works version.
The Paceman will be the first Mini hatch to offer all-wheel drive (if you don’t think of the Countryman as a hatch but rather an SUV as Mini would prefer you did).
The Paceman, though, is a stand-alone body style, with – says Mini – its own character that makes it more than just simply a ‘Countryman Coupe’. And while it shares the Countryman’s front end, with the same headlamps, raised sculpted bonnet and grille, the Mini Paceman is unique from the doors back.
The rear end has a horseshoe-type bulge that starts just behind the doors and wraps around the rear to the other side, incorporating horizontal tail-lights – a first for a Mini.
There’s the white-capped floating roof that tapers downwards and blacked-out glasshouse, with an integrated rooftop spoiler.
There’s a low loading lip for the wide-opening tailgate, and while the horizontal styling is new to the cult car, Mini head of design Anders Warming, thinks it stays true to the original concept.
In the driver’s seat, there’s more head-, leg and shoulder room than the hatch, and just as much as the Countryman, which helps the Paceman share top honours as the roomiest Mini.
The dash will be familiar to Mini drivers, with the traditional centre speedometer now tilted slightly forward to make it easier to read, aircraft-switch-type buttons, and loads of chrome and matt black finished details.
In another change for Mini, the electric window switches have finally been moved over to a more conventional position on the door trim, rather than their regular location on the centre console.
While the Paceman is more practical than a Mini hatch, it’s strictly a four-seater – though there’s still enough room for tall adults in the back.
The sculpted rear seats are separated by the Mini centre rail, for which there’s a host of options – in line with Mini’s legendary customisation parameters – including a DVD tablet.
Driving the Mini Paceman reveals a playful chassis that retains most of the hatch’s dynamic sparkle.
The entry-level Cooper runs the same 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine as the hatch with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The six-speed manual Mini Paceman Cooper S, which has larger 17-inch alloys and a 135kW turbocharged version of the same engine, is a cracker to drive, and has a Sport mode that sharpens the electro-mechanical steering and the throttle response.
There’s great turn-in, and while there’s a certain amount of body roll, it’s well controlled.
With excellent brakes, you can throw the Paceman around with confidence, though at the risk of sliding out of the flat seats if pushing hard.
The ride is excellent as a result of the softer suspension settings, though, also helped by the Paceman’s longer wheelbase.
Fuel economy for the front-drive Mini Paceman is line-ball with the Countryman, with the most efficient Paceman Cooper D claiming 4.4 litres per 100 kilometres.
The Mini Paceman adds a slight premium over the roomier, more practical Countryman, yet Mini believes that the Paceman is not only a practical car, but also a car with unique character that will make it an emotional purchase too.
And before you scoff at the concept, remember people also laughed at the BMW X6 when it was first shown.