After something super niche for less money than a supercar? The 2015 Mini Paceman might just be the answer…
Sporting a recently facelifted look, the Mini Paceman you see here is the mid-spec Cooper S. (For those not aware, the Paceman is effectively the adolescent brother of the five-door Mini Countryman - more focused on fun than family.)
Finished in brand-new ‘Jungle Green’ paint and fitted with 18-inch matt black ‘Turbo Fan’ light-alloy wheels, our Paceman Cooper S sits between the entry-level Cooper and flagship John Cooper Works.
Up 5kW on the 2014 car, the turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder Cooper S sends its 140kW (at 5500rpm) and 240Nm (between 1600-5000rpm) directly to its front wheels – in this case, via a six-speed automatic transmission.
Mirroring the layout of the 90kW/160Nm naturally aspirated base Cooper, the front-wheel-drive Cooper S misses out on the ALL4 four-wheel-drive system standard on the 160kW/280Nm JCW.
Priced at $42,550 plus on-road costs for the six-speed manual and $44,900 for the six-speed automatic, our Mini Paceman Cooper S comes in about $11K more than the range’s entry point and $14K less than its automatic John Cooper Works equivalent.
Not your traditional cheap-and-cheerful city car, then, though the updated model is at least $1550 cheaper than its predecessor.
Despite the power tweak, there's no change in the Paceman's claimed 0-100km/h and fuel consumption figures, remaining at 7.5 seconds and 6.6 litres per 100km for the manual and 7.8sec and 7.5L/100km for the auto.
Standard equipment highlights include LED daytime running lights, automatic bi-xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, rear parking sensors, cloth/leather sports seats, climate control, and a 6.5-inch central display screen with satellite navigation. Six airbags (two front, two side and two curtain), traction and stability control are also standard.
A highly capable six-speaker stereo with Bluetooth connectivity (but disappointingly no audio streaming) is also standard, along with sports pedals, heated wing mirrors, dual chrome exhaust tips, and 18-inch wheels with Goodyear run-flat tyres.
Being based on the previous, second-generation Mini rather than the latest third-gen iteration, however, the Paceman lacks the reverse-view camera, adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking, head-up display and semi-automatic reverse parking technologies found in the new Cooper hatch, along with other more affordable new cars.
Helping our test car’s list price creep up to $48,600 before on-road costs is unique metallic paint ($800), leather seats ($1100), an anthracite headliner ($300), chequered and gloss black interior details ($100), anti-dazzle mirrors ($350), darkened headlights ($200), gloss black headlight and tail-light surrounds ($300), and black bonnet stripes ($200). Its black roof and mirror caps are a no-cost option, as are its matt black alloys.
Sounding dear? It is. And as cool as we may think it looks, this particular Mini is a four-seat, three-door SUV for not too dissimilar money to an entry-level, five-door, five-seat Range Rover Evoque – a $49,995 style statement in its own right. But the Paceman is all about individuality and exclusivity...
How exclusive? The Paceman is so exclusive that, for the year, it’s currently more ‘rare’ than the Audi R8, BMW i8, Lotus Exige and Nissan GT-R, with just three sold across the country in the first three months of 2015.
Sitting up front in the flat black-on-black leather seats, things are comfortable enough. There’s not much in the way of support or bucketing but for cruising inner-city 40km/h zones, there’s little to complain about.
Mini’s familiar black egg carton-like material is again used on the dash and doors and the rarely-looked-at large central speedo is again carried over, sitting atop a hard black plastic centre stack and encircling the Paceman’s 6.5-inch screen.
Raise your gaze from Mini’s silly steering wheel-mounted push/pull shift tabs and you’ll spot the much more user-friendly digital speedo incorporated into the tachometer, intelligently positioned directly in front of the driver.
From here you’re reminded that the 2015 update did not tackle the previous model’s exposed bonnet-mounted windscreen washer jets, ergonomically jarring manual handbrake, and annoyingly positioned seat recline lever (effectively wedged between the seat, seatbelt clip-in base and slender centre console/armrest).
Storage up front includes decent door pockets, two cupholders and a sunglasses holder – the latter attached to the centre rail that is also home to single USB and AUX inputs.
Thanks to its wide windscreen and helpfully big windows and mirrors, forward vision out of the Paceman is far better than its exterior roofline and styling might suggest.
You do have to contend with rather thick B- and C-pillars, however, and, while slightly upsized, the low-slung wing mirrors can – depending on your seating position – be slightly impeded by the door panels.
Seated in the second row’s equally flat and basic two seats, things are ‘cosy’ but far from unacceptable.
Legroom is snug but headroom is surprisingly good. Slightly raised floors beneath the front seats do, however, make toe room tight. And while backseat passengers are gifted two map pockets, two cupholders, a mini storage cut-out and neat little armrests, they’ll need to be wary of clipping their noggin on one of the Paceman’s fixed, hard plastic rear grab handles protruding from the roof.
Lifting the weighty tailgate reveals a low-lying parcel tray and a compact 330-litre boot. Capacity can be expanded up to 1080L by dropping the rear seats forward – easily done via two pull tabs – though they do not fold flat.
This is a Mini though and when you leave the city and hit your favourite piece of semi-deserted blacktop, the Paceman begins to make more sense. It’s still fun, still entertaining and still very much a Mini.
The ride is definitely firm – not helped by its 45-profile run-flats – and cat's eyes and road imperfections are picked up and transmitted into the cabin.
It can get a little bouncy over undulations and jittery over train tracks and tram lines but it remains far from bone-jarring or crashy.
Leaving the Paceman’s ‘Sport’ mode toggle alone, the steering is consistent, sharp and responsive enough to maintain Mini’s trademark go-kart-inspired driving experience, while still being light enough to live with every day.
Flick things into ‘Sport’ and you get smile-inducing exhaust pops, a sharper throttle and more aggressive gearing. You also get unnecessarily heavy steering, though, which fails to benefit feel or feedback.
Conveniently, you can leave ‘Sport’ mode off and still bump the gearbox into Sport/Manual mode to have greater control over the peppy and flexible 1.6-litre.
Picking up well from lower in the rev range, the turbocharged engine revs out to just shy of 6500rpm when given full beans, but will sit at bang on 2000rpm at 100km/h on the freeway in sixth gear. Far from ultra quiet at that speed, cabin noise is present but no deal breaker.
The rest is all largely positive. The brakes are progressive and communicative, the chassis is well balanced and handles direction changes well, and the tyres provide ample grip – though if pushed, will trigger both understeer and the odd traction control intervention.
If you make the decision that a two-door, four-seat Countryman is something that fits your lifestyle, then the Mini Paceman is jam-packed with character and personality.
A funky and semi-practical blend of city car, SUV and sporty three-door hatchback, the Mini Paceman Cooper S is still ‘Mini’ enough to make you smile.
Yes, there are easily smarter and more logical purchases you could make for around or below $50K. But, just like any supercar, buying a Mini Paceman is about buying a car that makes you - rather than others - happy.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Mini Paceman Cooper S images by Tom Fraser.