2013 Mini Paceman: Surprise by design

by Aaron Cole :: posted in Reviews on October 14th, 2013
There are few cars that truly take me by surprise anymore. For the most part, aside from exotica that no one can pronounce, and even fewer people can afford, it’s all basically the same stuff. Engines get used almost universally across entire brands, and when it comes to transmissions, those are like late-night movies on HBO: Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.

So naturally, when the 2013 Mini Paceman showed up, I was stumped that I was stumped. Is that two doors on a Countryman? Is that a bigger Mini? If this is the Paceman, what’s the small one called? Is there a small Mini again? Who’s buying these? Genuine curiosity filled my head where there was only “Sesame Street” repeats.

And the answer was all so simple. This is Mini’s answer for the question “Can a crossover be a coupe too?” that we asked a few years ago. From one question spawned the BMW X6, Acura ZDX, Honda Crosstour, and to a terrifying degree, Murano CrossCabriolet. Crusades have been started with less controversial material, if we’re being honest.

So the Mini Paceman walks into unexpectedly crowded ranks in its design mission. And I do mean walks. It’s not the same go-kart that the smaller Mini Cooper feels like. And yes, I read line 4 of the press release that the Paceman retains the “hallmark MINI go-kart feeling” but I’m not so sure about that.

The 181-horsepower inline, turbocharged four is all that’s motivating all 3,000 lbs. of the Mini Paceman. And while I appreciate the peppiness of the turbo to kick in and bring the Mini’s mill to full charge, it still feels like it struggles to power all four wheels (when equipped with Mini’s AWD, dubbed All4) off the line. Decidedly un-go-kart.

But then again, I’m not sure the go-kart comparison is actually what you’d want to bring up. Drivers won’t have their knees in their sternums in the Paceman. Despite the steeply sloping roof, there’s plenty of room for four adults — and no more, because there’s a rail where the bench seat would be. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise to most shoppers looking at the Mini Paceman. The tall crossover follows many of the design cues that contemporary Minis follow, now not the least of which is a spacious interior despite a seemingly small stature. Despite giving up a bit of cargo room to appease designers, the Paceman is pleasant in the back, with 33 inches of legroom, similar to the Countryman.

The quirkiness doesn’t end there. An oversized speedometer sits in the middle of the dash, with switches underneath the speedometer for many functions, as per standard for all Minis. In theory, its all very clever, but even hardcore car guys like myself scratch their heads when it comes time to roll down the windows. (Hint: They moved it by the door this year.) I’d like to add that I appreciate the raised seating position; it’s rare that you can know exactly where the front two wheels are in most crossovers.

Outside the Paceman looks naturally Mini, more so than the Countryman. The aforementioned sloping roof, distinct middle and lower sections of the Paceman are classic Mini style. As are the headlights, and in case you forgot, there’s a billboard-sized badge on the back that says “Paceman.” From all sides, the Paceman looks attractive if fun, much like a hot air balloon: You never know how big it really is until you stand right next to it.

Despite its heft, and proportionately less might, the Paceman is composed and planted on the road. Like most Mini’s the steering feels confidently tight, and the suspension is responsive if not a little nervous. I didn’t mind the bumps and sharpness coming from the corners during my weeklong drive of the Paceman, but I can see how it might be a little much for some.

Speaking of a little much, there’s no good way to say this so I’ll break it fast: The Cooper S Paceman starts at $28.500. Our tester was $39,800 with leather, panoramic roof, stereo and divorce papers if you don’t tell your spouse you’re buying one of these things before you do. Despite the Paceman’s quirky nature and looks don’t be mistaken, it’s serious money.

Oddly, that propels it into the strata of another quirky two-door crossover, the Range Rover Evoque. Like the Paceman, the baby Rover is seriously British but instead of high tea in the parlor, perhaps the Mini is a pint and slapboxing in the street. Both share qualities that differentiate each other from the other coupe crossovers, but for the money it boils down to class or quirk.

Now that’s truly a surprise. I never thought I’d see a Mini compete against a Range Rover before.  

Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, but he’d rather hear it from you. Reach him at aaron.m.cole@gmail.com
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